Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Orleans dining & drinking among the stars - tres bon, mes amis!

Nicholas Cage filming "The Hungry Rabbit Jumps" in the French Quarter - Shirley Ross photo

 Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal filming "A Little Bit of Heaven" in the French Quarter - Bill Tieleman photo
Wine Barbarian Bill Tieleman with top rated Lousiana Bistro's Chef Mars

Acme Oyster House - fast food bi-valves

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans/
And miss it each night and day?"

- Louis Alter & Eddie Delange - recorded by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday

If you visit New Orleans to eat and drink, you are going to understand exactly what that song means!

New Orleans has some of the best restaurants and chefs imaginable in one of the most food and drink fixated cities you can find.

Throw in a big helping of movie stars, historic bars and friendly people and you'd be a fool not to head to New Orleans.

The highlight for my wife Shirley and I is easy - big easy if you insist - our two dinners at the Louisiana Bistro, home to Chef Mars and his "Feed Me" dining experience.

It's simple but scary for some diners - you simply say you want a 3-course, 4-course or 5-course meal and Chef Mars decides what you get!  No substitutions, no negotiations - other than food allergies and - if you are polite - a "fear factor" warning.

And every table gets different food!  This isn't a daily special type of deal - Chef Mars turns out unique offerings for each table every night - wow!

The food is remarkable and the price is very reasonable - $39/$49/$59.  Louisiana Bistro is small and casual but incredible.

On our first visit we did the 3-course meal and first up were deep fried frog's legs in a lemon beurre blance sauce with red pepper jelly - simply excellent!  Chef Mars explained between courses that due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf coast there is only one frog's leg supplier left in the U.S. - a fellow in Mississippi who drives his product into town.

The second course was equally excellent - spice-rubbed swordfish with blue crab meat in a caper, pepper meuniere sauce - called Lake Ponchartain style - accompanied by grits with cheddar cheese.

We were blown away by both course and wondered how Mars could match himself - he did with buffalo shortribs and BBQ sauce on garlic mashed potatoes. 

The food was well matched by our choice of an old favourite - 2001 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva for $56 a bottle - a 90 point Wine Spectator rating for this big oaky, smokey, cherry, blackberry and pepper Rioja.

For dessert we had Creole creamcheese ice cream with a balsamic reduction and strawberries - fabulous. And the expert service from Sam and other waiters was another treat.

"Feed Me may not be for you," Chef Mars remarked to another table after they saw our frog's legs and other dishes come out!  But it was for us, because we came back for a 4-course meal our last night.  More on that below after a few other restaurant reviews.

Another great restaurant is Les Foret,  in the Central Business District, where chef James Corwell serves up New Orleans French cuisine in a stylish room.

We started with three amuse bouche - venison tea, rabbit rillette and lobster tartar - all very good indeed.

For an appetizer we shared grilled Hudson Valley foie gras - accompanied by a roasted beet, apple, Satsuma orange and walnut salad - fabulous!

Shirley had a rabbit trio for her main course - a roasted loin, a frenched rack and a braised leg with a pasta terrine with mustard and peeled grapes - all excellent, for $29

I went for the venison steak, which was crusted with shallots, pepper and lemon and accompanied by braised cabbage with caraway, sweet potato tempura and green peppercorn jus.  Simply outstanding, at $29.

We shared a New Orleans classic King Cake with a Les Foret twist - served with buttered rum and pecan ice cream - very good but very sweet.

Our wine choice was once again Spanish - the very good 2006 Termes Numanthia at $48 - a Toro triumph that scored 93 points at the Wine Spectator and was full of plum, chocolate and tobacco and matched our choices well.

If we had eaten nowhere else there would be no complaints - but we had lots more success.

Shirley and I took a long $23 cab ride out to Patois, another well-reviewed restaurant out of the downtown area owned by chef Aaron Burgau.

We started with shrimp and chorizo and polenta with mascarpone cheese - and hot brioche - all very good.

My main was pheasant breast and leg confit in a spiced foie gras emulsion, served with cipolline onions, carrots and a sunchoke puree - it was excellent!  Priced at $30.

Shirley chose the rabbit saltimbocca [Italian for "jumps in the mouth"] which had a great sage hit and came with grits and asparagus.

Her dessert was an unusual red pepper-praline ice cream - very spicy but great.

I had a Meyer lemon pousset with lavender shortbread and pistachios - also excellent.

The wine for the meal was a Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo at $42 - smoky and full-bodied.

During the daytime we amused ourselves by touring the French Quarter and other districts - where we were twice able to turn paparazzi and take photos of movie stars Nicholas Cage, Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal - who were shooting on location in New Orleans.

