Category Archives: Restaurants

Frei Brothers and Lionel Vatinet

Hors d'OeuvresTuesday night last week, my dad and I went to La Farm Bakery for the new book promotion and signing for Lionel Vatinet, the master baker at La Farm in Cary. Lionel (Lee-uhn-nell) is a fabulous baker and now has given us all his secrets from the bakery and restaurant! On Friday, I had a housewarming party that I wanted to attend with hors d’oeuvres and chose a recipe from Lionel’s new book, “A Passion for Bread.” I found the perfect treat, the Asparagus Tartin. From all the hustle and bustle of the weekend, I decided not to do a Sunday night dinner, but will reflect on the process and taste of this tartin and the wine I had at the party.

The asparagus tartin started with asiago – parmesan bread; with giant chunks of parmesan sticking in and through the bread I knew it was a good start. The bread was then to be spread with softened, sautéed shallots full of garlicky-oniony flavour. (Those are scientific descriptions by the way!) Atop the shallots, torn fresh mozzarella was laid with dollops of olive tapenade bursting with saltiness to help boost the mozzarella. Then the recipe called for two small stalks of blanched asparagus bound to the tartin with wonderful 15 month aged Comté cheese (a French version of Swiss Gruyere, hard by light and nutty). These ingredients were broiled until the cheese was bubbling and the bread was crispy on the edges. BUT WAIT… we were not done… oh no. On top of this I was to add dollops of goat cheese, torn prosciutto, a quartered marinated artichoke, a roasted tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Ok now I’m done. It was a work of art and really. dang. good.

I brought a bottle of Prosecco with me as I could think of nothing else to accompany all of the flavours and ingredients as well. Though I never got to taste my creation with the Prosecco, I knew it would have been fabulous. Instead, I was served Frei Brothers Zinfandel 2010; not a bad substitute I must admit. I’d only ever had the Chardonnay and knew Frei Brothers made reputable wine. The Zinfandel was just as lovely with deep notes of dark fruited jam and spice. The tannin dried the mouth just enough and all the food around was a nice escape. This wine is a great fall/winter wine; it’s warm and inviting and loved by many preferences of red drinkers. In short, great for a party.

So even though there was no Sunday night dinner, I know I enjoyed making something new. I hope you’ll find yourself diving into a new recipe too. Just to try it! Why not… you never know what kind of magic you’ll make.

Bring on the holidays!

(Clicking on the underlined link leads to the website and more information)


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A Valley to Fall in Love With


Torbreck Vineyards

The Barossa Valley in South Australia near Adelaide. What’s different about this valley? Simply that Torbreck vineyards can be found nestled, safely located in the Barossa Valley. This vineyard is something to talk about, I’ve had a few different selections and the name has always stood out, but it was only after drinking Cuvee Juveniles that I knew I’d never forget about Torbreck.

Down to it’s differently distinct label, this wine is pretty unique, especially when it comes to taste. You can read up on Torbreck Vineyards as well as Cuvee Juveniles, by clicking on the two names. The abridged story goes like this, Tim Johnston opened a wine bar in Paris called Juveniles. Tim asked David to make a wine especially for the wine bar and David Powell (winemaker of Torbreck wines) did. David also ask Tim’s daughter, Carolyn, to design the label as her other paintings hung on the walls of the wine bar.  Simple, yet captivating.

The link to Cuvee Juveniles gives tasting notes, the break down of the grapes and all the stats. I can only agree that the wine was velvety and full, with a touch of sweet flavour from an overly ripe piece of fruit. Rounded like a nice mulled wine, Cuvee Juveniles had added spice and texture.  Enjoy with game and hard cheeses.

So if you’re bored of the same old Rioja and you’re looking for a new wine or a new region to be excited over, I highly suggest Torbreck Vineyards in the Barossa Valley.


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Wine Tasting Tweetup

Say that three times fast! Well, it’s almost been a week and I’ve finally collated all the information that Simon Tyrrell provided. I’ll leave out a lot of the bits about what the vineyards look like so that you can view them for yourselves!

