Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great friends, wine, cigars and… food; ah well, you can’t win them all.

The best and the worst of times, the best being a night of great friends, wine and even some cigars; the worst being a restaurant that didn’t quite make the cut.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I was off to the Blue Grotto for a tasting and dinner with friends on Saturday night. Without going into much explanation, the food was… okay. With a beautiful interior and great view of Atwells Ave from my seat, everything seemed fine. The appetizers were great, as was the wine, which I’ll get into shortly, but the entrée’s fell flat.

With lobster ravioli that was undercooked and under-stuffed, a risotto with a mealy texture that reeked of being left too long on the pass, and a pasta dish that was simply unremarkable, I have to unfortunately give a thumbs down to this Federal Hill stalwart. Honestly, I had my fears, since a number of locals referred to the establishment as outdated or tired. Going against their recommendation was a mistake.

But that is where the bad ends and the good begins.

The wines that night were amazing, I sat their happily, gazing at a lineup of bottles which contained four famous names from Italy with a Brunello di Montalcino, a Super Tuscan, a Tuscan syrah, and a Barolo.

We started with the 1997 Antinori, Tignanello, which was gorgeous with dark raspberries, flowery herbal tea, and road tar showing on the nose. The palate was luscious and rich, yet finessed with blackberry jam and plum with citrus sprits and a hint of wood showing through. The finish was long, as red fruits began to show. This bottle was one of my favorites but shut down after being opened for about five hours.

The 1997 Poggio di Sotto, Brunello di Montalcino had a lovely and elegant floral nose with red fruit and woodsy herbs. On the palate, it showed round cherry fruit and charred wood on a well-balanced frame, but the finish closed down hard as my palate was coated with tannin. I’d give this bottle a few more years, at least, and can’t wait to taste it down the road.

Next, the 1999 Isole e Olena, Syrah Collezione de Marchi Toscana showed a deep purple color in the glass. Its dark brooding nose was smoky with musk, plums, and spice cookies. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with more plum and a bit of grapiness, but, came across as one-dimensional with an unremarkable finish. This may have passed over the hill or at least been in a disjointed stage of its life.

Lastly, the 2000 Aldo Conterno, Barolo Granbussia, showed candied red fruit with cedar, leather, crushed fall leaves and a seductive Christmas spice on the nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied and juicy with ripe strawberry, tobacco, licorice and spice. The finish was long, with red fruit, yet clean, showing silky tannin. This is an approachable bottle now, but it still shows a balance that promises many years of good drinking and, with all this ripe fruit, might one day be a truly classic Barolo.

With that it was back to the city, to a cigar lounge I had stumbled upon a few nights ago called Cigar Masters. With four bottles tucked in my bag and camera in hand, I walked from Federal hill across I95 and back toward the Rhode Island Convention center. Providence was alive and buzzing with activity this Saturday night. Put that together with the sights and clean streets and it beats the hell out of my hometown, at least until 2:00 am (when EVERYTHING closes).

Cigar Masters is an unpretentious cigar lounge that walks a tight rope between relaxed cocktail / wine bar and old world-styled private club. It’s basically the best of both worlds since you can walk in for a drink and smoke, find a cozy corner to lose yourself, or find some new friends. This is not just a room full of smokers; instead imagine multiple rooms done in wood and earth tones with mood lighting, art, books, and wide screen TVs, along with all manner of cigar smoking paraphernalia.

You pick the room that fits your mood and the rest is easy. The best part is that, for the non-smoker, this is still an option, since the ventilation system works wonders pulling the smoke from the rooms before it can become obnoxious.

What’s more, the walk-in humidor provides a vast selection of cigars and is under the careful supervision of its own cigar master, who is happy to point you toward the cigar that fits you best, educate you on your purchase, storage, smoking; you name it. Being something of a cigar novice myself, I felt perfectly comfortable and enjoyed the cigars recommended to me.

Cigar Masters also touts a balanced wine and spirits list with the cigar smoker in mind. Big, juicy reds fill out the bulk of their list with a number of fine bottles for the serious drinker. However, I found myself gravitating to their list of ports, or to be more specific, vintage ports.

The 1991 Dow’s, Vintage Port was a beast on the nose with vibrant black cherry, chocolate and boysenberry. The palate was rich and silky with cherry fruit, cinnamon and black strap molasses with some tangy acidity showing through. The finish was fresh yet layered with cherry and dark chocolate.

Lastly, the 1977 Dow’s, Vintage Port showed serious class and breed with cherry, spice, caramel and burnt sugar on its nose. The palate showed cherry cough syrup, roasted dark espresso beans and dark, dry cocoa, but remained juicy and smooth. The finish went on and on with sour cherry and espresso notes.

What an evening, I thought, sitting there with a cigar and a glass of port while chatting it up with a group of locals I found myself hanging with. If I had to describe Providence in one word, it would be… inviting. Whether it’s the stores or restaurants, people in bars or on the streets, it’s an amazing city, populated with warm, friendly people and something new to do or explore around every corner.

To check out Cigar Master's website, click here!

I must give an honorable mention to Flemings Steak House, touted as the best steak in Providence, Rhode Island. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to formally sit for diner but their cozy bar and wonderful staff provided me with the perfect atmosphere to complete a lot of my work. I guarantee they are on my list for the next visit.

To find the Antinori, Tignanello 1997 on Wine-Searcher, click here!
To find Aldo Conterno's 2000 Granbussia on Wine-Searcher,
click here!
To find Dow's Vintage Port on Wine-Searcher,
click here!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed meeting you in Providence Eric! By the way, I served your asparagus and almonds risotto to rave reviews a couple of weeks ago at a dinner party.

    Moving to Philly in a few weeks, so let me know if you are in town. Lots of BYOB there...

    Kevin F


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