Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wine Corner Review #34: Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah

Sometimes I get frustrated by the fact that most of my wine reviews are about vino from Australia, France, and the United States. Not only do these reviews reflect personal preference, I find that these countries most consistently provide the quality and value I look for in quaff. However, many other countries produce outstanding wine as well, and Argentina has taken the classic Bordeaux blending grape malbec and turned its wine into a national obsession. Coupled with syrah, one of my personal favorite varietals, and you have a truly irresistable blend, in this case, a marvelous import from South America, the Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah.

The robe of the Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah is red violet, which you may remember from childhood as coming straight out of a Crayola box. In true (neo-) Bordeaux fashion, the nose reveals lots of minerals and washed gravel, as well as various and sundry berries. Cherries, blueberries, and delicate touches of pepper and spice wash across the palate, resolving themselves into a silken finish. Malbec is best served with any and all red meat and game, and I would not care to deviate from that assessment. Website is, but you may have some difficulty with it if you cannot read Spanish. Discover this delightful blend today, and as always:



Grapevine? Czar, how can you have a roadtrip to Grapevine?? After all, it's in the Metroplex and only a short drive away from Su Casa. Well, it's like this. One recent warmish Saturday, my lovely wife the Rock Star announced that she was bored. Bored out of her gourd. So bored, in fact, that when I suggested a movie, she immediately declined, and since one of her titles is the Empress of Movies, this is serious boredom indeed. She also expressed interest in the State Fair, but as it was Saturday, and thus sure to be crowded, we decided to postpone our trip to a possible weekday in the near future. Suddenly, I was hit with a major inspiration (no, I was uninjured): Why not a roadtrip to visit a winery? Why not indeed? After a lot of Googling and a little cogitation, we decided that a trip to Grapevine would fill our bill, so we motored south and west to a suburb old but ever new.

Grapevine, Texas actually dates back to the time of Sam Houston and the Republic of Texas, and is named for the wild mustang grapes that grew in the area. Luckily, the city fathers (and mothers) have shown a strong interest in recent years in historic preservation and revitilization. Main Street is slowly coming into its own as a destination, with restaurants, bars, and apartment lofts joining the classic buildings to create an ambiance that is positively Fredericksburgian in nature. (Now, there's a ten-dollar word for you!) After walking the lovely downtown, we felt the call of lunch, and decided that an iconic Texas spot would serve our needs just fine.


Frank X Tolbert Sr must receive the lion's share of credit for raising cultural and culinary awarness of chili in Texas, so much so that the Texas Legislature named the simple Bowl of Red the Official State Dish of Texas. (Fans of barbecue or Tex-Mex might object, but that's the way it stands to this day.) His downtown Dallas predecessor to this location was recognized by Texas Monthy as the best old-school chili parlor in the state, and more than a few tears were shed when it finally closed. Today, his daughter Kathleen has breathed new life into an old downtown Grapevine building and recreated Tolbert's for a new generation of chiliheads. Inside, exposed ductwork and lots of brick and wood connote authenticity, a feeling reinforced by the stellar cuisine. My wife ordered the chicken-fried chicken and it was very good, particularly the cream gravy, and accompanying French-style green beans were excellent, with plenty of bacon. But let me say with confidence that it's doubtful I've had a better old-school bowl of chili. Made without tomatoes and with lots of peppery spice, and topped with cheese, onions, and a fresh chili pepper, Tolbert's bowl of red is the essence of true Texas authenticity. I can't wait to return in a few months and devour a bowl in really cold weather. Service during this late lunch was rather leisurely, but Barbara tended to our needs quite well, and said she hoped to see us later that evening when live music started. Website is

One of the joys of Grapevine is that many of the sites, including some of the wineries, are within easy walking distance of downtown. Forsaking our conveyance, we hiked back down Main Street, then headed East on College to one of those fine vintners that promised afternoon live music.


For more than a decade, La Buena Vida Winery has been slaking the thirst of travelers and locals alike from their converted college building just off Main Street. The building has a decidedly romantic feel with lots of fountains, and is now owned by the lady who started La Bodega Winery at DFW Airport. (You read that right: A winery in an airport. Great concept!) The Grapevine location of La Buena Vida is used primarily as a tasting room, with the main winery being located in Springtown. The charming and effusive Al conducted one of the best tastings I've ever experienced, proving that the personal touch is essential to understanding a winery and its product. (Not to mention it's a great way to boost sales.) Their tastings feature not only their own wines, but also offerings from other wineries for comparison and contrast. We sampled three marvelous wines and even purchased a bottle for consumption (and forthcoming review) on the beautiful patio.

Walking back outside, we were pleasantly surprised that old friend Andrea Dawson of the Andrea D Blues Band was leading the afternoon's entertainment. Andrea can spin Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, and Bobby Blue Bland like no other artist, and we enjoyed more than an hour of first-rate music and a pleasant conversation afterward. The winery was closing early that day for a private wedding, so we reluctantly took our leave and motored back home. Website for the winery is, and for Andrea Dawson,, where she can be reached for bookings, if you are so inclined.

After relaxing for a few hours at home, we decided to take Barbara up on her kind offer, and we returned to Tolbert's for dinner and more live music. This time Ashley took care of us, deftly maneuvering through the crowd all evening to do so. The Rock Star loved her cheese-and-onion enchiladas, a daily special with Central -Tex-Mex-style seasonings, and tasting very much like classic soft cheese tacos. These were served with good rice and refried black beans, the latter redolent of smoke and bacon, resulting in some of the best black beans I've had anywhere. I had heard wonders of the chicken tortilla soup, homemade with smoky grilled chicken breast, corn tortillas, avocados and Monterrey Jack cheese, and I happily devoured every last bite. Wine accompanied our lunchtime repast; this time, we paired our food with Dos Equis and Shiner Black Beers. Dinner was even more satisfying than lunch, particularly because the live music was provided by Voodoo Blue, an outstanding Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band. (I should know, as I saw The Man Himself perform live on several occasions before his untimely death.) After more than an hour of pure Austin music, we motored home happy and satisfied. Their website is Descover the joys of a short roadtrip to Grapevine soon, and remember:


Monday, September 22, 2008

Wine Corner Review #33: Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon

For the most part, I try to go my own way when deciding which wines to buy, but I must admit that sometimes I'm susceptible to what I read in the wine press. (Question: Can you read a wine press, when it's not busy crushing grapes?) Recently, I read an article online that named the Top Ten Wine Values Under $10 (or some such rot....Have you had enough grape puns for one day?) . Since I'm all about quality and value, I knew that I had to investigate, so I promptly visited my local Wine Shoppe, and was able to locate and purchase one of those wines; in fact, it just so happens to be the quaff we're considering today, straight to you from one of California's oldest winemaking families, the Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon is rusty plum. The nose is slightly vegetal, but also contains distinct whiffs of blackberry and vanilla. Lots of blackberry, black current and dark chocolate roll across the palate, finishing with more vanilla and spice. You can hail this cab if you need it to accompany such humble fare as lemon-pepper chicken wings (and I did), but it's even more comfortable with pot roast and barbecue. Website is, where you can read all about the Mirassou family and their lengthy history. Make it a pressing matter to obtain a bottle soon, and remember:


Sunday, September 21, 2008


Every Texan should know the truth: To get world-class, campfire quality barbecue, you must smoke your meat over wood. Period. Nothing else will do. Oh, sure, you can barbecue over gas or charcoal, but the best you can expect with these approaches is a very high level of mediocrity, and a pot-roast-esque flavor and finish. True, smoking over wood will sometimes yield inconsistent results, but when the fire is right and the wind is at your back, the finished product will often raise to the stratospheric heights that only great cuisine can achieve. Recently, a colleague of my lovely wife the Rock Star informed her that Hard Eight Barbecue in Coppell was "just like Coopers". Since Coopers is one of the sainted Barbecue Meccas of central Texas, and since its meat was once served by Lyndon Johnson at a state dinner, this statement was high praise indeed. Eager to try this year-old joint, my lovely wife and I made the drive one recent Saturday for lunch.


