Saturday, April 22, 2017

Indian Food (Indian food from India, not North American Native Americans) Have You Tried It Yet?

This I can tell you - I love Indian food. 
The first time I tried Indian food was in S. Africa.  I had gone on a business trip and did a whirlwind tour - Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.  Each city had its own personality and each city had its own food culture.  Whilst in Durban, I was told it had the highest concentration of Indians outside of India.  I don't know if that is true, but it is true that I tried curry for the first time in Durban and loved it.  My host took me to an authentic Indian restaurant one evening, where he knew the owner, and ordered for me.  I don't recall what he ordered, but I do recall it was amazing.  Everything he ordered, had a mild heat, as he didn't want to ruin my first experience with Indian food by making the heat unbearable.  Interesting fact:  by evening, the restauranteur ran his restaurant, and by day, he ran an auto repair shop.  He was a customer of my host.  More stories to tell, but....
I digress.
Fast forward to Virginia, 2017.  Have been looking for a decent Indian restaurant, and I can't tell you how I could be a judge of good, better or best.  Fortunately, someone in the office recommended Monsoon.  Located in a little strip mall by our office, I had to try it.
Set out for lunch recently with several friends from work.  Monsoon bills itself as "eclectic Modern Indian".  I don't know what that means, because I have no reference to eclectic Indian, modern Indian, authentic Indian or homecooked Indian.  I think it means they want to charge more.
One of our party was Indian, Mr. Dimple S.  He was quite the celebrity there, as over the past few months, he had become a regular.  Additionally, the kitchen guy was Indian, didn't speak much English, and was his roommate.  It was all good.
What to order?
The first time I went, I ordered the Chat of the day.  It happened to be chick peas with garlic, diced onions and parsley.  There was something a little vinegar-y and something a little sweet in there.  It was delish, as Rachel Ray would say.
This time I ordered the Curry, Old Delhi style, at the urging of Mr. S.  So for my lunch entrée, I ordered the Lamb with Curry.  For my appetizer, I ordered this delicious, mouth-watering dish.  (Unfortunately, I forget the name.  I remember it is considered "street food")  It was crispily fried bread dough, black beans, onions and a yogurt dressing.  Oh my goodness........
When the entrée arrived, I was equally pleased.  The lamb curry was served with basmati rice and several pieces of naan, the Indian traditional soft, fried bread.
Look at that beautiful Naan, Lamb curry and basmati rice!  The lamb was cut in mouth-sized chunks, But I had to cut them in thirds to be a polite eater.  It was perfectly cooked and the curry was not too hot.  I asked for a 3 (out of 5).  It was spicy enough to be exotic, but not so hot that my eyes would water or I would break out in a sweat.  (I did have to get back to work after all....)  Best way to eat this is to take a spoonful of the lamb, curry and rice, drop it onto a piece of the naan, fold it up like a piece of pizza and enjoy it.  So good.

Get out there and experiment!  Not all Indian food is hot and spicy (if that's not yo thang).  But if you like hot and spicy, ask for a 3 or 4, and you will love it!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Chinese Food - Hungry Again After 30 Minutes?

Ok, it's my blog.  I'm going to write what I want.  And I am not going to apologize.  So don't even ask.  And don't try to shame me.  I am a cradle Catholic.  I know shame.

That being said, let's talk about Chinese food.  I think I have a love affair with it.  It's true.  I'm pretty sure I am the only American who can go to China and gain weight.  So that's why I titled this post with an old stereotype.... eat all the Chinese food you want and you're hungry again in a half hour.

My personal experience with authentic Chinese food in places like Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou is far different from what you find in the US and what you might expect in China.  First of all, drop all expectations.  1 - From what I could discover, they don't eat dog in China, at least not in any local restaurants that cater to the local residents and foreigners.  And I asked.  Maybe they used to, maybe all the dogs have been eaten, I don't know.  But for the time I was there, I was told, "we don't eat dog."  2 - If you eat good Chinese food, you won't go away hungry and you won't be hungry in 30 minutes.  Good Chinese cuisine is delicate, intricate, layered and unbelievable in the myriad of flavors they expose.  3 - There is some Chinese food you should never eat.
Sea cucumber is one such product (above).  Don't let the locals sway you with talk of how delicious it is.  (MEN! don't let them tell you how good it is for your virility.)  Don't believe them when they say it is a delicacy.  Though I guess in some provinces it is a delicacy.  But it does not suit the American palate.  Though it does not really have a strong flavor, the way it was served called up my gag reflex.  Served in a cool, yellow sauce of indeterminate substance, I grabbed my piece of sea cucumber with my chop sticks, brought it decisively up to my smiling lips, and just as I was about to sink my teeth into it, my Italian dining partner gagged a little to my right.  He had just "tasted" it.  How could I abort?  How could I return it to my plate without offending my host?  Couldn't be done.  I ate it.  And I too gagged.  Silently.  It's not the flavor, it's the consistency.  The cool temperature combined with the slightly fleshy, slightly pudding-like texture was so unexpected I couldn't process in my head that this was a food substance. 

Not to worry though.  There is SO MUCH good food in China.  No, there is really some yummy delicious authentic Chinese food.  Once you taste it, you may never eat Chinese food in America again.
This is not one of them though.  I saw this on one of the menus and had to take a picture of it.  It makes me think of a pygmy hippo coated in teriyaki bbq sauce swimming up through a lake of little bok choy bits.  Not appetizing, yet intriguing....
 Last on the list of things you shouldn't try while in China is this little scrumptious bit.  I don't remember what it was and I can't really define it, but when you bite into it, you will be reminded of the thrill of biting into a piece of steak or pork or chicken, expecting a delicious meat-like flavor and texture to be met instead with a chunk of gristle and fat.  Yes.  This one, is also a no-no.

So I started today's comments talking about the glorious splendors of the intricate flavors of Chinese cuisine and spent the entire time telling you about less than delicious foods.  And I'm sorry for that.  But, I have yet to find my photos of the good stuff (two moves across a state and then across the country) so I have to apologize (even tho I said at the beginning of this I would not apologize...)  So... stay tuned for Chinese food part two.  Once I find my photos, I will be back.  ciao!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Winter Winery Visit

Virginia, USA is a relatively temperate state, especially when compared to NE Ohio, where we have lived most of our lives.  One thing we have enjoyed since moving here is the warmer winter temperatures, the remarkable hiking trails, combined with the beautiful local wineries.  In late December, after a morning of hiking along the York River, we stopped to enjoy a beverage at the Gauthier Vineyard in New Kent, VA.  The name intrigued me, as Mr. Gauthier happened to be the name of my old French Professor in College. It turns out, Gauthier Vineyard is a relative newcomer to the Virginia wine country.  They planted their first 3,200 vines in 2012 and generated their first production in 2014.  We visited in December 2016, so they had only been established for a couple of years by this time. 

It was just past noon and we had all worked up a thirst and an appetite.
Stepping into the tasting room, we were met by two elderly gentleman, already deep into a day of pleasure.  As we chatted, it came out that they were both retired and worked at the winery for fun.  It is locally owned, by a retired military couple, and apparently they were wonderful employers.  The two men joked and poured wine, never once remarking on the early hour. 

After our first glass, we took our bottle to the deck outside, to enjoy the fresh air and the woodsy view.  We were also promised a dozen fresh, free oysters with every bottle we purchased.  That was to be our lunch that day. 
 We started with their fresh, chilled rose, named Aimee Renee Rose and bottled in 2014.  Not one to drink rose usually, I had low expectations.  We were surprised positively by the semi-dry wine, it was not simple and sweet, like many other roses.  This rose' is  from 100% Chambourcin grapes that were whole cluster pressed to obtain the perfect color of a rose.  The color was quite perfectly lovely. 
They age it in neutral oak barrels for six months, cold settled and then bottled with minimal filtering.  This process assures the wine maintains the delicate quality of the Chambourcin grape.
 As we enjoyed our bottle, other guests began to wander in.  The allure of the view and the smell of the roaster brought them to the outside deck.
 Oysters were served, raw on the halfshell with cocktail sauce.  Perfect pairing with this delicate wine.
The oysters were amazing!  Farm raised in the nearby Rappahannock River, they were huge for this time of year.  Creamy, smooth and slightly briny, they paired quite well with the semi-dry Rose.
 Look at those plump, juicy oysters!  Is it no wonder that I have started to call them J'Oysters?
 We met one of the owners as we strolled through the grounds.  Her dog met our dog.
 In addition to the bucolic setting, the winery/working farm is dog friendly.  All in all, it made for a nice mid-day break.  A beautiful, serene setting, good food, good wine, and just six miles from I-64.  We will be back this summer. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Joy of Oysters: Joysters!

Recently returned from a 2,600 mile driving vacation throughout the southeast of the United States: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  Long drive, visited several old friends we hadn't seen in years, and ate as much local seafood as we could.  We were particularly anxious to try oysters as frequently as possible, as good oysters cannot be found in our home state.  And where do you suppose the best oysters of the week were to be found?  In a nice local restaurant in teeny, tiny Darien, Georgia.

