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Saturday, July 31, 2010

2007 Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Prologue Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

This retails for about $22 and is the entry level offering from Conn Valley. We had the reserve (or maybe that's just the standard Cab?) a while back and loved it. This bottle ran me $22.

The nose is a little tight with cherry vanilla, I suppose.

A bit of vanilla, a bit of oak, a bit of fruit all over - plum, black cherry, cassis. All very nice, all very drinkable - this paired perfectly with a steak. Excellent balance. Little to really write about, this is just a nice drinking, well integrated wine.

Some spicy qualities show up on the finish, definite clove and cinammon, as well as a bit of mint.

For $22, this is a solid effort. At 1/3 the price of Conn's standard cab bottle, if I'm paying I'd be quite content snagging three bottles of this.

Score: 91

Friday, July 30, 2010

Acquaviva Winery - Maple Park, IL - 7/30/10

Maple Park...not quite Chicago suburb, not quite rural outpost. It's an interesting sort of cusp where McMansions line one side of the road and cornfields the other. This is where Acquaviva resides. We stopped in for lunch and had a couple different wines with our meal instead of doing a tasting of the bar.

A tasting of six wines at the bar is six bucks. Glasses ranged from about five to seven dollars. Full bottles are available for five bucks over retail with your meal.

Here's what we had:

Prairie Star: The term 'clean' is difficult to describe, but it's fit for the nose here - peach, nectarine and slate. On the palate I get a mild golden apple quality, pear, stone fruit, it's fruity enough that one may easily call it sweet, but it's fairly dry. The finish brings out a Gewurzy kinda feel. Very nice.

Bianco Bello: Don't know what varietal in this is, but I'd guess Catawba. Catawba is frequently found in Illinois wineries, it's sweet and juicy, you rarely get anything interesting from their wines but it would be tough not to call them tasty. This is a bit better than average because it has some acid to give it a bit of balance. Cantaloupe, muskmelon, a bit of honeydew, and green grape.

Frontenac: Italian in style. Raspberry, strawberry, dirt, brown spice, kind of a trashy quality, and way in the background an interesting sort of melon quality.

Piacere: Plum on the nose. Another funky, Italian-ish wine, lighter in body with more acid. Dry green spices, anise especially, raspberry for fruit, and an odd kind of caramel quality.

The white wines are tough to argue with, the reds are some of the better 'acquired taste' style wines that you often get in Illinois. If you haven't ventured into hybrid wines, this would be a fine start. The trick to Illinois reds is to eat them with food.

Speaking of food....

Italian style crab cakes (forgive me, a few bites were taken before this photo was taken). These were quite good - loads of crab, little filler, all in a delicious sauce.


Sausage pizza from the wood burning oven. Pretty solid.


I'm beyond sold. The food was outstanding and worked nicely with the wine. Well worth a visit.

Friday, July 16, 2010

New Orleans roundup

Alright. That's it with food pictures from New Orleans. I can tell you I've placed myself on a high fiber vegan detox diet for the time being. Not a single meal here was bad. Not one was less than good, in fact.

Restaurant August gets my strongest praise - not only would I return, I was so convinced by it that I would consider doing a John Besh visit and eating at all six of his places.

Emeril's was the biggest surprise. Everyone said it would be good, but I still assumed it would be "tourist" good. No sir, the rabbit appetizer was the best dish of the visit. I'd be back, but I think I'd hit his other places first.

Felix's Oyster Bar deserves special mention as well - a diner setting with some amazing food and good people. The blackened alligator and grilled oysters were amazing.

Mila was excellent, all the food was great, but the sweet potato rolls with pureed fava beans deserve a shout out.

I could go on, but at this rate I'd mention something at each place. If you're into food pictures, just scroll down and enjoy. Otherwise, we'll be back to posting about wine in a bit.

Central Grocery - New Orleans - 7/15/10

Central Grocery is actually a small grocery store with a deli counter that sells muffulettas. I'm not 100% sure there was an option for anything else quite frankly. The people behind the counter have a reputation for being grumpy.

This is a quarter of a muffuletta, you can buy them in halves or wholes. The half split between us was a bit much, so I don't get how one can eat a full half alone. A few cured meats, some provolone cheese, and a pickled olive salad.

The sandwich does travel well but it stinks. Don't be the guy who breaks one out on a plane or bus.

Restaurant August - New Orleans - 7/15/10

For our final meal in New Orleans we ate at Restaurant August. I failed to get a picture of the outside...they, like many restaurants in town, have a $20 three course lunch deal. Unfortunately, the menu is not listed online and I don't recall many specifics.

Lunch began with an amuse - this is an egg filled with a light seafood custard and a sprinkle of caviar.


Pate with the various accompaniments and toast points.


Fennel soup with quail egg and crab.


Shrimp with andouille sausage, okra, etc. This is essentially an upscale gumbo.


So embarrassing. I don't recall any specifics on this one beyond it's veal and that sauce is insane.


Almond poundcake with peaches and corn ice cream - the corn ice cream was the kind of thing I wouldn't want a scoop of but combined with everything else going on here was solid.


I wish I had a menu....this is basically a fancy pants grilled cheese - grilled cheese and peaches in the sandwich with some figs on the side there.


Peanut brittle and dark chocolate cups.


Some of the best food we had in the city plus some of the best service as well...halfway through the meal I regretted not getting here in the evening for a tasting menu. Next time for absolute certain.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Commander's Palace - New Orleans - 7/14/10

This is the way the trip ends. Not with a bang...but with a whimper. The fact that I couldn't figure out my camera to get a decent picture was an omen. I think I needed to up the shutter speed, but my camera isn't quite as straightforward as that.

When we arrived, neither one of us was terribly hungry. I mean, I had an appetite, but you know...if we didn't have reservations I would've put off eating for at least an hour or two. This was our downfall.

Bread service was absurdly decadent. That's garlic bread.


Soup trio. We got some gumbo, we got some turtle soup, and we got some of the soup of the day. Soup of the day was shrimp and okra and was both of our favorite. Gumbo was second. Turtle soup did not work for either of us - they finished it at the table with sherry and it just didn't work for either of our palates. We had the staff do wine pairings and we had the strangest rose with this - we were both convinced it was some sort of Riesling but it was apparently just a very very very light German Pinot Noir rose. Good stuff.


Frog legs. Sadly not on the online menu so I have no more details. I did, however, realize that the way to eat frog legs is simple - stick your fork in the leg, cut in perpendicular, and pull away. Boom - the meat comes with and the bone stays put. These were awesome by the way.


Wild Burgundy Escargot - Basil fed Burgundy snails flambéed with Hennessy cognac, house made bacon, shiitake mushrooms, red wine demi glace and melted St. Andre cheese. Excellent.


Black Angus Filet Mignon - Char-grilled filet of Harris Ranch beef with French potato purée, smoked mushrooms, grilled onions and garlic-red wine jus. This was absurd. The kind of thing that you try when you're just not that hungry and feel tears welling up in your eyes. It's so damn good but it's just not the right time.


Veal Chop Tchoupitoulas - 14 oz. chop of milk fed veal over goat cheese stone ground grits with buttered spring asparagus, fire roasted tomatoes and Commander’s classic green peppercorn demi glace. Ditto on this one. Though I will say while this does look big, there's a bone and a lot of fat. Absurdly good.


I'm sure the friendly staff thought we were little more than a couple of schnooks. All we could talk about was how when we get home, we're going to buy several pounds of fruit and eat nothing but berries and watermelon to detox for five days or so.

The funny thing is we seriously considered the tasting menu. Can you imagine? The middle of the second course we would've had to throw in the towel. Personally, I feel guilty and I apologize to the masters. This place deserved my all and we failed. Next time....

The wine list was large with plenty of options available by the glass. I'm a big fan of the way this place was set up - you could buy full glasses or half glasses (the half were still fairly generous pours) if you want wine pairings. There were at least 25 wines by the glass ranging from five bucks to about forty.

Felix - New Orleans - 7/14/10

Felix take two. We jumped in here for a couple things...


Blackened alligator. This gator was phenomenal just straight up, no need for any additional sauce or lemon.


A dozen oysters.


Just about every place we've been has been good, but the place I'd recommend to anyone and everyone, hands down, is Felix.

Antoine's - New Orleans - 7/14/10

Antoine's in the French Corner. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. The bad part is that most of the special dining rooms are not available so you'll be stuck in the front rooms. The good news:

25 cent martinis. Gin, vodka, cosmo, or lemon drop. That glass cost a quarter. 25 cents.


Potage Alligator au Sherry: A well-seasoned sherry wine-laced, alligator bisque. I've always thought of bisques as being creamy, which this was not. Awesome? Yes.


Huitres a la Foch. Fried oysters on toast buttered with paté de foie gras, served with a rich Colbert sauce. Excellent. Skimpy on the pate, but tasty all around.


One each of Antoine’s Oyster Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor


Shrimp with Garlic Vin Blanc Sauce Served over Cheese Grits. Delicious and rich, but this was the entree...


Soft shell crabs fried in a light batter, with a hot melted butter. Soft shell crab, in my opinion, gets a little "real" but our waiter highly recommended it. This was good but I would've been happier with just one.


Peach Melba. A favorite concoction of peach slices, vanilla ice cream, raspberry sauce, and chopped toasted almonds.


The oyster trio, shrimp, and peach melba were part of Antoine's special $20 lunch menu. So, yes, portions were a bit small on those (though the peach melba was pretty large), but it was still a twenty dollar meal at Antoine's.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tropical Isle - New Orleans - 7/13/10


The hand grenade. This is the frozen variety. Internet recipes will tell you a hand grenade is equal parts gin, vodka, midori, everclear, and rum - no mix is listed in any which would give you about six shots of alcohol.

It's sweet. Unlike the Hurricane, to my palate it doesn't have as strong of an alcohol burn nor do I find the sweetness to be as overbearing. I'd say it hits the palate midori and finishes rum.

We also had a regular liquid version - it's $8 on the rocks and I think $15 straight up. We did rocks. I can see why drinking one of these giant things with no ice would be too much, but filled up with ice it all gets diluted nicely.

The frozen drink pictured is eight bucks.

Bayona - New Orleans - 7/13/10


This was our first experience with drunk, pardon my language but trust me it's the nicest way I can phrase it, douchebaggery in a nice restaurant. A group of four clowns were being absurdly loud and obnoxious. When they got up to leave, the quietest bozo took a giant tumble knocking his chair over. Another guy got up help him and he was so disoriented he didn't seem to get what was going on. It was somewhat frustrating that no one in the restaurant asked them to be quiet, but I know that is a delicate situation.

So....the food. This was a genuinely a "southern" style dinner. Good stuff all around. Check it. Some of these things are not on the online menu so forgive the vague-ish descriptions. Also, a couple photos are blurry - the lighting was quite low, so this is the best I could do.

Bread service is important. These were excellent.


Louisiana Crab, Leek, Heirloom Tomato Tart.


Grilled shrimp with Black Bean Cake and Coriander Sauce


Veal sweetbreads with Sherry Mustard Butter. I like sweetbreads, when they are on the menu I order them, but let me tell you something...this was one of the best preparations I've ever had. Toss up between here and Blackbird in Chicago.


Stuffed Rabbit Roulade and Paneed Leg, Sauteed Greens, Okra, and Grits. Fran tells me this is the best rabbit she's ever had (and she eats a lot of rabbit).


Homemade cherry sorbet

There ya go. This was top notch, second only to Emeril's quite frankly. Tasty, reasonably priced (no entree was over $30, I don't think any appetizer was over $15), with a great wine list.

Cafe Du Monde - New Orleans - 7/13/10

Cafe Du Monde apparently got their equipment issues in order and we jumped in late Tuesday afternoon.

There's not much in terms of choices on the menu, but who cares? Quite simple - an order of beignets and a frozen Cafe Au Lait. The beignets are undeniably good, they come out quite hot which makes them hard not to love. The frozen Cafe Au Lait is a bit less "icy" than your typical Starbucks frap thing, but in terms of consistency and flavor I'll go right on and say it's the best frozen coffee drink I've tried. If Frappucinos tasted like this, I'd drink them often.

Johnny's Po'Boys - New Orleans - 7/13/10

We actually had a full lunch at the New Orleans School of Cooking. It was a tasty meal of gumbo, jambalaya, and bread pudding. I didn't take photos for an array of reasons (communal tables made for an awkward situation). Word to the wise - look around for a magazine called "Where" - there's a $3 off coupon for this place.

Anyway, from what I gather asking someone what the best po'boy place is is like asking someone from Chicago what the best pizza is. You'll get varied opinions and anyone who doesn't tell you Pizano's is wrong, see? So, we went with Johnny's...

Fried oyster po'boy. Every aspect of it was good, but it was lacking something...I'm thinking a splash or two of hot sauce would've brought it all together. Next time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Emeril's New Orleans - New Orleans - 7/12/10


Emeril Lagasse. Emeril strikes me as a bit of a clown. Going into this meal, I viewed him as little more than an Elzar impersonator. Even our cab driver, after picking us up, yelled BAM! I mean, look at the freaking door handles in the bathroom:


So anyway, how does dinner at his flagship hold up?

An amuse bouche, I sadly don't recall what it was but I'm thinking salmon with some fresh greens (arugula?) on top. One gets an idea about portion size at this place since this amuse was larger than $15 appetizers at some places in Chicago.


By the way - we sat at the kitchen bar. This is basically a bar that looks into, that's right, the kitchen. No one really does anything directly in front of you so there isn't any interaction with the staff...the guy who seemed to manage the kitchen asked how things were and a few people smile and nodded, but if you want chitchat with the chefs, they're busy. It's not unlike watching a ballet - it's organize chaos, I dig it a lot.


Appetizer - Warm Mississippi Rabbit Remoulade with Fried Green Tomatoes, Benton’s Bacon, Citrus Salad and Horseradish Gastrique. Upon first bite of this dish this was already one of the best meals of my life - absolutely amazing (and a quite large portion).


Soup - we both had the gumbo of the day. Very good, though I have to say neither one were quite wowed. To be fair, I'm not sure either one of us could be "wowed" by gumbo.


Bread service was excellent - cornbread, a rosemary something, and a something or another roll. All awesome.


Fran's appetizer - "Emeril’s" New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp with Petite Rosemary Biscuit and Fresh Chives. A heavier sauce than one would expect with shrimp - it worked.


Entree - Panéed Veal & Crisp Sweetbreads with Wild Mushrooms, Radicchio, Brabant Potatoes, Prosciutto, Sage and Lemon-Caper Crab Butter. We originally had reservations at NOLA, we switched it here because of this dish. It was worth it. An enormous portion (I ate perhaps half of it), absolutely delicious.

Entree - Andouille Crusted Texas Redfish with Grilled Vegetables, Shoestring Potatoes, Glazed Pecans and Creole Meunière Sauce. Neither one of us have had redfish - this was a good first shot. Excellent all around.


Portions were so large we skipped desset....which is to say we got two desserts to go. They don't look terribly pretty because they went through a cab ride and short walk, so this does not do them justice.

The famous banana cream pie. Most people and guidebooks say this is a must try and I have to agree.


Abita "Root Beer Float" Cheesecake with Bacon Caramel Shortbread. The cheesecake was awesome but the bacon shortbread was awfully baconny...

A note on service - some of the absolute best we've ever had. I ordered the food and told our waiter to match up beverages with our food. His choices were actually fairly thoughtful and interesting - local Abita beer with the gumbo, a glass of Albariño with the redfish and a glass of Barbera with the sweetbreads. Wise and unique choices - well played.

I didn't photo it for some reason, but we also had a French press of Jamaican Blue coffee which was insanely smooth.

Anyway, Emeril's not only delivered a good meal, they delivered one of the top meals of my life. Absolutely phenomenal and a new respect for the man himself - worth a flaming train ride alone.