This week's tablehopper: drink to remember, not to forget.
Knishes at 20th Century Cafe’s pop-up event. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Howdy, impending weekend warriors. I am just returning from a little jaunt to Italy yesterday—the annual Tre Bicchieri wine tasting was a total getaway to the land I adore. I now have about 20 new Italian loves to look for on local lists and store shelves.
Four hours of power tasting was followed by a feast with a posse of my fellow purple-teethed Italians in the private downstairs room at Kokkari—one could deduce that when I made the reservation I knew we’d have a representative from Mastroberardino with us to pour their fantastic Taurasi Radici ‘08 with the lamb chops and moussaka, but it was just our dumb luck to experience that fantastic pairing (you too can taste this wine and others tonight at Limone in San Carlos, if you are in the 650 and hungry around 7:30pm—details here). Raise a glass in honor of Lucio.
You have so many fab options this weekend, from numerous Beer Week events to Sunday brunch at Cotogna to an izakaya menu at Sebo that evening to celebrations and meals marking the beginning of the Lunar New Year. See those knishes? They can be yours at Sunday’s 20th Century Cafe pop-up at State Bird (trust me, you want to get those knishes).
This Friday issue has a Checking Lists column from Alan Goldfarb on M.Y. China, and 707 news from Heather Irwin to keep you busy and well fed.
Today I am with my family at a memorial to celebrate the life of our family friend, the inimitable Harry Minkey—here’s to the Mink! (I may have to take a break from my usual bourbony ways and drink some vodka in his honor.)
Fortunately my bourbon levels are up since Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to drink with and learn about Bulleit 10 from the man himself, Mr. Tom Bulleit (always a pleasure to have the charismatic Bulleits in town), followed by the kickoff soiree for Vegas Uncork’d at Hakkasan, holy mega party. Uncorked, it’s a lifestyle.
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Love in Wine Country, Mushrooms Gone Wild, Spork
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Oh, the pressure to get Valentine’s Day right. This year, it falls on Thursday February 14th—giving you the option of celebrating the weekend before, after, or on the day itself. Why not spread out the love over a few days? Wine Country is rife with romance if you just know where to look…
- Dungeness crab cioppino, grilled lamb and cheddar grits, duck breast with candied bacon, red velvet cake with marshmallow cream, and powdered sugar beignets at ROCKER OYSTERFELLER’S. $55 per person, reservations recommended. 14415 Highway 1, Valley Ford, 707-876-1983.
- Chef Josh Silvers brings back his SYRAH BISTRO V-day menu for one day only, including crab cakes with arugula salad, lobster bisque, pan-roasted quail, whiskey creamed lobster, braised short ribs, and warm lemon pudding cake. $85 per person, reservations required. 305 5th St. at Davis St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300.
- J VINEYARDS’ BUBBLE ROOM has a lineup of still and sparkling wines paired with haute nibbles from new winery chef Jason LaBue (an alum of Madrona Manor, Meadowood, and Cavallo Point). On the menu throughout February are oyster chowder croquette, beet risotto with cacao nibs, braised brisket with gnocchi and black trumpet mushrooms, and a baby red velvet cake and chocolate “three ways.” Seatings by appointment Friday through Sunday, 11am, noon, 2pm, and 3pm, $75 per person. 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 707-431-5430.
- An evening of Shakespeare, romance, and a four-course dinner at the CASTELLO DI AMOROSA, Saturday February 16th from 7-11pm. Guest chef Alejandra Schrader serves dinner in the barrel rooms, actors inspire romance with romantic sonnets, and wines flow freely. $225 per person, reservations required. 4045 St. Helena Hwy, Calistoga, 707-967-6274.
- The classic film Casablanca, bubbly from Domaine Carneros, and chocolates from La Belge at the NAPA VALLEY OPERA HOUSE, Thursday February 14th at 7pm, $10. 1030 Main St. at 1st St., Napa, 707-226-7372.
- Candy cap ice cream rolled into a blue corn crêpe at MATEO’S COCINA LATINA. Though it may sound a little strange, the foraged mushrooms have a sweet maple-syrup flavor and a hint of earthiness that make for a perfect dessert. 214 Healdsburg Ave. at Front St., Healdsburg, 707-433-1520.
- A six-pack of conversation heart cookies for tongue-tied Romeos from SIFT CUPCAKE AND DESSERT BAR, various locations around Sonoma County, San Francisco, and at siftcupcakes.com.
Here are a few more items for your culinary radar:
Learning to Butcher: Meat Revolution’s Berry Salinas and Fork Catering’s Sarah Piccolo are teaming up for a three-class series focused on teaching home cooks how to make the most of their meat—with the benefit of dinner and wine as part of the learning process. Session one (Wednesday February 13th, 5-8pm) focuses on breaking down a whole chicken, how to brine and marinate, and culminates with a communal dinner of coq au vin. Subsequent sessions include rabbit cookery, sausage, and pork curing. Classes are $75, or $60 each if you purchase the series. Limited to 10 students, 330 Main St. at Calder Ave., Sebastopol. For reservations, call 707-494-0960.
Mushrooms Gone Wild: Healdsburg goes into a fungi frenzy over the weekend of February 22nd-24th with a collection of dinners, mushroom hunting forays, classes, and events at the very peak of mushroom season. The lineup includes a free mushroom expo at the HOTEL HEALDSBURG with forager Connie Green and mushroom hunting and a four-course luncheon at Relish Culinary Adventures. There will also be wild mushrooms on the menus of several local restaurants, including a five-course mushroom tasting menu at MADRONA MANOR and a six-course menu at CHARLIE PALMER’S DRY CREEK KITCHEN. The Camellia Inn is offering a two-night stay with a $100 gift certificate to Healdsburg’s Baci Cafe and a take-home “grow your own” mushroom kit. More details online or by calling 877-759-1004.
