Monday, July 5, 2010

A Vaccaro's Preview: Cabernet Wine Flour

The last time I stopped in to Vaccaro's Trattoria to check out their new spring / summer menu, I ordered an item off of the dessert menu, the Cabernet Wine Flour Chocolate Lava Cake. At the time I had no idea what Cabernet Wine Flour was and simply wrote it off as perhaps a typographical error on the menu. The chocolate lava cake tasted like chocolate and I didn't give the wine flour component another thought.

That was until I received a press release recently via email from Raphael Vaccaro himself describing this new and interesting product. Apparently, a company named Marche Noir has perfected the process of turning grape skins and seeds, also known as pomace in the wine making industry, into wine flour by drying and milling them incredibly fine. The resulting flour contains all of the heart healthy components that scientists have found in red wine such as antioxidants, iron, and Resveratrol (Res-V). Additionally, the fruit used to make this flour were Ohio grown grapes, so the carbon footprint is lowered even further.

Besides the chocolate lava cake which I had previously tried, Raphael has been working with Ohio City Pasta out of Cleveland, Ohio, to incorporate the wine flour into a freshly made tagliatelle that is currently on the menu, but is still being tweaked. Since wine flour has no gluten, successfully incorporating it into something like pasta can be tricky as gluten is what gives pasta dough its stretchable quality and ultimately the chewy texture that pasta lovers all over the world have come to expect.

I decided to drop in unannounced last week to give this new pasta dish a try. My intention is to return for another dinner at Vaccaro's in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to preview this interesting product before that dinner. Sad for me, but great for the restaurant, was that I showed up to a completely booked house on a Wednesday night. Never the one to insist that anyone makes a fuss over me, I saw that there was still an empty seat in the bar area and after inquiring if I could just sit there, Martin, one of the floor managers, was more than happy to see that I was well attended to.

Having never sat in the bar before, I decided to take a photograph of the area:

While I knew what I already wanted before arriving, I took two photographs of the menu. The first photograph shows you the wine flour tagliatelle dish that was currently on the menu:

And the second shows a little blurb at the bottom of the menu describing the wine flour product:

I started out tonight's meal with a house salad, or as the menu describes it, insalata mista:

While I've had this salad as part of the $6 (now $7, I believe) lunches that I wrote about here, I've never actually had the full version before. Dressed simply with a balsamic vinaigrette, this was a nicely balanced salad. One of the perks I always enjoy when I have a salad at Vaccaro's was how nicely they are always dressed; enough vinaigrette to coat each leaf, but you aren't left with a pool of dressing at the bottom of the plate. The mixed greens also brought a bit of bitterness to the party, which was a nice contrast between the sweet and sour of the balsamic vinegar.

Having finished my salad, my tagliatelle soon arrived:

Tossed in a thick creamy sauce made from roasted red peppers, a Cabernet wine reduction, and lots of butter, the large chunks of duck confit, dollops of local MacKenzie Creamery goat cheese, and sautéed mushrooms covered the hidden tagliatelle underneath. The sauce was sweet and unctuous and perfectly seasoned. Raphael stopped in to check on me at one point and stated very emphatically that there was no heavy cream in the sauce. Then he kind of cocked his head to one side and joked, "But there's plenty of butter!" Eh, you'll hear no complaints from me. The flavor of the sauce played nicely with the duck confit, the goat cheese, and the cremini mushrooms.

On to the tagliatelle itself. Because the skins are where the pigment lies when making red or white wine, the wine flour itself lent an dark aubergine color to the finished pasta. I could tell as soon as I bit into it that it was freshly made pasta. It had a wonderfully soft texture that still retained a bit of chew to it. Sadly, I couldn't isolate any of the pasta without the sauce, so I didn't really have an opportunity to taste the pasta naked. That being said, if it did contribute a unique flavor, it worked quite well with the sauce and toppings.

Unfortunately, there were two problems with tonight's dish. First, I discovered amidst a bite of duck confit that there were two small bones which had been missed and needed to be removed:

I suspect that's a problem you won't see again, given Raphael's dedication to perfected Italian cuisine.

The other problem was with the actual tagliatelle itself:

When I started digging into the pasta, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of sauce and toppings sitting on the pasta. As it turned out, because of the way wine flour pasta cooks and hydrates, if you aren't careful, the pasta can clump very easily. As I began to delve into the dish, I noticed a fairly large clump of pasta sitting at the bottom of the plate that had done exactly that. As soon as I started to describe the clumped pasta to Raphael, he shook his head in agreement and explained the challenges he was still overcoming with this new flour. He admitted that the challenge not only comes from cooking it properly, but that it also cooks differently the first day after it is made versus the second.

I have no doubt that Raphael and the kitchen will work out the kinks in the process and get just the right formula for a tasty, healthy, and texturally perfect pasta. He noted that in addition to the pastas, he was working on reformulating some of the pizza doughs to incorporate wine flour as well. And, he has been playing around with making gelato using wine flour. Apparently, the flavor of the gelato changes based on how old it is.

Understand, the nitpicks I make today were exactly that, nitpicks. I actually loved the flavor and texture of this dish and would certainly order it again. I'll be curious to see how the menu evolves at Vaccaro's to take advantage of this heart-healthy ingredient. Taken as just a tagliatelle dish, this new menu offering was a lip-smackingly good item and I can assure you that your taste buds will be happy. With the uniqueness of the wine flour in the pasta, I would definitely recommend you check it out. I'm just hoping to get to try more of it soon, whatever the end product might be.

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