Apples in The Big Apple

Apples in The Big Apple

Denice and John travelled to the USA recently to study food and wine in three cities - Washington DC, New York and Chicago - mainly New York. Their purpose was to learn about local produce and tastes.

Your feedback is most welcome: john@whiskeygullywines.com.au. John cannot guarantee he will consider all of it lucidly, given that blog entries sometimes follow wine tastings, but he will try. See also our Facebook presence - WHISKEY GULLY WINES - for additional pictures.

Hint: If you are new and would like to read things in chronological order, go to the end – you see how far we’ve come since Bill Gates? If you are a regular then the latest post is at the top… but you knew that.

  13. 2010 Anthony Road Gewurztraminer (Finger Lakes, NY)
November 15, 2011

Anthony Road Wines

Anthony Road  is a well established Finger lakes Winery above the western bank of Lake Seneca.

The wine has a mid-straw colour; has pearly clean pear and honeysuckle rose flavours on the nose with sultanas, pears, peaches and slight lychees on the palate. Well balanced with firm acid and clean, not too sweet finish. Makers notes talk of ginger and orange peel – maybe that’s where I get the lychees. High alcohol (13.5% by volume). An excellent Gewurztraminer and surprisingly, excitingly even, dry. Makes me want to try some of the German marques.

Cellar door price: US$17 – a bargain.

  12. Jamie Macfarlane, The Ice House Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
November 11, 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Ice House

Cabernet Sauvignon bunches in fine fettle in November
with plenty of green leaves still evident

Soil treatment

Jamie runs a meticulous small vineyard
and makes only ice wines

ice house wines

The Ice House Winery, Niagara, Ontario. The winery
is integrated with a cosy and attractive cellar door

Inniskillin

(This blog is well out of sequence too. Far too much happening!)

Jamie makes only ice wines. His tools of trade are the Vidal Blanc grape, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, one called Dornfelder and the Niagara region’s challenging climate. Vines are dense – nine ft row spacing - and produce between three and five tones per acre.

Ice wines are repeatedly frozen on the vine. The first time this happens the plants lose their leaves, meaning that the bunches are sustained by the wood for a time and then by nothing. By Canadian law, if you want to call a wine an ice wine it must be picked when the temperature is no higher that -8 degrees C. It takes a while to build up to that. While we were there the leaves on the cabernet sauvignon grapes were still green, indicating that they had not been frosted. This traditionally happens in November with repeated freezings leading up to harvest from mid-December for white varieties into January for later ripening varieties. I judged the Cabernet to be around 10 degrees Baume and in great shape with the birds just starting to take an interest.

“The berries change their flavours during these freezes,” says Jamie. “That is where they get the honey, caramel and butterscotch flavours.” Jamie does not use oak to finish his wines. He believes oak masks the subtleties revealed by the natural icing process.

We were impressed by all of his wines – the Vidal Blanc, which startles with an amazing and unusual lychee flavour mingled with peaches and apricots, the Reisling and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Dornfelder, the last showing cassis and chocolate flavours.

Jamie says a key to viticulture in Niagara is to crop heavily – not because this produces better grapes necessarily but because the area can experience high temperatures and humidity in August which may produce disease and cropping this way is a form of insurance against losses.“Not everyone agrees with me, of course,” he adds with a wry smile. Jamie’s operation is small and he focuses on quality. Oddly, alongside his marques, he also produces an ice slushy with the Vidal Blanc which is like a turbo charged grape and peach sorbet.

Most of the ice wines we tasted followed Jamie’s philosophy of not flavouring their ice wines with oak. An exception was at Inniskillin, one of the biggest of the area’s producers as well as one of the first. They do a Vidal Blanc which is oak treated. The knowledgeable young man who served us said they use oak staves, rather than entrusting an easily spoilt wine to barrels. It certainly helped the back palate in much the same way as staves help our own dessert wine, Nectar. It was hard to evaluate Jamie’s theory that the oak gets in the way. Inniskillen is a sizeable business, producing traditional table wines for the wholesale and export markets as well as their famous ice wines.

With just a few days left of the trip and no way of conveying wine home, we initially decided not to purchase any Inniskillen but, after tasting the magnificent Cabernet Franc ice wine, we couldn’t help ourselves.

I should add that we are indebted to Jamie at The Ice House who insisted on giving us a family discount when we purchased his excellent wine. “Family discount” turned out to be no charge. We hope that Jamie gets to Whiskey Gully Wines sometime so that we can repay the favour.

Niagara is flatter and not anywhere near as spectacular as New York’s Finger Lakes region, 50 miles or so south. However, I have to say that we found the Niagaran wines more consistent in their quality and more subtle. We were also gob smacked with the amazing difference in climate - caused, perhaps, by being between two of the Great Lakes - Eerie and Ontario - which produce what locals call "lake effects". Despite being considerably further north than the Finger Lakes, many of Niagara’s vines still have green leaves. In Finger Lakes, all of the vines we saw had long since lost their leaves and the crop had been harvested. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed our implication that Finger Lakes ice wines are picked at -6 degrees C. Different rules or have I made a mistake? I'll check.

  11. A chicago restaurant and a dose of blues
November 14, 2011

Quail andv Pheasant at Naha

The Pheasant and Quail dish was
excellent but a little jumbled

Buddy Guy's Legends

Buddy Guy's Legends had a jam night
when we were there. Pity it wasn't these guys.

Blue Chicago

Blue Chicago on Clark

Blue Chicago - the guitarist on the left
is going to be a star

We found this through web reviews. The menu looked innovative. A subdued place in a convenient downtown location.

As an entrée (yes, appetizer in the US) I had Jerusalem artichoke soup with seared duck liver, black truffles, buttered kholrabi and chervil. The plate was presented with the garnishes first then a waiter poured the soup from a jug at the table – good touch. I love the rooty flavour of Jerusalem artichokes and they went perfectly with the livers and truffles. The kohlrabi, which I had never before heard of, turned out to be a German turnip cut into tiny cubes. I suspect the Jerusalem artichoke was cooked with a chicken stock and pureed. It was an excellent dish, just a fraction under-seasoned but made by the contrasting textures of the truffle, the soup and the kholrabi.

We chose a Cotes du Bourg wine, 2009 Chateau la Grolet. I suspect it was Cab Sav/Merlot with a little Malbec. One website I later looked up indicated Merlot Cab Sav but I suspect that is wrong. The Cotes du Bourg is on the wrong (east) bank of the Dordogne. They also seemed to have used the wrong oak for this. We found the tannins were fairly strong and lacked elegance. The aroma was good. The wine was dry but short. Cassis and mulberry fruit but not well balanced. Also too young.

The restaurant specialises in seafood and game. Denice had Great Lakes whitefish with blue crab meat and white beech mushrooms, wheat berries and a red wine lobster jus. She said the strong extras overpowered the delicate white fish. It was a firm fish. The wheat berries made the dish a little dry.

I had “whole roast pheasant and quail” which turned out to be a succulent pheasant breast and a tasty boned quail. They were dressed with Matsutake mushrooms - similar to porcinis in their strong flavour – and veal sweetbreads (overcooked), parsnips, apples, herbs and polenta. The dish was good but not brilliant – a bit jumbled. The jus was excellent as was the polenta, sourced from an Illinois farm called Three Sisters. Jude, our waiter - a nice guy - explained that they sourced all of their grains from this farm. The pheasant came from Ohio and the Quail from California which surprised as I would have thought Illinois to be a place to farm game birds.

We had a very pleasant meal and we are indebted to Jude for his excellent service. Read more about Naha.


After dinner we caught the subway south and took in a jam night at Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club. One young guitarist from Nashville impressed. Everyone else wanted to be a little too much like Buddy Guy. It is an amazing place, however. People to have played there include BB King, Eric, Derek Trucks, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Stevie-Ray Vaughan and John Lee Hooker. While people played, large screen TVs around the place continued to broadcast the Green Bay Packers Minnesota Vikings gridiron game which made for some applause and groans in the wrong places. Actually, a couple of the groans were spot on. Would they do that if Eric was there? Great stuff. We left at midnight but they are probably still rocking.

Denice and I are amused that at the two blues venues we have been to so far the average age of the audience is around 55. The night we got in (yesterday, relative to this Blog entry) we had a curry meal which was good but huge. So, we took a doggy bag and headed for Blues Chicago, another downtown blues venue.

Surprisingly for a Sunday night it was not packed and the band - Peaches Staten and The Room Shakers, who play every Sunday, apparently, were sensational, particularly when Peaches put a metal washboard on her chest and pummelled out a rhythm - fantastic. Her guitarist - whose name I have managed to forget but will find out - was brilliant. He had the Buddy Guy Chicago style but individualised it with wonderful staccato riffs that were a pleasure to hear. There are so many good musicians with their bums hanging out of their pants in this city. It is a crime and a sin. Change the tax laws and give these people a living, you fools. People can't play that way without putting in many, many hard yards. What a night! Anyway, we left with a CD and contributed a final waft of leftover Biriani rice.

  10. 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Cabernet Franc Ice Wine
November 11, 2011

2008 Mermann J Wiemer Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

Niagara Falls at Night

The power of the falls

Niagara Falls by day

(My chronology is wrong for the next few posts. You can follow it better by looking at the dates under each entry.)

This is a Finger Lakes wine. We liked the Wiemer wines very much. This Cab Franc was a beautiful bright rose colour with raspberry and blackcurrent aromas with a luscious, syrupy texture to a palate of intense berry flavours. Good acid and a long dry finish.

The bottle tells us that sugar at harvest was 39.5 per cent by weight. Residual sugar is 20.6 percent. The wine is quite low in alcohol – 9 per cent – yet still achieves a butterscotch intensity.

$65 per bottle from the winery.

We reviewed this wine on arrival in Niagara Falls, Canada, and this turned out to be an inspired decision because the next day we were able to compare the Finger Lakes wines with the Niagara region wines.

 

9. Niagara - between the lakes
November 12, 2011

Most people imagine Niagara to be one of the most spectacular places in the world and so it is. Having snagged a river-facing room at the Sheraton Hotel at a special rate by telephone on the drive there, we arrived at night, travel weary because the GPS device we had purchased in New York did not recognise our choice of destination: Niagara-On-The-Lakes. This turned out to be because the map does not cover Canada. We had to find our way there and make two undesired stops at Macdonalds, which have free wi-fi, to check our location on Google Maps. We memorised directions, finally found the Queenston Lewiston Bridge, made our way across, got our passports stamped and promptly became lost again. By this time it was no longer funny.

Imagine our joy when we got to our spacious room on the tenth floor, walked to the window and were totally gob-smacked by Niagara Falls, the most northerly of which (the American Falls) was just three or four hundred metres away. We opened the double-glazed window to be greeted by a mighty roar. Amid a culture where, as Eddie Izzard reminds us, hotdogs are often said to be "awesome", we confronted the true meaning of that adjective. The largest of the falls (The Bridal Veil Falls) creates a permanant mist which, every few minutes, coalesces into a small cloud and floats away.

For our night-time viewing convenience, America and Canada lit the falls from both sides. In Indian summer conditions, we stood there wondering how so much water could pass over the falls every second of every day of every year. Our friend Alba Conti reminded me by Facebook that this is just a dribble compared to the Iguazu Falls bordering Argentina/Brazil. However, it is an incredible display of nature's power, especially since substantial volumes of water are diverted from above the falls through hydro-electric power stations in both the United States and Canada. To this Australian, used to seeing inland waterways that are over-sized puddles, it was hard to get my head around this being over a thousand miles away from the St Lawrence River's entry into the Atlantic Ocean.

For the irrigation junkies back home on the Granite Belt, 5.6 million litres of water per second flows over the falls, landing with immense force 50m metres below; bigger even than Alex Harslett's dam! Seabirds love the place. They flock above the washpools, taking care not to get too close to the falls and their perilous air currents there, presumably watching for stunned fish - how could they be otherwise after that wild ride. Downstream at the whirlpool, where the river turns sharp right, the birds do the same. Apparently the falls are a feeding area for seabirds migrating south from as far as Greenland. Because the flow is so fast, the river does not freeze, making winter fishing possible. According to the Canadian Nature Federation, the Niagara River has the largest and most diverse concentration of gulls in the world. Of 42 known species, Niagara Falls hosts 19 from November every year. They certainly looked well fed.

I have posted more pictures on our Facebook site: whiskey gully wines.

 

8. Finger Lakes wine district
November 10, 2011

Lake Seneca

Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.
The district is reminiscent of Tasmania

Cheryl, our wine guide at Weimar

Cheryl was a perfect hostess at Wiemar Wines

Wiemar_vines

Riesling vines at Wiemar Wines

2008 Casa Laga Fiori

New York State's Finger Lakes District is five hours and a hundred years from New York city. To see the lakes in fall is a wonderful thing. Rolling hills and long lakes provide a great setting for vineyards and the area is amazingly similar to travelling up Tasmania's Tamar Valley.

Oskar Bynke, co-owner and business manager of Hermann Wiemer Wines, south of Geneva on Lake Seneca, knows Australia and confirms the Tasmania analogy. The climate is much the same - a little colder - as are the grape varieties it suits: Riesings and Pinot Noirs, mainly but they have several exotic varieties here too.

The flip side is that big reds don’t do so well. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are about the limit, although we tasted one Cabernet Sauvignon blend which we liked. The area specialises in Riesling and ice wines, picked when the temperature plunges to – 6 degrees C at the end of the growing season. They are then pressed before the ice has a chance to melt, releasing the juice with concentrated sugars.

Oskar says rieslings tend to get lime and apricot flavours with a flinty, clean finish. We tasted a champagne-style cuvee brut consisting of 50/50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was dry with a very powerful flavour through the front and mid-palate. Cherry flavours from the Pinot come through on the nose and the palate but, interestingly, not at all in the colour, as far as I can tell. It was mid-straw. The wine was not particularly well balanced. We liked the Riesling and the Cabernet Franc Ice Wine.

We are indebted to Cheryl (pictured) and her colleague, Kay, for making us most welcome. This is another feature of upstate New York. With one exception, everyone we met around Finger Lakes was absolutely welcoming and helpful.

The Finger Lakes district stretches from the lakes, up to Rochester, on Lake Ontario. Row and plant spacing is typically eight feet/six feet or nine feet/five feet in the area. Varieties planted that we saw include Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vignoles, Vionier, Cayuga, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Casa Larga, at Fairport, near Rochester, sold Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also but these grapes were sourced "elsewhere", being, apparently, California.

Apparently 2011 was a terrible vintage, being hot and very dry, followed by rain at harvest. The winemakers rave about 2010 but we shall have to wait and see.

Anthony Road wines

Johannes Reinhardt, the winemaker, harks from Germany and German wines inform his art. He is critical of viticultural methods in Finger Lakes that, he says, prevent the Pinots, for example, reaching their potential and taking on complex flavours: most vineyards do not practice canopy management, he says. We felt many of the Pinots we tasted lacked character. They had cherry flavours but none achieved the subtleties (strawberry and raspberry and complex tannins) of Burgundy Pinots.

The soil is loamy and retains water – none of the vineyards we saw were irrigated and Johanness says they don’t need to be. Rainfall is around 600ml a year. He says soil compaction is a problem. Vines are allowed to produce between three and five tonnes per acre. Johannes makes a fine Gewurztraminer and excellent Rieslings.

Find out more about Anthony Road Wines.

2008 Casa Larga Fiori Delle Stelle
Vidal Blanc

Casa Larga produces mainly ice wines from the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The winery is large and caters for weddings and other functions. It is commercial but a family company with strong Italian ties. They have about 80 acres of vines. The winery is close to the major centre of Rochester, on Lake Ontario, and well away from the Finger Lakes. The winery has five acres attached to it. The company owns two larger vineyards in the region.

My notes are: This is a honey-coloured wine with a luscious aroma of apricots and honey. The front palate shows burnt butterscotch and pronounced apricot flavours. It is mouth-filling with a long, lemony finish; well balanced with excellent acid throughout. Vidal Blanc (we later discovered) sometimes gives prounced lychee flavours. This showed none of that. The bottle notes that the wine has residual sugar by weight of 18.9%. It was 38 degrees brix at harvest (a little less that our Nectar). It cost us $45 for a 350ml bottle at the winery.

  7. NV Dr Konstantin Frank Fleur De Pinot Noir
November 9, 2011

Fleur de Pinot Noir

The bottle describes the wine as an "elegantly flavoured Beaujolais-style red wine". I am not sure why. The maker says it was made from younger plantings of Pinot on the vineyard at Hammondsport, beside one of the western Finger Lakes - Keuka. It apparently goes well with steaks, hamburgers, salmon and roast turkey, which is a large and improbable gamut.

Apparently, Dr Frank was "the father of vinifera" in the Eastern United States, meaning that he pioneered viticulture here, but then others claim that Scott Henry did, if I recall.

Anyway, I judged the wine to be a good Pinot colour, ie. a clear cherry red. Cherries on the nose but not much else. The palate is quite full, despite this being just 12 per cent alcohol. It is fruit driven and what oak there is, if any, is not pronounced. It is a little sappy and the fruit tannins are hard. Nevertheless it is an exuberant, savoury wine which has a pleasant aura. It is not particularly well balanced and the finish is weak, which doesn't add up to a great review for a wine which I quite enjoyed! p;erhaps I drank too much of it - or possible not enough.

 

6. 2010 Swedish Hill Cayuga White
November 9, 2011

Hudson River

The Hudson in fall is a wonderful thing

Cayuga white

A big travelling day to the Finger Lakes wine district of upstate New York. We have just got here and already we are rewarded with a lovely wine made with a grape of which I have never before heard.

We arrived via an Amtrak train up the eastern bank of the Hudson River to the state capital, Albany. Gore Vidal described the Hudson as a mighty river and so it is. To see it in fall, more than half a mile across for the most part, is a wonderful thing. It has rare beauty.

With burnished trees flicking by it was such a change from Australia which, apart from some short rivers in Far North Queensland and Tasmania, has no high volume streams like this.

We hired a car and drove out of Albany, west towards Buffalo and Niagara on Interstate 90 along the Mohawk River, which joins the Hudson above Albany. It too carries a lot of water. I was thinking what a pleasant change it was to see a river that flows, instead of a series of waterholes and pools held back by weirs, as happens almost everywhere in Australia, when we passed a weir and, a little upstream, another.  Ah well, how fancy flows.

The scenes were so beautiful in a brown, yellow and grey way; with a visual density that only northern climes offer. We arrived at Geneva, on one of the Finger Lakes - Seneca - in early evening with the moon and the bright north star sparkling on the water.

Immediately we found a treat - our spacious apartment - lovely but a slave to reproduction style - offered a complimentary bottle of local wine, a 2010 Swedish Hill Cayuga White. Cayuga, the bottle informed me, was a grape variety developed especially for the Finger lakes area by Cornell University researchers at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.

It was lovely with lemony but also apple flavours which seemed like a cross between Riesling and Colombard. It has a mid-straw colour and is full flavoured, quite sweet and viscous without straying into the dessert wine space. The wine gives off floral aromas with a bare hint of classic Riesling kerosene. The palate lacks elegance and the tannins are flat but it has appealing red apple flavours. Very interesting and a great introduction to the area.

 

 

5. Big Saturday - Guggenheim, Empire State, Lincoln and Birdland
November 5, 2011

Cattelin

Little could make me happier than today, which I am writing up tomorrow because the day was that big. We walked two blocks to the Guggenheim to see the iconic museum and its latest exhibition - Cattelin's disturbing fantasy/reality which was challenging in that it somehow managed to elicit macabre humour from scenes most of us would usually find abhorrent. It was billed as a retrospective but the mercurial Italian managed more than that, collecting or reproducing most of his lifelong works in a dramatic mobile that hangs inside Frank Lloyd Wright's famous spiral, allowing viewers to look into the architecture, as well as get a surreal view of Cattelin's amazing work.

The Guggenheim is a great space and Cattelin took full advantage of it. Also on show in side galleries were Kandinski paintings from the gallery's collection and some excellent modern art, including the best Picasso I have ever seen - woman with yellow hair (HERE'S A LINK) - one of Monet's best Venice scenes and some lovely Manets. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours in the morning.

Lunch was a nibble or two at home, washed down with Perrier Jouet champagne found for a very reasonable price at Garnet Wines and Liquors. I then worked and rested while Denice and Steve Thompson, a friend from Australia, went off to the Empire State building to take in sunset with a thousand or so others - I couldn't stand the thought of the queue.

We recombined early evening at the Lincoln Centre, where I got a few shots of the Metropolitan Opera House (The Met) with its magnificent arches and the two immense Chagal tapestries within the flanks. What can one say? I guess that because the Garnier Opera in Paris has a ceiling painted by Chagal it was only right that the Met should get two of them. And, since the Sydney Opera House got Jorn Utzon's wonderful sails then it is logical that the financiers of the Met should co-opt an architect, Wallace K. Harrison, to produce a lavish and outstanding building. Just as an aside, I learnt the other day that Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, which now hangs in the Sydney Opera House, previously was leased by The Four Seasons and, for a while, dominated the restaurant.

On this occasion we were heading for Lincioln Restaurant but Denice and I had managed to see two operas at the Met previously - one this week and one last. Don Giovanni was studded with glittering stars including Latvian soprano, Marina Rebeka, whose flawless voice nailed the audience in their seats. The previous week we saw Il Barbiere di Siviglia - equally fabulous in the true sense of that overused word. Opera goers could, in fact, choose any of four productions at the Met within the last fortnight. You could go on consecutive nights if you wanted - the immense and elaborate sets presumably being hauled off after each performance and dismantled to make way for the next night's extravaganza.

The Met

Spirit of Music

The Met is outstanding, inside and out - stylistically perfect for purpose. This adds much to the performance. We sat way up in the galleries and marvelled at the beautiful fittings including chandelliers by Hans Harald Rath and Mary Callery’s sculpted arabesques, which top the theatre's proscenium arch - which is a perfect square, measuring 18 metres top and sides. The stage and backstage areas are so big that virtually anything is possible, including the recreation of four storey buildings capable of supporting people on all balconies, in Don Giovanni, which, when slid off, revealed more four storey buildings behind. Don Giovanni died in an inferno of flames produced beneath the stage that, in a lesser venue, would have burnt the place down.

On the mezzanine before and after the show, one may sip a decent lemony champagne, taking in the Chagals - called The Triumph Of Music and The Sources Of Music - or sit beneath the latter for dinner. The Met recently used them as colleteral to refinance a $35 million loan. Interestingly, most of the images on the web are of the Triumph, so I've included the Source to even things up. The visitor sees these paintings from outside, framed by the Met's immense windows. They, The Met and the relationship they have with one another are truly breathtaking.

