The Best Kid Friendly Dining Option in Westchester

Having two children under 5, I have found that my list of restaurant options in Westchester has significantly dwindled. To go out to a nice restaurant with the whole family is just not worth it as it tends to frustrate just about all involved…from the kids, to my wife and I, to other diners and possibly even the staff. I guess that’s why places like Applebee’s and Chili’s are so popular. But if you are not into the whole chain restaurant scene but still want to enjoy a quality meal out with the family in a judgement free zone, then I have found the place for you… The Quaker Hill Tavern.

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Located in Chappaqua, but close to Mount Kisco, this family owned, traditional style tavern really has it all. Plenty of craft and standard beers on tap, with rotating seasonal brews and the freedom to taste a few before deciding on your pint of choice. A simple menu that offers a plethora of options for adults, kids, meat lovers, vegans, hedonistic food mongers or those looking to keep it healthy. The wine list is small, but this is not a place to go for a great glass or bottle of wine. However they have enough completely decent by the glass options in red and white to keep everyone happy.

Upon our first venture to QHT I knew it was going to be great for the kids right from the get go. Just as we were being seated the waitress bought over a booster seat for my son. And I don’t mean one of those wood high chairs or the brown plastic generic booster seats. I’m talking about the same kind of booster seat he had at home that strapped on to the chair! With him feeling comfortable, the rest of the experience that night was a pleasure. Obviously I am not the only one who feels this way as on any given night you will find kids running around this loud and boisterous pub stopping by table to table to say hi, allowing the adults to maybe indulge in an extra pint ;)

The food is really solid across the board and I have yet to have anything I didn’t like. The burgers rank up there with the best in the county, and the wings are dynamite as well. My wife swears by the turkey burger and my buddy can’t go 2 weeks without his QHT buffalo chicken sandwich fix. Lastly, the service is everything you would hope for when bringing the family out to dine. Erin, the manager, and the entire staff are super accommodating and completely understand that the adults are looking to enjoy a meal out where the kids can be a little loud and loose. And after a few drinks, the adults start getting the same way. So if you desire a nice quiet meal at a local bar, don’t come here as it gets a little hairy. But if you are looking for some tasty eats, delicious beer on tap and an ultra family friendly environment then you definitely want to check Quaker Hill Tavern out….I’ll probably see you there!

Cheers,

My Take on the Coravin Situation

Recently the makers of Coravin put out a press release regarding a handful of bottles that ruptured while their product was being used. Coravin is a device that allows a needle to penetrate through the cork, displacing the air with argon while pouring out a glass of wine, and when the needle is pulled out the cork reseals itself like nothing ever happened. Quite a visionary concept that was all the rage until this bottle breakage issue arose.

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Having tested the Coravin many times here’s my 2 cents. It is an amazing product but doesn’t quite do all that Coravin claims. Their stance is that you can use this and put bottles back in your cellar for months on months without affecting the integrity. I have gone back into bottles after months and while the wine was still ok, it was not all that it should have been. Regardless, it does allow wine consumers to tap into bottles and see how they are aging and allows a restaurant to serve just about any bottle by the glass. So that alone makes this an outstanding serve and preserve device.

So now there are reports of a handful (under 10) bottles breaking after being tapped into by the Coravin, a miniscule percentage compared to amount of bottles that have been “Coravined”. So how can that happen? In one word…pressure. The way the argon is introduced into the bottle is with pressure. So if there is too much pressure in a bottle, and the bottle itself is made of thinner glass and doesn’t have the punt at the bottom guess what can happen?  You got it… crack!!!

But think about Champagne. Those bottles have pressure as well from the secondary fermentation which is what forces the cork out of those bottles. However Champagne is bottled in a much thicker glass so it can handle the pressure appropriately. Most quality wines that you would use a Coravin on also are made of thick glass and I’m sure have not been the culprits in this breakage issue that is all the buzz in the wine community.

