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Entries in wine (3)

Friday
Nov112011

Wine, Cheese, Pizza – A Gastronomic Triple Play!

We are still in San Francisco. Are you with me? Good.

I had strategically planned my dinners in San Francisco around Una Pizza Napoletana. However, en-route to Una, we were sidetracked. By wine and cheese. And also these fabulous chalkboard sheep:

Mission Cheese is a tiny wine bar in the Mission district (aptly named!) of San Fran. Tiny but well stocked! Behind the natural wood bar are rows and rows of cheeses. Piled on top of each other in an orderly fashion, just waiting to be sliced up and placed on miniature cutting boards.

After some convincing (Kaz is slightly apprehensive of stinkier cheeses) we decided up on the Monger's Choice – which means we threw caution to the wind and allowed the monger to choose three cheeses that he thought we would like to eat. We were allowed to give him some guidelines (for example Kaz suggested nothing "too" stinky). We were presented with the following plate (accompanied by the selection of dried fruits, baguette slices and cornichons featured above):

The first cheese from the left was a goat cheese - smooth and silky wrapped in a leaf which gave it just a touch of earthiness.

The cheese on the right hand side was a mild blue variety. Soft for a blue, it was almost spreadable. To me, it was like butter with a kick and was my favorite. Even Kaz (stinky cheese averse) liked it.

The cheese in the middle I can't remember. This is very irresponsible food blogger behavior of me. And it could be because of this:

The Donkey and Goat Carignane from 2010. It was a recommendation from the bartender and a perfect one at that. It was a medium-bodied red with a cherry fruitiness. It also seemed like there was a touch of minerality that made it downright refreshing.

So refreshed we were, that we felt it was time for pizza.

I was living in Los Angeles at the time that Una Pizza Napoletana was located on the Lower East Side of NYC. Upon moving back to NYC, Una promptly left for San Francisco. I admit to taking it personally.

However, I was hell-bent on making up for lost time.

The scene is wide-open and airy. And very basic. This theme of simplicity is carried over into the "kitchen" which is essentially a baby blue wood-fired pizza oven in the center of the restaurant roped off by chains.

The prep table has just enough ingredients to make the following pies:

We selected the Margherita and, on the server's recommendation, the Filetti. Chef and owner Anthony Mangieri alternately wielded a long pizza peel and rocked a baby carriage from side to side. That's dedication if I ever saw it. Both to pizza and to his child.

Our Margherita arrived (also pictured above) with generous amount of tiny globs of fresh mozzarella, and a smattering of whole basil leaves all decorating a thin layer of crushed tomatoes.

I would like to begin with the crust. My description of the crust covers both pies. This is the most perfect crust outside of Naples that I have sunk my little teeth into.

Moist? YES.

A thin crispy layer dotted with extra crunchy char spots? YES.

Chewy but light and airy? Oh my yes.

Floppy but not falling apart? Indeedy.

And how about the way those blobs of mozzarella sunk made pockets in the crust (much like Homer Simpson's butt groove in his couch), creating nooks and crannies of flavor. It was like eating the surface of the moon, if the moon's terrain were moist and glazed with extra virgin olive oil.

I did find the tomato flavor a bit sweet, which I personally am not fond of. I prefer more tang to my tomatoes, so it felt a bit bland on my taste buds.

Next up was the Filetti, the easy winner of the two.

Halved cherry tomatoes were nestled lovingly in the crevices created by cheese and dough. Small pools of oilve oil collected in the around the tomatoes creating reseviors of happiness where the tomato juice mingled with the oil and the fat from the cheese.

And once again, I must draw your attention to the crust. Look at that form! I'm not sure Michelangelo ever etched anything in marble that was as beautiful as that crust.

We topped our pizzas off with two Neapolitan coffees – an espresso-like beverage, but a touch less intense.

Our beverages were served with some chocolates from Poco Dolce – a new brand for me. I became so excited by these chocolates that on a subsequent trip to Bi-Rite I raided their stores and brought home tins of the salted toffee and burnt caramel varieties.

My review would not be complete without a trip to the bathroom – for photos:

A very basic, but clean establishment, the bathroom was accented by a two pieces of framed art. These included Chef Anthony's tattoos hands forming a round of dough, and "Una Pizza Napoletana" in Copperplate calligraphy. A large vase of purple flowers offset the yellow walls quite nicely. And there were, of course, subway tiles – clean and white.

Overall Pizza Eating Experience: Heat

Mission Cheese
736 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA
415-484-6553

Una Pizza Napoletana
210 11th St + Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-861-3444
Thursday
Jul212011

Dinner at Italian Wine Merchants with the Team

Recently, I was invited to a special wine and food pairing. The kind of thing I usually don't get invited to, mostly because I'm too busy going to bed at 9pm so that I can make practice the next morning.

However! I had special permission! And a "Get Out of Practice Free" card for the next day from none other than my coach, Scott. This does not happen often, folks. Trust me.

So I pulled myself together (as best as I could) and headed over to Italian Wine Merchants to celebrate Bill B.'s (a stand-out and extremely generous athlete on our team) birthday with a special wine and food pairing dinner.

We were given this handy-dandy guide to our food and wine, which included images of the wine labels (very helpful for those of us attracted by pretty pictures, like me).

We were also given a human guide – Philip – an extremely knowledgeable and patient gentleman who did his best to educate us about the selected wines.

I'm afraid Philip had his work cut out for him with a group of 10 hungry triathletes (seen below), but his efforts were admirable!

I will break the meal down for you in case you would like to try any of these pairings for yourself.

1. We began with a Champagne-Chardonnay, Salon 1997 Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and also an Edi Kante 2008 Vitovska from the Friuli-Venezia region of Italy. We sipped on these while we enjoyed our antipasto (pictured above). I particularly enjoyed the anchovies, which I had never had before. Watch out for a pizza recipe featuring them to come soon.

2. Then onto the whites: one from France and one from Italy: France was represented by a Burgundy-Chardonnay – Domaine Matrot 2008 Puligny-Montrachet 1erCru Les Combettes, while from Italy we had Fiorano 1993 No. 25 Bianco from Lazio. I must admit to really enjoying the spicy and earthy notes (pointed out by Philip) in the Fiorano.

We drank these fabulous whites while nibbling on a Roasted Swordfish with Spring Veggies and Warm Pappa Pomodoro:

A note about the Pappa Pomodoro. "Pappa" means "mush" in Italian. I thought it meant "Pope" but that's "Papá." However, this tomato mush deserves a sceptre and a "pope mobile" for transport because it was holier than thou. By which I mean awesome. Tangy, light and fresh with just the right amount of olive oil. The swordfish was also surprisingly white and and lean, not in the least oily or gray.

3. Next up - Pasta! Caserecci with Caponata and Black Pepper Fonduta which we enjoyed with two reds: Poggio de Sotto 1999 Brunello di Montalcino and Case Basse di Soldera 1999 Brunello di Montalcino. That last Brunello was a table favorite, full bodied and complex. It made friends at our table.

4. The pasta came with a side kick (or side dish, whichever you prefer), a Risotto with Local Ramps, Braised Rabbit and Mushrooms. Risotto can be a tricky dish to get right, but this one was the perfect consistency and creaminess.

And now a message from the table....

I think these were just my glasses....

5. But there's more: A Sirloin Steak with Arugula and Parmigiano which was paired with yet two more reds: La Spinetta 2004 Barolo Vigneto "Campé" and Sandrone 2004 Barolo Le Vigne.

This sirloin was perfectly cooked - a tender, juicy cut with just a drizzle of oil and a few shavings of parm. It was meaty perfection. And the Barolo's 1 and 2 were both heavy hitters, well matched.