SPORK opens in Cloverdale on Valentine’s Day with chef Andrew Casey at the helm. Operating just three nights per week (Thurs-Sat), the pop-up will be located inside the Eagle’s Nest Deli, featuring locally sourced dishes such as housemade sausages, hanger steak, shrimp and mushroom risotto, and baked oysters. 113 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-687-8795.
Chef Lisa Hemenway has closed her Skyhawk cafe and gourmet grocery store, FRESH BY LISA HEMENWAY, in Santa Rosa. She’s hoping to relocate, but details are still sketchy.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (M.Y. China)
Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.
He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.
M.Y. China’s Phantasmagorical Hippodrome Might Surprise (If You Let It)
Sitting a few stools away, not far from the humongous bell that hovers over the bar at Martin Yan’s improbable-to-San Francisco circus of a Chinese restaurant, I overheard this from a man to his wife: “Are we in Vegas?”
At first glance, one can deduce: What’s happening to San Francisco’s sophisticated view of itself? And how can we abide by such a loony tunes atmosphere existing in our midst, and in a shopping mall, no less?
I’ll tell you. I mostly enjoyed my meal at Martin Yan’s M.Y. China in the Westfield Centre—and while the dining experience wasn’t perfect or close to fabulous, it’s well suited for those who want to eat fairly well before or after a movie at the theaters one floor above.
On my visit, I did not witness the restaurant’s pulling-of-the-noodle demo, but Yan himself—a longtime TV chef—was on the floor, flitting from table to table, taking pictures with enamored customers and explaining the food that sat in front of them. Yan, in his clownish but endearing manner, graced my table, pointed to the crispy tofu and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s tofu,” to which I retorted, “Ah, yes.” To which he parried, “Very healthy.” Okay … even if it’s fried?
Which brings me, circuitously, to the wine list at M.Y. The broadsheet contains about 40 offerings, most of which are very good, from an array of regions and with a depth of range. There’s only one cabernet sauvignon, which is a good thing, because it’s difficult to pair the food with that variety; but there are a quartet of chardonnays, though only one that is unoaked and thus stands a better chance of having an affinity with the cuisine.
What is perfectly suited for Yan’s food is the silly named Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011 ($8 by the glass/$36). I was almost embarrassed, but not enough not to order it, because I wanted a dry riesling to go with Yan’s version of dan dan noodles (a chilled dish with a kick from chiles and vinegar). The server correctly told me the wine was dry, and it held up to augment the dish, so that both melded effortlessly. It was a good example of a wine and food pairing. The Kung Fu Girl was obviously selected to tickle those that like such seemingly inoffensive brand names and, of course, to fit in with M.Y.’s big-top atmosphere.
Prices are reasonable, starting with a couple of $30 selections; most bottles come in at the $40-50 range. There’ s a $98 nonvintage Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blanc Champagne that is too expensive. Thankfully, there are more whites than reds. Dry whites with higher acidity go best with Asian food, in general, and fare better than fruity reds, in particular.
There are disparate regions represented on the wine list, such as Ischia, a small island off Capri; Liguria, with a red Isasco Rossese 2011 ($50) (which is misspelled on the wine list as “rosese”). There are two gamays, a Raisins Gaulois Marcel Lapierre 2011 ($9/ 32) and a Côte de Brouilly Chateau Thivin 2011 ($48), which are from Beaujolais, not Burgundy, as listed.
The staff will get its feet once the restaurant takes on a patina of time, although they’re very attentive and fairly well versed in the wine program’s nuances. The stemware, always an important and utilitarian adjunct to any restaurant’s wine regimen, here are made by Schott Zwiesel. The glass is thin, which aids in a better surface-to-mouth ratio, therefore improving taste, and is a perfectly serviceable vessel; perhaps considered a poor person’s Riedel or Spiegelau, the standards among wine aficionados.
Kudos then to M.Y. China for presenting such a decent list (although there is not one rosé), commensurate with the cuisine. We have experienced a paradigm shift, at least in the Bay Area and I suspect throughout much of the country, that wine, even in Asian restaurants, has become de rigueur. It used to be that Gallo, Inglenook, and Sebastiani (before those brands experienced their own change toward quality) was all one saw in ethnic restaurants. I think Charles Phan and his then-wine buyer Mark Ellenbogen changed the tide at Slanted Door. They proved that good wine can work together with Vietnamese food to enhance the diner’s experience. By forging a promising wine list in concert with good Chinese food—in spite of the Vegas-style spectacle—M.Y. China is worth a visit.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Côte de Brouilly Chateau Thivin 2011. On the list for $48 at M.Y. China (about $24 retail), this gamay—like most dry and wonderfully fruity reds from the Beaujolais region of France—is misunderstood. This is no nouveau Beaujolais, that sweet, cloying, right-out-of-the-fermentation tank excuse for a wine that floods the market during Thanksgiving. This gamay is a little tight—meaning it’s young but will open in time—and is packed with earthy notes. Just as important, it is complementary to M.Y.’s wok- seared beef.
the sugar mama
(Sponsored): Poco Dolce: Chocolate Gifts for Valentine's Day
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To enter to win a fabulous Poco Dolce Valentine’s basket (retail value about $50), all you need to do is forward today’s tablehopper newsletter to one friend (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friend(s) about Poco Dolce, or why you read tablehopper, or both! Be sure to Cc: or Bcc: me at email@example.com so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. Act quickly! The deadline to enter is today, Friday February 8th at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner on Saturday and get your mailing address! Good luck!