Friday, April 29, 2011

Cuckoo For Cocoa...retsi

It's Thursday after Easter on The Rock and I wonder how many gluttons ended up horizontal in a nearby hospital after all that food. Google fails me and I cannot figure out how to type Greek characters on my wrecked laptop to run a search in Phileleftheros, Cyprus' largest newspaper. I call my Father-in-Law, who would definitely know this wretchedly entertaining statistic, but he does not answer the phone. I then try The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child; he asks around his office but no one knows or no one cares or no one seems to be able to focus thanks to the remnants of severe indigestion. In any case, probably dozens of people visited the hospital Sunday evening and early Monday morning to receive necessary attention for having swallowed one too many chunks of grilled lamb. In other countries, most holiday-related accidents (unfortunately) center around the heavy consumption of alcohol; on The Rock, however, these are dealt with stomach pumping sans the residual hangover and super-strong doses of Alka-Seltzer. Yes, the stats in Cyprus include a few cases of drunk driving and unchaperoned pyromania, but overeating definitely takes the, uhm, cake.

I think a part of the problem is that Cypriots tend to fast for Lent prior to stuffing their faces with meat and cheese. For us Catholics, such fasting means giving up something we enjoy, be it Neapolitan pizza, dark chocolate truffles, Kopi Luwak coffee, Trappiste beers, outdoor sex or voyeurism, or watching Seinfeld re-runs. For the Greek Orthodox, fasting is a bit more hardcore: they give up meat (fish, pork, lamb and beef), dairy products and, in some extreme cases, olive oil. So I can only imagine the massive shock experienced by one's system from indulging in grilled halloumi, wine-soaked pork cutlets and lamb chops after a forty-day-plus cleansing hiatus from these sorts of delicious foods.

And the feast on Easter Sunday certainly is delicious. It all starts at one a.m. after Jay Cee's resurrection. Fasting ends and the soup is served. In some homes, it's magiritsa, a hearty stew made of lamb offal (entrails and inner organs). At The Wife, Ph.D.'s, however, it's always avgolemono rice soup with chicken and lean lamb for the wussies and chunks of a boiled sheep's head (tongue, brain, eyeballs and all) for the brave. This year I bring along a bottle of the 2010 Domaine Vlassides White, a Gold Medal Winning Xynisteri at the 6th Annual Cyprus Wine Competition, to obfuscate the fact that I am sucking on ovine cheekbones.

Come noon, a solid mass of protein and carbohydrates already materializing in my stomach, we start off with what Cypriots like to (erroneously) refer to as niblets. There is nothing tinny about liver, pork and lamb kebab, wine-soaked and spice-laden sausages, sheftalia, halloumi and warm pittas as utensils. To subdue my homesickness, I prepare some provoleta (thick rounds of provolone cheese drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano) and throw them on the grill wrapped in aluminum foil. I think, "Too bad there are no Argentinians present to fervently debate the Cypriots on the merits of their respective cheeses." Then again, as The Wife, Ph.D., always points out to me, halloumi is not a cheese; it's better. Touche.

Then we are off to the very long table for the sit-down portion of our wondrous journey towards obesity. The sidekicks to the main event include large chunks of salty and succulent lamb, pork and chicken commonly known as souvla, bulgur wheat cooked with tomatoes, Greek salad, fried potatoes and more bread. This segues into the Michael Jordan, Diego Armando Maradona, Roger Federer, or nude Scarlet Johansson of the meal, the infamous kokoretsi, a long skewer of lamb sweetbreads and liver heavily marinated in salt, pepper and cumin seeds, wrapped in lamb tripe and intestines and slow-roasted to finger-fucking-licking perfection.  In our household, it's prepared twice a year—for Christmas and Easter—which means I only get one chance to bite into its savory crunch since we spend Jay Cee's birthday wherever on earth my parents decide to stage a drunken family reunion. It's surprising how much I desire kokoretsi given my enmity with all-things liver. However, I take a sip of the 2008 Kyperounda Shiraz brought to battle and pick the two largest morsels. I then bathe them in lemon juice and go to work like a beaver building a dam. By the end of the day, my belly grumbling and close to cracking, I contemplate aiming for the gurney next Easter and blogging from a hospital bed on the travails of an amateur overeater.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vaynerchuk And Volcanic Soils

Here's Gary (decked in preppy regalia) reviewing Assyrtiko wines by Gaia and Argyros. Good scores for good wines.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Juggling Act

Sometimes I fancy myself the bearded onion chopper or knife-sharpening tinker to Ecuadorian-American Iron Chef Jose Garces. On those days when my delusions of grandeur have hit I-deserve-a-James-Beard-Award levels, I come up with silly ideas such as plucking and disemboweling half-a-dozen quails or, in this case, hosting a multiple-course dinner for a select few of my fancy friends. The Wife, Ph.D., who's sucked in by my condition and embraces its symptoms out of solidarity, even baptized the dinner as Mateo's Mini Bar, a self-serving yet completely ludicrous reference to the acclaimed Jose Andres restaurant in Washington, DC. She then proceeded to pull out a notepad (she's a Virgo and making lists comes second to over-analysis in her long list of favorite pastimes), we designed a menu consisting of thirteen dishes and chose the three fortunate souls (My Zolpidem Supplier, The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child and Minnie Mouse) that would have to suffer through my alcohol-fueled, ingredient-juggling kitchen act.

