Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mama Gustos Wine Dinner

I’ve heard about Mama Gustos a couple of times…I know that Frank Cusimano sometimes does a sports radio show from there and I have a friend that works there. Since it’s quite a trek from where I live, I had to wait for a really good excuse to go…a wine dinner!

The five-course wine dinner was hosted by A. Bommarito Wines and guest Chef was Algusto Carfagno, the owner and operator of Original Mama Gustos in Lebanon, IL.

The attendees seemed to be Mama Gustos regulars and various other south-siders. I quickly made friends with another couple who lived pretty close by. While the dinner was quite filling, definitely the highlight of the dinner was discussing their travels to Italy, as they got married there and have been back a second time.

I could tell right away that the husband knew something about wine because he immediately complained that the first white wine, a Lagaria Chardonnay 2011 from Venezia, Italy, was too chilly and he couldn’t get a full nose of it. And instead of swirling the wine, he put his hand over the short wine glasses and shook them up and down. It turns out he used to be in the wine business so I started to ask him a lot of questions. The wine had a lot of oak on it so it was well paired with a heavier Pancetta Stuffed Mushroom.

By the time we got to the second wine, the Pieropan Soave 2010 from Veneto, Italy, he mentioned that he was friends with the owner of Iron Barley! I know how popular that place is among my friend so I started to ask him questions about the restaurant. It turns out the chef there likes to try new things from getting bored. All the cuts are butchered on site (fresh!) and soon he began to try things like putting a turduckin inside of a pig and gave it a French name to make it sound fancy. Hehe Lately, he has started making his own sausage and good news, the funky couch in the basement is long gone and has now been replaced by tables and chairs, but the patio sounds like the place to be as there are heaters out there too.

Stewed Tomato with Fresh Mozzarella
This white wine was a little lighter than the one before, but a sharper acidic finish, so as to match the Stewed Tomato with Fresh Mozzarella with basil and balsamic olive oil glaze.
By the time we hit the bolder red wines, such as the Coltibouno “Cereamura” Chianti 2010, Tuscany, Italy, we started to talk about their travels. I asked them to compare the north regions versus the south and which part was their favorite (Tuscany). They explained to me that it was considered rude to interrupt their “lunch time” during the middle of the day when they went home to their families, so they would use that time to travel to the next small town on their tour. The couple also said they were treated much better by the locals since they attempted to speak the language and didn’t dress like typical Americans in t-shirts and baseball hats. The Chianti was paired with a vegetable minestrone and both had a bit of spice to it.

Chicken Capicola with Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce
The biggest course paired a large Chicken Capicola with lemon garlic cream sauce and a parmesan herb risotto to a Paitin “Campolive” Barbera D’Albo 2009 from Piedmont, Italy. The couple was smarter than I was and left some of the chicken behind. Unfortunately, there was ham in the middle of it and it took me awhile to fish them out. At first, my dish came out without the sauce and the husband was kind enough to request that one with sauce be brought out since he figured that is where a lot of the flavor was.

Tiramisu Lemoncello Cupcake
For the last wine, a Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2011, also from Piedmont, Italy, the husband could barely sip because it was so sweet. He claimed that these wines were made for the ladies…so they’re clothes would fall off more easily. hehe A sweet dessert wine was definitely necessary to stand up to the sugary topped Tiramisu Lemoncello Cupcake. I finally got smart and took half of that home.
Even though I was full, I definitely was wanting to go back to Mama Gustos to try their pasta and pizza if their “special” Italian dinner was this tasty and filling.
I'm actually drinking a red wine!


Mama Gustos =

The Root and The Vine

Two of my favorite foodies, STLwinegirl (Angela Ortmann) and STLVegGirl (Caryn Dugan), got together to host the first vegan wine dinner in 12 years, with Mosaic’s Chef Ben Lester preparing all the courses. While I am not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, I have enjoyed taking several STLVegGirl classes since the emphasis is on healthy eating, which is something I strongly believe in regardless if you do it through a plant-based diet or not.

Rarely do you find “gourmet” vegetarian or vegan-based dishes while dining out either, so this was a very special occasion for those who do follow a restricted diet. In addition, the dinner raised over $1,800 for Food Outreach from ticket sales.

Before the dinner got started, we waited to be seated while enjoying a “vegan cocktail”, which included carrot, ginger, and cilantro. The drink definitely had a strong carrot flavor to it but without the thick, V-8 taste. Very refreshing with the ginger! (And at $5 each, all proceeds went to Food Outreach as well.)

This was probably one of the longest dinners I have been to since we started with an Amuse Bouche of Tofu Misozuke Stuff Squash Blossoms as well as STLVegGirl’s very own hummus that she makes herself. The table was quite crowded with plates and glasses at this point and I managed to finish off the hummus all by myself! Of course these starters were well paired with a sparkling Tomassi Prosecco from Italy.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
What really filled me up was the official first course, a Roasted Butternut Squash Soup that was actually sweet instead of the usual heavy, vegetable flavor. The sweetness continued with the Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, but I mostly tasted the apple chips and apple vinaigrette. The baked kale and candied pumpkin seed “granola” gave the salad additional crunch. They would have made tasty snacks by themselves! This was paired with a Chaumette Chardonel Reserve, from Missouri. The white wine had just enough body to handle the sweetness of the soup and salad.

Farro "Risotto" Milanese
The meal got heavier from there because next was a Farro “Risotto” Milanese made of local organic mushroom, salsify, cashew cream, and fennel pollen. The heavy "cream" and mushroom risotto was perfect for a rainy, fall night and the Siduri Pinot Noir, from Willamette Valley Oregon, was an even match with the course to help cut through the cream. I still had a little bit of wine left, which I really wanted to finish off, but unfortunately, the restaurant must have run out of wine glasses because I didn’t finish in time to get the next wine.

Carrot & Coconut Vadouvan Curry Caramelized Mofu Tofu
The Spanish Juan Gil Monastrell probably was a full-bodied wine because you would have needed a strong flavor with the Carrot & Coconut Vadouvan Curry Caramelized Mofu Tofu. That’s right, locally grown tofu created by Daniel Brewer and his Mofu Soy Beanery. I usually pass on curry while at Indian restaurants because I’m nervous about the amount of heat, but I really enjoyed the strong coconut flavor. The curry included cauliflower “cous cous”, pearl onions, heirloom carrots and tomatoes, and pee wee potatoes, in addition to the cubes of tofu. I have to admit…the tofu did well to soak up the curry but I just wish it wasn’t in those odd cubes.

Butternut Squash Soup
As much as I loved the butternut squash soup and the mushroom “risotto”, the highlight of the evening was STLVegGirl’s Dark Chocolate Mousse made with avocado. The dessert also came with a beet sorbet, which I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. It was definitely a refreshing flavor to help tame down the richness and creaminess of the chocolate, so they went well together in the same bite. But really, the chocolate was not overly rich like usual since the avocado tamed down the flavor. But for those vegans who enjoy their chocolate, this is a recipe you must get. This was also my favorite pairing of the nigh tsince the “Novy “Oley” Late Harvest Viognier, from California, was actually not overly sweet. This was actually quaffable by itself for sweet wine lovers like myself.

Overall, an amazing and creative meal for a good cause and I hope there will be another one in the near future…perhaps with another restaurant?


Mofu Soy Beanery =

Mosaic Tapas Restaurant Des Peres =

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Big Cheese

You know your friends support your cheese addiction when they post cheese pictures on your Facebook wall...

2nd Annual American Cheese Month Charity Event

Thanks to Feast magazine, I was thrilled to hear about the 2nd Annual American Cheese Month Charity Event that took place last Friday, hosted by Parker’s Table in Richmond Heights. First, I was happy that I had only missed one year and second, this gave me a chance to try out a new wine and cheese store, in addition to eating a lot of cheese at one time!

To help celebrate, American Cheese Month, eight artisinal cheeses were creatively paired with charcuterie from Salume Beddu as well as red and white wine. The event was presented and produced by CheezSorce, a cheese-making consulting company.

It was very hard not to take a lot of cheese at once, I did make my way around the floor a couple of times to make sure I got a good taste of each of the eight cheeses. I was very biased since my favorite local cheese makers were on the list for the evening.

The first stop was Baetje Farms and Veronica Baetje was handing out samples of their Bloomsdale cheese herself. She told me that she hopes to place some of her fruit blend cheeses in Dierbergs very soon.

Another favorite, Green Dirt Farm, was the second stop and they are located near the Kansas City area. Sarah Hoffman was also handing out samples but I spoke to one of her assistants for a while about the dinners they host at the farm. They will bring in a different chef each month to cook the meal, usually consisting of cheese and goat courses. The dinners were so successful that they sold out every single one! (I think that would make a fun road trip weekend.) Anyway, Green Dirt Farm served their Woolly Rind but my favorite is their Bossa…a gooey and VERY stinky cheese.

Another cheese with a strong flavor was the Prairie Breeze Cheddar, made by Milton Creamery from Milton, Iowa. This was the best cheddar of the night and the sharpest cheese.

There were also a couple of mozzarella cheeses and a blue, but my favorite cheese goes to Jasper Hill Creamery from Greensboro, Vermont. They had a creamy and gooey cow’s milk cheese that almost required a fork to eat, with a hint of barnyard flavor to it. Just like Epoisses, the best cheeses are messy!

Here is the full list:
  1. Baetje Farms, Bloomsdale, Goat’s Milk, Bloomsdale, MO
  2. Green Dirt Farm, Wooly Rind, Sheep’s Milk, Westin, MO
  3. Chapel Hill Creamery, Fresh Mozzarella, Cow’s Milk, Chapel Hill, NC
  4. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Flagship Reserve, Cow’s Milk, Seattle, WA
  5. Avalanche Cheese, Bandaged Goat Cheddar, Goat’s Milk, Basalt, CO
  6. Milton Creamery, Prairie Breeze Cheddar, Cow’s Milk, Milton, IA
  7. Jasper Hill Creamery, Harbison, Cow’s Milk, Greensboro, VT
  8. Valley Shepard Creamery, Crema de Blue, Jersey Cow and Sheep's Milk, Long Valley, NJ

Astoria Kabob House

Even though my blog may not be world-famous, at least my friends know by now that I enjoy dining out and that I can guide them to what they’re looking for. My buddy’s homework assignment required him to try a new ethnic restaurant and since he is not a fan of anything spicy, I thought we’d go someplace different. We went to Astoria, which is labeled as an Eastern European restaurant, but I call it “Russian”.

Since I grew up in the neighborhood, I had been past the restaurant many times and have gone there only once for lunch, and the restaurant was empty. I had heard of that being the case from several other people, although I knew the food was excellent. So I was really surprised when I walked in and the place was packed, with one half of the restaurant being used for a large party!

We got there just in time on a Saturday night as we only had to wait a few minutes for a table. The staff was very apologetic about the wait and were overly gracious the whole night. Once again the food was fantastic, although I admit, I stuck with my favorites.

I actually started with the Astoria Salad, which came with feta cheese, almonds, and raspberries, as well as a cup of Borsch (yes, that’s how they spelled it). Both starters had a sweet flavor and the borsch didn’t really need the dollop of sour cream, but I mixed it in anyway.

Luckily, my buddy wanted the same entrees that I did so we split the Chicken Kiev and Lamb Shiskabob. The chicken had a strong basil flavor while the lamb had a hint of gaminess to it, but was still quite tender.

Since the entrée portions were a proper size, we had room for dessert, but there was nothing chocolate listed. I do regret not tasting the cheese blinsis (again, their spelling), which is a real treat in my family.


Astoria Kabob House =

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Block Traveling Table

Since I really enjoyed my first visit to The Block, I couldn’t wait to go back for a Traveling Table with STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann. There were only three courses for this traveling table, no dessert, but I think this worked out for the best due to heavy courses and leftovers shared.

This Traveling Table was also special because each course paired a local beer in addition to a glass of wine, so I knew I had to pace myself and just sipped on both pairings.

We started with a “lighter” meat, Pastrami Cured Salmon compressed cucumbers, mixed greens, horseradish emulsion. The horseradish was a non-factor as the sweetness of the cucumber stood out the most. This paired best with the Gruet Brut Sparkling from New Mexico because the dry brut tamed down the sweetness. The Urban Chestnut Zwickel is also a lighter beer, but it has an odd nutty flavor to me.

Next up was the “medium” meat, Braised Pork Belly, crispy poached farm egg, grilled brioche with house-made jam, and better known as “Bacon & Eggs”. I stuck with the poached egg and grape jam while finding a good home for the pork belly. For this course, I preferred the Belgium-style Pale Ale Perennial Hommel since it had a milder finish than the A to Z Pinot Gris from Oregon, which was a little too dry.

My favorite course by far was the Grilled Sirloin, which also came with a large and tender beef rib. Since my friends were so full from their pork belly, I was able to score quite a few leftover sirloin pieces. I would have been happy with this course alone. The sirloin was perfectly pink and juicy.

This course was paired with the wine Elyse C’est Si Bon, meaning “It’s so good”, from Sierra Foothills, CA and the beer was a Charleville Tornado Alley from Ste. Genevieve, MO, a heavier ale. The wine had a much smoother finish to pair well with the sirloin, while the beer was a little too strong.


STLwinegirl =

The Block =

Urban Chestnut =

Perennial =

Charleville Vineyard =

Photos by Angela Ortmann