Monday, March 25, 2013

Cracking Open the Good Stuff – New Kitchen Edition

While the thrust of The Naked Vine is largely inexpensive wines, I’ll admit that I don’t “live on bread alone.” I have a wine cellar, although it’s not some cavernous 3,000 bottle temperature-controlled, hermetically-sealed, heavily-fortified safe room. My closet down in “Le Bistro Below”does provide protection, though, for a few bottles that fall outside my typical price range. While every day wine is good for every day, once in a while, you’ve just got to dig into that special stash…

Nine weeks.

That’s how long the kitchen remodel took. Nine weeks made manageable by the seating area in the Bistro and a makeshift kitchen that we cobbled together using the washer/dryer as a countertop, the utility sink, a steamer, a microwave, a single-element burner, a slow cooker, and the grill. Honestly, we ate pretty well, but we were plenty ready to cook on an actual stove again.

For comparison's sake, a few "befores..."

And what a stove we now have. A big thumbs up to The Howland Group for doing such a wonderful job on the remodel. They were as professional, organized, and on task as we could have wanted. The final product was (at least so far!) everything we wanted.

So...without further ado...

(Pretty cool, no?)

Celebration time, then! We cooked a few meals in the new kitchen to get a feel. Like any new restaurant opening – chefs need to get used to their new equipment, right? It didn’t take long. The Sweet Partner in Crime had done a wonderful job designing placements for our utensils, pans, and prep stuff. Everything in easy reach, especially with the new island. We worked out the kinks and decided to have our “grand opening” meal.

The most important question, of course, was what wine to have. We figured we’d be able to put together a menu around it. We descended to the catacombs and came up with:

Roederer Estate 2002 L’Ermitage Brut

We’d picked up this bottle of bubbly on our 2010 trip to Mendocino County. It ran us around $50 and we intended to open it at New Year’s as a “10 year vintage bubbly” thing, but there was too much Mod Oz tastiness lying around. We decided we’d make it our “next special occasion” wine, and this event certainly qualified.

Late afternoon last Friday, while taking a break from our annual college hoops overdose, we put together a little appetizer plate of items that go well with quality Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. (“Methode Champenoise” is the method for making Champagne…real Champagne…and other high-quality sparklers. Read more about that here.) We had some very salty Parmesan-esque cheese, toasted almonds, some crackers, and some caviar. Yes, caviar. Like I said, it’s a special occasion.

We popped the cork and poured a little. The Roederer is one extremely delicate sparkler. The flavor was feathery and creamy, with a little toasted almond and apricot. Honestly, that’s as far as I’m going to go into the tasting note. It was good. Just really, really good. With our little small bites – I expected it to go well with everything, and it did. But honestly, we thought it was better appreciated on its own.

At least at first.

Emboldened by the new Bosch cooktop, I wanted to overcome one of my personal failings as a cook. I absolutely adore seared scallops, but I’ve never been able to do them particularly well. I can be a pretty impatient denizen of the kitchen, honestly – and I have an irrational fear of burning things. Seared scallops are so tricky. Undercooked scallop isn’t appealing and overcooked scallop tastes like Firestone. I was bound and determined to create a great entrée for the remainder of the bubbles. And with that magical blue flame crusting the little guys perfectly, I felt like Mario Batali’s scrawny second cousin.

Alongside the scallops, I’d put together a can’t miss side – my mushroom risotto. My ancestry may be German & Swedish, but I make as mean a pot of risotto as any non-paisan out there. A little truffle oil, a little of that grated salty cheese, a dash of this, a smidge of that, and a whole lot of stirring yielded one of my best batches ever.

To the table we went, bubbles in hand, lights low in the new kitchen. Gazing at the new architecture, we dug into the little feast, sipped a little bubbly and…

OK. Well, I’m supposed to describe this now? Best I can come up with, although I’m going to sound like a total square referencing a movie made wayyyyyy back in 1994:

We watched Pulp Fiction (yes, it came out in 1994…feelin’ old, buckaroos?) the other day. Recall the scene where Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) goes to the bathroom in Jack Rabbit Slim’s to…er…”powder her nose?” Do you remember her quote when she raises her head?

"I said god DAMN!"

Yeah, it was something like that. I mean, minus the cocaine. It is a pretty bad ass kitchen. And it was a pretty kick ass meal.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

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