Moko

Restaurant: Moko

Location: 9540 Culver Blvd. Culver City, Ca. (310) 838-3131

Date: July 9, 2011

Cuisine: Modernized Korean

Rating: Very tasty — Spicy!

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Moko is a newly opened Korean bar/restaurant serving very modernized variants using a Korean palette of flavors. This is to Korean as Red Medicine is to Vietnamese.


The pleasant but industrial space in the heart of Culver City’s bustling downtown.


The have the BBQ in the table, and there is an extensive section of the menu for ordering meats and vegetables to cook here — we didn’t do that on this visit.


An amuse of three “salads.” Left to right: “Watermelon Namul with tasted almonds chile, shiso and ginger,” followed by “Kong Maul, mixed sporuts with spring onions sesame and soy,” and on the right “Market Radish Namul, sweet ginger and pineapple mint.”


“Spicy Smash, Tequila Silver, lime juice, agave & cucumber, Thai basil, serrano.” This is one of those spicy specialty cocktails that has popped up all over the place lately. It was good, with a long serrano burn.


“Tai Snapper, asian pear jus and pickled ginger.” Sweet and lovely.


“Big Eye Tuna, yuzu, soy, and blood orange.” Also a really good presentation of the fish with complex flavor profiles.


“Sesame Duck Confit, sweet lettuces and mango with ginger aioli and chipotle jang wrapped in jjin bahng.” This was amazingly tasty. The smokey duck, the sweet fruit, and the tang of some pickles paired perfectly — and there was all sorts of texture going on.


“Green Chili Pork Sausage, pineapple and butter lettuces with ssam jang wrapped in jjin bahang.” Also great. The sausage thing tasted amazing.


Asian Pear and Kholrabi Salad, pea shoots and perilla with mustard vinaigrette.” Pretty spicy!


Heirloom tomatos, green beans, soy ginger vinaigrette.”


Silken Tofu, ginger dashi broth.” Wasabi in the sauce was incredibly hot. Hotter even than atomic horseradish. My nose hurt for an hour. Each bite made me sneeze. I finished it all.


“Kimchi eggplat dumplings, mushrooms and silken tofu with pine-nut mustard dipping sauce.” Very tasty too, and not too spicy.


“Wagyu Beef Roseu Pyeonchae, truffle scented seared beef carpaccio with asian pear and arugula salad.” This was one of the blander dishes. The meat was succulent, but I felt the dish could use a little more zing.


“Pan Friend Duck and Foie Gras dumplings with sour cherry dipping sauce.” Incredible potstickers. Some of the best I’ve even had — foie gras! The sauce was really good too.


“Soju Cured Salmon, crisp potato pancakes with pickled onions and ginger cream.” Sort of a giant potato latke with salmon and creme fraiche. Pretty tasty.

Moko certainly had strong flavors, and I for the most part loved them. A lot of dishes were quite spicy, more than I would have expected (and I have a pretty high tolerance). So several hours later I’m still feeling the burn.

Check out some other modernized Asians like Red Medicine or Xino.

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

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N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling.


On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.

Eating Certaldo – Il Castello Certaldo

Restaurant: Il Castello Certaldo

Location: Celtaldo, Italy

Date: June 24, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Nice view, ok food

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Ah, the last meal in Tuscany! (except for breakfast) We took a couple hours to visit the cute little town of Certaldo. The old town is up on a hill and you ascend by funicular. The town was great, but there weren’t a lot of restaurant options. We chose the most likely looking.


At the end of the main drag.


And the dining terrace turned out to have this rather lovely view.


And pretty courtyard.


The menu.


Olive oil and vinegar.


House wine, white.

And red. Both decent, very cheap.


Local meats, including the big one which is a special local salami with saffron in it.


Bresaola with pecorino and arugula.


Marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts.


The now familiar panzanella. Last time you’ll see it though as we’re leaving Tuscany.


A risotto with vegetables, peculiar in being slightly soupy, but supposedly decent.


A truffle risotto soup (haha, just a soupy risotto). Tasted good though.


Local pasta in pomodoro sauce.


Spaghetti alla carbonara. Not bad, although perhaps not as eggy cheesy as it could have been.


Ravioli with cheese, butter, and sage. Those that ate this felt the ravioli might have been packaged.


THe same ravioli, but with a truffle sauce. They were fine.


Roasted potatoes.


Pork fillet in balsamic sauce.


Saltimbocc alla romana. Veal with ham and sage. Pretty tasty actually, but salty.


And a bit of gelato to finish.

This was a decent meal. The patio location — which we had entirely to ourselves — was absolutely world class. The food was good. Not great by any meals, but decently executed. The company, though, was as good as the view, so all was good.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Florence – Gelateria Santa Trinita

Restaurant: Gelateria Santa Trinita

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 21, 2011

Cuisine: Gelato

Rating: Awesome!

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On our first day in Florence we had walked by this Gelateria with huge lines (not far from Nove IX). And then coincidently I was talking to our wine country guide who was a definitive foodie and a Florentine native and he recommended the very same place as the best in Florence.


So on our second day we had to try it.


I mentally think of gelato as falling in two broad flavor groups. These are the “non fruits” (i.e. chocolates and cream flavors).


Some more of them, and some hybrids like cherries and cream.


Then we have the fruits.


A couple more angles on this stuff.


Yum.


I went for “creamy” this time, with pannacotta and tiramisu type flavors.


Half the group going to town.

This was indeed one of the best Gelato places we ate at on the trip, although there were certainly lots of very good ones. I asked them for a sample of their pink grapefruit too and it was totally spectacular, making me want to get a whole second cup.

As a second opinion though, my wife thought Vivoli, was more to her taste because she loved the “chocolate mousse” fluffy style flavor. In 1986 I spent five days in Florence, and I went to Vivoli at least twice on each of those, as at that age, and not having much gelato it was mind blowing. It was certainly still good, but I thought Santa Trinita was a little better personally.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Florence – Caffe Pitti

Restaurant: Caffe Pitti

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 21, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Touristy location, very good food

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On our second day in Florence we came out of the Pitti Palace starved and thirsty.


One of our guide books directed us to a spot just across the street from this grand piazza, which is a location always fraught with peril for “over touristy” restaurants. This one surprised. Yeah they had an all English menu, but the food was very good. Plus there was a special truffle menu that had some delicious items (one of which, sadly, I forgot to photo /cry).


The menu.


Prosciutto and melon.


Tuna salad.


Caprese.


Special caprese, with burrata instead of regular mozzarella.


Panzanella, bread, tomatoes, olive oil.

There was also a bresola with parmesan and white fresh truffles that I forgot to photo — but it was incredible.


Penne pesto.


Simple risotto with fresh truffles. This was fabulous too.


Spaghetti pomodoro.

French fries for the kids.

A very tasty little lunch, proving that random (or semi-random) picks can work fairly often in Italy.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Fraiche – Ultimo Wine Dinner

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: July 13, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: Epic!

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Last weekend I was eating at one of my favorite local spots, Sam’s by the Beach and chatting with the owner, Sam. He mentioned that he was co-hosting an epic wine dinner at Fraiche in Santa Monica and that he had two available spots. As soon as he sent me the food & wine menu (below) I called up my Foodie Club partner in crime and we jumped on it. You’ll see why in a second.


Of course the food looks great, but the wines! While anyone who pays attention to the wines I bring will have noticed that I almost never drink from the New World — I am willing to make exceptions when no less than eight Parker 100 pointers are involved!

The event was held in Fraiche Santa Monica’s lovely back room (shown here on another occasion in its normal configuration).


For us it was arranged with a single table.


And an extensive staging area for the wines.


Here’s Sam, supervising.


Along with our other hosts: Amir Ohebsion president of the combined Fraiche operation on the right, and Mazen Mustafa their brand new Executive Chef on the left. Believe it or not he started on Monday (this dinner had been planned for some time) and had to leap into the fire first thing.


As a little amuse we had some classic bruschetta (I’ve had just a tad of that lately, like here), with marinated tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella. The marinate was enough for me to handle the tomatoes and I enjoyed the crisp brightness of the flavors.


A little olive oil and balsamic on the table. There was bread too of course, but I forgot to photo.

So we begin with the wines. All of the wines at this dinner came from The Redd Collection, who was also co-hosting. Click their link for an inventory of their wines.

1985 Dom Perignon, Parker 96. A mature champagne in perfect shape. “Fresh and lively, with remarkable intensity, fruit, and perfume. An example of how effortlessly some vintages of Dom Perignon can age.”


1990 Salon Le Mesnil. I found it brighter and fruiter than the Dom. Wine Spectator 97. “Brilliant stuff. Vinous, with a patina of nutty maturity offset by a citrus and honeysuckle-tinged freshness, all embraced by a taut silky structure. The best is the finish, a kaleidoscope of biscuit, fig and walnut that goes on and on.”


