Cheers and all the best, Zita
Chez Marie French Bistro is one of my favorite restaurants in Boca Raton. Last week they hosted a secret wine dinner with French wine from Secret Vines and a “secret” menu that was only disclosed when we arrived at our table.
The 5 course menu sounded amazing and began with a salmon rillettes gouger, a cream puff filled with diced salmon seasoned with a dill crème fraiche. Stu Nudelman, Sales Manager for PG Fine Wines and Jerome Hyafil of Secret Vines poured our first wine of the night, a Cremant sparkling rose produced from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and a bit of Mauzac grapes with some Pinot Noir for color. It was quite delicate with nice strawberry flavors and complemented the rich and creamy salmon dish very well.
Our 2nd course was a salad of arugula with pecans and blueberries and a warm goat cheese canapé served with the Secret Vines Chenin Blanc. It’s not always easy to pair wine with salad but this Chenin Blanc, (organic, by the way) had a nice tropical slightly sweet taste that was pleasant partner for the dish.
Vanilla infused risotto topped with a coffee crunch breaded scallop was next with a unique Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy. This wine had an amazing nose full of lychee and peachy aromas. It had a bolder and rounder feeling in the mouth and held up beautifully to the absolutely amazing risotto.
Ready for some red wine, we were then poured a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from Minervois in the South of France. The aromas of this Heritage Red Blend were fruity and peppery and came through on the palate too with nice and smooth tannins. Paired with a de-boned braised beef short rib with a cocoa glaze that was so soft and succulent, it was more than gratifying.
As if all that was not enough, it was time for the dessert course. This was a sauternes poached pear baked in puff pastry with chocolate and touch of ginger. Malbec is a wonderful accompaniment to chocolate so the Secret Vines 100% Malbec was a perfect choice. Flowery and fruity with lots of dark fruit flavors, it was smooth, rich and completed this dinner fabulously.
What I loved about this wine dinner besides all the incredible food, was the uniqueness of each of the wines. I like how Jerome seeks out the unknown, finds blends that you might not expect and regions that have hidden gems.
Thanks to Marie for hosting, Chef Stephane for the magical meal, Jerome for finding these wines, and Stu and his company for sharing them.
Cheers and all the best,
Highlights from Juneau Alaska from All the Best with Zita Keeley. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more!
More to come: Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Anchorage, Kodiak, Homer, Alaska and Victoria, BC
My husband and I just spent 3 days in Madrid, Spain. It took almost a full day to get there with all kinds of flight issues and such but I was determined to not let that get to me and decided to put mind over matter and make the most out of the short time there.
Our hotel was north of the center of the city in the Conde Duque district, but walking distance to almost everything. After settling in to our room we took a stroll (even though it was raining) to meet our daughter and her boyfriend at a local restaurant that they had found. On the way there, we spotted numerous fun looking tapas restaurants and bars. It seemed likely that this would be another eating holiday. I was quite tired and not hungry after the big travel day so just had a cocktail before we crashed for the night.
The next day we had a delicious breakfast at Federal Café, a super popular place opened by a couple of Australian expats who first started one in Barcelona. It’s full of lots of healthy and tasty options and excellent coffee. I loved my avocado toast with poached egg and felt energized and ready for the day.
Before heading to Madrid, we did do a bit of research and found a company called Devour Madrid that does some amazing tours around the city. While I hadn’t actually booked anything with them, we arranged to meet with one of their guides for a chat. Luke Darracott is an Englishman living in Madrid who loves all kinds of food, wine and traveling. He’s also a tv host for a variety of food/travel shows and so I was pretty certain we’d hit it off. I showed Luke a list of tapas places our wonderful friend in Almeria, Maria Virgina sent us and he loved her selection. At the top of the list, was Casa Toni so we made our plan to go there that night.
While the rain was holding off for a bit, we strolled over to see the Royal Palace, one of Madrid’s main attractions. There was too long a line to go in so instead we headed over to the Sorolla Art Gallery, a recommendation from Luke. It’s a beautiful house with sculptures, ceramics, furniture and jewelry as well as the artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s paintings.
