Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stormy mix turns to "Champagne skies" for Veuve Clicquot CYC Race to Mackinac

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Monroe Station, Chicago-What started as a morning of intense storms and flooding segued into a day of sun-drenched, blue-skied splendor as the 102nd running of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, presented by Veuve Clicquot got under way.

The start went off without a hitch in spite of the soggy weather, but some of the more than 350 boats left the starting line lighter than expected, because some of their crewmembers failed to make the start of the race due to transportation problems caused by flooding. “Several boats had crew due to arrive from Michigan that morning, “ said Race Coordinator Amanda Matta. “Due to flooding on the tracks, trains were shut down and they were unable to make the race.”

With unpredictable wind and weather conditions lying await along the 333 mile route across Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island, some of the skippers may be grateful for the lighter than expected load.

The intense weather caused this reporter to almost miss the departure of the last press boat to leave Monroe Station for the starting line. Taking a daring leap off the dock and landing with paratrooper precision on the afterdeck of the Soggy Dollar out of Diversy Harbor, I made it just in time to witness the last three starts of the day, which featured some of the biggest and most colorful boats in the race.

Skipper Mike Ramo welcomed me aboard and instantly regaled me with the tale of the story behind the name the “Soggy Dollar.”

The boat is named for our favorite bar in the Bahamas. There are no docks there, so you have to tie tour boat up to a buoy, stick a few dollars in your trunks and swim to the bar on shore. They hang a clothesline outside where they pin the dollars up to dry. Hence the name. It just seemed like a good idea to name the boat for it!”

The Heineken, Mount Gay and Veuve Clicquot flowed amongst the motley crew of writers, photographers and hangers-on as we made our way to the yellow inflated buoys that comprised the starting line. As the gun went off at ten- minute intervals, the crews went their maneuvers with almost military precision, rounding up and dropping sail to eject a plume of color in the form of a spinnaker sail. They glided off into the horizon, with images of the Trump Tower and the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier fading into the distance. It was a glorious start to one of the most historic and legend-filled races in all regatta history.

Weather remained a factor over the several days of the race. The public could track the boats on their laptops by going to

The Palm New York& Chicago Summer Lobster Festival-The Biggest Catch!

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The (original)Palm New York

837 Second Avenue

New York,New York 100017


The Palm Chicago


323 East Wacker Drive

Chicago,Illinois 60601


There is no more decadent guilty pleasure on a hot summer night than consuming a humongous grilled live Maine lobster. Notice I said "grilled" and not steamed,because grilling unlocks the true, luscious flavor of this most prized of all crustaceans.

That is exactly how they are prepared at The Palm restaurants and why I made it my first stop on a dining tour of New York's oldest and most celebrated steak and seafood houses.

In virtually ever city where The Palm is located, the restaurant has managed to insinuate itself into the local dining culture as a culinary landmark. That is not without good reason.The clubby atmosphere,no nonsense presentation and pristine meat and fish prepared to meticulous perfection by seasoned chefs,makes The Palm a real standout among its imitators.

With that in mind, a pilgrimage to the original edition on Second Avenue in New York on the first night of summer was a must for this gustatory ranger and his posse of hungry recent middle and high school grads in town for a celebratory graduation gift tour of the Big Apple.

"Wow!" Was the collective exclamation as our white-jacketed waiter placed a giant platter in the center of the table and ceremoniously removed the silver plated warming dome to reveal a sizzling,crimson six pound lobster. The hammer sized claws drooped over the edge of the plate and the split surface of the tail revealed the fluffy,tantalizing flesh encased within. This was a daunting dining task, even for a couple of ever-hungry teens,one of them a still-growing would-be WNBA star and supermodel, the other, an aspiring doctor.

With the online announcement that The Palm restaurants nationwide would be continuing a specially priced lobster festival for the remainder of the summer, I decided it was time to do a folo-up and get up close and personal with one of the deep water Atlantic beasts in the subterranean kitchen of The Palm Swissotel Chicago.

Executive Chef Scott Schmitz emerged from the gleaming stainless steel refrigeration unit hoisting a huge six pound beauty that had been caught off the coast of Nova Scotia less than a day before.

"We get all of our lobsters flown in fresh every day from Nova Scotia because we have an exclusive contract with Clearwater, the leading supplier of sustainable seafood. The lobsters here at The Palm average 4-6 pounds and are among the largest you will find in any restaurant.

"We try to kil them as humanely as possible,first splitting it open at the base of the head and then removing the claws and slitting it along the underbelly of the tailbone.We then remove the intestinal track and internal organs,which are inedible, and then spread it open to reveal the tamale.This is a male.You can tell by the thinner,pointed tail."

Most restaurants that I know steam their lobsters,but Chef Schmitz doesn't recommend the practice."Its a slow,agonizing death.The way we do it here at The Palm is much more humane.Its also important that we don't get attached to them and give them names and start treating them like pets because they're going to be on somebody's plate within 48 hours of their arrival here."

The cooking process is simple:

"After we dress the lobster we pour on a bit of half and half to give it a nice,moist creamy texture and we add some seasoning (a house secret) before putting it in the broiler under high heat for about 6-7 minutes. Then we let it rest in the fridge for a while before heating it up again and presentoing it to you sizzling hot at your table."

Chef Schmitz displayed the finmished product with the prideful smile of a sport fisherman displaying his prized catch.

During my dinner at The Palm Manhattan, I recall splitting open one of the giant claws while downing a glass of Ferari Carano Chardonnay from Sonoma ($28). It was the perfect ending to a marvelous day of sightseeing. Having a champion-sized lobster was icing on the cake.

"It take 7 years per pound to grow one of these big beauties,"Chef Schmitz instructed."So a lobster this size is over 40 years old." I'll be sipping Veuve Clicquot Champagne at the Starting Gun party for the 102nd Chicago Yacht Race to Mackinac at Monroe Station later that night . Veuve is also the official race sponsor. I'll be sure to lift a glass to my fallen lobster friend,who, by then, will be bathing in a slather of warm butter.

Sent on the Now NetworkT from my Sprint

Wines of the Jura,France a modern day step into antiquity

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

“There is more philosophy in a bottle of wine than in all the books.” Louis Pasteur

New York--In a downtown Manhattan loft reminiscent of Marcello and Rodolfo’s garret in Paris’s Latin Quarter in the opening scene of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, wine lovers had an opportunity to travel via their palettes to a little known French winemaking region that is steeped in history and ancient lore. Twenty-three wine growers from the Jura region invited members of New York’s wine-loving elite and the national wine press to savor new wines from this storied region.

Jura wine is French wine produced in the Jura Departement located between Burgundy and Switzerland. Its vineyards and chateaus date to antiquity. It you want to know what wine tasted like in the Age of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, one has only to taste the sherry-like Vin Jaune of the Cotes du Jura.

Winemaker Bertrand Delannay, a courtly man with a distinguished moustache, explained it this way:

“These wines are not just traditional. They are made in exactly the same way as they were when the domaine was created in 1475. There is nothing artificial or treated in these wines. The Vin Jaune wines are aged 7 years in old barrels. Then they are aged for many more years in the bottle. The grapes grow in extremely rocky soil that is composed of limestone. You will taste not only the mineral of the soil, but also the taste of herbs and spices that are used in the blend. There is no other wine like it in the world!

Other, better known varietals, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are similarly given unique treatment. In the Jura, Chardonnay is known as Melon d’Arbois. The other regional grapes are Savagnin, Troussard, Nature, and Poulsard. Pinot Noir is often used as a blending grape to deepen the flavor and color of the pale Poulsard grape, which is native to the region. Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clippings were brought to the region from Burgundy during the Middle Ages.

