Friday, January 25, 2013

DGA Wine Club: Bodega Colome Estate Malbec 2010

Posted by Doug

My wife and I wandered into LOLA on a recent Saturday night and enjoyed a very nice evening and a lovely Malbec.  LOLA is the pride and joy of Keith and Nealy Frentz, a 40 seat restaurant in old Covington, Louisiana.  The building that houses LOLA is the city’s’ historic train depot. The kitchen is in an actual train caboose.  All the original doors and brick make this restaurant very unique.  LOLA is a favorite hangout for local business people, courthouse staff, lawyers, and the occasional juror.  Mary and I frequent the restaurant for lunch, but Keith and Nealy have recently re-configured the place, making the most of the space, and have a dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Keith was born and raised in Covington, Louisiana and Nealy was born and raised in Southern California, then moved to Biloxi, Mississippi.  Keith and Nealy both graduated from the prestigious Johnson & Wales University with degrees in culinary arts.   They both held Sous chef positions at world famous Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street in New Orleans.  Like so many things NOLA, Hurricane Katrina played a major role in their dream to open their own restaurant.  They evacuated to Covington and a year later opened LOLA, quickly becoming an important part of the revitalization of old Covington.  Nealy and Keith also own and operate the only food truck in the Covington area, LOLA Deux.  The big red truck can be seen at Covington farmers market, local concerts, festivals and even private parties..

In six short years Nealy and Keith have racked up some big awards and recognition.  In 2009 they were both awarded the “Chefs to Watch” from Louisiana Cookin’ magazine.  In 2011 they finished 3rd in the Louisiana Seafood Cook off, sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood & Marketing Board.  They attempted the same cook off in 2012 and won 1st place, being crowned King & Queen of Louisiana seafood.  They went on to represent Louisiana in the Great American Seafood Cook and placed second.  Nealy and Keith live in Abita Springs with their daughter Ella and three dogs.  Nealy is expecting their second child any day.  
It turns out that LOLA for dinner has become a “reservations required” venue.  That’s pretty unusual on the north shore and New Orleans in general where so many good restaurants are to be found.  But, it’s a sign of the quality of the experience at LOLA.  We were invited to eat at the bar, which doubles as a foyer.  There are four seats at the bar and a high boy with two more.  We chose the table and met some very interesting people in the process. 

Our bartender/server, Paxton Fellers, turns out is a banker by day, working as the Business Development Officer at one of the few local banks left in New Orleans.  Paxton was pouring the 2010 vintage of Bodega Colome Estate Malbec, so I had a glass, then another. 

Bodega Colome is nestled in the Calchaqui Valley, 7500 feet above sea level, in the Argentine northwest.  It is one of the highest vineyards in the world with a unique soul deriving from the soil and the climate.  Founded in 1831, it is one of the oldest existing wineries in Argentina.  In 2001, it was acquired by the Hess Family Estates.  Bodega y Estancia Colome's is committed to the biodynamic agriculture principles outlined by the researcher Rudolf Steiner.

The color of this wine is deep, dark red with a magenta hue. It is layered on the nose with aromas of black and red fruits (blackberries and blackcurrants, raspberries and cherries) and the floral scent of violets abound on its complex nose, with hints of spices and minerals. It is an elegant and rich wine with a succulent and muscular structure of round velvety tannins.  Subtle French oak and toast flavors are well balanced and fully integrated through the mid-palate and well into the finish, which is delicate, yet very long.  It pairs well with steak, cassoulet, duck, venison and other hearty fare, including strong and sharp cheeses. 

I started my meal with the soup du jour, a lovely vichyssoise with lump crabmeat.  A cold soup may seem out of season, but winters in Louisiana are pretty mild and I was wearing shorts earlier in the day.  The aroma from the white truffle oil drizzled on top immediately hit my nose.  The spice from the cayenne pepper in the crab boil infused into the crab meat made an extraordinary counterpoint to the mild and sumptuous base of potatoes and leaks.  It was one of those dishes that you can’t stop eating and that leaves you wanting more. 

Next course, and the point of the Malbec, was the lamb shank with mascarpone grits and braised collards.  Now, we are talking about three of my favorite things all on the same plate.  The grits were rich and creamy, almost like a risotto or creamy polenta.  The collards were tender and delicate and almost creamy themselves, with a sweet flavor that was a unexpected.  The enormous portion of lamb shank was fork tender and juicy and full of rich, robust flavor.  The wine was a perfect paring.  The soft tannins and strong fruit aromas complimented the mascarpone and sweetness of the collards perfectly.  The lamb was delicate enough that a firmer Malbec could have overwhelmed it, but this is an exceptionally well rounded wine.  This is a wine I will look for in the future and well justifies the 91 points from Wine Spectator. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Flyers in the Fat City

Posted by Bill

Living in South Louisiana for the sports season of 2012-2013 there wasn’t much to look forward to.  As some of you know I am a LSU, Saints, and hockey fan.  Between the New Orleans Saints not doing well due to the bounty suspensions, LSU having a new quarterback and the same coach, and Les Miles who has no clue how timeouts or the offense work, I became overly excited about the upcoming hockey season.  I called my cable provider, priced out the NHL network and was ready to become a total recluse for the entire season.

More absorbent than competing brands

I pulled out my Philadelphia Flyers jersey, dusted off my Flyers pennant, and prepared my living room to be all hockey all the time.  Next thing I knew the NHL had its second lockout in the past 8 years.  What was I supposed to do with myself?  I was down to hockey as my only sports lifeline and the waters were rising steadily.  In my desperation I actually thought about watching darts or bowling, only to discover that there aren’t enough televised events between both the sports to come close to filling the gap.

Looks exciting to me

Now, if I couldn’t watch hockey, maybe I could at least play hockey.  I know what you’re thinking; fat chance of that in the fat city, and it would require me to vacate my lovingly prepared living room hockey shrine.  But thanks to the rapid pace of technological advancement in the 21st century I had the next best thing right beneath my TV: the Xbox!

And it even has Flyers captain Claude Giroux on the cover...

I decided to venture out of my hockey cave to buy the NHL 2013 video game.  Now, before you start imagining that I have a shelf full of every hockey game from 1994 to date, this would actually be the first NHL game I had even played since the 1997 version for the first generation Playstation.  I don’t really do console sports games, but I was desperate.  I was drowning in a sea of epic sports failures casting about for anything that would keep me afloat.  I wasn’t expecting true satisfaction.  I was hoping for a pale, ultimately unsatisfying imitation just to keep the withdrawal at bay.  I got one heck of a surprise when I popped that crisp new NHL game into my Xbox.

In the last 16 years sports games have come a long way.  Back in the day when Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, and Eric Lindros were the kings of the rink, hockey games only consisted of passing, shooting, and checking.  It was a glorified table hockey game, fun as a mild diversion, but not really hockey.  Fast forward 15 years and things are completely different.  

Ah, the 90s...I'm just glad we didn't have high def TVs

The way computer/video game programmers today are able to make a game that is so close to the actual physics of being on ice is amazing. Instead of being able to turn on a dime, the width of your turn is now based on your speed, and even breaking on the ice is felt through controller vibration.  Now, I haven’t played one of these things since 1997, and apparently I completely lucked out.  What I was experiencing was a new, radical departure from the NHL format, which must not have changed much in the intervening years.
They look different but apparently played exactly the same
The more I played NHL 13, the more I wondered how much previous installments must have been burdened with a drive to recapture the halcyon days of videogame hockey in the mid-90's.  This new, genuine attempt at real ice skating physics is said to make NHL 13 the most worthwhile hockey game in years. With a looming players’ strike that almost killed the real life 2012-2013 season, I found myself playing NHL 13 more so than expected.

I think they even got Giroux's teeth right, although i guess it wouldn't take much

Although a good video game is always fun to play, it is hard to hold a Lablatt Blue with two hands on a controller. With that said I will continue to play NHL 2013 but will have to also watch the Flyers when they are playing on TV, which is not too often due to living in a climate where ice is only seen in cocktails and chests full of beer. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

DGA Wine Club: Montes Purple Angel 2009

Posted by Benson

Montes Purple Angel is an interesting wine that the team had at a restaurant called Stone Balloon Winehouse in Newark, Delaware, which I will be posting a review of next week.  The wine was recommended to us by our waiter and subsequently by Joseph, the executive bartender/sommelier extraordinaire.  Needless to say, we were all very pleased and excited by the wine.

