What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

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The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

Another Successful Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Festival In The Books!

Year after year the Westchester Magazine crew puts together one of the most elaborate culinary events in Westchester, and 2016 was no different. From Peter Kelly winning his 4th Burger Bash title, to Kevin Zraly pulling together a fantastic portfolio of wines to taste over the weekend to top Westchester chefs offering delectable bites for all to enjoy… this may have been the best #WMFAW to date!

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While Saturday’s Grand Tasting Village was the most attended, featuring 60+ restaurants and 200+ wines… and of course Kathie Lee and Joy of NBC’s Today, Friday night’s Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers was certainly the star of the festival. Hosted at the beautiful Ritz Carlton in White Plains, the evening featured 60 top notch wine selections served alongside dishes prepared by 20 of the finer restaurants in the area. Highlights on the wine side included the 2012 Dominus, 2012 La Jota Merlot, 2010 Chateau Certan de May, 2010 Chateau Lassegue 2012 Louis Jadot Volnay and Nuits Saint Georges and of course the Comtes and Cristal were rather outstanding as well. Check out some photo 0610161745b_resizedhighlights of the evening as well as the list of fine chef’s that participated in this year’s event… already looking forward to next year!                            FotoJet Collage 1                    0610161746_resized     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Evening WithWestchester’s Tastemakers Participants

Michael Abruzese, Polpettina
David Amorelli, Harvest on Hudson
David DiBari, The Cookery
Scott Fratangelo, L’inizio
Eric Gabrynowicz, Restaurant North
Kennardo Holder, The Ritz- Carlton, Westchester
Robert Horton, An American Bistro
Kyle Inserra, Polpettina
Michael Kaphan, Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish
Peter Kelly, X20 Xaviars on the Hudson
Ethan Kostbar, Moderne Barn
Glenn Vogt, RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen
Jay Lippin, Crabtree’s Kittle House

Andy Nusser, Tarry Lodge

Leo Pablo, The Inn at Pound Ridge
Rafael Palomino, Sonora
Christian Petroni, Fortina
Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna
Andy Shilling, BLT Steak
Michael White, Campagna
Bobby Will, Saltaire Oyster Bar

Incoming: Westchester’s Premiere Wine & Food Event!

So it looks like spring has officially sprung here in Westchester, and it’s about time! Aside from the warmer weather, flowers blooming and summer closing in, it’s also the most anticipated time of year for the foodie and oenophile contingency. Why, you may ask? Easy…because in it’s sixth year running, Westchester Magazine will once again host the county’s most elaborate culinary extravaganza boasting an extensive arsenal of wines as well as an impressive list of Westchester’s finest dining venues for their 2016 Wine & Food Festival. For this year’s installment they have changed up the format a bit with what appears to be a much more focused yet expansive event configuration.

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The Festival starts on Wednesday June 8th with a fashion/shopping themed event at Bloomingdale’s which leads into Thursday’s Burger and Beer Blast at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. Here, over 30 local restauranburger-blastts will compete for the coveted Blue Moon Best Burger Award. Think of this as a block party on steroids as there will be tons of great brews, stellar burgers and bar bites, wine, booze and some of the most notorious food trucks in town. These are worthy undercards which lead up to the weekend’s main event of wine tastings and pairings.

Friday night’s ‘An Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers’  is clearly the belle of the ball this year.  Hosted at the lavish Ritz Carlton in White Plains, it will feature a truly special wine list along with Westchester’s finest restaurants and chefs preparing two signature dishes each specifically for the evening. Such restaurants as Campagna, Crabtree’s Kittle House, Purdy’s Farmer and The Fish, Sonora, Tarry Lodge, The Inn at Pound Ridge and of course The Xaviar’s Group, home to Westchester’s Star Chef Peter Kelly, will be featured among a number of Westchester’s finest eateries. But what good is all this delectable food without the perfect wines by their side? That’s where well-known wine guru Kevin Zraly comes into the picture.

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Kevin has narrowed the evening’s list down to 20 stellar selections for this salacious walk around tasting including sparkling, white and red wines from around the world. Some of the wines offered will include Louis Roederer Cristal and Taittinger Vintage Champagnes, Dominus, Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewurz, La Jota Merlot and Chateau Certan de May to name a few. The goal here is to pair up each scrumptious bite with an ideal wine in order to complement its flavors and texture. Not an easy feat, but Kevin has been doing this sort of thing for many years so I am sure it will be quite the ‘palatable’ sensory experience from start to finish.  It’s not an inexpensive evening for $125 a ticket ($175 for VIP, which is really the way to go as it gives you early entrance to move around with ease), but when considering the quality of food and wine being offered, it’s a pretty serious value.

grand-villageIf your hangover subsides by late Saturday morning then the Saturday Grand Tasting Village is well worth attending. It costs less per ticket than Friday’s festivities and will have 3X the amount of restaurants and wineries struttin’ their stuff back at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. There will be chef demonstrations all day long with lots of local celebrity chefs as well as members of the NBC Today Show. Plus, for an extra few bucks you gain access to the Connoisseurs Tent where Kevin will be pouring some higher end juice and sharing his extensive wine knowledge with those attending. Sure, it will be a bit more crowded than Friday night’s Tastemaker event, but having attended this in year’s past there is always a fairly open flow and an energetic vibe to the Saturday Grand Tasting Village.

For more info and to buy tickets check out the official website for this year’s event, see you there!

Westchester Magazine’s 6th Annual Wine & Food Festival

Cheers!

Wine Pairing Dinners Bring Out A Restaurant’s Best

Over the last several years, these special wine pairing dinners have become all the rage. It used to be that only the top eateries in NYC or Westchester would hold such prestigious events, and from what I recall they were all extremely expensive. It would seem the point of those dinner events was to not only offer a 5 or 6 course meal while pairing up each course with a special, and perfectly matched, wine, but the restaurants were also looking to turn a nice profit on the night. And why wouldn’t they?? These were small gatherings with superb dishes featuring sought after top tier wines. This traditional high end version of the wine pairing dinner certainly still exists, but a new generation has recently emerged.  Now those of us that can’t drop $500 on a single meal have ability to indulge in an enjoyable culinary experience as well.

I recently attended one of these dinners at The TapHouse in Tuckahoe where Moet Hennessy teamed up with owner Chris O’Brien and Chef Kevin Bertrand to try and put together a fun and well thought out wine pairing menu. It seemed a good way to sample a handful of MH’s somewhat approachable wines in their portfolio with some new and innovative culinary dishes prepared by the TapHouse team. They were able to get a little creative and curate some dishes that they may not typically offer on a high-end gastropub type menu. I’ve been to a few of their beer pairing dinners which are always a blast and provide an interesting perspective in matching up beer and food, but this was their first wine pairing dinner. In short, these guys knocked it out of the park from start to finish, especially at a mere $65 a head!

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You could tell from the opening course that this was going to a be a seriously sick menu starting with tokyo style diver scallops in a jalapeno infused strawberry water with a beautiful watermelon radish. The scallops were delightfully light yet meaty, and the bright strawberry flavor paired wonderfully with the Domaine Chandon Rose Brut bubbles. Pairing any food with sparkling is never easy to do, but these guys nailed it as the DC rose came to life after just a  mere taste of the scallops.

 

0420162103b_resizedThe other highlight of the meal was the roasted loin of venison served over celeriac puree with a corn grits risotto and black currants. The venison was tender, full of flavor and cooked to perfection. They chose the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Napa Cab for this course, and as Yoda would say… chose wisely, they did! The tannins were surprisingly supple for such a big and fruit forward wine, and of course the venison helps smooth it out as well. But the genius combo was the black currant side that when tasted along side this anything but subtle Cab, just popped with flavor and cassis goodness. A great way to finish the main courses leading into the closing dessert finale.

I won’t go into every course here, although it is worth mentioning there was not a bad dish or wine to be had during the evening. So for the $65 price tag there were 5 dishes served (where the portions were ample enough) and 4 really solid wines with 1 standout killer wine in the Newton Cab. So as a couple you could enjoy an entire meal out for $130 (plus tax and tip) where the service is fantastic and the dishes are craftfully prepared specifically for this event. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many places these days you can get away with a full quality meal, with wine, for under $150 a couple.

So if you see any of these special wine paring events at your local favorite restaurants it is probably worth checking out, as it can be less expensive to attend one of these dinners than dining off the standard menu on any regular night. It is also becoming more common for these dinners to be a way of marketing and promoting, where the restaurants aren’t as concerned with turning a big profit on the night, but more concerned with getting a good word out about how dynamite their restaurant can be. I can’t promise they will all be as good as this one at The TapHouse, but in the end you should be on the right side of an evening where the owner and chef are hopefully trying to do everything they can to please their customers and keep them coming back for more.

MTK Tavern Has Put It All Together

If you are  into the local Westchester rock music scene, than MTK is already on your radar. Since their doors opened in May of 2012, when they took over and completely renovated the old Katie Mac’s location, MTK has been all about music. During their early stages, it was mostly local bands coming in on the weekends, with a weeknight performance here and there. But now, there are some great bands hitting the stage just about every night. And while local favorites such as Exit 5 and Monster are still killing it, MTK has really spread its wings in terms of attracting top talent from all over the Northeast.

     

As a former wannabe metal guitarist, I thoroughly enjoy watching a great, small venue live rock show… which is exactly what MTK offers. But what I’m even more thrilled about is their menu situation which has taken a huge turn for the better. I remember walking into MTK during their first few months of business for lunch and being a little confused. There was this classic long, wood bar with great brews on tap and a stage in the distance, letting you know this has the potential to be a scene as the night rolls around. So I figured I’d grab a burger or some wings… but that wasn’t what the menu was about. Instead of traditional pub fare it was more tapas style, with some nice selections for sure, but it just didn’t fit the scene. It seemed pretty pricey and a shade too fancy for a local bar. For some time their music presence continued to gain steam and the bar remained solid, but they struggled with their food and menu identity. But alas, MTK has finally arrived to where I had hoped they would be.

 

 

 

 

The menu now is one simple page with a handful of apps (including several cool sauce options for the  wings like truffle oil and parmesan), a few salads and traditional bar style food. Burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, fries and a very fancy plated deviled egg dish are all available and quite good! This makes all the sense in the world to me, as the draw of MTK are the tunes and the bar atmosphere. The food has to be solid and simple without taking away from the main draws, which is exactly what they have accomplished. And with so many new restaurants opening up lately around MTK (Little Drunken Chef, Winston, The Turk, etc.) there is no need for them to compete on the food front. They are being themselves… a little bit of an indie rock, Brooklyn style bar in the heart of a suburban city adding some vibrancy and energy into the town, and they are doing it right. As a bonus the staff is extremely attentive and offers an enjoyable patron experience. Oh, and there is a fantastic back lounge area  fully equipped with sofas and comfy leather chairs, ideal for parties as well.

Here’s  a little sample of a typical Saturday night at MTK, pretty rockin’ for a suburb bar filled with old folks like me😉   Exit 5 at MTK

Hope to see you there!

The Lack Of Consistency in Westchester Dining

The dynamics of dining out in Westchester have changed a bit for me over the past 5 years. While dating, my wife and I enjoyed dining at various restaurants throughout the region. Granted, I’m a bit cheap so we were more likely hit a local comfortable spot then a top rated restaurant. But we certainly enjoyed a handful of meals at some of the swankier, fancier joints as well. Nowadays, it is much tougher to get to those ‘elite’ restaurants as not only do the meals cost a fortune, but the babysitter rates are crushing on the back end. But we do still indulge from time to time, both with and without the kids, and I came to a realization, almost an epiphany, since my last couple of meals out.  I don’t need to be wowed or tantalized by a meal anymore, I just want a restaurant to be consistent with their dishes each and every time.

Maybe it’s me, as my wife tells me  that I can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but is it so hard to just cook the same meal night in and night out? I mean, it’s not like these places haven’t been doing it for years, right? I get it… sometimes the food distributors don’t have as good a cut of meat one week, or a couple of staff members call out sick stressing out the kitchen. So I can stomach a little inconsistency from one night to the next. But to have a supremely enjoyable meal on one visit and then a ridiculously awful meal the next just seems crazy to me… especially when you are paying the same price for it!

I hate to throw restaurants under the bus, so I will leave this Italian restaurant in Westchester nameless. But this place is known for classic Italian food as well as high quality steaks. I was skeptical on the steak aspect, but had heard really favorable reviews from neighbors. So since it was under $30 for the NY strip, I decided to give it a shot. I am not exaggerating when I say it was barely even a small step down from big time steak house quality at half the price. Thick cut, super juicy and cooked to perfection… I was shocked and extremely impressed! Others had lobster that night with the same positive reaction. The kids were thrilled too as they had pasta, chicken fingers and fries… an absolute must if we plan to bring the kids. So this seemed like a home run all around, almost too good to be true as the food and service were both fantastic, the kids were happy and the bill was extremely reasonable. Oh, and they only charged $15 a bottle for corkage fee… another score!

About a week later some colleagues were looking for a reasonable place to go to dinner. I wanted to make sure my senses hadn’t failed me, so I suggested  this newly found gem just to confirm my original take… and BOOM! It was even better this time with the raw oysters and clams tasting super fresh and the homemade lasagna was melt in your mouth good. Not to mention the friendly and personal service only added to the overall dining experience. So that was it, I was sold. This was our new go to place, which was a relief as I can throw a rock and hit it from my house.

But then… it happened. We went back with family on a Friday night and you could tell the place was slammed as it took a long while for our favorite waiter to come and take a drink order… usually a bad sign. I asked if the cuts of steak were going to be as good as usual, which of course he confirmed. So after waiting… and waiting… and waiting, the food finally arrived. What came out was not even close to the same quality steak as my first two visits, it was more like a thin slice of slightly over cooked london broil… not very appetizing. Everyone had sort of the same opinion about their dishes as well. The lobster was pretty tough and the lasagna looked like it was slopped on to the plate by a school cafeteria lady. Disappointment… starts…now.

The problem is that this happens all over with so many restaurants throughout Westhester. I have had wonderful dinners at the top rated steakhouses in the area,  but also ones where I couldn’t believe what they put on the table for a $60 steak. Too many local sushi restaurants suffer from this same dynamic. One week the sushi is fresh and savory but the next it is chewy and fishy… and nothing is more off putting than possibly bad sushi. I know I am not alone here either as I have heard from colleagues and friends that even some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the county, which I have not been able to attend in some time unfortunately, have this same dynamic. Ultimately this inconsistency is what can lead to a restaurant’s demise, as word of mouth goes a long way in Westchester… and once you get a bad rep it is tough to come back from.

Of course I will go back to the aforementioned local Italian steakhouse to give it another shot, because as Meatloaf says …2 out of 3 ain’t bad. But I probably won’t be as excited or enthusiastic to go out of my way to get there as I may have been had that last meal been consistent with the first two. So these days, I find my most enjoyable meals come from your standard bars, grills and Italian/pizza places. Quaker Hill Tavern isn’t the finest restaurant in town, but for my money it is certainly the most consistent in terms of their food and it comes with a lively atmosphere for adults and kids. The same goes for Candlelight Inn, The WBC Restauarants, Gerardo’s, The Tap House in Tuckahoe and Anthony’s in White Plains. So I guess what I am saying is that I no longer care to be dazzled with great food and a fine dining experience. I am much happier with a restaurant meeting my expectations by consistently providing a solid meal to be enjoyed alongside family and friends… each and every visit.

12/23/15 Update: So I went back to said Italian steakhouse for a work event and it reverted back to its original quality. Steak was killer, Italian dishes all went over fantastically and even for a party of 28 the service was excellent. Glad to see that it seems like that one off night was a rare occurrence, but I’m sure there are others that may not give a place another shot after a poor dining experience. Which is why these restaurants need to be consistently on point every dinner service.

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!