Friday, August 22, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar II

Yesterday's post was dedicated to the foundation of a bar, the trays on which you place your bottles, glasses, and other beverage related parephanalia. Today I'm going to focus on the one thing that I think most hosts and hostesses mess up in their bars - ice. It seems like such a simple thing but there's never enough of it thanks in part to the invention of the "ice bucket" a diminutive vessel appropriate for 2-4 people, but woefully insufficient for a real gathering, it's always floating in a pool of water, and the tongs, whoever invented ice tongs is a much more patient person than I will ever be.

My solutions: a large metal or glass bucket designed for chilling wine or Champagne, commonly referred to as a wine chiller, and a metal scoop. Here are a few images of items that should do the trick perfectly, and by all means fill the bucket with the arrival of the first guest and check back often.

This cut crystal number from William Sonoma Home is good for smaller gatherings and would certainly look beautiful on a traditional bar.

This double chiller from Simon Pearce is large, heavy, and a very pleasing shape. Simon Pearce hand makes great glass items. Many of their items make wonderful gifts.

this double chiller from William Sonoma in the right environs would look wonderful. There's a matching "ice bucket" but it's far too small for anyone with more than a handfull of friends.

Attractive stainless steel or sterling silver handled (most sterling scoops have stainless silver scoops for durability) scoops can be a bit harder to come by. Beverly Bremer has a huge selection in sterling, and probably has one in your silver pattern.

Whimsical stainless scoop.

One of the many sterling scoops from Beverly Bremer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar I

I've been taking inventory of my bar and looking to fill in a few holes in the categories of glasses and fine spirits. As I take stock I thought I would share my thoughts on the makings of a well stocked bar.

Before you can pull together a collection of glasses, spirits, ice, garnishes, and the like you must decide on a location for a bar. For some of us our homes are equipped with bars, for others it's a spot in the kitchen, a sideboard in the dining room, or any other flat and generously sized surface.

After the location I believe the next building block for a suitable bar is a good sized tray, or trays. I prefer non-reactive metal as it's bound to catch the occasional drip or spill.

I think any one of these trays could serve this purpose depending on your decor:

From Pottery Barn

From William Sonoma Home

From William Sonoma

Or sterling is wonderful if the budget allows and the staff can keep up with the polishing. Here are some lovely trays from Beverly Bremer in Atlanta, the tray with black handles is a gorgeous George Jensen in the Acorn pattern:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Thoughts on Wine

(Photo Credit: Oceanrudy/Flickr)

Wine is the drink of the gods, milk the drink of babies, tea the drink of women, and water the drink of beasts. John Stuart Blackie

I read this quote by a Scottsman and couldn't help but laugh. I haven't been able to ascertain the date of the quote, but clearly it's not contemporary. I think a modern man or woman could easilty take objection to every assertion: there are no gods, milk isn't good for babies, tea is for anyone who likes tea you sexist a#@ hole, and water's good for everyone, unless it comes in a plastic bottle. I'll take it for what it is and agree with no fewer than two of the assertions, which two will have to remain a mystery.

I read an interesting article on Slate today about the growing Chinese wine culture both drinking and also producing western-style wines. It's both exciting to see this evolution of the culture, democritization through wine, but it's also emblamatic of the overall globalization of food and beverage around the world leading to great expansions for popular products, but also an extinction of some less popular beverages in far off places. Like much of China's rapid growth it's likely that progress will once again come at a great cost to tradition.

I've fallen behind on posting wine reviews; here are a few of the bottles pulled out of the cellar recently:

#005 – Martin Coday – Albarino, 2006, Spain. Cork: plastic. Color: pale straw. Nose: citrus, peach, slightly metallic. Taste: Slow to open and a bit flabby at first with stone fruit, melon and citrus at the end. Finish: Slight minerality followed by a mouth coating buttered popcorn. Price: $14.00. Recommendation: An exotic choice for the oaked California Chardonnay crowd. Not counting myself one of these individuals this bottle will not again appear on our table. I couldn’t seem to find out about the fermentation process, but would swear that the wine underwent malolactic fermentation.

#006 – Hentley Farms Mallee Sands – Chardonay, 2006, South Australia. Cork: screw cap. Color: golden delicious apples. Nose: Oak, citrus, and minerals. Taste: Stonefruit, citrus, minerals. Finish: Pineapple fading to minerals, greasy mouth feel. Price: $14.00. Recommendation: Pass for all but the most devoted Chardonnay devotee.

Atlanta Corkage Fee Index

As promised here's a starting point for the Atlanta Corkage Fee Reference Guide. If you have restaurants you'd like to see added, or have corrections please let me know. This is a work in progress and will be updated as required to keep the information current and include policies for additioanl restaurants.

Monday, August 18, 2008

At Last

Steak night was a raving success. Here's why:

We woke a bit late Saturday morning, straightened up the house, then plopped down on the couch for some Netflix therapy - the 2nd disc of Season 2 30 Days. With the house looking great and a bit of relaxation we went upstairs to get ready. I donned my summer in Atlanta staples: cream linen trousers, linen shirt (this one blue), and loafers ready to hit the town. My lovely wife outdid me looking wonderful in black capris, a striking purple silk blouse, and black shrug.

Our dinner companion arrived and after a few minutes of chatting we headed to dinner with the clear intent of being sufficiently early to have a cocktail or two at the bar before dinner. Upon arriving at Bone's we checked in and found seats in the full but not overly crowded bar. The gentlemen had Grey Goose & Tonics while the lady had a glass of some American bubbly (no menu was available, so the wine will have to go unidentified).

When dining or entertaining one unexpected surprise (of the pleasant variety) can generally turn a good or great evening into something quite memorable. In this case it was the Silver Oak, or its lack. Apparently our companion left the bottle on the counter several days in advance to allow for any sediment to move to the bottom of the bottle (not likely, but always the excellent dinner and/or drinking companion he took no chances). While he was out on Friday night the bottle was, quite by mistake, opened by a woman in his home who shall remain nameless during a girls' night in. Needless to say he was quite perturbed, but a substitution was almost immediately offered up: Bodega Catena Zapata, Nicolas Catena Zapata 2004. Being a lover of Malbec and a fan of Catena Zapata I was quite excited about the substitution, as was my wife. Our companion seemed a bit dubious, but was heartened by our enthusiastic reactions.

Once seated at a good table in the cozy, if dated, dining room we were greated by a very friendly and informative waiter - Alexi, request him, he was excellent. When we told him we had brought our own wine he was excited with our choice and when asked to decant it he told us he was glad we had asked.

Our first course was a lobster and crab napolean. A simple affair of lump crab and lobster meat layered with triangles of puff pastry and sitting on a plate covered in a layer of a white wine cream sauce. A bit heavy to start a meal, but delicious none the less.

On to the meat. My companions stuck with tradition and ordered the filets - medium. I held to my own tradition and ordered something unique on the menu, in this case a mixed grill of beef filet, lamb chops, and pheasant sausage. All three meats were spectacular, but the pheasant sausage was the highlight. Even as I write this I can smell the fragrant spices and succulent meat.

The sides were mashed potatoes, french fries (off of the menu, and clearly designed for the kiddies, these were still quite good), and a macaroni and cheese made with white cheeses, bacon, and topped with fried onions. If you're excited about the mac and cheese reading this so was I, but alas we never got ours as the last of these were gone by the time our order was submitted.

Over our steaks we enjoyed great conversation and even better wine with excellent service from our waiter and his assitants.

We ordered desert and after dinner drinks: Balvenie 15yrs, Balvenie Double-Wood, and Fonseca 2001 Port for the drinks and a pecan pie (made by the same woman since the restaurant opened in 1979) and creme brulee for the sweets. We also had excellent espresso and capuccinos (incredible foam).

After all this it was time to go home for a few games of Sequence.

Bone's Wrap-up

Atmosphere: 4.5
Drinks: 5 + 1 ($10/bottle corkage fee)
Meat: 5
Sides: 4.5 (the mac and cheese sounded '5' worthy)
Desert: 4
Service: 5
Value: 4
Overall: 4.71

We'll be back to Bone's.

#004 – Nicolas Catena Zapata – Malbec, 2004, Argentina. Cork: natural. Color: Obsidian. Nose: Herbs, chocolate, jam. Taste: Jam, tobacco, berries, mint. Finish: Surprisingly subtle, with long smooth berry and herb flavors. Price: $120.00. Recommendation: Excellent, takes Malbec to an entirely different level, but at this price point there are better wines for the money. Literally pick up a bottle at the wine store - it’s impressive, big, heavy, very thick glass with deep punt.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Steak Night Approaches

My computer has been a bit under the weather with hard drive problems which explains the lack of posts for the week. Dell assures that a new one will arrive tomorrow, then it's just a matter of moving EVERYTHING over. The mere thought has had me in search mode for upcoming pleasantries.

Steak Night: It's set for this Saturday at Bone's here in Atlanta. I'm getting really excited about cracking open the Silver Oak and perhaps even more the Turnbull. I will certainly share comments on both and should be able to declare a winner.

