May 9, 2008

Two Italian meals

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Dined out and had Italian for dinner two nights in a row, but they were totally different experiences which highlight the range of options available in town.

First night - Cipriani

On the first night, our large group of 12 chose to dine at Cipriani. This has always been one of my favorite places, and we took the private room so that we wouldn't scare away the other customers... Luckily there weren't many customers in the main dining room anyway.

We brought our own wines and had the equivalent of 7 bottles for the evening, which, when added with the bellinis that some of us were enjoying, amounted to a decent amount of alcohol.

We had a contributor with 2 bottles of Champagne - the Gosset Excellence Brut followed by Krug Grande Cuvee. Despite all the fun we poked at our friend for bringing a "cheapy" Champagne, the Gosset was actually a decent drink. But of course it paled next to the Krug in comparison, with more mature, refined notes in the nose.

Next up was a bottle of Chateau St Jean Fume Blanc (didn't look at the vintage), which was fine as a drinking wine (someone's quiet remark to me).

We then moved onto the 2 bottles of 2001 Kistler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast that I brought. These were actually drinking very well, although still a bit young and probably need a couple of more years to completely round out the edges. The nose was classic pinot, but none of the farmy, barnyard notes of Burgundy. Sweet, powerful and concentrated, I thought it did very well for Kistler's generic cuvee. 

Finally we had the 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia, from a magnum that I brought. I was a little apprehensive before the wine was poured from the decanter, as this would be my first experience for this vintage of Insignia. I need not have worried. The nose was full of sweet red fruits and powerful, and the wine was full-bodied on the palate. Enough of the tannins had been shed to make the wine rounded and smooth, and I let the wine swirl around my tongue to feel and chew on the tannins. Wonderful stuff. I don't think the wine has reached its peak yet, so I can probably wait a couple more years before pulling the cork on my other bottles.

I always choose the simplest food at Cipriani. Tonight I picked caprese. This is a more delicate version of the classic, as it uses mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes instead of the usual, large slices of both. Of course, it was delicious and I do prefer it this way.

For the main course, I again ordered the baked taglialini with ham. This is a dish that I always order at Cipriani, because it's so good. Thin strips of ham is sprinkled on top of the pasta along with cheese, and baked in a shallow dish au gratin. Never ceases to satisfy me.

Being the boring person that I am, I picked and recommended the vanilla cream cake for dessert. I did try the chestnut cake, and it was yummy, but the vanilla cream is still my favorite for its lightness.

I left the restaurant very full and pretty inebriated. A very good evening indeed.

Second night - Panevino

A few friends decided to gather at Panevino for a casual meal. I remembered that the roast suckling pig was pretty yummy, and so I was really looking forward to this meal.

I brought a bottle of white and a bottle of red, and I had already opened the 1996 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon in the office for it to breathe. I asked the manager if she could help me chill and open the wines, only to be told that the restaurant doesn't allow wine from the outside. I told the manager that I had opened a bottle a few months ago on my last visit, but she insisted that this rule has been in place for a couple of years. At this point I'm pretty upset and it clearly showed on my face.

With limited exceptions (usually reserved for big name, must-go restaurants) I do not patronize restaurants that don't allow BYO. After a few minutes the manager came back and offered to let us consume the Far Niente since it I had already pulled the cork, and she would do so without charging us corkage. Well, it's a nice gesture, but for me the damage has already been done. Panevino would be on the short list of restaurants I would not return to (like Le Tire Buchon) because of its wine policy.

Honestly, the food is decent here. There was nothing to complain about the caprese - the tomato was ripe and the mozzarella soft and creamy. But these come in large sizes and somehow just isn't quite the same as what I had the evening before at Cipriani.  The deep fried calamari was not bad, either.

The main course came and I saw a big hunk of suckling pig in front of me. It's pretty darn big, with a trotter attached. I start to chop it up with my knife, and put the first piece in my mouth. Yum! The fragrant and crispy skin - together with a layer of fat that melts in your mouth - nicely balances with what little lean meat there is. As I mentioned last week, it's difficult for me not to like any roast pig... I manage to finish the entire piece of meat, but am too full to take in any dessert.   For a second night in a row, I needed an espresso to help with digestion.

BTW the 1996 Far Niente was not bad. Funny thing is that the manager offered to decant the wine, then simply poured the entire bottle (along with all the sediment) into the decanter in about 3 seconds. Why bother decanting if you're not going to leave the sediment in the bottle? Anyway, the wine had shed its tannins so it was smooth on the palate, with a typically Cali cab nose. But somehow it was a slight disappointment as I had expected a lot from this bottle. Maybe it was the sediment, or my foul mood thanks to the manager, or the fact that I had just drunk a fabulous bottle of '97 Cali cab the night before.

Oh well... Did I mention that I wasn't going back to Panevino again?...

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