Category Archives: See Clair Write

Fancy wine dinners and such


L to R: Cory Bolton, Emmanuel Kemiji, George Reis

Despite my interest in cocktails, spirits, and most things in that world, I’ve largely left the wine side of things to my husband. When we were invited to attend the Miura/Clos Pissarra Winemaker Dinner at Ocean by Sous Chef and friend Cory Bolton, A.K.A. Tater, we jumped at the chance. For me, it was a chance to experience wine in a new way, and for Adam, it was the third time he’s eaten there as a customer even though he worked there for five years.


Pairing dinners are a lot of fun. The food tends to be created around the drinks rather than the other way around, a dynamic that my nerdy bartender heart adores. Chef and owner George Reis’s dinner didn’t disappoint. When we walked in the door, we were greeted with a Pisco Sour to start the night off on a light, refreshing note. Our table was an interesting mix of business professionals and people in the wine and spirits business, which kept conversation flowing like wine through the dinner, and our server Melissa was on her game.


First course

In the past, the spirit and cocktail dinners that I’ve attended didn’t focus as much on seafood, so it was pretty cool to open with some crab salad, smoky grilled octopus, and a sweet, mineral-y oyster. Paired with this course was El Sol Blanc, a white grenache from Montsant. The wine was crisp and vegetal like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with a creamy texture, grassy nose and touch of gooseberry, which played off the seafood well. I should also note that, as I learned during the dinner, white grenache is quite rare.


We continued with a delicately balanced Phyllo Sea Scallop Napoleon plated with ham hock jus and enoki mushrooms. The scallop was rich and creamy, offset by the salt of the jus and the salmon roe on top. This course was paired with the Miura Pinot Noir, their full-bodied, juicy, and approachable wine, said Master Sommelier and Propieter Emmanuel Kemiji.



One thing I’d heard before but that hadn’t really registered previously was that pinot noir is “the most difficult varietal to grow and the most fickle wine to make.” The Miura was deeply spicy, with black and red cherry and a touch of spice on the nose. In contrast to the scent, the wine itself was solidly medium-bodied. With the food, the darker fruit notes complemented the lightly earthy mushrooms well.



Rabbit Ballotine

The next course, a Rabbot Ballotine, was my favorite. The ballotine was a kind of roulade that combined ground thigh and tenderloin meat with crunchy nuts wrapped in chicken skin. Holy crap. It was creamy and tender, and the carrots underneath were sweet and tender. The accompanying sage risotto was perfectly cooked, and taunted me into eating more than I should (I’m lactose intolerant). With the wine, it was just about perfect. Grown in a Spanish region with a 2,000 year viticultural history, this grenache was unexpected: the nose was more like a port than an unfortified wine, and the surprisingly light body was balanced by bold flavors of dried cranberries, sherry, prune, honey, and dark fruit.




Our main course was seared venison with a creamy, toasty celeriac rösti, fava bean puree, mushroom puree, and roasted blue foot and trumpet mushrooms. The venison was quite good: it was tender and lean, but not gamey. The trumpet mushrooms lent it a dark truffle flavor. The Aristan (not Artisan), a wine named for Kemiji’s sons, was a much bigger wine, flavor-wise, and tasted more like a cabernet than anything else, making it a great pairing for the only red meat course of the night.


FullSizeRender_4Dessert was a more…exotic sensory experience than I was expecting. The Meyer Lemon Buzz Button Sorbet introduced itself with as a lovely lemon sorbet accompanied by a nutty, crunchy cracker and sweet lattice, but with a twist. With every bite, my tongue felt like it was buzzing and went a bit numb.

Since I was unfamiliar with the buzz button, a friend and server brought us two. I promptly dropped one of the tiny flowers, but quickly ate the other. The numbness intensified and spread to the area where I was chewing. The interaction of that flavor with the bubbly cava was interesting, but all I could taste was something that seemed to be the color yellow.

One of Kemiji’s last words on the subject of pairing was that “great food makes wine taste a lot better.” The opposite is true, but they’re good words to live by, in my book.

Photos c/o Cory Bolton. 


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Double post: Let’s talk about The Media day 1

newY’all all know I’m addicted to NPR. You’ve probably guessed that I’m also a sucker for a beautifully written Washington Post, gut-wrenching Atlantic or quippy New Yorker column. But all of my media, including the most conservative channels got this election wrong. Not just a little wrong, bigly W-R-O-N-G. Or big league. Whatever.

Some people place the failure on the proliferation of fake news sites like these. One writer for one of these outlets even went as far as to say “I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me.” Google and Facebook showed up a little bit late to the party, vowing to vet and monitor publishers’ veracity a week after the election.

There are probably some of y’all out there saying “But Clair, you’re a writer. You’ve written articles for The Media. You’re part of it!” Yeah, well, I write about cocktails and I’m a fact-checker. That second part is what you should focus on: it means that I get to regularly pick apart articles to make sure that they’re watertight. It, along with my physics background, means I really like numbers.

“But censorship!” you cry. When approximately 38 percent of the articles on these websites have been found by one survey to be a mixture of true and false or mostly false, it’s damaging to the mere hope of any sort of civilized discourse. In comparison, the so-called mainstream media gets it right much, much more frequently, or about 90 percent of the time.

Here’s the rub: It’s likely that most people who read this post will be ideologically similar to me. It’s conversations like this that must happen over the next four years. But with news sites like this on both sides of the aisle propagating what are literally different sets of facts, the talks are nearly impossible.

If you’d like to get a heads up when you’re visiting a possible fake news site, download the Google Chrome extensions suggested here. To make things even cooler, another detector called FiB has been developed by college students and will hopefully be available very, very soon.

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New Kid On The Block: Oak + Raleigh

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs that night.

My beer!

With the weather warming up, patio season is fast approaching. This spring, one place I’ll be adding to my patio tour will probably be Homewood’s Oak + Raleigh. Though they’re still working on their patio, it should be a cool spot to hang out with a frosty beer on a warm day.

Nestled in the heart of West Homewood, Oak + Raleigh is a  combination of bar and deli. But don’t expect plain deli sandwiches or the usual five domestic beers — this neighborhood joint is trying to put itself on the map for its mixture of elevated deli cuisine, traditional bar snacks, and a wide-ranging selection of beers and wines, many of which are available for carry-out purchase.

The space inside is a whimsical blend of arcade, bar, and restaurant. They serve beer and wine only, but offer about 100 beers in cans and on draft and around 30 bottles of wine to go. Brock Owen, the bar manager, made some pretty cool beer suggestions throughout the evening — I started with the Bosteels Pauwel Kwak, a traditional Belgian ale served in a really, really cool glass. Adam began with the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabazo, which was light and floral on the nose, with a pleasantly sour, well-balanced (and dry) body. Tasty.

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs the night we ate there.

Usually, I’d have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs the night we ate there.

On the food side, much of their produce is sourced from their owners’ garden, and what’s not is purchased as locally as possible. Despite the small kitchen, all of their pickles and pâté are made in house. While we were there, we started with the Pâté B&J. The texture was nicely varied, with crisp apple, crunchy bacon, and sweet fig jam setting off the creamy pâté.

IMG_1529Next up was the Pâté, Pigs, and Pickle, which combined the same pâté with salami, their house pickled veggies, and herb cream cheese spread. Once again, great texture. This plate contains a lot of food, so we ended up bringing some pickles home.

IMG_1532For our main courses, we stayed simple: I got the French Dip and Adam got the Cuban. Both were a step away from the ordinary: the French Dip sauce was a rich, delicious concoction of soy, worcestershire, butter, garlic, and cayenne. It’s also their best-selling sandwich, and it’s clear that the secret is in the sauce. Adam went so far as to name it the best au jus he’d had.

The Cuban was a pretty cool take on the traditional sandwich, which paired pork and chicken instead of different types of pork. The sides that came with the sandwiches were extremely varied: the loaded bacon potato salad was creamy and rich and the pasta salad was indulgent. But the broccoli and cauliflower salad stole the show: the roasted corn offset the texture of the broccoli, and the tiny bit of soy sauce in the dressing made it slightly salty.

Full disclosure: the bar manager, Brock, is a high school friend of my husband’s, and invited us to dine a couple weeks ago. I would’ve posted sooner, but we’ve had a lot of family stuff to attend to recently.

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Help! I Googled Myself

HELP!One of the best — and sometimes, most frightening — parts of being a writer is getting to Google yourself. Earlier this week, after spending a few hours researching absolutely nothing of consequence, I Googled myself. What I found was at once awesome and weird. Here are a few things I learned:

  • There’s a short love note article on The Rumpus to a piece I wrote about zombies for The L.A. Review of Books. It’s a year old. How could I miss this?
  • It’s funny you should ask. One big reason is that Google Alerts DOESN’T WORK. I’ve had active alerts on my name for the past two years. During that time, it’s sent me ONE update that actually caught my work. Things it didn’t catch: lots of published articles, mentions, any of the articles about other McLaffertys, and a few other things…
  • Like that I’m a literal footnote in whisky history, at least on Wikipedia. One of my articles is source #4 for their Tennessee whiskey page.
  • Pieces from my mental_floss column have been used as sources for a seemingly academic presentation and an unrelated paper.
  • On the shitty side of things, I found out that a lot of people don’t respect copyright. Seven (!!!) different sites that had posted word-for-word or poorly paraphrased versions of articles I’ve written. That’s not cool, guys. Or legal.
  • Apparently Refinery29 has a content sharing agreement with MSN, so I can now say that my work has appeared on

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Friendsgiving Done Right

IMG_1162.JPGSince I was a kid, the Peanuts holiday movies have been part of my memories of the season. Though Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown is my favorite (my parents have my copy of the soundtrack, I think), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving also warms my heart. But I can honestly say that I’d never considered eating/serving/recreating the, um, unconventional Thanksgiving dinner Snoopy fixes for the gang.

As of last Tuesday, I can now say that I’ve encountered one of the meals on my nonexistent “Ridiculous (And Slightly Off-Putting) Holiday Movie Meals” list. That night, Adam and I attended our second DinnerLab dinner, where dessert was a riff on Snoopy’s culinary masterpiece of pretzels, toast, jellybeans, and popcorn.

That was definitely the most unconventional dish in the five course lineup, but it was executed with panache and a bit of sass. A bit of background: DinnerLab is a company that hosts popup dinners in unconventional locations in cities around the country. The meal is conceptualized and prepared by one of DinnerLab’s culinary staff or a guest chef.

This time around, the Friendsgiving-themed meal was quite a treat. As the tagline for the meal goes, it was “an unconventional Thanksgiving meal with our family of culinary pros before you have to deal with the lumpy mash and overcooked turkey of your blood relations. Welcome to the family!” Luckily, my family’s Thursday meal wasn’t like that, but Dinner Lab delivered in spades. The venue, Revelator Coffee Co.‘s coffee roasting and warehouse space, just made it cooler.

For both of our Dinner Lab experiences, we’ve sat with complete strangers. Both times, the conversation has been excellent, usually centered around food culture, drinks and cocktails, and pop ups. And then the food. Ooo, the food. Even after six years of memorable Friendsgivings, the DinnerLab food was unique – and delicious. I’ll spare you the full descriptions of the meals and give you the highlights:IMG_1163

The first course was Prince Edward Island ceviche with mussels, tomatoes, and shredded skate wing. Highlights: textural variety from the grape tomatoes and celery pieces, salt and taste of seafoodIMG_1165

Next came the roasted veggies. Highlights: rainbow carrots and beets gave it a slight sweetness, while pickled beet slices and crunchy fennel provided a lovely counterpoint

Not pictured: LA Charlie, a slice of beer braised pork belly with cranberry (and science) caviar, pickled beech mushrooms and cauliflower puree. As one of my favorite dishes of the evening, I tucked in before taking a picture.IMG_1166

As Markus Carter, our chef for the evening, explained, “Chile Colorado is something my grandma used to make for me when I was home.” Highlights: contrasting texture between the shredded tongue and the polenta stuffing cakes, general savory tastiness and crunch of pumpkin seedsIMG_1169

Ah, yes. The Peanuts Thanksgiving. Carter encouraged us to taste each dish separately and then blend them together to experiment with the different taste profiles. As a note, I’m not a fan of jellybeans, but the jellybean fluff texture was really nice, and paired nicely with the coffee. Highlights: perfectly textured popcorn panna cotta that, with a touch of the pretzel caramel and a bite of the sweet toast crumble, tasted like buttered popcorn.

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Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit to Viacheslav Blizniuk

Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you’ve finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I’ve blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I’ve invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time — a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I’m still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I’d used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn’t stuck.

What I’d like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month — where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I’d love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I’ve done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.


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