Sep 28, 2010

Wine Country Recipe: Figs with Honey & Sherry

Figs with Honey & Sherry     Credit: Cosentino Winery
Lucky me, with a generous neighbor whose back yard harbors an ancient, high-producing fig tree. It’s just about to come into the year’s second crop, so I’ve been searching out new ways to try figs.

On the website of Napa Valley’s prolific Cosentino Winery I discovered a beaut: Grilled Rosemary Skewers of Black Mission Figs with Honey & Sherry. The site suggests pairing with a 2003 Semillon from Edie (a Cosentino brand). But at $48 for a split-size, that’s not a realistic choice for most of us. Semillon is a good idea, but also consider a Pinot Noir or a Sauternes.

If you like this recipe, take a look at others by Cosentino.

Grilled Rosemary Skewers of Black Mission Figs
with Honey and Sherry

  • 8 fresh figs, black mission, kadota, or brown turkey
  • 4 rosemary branches, 2/3 of leaves removed
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 4 fig leaves, cleaned and dried
  • 4 pieces of Laura Chenel’s cabecou goat cheese
Sherry reduction
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  1. Over low heat, simmer sherry reduction ingredients for about 30 minutes, until reduced to a glaze consistency.
  2. Cut figs in half and place cut-side down on a flat surface.
  3. Skewer 2 figs on each rosemary twig, and brush with glaze. Grill over medium heat 2-3 minutes, flat side down. Remove from heat. Brush with additional glaze.
  4. To prepare fig leaf, lightly oil a leaf on the shiny side. Place a piece of cabecou cheese on each fig leaf and grill over medium-low heat until cheese is warm and fig leaf is slightly wilted.
  5. To assemble, place 2 slices of prosciutto on the center of each plate. Set the fig leaf with the cheese on top of the prosciutto. Angle the skewer to the side of the cheese. Drizzle with more glaze on top and around the plate.

Sep 23, 2010

Kauai: Exciting, edge-cutting dining at Josselin’s

Organic Beet Salad   Courtesy: Josselin's
If you’re traveling to Kauai any time soon, you absolutely must dine at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill in the Poipu area. The meal I had there two weeks ago was so sensational that I’ll always remember it. This seems to be a common reaction. One of the wait staff told me that a visiting mainland couple recently dined at the restaurant on the third day of their stay—and returned for dinner each of the next 10 consecutive nights.
Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
I can see why. For one thing, they probably never ate the same thing twice—the menu is not only huge, it changes daily based on what’s fresh from sea, butcher, and fields. The menu is also one of the most innovative I’ve come across, showing a complete melding of the world's ingredients. And the presentation! Every delivery to our table was such a work of art that cameras came out and lots of shutter-snapping ensued before anything could be eaten. And then there was the pleasing shock of unusual flavor juxtaposition, of sheer deliciousness.

Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
Just consider:
  • Scallop Pillows, Cardamom Coconut Broth, Galangal, Drunken Grapes        
  • Kauai Shrimp and Duck Taco, Organic Papaya Salsa
  • Seared Foie Gras, Duck Confit Steamed Bun, Vanilla Bing Cherry Reduction
  • Lipstick Peppers, Goat Cheese Chorizo Stuffing, Tomato Vinaigrette
  • Hamachi Tartare, Pressed Cucumber, Arugula Pesto, Aji Amarillo Sauce
  • Hamachi and Tuna Crudo, Tomato Soffritto, Tomato Jelly
  • Organic Beet Salad, Goat Cheese Fritter, Orange Vinaigrette  
  • Summer Risotto, Peach, Edamame, Eggplant, Zucchini, Tomato, Basil
  • Thai Shrimp Bisque, Red Curry, Basil, Corn Puree, Shrimp Dumpling, Orange Kaffir Foam
  • 36 Hours Braised Pork Belly, Julienne Apple Kimchee, Rosemary Orange Local Honey
  • Swordfish Tenderloin, Truffle Vinaigrette, Roasted Clams 
  • Garlic Sesame Crusted Island Mahi Mahi, Soba Noodle, Toasted Nori Vinaigrette
  • Blackened Opah, Vegetables Spring Roll, Basil Papaya Sauce 
While the restaurant calls these "tapas," they could just as easily be considered high-end dim sum or appetizers--but make no mistake; whatever you call them, they constitute something new. There are also incredibly good desserts on the menu; even a non-lover of sweets like me lusted after these creations. Libations were poured from around the world. Most of my party opted for one of the Sangrias (the Pomegranate Sangria was my fave).

Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
One more thing about this place: the service was impeccable, but also non-stuffy, even friendly. The decor was high-styled and modern, but also comfortable. What could be better than that?

The Chef

Chef Josselin at work   Courtesy: Josselin's

Back in 1991, chef/owner Jean Marie Josselin was one of 12 founding members of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a movement that combined Hawaii’s fresh island ingredients with the best of the world’s culinary techniques (call it “tropical fusion”). At the time Josselin was heading his first restaurant, A Pacific Café, in Kapaa, Kauai. Even then the chef was known for innovative Pan-Asian cuisine.

Chef Josselin (R) in his restaurant   Courtesy: Josselin's

By the end of the decade, Josselin presided over a seven-restaurant empire throughout Hawaii, winning major culinary awards from the James Beard Foundation, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit magazine, and others. In 2000, he left Hawaii for Las Vegas to open Euro-Pacific 808 in Caesar’s Palace (voted one of that city’s Top 10 restaurants by Wine Spectator).

But now he’s back, and the result—Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill—is nothing short of spectacular.

Sep 21, 2010

Kauai: 3 excellent medium-cost resorts

I’m just home from Kauai, where I checked out three beautiful beach-front resorts. In two locations I had a large ocean-view suite; the third was a captivating antique cottage surrounded by coconut palms and just a few steps from the water. All three had fully-equipped kitchens and can be categorized as mid-price. Stock the fridge so you can enjoy a few meals in—even if it’s just breakfast—and your overall cost will plummet.

If you have one eye on the budget but don't want to give up luxurious touches and nice amenities, these choices are hard to beat:

Located on the island’s western side near the foot of Waimea Canyon, this resort’s 1900-era cottages were once home to the families of sugar plantation employees. Beautifully restored, they range from one- to three-bedrooms in size. Each cottage is architecturally unique and furnished with flowered Hawaiian fabrics and period mahogany, wicker, or rattan furnishings. This was my second visit here, and I like it even more than I did the first time.

There’s a lot to do without leaving the resort. The beach is beautiful, rimmed by palms, and on a long walk you may not see anybody. Or pick tropical fruit from the gardens, stroll the black sand beach, enjoy a KavaKava scrub at the resort’s Hideaway Spa, drop into on-site Waimea Brewing Company for a brew or something to eat, go for a bout of beach yoga, browse the in-house art gallery, go snorkeling or hang out at the pool. While I was there a moonlight concert was held beneath the palms featuring singer-songwriter-guitarist Nathan Aweau. Part rock star and part traditional Hawaiian balladist, he had flown in from Honolulu for the event and drew a crowd.

Not far away is tiny Waimea town, with a couple of grocery stores, restaurants, and Jo-Jo’s—famous for its crushed ice treats. You can also arrange at the front desk to do a myriad of other Kauai activities, including horseback riding, scuba diving, helicopter tours, and more.

In Kauai, as in most tropical getaways, rates depend on the time of year or “season” (high season, when demand is high, or low season when it’s not). Waimea Plantation’s 1-br cottages with garden view range from $215-359 per day; ocean-front 1-br cottages run $316-396.

Castle Kiahuna Plantation & Beach Bungalows

In the Poipu Resort area on the island’s southern side, Kiahuna Plantation’s 333 units offer a wide choice, from the lowest-priced garden rooms to the ocean-view and beachfront suites. Situated on a gorgeous lagoon, this tropically-landscaped resort comes with all the amenities you’d expect.

I stayed two nights in an ocean-view suite, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was beautifully decorated, big and bright and airy, had a fully-equipped kitchen and even a washer and dryer. From my second-floor lanai (top floor) I had a stunning view.

Amentiies include free high-speed internet, swimming pool, tennis courts, BBQ areas, cable TV, daily maid service, in-room safe, private lanai, swimming beach. Golf course nearby. Two on-site restaurants, many others nearby.

Depending on the season, rates for the 1-br with garden view run $310-345 per night; the 1-br ocean view, $445-525. Take advantage of packages, military discounts, and other bargains (for example, right now the 1-br garden-view rooms are going for $169 per night through 12/23/10—a terrific value).

 This place is really something special. When I entered my large, 2-bedroom suite for the first time and meandered into the sunny living/dining room with its spectacular water views, I thought: “They’ll have to kick me out, because I’m never, ever going to leave here!”

Trust me: the small Hanalei Colony Resort is that kind of place. First is the location; on Kauai’s glorious north shore, HCR is a few miles and a one-lane bridge from storied Hanalei Bay (where parts of South Pacific were filmed). Backdropped by brilliant emerald mountains, the resort rests on a turquoise lagoon rimmed with powdery white sand. The sound of surf is a constant companion, accompanying you through the day and sending you off to sleep at night.

This is, to say the least, a most peaceful getaway. The rooms contain no TV or phones (although all rooms offer free internet access). On site are a pool, the Hanalei Day Spa, and a wonderful restaurant, The Mediterranean Gourmet, that fuses Hawaiian ingredients with Mediterranean techniques. Once a week the resort throws an old-fashioned Luau. A short drive in one direction brings you to the base of the strenuous Na Pali Coast trail; in the other direction is Hanalei Bay and the few shops and restaurants in Hanalei town.

All suites have 2 bedrooms and fully-equipped kitchens, with four rate categories based on season and closeness to the ocean. On the low end, a garden view suite runs $255-275; on the high end, the premium ocean view goes for $395-440. Stay six nights and the 7th night is free. Other packages and savings are often available (check the site).

So there you go. Enjoy, and Aloha!

Sep 14, 2010

Napa-Sonoma Harvest Celebrations

Right now in Wine Country it's all about the harvest. Around the state grape growers are racing to get the fruit picked before the rains come (and at higher altitudes they're hoping to beat the first frost). With the growing season over and the crop nearly tucked away, the time for celebration has arrived.

And who knows how to celebrate better than the denizens of Wine Country? Where I live, in Sonoma Valley--mere minutes from Napa--festivals and parties and grape stomps are breaking out all over. If you've been intending to visit the region, now is a good time to make your move.

Below I discuss three representative events, and then offer a roundup of harvest celebrations in Sonoma and Napa. But with hundreds of wineries in these two counties, I'm just skimming the surface. To find more events, use the official tourism links I give in the roundup sections below. And if you live in or near other stellar wine regions, in California or elsewhere, you'll doubtless find plenty of harvest celebratory action in those parts, too!

Taste with the Masters: This event will be held at the renowned Meadowood Napa Valley, consistently voted by readers of Travel & Leisure as a top destination. You'll join the resort's Director of Wine Education, Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure (as well as MS Peter Granoff), who will guide you through all the intricacies of an extensive blind tasting that highlights the appellations and wine styles found in Sonoma and Napa Valley. From classic styles (e.g., Carneros Chardonnay, Alexander Valley Cabernets) to newer grape varietals (e.g., Albariño, Viogner, Sangiovese, and others), you'll get a comprehensive look at what's currently going on in these two great wine regions. Among the wineries covered: Schramsberg, Rubicon, Ravenswood, Paul Hobbs, Robert Foley, and Joseph Phelps. Friday, 10/15, 11-3; $200/person.

Sep 8, 2010

Charles Krug's Harvest Celebration on Sunday

I arrived yesterday on the island of Kauai, and will be reporting in the rest of this week on places hereabouts where you can stay, do, and stay tuned!

Meanwhile: next week I'll be running a roundup post of Wine Country Harvest Celebrations, but I just realized that Charles Krug Winery's annual celebration won't make it on the list if I wait. Can't have that! So I'll give the details below. I attended the event last year, and what a lovely time we had: that broad lawn shaded by huge and ancient trees, a jazz band, wonderful food, and inside the old barn the wine was flowing.

That barn, which dates back to the 1800s, is often the site of fun wine events. Early last winter I wrote about the massive wine sampling Charles Krug hosted during Premiere Napa Valley (a sensational event in which many venues participate, and I did my best to cover them all).

So: Krug Winery's annual grape harvest celebration, "The Tasting on the Lawn," will be held on the estate's expansive, oak-shaded Great Lawn this coming Sunday, September 11 from 2-5 p.m. Considered the winery’s signature tasting event, the celebration began in 1951; it's one of the earliest events of its kind (and possibly the first).

On the agenda: current release tastings from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon (including the winery’s Limited Release Family Reserve wines), paired with a moveable feast of nibbles selected especially for the wines. As always, live music and entertainment add to the festivities. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy special barrel tastings inside the winery's elegantly restored 1881 Carriage House. Admission for Wine Club members is free; non-members can purchase tickets through the winery's website.


Sep 3, 2010

Winery Visits: Francis Ford Coppola Winery

I predict that the new Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley will start a trend for what may come to be known as “Lifestyle Wineries.” This isn’t just a winery: it’s a Destination. And it’s one that the entire family can enjoy.

Creating a family-friendly winery was paramount to Coppola. “I read recently in Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility a description of a wonderful estate and its ‘pleasure grounds,’" he said recently. "It is perhaps the best phrase to describe what we’re creating…a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy all the best things in life—food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”

From now through fall, this latest Coppola production is having a "Dress Rehearsal." A few parts of the “Pleasure Grounds” aren’t yet open, but most of it is up and running in style. It's a good time to come, because many activities that will charge a fee next year are free from now through the end of 2010.

 Dining on the Terrace  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)

I was there two nights ago for a media launch and came away thoroughly impressed at the way this gigantic undertaking has succeeded. With so many elements involved—wine tasting bars, a full-service restaurant and two casual eateries, entertainment venues, recreational facilities—something could easily have gone wrong or at least turned out to be disappointing. But that hasn't happened. Not by a long shot.

 Pizza Luigino with View  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)

We dined on the restaurant's terrace (the restaurant's official name: Rustic, Francis’s Favorites). Plate after plate of perfectly-prepared food kept arriving at the table: Braciole with Rigatoni in Meat Ragu, Mrs. Scorcese's Lemon Chicken, Cho Cho Salad, Pizza Luigino, Pine Nut Tart, Chocolate Mousse al "Francis Francis." Each dish  has a personal history; for instance, Martin Scorcese's mother used to serve the lemon chicken dish decades ago to the two young men. The food was paired with Coppola's excellent wines (and, yes, the long-awaited Archimedes lives up to its hype).

From the patio, grape fields extended endlessly into the surround of Alexander Valley. As we dined the sun set, the skies darkened, the stars came out. When it was full-on night we saw only a scattering of lights up and down the valley floor. It was, truly, a rustic setting.

  Vineyards, Coppola Winery  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)

To Coppola, the most important idea behind this new venture is that “it’s for families…I am a very big believer in keeping the family together: the children who are playing and learning, the father and mother...and the elders, who are very much part of the family. In modern life they all get separated. It is my desire to bring them all together to enjoy life together. That is the basis of the human family. My venture seeks to bring all the components of the family together because they're all welcome.”

Coppola drew on the talents of Academy Award-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis to help design the winery, which manages to possess both a modern sensibility and a fantastical quality. The winery is constructed in such a way that it seems to embrace the huge courtyard, where the swimming pools and other recreational activities reside.

 Me talking with Coppola winemaker Corey Beck  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)

But make no mistake: this is definitely a winery and a wine production facility. Yet it's so much more. You can come to taste the wines and leave, but chances are that you’ll stick around to enjoy the many other diversions, which include:
  • Two swimming pools connected by a water-jet “swim through,” for a combined 3,600 square feet; certified lifeguards are on duty.
  • Cabines—28 Euro-styled personal changing rooms—can be rented for the day, giving visitors a secure and private place to store personal items, change clothes, etc. Each cabine has its own shower and comes with a reserved poolside chaise lounge.
  • The Pavilion, inspired by the band shell in The Godfather, Part II, is the “stage” for various forms of musical and theatrical performances, seminars, star-gazing evenings, and so on.
  • Fun & Games include four Bocce Ball courts surrounded by landscaped lawns; and dedicated tables for backgammon, chess, and checkers.
  • Kids’ entertainment and events are frequently on the agenda. At the ongoing Smoothie Tastings, kids learn to identify different flavors and aromas in their smoothies (all receive prizes at the end). Events throughout the year include the Vineyard Easter Egg Hunt, an Earth Day celebration, a Petite Picasso art happening, and a Harvest/Halloween Carnival. Also on the agenda: stage performances geared to children.
  • The Movie Gallery displays major items from Coppola’s film career: five Academy Award statuettes, Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather, and the original 1948 Tucker automobile used in Tucker: The Man and His Dream.
  • Plenty of winery tours, wine seminars and educational classes, winemaker for a day blending seminar, etc.
 1948 Tucker Automobile  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)
As for wine and food:
  • Wine tastings are reasonably priced (and for Coppola’s Rosso & BIanco brand, tastings are free). The “Family Tasting” lets you sample 3 wines for $5, while the “Neighbors Tasting” is $10 for four higher-end wines. A taste of the limited production Archimedes is $4. With a Wine Family Membership, bottles can be purchased at steep discount (e.g., Archimedes for $35 instead of $60, Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso Shiraz for $8.40 instead of $12).
  • The main restaurant, Rustic, seats guests inside the dining room or on the terrace overlooking gorgeous Alexander Valley. The menu is international, with an emphasis on Italian recipes and foods prepared on the Argentine parilla grill. On Sunday evenings the restaurant serves “a tavola” – that is, family style. Rustic also gives options for wine-and-food pairing.
  • The open-sided Pool Café offers simple fare: salads, paninis, etc.
  • The full-service Rustic Bar serves everything from aperitifs and wine to cocktails and espresso.
The best way to sum up the new Francis Ford Coppola Winery is to once again defer to it's creator. When asked how he wanted people to think about the winery, Coppola said that it should be "a pleasure to anticipate, a pleasure to visit, and a pleasure to remember."

That sure works for me!

 And he makes movies, too!  (Credit: Bonnie Kamin)