Monday, October 31, 2005
Tucked away in the corners of Downtown Toledo and Levi’s Commons, a mini revolution is under way. Kitchens headed up by creative, passionate chefs is nothing new in Toledo. But to have two of the most interesting and dynamic menus crafted and executed by young women is a fresh approach. Erika Rapp of Diva, and Maggie Chipman of Red River have taken separate paths, but have converged at a time when Toledo seems to be at the brink of a restaurant renaissance. They help to lead the charge to give Toledo an epicurean facelift, and to take advantage of a nationwide shift towards locally owned and operated restaurants. I sat down with both Erika and Maggie separately, but the commonality of their hopes and goals is striking.
What is your Training? Erika Rapp
: Maumee Bay State Park, Culinary Institute of America in New York. Interned at The 4 Season’s in Chicago, Sous Chef-Iris Restaurant, Dallas, TX a 4-star Contemporary American RestaurantMaggie Chipman
: Villa Roma- 4 star Italian in Upstate New York, Abruzzio’s, upscale intimate Italian in Seattle. Self educated- Chef/Owner of Alex Hamilton’s in Downtown Toledo.
Describe your cuisines…
ER- Eclectic Regional. Each dish tends to have a different international influence.
MC-A combination of eclectic French sauces, Southwest Spices with a little Chinese thrown in. A fusion of all regions, emphasis on experimenting with sauces. Proud of our beautiful cuts of Prime Beef, and the menu really highlights the steaks.
Who or what have been your biggest influences professionally?
ER-Thomas Keller of The French Laundry Cookbook. He taught me to show respect for theingredients, to show the respect for the life that the meat used to have.
MC-Craig Commons Common Grill It taught me to maximize flavors in simple dishes. ¬
What separates you and your restaurant from the competition?
ER- I want my cuisine to always be based on classic techniques and styles while bringing an edge and spirit of adventure to the menu. I am excited about being the ability to change the menu seasonally along with fresh and seasonal produce.
MC-Flavor, flavor, flavor. Everything is fresh, no reheating of any ingredients. We have some unique and interesting flavor touches, very different. In the future, we want to become known for our wine program, and as the restaurant wine authority.
What have you noticed as unique challenges in Toledo?
ER-It has been challenging finding the very best ingredients. Although, now I feel like I found the right sources for the best produce. The other challenge has been the chain restaurant mentality.
MC- (laughing) Customers can’t seem to get past the idea of not serving bread immediately. Getting customers to find us back in the corner. We’re the only non-chain in Levi’s Commons.
ER-It’s my hometown, I love the seasons, my family, and the people of Toledo. In a word, it’s cozy.
MC-Hometown, feels right, family is very important.
Downtown Toledo is…
ER- …challenging…(pauses) but on the verge of something great!
MC- …Growing quickly, it symbolizes new growth, new opportunities, a chance to be extraordinary.
329 N Huron St,
Red River Restaurant
Town Center at Levis Commons
Friday, October 28, 2005
Wine seems to have unfairly surrounded itself with pomp & circumstance, not to mention mystery and lore. Since we tend to put wine on a pedestal, symbolic of a high society that only a fraction of us have ever experienced, we accept these bizarre practices without question. We don’t question which fork to use, and we are always musing about the strange things a visitor can do in far off lands to offend the residents. Given our unfamiliarity with these topics, we buy into everything we’ve been told, and this has been a detriment to wine. This is an attempt to clear up some confusion, although, this, I suspect is only the tip of the iceberg, we will most likely revisit this topic in future issues.
Winemyth #1- “Legs mean the wine is good”- I can’t tell you how often I hear “oh, look at the legs on this wine!” For those of you that don’t run in those circles, legs are the streams of wine that trickle down the glass after you swirl the wine around a bit. “Legs” come from wine sticking to the glass, which can be caused by any of the following: high alcohol, a dirty glass, or a more viscous wine. While many professional sommeliers use this technique to analyze and identify wines in a blind tasting, this never, ever speaks to a wine’s quality.
Winemyth #2-“All wine improves with age”- While many of the wine produced today are meant to settle down a bit, and a few rare wines are meant to lay down for years, 98% of the wines available in the store right now are current vintage wines meant to be consumed within the next 1-2 years. After which point, all of the flavors will diminish until the wine turns brown, and stops resembling wine at all. As a very general rule, the more you pay for a bottle, the better chance you have of aging it. The fact is that most producers are creating wines that show well upon release, this helps their scores in the wine rags (magazines that put a score on wine), but all but stops their aging potential. The wines that will age well and improve over time are usually from a few select regions, made from specific grapes. If you are ever curious about the age worthiness of a wine, ask your local fine wine shop. One of my favorite wine stats is the average amount of time an American ages a bottle of wine- 42 minutes.
Winemyth #3-Any use of the word dry”-Speaking eloquently about wine is a challenge even for professionals, but this is just frustrating. Almost every casual consumer of wine misuses this term, and overuses this term. Every person has a different perception of what dry is. Here is what I have seen dry refer to, and each term means something completely different: tannins, acidity, alcohol, big fruit, short finishes plus many more. What it really means is: an unsweet style, as in, no sugar. While there is room for dry as an adjective when describing some wines, please refrain from the use of the word dry. It is without exception, the most confusing paradigm in the wine lexicon. And don’t feel stupid, everyone gets frustrated by the challenge of describing something so special as a glass of a really good wine. It takes some practice. Next time you try a wine you love, find out what it is, and write down some flavors (real terms that make sense, cherry, strawberry, peaches, honey, leather, etc…) then go to your local fine wine shop and ask the person there to help you to figure out what you liked about that wine. You’ll be surprised how much better this works than trying to use dry.
