Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slow Food Dinners

I bypassed the Salon del Gusto/Terre Madre events in Turin in favor of several slow food dinners in the Langhe region of Piedmont.  The perfect place to stay was the Albergo Agenzia, the hotel at the Slow Food University, in Pollenzo which is a friendly, modern hotel that also contains the Italian Wine Bank, a massive collection of wines from all over Italy that you can peruse and even buy.

Fortunately, the Slow Food Alliance dinner took place at the Agenzia so I needed only walk down from my room to participate.  4 chefs prepared each of 4 courses that would be accomapanied by Franciacorte sparkling wines.

True to Slow Food principles, the 4 courses were simply prepared and locally-sourced dishes: buckwheat polenta with herb sauce, pasta soup with fish, mackerel stuffed with potato, and ricotta-stuffed canoli.



While they were not trying to break any culinary ground presenting us with what could be considered Italian comfort food, it was delicious.

Sunday Dinner at La Spinetta winery also emphasized simple, satisfying food shared with family and friends.  The Rivetti family joined forces to prepare and serve lunch (salads, pasta, beef cooked in barolo, and chocolate cake)....



...with some of their best wines (dolcetto, barbaresco, barolo, and moscatto).



It was certainly "slow" as we spent 4 happy hours together eating, drinking, chatting, laughing, and even singing....everything that Sunday dinner should be.

My last slow food dinner was a bi-national effort between Brussels and Italy hosted by La Torre restaurant in Cherasco. While it could have been seen as a face-off between the two chefs, the entire menu they produced was complimentary rather confrontational.

There were two starters, a plate of roasted root vegetables and an egg, spinach and parmesan...


 two mains:  ravioli with a chicken liver sauce and venison with roast pear and crusty celeriac


and two desserts: warm chocolate cake with caramel sauce and caramel ice cream and a tarte tatin.

 Wonderful flavors, wonderful contrasts.  The only misstep were the wines from a vineyard which is experimenting with merlot, syrah, and granache in a traditional nebbiolo and dolcetto growing area. They added nothing and may have detracted from the fine meal we enjoyed that evening.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

La Rentree

After a long summer break, the Wine Club in Lauzerte resumed its monthly dinners at the Hotel Quercy.  It was like a return to school as the old "kids" greeted the new and we all shared reflections on the best and worst bottles we tasted during the previous months. Then it was time for a "pop quiz"...a mystery white wine that we guessed to be either a jurancon sec, gaillac, or cote du rhone but turned out to be an older colombard from the Gers.

But we were there to taste Madiran, the tannat-based wine from the Southwest, and we had 8
vintages (1998-2005) from Chateau Barreja, Chateau Viella, and Domaine Berthoumieu


Tannat wines are somewhat tricky since they are very tannic while young, but if you cellar them too long, the dark fruit taste is substantially diminished.  We would have been hard put to place these wines in any chronological order (except for the youngest and oldest vintages).  As for preference, I favored the 2002, 2003, and 2004 which, for me had the right balance of tannins and fruit.

Masterchef Bacou put together a wonderful menu of bold flavors that complimented the wines, including an irresistible starter of sauteed foie gras and caramelized sweet potato on a bed of pain d'epices...

and roast venison with apricots and a purple potato cake.

We ended the meal with a surprising sweet tannat wine called Maydie and an always welcomed sauterne.

And there was something on the dessert plate (chocolate tarte, walnut tarte, and rhubarb crumble) to match with each wine.

There was a lot of discussion about future tastings in the coming months, but Frederic has decided that instead of announcing the wines in advance, we would let it be a surprise each time,a sort of Magical Mystery Wine Tour of France...  

It's good to be back.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Star Crossed

Friends introduced me to L'Auberge du Prieure, the Michelin-starred restaurant near Agen, a month ago, but it was only on my second visit that I truly began to appreciate this gem of a restaurant's virtues.  Located in the tiny village of Moirax where traffic is barred on the main street, the small, comfortable dining room seems almost spacious with its five tables.  Ms. Toursel's welcome is warm and friendly as we are encouraged to peruse the menus and wine list.  We chose the  29-euro menu du marche (including  a glass of wine and coffee) and she accommodated Susan's fish allergy by proposing a meat substitute.  Everything from the butter, the smoked duck, the slate bread plates and laguiole knives spoke class without being stuffy.

The ginger pumpkin soup with lemon cream, chive oil, and sauted chestnuts was divine... was the perfectly cooked merlu with smoked carrots and vegetables on a potato puree.

And the baked apple with faiselle mousse was caramelized to perfection.

I like to judge a restaurant by how well it serves it's lowest price point customer, and L'Auberge du Prieure serves them (and us) well....with great food, warmth, and attention to detail. It's a keeper.

Eat With Us!

"Mangez Chez Nous!"  What could be simpler or more inviting than this slogan by the restauranteurs of the Tarn et Garonne region.   And to sweeten the pot, a dozen of these restaurants offer special spring and fall menus for one day only in May and October.  It's up to each chef to decide how to use the featured ingredients (foie gras, white beans, garlic, duck breast, cheese, and apples), and I have found that the chef at Les Templiers restaurant in Dunes consistently produces the most creative and flavorful dishes.  So it was not very difficult to convince 11 other diners to join me at this special lunch.  They included new friends and old, all united in anticipation of a great meal.

The chef did not disappoint. He presented the foie gras with a small salad autumn fruit chutney..


and the white beans appeared in a wonderful creamy soup with garlic foam and sauteed mushrooms.

The  succulent duck breast had a chasselas grape sauce and sides of carrots and turnip.

There was a duo of local cheese..

and a trio of apple desserts (sorbet with calvados, crumble, and crepe)

But wait there was more...petit fours with coffee.

A great meal, great company, and a vow to return more often to this gem of a restaurant.  Besides Bosco and I don't look any worse for the wear after such an experience.