I suppose I should start from the beginning. At the end of July a good friend of mine, @nmcgivney gave me the idea of doing a tweetup including wine. A tweetup is when twitter users get together to socialise and chat. Seems ironic, but honestly it’s great to actually meet the people you’re exchanging tweets with! Either way, I contacted Emma Tyrrell from @the_WineStore (specialising in Rhone Valley wines)  to see if she would be interested in hosting such an evening. In just a few weeks with the help of @ElyWineBars and @IBrosnan (Ian Brosnan is the Wine manager at Ely) we were upon a very special evening. This was the first evening of its kind and I think we were all kind of wondering what was going to happen!

The deal: Wine tasting with 5 wines and a few bits of bread. A wonderfully in-depth talk from Emma’s other half, Simon and a main course with 2 glasses of wine for just 30 euro.

The wine:
Ventoux ‘Persia 2010, Domain de Fondreche
A wine from the Southern Rhone region, vines in limestone and clay, this wine had medium body and was medium-high in alcohol. Flavours from this wine were honey, stone and salty. The wine smelled as it tasted and though salty seems like a strange smell, it did come through on the palate. Only 10% Viognier, the wine was crisp and delicious.

Viognier de Rosine 2010, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Domaine M. et S. Ogier d’Ampuis
Viognier is one of my favourite varieties of wine. It always has so much to offer and is loved by so many. This winery begun in the West Rhone region. Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes means ‘Country Wine from the Rhone Hills.’ The wine has low acidity and medium body with flavours of apricot and fruit. Interestingly enough the wine-makers keep 1/3 of the wine in a tank and 2/3 in barrels. When brought back together, the wine’s characteristics shine through.   We were also able to try the 2007 vintage as well and found it to be too oxidized, lighter and the alcohol stuck out a little too much. White wine doesn’t age too well and we found that was the case here.

Syrah ‘L’Ame Soeur’ 2007, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Domaine M. et S. Ogier d’Ampuis
‘L’Ame Soeur’ or ‘Kindred Spirit’ was probably my favorite. Aged 18 months, this wine from the Southwest side strictly slate and rock, was almost like a Cabernet Franc. The tastes on the palate were black pepper and black currant. There was smoke and less fruit on the nose. The skin of the grape holds the tannin and here the skins were macerated more to release more tannin. This Syrah was so drinkable I wish I had it all to myself!

Chateauneuf du Pape 2008, Clos des Papes
We all recognise this name, but do we all know the background? Simon told us that when the French pope came to be, he decided he wanted to move the Vatican to a new site in France. Now Chateauneuf is the 3rd largest produced wine in France, but you should really know the producer or you could end up with a bad wine. Chateauneuf uses 13 varietals of which 5 are white. Not all varietals need to be used in making of the wine, but there does have to be a minimum amount of Grenache used.  This wine had lower tannin, lower acidity and was higher in alcohol. The nose smelled of bright fruit and Indian spice (that came from Simon and he hit that smell right on the nose.. ba da chi!) The palate was raisin, dark fruit, black cherry and plum and incidentally enough… Indian spice. Aged in oak casks for 18-24 months, the wine was very nice and round. These wines can be expensive so know what you buying!

Wine with dinner:
Vacqueyras ‘Un Sang Blanc’ 2006, Domaine le Sang des Cailloux
Flavours: Peach, vanilla and honey. The wine was light and refreshing and went very well with my main course of chicken thigh with potatoes and green beans in a creamy olive sauce. Lots of flavour and acidity from the wine went together nicely.

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Equisse’ 2010, Domaine des Hauts Chassis
Flavours: Dark fruit, vanilla, pepper, soil, smoke. The wine was bright and full of dark fruit with low acidity and low alcohol. Very easy to drink 🙂

Too give you an idea of the locations…
South in Green from what we tasted: Vacqueyras, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Ventoux
North in orange/red: Crozes-Hermitage, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes

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Johnnie Fox’s Hooley Night

Talk about a bunch of laughs! My parents, brother and I had a great evening with music, food and Johnnie Fox’s own Irish dancers. We even got a bit of Hen/Bachelorette Party ladies dressed as grannies doing jigs and the main bride to be dressed as Wonder Woman!

