Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving with friends, frenchies and family.

What foods should you prepare, and which wines should you serve when hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen people? I'd normally say that, as host, you serve whatever you damn well please, so long as you enjoy what's being served. However, when there are serious Thanksgiving traditionalists (one of whom is your mom), a vegetarian, and a French family experiencing their first Thanksgiving who will all be attending, the meal planning and wine selection perhaps require a bit more thought. I am proud to be serving the following menu along with some French and Spanish wines which should (hopefully) accompany the food well.

Crudite and assorted other hors devours (2004 Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut 1.5l, 2006 Rhedon Marin Domaine des Niales Macon Villages)


Frisee salad with roasted fennel, clementines and shaved parmeggiano reggiano
Roasted Heritage Turkey
Cranberry sauce
Mushroom stuffing
Truffled mashed potatoes
Sauteed green beans
Roasted Sweet potatoes


2007 Grange Tiphaine 'Bel Air Sec' Touraine Amboise
2007 Carballal 'Sete Cepas' Albariño
2005 August Kesseler Riesling Kabinett

2007 Señorio de Peciña Rioja Joven
1999 Bodegas Campillo Rioja Reserva
2006 Georges Descombes Brouilly
2006 Jean Tardy Bourgogne Passetoutgrain


Pumpkin pie
Pecan pie
Ice cream

If people want dessert wine, I have some leftover Grange Tiphaine l'equilibriste from last year.

Well, it's off to Wednesday before Thanksgiving wine shop insanity followed by prepping and last minute house cleaning.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leave the '81 Cote aux Enfants, take the fried chicken and vitovska

Last night my girlfriend and I, along with SF by way of Nîmes natty wine supporter/ California wine troublestarter Guilhaume Gerard and his lovely wife Claire, were treated to a delicious dinner hosted by our friends Josh and Catherine. A diverse group representing Baltimore, Philly, San Francisco, Sacramento, Southeast and Northeast France, we ate and drank quite nicely for a bunch of twenty somethings making a living selling wine, art and fancy desserts in a seriously downward trending economy. Food highlights included an amazing cream of celery root and parsnips soup, topped with a fried sliced fingerling potato and a drizzle of truffle oil - so simple and delicious. The 'fried chicken salad,' as coined by Josh, was a terrific mix of baby spinach, perfectly fried strips of chicken, crumbled blue cheese, lardons, sliced apple and persimmons.

As for wine, my favorite was an '03 Vodopivec Vitovska. Truly interesting, long maceration on skins Friuli-Slovenian type wine. It was so complex and continued to evolve until the last sip. Fresh stone fruit aromas, pronounced truffle, then some marzipan, a suggestion of acacia honey. Flavors on the palate were orchard fresh and unbelievably fleshy. Nectarines. You can really sink your teeth into this wine, it's so fleshy, but combine this with terrific acidity and vivid fruit, and you get a completely satisfying drinking experience, natural wine style. It was also cool in that this is, from the flavors anyway, much less oxidative style winemaking than Radikon or Gravner. I would guess a shorter maceration on the skins as well. This wine and the aforementioned soup - phenomenal.

On the other end of the spectrum, a bottle of 1981 Bollinger Cote aux Enfants, which I had happened across at work and purchased, with discount, for a modest $40, did not show too well. Very simple mature pinot noir flavors, a lack of acidity, and aromas which Guilhaume compared to wood floor cleaner just didn't make the cut. Guess that this rare bottling of pinot noir from Ay should be enjoyed in its first 10-15 years of life. In fact, a bottle of 1981 central coast pinot noir I drank last year absolutely would have killed this much fancier much higher pedigreed, northerly champagne in a head-to-head tasting.

In between the Bolli at the qualitative low end and Vitovska at the high end, there was some '06 Verget Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons (reductive and then gradually better, if a bit lacking in excitement), '98 Fonsalette CDR reserve (primary, chewy grenache, ok, but fruity and not a whole lot else, what do you expect - it's grenache) and an '07 Domaine de Reuilly rose of pinot gris (which was its usual, understated, subtle, elegant self).

