Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bubbly & Caviar at Four Seasons Aviara

Now that the Black Friday shopping spree is out of the way, it's time to get to what the holidays are really about: spending time with friends eating and drinking - preferably something with bubbles!

You can do both in style at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara this month, as they've come up with some creative ways to make champagne and sparkling wine part of the season. Chef Pierre Abaladejo has created a four course dinner that's being paired with some of Moet et Chandon's finest vintage champagnes including the Dom Perignon 1999. The Dec. 12 dinner is $125 per person and is presented by Aviara's Wine Club. Members pay $180 a year and get to rub shoulders with famous winemakers at exclusive monthly events; they also receive a break on corkage fees, discounts on wines being featured at the events and a complimentary dinner for two at the resort's Northern Italian restaurant Vivace.

If you're in need of some pampering, then head to Aviara's Spa for the decadent Caviar & Champagne Delight. The treatment begins with a caviar-extract back and foot scrub which helps exfoliate and stimulate cellular
rejuvenation. A relaxing body massage with a signature blend of champagne shimmer cream comes next. Afterwards, bliss out in the Relaxation Lounge and sip a glass of Domaine Chandon Brut. The special 50-minute treatment is being offered through early January and costs $175.

If you can't make it to Aviara for inspiration, visit the Domaine Chandon web site for clever ideas on pairing sparkling wine with food, decor and recipes.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine, cuisine and travel, visit and sign up for her free quarterly entertaining newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cotton Candy Cocktails: The Movie

Like most adults, I have this nostalgia about the foods of childhood. I mean how great is it that a simple grilled cheese sandwich, a caramel apple or a cupcake can take you back to happy-go-lucky time of life when you had no idea how complicated being a grownup would be. Cotton candy has just that power, and when combined with some alcohol? Even better!

So when I saw a cotton-candy laced "Magic Mojito" on the menu at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, I knew I had to try it. Beverage Directory Lucas Paya brought over a martini glass filled with a whorl of white cotton candy. As he poured the mojito from a silver shaker, the pouf disappeared, leaving behind the lovely aroma of fresh mint and lime. And rather than being sticky sweet, the drink offered a perfect balance between tart and sweet. The drink sets me to thinking: with say vanilla bean infused sugar and a home cotton candy machine, it wouldn't be difficult to a a frothy vanilla garnish for any cocktail.

Cotton candy, sweet ephemeral stuff that it is, was totally in line with most of the decor in its lovely extravagance. We sat in a glass lined enclosure on a settee covered in a photo printed vinyl. Out front there's a huge $250,000 tea pot sculpture covered in white gold tiles. Digital screens like huge iPhones showed portraits of lords that morphed into monkeys. The Moss boutique next door to Bar Centro features all sorts of deluxe gifts like Fornasetti Themes & Variations plates and the Marc Newson-designed Dom Perignon champagne chiller for a cool grand. Being a light fixture junkie, I was most intrigued by the Fornasetti lamps in the lobby lounge and this giant art glass piece over the long communal table that reminded me of a giant agave. Next time, I'll order tequila

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SLS Hotel: Serious Libations Served

The huge SLS on the far-out Philippe Starck designed hotel that opened in Beverly Hills this week stands for Something Lovely's Started according to their zany cool web site. The SLS site is worth a visit just to see the monkeys swinging on a chandelier.

While sipping drinks at the brand new Bar Centro Tuesday with Beverage Director Lucas Paya, it occurs to me that the SLS should signal Serious Libations Served. Molecular cocktails have really arrived in Southern California, thanks to Paya who worked for Ferran Adria, the Spanish chef who put molecular cooking's gels, airs and foams on the map at his El Bulli. Bar Centro and the adjoining restaurants Rojo and Blanco are all conceived by clever chef Jose Andres, a disciple of Adria's who's decided to expand his Washington DC based empire that includes Minibar, Jaleo and Zaytinya, which happens to be the best modern Greek-Turkish-Lebanese restaurant ever.

The New Way Dirty Martini (above) is quite salty, so be warned. It's crowned with a froth of olive brine air and garnished with a spherification olive, actually made from olives, sodium alginate and calcium chloride in a process explained by Andres at Star Chefs. It bursts in my mouth like a big olive-y sphere of caviar. It's the same trick that won Top Chef's Fabio the second elimination challenge.

But the must-see is the Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinha, that Paya makes table-side on a gleaming silver custom made drink cart. He pours a mix of cachaca, lime and sugar into a stainless steel mixing bowl and then adds a healthy slug of liquid nitrogen, sending a cold fog into the air. The stuff is minus 350 degrees. "It's cold enough to freeze anything, even alcohol," says Paya. I bet it would do the same to your fingers too, though fortunately we do not witness that spectacle. Paya churns the mixture with a metal whisk, starting to struggle after a few minutes as the Caipirinha becomes more and more icy. Finally he's done and he adds a scoop of the sorbet to a glass bowl and garnishes it with leaves of tarragon and edible flower petals. I love the way the flavors of cachaca, lime and sugar and herbs melt over my tongue.

More on the SLS design and some other cocktails next time.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Whole Lotta Champagne

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I love champagne. The stories of the French families making this utterly unique wine, the effervescent moment of opening a new bottle, the romance associated with it make it something that I couldn't imagine living without. Even now!

No, now I'm just becoming a smarter champagne shopper, seeking out finely crafted wines made by small family grape growers and winemakers in the Champagne region. Discovering if you like a particular champagne house's style can be a bit of a challenge. But Le Grande Champagne tasting this Saturday Nov. 22 at The WineSellar & Brasserie offers a deliciously efficient way to sample a whole lotta champagne and sparkling wine in just one afternoon.

They'll be poppin' open some exclusive bottles including Bollinger La Grande Annee 1999 ; Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1999; and Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or 1998 that comes in an unusual black bottle rippled with round grooves. It so happens that Msr. Feuillatte was in love with an operatic diva who adored black pearls. He created the bottle as an homage to his love.

A few of the more boutiquey bubblies include the Henriot Brut Souverain
and Billecart Salmon Brut Rose, which is at the moment my favorite rose champagne on earth. It's a lusty and rich rose abundant with plum and earthy notes and quite up to the task of being paired with a juicy rib-eye or New York steak.
The $75 tasting, which includes bubbly-friendly snacks, runs from 2 to 4 p.m. or 4 to 6 p.m. at the WineSellar, 9550 Waples St. Suite 115 in Mira Mesa. For more information, call 858.450.9557.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Organic" Wines for Thanksgiving

Ever wondered why it's hard to find a wine labeled "organic" or what "made with organically grown grapes" means?

When it comes to apples or pumpkins, organic means they're grown without any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. But when it comes to grapes used to make wine, it's not so simple. Even though quite a number of wineries grow grapes without any pesticides or chemical fertilizers, they can't quite call their wines organic. The reason? The way government wine standards are written, only those wines made without any added sulfites -- a naturally occurring preservative needed to stabilize the wine -- can be called organic. There's lots of info on organic and biodynamic wines and plenty international vino on offer (natch) at The Organic Wine Company.

So, until the law changes, most American green wines are labeled "made with organically grown grapes."

Wondering what to drink with your hormone-free turkey? Here are some eco-friendly wines to check out:

2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Sparkling Wine The first and only American sparkling wine made from organically grown grapes, the Jeriko Brut is a blanc de blancs made solely from chardonnay grapes grown in Mendocino County. It's elegant, crisp and luxurious.

2005 Bonterra Vineyards Viognier This white varietal most often found in France's northern Rhone is beloved for its lush character that's a blend of apricots, white flowers and honey. This one crafted from Mendocino County grapes is oaked so it's got a hint of vanilla too.

2005 Grgich Hills Estate Merlot This merlot made from Napa fruit has lots of personality with flavors of plums and cocoa and balanced tannins.

Mike Grgich, whom I met last fall when he visited the Hotel Del Coronado, is probably the nation's senior statesman when it comes to making wines from naturally grown grapes. He started doing things that way back in his native Croatia and never found a good reason to stop. He's most famous for making the 1972 Chateau Montalena chardonnay that beat out France's best white Burgundies in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. The story of Grgich's fervent quest to come to America and make good wine in George Taber's book is so inspiring, it will make you want to discover what his wines are about.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Farm-Fresh Urban Eats at Crescent Heights

San Diego has some great restaurants serving fresh and beautiful farm-to-table cuisine. The only drawback is that most are in La Jolla or Del Mar - and I live in central San Diego. So I was so excited to discover Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge a chic new downtown restaurant where I can have a meal that shows off the best of the season without driving for half an hour.

It's owned by a cute young couple named David and Mariah McIntyre. He was the kitchen manager for Wolfgang Puck for 10 years, working at Spago and the newish steakhouse CUT; she has a background in design. Together they've created a restaurant that's clean and modern yet still warm and inviting with expanses of wood and an earthy color scheme. I especially like the lounge behind the bar, which fronts on a huge picture window showing a stainless steel prep area.

David shows a real talent for turning that seasonal produce into subtle and well balanced dishes and making them beautiful too. Every time I've eaten there, I've had the urge to take a few pictures before digging in. The burrata salad (at top), made from creamy mozzarella ringed by prosciutto, sweet baby beets, the last summer tomatoes and a pistou was just as delicious as it looked. My next visit, I ordered the salad Lyonnaise, you know the one with the poached egg, frisee lettuce and juicy pork lardons? It was the most refined and stunning version I've ever had. I also loved the just-right accompaniments on the cheese plate: perfectly toasted bread, honey comb, candied Marcona almonds and apricot compote.

At their opening party a few weeks ago, they showed off lots of little bites: Kobe burgers on brioche buns, tuna tartare, marinated lamb skewers and their tangy yuzu citrus scented cocktails. But the one taste I'm pining for is the chocolate hazelnut ganache tart served in a chocolate crust and topped with sea salt.

Crescent Heights is busy for lunch, but dinnertime is when you can have a luxurious meal and lots of attention from the professional servers. And the side-benefit of going for dinner is all the free street parking available for the asking.

Crescent Heights is at 655 Broadway Suite 150 San Diego 92101 phone 619 450-6450. Lunch and dinner daily, closed Sunday.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit