Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Hawthornes Enjoy A Réveillon Feast At The Saltbox Café.

The Hawthornes have had the pleasure of attending The Saltbox Café's  6-course wine dinner events.  A country is picked and regional dishes are expertly paired with wines from that country.

For a recap:
October 2014, we visited Spain.
November 2014, we visited Argentina.
December 2014, we visited Paris.
February 2015, we visited Chocolate. (Why yes, Chocolate is a country.)
March 2015, we visited Italy.
October 2015, we visited Germany.
December 2015, we visited Japan.

This week we attended "A Réveillon Feast - Awaken in New Orleans." In French, "réveillon" means "awakening."  It's a tradition dating back to the early 19th century.  After fasting all day and returning home from midnight mass, the Creoles celebrated Christmas with a big family meal.  A feast would be prepared - chicken and oyster gumbo, game pies, turtle soup, breads, puddings, soufflés, lavish desserts.  Decadence was the name of the game.  Throughout the years, the Réveillon tradition was slowly fading out, and had all but disappeared by the 1940s.  In the 1990s, it was revived and transformed, with a few modifications reflecting the times.  The organization, French Quarter Festivals Inc., wanted to attract visitors to New Orleans during the holiday lull.  They approached local restaurants with the idea to promote special holiday menus, bringing back the Réveillon tradition.  The restaurants embraced this idea. The emphasis on the Réveillon shifted from family dinners at home to the tables of New Orleans' top restaurants, offering the Réveillon feast at a more convenient dining time during the day instead of the wee hours of the morning.

To understand Christmas in New Orleans, one must understand what it is to be Catholic in New Orleans. Being a Catholic whose roots extend back to France, Spain, and the Caribbean, one has equal amounts of faith, devotion, and mischief — faith that the Pope and his bishops are God’s representatives on earth. And devotion to God is evident in the magnificent New Orleans churches Catholics built across the city.

 Then there’s mischief. New Orleans was not founded by descendants of Puritans and other strict Protestant denominations of Christianity. Their relationship with God was somewhat more personal, and while they respected many (but not all) of the Church’s leaders, they still looked for shortcuts. Creoles read the letter of the law, then figured out how to do it their way anyway; celebrating Christmas is one of those experiences. The rules of the Church specified that the faithful had to fast from midnight on Saturday night until after mass if they wanted to receive Holy Communion. Europeans solved the problem early on in the middle ages; if you can’t eat until after mass, then have mass at midnight! Once mass was finished, the “awakening” – the Réveillon – could begin. Start the feasting!

I like it when I get a ghost in my pictures.

Upon seating, we noshed on a dark brown bread with walnuts and Craisins with pumpkin honey butter spread to slather on.

At the beginning of each course, the wine representative, Kerry, would give us a description and a bit of history of each wine, and then Chef Randolph would talk about what he's prepared.  Of course, I must offer my personal observations and tasting notes about the wines.

Our first course was a lovely, light salad - bib lettuce, hearts of palm, mixed herbs, (I tasted basil and parsley.) and a delicately battered and perfectly fried nugget of chèvre cheese.

 I was happy to see the hearts of palm on here, since I'd recently used these in a recipe my friend, Zzzadig, sent me - hearts of palm, tomato, red onion, avocado, lime, cilantro, and some other stuff.  It was quite good, but I could never get a handle on the taste of the palm hearts, which, by the way, come from the inner stalks of the cabbage palm.  If you look for them in the grocery store, they're around the jarred/canned artichokes.

  Anyhoos, back to the taste of the palm hearts.  When Chef Randolph stopped by our table, as he does with every table during each course, I asked him about the elusive taste of the palm hearts, and he described it as a blend between artichoke and celery.   Hmmm...   I need to get more palm hearts and taste test.

The chèvre was da bombe.  I forked into the golden nugget, and a primal ooze of gooey goat cheese flowed out.  Texturally delightful.

This course was paired with a Chateau Graville-Lacoste, Graves Blanc 2014.  This crisp wine perfectly complemented the richness of the cheese.  Just when you think you can't eat anymore of the cheese, the acidity of the wine cleansed the palate and I dove in for more ooey-gooeyness.

The wines were presented by Kerry and Cindy of Tryon Distributing.

Kerry's Comments:
 On behalf of myself and also Cindy of Tryon Distributing, what a pleasure it always is to be here for one of these fantastic wine dinners that The Saltbox Café puts on. Tonight - just a fantastic array of
wines and food courses to tantalize your senses and that's really what the Réveillon concept is all about.  Originally, after fasting the custom was to have a big, lavish meal for a day or so during the Holidays.
I'm going to talk about our wines as we go along.  I always like to mention at wine dinners, I think it's great for everyone to try a little wine prior to and along with each course.  It's fun to see how the characteristics of the wine and also the food course can kind of change, and  meld, and marry with each other as the night progresses.
A little bit about your first wine.  We do have a French theme tonight so we have all French wines from all different appellations.  This first one comes from an area in Bordeaux called Graves.  This is a 2014 Chateau Graville-LaCoste. 
 This is a white blend.  This area is in southern Bordeaux but it's on the left bank, very close to the famous Chateau Haut Brion.
 Grave is known for white wines and it's known for Sauvignon Blanc. It's a great varietal and also a little bit of Sémillon is great.  This one's unique because it's actually 75% Sémillon.  Sémillon usually has the most grounding quality of a white wine.  This also has a little bit of Muscadel in it.  Those are the three grapes. You'll find it really light, crisp, invigorating.  Has lovely citrus.  It's a great way to start the night off.

Chef Randolph's Comments:
 As a pairing for this wine, we put together a lovely, very light salad.  It was inspired mostly by Brazil and that area where there are hearts of palm trees. 
 One of the things you'll notice when you try it is that there's no acidity in the salad itself, because there's so much acidity in the wine.  The acid primarily comes from the hearts of palm themselves.
The goat cheese is fried and plated on top of the salad.  So the fried goat cheese takes a kind of plate with lots of acidity in the wine and a lovely extra virgin olive oil that has a high lemon facet.

Rosie's Realizations:
As for the Chateau Graville-Lacoste, oh my!  I believe they took my childhood summers in Bordeaux and bottled them.  N'est-ce pas?  I detected the faintest soupcon of asparagus and a flutter of pretentiousness.  The bouquet was ethereal - subtle nuances of meadow flowers, freshly mown lawn, and barnyard.  I believe the grapes, tended by weary Benedictine monks, were crushed by vestal virgins.  A sensitive wine with a hint of schnozzberry, it would be very easy to down the whole bottle without realizing. Elegant, harmonious, vegetal, and quizzical, yet decisive, this wine gave me quite the tongue-spanking.

On to course #2.

Poached salmon with Sauce Bavaroise and baby greens.  I must admit, I hadn't heard of Sauce Bavaroise before, so I had to look that up.  It's a Hollandaise flavored with crawfish and horseradish with a bit of spice. And it pairs perfectly with the salmon.  When Chef Randolph stopped by the table to see how we liked this course, I had to tell him, "I don't like salmon...  But I love this!"  Poached may be the way to go.  Salmon has always been ... too salmon for my tastes.  I may have to try this.  Plus I've got all that fresh dill in the garden.  Sounds like a plan.

Kerry's Comments:
This was paired with Domaine Roland Lavantureux, Chablis Vielles Vigne 2014.  Chablis is a region in France and for a wine to be a true Chablis it must come from the region, just like a Champagne technically must come from the Champagne region. The Chablis is 100%  Chardonnay which is the varietal used. What is really unique about true Chablis is the soil there.  It's a colder area of Northern Burgandy and the soil is exclusively chalk or calcareous soil, which is like a fossil soil, which imparts a wonderful minerality and acidity to the wine.  When you try the wine you'll notice a wonderful citrus core. If you notice on the label, this wine is classified as a Vignes Vielles, meaning at least 40-year old vines.  The vines in the particular vineyard are about 60 years old, meaning the vines produce less fruit but the fruit is more concentrated, so the juices, in turn, are more concentrated, leaving more flavor in the wine.

Randolph's Comments:
   With this wine, what we tried to do is ... to me this goes against what most Americans think of when they think of a Chardonnay which is American oak barrel usually several months, a big oaky wine.  This is so delightfully playful.  It's got citrus to it, so we paired it  with a classic poached salmon and we're finishing with a classic Sauce Bavaroise which is a classical preparation.  It's a Hollandaise basically but it's flavored with crawfish and horseradish and a little bit of spice to it.

