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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cheese & Beer Pairings at Dierbergs - Samuel Adams

February's featured beer at Dierbergs' Cheese and Beer class was Samuel Adams and I have to admit that I don't know much about their beers. For example, the brewery actually started in St. Louis until the prohibition got in the way and had been located where Big Daddy's is now on the landing.

Our "welcome beer" was their most popular Boston Lager and it's quite an easy drinking "light" beer so I can see how it is so popular. I didn't drink much since I wanted to save room for the newer beers.

Samuel Adams lineup
Cheese Pairings
Starting from the lightest beer, the "Cold Snap" is a hazy, unfiltered wheat with lots of citrus flavor. Perfect for summer time and my favorite kind of beer.

The Carr Valley (same makers of my favorite Midnight Moon) Red Wax Fontina had a cooked butter smell and a nutty finish so when you paired it with the yeast flavor of the beer, and added some cashews as well, you ended up with a "PBJ" explosion in your mouth.

One of the reasons why I love these classes is because the combinations of the cheese with other ingredients, just makes for a delicious experience thanks to Cheese Pairing expert, Michael Landis, of Gourmet Foods International. This time around,each person got a side plate of treats of their own!

Nuts, prosciutto, and chocolate
I am not the biggest IPA fan and I can certainly understand why a strong McCalls Irish Cheddar was needed to handle this beer. The hops were definitely overpowering in the Rebel IPA so a 12-month aged, crunchy cheddar helped to tone down the hops. And when you mixed in some milk chocolate with the cheddar...the flavor in my mouth ended with a sweet finish! I was really surprised.

I immediately thought of Patience when I tasted the Cream Stout since it's the perfect beer for her. You get a full taste of coffee and tobacco and burnt toast flavor. I thought that the beer overpowered the La Bonne Vie Triple Creme Brie for sure, but I do admit that the combination of the two along with the fig fruit paste ended up with a "toast with butter and jam" flavor. The sweetness from the fig really helped to make the beer less intense.

My second favorite beer was the Cherry Wheat because I love fruity beers. This Ale was not aged long at all and has a big maraschino cherry nose with a short finish. But when you combined it with the chocolate, you end up with a tart dessert! The Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve had very little flavor to it and was there to help tone down the fruit flavor.

While not a beer, I did enjoy the Angry Orchard since I love cider beers too. Now we had a big apple flavor from start to finish. I never would have thought to pair a blue cheese (Point Reyes Blue) with a cider beer, but both have an intense flavor and even more so together. The crisp flavor also helps to cut through the cheese as well. The spoonful of honey also helped to tame the cheese here for an "apples and honey" combination.

More beer and cheese pairings are coming up next month and the featured beer will be Schlafly!!

Resources:

Dierbergs Cooking School = http://www.dierbergs.com/School

Samuel Adams = http://www.samueladams.com/

Katie's Pizza and Pasta Passport Dinner: Veneto

February's Passport Dinner from Katie's Pizza and Pasta focused on Veneto, which is a northeast region in Italy, and it's largest city is Venice, prominently featured on the front of the menu card. Here is Veneto's menu...

Menu
Since I was so overwhelmed by the enlarged courses last month, I made a better effort to take notes on the wines from this month's region. While Tuscany is known for the Sangiovese grape (a Super Tuscan and a Chianti were both served), Veneto is known for Soave and Valpolicella.

A Soave was served with the first dish, a Scallop Crudo that just melted in my mouth. I would have loved a few more of these. The wine is not as crisp as a Pinot Grigio so again, the softer flavor allowed the scallop to stand out.

Scallop Crudo, Pamegranate, Fennel Fronds, Sea Salt
I was a little nervous about the next course because I had no clue what Cassunzisi Rossi is, so I was thrilled to discover it's "the pasta dish". (I was wondering when the pasta would come!) Cassunzisi is just the name for "filled fresh pasta consisting of a filling sealed between the two layers of thin pasta dough, folded in a typical half-moon shape". (Wikipedia) Rossi means "red" in Italian, and for this dish, red is for beets! Definitely one of the few instances in which you can slip a beet into my mouth.

To compete against the rich beet flavor, a more fruity wine was called for and the Scaia Bianco tasted similar to a Chardonnay.

Cassunzisi Rossi (Beet Pasta)
Chef and owner, Katie Lee, was too busy to introduce the previous course due to being in mid-stir for the Risotto Nero. I was certainly excited and nervous since she was mixing her bold squid ink in with the risotto and topping it with octopus! My first time! I guessed it would taste like calimari...a chewy texture, but it was actually more like a salty chicken to me. The squid ink risotto made for an entirely intense experience even without the octopus. While it may have been too adventuresome for my neighbors, I was thrilled for the opportunity.

You know a red would be needed for such a flavorful dish, and the Scaia Corvina tasted similar to a Pinot Noir to me. I think a bigger red could have been used, but I'm always for letting the dish take the spotlight.

Risotto Nero, Charred Octopus
The "big red" came next as a Valpolicella was paired during the following course, a braised duck in polenta and radicchio. The duck was a hard to eat off the bone and radicchio is too bitter for my taste. I was full after the first three courses, and this dish definitely could be a main course all unto it's own for duck lovers. The wine was definitely a favorite at my table.

