Where to eat in NYC: Almanac

Classically French-trained chef Galen Zamarra opened up Almanac last month in replacement of mas (la grillade) in the heart of the West Village.  It was a favorite of mine but, unfortunately, some neighbors weren’t too fond of the wood-fire grills and smoke.  When I heard about the hyper-seasonal concept of Almanac I wasn’t a bit surprised.  Chef Zamarra has an incredible knowledge, understanding and passion to honor the freshest ingredients of the season and bring them to life on a plate.  And it’s not just the farm-to-table approach that every other restaurant advertises, but you TRULY see and taste it in his dishes, as he narrows it down to what part of the season and what phase of the moon we’re in.  The preparations even change as the food evolves throughout its season. I’ve been down to the kitchen and have witnessed first hand just how much love, care (and oh my, the steps!) that go into plating a single dish.  AH-mazing!

Aside from the delectable fare and service, I must say I prefer the dining setting and decor in Almanac.  The rustic wood, dark red colors and dimmer lighting brings a more inviting, relaxing vibe.

Choose a la carte, or a three-, five-, or seven-course tasting menu.  I won’t share my favorite dish because everything is divine and the menu will change next week. 🙂

Go ahead and make a reservation, and check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Bon appétit!

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A love letter to North Fork (and wine)

I like wine.  Okay, I love wine.  And much as I love my city of Manhattan and state of New York, I must admit I didn’t know too much of anything about New York wine.  So I was excited to celebrate the Saturday summer solstice in North Fork vineyards combining a couple of my favorite activities – biking, drinking and eating.  I haven’t “cycled the wine lands” since Stellenbosch during Semester at Sea.  My parents and I drove the car from Stamford, CT (approximately 2-2 1/2 hour drive), strapped two of the bikes on the back of the car and rented one from a super nice guy named Dan in Greenport.

Our first pit stop was Duck Walk Vineyards.  As you enter the building, it opens up to a beautiful, massive event space suitable for 400 guests with high vaulted ceilings, two tasting bars and an outside scenery that includes an expansive outdoor patio and vines stretching acres across the residence.  At 11am sharp, tourist buses, limos filled with bachelorette parties and other walks of life storm through.  Some vineyards like Duck Walk can accommodate huge crowds, but others like to keep the intimate feel of the vineyard, and prohibit tourist buses and large parties.  The talk of the vineyard isn’t the red, white, or sparkling wine but its distinctive Blueberry Port crafted from wild Maine blueberries.  They serve it with a little piece of dark chocolate and recommend you sip, bite and sip again to really bring out the bright, fruity flavors of the port.  I was also a fan of the 2012 Chardonnay that received a New York Times Best Buy, and was a nicely balanced, crisp dry white wine.

 My mom and I were researching lunch spots in the car and came across my friend Charlotte Savino’s post in Travel + Leisure about the delicious scallop BLT at Southold Fish Market and it sounded too delicious to pass up.  It was about a 10-15 minute bike ride from the vineyards.  Sadly, the scallop BLT was not on the menu, but my mom ordered the fried scallops which were deliciously fresh and battered to perfection, while I stuck with a classic lobster roll and few raw oysters to start.

After lunch, our second stop was Croteaux Vineyards, where I was surprised to learn that it’s the only vineyard in the United States dedicated exclusively to producing Rosé wines.   In terms of ambiance and setting, this colorful, hip, European-style vineyard definitely took the cake.  Buses, limos, drop-offs and parties larger than eight are prohibited, keeping the backyard tasting area low-key with a killer view.  Unfortunately, none of the wines blew me away, but naturally I’d think the rosés should be left to the French. 🙂

 

Our next and last stop was Sannino Bella Vita Vineyardone of the newest wineries on North Fork with beautiful outdoor seating overlooking the vines.  I picked up a bottle of their ” 2nd Bottle Red”, a blend of red grape varieties that produced a high tannic and peppery wine with a subtle hint of berries.

So, that was three vineyards out of the many beautiful estates spread across the region.  You can bet I’ll be back to visit a handful more this summer, where I’ll continue to profess my love and raise my wine glass to New York’s North Fork vineyards.

Gros bisous,

Krystina

Kick off summer with the best tacos on the planet

The surest sign that summer has arrived involves a visit to Rockaway Taco.  It’s been a year and a half since Hurricane Sandy clobbered the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and while progress has been slow, I am relieved to see it nonetheless.  An improvement we witnessed last weekend was the sand restoration project where bulldozers brought in mounds (ok, 3.5 million cubic yards) of sand to help the extensive beach erosion from Sandy.  The boardwalk is slowly being rebuilt, but you can tell when it’s finally done it will be gorgeous.  And while some are complaining, I commend the parks and local NYPD community who are doing everything they can to ensure proper maintenance of a safe and clean beach – because after spending all of this money to rebuild, why would you want to go forth and trash it?

The best part about a day at the beach is a lunch break at Rockaway Taco.  The fish tacos are the only important menu item to order – perfectly battered with fresh fish, and not too fried.  Make sure you add a dollop of guac and to jazz it up, help yourself to their secret brown spicy sauce from their condiment stand.

It is CASH ONLY – but they do have ATM to accommodate the forgetful.  The line can get a little crazy starting at 12:30pm so plan to go earlier or later.  If all else fails, Roberta’s parked themselves across the street.  While I am a huge fan of the pizza, you have to feel a little sorry for the guys as they gaze on to a taco line that’s wrapped around the corner.  In summary, it’s worth the wait.

How To Get There from Manhattan:  Hop on the A train and get off at Beach 90 or 98 Sts, Bike (which is my next ambitious goal, but plan for at least a 2 hour ride), or if you are lucky enough to have a car (or parents who live nearby and don’t mind hitching you a ride:) you’re all set there, or I’m also a big fan of zip car.

Happy Summer!

Vino series: Wine regions of France

Another day, another wine tasting with my good friends at Chelsea Wine Vault.  Today we ventured through the various wine regions of the world’s largest wine producer.

Here’s a list of the delicious exploration from the marvelous growers hailing from Champagne to Bordeaux to Burgundy.

1.  Jean Michel Blanc de Meunier Champagne 2007 (Champagne):  $54.99:  Made with 100% Pinot Meunier, this special grape to the region is also known as the “other red grape”.  And while most of the champagne produced today is “non-vintage”, meaning blended product of grapes from multiple vintages, this favorable year led the producer to create a “vintage” wine, where the bottle is composed of at least 85% of the grapes from vintage year.

2.  La Foret des Dames Sancerre 2012 (Loire Valley):  $18.99:  While this wine was one of the most reasonably priced of the group and received a sweet 90 point mark from Cellar Tracker I was, unfortunately, not a fan.  Many say that Sancerre is where the Sauvignon Blanc reaches its zenith of quality but I was catching more lime fruit and melon on the nose and palate that didn’t appeal to my liking.  Fun new fact I learned about sauvignon blanc – most producers favor the grape because it is a simple process where you can plant and produce a sauv blanc in a year, while a pinot noir generally takes 4-5 years.

3.  Albert Boxler Gewurztraminer 2011 (Alsace):  $39.99:  Once again, I’m not sold on the German-influenced Alsatian wine that all seem to taste like sweet dessert wines to me.  Steve tells us this is one of his favorites in the group.

4.  Château Coussin La Croix du Prieur Rosé Côtes de Provence 2012  (Provence):  $16.99:  Spring has sprung, which means I’m partial to a refreshing rosé, and this 87 point winner from Wine Spectator has a smooth texture and acidity.

5.  Domaine Pierre Gelin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos De Meixvelle 2010 (Burgundy):  $54.99:  The rare, remarkable 2010 vintage year with small supply and growing worldwide demand drives the pricey tag on this beautifully balanced pinot noir.  Aside from that, the producers are crazy conscious of the need to respect the growing environment.  The Domaine uses rain water to wash its tractors and has installed a “plant container” to process water used to rinse sulfating equipment.  That’s what I call dedication!

6.  J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph 2011 (Rhone Valley):  $35.99:  I’m a fan of the big, bold, earthy reds which makes this Syrah more up my alley.  Suggested pairing with lamb chops.

7.  Château Haut-Segottes Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006 (Bordeaux):  $38.99:  Definitely give this wine some time to open up its aromatics and flavor.   Notes of smoked cherries, cigar, peppercorn with an earthy texture.

See you at Pinot Palooza!

Vino series: Best American Wines

This was my third class at Chelsea Wine Vault, and I must say, I’m addicted.

Steve was been the instructor all three times but at this point I don’t think I could – or would want to – take a class with anyone else.  His wine knowledge astounds me, he has an incredible sense of humor and I always walk (or stumble:) away learning something new.  I’ve also noticed, and he has affirmed, that the class size has become increasingly bigger as more people express interest in the courses.

After expanding my knowledge surrounding the big and bold reds of Washington and exploring the bountiful wine selection among France’s Loire Valley, I was ready to hear Steve’s recommendation on the best wines America has to offer.  If you want the best sparking wine in the world you go to Champagne.  The best Chardonnay?  Burgundy.  But what about the United States?  Where is the best sparking wine and Pinot Noir?  Well, you want to know how awesome Steve is?  He prepared a convenient cheat sheet that outlined all of the varietals we were sampling in class and where they grow best.  I have shared this helpful little nugget with you below.

So, want to know the best of the best?  Here you go:

1.  Roederer Estate Brut NV (Anderson Valley, Mendocino County – $24.99)  This crisp sparkling wine hails from the “new, emerging hotspot for Pinot Noir” in the U.S., Anderson Valley, with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir.  I learned that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grow very well in the same environment, making this beautifully balanced and super reasonable priced sparkling wine a hit on my list.  It made it’s way into my shopping cart and I think it will be a perfect apéritif for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

2.  Ravines Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes, New York – $17.99)  “What do you think of when you hear Riesling,” Steve asks.  Everyone responds in unison, “Germany” or “sweet”.  Well, we knew this was a Finger Lakes wine, but apparently the terroir is very similar to Germany making it an ideal environment to grow Riesling.  We were all so surprised to taste the more delicate, acidic and mineral finish of the wine.  It tasted nothing like most German Rieslings I’ve tried – all so sweet, almost like a dessert wine .. the reason I’ve never been a fan.  Despite the very similar terroir, the sunlight hits the region differently and, of course, the treatment of the wine is what really differentiates the taste across vineyards. Steve says there are some excellent drier Rieslings but the Germans keep all the good stuff for themselves.. so apparently I need to book a flight to receive a more rounded point-of-view and understanding of the German Riesling varietal.  I think I need to favor a few more before I’m convinced Germany moves up on my list of wine region destinations.

3.  Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Chalk Hill, California – $28.99) Two things affect the taste of your glass of wine: 1) the temperature of the room you are drinking in and 2) oxygen.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Steve has us do two rounds of tastings for the wine so we can see how the flavor profile and aroma changes in our glass over time.  It’s very interesting for the whites because it does get a little warmer, yet if you are drinking at home you are most likely placing your wine bottle in the fridge.  This sauv blanc changed the most drastically the second time around, where it started with a smooth apple crisp profile and developed to a more savory herbaceous aroma, where many caught scents of onion, garlic or scallions.

4.  Gary Farrell Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, California – $34.99)  From tasting the Sauvignon Blanc to the Chardonnay, one thing we noticed right away was the difference in the viscosity of the wine.  Something else Steve taught me – the fuller, thicker tannin wine generally is grown in the warmer weather regions and the smoother wines in the cooler regions.  How come?  The sun and heat dries the grapes, creating a thicker skin.

5.  Alloro Vineyard Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon – $44.99)  I loved the perfect balance of the sweet fruit, black cherries and subtle spice in this Pinot Noir, but just a little too expensive for me!

6.  Seghesio Zinfandel (Sonoma County, California – $28.99)  Fun fact – this is THE ONLY wine that has been on the Wine Spectator Top 100 List seven times – all within a twelve year time frame!  Although the Zinfandel varietal hails from Croatia, it is really only grown in America – and has been for over 125 years! If I hadn’t purchased two bottles of the below cab sauv and the sparkling wine, I probably would’ve picked this up as well.  It’s a great find!

7.  Trust Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington – $34.99)  If you read my post on Washington reds you’ll see this was my favorite wine I left with from that class.  Despite the heftier price tag, my one regret is picking up only one bottle.  Ever since that class in May I’ve been on the lookout for another with no luck.  Well, I was besides myself when I walked into the store and saw the bottle on display, only to find out Steve purchased more from the supplier so he could highlight it in this specific class.  Someone asked him out of all the wines, if he had to pick one to go home with, which one would he choose.  He said this one.  It’s really that remarkable.  Another thing I learned is that Cabernet Sauvignon generally carries pricier tags because it ages so well.  Essentially meaning I can love this wine, but need to find a new favorite variety pronto!  Along with my sparkling wine, this bottle will be a Thanksgiving treat this year with the family.  Hope everyone comes thirsty!

Here’s the list of where the varietals grow best (thanks again, Steve!):

Sparkling wine:

  • Sonoma County
  • Willamette Valley
  • Los Carneros
  • Anderson Valley
  • Rio Grande River Valley

Riesling

  • Washington
  • Finger Lakes
  • California’s Central Coast
  • Michigan

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Napa Valley
  • Chalk Hill
  • Long Island

Chardonnay

  • Russian River Valley
  • Sonoma Coast
  • Napa Valley
  • Virginia
  • Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir

  • Russian River Valley
  • Sonoma Coast
  • Los Carneros
  • Santa Ynez
  • Finger Lakes
  • Willamette Valley
  • Santa Barbara

Zinfandel

  • Dry Creek Valley
  • Amador County / Sierra Foothills
  • Napa Valley
  • Sonoma County
  • Paso Robles

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Napa Valley
  • Paso Robles
  • Alexander Valley
  • Columbia Valley
  • Walla Walla

Wordless Wednesday: Happy 4th of July!

