This year for Un-Valentine’s Day (I’ll explain later) Justin surprised me with tickets to the New York Wine Expo at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Pretty cool, right? We’ve been suffering a sad lack of good wine in the house over the past 6 months due to some tight financial conditions, so an opportunity to get out and try a whole bunch of good wine, all of it new to us, was quite a treat. Plus, I’ve never been to the Javits Center, which seems bizarre considering I’ve been living in NY for over 10 years now (eek!). So, on Saturday (2/26) we bundled ourselves onto an LIRR train and headed into the city for fun, wine-centric afternoon.
I have to apologize right upfront for the awful photos – my poor little Nikon digital camera finally kicked the bucket after 6 years of faithful service. RIP, dear friend. I can’t really afford a new one right now, though, so I’m gonna have to make do with the camera on my Blackberry for awhile… sucks.
I think we had two major revelations/discoveries over the course of our 3.5 hour tasting:
- Portuguese wines – we just can’t get them around here, and they’re apparently pretty rare in most of the U.S., but the unique varietals that grow in that country produce some really interesting wines, reds in particular. After being fairly blown away by a Portuguese red blend which was comprised of three grape varietals we’d never even heard of, we made it a point to stop off at several other Portuguese tables and try other bottles of those varietals, either singly or in blends with other grapes. The two that really knocked our socks off, Aragonez and Touriga Nacionel, were fairly common among other Portuguese producers but were only two out of what seemed like a dozen other varietals exclusive to the region. There is much exploring to be done here, I think, though it will be a bit of a challenge given their aforementioned rarity in the States.
- Vermont Ice Cider – like Ice Wine, but made exclusively from apples. Easily the best thing I tasted all day; and granted, I like sweet dessert wines probably more than I should, but even Justin (who is adamantly not a fan of sweet wines or sweet things in general) agreed they were delicious. There were 3 producers at the table for the Vermont Ice Cider Association: Eden Ice Cider Company (with 2 offerings), Champlain Orchards, and Windfall Orchards, offering tastings of 4 different bottles, and all were utterly wonderful. Honeyed, fragrant, surprisingly complex with subtle tangy or spicy notes depending on the blend, I would gladly have a bottle of each on the bar to enjoy all through fall and winter as an after-dinner treat. Sadly, none of these producers will ship to consumers. Rats! Gotta find someplace around that sells their product, or we just might have to plan a weekend up north next autumn so we can visit them on site.
The handful of specialty food producers were a nice bonus, particularly because all were offering samples – breaking up tasting rounds with little nibbles here and there made the whole experience much more enjoyable and interesting. They were also the only vendors actually selling their product to attendees, so we came home with some tasty treats: smoked confit duck legs, duck prosciutto, and 2oz of foie gras (!) from Bella Bella Gourmet; 1/2lb each of medium and dark wine-pairing chocolate from the cleverly-named Brix Chocolate; and a small package of Champignon cheese (soft-ripened with champignon mushrooms – divine!).
We also grabbed information from Wild Forest Products/Mardona, who were offering samples of their excellent truffle oils, balsamic glazes, and gourmet pickles/antipasto – the spicy pickled garlic was killer but way too hot for me; the pickled brussels sprouts were more my speed – and who shave an online retail store. I may be ordering a jar of the sprouts for research so I can make my own. (Oh who am I kidding – I just want to eat them.)
Overall it was a really fun, eye-opening day and something I’d be very interested in attending again next year. In the meantime, we’ve got an absolutely EPIC meal plan for this week using some of the goodies we picked up, starting with last night’s dinner (again, sorry for the crappy photo):
This tasted better than it looks, I promise.
For the pho, we first stripped most of the meat off of 4 of the smoked confit duck legs. Then we cracked the bones with a hammer to expose the marrow, placed them in a saucepan with a star anise pod, a few allspice berries, some coriander & peppercorns, a few cloves of smashed garlic and a couple wedges of red onion, then covered it all with cold, filtered water and put it on the stove to simmer for about two hours. While the broth cooked we soaked some rice noodles, and once it was ready it was a simple matter to finish the soup.
The broth was strained to remove all the spices and fragments of meat and bone and seasoned with a bit of smoked salt, white pepper, and brown sugar. The noodles were drained of their soaking water, then added to the broth to simmer just a minute or two to let them soften up and become more supple. We then removed them to our soup bowls and added the shredded duck meat and a generous handful of fresh mung bean sprouts to the hot broth, just long enough for the duck to warm through and for the fat to melt a bit. This all got spooned over the noodles along with the broth, and we garnished our bowls with a few fresh, crunchy sprouts, some fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Justin also added some sriracha to his bowl, which I’m sure was perfect, but as mentioned previously I’m a wuss and didn’t partake.
The broth was rich yet delicately flavored, the noodles were tender and appropriately slippery and slurpable, and the duck was tender and just lightly smokey – all told, a surprisingly subtle but complex bowl of flavors. The veggie-filled summer rolls provided the perfect fresh, crunchy counterpoint to the rich, savory soup and rounded out the meal perfectly.
A good start to the week, if I do say so myself; tonight, we’re cooking foie for the first time in our lives, which should be especially interesting considering neither of us has ever even EATEN foie before. I’m a little scared.