Saturday, February 18, 2012

Private Blind Wine Tasting: Tel Aviv, Israel

Date: jeudi 7 feverier 2012
Location:  Private residence in Tel Aviv, Israel

One of my favorite things in life is enjoying intimate dinners with dearest friends around the world, over exquisite wines, delicious food (good food, not necessarily fancy), and chatting over worldly conversation through a minimum 3 hour affair.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am passionate about food and wine.  When I completed my Diageo project last year, my girlfriend/colleague Oihana in Madrid exclaimed to me, "Soledad!  We will really miss you and your crazy obsession with food, wines, trips..... hahahaha!"  And I was to miss them greatly too, for I had spent a year with the Madrid and Milan team. There was no shortage of European wine lovers to share and appreciate a glass of wine or digestif with while we collaborated chaotically over countless hours of challenging integration work late into the nights (while snacking on jamon and gruyere ham paninis!).  2010-2011 was my year of Euro. 

So, I moved to Israel with hopes of continuing this Soledad lifestyle.  I'd thus far taken it with me everywhere I already jet-setted to anyway, professionally packed away into my suitcase, so there was no reason to think it wouldn't continue.  In a nutshell, this meant a lifestyle of having rapid access to my hand picked Master Sommelier selections of wines in my San Francisco wine cellar (, having the luxuries that come wth living a bicoastal life in San Francisco and New York City (Blue Bottle Coffee, Cafe Grumpy, lots of great sushi!), and  partaking in many weekend jaunts to Paris or London for focused food and wine explorations.  All activities centered around easy accessibility to a very important component in my livelihood:  a diverse range of foods and wines at my fingertips. 

Not knowing what to expect other than being hopeful and positive about the local food and wine culture, I spent the first three months in Israel almost becoming a teetotaler.  With much frustration and denial, I finally accepted the fact I just couldn't get my hands on "my" kinds of wines.  German and Austrian Reislings, French Chardonnays and Pinots from around the periphery of the Alps, and Italian wines of the same character.  On the contrary, what I did have a lot of at my disposal was an abundance of heavy purple grape juice at 15% abv and up.  I felt as of my hands were tied.  My dear somm friends out there, you know this cringe.  The one that punches you in the mouth, leaving your teeth looking like they were stained from sucking on a heavy cheap dye purple sno-cone all summer long.

Fast forward a few short months through acclimitizing to a new country and culture, I was finally introduced to a fantastic wine tasting and eating partner - one that I liken to my kind of palate from my SF/NYC/Asian and European roots.  Luckily for me, he was of French decent (j'aime!), grew up locally in Tel Aviv, lived in Paris for many years, shared the same affinity for Old World wines (finally, someone in Israel who understands my palate!), and perhaps most importantly, he was generous enough to make some time for me and share some wine.  Little did I know, as I later came to find, that he was also the European GM for Riedel for many years (*gasp* proper stemware!) and also the founder of the Israel Academy of Wine.  Alright, so I was quickly humbled when I soon realized that I was in better hands than expected (*blushing!*).

And so began the thankful continuation of bridging previous Soledad lifestyle into the new-old Middle East, with support from those in the know.  It also happened to by my birthday week (yippee~!) which coincided with a fortuitous invitation to their private blind wine tasting gathering that same week.  Each person brings a wine they find interesting, cover the bottle with foil, and we go around slowly blind tasting and guessing where the wine is from and the vintage.  Yeah, just like in the movies.  I was the most novice in the room, instead of the smarty pants.  :) 

Below is just an idea of hopefully what is more to come.  :)  Oh, and I think I got the yellow card this time.  Shall redeem myself next time, luckily I think future invitations have not been revoked yet!

Other notable moments in Soledad's traveling wine blogs with my mentors!

1 Somm, 1 Master Somm, 1 Eve in NYC; 11 fevrier 2011:

Bourgogne - Cotes de Nuits, Seju Yang's Monthly Wine Tasting: NYC:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia: Milan, Italy

Date:  jeudi 2 octobre 2011
Location:  Via Montecuccoli 6
Milano, Italy
Telephone:  +39 02 416886

At Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, I had one of the nicest, most beautiful, memorable eating experiences ever.  Big statement coming from me, a well traveled citizen of the world constantly in search of exquisite in food, wine, and service.  I have an affinity for all things Italian - espresso, pasta, pizza, buffala mozzarella, designer shoes, and of course, Italian wine.  Because some of my best friends live in Milano, my admiration of Italy continues to grow each year (the little Mafia - you know who you are!).

Currently based in Israel, I longed for truly authentic Italian food - was badly craving al dente pasta!  In my opinion, one must travel to the source.  I longed for authentic Italian dishes kneaded by Italian fingertips.  I was on a mission to replenish myself by eating and drinking well.  Prior my departure, I performed the obligatory restaurant search for top restaurants and sent my short list (Sadler, Aimo e Nadia, Cracco, Trussardi all Scala) to a fellow Italian consultant friend.  His remarks on Aimo were as follows:

"Aimo e Nadia, is considered the best restaurant in Milan (even in North Italy) and is very innovative in the type of food. It is superexpensive though – I think that for a ‘simple’ dinner you won’t pay less then 300 Eur (wine excluded) – there are some signature dishes that made the place very famous (you should check them out before going) . It was the only 10 few years ago on the guide to Milanese restaurant."

When I arrived at Aimo for lunch, it was a quiet, sunny, small street in Milan.  The doorway was well marked and gave me the feeling of entering an art gallery.  I smiled - because I felt welcomed into this comfortable, quiet, sophisticated landscape.  Outside the restaurant walls were also abstract paintings which further led to the art gallery feel.  Some with sketches of Aimo himself.  I loved walking into this kind of ambiance, a sophisticated and polished - yet still warm and inviting atmosphere.  There was someone to greet me as I entered.  In this case, it was Nicola Dell'agnolo, the Maitre D' - who shares that "Here, at Aimo e Nadia's, the most important thing is feeling welcomed."  I remember Nicola being the person who added the "human touch" to the already marvelously perfect creations prepared for me in Aimo e Nadia's kitchen.  It is the kind of warmth and service I seek - which can be somewhat of a lost art in today's world of "fine" dining.  It's a feeling of connecting and feeling welcome.  As an opinionated wine and food connoisseur, its these kind of personal and touching experiences that I remember most these days - behind a bevy of sublime artful dishes consumed over the years.

Since I'd been starved of nice wines in Israel, I was on  rampage to engulf myself silly with fantastic wines in Italy.  I was extremely pleased that Aimo had a very impressive wine list - served by the glass!  My ogling eyes went straight to the 2006 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles (French Chardonnay) - whoowhee!  And when in Rome do as Romans, so I also ordered an Italian 2008 Borgo Del Tiglio (Italian Chardonnay).  But, before Nicola helped me to my wines, he first graciously offered me a glass of Italian sparkling wine - NV Caves du Vin Blanc Extreme Brut Metodo Classico - and I did not refuse.  Perfect way to start a loooong, slow lunch... pampering myself in Italy... with a beautiful, light, creamy butter colored, bubbling glass of sparkling... 

For my red, I wavered between a Barbaresco and Barolo.  Nicola explained to me the 2005 Barolo Bartolo Mascarello was an excellent vintage, even though usually I prefer Barbaresco.  I trusted him and he was right.  :) 

NV Caves du Vin Blanc Extreme Brut Metodo Classico, an elegant way to start the long Italian lunch.

Nicola opening my two old world Chardonnays at my table for me... with ease and perfection.  I love my perfect stemware too.  Oh, and Wilson, my blue eating partner for the afternoon.  :)

A PERFECT glass of 2006 1er Cru Puligy Montrachet Les Pucelles.  Absolute dream on the palate.  Acidity, minerality, balanced, flint, aromas of lemon, baked lemon cake......  

2008 Borgo Del Tiglio vis a vis 2006 1er Cru Puligy Montrachet Les Pucelles... ah, even the Italians will admit the Leflaive is the more elegant of the two.  :)

 2005 Barolo Bartolo Mascarello

I chose the tasting menu after being torn between a la carte (because I needed to have pasta), and the tasting menu which providing many pleasing choices but didn't include any pasta dishes....  Somehow Nicola must have felt bad for me, because later on he snuck in a tasting of the most perfectly al dente seasoned pasta EVER... a bite sized morsel of gorgeous pasta, wrapped perfectly just for me and placed gently on my warm serving plate.  I have pictures to prove it.  I was absolutely elated!   

What later came throughout that afternoon was an orgy of gastronomic food fare... Aimo himself (in his 70s) also came out to greet every single one of his patrons.  This is a practice of his, constantly being engaged with his kitchen and his customers.  I was honored.  Aimo doesn't speak much English, so we exchanged nods as I let him know approvingly that each and every meticulous dish that arrived to me was an absolute work of art.

For anyone visiting Milan and is a true connoisseur of fine food and service - Aimo e Nadia is a MUST. 

Aimo himself, one of the most revered chefs in Italy... taking his time to personally welcome and greet each guest in his dining room.  Here, the table next to me was a group of low-tone speaking Italian men... all I imagined was that they were some kind of Italian mafia, in their fine Italian suits... :)  
A little amuse bouche before the grand lunch tasting begins..

Beautiful Italian breadsticks, perfect pairing with the Italian sparking wine.

Italian swordfish starter, on the house... a lovely welcome.  So delicate and savory... 

Fried fresh porcini mushrooms with zucchini, their flowers, buffalo's mozzarella, pine-nuts from Tuscany, with blueberry sauce and cocoa flavor.

Green tortellini made of nettles and semolina filled with shrimp, buffalo mozzarella and leeks, with sauce of shrimp juice and tomato.

"Pulcinella" Italian sword fish with "trombetta" zucchini, anchovies from Monterosso with green beans in their juice.

Rump of veal from Piedmont cooked pink in olive oil aromatized with herbs with vegetables and olives pesto and sauce of rubarb and vervain.

Close up shot before I take the savory bite...

The most delicious juices all over... and freshest, most sophisticated, fine quality ingredients.  

My perfect spoonful dollop of pasta... paired exquisitely with my Puligny Montrachet... as you look behind my blueman Wilson eating partner, you'll see another gentleman who also came to dine alone for lunch that day.  True food connoisseurs we are!

Small selection of Italian cheeses.  Wow these were just lovely with my wines.  All too perfect. 

Pre-dessert.  A delightful palate cleanser.  

Sweet garden:  eggplant hemisphere with chocolate, basil, and balm sorbet.  

Little macarons with smiley face. 

Of course, un espresso!  The Italian way.

A tour of the kitchen by Nicola... a small but extremely clean, tidy, and efficient kitchen.  This is where the magic is created.

My final bill... every Euro worth it!

And of course... Soledad would dream of nothing less than fine dining in Ferragammo's.  My lovely Princess Chiara tells me "Eheh, no wonder I like your shoes!"

Exquisite fine dining at Aimo e Nadia... I will be back soon.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

12 האחים, אבן גבירול Ha'achim (The Brothers), Tel Aviv: Israel

Date:  samedi 28 janvier 2012
Address:  12 Ibn Gabirol, Tel Aviv
Telephone:  +972 03 691 7171

So this was a typical lazy Sunday (I mean Saturday!) afternoon Soledad brunch, with an eclectic well-traveled international group made up of Israelis, Germans, Danish, an American, and myself - a 100% Taiwanese girlie.  My experience here was evocative of scenes from "L'auberge Espagnol" (The Spanish Apartment) where a bunch of European international exchange students land in Barcelona, share a flat for a year abroad, and experience a deep, rich, cultural interchange ending in lifelong friendship.  However, no Italians, Brits, Spanish, or Portuguese in our version here (maybe the sequel!).  Ours is the Middle Eastern international version in Tel Aviv!  And, none of us are sharing a flat since we are not really in college anymore...

Ha'achim serves tasty mezes.  Comfort food in casual atmosphere, and friendly service.  Order lots and lots of appetizers at this restaurant... try to go with a group of at least four, so you can order and taste more, like Dim Sum!  Plus, it's just fun to see all those different small plates sprawled all over the table, being consumed by an eclectic group of friends and witty conversation.  We sat under the enclosed veranda, which is typical Tel Aviv cafe design.  This is especially nice as you let the sun drench in.  Or, in our case, the winter sun rays came in while the enclosed veranda kept out the intermittent winter rain.

I read somewhere they are known for their skewers... however I personally didn't like the quality of their skewer meat much.  I guess, coming from Asia, I have had my fair share of top quality meats (wagyu, kobe, korean kalbi, etc. meat so good I can eat it bloody raw!).  So for a simple square of meat to be popped into my mouth, I expect quality over fussiness.  I sent back my Filet Mignon Skewer (the taste was odd!).  I must say, however, that I was quite obliged when the Chef gifted me a Wagyu Beef Skewer as a condolence for my not liking the Filet Skewer.  Much appreciated, yet still, something about the quality of these meats were not appealing to me. Stick with the mezes here, instead.

Reservations highly recommended - especially since there are groups like ours who sit and drink bottle after bottle after three bottles of Chablis, order a gazillion small plates of food... and only three to four hours later finally peel ourselves away from the table, stroll back home settling into a semi-siesta/coma-like state.