Polite Provisions: Manufacturers of Local Tonics, Elixirs and Cures

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Polite Provisions is the brainchild of Erick Castro and the guys behind famed San Diego bars Craft and Commerce, Underbelly and Noble Experiment.  The interior space  has the feel of an old time drug store with it’s tiled floors and faux tin ceilings mixed with fitting but eclectic touches like old street lamps and fire extinguishers.  The space is absolutely cool, hip and well thought out but the real draw is the amazing cocktails made from a selection of over 50 different bitters and forty six taps pulling everything from craft beers and sodas to draft cocktails and spirits.

Polite Provisions 05We had to drive to San Diego to pick up our beloved VW Westfalia from Pete at SD Westy.  When we arrived he told us we would need another hour or two to button up some loose ends and get our vanagon ready for the voyage back home.  Lisa had come equipped with a list of places to check out and things to do.  Polite Provisions on 30th and Adams was at the top of the list.  We stood outside in the rain waiting for the bartender to unlock the doors and let us in the gold framed wood and glass door.

Polite Provisions 01We sat down and checked out their amazing cocktail and beverage menu with so many great choices of pre-prohibition influenced libations I knew we were in trouble.  Go to their web site to check it out: http://politeprovisions.com/menu/politeprovisionsmenu.pdf  We started with two cocktails, one rum based and the other with Champagne.

Polite Provisions 14Now that we had drinks we needed to order food from Soda and Swine, the sister restaurant next door.  The premise is a meatball shop offering six basic meatballs which you can get in a variety of guises from a sub to pasta and back again.  They have amazing sides, like the Scotch Egg pictured below to over the top dirty fries topped with pork belly and other tasty treats.  They kindly deliver food to your table so that you won’t have to leave your cocktail unchaperoned.  The food is plentiful, fatty and deliciously served on half sheet pans.

Polite Provisions 18While eating Pete called and said it would be a few more hours.  What a terrible place to have to sit and wait for your car to be serviced!

Polite Provisions 13 Polite Provisions 12 Polite Provisions 11 Polite Provisions 10 Polite Provisions 09 Polite Provisions 08 Polite Provisions 07 Polite Provisions 06 Polite Provisions 21I could not more highly, or drunkenly, recommend Polite Provisions!

Cheers!

Epic LA Champagne Tasting: The Terry Theise Estate Selections

Noodles 06If you have never been to a Terry Theise tasting than you never have experienced a great Champagne tasting.  Terry has been described as several things but I like best what wine importer Michael Skurnik had to say “The Man, the Myth, the Legend! If it is true that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terry Theise has been there and back. A brief perusal of his writing makes it quickly apparent that the man has no reservations about conveying his thoughts and feelings on wine, life, sex, philosophy and general cosmology. In Terry’s world, it’s all inter-related. So, without further ado, we encourage you to jump headlong into the wonderful world of Terry Theise German, Austrian and Champagne Estate Selections. Prepare yourself for a psychotropic experience.”

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scan0042Wow!  I think Terry kind of covers his philosophy on his own.  Needless to say the event is simply amazing.  Lisa, Frederic and myself drove to Los Angeles to attend the tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Noodles 01 Noodles 02 Noodles 10The Roosevelt is a historical hotel near many Hollywood landmarks.  Here is a history from their website: “Bringing glamour back to the Boulevard, Thompson Hotel’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel reincarnation resonates with the opulence of its fabled past. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has a long history of catering to the show business elite. The hotel was founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries (including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, and Louis B. Mayer) to house east coast movie-makers who were working on the west coast. Hollywood Roosevelt hotel’s “Blossom Room” hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on May 19, 1929. That was also the shortest Oscar ceremony ever, lasting just five minutes, as Douglas Fairbanks and Al Jolson helped give away 13 statuettes. Marilyn Monroe was a resident at the Hollywood Roosevelt for two years when her modeling career took off. Her first magazine shoot was taken on the diving board on the pool behind the hotel, which was recently removed. The hotel’s remodeled pool contains an underwater mural painted by David Hockney.”

The Roosevelt is slightly faded from it’s former luster years but still worth visiting.  The tasting was in their Public Kitchen and Bar (http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt/eat/public-kitchen-and-bar)

Noodles 08The Champagne tasting itself featured 105 great sparklers.  The standouts for me included a simple and inexpensive Greek organic sparkler called Karanika.  Here is what Tom Stevenson had to say about the domaine  “I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro’s naturally high acid and intrinsically low colour makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman’s 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky-smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. Okay, I could quibble about the wine, and I did face to face with Hartman, but it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece. With his 2011 on yeast and 2012 still base wine both show promise, it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.”  A decent bottle worthy of a spot on our by the glass offerings at Figue.

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Frederic was simply gaga over a Portuguese sparkler whose name eludes me.  The jewel of the tasting, however, is the offerings from Vilmart et Cie, an absolutely stunning grower/producer.  Here what Terry had to say In the early days when I first approached Vilmart and started working with Laurent Champs, I had mixed emotions about some of the Champagnes. Please note what “mixed emotions” actually means. It doesn’t mean I doubted the worthiness of the wines or thought they were mediocre. It means I had different opinions about different aspects of the wines. I was thrilled with some, intrigued with all, and wondered whether a couple were too oaky.

Earlier in his career, I think Laurent was flying blind on the matter of oak, and his recent Champagnes have wisely—presented a more integrated and elegant  profile. Yet he is adamantly a vintner first, before he is a maker of Champagne: “We do wine first, then afterward we do Champagne,” he says. Every base wine, without exception, sees at least ten months in casks of  varying size and newness. Once in a while there’s a brief disconnect between fruit and wood immediately after disgorgement, but 2-3 years on the cork make for a dramatic metamorphosis. Matter of fact, I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines. Casks are hardly the point anymore. Organic viticulture, (truly!) low yields, remarkable polish of fruit, and the deliberate patient pursuit of a vision of perfection make Laurent Champs’ estate a gemstone gleaming among the chalk. ”

The tasting is amazing in many respects like you pour your own pours for all the wines except Vilmart.  Last year, Lisa and I resorted to donning costumes and adopting strange accents in our vain attempts to fool the pourer into giving us more.  The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee was absolutely stunning in it’s elegance.  Probably one of the best Champagnes I have had the privilege to drink.  The 2005 was amazing too but lacked the strength of vintage that 2004’s presented.  Other notables from Vilmart et Cie included the NV Grand Cellier brut and the magnum of 2006 Grand Celler d’Or.  I strongly suggest visiting their property in Champagne and drinking their wine whenever the opportunity presents itself.  http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/

The other stars of the show included NV Cuvee Julie from grower/producer Henri Biilliot (beautifully floral fragrances),The rose brut from Chartogne-Taillet; the 2008 Millesime brut from Vallee de la Marne and the 2006 Grand Vintage Blanc de Blanc from Varnier Fanniere.  I want to thank George Pavlov of Wine Wise for the invitation.  It truly is a spectacular event.

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Morgans at La Quinta Resort

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Sunday night, Lisa and I got a reprieve from Warden Beau and were furloughed for three hours, just long enough to escape for dinner at nearby restaurant Morgan’s.  I have been wanting to eat here for a long time but it always seemed impossible.  I guess my mind wanders to LA hotspots rather than what is in my neighborhood.  Michael Vaughn, executive Sous Chef of the property, has been a regular customer at Figue and every time he comes in I always feel bad I haven’t visited one of his places always promising to get in.

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We arrived promptly at 5:30 for cocktails at their beautiful bar for a round of leisurely drinks.  Lisa started with a Tangerine and Ginger Margarita while I had the Rum Old Fashioned.  The drinks were perfect.  I loved the decor of the bar area as it kind of reminded me of an old steak house with a it’s luxurious wood and glass.  The bar had a beautiful glass case with cheeses.  Next to the bar was a gorgeous outdoor dining area.  While we were enjoying our drinks Brian Recor, Chef de Cuisine, came out to visit.  Jimmy Schmidt is the name brand behind the concept but Brian is the guy who actually cooks.  I don’t mean to slight Jimmy, it’s just for the immediate purposes of filling my stomach with delectable bites I was more interested in Brian’s well-being.

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The hostesses lead us to a beautiful table in the back corner of the dining room.  Our waiter arrived and offered the regular menu and a tasting menu featuring apples.  With too many good choices to decide from we picked one tasting menu and a few dishes of the regular menu.  We started with a plate of oysters topped with Riesling and Hard Cider Granita.  Normally I am a guy who wants brine and more brine but these oysters were delicious.  The brine complimented the sweetness of the granita.  Lisa started with a Gruet Brut and I had the ‘Le Cengle Rose’ from Provence.  The sparkler highlighted the Sea while my rose brought out the apples.  Two great choices for this dish.

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After the oysters came their Apple and Chanterelle Ravioli from the tasting menu and Ahi Tuna and Pomegranate Tartare.  I had asked the waiter to pick whatever he wanted.  The Chef kindly sent out his Baja Shrimp glazed with spices and a ragout of cauliflower and white beans.  We both found the ravioli a tad too sweet but the tartare and shrimp were stellar.  With the round of appetizers Lisa and I shared a glass of Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia highlands.

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Our main courses were Smoked Pistachio crusted Rack of Colorado Lamb served with White Beans and roasted Garlic dressed in a Pomegranate reduction and Lisa’s Apple Cider cured pan roasted Duck Breast.  Lisa paired it with the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and I had a zinfandel who’s name eludes me.  Both dishes were tasty and by now we started thinking about our curfew.

Lisa had forgotten about her dessert but thankfully the waiter remembered.  Her Apple Cinnamon Donut Poppers arrived drizzled in Cinnamon Brittle with Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  Sated we left, returning to warden Beau and his army of balloons.

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To make reservations or for more information on Morgan’s or any of the other restaurants at La Quinta resort please go to their website.  It is a gorgeous property with wonderful rooms, shops and best of all several restaurants to choose from.  http://www.laquintaresort.com/resort/

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The Venue: Turkish Sushi?

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Just a short post today…  Lisa and I went to Beaumont’s parent/teacher conference at his Montessori school last night and used the occasion to power down dinner at an incredible sushi restaurant run by owner/chef Engin Onural.  Any parent will acknowledge the difficulty getting alone time.  That in itself is double edged, on one hand it is nice to go on a date with my wife and on the other hand I love my son so much and want to spend every second I can with him.  We took the time to eat al fresco and enjoy great food.

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During the day I continued my weekly/yearly photo assignment of photographing the Desert.  Today’s focus was the Palm Springs windmills, eyesore to some and amazing natural technology to others.  I parked near the Amtrak station and walked around the area in a small sandstorm and shot these pictures.

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We arrived promptly at 5pm with the sole intent on eating a few rolls and having a couple of Onurai’s incredible liquid libations.  The menu offers a typical assortment of sushi rolls punctuated by a few amazing not your normal sushi bar offerings like Onurai’s deconstruction of a prosciutto and arugula pizza.  I have to admit we were full when he came by our table and told us not to miss that one.

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THE BOLD
Snow crab, avocado and cream cheese topped with thin sliced prosciutto served with arugula salad, sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate vinaigrette

What I love about this place is the Chef’s passion.  Being a Chef I love to see it, feel it.  It just makes the experience so much more rich and 3 D.  The Chef here is not Japanese, he is Turkish. That fact adds another layer to the complexity of flavors and the willingness to experiment and create something new.

Venue 06 Venue 05The drinks are another realm of his experimentation.  The restaurant bills itself as a sake bar and lounge.  Lisa and I shared two creative and refreshing drinks, Flor Dulce and the Lotus.

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FLOR DULCE
Sparkling wine, splash of hibiscus nectar with edible Hibiscus flower

Venue 08Great, super friendly staff takes awesome care of you while there!

from their website:

THE VENUE SUSHI BAR &
SAKE LOUNGE

Chic. Modern. Sophisticated. But also casual and friendly.
Ask around. The Venue is the cool hot spot on El Paseo in Palm Desert, popular with locals, out-of-town visitors and food critics who serve up rave reviews.

The Venue is artful, from its sleek décor to the original, ever-evolving menu, enthusiastically created by owner/chef Engin Onural. “This is my art,” he shares. “Each plate is a painting, but I use fish instead of paint.”

No detail is overlooked. Even the exotic specialty drinks are original works of art. Such as the Flor Dulce, which combines sparkling sake, edible hibiscus flower and hibiscus nectar.

Because Engin is a Sake Sommelier, you can also sample a surprising array of fine Sakes, as well as Asian beers and fine wines.

Everything is designed to enhance your enjoyment of a distinctive menu of sushi and other dishes that can only be called “unexpected.” The signature roll, The Venue, is not like any spicy tuna roll you’ve ever ordered. It’s topped with salmon, seared with a blowtorch, with a light sauce of micro greens and tabiko (flying fish caviar). The Bosphorus, which pays homage to Engin’s homeland of Turkey, features shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and escolat, with a hint of heat. That’s just two of the delicious possibilities on The Venue’s menu.

