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LA DOLCE VITA……….IF YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT THAT IS

July 3rd, 2012

LA DOLCE VITA……….IF YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT THAT IS

As soon as I stepped off the airplane it was that essence of Rome that wafted all around me. The combination of (and please don’t be offended) a slight odour of pollution, the warm inviting smell of the Italian cigarettes (between cigarettes and cigars) and the damp humid air entered my nostrils at once, causing me to flush and swelter with emotion. I hadn’t been back in six years and to be here again was so exciting. Like finding your favourite lost toy.

So five of us have settled in an apartment very near Saint Peter’s Basilica or, as most know it, the Vatican. I chose this area on purpose: as my brother settles in with his in-laws across from the Coliseum , they have an incredible view every morning there is no denying it but I have the markets, specialty fish stores and incredible butchers to shop from. No paying five Euros for coffee in this part of town!!! It is a local neighbourhood and a fun one at that.

We have been here for five days and have accomplished so much! My father is a valuable tour guide. You want to see the real Rome? Then come with us. He grew up right here on Via Dei Serpenti, right down from the Coliseum.

Since our arrival, we have been alternating our nights out for dinner. We always eat at the traditional trattorias which dish up such home-style Roman cooking like deep fried olives (stuffed with pork), roasted whole rabbit with rosemary, veal scaloppini with fresh lemon and local ricotta cheese that is so rich and creamy it makes Devon cream look dull. Tripe Alla Romana, if you don’t know what that is, is tripe in a homemade tomato sauce. Spinach with pine nuts and freshly sautéed chicory. Large carafes of fresh local wine and arugula grappa. Spicy and bitter all in the same breath.

Today, two days before the wedding, we were invited to go to Lariano and have lunch with the former chef that I worked with and who is also my dad’s best friend of 44 years. He lives in the Castelli Romani, which are the Roman hills. In and around this part, just outside of Rome are some of the prettiest lakes you will see in Italy and boast the reputation of producing all the delicious, fresh wines that the Romans live on. Not the kind of wines that are complicated and lengthy in flavour but fresh and bright. The only wine that you can serve in a tumbler and it’s perfectly acceptable!

We trekked up the mountains to Lariano, which is a small town very near Castell Gandolfo. In case you don’t know, that resort town is the home of the Pope’s summer palace. Ernesto, my dad’s friend, has the cutest little cedar house in this town right behind his cousin’s house. So cute in fact, it is picture postcard perfect.

So here we are in this mecca of the simple Roman food scene. We arrived at this little house only to be greeted by the lemon, orange and mandarin trees, as well as tomato bushes, 18 different potted herbs, strawberry bushes and my personal favourite : oleanders. Bay leaf hedges up to my ears. Celery plants and apple trees, and of course, white peach trees. Peaches that grow bigger than your fist. Very sweet and minerally in taste.

Now I have learned that to eat at Ernesto’s house will stop you from eating or even looking at food for two days afterwards. Today was no different and I did to be fair- warn my fiancé on portion size. I told him the two rules my family lives by when we eat at Ernesto’s: no bread and eat only one quarter of what is on your plate.

We started out with a plate of local antipasti which is fresh salami, mortadella, and baby Bononcini. Puff pastry stuffed with tuna and olive oil and sautéed artichokes. Fried fresh green olives stuffed with lamb and pork. Second course consisted of short rigatoni in a cream and veal sauce with fresh peas. Third course was beef tenderloin in a thick Barolo sauce, a roasted chicken in fresh lemon and rosemary with roasted Roman potatoes. Tripe in a thick tomato sauce with local pecorino. Roman lentils with sage and wild boar sausage. Homemade meatballs in a savoury thyme sauce. The finale: fresh porcini mushrooms simply fried in a little olive oil and drizzled with a touch of salt. When Ernesto said that he forgot to make dessert, I almost cried with relief. My dad immediately took some Tums. The funny part was that I had forgotten about the cheese course. Fresh ricotta with a local cherry jam spread on top. I was very happy that I wore my Lulu Lemons.
Then there was the wine. First, we sampled the local merlot that Ernesto collected for us for the wedding. I think that the wine was blended with another grape. Smoky and peppery with lots of bright berry fruit and a rich savoury acid. Very smoky and flinty. Amazing. Two Euros for five litres. Equally amazing. The white that we drank (also for the nuptials) was an Arneis that had a silky/oily texture and bright citrus notes that tickled your tongue. To top off the day, however, we were very excited to see the next bottle that he pulled out: Massolino Barolo 2004 vintage!!!!! It’s the Barolo that I have on the Enomatic machines at Vin Room right now. I had been pouring the 2003, previously which was a little hot, rich and smoky. This one had a rich texture, violet nose and mineral aftertaste with a cooked cherry flavour core. Heavier with a crisp acid and meaty palate. I was in love.

Then Ernesto took out the Barbera that they produce as well- a 2009 vintage. He gave this to usas a gift to us to drink with our friends that night. I have never had the Barbera before. Leaner in style and flavour with a brighter fruit core and a bit chewy. We finished off with Nonino Grappa and a homemade Limoncello his cousin made that was very perfumed on the nose, reminiscent of white flowers and fresh green shrubs.

Cold espresso anyone? By the time I was finished I was rubbing my stomach and hoping that the mineral water would calm it down. Thank God for coffee!!!!

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Erika’s New Adventure

May 21st, 2012

The start of it all.

It only takes the one moment to decide. For us, for me, it was precisely five minutes into our Christmas vacation to Cuba to say yes. And here I am almost nine months later on the brink of marriage. I know what you are all thinking, elope but aha! We decided to get married in Italy. This my friends is where it all begins. I have to interject here and also say a big thank you to theVin Room staff and mostly Phoebe Fung, our Proprietor, who is letting me travel for four glorious weeks!!!

Let me begin by saying that I really wanted to focus this wedding around food and wine. Mostly food. We knew we wanted to do a destination wedding and we asked all our friends “where oh where should this fiesta be?” And one of our dearest friends lamented “Please not in Costa Rica. So many of us have gotten married there. Can we go somewhere different?” To me, this made perfect sense. My fiancé loves food just as much as I do. Even more perhaps so it became a natural thought to combine the two biggest thoughts about this wedding together: family and reception. So it became apparent to us to get hitched in Italy. Time to go home. I know what you are thinking. She does not look Italian. AHA!!! I am half Italian thank you very much. And all of my spaghetti loving family still lives down there.

In nine months with the help of a great and trustworthy wedding planner who is based in Rome I am almost there. Four enchanting weeks of eating and travelling through Italy, Greece, and Turkey. We decided to tack on Turkey at the last moment but could you blame us? As excited as I am about the wedding, the real thrill that courses through me is the thought of going home. You see, for my whole meager adult life I have spent almost half in Italy with my family and friends and working and travelling around. It is the thought of revisiting what I left five years ago. When I lived in Rome, I was a mere 22 years old and a naïve one at that. I decided to leave after culinary school, cashed in my small savings, buy a one way ticket and land my bum in Rome, determined to learn and experience Italian life. I miss it sometimes. The business of the streets, the fresh bread smells in the morning as I pass by the bakeries. I even miss sitting with the old ladies in the piazza parks watching the seniors kick the butts of young fresh Italian boys at soccer. And fresh cornetti (Italian croissants) that you buy at 3am in the morning after you have spent the entire night dancing.

We North Americans are always so enthralled when we travel to Europe and it is easy to see why. People actually get to live like this. They eat amazing pastries, sleep in the afternoon, and have history as their neighbor. This trip means all of this to me. The fact that I get to share this with someone who used to live there too is a big bonus. Robert, my fiancé, grew up in Greece. No pineapple on pizza please. No burgers for lunch. How about boar paparedelle and fresh truffles that you hunted down with your neighbour’s dog for lunch? This is what I am going back to.

Greece and Turkey will be so different to Italy but it is the excitement of trying new things to eat is enchanting. This will be a culinary travel. Don’t forget the wine. Can’t do that but I am an adventurer at heart and will eat or drink anything once. 18 days to go. This will be something.

Erika
Wine Director

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Did Anyone Catch The License Plate on that Bottle Of Wine?

August 16th, 2011

I have a history of issues with White Zinfandel that date long before I became a sommelier. There is no wine snobbery here. To be quite frank, White Zinfandel scares me. My university roommate was a lunatic, albeit a very charismatic individual, who would drink a litre bottle of E & J Gallo before heading out to the bar. The morning would result in piecing together the events of the evening prior coupled with a cranky tirade as a result of a raging, sugar induced hangover. I knew the potential of the police knocking on my dorm room was highly probable whenever I saw that giant pink bottle gleaming in our fridge. It was a beacon for shenanigans. As a result, I spent a good amount of my pre-sommelier youth with the notion that all pink wines a) were cloyingly sweet and b) could get you kicked out the bar for breaking a bottle over someone’s head. I consider this one of few times I have enjoyed being wrong.

I have yet to meet a sommelier who doesn’t love dry rosé. My love affair with this style of wine is akin to a love affair that one has on a reoccurring summer holiday. Flooded with endless warm summer days and evenings together, the promise to return to each other the following year, being unavailable in the cold winter months only to make the next visit that much sweeter….. Ah, but I digress….

For those who still have their issues with pink wine, allow me to clarify some misconceptions. Pink does not mean sweet. Blush wine is the most commonly used term used to describe the formerly mentioned sweet “pink wines” that flooded our market in the mid 1970’s. Rosé, however, is in reference to wines that fall between the spectrum of red and white and can be made from both red and white grapes. There are several processes to make rosé but generally, two methods are most commonly used. The preferred practice for making rosé is to allow a short maceration of the juice with the skins from dark coloured grapes to allow an extraction of colour before separating the juice and beginning fermentation. The other method simply requires the blending of red wine into finished white wine to achieve a desired colour. This is often considered to be the process reserved for basic styles of rosé, with the exception of Champagne, in which blended wines are heavily regulated to maintain quality.

From here, the style of rosé that is produced is wide ranging, varying from pale salmon hues to intense, rock candy pink. Flavours can vary from lean, mineral and spicy to bold, refreshing and fruit driven. With so much to choose from, the food pairings are endless. The bright acidity that is characteristic to great rosé makes it a wine that is friendly to a myriad of dishes. Consider the delicate styles of rosé from areas such as Provence or Bandol with dishes that are equally as fresh such as ceviche, fresh garden vegetables or spicy asian dishes. Sparkling rosé is a match made in heaven with savoury food such as bloomy rind cheese and oysters on the half shell. Rethink tuna sashimi, roasted chicken or tomato salad with a vibrant, juicy Garnacha from Navarra. Jump on the Pink Bandwagon friends, we’re headed towards Flavour Country. To sum up, Pink is the new…well, pink. And I find nothing frightening with that at all.

Dry Rosé That Won’t Get You Arrested.

2009 Casa Girelli Lamura Rosé (Sicily, Italy)
Made from 100% Nero d’Avola, this wine offers up a bouquet of wild strawberries, white pepper and sweet liquorice. A soft spoken accomplice to your Friday night tomfoolery.

2010 Joie Farms Rosé (Okanagan Valley, Canada)
Knock your socks off rosé! Made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Gamay and Pinot Gris. Ripe notes of black cherry, sweet meadow flowers and pomegranate. She respects the law but walks on the wild side.

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Waiter! There’s A Sauvignon Blanc Swimming in my Chardonnay Glass!

June 24th, 2011

Devoting my career to wine has often led to many assumptions on my character.  The most common misconception being that I am snobbish towards wine.  Such is not the case.  In fact, as I write this, I am sipping on a quiet glass of Rioja out of a small tumbler that I normally reserve for water and impromptu shots of tequila.  I do so, not for lack of fine stemware, but rather for the pleasure that I get from enjoying this table wine as it would be served to me in Spain. Unpretentious and without formality.  It is often heard that there is a wine for every occasion and that statement can also be related to the stemware in which we choose to serve it.  Selecting the “right” glass can be confusing and the debate around what is ideal is often conflicting.  So, how does one discern between the mouth blown crystal goblet and the tear drop shaped wine glass? That’s where I come in.  Your trusty Sommelier is here to weed through the nonsense, deliver the goods and most importantly, save your time, money and wine.  Spare me a moment while I top up…

How do you know if you are using the wrong glass?  Use this as your barometer:  If your current wine glasses are potentially ovenproof in thickness and resemble a fishbowl, it’s time for an upgrade.  You’re better off taking a swig out of my water/tequila/late-night whisky glass.  Well-regarded producers such as Schott Zwiesel, Spiegelau, Riedel and Iittala have been happily depleting my retirement fund and limiting my cupboard space for years with their endless suggestions for the perfect glass of wine.  These leaders in crystal manufacturing have spent decades researching their design to provide oenophiles with distinctive, stylish yet, functional glassware.  With hundreds of selections, wine enthusiasts are able to match their glass to their style of wine down to the variety.  It’s a Riesling-Barolo-Syrah Lover’s dream come true.  Now before you begin spending all your hard earned money on magic beans and titanium grade crystal, a bit of advice.  Much in the same vein that “all you need is one good knife” in the kitchen, the same rule can be loosely applied to wine glasses.  A modest selection of well selected stemware is all that one needs to enhance their wine experience.

There is a common misconception that the bigger the wine glass, the better.  It’s like buying a Hummer when all you need is Volkswagon.  Investing in a set of well-made standard wine glasses will make a world of difference as opposed to buying precious, delicate and often absurdly, large oversized glasses.  This will be your go-to glass for white wines and simple reds.  Consider the style of wines you are most often drinking. Unless you’re hanging with the likes of Nicholas Cage and Jay-Z, I assume your wine selections are much like mine.  More often than not, I am opening humble wines that are often youthful, fresh and designed to be drunk young.  For these wines, consider a glass in which the bowl is slightly bigger than the aperture (lip) but is still moderate in size.  Your standard wine glass should not be more than 12-15 ounces.  If you are looking for glassware to suit your more precious wines, consider investing in 2-3 styles of glassware.  First and foremost, these are your glasses in which a stem is necessary.  Wine temperature can easily affect the taste of your wine and the function of the stem is to avoid the body heat from your hands warming your glass.  When it comes to shape, I suggest a larger and more exaggerated bowl with a smaller aperture for complex, reds that have high aromatics such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Cru Beaujolais, or Grenache.  This wine can also be used for your richer styled white wines, such as Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussane or New World Viognier.   For full bodied red wines, a shape similar to your standard wine glass but larger in size (think 15-20 ounces) should be sufficient to handle your Syrah, Bordeaux, Priorato or Brunello needs.  Remember, a larger glass does not mean that you pour larger amounts.  The point of a larger glass is much like the point of a decanter, to provide greater surface area to assist in releasing the precious aromatics of your wine.  As much as I like to lean towards generous pours, you should never fill your wine glass to the brim.  A 4 ounce glass of wine is ideal to allow the aromatics in your wine to open up and gives plenty of room to practice your wine swirling flare.  The practice of swirling is to release the aromatics of the wine and concentrate the aromas towards the nose, hence the need for a glass that tapers inwards at the top.

And finally, to flute or not to flute? That is the question that often buzzes around what is ideal for sparkling wine and champagne.  Many Champagne producers argue that the narrow shape of the flute is not wide enough to highlight the delicate, intense mineral notes that vintage champagne displays.  I have had countless conversations with Champagne representatives who encourage drinking Champagne out of white wine glasses.  The same suggestion is made for highly quaffable, simple styles of sparkling wine such as Lambrusco or Prosecco.  Others believe that the allure is in the bubbles and that the flute’s design captures the textural experience that one has when drinking sparkling wine or Champagne.  Regardless of your preference, one thing is for certain, the famous “Marie Antoniette’s breast” shaped glass is completely useless for sparkling wine consumption.  It neither captures the bubbles nor the aromatics and hence, your wine is lost in the glass.

Now that you have your glasses selected, you will need to wash them.  As a natural born klutz I can provide some of the best advice on caring for your glassware.  Always hand wash your wine glasses, especially if they are crystal.  Even if they are machine wash friendly, you will eventually find that the heat of the dishwasher will degrade the quality of the glass and make it more susceptible to breakage over time.  Cradle the bowl in your hands when trying to wash the inside of the glass, use the same method when polishing.  Most breakage occurs when we hold  the glass from the base and twist the bowl in the opposite direction.  Allow your glasses to air dry upside down and then give a quick polish before storing in the cupboard.  Always check for detergent residue before pouring wine into your glass.

So there you have it, out of hundreds of glasses to choose from, I have narrowed the options down to four.  I hope this clears up some cupboard space for you.  Now pass the corkscrew already!

Cheers,

KK

eenie meenie miney moe.....

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Musings from the Road

March 25th, 2011

From Thailand with Love

I have Radiohead’s ‘All I Need’ running through my mind as we peddle through the side streets. The song is out of place considering my current situation but Radiohead is my only thought as my bike slips out of gear for the 6th time in an hour. My mind drifts for a moment and I am swept back to Vancouver three years ago to Thunderbird stadium. I am swaying to and fro as the band plays for over 3 hours. A car beeps behind me, I jerk the handle bars to steady myself and I am back to reality. We have reached the end of our road and are about to turn onto the main street once more. At this moment I am sure of one thing. The rain that is pouring down on us today is worse than that concert three years ago. Up until today, I considered that evening the worst rain I have ever had to stand in. But I am no longer in Vancouver. In fact, I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the rain that is splashing down on us is hard, unrelenting and fat. We have been here for just over two weeks now. After days of evening out tan lines and eating four square meals a day in the country’s south, we have headed north to round out the first leg of our two month tour throughout Southeast Asia. Today, we are the only people who have signed up for a city bike tour or at least, we are the only ones who have shown up.

Our guide is kind, soft spoken and intuitive. He notes right away that we are uninterested in the commercial haunts that are easily travelled by foot and suggests that we travel to the city’s outskirts towards the rice fields. He adds that there are some nice bike trails out this way, easier than the city’s rough streets. Our ponchos crinkle as we nod in agreement, allowing more rain to slip down our necks and soak our shirts. The bike trails are beautiful indeed. They are gentle paths through quiet residential areas in which locals can view three lunatics peddle through sheets of rain out the comfort of their own homes. To get to this point, however, we have had to fight through Chiang Mai traffic. In which driving regulations are regarded less as law but rather helpful hints and loose guidelines to follow. This is no longer Saturday morning spin class, but rather a survival of the fittest challenge for me and Dave. Our reward is that we are given the experience that we had hoped for, an opportunity to see outside of the tourist areas of Chiang Mai. We are peering out to a sea of bright green rice fields; gliding past grazing water buffalos and listening to the furious beating of rain splash against teak roofs. As we soak up the beautiful landscape, I am ashamed that I can only think of one thing. I am starving. Our guide’s name is Tun and he is also my saviour at this point. He nods to a sheltered food stop and calls out behind us, “Should we stop for some lunch?” Dave has already turned his bike around and is peddling fast towards the restaurant. I am thankful at this point, that I share the appetite of a 6”4 Italian man.

Settling in, we are greeted with friendly chuckles as we rip off our ponchos. The paper thin plastic that we were wearing has done nothing to save us from the pouring rain. Our guide is happy to hear the following; we are not vegetarians and we will try anything. I am certain that Tun is clairvoyant as his selections restore us from the cold, exhausting ride. Like old friends, we share a heaping bowl of spicy, stewed beef soup; crispy pork on stir fried vegetables with chillies; morning glory in oyster sauce and another round of pork on bitter greens. (The second helping of pork is at my behest) Near the end of our meal, Tun asks me what the difference is between Canadian and Thai restaurants. I slow down my chewing to a pensive grind and measure my answer carefully. There are obvious differences that I can note; outdoor health regulations; the shower in the “public restroom”; cats under the table; the lack of proper seating for anyone over 5”7 (poor, poor Dave). These musings are redundant and an obvious insult to the delicious meal we have just been served. I swallow with intent and answer simply, “Food this fast and this cheap in Canada would not be this good.” Today lunch for three people has cost us less than $6. We are not at a truck stop and this is not a franchised chain. This is a simple, family operation in which locals stop in droves to take away quick and easy meals. We are not “slumming it” either. Our guide has taken us through one of the prettiest neighbourhoods of Chiang Mai. We are witness to what the local Thai middleclass do for a Thursday lunch. It is one of the best meals that we will have during our time in the city but there is one more point that I do not share as we suit up and speed towards the city centre.

Thailand, for all its beautiful food, refreshing fruit shakes and dirt cheap beers, is a country that consumes very little wine. What I have witnessed for selections, have obviously been imported to supply the large flocks of tourists that visit this country every year. Flashy Phuket and metropolitan Bangkok offered big names and high price tags, but for the most part selections in the supermarket are limited to second labels from countries with huge wine lakes. (Read Chile, Australia and Southern Italy) Thailand also produces wine. That is all that I will say on that subject.

When I first embarked on this adventure, my intent was to take a real holiday, which included a break from thinking about wine. But since I`ve left, wine is a constant thought on my mind. How can it not? At the beginning of every delicious meal my first instinct is to reach for my wine glass. I long for Clare Valley Riesling to pair with the chilli and lime dressing on my Som Tum. My Panang curry demands a doughy Santa Cruz Chardonnay and the savoury soup I had for lunch was begging for Cru Beaujolais. I am gluttonous in this country and it has spun my palate into overdrive. I salivate over spiced nuts, smoke rising from outdoor barbeques, steaming broths poured into plastic take away bags. In a country that has little love for wine, I am inspired and slowly rejuvenating my own stagnant passion. I rethought the influences of herbs, heat and texture. And while I am in no rush to end my vacation, I feel that I will leave here with much to bring back home.

My conclusion after today is that you can take the sommelier out of Canada but you can`t take the sommelier out of girl. It only took 20 km in the pouring rain and a bowl of soup to get there. Now watch out for that car.

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I’ve got a problem with VD.

February 8th, 2011

Oh, I used to be one of you.  I’d smirk at the oversized teddy bears that would pop up in department stores the moment New Year’s Eve had passed.  I’d feel nauseated walking through the sea of red aisles flagging cinnamon hearts and marshmallow cupids.  Most importantly, I would feel smug in the understanding that I had not been duped by the commercialism that is February 14th.    For those who sanctimoniously abstain from Valentine’s Day, it is a strict religion in which no concessions are allowed.  Pure, unabashed disdain for this fictitious love-fest and all of its feathery, chocolaty, flowery, mushy glory is the only acceptable reproach.  When the Red Swarm would kick into overdrive the week prior to V-day, I would retaliate with my Sword of Sarcasm.  Indeed, I was the quintessential “Anti-Valentinian”.  Clearly, from my tone and reference to the past, you can see that this is no longer the case.  So what happened to change my mind?  Was it love?  That heart-wrenching, soul satisfying, earth shattering L-O-V-E?  Oh please, give me some credit.  What made me a convert to Cupid was in fact a very simple and seemingly harmless phrase, which immediately incites an irritation level in me that is indescribable.  I’m referring to two small words: Hallmark Holiday.  Bleh.  Just typing that caused me to shudder.

Let’s make things clear folks.  Hallmark did not invent Valentine’s Day, nor did they ruin it.  That was our doing.  Our deep seeded love for consumerism ruins the point of most holidays, events and celebrations.  At least Valentine’s Day has a saint behind it.  The same people who despise Valentine’s day likely celebrate Mother’s day (yes, I know, she’s a saint….my apologies); buy chocolate bunnies for Easter; pretend they are Irish on St. Patrick’s day; or think that snowmen and reindeer actually have something to do with Christmas.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  All holidays have seen the effects of commercialism and while we don’t have to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we don’t need to single it out either.  My argument is that celebrating love in all its forms can be a beautiful ritual.   I think the majority of us detest the Valentine’s Day hoopla because it seems superficial.  So why do we do it? Because it is easy and we are innately lazy when it comes to love.  We prefer to assume that the implied is the same as the understood and that is not always the case.  Sometimes we need a gentle reminder, like say, a special holiday to tell us that we need to be kinder, sweeter and more thoughtful to those we hold dear.

Which brings me back to my pro-Valentine’s Day conversion.  A holiday that celebrates love. What a novel idea.  Once I opened my mind to the idea of treating Valentine’s Day like any other holiday, February became a lovelier month for me.  In true Karen Kho fashion, I found a way to make it all about food and wine.  After all, it is my first true love.  Thus, I chose to always find a way to make it special whether I was a table for two or a single spot at the bar.  I found that consumerism wasn’t so bad when it involved great food and wine, shared of course, with the ones you love.  So for all you naysayers, I have put together “Double K’s Guide to a Successful Valentine’s Day”.

  • Start the day off with a treat.  My advice, breakfast in bed.  I would suggest that you make quiche.   Otherwise you’ll be finding scrambled eggs in your pillow and yolks…well, you get the picture.  If you are making breakfast for yourself, do what you like.  They’re your sheets after all.
  • On that note: Mimosas are garbage.  You should never ruin great champagne with orange juice and you should never drink crappy sparkling wine because you’re mixing it with orange juice.  Skip the vitamin C altogether and find a great bottle of bubbles that suits your price range.
  • If you are feeling adventurous, the internet is magical.  Research a dish that you want to make and search for appropriate wine pairings.  Ask your local wine geek for the best producers that will fit the bill.(karen@vinroom.com )
  • Can’t cook?  Make a reservation at your favourite restaurant.  (www.vinroom.com) The operative word here is favourite.  I have a secret to tell you that most restaurants don’t want you to know.  There are no romantic restaurants on Valentine’s Day.  They are usually hectic, bustling and have a set menu.  You should avoid this scenario like the plague.  Instead, have a trusted great meal and save room for dessert.  Don’t share.
  • Bake something for your coworkers.  Why?  Because a happy workplace is a productive workplace and eventually you will need to ask one of them for a favour.
  • Looking for real Valentine’s Day romance?  Late lunches are where it’s at.  Book a quiet table, order a bottle (or two) of wine and relax over a gigantic cheese plate. (www.vinroom.com)  You won’t have to fight for a cab mid-afternoon and you won’t be ready for bed.  Wink, wink.
  • Drink Champagne throughout your meal.  Sommeliers call it the “cheating wine pairing” because Champagne is one of the most versatile styles of wine to match with food.  It’s the perfect balance to fat, acid, mineral and spice.  Don’t make it celebratory, make it mandatory.
  • Don’t drink wine? *gasp* Fine. Then invest in a good spirit.  There is the old adage, drink less but better and I find this statement most poignant when it comes to hard liquor.  There is nothing wrong with getting a little saucy on Love Day, but if you want to minimize the hangover, forgo the sugary accompaniments.
  • Single? Don’t drown in your sorrows, revel in your independence! Invite your closest friends over, drink stiff margaritas and eat all of your favourite messy foods that you would never eat if you were on a first date.
  • Finally, call your mother.  Chances are she was the first person to ever give you a Valentine’s Day hug.

Love Always,
KK

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Some call it addiction, I call it eggdiction.

February 5th, 2011

Fracture

You rest silent and still, unassuming amongst the pack.

My naked eye widens upon first glance.

Cool to the touch, you are indifferent to my cupped hands.

I have a plan to make you mine.

In one fell swoop, I cradle and crack with swift intent.

Your smooth exterior is fragile and I am pleased.

Through trials and tribulations you are transformed.

Beaten, whipped, bathed and flipped.

The swan emerges triumphant.

Beautiful, delicate and inviting.

Shifting, alluring and malleable.

From bird to chameleon, you change to satisfy the masses.

The pillar, the prop, the main event, the glue that binds.

I bow my head in grace, only to reduce you to nothing.

Consumed with adoration.

Devoured with greed and gluttony.

My ode to my love.  My ode to the egg.

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I.Am.Restaurant

January 6th, 2011

For anyone who has ever worked the Christmas season in a restaurant, you can fully understand the chaotic hustle that happens at this time of year. Furniture is continuously rearranged, parties expand and your dreams are filled with ringing phones and popping corks. (The proper term for this is “server nightmares”). Guests are in celebration mode, and by the end of the season it is an exhaustive effort to keep up. That being said, it is also a lucrative time of the year, which always makes for a more positive and energetic staff. All in all, it is one of my favourite times of the year because generosity is overflowing in the restaurant. Everyone is sharing wine, snacking on treats, and helping each other out. For the month of December, I fully commit myself to The Restaurant. After a hectic month of clearing tables, pouring wine, hosting events, and the occasional shift in the dish pit, it is easy to go on autopilot. As a side note: if you have read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” you will know that managers’ find great solitude in the dish pit, so don’t feel sorry for them when they are getting their hands dirty.
In the blink of an eye, the manic month of December is over. For some, the exhaustion sets in. For others, it is a fresh start with resolutions for better health and happiness in the upcoming year. For me, it is always a time of reflection. I look back on another year spent in The Restaurant, ruminating on what I have learned, who I have met, and who I have lost touch with. I turn off the ‘Sommelier Robot’ that worked in December and return to being Karen Kho. Human.Being? To be honest, as I get older, I think long and hard about what I do for a living and ask a very simple question. To quote Danny Glover in Lethal Weapons 1-3, “Am I getting too old for this s@#% Riggs”? For years, I measured the answer to this by whether my job was still challenging, by my physical health and by my mental state (ratio of server nightmares to a good night’s sleep). But this year was different. This year, I asked myself the very simple question of WHY? Why do I continue to work late nights and long hours? Why do I enjoy running up and down stairs all night? Why do I relinquish my weekends to make others’ special?
After much thought, the answer came to me after yet another evening of entertaining at home over my short holiday break from the restaurant. Hospitality is in my blood. For this, I should clarify: I am not claiming to be a good host, rather, I am incredibly hospitable. I am likely to forget to stock the bathroom with toilet paper, and more often than not, I will play rap music for the dessert course. Not Martha Stewart material to say the least. That being said, I will always remember if you don’t like pork or have an allergy to garlic. Whether you are in The Restaurant, or in my home, you will always be treated as my guest. The idea of hospitality for me extends past serving food and wine. It is the art of treating others how you wish to be treated. I am far from perfect at this craft, which is why I have always found my job challenging; there is always a lesson to be learned. Working in a luxury market can often cloud your judgement. Being inundated with fine wine and food, it is easy to think that everyone has the same dining expectations. The reality is that dining out is a luxury, something which many cannot afford.
Yesterday, I ventured out of my home in search of shiitake mushrooms and tamari. As I walked to the specialty market around the corner from my house I stumbled upon $200 lying on the sidewalk. I looked around, but there was no one to be found that could have possibly been the owner. I stared at the money, thought about how hard I had worked for the last month, my mounting bills, and my sheer luck at finding this money. Then I picked up the cash, turned around and placed it beside a homeless gentleman I noticed sitting on a bench shivering in the cold. I spun around without saying a word and kept walking. I looked back only once to see him grasp the money tightly in his hands and continue to shiver.
For all of my education, the best lessons I have ever learned are that everyone deserves a good meal and that I don’t have to be on the clock to be hospitable. I am not a sommelier robot. I.Am.Karen.
Happy 2011.

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THE EAGLE HAS LANDED

November 27th, 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

I am excellent at keeping secrets.  For instance, I recently went on a special trip to taste a very special wine with some very special people, of whom I have been asked not to mention, so I won’t.  I am able to say that the wine I tried was the infamously, elusive Screaming Eagle.  What I can’t say is who served it to me, where I had it or when I tried it.

I can tell you that it was served to me in a dirty glass and that I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of me drinking it.  I can also tell you that it was one of the most interesting wine experiences I’ve ever had.  The anticipation alone of being invited to taste one of California’s most precious red wines was enough for me to graciously accept my glass without bringing attention to the previous owner’s lip stains on the rim.   A little background before I tell you about how the wine tasted…Screaming Eagle is located in Oakville, California, north of the town of Napa in the Napa Valley.  Former real estate agent Jean Phillips purchased the 57 acre estate in 1986 and initially sold fruit to various wineries in the area.  After hiring wine consultant Richard Peterson, Phillips made his daughter Heidi Peterson-Barrett her winemaker.  The winery’s first vintage was in 1992 and due to low production and a high rating from the infamous Robert Parker of 99 points, the wine sold for unusually high prices.  This trend never wavered for the winery, with price per bottle reaching enormous heights, even though Barrett has since moved on to her own projects. Phillips has since sold off the property to Stanley Kroenke and Charles Banks and current ownership rests solely with Kroenke.  The current wine making team is comprised of an all-star cast of winemaker, Andy Erikson; global oenologist Michel Rolland and viticulturalist David Abreu.  They make one wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon.  The current 2007 release is modestly priced at $1400 USD bottle.

Want to learn more about Screaming Eagle?  Good luck.  Their website is a one page directory of how to contact them, though “them” has no name.  For future reference, do not just Google “screaming eagle”.  Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where generic web searches that involve animals will inevitably result in pornography.  I won’t get explicit, all I can say is it’s not how I would spend my Friday night.

The verdict?  Unequivocally, undeniably delicious.  My notes from the 2005 vintage were scattered, serial killer scrawlings that waxed poetic about its lingering minerality, savoury finish and lifted notes of cranberry, cassis, wood smoke, bramble and intense clove.  The first question I was asked after I had returned to the restaurant was, “Was it worth the hype?” 

In a word, yes.  I know that I cannot afford a bottle without sacrificing some serious life choices, so talking about its “price tag” is irrelevant.  Other people can and so its price is driven through its demand.  This is remarkably good wine.  It was surprisingly less showy than I thought it would be, in spite of its hype.  It is structured, powerful and age-worthy to the core.  I stand behind this product and its squawk- inducing price tag so much that I gave Phoebe a mild heart attack when I purchased 3 bottles for the restaurant.

And so the question is, as I stare at my shiny Enomatic Wine Preservation Systems, do I dare to go where no Wine Director has gone before?  The answer, sweet Vin Room friends, is yes.  For one weekend, I am going to crack open one bottle of this red elixir for those who want to try California’s screamingly delicious cult wine.  I have been told that no other restaurant in the world has been so bold, so that either makes me really rad or really bad.  Regardless, the date has been decided upon.  Join us on Thursday December 9 at 5 pm.  We will be pouring 2 ounce tasters for $200. I will keep the bottle open until the last dregs are consumed.  Glasses will be clean and polished, I promise.

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InKhoherent Ramblings

November 16th, 2010

Athlete of the Year: Karen Kho

 It was happening all over again.  In an instant, I had transformed into a 10 year old version of myself in grade 5 gym class.  My recurring nightmare, its soccer-baseball day and it’s my turn up to the plate.   “Karen’s up, everybody move iiiiiin!”

 I stare blankly at the young boys who are flailing their arms at me.  “Kick it over lady!”

I look down at the soccer ball at my feet and feel the searing hot flash of blood rushing to my cheeks.  “Oh, um, O.K, I’ll throw it over!”  They’re just a bunch of boys, Karen, you’re a grown woman now.  Pick up the ball.

I look both ways and aim for the top of the fence.  Whoosh! Klink! The fence rattles and the ball zooms back towards my face.  They boo me.  Like, seriously? One more try and it just clips the top before tilting backwards onto the sidewalk and rolling again towards my boots.  “Sorry! I don’t throw very well…”  I squeamishly try to explain. 

“Clearly…” the kid mutters under his breath, with a surprisingly mature look of shock and disdain on his face.  It is at that point that I am confronted with every non-athletic girl’s nightmare…”The Dreaded Granny Throw Gesture”.  I lower my head in shame and toss the ball between my legs and up into the air.  I turn with an air of defeat, grab my groceries from the sidewalk and hunker into my apartment to make dinner.

The reminder of my innate clumsiness clouded my mind as I began to plan my evening’s feast.  Natural athleticism was never to be in the cards for me no matter how much I jogged, downward dogged or spun on a bike.  But as I separated my vegetables, I felt a defiance grow inside of me.  What is an athlete after all?  An individual who possesses a combination of skill, endurance and competitive spirit, no?  As I marinated two large flank steaks,  my mind began to wander. 

“Karen, you’re making too much food, we’ll never finish it…..”  A familiar accusation from my tiny cooking companion. 

“Nonsense,” I reply, “Have you seen me eat?” And then it hit me.

 Perhaps I was an athlete after all.  What if my sport was consuming?  Stay with me here folks.  Competitive eating is considered a sport in North American culture.   “Athletes” train for events and are rewarded with trophies, bragging rights and in many instances, cash prizes.

Granted, I have no desire to shovel dozens of hot dogs down my throat but as far as good old fashioned eating and drinking is concerned, I am one of the best.  I have taken down 5 course dinners without batting an eye; gleefully gorged on plates of petit fours and can skilfully snag the last piece of bacon from my competitors with the grace of a gazelle.  Being the smallest in a clan of freakishly tall Filipinos has taught me to manoeuvre through Chinese buffets in record speed.  Wine is my Gatorade, fuelling me towards new heights of gluttonous excellence.  Riesling is guzzled, Barolo is devoured and Champagne is sabered.  If it’s edible, I am ready with fork and knife in hand.  That’s right sports fans; I’m here to collect my glory.  So the next time you see me attacking a sandwich, please don’t judge, I’m in training.

 Karen

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