APRIL 2009-SYLVANER DINNER

Tortoni Madness

GASTRONOMEG’S TORTONI MADNESS!

The Wines
2007 Albert Seltz, Sylvaner de Mittelbergheim, Alsace $15.99
2007 Domaine Ostertag, Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner, Alsace $20.99
2006 Abbazia di Novacella, Valle Isarco Sylvaner, Alto Adige $19.99
1994 Hans Wirsching, Iphofer Kronsberg, Silvaner Kabinett Trocken, Franken $27.00

The Menu
Appetizer: Crostini with tarragon mustard, hard boiled egg and sardine
Main: Pan-seared halibut with fava bean, fresh garbanzo, and potato hash
Salad: Mizuna, pea shoot sprout and radish salad with lemon vinaigrette
Dessert: Tortoni with strawberry sauce

It’s not easy being green, green is the color of spring………..

Carlita: Celedon, terre verte, sap, kelly, verde: the green palate is what I have on my mind in April.  I want to paint green and eat green.  Simply canʼt get enough of asparagus, artichokes, avocados, arugula, summer savory.  Starchy root vegetables be gone —  bring on the green shoots, itʼs time for spring!   For some reason I always associate Sylvaner with green. Not that it is necessarily grassy like Sancerre, but with its sometimes-tart green fruit, and slight vegetal and citrus flavors on the palate it seems as clean, simple and straightforward as green.  My thought for the main dish was that Sylvanerʼs medium body would stand up well to a meatier fish such as halibut.  Then, while shopping at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange in the Chelsea market, I ran across some fresh garbanzo beans still in the pod.  Iʼm sure Paula Wolfert has mentioned these at some point so they were definitely going in my basket.

Halibut and Fava, Garbonzo and Potato hash

Carlitaʼs Fava, Fresh Garbanzo and Potato Hash:

I cup fresh fava beans, skins removed
1 cup fresh garbanzo beans, or substitute fresh peas or edamame
1 cup pearl onions
1 cup small cubes of potato
diced pancetta or bacon
4 garlic cloves cut into hunks
fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper
chicken broth or vegetable broth
serves 4

Cook down the pearl onions in olive oil until they start to brown, then add thepancetta and garlic.  After a few minutes add the potato and continue to brown. Add 1/2 cup of broth, then add the fava and garbanzo beans.  Cook until beans are tender but still firm.  Add the chopped marjoram and season to taste.  I finished it with a little butter and garnished with lemon zest.

This recipe would also make a great vegetarian entree sans the pancetta and
with the addition of artichokes. I pan-seared the halibut (skin side down for crispy skin) and placed it on top of the hash.   When the salad came out, I forgot how wonderful mizuna can be — fresh, green and spicy, a great way to end the meal.  At dessert, Gastronomegʼs tortoni was so light and fluffy.  We all loved it and I was grateful for the leftovers with my afternoon coffee the next day.

Billy gets the goods…………….
The day of the dinner Billy called to see if we needed anymore Sylvaners.  We were missing one from Franken, but I said thatʼs ok, we have plenty.  Dinner was at a respectable weeknight 7, he was just getting off of work at the bottom of the island, and I live at the top. But I told Gastronomeg and Jason we would probably not see him until 8:00 as he was determined to find a Franken. Somehow he managed to pull out of his hat a bottle of 1994 Silvaner Troken from the Franken and still arrive close to 7.  Impressive!    It turns out that Silvaner is a bit easier to locate in stores than Valtellina.  He had easily found the Franken at Chambers Street Wines, the one-stop shop for wine nerds. My favorite Sylvaner was the Domaine Ostertag whose wines are not always easy to find as they fly out of the bins in no time.  Ostertagʼs wines have a bit of a cult following, and for good reason.   At the recent biodynamic tasting in New York City the Domaine Ostertag wines stood out from the other whites from Alsace for their acidity and complexity.  In contrast, the Albert Seltz was a bigger rounder style and I also enjoyed it with food and on its own.  I think we all agreed that the 94 Franken had held up remarkably well but did not necessarily benefit from ageing.  Sylvaner is meant to be young, fresh and sassy.

