30 March 2016

March 2016 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - Rum Party

Well, I didn't really travel for this blog entry, except down one flight of steps to our downstairs neighbor's loft. But the event was worth blogging about.

Our friends Jeanette and Alanta invited us to a rum tasting party on Saturday. Eight folks attended and I was surprised at the intellectual banter that surrounded the six dark rum tastings. Not really surprised, but just had not thought about it too much, and there was a lot to drink and think about.
Mike and I are loyal Myer's rum fans. When we first met, Mike introduced me to that brand. Before that I drank boring Bacardi's light. Now we only wander elsewhere under duress, when a bar does not stock Myer's. Yes, we are rum snobs, if it is not Myer's. Maybe not so much after today though.

We started the evening with a Gosling's Cuba Libre cocktail (rum served with Coke and a lime wedge). Mike and I secretly turned up our noses a bit. Not bad, just not the taste we love and adore. After that it was pure tasting in miniature tasting cups. A new cup for each brand. How elegantly "pure" was that!!

The first tasting shot was the same as above--Gosling's Black Seal Bermuda Rum (priced $21 per 750ml and 96 points with Wine Enthusiast). It was smoother than we expected, not too spicy (like a Captain Morgan's which I abhor) and with a touch of almond background.  It was paired with raw almonds, which might have "encouraged" the hint of almond.

Next was our current fave, Myer's Rum Original Dark from Jamaica (priced at $23 and 89 points with Beverage Testing Institute). We contributed this bottle, of course. Mike and I usually order this Cuba Libre, but drinking it without a mix was way different. It was not as smooth as the Gosling's. I would not recommend this one straight. Quite alcoholy, but mildly sweet. This was paired with dark chocolate, which seemed to smooth it out a bit.

Third was British West Indies Pyrat XO Reserve (priced at $27 and 96 points with WE). For me this had more of a whiskey like flavor and my least favorite. It did have a hint of orange and maybe that contributed to the problem for me. I like oranges, but not orange-flavored things. This was served with Cheetos, a play on the color, I guess, but a fun match. Wondered why a Buddha is on the label. Also, Patron is a "sister" brand of Pyrat. I definitely would rather have the tequila.

Kraken Black Spiced Rum brand was next. It is a mix of Caribbean island rums (priced at $16 and not rated). It comes in a jug-handled bottle, has the motto "Put a Beast in your Belly," and logo of a menacing giant squid on the label. It has a vanilla after taste that I really liked. A&J nicely paired this with a wonderful brie and cracker. Alanta thought it would also be wonderful mixed into egg nog.

The last two did not have, nor did they need, a food pairing. Next was Zaya Rum from Trinidad.($26 and rated 89 with BTI). BevMo says " Double Gold Medal winner at 2005 San Francisco Spirits Competition. Distilled in small copper pots to achieve greater complexity and matured for 12 years in oak barrels." This was smooth enough to drink as a sipping rum.

Our last tasting was  Diplomatico (green bottle) from Venezuela ($50 and 94 points with Anthony Dias Blue 2013 rating). It was the smoothest of the day, silky even. Had hints of brown sugar (rather than molasses or sugar cane) and not spicy. No burn whatsoever. This was the favorite for seven out of eight in the group.

Along the way we also munched on delish mini BBQ pork sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, and a nice selection of fresh veggies and dip. Our last rummy drink was Myer's mixed with pineapple juice. It went well with the homemade rum ball cookies and rum cake we had for dessert. And we all got a little carry out of those sweets, which "paired" well with our Easter Sunday morning coffee.

Today turned the rum tide a bit for us. It was interesting to try some new brands. Tasting the difference between them on a raw (no mix) basis was intriguing. I'm still a huge fan of Myer's, but if I'm going to sip a straight shot of rum, I'd go with Diplomatico. And ... can't wait to try some Cuban rums when they are available in the U.S.

16 March 2016

3/16/2016 MICHIGAN Plymouth - Italian Food Run

After our trip to Italy last year, we are often disappointed when trying to buy the Italian products we discovered there. We've gone to G.B. Russo's in Grand Rapids (an hour's drive) which is wonderful (and we have blogged about it in the past), but we wanted to try something new. 
Recently Lynn (of Lynn and Sandy, long time friends and Italy trippers with us last fall) has an Italian barber named Frank, who suggested Cantoro's Italian Market & Trattoria. They have two locations--Plymouth and Livonia, Michigan. We asked Steve and Karen (the other two Italy trippers from our fall trip) and L&S to join us at the Plymouth Market for lunch, shopping, and reminiscing. L&S could not make it, but Steve and Karen were all in.
We thought it would be good to eat before shopping, so that we would not buy out the store. We started at the pleasant Italian decorated Trattoria for lunch and were seated by the fireplace. Three had prosecco and Steve went for the cappuccino. There were so many good options on the menu, we had a hard time choosing.

We shared a Caprese salad with the most wonderful heirloom tomatoes and fresh bufalo mozzarella cheese. Then we each ordered a different pizza: 1) radicchio, Kalamata olive, tapenade, Scamorzza cheese; 2) grilled artichoke pesto, thyme, mint, scallions, chives,garlic, mozzarella; 3) Margherita (tomato / mozzarella / basil); and 4) San Danielle prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, arugula dressing, pesto. Each was 12" in diameter and delicious. We all had some to take home for later.

As we ate, two folks came in and they were getting a lot of attention from the restaurant staff and other employees from the market. Lots of smiles and back pats and hand shaking. It turns out they are the owners of the market, Mario and Pat Fallone. Mario was born in San Elia, Italy, and in the 1950s came to America. In Detroit he got his feet wet in the grocery industry and has owned Cantoro's for almost 50 years.
The couple had been traveling from Florida to their home in Michigan and stopped by their restaurant and market on the way. We said we were from Kalamazoo and were really enjoying our meal and were also looking forward to shopping. They were quite gracious and seemed like a very happy couple.

We chatted about our visit last fall to northern Italy, and that Mike and I were returning to see Rome on south to Positano this fall. We talked about food and Italy and G.B. Russo's. Mario said he was good friends with Phil Russo and to tell him "Hi!" next time we were there.

We got back to our meal and let them eat in peace. But a few minutes later our waitress presented a cheese, cold cuts, onion salsa, and olive assortment. Mario and Pat had treated us to this very special plate, which is not on the menu. There was chunky Parmesan, cheese with truffle bits, excellent cured meats, and more. We felt like we were back in Italy at a wine tasting or dinner. The quality was top shelf. Our waitress said that she loved working there because that was just the wonderful kind of people the Fallone's were.

On the way out, we stopped at their table to offer our greatest gratitude. All of the food was spectacular and the special plate was a real treat. As we chatted a bit more, the owner of Celani Family Vineyards stopped by the table. He is from Napa and had opened his winery the year after we left California, so we never had the chance to visit. He gave us his card and said to stop by if we ever made it out that way again.

Honestly I could have chatted with them all afternoon. We did find out that Mario and Pat will be in Sorrento about the time we will be there. So maybe our paths will cross again and we can continue the conversation.

At some point we had to get on with shopping at the market, and what a market! There is a hand-made gelato stand, an in-house bakery, a colorful fresh produce market, a huge cheese counter, an even "huge-er" meat counter, a deli counter with scores of ready made salads and dishes, a condiment bar, an olive bar, a fresh pasta counter, an extensive wine selection, and an enormous assortment of canned and packaged goods. Upstairs was a kitchen gadget and Italian accessories store. I just know I am forgetting to mention some other areas. 

Among our purchases were sun-dried tomatoes, fresh bufalo mozzarella, olives from the bar, Jordan wedding almonds, wine (one Celani and one Olim Bauda from a winery we had visited last fall), balsamic vinegar, muscato grapes, roasted garlic, ciabatta bread, fresh basil, purple artichokes (first time to try these), biscotti, Marcona Spanish almonds, fresh linguini, and more. To top it off, we brought home the best-we-ever-had traditional cannoli (no chocolate, just custard and sliced almonds). Ahhh, so good...

As we checked out, I saw this sign. It says "Life is too short to eat and drink poorly! Good-bye from Cantoro's." That was our sentiment exactly and a fitting farewell.
It was definitely worth the 2-hour each way drive and we will definitely return whenever we are in the area.

To Mario and Pat, what a wonderful experience. Five-star all around. Grazie and ciao!