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Wine & Dine

Solving a Food and Wine Pairing Puzzle at Tadich Grill

Finding a good wine pairing for cioppino is a challenge. Cioppino is essentially a stew made with tomatoes, wine and all kinds of seafood — but always a lot of shellfish. There’s usually some celery and onion in there and plenty of garlic. Some restaurants add hot red pepper, others avoid that to emphasize the sweetness of the seafood.

Normally when we think of pairing wine with seafood, our mind goes to white wines. But, cioppino is a perfect example of why one needs to focus not on the protein but on the sauce when selecting wine. Scallops, crab and white fish could go with any number of wines. But, when you start throwing in a lot of tomatoes, plus garlic and hot pepper, the list of options shortens substantially. You can forget about Chardonnay and most other medium to full-bodied whites. They won’t have the acidity to hold up to the cooked tomatoes and will have all the charm of a mouthful of mineral oil. There are white wines that do have a lot of acidity, but many of them have neutral flavor profiles. Those wines might work as palate cleansers with cioppino, but so does water. What should you choose?

cioppino-small

Though the dish sounds like it comes from Italy, cioppino was actually “invented” by hungry San Francisco Italian-immigrant fishermen in the late 19th century. Not long thereafter, the dish moved from the fishing boats, where it was a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warmed body and soul, to The City’s restaurants, where on cold, foggy July days it is a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warms body and soul. It is served throughout the Bay Area, but Tadich Grill considers it one of their specialities. They serve hundreds of bowls of the tangy fish stew daily. What better place to go for advice on cioppino pairings?

Tadich Grill, which started business in 1849 as wharf-side coffee kiosk, is a busy place. Having moved to its present location in the Financial District in 1969, it’s become a lunchtime hangout for San Francisco’s movers and shakers, a mecca for well-informed tourists and a destination for truckloads of fresh fish. Tadich Grill takes no reservations, but moves people through in a hurry. Hence, conversations with the waiters are brief. “Excuse me kind sir, what wine would you suggest for the cioppino? Perhaps a crisp Sauvignon Blanc?” “No,” says the waiter. “Pinot or Zinfandel. You want more bread?” And away he trots.

Pinot or Zinfandel — that was unexpected. California serves up some rich Pinot Noir that still retains good acidity, so I could see where the waiter was coming from. Somehow though, it didn’t sound quite right. Zinfandel on the other hand seemed a brilliant call. Zesty with bold flavors yet low enough in tannins to play nice with fish, Zinfandel blends are probably also the wines the Italian fishermen would have been drinking in the 1880’s. The key, I decided, would be finding one that isn’t too high in alcohol.

While Zinfandel used to be the daily drink of Italian farmers throughout the Sonoma and Napa regions, and that of their relatives in nearby cities, at some wineries it has become like sipping whiskey. With intense flavors, heavily influenced by oak, and full body from high-alcohol levels created with extra-ripe fruit and superhero yeasts, these Zins make an impact at tastings and can easily chase a cocktail. However, they also steamroll a plate of food. Plus, drinking high-alcohol wine with food that may have hot pepper in it is almost literally throwing fuel on a fire. Reviewing the Tadich wine list, I saw four good Zinfandels, but three of them struck me as better options for a grilled steak. I chose the fourth, the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34 retail, $50 on the wine list).

07_Mayacamas_24

The wine turned out to be perfect for the cioppino. Fresh, dark berry flavors parried the bright tomato and soft oak-derived chocolate married with the red pepper spice. Elegant and supple for a contemporary Zinfandel, the wine did not overwhelm the white fish, scallops, crab or mussels. Smooth on the palate, the Storybook went down easy and was enjoyed by all.

This was my first time at Tadich Grill and I was pleased with the experience. The prices are fair, even low for downtown San Francisco, and the portions quite large. Plenty of good San Francisco sourdough bread is provided for each table automatically too, so take care not to over-order. Dungeness crab leg cocktail and prawn cocktail appetizers were fresh tasting and included six pieces of the named seafood for $15.75 and $11.25 respectively. The Pacific Oysters Rockefeller ($19.00) also came with six pieces, but overflowed with the tasty cheesy-spinach topping and also included a huge tomato stuffed with same. That dish could easily serve as a main course. The “cup” of Boston Clam Chowder ($6.25) is thick, hearty and comes in bowl the size of a large coconut shell. I didn’t see any “bowls” of the chowder ($7.25) but can only assume the portion is large enough to bathe in.

Speaking of main courses, at $26.25, the cioppino is one of the most expensive items on the menu. But it’s loaded with clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, Dungeness crab meat and white fish and comes with two pieces of garlic bread. You don’t need an appetizer and I think it’s a good value. At $17.75, the meat ravioi with meat sauce is a full plate too. Porterhouse steak was a special that evening for $21.75. It was wide enough to cover the whole plate but very thin and somewhat overcooked — ask for it rare.

And then there were the desserts. The Cheesecake ($7.25) was large but didn’t strike us as a specialty or something made on site. However, the Mixed Berries ($7.00) was a heaping bowl of very fresh and flavorful fruit. It comes with a massive quantity of Zabaglione Sauce that was flavored with something that may have been Grand Marnier. It was very good and a single order could satisfy at least three people. The Chocolate Mousse ($8.25) was the prettiest dish I saw come out of the kitchen and, while big enough to share, can be tackled by one person. The rich, not quite fluffy chocolate, is served in a cylindrical mold made from artfully wrinkled leaves of frozen chocolate and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

As mentioned above, Tadich Grill doesn’t take reservations and that’s a policy from which they don’t waiver. However, they have a lot of tables, especially two- and four-tops, a large bar to make the wait pleasant, and move people in pretty quickly. They were able to seat my party, a group of 11, by putting together three four-tops, within about fifteen minutes and that was at 7:30 on a Saturday night.

Tadich Grill doesn’t have a website to speak of, but they are located at 240 California Street in San Francisco. That’s between Front St. and Battery St. They are open from lunchtime through 9:30pm, six days a week. They are closed on Sundays.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards is a Napa Valley winery whose 100% organic vineyard lies on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range. Their vineyards get direct morning sun but the harsh afternoon sun hits the vines at an angle, sparing them from its searing heat. Cool breezes come up from the San Pablo Bay to the south and over the mountains from the Russian River to the west. This keeps the average temperate for the vineyard about 10 degrees lower than for those on the valley floor. Clay soils and relatively high rainfall (due to moist air from the ocean reaching the dew point as it rises over the Mayacamas Range) allows the vineyards to be “dry farmed” for the most part. The site and weather allow Storybook to create concentrated, yet balanced, wine. Their offerings include very well-regarded Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier varietals. NorCal Wine Highly Recommends the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34, 14.6% alc.)

All of the food and wine mentioned in this article were purchased at full price by my friends and I.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The Storybook Mountain Winery label art is property of that winery.

A Taste of the Food & Wine Magazine American Wine Awards Ceremony

Last night, Food & Wine Magazine presented their American Wine Awards at FARM restaurant at The Carneros Inn. I was there along with the award winners, other notable winemakers, winery owners, celebrity chefs and media people. The event is structured as a large, wine country cocktail party rather than as a traditional awards ceremony. The actual hand-off of awards is rushed through in less than 10 minutes so as to allow people to focus on conversation and tasting the award winning wines.

Here’s a complete list of the winners:
Best New Winery:
Gramercy Cellars, Washington State
Importers of the Year: Domaine Select Wine Estates
Winemaker of the Year: Thomas Rivers Brown (Schrader, Rivers-Marie, Hestan, Black Sears, Outpost, Maybach, etc.)

