Monday, April 7, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Restaurant Adventures

Last Friday's dismal weather gave us the excuse to stay in town and celebrate one of our friends getting his architect's license. It will be interesting to see how well it works for picking up chicks at bars. After some revelry, Hubby and I decided to head toward the Inman Park/Old Fourth Ward areas for dinner. We ended up at P'Cheen, where we hadn't eaten in a while due more to our resistance to traveling outside of Decatur than to the restaurant itself. It was as good and fun as we remembered, and a nice little bar scene had developed by the end of the evening.

The cool, rainy weather as well as the scent of cooking beef that wafted out to the sidewalk as we came in inspired us to have the Hangar Steak with Mushroom Ragout and Artichoke Heart and Spring Onion Gratin. Kieran himself took our order and recommended the d'Arie Zinfandel to go with it. The d'Arie is a zin-gasm with a coffee/chocolate nose and "ripe but not jammy" fruit (wine list description). Basically, this is a zin for grownups: smooth and lush without any grape jam comparisons. The food was stylish and well-prepared, and we were both impressed with the Artichoke Heart and Spring Onion Gratin, which Hubby has been bugging me to duplicate. Dessert was something called a "Chocolate Explosion," which lived up to its name. They get their desserts from the Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe, so they're guaranteed to be rich and sinful.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Very nice, modern, semi-casual; music's a little loud
Food: Very good
Wine list: Short but a good variety
Wait staff: Excellent and knowledgeable
Desserts: Excellent
Vegetarian friendly? Maybe -- there is a veggie plate option
Kid friendly? No kid's menu
Would I go back? Definitely

Saturday morning found us sleeping in too late to make it to Birmingham in time for lunch, so while running errands on the way out of town (including picking up my umbrella from P'Cheen), we stumbled across The Albert. Hubby had the wild salmon sandwich and fries. I had the gyro sandwich and cole slaw. Both sandwiches were made to order, and the sides were very good. We didn't have any alcoholic beverages, but a quick glance at the limited wine list reveals some consistently good, if not adventurous, wines (e.g., Ercavio Tempranillo).

Score card:
Atmosphere: Bar/pub style, entertaining with pictures of famous Alberts all over
Food: Very good
Wine list: Limited, but what they do have is good
Wait staff: Very good
Desserts: Don't know -- would like to go back and try
Vegetarian friendly? At least 2 all-veg menu items
Kid friendly? It seemed to be at lunch time; not sure about dinner
Would I go back? Yes

I'm not really sure what to say about Saturday afternoon for fear of ruining my wine cred. Hubby and I never drive through east Alabama on I-20 on Saturdays, so we haven't had the opportunity to try any of Alabama's wineries. I do give them credit for operating in a state that's so hostile to anything alcoholic. We weren't impressed with the wines at either of the wineries we visited. It may be a good excursion to try again in about three to five years, although we'll give Bryant, which is all muscadine, a miss.

I grew up in Birmingham and am continually astounded at how it grows. My parents took us to brunch at the Grey House Grille, which is in the new multi-use SoHo development in Homewood. The food took a little while to come out, but the wait staff was attentive and made sure we had everything we needed. I had the Seafood Crepe, which was excellent, although I wouldn't have minded some bigger pieces of shrimp and crab and a little less salt in the dish to allow the sherry sauce to shine. Hubby had the Shrimp and Grits, which was very good. Mom had the Chicken Crepe, and Dad had the Eggs Florentine. Everyone really enjoyed their meal.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Dressy casual, a little noisy
Food: Very good
Wine list: Looks like it would be worth a try
Wait staff: Very good
Desserts: Don't know
Vegetarian friendly? Maybe
Kid friendly? Appears to be
Would I go back? Yes, would like to try for dinner

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