Shirley had the good camera when we ran into Cage shooting "The Hungry Rabbit Jumps" - her best photo is above.

I was on my own when I spotted another film shoot a few days later - Hudson and Garcia rehearsing on Chartres Street for "A Little Bit of Heaven".

Amazingly, despite lots of security blocking onlookers a fair distance away, one of the film crew approached me and told me to stop taking photos!

It gave me a great opportunity - with a small crowd around me I told the security guy: "I'm a tourist - we take pictures. This is a free country - welcome to America!"  and kept taking photos.

"The publicist will get upset," security guy responded before slinking off.  Ha-ha - tell someone who cares.  Several people thanked me for intervening with him - and had no idea I was a Canadian!

We also took New Orleans' most popular tourist outing - "History with a Twist" - a cocktail tour of the city that invented them.

Our guide - and author of the small book by the same name - was Joe Gendusa - a fabulous popular historian.

This is not a pub crawl though - instead you visit three or four historic bars in the French Quarter over a few hours - and the list changes daily.

We started at Tujagues - a bar and restaurant established in 1856 where the "Grasshopper" was first concocted.  Next up was Muriel's on Jackson Square, where we sampled a Pimm's Cup and learned about the ghost who haunts this stylish restaurant and bar.

Then it was on to Tony Seville's Pirates Alley Cafe and Absinth House, a tiny bar where the green liquor flowed elegantly through a special device. 

Lastly we hit Antoine's - the oldest restaurant in the U.S.A. - and it's Hermes Bar.  Operating since 1840, Antoine's has several rooms to seat up to 700 patrons and has been visited by every U.S. president - Barack Obama is likely due to be there soon.

I had a Sazerac there - another New Orleans concoction featuring Peychaud's Bitters - something we had to import for ourselves, as it's hard to find outside Louisiana.

There are lots and lots of other great bars in the French Quarter - we explored quite a few, including the famous Monteleone Hotel where Truman Capote hung out for too long, the fabulous Bombay Club on Conti Street, where David Armstrong plays piano and interacts with guests and on the more modern side, Loa bar in the International House Hotel in the business district - which features very new cocktails like East Meets West - Canton Ginger Liquor and R1 Clearmont Kentucky rye - wow! And Orin Swift's 2007 The Prisoner by the glass - #47 on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list for 2009 and a 92 pointer!

All that drinking left us hungry, so it was time for another dinner - this time we went downscale.

Acme Oyster House usually has a big line up outside - and inside you find out why.  A dozen oysters for $10.99 and lots of other inexpensive Creole food like shrimp etouffee - which was very good - and gumbo.

Only one dinner didn't quite live up to our high expectations - at Cochon on Tchoupitulous.  Deep fried alligator with chile garlic aioli was very good, as were the pork cheeks with beets and watercress.  But the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins [$22]and the rabbit with dumplings [$20] were merely good.  We had a bottle of the unusual Scholium Project 2007 Gardens of Babylon petite syrah at $50, which was quite good.

We had many great lunches - including at August - one of John Besh's restaurants - were we enjoyed very good Gulf jumbo shrimp stew and also potato gnocchi with truffles, parmesan chees and blue crab; at the Commander's Palace - where they serve 25 cent martinis - yes, it's true - and an excellent turtle soup with sherry and wild white shrimp with grits; and the colourful Coop's Place on Decatur Street - where they serve excellent red beans with meat and good rabbit and smoked sausage jumbalaya and shrimp creole. As Zagat's guide put it: "Where the not-so-elite meet to eat."

Breakfast - or midnight snack time - means a trip to Cafe du Monde - The Original French Market Coffee Stand - for a sugar-coated beignet - a donut without the hole.

You also don't want to miss oysters at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House right on the infamous Bourbon Street at about $1 per bi-valve and washed down with some sauvignon blanc or beer - or a great choice of bourbons!

But to finish off our great trip we had to return to the Louisiana Bistro one more time - and Chef Mars was at the top of his game again.

We did the "Feed Me" 4-course meal this time and started with crawfish beignets - yes, the French version of the donut - in a lemon beurre blance sauce with cayenne pepper glace.  Simply outstanding!  And one of Mars' personal favourites.

Next came a blue crab-stuffed mirliton [pronounced mah-lih-tone] - also known as chayote - a type of squash.  It was in a Cajun meuniere sauce and was excellent.

The third course was roast quail stuffed with toasted pecan-pesto garlic rice - simply fabulous and inventive.

The last course - could it live up to the standard of the first three?  Yes!

Local lamb loin was grilled with black pepper and served with bourbon mashed sweet potatoes and a smoked tomato and applewood smoked bacon sauce - totally killer and the best dish of all!

We somehow squeezed in another Creole creamcheese ice cream dessert and again chose the 2001 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva to go with the meal.

And thus ended a rather decadent, liquid and filling trip to New Orleans - if you love food and drink, you want to be in NOLA - New Orleans, Louisiana.

Shirley Ross outside Cafe Du Monde
Postscript - we were in New Orleans in January 2010 - sorry for the delay in writing this up - and were thrilled when we got home to watch the New Orleans Saints win the Superbowl! 

Their success was already evident all over town when we were there and it was a huge morale boost for a city still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.  But do not hesitate to visit - the French Quarter remains intact and was not affected by the disaster, although sadly outer parts of the city have still not been fully restored.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Wine Barbarian has been barbaric in 2010!

Sorry friends - this has been a bad year for the Wine Barbarian - much wine and food consumed but no posts since May!

I apologize for those who visit - though some of the items here are still of interest - and promise to try harder for a better vintage of posts in 2011.

Merry Winey Christmas to all!


Monday, May 24, 2010

BC Liberal government to raise mark-up on wine, liquor to eliminate price break for consumers from lower HST!

Thanks to the Harmonized Sales Tax - every bottle of wine in British Columbia should carry this label!

Did you know that the Harmonized Sales Tax would actually reduce the provincial tax on liquor - including wine - from 10% to 7%?

And did you know that the BC Liberal government will raise the provincial mark-up on liquor - including wine - to increase the price by that same 3% reduction in taxes?

That means that there will be no break for wine drinkers in BC - we are shafted yet again in a new way by the planned HST.

As I point out in a story in Saturday's Vancouver Sun by reporter Doug Ward, the government is telling consumers that businesses will reduce prices because of the benefits they will receive under the HST.

But when it comes to liquor prices, the government is doing exactly what consumers fear businesses will do - pocket the difference in lower taxes as profits.

The HST - a value added tax - will transfer $1.9 billion annually in taxes from businesses to consumers.

What it means is an additional 7% tax on a wide range of goods and services that were previously exempt from the provincial sales tax or PST.

That includes restaurant meals, haircuts, domestic airline tickets, consulting services, massage therapy and on and on.

You can see a longer list at the website of the group opposed to the HST - Fight HST - for details. Or check the incomplete list of goods and services the BC government posted 10 months after announcing the HST.

What might confuse some is that wine and liquor are taxed differently - the Vancouver Sun's excellent wine critic Anthony Gismondi has a very good explanation in his Saturday May 22 column.

The short version is that the current provincial 10% tax on liquor plus 5% GST will change to the HST as of July 1 - meaning the new tax would be the combined regular 7% provincial tax plus 5% GST for an HST of 12% - the same rate that would apply on all other goods and services.

The government would therefore lose 3% - unless it boosted the price through the "mark-up" it controls - the amount it increases before selling the wine to the public - and to private liquor stores.

The HST - it's enough to drive anyone to drink!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wine Barbarian top picks for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2010

UPDATE - FRIDAY APRIL 23 - After attending last night's tasting

Wow! I have been Sauvignon Blanc-ed! There are are a lot of great New Zealand SBs at this year's festival - so many that I had to have a Chardonnay occasionally to get a break from the intensity of the grassy, tropical, gooseberry, cat's piss and other pow flavours of those big Sauvignon Blancs.

But what really blows me away from NZ are the Pinot Noirs! Central Otago is an amazing place for PNs - several winemakers told me it's because of the heat there.

If you are used to wimpy, overly sweet Pinot Noirs from California or delicate PNs from France - watch out! These Central Otago bad boys will kick open the door of your palate and party down your throat!

I spent an inordinate time in the New Zealand section - so much that I had to leave Argentina for Saturday night - sorry about that - and a little time in the rest of the international section.

Here are my best choices for wines not to be missed if you are going Friday or Saturday night, based on last night's tasting, plus below this, my original posting about which wineries I'd recommend based on past experience and tasting.

Remember - no one can taste all the wines there, so be judicious!

New Zealand

Astrolabe - great big Sauvignon Blanc and interesting Pinot Gris

Borthwick Vineyard - big smoky Pinot Noir [at table with Ata Rangi]

Chard Farm/Rabbit Ranch - powerful Central Otago Pinot for $25 - and available in BC at LDBs - one of my personal favourites. And at the same table find:

Gibbston Highgate Estate - another smokin' Central Otago PN called "SoulTaker" - intense and $36.

Crossroads - Talisman 2007 - Bordeaux blend beauty from Hawkes Bay

Elephant Hill - Viognier - I like Viognier and this one is both unusual being from NZ and very floral and intense. Good Pinot Noir and SB too!

Giesen Wine Estate - The Brothers Pinot Noir - $29 - and The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc - $25- are their flagships and the sail proudly. Both are big, strong wines from the Marlborough region. The basic wines are good decent values too.

Jackson Estate - Believe it or not, I was most impressed with their 2008 Chardonnay, called Shelter Belt at $27. But try the SBs and PNs too.

Kim Crawford - listed below but try especially their Small Parcel [SP] Sauvignon Blanc! At $27 it's just $5 more than the great regular SB but wow, what a difference. And their $15 Rose called Pansy - isn't one!

Ostler Vineyards - Caroline's Pinot Noir 2006 - another big PN from Waitaki Valley on the south island. And for a very different wine try the Pinot Gris white - with a 2.7 residual sugar content! Sweet!

Sacred Hill - Riflemans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 - told you I was impressed with Kiwi chard - here's another great big one. Loads of tropical fruit and a $50 price.

UPDATE - Sacred Hill's pinot noirs were awesome - missed them on Thursday but tried on Saturday - sadly all their wines were sold out before the event even began - another complaint I have about the Festival - letting Trade Show attendees buy out wines just makes ordinary consumers furious.

Two Paddocks - Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 - a wonderful, powerful Pinot - costing out at $42. The second, basic Pinot - Picnic - is not bad for $26 but pales in comparison. No sign of Sam Neill - the actor/owner - on Thursday.

UPDATE - very pleased to meet Sam Neill on Saturday night at the Festival - he was behind the table chatting amiably and as is often the case in Vancouver, people were respectful of his celebrity. I also have to say that on second tasting the Picnic was better than I felt on Thursday.

And at the same table:

Waitiri Creek 2007 Pinot Noir - also out of Central Otago - a massive wine and I'd hate to pick which is better at the table. NOTE - this wine is not listed in the Playhouse guide for some reason.

INTERNATIONAL WINES - other than New Zealand

Altesino - Italy - all four reds here are great but particularly the $60 Brunello di Montalcino 2004 - smooth and powerful - and the $65 Alte D'ALtesi "Super Tuscan" 2003 - equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - simply killer wine!

[Vina] Haras de Pirque - Chile - a new find for me and a wonderful one! The Haras Character Syrah for $30 is a great value and the massive $65 Albis 2004 is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Carmenere - absolutely tasty.

Hope Family Wines - US - this Paso Robles winery produces two of Canada's favourite wines - Liberty School Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. But be sure to try the $30 Candor Syrah and the $65 Treana Red - great wines!

Louis Latour - France - one of Burgundy's best with one of the world's greatest Chardonnay's - Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2006 - and for only $194!! One of the best wines in the room.

Merryvale Vineyards - US - Napa makes great Chardonnay too - try the Carneros 2007 - big, big, big but without the Burgundy price at $50.

Villa Rinaldi - Italy - Amarone! Big and sweet - the 2001 is a treat. Sadly at $124 a bottle it is a rare treat.

And there's much, much more at the Festival to taste but so little time and liver to go around!

Have fun - let me know what you like - or dislike - from this list or your own!


Let's face it - someone has to do the tough slogging of wine research - and that takes a real barbarian - a Wine Barbarian.

As you can see from this picture - it's nasty work. Here I am in Chateauneuf-du-Pape country refreshing my palate in the 30 degree heat with an excellent Rose from nearby Tavel.

It's that kind of devotion to duty that allows me to guide you through the difficult task of choosing which wines to taste at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.

And little did you know that Rose is the "global focus" of this year's festival - hence the reason for my trip to France!

But with 197 wineries partipating and two regional themes - with 41 wineries from New Zealand and 36 from Argentina - you gotta have a program to tell the players.

Here's my first blush - not Rose - look at what wineries you simply can't miss - even if you have to do it all in one tasting night!

I will add more info in the days ahead and after Thursday night's tasting - which surprisingly is still not sold out.

I should also note that the always excellent Tony Gismondi of the Vancouver Sun and more has already put out his Top 50 Wines of the Festival - an impressive guide to the event.

My list is neither as exhaustive or complete - but it may serve you well.