Mizuna, pea shoot sprout and radish salad Dinner Table

Billy’s Dinner Notes…………Sylvaner (Ger. Silvaner) is an underappreciated grape—grown mostly in France’s Alsace, Italy’s Alto A dige and Germany’s Franken regions—that’s  perfect for these recessionary times. Typically, it is used as a blending grape in the Edzelwicker and Liefraumilch table wines in the boites of Alsace and Germany; but prominent winemakers increasingly have discovered the strengths of vinifying the grape as a single varietal wine: a wine with high acidity and good body, with somewhat of a clean, neutral taste.  Accompanied with an affordable price.   We tried four wines from sylvaner’s three major regions. Mostly recent vintages, including a 15 year-old Franken silvaner. Here is an edited transcript of  the commentary at dinner:

Gastronomeg: I really love the Ostertag.  I picked up honey notes in the back of the palate.   Carlita: For me, I found green apple. This wine reminds me of  having just emptied a cider press.   Billy: The Ostertag has a freshness with a clean floral note.   Carlita: To me the Seltzer is more grapey. More like fresh grapes.   Billy: Carla, dearest, more like hot grapes really . . .   Gastronomeg: Yes, Billy’s right. I’m finding some heat on the palate in this wine.   Billy: You know, this wine may be balanced, but it’s not really harmonious to me.   Gastronomeg: Me neither. But I must admit, I’m a lightweight.  (Note to the reader: Meg is pregnant).   Jason: Wow, this Wirthing is jumping on the nose . . . I feel like a deer eating a sapling.   Gastronomeg: Really?  Are you sure you’re the father o f my child?    Carlita: I think I’d like the Seltzer with cheese, but not with this halibut.   Jason: Sylvaner is really better with less alcohol. It makes the wine  too ripe, too flat. I’m really getting  a Pine Sol smell from the Seltzer. Like Murphy’s Oil.   Gastronomeg: Now, the Abbadazia has a certain savoriness. I’m getting a piney pungency in this wine.   Billy: Actually, I’m getting a little of this note in all of the sylvaners as well. The Abbadazia has enough body to pair with the halibut.   Carlita: I think the Wirthing has the body as well.   Gastronomeg: And there’s lemon peel too. I get lemon in all these wines.   Billy: Yes, I agree lemon is a major note in all the wines here.   Carlita: [Carla is staring at her glass.]  Why am I blanking out?  You know, in all these sylvaners, I find that the food brings out a nice combination of the sweet and savory.   Billy: Even the Wirthing?   Carlita: Yes, I think so.   Billy: Now this Wirthing. Taste it. It’s 15 years old. Any difference between it and the rest?   Gastronomeg: No, not really.   Jason: Oh, this is really too delicious.   Billy: I don’t detect much change really in the essential quality of the sylvaner. It still seems fresh, but hardly more complex. I think the aging of the wine empahsizes the neutrality of the grape. Although I am getting a slight petrol note on this wine.   Jason: Yes.   Carlita: No, I don’t see much change either.   Jason: I agree.   Billy: Which leads to the question: Why age sylvaner?  In Franken, the winemakers obviously do.   Gastronomeg: No, I can see that it’s unnecessary. I mean, I drink the Ostertag, and I get all that I want from this type of wine. Fresh, light and flavorful.   Billy: You certainly can drink this wine by itself.   Gastronomeg: it would be delightful.   Carlita: And with certain food.  Look, when I taste the Wirthing with this mizuna salad, I really pick up the chlorophyll taste in the sylvaner.   Billy: So, that emphasizes the grape’s neutrality in a way that enhances the eating experience. That’s a fine feature for a wine, I’d say.   Jason: Ok, we did sylvaner. Now I want some of that Tortoni that my goddess of a wife made for you all. This Tortoni will make you forget about the future and the past . . .Dessert!

For more on Gastronmeg’s Tortoni visit her blog…….

