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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Friday, August 14, 2009

Missing Oenophile?

Dear fellow oenophiles,

Life is good in that my business has taken off, and Hubby and I have both been working probably a little too hard than is good for us. Consequently, we're going to be taking some time for much-needed rest, relaxation, and minimal computer interaction. Will be back in the "real world" on Saturday, August 22. Until then, please drink good wine, eat good food, and have fun!


Cecilia Dominic
The Random Oenophile

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tasting Notes: New Zealand Wines at JavaMonkey

Hubby and I are unwinding this evening with glasses of the 2007 "Papa Loves Mambo" blend from Sapolil Cellars, a little winery based in and near Walla Walla, Washington. The grapes, 70% Syrah, 20% Sangiovese, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon are grow in the Horse Heaven Hills. Sounds poetic, doesn't it? Sapolil makes absolutely lovely wines, but they're still tiny, so you have to belong to their wine club or order directly from them to get it. I highly recommend them. The "Papa Loves Mambo" is dark purple in color, has a dark fruit nose, and the fruitiness of the Syrah is given a little bite by the Sangiovese and nice smoothness and depth by the Cab.

Oh, we drank wine last night, too. The focus of this Thursday Wine Series tasting was New Zealand. For those who aren't that familiar with it, New Zealand is that country in the Pacific Ocean that's kind of near Australia and gives the Aussies something to make fun of, which is entirely mutual. It's also where the "Lord of the Rings" movies were filmed. Unfortunately, the wines were not designated as being from the region of the Hobbits, Elves, or, well, you get the idea.

Random Aside: the very first night I can remember being drunk, if that makes sense, was at a big formal dinner that closed out the International Conference for Mathematical Modeling and Simulation in Hobart, Tasmania (that little island off the coast of Australia; no, the Tasmanian devils don't look like the cartoon) in 1997. You may not think that mathematicians and simulators would be good dinner party company, but I was seated across from two of my father's colleagues, one from Australia and one from New Zealand. They picked at each other all night, and in between amusing barbs, were sure to keep my wine glass filled. I don't remember much of the evening or the trip back to the hotel afterward. I was only 20 at the time and hadn't really started drinking yet.

So back to the wines...

2008 Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough):
Nice tropical fruit overlay with seashell underneath; only a little funky.
Rating: Good/Very Good

2006 Bird Pinot Gris (Marlborough):
A little funky and grassy; grapefruit finish with a hint of vanilla.
Rating: Good

2006 Bird Gewurztraminer (Marlborough -- do you see the trend?):
No scurvy here! More grapefruit, but this one was more mineral and floral. It also had a soapy nose.
Rating: Good

2003 Huia Riesling (Isengard):
This one would have probably been better in 2005. Or maybe Saruman corrupted it.
Rating: Only an Orc would love it

Gads, I'm a geek!

2005 Staeteland Landt Chardonnay (Marlborough):
This one had nice layers: floral in front, vanilla and oak in the middle, and some citrus on the finish.
Rating: Very Good

2004 Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Trinity blend (Hawkes Bay): 52% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Syrah
The reasoning behind calling this one a "trinity blend" when it has four grapes in it was discussed, and yes, there were some Douglas Adams references thrown in. It has a dark cherry and anise nose, is well-balanced between fruit and acidity and actually isn't as big as one might expect for the blend. A lot of cherry and cranberry come through as well.
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

Wow, both LoTR and Hitchiker's Guide references. It's a good night.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Random Adventures: Restaurant Reviews of Spoon and Highland Tap, Tasting Notes from Sherlock's

Okay, so I guess I suck at starting revolutions. Or maybe people don't want to admit they're from Alabama. After the Cycles Gladiator ban, I can't say I blame them.

Just a reminder for all you Atlantans, it's Atlanta Restaurant Week. Actually, it's Atlanta Restaurant Two Weeks because it goes through August 9th. Hubby and I grabbed the vegetarians and headed to Spoon on Thursday.

Random aside: Hubby had dropped me off at work on Thursday morning and took my car to his office, where he parked it under a tree. If you recall, Thursday was really rainy, and apparently the tree was really full of ants, which resulted in my car being infested with strange looking greyish-tan ants. At least they don't bite, but they did swarm me on Friday morning as I drove to the Y for Pilates. If anyone noticed a redhead driving through downtown Decatur smacking the seat beside her and yelling, "Die! Die! Die!" uh, yeah, that was me.

I've been trying to remember to take pictures of what I eat since that's apparently what food bloggers do. The problem is that my Blackberry has a really bright flash, so unless the restaurant lighting is bright, I can't really do it subtly. Still, I did get a couple of pictures.

The vegetarians went for the green curry, which wasn't part of the prix fixe menu, but Hubby and I decided to enter into the spirit of Restaurant Week (i.e., stuff yourself for a lot less money than you would have paid otherwise) and did the three-course menu. We all started with the sweet tofu basil rolls, which were served with a spicy hoisin-peanut sauce. They were fresh, and the tofu and basil had nice crunch to them. Hubby had the sesame tofu cubes with Thai ginger sauce, which he liked, and I splurged for the Ped Pa Lo Noodle: wide rice noodle with slow cooked duck in Thai five spice soup. The duck was a little fatty, but the noodles were good, and the soup was very savory. I even got a picture:

And then there was dessert. Hubby got the blueberry chocolate chip spring rolls with mango dipping sauce. He said that the spring rolls were okay, but he could've eaten just the coconut ice cream with mango dipping sauce and been perfectly happy. Of course chocoholic me had the chocolate caramel mousse with green tea ice cream, which was also served with a berry compote. The mousse itself was the perfect texture and balance of chocolate and caramel, which was good since a lot of places overpower the chocolate in their mousse with the secondary flavor. It went well with the green tea ice cream, which added fresh notes to the mousse along with the berries. I got a picture of it, too!

We ordered wine, a Gewurztraminer from the Columbia Gorge, but unfortunately I did not record the name of it before they whisked the wine list away, and the wine list isn't online. Yeah, yeah, I should know better by now. I think it may have been the Domaine Pouillon because the description fits: citrus, lychee, and mild nuttiness. It went well with the food.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Medium dark and a little noisy
Food: Very good
Wine list: Good for an Asian place; not a lot available, but nice variety
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Apparently the chocolate caramel mousse was voted as being in Atlanta's Top 25. The ice creams are great, too.
Vegetarian friendly? Yeah, it's Thai. Just about anything can be made with tofu.
Kid friendly? You wouldn't think so, but there were some in there.
Would I go back? Yes

On Friday, the adventures continued when Hubby and I as well as half of Decatur went to the Sherlock's "Extraordinary Tasting Event!!!" That's what the emails said, anyway. The guest of honor was Steve Manos, wine instructor at Disney and the U.S Division Manager for Gruppo Mezzacorona. There were light munchies as well as a giveaway. Hubby didn't make it home in time for us to get any of the playing cards that served as drawing tickets, but we did get some wine.

We skipped the Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio (Dolomiti, Italy), but the provided notes look interesting, especially the "apple pie and cream part." Here are the ones we did try (vintage info not provided):

Mezzacorona Chardonnay (Dolomiti, Italy):
Hubby liked because it was oaky; I skipped

Mezzacorona Moscato (Dolomiti, Italy):
floral with orange blossom and honey; off-dry, but I liked it; may be too sweet for hard-core white drinkers
Rating: Good to Very Good

Arancio (Sicilia, Italy): 100% Grillo
apple nose, mineral body
Rating: Good

Axis Sauvignon Blanc (Central Coast, CA):
Herb nose, slightly oaky with grapefruit finish
Rating: Good

Axis Chardonnay (Central Coast, CA):
Hubby tasted, I skipped. He found it to be way too smoky.

Mezzacorona Pinot Noir (Dolomiti, Italy):
Nice fruity nose, but the wine fell flat
Rating: Okay

Arancio Pinot Noir (Sicilia, Italy):
Strawberry, gentle tannins, and a nice finish with a hint of butter.
Rating: Very Good

Mezzacorona Merlot (Dolomiti, Italy):
Very berry, but nicely balanced with acidity & fruit
Rating: Very Good

Mezzacorona Cabernet Sauvignon (Dolomiti, Italy):
The notes described as a "simple juicy red for grilled steak." I concur. Definitely had the "I'm a Cab!" stereotypical football linebacker characteristics to it: big but not too bright.
Rating: Good to Very Good (I appreciate honesty in a wine)

Axis Zinfandel (Lodi, CA): 86% Zinfandel, 14% Petite Syrah
Okay, those of you who know me will have probably guessed that this was my favorite of the evening. A little peppery on the nose with lots of lush fruit and that cedar-caramel overtone that I love in my Lodi's. Yeah, it was my favorite.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

Last night, Hubby and I joined the Scot and his girlfriend at Highland Tap. The Scot graduated yesterday from Georgia Tech with a Master's degree in urban planning. Congratulations, D!

We knew immediately why the Scot had picked this place for his celebratory dinner. It's tucked in a cellar in Virginia Highlands, and it reminded me of many of the pubs we visited in Scotland with its exposed stone and wood paneled walls and dark, cozy interior. We sat at the bar, where Hubby had a Scotch (McCallan 12, neat), and I had a glass of A to Z Pinot Gris, which is one of my favorite summer pre-dinner wines. The Scot and his girlfriend arrived a little later, and we were immediately shown to our table by the friendly hostess. I didn't realize it before we went, but the menu is all about the meat, specifically steak. What triglycerides?

Last night also marked a first for me in Atlanta: bringing wine to a restaurant instead of ordering it off the list. We'd gotten the Scot a bottle of Bordeaux for his birthday, and he generously offered to share it with us for dinner. The waitress didn't balk at all, but was more curious about the wine, and she immediately brought out four glasses (corkage fee is $10).

The 2006 Chateau Chantemerle (Gaillan en Médoc) is a Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. It's a very smooth red, and while I am reluctant to use phrases such as "supple tannins" because for some reason, that particular phrase makes me think of the post-seduction scene in the movie "The Graduate" when she's putting her stockings back on, I think this one warrants it, so here we go: nicely balanced dark fruit with some oak, supple tannins (but not in a sexy middle-aged seduction kind of way), and leather (okay, really don't go there!). The flavors really came out nicely with the meat with some nice spiciness (this is just getting worse).

Okay, on to the food. As I mentioned, the Highland Tap is a steak place. Hubby got the "Queen cut" prime rib, and I got the "Petite" Filet, which was a non-petite eight ounces. Yeah, there are now leftovers. We both got as sides the parmesan-truffle potatoes, which were incredibly good. Those didn't come home.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Very dark, fun to people watch as the evening goes on ("White patent leather heels? Srsly?")
Food: Very good to excellent
Wine list: Decent from what I could tell
Wait staff: Very Good and personable; also good at helping each other out when necessary so that the food is timed right
Desserts: Don't know
Vegetarian friendly? Ummm, it's a steak place
Kid friendly? Probably not
Would I go back? Yes

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Post of Protest: Seeking Current and Former Alabamians Tired of Home State's Nonsense

This is a letter and petition I would like to forward to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Of course I'll include my real name when I send it. My goal is to get enough comments/co-signatures to have them take it seriously.

Dear Alabama ABC Board,

First, congratulations on the strides the state is taking to improve the freedom of alcoholic commerce in the state of Alabama. I was thrilled to hear earlier this year that you have increased the alcohol limit for beer sales, which will allow my mother access to the beer she's missed from her home country of Belgium. It will likely make my father very happy as well.

I am, however, concerned to hear about the ban on Cycles Gladiator wine due to objections about the label's content, the profile of an unclad nymph with a bicycle, which is from a piece of French art from the late 1800's. While I object to anything that will keep residents of Alabama from having access to good wine, I am particularly frustrated about another aspect of the situation.

I am from Alabama and spent the first twenty-two years of my life there. After college, I moved to Georgia for personal and professional reasons. Because I essentially have no Southern accent, I don't have to tell people I grew up in Alabama; I would be perfectly convincing as a Chicagoan or even a Californian. But I do tell people I'm from Birmingham because to this point, I have been proud and not embarrassed to say so. I also am quick to correct people's negative misconceptions about the state and to assure them that it is really a lovely place to live, work, and visit.

Now you see my quandary. I am part of the "Alabama really isn't that bad" movement, and you have greatly set my efforts back. Now I feel I can't even be a part of the "At least we're not Mississippi" camp because Mississippi hasn't banned Cycles Gladiator wine. You may feel that you're taking the moral high ground, but really, all you've done is make the state look more ridiculous than it already does.

So, on behalf of myself and other current and former residents of Alabama, I am writing to ask you to withdraw this ban on Cycles Gladiator wine.


Cecilia Dominic

Please add your name and city to the petition!