Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Old Jailhouse: A "game-changer" restaurant for Sanford, FL

Sanford finally has a breakout, building-block restaurant.

I have lived within a 20-mile radius of Downtown Sanford (FL) for well nigh 30 years and, over that time, have waited patiently for the city to realize the potential inherent in its proximity to the large body of water that is Lake Monroe. The city has a few stable, old-line restaurants, a burgeoning craft beer industry, and some fledgling artisanal restaurants, but nothing that would attract the foodie crowd in the way that Cress did in Deland, or the Ravenous Pig does in Winter Park. Such a restaurant could pull in other farm-to-table type restaurants as they see the viability of the model and seek to compete for the wine and food enthusiasts.

The newly opened Old Jailhouse has the potential to be such an anchor facility. Located at 113 South Palmetto Avenue, in a former Jail and Blacksmith shop, the restaurant offers a mix of Creole, Southern, and Tex Mex dishes. The restaurant is owned by Anthony, Alex, and Maria Sirica.

Prior to its opening, the potential was resident in Chef Bram Fowler, the restaurant's Executive Chef and Director of Operations. For many years Chef Fowler had operated his own restaurant -- Journeys -- which I, at the time, considered to be one of the finest independent restaurants in the Greater Orlando area. His dishes, many reflecting his roots, held a special place in my heart. I, therefore, had great expectations for the restaurant.

Our dear friend Delia Magno was celebrating her birthday on the first weekend that the restaurant was open so we went ahead and snagged a reservation. I was pleased with what I saw both outside and within the restaurant. The outside of the core restaurant is tastefully lit with the soft lights muting the visual effects of the red brick exterior. To the right of the main structure is a well-lit dining area which is open to the elements at the front.

The reception area is external to the restaurant and there is a narrow passageway leading from the entrance to the bar area. The bar is relatively small but is complemented by family-style and couples seating in the area surrounding.

Once you enter the bar area you get a sense of the true size of the restaurant. It is narrow but deep -- and the depth is accentuated by a rear outdoor courtyard. The kitchen is to the right of the passageway leading to the rear of the restaurant, with other seating areas on the right beyond the kitchen.

I mentioned previously that, prior to opening, all of the restaurant's potential (from my perspective) was resident in Chef Bram. Once I saw the layout, the potential expanded to include the setting.

I mentioned that we were celebrating a birthday. Attendees included Parlo, my nephew Alwyn, Chris Magno, Christian Magno, Siobahn Bowman, Theresa Tucci, Rick Richardi, and yours truly.

When the menu first arrived, I took a quick look trying to find some of Chef Bram's (old) signature items. I didn't see any but was not concerned. After all, he was Chef Bram, right?

For appetizers we ordered the Brussels Sprout Petal Salad, Crispy Brussels Sprout and Okra, Oysters Sanford, Roasted Whole Cauliflower, Jailhouse Fries, and Pork Belly. The Creole aspect of the restaurant was on full display in the items we ordered and we were not disappointed in our order. The standouts to me were the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Okra with the crunchy coating on the Okra providing texture which enhanced the slight tanginess of the flavor. The oysters were a rich hearty meal while the fries could be addictive.

Brussels Sprout Petal Salad
(Strawberries, Goat Cheese Medallion, Toasted
Pine Nuts, Berry Vinaigrette)

Oysters Sanford
(Baked Celery Gratin, Gulf Oysters)

Crispy Brussels Sprout and Okra
(Mustard Aioli, Shallots)

For the main courses we ordered the Creole Lamb and the Jailbird. The Lamb was accompanied by a Sweet Potato Hash which I was unsure about prior to tasting it. I thought that the rather heavy Bell Pepper Sauce sauce would do better if contrasted by the Creamy Potato Mash that accompanied The Jailbird. My fears were allayed once I had the first mouthful of the fall-off-the-bone Lamb.

The Jail Bird
(Fire Grilled Half Chicken, Bird's Eye Chili
Sauce, Creamy Potato Mash, House Slaw)

Creole Lamb

Chocolate Brownie

The third element of the restaurant's potential is the food coming out of the kitchen.

The restaurant was packed; and with a millenial crowd. People were still coming in at at 10:45 and when we left, at close to midnight, it was still humming.

The staff will continue to hit their marks as they become more accustomed to working in a high-intensity environment and the passage of time will allow a balancing of product with customers. I think that management left some cocktail money on the table by not building a larger bar but ...

Run, don't walk, to The Old Jailhouse. You will see me there.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Brovia: The hunt for the Unio components

Attendees at the Saturday session of this year's La Festa del Barolo had the pleasure of listening to 14 leading Barolo producers discuss their handling of the difficult 2014 vintage. Alex Sánchez presented on Brovia and, one week after his talk, I was still confused as to the composition of Unio, the estate's sole Barolo offering from the 2014 vintage. Before I detail the points of confusion, let me provide some background on the estate.

Brovia was founded in Castiglione Falletto in 1863 by Giacinto Brovia and wine was produced continuously until the depradations of Phylloxera and two World Wars curtailed activity. Giacinto and Raffaele restarted operations in 1953. Today the business is managed by Giacinto's daughters (Cristina and Elena) and Elena's husband Alex Sánchez.

The estate farms 19.2 ha across the Langhe with 55% of the land devoted to Barolo, 25% to Dolcetto, 10% to Barbera, and 10% to Arneis, Nebbiolo d'Alba, and Freisa. The estate produces five Barolo wines (four cru and a Normale constructed from the youngest vines in the cru vineyards). The sources for the Barolo fruit are shown in the chart below.

In terms of vineyard practices, the estate is farmed organically (no certification) and yield is carefully managed through pruning and cluster-thinning. Soils are analyzed every two years to ensure imbalances have not crept in.

Barolo wines are vinified classically with fermentation periods of 30+ days and aging of at least  years in 30 hL Slavonian and French oak barrels. After bottling (sans filtration), the wine spends 18 - 24 months in bottle prior to release on the market.

Now back to Unio.

The 2014 harvest was difficult for Barolo producers (as I related in my post on the topic). In recounting Brovia's response, I reported that they had created Unio as a blend of their 5 Barolo wines. I had misheard Alex, but as I researched the topic further, I realized that there was a total lack of clarity as to exactly what are the components of Unio.

There are some areas of certainty:
  • Growing conditions were terrible
  • The Suzuki fly exacerbated an already bad situation
  • The family tasted through all of their Barolo lots and decided to sell off 50% of the wine in bulk and make a single wine -- Unio -- from the wines held back.
The confusion comes as to which crus made it into Unio.  Alex is not disposed to reveal that information for fear of disadvantaging some crus vis a vis others in the future.

According to Manuel Burgi, a fellow Barolo lover and attendee at La Festa del Barolo, two crus are included in Unio and he cites as proof a conversation he had with Alex at La Festa and a Producer Comment from Antoni Galloni's Vinous.  According to the Commentary, "The 2014 is a blend of two parcels but the Brovia's prefer not to disclose which two in order not to penalize the image of the other two vineyards for the future."

Ross Morrison, another Barolo lover, contributed that during his visit to Brovia, he was told that Unio was a blend of three crus.

And the hunt was on. I checked on Cellar Tracker and found three users with differing descriptions of the wine components. One of these tasters stated that it was a blend of 4 crus.

Wine Library stated that the wine was made from selected parcels in two cru vineyards and a small amount of their Normale Barolo.  This does not compute as the Normale is drawn from the four cru vineyards.

Manuel, on further research, turned up a piece by Rosenthal Wine Merchants (Brovia's distributor) which stipulated that the wine was made with fruit drawn from the lower sections of the Brea vineyard plus portions from two other crus (Manuel was able to subsequently confirm this with Elena Brovia.).

So that was one question answered. The remaining question was which of the crus was left out of the blend. As I look at the chart above, I see that Villero has the most clay of the soils and, as such, would be the most subject to water retention. This observation is borne out by a statement on "The Villero ... soil, characterized by very low permeability, retains a lot of water, allowing the grapes to maintain a high level of quality even in the driest seasons... "

My thought is that this feature became a bug in 2014, causing the Villero wines to be very dilute and thus kept out of the blend.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

2014 Barolo growing conditions (according to producers attending Galloni's La Festa del Barolo)

I live in Florida so going to last week's La Festa del Barolo was a true testament to my love of the Nebbiolo grape and the artisans who craft it into the wonderful wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. It was 5º when I got off the plane at La Guardia Airport.

