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

Where to eat: Mimi’s Hummus

My best bite of hummus hails from a dimly lit side alleyway in downtown Amman, Jordan.  In the event you are unable to make the 12 hour flight for an overnight food feast through the streets of Amman, Mimi’s Hummus in Brooklyn serves some of the most delicious hummus I’ve uncovered around New York.  My Israeli best friend will certainly be angry at me for this statement but my mom and I were simply in awe of the unparalleled creaminess of the simple Mediterranean staple.

I’ve only been there for brunch, but I imagine everything on the menu is delightful at any time of day.  Here’s what you need to order:

– Green Shakshuka (Braised swiss chard, tomato, sunny side eggs & Bulgarian cheese – NOT your ordinary feta).  It comes with a little side Israeli salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions)

– Hummus topped with mushroom and onion cumin stew served with warm, pillowy pita bread

– Mimi’s sandwich ( the house signature – open faced pita with lebane eggplant, roasted peppers and Bulgarian cheese)

The one issue I have with this restaurant is the remoteness of the Flatbush location, so if you are coming from Manhattan rent a Zipcar and drive.  The nearest subway is about a 10-15 minute walk.  And while I adore the quaint, homey feel of the restaurant, the 20 available seats fill up quickly so if you are planning to dine for brunch, I recommend arriving when the doors open.

Mimi’s Hummus

1209 Cortelyou Rd

Brooklyn, NY 11218

Weekend Brunch:  11am – 4pm

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!

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: the wines of Washington

Throughout my travels I’ve had the luxury of cycling through Stellenbosch in South Africa and sampling many local wines across South America.  People think I know a lot about wine…well, I don’t.  I’m a wino in the sense that I love the taste of wine and it’s always my alcohol of choice at a party or in the comfort of my home, but my knowledge is limited…okay, very limited.  As long as it tastes good to me, right?  It doesn’t help that I have a terrible palate.   Ask me to identify a food taste or aroma blindly and probably 9 out of 10 times I won’t get it until someone says, “did you get that boysenberry aroma and candied mango finish?” And then I’d anxiously shout, “Yes!  I was just going to say that!”   But, that’s the fun of trying new things.

Located within the famed Chelsea Market in New York, Chelsea Wine Vault offers many events and classes each month with various seminar themes ranging from food pairings, grape variety or honing in on a specific wine region.

Last night wine professor Steve Lieder took us through an educational, aromatic and palate-pleasing adventure exploring some of the best wines the state of Washington has to offer.  In fact, Washington wineries have increased 400% in the last decade!  Despite popular belief because of the state’s notoriety for rain, Washington is an ideal place to grow wine – specifically east of the Cascade mountains.  The state is located in the same latitude as some of the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and now includes thirteen federally recognized appellations.

There were twelve to fifteen “students” (aka winos) in this class.  We were situated along three long rectangle tables forming an open square so we were all facing the professor and his powerpoint presentation that was projected on a TV screen.  In front of us we were each poured six glasses of wine and a glass of water along with platters of brie, crackers and red grapes.  I gazed at the pen and informative papers also placed in front of me wondering if professor Steve was going to throw in a pop quiz at the end.  Should I beeline for the door?  Then I thought of one of the fun wine posters I pinned the other day and just made the mental note in my head: “when in doubt, drink more wine.”

The class was a little over an hour so this is how it works:  professor Steve provides a brief geographical overview on the various appellations in the state.  Then he takes us through each wine to taste and reflect on the mouthful of flavors while he provides a little background on the seller, region and variety.  Thankfully, he emphasized right away not to drink the whole glass because we were going to make two laps around to see how our palates have changed and after it gave the wines more time to open up.   It was quite interesting to sample the wines twice around because the flavor profile really did change for me.  I’ll let everyone make their own decision, but I will tell you that I picked up a bottle of the Trust Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon afterwards.  It’s actually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (83%), Merlot (12%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) but by law, anything over 75% of a varietal can have its name on the label.  I just tend to attract more to the oaky reds (this wine was treated to 16 months in French oak), and I love the peppery finish from the Cabernet Franc.  Well, now that you know my favorite, check out the wines below and try them out for yourself!

In case you need another reason to sign up, you get 10% off a bottle of wine after the class!  I’ll be back, professor Steve.