Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tasting Notes and Review: Grain vs. Grape Dinner at The Marlay House

Last Wednesday, Hubby and I attended the "Grain vs. Grape" dinner at The Marlay House, formerly known as The Grange (same owners, new name). The four-course meal was paired with either beer or wine for $38, or you could have both for an extra $10. I chose wine, Hubby beer (shocker, I know).

Irish Sausage Rolls and Canapes with Cashel Blue Cheese, Quince, and Pink Lady Apple

I could eat the Irish Sausage Rolls for breakfast and loved it that they were served with something with apple. Yeah, it's that Belgian thing of loving meat with fruit.

The Grain ("well, ok Apple") was Magner's Irish Cider, an light apple cider. Hubby's not a big cider fan, and he liked it.

The Urban Riesling (Mehring, Germany)also played with the apple flavors and added floral notes with a nice backbone of mineral. I've had this one before and still find it to be a nice off-dry Riesling. It's also a good one for less experienced wine-drinkers.

Twice Cooked Pork Belly, Organic Boston Lettuce, Grape Tomatoes, and Cypress Grove's Truffle Tremor Goat Cheese

Apparently the grain, the Duvel Green Belgian Golden Ale, was also the acidic part of the salad dressing. The "Green" in the name has nothing to do with Irishness or environmental awareness, but rather because it's young and has not been fermented twice like previous Duvel incarnations. This makes it more cask-friendly. Hubby liked it. I thought it tasted like beer.

The Heavyweight Chardonnay (Lodi, California; 85% Chardonnay, 10% Chenin Blanc, and 5% Marsanne) was unlike any Chard blend I've tasted with its nose of mint and toast, and minty-buttery-vanilla with notes of lemon combo on the palate. I noted that the food made it make sense, and the other wine drinker at the table noted that it made the food make sense. Without the other, the food was a little too unbalanced toward the savory side, and the wine too much toward the sweet flavors side. Together, they worked, which is the point of a pairing, although it's ideal when each can stand on its own.

Note: Both the Duvel Green and the Heavyweight Chardonnay are newly arrived in Georgia.

Grilled Lamb Porterhouse with Fennel Pollen and Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushroom over Soft Polenta

This was probably my favorite course with its combination of textures and flavors. The wine, McManis Cabernet Sauvignon (California) was also my favorite for the night. Ripe berry nose with great fruit, hazelnut, and mocha on the palate. The finish faded to one last kick of fruit. Perfect with the lamb. Hubby didn't have anything more to offer for the Bell's Brewing Amber Ale (Michigan) other than he liked it.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Blackberry Coulis

Imagine a Creme Brulee that's not brulee'd and has escaped from its dish, and that's Panna Cotta, essentially a creamy custard. The blackberry balanced the vanilla sweetness nicely.

Hubby and I have seen the Choco Vine (Holland), Cabernet Sauvignon with dark Dutch chocolate, in stores, but we've never tried it. It looks like chocolate milk, smells like milk-chocolate covered cherries and sugar, and tastes like a chocolate-cherry liquor instead of a wine. However, it's only 14% A.B.V. We enjoyed coming up with things we could do with it like put it over ice cream, pour it in coffee, or make dangerously sneaky mixed drinks with it. Chocolate cherry martini, anyone? It's also quite nice served on its own over ice.

Oh, and Hubby liked the Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout (Colorado). Again, he's not a stout drinker, so this was a good choice.

The only thing that Hubby didn't like, and I agree, is that the last couple of courses felt rushed. He ended up with parts of all four beers on the table in front of him because he didn't have time to finish them. We wondered if maybe they'd gotten complaints after the last dinner, which was quite leisurely. We wouldn't have minded things to be stretched out a little more, but then, we don't have kids to get home to.

Bottom line: The Marlay House is a nice addition to the Decatur pairing dinner scene, and it's more reasonable than a lot of them price-wise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part V

After giving Tiffany a whole section two weeks ago, I felt it was time to return to Toby's part of the adventure. Those of you familiar with obscure (e.g., non-Protestant) apocryphal Bible literature may be starting to get an inkling as to what story this is VERY loosely based on. It's been a long, strange week, so I let my own weirdness run wild here. To read the first four parts, check out the More Fiction section on my web site. For more great short fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on twitter.

V. Catfishy

Toby followed Raphe's low-slung black Camaro for what felt like miles. The rain had softened to mist and then fog, and he couldn't even see the headlights on the other side of the highway. If there were any. His headlights worked, and that was all that mattered. So did Raphe's taillights, two glowing red orbs about twenty feet ahead.

He felt himself going up an incline and saw that they were on the exit. How had he not noticed? Had he been so entranced with the dance of headlight and taillight that he had gone into a fog of his own? He followed the Camaro to a glowing spot in the fog, which ended up being Gabriel's Truck Stop, brightly lit but empty.

"Are they open?" Toby asked after pulling into a parking spot by the front window.

"He is." Raphael stretched, and water beaded off his black leather jacket. In spite of having been out in the cold and rain like Toby, the waves in his short hair hadn't moved.

"He?" Toby followed Raphe to the door, which swung inward with a tinkle of the jingle bells on a string tied to the handle. The place didn't look open – set up like a diner, the room they had entered was lit by the bright light coming from the kithcen.

"Gabriel. He runs this place. Keeps it word of mouth only. That's why you didn't see any advertising on the highway."

"Yep, you never know what's running around out there." Gabriel, a big guy with curly light brown hair and a dimple in his chin, appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. He flipped a switch, and Toby had to squint against the sudden light.

"Gabe, this is Toby. Found him just after the last exit with a dead battery." Raphe inclined his head.

Gabriel's eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "Did you, now?" He shook Toby's hand. "Rough night to have car trouble. Or was that truck trouble?"

"Truck," said Toby. "My dad's."

"Where ya headed?" Gabriel motioned for them to take stools at the counter and pushed laminated menus at them. "Special's bearded catfish. Just swam in today."

"Going to Georgia. My cousin's getting married. Mom's sending cookies."

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. "Couldn't you have mailed them?"

Toby felt the back of his neck grow hot. "Yeah. So tell me about the catfish."

Gabe grinned. "I guarantee they're like nothin' you've ever seen. Big, meaty, but with extra whiskers. Some say it helps them be extra perceptive, but it didn't help these guys. I've got 'em in a tank in the back. Wanna see?"

"Sure." If it would keep them off the subject of why he was escorting cookies across the country instead of mailing them, Toby would look at Gabriel's Aunt Edna's knee warts. He followed Gabriel into the spotless kitchen to the back, where a large fish tank stood against the back wall. Only one fish swam in it.

"Where are the rest of them?"

Gabriel shrugged. "Specials run out. This one seemed to be smarter than the rest. I'll leave you for a minute, get started on Raphe's usual, and let you think about it."

Toby bent over and looked through the thick glass at the fish that swam around inside. Sure enough, in addition to its feelers, it had whiskers running along the bottom of its chin and a little way down its ventral side, almost like a thick beard and chest hair.

"A fish with chest hair," Toby muttered to himself. He hoped Gabriel made strong coffee – he'd need it.

"More manly than you'll ever be," a voice said. Toby looked around.

"Who was that?"

"Yeah, yeah, you heard me." Toby looked at the tank, where the voice seemed to be coming from. The fish hovered in the water. Toby bent again so he was eye level with it.

"Okay, Raphe," he said. "Joke time is over."

The fish rolled over and gave Toby a "stupid human" look.

"It's a joke, right?" Toby's voice cracked, but he didn't care. This evening had now reached its pinnacle of weirdness, and he was ready to go. He straightened up and turned away from the tank.

"Aw, man, you're not gonna eat me, are you?" It was the voice again, behind him.

Toby turned back around. "I am not talking to a fish."

The catfish's mouth seemed to move more frequently than its gills, and for a second, Toby was dizzy. "Looks to me like you are, buddy."

Okay, it was the fish. Why was that so hard to believe?

"Because it's a freaking talking fish!" Toby balled his hands into fists. "Do not lose control, do not lose control."

"You okay back there?" asked Gabriel. He peered around a set of wire shelves that held large cans of tomatoes, bags of flour, and huge bottles of olive oil.

"I… I think so." The room spun for a moment, and he stumbled. He reached out to grab for support, and his fingers met the cool, slick surface of the tank. He jerked away and tumbled on to the floor.

"Looks to me like you need somethin' to eat." Gabriel helped him up. "Give me two shakes, and I'll get that fish fried up for you."

"No!" Toby caught his breath. "No, that's okay, I'd rather have a burger."

"Suit yourself." Gabriel helped Toby out to the stool, where Raphe and a cup of coffee waited for him. His head didn't stop spinning until he'd finished his burger and fries.

"You look tired," Gabriel said. "Maybe you should stay the night. I've got rooms in the back for the truckers."

Toby nodded. He'd been talking to a fish, after all. "I think I'd better do that." Gabriel gave him a key and room number. Toby didn't see the look that the other two men exchanged after he walked out to his truck to get the duffel bag with his change of clothes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tasting Notes: Cal-Itals at JavaMonkey

Ugh, I hate the current trend to combine couple names with cutesy abbreviations. "Brangelina" -- bite me (or each other). "TomKat" -- cult favorite. "Those freaky-looking Twilight kids." Okay, that's not a couple combination name, but they're still annoying. So I approached the idea of "Cal-Itals" with much hesitation. If you're wondering, they're Italian grapes grown and made into wine in California.

Just from looking over my notes, this is a combo that works. Hollywood gossip columnists, take note. The wines:

2006 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio (Mendocino, CA):
Light nose, floral on the palate with a little herb, mineral, and spice. Someone got butter. I think they were craving this with seafood.
Rating: Very Good, and it was a Pinot Grigio that Hubby liked!

2007 Monte Volpe Tocai Fruiliano (Mendocino, CA):
Nose of beach water (y'know, that sulphur-ish stuff that comes out of the faucet in Florida) and lemon. A little tangy, but not as much body as the nose promised, and a little funky on the end.
Rating: Okay

2006 Enotria Dolcetto (Mendocino, CA):
Enotria means "Land of Wine." Sign me up! Seriously, this one had a ripe fruit and oak nose that had a bit of alcohol on it. Smooth and medium-bodied with some smoke and a chewy finish.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Orfila Vineyards Sangiovese (San Pasqual Valley, CA):
Made by an Argentinian winemaker, this could easily pass for a lighter-bodied Zin, especially at 16% A.B.V. (that's alcohol by volume for those who are wondering, and 16% is heavy). Hot and sweet with cherry and dark fruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Monte Volpe Primo Rosso (Mendocino, CA): Super-Tuscan* blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Carignan, and Negro Amaro
Berry skin nose, a little butter with good cherry fruit.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2004 Peirano Estate Vineyards Barbera (Lodi, CA):
Earthy, fruity nose; not big, but some cooked mushroom notes. Where's the steak?
Rating: Very Good

*A Super-Tuscan is a blend that goes beyond the rules for making traditional Tuscan wines. I always picture a little Italian superhero with his chest puffed out and holding a bottle in one hand and a bread stick in the other. Anyone want to draw one for me? Just don't make him look like the Mario Brothers. I bet he'd kick Brangelina's butt(s).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meta-post: Deadlines!

Don't you love living in Georgia, where one weekend it's snowing, and the next it's gorgeous and near 70? I've gotten snowed under with a major work-related deadline as well as a couple of writing-related ones, so that's why I haven't posted over the past few days. Don't worry, next week we'll get back to blogging as usual and a return to the adventures of Tiffany Chiffon the bachelorette party consultant and paranormal detective. Until then, stay, um, comfy!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Call for Wine Specials

Cecilia and I have developed the theory that on any given night, one can find a restaurant somewhere in Atlanta that is having some variety of wine special. It might be a half-price bottle night, a wine flight night, or even a "help us get all this open stuff out of here" night. Whatever the case, it’s a great way to acquaint yourself with some new and interesting wines at a discount.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of the restaurants make it a challenge to find these specials. As an example, Cecilia and I are both big fans of Feast in Decatur. Each Tuesday night, you can build your own wine flight for $10 using any four wines they sell by the glass. If you didn't already know about the deal, though, you'd have a hard time finding out about it. It's not listed on their website, it's not written in their menu, and we had to ask our waitress about it to be sure it was still going on. The only evidence is a small sign in the corner of the restroom. (To be fair, the bartender did openly mention the wine flight option to a couple of patrons who came in after we were seated. I was thankful for this because it helped to explain why there were eight glasses of wine on our table.)

I think it would be great if there was a website somewhere that attempted to keep a list of Atlanta area wine specials such as this. I realize that there are already sites such as that are similar. They seem to be skewed towards "one-off" type events, though, and I hope to offer a more attractive price for recurring events (as in free). Just be aware that any listings are subject to verification including (but not limited to) calling, checking the restaurant's website, and/or a certain Random Oenophile and her husband showing up to partake.

So I open it up to you, Atlanta readers. What are some of your favorite wine specials?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tasting Notes: Flight Night at Feast

Okay, I'm not sure exactly what Feast calls its Tuesday night wine special because it's not on the web site. We heard about it through their email list. Tune in on Thursday to see Hubby's and my (but mostly his) idea for addressing this lack of centralized wine special info.

Here's the deal: go to Feast on Tuesday night, and for $10, you get four tastes of any of the wines that are available by the glass. We like Feast, we weren't doing anything last Tuesday, and miraculously, we were both home by 6:30, so we decided to try it out. Since there were two of us, we got to try eight. You can get them one (or two) at a time or have them bring out all eight at once. Yeah, if you know us, you can easily picture us having eight glasses of wine lined up at the table.

The wines (no vintages listed on menu):

Cypress Sauvignon Blanc (California):
Light-bodied. Floral nose and grapefruit-citrus palate.
Rating: Good

Santa Julia Organica (Argentina): 100% Torrontes
Peachy-honey-herbal nose. Floral on the palate with a grassy finish.
Rating: Very Good

Martin Codax Albarino (Spain):
Honey, tropical fruit, and wet sheep nose. Mineral and stone fruit on the palate.
Rating: Good

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

Roseum Vina Robles (Paso Robles):
Cran-strawberry nose. Very light-bodied with good acidity and little fruit kick to finish. It wants food and brings out the flavor of cheese. Also remarkable in that it's a pink wine that Hubby liked.
Rating: Very Good w/ food

La Monica Montepulciano (Abruzzo):
Leather-raisin nose, but a strumpet with only a light body with ripe fruit.
Rating: Okay

French Maid Pinot Noir (Pays d'Oc):
Butter and dark fruit all the way through. Very smooth with a little smoky oak. According to Hubby, "black forest cake in a glass."
Rating: Excellent

Delas Feres Cotes du Rhone (Rhone Valley): Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache
Dark fruit & spice with a lingering finish and a hint of herb.
Rating: Good to Very Good

We worked on the wines through the meal, so I don't have specific pairings. We started with the "Mushroom Chips," breaded and lightly fried slices of mushrooms served with a creamy dipping sauce. We then split a large Feast salad. Here's a hint: the small salad is $6; the large is $10, but if you split it, there's a $3 sharing fee. So, two small salads are $1 cheaper than splitting a large. Hubby had the Cedar Planked Atlantic Salmon, which he pronounced to be very good. I went for the Shrimp, Spinach, Mushroom, and Tomato Pizza, which would've been better without the strong-tasting shrimp. For dessert, I had to have my favorite -- the Kahlua cake. Hubby had a glass of port.

Yeah, the wines were the main attraction that evening, although Feast is still one of my favorites in Decatur for a casual dinner. If you're not familiar with wine, try sitting at the bar. We observed two wine newbies being guided through the process by the very knowledgeable bartender. Just skip the shrimp pizza and get your own salad.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Light the Torch! (Or at least 80% of it...)

As the world watches Vancouver and Whistler over the next couple of weeks during the Winter Olympics, Cecilia and I are reminded of our swing through Western Canada during our trip there in October 2007. Little known to most Americans, Vancouver sits four hours from one of Canada’s top wine growing areas.

The Okanagan Valley runs about 150 miles from its northernmost point to the US-Canadian border. If you have the idea that Canada is all "Great White North," you'll be shocked by this area. The southern part is a true desert – the only one in Canada. Even the northern reaches can see temperatures reaching 100 degrees in the summer.

Cecilia and I drove from Vancouver to Penticton for a weekend. As we came down from the mountains, the first thing we noticed was the sun. The glorious sun. Seriously, if you've ever been to Vancouver in October, you probably know that sunshine can be in limited supply. (Important life lesson: Taking an hour long stroll through Stanley Park without rain gear during a thirty minute break in the rain is a BAD idea – particularly when the temperature isn’t going above 40.)

Back to the subject...

This is where I was going to tell you about the wonderful wineries in the Okanagan valley. Sadly, I have to report that this was pre-blog and we didn’t take very good notes. The wines have all since been consumed, so I can’t even pop open a bottle and make something up.

This is really as embarrassing as, say, an Olympic torch malfunction.

What I will say is that the Okanagan wines we tried were solidly good to great. I don’t remember a bad taste in the bunch. The wineries themselves were, for the most part, smaller operations. Of course, there were bigger operations, but if smaller wineries are your thing, you’ll do quite well.

Another thing that sticks out even now was how few of them charge for tastings. This may well have changed in three years, but I only remember one "fee," and even that was simply a donation to their wildlife cause. Many just seemed tickled that a couple of people from the other side of the continent would have come up there to try their wine.

The other thing to note is that only 10% of Okanagan wine leaves Canada. Be prepared to do some exporting on your own. The good news is that the border guards coming back into the United States seem to be a pretty laid back bunch. Cecilia and I brought back half a case -- well over the duty-free limit -- and the border guard just let us through.

So tonight, I drink to thee, O Canada. And hopefully, a few Olympic attendees will make that same trip over the mountains. There are some darn good wines awaiting them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympic Coverage Drinking Games

Because you can make drinking games out of anything!

Take a drink if you see:

(added 2/13): Any mention or showing of Shaun White.

(added 2/13): Any shots of Mounties.

Any commercial talking about how "green" a corporation is.

Any commercial about the census (because they're all so stupid and costing taxpayer money).

Any Apolo Ohno reference, mention, or showing.

Any playing of Olympic theme or John Williams version of it.

Any time NBC breaks away from sporting coverage to cover a human interest story.

Any Canadian snowscape portrayal. Canadian wildlife, e.g., whales, other marine wildlife, gets two sips, especially if they're rolled up in sushi rice with wasabi and pickled ginger.

Any skier or snowboarder making a perfect sine wave down a hill.

Maple leaves (but not on a flag. And no, Toronto, I'm not going to say leafs).

Any reference to how important hockey is to Canada. Finish your drink if this is followed by a Canadian hockey fan shot, but only if they look sad. Also finish your drink if Don Cherry shows up, but only if he's wearing something hideous.

Any Celine Dion mention (that's also a whole drink, not just a sip; she probably rates finishing the bottle if she performs.)

Any mention of how Canada's population lives mostly within 100 miles of the U.S.A. Also, any comment about how the rest of them are "hardy" or "resilient" or "cold."

Any shots of blonde chicks. Except for Tanith Belbin, but that's because Hubby likes her, so I'll be taking a drink.

Opening ceremonies: how athletes are missing marching in the opening ceremonies because they've got to do something more important, like compete tomorrow. Or because they're staying so far away. Aw, hell, you should take a drink in their honor because you know they're not having much fun tonight even though we are!

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part IV

Here's part four of "Always a Bridesmaid." For the first three parts, check out the More Fiction! section on my web site. For a list of the week's flash fiction, search the hashtag #fridayflash on Twitter or go to J.M. Strother's Mad Utopia on Saturday morning.

Always a Bridesmaid, Part 4: The Super Scrubber Fiance

Tiffany had looked worse than this, but it had been a while. Like when she was in college doing the walk of shame from the Kappa Something Prick house. But this time she hadn't even gotten to party or hook up with hot, preppy guys!

First, her favorite – and only – hairbrush had broken. On top of that, the cats just wouldn't settle down. Every time she had been just about to drift off, one of them had moved, meowed, kneaded, or stomped over her. Now she stood, dark bags under her eyes, while Lacey and her black twin sister Lexie curled up on the bed, a fuzzy yin-yang of softly snoring comfort.

"Damn cats," she said, but she couldn't blame them. Neither cat would go near the book the brownie had given her.

Tiffany pulled her hair back and smoothed the bumps as best she could, then headed downstairs to finish cleaning the shop. Tizz had washed the dishes, dusted, and mopped, but she didn't use disinfectant products or vacuum. Tiffany placed incense in burners around the room, opened the windows to the brisk morning air, and got to work.