Anyway, enough of my griping. La Festa del Barolo is Antonio Galloni's annual paean to the wines and producers of Barolo and Barbaresco in the form of a Gala Dinner (on the Friday night) and a 15-producer Seminar and lunch (on Saturday), both held at Del Posto.  This year's event was expanded to include a Thursday evening Winemaker Dinner with the inaugural event featuring Rinaldi wines.

The seminar was titled 2014 Barolo: Surprise, Surprise ... (a nod to the conditions that prevailed in the region but, against all odds, yielded some quality wines) and featured the following estates and representatives:
  1. Azelia (Lorenzo Scavino)
  2. Massolino (Franco Massolino)
  3. Renato Corino (Stefano Corino)
  4. E. Pira (Chiara Boschis)
  5. Brovia (Alex Sánchez)
  6. Armando Parusso (Marco Parusso)
  7. G.D. Vajra (Aldo Vaira)
  8. Giuseppe Rinaldi (Marta Rinaldi)
  9. Luciano Sandrone (Luciano Sandrone)
  10. Giacomo Conterno (Roberto Conterno)
  11. Elvio Cogno (Valter Fissore)
  12. Fratelli Alessandria (Vittore Alessandria)
  13. G.B. Burlotto (Fabio Alessandria)
  14. Roagna (Luca Roagna)
  15. Vietti (Luca Currado)
Of those listed above, Luca Roagna did not make it to the event.

I will treat the wines tasted at the seminar in a later post but, given the importance of vintage conditions to this year's wines, I wanted to report directly (and separately) on what the producers had to say regarding conditions.

Antonio kicked off the discussion on the vintage. This was a vintage that he had come to like, he said, because he got to see it unfold over the year. It rained every day that he was there during the summer but there was a great end-of-season.

Lorenzo Scavino (shown in a picture below with the Rinaldi sisters and the author post-lunch) said that it was rainy and humid during the Spring and he had not had high hopes for the vintage. It was wet in the vineyards and this made it very difficult to work. His father called in Vineyard Managers and did "severe harvesting," keeping only the best clusters. Production was down 35% over the prior year in the Margheria vineyard.

Stefano Corino said that, initially, the color of the new wine was not intense but 6 months into the aging process, everyone changed their minds. It is skinnier than other vintages but "great parcels make great wines."

Chiara Boschis saw 2014 as a challenging vintage but thought that it produced wines with "very beautiful heart and soul." 2014, she said, reinforced the importance of terroir.

Brovia generally produces four single vineyard wines in a typical year but, given the challenge of 2014, they sold off 50% of the harvest and combined the remaining healthy grapes into a single Barolo wine named Unio.

Aldo Vaira identified three factors that allowed them to make quality wines even under the conditions that 2014 delivered:
  • G.D. Vajra is on the west side of Barolo, where it is relatively windy. This wind allowed them to go to harvest with healthy grapes
  • 2013 had been stressful on the vines so they had pruned less. This helped the vines recover from the 2013 vintage and be better able to battle the 2014 conditions.
  • In the cellar they evolved the wines little by little.
According to Aldo, "2014 was a message about life."

For Marta Rinaldi, 2014 was a difficult year to be an organic farmer. By mid-July they had already done eight treatments. Another storm, but with less hail, came on July 29th. By August 8th, they had applied 10 treatments. That being said, non-Nebbiolo varieties had bigger problems, with Botrytis a constant threat. Alcohol was 1% less than in prior years. With the thinness of the grape skins, they only extracted for 18 days. The wines were poor after fermentation so they did less racking than normal.

Roberto Conterno said that this was one of the latest harvests on record. The last weeks are the most important, however, and, in this case, were excellent. He hearkened back to an old Piemontese saying: "A late vintage is always a great vintage."

For Luca Currado, the surprise for him was that he had fantastic wines even though the weather conditions were very difficult.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme