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Friday, July 23, 2010

Red Hot Fare at Blue Lemon

Red Hot Fare at Blue Lemon:
Wine Dinner Wows Discerning Palates
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – Friendly chatter. White tablecloths. Nicely dressed crowd. Bouncing reggae music in the background. Pastel walls adorned with playful artwork… A fine setting for “A Night with The Blue Lemon” as this Westport-based wine dinner was billed.

Set at Blue Lemon Restaurant at 7 Sconset Square in downtown Westport, the evening promised fine wines paired with fine foods.

“We’re going to go on a culinary and wine journey to Southern Australia,” said Tony Reynolds, a representative of 2FlyWines, CT-based distributors of the wines that were to be enjoyed during the event. Co-hosting the evening was Black Bear Wine and Spirits of Westport, devoted carriers of the 2Fly brands.

“We’re here to have a good time. Let’s consider ourselves starting,” announced Reynolds, officially commencing the festivities.

Reynolds was the lone salesman for 2Fly when the company was founded and had initiated the planning of the evening. He first heard of Black Bear through an area friend who urged him to pay a visit to the shop. He did and met Ethan Epstein, the manager, who, in turn, introduced him to Black Bear’s owner, Gerard Iulo.

“I was impressed by Tony’s knowledge and professionalism… He’s very fluent in the wines,” said Iulo.

“2Fly is very boutique-like and its owner, Chris Didden, is very hands-on. We started tasting -- and liking -- the wine and now we stock up to 10 brands. I also like how the brands incorporate grapes from other countries.”

As an example of the latter, Epstein cited Black Minnow, a Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec from Minnow Creek Wines. Reynolds explained, “It uses the Sangiovese grape, Cabernet and Malbec, giving it the sweetness of the ‘Sanj’, backbone of the Cab and a rounded finish from the Malbec. And what a reasonable price.”

Tonight’s experience was custom created to form a marriage between the cuisine and wine. “Ethan and I picked out the wines, I sent them to chef/owner Bryan Malcarney and he created the meals to match,” said Reynolds.

The starter appetizer was a shrimp and scallop ceviche with fresh lime juice, plum tomato, Bermuda onion and avocado, with fried plantain chips on the side. It was paired with a 2009 Pertaringa “Scarecrow” Sauvignon Blanc. The brand featured a wonderful taste blend of Granny Smith applies, kiwi fruit and citrus blossoms, delivering intense tropical fruits, nuances of cut grass and complex minerals.

“I really like this… very refreshing,” said attendee Janice, an executive at a state-based bottled waters company.

“She usually likes a Chardonnay,” chimed in her sister, Beth Schneider, a CPA, who was sitting beside her.

The two are members of Black Bear’s Wine Club. Members receive three varying bottles of wine per month – “a nice surprise” commented Janice. “The goal of the Club,” said Epstein, “is to expand people’s palate.” With amusement, he added, “And members also get in-store purchase and wine dinner discounts by using our V.I.B. (Very Important Bear) card.”

Reynolds, dressed in khakis and blue dress shirt with a yellow patterned tie, rose to his feet again to signal the second course and pairing. The cuisine: poached monkfish over arugula and endive salad with homemade goat cheese and green apple vinaigrette. The wine: a 2008 Brookman’s Chenin Blanc. A crisp wine showing aromas of green apples, citrus blossoms, lychee and mango, the brand comes from a cool climate in which the grapes slow ripen and are hand-picked to deliver intense flavor.

The servings were driving away the tensions of the day, which included parkway traffic that Janice had experienced. However, the noise volume in the restaurant, as it tends to do at functions of this nature, was increasing as conversations erupted all around.

“We’re going to start donating to various charities a percentage of our first weekend sales every month,” announced Denise Iulo, wife of Black Bear’s owner, at the head table. The lean, stylish brunette, who was dressed in black, handles marketing for the wine shop, and the charity effort was her brainchild.

The lights dimmed as large glasses of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo were delivered. A rich wine with dominant plum jam and crushed blackcurrant flavors, the velvety Cab filled the palate with a savory earthiness and fruit-driven dark chocolate finish. The latter was paired with an empanada stuffed with braised lamb and Oaxacan red mole. Reynolds remarked that the empanada, which looked like a shepherd’s pie from his native Oxford, England, was a “street food hanging out in an upscale neighborhood.” No slight at all against the food, which was outstanding… just a keen observation.

“Excellent pairing!” remarked Denise aloud, nodding and sipping the Cab.

“Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages,” interrupted Reynolds. He spoke about the wine and then the food selection – “really a Mexican Cornish Pastie,” he said, fine-tuning his earlier comparison.

The two dozen folks that were gathered in the room were looking a bit red-cheeked at this point, and highly anticipated the next course: grilled medallion of filet mignon with risotto of sweet corn and poblano pepper with port wine reduction. The wine: Brookman’s 2008 “Silver Block” Shiraz, a fine vintage from the McLaren Vale vineyard of southern Australia.

“Wow… unbelievable!” said Claire Van Brunt, with much delight after tasting the wine selection. A Tempe, AZ resident but currently residing in Bridgeport and assisting at a homeless shelter there, the brunette, in a white summer dress, was very excited about the event, which, unfortunately, was nearing a close.

Chef Malcarney busied himself in the kitchen preparing the last course of the evening: peach raspberry crisp with homemade almond ice cream. On square white plates lined up on a counter in the restaurant’s narrow kitchen, Malcarney carefully placed the crisp, added a scoop of the ice cream and topped it with mint leaves. He worked quickly and efficiently, demonstrating the formal training he had received at New York’s French Culinary Institute and showing why Blue Lemon had earned rave reviews from the press.

Credit Bryan’s wife, Tamsen, for enhancing the restaurant’s reputation – she designed the interior, with intimacy in mind, and curious blue sconces. One would think that the sconces were what inspired the restaurant name, but according to the Chef, the name was randomly suggested by Tamsen at a family brunch.

The wine pairing for this delectable dessert was a 2007 Two Gentlemens Grenache. With a bright ruby color, this revealing luscious red exhibited fruity tones of cherry, strawberry and raspberry as well as white peppery spice.

Reynolds generously poured at the head table, while taking a moment to be a self-described “wine geek.” He noted the Grenache’s “smooth legs”, which elicited titters from Beth and Janice, who were clearly enjoying themselves.

“Do not go away without realizing you’ve tasted some exceptional wines…” concluded Reynolds in his final address to the gathering, “in a place that you may not have known before. It’s been a great night!” Reynolds swirled the contents of his glass, held it aloft and was humbled by the warm – shall we say ‘True Blue’ – applause from thankful patrons.

Blue Lemon Restaurant is located at 7 Sconset Square, Westport, CT. For more information and details about “Anguilla Night”, a celebration of Caribbean cuisine to be held at Blue Lemon on August 17th, visit or call 203-226-2647.