Monday, March 31, 2008

Wine Corner Review #18: Rosemount Diamond Label Chardonnay

When I'm on a wine prowl, it's a sight to behold. I have my body parts triggered to take action at the slightest signal. For instance, when tripping through my local grocery store, I always make it a point to cruise the wine section, whether I'm in buying mode or not. Reason? You must stay alert to Wine Behavior, for they are so well trained, the little bottles will leap into my cart on command, such as earlier today. My eyes locked on the fact that Rosemount Diamond Label (Australian) Chardonnay was on sale at $4 less than the normal price, my brain processed the info, then directed my eyes to shoot a "come hither" glance to the chard, at which point it made the not-suicidal leap into my cart, where said chard could travel homeward bound (as Simon and Garfunkel would have it), where my lovely wife the Rock Star and I could enjoy it and report to you the splendiferous results.

The robe of the Rosemount Diamond Label Chardonnay is the quite perfect yellow of the black-eyed susan, with a touch of sunflower thrown in. (The winning horse of the Preakness wears a blanket of susans, unlike the roses presented to the Derby winner.) The nose suggests tropical goodness, like those who love pina coladas and gettin' caught in the rain. (Quick, let's Escape somewhere!) The taste reveals mangoes, pomegranite and passionfruit, and suggests long Caribbean afternoons. Salads, chicken nachos, and Cajun goodies are perfect pairs for this vino, but really, it could go with anything you'd care to put in your picnic basket. Investigate this and other Rosemount wines at Go on your own prowl for quality and value soon, and as always:


Monday, March 24, 2008

Quickie Review #18: Thai Grill Asian Fusion Restaurant & Bar

Everyone knows that Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend. My lovely wife the Rock Star knows this so well, that not only do we possess a DVD of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," the movie musical which features the aforementioned number, but she will turn up the volume and sing her heart out whenever Marilyn Monroe comes on the screen with her roomful of gentlemen. Granted, I would love to have gotten my bride a diamond for Easter, but I do not fancy a trip to the Poor House. Therefore, I surprised her with....a large chocolate bunny! Not just any bunny, either, but a solid milk chocolate Dove bunny. (I'm such a spendthrift!) In turn, she surprised me with....dinner! Not just any dinner, either, but Thai food!! So it was that we celebrated our Easter in the nontraditional manner with a delightful dinner delivered from the just-opened Thai Grill Asian Fusion Restaurant & Bar.

Since my wife and I are rather light eaters these days (this expression used to mean that we'd eat whenever it was light outside, but we've changed, I promise!), we decided to split an appetizer and an entree. The Butterfly Shrimp appetizer came seven to an order and were light and crispy, but there was nothing special about the accompanying sweet-and-sour sauce. Much better was the Rama-A-Bathing chicken: Sauteed with spinach, cabbage, carrots, and red & green bell peppers, topped with roasted peanuts and drizzled with peanut sauce, it was a light, fresh supper that only needed a slight kick of heat to make it better, at least as far as I was concerned. Said kick was provided from a handy-dandy bottle of Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce I keep in the cabinet for just such an occasion. We both were quite satisfied, and my Rock Star polished off her meal in the manner of Sally Forth by eating the ears off her chocolate bunny. For me, I munched contentedly on a dark-chocolate rabbit. (Rich in antioxidants, doncher know.) Website is, and be sure to order early, as delivery does take awhile, which could have been due to the fact that it was Easter Sunday and they were shorthanded, or the fact that the food was prepared fresh. In any case, it was worth the wait and the deliveryman was quite nice. Start your own Easter tradition soon, and don't forget:


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Last week, I said that sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Whenever a married man chooses to do that, he often has to make it up to his wife later. Such was the case this week; since I did not take my lovely wife the Rock Star on my roadtrip to Austin, this week it was time for a roadtrip of her own. (Married men often refer to this as a preemptive strike. If you are not familiar with this rationale, then you are either single or hopeless.) Luckily, a beautiful spring day dawned one Saturday, so my bride and I gassed up the car, Mapquested our directions, and headed out to Boyd, Texas, immediately northwest of the Metroplex, for some much needed animal therapy.