How are you celebrating Independence Day?  For the second year I am excited to sink my teeth into the 4th of July “Fit for a Bun” menu at one of my favorite restaurants, Mas (la grillade).  A seasonal menu of fresh, locally grown foods cooked solely over wood fires of oak, apple and other hardwoods, you can feel the heat of the grill without having to step out of the city (or lift a finger in the kitchen:).  Leave that up to master chef, Galen Zamarra.

Hope everyone enjoys the long holiday weekend and gets out for some sun!

Vino series: Vin blanc en français!

I was excited to take my second vino class at Chelsea Wine Vault centered around the country de ma famille:  France!  My first class I delved into the full-bodied delicious red wines of Washington.  This class was focused specifically on white wines, where most white varietals are grown in the cooler northern regions of the country and the reds are produced in the warmer climates in the south.  Once again, our instructor Steve had a nice spread of cheese and crackers laid out for us as we’d make two rounds of tastings with our glasses to compare notes after the wine was able to open up a bit more.  It was a little harder for me to pick my favorite this time around, but obviously I left with at least one.  I wanted to pick up another bottle of my favorite Cab Sauv from the Washington class but they were already sold out.

Here’s the list of the wines we tasted along with a few of my personal notes and learnings:

  1. Pol Roger Reserve Champagne NV (Champagne, France):  Hailed as Winston Churchill’s favorite champagne, this bubbly happens to be very well-known for its bubbles, which are smaller due to colder cellars which slows the second fermentation (Steve tells us smaller bubbles = better champagne.)  Comprised of four different years of crops and about 35 still base wines, I was digging this crisp, citrusy refresher which seemed like a perfect complement for a summer day outside.
  2. Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2011 (Loire Valley, France):  Grown in limestone soil, Steve tells us he gets grapefruit on the nose and palate, with a metallic taste to finish.  Like many of these white wines, the suggested pairing with scallops or fresh white fish like dover sole.
  3. Gerard Duplessis Chablis Premier Cru 2009 (Burgundy, France):  An interesting tidbit I learned about Burgundy wine: By law, all white Burgundy has to be 100% Chardonnay and all red Burgundy has to be 100% Pinot Noir.  This chardonnay from the northern Chablis region produces wines with more acidity and flavors less fruity than chardonnays grown in warmer climates.  Since Steve likes to make up his own words and adjectives to describe wine, I liked to call this one “minerally”.
  4. Morey-Coffinet Bourgogne Blanc 2011 (Burgundy, France):  When tasting it was fascinating to think this is same grape as #3 and learn it’s grown only 50 miles away, but has a completely different taste and aroma.  From one of the top growers and winemakers in the hallowed vineyards of Chassagne, this wine was my second favorite of the group.  Just as Steve described, it was beautifully balanced with an acidic mineral structure and oaky finish.  And for only $22.99 for the bottle, it’s quite a steal!
  5. Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec Cuvée Silex 2011 (Loire Valley, France):  Vouvray is the most famous and respected appellation in the Loire Valley’s Touraine district.  My top pick of the bunch, I ended up leaving that evening with a bottle.  I think I preferred this Chenin Blanc because it was dry (sec = dry) but also a little ripe; juicy pear and floral notes in counterpoint to lemon zest acidity and clean-cut minerals.
  6. Paul Coulon Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2010 (Rhône Valley, France): This wine blend is selected to produce a tangy wine with deeply perfumed aromas: 30% Clairette, 20% Grenache Blanc, 25% Bourbenblanc, 22% Roussane and 3% Picpoul Picardan.  This wine won the evening’s award for the weirdest descriptions including the smell of wet wood that has been sitting out in the rain and one classmate even described the aroma reminiscent of play-doh…And then Steve chimed in in the second round of tasting, “you know when you make a cup of tea, and you leave the tea bag around after you take it out and you say, ‘I wonder what a wet tea bag tastes like'”… Despite the hilarity that ensued, this wine was pretty enjoyable to me, just not worth the $46.99 price tag in my opinion.
  7. Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris Patergarten 2010 (Alsace, France):  I wanted this wine to be my favorite so I could tell Meme since she grew up in Alsace, but unfortunately I felt like this wine was almost too thick and fruity for me.  It was a nice finish after six pretty crisp white wines, but this almost tasted like a dessert wine to me.  Steve recommends pairing this with chicken, or Asian dishes like Thai cuisine.

I’m still working on refining my palate, but can’t say I’m not learning a few great things about wine.  Next up:  Oregon wines for summer!  Pencil it in, people.

xoxo, Krystina