How To Do A Steakhouse On A Budget

There are few culinary delights that can surpass that of a top tier steakhouse dining experience. From the seductive aromas of grilled beef and butter that are taken in at first entry to the last sip of port enjoyed with that decadent chocolate lava cake, they offer something  utterly satisfying that few other restaurants are able to do. But all of this hedonistic enjoyment can cost a pretty penny. The better steakhouses will charge $45+ for a cut of beef, and that normally does not come with any sides…just a piece of meat on a plate. Once you factor in all the starters, the trimmings to accompany the steak, not to mention that big Napa Cab, a few desserts, espressos and after dinner drinks, the bill can end up totaling the same as your monthly mortgage.

But does a steakhouse meal have to be that exorbitant? In a word…Nope!There are some very simple ways to cut a few corners in order to still enjoy all that a quality steakhouse has to offer while keeping the expenditures down. It’s all about efficiency.

The first pitfall for many is the allure of the seafood tower…as it clearly rocks. However they really are over the top when you consider all the crustaceans they load them up with.  You may be better off just ordering your favorite shellfish for yourself. Whether it is a half dozen oysters or a shrimp cocktail platter, the amount it will cost for the individual appetizer will be significantly less than the per person cost of an overindulgent seafood platter tower. The ever popular bacon appetizer can also suck you in as they are fantastically delicious, but super pricey for what is usually a single strip serving. And let’s be honest, you are about to dive into a giant, juicy piece of meat… do you really need more meat as an app?

The biggest unnecessary expense in most steakhouses is that of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the wine list. Why you may ask? Because they are effing delicious and make for a perfect pairing with grilled meat…plus they are sort of a status symbol to some, particularly those trying to impress clients or first dates. These establishments are well aware of this and will mark up those wines more than others. I find that CA Merlot and Zin, as well as the Cotes du Rhone and Spanish selections offer the greatest pairing value without skimping on quality, depending on the producer and year of course. But without question they almost always carry significantly lower markups. A good rule of thumb is to go with the second least expensive wine in any given section of the wine list, although even if you get the cheapest bottle they are typically not pouring swill at any of these fancy joints.

One place you don’t want to skimp out is on the steak. The main reason you are probably dining at a highly rated and expensive steakhouse is to enjoy that perfectly cooked piece of dry aged beef… so go for it! However there is no need to add that lobster tail for the surf and turf effect, or even those few grilled shrimp on the side. Remember, shellfish ain’t cheap. If you choose to order side dishes, you want to stick with two sides for every four people. So an order of creamed/grilled spinach and hash browns is more than enough for a table of four. Again, the steak is the star of the show so let that bad boy shine!

If you have ever actually looked at what jacks up the bill at the end of the night, more often than not it ends up being beverages of all kind. Of course the wine and booze are the biggest culprits, but the fancy coffees and all the accoutrements are no slouch. I love a double espresso with Sambuca as much as anyone, but in a steakhouse that one little luxury can run up to $20. Stick with the regular coffee and split a dessert or two instead of going overboard with the port, cognac and oversized dessert platter. Or skip the dessert and coffee altogether and enjoy the last course in the luxury of your own home.

Bonus Wine Tip: Ask the server if they have any by the bottle wine specials. Many times these steakhouses have an older bottle they may need to move out in order to make room for a new vintage. If they have a few loose bottles that are no longer on the menu and don’t have a listed price, you may get lucky and score one of those older Napa Cabs or Bordeauxs at a bargain price.

So get out there and enjoy some of those fantastic steakhouses that Westchester has to offer, as there are certainly many to choose from.

Salute!

 

Break out the Bubbles! Top 5 Options for New Year’s Eve

As unfathomable as it may seem, this year is already over! The Christmas season just flew by and now the pre-New Year’s Eve jitters set in. You know that last minute frenzy leading up to New Year’s Eve… Should we go out or stay in? Will it be too crowded? Who is going to drive? What should we drink? While I can’t help you with the driving that night, I can lend a hand in selecting some tasty Sparkling selections for your festivities. Below are my 5 Favorite Bubbly options from $15-50.

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La Marca Prosecco – For around $15 I don’t think it gets much better than this Italian sparkler. Dry and zesty, the sweet honeysuckle notes enhance the core fruit of apple and peach while the crisp acidity runs straight through to the finish.

