Saturday, April 29, 2006

Is George W Bush really a saint?

I am afraid I am breaking a rule again. Only matters related to food, wine, and travel belong here. But I find the present regime in the United States so outrageous that sometimes all we can do is laugh even though what is happening is really not funny. Anyway, a friend sent me this joke, which I think is wonderful!

President George W. Bush was scheduled to visit the Catholic Cathedral Church outside Washington as part of his campaign to restore his poll standings. Bush's campaign manager made a visit to the Bishop and said to him, "We've been getting a lot of bad publicity lately and we'd like to overcome that. We'd gladly make a contribution to the church of $100,000 if, during your sermon, you'd say the President is a saint."

The Bishop thought it over for a few moments and finally said, "the Church is in desperate need of funds and I will agree to do it."

Bush pompously showed up looking especially smug, and as the sermon progressed the Bishop began his homily: "George Bush is petty, a self-absorbed hypocrite, and a nitwit. He is a liar, a cheat, and a low-intelligence weasel. He has lied about his military record and had the gall to put himself in a jet plane landing on an aircraft carrier, posing before a banner stating 'Mission Accomplished.' He invaded a country for oil and money and is using it to lie to the American people. He is the worst example of any human being I've ever personally known.

But, compared to Dick Cheney and the rest of his cabinet, George Bush is a saint."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don't Attack Iran

I resolved with this blog to restrict my thoughts to food, wine, and travel. As the country seems as if it is heading in the direction of another disaster, I think it is important that we stand up and just say no.

It is important for the country to learn from the mistakes it has already made. It would be a disaster to attack Iran!

Please sign the petition at

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Grand Cru, Wine Bar, Baltimore, Maryland

Grand Cru
518 E. Belvedere Avenue, Suite 203
Baltimore, MD 2121
410-464-6229 FAX
For directions, click here

This wine bar is part of the Belvedere Square complex, and it is delightful. There is a wide selection of wines that is available through those hi-tech dispensers. And if you don't like any of the available wine, you can drink a bottle. Corkage is $5.00 for a full bottle, and $3.00 for a half (375 ml) bottle.

Most of the wines are interesting, hard-to-find wines. For example, the whites by the glass include (Austrian) Loimer Gruner Vetliner, 2004 ($7.00); (New Zealand) Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc; and (Alsace) Albert Mann Pinot Blanc, 2004 ($9.00).

The reds include Quinta Quietud (2004) from Toro in Spain ($18.00); Guigal St. Joseph Guigal (2001) for $12.00; and Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel (2004) for $8.00. (Of course, the Cline is not hard to find, but it is one of my favorites and extraordinary value for the money!)

We were in a bit of a hurry so I just had a Chimay Trappiste Belgian Ale in the "Monk Size" for $8.00. Belgian beers on tap are not easy to find so this was nice.

This place is a discovery -- I will be back!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Koco's Pub, Baltimore -- Revisited

Koco's Pub
4301 Harford Road
Baltimore, MD 21214
410 426-3519

For a Google map, click here.

Mr. H took me out to Koco's Pub for lunch today. The quality and friendliness is consistent with notes from my previous visit, which can be found

I think some people doing Internet searches have had trouble tracking Koco's down because of the spelling. Note that Koco is the correct spelling (not Coco's, Koko's, Cocoa's, or Coko's.)

This place is just wonderful!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Stolen Article -- Blanquette de Limoux

I stumbled across this article on site, Basic Juice. I love Blanquette de Limoux, and I have been meaning to write a piece on it for some time, but this article says exactly what I wanted to say in a more eloquent way! It came with an invitation to steal it. And that is exactly what I did. Thank you, Mr. Jarvis!

What follows is "stolen" content:

Steal This Article

Editor's note: Steal this article! Whether you publish a paper, magazine, blog or scribble on the bathroom wall; fresh (& free) content is always welcome, no? Feel free to grab this article and use it to spice up your publication. Do with it what you will - so long as you mention that the original comes from
The Juice. Now go forth, and copy & paste.

First in Bubbles

Picture this: You’re a 16th century monk who is lucky enough to live in an abbey surrounded by vineyards. Aside from an abundance of peace and quiet, you enjoy looking after your beloved bottles of fermenting wine in the subterranean cellar. Spring has sprung and it’s time for you and your fellow monks to find out if that special miracle has occurred for a second straight year. You and the brothers anxiously descend the stone stairs. Being the nimblest monk, you reach the bottles first and carefully pick one up. They’ve appeared again! Hallelujah and praises be. The tiny bubbles have returned. The others offer prayers of thanks, while you perform a decidedly non-pious jig. Reverence can be temporarily cast aside; this abbey is rocking with sparkling wine.

