Archive for July, 2011

Crashing OPC!

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Flying into Oregon from Las Vegas I immediately had a 35-40 degree drop in temperatures, not too shabby when you it’s 100+ degrees and Summer in the desert. It is always wonderful to be back in Oregon – it’s a different vibe compared to other states and I just feel comfortable and at home when I’m there.

I was picked up by a old wine buddy and we headed out to enjoy an early lunch at one of my favorite spots in the city, Bunk Sandwiches. This is not your average sandwich shop, they source some of the best ingredients available, bring in certain breads from Philly and embrace the farm to table credo. I went with my favorite sandwich they make, an Albacore Tuna melt w/pickles & hot peppers. Not only is this delicious, but fresh and the bracing spice of the peppers off-set the coolness of the tuna.

For my first evening in Oregon, we did a little home cooking with the assistance of Abusto’s Carneceria – enjoying their marinated Carne Asada, house-whipped sour cream, Pico de Gallo and spicy Roasted Tomatillo Salsa. We were fortunate to wash it down with some Victoria beers – one of Mexico’s finest that just started being imported to the States. Absolutely delicious! Following those were some homemade margaritas, then moving up to the Van Duzer 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir and a treat was brought by our friends; a bottle of Soter, 2002, Beacon Hill, Pinot Noir – this wine is just starting to come into its own and will definitely last for years to come. Rounding out the evening by the fire, we puffed on cigars and complemented them by snifters of a 1971 Armagnac.

Friday morning started with me getting a peek at the kick-off speech for Oregon Pinot Camp, being held at the Evergreen Aviation museum. Always cool having a chance to see some of the stars and veterans of the Oregon wine industry casual, yet focused and without a collection of people around them. I then had a chance to see a fellow OPC alumni, my friend Margaret who made the move from North Carolina, becoming the Director of Hospitality for Chehalem Winery. We bounced off to one of the newest addition’s in the Willamette Valley, the Red Hills Market a small gourmet coffee bar café featuring local flavors and produce – much needed in the Oregon wine country. I had the chance to enjoy my first Stumptown latte, which I knew wouldn’t be my last, fantastic with steamed soy milk.

I ran a few errands with Margaret, including stopping into Adelsheim Winery where I had the chance to taste the 2009 Caitlin’s Reserve Chard ($40) and the 2008 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir ($68), along with 4 other bottlings. These two were definitely my favorites, distinct in their own ways and in keeping with the house style.

Dinner that night was at my buddy Scott Cunningham’s new (3 month old) restaurant located in Downtown McMinnville, Community Plate. Scott has done a great job of making sure that all of the products used at CP are from within 100 miles of the restaurant and sustainable. You would be surprised how hard this is to accomplish – he’s very serious about his craft. Highlights of the night were definitely the Pork Nuggets, crisped to perfect crunch deliciousness and the house made Pickle Plate. Continuing the evening I headed to see another friend in the valley, over in Newberg – Tahmiene Momtazi of Maysara & Momtazi Vineyard, where they were hosting a traditional Persian BBQ for friends, family and OPC visitors. Even though I had already eaten, I was forced to have a full plate for dinner – in keeping with the wonderful hospitality of this Persian family.

Saturday
After an early wake up, I headed over the Chehalem Mountain Range to go meet my buddy’s from Elk Cove Vineyards to play a round of golf at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. This course is a regular host to significant tournaments, including a yearly stop on the LPGA Tour; so let me tell you it was not easy! The course is primarily a forest setting that opens up to the plains that surround the club. Great day to be playing 18, it was a blast catching up with some old friends and making some new ones.

I then headed back to enjoy the OPC Kickoff Party that afternoon over at Sokol Blosser Winery, where over 250 ‘campers’ were plied by over 50 wineries red and white bottlings and culinary delights by a local caterer. This casual, walk-about gathering was a fantastic way for these newbies to begin immersing themselves into Oregon and the varied collection of wines. Personal favorites that I tasted that evening were two Rieslings by Brooks, Sokol Blosser Rose and Elk Cove Pinot Noir.

On Sunday morning, after having a quick latte (#2) with Tahmiene of Maysara, I caught up with Alex Sokol Blosser and we headed over to Penner-Ash to begin preparing for Day #1 of the OPC Soil Seminar. Basically, on the Penner-Ash property are two distinct soil types (Volcanic & Marine Sedimentary – rather rare in the Valley) and campers are walked through both areas, then tasted on a collection of wines representative of their appropriate soil type. I thought this was one of the best seminars I attended during my time at OPC three years ago and having the chance to setup with winemakers, growers and winery folks just further endeared Oregon to me.

That evening, the large format/vintage dinner was held at Domaine Serene – putting campers together with wineries who opened older bottlings for them to taste. Before the event, I donated my time to Panther Creek Winery, pouring with with my buddy Bill Hanson, their Director of Sales & Marketing and Assistant Winemaker. This was great, as it allowed me to interact with more campers, dialogue with people from around the country and get to know some of the wine folks better during the tasting. Dinner was all about the community and sharing, with large format bottles and older vintages being pulled out by every winery. My favorites were definitely the Elk Cove 1997 Roosevelt, Adelsheim 1999 Elizabeth’s and 1998 Belle Pente Murto Vineyard.