The Met is but one building of several at the Lincoln Centre. There is a Theatre and Concert Hall plus a large learning centre and the magnificent Lincoln Restaurant, where we settled in last night. The setting was outstanding, beneath the wierdly twisted roof of the restaurant which is grassed on top and wood panelled inside. Glass walls, which feature everywhere in the Lincoln Centre give great views in and out. The meal was expertly guided by our waiter, Justin, who we had met before when we nipped in for dessert after one of our opera trips. He was a mine of information about New York's restaurant scene and was extremely knowlegeable about Italian wines. He introduced us to a fine Sicilian Moscato dessert wine called Ben Rye. The food was good but overseasoned and it lacked the flair and brilliance of some of the restaurants we have been to. I had gnocci with white truffles. I felt the truffles were shaved a little too thinly which reduced the nutty textural experience I was anticipating. However, they greeted the nose aggreably. Justin was teriffic. We suggested he might like to date our daughter.

That should probably have been enough but at ten thirty we looked up the web and discovered that a famous old jazz club, Birdland, in the lower west, had a Django Reinhardt Festival on featuring the French guitarist, Dorado Schmitt and his countryman, button accordionist, Ludovic Bieber. We hopped in a cab and got there at five minutes to. Brilliant. They played together with Pierre Blanchard, on violin, Xavier Nikci, on bass and Francko Mehrstein, on rhythm guitar. Dorado's 16 year old son, Amati, came on after a few numbers and played astonishing guitar. A young asian guy on harp who they called Mark but I think is actually Motoshi Kosako, came on for a couple of virtuoso numbers - absolutely brilliant. What a day and night. Sigh!

A bit of gossip - Blanchard and Schmitt had a bust up on stage after the gig; the former apparently not appreciating the amount of fiddle the latter played during the set. Frankly, Schmitt is not brilliant on violin. He should have stuck to guitar, methinks.

 

4. To market to market and Four Seasons for lunch
November 2, 2011

Union Square Market

Union Square market is one of half a dozen
fruit and vegetable markets in Manhattan

I think I have discovered a way to get exceptional service and value at expensive restaurants. Later, I shall tell how.

For the first time since we arrived, we got up early, made possible by this also being the first time we had got(ten) to bed at a reasonable time. The occasion was a trip to Union Square market down at 14th Street. Ever since I have been here I have been wondering where good restaurants get their produce. Managers, chefs and waiters at the swankier joints say they have relationships with farm companies in upstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and have fresh produce delivered daily. They suggested I could get a slice of this fresh action by going to one of the local markets. There are a half dozen around Manhattan that happen from once a week to four times a week. Union Square market was the original farmers' market. It runs Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

It was a revelation. The farmers come in person, bringing rural pace and manners with them. Many are slow talking and delight in spending time with customers. It is a place that brings a smile to your face no matter how you started the day.

Red Crescent potatoes

This kind and happy farmer promised that her
red crescent potatoes would be the best I
had ever tasted.

Everyone was exceptionally friendly and happy to share their knowledge and experience. We got French sorrel from a couple of apparently gay guys from up near the Caskills (not the guys pictured by the way), wonderful small turnips from a New Jersey farmer, tasted cheese made by a traditional Amish gentleman from Pennsylvania and purchased fabulous mashing potatoes from a lovely lady who promised that her Ruby Crescents at $3/lb would be the best I had ever tasted. I just know they will.

We also got fresh horseradish - a treat because it is very hard to find in Australia - fresh thyme, agreeably frosted brussell sprouts and a spatchcock, which is apparently called a Cornish Game Bird here, for some reason. It may have something to do with American's phobia about the word cock.

As well as fruit and vegetables, flower sellers and bakers were well represented. I asked one of the bakers about how most New Yorkers got their bread, since there do not appear to be many bakeries. "Lots of shops get par-bakes," he explained. "They buy them wholesale from out of town as partially baked loaves and finish them on the premises." This baker hailed from New Jersey. He said three or four proper bakeries still operated in the city but they were thin on the ground. The par-bakes probably explain why general supermarket breads here have such hard crusts. We brought a great looking baguette loaf from him and an apple pie - our first in The Big Apple. Laden with wonderful produce, we made our way home. It is beginning to feel like home.

  The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

 

Not long at home, though. Lunch was at The Four Seasons, the right one, this time. As good as our other "Four Seasons" experience had been, this one trumped it, although comparing the two is like pitting apples against pears. L'Atelier was about food and wine; The Four Seasons is a total experience of which food and wine are a part.

The sense of history was apparent when we walked in. A young assistant manager greeted us with a broad smile and, upon hearing my enduring interest in the establishment, told me that he was a second generation employee; his father worked here for 30 years before him. "Many of our staff have been here 30 and 40 years."

Interior of The Four Seasons

The interior creates peace and space

The scale of the restaurant is staggering. It takes up a floor of a large building on East 52nd street near Park Avenue and includes two restaurant rooms - The Grill and The Pool Room, plus private dining rooms and offices. It has not changed since designers Philip Johnson and Miles van der Rohe handed it over to management in 1959. It is not allowed to change either. It was designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as an interior landmark in 1989 and, as our waiter, Paul - "I'm a rookie. I have only been here 14 years,"- told us, only the carpets can be changed when they wear out. In the centre of dense Manhattan, what impresses most people, aside from the extremely well-heeled clientele (and, at one table, their pampered infant children enjoying a birthday), is the personal space that the establishment affords. We were in The Pool Room, centred around a marble-lined fountain pool with large tables and comfortable leather sofas facing the pool. Large tree sculptures at the four corners reflect the season. They are changed every three months. Outside this square are conventional but large tables settings, also with leathered comfort. A vast window in The Pool Room looks up and over 52nd Street, affording privacy by ingenious curtains of gossamar threads in which subtle temperature changes create barely perceptible waves that are peaceful and simply beautiful.

Bison with foi gras and truffled mushroom jus

Above: Filet of Bison, foie Gras, Perigord Black Truffle

Desserts

Ourv desserts were just and presented
by Paul, our waiter, with his compliments.
That is Paul on the left below sharing
a joke with Pa Kettle.

John and paul

The wine list and the menu are classic and conventional. Denice chose a Caesar salad entree (or appetizer, as Americans insist on calling it) and crab cakes with a seeded mustard sauce for main course. I went for lobster bisque followed by bison steak with foie gras and Perigord black truffles. I had a glass of the 2009 Chalon Chardonnay from the Napa Valley (which tasted for all the world like a really good Granite Belt Chardonnay, not unlike the one we produced in 2001) and a Burgundy - 2007 Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin - to go with the mains.

While not cutting edge like L'Atelier, the food was excellent - full flavoured, well balanced and perfectly seasoned. Denice's salad was immaculately presented with flawless cos lettuce and a mayonnaise which incorporated all of the traditional ingredients except bacon, possibly because this is a favoured establishment of New York's Jewish community. Her crab cakes were wonderful - the mashed potato element was shaped as a triangular cylindrical crust around generous proportions of fresh sand crab meat elaborated with mayonnaise and choice vegetables. My bisque was traditional, rich and perfect while the bison (served medium rare on Paul's advice) was succulent. It is less fatty than beef and has a flavour more akin to veal with a slight gaminess. My first time with bison and I liked it a lot. The foie gras was seared - a culinary act I would normally regard as heretical, however, it did not overly diminish the quality. The black truffle shaved into the mushroom jus was genuine, and hauntingly tasty.

Paul was as much companion as waiter, generous with his knowledge o fthe menu and clearly happy to share his love of The Four Seasons. He insisted on choosing our desserts and presenting them to us with his compliments - a semifreddo for Denice, apple pie for me and a bowl of fresh berries to share. Life is good. Paul also introduced us to the maitre d'hotel, Lorenz Pretterhofer and one of the two co-owners, Julian Niccolini - the latter was a brief, affable encounter which made me suspect that, on a glance, he adjudged us not quite so deserving of his time as many of his guests. That is understandable. Julian and his staff have feted kings and queens, celebrities, bankers and other criminals. Yet sometimes I feel that Denice and I are Australian clones of Ma and Pa Kettle. What a great lunch, though. Town & Country Magazine once voted The Four Seasons the "Favourite Restaurant in the World". Perhaps it is.

I should add that the bill was short of L'Atelier's and the two of them together came to less than we paid for our magical evening at la Tour D'Argent in Paris, three years ago. After our visit there, people sometimes ask why I would pay so much for a meal. My response is that I consider it great value. The experience remained with us and I recall it every time I visit a good restaurant. It is a yardstick and a mentor. I am certain that both The Four Seasons and L'Atelier will provide similarly lasting pleasure.

Now, are you dying to know how one gets exceptional service and value at expensive restaurants? Well, telling the staff that I have waited most of my life for this particular moment at this particular restaurant scored five free courses in two restaurants within the space of three days! Now there is food for thought for the unscrupulous.

2007 Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin

2007 Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin

This was an excellent wine - a strong strawberry nose with a well balanced palate of berry fruit and oak. It had an intense, satisfying and long-lasting finish. I presume it to be 100% Pinot Noir but cannot find corroborating evidence. It is a Côte d'Or wine and I think Dominique Gallois may be a négociant, meaning that he is a merchant who has sourced this wine from Gevrey-Chambertin and marketed it under his own name, in which case he chose wisely.

I was going to rely on The Wine Doctor for this reviewbecause I could not bring myself to make notes in the peaceful space of The Four Seasons but he has either passed it by or, like me, has never heard of it before, although he writes highly of Gevrey-Chambertin as a district. www.thewinedoctor.com.

  3. The Burger Joint in a posh hotel
November 1, 2011

YThe Burger Joint in Le Parker meridien Hotel

The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel

The US Library of Congress attributes the invention of the American-style hamburger to Louis Lassen, owner of Louis' Lunch, in New Haven, Connecticut, who served hamburgers the way we now know them from 1895. However, according to Wikipedia, hamburger first appeared on a printed menu in the USA in 1826, at Delmonico's in New York, served as a ground beef patty. It remains a stalwart of the New York diet.

On the advice of the New York Times we visited the Burger Joint, a bespoke space complete with designer graffiti which sits incongrously within the quite swank Le Parker Meridien Hotel in West 57th Street. We had tried to get in previously only to find it closed because of an oven fire. Said the concierge, "The burgers are extremely rare today, sir, I am afraid. Come back tomorrow. We hope to re-open by then."

We gave them a couple of days and walked into the tiny, packed out joint today and got in line. The burgers were being served in traditional paper wrappings. A hand written sign above the counter took the uninitiated (and the stupid, I would think) through burgerism 101: with cheese/no cheese; cooked - rare, medium, well done; fillings - lettuce, tomato etc; THE WORKS. The girls behind the counter were alternatively serving customers and discussing union rates and conditions. It wouldn't be a burger joint without it.

A Burger Joint burger

A Burger Joint burger (thanks to
Bloomburg BusinessWeek for the pic)

We did the same as most people and each bought THE WORKS with French fries. I had beer in a plastic beaker and Denice had an orange soda in a soft can. Magically, a space at a bar table opened and Denice, who shows an amazing turn of speed when required, did the New York thing and beat a little old lady to the stools by a fraction of a second. Ketchup and mustard were added via plastic containers on the tables.

As the New York Times reported, these are great burgers and inexpensive; really tasty patties of good quality ground beef with just the right amount of fat and cereal, cooked exactly to your liking in a not too sweet bun with freshly cut salad vegetables. Delicious. It was noisy and cramped, service was non- existent but it was a wonderful experience. Such a relief not to have a busboy filling my water glass every three sips or a waiter sniffing at me smothering my fries in mustard.

The only minor annoyance was someone invisible below us trying to jack hammer their way through to Fort Knox, which shook the floor and made a racket above the one that the joint was creating itself. On our way out when Denice visited the loo - I swear she collects toilet visits like bird watching trophies - I asked the assistant concierge about it. He looked like he had retired years ago but couldn't bring himself to leave the place. "It's next door," he said, shrugging expressively. "We can't do anything about it. They've got a permit. I'd say it'll be going like this for at least a month. They are building a new building." The economy may not be great in New York at this time but this was a reminder that this city has only one mode: expansion. Not even the worst recession makes it contract. People keep coming.

Garnet_wines

On the way home we discovered Garnet Wines and Liquors in Lexington Avenue (near East 68th) recommended to us by Andrew Liebeke, who we met on the M3 bus up Madison Avenue, as the best wine store in New York. We took to it like diabetics in a sweet shop. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and one of them, Martin, who I suspect just turns up to help because he likes the place so much, picked me up on my description of the Margaux we had drunk the previous night as a Grand Cru. "Oh, no. There is only one Grand Cru in Margaux and that is Chateau Margaux. It must have been a Grand Cru Classe. That is very different." Thank you for that, Martin. He is not a man to quibble with. If I lived in New York I would buy deli stuff from Zabar's and wine and hard liquor from Garnet Wines. Brilliant, both.

Sea_Scallop and fava bean rissotto

Sea scallop and fava bean risotto

Dinner was a home-cooked affair using the best produce I could find on the way - some wild sea scallops, broad beans, known here by their original name of fava beans and a bunch of fresh-ish oregano. The wild sea scallops are very small. They look great, take a moment to cook and taste really good. This is scallop season and they are everywhere at present, with the ones from Nantucket called Nantucket scallops - fair enough.

I made a risotto using leftover halibut stock fortified with Finger Lakes Reisling from upstate New York and some arborio rice we picked up from Zabar's. I shelled the beans and took off the olive green sleeve around them the way the Italians do. A little garlic, sliced onions and seasoning started it off and fifteen minutes later we once again ate like kings, washing it down with an Alsace Reisling.

Tomorrow we are off the Union Square for the farmers' market where, we were promised by the lovely French manager of L'Atelier, Estelle, we would find wonderful super-fresh produce. Can't wait!

  2. L'Atelier at The Four Seasons
October 31, 2011

Le Crabe

Le Crabe - crab meat with creamed avocado,
sitting on an acidulated avocat jelly
in a beautiful ceramic egg

Wow, what a night! Denice and I just got home from one of the best dining experiences we have ever had - perhaps the best. But let's backtrack for a moment. Brisbane restaurateur and personality, Ann Garms, once showed me two menus she possessed: La Tour D'Argent in Paris and The Four Seasons in New York. The message was that when I was able, I should go to these places to complete my education. We got to La Tour a couple of years ago. Tonight, we almost went to the Four Seasons... almost.

We looked up the number and booked, caught a bus down 5th Avenue (doesn't everone catch a bus to the Four Seasons?) and made our way down 57th to the Four Seasons Hotel. "We have a reservation." "Of course, Mr Arlidge." And in we went. We sat down in the 50-odd seat restaurant, drooled over Joel Robuchon's menu, ordered a glass of champagne for me and a Riesling for Denice plus a bottle of 2004 Chateau de Tertre, from Bordeaux's Margot district. For starters Denice ordered crab meat with avocado cream and tomato powder set on an acidulated Avocat jelly; I chose pan seared bass with a lemongrass foam and stewed baby leaks. For mains (which Americans annoyingly call Entrees) we went respectively for roasted lobster with seasonal vegetables with a yellow wine emulsion; and caramelised quail stuffed with foie gras and served with potato puree.

Denice with lovely lobster

Denice looking extremely happy with
roasted lobster and seasonal vegetables
with yellow wine emulsion

Forgive the occupation with detail but this was a difficult choice. The waiter persuaded me that the sweetbreads, which I love and was thinking about having, was only an appetiser and would be too small. In a few moments our drinks arrived followed by a warm shot glass each containing duck foie gras, reduced port wine and a lemon foam, in perfect layers, compliments of Chef. Not a bad way to start, we agreed. The crab and bass arrived - sensational, both, and we shall try to reproduce them at Whiskey Gully Wines. The crab was dressed with a rose petal and an almond pearl.

The champagne (Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvee) and the Riesling (2004 Frederick Emile Madison from F.E. Trimbah, of France's Alsace region) were also lovely. The Riesling was dry with a distinctly fresh citrus palate.

Next the waiter bought us two more dishes we hadn't ordered. "You wanted to try the sweetbreads so Chef Boyer wanted you to have them," he explained as he plonked this in front of me, and a tempura battered langostine (saltwater yabbie) for Denice. Sensational. The sweetbreads were a perfect proportion - Lord only knows where they get them. They were cooked to perfection and served with a red wine jus, a steamed sprig of romaine lettuce stuffed with a farcie, and another frothy lemon sauce.

Following this we got the dishes we had ordered, washed down with the best wine I have had for at least a year, with the possible exception of a 2005 Summit Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was all so incredibly tasty and picture perfect we couldn't resist having dessert as well - D had a soufle with a banana and passionfruit gelato; I had a selection of tarts (so what's new, I hear you ask). Before they came we got yet another dish we hadn't ordered - another shot glass surprise - lychee sorbet with a sauternes syrup and more frothy stuff - this time sweet.

Tarts

sweetbreads

Above: tart selection. Below: Sweetbreads.
I had already eaten half of the sweetbreads
before remembering to take a photo

Then the desserts we ordered which were as wonderful as everything else we had just eaten. As we paid the bill we agreed it was just about the most perfect experience you could imagine.

On the way home I entertained a lingering doubt that I had nowhere seen the Four Seasons famous four trees logo. As soon as we got in I looked it up on the web. Sure enough, there it was, the famous Four Seasons Restaurant complete with logo at 99 52nd Street East, five blocks away from where we had been. Oh, well, that takes care of one meal next week then. A possible explanation for their generosity is that we had earlier mentioned our delight at dining in such a famous restaurant. We thank them anyway. Frankly, I doubt that the Four Seasons will be either as inventive or as good but we shall see.

We got a lovely email from L'Atelier about our Blog. I am happy to pass on that they recently received their second Michelin star.

2004 Chateau du Tertre

A Margaux Grand Cru (Classe - I have to add that. See a later post) wine which the waiter decanted for us. It had a great nose of berries and vanillan oak. I guessed around 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with perhaps just a tad of Cabernet Franc. I was nearly right (see the winemakers notes below). The mid-palate was pronounced. The wine had excellent acidity and was beautifully balanced with a generous finish full of sweet tannins. Superb character and richness and a fine, dry wine. What I really loved was its elegance and complexity, lots of lovely flavours married seamlessly. We paid $120 which, given the nature of the venue, I thought was reasonable.

Margaux is on the western bank of the Dordogne, centred on Arsac. Chateau du Tetre is on a hill overlooking the river. The Chateau dates from the 18th century but vines have reputedly grown on the estate for over 1000 years.

 

Chateau Du Tertre

Winemaker's notes

  • Soil: 3 to 5 m perfectly drained gravelly hilltops
  • Area: 52 Ha
  • Grape varieties grown on the estate: 43% Cabernet Sauvignon – 33% Merlot
    19% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot
  • Vineyard: Traditional growing methods: leaf removal, crop-thinning, ploughing
  • Maturing in barrels: 15 to 18 months (45% new wood from central France)
  • Blending: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon – 37% Merlot - 30% Cabernet Franc

Tasting notes
Intense, sparkling bright red colour, with very little sign of evolution. The nose is open and still somewhat subtle, but rich and complex. Gradually, the quality of the terroir emerges, offering a beautifully complex blend of fresh oak, very ripe grapes, strawberries and vanilla. Blackberry, plum, blackcurrant and liquorice gradually develop on the palate. The wine's structure is perfect. Well-defined, very long and balanced. This vintage is a perfect expression of the characteristics of the Médoc and particularly Margaux, with precise, tight tannins and a distinct elegance. The fruit's structure is massive and still in its youth, confirming this vintage's class and its potential to age for at least 20 years.

 

1. Halibut and Zabar's
New York, October 31, 2011

Paris, it is not. I have to get that off my chest at the start. We love New York but not really for the food and wine. There is little point in making detailed notes about most wines because many are common French and Italian ones. Some others are, sadly, not worth making notes about. Others, particularly regional US wines, can be very hard to find. For example, in three weeks I have been unable to find a wine from Virginia.

Spot the halibut

Spot the halibut

"There's a good reason for that," said the laconic Mr Andrew Liebeke, who I met on a bus and to whom I am indebted for guiding me to New York's finest vintner (okay, liquor store), but more of that establishment later. It seems many people here share Andrew's distain for Virginian wines. In Washington DC a sommelier we met said much the same. Food is also elusive. Naturally, there are stunning exceptions and I hope to acquaint you with those.

I start this blog on Halloween - three weeks after we began the trip. That was not how it was meant to be but the pace of life plus work from back home that follows me around has disrupted the schedule. I will go back now and then and fill in the gaps.

Yesterday, for the first time, I tried Halibut - a great flatfish of the northern oceans that can grow to more than 300 kilos. It was a sidelight of E. Annie Proulx's magnificent novel "The Shipping News", which dealt with the harsh extremes of Newfoundland. Sleeping with a halibut does seem extreme.

It is a white, dense-fleshed fish. We purchased a large steak which I cut into two, separating the central bone.

Halibut

The eyes and mouth are misaligned.
Some people in Washington DC have the same problem.

I made a stock with the off-cuts, using onions, garlic, fennel stalks, fresh parsley, dill and sea salt. The steaks poached for ten minutes in the drained stock with some sliced, fresh fennel. When done, I again drained the juices and reduced them while keeping the casserole warm. A little butter to load the sauce finished it. I served the dish with boiled new potatoes.

Halibut is delicate and needs to be matched with elegant, rather than strong flavours. It is a member of the flounder family and you smell the flavour more than taste it. Fennel worked well. Texturally the fish was a bit soft, which I put down to it not being perfectly fresh.

Fresh is a relative term in New York. This great vertical village is a consumer, not a producer, so everything has to be freighted in, generally as a processed food. We have been here two weeks and have not yet found a whole vegetable that has a clear, bright butt end. Most vegetables on sale look to be at least eight days from farm gate to market. We have yet to find a stand-alone butcher or baker.

The better restaurants we have tried appear to source quality meat and vegetables so there must be outlets but we have not found them. Never mind, we found Zabar's deli on the upper west side which makes up for many things.

Zabars

Zabar's on Broadway in the Upper West
is reputedly the best deli in New York

Zabar's (pronounced Zay-bars) sells almost every food but they specialise in cheeses, oils, preserves, cooked meats and fish. In particular there is an amazing array of cheeses, mainly from Italy and France but also Britain, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Holland and - yes - the United States and Canada. While not quite as perfect as the cheese shops of Paris it is excellent and the hustling, bustling crowd gives it that familiar New York quiver of excitement.

There is no generic passion about food and wine in the US but establishments like Zabar's, where you can buy really good quality block foie gras, for example, cheaper than you can get it in Paris, show that behind the great god Mammon there are those who know and, perhaps, care. I purchased the halibut in Zabar's. How do you recommend I cook this? I asked. "I'm not a cook," said the wizened assistant in a heavy Bronx accent. The same question in Paris would start a ten minute conversation. New Yorkers don't have ten minutes.

The one-line gag came from here. I know why. New Yorkers can neither listen to nor speak more than one line before they have something else to do. Busy-ness is an important part of the city's identity. It kills people: you can see it in the fixed expressions of Wall Street commuters and the humourless faces of skinny young women pumping around Central Park during the obligatory workout; yet people are clearly proud of the stress this city creates for them. "No place quite like New York." Nope. Said one five year veteran immigrant, "There are things I like and things I don't like." Quite.

 
 
 
 

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