Hard Eight BBQ does indeed resemble the pride of Llano, Texas in many ways. The new wooden structure features outdoor pits, from whence you select your meat and have it weighed and priced before you venture inside. There, you encounter another serving line to select sides, then pay for your repast and search for a table. Also like Cooper's, Hard Eight features a pot of complimentary beans, flavored with onions and peppers and resembling a Mexican bean soup, and mostly communal seating at long wooden tables with attached, backless seats. (If you desire privacy, do not despair, as there are several fourtops you can nab unless the place is really crowded.) After selecting our self-serve soda and tea (the latter you can get sweet or unsweet, just you sense a theme here?), my bride and I selected space near the smallish central bar, and got down to business.


As good as Coopers? Not quite, although Coopers has been serving for over fifty years, and thus had a chance to perfect their art. My wife loved her brisket, which was indeed moist and tender. (Dry brisket can be an unfortunate byproduct of an improperly-tended fire.) She enjoyed the turkey as well, since she is a fiend for the gobbler, but felt it did not match Rudy's or Louis Mueller's turkey for quality. Pork ribs were the standout for me, thick, meaty and thoroughly tender, although they could have used just a bit more smokiness. However, the campfire quality and texture was very much in evidence, and we dined heartily. Potato salad was thick as well and loaded with mustard, which may be too much for some, although we devoured every last bite. We also tried the cornbread dressing, also loaded with peppers, and found it pleasing but slightly dry. Hard Eight's standard sauce is their weakest link, being overly sweet, but a little exploration of the condiment tray yielded a bottle of Hard Eight Pepper Sauce, which delivered much more flavor and a sizeable kick. Use with caution. After dining under the watchful eyes of mounted game heads, we wrapped up leftovers and took our satisfied leave.


Self-service is Texas-friendly and quite charming, and the pit boss (and owner?) stopped by himself to wish us a happy Saturday. Website is, but cannot be accessed at this writing as the site owner has temporarily exceeded his available bandwidth. Hopefully, this will soon be rectified. Hard Eight, unlike many bbq joints, is open throughout the day and into the night, and even features some very attractive Happy Hour specials, if you are so inclined.


Little by little, North Texas barbecue is hopefully coming of age, and Hard Eight Barbecue gives it a gentle nudge in that very direction. Discover its wood-fired goodness for yourself, and remember:


Monday, September 15, 2008

Quickie Review #32: Red Brick Pizza

We sure have come a long ways from the days when the word "pizza" was automatically followed by the word "hut". (Or, "inn" if you're a native Texan.) These days, pizza palaces are popping up like so many gophers after a storm, and better still, most are quite good too. It's definitely a buyers market these days for the intrepid pie fan, with many of them featuring fancy ovens, fire-roasting techniques, and fresh ingredients. Red Brick Pizza (the name refers to the terra-cotta stones used in classic pizza-roasting ovens in Italy) combines all of the above so successfully that they've recently been named one of the Top 50 Franchises by Entrepreneur Magazine. One has just opened nearby, so I called for takeout recently to check out their freshly-prepared gourmet goodies.

If you desire a trencherman-sized (translation: big) pie, then Red Brick Pizza is not the place for you. Their smallish pizzas deliver quality, not quantity and are seared at 1000 degrees in their special ovens for just three minutes. I tried the pepperoni, mushroom, and Italian sausage version, and could taste the fresh tomato and mozzarella in every chewy bite. The ingredients were well-balanced, still I could have used just a touch more sauce. Salads can be ordered small, medium, or large like the pizzas, and the chopped garden featured romaine, tomatoes, carrots, red onions, cucumbers, fire-roasted croutons, more mozzarella, and a creamy, slightly garlicky house dressing. The medium was easily enough for two people, and was quite satisfying. Service seemed slightly confused on this Sunday evening, with more attention being given pizza preparation and the nearby gelato bar than with greeting new customers. Red Brick also features said gourmet gelato as well as Fhazani sandwiches, which look intriguing if your in a lunch sort of mood as well as dinner. Website is, where you can read their story and find out what all the fuss is about. Have them fire up some gourmet goodies for you soon, and as always:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wine Corner Review #32: Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon

Google the terms iconoclast and iconoclasm and you're likely to receive quite a shock. The term iconoclasm refers to one culture's destruction or desicration of that culture's religious icons, usually during times of political or religious upheaval, and an iconoclast is someone who practices said destruction. Not to worry, I'm sure that venerated Texas winemakers Richard and Bunny Becker are not advocating such practices, rather they are using the term in its more mundane definition: An iconoclast these days simply refers to someone who breaks or disdains established conventions. Any Texan knows that being born in the Lone Star State automatically makes him or her an iconoclast by definition, and quite a few of them will want to quaff the Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon is a careful blend of squid ink and magenta. The nose reveals muted blueberries and a dash of nutmeg. Open your mouth and here come the berries: Blackberries, dewberries and acai berries play tag with Bing and black cherries, finishing nicely with black grape. Grab yourself a juicy Porterhouse for two to grill and you'll be in business. Website is usually, but unfortunately it was down when I tried to visit it recently. (Why must a website choose to be disabled at the very time I'm trying to visit it? How rude!) Destroy some old-fashioned rules today, and remember:


Monday, September 8, 2008

Wine Corner Review #31: Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine or champagne? What's the difference? Well, it's a legal matter, baby (as The Who would have it). You see, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Under French law, sparkling wine labeled as champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France. However, the good old USA didn't sign that agreement, so you will see many bottles produced in California, Washington state, and elsewhere labeled "champagne". (To make matters worse, they even taste like champagne! What nerve!!) These days, lots of countries produce sparkling wine, often labeled Spumanti in Italy, Cava in Spain, and just plain Sparkling Wine in Australia, the home turf of today's wine, Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine.

The robe of the Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine is "pale gold, glazed and shrunken". (Thank you, Jim Morrison!) The nose is pure Granny Smith apples, such a fabulous fruit for fall. The taste reveals more apples and a bunch of tropical fruits such as bananas, tangerines, and lemons, and the finish is clean as a whistle. This wine should be served ice-cold with oysters or shrimp with a spicy remoulade; we even had it with hot dogs just for fun. Website is, where you will be asked to submit your age and country of origin. Pick up a bottle legally soon, and you know:


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quickie Review #31: Snuffer's Restaurant and Bar

Ancient philosopher Mae West once wryly noted that "marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution." (My lovely wife the Rock Star might have something to say about that.) Speaking of institutions, there's no doubt that in Dallas, Snuffer's Restaurant and Bar qualifies. Started by Pat Snuffer in 1978, the mini-chain has grown to eight locations as of this writing, giving customers all over the Metroplex access to their fresh, simple fare. Over the years, they've expanded their menu to include wraps, salads, and home-cooking offerings such as Black Angus chicken-fried steak, but let's face it folks: When you think of Snuffer's, you think of their legendary burgers and cheddar fries. It was in search of this award-winning fare that caused my wife and I to journey to the Plano outpost one recent Saturday.

Besides the food, what I love about Snuffers is that all the locations are different, but they all feel like Snuffers. Lots of wood and natural materials and old pictures literally covering the walls. They were in seat-yourself mode when we arrived (another nice touch) and since college football was in full swing, we took a booth close to one of the many TVs so we could take advantage. We were intrigued by the thought of the mini-cheeseburgers, but since they come only with regular fries and not their famous cheddar variety, we decided to stick with the classics. All their burgers are prepared fresh-never-frozen, and the Rock Star really appreciates the fact that they shred their lettuce, which makes for easier handling. (We both wish they would consider doing the same for their tomato and onion as well.) Her half-pound Bacon Cheeseburger was prepared medium as requested and was absolutely huge and juicy. Wisely, she took her knife to it and chopped in in half, the better to eat you, my dear. (I love breaking the rules of grammar. It's my blog, you know.) My Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger was literally studded with the French stuff, as well as bleu-cheese dressing, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and lots of crispy bacon bits and was prepared medium-rare. (Two signs of a quality burger joint: No freezer burn on the patties and beef fixed the way you like it.) We split a small order of the famous cheddar fries and they were gooey and tasty as always, with melted cheese, bacon bits, chives, and jalapenos on the side. How can you resist them? Wisely, we did not. Our waitress Krystal managed to be sweet, efficient, and (I believe) Canadian, although I'm not sure about the latter. Website is, and they promise to sell Snuffer's logo gear and other swag in the near future. Enter your nearest burger institution soon, and as always: