March 25, 2007

time for wine... right after some porky goodness.

When we were considering relocating to Seattle, a lot of folks asked me how I could ever consider moving, when we were just a quick 45 minute drive away from Napa and Sonoma. And sure, it's spectacular to visit the wine country in Northern California for a day or weekend of decadence and pampering... drinking fine wines, eating some of the best food in the world, and being surrounded by magnificent landscapes of vineyards. Luckily, Washington has a developing wine industry that has fantastic potential.

A couple of weekends ago, I had a spare hour and decided to check out the wineries in Woodinville, just a stone's throw away from Redmond. Whenever Lav and I head up to wine country back home, we always stop for an early lunch at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. We sit in the sunny outdoor nook between the bakery and the bistro, a little oasis of calm amongst the weekend crowds. She'll have a ham and cheese baguette sandwich, and I'll have the sumptuous tuna nicoise sandwich (one of only two tuna sandwiches I've ever liked in my life... the other at Citizen Cake). Then we mow down more pastries than we should for dessert. This visit is essential, loading us up with some delicious, substantial food prior to launching into whatever wine tasting endeavor awaits.

I was looking for a similarly carb-heavy primer for some wine tasting, so I stopped by the Porcella Urban Market in Bellevue, a beautiful, small specialty market a few blocks away from the commercial chaos of the malls downtown. High on style (and price), this isn't a place to pick up utilitarian groceries... think imported pates, specialty infused oils, gourmet "take-out". The pre-prepared foods and charcuterie selection are particularly inspiring as they sit behind the gleaming glass case. Anyways, I'm mentioning Porcella because I had a truly inspired sandwich:

Proscuitto di Parma with warm frisee, lardonettes, truffled aioli & fried egg. That's right... heavenly porcine richness in all its glory. [If you're health-conscious, you should stop reading here.] Perfectly shaved, intense prosciutto, topped with frisee dressed with the drippings from the fried lardonnettes... actually the word "lardonette" is misleading. These were huge chunks of lardons that would make my vegetarian friends quake in disgust. And the gooey fried egg, whose yolk burst open upon the first bite, coated everything in its wake. As if that wasn't enough, the sandwich is served with the most addictive, ultra-thin and delectably crispy chips emanating enticingly earthy tones of truffle-scented sea salt. Oh my...

Yep, I was ready for some wine now. As it turns out, the wineries are only about 10 minutes away from Redmond. But there's one huge downside: there aren't any vineyards around. The majority of wine grapes are grown in the eastern side of Washington, about 3-4 hours away from the Seattle area. So a bunch of the wineries decided to locate their tasting rooms and partial facilities in Woodinville. I made just one stop, Chateau St. Michelle, which has an impressive property and an appropriately chateau-ish building.

The wine tasting was fun and fine; nothing mindblowing, but they definitely have some very nice wines. And I met some nice people, striking up a conversation with a very friendly couple about their travels to the south of France. But in the end, it still feels weird to walk out and see grass, roads, and other buildings... but no vines. You can't help but feel like something is missing, that you're out of place. I think in the summer, I'll take a trip out to the eastern half of Washington and see what the actual vineyards look like. There's one tiny appellation, Red Mountain, that seems to produce some spectacular wines...

March 4, 2007

a little twist on soba

After an inspirational trip to Uwajimaya (which totally lived up to the hype), I tried a quick and easy flavor combination for today: Warm soba soaked in Shirakiku Tsuyu, served with red bell pepper, a gently poached quail egg and wasabi tobiko. In this dish, I wanted to see if two different types of eggs could be matched to unify fundamentally different, but (hopefully) complementary, expressions.

Having the wasabi infused in tobiko instead of dissolved directly in the tsuyu kept the familiar flavor, but as a distinct, separate component -- with that fantastic little "pop" factor. The yolk of the quail egg coated the soba to add a smooth dimensional depth and roundness to the texture and flavor. Who knew wasabi and egg yolk would pair so nicely?