Chateau D’Arly Cotes du Jura Chardonnay “A la Reine” 2005 ($15), was one of my personal favorites and was my “go to” wine over buffet lunch. In 1960, Count R. de Laguiche undertook the estate from his father-in-law and planted five varieties; Pinot Noir, Trousseau, Poulsard, Chardonnay and Savagnin. Today, his son Alaine de Laguiche, manages the estate, putting his unique stamp on the wines by combining modern vinification practices with traditional maturation in the casks. His approach produces wines that have a lean structure while maintaining depth of character.

The caterers at Gary’s Loft Penthouse, where the event was held on West 36th Street, were conscientious in presenting an array of food that truly brought out the characteristics of the wine; chicken in a bright rosemary and tarragon sauce, local cheeses and charcuterie that heralded the rustic provincial nature of the region.

None of the wines of the Jura are priced above the $20 range. In fact, most are only $12-$15. For the amount of care taken in their creation and the distinctive flavor profile, they can’t be beat for value. The wines are relatively new to the market. If you don’t see them right away at your local wine merchant, ask when they will arrive. They bear a message from the past that is a welcome revelation today. For more information of wines of the Jura, visit

Friday, July 23, 2010

Veuve Clicquot Champagne provides "Warning Gun" start for 102nd Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The skillful swoop of a sword lopped off the neck of a Magnum bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne providing the opening shot for the Warning Gun Reception to celebrate the 102nd Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

Just as the ceremonial cork popping marked the official start of Mackinac Race weekend at the club’s Monroe Station, it also marked Veuve Clicquot’s first year as Presenting Sponsor.

“We can’t thank them enough for their support,” 2010 Race Chairman Greg Freeman said while sipping a glass of the fine bubbly on the terrace of the Chicago Yacht Club as racers readied their boats dockside. “You’ll be seeing a lot from and about Veuve Cliquot at the club and all around Chicago over the next few days. I understand they have some real surprises for the sailors when they reach the Island. “In many ways, this year’s race will be bigger and better thanks to their support.”

More than 3,500 sailors are competing in the 333-mile race on Lake Michigan, which is said to be the largest fresh water regatta in the U.S.

We’ve got sailors competing here from all over the world, including a team that’s here from Hong Kong. We’ve also got the largest boats competing along with our multi-hull division down to our smaller boats, making this the most diverse racing event in the world,” Freeman emphasized.

One of the outstanding features of the race will be online tracking by GPS. “We welcome IonEarth from Traverse City, Michigan as our new tracking supplier. “Online tracking is now an expected part of yacht racing. When we started it a few years ago, we were one of the first and now it’s become routine for people to be able to track our competitors in real time on their laptops. This is not an inexpensive proposition, but its all been made possible by the support of IonEarth and our Presenting Sponsor, Veuve Clicquot.”

Over the course of the evening, as the champagne flowed, including Veuve Clicquot’s newest version of Rose, harrowing tales from some of the Mac Race’s “ Island Old Goats”, seasoned veterans of 25 or more Macs, began to surface around the room.

“This will be my 29th Mac,” Tom McMahon of the Bang 36, Timberwolf told me dockside. “I’ve had every experience from dismasting in a storm to being cast adrift in the dark and stormy seas. Uncontrolled jibes are also very scary. One happened to me and my crew in the late ‘70s. It was pitch black. There was no starlight or anything. Suddenly, we lost control of the boat. It just rounded up and went over. We had the sail in the water, the boat was in the water and there was no indication that it was going to come up. There we were adrift in the middle of the night with no hope of ever getting up. By some miracle, something happened and we suddenly righted. When that kind of thing happens, you swear you’ll never race again. Once you finish the race, you’re so excited that you’re right back in it planning for next year’s race!”

There are othermoments of exhilaration. “It happened once when we were going through the northern straits. Suddenly, the wind started blowing and we were going 20 knots. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone in a boat. We made it through in less than an hour. That was the most exciting race I’ve ever been in.”

s the champagne flowed, the stories got more elaborate. Tall tales are just a part of what the Mac is all about. There’ll be even more harrowing tales by the time the winner is handed a giant Nebuchadnezzar of Veuve Clicquot Champagne (named for the Babylonian King and which contains the equivalent of 20 standard bottles or 15 liters). Try lopping off the top of that one with a sword!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SushiSamba Chicago meets wines of Spain

Sushi with a Spanish beat

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Awash in a shower of red light, an excited collection of wine aficionados, enthusiasts and a handful of wine novices gathered in the vaulted ceiling Red Room at the rear of SushiSamba Chicago for a unique wine tasting experience. The ENYE Group, specialty importers and distributors of boutique wines and spirits from Spain hosted a tasting of their newest portfolio of wines accompanied by the daring fusion cuisine of the landmark national chain, which has restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and Miami in addition to its River North locale near the Merchandise Mart.

“This is a chance for us to show off the diversity of our wines,” said winemaker Raul Acha of Spain’s Vintae wine group and the Castello de Maetierra label which he represents. Speaking in his best English with the help of our conversation facilitator, Freda Mooncotch, a Chicago wine specialist and writer, Acha spoke passionately about the wines and regions of his homeland.

“I was born into the wine business,” he said. “So I learned the making of wine from an early age. From a child up. There is only way to make great Spanish wine and that is from the ground up. It starts with the soil and then you must have exceptional grapes.” Spain has its own unique grape varietals, the most famous of which is Tempranillo. Soils, ranging from almost gravel-like rockiness to fine desert sand, produce grapes and wines that have a unique expression. In the hands of an expert winemaker, the blends can support a wide-range of flavor palettes. Served with the imaginative hors d’oeuvres prepared by SushiSamba’s eclectic chefs, the wines cast the shadow of a Flamenco dancer’s fan across the fusion flavors of Asian ‘tapas’, flavored with hints of sizzle and spice.

Castillo de Maetierra’s Libalis wine ($10.76) was paired with steaming hot spears of Tiger Shrimp Tempura. This signature wine made from a special selection of Muscat (90%), Viura (5%) and Malvasia grapes (5%) made for a potent accompaniment to shellfish. “I’m thinking scallops,” said my tasting companion Freda Mooncotch, aka The Wine Wench. “I’d like to have it really cold with scallops drenched in a light lime and butter sauce.” The very thought was mouthwatering. Libalis literally explodes in the mouth with an elegant bouquet. Silky smooth with a balance of fruit and acidity, the wine had a long, pleasant aftertaste.

My host, ENYE Group Managing Partner Manuel Pulido urged me to try the reds next, starting with Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza (a surprising value at $6.33) from the famed Rioja region. A classic Tempranillo blend of red Granacha and Graciano grapes that is aged more than 3 years in new French oak and in the bottle, it is a prime example of Old Vineyards grapes selected from different areas in La Rioja. The wine was served with two stunning examples of SushSamba’s signature brand of Asian/Latin fusion; calamari tentacles drenched in a spicy marinade of aranche peppers and soy sauce and a chef’s masterstroke, barbeque short ribs of beef served Shu Mai style, encased a soft rice-flour bun that was absolutely fantastic

I next ventured into a trio of numbered wines from the Winery Arts group, 3 square, 6 and nine. The wines represent various blendings of Tempranillo; Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes aged 16 months in new French oak barrels. These are flashy wines that showcase the skill of the winemaker. They are all made from low-yield vineyards and are dramatic expressions of the land stretching from the high foothills of the Moncayo mountain range in Aragon up to the warmer lands crossed by the river Queiles, in the autonomous region of Navarre. This is some of the most beautiful countryside in all of Europe and the wines it produces are full-bodied and highly structured. These are great wines with food but I am a firm believer that wines this rich in character are a meal unto themselves and are best savored in solitary or “soledad” as my friend Freda would say.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial-Champagne as Summer Cocktail

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

A perfect summer's evening on the rooftop terrace of Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago provided the picturesque setting for the inaugural "cruise" of Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial, the world's first Champagne to be enjoyed on the rocks as a cocktail. Served in Reidel-styled stemless bowls, mixologists poured copious amounts of the golden-colored beverage and adorned each glass with either a sprig of fresh mint, ala that South Beach favorite, the Mojito, or with a twist of sliced white peach, reminiscent of the Belini of Harry's Bar and Ernest Hemingway fame.

About a hundred of Chicago's "most beautiful people" were on hand for this exclusive event. Views of the historic buildings of the city’s stunning skyline, showcased the Magnificient Mile, the Michigan Avenue Bridge, Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. Towering vistas enveloped the Terrace outside Trump’s award-winning Sixteen restaurant, dazzling the eye.

"I just love Moet and have always enjoyed it as a cocktail," said one enthusiastic imbiber. "I think it works perfectly as a cocktail or just on the rocks." The evening’s participants were doubly blessed, because they are, for now, the only Chicagoans who have had a chance to sample the new Champagne. It is only available at the world’s most exclusive, upscale resorts and, for just one night, the Terrace at Trump Tower Chicago, became a night on the Caribbean.

Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial is the world’s first and only vintage of ice Champagne. An exclusive blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, this new champagne has a tropical blend that emphasizes floral notes and fruit flavors that perform perfectly one the palate when poured over the rocks. There are hints of licorice and peppermint that make it a perfect accompaniment to light and imaginative hors d’oeuvres. There’s a back note of guava that gives it a seductive quality.
Add to that the distinctive white and gold-accented bottle and you have it all. As with all things reserved for only the most discriminating clientele, price has not been disclosed. But, expect it to rank right up there with the brand’s flagship Brut Reserves in the $119-$130 range. Its certainly the winemaker’s most ground-breaking event since the premium brand was established by Claude Moet in 1743.

The uninitiated may scoff at the idea of drinking Champagne on the rocks, but it is a practice that is common in Europe and the Mediterranean. I encountered it several years ago while visiting the French-influenced bistros of Marrakech. The French even have a word for it, “piscine,”which, in English, roughly translates to the idea of plunging into a pool. Not a bad thought on a hot summer’s day. Its not unusual in North Africa to see a linen-shirted would-be Pasha sipping a glass of Heineken on the rocks. Champagne suits my taste far better. Viva Moet!

Serving Ice Imperial on the rocks does nothing to diminish its stature. This is Champagne that literally exudes the essence of sophistication and class. It is elegance in a bottle!

The culinary staff of Trump Tower Chicago’s famed Sixteen restaurant provided the ideal flavor backdrop to the exquisite beverage- caviar, marinated shrimp and the hit of the evening and the chef’s coup de grace, tiny ice cream cones of imaginative flavors like pistachio and mango and iced raspberry “pushups.”

As the champagne flowed and the caviar on potato skin 'blinis' floated through the crowd, the DJ spun tropics-inspired sounds that seemed to enhance the "Love Boat" atmosphere of the evening, making it seem more like a cruise through the Isles of the Bahamas. The only thing missing was the ceremonial breaking of a bottle of Champagne to start the evening, but Ice Imperial is far too delicious to suffer that fate. The gentle cascade of its fine bubbles over ice will suffice.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dining Out in New Orleans-Markham Vineyards wines of Napa Valley illuminates Palace Cafe's cuisine

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

A full moon nestled over the gentle clang of streetcars sliding beneath the canopy of drooping aged Palms on New Orleans’ Canal Street, outside Dickie Brennan’s Palm Café. The restaurant, located in a former piano showroom still is dominated by the sweeping staircase and vaulted ceilings that once rang with the sound of Steinway’s, Baldwin’s and Boesendorfer’s. The huge upstairs dining room, which tonight was the scene of a New Orleans Wine and Food Experience Vintner Dinner, which featured Markham Vineyard President Bryan Del Bondio, and his award-winning wines. Markham Vineyards is one of the first modern-day wineries to make its mark in the chalky foothills of Napa Valley, California.

The setting could not have been more appropriate. Markham Vineyards was founded in 1978 when Bruce Markham arrived in Napa Valley with the idea of creating Bordeaux style wines of unique character and style. His efforts quickly earned him accolades, including three number one ratings from the prestigious Wine Spectator. I sought out Bruce during those early days to host the first Winemaker Dinner, in a series that I hosted at the Victorian Inn in San Francisco’s historic Pacific Heights neighborhood. His presentation to a select group of winemakers and wine writers was notable for the stellar quality of the wines and their adaptability to various cuisines.

Bruce sold the winery to Mercian Corporation 23 years ago, and embarked on a massive expansion program and vineyard replanting program that resulted in the winery increasing production from 3,500 to 20,000 cases and producing three of the number-one rated wines from California, as judged by Wine Spectator magazine. Sadly, Bruce passed away about 10 years ago, but the winery continues to produce outstanding wine under Bryan Del Bondio’s leadership.

The location of the Palace Café just at the edge of the French Quarter, where the famed ‘streetcar named Desire’ reaches its final destination, could not be more rife with legend, both based in fact and fiction. The sounds of a classical guitar added to the ambiance of the evening, which was enhanced by both the wines and the outstanding cuisine of Chef de Cuisine Ben Thibodeaux.

The Chef’s Amuse of Ghost Pepper Caviar Tapas arrived with a generous pouring of Markham Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008 ($15). The wine has the flavors of ripe tangerines and a distinctive floral nose that almost gives it a perfume characteristic. It almost crackles with Caribbean flavors that made the pepper on the caviar sing.

I had already sneaked ahead and drank the delicious 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay (an unbelievable $18). You could easily find half the wine at twice the price! Lush and full-bodied with just a hint of oak, this is a perfect food wine paired imaginatively with Pecan-smoked Sweetbreads, accompanied by crawfish, arugula and white beans. This is where the true soul of a chef, steeped in the local Creole culture and fully aware of the flavor bounty of local ingredients, begins to shine. The dish was a masterpiece of mouth-filling, satisfying flavors. It had that comfort food quality that the Japanese call “umami”. Why bother with Mac n’ cheese when you can have something so supremely delicious. The dish was both simple, yet complex. The flavors, especially with the ‘kick’ of the bittersweet arugula and the soft mineral quality of the white beans made it a perfect accompaniment.

I was so enthralled by the flavors of the 2002 Napa Valley Reserve Merlot ($42) that I didn’t even bother to have it with a bite of food. In fact, it was a long time before I lifted my fork to dive into the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio that arrived, along with the stellar 2004 Napa Valley Petite Sirah. This is a wine that was once the ‘king’ of California wines, but fell out of favor in modern times to more consumer-friendly varietals such as Cabernet and Chardonnay. The finicky Petite Sirah grape in the right hands can produce an extraordinary wine that rivals anything produced in the Rhone Valley of France. This is precisely the aim of the folks at Markham and the have accomplished their mission with accuracy.

I was so full that by the time the Lamb Loin course arrived, I was content to sip the 2006 Altruist Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga Estate Vineyard, accompanied only by the sounds of the guitarist, who was just at my right shoulder. Looking out of the window to see the glow of the gaslight shaped street lights cast over the marble columns of Canal Streets historic buildings, I was overwhelmed by the sense of history and the unique place that New Orleans and its cuisine occupies in the nation. What a singular privilege to be able to dine in such an august locale which tasting some of the best wine that America has to offer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Pelican Club, New Orleans-A Chef expresses his artful side

Pelican Club

12 Exchange Place

New Orleans, LA 70130-2225

(504) 523-1504

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

When Richard Hughes came to New Orleans from New York City, he was totally burned out on the restaurant business and desperately wanted a change. That was until he and his wife Jean Stinnett-Hughes happened upon a neglected architectural gem of a 19th Century townhouse along a cobblestone alley in the French Quarter.

“It was like something out of an old movie,” Hughes told me over a glass of Hoag Sauvignon Blanc one sun-drenched late spring evening. “The high ceilings and large rooms seemed to cry out for art, so we’ve turned it into a sort of restaurant and art gallery where we feature a constantly changing showcase for local artists.”

The food, an eclectic mix of New Orleans favorites tinged with an Asian flair, thanks to the influence of Chef du Cuisine Chin Ling, speaks to the artistic flair of the owner and his proclivity toward whimsy.

“We really like to stick to the basics, in terms of ingredients, but what we do with them is entirely our own. We like to put our individual stamp on a dish.” That may explain why, within minutes of my arrival, the restaurant was packed with diners, many of them large, out-of-town groups who had come to the restaurant as recognition of its unique place in the French Quarter culinary firmament. It is the headquarters of its own, unique genre, best described as Asian Cajun.

Pelican Club Baked Oysters are a must-have with their garnishment of Apple-smoked bacon and roasted red peppers, which gives it a layered flavoring of smoke and piquancy from the peppers. The smell of roasted garlic in the Parmesan and herb butter sauce adds to the aroma, making it a perfect companion for the Hoag Riesling of Washington State’s Columbia Valley 2006 ($15). The cool climate and sandy loam soils of the Columbia Valley could not more approximate the wind-swept sediment of France’s Loire Valley. Intense fruit of dried apricot and tangerine flavors balanced with a crisp acidity to frame the oysters and with a refreshing background note that made their mineral astringency stand out in bas-relief.

I skipped the usual salad and moved straight into a pair of Pelican staples; Trio of Duckling, featuring Leg Confit, a pan-seared breast of Muscovy Duck (and here’s where the ‘Asian Cajun’ twist comes in) a healthy slice of BBQ duck in spicy Louisiana citrus sauce with down-home Dirty Rice. The collision of flavors played like a Line Band on the tongue and melded perfectly with the Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley Merlot ($79.99). There just isn’t a better Merlot to be had anywhere. This is the first Merlot I’ve had that treats the grape as a true varietal, not just as a ‘blending grape’ as so many wineries do. It is extraordinarily rich, tannic and dry and can stand up to some Asian spice with its flavors of cherries, blackberries and plums. The back note of black pepper worked perfectly with the next course, a real standout, Black Angus Ribeye with crispy fried onions, a unique twist and truly outstanding Truffle mashed potatoes that prompted a call for seconds.

I’m an absolute sucker for Crème Brulee and have to try it at almost every restaurant I dine in New Orleans. Pelican Club has one of the best, flavored with Vanilla Bean and Brandy. Bourbon Pecan Pie with Vanilla ice cream was my second choice. I turned back to Hoag and their outstanding 2008 Late Harvest Riesling (an absolute steal at $7.65) with its orange, apricot and powdered sugar flavors that remind one of a freshly baked Fuji apple. It could almost stand alone as a dessert, but the Pelican makes such wonderful desserts in house that its almost a requirement that, like a good afternoon of baseball, its important to “play two.”

Strolling along the cobblestone street under the full moon back to the nearby Hotel Monteleone, I felt that I had partaken in the perfect New Orleans dining experience. If the Pelican Club had been around when the great Tennessee Williams stayed at the Monteleone way back when, he might have been inspired to write about it in one of his steamy novels. I can imagine Blanche DuBois sitting in one of the restaurants rich, dark leather banquettes, swirling a Sazerac cocktail and launching into a drunken diatribe over a plate of Oysters Rockefeller. A human work of art among the artifacts and artful plates of the Pelican Club!