Restaurant: Esso Mediterranean Bistro [1, 2]
Location: 17933 Ventura Blvd. Encino, CA 91316. 818-514-6201
Date: September 6, 2012
Rating: Really delicious and authentic flavors
What do you get when you mix 25 people, 30+ bottles of blockbuster wine, and over 20 courses of homemade Syrian food?
Pure hedonism. And a hangover. Despite the later, what follows is another epic food and wine event. The venue is Esso Mediterranean Bistro, which is a hole in the wall in an Encino minimall right next door to my Kosher butcher. I’d never been here before but they serve up first rate Syrian fare and offer an selection of unusual dishes. The menu is here but the online menu doesn’t have all the interesting stuff.
It was quite the table. The compressed perspective of the lens doesn’t do the scale any justice.
Parker 92. “The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cuvee de Reserve is a gorgeous wine that captures the essence of Chardonnay in the Cote des Blancs. Pure, wiry and wonderfully expressive, the Cuvee de Reserve flows gracefully with layers of varietal fruit from start to finish. This shows superb clarity, depth and polish, particularly at the NV level. The current release is 65% 2007 and 35% reserve wines from a solera cuvee that contains 15 vintages. Roughly 2/3rds of the fruit comes from Mesnil, while the rest is from Cramant, Avize, Oger and Chouilly.”
“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.
The 1985 Chateau Thieuley Blanc. You wouldn’t think a 27 year-old white Bordeaux would even be drinkable, but this was very good: a stoney minerality and a surprising amount of remaining fruit.
“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.
Parker 95. “The Donnhoff 2005 Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spatlese trocken is expressively, diversely, and hauntingly floral, featuring as well inflections of citrus rind, peppermint and lavender. On the palate, this is pure, opulently rich, serene, free of any roughness, a glycerin-rich, slick pool of orchard fruits underlain by citrus, with hints of cherry pit and peach kernel and an ineffable sense of mineral matter. A long, bitter-sweet, persistently floral finish enhances the uncanny sense of weightlessness in this amazing wine. It confirms Donnhoff’s observation that his 2006s “have density yet also charm” and seem slim, despite their richness and regardless of what their analyses might lead one to believe. “I knew already twenty years ago that Dellchen had this in it. But now, the competition has gotten very tough for Hermannshohle,” he says laughing, but in complete seriousness. I would plan to follow this for up to 15 years.”
“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).
Parker 92, “This dark-colored wine has a nose reminiscent of stony blackberries, brambleberries, and smoke. This rich, powerful, expansive, pasty, and concentrated wine offers loads of cassis and black cherries in its flavor profile.” Despite Parker’s faint praise, this wine was drinking spectacularly. It had mellowed out into the beginning of that Burgundy mature phase.
“Stuffed Grape Leaves. Grape leaves stuffed with calrose rice, walnuts, onions, and spices.” I love these in general, and these specifically were particularly delicious.
Parker 91, “The Jadot 2005 Charmes-Chambertin epitomizes the dark, almost somber side of the vintage, which seems somewhat out of character for this site. A bitter side to black cherry fruit and low-toned meatiness characterize both the nose and palate, with a firm chalkiness and tactile notes of pungent brown spice informing a bitter-sweet and rather austere finish. But there is no denying the sheer intensity or length on display , and one would have to revisit only after 3-5 years, I suspect, to see whether more complexity and finesse had developed. This represents a blend of wine from three different sources, and possibly they have simply been reluctant to cohabitate.”
“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.
“The 2008 Pinot Noir (made from a Calera clone) exhibits a dark ruby hue as well as notes of plums, blueberries, brioche, flowers, raspberries, and pomegranate. Medium-bodied, fresh, and lively, it should drink nicely for a decade.”
“Tabouleh. Parsley, tomatoes, onions, bulghur (cracked wheat), mint, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil.” From the parsley oriented school of Tabouleh.
Parker 96, “All five of Turley’s 2008 Petite Syrahs (they do not spell it “Sirah”) are extraordinary, and I could probably write the same tasting notes for each. My favorites include the Hayne Vineyard and Library Vineyard, followed by the Pesenti Vineyard, which shows more chalky graphite characteristics. They all possess huge aromas of blackberries, blueberries, and ink, massive fruit concentration, enormous body, and a lot less alcohol than the Zinfandels (a character of this varietal). Readers who purchase any of these cuvees should forget them for 10 years, and drink them over the following 25-30 years. They will handsomely repay the investment in patience.”
“Hmmm. is that raw liver on the table?”
Parker 93, “This outstanding Tuscan producer has been exceptionally consistent over the last decade, so it is not surprising that the 1990s performed brilliantly. I recently had the 1985 Sammarco, largely because a subscriber had written to say it was falling apart. From my cellar, the wine remains remarkably youthful. Revealing no amber color, it offered a sensational nose of lead pencil, cassis, and new oak, as well as a gorgeously rich, powerful palate.”
Now we begin to dig deeply into the Rhone with a trio of Beaucastels and a number of other goodies.
1995 Les Cailloux. Parker 94-96, “1995 was a powerful vintage for Brunel. The Cuvee Centenaire remains a young, promising wine offering notes of licorice, cedar, vanilla, and sweet black currant/cherry fruit presented in a full-bodied, virile style.”
2001 Beaucastel. Parker 96, “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years.”
2005 Beaucastel. Parker 93-95, “Medium to deep garnet colour. Aromas of dark cherries, raspberry compote, cardamom, black truffles and a touch of star anise. The palate is full bodied, richly fruited with medium to high acidity and a medium+ level of grainy, slightly chewy tannins. Concentrated with a good compliment of structure to hold it up. Long peppery finish.”
2008 Beaucastel. Parker 90-94, “The 2008 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the few outstanding wines produced in this vintage. More evolved than Beaucastel’s wines tend to be, it reveals a healthy dark plum/ruby color, notes of licorice, meat juices, smoked game, black currants and garrigue, medium to full body, silky tannins, good freshness, surprising depth for the vintage and a long finish.”
“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.
Parker 94-96, “Chapoutier’s 1998 Barbe Rac is close to full maturity. It exhibits an abundance of Provencal herbs intermixed with new saddle leather, kirsch, framboise, and spice box. The intoxicatingly heady, complex aromatics are followed by a full-bodied, lush, succulent style of wine with a relatively high alcohol/glycerin content and loads of fruit. This wine is drinking terrifically well after going through an awkward stage about two to three years ago.”
“Kibbe Balls (5 pieces). 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.
John really puts the effort into opening…
“The 2012 Dasani.” Just kidding.
The 1983 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle!
Parker doesn’t love it, and the attack was a little weak, but it was still a lovely wine. “Although impressive early in life, it has taken on less than positive characteristics. The dark garnet color revealed substantial amber at the watery edge. The aromatics revealed scents of ground beef, coffee, cedar, dried herbs, tobacco, and damp earth. The wine was noticeably astringent, medium to full-bodied, harsh, and forbiddingly backward and austere.”
“Ras Naanah. sautéed meat with lemon, mint, garlic.” This stuff was amazing, one of my favorite dishes (and I loved most of them). This is essentially like spiced hamburger and it has a bit of sumac juice on it which really livened it up.
“Peat and black tea smokiness along with nutty piquancy in the nose of Baudrys’ 2007 Chinon La Croix Boissee lead to a palate with blackberry and Maine blueberry fruit matrix and an invigorating crunch of their seeds that allies itself beautifully to the aforementioned smokiness and pungency as well as to shrimp shell reduction on a firm but polished palate and a long, vivacious, saliva-inducing finish. This is a wine of rarified complexity, beautiful now but worth following for another several years.”
“Stuffed eggplant. Sprinkled with parsley and walnuts. Stuffed with ground beef, rice and spices.” Perfectly done, they basically melted apart.
The hedonistic life has its perks!
Parker 95-96, “Deep garnet-purple in color, the Old Bastard Shiraz reveals aromas of spice, blackberries and black cherry compote with a gentle undercurrent of underbrush, dusty earth, game, spice cake and smoked bacon. Full bodied, rich and opulent in the mouth, it has an abundance of savory / earthy flavors with a good backbone of lively acid and medium to firm velvety tannins, finishing long.”
“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.
Inside was this delicious ground meat mixture.
“This estate’s second wine, the 1996 Pavillon du Chateau Margaux, may turn out to be one of the most delicious examples the property has made. The wine is forward, sexy, round, and generous, with gobs of black fruit and a subtle dosage of new oak.”
“Raw sheep liver with spices.” My least favorite dish. Essentially someone called the Haruspex and then ran off with the tools of his trade. The liver was actually very flesh, and I do love it generally, just not necessarily bleeding on the plate.
“1975 Round Hill Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.”
“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.
Parker 97, “The 1990 Barolo Pajana is the first wine Clerico produced from this vineyard. It is also one of the most positive surprises in my recent tastings of the vintage. In 1990 Clerico made this Barolo using only the old portions of the vineyard, and that may be the reason the wine has aged so beautifully. Richer, rounder and softer than the Ciabot Mentin Ginestra, the 1990 Pajana is just superb in a sumptuous, enveloping expression of ripe, dark fruit. Tobacco, cedar, sweet spices, roasted coffee beans and plums are just some of the nuances that emerge from this full-bodied, intense Barolo. Clerico’s 1990 Barolo Pajana is a gem!”
Still young and bracingly tannic!
“BBQ Quail.” Really tasty, although perhaps a tad overcooked.
Parker 96+, “The 2005 Syrah Obsidian Vineyard is from Knight’s Valley. This is steep hillside vineyard stuff with a dense, dark purple color, a phenomenally rich nose of brioche, acacia flowers, blackberry, and blueberry jam intermixed with some white chocolate and perhaps hints of fig and truffle. The wine is spicy, full-bodied, incredibly opulent, and thick, even unctuously textured, with great purity and richness. Moreover, the glycerin and viscosity cover up some huge tannins. This is an amazingly big, thick wine, but it still cascades over the palate like a waterfall.”
“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.
“One of the vintage’s most profound wines, the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Mon Aieul has a dense purple color as well as a glorious nose of blackberries, licorice, smoke, and some roasted meats and dried herbs. Amazingly opulent, even voluptuous, with extraordinary purity, a huge tactile impression on the palate, but not heavy by any means, this is a stunning Chateauneuf du Pape from ancient vines made with 95% Grenache and the rest Cinsault and Syrah. Production is about 8,000 bottles, and the wine is bottled after spending its entire life in epoxy-lined tanks, so what one gets is the essence of the three separate terroirs it comes from – Les Serres, Guigasse, and La Crau.”
“Liver Kebab.” Basically they grilled up our raw chunks. Also not my favorite as it was pretty chewy.
Parker 100! “There are 1,800 cases of the 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee du Mon Aieul (100% tank-aged Grenache). It represents an awesome naked/virginal expression of Grenache from three vineyard parcels planted in sand, clay, and limestone soils. After tasting this wine on five separate occasions, I can state with certainty, it has the most saturated color of any Mon Aieul produced to date. Moreover, its perfume of blueberry liqueur, black raspberries, licorice, roasted meat juices, and lavender is incredible. Full-bodied power, a multilayered mouthfeel, tremendous purity, and awesome concentration put this wine in a class by itself.”
“Ourfa Kebab. Grilled Italian eggplant between chucks of ground beef.” These were amazing. You pick off the smoky skin and eat the beef with the eggplant mush. Delicious!
“1982 Schlofs-Bauer Ice Wine Pinot Gris.” Mature, amber, and fantastic.
“Ashta. cream pistachio syrup.” I could have eaten about six of these. So up my dessert alley. I love soft creamy things (don’t take that the wrong way). There was some rose water in here too which I adore.
Parker 94, “The 2010 Corton-Charlemagne is pure class and elegance. Soft, floral notes meld into nuanced, finessed pears and apples in this feminine, gracious Corton-Charlemagne. Deceptively medium in body, the wine nevertheless possesses gorgeous depth, richness and power. A closing blast of fruit informs the pointed, vibrant finish. This is a gorgeous wine with plenty of promise. The Corton-Charlemagne is made from a blend of Pernand-Vergelesses and Ladoix fruit, approximately two-thirds and one-third respectively.”
“Baklavah.” A mix of different pastries. These were fine, but aren’t my favorite type. I like them drenched in honey and flavored with rose water!
“Fresh watermelon.” Really good watermelon too. Very sweet.
Overall, just amazing. I’ll have to hit this place up sometime for lunch and/or drag my brother-in-law and family (who live like two blocks away) over there. A totally epic combination of food, wine, and people.
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