Accompanying the champagnes we have a trio of fishes. “Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with American caviar and pea puree.” Yum yum. Some really great Uni, showcased perfectly. Notice the Uni/Caviar combo which Go uses so often at Go Sushi.


“Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare with Russian Caviar.” The flavors here were really bright and delicious. One of the best tuna tartars I’ve had. Similar to Sam’s usual tartar, but without the “secret ingredient.”


“Kampachi Sashimi, watercress, and black truffle.” Nothing wrong here!


2007 Peter Michael Point Rouge Chardonnay. The finish on this went on and on. Certainly the best non-white-burgundy Chardonnay I’ve had. Parker 98. “The 2007 Chardonnay Point Rouge (280 cases) has moved out of the restrained state it was in a year ago, and now exhibits splendidly intense, nearly over-the-top levels of honeyed tropical fruits, hazelnut, almond paste, quince, and peach liqueur. Full-bodied, thick, and rich yet braced by considerable acidity, this is a remarkable tour de force in Chardonnay that should age for a decade or more.”


2006 Marcassin Estate Chardonnay. Very very good, just not quite so good as the Peter Michael. Parker 96+. “As for the 2006 Chardonnay Marcassin Estate, it is a more mineral-dominated wine displaying a liqueur of crushed rocks/wet stones, pears, and subtle smoky, honeysuckle, quince, and citrus oil notes. It also possesses exceptional length and richness as well as a full-bodied mouthfeel. Given the history of the vintage and the challenging conditions for Chardonnay, I would suspect these wines will evolve quickly by Marcassin’s standards, meaning they are probably best drunk in their first decade of life.”


“Bouillabaisse — modern.” Here we have some fish, muscles, clams, corn etc, but we have them reinterpreted in a light broth instead of in the classic tomato and garlic broth. The newer style showcased the freshness of the fish to a T.


1937 Chateau Caillou Sauternes-Barsac. This bottle was a gift from Frank Sinatra to a local collector! It was almost almond/rose colored, sweet but not unctuous. Probably a tiny bit past its prime, but still delicious, particularly with the foie below.


“Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, grilled Nectarine, Aged Balsamic.” Pretty much straight foie, but fabulous. There was a bit of nectarine puree, and the fat of the duck paired perfectly with that and the Sauternes. The Nectarine was stuffed with pistachios and was amazing!

Now on to the reds. We start with a trio of Rhone style blockbusters.

2008 Sine Qua Non Grenache “The Line.” This was the lightest of the three, but still having that thick front of the tongue quality that most Rhones have. Parker 96-98+. “The 2008 Not Yet Named Grenache will be aged in barrel for around 20 months as opposed to the extended time the 2007 experienced. Composed of 87.5% Grenache, 11 % Syrah, and 1.5% Viognier, it initially appears to play it tight to the vest, but I think that’s part of 2008’s vintage character. Many vineyards had significant frost issues in 2008, and those who waited to harvest fared better. Manfred Krankl did not finish picking until the end of November, which no doubt explains the extraordinary purity, richness, and aromatic and flavor complexity found in this wine. Although slightly more muted aromatically than his other Grenache cuvees, when the wine hits the palate, there is tremendous density and power as well as an inner core of steely richness, and a flavor profile and length that build incrementally. It is not the sort of wine you pick up and are wowed by. But the more you think about it, as well as the longer it sits in your mouth, the more nuances and aspects emerge. This should be another superb example of Grenache from the New world’s number one practitioner of that varietal.”


2007 Sine Qua Non Next of Kyn Syrah “Cumulus.” This was my favorite, the brightest and closest to a great Hermitage. Parker 94-96. “The debut release from the new home vineyard on the steep hillsides of Ventura is the 2007 Next of Kyn Syrah Cumulus Vineyard. Composed of 96.5% Syrah and 3.5% Viognier, it sees only 20% new oak in its upbringing. From a six-acre parcel of vines, it may be sold under a different label than Sine Qua Non. Krankl had not made up his mind at the time of writing. In any event, it is a very impressive debut release that should be bottled after 25 months of barrel aging. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, camphor, acacia flowers, licorice, pepper, and meat are followed by a wine with fabulous intensity and purity, a full-bodied texture, and a long finish. Unfortunately, only 125 cases were produced … from six acres!”

From here on down, it’s all 100s baby!

