Monday, December 18, 2006

The Vino-Seal

Over the past few years, several types of stoppers have emerged as alternatives to the traditional wine cork. Many of us are familiar with synthetic corks, which are becoming fairly commonplace, as well as screwtop enclosures, often associated with the cheap wine from our college days. (Night Train, anyone?)

The January 2007 issue of Bon Appetit has a short article on the Vino-Seal, a glass stopper with a sealing o-ring. This innovative stopper, created by the German subsidiary of Alcoa, forms a very tight seal with the bottle, preventing cork taint and oxidation. It is very easy to open, without requiring a separate opener, and reseals very nicely. Several different U.S. wine producers are using the Vino-Seal, including Whitehall Lane in Napa and Sineann Winery in Oregon. I first encountered this award-winning gadget during one of my trips to Europe, where it is known as the Vino-Lok. I still have several bottles of wine from Weingut Heitlinger in my wine rack sealed with the Vino-Lok.

It seems that the Vino-Seal has not been as widely adopted as other types of stoppers due to the cost of the stopper itself as well as the labor costs in manually sealing the bottles. However, if these cost issues can be resolved, I think that we might see more and more wineries using the Vino-Seal in the future.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

With my crazy work schedule as of late, it's been difficult to find a lot of time and energy to post. However, with my current project coming to a conclusion (and work winding down in general due to the holidays), I should hopefully have more time to share my random food thoughts.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I took a cooking class at Hawthorne Lane, a charming restaurant in the SoMA district of San Francisco serving up modern California cuisine. Hawthorne Lane opens its doors on Saturday mornings once or twice a month for these classes, which are taught by David Gingrass, chef and proprietor of the restaurant, and executive chef Bridget Batson. My sweetie and I were drawn to this particular class by the over-the-top menu that was featured. Appropriately named "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams", the meal featured two appetizers: steamed Dungeness crab custards and bluefin o-toro tuna tartare with osetra caviar. The main entree was a dish of Kobe beef loin on a bed of mashed potatoes with wild mushrooms and a cabernet glaze. Finally, dessert was a dark chocolate orbit cake with Grand Marnier ice cream.

The description for the classes says that they are "hands-on, educational, and just plain frolicking fun." Our class yesterday turned out to be one of the least hands-on cooking classes that I've ever taken. In fact, other than the five minutes that my girlfriend and I and another couple spent on some prep work for the appetizers, no other participants in the class touched the food until it hit the table. Despite a small bit of disappointment with the lack of hands-on work, we definitely had a frolicking fun experience. It was probably just as well that we didn't do any slicing or sauteing as we weren't in really any condition to perform those activities due to the copious amounts of alcohol that were being served throughout the day. Our first sense that this might be a free-flowing alcohol event started right after we walked in the door and were greeted with a champagne and pear sorbet cocktail with gold leaf. We (and most of the other participants I suspect) had a couple of these yummy drinks before we even made it back to the kitchen. Once we had made it back to the kitchen, new flutes were passed around and the champagne kept flowing. The meal was paired with a couple of different champagnes from Charles Heidsieck, including a 1985 vintage, and a nice Napa merlot. We sat next to the marketing representative from Charles Heidsieck, who shared some of her experiences with food and wine, while the wait staff did stellar job at making sure our glasses were not empty for very long. I suspect that there weren't too many participants at this event who had fewer than a half-dozen drinks. We were certainly happy that we didn't drive to this class. Everyone at the event, including David and the rest of the crew and the other class participants, was really nice. We met a nice couple, Marcus and Patricia, who are fellow SF foodies like us, and with whom we hope to share some further culinary adventures around the Bay Area.

As it turns out, not only was this the last class of the year for Hawthorne Lane, it was the last class, period. After serving Christmas eve dinner, David will be closing down Hawthorne Lane, renovating the interior for a couple of weeks, and reopening as Two, the second restaurant in the 22 Hawthorne Street space. The menu will completely change, as David will take a more hands-on approach in his culinary collaboration with Brigitte. The menu will become simpler, featuring ingredient-focused appetizers, pizzas, and various grilled, roasted and braised items. Their dessert menu will also become more rustic. I am looking forward to sampling the charcuterie items that will be added to the menu. One thing to note is that their current signature tuna tartare appetizer will still be available upon request, even though it will no longer be on the menu. Most of the people involved with Hawthorne Lane will return to Two, and the Saturday morning cooking program will continue. Though we are disappointed that we will no longer be able to experience their PB & J foie gras sandwich, we are looking forward to the birth of the new restaurant.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Math + Baking = Pie-cosahedron

If you are one of those can't-get-enough-of-geometry baking types out there, you should check out a potential weekend project.

I like math and all, and cooking as well, but I can't see myself actually taking the time to make something like that...

Incidentally, I'm editing this post as I cruise over the North Atlantic, thanks to Wi-Fi broadband service provided by Connexion by Boeing on my Lufthansa flight. Unfortunately, due to their inability to recoup the operating costs, Boeing has decided to discontinue this service by the end of the year, so I may not have many more opportunities (for a while, at any rate) to post from 35000 feet in the air.