Saturday, November 3, 2007

Balsamic Vinegar rocks my taste buds

The first bottle of balsamic I got was a cheap ($1.69 I think) bottle from Trader Joe's. It performs well on salads, and I use it to add somewhat more of a kick to a more traditional vinaigrette I make using a fruitier vinegar. Silly old me, I thought that this cheap bottle I purchased was representative of all balsamic vinegars.

Then I tried the $14 caprese at the Quarter Kitchen in downtown SD. If you think spending over $10 on a salad (without added chicken/shrimp/crab/lobster meat) is crazy, let me assure you that this salad is worth every cent.

A traditional caprese is made using mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Wikipedia also tells us that the ideal caprese has buffalo mozzarella, and ingredients from specific regions in Italy. Also, balsamic vinegar may be added.

The Quarter Kitchen does their version of the caprese using two types of tomatoes, a very nice buffalo mozzarella, and oh yeah, a balsamic vinegar aged 25 years!

Unlike wines, where I can really tell the difference between crappy and good, balsamic vinegars are a whole 'nother story. Whereas my opinion of wines is relegated to either "I like it", "I don't like it", or "damn, this could get me drunk", the complex flavors of a balsamic vinegar really stand out. It seems strange to use this metaphor to describe food, but whereas my cheap bottle of balsamic vinegar tasted relatively flat, the aged balsamic vinegar was extremely deep, with a flavor that changes as you hold it on your tongue.

After going home, I did a little online reading about balsamic vinegars. Like wines, they also get really expensive (> $100 for 100mL), but I guess they don't quite approach the spectacle that is counterfeit Thomas Jeffersons.

Unfortunately I was unable to find what I wanted (a good, but still relatively cheap) bottle at the local stores, having to settle for a $11 bottle of three-leaf balsamic vinegar. (Don't get me started on why there is both a leaf system and an age system for classification.) While not quite the syrupy goodness I had at the Quarter Kitchen, I think it will serve very well in my homemade caprese.

For those interested in the Quarter Kitchen, I was inspried to go after reading this review. I think next time I will try the Lobster Club and maybe the Kobe Beef...

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