Out and About: The Prickly Pear Restaurant Dinner and Pairing

22 11 2010

As I write this, it is 4:00 AM. I should be sleeping but here I am, writing about one of the best wine and dine experiences I have had since Napa earlier this year, and perhaps years before that.

Every once in a while it will happen – when perfectly prepared food and excellent wine work together to elevate the experience into something magical and memorable. Saturday night I felt the magic again. I’m not talking about the basic parings that always help wine and food come together to help each other, I mean something to remember always!

There is a place in Hackettstown, NJ that is known by the locals as “THE” place to go for a special night out called the Prickly Pear. Since last night was that “special” night, I checked out the menu online to see if anything changed since my last visit and to plan the wine selections.

In New Jersey BYO is very much the norm (difficulty and costly to get Liquor Licenses) – which is perfect for people who enjoy purchasing in advance to cellar for the right time. As I read through the menu, my stomach and head told me…meat. Not sure about the type yet, so I went down to pick a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir. I already knew what we would start with, as I had saved this 1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparking wine for this. I had last had a bottle of this New Years Eve and wanted to see if or how it evolved since. I polished up my Riedel glasses and put them in the case (yes, I bring my glassware at times too and I will explain this later). I picked out the Waypoint 2003 Napa Cabernet from the Beckstoffer/To-Kalon Vineyard. Again, these are serious wine by themselves, and price on release was in the $50 – $75 range. I did bring a bottle of the 2006 W.H. Smith Sonoma Maritime Pinot Noir, in case I went with roasted lamb for my dinner entrée.

As we walked in, Linda Andes, the owner, host and “front of the shop” manager was there to greet us. It was around 6:00 PM and the line was already out the door as reservations are only taken for parties of 6 or more, so get there early! Smiling, she sat us and we were quickly served with fresh warm bread and butter. Simply but elegantly decorated, you would never know you were in a strip mall, or even in extreme west New Jersey for that matter!

As I turned around, I saw a few large empty tables and it looked as though a party was going to take place in the rear of the restaurant (we have been here with a large party before and that area is perfect to keep noise and privacy for all).

After perusing the menu (specials listed on the front) I spotted a 16 oz. T-bone, simply grilled, with roasted small potato and blue cheese. I was sold. The starter for me would be the smoked salmon flatbread with a jalapeño-spiked crème fresh and lightly dressed (house vinaigrette) arugula served on a flatbread. I was a bit concerned about the heat/spice against the sparkling wine, but it was not an issue.

As the party guests arrived and were seated, our service remained excellent and we were served our appetizers quickly. My wife opted for the goat cheese and caramelized onion and sage perogies and my daughter went for the Prickly Pear Salad (both were amazing and passed around the table to share).

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

Our Argyle bubbly that had been taken from us upon entry arrived back to our table opened, and I poured a glass for my wife and myself. The nose was a bit different from last time, and felt deeper. Plenty of yeast and biscuit. Tasting it, it had put on some “weight” and was definitely much fuller and complex. So smooth and creamy at the finish. Not overly heavy – but plenty of layers of flavor like pear, apple, melon, toasty brioche and vanilla. This has a very long finish and will dance in your mouth for a while after!

I feel this is one of, if not THE finest sparkling wines from the USA I have had. I would put it up with top champagnes and far most cost. This is the type of wine that you can have with your entrée, not just an appetizer. It has the weight and complexity to stand up to many dishes and guess what, it held up to my steak (but was perfectly paired with my salmon appetizer). Some of you reading this may balk at this, but there sparkling wines that can pair well with heavier fare.

This was rated the #18 Wine of the Year from Wine Spectator last year, and given 95 points. I would say it has improved and would go a bit higher. It has become smoother, seamless and if you have the chance to try this, you wont forget. Bubbles are the perfect wine, they go with almost anything and lighter style versions are great for starters while deeper and more complex iterations (like this Argyle) can take you through main courses.

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

I opened the 2003 Waypoint To-Kalon Cabernet and poured/swirled to prepare it for the upcoming entreés (my t-bone and my wife’s fillet). I brought my Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses because they DO make a difference! If you don’t believe me, try and see. The thin crystal and gorgeous shape (tall with plenty of room to swirl) of the glass help enhance the wine and allows your tongue and mouth to get the best from it (hitting all areas). Think of thick beer mugs for instance and how that forces the beer in your mouth to the back. I did not believe this when I first heard of Riedel, but I can definitely taste the difference.

Riedel make several lines now from the top of the line Sommelier to the overture basic affordable glassware, but the Riedel O glasses emerged as a huge commercial success. They are those stem-less glasses that have now been copied by lower end producers like Libby. I love them and these have all the quality of their other lines, but without the stem (and less likely to break) they fit into the top track of the dishwasher (yes, these Riedel’s I do wash in there) and are like weebles, they wobble but the don’t fall down! I will create a post dedicated to stemware soon to get geeky/scientific on this topic, but do check out the Riedel website.

Our main courses were served and service remained excellent (even with 2 large parties going on in the back). Perfectly grilled to medium rare and seasoned simply to let the quality of the meat shine. The potatoes were amazing. Just enough melted blue cheese on them to give that tangy flavor but not too overpowering. Some fresh string beans were also served on the same plate.

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

The Waypoint 2003 Cabernet was a perfect complement to the meat. Extremely dark in the glass and when I swirled – cassis, dark berry, plum and vanilla cream on the nose. Initial reports on this wine were that it needed time to soften the tannins (too harsh on release) but it has aged very well and the tannins are totally integrated – all smooth sailing with dark plum, berry and oak. I was thrilled with this wine and the pairing was amazing. Kudos to Chef/Owner Joe Andes. He never fails to have something on the menu that exceeds expectations! The filet was also cooked perfectly and was wonderful with the Waypoint Cabernet as well.

Dessert consisted of a crème bruleé, crispy on top and perfectly smooth with rich vanilla custard. I was unable to try the Pumpkin Cheesecake (nut allergy) or the Chocolate cake (nuts again) but the word from the table was – thumbs up. My double espresso was the perfect foil for the rich creamy bruleé.

It was a great night out with family, made even more special with great food and wine. Truly a perfect evening with all the right ingredients.

Santé and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday to all those celebrating. I will try to publish my top picks for Turkey Day Pinot Noir before Thursday!

Steve From the Trellis

Related Links:

The Prickly Pear Restaurant: 80-30 Main St. Plaza, Hackettstown, NJ                   908-879-0003

Riedel Stemware

Argyle Winery

Waypoint Wines from The Bounty Hunter




2 responses

22 11 2010
Mike Sheehan

Sounds like an amazing evening, have a great Thanksgiving Steve.

23 11 2010
jean louis dumeu

Steve, continue to treat you well and enjoy exceptional moments… A la tienne!!

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