Friday, August 31, 2018

Mixology Class with Susi Zivanovic

Susi Zivanovic

I had a fantastic experience this week learning about the cocktail program at Perry's Steakhouse & Grille with beverage director, Susi Zivanovic. In addition to selecting the wines for the restaurants, Zivanovic creates all the cocktail recipes that guests enjoy at the many Perry’s locations. Zivanovic shared with the group that her philosophy for mixology involves high quality ingredients masterfully blended into well-balanced deliciously drinkable cocktails. She said that when she creates the different recipes, she chooses only premium ingredients - most importantly, she makes sure that there are no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
Invitees to this event started the evening with the Perry's Hog-Hatten. This drink was prepared by the true professionals behind the bar. This Manhattan-based cocktail is elevated with spicier Redemption Rye Whiskey instead of the more traditional Bourbon. This is combined with Vya Vermouth and is complemented with a Sugar in the Raw rim and some homemade bbq sauce. The drink is then garnished with a skewer of Perry’s Famous Pork Chop Bites alternated with Luxardo Cherries. We learned this mini-meal on your glass can also be added to any Manhattan cocktail of your choice for only $2. They suggest dipping the skewer in this drink which enhances the sweet and smoky flavor combination.

The Lemon Bubbles was the first cocktail that each member of the group created. This light and refreshing drink is a blend of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Caravella Limoncello, and freshly squeezed lemon juice which is shaken together, poured into a Champagne flute, and then is topped off with sparkling Chandon Brut. 
The Lemon Bubbles cocktail was paired with the Bacon Wrapped Scallops. Together, this combination would be the perfect start to any evening at Perry's.

The Peachy Glen was our next shaken cocktail. It combines Glenmorangie 10 year old Scotch with Belvedere Peach Nectar Vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and stone fruit purée. This is poured into a coupe style glass which is then garnished with organic and edible flowers which provide a beautiful topping and an interesting flavor should you decide to consume them. To me, the flowers started off with a fruity flavor which then evolved into a more celery-like flavor. The fruity flavors of the Peachy Glen drink tasted even more delicious when paired with the Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms served over tomato cream. This was my favorite cocktail and pairing of the evening.

The Bourbon Bloom was our next cocktail. This drink starts with a muddling of blackberries and mint which is then shaken with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, St Germaine Elderflower Liqueur, and fresh lemon juice. The Bourbon Bloom’s flavor profile has many similarities to red wine which makes it an excellent pairing for the Beef and Bleu Crostini as well
as with any steak on the menu.

For the grand finale, Susi stirred up mini-sized Jameson Mocha Old Fashioned cocktails for the group. This blend of Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey, house-made coffee syrup and molé bitters played beautifully with the Chocolate Crunch dessert. This dessert is reminiscent of a Twix candy bar and the spicy coffee flavors of the Mocha Old Fashioned worked extremely well with it. I could imagine myself enjoying this while passing out Halloween candy at home.

Perry's Steakhouse and Grille is a family owned restaurant chain that started off in the Houston area. It has now grown into multiple locations across the country. The Perry family started with a butcher shop so the restaurant is known for its high quality USDA-aged Prime beef but the restaurants are also famous for the 7-Finger Pork Chop, a family recipe that has been perfected over more than 3 decades. The Pork Chop Bites skewer is an ideal way to get a small taste of this classic menu item.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Abruzzo - An Italian Destination

Abruzzo is located east of Lazio and north of Puglia on Italy's east coast along the Adriatic Sea. I went for a wine media trip to this region in May and learned that this is another one of those many places in the world that should have been on my destination bucket list to try to visit far sooner.
I didn't know what I didn't know until I went and saw.

There are seaside cities with beaches and seafood and mountain towns with sheep and cheese. There are medieval castles and ancient hilltop towns. There are beechwood forests inhabited with wolves and bears and huge national parks. There are water sports and snow skiing. The Gran Sasso mountain looms in the background while the blue Adriatic cools down the coast.

Montepulciano is the most important red grape in the region. It is the second most planted red grape variety in Italy after Sangiovese. It makes a robust juicy red wine that has always been considered as a great wine with pizza. Abruzzo has long been known as an area for bulk wine but that image is changing as more producers are becoming quality conscious and bottling their own wine. We tasted many complex and elegant renditions with pairing potential that went far beyond red sauced entrees.

The region is also known for their rosato that is made from the Montepulciano grape, Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, it is the darkest of the Italian rosés. The fuller body and lightly tannic structure make it an excellent partner both with simple prosciutto plates and heavier fish dishes.

The local white wines were an unexpected treat. They were delicious on their own and were a great match to the raw and other lighter seafood options. Trebbiano, the main white variety has gotten more interesting as vineyard practices have improved. The whites made from Pecorino were crisp, fresh, and perfect for the hot months ahead. Cococciola, a rarer variety is a crisp, lively white wine that would be an excellent aperitif at any summer soiree.

All of the wineries we visited are recommended. I have posted on each one at Some are more tourist friendly than others so check their websites before attempting to visit, most require appointments.

We stayed at Hotel Villa Maria in Chieti which is a Best Western resort. My suite was spacious with a large sitting room and a comfortable work area. It had a king-size bed in another room and a roomy, modern bathroom. It was very clean and nicely appointed. It also had a large private patio and a huge closet as well. The hotel appears to have a rather nice spa but I did not have a chance to try it out. I did enjoy breakfast  every day outside on the terrace with lovely views of the sea.

A sunset dinner at a trabocco is a must do if you visit Abruzzo. Trabocco are connected fishing piers with numerous places for nets, poles, and pulleys along with a large hut. Many of these huts have now been converted into restaurants. We dined at Trabocco Punta Cavalluccio, the food was phenomenally fresh and I highly recommend it. For another seafood option, I would also recommend Ristorante Da Bacone in Pescara. We also enjoyed two paired menus at renovated castles, there is more on those two meals through the link to the winery posts above.

Speaking of castles, there is more than one to see in Abruzzo. We stopped by the formidable looking Ducal Castle of Crecchio to stretch our legs between stops. This particular castle was built by the Lombards in the eighth century. 

There are also several museums to visit. We took time out to see the exhibits at both the Genti d'Abruzzo Museum which is an ethnographic museum and the Casa Natale di Gabriele D'Annunzio museum which is the birthplace or first home of one of Italy's most celebrated poets. Both are located in Pescara.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short trip to Abruzzo. The most important thing that I learned was that I need to return again soon. There is so much to see and do and so many delicious things to eat and drink.