Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cellar Selection #6: Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne

Imagine a woman running a successful business back in Napoleonic France, one who did not just thrive and survive, but a lady who truly made mass-production of bubbly possible with her innovations, not to mention helping to create the concept of brut champagne, and assisting many of her fellow winemakers in the bargain! The entire story of the Veuve (Widow) Cliquot Ponsardin is contained in a delightful new book by Tilar J Mazzio, and I'd love to spend hours covering the contents with you, but since this is an eat-and-drink forum and not a literary society, I feel I should leave off discussion of the Widow herself at this point, and instead describe the merits of her most famous creation in the bottle with the bright orange label: Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne.

The robe of the Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne is the pale, cold, clear dawn of a morning in Reims, France, the city in the Champagne provence where the winery is located. The nose decanted Granny Smith apples, pineapple, and minerals to my senses. Truly a panolpy of flavors wash over the palate including washed gravel, apples, pineapples, and tangerines, finishing with the slightest kiss of muted mint. Oysters and champagne are a legendary combination, I would experiment with all manner of chicken or shellfish dishes. Website is www.veuve-cliquot.com, and if you enter your country of origin in the designated spot (Choisissez votre pays), the language of the site will magically translate into English when you enter USA. Start your own legendary business soon, and remember:


Friday, March 20, 2009


Who makes the best margaritas in town? If you've patronized a Tex-Mex place or three, you will probably have several choices in mind. As with any selection of this kind, several guide rules are in order. One: The establishment should feature a good selection of premium tequilas. Two: Margaritas must be made with loving care; for instance, if you want a frozen version, the mix should be prepared fresh each day. In my research, I was surprised how many places use the same mix day after day. You can really tell the difference. Three: In my case, a great margarita should be bracing, like a Trader Vic's Mai Tai, not sweet. You should taste lime and orange liqueur, but the tequila should be showcased. Salted is preferred, although I've had some compelling margaritas made with a touch of pepper or other spices. Luckily, my lovely wife the Rock Star shares my taste for truly tantalizing tequila tipples, so it was with high hopes that we set off to Red's Patio Grill one dreary noontide.

Atmospherically, Red's has the whole Hill Country look down pat. Enough polished wood to stock a CEO's palatial corner office. Plenty of genuine Central Texas stone. Inside, fireplace and bar take center stage, sandwiched between cozy booths and tables. A smallish inside patio, but a much larger outside patio overlooking a fountain. In short, if you love the scene down around Fredericksburg or New Braunfels, you'll love it here.

Scanning the menu for suitable libations, we saw again one of our favorite reasons for coming here: Red's features tequila flights. Whether blanco, anejo, or reposado is your agave of choice, they have more than 100 varieties here. However, we were in full Margaritaville mode today, so my wife began with the margarita of the day, the Don Valente, while in the interest of completeness, I started with the basic frozen variety. Both were well made and properly bracing, but my spouse detected some off-flavor in hers, and after trying it, I must confess I couldn't identify it either. The drink was still quite good, however. From experience, we know that any meal at Red's should commence with the Double Cheese Potato Cakes. Savory with a touch of crispness and sharpness, these cakes made me wish that all establishments fared as well with their potato dishes. My bride has enjoyed the Cowboy Meatloaf and the Montana burger on past occasions, so she decided to branch out a bit and selected the Cuban. Better than a mere chain shop sandwich, this Cuban boasted Cure 81 ham, bacon, Havarti cheese, arugula, and mustard, and she was so impressed that she made for our local grocer's deli that very day to stockpile ingredients to make them at home. For me, Red's chili is a genuine Texas bowl of red, literally invoking the ghost of Frank X Tolbert with its rich Montana-Legend beef, red onion, jalapenos, cheddar cheese, and a side of corn chips so you can make your own Frito pie if you so desire. After such a meal, we decided on the perfect dessert: Caborita and El Corazon margaritas, a bit pricey to be sure, but when they're made with such care, well worth the price.

Taylor and Jill provided us with high quality tag team service, deftly taking care of us and the large party one table over. Red's has recently been sold and you can access their new website at www.restauranteur.com/redspatiogrill; the old URL http://www.redspatiogrill.com/ works as well.

So, who makes the best margaritas in town? For my money, Red's Patio Grill does, and is one of the best-kept secrets in the city to boot. Find your Hill Country hangout soon, and remember:


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wine Corner Review #48: Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec

Roses, tulips, carnations, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes. Ah, the sweet flowers of spring! If you're like me, fragrant floral bouquets make you think of another kind of bouquet, namely the delicious nose of a good wine as it is first being uncorked in a clover-strewn meadow picnic. But thistles? Really?? Well, in Spanish, Los Cardos means The Thistles, and they only present a thorny problem if you get up close and personal in the wrong way. Dona Paula, an Argentinian winemaker, has adopted Los Cardos as the symbol for their young, approachable wines, such as the vino under consideration this morning, the Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec.

