prelude: my apologies for being a lazy blogger as of recent times. i’ve been rather busy with life, and i haven’t spent too much time in the kitchen, nor have i been out and about recently, so i’ve been low on material. but no worries- i plan on cooking a lot this week- tomorrow night a champagne cake, a birthday feast on wednesday, and a roasted chicken on sunday. last week i roasted a lovely bird, with very humble ingredients and it came out tender and crispy- but i misplaced my camera and decided that it would be pointless to post about it. but let’s discuss VIGNOLA.
last evening, i had an 8pm reservation at vignola with some of my dearest family members, so that we could celebrate my mother’s birthday properly. it was not my first time dining there, but i hadn’t been in quite sometime- perhaps a year or two? previous visits sufficed my taste buds, but i had pretty terrible run ins with wait staff, seating, and overall ambiance. much has changed at vignola since those impressions were made, and i can truthfully say, i was in raptures all evening. the ambiance was perfect- very classy, but edgy, and didn’t feel stuffy, or too modern. the decor, i’ve always enjoyed, they’ve rigged their light fixtures into bunches of wine bottles ( did i mention vignola is known for their vino?) and of course their wine closet is surrounded by glass and open for admiration. the kitchen is partially visible, and its shared with their sister restaurant, cinque terre. the staff was fantastic- mainly because two servers switch between vignola and local 188, and their house sommelier, chris (who just returned from spain), was available to chat with and have make suggestions for wine pairings with your entree.
a good ten minutes after we sat, a bottle of cava brut rose (vintage 2004, hell yeaa $45/bottle) was sent over from an absent member of my clan. this cava brut was fantastic because the flavors were complex, the red aspect was still full bodied, and it was light, with floral undertones. not to mention it paired well with the oysters i ordered. i’ve always enjoyed roses, but this was superb. it’s from the conca de barbera region of espana, and is made by roger goulart. i found the aging to be perfect, because it maintained a freshness, but still maintained hints of old subtleties.
happy birthday mom! i’m glad you were born into this world, and i’m incredibly happy that we could celebrate your birthday with our loved ones over a fantastic meal. thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me- specifically, insisting that i can accomplish whatever i want to, and encouraging my love of food and cooking. without you, my passion would be overlooked, and i would probably be pursuing something ridiculous like law.
vignola has a nice deal where you pick four cheeses for $20, and because i was given the title, boss lady last evening, i picked all four. now i’m not a big fan of bleu cheese, and vignola does have a small selection of that variety, but i stayed with cow’s milk, goat, and sheep, to start the night. i picked a piave, from northern italy, it’s a hard cow’s cheese, that is sharp, and has a sweet after-taste. cheese number two was a mahon, a cow’s cheese from espana, that is nutty, and almost, spicy? cheese three was undoubtedly the raschera, from italy again, and it’s a soft sheep and goat milk cheese, that mimics a very nice variety of brie, but has a buttermilk flavour. our final cheese was a buenalba from espana- it was intended to be a soft, but it was crumbly nonetheless. upon reading the description i was scared it was similar to a gorgonzola, a cheese i really dislike, but it was so different. it was sharp, and had a fruity undertone, which i was very impressed with. our cheese was served with preserved figs and seasonal fruits, spiced walnuts, and homemade focaccia.
now i suppose i should let you know how much i love oysters. i’ve always loved seafood, fresh fresh seafood, and because of the fact that i’ve grown up in maine, i’ve always gotten the best of the best. one of my fondest memories is eating an oyster out of the penobscot, right after it being harvested. no lemon, no tabasco, just fresh 20 year old oyster, with the waters of the penobscot to was it down. since then, i guess my expectations for oysters have been raised considerably, and i was very pleased with the oysters i ate last evening. pleased for a few reasons. first and foremost because they were incredibly fresh, and they were harvested in winterpoint, plus they were served with shallots and an allagash mignonette, and second because they were free of charge. the lemon wasn’t necessary- just because the mignonette had a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, and the shallot cut the acidity. they were properly chilled, they were cleaned, and thankfully, there was no trace of sand, which made me very grateful. another reason why i really liked the oysters at vingola is because you can buy a single oyster, and you’re not restricted to purchasing a dozen or half a dozen. the single oyster option is perfect for me, because i typically can eat two or three, and no more. so unlike street & co. and j’s oyster, vignola gives you the power to choose the amount of the sea’s greatest delicacy you’d like to consume.
