I fully subscribe to the axiom that life is too short to drink bad wine. “Bad” is, of course, a subjective term and certainly subject to financial considerations. But one foolproof way to drink really good wine is to go to the Napa Valley wine auction, which I was fortunate to do at the beginning of the month.
To say it’s a four-day party is like saying Donald Trump tends to exaggerate. For wine and food lovers, Auction Napa Valley is an over-the-top, liver-damaging, scale-busting extravaganza. From the Thursday evening Welcome Parties to the Farewell Brunch and Open Houses on Sunday, the only break in the action was to sleep or work out in preparation for the next event.
Surprisingly, my least favorite activity was the auction itself. Since we weren’t going to spend $250,000 or more on a lot (some of which went for as high as $800,000), it did drag on through the afternoon, though a surprise visit by John Legend provided a jolt of excitement. The auction was sandwiched in between a market-style lunch, with food provided by Michael Chiarello and a banquet dinner orchestrated by Chef Pierre Gagnaire of France and produced by the Meadowood kitchen. Both meals were well-executed though unremarkable.
lunch before the auction
John Legend, Auction Napa Valley
Ready for dinner after the auction
The star of the weekend was the Barrel Auction, which this year was held at Hall Winery in their gleaming new facility. More than 100 vintners bring a barrel of an unreleased wine for guests to taste and then bid on to secure a case once the wine is bottled. It’s all handled by mobile bidding, with TV screens to follow the action. If you get bumped from the top ten, the only way to re-enter the bidding is to outbid the person in the #1 position. Bidding lasts all afternoon, and it becomes a game to try to be one of the last of the top 10 bidders to win a case, rather than ending up at the top of the list where the case will cost more.
In addition to the barrel tasting and auction, guests can wander the grounds of the winery and enjoy food from top Napa restaurants while sampling even more wine. After three hours of alternately lining our stomachs with food and tasting wines that we had never before had the opportunity to try, we cried “Uncle” and headed back to the hotel for a nap so we could enjoy the Vintner-hosted dinner at Pride Mountain to which we had been assigned.
Food station at the Barrel Auction.
food station at the Barrel Auction.
Redd Wood pizzas at the Barrel Auction.
Dessert station at the Barrel Auction.
Barrel Auction at Hall Winery
Barrel Auction at Hall Winery
Though I love Pride Mountain wine, I’d never before visited the vineyard, in part because it’s at the top of a long and winding road up Spring Mountain. Half of the vineyard is in Sonoma County and half is in Napa Valley, which makes it somewhat of a novelty. It was worth the drive to experience the view from on high. The dinner that night was in the Summit Room which opens up onto a beautiful terrace that allowed us to take in the stunning vistas. With our multi-course dinner we sipped on the full array of fine wines Pride offers, and even took a tour of the cave between courses.
Pride Mountain dinner
Vintner Hosted Dinner at Pride Mountain
The night before we went to the St. Supéry vineyard for a Welcome Party. We sat below a huge old tree in front of a beautiful Victorian house, and enjoyed a lovely meal with wine pairings. The fun continued with live music and dancing.
Quintessa Farewell Brunch
On the last day we went to a farewell brunch at Quintessa Vineyard, where we had breakfast tacos from a food truck, pizza from Redd Wood’s mobile pizza oven, and freshly picked fruit from Quintessa’s garden and orchard.
Farewell Brunch at Quintessa
As if that wasn’t enough, we headed over to Alpha Omega to one of the Sunday Open Houses, where we enjoyed a tasting of Alpha Omega wines and had some Kansas City-style barbecue from the winery’s owner, who happens to be a certified Kansas City BBQ judge.
Open House at Alpha Omega
We never saw a cloud the entire time we were in Napa, which made the whole experience that much more special.
I’m a fan of José Andrés, and have consistently enjoyed exciting and unique fare at all of his restaurants. I remember when I first went to Oyamel (Mexican) and Jaleo (Spanish) and was so impressed with the quality of the fare, and then Zaytinya (Mediterranean), where I was blown away by the creativity and execution. Andrés continues to up his game, as evidenced by China Poblano in Las Vegas(Mexican and Chinese) and now China Chilcano (Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese).
China Chilcano is new enough on the scene that we were not able to land dinner reservations, but many of the same dishes offered in the evening are available during lunch. And what a cheery place to start the day! The decor is eye-popping and the sun streamed in the windows, necessitating the donning of sunglasses.
This is definitely the kind of place to go with a group that likes to share. Four of us ordered ten or so dishes and passed them around the table for all to enjoy.
The breadth of the menu was a bit overwhelming, but our server did a great job of walking us through it and offering suggestions as to how to maximize our dining experience. Accordingly, we ordered at least one dish from each of the various sections so we could enjoy all of the different cooking techniques employed in the kitchen.
Every bite was a revelation. When the parade of plates had stopped, we seriously contemplated ordering more, not because we were still hungry; we certainly were not, but rather because we wanted to keep exploring the offerings. We will definitely be back.
A number of people have asked where Bloch wine can be purchased in Kansas City. It can be found at the following restaurants:
Cleaver & Cork
Michael Smith/Extra Virgin
The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
Wine shops carrying Bloch wine are:
Underdog Wine Shop
For those of you who have not yet tried it, Bloch wine is a Cabernet Franc blend produced by Amigoni Urban Winery, using grapes from our tiny vineyard in Pleasant Hill, MO. All proceeds benefit local non-profit organizations. Buy a bottle and let me know what you think!
Okay, so he wasn’t at my table. But I was fortunate to be a part of a dinner for 30 in Chef Ferran Adrià’s honor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum on Monday evening. (If you don’t know who he is, Google “el Bulli”. Suffice to say, many consider Adrià to be the world’s great chef.) It was held in the Cloisters, a very intimate and beautiful room that provided the perfect backdrop for a memorable evening.
Ten great Kansas City chefs, all in one room, came together to prepare dinner for a master. They outdid themselves and made our city proud. From start to finish the meal was exquisite and the service flawless. Each chef was responsible for creating one dish, and a “Who’s Who” of Kansas City sommeliers did the wine pairings. The restaurateurs brought their general managers, top servers, and sommeliers to make sure the evening went without a hitch. The amount of talent in Rozelle Court where the staging took place was unlike anything that has occurred in KC’s culinary history, and watching each chef pitch in to help execute the meal course-by-course was a sight to behold. It was also exciting to see that the chefs sourced their ingredients from local farmers.
Jonathan Pye of the Nelson started us off with White and Green Asparagus, Pickled Asparagus Coins, Speck, Preserved Egg Yolk, Citrus Chevre and Chorizo Lace, which was paired with Moet and Chandon Imperial Brut. It looked like a painting.
White and Green Asparagus, Pickled Asparagus coins, smoky preserved egg yolk, citrus chevre, chorizo oil, tangerine lace
Course Two was the responsibility of Michael Corvino of The American, and he scored with a beautiful dish of King Crab, Chicken Liver, Turnip, Nasturtium, served with a delightful 2012 Brut Rosé from Sotor Vineyard in Oregon. To say it was luscious is an understatement.
King Crab, Chicken Liver, Turnip, Nasturtium
Michael Smith’s Course Three was a ceviche that played more like a crudo, with different tunas binded together and sliced to create a stunning presentation. It was topped with caviar and served with a chimichurri that was sublime. The 2013 Lagar da Condesa Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain that accompanied it was a revelation to me, as it isn’t typically a wine I seek out, but it was lovely with the fish.
Jennifer Maloney of Café Sebastienne made a colorful coconut ginger broth. While it sounded simple on the menu, each spoonful was silky and the flavors were beautifully harmonious. There was even an edible flower with a button of a soft sheep’s milk cheese substituting for the pistil. The 2012 Navarro Gewurztraminer that was paired with it had floral notes and a dry finish to set off the spices in the broth.
Coconut Ginger Broth, Spring Greens and Pickled Mango
Tad Habiger of Room 39 was in charge of Course Five, making a light and lovely Spinach and Fresh Cheese Gnudi with Lamb Pancetta. The crunch of the pancetta was the perfect counterpoint to the softness of the gnudi. Thje dish was paired with a 2011 Henry Fessy Chateau de Reyssiers Beaujolais Régnié, a light red wine.
Spinach and Fresh Cheese Gnudi, Lamb Pancetta, Sunflower
For Course Six Debbie Gold served a Coddle Duck Egg, Sunchoke and Chocolate Coffee Crumble, a very dramatic dish that was the topic of much conversation. We were instructed to break the yolk by using a baby spoon and pushing it all the way to the bottom of the shell to ensure that we had the full onslaught of flavors in every bite. A stunning 2103 Domaine de la Reserve d’O “Bilbo”, St. Saturnin, Languedoc, France cut the richnes of the dish.
Carl Thorne- Thomsen of Story presented us with a simple, yet elegant fish for Course Seven. Wild King Salmon with Carrots and Radishes was paired with one of my new favorite Pinot Noir producers. It was a 2012 Anthill Farms Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir and it was the ideal pairing for the light salmon dish.
Course Eight was under the purview of Howard Hanna of the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, and knowing his affinity for rabbit, it was no surprise to see his Smoked Rabbit and Dumplings with Spring Vegetables and Fines Herbs. Each cylinder of rabbit was wrapped in bacon, and adorable little dumplings were tucked in around them. The 2010 La Spinetta, Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy played nicely with the smokiness of the dish, but was very enjoyable on its own as well.
Smoked Rabbit and Dumplings, Spring Vegetables
By the time it was time for Ryan Brazeal’s Course Nine, we were all slowing down a bit. But who could resist Beef Sirloin, Short Rib Lemongrass Braise and Rice Noodles? The distinct Thai flavors that the short rib had been braised with shone through, and the 2009 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy, was strong enough to stand up to their intensity.
Beef Sirloin, Short Rib Lemongrass Braise, Rice noodles
Around 10:30 pm, we were served Course Ten, and though it was getting late I was sorry to see the evening winding down. Megan Garrelts, employing Chef Colby as her sous-chef gave us her interpretation of Creme Caramel, and though it was almost too pretty to touch, none of us could reist. The Creme Caramel, Rhubarb, White Sesame, Lemon, Strawberry and Thyme was paired with a not-too-sweet dessert wine, the 2005 Isole e Olena, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy.
Crème Caramel, Rhubarb, White Sesame, Lemon, Strawberry, Thyme
We concluded the meal with Petit Fours in Cocoa, but we weren’t finished indulging. Ryan Maybee of Manifesto and The Rieger had concocted a Digestivo, A Sevilla Stout. It was distinctly layered with Bitter Coffee Cordial, Vanilla & Spices, Anis del Mono and Cream. Strong yet comforting.
The wine pairings were every bit as memorable as the dishes themselves, as they elevated the cuisine to a higher level and were spot on. A shout out to those who made the wine selections:
Stephen Blackmon, general manager, American Dining Concepts at the Nelson-Atkins
Ross Jackson, wine director, The American Restaurant
Ryan Sciara, Underdog Wine Co.
Dean Smith, general manager, Café Sebastienne
Kathy Rohlfing, general manager/sommelier, Room 39
Jeff Thrall, general manager, Story
Tony Glamcevski, general manager/partner, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
Richard Garcia, general manager, Novel
Jeremy Lamb, general manager/sommelier, bluestem/Rye
If I had all the servers’ names, I’d list them, too. Their professionalism and skill was very much appreciated.
It was obvious that Chef Adrià was extremely impressed and delighted by the high level of quality and execution that was on display through the entire evening. I have to believe that being at a table with all Spanish speakers allowed him to relax and revel in the entire experience, rather than having to speak through an interpreter throughout the dinner.
I have been fortunate to have been able to enjoy some pretty incredible culinary adventures in my life, but this was undoubtedly one of the finest and most memorable. It was certainly enhanced by the fact that it occurred in my hometown, but what made it more meaningful was that the professionals who orchestrated and executed this huge undertaking are people that I know, admire and respect.
I wanted to follow up my first post on San Miguel with a description of our most memorable meal there. Though most evenings we either had tapas on rooftop bars or simple Mexican fare, one night we decided to splurge at one of the many upscale restaurants serving more international fare.
After much research, we settled on Aperi, in the Dos Casas hotel. Chef Matteo Salas is at the helm and is a lovely, warm man. We met him one afternoon when we stopped by to make a reservation and he explained the concept. Born in Italy, he has staged all over the world, including with Paul Bocuse.
The a la carte menu is available each afternoon (except Tuesdays). There’s also a tasting menu which is only available during the 6:30 seating. The real joy at that hour, however, is the opportunity to sit at the kitchen table to watch Chef Matteo and his staff cook, and have them serve the four people lucky enough to be seated at the huge marble island that dominates the room. Reservations in the kitchen are booked three to four weeks out, so we were out of luck on that score, but we did get a table in the main restaurant, which has an intimate dining area inside, as well as patio seating.
We ordered the tasting menu with wine pairings, a steal at $100 per person for 7 nice-sized portions. We enjoyed foie gras, ceviche, squid, pork belly, salmon, a chocolate dessert and an almond dessert, all of which were beautifully presented and had an amazing array of textures and flavors. Matteo was very attentive and checked on us many times during the evening, both to explain each dish and to see if we were pleased.
My husband (who typically does not go in for this kind of meal) and I were blown away by the food and the entire experience. I asked the chef if he had thought about opening a restaurant in the states and he said he has been asked that question often. It was clear that he has considered it, because he responded that if he opened a restaurant in NYC, he’d fly back and forth rather than moving to the U.S. He could command higher prices and quite a bit of fame, but for now he’s mostly known in Mexico. I suspect his days at the Dos Casas hotel are numbered, as more people experience his food and he gets the itch to make his mark.
There’s a new kid on the Block, Cleaver & Cork. And that Block is KC Live in the Power & Light District. FINALLY! Aside from BRGR, the district is populated with chain restaurants or those owned by a national outfit. Yes, technically Cleaver & Cork is owned by an affiliate of the Cordish Companies, but it is being independently run by a team of local hotshots. Alex Pope of Local Pig is the culinary director, and he has brought in Chef Andrew Heimburger, previously at Pigwich and Local Pig, to helm the kitchen. Eric Willey, former GM at Bluestem, is managing partner and oversees Cleaver & Cork’s wine list. Rounding out the dream team is Andrew Olson, former bartender at the Rieger, who is the man in charge of cocktails.
Situated in the former Maker’s Mark space, the meat-centic restaurant has been completely renovated. Reclaimed wood from a barn in Kansas is used to great effect, and old logging skids show up as chandeliers to evoke meat hooks. The soft colors make for a soothing look, but with all the hard surfaces, a beautiful long bar and a great patio space adjacent to KC Live, the vibe promises to be anything but sedate.
Alex Pope is a talented guy, and he brings the same creativity to this menu as he has to his previous ventures. Pork jowl with fried grits and roasted jalapeno, Cheese Curds and Pickles, Local Pig sausage soup, Oyster Mushroom salad with chipotle vinaigrette, and Zucchini Fritters with fresh ricotta and citrus jam get diners off to an adventurous start, though there are definitely more tame options available.
Entreés include several pastas, fish and seafood selections (including a perfectly cooked Salmon with Fennel Risotto as a colorful counterpoint), as well as a Fried Pork Chop with heirloom white beans, Pork Osso Bucco, Smoked Ribeye and BBQ pork shoulder, to name a few of the meat dishes.
Don’t even think about skipping dessert while you’re there. The Smoked Creme Brulee is a winner, as is Chef Andrew’s take on my hometown gooey butter cake. The Pecan Butter Cake is a less rich version, allowing room to enjoy the bourbon ice cream and salted caramel that accompanies it.
It’s clear that Cleaver & Cork is also serious about its Happy Hour, with great deals on beer, wine and cocktails from 4- 7 pm on weeknights. And many menu items, including one of the best burgers in town, are 1/2 priced.
With Big 12 tournament action and a beautiful forecast, make the time to check out Cleaver & Cork this weekend. But unlike most restaurants in the P&L District, this is a destination all its own regardless of what’s going down at the Sprint Center or elsewhere downtown. If, as I suspect it will be, Cleaver & Cork is a success, I’m hoping Cordish is paying attention and will consider replacing some of the not-so-great chains with more local flavor.
A star-studded cast led the first 2015 version of the Test Kitchen, an underground supper club started by Jenny Vergara in 2008. For those unfamiliar with the Test Kitchen, it’s really an incubator for chefs. They are encouraged to think out of the box and stretch their creative limits, a luxury not commonly allowed in a restaurant setting. Interested diners sign up by email and are entered into a lottery. Twenty to thirty lucky winners are picked to dine in what is typically an offbeat location, revealed just 24 hours to attending.
Last night’s dinner proved to be a departure from the Test Kitchen norm as it provided a sneak peek of Alex Pope and Eric Willey’s Cleaver & Cork, which is set to open next week after a series of preview events. Chef Andrew Heimburger, previously at Pigwich and Local Pig, helms the kitchen as he continues his tutelage under Alex Pope. Participants were treated to a preview of menu items as well as the opportunity to dine in the restaurant before it opens to the public.
Andrew Olsen, previously a bartender at the Rieger, was recruited to manage the bar program at Cleaver & Cork. He and Eric Willey devised beverage pairings to go with the seven course dinner.
Cocktail hour began with a Horsefeather. Made with Rieger whiskey, ginger beer and lemon, it is a variation of the Moscow Mule that has gained popularity since its introduction in the 1990’s in Lawrence.
Our first course was a lovely sweet potato soup with scallions and chile salt, presented in beautiful bowls that were purchased to create a particular look for the restaurant. That was followed by a salad of oyster mushrooms with house made ricotta, arugula and a dash of chipotle.
Since Alex owns Local Pig, it’s no surprise that Cleaver & Cork will sport a very meat-centric menu. The first appetizer we were given was beef tartar with porcini and Parmesan, a slight riff on the typical egg yolk version.
The next appetizer we enjoyed was braised pork jowl atop fried polenta with roasted jalapeno sauce. Light it was not, but it was my favorite bite of the night.
We moved into the entrees with a BBQ Pork Shoulder, paired with braised cabbage, cornbread pudding and a bbq beurre blanc. Braised for only 2 hours, it doesn’t melt like a pork butt that has been slowly cooked for 5 or more hours, but it was still tender and played nicely with the other elements of the dish.
The final dinner course provided a touch of the gulf coast, with wild shrimp, mussels, Kielbasa, sweet corn and farro (a substitution for the gold rice grits that will be on the menu).
We ended with smoked creme brulee, paired with a Valentino cocktail. Whiskey, orange, cherry, sweet vermouth, and a touch of espresso provided the perfect complement to this smokey finish.
Eric’s wine pairings were spot on. Though I’m more of a red wine drinker and didn’t love the whites on their own, the beauty of a well-conceived wine pairing and a talented sommelier is that when sipped with food, the wines shine. And that’s exactly what happened.
The restaurant is just what the Power & Light District needs. Though owned by an affiliate of the Cordish Companies, it will be independently operated without the feel of the chains that permeate the District. And with Alex Pope and Eric Willey running the show, a quality food and drink program is assured.
If you’ve never been to a Test Kitchen dinner, go to testkitchenkc.com and sign up to get on the mailing list. If you haven’t succeeded in winning the lottery to get in, keep trying. Wherever the venue or whomever is cooking, you won’t be disappointed.
As my faithful readers have noticed I haven’t been updating my blog very frequently lately, preferring instead to post to my Around the BlockFacebook page or posting photos to my msbloch Instagram account. But I was inspired by a recent trip to Mexico and wanted to share highlights of my trip.
San Miguel de Allende
Though I know several people who vacation or have homes in San Miguel de Allende, typically when Kansas Citians go to Mexico they head to the coasts of Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. But San Miguel is in the interior, a three hour drive from Mexico City. Beautiful weather year-round, but no beach.
In 2008 UNESCO recognized San Miguel de Allende as a World Heritage of Humanity site, citing the town’s religious and civil architecture. It is beyond quaint, with narrow cobblestone streets, unique buildings dating back to the 17th Century, and a striking palette of color.
The original homes in the city, many of which have been converted into stores or restaurants, were built around interior courtyards and placed side-by-side, so it’s rare for a restaurant to have a 1st floor patio, unless it’s behind the front door. Most restaurants and hotels instead utilize the rooftops, to dramatic effect; sunsets in SMA are spectacular. And no matter the time of day, the views in all directions seem endless.
In addition to allowing me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, that of eating, San Miguel also offers the opportunity to enjoy my other favorite pastime, walking. Except for the day when we took a cab to explore the botanical garden, we walked everywhere. For women interested in a trip to San Miguel, leave your heels behind. Sturdy walking shoes are de rigueur, even in the evenings. The cobblestones are too deep to navigate with soft soled shoes, and the sidewalks are so narrow that you often find yourself playing chicken with someone coming at you whom you know you’re going to have to pass. Don’t give into any temptation to hop in a cab, the best way to experience San Miguel is on foot. Below you’ll find photos from some of my favorite meals in SMA. My next post will be about an incredible meal we had at Aperi, a jewel of a restaurant with a master chef from Italy in the kitchen.
Saturday market–taco fillings.
Enchiladas mole–La Posadita
Tuna on a potato chip–La Azoteca
Jicama tacos with shrimp–La Azoteca
frozen margarita–La Azoteca
Tuna tostadas–La Parada
Salmon ceviche–La Parada
Heuvos Rancheros–Lavande Cafe
Chips and salsa
Chilaquiles with three sauces–El Correo
Octopus and potatoes bravas style–Luna
Drinks at Luna
Cochinta Pibil–La Posadita
Chilaquiles with bacon–Lavande Cafe
Brunch at the Rosewood hotel–tortillas and tacos made to order
Eggs layered with cheese and topped with mole. Andanza restaurant at Casa Sierra Nevada hotel.
Kansas City’s Restaurant Week is well under way, continuing through January 25, with 160 restaurants participating for lunch and/or dinner. At lunch two courses will be served for $15 and at dinner 3 for $33. Check out Restaurant Week’s website where most restaurants have posted the lunch and or dinner menu they will be serving. Restaurants typically offer a combination of dishes that are normally featured and some that have been created specifically for this event. Diners will have a choice of several appetizers, entrees and desserts, but be forewarned that it is a limited menu.
Restaurant Week was originally devised during the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York City. For an interesting account of what its goals are and what has been accomplished in NYC, click here.
As the story suggests, it’s a terrific way for restaurants to promote themselves and for diners to try a restaurant that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford (or several, judging from the way in which some diners attack the Week, trying one or two a day to take advantage of the great offers). It also drives traffic to restaurants during what is traditionally a slow time of year for the industry.
Three new charitable partners have been added as beneficiaries of 2015 Kansas City Restaurant Week. The donations raised during the 2015 event will benefit BoysGrow, Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired and Cultivate Kansas City. The Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Education Foundation, will again also receive a portion of the donations.
You’ll need reservations, so get dialing and enjoy Restaurant Week!!
Now that I know how easy it is to make homemade tortillas, I can’t believe I haven’t made them before. Spurred on by the gift of a tortilla press from my son and daughter-in-law, I recently made quesadillas using homemade corn tortillas. When I first received the press, I made the mistaken assumption that this was a special occasion effort, perhaps needing to roast a pork shoulder to be the centerpiece of the meal. I finally decided that a quiet dinner at home was occasion enough. Remembering fondly the simplicity of griddled corn tortillas with melted Oaxacan that we enjoyed for breakfast every morning the last time we were in Mexico, I decided to try to recreate that treat.
I used the recipe on the back of the masa bag–it took all of 2 minutes to make the dough and roll it out into little balls. One quick press and the tortilla was ready to be cooked on an oil-free skillet. Flour tortillas can be made in the same manner.
It was SO simple….and delicious. Next time I would probably make a more complicated filling, but since I was a virgin tortilla maker, this was the way to start. We were able to taste the freshness of the corn tortillas, and it’s hard to beat a flavorful, chewy cheese. Of course I served it with salsa, but no other adornment was needed.
I’m all over this now. Homemade tortillas grace the menus of restaurants all over the country, but this is something you can do just as well in your own kitchen. Fajitas and tacos, even pork chile verde, would all be elevated by a little DIY action.