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Thursday, September 29, 2005

"The Stump Jump" for Joy?

Wine of the Week: d'Arenberg, The Stump Jump, South Australia, 2004

Varietals: Grenache (50%) / Shiraz (26%) / Mourvedre (24%)

Winemaker's Notes:

"The wine is dominated by voluminous, sweet fruit, mulberry, plum, spices, dark cherry fruits and hints of vanillin that carries right through the palate to the finish. The palate is savoury and dry, balanced with lovely fruit sweetness and subtle tannins and acidity that already make the wine a pleasure to drink now orcellar well for 2 to 5 years."

My Review:

I'm a fan of Rhone-style red wines. That is, I like wines based on these grape varietals: Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, and Mourvedre. And, if you like value wines, I'm sure you've had a bottle or two of Shiraz/Syrah (which is sometimes blended with other "non-Rhone" varietals such as in Penfold's yummy Koononga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon). But, from time-to-time, I have a yearning for a more traditional Rhone experience: a true GSM blend (which tend to be subtler and lighter, yet no less sophisticated, in style).

That's why I was very excited to find d'Arenberg's "The Stump Jump" ($9.49 at Total Wine & More in Tampa, FL), a Rhone-style blend for the price of a typical "grocery store" Shiraz. On pouring a glass, I ogled this medium bodied wine's marvelous deep purplish color (indicative of a young, robust red). The wine's aroma (nose) was one of intense fruit tinged with a hint of spice. In the mouth, the vivid fruit flavors continued, but I found the wine to be a little astringent and somewhat unbalanced. (So much for "subtle" tannins.) The wine's reasonably lengthy finish (aftertaste) continued its fruit-filled tone, but it too seemed slightly out of harmony.

In all, d'Arenberg produced a respectable, young GSM. The wine is approachable now, but it's definitely a "with food" bottle. In fact, I'd only pair it with hearty dishes (such as Portobello mushroom "steaks"). That said, I think it would benefit from cellaring. And, bottle aging might overcome my "slightly unbalanced" impression of the wine. But, I'm forced to ask: do you really want to make a multi-year commitment to a bottle of wine that costs ten bucks? Right, neither do I.

Overall, this is a decent wine offered at a fair price. You could do far worse, but I think we can do better.

Quality/Value Ratio: $$$ (out of five $'s)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cheap Mexican (Texas-style) eats

I feel obligated to mention Talita's Mexican-Italian Restaurant on N. High St -- and not just because I worked there this summer. Well, partly because of that; but also because they have some great vegetarian options but don't see much business from veggie customers.

The restaurant itself is a little shabby looking (it's next to a Valvoline, fer cryin' out loud), but the food is decent and inexpensive. My favorite is the Talita (or Enchilada) Supreme, which was designed to be kind of a vegetarian Mexican lasagna. It's composed of layers of veggie stuff -- spinach and sour cream, refried beans, rice -- in between tortillas (corn or flour) and then covered in enchilada sauce and melted cheese. One is enough for two people, I think, although I have seen some of our larger customers down the whole thing in one go.

The enchiladas are also very good, but mostly because they smother them in the aforementioned sauce, which is damn tasty.

They also have burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and salads, all with vegetarian options. And their meat dishes sell very well, too (although I can't speak for them personally).

The lunches run between $4-6, and the dinners are almost all under $10. Stop by, eat some food, tip well, and smile at your waitress.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Free the Chickens!

The humane society is currently pressuring Trader Joe's to stop selling eggs from abusively caged chickens. (Whole Foods and Wild Oats have already adopted this policy). Visit the humane society campaign page, to learn more and send an automated email. You also can fill out comment cards at the Joe's about this issue.

A Shout out to Spinelli's Deli

For those whose primary exposure to the Columbus bagel scene comes from the sad offerings in the English Dept, know that there is hope: Spinelli's Deli at Neil and Buttles (in the same shopping center as the eagle).

This locally owned shop--which promotes cool things like pride and ladyfest--makes its own bagels, and they are damn good. Their bagels are a little different in style than a classic New York bagel, but they're still a thing of wonder and beauty.

My favorite Spinelli's dish: fried egg and regular cream cheese on a toasted everything bagel (only 1.89).

My one complaint: the only fair trade, organic coffee they offer is a light roast; the dark roast blend is "unfair" and pesticide-riddled. (Must we sacrifice flavor for conscience? I think not.)

Pad Thai Restaurant: A Cut Above the Rest

Ever since I've been in Columbus, I've been on the hunt for really good Thai food. Although I've been to a lot of places, I mostly have just resorted to making my own.

Last night, Lisa Ann and I checked out "Pad Thai" restaurant in the "McThai Shopping Center" at 3589 Refugee Road. (This coincidentally is only a 1/2 mile down the same road as Bangkok Grocery, Columbus' only specialty Thai Market).

At Pad Thai restaurant, we shared two dishes: the pad ped gapow (pad ped krapow) and the massaman curry. The Pad Ped Gapow, stir-fried vegetables and tofu in a brown sauce with spicy thai basil, was exceptional. The very spongy fried tofu soaked up the spicy, yet complex sauce. A lovely mixed of greens, beansprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions complemented each other nicely. All around a delight. The massaman curry--a reddish yellow curry with potatoes, peanuts, tofu, and assorted vegetables--was quite different than the version at my favorite place in Florida, but it was definitely good. It had a subtle sweet flavor of cinnamon and cardamom. If the sauce/broth had been a little thicker and the potatoes cut smaller and cooked longer, I would have been in heaven.

It's worth mentioning that Pad Thai restaurant is inexpensive--about 6 - 7 dollars an entree--and that it offers lovely Thai pop background music.

So, in the end, my search for the perfect Thai Restaurant in Columbus is not over. But, I will throw down for Pad Thai being well worth seeking out--truly a cut above. I just wish they were located in the Sho No or campus strip.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Other Red Cabernet...

I'll admit it: I'm a member of the "A.B.C." (Anything Chardonnay / Cabernet Sauvignon) wine club, especially when it comes to American wines. Chardonnays are over-manipulated by many winemakers to be popular with the tony, yet not so enologically sophisticated, country club crowd. Cabernet Sauvignons also tend to be produced in a rather heavy-handed manner, exclaiming a "big, bold red is best" mantra. Worse, these varietals (relative to their quality) tend to be much too expensive! That said, an exceptional Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon can be a pleasure to behold.

But, in the $15 per bottle range and under, we can do better.

To maximize the quality/dollar ratio requires a strategy. In general, two tactics seem to work best: 1) buy wines that originate in less popular locales (e.g., avoid Napa/Sonoma and Bordeaux/Burgundy wines), or 2) buy less popular, but equally enjoyable, varietals from around the globe (e.g., pass on Chardonnay for Chenin Blanc; skip over Merlot for Malbec).

So, let's get started with one of my favorite alternative reds...

Wine of the Week:
Ironstone Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, California, 2002

Tasting / Winemaker's Notes:

"[This wine] is known for its balance and medium body. The nose is full of bright berry fruit and violets with green pepper and a soft tobacco-like undertone. Flavors of blackcurrant give way to luscious, juicy black cherries with a full and elegantly soft finish.'"

My Review:

For me, the Cabernet Franc by which all others are judged is Peju Winery's masterful treatment of this most deserving grape. Unfortunately, Peju's version (which is sold out for this year) sells for $40 per bottle -- clearly not an everyday drinking wine. Yet, I love this fruity but sophisticated varietal and have been searching for an affordable version.

Ironstone's Cabernet Franc ($6.99 at Total Wine & More in Tampa, FL) represents an admirable effort. In general, I agree with the winemaker's notes. The wine is of medium body and color (thinner and lighter than the $40 Peju). Likewise, this wine's soft nose lacks the richness that I admire in the Peju. In the mouth, however, the wine comes into its own: vivid fruit flavors burst forth. And, the wine finishes gently.

Clearly, this is not a Peju Cabernet Franc. However, it's not intended to be. Ironstone's creation is a lighter variation that's fun and highly quaffable. This Cabernet Franc would pair well with most food dishes, from the hearty to the spicy. That said, it's also an enjoyable stand-alone drink while just hanging out with friends on a Friday night.

At $15-20 per bottle, I'd call it disappointing. But at $6.99, I call it a steal.

Quality/Value Ratio: $$$$ (out of five $'s)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Whole Foods: Everything I Hoped And More

I've taken a couple tours of the Whole Foods lately (on 161 near sawmill), and I'm impressed. Here are some highlights:
1) Glorious Fresh Organic Figs
2) Over 15 different kinds of loose organic eggs (you thought the eggs at northstar were delicious...try these; and the egg carrying baskets are sooo cute).
3) A ridiculously impressive spread of mushrooms (I recommend the lion's mane, lobster, blue oyster, and hedgehog)
4) Fresh roasted nuts (including curried almond and butterscotch walnut)
5) A huge selection of interesting wines under 10 dollars.

Go there and be amazed.

And,the new Whole Foods is right next to a lovely Indian market (on 161) and the Trader Joe's (over on Sawmill) so don't forget to stop there too.

I will still be regularly shopping locally in the Sho No, but damn if the Whole Foods doesn't make me want to drive to the suburbs. And, that's saying something.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

abby recommends

The September 5th New Yorker, the annual food issue, especially Judith Thurman's piece on tofu. The young's dairy fall festival, this year scheduled for October 1 & 2. This NPR piece on the katrina catastrophe and food.

Yummy (not mushy) Asparagus

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables in the entire world. It's delicious, crunchy, and elegant - that is, when it's cooked properly. And more often than not, it isn't. So, to rescue us all from mushy, lifeless asparagus, I present an easy way to prepare perfect asparagus.

1. Put asparagus in a one or two inch deep pan (but don't set the pan over heat, just on the counter).
2. Pour boiling water over asparagus to cover.
3. Let it sit for about five minutes.
4. Now test it. It should still be bright green and snappy when you bite into it.
5. Remove from water and squeeze a little lemon on top. Salt it to taste.

Now serve it up and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Burr...

I don't know how many of you like to brew your own coffee at home, but if you do, and you also grind your own beans (which I hope you do), burr grinders are definitely the way to go. Burr mills are different from standard coffee grinders in that they use minimal heat to crush whole coffee beans. This will ensure that you get a uniform grind and that your coffee beans won't be bitter before you even make the coffee. The most convenient thing about burr mills is that they have a timer built into the grinder. All you have to do is select how many cups of coffee you want to drink, press "Start" and - voila! - you get the perfect amount of grounds. They're fresh, they're uniform, and they're ready for your machine.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Garden & Seed Catalogs

Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools" blog recently had a write-up on several seed and garden catalogs, some of which specialize in heirloom seeds (a popular topic here).

Gardening catalogs are the very epitome of dreambooks. Some are quite beautiful, all ripe with the promise of fulfillment in a slightly other universe, but here are the three that make late winter in the heartland a little less bitter:

Go there:
http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000928.php