Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Random Thoughts: Summer Desserts and a Bad Service Warning

T.S. Eliot started his poem "The Waste Land," with "April is the cruellest month..." I would like to differ and argue that the cruelest months are June through August. Why? Because it's peak season for peaches and berries, fruits that just beg to be put in pies!

Although we live less than two miles from myriad potential dessert suppliers such as that warehouse of temptation, also known as Southern Sweets, I like to make my own pies. Yes, I even make my own crusts. The problem with pies is that they heat up the kitchen because they have to bake for an hour or more. As I've mentioned before, I live in an older house, and our oven likes to bake whatever is in it as well as whoever is standing nearby.

So here's my strategy (I've done this twice with good results): start pie around lunchtime on Saturday. Take pie out to cool around 2:30. Go to Sherlock's wine tasting and give the kitchen time to cool off while drinking wine. It's a brilliant solution, if I do say so myself. I just need to remember not to attempt to make ice cream while the pie is in the oven. I did that last Saturday and wanted to jump in the ice cream maker.

I normally don't say anything about chain restaurants in the blog because they tend to be pretty generic with regard to food and experience, but I do want to pass along a "Bad Customer Service" warning. Perhaps I should turn it into something like the infamous Golden Shovel Award. I could call it the "Fork You!" award. We could even give them a bent fork from these guys (once again proving that you can find a web site for just about everything).

The first "Fork You!" award goes to Quizno's at Northside Crossing at the corner of Hwy 20 and Sigman Road in Conyers. It's one of the limited lunch options near where I work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I've been going there for about a year, but recently things have changed.

I should have realized that something was amiss earlier this year, when a friend and I went there for lunch, and it took us half an hour to order and receive our food. It wasn't particularly crowded; we were second in line behind a group of three. Granted, the cashier comped my meal because we'd had to wait so long, but the wait pretty much killed our lunch break.

Today's trip (July 29) was even worse. There appeared to be a trainee working without adequate training and minimal supervision, (e.g., she would ask what to do next, and the other two women working there would yell the ingredients or procedure at her). She was even left alone at the counter at one point. The store was out of tomatoes, large salad containers, and forks. Large salad containers and tomatoes, okay, but forks? We had both ordered salads and had gotten our meals to eat in. This was a problem. My friend asked how she was supposed to eat her salad without a fork, and the cashier, who had very long nails and was not in a Quizno's uniform, responded with something like, "How should I know?" She did apologize, but it seemed that they weren't really interested in making it a pleasant experience. We ended up getting our meals "to go" and rushing to eat back at the office.

I know that in a fast-paced industry, stores run out of items, and things don't always go perfectly, but after these two experiences, we will never return to that particular Quizno's. We'll also be sure to mention it to our colleagues, and I wrote an email, which immediately bounced back to me, to the franchise group.

I realize that this warning about an "OTP" fast-food place will likely not apply to most of you, but I like to think of myself as being non-prejudiced when it comes to restaurants. I've eaten at other Quizno's, and they've been fine.

Time for some peach pie... If you have any favorites summer desserts, I'd love to hear/read about them!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tasting Notes: Rosé Wines and Staff Picks at Sherlock’s

“If you’re a dude drinking pink wine, you’d better be prepared to take some crap!”

Those words, spoken by one of our fellow wine taster’s school colleagues, gives us an idea of how the infamous pink stuff is still viewed by many people. Lettie Teague, one of my favorite Food & Wine Magazine authors, called it “wine with a guilt trip attached” in her May 2006 article. In that article, she also noted that of three dozen rosé wines she tried for the article (I want her job!), she only liked a few of them. This tends to be my experience as well. For me, the ideal rosé is neither too sweet nor too dry, but also not syrupy. Many wine makers will try to get so far away from the white zinfandel that they end up going too dry.

In spite of the pink wine’s iffy reputation, the tasting was quite crowded, and we ended up sitting outside. Luckily it wasn’t too hot or too humid, so it was comfortable other than the biting flies that seemed to have found the patio. They disappeared after dark. Even the band was good and not too loud for us to be able to talk. Jess and Daphne, who now seems to be the assistant wine pourer for the tastings, were kept quite busy. Jess did a great job of putting together an interesting list with rosé wines from all over the world.

The wines:

2005 Wine by Joe Jose’s Rosé, Oregon:
Blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Syrah
Strawberry nose, a little too dry; Hubby described it as “cough syrup,” which doesn’t really say anything about the wine, it’s just one of his most hated substances (you should hear him complain when he has a cold -- the medicine is worse than the cough!)
Rating: Okay

2005 Chrismont La Zona Rosato Mezzanotte, King Valley, Australia:
50% Sangiovese, 25% Barbera, and 25% Marzemino
This one had a pretty color. The nose was somewhat astringent and off-putting, and the wine started off-dry with mild fruit, but then went more floral as it opened up. The other person doing the tasting and I agreed that we liked it better as we went along.
Rating: Good

2004 Château Bouissel, Fronton, France:
50% Negrette, 20% Cab Franc, 20% Syrah, and 10% Gamay
This one had a citrus-peach nose with a hint of smoke. It was complex and dry with an acidic finish. It also had floral notes after a while.
Rating: Good

2006 Borsao Rosé Wine, Campo de Borja, Spain:
100% Garnacha
Berry nose, sharp at first, but well-balanced
Rating: Very Good

2006 Monte Volpe Sangiovese Rosato, Mendocino, California:
This one had a little more residual sugar and was what I want my rosé to be. The web site says that it should have “soft strawberry and cranberry,” but I also got some stone fruit. I agree with the “dry, acid finish” descriptor. I would be happy sipping this one on my back patio.
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

2006 Del Rio Vineyards Rosé Jolee, Rogue Valley, Oregon:
90% Muscat, 5% Malbec, and 5% Syrah
This one is a little “frizzante” and is definitely a dessert wine. It has flavors of apricot and peach and finishes like a vanilla liquer.
Rating: Very Good

Hubby didn’t even do the tasting other than taking one or two sips of mine, and we couldn’t get our friend the Scot to come out to JavaMonkey at all. Perhaps they were concerned about aspersions being cast on their manhood if they drank pink wine. I think they missed out, at least on the last three.

Yesterday, I poured for the free Saturday tasting at Sherlock’s. The theme was “Staff Picks,” and the staff actually admitted to which ones they picked. This one was fun because of the variety of wines.

Warner picked the 2007 Burgans Albarino Rias Baixas, from Galicia, Spain. It had an orange blossom nose and followed through with the floral character on the palate. We got a few wrinkled noses from tasters who decreed it to be “too dry,” but I thought it was good.

Don chose the 2006 Anton Bauer “Rosenberg” Gruner Veltliner. I like these Austrian whites. This one is balanced with floral, mineral, and apple with a little spice on the end.

Of course Michael came up with something interesting. He put the 2005 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec from Hungary on the list. I’d never had Hungarian wine, so this was a treat. Normally Tokaji is a dessert wine, and this one definitely had the “chewy” texture you’d expect for a sweeter wine, and it wasn’t too dry with flavors of earth and honey. According to the description it had, “racy acidity.” I would definitely describe this one as "daring," perhaps to be drunk while watching a James Bond marathon.

Simone went with the 2007 Sofia Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Rosé. I found this one to be a nicely balanced rosé with raspberry and vanilla, but also some spice. This one was easy to suggest as a “girls’ night in” wine. It was also one of the favorites of the tasting, both because of the wine and the pretty bottle.

I didn’t like Paul’s pick, the 2004 J. Sanders Bourgogne Rouge when I approached it as a pinot noir, but when I rethought it as a classic burgundy, it got better. It’s definitely old world, and it’s very acidic with cherry and berry. It got mixed reviews from the tasters. It definitely wanted food, perhaps a nice coq au vin.

Finally, Angie’s selection, the Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vine Zin, was one that I wanted to pour as, “one for me, one for you.” It’s a big zinfandel, almost inky in color, and fruity and spicy and a little smoky. I believe it’s on the wine list at Ted’s (couldn’t confirm because their wine/beer list isn’t online), and for good reason. This wine is great on its own and really great with big red meats. A bottle of it came home with us and with many others who tasted it.

The surprise selection came from the Sherlock’s fridge courtesy of Warner. It was the 2006 Jorge Ordonez & Co Malaga dessert wine, which is 100% Moscatel. It’s good for Georgia because it’s all peach. At $21.99, it’s a good price for a dessert wine. I was surprised that Hubby liked it.

I like pouring for the Sherlock’s tastings because of the perks (10% off that day’s purchases and a card for $80 off a class after pouring for six of them, and I get to sip wine all afternoon), but mostly because it’s fun to watch people try wine and to be reminded that everyone’s palate is different. This particular lineup had something for just about everyone.

Coming this week: Random thoughts on summer desserts and review of Food 101

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Random Thoughts: Why I'm drinking wine this week

Normally I don't post in the middle of the day, but my computer is busy setting up my next batch of work, so I thought I'd pop in and share some thoughts. I'm having a sleepy day, so these will likely follow an intuitive, right-brained track. Just wanted to give you fair warning.

I'm so over the boil water advisory! This is the fourth time since we moved to Dekalb County in February, 2006 that we've had to do this. Of course, the timing is always great. Why doesn't this ever happen while we're out of town and can miss it?

The first time was in July, 2006, just when we returned from a vacation in Scotland. There's nothing like being jet-lagged as hell and having to boil water for dishes. The second time was December 2006. I was prepping for a New Year's Eve party. We got the gigantic stock pot out to boil water for that one. Then, a few weeks ago, we didn't even hear about the boil water advisory until it was over. Now we've pulled the pots out again because the "backup generators failed" at the water plant when a storm blew through on Tuesday. Did someone forget to maintain them? Put gas in them? Test them? Check on them when the power went out? I hosted my writing group last night, and one of my fellow writers remarked that when it comes to Dekalb County's government, "there just doesn't seem to be anyone home." I agree.

The best part of the current boil water advisory situation is that when Hubby called the water board Tuesday evening after the water had come back on to ask if there would be an advisory, he was told that no, all he had to do was open an outdoor spigot and wait til the air went out and it ran clear. We heard about the advisory on the radio the next morning after it had been water use as usual the previous evening including shower, tooth brushing, dish washing, and all that other stuff they advised us not to do unless we're sure the water is safe. We haven't experienced any ill effects yet, but we're young and healthy. I'm more concerned about our neighbors, including the couple next door with the two little boys and the woman across the street who's about 10 months pregnant (petite woman, big baby, July heat -- doesn't look fun). What if they were told the same thing and the water isn't safe?

Burrell Ellis and Stan Watson, I really hope you're reading. At this point, I'll vote for anyone who says they'll fix this and back it up with a concrete, workable plan. That's right, I'm not up for empty political promises at this point. I hate using waterless hand sanitizer, and I'm pissed.

In the olden days, distilled and fermented spirits were consumed because the water wasn't safe. I plan to follow the ways of my ancestors and drink wine tonight. Fortunately, there is a "pink wine" tasting at JavaMonkey this evening. If this water advisory isn't resolved yet, we can all get together and gripe and pay a few extra dollars to drink bottled water along with our wine.

Okay, this turned into a rant. I feel a little better now.

The Disgruntled Oenophile

Sunday, July 20, 2008

(Busy) Oenophile at Large: Aquaknox and Kyma

Apologies to those of you who have been waiting two whole weeks since my last post! Life has been crazy busy. As I mentioned in my profile, I'm an aspiring writer, and I actually had an agent take interest in my fantasy novel. She requested the entire manuscript, so I had to do some final revisions and get that off to her last week. In other exciting news, Hubby and I are now godparents! Our friends Logic Boy and Grammar Girl had their baby last week, an adorable little girl who is partially named after yours truly, and we're very excited. The new parents are going to have their work cut out for them, and not because of the kid. When we went to see them in the hospital, the in-laws and out-laws were in full advice mode, as we witnessed when Grammar Girl mentioned that their dog had stopped eating out of his bowl. Everyone had an opinion except us, and I admit, I couldn't resist noting that their dogs are much more finicky than our cats. Hubby is enjoying his new title of "Godfather," and I'm relieved that he's only tried to make me one offer I couldn't refuse (don't worry, it was a bribe, not a threat).

Even with all the excitement, I still had some good opportunities to explore some fine dining in our fair city. On July 10, I went to a dinner at Aquaknox. It's so hard to review restaurants when I go to these industry-sponsored dinners because we only get access to a limited menu, so please keep that in mind. The Salad Course was a Butter Lettuce and Herb Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette, which the server described as "effervescent." It was good, but I'm not sure it warranted any long adjectives. I chose the Seared Day Boat Scallops with Sweet Potato Puree and Mushroom Pancetta Fricassee. The scallops were large and tender, and the whole dish worked well. Dessert was a chocolate lava cake-type thing. It was good, but I had to satisfy myself with the middle, which is the best part anyway, because I had a wine tasting to get to.
Score card:
Atmosphere: Everything is very modern and blue. The wine case is interesting. The restaurant is on the second floor of the building and a little maze-like.
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Unknown (not available online)
Wait staff: Good, at least the two we had for our group
Desserts: What I had was good; I've heard from others that the pastry chef is excellent
Vegetarian friendly? Not really, it's a seafood restaurant
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

By the time I made it to JavaMonkey's "Big Ass Whites" tasting, I had already been drinking white wine all night and just couldn't take anymore. Granted, the Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay (Sonoma County) that I had been drinking to that point at Aquaknox was good, only mildly oaked and buttery but still fruity enough to be interesting. I just went with a glass of a current favorite, the Campos Reales Tempranillo.

Last Thursday, after meeting our new god-daughter, we went to Kyma to celebrate. While we waited at the bar, Hubby got a plain martini, and I got the Dionysus, which has flavors of grape and cranberry. He's always been one of my favorite Greek gods for a reason. We started with the Spanakopita, which was excellent. I had the Watermelon Salad, which is chunks of watermelon and feta with mint, basil, and chives topped with a watermelon sorbet. It was different, but light and flavorful with a good balance of salty and sweet. For dinner, I had the Grouper "lefkathitiki" which was, thankfully, much easier to eat than it was to spell. The fish was fresh, and the broth and leeks with clams and escargots was a good accompaniment. And now I can say that I've eaten snails! The wine list is mostly Greek wines, which I know very little about, so at the waiter's recommendation, we got a bottle of Koutsogiannopoulos, which is a white from the island of Santorini. Its citrus and acid character was good on its own and really good with the food, almost like it was made specifically for Greek food. Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake and banana wrapped in phyllo along with a small scoop of ice cream. By that time, I was stuffed, so I didn't finish the banana.
Score card:
Atmosphere: A little noisy, but nice
Food: Excellent
Wine list: Mostly Greek, but a nice variety
Wait staff: Very good; he disappeared occasionally, but they seemed a little short-staffed. He was very knowledgeable about the menu and wine list and didn't laugh at my attempts to pronounce the Greek words
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Not really, again, it's a seafood-focused restaurant
Kid friendly? No, although there were some older ones there
Would I go back? Yes, and I'm going to try to get Hubby to do the appetizer sampler next time

This week, JavaMonkey will try to convince us that Rose wine is drinkable. Also, I'll be pouring wine at the Sherlock's tasting next Saturday, the 26th. Come and say hi!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Restaurant Reviews, Sage and Eddie's Attic

First, thanks to all who came out for the fund raiser at JavaMonkey last Thursday. I don't have official figures, but the attendance was really good. The wine was, too.

Before the event, Hubby and I had dinner at Sage. We hadn't been there in a while, and we were both disappointed to see that the menu hasn't changed appreciably, at least as far as we could tell (the online menu is listed as November07, and it looks like the same one, so it hasn't changed at least since then). He put it best when he said, "I guess that's why we don't go there that often, it's just the same old stuff." At least the same old stuff is good. He had the "Pasta a la Tomato-Vodka Cream Sauce," and I had the prix fixe menu, which was a field greens salad tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and then steak with frites and a peppercorn cream sauce. Two things I like about Sage: a good wine list and consistent quality food and service. Now if only they'd mix up the menu a bit.

On Friday, we ended up on the patio at Eddie's Attic. Now, let's be honest, you don't go to Eddie's Attic for the food, or at least I didn't, but I was really impressed with the updated menu, which goes beyond typical bar fare. While we waited for our friends, Hubby and I had the bruschetta, which wasn't as good as you'd get at an Italian restaurant, but still very nice with good, thick slices of mozzarella and garlicky tomato-onion topping. Hubby and one of our friends had burgers, which looked really good and got good reviews from the ones eating them. I chose a trio of sliders (mini burgers): one Falafel, one Black Bean, and one Meatball. The Meatball and Black Bean were the best. One of our other friends got the Buffalo calamari, which everyone described as "surprisingly good" due to the unexpected combination of calamari with wing sauce. We didn't drink wine, but rather shared a pitcher (or two, ahem) of Widmer Heffeweisen, which was refreshing with light citrus.

So those were the two restaurants we visited, one surprisingly the same and one surprisingly different. That's one of the things I love about living in Decatur: I never get bored. Now if I can only manage to get by Tastings when it's open...

Coming this week: review of Aquaknox

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada Day, eh?

Dear fellow oenophiles,

Today is Canada Day, at least for a couple more hours in the corner of the world where I sit. It's a time to honor that great big frozen country to the north of us and assure them that no, really, we don't think of them as the 51st state! It's also an opportunity to thank the Canadians for all the wonderful things they give us like cold fronts and hockey players and great actors and actresses like Mike Myers and Pamela Anderson. Now, before you go mocking Pamela Anderson, she may have a use after all. Just think! She could solve the energy crisis! As for Mike Myers, I think that the nation's movie critics are putting together a movement to deport him anyway. Meanwhile, the Quebecois "chanteuse" Celine Dion has just earned the dubious honor of having recorded the "worst cover ever" of AC/DC track "You Shook Me All Night Long."

So if it's not actors, singers, or weather, then what good can come out of Canada? Wine! I'm not just talking about British Columbia wines because those greedy hosers keep it all to themselves. Yes, I'm bitter. We got some really good ones while we were up there. A recent (e.g., just a few minutes ago) wine rack inventory revealed that we only have a couple left: the 2006 Pinot Gris from Dirty Laundry, which Hubby actually liked, and the 2006 Cabernet Franc Rose from Jackson-Triggs, which is one of the larger, more commercial producers. We drank another one of them last weekend, the Therapy Pinot Noir, which I'd been saving to have with my grad school friend. The label is a Rorschach ink blot.

We had to give the Canadians credit for creative winery names. A couple of the more interesting ones were, as I already mentioned, Dirty Laundry and Therapy. We also came back with bottles from Blasted Church and See Ya Later Ranch. The latter had some great ice wine. Other good names were Golden Beaver, Silk Scarf, and Red Rooster.

As for wines you can actually get in the U.S., we had a lovely off-dry 2006 Pinot Blanc from the Konzelmann Estate winery on Saturday evening. It was a tad sweet, but fruity and not syrupy. It ended up being a good pre-dinner drink and may still be available at Sherlock's.

I've uploaded a few pictures from our trip and hope you enjoy them. Please enjoy the rest of Canada Day and drink responsibly, eh?

P.S. Don't forget about the fund raiser on Thursday!