Wine of the Week: 2011 “Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres,” Bainbridge and Cathcart, Loire Valley

When we consider lighter, more refreshing red wines, more often than not Pinot Noir seems like the logical solution. It’s the white wine of red wines, right?

Enter the exceedingly obscure Grolleau Noir grape. It even sounds like the aggressive, confrontational cousin to the clean-cut Pinot Noir. The grape is only found in one end of the Loire region and usually only used as a blending grape. If you’ve had Loire Valley red wines, chances are you’ve had a wine involving Grolleau Noir without knowing it. Interestingly, the grape cannot be listed in AOC red wines from the Loire, but can be listed as a blending grape in rosés. Oh, A.O.C. standards. Hence, the “Rouge aux Lèvres is actually a “Vin de France,” usually a term for more inferior wines. That’s not the case here. This is a case of modern bureaucracy and loopholes.

Rouge aux Lèvres on the left
Rouge aux Lèvres on the left

 While enjoying the wine at the biodynamic wine bar Terroir in San Francisco, I was told the wine is as close to a single grape Cabernet Franc as you’ll get from a different grape. He wasn’t kidding.

 Grolleau Noir is very similar to Cabernet Franc in numerous ways. While Cabernet Franc often functions as the unsung blending grape in Bordeaux’s red blends, Grolleau Noir does the same for the Loire. Cabernet Franc provides strong tannins with a very puckery jam, speckled mouth feel. Grolleau Noir has the same medium bitter raspberry jam note, without the strong tannins. In fact, there are very few, if any noticeable tannins involved. Both sport similar prickly, spice heavy closing elements. Continue reading “Wine of the Week: 2011 “Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres,” Bainbridge and Cathcart, Loire Valley”

Plat du Jour Tuesday May 7, 2013: 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards

It’s been 24 hours now since the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony in New York, the “Oscars” of the food world. Hearing about the extensive after-parties across New York last night and this morning, it seems like now the winners can finally pause post-hangover and reflect on last night’s ceremony.

If you can get past the usual arguments about how there is absolutely no way for the Awards to truly be correct since it’s impossible for there to be an actual “best” restaurant or chef, then the James Beards are a very important measuring gauge of where dining is today in the first half of 2013. You also need to get past the strange 3-D fonts on the winners pdf, something I’m less thrilled about.

Best New Restaurant, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
Best New Restaurant, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

It’s exciting to see the hard-working chefs, service staffs, and restaurateurs get to dress up and have their big night in New York. They absolutely deserve it.

From here, we raise our glass to last night’s winners, wishing them the best for years to come and thanking them for their relentless desire to ask questions about what and how we eat, coupled with their unwavering pursuit of dining excellence.Continue reading “Plat du Jour Tuesday May 7, 2013: 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards”

Monday’s Neighborhood: North Park, San Diego, CA

Sunny San Diego’s beach communities, from tony La Jolla to Sea World’s Mission Bay,  and Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter core receive most of the national press as the city’s main destinations.

Mission Bay isn’t exactly a whole mot more than the place to spend quality time with Shamu, but the other neighborhoods do have their worthwhile spots for drinking and dining (well, good luck with finding much “nightlife” in La Jolla, but George’s is absolutely worth a dinner trip). The food & drink culture thrives in the fine weather. This is after all, San Diego, arguably the craft beer capital of the world. PBR seems to be illegal here. The most ubiquitous beer on draught at dive bars seems to be Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. They’re lucky in San Diego.


It isn’t all just craft beer in California’s second most populated city. Far from it. It also isn’t just beaches and animals in theme parks or world renowned zoos. The eating is very swell, possibly the most underrated dining scene among America’s ten largest cities. In fact, it is without question. How many restaurants do you know in San Diego? It’s unfortunate that in this city of passionate, creative chefs every bit on par with those in that other big Southern California metropolis, the most “celebrity” of chefs runs a restaurant that will anger diners to the point of wanting to throw jalapeno cornbread muffins against the banquettes (see Malarkey, Brian).

All of the dining and craft brew influences of San Diego seem to come together in one intense eating and drinking neighborhood that is also vintage Southern California relaxed at its core: North Park. After all, the common architecture of this neighborhood is the craftsman bungalow. That must mean time doesn’t whip past this part of town. Slow down and savor the day (and the pint).Continue reading “Monday’s Neighborhood: North Park, San Diego, CA”

Beer of the Week: AleSmith IPA, Alesmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

The all-important hops might come from far up the coast in the great Pacific Northwest, but there is something truly enviable about the hop-forward, but slightly restrained IPAs produced in San Diego.

Up in Washington and Oregon where the hops hail from most often, the IPAs veer towards the explosion of hop- driven bitterness end of the spectrum. San Diego prefers their IPAs to be smoother and cleaner. Is it the surfer style of hanging loose that rubs off on the brewmasters? This must be that casual “West Coast IPA” style often referred to and never defined any differently than a regular IPA.


AleSmith started in 1995 by Peter Zien in a tiny storage garage in a nondescript commercial area just north of the Miramar Naval Base, near the middle of nowhere. It’s a beer abundant area as it turns out, with numerous tap rooms and microbreweries (Green Flash, Hess, Rough Draft) nearby. Since 1996, Tod Fitzsimmons has been the head brewer, leading the charge of one of the most important breweries of the past decade. A recent Friday night proved that the party was at AleSmith’s tap room, regardless of how out of the way it is.

It’s not easy to stand out in San Diego’s prominent craft beer scene. It’s no easier to stand out in the specific IPA genre here, amidst the world of Sculpin and West Coast IPA. Then again, the hands down most under the radar (still!), marquee craft brewery in San Diego County would be AleSmith. And its most impressive beer after an extensive tasting recently at its tap room would be the AleSmith IPA, quite possibly the finest of the highest tier of IPAs in Southern California. Yes, we’re looking at you Sculpin.Continue reading “Beer of the Week: AleSmith IPA, Alesmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA”

Kentucky Derby Party Menu

Having planned out numerous Cinco de Mayo menus, let’s quickly complete the weekend with a Louisville-inspired meal.

Cocktail: Mint Julep of course

In a frosted mug or official Derby Julep cup (yours truly is lucky to have many of these), muddle a half dozen mint leaves, 1/2 oz of simple syrup, and 2 tsps. water. Top with crushed ice, then add 2 1/2 oz. Bourbon. Top with 2 more mint leaves and sip with a metal straw.

The Real Mint Julep Cups
The Real Mint Julep Cups

It’s nobody’s favorite cocktail, more a refreshing way to take a Bourbon shot. Do…not…skimp on the mint! And make sure the Bourbon mingles plenty with the simple syrup or you’re in for a stiff drink.


I’ve never had beer cheese, but it’s supposed to be a Derby staple. You can’t go wrong with a recipe like this for an appetizer.

For a twist, let’s add some levity with a spinach, bacon, and blue cheese salad, tied together by a Bourbon vinaigrette from one of Louisville’s most exciting chefs, Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia.

Next cocktail, the Seelbach Cocktail from Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. In a Champagne flute, build 3/4 oz. Bourbon, 1/2 oz. Triple Sec, 7 dashes of Angostura bitters, 7 dashes Peychaud’s Butters, and top with 4 oz. chilled Champagne. Garnish with an orange twist.

For an entrée, the definitive Hot Brown sandwich from the Brown Hotel itself. It’s healthy, right?

Hot Brown Sandwich at J. Graham's Cafe, Louisville
Hot Brown Sandwich at J. Graham’s Cafe, Louisville

Dessert: Why of course, Derby Pie! It’s the same thing as “Not Derby Pie,” essentially a pecan pie with walnuts instead and the addition of chocolate chips.

Derby Pie at J. Graham's Cafe, Louisville
Derby Pie at J. Graham’s Cafe, Louisville

To finish? Keep that Bourbon motif going with a snifter of Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve. Hopefully you can cheers to your pick winning the Derby!

Happy Derby Day Everyone!

Plat du Jour Friday May 3, 2013: 5 Menus for Cinco de Mayo

What a first weekend of May ahead for everyone. It seems like just yesterday I was living in France and spent this first weekend of May dancing around a maypole in Eching, Germany, just outside Munich (this was too many years ago now to count).

Millions across the U.S. and Europe will be dancing around the maypole tomorrow welcoming May’s flowers. Except, in the Midwest the weather still says January and here in California it’s August. At least it’s spring in Seattle! 72 and clear there this Friday.

Chicken Breast with Mole Negro
Chicken Breast with Mole Negro

Of course this first weekend of May brings the blockbuster Saturday-Sunday doubleheader of Kentucky Derby day followed by Cinco de Mayo. Both are always some of my favorite days of the year and for our purposes here, both factor food and drink heavily into the proceedings. After all, the Kentucky Derby race itself is only three minutes. You can barely muddle the mint for a Mint Julep in that time span.

We’ll cover the Louisville event in a moment, but for now, here are five menus spanning the spectacular, vast cuisines of Mexico’s regions. For recipes not linked, I’ll provide them at the bottom of the article. Continue reading “Plat du Jour Friday May 3, 2013: 5 Menus for Cinco de Mayo”

Cocktail of the Week: Pantone 7621 at Trick Dog, San Francisco

With Derby Day tomorrow and Cinco de Mayo right after that, let’s get you a drink already to begin this cocktail- fueled weekend.