Johnnie Fox’s, dubbed the highest pub in Dublin is situation in Dublin mountains close to the Wicklow mountains to the South. It’s lively and there is certainly plenty to see. Not only do they have plaques all over the walls, but they have strange collections of tea cups, saucers and old chamber pots. Not to mention they make the best Irish Coffee I’ve ever had. They normally have live music during the week and on weekends, but you can book especially for what they have called, “Hooley Night.”

Hooley Night is a 4 course menu set price meal with music and dancing. Everyone on the evening is brought together and seated at long tables so you’re bound to make friends. The dinner and entertainment alone can be pretty expensive, so if you’re thinking about drinking – don’t be surprised if your bill is pretty high. However, it was certainly worth every penny and I loved being able to go. (There are some things you just never do when you’re not showing other tourists around). Though I drove up to Johnnie Fox’s, they do have a bus that will take you there and back, but since I did drive I didn’t drink. My parents did and they each got a half bottle, 1 red and 1 white. I did get to taste them and I was actually wow-ed. Seriously, I remember thinking.. ‘wow.’

They had a range of mains to select, but I went with lamb shank – it was very tasty and tender, though I tried a bit of my dad’s duck in a champagne sauce and wish I had chosen that one.. next time. And of course before any more ado a picture of the wines in case you stumble upon them. (Italics is from their website

Left: Château Lamarche, Vignoble Bernard Germain – Bordeaux Supérieur
A wine with a developed fruity nose, soft & appealing, with good grip and subtle tannins. A perfect description. This red was soft, softer than most Bordeaux… Bordeaux-s…Bordei? Typically Bordeaux is made up of a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (other varieties can be added), I find this mixture quite harsh and sometimes displeasing. However, I really liked this one because of how easy to drink it was and how wonderfully it would have gone with the lamb or the duck. Despite being a 2010 wine it was amazingly well settled and the fruit well rounded.

Right: Le Rime, Castello Banfi, Montalcino – Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay
An unusual combination of aromatic Pinot Grigio and full bodied Chardonnay, a vivacious wine full of charm. Certainly an unusual combination and maybe full of charm, but I wouldn’t say a full wine. With just the right amount of acidity and flavours of green apple, Chardonnay can be full and heavy. Lightened by Pinot Grigio with an added crisp sweetness, this wine would have been great at a Hooley night inside or out in a hot summer’s day. I bet it tastes better on a boat.

Hope you’ve enjoyed your summer!

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Campo Viejo Trail Launch

A couple days ago I had the pleasure of going to the Campo Viejo Trail launch party.  Why did I get to go? Facebook contests… YES! Campo Viejo is a Rioja, contest in the bag. But really, I answered the question and won entrance to the party.

The night was really fun. I met some interesting characters, had a never ending supply of 2007 Campo Viejo Reserva and ate a few small bites of food.  This wine is a favorite, it can be as low as 8 euro when you find it on sale and it’s so easy to drink. Enough fruit to drink alone and enough tannin for food.  The small bites I had were skewered pieces of pork with a tomato topping, a Russian potato salad and a sauteed shrimp in a garlic sauce.  The pork went best with the wine and the spicy tomato sauce topping.

If you’re wondering what the Campo Viejo Trail is:

Every Wednesday and Sunday for 20 Euro all food and wine included, the trail takes people to four of Dublin’s best tapas restaurants. It’s similar to Raleigh’s food walking tour which I always wanted to try, but never had a good day to do it. Bonus: they had pamphlets at the launch including the recipes for the tapas meals used on the trail or at least items similar. Now I can try them out myself.  I have really gotten into tapas and hope to have a dinner party soon all tapas style. so if you have any good ideas – let me know!!