Domaine Carneros 2009 Ultra Brut – This Taittinger owned winery makes some of the best sparkling juice in all of Cali, and at $25 this is easily their greatest value. Aromas of lime zest, lemongrass and lovely floral notes lead to a dry and complex palate of apple, marzipan and almost flinty minerality.

Sparkling Pointe Brut – Keep it local and drink some tasty Long Island sparkling this New Year’s! Delicate, yet not simple, on the palate with lemon citrus and green apple fruit. Those classic yeasty and biscuit flavors find their way towards the finish leaving you looking for your next sip. Not a steal at $30, but Long Island real estate ain’t cheap.

Charles de Monrency Brut Reserve – A ‘grower’ Champagne that has all the quintessential qualities of top vintage offerings that are twice the price. Fine and lengthy bubbles lead to nutty, honied and toasty aromas and flavors. The biscuit and melon notes on the finish hang around long after the juice is gone. A lucious, mouthfilling mousse on this one as well.

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut – Without question my favorite Champagne for around $40+. It has that dry and crisp minerality that balances harmoniously with the citrus, green apple and subtly yeasty notes. For my palate this is as good as it gets under $50.

Whatever you choose to sip on this New Year’s Eve be sure to enjoy with family and friends, as that is sure to enhance any Sparkling experience.

Have a Happy and Healthy Y’all, catch ya in 2015!

Wine Serving Temps and Tips

Not sure if you are serving your wine at the right temperature or how to get it to the perfect serving temp? Confused on what stemware to use? Check out the Wine Enthusiast piece below (by WWG) that has all the info you need to ensure that the lovely juice you are pouring at your holiday party is being enjoyed to its full potential.

Your Cheat Sheet to Serving Wine

 

How to serve wine

5 Simple Rules of BYO

With more and more consumers reluctant to pay the high markups that are inherent to many wine lists, BYO has become more prevalent than ever. Restaurants tend to mark up wines anywhere from 2-4 times the retail price that you will find at your local wine shop, not to mention the mark up from their cost. While the convenience and selection is well worth the price to some, others prefer to select from their own collection then the restaurant’s wine cellar. Below are 5 simple rules to help determine the appropriate scenario to bring your own bottle and some guidelines for restaurant etiquette if you choose to do so.

  • Free is for me! – If there is no corkage fee, than there is no reason NOT to bring your own bottle. Even if restaurants charge a nominal (under $10) corkage fee it still makes all the sense in the world. You could choose to bring a moderately priced bottle and it will still be a lot less at your local wine shop then at the restaurant.
  • Big names = Big Corkage Fees – If you are going to a top tier steakhouse or a popular French bistro, you are probably looking at a corkage fee of $35-75. For these eateries you’re probably better off sticking with their wine list.
  • Make it worthwhile – You certainly could bring an inexpensive bottle, but that would defeat the purpose. Mark ups are typically higher on the reserve selection wines, especially from older vintages, so the better bottle you bring the more you are saving.
  • Tip on the service – The server should provide the same service on the bottle of wine whether it is purchased from the restaurant or not, so be sure to include something in the tip for that bottle. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the retail cost of the wine times 2 or 3 and add that to the total bill before calculating the tip.
  • Buy an additional bottle from the wine list – If you’re dining with a large group, doing this shows you appreciate their hospitality and would like to thank them for it…that is of course if you are enjoying the meal and the experience!

 

Cheers!

A Joseph Drouhin Wine Dinner Hosted by GlenArbor GC

Wine pairing dinners are popping up all over the culinary world these days. No longer are they limited to high end restaurants or wineries. You can find these carefully curated menus matched alongside their perfect wine counterparts at such venues as local pubs, car dealerships, real estate openings, corporate functions and most recently country club dining rooms.

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I attended such a dinner at the scenic GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills which featured the wines of Joseph Drouhin. With club members expressing an interest in overall wine exposure and education, ownership brought a Certified Sommelier on board to help quench that thirst. Fernando Silva, a Master Somm in training, has overhauled the club’s entire wine list and worked diligently to put together this event showcasing the 2011 vintage of selected Drouhin wines as well as the culinary creations of GlenArbor’s kitchen.

