Monday, December 7, 2009

Raising Grazing to New Levels

One of the challenges we often face when exploring a restaurant’s menu on our travels is: “What do I order on a one-time visit?”

Unless the restaurant has a famous dish, e.g., “The Travis” or “Benny’s Burger,” or a dish that we crave after doing without for a period of time, e.g., “I’m looking for meatloaf and mashed potatoes,” we prefer to “graze.” Ordering three or four appetizers enables us to taste several different examples of the cook’s/chef’s work.

Thanks to Chuck’s cousin Jack Dannenberg and his wife Linda we were introduced to a restaurant that raised the art of grazing a couple of notches. It’s too bad that more restaurants don’t emulate the St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Albuquerque.

After nearly two months in Albuquerque, we were finally able to get together with Jack and Linda. My unfortunate indisposition had made socializing somewhat difficult. So it was with anticipation that we joined them for lunch.

The St. Clair Winery is located in Deming, NM, and has been in operation since 1984. The family has a six generation history of winemaking and produces forty wines under four labels, including Blue Teal, DH Lescombes, San Felipe and St Clair. To better showcase their wines, they have opened bistros in Deming, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque.

The reasonably priced lunch menu includes appetizers, salads, pastas, and a long list of creative paninis. But it was the choice of three “nosh” plates and the six-wine sampler that caught our attention—and made us wish we could find choices like these more often.

The wine sampler consisted of one-ounce servings of six different wines of our choice. From an extensive list, we chose (from left to right in the photo on the left) three reds (Plum Loco was in the now-empty glass, Blue Teal Pinot Noir, and St. Clair Merlot) and three whites (St. Clair Gewurztraminer, DH Lescombes Fume Blanc, and Blue Teal Canelli).

The two that caught my attention were the Plum Loco and the Gewurztraminer. The former is a full-bodied sweet red wine and is St. Clair’s best selling Red Wine in the state of New Mexico. The Gewurztraminer is described as “semi-sweet wine with tastes of ripe apricots and spice with lingering hints of green apples. Medium bodied with a long finish. Lovely as an aperitif.” I envision serving the white before dinner and the red with a chocolate dessert.

To go with the wine, we shared the Artisan Nosh and the Cuban Panini. The Nosh included (clockwise from upper left bowl) chunks of dark chocolate, nuts, kalamata olives, an apple and nut chutney, and grapes, plus crostini along with our choice of three from a list of about eight different cheeses. Our cheese choices were (top to bottom on left in photo) an English White Cheddar, the blue cheese, and aged gouda. This wonderful plate could be a meal in itself, and it was fun to mix the different tastes together. For example, the sweet apple chutney and the sharp blue cheese together eaten together brought out the best of both tastes.

The Cuban Panini came on a small ciabatta and included ham, pork, provolone cheese, and creole mustard. The two meats were sliced so thin as to be almost shaved, and since both of us like our sandwich meat very thin, this made the Cuban almost perfect. With this we had our choice of fruit salad or sweet potato fries. Any guesses which we chose? The fries of course. They were almost a shoestring cut and had that wonderful sugary taste that we have come to appreciate.

We loved this place. The Nosh plates are inspired and the wine sampler is a wonderful way to test drive a variety of wines at a reasonable price. There is no doubt that St. Clair Winery & Bistro is a 5.0 Addie restaurant.

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