The sound of a truck pulling into the parking spot by the door made her look up from scrubbing the sink. She ran to the front of the shop to peek through the peephole and saw Lydia standing there. Tizz's warning replayed in her brain, but Lydia looked so miserable she couldn't resist opening it.

"Idiot!" The brownie's word hissed in her ear, and Tiffany whirled around, but Tizz was nowhere in sight. She turned back toward the door and nearly swallowed her tongue. Lydia stood beside a truly gorgeous guy: tall, wavy dark blond hair, full lips, and cobalt blue eyes that peered quizzically at her over his tilted Ray-Bans. He wore a black t-shirt with a knight slaying a dragon and the line, "Real Men Slay Demons" underneath.

"Are you okay?" asked Lydia with a frown. "Who were you looking for?"

"Just a slight manifestation of the spirit world." Tiffany held the door open so the others could step inside. "Come in."

"This is Trent," Lydia said. "My fiance."

Trent took his sunglasses off and wrinkled his nose. "Smells like Brownie," he said.

"I was baking yesterday," Tiffany told him.

He shook his head. "No, no, Brownie, like the fairy creature. I can get rid of it for you. They try to be helpful, but their phobia of modern appliances and cleaning methods only make them a nuisance. It's easy, all you have to do is thank them."

Tiffany closed her mouth and clenched her back teeth to keep the first thing that came to mind from escaping. "I like her," she said instead, loudly enough for Tizz to hear. "She's very helpful, and I have no desire to 'get rid of her.'"

Trent shrugged. "Your choice. Besides, I don't usually bother with small game." He walked around and sniffed the air. "Yep, Lydia, your demon was here. He's got that smell. Phew! And one of your past husbands, too." He headed toward the kitchen.

"Hey!" Tiffany called after him. "Who do you think you are, Mister… Supernatural Janitor?" She blushed. Damnit, she'd think of the perfect name for him after they left!

"Just what you said. A Scrubber." He picked up one of her rose quartz statuettes, this one an intricately carved flower. "Your little witchy tricks will only work so far with the real nasty critters. Besides, Azzie likes your type."

"Azzie probably has good taste, whoever that is." She crossed her arms and tried to look stern. "Now tell me what makes you so confident you can handle it. From what I can tell, you don’t even have any magical talent!"

"Don't need it." He grinned, and his perfect teeth irked her. She wanted one flaw to show, just one! "I've been called by a higher power. And Azzie is Asmodeous, Demon of Lust. Somehow he got attached to Lydia."

"And Trent is going to slay him on our wedding night," said Lydia. Trent puffed out his chest in a superhero pose. Or maybe he always did that. Prick.

"Uh, sorry, but you can't slay demons," Tiffany said, and Lydia whipped her head around to look at Trent. "You can only bind them."

Trent's confidence didn't waver. "I know that, but it sounds better to say, "slay them." Either way, I'll make sure he doesn't bother her again. But I just wanted to come by and let you know not to worry about her. I've got it under control."

"Obviously Amber doesn't think so." The words came out of Tiffany's mouth before she could stop them. "And if there's one thing you can't discount, it's how your best friend feels about your marital situation. That's something I know from experience."

"Oh, Amber." Trent waved his hand. "She's just overly anxious. But thanks for your help, anyway."

Tiffany looked at Lydia. "And what do you think?"

Lydia shrugged and looked down. "I trust him."

Her body language said otherwise, Tiffany thought. There was something else, but she couldn't figure it out.

"Where is the wedding?"

"At St. George's church on the square," Lydia said before Trent could stop her. "It's at three on Tuesday."

"I'll be there. I don't have a tea that day. Let me bring some cookies or something."

Lydia smiled. "My cousin from Seattle is bringing Italian wedding cookies, but I'd love some of your chocolate cupcakes. Those were fantastic!"

"Done." Tiffany shook Lydia's hand. "I'll see you then."

After they left, Tiffany looked up Scrubbers. Yep, a New-Age order of Demon Slayers with questionable effectiveness. Tiffany put everything away – she needed to do a dream ritual to figure out who had promised Lydia that she'd be safe with Trent. What was his motive for helping Lydia? Something didn't smell right about this situation, and it was more than ghost- and demon-stench.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tasting Notes: Loire Valley Wines at JavaMonkey

I resolved to drink more French wines this year, so last Thursday's tasting at JavaMonkey was greatly appreciated. Yes, it helps to make resolutions I look forward to keeping. All of the selections were imported from France's Loire Valley by Jon David Headrick, whom I hadn't heard of previously.

The wines:

2008 Domaine de la Fruitière "Petite M" (Muscadet): 100% Melon de Bourgogne
Cantaloupe nose, but the palate is lemon-lime and mineral. This one begs for shellfish.
Rating: Very Good

2008 "La Craie" (Vouvray): 100% Chenin Blanc
Honeysuckle nose; light and fruity with stone fruit edges. I said apricot, someone else went with pear. You get the idea, it has hints of syrupy fruit.
Rating: Good

2007 Jean-François Mérieau Le Bois Jacou (Touraine): 100% Gamay from 40-60 year-old vines
Musty cherry nose; very tart with a lot of raw berry and a somewhat chemical/plastic finish.
Rating: Okay

2006 Domaine des Huards Le Pressoir (Cheverny): 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Gamay
Nose that goes from herbal to buttery as it opens. Bright cherry flavors with a nice finish of cedar, dark fruit, and a little ginger-allspice. I know it sounds strange, but the finish made me think of carrot cake.
Rating: Very Good – Excellent

2008 Le Claux Delorme (Valençay): 40% Gamay, 30% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Pinot Noir
Smoky, earthy nose. Overpowering barnyard funk on the palate. Did not like this one at all.
Rating: Moo (If you're a new-ish reader, that means bad)

2006 Domaine de la Noblaie "Les Chiens-Chiens" (Chinon): 100% Cabernet Franc
Nice dark berry nose. Some grape skin bitterness, but overall savory-fruity and buttery with black cherry and currant.
Rating: Very Good

One thing to remember about French wines is that they, like a lot of European wines, go better with food. I plan to continue my resolution both at tastings and when we're out to eat.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Restaurant Review: Iberian Pig

I've been to the Iberian Pig twice, and I'm befuddled by the professional food community's response to it. "Not authentic enough," seems to be the theme, but no matter how many times Federico Castellucci responds that he wasn't going for authentic Spanish, they still don't listen. So, we approached it with open minds and growling stomachs and have had two great meals.

We went for the first time on a busy Thursday evening soon after they opened. The service was a little awkward at times, but it had greatly improved by the second visit. We started at the bar, where we took the "rules" posted on the side to be tongue-in-cheek and therefore amusing rather than offensive. We drank our cocktails while we looked around and thought, "what did they do to change the space (from when it was Sage)?" The layout is about the same, but it feels cozier.

We've only tried the tapas, so I'll mimic the wine menu and put them in different tiers, "must try," "pretty good," and "would skip."

Must Try:

Pork Cheek Tacos: These were the dish I heard most about before going to the Iberian Pig, and for good reason. They're the perfect combo of salty pork, smoky sweet corn salsa, and smooth avocado.

Manchego Mac 'N Cheese: Yummy savory cheesiness with crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Meat and Cheese plate: Choose three for $11 or have the Iberico ham included for a $10 supplement. The Iberico ham should be experienced at least once because it's unlike any cured meat I've ever tasted. It almost melts on the tongue. We also had the Drunken Goat cheese and one other cheese I can't remember.

Any Special Tapas: These are always fantastic, both from our limited experience and from hearsay. The first time we went, the special was mussels with olives, onions, and roasted grape tomatoes in an Albarino broth. The mussels were fresh, flavorful, and tender without any rubbery chewiness or fishiness. The second time, I knew right away that I'd have to try the slow-roasted veal shank ravioli with cherry-Rioja cream sauce, shiitake mushrooms, cherries, and fresh thyme. The pasta is hand-rolled, and it's all garnished with black truffle creme fraiche and white truffle oil. Definitely a rich tasting dish, but without overpowering flavor from the truffle oil.

Pretty Good:

Tocino con Manzana: This one enticed me with its combination of slow braised Kurobuta pork belly and Granny Smith and Fiji apple salad because I'm a sucker for pork and fruit together. It seemed a little bland after the pork cheek tacos, but would probably have fit better earlier in the lineup.

Albondigas: These wild boar sausage meatballs stuffed with piquillo peppers, Macedonian dates, and oyster mushrooms are like everything you'd want in a fajita rolled into a meatball. They're really good as leftovers, too.

Pan Con Tomate: This rustic bread with tomato spread, Garrotxa cheese, and Chilean extra virgin olive oil comes served with roasted garlic. The texture turned out to be soggy, but the roasted garlic was fun. Hubby commented that it was like soaking up what was on the bottom of a pot that something yummy and garlicky had been cooked in.


Eggplant fries unless you really like eggplant. They were good with the aioli, but they seemed overdone and mushy in the middle.

The wine list is about what one would expect with a lot of Spanish wine, a fair bit of South American, and a sprinkling of other places. One of the fun things about the wine list is that it comes with different sized pours, so you could put together a pairing for each course or dish without getting totally smashed. I only had one the second time we were there, the 2007 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Tempranillo/Garnacha (Rioja, Spain), which was light-bodied for the grapes but nicely fruity. I used it to warm up my palate for the Tempranillo tasting we were headed to afterward. Here's what we tried the first time:

NV Gran Sarao Cava Brut (Penedes, Sp): Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada, and Chardonnay
Bubbly, dry, and some citrus.

2007 Pazo San Mauro Albarino (Rias Baixas, Sp):
The nose is clear mineral and floral, and the floral notes carry through to a lime-vanilla finish.

2005 Capcanes Costers del Gravet (Montsant, Spain): Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, and Cariñena
Odd dishwater nose, but lush fruit on the front of the palate focusing to a blueberry finish.

2004 Casa de la Ermita “Crianza” (Jumilla, Spain): Monastrell, Tempranillo, Cab Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot
Leathery on the front, but smooths out to a fruit bomb.

Apparently they do a chef's tasting menu and will add wine pairings to it, but the number of people required varies between weeknights and weekend nights.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Fairly romantic, a little noisy
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Very Good if a bit regionally focused
Wait staff: Good to Very Good
Desserts: Haven't tried yet
Vegetarian friendly? Limited
Kid friendly? Probably not.
Would I go back? Definitely

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part III

Yep, it's Friday, so I'm getting my Friday Flash in under the wire. To read more great flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter or go to J. M. Strother's Mad Utopia on Saturday morning for a list with title, genre, and author.