Just remember one thing: wine is an everyday beverage that we have complicated far too much over the years. In Europe, they drink fresh young inexpensive wine out of carafes and tumblers every day. The more time you spend focusing on enjoying what’s in your glass, the less time you’ll spend straining yourself trying to come up with the right thing to say in an uncomfortable situation. Don’t try to be a wine expert, I have enough competition.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
For those of you that don't know or read Mark, he's one of my biggest cheerleaders. And he is the English Teacher I never had. Although, I suspect he saves his wide-eyed enthusiasm for all things wine and food. Check him out at the above link, and try to start tuning in semi-regularly. He also hosts a wine and food show on KCLU- Thousand Oaks on Saturday afternoons.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Graperadio-Podcasts about wine
Ok, I've now broken the seal. Please check out this Podcast site, there are some fascinating podcasts. Leigh Older & Brian Clark seem to score some cool and interesting interviews. Currently up, a 2-parter with Steven Tannzer.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Australian News.com Story-Oct 11, 2005
Ok, I have shied away from entering a daily log in favor of simply publishing when I devote a considerable amount of time to a specific topic, but this one got me. I am beyond skeptical about this new device. My biggest concern is that it works, and people will buy these out of Wine Enthusiast, stock their cellars with them, and then buy up all the Blackstone they can find in hopes of improving this wine via electrolysis. Um, this is sort of like Frankenstein. Rule #1 when deciding which wine will improve by aging (and now in this case, by electrocution) is: If it never had it, it never will. In other words, if a wine wasn’t age-worthy in the first place, you can’t just electrocute it into being great. My second problem with this is associated with Rule #2 of aging wine: be gentle. Vibration, sudden temperature change, too much or too little humidity and light all have a dramatic influence in maturing wine, what havoc could this device possibly wreak? So until someone I respect as a wine professional shows me otherwise, this has got to be a fraud. Until then, buy a decanter.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Once upon a time, Riesling was viewed far and wide as the undisputed king of wine. Then Americans ruined everything! More precisely, Americans decided they liked sweet wines, witness White Zinfandel. And Germans, being the largest producers of Riesling, made many wines tailor made for America’s collective sweet tooth. As far back as most can remember, German wine meant Piesporter, Blue Nun, Liebfraumilch and the like. These aforementioned, would never be touched by any self-respecting Germans. So forget all of your previous Riesling programming. Now, buy into this next mantra, and wine salvation will be yours: German Riesling is the greatest White Wine in the World!
Controversial? Perhaps, but let me make my argument. German Riesling at it’s best, has Bright Acidty, purity of fruit, a thread of minerality, perfect balance and viscosity, oh, and a touch of sweetness. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t like sweet wine”, well, neither do I. If the wine tastes overtly sweet, feed it to granny. The best Rielsings have sweetness as a characteristic, not a defining trait. It should be used, as anything in food and wine, with restraint. But the sugar naturally present in these wines makes for a texture that few grapes can provide. The naturally high acids play well with an amazing variety of dishes. The minerailty gives it assertiveness, and the fresh fruit just tastes so good. These wines are also very long lived. German Rieslings last seemingly forever, but drink great young.
When it comes to food & wine pairings, the question isn’t what will Riesling go with, the question is, What won’t it go with? Next time you eat any Asian, Pan Asian or Indian cuisines, try them with a nice Riesling, you will be blown away. Riesling will lift up subtle flavors in these cuisines like nothing else. Find me another wine that brings ginger, lemongrass, sweet basil, coconut to the forefront and show off these flavors. Then turn around and give me some really spicy pork carnitas, and Riesling comes through again. The slight sweetness cools off any sort of spiciness, and bring balance to an otherwise hot dish. Of course, you then have the classic pairing of Riesling with any Roasted white meats like chicken, pork, turkey, etc.
The biggest challenge with German Rieslings is without question, the labels. So here is a very simple guide to reading German wine labels and terms to use. We are simply talking about Riesling from Germany. After you find the Riesling there are a few things that will always be on the label:
When-Vintage-obviously the year the grapes were grown
Who-Name of the winery- Obviously important
Where-Geography is very important; the best Regions for German Rieslings are Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen. This will be either on the bottom, or the top of the label. You will also perhaps see the name of a village and vineyard. The Village will end in the letters -er (means from that village), potentially followed by another name, usually this is the vineyard.
And Finally, the quality assessed to the wine. In Germany, they actually have a panel that approves wines. And this is where it gets a little confusing. Quality is directly correlated to the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest. Which usually, but not absolutely determines alcohol and sugar present in the wine. So we classify German Rieslings according to a scale. The assumption is the higher you go on the scale, the longer the grapes stayed on the vine, thus, the sweeter the wine will be, but the acidity and concentration will also rise. We will number these with 1 being driest, 7 being sweetest.
1. QbA- This is the first level of quality wines, they may range from relatively dry to off-dry. You can get the best of these for under $15 retail.
2. Kabinett-Slightly sweet, but balanced. A great way to offer great wines for a good price, in fact prior to 1971, this was a designate of wines that the winery would keep for their own consumption. These will cost $15-$25 retail
3. Spatlese- Literally means late harvest, perceptively sweet, but the acidity will still keep this in balance. These will cost $20-$30
4. Auslese- This is the first Dessert Wine, Latest harvested traditional wines, each bunch is individually selected.
5. Beerenauslese- Pretty sweet, grapes picked individually, and left to, at least partially go through Edelfaule (aka Noble Rot). Only made in select years.
6. Trockenbeerenausle- Or TBA. Complete edelfaule, only made in the best years
7. Eiswein- Or as we say Ice Wine. Literally grapes picked on the second day that the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the sweetest and rarest of all.