Rosie's Report:
This Chablis was quite approachable.  As I swirled it, I listened to this wine sing softly in my glass. Oh, my goodness!  It's Roberta Flack, singing "Killing Me Softly With His Song."  That's the song in my wine glass!  I took the first sip and let the wine playfully roll around my tongue.  I tasted salty tears, misspent youth, and dashed dreams.  I detected a certain minerality and wet stone familiarity, although I couldn't discern whether the stone was granite, marble, slate, chalk, or flint.  The wine was profound, mellow, and opulent in character. I tasted aggressive notes of spring, followed by a certain oakiness with hints of dancing wood nymphs.  Inticingly layered and temptingly nuanced, this Chablis abounds with a complex, heady herbaceousness.  Along with soporific-inducing rosemary mid-tones and melodious cannabis undertones, this wine excitingly finishes with a delicate creamy oyster perfume surrounded by a bashful vanilla essence.  A delightful nacho aftertaste kicked in, along with a barely discernible marigold fizzle.  Unremarkable buckwheat undertones with a forgettable steel-cut oatmeal bouquet rounded out the afterglow of lollipop.  It was blissful.

Course #3.

Seared local tuna with baby potatoes and Sauce Bordelaise.

Now, Rosie floves her tuna and this was excellent.   Sauce Bordelaise, named after the Bordeaux region of France, is made with red wine, butter, shallots, demi-glace, and bone marrow and it is divine.

The wine pairing was inspired.  A red wine - Cave des Vignerons de Buxy, Mercurey 2012 - was served with the tuna.  Makes sense to me.  Tuna is red meat and, to me, it's like eating filet mignon.

I have to mention here, about the changing to red wine.  We were asked by Ashten, Mike, Cindy, and Kerry, and one of them a second time, if we had clean glasses so there was no cross-contamination with red vs white.  Yes.  We have clean glasses.  I love this attention to detail.  Personally, I've mixed both red and white wines in my tennis shoes with no regrets. 

Kerry's Comments:
This is a  Pinot Noir,  We're staying in Burgundy and Chablis is a satellite region of  northern Burgundy so now we go south to Cote d'Or, which is a famous, prestigious region, down to the heart of Burgundy called the Cote Chalonnaise.  The village and surrounding area where this wine comes from is called Mercurie.  This is done by the vignerons - a cooperative of vine growers committed and dedicated to quality vineyard work, hands-on  practices, and they come together and make wines under the Buxy label.

 Pinot Noir typically has less tannin.  Tannin is what gives you that astringent, fullness in red wines.  This is softer, more delicate, more approachable.  Very bright cherry.  Raspberry.

Chef Randolph:  
I really really love this wine, because it reminds me of a Beaujolais.  From my Pinot Noir standpoint, I would say Burgundy and that terroire (Did Randolph mention terroire or did I get that wrong on the recorder translation?)...  This has almost none of that.  It's almost... a negative sounding word... but insipid,"  And then  my recorder got too static and I couldn't understand a word of what Randolph said.  Until ... "Red wine... Pair with a fish...  Classical meat preparation...  Used local tuna...  Classic Bordelaise Sauce with veal stock reduction and bone marrow... Underneath is roasted  potatoes.

 Rosie's Reality:
Of course you want to know my take on this serious wine with less than confident tannins.  I discerned dark, haunting, brooding flavors, much like Heathcliff on the moors.  Notes of ashtray, rose petals, charcoal, stewed rhubarb, sweet pipe tobacco, and orange peel danced on my tongue.  Weighty, full-bodied, and structured with a firm skeleton, this wine exhibited a dense yet harmonious herbal character of medium body.  On the finish, there was that characteristic hint of gasoline, and I don't mean the unleaded stuff.  Exotic, funky, and hedonistic, this wine showcased a mango-fandango bouquet along with sadistic musk overtones and a spicy Cool Whip essence.  I must question the percentage of malo this wine went through and I also wonder in what type of barrel it was aged.   Mmmmm...  I can really taste the terroire.  Thank God for that.  Bottom line:  This was a lazy, obstinate, selfish, sullen, little bitch of a grape. 

Chef Randolph making the rounds.

Our 4th course was confit of Christmas duck with a walnut and raisin gingerbread with toasted pumpkin oil.  Confit is a cooking method coming from the French "confire," meaning, "to preserve."  Preservation occurs by slowly cooking meat, usually in its own rendered fat.  Muscle and connective tissue slowly break down and tenderize, becoming melt-in-mouth tender.

The wine chosen for this course was sublime, possibly the best red wine Mr. Hawthorne has ever had.
Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Telegrammme 2013.

