Monday, April 22, 2013

Storm Chasers--Wine Cellar Restaurant

As March turns into April, Mother Nature is supposed to be having beautiful spring showers that grow lovely May flowers…expect if you live in the Black Hills!  This spring sprouted major blizzards and snowstorms leading to many road closures and poor driving conditions! In between weekly storms, my husband and I found a day that the weather slightly cooperated (but my migraine headache did not), and we made a much anticipated trip to the Wine Cellar in downtown Rapid City. Of course, any restaurant called the Wine Cellar would have piqued my interest.  I also started following the Wine Cellar months before on Facebook, and the great daily specials and pictures of food made me pray (even more) to Mother Nature to let our drive take place to finally get to experience this establishment. 

Warm, intimate ambiance of the small seating area.

            Since we visited the Wine Cellar on a Friday night (and the seating area in the venue is quite small and intimate), I called ahead to make reservations.  The staff member who took our reservation was incredibly friendly, and we were greeted in the same friendly manner when we arrived.  We were given a menu filled with absolutely mouth-watering choices and also handed the wine menu to peruse.  I was immediately impressed with the by-the-glass options on the wine list:  over 20 different wines to choose from—which is uncommon for a restaurant of this size.  The by-the-bottle options were also very nice.  We ordered the Vero Pinot Noir from Burgundy, deciding that it would pair well with whatever food items on which we decided.  (My only wish is that restaurants in general would NOT push for patrons to order wine before patrons know what entrĂ©e they are choosing; instead, restaurant staff members need to be trained to wait for the food to be ordered before having patrons order wine, thus allowing for a better food-wine pairing.) 
Some of the by-the-glass options.
Our Pinot Noir

            The winter seasonal menu was still in use, and it was filled with multiple items I would have loved to try, both small plates and large plates.  However, the Facebook special that I had been dreaming about all day was the butternut squash lasagna, so I went with my gut instinct (pun intended) and ordered this.  I was not disappointed!  The lasagna with a slightly sweet cinnamon sauce was even better than I had imagined all day.  My other half ordered the beef special for the night, a filet with the most scrumptious garlic butter!  I really love that the chefs here do seasonal menus.  I enjoy going back to an establishment multiple times and having different options from which to choose.  Today’s Wine Cellar Facebook post stated that the spring menu will be available shortly; I look forward to returning to try it. 
The "back alley" seating area.

            After our lovely food and wine, we did have some room left for dessert, and the Wine Cellar doesn’t disappoint here either.  We were told about their signature flourless chocolate cake, but we opted for the apple cheesecake.  Oh so good!  We were too full to have coffee or dessert wine, but both were options on the menu—again, another reason to go back soon.

            Though we were forced to dodge storms to get there, the Wine Cellar is a great little jewel in downtown Rapid.  The warm, ambiance of the intimate atmosphere started a pleasant experience that was sustained through good food, quality wine, and tasty desserts.  I hope this summer the weather is less of an issue, and it is an easier attempt for me to try my taste buds on the spring/summer menu!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Indestructible Bond--Someone's in the Kitchen

Food and wine, wine and food--the relationship between these two is so close, it is impossible to separate them.  My favorite part of a good meal is the wine, and my favorite part of a good wine is thinking of the meal that would pair perfectly with it.  Someone’s in the Kitchen in Rapid City takes this relationship between wine and food to a whole new level of enjoyment for all who enter, including me.

First, I must admit that I am a kitchen store and kitchen gadget queen, so I absolutely love kitchen stores.  Even with this slight obsession, there are kitchen stores, and then there is Someone’s in the Kitchen (SITK).  From the moment customers walk in, they are surrounded by the best and latest in all things food and food preparation.  From coffee and tea, to seasonal cookery, to food products, to cutlery, SITK has everything.  I love the La Creuset cookware and all the new colors for spring:  yellow, green, and purple.  (I will soon be the owner of the La Creuset line since I plan on building my collection piece by piece—in the original red color.)  My other favorite areas are the pet area, olive oil containers, and BBQ staples and supplies. 
The newest KitchenAid mixers in the best colors!
Olive oil containers...oh the oil I could infuse.

BBQ supplies galore!

The newest Le Creuset colors; I will have red!

SITK doesn’t just give you the tools for great cooking; this store gives you the instructions for great cooking as well.  SITK offers classes in fall and spring sessions.  The offerings include so many possible cooking and baking topics:  gluten free, La Creuset, Cinco de Mayo, crepes, low carb, dutch oven, knife skills…the list goes on and on.  My first experience at SITK was about five years ago when a friend and I took a sushi class, which still ranks as one of my favorite chef experiences. 

However, don’t think for a minute that food is the only focus of SITK.  Wine has a special place in the heart of this establishment.  SITK has the newest in wine accessories, with everything from colorful wine bottle openers, to fun wine glass and bottle charms, to beautiful crystal stemware.  SITK also goes a step beyond in the area of wine, too, as it has offered wine-inspired classes from area experts for years.  I was lucky enough to be considered one of the “experts” last year, when I taught my first class, Food and Wine Pairing.  I have moved on to teach other classes there, including my French Food and Wine class last weekend.  By saying I taught the class I am giving myself too much credit.  I teach the wine section and choose wines for serving; SITK chef Kirsten does all the food.  She finds the recipes, helps pair with wine, preps all the food, and instructs how to make the individual dishes during the class.  In other words, Kirsten makes my job so easy because she does so much work!  I also can’t forget the SITK staff members, including Roberta, chef assistant extraordinaire (who also teaches her own cooking classes).  These women are part of a well-oiled machine that I am so lucky to get to be a part of several times a year. 
Wine backpacks with travel glasses and corkscrews.  
Fun wine accessories.

So many wine openers from which to choose!

Beautiful stemware.

Kirsten working her magic on the cooktop for French Wine and Food.

Wine and food, food and wine…two of my favorite things!  I love both individually, but when a business makes it so enjoyable to put two of my favorite things together, I am in heaven.  I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to get to be a part of this promotion of my much-loved hobbies (dare I say obsessions???).  I also look forward to going back next month to do an Introduction to Wine class as SITK continues to be a supporter of the culture of wine and food.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sunshine and Wine

The beautiful aqua blue water beckoned me.  The heat of the sand between my toes warmed me inside and out.  Everyone around me ordered a margarita.  However, I asked for the wine list!  Our recent trip to Cancun might have seemed an odd place to be looking for wine, yet I wasn’t disappointed.  Margaritas and pina coladas may have been the rage, but for me, it was still a wine adventure!

The first night we arrived, I, of course, had to have a margarita (on the rocks, with salt, please).  It just so happened this ONE drink was the size of my head!  After that, I was ready for a glass of vino.  The hotel sports bar had a wine list:  house red and house white.  Yes, that was the entire list.  My companion and I were quite fearful about ordering the house red, but when the server brought out a bottle of Tempranillo and beautiful Schott Swiesel stemware, we were very pleasantly surprised!  Night one:  wine mission accomplished!

Night two was pizza, pasta, and vino night at the hotel buffet.  Still basking in the glow from my lucky wine break the night before (and the tan I was working on from eight hours on the beach), my family and I decided to enjoy the buffet.  Again, I was very impressed with the wine list, which included a decent variety and number of bottles.  We choose the Casa Madero 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This reasonably-priced, one-hundred percent Cabernet was from the Baja region of Mexico--on the western side of the country--from the Parras Valley.  It was filled with cherry, currant, and cedar.  Though not as bold as a California Cab, I enjoyed the wine with homemade pesto from the pasta bar.  Night two:  wine mission accomplished!

Night three found us experiencing a wonderfully, upscale restaurant: Harry’s Prime Steakhouse and Raw Bar, on the lagoon side of the Hotel Zone in downtown Cancun.  The food, the wine, and the service were all impeccable.  This was a wonderful experience!  From Kobe beef to sushi to seafood, Harry’s was such a special treat.  My family ordered sizzling steaks cooked perfectly (medium rare for us:  red, warm center).  I had the crab cakes as my meal with truffle mashed potatoes; my mouth is watering again just thinking of the potatoes!  The wine list was equally impressive.  I could have ordered anything from the U.S., France, Mexico, Spain, or anywhere in between.  My choices ranged from half bottle to magnum in size, and the price was from the very reasonable to the very expensive, like a Petrus, a Mouton Rothschild, or an Opus One. This evening we sipped another Mexican wine:  L.A. Cetto 2009 Nebbiolo.  I am a Nebbiolo lover, and this bottle (about twenty dollars, U.S.) from the Ensenada region of the Baja area was an interesting Nebbiolo.  Aged for 14 months, it was more tannic and not as smooth as a typical Italian Nebbiolo; however, it was a beautiful ruby red, with spice and leather exploding from the bottle.  It was not the best pairing for my crab cakes, but I ordered the crab knowing this.  That being said, the bite of steak I snagged from my husband’s plate was a much better match for the tannic red.  After the meal, and wine, and dessert (for the teenage, growing son) the server brought a HUGE pole of cotton candy, a fun and functional way to end the meal with sweet on the palette! Night three:  wine mission accomplished!

Alas, our time in the sunshine had to end, and our travels home began.  We faced an incredibly long layover in Houston, at the George Bush International Airport.  We found our gate and sat reading and napping after having breakfast in the airport.  Just before the three hours was over, we decided to go for a short, pre-flight walk to stretch our legs, and just around the corner from where we sat (for three hours…did I say this already!) was the cutest little wine bar, Le Grand Comptoir.  It was such a site for sore eyes; yet, at this point there was only about fifteen minutes left until our boarding time for the flight, so I didn’t get to sit, sip, and enjoy the fabulous selection of wines teasing me from the front window of the establishment.  I spotted Opus One, Louis Jadot, and other reputable producers. I was truly disappointed at being so close, yet so far from one more wine experience on our trip!  If there ever is a next time I layover in Houston, Le Grand Comptoir will be my FIRST stop.  Day four:  wine mission failed.  (Insert sad face here.)

Though most travelers go to the beautiful beaches of Cancun to have their toes in the water, their “rear” in the sand, and a margarita in their hand, I went for the beautiful beaches, pristine water, Mexican sun, and any unique wine I could find.  I am proud to say, Cancun lived up to my wine standards!