The First Wine with Dinner Reader’s Poll

Well, the drama is over.  Those of you who have been reading in the last couple of days know that my content had been stolen from a “feed site” without attribution.  I contacted the site they played nice with me until they saw that I had published their URL — I guess these guys don’t like sunlight.  Anyway, the content has been removed (though other stolen content, funny enough, remains) and, while I will be monitoring them to make sure it is not stolen again, things appear under control.  I will be deleting my last two posts on the situation, because who really wants to dwell on that.  Hopefully the others who have had their content stolen will get it removed as well, and I am happy to help in any way that I can.

As I said in my last post, it appears that my work here is valuable to someone, so I am now wondering if I should move the blog from WordPress to somewhere I can throw up an ad or two.  Nothing to retire off of, mind you, just “wine money,” so to speak.  I am curious to know what the readers think, so please let me know by answering The First Wine with Dinner Reader’s Poll.

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Don’t forget to VOTE!

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Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 10:01 am  Comments (3)  

Rock Creek Mazza: It’s Amazing What You Can Do Without Butter

I’ve have been trying to eat a bit healthier lately. I have to admit that it is not always fun, but it is certainly necessary. So Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I were intrigued when stumbled upon a name that we didn’t know, Rock Creek Mazza. Rock Creek calls itself “Mindful Dining for All Seasons.” Mindful is not an adjective you see every day in the restaurant world. They had our attention.

Rock Creek Mazza, which opened on July 25, 2007, is one of two Rock Creek Restaurant locations in the D.C. area. They are the creations of owners Judith Hammerschmidt and Tom S. Williams. Judith is an international lawyer and executive with a focus on nutrition. She envisioned an upscale restaurant that provided alternatives to high-fat, high-calorie meals. She convinced Tom, a consultant and venture capitalist, that the D.C. area was a great place to begin their experiment.

Rock Creek Mazza is conveniently located on the third floor of the Mazza Gallerie accross the street from the Friendship Heights Metro. (There is also validated parking under the Gallerie.) It is right next to the movie theater in case you need a meal before your film. Rock Creek Mazza is elegant and friendly, and it is certainly healthier than a big tub of popcorn.

Rock Creek Dining Room
It’s a Picnic Under a Tree . . . Sort Of

Executive Chef Ethan McKee is in charge of the health-conscious menu. Chef McKee graduated from L’Academie de Cuisinein Gaithersberg, MD in 1998. After a year with a local restaurant group, he left for Vail, Colorado to work as a line cook for Left Bank. Chef McKee returned to D.C. after two years and joined Chef Todd Gray at Equinox. He worked his way up from line cook to Chef de Cuisine, developing menu items and managing kitchen staff. After seven years at Equinox, Chef McKee accepted the challenge of healthy dining at Rock Creek Mazza.

When we sat down, the waiter informed us that all of the food was prepared with the health of the patrons in mind (no butter, for example), and that all of the portions were appropriately sized for calorie control. I was a bit concerned, being a junk food lover as well as someone who can stuff his face with the best of them. That said, the menu looked interesting and the wine list was well organized. I’ll try anything twice.

Our waiter was very helpful and ready with suggestions for wine pairings. Mrs. Wine with Dinner opted for the Northern Neck Nutternut Squash Soup w/Shaved Apple and the Roasted Cervena Venison with Hunter Sauce, while I selected the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi and the Muscovy Duck Breast with Cranberry Chutney. We took the house’s suggestions on all wines but the Australian sparkling shiraz that Mrs. Wine with Dinner had with her soup — we were both very curious about that one.

We were not disappointed with anything. A couple of bites into her soup and my wife came up with the title of this review, “It’s amazing what you can do without butter.” The soup was a lovely burnt orange color with a smooth texture and sweet flavor. The apple shavings with their tart acidity were a great compliment to the soup. The Paringa 2004 Individual Vineyard Sparkling Shiraz, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.99 per bottle, might have been a bit sweet for it, but it was still a pleasant match. It was dark and bubbly –maybe a touch cloying — but fun to drink. I envision enjoying it on its own while cooking as pretty much a perfect evening (hint to the Gourmet Girls).

I was also impressed with my Gnocchi. It was well prepared — firm with just a hint of crispness on the outside. The texture worked very well with the accompanying mushrooms (which is saying a lot as I am not a big fan of mushrooms) and caramelized onions, and some grated parmesan always makes the world seem a little brighter. If I had to come up with a criticism, I would have said that the ham, included to add a touch of saltiness, was maybe a bit too subtle in the mix. They paired well with Albert Seltz 2005 Alsace Riesling, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.98 per bottle, which had a touch of latex on the nose and was otherwise dominated by notes of stone fruits. Semi-sweet and a bit viscous, this is not a riesling for dry wine snobs.

Relatively healthy appetizers enjoyed, it was time to turn to the relatively healthy main courses. My fears of starving all evening subsided as our waiter approached with our plates. Apparently, low-calorie preparation methods allow for normal-sized portions. The duck and venison were both cooked very well. The duck in particular was complimented very well by spinach, rice, a red wine reduction, and, of course, the cranberry chutney. Though, I do have to admit, I would have loved a little butter on the side of mashed potatoes that we ordered. I guess you can only change the boy so much.

Our main dishes were made even more enjoyable by a couple of very nice pinot noirs. Mrs. Wine with Dinner enjoyed Stoller Vineyards2005 Dundee Vineyard JV Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), 4 Stars1/4, appx. $27.99 per bottle. This was a nice, complex wine with notes of red fruit and pine the most apparent, but also a bit of dark fruit and possibly some red currant. It is not a heavy wine, but it is does have some oak influence and a bit of a creamy finish to accompany its moderate acidity. My duck went very well with a Tazmanian wine, Tamar Ridge’s 2007 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir, 4 Stars, appx. $15.00 per bottle. This was a bit simpler than the Stoller, but still very enjoyable. It was young, light, and fresh, with raspberry, cherry, and watermelon rind notes and good acidity. Our waiter showed good knowledge of the wines by recommending the heavier pinot noir with the venison.

Rock Creek Bar
Comfy Bar Area Too

(One more note on the wines. We decided at the restaurant that we wanted to try different wines, so we did not look at the by-the-bottle list. Mistake. As I look on the website now, I see that Rock Creek Mazza offers Mt. Difficulty‘s 2006 “Roaring Meg” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. As loyal readers may recall, Mt. Difficulty had some of the best wines that we encountered on our New Zealand honeymoonlast year. We may have to return to Rock Creek to get a taste of the 2006 Pinot.)

One more tip — after a pretty healthy dinner, you are entitled to some dessert. Pastry Chef Roger Potter, another graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine who has worked at D.C. favorites Clyde’s of Gallery Place and 1789, helps you to control you caloric intake in two different ways. First, Rock Creek provides desserts made without sugar, heavy cream, or butter. Second, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with the Small Bites plate, in which you can sample 1-5 small portions of desserts that are made with butter. I recommend the Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch and the Cheesecake, though there are some other fascinating desserts on the menu. The Fonseca 20-year Tawny Port was also lovely.

If you are looking for a well-prepared, tasty, and healthy meal, Rock Creek Mazza is the place to go. I am sure I’ll be back, and ordering something to go with that Roaring Meg Pinot.

Appx. $24.00 per entree.
4 Stars

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Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 10:04 am  Comments (1)  
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Welcome to the Blogroll

I hope to have a restaurant review coming up this weekend.  In the meantime, I attended an interesting lunch last week at GiraMondo Wine Adventures where an upcoming article regarding wine blogging was discussed.  At that lunch I met Andrew, also known as Chief Wino, and I would like to welcome him to the Blogroll.  Andrew knows his stuff and I look forward to reading more on his blog.  I will post more about the lunch and the article once the article is published.

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Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Well, He’s Like a Fine Wine

I started a new job recently, hence the lack of blogging.  I plan to do a brief wine entry this weekend and then, hopefully, I will be able to get back into some kind of rhythm in the coming weeks.

Today, however, I am going to break my #1 blogging rule — I am going to blog off-theme.  See, this is not only a wine blog, this is a D.C. blog.  Something very exciting has happened here in Washington in the past couple of days.  It’s not about wine, spirits, or food, so stop here if you are reading from afar.  On the other hand, if you live and work in the Washington area, and you are at all a sports fan, I encourage you to read on.

The District’s hockey team, the Washington Capitals, was a perennial playoff contender back in the 90’s, but has been rebuilding over the last decade.  Attendance has dwindled, and the Caps have become a subject of ridicule in places like New York, Montreal, and Ottawa.  This week, the Capitals took a huge step in putting that to an end.

Washington Capitals

On January 10, Ted Leonsis (owner) and the Washington Capitals inked forward Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million deal.  It is the richest deal in NHL history.  Who is Alex Ovechkin?  Well, he is a young Russian phenom who was the NHL Rookie of the Year a couple of years back.  This huge agreement is for the career-long services of, arguably, the best player in the NHL today.  Caps fans have been rejoicing and reveling in the whining and crying of fans in the major hockey markets ever since.  (You can find examples here, here, here, and here.)

Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin
Photo courtesy of WashingtonCaps.com

Why am I writing about this?  Well, in addition to being a wine freak, I am a hockey freak.  I played hockey my whole life.  I was a Hartford Whalers fan as a kid until they packed up and left for North Carolina.  So, since 1997 I have been a man without a hockey team.

Whalers
Hartford Whalers Forever!

In late 2006 I decided to start watching again.  Living in the D.C. area, I began to tune into the Washington Capitals.  The team was not doing well and there was a feeling of tired desperation in the stands.  Everyone new the team had some good young players, but the face of the team, Alex Ovechkin, would be a restricted free agent the next year.  Would he really stay?  Could the Caps really rebuild themselves into a Stanley Cup contender?  It looked bleak.

This season started with a fresh sense of optimism, but a 3-0 start gave way to a huge losing skid that left the team the worst in the NHL.  I learned more and more about the players, and saw the potential, but also watched the crowds dwindle until only the most dedicated followers remained.  I began to think that maybe everyone was right, and D.C. could not be a hockey city again.

Then, at absolute bottom, the Caps fired their coach and brought in some new blood.  Losses began to turn into wins, fans started coming back, and there was a sense of excitement again.  But even as the fans slowly returned, a lingering doubt remained, as Alex Ovechkin had still not resigned with the Caps.  Rumors were flying all over the Internet — he’s going to New York, Montreal . . . Nashville, anywhere but here.  We weren’t good enough for him.

Bruce Boudreau
New Head Coach Bruce Boudreau deserves a lot of credit for the Caps recent success.
Photo courtesy of WashingtonCaps.com

Then Ovechkin, Leonsis, and the investors of the Washington Capitals said “Screw all y’all.”  13 years, $124 million — a great deal and a real investment in the team and the sport in Washington, D.C.  I found myself on the Caps’ message boards reading and posting, and listening intently to the news on Home Ice on XM Radio.

After a full day of reading about the deal, the team as a whole, and contemplating who would be signed next, I realized that it had happened.  I found a team again.  I am a Washington Capitals fan.  This is my town — this is OUR town — and it can be a great place to play sports; to play hockey.  I am a Caps fan!

The next game is tomorrow (Sunday, Jan. 13) at 1:00 p.m. at Verizon Center.  I will be there; you should be there too.  Our team that just put its money where its mouth is, so let’s stand with them.  We can Tivo the football game, but there is only one chance to go to the Verizon Center and tear the roof off when Alex Ovechkin steps on the ice for the first time as a life-long Capital.

So, as not just a wine blogger, but as a D.C. blogger, I say, “Thank you, Alex Ovechkin.”  “Thank you, Ted Leonsis.”  “Thank you to all of the players, coaches, and staff of the Washington Capitals.”  I am a Caps fan, and I promise, if you come out to a few games, you will be one to.

Hey, if nothing else, you can swing by Proof afterwards.

Go D.C.!  Go CAPS!

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Don’t forget to VOTE!

Published in: on January 12, 2008 at 6:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Holiday Tastings

2005 Falesco Vitiano IGT (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese), Umbria, Italy, 4 Stars1/4, $11.49 per bottle (good value)- medium bodied, dark fruit and chocolate notes with hints of mint and a bit of spice on the back of the tongue, the tannins add a bit of bite to the medium to high acidity wine.

Olivier Laflaive 2006 Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles, Burgundy, France, 4 Stars1/4, $17.99 per bottle- subtle aromas of apple and oak with hints of stone fruit added on the palate, moderate acidity, and just a touch of buttery texture in this very balanced, not overly oaked wine, great compliment for a nice meal.

2005 Gentil Hugel (Silvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewürztraminer), Alsace, France, 4 Stars1/4, $13.99 per bottle- grapefruit, mineral, and peach notes with hints of perfume on the nose and a tart citrus and floral palate, this wine is high in acidity, yet still light and well-balanced.

By the way, have y’all seen what’s going on in the EU? Crazy.

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Don’t forget to VOTE!

Published in: on January 6, 2008 at 1:23 pm  Comments (2)