GewürztramIndian -- Wine Tasting and Dinner at Ajanta Restaurant
Last night 12 thirsty and hungry hounds met at Ajanta Indian Restaurant for an evening of Gewürztraminer tasting and Indian cuisine. Below is the wine list and menu. My fellow hounds, please post your opinions. Ill be back later to share my thoughts.
The Marriage of Spicy Food and Spicy Wines
Ajanta Indian Restaurant
June 17, 2004
Flight 1 Brave New World
A 2003 Claiborne and Churchill Central Coast Gewürztraminer
B 2002 Thomas Fogerty Monterey Gewürztraminer
C 2002 Annapolis Mendocino Gewürztraminer
D 2002 Navarro Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer "Estate Bottled Dry"
E 2002 Baccharis Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer "Floodgate Vineyard"
F 2002 Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewürztraminer
G 1993 Z Moore Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer "Barrel Fermented Dry
Flight 2 Earliest and Latest
H 2002 Cantina Termeno Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer
I 2001 Gunderloch Rheinhessen Gewürztraminer
J 2001 Herbert Messmer Burrweiler Altenforst Gewürztraminer Spätlese
K 2002 Kuentz-Bas Gewürztraminer "Cuvee Tradition"
L 2001 Materne Haegelin Gewürztraminer
M 2001 Marc Kreydenweiss Kritt Gewürztraminer "Les Charmes"
Flight 3 Oh To Be Rich and Powerful
N 2000 Mure Alsace Schulzengass Gewürztraminer
O 2001 Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer "Herrenweg de Turkheim"
P 2000 Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer "Clos Windsbuhl"
Q 1999 Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer "Clos Windsbuhl"
R 1996 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer "Cuvee A"
Flight 4 (Not Exactly) Sweet
S 1997 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive
T 1994 Kuenta-Bas Gewürztraminer "Cuvee Caroline" Vendage Tardive
U 1994 Ernest Burns Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert Clos St. Imer "Cuvee de la Chapelle"
Bonus Wines (compliments of Ajanta)
V Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc
W Sula Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
PAPPADAM -- Indian lentil wafers, served with mint-cilantro sauce
TANDOORI CHICKEN CHAAT -- Chicken pieces marinated, grilled in tandoor oven, shredded, and then tossed with oil, lime juice, red onions, cilantro, ginger and spices
VEGETABLE SAMOSAS -- Deep fried pastries filled with mildly spiced potatoes and peas
DAKSHINI GOSHT -- Bonelss Niman ranch lamb pieces cooked in a sauce made with onions tamarind, almonds, coconut milk and spices including fenugreek and cumin (south India)
SEYAL MACHI -- Fresh catfish fillets saute'ed and then cooked in a sauce made with caramelized onions, turmeric, mango powder, coriander, and paprika (Sind)
VEGETABLE KOFTA -- Balls made with cauliflower, peas, carrots, potatoes, spices, and breadcrumds served in a curry sauce made with onions, tomatoes, yogurt, spices and cashews
MURG DO PYAZA -- Boneless chicken pieces cooked in a sauce made with onions, ginger, garlic and spices, served topped with caramelized onions, cashews and sunflower seeds (Hyderabad)
PORK VINDALOO -- Boneless cubed Niman ranch pork leg pieces marinated in malt vinegar and spices and then cooked in a sauce made with onions, garlic, chile peppers and spices (Goa)
SINDHI KADHI -- Mixed vegetables (green beans, peas, carrots and potatoes) simmered in a thick sauce made with chickpea flour, seasoned with tamarind, turmeric, and fenugreek (Sind)
LAMB BOTI KABOBS -- Boneless cubes of leg of lamb, marinated in yogurt, ginger, cumin, clove, and paprika, grilled in tandoor oven (Punjab)
RICE -- Basmati rice flavored with cardamom/cinnamon
ALU SAAG -- Spinach and potato cooked with spices
HOT PICKLES -- Green mango and citrus rind
NAAN -- Leavened dough bread cooked in Tandoor oven
TANDOORI PARATHA -- A flaky whole wheat bread
TANDOORI CHAPATI -- A basic Indian whole wheat bread
POORI -- Deep Fried puffy whole wheat bread
GULAB JAMUN -- Fried milk powder balls soaked in rose scented syrup
KHEER -- Indian rice pudding
RAS MASAI -- Paneer cheese cake served in a caramelized milk sauce
1888 Solano Avenue, Berkeley
Here are my thoughts on the food and a few on the wines (thought I don't have my notes on my so I can't do a detailed report on those now):
There are a few things about the way Ajanta does business that make it a favorite for me. First is their prix fixe menu. For $5 over the cost of any entree, one gets: papadam, an appetizer (samosa or alu tikki, the latter I no longer order because they added shitake mushrooms to it which I think ruins the dish), three large scoops or rice, a small portion of alu saag or chana masala, naan, three chutneys (mango, pickled carrots, and the outrageously powerful green mango and citrus rind pickles), and a choice of any dessert. This works out great when your with a small party (say, 4 or less) or when dining with people who aren't into sharing. I find that at more typical Indian restaurants with a small party or non-sharers, one ends up with a small selection of dishes because it becomes very expensive to order that many dishes. But at Ajanta, even though the main dishes entrees are on the expensive side ($10-$13 typically), which the prix fixe you get an incredible deal.
The other thing I really enjoy is that the menu is always changing. There are 15 or so entrees that rotate. Each month, three new are added and three old ones are retired. The dishes come from all over Indian. There are always some that are better than others, as we learned during this event. The staff is pretty helpful at helping you find the better ones. I see this as a very chowhoundy approach that fosters experimentation by both the diner and kitchen. Only recently did they add a few static dishes--chicken tikka masala, for example--for those who want something familiar. I have yet to try any of those dishes.
For this event, I ended up order 6 prix fixe menus, which provided us the chance to see what comes with the prix fixe, and supplemented it with additional appetizers, curries, breads, and a few desserts.
So, what did I like about the dishes we tried this night. My memory is fuzzy on a few items, on account of the elapsed time since the dinner and all the wine. But several things really stand out:
- Tandoori Chicken Chaat: I thought this was excellent. A very thai-like salad of chicken and herbs. A refreshing, lively dish.
- Lamb Boti Kabobs: In all my two dozen plus visits to Ajanta, this is the first time I have ever had a tandoori dish (there are always so many interesting new curries to try). But, boy, I almost regret not ordering some sooner. This was fantastic, right up there with the other best tandoori lamb of the curry dives: Shalimar lamb chops. Rare, tender but not tenderized lamb, with complex spicing. This was a great match with the final flight of rich, aged Gewurtzs. Red meat and white wine, it can be done. They also serve lamb chops, 3 to 4 for about $12, which is expensive but I'll order them next time because these kabobs were so good.
- Pork Vindaloo: Excellent, vinegary, fragrant sauce but very tough and dry pork. I would order vindaloo here again if it was a different meat (one that an Indian restaurant would have experience in preparing).
- Seyal Machi: I've generally enjoyed Ajanta's fish curries and this was another good one.
- Vegetable Kofta: I really liked this dish too. Flavorful balls of vegetables, crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside. Erika got a bit with a hard seed or nut that really hurt her teeth, nor did she care much for the mushy texture.
- Sindhi Kadhi: My least favorite dish. A bowl of vegetables in a viscous sauce. I would not order this again.
- Murg Do Piaza and Dakshini Gosht: I can't recall details of these dishes. It's probably safe to say they were neither excellent nor poor.
- Sides: The rice, saag, chana, and chutneys were as good always. The sweet mango chutney and mango/citrus pickles are always a great palatte waker-upper for the rest of the food.
- Breads: Like the tandoori, this was a revelation for me. The naan has always been very good here. But oh my, oh my, the chapati. This was the best Indian bread I've ever had. Extremely deep and rich whole wheat flavor, delicate and fluffy texture. A joy to eat. The paratha was also very good but had a somewhat denser texture, but that's purposeful because it is not prepared by layering puff-pastry-like the way chapati is. The puri was also good.
- Desserts: Once again, this place displays what gulab jamun should be, unlike any other place I've tried it, Curry Dive or on my own. Fresh, tender, warm balls of fried milk in sweet, rose-scented syrup. The ras malai was nice as a less-sweet alternative, though I'd never order it *instead* of the gulab jamun. The kheer was very poor and not something I would ever order again.
The staff was excellent in taking care of us for the evening. They were very accomodating on ordering (I got very creative with the use of the prix fixe and feared they might object to my cost optimization, but they never once balked). The two Sula wines they offered us on the house just because they were interested in seeing how wine lovers would react to them. At the end of the meal, Roger, the person who ran the show for us, asked for recommendations on which wines to stock. So if you see bottles of Nussbaumber show up on their list, you have us to thank!
Shoot. Gotta run now. I'll come back later to comment on the wines.
Please, the other 10 of you who attended, share your opinions. I want to hear what others thought. Thanks to Eric for posting a very insightful review so far. Let's hear more.
Thanks to Nick for organizing, and to everyone for bringing the wines. I enjoyed the evening and the company very much. This was a great advancement in my plan to "get more out of life," but perhaps not so much for my plan to "be a more serious person."
Tasting and remebering 22 different wines in an evening is perhaps a bit (i.e. enourmously) beyond my capabilities, but even so lining up four or five glasses of wine alongside each other and comparing them is entertaining and educational and just plain interesting, so much so that I didn't pay as much attention to the food as I would have liked to. Things that stood out for me were the tandoori chicken chaat (a cold salad), the catfish curry, and the vegetable kofta. The chicken salad was shredded white meat tandoori chicken in a light vinaigrette with mystery (to me) spices, onion, and herbs. Very nice. I was really surprised at the intense smokiness of the catfish curry, and certainly delighted. About the closest thing I can compare it to is the smoky onion-vinegar sauce on certain dishes at Bissap Baobab Senegalese Restaurant in the Mission. The vegetable kofta was just a ball-shaped veggie fritter in a nice sauce that was delicious. I wish I could discuss curries intelligently, but I can't. The breads were good, as were the pickles and chutney.
Regarding the wines: I was surprised in retrospect to realize that only a minority of the Gewurztraminers were actually very sweet; perhaps six or seven including the late-harvests. Most were within arm's reach of a off-dry Vouvray, and several were quite dry indeed.
Some for which I wrote down notes:
A: Claiborne and Churchill; one of two in which I noted a pineapple aroma- it also smelled sweet and a bit smoky to me. The overall effect recalled to me a pineapple cake.
F: Lawson's Dry Hills; the other pineapple-scented wine, this one was much more subtle. At first nose and taste it seemed perhaps flinty? (I am still trying to work out that descriptor) and certainly herby-grassy. Quite dry. When I went back to it those characteristics had receded, and I began to notice the pineapple and some generaly spiciness.
C: The Annapolis had a great honey color and strong fruity aroma; one of the sweeter non-dessert wines, it tasted strongly to me of white grapes.
G: The 1993 Z Moore had a character that reminded me very much of aged champagne, with that yeast autolytic (as I have heard it described) characteristic that has always reminded me of soy sauce. Very interesting.
Of the second flight I have regrettably few notes, perhaps because I was trying to eat at the same time. J, the Messmer Spatlese was to me the sweetest non-dessert, but well-balanced with acidity so that it didn't seem cloying to me. K, the Kuentz-Bas, was a bit less sweet but also less acid, and I didn't quite like it as much. L surprised me, as I had tried a Riesling from the same producer that was very dry, and expected the Gewurz to be the same. I won't make that mistake again. M, the Kreydenweiss, had many interesting characteristics. It's a biodynamic wine (there was a recent article in NYT food about this movement). I don't know how that affected this finished product, but I found it to be delicious, having a lemon and flowers nose and taste, finishing with a hint of the nuttiness you might find in some sherries or tawny port. It also had great body that didn't seem to be the result of high residual sugar. Mysterious.
I found N, the Mure Alsace, also to have a good body with mild sweetness with something of a vegetable/asparagus aroma. P, the Z-H 2000 Clos Windsbuhl, smelled strongly of roses to me, and was one of the more acidic wines, but again, balanced by the sweetness. R, Lucien Albrecht Cuvee A, was one of the more unique smelling wines of the evening, to me having distinct caramel and toasted marshmallow aromas. Neat.
Of the last three Gewurztraminers, I only remember liking them all. In fact, I wrote "fav->"to the left of "T," but I have no recollection of why.
The Indian wines: didn't like the Sauvignon Blanc. Tasted like Bell Pepper Slaw. Chenin Blanc was okay, similar to a value Vouvray.
If you've read this far, you should know that 1) I've only been drinking much wine for 9 months or so, and my average bottle price is about $15, 2) I'm still correlating my perceptions with the commonly-used verbal descriptors, 3) I work in a lab and maybe sniff too much methanol and acetic acid on a regular basis, and 4) I may have mixed up a glass or two after pouring. In fact, if you think I'm totally off base in my description of a given wine, assume (4).
Again, it was a pleasure. Hope to see you all again.