Thursday, November 20, 2014

EST ARRIVE!



And I thought the day would never arrive.

Today, the 3rd Thursday of November, is traditionally "Beaujolais Nouveau  Day", when the fresh pressed juice of the Gamay grape is rushed into bottles and shipped from Beaujolais around the world to celebrate this year's harvest and to portend the quality of the traditionally aged and bottled Beaujolais yet to come.

I will report back here as soon as I've secured a few bottlings to sample. I'll be roasting  a turkey tonight for dinner, and making some of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes to go alongside, to test this year's Nouveau's legs in advance of next week's big food orgy. So check back here later today and tonight.

And now that the dust has settled after the evening meal, let me tell you about this year's Nouveau. First of all, buy it. It's going to be a good year for Beaujolais. Lots of strawberry and blueberry in the nose, and some of that green vineyard aroma that makes you think of a walk in the vineyard. I personally love that about Nouveau, that you taste the entire cycle of the wine from earth to vine to grape to drink. So few wines ever give you that gift, unless you get to visit a winery and taste a new wine from the siphon.

But the drink is what is so  worth it this year: blackberries, wild blackberries right up front in that first sip, wild Oregon blackberries like the ones I found alongside the highways outside of Portland, big blasts of juice. Then nice, round jammy grapes, nicely sweet with a little tang. The wine bounced nicely off my herb-roasted turkey,  nicely counterpointing the sage and marjoram pepper, salt and oregano that I rubbed all over the turkey. Married well with the oniony, celery stuffing I made as well.  A nice finishing dryness to this year's Nouveau, too, cutting nicely through the buttery mashed potatoes and gravy.

Sipping a glass now, after dinner, this year's  wine has enough to pair with a nibble of  cheese, maybe a medium to sharp cheddar, nothing complicated.. But you will definitely be able to enjoy this wine on its own, long after you've basked in the compliments for pouring it at Thanksgiving. It's that good.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

MONEY TALKS



You've gotta give new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver credit. The man has balls. And he knows what makes the NBA world go 'round.

In a league that is 80% African American, and with a team in a city that is heavily populated with Hispanics, what Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling thinks in private and says in private is still his business, but once it becomes public, no matter HOW it becomes public, you can't turn back. You can't put the genie back in the bottle, the toothpaste back in the tube, whatever analogy you wanna use. 

The league was on the brink of a league-wide player boycott, the exit of substantial sponsorship dollars, and national/international ridicule. And Adam Silver, the OTHER 29 owners, and the 450+ players, were not about to suffer through that. 

Money talks, and exposed racism walks. And Adam Silver knows that. And now, so does Donald Sterling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

EYES WIDE OPEN



It has probably been years since I'd actually opened and tasted a Budweiser. But last night, I broke down and bought a six pack of those uniquely shaped cans and popped one open. Beautiful yellow pour, bright white head.  Gentle subtle aroma of, well, it was absolutely 100% Budweiser aroma. I could almost smell the beechwood and rice (yes, they use rice).  Big bright light crisp first sip, playful bubbles (they tickled my nose!), with a lingering Budweiser finish.

Something in Annheuser-Busch beers has always given me a headache. I've been told by brewer friends that there is something they put in the beer to make the head white that often doesn't agree with some people. Well, I am one of them, and I waited for the headache as I sipped each sip, sip after sip, until my glass was empty.  The head ache will come soon enough, I guess.

But I have seen the light.  I have been missing this experience for most of my life and now I feel free. I have grown SO tired of craft beer, so tired of the bourbon barrel aging, so tired of the hop varietals, so tired of the brettomyces, so tired of the wild yeasts running free. So tired of the collaborations, the blends, the bombers, the brewpubs, the tickets for Pliny the Elder and his son/nephew, Pliny the Younger, so weary of the wait for Pliny the Great Grandfather and Pliny The Grandmama.  I mean, what ever happened to simple , plain yellow beer with a bubbly white head (that tickles your nose!)?

This is my beer now.The voice of George Clooney in all those Bud commercials has finally broken through and spoken to me. And I have heard. And I have acted on what I have heard. And I have drunk the bright yellow beer and it was good. I can endure the headaches.

I'm a Bud man now.

Monday, March 17, 2014

MADNESS!


The gaps between posts here have been growing larger in the past two years, and I don't really have a good explanation, but this time of year always gets my attention and ruffles my feathers and gets me writing about my favorite sporting event:  the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament, forever re-dubbed by CBS Sports as March Madness.

I am falling for every bracket contest out there, from those sponsored by local hoagie joints, to the more visible and popular bracket challenges from ESPN, CBS Sports (of course), P.C. Richard & Sons (the regional appliance retailer), and yes, that silly "Billion Dollar Challenge" from Quicken Loans and Yahoo Sports that promises to pay you $1 billion of Warren Buffett's money if you happen to fill out a perfect bracket.

I believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny, and I'm ready for the Zombie Apocalypse, too.

But I'll still fill out any and all brackets that I find.  I like the challenge, and lately, I've been pretty good at it. Even won a few things. Coupla TVs. Cash.  Gift cards. What good's a billion from a billionaire, if you don't at least try to win it, silly as it may be? Am I right, or am I right?

Good luck with YOUR brackets!


Friday, November 22, 2013

THAT DAY



I was in first grade at the Sacred Heart School in Scranton, PA on November 22, 1963. It was a Friday. Pizza Day. And I had an earache.

The pain was so bad that the school nurse made the decision to send me home early, with my square slice of  Proferra's pizza wrapped in wax paper and a napkin. I lived just 2 blocks away from my school, and my mother, 8 months pregnant with my brother, and with my 3-year old sister in tow, met me halfway, and we walked the block back to our apartment, where she put my sister down for a nap, put some drops into my pained ear and had me nap on the living room sofa.

I woke up to the sound of Walter  Cronkite reporting about a shooting in Dallas, TX, and the possibility that someone took a shot at the President of the United States. I woke up immediately and began watching the unfolding drama and tragedy. I was wrapped in a blanket, and shivered uncontrollably as I watched the unimaginable.

The rest of that day was a blur, but I do recall  eating dinner that night on TV trays in the living room, riveted to the marathon of news coverage that blanketed every channel on our TV that day. It was a sad weekend and on Sunday, after going to  a somber mass at our church, we returned to watch the live coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald being brought out of a building and being shot by a man wearing a fedora.  Right in front of our eyes. I remember thinking that the world was going crazy.

It was a quiet return to school on Monday, but something had changed. I was just 6 years old, but I felt different;  stunned, confused and sadder than I had ever been before.

That is how I remember that day, 50 years ago.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Le Beaujolais Nouveau.....



......est arrive!  One of my favorite days of the year, simply for the sheer fun of it, when this sprightly wine is released just in time for Thanksgiving (and Hannukah too!), and just in time for some leisurely quaffing.

And again, the reason I am so fond of this wine is that is allows the drinker, I think, to taste the entire cycle of wine making: the earth, the vine, the leaf, the grape, the juice and all the flowers and berries and fruit from nearby fields. It is quite an exciting whirlwind of smells and tastes in just a few sips.

And the wine flat out goes with anything you might eat, from cheeses to veggies and fruit, fish, fowl and meats, pastas,  even dessert.  Versatility is the key word here.  This year's  vintage explodes with strawberry and raspberry and even some apple in the nose, and smacks your mouth with black cherry and raspberry, more of that apple taste, more than in previous years, and even a little citrus, while still holding onto the earthy, slightly vegetal tastes that remind you of the vineyards from where the grape (Gamay) came. Swirl your first sips of this year's Nouveau  and you will feel it all, a remarkable experience, actually.

The Nouveau will really show its stuff with holiday dinners, though,  because it is able to straddle all of the diverse flavors of a holiday meal, from Hannukah latkes to cranberry relish, herbal stuffing, butttery potatoes candied yams and roast turkey, even (gasp) green bean casserole.  I happen to think it goes pretty well with pecan pie, too, if that is part of your holiday dessert selections. It will also hold its own with pumpkin and sweet potato pie and chocolate desserts.

So, kick back and enjoy this year's  Nouveau. It's shockingly inexpensive ($8.09 at my local Joe Canal's store in Lawrenceville) and fun to drink!

Cheers!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

DAZZLED BY FUSION



I've had a few "whoa" dining moments in my life. Not as many as you'd think, given my food writing career, but enough to make each one distinctly special. My first bites of tomato pie from Delorenzo's on Hudson St. in Trenton in 1992. Escargot in Champagne Butter at the original Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia in 1980. Square pizza topped with porcini mushrooms from DiFara in Brooklyn in 2004. Buffalo shrimp from Frenchy's in Clearwater, FL in 1995. Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale and a plate of nachos at Isaac Newton's in Newtown, PA in 1996. Shrimp wonton noodle soup at NY Noodletown in NYC's Chinatown on more visits that I can count.

Lsst Saturday I had another startling "whoa" moment at a new restaurant in town, Inchin's Bamboo Garden, a new outpost of the 11-locations chain from, of all places, Georgia.

The restaurant concept boasts a fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines (from which the fictional Inchin name is derived), with some Thai and Malaysian notes thrown in for good measure,  But this food is nothing like any Asian food I've ever had before.

The backstory of this small chain is based on the 18th century Chinese migration to India, specifically to the ports of Calcutta and Madras. And it is the substantial Chinese population and influence in Calcutta that inspires the menu at Inchin's.

The photo above gives only a hint of the atmospheric decor of the places, housed in what used to be the decades-old Rider college hangout bar, The Carousel, and briefly a Chinese buffet restaurant.

Moody statuary exaggerated faces greet you at the entrance and vestibule, dark woods, bamboo and carved teak decorate the walls and help create several different dining spaces, and set the escapist tempo of the place. A solicitous host and waitstaff (maybe a little too solicitous) great you quickly and eagerly. OK, points for enthusiasm.  They have a lot to be enthusiastic about.

The menu is huge and highlighted by an abundance of vegetarian dishes and options. The kids ordered egg drop soup and coconut soup with chicken, from a menu of 19 different soups (9 non-vegetarian, 10 vegetarian), and both bore no resemblance to any such soup in a Chinese or Thai restaurant that I've ever seen. The egg drop soup was snowy white with a rich chicken broth aroma and a tamarind note that elevated it several levels above the Chinese soup staple. The dark orange coconut soup was perfumed with galangal and had sliced dark mushrooms and dark meat chicken and a growing heat level courtesy of jalapeno threads that rested on the bottom of the bowl.  It proved even a bit too spicy for my daughter, who can hold her own when it comes eating the heat of most Szechuan dishes.

An order of "veg coins" brought small pancakes, slightly bigger than poker chips, damn near drowned in a "hot garlic" sauce and shreds of onions, red and green peppers. On the menu the hot garlic sauce is billed as "spicy", which is on the lower end of the heat scale at Inchin's ("very spicy" and "fiery" are the hotter settings).The plump patties, made from shredded carrot, cauliflower and squash, were greaselessly fried and the sauce packed quite a punch, and was a preview of how hot things can get here. Chili Chicken, touted on the menu as the house specialty, was a definite notch higher in heat (and listed as "very spicy"---sweet Jesus,  how hot can "fiery" be??)and the equal of anything I've had at notable Szechuan eateries such as Szechuan House in Hamilton and the Han Dynasty restaurants in the Philadelphia area. The sauce was sweet and tongue-numbing hot and studded with green and red peppers and scallion rings.  Mongolian Chicken was white meat chicken tossed in a sticky sauce of caramelized sugar and onions over a nest of puffy fried taro root shreds, and the kids gobbled it up.I kinda liked it too.I ordered beef with hot garlic sauce and it looked to have the same sauce that graced the veg coins, but this dish's heat level was turned up quite few notches, which really enhanced the beef slices but put a serious hurt and sweat on my head.

My daughter really took charge of the menu here, showing her growing confidence in restaurant dining, and ordered Burnt Garlic Chili Fried Rice with Vegetables and Singapore Noodles with vegges for the table. Good choices for the most part. The rice was a nice departure, studded with browned garlic bits and crushed chillies, it has a spicy undertone which cut some of the extreme heat of the entrees, while the Singapore noddles were actually a bit dull, lacking the usual yellow curry punch that most versions have. But again, along with some bowls of white rice, the noddles were a good foil for the spice wallop of the chicken and beef dishes.

But the overall experience, the atmosphere, the vibrant color and composition of the dishes and the startling heat level of what we ate, combined with the fusion of Asian flavors in ways we had just never experienced before in any Chinese, Indian, Thai or Malaysian restaurant, were flat out dazzling.

There are 10 other Inchin's Bamboo Gardens in the US so far, from Atlanta to Austin, Cleveland to Columbus, Dallas (2) , Raleigh, Scottsdale, San Fransisco and Seattle. I would hope they would be at the same culinary level as we found this new one in Lawrenceville.  Don't hesitate to get to one. You'll be dazzled.
But bring your best asbestos tongue.