our lovely sommelier came over after our entrees had been ordered and listened to us discuss our taste in wine, and he brought us a bottle of valderiz, vintage 2004 (from espana, $60 a bottle) that he thought would pair well with all of our dinner choices. this wine was dry, aged perfectly, had undertones of caramel and nuts, with an overtone of deep spicy fruit flavors. chris told us about the grapes that are used for this win, they’re grown in an ancient riverbed on 75 acres of tomas esteban’s vineyard located in the Roa region of the Ribgera del Duero (there are 20 different locations where tomas grows his grapes). the grapes are pressed slightly as to preserve the flavor, and the grapes are exposed to very drastic temperatures. in the daytime, the average temperature at the vineyards ranges from 110-115 degrees, and during the evening the temperature drops rapidly to 40 degrees. this change in temp, ensures that the grapes age slowly and thoroughly, giving them a smokey, chocolate flavor that is also detectable in this wine. we all realized that 2004 was a very good year for spanish wines, and later chris explained that it was by far the best year in the past 100 years. furthermore, after a bit of research on my end, the valderiz 2004 was named one of the finest ribgera del duero wines in existence. it’s estimated now, that the valderiz 2004 will be drinkable and rich until 2030, so long live this strain of fine wine. it was well worth the $60 spent.
it’s been a while since i’ve fallen head over heels for an entree ( i believe the last one was the duck that the old walter’s used to prepare, or the sole francaise from street & co.) but vignola’s lamb meatballs served with crispy polenta, and a black forest mushroom ragu was so much more than i ever expected. the lamb was tender, juicy, succulent (i am pullin’ out all the adjectives here, aren’t i?) the ragu? i can’t even explain. the mushrooms almost tasted like chorizo, but there was this savoriness about them that i can barely convey into words. the polenta. OH my god. i am probably the biggest fan of polenta out there. and i’m pretty confident that i make a really good polenta cake, but this… this was the best polenta i’ve ever consumed. the crust was perfectly fried and season with olive oil, salt n pepper, and it formed a very nice contrast with the soft, almost mashed potato like polenta inside. it melted in my mouth. i wanted to eat it over and over again. mixed with the ragu and the meatballs, it was out of this world. just a cascade of flavors in my mouth. so perfect. so simple. made my night… especially with a nice glass of the valderiz i mentioned above (many times).
two out of the four people in my party ordered the top sirloin steak with a red wine shallot reduction, local fingerling mashed potatoes, and a frisee salad on top. both ordered their steak medium, and both steaks were served medium rare, but neither seemed to mind. both thought that the steak was cooked perfectly- it was tender, juicy and flavorful, and they also agreed that the mashed potatoes were out of this world. the texture was perfect- not whipped, not grainy, but soft, and heaven-like. yes, you can describe potatoes with the adjective heaven-like. the only topic at hand that the ladies disagreed on was the red wine shallot reduction. my mother loved hers, she said it was sweet, and that it contrasted wonderfully with the frisee salad, and the potatoes. but my aunt very much disliked the sauce. she said it was overpowering, almost artificially sweet, and took away from the overall flavor of the steak. then again, she didn’t even want the steak to begin with- she ordered the grilled shrimp with crispy polenta (A+) with a tomato and red pepper ragu. they were out of that dish 20 minutes before we arrived unfortunately, so she made a rash decision and decided on the steak. if i had to agree with either of the ladies, i’d probably side with my aunt, only because lately, sauces have been overbearing for me, and they seem to take away from the natural flavor of the protein on your plate. perhaps if they served the meat with a smaller amount of sauce, it would have been okay, but to me, it looked like the sirloin was just kinda swimming in the deep end of the red wine shallot reduction pool.
i had no problem finishing my meal, even though i had oysters and cheese ahead of time. the other person in our party indulged in a pepperoni pizza- a dish that i don’t exactly care for, but as i heard from her and the rest of my family, was quite delicious. by the time i wanted to take a photo of the ‘zza it was gone, so i don’t have too much to say on that end, besides the fact, that vignola makes affordable pizzas with a very thin crust, with fresh tomato sauce, and good meats. the cheese, i also heard was a beautiful melting cheese- i have a hunch that it was the taleggio cheese that my waitress recommended in place of the coca de roma that i inquired about. i didn’t take her suggestion though, and decided on the buenalba instead, which i was, in part, grateful for. vignola has certainly improved in all aspects, ambiance, overall quality, waitstaff, decor, and ingredients. the time spent there was meaningful and well deserved. our celebration for my mother was perfect, quaint, and intimate, just as we hoped, and the food and wine that we enjoyed was more than we all expected. i’m going to have to say that i was thoroughly surprised by what i received, all the attention, all the quality organic products, and the hospitality exhibited by our waitress and the sommelier. vignola is well worth the visit, especially if you’re seated where we were- the front right hand corner, overlooking wharf street in all its glory. also- i hear they make a pretty snazzy brunch. perhaps i’ll be making that trip sooner rather than later. GO TO VIGNOLA.
(ps) this week renders a champagne blackberry cake, surprise birthday menu, and a tutorial on how to roast the perfect chicken. i swear i won’t be a lazy blogger anymore.