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Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 2

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

I’ll never forget the look of rapture on General Lorens Lowenhielm’s face when he tasted that first forkful of caviar-topped blini and first sip of accompanying champagne in the movie “Babette’s Feast.” I wonder if mine looked the same during the Super Star Pairing this week at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

That on a cold weeknight after work I was eating something long on my culinary bucket list and sipping NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut was as unexpected as Lowenhielm’s discovery that the humble, village meal he was expecting would turn out to be a much more.

Nuevo Nicoise.

Nuevo Nicoise.

The Fortunate Glass event on Wednesday featured four top-shelf wines matched with thoughtful dishes, starting with chef Fenix Nelson’s colorful take on classic caviar and blini. Streaks of pomegranate glaze played with the champagne’s fizz.

One of my favorite wines of the evening was the second-course Chateau Montelana Chardonny 2011. Crisp but full and just enough fruit to balance Nelson’s Nuevo Niscoise salad with chicken confit, diced potatoes, sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, fluffs of boiled egg yolk and the savory crunch of pistachio-laced goat cheese.

Shatter Grenache 2011 was another stand-out for me and diners I overheard complimenting the vintage. Concentrated but easy to drink, full with summer berries, this is one to have in home racks for comforting winter meals, perhaps a riff on the duck confit stroganoff with caramelized onions and portobello mushrooms in blackberry sauce The Fortunate Glass paired with the wine.

One of the things I love about The Fortunate Glass is its approachability. This is a serious wine bar with a light touch, as evidenced by the playful cola-braised pork butt Nelson served with the final wine, Hollywood and Vine Short Ends Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It’s a big wine that needs a big love. All that plum, mocha, earth and spice found it in the fork-tender pork Nelson married to cremini mushrooms and super-buttery potato puree. Cherry cola demi-glace further sweetened the relationship.

Cola-braised pork butt.

Cola-braised pork butt.

The Fortunate Glass offers a lot of interesting wine, and sometimes beer, events. Each Tuesday, the wine bar hosts a free 6 to 8 p.m. tasting. Check for updates at The Fortunate Glass Facebook page.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 1

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

I had plans to eat at home last night — lentil and barley stew — until someone said malbec, smoked lardo, Bollinger and caviar.

A couple hours later I was on a Wilmington wine-tasting trail, hitting a free food and wine pairing featuring Altos Las Hormigas malbecs at Rx Restaurant and Bar and sophisticated sips and nibbles at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

On my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro food and cocktail tours, I often tell guests that they’ll find a free wine tasting in and around Wilmington just about every night of the week. Rx took the idea further, serving one- and two-bite noshes with Altos Las Hormigas wines.

Altos Las Hormigas is known for malbecs, and the winemakers’ obsession with scientifically decoding the soil secrets of terroir has produced tasty vintages at prices in the $10 range, a couple up to $20ish.

The evening’s star was Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Reserve 2011 — classic malbec berry notes yet silky and refined — but I leaned toward Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Terroir 2010. Displaying a bold nose and light, juicy berries, the wine feels both fireside and fancy. It’s sweetness was balanced by Rx chef/owner James Doss’ “duck confit grilled cheese” highlighting slightly salty duck with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Calvander cheese on fresh wheat bread made at the Rx sister restaurant Pembroke’s.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Much as I loved the malbecs, my favorite wine of the evening was the lesser-known Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Argentina 2012.

Bonarda grapes are usually purposed for wine blends or low-grade bulk wines, as the grapes produce big yields that provide color and fruitiness. Given interest and care by Altos Las Hormigas, the grapes resulted in Colonia Las Liebres’ soft, just sweet, fresh and light personality. The wine was so easy that I could imagine taking it to the beach in summer for a late-afternoon or evening picnic.

The bonarda works for people who think they won’t like red wine and for those who love reds. Consider it for upcoming Valentine’s Day and Easter dinners. I think it would be especially lovely with a glazed ham. In my favorite pairing of the night, Rx’s Doss put the bonarda with a ultra-thin slice of house smoked lardo atop a crescent of blood orange-marinated beet. Locally grown, organic Garden Cress was the garnish.

With thoughts of travel to Argentina in mind, I headed out to The Fortunate Glass Super Star pairing showcasing top wines and refined food. Check the menu below, which I’ll be posting about later today. For now, I’m off on another path — hunting down Brunswick stew for an upcoming story in Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

Super Star menu

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Top winemakers show off vintages at special dinner

The Second Annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival is months away, but the event’s first fund-raising wine dinner happens 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Rx Restaurant and Bar.

A portion of the $75-ticket price benefits the May 2-4 festival at Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, 503 Market St., festival organizers reported.

“This next festival is going to have even more food and wine, along with a few other events, to really showcase what makes this such a great foodie community,” key festival planner and Wilmington Wine owner Chrissy Absi Bonney said.

Rx chef/co-owner James Doss and team plan a multi-course menu to pair with four vintages from three top California winemakers: Arietta On The White Keys and Arietta Quartet, both by Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson; DeSante Old Vine sauvignon blanc by David DeSante, who also makes wines for Napa Valley’s Jaffe Estate; and Vineyard 7 & 8’s “7” cabernet sauvignon by Luc Morlet.

Each year, some proceeds from the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival benefit area non-profit organizations. The 2012 inaugural festival raised more than $3000 for Cape Fear River Watch and 1,000 People Who Care. Benefactors for 2014 will be Bellamy Mansion and Open Gate Domestic Violence Shelter.

Reservations are required to attend the wine dinner. Call Rx at 910-399-3080 or Wilmington Wine at 910-202-4749.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Salute! New Wilmington Wine & Food Fest

A Wilmington wine and food festival in the works since 2012 officially takes off in May.

The inaugural Wilmington Wine & Food Festival scheduled for 2-5 p.m. May 19 at Saint Thomas Preservation Hall, 208 Dock St. in downtown Wilmington, according to the event’s organizers.

Restaurants will serve food samples paired with wine provided by various vendors. Attendees may vote for their favorite selections in a people’s choice contest. A professional judging panel will pick best-of winners, too. Vendors will sell wine at a discount. Live music is planned.

You may buy tickets now. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, wine bar Leave a comment

Soon-to-open cafe = cheese central

My dream job is cheese sommelier — or rather maitre fromager, the person at restaurants who recommends cheeses to diners. I could spend my days studying cheese, buying cheese, traveling to find more cheese, sampling cheese and wheeling around a cool cart packed with the best cheeses.

I can smell it now.

Max McCalman was America’s first and for a time only maitre fromager. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, he was the cheese keeper at New York City-based restaurant Picholine. I wanted to marry him. I’ve since settled for a good humboldt fog.

Alas, my love affair with cheese on the North Carolina coast is mostly limited to the little, sanitary, plastic-wrapped packages that fill food market bins. State and federal food safety rules on cheese are more restrictive than my bikini when it comes to fulfilling my culinary aspirations.

Still, cheese heads like me find a way to get what they want. As sick as I am for cheese, Taste the Olive owner Kymberlei DiNapoli is even sicker.

DiNapoli is looking to open her Taste the Olive cafe and wine bar, on Military Cutoff Road in The Forum shopping center,  sometime this week, and when she does, expect an impressive range of cheeses served by a trained staff. A main reason DiNapoli developed the cafe is so that she would have more room to devote to her beloved cheese. Just days ago, she had her crew schooled by Southern Foods cheese specialist Sasha Shreders.

Shreders took the team through a full range of cheeses styles, from fresh to blue-veined to dry-aged. Along the way, he shared lots of interesting tidbits and pairing ideas. For instance, the quality of gruyere may be judged by “tears of joy,” not the ones you cry upon tasting the cheese but the drops of water that develop in gruyere’s holes as the cheese matures.

Another note: triple cream cheeses go well with sparkling wine. Expect both at DiNapoli’s new cafe, a stunning space in gold, black, white tile and hammered tin.

The location will feature an airy cafe in one section and wine bar in the other. A doorway links the spot to Taste the Olive, allowing customers to move from one business to the next without stepping outside.

DiNapoli plans to serve light breakfasts and lunches, , including the Swiss melted cheese dish named raclette. Noshes and small plates will fill the evening menu. Expect wine, olive oil and cooking classes, too.

When I stopped by Monday, workers were putting finishing touches on the cafe and refrigerated glass display cases were still empty — except for one. It was full of cheese!

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, wine bar, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Wine, craft beer bar debuts in Ogden

A new wine and craft beer bar is open in Ogden.

Fermental offers more than 200 craft beers and about 100 wines in a 1940s-era home at 7250-B Market St. at Wendover Lane, owner Steve Gibbs said.

A bar and sofa lounge inside seats about 25 people, but Gibbs said he was developing a beer garden outside, too.

A large assortment of Belgian beers are among top-rated suds on Fermental’s list, which includes beer on tap and in kegs that Gibbs will deliver and set up.

Wines range from upmarket labels to $4.99 bottles of Vista Point reds and whites, Gibbs said. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in wine bar Leave a comment

Hops Supply Co. pub opens

LM Restaurants’ new Hops Supply Co. is open and focused on craft beer, but the pub takes Wilmington into a new wine direction.

Along with suds, Hops, 5400 Oleander Drive, features wine served from kegs, LM spokeswoman Mindy Stroupe said.

Wine kegs are nothing new in California, but they’ve reached major U.S. cities only over the past two or three years, said Chris Thompson, a Cape Fear region wine consultant for wine wholesaler The Country Vintner.

Serving wine from anything but a bottle may be off-putting to oenophiles, but Thompson, also a certified sommelier, said wine tapped from kegs is as good as that poured from bottles. Learn more about these kegs and Hops Supply Co. in my full report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. You can also find out more about the Hops Supply Co. menu in an article about how the company develops its menus.

Posted on by lizbiro in Midtown Wilmington, New restaurants, Restaurants, wine bar Leave a comment

Olive Tree Deli Co. chef pops up at wine bar

When The Olive Tree Co. delicatessen closed its downtown store in 2010, fans bemoaned chef Paula Pacini shuttering the stove.

The Olive Tree Co. was more like a deli/fine dining hybrid. Born in Ecuador, Pacini was the kitchen’s maestra, turning out lovely, Argentine-style beef cutlets, housemade kale empanadas and wild mushroom and spinach lasagna in addition to American comfort food and deli standard and inspired sandwiches.

Pacini disappeared from the area’s dining landscape after Wayfarer Deli moved into The Olive Tree Co. space, 110 S. Front St. Recently, she popped up in The Fortunate Glass wine bar kitchen, 29 S. Front St., just a block away from her old restaurant.

Read my full report in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, wine bar Leave a comment

Tuscan wine dinner with a master

How popular is Italian food and wine? When downtown Wilmington’s The Fortunate Glass planned its May 10 Tuscan Wine Dinner, the shop’s first mulit-course wine and dine event, a single 6 p.m. seating was planned. Bookings came so quickly another 8 p.m. seating has been added.

Born in Lucca, Italy, near the Tuscan shore, guest chef Angelo Ciardella will prepare four courses true to his homeland.

Italian officials in 2010 recognized Ciardella as a key ambassador for Italian cooking thanks to the cooking classes he teaches and Angelo’s Italian Village, a Wilmington restaurant Ciardella operated from 1969 to 1985. For the ambassador ceremony, Ciardella stood with scientists, pop stars, movie moguls and successful professionals, all acknowledged as Italians who have boosted their homeland’s reputation.

Each of Ciardella’s Tuscan Wine Dinner dishes will be paired with an Italian wine selected by Country Vinter wine consultant/sommelier Chris Thompson, who has also worked as a chef.  

The wine dinner costs $48 per person, and reservations are required. Call (910)399-4292. Here’s the menu:

First Course:
Prosciutto & Melon with Shaved Parmesan
Terenzuola ”Colli di Luna” Vermentino

Second Course:
Chicken with Mushroom White Wine Sauce
Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico

Third Course:
Bolognese with Penne Pasta
Cantine Dei Vino Nobile Montepulciano

Fourth Course:
Assorted Cannoli
Moscali Moscadello di Montalcino

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Best of Wilmington Restaurant Week

“This, this, this and this. That and that, plus some of this, and maybe this and most certainly that and that,” is probably how the collective Wilmington foodie mind is thinking this Restaurant Week.

Running through March 28, Encore magazine’s Restaurant Week is the time to sample some of the Port City’s best dishes at unbelievably low prices.

So what are the must-haves among the many?

For sure, Mixto chef Trinity’s Hunt’s crispy barbecue pork spare ribs, bone-clinging but tender and just spicy enough.

Hunt also impresses with his knack for layering textures and flavors, which is bound to shine in his “crisp fried” Banks Channel flounder with roasted red pepper stone-ground polenta, organic spinach and spicy roasted poblano vinaigrette, all dusted with queso fresco.

Mixto offers three courses for $25, as does The Eat Spot, where some of Wilmington‘s best refried black beans land with house-smoked pulled pork, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream on white corn tortilla chips for nachos.

The Eat Spot chef Jason Godwin also features his signature SBLT & Grits: grilled shrimp on a toasted Kaiser bun along with applewood bacon, lettuce and roasted tomato dressing. The sandwich is served with cheddar cheese “grits.” The cooked grits are cooled, cut into sticks and deep-fried to resemble French fries.

On his $35, three-course Restaurant Week special, Godwin offers pan-seared duck breast over a ragout of mushrooms, caramelized onions & spinach with mustard-herb sauce.

End with Godwin’s sweet potato bread pudding, light and fluffy thanks to it’s biscuity base.

Spinaci con prosciutto at Caffe Phoenix.

Caffe Phoenix’s bread pudding is featured on its $15, three-course lunch menu, as is the restaurant’s famous spinaci con prosciutto pasta dish.

Chef Carson Jewell is back in the Phoenix kitchen, good news especially for flounder lovers. He pairs the buttermilk-battered, fried fish with hoppin’ john to which Jewell adds braised collards.

I always think of Caprice Bistro as the Restaurant Week big dog. Its $25, three-course menu is mind-boggling in its authentic bistro array and abundance. What’s more surprising is that French chef Thierry Moity and his wife, Patricia, offer a $25, three-course, prix fixe menu every night at Caprice Bistro, so no worries if you miss Restaurant Week.

Chef’s food is among Wilmington’s most reliable, but especially noteworthy are pork cheeks; Waterzooi, a seafood stew in herb cream sauce, and housemade macarons.

Crab and lobster cakes have been on Aubriana’s menu since the restaurant opened in fall 2008. The enduring dish is among offerings on the shop’s $30, three-course list. The pan-seared cake made with jumbo lump crab meat and cold water lobster comes with sweet chili aioli and pineapple curry cream sauce.

Get chef Alex Succop’s double-chocolate peanut butter pie, and you’ll have enough to enjoy and enough to take home. The tall, fluffy peanut butter and cream cheese filling is set between an Oreo cookie crust and bittersweet chocolate ganache. This is not the dense, knock-your-worst-enemy-over-the-head-with-it peanut butter pie found at too many restaurants.

Another super Restaurant Week deal is The Fortunate Glass’ $28, three-course, small plates spread, each course paired with wine.

Chef Karel Blaas knows soup, and one of the courses is butternut squash soup matched with Talbott Kali Hart chardonnay from Monterey, California. The wine bar’s popular truffled mushroom pizza, heady with the aroma of truffle oil, joins Caldora montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Abruzzi, Italy

Speaking of butternut squash, it shows up for Restaurant Week in Thai Spice’s butternut squash Panang curry, the squash mingled with fresh basil, broccoli, carrots, zucchini and the diner’s choice of meat.

And sit down for this Restaurant Week special: Thai Spice’s four-course lunch costs just $15 per person.

Posted on by lizbiro in bacon, barbecue, dinner specials, downtown Wilmington, French, lunch specials, ribs, Wilmington Restaurant Week, wine bar Leave a comment