January 9, 2005

Vacation: Food and Wine Report


Turns out, them's good eats. I know, I was shocked too. I ordered it at one restaurant on a whim. I figured, since Kangaroos are the Australian version of our racoon, it would probably be gamey, stringy, and fairly disgusting. But, instead, it was a very pleasant meat, served rare, with a taste reminiscent of duck (an oddly low fat duck) and the consistency of rare filet of beef.

Other Food.

Anything and everything you want, except there's not a single decent Mexican food place in the whole country. There's a serious opportunity there. Someone. Go. Do it. Burritos, Tacos and Margaritas belong on those beaches!

Like California, there's a strong commitment to good food and large immigrant communities from almost every well-known food nation to offer their expertise. In continuation of that pseudo-California, but ha-ha, not really at all theme, Aussies call the first course the entree, and what Americans refer to as the entree, they call the mains. Also, Chilled oysters are served all over Sydney for about 1/2 the price of their Californian cousins. Loving shellfish, I took advantage of this on two occasions, once as an entree, once as a mains.

The best meal of the trip, hands down was enjoyed over a 3-hour view of the harbor from Forty One on the forty-second floor of Chiefly Tower in downtown Sydney. We had the 3-course offering, which when the mini intra-courses were included came to a delicious total of 6. The amuse-bouche included an asian soup spoon piled with wakame, salmon tar-tar, and roe. Pre-loaded spoons of ocean delight, can you get more lazily decadent? We also managed to drink A$50 worth of water. We had come from a day on the beach and were thirsty, the service just kept pouring... in hindsight, we should have ordered another bottle of wine for the same money and opted to re-hydrate with water at a more reasonable price after we left. Oh well.

The filet mignon was fabulous, as were my oysters, served with a martini-sorbet shot topped with the freshest pop-in-your mouth caviar I've had since 1999 (ahh, the bubble years). We finished with the cheese plate for two, and we were pleased to see that it contained several Australian offerings--the Victorian double-cream brie was as good as any french equivalent I've ever had, and both times we had Australian goat cheese, it was fabulous. Add a good Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and fireworks (someone hired a private fireworks display over the harbor, apparently they do that...) and it was well worth the ridiculous price (which would have been at least 35%-40% more in California).

Asian food, interestingly, was almost half the price of the equivalent quality food in California. No doubt this is partially because we stayed in Chinatown and were close to some of the good finds (our hotel had a cheap and FABULOUS malaysian restaurant despite the sparse decour). But, it also probably a combination of the proximity to Asia and the lack of popularity with non-asian clientele. E and I had one of the best Sushi meals we've ever had in a small restaurant where every person there besides us was either a Japanese tourist or of easily recognizable Japanese descent (most appeared to be hosting relatives for the New Year). The fish was as fresh as it comes and the entire meal including wine and sake cost less than half of what we would pay at home. Street sushi bars are much more popular than sit-down sushi restaurants, and many offered A$2.50 plates. This is raw fish people! That's too cheap.

Table Wine.

Good cheap wine is of slightly higher quality than the average Californian bottle of comparable price. The price differential between the two is low enough that I suspect a slight change in currency values and the inverse comment was/would be true. If a bottle is less than A$15 it invariable comes with a screw-top, which is quite helpful to travelers taking wine on picnics or opening a bottle for a glass but wishing to store the rest for later. The Hunter Valley is the only wine region close to Sydney (2-3 hours away with traffic). To be honest, we had much better wine from the bottle shop than from any of the wineries we visited in Hunter Valley. When looking at a wine region map, the 12 well-known regions are clustered around Adelaide and Melbourne. Next trip, we'll be heading there. In particular, this trip, we had a few great Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs, and McClaren Vale Shirazes (Shirazs? Whatever, Syrahs.)

Oaked Wines.

I learned that in Australia and New Zealand, wood chips and/or sawdust from used barrels or oakshavings from the barrel making process are often dunked in the must to impart oak flavor. I'd never heard of this process before and was amused to find that they refer to it as "teabagging." Yet another important cultural difference. Kiwis, Aussies, be careful when using this term in the US.


I'd heard somewhere that there was a sweet wine made from moldy grapes. Noble rot, it's called. Mmmmm, sounds delicious. Just like toe jam from stomping the grapes. I tasted quite a bit of Semillon Botrytis in Hunter Valley, the oldest wine region in the Country. The "stickies" were definitely some of the better wines made in this region: sweet, fruity, and well... too sweet and fruity for me at 11 AM. But I could see how they could be enjoyed. Mainly by people who love dessert, that is, people not like me. But at least they weren't horrible like many of the other wines we tasted. In fairness, we only visited 3 wineries and had another winery's Shiraz with lunch (which wasn't bad with food, but definitely was not great). So maybe the other 136 wineries in the region produce innovative, delicious, and wonderful wines. But, Judging by the quality of what people were willing to pour (dirty, sedimenty, oxidated-to-the-point of vinegar "shiraz" at one establishment) and the level of "education" at the tasting rooms, I just think this region still has a ways to come before it catches up with the younger regions to the West. But, it taught me about Botrytis, which is responsible for Sauternes, and "teabagging" which is good for a laugh.

Overall, the food and wine were excellent.

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