Why doesn’t Rochester respect itself?
We started a great conversation over on our Facebook page. Check it out here, and let us know what you think. Don’t be shy, and please speak up. In order to make a change, we all need to engage.
Brau Brothers, Breckenridge Brewery, Cava, Champagne, Colombard, Cremant, Domaine Montgravet Cote de Gascogne, Empanadas, Grenache Blanc, Lunetta Prosecco, Macabeo, Oliver, Paella, Prosecco, Raspberry Cider, Sparkling, Sparkling Wine, Summer, Thursdays on First
With a few consistent days of summer here (and by that I mean 75 degrees and above), it is official: summer is finally here! And what does warm weather, sunshine, and cloudless skies make me dream about? Well, cool refreshing cocktails and drinks of course! There is really is no better fit for a summer day than a cool drink, bottle, or glass of something that evokes the fun and carefree spirit of warm weather (and no snow!). Luckily, this year we have all sorts of vibrant drinks for the summer season—enough to please anyone’s taste!
One of my all time favorite summer drinks is about to go by the glass in a great way! If you know me at all, you know what that is! Sparkling wine, aka cava, prosecco, crémant, or Champagne. Although the names are different, the happy little bubbles have the same effect. When you can’t decide between wine and beer, why not split the difference with sparkling? We have multiple varieties at Söntés, and we just added an individual bottle of prosecco—Lunetta, to be exact. Cute packaging, great flavor, and an affordable price at only $7. For the wine aficionado, and for those of us who are just a bit geeky about these things (but that’s what makes us so cute, right?), we are adding a 100% Colombard by Domaine Montgravet Cote de Gascogne and Espelt Vailet, which consists of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Macabeo. What are these crazy grapes, you ask? There’s only one way to find out! Come in and give them a try. Maybe alongside one of our summer pintxos…
And as most Rochesterites know, summer wouldn’t be complete without Thursdays on First! This year, we’re lucky enough to be featuring some very cool beers and one amazing cider at our booth in addition to the housemade paella and empanadas. First, there’s the Oliver Beanblossom Raspberry Cider. This Indiana cider features all organic, delicious ingredients–AND it’s gluten free! We’ll also be featuring one of Minnesota’s own craft brewers, Brau Brothers, with their Old Brau 56, a fun version of light beer. Lastly, you won’t want to miss the Agave Wheat by Breckenridge Brewery; it’s a fantastic answer to Corona or Bohemia.
We look forward to seeing you both at Thursdays on First and throughout the summer, perhaps by joining us in front of Sontes at our European style outdoor dining area. Have a bite to eat, put your feet up, and people watch to your heart’s content!
When Nelson and I founded Söntés in the fall of 2006, we were determined to showcase our love of food, travel, and art to the citizens of Rochester. My younger sister Tanya, who is herself an artist, was a strong guiding influence while the restaurant was being designed. She insisted that most of the walls be left white and open to allow local artists to properly display their work—and for the once the big sister listened!
As a farm to table restaurant that changes its menu weekly as the locally available items available shift with the seasons, we understand the value of creativity in all its forms. Chef Bryce and Chef Trevor practice their art by serving it up to our guests every night; we want to help other artists in our area practice their craft as well. We truly take pride in showing what artisans, farmers, musicians, and local people can do (and do well!). We feature local musicians live every Saturday, and also supports as many Minnesota-grown projects and events as possible.
Söntés has built its website and social media sites with visual artists in mind. We specifically created a heading entitled “Eye Candy” on our newly redesigned website to promote artists who display their art at the restaurant. The other purpose behind this page is to give artists the opportunity to have an additional venue to talk about their art, and of course to link restaurant guests directly to the artists’ websites. With the implementation of our revised Art Program, we’re creating a comprehensive art program that will include display, sales, and online presence.
Söntés regularly sells art that is displayed in the restaurant. With 2.2 million visitors per year coming through Rochester and a large international clientele at Söntés, artwork is regularly viewed by dignitaries, heads of state, CEOs, and a wide variety of interested art collectors. Our mission is to promote artists and their work warmly and professionally while helping them gain exposure to a broad base of potential clients and be compensated for their artistic efforts. We encourage all interested artists to submit their work for consideration for display. To submit work, or to learn more about our Art Program, contacting our Art Scene Investigator, Fred Ginocchio, at fred (at) sontes.com.
Tessa and Nelson Leung
What do you think of when you think of tomato soup? A lot of people think of the canned kind, as it seems like too much of a hassle to make tomato soup from scratch. We’re here to tell you: you can do it! And it’ll be amazing, just you wait and see. The recipe below is one Tessa created when she ran her own catering business before starting Söntés. A similar version was on the menu recently, and met with rave reviews. So, read on, then go make some for yourself!
12 oz. apple wood smoked bacon, chopped and fried until crisp
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 lg. red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs. red tomatoes, core quarted and seeds removed
1 c. heavy whipping cream or whole milk
1/2 c. water or more
3 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 T. fresh basil, sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered (or any sweet tomatoes you really love)
1/4 c. gruyere cheese, grated (Can be any cheese you like. Or try one of my favorites: finish it with brie or camberet under the broiler for a rich and delicious topping.)
2 T. fresh chives, chopped (optional, but very beautiful)
Saute bacon until crisp. Reserve half in the pan with appox 2 T. of the bacon grease. Drain and reserve the other half for garnish. Add onion and pepper and saute until soft. Add garlic and saute garlic. Reduce heat to medium and add tomatoes cook until juice from tomatoes form and are tender (about 8 minutes). Add cream and water, reduce to low and simmer until tomatoes are very soft (about 10 minutes). Puree soup in batches in blender until smooth. Return to pan and season with salt and pepper. If too thick, add some more water. Mix in olive oil and sliced basil. Garnish with bacon, cheese, tomatoes,and chives.
If you don’t have great fresh tomatoes, feel free to substitute your favorite canned variety.
Omit the bacon and saute the onion and pepper in olive oil until soft. Follow the remaining directions. After returning the puree to the pan, add smoked paprika (Spanish pimenton) to taste. This creates an almost identical taste to the applewood smoked bacon—and it’s admittedly much healthier!
As a feature of the event, attendees will be given the unique opportunity to learn about the lifetime of wine by sampling unaged wine from the Sturino Trotta barrels and comparing it to aged, bottled wine. Staff from the winery will be on hand to discuss everything from terroir to tasting notes to the fermentation process. For more information on the event, including a full menu, click here.
For now, slake your curiosity about wine barrels!
So, what really is the difference in wine barrels? Do barrels really do something? Who really cares? Well, actually yes to the first two, and anyone who drinks wine should care. Barrels have a long and storied history in the wine world, but really began to take hold in French wine making. But just what does a barrel do for wine? Read on to find out! You’ll discover that a barrel’s purpose is manyfold.
Let’s start with the obvious. For one, a barrel is a large vessel to hold wine, and it can easily be stored on its side and stacked. It’s easy to roll, so that takes care of logistics and moving. But it is more, oh so much more…
Barrels work to soften the grip of fresh wine by allowing air to slowly and subtly seep in to calm the tannins of the juice, skins, stems, and sometimes seeds. The barrel is, for all intents and purposes, nature’s way of controlled oxidization.
Additionally, wooden barrels will impart some extra depth of flavor from the wood that has been toasted. Yep, toasted—as in held over a large flame and rotated by the cooper who made the barrel until the correct toast is achieved. Wait, toast? You betcha. Just like we all have a particular level of toastiness we prefer at our morning breakfast, winemakers have the same proclivity, but just with their barrels. Winemakers choose from barrels with either a low, medium, medium-high, high, or high-high toast. (High-high, by the way, is how Toasted Head got its name; the caps of the barrels are called heads, and while most of the time the heads are not toasted… well, you can probably guess by now that that’s the signature style of Toasted Head.)
Now what does that toast do? Well, actually, the toast works to caramelize the natural sugars in the wood, and by the process of diffusion (or would it be osmosis? Sorry Mr. Fynboh, I’ve forgotten some of my high school chemistry lessons!) the caramelized sugars work their way into the barrel of wine, imparting their magic elixir of flavor.
What flavors? Well I’m glad you asked! All of tasting notes you read—vanilla, marshmallow, caramel, crème brûlée, smoky, toasty, campfire-like—that’s what toasted barrels help to impart to the wine. Not only that, but the wood in the barrel adds another layer of structure and tannin. And by that I mean wood tannin, not grape tannin, which helps to give the wine a bit more backbone and some aging length.
Now this is where it gets tricky. Barrels have a shelf life of about 3–5 years before all of their flavor is gone, at which point they’re called neutral barrels. The barrel can now go one of three ways with the winemaker:
One of the most interesting and hotly debated areas of barrel making is the source of the wood, and that contest usually boils down to the France or the USA. More and more, though, Hungary is becoming a major player in this field. French oak is thought to have a tighter grain due to colder winters, and thus has less chance of letting the wine oxidize too fast. It also is thought to toast better. Others think that the French coopers have been doing it longer, so they get the benefit of perceived experience. Hence French oak barrels run about $1000–$1500 per barrel.
