Eating Local

Won’t You Join Us This Winter?

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?

The Catskills: Where Chicken Actually Tastes Like Chicken

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!”

Watch the NooTToob video from my trip here!

Here is a short explanation of the menu items served:

Neversink Farm

The Meat Birds:

Grilled chicken breast with fresh herbs

Braised chicken legs with collards & kale

The Vegetables:

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

Grilled Scallions

New Potato Salad with sorrel (using Carola Potatoes)

Olive Oil Poached Scapes

The Laying Hens:

Spinach Omelet – Frittata style

The Bees:

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.

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The Edible Future of the Finger Lakes

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.

Wine and Chocolate Weekend

It has been one chilly winter here in the Finger Lakes, so we are warming up this Valentine’s weekend with the Seneca Lake Wine Trail Event: Chocolate and Wine.  In the Tasting Room we are serving up some of our warm Chocolate Bread Pudding topped with creme anglaise and paired with our port-style Hellbender.  For those of you who are unable to make it to the Tasting Room we are posting our recipe here.

Chocolate Bread Pudding
12 cups 1 inch crustless french bread
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup coffee liqueur
8 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped


Butter a 8 x 13in pan. Place bread in large bowl and drizzle
with butter.  Mix with hands to coat well.   Place coated bread in
buttered pan.

Bring half and half,cream and liqueur just to a simmer in
heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and vanilla. Whisk
until melted and smooth.

Whisk sugar and yolks in another bowl to
blend. Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture. Pour blended
mixture over bread.

Cover with plastic and let stand at least one hour
(not all liquid will be absorbed). Refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 350. Bake pudding until just set in center (center may
move slightly when dish is shaken), about 45 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 10 to 12.
Pair with Hellbender for a lovely end to your meal.

Finger Lakes Restaurant of the Year

I am writing to say how excited and honored I am to have received the Finger Lakes 2010 Restaurant of the Year Award from the New York Cork Report! I am especially thrilled because of our emphasis on regional cuisine. From the very beginnings of the Bistro at Red Newt, I have focused on local and seasonal fare to create a cuisine that highlights the Finger Lakes region and it’s relationship to it’s wines. In the beginning, (eleven years ago!) I was able to source only about 10% of my menu from local producers. But now at the height of the season, my menu is about 90% local! This says so many things about the localvore movement in this area. More local farmers and producers are supporting their lifestyles and families with small scale farming in the Finger Lakes. This creates a great addition to our Finger Lakes economy and culture, not to mention creating many more of these incredible local products available to the consumers. We all eat and enjoy much healthier and tasty food as a result of this! Of course, add the local wine to this and it becomes a beautiful package. I am very proud to be part of what the Finger Lakes has to offer and will continue to promote the gems of this area. So let’s raise a glass of Finger Lakes wine (especially Red Newt!) and toast to the bounty of this area! Sincerely, Chef Debra Whiting

Deck the Halls

The weekend before Thanksgiving is for most people a relaxing couple of days getting ready for the the in-laws coming to town. My weekend was a fantastically fast paced, busy and enjoyable Deck the Halls. The first of the two Deck the Halls weekends, this is a great way to kick off the holiday season, with some fun, wine and food.

Executive Chef Debra Whiting prepared a Dried Apricot Bar (find the recipe: Click Here) for the thousands (literally) of people who visited the Finger Lakes on this Seneca Lake Wine Trail Event. With these bars we served our 2009 “Circle” Label Riesling and our 2009 Dry Riesling. These were really fun pairings for us to try out and with great response from our guests.

As I mentioned before this was a really fun weekend for us here at Red Newt Cellars. Thanks to all of you who were able to make it out for the November Deck the Halls and we look forward to seeing the rest of you ticket holders in December.

Let me tell you about my last great meal…

First things first. If you’re looking for a great, inspired meal check out Hearth Restaurant!  Hearth is located in the East Village in NYC  and shares our localvore passion for food, sourcing many ingredients from farms local to metro NY.
Debra and I had occasion to dine out this week and chose to check out the kitchen pass at Hearth. We’ve dined several times in the dining room at Hearth and have always been impressed. The kitchen pass is a very different dining experience, and great in a different kind of way. Our seats (2 of 4 total) put us on the counter, just feet down from the pass, where dishes are plated and sent into service. Inches away from the action!
We chose the chef’s tasting menu, a seven course sampling, paired with wine. It was fun to see Chef Marco Canora communicate his passion for excellence to the entire kitchen staff. It was also great to have Chef Marco deliver several courses himself and have the opportunity to chat for a few moments about his dishes. (You might recognize Chef Marco as a contestant on this season’s “Next Iron Chef”.)
First course was a salad of braised endive, pistachios, ricotta salata and orange. The sweet richness and delicate bitterness of the braised endive mirrored similar sweet flavors from the orange and rich, astringent notes from the roasted pistachios. Paired with a dry Austrian Riesling, showing a likewise conflicted synergy, the course really took off!

BRAISED ENDIVE Pistachio, Ricotta Salata, Orange

Next up was sweetbread piccata with potato purée and hen of the woods mushroom. Rich, flavorful and elegant.  Just two courses in and we were feeling really great about the evening.

SWEETBREAD PICCATA PotatoPurèe, Hen of the WoodsMushrooms

Fast forward three more courses, each distinctive, delicious and inspired…

Mushroom Cavatelli with Wild Mushrooms, Soffrito, Sage

Cavatelli with Wild Mushrooms, Soffrito, Sage

roasted cod

Roasted Chatham Cod with Black Cabbage, Smoked Chickpeas, Garlic Confit, BaccaláCold Quince Soup topped with Yogurt Sorbet

beef and broccoli

CREEKSTONE BEEF AND BROCCOLI Roasted Flat Iron, Braised Short Rib, Grilled Corned Tongue, Confit Heart, Bone Marrow, Onions, Consommé

I haven’t said too much about the wines, which were selected as half glasses for us to pair with each course.  Primarily from the list of wines by the glass, very nice and nicely paired with the courses.

The two sweet courses were a perfect way to end our meal.  Here the wine selected was a  2006 Alsatian Gewurztraminer.  Rich, sweet, and alluring.  First dessert was cold quince soup topped with yogurt sorbet.  This pairing was perfect.

2006 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim Cuvée Maxime

quince soup with yogurt sorbet
Cold Quince Soup topped with Yogurt Sorbet

Final course was pear clafoutis , spiced seckel pear and bartlett pear sorbet (sorry, no photo).  This dessert was quite distinctive from the first.  And whereas the quince soup accentuated rich quince and lychee elements in the Gewurztraminer, the spiced pear and clafoutis keyed in on the floral and spicy elements of the wine.  Very different pairings and both quite elegant.

To sum up the meal, Great.

Many thanks to Chef Marco Canora and Paul Grieco for a terrific evening!

Taverna Banfi meets Red Newt Cellars November 3rd, 2010

Can I say one word that sums up my latest experience with Taverna Banfi? WOW!!! (And yes, I am including the exclamation points in that one word.) It is truly a pleasure to sit and enjoy an incredibly nice meal with my friends and colleagues at the end of harvest.
The Pumpkin Sage Foccacia with the cinnamon butter was delicious, and because Brandon doesn’t eat carbs, I just had to eat his portion as well.
The 2009 Dry Riesling was the perfect accompaniment to the salad. After having a bite of the sauteed pears and field greens the aroma of pear drifting off the Riesling was enough to show me how wonderfully this meal was paired.
The Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce was tremendously well paired with the 2007 Red Newt Cellars Sawmill Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer. The spiciness of the Gewurztraminer played so well with the slight sweetness of the squash. If you can put butter and sage into the mix, well…yes!
Now, I am a huge fan of venison, and Gewurztraminer with venison is one of my favorite pairings, so yes I saved a small sip of Gewurztraminer to have with my venison. Still glad I did! However I must say that the 2007 Glacier Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc with the stuffed venison and roasted root vegetables was scrumptious. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite wines that Red Newt has ever produced, but truly a remarkable pairing. The currants in the stuffing showed so nicely with the fruit of the Cabernet Franc, and those earthy root vegetables brought out great depth in the wine.
For dessert the Maple-Gingerbread Layer Cake with the Spiked Cider was the perfect way to end this autumn style meal. And again, Brandon doesn’t eat carbs, so I got more than just my share.
Truly an incredible meal with great friends. I am very privileged to be included in the Red Newt Cellars family and all the time we get to spend together around great wine and great food is more than enjoyable.

A Heavenly Take on One Hellacious Week Night 1:

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

Red Newt dines with Taverna Banfi

HTaverna Banfi - Red Newt Cellarsey there Red Newt fans! Red Newt recently teamed up with Taverna Banfi to create an evening of innovative cuisine and perfectly paired wines. It was my great fortune to be invited to the Red Newt table to enjoy said evening.
I must say I’m a bit of a “nerd” when it comes to wine and food. There are few things that I enjoy more than having a dinner and discussing how the food and wine works together. Also, the only way to be proficient at creating your own food and wine pairing is to… practice, practice, practice. Yup, you must suffer through the process of trying foods with wine. Aha, what more could you want from life?!
Enter the first course… A delicious salad with sauteed pears, hazelnuts, and chevre with the RNC 2009 Dry Riesling. As a team, we made short work of the course. It was subtly elegant and expressive of our local bounty. Unfortunately I didn’t pause long enough before digging in to take a picture, but it was a beautiful presentation.
The second course consisted of the butternut squash ravioli was paired with the 2007 Sawmill Creek Vineyard Gewurztraminer (WS rated 90!). I personally wasn’t sure about this food and wine pairing, but upon tasting it…I was a believer! The ravioli seemed a little understated at first, but when the Gewurztraminer came into the picture it was perfect. The wine didn’t outshine the food and vice versa. This course I went through a little bit slower having taken the edge off my hunger and really savored the delicacy of the ravioli.
Stage right, the third course of Venison stuffed with pecans, currants, sausage, and apples with some winter root vegetables is paired with the 2007 Sawmill Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc, a staff favorite of Red Newters. This was by far my favorite course. For those of you who haven’t had venison, I suggest taking a page from Banfi’s book and preparing it the same way. I opted for a little bit more wine to go with this course. One glass of Cabernet Franc is NEVER enough! This wine has it all, forward fruit with some nice spice and perfectly structured tannins. I was now ready for the encore of dessert.
The grand finale of maple-gingerbread layer cake with vanilla ice-cream and paired with a warm spiced cider cocktail. Although I was full, I put on a game face and finished the dessert (can’t let good food go to waste) and cider. Now fully satiated, we sat and chatted for a bit longer and then donned our winter gear and headed down to the cars.
Not only is it a nice evening because of the meal, but its also a great opportunity to reconnect with my fellow workers. Red Newt is family owned, but the staff is really one large extended family, and its always nice to sit down with the family for dinner.
Phew, and that’s my review of the Banfi dinner. When the opportunity comes along in the spring, I hope to see some of you readers there to enjoy the dinner along with us Newters.