Tuesday, January 25, 2011

We Be Big Pimpin' We Be Hangin' with G!

I love changing song lyrics. I also love birthdays! I love them so much my celebration has a one-week minimum. This past weekend I experienced the Yin and Yang of parties. Friday involved everything from bubbly and tequila, to red wine and vodka. Throw in a little dancing on the tables, Taco Bell at 2am and you’ve got a party. (Additional activities will remain confidential to protect the identities of the not so innocent!)

Saturday’s blowout was big pimpin’ at the other end of the spectrum. One of my dearest friends opened his cellar and more than $1200 worth of wine. We were also celebrating the birth of his wife and another wine loving friend.

Not one of the bottles poured had aged less than 10 years; all were red blends or Cabernet Sauvignons. Here’s a short list of the heavy hitters: 2001 Insignia, 2001 Dominus, Artemis, Silver Oak Napa Valley (1999 & 2000) and 2001 Far Niente Oakville.

We lined up the bottles, decanted the wines, poured them one at a time and savored every sniff and swish! I loved the white pepper and coffee on the finish of the Insignia. We enjoyed the Dominus so much we had 2 bottles, each tasted slightly different.

While trying the 1999 Silver Oak one of my friends said, “It’s so good I don’t want to swallow.” Can’t you just hear the pause in conversation and the comments that followed?

My second favorite comment of the evening came after the first bottle of Far Niente, “It tastes better if you pet it.” It was a most memorable night full of laughter, savory food, outstanding wine and priceless friendships! Thank you Jonathan and Ali! "I love you more than my luggage."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Everything Old Is New Again

You know that saying "Everything Old Is New Again"? First thing that comes to mind might be a song performed on Broadway or recorded by The Barenaked Ladies but of course I'm relating it to grapes, Carmenere to be specific.

The grape originated in the Bordeaux Region of France, is a member of the Cabernet family and centuries ago made it's way to the soils of Chile. It has been buried over the years and used mostly for blending, however, the grape is finally coming into its own.

I enjoyed a glass of Lapostolle Casa Carmenere this week during a monthly wine tasting at The Morgan House Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers. The press materials on the tasting table claim Carmenere is the second fastest growing red varietal in the U. S. Malbec is the first.

I've had this wine in the past and was looking forward to another go-round! It was full of black fruit and soft tannins. I enjoyed it on it's own and with the sausage stuffed mushroom caps on the tapas table. I like a wine that can stand up with or without food. It gets better; Casa Carmenere scored 91 points in "Wine Enthusiast", it consistently secures a top spot in "Top 100 Best Buys" list and it will cost you under $15 retail!

Consider it for your "house wine". I'm buying a case for my house!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heaven: Pizza and Red Wine

When I die and go to Heaven I hope there will be a pizzeria on every corner with a great wine list. I think I found a little Heaven on Earth last night at Grimaldi’s at The Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. Yes, it is the world famous Grimaldi’s from Brooklyn! The pizzeria has been serving up award winning pies for more than 100-years and has finally opened its first restaurant in Florida. Thank God they picked Fort Myers!

The dough is hand tossed and cooked in a coal-fired brick oven to get that perfect crispy, smoky crust. You’ve probably heard New Yorkers say the secret to making the best pizza crust (and bagels) is in the water. Apparently Grimaldi’s thinks so too. They hired a chemist to analyze and recreate the mineral content of the water in their Fort Myers restaurant to match the exact composition of that in New York

The menu is simple: Pizzas, Calzones and Salads. The wine list for a pizza joint is VERY impressive with names like Ferrari Carano, Gaja, Treana, Prunotto Barolo, Cakebread and Sonoma Cutrer among others. We enjoyed a carafe of the house Montepulciano for $15. It was better with food than on it’s own but that's typical for most Italian wines.

Wine decision made, food decision not so easy. Faced with so many mouthwatering options we couldn't decide on just one pie! We ordered 4 personal sized pizzas: a classic Pepperoni, a traditional Margarita, a White Pizza (with Calamata olives and basil) and a Pesto Pizza (with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes). Each was fantastic, fresh and flavorful; the crust lived up to it's reputation and then some! I can't wait to go back and try more combinations!

Now that Grimaldi’s is open I decree there will be no more complaints from transplanted New Yorkers who “can’t find a good pizza anywhere in this town!” 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Double Fisting It

I love trying wines of the same or similar varietals side-by-side. I also love watching the looks of others at the bar when I gleefully line up two or three glasses to have with dinner. Last night I lined up two big blends while dining at the USS Nemo in Naples. Yes, big red blends at a seafood restaurant!
We picked The Prisoner and the Duckhorn Decoy.

I was interested in trying The Prisoner primarily because it is the first bottling under the winery's new ownership. It was a juicy blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Charbono with a touch of Grenache and Malbec. It was velvety with dark fruit and a touch of cocoa.

The Decoy was also juicy but more toasty and spicy with hints of cedar. Its blend consisted of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. I enjoyed The Prisoner but preferred the Decoy with our appetizers: mini tacos of Peking Duck and BBQ Pork.You can order both by the glass at Nemo's

Nemo’s is another one of those restaurants that looks a little suspect from the outside but is stylish and fabulous on the inside. The menu is more exotic than  you would think. Although you can get BBQ Tacos and Veal Sweetbreads, the cuisine is primarily seafood with an Asian flair. The Seabass is some of the best you will find in Southwest Florida! On the Tuesday night I visited, there was standing room only at 7 p.m.  Reservation or not, Nemo's is definitely worth the wait!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sharks and Lounge Lizards

During my recent cruise up Southwest Florida's coastline I found myself on Anna Maria Island at sunset and decided to stay! Don't expect any Marriott's or Hilton's on the island and don't expect most of the "mom and pop" places to keep their offices open past 6:00. After calling numerous after-hours numbers we finally struck gold at Cedar Cove.

While checking in we were told about a couple of 5-star joints but settled on a restaurant we could walk to; Sharky's Seagrill. I had certain, maybe even low expectations from a restaurant that had a sharks head protruding from the front of the building. I was proved wrong.

Sharky's isn't a touristy beach pub but more of a steakhouse, with lots of seafood of course. The dining room was dark and cozy, the bar small and intimate. The 1920's ceiling tiles came from the Sarasota library after it's remodeling some 20 years ago.

The Martini's were good and dirty, the wine list small but reasonable. After perusing it we
settled on a Charles Krug Cabernet for $50. It was the most expensive one on the list, seriously. The Escargot was garlicky and delicious, the steak Dianne was cooked just right, however, the lounge lizard singing in the corner was a little well done! After a couple of cocktails and too many bad renditions of  Elton John and Neil Diamond, I hid behind a menu and shouted MICHAEL JACKSON. My friends laughed, the lizard obliged! We tipped him handsomely and walked/danced back to the hotel singing "Billy Jean"! It was a good day!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Venice: Italy? California? Florida?

I can now check all of the above! I just returned from a short road trip up the west coast of Florida, stopping at nine beaches in two days! The stop may have only been 15 minutes but it was a stop none-the-less!

Venice is known as the "shark's tooth" capital because of the abundance of fossilized teeth found on the beaches. The drive along the shoreline to Stump Pass was beautiful and exactly what I imagine old Florida to be. No high rises or beach stores just dunes, sea oats and the smell of salt air!

The downtown was quaint with a couple of restaurants and a wine bar that looked inviting. I was really looking forward to a nice glass of wine and some fancy appetizer with a reduction of this and a drizzle of that. But I somehow ended up with a  platter of ice cold oysters and a pint of ice cold beer! Go figure!

We were looking for waterfront dining and stumbled upon Marker 4 Oyster Bar along the Intercoastal. The oysters were awesome: big, fresh and delicious! We also tried their signature seafood skins: potato skins brimming with a creamy seafood mixture and topped with cheese. Thumbs up. The menu was full of fishy options as well as healthful salads but we had to keep moving. More beaches to explore!

I have to tell you I've heard some bad reviews of Marker 4 citing everything from food quality, high prices, bad service, rude management and check issues. Thankfully I had a good experience and on that alone would recommend you give it a try if you're in the area.

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Not "REAL" But It Works!

Ever wonder how restaurants without liquor licenses can serve Bloody Marys for breakfast? They use what I call faux Vodka! It’s a clever little trick where rice, potatoes or grapes are fermented instead of distilled. In addition the alcohol content is less than traditional Vodka. That combination allows the “Vodka” placement as a wine instead of liquor. So any establishment with a beer and wine license is golden!

I wouldn’t recommend it in a martini but mixed in a spicy Bloody Mary you can hardly tell the difference. I had one of these tasty treats during my New Year’s Eve brunch at CRaVE in Fort Myers. CRaVE is a cozy little upscale diner in a strip mall off of McGregor Blvd. It has shiny metal siding on the back wall and a giant chalkboard on the side crammed with delicious specials.

The regular menu has something for everyone and the omelet choices are endless. Mine had asparagus, shrimp and Brie. It was a nice accompaniment to my Bloody Mary made with Soboloff Vodka. Finding information about Soboloff has been a bit exhausting and not very fruitful (pun intended). Our waiter said it was a grape-based “Vodka” with a little orange in it.

Vodka aficionados: give it a try! Let me know what you think. If you go to CRaVE on the weekends get there early. There is almost always a line out the door.

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