2007 Saxum Syrah “James Berry VYD.” Parker prefers this, which was delicious, and utterly massive — in need of a bit more cellaring. Parker 100! “Utter perfection, and one of the most profound Rhone Ranger wines I have ever tasted is the 2007 James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Red, a blend of 41% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, and 28% Syrah (15.8% alcohol). It would be an amazing wine to insert in a tasting of the most profound 2007 Chateauneuf du Papes. As with many prodigious wines, the extraordinary freshness, purity, equilibrium, and singularity of this effort is breathtaking. Its dense purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary, incredibly pure, all enveloping, intense, sweet nose of black raspberries, kirsch, spring flowers, spice box, and pepper. Full-bodied with not a hard edge to be found, it is stunningly concentrated with unreal purity, a voluptuous texture, and remarkable freshness for a wine of such power, depth, and concentration. This 2007 will be approachable young, although I would not be surprised to see it close down given the relatively elevated proportion of Mourvedre, and it should drink well for 12-15 years.”


General Manager Vito hard at work on setting up the reds. Doing this many pours is actually hard work!


The Rhone styles and the sauternes on the table.


“Duck breast and turnips,” pretty close to straight up. This was a lovely piece of duck, cooked (or not) to perfection. It didn’t need more, as it the wines paired perfectly.

And we begin a trio of perfect Cab based Californians. They were all so good, and I was getting drunk enough, that this round blended into just a prodigious ode to Cabernet.

2007 Scarecrow. Parker 100! “Scarecrow’s inky/purple-colored 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a prodigious effort. It reveals a liqueur of crushed rocks intermixed with a smorgasbord of spring flower, blueberry, creme de cassis, and assorted blue, black, and red fruit characteristics. It also possesses extraordinary concentration, but what sets it apart is the fragrant aromatics combined with uncommon purity and elegance for such a full-bodied, massively concentrated wine. Its perfect balance suggests it can be drunk at a relatively young age, but it should easily evolve over 30-35 years. Congratulations to all involved!”


2002 Shafer Hillside Select. Parker 100! “One of the world’s most extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons is the 1,800-2,400-case offering of Shafer’s Hillside Select. It was a treat to re-taste the utterly perfect 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. A dark purple color is accompanied by a gorgeously powerful nose of pure creme de cassis, pain grille, flowers, licorice, and spice box. Full-bodied with multiple dimensions, superb purity, layers of fruit, and a blockbuster finish, it is an amazing offering. This wine should drink well young yet evolve for 2-3 decades.”


2007 Sloan Estate. Parker 100! “The 2007 Sloan, now in bottle, has lived up to the extraordinary quality it exhibited from barrel. A world-class, perfumed nose of charcoal, espresso roast, white chocolate, black currants, sweet plums, Asian soy and a Grave-like scorched earth aroma soars from the glass of this dense purple-colored wine. Full-bodied and seamlessly constructed with a multidimensional mouthfeel as well as a phenomenal finish, this 2007 carries considerable tannin, but at present it is concealed by the wine’s luxurious levels of fruit, glycerin and intensity. This spectacular 2007 should drink well for 25-30+ years.”


“Seared Wagyu Couloote Steak, served with fried baby broccoli.” This meat was fantastic, just perfectly soft and juicy. The broccoli was amazing, like little popcorn.


But this beef jus that went with it was the real stunner. Amazingly rich. Everything of course went perfectly with the perfect Cabs.

And now we have the Cab blends, and even more blockbuster trio.

2007 Screaming Eagle. Parker 100! “The most profound Screaming Eagle since the 2002 and 1997, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (an 800-case blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc) offers up a prodigiously pure, complex nose of cassis, spring flowers, licorice and black currants, the latter component being so intense and lingering that it makes this cuvee stand apart from other Napa Valley wines. Full-bodied in the mouth, like a ballerina on her toes, this wine glides gracefully across the palate with a cascade of purity, equilibrium and compelling complexity. Extraordinary balance and elegance combined with power make for an utterly stunning wine that should drink well for two decades or more. Even though the estate is being reconstituted and a new winery built, this wine still came from the old sector of the vineyard (15.5 acres) that was used by the previous proprietor, Jean Phillips.”


