Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tasting Notes: Pinot Noirs at JavaMonkey

Note: I had hoped that Hubby would write this one, and that was the original plan, but he's swamped with work right now. He'll be covering the next one for me because I'm out of town this week.

I'm spending the week in Birmingham to help Mom out after yesterday's surgery. Hubby and I were trying to figure out when we were here last, but all we could come up with was sometime last year before September. It's been kind of strange in that everything looks much the same, but older. For example, the theater that was the nice place to see movies when I was in high school is now a dollar theater. How depressing! Have I grown out of this place, or has it grown past me in a different direction? It's impossible to say.

Drinking Pinot Noir can be like visiting a familiar place in that by now, we pretty much know what to expect, but sometimes we do get surprised. This one would've been interesting to do as a blind tasting (just ignore how much I've ranted about blind tastings in the past) with guesses as to where they were from. Here are the wines:

2008 Sherwood Estate Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand):
Okay, I have expectations for Pinots from France, California, and Oregon, but none for New Zealand. It started "hot," but opened nicely. We got pours from two bottles at the table. One was cranberry-pomegranate, and one tasted more strawberry, which was interesting. It was also "insect-approved," so be sure to keep your glass covered, or the little bugs will dive right in. And they don't spit it out easily.
Rating: Very Good; would've been Excellent at cellar temperature

2007 Lechtaler Pinot Nero (Trentino, Italy):
Another surprising place for Pinots! I'm still debating as to what sounds cooler, Nero or Noir. Berry all the way, nose to finish, with a bit of butter. We deemed this one to be "berry scone in a glass."
Rating: Good

2008 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon):
Clove on the nose and darker fruit, moving from berry but not quite to cherry yet. Has interesting savory and earthy notes as well, kind of like good cheese. This one is certified biodynamic.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Roncier (Burgundy, France):
When you've been making wine since 1842, you don't need to give much info? Cherry nose, butter balanced with fruit. Hubby noted, "Mais oui!"
Rating: Very Good

2008 Mark West Pinot Noir (California):
This one is a good, basic Pinot for beginner oenophiles. We brought it to a party last month, and it went over really well. It's kind of meaty for a Pinot with nice fruit in the middle and a hint of licorice at the end.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2008 Lange Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon):
Earthy nose, full and fruity with good acidity. Lange is always a good bet for Pinots.
Rating: Very Good

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part VIII

Still exhausted, but here's the next installment of my Friday Flash serial Always a Bridesmaid. To read the story to this point, check out the More Fiction page on my website. For some great flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter. I've already read a few, and you won't be disappointed.

Always a Bridesmaid, Part 8: No rest for the good

Toby woke just after he shook hands with Lydia. Too bad – he wondered where the hot blond, the one who'd been assaulted by the guy in the tuxedo, went.

He tried to roll to his back, but something blocked him. Ditto when he stretched his legs out. He opened his eyes and found himself curled up in the back seat of his extended cab truck. The boxes that had been back there, the ones with the linens his mother had made for Lydia, were piled high in the driver's and passenger seats and wells.

"What the hell…?" He looked out the window and saw a squat brick building, vending machines, and lots of empty parking spaces around grassy islands. One of them had a brown sign, "Pet Walk – Watch Your Step." There was no sign of the diner, the small bedroom he'd been tucked into, or Raphe. His shoes were on the floor in front of his head, and in the other backseat well, a large brown grocery bag, the top folded over. It moved, and Toby hit his head scrambling away from it.

The bag shook, and wet stains appeared on the side. Toby was trapped. He couldn't get out of the backseat without moving the boxes that were in the passenger seat, but then he'd have to get closer to the thing in the bag.

"You fought a demon in a tux last night," he told himself, although he wasn't sure how he knew it was a demon. "Surely you can handle a thing in a bag."

"Who are you calling a thing in a bag?" Its voice sounded familiar.

"You." Maybe he was still dreaming. "You're the thing in the bag." He almost giggled to release the bubble of tension in his chest.

"And you're the dumb thing staring at it. Now get me out of here! It smells like wet paper sack!"

"I'm still dreaming, that's all." Saying the words out loud made them believable. Toby opened the bag and found a large plastic food container, holes punched in the lid, and inside, a pissed-off bearded catfish. When he saw the fish, Toby almost dropped the whole thing.

"You!" he said.

The fish swam the tight radius he was allowed. "Yeah, yeah, it's me. The bearded catfish. The one you didn't want for dinner."

"I don't eat things that talk to me."

"That's a good policy." The fish stared at him with big eyes, its irises the color of mud. "You're no great catch, either."

"I'm being insulted by takeout," Toby said. He put the fish's container back in the well and managed to move enough boxes to wriggle into the passenger seat, from where he rearranged everything else, including the fish, which got strapped into the seat with the seatbelt so he wouldn't tip over. The catfish, meanwhile, sulked.

"Okay, I'm going to get some coffee. Maybe then I'll wake up." He put his shoes on.

"You're not dreaming, kid."

Toby paused mid-lacing. "What?"

"You're not dreaming. This is all real."

"No it's not." Toby shut the door, pressed the "Lock" button on his remote, and walked into the squat brick building. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and hoped he didn't look too bedraggled in case any other blonde damsels needed rescuing.

"Welcome to Alabama," said the gray-haired woman behind the counter. Her nametag said "Ruby" and had red rhinestones glued to it.

"Is that where I am?" Toby asked. He saw displays with brochures for attractions from the U.S.S. Alabama to Desoto Caverns to Little River Gorge.

"How long were you on the road yesterday, honey?" She handed him a cup of coffee. It felt warm and solid in his hand, and he started to doubt that he dreamed. His were never this vivid.

"I'm not sure." He took a sip and nearly burned his tongue on the hot, bitter liquid. "Do you have any cream and sugar?"

She handed him two packets, one of each, and shook her head. "You know, taking meth before a long trip is only going to mess with your head later on, dear. You should really be more careful. What would your mother think?"

"I'm not a meth-head," he said and shook the powdered creamer and sugar into his coffee.

"Right, dear. Now why don't you go into the bathroom and make yourself presentable? You don't want the cops pulling you over. They're very strict here."

Toby could only shake his head, but at least the coffee was drinkable now. And his stomach growled. If Michael was going to send him with a bag of stuff, why not biscuits?

The longer he spent in the Welcome Center, which he found out from Ruby was on the Western side of Alabama, the more he believed that he had driven there, parked, and slept in his truck the night before. The talking fish had to have been a hallucination. Ditto the diner. It was just a trick his mind had played on him after he'd watched the lines on the road for hours the past few days. He'd probably get back in the truck and find the container was full of his mother's cookies or something.

But still, he hesitated getting back in the truck even after Ruby had shooed him out when a young couple came in looking for the bathrooms. She had cheerfully offered them some condoms.

"More road trips than rock concerts have bred babies, you know," she told the blushing girl.

Toby didn't even look in the passenger seat when he got in. He put his new "Heart of Dixie" travel mug in the cup holder and started the engine.

"It's about time you got back! I'm starving!"

He jumped. Yes, the fish was still there, and it looked at him through the plastic with its mud-colored eyes.

"By the way, if we're gonna road trip together, my name is Bert. I hear that Alabama has great chicken biscuits!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Random Thoughts from a Brain-Dead Blogger

Dear readers,

I went to Chicago last weekend to teach part of a review course for the professional certification I have. Well, it was sort of Chicago. Oak Brook, to be exact, which is about an hour west of Chicago. Alas, I was without a car, and my colleagues weren't adventurous enough to split a cab to go anywhere interesting for dinner, so I don't really have anything interesting to report except that they do not serve Happy Meals for lunch at Hamburger University on the McDonald's compound campus. Oh, and did I mention that it snowed?

By the way, that was the second weekend in a row I got to do something professional and exhausting, so I'm pretty brain-dead and sleep-deprived now. I'm glad I got the opportunities and invitations to speak at those two events, but I'm really tired now. Yeah, sometimes that real-life day job thing gets in the way of good blogging.

We do have tasting notes from last week's Pinot Noir tasting at JavaMonkey, but Hubby requested to write that post, so look for it Friday-ish.

I'll try to un-mush my brain and write something interesting for you tomorrow night.

Thanks for your patience!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part VII

The writing community on Twitter is incredibly supportive and fun. On Fridays, a group of them posts "flash fiction," stories of 1000 words or less, for critique and commentary. This is part seven of my serial flash Always a Bridesmaid, also featured at The Penny Dreadful, a website for flash fiction. For the first parts, check out the More Fiction section on my web site. For more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

Always a Bridesmaid, Part 7: …To Dream

Dream sequences were way more interesting in the movies. Having to stay out of Lydia's awareness already put distance between Tiffany and the action, but the dreams in earlier stages of sleep – an image here, a sound there – never were exciting. But it didn't hurt to look at them. Something had made an impression on Lydia's dreams to the point that she would marry that prick Trent.

Finally, the images became more clear and sequenced. Lydia taking her wedding dress out of a trunk, trying it on, and crying in an attic-like room. Lydia talking to a woman who looked like an older version of her, but stern and sadder, who crossed her arms and turned away from Lydia's pleading. Her mother, maybe? Lydia and Trent arguing, back in the attic. Tiffany could hear snatches of the conversation and knew it revolved around whether she should still be invited to come to the wedding. She tried to insert herself into the dream. An invisible but elastic layer separated her and the dream actors, like they were in a bubble. Tiffany could see, hear, and feel everything in the dream through the material – sadness and frustration predominated – but she couldn't get in. And that meant Lydia couldn't get out.

But where had the barrier come from? Who had made it? Was it Lydia, trapped by her curse? Or something else? Tiffany retreated and watched.

The dream-Trent disappeared, and Lydia was left alone in the attic. She closed and sat on the trunk and picked at the wedding dress, which came apart like tissue paper that floated to the floor and disappeared.

"I can't go through with this," Lydia said.

Tiffany jumped – was the girl talking to her?

The shadows gathered in the corner, built on themselves, and coalesced into the silhouette of a man. He stepped out of the shadow cocoon, tall, square-jawed with black shoulder-length hair and sparkling ebony eyes. He wore a tuxedo and white evening gloves, and he trailed a long finger along the battered dresser behind Lydia. The bubble that surrounded the scene shimmered and pulsed with power, and Tiffany felt every hair on her body stand.

"But you must. Or the curse will not be broken."

Lydia straightened and turned. The man ran a finger along her cheek and cupped her chin in his hand, tilting her head to look up at him.

"But I'm scared! What if Trent's not the one? He could die! I won't survive another funeral."

"Ah, but he is the demon-slayer. Or demon-binder." The man laughed. "You found a smart little witch."

"Amber found her. I didn't want to go."

The man's fingers tightened on Lydia's chin, and she sucked air through her teeth.

"Yet she will be coming to the wedding."

"I'm sorry! I can uninvite her."

The man let go, and Lydia fell backward, barely catching herself before tumbling off the trunk. She rubbed her jaw.

"No," he said. "She knows too much. In fact…" He pointed toward Tiffany, and she was sucked through the bubble into the dream like a cherry through a giant straw. "Here she is right now."

"It's just a dream," said Lydia.

"Or is it?" The man held Tiffany's arm just above her elbow. She tried to wriggle free, but each movement only tightened his fingers until they bit into her flesh like icy picks.

"Let me go," Tiffany hissed. She tried saying a release spell to escape back to her reality, but she couldn't. If her dream projection had one, her heart would be beating in her throat. As it was, she felt dizzy, like he eroded her tether to the waking world.

"Oh, I'll let you go, little witch." And he did, but she still couldn't get back. "Right to the afterlife."

"Lydia!" Tiffany pleaded. "Tell him to release me."

"What's the point?" asked Lydia. "You're not real. I'm not real. None of this is real. I'll wake up Wednesday morning, a widow again. No one will love me."

Before Tiffany could say anything, the man's fingers gripped her neck.

"Say goodbye, witch!" he said. She struggled to breathe.

Something large and hard knocked her out of the man's grasp, and she landed hard on the wooden floor. Tiffany gasped for air and saw a young man with sandy brown hair, striking blue eyes, and flannel shirt grappling with the tuxedo guy. Even stranger, a catfish floated in the air by him and gave instructions.

"That's it, Toby! Even demons have groins! Put a burning in his balls he'll never forget!"

The tuxedoed man disappeared, and Toby sat on the floor, panting. Tiffany staggered to his side and held out a hand.

"Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome, I think." He stood without her help, then shook her hand.

"Toby!" Lydia stood, happy surprise on her face.

"Lydia! I hear you're getting married."

The cousins hugged, and Tiffany started to say something, but the image disappeared in a poof! of candle smoke. She blinked at Amber, who waved a hand in front of Tiffany's face.

"Oh! Oh, good! You're okay! You are okay, aren't you?"

"I'm fine," Tiffany said. She nearly knocked Amber out of the way to get to the table, where she'd set a pad of paper and a pen. She wrote down everything she could remember. When she finished, she looked up at the other girl, who still stared at her. "What?"

"Your neck."

Tiffany walked to the dresser that Tizz was attached to and looked in the mirror. Sure enough, a handprint with clearly defined finger marks was bruised into her throat, another on her left arm.

"Told you to stay out of it," the Brownie mumbled from somewhere Tiffany couldn't see.

"Yeah. This has gotten bigger than I can handle," Tiffany agreed. She blew out the candles and lavender incense burner. "Much bigger. The demon set up Lydia and Trent."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Birthday Celebrations

I'm married to a younger man, if you count him being born 13 days after I was as "younger." My birthday was at the end of February, and since it's Lent, I can't eat meat on Fridays. However, according to Catholic rules, which, as we know, may or may not make logical sense, we can eat seafood on Fridays. Hubby is a fish-loving guy, so he looks forward to Lent each year.

We had some Buckhead Life gift cards, so we headed to Atlanta Fish Market for my birthday. It wasn't exactly what Hubby and I expected from a Buckhead Life restaurant in terms of atmosphere. The web site says that dress is "upscale casual." I could've worn jeans and a nice top and fit in fine. There were also plenty of families with kids. Of course, this is Buckhead, where the seven-year-olds complain to their friends if they don't have the perfect shoes for their outfits. The light fixtures are very cool and creative, especially the blown glass creations in the bar, but with the high ceilings and bright lighting, it doesn't really lend itself to romance. Noise level was medium.

They featured specials on Van Duzer (Oregon) Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, so since we were getting fish, we went for the Pinot Gris. Definitely more of a European-style PG, it was light-bodied and crisp with some tropical fruit, apple, and mineral. It went well with Hubby's tuna and my Lobster Frites, cold-water lobster tail flash-fried and served with honey mustard, drawn butter, and fries. Yes, I indulged a little since it was my birthday. It tasted fresh and crisp. I had chocolate mousse cake for dessert (duh!). Hubby had tuna, but neither of us can remember how it was prepared, other than rare and good.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Bright and busy
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Varied
Wait staff: Good to Very Good
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Not unless fish are vegetables
Kid friendly? Apparently, but they need to have the right shoes.
Would I go back? Definitely. It was a great experience, even if it wasn't what we had anticipated.

Fast forward two weeks: it was Hubby's birthday last Thursday, so we celebrated by going to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (having my leftover cheesecake as I type) and postponing the real celebration til Friday, when we went to The Oceanaire Seafood Room for dinner and to the Atlanta Symphony concert, which featured a concerto by Liszt and some other stuff. Yeah, I was in it for the Liszt, and oh, it was good!

Ahem, back to dinner...

I'd been to the Oceanaire before, but always as part of a group. This experience was more like we'd expected Atlanta Seafood Market to be: quiet, intimate, and elegant. We shared a bottle of the Sokol Blosser (Oregon) Evolution, a blend of nine white grapes that has about every quality you'd expect in a white wine: floral nose, creamy texture, mineral backbone, and fruit throughout. The best comparison I could make would be that it's like dry Riesling, but not syrupy like some of those can be. It played very well with the food.

Hubby got Tom's Grilled Rainbow Trout, served Mediterranean-style with capers, olives, tomatoes, and beurre blanc. I stole some of his beurre blanc for my scallops, which were pan-seared, tender, and sweet on their own, but really, what can't be made better by a little butter and white wine? We started with house salads, which were huge, and for our side, we shared an ample "small" order of mashed potatoes. They made me swoon, they were so creamy and buttery!

No, I didn't get dessert, although the menu looked tempting, and from what I recall, they're pretty good.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Quiet and intimate
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Nice selection by the glass and bottle
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: In the past, they've been very good
Vegetarian friendly? Again, fish are not vegetables
Kid friendly? Probably not.
Would I go back? Definitely

Dear FTC, I didn't receive any special treatment or free stuff at either of these restaurants. Some of us still do this anonymously, you know.

First dates and restaurant weeks

Sometimes trying a new restaurant can be like going on a first date. I hadn't thought about this before, particularly since I haven't been on a first date in 14+ years. Yes, Hubby has been putting up with me for that long even though we've only been married for a little over five. But we ended up sitting next to a couple on a first date last Wednesday, when we visited Shaun's Restaurant in Inman Park for Restaurant week.

Before I go any further, allow me to answer the question, "What is a Restaurant Week?" I thought this was common knowledge, but I ended up explaining it to a bunch of people, so here's a quick definition. Restaurants in a certain area will agree to each offer a "Prix Fixe" menu of a number of courses, usually three, for around the price of an entree. Sometimes they do this for charity (Inman Park) or marketing purposes (Buckhead). It gives diners a chance to try a place out without spending as much as they would otherwise. There's usually three or four in a row in August, but last week, both Inman Park and Buckhead had them. I wonder if they realized it when they planned it, and if so, well, that wasn't very nice. Not that it affected us much -- we did both. Another good thing about restaurant weeks -- they make for a cheap first date without too much commitment. As I already mentioned, we tried Shaun's. We also visited Home Restaurant & Bar in Buckhead.

First Impressions

It's been said that first impressions are everything. We were already seated and working on our entrees when the first date couple sat beside us. He started with a very awkward, "So, what are your interests?" Was this a date or a job interview?

Shaun's is light, airy, and a spare with regard to decor. One thing that stood out for me very quickly was that, while we waited for our table at the bar, one young woman got a glass of wine from a bottle that had passed its prime. The bartender very graciously and without challenge replaced it. I had a cocktail comprised of lavendar, sparkling wine, and honey. Hubby had a Belgian beer. The cocktail wasn't bad, but I don't know that I'll be ordering it again. It was better aromatherapy than flavor.

Home Restaurant & Bar actually looks like a converted house. I don't know what the history of the building is, but it's very cozy. The one strange thing Hubby and I noticed right away was that the hostesses and server were all really perky. While I appreciate good energy, it reminds me of when I worked for a chiropractor, and he wanted us to start answering the phones, "It's a great day at ________! I can help you!" The server's demeanor never wavered, so maybe they all just really like their jobs.

Body Language

Nothing says, "You're so doomed!" like sitting back and crossing your arms, which is what the female of the first date couple did soon after they sat. He asked if she was cold. I don't think she was.

One of the things I didn't like about Shaun's is that the seating against the wall in the main room is very close together. So close, in fact, that I had no trouble overhearing the conversations at the next table. I didn't want to hear them, nor did I intend to eavesdrop. Plus, I felt the need to apologize when I went to the restroom because I had to squeeze between the tables, and I'm not overweight (yet -- give me a couple more weeks like the last one, and we'll see).

Home had the advantage here. I mentioned it was cozy, and yes, it did have a good number of tables, but it didn't feel crowded at all, and I couldn't overhear anything from the table next to me. Again, not that I was trying.

Range of Responses

Okay, I'll admit, this is where I talk about the menu choices, and I couldn't really come up with a good first-date correlate. Maybe it would be having an annoying phrase like "kinda" or "absolutely" that you keep repeating. I can't say that the first daters had anything like that.

Shaun's really impressed me here in that it was for charity, and the whole menu was part of the prix fixe package. I started with the pork belly salad, comprised of tender fried pork belly, winter greens, crispy egg, green apples, and tete de moine cheese, which disintegrated into yummy little cheesy bits when poked with a fork. I blame Jimmy at the Eat It Atlanta for piquing my curiosity about crispy egg, which is essentially and wonderfully deep-fried egg. It was good, but the winter "greens" were more radicchio, which ended up being overwhelmingly bitter in spite of the citrus dressing.

Hubby decided to be brave and got Shaun's Chopped Liver, "East Village Style." Chunks of liver with some sort of creamy dressing served over grilled bread. The bread was a bit too chewy instead of crisp, but the liver tasted amazing, e.g., not like liver, but more like really tender meat.

Being half-Belgian, I couldn't resist the Moules Frites served in a white wine, cream, and parsley broth and with fries. The mussels had been cooked perfectly, tender and not at all rubbery or fishy. The fries seemed a little more like potato bits than true fries, but they floated and soaked in the broth no matter what shape they were, so it didn't matter. Hubby got the Georgia Shrimp and Grits, which was served with pork belly, poached egg, and finished with Creole sauce. I didn't try it, but I didn't hear any complaints from the other side of the table. The couple who had sat next to us before the first date couple arrived had shared with us that they really enjoyed the salmon and the flat iron steak.

At Home, each course had three choices. Hubby got the wild mushroom risotto for starter. It was creamy and well-balanced in flavor. I got a spinach salad, which was a spinach salad. We both got the short ribs with baby root vegetables and potato puree (sometimes he's not so cooperative when it comes to being married to a food reviewer). The baby root vegetables, carrots and Hakurei turnips, tasted like they had been roasted to be caramelized on the outside, tender on the inside. The potatoes were not quite as orgasmic as the ones at Oceanaire, but they soaked up the savory, meaty broth from the spare ribs, also cooked perfectly.

Timing Is Everything

Back to our first date couple. Very eager male dater was already trying to get female dater to commit to a weekend at the lake with him before they even got to the appetizers.

Statistically, our restaurant week places nailed this one. The service at Shaun's was somewhat slow and not as attentive as we would've liked. Yes, I realize they were very busy, and the kitchen may have gotten behind, so we did the wine bottle experiment. Our wine bottle was in a bucket of ice on the floor (no room on the table), so when our glasses had sat empty for a while, we put the bottle on the table to see if the server would notice. Nope. We gave her plenty of time, and she even walked by twice, but no luck.

On the other hand, the service at Home was great, but the pacing was a little fast. The entrees came out just as we were finishing our appetizers and before the wine, which we had asked to have with the entrees. Yep, drinking cocktails again. I admire the kitchen's efficiency, and I certainly wanted the food to be fresh, but it felt rushed. We asked for time to finish our wine before the desserts arrived.

It's the little things...

When we left Shaun's, male first dater was leaning across the table, both of his hands wrapped around the one that female first dater would give him. Remember what I said about body language? I don't know how their date ended up, but I'm hoping she was nicer to him than I was in this post and gave him a second chance. He was probably just really nervous. First dates and restaurant weeks generate a lot of performance pressure.

You know by now that two of my favorite things are wine and dessert, so I'll finish up with those.

At Shaun's:

2008 Summers La Nude Chardonnay (Monterey County, California). Sweet citrus nose, melon, and stone fruit with a long mineral finish. Excellent with seafood. Yes, a Chard I liked!

Belgian white and dark chocolate mousse served in layers and topped with banana sorbet and an almond crumble for dessert. Oh, my, yes! I love chocolate mousse, but I could've done without the banana sorbet. Then again, I don't typically like my chocolate messed up with fruit. Ohyeah, and Hubby had the fried sweet potato pie and honey ice cream.

At Home (yes, I know that looks and sounds funny):

2008 Ridge California Sonoma County Three Valleys (Seriously, it's in the name): A juicy red blend of 74% Zinfandel, 11% Petit Syrah, 5% Carignan, 4% Mataro, 3% Syrah, and 3% Grenache

The nose is strangely watery, but it has great fruit (currant/berry) and an oaky finish. Great with red meat.

For Dessert: Yeah, chocolate again. Molten Chocolate Cake served with something or other. Yeah, they had my attention at Molten, and it got stuck at Chocolate. It was, indeed, gooey liquid in the middle and crispy on the outside. Hubby had the bread pudding.

Score Cards:

Score card:
Atmosphere: Bright, a little noisy, crowded
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Good
Wait staff: Good
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Probably not
Kid friendly? No
Deserving of a second date? Yes, I'd like to try again when it's not restaurant week.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Romantic
Food: Excellent
Wine list: Very Good
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Molten, er, Excellent
Vegetarian friendly? There are a few choices, but not a lot
Kid friendly? Don't even think about it
Deserving of a second date? Definitely. Again, would like to try during a regular week. But hey, the first impression was great.

Dear FTC, I didn't get any free or discounted stuff for this review article. Please don't make my curfew earlier!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tasting Notes: Blind Tasting at JavaMonkey

I've written about blind tastings and how they make me nervous before. It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I like to be right, and to be honest, my blind tasting track record isn't that good.

Here's one way to think about it: remember those vocabulary tests from grade school? For the easier ones, you'd get the definition and have to fill in or match the word. On the hard ones, you'd get the word and have to write the definition or use it correctly in a sentence. Now imagine that, in addition to knowing the correct use, you have to figure out what language the word came from. That, my friends, is what a blind tasting is like. Now imagine being one of those people who supposedly knows something about wine. The pressure's on.

But they're fun, really.

The most recent tasting at JavaMonkey was challenging even beyond the blind aspect because Jess was inspired by the recent Gallo Red Bicyclette scandal, when it was found that French winemakers were selling Merlot and Syrah as the more expensive Pinot Noir. That actually makes me feel better. I sometimes get confused between them, too (see below).

So, with due humility, I present the tasting notes, my guesses, and the answers.

1. White, very light in color, floral and mineral with lime notes.
My guesses: Oregon Pinot Gris or unoaked Chard
The correct answer: 2008 Hopler Gruner Veltliner (Burgenland, Austria)
Comments: Normally I nail the Gruner Veltliners in blind tastings. Not an auspicious start, but a very good wine.

2. Another white, this one was a little bitter and grassy with a lot of floral notes.
My guesses: Sauvignon Blanc or Albarino
The correct answer: 2008 Astica Torrontes (Cuyo, Argentina)
Comments: Okay, feeling a little better that one of my guesses was a Spanish grape, even if the wine itself wasn't from Spain.
Rating: Good

3. On to the reds! Plummy nose with hot alcohol notes, but the wine itself isn't big. Smooth acidity with cherry notes that cling to the roof of my mouth.
My guess: Something Italian
The correct answer: 2005 Montupoli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy)
Comments: Feeling good that I got the place right, even if I'm not familiar enough with Italian wines to have ventured a specific varietal guess.
Rating: Good

4. Smells oaky and a little smoky that quickly dissipated. Light-medium bodied, but nice cedar-fruit finish.
My guess: Okay, the first one was, "Haven't a clue," but I did write, "Merlot?"
The correct answer: 2009 Michel Torino Pinot Noir (Calchaqui Valley, Argentina)
Comments: Maybe I can get a job with Gallo.
Rating: Very Good

5. Very fruity with some funkiness, but smooth on the palate.
My guesses: Cabernet or Syrah
The correct answer: 2008 Hacienda Araucano Carmenere (Cohchagua Valley, Chile)
Comments: Note to self -- all varietals are fair game for these things. I hope this winery was spared in the recent earthquake and aftershocks.
Rating: Good to Very Good

6. Cinnabon in a glass with yeast on the nose, wow! butter, and a cinnamon finish. Ohyeah, there's fruit in there as well.
My guess: Zinfandel
The correct answer: 2008 Piluna Primitivo (Salento, Italy)
Comments: Okay, I was pretty darn close with that one, Primitivo being the Italian version of Zin.
Rating: Very Good

The bottom line is that wine grape varietals have such variability even within type that, for most of us, it's not always easy to distinguish between them. It's fun to be reminded that different places in the world do interesting things with their grapes. At the very least, I've maintained my wine amateur cred.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part VI

Once again, the deadline monster has been stalking me. The darn thing's getting sneaky! Hence the delay in posting this week's installment of "Always a Bridesmaid." For parts one through five, check out the More Fiction section of my web site.

VI. To Sleep...

Tiffany shuffled the deck of cards, their edges soft and worn from decades of use. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. If she concentrated hard enough, the feel of them and the faint smell of lavender incense brought back wisps of memory. A shop with red beaded curtains, their clinking threaded with an old woman's belly laugh. The way the sound from outside would fade as soon as she stepped through and closed the worn wooden door. But try as she may, she couldn't remember the face of her mentor, or even her name.

"There will come a time," she remembered the husky voice, slightly accented, saying. "You will remember everything, but there are things beyond even my knowledge moving closer, and they will try to snare you in a trap. It is for both our protection that you will not remember clearly. Now sleep."

She had woken in her apartment, then, with nothing but this deck of Tarot cards in her hand, and the F.B.I. knocking at her door.

Tears tried to come to her eyes, and Tiffany shook her head. That was a different life, a different time, and although the familiar ache stretched from her diaphragm to her throat, she couldn't go back there, not yet. It had been more than the cards this time. It had been Lydia's words, "My cousin from Seattle is bringing wedding cookies."

"Seattle," she whispered.

"Never liked it much," a soft voice said, and Tiffany opened her eyes with a jerk. She hadn't heard anyone come into the shop, much less the kitchen, where she sat at the work table and shuffled the cards. Amber, Lydia's friend, stood on the other side of the table and watched Tiffany with one eyebrow raised.

"How did you get in?" asked Tiffany. She struggled to speak around the anxious lump in her throat. The door was locked! She'd placed magical wards around the room!

"The door was open." Amber looked around. "It feels safe in here. Not like with Lydia. And Trent doesn’t help."

"Idiot!" Tiffany heard the brownie's hissed insult and hoped Amber didn't. She guessed who had unlocked the door and engineered the disturbance.

"Sit down," she told Amber. "Do you know what these are?"

The girl looked at the cards. Her emerald green eyes sparkled as she flipped through the deck. "I haven't seen anything like this since I was a kid. My grandmother…" She wiped a tear off her cheek with the back of her wrist.

"She had Tarot cards?" asked Tiffany. She remembered her first impression of Amber, that she had the Blood, at least a few drops.

"She had many strange things." Amber pushed the deck back to Tiffany, who flipped the top card over and looked. The Moon: obfuscator of clarity and bringer of repressed memory.

"Why are you here?" Tiffany asked. "I've got work to do."

"Lydia said that she and Trent came to see you." Amber bit her lip.

"They did." Tiffany shuffled the cards again.

"She said that Trent told you to bug off."

"Pretty much."

The girl reached across the table and put her hand over Tiffany's. "Please don't. I… I don't care what it takes. Lydia needs to be happy, and I don't think that Trent is going to do it for her, even if he does survive their wedding night."

Tiffany nodded. "I feel the same way. Do you know who or what it is that matched them up?"

Amber shook her head. "It's something that she dreamed. I don't know who it could be, though."

"Me, neither, but I aim to find out." Tiffany shuffled again. "It's late, and I should be getting to work."

"Let me help?" asked Amber. "I don't have any formal training, but I feel like I should be here, assisting you."

Tiffany bit back the reply she wanted to make, which was, "Bugger off, newbie." If Amber felt drawn to be here, and she knew Lydia well, it could only help her. "Grab those candles on the counter," she said, "and follow me. We're going to cast a circle, and then you're going to watch over me in my trance while I do some spying."

"That's all I get to do? Watch?" Amber stuck her lower lip out in a pout.

"For now. But whatever you do, don't say my name." She grabbed a box of incense sticks from the drawer and led the way into the main room, where she had unfolded a circular rug on the middle of the floor. She placed candles at the cardinal points and lit them in a clockwise pattern, then sat in the middle. She placed the incense in a holder and lit it as well.

"Here we go," she said. "If something seems off, even though everything looks okay, blow out the candle between us."

Amber sat just outside the circle and watched her. "Like what?"

Tiffany smiled and echoed the words of her mentor, "You'll know. Trust the gift your grandmother gave you. Now focus on Lydia." She pulled a card from the deck – The Lovers. Perfect. With a few deep breaths, she focused on getting her brainwaves to move into alpha waves and into her trance.


Toby stretched out on the narrow bed and tried to block the events of the evening from his mind.

"I didn't talk with a fish," he told himself, and saying the silly words out loud made him feel better. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, the rise and fall of his belly as he inhaled deeply and then let it go.

"Let it go," he thought. He would focus on the rest of his journey to his cousin Lydia's wedding in Georgia. Before he could plan his next move, exhaustion overtook him, and he surrendered to the darkness.

The first thing he became aware of in his dream was the smell of lavender…

Monday, March 1, 2010

Famous Drunk Guys: Happy Birthday, Chopin!

It's been a while since I've done a Famous Drunk Guys post, so what better way to get back to it than with one of my favorite composers, Frederic Chopin? Name another composer besides maybe Liszt who, when played right, makes women want to swoon, cry, and make love all at the same time. One of my college profs attributed the magical effects of Chopin to his frequent use of the partially diminished seventh chord. I learned his Nocturne in B Flat minor, Opus 9, No. 1 in college, and it's the piece I think about when I ponder going back to playing piano. This guy plays it much better than I ever could.

So, what do you drink while listening to Chopin, swooning, crying, and maybe even making love? French wine, of course! I've picked out a few options, one white and two reds, from our recent (and not so recent) adventures:

Le Grande Noir (Coteaux de L’Ardeche): 70% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier
Gardenia-peach with lime nose. The body has the fruit/floral characteristics of the Viognier plus the citrus chard backbone.
Rating: Very Good
(Available at Feast Restaurant in Decatur)

And then a favorite from our Belgium trip:
2007 La Sartan (Cotes du Ventoux, France)
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault, it's full-bodied, fruity with enough oak and butter to make it silky, and nicely balanced, as it went well with food and on its own.

I'm not sure about the U.S. availability of the La Sartan, so you could try to find the 2007 Janasse Cotes du Rhone Terre d'Argile (Rhone Valley, France): 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 30% Mourvedre
Super fruity.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent
(Quality Wines and Spirits distributor)

Whatever you open, light some candles, eat some buttery food, and make it a romantic night to celebrate the birth of this remarkable Romantic-era composer!