Braised Duck, Plenta, Radiccio
Torta Sabbiosa means "sandy cake" and that is definitely a good way to explain the texture. You know me, it would have been perfect drenched in chocolate sauce, but the gelato and raspberries are probably more traditional. Paired with a very light Prosecco, this was perfect for the end of a filling dinner.

Torta Sabbiosa
Next up in March (also on Wednesday the 11th), the region of Campania is featured, and you can purchase tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/katies-pizza-pasta-passport-dinners-campania-tickets-15572284121

The first two dinners sold out VERY quickly so you must hurry!

Resources:

Katie's Pizza and Pasta = http://www.katiespizzaandpasta.com/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wine Girl Wednesday at The Dark Room

Wine Girl Wednesdays are back in 2015 and we kicked off the new year at The Dark Room, a wine bar and art gallery combined. I had been once before for a glass of wine over my birthday weekend, but this finally gave me the chance to try some of their small plates.

This month's pairings matched up a "pizzeta" with a half glass of wine for $10. In addition, there was a wine flight you could pick for $20. Check out the menu by clicking on the image below to see an enlarged version:

Menu
Even before we ordered, we started with the "Welcome White", a dry Muscat from Jumilla, Spain, to help clear the palate. Quite refreshing and dry whites are my favorite because they are so food friendly.

Anyway, the first pairing was the simple Roasted Tomato & Balsamic Glaze pizzeta, which included a four cheese blend and shaved Parmesan. With this much cheese, you know it was my favorite. Even though this was paired with a big jammy red Dolcetto, I found this one went well with the dry Muscat as well as the light and crisp Fiano for the second pairing.

Roasted Tomato & Balsamic Glaze pizzeta
That light and crisp Fiano still went well with the second pairing since the high acid in the wine helped to cut through the richness of the salmon and the goat cheese on this pizzeta. Maybe this one was my favorite because I love smoked salmon so much!

Smoked Salmon & Heartland Goat Cheese pizzeta
While I didn't have too many bites of the last pizzeta, the Prosciutto & Fig rich and meaty flavors demanded a big red, and the Cabernet Franc did it's job.

Prosciutto & Fig pizzeta
Since we didn't know how many pairings we were going to do, I also ordered the house hummus as well.

Smoked Paprika Hummus with Toasted Pita
This is a great place for a late night snack and glass of wine after a theater show!

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

The Dark Room = http://thedarkroomstl.com/

Photos by Patience Scanlon

Cafe Natasha

Cafe Natasha has been on my list for a very long time, especially since it's a friend's all time favorite restaurant and she celebrates her birthday there every year. Then I ran into Natasha Bahrami herself, and I really felt guilty. She has made quite a name for herself as a gin maven, as if her food wasn't enough.

I figured Cafe Natasha would be the perfect place to celebrate my birthday as well and got the first-class treatment for my special day.

We kicked off the evening with my first gin cocktail, a simple Gin and Tonic made from one of Natasha's favorites: Journeyman. She described it as "citrus forward with a custardy cakey mouthfeel with a North Rose tonic, made from rose hip and lingonberry."

Unfortunately, without my in-house photography, I completely forgot to take a picture of my cocktails and entree. Hopefully, this means I will go back soon and get a second chance for pictures.

Regardless, both my friend Beth and I picked the delicious chicken kebobs, which was served with Saffron Basmati rice, and a side salad with a feta cheese.

And Natasha was very gracious and sent over a large piece of baklava with chocolate sauce drizzled over it with a candle!

Beth and I about to enjoy dessert
At least if nothing else, you can catch a glimpse of my fruity second cocktail above, a Gin and Ginger cocktail. And when you hear ginger, you instantly know it's The Big O! This cocktail was made with Pinkneyend Gin, lemon, and a bit of an apertif like Campari to give it the tartness and pink color.

I cannot wait to go back...

Resources:

Cafe Natasha = http://cafenatasha.com/

The Big O = http://drinkthebigo.com/

Cafe Napoli

I am very late reporting back on my birthday dinner and I'm sure I will get a lot of those "you haven't been there yet" responses as well. Sometimes the long-standing restaurants get forgotten among all the new and trendy places.

But this is definitely a restaurant that is doing it well consistently and it met all my expectations, between the dishes and the service. Definitely a good go-to place to take out of town company or a romantic date. Always a winner.

We all made it easy and went with the specials of the day, one of several three courses dinners. I selected one of my all-time favorites, Chilean Sea Bass.

Chilean Sea Bass with broccoli and potatoes
Again, an easy choice for Patience since she went with the scallops and she was even kind enough to share one with me! (True love!)

Scallops with pasta
Of course, no birthday dinner would be complete without a chocolate dessert! Chocolate lava cake! (This makes me think of the movie Chef now. hehe)

Chocolate Lava Cake
Resources:

Cafe Napoli = https://www.facebook.com/CafeNapoliSTL

Photos by Patience Scanlon