Monday, December 14, 2015

Chef @Blaine_Wetzel tasting menu @willowinn is the perfect expression of time and place

I was bettered prepared for our second visit to Willows Inn.  Sometimes it's nice to know what to anticipate.  We started our evening at the cozy corner table in the bar, right next to the kitchen where I could keep my eye on the kitchen in all it's beautiful harmony.
The bar at Willows Inn
In the dining room we moved through 21 plates with 5 wine and 1 cider pairing.  

My top pick was the crab with pine nuts and pine nut milk.  This dish couldn't have tasted any fresher.  The crab was sweet and the nut milk a creamy compliment without being too rich.

Crab with pine nut milk 
David's favourite dish was the Black Cod doughnut.  
Black Cod Doughnuts
Roasted sunflower root with sweet onion puree really knocked it out of the park form me.  I think we'll try to reproduce this one at home.  The picture doesn't do it justice.  The exterior was crisp and a little bit sticky with a melt in your mouth interior.  I could put the sweet onion puree on just about anything and love it.
Sunflower root and sweet onion puree
Oysters pickled in sauerkraut was every bit as good as it looks.  Firm and briny.

Pickled Oysters
A turnip broth took me by surprise.  I didn't love it but it reminded me of childhood and was an excellent pallet cleanser.

Turnip Broth

Salt-cured beets with gin flavoured yogurt was another of my top picks.  Shaved thin slices with a toasted grain topping.  Mine was bright red and David's bright yellow.

Salt-Cured Beet

One of my favourite plates last year was the halibut skins stuffed with clams.  It was the only real duplicaton this year and it fell a little flat.  Check the difference in presentation.  

Crispy Halibut Skins 2014

Crispy Halibut Skins 2015
I also loved the grilled salmon in caraflex cabbage.  The cabbage was cooked just enough to yield nicely but not enough to become bitter, the salmon was rich and both were especially great with a Walter Scott "Curee Ruth" Pinot Noir.
Grilled Salmon in Caraflex Cabbage
The savory dishes ended with fresh bread from heirloom wheat and local butter and salt.  A loaf wrapped in brown paper is given to each guest at the end of dinner.  It made great toast for breakfast.

I was surprised by a birch tea.  The flavour and aroma was refreshing and set the stage for dessert, a delicious piece of sweet and salted pumpkin with pumpkin seed praline and raw pumpkin seeds.  A little bit sweet and savory.  My favourite kind of dessert.

Cinderella Pumpkin
I know the food preparation isn't simple but it tastes that way.  Simply delicious.  We booked for October next year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I've been converted to a river cruise fan by a week in Bordeaux with Uniworld on the Vineyards and Chateaux tour

We spent a week in Bordeaux in November on the Uniworld River Royale and I'm now a river cruising fan. The food, wine and experiences on shore were beyond my expectations.  I really liked docking in the little towns and being able to get off the ship in the mornings and evenings for some exploring.

We boarded in the pretty city of Bordeaux and settled in for a week of adventures in gastronomy.  The next day we headed north on the Garonne River to the Gironde Estuary and our port of Pauillac and the Medoc peninsula, home of some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, red wine blends in the world.  Our 1st winery of the trip was to be a surprise destination.  The excitement was building as we pulled up to Chateau Rauzan-Segla in the Margaux region.

A tour of the winery showed an attention to detail in the way they painted the middle of the barrels with wine so there was never any drip marks. 
Barrels at Chateau Rauzan-Segla
The elegant tasting room was on the second floor, up a circular staircase.
Tasting room at Chateau Rauzan-Segla
We were treated to their Grand Cru Classe, Rauzan-Segla, from the exceptional 2005 vintage and Segla, the 2nd tier wine from 2009, another good vintage.  Both wines were delicious but the difference was reflected in the 100EUR price discrepancy.

Chateua Rauzan-Segla Grand Cru Classe Margaux 2005

The atmosphere on board that night was electric.  It had been an excellent start to the trip.
Hard not to imagine Steve Martin as Cyrano

Our 2nd day we were docked in Bourg and drove to Bergerac for the weekly market and a tasting of delicious duck confit and fois gras and a delightful lunch at L'Imparfait, a lovely little restaurant in the centre of town.  Charming service and good value. We had the daily menu.   I'd never had fish and chips for a starter.  The picture doesn't do justice to the delicious piece of cod fish.

