Happy 2008 — upgrade & new look

Happy New Year, everyone! 2008 started quietly for Wendy & me. We attended a party at our friend Tracy’s house to ring in the new year with our closest friends. Then, for the next couple days, we laid low hanging around the house and enjoying two solid days of downtime. To give some small idea just how low we laid, we watched 5 movies… In one day!

During our downtime, I took the opportunity to upgrade this WordPress installation from version 2.2.3 to version 2.3.2. The upgrade went fairly smoothly, but there were some problems in our existing theme (Ngatini) which required me to use a different theme (Tarski). I am not sure if this is a temporary theme or if we’ll be sticking to it… Tarksi is a modern, good-looking, and well-supported WordPress theme.

I am in the process of tweaking the theme a bit to maximize its usefulness and integration into our site, so some things may not be working as expected yet. They should be fixed in the next several days.

Iron Horse Inn closed

I learned recently that the IRON HORSE INN, long a fixture in the Glendale restaurant scene, has closed its doors.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this closure. We’ve spent many enjoyable evenings at the Iron Horse over the last 5+ years, from the time we took the Happy Mouth Supper Club there for a great meal, to my working in the kitchens with Chef Jackson, to getting to know Chef Chris and his variety of brulee recipes (Wendy pines for his S’More Brulee).

Sadly, the last several times we dined at the IRON HORSE over the last year or so, we knew something was wrong. The quality of both the food and (especially) the service degraded quickly (we waited an hour for appetizers on Christmas Eve 2007). We could sense the end was coming.

But still, when the end came, we still feel a bit sad. Hopefully, a new owner will take over the IRON HORSE and return the great building to its rightful place on the landscape of Glendale, and Cincinnati’s restaurant scene.

Bon chance, IRON HORSE INN. It was good to know you.

UPDATE (January 10, 2008): I just spoke to one of the owner’s of the IRON HORSE who confirmed that they’re currently “open only for private parties” while they “explore some other opportunities”. Typically, the HORSE closes for New Year’s holiday, but this year they’ve “extended” that closing… indefinitely. The owner said that they’ll email us with any additional news.

01/08/2008 Wine Dinner at Midwest Culinary Institute

The Summit Room at Midwest Culinary Institute
Sensational Wine Dinner
January 8, 2008
Chef Alan Neace
Wine pairings by Chef Neace & Laura Landoll, Vintage Wine Distributors. Wine commentary, below, provided by Laura Landoll.

Champagne Welcome

Smoke-Roasted Corn Chowder with Petite Blue Crab and Shrimp-filled Morel
: Wonderfully silky, smooth chowder with a flavor that rich and full (there was smoked cheese in there), yet a light texture, topped with a nice garnish of a slice of morel mushroom that had been stuffed with blue crab and shrimp, then poached.
2005 Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran, White Burgundy
WINE: Saint-Veran is very close stylistically to Pouilly-Fuisse, with its golden green hue, its intense fruity, flowery nose and its refreshing flavors. It can be enjoyed very young (two to three months after bottling). An independent, family-owned firm that is 125 years old — this is very rare today! Eleven of the world’s leading wine families, each a recognized leader in its region, have created an international association, named Primum Familiae Vini (“Leading Wine Families”) or P.F.V.

Cobenerro Crusted Sea Bass with Quark Spaetzle and Cucumber-orange Compote
: A generous portion of sea bass crusted with cobenerro spices (a Guatalaman spice blend), served with spaetzle that were crisp on the outside with a tender chew on the inside. The compote provided a brightness and acidity to the dish, and it was a very nice, complete flavor profile.
2006 Domaine Sigalas Santorini, Assyrtiko
WINE: Assyrtiko is one of Greece’s finest white grape varieties and is planted throughout Greece. It was first cultivated on the island of Santorini, where it has developed a unique character producing excellent A.O.C. wines. Assyrtiko has the ability to maintain its acidity as it ripens. It yields a bone-dry wine that has citrus aromas mixed with an earthy, mineral aftertaste due to the volcanic soil of Santorini. A light yellow color with green highlights citrus flavors, and a lemon intensity, particular of the grape variety.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salpicon with Oven-dried Cherry Vinaigrette and Elfin Greens
: A flavorful bound salad (a Salpicon is a chopped, bound salad) with quinoa (oh, I adore quinoa), presented in a base of a cucumber ring, garnished with micro elfin greens (no hobbits in sight), and presented with a crescent-shaped cracker. The dressing was painted on the plate, and was very flavorful and a good acidic compliment to the salad. A very nice presentation and flavor.
2006 Chateau de Campuget Rose Rhone, Syrah/Grenache
WINE: Chateau de Campuget, which belongs to the Dalle family since 1941, is producing A.O.C. Costieres de Nimes wines. Their vineyard, of 160 hectares, is situated in the heart of the A.O.C. area, between Nimes and Arles, a few kilometers from the right side of the Rhone river. Grape composition: 30% Grenache noir, 70% syrah. Its color is an intense peony pink. Its bouquet is very aromatic, with scents of small red fruits such as raspberries or black currants. In the mouth, there is a perfect balance between vivacity and mellowness.

Sumac-rubbed Roast Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Ratatouille, Haricot Vert, aromatic infused pear, chive fragranced polenta cake, and sauce diable
: Gosh darn it, not enough people use Sumac when cooking. Its delicate, slightly citrus-y flavor was a nice addition to the pork tenderloin roulade. The tenderloin was trimmed & skinned, and the edible cut-offs were made into a farce that was placed atop the tenderloin (secured using powdered egg whites — “meat glue“, as Chef called it) and wrapped in caul fat before being seared off and roasted. Each of the components of the dish — ratatouille, pear, polenta, and verts — paired well with the tenderloin and, taken all in one bite were tasty, but sometimes the flavor profiles were muddy when mixing & matching components. For example, pear + pork == tasty. Pear + pork + ratatouille == less so.
2006 Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir
WINE: A beautiful wine that truly expresses the terroir of the red, volcanic earth where it was grown. Aromas of red fruits, violets, clove, and tea leaf. Flavors mirror aromas with juicy bing cherry, lavender, earth, and mineral followed by an elegant finish that lingers with spicy cinnamon and clove notes. The mouth-feel is round and generous with a concentrated mid-palate and good acidity. Appealing now, but will further reward those who cellar this wine. This wine is Salmon Safe, LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
2005 Consentino Winery, Sangiovese
WINE: Spicy, exotic red and black fruit with hints of clove in the nose. A vibrantly colored, rich and concentrated, yet brightly balanced wine on the palate. A round, rich, and balanced wine that evolves into an intense mixed berry sensation with ripe tannins in the center. An elegant white pepper note finishes this richly textured wine. Grape composition: 92% Sangiovese, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Early Burgundy, 2% Merlot, and 2% Alicante.

Delicate Pistachio and Cranberry Cake with terrine of cream medley, Tellicherry red wine sauce, and chocolate decor
: I enjoyed helping Chef prepare and refine this recipe. The original concept was modified to substitute almond paste for the tardy pistachio paste, and we bumped up the flavor of the cranberry center by rethinking the filling. Each cake — which was individually made — required that batter be added to the silicone mold, a filling of thick, red cranberry gelee added, then the mold ‘topped off’ with a bit more cake batter, sealed, and baked off. When opened, the cakes oozed a ruby red center.
2003 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls
WINE: Les Clos de Paulilles is owned and managed by the Daure family, the preeminent wine growing family of the Roussillon. The entire vineyard is hand-harvested when the Grenache has reached exceptional degrees of ripeness — a minimum of 15 degrees. The grapes are crushed but not de-stemmed into stainless steel vats. Neutral grape spirit is added during fermentation — a process called “mutage” — after the wine is allowed to macerate for a full six weeks. The wines are pressed after maceration. Bottling occurs the Spring following the vintage, and the wines are aged in-bottle in climate-controlled cellars for a minimum of two years. Dark black-purple red with intense blackberry jam aroma and succulent, rich flavors. A superb dessert wine. Grape composition: 100% Black Grenache.

This dinner was very successful, and set the bar for meals to come.

HAPPY MOUTH — January, 2008

On January 19, 2008, members of the Happy Mouth Supper Club met (our first meeting of 2008!) for dinner at Bouquet in Covington Kentucky, which was Angel’s pick. Bouquet is a nice little wine bar and restaurant that opened December 1, 2007 and is developing their big ideas for what the place should be as time and money allows. Chef/owner Stephen Williams, formerly sous chef at Otto’s next door, has opened the intimate space to focus on wine and food, and does well on both counts.

Holly, Jay, Wendy, and I arrived at Bouquet early (after catching an Omnimax showing of SEA MONSTERS at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal) for a glass of wine and an appetizer of crab cakes. Slowly, the rest of our large party (13 of us) arrived, and our evening kicked off with soup (excellent butternut squash soup, served with fresh crusty bread), salads, then entrees such as their salmon, lamb, and various steak selections. Everything was well-prepared and served appropriately seasoned. The service staff was knowledgable and present without being overbearing. Water glasses were filled (and re-filled (we’re a thirsty bunch!)) as necessary, and it was no problem at all for our check to be split (we told them ahead of ordering, for which they seemed grateful). The music was appropriate and played at a suitable volume that made conversation easy. The room, which was empty when we arrived, was filled by the time our dinner was in full swing. Bouquet accepts reservations, and it seems like a good idea to secure them before heading down there.

Stephen Williams is a recent graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute, so my wishes for his success are doubled (at least!).