Sunday, May 11, 2008

Oenophile at large: Restaurant Review of La Grotta Ravinia, Thai Tour of Decatur

This past week allowed me the opportunity to go to one of those dinners at a nice restaurant that someone else pays for, and all I have to do is listen to a talk. Am I a food slut? Maybe, but I really enjoyed my dinner at La Grotta Ravinia, which is at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near Perimeter Mall. I'd been there once before when my in-laws were in town and found it to be consistently good across both visits.

Thursday evening started with appetizers including calamari, bruschetta, and a marinated portobello mushroom. Due to it being a somewhat corporate event, only two wines were poured, and I only got a peek at the label of the Pinot Grigio I had. I didn't get to write it down, but I think it was the 2004 Marco Felluga (Fruili) P.G. It had a hint of oak with lots of fruit and enough body that I think Hubby, who normally turns his nose up at Pinot Grigio ("wine-flavored water"), might have liked it, or at least drank it without fussing too much. The red option was the Ruffino Chianti, which is one of those good, food-friendly, go-to Italian wines.

For dinner, I had the Gamberetti al Grotta, which is "Shrimp Sautéed with Baby Artichokes, Shiitake Mushrooms, Yellow Peppers & Tomato Filets with Polenta." It came with a light lemony cream sauce and went very well with the wine. On our previous visit, I'd had the "Ravioli di Vitello con Salsa di Funghi Selvaggi: Homemade Veal Ravioli with Shiitake Mushrooms, Fresh Spinach & Wild Mushroom Sauce," which I also enjoyed. And yes, I had dessert: chocolate cake with creamy hazelnut icing. I also got a tiramisu to go for Hubby, who's not allowed to come to these things. Both were excellent.

Atmosphere: Very nice, dark, and romantic in the main dining room
Food: Excellent
Wine list: Good
Wait staff: Good
Desserts: Very good
Vegetarian friendly? Not really - no options beyond starters
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

Lunch on Friday found me sitting outside with my friend the Chiropractor at Thai Me Up, which is on Ponce right next to Noodle. Again, this was my second time there, and I found it to be consistently good. We started with the summer rolls, which were served with peanut sauce. I found them to be good, but a little heavy on cilantro. I had Pad Thai with chicken, which is the typical recipe, but not too sweet like some places make it. My friend had the Num Ya, which he requested to be made "Thai Hot." He still had to add chili sauce to it but said it was good as well. The service was attentive without being intrusive, and we were served fast, which was good since I had to get back to work, and he had to run errands.

Atmosphere: Very good, outside seating good for people watching
Food: Very good
Wine list: Don't know -- I was good since I had to return to work
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Unknown, but apparently they have shot desserts
Vegetarian friendly? Yes, most of the dishes have a tofu option
Kid friendly? Depends on whether your kids like Thai food, would stick with lunch or early evening if you try it
Would I go back? Yes

On Saturday, Hubby and I made grilled Mahi Mahi with parsleyed tomatoes, a Southern Living recipe. I've got to give Lynn Sawicki, the owner of Sawicki's Meat, Seafood, and More props for the outstanding quality of the fish. It was dubbed "local from North Carolina," and it had obviously never been frozen. Hubby is excited because it's another "fish Cecilia will eat," for the very short list of approved fish. I love shellfish, but I'm just not a big fan of fishy, meaty fish.

While making dinner, we got a call from friends we haven't seen in a while and who happened to be in town for the evening. We ended up going to drink wine while they ate dinner at Siam Thai Restaurant, and although we didn't partake since we'd already eaten -- we only drank wine -- we enjoyed smelling and seeing the dishes they ordered. I can't really rate the restaurant since I haven't eaten there in over a year, but everything looked and smelled really good. The diners agreed, although they also found the "Thai hot" level of spiciness to be somewhat wimpy.

After dinner, we went to Java Monkey (web site under construction) for coffee, tea, and dessert. Hubby got a fantastic Tempranillo that I have to mention: Campos Reales (La Mancha). I came away with the cork, but not the year. It was very fruity on the nose and didn't disappoint when tasted. It was a very smooth wine, and the perfect way to end a fun evening.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Restaurant Review and Tasting Notes: Cakes & Ale, Austrian Wines at Java Monkey 5/1/08

Last Thursday night, hubby and I worked late and decided to treat ourselves at Cakes & Ale, the latest upscale restaurant to open in downtown Decatur. We arrived at about 6:30 and were promptly seated. The small crowd, which grew as the evening went on, consisted of one family with small children, business people there for drinks and snacks after work, and other couples. A table of retirement-age women celebrating a birthday next to us seemed to know half the other people who were there.

The concept for Cakes & Ale is simple: freshly made, seasonal foods sourced from local growers. We started with the "Mixed garden lettuces," which were pretty much drenched in a green goddess-like dressing. I had been craving french fries and had already turned them down once that day, so I ordered the "Cakes & Ale Burger with fries." The burger was tender, cooked medium, and spiced nicely. It had grilled onions, some sort of cheese, gourmet mustard, and a white sauce on the bottom half of the bun that might have been horseradish mayonnaise. It was very good. The fries were a little disappointing: cut to be straw-like and overly salted. Hubby had the "Baked halibut with spring vegetables and salsa verde." The fish itself was a little plain, but when everything was combined, it was very good. He drank the Groth Chardonnay, which we both originally read as "Goth Chardonnay," and which was nice and oaky, but not to the extent that a lot of California Chards are. I had the Rioja at the suggestion of the server, and it went well with the burger.

Overall, it was a good experience, but I don't think we'll make this part of the usual rotation. As Hubby noted, they've got the "Small plates, big price" thing going, so we would likely save it for a special occasion. We do want to go back and try the dessert that is not on the online menu but was on the printed one: chocolate brownie with mint ice cream. Yum!

Atmosphere: Nice - modern industrial but light & airy (in the space where Viet Chateau was)
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Short but with a nice variety, obviously sourced to pair with the food
Wait staff: Friendly and knowledgeable
Desserts: Look good
Vegetarian friendly? Has a couple of options
Kid friendly? No kid's menu
Would I go back? Yes, but likely will save for a special occasion

After dinner, we walked up the hill to Java Monkey for the Austrian wine tasting. Austria isn't a country that I typically seek wines from unless I have something that would go well with a Gruner Veltliner. This might have been a tasting better suited for when it's 90 degrees outside because the wines tended to be light and somewhat insipid.

Burgenland Trocken Pinot Gris, 2006, Burgenland
It's a Pinot Gris, but with more body than one would find in an Italian Pinot Grigio. A little spicy at first, it is crisp, light, dry, and even a little oaky. Overall, not a bad way to start. It would be a good back porch wine.

Brundlmayer "Kamptaler Terrassen" Gruner Veltliner, 2005, Kamptal Kremstal
Like most Gruner Veltliners, this one had a floral nose, but the palate was so dry as to be almost metallic.

Wieninger Rose de Pinot, 2005, Vienna
The wine itself wasn't very good (I dumped it), but it had "Wiener Wine" at the bottom of the label, which provided us with much amusement, especially after Jess told us that it has "hours of maceration." It was smoky on the nose, astringent on the palate, and had a flavor that the table described as "barnyard funk."

Gfanger Blaufrankisch, 2006, Mittelburgenland
So you see why I didn't blog about this one right afterward -- the wine and place spellings just got harder and harder as the night went on. This one had raisins and fennel on the nose and was somewhat bland and acidic.

Sattler St. Laurent, 2006, Neusiedlersee-Huggeland
The St. Laurent grape is Pinot Noir's French cousin. This one had flavors of sour cherry and a slight finish of tomato.

Pockl Zwiegelt, 2006, Burgenland
This one was light and fruity with a light finish. Probably the best one of the evening.

It's always fun to taste things from a country that's not known for wine, but I think I'll stick with the Italians for now.