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September 01, 2008
Chef Allen's Modern Seafood Bistro  by BeBe King
Chef Allen’s Modern Seafood Bistro Chef Allen is continuing his wonderful Wine Down Wednesdays, the occasional Wednesday on which he features wines from a single vineyard paired with a four course menu of dishes he creates to match the wines. We enjoyed a happy evening sampling wines from Yalumba, one of the première vineyards in the Barossa region of Australia. It was established in 1849 by Samuel Smith and six generations later his descendants are still proud owners of this, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery. Barossa is one of the only premium viticulture regions not ravaged by phylloxera in the 1800s. As a result, Yalumba possesses vines planted as long ago as 1889, making them among the oldest grapevines in the world. Yalumba has received international awards for its sustainable practices, including the Climate Protection Award from the United State Environmental Protection Agency and the United Kingdom’s Green Apple Award for Best Practices, both in 2007. So in addition to providing delicious wines, they are in tune with the modern trend toward sustainable viticulture which protects our environment.

Our evening began with glasses of the lush Yalumba “Y” Series Viognier 2007 with its notes of apricots and flowers. With it we were served four hors d’oeuvres: Grape Tomatoes with Mini Mozzarella Balls and Basil, Roasted Medjool Dates with Proscuito, Shrimp on a Potato Gaufrette (chip) and Grilled Steak and Red Bell Pepper. The same wine was served with the first course of a Stone Crab Cake with Orange-Fennel Remoulade and Green Apple Chutney. The crab cakes were mostly crab with very little filler, just as they should be, and the sauce was a subtle and delicious riff on the traditionally more robust remoulade.

The second course was Crisp Duck Confit with Giant Lima Bean Cassoulet and a bread crumb crust. The limas were indeed giant, easily an inch and a half across, and they were a perfect foil for the richness of the duck. With this dish we were served our favorite wine of the evening, Yalumba Barossa Shiraz + Viognier 2005. The shiraz is grown on vines that are 30-50 years old and are augmented with what the vineyard’s brochure describes as “an added splash of Viognier”. The result is a complex and delicious wine.

The main course was Wood Roasted Lamb Steak with Yuca Steak Fries, Haricot Verts and Poached Garlic Red Wine Glaze. When we first entered the restaurant, the chef must have been creating that delightful glaze, for the dining room was perfumed by the scents of garlic and wine – a true appetite stimulant. The lamb was cooked to the perfect degree of rareness and the sauce and crisp yuca fries and beans were ideal accompaniments. The wine for this course was Yalumba “Hand Picked” MGS 2005, one of Yalumba’s different and delightful mixtures, which are produced in small quantities. In this case, the combination is 50% Mourvèdre, 23% Grenache and 21% Shiraz. The result is a complex wine with spicy notes and smooth tannins.

Dessert was Cardamom Spiced Pear Charlotte with Guava and Pine Nut Ice Cream. The charlotte was very nice, brimming with whipped cream, but the ice cream was extraordinary. We were perplexed to understand what created the crystallized crunch in it until Chef Allen told us that the pine nuts were made into a brittle before being crushed and added to the flavorful and silky ice cream. Our dessert wine was Yalumba Galway Pipe Port NV. We appreciate the glories of port and this was an excellent one, but with this dessert we might have preferred a lighter late harvest vintage rather than a fortified wine.

In October and November Chef Allen’s offers a three course Bistro Spice Menu for $36 per person, with a pairing of three wines for an additional $25. On Tuesdays only, a special feature is a Lobster Bake, so of course we went again on a Tuesday.

For our first course, we chose salads: a classic Crisp Romaine Hearts with Creamy Caesar, Lemon and a Garlic Crouton, as well as Feta Cheese, Red and Gold Beets with Arugula and Sour Orange. Both were delicious. A third appetizer was offered: Conch Mixto Ceviche with Grouper, Shrimp, Calamari and Lime Cilantro. The wine pairing for this course was Huber, Grüner Veltliner, Austria 2007, which was light and fruity.

Next, of course, we had Steamed Maine Lobster with Clams, Chorizo, Root Vegetables, Sweet Corn and Drawn Butter. The lobster was perfectly cooked, sweet and succulent. The combination of the spicy chorizo sausage with the clams and vegetables was splendid. An excellent Chardonnay, Yalumba, “Unwooded” South Australia 2007 was served with the lobster or we could have chosen a “337” Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi 2006. [Allow us a momentary meditation on eating lobster: This summer we went to a restaurant up north for a Maine Lobster special, which could be served either in or out of its shell. To our mind, part of the delight of eating this marvelous crustacean is the challenge of wrestling ever iota of meat out of the knuckles, sucking those tasty morsels out of the legs and winkling a few shreds from under the carapace. Having the kitchen remove the meat from your lobster is for wimps!]

For dessert we had three choices: Pineapple, Mixed Berry and Macadamia Nut Cobbler with Dulce de Leche Ice Cream or Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulée with Tropical Fruit Salsa and Fresh Berries or Buttermilk Chocolate Pudding Cake with Caramelized Almond Crisps and Orange Compote. We chose the first two, which were an excellent coda to a delectable meal. Since we were celebrating a birthday, we were treated to an extra dessert, delicious chocolate mousse triangles in hard chocolate crusts and a dollop of whipped cream. The dessert wine was Marenco, “Scrapona” Moscato d’Asti 2007. As readers of our reviews will know, Moscato is our favorite dessert wine; one would swear it was distilled from peaches rather than grapes.

Somehow the new décor at Chef Allen’s gives the impression of a much larger space. The glass bricks behind the bar have disappeared, thus merging the two main dining areas into one generous space. The glass wall still separates the kitchen from the rear dining area, as it always has, but one is now aware of it from the moment one enters the front door. It is always amazing to see what wonderful dishes emerge from that quite small space.

So, change is good this year. After more than two decades of popularity among the cognosenti, Chef Allen’s has been reinvented and is better than ever. We who appreciate the unvarying quality we find there need not fear that the changes will do anything but increase our admiration for Allen Susser’s creativity and hospitality.

PS: Chef Allen talks of resuming his Food for Thought women’s lunches. The talks, cooking classes and wine seminars (and of course the food) that were the hallmark of these lunches have been sadly missed since they ended a couple of years ago. We’ll be there when they return. If you, too, are interested, go to the website and sign up for the newsletter and you’ll receive monthly advisories on all up-coming events.

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