Considerably less eclectic and fancy wines will feature for turkey day, which I'll hopefully get around to posting tomorrow prior to the flurry of prep which feeding 14 people in a small, minimally equipped kitchen entails.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Joe likes Bordeaux...Joe hates bordeaux!

I taste a whole lot of Bordeaux every month. Yesterday we tasted through a line-up of mainly Haut Medoc, with some St Emilion/Pomerol satellites and a few commune wines thrown in. The results were, umm...predictable. Some perfectly sound, technically well made wines, many boring wines, a few plain bad wines. There were some fruit forward $20 Bdx values, if that's your thing, an '05 Reserve de la Comtesse, which was textbook Pauillac with the black currant, lead pencil and in full effect (though is $50ish dollars for a well-made but otherwise fairly ho-hum 2nd label worth it?). Then there were the three wines from the Barton family: 2000 Langoa Barton, 1997 Langoa Barton, and 1994 Leoville Barton. As I anticipated, the Langoa Bartons showed much more nuanced, more interesting flavors, for a whole lot less money. The '97 in particular was great - all of that famed Bordeaux elegance which you read about in wine textbooks was on full display: cherries, roasted meaty savor, terrific velvety texture. While the '00 was good, it come with a 2000 bdx price tag, and is still showing a good bit more primary. The '97 is definitely the way to go for drinking now. And the '94 Leoville Barton? At first sniff, it was the most ripe, manipulated, simple, new worldy classified growth I have ever had the displeasure of tasting. As it opened up things got slightly more interesting, but there was still something really unagreeable and metallic on the finish. Just weird, heavily manipulated wine.

Further proof that the more ambitious the wine in Bordeaux (1st growths excepted?), the higher the pricing, the more often a chateaux increases its pricing, the worse wine you'll get. Hmmm, sound familiar? Do you see any correlation to other cab growing areas in the world?

Is it just me, or does it seem like Napa initially took the best of Bordeaux to inspire their winemaking, and Bordeaux has since taken the worst of Napa to inspire theirs?

Sort of reminds me of the relationship between hip-hop and reggae. I mean, would you rather listen to the Treacherous Three, or to Sean Paul?

Here's my vote.

UPDATE 11/23 - Speaking of poor quality, overrated red bordeaux wine, a bottle of 1990 Cos d'Estournel was opened in the store yesterday. Decanted for what I believe was an hour. Verdict? The wine was dead. Lifeless. Not closed, nor dumb, just not good. I'm not just being hard on Cos because I have disliked anything I've tried from them in the past. In fact, I really wanted to like this bottle, but did not enjoy it one bit. 1990 was a terrific year in Bordeaux, and at this point many of these wines should be showing pretty well. What's the problem here?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finally, sangiovese that I like. A first time experience with Montevertine

I have heard tell that as it relates to really good, genuine, true school, real producers based in Chianti, there is now only one name: Montevertine. Granted, now that I think about it these words might have first registered while reading Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal Rosenthal, the gentleman who imports Montevertine. So yes, he may be necessarily biased, but the fact remains that I have not been as excited about any other wine from Chianti in a long, long time.

What I first noticed about the 2006 Montevertine IGT Toscano Pian del Ciampolo was the beautiful, translucent ruby color. It reminded me of a Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a young poulsard, or any other similarly bright colored, lighter vibrant style of wine. After nosing the wine, my hopes were confirmed: this would be young sangiovese the way I like it. Floral (really floral), red fruited, refreshing, slightly earthy, crunchy. None of the astringent, puckery tannins or lack of freshness that most of the sangiovese based wines I taste often show. Interestingly enough, I preferred drinking this wine on its own, as opposed to with my pasta dinner (wine without food, a decidedly un-Italian notion, I know). It probably had something to do with the tomato sauce, which always makes for tricky wine and food compatibility. That wine though! What a terrific bottle. I think I paid about $25 for it. Some specs on the wine: 90% sangioveto, 5% canaiolo, 5% colorino. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentations are in cement vats, followed by 18 months in used slavonian oak barrels. Hand harvested, gravity flow winery, non filtered, etc, etc. Git some!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old Rioja, Old School

