Rutherford Grove Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2007 @Rutherford Grove: Cherry Coke (and a 2013 resolution)


So this is my first post in a long time and my first of 2013 and I’m resolving to do this a little differently and have some more fun with the blog too.  There are many flavors we find in wine – from the obvious oak, chocolate and vanilla to the more abstract starfruit.  My goal this year (or for how long I can sustain it) is to select a different, unique flavor component every time that I find in the wine I drink.  Also, I’m making this even more challenging – no basic, high level “hints of berry” stuff either.

This will challenge my palate…and let me know if you find anything similar in the wine you drink.  Cheers.

For this Rutherford Grove Petite Sirah: Cherry Coke


Innovative, Pushing the Boundaries – that’s a dining experience @SBRAGA_dining @ksbraga (more fun than the French Laundry?)

You know that you’re in for a fun and innovative dining experience when you start at the bar with a Manhattan-like beverage that has bacon on the rim (and maple in the drink)!

I went to the well reviewed, famous French Laundry just 2 weeks before this dinner at Sbraga and honestly, I left Sbraga feeling more “wowed” than the veritable Thomas Keller institution.  They really do push the limits on every course – some with truly amazing results.  The Foie Gras soup was more inventive and innovative than anything I had at the ‘Laundry’.  While Foie can be overpoweringly rich and decadent, this had a balance of acid, salt, spice/heat, and even a little crunch to round it out; if licking the bowl were appropriate, I would have done just that!

For me, the other notables included the lamb, which had a bit of a shredded/braised texture to it and combined with the corn porridge was just a great change-up on a basic dish.  The dessert labeled as a “peanut butter cup” was super cool as it came out in a hot dish that caused it to really be more of a chocolate peanut bisque, if there is such a thing.  My wife had the birthday cake crumble which included her very own candle: how fun!

It’s odd to imagine that you’d equate this level of fun food with value, but at a prix fixe of $49, it’s really a steal (but Kevin, don’t raise the prices).  An added bonus is a four course beverage pairing (some are beer or mixed drinks, wine, and dessert wine) for $35 which takes it to the next level.  Notably, the tawny port matched with the PB cup was a winner.

I’m looking forward to a prompt return and will definitely do the chef’s counter next time – that menu looks great every time I look.

The French Laundry: Was it the Best Ever?

It’s a hard pedestal to be on: “Best Restaurant in the USA”, “3 Michelin Stars”, “One of the Hardest Reservations in the USA”…and with the veritable Thomas Keller at the helm, the reputation speaks for itself.  Further, when I actually secured this highly sought after reservation, I felt like I entered an exclusive group and my expectations rose even further.  But, was it what I expected…did it live up to my expectations?

Rather than detail the 3+ hour experience which weaved through a variety of fish, meats, vegetables and beautiful, yes absolutely beautiful looking food, I’ll share some highlights…and even some not-so highlights.

My Top 5

  • Amuse Bouche: A mini ice-cream cone delivery of salmon tartare (on top) and crème fraiche (in the cone) – – the single best bite of food the entire night.
  • First Course: The signature Oysters & Pearls which is a rich sabayon that sits below a cannele of caviar and 2 absolutely perfectly poached oysters.  A tough act to follow…which may have been my challenge in that dish seemed so innovative and different to me and others, well, not so much.
  • The chocolates at the end: PB&J and Mint Chocolate truffles were just enough and encapsulated the flavors succinctly.
  • The look of the food – easily the prettiest looking food I’ve ever seen in a single restaurant.  Especially the tomato tartlet my wife ordered.  For some examples, look at the Google Image Search for some serious food artistry.
  • Preparations – Perfect.  Everything was cooked to the exactly right temperature and done-ness with flawless execution.

Not Quite Top (and not 3 Michelin stars either)

  • So, for the cost of this event – and for $250pp before wine, I think it classifies as an event and in this regard, it fell short to me.  I expected the best dining experience of my life and this wasn’t it – in fact it’s not in the top 3.  I witnessed snafus that shouldn’t happen in this type of restaurant: from the table next to us taking their pen from the check and getting called out by the waiter asking for the pen back to the table next to us having water spilled on them – causing a production to move their table.
  • 60% of the food was rather basic.  I’m all for the farm to table, let the ingredients stand on their own philosophy, but I had expected some really cutting edge preparations and received some that were borderline basic and even under seasoned.
  • The Service – I’m not sure if my wife and I were ‘sized up’ when we arrived for our 9:15pm reservation, but the servers all seemed quite relaxed and only helpful when prompted.  I learned more about what I was eating as I listened to the presentations at other tables which were inconsistent with what I was told about something I was eating at the time – – not that I received the wrong description, but it felt like I didn’t get the full story.
  • The Approach – it just wasn’t very cutting edge or innovative.  Maybe it’s not supposed to be, but I’ve had some more traditional French cuisine which I found to be far more interesting.

My verdict – it was an experience to a food destination and that’s something I truly enjoy.  However, I’m not planning a return visit anytime in the foreseeable future.


Argyle 2007 Eola-Amity Hills Riesling – Surprisingly Dry and Refreshing @ArgyleWinery @PandaLicoriceUS

We visited Argyle on a trip to the wonderful Willamette valley a few years ago and really enjoyed their bubbly and late harvest Riesling.  Most recently, I picked up this 2007 Riesling at the PA State Store (otherwise known as Fine Wine & Good Spirits) for $11.99 – – one of the chairman’s selections.  This is indeed a more dry Riesling and one that has aged more than any other still white wine I’ve ever had.  It took a little time to open up, but definitely has some pear and honey notes.  It also goes great with Panda Black Licorice and I’m finding a great pair of most crisp whites and this black licorice as it creates a creaminess that’s really unique.  Cheers.

Lava Vine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – Blueberry Cobbler? @NapaVintners @VisitNapaValle

We visited Lava Vine on a recommendation from another winery on our last trip to Napa.  They are in Calistoga and we were on our way to Healdsburg, so this was a great find!  It was a happy hour atmosphere when we stopped in while Joe, the winemaker and owner poured the wine for all.  He has an engaging way about him (as he holds court from behind the wine bar) and you can tell that he takes a lot of pride in his wine.  Well, he should – – it’s fantastic!

This Napa Cabernet is big, but not overwhelming.  It reminds me of a blueberry cobbler, with the ripe berry and balance of cinnamon and finish of graham and vanilla.

If you’re in Napa and you don’t visit Lava Vine, you’re missing out on the unique experience of meeting the winemaker and understanding the connection to what’s in the bottle.  If you don’t do that at Lava Vine, make sure you do it somewhere.  Cheers.

Rittenhouse Square: Great Place for Lunch With the Puppy! @StarrRestaurant

Macie the Bernedoodle hanging at Parc Restaurant Philadelphia

Yesterday was the day for Macie, our Bernedoodle puppy and me to hang out in center city Philadelphia.  When we lived in Rittenhouse, my wife and I didn’t have the puppy, so I’m trying to still get the experience and it’s been a lot of fun.  Yesterday, we walked around the city and landed at Parc, a French bistro in the heart of Philadelphia.  I’ve been to Parc many times in the past, but this was a different kind of visit.  I was there as a single diner with a dog and was well taken care of.  We sat outside and Macie got a bowl full of water at the same time that I received my water.  Her bowl was maintained with the same swiftness and care as my own.

I could live on the bread a butter at Parc – richly creamery butter with chewy yet crispy bread – – that limited my dessert appetite for sure.  For lunch, I enjoyed the Country Chicken Club which was nicely balanced between the avocado and bacon.  If you’re a french-fry fan, or rather pommes frites, theirs are thin with light salt and crispy.  Really a great experience and I look forward to going back with Macie again soon.

The Crusher Wilson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 – Nice Summer Red @totalwine @donandsons

This is the 2nd bottle of The Crusher that we’ve enjoyed – the first was in July 2011 and this is a great sequel.  I really like Pinot Noir in the summer as it goes well with many foods that I prepare (tonight: red salt crusted pork loin chop and roasted asparagus with olive oil) and it doesn’t overpower it at all.  Summer is great for whites, but I can’t drink white wine all summer; I get bored.

This version of The Crusher makes me think that the winemaker put together cranberries and plum and dropped a violet in the top of the bottle for a nice floral scent.  Cheers.

Schild Barossa Shiraz 2009 – Fantastic Find and Great Deal @SchildEstate @TotalWine

We’ve enjoyed a few Schild Shiraz wines in the past and this was another, very enjoyable find.  From Total Wine, this Shiraz is another 92pt Wine Spectator bottle for less than $18.  This is a serious rating:cost ratio (if there is such a thing) and not a big, in-your-face Shiraz.  Sure, it’s bold and fruity, but balanced as well.  Cheers.

Emmolo Sauvingon Blanc 2010 Napa – Great Summer White @Winelibrary @NapaVintners

This was another great pick from the Wine Library shipment we received last month.  This Emmolo Sau Blanc is a rare find in that it’s a sub $15 white from the Napa Valley.  It’s a great summer wine with flavors of lime, grass and a little peach too.  Cheers.

2010 La Val Albarino: Lemonade on the Beach

Ok, so maybe Lemonade is a bit of a stretch, but it is quite citrusy.  Moreover, you can really taste the ocean!  Not in a bad way like the saltwater ran up your nose after getting crushed by a wave, but in a refreshing salt-air sort of way.  Imagine sitting on the beach, breathing in the salt air mixed with a lemon and you have the La Val Albarino.  We picked this up at Chuck’s suggestion at Cork & Jug Liquors in Hampton Bays, NY.  This summery white is great for a warm day….or any summer day for that matter