Archive for January, 2011

Many people asked for more information about the wines mentioned in our recent “90 Points or Better” post. The 2008 Les Chevaux from Horse Heaven Hills, served at the recent Wine Guild Tasting, is the focus of this week’s Wine of the Week column by Bruce Abbott. Mr. Abbott holds credentials as a “Certified Specialist of Wine” and resides in Fairbanks. Here is his take on Les Chevaux:

“An unassuming show-stopper. Horse Heaven Hills … hits the sweet spot of price and quality that makes it [Les Chevaux] a fantastic buy. The wine itself is a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills region, which is inside the huge Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. The Horse Heaven Hills vineyards are noted for their high winds, which decreases foliage on the vines – which results in … ”  (link to the full article)

Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State


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If you’re like me, visiting a new restaurant is a bit like going on a blind date. You dress up, hold your breath, and hope the experience lives up to your (high) expectations. Often there is a let down. Perhaps it’s a decent place, but the two of you just aren’t a good fit. On occasion, when the spot turns out to be the restaurant equivalent of the date from hell, you vow never to return. And once in a while, things click. You have a great interaction and almost feel giddy thinking about the next opportunity to spend quality time together. That’s the experience I had during my first visit to The Grape Leaf Restaurant and Wine Bar.

The Grape Leaf Restaurant had a soft opening in October and continues to undergo some gentle tweaks. Designers completely revamped the interior of what had once been the old Greek Corner, and in its place they crafted a warm, comfortable spot dressed in an inviting autumn palate. The bistro vibe encompasses some of the best attributes of Italy, Spain, and Argentina, the countries which provide the main influences for the menu. A mix of small and mid-size booths, along with a smattering of pedestal tables, provides seating in a space that feels both intimate and upscale. Gentle flamenco drifted from the speakers during my visits.

Dining Room, The Grape Leaf Restaurant and Wine Bar

No single cuisine dominates The Grape Leaf’s international menu, but inspiration is definitely drawn from Italy and Spain, the historic homes of the chef, Franco Magrini, and the owner, Hugo Gimenez. Hugo’s formative years were in Argentina and Franco’s family lived there when he was young, so it, too, is represented. A variety of pasta dishes and other Italian fare immediately catch the eye, yet other menu headings include Spanish “Tapas” and “Postres” for starters and desserts. Within the Tapas section alone you’ll find Spanish croquetas de jamon, Greek gyros with tzatziki, Middle Eastern falafel, pinchos with Argentine chimichurri, South American empanadas, and Italian dishes such as fried polenta. The remainder of the menu also touches many bases. Even the dessert wine pairings are multinational, with a Hungarian tokaji appearing alongside dulce de leche and a Portuguese port recommended with the arroz con leche.

With such a diverse menu, I knew it would take several visits to sample a variety of dishes. I began by visiting The Grape Leaf for dinner. A friend and I started our meal with the small Plato de Fiambre from the Tapas section of the menu. Although the name in Spanish literally translates as “lunch plate,” the dish was an Italianesque antipasto of cured meats accompanied by fresh mozzarella and – to keep things truly international – a French inspired pate made from chicken livers. Smooth mortadella was counterbalanced by the rustic, coarser textured sopressata. Delicate shavings of Prosciutto di Parma also graced the plate, as did a few bits of (more…)

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Changes are afoot at Gambardella’s, the family-owned establishment that has served Fairbanks since 1987. This Saturday they are hosting a party to show off their new dessert and wine bar. A new appetizer menu will debut, along with revamped lunch and dinner selections including a savory stuffed flank steak. Don’t worry – the “Mother of All Lasagnas” (Gambardella’s signature dish) will still be around to satisfy cravings for home-style comfort food.

Join the Italian Party Saturday, January 22, from 5 to 9 PM, to sample free appetizers and gelato. Between 7 and 9 PM, wine guru Bruce Abbott will be on hand to pour tastes from the new and expanded Italian wine list. He’ll share some of his extensive knowledge so you can make an informed wine selection that will pair well with your favorite Gambardella’s dish.

Gambardella's Pasta Bella, Fairbanks Alaska

Looking for another Italian fix to help chase away these Golden Heart City winter blues? Beginning Thursday, January 27, you can learn even more about Italian wine at the first of a new series of tasting events that will be held in the wine bar. “Italian Wine 101” will kick off


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What could be better than sampling a wide variety of wines rated 90 points or above by Wine Spectator? An opportunity to sample them with food and friends at Lavelle’s Bistro in Fairbanks! This week’s “Tuesday Tasting” will feature some superb wines from around the world and, as always, education about wine, growing regions, and wineries. Some of the evening’s highlights will be Les Chevaux from Horse Heaven Hills (rated 91 points), The Prisoner from Orin Swift Cellars (rated 92 points), and the Royal Tokaji Red Label dessert wine (rated 94 points).


In French, Les Chevaux translates to The Horses, a reference to the wild horses that once roamed in the Columbia River Valley of Washington State. Horse Heaven Hills (AKA “H3”) was formally established as a Washington AVA in 2005. Hot, windy conditions and sandy-loam soil provide character to grapes grown in the vineyards of this region. Columbia Crest, parent to the Horse Heaven Hills label, was one of the first wineries to recognize the special characteristics of this area over two decades ago.

Napa’s Rutherford is home to Orin Swift Cellars. The Prisoner red blend emerged from the founder’s early obsession with Zinfandel. What began as a catchy name and a boutique – almost cult – project has, over the years, evolved into a phenomena. Each year there is anticipation as the release date for the new vintage approaches. The intriguing bottle with Francisco Goya’s The Little Prisoner on the label will catch your eye, but it’s what is in the bottle (more…)

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Pi Kitchen + Bar is an attractive spot tucked away in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Midtown. Hotel restaurants often get a bad rap, sometimes without cause, and I heard that Pi had a make-over and a new menu. Given that information, I thought the spot deserved a chance to show whether it can compete with the other players in Midtown Anchorage.

Caesar salad at Pi Kitchen + Bar

A friend joined me for the recent Pi Kitchen experience. We began with beef barley soup and Caesar salad. The soup was flavorful, with tender bits of beef in a rich broth accompanied by a variety of soft vegetables and barley. (more…)

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January is the traditional time when people make resolutions to eat healthier following a holiday season filled with rich food. My philosophy is different — I live to eat, so I want to have great food all of the time. Resolve to ingest a diet of unsweetened yogurt and boiled quinoa for a month? Not me! Bring on flavorful decadent cuisine, just eat it in moderation throughout the year.

Pork is one of my favorite comfort foods, rich and succulent, with a bit of naughty fat for delicious flavor. Next week I’m heading to Fairbanks where Jeff, the owner of the HomeGrown Market, has the best Alaska grown pork in the entire state. I have dreams about his luscious pork chops … and this recipe is at the top of my current “must-cook” list.

Pork Chops with Cherry Sauce

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