Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bastille Review


Bastille gets a face-lift

On an unsuspecting street corner along the northern fringe of Alexandria, locals escape to provincial France…without the exorbitant price tags of airfare and hotel or the hassle of exchanging dollars for Euros.  Providing fine French cuisine in a casual atmosphere, Bastille meets my criteria for restaurant essentials: it not only showcases the talents of two award-winning chefs, Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, but also an interior renovation and the acquisition of a top sommelier from DC’s Old Guard, James Beard award-winning beverage director Mark Slater, formerly of Citronelle in Georgetown.  Boasting inspirational culinary feats at an affordable price, in an atmosphere where you can easily slip in among the regulars, Bastille is what I look for when I decide a restaurant is a true favorite.

Slater’s thirty-plus years of experience helps amplify the culinary power of the husband and wife chef team—an advantage that young sommeliers just can’t top regardless of how many corks they’ve popped. Mark spins yarns of many great vintages with depths of knowledge that enrich your mental journey to provincial France and pique your palate’s imagination. On my very first trip to Bastille, I was seriously pleased with my experience and the food journey.


I recently eased onto a bar stool before realizing my visit coincided with Alexandria’s Restaurant Week. My spirits were immediately dampened, as I don’t tend to like the frenzy surrounding this turbulent week for most restaurants, but my hopes were immediately elevated as the first dish was placed before me.
My meal began with three charcuterie selections, which arrived neatly aligned: pork rillette, house-made bresaola seasoned with marjoram and oregano, and a goose liver pâté topped with Concord grape aspic. The first course could have sufficed as a full meal for me on a casual Monday, but it was Saturday and I ate a light lunch in anticipation of the splurge. When Slater made a point to ask me what my wine preferences were, I demurred: “I trust your judgment.” My trust was rightly placed.  His spot-on judgment created a not-so-ordinary pairing of a Côtes de Provence rosé that shimmered salmon-colored hues in the glass. Most people would raise a brow when pink wine sloshes in their glass next to robust charcuterie; but the pair couldn’t have been more perfect.  My taste buds loved the way strawberry accents framed the savory flavors of the aperitif. The charcuterie itself was delicately aromatic and herbaceous while giving way to sweetness from the rich and fatty meat, just calling for an elegant, fresh, smooth and equally flavored rosé.


The journey through rural France continued with a seemingly-traditional cassoulet consisting of white bean stew, slow-baked pork belly, and duck sausage layered with slices of pan-roasted duck breast, topped with a crispy slab of pork belly that was out of this world due to texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor. What really sent my mouth soaring was the combination of duck, cassoulet and a robust Bordeaux red wine known as the “bad boy” in French slang. Slater poured “Mauvais Garçon,” a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The value of this wine speaks volumes of Slater’s talents to source true gems for less, as the pedigree on this regular Bordeaux AOC couldn’t be higher coming from the notorious garagiste, or small-batch wine maker, Jean-Luc Thunevin.

Ending in sweetness, I enjoyed Valrohna pot de crème with orange compote and candied cranberries, paired with Maydie ruby port. The dessert was balanced by citrus notes folded into chocolate decadence; therefore, it needed a wine laced with sweetness and aromatic persistence to stand up to the slight bitterness and aromas of high-quality chocolate. Not ready to end my culinary vacation, I dared to forge on and order a cheese board offering three artisanal selections of a bleu, a triple-crème, and a semi-hard cheese paired with a white burgundy (aka chardonnay). Wow! I was in bliss, because the cheeses were all so smooth and rich and in need of a wine that could contrast the decadence with acidic crispness and minerality while simultaneously presenting a smooth, full-bodied, rich wine.

I departed Bastille in high spirits (and, thankfully, not the designated driver), cloaked in warmth from a heart-warming evening made of the best ingredients, friendly staff, bistro-style dining, and delicious wine. Bastille, you’re an exception in a sea of mediocrity and over-priced indulgences. I’ll be back and ready to sample more of your exquisite offerings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Wines

Fiscally Friendly Valentine's Wines for under $25 Let these wines make a big impression on your crush and not your wallet. Top sommeliers around DC poured out their best recommendations for Valentine's Day wine for under $25 to Lauren DeSantis with Capital Cooking.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cordial Wine Shop in Union Market

Push back against sameness and predictability, a symptom of the wine world these days, go for nourishing your intellect and exploring your soul...I know we all may fall victim to our addiction to "safe" wines, meaning we stick to what we know, we lean toward buying brand name wines, wines adorned with high scores, or a myriad of other factors; but something is growing in the wine biz, and its the grassroots movement to embrace originality from small production wineries (or big), namely wineries that preserve terroir, pureness and uniqueness in their wines. One of the mavericks supplying the wine world with such gems is Eric Rohleder, who just opened his first artisanal wine and beer shop in Union Market. Read more at my posting on Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

SAVE-Hour

This Monday, February 4th 7:30pm at Red, White & Bleu prepare for the infamous Valentine's Day wine and dining tactics for your lover, a friend, or just plain old you. Learn what wines you can sink your teeth into when you make that perfect filet mignon followed by sweet bites of dark, aromatic chocolate.

Check out the tasting line-up and the links I've included add some interesting tidbits....Stay tuned for tasting notes to follow after Monday!

LineUP
Love Drunk Rose, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Chocolate Box Sparkling Shiraz, Australia
Fiddle Town Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel Sierra Foothills, California
Hundred Acre "If you see Kay" Lazio, Italy
The Chocolate Block Bordeaux Blend Boekenhoutskloof, South Africa



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wine Dinner Bust





Wine Dinner Bust

Oh where, oh where have all the wine dinners gone? Long time passing, but the economy has shifted the trends on how we explore and sample wine these days. For those of you who love to seek out a great wine dinner at a fabulous restaurant, or just your neighborhood joint, you might notice a trend of slim pickings. Blame it on the economy. The pressure is on for Obama in 2013 to put the rubber on the road. But regardless of positive possibilities, most restaurants may be reluctant to forge ahead with costly, time-consuming endeavors, such as the proverbial wine dinner. And don't get me wrong, I love wine dinners and seek them out. Just went to Taberna del Alabardero for a fabulous wine dinner hosted by @ArrowinesInc, hence the pics to decorate this column. But the wine dinner breed is becoming scarce.

So, what alternatives are left to food and wine hounds looking for a bargain and the services offered at exclusive wine dinners? Educational wine classes (usually accompanied with food).

Even though a wine dinner is the perfect venue for a restaurant to strut its stuff with cool food art, inspired wine and food pairings, and perhaps a chance to meet  the celebrity wine maker, trendy “small-batch” wine tastings are sprouting up in its place. More casual settings with less emphasis on $$$ allow retail shops and restaurants more elbow room to showcase 4-8 wines in a more fast-paced setting. When you nix elaborate food courses upwards of five or more, fine cutlery, white table cloths, massive amounts of glassware, and heavy wait staff, you can become more creative with the idea “less is more.”

What to look for around Arlington/Falls Church:

Red, White and Bleu in Falls Church launches SAVE-HOUR Monday, February 4th. This play on words for savor is all about informed wine tastings led by an official sommelier and captivating themes that vary each month.  The tastings only cost $10, and the best part is the $10 is applied to your wine purchase that evening. Featured foods sold in the shop add highlights to the tastings while also adding the food pairing factor.

Arlington Cinema Draft House may not be reinventing the wheel for 2013, but you can’t beat this deal of $1 wine tastings presented by the Washington Wine Academy while you enjoy a movie and some chilled out pub food. Some people buy up to 10 tickets and still walk out remembering the flick.

Arrowines in Arlington offers top-notch classes and wine tastings that are always sponsored by experts. Here’s your chance to meet the winemaker, the dude (or gal) that actually sourced the wine, or the nerdy wine salesman that can lay on the facts till you snore.  Trick is you need to sign up for their newsletter and inquire of their private tastings, which are all FREE!

Northside Social is the place for eclectic food, chef-taught classes, pig roasts, open mic nights with wine tastings, and a whole lot of funkified flavorful events. Usually $35 or less, this is a steal for those wine dinner seekers out there. A broad, diversified wine list makes this such a cozy hide out, and you can feast your eyes on locally sourced art.

Twisted Vines on Columbia Pike is still a well kept secret. Finally, someone thought to throw in an open area kids’ playground while Moms and Dads can partake of Happy Hour. Once a month, stroller mania takes over at Twisted Vines and parents can take a break from 10am-3pm for FREE while enjoying happy hour wine specials. And better yet, this joint offers private wine classes with a Certified Wine Educator and unique themes. Prices vary based on wine themes, but usually run less than $35. Call to inquire.

Screwtop Wine Bar and sister wine shop, Grateful Red, also add to the Clarendon wine scene with chocolate & wine pairings this Valentine’s and more educational wine classes usually under $50 a pop. Wendy Buckler has a knack for whipping up wine grandeur in tiny spaces with stunning cheese selections.
Hope this trot around town helps diversify your wine tasting palettes. 

For even more specialty listings, you should also check out David and Nycci Nellis’ TheListAreYouOnIt.com @nyccinellis for event details or Capital Cooking with LaurenDeSantis  @capitalcooking. They always have the scoop on the latest food and wine gossip of the DC metro area.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Farm-to-Table Champagne


Growing Bubbly Trends

Count down to the New Year is underway, and I look around for bubbly trends leading up to the festive night. What’s hot and what’s not for 2013? Growing in popularity are grower champagnes, which take us back to the ancient notion of wine produced by the same people who own the vineyards. Few people realize that big-brand Champagne houses, like the ever-popular Veuve Clicquot and now the rap-star-celebrated Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon, dubbed Dom, or DP for lyric-appeal, spend millions of dollars on advertising, and in turn inch the price up year after year on Champagne. Building a brand is expensive business, and the large Champagne houses are geniuses at creating sex appeal for why emerging and mainstay markets should spend top dollar on juice they sourced throughout the Champagne region to blend into their iconic house styles. The underdog, though, is making a fast break these days producing true-to-the-farmer and terroir-driven Champagnes.
               
The great hunt for grower Champagne is on in my neck of the woods, and I have a few suggestions where you can spy some decent juice, even if I feel most restaurants could stand to pick up the pace. Start at EatBar, also known as Tallula, in Arlington if you care to dine with a decent selection of grower Champagne and Grand Marques. The trick to grower Champagne is that it’s hard to find, but when you find it on a list, you immediately know someone who cares has orchestrated the effort to source this wine. Most restaurants need to catch up to the times and stop offering the cheapest swill of Prosecco as their bubbly selection. I was pleasantly surprised by the Oval Room the other day when I spotted a Crémant by the glass, a less expensive option to Champagne because it’s made directly outside of the Champagne region, even though it’s made exactly like genuine Champagne. A Virginia made sparkling can be found around town, too. Claude Thibaut is a Champagne-maker born and bred in Champagne, but he’s brought his talents to Virginia. The White House pours his Thibaut-Janisson at State dinners, but you can also find his juice at Marcel’s near Georgetown, Willow Restaurant in Ballston, and Eventide in Courthouse. The aromatics and delicacy of this sparkler make the hunt well-worth your time, even if you can’t officially call it a grower Champagne, its essence echoes the very meaning behind true-to-the-farmer, boutique wine.
                 
Since it is the holidays, I have to insert one wish to good old Saint Nick for what I hope to see happen in the greater Washington, D.C. area. A Champagne bar is much needed, and not one that serves caviar, but rather gourmet hot dogs. I know you may think I’m crazy, but this New Year’s Eve I triple-dog dare you (yes, The Christmas Story dances in my head) to try a grower Champagne with a tried-and-true hot dog. Add all the accoutrements if you wish; yes, the sauerkraut, chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, or even cole slaw if you please. But once you have a bite of that American dog and take a sip of some fizzy carbonation laced with green apple crispness and yeasty threads of grandma’s biscuits, you will understand why sugar plum fairies do not dance in my head, but rather sparkling stars from Champagne afar paired with my favorite pink little pig. Closest manifestation to my dream is at Green Pig Bistro in Courthouse. Some brilliant wine director purchased local sparkling cider (another rendition of sparkling wine) and mixed it with rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, lemon juice and bitters. This fizzy concoction called, Ginger Ryder Punch, pairs well with their signature corn bread smothered in maple butter, or pig tacos. It’s a far cry from my simple frankfurter request, but will have to do until another creative restaurateur decides to be bold and brazen and open a Champagne bar that simply serves wieners and fries.

Finding grower Champagnes to adorn your tables is the ultimate challenge, but they can be found in shops around Falls Church and D.C. I have had the most luck at MacArthur’s, Pearson’s, and Arrowines. But, for your convenience, you should always ask your personal retailer to order—these are just a phone call away even if they are not regularly stocked. TIP - Look for ‘RM’ in tiny letters at the bottom of the bottle (Récoltant-Manipulant), the proof they ‘manipulate’ their own vines. The big brands will always have NM (Négociant-Manipulant) on the label, which means they source grapes from a number of growers to produce a wine under their own label.
Here are a few suggestions you can find around town without having to call a New York retailer:

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne, Champagne, France
Pierre Paillard Grand Cru, Bouzy, Champagne
Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France
Cedric Bouchard Inflourescence, Val Vilaine, Champagne
Michel Turgy Grand Cru, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate--
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar
talesofasommelier.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Halls of Vine Wine Academy