Monday, April 02, 2007

Peter Lehmann Shiraz Barossa

This was not the vintage recommended by Wine Spectator, but the 2004 Peter Lehmann Shiraz Barossa ($14.91 @ Spec's) is a very nice harmonious wine too. I enjoyed the well rounded flavor with its gentle fruit notes and just a hint of tartness to set them off. Note to self: Next time buy a case!

According to the Wine Spectator Lehmann buys grapes from growers in the Barossa valley (Australia) to create this compelling blend. They rate the 2002 vintage at 90 points and I would expect that the more recent ones are not far behind.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Moulin a Vent

He: I am the first to admit that I don't know the correct wine tasting vernacular or too terribly much about wines. As part of my continuing education we decided to sample some of Winespectator's top 100 list of wines below $15. The first bottle we opened was

Georges Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent, Domaine des Rosiers 2003, France ($14.70).

Winespectator gives this Beaujolais 90 points. I am not a fan of traditional fruity Beaujolais, but this wine bears practically no resemblance to them. Is is very spicy, in my opinion too much so. We spread the bottle over three evenings and each time I only stated to enjoy the wine on my second glass. The spice seems to overwhelm everything else at first. The wine smells almost more like food than wine. It is certainly one of the more unusual wines I have tried, but I don't think it will become one of my favorites. If you are looking for a complex Beaujolais, this may just be the ticket.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mockingbird Bistro

She: We had dinner at the Mockingbird Bistro (1985 Welsh, Houston) on Friday night. It was an agreeable dinner, but it didn't knock my socks off. For the price, I'd much rather go to Mark's.

I thought the prices on the menu were quite high, so I tried to balance what I ordered and got one of the cheaper first courses available (a Caesar salad for $10) in order to get their off-the-menu fish special, which sounded good. The salad, which came out as a modest heap of large leaves of lettuce lightly coated in dressing, plus two crostini on the side, was very nice. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in the special fish, which was a filet of cobia on top of wilted spinach, potatoes, and . . . something else, I don't know . . . surrounded by a lobster bisque and garnished with julienned zucchini and squash and a bit of crawfish. (Perhaps the chef thought crawfish served as mini lobster?) The greens and potatoes were actually quite tasty, but the fish was not a good pairing. I'd never had cobia before, and it's a perfectly acceptable fish, but I think something flakier and less meaty would have had a better mouthfeel and taste for the dish. The filet itself was fine, but not particularly flavorful, so I was somewhat disappointed with what I ordered.

For dessert, I ordered the sorbet, which was nothing to write home about.

The dinner was fine, the service good, and the ambience of the restaurant quite nice--not too loud, and not too dark--but the experience wasn't so memorable that I'd want to go there again if I had the choice. At the same time, the Mockingbird might come to mind if someone asked me for a restaurant recommendation off the beaten path for some special dinner date or event.

He: My memory of the food at Mockingbird is already fading, which tells you right there that it wasn't worth the $175 we paid for the two of us. I started with a French Onion Soup, which was good, but unremarkable, continued with a Salmon, and finished with the Apple Bread Pudding. Each course was good and satisfying, but I didn't think anything was special enough to justify the steep prices. The main dish was somewhat flavorless and the dessert was a little too sweet.

The service was a little slow after we sat down, but perfectly acceptable for the rest of the evening. The venue is very nice. Not too loud and despite being seated in front of the wine rack, we the wait staff did not disturb us much. My verdict is that the Mockingbird is a good place to go on somebody else's expense account, but there are better places to spend my own money.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sushi King

She: We had an absolutely TERRIBLE experience at Sushi King this week. We won't be going back to eat there again.

It took us over two hours to get out of the restaurant because the service was nonexistent. The manager actually took our initial order and botched it, leaving off half the sushi we ordered. It then took ages for our food to show up, even though the restaurant was not busy on a Tuesday night. They also had no pickled ginger for anyone at the restaurant. And, it took forever to flag down a waiter to 1) refill the soy sauce bottle at the table, which was practically empty when we first got there; 2) correct the order that the manager messed up; 3) get the rest of our food and any refills on water and green tea; 4) get the check when we were ready to leave. Every interaction we had with the wait staff was terrible.

I might have forgiven such lapses in service if the restaurant had been busy, but it was a Tuesday night and the place was half empty. Although the sushi was decent, the service was so bad that it's just not worth going to this outfit. There are much better sushi places in Houston that will give you the same quality of sushi for a better or comparable price, with much better service (see, e.g., Teppay or The Fish; see also Oishii). We had an absolutely awful experience at Sushi King and won't eat there again.

