Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Forthcoming Italian Wine Dinner

To be held at a private residence in Sandy Springs (just off GA-400)
on Sunday, October 11 (Columbus Day Weekend) at 6:00PM
The dinner will be limited to 24 people.

Homemade Duck Prosciutto
Baby arugula salad, grape tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil

Seared Scallop Gazpacho
Toasted hazelnuts, Sardinian bitter honey

Uovo Raviolo
Large raviolo with a spinach and ricotta filling and an egg yolk, topped with truffle butter and Parmigiano Reggiano

Petit Filet
Taleggio polenta, grilled zucchini, Chianti reduction

Panna Cotta
Caramelized orange supremes

The cost is $60 per person. Each course will have a wine suggestion for pairing and each party will be expected to bring a wine that goes with the course they are assigned.  Therefore, you bring one bottle of wine but you drink from five bottles.
Please email me at if you are interested in attending. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Join us for a compare and contrast German / Alsatian Wine Dinner

Four courses of Alsatian and German food paired with two wines each to compare and contrast the two regions take on the same wine, or the effect of a wine pairing on a single dish.

Salade Vigneronne
Endive, mixed greens, radish, cornichons, cherry tomatoes,
Gruyere cheese, Gew├╝rztraminer vinaigrette

Paired with Alsatian and German Gew├╝rztraminer

Choucroute Garnie
Mixed sausages, ham, boiled potatoes served with Alsatian sauerkraut

Paired with Alsatian Riesling and a very unusual oaked Riesling
(Oaked Riesling is like Bigfoot; I have heard they exist, but never actually saw one...until now)

Sauerbraten with Spaetzle
Wine marinated, slow cooked beef served over homemade spaetzle

Paired with German Riesling and German Dornfelder

Alsatian Apple Tart
Apple custard tart, served with homemade vanilla ice cream

Paired with German Riesling Spatlese and Auslese

$65 per person / All inclusive
Please email me at to reserve your spot

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Dirt Road Barbeque

I have to eat. I like to eat well. The fact that I travel as often as I do and spend so much time in the car make those two goals at odds with each other. Enter the GPS. From time to time I will look for a place to eat during a drive. I generally subscribe to the "when in Rome..." philosophy and therefore search for a barbeque joint. After all, my Rome is sometimes the nowhere regions of Alabama and Georgia.  

About a mile off the highway in Cusseta, Alabama, my GPS told me, is a barbeque restaurant called Dirt Road Barbeque. As I followed my GPS down Alabama County Road 388, the road took a sharp right turn and a dirt road continued straight. There was a small sign and lots of people with horses at the entrance to the dirt road. A bunch of horseback riders were just finishing lunch and exiting the wooden structure with the particle board and corrugated metal roof.
A country accent greeted me as I entered. She apologized for the big, messy table that just vacated by the horseback riders. I found a table and she asked what I want to drink. I ordered an unsweetened iced tea, a barbeque pork sandwich, onion rings, and cole slaw. She went into the kitchen as I stepped outside to grab a few photos. It occurred to me that they may not take credit cards and I did not have much cash. She confirmed that they do not take plastic so I looked in the car, scrounging for change and brought my total to about $4.00. I went back inside and apologized, but not before she could apologize for the inconvenience. I asked her to just bring me the onion because they had already been cooked but she insisted that she would take the $4.00 and bring me everything I ordered. She has been telling her husband that they should take credit cards but he doesn’t want to.  
The tea was already on the table and everything else arrived in a minute. The pork portion was modest for the size of the bun, but the sandwich only costs $2.75. The onion rings were crispy, not greasy and had large slices onion in each one. The slaw was moist and tasty. I could smell the smokiness of the pork with every bite of all the food, not just the sandwich. I have enjoyed barbeque for a long time and my appreciation for it as a genuine contribution to gastronomic landscape of our planet. This particular experience also had the effect of restoring a bit of faith in humanity and the hospitality industry.  If you are ever in that neck of the woods, I hardily encourage you to stop by for some old fashioned southern hospitality. 

Dirt Road Barbeque
7151 County Road 388 
Cusseta, AL 36852 
(334) 756-9673

Sunday, March 15, 2009 dressing is frothing!