2002 Harlan Estate. My personal favorite of the group. Not only massive, but just so bright and fruity! Parker 100! “Very deep garnet-black colour with a purple rim. The nose is still a little closed giving notes of blackberry, black cherries, dark chocolate, tobacco, cigar boxes and cinnamon. The palate displays faultless structure and balance: very finely grained, firm tannins, medium to high acid and incredible intensity. Perhaps paradoxically, this wine is at once rich and full bodied yet exquisitely elegant. Although taut, it is already irresistibly tempting to drink. Epic finish with lingering flavours of Chinese dried plums, truffles, and an interesting iron/stony nuance. Drink 2009 – 2030+. Tasted November 2008.”


1997 Harlan Estate. Parker 100! “The 1997 Harlan Estate is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines I have ever tasted. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this enormously-endowed, profoundly rich wine must be tasted to be believed. Opaque purple-colored, it boasts spectacular, soaring aromatics of vanilla, minerals, coffee, blackberries, licorice, and cassis. In the mouth, layer after layer unfold powerfully yet gently. Acidity, tannin, and alcohol are well-balanced by the wine’s unreal richness and singular personality. The finish exceeds one minute. Anticipated maturity: 2001-2030.”


To go with this trio of stunners we have “Grilled Venison Chops, shaved black truffles, mushrooms, and a squash puree.” Not quite as amazing as the beef (that was REALLY amazing), but great too.


Just a small sampling of the glasses on the table. Unlike some, I was keeping up with mine and only had the Cab blends. But some folk were starting to worry, “Oh my God, if I don’t finish all these perfect wines Dionysian Maenads will flay the skin from my flesh!”


Passion fruit sorbet as pre-dessert. I love passion fruit, and this was one of the best passion fruit sorbets I’ve had. I spent about fifteen minutes eating it incredibly slowly by shaving off just a sliver on the spoon, then adding to the mouth-mix an alternating trip of perfect wines. It was actually, IMHO, the best pairing of the night.


R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”


This was about as good as “Chocolate Lava cake with vanilla Ice Cream” gets. The extra elements added a little texture, but the inside of the cake had that perfect runny chocolatly goodness. It of course went perfectly (getting a lot of use out of that word tonight) with both the Cab blends and the Muscat.


Good to the last scrape.


The full line up!

This was some rather serious dining, and some even more serious drinking! Really an embarrassment of riches. I was very impressed with the cooking. It betrayed both hints of Sam’s signature (and awesome) palette, and a bold kind of styling and presentation that I am guessing comes from our budding new Chef Mustafa (who has cooked in many great kitchens before this too). The dishes pretty much concentrated on fantastic ingredients and bold but not over-layered flavors, which showcased perfectly (there it is again!) the epic wines.

Click here for some tamer meals at regular Fraiche Santa Monica or Culver City or:

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Eating Poggibonsi – Osteria da Camillo

Restaurant: Osteria da Camillo

Location: Poggibonsi, Italy

Date: June 18, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Very mediocre

ANY CHARACTER HERE

We were in Poggibonsi to drop my brother off at the bus/train station and we spent a few minutes wandering around and then picked a likely random lunch restaurant. This turned out to be our worst pick of the trip compared to expectations. It looked like all the other likely places — and it was even very touristy — but the food just wasn’t very good.


The menu.


This inexpensive Chianti Classico (probably 10-15 euros) was perfectly nice though.


Classic bruschetta with liver. These weren’t bad, one of the places better items. They weren’t however even close to the best bruschetta we’ve seen.


Mixed bruchetta, also fine. Starting from upper left and going clockwise. Fava beans, lard, mushrooms, and tomato.


Spicy pici with walnuts. This pasta tasted like glue. Paste. It was pretty gross. I think they added flour to the sauce, making it like elmers.


Tagliatelle al pesto. Edible, but very mediocre pesto.


Green tortelli with fossa cheese and yellow pumpkin cream. I didn’t try these.


Linguine with cheese and pepper. This was really bad too. Not even close to the amazing pepper and cheese pasta at Trattoria Pepei. I could barely eat a few bites. The pasta was pasty. Those thin slices of pecorino has an unpleasant melted cheese taste, and the sauce — there barely was one — tasted of paste.


Penne pomodoro.


Tagliatelle with tomatoes, olives, capers and hot peppers. Didn’t try this either.


Chicken, green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms. This was fine, not horrible. Not really a dish that does it for me though.

This place was completely unique for this trip in that it actually had bad dishes, several of them. That pretty much makes it the worst meal, even though it wasn’t horrible or anything. But it goes to show, eat out 50 times in Italy and you can find a dud!

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