Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cayena Redux

About a year ago, I wrote about Cayena Latin Fusion in Nicosia. My initial review of the restaurant was average and somehow elicited an onslaught of comments from various readers on both the strengths and weaknesses of the place. Since the review steered so many people towards my blog, part of me felt indebted to the restaurant. Another part of me—that one enamored with Latin American food—wanted to give Cayena a second chance, hoping this time around I would fully indulge in the flavors of my childhood. Upon hearing from acquaintances that the chef had changed and the operation had improved, I booked a table for myself, The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier, soon to be re-baptized as The Third Wheel or Our Violinist.

It's impressive what Chef Malcolm Emmanueil, who gained invaluable experience working under Brazilian chef Alex Atala at D.O.M. and Gordon Ramsey's protege Angela Hartnett at The Connaught in London, has accomplished in little less than a year. That night, the service was practically flawless—dishes were brought out at a good pace and the waitstaff was extremely attentive, even offering to decant our bottle of 2009 Marques de Griñon Rioja, a first for me here on The Rock. The food was also excellent and adapted well to Cypriot palates, appetites (large portions!) and pricing preferences. It's still not 100% Latino but I do believe Malcom's creative interpretations of the different dishes are quite faithful to our cuisine.

As appetizers, we shared the fried cod cakes, stuffed with cheese and served with chimichurri, and a Peruvian-style ceviche (for safety reasons, the fish was poached for thirty seconds and then tossed with the lemon juice, onions and spice) that was refreshing, full of briny, tangy flavors and matched with sweet potatoes, corn and avocado wedges. I then had the feijoada, essentially a deconstructed version of the original with a heavy focus on the meats, food of choice for 87.34% of The Rock's population according to statistics I unearthed from the clutter at the Ministry of Meze. It's served as a mixed grill (spare ribs, chicken breast, pork chop, pork loin and a delectable homemade linguica, all perfectly grilled) on a mattress of sauteed cabbage with a night-table of stewed black beans, white rice and a yummy farofa including coconut flakes that gave it a unique flavor. The Wife, Ph.D., faithful to her (yaaawn!) pescetarianism, ordered the moqueca, which was far superior to its previous incarnation. Again deconstructed, the crispy salmon, white fish, mussels and prawns, laid out on a long plate, were topped with a tomato, fresh herbs and coconut milk sauce that was lighter yet tastier than what I recall. My Zolpidem Supplier, reveling in her new role, had medium-rare Peruvian beef anticuchos that were juicy and only a bit spicy. Overall, a vast improvement from our first experience at Cayena.

Yes, dear readers, I know I promised you a fajitas showdown between Cayena and Los Bandidos in Agia Napa. Don't worry, it will eventually come. Then again, why focus on Tex-Mex when I can go really south of the border?

Whine On The Rocks' (Revised) Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Conviviality And Its Exception

I've decided to every so often host simple island wine taste-offs for my fancy friends. No detailed scoring sheets. No spit buckets. No glass switching between wines, maybe just a light rinse and a quick dry if you are anal-retentive like me. No concern for how well the menu matches the evening's selection. The mission is to pick a winning wine based solely on the level of enjoyment it offers you. Fact is, part of wine's magnificence lies in its ability to bring people together for a laugh and color life at least for a few hours brimful of conviviality.

In this spirit, we invited Mo Money, Mo Problems—The Wife, Ph.D.'s childhood friend and her husband—for a battle between one of The Rock's finest Maratheftiko's and a recommended Cretan Cabernet Sauvignon. By the end of the night, we declared The Rock the winner and celebrated our precious island's victory by polishing off a bottle of Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur, a fantastic Venezuelan rum that tickles your insides and makes you want to excitedly scream like a horny stalker who's just stolen his celebrity victim's sheer pink negligee. 

Now I hope this blog eventually rakes in enough cash to cover the purchase of a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée Conti and a First Growth Bordeaux to host the ultimate battle for wine supremacy. Sorry to say but, if that ever happens, screw conviviality. Alone, I will drink away my profits and wake up the next morning—hungover but happy to know I partook in the selfish consumption of "greatness"—to deal with the usual doctoral problem.

2008 Zambartas Maratheftiko (Cyprus) - Fresh-cut flowers, some funky earth, dark forest berries on the nose. Vanilla, licorice and a sour cherries finish on a medium-bodied wine that has good grip and is drinking quite nicely. 88/100.

2007 Douloufakis Aspros Lagos Cabernet Sauvignon (Crete, Greece) - Aromas of cinnamon, celery, green vegetables, dark fruit, baked apples, dry apricots and loads of wood. Smooth yet kind of flabby and empty. Some caramel and a very sour finish. Too much new oak for my palate. 85/100.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Cousin #2 and The Wife, Ph.D., after a bottle or two of 2010 Vlassides Shiraz + some Greek tsipouro. Happy times!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Off The Rock: Budapest

Budapest, the Melancholic. There's an underlying broodiness to Hungary's capital as seen both from the tinted window of a tour bus and on foot in November. Andrássy Avenue, lined by the soot-laden facades of ornate Neo-renaissance mansions, opens up with a flourish as it reaches Heroes Square, desolate except for the pantheon to Magyar chieftains and statesmen. The Parliament Building, its spires like swords being raised by warriors, lights up and from across the Danube River mirrors the intricate view into a kaleidoscope. Next to Buda Castle, the Fisherman's Bastion overlooks Pest and breaks it up through its arched openings, a 35-mm filmstrip of the city's east bank. People walk briskly away from the cold, many probably saddened or burdened by hundreds of years of violence, occupation and destruction. 

From my short visit, I sense that Budapest wears its history on its sleeve. While Prague teleports you to "Neverland," setting foot on Budapest feels like actually traveling back in time and being flooded by Ottoman, Austrian and Communist influences as inherited, interpreted and transformed by the Hungarian populace. It's somber. It's enigmatic. It's a place that requires a moment or two to process and understand, eight hours certainly not enough to fully appreciate what stunning beauty lies before you. As I walked along a quaint street loaded with art galleries and antique shops on my way to a goulash dinner, I could not get Joy Division's "Atmosphere" out of my head. If there ever was a soundtrack—dark and depressingly beautiful—for the city, I know this song would be on repeat until the airplane's wheels rolled off the runway on its southbound journey to the Mediterranean.

People like you find it easy,
Naked to see,
Walking on air.
Hunting by the rivers,
Through the streets,
Every corner abandoned too soon,
Set down with due care.
Don't walk away in silence,
Don't walk away.

- Joy Division, "Atmosphere."

2009 Kettöezerkilenc Orsolya Pince (Pinot Noir, Kefrankos and Zweigelt blend) - Red forest fruit, floral aromas like a potpourri, tight nose. Raspberries on the finish, red fruit throughout with a hint of dark chocolate. Light bodied, short, no tannins, fruity and simple. 84/100.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Off The Rock: Vienna

Day One: Coffee Among Ghosts

Melange at Cafe Museum
Vienna's coffee culture is undoubtedly the best in Europe. Give me a second to take cover from Italian, Dutch and Greek gunfire. Okay, I think they've stopped aiming for my nether regions.

Along with Double Trouble, who became my partner-in-crime for the daylight portion of my sojourn in Vienna, we hit up as many historical coffee shops as possible without sacrificing valuable time that'd be better spent visiting museums and speed-walking our way through downtown's cobble-stoned streets. We gulped a Wiener melange at Cafe Museumonly a few hundred meters away from The Secession buildingand occupied a red sofa probably once used by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele (my new favorite painter) and Koloman "My Name's Unfortunate" Moser. A string quartet serenaded us with waltzes at Cafe Bräunerhof, an old stomping grounds for Austria's literary bad boy, Thomas Bernhard. We shared a corner booth at the seriously hip Cafe Drechsler and then made our way to the cozy and bohemian Cafe Hawelka, where, if you have nothing better to do with your money, you can purchase a twelve Euro poster of its centenarian owner Leopold Hawelka and his late wife Josefine posing in full cafe regalia. Finally, this time accompanied too by The Wife, Ph.D., we split a Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel at Cafe Frauenhuber, one of Vienna's oldest coffeehouses thattrump this, Europe—saw live performances by both Mozart and Beethoven towards the end of the 18th century. After all that coffee and quality time among preeminent ghosts and tuxedoed waiters, the only thing left to do was to switch to wine.

2011 Vienna "Christkindlmärkte" @ City Hall Glühwein - Served piping hot in a tacky mug I brought back (probably like thousands of lame tourists) to The Rock. Cuddly aromas of cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, cherries and oranges. Had two mugs and could've kept going if it hadn't been for The Wife, Ph.D. who cut off both Double Trouble and me. Off-the-charts rating given the setting and evening chill factor. 

Day Two: Sunday With McCoy 

Near Stephansplatz
Our first dance as a couple was to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's rendition of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful." My studio apartment in La Jolla was filthy that night. An empty case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was staggered across the kitchen floor like fallen bowling pins. Warm pisco sour coated the sides of my blender and patches of the white counter. A couple loads of dirty laundry spilled out of a rattan basket next to the radiator and the beige carpet needed vacuuming, its creases revealing mysterious signs of life. Nonetheless, we were oblivious to the staleness of our surroundings and we swayed our bodies like two buoys in calm waters and we leaned into each other as if we had never heard truer words..."they say that falling in love is wonderful"... than those suavely being trickled out by Hartman.

McCoy Tyner was the pianist on that recording, and, at the ripe young age of 73, performed that Sunday night in Vienna at Porgy & Bess, a former X-rated movie theater converted into a world-class jazz venue. The Wife, Ph.D., and I hid behind a bar, barely within view of the stage, where we drank Austrian red, nibbled on some tapas and became possessed by the legend's music. After a few instrumental pieces, Jose James, an up-and-coming jazz vocalist, joined McCoy and broke out several Coltrane and Hartman classics including "You Are Too Beautiful." Only then did I inform The Wife, Ph.D., that the show was a tribute to their music and reminded her of that romantic dance almost eight years ago. She gave me a blank stare and wondered out loud whether the owners had properly disinfected the joint before going from screening ass to hosting brass.

2010 Günter & Regina Triebaumer Blaunfränkish - Red currants, some cherries and plums. What stuns, though, is an explosion of black pepperchillies eventowards the mid-palate. Rounded out nicely by a sour cherry finish. Short and medium bodied wine. 86/100. 

Day Three: Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (or The Dream of Every College Girl) 

Mulled Wine and Mug
Back in college, I would peruse poster sales for revolutionary art and inevitably stumble upon a reproduction of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. I pictured young coeds buying a copy of the Austrian's masterpiece to decorate their candle-scented rooms. They'd then stare at it for eons and daydream of Prince Charmingmaybe the third-string quarterback or the comical boss-man of an A cappella ensemble—tenderly engulfing them with a golden blanket and kissing them goodnight under a bed of flowers. Very romantic and very beautiful but nothing like the Austrian artist's Death and Life, which elicits similar though less sexual emotions as The Kiss but includes a stark reminder that death is right around the corner waiting to consume us. I sat before boththe former at the Belvedere, the latter at Leopold Museum—and must admit the latter's balance between dark and light sold me on it. In my book, a hint of darkness is always good. Keeps things real, you know?

2009 Giuseppe Gabbas Cannonau di Sardegna (Grenache) "LiLLovè" - Red fruit (raspberries and cherries), leather, tobacco, spice and a herbal (parsley) finish. Surprisingly light bodied, smooth and simple, perfect accompaniment for our pizza at Regina Margherita. 14.5% alcohol is hardly discernible. Great wine and our first from the Italian rock of Sardinia. 89/100.

2007 Casa Valduga Cabernet Franc (Serra Gaucha, Brazil) - Red fruit, cinnamon and vanilla, soil or fertilizer and a hint of green beans. Drinkable with mild tannins but too much oak for my taste. 84/100.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On A Side Note

Besides occasionally typing this nonsense on wine and my life as an islander, I trywhenever time permitsto write some semi-serious fiction. During the past year or so, I published a couple of short stories in Shipwrights, the University of Malmo's (Sweden) online review of de-centered English. If you have a minute to spare or want to be put to sleep, clickety-click below:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smart Love Monkeys

The Dancing Monkey, Greek and proud proprietor of his own imagined community where potential mates live up on puffy white clouds, George Karelia and Sons Superior Lights cigarettes grow on lemon trees, and religion consists of decrying the loss of Smyrna, is the man behind "The Rock," my moniker for Cyprus. For several years, we worked together as minor cogs in a wheel, and one day, frustrated by his boring life in Cyprus and dreaming of The (today undeserving) Motherland, The Dancing Monkey pejoratively referred to our beautiful island as "The Rock." From that day on, we somehow metamorphosed into cynical and bitter baboons dancing to the undesired beat of an island drum—I'd leave rotting Ecuadorian bananas on his keyboard and bark out the mating call of horny orangutans while he ate his chickpea and spinach stew for lunch, he would call me unflattering names such as "chimpo" and "Matyl, the macaque," while mocking my annoying (to him) dutifulness.

Introducing The Dancing Monkey
For some reason, we kept in touch after I abandoned him to begin this mega-blockbuster-of-a-blog and pass on my limited knowledge of sociology, anthropology and philosophy (gasp!) to a bunch of mostly male immigrants like myself. Every so often, we'd go out for coffee or wine up at Plato's or dance uncontrollably—like Ian Curtis before he hung himself—at three a.m. at a random club somewhere in Nicosia. While puffing away into the night, he'd share his latest encounter with flighty women and his utopian dream of weaponizing a group of Greek rough riders to take back their land from the Turks, a plan certainly bound for failure given his morale-boosting idea of granting his troops a lengthy morning and afternoon coffee-break and monthly leave to recover from the tolls of war by rolling around like satiated walruses on a remote beach leading into the Myrtoan Sea.

I kept telling The Dancing Monkey that it's time to introduce him to the blogging world as one of my antagonists. He initially refused, citing his position as a highbrow well-versed in nationalist theory as being incompatible with simian-themed mockery from a third-rate blogger. After at least a dozen attempts and a hefty contribution to his bundle of modern Mycenaean mercenaries, we landed at Academy 32 with The Godmother, My Zolpidem Supplier and The Wife, Ph.D., to clink our wine glasses and listen to Austria's jam band, Smart Love Junkies, rip through its eclectic repertoire. And just like that, for a few hours one cool autumn evening, The Dancing Monkey and I stopped flinging feces at each other and behaved like obedient and loveable circus pets.

2010 Tsalapatis Melapsopodi Sauvignon Blanc - Pineapple, mango and tropical aromas abound. Honeycomb, grapefruit, lemon zest and a bitter finish. Good length. However, it drank better the first time I tried it with R.O.I. and The Duke of Ducati. 86/100.

2008 Tsiakkas Bambakada (Maratheftiko) - Violets and dust on what is a tight nose. Red fruit, sour cherries and vanilla on the finish. Moderate flavors and medium bodied. 86/100.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Soak Me In Red Wine

I apologize for my absence. I've been dreaming of sausages. Wine-soaked, peppery, smoky, savory, crackly, juicy and perfectly charred. 

Biting into a Cypriot sausage (loukaniko) ranks third in my makeshift list of The Rock's Top Ten Greatest Contributions to Mankind, a handful of miles behind halloumi and light years away from The Wife, Ph.D., who—goes without saying—is number one with a bullet. Rounding out the list, in no particular order, are flaounes, Commandaria, the painted churches of Troodos, sheftalies, feral cats of all shapes and freaky sizes, Cypriot halva and whomever invented halloumi. Trust me, if I were dictator of this land, I'd build the latter the flashiest of pantheons, a place where all of us converts can render tribute to the cheese that grills and pray for its sales to skyrocket before we are flushed down the financial toilet handcuffed to Europe's petulant child, Greece.

Anyhow, back to the wine-soaked edible phallus. Like a meth addict, I contract the services of a loukaniko dealer. Return On Investment (R.O.I.), who runs a slaughterhouse that provides sausage casings to local butchers, often brings me some from Katidata, a village at the foothills of the Trodoos mountains and home to what I believe is The Rock's best sausage. As of today, I must have at least twenty Katidata sausages sitting in my freezer waiting to be devoured with some toasted pitta bread, a slight comfort with homo-eroticism and a side of extra-strength Pepto-Bismol.

Every so often, I share them with my fancy friends so that they too experience the high. This time around, we gathered at The Brother-in-Law's, where Double Trouble, The Wife, Ph.D., Cousin #2 and Radio Free Cyprus, helped me dispose of the links. Initially, I had planned a blind wine tasting but that quickly devolved into a sampling of a wide array of sausages. If you will, Katidata versus German bratwursts and weisswursts procured from our deli of choice, Bavarian Delicatessen. 

What's the German word for "routed"?

2009 Argyrides Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot - Lovely bouquet of red fruit, spice and dust. On the mouth, red fruit like candied dark cherries and some herbal components in a very fruit-forward wine. Good tannins, balanced, full and quite long. 90/100.

2007 Kalamos Gerani Maratheftiko - Burgundy-like in color and drank surprisingly like a Pinot Noir. Oak-y, herbaceous, good red fruit. Savory mid-palate component. Balanced and silky smooth. Unanimously voted the best wine of the night. 92/100.

2004 Vouni Panagia Barba Yiannis Maratheftiko - Cloves, cinnamon and red fruit on the exceptional nose. Blueberry-like dark fruit, violets, vanilla and chocolate flavors to the tongue. Nice menthol finish. 88/100.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Falling Off The Rock

As a freshman at the University of Virginia, I had the ill-advised idea of taking up weightlifting. Along with my basketball-obsessed friend, Just Like Staples, we'd walk down the hill from our dorm room four or five times a week to work on our abs, pecs, quads, calves, biceps, triceps and glutes. We were focused body pumping machines, we were men on a mission to get rid of flab and buff up like cupcake batter in a warm oven. Even the cute coeds romping around in UVA tank tops, sports bras and cotton shorts—their waistbands folded once or twice over just to reveal more leg and a shapelier behind—were invisible to us.

Despite my determination to become a modern-day Latin Adonis, I faced a major obstacle. Fifteen years of high-level tennis had rendered my left arm into an inanimate limb whose sole job in life was to toss a fuzzy yellow ball a meter above my head. Bench pressing with free weights was a perilous exercise, both for my spotter's feet and whomever else dared work out to my immediate left. Using a barbell wasn't of much assistance; my left arm, pushing as if its life depended on it, hardly budged the weight while my right arm mocked it from above the thirty-degree angle created by my chest and the bar. Actually, if the plates had not been secured to the bar, they would've slipped off and drawn unwanted attention from the coeds to my frailness. Lucky for me, in both cases, Just Like Staples was forced to step in to provide a handicap for my handicapped appendage and drag me to the basketball courts where my somewhat reliable jump shot became errant mortar shells in search of a backboard. A few months later, my Mr. Olympia dreams ended, thanks to a pseudo-eating disorder that made me resemble a Brazilian runway model and then derailed into a nasty bout with tonsillitis and feverish nightmares of blowing up like Violet in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, my left arm is again haunting me. I've recently started rock climbing and my problem has come to the fore, only now it's exacerbated by the fifteen extra kilos I have to lug around as part of that bitch of a process known as aging. Any move that requires me to exert pressure on my left arm ends in calamity—I fall off the rock, I cut up my fingers, I get mocked by my instructor, I grow frustrated and take out my rage on a bottle of white wine. However, I vow to continue and suffer through the pain and embarrassment of not being able to hold my own weight in this world. Even though, the more I think about it, the clearer it seems that rocks (or turning my body into a rock) are my kryptonite.

2009 Ktima Tselepos Marmarias Chardonnay (Greece) - Tight aroma with hints of guava plus peaches and cream. Not quite full and a tad short and flabby for my taste. Pears and baked apples on the palate. 86/100.

2009 Ktima Argyros Assyrtiko (Santorini, Greece) - Green apples, citrus, honey and flowers on the nose. Long, fresh and crisp with great acidity. Green apples up front, some hints of honey and minerals, and a thirst-quenching citrus finish. 90/100.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Timber, I Say

I adore satire. And sardonicism. And pitch-dark humor. The bleaker the joke, the louder the cackle. Maybe not that weak one ricocheting against your throat's walls and trickling out of your unimpressed mouth, but definitely the diabolical version inside my own disturbed head. People warned me not to get too excited about the Limassol Wine Festival—now in its fiftieth year of existence—and assured me it wasn't worth the visit from Nicosia. I ignored them, knowing all too well that my penchant for sarcasm would pave the way and hopefully produce a post microscopically quark-like reminiscent of the late David Foster Wallace's masterpiece, Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise, on his misadventures aboard a Celebrity Cruises Inc., ship. Obviously, with tasting notes instead of short stories for footnotes.

After a forty-minute drive south with The Wife, Ph.D., My Zolpidem Supplier and Cousin #4 as my mockery-control valves, we arrived at the festival's gates. By the ticket counter, street vendors, mostly Asian immigrants, sold colorful comedic balloons, cheap Chinese trinkets for children, flowers for the romantic couples, and fake designer purses for the stingy posers amongst us. A gigantic fluorescent sign hung from the main archway into the park and blinked in segments, momentarily reconstituting itself into an outdated kitschy logo of sorts (purple grapes, green leaves, pink, white and blue lettering) for the festival. This did not bode well for the event but, unlike The Wife, Ph.D., I have learned not to judge a bottle by its label so I paid the 10 entry fee (included one free bottle of entry-level wine) and treaded in with an open mind.

Four large elevated decks, two on each side and each one sponsored by one of the four wine conglomerates (Sodap, ETKO, KEO and LOEL), served as base for the promotion of their respective wines. These were impressive productions, chock-full of photographs of bottles, vineyards and wineries as backdrops to long bar areas where a handful of employees served customers tastings of their simpler, more affordable selections. Other than the faux oak barrel wine dispenser used by Sodap, these pavilions were rather classy and did a fine job representing the "corporate" side of The Rock's wine industry. Also nearby, several booths handed out brochures on The Rock's wine regions and useful maps of the different wine routes available to wine aficionados. Unfortunately, right in the middle, behind a bizarrely-lit spouting fountain, stood the eight-meter statue. A mustachioed man decked in a vraka (black baggy pants that would make MC Hammer salivate and break out in dance), a white ruffled chemise, dark combat boots and a burgundy vest, like a determined fencer or conquistador upon the discovery of land, one arm pointing towards the sea with a ceramic wine carafe in hand, the other behind him, a bunch of red grapes hanging from its fingertips. At its foot, a grammatically-skewed message to the revelers, "Drink wine for better life," and dozens of tourists smiling and posing for their flashes. "Back to square one," I thought while looking up into the as-humid-as-a-hamam night and scratching my head trying to decipher the statue's aesthetic value. I am certain, though, the figurine has been around since the beginning of time, and on its days off from scaring tourist children at the festival probably poorly decorates a random hotel lobby or traditional tavern.

We each bought an inscribed tumbler (2.50) for the free tastings and went off in search of quality. Besides the four bigs, we came across smaller booths for Erimoudes, Agia Mavri, Linos and Fikardos wineries. Business card in hand, I introduced myself to Mr. Theodoros Fikardos, owner and winemaker of the latter, a Pafos-based operation renowned for favoring experimentation and releasing at least a dozen different wines ranging from dry to fit for a honey bee. After dropping a few names to make myself appear more important than in reality, I grilled him for ten minutes on his wines and invited myself over to his winery for a tour following completion of the 2011 harvest. Generally, most of my questions veer towards Maratheftiko, the difficult to grow yet versatile and most interesting red indigenous grape of Cyprus. Mr. Fikardos definitely "believes in Maratheftiko" despite having to deal with its problematic growth; some years, he said, Cypriot wineries have nearly 250 tons of the grape to work with whereas during others that figure is cut in half. Not that he needs those extra grapes given his love for playing the mad oenologist, coming up with distinct blends and making wines from grapes that other winemakers would deem unsuited for The Rock's terroir. For instance, he likes to "experiment with little-known indigenous varieties like Spourtiko," sometimes producing between four-to-five thousand bottles for people to taste and provide him with comments. According to Mr. Fikardos, only through experimentation can one "see what works in Cyprus" and learn. When pressed to list the wines he's proudest of, his two rosés—Iocasti (dry) and Valentina (medium)—were at the forefront, both too longtime favorites of his diverse clientele. I still remember thoroughly enjoying a bottle of Iocasti with Asian food and The Wife, Ph.D., on one of our battery-recharging retreats to Aphrodite Hills Resort. At the end of the day, Mr. Fikardos told me, he "works for his clients and not himself." 

As the number of tourists piled up next to the counter, I shook his hand goodbye, still feeling the remnants of the five wines I tasted tingling inside my mouth. In retrospect, stepping aside was the wisest decision; sweat trickled down my face and spine and The Wife, Ph.D.'s felt obliged to repeatedly pat me dry with a bundle of rough toilet paper and lavender-scented baby-butt wipes. Worst of all, in a misguided effort to refresh myself, I tried jumping into the small grape-stomping vat set up for the children's amusement but several mothers eyed me suspiciously. I just shrugged and then skipped back down the stairs. Damn beard.

This being Cyprus, tons of food stands busied the festival's gardens. Medium-sized box trailers had been retooled à la MacGyver (or A-Team if you're even older) into grills that spun kilos of lamb and pork over burning coal. Handwritten signs, many of them with embarrassing spelling mistakes, announced the sale of salted herrings and roast chicken. Twine sacks loaded with all kinds of nuts and dried fruit were scooped up into bags and served as snacks, while local sweets, too gooey and luscious in my opinion to match most wines, had people frantically looking for water. Loud machines whirled colorful clouds of sugary threads and pots with bubbling oil fried golf-sized balls of dough that were then sent for another swim in honey. The Wife, Ph.D., overtly sensitive to ovine meat, sniffed out a shack that sold resi, a wheat and lamb pilaf previously unknown to me and of much popularity at communal village weddings. If I hadn't made reservations for sushi at Roku, I would have probably tried it and washed it down with the 2010 Sodap Kamanterena Lefkada Rosé I bought at the Sodap pavilion since it's an awarded vintage that I have been hard-pressed to find in the capital.

An hour later, we left the grounds, lugging several bottles of cheap Xynisteri, our pimp festival-themed glasses, stacks of informational wine brochures and our dignity intact. I admit the festival needs work. The logos are old fashioned and somewhat tacky. The best boutique wineries (Zambartas, Vlassides et al) were not present. A copy editor has to be hired for the sake of consistency and the "goodest" usage of the English language. An air-conditioned bubble must be erected over the municipal park to avoid salty secretions and unwanted bodily odors from interfering with one's olfactory sense when properly tasting wine. There's plenty of room for another wooden vat in which women in skimpy farm-girl outfits representing different Cypriot wine villages wrestle for their town's honor (Koilani vs. Omodos!) over a bed of de-stemmed Mavro grapes while bored men place their bets either in cash or in-kind (piglets, bags of field cucumbers, trays of homemade pastichio, their mother-in-law, etc.) In all seriousness, however, the festival was quite entertaining. Being among people—mainly tourists—of so many different nationalities, talking to winemakers in a festive environment, and casually drinking wine without thinking about tannins, alcohol levels, acidity or aroma provided us with a much-needed change of pace from our daily lives in Nicosia. One thing's for sure: I will be back next year, loaded with business cards, an empty stomach, a jovial disposition and a powerful chainsaw to bring down MC Mustachio. Don't want him spooking my kids in the future. Timber, I say.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rock @ DWWA 2011

No, silly, this has nothing to do with Dwayne Johnson returning to Wrestlemania.

Back in May, I made brief mention of the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards and Cyprus' performance as listed on Decanter's website. As promised on that post, a few weeks back I picked up a copy of the October 2011 issue in which the judges offer detailed commentary on Cyprus and the southeast Mediterranean region. As another quick hitter, here's what Decanter (pp. 302-305) thought of The Rock's entries:
  • Overall, a "strangely disappointing" showing by Cypriot wines, except for the 2007 Sodap Saint Barnabas Commandaria, a "pure Xynisteri-based" dessert wine that received the Regional Trophy for Sweet Fortified Wines Under £10.
  • The judges suggest to "seek out [Cyprus'] rich but dry roses...from the current vintage," which "brim...with fruit [and] pair with the local food and climate perfectly."
  • Unfortunately this time around, Maratheftiko did not perform as well as expected with "the samples sent in...not showing the lovely, gentle, fine-grained and sustained blue-fruit style...they can have."
Decanter's tasting notes for the Regional Trophy and Silver Medal winners:

2007 Sodap Saint Barnabas Commandaria - Sleek and elegant with an aromatic profile of barley sugar, caramel, Muscovado, toffee, spice and praline. Rich, sweet, smooth and long - remarkable value!

2008 Lefteris Mohianakis Anama - Savoury smoke and toffee aromas. Sweet jammy figs with hints of iodine and seaweed on the palate. Great acidity on the finish.

2010 Sodap Kamanterena Dry Rose (Lefkada) - Vibrant bramble fruits with soft raspberry aromas. Herbal notes of thyme and fresh oregano. Pleasant acidity and lengthy finish.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wines Without Stories #1

Yes, I sometimes get haircuts and use gel but...
2010 Makkas Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Guava, mint and red apples with some musk on the nose. Melon and white flowers to the palate. Could use livelier acidity. 83/100.

2009 Makkas White (Chardonnay/Xynisteri) (Cyprus) - A touch of lemon on what is a tight nose. Grapefruit, peach and sea salt with good length. Superior to the Xynisteri above, which has only a bit of Chardonnay. 86/100.

2009 Makkas Maratheftiko (Cyprus) - Pinot-like in color. Red berries, pepper and chocolate on the nose with a noticeable spike in the alcohol. Bitter tannins, red fruit and a green pepper finish. 84/100.

2006 Erimoudes Constantino Cabernet Sauvignon (Cyprus) - Red berries, licorice, saw dust and vanilla in the background. To the mouth, red fruit, dark cherries and chocolate with a bitter finish. Smooth and short, good tannic structure. 88/100.

I will never shave my trademark.
2008 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko (Santorini, Greece) - Bouquet dominated by green apples, pears and white flowers. Nutty, honeycomb, minerality and citrus on the mouth. Great acidity. 88/100.

2009 Gentilini Robola (Kephalonia, Greece) - Interesting aroma of bay leaf and peaches. Tangy taste, citrus with an interesting savory component on the mid-palate. Long grapefruit finish. 87/100.

2010 Domaine Vlassides Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Nose of citrus, green apples, pineapple, kiwi, mint and melon. Great wine with flavors of peach, white flowers, citrus, apples and rosemary. 89/100.

2010 Kyperounda Petrites Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Peaches, grass, green apples, white flowers and some oak on the bouquet. Honey, some saltiness on the palate, but rather empty in the middle and end. Better in the past. 85/100.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Off The Rock: Yarra Valley

From Party Pooper to Yarra de Puta...

Despite having tied the knot more than thirty years ago, my parents' marriage is a rather young one. After subtracting sleep and his weekly business trips from the equation, Mr. Flog estimates he has actually spent a total of four or five years with Mrs. Broken Record. If he had had a regular office job that required no travel, he assures us the marriage would have rushed down the gutter faster than confetti in a monsoon. My father proudly attributes his relationship's success to his frequent absences. What's also assured given the matrimony's youth is a vivacious back-and-forth banter, which admittedly sometimes skids across what would be considered a liberal outtake on marital life to land as confidently as a clumsy trapeze artist on the safety net of the dysfunctional. As my little brother likes to regurgitate every time the now eight of us meet: "If the outside world actually heard us, it'd think we're crazy." This makes for fascinating holidays and provides the family's cultural anthropologist with the unique opportunity to study lunacy at its infancy.

Once I managed to detach my parents from their Australian-Ecuadorian grandson, I suggested a day trip to the Yarra Valley, only an hour or so east of Melbourne and home to several excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers. The fine chap at King & Godfree, who I had engaged on the virtues of Tasmanian reds, also suggested a good itinerary for a short tour of the valley, chock-full of art perusal (Tarrawarra Estate and the Tarrawarra Museum of Art), wine tasting (Oakridge Winery) and fancy lunching (Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander). We loaded our rented (atrocious) pastel green Mitsubishi Lancer and sped eastbound on the Maroondah Highway towards Healesville, the Yarra Valley's capital of sorts.

My Stairway to Heaven, Oakridge Winery
For the first forty minutes, the drive was not what one would expect of wine country. All we saw were housing developments, strip malls, warehouses, department stores and gas stations. Suburban America at its worst. Only once did I catch a glimpse of a brown panel signalling left for a winery, a road that led into a residential neighborhood safely guarded by traffic lights. However, after a short uphill and downhill turn, the concrete disappeared to be replaced by tracts of rolling green pastures and the trunks of bare grapevines lined up and extending beyond our eyesight. The gloomy scenery was evocative of several regiments marching towards battle under a winter drizzle. A few minutes later, we reached the Yarra Glen-Healesville Y and turned right towards Oakridge Winery, first stop in our magical winery tour.

2010 Oakridge Chard
Oakridge's grounds are stunning. Hills covered in grapevines run throughout, while monumental trees and a small lake interrupt the beautiful monotony of the place. The winery is equipped with a large tasting room and restaurant that overlooks their plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon. I sampled six wines and was amazed at the presence of earth and minerals in all of them, maybe a clear reflection of their respect for terroir. My one caveat was that the servings were tiny—hardly a sip considering The Wife, Ph.D., stubbornly wanted to taste from my own glass—so it was challenging to judge each wine. I must say, though, that I loved the 2010 Oakridge Chardonnay and brought back a bottle for a special occasion involving me, myself and not Irene.

Applejack Vineyard Pinot
We then drove up to Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps for lunch at their highly recommended bistro. Unfortunately, that fickle saboteur known as inclement weather knocked down an old tree onto the power lines and ruined our carefully laid-out plans. No lights, no cooked foods. When Mrs. Broken Record, cradling a French baguette in her arms, asked whether she could at least buy some regional cheese, the woman behind the counter informed her she had strict orders to dispose of it all. Here's hoping a few kangaroos out in the fields got treated to lukewarm gourmet dairy. In any case, I tasted a few wines and this time The Wife, Ph.D., asked for her own glass. It's surprising how past noon, she metamorphoses into a drinkaholic.