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers paged me overhead. I picked up the phone, returned the call, and was told, “Joe, we’ve got some wines to taste. Trust me, it’ll be worth your time.” Having tasted plenty of super slick, same old, cookie cutter, oaky -fruity wines with this particular co-worker, I am confident that he has a pretty good sense of my palate and what I like. So on this particular day, we were to taste older vintages of Rioja and even a few middle age Ribera del Dueros. Nothing too fancy, no big names, but that in and of itself was exciting. After all, as many Spanish wines are now exported to the US, most of these are made with the US consumer in mind, and in fact many of the most popular are essentially wines sold exclusively outside of Spain. So whenever I have the opportunity to taste something of the old guard, or a winery’s library wines which were made in the older style (lighter in mouth, higher in acidity, subtler and more layered in its flavors), I jump.

It’s also always exciting to discover traditional Rioja which is not made by La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, or one of the much larger, more venerable bodegas.

Don’t know too much about these bodegas, but here are some tasting notes.

1982 Suso Rioja Gran Reserva

Tobacco and sweet red cherries on the nose. A touch of marzipan as well. Nice, ripe, red fruit, with a bloody iron element as well. Fully mature. Not bad.

1985 Izadi Gran Reserva

OK, so all of these are not no names. Izadi is a well regarded bodega in Rioja, nowadays leaning new school, but still making wines that sometimes show decent balance and deep, intense, pure fruit. This particular bottle, from the excellent ’85 vintage, shows truffle, sweet cocoa powder and braised brisket on the nose. Lots of bass tones on the palate, darker fruits that really build up and expand on the palate. More cocoa. Very tasty mature Rioja here.

1991 Señorio de Ulia Rioja Gran Rerserva

My co-worker thought this a bit tired, but I heartily disagree. Very savory, spicy and meaty aromas led to a similarly savory, spicy and meaty palate. Good acidity and terrific balance.

1995 Señorio de Ulia Reserva

Another winner from this bodega. Similar sense of balance, spicy savor, and strong acid backbone. Persistent as well.

1999 Abadia de San Quince Ribera del Duero Crianza
Shy dark fruit on the nose, but a lot more interesting on the palate. Black currants, minerals, very tasty. I’m a firm believer that1999 is an underrated vintage in Rioja, could it be the same in Ribera as well?

1999 Penalosa Ribera del Duero Crianza

Not as tasty as the wine above. More baked, not so fresh, even a touch lactic, aromas. Clearly dying on the palate.

It's always an education tasting more mature vintages. Old wines, bring 'em on, that's what I say....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cheap Charles Ellner and a little Thelonious

As I sit at my desk and recover from a dude's night out to the Leatherneck steakhouse and karaoke, a night which began with Old Overholt rye whisky, ended with corona, and had some awful private label cabernet, decent new york strip steak, creamed spinach, iceberg salad with bleu cheese crumble and irish coffee in between, I am thinking that a blog update is in order. Don't worry, I'm fine. Not 100%, but well enough to write about champagne.

Recently David D commented inquiring on a bottle of closeout champagne we had lying around from a recent cellar acquisition. It was champagne for $5.99 so I bought it. Ellner is a larger vineyard owner and negociant-manipulant (NM), owning 54 hectares of vineyards from the Aube in the south to the Montagne de Reims in the north, which supply 70% of the juice for their champagnes. This bottling, the Carte d'or, consists of 75% chard and 25% pinot noir. The PN dominated the aromas and flavors of the champagne, with lots of red fruit and buttermilk biscuity notes. After some time opening up, marzipan notes emerged on the nose as well. I'd be curious as to what vintages were included on this bottle and when it was disgorged, but since it was not Tarlant I could not find this information on the back label. I would guess '01 and '02 formed the basis of the blend, given the texture, decent acidity and depth of flavor. As for the disgorgement, maybe sometime in '05? All that is secondary to most folks out there, what really matters is that the champagne, while somewhat simple and direct, is certainly better than most grand marques' basic NV efforts. Not quite as interesting as many grower champagnes, but still a decent deal if it were to cost around $35 (no idea on pricing, I've yet to see this brand in the market).

Here's some Sunday Thelonious from 'Straight no Chaser.' Just like my Old Overholt, straight no chaser. This one's much more complex though, and probably more enjoyable for many of you out there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Champagnes tasted and enjoyed recently

Most of these (with the exception of the Drappier, tasted at Terroir) are champagnes I sell at work. So I'm selling my own hooch here, but it's been a while since I've pitched the K&L wares. Sorry if you're not on the west coast and can't find many of these. If you're on the east coast, it probably only makes sense to ship if you mix a case, in which case it would be roughly $4 per bottle to ship via Fedex 3day.

Drappier Zero Dosage NV -

A really impressive blanc de noir here. Classy, pure cherry fruit with a fine structure, indeed. Intense, elegant, crystalline structured, and long finishing, this is one of the most enjoyable non-vintage champagnes I have drunk in the past few years.

De Meric Grand Reserve Sous Bois NV - $34.99

80% pinot noir from Ay, Mareuil-Sur-Ay and Mutigny, 15% chardonnay from Cramant, Avize and Oger and 5% meunier from Cumieres. It is vinified half in old oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. Clean berry fruits and a bit of challah bread dough on the nose lead to a very fruit driven palate. Very Pinot Noir. Length, purity and acidity are all nicely balanced.

Marguet Rose NV - $34.99

Light coppery pink color. Composed of 70% chardonnay and 30% pinot noir. Marguet is a small negoc house based in Ambonnay. The quality of Benoit Marguet's pinot noir really show here; there is a real Burgundian pinot noir savor to this champagne. It's red berry fruited, but also brawny and masculine - not a simply fruity, cheerful rose champagne. I quite like it and plan on buying some soon.

Louise Brison 'Cuvee Tendresse' Blanc des Blancs' 2001 - $59.99 on pre-arrival

A rather obscure producer working in the Aube (where Fleury is also based) who farms organically , this is one of several delicous champagnes I have tasted from Mr. Broulez. 100% chardonnay, matured in oak for a short time (5 months), without malolactic fermentation. Substantial, with nicely advanced, savory notes balanced by excellent acidity. Distinctive. Drinking great right now.

Louise Brison Cuvee Germain 2001 (1.5l)- $79.99 on pre-arrival

50% chard, 50% pinot noir. Creamy on the palate, with orange blossom notes and an unusual density. Also, a very nice decomposed marine organism (ok, I guess you could say 'chalk') minerality is underlying beneath all of the fruit. It tastes sort of pinot blanc-like, with bubbles.

Louise Brison Brut 2002 - $39.99

There is a similar richness, roundness and persistence here, though with more pronounced acidity. Tasted a second time, the acidity really jumped out even more so, in a good way. I like this quite a bit, it will probably be my house champagne for when the occasion calls for a good quality bubbly.

Leclerc Briant 'La Ravinne' NV - $41.99

Pascal Leclerc only makes single vineyard champagnes: the chalky 'les crayeres,' juicy, mineral and easy to drink 'Les chevres preuses,' the blanc des blancs 'la croisette,' an amazingly (and almost illegally) dark rose champagne named 'cuvee rubis' and this, his single vineyard pinot meunier. It might be my favorite of his wines which I have tasted. La Ravinne has a spicy nose, with a palate of pithy red grapefruit, showing great intensity and a refreshing bitter snap to the finish. Modern meunier here, but of a flavor profile I have not yet encountered with the grape.

Leclerc Briant Cuvee Divine 2001 - $39.99

This is composed of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, blended from estate vineyards in the valley of the Marne villages Dizy, Cumieres, Damery and Hautvillers. I have tasted one older vintage of this wine ('89, I believe) and, while it aged well, I prefer this young wine from a much less heralded vintage. Very chablis like chalky minerality.

More champagne and other sparkling wine notes to come....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Natural wines, steel frame bikes, vinyl LP's


A coupla' bistro French reds and Peruvian chicken

You know, I noticed that hardly anyone is blogging about cool, vin naturel on their wine blogs (I mean seriously, get off the Napa cabs and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, wine bloggers). So, given the dearth of information on these hopelessly unfashionable, humble vin naturel, I thought I'd write up a few which a young upstart in the busniness named Joe Dressner imports. These are wines which I really enjoyed before and during dinner last night.

2007 Les vin contes Olivier Lemasson 'P'tit Rouquin' Gamay Touraine

French for 'carrot topped kid,' the p'tit rouqin is sourced from hand harvested gamay grown in clay and flint soils by several growers who farm organically within a 40 km radius in Touraine. Classical gamay vin naturel treatment here: no pigeage, carbonic maceration, only 2g/hectoliter sulphur added at bottling. And how does it taste? Delicious. Red cherries and goji berries on the noise, with a touch of earth, lead to a snappy red fruited and hibiscus inflected palate. There is a delicious minerality as well, one that at times stands out more than the understated fruit. This is definitely a mid to back palate and sides of the tongue wine. A chiseled, finishing wine. Streamlined, no baby fat, just perfect. Especially with roasted chicken and yuca (if you're in SF and have not yet done so, try Limon's on Van Ness btw 21st and 22nd). The Ptit Rouquin even held up to the spicy flavors of the various dipping sauces and a tangy cole slaw I made.

2006 Domaine de la Pepiere 'La Pepie' Cabernet Franc (1.5l)

This (and now that I mention it the wine above as well) were both opened the day before for a Loire tasting at the store. It's tasting much better than we first received the wine in a little over a year ago. Dark cherry fruit, showing a much more expansive and fleshed out mid-palate than when I had last tasted the wine. Some pretty cab franc floral notes towards the finish made it even tastier. Good, but not quite gamay good, with the chicken and yuca.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Reggae community rallies 'round Barack Obama

Fun little video from Cocoa Tea here. A no frills, two chord bubblin', fairly low budget production, but enjoyable all the same. Shout out to Cam who first emailed me this link.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Illadelph Blogger meet-up with the great David McDuff

Wine blogging. It may seem easy. You know, drink, form an impression, get up on your soap box and post something. Repeat. Well, blogging regularly - say 3 times a week as a minimum - actually is a real commitment. I read various wine blogs, but few of them ever keep me coming back as regularly as Mcduff's Food and Wine Trail. The combination of McDuff's crisp, professional writing, his thorough profiles of producers, region's and wines, and display of authority without coming across as arrogant or snobbish makes for what might be my favorite wine blog out there, or at least top 3. As David mentioned in his re-cap of our lunch together last week, we also have a good bit in common: we have spent significant time living in the Washington, DC area, we are both University of Maryland alums, we enjoy listening to an eclectic mix of music, particularly anything in a post-punk vein.

On my way home from New York City last week, I stopped in Philly and was picked up by Mr. McDuff at the train station. We then headed to one of the city's many BYO's for some lunch and wine which David brought with him. As some of you may know, the distribution and sale of wine in Pennsylvania is controlled by the state, which leads to a generally poor selection of wines which often times cost a lot more than they should. So a few upshots are that BYO restaurants are popular, and serious wine drinkers in Pennsylvania shop in New Jersey or Delaware - David, though he lives in the Philly metro area, actually works at a store in Wilmington, Delaware named Moore Brothers.

OK, on to the lunch and wine. We went to a Thai restaurant named Nan, which had a typical menu including pad thai, salmon with red curry (which I had and quite enjoyed), smoked duck (which David ordered, also very tasty) and one seriously out of place lunch entree of spaghetti with ricotta and broccoli. Hmmm...we started with a 2002 Ratzenberger Riesling Steeger St Jost Spatlese Trocken from the Mittelrhein. At first it showed the intense apricot kernel flavor and broad fruit which I generally associate with the Rheingau, but then the smoky blue slate minerality kicked in and grew increasingly present in the wine. Apparently the steeply sloping vineyard has provides some of the fruit for a Grosses Gewaches wine which Ratzinger also makes. It was a bit on the dry and strict side for a great pairing with most Thai dishes (especiall the curries), though it did go really well with some grilled squid salad. The second bottle David opened was a delicious 2004 Aldo Vajra 'Costa e Fossati' Dolcetto d'alba. It showed the cut and fine balance of '04 in Piedmont, with a real traditional structure. Very dry blackberry fruits, with some earthiness, cut white flowers and a real elegant, lighter weight (for Dolcetto) palate. The finishing tannins were really fine, like a cat's tongue - that sort of sensation on the palate. None of those coarse, puckery, wood tannins which marr many other Piedmontese wines these days - no surprise as this is a traditional winery (longer fermentation in large slavonian oak) and I do tend to prefer traditional wines. It was the best Dolcetto I have ever tasted, and just out of curiosity a few days later I saw an '05 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d'Alba in a new Baltimore shop named Swirl, cracked it open, and found that it was not nearly as refined and elegant. Granted, it's not as good a vintage and the Vajra has a year of bottle age on it, but I still don't think the Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto will be as good.

Sorry for the dolcetto tangent there. Anyway, back to the story at hand. McDuff knows his stuff, is a terrific guy, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. Thanks for lunch, David, next time is on me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This wine drinker is celebrating...Barack Obama is our next president!

I need just a brief moment for gravitas, here. Growing up, I remember discussing the prospect of a female or black president in the US - when would it happen? Would it be in our lifetime? Honestly, I did not believe it would, almost right up until Barack Obama announced his candidacy a few years ago. When that happened, and as he gained momentum, I came to believe that not only would we have an African American president in our lifetime, but it would be Barack Obama taking oath as the first black president in 2009. And sure enough, the polls have closed and that is what the news networks are telling us: Barack Obama is our next president. Obama won Ohio, he won Pennsylvania, he won Florida, he won Virginia (as some of you know it has been 45 years since a democratic candidate won VA). Well, the man is speaking right now, so I will keep it short and simply state that I am inspired as I hope that anyone reading this is equally inspired.

So, what to drink to savor and celebrate the moment? How about, while the champagne chills down, a glass of La Gitana manzanilla, bright, salty, and full of fruit, with uncommon depth and complexity. Then, when the champagne is nice and cold, crack it open. Perhaps it will be a bottle of Tarlant Brut Zero, a blend of 2005 and reserve wines, and of all three major champagne varieties. It is bone dry, poised, classy champagne, showing a serious character and lots of promise for the future, ready to usher in a new era in American history.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back on the Bmore Dining scene: Two meals at Petit Louis and Woodberry Kitchen

Woodberry Kitchen owner Spike Gjerde

Tony Foreman, co-owner of Petit Louis and several other top restaurants in Baltimore

Baltimore's restaurant scene has certainly evolved considerably in the past decade. Growing up, a nice meal out usually meant either a trip to one of the formulaic, play it safe establishments in Little Italy, or perhaps another similarly Americanized 'ethnic' restaurant, or a splurge at one of the venerable steak houses. Then things became more high concept. Some Italian restaurants aspired towards greater authenticity, serving the likes of whole roasted branzini; one Greek restaurant in particular focused on similarly unadorned, fresh fish preparations, and then, of course, the tapas and small plates craze hit. More recently, it looks as though the local food phenomenon, spurred on by 'locivore' diners, restaurateurs, and the assorted farmers who provide these establishments with their produce, poultry, meat and dairy, has begun to take hold in the community. Two long-time Baltimore restaurateurs, Tony Foreman and Spike Gjerde, have worked through Baltimore's transformation into a more interesting dining town, and by chance I visited one of each of their restaurants this past week.

Let's begin with the larger ego first. Tony Foreman is Baltimore's undisputed Big Shot when it comes to restaurant empires. Along with his wife, chef Cindy Wolf, he owns Cinghiale, an Italian style osteria and wine bar, Pazo, a mediterranean themed small plates oriented restaurant an lounge, Charleston, the French influenced, southern tinged grand dame of the group, and Petit Louis, the classic French bistro in the heart of the tony enclave of Roland Park (if you only associate Baltimore with 'The Wire,' then Roland Park is the polar opposite of your image of the city). Anyway, I'm going to get right down to it and say that my lunch was a complete and utter disappointment. Frites were a little browner than usual (as per my mom's request, for them to be 'extra crispy') but still not hot and crisp. No sort of interesting aioli or other house made condiment served on the side, just a basic dijon mustard. I had ordered a classic frisse salad, with poached egg and lardons. The frissee was not fresh and swimming in an overly acidic, vinegary dressing which left a pool of liquid on the plate. Such a poor execution of a dish so simple does not make me optimistic as to the execution of other dishes on that particular afternoon. Bistro kitchens can and will have off days,though execution this lousy is truly tough to explain. The wine list provided the sole bright spot of the day. I had a glass of the characteristically tasty 2006 Francois Pinon Vouvray, and had I been in the mood for red I could have ordered the 2006 Chateau d'Oupia Minervois rouge. The bottle list is also excellent and far better than many a list in similar bistros in more cosmopolitan cities.

My experience at Spike Gjerde's Woodberry Kitchen was a more positive one. The space, with its high ceilings, worn brick walls, stencils on blackboard menu and stylish casual ambience, suggested a buzzing, successful, quietly confident young restaurant. Local farms which provide Woodberry Kitchen their products are mentioned on the menu, an endearing, easy to read menu at that, with clever, witty flourishes throughout. One example is the 'filtered Baltimore wooder,' a play on how we Baltimoreans pronounce water (and Philadelphians as well, I think, want to weigh in DMcD?) As my parents don't eat oysters but my grandma and I do, we split half a dozen which were a perfect start made even more perfect with a bottle of 2007 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet. I'm not sure if it's a separate bottling from their Hermine d'or - it certainly seemed a little less weighty and mineral than how I remembered it. Maybe Jo Landron bottles a separate Muscadet for certain importers. Next I had a salad of various local radishes and savory bread pudding. On paper, it seemed like the contrasting flavors and textures would make for an interesting dish, but instead what I got were two things that should probably not be eaten together. For a main course I ordered a roasted chicken with a cider pan glaze, kale and a really tasty side of spaghetti squashed with melted cheese - a terrific combo of subtly sweet squash and rich melted cheese. We drank a bottle of '05 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Blanc Barriques, which was richly textured, not really overoaked but definitely lacking a bit of chi. It went ok with the food, complementing the richness of the squash and not enhancing or detracting from the flavor of the chicken. Portions here are more than ample - I arrived fairly hungry and left very full. Judging by the strong Thursday night crowd and the overall strength of the restaurant, it looks like Spike has got a winner on his hands here.

Despite my not so great meal at Petit Louis, I can certainly vouch for Tony Foreman's other restaurants, which are all based on creative concepts, well executed by talented kitchens and enhanced by what is consistently some of the sharpest service around. He along with Spike Gjerde and others have undoubtedly raised the bar considerably for Baltimore restaurants.