(Photo taken from Campo Viejo images)

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Tapas, Tastings and Tartes

Photo from Hireall

You all know food and wine are my passions and this weekend I was able to indulge. First with an excellent lunch of Spanish tapas and wine and then later with the Taste of Dublin.  Strategically placed in the Iveagh Gardens, the Taste of Dublin sprawls out among the garden’s walking trails. You can get from Malaysia to Thailand by way of a small gravel footpath. Between these two areas are booths of the best food and drink there is in Dublin.

The Taste of Dublin is a funny place; a place where it’s okay to walk around with a bottle of wine or champagne and a few glasses.  You have to buy florins, the currency used for this particular festival and each dish is pretty pricey. We tried to choose our food wisely and we were able to try a few things, mainly drink.  The food I liked the best was a white chocolate coffee ice cream with dried honeycomb and raspberries as well as good old vintage Dubliner white cheddar.

Here are the website for the wines and other alcoholic beverages we liked the most.   – These wines were extremely easy to drink. We tried a red and white Bordeaux as well as a Cab Franc and Cab Sauv Rose. They were all nice and interestingly enough, we had the red Bordeaux directly after a sweet and sour dish from a Malaysian restaurant. The light spice of the dish was a good addition to the raspberry Bordeaux to help make the wine more smooth. Usually spicy Asian dishes go best with sweeter whites, but in this case it wasn’t so. – This Sauvignon Blanc was the most clean Sauv Blanc I’ve ever had. With less citrus and more fruit, the wine had mango flavours. It’s a nice winery from New Zealand if you ever get the chance to taste it. – Cider! We’ve fallen in love with their Mixed Berry and now are all about their Apple and Blackcurrant as well as their Orange Ginger. These ciders are perfect for summer and I can’t wait till these new flavours hit shelves. Also, just found out they have a winter cider spiced with cinnamon. Yum! – Another used in so many cocktails these days, ginger beer. This brand in particular is subtle enough to taste, but not crazy enough to leave your mouth on fire.

So we’ve covered tapas and tastings, but what about tartes? I’ve been looking up recipes to do for a dinner party I am hoping to plan soon and noticed tartes as a good way to serve up a lot of great ingredients.  (Reminds me of Sixteen Candles when Long Dong expresses his joy about having quiche for dinner) Anywho, I was going through my fridge today to see leftover pastry dough, a little mozzarella left and a whole bunch of veggies.  So I opted for a roasted vegetable tarte with mozzarella on the bottom and parm cheese on top. It came out beautifully and it was so delicious!


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Ahh! Memory Collapse, must have been the wine?

Well, I can promise it’s not the wine that is keeping me from writing my blog.  Though I wish I could say it was, that would be much more pleasant than not being able to get my photos off my computer at home.  A once lively, jovial computer has now turned bitter cold, yes, as cold as Eiswein on January 6th, 1938. (Watch that be one of the warmest winter days of all time).  Either way, it freezes and all my Ireland wine pictures are stuck on it! So I’ll just tell you the kind of wine I had and what kind of meal it was with.

O’Grady’s in Galway – Salmon with Asparagus in Beurre Blanc (A light white with acidity to cut the richness of the beurre blanc). I wish I would not be blanking on the actual varietal, but I am… will get back to you when computer thaws.

– Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as second wine and also dessert. Full and smooth.  A great choice to pair with meat or as I had it, just for drinking after a meal.

Olesya’s Wine Bar – The most giant meat and cheese board. Ever. (Vinho Verde, light sparkly, balances fat of meat and cheeses well) I do have a picture of this! Rescued it from the clutches of the evil machine! Marinated olives, pate, pesto, 4 cheese and 4 meats. Apricots, golden raisins and one pretty tomato. Yum!

Other wines around the trip: Prosecco! Campo Viejo Rioja, House Sauvignon Blanc (Very grapefuity), House Gewurztraminer (Very floral) and another I can’t remember, a red, that I had at a hotel with Eggplant and potato bake with tomato sauce… soo good.

Though this post is just a list of fairly worthless information, I would suggest that if you are ever in Ireland to visit Olesya’s on Exchequer Street in Dublin as well as O’Grady’s in Galway. Two outstanding places to eat and drink.  Also, most any bar has excellent house wine choices, which is not always the case in the US.

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