Bon Vivant's written and pictorial diary of her culinary adventures that will amuse and excite your virtual taste buds...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Highlights of a Friday Night Wine Tasting at JV Wine & Spirits

It seems like everyone in Napa has discovered the Friday Night Wine Tastings at JV Wine & Spirits. Why are they so popular with the local folk? 1. Something to do in Napa on a Friday night; 2. $10 for all the food and wine they can consume; 3. Packed, fun atmosphere that feels like they are at a party in a big city.

At the recent tasting that I've attended, the theme was "Big Reds." I only went because it was rumored that Orin Swift's The Prisoner was going to be poured. Alas, it was not but there were other great wines being poured that night.

Upon arrival, I immediately headed to the "best" wine - an '06 Opus One It was a good wine but it just didn't have that wow factor that wines in this price range ($160) usually have - think Signorello's Padrone ($110). Could it have been that it was too young? I remember when I did a fabulous vertical Opus One tasting in LA in '08 and the youngest vintage was an '02. However, the '06 paired very well with the grilled sausage being served that night.

An '07 Lang & Reed Cab Franc. Not a bad wine for $20. It faded a bit on the palate but again a good price for a CA Cab Franc (why are they so expensive? I was just in Kermit Lynch looking for French Cab Francs and they were so much cheaper overall.)

My favorite wine that night: an '07 Peter Franus Napa Valley Zinfandel. Insanely good and an excellent food wine! This is the ultimate Zin to be paired with bbq sauce (we were served little cocktail wienies with bbq sauce) and the wine tasted as equally good with the tri-tip sandwich with garlic aioli. This wine retails for about $24. (Next to the Peter Franus is a bottle of 2006 Cade Napa Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon: young, expensive, and high in alcohol but oh so yummy to drink!)

You probably think that I liked the Peter Franus just because it was a Zin. Not true, Dear Reader, as the next wine was my least favorite: an '06 Alexander Valley Vineyards Redemption Zinfandel. There was so much eucalyptus on the nose and palate that it actually tasted horrible with the aforementioned wienies and tri-tip. I've had their Temptation Zin (and they make a very nice Rose) before and actually found it to be a fairly good food wine (goes better with vegetable based Italian dishes rather than meat based Italian dishes) so I had higher expectations of this wine.

Another great wine: an '02 Cerretto Barolo Zoncherra.

This retails for almost $60 but you are paying for the aging. I've noticed that the current release, an '04, retails for about half that much but then you might want to age it for a few more years because the '02 was really smooth and balanced. Great food wine, especially with Italian.

Someone get me a Cab, please!

Everyone was oohing and ahhing over the Chimney Rock Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Not bad but I preferred the plain old Stags Leap District Cab (who knows which vineyard?) For those of my Dear Readers who do not drink, Chimney Rock was the winery at which the judging of the finale of last season's Top Chef took place.

A fabulous peppery Cab from a ghost winery that you'll be glad was resurrected: an '06 Liparita Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (they also produce an Oakville Cab). What really impressed me about this wine is how it stood up to the Salt & Pepper Kettle Chips (ok, these didn't really belong at a red wine tasting but they were put out late and so I decided to do a little experimenting with pairings) which would have most likely eviscerated most of the wines at the tasting. It would appear to me that the Liparita could be paired with some atypical foods that one wouldn't think of pairing with a big red.

Hoopes not only gets my vote for a great Cab but it has the cutest label ever! This was the last wine that I tasted that night and even though I had severe palate fatigue, I loved this wine! It was really rich and complex. Oakville AVA. I've recently perused their website and I think that there might be a Screaming Eagle sort of thing going on (and perhaps a well deserved Screaming Eagle thing) so buy this wine now before you have to pay $6K to obtain a bottle.

JV Wine & Spirits

Opus One

Lang & Reed

Peter Franus

Cade Winery

Alexander Valley Vineyards

Chimney Rock Winery


Hoopes Vineyard

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Noodle Whoring Weekend: Pho Ga Houng Que Cafe and Santouka Ramen

A preview of coming attractions - oodles and oodles of rice stick noodles:

I'm continuing my quest to find insanely good noodles in the Bay Area. Recently I partook in a noodle centric weekend, and went to one new restaurant and one favorite noodle joint from Los Angeles that just opened in San Jose. Both places did not disappoint.

So far the only pho place that I had been to previous to Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe was Turtle Tower which has been hailed as the best pho in the region. Although it wasn't bad, it wasn't as good as what I was used to getting in LA. Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe has been on my radar for quite a while and it was time to check it out.

Below, the incredible (and I mean incredible) green onion ginger dipping sauce for the pho ga:

I had heard that Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe was better than Turtle Tower simply because of this sauce but overall I thought that the broth and noodles were far superior to Turtle Tower's. Also a plus is the rather varied choice of pho ga with different types of noodles and different cuts of chicken (boned or with bone, all white meat or a mix of white and dark, etc.)

I almost ordered this wonton soup with ho fun:

But instead I ordered boneless chicken (yes, yes, I know, I'm normally a bone person but I didn't want anything to interfere with my ability to get as much dipping sauce as possible; however, someone next to me ordered her chicken with bones and her dish looked really good) with ho fun. Next time though I'm going to try the pho ga with rice stick noodles.

Not only was the pho ga insanely good, but we averaged just over $7 person all inclusive (my iced Vietnamese coffee to-go almost cost half that amount). Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe is a noodle whore's paradise!

Those who know me know that I will whore for a big bowl of shio ramen from Santouka Ramen. The gods were watching over Bon V. when Santouka finally opened a store in the Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose.

Gratuitous photos of shio ramen with "special" pork (jowl meat):

Was the shio ramen as good as I remember? Yes, but the broth was slightly different, just a tad less rich. Also, the pork was sliced thinner in San Jose than in LA and the noodles seemed a bit thinner as well. Still, these differences did not hinder my enjoyment of my shio ramen. I was worried about what my fellow noodle whore, Noah, would think of the ramen since I had built it up so much, but by his exclamation (censored) when he first tasted it, I knew that he really liked it. Now, if only my other favorite, Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen, would come up here...

A sampling of yummy sides - rice bowl with salmon roe and chopped stewed pork, respectively - that you can get along with your ramen:

With the good sometimes you have to take the bad. Case in point: a spaghetti bun that I bought at a bakery in the same mall. Don't ask, I couldn't even bring myself to eat it.

Pho Ga Houng Que Cafe
1228 7th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

Santouka Ramen
Mitsuwa Marketplace
675 Saratoga Avenue
San Jose, CA 95129

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Chef Alex Marsh Presents "Dungeness Crab Dinner"

A votre sante! A toast with a glass of the fabulous Sorelle Bronca Prosecco (which had a dominant yet yummy taste of green apple on the palate.)

When Rose invited me to Chef Alex Marsh's Dungeness Crab dinner at Coffee Bar in SF, (which I love because they serve Hitachino Nest beers) I couldn't say no. I had heard great things about his last ingredient centric dinner - the heirloom tomato dinner - and I didn't want to miss out (also the crab dinner offered a fairly priced wine pairing which is always a draw for me). Plus Rose offered to drive.

Our "amuse" - an avocado gazpacho with Dungeness crab, tomato, and cilantro.

Although it received a lukewarm reception from some at our table, I really enjoyed this dish. It was light and very subtle but not boring at all. No ingredient (such as the cilantro) dominated, instead they all worked harmoniously together. There was a touch of citrus that worked really well with the Prosecco's crisp acidity. Rose tasted a lot of cucumber but that didn't bother me since I'm a cucumber fanatic (check out my latest favorite recipe for pepinos con chiles y limon aka "tangy cucumber snack" from Mmm, Me Gusta).

A mache salad with Dungeness crab, tangerine, and the most amazing Meyer lemon "crisps."

Quite a lovely salad, with a balanced acidity that went really well with the Prosecco though the tangerines were a bit superfluous in my opinion (I have to admit with the exception of Daphne's outstanding Academy Awards salad I usually don't like fruit in my green salads.) The "crisps" were not only brilliant but insanely good - you could really eat these like potato chips.

Our second course: "Spring Roll" stuffed with bacon, crab salad, and green beans, with creme fraiche.

I didn't dislike this as much as others at the table. This dish was also very subtle but maybe a bit too subtle. I was lucky in that I could taste the bacon because one complaint from some at the table was that there was no bacon flavor at all.

Unfortunately, this dish was paired with a horrible tasting wine, an '07 Vina Valoria Blanco Rioja. We must have gotten a bad bottle because it was fairly dreadful and the head waiter that night had told us that they had received a lot of compliments on that particular wine. My notes say "chemical smell" "rotten mushroom" and "overly ripe ammonia cheese." I always give wines that I don't like drinking a chance with food since wines that I've "hated" I end up liking with the right food. It didn't improve with the Spring Roll but I have to say it wasn't as horrible with our next course.

That's right the wine improved with our creamy white corn polenta with artichoke and crab spiced with Old Bay. This was perhaps the most unusual dish of the night. It wasn't my favorite but I did enjoy eating it. However, like the Spring Roll it could have used just a touch of oomph.

Next up: an '07 Balletto Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (if I had a dollar for each Russian River Valley Pinot Noir produced...)

Everyone knows that with few exceptions I am not a Pinot Noir person. This one was barnyardy on the nose and sour on the palate as most are to me. However, this wine paired surprisingly well with one component of our next course of beef filet cook sous vide served with collard greens and a crab bernaise.

I really loved this course. My favorite part, which paired excellent with the wine, was the collards with the crab bernaise. Who would have thought that collards would pair better with a red wine than beef? I just loved the bernaise and loved it slathered all over my greens. Fried Dough Ho thought that the collards were too bitter to serve with the beef, but this Italian girl, who serves arugula, rapini, and dandelion greens with meat all the time, thought that the collards were on the sweet side (the more unctuous the meat the more bitter the green can be and with the filet, which was quite lean, it was better to serve a milder tasting green.)

Fried Dough Ho went crazy for our fried dough.

Yes, homemade doughnut holes with crab jelly, vanilla, and apricot. Since the crab, throughout the entire meal, was so fresh it was very sweet and not fishy at all so it actually worked well with the doughnut holes. I really liked this dessert since it wasn't too sweet and the doughnut holes were perfectly fried.

Chef Alex Marsh

Coffee Bar

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