Thursday, April 25, 2013

Will You Marry Me?

A reader once asked me to recommend a fancy restaurant where he could comfortably and confidently get down on one knee before his longtime girlfriend. For a moment, I thought of my own marriage proposal to The Wife, Ph.D., which, depending on who you ask, involved either a stingy long-distance phone call to Cyprus from Ecuador or a scrapbook in Quito's majestic La Compañia church with a string quartet rehearsing on a stage set by the golden altar. "If I ever had to do it again...I mean, renew our vows...and had to pick as venue a restaurant in Nicosia," I told him, "I would choose 1900 Oinou Melathron, the French-inspired bistro tucked away in one of Laiki Geitonia's uncrowded side streets."

Will you marry me?

If what you want is romance, privacy, impeccable service, an imaginative menu and (arguably) Cyprus's best wine list, look no further. This small, intimate restaurant exudes sophistication—hardwood floors, ornate chandeliers, cornflower blue chaises and sofas, long rectangular mirrors, heavy dark drapes framing the windows, a large painting of elegant women seductively staring at the diners. Each table is candlelit and has a champagne bucket on standby. A bar and counter area at the back of the room exhibit large empty bottles of wine and champagne. Upstairs, a few bottles of Chateau Petrus wink at oenophiles from behind the glass cellar wall, and a private dining room awaits distinguished guests.

Aged Cheese Tart with Red Onion Jam

First off, the wine selection shines bright. On our last visit, The Wife, Ph.D., and I drank the 2007 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto, a red blend from the Douro in Portugal that bursts with ripe red fruit flavors and runs at around 30 Euros. However, vinous possibilities are endless as the wine list is made up of over six thousands bottles that comprehensively cover both the Old and New World. This includes lauded Bordeaux First Growths, Super Tuscans, Barolos, Burgundy Grand Crus and Napa Valley Cabernets, among dozens of other styles and vintages. Prices range from 20 Euros to "On Request," which means you better be damn sure you want to share a queen-sized bed with her until death does you part because it's going to cost you a kidney in the black market. Goes without saying, though, it isn't a challenge to find a pleasant and affordable wine to match your food of choice with the help of the establishment's resident wine experts.

Chicken Dressed Up in Chorizo

The food too is impressive. Salads, risottos, fresh handmade pastas, a selection of grilled steaks, and seafood, all touched up with a dash of creativity, are on offer. Last time there, we split the cream of aged cheese and crunchy biscuit with red onion jam, a pie of sorts that played the sweet-slash-savory game with the same expertise shown by Little Miss Despot when gnawing on Sophie The Giraffe. Rich and indulgent, the appetizer could have easily been served as a dessert and was the undisputed star of the night. As our main course, The Wife, Ph.D., had the grilled fresh Norwegian salmon with fennel salad, asparagus and orange reduction, while I had a stuffed chicken breast with a creamy chorizo sauce and garlicky potato puree. Both were simple yet well executed, the chorizo lending a nice kick of spice to the chicken and the fennel complementing orange in the only way, well, fennel can. For dessert, we used the same spoon—a romantic gesture on my part—to share the chocolate souffle with mastic ice cream, sesame seed candy and caramelized hazelnuts, dramatically presented as two luscious edible nests.

Nests for Dessert

I never found out from my reader whether he took his unsuspecting girlfriend to 1900 and popped the question. Wherever he did, though, I just hope she said yes and he didn't have to sell any body parts to hirsute, tattooed traffickers for that celebratory bottle of Dom Perignon. Wherever he is, cheers on behalf of the blog.

Whine On The Rock's Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pelendri's Comedy Hour

Tsiakkas Winery might be The Rock's best club for a wine-themed comedy hour. Owner Costas Tsiakkas is one funny dude. Jokes and amusing tidbits on the wine industry, dropped like bras during Victoria's Secret's Annual Sale, marked our two-hour visit to his secluded winery a few bends away from the Pitsilia village of Pelendri. By the end of the session, some of us wished he'd run a wine class and become our garrulous, charismatic sensei.

Wine shop at Tsiakkas Winery
The winery is a large oldish house ensconced between the hills and surrounded by tall trees. The entrance, somewhat inconvenient for those lugging around a sleeping three-month old on her second official winery visit, is around the back, down a short road leading away from the parking lot. A wooden bar and a well-lit and organized wine shop stocked with Tsiakkas' wines and mementos like cooking aprons emblazoned with the winery's logo greet visitors once they make it up a narrow flight of stairs. Mr. Tsiakkas received us in the winery's tasting area—a long wooden table for twelve shielded by a wall that clumsily attempts to spell out the family name with green and clear bottle bottoms—and dragged us back to the ground floor to explore its premises.

The Tsiakkas tour was an excellent complement to the one we had experienced at Zambartas Winery. Instead of focusing on the technical aspects of wine-making, Mr. Tsiakkas told us stories of yore, recounting how our Cypriot forefathers distilled village wines and playing show-and-tell with antique contraptions used to store and transport wine and zivania eons ago. He then went on long oenology-themed rants—how soon should Cypriot wines be consumed (whites within six months of release, rosés less), food and wine pairings (Tsiakkas rosé with lobster pasta), the advantages of vineyards at higher elevations, and the variety of aromas found in wine (petrol in aged German Riesling as an example). His tale on how he chanced upon his amber-toned zivania by "forgetting" a batch of the clear liquor in an oak-barrel was quite comedic. A bit later, he dropped his best joke, sticking the landing like a well-oiled Olympic gymnast: "Cyprus rosés are deep and vibrant in color...unlike those from France, which look like lukewarm water left over from soaking a bright red panty."

Yes, I am funny.
We tasted six wines—two white, one rose, two reds and Commandaria—and his barrel-aged zivania. His rosé, the 2012 Rodinos, emits aromas of cranberries, pomegranate and strawberries, and, while bright, lacks the punch to the jaw of other Cypriot rosés. The 2011 Porfyros blend is medium-bodied, jammy, chewy and straightforward, a pleasant and affordable (about 6 Euros) match to meze and a red that can be slightly chilled for consumption during our scorching summers. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a gold winner in the 2011 Cyprus Wine Competition, has lovely notes of dark forest fruits, coffee and dark chocolate, but is quite tannic from the get-go and needs time to smooth out. The Commandaria, a bit pricey for local standards at about 25 Euros, showed the sweet wine's world-class potential, while the zivania, which mimicked a cognac or armagnac, was somewhat rough around the edges for my taste. Later that night, we drank the wonderful 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (made from grapes cultivated in high elevations above the town of Agros) with its sun-kissed tropical (passion fruit!) aroma and brimming with citrus flavors on the finish. In my opinion, this is, along with Domaine Vlassides's, the best of its variety on the island.

So, if you need a respite from these dark days sponsored by Destroika®, give Mr. Tsiakkas a call and book a seat for you and your fancy friends to Pelendri's most happening LOL session with quality wine to boot.