First known as the Texas Exotic Feline Foundation, this wonderful place changed its name to International Exotic Feline Sanctuary about a decade ago after changing hands. Just recently, they have changed their name yet again to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary. Reason? Once known as a haven solely for rescued big cats such as cheetahs, leopards, jaguars, lions, and tigers, they have since made like Judy Garland and added bears to the mix, thus they are now a sanctuary for more than just felines. Having taken care to first make reservations for a tour at their excellent website (, we joined the tour party at the sanctuary office, then spent the next 90 minutes or so walking up and down gravel paths looking at all the animals. Most of these creatures were rescued from people who tried to use them illegally as protection or pets, so they were often mistreated and living in inhumane conditions until they were brought to IEAS, where they now live the remainder of their days in happy comfort and security. Karen proved a delightful and well-informed tourguide, quick with answers to all sorts of questions on the feeding and recreational habits of the four-legged residents. IEAS suggests a minimum donation of $20 per person, and does not allow any children under seven. (The cats don't like too much noise.) They do accept donations and volunteers, and boast an excellent intern program; in fact, one of the staff members, Trish, started her career at IEAS as an intern, and has proven so indespensable that she has remained there ever since.

Hungry from our rugged walk, we soon hiked back to our car, and decided on lunch at a restaurant just a block or two away from the sanctuary.


This establishment is just about the only restaurant in the tiny town of Aurora, Texas, right next door to Boyd, and has all the appearance of an oversize converted residence, with multiple dining rooms. Since we noticed highway patrol cars out front, and since we knew that constabulary rarely frequent mediocre establishments, we took a chance and went in. Definitely a small town place, with Western decor, right down to the once-ubiquitous barbed-wire map of Texas, there is actually a rather large selection of food. Lunch specials, featured on the blackboard, are a great bargain at $7.95 and come with salad bar, entree, and two home-cooked veggies. Both my wife's chicken fingers and my chicken-fried steak were smothered with very good cream gravy and featured very crispy breading; obviously someone in the kitchen was paying attention. My mashed taters (of course I had to order the namesake spud) and pinto beans cooked with bacon were excellent and my wife loved her homestyle green beans and crinkle-cut fries. We filled up quite nicely and also filled up a large to-go container for next week's lunches. Service was quite nice as well. No website, call 940 433-8117 if you need to ask them anything in advance of a visit.

Properly sated, we next ran a rather quick errand for my wife, and then finally reached the historic city of Grapevine for our final stop of the day.


Although wine stores are not at all unusual in urban areas, the vineyards themselves are often out in the country. Not so with Delaney. Real, authentic grape vines are growing smack dab in the middle of Grapevine, Texas and are used to make Delaney's Cynthiana varietal, while the rest of the grapes are grown in West Texas. When we arrived, a tasting was already under way and there was no more room at the bar. Not to worry, one of the employees brought us glasses of the Cynthiana, a nice, light red resembling a pinot noir without quite the complexity. In due course, we joined the delightful Francesca at the bar for our own tasting. We asked about Paolo, and she replied she hadn't met him yet. (It's a classical reference. Google it!) We sampled half-a-dozen wines, all of which were quite good, and later made a trip to the gift shop to make purchases for home quaffing. Delaney features Bordeaux-style blends, such as their Claret and Three Daughters wines, as well as the usual varietals. They also feature a Blessing of the Vines ceremony in April and a Grape Stomping in August, both open to the public. They also are a great place for weddings, and were in the process of setting up for just such an event as we were leaving. Website is

Satisfied with our roadtrip and with our day, we happily chugged home, glad to be reminded once again that our very own Metroplex and the surrounding area can make for an excellent weekend getaway. Plan your own getaway soon, and remember:


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Sometimes a man's just gotta do what a man's just gotta do. Even if his finances (or lack thereof) stand in the way. When I received an invitation recently to check out a new wine bar/restaurant in Austin, I very much wanted to go. My wallet, suffering as always from PPS (Perpetual Poverty Syndrome), thought otherwise. We duked it out for a while before reaching a compromise. For the sake of my readers (both of you), I would indeed make the trip, but would not stay overnight, opting instead to make the 3 1/2-hour journey twice in one day. Would I be up to the challenge? Yes, indeedy, I would, God willing and the creek don't rise. So, it was with high hopes that I set out on a picture-perfect morning, bent on adventure to a city that perpetually pledges to Keep Itself Weird. First, however, I was looking forward to making a much-anticipated stop in a now-familiar town north of Waco for breakfast.


I found it! After months of hearing about this place in West that served better kolaches than the Czech Stop, I finally located Gerik's Ole Czech Smokehouse & Bakery by taking Exit #353 off I35, then turning left under the underpass and continuing on Oak Street for a block. There it was, on the right, just waiting for me with armfuls of goodness. I walked in: no lines! (The Czech Stop, being right on I35 and better advertised, is a tour bus magnet and lines are not at all uncommon.) A sweet lady walked up with a trayful of pastries and asked if she could help me. I resisted the temptation to say, "Sure. Just hand over the goodies and no one gets hurt," and instead inquired gently about the availability of breakfast sausage and cheese kolaches. She obligingly handed me one, and directed me to the nearby microwave. Hello Heaven!!! The sausage was the same wonderful breakfast patty I had enjoyed at the Czech Stop (which uses Gerik's meats) but the kolache itself was much better, as sweet and buttery as a banquet dinner roll, just the perfect little mouthful of breakfast. Greatly resisting the temptation to buy more (I had to save at least some of my stomach for the Austin tasting), I instead vowed to finish my Central Texas duties ASAP and return in the evening before they closed at six to take some home to my lovely wife the Rock Star. For the record, Gerik's resembles a madeover house on the inside, with the bakery on one side and the smokehouse on the other, and as there is no website, just call 254 826-3309 for directions and questions.

The rest of my drive down was pleasant, until I ran into the mother of all traffic jams, and remembered too late that this was the weekend for Austin's world famous South By Southwest Music Festival. Dang it, and there was construction downtown to boot! After a lot of maneuvering, and some underground parking, I finally arrived at my destination.


When I walked in the place was organized chaos. Workmen were installing new shades over the large front windows. As one of the owners later confided to me, they quickly discovered that large open windows with a Southern exposure created too much glare, particularly in winter. Needless to say, the place is a work in progress, yet it looks like it will be quite intriguing when fully finished. Exposed brick and ductwork. Postmodern design on an angular bias. Glass sculptures. Trapezoidal bar and restaurant tables on one side, wine racks and wine dispensing machines on the other. (Taste is set up like a lot of wine bar/shops Down Under, with those newfangled automatic wine-dispensing machines that are all the rage. I longed to investigate them, but they were already occupied with fellow imbibers, and I had a job to do.) The owners and chef proved to be quite nice but rather preoccupied; this is quite understandable as their website at promises an April grand opening, and while the place is shaping up quite nicely there is still a lot of work to do. I was given a tasting of three small plates, three larger plates, and dessert, each very well matched with cooresponding wines. Two rules quickly became evident: 1. Please pair your plates with vino. These tapas are meant to be enjoyed with the selections from Taste's well-chosen list, and vice-versa. 2. Ask the staff for recommended pairings. You'll find some surprising choices, such as the JM Boillot Puligny-Montrachet (White Burgundy) they picked to accompany the Prime Beef Tartare, but trust me, they work. The basil pesto truffle essence on the tartare played beautifully with the alcoholic bite of the chardonnay for a light yet fortifying dish. Even better was the Ahi Tuna with Tarragon Mint Vinaigrette and Preserved Lemon, which sang a delightful duet with a rather smokey Chateau de Volmer vouvray. Less impressive was the Kona Kampachi, which needed the accompanying oven-roasted tomatoes to taste like anything special.

Standing tall from the larger plates were the Pan-Roasted (Peking) Duck Breast, wonderfully fatty and tender with stone-ground grits, and an off-the-menu creation (ask about those as well) of red snapper, prawns, and bacon with nettle, which was rich and buttery, except for the nettle, which didn't exactly sting my tastebuds with delight. Only the braised short ribs didn't work, too gamy despite the best efforts of the fresh horseradish and cauliflower perogi that came along for the ride. Finally, dessert was offered and it was the best dish all day, a Cilantro Panna Cotta (an Italian, custard-like dessert) with blood oranges and candied pistachios that by itself was worth the drive to Austin.

Satisfied, I rescued my car from its underground lair, and once again battled the traffic homeward. I had considered making a BBQ side trip to Lockhart, but as I've recently recovered from illness, I decided that motoring back home was the best route for my now-aching body to take. Besides I had a date at Gerik's in West, if only I could make the deadline...

I arrived back in West a few minutes after six, crossed my fingers and tried the door. Bingo! One side was still open, so maybe my luck would hold. There was a delightful young miss behind the counter, obviously closing up, who informed me there wasn't much left. Bingo again!! She had just finished bagging up some breakfast sausage kolaches with cheese and sold them to me at the day-old discount rate! Now, my lovely bride could enjoy them as well. (She enjoyed them the next morning, for breakfast, and with one bite she agreed they were better than Czech Stop.) A rather unusual, but still successful road trip to be sure. Visit Taste and Geriks soon, and don't forget:


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wine Corner Review #17: Dry Comal Creek French Colombard

March Madness is here! Every year, college basketball stages the NCAA and NIT tournaments as a rite of passage, and legions of fans throughout the world watch their favorite teams as they battle furiously and hopefully come of age and win the national championship. Hoopsters celebrate by downing acres of pizza and tons of wings, all washed down Well, why not? Texas wines themselves are coming of age, and Dry Comal Creek's French Colombard, made from a varietal usually blended or made into cognac, more than fills the bill for a fruity, if ultra-dry, party-style wine.

The robe of the Dry Comal Creek French Colombard is the whistful color of new-mown hay. The nose displays lots of alcohol, not unlike a traditional martini made with six parts of London dry gin to one part vermouth. Speaking of vermouth, a little of that tipple's characteristic nuttiness is evident on the palate along with melon and the slightest touch of marmalade. Yes, this wine pairs delightfully with boneless chicken strips, as we thoroughly enjoyed it with both lemon-pepper and garlic-parmesan wings; the French Colombard's bone-dry finish muted the spicyness of this most American of finger foods quite nicely indeed. Website is www.drycomalcreek if you wish to explore the many wines available at this growing Texas powerhouse. Grab a bucket and a bottle to start your own madness soon, and remember:


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tales From The Bar Side #1: The Keg Steakhouse

I know it's against my Texas religion to enter a steakhouse and not consume at least one steak, but as it was Friday afternoon and The Keg was offering half-price wine and martinis until 6PM, we decided to go for it. (It also doesn't help that we're poverty-stricken, but that's another matter entirely.) My lovely wife the Rock Star and I met at the Plano location, bent on an early evening of merriment.

Right away, we were delighted by the atmosphere: cheerful, upbeat, and fun yet classy. Centrally-located bar, with table-booths surrounding. (You know those things that have a chair on one side, a booth on the other, with a table in the middle. Anyone know the name of those things? Huh??) TV's, of course; these days that goes without saying. The delightful Mandy (a little too young to be Barry Manilow's muse, but very sweet nonetheless) brought me a Fetzer Zinfandel in a larger, Keg-size wine glass while I perused the bar menu and awaited my spouse. She arrived in short order, and decided on a pinot noir; she was also as curious as George about a white blend called a Conundrum, and after Mandy brought her a free taste, elected to have that for her next glass. Redolent of pinot grigio and possibly French colombard, chenin blanc, and/or riesling, the Conundrum was well named, as it proved quite the conundrum to figure out what grapes were in it, and of course we forgot to ask. We were both intrigued by it's smoky peach flavor.

Since we were in the bar, we decided to go ahead and make a meal of starters. Baked goat cheese was coated with crushed almonds, and it's slightly sweet nuttiness paired perfectly with the tomato basil salsa and crusty bread rounds served with it. Later, we particularly enjoyed the Keg sliders: Three prime-rib mini-burgers, one each with Swiss cheese, honey BBQ sauce, and Bleu cheese sauce, all very tasty and leaving us quite satisfied with our decision to forego the restaurant proper. All the while, Mandy kept us plied with drinks, and even entered a conversation with my wife about diamond rings. (You know how girls are!) In sum, you don't have to enter the Keg restaurant to enjoy the Keg experience; just camp out at the bar. Please do so soon, and remember:


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Product Sampling #1: Texas Traditions

Texas Tradition is a company located in Georgetown Texas (home of Southwestern University, a most beautiful campus) that bills itself as "The Official Preservation Company for Texas Culinary Heritage". What does that mean for you and me? Guys, it means that they are selling some truly wonderful jellies, mustards, and dry blend seasonings just perfect for spicing up your food and your life with the definitive kick (OUCH!) of Texas Authenticity. I unwrapped my gift parcel a week or so ago, have been diligently using the products contained therein in the kitchen, and am now happy to report the results.

Mesqute Smoke Mustard - As the name implies, this lusty mustard imparts a nice, woodsy smokiness to anything it touches. Just heaven-sent for ham and turkey, but as I quickly discovered with all the Texas Tradition products, don't limit yourself. Try it with unexpected dishes; for instance, mix it with Ranch Style beans and see what you get.

Texas Hot Salt - Their best seller, and I can see why, because I use it on anything but ice cream. Sprinkle it on salad for a nice kick. I used it this morning in my huevos rancheros (Mexican eggs).

Jalapeno Ranch Dip Mix - Another dry seasoning that's great on salad. Also fantastic with burgers, and you'll just love it in your mashed potatoes. (Am I gushing too much? Sorry!)

Mayhaw jelly - No, I must admit I had never heard of the native Mayhaw tree, but now I think I'm a fan. A light, delicious apple-cranberry-sortof taste. I used it as a delightful midmorning snack on both multigrain Club crackers and wheat saltines.

Website is Start your own tradition today, and as always:


Saturday, March 1, 2008


Body And Sole is not just the name of an old jazz standard. It's the nom du guerre of the new menu touted by Rockfish, that lovely chain which pretty much pioneered the concept of corner-diner seafood in this area. You know what I mean: Smallish dining room area which looks very much like your basic local hangout, daily specials on chalkboards, retro-chic bar in the center of the action. In other words, your friendly fun neighborhood place, the kind most people would rather patronize on a Friday nite after a busy week rather than the latest-and-greatest. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have known about Rockfish for years, particularly the Campbell-Coit location, as her formidable mother The Momma lives nearby. We've have long held their cuisine in high regard, but felt that like all good places their menu was in need of some rejuvenation. So, when I received an invitation to taste their new fresher, lighter Body And Sole menu, I jumped at the chance, and the Rock Star joined me on a recent Friday afternoon in quest of a late lunch.


The Campbell-Coit location of Rockfish still retains the neighborhood feel, only now it has been expanded. Twice. Still, peanut shells are in evidence on the floor (nice to have a place that gives you complimentary appetizers), there are more booths, and the waitresses still sport t-shirts with pithy sayings. ("Your Fish is my Command," and "May the Fish Be With You" were two of the noteworthy examples on display). We were greeted by the manager (no, dagnabit, I do not remember her name, nor do I remember the name of the excellent gent who waited on us. Darn! And I took a notebook, too! Oh, well, guys, I'm sorry, but just know you done good. Okay?), who promptly escorted us to a choice booth. There, we were greeted effusively by Corporate Chef Daniel Stewart and Chef/Partner Jeff Pierce, who prepared us expertly for the repast that lay ahead.


What can I give to such excellent cuisine except sincere, (almost) unqualified praise? Not only that, but over and over during the tasting, my lovely bride and I exclaimed "I can't believe this is lite cuisine!" because it tasted so good. For the first round, Chef brought Seared Ahi Tuna Salad, Baked Stuffed Shrimp, and North Atlantic Salmon, this last from their Be The Chef menu where you can mix-and-match fishes, preparation and sauces to your taste. Great idea, that! The tuna was seared rare and served with mixed greens, roasted corn salsa, and shallot vinagrette. After sampling it, I promptly wrote the word "buttery" in my notebook to describe it (a term I would use frequently throughout the tasting.) For her part, the Rock Star stated this was her favorite dish of the entire day (She is, after all a Certified Ahi Aficionado), and I thoroughly enjoyed it's melt-in-your-mouth goodness as well. My personal favorite of the day was the Baked & Stuffed Shrimp, bursting with crab, smoked sausage, and Ritz Cracker crumbs, and drizzled with lemon butter. Those shrimp kept disappearing, until my wife advised me to please pace myself so I could enjoy the wonders which lay ahead. The North Atlantic Salmon was just a little dry, but delightfully punched up by the tomatillo salsa. (I was also brought some ancho-maple glaze as well. Good, but not really my style, as I rarely mix sweet and savory with my entrees. That's just me.) At this point I should mention our wine of choice for all courses was the Nobilio Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand varietal just made for seafood with pear, nectarine, and grapefruit notes. Rockfish has a small but well-chosen wine list, but they should consider adding a few Texas bottles: Becker Fume Blanc, Fall Creek Chenin Blanc, or Dry Comal Creek Black Spanish would work wonders with this fare.

In the second round of noshing, Chef brought three more delights: A simple, unaffected bowl of Louisiana Gumbo (quite good once I added a splash of Louisiana sauce thoughtfully placed at each table), Pacific Cove Crab Salad (the clear winner of this round: Lump crab tossed with tomatoes, celery, red onions, red bell peppers, and avocados served with sun-dried tomato vinagrette), and Blackened (yes!) Sole/Flounder served with the delicious ancho-cream sauce. The Rock Star loved all three as well, particularly the Crab Salad, which is perfect picnic-in-the-park fare, just dying to be enjoyed with a blanket and cold Vouvray. In discussing the menu with Chef, I let it slip that I am a Confirmed Soupaholic, whereupon he retreated back to the kitchen, only to reemerge with cups of Crab Bisque and Lobster Bisque, both of which should warm the cockles of anyone's heart, paticularly the Crab Bisque with it's kiss of roasted red pepper. (Neither of these latter soups are on the Body And Sole menu; get them anyway, you'll be glad you did.) For dessert, we were presented with Key Lime Pie, which is a great, light and tangy choice to finish up an outstanding meal.


Since this was after all a tasting, Chefs Daniel and Jeff were very vigilant in attending to my needs. In fairness, on the dozen or more occasions where we've been to this Rockfish locations, service has always been stellar. For us, the best part of the entire experience was getting to meet and have a lengthy chat with two such dedicated and consummate artists. It's always refreshing and invigorating to work with the best, and both of these gentlemen fill the bill; in fact corporate should take note and consider raising the compensation for each before they get away. Website is, and you will want to consider joining their internet club to get free goodies.


Rockfish is still a top-quality, neighborhood-type place, only now they've raised the (sand)bar, and they want your business hook, line, and sinker, if not body and soul. Visit soon, and remember: