We spent our recent honeymoon on the beach in the Vallartas of Mexico- Puerto and Nuevo, and for the most part, we did absolutely nothing. It was fabulous. After the long, harrowing, ebullient, tiring, fabulous, stressful, and joyous year of planning and being the stars of a wedding, all that you really want to do is lay on a beach, swim in the ocean, sleep, and drink pina colodas and beer. So we did. With guacamole on top.
And then one day, we put down our frosty, lime-garnished beverages and left the resort. We took a bus to Puerto Vallarta, where we walked around, took a couple of photos, and ate what was the best meal of our vacation. This post is a story of that meal.
Being the food geek that I am, I did research back in Oakland about where to go in Puerto Vallarta for some awesome, non-tourist trap seafood. Then I left the sheet of paper with my notes at home. So where we ended up, and the gloriousness that our meal happened to be was truly a gift from the food gods, for all that we did was stop walking when we got tired and decide to give in to our growling stomachs.
The joint was called San Lucas, and located over a motorcyle tourism shop. We identified the restaurant through a street sign that directed us to the second floor of the establishment, where we found red tiled floors, brightly colored table clothes, wooden railing serving as walls over the bustling street below, and a kitchen that was five feet away from our table, also completley open. After a quick menu browse, we ordered our food.
Normally I order wine at a restaurant. However, I was a little discouraged because the resort where we were staying featured Gallo as thier vino de casa and I hadn't seen much more in the Vallarta region to indicate that better wine was being offered. Hence, I stupidly did not ask to see the wine list, and regretted my decision as we were leaving when I saw some local workers swirling white wine in thier glasses. Stupid. Stupid. But if I did order wine at a restaurant like this, the varietals that I would seek would be very citrusey, and white or pink. The lemon or lime flavors in a wine would highlight this streak in the food. I would choose white or a rosé, because it was smokin' hot and humid in Puerto Vallarta, and I wanted to wrap my hands around something chilled. I'd happily sip a Vinho Verde from Portugal, for example, or a French, Spanish or Mexican Rosé that has that citrus "pop!" and acidity to it. Anyway, the beer worked very well.
Then our food came. The first dish to arrive on the table was our tostadas. We ordered ceviche and octupus to top the crispy, lard-fried tortillas, and were absolutley wowed by the quality and tenderness of the seafood. The ceviche was made of beautiful fish, marinated in lime and a touch of garlic. Salt, sure, but nothing much else. Just big, fresh flavors with little interuption. The octupus on the other tostada couldn't have been better either. Ordering octupus is always a tricky thing. Some people cook it well- they tenderize it either by cooking it for a long period of time, or they pound the hell out of it until it screams for mercy and softens. Lesser cooks cook it until it resembles a fine rubber. But the restaurant had a feeling about it that suggested that the cooks really knew what they were doing, so we ordered the octupus. I am happy to say that the cooks really did know what they were doing, and it was some of the best octupus I've had in my life- super tender, soft, and fresher than Will Smith. And did I mention that it was on a lard-fried tortilla? Swoon.
The last dish to arrive was our Camarones al Diablo. It's a traditional dish of the area which is a blend of Spanish and Mexican cultures- gigantic Mexican shrimp, onions, tomatoes, chiles, peppers, green olives, and SPICES. Sometimes. It seems to morph into an different dish wherever I see it. Sometimes with olives, sometimes with a salsa instead of cooked onions and tomatoes. Here, it was at its height. The flavors melded perfectly, the tomatoes provided an acidity that inspired the sweetness of the shrimp to shine, and the size of the camarones made my hand look small (see above picture). We each had our own shrimp and split the last.
Ah.... the last benefit to the meal was the tequilla tray. After our bellies began to extend and our beers were nothing but bubbles at the bottom of the bottle, our waiter rolled a tray to our table. He explained to us that we could pick anything off the tray, free of charge. Our choices ranged from tequilla, creme de menthe to khalua. We choose tequilla, and the waiter set down lime slices for the pairing. We salted ourselves up, shot the tequilla, and finished the meal with a lime and a smile.
All in all, it was an awesome experience that was the cherry on top of our uber-relaxing trip. And although it wasn't exactly a food and wine pairing post, I couldn't help but want to share this experience, even sans vino, because I know that someday, one of you will want to know where to go for the best seafood ever in Puerto Vallarta. And maybe you wont leave your notes at home.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Although the year of 2007 will forever be remembered as the year when both The Cure and The Spice Girls announced their wildly anticipated reunion tours (insert squeal here), the year will no doubt linger in wine lover’s minds for yet another reason. Wine lovers will remember 2007 as the year when the tremendous 2005 Burgundy vintage was released. It’s being said that this will be the best French Pinot Noirs of the decade.
While the majority of wine connoisseurs will buy these Super Pinot Noirs with the intention of cellaring them until maturity smoothes their deep tannins and high acidity, there are those, like myself, who buy the wine to drink it. Now.
There are a couple things I do when set on consuming young Burgundies when they’re waiting to come out of their shell. First, I think Bourgogne Rouge rather Grand Cru. Bourgogne Rouges are the Burgundies that winemakers generally craft for people to enjoy while the Cru wines are aging in a dark cellar. Second, I decant them to tame their edges and introduce them gently to the world. Third I always drink these wines with food. Furthermore foods with higher fat contents, helps to cushions the high acidity and tannins inherent to young wines.
Things I’d eat with an elegant, yet fierce, young Burgundy such as the 2005 Domaine Henri Perrot-Minot “Vielles Vignes” Bourgogne Rouge:
First, charcuterie rocks. Enjoying a Charcuterie plate at the Solano Cellars Wine Bar is naturally the best choice, as it provides a diverse arrangement of Café Rouge and Fra’Mani patés, rilletes and salumies on an exquisite cheeseboard. Sometimes you even get a rosemary sprig. However, charcuterie eaten at home or on a picnic blanket will suffice. The fat and proteins in the meat will bring out the silky qualities in the wine.
With the charcuterie, I’d serve a stinky and creamy washed-rind cows milk cheese. Emphasis on the creamy and the cow. Epoisse cheese, the famous oozing cheese of the Burgundy appellation whose rind is washed with Marc de Bourgogne, would pair beautiful with the region’s Pinot Noir. When in doubt of what cheeses to serve with what wines, look to France. Cheeses and wines from the same region nearly always taste good together and can inspire other pairing. For example, Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk is washed (rubbed) with salted water en lieu of Marc, but would also be an excellent choice for the Burgundy.
If I want to cook for my Burgundy, I’d grill myself a steak. But no tenderloins here- I want something marbled like a Rib-Eye or Flank Steak to coax the wine out of its shell. I’d also toss some rosemary and garlic potatoes in the oven with fennel. A roasted chicken or “chicken under a brick” might also fare well with this wine, but I’d stay away from pork unless you’re going with a fattier, heritage breed (Red Wattle) or luscious cut.
When in the mood for cooking vegetarian dishes, I’d choose a béchamel-based lasagna (tomatoes will only clash with the Burgundy) or a hearty Mac n Cheese. Think food that sticks to your bones.
The above post is an adaption of my writings for the wine shop/bar where I work. I hope that you've enjoyed it.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
To celebrate my husband's birthday, we invited my cousin and her man over to our place for exuberant birthday bash for four. And by exuberant I mean that there was tons of food and wine and that I added chocolate chips to a cupcake recipe that didn't call for it. This post is the wine and food story of that night.
The food (albeit the Oreo cupcakes) was mainly Thai and Vietnamese inspired, but cooked by a very Scandinavian-American girl. The wines were all Spanish. The dinner menu starred my version of the carrot, cucumber, bell-pepper and light fish-sauce salad often served atop cold Vietnamese rice noodle dishes. Also sharing the stage were lime, honey and chili marinated skewered shrimp, and grilled flank steak served over wide rice noodles in a spicey, kaffir lime, lemongrass Thai inspired coconut sauce.
I choose Spanish wines for this Birthday Bash for three reasons. One, they were reasonably priced and my excellent foresight told me that we'd consume from two to three bottles between us friends. Two, because I'm enamoured with Spanish wines (especially the whites, sparklings and rosés) and was selfishly catering to my happiness even on my husband's birthday night. Three, I chose Spanish wines for the menu because they can be awesome matches for Vietnamese and Thai spices and flavors and seafood.
I popped our first wine while waiting for our guests. Our invitees claimed not to be huge fans of white wine, so I took it upon myself to thwart thier past experiences by unleashing an Albarino. Albarinos are meant to charm. They're from the Galacian coast of Spain and classically paired with seafood at Spanish tapas bars. With their apple, peachy, lime and sometimes floral scents, they're instant pleasers. Furthermore, they've got enough going on in the glass that they can handle a little spice. Each dish I prepared for the dinner had lime juice, zest, or leaf mixed in, which I thought would play up the lime streak and cozy up to crisp and stoney fruits in the wine. Worked well. We sipped this while I put the finishing touches on the salad and headed to the BBQ to cook the shrimp and flank steak. Then we opened the Super Wine of the night.
My only firm and fast wine rule for a celebration such as a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas, is that something sparkling must be included amoungst the wine entourage. Birthdays just don't happen without bubbles. The bubbles don't have to be big, but they have to be present. Such reasoning led to the second wine that we drank that night- a Txakolina Rose from Spain. This was my favorite. It was luscious, oh so pink, peachy and rasberry-ie and tart and slightly. Txakolina (shock-oh-lee-nah) is the name of a Basque, Spanish wine made traditionally with the Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grapes. They're meant to drinken within a year or two after bottling, and will be, because you just can't help yourself. Most Txakolinas aren't Roses, but are just as enchanting as the pink bottle that we poured that night. Their pear, tart apple and lime flavors compete for attention with the tiny, spritzy bubbles that fill the glass. And bubbles go with almost anything. They snuggled up to the coconut milk and spicy shrimp, and even handeled the marbling in the rich flank steak. I looovvee this wine only slightly less than my man.
Towards the end of the night we slipped a light Spanish Grenache on the table. Just in case someone wanted a little red with the flank steak. Spanish Grenaches (Garnachas) can be pretty dark and heady, but our's that night was a lighter style, with blackberry, stoney scents. And I didn't just serve it because it was also left over from our wedding wine, I served it because Garnachas are great red wines for spicey foods. They're spicey themselves, and the pepper streak in the grape can handle a chile or two.
Finally, we ended our night with a Birthday dessert request of cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips topped with cream cheese frosting and crushed Oreos. Muddlers are great Oreo crushers. It was a fantastic end for the night. My cousin and I ate two, and the guys ate three each. And I was just going to prepare a half dozen.