My take on this situation is that some wine nuts out there are going Coravin crazy! They are using it on inexpensive bottles of wine when there is maybe only a glass of wine left or so in the bottle. So if you take a thin glass bottle with very little liquid and fill it up with gas, in turn over pressurizing the bottle, of course that bottle will break. I am not saying this is not an issue and yes, Coravin should have tested every facet of the product to avoid this from happening. But if you have one I wouldn’t be too concerned over this ordeal. Just make sure you are using it properly as well as on bottles that can withstand a little bit of pressure. Chances are if you spent $300 on this product you are not bothering using it on very inexpensive wine regardless, so Coravin away!

My Top 10 Grillin’ Wines

As my somewhat pessimistic colleague always says… no one reads copy. So let’s just get right to the juice that will immensely improve your 2014 BBQ season:

10. Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California – I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but this is like Summer in a bottle and my new “house white”. Floral and citrus aromas that lead to stone fruit and hints of honeysuckle on the palate, good weight for a PG too. ($10-12)

9. Matarromera 2009 Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero – All kinds of black fruits with roasted coffee, pepper and earthy notes. Big yet balanced wine. ($30-35)

8. Barrel 27 2011 “Right Hand Man” Syrah Central Coast – With 7% Viogner it’s made in the Cote Rotie style. Dark fruit, dark chocolate and peppery spice, excellent value. ($15-20)

7. Seaglass 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – For my money this is the best Santa Barbara Pinot in town. Classic Pinot fruit with hints of earth and spice complemented by a good dose of acidity. Perfect with poultry off the grill. ($12-15)

6. Chalone 2010 Chardonnay, Limited Release, Chalone AVA – Lots of classic apple, melon and banana fruit on the nose and palate with a great balance of acidity and oak aging ($13-18)

5. Argiano Non Confunditur 2011 – Don’t miss this serious Super Tuscan! Powerful yet balanced with alluring dark fruit, mineral and licorice. Nice acidity too so it will work with anything from grilled veggies to a Ribeye steak. ($16-20)

4. Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza – Aside from the great name, this is a tremendously balanced, lush and sultry wine. Blackberry, peppery spice, floral notes and racy tannins make this a no-brainer pairing for those saucy St. Louis BBQ ribs. ($20-25).

3. Two Hands 2012 Shiraz Angels’ Share, McLaren Vale  – Two Hands makes some of the best Shiraz out there, like the much more expensive Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden. But for under $30 this is a dark, dense and opulent fruit driven wine that screams for any kind of meat you choose to BBQ.

2. Manzanita Creek 2009 Zinfandel, Cloud Buster, Russian River Valley – What a ridiculous value Zin this is for under $20! Brimming with brambly berry, blueberry pie, brown spice and black pepper this is a wine that pleases on all levels. Super long and fruit filled finish keeps you coming back for more. ($20-28)

And the number 1 wine for this grillin’ season is….

1. Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Domaine Barville, Brotte – A simply stunning, complex and big CDP loaded with really pure and expressive black fruits laced with black pepper, leather and meaty notes. The balance of acid and tannins gives this a harmonious balance making it a sure fire winner for whatever you plan to grill. It isn’t cheap, but in the realm of Chateauneufs it is a tremendous value considering the quality. ($40-45)

But really the best wine to drink at your summer BBQ is whichever one gives you the most pleasure! So if you’re a Napa Cab fan, don’t be afraid to break out that Caymus, Silver Oak or Duckhorn the next time the mood strikes you…clearly they will all be fantastic with a properly cooked piece of beef too.

Cheers!

 

 

Check out these Summer Whites and “My” Malbec

While the weather around here is still way too cold to be considered Spring, it will be warming up soon. I mean, it has to right?? I recently hosted a couple of virtual tastings for two white wines that I am already stocking up on for this Spring/Summer. Both lend themselves to lighter fare (fish or poultry) but can also be enjoyed on their own as refreshing summer sippers. Best of all, they are fantastic values!

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I also co-hosted a video with my colleague Erika and we tasted this killer Malbec which happens to share my name… The Marshall! It’s made from extremely old vines that grow in a small single vineyard within Mendoza. It’s a big, soft and spicy red that will pair perfectly with just about any meat you intend to throw on the grill this summer. Check out the videos below…

Enjoy!

Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California

Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Magnolia Lane, Sonoma Valley

Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza

Look What’s Just Around The Corner!

The Westchester Culinary Experience to benefit the White Plains YMCA is really a win, win event on all levels. Not only is it a way to support a wonderful program that helps kids out in that area, but it is a fun night with some of Westchester’s best restaurants serving up some innovative and tasty dishes. Zachy’s in Scarsdale then finds appropriate wines to pair up with each particular dish, a pretty cool concept for a walk around format food and wine tasting event.

The link below includes the restaurants that are participating and how to buy tickets. There are some nice prizes that will be raffled off as well so who knows, you may come home with more than just a full belly and a decent buzz!

The Westchester Culinary Experience

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Peter Kelly of X2O who will be featured again this year!

So What’s The Deal With Moderne Barn?

You need to say that header in the Seinfeld tone for it to really have the right effect. So I’ve been hearing for some time now how great Moderne Barn is and that I have to go. I have tasted some of their sample dishes at various Westchester events and they were always good….not great, but good. It is owned by the Livanos family, a very reputable culinary family without question, that also owns City Limits Diner and Oceana in NYC among others. Having waited tables at City Limits in my younger years I know the quality of the food they bring into their establishments is always solid and the preparation of the dishes was always….good. You see where I am going with this?

So I finally took the plunge and a large group of us ventured there a short while ago. This is a group that likes to let a little loose on a Friday night in the Fresh (short for Freshchester)…yeah, my neighbors basically rock! So upon entering the first thing that comes to mind is that this place is just really cool. Solid wood panels on the floors, walls and ceilings along with well placed lighting and artwork give it a very trendy NYC feel. I would not recommend coming if you are looking for a quiet romantic dinner as the joint is loud and jumping. Perfect for our 10 person crew on a Friday night.

So we ordered some drinks and a couple of bottles of wine from a wine list that is somewhat overpriced. But with a $45 corkage fee (not a typo), it still does not make sense to bring in wine which I like to do so we took to the wine list. There were a handful of decent values available (the St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay was drinking very nicely), but the markups in general seemed to be on the high end of the spectrum. The service was attentive enough, although the two Sommeliers did little except open the bottles and then had the servers pour. But to be fair it was a super busy Friday night so they may have been more focused on those ordering some of the higher priced premium wines that evening.

As I remembered from my City Limits days, the same fish that they serve at their high end fishery Oceana in NYC is used in the dishes for their other restaurants as well. So my plan was to stick with fish. But they had a ricotta gnocchi on the menu which is relatively hard to find as it is typically made from potato. Since the only other person I know that makes it from ricotta is my mom, I had to give it a shot even though the waiter warned me it was just ok. He was right, it was just ok…very heavy and the sauce was sort of bland. The lobster roll appetizer was tasty, but the bread was borderline stale….hmmmm.

The dishes are quite reasonably priced. Pastas were under $20, most main dishes were $25-30 and the steaks were $35-41. This however is not a steakhouse, so I was a little wary when about half the table ordered steak. The reaction was mixed at best, but the presentation was appealing enough and some of the sides were excellent. My friend next to me ordered the Lavender Honey Lacquered Duck Breast which was out of this world delicious!! In fact I may have to go back just to taste that dish again. But overall it seemed that there was a lot of mixed feedback and at best the food was….good.

So why is this place packed to the gills every weekend and most weeknights? I am not really sure but I can tell you this. The ambiance is very hip, loud and NYC-esque. So if you and your crew are looking for that kind of feel in the Armonk area then this is definitely a place you want to check out. And if you wanted to go and just grab a burger or a dish of pasta, you can get away with a reasonably priced meal. But overall the food seemed pretty average for such a talked about and popular place, and the rather expensive wine list and even more expensive corkage fee was a big turn off for me.  So I guess it is just a matter of what you are in the mood for on a given evening.

Although I will be back to have that duck again, but this time I’m drinkin’ beer!

The Green Era of 2011 Continues…

Below is a post that I wrote in April of last year… and unfortunately for Napa and Sonoma Cab lovers I was pretty dead on! Many of these 2010 and 2011 wines have had some green and herbaceous qualities to them (which can be a pleasant characteristic), while a lot of them have ONLY green and herbaceous qualities which is no bueno!

I have been tasting more of the 2011 wines lately and this “green effect” seems to be much more prevalent and overpowering in most of these wines. 2010 still had some standouts that avoided this overly stalky quality such as Cabs from Hanna, Clos du Val, Sequoia Grove and Pride. But for most of the 2011 Napa/Sonoma Cabs I have sampled so far the vegetal quality has been anywhere from noticeable to overpowering…not what you are looking for from these wines. The Peju Cab somehow avoided it, and Caymus was as consistently solid as ever. So just beware of the vintage when grabbing those Cabs from Napa/Sonoma… I would say the safer bet for now is to stick with the 2010 over the 2011 vintage.

Cheers!

(Below is my original post)

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

What To Do in Westchester for Valentine’s Day?

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts guys, but I’m back! Seems the insanity of the holidays is just wearing off and I finally had some time to put pen to paper…figuratively of course. I will do another post on some of the fantastic wines that are out there right now, as I have had the opportunity to sample some great juice as of late. But I thought with Valentine’s Day around the corner, some ideas on what is happening around town may be more appropriate for now.

So…if you are looking for a spot to rekindle the sparks of love that night the no brainer move is Crabtree’s Kittle House. This rustic and charming venue really has it all. A creative and well thought out four course Valentine’s Day tasting menu for $75 a person, a 70,000 bottle wine list (Leo the Somm will happily help you select something in line with your palate and budget) and an ambiance that screams romance. Plus, if you really feel like getting a little loopy you can stay overnight in one of their rooms as it is an Inn as well, and the rates are very affordable!

For the Richard Gere fans out there, you may want to check out his fancy new spot The Farmhouse at Bedford Post. This place has romance written all over it, and the food is really quite excellent. They are doing a four course prix fixe for $95 which includes a risotto course offering a choice of wild mushroom minestra with truffle pesto, fagotelli pasta with grated truffle, or a lobster risotto with shaved truffle….can you say decadence?!

Mima Vinoteca in Irvington has been getting lots of great press as of late, and for good reason. A classic combination of a quaint atmosphere, traditional Italian fare with a modern twist and an accessible wine list makes this a local favorite for the river town dwellers. Their three course Valentine’s Day prix fixe is a reasonable $68 and features lots of culinary creativity and selections appropriate for all including a venison dish with cranberry wild rice in a port wine lingonberry reduction…nice!!

Looking to keep it low key and fun? Then head over to The TapHouse in Tuckahoe! With an overall updated menu (the Grilled Cheese & Pork, Muenster, Caramelized Onion, Jalapeno on Texas Toast is off the hook!) and a Valentine’s Day special menu including Fresh Gnocchi, Shrimp, & Lobster with Tomato, Basil in a Lobster Bisque Sauce this will be a hot spot this Friday night for sure. Of course the vast selection of brews on tap always impresses as well as the ever evolving and extensive wine list.

Lastly, you can forget about going out at all and just create a romantic dinner at home. Sometimes just a quiet night around the fire with a homemade meal and a nice bottle of your favorite red wine is the best way to enjoy a cozy Valentine’s Day.

Cheers!

Some Can’t Miss Christmas Gift Ideas for the Wine Lover…

In case you hadn’t noticed… the Christmas shopping season is in full effect! With Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the rear view mirror, there are only a couple of weeks left to shop. Just thought I would share a few fun new products that we brought in this year that make the perfect gift for the wine lover in your life. The video demonstrations are pretty cool too ;) Just check out the links below:

Origine Reclaimed Wine Barrel Waiter’s Corkscrew

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Vinturi Reserve Red Wine Aerator and Carafe Gift Set

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Wine Glass Writer Metallic Pens

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QuickSilver Special Edition Corkscrew Set

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Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice ;)

Cheers!