Archive for September, 2007

Wine review: Estancia Pinot Noir 2006

Another review courtesy my father-in-law:

In Michigan $16.99….in normal states probably c. $12.00.  Had high
hopes for this as I really enjoy Pinot Noirs.  With my very first
swallow this wine said “Something is Wrong.”   The after-taste is almost
like subtle alum and the typical fruit scents are almost noxious. 
Unless this was a bad bottle, this is not something you should
buy….frankly, you are better off with the high-end Mondavi or Gallo’s
Sonoma Pinot Noirs that are slightly less expensive…they are not
great….just good and are not offensive like this wine.


Gulf Shores Vacation Part 3: Mangos on the Island

This review comes courtesy my father-in-law, Jim Robertson:
(and yes, I am aware I’ve skipped part 2, there’s still another restaurant inbetween this one and the previous one that I need to review, assume I ever get around to it ….)

From the get-go it was clear that our waiter had issues.  He was late
in even his first visit to the table and ignorant in several other
cases.  His demeanor indicted that he either was new or didn’t have a
clue…probably both applied.   We ordered drinks….but they took
forever to arrive (30 minutes).

The appetizer I ordered was Lobster Bisque, but my experience is that
you really have to try hard and ruin this dish.  It was actually
above-average but the listing on the menu ….. “Home-Made Lobster
Bisque” made me feel like I was at “any one of 3500 restaurants in the
country” and was a harbinger of things to come….(if it’s not home-made
what is it….fresh-frozen?….what a choice!).

After 30 minutes of waiting for our appetizer, I ordered a glass of
Sauvignon Blanc, and our waiter did not have a clue about which wine it
was until I pointed to it on the wine list.  No big deal as I have had
this happen often.  But, when it was delivered, I couldn’t place the
sweet almost fizzy taste (Boone’s Farm?).  After enduring three swigs I
passed it off to Jay and he tasted it said it was lousy, so on his
advice I turned the rest of the glass in and demanded a fresh glass
(maybe for the first time in nearly 5 years for any wine I have had at a
restaurant).   Much to the server’s credit…..he took it back and the
real deal was actually quite good, but for the prices of  the food and
wine, you’d think they would open a new bottle every once in a while,
plus an additional 45 minutes had passed from the appetizer to the
salad.  If you’re counting it is now, it has been one hour and
forty-five minutes since we arrived.

I had the Hearts of Palm salad and have no complaints, though this is
something that one would really have to try and ruin (see lobster bisque
above).  After several “hail Mary’s” I finally asked another wait-person
to touch base with ours….another 45 minutes passed and we did finally
get our orders (it is now 2 hr, 30 min. since arrival).  I had the Ono
Island Tuna, which was fine, but at $32.75 is not worth the wait and my
wife, who had ordered a filet mignon cooked Medium, was given a piece of
meat that looked like they had waved it over the fire……this happens
all the time, but unlike other places, it took so long to cook it
properly that nearly everyone else had finished before it was
returned……no apologies, no compensation, no nothing….it was like
flying Comair (Delta Connection)…..(this is another story that has yet
to be posted).

Thank goodness Jenny (technically my daughter-in-law but since I only
have sons, she is my daughter) had brought an engagement cake for Nick
and Sharon and we could retreat back to the condo for the best layered
torte (to call it cake is a dis-service) I have had in quite some time
and champagne, and had a great celebration to boot.

Shrimp fettuccine with chicken, italian sausage, and a tomato-white wine sauce

Monday night I was all alone and, sushi plans having been destroyed, decided to splurge and cook myself a nice dinner. I had been hankering to cook some clams with pasta, and purchased all the necessary ingredients for a wonderful clam dish before ariving at Kroger too late to purchase the clams to go along with it. Devestated, I did a little bit of fast thinking and decided to make it a shrimp dish instead. While I based the recipe on another from Bon Appetit, I changed it so much to make it mostly my own, and I think it probably turned out better than it could have in its original form. (The original is available here: )

Below is the recipe as I cooked it with what I had on hand. I have also included the changes I will make next time in parenthases.

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (1 pound hot OR 1/2 pound sweet and 1/2 pound hot)
1/2 cup – 1 cup chopped shallots
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper (1/2 tsp – 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper)
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup dried white wine, such as Savignon Blanc
1/2 cup clam juice
2 Tbs white balsamic vinegar (3-4 Tbs white balsamic vinegar)
2-3 pounds shrimp, cooked, shells and tails removed
1 chicken breast, cooked, cut into cubes (3 chicken breasts)
1 package fettuccine pasta
1 cup chopped fresh basil (1.5 – 2 cups chopped basil)

Before I really begin, let me note that I had never cooked shrimp before, and it took me FOREVER to get all those suckers unpealed and deveined. I bought a 5 pound bag of frozen Key West shrimp (something like 16-20 ?? per pound; they weren’t huge but were a pretty decent size) and used a little over half of them. Cooking directions had me boil them in water, then peel them, which I did. I just didn’t count on it taking so long. Still worth the effort, though. I personally don’t understand why people leave tails on shrimp in dishes you eat with a fork when you’re just going to have to pick the shrimp up and bite of the tail (or cut it off I guess), so I just took the tails off after cooking them. Easier to eat.

First I browned the sausage in the olive oil in a large pot. After removing the casings I just put the sausage into the pot whole and then used a fork to mash it up. After browning the sausage for about 10 minutes I added the shallots, garlic, and crushed red pepper, then let everything cook for another 5 minutes. Next I added the wine, then the clam juice, the tomatoes, and then the vinegar and let everything simmer for 6-8 minutes. (Next time I might let it simmer for longer). About the time I started this simmering process I put the pasta in the water to cook (this means I already had my pasta pot boiling). After cooking the paste al dente (5-6 minutes) I added it to the sauce. A few minutes later I added the shrimp and chicken, and then covered and let it simmer for a little under 5 minutes (I had been cooking on medium-high but I turned it down to low at this point). After simmering, I added the chopped basil and stirred to fully incorporate. I served it in a bowl and grated some fresh parmegiano regiano over the top, and paired it with the same wine I cooked with.

As you might have guessed, this made A LOT of food and involves quite a bit of pre-cooking preparation, but, trust me on this, it was well, well worth it. The combination of the vinegar and the clam juice and the wine was phenomenal (having good wine helped), and the brand of tomatoes I bought was very good and just added so well to the sauce. The fettuccine was perfect with it and the shrimp tasted great (I had been worried I had overcooked it). After a bowl I didn’t feel that full so I started to have seconds, but quickly realized that it was more filling than I first expected. The taste really is amazing and I couldn’t keep back the exclamations of excitement I felt while I was eating it. When Jay returned home the next day and tasted it, he said it was better than the food he had at an Italian restaurant the night before.

I’ve been eating on this for a couple of days now and it’s still absolutely delicious. Despite that, there are a few changes I would like to make, like kicking up the spice level slightly, but other than that it was perfect. I would also add more chicken (you could barely tell it was in there), and the only reason I only put one chicken breast in it this time was because it was all I had. Tonight I might cook up some more chicken and throw it in there, or maybe I will actually run across some clams and throw them in. Regardless, it was a very good meal that I originally thought was going to be a disaster.

Lunch at Imagine

One one of our Friday lunch dates, I decided that I wanted to branch out of the Rivermarket/Heights/Hillcrest neck of the woods and go have lunch in the wile world of West Little Rock. After a quick perusal of what might be a good bet, Jay decided on Imagine (see links page). I have been thouroughly impressed with Imagine in the past for dinner and brunch, so a lunch excursion sounded like a good plan.

On arriving, the place wasn’t that crowded, but by the time we left it was getting close to full. Nevertheless, even though the one waiter got stretched a little thin over all of the tables, other staff members (i.e. the host) filled in, and I never noticed a gap or lag in the service (maybe a little, but entirely attributable to the lunch rush, and if you know me, you know I’m not very forgiving on service mistakes).

We decided to forego appetizers on this lunch break (I think I was in a healthy kick). I ordered the grilled chicken-breast sandwich with balsamic-marinated red peppers and onions with a side of the sweet potato chips (per waiter recommendation and my fanatic enjoyment of sweet potatoes), and Jay ordered a steak and cheese sandwich, with another side of sweet potato chips. While not as “healthy” as I was shooting for, my lunch was phenomenal. The chicken was moist and cooked to perfection, and the red peppers and onions were absolutely delicious. The bread was likewise good, and the chips … wow, I could write an epic poem on how good those things were. Wonderfully seasoned, not greasy at all, and just a hint of that sweetness, which thankfully was not cooked out. Jay’s sandwich was also very good, and we both cleaned our plates entirely. I wanted to finish up the meal with an ice-cream sundae, but Jay voted against (much to my disappointment), so we left.

If you like Imagine but are weary of the prices (the dinner menu can be expensive), I highly recommend coming for lunch. The dishes are equally as imaginative as those at dinner and there are TONS of dishes to choose from, whether you want a salad, wrap, sandwich or burger. The service is also very attentive, even during the lunch crunch. As always, I highly appreciate the use of local, seasonal ingredients. Plus, how can you go wrong with a place that makes its own sweet potato chips and ice-cream sundaes? Will be back for more.

Dinner at Wasabi

A few weeks ago Jay and I went to dinner at Wasabi, the sushi/japanese food place close to the Rivermarket. While I swear by Honaroo as the best sushi in town, it was getting to be pretty late at night and Wasabi seemed like a better bet.

I started off with a specialty cocktail called (I think) the sake blossom, which was wasabi and plum wine. It was absolutely delicious and wasn’t nearly as strong-tasting as I thought it would be, and in fact it tasted a lot like warm apple cider. A girl could get herself in trouble with a lot of those.

For dinner, I ordered the octopus salad (I couldn’t decide between this and the squid salad, and this one was recommended emphatically by the waiter) and the sashimi sampler. Jay ordered some kind of cooked beef dish. We also ordered some edemame to share. Unfortunately, Jay got his miso soup and dinner before I got anything (the sushi bar was running slower than the kitchen, apparantly) and we didn’t get the edemame until late in the dinner. (Other service issues: no napkins, had to steal utensils from a neighboring table, slow service time; but then it was late at night ….) When my food arrived, however, it was excellent. The octopus was flavored to perfection and for some reason reminded me a lot of eggplant. The sashimi was very good, although not cut quite as large as at Honaroo, but nevertheless a decent portion. While I wasn’t completely stuffed upon leaving, I was very happy and enjoyed a great meal. I still think I would rank Honaroo higher than Wasabi, but for a late night dinner it was very good (service excepted).

A little sluggish ….

So it’s been a long while since I last posted. I have lots and lots I want to put up, but the motivation just hasn’t been there, what with work and school burning me out every day.

Tonight though things are going to change. My dinner plans have been substantially altered, and I find myself having to cook for only myself. While I could just whip up the good ole’ standby of pan-seared chicken and a side of spinach salad, I’m pretty pissed off at how my plans have changed, so I think I’m going to go for something more adventurous. I’ve been wanting to make a clam dish for a long time now, and I think tonight is going to be the night to bust it out. Why not? I’m home alone, just me and the dogs, and I want something special, especially because my long-anticipated sushi plans are a bust. So after the gym I’ll swing by Fresh Market (and the liquor store) for a few things and have myself a nice, satisfying and exciting dinner, all by myself.

Hey, maybe I’ll even make my own pasta.

Gulf Shores Vacation Part 1: Doc’s Seafood Shack

After a long and arduous drive to Orange Beach, Alabama, accompanied by most of the south on its way to a Labor Day vacation and saluted with a can of Guiness via transit (or most of it ….), Jay and I arrived just in time for dinner. Before leaving for our trip, I had decided I was going to eat only seafood, at least when we went out to eat. “As long as you don’t eat fried stuff, that should be pretty good for you.” Thanks Jay, but somehow, even staying away from fried food, all my seafood turned out to be pretty unhealthy ….

 First dinner stop: Doc’s Seafood Shack. The crowd standing and waiting outside signaled this place to be a local favorite, but I had a feeling my non-fried food quest was going to suffer difficulties right from the beginning. Doc’s is pretty much your local seafood dive that also attracts plenty of tourists (it’s located by a pretty busy intersection and hard to miss). After sitting down and looking at the menu, my suspicions were confirmed: a vast majority of the food on the menu was fried, and even the crab claws listed as a special on the dry-erase board were fried, much to my dismay. Basically the only thing I could get UN-fried was shrimp. Rather than going for the steamed Gulf Reds (mistake), I settled for the grilled shrimp. First, however, my father-in-law and I split a dozen oysters on the half shell, served up on a caffeteria tray. The oysters were excellent and had absolutely no unfavorable aroma, and they were gone almost too quickly to be enjoyed.

My grilled shrimp were smaller than I expected and served on two large rolls, and definitely spicey. After eating just the shrimp and my corn on the cob (just half an ear was provided), I was still hungry, so the rolls went down the hatch as well. Needless to say, I wasn’t very satisfied, and instead would have preferred a big bucket of peel-em-and-eat-em shrimp (which I had the craving for the entire trip but never got). My father in law got the fried soft-shell crab, which consisted of two deep-fried soft shell crabs atop a pile of fries. I sampled a leg, and while it was good I think my father in law said it best: “The subtleties of the soft shell crab are lost when you deep fry them rather than pan fry.” I could have eaten fried fish and it would have tasted the same, I think. My mother in law got the fried shrimp (at least one version of them), and they were better than the fried crab.

For dessert, we all split the southern classic, key lime pie. The pie was good, but I don’t know if it tasted so good only because my meal had been so disappointing, or because it was just nice and refreshing, or whatever other reason. Not the best key lime pie I’ve ever had, but certainly not the worst. Definitely as expected.


September 2007
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