Chances are, if you had to guess at the geographic location of this historical flight of fancy, you would say the abbey was located in France’s Champagne region. That’s where bubbly was invented, right? Yet you, and about 99% of all wine enthusiasts, would be wrong. While Champagne represents the epicenter of modern sparkling wine, it was not the first region to produce bubbling wine in a bottle. Evidence suggests that this honor, albeit one borne of sheer geographic luck, belongs to the unassuming community of Limoux in southern France.
Now how did little old Limoux come to claim the first-in-bubbly crown? While Limoux lies in the otherwise toasty south of France, it’s situated in the Pyrenean foothills – not far from the Atlantic coast. Due to its altitude and cool sea breezes, the climate of Limoux is decidedly non-Mediterranean. In fact, the weather around this community more closely resembles the cool climate mountain villages in France’s southwest. So, what does this have to do with bubbles?

The answer is: everything.

Let’s go back to our 16th century abbey. In autumn the monks harvested Mauzac grapes, a naturally acidic grape variety redolent of very-ripe apples. The grapes were pressed and the must began to ferment. Due to the abbey’s high & cool perch, winter often arrived early, and the rapidly dropping temperatures halted fermentation. As spring arrived, the fermentation process began again. Up until the early 1500’s, wine was stored in wooden casks, and thus, carbon dioxide gas produced during this second fermentation escaped unnoticed. However, beginning in the 1530’s the monks of Limoux began wintering their wine in new-fangled glass bottles stopped with cork plugs – courtesy the nearby Catalonian cork oak forests. The monks now noticed this second fermentation as evidenced by the miraculous spring bubbles. In fact, some even hailed presence of these tasty bubbles as evidence of divine intervention by the Big Wine Maker in the sky.

Over time, bubbly from Limoux came to be called, “Blanquette de Limoux” (Blanquette means ‘white’ in the Occitan language). This soft, creamy sparkling wine gained a global following. None other than the famous Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, loved this wine. At the time of his death, it was discovered that Blanquette de Limoux occupied approximately 10% of Jefferson’s cellar real estate. In fact, Blanquette was the only sparkling wine T.J. kept on hand. Methinks Mr. Jefferson was on to something.

Modern Blanquette de Limoux must contain at least 90% of the traditional Mauzac grape. This is normally blended with a little Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. The result is a delicate, slightly sparkling wine that hovers between dry and off-dry. It’s perfect as an aperitif or at the table with Sunday brunch. When purchasing Blanquette de Limoux, it pays to inspect the label. Another sparkling wine produced around Limoux is called, “Crémant de Limoux.” This wine is generally more similar to modern sparkling wines such as Cava or French bubbly from regions outside of Champagne. Crémant de Limoux also contains higher proportions of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. In other words, while tasty, it certainly isn’t as unique as Blanquette.
If you’re interested in introducing your tongue to the soft tickle of Blanquette de Limoux, you might have to do some searching. Fortunately, while relatively scarce, this wine is usually quite affordable.

A few Blanquettes to bag:
Domaine Collin Blanquette de Limoux ($12-$15)
Le Berceau Blanquette de Limoux ($15-$17)
Bernard Delmas Blanquette de Limoux ($17-$19)

Once you get your Blanquette home, take a moment to look at the inviting bubbles and picture that 16th century monk - amazed that divine providence touched his humble bottle of wine. Cheers.

Help Wanted! Writers for Wikipedia

One of the most fascinating phenomena to emerge from the Internet age is Wikipedia. Many readers know that Wikipedia is an on-line encyclopedia written by its readers for other readers.

If you find an article is missing, you can write one. If you don't like an article, you can edit it. There are plenty of instructions to help novice Wikipedia writers learn how to edit and create contributions.

When I first heard about it, I thought it would be awful, and that there was no way that the general public could create a good on-line encyclopedia. To my astonishment, if you look up the articles on almost any subject, the content ranges from very good to excellent. There are well over a million articles in the English edition.

Unfortunately, there is not very much good information in Wikipedia about wine. There are probably few writers who have been willing to spend the time organizing the information and writing about wine. So this is a little appeal to readers of this page. Many of you know a lot about wine, so would you please spend a little time to make Wikipedia a better authority on wine-related issues.

You will notice if you look at the entries on Bordeaux, Sherry, Rioja, and a few others that I have begun to leave my mark. But I have not had very much time, and a lot more effort is clearly needed. Please help!

(Even people who don't consider themselves to be experts on wine can help. Many of the articles simply need editing!)

This is a good opportunity to make the world a slightly better place!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Crystal Inn, Denver, Colorado

The lobby of the Crystal Inn, Aurora, Colorado

Crystal Inn, Aurora, Colorado
Crystal Inn
3300 North Ouray Street,
Colorado 80011

Phone: 1-303-340-3800

Toll-Free: 1-888-890-3800


General Comments

This hotel was booked for us because United Airlines could not get us back home tonight. Although it is an "airport" hotel, like many of the Denver airport hotels it seems to be miles away and in the middle of nowhere. I was really not expecting much but, this is a very comfortable and well appointed hotels. It offers spotlessly clean rooms at very reasonable prices.

Don't expect to walk out of the door, though, and be able to "hit" all the bright spots of Denver. Right opposite there is a reasonable truck stop kind of restaurant, and that's it!

Crystal Inn seems to have a small number of properties across the country, including Maryland, Montana, Mississippi, and several hotels in Utah.


  • Close to Denver Airport (DEN) (relatively)
  • Very friendly staff
  • Efficient and rapid check in
  • Swimming pool
  • Computers with Internet connection
  • Wi-fi access
  • Very good cooked breakfast
  • Newspaper delivered to your room


  • Miles from everything else!
  • It feels as if it is in the middle of nowhere, but I would be the first to admit that I do not know the area well.


Nothing for me! United Airlines paid for this room as I was delayed from a flight. I tried booking it to see how much it would be and a double/double seems to be $68 yo $75 a night.


I would not go out of my way for this hotel, but for a good functional hotel, it is definitely above average. I would put it in the same class as Extended Stay America. Certainly, if I needed a bed and I was in the area, I would repeat the stay.

Flight Report: LAX -DEN on April 17, 2006

United Airlines
Flight 864
Los Angeles (LAX) to Denver (DEN)
Depart: April 17 2006 at 2:37 PM (local time)
Arrive: April 17 2006 at 5:48 PM (local time)

This flight was somehow not meant to happen. I was traveling with one of the young Moyey's, and we really wanted to have a bump. We almost got one, but someone dropped out at the last minute.

Hannah and I had Seats 9B and 9C, which are the best seats on United's 757s. There was a grumpy old man in 9A, and there will be more about him a little later.

Anyway, just as they were about to shut the doors, they announced that we would all have to leave the plane while they sorted out a mechanical problem. They also instructed people with tight connections to go straight to the United service counter to get help with connecting flights. Since we were supposed to be on a flight back to Baltimore (BWI), we went straight to the long line, where things were just a little chaotic.

Then the person at the counter suggested that people with mobile phones should phone United's reservations agents, which I did. They told me that the flight was on time, and that, if I wanted to make any changes, I would have to pay $100. Needless to say, I decided that was not a good idea.

Then we were told to get back on the plane and take our seats again. Mr. Grumpy, in 9A, who has probably never been entrusted with any management responsibilities in his life, suddenly decided that he knew how to run an airline. Rudely, he told the flight attendants that "this is ridiculous," and "why don't we go right now." Perhaps, he expected them to say "What a good idea. We had never thought of leaving. Let me go to the cockpit and tell the captain to ignore all safety requirements and forget about air traffic control!" I hate people like that. People who cannot face little changes in their travel plans should not be allowed to travel.

After that it was a pleasant flight, and the flight attendants gave us free drinks to "make up" for the delay.

Mr. Grumpy got ratty with Hannah. As she was getting down her case, which she always does efficiently and quickly, he declared. "You're in my way!"

Anyway, we arrived late in Denver. We went straight to the United Service counter, and we were given a voucher for the night at a hotel, vouchers for dinner and breakfast, and boarding passes in First Class for the remainder of our journey.

The test of an airline is how well they handle things when they go wrong. I think they did fine for us! But Mr. Grumpy will probably tell a different story on his blog!

Flight Report: CLD - LAX on April 17, 2006

Southern California's coast
A Korean Air Boeing 747-400 landing at Los Angeles airport. The LA airport Hilton is in the background.
Approaching the LA metropolitan area
Shortly after take off
Passengers boarding the United Express (SkyWest) Embraer 120
Embraer 120 at Carlsbad (CLD) Airport

United Airlines
Flight 5744 Operated by: UNITED EXPRESS/SKYWEST
Carlsbad (CLD) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Depart: April 17 2006 at 12:42 PM (local time)
Arrive: April 17 2006 at 1:20 PM (local time)

The pictures really tell this story. It was a lot of fun to take off from the tiny McClellan-Palomar airport at Carlsbad and fly the little hop into Los Angeles. Needless to say, there was no food, no drink, and no amenity kits! Just a spectacular view from a tiny plane that took off and landed on time. Great flight!

Another nice thing about this trip was the way we returned the rental car. We went to the Holiday Inn where we had picked up the car. The car rental agent drove us right up to the airport. Really smooth and easy!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cafe de La Flor, Tijuana, Mexico

Coffee at Cafe de la Flor -- This is what a cup of coffee should look like!

Cafe de la Flor

69 Avenida Sonora,Tijuana, Mexico

There are not many things that I get upset about, but coffee is one of them. First, consider what coffee is not. Coffee should never be lightly flavored hot milk covered with cinnamon even if you do call that cappuccino. Coffee should not be flavored with silly extracts of artificial flavors like almonds. Increasingly, cafes simply do not get it! Coffee also should come in ceramic cups.

End of diatribe!

One place that really does get it is the delightful Cafe de La Flor in Tijuana. In a nice little neighborhood, round the corner from Tijuana's Grand Hotel, this little cafe offers all meals and an array of delicious cakes.

I had a wonderful cooked-to-order breakfast here accompanied by one of the best coffees I have had in my life. The price for the full breakfast and the coffee was about $6.00.

It seems a pity that you have to Cairo or Tijuana to get a decent coffee!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

La Espadaňa, Tijuana, Mexico

La Espadaňa cooks delicious meats over a flaming grill

La Espadaňa
Av. Gral. Rodolfo Sánchez
Zona Rio
Tijuana, BC

Telephones: 634-14-88, 634-14-89, 634-14-83

This is a very pleasant place for dinner. There were no tourists in this well-appointed restaurant. The meat was delicious! I particularly recommend the carne asada, which comes sizzling on a hot metal plate.

For starters, we had a corn-based soup, which I found a little too thick, sweet, and starchy -- I should have had the salad.

The total bill including liberal and frequent Matgaritas, a bottle of L.A. Cetto, Petite Syrah, tax, and tip, was about $170.00.

Authentic Casar Salad, Caesars Sports Bar and Grill, Tijuana, Mexico

The finished product -- the genuine, authentic, and real Caesar Salad!
Serving the final product
Renee, our waiter, putting the salad together
Viagra and antibiotics are not among the ingredients, but you can buy them next door.
Prescriptions not rquired!
Caesar Sports Bar and Grill. We did not go in, but had a pleasant seat outside where we could watch the world go by.
The magic ingredients

Most foodies know the origin of Caesar Salad. It was invented by an Italian American called Caesar Cardini in 1924. A chef and restaurateur,who lived in San Diego, but worked in Tijuana to avoid prohibition, Signor Cardini created the first Caesar Salad. So naturally, walking by a sign on the Avenida Revolucion, we were attracted by a sign that told us that we would get the authentic and original salad.

When we asked, we were promised that this was definitely the place, and that if we went to hotel on the next corner, they would certainly claim authorship. However, they were liars, and this was the real thing. Satisfied with that categorical assurance, we sat down and had lunch. Thank goodness we escaped the Caesar Salad imposters!

The Caesar experience is designed to be a culinary lesson as much as a gastronomic experience. Our waiter Renee prepared the concoction at our table, and produced the meal shown above.

As far as the feeling of doing the real thing in the real place, I would not have missed this experience for the world. But it was not the best Caesar Salad I have ever had. I like my croutons to be golden brown and toasted under the grill after being spinkled with good extra virgin olive oil and no silly seasoning. I like a couple of anchovies to be visible guests at this feast, but it seems that the authentic recipe calls for them to be ground into the sauce. And big dry slabs of Parmigiano Reggiano are, to my taste, preferable to the cheese served in Tijuana.

But you should go for the experience. I don't have all the directions, but if you walk down the Avenida Revolucion, you will find Caesar's bar. Just make sure you don't get fooled by the liars on the corner.

The cost of this experience is very high for Mexico -- about $6.00 for the salads, and quite a lot for the Margaritas that wash it down. But this is one of those experiences that must be done at least once in a lifetime.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Grand Hotel Tijuana, Tijuana, Mexico

The heated outdoor pool was really nice!

The golf course at the Grand Hotel Tijuana

Grand Hotel Tijuana
Blvd. Agua Caliente #4500
Col. Aviación
C.P. 22420
Tijuana B. C., México.

General Impressions
This is a five-star hotel with all the amenities that you would expect from a first-class hotel. It has a golf course, a swimming pool, an executive floor, and a highly-rated restaurant, which was closed for the Easter weekend.


This hotel is run with friendly efficiency. It is conveniently located about 15 minutes from the International Border, but it is away from the mobs of drunken teenagers who haunt the area around Avenida Revolucion. Nice heated pool!


You don't know you are in Mexico! But if you seek out a modern five-star hotel, what do you expect?


$75.00 per night. This rate was the AARP rate. (Yes, Moyey is over 50!) Good value.


I would stay here again if I were in the area. It's fine!

Tijuana -- Why Tijuana?

We decided to spend two nights of this trip in Tijuana, Mexico. A lot of our friends wondered why. Well...

  • I like to leave the United States every few months even if it only for a little.
  • I wanted to discover the "other Tijuana." I have seen the Avenida Revolución, but felt there must be other stuff to see.
  • I had previously had good food experiences in Mexico, and I wanted to repeat them.

Los Arcos, Tijuana, Mexico

Los Arcos
Salinas Blvd., at the corner of Escuadron 201 Ave. in Colonia Aviacion

Telephone : 01152-664-686-4745

This is a lively restaurant with a very attentive staff. In the evening, there was a pleasant Mexican band playing Mexican and other music (The Beatles!)

When you arrive, they put caramelized onions and peppers on the table. For my first course, I had ceviche ($9.00). Mrs. Moyey and the young Moyey shared an avocado stuffed with shrimps ($8.00). We were most grateful to the waiter, who advised them to shared the dish. This was good advice as it turned out to be enormous.

I had carne asada ($13.00) because I am a big fan of Mexican beef, but I really should have had seafood although the carne was great -- it's just that Los Arcos specializes in seafood. Iran and Hannah were both pleased with their salmon ($12.00) although we decided later that local seafood would have been a better choice.

We drank Bohemia beer ($3.00), and the young Moyey had a non-alcoholic cocktail ($2.80).

This is a very pleasant restaurant, and I would probably go back. But next time, I would stick to seafood. It also seems to be off the normal tourist track, and most of the other customers were Mexicans. It was within easy walking distance of The Grand Hotel.

"Los Arcos" has other branches all over Mexico, including:

La Mesa - 4200 Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Blvd
454 Calafia Street
Blvd. Xicotícatl & Lago de Cuitzeo
4539 Calzada Lazaro Cardenas
5050 Ave. Acueducto, Suc. Acueducto
2220 16 de Septiembre
Ave. Camarón-Sábalo

Mexico City
330 Torcuato Tasso, Polanco
Mexico City
215 San Jeronimo Ave, Pedregal
Mexico City
104 Suarsal Niza Liverpool
244 Ignacio

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hilton Hotel, Woodland Hills, California

AAlthough this hotel is smelly, the bedrooms are pretty nice, and the beds are really comfortable

6360 Canoga Avenue
Woodland Hills
United States 91367

For a Google map, click here.

General Impressions

Generally speaking, this is quite a well-appointed hotel with an unacceptable flaw -- it smells horrid.


Comfortable beds. Good location. Also, Hilton gets its room amenities from Crabtree and Evelyn now, and they are nice.


This hotel stank of mold in the bedroom and in the public areas. The desk clerk did not seem to know what she was doing. And the clock radio in the room was set to wake us up at 4:30 in the morning. Nobody asked us if we liked our stay. Also, the room was pretty noisy. We realised why in the morning -- they had left the window open. Presumably, this was so that we would not notice the moldy smell.


Avoid this hotel until they get rid of the moldy smell.

Holiday Inn -- Carlsbad, California



For a Google map, click here.

General Impressions

This is a very friendly hotel close to the airport at Carlsbad. We were really welcomed at the front desk.


Budget car rental on premises. Nice pool. Nice location facing fields with flowers and an outlet mall.
Wonderful shuttle service that picked us up from the airport at 11:00 at night.


This hotel has the look and feel of a motel.This makes it seem a little expensive for what it is.


$159 plus $16.90 tax for a double/double room.


A useful hotel for a night or two after arriving in the area, but I would probably not want to stay any longer.

Carlsbad by the Sea, San Diego County, California

Carlsbad is a really pleasant place. The flowers, the sea, and the views were wonderful!

There is also a mall with restaurants and shops right opposite the Holiday Inn.
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Carlsbad Airport -- CLD

Tonight I was on flight UX 5754 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Carlsbad (CLD).

Carlsbad's airport, McClellan-Palomar airport, is the smallest commercial airport I have ever been to. The flight from LAX departed at 10:10 PM and arrived on time at 10:49 PM. It is operated by Skywest as a United Express flight, and it uses the Brazilian Embraer 120s. Naturally, no drinks or food were served on this short one-class flight.

This turned out to be an interesting and comfortable way to get into the San Diego area. Avis has a car rental desk at CLD, but we used the cheaper Budget agent at the nearby Holiday Inn.

The baggage claim area at Carlbad Airport -- Outside!

The front of Carlsbad airport

Flight Report, United Airlines UA307 BWI-LAX,, Economy

United Airlines
Flight 307
Baltimore (BWI) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Depart: April 12 2006 at 6:40 PM (local time)
Arrive: April 12 2006 at 9:17 PM (local time)

I have taken this flight before, and I like the timing. You can do an honest day's work in Baltimore and be in a bed in California the same night.

The plane was a Boeing 757, which I don't like very much, but I managed to get seats 9A and 9B for myself and one of the young Moyeys. You may like to note that if you are traveling economy on a United 757, this is, in my opinion, by far the best seat on the plane. (The useful site, SeatGuru, does not completely agree, and for their opinion, click, here.) Apart from terrific leg room, you get to leave the plane before anyone else including the people in First Class.

The plane left and arrived on time. Although I usually find United attendants to be exceptionally helpful and friendly, the crew on this flight did their job, but that was it. They did not seem to be going out of their way to be helpful.

Food was available for purchase for $5.00. I had a tasteless Roasted Chicken Fajita Wrap, which they forgot to mention was wrapped in cardboard, but was described like this on the menu:

Marinated chicken breast and pepper-jack cheese, topped with a caremelized fajita-pepper mixture with roasted corn, surrounded by cilantro cream cheese on a tortilla wrap. Served with a bag of chips.

A further $5.00 bought me a a small bottle of Hayes Ranch Chardonnay, 2004 from the Livermore Valley. This wine is fine although I would never really buy it if I had any choice. If you are not sure what people mean when they talk about "overoaked Chardonnay," this is a good reason to try this wine. It is a classic example that leaves you wondering what the oak is trying to hide. I drank this wine out of my traveling Riedel glass.

Hannah asked the flight attendant to bring her a pair of socks! This obvious demonstration of lack of experience of flying economy (coach) in the post-9/11 era caused more amusement for me than for the the flight attendant, who was distinctly "not amused." Perhaps he had had a tough day!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Atwaters, The Perfect Soup -- well almost

518 E. Belvedere Avenue, Suite 203
Baltimore, MD 2121
410-464-6229 FAX
For directions, click here

I have had soup from Atwater's in Belvedere Square a number of times, but, most of the time, it has been a hurried carry-out at lunch time. Today, I was with Iran and Hannah, and decided to check it out properly. I promised to lead them to the "best soup they had ever tasted!"

Even on a busy weekend, there were plenty of places to sit. Service was quick and efficient. On the menu, there were four choices of soup,

  • Spring Field Beef Barley (Bowl -- $6.85; Cup -- $4.00; Quart $13.70)
  • Roasted Pepper and Tomato (Bowl -- $6.85; Cup -- $4.00; Quart $13.70)
  • Mushroom and Leek Stew (Bowl -- $4.85; Cup -- $2.75; Quart $9.70)
  • Creamy Spinach (Bowl -- $4.45; Cup -- $2.50; Quart $8.90)
They also had three salads (asparagus, spinach, or field greens) priced at $4.50 for a "half," and $8.50 for a whole. There were also three sandwiches (Tavern Ham, Chicken Salad, Smoked Turkey.)

The menu seems to change daily.

My memories of the take-out that it was consistently excellent. Today, our choice of the Roasted Pepper and Tomato was good. The ingredients were fresh, and there were generous portions of crawfish and shrimp. We also had a taste of the Beef Barley and the Mushroom and Leek, and again they were just a little bit disappointing. Nothing really to complain about -- just not outstanding.

Despite our experience today, I recommend this place because I have had excellent soup here before. I guess today was simply not the day of my favorites in their selection.

I also deeply appreciate getting a nice big real bowl (porcelain), a real spoon (metal), and real bread.

I feel a little bad writing a less than whole-hearted review. None of us was ecstatic about today's lunch, but this place is usually exceptionally good. Give it a chance!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Las Rocas de San Alejandro, Garnacha, 2004, Calatayud

This wine is a serious bargain -- I recently bought a case of it for $6.99 a bottle at the Kings Contrivance Liquor Store in Columbia, Maryland.

(For the address of the
Kings Contrivance Liquor Store, follow this link; for a Google map, click here

I think it was on sale for the month of March, and I noticed yesterday that it was priced at $8.49 this morning, but you will always get a discount if you buy a case, and they also give discounts on Tuesdays. And, at any price under $10, this wine offers exceptional value for the money. It tastes far more expensive than this.

From the Calatayud area in Aragon (Spain), Las Rocas is made of 100% Garnacha (known as Grenache in France). This wine is bursting with rich flavors and has the all the characteristic typical flavors of Grenache. If you do not know what wine writers mean by "peppery spiciness" in wine, drink this wine, and the idea will become very clear indeed. It has a deep color, and although it is definitely one of those "in your face" wines, it has a complexity -- some aniseed or possibly liquorice. The alcohol level is, not surprisingly, high at 14.5%. A nice long lingering finish!

Very highly recommended indeed. If you live in the Columbia area, you will not regret making a point of getting some of this wine.

Riedel to the Rescue

Riedel Glass and its Container

No honest person would ever deny that they have watched an entire production of Hamlet without daydreaming just a little during one of the soliloquies. Anyway, when I was recently watching an (excellent) production of Hamlet at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland, I could not help thinking that when Hamlet was talking about the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," he was undoubtedly thinking about the last time he flew economy on United Airlines and had to drink wine out of a plastic container. Fortunately, as Prince of Denmark, Hamlet probably usually flies on SAS, which uses real glass and gives free drinks.

Unfortunately, all but the very rich have to put up with this indignity at one time or another, but I have a solution that really works. I bought a Riedel glass from Wegman’s. It came in a handy tube so that it is protected while in my bag. At the crucial moment, I ask the flight attendant if I may use my own glass rather than the airline’s. They are always delighted to oblige! Serious problem solved!

My next step is to line the container with velvet to make sure it provides better protection for the glass.

As for the glass, I love the glasses that Riedel makes, and I am impressed that you can even buy them in Target now although I have seen this particular model only at Wegman's.

To know more about an airline's policy on free drinks on its transatlantic routes, click here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moby Dick, House of Kabob

For a map, click here
Moby Dick, House of Kabob
1300 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036

Tel: (202) 833-9788

Say "Moby Dick" to your average Anglophone, and she will think of a whale. The same words spoken to your average Iranian evoke memories of kabob houses. The original "Moby Dick" was in Tehran near the former American Embassy. Search for "Moby Dick" and kabob on Google and you will get about 12,600 results, including Iranian restaurants in Boston, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Moby Dick has become a common name for Iranian kabob houses, and most of these establishments are not related. But the most renowned of the Moby Dicks is the small chain of nine restaurants in the Washington area. Today I had lunch at their restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC.

The menu includes Persian kabobs, including Kabob-E Kubideh ($6.09 with bread; $7.59 with rice), Kabob-E Chenjeh, Kabob-E Barreh, Kabob-E Joojeh. These are ground beef, beef tenderloin, lamb, and chicken respectively. The kubideh meat is mixed with grated onion before being put a flat skewer and cooked on an open grill. I like the Chenjeh and the Joojeh the best, and the server pointed out that I did not have to make the difficult choice between the two because I could get a "super combo" ($13.39 with rice, $11.79 with bread). You can also get a fish kabob, which uses swordfish meat ($9.16 with bread, $11.19 with rice), but I have never tried it.

The bread is the traditional flat Persian bread cooked on the wall of a tanoor, the traditional Persian oven. Delicious (only) when fresh and hot, a basket of this bread arrives at your table even if you order the kabob with rice rather than bread.

The Kabob-E Joojeh ($6.49 with bread, $7.99 with rice) consists of chunks of tender white chicken meat marinated in a mixture of lemon juice and saffron, which gives it a bright yellow color. It was delicious -- tasty and moist throughout. The Chenjeh ($7.89 with bread, $9.49 with rice) was excellent too. Evidently, they use very good meat. The rice is highly fragrant basmati rice with a yellow bit on top, where saffron has been applied. A knob of butter gives it some lubrication and and adds flavor.

We also had a rather insipid hummus to start with, and I wished later that I had chosen the Kashk-o-Bademjan, an appetizer that consists of sautéed eggplant (aubergine), grilled onion, garlic and boiled yogurt. I think that the principle is that they probably do Persian dishes well, but their customers expect them to do other Middle Eastern dishes as well. For example they offer falafel, which I have not tried. But why go to a Persian restaraunt to eat Lebanese food?

This was a very good lunch at a reasonable price in the middle of Washington's busy Dupont Circle area. I wish they would not use disposable plates and plastic utensils. And a license to sell wine would elevate this place from "Very Good" to "Outstanding."

Moby Dick now has eight other branches in the Washington area, including Georgetown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Mc Lean, Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, and Germantown. I have eaten at the Georgetown and Bethesda Moby Dicks, and the standard seems consistent. I have also been at parties, where they have done the catering (excellently). (The Georgetown branch is extremely small, and it is sometimes difficult to eat there comfortably.)

For readers outside the Washington area, there is a website,
FarsiEats, that provides information about where you can get Iranian (Persian) food. It lists restaurants all over the world, including my favorite, Reza's, in Chicago, but not Moby Dick. The site also has recipes for people who want to cook Persian food themselves. No other cuisine in the world can make basmati rice "sing" in the way Iranians can!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Iron Bridge Wine Company (Revisited)

A flight of wines sitting on the bar at the Iron Bridge Wine Company

The Iron Bridge Wine Company

10435 State Route 108
Columbia, Maryland 21044
410-997-3456 (Phone)
410-997-3807 (Fax)
For a Google map, click here.

I first reviewed this restaurant and wine bar on December 30, 2005, and I must have been back at least ten times since then. As you can probably guess, I really love this place, but I thought it would be helpful to include a review of one of the best meals of my life that Mrs. Moyey and I had last Tuesday (March 28, 2006). When restaurants are new, they often start by producing great stuff, but the quality falls off with time. In the case of the Iron Bridge, nothing could be further from the truth!

There are probably about ten meals I have had in my life that I will never forget. And this was one of them! A "meal of a life time" requires quite a lot of words, and I recognize that many people visiting this site are looking for a quick "shall I, shan't I" answer, so I will begin with the bottom line -- this restaurant just gets better and better. Chef Marc Dixon. Marc cooks fresh ingredients in an original unfussy way.
With the policy of pricing wine at just $5.00 above retail, wine lovers can enjoy superb wine at reasonable prices served by people who know what they are talking about. And they serve wine in good glasses. What more could you want? (Other unforgettable meals include Le Gavroche in London, Les Amis in Singapore, Charleston's in Baltimore, and Vidalia in Washington, DC.)

Readers from Washington or Baltimore may see little point in traveling outside the city for a good meal, but this restaurant is so exceptional that I believe you will agree that it is well worth the ride. You will not be disappointed, but I would time your visit carefully because the Iron Bridge is no longer the area's best kept secret.

The occasion of this review was a Rh
ône Valley Dinner. The cost of the dinner was $75.00, and that included three courses, a sparkling wine to start, and a dessert course, tax, and gratuity. The Iron Bridge has wine tastings regularly on Tuesdays, and you can expect world-class cookings, top class well chosen wine, and an interesting and informative presentation of each wine,

The prices next to the wines are the retail prices at Iron Bridge.

The meal started with a Jaillance Clairette de Die Sparkling Wine ($16.00) from the
Drôme Valley. (Go to this site particularly if you know a little French, and you are interested in seeing beautiful multimedia presentations. Make a point of seeing " The Legend of Clairette de Die.) Anyway, this wine is a blend of white Muscat (90%) and Clairette (10%). The wine is a delicious, light floral wine, but get it only if you if you positively enjoy sweeter sparkling wines -- this is nothing like a Brut champagne, and it should not be compared.

The first course was Seared Rare Tuna, Coriander Crusted, Served over a Cracked Pepper Oven, Dried Tomato and Cucumber Salad. This was accompanied by Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, Blanc, 2004 ($30.00) and also an Ancien Domaine de Pontifes, Chateauneuf du Pape, Blanc 2005 ($40.00). I love good sushi-grade tuna particularly when it is served almost raw. The blend of pepper and ground coriander complemented the wonderfully tender tuna meat perfectly. The tomatoes were deeply red and tasted better than most tomatoes that are found around here at this time of year. All through the meal, I was wondering where they buy their ingredients. (I wondered with a little garnish of fresh cilantro would have been a good addition to this dish from a culinary and visual perspective.

The Crozes-Hermitage is an attractive and refreshing wine that is fermented entirely in stainless steel. It is a blend of Marsanne (80%) and Roussanne (20%). The lemon taste is nicely balanced with a complex caramel flavor. (Recommended).

It was nice to drink a white Chateauneuf du Pape, which contrasted sharply from the Crozes-Herimitage largely because of the presence of an attractive, smoky wood flavor and the fact that this wine is dominated by Grenache Blanc. There was just the hint of a little sparkle on the tip of the tongue that I find interesting and attractive in white wines.

The next course was Braised Veal Cheeks with Smoked Bacon Lardons, Melted Leeks over a Quick Egg White Souffl
é. The smell of this dish filled us with anticipation. "Caramelized onions," said Iran, but that smell turned out to be the well caramelized "melted" leaks. The veal was so tender that it almost melted in the mouth. The thing I love about the cooking at Iron Bridge is that the food is so well integrated -- several ingredients form a single dish; yet each ingredient can be tasted seperately. The accompanying wines were a Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas "Les Ruchets", 2003 ($75.00), and an E. Guigal "Brune et Blonde," Côte Rotie, 2001 ($65.00)

"Les Ruchets," is made from wine purchased from a single vineyard, and it was especially successful in 2001. Colombo believes in near organic methods, and the wine exhibits the signature Syrah taste with interesting spicy complexity.
(Very highly recommended)

Côte Rotie, is made of Syrah and a little Viognier (5%) spends 30 to 36 months in a mixture of new oak (40%) and one-year old oak (60%). It has the distinct cherry flavor that you usually associate with Syrah (particularly Australian Shiraz), but with an unusual complexity.There is the added smoky flavor, the tannins and vanilla from the oak, and also the floral flavors that are reminiscent of Provence. (Very highly recommended).

The next course was Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Mixed Mushroom and New Potato Hash, Haricot Vert. While the theme of the veal course was to use Syrah-based wines, three Grenache-based wines were presented with the pork: Domaine la Bouissiere "Bel Air" Vacqueyras, 2003; Chateau Fortia, Chateauneuf du Pape, 2003 ($34.00); and Domaine de la Maurelle, Gigondas, 2004 ($21.00).

Again, the Grilled Pork was a perfect choice. The signature of the Iron Bridge cooking rests in their ability to integrate dishes. Apple is always a lovely complement to pork, and the addition of sage worked terrifically with the group of Grenache-based wines.

The Domaine la Bouissiere "Bel Air" Vacqueyras, 2003 is grown at high altitude. Neither fined nor filtered, Bel Air is a blend of Syrah (80%) and Grenache (20%). Half the wine is barrel-aged and the rest is in aged in tanks to achieve a wonderful balance of fresh fruit and intensity with obvious potential for improvement with age. (Highly recommended)

Chateau Fortia, Chateauneuf du Pape, 2003 is another wine in which Jean-Luc Colombo's methods are used. Although it was not the most expensive wine of the evening, I particularly enjoyed it. The balance of fruit, herbs, and peppery spices are wonderful in this wine. Marvelous!

Domaine de la Maurelle, Gigondas, 2004 was another intense and rich wine. My notes documented intensity of fruit, but, to be honest, I cannot remember this wine very clearly. I am certain that this reflected the quantity of the other wines rather than the quality of this one!

The final course was Raspberry and Lemon Basil Granite Garnished with Fresh Berries accompanied by Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($33.00).

The dessert was a terrific idea. A refreshing, slushy, delicate mix of berries made interesting with basil and also some mint.

The Domaine de Durban is generally considered one of the best of the Beaumes de Venise wines. Made of Muscat
à Petits Grains, this very delicate and fragrant wine is usually drunk in France primarily as an aperitif although it is enjoyed elsewhere as a dessert wine. Beaumes de Venise usually has an alcohol level (15%) that is higher than most sweet wines because fermentation is arrested through the addition of alcohol. Although this wine is undoubtedly very fine, when I drink it, I cannot help running comparisons in my head to other sweet wines (Bonnezeaux, for example) that I prefer. I need to open my mind on this wine!

Towards the end of our meal, Iran and I decided that neither of us should be seen behind the wheel of a car, and we ordered a cab from Columbia Cab (301 604 5800). They showed up about half an hour after we called them. Their service is just about acceptable, but I would not go out of my way to recommend them unless you particularly enjoy listening to a driver talking loudly on his mobile phone while you are trying to muse on the wonders of the treasures of Rhône Valley. If you do a wine tasting at the Iron Bridge, I would seriously consider making arrangements to get home safely.