I’m going to start crafting reviews again with Avery simple premise: brutal honesty.
Dining out in Australia is expensive. The service is universally poor to average. And generally the attention to detail missing. I’m not talking about your run of the mill local diner here. I’m talking about places with $20 starters, $35-40 mains and wine lists with extreme inflation and little elasticity. I’m talking about $120 to $150 min per person.
It’s also critical I think to rate relative to other establishments in its class and the overall service promise. In short, you should be getting what you are paying for an then some.
Roberts is in the Hunter Valley – it’s the opposite of the modernist dining scene and one such place. More River cottage with a modern menu. It’s quick to market itself as the high-end of the high-end. The food is good. Not great. Just good. And with flaws.
My ocean sea trout was full of bones. A Pea Velouté lacked enough soup or seasoning. The soufflé was clearly pre-made and dry as a bone – the chocolate burnt. The macaroons equally stale.
Service errors abounded. No sparkling water – they’d sold out. What? They had three Sav Blancs on the menu – the most economical of which was sold out at $50 a bottle leaving its two neighbors at $80 and $105. I don’t mind tap water, but filter it. Don’t forget the vegetables due with the mains. Or the post dinner tea. Bring a spoon with Velouté.
They kindly offered complimentary deserts to make up for a messy meal service and the lost veges — but barely got that right.
Basic stuff. Such expectation is created by the restauranteur. It’s time the people delivering the service and cooking the food closed the gap.
Earlier in the day we enjoyed lunch at The Verandah – enjoyable tapas and creative cooking. Great stopping-off point if you are out and about in the Valley.
Cafe Enzo proved great for breakfast. Terrific breakfast board and creative twists – cheeses and pesto, for instance. Campos coffee – Yum. Good service. What’s not to like. $130 for four was a bit steep but we did get lots and it was well presented.
Roberts: Fine Dining: 2.5 out of 5
The Verandah: Brasserie: 3.5 out of 5
Cafe Enzo: Cafe: 4 out of 5
The difference between a cup of coffee from these new style coffee bars and what was available before is striking.
These shops use only beans that have been roasted in the past 10 days (though some say two weeks is fine), so the flavors are still lively.
The beans are ground to order for each cup. Certain coffee bars have a skyline of grinders: one for espresso, one for decaffeinated espresso, one for brewed coffee. If they offer more than one variety of espresso bean, that gets its own grinder, too.
Milk is steamed to order for each macchiato or latte. A telltale sign is an arsenal of smaller steam pitchers, instead of one big one.
And coffee bars reaching for the highest rung use only manual espresso machines run by baristas who, in the past three years, have been able to attend classes given by the leading roasting companies in the intricacies of these devices. Many chain stores are turning to automatic machines with preset levels for coffee, temperature and timing.
Most folks living in, or visiting for that matter, Silicon Valley head to Napa to sample wines and enjoy the scenery. Most are oblivious to Ridge Winery, nestled in the hills above the Valley – about 45 minutes from San Jose.
Here’s a terrific article that might inspire you to head-up to the tasting room and take in the stunning views.
If you’re looking to make a patriotic statement with your wine choice this Thanksgiving, here’s a suggestion: Give thanks to Ridge Vineyard’s Paul Draper by drinking one of his wines. Draper, 70, is arguably the greatest winemaker America has ever produced. Ridge’s Monte Bello, produced in a vineyard high above Silicon Valley, has been the iconic American cabernet sauvignon for nearly four decades now and is widely considered the equal of Bordeaux’s first growths. Draper almost single-handedly turned zinfandel, a nonentity of a grape not so long ago, into a serious, agreeable wine. He also makes some of the finest California chardonnays on the market. But it often seems that Draper is more appreciated in Europe than he is at home. This Thanksgiving, it’s worth giving the deity his due….
John Kapon, the president of Acker Merrall & Condit, the New York-based wine auction house and retailer, put it rather emphatically in an e-mail:
There is no question that Draper and Ridge, as well as others like Randy Dunn, Bo Barrett to name a couple, are underappreciated/overlooked in the context of American wine and its history. The cult wines have been getting all the hype and attention but many of them crack up after 5 or 7 years in the bottle… . Hype sometimes wins over substance, but the real winners will be those who let wines like Ridge stay in their cellar!
Ridge, like its other Valley counterparts are massively underappreciated wineries.
- Great list of wine blogs in the WSJ:
- If you are into wine, also check out Hal’s podcast over at Porthos. The latest reveals the secrets of Silver Oak – “The Silver Oak ownership team of Tim and David Duncan reveal their “secret to success” crafting the #1 Collector Cabernet in America and the highly rated Silver Oak “Twomey” Merlot rated #1 by Robert Parker last year. Listen now to discover intriguing information about the history of Silver Oak, the inspiration for Twomey, and a few surprising revelations about the lengths some thirsty Silver Oak fans will go to acquire this renowned wine.”
- I also like Spitton, 101 Cookbooks, A Nice Cuppa, bainbridge on Wine, and Wine Spectator Online, of course…
- Wait, there is more from James:
My fave Valley restaurant has got a blog. And they just picked-up two Michelin stars.
Manresa is the proud recipient of two Michelin stars in the newly released Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country 2007. “This is a tremendous honor,” said David Kinch. “In 30 years of working in restaurants, Michelin has always been my bible when traveling. To be in it is a big deal because it’s read and respected worldwide.” Manresa is among only four restaurants in the Bay Area to receive two Michelin stars while The French Laundry is the only Bay Area restaurant to win three stars.