Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crab, Wine and Sake: Claws, Grapes and Rice

Before the end of the hallowed dungeness crab season in the SF Bay Area, my husband and I put some sunscreen on, woke up at 5 in the morn', filled up our portable coffee mugs, and headed to the Pacifica pier. At least I heard that this is what we did. We cast our crab nets out in the expansive Pacifica bay and gave the local seal known for snatching crabs from people's nets the evil eye.

Although a dear friend of mine insists that a group of our friends and I fishing in a Clearlake trout farm where nearby "fisherman" started aiming at our finned buddies with bee-bee guns counted as true fishing, it did not. This was the first time I was successfully involved in plucking something from the water that ended up on my plate.

And I helped. I refilled our coffee.

I was very proud to take part in this crustacean encounter resulting in not one, or two, but three crabs! Three red crabs and one dungeness. From OUR net!

On the way home, with the fidgeting crabs tapping on the bucket wedged between my legs in the front passenger seat, we considered our dinner options. Crab fritters? Crab lasagna? Crab salad? Nah. We finally decided two simple preparations. The first was angel hair pasta, topped with chopped parsley, butter, and freshly cracked crustacean. The second was pure crab, dipped in a classic Vietnamese dipping sauce made of lime juice, sweet chili and fish sauce.

We just happened to an opened sample of wine and two samples sake from the shop at hand, so we decorated our crab adorned table with the three bottles.

What worked with what?

The wine was a Gascogne wine from Domaine Chiroulet in the southwest of France, made entirely of Ugni Blanc and Columbard. Bright, fresh, with hints of ripe grapefruit and lime, this crisp, mineral wine worked best with the Vietnamese dipping sauce. I thought that it would pair better with the buttery pasta, by cutting some of the richness of the butter and highlighting the sweet crab with its acidity, but it tasted so much better just with the crab dipped in the fresh dipping sauce. It matched the lime one-on-one and the ripe grapefruit qualities happily wrapped themselves around the chiles and touch of sugar.

And the buttery pasty? Sure it was great with the Gascogne white too, I must admit that it was better with the sakés. I know!

Now many of you were introduced to my husband, or at least his chile pepper chef pants, through the Prosecco and Peas post, but I'm guessing that even with this intro, most might not know that my husband is a sake lover who makes his own sake brew at home. Really good, Nigori-style sake. I like sake, but as the main man in my life is so much better suited to discuss the rice drinks with you than I am, I include his insights on the sake and crab pairings below. Enjoy. All accolades for our newest contributer may be left in the comment section of this blog, of course, adressed to me, as my ego is fragile.

Who Has Two Claws and Likes Sake?!

Chiyonosono: Shinriki (Sacred Power) Junmai Ginjo. Kumamoto Prefecture: SMV +2.5, Acidity 1.5.
Located in Yamaga City, which is known for many ancient burial sites, the area is also a well known hot spring resort location and is protected by the magnificent natural environs near Mt. Aso. The nose of this saké gives aromas of fresh-cut grass and hints of tropical fruits with cantaloupe being the frontrunner. The texture of this Ginjo is silky on the palate. A deep and rich yet mellow flavor, which is a little buttery and slightly sweet, with hints of mango and pear. The finish gives a little warmth from the alcohol, which is well appreciated after a hard day of crabbing. This saké paired well with the crab and Vietnamese dipping sauce.

Sudo Honke: Sato No Homare (Pride of the Village) Junmai Ginjo. Ibaraki Prefecture: SMV +3, Acidity 1.3.
This is the oldest active brewery in all of Japan, which was founded in 1147, based on the oldest records available. Mr. Sudo is the 55th generation of his family to brew sake and everything brewed here is junmai ginjo or junmai daiginjo, and almost all of it is unpasteurized. This saké’s appearance is clear with only a slight tinge of amber. It gives a light and fruity nose, laced with koji rice, strawberry, pear, violets and grape. This Ginjo is semi-dry and a little syrupy with refined and clear flavor, yet deep with a clean finish. This sake paired best with the dish of crab and buttery pasta.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Surprising Professional Pairings with Ryan Williams of Ana Mandara


I'm pleased to announce the start of a Vin de la Table focused interview series of those professionally involved in the delicious art of food and wine pairing. Inspired by a friend Keith Stevenson, who, after a Vin de la Table post asking readers what they'd like to see more on this blog, sat down at the wine bar where I work and said, "Well, I was thinking,....."

His idea was that I should ask people intimately involved with matching food and wine in their profession, such as wine directors and vinophile chefs, about their most surprising, but excellent, food and wine pairing experience. Needless to say, I thought that it was a great idea and am happy to explore this venture. In addition to employing Stevenson's idea, I'll be throwing a few other questions in the mix to meet the interest of readers, and so we'll know a bit about the person and professional behind the answer.

I hereby announce that this day, July 17th, 2008, marks the first of a series, titled, "Surprising Professional Pairings."

Actually, I was hoping that we could work together to come up with a better title than the one that I sadly labored over. While effective, it's not... interesting. Ideas are very welcomed in the comment section of this post.

The series kicks off with a short interview with one of the sweetest men I've met in wine, Ryan Williams. Williams works as Assistant Sommelier and manager at Ana Mandara, one of the most awarded, inventive, and all-around favorite Vietnamese focused restaurants in San Francisco. If you'd ever been to San Francisco and seen the competition, you'd know that this is a title does not go without defending. William's is passionate about wine and is always seeking out new ways to deepen his already extensive pool of knowledge. Best of all, he helps to dispel the myth that sommeliers or wine directors are intimidating, unfriendly people. There are few people that I'd rather ask for help with a thick wine list.

Here is the man himself, Ryan Williams, C.S.

What led to your career in food and wine?

My love and passion for both. I have been cooking since the age of 9 and wine since I was 22. I am currently 42 so that's quite a bit of time. I really love everything about both and would cook for family, friends, and others till it became a request for functions and events. As far as wine after my first visit to Napa in the late 80's I fell in love. I met so many different winery workers who eventually became friends and I would arrange wine tours for friends and associates in limos with the breakfast and lunch being provided by my catering company and we would have a great time. When I realized there was a career path, especially in the wine arena, I began to pursue my passion and here I am.

You work at Ana Mandara, what is said to be one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S.
How did you end up there?
What positions do you fill at the restaurant?
What impassions you about Ana Mandara?

My pursuit of the hospitality industry initially was going to be in culinary arts. I visited several schools and one stood out. Professional Culinary Institute (PCI) in Campbell, CA had a wine program. It is the only one in the world where after completion, Court of Masters, one accreditation body for sommeliers, comes and administers the first two levels of exams and if passed declares you a certified sommelier. This was amazing so I signed up. It is taught by Master Sommelier David Glancy. After passing the course and both exams I became a certified sommelier. As an alum, we receive job announcements from David. One came across from Joanna Breslin, Wine Director of Ana Mandara Restaurant and third level, Advanced Sommelier, of a need for an Assistant. I found the website to be great and the wine list outstanding so I inquired to David.
He made the introduction to his friend Joanna, I got a series of interviews and am now a proud member of the Ana Mandara team.

I am a Manager/ Sommelier/ Assistant Wine Director. A mouthful.

What I love about Ana Mandara is the family environment, the great staff, both front and back of the house, the consistently phenomenal food,and the outstanding wine list, which stands on its own but is even more so outstanding for a Vietnamese Restaurant. Rarely do you find such variety, quantity, reasonably priced, and most of all excellent quality wines in restaurants with our cusine.

What are the two most surprising food and wine parings that you've experienced in your career?

The first would be truffle popcorn (Michael Minna) with a Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" 1999. UNBELIEVABLE! I will give details later. Just thinking of it makes my mouth water.
The second was a ginger creme brulee (Ana Mandara) with Casta Diva Cosecha Miel, Muscat 2006. AMAZING and unexpected.

If you could share one bit of information about food and wine pairing with Vin de la Table readers, what would it be?

There are so many rules and practices such as high acid and/or sweet wine cuts spicy food, and the ancient red with meat, white with fish but my overall advice is drink what you like and like what you drink, then everyone is happy.

Thank you Ryan, for your generosity and time with this interview.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

What Would You Pair With.....?"

Today's "What Would You Pair With.....?" question concerns boquerones.

Boquerones are white Spanish anchovies, and these in particular have been marinated with white wine vinegar and olive oil, paired with Valtellina cheese, rustic bread, and lightly garnished with a piece of wilted basil.

Not particular to my picnics, the little fish are a staple at tapas bars all over Spain, and at the wine bar where I work.

Valtellina, is an aged, somewhat sharp and herbaceous mixed milk cheese (90% cow, 10% goat) from the hills of Italy, where happy cows make happy cheese.

The basil was wilted. By chance. But was fabulous with the boquerones and helped to break up the whiteness of the photo. If the basil is just too much for you with the cheese, fish and bread, take it off and go purist.

The question(s) of this post is:
What would you drink with this little snack? I tasted it with more than one wine, and was happy with many of the selections, but what are your ideas? White? Bubbles? Spritz? Red? Bonus question: Who and where would you like to nibble and sip your pairing....

Answers can be left in the comment link at the end of this blog.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Potato Chips and Sparkling Wine: K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Word around town is that potato chips and sparkling wine have it for each other something fierce.

Theirs is a somewhat private relationship. There have been relatively few sightings of the potato crisps and bubbly beauty holding hands at public places, such as high end restaurants or Dean and Delucas. However, my people-in-good-standing have reported seeing them in dimly light eateries or behind closed doors. I've also received at least five anonymous texts about their appearance in the movie the "Seven Year Itch," where Marilyn Monroe, in high heels and a charmingly flimsy white dress, exposes the passion of the two lovebirds.

Why they are attracted to each other needs little explanation. With their naughty crunch, sprinkling of salt, and healthy douse of oil, chips are the the (insert your following star and vintage here) Benecio del Toro/George Clooney/Billy Joel of the food world. And although sparkling wines should be consumed at far more occasions and in far more vast quantities than they currently are today, as it is, they are still the beautiful, rare Uptown Charlize Theron/Juliette Binoche/Christie Brinkley treat. To put it in scientific terms, when the duo gets together, the creamy and high acidity sparkling bubbles lift the salt and fat molecules to a deliciously higher plane.

The Test:
At a recent event at the wine shop/wine bar where I work, I decided to put their love to the test. Are sparkling wine and potato chips a pairing made in a Sommelier's heaven, I asked an equal mix of wine representatives, our favorite customers, fellow employees, and an infant who only burped in response. Some people spoke to specific pairing possibilities, others branched out to cover varied sparkling topics. The chips were Kettle Lightly Salted Krinkle Cut Chips. The starring sparklings will be revealed in all of their glory with each researched response.


Wonderful wine bar friend Jason LeCount was happy to respond.
"The chip is savory and fatty, but still mild flavored, and the acidity in the champagne cuts through all that and more. It also seems that the salt in the chips is enhancing the flavors in the wine, like salt does to a properly salted dish."

Wine bar advocate Will Mariano liked the Sorelle Branca Prosecco 68 best with his chips.
"After it sat in my glass and opened up, I could taste the creaminess of the Prosecco. My downfull is buttery, creamy in white wines. With these chips at that sparkling, the flavors in the wine and food enhanced each other."

Fellow employee Matt Stevenson was eager to share his findings.
"Ah...good question, do sparklings and potato chips go well together? Well, I overheard Sparkling Wine Advocate Mike Werther talk about champagne and chips, so I think I can propagate upon our earlier discussion. The acidity in champagne matches really nicely with the saltiness in chips. I prefer grand cru blanc de blanc & plain old basic Lays. With a rose or darker saignee, you can do the black pepper Kettle chips. In Indian food, classic curries have been known to be fantastic pairings with your favorite Blanc de Noir. By the way, I've also heard that there is a direct correlation between IQs, overall happiness, and the amount of sparkling wine you consume."

Wine rep extraordinaire Tom Switzer shared his favorite pairings.
"My favorite thing to drink with our Sorelle Branca Prosecco is anchovies, with Frito Miso. I probably wouldn't put out chips to go with Champagne, but chips do go with everything. My favorite champagne pairing is smoked salmon with cavair or Brillecart brut with oysters."

Says chip and Champagne lover, Benny, ""I appreciate these two together because I think that it's a taste of elegance mingled with everyday flavor."

I unfortunately asked Tracy late in the night to participate in the research and by that time all chips were eaten by those NOT engaged in the investigation, so she hadn't enough time to properly evaluate the pairing. But her picture was still cute, so here is Tracy, one of our favorite customers.

Our wine shop manager, the skilled pourer Jason Lefler had this to say about his prefered pairing:
"My favorite sparkling that we sampled with the chips tonight was the Raventos Blanc Cava Reserve. It had sufficent fruit and umptiousness to not be too acidic with the chips. Because it had far less acid that other wines present, the pairing was quite pleasurable."

Wine rep Marc West-Teixeira, who was happy that his baby was born a couple days earlier so he was able to make it to our Bubbles Party, shared his thoughts too.
"The winner of the sparkling wine and chip pairing was the A. Margaine [Champagne Rose of Pinot Noir]. For me, nothing else clung together, either because the chips were too fatty, or something else got in the way of the match."

As for me, my favorites of the night was the Raventos Blanc Cava Reserve (both 2003 and 2005 were lip smacking), and the Lalliment Champagne. My reasons were similar Jason Lefler, so I'll just copy his well-phrased, completely spur of the moment response below. But overall, this research reinforced by chip and wine love, and reminded me that we are indeed lucky to be living in a world of wine that allows populist snacks to converge with luxurious bubbles.

Anyone tried Sparkling with Beer and Cheddar chips?

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