Tarrawarra Museum
Given the mishap in Healesville, we headed to Tarrawarra Estate for the artsy-fartsy cultural component of the tour and a well-deserved (replacement) lunch, highlighted by my vegetarian eggplant in chickpea batter with cardamom honey, quinoa and cauliflower salad, and almond skordalia. However, the museum alone is worth a visit. Here we enjoyed Sandra Levesson's Paintings of Poise and Passion, abstract color-packed canvasses that jump out at you and flow like ocean waves, and James Morrison's The Great Tasmanian Wars, fifty-five panels depicting, in my opinion, a surreal and exotic meeting between man and nature.

Of course, all of this brought us to back to the banter. My father—I don't know if it's a sign of aging or a symptom of repeated cabin depressurization syndrome (yes, I made that up) caught from all his takeoffs and landings—is partially deaf in one ear. Compounded to this, prior to our Australian vacation, my mother suffered from an unidentified ear infection that had reduced hearing in one ear by a little more than seventy-five percent. Given such elevated level of auditory impairment, messages during our  journey were often misconstrued. At some point over lunch, my guess is my hungover father refused to have a glass of wine or my health-obsessed mother enjoy the pleasures of fried food, one called the other a "party pooper." Obviously, the injured party heard differently and fumed. It's still a mystery to both The Wife, Ph.D., and me how the exchange went from "party pooper" to "cara de puta." You heard right—bitch-face.

And then, in the Zen-like moment of the trip, Mr. Flog, who employs an outdated version of English (with a healthy tinge of Hispanic heat) that includes "shucks" and "golly" as favorite idioms, lectured us on finance, relationships and health. Concerning my mother's constant threat to leave him, he said: "Before we were married, I could run away with all of my money. After we got married, I could still run away but empty-handed. Soon enough, however, I won't even be able to run." God knows what will happen once Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record hit the dreaded "Seven Year Itch" come 2023. One thing's for sure: I will be running as far away as possible.

0==(yarRA vaLLeY)

2006 Oakridge Shiraz - Dark fruit, leather, brown sugar and cinnamon, black pepper on the nose. Sour cherries on the finish. Tons of finesse in this well-made cool-climate Shiraz. 89/100.

2009 Tarrawarra Estate J-Block Shiraz - Dark forest fruits, black pepper, dark chocolate on the finish. Not impressed. Had it with my vegetarian dish at Tarrawarra Estate. 85/100.

2009 Mule Shiraz Gateway Vineyard - Very spicy, plummy, some coffee on this wine by Innocent Bystander. Not as refined as the Oakridge. 88/100.

2010 Innocent Bystander Cordon Cut Viognier - Peach, quince, banana, dried apricots and white chocolate on the nose. Full bodied, luscious, too heavy and syrupy for my taste. Shared one night with The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier upon returning to The Rock. 86/100.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flowers! Flores! Fleurieu Peninsula!

Let me tell you a story about my mother, Mrs. Broken Record, and flowers. As a toddler, she split her time between Quito, perched nearly three thousand meters above sea level in a narrow valley surrounded by active volcanoes, and Manta, a lazy coastal city known for supplying the world with tuna fish and Panama hats. Back then, every so often, my grandfather commandeered a rickety Jeep through the potholed country roads and, family in tow, zigzagged his way up into the paramo's nippy heavens or headfirst towards the Pacific Ocean's savory humidity. Poor infrastructure made the drive brutally long and potty breaks, specially for the children, were of utmost importance. My mother, already exhibiting signs of her now magnified intolerance of filth and foul smells, refused to go to the bathroom wherever her father or older siblings mandated, be it on a patch of dried grass, against a mossy rock or behind a tree. The girl would only pee on color-laden flowers. So when nature called for Mrs. Broken Record, the family was put on high alert. The Jeep would stop and they'd jump out to comb the land for signs of polychromatic plant life. I am not sure what this says about my mother but, given her penchant for cleanliness, fragrance and luxury, it's not entirely surprising.

Flower #1
So on her birthday, celebrated in Melbourne, we took her to St. Jude's Cellars in Fitzroy where this blog honored her by ordering a couple wines from Southern Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. Mrs. Broken Record, whose relationship to wine is as close as my own affair with sobriety, dismissed the two with a slight upturn of her chin followed by a healthy sip of her White Rabbit Dark Ale.

2009 Tapanappa Pinot Noir, Foggy Hill Vineyard, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - Raspberries, strawberries, top soil, coffee and parsley on the nose. Red fruit dominates on the palate. Light and well balanced but ultimately not very complex. 87/100.

Flower #2
2009 Salomon Estate Syrah Viognier, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - Aromas of dark fruit (blackberries, blueberries and dark cherries) with hints of caramel, white pepper, licorice and violets. Very lively. Wine has a delicious factor, supple and jammy with great length. 89/100.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oh You (Tasmanian) Devil!

Who steals a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir from a hotel room? Take an iPad or a MacBook Air or a Cannon digital SLR or diamond bracelets or an elegant pair of Jimmy Choo's. Hell, if your bed feels empty on weekends and you come across the room of a kinky duo on their honeymoon, snatch their dildo, feathered handcuffs and candy g-strings. You know, really make it worth the risk of possibly getting caught red-handed rummaging through your guests' closet and luggage like a desperate raccoon scavenging through a garbage dump being engorged by flames. The bottle wasn't worth more than €25 so, unless you need a healthy serving of alcohol while on duty or breed Pinot-guzzling Tasmanian devils in your backyard, you were better off leaving with The Wife, Ph.D.'s woven grey Uggs and my parents' cherished organic muesli. Next time, though, at least have the courtesy of properly vacuuming the suite.

And I was so ecstatic walking back from East Brunswick to Fitzroy lugging the bottles of 2010 Sharmans Riesling and 2009 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir recommended to me by the fine chaps at Blackhearts & Sparrows on Lygon Street. One night, I hoped to show my parents, Mrs. Broken Record and Mr. Flog, how my career has unraveled and become a mockery of proper wine journalism. Share a glass or two with my brother, a role model of sorts, and his family. Slobber all over The Wife, Ph.D., as I recite my tasting notes for the last bottle of the night and mistakenly sense a hint of lentil puree, leek-infused olive oil and lip-numbing chorizo in a dessert wine. Wake up the next morning after a difficult night at work with a headache the size of Kim Kardashian's bikini bottom. Alas, I had to make up for the stolen bottle by visiting more wine shops and digging abysmally deep into our savings account just to bankroll this devil of a post.

First stop, King & Godfree on Lygon Street where I asked another fine chap about Tasmanian Pinots. "To be honest with you," he said, "I am not all that impressed by Tasmanian Pinot Noirs. They still have a lot of work to do. If you want a Tasmanian wine, I personally prefer their Rieslings, Pinot Gris and sparkling wines." Given his reticence, I purchased a lauded bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon, which, granted, is irrelevant to Tasmania but who's keeping score, right?

You see the resemblance, don't you?
Next stop, Sydney. What a beautiful city, specially as seen from the roof of the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks. Pictures don't do it justice. The wondrous beast that is Harbour Bridge, a ridged metallic star rising from the bay on one side, and the Sydney Opera House with its asymmetrical roof like a regal albino iguana's scales before you. After the infinity of bays you stumble upon in Rio de Janeiro, Port Jackson is probably the most magnificent one I have ever laid my eyes on. So with Whine On The Rocks at The Rocks and both The Wife, Ph.D., and yours truly in high spirits, we set off on our mission to end our Tasmanian nightmare. First evening, one of the best pork chops I've ever tasted (Esk River pork cutlet, toulouse sausage, pencil leeks, kipfler potato, tapenade) and a glass of a Tasmanian Botrytis Riesling for dessert at Pony Lounge and Dining. Second evening, 300 grams of the Slow Roast Sher F1 Wagyu Standing Rib at The Cut Bar & Grill with a side of onion rings and brussel sprouts tossed with pancetta and roasted hazelnuts, which that night in bed felt like a Sumo wrestler doing the cannonball off a trampoline straight into my stomach. We poorly matched our meal with the (finally!) Tasmanian Pinot Noir I was encouraged forced to order for the sake of my readership. Yep, guys, feel free to twist my arm but don't you dare steal my vino.


2010 Sharmans Riesling, Glenbothy Vineyard, Relbia, Tasmania, Australia - On the nose, pineapple, peach and citrus with a hint of honey and warm bread. Starts off rather empty but ends with sweet, fruity flavors. Off-dry and could have benefited from greater acidity. 87/100.

2005 Tyrrell's Wines Semillon, Single Vineyard HVD, Hunter Valley, Australia - Wonderful bouquet of honey, cantaloupe, citrus and white flowers. Pears, banana on the mid-palate and an enticing nutty finish. Easily, the best wine of the trip. 90/100.

2010 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir, Tamar Valley, Tasmania, Australia - Dark berries, mulch, coffee and an intriguing spicy beef on the bouquet. Red fruit and a meaty characteristic through the mid-palate with some hints of dark chocolate and mocha. Dies down towards the end. 88/100.

2009 Josef Chromy Botrytis Riesling, Relbia, Tasmania, Australia - Rubber, mango, pears and dried dates with a touch of brown spice. On the mouth, tropical fruits and a wonderful bitter orange finish. Medium body, good acidity, delicious. I could have consumed a bottle alone. 89/100.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lovely Tonia Buxton On The Rock's Wines

Finally, a year and a few months into this project, I meet my first celebrity. In early August, before darting off to Australia and surviving an aeronautical bomb scare, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonia Buxton, star of Discovery Travel & Living's My Greek and Cypriot Kitchen, at Archontiko Papadopoulou, a beautiful cultural center in Kornos (just twenty-five minutes outside of Nicosia) focused on the preservation of Cypriot cuisine, wine and pottery. Even though I attended the event under the auspices of Cyprus Gourmet and The Financial Mirror, I managed to squeak in a very general wine-related question for the benefit of the blog.

What do you think about Cypriot wine? Any favorites?

(Paraphrased response since I am technologically inept and have not yet figured out how to use a digital recorder for my interviews. Yes, you can refer to me as obese obsolete.)

Tonia is quite proud of "how far Cypriot wines have come along." Despite not being very well-versed in the art of wine, she believes "they have definitely turned a corner." Lessons have been learned as local oenologists are now studying more, pushing their products onto the market and developing greater appreciation for indigenous varietals such as Xynisteri and Maratheftiko. Tonia does however criticize many locals for preferring French, Spanish or Italian wines; according to her, the national wine industry "cannot go forward unless Cypriots buy their own wines."

Currently, Tonia is obsessed with the 2010 Aes Ambelis and Zambartas Roses. She also enjoys a chilled glass of Vassilikon's Agios Onoufrios red blend and was recently surprised to learn about Lambouri Winery's Ya'in Kafrisin kosher red wine, which makes an appearance in the Torah.

For much more on Tonia, check out my full article in the The Financial Mirror, August 10 - 23, 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011


This post has nothing to do with wine. It's all about the day I stopped trusting young Cypriot men returning from their summer holidays in Phuket sporting ridiculously-looking conical straw hats, balmy eyes and tattoos of reggae legends smoking doobies the size of Pafos bananas on their shaved calves. Please keep in mind that this is a fictionalized (but only very slightly) version of the events.

I've had some bad flights in my life but few were worse than Etihad's ETD093 from Abu Dhabi to Larnaca on Friday, August 26th. Last time I felt this queasy on a plane was back in 1998: I still owned a portable CD player, rarely needed a shave and hadn't yet discovered Pinot Noir. I was en route to Quito from Miami on an American Airlines flight that had to twice maneuver its way back to the airport through one of those budding Floridian thunderstorms thanks to a flaps malfunction. Suddenly a four-hour flight became a twenty-four hour nightmare and a vow on my part to never again fly on AA. Honestly, I'd rather attend AA meetings and shut down this blog than set foot on another one of their planes.

I've always been apprehensive about flying, maybe because I associate it to certain traumatic events of my childhood. I was eleven years old living through Colombia's darkest years when Pablo Escobar blew up Avianca flight 203 hoping he'd take out promising presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria. He was not on board but one hundred and seven people perished on that flight including the parents of a boy who attended my school. I remember that day just like I remember all of the previous years. The guerrillas seizing the Ministry of Justice and battling it out with the military—you still see bullet holes in the surrounding buildings' facades and on a gloomy day the main square feels haunted by the ghosts of the fallen. The assassination of the prominent Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla at the mercy of the trigger-happy fingers of handsomely-paid sicarios. The random bombs detonating in malls and out on the streets. Pick up a copy of Juan Gabriel Vasquez's stunning new novel, El ruido de las cosas al caer, and you might then begin to comprehend what this all means to me.

In any case, The Wife, Ph.D., and I boarded ETD093 in Abu Dhabi at around 9:25 a.m. after a thirteen-hour flight from Melbourne. For a change, I was looking forward to our return to The Rock because I desperately wanted to whet my lips with the bottles of 2010 Oakridge Chardonnay, 2010 Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2010 Innocent Bystander Cordon Cut Viognier stuffed in my suitcase. But twenty minutes into the flight—I had just decided on the chicken tandoori for lunch—the captain announced that, "due to technical issues and for the safety of the passengers," the flight would have to land in Doha, Qatar. My palms got sweaty. From across the aisle, The Wife, Ph.D., looked pale. Behind me, a woman, just a few seconds of turbulence removed from an out-and-out panic attack, wheezed. Even the flight attendants, who are trained to be bastions of confidence and calm in moments such as these, seemed on the verge of tears. For a few minutes, I resigned myself to death. But I remembered that if I had survived AA's incompetence thirteen years ago, then I'd be fine on what is considered to be one of the world's best airlines. The Wife, Ph.D., who had been paying attention to the commotion around us, briefly came to life and told me that she had overheard some Cypriot guys in the back talking about bombs and how it was all a ha-ha joke. One of the guys said that if this was a Cypriot airline with Cypriot crew members, the man-in-charge would have laughed it off and offered him a beer and a blanket. Another one mockingly practiced his statement for the Qatari authorities: "My friend, I am Cypriot, land of Aphrodite, tasty grilled ambelopoulia (blackcaps) and Trikkis Palace, I go to Thailand for holiday and slowly slowly I go back to Limassol." I just shook my head in disgust at the youth's arrogance and misguided sense of invincibility. Some seedy girl on our aisle, though, was convinced the turbines had gone kaput and that we were somehow gliding to safety like dry foliage in November or plunging straight into the Persian Gulf, an errant Scud missile of sorts. The Wife, Ph.D., went from pale to an unflattering shade of green.

As soon as we landed—in an isolated runway, acres of desert between us and the main terminal, several fire trucks on standby—the captain informed us about the bomb threat. The doors opened and a Qatari police officer, his hands waving frantically and sweat dousing his face, barked at us to quickly disembark without our personal belongings. We ran into a wall of heat and onto a large patch of sand and as far away as possible from the aircraft. If it exploded, I guess, the authorities wanted to prevent any loose wreckage from flapping us on the side of the head and decapitating knocking us unconscious. Rumor has it that one passenger, having little time to slip on his footwear, braved the mid-forties degree heat barefoot. Imagine, burn blisters and war stories as souvenirs. Marvelous. At the foot of the mobile escalator, a young Cypriot, who I had earlier spotted wearing a traditional conical Asian hat, was being handcuffed and tossed in the trunk of a white jeep, probably bound for a lengthy stint in a ruthless Middle Eastern prison and/or a hefty fine for disrupting our travel plans. A little bit later, the same police officers, now furious and beyond strict, escorted the main culprit's friends to whichever dingy interrogation room was going to be used to break them down.

The Qatari police and airport authorities must have mobilized at least one hundred people to deal with the perpetrators, crew members and passengers. Given the sense of urgency and unpredictable nature of a bomb threat, I was truly impressed by Qatari officials' efficient, responsible and respectful handling of the situation. They loaded us onto three buses and took us to a satellite terminal in the middle of nowhere where we were handed bottles of water and I was allowed to use a bathroom where I discretely wiped clean my slightly soiled underwear. The Wife, Ph.D., and I were lucky enough to receive a boxed lunch and, once the airplane was deemed safe, we were carted off to identify our luggage, pick up our carry-on bags and board the plane back to Abu Dhabi, where we would change air-crafts and relieve the nervous crew of their duties. As I lodged our hand luggage in the overhead compartment, I heard a Cypriot girl, also on her way back from Bong-kok with some of her friends, screaming at one of the exhausted flight attendants for having left her Toblerone chocolate bars out in the heat. Of course, the chocolates became ganache and went to waste, but, as I told The Wife, Ph.D., within earshot of the girl's friends, that "should be the least of her fucking worries." She bitched and moaned and demanded a full refund from the airline for its negligent treatment of edible produce under subhuman temperatures. Out of nowhere, the flight attendant snapped and threatened to knock her off the flight if she didn't drop the attitude. That's that, I thought, until one of the girl's friends told her not to worry—he had traveler's insurance and they'd better right all wrongs. Stay classy, Cyprus.

For a less...uhm...bombastic tale of the flight, click here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Venice On The Rock

This article originally appeared in Cyprus Gourmet eNewsletter 50 and The Financial Mirror issue of  July 6 - 12, 2011.

A few years ago while on holidays in Italy, my wife suggested visiting Venice, a city which, to be honest, never appealed to me given the hype. Being a good husband, though, I caved and booked a pair of train tickets from Rome to Serenissima for a three-day sojourn on our way back to Cyprus. I must admit that love is a word I sparsely use. However, that is the first thing that crossed my mind as we walked down the stairs outside the Stazione di Santa Lucia and witnessed Venice’s waterways unfolding before us like long wrinkled bed sheets being hung out to dry. The ornate edifications, the snail-paced gondolas, the blue sky and its streaky clouds reflected on the shimmering water, tourists sitting on the sidewalks dangling their playful feet over the ripples, and a lingering breeze all awoke us to the city’s majesty after the long journey. We spent our time avoiding Piazza San Marco and the throngs and losing ourselves in Santa Croce, San Polo and Dorsoduro where rich foods, local wines and espressos in casual osterias recharged our batteries for our next labyrinthine wander of the city.

To our surprise, we recently came across a pleasant reminder of Venice in Nicosia. Inaugurated a few months ago, Il Bàcaro is a traditional Venetian eatery close to Avlaia on Prodromou Avenue. The restaurant is housed in a cozy corner shop with ample outdoor seating, a gorgeous wooden bar inside and an overall rustic, somewhat French Country sensibility. According to its owners, Zenios Tselepis and his Italian wife, Manuela Migotto, the main idea behind Il Bàcaro is to focus on a limited selection of small dishes and snacks (cicchetti) instead of full-course meals. Additionally, he mentioned during our brief chat, the restaurant strives to change its lunch and dinner menu on a daily basis, a practice which certainly adds a refreshing element of surprise to each visit.

On our night there, we sampled most of the dishes listed on the chalkboard behind the bar. The chicken liver pâté was deliciously creamy and matched perfectly with the sweetness of the raisins sprinkled on the plate. The cheese platter was stacked with wedges of Le Moulis, Asiago and Cumin Tomme, black olives, roasted almonds and red grapes. We had pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomato tramezzini (triangular sandwiches with the crust removed), an Italian sausage with a mild sweet flavor, and a well-executed melanzane alla Parmigianna. Personally, the highlight was the baccalà alla Vicentina (dried salted cod, Vicenza-style), slow-cooked in milk and quite delicate in flavor. I could’ve easily had a large bowl of the fish, mopped up its creamy, oily sauce with some fresh bread, and dropped my head on the wooden table for a long nap. Keep in mind that for those customers with larger appetites, two penne pastas—that night, one with pesto and another topped with zucchini and pancetta—are on offer. For dessert, we split a torta di pesche e amaretti, which we agreed was too doughy and could have benefited from more fresh peach slices.

Il Bàcaro also functions as a wine bar, providing its patrons with exclusive wines from the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions of northeastern Italy. Many customers have asked Zenios to expand the wine list to include other areas, but he is adamant in his desire to focus solely on the Venetian. Prosecco, Venice’s more affordable answer to France’s Champagne, stars alongside several reds and whites that are available either by the glass or the bottle. Prices are reasonable, ranging from €20 to €35 for a bottle or about €5 for a glass. That night, I drank a couple glasses of the 2009 Casa Geretto ‘Confidenza’ Refosco, a decent wine with notes of dark cherries that was unfortunately served too chilled for my taste. Regardless of this, I can picture the wife and me sitting on Il Bàcaro’s patio, sipping on a glass of Venetian bubbly, nibbling on the bite-sized portions and shutting our eyes with the dear hope that when they open again we find ourselves observing the city from a vaporetti chugging slowly along the Grand Canal. 

Il Bàcaro – Vini E Piattini, 131 D Prodromou Avenue, 2065 Nicosia. Tel: 22 676969 or 99 143980. Lunch Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 7 p.m. to about 1 a.m. €20 per person with a glass of wine.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas