First off, it’s great to finally get a minute to sit down and write. The past several months have been pleasantly busy. The fall was marked with some of the best foot traffic I have ever seen on the wine trail as well as some of the most fun and interesting guests stopping by to visit. We went through more food and wine than anyone could have anticipated, which got the whole team at Red Newt wondering what we would do for food in the winter months.
I would like to thank our Winery and Bistro staff for a job well done this year, and the last weekend of regular business hours proved to be the icing on the cake!
We had our last “Acoustic Newt” night of the season on Thursday, December 1st. The folks from the Maplewood Jazz Team played all night long. The month of November (and in 2011, an extra week into December) is a little bit different from the summer months in that the “Acoustic Newt” night is held on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays. This means our featured Bistro bargain, “Winelovers’ Night” offering half priced bottles of wine, fell on the same night. It is a promotion that allows our guests access to all kinds of great Finger Lakes wines from our Wine Spectator Award of Excellence Wine List. “Winelovers’ Night” gives diners the chance to taste a bottle of wine for under retail price — a deal few restaurants offer!
On Friday, December 2, over 70 guests and community members came together to celebrate the life of Debra Whiting at the Debra Whiting Foundation’s Inaugural Kick-off Dinner, themed “Five Times Swine.” The dinner, a seven course food and wine adventure, was conceptualized in honor of one of Deb’s favorite regionally available meats — pork. The fundraising dinner featured regional cuisine from Sam Buyskes of Simply Red Events & Culinary Center working alongside the team of great chefs from Red Newt. The event raised over $5,000 for the Foundation with 100% of the proceeds going straight toward future programming efforts. This was the first of many epic food and wine group dinners to come. I did not get to sit for the dinner, but Chef Sam kept the staff, comprised of local volunteers, well fed in the back. My favorite dish was the seared scallop with pork belly and pickled shiitake mushroom. See for yourself in the middle picture below! The dinner also featured some unbelievable then-unreleased 2010 wines from Red Newt. To cap off this fabulous event, there was live music from local bluegrass group Eva and the Dog Boys.
The Saturday that followed, and all weekend long for that matter, we saw great traffic in the Winery for Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s “Deck the Halls” event. With the purchase of a ticket, guests received complimentary tastings of food and wine at all participating Seneca Lake wineries. This year we decided to offer the crowd of roughly 2,000 guests a taste of the Bistro with our signature recipe for salmon cakes served with a dill caper aioli. My favorite pairing with the salmon cakes was our 2010 “Circle” Riesling. Its acidity and hint of lemon really highlighted the salmon and balanced the creaminess of the aioli. Its higher residual sugar left me with a sweet taste in my mouth (rather than what I call a lingering fish face.)
Sunday was the last “official” day of the Bistro, serving full lunch and dinner menus, for the season. To celebrate another successful year, Red Newt held its annual “Holiday Lunch Buffet.” For under $15 dinners enjoyed all-you-can-eat access to an unlimited supply of the region’s best meats, breads, vegetables, and desserts. My favorite buffet item was the sausage meatballs served in an apple cider cream sauce – often served on our later seasonal Bistro menus. If you missed it, have no fear it will likely be our featured dish for “Deck the Halls” in 2012! If you are interested in participating in next year’s “Deck the Halls,” I advise you to buy your tickets early. This year tickets sold out roughly three months prior to the event!
I can not stress enough to all of you just how cool it is to work for a place that does food and wine in so many different styles and interpretations. In just one weekend our kitchen created individual bite sized dishes, hor’s deurves, sandwiches, multi-course dinner plates, restaurant small and large plates, and large batch buffet items all featuring housemade breads, local meats, produce, cheeses and ice cream! Friday’s Debra Whiting Foundation Kick-Off Dinner featured a Red Newt experimental ice cream partnered with Cayuga Lake Creamery called Deb-o-licious: a tribute ice cream featuring some of Deb Whiting’s favorite ingredients like toffee, cardamom and yes, BACON!
