Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Treasure Threatened

Less than a month ago, I wrote about how I thought that the citizens of Northeast Ohio lost a culinary treasure with the closing of Chef's Choice Meats in Berea, Ohio.  The store had closed just three days prior to my post, and, unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done.  However, Berea and the rest of Northeast, Ohio stand to lose another treasure, VinoMatique Wine Market, a rather unique wine bar and market that I have relied upon for bottles of wine to pair with the dishes that I make or create.

Vinomatique derives its name from the Enomatic wine serving system, which allows customers to sample wine in different amounts up to a glass.  There are usually six reds and six whites to sample, with the bottles being available in the market for purchase.  The market also has many other bottles, some from well known wine regions, like Italy or France, and others from lesser known, less explored regions like South Africa.  Whenever I am in Cleveland, I always try to stop by for a glass (or two) and to purchase bottles for pairing with future culinary endeavors or to simply enjoy on their own.

Personally, I can always count on VinoMatique to have wines that I had not seen before or wines that I have a difficulty finding in Washington, D.C.  I can also count on VinoMatique's owner, Cindy Good, to help me find a good wine to try, whether by the glass or through the purchase of a bottle.  Case in point, just yesterday, I was able to purchase wines that I have a hard time finding -- I Perazzi and Aragone -- two wines produced by the vineyards of Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  I also purchased a couple of other wines that reminded me of good times, such as a pinot noir from Dobbes in Oregon, which sparked great memories of visiting the Dobbes tasting room in Willamette Valley.

Just yesterday, I learned that VinoMatique is suffering through hard times because there are not enough customers coming through the doors to either drink or purchase wine. Unlike Chef's Choice, Vinomatique is still open to customers, even though the "For Rent" sign is now hanging in the window.  Everyone, both residents and non-residents of Northeast Ohio, need to do our best to help small businesses grow and thrive, regardless of the economy.   Rather than buy a wine from a supermarket (or worse, Walmart or a gas station), we should make the effort to go around the corner and peruse the aisles at small wine markets -- like VinoMatique -- and buy our wine there.  By supporting these small businesses, we will be able to preserve important culinary and, in this case, a vinious resource for anyone who enjoys good food and wine.

There is still time to save this treasure. I personally ask that, if you are looking for a wine, please make an effort to help the small businesses, like VinoMatique.  Its website can be found at:

or check out its Facebook presence at either the group page or the fan page.  You don't need to say that I sent you, just go and experience VinoMatique for yourself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brooklyn's "Ace"

Garrett Oliver is well known in craft beer circles.  He is the brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, which is located in all places, Brooklyn, New York.   No doubt you have seen bottles of Brooklyn Lager or Brooklyn Pilsner on store shelves.  The core beers of Brooklyn are very good, but, for true craft beer connoisseurs, Garrett's seasonals (like his Blackout Stout and Monster Ale) are special.  

Not only is Garrett an excellent brewer, but his knowledge of beer and his insight into pairing beer with food is unmatched.  He is the author of the Brewermaster's Table, which is a book that any craft beer lover/foodie should read.  Also, Clare and I have benefited from Garrett's knowledge of beer.  We both have attended beer tastings led by Garrett, where we learned about Italian beers (Birrificio del Ducato, Birra Baladin and others) and Scandinavian beers (Mikkeller, Nogne O and others).

Yet, this post is about one of Garrett's greatest contributions to the craft beer world (at least in my opinion) -- the Brooklyn Sorachi Ace.  Brooklyn describes it as a "classic saison" or an "unfiltered, hoppy farmhouse ale."  The hops are the key to this beer.  Brooklyn uses Sorachi hops, which are a cross between the British Gold and the Czech Saaz hops.  The Sorachi  hops are noteworthy for the lemony flavors they impart into the beer.  These hops are only grown in Oregon.  Not only are hops used during the brewing, but also post fermentation.  

Some more about the process.  Brooklyn uses champagne yeast and two-row German pilsner malts.  The beer also goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  The beer registers at a 7.6% ABV.

According to the label, one should be able to experience the smell of lemon zest.  And, I can definitely smell lemons.  But it is the taste that is truly remarkable.  It is hard to put into words, as you can experience the taste across your mouth.  There are definitely citrus notes, but, when drinking the beer, one can definitely taste pepper or coriander.  

Although a bit pricey at $15.99 for a large bottle, it is definitely worth the experience.  I was able to find it at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Villa Cialdini

Back in 2006, I was fortunate enough to travel to Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany as part of a culinary trip through the Smithsonian Institution. One of our very first stops was a vineyard owned by Cleto Chiarli, a vineyard outside of Modena.  Cleto Chiarli specializes in Lambrusco, a  wine that originates in Emilia-Romagna.  In 1971, Italy gave  a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation to a part of Emilia-Romagna  encompassing the plain around Reggio-Emilia going northward to the Po River.  Lambrusco wines made from grapes grown in this region and are made according to fairly strict codes are entitled to the DOC designation.  If you are fortunate enough to try a  Lambrusco wine with a DOC designation, you will have an experience that cannot be replicated by the mass-produced swill sold by a certain not-to-be-named-but-very-well-known producer that sells as "Lambrusco" in this country.  Riunite, anyone?

Personally, Riunite Lambruscos turned me off of the wine. However, the Lambrusco made by Cleto Chiarli reignited my interest in this wine.  The Villa Cialdini is a great Lambrusco made from grapes grown  at the Tenuata Cialdini, which is located close to the Castelvetro di Modena area.  At this site, Cleto Chiarli grows the grasparossa grape, which has a rather long history.  The grape was grown by Etruscans and Romans.  The grapes are harvested relatively late in the season.  The wine is fermented for four months in stainless steel and then bottled.  The alcohol content is 11.5%.

The Villa Cialdini is dark red in color, has a full body and is very dry.  While it is carbonated, the froth quickly gives way reveal a very drinkable wine.   This wine pairs very well with the egg pasta from Emilia-Romagna  (see the recipe for Paglia e Fieno), as well as pizza or lasagna.  Always serve this wine chilled.

You can find the Villa Cialdini  for $11.99 at the Italian Store in Arlington, VA.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Crabcake Sandwich -- Italian Style

A couple of days ago I decided to have an "Iron Chef" night, where I would pick an ingredient and try to come up with two or three dishes featuring that ingredient.  This time, the ingredient was crab and I immediately thought of a crabcake dish.

However, this dish is not a Maryland crab cake or even a Maryland style crab cake (yes, there is a significant difference between the two).  Rather, working with the Iron Chef theme, I decided to make a crab cake sandwich, Italian style.  The recipe does not use mayonnaise or even Worcestershire sauce.  Instead of using prepared mustard, I used cracked mustard and dry mustard., which gave the crabcake a rather distinct taste.  To pay homage to the Free State, I did use Old Bay.  Finally, I  did away with the bun and served the crabcake on fried polenta. It is topped with roasted red and orange peppers.  This is a dish that can be made in a really short time, particularly when you use precooked polenta.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

Ingredients (for the Crabcake):
1 pound of jumbo lump crab
1 egg
1 to 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of Old Bay
2 tablespoons of coarse ground mustard
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for the rest of the dish):
Precooked polenta, sliced
Roasted peppers

1.  Make the crabcakes.  Beat the egg and add in the crushed red pepper, Old Bay, coarse ground mustard, dry mustard, panko bread crumbs, salt and pepper.  Mix the ingredients and then fold in the crab meat.  Note that the mixture will seem dry, but it will be okay.  After mixing the crab with the ingredients, shape the crab into balls.  You should be able to get four balls out of 16 ounces of crab.  Refrigerate the balls for about fifteen minutes.  Thereafter, take the balls into your hand and gently form the cake.  You can then pan-fry the crab cakes with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about four to five minutes per side.  Be careful when flipping the crab cakes so as to keep them together.

2.  Fry the slices of polenta.  Cut the precooked polenta into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices.  In a separate pan, fry the slices in a couple inches of olive oil for several minutes on each side.  

3.  Plate the dish.  To plate, place the polenta on the plate and place the crab cake on top.  Then add the roasted pepper slices on the crab cake.  


TIP: You can roast your own peppers if you have a gas stove.  Turn one of the burners and place the pepper over the flame.  The skin of the pepper will blacken.  Rotate the pepper until it is blackened on all sides.  Then, using running water, pull the blackened skin off the pepper. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

It's So Hard to Say Goodbye...

Those who know me well know that I love small businesses, especially when it comes to food and drink.  Screw Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, I rather spend my money on a six-pack of craft beer from a local brewer.  Forget the large corporate vineyards, I rather purchase wine from a local grower, whose vineyards consist of the front and back yards of her home.

And when it comes to food, I always try my best to support the "little guy."  One such little guy was Chef Kris Kreiger, the owner of Chef's Choice Meats in Berea, Ohio.  I used the past tense because, unfortunately, Chef Kreiger closed his store last week. And, I use the word "unfortunately," because I don't think that many people in Berea will realize what they have lost. 

The best way to explain the loss is through a story.  A couple of years ago, I was in the Cleveland area visiting my parents.  I had returned from a culinary trip to Italy, where I rekindled my love of cooking and my interest in Italian cuisine.  I decided that I would cook for my parents and the meal I selected was Bistecca alla Fiorentina or Florentine Steak.  I went to Chef's Choice Meats to purchase three porterhouse steaks, the quintessential cut for the recipe. Chef Kris was there and he personally cut the steaks.  Each steak weighed in at two pounds and came from cows that were locally raised.  Moreover, the steaks were perfectly marbled.  I would later tell my parents that the steaks were "works of art," a compliment which my father relayed to Chef Kris.  To date, those porterhouses stand as the best steaks that I have ever seen, cooked with and ate.

Chef Kris also made his own rub, which stands as one of the best rubs that I have ever used.  Even though I don't live in Berea, I always stopped by his store to buy the rub to ensure that I had an adequate supply in my kitchen.  The rub is supposed to be used for chicken or pork, although I find that it also works well with beef.  With the closing of Chef's Choice Meats, my source for that rub is now gone. 

Butcher shops are few and far between these days.  People buy their meat from grocery chains who deal in such large quantities that they are able to undercut independent shops.  The meat itself is ordinary. Good butcher shops are even more rare.  And, in my humble opinion, Chef's Choice rated as one of the best, if not the best.  Berea has not lost just lost a business, it has lost a culinary treasure.

If you would like to learn more about the closing of Chef's Choice meat, here is a link to an article from

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lake Erie's Monster

Great Lakes Brewing Company is one of the first original craft breweries in Cleveland.  Great Lakes is known for its regular craft beers, such as its Dortmunder Gold or Burning River Pale Ale;  but it also has a reputation for great seasonals, such as its Nosferatu.

One legendary seasonal is the Lake Erie Monster, the Great Lakes seasonal for the summer.  An Imperial India Pale Ale, it registers at a 9.1% ABV with an IBU of 72.  The high ABV and relatively low IBV make this monster a little unique.  (The Nosferatu and Blackout Stout both have higher IBUs than the Imperial IPA).

The Lake Erie Monster is smooth, with a more rounded hop taste.  The finish is also smooth, with the alcohol following lock step with the hop taste.  Yet, this monster is no wallflower, as that 9.1% ABV provides the teeth for this beer.

I strongly recommend this beer, and, if I were rating it on a 1 to 5 star scale (with 5 being the highest), I would give it 4.5 stars.  The Lake Erie Monster is available at Whole Foods Markets.