The robe of the Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec is blackberry and raspberry jam. The nose presents mixed berries and currant, with touches of muted black pepper. Plums, blackberries, and a touch of red licorice and spice wash across the palate, finishing nicely with wintergreen. If your looking for something to pair with gyros, hummus with pita, and good Greek potatoes, then this tipple is a fine choice. Website is http://www.donapaula.com/, and the Los Cardos line has its own section, so feel free to investigate. Said investigation can be done at Whole Foods, if you so desire. Find your own bouquet of liquid goodness soon, and remember:


Monday, March 9, 2009


Blue on blue. Heartache on heartache. A beautiful Sunday morning, and my lovely wife The Rock Star was down in the dumps. We had planned on attending the North Texas Irish Festival that very afternoon, indeed we had attended the one last year and loved it, particularly the food, the Irish music, and most of all (of course), the whiskey tasting room. But, clearly, she did not feel up for a drive all the way to Fair Park, just to have fun. Why couldn't the fun come to us? Why not indeed?? We could order movies, but who feels like spending all day indoors when it's so nice outside? Clearly, Plan B was needed. Suddenly, it hit me. (No, thats OK, I was not seriously injured.) As you have probably discerned from my past few posts, my lovely bride has become a serious lover of brunch. In fact, the only thing better than brunch to her was brunch outside on the patio on a lovely day. Therefore, I decided to put Plan B into effect immediately, and soon we were jaunting happily across town to that acclaimed bastion of Tex-Mex, The Blue Goose Cantina.

The atmosphere of The Blue Goose Cantina is very much like any other Mexicana-in-the-suburbs establishment, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, how many other restaurants boast bright blue-and-yellow exteriors? Second, how many employ a Rube Goldberg contraption for making fresh tortillas? A pretty Hispanic miss carefully monitors the device as the blobs of dough are pressed into tortilla shape, cooked, and then travel up the narrow chute to be deposited into waiting baskets for hungry diners. Pretty clever, if you ask me. We were seated quickly on the sunny patio, and Everett took charge of us almost at once.

While The Blue Goose's lunch and dinner menus are a veritable smorgasboard of all things Tex and Mex, the brunch menu is a much smaller affair, consisting of about a dozen Mexican and American favorites. We decided to start with the usual suspects: chips, salsa, tortillas, and a cup of queso. Wisely, the staff will set a container of fresh-from-the-oven tortillas on the table the moment you sit down. Pillowy and hot, these slices of flour heaven were the best part of our dining experience, whether slathered in butter, dipped in the spicy salsa, or dunked in the thin and creamy queso. In short, our starters clearly set high standards, and for the most part, the kitchen did not disappoint. My lovely wife adores quesadillas, and her large portion was studded with chunks of juicy fajita meat, and more of that marvelous cheese. At Everett's suggestion, she got hers with green chilis cooked inside, and their subtle but specific bite elevated this dish several notches above the norm. My own choice was the Breakfast Chimichanga, and this proved a slight disappointment: Though the chicken, potato and egg filling was quite nice, the exterior was not fried enough for my taste and the interior was undercooked and gummy. Still, the dish was nicely improved by adding touches of salsa and queso and I dined quite well. The accompanying fruit salad was fine, but I think it was there merely as a palate cleanser. The rice and beans were very good, paticularly when wrapped in one of those hot, fresh tortillas and doused with (do you sense a pattern here?) queso and salsa. We paired our repast with Blue Goose margaritas, made fresh to order, quite bracing, and some of the best we've had in a Tex-Mex establishment. All too soon, brunchtime was over.

Servicewise, Everett proved quite capable and his recommendations were solid. Website is www.bluegoosecantina.com, where you can make use of their unique map; when you choose the goose cooresponding to the location you wish, he drops into place and the map will unfold. Clever.

Overall, The Blue Goose Cantina has some of the best tortillas, queso and margaritas around, and the crowds attest to its popularity. Beat the blues yourself soon, and remember:


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wine Corner Review #47: Hacienda Araucano Carmenere

Phylloxera. Ancient scourge of the winemaking world. These pale yellow sapsucking insects once destroyed almost three-fourths of France's vines, until resistant rootstock could be developed and shipped over from both America and Texas. If you have never heard of the Carmenere grape, it is because this varietal, once widely planted in Bordeaux, was thought to be entirely destroyed in the phylloxera plague of the late 1800's, and seemingly vanished off the face of the earth forever. However, in the 1990's, carmenere grapes turned up in the most unlikely of places, Chile, were original "merlot" vines brought over before the plague turned out to be Carmenere! How fortunate!! In the years since, Carmenere has slowly started to push its way North, and has arrived at such places as Whole Foods Market, where I purchased today's wine under consideration, the Hacienda Araucano Carmenere.

The robe of the Hacienda Araucano Carmenere is plum with garnet highlights. The nose reveals berries and wood smoke. Cherries, berries, smoked Gouda cheese, and spice play upon the palate, finishing with vanilla bean. This tipple would make an interesting pairing with pork tenderloin or lamb with mint or tzatziki. Like virtually all but the biggest South American producers, information is hard to come by on the web; I found a little bit on http://www.novusvinum.com/. Hacienda Araucano's importer, Francois Lurton, also has some info at http://www.francoislurton.com/, but their website does take time to load. In any case, smoke out some Carmenere today, and as always:


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


It's official. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I do not get a chance to visit with her sister the Wild Thing nearly often enough to suit our tastes. A striking beauty with shoulder-length gray hair, the Wild Thing is a true Texas gal who does what she wants whenever she wants to do it. Her Southern charm and winning smile belie the fact that she has truly lived life, and has proudly earned every last one of her gray hairs. The fact that she was a movie star (OK, she made an appearance or two in front of the cameras once upon a time in a past life) just makes for yet another of the wonderful stories she can relate to astonished guests. Suffice it to say that my wife and I can't get enough of her company, so when their mother The Momma summoned us to brunch at Cyclone Anaya's Mexican Kitchen one recent Sunday, we were very pleased to note her car parked out front of The Momma's house, indicating her presence within. Very soon, the four of us rather jauntily set off for a leisurely Sunday brunch.

If you are looking for a typical Tex-Mex interior with serapes, sombreros, and Elvis paintings on black velvet hung on the walls, be prepared for a shock. Cyclone Anaya's decor is Dante's Post Industrial Inferno with an oversized bar dominating the entrance, sculptures abounding, and light sculptures, recessed lights, and purple lights illuminating each of the dining areas. These dining areas are not separate, but the booths, tables, and banquettes are artfully arranged to create intimate nooks balanced by a larger room. We were seated at once and turned our attentions to both the brunch and regular menus. Cyclone Anayas follows the practice of having both menus available at brunchtime, and we availed ourselves accordingly, selecting the bottomless poinsettias from the brunch menu (well, the ladies did....I stuck with cervezas), and our repasts from the regular menu.

We started with guacamole and queso, along with the restaurant's excellent chips and salsa. These days, the trend leans toward salsa with bite, and I'm happy to report that Anayas complies. Guacamole is fresh and chunky, The Momma approving heartily, as she is our resident avocado expert. Queso is very thick and a bit stringy, but the cheese dip was robust and filling. Since our entire party consisted of Texas natives who love all things Tex and Mex, we stuck with a varied selection of basics. I wish I could report on the success of The Wild Thing's quesadillas, an appealing round of tortilla stuffed with Mexican cheese and chicken and served with sour cream, pico de gallo, and more of that fabulous guacamole, but she was carefully guarding her plate with knife and fork and I dared not poach. I was more successful in trying my bride's Enchiladas Suizas, with roasted chicken, sour cream, rajas con crema, and white Mexican cheese both astride and inside, resulting in a cheesy, creamy delight which made the roast chicken shine. The Momma stuck with classic beef and cheese enchiladas topped with chili con carne and onions, and I believe that the use of Angus beef in this dish turned it into one of the most exciting sleepers on the menu. For myself, I selected the gourmet Enchiladas Anayas, one each of beef and chicken fajita, filled with cheese, onions and mushrooms, and topped with melted cheese and chili ancho sauce, an unusual combination that worked quite well, as the mushrooms and ancho sauce really brought out the char on the meat. Mexican rice proved light and refreshing, charro beans soupy and smoky, and refried beans creamy and flavorful. We chose to bypass dessert for another round of drinks, and lingered over conversation well into the afternoon.

Service was quite amiable, although we did have to flag down our waiter just a tad more than we would have liked. Website is www.cycloneanaya.com, where you can learn about the names colorful origins. The ebullient general manager stopped by for an extended and thoroughly delightful stay at our table, confirming that Cyclone Anaya was named for a star of Mexican wrestling and that his career was ended by an injury suffered at the hands of none other than the great Andre the Giant. Fascinating stuff indeed.

Overall, we had a wild time with The Wild Thing and the always-formidable Momma, and we'll definitely be back for brunch or dinner at Cyclone Anaya's Mexican Kitchen. Explore your wild side soon, and remember: