Archive for the ‘Rants and Raves’ Category
Posted on December 3, 2012 - by The Vine Guy
A friend of mine sent me an email recently, informing me that his son attended a business meeting where the following wines were served:
1989 Chateau Margaux
1970 Chateau Margaux
and my personal favorite…
1985 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall
Since his son did not know much about wine, my friend asked me to write up a brief review of each wine and send it to his son so that he could have a sense of the caliber of wines he was being served. I dutifully complied, but I thought I would have a little fun and share my favorite review (ala Robert Parker) with readers:
1985 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall
This is one of my favorite wines of all time. The 1985 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall is a youthful and unevolved wine, but does not have the tannic ferocity of the 1988 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall, or the sheer force and intensity of the 1978 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall, but it represents the epitome of this wine. Everything fits perfectly in this full-bodied, black/purple-colored wine that reveals no garnet or amber at the edge of its color. The nose offers up a formidable array of overripe black raspberries and cherries intertwined with scents of cedar, chocolate, olives, and toast. Extremely full-bodied, with an unctuosity and opulence that must be tasted to be believed, this velvety-textured wine’s finish lasts for over a minute. The 1985 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall is one of the most concentrated but profoundly endowed and well-balanced wines I have ever tasted. Like so many of the wines Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall has produced from this vineyard, no matter how hard one tries to articulate its glories, words are simply inadequate. The 1985 Bottle of Something I Don’t Recall is just beginning to achieve full maturity, where it should remain for another 25 + years.
Posted on July 16, 2012 - by The Vine Guy
For those of you who have been asking for the wonderful paella recipe, please click the paella photo below for the link to the recipe.
Posted on June 18, 2012 - by The Vine Guy
I was recently in San Francisco for the International Wine Competition and I wanted to try something a little off the beaten path fro dinner. My wife suggested that I try The Broken Record (she had recently seen it featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). I called an old college friend and we made plans to try it out.
From the moment my buddy and I walked in until we stumbled out, we had a blast. This is the kind of bar-come-gastropub that I wish we had in DC! The bar is just dive-ish enough to be hip for the not-so-hip and the restaurant is tasty enough to be taken seriously.
We got to the bar at 5:30 pm on a Saturday and at first thought we were at the wrong spot. It was empty. We asked the bar tender – a genuinely nice guy bespeckled with tattoos – what the deal was. He told us that we were “just early enough.” Suggested that we order something to drink and grab a table in the back while there were still tables to be had. The beer selection – both on tap and in bottle – was impressive. But even more impressive was the whiskey selection… on tap! I have never seen whiskey on tap. But now I have. I opted for one of their exceptionally wonderful local brews and headed down the hallway to the back of the bar were the restaurant is located.
We grabbed a table and checked out the menu (chalk) board while we waited for the kitchen to open (it usually opens right at 6:15 pm) and went into paralysis from all of the amazing choices we were facing.
At 6:00 pm, the restaurant was filling up quickly and we noticed a few people starting to queue up at the order window (you have to place your order and PAY CASH ONLY at the window – but they will bring your dinner to your table).
We decided to jump in line and use the time to try to decide between the Crawfish and Grits, the Lobster Mac and Cheese, the Short Rib Dip Sandwich and the Crispy Pork Loin Sandwich. Then we noticed that the prices were – and I am NOT making this up – only $10 per item, so we said, f-it and ordered all four items. Silly? Maybe. Worth it? Ab-so-f’ing-lute-ly!
The food came out as it was ready. The first dish to hit the table was the Lobster Mac and Cheese. There were huge chunks of lobster meat tucked among the bowtie pasta. The sauce was rich without being too cloying – a perfect balance that let the delicate flavor of the lobster shine through.
Next came the Crispy Pork Loin sandwich and the Crayfish and Grits. The pork was crispy and tender, but the spicy mayo sauce and the brioche-style bun made the sandwich sing. The Crayfish and Grits was very good (and plentiful), but the butter-laden grits were just too rich to have more than a few bites (alright – I had more than a few bites, but I paid the price later…).