I have been in and around food service business for more than 25 years. My dining companions have similar backgrounds; one even owns thirty-one restaurants. So when my blue cheese salad dressing is frothing and carbonated, I trust my judgment that it is fermented and therefore spoiled. Don't get me wrong, I love carbonated things....well really just beverages.

The salad was sent back, stating in no-uncertain terms that the dressing was spoiled. Deena, our waitress, took the salad back. She returned a few minutes later and assured us that all of their dressings are made fresh and therefore the salad dressing was good but she would be glad to replace the salad...with another kind of dressing if desired. She did not taste the dressing but assured us that the kitchen assured her that it is good. OOOOKAAAY. I'll have oil and vinegar. The salad was delivered and she explained again that the dressing was fresh and their blue cheese dressing is kind of tangy and that may have been what we were tasting. A short while later, another individual who appeared to be a manager stopped by and once again assured us that their blue cheese dressing is kind of tangy but it is fresh and good. REALLY? Even if we had dead palates and somehow did not know that carbonation is not normal in blue cheese dressing, one would think that the staff would not go out of its way to argue with us, repeatedly. This Mecca of food safety and customer service shall go unnamed since I am sharing this story with management in the hopes that they address it appropriately.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Peat Virgin No More

I finally got around to firing up my peat. That oh-so-strange-yet-so-well-suited Christmas gift from my friend. It was a little slow to get going and did produce a lot of smoke, which is good because I am smoking some cured pork and some sea salt. When it finally got going, it was all I could do to keep the temperature in my smoker from going through the roof. This is the same smoker that I have put a good size pile of charcoal just to maintain the desired temperature of 200 to 250 degrees and a really large pile to get to 350 degrees. 

A small pile of natural hardwood charcoal with five one pound peat bricks has no problem getting to smoking hot temperatures well exceeding 350 degrees. The bad news is that is not what I want. I am looking for the magic temperature of 200 to 250 degrees.  

The good news is that the aroma of the peat did not disappoint. It is briny, salty, and even a little oily. Did you ever eat something so good that you kept your fingers close to your nostrils just so you could vicariously enjoy it over and over again from the residual aroma on your hands? Well I have not even eaten the results yet and my hands continually drift towards my nostrils. More good news is that even the smoker is still running a bit hotter than I like, the bacon will be done sooner and I can go to bed and dream of Scotland.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Skill at Craft

Today I ventured into the latest celebrity restaurant in Atlanta: Craft by Tom Colicchio. Initially it appeared the restaurant was closed. The (seemingly) front door was locked and it appeared dark inside until one pressed against the glass. The door is behind the building, away from Peachtree Street.
Upon entering we were promptly and cheerfully greeted and shown to our table. I could not help but gaze lovingly at the flames licking out of the wood fired grill as I walked past stacks and stacks of wood. Oooh...I must get something from the grill, I thought. The rest of the restaurant is modernly appointed and invitingly open.
The menu is broken down into two sections: First courses and main courses. The first courses are small plates and salads. The first course prices range from $10 for red mustard greens with bacon lardon, apple & humbolt fog cheese or a mixed lettuce salad with goat cheddar & hazelnuts to $15 for a smoked trout salad with confit fingerling potato, watercress & smithfield ham or a cobb salad.
The main course menu ranges from a low of $13 for a meatball panini with ricotta salata & pickled peppers to $24 for a pork chop, Harris Ranch strip steak or escolar. We decided to split a few small plates. The pork belly was meltingly delicious with great caramelization outside and garnished with a yogurt sauce, pickles and radishes. The combination was wonderful, the acidity of the pickles and radishes cutting through the fat of the belly. The yogurt was creamy rounding and rounded out the flavors.
The wood grill beckoned me to order two grilled dishes: Grilled oysters with herb butter and bread crumbs and the grilled quail with turnips, apple and smoked bacon. The oysters were small, more roasted than grilled, and sitting atop a bed of rock salt in a cast iron pan. The quail tasted of the wood grill and was seasoned perfectly. Little bites of crispy bacon were smoky, salty and all around yummy proving what I have said for a long time “all things are better with pork”. The other plate was the salad with hazelnuts and cheese. It was good, but nothing to write home about.
The main thing that was going through my head was “there is skill here”. The only downside is probably the price. Four small plates and only water to drink came to $60 with tax and tip. I am not sure what you can do to a meatball Panini to make it a $13 sandwich which is half the size of a regular meatball grinder that can be had for a few bucks less. The salad was smallish, and pork belly is a damn cheap cut. A single quail for $13 and five oysters for $12 are not prices that many people can afford with great regularity, especially in this economy. The cost into the plate is minimal so you will pay for the skill, which is definitely present, and the Buckhead address, which is definitely expensive. These are not criticisms, simply facts of a chef driven restaurant with a prestigious address. With that being said, Craftbar is worth the trip, just don’t think you will be bargain hunting.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Forthcoming Whisky Dinner

2008 was my whiskey year. I went to distilleries in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Tennessee and Kentucky. I have tried at least 60 different whiskies. After a trip to the Highland Cigar Bar a couple of weeks ago I decided to do a whisky dinner. Notice there is no "e" in whisky. That is because I decided to focus on Scotch Whisky after my friend told me that my Christmas present will be 11 pounds of peat. That's right, you can buy peat. That knowledge really got my brain working... I can smoke my own salmon with peat, I can cure and smoke my own bacon with peat... fun stuff.

Overall, I will be sticking to Scottish flavor profile, highlighting not only peat, but heather honey, Scottish cheeses, barley, etc. The dinner will be held at a private residence on March 14th. It is $75 per person, without liquor (it can not legally include liquor.) Each couple will be requested to bring a bottle of Scotch for pairing. Specific pairing guidance will be given closer to the date. You will be able to return with the bottle afterwards, unlike wine dinners where everything gets consumed. Afterwards everyone is welcome to stay behind and smoke cigars and have a glass of Dalmore Cigar Malt.

1. Peat Smoked Salmon, toast points, capers, red onion, whisky creme fraiche

2. Potato & Leek Soup with Islay Scotch Foam

3. Field Greens Salad with Homemade Peat Smoked Bacon, Grilled Apples, Crisp Barley Cake, Cider Vinaigrette

4. Spiced Celery Sorbet (Intermezzo)

5. Macallan Braised Veal Breast, Wild Mushroom Demiglace, Tournets of Parsnips and Carrots

6. Assortment of Scottish Cheeses with Heather Honey

7. Hazelnut Chocolate Whisky Gateau, Smoked Sea Salt, Drambuie Ice Cream

Please contact me for reservations or more information.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Day in the Rough

There are things that epitomize areas, cuisines, cultures, etc. These are the things that I seek out. While speaking to a colleague from Philly the other day, I asked him about Philly cheese steaks. While in Ireland, I ate lamb whenever possible. While in Scotland, you would be remiss if you did not have some haggis. While in Italy…you get the picture.

My final day of my recent trip to New England was capped off by a visit to Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough. This renowned seafood shack at the mouth of the Mystic River is open from April to Columbus Day. The menu, as the name suggests, is very lobster-centric but also includes other items such as clams, oysters, chowders, plus options for the seafood adverse. I overheard a conversation between a woman and her elderly mother as the woman scolded her mother for even thinking about getting a hot dog. I agree. This is like to going to Italy and having Chinese food (OK, I did that once, but I had a bad stretch of crappy tourist food, not to mention how cool and weird it was to have a conversation in Italian with a Chinese lady in Rome, Italy).

Columbus Day was sunny and about seventy degrees and quite breezy. The view couldn’t be beat; lots and lots of boats resting where the river met the sound. Frustrated seagulls flew overhead, their usual pesky behavior thwarted by the wires run over our heads forming a “net”. Unfortunately, I did not have as much time as I would have liked. I would have ordered a lobster dinner and brought my own wine, purchased the day before on the North Fork of Long Island AKA Long Island Wine Country. I ordered a hot lobster roll, lobster bisque and corn on the cob. The others in my party ordered shrimp chowder, clam chowder, stuffed clams, and of course more lobster rolls. The corn was kind of flavorless, but everything else was fabulous. The clam chowder was a light broth, no cream, not rich, just briny and full of clam flavor, clams, and potatoes. The shrimp chowder had corn, potatoes, and shrimp and was also very good. The lobster bisque was good, but very heavy for my taste. Too much fat deadens the taste buds, not to mention makes it even harder for my clothes to button and snap. The lobster rolls were served with slaw that had a nice little bite to it, individual bags of chips and a pickle.

This destination if a definite the next time I am in that neck of the woods. Next time I will make sure I have more time and bring a bottle of wine.