He:
Never again! We went to Sushi King (3401 Kirby, Houston, TX). I had eaten there three times before and thought it was safe to take clients there, but I was mistaken. We were seated promptly, but that is where the decent service ended. The manager took our orders, or at least attempted to do so.

When the food arrived about 40 minutes and several inquiries later, we got the sushi, but not the rolls we had ordered. While waiting for the food we had to beg for water and tea refills multiple times. To top it all off, the restaurant had run out of ginger. How can you run out of ginger? It isn't exactly persihable. It should be possible to keep a decent supply on hand.

The sushi actually was pretty good. Good enough in fact that we negotiated with the wait staff to receive the rest of our order: three rolls. They were not worth the additional long wait. One of the rolls was a spider roll, and the most noticeable taste was that of old frying oil. The other two rolls were just bland and uninteresting.

Getting the check was nearly as difficult as getting the food. In the end we spent over two hours on what was supposed to be a quick dinner. This is only the second time that I have left a $0.01 tip to express my displeasure with the service. It was especially irritating to me, because the reason for the dinner was entertain clients, not to irritate them by bringing them to an obviously mismanaged restaurant.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Hugo's

She: We actually visited Hugo's (1600 Westheimer, Houston) about a month or more ago, so I don't recall the details of our experience there very well. I do remember, though, that this was my second visit to Hugo's and it did not improve my first impression of the restaurant.

On this second visit, we had a sampler platter of appetizers that were reasonably tasty, but not outstanding and certainly not worth making a trip for. For an entree, I had the Callo de Acha, four seared sea scallops served on top of sweet corn bread and greens with a cream sauce. I was disappointed primarily because the scallops were not particularly fresh; I've had better tasting scallops in Pei Wei, of all places. Other people in the party ordered meat dishes and appeared to be more satisfied, so if I go there again, I have a better idea of what to order.

I'm afraid I can't be more specific, but in general I think Hugo's is an okay restaurant that would not be my first choice.

Vic & Anthony's

She: We were invited to a holiday dinner at Vic & Anthony's (1510 Texas St, Houston), a big, extravagant steak house in the flavor of Pappas and Fleming's. I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but . . . I'm glad we went on someone else's nickel. I would not have been happy to have paid for the dinner we received. Pappas and Fleming's (on West Alabama) are much better steakhouses in Houston.

The parts of the dinner that I enjoyed most were the appetizers and the dessert. The broiled portabello mushrooms and the tomato & mozzarella were quite tasty, primarily because of the fresh mozzarella that came with both. (The tomatoes in the T&M salad could easily have been brighter; I've had homemade T&M salad with tomatoes from Whole Foods that tasted better.) The calamari was decent, but nothing to write home about.

For a salad, I had the Pear and Saga Blue Cheese Salad, and I found that the flavors in the salad were not quite balanced right. Mark's does a much better variation on this theme.

I'm glad that I filled my stomach with the appetizers and salad, because I was sorely disappointed with my steak, an 9-oz filet mignon. It came out less than warm, for one thing, and overcooked, for another (I had asked for medium, and it came out more like medium well bordering on well done). It was also not a very quality cut of beef; there were a lot of tendons and gristle-y parts running through it. I also found it lacking a lot of flavor. And although I know that many steakhouses drench their steaks in butter to give them flavor, I found the small pool of grease coating the bottom of my plate to be a little off-putting, especially since there was no corresponding flavor.

The sides that I tasted--au gratin potatoes; broccoli; wild mushrooms; and creamed spinach--were all decent, but nothing to write home about. They are certainly substantial (e.g., you get practically a full head of broccoli), so don't go too overboard when ordering.

For dessert, I had a selection of the sorbets (mango, apricot, and strawberry), and they were a refreshing course after an extraordinarily heavy dinner that failed to meet expectations. Again, the dessert was nothing to write home about, but the quality was much better than the rest of the dinner and I was pleased to see that the sorbet came out nicely chilled and not melting. It had clearly not stood melting in the kitchen while the rest of the party's desserts were plated.

The service we had was impeccable, but unfortunately, the food didn't measure up, in my opinion. If you're looking for a good steak dinner with all the bells and whistles, Pappas or Fleming's on West Alabama would be a much better option.