6. We did move onto dessert (I'm afraid my, um, camera stopped working at this point and I don't have a proper photo...) A glorious flourless chocolate cake paired with one of my favorite drinkables on this planet: Brachetto d'Acqui. I am so in love with Brachetto. I could drink it with a straw. And I would if someone would just hand over the darned bottle. This one was a Ca' dei Mandorli 2010. I smiled with every sip.

I did manage to snap a photo of the bathrooms. Everything was very well manicured and decorated with a warm Tuscan flair.

The next morning, being excused from practice, I went to work (slowly). I received a call from my coach Scott at around 11:30 am.

Scott: Where were you?

Me: You said I didn't have to show up!

Scott: To the bike. You were supposed to come to the run.

Me: (hysterical laughter at the very idea) Dude, I slept in my clothes.

Many thanks to Bill B (happy birthday, yet again!), my entire team, Italian Wine Merchants, and Philip for a fantastic evening.

Italian Wine Merchants
108 East 16th Street
(between Park Avenue South & Irving Place)
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212.473.2323

Wednesday
Jun222011

A Chip-Off! 

Yesterday Jameson discussed a very accessible and easy to prepare food and wine pairing: white Burgundy with potato chips. But with so many chips on the market, which ones to choose?

I'm sure you have your favorites among the bunch, and I would love to hear about them. If you don't have a favorite and are looking for some options, I have obligingly eaten my way through 5 bags of different brands to bring you the goods on tater chips. This is the kind of stuff I do in my free time. And take pictures of it all to boot! Because you need to know what your potential potato chip choice will look like, correct? Correct. Here we go.

Dirty Potato Chips Cracked Pepper and Sea Salt

I really enjoyed the cracked pepper on these chips. It added just a touch of heat. The texture was excellent as well: slightly bumpy and bubbly. And they weren't oversalted either.

Good Health Olive Oil and Rosemary

I was attracted by the edible oxymoron of "Good Health" and "Potato Chips". These little numbers are fried in olive oil, which you can really taste. I liked this aspect, but found they were lacking in the advertised rosemary herbed flavoring. The texture was less brittle and crackling, yielding a more stable chip – good for scooping dips. These guys won't crumble under pressure.

Kettle Chips Sea Salt and Vinegar

In my opinion, these chips are the shizzle dizzle. And by that I mean I love them. As you can see from above, I did not leave enough of them to photograph. If you are not familiar with the sea salt and vinegar flavor combination, you have most likely been living in a hole. It is intense! Your lips might pucker, but you will be compelled to keep eating in order to repeat the sensation. Kettle's version of this duo does not disappoint. Additionally, they have an excellent texture with lots of "fry bubbles" decorating the chip - like chewing on the surface of the moon, if the surface of the moon were doused in tangy vinegar and sprinkled liberally with sea salt. And if it were, this is how you could convince me to move there.

Pop Chips - Original Potato

When I first bit into these, I had just downed most of a bag of tangy Sea Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips, so I was a little underwhelmed. However, once I cleansed my palette, I was pleasantly surprised by these light and airy rounds. They are salted just enough, and as they are a thicker chip, they are very satisfying to eat, providing a substatial dose of potato-y goodness. They are also strong and would be good for dipping. I recommend topping with guacamole.

Terra Chips - Spiced Sweet Potato

I have a weakness for sweet potato chips and fries. There is something about that salty sweet combination that gets me every time and keeps me coming back for more. These Terra Chips do the trick on both fronts with the added "spice" from cumin, cilantro and cayenne pepper. To be completely honest, I wasn't getting as much cilantro flavor as I'd like, but the cumin and cayenne were representin' in a perfect blend of flavor and heat. As these are sweet potatoes, the surface is smooth, but they get all curly and I like the crunchability of that added dimesion. These taters are serious winners.

In the past, I've also made some potato "chips". If you're in the mood, here is the recipe for my oven roasted sweet potato chips and also my tater skins.

Oh, and don't forget the White Burgundy.