Buvette - French Charm in the West Village

French style charm and an upbeat vibe abound here.

French style charm and an upbeat vibe abound here.

A couple of years ago a friend and I stopped in at this lovely little restaurant after attending a wine tasting nearby. It was the late afternoon, too early for dinner and too late for lunch, but never the wrong time for a snack!  My friend ordered a beer and I (always hungry!) ordered grilled octopus. We had a delightful time sitting at the beautiful white marble bar, catching up with each other and saying hello to other friends who had also made their way to this cozy haven on Grove St in the West Village.  Afterwards, I made a mental note to myself that I must make my way back for a full meal.  I finally returned to Buvette last week with a friend for lunch.  And what a lunch it was!  The food here is rather simple French bistro cooking with Italian accents, but every dish we ordered was just bursting with flavor!  We started with the steak tartare, served with grilled slices of crusty bread sprinkled with a delicious olive oil.  Alongside the steak we enjoyed carrots julienned with fresh cilantro and dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette.  All the flavors were so bright and fresh and left us wanting more.  We then shared a garlicky chicken salad as well as the "Cr'q Madame", a sunny-side egg on toasted bread, covered with oozing gruyere cheese.  We ended the meal with a delicious, perfectly caramelized slice of tarte tatin and some strong coffee. This is the type of place you can settle in with friends for the morning (or the afternoon or the evening!) and drink some coffee, sip some wine, eat some comfort food and feel like you've crossed the Atlantic and are sitting at a cafe on the left bank of the Seine.  What to drink here?  I had a French lager beer from the selection on tap but there are also cocktails and an all-French wine list with some interesting bottles at decent prices.  Do yourself a favor and go to Buvette.  Bon appetit!! 

Steak tartare went perfectly with a French lager beer.   The raw steak, dusted with freshly cracked black pepper, was on grilled bread on top of a bed of Boston lettuce tossed with a flavorful vinaigrette.

Steak tartare went perfectly with a French lager beer.   The raw steak, dusted with freshly cracked black pepper, was on grilled bread on top of a bed of Boston lettuce tossed with a flavorful vinaigrette.

Cheesy Cr'q Madame, topped with a slice of prosciutto, some grated parmesan and a couple pieces of deliciously pungent fried sage hidden underneath the egg.

Cheesy Cr'q Madame, topped with a slice of prosciutto, some grated parmesan and a couple pieces of deliciously pungent fried sage hidden underneath the egg.

The tarte tatin had perfectly caramelized apples.

The tarte tatin had perfectly caramelized apples.

How To Drink "Flowers" - Nebbiolos from Valtellina

Most people, myself included, think of Piedmont in Northwestern Italy when they think about wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. The Langhe area in Southern Piedmont produces great, complex Barolos and Barbarescos, as well as simpler wines known as Langhe Nebbiolos. Barolos and Barbarescos are some of the most sought after and prestigious wines in all of Italy, commanding quite high prices. But there are also wonderful, more affordable Nebbiolo wines to be found in other areas of Northernwestern Italy, like those in Lombardy, the neighboring region just to the east of Piedmont.  This region of Italy is home to some of the most beautiful lakes of Northern Italy, such as Lake Como and Lake Garda.  There is an alpine valley in the far north of Lombardy called Valtellina which has been producing wine for over 2,000 years.  This mountainous area with very steep slopes produces red wine made mostly from Nebbiolo grapes, but they can also contain a small percentage of other locally grown grapes. These red wines, know locally as Chiavennasca, are lighter and less tannic than their counterparts in Piedmont due to cooler temperatures and higher elevations.  While young, these wines are bright crimson in color with aromatics of bright cherry, tar and rose water. As they age, they slowly transform into a crimson color with a brick orange rim and present more gamey, leather-like notes on the palate, but are still very floral and delicate.  

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I recently had a Valtellina red wine at Republique, a fun, lively restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.  The food there is modern French and the wine list has an interesting collection of off-the-beaten-path, mostly French and Italian wines.  The 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore from the village of Valgella was a perfect choice to accompany the wide variety of spices and flavors. To my delight, this wine went perfectly with every dish, from the hamachi crudo with a thai curry sauce to the hearty rotisserie chicken with mustard and chilis.  It never overpowered any of the more delicate flavors of the food, yet it stood up to some of the bolder ingredients.  Fifteen years in the bottle had mellowed the fruit somewhat, but what remained was still fresh and vibrant with enough lingering structure to compliment and support the fruit. Over the course of our meal the flavors kept blossoming. It felt like we were drinking flowers...delicious, delicate flowers!! 

The next time you're dining out I would suggest asking the sommelier if there are any Rosso di Valtellinas on the wine list.  For the best experience, try one from one of the following DOCG areas: Grumello, Inferno, Maroggia, Sassella or Valgella.  You can also go to www.wine-searcher.com to see if any of these wines can be found at a local wine shop. You won't be disappointed!

A FEW RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS OF ROSSO DI VALTELLINA:

Aldo Rainoldi, Nino Negri, Balgera

 

Two dishes which went well with the Valtellina wine:

Hamachi Crudo with a thai curry sauce

Hamachi Crudo with a thai curry sauce

Casarecce Pasta with dungeness crab, sea urchin, tomatoes, basil and lemon.  Fantastic with the wine!

Casarecce Pasta with dungeness crab, sea urchin, tomatoes, basil and lemon.  Fantastic with the wine!

6 Top Spots in Austin's Dining Scene

If you have never been to Austin, Texas, you should put it on the top of your list of places to go!  You will find a vibrant music scene, lots of outdoor activities, great shopping and an exploding food and beverage scene.   The feel all over town is laid-back, casual and of people having a good time.  Every time I visit Austin, I find so many great places to eat and drink.  I hope you get a chance to try some of these upscale yet casual spots, as well as some of the many excellent food trucks and hole-in-the-wall taco places popping up all over.

1) UCHI - Chef Tyson Cole's contemporary Japanese restaurant has been a winner since it opened in 2003.   Not only is Cole the first American Itamae (chef in a Japanese restaurant)  to win the prestigious James Beard Best Chef award, but his restaurant has won numerous accolades.   From Trip Advisor's #4 spot in the list of the 100 best fine dining restaurants in the US to Time Out's #1 spot on their list of the 21 best sushi restaurants in America, Uchi is a not-to-be-missed spot in the Austin dining scene. 

Fresher fish cannot be found!

Fresher fish cannot be found!

Ribeye cooked at the table on a hot rock

Ribeye cooked at the table on a hot rock

Lemon gelato with pistachio crumble

Lemon gelato with pistachio crumble

2) ODD DUCK - One of Austin's most popular restaurants housed in a lovely contemporary building on South Lamar.  The small plates reflect a commitment to locally grown produce.  Top quality, fresh ingredients are the hallmark of Odd Duck.  The dishes are playful, creative and pack a big punch of flavor.  The wine list is an interesting mix of mostly old world wine from Spain, France and Italy with some new world (California, Oregon and Argentina) selections as well.  

the entrance to odd duck

the entrance to odd duck

parker house rolls with mustard and pig cheek inside

parker house rolls with mustard and pig cheek inside

shrimp, avocado, radish grapefruit and mustard seed on light and fluffy rye toast

shrimp, avocado, radish grapefruit and mustard seed on light and fluffy rye toast

fig butter cake with pecans and vanilla bean ice cream

fig butter cake with pecans and vanilla bean ice cream

3) LENOIR - Another Austin favorite, Lenoir is also committed to the use of locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.  The owners call it "hot weather food" which means fresh and light cuisine, high in acidity, citrus flavors and spice.  Many of the spices hail from Southeast Asia and North Africa.  The restaurant is a small (reserve ahead!) space that is beautifully decorated with recycled materials, such as an eclectic assortment of lanterns collected from Habitats for Humanity and beautiful linen curtains decorated with antique crocheted doilies.  The wine list is impressive with many choices not typically seen on a menu.  A great choice was the 2013 Moric Blaufrankisch ($64), a multilayered, expressive but not heavy red wine that went well with all of the food.  There is also an alfresco space known as the "Wine Garden" which serves small plates, along with beer, cider and wine.  Don't miss Lenoir, a unique, exciting and delicious dining experience.

Heirloom tomatoes with ras el hanout yogurt, chilis and papadum   

Heirloom tomatoes with ras el hanout yogurt, chilis and papadum

 

coconut limecurd pudding with miso struedel and mint icecream

coconut limecurd pudding with miso struedel and mint icecream

4) SECOND BAR & KITCHEN - Located downtown in the Second Street District, this casual and contemporary restaurant dishes out locally sourced, inventive New American cuisine.  There is a large outdoor seating area to sit and people watch while enjoying flavorful, creative dishes.  The interesting selection of cocktails, as well as beer, cider and wine on tap and in the bottle satisfies all types of thirst.  

romaine chopped salad with avocado, grapefruit, jicama, almond and queso fresco with a chili vinaigrette

romaine chopped salad with avocado, grapefruit, jicama, almond and queso fresco with a chili vinaigrette

roasted carrot bisque with coconut tarragon cream and carrot chips with a locally brewed Thirsty Goat Amber Ale

roasted carrot bisque with coconut tarragon cream and carrot chips with a locally brewed Thirsty Goat Amber Ale

5) BULLFIGHT - Restauranteur Shawn Cirkiel's homage to the cuisine of Spain is a modernized take on many of the regional dishes you find all throughout Spain.  The variety of small plates run from cured meats and Spanish cheeses to classics like paella, as well as many seafood, vegetables and meats dishes.  The space is modern and comfortable with both indoor and outdoor seating.  The all Spanish wine list has some gems on it such as the 2007 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Rioja Riserva Tempranillo blend ($82) and an impressive selection of dry and sweet Sherries.

branzino crudo with a piperade and green olive puree

branzino crudo with a piperade and green olive puree

roasted mushrooms with cheese and a cured egg

roasted mushrooms with cheese and a cured egg

pork ribs with peppers and a bitter orange glaze

pork ribs with peppers and a bitter orange glaze

Chocolate cake with roasted grapes, hazelnut and salted caramel gelato

Chocolate cake with roasted grapes, hazelnut and salted caramel gelato

6) PERLA'S SEAFOOD & OYSTER BAR - Open since 2009, this popular spot for brunch, lunch and dinner is smack in the middle of the hopping South Congress Street shopping and dining area.  Known for the freshest oysters and seafood flown in from both coasts daily, Perla's delivers a wonderful dining experience.  Sit outside on the patio underneath the oak trees while enjoying refreshing beer, wine and cocktails with the simple, yet delicious cuisine.  

oyster po boy with homemade lemony coleslaw

oyster po boy with homemade lemony coleslaw

5 Reasons to Love La Sirena at the Maritime Hotel

The latest NYC hotspot from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, La Sirena, is located in the heart of Chelsea at 88 9th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets.  The restaurant will be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The Wine Chef is giving this restaurant a BIG 👍!

 

#1) THE BAR -  A big, long (38 feet!!), beautiful white marble bar with friendly and knowledgeable bartenders who were happy to give little tastes of wines by the glass.  I had a wonderful conversation about wine, sherry and whiskies with one barman..... so much fun!!  Their cocktail list was quite extensive with unique offerings such as the "Siren Song" made from anejo tequila, St George spiced pear, walnut and cinnamon smoke!  The bar stools are as plush and comfortable as any dining room chair.  I could have easily stayed there for the whole evening!

 

Sampling a delicious Teroldego wine from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. 

Sampling a delicious Teroldego wine from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. 

#2) THE FOOD  -  Everything my daughter and I ordered was tasty and beautifully presented.     Don't miss either the homemade buratta with chunks of deliciously sweet butternut squash with a pesto pantesco or the fresh crudo preparation of the day.  We also enjoyed grilled, meaty sardines and a braised veal brisket dish with olive oil potatoes and salsa verde.  The portions are quite hearty so we could only fit in one dessert to share 😩 but it sure was good!  😋.   The light and pillowy doughnuts were served with roasted pineapple and vanilla gelato….yum!

Creamy, homemade buratta.  

Creamy, homemade buratta.  

Beautifully presented Crudo of the Day with 

Beautifully presented Crudo of the Day with 

Fresh, plump, grilled sardines served with a tangy coleslaw.

Fresh, plump, grilled sardines served with a tangy coleslaw.

Who doesn't like doughnuts, especially when they are as light and fluffy as these?!

Who doesn't like doughnuts, especially when they are as light and fluffy as these?!

#3). THE SERVICE -  Excellent service for such a new restaurant.  The wait staff anticipated all of our needs and the timing between courses was just right, not too fast nor too slow.  There are two dining rooms and the night we were there only the one to the left of the bar was open and it was completely full by the time we were leaving around 11:00 pm.

 

#4). THE VIBE -  The decor is a beautiful, 1960s "mod" design with a casually elegant feel to it.  There are striking Portuguese tiles for the flooring with a matching motif found in the tableware .  The lighting was just right, neither too dim nor too bright.  The acoustics were loud but not overly so.  Overall, a great vibe!  

 

#5). THE LOCATION -  You're in Chelsea!  One of the most "happening" parts of NYC.  Just walking to and from La Sirena you can feel a party spirit from the people you pass on the street.  I'm looking forward to warmer weather and being able to sit outside on the large, elevated patio overlooking Ninth Avenue.  I think I will start off that evening with a Spicy Little Number as I watch the sun set over the Hudson River!

Sampling Sherry at Pata Negra Tapas

Sampling Sherry at Pata Negra Tapas

Last Friday night I met a friend at this wonderful little Spanish tapas restaurant at 345 East 12th Street in Manhattan.  She happens to love sherry, as do I,  and so we specifically made a date to go out and drink it.  It's not always easy finding another  sherry aficionado (especially one who is fun to hang out with!) nor is it easy to find a good sherry list in a Manhattan restaurant!  Many people assume sherry is sweet and not something they would drink alongside a meal.  In reality, most sherry is dry and goes really well with many kinds of food.  

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