Best Wines $20 and Under
Sauvignon Blanc: 2008 Honig
Chardonnay: 2008 Mount Eden Vineyards Wolff Vineyard
Pinot Gris: 2008 Elk Cove
Pinot Noir: 2008 Wallace Brook
Merlot: 2007 Columbia Crest H3
Zinfandel: 2007 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee
Syrah: 2008 Red Car Boxcar
Cabernet Sauvignon: 2007 Louis M. Martini

Best Wines Over $20
Sparkling: 2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs
Sauvignon Blanc: 2009 Merry Edwards
Chardonnay: 2007 Hanzell
Pinot Noir: 2008 Brewer-Clifton Mount Carmel
Merlot: 2007 Pepper Bridge
Zinfandel: 2007 A. Rafanelli
Syrah: 2006 Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate
Cabernet Sauvignon: 2007 Buccella
Bordeaux-Style Blend: 2007 Continuum

While I didn’t get a chance to taste every one of the wines, I did try most of them and enjoyed them all. Standouts for me were the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, both Chardonnays, the Four Vines Zinfandel, Qupé Syrah, Buccella Cabernet and the Continuum. After I was done with my judicious sipping, I went back for a glass of the Qupé. If not for all the red wines I’d just tasted, the Hanzell would have been very tempting as well.

Speaking of tempting, Ryan Jetté, chef de cuisine at FARM, and his team turned out a delicious array of passed hors d’oeuvres. They were interesting, delicious and visually attractive. My favorite was probably the braised pork belly, but it had a head start in my view since it was made from... pork belly. While Ryan was busy in the kitchen, other star chefs were enjoying his food and wine while mingling. Among them were Christopher Kostow, chef at the two Michelin-star restaurant at Meadowood. Kostow recently defeated Cat Cora on an episode of Iron Chef as well (Battle Oats). Also in the crowd was Duskie Estes of Zazu Restaurant and Farm in Santa Rosa. She's currently competing in the Food Network's The Next Iron Chef competition.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Robert Mondavi Winery’s Garden to Table Experience Offers Fun, Food and Hands-On Culinary Instruction

Robert Mondavi is perhaps the most revered figure in the modern history of California wines. His passion for high-quality wine, vision for what Napa Valley could offer, skills as a corporate leader and work as an ambassador of California wine around the world all played huge roles in the rise of Napa Valley as one top wine-producing regions of the world. But, revolutionary as Mondavi may have been in some respects, he was very traditional in his belief that food and wine should be served together — creating a harmonious meal and a daily celebration of family, friends and nature’s gifts.

Robert Mondavi and his winery promoted this connection between food and wine in many ways over the years. The winery building, constructed in 1966, includes a private dining room called the Vineyard Room which has been used for a wide range of events related to the combination of food and wine. In 1976, Robert Mondavi Winery initiated a series of classes called the The Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi. The first culinary series offered by an American winery, it gave attendees the opportunity to learn from and cook side-by-side with famous chefs, including Julia Child, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Paul Bocuse and Rick Bayless. Later, Robert Mondavi was a major benefactor of The American Center of Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa.

Nearly 35 years after founding The Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi, the winery continues to be a leader in promoting the culinary aspects of wine and wine country living. You can sign up for lunch in the Vineyard Room or garden, courses in pairing wine with food or special dinners featuring library wines dating back to the 1970’s. For a more hands-on experience, reserve a spot in one of the winery’s “Garden to Table” events.

The Garden to Table experience lasts four hours and includes time in the garden, helping Chef Jeff Mosher prepare a meal using fresh local ingredients, a walk through the vineyard, a brief tour of the winery and then a delicious meal outdoors. The Garden to Table experience costs $150 per person, each of whom also receives a Robert Mondavi Winery apron and a hard-bound book of recipes. Garden to Table will take place every Saturday this August. Attendance is limited and reservations go fast, so sign up soon.

The winery recently gave me a sneak preview of the program. I had a great time and am sure that you’ll enjoy it too. My experience began as I and a handful of other journalists were greeted on the winery’s patio by Margarit Mondavi, Chef Jeff Mosher and refreshing glasses of Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc.

We spent a few minutes chatting with our hosts and then strolled to the adjacent herb and produce garden. There, Chef Mosher talked about the winery’s commitment to local ingredients and organic gardening. They create their own compost and even have a worm farm. After that, we armed ourselves with bowls and commenced harvesting herbs, lettuce, strawberries and edible flowers for our lunch.

Chef-Mosher-gathering-herbs-for-a-lunch

When we’d filled the bowls, we headed into the kitchen. We received a quick orientation in the kitchen, were shown where to put scraps for composting and then began to wash and chip the herbs. Chef Mosher quickly blanched arugula and tarragon. Using the very useful VitaMax, he quickly whipped up a tasty arugula puree to go with our seafood course and sweetened tarragon cream for the strawberries. [It would have never occured to me to use tarragon in whipped cream, but it was excellent.] After we had honed our herb chopping chops and gotten the food prep off to a good start, we were whisked off for a tour of the winery and vineyard with senior wine educator, Inger Shiffler.

Putting-writers-to-work

The Robert Mondavi Winery’s To Kalon Vineyard is one of the most storied in Napa Valley and it comes with a great view of the Mayacamas. In the winery proper, substantially renovated as of 2001, you’ll see something unique — 56 mammoth oak fermentation tanks. Specially made to Mondavi’s specifications by Taransaud barrel-makers in Cognac and more porous than stainless steel, the tanks allow red wine to soften through natural micro-oxidation and tannins begin resolving during maceration and fermentation. This allows the wines to be ageworthy, yet still approachable when young. Unlike old fashioned wood fermentation tanks though, these are each equipped with a precise, high-tech cooling apparatus to allow the winemakers to very carefully control fermentation temperatures.

When our tour was complete, we headed back to the patio for lunch. There was just enough time to dive into a glass of Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc To Kalon Vineyard I-Block before the first course was served. It was a delicious lunch paired with delicious wines. I’ve listed our menu below. Of course, yours will be different due to the focus on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

Seared-Halibut

 

The Menu

Seared Alaskan Halibut
Wild Arugula Purée, Garden Herb Salad
Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc

2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay Reserve
~~~~~~~~~~~

Pan-Roasted Niman Ranch Ribeye
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Green Garlic
King Trumpet Mushrooms, Baby Carrots, Broccoli Rabe
Bordelaise Sauce

2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
~~~~~~~~~~~

Strawberry Shortcake Garden Fraise Des Bois
Garden Tarragon Cream
Strawberry Balasamic Sorbet

2009 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscato D’Oro

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Experiencing Carnivale du Vin 2011

Carnivale du Vin is an annual event which centers around a chartity auction. The auction benefits the Emeril Lagasse Foundation which is focused on helping kids get vocational education and good mentoring. By my reckoning, this year's event raised well over $1 million.

The black-tie celebration took place on Nov. 12 in New Orleans. While a live auction was the centerpiece of the event, there was far more to the evening including a wine reception, an excellent dinner prepared by celebrity chefs, a silent auction and a concert.

 

greeter

The event was held in a huge ballroom at the New Orleans Convention Center. There was no mistaking the event for a typical convention gathering though. The greeters, one of whom is pictured above, were just the first sign that Carnivale du Vin would be a unique and festive event.

 

chocolate-pig

Once inside the hall, attendees were greeted by something completely different. This full-sized pig was a chocolate-covered cake by Sweet Southern Ladies Designer Cakes. Pork — real pork — was the theme of the food for the weekend's events.

 

serrano

While looking over the silent auction lots and meeting up with friends, attendees enjoyed a wine and ham reception. Five different cured hams were on offer: Prosciutto di Parma, La Quercia Domestic Prosciutto, Jamon Serrano, Prosciutto San Daniele and Jamon Iberico.

 

crostini

The ham was served on its own, but also as part of tapas-style dishes including grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and this focaccia.

 

salumi

There was an impressive table of cheeses too, but people really marvelled at this salumi spread.

 


batali-takes-photo

The massive display of salumi was so impressive that even Mario Batali whipped out his iPhone to snap some photos.

 

Dan-Kosta

The wine portion of the reception featured a special bottling of 2009 Kosta Brown Snoma Coast Pinot Noir with a custom, piggy label. Dan Kosta (above) was named 2011 Honorary Bacchus, essentially the chief honoree from the wine world. He was present at all of the weekend's events and contributed one of the top live auction lots.

Lot 16 was a Harvest Boot Camp with Kosta Brown. It started with one 5-liter and one 3-liter bottle of the 2009 Kosta Brown Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Then it got really interesting. There was a private flight for six to Sonoma County, accomodations at Hotel Healdsburg, and a two day harvest experience at Kosta Brown, hosted by both Dan Kosta and Emeril Lagasse. There will be vineyard tours, barrel tasting and a barbecue. The next day includes a harvest lunch, winemaking lessons from the Kosta Brown team followed by dinner prepared by Charlie Palmer... at his home. The final day concludes with a dinner at the home of Dan and Alli Kosta, cooked by Emeril Lagasse and served with a selection of Kosta Brown wines. This lot sold for just under $80,000.

 

Ramona-Nicholson

Back to the reception... Ramona Nicholson (above) poured her 2007 Nicholson Ranch Cuvé Natalie Reserve Chardonnay. Lous Roederer Brut Premier Champagne was also available.

 

caymus

There were 138 different silent auction lots. They ranged from dining opportunities at top restaurants to kitchen equipment, home decor and bespoke stationery. The majority of the items were wine-related though, with a strong showing from California wineries. Lot 32 was a 9-liter bottle of 2008 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Pisonis-and-Emeril 

Emeril Lagasse met with guests throughout the reception. He's pictured here with Gary and Margarette Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards.

 

marching-band

With a big crowd and such good food and wine, it can be difficult to get people to take their seats for dinner. Getting everyone's attention is easy though, if you have the Roots of Music Marching Band on hand to play their way into the hall. After a couple of rousing tunes, they played the National Anthem, a pretty clear signal that the main event was about to begin.

 

angry-shrimp

The evening's first course was Angry Shrimp with White Bean Passatina made by Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega in Napa Valley. It was delicious. I've found the recipe for it here at Chef Chiarello's NapaStyle website. I may try to make it myself. It was really good. Accompanying the dish was the 2009 Foxen Block UU Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay.

 

agnolotti

Next up were Agnolotti with Black Truffles and Pecorino di Fossa from chefs Mario Batali and Mark Ladner (Babbo, Lupa, Otto, Del Posto, Eataly). The delicious little pouches of pasta were served with 2005 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

 

bison

The final savory course was Maple-Black Peppercorn-Soaked Buffalo Tenderloin on Jalapeno Grits with a Tangle of Greens and Crispy Butternut Squash Taquito. It was made by acclaimed Southwestern-cuisiine chef Dean Fearing of The Ritz Carlton in Dallas. The buffalo was flavorful and amazingly tender. The taquito made me forget that I hate butternut squash. This dish was paired with 2005 Levy & McClellan Napa Valley Red Wine, an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend.

 

dessert

Dessert was prepared by "Mr. Chocolate," Master Pastry Chef Jaques Torres of New York City. The dish is called La Fontaine. It seemed to be a cake filled with hot chocolate ganache. (And in fact it was. I found the recipe for it here at FoodNetwork.com.) The chocolate was hot enough to melt my the white chocolate piggy's chef's toque as the plate was being carried to the table. So I had to eat the chocolate to prevent further damage. The dessert wine was a 1995 Au Bon Climat "Emeril's Roots" Aleatico.

After dessert came the live auction. To get the audience warmed up, Mario Batali auctioned off his trademark orange Crocs. The ones he was wearing. The tuxedo crowd was oddly hesitant to swap their black slippers for day-glo clogs, but Michael Chiarello came to the rescue. He paid $5,000 for Batali's footgear and the raising of funds had begun.

The first official lot was a 3-liter bottle of 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne. There were 19 live auction lots in all, the final being a trip for four to Cabo San Lucas to join in Emeril's annual birthday extravaganza. It includes dinner made by Emeril at Sammy Hagar's house and then VIP seating at the next night's Sammy Hagar concert at the Cabo Wabo Cantina club. Like the Kosta Brown lot, the birthday bash went for nearly $80,000.

But the night wasn't over. Glenn Frey (The Eagles) capped things off with an excellent 90-minute set.

Glenn-Frey-guitar

Our coverage of the preceeding 2011 event, Boudin and Beer is here.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. All photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Lotus of Siam - A Delicious Value for Food and Wine in Las Vegas

Over the years, as the Las Vegas restaurant scene has changed, so have the wine lists. Steakhouses, with their big collections of full-bodied reds, have been joined by countless authentic French, Italian and Asian restaurants which call for different directions in wine. And, whereas the wine lists used to be heavily-weighted toward trophy wines for the expense account crowd, many restaurants now offer very good selections of excellent yet affordable wines. That said, since the typical markup in Las Vegas restaurants is 3x retail, most wines on the better lists come in at or above $100 per bottle. By the glass is certainly an option, but expect to pay at least $15 for something decent. Moving “off the Strip” can get you better prices, but there is usually — but not always — a corresponding drop in quality.

Perhaps the best off-the-Strip option in Las Vegas is Lotus of Siam. Nearly every big city in the United States has a restaurant called “Lotus of Siam.” Few, if any, hold a candle to the one in Las Vegas. It is a destination restaurant, though not because of a famous chef, beautiful decor or a see-and-be-seen aura. Frankly, it doesn’t have any of that. It’s hidden away in a very quiet strip mall that was nearly vacant last Friday night and it’s table settings are paper place mats, not white linen. What this Lotus of Siam does have is the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten, very reasonable prices and a tremendous wine list. The list is strongest in Riesling, particularly German, since those wines go so well with the food. However, there are hundreds of other wines available, including many from California.

The Wine
Lotus of Siam offers roughly thirty wines by the glass. Most of them are stored in an auto-dispensing system with gas to keep the wine fresh. While a couple by-the-glass choices at Lotus of Siam aren’t much of a surprise, such as 2007 Kendalll-Jackson Chardonnay ($6.50), most are. Among the reds are the delicious 2007 Siduri Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir ($17) and 2006 Showket Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). There’s also old vine Grenache from Minervois ($14), Cabernet Franc from Chinon ($14) and a Brunello di Montalcino ($14). The most expensive glass is the 2007 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($22) — an excellent wine with a release price of $71 per bottle. There are nearly twenty half-bottles available too, including offerings from Spring Mountain Vineyard, Pride Mountain, Storybook Mountain, Parallel and Viader. At just $22, the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2004 is an excellent choice for the budget-conscious.

The list of full-sized bottles at Lotus of Siam runs 41 pages. It is full of icons, such as 1990 Krug Brut Champagne which is reasonably priced at $350, but also nice surprises such as the 2004 Gruet Blanc de Blancs, New Mexico ($40). If the gaming tables are very good to you, you might spring for the 2000 Lafite Rothschild ($1050). But the smart money is on 2005 Pontet-Canet ($150) or 2005 Clos du Marquis ($95). There are three pages of fine red Burgundy and verticals of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, such as Le Vieux Donjon, Clos des Papes, Chateau de Beaucastel and Domaine du Pegau.

The list of California reds is extensive and tends toward toward big names and full-body: Colgin Estate, Turley, Shafer Hillside Select, Sine Qua Non, Carter, etc. However, there are plenty of wines that tend to be more delicate in style such as Pinot Noir from Mount Eden, Calera, Sand Hill Durell Vineyard (now Dunstan) and Littorai. The most expensive California red on the list is a 2001 Harlan Estate ($795) but the majority of wines are substantially less. The Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir is a nice bottle and just $35. There are a few good back vintages too, like the 1993 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon ($175).

The list of California whites is much shorter, less than a page. It also offers good options though, from 2008 Handley Pinot Gris Anderson Valley ($30) to Alban Estate Roussanne ($60) and 2004 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay ($68) on up to 2006 Kongsgaard “The Judge” Chardonnay ($235).

We had gone to Lotus of Siam for Thai food and German Riesling though, so that’s what we ordered. We tried two wines there: 2007 Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett ($55) and then the 2008 Egon Muller Scharhofberger Kabinett ($75). Both wines were very good, the latter being just off-dry with more mineral, green apple and citrus. The Prum was substantially sweeter with more body and a lot of tangy stone fruit and floral notes. I thought it to be the best of the two. Both went very well with the food, though I would recommend the Jos. Prum over the Muller with rich curries and spicy dishes. In retrospect, it would have been interesting to try the Jos. Prum side by side with the 2007 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr ($42). Oh well.

The Food
While not as long as the wine list, the menu is also extensive. There are nearly 150 main dishes to choose from. We tried quite a few things. Our favorite starter was Moo Dad Deaw ($8.95) which the menu describes as a Thai-style pork jerky. Essentially, it’s thoroughly marinated strips of pork that are quickly deep fried and served with a slightly spicy sauce. It was chewy, yet somehow still tender, and very flavorful. The sauce was nice, but not entirely necessary.

One of the specialties at Lotus of Siam is Northern Thai cuisine. We tried two of those dishes. The Sai Qua (Northern-Style sausage, $8.95) was very good. It comes one to an order, grilled and cut into quarter-inch thick slices on the bias. It’s a pork sausage with herbs and spices. It was a bit dry, but had great flavor. Think of the rich, slightly sweet, red sauce from really good Pad Thai blended with pork and stuffed into a sausage casing.

The Kang-ka-Noon (spicy jack fruit curry, $9.95) was good, but less exciting than some of the other dishes. The flavor and texture of young jack fruit is similar to that of artichoke heart. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is subtle and the curry broth was thin and soupy rather than thick and rich. The other dishes were bursting with flavor and the Kang-ka-Noon was simply overwhelmed.

One of those more powerful items was the Crispy Duck with Chu-Chee (Thai red curry sauce, $19.95). There was more crispy duck skin than duck meat, but that didn’t disappoint most of us. While duck skin isn’t diet food, it’s packed with flavor. One of my dinner partners found the meat a bit too fatty; for the rest of us it was just ducky. And we all loved the creamy red curry sauce. It was a perfect complement to the duck, was nicely off-set by the wine and, if there had been more sauce, we would have been eating it with a spoon.

sea-bass
The standout dish of the night was Sea Bass Som Thum (sea bass with Thai papaya salad, $23.95, pictured above). The salad was very good: fresh, crisp and with the sweet, savory, tangy, spicy dressing that Thai salads are known for. The sea bass itself was ridiculous. Almost two inches thick and cooked through, yet extremely moist — almost creamy. It was so sweet, flavorful and obviously fresh that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a fisherman leaving through the back door.

There a lot of great restaurants in Las Vegas. The day after our visit to Lotus of Siam we ate at Pierre Gagniere’s Twist in the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel. But you don’t need to go all out like that to have a tremendous food and wine experience. If you like Thai food, or are willing to give it another try, head over to Lotus of Siam.

Lotus of Siam is located at 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite A5, Las Vegas, NV 89104 - (707) 735-3033. They are open for lunch on weekdays only, from 11:30 to 2:00. Dinner is available daily from 5:30 to 9:30 (until 10:00 on Friday and Saturday). Dinner reservations are recommended. Dress is casual.

We paid full price for our meal and wine and were not compensated in any way by the restaurant for this article.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas. All rights reserved.