Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Hawthornes Enjoy Another Six-Course Wine-Paired Dinner At The Saltbox Café.

The Saltbox Café
October 6 and 19, 2016
Tonight features 
dinner in Madrid -
the wines and cuisine of Spain.

The menu is the inspired creation of Chefs Amanda and Randolph Sprinkle.
Our servers were April Wolf and Mike Dinkle.
And Cindy and Kerry of Tryon Distributors were on hand to present our wines.

There were two Madrid dinners,
the first held on October 6, which the Hawthornes attended,
and the second, held October 19.

Rosie withheld posting immediately after her first dinner for three reasons:
1)  I didn't want to spoil the dinner for attendees on the 19th.
2)  I had issues with Charter internet (Who doesn't?) and my Linksys broke.  Trip to Staples.
3)  I was lazy.
It would probably paint a truer picture if you listed those three reasons in the opposite order.

Chef Randolph Sprinkle, 
looking quite fetching in his rather flamboyment traje de luces,
or "suit of lights," 
 welcomed us to the Saltbox Café  
for their six-course wine-paired dinner,
inspired by Madrid.

Chef Amanda was rockin' it in the kitchen,
but we never got to see her.

Rosie arrived, dressed to kill and for the kill.
What?  You missed me?

Our first course is Whipped Crema de Calabres with Black Walnuts on Brown Bread/Marinated Cured Olives in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Fig Balsamic and Caramelized Onions/Air-Dried Salami, paired with Marques de Gelida Cava, Catalonia.

About the wine:  Kerry, as always, advises us to try each wine prior to and along with each course so we can see how the wines meld and marry with the meal.

Spain, we learned, is an amazing old world European wine-producing region, with the Carthaginians and Phoenicians producing wines there in ancient times.  It wasn't until the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsular, renaming it Hispania, that serious wine production began in all the different and varied micro-climates and regions.

We're starting tonight off with a festive bubbly, a great sparkling wine  - a Cava.  This sparkling wine, Hispania's anwer to Champagne, is from the Catalonian region in the northeastern zone of Penedes above Barcelona in some of the highest vineyards around.

These wines are produced in the méthode champanoise in which the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.  This is what gives you the effervescence or bubbles. They are aged for 3 - 4 years before release.  The cava is a traditional blend of several Spanish grapes - Xarello, Parellada and Macabeu, along with some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrown in as well.  The name, "cava," refers to the stone cellars or caves in which the wine matures. The producer is Marques de Gelida, a 6-family grower that's had roots in this area since the 1600s. 

Kerry described this cava as having nice apple and pear tones along with a little brioche with the yeast. It's refreshing, clean, and a festive way to start off the night

Chef Randolph:  With this Cava, we decided to explore some cheeses and charcuterie of Spain, a very tapas style of starter.  Whipped Calabres bleu cheese was paired with toasted black walnuts and spread on a traditional brown bread.  Dried salami as a side and black olives in a sherry vinegar with onions completed the dish.  Calabres is the "bleu cheese of Spain," just as you'd consider Rocquefort the "bleu cheese of France," or Stilton, the "bleu cheese of England."

This was a perfect melding of flavors - salty olives and salami, sweet figs and caramelized onions, toasted nuts, heavenly whipped bleu Calabres topped with chopped chives, all flavors grounded and balanced by an earthy brown bread.

Now, the photographs of Amanda and Randolph's culinary delights speak for themselves, so I'll address our wines.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  Our first wine is a brisk and bubbly amusement.  I just wanted to slap its cheeks with a fly-swatter as it tapas(s)ed-danced like a mad little fairy in stilettos, staccatissimo, across my willing, wanting, and wanton tongue.  My tongue still tickles.
I'll be putting this together at home.
OK.  Go ahead and laugh.
I was inspired by the Saltbox Café
and I made a half-assed attempt
to create something along these lines.
It was quite good
and satisfied my need for salt for the next 2 years.
You may make fun of me,
but I don't see anybody else out there
tapass-ing around.