Last up was the Pièce de résistance: The short rib dip. Ahhhhh, now this is a sandwich. The short ribs were lean and cooked to perfection and served on a toasted roll that brought a smile to my tongue. It was served with a ramekin of au jus and a ramekin of horseradish cream sauce. Both were perfect accompaniments.
The only thing I wished we had ordered were the sweet potato tots. But not to worry. The wonderful thing about the Broken Record is the communal atmosphere that infuses the place. We had soooo much food on our table that we started to share it with other tables around us – and they shared their orders with us as well. After a few more beers, it felt like family dining! Two young women who were visiting from Louisiana came over to our table to sample a little bit of everything we had before they placed their order. You got to love a place that brings that kind of community out in a dining experience.
Only one tale of caution – bring cash. The Broken Record doesn’t take credit cards.
Posted on March 8, 2012 - by The Vine Guy
I love this restaurant. I consider myself a knowledgeable foodie and a service snob and this place always rocks on both scales. From the moment you walk in, you know that this is a special place. There is just a vibe, a hum, a buzz about the place. The front of house staff is always friendly and accommodating.
But the food and the service are what really keep me coming back. Every… single… dish… is delicious. From the Tuna Tartar Cones to the Lamb Lettuce Wraps to the Crispy Pork Belly, every starter just revs up your palate for the entrees to come. I personally love the Wok Fired Whole Fish – it’s fileted tableside and served with a couple of different sauces. The Short Ribs and Noodles is also a huge hit. For a party of six, we usually get four appetizers and four entrees and share the love around the table. And just to show that the staff is really paying attention, if a particular appetizer comes with four pieces, they upgrade the order to make sure that there are enough pieces for everyone in your party to enjoy their own sample. Thoughtful.
Lastly – make room for desserts! I am not big on desserts at restaurants… I’d rather have a cheese plate and a glass of wine, but The Source has such an interesting array of sweet endings, it would be a shame to pass them up. And to prove how bright the staff continues to shine, the Sommelier offered to pair a dessert wine with my Rice Pudding and nailed it right on the head. When I want to relax, enjoy a great meal and feel right at home, I always consider going right to “The Source.”
Posted on October 28, 2011 - by The Vine Guy
A new boutique wine shop just opened in Bethesda, Maryland, and if they don’t change their attitude near future, it will soon go the way of the clay amphora. The Beer, Wine & Co. (located at the 7029 Wisconsin Avenue in the heart of Bethesda) is the sister project of the Food, Wine & Co. restaurant across the street. From the moment you walk in the door, you get the feeling that it could be something special. The only problem is, the customer is not anything special.
I have now had the unfortunate opportunity to visit this shop not once, not twice, but THREE times and have yet to get anyone behind the counter to even acknowledge my existence. On my last visit, there were three – count ‘em, three – employees behind the counter watching –and I am not making this up – women’s platform diving on the TV!
During my “alone time” I had a chance to peruse the selection of beer and wine on the shelves. While the wine inventory was ordinary (but fairly priced for a Montgomery County retailer), the beer selection was other-worldly, with choices ranging from cool domestic labels to exotic international choices. Oh, how I wished someone would have sold a few to me!
But the problem is that you can’t get anyone to help you! And, judging from what I overheard on one visit (I believe it was my second time in), I’m not sure I’d want anyone’s help! I was in the shop for ten minutes – being ignored – when a woman walked in and asked for help. She was looking for a red wine to go with cheese. Easy enough. But the salesperson had not a clue as to where to begin. Oy! He asked her what country she wanted to try. She said she did not care, but it had to go with cheese. He asked her what type of grape she wanted to try. She said she did not care, but it had to go with cheese. So he recommended a Chianti from Italy. Now, maybe there is something about this Chianti that I don’t know, but with so many other reasonable selections to choose from on the shelf, it seemed like an odd recommendation.
Maybe the reason they don’t offer to help customers is because they don’t know what they’re doing (yet).
Okay – so I decide that it is time to let management know. I walk across the street to the sister venture and ask to speak to a manager there so that they can pass along my concerns to the non-existent management at the wine shop. She took my information down and said she would pass it along to one of the owners. Sure enough, I get a call from Carlos an hour later. When I explained what happened, he merely said – and again, I am not making this up – “We don’t like to be too pushy.” Fair enough, but to completely ignore a customer on three separate occasions isn’t not being pushy – it’s being aloof. What’s more, he explained that he was the manager and one of the owners, and – you’re going to love this – he was in the store during my last visit. He was one of the guys who was watching TV!
Once Carlos figured out that I knew that he was part of the problem, he abruptly hung up. Weird.
I may not be the biggest name in the wine world, but I do know my way around a wine shop and I can tell you that ignoring customers and making questionable wine recommendations is not a great recipe for success… If you find yourself in Bethesda and you’re in need of a bottle or two of wine, check out Cork and Fork around the corner. The staff is not only knowledgeable (the owners are former winemakers from France), but they are eager to help. Unfortunately, their beer selection is not nearly as impressive as the unfriendly Beer, Wine & Co.
Posted on September 30, 2011 - by The Vine Guy
Elvis Costello very well could be the best know rocker in horned-rimmed glasses since Buddy Holly – and for good reason… he ROCKS!
Costello blew in to town last night (September 29, 2011) on his Wheel of Songs Tour with his faithful band, The Imposters. With long time keyboardist/friend/collaborator Steve Nieve, original Drummer Pete Thomas and Bassist Davey Faragher, the quartet pumped up the crowd for two and a half hours at the intimate Warner Theater.
I have had the pleasure of seeing Elvis play many concerts throughout the years – most notably two years ago on the summer-kissed slopes of Deer Valley, Utah, where he was accompanied by the Utah Symphony Orchestra – but this is the first time I have seen him genuinely comfortable in his own skin. Clad in a two piece suit, fedora and trademark black-rimmed glasses, he put on a show that included a lot of energy, a few cool surprises and a little touch of kitschy-ness to the performance.
As with his 1988 stop at the Lisner Auditorium, Costello invited fans up on stage to spin a giant Wheel-o-Songs. He faithfully played each song that was selected and even allowed a few lucky fans to name their own tunes. One almost-brilliant instant occurred when a pair of young girls was brought up on stage. When Costello asked their names, the first replied, “Alison” and the crowd, understandably, went wild. But Costello made her spin the wheel and regardless of her song-famous name, he did not relent and play his signature song. But that’s okay – since there was more than enough amazing material he could draw upon from his 35 year career (have I really been listening to him that long???).
Once the lucky fan(s) spun the wheel, they were invited to either sit at the makeshift “Society Lounge” bar and enjoy a cocktail on stage or jump into the Go-Go cage and dance while Costello performed. One inebriated young man jumped into the Go-Go Cage uninvited and had a good ol’ time. Stage security kept a close eye on him, but wisely did not interrupt his performance until the end of the song at which time the two lovely go-go dancers escorted him through the back of the stage and – presumably – out the door. No harm, No foul. Typical Elvis Costello. The show went on.
Highlights included; Watching the Detectives, New Lace Sleeves (one of my favorites of the evening), Pump It Up, Man Out of Time, I Want You, So Like Candy, Chelsea, Sleep of the Just, Next Time Round and Strict Time. He closed with an amazing version of Peace, Love and Understanding – more appropriate now, than ever.
Posted on July 3, 2011 - by The Vine Guy
How many times should someone have to call a restaurant to book a LARGE party before they give up? Once? Twice? THREE TIMES??? How about an in-person visit? And no response… nada, nein, zip, zilch, goose egg.
Thus is the tale of my experience at Fiola - the hot, hip new Italian eatery captained by Uber-chic Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his spouse, Maria.
I have been trying for two weeks now to book a dinner party at Fiola and cannot get as much as a return call to tell me to drop dead. My firm is getting ready to celebrate our ten year anniversary and I want to treat my staff to a fantastic evening of food, wine and fun to mark the occasion. I had dined there recently for a wine dinner and I was impressed with the service, food and ambiance, so I thought Fiola would be the perfect spot to host dinner for 30 people.
After leaving three messages – count ‘em, three – for Maria Trabocchi (the chef/owner’s wife and director of private dining), I decided to confront her directly. My wife and I went with another couple to Fiola for dinner last week to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. When we arrived, I asked the hostess to please send Maria over to the table so that I could give her a card and make the connection.
Overall, the evening was a solid 8. The food was very good and both our server (ask for Ashley) and the wine director (Theo) were attentive and charming. We noticed Maria flitting about the restaurant visiting most of the tables and giving everyone the standard kiss-kiss routine. But somehow, we escaped her attention and she never as much as looked in our direction. Must have been my cologne?!?
On the way out, I asked to speak to Maria. I explained who I was and that I was trying to book a dinner party for 30 – count ‘em – 30 people. She feigned great surprise and promised (PROMISED) to give me a call on my cell phone the very next day…. And I am still waiting.
Why am I taking the time to rant about this seemingly trivial experience? Because I have had my fill of restaurants (and other businesses) that just DON’T GET IT! It’s like the scene in the movie Network when the news anchor stands up and delivers his famous “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech. It’s that simple.
Citronelle (another story) and (BLT Steak) could take a lesson from Wolfgang Puck’s The Source or any of Ashok Bajaj’s eateries. Every single time I have been at any of these restaurants, they have made me feel welcomed and comfortable, like Norm at Cheers (you older readers will probably get that reference…). So why didn’t I start with The Source (or Bibiana) for the anniversary party? Good question. And now I will…
Posted on May 26, 2011 - by The Vine Guy
Okay – so Eric Titus, co-owner of Titus Vineyards, is coming to town and wants to have lunch with me to taste through his portfolio. I look up his wines and find that he makes BIG red wines. A steakhouse is the obvious choice. It’s been a while since I’ve been to BLT Steak in DC, so I figure I’ll give it a whirl.
I called the restaurant to make reservations. I explained to the young woman who answered the phone that I am meeting the owner of a winery at the restaurant to do a WINE TASTING. I politely asked her to have their sommelier call me to discuss details. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. No call back. So a couple of days later I called again. I once again explained to the young lady who answered the phone who I was meeting and what I was planning on doing over lunch and requested to speak with the sommelier. Nothing. Well, at least they’re consistent.
I met Eric at BLT Steak yesterday for lunch as planned. We were shown to our table and he pulled out a couple bottles of wine (2009 Zinfandel and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon). No sooner are the bottles on the table when the server shows up to inform us that his “manager” wants us to know that the restaurant has a $29 corkage fee and we can only open one bottle. My blood boiled. I calmly-but-sternly explained three things to our server (very nice guy, by the way);
First, I called the restaurant twice to discuss the arrangements with the sommelier and never heard back from anyone. Definitely uncool.
Second, I have attended wine tastings at the restaurant in the past where multiple bottles have been opened. So what’s different about this?
And Third – my favorite – the District of Columbia’s policy on corkage does not allow a restaurant to charge more than $25 per bottle and has a two bottle minimum!
Nothing pisses me off faster than the combination of arrogance and ignorance. Evidently, the manager had a healthy dose of both. The server disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with the appropriate glassware. He apologized and opened both bottles. The lunch went off without a hitch (the Hanger steak was excellent). But the coup de grâce was that when the check showed up at the table, TWO corkage fees where on the bill (at least they were $25 each). I was disappointed that the restaurant did not at least pretend to make amends for their faux pas. Oh well. Next time, I’ll hit up Capital Grill. They know how to treat a wine tasting when they see one…