Darien is a little 2-mile strip of land just north of Jacksonville, Florida, maybe an hour south of Savannah.  It's 2 miles off I-95 and we decided to make the 2 mile drive into town because Wendy's  or Burger King would just not satisfy!
Image result for DARIEn, Georgia

As my darlingest filled the gas tank, I quickly searched for local eateries.  Skipper's Fish Camp came up, had decent reviews, and their menu boasted two of my southern food favorites:  oysters (fresh) and Brunswick Stew.  We decided to drive into town to try it out. 

One of our criteria when finding restaurants out of our home locale is number of cars in the parking lot.  We drove by one dumpy little restaurant that had a completely filled up parking lot.  We resisted the temptation to stop, but agreed if Skipper's was a bust, we would come back to that one.

We got to Skipper's, drove by it actually and had to turn around.  It was situated right on the Altamaha River, with an old fishing boat that appeared to be permanently anchored a few feet from the end of their deck.

We settled in our seats and ordered:  sweet tea, oysters, Brunswick Stew and salad with fresh-caught blackened Snapper.  Looking around at the other guests, this place was clearly for the locals.  Filled with business people on their lunch break, a couple of cable guys, a large group of friends, and one elderly woman who seemed to know everyone in the place.  Not really sure she was there to eat, she just socialized the entire time we were there.  We had definitely come to the right place!

The anticipation of Georgia oysters, well, I really didn't know what to expect.  We had oysters the night before in Jacksonville, Florida, and were sorely disappointed.  Tiny little nubs of flesh, barely able to fill a teaspoon, they were not what we had come to expect from Florida oysters.  We had less enthusiasm for Georgia, but we were here, and they were on the menu.  Had to try them.

The waitress brought them quickly.  Six beautiful fresh oysters and the accompanying hot sauce, no horseradish here.  Apparently in Darien, fresh, chilled oysters are served with saltine crackers and hot sauce.  That first oyster was so sweet, so fresh, so briny and so big.  It was easily three times the size of the Florida oysters, and much more satisfying.  Oyster, cracker with hot sauce, sip of ice cold sweet tea.  Oysters as big as your palm, and each one equally delicious.  We consciously slowed our speed of eating....
Only one more thing to add.  The salad.
Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas To All

Merry Christmas to all my readers this year.  May your glass be full and your gifts exchangeable.
And if you aren't drinking wine by a cozy fire this afternoon or evening, here is something you can do with your unused wine glasses.

I haven't blogged as frequently as I would have liked this year.  I have been too busy working, traveling the world and moving a household.  Next year will certainly bring additional changes, and with them, additional opportunities to write about food and wine.  I hope you will stick with me.

And so, as some of us will be spending time with various members of various parts of various families, just remember, the holidays will be fine as long as there's wine.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tano is a No-No

Friday night date night once again.  Decided to try a new restaurant in historic Loveland, new to us and relatively new to Loveland.   Called Tano, it had been written up in the Cincinnati Enquirer and made to sound amazing.  They gushed over the food and ambiance, touting it as the hot new happening dining spot.  Perfect for a person like me, amazing. 
First view, a maître 'd just inside the entrance, asking us the proverbial, "do you have a reservation?"  We did at six but forgot to come on time.  Oops.  However, we got here at seven and the place was about half-full.  They seated us at a deuce by the kitchen door (we found out later, as people traipsed by, the restrooms were also located behind the door leading to the kitchen.  Weird.)
We began with oysters on the half-shell.  Five for $ten.  Such a deal, right?  And they were flown in all the way from Connecticut.  They were perfectly chilled, absolutely fresh and a real delight, after so many months of an oyster-free culinary existence.  The cocktail sauce was right out of a bottle, and not a very good one.  No zing, no pizzazz, a breath away from Heinz ketchup.  Very disappointing.  But that's ok, the entrée will amaze!  Right?  The Cincinnati Enquirer said so!
Having started with oysters and a very delightful glass of Malbec, I ordered the scallops.  Described as "chipotle linguini, spinach, rock shrimp, tomatoes, champagne beurre blanc", it sounded delicious.  Yes please!
You can see by the photo that indeed, the plate did contain all the requisite items as outlined on their menu.  Unfortunately, there was also a little bait and switch going on.  Not bait and switch in its pure form, yes, those are scallops, and yes, those are rock shrimp.  But, have you ever ordered scallops as an entrée and only received THREE puny, overcooked scallops?  Me neither, until this night.  The rock shrimp were mighty shrimpy as well, all five of them.  Three snuggled together atop the linguine, trying to convince me of their massive shrimpiness!  Keeping company with the shrimp and three puny scallops was the full plate of slimy, oily, over-buttered linguine.  And let us not give short shrift to the three strands of deflated spinach.  All in all, the appearance hinted at the less than stellar dining experience to come.

