El Asador

I really wanted to go and celebrate my five years of blogging and of course that meant wining and dining, as the expressions goes from my parent’s generation. This restaurant was in my old neighborhood that I have been talking about ever since I left to start my adult life after college, and I was looking forward to seeing a place that all the food critics were raving about. There were actually two things that really intrigued me about El Asador; they allow you to take your own wine or beer and they are located in my old neighborhood. I told my Bride about it and she was game for trying out a new restaurant and believe it or not, she had never been to my old stomping grounds of when I was a kid. She had an important meeting the day that I delivered the commencement speech to my old junior high school that was closing after that year. Even with all of the road construction we got there, and I guess that over the years I have still had reasons to go to the old neighborhood, so I guess I had gradually noted changes, but seeing the neighborhood through her eyes was different. I guess that since I had been talking about the neighborhood all of my life that perhaps I had allowed myself some rose-colored glasses. Thomas Wolfe was right. As we drove by looking at my old family home and at my cousin’s home and then driving by the gutted hulk that was the church my Mother attended all of her life, looking at the broken out stained glass windows the world had changed in one moment.

When we got to the restaurant that was basically across the street from another restaurant that is a fixture in the neighborhood, I kept looking at the building, but I could not remember what had previously been there, but I did admire the beautiful mural that they had commissioned to be painted on the side of the building and it was in sharp contrast to all of the graffiti-inspired “art” that has become the norm in the area. The chef/owner had worked at a couple of restaurants that we have gone to, and he is very well respected. Rather than going to the trendy areas of the Metropolitan Detroit, he was pioneering and created a Mexican Steakhouse. As soon as we were seated they brought out the standard chips and salsa, but while the chips were freshly made they were not the usual greasy ones that have become the norm and the salsa while not overly spicy had a nice flavor. We ordered the Guacamole en la Mesa and it was prepared tableside by our waitress. My Bride ordered the Mole de Gallina, which is probably what I would have ordered as I just adore a well-made Mole sauce and this was one for sure. The dish if you have never had it is a chicken breast in a sauce of sesame seeds, Chile ancho, pasilla and mulato with a hint of chocolate, peanuts and assorted spices. I didn’t order that dish, because El Asador is a Mexican Steakhouse, so I ordered the Ribeye Con Rajas, which was a char-grilled steak topped with a Poblano Pepper Green sauce and it came out perfectly cooked “medium-rare” as requested. What was kind of refreshing for a restaurant that has been discovered by “hipsters” is that the décor is not breathtaking and the dishes were not plated as most of the new places sometimes replace flavor with appearance.

When I called for reservations the young lady that answered the phone, almost immediately told me that I could bring my own beer or wine, but not liquor to the restaurant and she also suggested that I should bring a “tool” for opening whatever I was going to have with dinner, and that they have glasses. I asked my Bride if she would prefer a Malbec or something from Cain to celebrate with, and she wanted a Malbec. I thought it was a good call since the Malbec has natural spiciness and I like it with spicy dishes and with steaks as well. The wine I chose was a Heller Estate Malbec 2011 from the Carmel Valley, California. We have actually gone to the winery twice and they were not even offering Malbec wines when we were there, so I guess we are overdue for a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea once more. In fact, the leather bag that I use to transport wines around was bought on our first trip to Carmel. As for the wine, 2011 was a rather dicey year for the whole Monterey region, but right from the first sip, this was a delightful wine. The color and the nose both impressed me immediately and it had aged and mellowed perfectly when we opened it. The only sad thing is that I no longer have any more of the 2011, but I have some more Heller Estate Malbec resting at the moment. I guess the next celebration that we have, will not be back in the old neighborhood, but I am sure that I will still find occasions to return on my own.

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Five Years

Leave it to Social Media to remind me that I have been writing for five years. It may have dawned on me a couple of days later, as I have been quite busy, but I will accept the wake-up call. It truly doesn’t seem that I have been doing it for that long, well there are a couple of times that I have had to write, just to get under the bell, as I like things to be on an even keel. The first year I wrote an article every day, just to get into the habit of writing, because it had been years since I had been a student, and now it is every other day. I am still amazed that I have even wrote over a thousand articles and my ability to weave stories around wine is still intact, much to the chagrin of some of you, but as I have often stated, I don’t like wine jargon or to get too technical, because that is not my character. I am a creature of habit, as some of you may have noticed, as I like to have my article appear at the same time of the day, I know it is quirky, but that is just me. I have met some very interesting people through these five years, and so far, I have even met one other blogger, since I am in the Detroit area and that seems far from the maddening crowd.

Since I started discovering wines when I was in high school, there has been gallons of wine under that bridge. There have been some awful wines, some mediocre wines and some stellar wines that are truly the nectar of the Gods. For the record, the only wines that I have not actually paid for is because we were at a dinner where we were treated, as of yet I have never been offered to review wines; and I was brought up with the concept not to ask for anything free. Yes, I wax poetic at times, and sometimes I have to curb my opinions, as I try to stay positive. I very seldom get political, because from me you don’t want politics, from me, I hope you want enjoyable times with wine. I mean that is why I tend to leave my “lead” buried in the end of the article. I think wine makes the memory even better, especially when the stage has been set.

It is my Bride that sometimes gets the short shift at a dinner, at least for a few minutes, as I take a photograph of the wine and make some notes, but then I do go back to her. She has a much more hectic schedule than I do, so there are some things that we miss, as I try to include her as often as possible. I mean would Nick Charles be as much fun without Nora? I am writing this as I think of a small little race that will happen around 6:40 today and she has just returned from that city, because of business requirements. She did not bring me any wine, as if we need more wine in the cellar, I guess that is a silly statement as yes, we always need more wine, but she did bring me something to savor, since I had to be without her for five days, but hardly the same. So now to figure out how to celebrate this milestone, my next project. Most of all I would like to thank all that put up with my ramblings and know that I have been having fun, as I try to entertain you and perhaps impart a little wine knowledge to you.

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Two Reds From J

The wine tasting from J Vineyards & Winery was thoroughly enjoyable. The winery began in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Tom Jordan, founder of Jordan Vineyard & Winery fame. The father and daughter team began as equal partners, until the daughter was able to buy out her father and she became sole proprietor. As I stated earlier for the first ten years they only produced the J Vineyard Brut and what a fine job they did with it. Scott Anderson went up the ranks at the winery and finally went to Associate Winemaker with Nicole Hitchcock and he made the evening most enjoyable discussing some of the nuances of this job. In 2015 E&J Gallo bought J Vineyards & Winery and Scott maintained his position with the change of command. After the tasting, I had a chance to discuss wines with him and when I found out that he was staying at the Westin Book Cadillac in downtown Detroit, I learned that he had eaten at Roast, the first evening, and being a staunch Detroiter, I strongly urged him to walk out the side door of the hotel and cross the street and to go into Lafayette Coney Island to try one of the unique dining opportunities in Detroit and that they are an institution. I even get side-tracked in conversations.

The first red wine for the evening was the J Vineyard Pinot Noir California 2015. This was a blend of Pinot Noir from three areas. Seventy percent of the fruit came from the Olson Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and I have been praising the Pinots from that region for some time. Twenty-six percent of the fruit came from the Russian River Valley and four percent was harvested from Santa Maria Valley AVA in Santa Barbara County. The different wines were aged for six to seven months in a mix of French and American Oak, then blended and bottled. I thought this was the wine of the evening, as it impressed me on all points of the tasting.

The last wine of the evening was stellar and if I hadn’t been blown away from the last bottle, this one would have done it for me. The J Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2014 had fruit from all eight of the Russian River Valley estates. This was their flagship wine for the Pinot Noir line and there were ninety-nine different lots of fruit that was aged for eight months in French Oak, of which twenty-five percent were new and then aged in the bottle for an additional nine months before release. Just some truly wonderful wines, that seemed to evaporate in the glass after being poured and a delightful speaker who you could tell enjoyed winemaking much more than marketing.

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Two Whites From J

The wine tasting event that centered around J Vineyards & Winery was not only a tasting, but kind of class as well. If one has been to a winery, most of the wine tastings, unless you have booked an appointment, the wines are just poured without much fan-fare and one usually has to pry information out of the hosts, where the pouring becomes rather mechanical. It was not the case this evening, and there were plenty of questions and interruptions, but the evening still progressed very well. D.vine Fine Wines did a fine job, supplying all of the tasters two different glasses, a plate of assorted cheeses and even an assortment of dark chocolates to try.

The first still white wine that we tried was J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016 with a California AVA. This wine we were told was very expensive to make as they required hand-picked clusters and smaller crates to carry the fruit. The fruit for this wine was from the Russian River Valley and also from Lodi, hence the California designation. They started making this wine in 1996 and it is made entirely in Stainless Steel. I took a white sheet of paper as a background to discern the color of the wine, and for one like me that has worked with color for ages, I could not come up with a color name as it was a soft pink with some orange tossed in. Not a strong nose, but heavy legs on the glass and a charming taste for this particular wine.

The second still white wine for the evening was the J Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2014. The fruit was harvested from their Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley. There were thirty different lots of the fruit from two different clones that were all aged for nine months in French Oak, of which twenty-five percent was new and then the wine was blended in the end. I really enjoyed this glass of wine.

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J Vineyards

I don’t know about you, but I get an avalanche of emails constantly, but one from a fellow wine blogger caught my eye about a wine tasting of J Vineyards wines. I remember fondly the first time that I tried J Vineyards Brut, as we were sitting at the bar at Bacco’s enjoying a couple of plates of Beef Carpaccio in the traditional manner. The bartender and beverage buyer at the time touted me on a glass of bubbly to go with our order, and I was amazed that it was from California. Bacco’s has the largest Italian wine list in the state and could rival almost any restaurant in the country. Here was this new winery making sparkling wine and we were having the fruits of their first bottling and it was perfect. Now my Bride gets rather impulsive at times and within the week she had bought a six-pack of this new wine that blew our socks off.

Most of the time when I get notices from this particular wine blogger about wine tastings, I am usually already committed to something else for the evening. We seem to be book so far in advance that I miss a great many wine tastings, so I guess I need a clone of myself. My Bride was booked for the evening, but I was free, so off I went to wine shop D.vine Fine Wines not far from the house.

J Vineyards originally only made their Brut offering for the first ten years and now they offer thirty-two different wines. The tasting began with two different sparkling wines. The J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV is commemorating the twentieth anniversary of their sparkling wine. The wine is made from their Russian River Valley grapes which is part of the much larger Sonoma County. As we were told by the winemaker this wine is a blend of half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir and then the math got a little fuzzy, because there is also a touch of Pinot Meunier. The fruit was harvested in 2013, bottled in 2014 and two years later the disgorgement to make the wine Brut, as you can assess this wine is made in the Methode Champenoise and they really want their product to be in the French manner, even to the point of including the Pinot Meunier. The second wine that we tasted and it really should have been the first, was the J Vineyards Brut Rosé NV. Once again, the fruit was all from the Russian River Valley and again with the fuzzy math, because this wine was made from sixty percent Pinot Noir and forty percent Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Meunier. This wine spent three years on the lees before bottling and then at the time of the “Champagne Dosage” they added two percent Pinot Noir still wine for uniform color. What a great way to start the evening.

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Wine and Music

Our dear friend who dubbed himself The Wine Raconteur Jr. invited us out to see him perform and we have seen him musically several times. By trade he is an engineer which is a great profession especially in the Detroit area and he is also a musician who will sit in with bands when needed, especially for the schools that he has attended. It was in the latter capacity that we saw him when he aided the Henry Ford College Metropolitan Symphony Band, that particular school was only a few years ago Henry Ford Community College and before that it was Dearborn Junior College and it started out as Fordson Junior College, though when I was in high school and would use their library at times for studies it was known as “Hank High.” That evening we listened to Sousa’s “The Pride of the Wolverines,” Bellstedt’s “Napoli” which is known colloquially as “Funiculi, Funicula” with a guest Euphonium soloist, Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” (thankfully my Bride did not try to sing along with) and Prokofieff’s “Variation on a Theme.”

After the concert, we met up with the musician and his parents and we decided to go have a drink. I guess you could call it a casual “afterglow.” Of course, I thought the perfect setting would be at The Henry, which was originally the Ritz-Carlton of Dearborn and where my Bride and I had coffee the first night we met. I guess you can call us a couple of old romantics, as it was only ten days later then that original night in 1993, so there were the five of us, as The Wine Raconteur Jr. had to leave his Bride at home to watch their children.

That evening I was the odd man out, which is often the case, as I was the only one to have some wine. The others were all having cocktails and I was maneuvering around with the I-Pad menu looking for wines by the glass. My first choice was no longer available by the glass and only by the bottle, so I had a late start with the other revelers. I had a glass of Chateau de Sancerre 2015 from Sancerre in the Upper Loire of the Loire Valley of France. This is a fine bottle of wine made from Sauvignon Blanc, the premier grape of the region and it was aged on the lees for six months in Stainless Steel before bottling. This winery was founded in 1919 by Louis-Alexander Marnier Lapostolle, whose family back in 1827 created the liqueur Grand Marnier and years later also started Lapostolle wines in Chile. I guess one could say that the evening was steeped in history from my viewpoint and what a great evening it was.

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Mikette is a relatively new French restaurant in a strip center away from the downtown area of Ann Arbor. A couple of the other bloggers that I follow have mentioned it, and I am looking forward to trying it, as they tout themselves as “a taste of Southern France in Ann Arbor.” The other evening my Bride abandoned me as she was attending a fund raiser with one of her friends and a co-worker and there were only two tickets, so I was definitely odd man out. My Bride asked me if there was any place I could recommend for them to stop off afterwards for a glass of wine and perhaps a quick bite, because they were not sure of what to expect at the fund raiser.

I suggested Mikette as it is a place that I want to try and I would let my Bride test the waters first. So off they went, leaving me on the threshold watching them drive off together. After the fund raiser, which was kind of a business-related event, they found themselves at the restaurant and they were just going to have a quick bite and some wine. Her friend ordered Crab Cakes which were made from jumbo lump crab and accompanied with frisee and Old Bay Remoulade. My Bride had an order of Ratatouille, the classic dish of Provencal vegetables with olives, goat cheese and crostini. I think women tend to eat lighter when they are together, because they just want to talk and catch up on things.

Mikette has a small, but tight wine list as per the wine authority (My Bride) and when I looked at her slightly blurry photos, which she claims is because her phone is older than mine, there were a couple of interesting wines that were not the run of the mill choices. Her friend prefers wines that are on the sweeter side, so my Bride suggested Frey-Sohler Muscat Reserve 2013 from the Alsace region of France. The Muscat grape is one of the oldest recorded grapes in history and there are many variations of the grape over the years. My Bride used her intuition to decide that the Muscat grape was sweeter and that the Alsace region is more akin to Germany, and hence the wine should be on the sweeter side, though it was still a bit dry for her friend, but I give my Bride kudos for her thought process and without seeing all of the wines on the list, I may have suggested the same wine. My Bride chose for her own wine La Cave des Grands Cru Blancs Pouilly-Vinzelles 2015, which is grown by a group of farmers that established a cooperative in 1929. Pouilly-Vinzelles is a sub appellation of the Maconnais, which is part of the Burgundy region. Pouilly-Vinzelles may sound like its neighbor Pouilly-Fuisse, which has its own appellation and much more famous, hence the appending of the village name of Pouilly. The limestone hills of the region give this Chardonnay wine a unique taste of terroir and it is aged in oak to add more flavor. I think that my Bride did a fine job and now I really want to go to Mikette to try it out for myself.

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