Friday, January 28, 2011

Still Feeling Blue

Wine bars on The Rock are as common as surfable waves on its beaches. A few haphazard ripples will have most Cypriots complaining that the sea is too rough and that it is impossible for them to swim. And by swim, they generally mean getting their torsos wet and floating around for five minutes before making their way back to their sunbeds, iced coffees, magazines and newspapers, and loud beach-side bickering. The only stroke you might come across on a Cypriot beach is the heat stroke. I keep telling The Wife, Ph.D., though, that if The Rock was regularly rocked (no pun intended) by waves, she probably wouldn't see me on weekends; I would be somewhere, as playful and cheerful as a baby dolphin in the Pacific, getting pummeled with my body-board by the whitewash surf. But life is never perfect and so I am stuck with water that moves less than a stiff.

Last night, along with The Wife, Ph.D., My Life Coach, My Zolpidem Supplier and her cousin, I checked out the new-and-improved Blue Wine Bar & Lounge at the Classic Hotel in old Nicosia. In its previous incarnation, the joint was nice enough but lacked seating and lighting, and the back-end couches seemed to have been recycled from a gentleman's club. The new place is a long, bright and welcoming room with plenty of tables (both low and high), a few couches, a modern and well-stocked bar, and a pretty comprehensive menu including platters, salads, grilled meats and sandwiches. Also on offer was a 10 Euro antipasto buffet that included smoked salmon, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, grilled vegetables, and other finger foods. The wine list, though not mind-blowing, has a few good Old World and New World options for local oenophiles. The music, basically old school rock as part of their Thursday Forty-Plus Night, included classics by The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Phil Collins, 1980s U2, Pink Floyd and others, all thoroughly enjoyable yet played at a deafening volume for the kind of establishment. Overall, however, I was feeling it as a pleasant place to kickback and sip on some wine.

We ordered a bountiful cheese and charcuterie platter, which included four types of cheese, dried fruit, salami, prosciutto and roast beef, and a red berry coulis, and a well-made salad with fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and greens. To accompany it all, we received white sesame bread, served warm and drizzled with olive oil and poppy seeds, and an assortment of crackers that arrived only after My Zolpidem Supplier found the right words in Greek to voice to the bar's manager her desire for crunchy goodness. Assuming we would only consume one bottle of wine (it was a school night after all), I started us off with the 2003 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva, a short, round and smooth wine with hints of sour cherries, raspberries, vanilla and cinnamon. I found it a bit flat in the mid-palate and with bitter tannins but the ladies enjoyed it.

Surprisingly enough, the ladies wanted more, more and more. So for the sake of the blog, I went with the 2006 Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand), fully aware that it made no sense whatsoever to have it follow the Tuscan wine. But I really wanted the ladies to smell some earth, drop their noses to the ground and soak up some stink. Yes, it was earthy (mulch and hay) but well-complemented by red fruit, as well as some chocolate and coffee. Its alcohol spiked a bit too much towards the end, yet the ladies, except for My Zolpidem Supplier's cousin, preferred it to the Chianti Classico.

All in all, it was an excellent night in good company with plenty of juice. As we left the place, the manager, a very personable older man, jokingly asked me to call him for backup next time I was out with four pretty, successful and distinguished women. If only there were waves in Cyprus, I thought, he could entertain the ladies (albeit not The Wife, Ph.D., she be mine) while I surfed and no longer felt blue come summertime. But wine, rocks and words are what life have set on my plate so...chin-chin.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pour Some Cayena On Me

It is nearly impossible to come by good Latin American food on The Rock. Local Latinophiles craving some spice generally visit one of the many Mexican restaurants (actually more Tex-Mex than real Mex) that range from lousy (El Pueblo) to just okay (Los Bandidos in Agia Napa or Aztecas in Old Lefkosia), or one of the few Cuban bars that have recently sprung across the island. There used to be a Brazilian churrascaria in Pafos but it failed to even vaguely remind me of my childhood's Sunday lunches in Rio de Janeiro. So during one of my unfocused schizophrenic Saturday morning drives through Nicosia in search of novelty, I was shocked pleasantly surprised to come across Cayena, a Latin Fusion restaurant just a stone's throw away from the American Embassy.

Last Saturday, I dragged the Wife, Ph.D., and my ORC (Official Review Crew) -- Mike Demo and the Godmother -- to give it a go. As you enter, what first captures your attention is the restaurant's sleek, minimalist and chic design. Straight lines, fluorescent lights, windows for walls, and shades of gray and brown dominate. We sat in a booth-like table set in the middle of the room, which gave us a refreshing sense of privacy. The music consisted of down-tempo electronic, jazz and a wide array of Latin rhythms, and added plenty of warmth to the space.

The menu included the usual suspects (fajitas, chimichangas and steaks) and a few more innovative dishes (for Cypriot standards) such as moqueca, a seafood stewed in coconut milk, tomatoes and aceite de dende (palm oil), Argentine empanadas and fish cebiche. Many of the boldest items like mondongo (a tripe soup), bollos (a sort of stuffed corn cake) and matahambre (a stuffed rolled flank steak from Argentina) had been scratched out from the menu, probably a result of The Rock's rather conservative palate. The wine list was decent enough, and we settled for Gaia's 2009 Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini, a wonderful wine with citrus, floral, sea salt and honeysuckle notes, lively acidity and good length. Definitely the best vintage of Thalassitis I have ever tried in my short and rather uninspiring career as a wannabe wino.

We ordered nachos, stewed mushrooms and the empanadas as appetizers, the Wife, Ph.D. chose the seafood risotto as a main and I went with the moqueca. Mike Demo wanted the cebiche but I told him that my home-made version is pretty darn good (it's healthy to once in a while toot your own horn) and that I would be happy to make it for him. In all honesty, I adapted my recipe from Diane Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, my Holy (Cooking) Book along with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Claudia Roden's Arabesque: A taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon.

In any case, shortly thereafter the food landed on our table and we dug in. The empanada's filling was quite tasty--lean ground beef with sweet (raisins) and savory (olives) flavors--but the dough (thick and bread-y) was better suited for a Cypriot cheese pie. The chimichurri sauce, however, was runny and bland, nothing like the rich, oily and spicy marinade made in Argentina. I could have done without the mushrooms, which came submerged in what seemed to be a tomato and cream sauce with some crispy tortilla chips. The nachos consisted of Doritos topped with melted cheese, a cop-out if you ask me. According to the Wife, Ph.D., a nacho connoisseur par excellence, "memorable" nachos should be served with chilli, re-fried beans, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, melted cheese, and fresh salsa. The seafood risotto was properly cooked and creamy but meager when it came to actual chunks of fish, shrimp and other marine invertebrates. The moqueca, jam-packed white fish, fresh salmon (?!?) and shrimp, was overwhelmed by a tomato cream sauce not unlike that served with the mushroom starter. Besides the seafood, the key to a good moqueca (at least the Bahia one) is the coconut milk and palm oil, two ingredients that were hardly discernible in Cayena's version. The fried yucca (cassava) that accompanied the fish stew added some Latin flair to the dish, though I would have preferred if they had been a tad thinner and crispier.

Overall, the food, though not truly authentic (or "Fusion" for that matter) and most definitely adapted to better suit The Rock's culinary preferences, was solid enough to merit a repeat visit. Next time, however, I will go for that sexy chimichanga that spent most of its short existence ogling me from a nearby table and later that night haunted my sleep.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 3 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Standing Tall

Whenever I see my parents, Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record, I make sure to take with me a couple bottles of The Rock's and/or Greece's finest. Even though Mr. Flog has a soft spot for Argentine Malbec--my theory is that it reminds him of his youth in San Juan and all the beautiful ladies--he loves most wines and generally  appreciates whatever I pour for him. So on Christmas, to the chagrin of The Wife, Ph.D., a day we hardly celebrate, I decided to organize a proper wine tasting with the 2008 Zambartas Maratheftiko and 2007 Hatzidakis Barrel-Fermented Assyrtiko from Santorini I had lugged across the Atlantic. I also bought a bottle of New Zealand's 2007 Millsreef Reserve Malbec Merlot, just in case us alcoholics needed an additional fix post-tasting. My mother invited the Creamy Family (Pae Cream, Mae Cream, Filha Cream and Bibi) for leftovers, wine and the ridiculing of her oldest son. Cousin #3, a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, was also there, as well as my youngest brother, Shawarma Leg Lover, weapons upholstered, ready to mock whomever braved to stand tall before him.

And so I realized that no one in my family besides my father (and The Wife, Ph.D., so long as I don't lash out too much against her beloved island) takes this blog (and my wine tastings) half-seriously. Mrs. Broken Record does not drink wine; woman is hardcore and only consumes single malt whiskey with a Negra Modelo beer as a chaser. Cousin #3 seemed confused throughout the event, while my brother tried his darn hardest to embarrass me. The Creamy family, innocent bystanders to what Shawarma Leg Lover calls "our messed up family dynamics," just sat there and occasionally laughed, probably pretending to enjoy the process. Voila the results.

2007 Hatzidakis Barrel-Fermented Santorini Assyrtiko - Subtle yet fresh nose with floral and nutty notes, maybe a tad too much oak. Flavors mentioned included green apples, honey, quince, pineapple (this was my brother so please take it with a grain of salt), some herbs like rosemary, freshly baked bread and spices. Overall, a long-lasting, very dry, very round and mineral wine with excellent acidity. The Wife, Ph.D., and I gave it a 92/100, while Mr. Flog, obviously biased towards red wine, rated it an (unforgivable, in my opinion) 85/100.

2008 Zambartas Maratheftiko - Tight nose with hints of cherries, strawberries, licorice, roses and violets. A medium-bodied wine with a short finish. Slightly tannic yet with excellent flavor according to Pae Cream. Dark berries and plum on the front end and interesting spice (cloves, pepper) on the back end. 88+/100.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Off The Rock: Houston Puts The H In Whine

Day 1 - Christmas Eve

Jet-lagged and sporting a gelled coiffure and tucked-in button-front that only make an appearance on grandiose occasions, I stumbled into my parents' best friends' home in some Houston suburb called Jennifer or Emily or Ashley. On the kitchen counter, Brazilian salpicon, one-hundred Euros worth of Norwegian cod smuggled into the country by my wee brother, Shawarma Leg Lover, and probably the luscious-est chocolate mousse I have ever set my tongue on. Also, several bottles of mediocre Argentine Malbec (the 2009 Gascon Malbec was the better of the lot), some Portuguese vinho verde to accompany the cod, and a jug of 2010 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau that swirled down the kitchen sink faster than Speedy Gonzales on an HGH-infused re-fried bean diet. Mr. Flog made a fool of himself with his gimpy jig, lowering his right knee and pretending his fists were maracas, while The Wife, Ph.D., led the Brazilian crowd in a clumsy rendition of syrtaki, the dance immortalized in the 1964 film classic, Zorba The Greek. No wonder after eleven-plus bottles of wine and shots upon shots of cachaca and zivania.

Wine Highlight(s): 2007 Veramonte Primus (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, 8% Merlot and 7% Carmenere)

Day 2 - Among Celebrity Chefs in Nawlins

It's time to stop watching the Food Network; damn channel has been clouding my already limited culinary judgment. I never really trusted celebrity chefs until I started seeing them churn out wonders on television. So one night during our two-day visit to New Orleans I made the executive decision of visiting Emeril's after reading a positive review in the New York Times. Let's just say that there was nothing remarkable to the meal; I had a rib-eye steak with blue cheese and an arugula salad, something I could have easily replicated at a half of the cost on The Rock. My brother, though, guns a-blazin' as usual, called his quail crap. To my family, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. At least, I seek comfort in the fact that we weren't being served Rachel Ray's sketchy concoctions and that the Wife, Ph.D., enjoyed her shrimp dish.

Wine Highlight(s): 2007 Alexana Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Day 3 - Mano a Mano at a Mano Restaurant in NOLA

One of the best meals we've had in a long time accompanied by a complex Aglianico del Vulture that left in its trail a seductive caramel, butterscotch finish. My brother wasn't complaining after downing handmade Macherroni alla Chitarra with tomato-braised goat ragu and thyme, a seared duck breast with satsuma, saba and rosemary-pistachio gremolata, and the flour-less chocolate and walnut cake with "cooked wine" sauce. Happiest of times.

Wine Highlight(s): 2005 Elena Fucci Titolo Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy)

Day 4 - H-Town

This will be forever known as the night H-Town put the H in whine. All credit goes to my parents' friend, Dos Leches, a six-foot tall redhead Scot who suggested there was room for an H in this blog's title. Who knows why inspiration struck then and there for Dos Leches. Maybe it happened thanks to the three bottles of wine and five hundred ml of rockin' Texan vodka (Tito's Handmade Vodka) we consumed. Or she felt a spark as she harked back to her youth and friendship with creative pop geniuses Robert Smith and Nick Cave. Or perhaps it was Shawarma Leg Lover's girlfriend's made-for-American-Idol angelical soprano singing of old Mexican dirges. In any case, the new title works since fifty-seven-point-eight percent of what I write is awfully whiny.

Wine Highlight(s): 2008 Bethel Heights Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Eola Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon) and 2007 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California)

Day 5 - Wine on Sale!

I love supermarkets. So when I found out that Central Market was offering its customers a twenty-five percent discount for purchasing thirteen or more bottles of wine, I shrewdly convinced my parents that it would be wise for them to stock up for Two-Oh-Eleven. Of course, they gave me carte blanche to select most of them. Mr. Flog and his friends are obsessed with Malbec so he opted for two bottles of Argentina's sort-of-finest along with a bottle of the 2007 Veramonte Primus we had enjoyed earlier. Like a teenie bopper with too much Christmas money at Forever 21, I ended up cross-eyed trying to figure things out. Somehow, I managed to pick an Australian Shiraz, a California Petit Syrah, a Portuguese Douro, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Rioja Tempranillo, an Oregon Pinot Noir, a Rueda Verdejo, an Argentine Torrontes, a California Cabernet Sauvignon and a California Zinfandel. Goes without saying that the following night I cracked open two of the more promising bottles to share with friends and family.

Wine Highlight(s): 2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon) and 2004 Leeuwin Estate Siblings Shiraz (Margaret River, Australia)