He:
Vic & Anthony's has been on my list of places to try for a while. Luckily, we were invited to a Christmas Dinner there and there just isn't a better way to try a restaurant than on somebody else's nickel.

The restaurant made a good impression as we walked in. It is tastefully decorated and attentive staff is on hand to greet guests. We sat at the bar for a while before moving into the dining room. They serve warm nuts with the drinks, which I thought was a nice touch.

The service continued to be excellent in the dining room. We were a party of about 15, but the wait staff managed to serve everyone quickly and efficiently. My only complaint is that the restaurant was so loud that it was difficult to carry on a conversation with the person sitting on the other side of the table.

I tried the Filet Mignon (what else?) medium rare, and we shared a selection of sides. The prices were comparable with Fleming's, Pappas, or Brenner's. Unfortunately the food was not. There was nothing wrong with any of the dishes, but nothing stood out as especially good either. The meat was a little dry and not as flavorful as I expected, but the sides were the real disappointment. We had mushrooms, various potatoes, spinach and a bunch of other things I don't remember. I thought most of them were bland.

The high point of the meal was the dessert. I picked the bread pudding, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, who goes to a steakhouse for the dessert? On the whole, I think there are many better options for about the same money. My first pick would be Brenners followed by Pappas, although I haven't eaten there in a long time.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Glenrothes 1992

So I went to a whisky tasting yesterday and instead of bringing something good but conventional like the Oban that I always keep for emergencies, I went to a local wine merchant and asked them for an unusual scotch. In the end I got a bottle of Glenrothes, a Speyside Malt, that was distilled in 1992.

When I got to the tasting, it turned out that mine was the only duplicate bottle among maybe 30 that people had brought. While my attempt to bring something unusual clearly failed, the wiskey turned out to be wonderful. It is very mild with complex flavors and low on peat and at $55 fairly reasonably priced. Apparently there is something special about the batch distilled in 1992, but I don't know what. When this bottle is almost empty I'll have to get another year and do a taste test.

There were many other good shisky at the tasting, but by dumb luck I brought the one I liked the best in the end. On the opposite end of the spectrum I tried a supposedly very good Kentucky Burbon, but that just tastes like paint stripper next to any decent scotch.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Home Slice Pizza

He: We had to skip the beer, but at least we got to eat pizza (and salad to create the illusion that this was a healthy meal) at Home Slice Pizza (1415 S. Congress Ave, Austin, TX). The restaurant is a shack that looks like a rundown diner from the 60. If you are looking for a place to impress your guest, this is not it. But if you are looking for a place that serves a delicious pizza and offers informal but friendly and efficient service, this should be high on your list.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Home Slice Pizza is the wonderful scent of fresh pizza that permeates the restaurant. I wasn't really hungry when I walked through the door, but by the time we were seated two minutes later I was famished.

The House Salad stands out primarily by virtue of the dinner roll that comes with it. It easily ranks as one of the best I have eaten in the US. We opted for a Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza (House Special #5). Apparently inches are bigger on South Congress Avenue. We were surprised at the size of our 14 inch pizza. Nonetheless it disappeared quickly. The crust was paper-thin and tasted just as good as the dinner rolls. The mushrooms were fresh and must have been marinated in some secret sauce to give them an interesting flavor. Combine this with high quality cheese and pepperoni and a light sprinkling with oregano and you have a winner. In my book this pizza joint trumps all of the other ones we have tried.

Dinner for two without alcohol cost $30 including the tip. It was money very well spent.

She: I LOVE Home Slice Pizza and have been back twice since the first visit. I haven't eaten NY-style pizza in a while (read: years and years), so I really can't compare HSP with the real deal, but as regular pizza stacked up against other regular pizzas, HSP is my new benchmark. The crust was amazing and the tomato sauce very flavorful. As He mentions, the pepperoni, cheese, and mushrooms were all certainly high quality, but the crust and sauce really made the pizza for me.

The salad was also very good. It's big enough to feed two if you're also ordering a reasonably sized pizza, but you may have to duke it out for the roll, which I think is made out of the same dough as the crust. When we ate the rolls, we knew we were in for a treat if the pizza was even half as good as the rolls. We were not disappointed; the pizza was absolutely outstanding.

Admittedly, the service I had on the next two visits was not as good as the first time. I think it's a symptom of sudden popularity, to which I have admittedly contributed. I hope that it's just growing pains and they'll be able to have service on par with their food soon.

If you're ever in Austin with a hankering for a pizza, Home Slice Pizza is your best bet.