Tuesday, April 24, 2012

For Me?

You threw this party for me? Well, to be honest, they didn’t. But sometimes two separate events come together and the proverbial “whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

It was my birthday. And it was the night that Ancora Pizzeria and Salumeria was holding a four course wine tasting dinner. Could there be any better way to celebrate?

Before continuing, I need to start with two con-fessions. First, this was not a night for Chuck to take photos except for those taken before we, along with forty-eight other diners, were seated. So you will see some “filler” photos on this blog (taken while at Longue Vue Gardens; see entry April 19). Nor could I take extensive notes. So, secondly, since I know nothing about wine, all I will be giving you are the names of the four wines tasted without any taste description.

The wines were all from the Alois Winery in the Campania region of Italy.

“The stunning coastal region of Campania is situated in southern Italy in the ‘shin of the boot’, and anchored by its capital of Naples. Its name comes from Campania felix, a Latin phrase roughly meaning 'fertile land', and its strong historical link to the vine (dating back to the 12th century BC) makes it one of the oldest Italian regions.
The con-siderable influence of ancient empires, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, means some of this area's varieties have historical legends attached” (wine-searcher.com).

“Many generations of the Alois family have worked in the silk business, producing high-quality textiles that have been displayed in the Louvre, the Vatican, the Quirinale (home of the president of Italy), and the White House. In the early 20th century, the company,
like many in Europe, provided food and wine for its employees, inspiring the owners to craft their own wines. In 2000, Michele Alois debuted his family’s wines on the market under the estate name Pontepellegrino. With Nicola Trabucco overseeing the vineyards and Riccardo Cotarella orchestrating cellar work, the estate—which now bears the family name—has received several plaudits from the press.” (italianwinemerchantstore. com)

When we arrived, the long table had already been set for the Anti-Pasta course. This included a selection of three in-house salumi (Genoa, capicola, and lonza), Jeff Talbot’s house-made bread (which was lightly toasted), and jars of olives and pickles. Ancora takes pre-brined olives (of multiple varieties) and marinades them in-house, along with
pickling the cauliflower and spicy green beans. And the salumi tray was garnished with Ancora’s kumquat and mustard chutney, of which Chuck and I have become very fond.

The first course, served with a white Falanghini “Caulino” wine, was a salad of marinated beets. (The photos shown here are mid-way through the assembly process.) The plate consisted of a gold beet puree, thin sliced radishes, lemon flavored mascarpone cheese, and diced red beets. Salad and wine are always a
difficult paring since the acid in the dressing makes many wines taste flat or sour, but the marinade on the beets had such a low acidity that this was no problem.

On to the second course—oven-roasted Louisiana shrimp with olives, chiles, and garlic which was served with another white wine—Pellagrello Bianco “Ciaiti.”
(This photo is from an earlier dinner.) Like with crawfish, many diners consider the shrimp heads to have more flavor that the tails and many of us at the table happily sucked the heads. Not so Chuck, so I got to savor that portion of his serving along with mine.

It was course number three that caused Chuck no end of concern. “I don’t know about eating pig’s feet” was his initial reaction. But not to worry. This was a pig’s feet sugo that was served over creamy
“Sugo derives from succo (juices) and refers to pan drippings from the cooking of meats, rich meat-based sauces along the lines of sugo alla Bolognese, or thick vegetable sauces (which often, though not always, go over pasta)” (italianfood.about.com). Here the meat had been removed from the bones and served in a rich non-tomato gravy. And, despite his concerns, he finished every speck. And this course was accompanied by a red—Pellagrello Nero.

By the time we got to the fourth course—oven-roasted baby lamb with gnocchi, fava beans, and gremolata (a chopped herb condiment made of garlic, parsley, and lemon peel)—I was already too full to do this course justice and only ate a small portion of the lamb and
gnocchi. As with an earlier visit, the gnocchi were feather light, and the soft gnocchi combined with crisp tender fava beans was interesting. (“Fava beans are one of the oldest plants under cultivation; they were eaten in ancient Greece and Rome. Despite the name, fava beans are a member of the pea family.... They are popular in Mediterranean cuisine, with many summer dishes celebrating the seasonal bean.... Fava beans have a distinct flavor and creamy texture that makes them a great addition to a wide variety of dishes” [wisegeek.com]) This course was served with another red—Casavecchia “Settimo.”

We ended with a dessert of house-made bread with creamy ricotta and Louisiana strawberry jam—the latter of which was, of course, made in-house. Both the jam and the chutney on the salumi tray are the creations of one of Jeff’s young staff members.

That evening we also had the opportunity to meet Jeff’s partner in Ancora—Adolfo Garcia—who also owns High Hat Café next door along with a number of other New Orleans restaurants.

What a birthday!!! Thanks Jeff and Adolfo for this 5.0 Addie present.

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