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“Road To Morocco” Prix-Fixe is all about Ras el Hanout

Without Ras el hanout, there would be no Moroccan-style cooking, or likely any distinctive cuisine in North Africa.  It is this powerful blend of as many as a dozen spices that add character and sense of place to Chef Alexander’s prix-fixe travelogue for our first adventure in 2016:  January’s “Road to Morocco.”

Join us for this four-course (with choices) special event from January 26 to 31, with service beginning at 5 p.m. each evening.  Cost is $59.95 per person ++.  Reservations are recommended by calling 530-823-0320 or by going online at www.opentable.com.  All guests must be at least 21 years of age.

The equivalent in English of “Ras el hanout” is “top shelf,” or the best spices available, and in this blend–which is customized by shops, restaurants and even families–you’ll encounter ingredients that can include cardamom, cumin, coriander, peppercorn, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, all spice, chili peppers, hot paprika, dry ginger and turmeric.  Ras el hanout is as pervasive in North African cuisine as garam masala in classic Indian fare, so expect to see this spice blend in many of Chef Alexander’s dishes this month.

You’ll also frequently encounter “preserved lemons,” another traditional staple of the cuisine of North Africa.  Chef refers to preserved lemons (whole lemons cured in salt) as “the secret flavoring agent” that adds saltiness and enhances the taste of anything it is added to–soups, stews, sauces and salads.

With these two backbones of Moroccan cooking in mind, here’s an overview of next week’s exciting menu:

First Course (choice of one):

Rabbit Basteeya (Spiced Almond, Prune, Foie Gras Sauce):  Basteeya is a traditional Moroccan meat pie Chef describes as “riding the line between sweet and savory.”  It is a simple package of layers of goodness wrapped in phyllo that delivers a very complex set of flavors.  Chef Alexander’s interpretation starts with California farm-raised rabbit braised with onion and Ras el hanout, the unique blend of Moroccan  spices described above.  The meat is picked from bones and mixed with diced prunes and caramelized onions and layered with ground almonds seasoned with orange blossom water, cinnamon and sugar.  This package is then baked until golden brown and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.  Served with savory greens and a rich foie gras sauce.

Grilled Octopus (Chickpea, Celery, Preserved Lemon, Harissa Vinaigrette):  Chef has sourced octopus from the Spanish coast on the Mediterranean (because it is smaller and more tender than local).  He slow cooks for an hour in a braising liquid of veggies and herbs until tender.  Tentacles are grilled separately and tossed in harrisa, a fiery condiment of red chili, roasted peppers, cayenne, garlic, coriander, caraway, sherry vinegar and olive oil that is combined into a thick paste.  Chef transforms this into a vinaigrette by adding sherry and olive oil.  The octopus sits on a platform of chickpea purée and plated with a salad of whole chickpeas, celery and preserved lemon (described above).

Wagyu Beef Kefta (62° Egg, Goat Milk Feta, Tomato):  Chef Alexander’s take on “kefta” meatballs (evocative of his famous lamb meatballs) made from ground wagyu beef combined with mint, parsley and Ras el hanout and then seared before baking in a cast iron skillet. . .swimming in a spicy sauce made from tomatoes stewed with garlic, onion and spices.  Topped with goat milk feta and a 62° farm egg cooked sous vide in a water bath. . .producing a creamy yolk and just-set egg white.

Second Course (choice of one):

Roast Carrot Salad (Blood Orange, Moroccan Olive, Avocado Puree):  Here is Chef Alexander’s riff on a classic Seven Salads of Morocco: Chef selects locally-sourced, mixed color, baby heirloom carrots that he roasts and tosses with extra virgin olive oil, coriander, cumin, blood-orange segments and imported Moroccan oil-cured (not brined) olives.  For extra creaminess, Chef plates with a base of avocado purée.

Harira Soup (Lentils, Root Vegetables, Winter Greens, Yogurt):  If you were to be invited to a friend’s house in Casablanca, chances are your meal would start with a bowl of harira soup.  This is simple, rustic, peasant food made with lentils, spices, seasonal root veggies and wilted greens.  Chef garnishes with a dollop of yogurt.  A perfect dish for a cold, rainy night in Auburn.

Entrée (choice of one):

California Swordfish (Eggplant Zaalouk, Cauliflower, Pomegranate, Charmoula):  Chef’s straightforward preparation is to pan-roast California swordfish portions marinated in green charmoula (a sauce made from parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, coriander, preserved lemon and EVO. . .also drizzled on the plate).  Presented with a cooked salad of charred eggplant and tomatoes pureed with garlic; served with roasted cauliflower, parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Roasted Whole Organic Baby Chicken (Preserved Lemon, Green Olive, Roast Fennel and Potatoes):   A whole, roughly one-pound organic, baby chicken is marinated in lemon, garlic, fresh herbs, Ras el hanout and saffron; then roasted, halved and served on a bed of roast fennel, potatoes, green olives and preserved lemon.

Dixon Lamb Tagine (Apricot, Sesame, Turnip, Couscous):  Chef Alexander acknowledges this dish is “tagine style” because it simply not possible to produce in quantity.  Lamb shoulder is browned and then slow-cooked with onion, dried apricots, veal stock, tomato and the omnipresent Ras el hanout.  This stew’s lamb is fall-apart tender and garnished with sesame (instead of nuts), baby turnips, more dried apricot.  Served with steamed couscous and cilantro.

Dessert (choice of one):

Rosewater Meringue (Citrus-Mint Salad, Sheep Yogurt Mousse, Almonds):  Chef Courtney McDonald is in charge here.  She makes meringue with whipped egg whites and scented rosewater.  Layered with a mousse made from sheep’s milk yogurt, sugar, gelatin and whipped cream.  Accompanied by a citrus salad made from grapefruit and orange segments tossed with mint and garnished with chopped almonds.

Saffron Rice Pudding (Dried Fig and Pomegranate Chutney, Candied Pistachio):  Chef uses Arborio rice (think risotto) cooked with sugar, milk, cream, fresh vanilla bean and saffron.  This golden rice pudding is served in a bowl with chutney created from dried fig, honey, cinnamon and pomegranate.  Garnished with chopped candied pistachio.

From Our Attorneys:  Vegetarian options available; substitutions politely (but resolutely) declined; no split dinners; max of two credit cards; must be at least 21 to gain entry through the front door.

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“Wine Thing 2016″ is Set for January 30

Here it comes again. . .your best chance to score unprecedented deals storewide on incredible wines.  This is our signature, annual sale that began back in the Dark Ages of Carpe Vino. . .circa 2003.  Plug in these digits:  1/30/16, 12 to 3 p.m.

This is a mega-event for Wine Club members only.  No guests; no hangers-on; no moochers.  Must display your Wine Club tattoo for entry.

The concept is primeval:  explore upwards of 100 wines; taste; spit; purchase two cases; save monumentally.  Based on historical precedent, we’ve invited our top brokers and distributors to bring their best/hottest/nicely priced wines to the Friendly Confines for a tasting frenzy.  WC members have a scant three hours to do as much damage as possible before filling out order forms.

The discount structure is simple:  Minimum discount is 5%; then you save an additional 1% on every bottle you purchase up to 24.  Maximum discount is 24% on two cases, but the more you buy. . .of course, the more you save.  Note:  some “net” wines do not qualify for discounts but will build to the two-case max.

The wine list is being finalized by the Heir Apparent as we speak.  Drew will be in touch with a link and password to the online list that you can download and study at your leisure.

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“Road to Morocco” Launches 2016 Prix-Fixe Season

Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in their 1942 road trip flick, we’re off on the road to Morocco through Chef Alexander’s first prix-fixe event of the 2016 season.  Join us from January 26 to 31 for “Road to Morocco,” a four-course dinner with choices that celebrates the cuisine of North Africa.

moroccoposter.180559The third of seven road trip adventures (Rio, Singapore, Hong Kong and more), the plot of the duo’s Moroccan escapade is, like all of their films, corny and contrived:  Starving vagabond Jeff (Bing Crosby) sells best friend Orville (Bob Hope) into slavery in a Moroccan marketplace to buy food.  Searching for his partner after an attack of conscience, Jeff discovers that Orville is now engaged to the gorgeous Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour).

Chef Alexander has created 10 dishes for this dinner that are every bit as tasty and alluring as Ms. Lamour herself.  The menu is an exciting blend of exotic, classic Moroccan dishes with the Chef’s wonderful California spin.  As an appetizer, for example, select Rabbit Basteeya with spiced almond, prune and foie gras sauce.  Basteeya is traditionally a sweet and savory pie (think pot pie) filled with a mixture of meat and spices.  The centerpiece of Chef’s take is rabbit.

We’ll feature options like Harira Soup, Dixon Lamb Tagine and Saffron Rice Pudding.  For the less adventurous among you. . .relax and trust us!  You’re gonna love this one!

For those of you who are uncomfortable with change, you will be pleased to learn that prix-fixe pricing remains static at $59.95 per person plus tax and tip.  Reservations are highly recommended by calling the restaurant at 530-823-0320 or go online to www.opentable.com.

Tune in next week for a course-by-course sit down with the Chef as he reveals all about Road to Morocco. Click here for reservations.

Tuscany is Next International Wine Tour Destination

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve segued into an emeritus role at Carpe Vino and Drew is now firmly at the helm of our family business.  One of my greatest joys in this transition is I’ve had the freedom get out and explore wine regions around the world.  And on tours of Spain in 2013 and Provence last year, my adventures included a band of like-minded wine lovers.

I am pleased to announce that my 2016 event, in partnership with Earthbound Expeditions of Bainbridge Island, Washington, will be an 10-day exploration of the Wine Estates of Tuscany and Beyond.  In collaboration with Earthbound’s owner, Matthew Brumley, we’ve nailed down a circuit that will start in Chianti and snake through Tuscany and a corner of Umbria before ending in Rome.  Ten days, gallons (okay, liters) of wine, enough dazzling food to choke an Etruscan and a smattering of art and antiquities to sate the intellectuals in our ranks.  It’s gonna be our Provence tour on steroids.

Seriously, this is going to be another awesome adventure (I no longer worry about managing expectations), and as we have in the past, our alumni received the right of first refusal to sign up; 11 people jumped on the early opportunity.  We have room for 26 travelers, so just 15 berths remain.

The goal behind this trip is to create an experience that is an immersion in the country lifestyle and culture of Tuscany.  Our route is compact, and we’ll focus on up-close looks at wineries in or near Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Orvieto.  We’ll dine at amazing restaurants and you will be totally delighted with the hotels Matthew has reserved for us.

Click here for access to an online brochure detailing where we are going and what we expect to do.  We’re 10 months out, so we have time to fill in specifics (hotels, wineries, attractions), but expect the same kind of excellent experiences our groups have enjoyed in the past.  I’ll keep you posted with updates as I get more definitive information.

Here’s what you can expect:

• Tour Starts in Florence on October 2
• Led by an expert Earthbound Expeditions guide
• Transport by private air-conditioned motor coach
• Charming 4-star hotels, lodges and palaces
• All breakfasts, five lunches and six dinners
• Visits and tasting to the top wine estates of Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Orvieto
• An entertaining cooking class
• Excursions to the celebrated hill towns, markets, museums and castles of Tuscany
• All entry fees are included

Cost is in line with what we have seen in the past: $3,995 per person, plus a discount of $100 per person when you pay your balance by check. Travelers are responsible for their own airfare.

As is our custom, we’ll schedule an ice-breaker for all Tuscany participants in the Wine Mine at Carpe Vino in the spring.  And, of course, we’ll celebrate our Tuscany journey with a prix-fixe dinner in late November.

To make reservations for the trip, please contact Earthbound directly at www.earthboundexpeditions.com or call 1-800-723-8454. Reservations are first-come, first-served, so don’t miss out on our next wine tour!

More information
Carpe Vino (Find Us) 1568 Lincoln Way Auburn, CA 95603
Phone Number: 530-823-0320
Get Directions to Carpe Vino
Retail/Wine Bar Hours Tuesday - Saturday
Noon - 10:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Dining Hours Tuesday - Saturday
5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Make A Reservation Guests must be 21 years of age or older.
Reservations are suggested for preferred seating, especially on weekends.