One deciding factor in the restaurant selection for this particular steak night was the restaurants' corkage policies as my companions and I have accumulated a few special bottles in anticipation of this upcoming celebratory Steak Night. Corkage policies vary all over Atlanta as I'm sure they do in all cities. They range from the very generous: Ruth's Chris Buckhead where they didn't charge anything to hostile: the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group (Chops, Panos & Pauls, Pricci's, etc.) where they don't allow outside wines, no excpetions. In all fairness the Buckhead Life restuarants have thoughtful lists with reasonable mark-ups, but sometimes you want to bring something not available on their list or a sentimental bottle. In the middle are restaurants like Kevin Rathbun's Steak at $20/bottle, Bone's at $10/bottle, and others going as high as $50. One frustration for those brave enough to try bringing their own bottle is that it's not easy to determine policies. They're generally not stated on the websites, or menus, or winelists. I'm gathering information now and will attempt to post a working list of corkage fees for restaurants in Atlanta in the near future and welcome others to join in and add other cities.

The wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher have hit on this topic more than a few times and as I recall they have laid out a few basic rules for BYOB that seemed to be common sense for the well mannered diner. Following is my list, inspired by theirs: 1) Don't bring a bottle that's on the restaurant's list, 2) Don't bring something so inexpensive that it suggests you're only reason in bringing it was to save money, 3) Offer to share a taste of whatever you bring to the person pouring (waiter, wine steward, sommelier, etc.), 4) if you don't know the restaurant's policy call ahead to find out, and 5) tip the waitstaff as if you had purchased an average priced bottle from their list.

Does anyone have a corkage policy they would like to discuss? Posts are welcome.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Finer Things

Over the weekend we visited the High Museum of Art here in Atlanta. With new exhibits coming in September we needed to go and see the outgoing exhibits that we had thus far this summer neglected.

Houdon at the Louvre, while not my favorite of the series of Louvre exhibits coming to the High, was worth a trip. The collection was dominated by Houdon’s busts. As a renowned sculptor and preeminent bust artist of the Enlightenment, his work was made up of a who’s who of France and the new world: Voltaire, Napoleon, Franklin, Washington, politicians, actresses, and classical influences.

Not being that familiar with Houdon, it was great to see such a large collection of his work and compare it to the large collection of busts exhibited during the last Louvre exhibit held at the High. His gift for sculpture and for capturing the personalities and even the souls of his sitters for me at least had everything to do with their eyes. In classical sculpture the eyes were smooth and flat giving the appearance of almost blindness. Houdon was inventive in creating deep recesses to represent the iris and pupil allowing light and shadow to give the impression in marble, terra cotta, and plaster of real eyes looking back at you. Houdon’s other innovation was to sculpt children as children rather than the previous tradition of treating them as diminutive adults. The sculptures of his son and daughter were amazing, as was the sculpture of his wife complete with a slightly opened mouth showing highly realistic teeth.

After the exhibit and a few drinks at Tap, we went back to Table 1280 at the High for a light dinner. The food was excellent and, despite an empty restaurant on the Saturday before back-to school, the overall experience was quite enjoyable.

My take-away dish from the meal was an appetizer – figs in honey with ricotta. I think the dish would be better suited as a dessert and that’s how I intend to serve it.

The recipe as I imagine it (I will come back and correct if it’s different from what I anticipate):

2 dozen small ripe figs
8 Tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups fresh ricotta
Mint and/or Toasted Hazelnuts to garnish

1) Clean and cut the small figs in half placing them in a plastic freezer bag.

2) Add 4 Tbsp of honey and lemon juice to the bag

3) Place in the refrigerator turning occasionally to coat, allow the figs to macerate for 3-4 hours

4) Mix 2 Tbsp of honey into the ricotta, form small quenelles using two spoons and place three on each plate in a star pattern leaving 2 inches of open space in the middle of the plate for the figs

5) Add the figs to the plates and drizzle remaining honey over figs and ricotta. Top with Mint and/or nuts.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Food & Wine

This past weekend I was shopping at a farmer's market and couldn't resist buying a flat of beautiful fragrant strawberries. They were spectacular, nothing like the terrible out of season, shipped in from the other side of the world, strawberry look-a-likes peddled in grocery stores 12 months a year.

When I got home from the market I was inspired to make something light, but just a bit decadent. Since the Mrs. was out of town I was free to exclude chocolate from my selection criteria, as it is her opinion that dessert just isn't worth having unless it's choco-centric, and even plan around one of life's great pleasures, a glass of Sauternes.

After flipping through a few cookbooks including a new favorite, Tartine, I settled on a simple recipe from the William Sonoma Pie & Tart cookbook. The recipe was good, but not worth repeating here, but I hope that this inspires you to go out this weekend, buy some beautiful fruit during its proper season, and make the most of it by trying a new recipe and un-corking a special bottle.

#003 – Chateau Doisy-Vedrines – Sauternes, 2003, Barsac, France. Cork: natural. Color: honey gold. Nose: ripe apricots, honey, melon Taste: A bit simple for a wine of this pedigree. Honey, apricot, a slight bit of spice, candied lemon peel. Finish: Dull, sweet, fleeting. Price: $32.00. Recommendation: In spite of the 92 points Robert Parker gave it in 2005 I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps I let it go a bit long in the cellar, though Sauternes is one of the few white wines that truly benefit from ageing. As a side note, I opened a bottle of 2005 Chateau Violin (a play on one of the world’s original cult wines: Chateau d'Yquem, which easily exceeds $100 for a half-bottle) initially to go with my tart, but it was unfortunately corked.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Attention to Detail

"Nothing is more pleasant than to see a pretty woman, her napkin well placed under her arms, one of her hands on the table, while the other carries to her mouth, the choice piece so elegantly carved."
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The last week or so I’ve begun, in earnest, to look for holiday gifts. I say in earnest, because it’s something I do all year, but as summer heat hits its crescendo, I find that thoughts of the cooler holidays help ease the pain of near triple-digit heat. One item on my list for the wife is a collection of high-quality, monogrammed, cloth cocktail napkins.

The idea has been in the back of my mind since I had drinks in the spring at the Oak Bar at the wonderful Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. They have mastered the art of the elegant cocktail hour with wonderful snacks served in charming hotel-silver, three-compartment servers with tall central handle (desperately looking if anyone has run across one), a quality drinks menu at a time when so many are generic and cheesy, and the aforementioned cloth cocktail napkins.

I have found several choices for readily available napkins, but keep coming back to something bespoke. The maker I’m leaning towards is Leontine Linens as they have both a store and in-home consultation service here in Atlanta. I’m sure if they end up at our home we’ll be purchasing far more than cocktail napkins, so a trip to the store is probably the smarter option.

I’m leaning toward a single initial for our last name, though both of our first names begin with the same letter, so a three-letter palendromic monogram might be fun.

Here are pictures of a few monogrammed cocktail napkins to inspire.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


"On one occasion some one put a very little wine into a [glass], and said that it was sixteen years old. 'It is very small for its age,' said Gnathaena." Athenaeus, 200AD

Wines to be consumed at an upcoming steak night
Three of us are members of a very exclusive club, with a very simple name: Steak Club. The group formed out of habit and as these things tend to do it has taken on rules, schedules, and other traditions. The premise is quite simple, we gather at a different steakhouse each 3-5 weeks, order the house specialty for steak, or in the absence of a house specialty (already reducing the likely score) two order filets and I order something with a bit more flavor (ie fat). We sample unique appetizers or sides, though we always order mashed potatoes (seeing the word in print just made me think of Dan Quayle, I suppose it has to do with the upcoming vice presidential selections), another barometer of the quality of a chef. Then we finish with dessert, espresso and cappuccinos, and port. While we bask in the afterglow of overindulgence we rate the various dishes, service, ambiance, wine list, and value. I'll include some of our reviews in later posts, and will include reviews in real time as we continue our gustatory march through Atlanta.

The next steak night will take place in the next week or so and we're in the process of selecting the restaurant. This one is special because it is our second "deal night" where we celebrate the achievement of one of our members. The last one took place at the end of last year at Ruth's Chris and we brought wine. The restaurant garnered great marks for allowing us to bring two bottles of wine without a corkage fee (highly unusual). I brought a 2001 Silver Oak I received as a gift from a work associate and one of our other members brought a much older Italian wine (please forgive my not having the name, I'm going to have to look for it in my tasting notes) from the family cellar. There were great expectations for both wines, but primarily for the Italian wine. We were not surprised by the enjoyment we found in the Silver Oak, but were very disappointed by the other wine.

This time our Italian friend, determined not to be bested, and in an exhibit of great generosity has purchased a 2002 Nappa Valley Silver Oak for the occasion. I have done a bit of research talking to several wine merchants and have selected a 2004 Turnbull Cabernet. In rough numbers the Silver Oak Napa is around $100 and the Turnbull is $50. I've been assured by no less than two great merchants that I respect that the Turnbull should blow the Silver Oak out of the water. I'll be sure to let you know, if the Turnbull is even 80% as enjoyable as the Silver Oak the price difference should make it a must buy.

What's your go-to wine for special occassions?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One really good thing...

Last weekend we had dinner with friends at Room at the new Twelve Hotel Downtown Atlanta. While the company was excellent, the food was just average. At a place billing itself as a steakhouse, the meats were stingy and under-seasoned. The one exception to this mediocrity was an appetizer - warm gougeres, bacon, swiss cheese, pickled onions & arugula. The dish was well composed with acid, salt, sweetness, rich, tender, and crunch. It was the perfect start to a meal.

Room at Twelve Centennial Park on Urbanspoon

We had friends over for drinks before heading out for dinner and the wife and I decided to try these at home. The starting point is a small puff shell; these versatile little wonders make frequent appearances around our home, but always as the basis for some easy make-ahead dessert. My go to recipe is a classic from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, here’s my modern format for this versatile recipe:

Makes 36 to 40 Small Puffs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with two racks evenly spaced.

Ingredients for pâte à choux (versatile dough):
1 Cup water
6 Tbsp Salted Butter
1 Tsp sea-salt
1/8 Tsp white pepper
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
¾ Cup all-purpose flour
4 Large eggs

Ingredients for Pickled Onions:
One large white onion
1 Cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Ingredients for filling (may change to your taste):
¼ pound fine swiss cheese cut into thin slices approximately 1 inch square
½ pound very thickly cut bacon fried to your liking, though not too crisp
1 small package micro-green salad mix

Instructions for the Pickled Onion

1) Slice peeled onion in quarters

2) Slice quarters into ¼ wide strips

3) Place in an airtight container and cover with both vinegars

4) Place in refrigerator 2-8 hours before you intend to serve

Instructions for the Gougeres (Profiteroles filled with cheese)

1) Bring water to boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted.

2) Remove pan from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Move pan back onto high heat for 1-2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and the spoon forming a ball in the middle of the pan.

3) Remove the pan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with the spoon. Immediately break an egg into the center of the well. Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has been absorbed. Each time an egg is added the dough will break apart into pieces, but will pull back together with continued stirring. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one at a time. The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

4) While it’s still warm fill the bag with the dough. If using a plastic bag cut the corner at an angle approximately ¼ inch from the corner to create a ½ inch diameter hole.

5) Squeeze the paste onto the lined baking sheets, making circular mounds about 1 inch in diameter and ½ inch high. Space the mounds 2 inches apart.

6) With a wet finger flatten the tip of the dough formed by the pastry bag.

7) Set the baking sheets in the preheated, 425-degree oven, and bake for about 20 minutes.

8) The puffs are done when they’ve doubled in size turned a nice golden color. Remove from the oven and immediately pierce the puffs with the tip of a sharp knife to create a ½ inch slit in the side.

9) Put the puffs back in the turned-off oven with the door ajar for 10 more minutes. When they come out place them on wire racks to cool. They can stay out of the over for several hours this way. You can bake these off the day before you intend to use them and store them in a large container with plenty of room for air circulation. They will get a bit soft, but they will crisp up nicely with the second heating.

About thirty minutes before you intend to serve pre-heat your oven to 350-degrees.

1) Slice your gougeres in half leaving the top and bottom halves connected on one side

2) Insert from bottom to top: one piece of bacon, one piece of onion (may hang out slightly from the puff adding color), another piece of bacon, and a slice of cheese.

3) Leave the gougeres sitting “open” and place in the oven until the cheese has melted, approximately 10 minutes if puffs and bacon are at room temperature, less time if ingredients are warm, or slightly longer if ingredients are coming out of the fridge.

4) Once the gougeres come out of the oven add a few microgreens to each, close them up, and place them on a warm platter. Tip: Make in batches for an open house to ensure that everyone gets at least one warm gougere.

Serve these at your next cocktail party or open house and they’re sure to be a hit. To please a variety of tastes make more gougeres and fill with other fillings: mushrooms with a thick cream sauce, chicken salad (a must in the South), even pulled pork if you’re feeling like fusion cuisine.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


#001 – Amancaya – Cabernet-Malbec 2005, Argentina. Cork: natural. Color: deep purple. Nose: Fresh baked bread, cherries, faint herbs . Taste: Tobacco, oak, dirt, blackberry. Finish: Long, oak, mid fruit, and lingering tobacco. Price: $14.50. Recommendation: A no, if you receive as a gift decant for a more enjoyable experience.

#002 – Collalto Extra Dry – Prosecco NV, Italy. Cork: natural. Color: pale gold, green. Nose: Brioche, green apples, and grass. Taste: yeast, green apples, honeydew. Finish: Long, honey, sweet & sticky. Price: $19.00. Recommendation: Better proseccos for the money.