Step one: marry a kick ass man (or woman). Preferably one that doesn?t annoy you after several hours alone together and especially one that makes late night potato chip runs and still shares the sandwich he got (that you originally didn’t want) because he/she likes you. Step two: make sure you rock. If you?re me, that?s pretty easy. If you do not rock, please see step three? Step three: Explore your own backyard. Silly, I know, because I totally stole that from the South Australian Tourism commission’s latest ad campaign, but also because it can be difficult if you don?t live in a place like Australia. But it is possible…where there?s a will, there is bound to be a cheese shop or bbq shack. Here we are, high-fivin a kick ass anniversary.
My partner and I decided to rent our first car in Australia ever for our anniversary, and yes, even I got to have a go. It is not so hard when you have someone telling you what lane to turn into and how to avoid hitting that lady in the wheelchair. Not hard at all.
We were heading to McLaren Vale, a local wine region about 45 minutes away from Adelaide. I really like how they put the wineries on the road signs, sort of like you might see a sign for McDonald?s. I am not sure if California is like this or not (with all their wine regions), but I sure as heck appreciate it here. You never know when you might get a hankering for a noice Shiraz, as the Aussies say. It is gorgeous up there. While driving, all we could see were vineyards and these lush, rolling green hills.
I don?t often use descriptions as cheesy as ?lush? and ?rolling?, but seriously, these were. It?s a welcomed sight to someone who grew up in the Midwest of US, land as flat as Paris Hilton?s chest and just as personable. Again, I imagine this might be what it feels like to drive through California, but my experience comes solely from the movie Sideways. We started the day with a picnic on the cliffs at Aldinga Beach that overlook the ocean. Here’s the lucky guy:
It was a bit nippy that day, but it was tolerable enough, so we tucked into the lunch: a mufulatta sandwich made with mild Italian salami, hot sopressa and pepper mortadella, an olive salad, some provolone and a little boccacini (tiny balls of mozzarella for those not in the know).
We also had a smoked chicken breast sandwich with tomato chutney and avocado, both on olive foccacia bread.
We split both in half, and they were the perfect compliment to each other. The Mufulatta was salty and meaty, and the chicken was smoky and sweet. We had a great time until our one pelican friend turned into fifteen.
Here’s a few random shots of wineries. Do you see how the vines just seem to go on forever? I love that.
These trees are everywhere in Adelaide, and I just wanted to show them to my friend Jamie, because she is a flower freak. I think they are called bottle brush trees. Plus, they are bright red, and I look great with jewel tones, or so I?m told.
We got a little thirsty, so we decided to stop off at a few wineries. This is what I love about traveling on your own, or not traveling with a pre-made over-priced tour (which there are plenty of in this state). I like wines and will drink anything, but I tend to prefer the sweeter wines. When I go on scheduled winery tours, it is rare to find one that has wine I truly want to spend money on buying. So I did some research ahead of time and planned to stop at wineries that had more than a few sweet wines. God bless the Internet! Maxwell Winery was our first stop.
I came to try their Frontignac Spatlese and Mead. Frontignac is a varietal I have not tasted before, but I really dig Riesling Spatlese, so I hoped it would be similar. It was light and sweet without being cloyingly so. Much less sweet than say, a Moscato, but still really nice. I sampled their port, but it didn’t really rock my boat. Port is a fortified wine, fyi, which means additional alcohol is added to the wine. This was originally done to help the wine stay good longer, but people like the sweetness (when the additional alcohol is added before the end of fermentation, it kills yeast and leaves delicious sweet sugars behind. Thanks, alcohol!) and thus, we still have this great drink. Then came the mead?mead is fermented honey wine, and very popular with the British. If you have ever had Tej, the Ethiopian honey wine, mead is very similar. This was my first mead tasting, and it was just ok. It had a faint honey flavor, but other than that, it didn?t really wow me. The Spiced Mead, on the other hand, was pleasant surprise. It was served slightly warmed, and was spiced with cinnamon and cloves and other goodies that made it taste like a really good apple cider?a really good ALCOHOLIC cider. Can?t forget that. So Maxwell winery was a good stop as far as dessert wines go?we both tried their ?museum wine? (a Shiraz they had retired long ago but kept a few to show their customers their wines age). I guess I am not a big red wine fan, because I never taste how earthy, grassy, or open it tastes. It?s all shoe polish to me, people. But at least they had a cute dog to pet in between glasses.
Next, we hit an old favorite (old meaning we?ve been there once), Pertaringa.
This was a short distance from Maxwell. I love Pertaringa because it doesn?t try too hard with the d?cor, yet it still manages to look modern and unique. And apparently, dogs in cellar doors are all the rage this year.
We first tried Pertaringa at the Sea and Vines festival a few months back, where I had a very good Moscato (my favorite wine, by the by). It was slightly effervescent and light, and of course, sweet. So I already knew I would be buying some of those bad boys. Adam tried the Undercover Shiraz, which he really liked the last time we were here. He is a little more into reds than I am, and while I found the Shiraz acceptable, for me it still had too many tannins that make it taste like straight alcohol to me. I need pretty, girl drinks. I also sampled their port, the Full Fronti. Cute name, cute bottle, and hot damn, a great port. It starts off quietly, but a few seconds into tasting it, it has this nice caramel flavor that pops through in the background and makes me love port so damn much. The best part? This will never go bad. The cellar door manager told us that it may change flavor slightly after you open it, but it should stay good in the fridge for a very, very long time. This is good, because unless I am having a party or REALLY lonely, I usually can?t kill a whole bottle of port in one night. After that, we tried one more winery, but it didn?t have a cellar door. I just assume they all have one, but clearly, assuming makes an ass out of me and leaves me sans more moscato. You live and learn, people. We ended up stopping at Market 190 back in town, where we had a hot chocolate and little sit. It?s a nice place, and they have a great menu, plus a large selection of local products to buy and a bakery. I was particularly stoked to find a gourmet frozen pastry dough I could not find in town, and immediately bought some Careme Shortcrust pastry dough for a reasonable price. But like every good thing in South Australia, the place shut down at 5, so we had to be quick and find something else to do before our dinner reservation. We ended up driving around the hills in the McLaren Vale, specifically near Aldinga and Sellicks Beach. From far away, the hills looked like they had a giant purple net over them.
But when we drove closer, we found that it was actually millions of little purple flowers known as Patterson’s curse, which was gorgeous. And near lots of sheep.
And then, we saw the coolest thing thing Australia THUS FAR: our first live kangaroos on the side of the road. It was around sunset, and while driving in the hills, Adam suddenly screamed, ?Oh my god!? and slammed on the brakes. I thought he was having an aneurysm, but it was just a pack of kangaroos. Some were tiny babies and some were bigger than my brother, who is one tall mofo. They were fast little f-ers, so most of my pictures were blurry?however, this is shot of a mama with a joey in her pouch! It?s a bit hard to see, but we watched the baby crawl into her pouch, and then watched her jump with clearly the outline of a joey in her belly! And he sometimes chilled outside of the pouch too. It was so much fun to them in action! Apparently, kangaroos are as prevalent here as deer are in the United States, so its not a big deal to anyone but us silly tourists.
As if the roos weren?t exciting enough?we went on to have the single best meal we have eaten in Australia to date. We went to the Salopian Inn, a restaurant we also hit up at the Sea and Vines festival. We had originally planned to go to The Hundred Eaves, also a great place, but we liked the menu Salopian Inn had online better, so this is where we ended up. It has such a cozy feeling?you enter and you see the kitchen immediately, along with wood accents and a few (fake) fireplaces. It was chilly that night, so I was really digging the fact that this felt like a second home. Some nice restaurants make you feel awkward and out of place, and constantly remind you that you couldn?t possibly afford such a nice place. Not the Salopian Inn.
They also do a seasonal, local menu, meaning they alter the menu based on what is in season, and they try to use local products when possible. I like that. And their menu is creative with a sense of humor?for example, savory hand held pies are a huge snack food in Australia, and South Australia is no exception. The pies are usually filled with an undefined shredded meat (word on the street is goat), a brown sauce, and topped with ketchup (tomato sauce, as the Aussies say, even though they taste EXACTLY THE SAME.) As my starter for my first meal here, I ate a crab and leek pot pie that was tasted really good, a nice mocking of popular culture. But on the important part?the food. Sigh. This is where it gets good people. From start to finish, everything was just spot on. Adam started with a Juniper Spiced Onkaparinga Valley Venison with Creamed Mash Potato, Broccollini, Asparagus and a Chocolate Infused Venison Jus ($18.00 AUD).
This was my first experience with venison, and it was perfect?the meat was tender and cooked just right. The potatoes were soft and creamy, and veggies had just a hint of garlic that provided a perfect background to the meat and the rich chocolate jus. Look at this shot: beautiful, huh? There is just something about perfect meat that brings a little tear to my eye.
I started with the Smoked Fleurieu Trout and Woodside Goats Cheese Tart with a Salad of Rocket, Ruby Chard and Roasted Baby Beetroot accompanied by a Free Range Poached Egg with a light Horseradish Dressing ($18.00 AUD) Yup, their menu is online–you KNOW my memory isn’t that good.
I purposefully got this dish for two reasons: runny eggs rock, and because it is fish. When food writer Jeffrey Steingarten was hired to be a food critic for Vogue magazine, there was a lot of food he didn’t like. He read somewhere that if you feed a baby a certain food multiple times, between the eighth and tenth time, they will develop a craving, so Steingarten constantly ate food he didn’t like to train himself to eat everything. I didn?t start eating seafood until a few years ago in culinary school, when I decided to do the same. I figured to write about food, you need to experience it all. Most of the time, I like it, but if it is too fishy, I can?t handle it. I have found through personal experimentation that the best places to try food you usually don?t like is at a nicer restaurant. They will most likely have better quality of ingredients (like fresher fish!) and they almost always turn food I hate into food I love. This dish, quite simply, rocked my world. The trout was super smoky and not the least bit fishy or oily, and went well with the mild goat cheese. But when you ate it all together, as in busted the egg, mixed the yolk with the salad and ate it with a slice of the tart and the horseradish dressing and the tiny fried onion strings on top, it was a whole new experience. I tasted smoky, sweet, spicy, rich egg yolk, soft fish, crisp and crunch from the onions, tang from the beets, slight crunch from the greens?ohmyfricking god, it was good. I?m a big texture person, so this took care of my every need and was an incredibly creative effort on its own. Next came the mains, and I?ll admit, I played it safe, but for a good reason. I ordered the Eye Fillet of Beef with Mushroom and Thyme Risoni, Baby Spinach, Crispy Pancetta, Anchovy/Garlic Butter and a Madeira Sauce ($32.00).
Reasons why I got this dish: crispy pancetta is sort of like American bacon, which I miss terribly, and it?s a steak at a fairly creative restaurant. It was guaranteed to be either really creative and different, or if the chef was on, really basic and delicious. This, thankfully, was the latter. Any meat in cooked in animal fat is good. Bonus points if it is duck or bacon fat. I?m not a religious person but I know God created duck and bacon fat to reward man for kicking ass. The sauce was rich and meaty without being too salty, because the garlic-anchovy butter took care of the salt and complimented my medium-cooked steak perfectly, which was charred on the outside and soft, juicy and red in the middle. The spinach and risoni were just a nice background to an already good dish. And the pancetta was deliciously close to American bacon, at least enough for me. Yay beef. Adam had my favorite dish of the night, which was snapper cooked with a roasted tomato sauce, braised fennel, and crispy fried potato strings that had some fancy French name I should probably know but don?t. Again, this goes back to the whole ?try food you don?t like at nice restaurants? thing.
We had never had snapper before, but it was a mild, sweet fish that tasted great. The other flavors balanced the rest of the dish out and the texture was great with the soft fish and the crispy potatoes. It reminded me a lot of a dish made at a restaurant I used to work out involving sturgeon, so it made me really happy. We ended the night fairly safe, considering the dessert menu had not been changed since our last visit. We ordered the pistachio ice cream with a Gewurtraminer poached pear, toffee and a ?wicked? chocolate sauce. It was nothing new, but it was still tasted good, which is most important. And it was not very heavy, which I appreciated. It was the stellar end to an already great day. It might sound trite, but when life treats you right, there really is no other ways to say it.