In keeping with a Burgundy themed evening, the Chef prepared a menu highlighting a few traditional French dishes including a celeriac risotto with marrow accent, a local striped bass dish and crepinettes of guinea hen alongside a guinea hen roulade. While there was some confusion regarding which wines were to be paired with which dishes for the first couple of courses, it did not seem to bother the members who appeared more than content with the wines in their glasses as well as the quality of dishes being served.

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The white wine selections for the evening were the Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and the very impressive Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru all from the 2011 vintage. The Batard was quite a treat, as there is not much wine to come out of this small Grand Cru vineyard. Layered and complex with notes of honey, lemon, and tropical fruits playing beautifully off the buttered toast, smoky oak and nutty backbone. It possesses amazing structure and length as well. While tasting through these whites, Laurent Drouhin (a Westchester resident) expressed his passion for not only his wines but for the region in general. His motto was “If you can’t come to Burgundy, Burgundy comes to you” when tasting his Drouhin wines.

The reds were up next and they were all served alongside the duo of guinea hen main course. Choosing to serve three wines with basically one dish was a little unorthodox, but in this relaxed environment where everyone knows and seems to enjoy one another’s company, it was not an issue. The Gevrey-Chambertin was showing nicely already with forward cherry and fresh strawberry fruit laced with hints of peppery spice and vanilla. The famed Clos des Mouches wine started a bit musty and gamey. However with some time the dark berry fruit, classic minerality and licorice nuances came about giving it a good amount of charm while displaying that classic Burgundy terroir.

But the wine of the night was easily the 2011 Echezaux. It took about 2 hours to finally show its true colors, but when it did it was truly stunning. Offering aromas of dried red cherry and berry, plum and raspberry with intensely fragrant notes of rose petals and sage. It maintained elegance and balance that only a well made Echezaux can, and is clearly a wine for the cellar as it will age over the next decade or more.

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On top of the quality wines being served, what the members seemed to enjoy most was the explanations and descriptions of the wines given by Laurent. He provided insight into the vineyards, the winemaking process and his family history giving those in attendance a glimpse into the Drouhin way of life. Since Laurent is not only a Westchesterite, but a golfer as of a few years ago (and apparently he has been bitten by the bug pretty seriously), everyone seemed to relate to one another on some level and enjoyed the vibe of the evening.

Golf and wine are a perfect pairing of passions for many, so why not indulge in both all in the same day?! However it’s not as easy as it may seem to pull off.  The club needs a kitchen staff that has the skill to execute a serious dinner service and put together an appropriate menu. Some high quality juice needs to be served, preferably with a host that can entertain and educate the members throughout the course of the evening. But the most important factor is the desire of the members to act on their passion and create an environment where wine becomes a priority within the workings of the club. If that all adds up, you have a pretty special scenario that can lead to some wonderful culinary experiences.

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What’s With The Swirl?

There are few things more elegant and mesmerizing than watching wine endlessly twirl within the bowl of a crystal glass. Those who do it well can almost create designs with their swirl, changing direction and speed at will. For some, it can be so addictive that it becomes like second nature and the swirling never stops. I know I am certainly guilty of that on many occasions.

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Beyond its visual appeal there is an actual purpose to this entertaining, mildly annoying, ritual. Wine needs to breathe… and the bottom line is the more air you can get to the wine as quickly as possible, the faster all those hidden nuances and complexities will show themselves. For the same reason most wines will benefit from being decanted, swirling the wine allows the most surface area to come in contact with oxygen thereby allowing the wine to breath and open up.

Certain glass makers, like Riedel, take it even one step further. They leave tiny traces of lead in their glass (hence the name lead crystal) to improve this process. People ask me all the time… isn’t that dangerous? From all the studies that have been done the amount is so miniscule it is completely harmless. But it gives a hint of texture to the inside of the bowl. So that while you are swirling, the small non-visible bumps in the glass can help aeration of the wine as you twirl and swirl your favorite juice.

Once you get good, you can swirl your decanters or even 2-3 glasses at a time! But if you are about to enjoy a really young, tannic wine or an older vintage Bordeaux that needs to open up, then swirl away! It may take some practice but once you get the hang of it you may never stop.
Cheers!