It all went down a Saturday night. I spent too many hours in my Chef Guevara t-shirt and Las Catrinas apron chopping, slicing, dicing, peeling, blending, sauteing, boiling, stirring and washing. By the end of the night, the kitchen was a war zone. Pots, pans, spatulas, wooden spoons and measuring cups stacked up in the sink like rubble after a loud explosion. Oil, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and red wine splattered the gray tiles and white walls. Cook books (Diana Kennedy, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Williams-Sonoma, Green & Black's and Michelle O. Fried) and old issues of Bon Appetite and Gourmet magazines sat to a side like idle, tired tanks. Despite the exhaustion and ridiculous amounts of food (we never made it to the cheese platter and only island wine available that night), the four-hour meal was a success. Around one-thirty a.m., The Wife, Ph.D., fearing the worst, politely dismissed our guests after the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child nudged me into sharing a chilled bottle of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA for "digestive" purposes. As a good friend of mine says, "Mateo, you have the willpower of a slut."

Here's the menu:

Amuse Bouche (Date Wrapped in Bacon & Buffalo Mozzarella with Uvillas)

Endive, Tangerine, Goat Cheese & Slivered Almond Salad 
("Adapted" from Jose Andres' Jaleo in DC)

Gazpacho with Cucumber & Hearts of Palm Relish

Garbanzo Tabbouleh with Pitta Chips

Peruvian Prawn Causita

Mexican Perch Cebiche with Crispy Plantains

Crab-Cake with Tomato, Red Onion & Mango Salsa

Lemon Sorbet 
(Store-bought since I was too lazy to make a granita)

Prosciutto & Pear Salad with Fresh Mint & Sherry Vinaigrette

Portuguese Chicken Stew with Quinua Carrot Cakes

Slow-Roasted Pork Loin in Milk with Balsamic Sweet Potato Mash

Polenta Chocolate Cake

Cheese Platter with Vin Santo from Santorini

2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia (Epanomi, Greece) - This wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards. Pears, green apples, citrus, peaches and flowers on the nose. Balanced, very smooth and complete wine. 90/100.

2006 Muga Rioja Reserva (70% Tempranillo, 20% Granacha and 10% Graziano & Mazuelo) - Cherry, plums, raspberry, vanilla, smoke and pepper on the nose. Taste-wise, sour cherries predominate. Decent effort. 87/100.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Bogeyman?

A few weeks ago, My Zolpidem Supplier invited The Wife, Ph.D., My Life Coach and me over for a housewarming dinner. Throughout the night, the conversation was vibrant and intellectually stimulating yet excessively whiny as it often is when you round up four US-educated transplants to The Rock and massage their vocal chords with alcohol. Soon enough we began discussing child-rearing practices and how they vary from culture to culture. Someone mentioned that most countries have their own version of the bogeyman, that creepy figment of an exhausted adult's imagination that inhabits closets or crouches under beds waiting for an opportune chance to scare the living shit out of a naughty three-year old or drag him away to a distant land where candy tastes like boiled liver and iPods drop peas instead of pop. We laughed about the Baboulas and El Cuco and El Ogro and Luis Alberto Suarez, Ghana's new version of the bogeyman. Then, in a Zen-like moment, I deadpanned: "If our children misbehave, we will just tell them to pack their bags 'cus La Migra is en route to ship their unruly asses back to Quito."

2010 Aes Ambelis Rose (Maratheftiko & Lefkada) - Its seductive bouquet is dominated by candied cherries, strawberries, raspberries and a minty/herbal component. It has a nice attack of strawberry and pomegranate on the front end but shortly thereafter veers off and dies down. Very short wine that I believe would have benefited from added acidity. 85/100.

2007 Ktima Argyrides Maratheftiko - This wine won the Grand Gold Medal at the 4th Cyprus Wine Competition held in 2009. Dark fruit (blueberry, blackberry and plum) complemented by savory notes of olives and black pepper on the nose. Dark fruit, bubble gum (?!?) in the mid-palate, coffee, cinnamon and vanilla. Quite tannic and the alcohol spikes a bit. 87/100.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kir Royale With Cheese

I am not too fond of mixed drinks. Back in my teens and twenties, when I was naive and far from a purist, I didn't have a problem walking up to a bar and ordering a Mojito, Margarita, vanilla Stolichnaya and Coke, Cuba Libre or Tom Collins with a splash of Cointreau. Now, however, I cringe at the thought of alcohol sharing a tumbler with juice or soft drinks or other less palatable liqueurs. I actually find it insulting since alcohol--be it whiskey, rum, tequila or vodka--should be served neat or (worst-case scenario) on the rocks. Hence, I prefer to stick to beer and wine (and whiskey on ice at weddings since its powers gets me moonwalking, spinning, flailing my arms and grabbing my crotch on the dance floor in no time.)

So you can only imagine my dismay when several weeks ago I walked into Silver Star to find My Zolpidem Supplier and her cousin each merrily sipping on a Kir Royale, a champagne and creme de cassis concoction. It's a wine bar, for God's sake! I whined. Then I foolishly realized they were waiting for The Wife, Ph.D., and me to select a bottle considering my faux expertise, which at the end of the night proved to be just that: a fraud. But, in my defense, the establishment did not help my case as purported wine authority among my fancy friends.

Silver Star Wine Bar is owned by Cava Nostra and is located in downtown Nicosia right across the street from the wine retail shop. According to the Brother-in-Law, the bar is housed in a former watering hole for call girls, horny patrons and other seedy characters. The pleasant outside smoking area consists of a few old oak barrels set on their sides to serve as tables, some stools and heat lamps. The inside, however, seems to have only been cosmetically retouched and remains a melange of Asian-inspired, Art Deco, Southwestern (Cowboy) and minimalist styles. I surmise that little thought went into decorating (God forbid renovating) and transforming the space into a thematically-consistent one. One room has a tall long table with a few stools and three lower tables in the back corner where a bright-lit silver-ish star hangs on the wall. The other room is dominated by a bar with a blue backdrop and mirrors, some scattered plants and what I think is a traditional Japanese umbrella hanging from the ceiling. Worst of all, the floors of the place, old fashioned spotted tiles vaguely reminiscent of hospital floors, add to the helter skelter.

Now to the crux of the matter: the wine list. Very underwhelming for a bar that is owned by a wine shop located just a short hop, skip and jump away. One would think that with access to an entire cellar one would have a lot more than roughly 25 bottles to pick from. The wine shop was open when we visited Silver Star so maybe we could have stumbled in, chosen a bottle not listed in the bar's menu and uncorked it across the street without the usual price markup. If this is the case, then it should be advertised somewhere since such an option would be awfully attractive to a broad spectrum of wine lovers.

We started off with either the 2006 or 2007 (The Wife, Ph.D., was note-taking and in her drunken stupor she mistakenly jotted down 2010, an impossibility unless we have access to a pimped-out Delorean DMC-12) Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva, a Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo or Carignan, and Shiraz blend from Spain. Nose-wise, the wine was all over the place: charcoal, leather, guava, barnyard, herds of sheep under a light drizzle, pepper and burnt popcorn. In what will go down as one of the best vinous descriptors in the short history of this blog, My Zolpidem Supplier's cousin described the wine as smelling "like a dirty moist mop head and a brand new car." Taste-wise, it was dominated by red fruit and earth and really failed to tickle our palates.

The girls were so disappointed that I was rushed into picking a second bottle just to tone down their tongue-lashing. Continuing with the evening's Spanish theme, I selected the 2006 Marques de Riscal Reserva, a Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo or Carignan blend, and again I let them down. I felt like the dorky bespectacled college freshman who gets a second chance in the backseat of a Honda CRV with the college's hot svelte head cheerleader and repeatedly stalls when transitioning from first to second gear and putters to a stop due to a massive oil leak. The wine had touches of red fruit, wet earth, dust, vanilla, cinnamon and dark chocolate, as well as green components including green peppers and spinach according to one of my female companions. So memorable that The Wife, Ph.D., and I enjoyably doused ourselves in the bull's blood.

By the end of the night, I slouched in that back room with my head down contemplating my demise. I had disappointed my wife and her friends. Perhaps it was time for me to abandon wine and focus instead on my forehand, serve and volleys, or develop a potent left-footed shot a la Roberto Carlos. Or possibly I am meant to escape to Madrid to live among my kind and study the role of religion in the lives of bereft Ecuadorian immigrants. Then again, maybe all life was trying to tell me that gloomy night was that sometimes a mixed drink doesn't sound so bad after all.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 3 (On Potential Alone) Out Of 5 Sparkling Spatulas