Sunday, August 30, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation.

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is my 100th post! Thanks to all you readers who allow me to think that my musings are actually interesting. Hubby tells me that the inside of my head is a "strange and wondrous place," so maybe I'm not so odd after all.

Just as I came back to a pile of work to catch up on, I have a lot of fun things to write about. So here goes...

We had a great time down in Destin, Florida, where the condo only had dial-up internet access, and 3G has not arrived yet, so internet communications were very limited. Yes, it was vacation.

The biggest excitement of the trip was probably the appearance of Tropical Storm Claudette. I sat on the beach Sunday afternoon and watched her approach:

And surround:

We still had a great time in the company of the Vegetarian Couple in spite of some rain and wind on Sunday evening and Monday. Ms. Veg particularly enjoyed the storm because they just don't get tropical storms or hurricanes in her home state of Indiana. She went out on the beach and pretended to get blown around by the storm like a Weather Channel reporter.

Of course we ate out a few times in Destin. My parents took us to Cafe Grazie the night we arrived. It's an Italian place just across the street from Destin's venerable seafood restaurant The Back Porch. We sat outside on their patio, and with six of us eating, got a good sampling of the menu. I tried to be healthy and order the Grazie Cannelloni, pasta stuffed with lobster, crab, scallops, and shrimp in a cheese sauce, with marinara instead of the Alfredo sauce. I found the marinara to be too salty. My mother got the recipe without alteration, and it was very good. Other dishes tried included the Eggplant Parmesan, Mediterranean Chicken, and the Shrimp and Tomato pizza. Everyone declared their dishes to be good, although Hubby's Shrimp and Tomato pizza came with all the shrimp in the middle with the tomatoes closer to the edge, which was interesting. The desserts were very good, although the Chocolate Decadence, rather than being a layer cake, was more of a dense Bundt cake with chocolate ganache. It was still good. We ordered the house Chianti, so I'm not sure what it was, but I'd suggest going for one of the bottles off the menu. It still went well with the food.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Traditional Italian restaurant inside; patio is nice
Food: Good
Wine list: Decent
Wait staff: Good
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Yes.
Kid friendly? Apparently.
Would I go back? Yes

Hubby and I made it to a family favorite, AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar, which is on Destin Harbor. He got raw oysters, which he said were good. I tried one, but I'm a fan of them fried. I didn't feel like a sandwich, so I got the fried oyster platter, which came with fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw. It was very good, with the oysters fresh and on the small side and the coating was perfectly crunchy. The fries were okay. Overall, it was good, although a little overpriced. My other complaint about AJ's is that the inside temperature of the restaurant is frigid, not a nice surprise for people in summer clothing.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Casual, cold, a little noisy, but nice view of the harbor
Food: Very good
Wine list: Basic; go for the frozen drinks or beer
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Unknown
Vegetarian friendly? Not unless vegetables swim.
Kid friendly? Yes
Would I go back? Yes

We decided to go a bit more upscale for dinner on our last night in Destin, so Hubby found The Marina Cafe, which had options to satisfy the seafood lovers as well as the Vegetarian Couple. It, too, is on the harbor, with a nice view. The host sat us at a table by the window so we could watch the light on the water and lust after the yachts docked outside.

We shared a bottle of wine, a steely, crisp white with nice citrus, but after they took the menus, the bottle remained tantalizingly out of reach, and of course it's not on the online menu. I just called and was told it was the 2006 Chateau Graville-Lacoste (Bordeaux).

Hubby and I shared the Gulf Shrimp and Lump Crab Spring Rolls, which were served with a lightly spicy Asian slaw and tangy sweet chili sauce. I continued the Asian theme with the Romaine Lettuce salad with radicchio, red bell pepper, radishes, grape tomatoes, and ginger vinaigrette and had the Grilled Jumbo Gulf Shrimp, served with ginger-soy butter, stir-fry vegetables and basmati rice for dinner. Hubby had the Pan Seared Yellowedge Grouper with a blue crabmeat crust, lemon beurre blanc, and basil mashed potatoes and said it was good. Our vegetarian friends got pizzas, one Margherita and one the Artichoke Heart pizza with caramelized onions and roasted sweet peppers but without the apple-wood smoked bacon. Everyone was pleased with their meal, although they found the Artichoke Heart pizza to have been overcooked and charred on the bottom. To be fair, they didn't say anything, so the staff didn't have a chance to correct it.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Medium dark and a little noisy; dress is "resort casual"
Food: Very good
Wine list: Very Good
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Did not try, didn't see dessert menu
Vegetarian friendly? Yes.
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

We missed the JavaMonkey Old vs. New wine tasting that Thursday (guest blogger's notes to follow later this week) and decided to do our own, so we got four bottles from Chan's Wine World, which is on the right in a strip mall just after you cross the Mid-Bay Bridge from Niceville. They have Friday tastings, and we plan to attend one the next time we're there. They didn't have the wines that JM was tasting that night, but they were very knowledgeable and suggested alternatives.

I wish I could tell you more about the wines, but we tasted them on the beach, and a storm blew up. We and the Vegetarian Couple grabbed wine, cheese, towels, and crackers and ran across the sand, up the stairs, and into the gazebo where people leave their shoes before going on the beach. We had to entertain ourselves while we waited for the storm to blow through, of course, and unfortunately there wasn't any wine left for tasting more thoroughly afterward. Here they are:

Old World white:

2007 Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages (Bourgogne)

New World white:

2007 A to Z Chardonnay (OR) -- unoaked

This one was a tie with two of us liking the old world and two liking the newer one.

Old World red:

2006 Ferraton Père et Fils Côtes du Rhône Samorëns
(100% Grenache)

Knowing that Côtes du Rhônes tend to be Syrah blends, we got the 2002 Fife Syrah at the recommendation of Chan's sister for the New World wine, so this one probably wasn't a fair match-up. This Mendocino Syrah was the favorite of the evening, rich with really ripe fruit.

When we weren't drinking and eating, we were on the beach, so it was a very relaxing trip. The fun didn't stop there, either. On the way back through Alabama, we stopped in Opp (yes, that's a real town) at Hook's Barbecue (no web site). It was such a pretty day, we decided to take our food to go and picnic at Frank Jackson State Park, which only costs a dollar to enter and has ample picnic tables. Unfortunately, it also had a really stiff breeze, but we just held on to our pulled pork sandwiches, which were tender and served with the perfect amount of sauce, beans, and slaw, and enjoyed watching the breeze ruffle the water on the lake:

I'd like to thank my parents for allowing us the use of the condo when they had to go back early and the Vegetarian Couple for joining us and making the vacation that much more fun. See y'all on the beach next year? We'll stop at Chan's and get wine!

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