Endless Pairings: Emeril’s Chophouse

Emerils

While it’s clear we that love craft beer here at ES, we do not play favorites. Which is why we took advantage of an opportunity to attend a four-course wine pairing dinner at Emeril’s Chophouse at Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA.  The event was based on South American Wines (from Chile) and some fall-themed foods. My expectations for this event were pretty simple – learn more about wine (how it’s made, how to choose a wine for particular meals, what’s so special about Chilean wine?), have some great food that I couldn’t have otherwise, and taste wine that truly complements the food I’m eating with the wine. Rather than boring you with my oh-so-important and attention-worthy opinions of every course, I’ll give you the cliff notes version.

First, let’s talk about my educational expectations. Whenever I go to these kinds of events, I want to leave knowing more than I did when I first arrived. The woman in charge of the “educational” aspect of the event was a very well-versed representative from Southern Wine. She did a great job of explaining why she chose Chilean Wines for this event (it is under-represented and often under-rated) and giving a good run-down of the people that made the wine. Something that I appreciated was learning about what the winemakers intended for the wine, what kind of grapes they picked, and why they picked a particular region. For instance, when drinking my favorite wine of the night (Ritual Pinot Noir) I learned that the grapes are pressed with the berries still in a bunch. When this occurs, more pronounced tanin flavors come through in the wine (which is something that I look for in a dry red).  The one thing that was missing from the education aspect of the event was that she really did not discuss why she chose the particular wine for each course. Like I said – she gave great information about the wines, but not as much about why the wine was chosen for the courses.

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Endless Road Trip Marfa: Living It Up at Cochineal

Marfa Cochineal Menu Summer 2014

While Marfa is a small town, its identity as an artists enclave and hip Southwest tourist destination cultivates a demand for finer dining. I’m not talking stuffy, classic dining (I don’t think anything close to that really exists in these small South Texas towns) but creative, modern, upscale restaurants? There’s a couple in the area but Cochineal is the one I’d heard the most buzz about. So I figured hey, when’s the next time we’ll be in Marfa, let’s splurge a little bit.

A thirty seat dining room, forty odd seat courtyard, open kitchen, and a vegetable garden supplying the freshest baby greens and vegetables – all came into being by 2008 and the restaurant opened on May 22.

The food served at Cochineal is much as Ruth Reichl wrote about Restaurant Etats-Unis for theNY Times in 1993. We are still home cooks, still cooking simple food, still changing the menu daily, still paying attention to the inherent qualities of the raw ingredients. We are still in love with the wines of the world and maintain a list of some 250 bottles in a wide range of prices.

We have also have the continuing joy of watching a wonderful staff of very young and very native Marfans grow into an appreciation of what food can become and into an awareness of how skilled and competent they can become.

Love it!

Cochineal isn’t a big space, but it’s really stylish and sexy. They have a great, dusty little outdoor seating area in their front courtyard, or you can sit in the sleek yet rustic indoor space (where we enjoyed our meal). The menu at Cochineal is comprised of small plates, large plates, and a couple desserts. It changes daily, and once they run out of something, they are OUT. We got a 6:00pm reservation because, as Aerosmith would say, I don’t wanna miss a thing.

What does a multi-course dinner at one of the best restaurants in West Texas look like? Feast your eyes on this.

Marfa Cochineal Peking Quail

For course one, Rob and I split the peking style quail with a crispy and sticky skin stuffed with fermented carrots, pineapple, and fried rice. We also got the house-baked bread with Marfa yeasts to share between the table. Oh, and duh, I got a cocktail! A vodka gimlet which was ultra fresh and tasty.

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Endless Road Trip Marfa: Buns N’ Roses

Marfa Buns and Roses Chips Salsa

That photo might not seem like the fanciest, most stylistic presentation of chips & salsa in the world, and you know what, it’s not. But what it is is fresh, thick corn tortillas fried to order for our table, dusted with the perfect amount of salt and served with fresh, garlicky salsa. That’s how they DO it at Buns N’ Roses in Marfa.

But let’s rewind a bit. The second day of our West Texas roadtrip extravaganza, we moseyed from our teepees at El Cosmico to Buns N’ Roses, about a 40 minute walk in the hot desert sun. (We could have driven I guess, but we’d all imbibed quite a few mimosas back at our lodging. Duh, vacation.) I had heard good things about their breakfast from the peeps at El Cosmico and besides that, I couldn’t turn down a restaurant with a pun for a name.

It’s an accurate pun, too, because Buns and Roses is a 2-in-1 stop: both a bakery (buns) and florist (roses). I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

Upon approach, you feel like you might be entering an abandoned/haunted greenhouse…

Marfa Buns and Roses Driveway

Marfa Buns and Roses Building

But inside it’s quite cute and cozy! The kitchen is run by a mother-daughter team, which I love. There were only a couple other tables in for brunch around 11:30am on a Saturday, and service was super quick with plenty of coffee refills – always appreciated. The menu is full of your standard egg dishes, plus offerings from their bakery: honey wheat bread, beer bread, and of course their famous buns. Tragically they were sold out of all their donuts and pastries by the time we rolled in so we couldn’t try any of their eponymous buns! But the breads/toast were GOOD.

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Endless Road Trip Marfa: Padre’s Bar & Grill

Marfa Highway Welcome Sign

If you haven’t heard of Marfa, Texas, I can’t blame you. I didn’t know much about it until I moved to Austin a couple years back, but then I learned quickly enough: Marfa is a little town in the West Texas desert which has turned into an art enclave in the past few decades. It has some glimmers of weirdness because it was the setting of an old James Dean movie way back in the day, and it’s also home to the Marfa Lights, a mysterious phenomenon in the sky… basically, if you are looking for a scenic, artsy, and perhaps slightly creepy wild west desert roadtrip, West Texas (and specifically Marfa) is the place for YOU!

And the place for ME. I loved our trip so much. It’s funny because Marfa really is a teensy town, but I felt like there was way too much to do in the short amount of time we spent in the town (2 days out of the 4 we were in West TX). And by “do” I mean “eat” obviously, because Marfa actually has a great (albeit small, I mean come on, it’s like a 4-street town) food scene! So many cute food trucks and hole-in-the-wall spots only open for breakfast or lunch. There are like three “fancy”-ish restaurants and three bars as well. At least five days’ worth of solid eating and drinking, is what I’m saying.

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Green Chili Mac Attack

Green Chili Mac & Cheese

From mac and cheese with lobster to mac and cheese burgers, mac and cheese hot dogs and more, there’s not much we get more excited about here at ES than good ol’ elbows and cheez product. (Who wants to write up the 100 ways to mac and cheese post?!?)

This new take comes from Mexicue, one of my favorite NYC restaurants, and mixes some serious spice up in yo’ mac.

Green Chili Mac and Cheese

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Is This the World’s Spiciest Burger?

StarCityKitchen_GhostBurger2

At Star City Kitchen in El Paso, Texas, Chef Sarah Kosravani recently introduced “The Ghost Burger.” It consists of five separate elements, each designed to light your mouth on fire.

1. Bun brushed with cayenne-infused butter

2. Burger patty seasoned with secret-recipe salsa, pepper flakes, and raw, diced habanero

3. Pepperjack cheese laced with he notorious ghost pepper!

4. Roasted habanero and garlic aioli.

5. Battered and fried toreados (jalapenos that have basically mated with onion rings).

Would you try it?

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Food Porn of the Day: Burgers on Burgers

Smashburger Sampler Austin

I was invited to the pre-opening tasting of the new Smashburger here in Austin. I’m not much for burgers (unless they’re really exceptional) or “fast casual” type restaurants in general, but I’d heard a fair amount about the Colorado-based chain and decided to check it out. I will say the burgers (ground beef, chicken breast, and black bean) were much higher quality than your average chain burger, but they were still greasy, decadent, meaty… burgers. They held nothing back at the tasting event; the pic above is only part of what I was given to sample. I only ate a bite or so of each, otherwise I think my stomach would have exploded.

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