As dinner is quite late in Spain, with most people eating after 10PM we first scheduled to see the flamenco show at Casapatas. Starting at about 8PM it was an hour and half of almost nonstop music and dancing and was rather exhilarating. By now, the tapas places around were open and starting to fill up so we quickly made our way to Casa Toni where we were taken to a table upstairs and promptly brought a bottle of local Madrid wine while waiting for our food. This place is known by the locals to have some of the best traditional tapas such as pigs ears and lamb intestines and so, yes, I had to try them. I’m not a fan of the pigs ears but the lamb intestines that were fried and wrapped around a vine were really delicious. We also had some chorizo (some of the best I’ve ever tasted) and a really good eggplant dish, patatas bravas (fried potato cubes with a spicy sauce)and some prawns with garlic.
We woke up to more rain the next day and so decided to visit the city’s History museum to get a better understanding of Madrid’s evolution as an urban city. It’s a small and easy museum to navigate and also free to enter.
We then took the metro to the La Latina district to check out the Mercado de La Cebada, a 2 story indoor market full of stalls with meats, vegetables, fruits and seafood as well as some newer wine and beer bars and where on Saturday, the seafood aisles become a crowded and festive eating and drinking extravaganza. Thankfully, Luke met us and handled the ordering and found us a space so we could take part in this local happening. We had a very nice local Rueda wine (all of 7 euros) with mussels, octopus and delicious white anchovies.
Finding out how much I love cheese, Luke then took us to a tapas bar nearby that had an amazing assortment of cheese along with all kinds of local wines by the glass. In fact, the place called Almacen de Vino was actually a storehouse for wine that used to hold wine in casks and then sell it to the locals. The tiny place was packed and the smell of cheese wafted all around. I got to taste about 3 different types while sipping some nice monastrell.
Back on the metro, we now headed to one of Madrid’s best wine shops, Lavinia, located in the elegant Salamanca district. This large store has a restaurant upstairs where we sat down with a glass of sherry and some complimentary tapas before I browsed around and found the sherries that I ended up purchasing.
After a full day of almost non stop eating and drinking, it was a simple snack and drink before heading off to bed.
The final day in Madrid was cold and windy but thankfully, not raining. Deciding it would be a good day to shop we headed to the biggest department store in Spain (and in fact, Europe, El Corte Ingles. We went to the one on Plaza Callao since we heard it had an entire floor dedicated to gourmet food and drink. The Gourmet Experience, as its called, is on the 9th floor and has an amazing outdoor terrace with beautiful views of Madrid. We managed to get some photos before rain began again and browsed the amazing display of hams, cheeses, olive oils and other Spanish delicacies. If only I could take it all back home with me.
Heading out to the Gran Via, we popped in and out of shops until we were hungry for a bite. The rain had picked up, once again, and we needed to find a place in a hurry. Fortunately, we were right by a pretty place called La Carmen in the Plaza del Carmen and found ourselves in this friendly, stylish and very comfortable restaurant. The menu was diverse and reasonable and we shared some excellent roasted pork ribs, bull’s tail risotto, a cheese and sausage platter, spicy potatoes and the popular, fried squid sandwich. A couple of glasses of albarino and I was completely satisfied.
The rain had now stopped so we made the plan to walk back to our hotel. On the way, my daughter spotted an authentic looking Vienese café and we reenergized with coffee and hot chocolate.
We made a stop on our way to see the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian monument dating back to the 2nd century BC. It was gift to Madrid and reconstructed there in 1972. It’s located in La Montana park near the Plaza de Espana that has more fabulous views of the city and surrounding mountains.
Our final meal in Madrid was at the charming and cozy El Jardin Secreto (Secret Garden), for a light dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. My husband had pig trotters that were super moist and tasty and I had a crepe filled with cheese that was simply okay. While the food might not have been the best in my opinion, the cute atmosphere was worth the visit.
The next morning, we had a quick bite at the hotel, filling up on Spanish ham and cheese before our easy taxi ride to the airport.
The three days were complete and I am thrilled that this short trip was so gratifying.
Cheers and all the best,
The biggest bears in the world are in Kodiak, Alaska. There are more than 3,500 of these brown bears in the town of little over 6,000 people. While my few hours there were to explore the food I couldn’t help but anticipate and actually expect to see one of these giants. (From a distance of course).
I’d arranged to meet with Chef Joel Chenet, a Frenchman, who settled in Kodiak some years ago. He was excited to share some local recipes with me but first took me on a drive around to show me some highlights of the very small town.
Needing some ingredients, we stopped at one of his friend’s houses and walked through her garden picking herbs and lettuce. From there we went down to the beach to forage for some edible greens that are regularly used here like beach greens and sea lettuce. I found out that there are so many edible plants all growing along the shore line. After that, it was to a nearby field to pick more interesting plants and wild greens. It just can’t get fresher than this.
We drove back to his house with our collection of goodies where his lovely wife, Martine, had arranged a full table of scones and tea for our visit. Chef Joel went straight to his kitchen to start preparing an interesting dish with a smoked salmon ravioli and a type of pesto made with nettles and seal oil. I had wondered if I’d get to taste anything unusual on this visit and so seal oil would be it. Other than a slight fishy after taste like when you have a fish oil capsule, the flavor was quite soft and not unlike olive oil.
There was a dish with halibut that Joel was quite excited to showcase. He filled a clay pot with sea water and then lowered hot rocks (usually heated over an open fire but he heated them in his oven here) into the water followed by the halibut filets. It was quite a presentation and the fish turned out delicious.
With only a short time before having to get back to the ship, Joel and Martine insisted on taking us to the Monks Rock Coffeehouse and bookstore they described as a local gem. We were greeted by the friendliest people who are all student volunteers from St. Innocent’s Academy and who immediately made me feel at home. The place is quaint with one side set up as the café and the other a shop with all kinds of Russian do-dads. They also have a thrift store upstairs that I didn’t get to see. While we sipped our delicious coffees and nibbled on an amazing Reuben sandwich, we were suddenly being serenaded with some Georgian folk song by this amazing group of people. It was an unusual yet very moving experience.
Back at the port, Chef Joel tried to give me some remaining halibut to take on board but sadly, the security people there refused to let me. It would have been so great to have the Executive Chef of the ship cook that up. Oh well.
I still can’t believe I never saw any bears in Kodiak, but maybe next time.
Cheers and all the best,
I’m now about half way through my Alaska cruise and the next stop is the quaint town of Homer. This pretty place is located on the Katchemak Bay and is noted for an area called “The Spit”, a 4 mile or so strip of land that was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and now is the main location for Homer’s best restaurants and shops.
Before heading to the Spit though I have a date at Tutka Bay Lodge, a wilderness retreat about 25 minutes across the bay from Homer. The scenery surrounding us as we motor on over there is breathtaking. The lodge is on an 11 acre stretch of land with all types of relaxing and luxurious amenities plus, the reason I am visiting, a popular cooking school inside a repurposed crabbing boat, the Widgeon, they fondly call “the ark.”
Before any cooking happens, I am taken by the Chef, Charles and nature guide, Karen to forage for ingredients Charles will want to use for my dish. We head down to the rocky beach and before long our basket is filled with all types of odd looking greens and flowers. I’m given a brief explanation of each one. There’s one called bladder wrack and it’s particularly strange looking but Karen assures me is delicious in soups and stews.
Back at the ark, Charles sets up a cooking area and proceeds to grill up beautiful looking salmon filets that will be garnished with a salad of our just picked greens. How much fresher can you get than this?
After boating back to Homer, I head to the Spit to meet with Chef Mandy Dixon at her popular La Baleine Café. She tells me she serves a lot of the local fishermen so her portions are quite hefty. To my surprise, I was served a bowl of ramen noodles (with salmon), a dish I definitely would never have thought would be on a menu here. It was outrageously good. Along side that I had a crab melt that was rich and delicious and more of what I’d expect. What a terrific little spot this was.