Fish n Chips appetizer at L'Imparfait
The cod fish in the Bay of Biscay is fantastic, probably comes from Newfoundland ;-) so I didn't hesitate to have the cod entree as well.
Cod at L'Imparfait
The manager was quite particular choosing a red wine for us to have with fish.  The Chateau de la Jaubertie was a good choice.
Chateau de la Jaubertie from Bergerac
In Saint-Emilion we enjoyed a tour and tasting at Chateua de Ferrand.  I have a couple of bottles aging in my cellar now.
Chateau de Ferrand all in wooden boxes
Beautiful barrel storage at Chateau de Ferrand

One of the highlights of our trip was an optional tour to Remy Martin

The highlight was the barrel room where the light was blocked from the windows by spider webs.   They will never kill one or destroy their webs.  Some barrels are over 100 years old with wooden hoops.  No photos allowed in the storage room.  

The cognac tasting was matched with exquisite small bites.  We tried a VSOP straight up and on ice as well as an XO Excellence.  
Chocolate and XO Excellence won my heart
A bottle of VSOP made it into my suitcase.  I'm resisting opening it because I know it will become a regular night cap until I finish it.  I'll have to start sometime.  Today seems good.

I had mixed feelings about the Sauternes visit.  I don't like sweet wines but it turned out to be a great day.  On the way to Chateau d'Arche for lunch we stopped to taste some grapes with noble rot.  I never thought I'd volunteer to eat moldy grapes but they were delicious.

Grapes with Botrytis Cinerea
At Chateau d'Arche we had lunch paired with the sweet white wines. Startimg with smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon, creamy centre, horseradish and Yuzu vinaigrette

Chateau La Bouade 2010 - Cuvee Coccinelle
The menu was designed with Cilantro carmelized hen as an entree but they accommodated us with fish and mushroom pastry.
Fish entree with mushroom pastry and asparagus

Chateau Filhot 2003
Peach melba with crunchy praline, roasted peaches, vanilla whipped cream and chocolate drizzle definitely paired with it's match.
Peach Melba

Chateau Lamourette 2002
Lunch was thoughtfully prepared and presented and we were all ready for some fresh air afterward.  A walk around the estate surrounding the beautiful Chateau Filhot was just the ticket.  
Chateau Filhot
The vineyards were planted from 1630 to 1650 and the chateau built in 1709.  Still family owned, the proprietor guided us around the estate.  When you have this much potential vineyards devoted to parkland, it's obvious how grand the estate really is.
Park at Chateau Filhot

On our final day in Bordeaux we did a walking, eating and drinking tour.  
The Way of Saint James takes you through the heard of Bordeaux
We visited the 100 year old La Maison Darricau for some exceptional chocolate.  Same family proudly producing chocolate all these years.  You can count on it being fantastic.
Chocolate La Maison Darricau
Next stop was Caneles Baillardran to try the Caneles de Bordeaux, a little fluted cake with a thin caramelized exterior and rich rum and vanilla interior.
Caneles de Bordeaux
Finally we stopped at David's in the Place des Grand Hommes to try the famous Dunes, cream puff extraordinaire.
The famous Dunes by David
By now we needed a drink so our last stop was Maximitas Bordeaux, where you buy a prepaid card and can merrily taste wines from the enoteca dispensers.
Look up at Max Bordeaux

With prices ranging from 2 to 30 EUR per tasting , we spent an hour trying wine after wine ending with a Mouton Rothschild at 30EUR a taste.  Drinking can make you extravagant.  

These are just the highlights of our fabulous trip to Bordeaux.  The lovely dinners on board our ship created by Chef Frank and his team were outstanding.  Chef Frank is a deft hand with mussels and I'll crave his mussels in tomato and cognac forever.  The wine selection changed daily and was always regional and interesting.

I can now enthusiastically recommend Uniworld River Cruises and the city of Bordeaux.