Noticing our own versatility to craft food in so many styles, it became clear that we needed to keep trying new things. We needed to satisfy our desire to inspire guests with innovative food and continue to seek new ways to improve upon our goal of delivering an unmatched experience of food and wine. The aftermath of everyone’s good ideas has led us to up our game once again.
Last winter was the first year that Red Newt opted to keep the burners on all winter long for guests to come in and enjoy a comforting lunch done a la carte in the Winery’s tasting room. In taking a chance on this concept in 2011, we were overwhelmed with how strong a turnout it generated. So, we knew we wanted to continue food service during the “slower” months and, considering the improved winter traffic from last year, we thought maybe we can move this out of the tasting room and back into the Bistro where the food and wine experience was meant to take place.
The end result was the birth of the Red Newt Wine Salon and a serious makeover to the Winternet Café. Both food service concepts are being served out of the Red Newt Bistro; concepts very different in scope but both were created with very similar intentions. The number one goal is what I have been calling “Occupy Red Newt.” (I know, real original.) But, that is what we are trying to accomplish. We wanted to open our doors to anyone looking for the Finger Lakes food and wine experience that used to be unavailable in our region’s slower winter months. We do not have the same volume of diners that we typically see during harvest. So, our guests are encouraged to come in and spend as much time at they would like hanging out at the Newt enjoying the warmth, free wi-fi, espresso, food, wine, and good company that we all get to enjoy throughout the winter.
The Wine Salon is not a new idea, it is actually quite medieval. The concept dates back to the 16th century (according to the internet.) In fact, the world’s most well respected source for information, Wikipedia, defines salon as “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation.” Which sounds remarkably similar to what we are striving for here this winter in Red Newt’s very own Wine Salon!
The Salon is a rare opportunity to experiment alongside the chefs and winemakers to find the perfect pairing. We are talking about small bites and small sips (or big sips.) All wine flights (any 3 Red Newt wines for $9) are completely customizable based on our currently available product line. For small bites, and these dishes take offense to being called small, we are offering five different themed dishes: charcuterie, cheese, pizza, housemade pasta, and smoked fish. Order one bite for $9 or three bites for $12. Our hope is that our guests can get a taste of everything! For $21 you get three wines (9 oz. or roughly two full glasses) and three diverse plates (roughly 12 oz. of food.) What an exciting reason to get out of the house and keep warm all winter long!
The Winternet Café is a great opportunity to come in and order a great soup/salad/sandwich/comfort combination and enjoy a glass of local wine or beer. After your meal we encourage you to stay a little longer. However, if you are in a hurry we are doing food to-go so you can get on your way. If you decide to join us we have a brand new espresso program and one of the best public wi-fi networks on Seneca Lake. Come and have a project management meeting here with your co-workers or relax with your best friends. Personally, I like to use lunch to plan vacations and round out all of my bright (or hairbrained) ideas. We at Red Newt find that our most productive meetings involve lunch and wine, so why shouldn’t yours? If you wanted to come in and read a book and have a cup of coffee you can do that too. The Winternet Café is the chance for you to enjoy a great meal in a relaxed environment and help keep us company. Won’t you join us this winter?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel from the Finger Lakes to the Catksill region of New York State on business (and pleasure, like many wine related field trips turn out.) Red Newt Cellars was selected to pour wines for each event of Bobo Restaurant’s Plate-to-Gate traveling series of meals. The first of which was a brunch near the Neversink River in the Catskills at Neversink Farm. The owners of Red Newt Cellars believe very heavily in the concept of supporting local and sustainable farming while showcasing it locally in the Finger Lakes at the Red Newt Bistro. Farm owners, Kate and Conor Crickmore were onsite at Neversink Farm to educate the diners about their farming practices and answer any questions that the primarily metropolitan crowd had. Bobo Restaurant’s Chef, Patrick Connolly was there working the wood-fire grill, that was constructed out of an old iron cattle trough. Meanwhile, Adam Rothstein, the Beverage Director of Bobo, was mixing up some mouthwatering local bloody marys using fresh ramps as the cocktail stirrers. I was there on behalf of Red Newt Cellars. You can guess what I brought to the table, #FLXWine. Red Newt provided a bottle of red and a bottle of white, both paired flawlessly and shocked the metropolitan crowd when it was revealed that these wines were local too. My favorite and least favorite response was, “There is no way these wines are from New York, they taste amazing!”
Here is a short explanation of the menu items served:
The Meat Birds:
Grilled chicken breast with fresh herbs
Braised chicken legs with collards & kale
Mixed baby greens, picked herbs, & balsamic vinaigrette
Quick Pickled Radishes with Swiss chard & cilantro
Zucchini ‘Carpaccio’ with arugula and pecorino
Shaved Beets & their greens with Hudson Valley chevre
New Potato Salad with sorrel (using Carola Potatoes)
Olive Oil Poached Scapes
The Laying Hens:
Spinach Omelet – Frittata style
Grilled toast with Neversink Farm Honey (unfiltered spread almost like butter)
Red Newt Cellars
2008 Glacier Ridge Cabernet Franc
2009 Sawmill Creek Riesling
The brunch was served family style with more food than we knew what to do with. The only ingredients not sourced locally from Neversink farm were local Hudson Valley cheeses, Olive Oil and salt & pepper. The menu showcased four different components of the Neversink Farm: the meat birds, vegetables, the laying hens, and the bees. Their free-range farm raised chickens, around here we like to call them “freebirds,” were used for their leg and breast meat while the remaining bones were used to the make the chicken stock. The braised chicken legs were tender and succulent “fall of the bone style.” The grilled chicken breast was lean yet flavor-filled and I felt more like I was drinking a protein shake (nutrition overload.) I thought in my head, this is what chicken is supposed to taste like! Which makes me believe that the ethical treatment of animals for safe and healthy food product is even more pertinent that I had previously considered.
What blew my mind was how incredible the Spinach Frittata was. Now, if you’ve never tried farm fresh local eggs I challenge you to a Quiche (or Omelet) experiment. Make yourself two of the same egg focused dish, but make one with farm fresh local eggs and the other with generic grocer eggs. The difference should be obvious. From the color and flavor of the yolk to the overall feeling you get once it hits your belly, there are noticeable contrasts between the two.
I was floored with just how incredible the food was. Were these Super Chickens that could lay magic eggs? Or is this actually what chickens and eggs are supposed to taste like? My short trip to this little farm in the Catskills now has me wondering… what happens to the chicken product I normally buy from the store? Are those chickens malnourished? Are they pumped full of growth hormones and steroids? Are they genetically cloned and overbred to create a more consistent product? I am sure all of the above may be plausible explanations. It strikes me as odd the way that the taste can vary so widely from one chicken to the next. This is just it; I mean the locavore movement that we all talk about. Consumers now want to know exactly where their food is coming from, who is farming it, and what techniques and practices they use in developing their product. It is clear that Bobo Restaurant is dedicated to the cause. They are one, of only a handful of restaurants, that provide to their locavore clientele the opportunity to enjoy a meal exactly where their food is sourced. Note: I use the term locavore even though it is not approved by spell check as an actual word, YET.
This is just the first of many great Plate-to-Gate meals offered by Bobo Restaurant. Upcoming events will be showcasing a local Long Island oyster farm, New York City’s largest rooftop garden, and a pig roast/clam boil right near the beach. For more information on upcoming events, click here. For tickets, click here or call 212-488-2626.
I had the good fortune of attending the Edible Finger Lakes Magazine “Wine Issue” Release Party this past Saturday. The event was held at the brand new and beautiful Finger Lakes Wine Center, in downtown Ithaca. Well over two hundred guests comprised of restaurateurs, wine shop owners, winemakers, and other industry professionals arrived in full force to support the premier of the Wine Issue. For those of you who do not know, “Edible Communities Inc. is a publishing and information services company that creates editorially rich, community-based, local-foods publications in distinct culinary regions throughout the United States and Canada.” The publication focuses on informing readers about their local chefs, farmers, growers, and specialty food artisans. They are a very important agent in the advocacy of the locavore movement and integral in the proliferation of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Edible Finger Lakes is a quarterly publication launched in the Finger Lakes by Editor-In-Chief, Michael Welch. Edible Finger Lakes offers a 360° view of how your food makes it from farm to table. The photography is an aesthetic masterpiece both expository and elegant, no small feat for a micro publisher. The articles are truly fascinating, and I personally look forward to reading it since it is one of the few publications that focuses on good news. Very few news outlets in this day and age take the time to focus on the positive elements of their community and the world around them. This publication brings it right to your doorstep or computer screen.
Here is a direct quote from Michael Welch’s foreward in the debut Wine Issue. It explains the value of cohesively promoting both food & wine in the Finger Lakes, “Finger Lakes winemakers are hardworking, dedicated individuals who, despite the challenges our weather throws at them, make an excellent array of fine wines. Moreover, the growth of our wine industry has created myriad opportunities for so many others working in the local food scene—chefs, cheese makers and chocolatiers are all partnering with wineries to create fantastic gustatory experiences for the rest of us, making the Finger Lakes a true foodie mecca.”
For a great example of the synergy between local food and wine producers look no further than Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro. The Edible Finger Lakes Wine Issue has a great article titled, “A Perfect Marriage of Food and Wine.” Red Newt owners, David and Debra Whiting, are the company’s Winemaker and Executive Chef, respectively. The article outlines some of the fantastic ways that the Red Newt Bistro combines the passions of both local wine producers and local food producers. The Whitings are involved in a collaborative foodie project with the owners of Sawmill Creek Vineyard, Eric and Tina Hazlitt. Using unripe locally sourced grapes, they have created a local version of the French culinary classic verjus, aptly dubbed Verjooz. This has become a core ingredient in a number of the Bistro’s (from scratch) recipes for sauces, glazes and dressings. If that wasn’t enough, one of the most exciting things I have gotten to taste this year has been a collaborative effort between Red Newt Cellars and the Muranda Cheese Company. Muranda, a Waterloo, NY based cheese company uses Riesling provided by Red Newt Cellars for one of their Artisan Cheeses. I will give you one guess what wine to pair that cheese. Ok, give up? Riesling!
The cover of this issue has the subtitle, “What to drink with what you eat (Local goes well with local).” I think this is a very important thing for local restaurateurs to realize. The Finger Lakes are the premier tourist destination in New York State, and when people visit an unfamiliar region they look forward to immersing themselves in the culture and bounty that created and developed that region. I hear this argument all of the time and it rings true. Would you order a French Burgundy while visiting the Napa Valley? Would you drink an Australian Riesling while visiting Germany? The answer is most likely no.
With that in mind, I have no idea why New York restaurants and grocers continue to truck in certain produce from the Southwestern United States. Especially, when Upstate New York, in particular the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station, has been at the forefront of developing fresh produce. Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, the Cornell Agriculture Station started creating some unique and delicious varieties of apples. All of which are now available through local farmers. Just this year Cornell developed two new breeds of potatoes named Waneta and Lamoka. These were named after smaller lakes right in the heart of Finger Lakes Wine Country. Likewise, Cornell has been pioneering new varietals of grapes to be used in wine production. Cayuga White, Traminette, Noiret, Corot Noir, and Chardonel are just a few of the grapes originally bred right here in the Finger Lakes.
Still, many restaurants around the Finger Lakes have dated wine lists that are out of tune with what most of their customers are actually looking to taste and are shipping in produce sourced from who knows where. Edible Finger Lakes is focused on changing that attitude and culture by highlighting some of the regions shining stars. Read through this magazine page by page and you will see that there are so many local farmers and wine producers innovating far beyond the norm of good food and good wine.
For someone new to the Finger Lakes wine scene the Edible Finger Lakes Wine Issue reads like a crash course in all that is exceptional in upstate New York. You will notice more and more local businesses providing this magazine for sale in their shops. This is indicative of the genuine and critical value that this magazine provides. I strongly urge you to take the time to subscribe and educate yourself on the things around you at are, well, EDIBLE. If you are interested in receiving a quarterly copy of Edible Finger Lakes Magazine please check out this link: Subscribe to Edible Finger Lakes for as little as $10 a year
PS – I am waiting with bated breath for an Edible Local Music Issue.
This past Wednesday evening Red Newt Cellars owners, David and Debra Whiting, attended the Unity Banquet, held at Belhurst Castle, where they received the New York Wine & Grape Foundation Award for Winery of the Year.
I had a moment to read over the plaque today. It inspired me to write this article. The award reads: New York Wine and Grape Foundation Winery Award Presented to Red Newt Cellars for Major Contributions in Enhancing the Awareness and Reputation of New York Wines, April 2011.
I have been working for Red Newt Cellars now since Harvest 2009. From what this business has done in 2010-2011, I can say this honor was well earned through passion of craft, education on regionality, and like any great wine, this award took a great deal of time and hard work. The Whitings are true regional ambassadors, and were quite humbled to receive this award. I thought it would be a kind gesture on my behalf to explain some of what Red Newt has done recently to earn this honorable distinction.
First of all, David Whiting and Assistant Winemaker, Brandon Seager, have been producing some of the best wines in New York State. The past three vintages have all had at least one wine receiving a 90 point rating from Wine Spectator. See the whole list of rankings for yourself at WineSpectator.com. My favorite wine available in the tasting room right now is our 2009 Sawmill Creek single vineyard Riesling. The Sawmill Creek Riesling was just awarded a Double Gold Medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition to benefit Camp Good Days and Special Times. I recommend that you read this blog: A Quick Ring Around Seneca Lake during Harvest, by James Molesworth, to learn more about the Single Vineyard success in the Finger Lakes.
Our most widely distributed wine has been on fire. The medium sweet “Circle Label” Riesling has received great praise the past two vintages (rated 88 and 86 points). It won gold medal at last year’s New York Food and Wine Classic. It was listed as Wine Spectator’s “Wine Pick of the Day under $15,” and it was selected as one of Wine Spectator’s great buys under $20. Be on the lookout for a giant dislpay featuring Circle Riesling in your local wine shop. It will look something like this: Circle Riesling Floorstack. If that wasn’t enough, this week Circle Riesling was featured on the syndicated PBS show Vine Talk hosted by New York native, Stanley Tucci. Celebrity guest Nathan Lane provides some excellent commentary on Finger Lakes Riesling. I highly recommend checking out this show.
In 2010 Red Newt turned their focus toward reaching out to new customers and new markets. In 2009 Red Newt Cellars wines could only be purchased in New York State. Today you can find Red Newt Riesling, and other great wines, in eight additional states in the Northeast. Our distributors and retailers have been paramount in the success of our brand. Customers and retailers can place requests for our wines online. Here’s how: New York State (Opici Wine Group), New York City (Upstate Wine Company – awarded New York State Distributor of the Year), Massachusetts and Rhode Island (Baystate Wine and Spirits), Vermont (Vermont Wine Merchants), Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC (Potomac Selections), Ohio (RC Distributors), Connecticut (Worldwide Wines), and Pennsylvania (through the PLCB). We are still very new in these markets and would appreciate your help requesting that our wines get stocked locally on your shelves!
Also to better serve our customers, Red Newt has expanded its Direct to Consumer Shipping program. Currently, our Tasting Room can ship wine right to your home or office if you live in the following states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington DC. You can place orders directly on our website (Red Newt Cellars Online Store). As always, we offer free shipping on the purchase of 6 or more bottles. If you would like us to “get compliant” in your state contact me directly (E-mail the Author). However, there are still some states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts who have stringent, restrictive, or antiquated policies on direct shipping. To help coax your law makers please support Free The Grapes.
Lastly, Red Newt has been trying to “spread the love” as effectively and affordably as possible. I urge you to join our groups on Facebook (Red Newt Cellars Official Facebook Page) and Twitter (Red Newt Cellars Official Twitter Page) where we provide up to the minute updates on the Finger Lakes and all that goes on surrounding New York wine. Additionally, please take the time to check out the websites of some of our tourism, marketing, and social media friends and partners: Finger Lakes Wine Country, Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, Finger Lakes Bed & Breakfast Association, New York Cork Report, Experience! The Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes Wine Center, New York Wine and Culinary Center, and the New York Wine Network just to name a few.
In closing, I do apologize for all of the self-aggrandizing hyperlinks, but my intent is for this blog to enhance the awareness and reputation of New York Wines. Hopefully, you the reader, sees these links as additional resources designed to help reinforce my message. The staff at Red Newt Cellars are tireless proponents of NY wine and the bounty that is the Finger Lakes. If you get the opportunity, stop in to see for yourself what’s really going on in the Finger Lakes. Thank you again to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation team for this award.
One last link: Please Follow ME on Twitter!!!
Friday night I decided I needed to get my butt out of the house and go to Castaways in downtown Ithaca. Friday night was what could be the final performance of an Ithaca Local Trio called Revision. They have been playing and performing music together from close to 10 years. The band originally met attending Ithaca College, and began developing their own sound from the onset. Their sound is infectious to say the least, combining genres of funk, jazz, shred rock, piano groove, and work in some mind-bending jams throughout. They just finished up a new album called Ricochet available here: http://store.revisionmusic.com
A Heavenly Take on One Hellacious Week Night 2:
I just recently made the move back to Ithaca. I made this decision for several reasons. The number one reason was that living in Ithaca put so many events and activities right at my finger-tips. Every night of the week there is a new and exciting opportunity to for me to deepen my cultural awareness. Wednesday night I had the chance to see Michael Franti and Spearhead, one of the premier live musical acts currently on tour.
If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Michael Franti, I highly recommend you check out some of his previous live concerts available to stream at http://www.archive.org/details/MichaelFrantiandSpearhead. I would describe Michael Franti and Speadhead as a musical melting pot as diverse as Mr. Franti himself. Michael Franti was adopted at birth by white parents. His own ethnic heritage is somewhat diverse, comprised of Native American, African, and European descendants. His live performance digs into the roots of all of these cultures dabbling in pop, hip-hop, rap, rock, punk, groove, R&B, funk, folk, and the all encompassing genre of “music to get you out of your seat.”
If you had the chance to make it to the State Street Theater in Downtown Ithaca you may have noticed something special on Wednesday night. I have been going to shows and concerts with my family since I was a baby. The demographic composition of concert goers has always depended on what show I was going to. I knew I would see my fellow hipsters at Phoenix back in October. I saw my hippies over the summer at My Morning Jacket and Phish. In this respect, I wouldn’t expect to see my parents moshing at a punk show. Nor, would I expect to see my moshing friends at a Willie Nelson and Levon Helm Concert (which I went to by myself).
The crowd at Michael Franti looked much like a church that accepted people from all ages, walks of life, and religious beliefs… is the term multi-denominational? The crowd was as diverse as the music. Sitting behind me was the cutest retired couple dancing hand-in-hand. To my right was a husband and wife. The wife was holding their newborn baby, who was wearing the most adorable baby noise-reducing earphones I have ever seen. The crowd to my left was a group of roughly 8 kids who I couldn’t tell if they were in middle school or high school either way they were out way too late for a school night (but kudos to their parents for letting them attend this show)!!!
Michael Franti knows that his audience is one of a kind, and he takes the time to give back his appreciation. For a while he disappeared to give an intimate ballad performance to his fans viewing from the upper deck of the theater. Another song he sang from the middle of his front-row fans. And, towards the end of his set he called up all of his “children,” showcasing that you can be a child under the age of six or a child over the age of sixty so long as your childish spirit is alive and kicking.
It is my opinion that music has the ability to unite sworn enemies. Music helps to bond everlasting friendships. Music paints a picture in my memory of a time and a place. From this day forward, whenever I listen to Michael Franti and Spearhead I will picture a culturally diverse masterpiece of a fan-base dancing around in my head every time I blink. Please, listen to my advice on this one and check him out the next time he comes to your town. I might just be there.
Though harvest has slowly come to an end in Finger Lakes Wine Country, the hustle and bustle of the region shows no signs of slowing down come Winter. I have boldly decided to make myself the Guinea Pig for all the wonderful events that have been taking place in this region. Last week was one of the busiest event filled weeks of my life. I only wish I could have as much fun every week. Last week I had the opportunity to sample what we call the Culinary Bounty of the Finger Lakes.
I’ve always wondered if too much of a good thing could be bad. Is it possible to overdose from too much great food, wine and music? I doubt it, but I’m going to give it a try. I certainly put my own tolerance to the test last week. In part one of this on-going blog I will tell you a bit about my Tuesday Night.
Every school-year semester since I have been working for Red Newt Cellars, David and Debra Whiting assist students involved in the Cornell Hotel School’s class on Restaurant Management in creating a “tantalizing four-course dinner.” Every semester the food and wine pairings get better and better.
Currently, I do business administrative work for Red Newt Cellars and Bistro. Owners David and Debra Whiting, in my opinion, produce the most delicious and innovative food and wine in the Finger Lakes. As a treat/thank you to many of their employees they invited us out to dinner. However, for me, this wasn’t just any dinner. This is my third time attending this collaborative dinner, and each event serves as my own personalized homecoming. You see, I graduated from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations which is located adjacent to Statler Hall (aka The Hotel School). I spent many years working a variety of different jobs in the Hotel School which served as my bedroom during what was my hell week when I was in school, Final’s Week.
This past dinner was unbelievable. I could talk to you about how each wine fit seamlessly into the palate portfolio of each dish presented to us. I could talk to you about how delicious and refreshing it was to taste proteins and vegetables from nearby local and sustainable growers. I could talk to you about how awesome it was to have ambiance music performed by one of Taverna Banfi’s Student Chefs (wearing a bow-tie)!!!
The thing I enjoyed most about this meal was the one thing served from minute one through the final bite. THE BREAD. Debra Whiting has a fine knowledge of breads, and she showcases this on a daily basis in the Bistro at Red Newt Cellars. Deb’s food has this motherly quality to it. I say this because she is the only chef, other than my Mom, that I know who can get me to eat my vegetables. This year’s choice of bread was a pumpkin-sage focaccia bread served with a sweet cinnamon butter.
This was the most unique take on bread and butter I have tasted. The focaccia had the perfect moistness (my favorite word ever). The pumpkin flavor was exceptional, as it was very similar the flavor of my families pumpkin pie passed down by generations. It showed a savory elegance provided by the addition of fresh sage. To balance the savory flavor of the bread I slabbed on the cinnamon butter. I ate roughly 9 pieces of bread throughout my meal. Call it classless, but I like to use bread as my edible spoon. I dipped my bread in the sage butter sauce with the butternut squash ravioli, killer. I topped my bread with hazelnuts and pears from my salad, amazing. I took two slices of bread and made my entree into a stuffed venison sandwich, superb. Lastly, there was a maple ginger layer cake for dessert that went perfectly atop the bread and butter combination that I can’t stop raving about.
I have spent a number of years in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I suggest that this cinnamon butter is a great example of why the Cornell Hotel School is on the cutting edge of service. Restaurant Owners and Chef’s take note: if you make me unwrap a package of Land ‘o Lakes butter at my table to put on my bread I will never recommend your business to my friends. When I sit down for a meal I want to know unequivocally that the people responsible for my edible satisfaction have left no stone un-turned. I hold this same principle to mayonnaise. If you are slapping straight Hellman’s on my sandwich, then it is obvious to me that you could care less about how good my sandwich tastes.
Taverna Banfi is perfect at creating that “One-of-a-Kind” feeling. Many of the Chef’s and Servers are Hotel School Students who aim to be the future pioneers of exemplary service. A Truly Fine Dining Experience is much like a jig-saw puzzle. Each piece stands on its own individual merits, but also needs to effortlessly fall into its respective place in order for the guest to clearly see, smell, taste, and feel the big picture of their service experience.
Posted by Greg Tumbarello