Restaurant: Esso Mediterranean Bistro [1, 2]
Location: 17933 Ventura Blvd. Encino, CA 91316. 818-514-6201
Date: February 3, 2016
Rating: Really delicious and authentic flavors
One of my first couple Hedonist dinners was an epic Armenian / Syrian dinner at Esso and while I’ve gone a couple of times myself, I was very excited for the group’s big return. Esso Mediterranean Bistro is a hole in the wall in an Encino mini-mall right next door to my Kosher butcher. It serves up first rate Syrian fare and a selection of unusual dishes. The owners hail from the beleaguered city of Aleppo — an ancient settlement with a longstanding great culinary tradition based around its location near the birthplace of Western Civilization.
NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Tête de Cuvée. 91 points. Lemon colour, plentiful bead. Toasty pear nose, a little icing sugar. Full, rich taste; orchard fruits, very toasty. Rather vintage/grand cru in style and quality. Great value.
From my cellar: 2011 Prager Riesling Smaragd Klaus. VM 91. Rich aromas of vineyard peach, passion fruit and acacia honey. Tautly strung on the palate, with juicy apricot fruit wound around a vibrant backbone. The wine’s discreet residual sugar is disguised by abundant minerals and a lemony nuance. With a long finish featuring yellow plum and wet rocks, this riesling shows good balance in spite of its 14% alcohol.
Hummos. Chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and spices. Topped with extra virgin olive oil and parsley. This was some great hummos, and very fresh. But I still like Sunnin’s a little better because of the lemony garlic tang.
2008 Domaine / Maison Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières. VM 91. Yellow peach on the nose. Lush and silky in the mouth, conveying a distinctly sweeter impression than the examples from Chassagne-Montrachet. Stone fruit, spice and crushed rock flavors are complemented by some vanillin oak.
Moutebbel (Baba Ghannouj). Roasted eggplant mixed with sesame sauce, garlic, and lemon juice. Topped with extra virgin olive oil. A very fine example, with pleasant smokey flavors.
2012 Maison Albert Bichot Corton-Charlemagne Domaine du Pavillon. Burghound 92. This is a bit more discreetly oaked though again, the wood treatment is not invisible on the overtly floral nose of green apple and wet stone. There is outstanding concentration to the powerful broad-shouldered flavors that possess better energy and plenty of minerality on the driving finish. Despite the fact that this should reward up to a decade of cellaring there is so much dry extract that this could actually be enjoyed young if desired.
Lebneh. Yogurt/cheese. I love this stuff. I find it cuts the far/factor on a lot of dishes.
2012 Bruno Giacosa Barbera d’Alba. 90 points. Dark purple. Nose of cherry and rose. Dark fruit in the mouth. Great acid. A bit hot, but surprisingly fresh and fruity.
Sliced liver pate. With pistachios. Not totally sure it was liver, but it seemed like it. Good stuff.
1998 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis. RR 95. Full medium ruby. Explosive aromas of cassis, brown spices, tar, mocha, spearmint and crushed pepper. Sweet, spicy and highly concentrated, with black fruit and pepper flavors given clarity and grip by solid underlying structure. Very long and aromatic on the back end, with pepper and spicy oak notes. Perhaps the best vintage yet for this bottling, which was inaugurated with the excellent ’95.
Eggplant stuffed with tomato. Very pretty. I’m not a tomato fan, so I preferred the later meat versions.
From my cellar: 1990 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. RR 97. Similarly rich colour. Intense fruit, rich with aromas of roasted garrigue herbs, with nuances of ink and wet stones. A rich and hedonistic wine on entry, with an immediately apparent full and velvety texture. Despite its age this big and muscular wine still has a wealth of tannins, but with fine acidity and such rich fruit this wine will go the distance. Ripe fruits, with some aromatic, almost floral notes. A spicy, tannic finish, and some considerable length. This wine is still on the way up, and should be superb.
Stuffed Grape Leaves. Grape leaves stuffed with calrose rice, walnuts, onions, and spices. I love these in general, and these specifically were particularly delicious.
2003 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape. Parker 97-98. While I’ve always loved the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape, it was extremely controversial in its youth due to its exuberance and ripeness. Yet today, with the wine at maturity, all of that controversy has been put to bed and I know of no one contesting the beauty of this wine – the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape will be the same. Looking at the 2003 vintage, Paul-Vincent told me that they started harvest on September 5, but quickly had to stop due to rain on the September 7. They waited for the vineyards to dry out and the last plots weren’t brought in until October 4! As to the wine, this beautiful 2003 offers a kaleidoscope of kirsch liqueur, Asian spices, ground herbs, blackberries and incense. Full-bodied, textured, ripe and plush, Avril commented that this would evolve similar to the ’89, but I certainly see no need to delay gratification here and would drink up while the getting’s good!
agavin: really nice. Probably WOTN.
Mohammera. A spicy mix of walnuts, bread crumbs, paprika, pepper paste, and pomegranate juice. I love mohammera, and have even made it. This particular one was quite spicy with a really nice zing. It made an amazing pairing with the Donnhoff Riesling above (and none of the other wines, haha).
2011 Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape la Bernardine. Parker 89. Leading off and a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, the 2011 Chateauneuf du Pape La Bernardine is a solid, workhorse-styled effort that offers up notions of sweet red cherries, licorice, garrigue and earthy notes on the nose. Medium-bodied, lively and fresh, with an overall elegant, supple profile, it won’t make old bones, yet is a joy to drink and will dish out plenty of pleasure over the coming 5-6 years.
Tabouleh. Parsley, tomatoes, onions, bulghur (cracked wheat), mint, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. From the parsley oriented school of Tabouleh.
Salad. Standard Middle Eastern cucumber and tomato salad. I liked the tangy dressing and the crunch of the cucumber.
2008 Clos Saint-Jean Chateauneuf du Pape la Combe des Fous. Parker 94. The 2008 Chateauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous shows what this estate can do in a more difficult vintage. Full-bodied, seamless and beautifully textured, it has ample kirsch, forest floor, truffle, black pepper, and an exotic, liquid flower-like quality to go with superb concentration and silky, polished tannin. Showing the vintage’s cooler nature, it nevertheless has serious richness and depth. Drink it over the coming decade.
Kibbeh pie. A sort of pie shaped pastry of spiced meat and bulgur wheat. Similar ingredients to the kibbeh balls, but with a higher wheat ratio.
2003 Chateau de la Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee des Cadettes. Parker 91-96. The luxury cuvee, the Cuvee des Cadettes, is the only Chateauneuf du Pape completely aged in 100% new oak, a la many Bordeaux and Burgundies. The 2003 is an outstanding wine but somewhat of a letdown after what I tasted from cask. A 1,000+-case blend of 47% Grenache, 36% Syrah, and the rest Mourvedre, the wine has a deep purple color, a sweet nose of graphite, toasty new oak, cassis, and black fruits. In the mouth, it is medium to full-bodied, revealing more rugged tannin than it did last year as well as aggressive new oak. Nevertheless, there is impressive concentration, but the 2003 is not up to the level of the brilliant 2001 or 1998, the two finest Cuvees des Cadettes I have tasted. In short, it seems to have tightened up and taken on a far more tannic personality than it had last year. Anticipated maturity: now-2014.
agavin: I thought this was a little hot and over oaked. It didn’t taste like a typical CNDP.
Kebbe Nayye. Fine minced raw beef, cracked wheat, onions, parsley and spices. Topped with extra virgin olive oil. A very unusual dish. This is a kind of steak tartar. Soft and slimy in texture, it was very mild in flavor.
2004 Shirvington Shiraz. Parker 95. The sensational 2004 Shiraz’s inky/purple color is followed by aromas of graphite, blueberries, and creme de cassis. It offers wonderful purity, plenty of stuffing, toasty espresso notes from new oak barrels, admirable intensity, and a tremendous finish. Drink it over the next decade. Former winemakers Sarah and Sparky Marquis have left Shirvington and the wine is now being made by Kim Johnston. Little has changed, although the 2004s appear to be more streamlined and delicate than their 2003 and 2002 counterparts.
Crispy cheese “spring rolls.” Like a cigar shaped version of the triangular shaped versions of these. Really great, though, nice soft cheese contrasting with the crispy dough.
2007 Booker Vineyard Alchemist (Syrah / Cabernet Sauvignon) Booker Vineyard. Parker 96. The 2007 The Alchemist, an intriguing blend of 79% Syrah, 19% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, is fabulous. Inky ruby/purple in color, with an extraordinary nose of scorched earth a la a top Graves wine from Bordeaux intermixed with tar, acacia flower, blackberry, and creme de cassis as well as graphite, its incredibly complex aromatics are followed by a full-bodied wine with considerable opulence, flesh, purity, and depth. Seamless integration of tannin, good, vibrant acidity (no doubt from the limestone soils), and a freshness (despite the wine’s substantial size) make for a compelling red. Drink it over the next 10-15 years.
Moujetderreh. Lentil with bulghur and sauteed onions. I’ve never had this dish, and it was amazing. The pleasant soft texture combined with a really lovely flavor.
2005 Adelina Wines Shiraz. Parker 87. The 2005 Shiraz is sourced from a 100-year-old estate vineyard. Purple-colored, it offers an expressive perfume of cedar, plums, and blueberry. This is followed by a concentrated but straightforward wine with soft tannins, good balance and length, as well as several years of aging potential. Perhaps a few years in bottle will yield more complexity. If so, my score will appear conservative.
Shekh Meghsy. Squash stuffed with ground beef. Topped with fresh tomato and served with rice and yogurt.” These were also spectacular, even if they do look a tad like dog turds.
2006 Tatiarra Caravan of Dreams Shiraz Pressings. Parker 94. The 2006 Pressings Shiraz Caravan of Dreams was aged for 18 months in new American oak. It offers an expressive nose of cedar, spice box, pencil lead, game, and blueberry compote. Dense, full-bodied, and structured on the palate, it has a big core of concentrated, savory blue and black fruit, with pepper and chocolate notes making an appearance. Give it 6-8 years of additional cellaring and drink it from 2015 to 2030.
Armenian pizza. Crunchy bred with a layer of spiced meat inside.
2006 Mitolo Shiraz G A M. Parker 95. The 2006 Shiraz “G.A.M.” (the initials of the Mitolo children) was aged in French and American oak, 60% new. Opaque purple in color, it has an aromatic array of roasted coffee, violets, lavender, pepper, Asian spices, blueberry, and blackberry liqueur. In the mouth it is velvety-textured, deep, concentrated, opulent, and altogether hedonistic. It will evolve for 5-7 years and drink well through 2026.
Kibbe Balls. Lean beef balls mixed with bulghur (cracked wheat), stuffed with ground beef, and onions.” Meat torpedo, and not the Spinal Tap version. These were amazing.
2013 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Parker 94. A beautiful ripe, plump, fat and opulent style of Cabernet Sauvignon that Caymus has pioneered, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon has a dense purple color, loads of juicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, low acidity and no real evidence of oak, but a nice, plush, full-bodied opulence. This is irresistible, especially for a Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 14.9% natural alcohol. Drink it over the next decade or more.
agavin: tasted way too much like fruity oak for my taste
Sausage and peppers. Really tasty grilled wieners. Pickled peppers.
2008 Clos Mimi Cabernet Sauvignon Mcginley Vineyard. Parker ?. This is generally a Rhone Ranger-dominated portfolio, but Clos Mimi has produced a 2007 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the McGinley Vineyard in Santa Barbara that is a beautiful wine, without a bit of herbaceousness. Inky/purple, with a big sweet kiss of creme de cassis, camphor, spice box, and cedar, it is rich, full-bodied, and probably capable of evolving for 20+ years. This is a brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon from an area where no one ever expects to produce Cabernet of this quality.
Eggplant with meat and cheese. I’ve never had this one, but it was really good.
2006 Ridge Monte Bello. Parker 94+. While it is eclipsed by the brilliance of the 2005, the 2006 Monte Bello (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc) is a very strong effort. Its dense purple color is followed by copious aromas of creme de cassis, licorice, spice box, and a touch of oak. Well-balanced, dense, pure, layered, and rich, its big, rich style is similar to the 2003. This cuvee should keep for 25-30 years in a cool cellar.
2000 Wantirna Estate Cabernet-Merlot Amelia (mag).
Stuffed eggplants with rice and sausage. Never had this mix exactly, but the vegetables were stuffed with that same ugly pale stuff — but it tasted great, a risotto-like blend of rice, cheese, and sausage.
2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. 91 points. Velvet tannins. Medium acid finish. Enjoyed two glasses on day one. Quality wine. For the price it had better be. Most expensive bottle at my local grocery store. Goes down easy. High guzzle index. On the sweet end, but I wouldn’t call it a fruit bomb.
This bottle had a funny story as Michael Z forgot his wine and got it next door at BevMo — although I would have preferred the Rhones he was supposed to bring 🙂
Moussakaa. Always one of my favorites, although this one looks like French onion soup!
But inside are some of the classic elements: spiced meat and eggplant. Very good, although I prefer it Greek style with the Béchamel. Love me my Béchamel.
Frog legs Aleppo style. Yum. If you can ignore the amphibian factor (ribbit!) Kermit tasted great. Like a fish chicken blend, incredibly juicy, and with lots of garlic.
Whey yogurt with honey and pistachios. Incredible blend of creamy dairy, sweetness, and nutty crunch. Probably a several thousand year-old dessert, but incredible.
I thought the Rhones paired the best — although I’m never a fan of new world. I probably missed a couple of wines too because it was a large 20 person table and very chaotic.
Overall, just an amazing evening. A totally epic combination of food, wine, and people. We had so much food that everyone basically ran out of steam after the warm appetizers and only ended up with about 2 entrees! Really, there was too much of each dish but it was just a ridiculous amount of food — and almost all so tasty!
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