Saturday, April 26, 2003

Just Married

Melissa and I are off on our honeymoon. Check back in mid-May for write-ups on all our gastronomic adventures in France and Italy.

In the meantime, here are some other blogs I read on a regular basis, to keep you occupied until we return.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Screw Caps

Kim Crawford's 2002 "Unoaked Marlborough Chardonnay" is a good wine, if not the standout that Sauvignon Blancs from the same region are. But it is not the wine that I want to write about, it is the bottle. More specifically, the closure. For Kim Crawford has chosen to seal this bottle with a screw cap, and through a random chain of events that culminated in one of our dining companions at Easter dinner bringing a bottle with her, it is the first screw capped bottle of nice wine that I've seen.

It must be said that I haven't devoted a lot of effort to actually finding one before now: I know Bonny Doon's most recent releases of Big House Red and Big House White are screw capped. And Kim Crawford is merely one of a whole host of New Zealand wineries that are using them. Lots of other wineries are doing some portion of their bottlings with screw caps, and lots more are waiting to see how those wines do in the market. So if I were really determined, I'm sure I could've found one by now. Still, it was exciting to see one finally.

Screw caps are seen in this country as an indicator of swill, the residual effects of seeing year after year of wretched, cheap, mass-produced wine closed just this way. But screw caps, or Stelvin closures, as they are called by people aware of the negative connotations of the words "screw cap", are quietly gaining ground among adventurous wine makers and knowing wine drinkers.

Why? A perfect answer to this question was provided by the 2000 Ridge Buchignani Zinfandel we brought to Easter dinner. One sniff of my glass, and I knew it was ruined by cork taint. Descriptors for cork taint include "gym socks", "wet newspaper", and even tuna. To me it just smells like really pungent cork. Despite the name, cork taint doesn't have to come from corks. Beaulieu Vineyards discovered this recently when they discovered that a humidifier they had installed in one of their cellars was causing a high percentage of "corked" wines. But corks are by far the most common vector for the fungus which produces the chemical responsible for the smell. And while it's not harmful to you, the drinker, it obviously doesn't make for a very good wine.

Various cork proponents go on and on about the ritual of uncorking wine, the inherent romance of this action. But I'd be willing to believe that a number of them have Rabbit corkscrews or their knock-offs, the ingenious devices which proudly proclaim their ability to open a bottle of wine in 3 seconds. We've got one; we love it, and I'll bet a lot of them do too. Where's the romance there? And frankly, I'd rather fill in romance in other ways than pour a bottle of wine down the drain.

One theory, yet to be validated or not, is that screw capped wines don't age as well. There's no flow of oxygen to assist the wine in mellowing over time, and so screw caps are best suited to wines meant to be drunk young: Bonny Doon's wines, the New Zealand Chardonnay. I don't know. Randall Grahm, president of Bonny Doon, scoffs and says all the oxygen needed by the wine is already in there. But I don't think he's put it to the test. And I've had a devil of a time figuring out how oxygen flows in a cork-top bottle. The tightly wrapped foil and dense cork don't seem to admit much in the way of flow. But time will tell on that one. Plumpjack has screw capped some of their high-end bottlings, so perhaps in five or ten years we'll be able to get an idea.

I'm obviously a big screw cap proponent, and happily encourage everyone to not be put off by the sight of a screw cap on a bottle. Not only is not necessarily swill, it might be a lot better than the corked bottle next to it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Wine, wine, wine

As wedding and work converge, posts become less frequent. But including this one, I hope to get a couple of posts up before we leave on our honeymoon.

And so we come to the bachelor party. My best man opted for something more subdued than the stereotype: I'm a radical feminist and a hefty chunk of the people who came are gay. So no strippers. Instead, his brother Tim let us use his coffeehouse and the two decided to order food from the restaurant next door, probably San Leandro's nicest.

As good as the food was, though, Chris had asked people to bring wine to share. I think he was disconcerted when my friend Tom wrote back and asked how many bottles he should plan per person. Tom is my kind of guy.

I walked in and saw Tom's contribution: 4 bottles of Ridge wines, 2 bottles of Cloudy Bay's Sauvignon Blanc, some Rosemount wines and 2 bottles of Wolf Blass Riesling because, you know, me and Riesling. My friend Tyler showed up shortly after with a Monterey Chardonnay. Josh showed up with a Guigal Cotes du Rhone, and another friend named Chris brought a Valley of the Moon Sangiovese. My friend Dan brought a Bogle Old Vines Zin.

Despite being there for 8 or 9 hours, we didn't manage to finish all the wine. But we definitely did some damage, and got to try some delicious wines. I think I managed to try a little bit of each. Hard to decide which I liked best; they all had interesting aspects.

Somewhat sheepishly, I decided to take advantage of my guest of honor status and ordered not only an appetizer of fried oysters with a saffron aioli, but also the Filet Mignon and the duck confit, because I'm a sucker for duck confit, and I love rare steak. I did actually share some of the duck, so I was not a complete pig. Plus I left my side dishes alone, so I wouldn't have to worry about having a balanced meal.

Atypical? Absolutely, though I didn't get home until 3:30am. But fantastic nonetheless.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market bonanza!

The Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market is finally moving to its new home. It may seem odd, but its new home is...the ferry plaza! This seeming discrepancy is caused by the extensive amount of work that's been going on in this area, forcing the market to move up the street a significant ways. This is the chi-chi market in the Bay Area, and the produce and products are spectacular.

The ribbon cutting for the new location is on April 26, which means Melissa and I probably won't visit until after our honeymoon. For all the juicy details, check out the official website at

And the ferry building itself will soon become a mecca for Bay Area gourmets. I've heard that outlets for Scharffen Berger, Tomales Bay Foods, Frog Hollow and bacar will all make appearances in the new building. One convenient place to buy some of the Bay Area's best food.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Le Colonial

Some good friends of ours had a joint birthday party recently, and one of their mothers organized a huge dinner at Le Colonial. Most long-time Bay Areans will think of it as the former location of Trader Vic's, but I've never eaten at either of the two restaurants, so I can't speak to it one way or the other.

But I was pretty eager to try it; the menus on their web site made me glad my Friday lunch was so meager.

The walkway up to the restaurant is stunning, a covered veranda filled with lush plants and small tables. And as beautiful as the inside was, it was marred by the loud music from upstairs (fortunately almost inaudible in our side room) and the crowd, which definitely seemed like they were there to be seen, not to enjoy a nice evening out.

As we all arrived, we saw our table for the evening: a long narrow table which could adequately hold 18 people. Not the best way to see and talk to everyone, but our neighbors and we quickly concocted a plan to share appetizers and bites of entrées to make sure that even if we didn't get to talk to everyone, we'd make an effort to eat everything.

Our first plan was to get several of the "tasting platters" from the appetizer menu. Each one served two people, so we got three for the eight of us to try (yes, the math doesn't work; but we wanted to save room for the main course). The tasting platter had all sorts of yummy things on it, a small sampling of the restaurant's appetizers. Melissa really liked the crab cakes. As the designated wine snob in our corner of the table, I ordered us a bottle of the Zind-Humbrecht 2000 Riesling from Alsace. Not knowing what the food was going to be like, I opted for a wine that I thought would complement the spicier fare, and Zind-Humbrecht is a reliable producer.

Our corner collaborated to try and get the best variety of main dishes so we could try bites of each. I got the Truu Nuong (grilled lamb chops), Melissa got the Vit Quay (slow-roasted duck), our dining companion James got the Bo Luc Lac (wok-seared beef tenderloin) and his partner Jeffrey got the Ca Ngu (seared ahi tuna). The duck and the beef were the standout dishes, though the ahi tuna and lamb chops were perfectly decent.

To go with this, I opted for a 1999 Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape (that's my memory anyway), again going for a sure-thing producer and a food-friendly wine to play it safe. The wine list is heavy on French and California wines, two regions that I know little about.

Finally, for dessert Melissa and I split the Le Colonial Banana Split, and each of us had a glass of Inniskillin ice wine to go with it (I think a Riesling one, not Vidal, which is the grape most often used for Canadian ice wine).

Overall, the food was good. I guess $50 is reasonable for an appetizer, entrée, and dessert in a nice restaurant (the wine total was much, much higher), but I kept feeling like the food wasn't quite worth it. Maybe Melissa's right, and being in a large group made it tougher for me to get comfortable and focus. Or maybe it was that the presentation was lacking; it seemed like fairly standard Vietnamese-restaurant presentation, gussied up slightly. It's not like I was dissatisfied, either; I'd definitely give them a second chance and see if I'd like them more in a smaller group, where I could really focus on the food and not try to have seven or eight simultaneous conversations.