Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Wine Hussy: Finds of the Week

This morning an email arrived from Michael. “I have lost my wine-by-mail virginity,” it read. “I have been swept away by a tall, dark and handsome Pinot Noir.” To which I replied, “Welcome to the club of fallen men and women.” I am no stranger to the seductive ways of wine by mail; on the contrary, I have succumbed to those irresistibly low prices many times. But as it happened, Michael’s demise happened the very week I decided to repent and mend my ways. The reason for my renewed virtue is that this happens to have been the week I fell in love with wine the old fashioned way – by going to wine tastings. Call me staid, but this pleasure contrasted starkly to my tawdry experience with the stuff pimped out by Wines Til Sold Out and Groupon deals this past year. So, bye-bye to deep discounts, and hello to enjoying wine again. I hope Michael enjoys his romp in the oeniphile demi-monde more than I did.

Here are the wines I discovered this week:

Domaine du Bois de St. Jean Cotes du Rhone, Cuvee de Voulongue Reserve 2005

I discovered this delectable red at a tasting organized by wine blogger Joon Song of Vinicultured: A Wine Blog. Joon’s idea is to bring wine and food bloggers together at Weygandt Wines in Cleveland Park to share their favorite wines and learn from each other. I tasted many good wines that evening, but the Cuvee de Voulongue is a wonderful sipping wine that hit the sweet spot right away. I knew I would not look at another wine that evening. The cool thing about tasting this way is that you are not limited to wines selected by a promotional event, but instead get to sample wines that have been enjoyed by real people – with whom you also get to chat about foodie things. This is envisioned as a monthly event, so feel free to contact Joon to learn more about it.

Blenheim Farm Chardonnay 2009

While I was immediately smitten with the Cuvee de Voulongue, the blond Chardonnay took some time to get to know. The tasting room at Blenheim Vineyards – just outside of Charlottesville, VA -- has tables set up for people to bring their own food to accompany the wines they sample. As we laid out our selection of cheeses and I perused the wines on the tasting list, I remembered reading an article suggesting that white wines actually pair better with cheese than red. The Chardonnay was the first wine on the list to be poured. I tasted. Mweh; it was okay. Then I tasted it with my favorite stinky cheese: La Tur, an unpasteurized goat, cow and sheeps' milk cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy. And bam! The combination of the chardonnay and the La Tur lifted me high, like a pitchfork. This is the kind of foodie euphoria I dream about! After the tasting was over, we each purchased a full glass of chardonnay to enjoy out on Blenheim’s deck. A sip, a bite of cheese, and up into the heavens again. As I said, no more demi-monde for me.

Update: The following week, I went in search of the divine Cuvee de Voulongue. In the process, I discovered another impressive Cotes du Rhone from Domaine du Bois de St. Jean: L'Intrepide, 2009. At $13.99, this is the best value for money I have had in quite some time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Peking Gourmet Inn

I am a late-comer to Peking Gourmet Inn. My first contact with it was through another blogger's post: Toastable's post was the most loving review about peking duck I had ever read.  I was completely drawn in by his description of how "an ancient man named Wu" delicately carved thin slices of duck tableside. Poking around Yelp and Urbanspoon, I discovered that the restaurant was well known, had been patronized and popularized by the Bush administration, and was already well written up by reviewers. My friends Ken and Daniela, my across-the-bridge dining mates, also seemed to know about it. "Better make a reservation", said Daniela, when we were planning our trip there. I didn't realize it at the time, but reservations are essential on the weekends, even for an early dinner.

So, I am not here to repeat what others have written about the home grown scallion, the handcrafted pancakes, and the house recipe hoisin sauce. Nor to rave about the duck itself (in fact, I have had better). What I really want to write about is the service. The facade of Peking Gourmet Inn is nondescript; it's in a NoVa strip mall like so many other ethnic restaurants. But step inside, and you immediately know you are in a grand place. Well dressed Chinese hostesses radiate professionalism as they greet you from the podium. They manage to combine warmth and efficiency as they check your name off the reservations list and bustle you to your table. For a busy restaurant patronized by high profile guests, the welcome is admirable. Soon you are seated in a large dining room, reminiscent of uptown New York in its elegance and scale.

Before long a waitress appears. Her service is personal and expert: she seems to be a foodie and indulges our curiousity with informative answers to our questions. She stays close to us throughout the meal, first carving and slicing the duck, then scraping the fat off the skin,  finally wrapping both meat and crispy skin in pancakes smeared with hoisin sauce and stuffed with  home grown scallion. Deft, is the word.

Each time we finish a pancake, she reappears to wrap another one. By the time we have finished our meal, we feel stuffed and pampered. Too stuffed to move, in fact, so we order dessert. We linger, and are not rushed. It's not often you get this kind of service. When we finally bestir ourselves to leave, I feel we have had dinner in a bygone era.  Then we step blinking into the late summer light of a strip mall parking lot.

To Die For: Service

Photo credits:
Ken Marty 

Peking Gourmet Inn on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Plum Blossom

Dishes To Die For: seaweed tofu; green tea ice cream

Outside on 18th Street, confusion reigns. Streets are turned inside out, the underbelly of the earth visible to all. Orange and white barricades block what was once a freeflow of traffic, narrowing two lanes to one. There is an overabundance of stimuli and it's jackhammer noisy.

But inside, in Plum Blossom Restaurant, it is calm. The Japanese aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism takes a moment to adjust to, but then you succumb and nothing else exists. Even before the construction on 18th St started, I loved stepping into this world. Chris chivalrously lets me take the outward looking seat at the table, so I can gaze around the restaurant in appreciation. Each facet of its design is soothing to look at, a jewel of composition. Seeking out my pressure points, it is the shiatsu of interior design.

Then there is the food. Although there is a sushi bar, I am more drawn to the shared and large plates. I especially like the Seaweed Tofu. Although it is described as "tofu in seaweed wrap", they don't mean a wrap that drapes the tofu like a shawl, but rather something like a smart cummerbund. Like this:

Bite into the tofu's creamy! Could it be that I like soft tofu after all? The garlic and vinegar dipping sauce with a touch of pepper is the perfect complement.

I have also enjoyed the Teriyaki Steak and the Sesame Crusted Salmon served with wondrous sushi rice. The menu is varied and creative without being overwhelmingly large. It's petite and tasteful, just like its surroundings. From the dessert menu -- skip the mochi and go directly for the home-made ice cream. The green tea ice cream is the dish to die for.

Plum Blossom on Urbanspoon