You would be forgiven for finding the “Cocktail of the Week” section to be more like the “Beet Cocktail of the Week” recently. After all it was only a few days ago the ode to the Arizona Beet-Yuzu Gimlet was published.  The cocktailian public around the world right now is vehemently protesting: “Seriously Trevor? You may as well do the Manhattan of the Week too!”

Yes, I could. Or a Martini or spring seasonal cocktail of the week, or what not. The finest cocktail I enjoyed in the past week was a masterful “Cocktail à la Louisiane” from Erik Adkins’ extensive Bourbon bar at the new Hard Water along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. So, Bourbon forwards and beet cocktails represent the best of spring’s bounty? Where is the Asparagus Gibson?

Trick Dog's Panetone 7621
Trick Dog’s Panetone 7621

Three years ago, the area of San Francisco far from the tourist circuit where the more edgy Mission evolves into the looser, residential Potrero Hill was a dining desert until the young, gutsy chef Thomas McNaughton opened the barn-burner of San Francisco’s Cal-Ital restaurants, Flour + Water. His bold cuisine vision and execution was, and remains, nothing short of phenomenal. Hence, the lengthy wait times as long as it takes to walk across this city that still have not lessened three years later. Last year, McNaughton opened a more ambitious, seasonal, local driven restaurant Central Kitchen, and the daytime shop/café Salumeria.

The next tenant in the same warehouse building as Central Kitchen and Salumeria has turned the neighborhood and the entire cocktail culture of this fervent cocktail-obsessed city on its side. When Trick Dog opened in February, it was celebrated with cheers, hugs, and kisses almost on par with a Giants World Series parade. Continue reading “Cocktail of the Week: Pantone 7621 at Trick Dog, San Francisco”

A Slide Show To Help You Prepare for Cinco de Mayo

Here is a terrific look at eight regional Mexican cuisines in a Zagat Blog slideshow from Linnea Covington. We’ll be quizzing you on where tortas ahorgadas originated.

Can You Make a Taco like Enrique Olvera for Cinco de Mayo?
Can You Make a Taco like Enrique Olvera for Cinco de Mayo?

Tomorrow Trev’s Bistro will present five different menus for the big holiday on Sunday. One of them surely will be the right fit for you. And yes, you’re welcome to always include Margaritas, but only one menu will actually have our version of the Cinco de Mayo staple.

Plat du Jour Monday April 29, 2013: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Announced

And the winner is…El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.

After three years atop the world, Noma in Copenhagen flip-flopped today with last year’s runner-up, after the San Pellegrino and Restaurant Magazine World’s 50 Best Restaurants were revealed in London.

The world’s new best restaurant lived in the shadow of fellow Basque region stalwart and longtime “best restaurant in the world” El Bulli, before Ferran Adria turned his legendary molecular gastronomy institution into an institute a few years ago.

Who is El Celler de Can Roca and where is Girona, Spain, and why did El Celler de Can Roca switch with Noma are many of the questions the general public are asking themselves.

El Celler de Can Roca is no secret. Opened in 1986 by the three Roca brothers, the restaurant has held three Michelin stars each year since 2010. Joan Roca is the head chef, while Jordi Roca is the pastry chef, and Josep Roca is the sommelier.


Yours truly spent a layover day in Girona seven years ago (Ryan Air doesn’t fly directly into Barcelona, so Girona is the closest airport, about an hour northeast of Barcelona), but unfortunately didn’t have the chance to visit the Rocas. Instead, I enjoyed some bocadillos at a vintage tapas bar-coffee shop. The city is straight out of a postcard with its meandering Onyar River, striking bridges, and the spectacular cathedral. I have a feeling Girona will be much more known after today’s announcement.

Roses, home to the El Bulli Institute, is a bit further north up the Costa Brava. San Sebastian may still be the capital of Spanish gastronomy with two restaurants in today’s top 10, but the Costa Brava once again can lay claim to being home of the best restaurant in the world.Continue reading “Plat du Jour Monday April 29, 2013: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Announced”

Here are the World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Just announced in London this evening: Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the 2013 World’s 50 Best Restaurants from Restaurant Magazine and San Pellegrino. Included are the next 50 “best” as well.

Noma, Copenhagen
Noma, Copenhagen

Obviously, the big news is that there is a new name at the top of the list, replacing Noma in Copenhagen after three years running in first. We’ll take a look at El Celler de Can Roca, along with much more analysis from this “important” news in this afternoon’s Plat du Jour section.