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Out of my comfort zone

When I find something I like, I tend to stick with it. I was the same way about wine until I started to write this column; I began forcing myself to try many new wines that I would have never considered before.

Similarly, my wife has been pushing me to step outside my comfort zone with food. My reply is often, “Do I have to?”
I like what I like, and why change what I order at a restaurant? The last time she got me outside my comfort zone was at a restaurant with a pig’s head on the bar; people were pulling pieces of meat from it.

So when she told me she wanted to try a new restaurant, Martin Cooks, with a fixed menu, I was a bit resistant.

I was also immediately transported to my childhood. Being the oldest of 12 in a military house, you ate what you were served whether you liked it or not, and you didn’t complain. As an adult, I’m reluctant to give up my freedom of choice.

But I agreed to it anyway.

She planned a dinner outing for 12 at Martin Cooks, at the old Horsefeathers building on Connecticut Street. I figured if I was going to be forced out of my comfort zone, I hoped to at least choose the wine. So I called ahead to see if I could bring my own; the answer was “yes,” with a corkage fee of $25 per bottle. I picked out three different reds with a back-up, just in case.

When we arrived, I couldn’t believe the building’s transformation.

It reminded me of SoHo in New York City, with open space, a high ceiling, seating in the kitchen and a number of cool little shops surrounding the restaurant (inside). Pasta, baked goods, dumplings, and chocolate, all locally made, are right there. You can even buy jewelry made from old sink parts or drawer pulls.

Champagne was offered to each of the guests. After lots of chitchat, we took our seats. We learned that the menu changes weekly depending on what fresh ingredients are available.

Although it was far outside my own comfort zone, we all loved the food and the service.

The champagne was a nice way to start, but the 2008 Chehalem Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir vineyard was fantastic. We purchased it on a trip to Oregon three years ago, and it was one of my first experiences with a screw cap on a quality wine. The raspberry and strawberry flavors were wonderful. It retails for under $40.

Next we moved to a Washington Syrah from Charles Smith, K Syrah. We discovered Charles Smith on a trip to Washington State, and his Syrahs are rock stars for sure. This 2011 costs around $45. Dark berries like blueberries and blackberries are there, along with smoke, spice and even a little chocolate. These Washington Syrahs are the thing to buy.

Next we enjoyed a 1996 Judas from Sottano, a wonderful Malbec from Argentina. I have written about Sottano wine before, and while this wine costs around $50-$60, their lower price offerings are also excellent (and available locally). Judas is an incredible, huge wine with tons of dark fruit that explodes in your mouth; it’s smoky with a long, delicious finish that last 30 seconds or more.

Sipping in the wild

I love the Buffalo Zoo.

Some business associates planned a dinner at the zoo, and Donna Fernandez offered to show us the new construction and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of the animals — lions and tigers and bears (oh my), up close and personal. Kali and Luna aren’t the cute little baby polar bears anymore: Luna weighs 373 lbs and Kali is 547 lbs.

So what does this have to do with wine? My very good friend JV was responsible for the evening’s wine, and as usual he didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed them al fresco, at tables beautifully set under an ancient oak tree. I found out later that it is the oldest tree at the zoo; a Bur Oak that’s over 150 years old.

It was one of those special Buffalo summer evenings. And we tasted two 2005 Bordeaux wines that are drinking perfectly now, but have many years of potential enjoyment.

2005 Laforge Bordeaux France (Around $100 if you can find it)

The dark berries, cherries, anise and chocolate fill your taste buds. The right stemware would have made them taste even better. The finish is remarkable.

2005 Lascombes Bordeaux France (Around $125 if you can find it)

I know this sounds like big money, but for an excellent Bordeaux it’s worth it. Many of the Bordeaux wines I bought 20 years ago are now so expensive I couldn’t even consider spending the money for them. This wine is from Margaux. One of the greatest wines I ever tasted was a 1986 Margaux that I shared about five years ago with my good friend Peter. I’ll never forget that bottle; it was spiritual. This wine is also excellent, with lots of dark fruit and coffee beans, and a beautiful finish.

These are wines to savor. While I always have loved big, bold in-your-face Cabernets, Bordeaux has a very sophisticated appeal. Take your time, enjoy the feel in your mouth and the finish of good Bordeaux.

Warren T. Colville is Publisher and President of The Buffalo News.

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