Budget aphrodisiacs: my kind of cheap date

fish1It’s finally April. If you subscribe to the only “r” months rule, that means you only have a few weeks left to slurp down those briny pieces of heaven called oysters. And if you’re like me, you wasted all of the previous “r” monts (Sept-Apr) thinking that oysters were out of your price range. Not so. In the West Village, of all places, the restaurant known simply as Fish (280 Bleecker St., Manhattan–map) will shuck you 6 oysters (or clams, if you prefer) along with a glass of red or white wine, or a PBR, for a total of $8.

Fish’s bluepoints (not just a name, they’re from Long Island) are generously sized, perfectly opaque, and sit in just the right amount of salty liquor. They’re served with cocktail sauce and a tasty, strong mixture of red wine vinegar and diced red onion. You can probably imagine what a PBR tastes like, so I tried the Chardonnay instead, which was a perfect accompaniment, and certainly not the wine equivalent of a PBR.

It may be a myth that oysters are an aphrodisiac. But I’d think the combination of delicious bivalves, a decent wine, and your deal-finding savvy should be enough to drive anyone wild.

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The pessimist’s bottle

bailout_labelIf you understand what investing in “futures” means and you’re reading this, you’re probably an unemployed banker. It’s all gibberish to me, but it’s never too late to learn, and there’s no better way to learn anything than with booze. Enter Crushpad‘s 2007 Bailout Napa Valley Cabernet.

bailoutThe wine is made with a blend of grapes from Napa’s best vineyards in Oakville, Mt. Veeder, and Pritchard Hill and aged in French oak barrels, creating a bottle that Crushpad says is akin to something in the $75-$250 range. But that wouldn’t be much of a bailout, would it?

Instead, you preorder a bottle for $39 (cheap, but still out of the typical pennywatcher’s price range). For every 100 points the Dow drops after your purchase date, you’ll get a $2 refund. The final price will be determined on August 14, 2009, when the wine is bottled and shipped. For legal reasons, the price can only go as low as $9 (right in our zone). The way our economy’s looking, this could be the best tasting investment you’ve made in a long time.

The tip, from Tasting Table

Well fed with a bad red

dscn3528To unintentionally complete my two-part series on what to do with an undrinkable bottle of wine, a friend recently (well, actually, not so recently) brought over a 2006 bottle of Bear’s Lair Merlot, which after one sip we promptly declared too bad even for our cheap tastes (I let her say it first). Since then I’ve been waiting for the right recipe and the right supermarket sale to magically appear at the same time. I waited quite a while. But finally, this week I found $2.49 a pound chuck steak and an old school Venetian recipe from my recent go-to man, Mark Bittman.

The recipe is extremely simple: it calls for boiling your wine with a few spices and sugar, marinating your steaks for a few hours, and either grilling (my personal choice), broiling, or frying dscn3532them up. Bittman’s recipe does ask for ribeye and a nice Amarone, but he points out that the recipe was traditionally used by peasants, on horse meat. So I figured what I had on hand would do the job. Even with my inferior ingredients, the steak was succulent and tender, sweet with very clear flavors of clove and cinnamon.

Check out the recipe here, and never let your wine shop miscues go to waste.

A good night with a bad white

chicken-cacciatore-twoEating and drinking on a budget is rewarding but risky. You’re bound to make a few bad choices in your search for the best deal. This is never more clear than when buying wine. There are some great budget picks out there, but sometimes you get that $7 bottle that just tastes like…well, a $7 bottle, or worse.

For me last night, it was a Nostalgia Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Rather than choke it down, I flipped through the myriad recipes that would allow me to make the best of my poor decision. I came across an old favorite: Marcella Hazan’s Chicken Fricassee, Cacciatora Style. As luck would have it, the front page of my circular blared “59 cent chicken leg quarters.” With an investment of about $4, my ghastly wine became a delicious dinner for five.

Marcella’s recipe is after the break, and is best served atop a pile of polenta (cornmeal + water = the poor man’s dream starch). (more…)

In the Heights: Low-cost wine hits Broadway

picture-1Washington Heights, of recent Broadway fame, is known for Dominican joints with wonderful food and seriously hole-in-the-wall decor. But the brand new Columbia Wine Co. (4038 Broadway, Manhattan–map) brings spiffy hardwood floors, recessed lighting, and a noticeable lack of bullet-proof glass, without jacking up prices.

I visited for free wine tasting, which the new shop is hosting from 5-8 every night for the next two weeks. The friendly staff was pouring four bottles in the $10 range. The highlights when I stopped by were a dscn3205Faunus Copertino Rosso and a Gecko Pinot Grigio, both from Italy and both going for $9.99, though they tasted like something well out of my price range. The store’s selection dips as low as $4.99, and almost every bottle is under $20.

They balance their wine list with an impressive array of liquors, including Brugal rum–a Dominican staple for a Dominican neighborhood–for the same price as Bacardi. One sip of the Brugal and you’ll never go back.

Classy Hour of the Week: Crush Wine’s Holiday cocktails

elderflowerWhen you’ve finally conquered your food hangover this Friday, keep up the merry-making in style at Crush Wine Co. (153 E. 57th St., Manhattan–map) in midtown Manhattan. From 3 to 6 pm they’re pouring samples of “Simple Home Cocktails for the Holidays,” including harvest rum punch, elderflower cocktail, “Viking mojito,” and more.

Crush will also have experts there to show you how to make these drinks at home, so be prepared to take notes. Then you can save money at the bar and spend more time with family–or invite that date to stay in and show off your mixological mastery. The drinks will be fiery enough to keep you warm while you rest your feet by your non-functional fireplace.

crushwineCheck Crush’s website regularly for their impressive schedule of free tastings, including a Corzo tequila event on Saturday and a champagne gala in December (RSVP required). And take advantage of the friendly and knowledgeable staff as you search for palate-pleasing wine bargains.