Visit often. You wouldn’t want to miss Chef Engin’s latest creations.

Make a reservation and eat there soon (and often!) http://www.thevenuepalmdesert.com/home.php

 

 

 

Sunday Family Day: Tibetan Dumplings: Who’s Your Momo?

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We shared the richest and fullest family day to date.  The day started early as it always does when you have a precocious two and a half year set on proving his place in the family structure.  I just wish his coordination matched the age of his mind and he could act on his thoughts.  Beau wakes us up with promises of ‘presso.  My half awake early morning brainwaves conjure images of the perfect espresso rich and creamy with it’s crema perfect like at Insight Coffee in Sacramento.  Thoughts wander to Antoine St. Exupery’s passage from his amazing book “Wind, Sands and Stars”, “The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.” .  My java filled dream bubble rudely popped by Beau’s impromptu impersonation of a dinosaur complete with screaming at the top of his lungs and menacingly lunging at us.  I suppose in the long run, a two year old screaming Dinosaur gets me out of bed faster than coffee.

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Lately mornings have been more tolerable as cooler weather patterns have moved in.  We decided on a walk in the Desert just south of the Top of the Cove, where we live.  The slow season out here is great in the sense that you rarely see anyone walking in the Desert.  The explanation is two fold, (a) most people leave this are for the hot summer months and (b) only a fool takes a long walk in the Desert with 126 degree temperatures.  We walked through an area that  a flash flood recently ravaged.  The devastation was amazingly surreal and permanent, forever altering the landscape, where piles of rocks once stood, only dried plates of dirt and sand remain.  Beau enjoyed himself jumping on these natural tiles and smashing him imploring Daddy to join the destruction.

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Sunday Family Day 092213 03I was set on cooking an Asian based fest for Gary and Joan, Lisa, myself and Beau.  I had purchased three pounds of calamari, one whole Tai Snapper, fresh pork from De La Ranch and some ground beef to cook with.  The menu was Tibetan Beef Dumplings with Ginger Tomato Sauce, Pork and Cabbage Dumplings with a Ginger dipping sauce, Salt and Pepper Calamari, Crispy Tai Snapper with Green Papaya and Scallion Oil, finished with barbecues Pineapple with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream drizzled with a (Pyrat) Rum and Vanilla Bean butter sauce.  I prepped feverishly for two hours trying to get as much done as quickly as possible.  Strange, you’d think I hated cooking on my day off.  Truth be told, cooking is love and what a great way to show love, one stomach at a time!

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We ventured to Beau’s favorite playground, the Blue Playground, just off of 111 and Adams.  Beau danced in the water like a dervish spinning and whirling to some hidden, ecstatic inner voice and rhythm, endlessly circling the fake palm tree squirting water all over. The women of his tribe chased him as he ran around the tree stopping momentarily in the safe harbor of mama or dada’s lap.  Water had transformed our little dinosaur.  WE stopped at Home Depot for a few things to garden with.  I converted our Guatemalan drink cart into a garden planter and made a pot of herbs for Joan and Gary as a thanks for the help they give us raising Beaumont. Beaumont passed out hard, for twenty minutes, not as long as we hoped but enough to re energize him and prime him for Dama and Putz (grandma and grandpa) arrival.

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For seven years I dwelt in the loose palace of exile.
Playing strange games with the girls of the Island.
Now I have come again to the land of the fair and the strong and the wise. Brothers and Sisters of the pale forest. Children of the night. Who among you will run with the hunt? Now, night arrives with her purple legions. Retire now to your tents and to your dreams. Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth. I want to be ready.
– Jim Morrison

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Dama and Putz arrived and Lisa elevated the mood with her Golden Lions.  One day I will have to transcribe the recipe for Daniel Boulud’s amazing cocktail, fresh ginger juice, Pyrat rum, lime.  Together we shared plates of Sha Momo (Tibetan Beef Dumplings), Chinese Pork and Cabbage Dumpling, crispy fried Tai Snapper, Salt and Pepper Calamari and a refreshing roasted Pineapple with Vanilla Bean and Pyrat rum sauce…

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Beaumont sporting his Pumpkin Lights from Dama

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Long after the night ended and our dinosaur was fast asleep, we enjoyed a flute of Prosecco promising that every Sunday should be like this…

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whole Tai Snapper frying, waiting to be covered with julienned green papaya, scallion oil and a Thai fish sauceSunday Family Day 092213 06Kaffir Limes look so much like a Shar Pei crossed with a Lime

 

 

Sha Moma: largely stolen from Andrea Nguyen’s amazing dumpling book that ought to be a part of everyone’s cook book collection called “Asian Dumplings”

Filling:

3/4 pound ground Beef

1/2 cup Onion, chopped fine

1/3 cup Scallions, chopped

1/4 cup Ginger, minced

1/4 cup Garlic, minced

Salt and Sichuan Pepper

2 tablespoon Canola Oil

6 tablespoons Water

Mix everything together, rest one hour

Dumpling Dough:

2 cups Flour

3/4 cup boiling water

Mix in food processor with plastic dough blade, rest two hours.

Cut small lumps of dough and roll thin with wine bottle or rolling pin.  Take a big spoonful of meat and wrap around.  Put into a cabbage leaf lined steamer and cook 12 minutes.  Serve with a tomato sauce made from scratch adding cumin, hot peppers, copious quantities of ginger root, mint and cilantro.

 

Viva La France at Figue Mediterranean

Lisa and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dining at Figue.  All summer long Figue has been visiting various countries as part of a staycation program.  July is all about France.  Our bar is featuring various hors d’oeuvres typically found in Parisian wine bars that our bartenders have created French inspired cocktails to pair with; Celeste our Sommelier has picked a wide range of great French wines, we have a special Bastille Day celebration planned and all month long we are featuring a Brasserie styled menu loaded with all the classics of French cooking.  That’s what brought me in.  Good old fashioned French food.  Comfort food.

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We started with two flutes of Champagne and a plate of Beausoleil Oysters from Eastern Canada.

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We ordered a bottle of La Fleur Gazin and moved onto to Duck Galantine with Housemade Pickles followed by grilled Onglet (hangar steak) frites with Bearnaise and Short Rib Bourguignonne.

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The steak frites were unbelievable.  I never have understood why people like filets so much.  They have a terrible consistency and almost no flavor in comparison to a rib eye or hangar.  The short rib Bourguinonne melted in my mouth and sang with the wine.

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Next we had the Chocolate Pots de Creme.  Rich, deep chocolate yumminess!

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Next was a trio of mignardises to nibble on with my cappuccino.  All together it was a great meal.  I hate saying that about my own food because I am really not egotistical.  I love French comfort food as it is what I grew up eating.  Please come and visit us this month at http://www.EatFigue.com

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Eating at your own restaurant is bit like witnessing a slow death…

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Let me clarify that.  I think when we die we get front row seats to a review of our entire lives…  we firsthand relive the proud moments of achievements completed and we watch, eyes fixated to the screen, the disasters of our lives feeling every bit of emotions we did the first time.  We cannot hide from ourselves.  You never can.

In 30 years of cooking I have never eaten where I worked.  It is near impossible to separate myself from being so intimately connected to simply being a guest.  It was voyeuristic to watch firsthand how people react to your soul being laid out on a plate naked for the world to gawk at, criticize, compliment.  It is one thing to get a good/bad review on the internet where people hide behind computer screens and critic your efforts anonymously and it is completely another thing sitting next to them, hearing their comments live, unfiltered.  I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to do so.

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Last night my wife and I went on a date to Figue in La Quinta, California where I am Executive Chef.  We walked in the massive front door and were promptly greeted by one of our hostesses.  We settled on a few drinks and a charcuterie plate at the bar before going to our table.  We ordered two different bubbly cocktails.  I had the Poinsettia and Lisa tried the Fraises Embrouille.  I really enjoyed mine, it had the perfect balance of flavors, sweetness and tartness.  Lisa fraises embrouille lacked flavor and needed some amping up.  Celeste, our sommelier, had our drinks remade and it was much better the second time.

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Our Italian American charcuterie plate was amazing.  On the plate was slices of charcuterie from various salumi producers in America who make Italian charcuterie, olive and mostarda.  The absolute best was the lardo made from Spanish Bellota pigs by la Quercia in Iowa.  Lardo is completely decadent and rich and amazing. We enjoyed the perfect bit with the richness playing off the saltiness of our house made focaccia.  The varzi salumi with it’s distinct cloves and nutmeg flavors from Creminelli in Utah was the perfect foil for the sweet, mustardy mostarda.  Javier, our waiter, brought the complimentary bread service which tonight was Turkish flatbread served with Labne, a house made yogurt cheese dusted with Aleppo pepper.  Mistakenly he called the bread Syrian mountain bread but I wasn’t here to correct while eating.  The bread was doughy and undercooked and felt like a dagger being stuck into my heart.  I live and breathe my food and it hurts to see it served incorrectly.  I pushed it aside and continued with the amazing focaccia.

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The hostess returned and took us to our table.  On the table are beautiful, hand made pottery diamond shaped plates made by the Wheel in San Diego that we use as share plates.  They are incredible plates.

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Normally when I eat out I scan the menu for dishes I really am excited to try.  Any belly, pork belly, hamachi belly, usually gets my vote.  Tonight I picked dishes I normally would never pick. I love scallops but I never order them.  Part of the problem is they usually suck.  It is more normal to get water added, or wet scallops, than it is to get diver picked dry scallops.  We also ordered the charred tuna crudo with Moroccan Charmoula.  The whole tuna served raw thing is so over played now that it is easy for me to look past that on any menu.  Tonight I ordered both and was reminded of how gorgeous and delicious they can be.

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The thin slices of charred tuna marinated in Moroccan spices served with orange segments and deep fried garlic chips sang in my mouth.  Every bite was an explosion of exotic flavors.  The scallops were perfectly seared by my sous chef Alejandro Hernandez and served with a pile of zucchini spaghetti and a carrot juice and saffron emulsion.  Like a bad infection, the underdone flatbread reappeared at our table.  I returned it, hoping never to see it again.  Celeste our unbelievable sommelier picked a Pic Poul that went spot on with both dishes.

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We moved onto two newer dishes, a Piquillo Pepper roasted and stuffed with Cypress Grove Sgt. Pepper’s Goat Cheese served over a Mache Salad dressed in a shallot vinaigrette that to me was jaw dropping in it’s flavors, richness and creaminess.  We also had the Spring Sweet Pea and Mascarpone Ravioli in a Lemon Vegetable Brodo with Truffled Pesto.  It was outstanding.  I had eaten my fair share of these raviolis in the kitchen but to get them table-side was orgasmic.  We decided to let Celeste go and surprise us with wine choices.  She knows my palate well enough.  She picked a Cinsault Rose that sang to the gods.

We moved onto probably my favorite dish on the current menu, a whole Daurade Royale served with Artichoke and Fennel Barigoule with Olive Tapenado.  Celeste served two wines, a Domaine Coulerette Chablis that sang and an effervescent Getariako.  Both were great in their own way.  One thing I always wonder is why more guests coming to a restaurant do not leave the experience in the hands of the Chef and sommelier.  It is a far more interesting way to eat and you will probably try things you are unfamiliar with.  Part of the problem is we fear letting go of control.  We think we are open minded and ready for spontaneous things.  When in reality we want to be firmly in control fearing the unexplored and the new and different.

While eating the Daurade the table next to us returned the Porchetta, a spit roasted acorn fed pig slow cooked over a wood fire on our custom made Italian rotisserie.  I ordered some to try it myself.  Another dish I love in the kitchen but would never order.  The customer felt it was too fatty.  I felt it was perfectly cooked and would not change a thing.  Sometimes dear friends the customer is NOT right.  The Pigue Newton, a fig and bacon compote we serve with it went extremely well.  Celeste had picked a Burgundy to match the pork.  Another great choice.

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While eating I noticed a gentleman I had spoken with a few days before sitting at the table next to me.  The attempt of dining incognito ended.  I bought two desserts for the porchetta table and introduced myself when they received it.  I said hello and talked with the gentlemen I met before and started a great conversation with the folks next to me who happened to be from my hometown of Chicago.  I also met the owner of a few area restaurants and discussed our concept with him.  Celeste is pictured above with the doctor who owns three area restaurants.

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We finished the night off with a dessert me and former pastry Chef Sarah Smith had come up with while working at Copper Beech Inn in Connecticut a few years back.  It has been re purposed and modified with current pastry chef Carla Rojas.  It is a Strawberry Soup with a Vacherin of Mara de Bois Strawberries and Frozen Lavender Yogurt.

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All in all it was a great night and everyone made me proud.  I am so happy with my sous chef Alex and my entire kitchen staff.  Javier and the front of the house did really really well minus a few mistakes on menu knowledge.  Micheal my charcuterie bar Chef did an amazing job with the cold food.  I forgot to mention he served us a delectable parmesan shortbread with tomato confit and Bulgarian feta…  I slept very easily knowing we are on the straight and narrow road.  I may eat here again before thirty years pass…  If you come to visit ask for me!