Catena Zapata - Argentina - top notch Malbecs

O. Fournier - Argentina - fascinatingly powerful Malbecs

Familia Zuccardi - Argentina - Italian heritage, Argentinian wines of distinction

Two Paddocks / Waitiri Creek Wines - New Zealand - if you see a fellow who looks like that guy from Jurassic Park and The Piano at the festival - it would indeed by actor Sam Neill of Two Paddocks - try the Central Otago Pinot Noir - a region that is blowing me away with powerful pinots.

Kim Crawford - New Zealand - simply the best value Sauvignon Blanc going - consistently a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine and less than $23, plus great Pinot Noir.

Staete Landt - New Zealand - German name but classic NZ wines - love their Pinot Noir.

Averill Creek Vineyard - Canada - from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island - and harder to find than some of the Kiwi wineries - try the Pinot Noir

Osoyoos Larose - Canada - joint venture between fabled Bordeaux winery Gruaud LaRose and BC's VinCor - one of BC's best reds and a great second wine - Petales Osoyoos.

Poplar Grove Winery - If you haven't tried this Naramata winery's lineup you are in for a treat - very powerful reds - try their merlot.

M. Chapoutier - France - Excellent wines up and down the price list but try their Tavel Rose - at $25 it's not cheap but it will blow you away if you think Rose is Mateus or White Zinfandel.

Lanson Champagne - France - always great to start the tasting night with champagne - this is one of the best!

Perrin et Fils - France - owners of Chateau Beaucastel, one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's finest wineries and makers of other great wines

Pfaffenheim / Dopff & Irion - France - some of Alsace's best wines come from these producers - my favourite place for Gewurztraminer.

Estates of Antinori - Italy - a great winery with a full range from everyday to never can afford - but can taste here!

Rocca Delle Macìe - Italy - under the Tuscan sun they grow great Chianti Classicos and super Tuscans - Sangiovese plus Cabernet Sauvignon and more.

Signorello Vineyards / Edge Wines - US - Napa Valley winery with BC connection - Ray Signorello Jr. spends a fair bit of time here when not making great wines down south.

Panther Creek - US - this Oregon winery makes killer Pinot Noirs and is hard to find here.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates - US - a great Washington state winery with a full range of wines - love their Indian Wells vineyard wines.

So there's the first pressing - stay tuned here for more info as the wine gets poured on Thursday - and feel free to post any of your own tips on great wines at the Festival!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival starts this week!

The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival starts this week, with the major public tastings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and scores of other events all over town.

I will be attending the tastings on Thursday and Saturday and will endeavor to post what I think are the top picks of the wineries here as soon as possible, plus an update after Thursday's first round of the room.

The regional theme this year is New Zealand and Argentina - expect great sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs from the former and malbecs from the latter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What wines we're drinking this week

Just in case you were wondering - no, the Wine Barbarian did not stop drinking wine over the past three months!

I regret that my polical blog, my work and family obligations sometimes mean updating the Wine Barbarian blog is delayed - this time for quite awhile.

But here are two great wines for you to try as small compensation for my absence.

First, on your right, the fabulous
Monte Antico 2006 - ranked at Number 60 on the Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2009 - this blend of 85% sangiovese, 10% cabernet sauvignon and 5% merlot from Tuscany is rated 90 points.

But the real news is its amazingly low price for such great quality - it retails in BC Liquor Stores for just $16.99!! Get it fast - the Liquor Board says it has just over 1600 bottles in stock.

Plum, cherry and berry flavours coming from wine that spends a year in oak make this a crowd pleaser anywhere.

And on your left, another wonderful red wine - Bodegas Norton Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2006. The Wine Spectator scores it at 88 points and I'd say its even a bit better than that. Dark current, plum, fig, cocoa and mocha notes can all be found - or so they say - and it's definitely a concentrated but accessible wine - perfect for grilled meats or fowl.

The BC Liquor Stores current indicate just over 1000 bottles are available at $18.99 each. Try out Norton's other fine wines too - especially their 2006 Privada blend at $25.99 if you have an extra few dollars. It's rated 92 points by the Wine Spectator.

Cheers and hopefully more reviews - and our New Orleans restaurant reviews - very soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Drinking and eating and drinking and eating in New Orleans - coming soon!

I'm on Wine Barbarian assignment in New Orleans, the culinary capital of the United States, eating and drinking and eating and drinking my way through some of this city's finest restaurants and bars.

And hear about our encounter with Nicholas Cage - filming a new movie on the streets of the French Quarter!

On the restaurant list: Les Forets, August, Patois, Cochon, Acme Oysters, Bourbon House, Coop's and more.

So stay tuned for a full report on mixed beverages and wine with rabbit, alligator, pork ears, crawfish, duck, venison, foie gras and way too many oysters here soon!