When in Dallas………

Amy at Dali Wine Bar

Just a few notes from a recent voyage to Dallas from Carlita…

I’d like to say I just stumbled upon Dali Wine Bar which borders the Dallas Arts District, but first of all no one stumbles, or even strolls through Dallas. It’s too darned hot most of the year and besides, the former cow town is now truly a car town.  Secondly, I’d just read about Dali on the plane ride over (in Food and Wine’s April issue).  Nonetheless, it was a welcome oasis in a horseshoe shaped steel and glass complex next to a highway overpass on the edge of the arts district.

I was joined by part of my Texas clan – my two nieces, Christine and Amy and Amy’s boyfriend Chris.  It seems that my nieces have gone from Keds to Christian Laboutin’s overnight.  Even the youngest is old enough to drink — yikes, thank goodness for retinol products!

I assume the name Dali comes from the surrealist artist (every teenager’s first fine art crush.  Ok, I didn’t have a Persistence of Memory poster in my teen bedroom but I did have an earlier work with lots of angels and clouds….).  The interior, at any rate, could have been designed with a Dali painting in mind: natural colors, an organically shaped room, dramatic lighting.

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We opted to sit outside where there was live music and a smoke filled sky from the wildfires outside of the city.  The menu was filled with traditional wine bar fare with Texas twists.  For some local flavor try the feuille wrapped brie cheese with sea-salt roasted Texas pecans with a lemon verbena honey or the braised short rib panini with spinach, gruyere and piquillo pepper jam. The wine list focused on a combination of old world and new world wines.  I ordered a glass of Nicolas Joly Les Clos Sacres, Savennieres.  This was a rare find by the glass! Nicolas Joly is considered the modern disciple of Rudolph Steiner’s Biodynamic philosophy, or bee-oh-die-na-mee, as Nicolas would say. The wine was a 2006 and he seems to be moving toward a more oxidized style than in the past. His wines continue to open up for several days and Dali seemed to know how to serve them as the wine had been decanted and served at the proper temperature.  The servers were attentive and knowledgeable, and I will definitely be back on my next visit.

Crow Collection of Asian ArtNasher Sculpture Gardens

James Turell Earth Room

Dali Wine Bar is in perfect proximity to the museums and concert hall.  The Dallas Art Museum, Nasher Sculpture Gardens and the Crow Collection of Asian Art are all within a one block radius.  The Nasher has a great collection of modern sculpture. Don’t miss the James Turell Earth Room in the very back of the outdoor space.  The cafe run by Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant group is a great place to eat, relax and enjoy the view of the outdoor gardens.  The Crow Collection of Asian Art had an incredible show of Japenese Contemporary Quilts. Look out Gee’s Bend, you have some fierce competition!Carlita and Christine embraced by a Richard Serra

A little further north is an interesting area for foodies on Knox street in the uptown area.  I love strolling through  Sur La Table and drooling over the ovens at the Viking show room and cooking school.  I picked up some Gruet Blanc de Noirs for Easter dinner at Crush Wine shop which has a great eclectic selection and a small wine bar with cheese and charcuterie.  They serve many of the Mozzarella Company Cheeses, artisinal cheeses by Paula Lambert, a Texas native who studied cheesemaking in Italy.  Her Mozzarella and goat cheese have a Texas accent with Scamorza smoked over pecan shells and fresh goat cheese wrapped in hoja santa leaves.

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Easter Table

Easter Sunday we had a fantastic dinner at my sister’s house in Plano.  The menu: Beef tenderloin with portabello mushroom sauce, fingerling potatoes roasted with sage and garlic and pencil thin asparagus.  For dessert a lemon raspberry tiramisu and tiny lemon white chocolate tartlets.  A concert from Uncle Wayne on his new old French Horn, and a ‘no politics at the table’ policy.

With this dispatch of some food, wine, and art highlights from Dallas…….I’m off to the airport. Adios Texas, see you next time………Carlita

For info on wine and food events  in the Texas area check out Dan Redman’s blog from Mosaic Wine Group.