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Day Four: More Champagne… Will my Liver Survive this Onslaught?

We arrived back in Epernay with the same foreboding feeling my friend and Vietnam vet buddy Jim Groeger must have felt when returning to the scene of a horrendous battle a few days later only to retake the same hill again.  I imagined the streets littered with empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses.  Thank god the ghosts of bottles drank were gone and the streets clear. Whew!

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Looking at road signs in a wine region is a bit like reading a great wine list. Every direction offers great possibilities.  Which way to turn, towards Bollinger or Rene Geoffrey?  Today we headed to one of the best small producers in the region at the behest of my friend Peter Zitz who works for America’s foremost distributor, Michael Skurnik.

Rene Geoffrey is one of the superstars in this neck of the woods, and one of the few who does no malo fermentation and actually makes rose champagne the way rose champagne ought to be made.  Trivia tidbit, only two percent of rose Champagne is made saignée.  In short, saignée is one of the methods of making rosé wines, along with blending white and red wine.  It is simply macerating (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor) the wine with the skins for a short period of time.  98% of rose Champagne is made by adding red wine.

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Jean Baptiste Geoffroy started making Champagne closer to his vineyards with part of the production occurring at his, his father’s and his grandmother’s houses.  Life was chaotic and confusing and spread out.  Luckily he found a building an old cooperative had operated that he modified with an ingenious gravity fed wine making system and moved his production there.  The size of the building allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses are located.

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The grapes are pressed and the juice passes through a series of pipes that go down one level, deeper into the caves.  Using gravity rather than pumps is gentler on the wine and therefore preferred.  Everyday each and every bottle is given either an 1/8 or 1/4 turn.  Every one of his 10,000 bottles he makes each year.  Some of this is mechanically done and some by hand.

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After the tour we tasted three different Champagnes and a rustic still wine he makes using solely Pinot Meunier grapes.  We were excited because we had never tried one.  Look at the crazy stairs between levels of his cave.

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After the tasting and a prix fixe lunch at a non-descript brasserie we headed back to the Chateau with high hopes of napping.  Eating and drinking takes its toll on your body.  Please, no tears for our excesses.  Upon arrival, Beaumont decided he would torture us by carting him around the property for a survey of the fountains and moat.  That boy is single minded…

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The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI (obviously before he and his head became separated during the revolution).  Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages.  Parts were added throughout the centuries and parts faded into memories.  Beaumont is related to the Louis line through my father’s side of the family.

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Dinner brought us back to the city of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we drink and eat on.  We arrived promptly on time for our 7:30 reservation at Caves du Champagne for a bit of local cuisine and more Champagne.  The tiny storefront restaurant was packed and the guests looked decidedly unhappy to see a 15 month old boy enter.  Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down with a rare performance that hurls this tiny gourmand into the annals of terror with his ear splitting screaming and chucking of water glasses.  Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently.  As a parent you quickly realize who has had children and who hasn’t.  Other parents look at you with sympathy, kindness and understanding.  Non parents shoot visual death daggers at you.  We ate three delicious courses and drank Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”.  Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras with Ratafina Gelee, a local sweet aperitif while I inhaled six oysters gratinee.  I ate them so quickly I didn’t notice they  scorched my throat till later.  For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful Magret of Duckling with Green Grapes and I sautéed Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms.  Beaumont paused his tantrum long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads.  As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to recoup.  Both courses were very very good and complimented the champagne well.  I must admit the small amount of sweetbreads Beaumont let me eat really brought out the apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve.  Slight reprieve before Beaumont’s act two began.  Somewhere during dessert Lisa fled under the table and tossed Beau at me.  Everything was hunky dory till he grabbed a small water glass and doused me with holy water as if to exorcise the demons from within.  This actually brought the Chef owner out who clearly was not a parent.  With Lisa now trying to speak French and pretend neither Beau nor me was related I fled the dining and escaped to the technological world of our über modern Peugeot.  In retrospect I think the dining room was too small and crowded and offered too much stimulation for Beau.  One day we will return, though I probably will wear a fake set of glasses with a plastic nose…  For those keeping score I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…

bon soir and bon nuits and tomorrow brings Burgundy in all her splendor!