Monday, July 31, 2017

A Balkan-inspired Wine Dinner at Lucille's

I went to Lucille's last week for a wine dinner which featured Austrian and Balkan wines. Executive Chef, Chris Williams, was the U.S. Culinary Cultural Ambassador during a 25 day tour of the Balkans in 2015 and he has wanted to showcase what he learned during his travels ever since.

Finding available Balkan wines in our market proved to be somewhat difficult which caused the year long delay on this dinner.

Certified Sommelier, Rodney Willis, was on hand to introduce each wine to the full house and to provide diners with the opportunity to purchase their favorites that evening.

The Menu:

Guests were welcomed with a glass of Austrian Loimer "Lois" Gruner Veltliner and 3 Day Feta with
pumpkin oil and fresh bread.

1st Course - Scallop crudo with citrus oil, dried petals and sumac paired with Szigeti Sparkling Brut Gruner Veltliner also from

2nd Course - Braised pork belly with arugula, compressed melon and smoked paprika vinaigrette served with Loimer Rosé from Austria as well.

3rd Course - Black bass with roe, cremini mushrooms and tomato in fresh tumeric broth paired with  Edi Simcic Rebula Reserva from Slovenia.

4th Course - Seared filet with smoked chestnut puree, stewed porcini and charred onion petals accompanied by an Austrian red wine, Paul Achs "Lust and Leben".

5th Course - Braised goat neck with buttered carrots and štrukli served with Tikves Vranec from Macedonia.

6th Course - Compressed summer fruit with assorted cheeses paired with Kracher Cuvée Auslese from Austria.

This was my first wine event at Lucille's but this was not the case for most attendees, I learned. Table mates discussed the regular events that the restaurant hosts and highly recommended to me that I should return.

It is advice that I will take, the dinner was tasty and the wines were unique, I'm looking forward to coming back soon and seeing what Chef Chris Williams comes up with next.

Follow Lucille's on Facebook to learn about upcoming events. This dinner was priced at $70 per person.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Brunch at State of Grace - Houston

I've eaten at State of Grace in Houston for dinner and Happy Hour numerous times, I was surprised when I realized that I had not written about them before today. My husband and I went to their Sunday Brunch for the first time two weeks ago and then we went back again the following Sunday because we had enjoyed it that much.

I'm including my video of those two brunch visits here, you can check out the pictures of everything we ate without having to click through!

The Berlucchi Franciacorta is our usual sparkling wine choice when we come here for Happy Hour, which is the best or most affordable time to get the raw oysters. We splurged on oysters from Prince Edward Island that are not part of the Happy Hour deal on this morning so sparkling wine seemed a good way to go. The Soter Rosé was our choice at an afternoon brunch, it is not as pricy as the Franciacorta but equally delicious with the menu.

Other recommended brunch items seen in the video include:
Chilled sweet corn soup with blue crab salad
Butter biscuit with prosciutto and seasonal jam
Deviled eggs with prosciutto and chives
Chicken fried chicken with sausage gravy and fried eggs split by the kitchen
Cinnamon Roll served warm with cream cheese frosting
Hearth baked Dutch Baby with mixed berries and lightly whipped local cream

All delicious!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Paso Robles Wineries to Visit Now

I have written about each Paso Robles winery stop that I made in May on Wine-Thoughts. I am including that link here. Each one has something unique to offer from zip-lining to concerts to wine and food pairings and each is worth checking out if you plan on visiting the area.

Read more on my Paso Robles visits at

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Tasting at Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch

During my visit to Paso Robles, I didn't just taste wine, I also went for a tour and tasting at Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch. Located in the heart of Paso Robles' western hills, the scenic 45 acre ranch has 6,000 trees planted, mostly Tuscan varieties.

I was interested to learn more about olive oil production. I've read numerous articles in recent years about mislabeled and counterfeit oils that are imported and sold in America. I had not realized that neither the FDA nor the USDA enforces labeling rules for extra virgin olive oil. Since learning this, I have been purchasing California olive oil that has the California Olive Oil Council or COOC seal on it. Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch carries that seal and is in the process of becoming certified organic.

After the tour of the orchards, the mill and the production line, I went into the shop for a full tasting of their oils, vinegars and seasoning. The olive oils were all big and bold, some were more peppery, some fruitier and some a bit more bitter. It was interesting to taste the naturally occurring differences in the assorted oils, these variations are based on the type of olives used, the time of the harvest and, like with wine, how the weather was that year.

I purchased the Mini California gift set for myself which is a combo of three oils and three vinegars. All are fresh, fragrant and delicious.

I have used the tangerine oil for grilled pork chops and the lime oil for both grilled shrimp and as a dressing for a tomato and avocado salad. I've used the fig vinegar in a fig jam dip with grilled cheese sandwiches and the raspberry vinegar in a spinach and berry salad. These are all easy dishes that I routinely make, I just substituted the new ingredient and in each of these instances, the flavor was definitely punched up.

I'm keeping their website in mind for holiday shopping for my foodie friends, I am really pleased with all the products that I have tried.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles

I recently had the opportunity to dine at Thomas Hill Organics Bistro and Wine Lounge in Paso Robles, a farm-to-table restaurant dedicated to showcasing the bounty of California's Central Coast. Thomas Hill Organics opened in 2009 and quickly became the must-do restaurant when visiting in the region. Eight years later, they are still at the top of the hip dining scene that they helped to create in the small friendly town.

I highly recommend that you add it to your itinerary if you are traveling to Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo. The menu changes regularly as new ingredients come in and go out of season, you can check out the current menus on-line to have an idea of what to expect. I was there for a four course dinner that was paired with local wines, here are some highlights from that meal.

The Rosé de Pomar 2016 from Pomar Junction Vineyards made from 100% Syrah provided a refreshing start and was a perfect complement to the strawberry gazpacho.

The Niner Marsanne Reserve 2014 was a worthy salad companion in the second course. Fresh tropical fruit flavors and a light honeyed note contrasted beautifully against the beets, macerated onions and goat cheese while the citrus dressing and citrus finish of the wine sang in unison.

The third course began with the Wheelhouse Zinfandel from Sextant Wines, smooth and spicy with ripe red berries and a light earthy note, this red wine was delicious with the duck confit served with spinach, lentils and orange gastrique, a rustic yet rich pairing.

Our final course was a delicious grilled ribeye with rainbow swiss chard and potato confit. I, unfortunately, did not take a photo, I dived right into that plate.

I did get a photo of two local winemakers who poured two big reds to accompany this dish. On the left, Geoff Barr showing off his Barr Estate Malbec 2011 and on the right, Matt Merrill with his Pomar Junction Winery Cab Forward 2014, both were excellent with the beef and are wines worth seeking for your next steak night at home.