Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What's Terroir? Why is it important?

Courtesy of our friends at ARTISINAL PREMIUM CHEESE

The French word terroir does not have an exact English translation and has several meanings. Most literally, terroir refers to ''the soil,'' specifically the soil that gives its vegetation its unique attributes. Terroir, however, is used in the wine world to define the characteristic flavors associated with a specific region. For instance, the wines produced from the Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes in Burgundy take on unique flavors quite unlike those produced from the same grapes grown on California soil.
Cheese and wine share many similarities, this concept of terroir included. Cheeses demonstrate unique qualities when produced the same way from the same breeds in different regions. Terroir in this sense refers not only to the soil but also the water, climate, even the personality of a region. The soil may be almost identical in two adjoining counties, but slight differences in the water or climate can have a big influence on the flavors of cheeses. Moreover, the personality of the people can vary wildly from region to region, and this can define the character of the cheeses just as easily.
Terroir can also play a crucial role in cheese pairings. Often, though not as a rule, cheeses will pair well with wines, beers, or spirits birthed from the same soil and same culture. Bottom line, Terroir is an important consideration and significant aspect that helps define almost every aspect of a fine, artisanal cheese.

Food Notes from the Windy City: Charlie Trotters

A Big Night indeed, a food moment I had been waiting for anxiously, nervously, and excitedly for several months. Charlie Trotter is in my Food Pantheon- one of the greats... what would the night entail.

To be fair, by 9 pm on Saturday night, our last night in Chicago, we were tired. and had eaten well all week. And we had had several cocktails at the hotel before we arrived at Trotters, where we were greeted at the curb by a host and whisked inside a lovely restored townhome. Low lights, neutral colors, and hushed tones made me nervous. Certainly not the boisterous atmosphere of Frontera. We were in for a night of serious eating. In all, we sat for almost 3 hours as a series of waiters and servers and crumbers and sommelier types doted over us. The service was a bit formal- we never engaged with one person for long enough to form a bond. Questions were answered fastidiously yet there was a certain icieness to it all. So on to the food. I chose the Grand Menu with wine pairings as well. While the food is lovely and bits of it ( fish roe, lamb, fennel pollen..) were extraordinary, overall, I think it was a bit overdone.... at least for my taste- for someone who professes to celebrate the ingredients, dishes seem somewhat overworked.... lost in their complexity.

Grand Menu

Japanese Eel Terrine with Horseradish & Daikon
Bruno Paillard “Premiere Cuvee” Brut Rose MV

Poached New Zealand Ocean Salmon with Orange Rind, Fennel Pollen & Cured Salmon Ice Cream
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” Albarino, Monterey 2006

Sreamed Casco Bay Cod with Cockles, Picholine Olives, Artichokes & Stinging Nettles
E. Knoll “Ried ‘Loibenberg’ Loibner” Gruner Veltliner, Wachau 2005

Roasted Saddle of Rabbit with Fingerling Potatoes, Turnips & Mustard Greens
Dog Point Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2005

Summerfield Farm Lamb Shoulder with Garlic, Aged Manchego & Parsley
Brunello di Montalcino Fornacina 2000

Sweet Tofu with Meyer Lemon & Shiso
Tokaji-Aszu “5 Puttonjos” Royal Tokaji 2000

Organic Buttermilk with White Pepper, Toasted Milk Ice Cream & Nutmeg
Bodegas Toro Albala “Don PX – Gran Reserva” Pedro Ximenez, Montilla-Moriles 1971

Susannah had the Vegetable Menu which was quite nice- it was great to have the variety to sample. Susannah is not a huge mushroom lover- the morels were exquisite as was the custard of spring onion and confit of turnips.

Wild Watercress with Grapefruit & Hearts of Palm
Steamed Twelve Season Miso Cake with Spinach, Easter Egg Radish & Preserved Carrots
Braised White Asparagus with Brioche, Chervil, Toasted Hickory Nuts & Curried Yogurt
Custard of Spring Onions with Ramps, Morel Mushrooms & Garlic Shoots
Confit of Baby Turnips with Sultanas, Bluefoot Mushrooms, Mache & Merlot Braised Red Cabbage
Grilled Blood Orange Sorbet with Jicama & CilantroBraised Peanuts with Korintje Cinnamon & Caramelized Organic Honey

The biggest shock came at the end of the night- I had been misquoted when I made my reservation, and what I knew was going to be an expensive night was 30 % higher. I felt taken and it left me a bit amiss and I think ultimately skewed my pereception of the night. I don't regret the meal- it was fantastic. But somehow I don't think I'll be back.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Food Notes from the Windy City: Frontera Grill

Frontera Grill has been on my list of must visits for years; I finally had my chance when an 8:45 am call yielded one of the evenings last reservations ( did I mention the phones start ringing at 8:30 am and sell out within 1/2 hour.

Susannah and I met my good college friend Jane Corey Holt and her husband Doug in the bustling bar, filled with folk art and a lively crowd. We started the night with a few Blood Orange Margaritas- the perfect combination of tart and sweet.

We started our meal with a series of ceviche:

Ceviche Fronterizo:lime-marinated Hawaiian blue marlin with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, jícama and green chile

Ceviche Yucateco: steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jícama and cilantro

Seaside Cocktail of shrimp and lime-marinated cod

And continued with a Queso Fundido, an artisanal melted Jack cheese with garlicky roasted peppers, homemade chorizo sausage and oregano.

For the main course I had Pato al Pasilla, an adobo-marinated wood-grilled Gunthorp duck breast in spicy pasilla-shiitake mushoom sauce; served with queso añejo mashed potatoes and grilled green beans. Wow... this is not the Mexican food I was weaned on. This is some high brow, tasty eats. Susannah had an equally great dish, Pollo en Estofado Almendrado: green chile-marinated Gunthorp chicken in Oaxacan estofado (anchos, toasted almonds, roasted tomatoes, capers, olives, sweet spices) with great-big chicken tamalón and pickled jalapeño-watercress salad

Bayless made his way around the restaurant and it took some will-power not to ask for a signature on my menu.

We alse munched on Verduras en Escabeche: homemade pickled jalapeños with carrots and cauliflower- a Mexican version of the Italian anitipasto favorite-Giardiniera .

For dessert we shared a homemade ice cream sandwich- a sweet finish to a wonderful meal.

Just three days later, Rick and Deann Bayless' groundbreaking Mexican restaurant received the 2007 Outstanding Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation on Monday at ceremonies in New York.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Food Notes from the Windy City: Republic

A relative newcomer to the Chicago restaurant scene, I learned of this Pan-Asian gem, Republic, through my subscription to the e-zine Daily Candy. On a busy corner of Rush and Ontario, just a block from Michigan Ave, Republic seems a world apart. Dressed in hip new clothes, the space has an uber style. A lotus shaped ceiling tray sits above the busy bar. That's where I sat, with a perfect view of the scene and the Kung-Fu movies projected on the wall.

I started with some sake- Sato No Homare ( Pride of the Village) - this was a Junmai ginjo grade sake, not to be confused with the Dai ginjo cousin which is an upgrade- clearly sake has a language of its own.

After a bowl of edamame in sesame sauce, and a fresh bowl of tom kha ( a citrus coconut broth with straw mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro and tofu), I opted for maki and one of the house specialties, a Tochigi roll, built with fresh tuna in a spicy sauce, covered in mango and avocado.

Food Notes fron the Windy City: BLACKBIRD

Day One Blackbird

Located in the West Loop, Paul Kahan's Blackbird has garnered deserved attention for almost 10 years. Several years ago, a second restaurant AVEC opened next door to similar praise. There is a new Chef de Cuisine at Blackbird, Mike Sheerin, who comes to the Chicago flock after three years as a sous chef in Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 in New York.

After a lovely 45 minute walk from the top of Michigan Ave’s Miracle Mile, I arrived ready for refreshment. I sat at the pristine white bar and took in the scene around me. It was bustling at 7 on a Tuesday night. After a Basil Hayden on the rocks, I plunged into a series of appetizers:

I drank a nice . Chateau Morgues du Gres 2002 Costieres de Nimes Rose with my first several courses and then transitioned to a 2005 Ridge Zinfandel.

Amuse Bouche: Pickled white fish over a green pea puree

west coast mussel soup with white fish, saffron, garlic and basil

Plump juicy mussels, Yukon gold potatoe rounds, and chunks of white fish swam in a light broth laced with saffron and a chiffonade of basil.

braised octopus with fresh hummus, charred ramps, sesame brittle and chickpeas

This dish was good, but didn’t deliver exactly what was promised- instead of a traditional chick pea hummus, fresh green peas made for a “green dish” that jumped off the plate. The charred ramps and sesame brittle delivered a combination of spicy and sweet, crunchy and soft, The octopus wasn’t exactly braised- there was a triangular terrine of octopus surrounded by several small arms. The terrine was tasty but a bit gummy- held together by what was described as “meat glue.”

crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with cavollo nero, shaved chiogga beets, horseradish and banylus vinegar

wow- this is is some haute pork bbq- the taste was so elemental and pure- hard to describe- shaved discs of beets topped the confit pig and crowned an incredible dish, The bed of cavallo nero was a slightly bitter and perfect companion to the sweet pork, made sweeter still by the banyuls vinegar

Meyer Lemon Mousse with white chocolate, fennel and citrus

A nice combination of flavors and textures, the plate was sprinkled with a surprise dusting of dried calamata olives.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I turned 40 last Thursday, and on Friday evening Susannah, my dear wife, surprised me with a dinner party for 16- an intimate gathering of some of our best friends. It was a magical night, a perfect combination of great food and drink, special friends, and some fairy dust in the air.....

This was the fantastic menu for the evening

Kir Royale
Wine Chanpagne

Assorted Italian Cheeses
Antipasto Platter wih roasted peppers, carciofi, olives, salami
Caprese Salad with buffalo mozzarella
White Pizza a ala 8 1/2

Green Salad
Country Bread
White Beans with Spinach and Garlic
Green Beans with Pesto
Onions with Balsamic Glaze
Roasted Asparagus
Polenta with Gorgonzola
Vegetable Lasagna
Buucatini all'amatriciana
Crown Roast of Pork

Cannoli Cake
Chocolate, Hazlenut, and Blood Orange Gelato