Thirsty Thursday: Cran-Apple Chill

Back in December, my mother came home from the liquor store with a bottle of cranberry sweet wine in her hand. I’m sure I raised an eyebrow or made some biting quip about it before I tucked it away in our basement to never be looked at again. Eventually, running low on wine and wanting to have a drink of something easy, I opened this baby up. I took a sip of it, and it was basically cranberry juice, only sweeter. So, instead of drinking it like a wine, I decided to use it as a base for some cocktail experimentation, and I came up with this. It’s definitely a drink that’s sugary, meant for summer, and best appreciated in a mason jar. It could easily be transformed into one big punch for a big gathering, too. Either way, this is the lazy man’s cocktail that’s great for when you’re craving simplicity.

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Cran-Apple Chill

Yield: 1 cocktail

3 oz. cranberry wine (preferably from St. James Winery)

1 1/2 oz. Calvados

1 oz. homemade sweet and sour (recipe here)

1 1/2 oz. tonic water

1. Fill your glass up with ice. Measure out ingredients and layer them into the glass. Stir gently with a straw or swizzle stick. Enjoy.

 

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Dinner at The Food Market (Baltimore, MD)

It’s probably time for me to start subscribing to AARP The Magazine. As of two weeks ago, I am now twenty-three. With that comes maturity, knowledge, and the fear that in two years I will probably have to start lying about my age. Also, that I was able to pick any restaurant I wanted to for dinner with my friends.

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What I didn’t know was that my birthday also marked the beginning of Baltimore Restaurant Week. Two weeks before my birthday, I signed on to OpenTable to pull up available reservations at The Food Market, only to discover that my options fell before six or after eight-thirty. Saturdays are generally busy, and with Restaurant Week going on, it was doubly hard to find a reasonable dining hour that was still open for four people. Luckily with one click I was able to secure my 8:45 reservation and rack up some more OpenTable points, too.

Although I had all my ducks in a row before the evening began, it did start off a bit bumpy. Some things had nothing to do with the restaurant, like twisting my ankle on the way there. Others could have been prevented, like being seated twenty minutes after our reservation time. However, we had some drinks to keep us entertained while we waited around the bar.

Finally, we were taken to a table in the front window, which provided a slight respite from the noise. With an industrial look, the shiny silver surfaces were pleasing to the eye, but also amplified every sound in the place. It was okay for me and my group of twenty-somethings, but would be off-putting to anyone who wants to use an inside voice to hold a conversation. We quickly realized that the noise level hurts the waiters the most, as ours did everything but stick his ear up to our mouths to hear what we were saying. Once he discovered we were there for Restaurant Week, he seemed to shut down a bit, making the service even more impersonal. It never got better.

Though those downfalls were significant, the food fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. Wanting to celebrate the summer, I went for the Farm Fresh Tomatoes. Light and fun despite heavy ingredients like EVOO and goat’s cheese, this plate was all about layered simplicity. There was creaminess from the oil and cheese, acid from the tomatoes, and herbaceous from some chimichurri. It felt special, yet was still a dish I could easily eat every day.

After going for food that was delicate to start, I order substance with my second course. The Pork Chop was big enough for two and evidence that Baltimore’s Restaurant Week is still a deal. Textured on the outside, pink and juicy on the inside, the chop came out perfect and was enhanced by the additional elements on the plate. As the chef clearly understands, the only thing that makes pork better is more pork, especially when it comes in the form of prosciutto. To offset the big savory parts of the entree, fresh peaches and peppery arugula also came along for the ride. Bright and best appreciated when all aspects of the dish made it onto my lucky fork, it was good enough that I had to force myself to stop and take leftovers before I had to roll home.

As with any Restaurant Week menu, dessert ended the evening. Before that could happen, my table and the table next to us had to scream an off-key rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ while I blew out a candle. I was mortified, but that was soon forgotten with my first bite of the Heath Bar Bread Pudding. It was warm, filling, and not too dense, so that all of our full bellies were able to relish in it. If it had been appropriate to do so, I would have just stuck my face right into this dessert and eaten it like that. It was the perfect ending to a meal that I would say highlighted elevated standards. All the food you loved as a kid, taken to the next level.

