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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Oh LaLa! Part Deux

A few months back, our friends from Oh Lala! invited us to sample their menu and taste of their wines.  Which we did.  Gladly.

Recently, Jorge and Mikaela asked us if we wouldn’t mind coming by and trying their revised menu and revamped wine list.

(Dammit, guys … do you have any idea how busy we are?)

So we invited Megan’s mom, Susan, to come and off we went.

Oh Lala!, in case you’ve forgotten, or are new to TSB, is a unique restaurant in the heart of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which specializes in world-class cuisine and hands-on service.  Chef Jorge Garcia makes virtually everything on the menu from scratch and tries to buy local ingredients whenever possible.

(That isn’t to say that the menu at Oh Lala! is restricted by what is available locally.  There are certain items that he will bring in especially for the restaurant.)

The last time we dined with Jorge and Mikaela was inspiring.  This time was no different.  Being that we were one more person, there were more dishes to sample, which we begrudgingly accepted.

On the Menu: 

Nordic Salad (Fine selection of Italian lettuce, Norwegian smoked salmon, goat cheese, garnished with olive oil)

Salade Méditerranée (Fresh selection of tomatoes, onions, goat cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar)

Cheese Plate Oh Lala Antipasti (Cured meats and a fine selection of cheeses) 

Lamb Chops in a Mint Honey Reduction (Served with mint mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables)

Grilled Tuna Steak (Served with mashed potatoes in a soy-butter reduction)

Thai Beef Curry (Served with rice and vegetables)

Crème Brûlée

Vanilla Ice Cream with Strawberries

And … goodnight.

The food was exquisite.  Susan particularly enjoyed it, marvelling at the mix of flavours and the incredible presentation that sets Oh Lala! apart from your average restaurant.  She also took special note of the transparency of the process – Jorge’s kitchen takes the concept of the Chef’s Table and explodes it, making all seven interior seats kitchen-facing.  From the beginning of a dish to the plating, you can see it all.

There really was too much food to go into absolute detail about each item.  A brief note on each, then …

The Nordic Salad was our favourite of the salads.  Using Norwegian smoked salmon, and not the standard North American variety, made for a much more delicate flavour.  The fish was part of the salad, but not the only part.  (You know it’s a good salad when everyone is eyeing how much the other people are taking.)

The Salade Méditerranée features tomatoes, julienned and tossed in oil and balsamic, and served with a generous portion of pepper-encrusted goat cheese.

The cured meats and cheeses were a welcome addition to the salad trio.  Garnished with dried cranberries, they were the perfect buffer between the tangy Méditerranée and the delicate Nordic.

Wine: Las Moras, Blacklabel, Bonarda, 2009, San Juan, Argentina
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottles

This is a really fun wine, because we drank this wine with every dish we were served and it never felt like the wrong bottle.  Very pleasant, soft red fruit flavours, lifted by reasonably dry tannins, left your mouth feeling happy.  (Yep.  I just used ‘happy mouthfeel’ as a wine descriptor.  Deal with it.)

We never asked what the bottle retails for, being assaulted as we were with a constant barrage of food, but we would feel comfortable spending between $300 – $400 pesos a bottle.

Back to the food.

Jorge brought us the entrées next.

Though two of the dishes offered mashed potatoes as a side, they were prepared so differently from each other that it really didn’t matter.

The tuna steak was … perfect.  The way it is meant to be done.  Lightly seared on the outside, the centre warm but not cooked, the flavours subtle and inviting.  Close your eyes, and you could almost be tricked into thinking that you’re eating steak, thanks to the soy-butter reduction.

Lamb, in case you’re thinking of gift ideas for us, is always a winner.  (Please don’t send us lamb in the mail.)  Jorge serves his lamb with mashed potatoes and steamed French beans, the flavours buttressed by the mint in both the sauce and the potatoes.  This gave your palette a chance to process the lamb without being overpowered by it.  Then, the sweetness from the honey comes in and resolves the two salient flavours wonderfully.

The Thai curry was a real treat, since it cut through the other two dishes and smacked your mouth around like a trainer in a corner in the tenth round.  Spicy without being unreasonable, it warms you up nicely and gets your reaching for your wine glass.  Jorge prepared the curry with beef, seeing that we had lamb and fish already, but he told us that guests may choose from chicken, fish, lamb, beef, or shrimp in theirs.

At this point, we needed to rest.  Our bellies were asking both for more and respite simultaneously.

We were given little quarter.

Jorge brought out the dessert and we were no less impressed.  The Crème Brûlée was infused with orange and lime zest, giving it a playful aroma.  The ice cream, plain vanilla with fresh strawberries, was the perfect companion – it’s simplicity highlighting the variety of tastes that preceded it.

Once again, we were astounded at Jorge’s skill in the kitchen, and the proficiency of his team.  We were never left unattended and the wine flowed like … well, like wine.

If you haven’t discovered this gem of a restaurant, we encourage you to do so.  Dinner is served every night except Sundays.

We hope that Oh Lala! revamps its menu often.  We could really get used to this.

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Daddy Tired.  Daddy Go Sleepy.

Gang, it’s been a long haul.  We are counting down the days until our next vacation.  One-and-a-half months.  Getting four days off at Easter kind of made things worse, since I decided (foolishly? wisely?) to skip the nanny.  Cara worked every day, which meant that Daddy was a playground for the entire four days he had off.

Which is great.  Don’t get Daddy wrong.  Daddy loves playing with Caia.

It’s just …

The exhaustion

This Sunday, we went for our customary walk along Fifth Avenue here in Playa del Carmen.  Caia loves this time because she gets to look at all the shops, the ubiquitous street cats, and break Daddy’s sunglasses (to the delight of passersby).  Daddy likes it because Caia loves riding on his shoulders which makes him feel like a real man, and the two kilometer walk makes Caia sleepy, ensuring nap-time is a ‘Go.’

I wanted to make something that would require minimal effort on my part, on account of the tired.  Megan was going to do the salad and dessert, as usual, and I needed to tackle the main.  Thinking inside the box, I came up with Cottage Pie.

On the Menu: Organic Green Garden Salad with Strawberries, Watermelon, Pomegranate and Mint, in a Raspberry & Olive Oil Dressing, Cottage Pie, Strawberry and Apricot Galettes with Wild Blueberry Preserve And Whipped Cream

What distinguishes a Sheppard’s Pie from a Cottage Pie is the meat you use.  Sheppard’s Pie is made with lamb.  Beef equals Cottage.

Either way, and not surprisingly, Megan did a better job than I.  My mistake was trying to please too many people.  I substituted green beans for peas, and included spinach in the layers.  While this sounds like a good idea, it is not.  The result was too earthy.  Too much like the earth.  It tasted like dirt.

One thing I did that I liked, however, was including a bottom layer of potatoes.  I lined the bottom of the pan with olive oil, smoothed out a layer of potatoes, and baked it for fifteen minutes.  This made something of a crust, which made something of an awesome texture when you ate it.

The salad was awesome but didn’t hold a candle to the dessert.

We have been talking about doing a cook book for some time, and this will be a definite inclusion.  Which is why I can’t give you the recipe here.  But let me tell you: it is heaven.  It is one of those desserts that can go with any season, which almost any drink, and in almost every situation.

Got a promotion?  Galettes!  Have to break up with someone?  Galettes.

We tried to drink two bottles this week, but neither were really that great, so we kind of limped through half of each.

Wine: Casa Pedro Demecq, Reserva Real, Vino Tinto (Barbera/Cabernet Sauvignon), Valle de Calafia, Baja California, Mexico, 2009, $165 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Higher alcohol content (14.1%) made this a heady, sharp wine.  Megan and Susan found it acidic, though it didn’t really bother me that much.  Good things going for it?  Smokey and oaky, with a hint of some kind of flower.  After much cursing, we figured it out – clover.  Peppery and spicy, this wine would fall under the “got-to-be-in-the-mood-for” category of wines.

Not overly easy to drink.

Wine: Santo Tomás, Vino Tinto (Barbera/Merlot), Valle de Santo Tomás, Baja California, Mexico, 2008, $220 MXN
Rating: One-and-a-half Bottles

Cassis and cherries, leathery and full, the Santo Tomás was certainly more popular with Megan, Susan, and Roy (another Canadian friend of ours down for a visit).  While not my favourite of the two, as I found this one too sharp, I was roundly disagreed with.

One thing we all agreed on: neither of these wines would be bottles any of us would seek out again.  They just didn’t have that je ne sais quoi that one looks for in a wine.

Whatevs.  Probably the Barbera.  It can be a little bitey.

Next week, Megan and I are going to shift things around a little bit.  We’re going hunting for a new wine bar.

Yes, sadly, Cava Veinte33 closed its doors this week.  Demian and Maria José are expanding their horizons, and the restaurant life is a demanding one.  Too much time is required running a restaurant to allow a person to do … well, anything else, really.

On behalf of The Sunday Bottles, we’d like to wish them all the best in the future, and look forward to clinking glasses again with them soon.

This means, of course, that the search is on.  If you are familiar with the area, feel free to suggest places you think we might like.  Preferably, places that serve wine not from a bag or a box.

That would be a good start, I think.

Cheers!

The Meaning of Easter: Pizza Pot Pie and Bready Quiche

So, here was my day yesterday.

Drove Cara to work.  Caia was playing with some coins (please don’t judge us, we try our best, it will never happen again) until she started asking where her coins went, which I couldn’t find, which I enquired about, to which Caia responded “My mouth,” to which I asked, “You mean: you ate them?” to which she replied, “Yes.”  Checked her car seat.  No coins.  Sheepish daughter looked away, sheepishly, and said, “My mouth.”  Called the doctor.  The doctor told me that unless the coins were blocking her airway, she’ll be fine, and eventually poop them out.  BUT … we’ll have to check to make sure they all come out.  Check her poop for coins.  All of her poop.  For all of the coins.  It’s like the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie ever.  Pirates of the Caribbean 9: Four Brown Coins.  Cara called the daycare to let them know what was going on.  Daycare called me at lunch to ask me to pick up our daughter, as they were worried that the coins might be lost in her chest somewhere.  And somehow.  Despite explaining to the owner of the daycare that the digestive and respiratory systems are not connected, she was too worried about the coins finding their way into Caia’s lungs to let her stay at daycare.  I picked Caia up and was advised to take my two-year-old to get a chest X-Ray.  All of my strength, I swear, not to call another adult names in front of my daughter.  (At least she didn’t advise me to put her in an MRI.)  Drove home.  Cara got stuck at work and wouldn’t be home when she thought she would, which meant that I was stuck at home.  Took the dogs for a walk with a toddler who has now taken to hitting daddy in the face whenever it pleases her.  Put Caia in her car seat to pick up Cara.  Caia starts asking “Where’s my money?” and checking her seat for it.  Thought bubble, “What if the coins fell in between the seats and are on the floor somewhere.  Pull car seat apart, lift, and discovered Barbossa’s treasure. (Thank. God.)  Got back to work around four.  Stayed till six-thirty trying to catch up.  Ran out of time to post.

My apologies.

This past week was Easter.  We hope you found someway of enjoying it with friends and family.

We decided to follow in our tradition of untraditional Easter meals with two dishes that seemed destined to compete for our attentions – Pizza Pot Pie and Bready Quiche.

The original title of this post was going to be “Easter Deathmatch!  Pizza Pot Pie vs. Bready Quiche!  Two Dishes Enter, One Dish Leaves …” but then I realised that no dishes would be leaving, so the post would be starting off with a lie, and an “Easter Deathmatch” sounded too Roman.

If you haven’t already familiarised yourself with The Silver Palate Cookbook, you should.  Filled with useful, everyday recipes, as well as cunning twists on old standards, it’s a must-have in any kitchen.

That’s where we found the recipe for Pizza Pot Pie. This is an event as this was the first baking attempt on my part that’s ever gone according to plan: I made the dough myself.  (Therefore, the recipe was brilliant!)

If you’re a baker, you’re laughing at me right now.  Deservedly.

If you’re not, then you are right to tremble before my Awesome.

Anyway, the food …

On the Menu: Berry Salad, Bready Quiche, Pizza Pot Pie, Lemon Squares, Easter Cookies (Decorated by Rene)

Bready Quiche is what I call it, even though it probably has a much more authentic-sounding name.  Basically, it’s quiche, but with bread instead of pastry as a crust.  Megan made it.  It’s one of her specialities.  It was awesome.  Slap a little hot sauce on there and you almost feel like you’re in Montréal.

The Pizza Pot Pie is super fun.  All the fixins of a pizza … only inverted!  What?!?  The crust is on the top?  What?!?

Megan’s salads are always awesome.  Spinach with goat cheese.  Blueberries and watermelon.  Raspberry vinaigrette.  Shallots.  Delicious.

We were so happy with our wine slushies the last time, we decided to salute the Saviour with another round.  This time, we used a slightly bubbly wine to see how that worked out for us.

It worked out fine.

With dinner, we went more traditional and had red.

Wine: Punta de Flechas, Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Malbec, 2010, Argentina, $195 MXN
Rating: One Bottle

A little young and a little closed to really enjoy this Argentine red.  Hints of juniper and roses with a sharp finish.  We were eating pizza, however, so it wasn’t the entirely wrong wine to be drinking.  It just could have been a little better.

With dessert we had a treat, as Wendy had brought down some late harvest wine.

Wine: Quail’s Gate, Optima Late Harvest, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, 2009, $29.99 CAD
Rating: Three Bottles

I love Quail’s Gate.  I always have.  When I was in restaurants, I made sure that, if it was available, we had at least one bottle from Quail’s Gate on our menu.

This late harvest is a triumph.  Buttery toffee coats your mouth and honey is left on your tongue.  Then, vanilla and peaches greet you so you hardly even notice the ice creamy notes behind them.

It’s like drinking pie.

There is a slightly acidic finish that can catch you in the back of the throat, but when something is this sweet, it’s to be expected, and it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

If you like dessert wines (ice wine, late harvest, etc.) then this is a wine you should definitely try.  Considering we were having lemon squares, this was a very nice pairing.  Megan and I were trying to figure out what to make for dessert.  I mean, what goes with Pizza Pot Pie and Bready Quiche?  Lemon tarts?  No: Lemon squares.  Were they good?  Well, there were about half left when it was time to actually serve dessert.  I literally had to stop looking at them, as I was eating one every time I passed the plate.

She also made some Easter cookies that were decorated by Rene.  We all complimented him on the fine job he did, too.  All by himself!  Impressive.

Right.

Finally.

Done.

Next week, no delays.  Just Pulitzer-winning material.

(Do they give Pulitzers for blog content?)

Cheers!

Poutine, Alfredo, and Five Bottles of Wine

Here at TSB, we have a long-standing tradition, established this weekend, of introducing Mexico to Canadian cuisine whenever possible.

Demian and MJ came to dinner, and Megan’s mom, Susan, has a friend, Wendy, who is visiting from British Columbia.  If there ever was a better Sunday to make that true Canadian dish, poutine, I’d like to see it.

For the uninitiated, poutine consists of thin-cut French fries, cheese curds, gravy.  If you’ve never had it, it will sound … odd … at first.  But trust us – there is nothing that sates a hungry person like poutine.

Canadian Fun Fact:

A Quebecois dish, poutine was invented when drunk coureurs de bois  ran out of beaver meat, and were forced to supplement their diet with potatoes and beef gravy.  Few people know this, but in addition to beer and maple syrup flowing from the trees of our plentiful coniferous forests, beef gravy can also be sourced from birch trees, and cheese curds grow on the stems of the ubiquitous blue flag irises that grow across la belle province.

On the Menu: Poutine, Garden Salad with Goat Cheese, Berries and Starfruit, Chicken Alfredo with Asparagus, Candied Ginger Cookies

Our guests had some reservations about the poutine, but once you try poutine, you are powerless to resist her … powers.  The salad was a product of Megan’s imagination, and cleansed our palettes before embarking on another rich culinary adventure.

Alfredo is a dish best served guilt-free.  If you are counting calories, Alfredo is probably not for you.  Anything made with heavy cream, butter, and cheese is one of those things best left to professional eaters.

Since we had so many guests this week, we were also stuck with a glut of wine.  Which we drank.

Wine: Canepa, Novísimo, Syrah, 2010, Chile, $122 MXN (Chedraui)
Rating: One Bottle

Demian, MJ, Cara, and I drank this while we waited for the rest of our guests to join us.  Nice on the nose, but flat in the mouth, this wine was disappointing.  Not terrible in any way, but also unremarkable.  The promise of fruits and berries is replaced with a mouthfeel of “Meh” and a palette of “Well, that’s a shame …”

Acidic aftertaste – goes well with a glass of water.

Wine: Moëbius, Cabernet/Syrah/Merlot, 2009, Mexico, $450 MXN (Cava Veinte33)
Rating: Two Bottles

Robust and full, this is a great wine for people that love a big wine.  Oaky and leathery, Moëbius is a complex wine that hints at all-spice, cardamom, and dark chocolate.  On a muggy afternoon, this wine was a little overbearing.  It lacked a fireplace and a cloudless, cold night.

Pronounced “Mo-e-bee-us.”

Wine: Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery, Canoe North White Bluff, VQA, 2008, Langley, British Columbia, $12.99 CAD
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a superb white.  A blend of grapes (Pinot Blanc, Madeleine Angevine, Chardonnay and Madeleine Sylvaner) makes it soft and sweet, with flavours of peaches, lemongrass, and cotton candy.

Being Demian’s first try at a Canadian wine, we were very grateful for Wendy bringing it down with her, and so was he.  Yay, Wendy!  I love it when people try Canadian wine for the first time.  They always have a look on their faces that reminds me of when Cara saw me play sports for the first time.  Like, “You can run?”

Capitoso, Tempranillo, Rioja, 2009, Spain, $136 MXN (Chedraui)
Rating: One Bottle

Flat.  Meh.  Smuh.

I don’t know what’s going on with Chedraui.  They used to carry decent wines.  Maybe they just aren’t selling enough of the stuff to make it worth consistently bringing in good vino.  Whatever the reason, the last few bottles we’ve tried in the $100 – $200 pesos range have been fairly disappointing.

Next.

Fratelli Pasini, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Mexico, $400 (Cava Veinte33)
Rating: Two-and-a-half Bottle

FP strikes again!  We love this winery.  And not only because it’s in Mexico, but because their wine is so fantastically consistent.  Their wines never disappoint, they are balanced, have all the right characteristics in all the right places, and are not ridiculously expensive.

The Cabernet is a very good, well-rounded wine.  Soft tannins make it a perfect wine for pasta. (And for the fifth bottle of the night.)  Being Wendy’s first taste of Mexican wine, we were very glad it was this one.

Needless to say, everyone was pretty much ready for bed by the time we were finished with our heavy food and copious cups.

I think I will need the rest of this week to rejuvenate.

Until then,

Cheers!

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