This is the third in my serial paranormal mystery story Always a Bridesmaid. It takes place in a bachelorette party tea room, so please be aware that there might be some less than polite objects or topics mentioned. To read the first two parts, visit the More Fiction page on my web site.

Always a Bridesmaid: Part III – Strange Meetings

Tiffany made it through the tea at four o'clock, the dinner at six, and the martini dessert at nine with her mind half on her guests and half on Lydia's problem. Finally, at midnight, everyone had gone, and she and Lacey the cat had the place and a pile of dirty dishes to themselves. Tiffany shook her head and sat at the table instead, her ledger book in front of her, to record the day's charges and payments. If she was finishing up the pitcher of Cosmos she'd made for the last party, well, there was only the cat to scold her.

She had just entered the first invoice when she heard someone in the kitchen. The cat was with her, so that only left one possibility.

"Hello, Tizz."

"Good gravy, Mortal Slut!" The brownie stood with her hands on her hips and looked at the dirty dishes piled on every surface. "What in Celestina's panties have you been getting up to?" Her prominent dark eyes darted from plate to plate, no doubt noticing every bit of icing stuck to the porcelain, never mind the tray of martini glasses.

"What can I say? Business has been good. Your charm helped." She chose her words carefully so as not to accidentally use the "T" word – Thanks. Like most of the faery folk, brownies could be finicky and easily offended. This one had come with an antique dresser that now stood in the main room, the only thing left after a fire had destroyed the manor house it had come from in Ireland. Somehow Tizz had accompanied it, and Tiffany had inherited her when she bought it.

Tizz shook her head. "You're a strange one, helping women to get their marriages off to a good start considering you don't have even the beginnings of a decent home yourself."

Tiffany hid her smile. This was an old conversation. Tizz didn't approve of her background as a stripper and club dancer. She hadn't appeared until Tiffany had moved and set up her new life, and she showed up when she wanted, usually when Tiffany was overwhelmed.

"So, got any sense of what else happened here today?" Tiffany never knew where Tizz hid herself between manifestations.

Tizz waved her hand in front of her face and wrinkled her snub nose. "Phew, yeah, something stinks! I felt something come into my territory, but it wasn't here that long."

"It was a ghost. It spoiled the whipped cream for the punch bowl cake."

"That's not all."

With those words, Tiffany's hair stood on end. "What do you mean?"

"There was something nasty hanging around. That's why I'm here – you need to stay away from that business."

"Really?" Tiffany raised her eyebrows and perched on a counter while Tizz grabbed the pile of dishes closest to the sink with expert movements and started piling them in the dishwasher. "You're using that?"

Tizz paused. "You see? You've got me so worked up, I was going to use that infernal machine that only chips your plates. Yeah, really. There's more to that situation than rotten luck. And you've got some good things coming your way, honey, so just step back."

"I'll think about it."

"Which means you'll humor me now and do it anyway later." Tizz shook her head. "I know your type. Stubborn."

Tiffany laughed. "You're right, as always."

"Fine, then. I'll leave you a book you may find helpful. Now get out of my way. You did a good job messing up my kitchen."

"Yes, ma'am!" Tiffany saluted and went back into the main room. Soon her skin tingled, and she sensed that Tizz worked her magic in the kitchen to the music of clinking glasses and clanging dishes. When all was quiet, Tiffany went back into the kitchen and found everything clean and put away. A book waited on the wooden table that she used for prep, and her hair really stood on end when she saw the title engraved on the cracked leather cover: "Demons for Dummies."


Toby wiped his hands on the back of his jeans again. Like that would help figure out why the battery, which should've been good for another year, had pooped out. The cold rain stung the back of his neck, and he blinked water out of his eyes.

"Need a jump?"

Toby squinted into the darkness. A black Camaro idled on the shoulder behind him, and he wondered how he hadn't heard or seen it pull up. Not that the rain let him pay attention to much except the trail of cold water down his spine. The Camaro's driver, a slight man with black hair, moustache, and goatee, stood a few feet away, his eyebrows raised in a helpful expression.

"I need somethin'." He grinned. "If you've got some good cables, that'd be great. Mine are under the boxes in the backseat. He nodded to the extended cab, where his mother's precious linens rode inside.

"They're extra long, so they'll be just what you need. Give me a minute."

In less than a minute, the jumpers had been hooked up, and the truck's engine brought back to life. Toby let it idle while they disconnected and stowed the cables.

"There's a place on the next exit, Gabriel's truck stop," said the stranger. "Tell 'em Raphe sent you, and they'll take good care of you. I know they keep extra batteries and a tester on hand in case of emergencies like this."

"I'm Toby. Let me get dinner for you. It's the least I can do. There's no telling how long I'd've been stuck out here."

Raphe's smile showed even white teeth. "I haven't eaten in a while. See you there."

With that, he got into his Camaro and sped away. Toby eased his truck on to the shoulder and followed him into the darkness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Montaluce Wine Conclave, Part Two: An Afternoon of Tasting

One of the most interesting things about the "Wine Conclave" at Montaluce last Saturday was learning about the artistic side of making wine. It sounds like each harvest of each grape varietal comes with a thousand questions to be answered, and sometimes circumstances work for you, sometimes against. For an example of a happy accident, Oliver Asberger, the winery's vineyard manager, told us how they had a real bird problem last year and decided to harvest early. That actually saved the grapes from being ruined in the fall rains.

The afternoon continued with a tour of the restaurant and cooking demonstration. At one point, we went out on to the restaurant balcony, which was delightfully sobering (note the ice on the trees):

And then more wine, namely tastings from Avant Partir and Quality Wine and Spirits distributors. I was ready to take notes:

I mentioned in my last post how I felt a little intimidated, and I was doing okay with conquering those fears of looking like I didn't know what I was doing until Matt Rosenberg of Avant Partir told us that we'd be tasting his wines blind. Oh, wow. I wasn't the only one, though, because only a few people ventured guesses, so I felt better. I really need to give myself more credit. Or a break because I did pretty well with guessing flavor profiles. I didn't guess grapes, but I'm not that good with Italian wines, hence my New Year's Oeno-lution to drink more European. Matt helped me to keep that oeno-lution. The wines:

2006 Azienda Agricola Bastianich Tocai Plus (Friuli, Italy): 100% Friulano, 90% of which is late harvest
Stone fruit/floral nose, some minerality on the palate with a bitter almond finish. I think I would've liked it better if it had been served colder.
Rating: Good

1999 Rocche dei Manzoni "Bricco Manzoni" (Piedmont, Italy): 80% Nebbiolo, 20% Barbera
Italian acidity with black cherry finish
Rating: Very Good

2005 Azienda Agricola Bastianich "Vespa Rosso" (Friuli, Italy): 50% Merlot, 30% Refosco, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc
Dark fruit nose, and a hint of anise on the end. This one qualifies as an "interesting red" (in a good way).
Rating: Very Good

Scarbolo "Campo Del Viotto" Merlot Reserve:
Hmmm, no vintage or location given for this one, but it was really yummy, very smooth with some spiciness and overtones of clove and caramel. I don't think I'd've ever guessed this to be an Italian or a Merlot.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

The next two guys, Josh Culbreth and Ryan Mullins from Quality Wine and Spirits, took us on a wine tour. Ryan is a certified sommelier and had some interesting tidbits about the wines and winemakers. The wines:

2006 Miolo Brut (Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil): 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay
Nice bubbles with hints of seashell, vanilla, and pear. The flavors fell a little flat at the end.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2007 Jean Claude Thevenet Macon Pierreclos (Burgundy, France): 100% Chardonnay
Good minerality with lime-citrus that emerges.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (Alexander Valley, California):
Fermented with ambient yeast, Hubby and I enjoyed giggling about the "free-range yeast" images for a few minutes. Hey, it had been a lot of wine to that point. Oaky, tropical fruit nose, it's more delicate than your typical California oaky chard, but I dumped it.
Rating: Okay

2006 Hudelot-Noellat Vosne Romanee (Burgundy, France):
This one tasted a little young/green, and definitely wanted food. Pretty straightforward fruit with good acidity. Would love to try it again in a few years. Like we keep wine around that long.
Rating: Good

2007 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, California):
Ryan described this one as "strawberry-leather," and I agree. It had a lot of earthiness for a California Pinot. That would be a fun one to pull out in a blind tasting (yeah, I know, I'm inviting more pop blind tasting karma).
Rating: Very Good

2006 Terry Hoage Vineyard Skins Grenache (Paso Robles, California): 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah
In a pick-up game, it's the skins every time; they've got much more to lose. Light fruit nose with some concord grape, and a lingering, almost syrupy finish, but completely different from the Tempranillo I panned last week for being too sweet. Yep, they're persistent.
Rating: The Skins have it! Very Good

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

2004 La Spinetta Barbera "Bionzo" (Piemonte, Italy):
The nose is grape and blueberry, and this one has some herbal undertones to the fruit.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Vine Cliff Winery Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California): also has 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot
Slight herbal-funky nose (someone said Sun Chips), but mostly dark fruit and cedar/caramel with a little mint and cassis
Rating: Very Good

2006 Ben Marco Expresivo (Mendoza, Argentina): 60% Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Tannat
A little pepper on the nose, but it's dark fruit all the way with smooth currant on the end.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

During the tasting, Chef Steven Hartman brought up a cheese plate, a charcuterie plate, and three kinds of flatbread. The food was greatly appreciated and all excellent.

Hubby and I got to join Ryan, Josh, their wives, and Oliver as well as Caroline (@FrenchTart on Twitter) and her husband for dinner at Le Vigne, the restaurant at Montaluce. By then, we felt like eating a little lighter, so Hubby and I each had an arugula salad with butternut squash and pork belly cubes and sherry vinaigrette as well as the pureed butternut squash soup, which was served with crunchy maple crumbs and a dollop of some sort of sour cream. The food continued to be excellent, and Ryan got a fantastic bottle of Italian wine for the table to share.

Thanks again to Rob and Brent of Montaluce as well as Matt, Ryan, and Josh, the distributor reps, for a fantastic day of dining and tasting! I think I am looking at winemaking a little differently, and I have a lot more appreciation for how difficult it can be. I'm also grateful for "happy accidents," whether they're fortuitously-timed harvests or menu typos.

Disclosure: The tastings described above were free to attendees of the Wine Conclave. Dinner was not. So there -- bite me, FTC.