Now, American oak used to have a bad rap, and it’s still not as expensive as French oak barrels, ringing in around $600–$800 per barrel. But that is before we knew so much about wine, back when we were using the same types of oak that are used for our delicious whiskeys and bourbons. Well, those forests were in warmer climates than Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, resulting in more porous wood. Nowadays Americans are using more and more oak from our Northernmost climates, which yields a tighter grain and is more like its French cousin than the Southern oak. American coopers are also becoming more proficient and experienced, recognizing that there is a difference between a whiskey and a wine barrel. (And that means that the dill pickle taste that was ubiquitous in many wines made in American barrels is now almost non-existent.)
So, at the end of day, when you are wondering why a wine tastes like a great toasted sugary confection, or why it has that little hint of vanilla, or why you catch a whiff of a far off campfire, it could very well be the barrel the wine was made in. And if you are wondering why the price is so high on one of your favorite bottles of wine, you may just want to check what it was started in: a barrel crafted in France and shipped across the Atlantic or something stamped “Made in the USA.”
A funny topic of interest seems to come up in conversation quite a bit in my life lately, and I don’t mean funny in a “ha ha” sort of way, but more in the “ha?” perplexing sort of way. Some people ask me (frequently) why on earth I support the arts so much, and on the flip side, I get a look of gratefulness and relief from others because I do support the arts. What I find so perplexing is the reaction I recieve from each respective party—one stupefied, the other disbelieving relief. What I want to say is, “why not?” And really, how could I not?
In my heart I want to be able to sing, dance, paint, photograph, sculpt, write and act, but the cold hard fact is that I’m terrible at just about all of them. I will never be Ansel Adams, Maya Angelou, Picasso, a ballerina, or a proficient singer or instrumentalist. But the feelings of inspiration, possibilities, hope, and the chance to dream and be something outside of what I do on a daily basis is pretty damn amazing. While I may be able to figure out chemistry problems and contribution margins in my head, I will never be able to pick up a pencil and draw an object or person that would have the potential to inspire another individual, much less the masses.
Art, in all its varied forms, is an inspiration, even when we don’t understand it—but as humans there is so much we don’t understand. Art is a safe way, a fun way, a non-pressure-filled way for us to let our imaginations explore and our boundaries to be pushed (whether we know it or not). It helps us right-brained people explore and feel something other than the safety of logic, numbers, and rules. It draws me to the other side of wonderment. I marvel at how someone could think of, plan out, and then execute something that has no structure except for what she or he created. But most of all, it helps me to appreciate that which is different from myself, that which is different from my usual reality. Perhaps it is my logical brain trying to figure out how another brain can function in the same day-to-day capacity as mine, but be so incredibly different. How can you not appreciate that? How can you not support that? Why would I not want to be a part of that?
More importantly, why wouldn’t you?
As part of Söntés’ commitment to and partnership with arts organizations, we’ll be working with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale to host an evening of Latin music and dancing this Saturday, February 18th. Ticket holders for the event will receive a discount on dinner here before the show (just show us your tickets!), and after the concert we’ll be hosting a guest artist celebration with more music and dancing. Aside from the fact that it’s a perfect end to Valentine’s Day week, the Latin Love concert promises to be a great time. Check out more details on the concert here.
Apple, Apricot, Berries, Blue Cheese, Bresaola, Brie, Brillat, Camembert, Cheddar, Cheese, Chocolate, Chorizo, Fig, Fruit, Garraxota, Honey, Honeycomb, Jam, Jelly, Manchego, Nuts, Olives, Peach, Pear, Pecorino, Persimmon, Pimenton, Prosciutto, Prune, Raisin, Saucisson, Sausage, Sea salt, Soppressata, Summer Sausage, Wine Pairing
It wasn’t too long ago when the thought of cheese in the Midwest brought to the mind brightly colored cubes and blocks—orange, shrink wrapped, and indistinguishable from one another in smell, sight, and texture. It all melted the same, too: oily and clumpy. But no more! We have undergone a virtual cheese revolution.
Soft and creamy, unctuous and bold, silky and salty cheese. It’s no longer a sad stand-in for some appetizer filler, it’s now the star! Heck, sometimes it’s the meal. And the food you can put with cheese can literally have you looking like your own gourmet food purveyor (and the rock star of any party) with minimal work! The trick is knowing which items pair well with which cheeses. So, here are some guidelines to make you your own cheese genius.
Soft and Creamy Combos
Cheeses such as camembert, brillat, brie, and burrata pair well with either dried or fresh fruits, your choice (just mix and match if you’re indecisive like me). Stone fruits such as apricots or peaches, berries, cherries, apples, and pears are some of the easiest. If you can find fresh figs or persimmons it will really be a treat. If you’re not in the mood for fruit in its solid form, any form of fruit pâté, jam, jelly, or preserve is wonderful. Lastly, don’t forget honey with your creamy cheeses—I love the honey and honeycomb we find at the farmers market.
Medium Textured Pairings
These easygoing cheeses (such as garraxota, percorino, manchego, and Wisconsin cheddar) are amenable to just about anything, so feel free to experiment. Fruit, nuts, jams, jellies, and olives are colorful and varied enough to please even the most sensitive palate. If you and your guests are meat lovers, a mild prosciutto or serrano ham is a safe way to go. Feeling a little braver than that? Try a bit of bresaola.
Hard & Hearty Medleys
Aged hard cheeses (Rolf Beeler gruyere or 993 parmesan, for instance) can really handle hefty pairings. Pair it with heavy sausages and chorizo, nuts with smoked pimentón, or sea salt and the fruit of your choice. Dark chocolate adds an unexpected twist to the usual pairing suspects. Look for saucisson sausage, soppressata, or just a good old fashioned summer sausage—it’ll remind of you all your family reunion cheese platters, but somehow better.
Blue All Over
We can’t forget to sing the blues! There are so many varieties: dry and crumbly, creamy and salty, creamy and spicy—and made from different types of milk now too! The one thing they all have in common (besides being called blue) is that they beg for the prefect foil to their over-the-top ways. Chocolates, sweet dried fruits, figs and fig breads, and yes, even prunes and raisins really bring out the flavors in your favorite blues. Really, it’s the perfect expression of the old adage that opposites attract.
Hopefully these guidelines can help demystify the art of cheese pairing and vault you into the party platter god or goddess you know you are!
Yes, the sparkling wines: Champagne, Crémant, Cava, and Prosecco! If there’s a wine style that is both misunderstood and intimidating all at once, it’s this one. I believe the style’s bad reputation stems from two extremes: the high end and the low end. The high end sparklers, Dom Perignon and his compatriots (Veuve, Cristal, and Henriot), have hard-to-pronounce names and are even harder on the wallet! Not to say that they aren’t wonderful, but most of us cannot drink these everyday. And then we have the opposite end of the spectrum… We all know the name of a sparkler (I’m using this term loosely) that you may have had at a giant function, be it family or work, that had an oddly sweet taste, bubbles that foamed in your mouth like cheap soda, and which left you with either gut rot or a wicked headache (or both).
Fortunately, there are great alternatives to the two deal breakers above. And yep, you guessed it! Cava, Crémant, and NV are my favorite ways to get around the expensive and the downright awful sparkling wines.
Cava used to be called “Spanish Champagne,” but the EU cracked down and now only sparklers from Champagne, France can be called Champagne. Never mind that Cava is made using an identical method… rules rules rules! Cava is made primarily with Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarello in the method traditional. (Method traditional is simply Champagne’s rules for correctly making Champagne sparkling wine. It’s kind of like a general recipe that must have the major points, but you can do what every good baker does, and tweak the recipe to make better cupcakes than your neighbor—or so you hope!)
Champagne and Cava are almost identical: same time, 18 months, in the bottle; same disgorgement and dosage method. It’s just the grapes that are different, and how the two “shake” (using a gyropalette in Spain) or “turn” (called riddling in France, where they turn each bottle one quarter per day). Both methods work to carry on the secondary fermentation process in the bottle, making the ubiquitous bubbles we all love so much, as well as incorporating the depth of flavor that the yeast imparts to the wine.
Crémant is made in France using the same traditional French methods as Champagne, but completely different grapes. Crémant may or may not have Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes, but that is about the only difference. Oh yeah, that—and price! Crémant wines typically come from areas with almost identical soils and climate to Champagne, but do not fall within the geographical lines of the Champagne region that were drawn hundreds of years ago. That’s good for us!
Lastly, great bubblies can be found under the NV (nonvintage) label. All nonvintage means is that the grapes are not from a specific year and that the bubbly is being made in the tradition that the Champagne house wants to use to present their signature style. The great thing about nonvintage is that is consistent: same blend, same yeast, same champagne every time! Unlike with our friend Dom Perignon, where vintage to vintage can vary greatly, the nonvintage label gives you some assurance that if you like the Champagne you bought last time, there’s a very good chance you are going to like it again.
So there it is in nut shell: the good, the bad, and the translated mystery of that bubbly wine. Now go out and celebrate with one of those gorgeous non-Champagne sparklers—your taste buds and wallet will thank you!
Cheers, everyone, to a great new year!
Pop! Ping! Pop!
No, it is not the sound of my creaky knees—it’s the pleasant noise of a glass of bubbly greeting my taste buds over the holiday season. I really am a champagne/sparkly/cava/cremant girl almost every day of the week, but it seems I get more people to join me in my secret obsession over the holiday season. Champagne is one of the most wonderful, versatile, and food friendly beverages out there. Plus, it just looks cool—total bonus!
There really is a champagne for just about anyone out there, from novice to expert, and there are great wines in any price range you could ask for. One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about champagne is that is too expensive. Another is that it is too dry and yeasty tasting. The perfect solution: find a champagne that has some Moscato (or Muscat) blended into the mix or a sparkling made in a non-traditional method, like Prosecco. Price-wise, South Africa, New Mexico, and Argentina are making some exceptional bubbly that’s truly affordable.
If you’re looking to add a little color and pizzazz, try mixing half bubbly with half cranberry juice, then add a few frozen raspberries as a garnish. Festive, and a great aperitif! Or, there’s the classic mimosa—bubbly plus orange juice. (Think brunch, here. Yum!) For the more adventuresome, or for those who want to impress with some bartender flair, make a simple syrup using culinary lavender, then add about a tablespoon of syrup to some dry bubbly, and toss in a few lavender buds.
The other overlooked bonus to champagne is its low alcohol content. It’s the perfect sipper when you have a long night ahead of you, and the last thing you want to do is ruin the evening with too much alcohol. So, this holiday season when it’s your turn to bring something to drink, follow my line of thinking: why not champagne?
All this being said, there are a lot of options! Here are suggestions from my list of personal favorites. (Also, these are all carried by Söntés, and are available at retail pricing.)
Bubbly, a little less snappy, with a more fruit forward taste
More traditional in taste without the crazy prices
More traditional flavor profile and more $$
Here are some other good recommendations that we just don’t happen to carry:
Today, I just want to take a moment to fill you in on one of my favorite things to do at Söntés. Well, yes, there’s the amazing food, drinks, and people—and what’s great is when they can all come together. Business dinners may seem like a tough challenge at first, but when you’ve been doing them for as long as Karen and I have, you learn exactly what elements make up a great dinner and you know exactly how to put them together. And it’s awesome. When a whole group of people can walk in, have a great time, listen to a speaker, learn some things, and then go home satisfied, that’s a wonderful feeling.
Wonder how we do it? The thing is, we have a whole different approach to the concept of a business dinner in Rochester. Here’s a basic outline of the most successful business dinners we’ve hosted at Söntés.
Most businesses hosting a dinner have a pretty strict budget, so their guests are offered choices from a pre-selected menu in order to make sure the cost for dinner doesn’t get out of hand. However, this often means that few of the guests are truly happy with their selections. If you offer your guests the whole menu to choose from, they’ll be able to select something that meets their individual needs—whether that be level of appetite, dietary restrictions, or just simple preference. Overall, your guests will be much happier with the meal, trust me!
Most business dinner follow the usual American formula for dinner: a few appetizer, a large entrée, and then dessert. Usually, all of the guests sit in a line and face the speaker, and they don’t have much occasion to chat with one another or share ideas. If you change up the formula, though, you may end up with a more successful dinner overall. Set out appetizers and give guests time to mingle and chat at the beginning, let your guests order some food, then everyone can sit down and listen to the speaker. Change up the seating to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere, and break up the presentation to allow for discussion over dinner.
The servers at Söntés are great at their jobs, and they’re committed to helping everything come together perfectly for our guests. Trust your server to monitor your guests’ appetites and interest level, bring out more food when necessary, and cut back as people are slowing down. Your server can also help with timing—making sure that your dinner is kept on track.
Most event organizers and business owners worry that if they let their guests have complete freedom, their budget will be good and blown. The thing is, that’s not true. I’m telling you here and now that if you let us run your business dinner like I’ve described above, you’ll not only meet your budget, but you may even have room to spare. People are frankly surprised by how inexpensive a business dinner with us can be. Think about it, though. Our dishes are not as expensive as folks assume, and they’re rich and filling. Most guests will order a moderate amount, and not the most expensive things on the menu, either. As far as drinks go, we’ll work with you to determine what your budget is, and get you some great wine or bar drinks within that amount.
There’s no charge for us to create a special menu, and no charge for us to organize the event. There is a room fee if you want to reserve a private room in advance, but if it’s a smaller group, we can arrange a seating area in one of our main dining rooms for no fee whatsoever.
So, if you’re thinking about hosting a Rochester business dinner or a party, give us a ring or shoot us an email!