Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

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Filtering by Tag: New York City

The Proper Way to Pintxo

"Pintxo" is a noun and not a verb, but given the unique nature of eating these dishes, they deserve their own action word.  A pintxo is a small bite, commonly found in bars in the Basque region in Spain. Traditionally,  the one-to-two bite items are an elegant stack of ingredients, speared with a toothpick, and secured with a base of crusty bread. Pintxo comes from pinchar, meaning to spear, hence the ubiquitous toothpick.  Over time, the term has come to encompass other forms of snacks, such as mini sandwiches called bocadillos  (and yep, they are pierced with a toothpick as well). The selection is laid out on a bar and you grab one, or several, to nibble on while sipping a glass of wine.  Fried or other cooked items are available to order, as are platters of jamon and other charcuterie. Some people opt to stay at one place, but it is more common to travel the streets in search of multiple bites.  Seating is limited; most people stand, eat, and talk, adding to the transient nature of this ritual. It's a versatile way to eat; it can be a pre-dinner snack, or an entire meal.

Unlike other European cultures, New York doesn't have the mindset that food must be served with wine, so in a city where wine can be a meal unto itself, pintxos tours haven't quite gained traction.  Considering that the main mode of transportation in Gotham is walking, it is a city ripe for pintxo-ing; a recent event proved just how accessible this tradition can be. 

Campo Viejo sponsored "Cava and Conservas" at Bar Jamon on June 6, showcasing their Cavas and Tempranillos alongside Bar Jamon's new menu of conservas.  Guests were greeted with platters of cheese, jamon, tuna salad and various tins, all laid out on the gleaming marble bar.

We tasted through the Cava, Cava Rosé, Tempranillo, and Reserva, pairing each with various bites. The Cava was refreshing, an easy and versatile bubbly.  The Cava Rosé was the crowd favorite; comprised of 100% Trappat, the grapes saw 12-15 hours of skin maceration, yielding a lovely rosy hue. Red fruits dominated the nose and palate, but it finished completely dry. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the $10 price point of the Tempranillo.  Although it was softer and lacked some of the earthy depth one looks for in the grape, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The Reserva, a traditional Tempranillo, Mazuelo, and Graciano blend, showed more structure and deeper fruits than its predecessor. 

Then, in true pintxos crawl fashion, the party moved to Donostia, a twinkling Basque bar in Alphabet City. The long bar dominated the narrow space and platters of pintxos were jigsawed together on the narrow surface. To drink, the Campo Viejo Cava and Cava Rosé were freely poured, showcasing how these two bubblies paired perfectly with a wide range of flavors.  Some guests nibbled on a couple of items before heading on to their evening plans, while others stayed and made a dinner of the pintxos.  

The evening proved that New York is primed for pintxo-ing - are you ready? 

Where Would Cupid Eat?

So you thought the Super Bowl was THE food event for the winter season?  Nuh-uh.  Just as you are coming out of your beer-and-wings induced coma, Valentine's Day beckons in all its wine and chocolate glory. 

Whether you're coupled up or grabbing single friends for a group dinner, reservations are a must.  Luckily, OpenTable just released their list of the best places to celebrate the holiday, which makes drinking champagne and downing oysters easier than ever.  You can thank them the morning after.  

 Check out the complete list here: 

http://www.opentable.com/promo.aspx?metroid=8&sort=Name&excludefields=Description&promoid=102&ref=2138&regionids=16

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Shalom Japan

Fusion cuisine has been around for decades; back in the eighties, it was the haute cuisine of the rich and trendy and was as nouveau as its clientele's money.  Many restaurants adapted this style of cooking, bringing bold flavors to traditional American dishes. Over time it became rather dated, as trends tend to do, and palates veered off into other directions.  However, there is a small, unassuming restaurant in South Williamsburg that is making diners rethink fusion.  The homey feel of the place suggests the current trend of farm-to-table Americana but there is a different kind of comfort food going on in the kitchen.  Two cultures, where food has strong ties to traditions, are melding together in unique and exciting dishes; this restaurant, Shalom Japan, a Jewish-Japanese mashup, served one of the best meals I've had in a while.  

The food, an ode to the 2 chef/owners' backgrounds, tries not to take itself too seriously.  In order to set the mood, take a trip to the bathroom, just to get a viewing of this:

 

Shalom Japan's bathroom deco.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Shalom Japan's bathroom deco.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Got it?

 The wine list is unique, with several options not often seen on a menu.  Slovenia, Serbia and other Eastern Europian nations were represented alongside France, Italy and California.

Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We opted for this Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011. It was rather herbaceous and mineral-driven upon first sniffs, but then a slight floral quality, as well as ripe peach, came through.  Once we started drinking it, the slate and mineral qualities became more prominent. There was a moderate amount of acidity but nothing too punchy. 

Once settled with our wine selection, we turned to the food.  A sign of a good restaurant is the bread basket and although it wasn't gratis, the sake kasu challah was warm and eggy, exactly as challah should be.

Next up were the veal head croquettes with aioli and mustard greens.  Although the meat wasn't discernable from other meat-filled croquettes, the nearly greaseless orbs were balanced with the vegetation they sat upon. 

But oh, those croquettes took a backseat the Okonomiyaki, which was probably the best dish of the night.  An okonomiyaki, meaning "as you like it," is a traditional savory pancake with a variety of ingredients either added on top or incorporated into the batter, then topped topped with some type of salty-sweet sauce.   This particular variation had corned lamb's tongue, saurkraut (a clever twist on the traditional cabbage often found in the pancake) and bonito.  It was like an open faced corned-beef sandwich on crack; almost too rich, my mouth kept wavering between the unctuousness of the lamb, the crisp exterior and gooey interior of the pancake, the sweetness of the sauce and bitterness of the saurkraut. 

For entrees, we opted for the Shana Tova Duck and the Lox Bowl. For non-tribal members, Shana Tova is the traditional new year greeting during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  During this holiday, one is wished a sweet new year and apples dipped in honey is found at every holiday table.  This cleverly named and interpreted dish contained slices of tender duck breast and roasted root vegetables, balanced with yup, roasted apples and honey. A perfect autumn dish, my only critique was that the duck skin could have been a little crisper.

The Lox Bowl, the other entree, was a light and refreshing counterbalance to the duck.  Silky slices of cured salmon draped over a mountain of white rice, with cucumber, seaweed, japanese pickle and some salmon roe.  It was a massive bowl of Jewish sushi.  The umami of the seaweed and pickles was such a revelation when eating it; as much sushi as I've eaten in my life, I've never had the elements come together as perfectly as this.  My only note was that there was an excessive amount of rice; we ate only about a third of it but it became monotonous once all the goodies on top were gone. 

Of course we're stuffed but of course we order dessert. And how could you not when Shalom Japan serves on of the best bread puddings EVER? Chocolate challah bread pudding with a caramel and whiskey sauce.  I can't even describe it without drooling. Just know that you need to order it.  No debating. 

Interested in checking out Shalom Japan for yourself? Visit the New York restaurants page on OpenTable for reservations to this delicious joint. 

Huertas

The New York City dining scene is a restless one. Trends come and go, cuisines that used to be out of vogue are now back in fashion and everyone is constantly seeking the Next Big Thing. It can't be easy for a restaurant to find its unique identity. 

Huertas is a new restaurant in the East Village that opened to much fanfare a few months ago.  Upon reading first impressions, the whole endeavor sounded intruiging, if not chaotic, as it seems to try to encapsulate classic dining formats (tapas and passed dim sum) and current trends (a tasting menu, which is the nouveau fine dining experience, and conservas, seafood tins, which is new to the NYC dining scene but an integral part of coastal Spanish cuisine) within one restaurant. Let me break it down. Essentially, the space is split into two concepts: in the front is a tapas bar with a focus on traditional tapas and canned seafood. Up here, servers also pass the daily pintxos (small snacks) around on a tray, dim sum style, so you can eat at your leisure. The back, however, is a frequently-changing tasting menu that focuses on modern Spanish cuisine. With so much going on, how would this restaurant fare?

The chef, Jonah Miller, certainly has the pedigree to pull this place off.  Under the tutelage of David Waltuck (Chantarelle) and Peter Hoffman (Savoy) not to mention a 3-year stint at Maialino, he honed his skills as a chef.  Trips to Spain crystallized his vision for a restaurant and fueled his passion for his own place. Oh yeah, and the guy's only 28. 

We checked out Huertas on a rainy Tuesday night in early September with the plans of drinking wine and having a couple bites (is there any better post-Pilates workout meal?). Walking in, the place was warm and inviting yet energetic at the same time.  We perched on a couple bar stools as we contemplated drinks. The beverage menu was varied and interesting, with well-curated and reasonably priced selections of wine, beer and cidres.  The first glass was  Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  The blend of Treixadura and Godello grapes lent itself to a crisp, moderately acidic wine, redolent of pear, ripe peach and bracing minerality.  It was refreshing after the humidity was trekked through on our way to the restaurant.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We starting discussing tapas from the menu but a tray of pintxos came around and we were treated to a great surprise: all pintxos are only $1 on Tuesday nights.  Dinner? Done.  

The first one was a duck croquette, a crispy fried ball stuffed with duck. The contrast of the crisp exterior and creamy, saucy interior was delightful but be forewarned: this sucker is hot.  And it squirts. Proceed with a knife and fork.  Another croquette came around, this time with mushroom, and was another fried winner.  We also tasted a pane con tomate (olive oil and tomato rubbed bread) as well as a tortilla (Spanish omelette).  Both were very traditional and well executed.  There was also an anchovy, skewered and snaked around olives, which was a briny, bright contrast to the croquettes. We noshed on several of these as they came 'round and 'round and ordered up our second wine of the evening, Monopole, Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013.  Like the first wine, there was a good deal of acid and minerality on both nose and palate, but the fruit was a bit more opulent on this wine as ripe peach and pineapple came through.

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We were chatting with the bartenders and having a grand 'ole time when an object caught our eye.  A cross between a decanter and a watering can, we discovered the porron, a Spanish wine pitcher.

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Often at parties in Spain, guests will pour wine directly into their mouths using the porron and as the night progresses it becomes a fun, albeit messy, drinking game. Naturally, we had to try it out.*

Still feeling peckish, we took another look at the tapas menu and settled on the bocadillo, a sandwich with fried calamari, arugula, fried lemon, and squid in aioli. The umami of the ink aioli balanced perfectly with the acidity of the fried lemon and sweet calamari.  It was a delicious sandwich, although the bread ratio seemed a bit high and obscured the calamari on a couple of bites. 

One of the best elements of Huertas was the service.  The guys behind the bar were attentive as well as passionate about what they were doing. One of them overheard us contemplating an octopus dish versus the bocadillo and brought us out a small plate of the sea creature; it was his favorite thing on the menu and wanted to make sure we tried it.  Damn, he was spot on; that was one of the best bites of octopus I've had in a while. They were also knowledgable and helped guide us in our wine selections (not to mention gave us a crash course on the porron).

I'm now eager to go back for the tasting menu.  If the $1 pintxos are any indication of what's to come, that's going to be a memorable experience. 

Reservation for Huertas can me made on the New York restaurants page on OpenTable.

 *I am proud to report that while neither of us mastered the art of the porron, we did not need to take a trip to the dry cleaner the next day.