Others have raved about Tano, I will not.  First time and neither I nor my companion was impressed.  No reservation = table by the kitchen/bathroom.  Ok, next time, we will make a reservation.
Portion size was fine, but for the entrée that arrived, it should have been priced around $24, not $27.  We are in a suburb of Cincinnati, not downtown!  Not only that, the scallops were small and without flavor, the shrimpy shrimp tasted like they came out of the bag of Kroger shrimp I keep in my freezer.
The Chipotle linguine was an interesting concept, the heat came through in a mild undertone, but the oiliness of the linguine overwhelmed in the end.  It was truly disgusting to look at, and to eat.
My dining companion ordered their special of the night, Fluke.  Right, Fluke?  First of all, to the uninitiated, it is a white, mild-flavored fish.  The waitress told us everything she knew about it.  That was pretty much it.  So I quickly googled it.  Fluke is a relative of the flounder and is often called the Summer Flounder to distinguish it from the standard, Atlantic Flounder.  (Who would be able to know the difference?  Maybe other Flukes and Flounders.)  I took a taste of the Fluke.  It was beautifully presented on a bed of mashed garlic potatoes, surrounded by a moat of roasted corn off the cob.  The Fluke was lightly dusted in batter, then sautéed in butter.  should have been at least tolerable, but the fish itself was not a tasty consistency.  It was dry, but not flaky, dry, but not full-bodied.  Just dry.  Just unpleasant, almost as though it had spent time in someone's freezer, in 1972.  It tasted just ok, but overall - a fail.  Garlic mashed potatoes were perfect, but hey, even Bob Evans has that dish nailed.  the "fresh off the cob" corn had a spicy blend of chiles and peppers with popped against the fresh corn taste.  Sadly, it was the best part of both meals.
Will we go again?  Yes.  I don't like to judge a restaurant on just one meal (or in this case, two meals).  But next time I will try a meat or veggie dish.  Will keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

Whether you fly the friendly skies (with United) or go with Delta, because "they're ready when you are", there is no denying that airline food has moved up the food chain since the 1970's.  (Airline trivia from 1970's:  In 1970, the Boeing 747 made it's first commercial passenger trip to London.  Some other time in the 1970's I took my first airline trip to Orlando, Florida and experienced airline food for the first time.  I believe it was a cheese sandwich of sorts, cut triangularly into halves, and wrapped in cellophane.)

United Airlines established the first kitchens for preparing airline food n 1936.  By 1958, it had grown to such importance that Pan Am and several European airlines got into a legal dispute over whether or not certain airline sandwiches constituted a meal.  (In case it wasn't decided correctly, let me go ahead an render a verdict:  no, they do not.)

Kulula Airlines, a S. African airline company, had the good sense to refrain from sharing food during the in-country flight.  I did have a refreshing Coke Light though.

And so I will leave you with images of what several airlines consider a meal on overseas flights.

This was a not so delightful pork, rice and greens meal from United.  It included a cold sweet potato salad (to the best of my ability to identify that food product), fruit, a days-old roll and a processed brownie.

Moving on to S. Africa.... I appreciate that Delta incorporates food that appeals to the locals of the destination.  This meal included a warm pocket filled with some sketchy, but spicy meat product, cold couscous salad, fruit, water and a Milano cookie from Pepperidge Farms.  I made the mistake of eating the meat pocket.  The guts included curried potatoes and meat, with a strong serving of garlic.  Lived with it all day.  The couscous was very good.  I believe it included guava, which is a favorite fruit for many S. Africans.
Delta served this curried chicken dish on the return flight from Johannesburg, S. Africa to Atlanta, GA.  It was one of the few times I saw vegetables in  meal for more than a week!  The meal included grilled squash (which wasn't bad, considering), a semi-mash of curried chicken and rice, a salad consisting of two pieces of lettuce, two slices of cuke, and couple of shredded carrots.  You can also see the brownie and roll.  Have to admit, couldn't touch that brownie.

And yet, one more delightfully overcooked mash of food products from Delta.  This was from a flight to Germany, and included a chicken and rice product, hard roll, salad, and for a change of pace a blondie instead of a brownie.  The Sudoku was a "bonus".