Apr 29, 2010

The 2010 "Best Restaurant in the World"

The annual S. Pellegrino/Restaurant Magazine list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was released earlier this week, de-throning El Bulli from its four-year reign at the #1 position.

The newly-decreed Best Restaurant in the World is Denmark’s Noma, whose 32-year-old Chef, René Redzepi, brings the idea of local sourcing to an entirely different level by serving only foods of the Arctic region (the name Noma stands for nordatlantiski mad, or North Atlantic food).

On the menu are axelberry shoots, cowsliip, Jack-by-the-hedge, cloudberrys and other items not found in your local grocery store. Specialties on the current menu include Langoustine and Seawater, Musk Ox and Seawater, Cooked Barley and Birch Soup, and, for dessert, Beetroot and Hip Rose with Dark Syrup and Dill.

 Many but not all wines are from the region; you can download a PDF of the entire 56-page wine (and other spirits) list, with entries from around the world. My admittedly hurried look at this list revealed many French imports but nothing, alas, from the U. S.

Redzepi’s background and techniques are unusual and fascinating, and I highly recommend reading a story about him in the UK’s Telegraph. It’s written by Jasper Gerard, who at one point notes that Redzepi “is as doctrinaire about gastronomy as 17th-century clerics were about theology [but] this still allows him enough space to be a nice guy.”

The Best Restaurants list is prepared after 800 worldwide culinary experts are polled to name the best dining establishments in which they have eaten during the past 18 months. Read the exact voting specifications.

Apr 22, 2010

Wine Country Recipe: Asparagus & Snow Pea Soup

With asparagus and snow peas in season, this recipe from Schug Carneros Estate is the perfect way to welcome spring. It was created by Chef Kristine Schug, who worked at sparkling wine producer Domaine Carneros and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma before becoming Winery Chef of Schug Carneros Estate. You can find other recipes by Chef Schug here. Enjoy!

Asparagus & Snow Pea Soup
with Lemon-Tarragon Cream

4 tbsp. butter
2 large onions, peeled, quartered and sliced
½ cup very thinly sliced celery
1/2 tsp. salt
2 qt. stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 lb. Snow peas, trimmed, strings removed
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut in 1-inch lengths, tips set aside
freshly ground black pepper
Lemon-Tarragon Cream (see below)

Note: This recipe serves 10 but is easily divided in half.

Blanch asparagus tips in salted boiling water until tender. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking; set aside. In a large soup pot over medium heat melt the butter, then add the onions, the celery and the salt. Gently sauté until the onions and celery are limp. Add the stock and bring mixture to a boil. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the onions and celery are completely cooked through.

Now add the asparagus (except for the tips). One minute later add the snow peas. Simmer for approximately 7 or 8 minutes or until peas and asparagus are tender but still bright green. Quickly puree all the soup and strain out vegetable fibers. Return strained soup to pot and reheat but do not boil or the pretty bright green color will be lost.

Correct for seasonings and ladle hot soup into warm serving bowls. Garnish with an asparagus tip or two and a tablespoon of Lemon-Tarragon Cream. Serve immediately.

Apr 20, 2010

Food & (Unfiltered) Wine in Sonoma’s Glen Ellen

 Vineyards, Jack London State Historic Park
Sometimes it's great to get away overnight, even when you don't go far. Last week, for an article assignment, I drove all of fifteen minutes from my home in the town of Sonoma to the tiny hamlet of Glen Ellen. In the routine course of my life it's not unusual to find myself in Glen Ellen. I like to hike thereabouts, and I often eat at a Nepalese restaurant, Yetti, that's housed in a 19th-century complex of mill buildings perched above the creek that runs through "town." But the magic of actually staying there for two nights sent me home feeling as if I'd been far away.

My brief visit also set me on a quest of a sort to learn more about unfiltered wine...but I'll get to that.

Glen Ellen was once home to the writer/adventurer Jack London. Legend has it that London often rode horseback from his hilltop Beauty Ranch to the local saloons; if he had too much to drink, which was usually the case, he could rely on the horse to haul his semi-conscious self safely home. Today the ranch—with its famous “Pig Palace” and the magnificent ruins of the writer’s 15,000-square-foot home (which burned to the ground a month before completion)—are part of Jack London State Historic Park.

Our cottage, named  Rocky Terrace, at the Glenelly Inn
Hiking at the Park is just one reason to visit Glen Ellen. Others include fine wineries (Eric Ross, Benziger, and Mayo Family Winery) and charming hostelries. We stayed in a beautifully-decorated private cottage with a spa and fireplace at the historic Glenelly Inn & Cottages. Breakfasts, which come with the room, were delicious and bountiful. Another included extra: a Complimentary Wine Tasting Card for two good at nearly 30 Sonoma Valley wineries. The Glenelly Inn is tucked away from the main road, and from there we could easily walk everywhere.

Apr 10, 2010

How to pop a cork & other sparkling tales

mumm cork
I’ve been doing some interesting writer-for-hire work that necessitates researching Napa and Sonoma wineries (yeah, that's right: somebody's got to do it!). So I’m spending a bit of time these days browsing winery websites and can't help but be impressed with the generous amount of information--wine education, recipes, wine lore, entertainment tips,etc.--offered by many sites.

For example, all the Napa/Sonoma sparkling wine producers offer tips to increase your appreciation of the wine that caused its reputed inventor, Dom Perignon, to exclaim: "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"

In no particular order, enjoy these tidbits from five first-rate sparkling wine houses:

Domaine Carneros: How to Pop a Cork
Films abound with images of champagne corks popping. But flying corks are dangerous, and that foam pouring out of the bottle is precious wine being lost. Real pros ease the cork from the bottle with a controlled “sigh.”

Apr 7, 2010

Recycling Wine Corks

I just learned, to my great shame, that wine corks can and are being recycled. I’m ashamed because I figure I’ve needlessly put one or two corks into landfill over the years.

I found out about cork recycling while writing a small piece on Cuvaison Estate Wines in Napa’s Carneros region. Among that winery’s many sustainable and green initiatives is a serious commitment to increasing consumer awareness about cork recycling.

Last July, at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Cuvaison kicked off its nation-wide cork recycling program by collecting more than 5,000 corks. According to the winery’s President Jay Schuppert, “Once people saw our cork recycling boxes…they went out of their way to make sure their corks came to us instead of the garbage. We kept hearing ‘it’s about time’ and ‘great idea.' "

It is a great idea! Each year 34,000 tons of cork are harvested to make 13 billion wine stoppers around the world—and most end up in landfill. True, many vintners have gone to screw-off caps or plastic

Apr 4, 2010

Easter Eggs for Grownups

What better way to celebrate Easter, Passover and/or spring than with these beautiful candy-colored French macarons? The second I saw this photo I knew I was looking at Easter Eggs for Grownups.

The recipe and step-by-step directions for these delectable cookies--which consist only of egg whites, granulated sugar, powdered sugar and ground almonds--is by one of my favorite NPR foodies, Dorie Greenspan. You can find that and other macaron recipes in the April 1 edition of The Los Angeles Times.

Apr 2, 2010

The real difference between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

chard-pinot noir
While doing some research today for an article on Napa's Carneros district, I came across these hilarious (and true!) words by Michael Richmond, winemaker at Bouchaine Vineyards & Winery:
Speaking of behavior, winemaker Michael Richmond often uses a more human analogy to describe the dramatic difference between making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir:
"Making Chardonnay is like raising kids back in the 50s, with a lot of parental control and the expectation that the next generation will conform to that training. Making Pinot is the more ‘modern way’ of raising children, where the parents just set the boundaries and try to keep them out of jail. With Chardonnay, we hope to be delighted by and proud of the outcome of our supervision; with Pinot, we hope to be delighted and relieved by the way it turns out. It’s the difference between shaping the Chardonnay and allowing the Pinot to manifest itself. Pinot is the most precocious and capricious of all grape varieties."