Now heading off the Spit and into town we make a quick stop at Homer’s local brewery where the owner, Steve McCasland, guides me through a flight of all their brews.
Although there’s very little time left before my cruise ship leaves Homer, I have one final cooking date with Anna at Homer Stay & Play, a bed & breakfast place with spectacular views over the bay and glaciers. Anna and her husband Byron have prepared an incredible spread of food for us and I feel so bad that we have to rush through this visit. We still manage to whip up some tasty purple potatoes with goat cheese and “nesto” a pesto made with nettles and have a few bites of their delicious display.
It’s back onboard the MS Amsterdam and on to Kodiak with a full and satisfied belly and some wonderful new friends.
Anchorage is the next stop on this 2 week inside passage cruise. Since I had such great food experiences in Juneau, I am now quite eager to see what Alaska’s biggest city has to offer. Having over 40% of Alaska’s population, Anchorage is popular for fishing, hiking and I am certainly hoping, for eating.
I made a plan to meet Jack from Visit Anchorage who has made a few dining arrangements for me. We hop into his mini van and drive to the “south side” of town and stop at what looks like an out of business strip mall. There’s not another car in site and while I’m a bit confused about this location, Jack gets out and walks to one of the doors and assures me that the Southside Bistro is one of Anchorage’s neighborhood gems. A uniformed Chef greets us and brings us inside. What a surprise to find a beautifully decorated and inviting space with an open kitchen and 2 warm and comfortable dining areas. I’m told they have one of the best wine and beer lists in the city too. The restaurant is noted for its fresh and fun food and Chef Travis creates different specials on a daily basis. Today, he wants to make a salmon with cherries and lentil dish and has a gorgeous 20 pound king salmon already waiting to be prepared. He does all the hard work and then we sit down with a glass of pinot noir and this amazing dish. The wine and the salmon are just a perfect pairing and I’m feeling more excited with what’s yet to come.
We drive back into “town” and the main street of Anchorage where there are numerous vendors behind hot dog carts selling their popular reindeer hotdogs. Of course, I have to try one so Jack brings me to his favorite. It seems these are eaten all over town, even for breakfast, and I love mine loaded with spices and this vendor’s very own, special sauce called “the boss.” I loved it!
So now we go from street side hot dog stand to elegant, upscale dining just around the corner at Marx Brothers Café. This restaurant is an unquestionable treasure in the Anchorage dining scene located in a pretty little house with only 14 tables. They are known for some of the most innovative contemporary food in Alaska and I find this out for myself as Chef Jack promptly brings out 3 outrageously gorgeous looking dishes. There’s a king salmon with sorrel sauce and mashed purple potatoes, a macademia crusted halibut with coconut curry, mango chutney forbidden rice and grilled Japanese eggplant and neopolitan seafood mousse with smoked salmon, smoked halibut, and maine lobster with brioche toast points and caviar. Yes, all that for me! The Chef explains that he loves when opposing flavors can come together on a plate. He also said this is Alaska so you can’t get too crazy with ingredients and ideas. We finished with his special birch syrup butter pecan ice cream. This meal was as extraordinary as it sounds.
We have one more place to go in one of Anchorage’s oldest neighborhoods. This time it’s for scones at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I have to work for my scone as Rachel shows me the process in creating these multi berried beauties. Needless to say I was a bit too full to eat a whole one but thankfully, Rachel let me take some with me.
There’s still a little time left before I had to get back to the ship. I certainly couldn’t eat any more so Jack drives to one of his favorite spots, Chugach State Park. The views are simply breathtaking and while I didn’t see any moose or other wildlife so prevalent there, I was able to take in some of the natural beauty surrounding this part of Alaska and even managed to hike around a bit and work off some of that food.
Anchorage might be the biggest city in Alaska, but it definitely has small town charm and I’m happy to say, the nicest people and extraordinarily good eating.
Cheers and all the best,