Even though The Food Market was not all gold, I would be willing to go back and give it another go. There was care put into these elegantly simple flavors, and with some tweaking on the front of the house, this restaurant could seamlessly fit in with my favorite spots around town. I hear people in Baltimore talk about The Food Market all the time; if given some time to grow, I wouldn’t be surprised if people all over started gushing.
The Food Market
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Dinner at Petruce et al (Philadelphia, PA)

Never let a German pick out a restaurant. I learned this the hard way when The Wine Getter picked out a lunch spot for us to try in Philly. I had offered up some suggestions, but graciously went with his choice, much to my later disappointment. I should have known the meal was going to be awful after he told me he doesn’t like sauerkraut. Clearly, the man lacks taste. Fortunately, I was able to dull the pain of this meal later that evening with the tastiest dinners I’ve had in Philly.

Petruce et al. was on my list from the time it opened, and I finally had the opportunity to dine there with my buddy, Rex, a couple of months ago. As Rex and I usually do, we ordered a few things to split because we both we need to try everything. We also like drinking, so that helps us get along swimmingly. Before we even ordered though, we asked for advice from our waiter and the uber-helpful beverage director, Tim, on what to order and what to pair with each dish.

In celebration of the warmer weather, we began with the Hamachi, a fish with a depth of flavor that makes you wonder why everyone’s always talking about salmon. This yellowtail, served raw and just above room temperature, had a distinctly Eastern flair as it was adorned with peanuts, cucumber, and ginger- light yet distinctive flavors to highlight the fish. To sip, Rex and I each had a glass of the 2013 ‘Dragonstone’ Riesling from Leitz Weingut. With mild sweetness and a nice minerality, this was a classic, solid pairing for the fish that came across as dependably delicious.

As I am someone who likes to get my daily fruits and veggies in, we opted for the Sweet Potato as a second course. Slightly daring and delicious, this was wholly different than any other sweet potato I’d had before. Served alongside creamy avocado, tomatillo, and queso fresco, this dish was heartier than the former and not quite as exciting, but still better than the average vegetable course you’ll get in Center City. This was no orange mush topped with marshmallows. If Thanksgiving sweet potatoes were New Jersey, these sweet potatoes would be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However, the cider that was paired with the dish did make it feel a bit like a holiday- one that I’d be willing to celebrate more than once.

To finish off the night, we went for the Pork Shoulder, which put all other pork shoulders to shame. Featuring long hots and lemon preserves, this plate was all about how foods that fall on opposite ends of the flavor spectrum can come together to be something great. If I were a pig, I’d be insulted if I didn’t end up at Petruce. It had (and I mean this in the least insulting way possible) the texture of scrapple when made well. It was crispy on the outside and tenderly meaty on the inside. There was an addictive difference in texture. I loved it, but then Tim came out and changed the whole course of my night.

Presenting us with a bottle called Sour Bikini made by Evil Twin Brewing, the handy-dandy beverage director explained that this was an unconventional choice, but one that he thought would be better than another Riesling. Sipping the beer on its own was like getting punched in the face by a lemon, and it was so darn good. I would have had three. Maybe six. For those of you who don’t like your beverages tart enough to make your upper lip disappear forever, the pairing of this beer with the pork really mellowed out the intense flavors of both. The sourness cut through the sweetness and richness of the dish to create one cohesive element. It was the most masterful pairing of the night, and one of the best pairings I’ve ever had.

Before I went to the restaurant that evening, I stopped by my old standby, a.bar, to grab a cocktail or two before dinner. While speaking with the guy sitting next to me and the men mixing cocktails behind the bar, they all gushed over Petruce. It was like they were fangirls talking about Comic-Con. Never before have I just mentioned the name of a place and received such jealous stares and words of praise. No one could say enough good things, and one guy even said he’d join me if he could. It wasn’t just that they enjoyed the food and attentive service at Petruce, it was that they respected everything about the restaurant. After one meal there, I joined them in their adoration.

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WineStudio: Going All the Way with Rosé

When I turned twenty-one, I intended to be taken seriously, and that meant eschewing standard boxed wines, bottles with kangaroos on them, and anything that wasn’t a broody red. Rosé was an easy casualty because I was never that fond of it in the first place. Overly sweet, cloyingly tropical, and pretty pink- those are the three things that used to come to mind when discussing Rosé. It wasn’t White Zin bad, but it was pretty gosh darn close.

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I’ve changed my tune a little bit since then, and if there were any doubts left in my mind, the latest #WineStudio run by PROTOCOL Wine stamped them out. Entitled ‘Rosé Sheds Its Blush and Gains Its Sophistication,’ the June session was all about the bad reputation Rosé has, how that perception has changed in recent years, and how winemakers are providing consumers with bold Rosé that showcases the range this controversial wine actually has. Rosé is no longer just something to choke down at get-togethers in July, and in order to highlight that, we were able to try some great wines to go along with the educational sessions.

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First up was the wine that I was admittedly most excited to try because it was from Slovenia, a region with which I had no previous wine experience. After a few e-mails where I kept calling the importer ‘Kathy’ instead of ‘Katy’ and a phone call where I asked for ‘Sarah’ to process my payment instead of ‘Sue,’ I was able to have the wine delivered to me in Maryland- a state that is better than Pennsylvania as far a wine laws go, but not by much.

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Imported by Old World Vines, this 2013 Damski Rosé from Erzetic Winery was made with 100% Merlot and was 100% different than any wine I’d had before. Sure, with the pink label and the word ‘damski’ involved, it felt girlier than most wines I go for, but I was willing to give it a go anyway. Pouring a pale orange into the glass, the soft, refreshing wine was dry, gave off aromas of light berries, and tasted herby in all the best ways. It was one of those wines that pairs well with others and at $23.95 a bottle, one that would be great for anyone interested in exploring different wine regions or Rosé in general.

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Of course, we couldn’t talk about Rosé without discussing American Rosé, which probably has the worst reputation of all. Moving on to California, the 2014 Rosé from Donelan Family Wines was subtle yet complex. Comprised of 55% Syrah, 29% Grenache, and 16% Pinot Noir, this wine from Sonoma County was fleshy pink in color. On the nose it was exotic, but not overly tropical, with light mango coming to mind. However, where it really got interesting was on the palate. With great balance, a light kick of acid to it, and springing to life when paired with the sashimi I had for dinner, this was a bottle I dug. Sporting a $25 price tag, I think this one is perfect for sharing over a meal with people you like.

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Last up for this month all about Rosé was a blend of both worlds: a wine from the Russian River Valley made by a Frenchman. The 2014 Rosé of Tannat made by Y. Rousseau Wines was fermented in stainless steel barrels and aged for 5 months on the lees with no stirring. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’ll move on to the good stuff. Though some would describe the color as salmon, my sister and I both agreed it looked like rose-gold in the glass. Another thing we agreed on was that the bouquet was enticing with aromas of pink berries and citrus. While she wasn’t able to pick out the individual notes, it was interesting that she liked the smell since she usually describes wine as smelling like grapes. Juicy with a silky mouthfeel, the promise made by the aromas followed through in tasting. There were only 275 cases produced with bottles going for $24, and I’d suggest scooping this one up right away to either share with others or selfishly enjoy all on your own.

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Whether you’re a Rosé lover or dubious about this wine that everyone whips out in the summer, I’d recommend giving these a whirl. The great thing about them was that they were all different and showcased Rosé in new and exciting ways for me. The best aspect of #WineStudio is that it gives everyone interested in wine the opportunity to learn about wines that may have a bad reputation or may not be well-known among the masses. For those of you who haven’t participated yet, the July session began this past Tuesday and will continue to take place on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET. We’ve moved on from Rosé to the wines of Chile, and I can’t wait to discover more about an area often solely associated with reds. Just search for the #WineStudio and jump in! Everyone (except for me) is friendly.

These wines were kindly provided to me by the wineries/importers listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

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Movie Review: Red Obsession

I’ve slowly been chipping away at my large Netflix queue as I make my way through 365 movies in 2015. From mindless entertainment like Grace of Monaco to the overindulgent classic Cleopatra, I’ve seen a little bit of it all, including the occasional food documentary.

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Most recently I dived into the 2013 documentary directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, Red Obsession. Too advanced for wine newbies and too superficial for people who are passionate about wine, Red Obsession is a movie that misses the mark and will likely be forgotten among the many wine documentaries that have come out in recent years.

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It isn’t all absolutely terrible though. The topic itself is interesting: Bordeaux wine prices skyrocketing due to Chinese interest in French wine. This is a big topic with a lot to unpack. There are a lot of questions that come along with it. Why Bordeaux? Why did the Chinese billionaires even decide wine was worth their time? How does this all impact Bordeaux sales in places outside of China? What happens when Bordeaux has a bad year or the Chinese move onto something else? Most of these questions are thankfully addressed in the documentary, though with a running time just a little over and hour, they are not all answered sufficiently.

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Also, who can deny that Russell Crowe as a narrator makes the entire film sound more intense? Heck, homeboy could be talking about Bronies and make it sound like the most serious documentary ever made. To complement his rich, manly voice is the cinematography. The shots, particularly those of vineyards, are stunning and help bring one into the movie. The visuals are one element that really save this otherwise drab film and kept me from hitting the ‘off’ button before the film was over.

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From the little bit of good in the movie, we move on to the bad. To many of the Chinese people interviewed, nothing beats Bordeaux, and it’s so coveted that the purchasers pay millions of dollars for bottles they never intend to open. Buying wine, especially at that cost, and never opening it is baffling to me, and this point is the perfect opening for the filmmakers to delve into the mentality of the Chinese. This isn’t just an issue of wine; the topic opens up so many psychological, economical, and cultural questions. We get a bit of an explanation that these buyers want pricey Bordeaux to showcase their power and wealth, but this big topic is really unexplored. For a film that’s supposed to be about how the Chinese are impacting the wine industry, the Chinese seems like secondary characters.

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Part of the reason why the filmmakers don’t spend enough time on the people buying this wine or the economics behind it seems to be that what they’re really trying to do is pimp out Bordeaux. After a while, the interviews that praise the majesty of this wine and discuss the history become grating. Sure, it’s an important area for any wine enthusiast to learn about, and it’s great to hear a discussion about terroir versus the soul of the winemakers, but that’s not the movie for which I thought I was signing up.

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Red Obsession tackles a topic that should be interesting and enlightening for anyone interested in wine, but it devolves into a huge ad to drink Bordeaux. By failing to consider how this red obsession began in China and the larger implications of this, the takeaway of this film becomes ‘Bordeaux is amazing; people like to buy it; and maybe the interest will plateau though the wine will always be well-regarded.’ At the end of this movie, I’m not sure who the intended audience is, but I know it’s not me, and it’s probably not you either.

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Thirsty Thursday: The Cherry Picker

Summer is upon us, and with that comes a plethora of tasty fruits and veggies. While they’re great on their own, I think the best usage of the abundance of fresh produce is to use or mimic it in a cocktail. Thus, one day while messing around with the booze we already had in the house and craving a refreshing drink for the ninety degree weather outside, this cocktail was born. The Luxardo measurement is given in a range for those of you who want more cherry flavor to the drink! I went with 1/2 oz. and could taste it, but for you cherry lovers out there, more might be better. It’s really just a riff on a French 75, but The Cherry Picker sounds so much more exciting, no?

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The Cherry Picker

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Langley’s gin

1/2 oz.-1 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

4 oz. dry sparkling wine or Champagne

2 cherries, preferably Luxardo (optional)

1. If you know early on that you’ll be making this cocktail, stick shaker in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to get it well chilled.

2. Take your shaker out of the freezer. Fill up the shaker and martini glass with chipped ice to keep them chilled while assembling your cocktail.

3. Measure out and pour gin, Luxardo liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup into shaker. Cover shaker and shake well for five to ten seconds.

4. Dump ice out of martini glass. Strain liquid into glass. Top off with sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry if desired. Enjoy.

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Dinner at Cunningham’s (Baltimore, MD)

In the past few years, Philly has been labeled as one of the up-and-coming food cities of the U.S. As someone who’s a bit sick of New York getting all the (sometimes undeserved) attention, I like that. However, I think once Philly firmly establishes itself as a great city for everything from cheesesteaks to fine dining, Baltimore is going to be next on the up-and-coming lists. While I’m content cracking open dozens of steamed crabs coated in Old Bay, so much more has blossomed out of the Baltimore area recently.

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Sliding easily into that broad category of ‘new American,’ Cunningham’s is a restaurant that is frequently on ‘Best of” lists, and for good reason. Outfitted in rich blue, creams, and grey colors, the restaurant has a lively 60’s club feel to it. Thankfully, it doesn’t try and emulate 60’s food because all one needs to do is turn on an episode of The Astronaut Wives Club and watch them plop fluorescent Jell-O salad on the table to realize that NO ONE wants to eat in the 60’s. No one.

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However, I do understand the appeal of drinking there. When I think of cocktails from the 50’s and 60’s, I think boozy, simple, immaculately made drinks, and Cunningham’s gets that. While I opted for the lighter The Birds & The Bees, a blend of gin, honey, lemon, and hops, my mom went for her classic Sazerac, which I could describe here, but which I consider as well-known as a Manhattanso I won’t. If you don’t know what it is, I trust you know your way to Google.

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Wanting to munch on something as we sipped our cocktails, the small plates and appetizers were quickly ordered. As with most restaurants nowadays, once we chose a few snacks, we were presented with bread. The bread came from their bakery and had distinct, interesting flavors from wheaty to sweet, but would have been better appreciated by both of us if it had been served warm.

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As far as the stuff we actually had to pay for, we went for several things in order to try everything. I have to say though that I don’t understand this fascination that’s popping up with popcorn. Charging a few dollars for a handful of popcorn after sprinkling some spices and slathering butter on a movie snack just seems ridiculous to me. It’s a fad that I don’t get, but one that my mom is all over. So, the Brown Butter Popcorn was a must when she saw it was on the menu. It was good; it was popcorn; it was boring, and that’s all I really have to say about that.

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Way better than the popcorn were the Oyster and Bacon Pie and the Cheese Plate we ordered. Piping hot, filled with plump oysters, and encrusted in buttery, golden flakiness, the pie was perfect for anyone who can get behind the idea of a rich seafood pie. The cheese plate, while deliciously offering up a broad selection of cheeses, just needed a few touches of something different. Instead of an awesome hard cheddar followed by a great hard Spanish cheese, there needed to be a softer cheese to make the plate texturally enticing.

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After making our way through the appetizers and burning the roof of my impatient mouth on a pie, we were presented with dinner, a course I approached much more calmly than the preceding one. The flaky Whole Grilled Bronzini encompassed the pure effortlessness of a good piece of grilled fish, but was also elevated by the salty black olive puree and sweetness of the Meyer lemon puree. The fish needed all of these elements on the fork to work though, because the few bites I took featuring just one of the purees was unbalanced and odd. When I got it all in one bite, however, it was perfect. Salty, sweet, and delicate, a fantastic option for a hot evening out.

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For the other diner (AKA my mom), the Shrimp and Grits was the plate for her. Big shrimp, cheesy grits, and roasted red pepper, what could go wrong? The answer: kale. The dish was 90% awesome and only suffered from the incorrect green. I think she wanted something more traditional, like spinach or collards, and the kale was a touch too bitter for the decadent dinner. Personally, kale sounds like a nice balance to the creaminess of grits, but what do I know? I just pretend to have knowledge of food so I can write about it here.

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Perfect for special night out, and ideal when there are fewer than four people dining, Cunningham’s is a restaurant with a few kinks, but a lot of yummy options. It’s a meal that will set you back a chunk of change, but one that will be worth it. Completely distinct from the warmer atmosphere of another Baltimore favorite, Woodberry Kitchen, this spot offers up a unique choice among the college bars and pizza places that litter the Towson area. I, for one, am pretty happy with the direction my hometown’s going, even if I do know that at its core it will always be a city that chooses steamed crabs and Natty Boh nine times out of ten.
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