Here's Kerry's presentation of this wine:
"We still have quite a bit of 'awakening' to do... A few more courses to go.  This is a really special wine. We're going down from Burgundy to follow the Saone River on down south of Beaujolais. You've reached the Rhone Valley and so meet the Rhone River.  We go to the northern Rhone down to the southern Rhone Valley where this wine comes from, the appellation of Chateauneuf-de-Pape.  That actually translates as "castle or house of the new pope."  It was an appellation back when there was a dual papacy, or two popes, one in Rome and one in France.  The town of Avignon, just south of Chateauneuf-de-Pape, was where the second pope resided, in a walled city, so the appellation took on the name of the pope.  This is a special area that grows both red and white wine vines on thirteen approved varietals.

This one is mainly Grenache.  There's also Syrah, Mouvedre, and Senso all blended in.  So just four of the approved thirteen in this particular blend, done by the Brunei Family ,    one of the most prominent producers in Chateauneuf-de-Pape.  They own Vieux Telegraphe.  This is their second wine, or younger vines, release which is called Vieux Telegramme and  it really expresses that Granache character of a little pepperyness, spicebox, and it's really a fantastic food wine.

 Randolph's Comments:  This is one of my favorite wines...  I find it perfectly balanced and really kind of subtle.  We paired it with Amanda's gingerbread, raisin walnut bread underneath a confit of duck that's been finished with cinnamon and black pepper, and finally finished lastly with pumpkin seed oil and a little bit of chopped herbs on top.

Rosie's Musings:
 My thoughts on this wine?  It was bold, greedy, and assertive.  Dare I say ballsy?  Intense, tenacious, focused, balanced, persistent, structured, smooth yet grippy, this opulent wine is both sophisticated and dominating with an amusing unctuousness about it, along with a nefarious cayenne essence.  It reminded me of Arabian nights, jewels, dark satin, and the Moody Blues.  I detected an edginess in this seasoned, jaded wine that questioned my palate's ability to handle so much worldliness.  Hints of dank and dark basements and desperation crept in.  Although this excruciatingly bold and velvety wine is entirely too big for its pants, it was intellectually satisfying and I don't deserve to drink it.

Chef Amanda with Josh Naser helping out.

Onward to Course #5.

I saw lamb on the menu and immediately thought "Lamb!  Hot damn!"

Grilled lamb with cracked black pepper and demi glace served with roasted garlic and rosemary whipped potatoes and sautéed haricot verts.  I loved this.  I love lamb.

And I have discerned that the rising sound levels of the revelers is representative of increasing fellowship, joy, and total success.  The Saltbox Café is getting happier and happier.

Kerry's remarks on the wine, a Clos La Coutale, Cahors 2013:
On to the next wine.  Now we go to France down to the deep into the south west portion of France and to a town that was an ancient Roman center of commerce, originally - the town of Cahors.  The wines traditionally for 100s of years were known as the "black wines of Cahors" because they were so intense and deep and dark.  This happens to be the home for the origination point of Malbec, a great varietal.  And you have to have at least 75% Malbec in your wine to actually label it a Cahors wine.  This is by Clos La Coutale, the producer.  This is a 2013.  You can see as we're moving along,  look at the depth and darkness. The complexity of the reds is also progressing and this is really lovely and has some and has some nice dark "rooting" (Or did he say brooding?) fruit flavors.  Really a wonderful dinner course wine.  75% Malbec and 25% Merlot.

Chef Randolph:  
I just couldn't resist when I saw a French Malbec.  To me, a Malbec comes from South America. We have a big Bordeaux, which by the way, is the last one, so I put this one with the last meat.  It's simply a grilled lamb chop that's been tossed with a little bit of garlic, salt and pepper.  It's grilled and finished in the oven and served over a roasted garlic and rosemary potato purée with a classic peppercorn sauce.

 Rosie's Ramblings: 
 The lamb was paired with Clos La Coutale, Cahors 2013.  This wine was ambitious, fickle, deceptive, supple, agreeable, affable, fleshy, and heady.  Hints of Skittles and stale Halloween Kandy Korns left in a pillow case in the back of the closet, essence of gym socks in a bag, Kool-aid and Jello Shots, along with a spineless, sulky-like-a-teenager bubblegum pop.  Juicy, sweet, and large-scaled, if a bit unrefined, this wine is reminiscent of a Tahitian sunset.  I see outspoken cherries and chattering tangerines coalescing in a marriage of lasciviousness.  Introverted sushi essences battle with an extroverted soapy licorice bouquet and an embittered horseradish element.  They all welcome me to the bottom of the glass.  A full-bodied gingersnap aftertaste and banal egg overtones merge to produce fervent fruit undertones which intertwined with an odiously murderous bluefish aftertaste.  It was jammy and had a cat-pee component.  Like a discordant piece of music, this perky little fruit-forward wine begged for discipline, but yearned to spread its wings and fly away.  It pleaded with me, "Spank me!  Spank me!"  And I did.

A pensive Chef Randolph, waiting to describe our next course.

Course #6 - Dessert.

Bitter chocolate pot de crème with orange whipped chantilly cream, almond biscuit, and house-made cherry preserves.

At this point, I simply died and went to heaven.

This dessert course was paired with Chateau Belles Graves, Lalande de Pomerol 2011.

Kerry's remarks on the wine pairing: 
This is a Bordeaux where we started, this time a red wine. This is Chateau Belles Graves.  This is from LaLand de Pomerol.  That's the area or appellation in Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is a huge estuary area where the Gironde River comes in from the Atlantic.  Left bank of Bordeaux is where Graves was located - that first white wine.  This is over on the other side of the River. Pomerol and St. Emilion are famous areas there, but Lalande de Pomerol is just north.Very similar to Pomerol is that its soil is more more clay and sand than the left side where Cabernet Sauvignon is king.  On this right side, it's much more Merlot, so this is about 78% Merlot and the remainder being Cabernet Franc.  The Merlot has beautiful depthful cherry plum attributes.  Cabernet Franc has herbaciousness.  This is 15 months in French oak which really brings out a lot of complexity to it.  This property is pre-French Revolution property - a fantastic, elegant way to finish the night and a great way to be festive and celebrate this dinner.

Chef Randolph's Comments:
This last wine ... it's a tough one.  It's a beautiful wine and the reason it's actually at the end of this meal is I had to fit it in somewhere.  So I told my wife, "You gotta make a dessert that goes with this."  So, we're taking a chance here. She did a bitter chocolate pot de crème with an orange Chantilly cream on top of cherry preserves on the plate.  It may be a little sweet.  But if it is eat your dessert and finish it up with your wine!

Rosie's Revelations:
What can I say about our last wine?  HAH!!  Make that, "What can't I say!!!"  It was a model of weightless finesse.  Flamboyant, lush, erotically scented, voluptuous, provocative, flirtatious, frisky, lusty, pornographic ...  All come to mind.  We're talkin' Fifty Shades of Rosie!  Dark wild cherries, menthol, tire burn, diesel, spices, minerals, dirt.  This magnetic, insertive wine was like a sexy Hollywood starlet auditioning on the casting couch.  It was full-breasted, libidinous, and sported impressive legs.  In the mouth, it is juicy, full-bodied, and impossible to resist, with transcendent notes of intense luminescence and a lingering finish of soft rounded fullness.  Lavender undertones resulted in a lusty, free-love/Woodstock group hug, inducing a floral, denim, tie-died, herbal finish and you know what type of herb.  It boasted raucous leather mid-tones.  It had a positively lascivious shrimp flavor and fused cruel lemon essences with the satirical aroma of gin.  This is a passionate wine.  It is naughty!  It speaks to me seductively.  I shall heed, since I, too, am naughty.

Now, for the last course, and pièce de resistance... Baby Kallen!

 As the Hawthornes always say, every meal is a celebration of life.
Tonight was an amazing celebration.

April came by and she and Mike served up precious little Kallen - 13 days old.
This course was paired with Colington Breastmilk 2015.


Kallen works the crowd.
Nothing like a newborn to amp up the AWWWW and AWE factors!

From left to right - our wonderful server, Ashten, new Mommie April, the top of Daddy Dinkle's head, (And Mike is one of the most attentive servers ever!), Josh, Amanda, and Baby Dinkle.

Auntie Amanda is taking this Aunt Business very seriously.
Kellan is working his Auntie!  He already has her wrapped around his little finger.
And I know "that look."

Too cute for words.

I noticed the Saltbox gets its straws from Sysco.

Those cheeks!
Those lips!

Merry Christmas!

Thank you, Chefs Sprinkles, for another amazing night of food and wine.
You rocked it!
A Réveillon Feast indeed!

 Home at last in my fat pants - the Joe Boxer "Spooning leads to forking" ones Mr. Hawthorne gave me for Christmas a few years back.

 Please pass me the bladder of my CardBordeaux so I can squeeze out the last drops...

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