Our second course was a Bodie Island Oyster with Gazpacho Vinaigrette and Five Herb Salad, paired with Malaga Muscat Seco Botani, Andalucia.

Kerry explained that our second wine selection is a rather unique white wine and quite the "food white."  It is the first of two wines from the Bodega region. 

 Geographically, we travel down from where we had the Cava in northeast Spain above Gibraltar, down east of Gibraltar and along the southern Spanish coast to an area called Malaga.  Malaga is an older region and one of the first areas where the Carthaginians planted grapes.  The grape varietal they brought centuries ago was muscat. 

 This is the first of two wines tonight we are having from this region, the second being our dessert wine.  The grape varietal brought here centuries ago was muscat and this wine is 100% Muscatel de Alejandria.  This is the first time in the modern era that anyone's done a dry white wine in Spain from this particular grape varietal and it's one of the rarest versions of muscat Alejandria because it is produced dry.  Most muscats you come across are very sweet, like our dessert wine tonight, so this wine is special.

Botani is the name of the wine and the winery is up in the Sierras, or hills, which are a little cooler and are conducive to producing grapes that still can retain some nice acidity.  If you notice with this wine, it's very light, crisp, a bright wine with fruit tones, some nice green apple, with a white blossom on the nose.  (Did Kerry say "white blossom on the nose?")  This is unoaked, so it's very clean and fresh, a great food pairing white wine.

Chef Randolph was surprised when he tasted this wine.  It had a nice fruit nose to it, but was completely dry.  There was no sweetness there.  Bodie Island oysters provided the sweetness. The minerality of the wine paired nicely with the oysters.  This was finished with a gazpacho vinaigrette, light on the acid just so it wouldn't mess with the wine too much.  The gazpacho was basically a salad puréed like a soup, which provided a bit of acidity.  Five fresh herbs offered a bit of green bitterness and a lot of fragrance to the whole. Chef Randolph mentioned mint, basil, chives, sea beans, and didn't remember the last herb.  He left that up for us to identify!

Now, I think I know what four of the five herbs are - basil, mint, parsley, tarragon. Could've sworn I tasted tarragon. And I thought I tasted oregano.  But I was stumped on the something else in there.  They were crisp little stalks (You can see them in the photo above.) which tasted like nothing I've ever had before.  Rosie was quite intrigued by this.  Turns out they were sea beans.

Sea Beans grow wild all over coastal North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Sometimes called "poor man's asparagus",  sea beans are not seaweed, as it is often mistakenly described, nor is it a bean, which it slightly resembles.  Sea Beans are the small, fleshy stems and branches of salt-tolerant and salty seacoast plants in the genus Salicornia, which is in the beet family. 
Sea Beans can be eaten raw or cooked, with a flavor that can best be described as intensely salty, with a fresh asparagus-like aftertaste. When fresh, Sea Beans are crisp and crunchy like snap peas and can be eaten raw or briefly blanched, giving them a fresh, briny flavor. If slightly wilted, sea beans can be refreshed with a brief plunge in ice water. 
Sea Beans naturally go great with all kinds of seafood, as they intensify the sea aroma. Use Sea Beans in summer salads, in stir frys, and tempura battered (yes!) Sea Beans also make a great stand-in for green and yellow wax beans.

Loved this oyster with the Gazpacho Vinaigrette.  Six more, please.  My request was ignored.  :-/
Not to worry.  I'll be working on this for the Hawthorne table soon.

Rosie wants sea beans.

Bottom line:  Where does Rosie find sea beans?

Rosie's Wine Notes:  Our wine was light, crisp, sassy, and whimsical with forward fruity tones.  Oh hell.  This wine was just plain forward.  It assumed too much.  It was audacious, brazen, contumelious, and just downright cheeky. It was an uppity wine, and Rosie, being uppity herself, gladly partook of this impudent, presumptive, overconfident brew.  Pert and perky, this wine was well-handled, like a fermented Cockney bar maid with a perfume rivaling the aroma of paradise.

From back to front - Nohea, Chef Amanda, Chef Sprinkle, and Isaac.
Such a pretty dish!

Speaking of pretty dishes - Mike and April.

Chef Randolph plating Course Three.

Chefs Randolph and Amanda plating.

I love being behind the scenes.

Our third course is Grilled Spanish Mackerel and "tapanesca" with Balearic Salpicon, paired with Avancia Cuvée de O Godella, Galicia.

Kerry explains we're traveling now from Malaga on the southern coast of Spain to the northwestern corner - Galicia, which is the area overhanging Portugal and a corner surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.  Historically, this is a very rugged and remote area and, for centuries, was only accessible by sea, and later by rail line that would go over the mountains. Now, it's a bit more accessible and the Spanish go there for vacation because tourists to Spain don't know about the area yet, so the Spaniards have a place to "get away."  Now, if only the Outer Banks had such a place...

This wine is 100% Godello and the producer is Avancia. The Godello vineyards were planted in terraces on the mountain slopes.  This unique area is located along the Sil River which cuts veins into the steep slate hills running out towards the Atlantic.  

What all this means is that you get a medium body wine with wonderful, subtle minerality in the finish and it's balanced with great pear and fruit tones.  There's Chardonnay up front and it finishes nice and crisp with minerality.

Our wine was Avancia Cuvée de O Godello, Galicia.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  With all this slate minerality, I don't think I could've licked a chalkboard and enjoyed it any more than this wine...  Reminded me of wet stones and pebbles between my toes as I meandered barefoot down the crick to the river, occasionally sinking in sand.  I couldn't discern that certain je ne sais quoi note.  Could it be just wetness?  Damp quartz?  I will spend muchos noches and nachos trying to figure this out.  This wine was a tour de force in moisture- like licking the dew off Venus' ample bottom.  My tongue was just handed back to me - spanked and wrapped up in a pretty package, with ribbons and a bow.

According to Chef Randolph, he was originally going to pair this wine with the oyster because of the nice minerality to it, but upon "tasting more wine," he decided upon grilled Spanish mackerel and "tapanesca".   

 "Tapanesca," apparently, is the love child of a tapenade (olives) and a Romesco sauce (tomatoes, roasted peppers, olive oil, and I know some kind of nut and I'm thinking almonds or maybe some hazelnuts in there), but I have no idea what "Balearic Salpicon" is.  Since the only thing recognizable on the plate, besides the mackerel, is some type of cole slaw, I'll go with that for the time being.  What do I know?  Very little, it seems.

Ahh.  I'm learning.  

Salpicon is a mixture of blanched vegetables, with crisp, fried potatoes mixed with roasted garlic aioli.  And "salpicon" means hodge podge or medley in Spanish.  And the Balearic Islands are part of an archipelago of Spain near the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.  And now it all makes sense.

Mr. Hawthorne took one bite, gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling, and said "Hmmmm... interesting."  That's what he does and says when he has no idea what he's eating but likes it.

I'm having to muscle April out of the way
so I can get my pictures.

Chef Randolph scoops out roasted bone marrow for our fourth course -  Roasted Bone Marrow with Wild Mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, crimini mushrooms) on top of Manchego Polenta with Garlic and Hawaiian Black Sea Salt.

Nohea plating.

The Saltbox Crew is a well-honed machine.

Our dishes keep getting better and better, if possible.
I loved the unctuousness of the beef marrow and
the earthiness of the wild mushrooms
balanced with the creaminess of the polenta.
This was like the Umami Express.
Is it considered bad form to lick one's plate?

Kerry introduced our fourth wine, our first red.  We're traveling back across Spain to the southeastern corner between Valencia and an area called Pinea.  Both are very hot areas and it's hard to grow fruit properly except where the hills are in Pinea at about 1800 feet.  In the low areas near the sea, it's very hot, just like Valencia to the north, and it's very hard to grow grapes there because they cook on the vines.

It is at this point, in my travels throughout Spain, that I realize a Power Point presentation is indeed needed so I will know where I am in Spain.

Up in the hills, producers can grow fantastic red wines and they have become quite well known for their blends.  It is possible for this fruit to ripen with just enough cooling breezes so that the red varietals do extremely well here.  This particular wine is from the region, Jumilla, the country, Murcia, and it is a grape blend of both Monastrell and Tempranillo.  Kerry explained that this wine is aged separately about 12 months in two different types of oak barrels - 45% American oak and 55% French oak.  Different types oaks have different grains and impart different flavors to wine.  The larger grain oak, like the American oak, can impart more broad, demonstrative flavors to the wine.  The French oak imparts more subtle flavors and more spice characteristics, like powdered ginger and cinnamon. Kerry also mentioned hints of vanilla, dark fruit, and mocha and described this wine as depthful, rich, with notes of blackberry, plum and spices, and earthy

Rosie's Wine Notes:  This unctuous umaminess was paired with Jumilla Veraz Alto de Luzon, Murcia, an assertive, deep, spicy, earthy wine which toyed with the unctuosity and umaminity of the mushrooms and marrow.
This was a brooding, melancholy wine with an attitude.  Velvety, smoky, and seductive, you know it came from a well-hung vineyard.  It does not play well with others, so it was perfect for me.  Do not allow this wine to inspire you to drunk dial your ex.  Very fine grapes gave up the ghost for this wine, so show it some respect.

A busty, juicy, plump wine with probably a BMI of 32, it has the distinct aroma of broken hearts and dashed dreams. Bottle to be finished immediately. Save the cork for a Pinterest project.

Nohea, Chef Amanda, Chef Randolph, and April.

And it was a treat to see Ashten tonight!

Chef Randolph admitted this was the closest they came to doing an actual red meat dish.  This wine just looked like it would pair so well with meat - for some reason - maybe it's the fall - he was very much wanting to do bone marrow, so they did a roasted bone marrow.  Maybe it's a Halloween thing!
They sautéed mushrooms with sherry and placed them over a creamy Manchego polenta with bone marrow on top. Mushrooms, Chef Randolph informed us, were introduced to Spain, along with olives, by the Romans.
 This was a meaty and rich dish!
The polenta with cheese is comforting and the perfect foil to that packin' punch of umami.
The gelatinous marrow is exquisite. The earthiness of the mushrooms pulls it all together. I want more.

I learn I'm not getting more.
Moving right along to our fifth course.

Chef Amanda, Nohea, and Chef Randolph.

Our fifth course is Cocido Montañes with White Beans, Organic Collards, Merquez Sausage, and Roasted Pollo paired with Muga Reserva, Rioja. 

Kerry introduced our fifth wine and our second red, Muga Reserva, as hailing from Rioja, probably the most famous wine-growing region in Spain.  It certainly produces some of the most classic iconic reds in the country.  Rioja is in north central Spain on the Ebro river.  It's a very continental climate right in the middle of Spain, so they do have some varying temperatures there.  It's an area very well known for their full-bodied reds and their aged, mature red wines. 

Our wine tonight is an unfiltered Reserva Rioja.  Reserva has to be aged at least one year or more in barrels and at least a year in bottles before it is released.  This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, a great varietal, 20% Garnach, 7% Mazuelo, and 3% Graciano.  I swear, I would have gone with perhaps 65% Tempranillo and 25% Garnacha, 6% of the Mazuela and 4% of the Graciano, but what do I know?

This is a classy and elegant wine, and a wonderful way to have a second red for the night.

Chef Randolph paired this classical and stylish wine with a classical dish, Cocido Montañes, a rustic and traditional mountain stew.  The Saltbox spiced this stew up a few notches by giving a nod to the Moorish influences in Spain.  A lot of people don't realize that Spain has both Arabic and Middle Eastern influences. This particular stew is flavored with Merguez sausage, a lamb sausage seasoned with harissa, a Middle Eastern spice.  The warmth of cinnamon and clove and paprika add another dimension to this dish, and the collard greens and cannellini beans offer richness, heartiness, and authenticity.  It was a little bit of everything I wanted - all in one cup.

 Rosie's Wine Notes:  Full-bodied and firm, this wine had magnificent legs, rivaling those of any Fifth Avenue Street Walker.

  I read about this wine:  "... the most outstanding aspect of this vintage is the initial attack..."
I don't know about you, but I love the initial attack of a wine.

Let's talk about the initial attack.  This wine is an impressive dominatrix.  If this wine were a lady, she'd be really slutty; and I've found out that a little sluttiness never hurt a wine.  This wine executed a powerful paso doblé in my mouth.  It tramped and trampled my tongue. It was confident and thrust with reckless abandon. I was gobsmacked, and let me tell you, I don't get gobsmacked easily.

I want more of this too.

As you know, Rosie only comes for the dessert.
Just kidding.

Kerry said:  "OK, let's get the wine out of the way so Rosie can eat dessert."
All right, Kerry really didn't say that.  Rosie did.
But hurrying along, our dessert was paired with Malaga Victoria No. 2, Andalucia. And we've traveled back down to the southeast of the coast.  If you recall, we had an Andalucian Malaga wine with our second course, also from the muscat de Alejandria varietal.  This particular wine is a late harvest wine, meaning the grapes are left on the vine well past normal harvest time for a dry table wine.  They are harvested at the very last possible moment from the vine.The grapes are almost in a raisin-like state and the juice is very concentrated in flavor, so concentrated that when the grapes are pressed, not much juice comes out..  Fifteen pounds of muscat Alejandria grapes go into one bottle of this wine.  You'll taste apricot, honeysuckle, and just enough balancing acidity so that it isn't too sweet, making it a wonderful pairing with delicate desserts.

Of course, Chef Randolph admits he has nothing to do with the desserts. Chef Amanda presented us with this exquisite non-classical Sopapilla Cheese Bar.  Sopapillas are usually fried, but this was a baked buttered dough with a light cheesecake in between, served with a Brown Butter Sauce and local Colington Honey with a topping of whipped cream.  I know this Colington Honey quite well.  The bees feed in my yard throughout the day and I really think the apiarist should pay ME for the honey, but I digest....

Would you just look at that little pretty thing?

Once again, I had to push April out of my way to get a picture.
And that little girl is SOLID!

An intimate, tender moment between Chefs Sprinkles - dunking and scooping.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  This out-of-the-park cheesecake dessert was paired with Malaga Victoria No.2, Andalucia.  What a hedonistic, lusty, supple little wine! Enticingly layered and erotically scented with hints of apricot and honeysuckle, I believe this wine is into Yoga. I can see this wine in a petit Speedo - a tiny hamster hammock - gleefully swan-diving its way past my uvula, and silently and purposefully slicing through my gullet with the exquisite grace of an Olympic diver or the meticulous attentiveness of a playful mermaid..  For optimal enjoyment, I suggest serving this wine in large carafes and often.

Such concentration!

 Chef Randolph makes the rounds.
 He's quite the social butterfly.

 Our wines tonight.
April, Amanda-Chrysanthum-Head, and Yorick,
conversing at the counter.

Thank you Chefs Amanda and Randolph,
April and Mike,
and the wonderful Saltbox Crew 
for another deliciously memorable evening!

For a recap of our previous dining experiences at the Saltbox Café, please click on the links:

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.
Also in December 2015, we enjoyed a Réveillon Feast.
And again in December 2015, we visited France.
February 2016, we took a road trip to California.
Also in February 2016, we visited Italy
March 9, 2016, we had a lovely visit to Chile.
March 29, 2016, we visited the Pacific Northwest.
April 20, 2016, we explored the vineyards of Oregon
September 2016, we enjoyed South Africa.

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