A Weekend of Wine and Food…Westchester Style!

If you missed out on this past weekend’s festivities at the Ritz Carlton in White Plains…shame on you! In its third year, Westchester Magazine hosted a fantastic weekend full of culinary events loaded with lots of great juice and some of Westchester’s best restaurants. If you were there, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Check out my article from the Wine Enthusiast Magazine website for all the highlights and plenty of reasons to mark it on your calendar for next year!

Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Weekend Highlights

The Wine Cellar at Restaurant R’evolution!

Chefs Rick Tramonto and John Folse’s latest venture Restaurant R’evolution is located inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the heart of N’awlins. They selected Wine Enthusiast to handle the design of their 10,000 bottle climate controlled wine cellar.  I had the pleasure of working with Chef Tramonto and his staff in creating this elaborate showcase cellar. I have yet to see it in person, but it looks pretty impressive here. Check out the link below!

R’evolution Restaurant Wine Cellar

Westchester Wine Guy’s Guide to Wine Country

I recently returned from my third trip to the Napa/Sonoma region of California, and each time I go it gets harder and harder to come back. As a New Yorker, it is such a treat to experience the warmth, hospitality, landscape and fantastic wines that are inherent in the culture of Wine Country. This last trip was extra special as my wife and I brought our son for the first time. While he decided not to partake in the tastings, he really seemed to enjoy running through the vineyards and charming the ladies in the tasting rooms.

Upon returning from this excursion, I have gotten a pretty good handle on the places I really enjoy and what spots I make a priority to get to each time. So if you are planning a trip out West anytime soon (which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND), below are some wineries, restaurants and lodging accommodations not to be missed.

NAPA

WINERIES AND VINEYARDS:

PRIDE MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS: Not only does Pride offer one of the best views of Mount St. Helena, but they are producing some of the best Cabs and Merlots around. Just be careful getting up the mountain, as it is steep and can get a little hairy.

RUBICON ESTATE: This Francis Ford Coppola owned winery is a treat for all the senses. Gorgeous landscaping both inside and out (including a mini museum of Coppola’s movie paraphernalia), a restaurant inside to grab a bite, and a stellar array of reds makes this one a must see.

ARTESA/DOMAINE CARNEROS: I am grouping these together as they are a few minutes away from one another in Carneros. Artesa’s grounds are loaded with fountains and picturesque views to go along with a beautifully decorated tasting room…. Oh, and some pretty kick ass wines as well. Domaine Carneros offers an awesome bubbly experience. You can relax outside, enjoy the vineyard views while sipping on some tasty bubbles, or take the Art of Sparkling Wine Tour which is one of the better tours around.

ROBERT MONDAVI VINEYARDS: You have to see it once just for the historical importance as none of Napa would be what it is without Mondavi’s vision and… well… balls! Plus the Reserve Room pours some pretty incredible back vintage Cabs.

RESTAURANTS

MUSTARDS GRILL: This place is legendary for offering the freshest local fare (the farm is right outside the restaurant) and having a wine list that may take the whole night to get through. Fun, kid friendly and pretty reasonable.

BRIX: Just down the road from Mustards in Yountville, Brix offers a bit of an upscale feel and has a beautiful outside dining area with a full vineyard view. Great wine prices as well!

LODGING

THE OLEANDER HOUSE: Located in the heart of Yountville (in fact walking distance to Mustards),  this five room French Country Inn has it all. Cozy and comfortable rooms, a gracious host who cooks up a hell of a breakfast and a hot tub for that much needed post tasting relaxation.

WESTIN VERASA: This top notch hotel is right across from the Wine Train in Downtown Napa. It has a pool, a couple of really nice dining options and beautiful rooms. If you are traveling with your family, some of the rooms even have a full kitchen if you would rather not eat out every night.

SONOMA

WINERIES AND VINEYARDS

MOSHIN VINEYARDS: If you are in the Healdsburg area, you must take the quick drive to the Russian River Valley and visit Moshin. Named after owner, winemaker and overall genius Rick Moshin, here you will experience some of the BEST Pinot in all of California. And if you are lucky enough to catch him on the right day, Rick may even give you a private tour of his gravity flow winery… all impressive stuff!

ZICHICHI VINEYARDS: An ex-surgeon from New Orleans, Steve Zichichi up and moved his family after Hurricane Katrina to fulfill his dreams of making wine and owning a vineyard. Let’s just say he has overachieved… BIG TIME! His Zins and Petite Sirahs are out of this world and made in very limited quantities. So the only way to taste or buy them may be to make the trip to his Dry Creek Winery,  a worthwhile trip indeed.

CHATEAU ST. JEAN: There are few experiences in all of  Wine Country better than tasting on the outdoor patio area of Chateau St. Jean. Looking upon the mountainous surrounding terrain and sampling some of the best Chards and Cabs produced in Sonoma quite simply… doesn’t suck.

SBRAGIA FAMILY VINEYARDS: Ed Sbragia is an icon and legend in Napa, having been head winemaker for Beringer for the last 30+ years. He has now taken his talents to Sonoma and is producing some delectable Cabs, Zins, Merlots, Chards and Sauvignon Blancs under his latest project. His son Adam is involved with the wine making, and they have one of the best views in Sonoma overlooking the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys. You may even get to do some tasting with the man himself if he is around, and he couldn’t be more humble or gracious about himself or his wines.

RESTAURANTS

THE GIRL AND THE FIG:  You can find this quaint little bistro situated right in the town of Sonoma . A fun and energetic atmosphere is only topped by the freshest of fruits, vegetables and herbs making for quite the dining experience.

ZIN:  Healdsburg Square is a lively area filled with tasting rooms, restaurants and fun shopping venues. For all the ZinHeads out there, Zin is the restaurant for you! With a diverse, yet succinct, menu including a handful of different meat and poultry options, there is something for everyone. Plus the Zin selection and prices on the wine list are phenomenal…sometimes cheaper than buying them at the winery!

LODGING

THE HAYDON STREET INN:  John and Keren will make you feel right at home with their lovely décor, charm, unbelievably delicious breakfasts and hospitality. Plus at 6:00 every night they offer a Wine Happy Hour in the garden sometimes featuring John’s homemade brick oven pizza and occasionally hosted by a local winery. No reason to stay anywhere else if you are in Healdsburg as it is a 5 minute walk to the square!

If you have any “can’t miss” destinations to hit in Wine Country that I have not mentioned, feel free to add a comment and let everyone know about it! And if you have yet to visit the Napa/Sonoma area, put it at the top of your list… you won’t regret it.  Cheers!

My Kind of Town, Chicago is…

Last week Chicago hosted the NRA Trade Show… no not the gun guys. This NRA is the National Restaurant Association and I guarantee this show blows away anything the other NRA can come up with, no pun intended. On top of discovering a bunch of new products, services and companies in the market, I was able to once again experience all that Chicago has to offer an everyday foodie and wine geek like myself, and man is it a lot!!

Chicago is one of those All American cities filled with lots of history, beautiful architecture, warm and hospitable people and fantastic culinary venues. They have everything from your local burger joint (like the Weber Grill), to a wine a based restaurant offering various flights of wine and cheese (Bin 36) to some of the best Steakhouses in the world (Chicago Chop House and Gibson’s to name a couple). This trip we hit up a few gems hidden in the Windy City.

Fans of Spark’s Steakhouse in NYC are not going to want to miss Gene and Georgetti’s Steakhouse in Chitown. While there is an Italian fare option available here, it is a good old fashioned Steakhouse loaded with perfectly cooked cuts of beef, delicious sides and a very reasonably priced wine list filled with all the Napa Cabs you would hope to see. It also has that same Goodfellas vibe that adds just a hint of danger with your meal… so if someone asks you to take a walk outside don’t be so quick to get up.

The Brazilian Steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao delivers a wonderful dining experience on all levels. It all starts with high quality beef and poultry sliced and served right at your table, and plenty of it. Add a kick ass salad bar, huge wine list and a restaurant enclosed by a custom wine cellar and you come up with a winning culinary combination.

If steak is not your thing, make Shaw’s Crab House the first stop on your list. Here you’ll find some of the best and freshest fish in the city. Try starting out with the cold seafood/shellfish appetizer paired with the Feudo di San Gregorio Falanghina…killer combo!

One of the most fun and energetic places in town is right around the corner from the historic John Hancock building, Bistro 110. It’s got that French Bistro look, feel and menu but with all the energy of Chicago. The Short Rib entry makes a great table appetizer to kick things off, and the Shrimp and Scallops over polenta in their green peppercorn sauce may be the winning dish of the trip. Lots of local and international selections on the well priced wine list, especially from the Rhone area of France.

While these are a few of my favorites, there are so many fantastic restaurants in Chicago that it’s hard to go wrong. As a New Yorker, Chicago is really a city worth visiting as it has so much to offer people of all ages. Just tons of energy and style, but with the warmth and charm that NYC can sometimes lack. I’m already looking forward to going back!

Looking for a close weekend getaway made for wine and food lovers… head to The Berkshires!

For as long as my wife and I have been together, we always try and take a winter trip to Lenox, MA in the Berkshires. Aside from the picturesque landscape, its old world charm and close proximity to many ski resorts and spas, it is also ideal for the Westchester foodie and wino!

 We like to stay at The Birchwood Inn which is a classic Colonial B & B built in the 1700’s. There are fireplaces in most of the rooms and it’s walking distance to the town of Lenox. The Innkeeper Ellen is definitely the hostess with the mostess. Not only does she make you feel comfortable and at home, but she can cook up a mean breakfast that will leave you satisfied until dinner!

 Just down the road in Lenox there are a number of dining options to choose from, all quality! There is everything from a Wine Bar (Alta), an upscale Italian Steakhouse (Prime), a Spanish tapas joint (Firefly), a couple of traditional Italian restaurants (Café Lucia and Frankie’s), a classic style cafe (Church Street Café) and a lively French Bistro, Bistro Zinc.

 The menu at Zinc is French in nature, but not too aggressive so that it is still very approachable to those who are not fans of the hardcore French fare. The French Onion soup and Mussels were definitely the highlights for the apps. For the entrée I went with the Steak Frites. I asked for it rare and it came it basically mooing (NICE!!), and my wife said the Grilled Salmon was the best she had ever had….literally!

 The wine list is obviously French in nature, however it’s small enough not to be overwhelming yet has enough variety to be appealing.  We ordered a bottle of 2005 Chateau Garraud Lalande de Pomerol (a Merlot based Bordeaux) which was outstanding!! In a store that bottle goes for about $28-35 if you can find it. The full bottle was $60 and the half bottle was only $28. Most of the wines were only about 2 to 2 ½ times what you would pay for it in the store, which has value written all over it.

 I am focusing on Bistro Zinc as we have eaten there a couple of times and really enjoyed it. However the food and wine value is found throughout the Berkshire restaurants, including all the ones mentioned above. If you are looking for a real historical place to check out, you can hit The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Built in 1713 it is filled with history,  friendly staff and an option of eating in a classic dining room or a tavern that looks like it hasn’t been touched since it opened. Their burgers and sandwiches are delicious and they serve beer crafted by the local Berkshire Brewing Company which makes for a tasty combo.

Even though it’s outside of Westchester, Trattoria L’Incontro in Astoria is definitely worth a visit.

This past weekend we celebrated my Father in Law’s 65th birthday at a wonderful Italian Restaurant in Astoria, Trattoria L’Incontro. It is a little out of the way for those living in Westchester, but if you find yourself in Queens looking for a great place to eat without breaking the bank….this is it!

This is the third time we have been in their private party room in the back of the restaurant, and it never disappoints. All of their dishes are made with very fresh and quality ingredients. The food tastes so homemade you would think there was someone’s old Italian Grandma cooking in the kitchen.

On top of the authentic Italian menu (with the homemade pasta dishes definitely being my favorite), they have a rather large, Italian based wine list. Italian wines can be confusing, but we have gone the inexpensive route in choosing the wines for our parties, and have enjoyed what we drank every time.

For this party they poured a Bonterra Charonnay as the white option, an organic wine from Mendocino, CA. It is really drinking well and $30 a bottle was a very fair price (it usally runs about $12-16 in the store). For the Red they poured a Tuscan Sangiovese that I was not familiar with, but it paired nicely with the penne in a fresh tomato and basil sauce.

Lastly, what makes dining here such a pleasure is the service. From the Managers down to the Bus Boys, everyone goes out of their way to ensure that you are enjoying your experience at their restaurant. And if you are looking for a glass of wine before or after dinner, they own the wine bar right next door! Very cool joint with a lot of wines by the glass to choose from. For more info just check out the link below….

http://www.trattorialincontro.com/