Monday I headed up to Portland for some meetings and a culinary tour around the city. First stop was to Lovejoy Bakery where I was able to enjoy a delicious Buttermilk Scone paired with a Stumptown latte (#3). This bakery is a staple in town, located in the heart of the Pearl District – an area of galleries, condos, small shops and very indicative of what Portland is all about. Moving on, I hit a few of Portland’s food trucks – most of which are based around parking lots, so they’re basically renting a fixed space and setting up shop there. My first delicious bites included a killer Reindeer Sausage topped with caramelized onions and a spiked garlic sauce, then topped with sauerkraut. Little heavier than I would have liked for lunch but the flavors were bursting out of the bun. I still wanted to have a little something, so with my ‘dining’ companion, we split an amazing Buffalo Burrito – 100% barley raised, with red cabbage slaw and a killer chipotle chili sauce. Now, THIS was eating!

Continuing the walk-about around Portland, we bounced to some shops and an interestingly, over-geeky coffee spot (Public Domain Coffee) before finding our way to Clyde Common, one of my favorite bars in the city. This is obviously not only a bar, but a great restaurant and we were in perfect time for Happy Hour, including watching the bartenders mix up the evening’s daily punch. After a brief stop to my hotel, I wanted to go check out a friend’s restaurant, Portland Prime and their amazing collection of small plates for happy hour. This stop was perfect, considering they had wine on tap (been dying to try some) and great flavors with generous portions.

By now, I know many of you would be stuffed, however I am a professional (ha!), so we kept going. My buddy picked us up and we went to explore Andy Richter’s Whiskey Soda Lounge for Mixology cocktails and the best wings I’ve ever eaten. No, I’m not kidding. These wings are done in a Thai style, with fish sauce and caramelized goodness – you have to go. Now.

And, even though I was now full, my buddy insisted on heading to dinner, popping into clarklewis for their 4-course, family style tasting menu! This restaurant is all about the farm to table experience and it did not disappoint – being able to enjoy pork belly in a fir sauce along with the daily ‘market-plate’ of vegetables, cheese and meats was awesome.

On my final full day in Oregon, I started off with a great Soy Latte from Stumptown (#4) and a very fresh Hazelnut Raspberry Scone before heading back down to the Willamette Valley. Upon arriving I was able to participate in a closing OPC session, the Dundee Hills Block Party; a tour through the vineyards of Sokol Blosser, Eyrie, Lange (Durant Vineyard), Domaine Drouhin & Archery Summit. Not only were we shown through each vineyard, we had the chance to taste a wine made from each specific block consummating with a lunch at Archery Summit, catered by Bunk Sandwiches, paired with older vintages from each winery. This event truly showcased the hospitality and community of Pinot Camp and Oregon wineries; once again I had to ask myself why I didn’t live here.

Wrapping up the day, I caught up with dear friends Scott and Courtney for a fantastically mellow end to my trip. We commandeered a friend’s house for a Copper River Salmon BBQ and Bake, complemented by fresh Margaritas and Sokol Blosser Rose of Pinot Noir. Dinner was held on the back patio of the house, looking directly at the vineyards and with a sunset not happening until 9:30pm. Complementing dinner were two delicious bottles a Cristom, 2001 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee and a Soter, 2005 Brut Rose. Life definitely did not suck.

After getting packed up and settled, I headed out of the valley and made my way to the Portland Airport – sad to be leaving one of my favorite places on earth but completely at peace with myself based on the experiences I had over the last 6 ½ days. I can’t wait to go back, experience more of Oregon, see friends, taste more fantastic food and enjoy more of their wonderful wines. In the mean time, I’ll just have to pop a cork on a great bottle of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and transport myself there.

Keep eating and drinking!

Just another Monday night in Vegas

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Met some of our industry friends visiting from the Boca area in Florida the other night at the Aria Resort & Casino. We started with drinks at View Bar, and our buddy brought cigars for us to have. Before dinner. Sheesh. This bar is in a great location, but unfortunately has almost zero atmosphere being immediately off the hotel lobby and one of the first impressions that you get of Aria.

I started off with two different aperitifs – the first was Aperol with soda, splash grapefruit. Delicious and one of my favorite ways to start a meal. Next was a Negroni, my own recipe – Aperol, Hendrick’s Gin and Lillet Blanc. If you’ve never had this concoction, you need to. Now.

After opening our palates, we went around the corner to enjoy dinner at Sage, one of my favorite Vegas restaurants. First course for me was Seared Scallops with Braised Oxtail, Wild Mushrooms & Salted Caramel Reduction. Holy Hell was this good. It was very rich, but well worth the experience.

The Kitchen then sent out a mid-course for us to try which included:

-Roasted Sweetbreads with glazed bacon, creamy white polenta & trumpet mushrooms
-Slow-poached Organic Farm egg, smoked potato, shaved summer truffles & toasted country bread
-Lobster Ravioli with sugar snap peas – which was intense

My entrée was killer – seared Veal Cheeks with polenta and wild mushrooms. Also, our server sent out a taste of a 48-hour Braised Beef Belly – Wow! It was slightly smoky and reminiscent of a (non-salted) style-pastrami, simply one of the best prepared meats I’ve ever had.

Dessert was an awesome, savory Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Ice Cream. Along with dessert I had a much needed digestif, Amaro Montenegro, a perfect way to end the meal and a wonderful evening.