Purple Angel is a blend of 92% Carmenere and 8% Petite Verdot, which I thought was strange because I had never had a Carmenere before.  Carmenere is said by some to be the grandfather of Bordeaux varieties, and indeed the grape was originally cultivated extensively in that region.  Unfortunately that was until the late 1860s when the phylloxera louse arrived in Europe from America.  The Carmenere was not only particularly susceptible to the louse, but it also was resistant to grafting, unlike Merlot and Cabernet varieties which could be grafted to resistant American rootstock and thus all but completely replaced the Carmenere.

Luckily for us the Carmenere accidentally found a new home in Chile when cuttings were mistaken for the then quite popular Merlot, and cultivated as such for some time.  And by some time I mean until DNA research in 1994 uncovered the error.  In a bit of an ironic twist, Carmenere is now Chile's premium grape.

As you can guess from its mistaken similarity to Merlot, Carmenere is a dark-skinned red grape that loves a high level of sunshine and warm summer.  Carmenere can produce fine, deeply colored reds with the same weighty plumpness one finds in a Merlot, but with the herbal notes more typical of a Cabernet.  

Purple Angel is produced in the Colchagua Valley, which is located in the more extensive Rapel Valley.  Cholchagua is a little cooler than the Maipo region, which lies near to the north, but it nevertheless manages to maintain a very Mediterranean climate.  Of course, the Pacific Ocean has a cooling influence, as with most other regions in Chile, and the Carmenere is cultivated to the east, farther away from the brisk ocean breezes.

Purple Angel is blended with a touch of Petite Verdot which serves to enhance the structure and allow the wine to cellar a bit better than a straight Carmenere.  The wine is rich and dark in color with a wonderful floral aroma that has an earthy accent something like cigar.  It has a festive spiciness on the tongue, which I had read is typical with Carmenere, and a concentrated fruit flavor with a well-rounded body.  It needs some time to breathe though, and would likely be best served decanted.

Entrance to the Montes Winery
The wine scores consistently in the 90s from a wide variety of wine magazines, and it is delightful all on its own.  Carmenere is naturally flexible in its pairings, and the dash of Petite Verdot lends the wine a nice resilience.  We all enjoyed it with dishes as varied as Aloo Gobbi, Fried Halloumi, Short Rib, and lamb shank.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

DGA Dining: Stone Balloon Winehouse, Newark Delaware

Posted by Benson

The Stone Balloon Winehouse is an upscale restaurant with a fantastic wine selection nestled on Newark's historic Main Street.  The restaurant offers a menu that is eclectic without being overly complex.  The menu features a nice selection of cheeses and charcuterie, a tapas-esque selection of small plate offerings, and a variety of more substantial entrees. 

I was surprised to learn that executive chef Andy Matulaitis is self trained, although his 30+ years of experience were clearly evident in the creative and well-balanced dishes we were served at the Stone Balloon.  Like a good New Orleans chef, Andy has a passion for locally-sourced ingredients, which seem to guide the menu rather than dictating it.

This is from an interesting video of Andy
The menu offered plenty of local seafood from raw oysters to lobster and crab cake, which is what I had expected, but it nevertheless remained diverse with game birds, short rib, pork, and even several vegetarian dishes, such as a spunky aloo gobbi that I thoroughly enjoyed.

On the whole, the dishes we had were lively, creative, and very enjoyable, but the chef's tendency to reconstruct familiar dishes did not land on its feet every time.  In addition to the aloo gobbi, I had pulled short rib with cheddar pierogies, cippolini onions, and parsnip.  The pierogies were an interesting twist on an otherwise familiar accompaniment of mashed potatoes that did not work terribly well.  The short rib itself was excellent, but the pierogies overwhelmed the dish with their size and texture, and did not offer much in terms of flavor to compensate.  

The dis would likely have been well served by smaller, thinner pierogies with less starch and more parsnip.  Even so, the shortcomings of a single dish did not hamper my experience at Stone Balloon Winehouse, which was overall very enjoyable.

In addition to excellent entrees, the chef also prepared a range of first rate desserts, which has the same risky flair.  Matt, for example, had Captain Crunch ice cream, and I had Red Bull sorbet, both of which sound horrendous, but which were the polar opposite.  Matt was disappointed by the lack of actual Captain Crunch pieces in his ice cream, but I would call that a plus.  It had all of the flavor of the cereal without soggy pieces stuck through it like some painful to eat Benn and Jerry's concoction.  Similarly, the Red Bull sorbet was identifiable as having been based on the absurd energy drink, but somehow captured the essence of Red Bull with none of the...well...gross flavors.  

I might not have ventured to try Red Bull sorbet were it not for Alex, our excellent waiter, who recommended it.  And speaking of the service, Stone Balloon was on its game with prompt, skilled, and friendly service from Alex, and a wonderful job by Joseph, the head bartender and sommelier, who not only demonstrated a vast knowledge, but also discussed our orders with the chef to make an informed recommendation.

All in all, Stone Balloon was very enjoyable, and if you are in the vicinity of Newark, it is well worth a visit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!

Posted by Jamie

As a 5 foot 1 inch female from Louisiana, I must admit I did not have much interest in basketball growing up.  Baseball and soccer were more my speed.  However, this all changed in an instant once I stepped foot in Lawrence, Kansas.  Before I realized what happened, I became a Jayhawk and now bleed crimson and blue.  The University of Kansas simply oozes basketball.  I mean, how could it not, the Jayhawks first coach was the inventor of the game, James Naismith, and the Hawks play in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, which has been declared, "the best place in America to watch college basketball."

I must admit, my success as a Jayhawk fan started with a few hiccups.  During my two years at the University of Kansas, the Jayhawks were bounced from the tournament in the first round both years.  The Jayhawks were huge favorites in their opening round games but lost to Bucknell (a 14 seed) and Bradley (a 13 seed).  However, in the 2006-2007 season things started looking up.  Bill Self began to hit his stride and the Jayhawks made it to the Elite Eight.  The Jayhawks rode this wave of success in the 2007-2008 season.  Boy, what a year!  The Hawks had 37 wins and only 3 losses.   

In dramatic fashion, the Jayhawks were able to out duel the Davidson Wildcats and Stephen Curry in the Elite Eight.  Finally (after 3 long years of waiting), my team had made it to the final four.  (Trust me, three years without a final four was viewed as a lifetime for Jayhawk fans).  

At the buzzer of the Elite Eight game, I clicked “buy” for my airline tickets straight back to Lawrence.  We knew there was nowhere else we wanted to watch the Hawks go up against our arch nemesis Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tarheels.  All we wanted to do was beat Roy.  The National Championship game was simply an afterthought when compared to beating our former coach who after 15 years of coaching at KU betrayed us and left to go coach at North Carolina.  

The Final Four game did not disappoint.  The Jayhawks took a 40-12 lead in the first 15 minutes and after that point North Carolina never held the ball with a chance to take the lead.  From the opening tip off, it was a party in Lawrence.  The energy was amazing and the result was more than anyone could have even hoped or dreamed.  Here is a picture of Mass Street shortly after the Final Four victory.

I’m pretty sure that first night went by with not many people even focused on the fact that there was another game to play.  Oh, but there was!  The Jayhawks were in the National Championship game against a little known NBA team named the Memphis Wildcats.  Memphis was favored by 2 at the start of the game and to be honest, at this point winning a National Championship seemed like icing on the cake.  Once the game started; however, that all faded and we wanted to win.   

With 2 minutes left, Memphis was up 9 and it wasn’t looking good.  But, we soon figured out Memphis’s weak spot, free throws.  Memphis missed 4 of its last 5 free throw attempts and the Jayhawks’ Mario Chalmers hit a three-point basket with 2.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 63, sending the game into overtime.  Kansas dominated overtime and became the 2008 NCAA Tournament National Champions!

The trip back to Lawrence to watch the 2008 Tournament is one of my fondest memories.  It was a great time and finally vindication for me after my horrible record as a Jayhawk fan.  In 2012, the Jayhawks again made it to the National Championship game.  The Final Four was held in New Orleans and I was able to attend the games.  It was an exciting game, but the young Hawks were not match for the Kentucky Wildcats. 

The 2012-2013 has also started out very promising.  With our overtime win against Iowa State, the Hawks are 13 and 1 to start the season and are moving up the ranks.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!  And, if you are still not a Jayhawk fan, watch this gif and enjoy the amazing-ness.