Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Come off the beaten path: Danny Brown

A restaurant review by Eric Guido

Beet Salad 
Assorted Beets with Fresh Goat Cheese, 
Pepper Cress & Hazelnut Vinaigrette 
It’s funny how we often lose ourselves in the restaurant game. We read about the newest and hippest place, or the restaurant edition of our favorite magazine fills our minds with all the anticipation of that perfect meal, leading to an infatuation with an establishment a state or two away—or even on the other side of the country. Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about what’s out there that we forget what’s right down the road. This year, I’ve been working hard to commit myself to my local restaurateurs, and lucky for me, there’s a burgeoning food and wine scene that’s taken shape only five minutes away from my home.

Now I don’t live in Manhattan or Williamsburg, nor do I live in Astoria or Dumbo. No, I live in Glendale, Queens, only a stones throw away from Forest Hills and some of the finest dining that Queens has to offer, but most people don’t know it yet.

Confit of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck
Red Beets, Braised Leeks, Wilted Frisée & Leek Vinaigrette 
This brings me to Danny Brown, a small corner footprint on Metropolitan Ave. and 71st drive. It wasn’t its Wine Spectator Award of Excellence or Zagat’s list of 8 top New York Wine bars which drew me there. Nor was it the Michelin star that Danny Brown received in 2011. Instead it was true word of mouth, the best kind of restaurant guide. So what kept me from Danny Brown for so long? Literally, it was my old way of thinking that my fine dining should be done in the city because of my small-minded way of thinking that the city is where everything new and interesting would be happening. What a mistake.

The calm before the storm.  Not a table
was empty when we left an hour later.
Before I go any further, it bears mentioning, with all of the praise I’m about to heap on this excellent restaurant, that my meal took place on a Sunday night. Sunday night, generally considered being one of the worst nights to dine out. Yet, you’d never know it from this experience, nor would I say it matters here, as excellence appears to be expected at all times at Danny Brown.

You have got to love dining in view
of the kitchen.  The smells and sounds
add so much depth to the experience.
I entered into an unimposing dining room, clean, precise and with an understated elegance, which immediately put me at ease. Our table overlooked the small kitchen, lending a reassurance to this establishment’s confidence in their art and form. Each chef was on display; all stations were easily in view and the calm, professionalism of each employee shone through in spades.

Marinated Seafood Salad 
Scallops, Shrimp & Squid w/ shaved Radicchio

Haricots Verts, Tarragon Pistou & Basil Aïoli
The menu was broken down into small or “bigger” plates, with an entire page dedicated to cured meats and cheeses. It was described by Danny Brown as an informal mix of French, Italian and Spanish cuisine with a blend of traditional and current cooking methods. Informal may be a descriptor used here, and I can attest to how cozy and relaxing my meal was, but the food was to die for and could be presented at some of the top-level restaurants I’ve experienced throughout my life. This isn’t what I’d expect at a country table in France—instead it’s fine dining without the pretense.

Hand Made Ricotta Gnocchi
Riesling Poached Apricots, Shaved Cucumber,
Speck & Marjoram 
The portion sizes were perfect for a multi-course dinner, and honestly, that’s the best way to enjoy this meal, because only one “bigger” plate, would only be a sinful temptation to what you would be missing. Now that I’ve dined here, my next visit will include even more plates with a group that won’t mind sharing. Each course came with a level of intensity and depth that I would expect from a Per Se tasting menu, along with a delineation of flavors, which could be perfectly blended on the fork or enjoyed one bite at a time. I am in love.

2010 Schloss Vollrads Riesling - A nose
of honeysuckle, peach skins & spring
grass.  Ripe peach, cantaloupe & citrus
rind on the palate with an acid twang.
Finishing clean and mouth-watering.
The wines list provided a perfect mix of both affordable and reserve level offerings, with a fairly priced list of wines by the glass. It wasn’t the largest tome imaginable, nor was it lacking in any way. Instead, it read like a well-stocked cellar, with a range from the young and fruity through the aged and nuanced. I had no doubt that I could find a wine for any occasion. On this evening, I chose a young 2012 Riesling with a noticeable level of residual sugar and low alcohol, perfect for a Sunday dinner for two. And the price--$45!

I left Danny Brown with a list of reasons why I must go back again and a check for two that came to a little over $200 for three courses and a bottle of wine. It was the perfect marriage of excellence, flavor, diversity, atmosphere and value. I highly recommend taking the time to come off the beaten path and enjoy this wonderful dining experience.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Don’t Drink Enough Riesling

I’m not going to get into the history or roots of Riesling. Nor will I start to explain terroir and the differences between Germany, Austria and Upstate New York. And don’t look for a tirade arguing the virtues of the Nahe versus the Mosel. Hell, I won’t even talk about vintages. Why? It’s simply because all the information is out there and easy to find, even in the pages of this blog. No, today I want to talk about why I love Riesling, how I am constantly reminded of the fact that I simply don’t buy or drink enough of it, and why you should be doing the same.

Let’s start with my roots, a red wine drinker to the core. When the weather got warm outside and most people turned to white wine—I just lowered the thermostat on my air conditioner. If you had a salad and needed to pair a wine with it, I’d pull an acid-driven, high-altitude Italian red. I had never met poultry that didn’t taste good with a Pinot, and I don’t need to even start on how good Zinfandel goes with barbeque.

My tasting note may have been short
but it was love at first sight.
But something happened a few years ago that changed everything. It was a bottle of 1994 Gunther Steinmetz Mulheimer Sonnenlay Spatlese Riesling (try to say that ten times fast). During an evening of excellent red wines, someone placed a 15-year-old (at the time) bottle of Riesling Spatlese into the mix, and my world was turned upside down. I actually remember staring at the glass, bewildered and wondering what it was which I had before me. First it was the nose—deep, intense, fruity and earthy with a hint of blue cheese funk. It put me back in my seat and forced me to take notice. Yet it was what I found on the palate which sealed the deal—here was a white wine with all the power and presence of a red, with a balance of ripeness and acidity that sizzled on the taste buds. In the end, it was the best wine of the evening, and that was against some very serious competition.

This set me on a path to understanding Riesling better. The next week I found myself at Crush Wine filling up two mixed cases. What truly amazed me were all the different styles—there’s literally a Riesling for every situation. They start with bone dry, and they go through every degree of sweetness imaginable. You can find a simple quaffing wine for $15 or an intensely-detailed thinking wine for $30. Wait, did I just say $30? Yes I did. That’s the best part; and I’m not saying that you can’t go broke falling in love with Riesling, but what I am saying is that there are many more affordable bottles that are worth you consideration than not.

This brings me to what prompted today’s ode to Riesling—yet another tasting that proved to me that Riesling belongs in a prominent place of my cellar. I sometimes fall victim to forgetfulness and need to be reminded. Or what often happens is that I simply end up drinking my stock of Riesling so fast that I forget to replenish it.

So I beg of you, do yourself a favor and explore this amazing variety. Below I’ve included some recent notes--most of these are hard to find--but they are all worth the hunt.   In the end, I have no doubt that you will thank me down the road.

On to The Notes:

2009 Van Volxem Wiltinger Braunfels Riesling - The nose was tight and took some coaxing to truly show its qualities, yet with time notes of peach skin, tart lemon and hints of green stem came forward.  On the palate, it showed great intensity, bitter citrus, tropical mango with a fresh, food friendly acidity.  A note of floral tea leaves and lemon lingered on the finish.  This wine should continue to develop for years and I'm really interested to see where it will end up.  For now--enjoy it with food.  (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2008 Markus Molitor Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett - A very interesting, value Riesling that really packs a punch. The nose showed ripe lemon, sour cream with hints of banana and ripe brea. On the palate, it showed great energy and ripeness with a mix of tropical fruits, ripe peach and roasted nuts--yet mouthwatering. The finish pulled things together nicely, as the wine's acidity sizzled across the senses. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher

2001 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese - The nose was beautifully finessed with masses of depth, showing dried figs, lemon skin, floral peach, almond and hints of petrol. On the palate, it was seamlessly ripe yet juicy with a dollop of brisk granny smith acidity and a bitter twang. The finish went on and on, remaining biter yet rich and satisfying. It was the Yin Yang of a wine that kept me guessing at every sniff and indulging in every sip. Very Nice. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2001 Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Spätlese - The nose was focused and refined yet ripe and fruit forward with white berry, mango, almond cake and a spritz of lime. On the palate, it showed great intensity and richness, like a fresh lemon curd with a slight sour and creamy note, yet offset by balanced acidity and a hint of cranberry, resulting in a cheek-puckering experience. The finish lingered on with center-focused spiced pineapple and peach skins. This is a beautiful wine with years of great drinking to come. (95 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling 'Rotlay' - The nose was insanely beautiful, showing sweet spices and floral notes, lemon curd, ripe peach with hints orange and green grass. On the palate, it was all about perfectly balanced intensity. The weight and sweetness of this wine is at first perceptible, but then is swept away by a burst of green apple acidity, leaving a slightly oily texture with tropical fruit and citrus notes, which seem to last for over a minute throughout the finish. This is a sweet wine, balancing it's girth as if on the point of a needle, swinging this way and that--yet never tipping over. Love it. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The All Weather Ultimate Food Wine


This Friday I had the opportunity to have dinner with some good friends. When the question of wine came up, my first thought was the weather; 82 degrees and thunderstorms.  Not necessarily the perfect temperate for big reds--and so, it was Sangiovese to the rescue.  In my opinion, Sangiovese is 'THE' ultimate food wine and great in both warm and cold weather.

The food was incredible as usual at La Vigna, in Forest Hills Queens.  La Vigna is a small and comfortable Italian restaurant with a personable staff and an amazing menu.  The wines were also excellent.  However, I purposely left the notebook at home so that I could really enjoy the company. That didn't stop me from taking some impressions away from the evening.  There was not a bad wine in the bunch and we spent much of the evening in awe of how enjoyable they all were, and in most cases representing great value. Plus, there was a notetaker in the room (I'll put a link to his notes at the bottom.)

The Whites:

2007 Ottaviano Lambruschi Vermentino Colli di Luni Costa Marina - To anyone that considers Vermentino to be a simple wine, this is the one to prove what's possible. What I truly loved about this wine is how it lasted on the palate. First it clenched the taste buds and then opened up on the mid-palate and continued to give more and more flavor for up to a minute. (91 points) I could not find this on Wine-Searcher, my purchase was made at Chambers Street Wines.

2011 Larkmead Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Lillie - The only non-Italian in the dry lineup, but I have been waiting months to pair this wine with a seafood salad, and the day had finally come. There is a truly regal feel to this wine, while still maintaining all of the fresh, citrus, mouth-watering qualities of Sauvignon Blanc. I absolutely love it! (92 points) Only available direct from Larkmead Vineyards.

The Reds:

2005 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione Alta Valle della Greve IGT - My last experience with this wine was nowhere near as good as it was last night. Last night's bottle showed such purity of fruit and intensity on the palate that it truly makes me wonder how long it will go and what it will taste like 5 to 10 years down the road. The nose alone was worth the price of entry and continued to wow everyone at the table throughout the entire evening. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2001 Fattoria di Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva - Another great example of value from Felsina. It's amazing to think that this bottle cost 20 to 25 dollars on release and drinks this well 15 years down the road. This was truly classic Chianti from the nose, to the palate, to the absolutely wonderful finish--with all the earth, leather and fruit you could possibly desire. What's more, this held its own against the '99 Cepparello, which was probably three times the price upon release. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

1999 Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT - This was a beautiful, mature bottle of Sangiovese. Also a perfect example of how well pure Sangiovese can age in a good vintage from a great producer. Rich, as it fleshed out across the entire palate, yet balanced and still slightly austere--just a beautiful wine in a perfect place. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

The Sweet:

NV ETKO Centurion - One of the oldest known wines with references going back to 800 B.C.  If I remember correctly, the member who brought this bottle mentioned that it's contents came from a solera system and contained contents from over 100 year-old barrels.  Pretty intense, and a great way to end the evening, it was sweet (but not cloying) yet rich and balanced with a mouth-watering quality that just kept it flowing and held it's own against a cheese plate. We were even tempted to drizzle it over ice cream. This bottle was hand delivered from Cyprus.

For some detailed notes on this evening's wines, check out Mlermontov, on Cellar Tracker.