31 October 2007

New Brew Review

Beer, more so than wine, has a great variety of seasonal periods that bring forth a varied selection of brews at specific times of the year. On the heels of the release of Great Lakes Christmas Ale (my official mark for the beginning of the holiday beer season), here is a review of the latest and greatest seasonal (and other) beer offerings.

No matter what your nationality, if you drink beer, you think about Oktoberfest. Many breweries from Deutschland to Denver brew a seasonal marzen-style beer in honor of the festival celebrating the old wedding of King Ludwig. In Denver, the spirited Flying Dog Brewery features Dogtoberfest, a domestic beer made from Vienna malts, German hops and the freewheeling spirit of the gonzo brewery. The beer is amber in color, possesses a rich malt character with notes of cereal grain and citrus balanced out by a complimentary hop finish. As with most Oktoberfest brews, this beer is easy to drink in large quantities.

The other big-time beer event in the fall is the hop harvest. Many breweries release special ales to celebrate the freshest possible hop character in beers. Sierra Nevada marks the hop harvest with the release of Harvest Fresh Hop Ale. This brew is made with freshly picked "wet" hops and is redolent of the conical beer bittering agent in both flavor and aroma. The piney, floral scents and the drying finish showcase the 8,000 pounds of hops used in the limited release brew.

Warrenville, Ill.'s Two Brothers Brewing celebrates the hop harvest with the Heavy Handed I.P.A. This is a great operation tucked in the western suburbs of Chicago, and this uber-I.P.A. changes yearly (and even by batch) based upon the hops and the vintage. Most of what the Ebel brothers touch turns to liquid gold, and Heavy Handed is no different. This is a great beer. One of the other neat things about Two Brothers is the Brewer's Coop, which offers tons of home brewing materials, if you want to get beer directly from the source rather than from your corner liquor store.

Not all of the beer consumed in the fall needs to be seasonal in order to be interesting. Sometimes, being made to age makes a brew interesting. Few beers have the long history of cellar dwelling that accompanies Fuller's Vintage Ale. The recipe of the beer changes annually, and the beer is made to be aged for eons. This year's bottle conditioned beauty is made from Maris Otter malted barley, Fuggles, Target and Super Styrian hops and the specific Fuller's yeast strain. It definitely needs bottle age because the malt is tightly wound and massive. The beer is at least two years from being fully integrated, but it will drink magnificently from 2010 to 2020. Stash a few of these away and wait patiently for the rewards to come.

Another vintage brew in a crown colony made to be aged in the ale from Australia's finest brewery Coopers. The Extra Strong Vintage Ale is also bottle conditioned. This beer takes on yeast characteristics rapidly, and becomes lighter as time passes. It has a raisin and oatmeal flavor, and can be drunk with or without the substantial yeast deposits in the bottle. On the plus side, Coopers also comes in fantastic 12.7 ounce bottles. While it is a good quality beer, it is too expensive at $16 a six pack, so keep the cost in mind.

Oregon is a hotbed of craft brewing, and Full Sail is one of the many greats in the Pacific Northwest. The newest limited release from the Mount Hood brewery is the Limited Edition Lager, a clean, refreshing golden beer made with bottom fermenting yeast and aged to a refreshingly perfect, clean continental pilsner. This is a beer that shows off the talents of this Oregon mainstay.

Further down the coast, Lagunitas brewed up the Lucky 13 Red Ale in honor of their anniversary. This is a ruby American strong ale with intense fruit notes and hints of caramel, mint and brown sugar. This 8.2 percent alcohol by volume beer is well made. While not the most showstopping offering from the Petaluma brewery, it is nonetheless interesting enough to sample once.

No offense to Germany, but in my humble opinion, Belgium is the beer capital of the world. Belgium is the only place where you can get Trappist ale, an ale prepared by monks from specifically licensed breweries. Orval, the original Trappist ale, was founded in the 11th century. This was the first bottle conditioned ale made in this style that still exists today. It is dry and yeasty, with a fat midpalate tasting of wheat, citrus and apples, and it has a long, complex finish. Try this beer, because it is the original example of a world classic.

Not all Belgian beers are Trappist ales. There are multiple beer styles in the country, and only the properly licensed producers are Trappist. Many other beers are made in this style are called Abbey ales. St. Bernardus is one of the best of these breweries. Although not officially a Trappist ale, the beer has monastic roots. They produce doubles, triples and quadruple ales. The Abt 12 has 10.5 percent alcohol, and it displays notes of plums, wheat bread, cinnamon, clove, citrus and leather. This beer has so much alcohol that it might put you down for the night, so drink this monster with care.

It's a little out of season, but anything with the words "Three Floyds" on the label, you know it's going to be good. Gumballhead is a summer wheat beer with Amarillo hops. Anything these guys make is great, so don't hesitate to try the Alpha King, the Black Sun Stout, the Behemoth Barley Wine, the Dreadnaught I.P.A., the Rabid Rabbit Saison, and the Dark Lord Imperial are all top notch offerings that are not to be missed.

Nogne O Brown Ale comes from a region not noted for great beer production--Norway. This is a craft brewer that makes interesting brews from Scandinavia. Most of their beers have solid reputations. The brown ale is interesting if unspectacular. It has notes of coffee, cherries and smoke, with a thin, hot finish. This is the second brewery I have sampled from Norway after Aass, and although Nogne's beers have more character than Aass, the brown ale was fair quality at best.

The fall season sees the release of Bell's Best Brown Ale, a characterful brew chock full of flavor. The beer has a deep color, with roasted Belgian malts producing flavors of chocolate, maple syrup, malt and toasty nuts. This is another brewery that makes nothing but great beer. Bell's on the label is a sure sign of a quality product.

New Holland Brewing also features a brown ale. Their offering is called Cabin Fever and it is made with rye malt that gives the beer a deep color and a rich flavor with an earthy finish. The beer is lighter than expected, but it is very good beer for when the temperature drops and alcohol provides a little extra warmth while sitting in front of the fire.

New Zealand's premiere beer is Steinlager, a continental pilsner from Aukland. It has that funky skunky character that accompanies all green bottle beers, and it would be generally indistinguishable from any other green bottle import. Drink with care, because the longer these beers sit around, the skunkier they get.

New York micro Southern Tier produces interesting year round and seasonal offerings. One of their limited release beers is the Unearthly Imperial Pale Ale. This beer uses too much hops, and for me to say a beer uses too much hops, it indeed has to use too much hops. There is no balance. A beer can be uber-bitter and still be pleasant. This brew has an assault of pine flavors that overwhelm the palate, disabling your ability to taste it. The hops are not the best choice to use in a beer of this style, because instead of overwhelming your palate in a positive way, they succeed in drowning your palate with an overload of unpleasant bitterness.

Located in rural Oregon, Siletz Brewery bottles many of the beers available at its pizzeria brewpub. I sampled the Lovin' Lager and was greatly underwhelmed. I don't know if the bottle was old, but the beer was flat...not in terms of carbonation, but in terms of flavor profile. It had a meandering finish that was too unfocused to make any kind of statement. I'll have to sample the rest of the line to see if there is anything worthwhile in the rest of the portfolio.

That's all for now. I'll be back with more next time I get a minute. Check out the pictures below.

New Brew Review


Anytime I'm in a shopping mall, I look around the window displays to test a theory that I proposed years ago--mannequins get sluttier and sluttier every year. It isn't just the culture in general, maybe, because the anthropomorphized clothing racks couldn't have been quite this dirty in the past according to my foggy memory. Or maybe this is a down cycle, and perhaps 2002 was the peak year for trashiness in mannequin suggestiveness. I spent a year in graduate school learning the ropes of the social sciences. But I'm not sure how I could quantify a scale of filthy that would support this pet theorum of mine. Maybe I'll never know.

Nonetheless, typically I write about food, music or politics, so I'll leave my amateur analysis of gender issues out of my report on Firdous Mediterranean Cuisine in Polaris. I had a taste for falafel and hummus, so I went to Firdous to sate my cravings.

Firdous has plenty of vegetarian options, including platters and sandwiches featuring falafel, hummus and baba ganoush dips, and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean salads. There are vegetarian combination plates with many different options. I tried a combo of falafel, hummus and Greek salad.

Firdous has at least two locations. The other location is at North Market in Columbus. While I can't speak for the quality of the North Market location, the Polaris stop is one step above most fast food st best, and not nearly the quality of places like Aladdin's, which are conveniently located damn near everywhere.

It is also a touch expensive. My combo and drink were almost $9, which was expensive based upon the quality of the fare. The food is better for you than the crap from Sbarro's and Wendy's, and you pay for every cent of the upgrade.

The other plus of getting something from Firdous at North Market is that there would be other places to get different food within the market, whereas the Polaris food court offers deep fried fat and other artery-clogging goop. But you also might be able to spend $10 at Molly Woo's, Brio, Bayleaf or B.J.'s in and around Polaris and get better food (albeit more slowly) than you would at Firdous. I might also prefer Noodles and Company and Qdoba to Firdous. Finally, I've finished ranking Polaris eateries ahead of Firdous. It finished ranked 7th in the vegetarian dining options near Polaris...pending the opening of Marcella's.

Check out the pictures, and check out my crazy theory that mannequins are sluttier now then they were when you were growing up while doing whatever else it was you were doing.


30 October 2007

Deli in the Alley

Hidden beneath the urban landscape of downtown Columbus, amongst the tall buildings and multiple endless construction projects, is an aptly named establishment Deli in the Alley. The place is now under new ownership, and the new staff still offers a tremendous number of vegetarian sandwiches along with chips, side salads and coffee, tea, pop juice and smoothies.

Deli in the Alley is tucked away in the alley on Lynn Street. The place is worth searching out, especially since they offer a great variety of options for veggies and carnivores alike.

I tried the three cheese panini, a grilled cheese sandwich made from cheddar, swiss and mozzarella cheeses, roasted red peppers and tomatoes on sourdough bread. Think of it as a grown-up version of a childhood favorite.

There are many other vegetarian sammies. The garden wrap is hummus and a cornucopia of vegetables
held together by a tortilla. The Greek wrap is similar, with no hummus and plenty of feta and creamy dressing. The veggie panini has red peppers, alfalfa, spinach and portobella mushrooms with vegetarian deli spread griddled on ciabatta bread.

The sides are also delicious. The pasta salads look great, the vegetable salads are nice, and the potato chips are better than the Frito Lays products available at Subway. My other favorite characteristics of Deli in the Alley include the McCormick salt and pepper grinders on the tables and the eco-conscious glassware derived from corn. How cool is that?

Check out the pictures below, and make sure to travel through the back alleys to find one of Columbus' most fun lunch spots.

Deli in the Alley

26 October 2007

Starliner Diner

Starliner Diner is an old standby in Hilliard, combining kitschy decor with carefully prepared Cuban, Italian and American dishes. Although not entirely vegetarian, the Diner features enough selections from their diverse menu to keep all shades of the vegetarian crowd satisfied.

The restaurant is many things to many people. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have Cuban, Mexican, Italian, Cajun and American food on the menu. The decor is a combination of 1950s paraphernalia, sci-fi space graphics and Cuban artifacts. The elements fuse nicely, giving the Starliner Diner an undeniable charm.

I started off with the Chiles Rellenos, which were two poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and cilantro in a smoked chile sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with the cheese and citrus notes of the filling tempering the rich smoke from the peppers and the sauce.

My main course was vegetable pizza bread sandwich, which was virtually a stir fried vegetable calzone that was folded rather than being completely sealed off. It was filled with broccoli, cauliflower, red onions, carrots and red peppers in soy sauce with a side of chips and finely chopped pico de gallo salsa. It was a massive sandwich, which also appeared on the menu in a different form as the cheeseless pizza. There were many other veggie dishes available on the menu.

The one caveat about Starliner is the prices. While to food is very good, it is definitely more expensive then your typical breakfast or lunch diner. My entree, appetizer and pop came to a total of $20 without tip. If you are expecting a little more out of your breakfast or lunch experience, though, it is definitely worth the price.

Check out the photographs below, and check out the Starliner.

Starliner Diner
Starliner Diner on Urbanspoon

24 October 2007

Ween--Lifestyles Community Pavilion

The Boognish was unleashed upon the 614 last night when Ween brought the traveling circus to Lifestyles Community Pavilion.

The show, while not one of Ween's best, featured a mix of their old favorites and the tracks from the latest album "La Cucaracha," which was released Tuesday.

Ween still plays an entertaining live show, and the latest tour was no different.

The newest album has a few tracks that are winners. This year, I haven't laughed as hard as I did when Deaner sang the lyrics, "She's gonna be my cock professor, studying my dick. She's gonna get a master's degree in fucking me!" in the song "With My Own Bare Hands." Only Ween could succeed in making misogyny rock so hard.

A few other tracks from the new album (including "Friends" and "Spirit Walker") were mixed together with tracks from the classic albums. Songs came from "The Mollusk," "Chocolate and Cheese," "Quebec," "The Pod,""Pure Guava," "12 Golden Country Classics," and "White Pepper."

The show ended with the super funky, Princed-up song "L.M.L.Y.P." (a song that has a fairly obscene lyrics if you take the time to look them up).

The stage was rushed by a throng of nubile girlies who were all about grinding on stage while one particular young lady with extremely low self esteem made sure to flash her boobies to the crowd. And no, I didn't get video of the experience. I'm sure she'll spend much of the rest of her life trying to live down the things she does when she starts drinking. I don't need to aid in her downfall.

One of the other parts of Ween shows that makes everything worthwhile is the crowd. You get an interesting mix of older indie kids, jam band-loving hippies, characters dressed in drag and other attire, the gay community hoping for another rendition of the song "Homo Rainbow," and straight-laced straight people who are discovering Boognish for the first time. The audience creates a synergistic effect along with the music that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The show was fun. There wasn't quite the energy or the intensity of the "White Pepper" shows, nor the big band community of "12 Golden Country Classics" tours.

Still, the back catalog of Ween hits makes any show enjoyable. It might not have been the best Ween show I've ever seen, but a bad Ween show beats the tar out of a good Silverchair or Insane Clown Posse (two upcoming Lifestyles acts) any day of the week.

Make sure to check out the pictures and short video clips below that come to us thanks to Ween's recording-friendly policies. (I'll add updates periodically.)


Video Links:

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23 October 2007

Open letter to the crackhead who broke into my car

Dear crackhead who broke my car window on Lester,

Oh where do I start? There's so many things I could say to you or about you. But I'm going to keep it short, sweet and to the point.

You are a soulless, meaningless jerk. You broke into my car through the passenger window. I hope you cut yourself fumbling around my car, and I hope you bled somewhere other than my car.

Who knows if you remember breaking into my car during the first inning of the ALCS game 6 during the 1st inning? Who knows if you know what baseball is? But you are definitely an Indians hater. Cleveland is full of enough dread after their history of coming up a little short this half century as well as the last year. You didn't need to agitate the situation by robbing cars during the Championship Series, dimwit.

The best demonstration of your mental faculties was that while robbing my automobile, you took a Sirius radio, an item that has no cash value, and nothing more. If a pawn shop or any other doofus gave you money for it (which they wouldn't btw), the radio won't be able to be activated after I canceled the subscription and reported it stolen. I realize that logic doesn't make sense to a person who smokes cocaine out of a soda can. But this should: The part that you overlooked even though it should have been obvious to anybody with half a brain was that there was $5 worth of quarters in my ashtray. You should have taken those. Unlike a stolen Sirius radio, quarters actually have a cash value.

I realize that it is a long shot that you might have access to the internet. It might be a stretch that you can read the English language. All I know is that you probably smoke crack while you stumble around thinking the world owes you something. I hope every drug crash you have is annoying as my trip to Safelite to replace the window you broke for $188. I would have paid an extra $20 to watch a video of the dealer turning you down on your crack for a three-year-old, stolen Sirius trade proposal.

I wish you a long life in prison performing fellatio for cigarettes. May your drug stash be cut, may the shack that you sleep in be blown over by a tornado, and may you always use birth control. My car is fixed while your life is in shambles. You broke my window and I still came out on top. Ha ha ha, it sucks to be you, crackhead.

Good day to you, street trash,

Jared R.

Noodles & Company

Lunch. It's the middle of the sandwich that is the three meals of the day. While you have to eat a good breakfast in order to start the day off right, you need an equally healthy lunch in order to keep moving along through the day. After two days worth of lunch at Noodles & Company, I'm grooving along strong enough to review it in a blog entry.

Noodles and Co. is an amalgamation of cuisines that rely on noodles to starch up their daily intake of calories. Obviously, Italy and other nations that surround the Mediterranean Sea eat more than their share of pasta. However, history has demonstrated that noodles were a part of the Chinese diet as early as 3000 B.C.E. These two cultures came to the mixing pot that is America, and Americans of course created their own particular noodle delicacies.

Noodles & Company prepares Asian, Mediterranean and American food, and they are careful to be able to make just about anything according to specific dietary restrictions. Any of the dishes can be made with organic tofu to increase protein in your meal, and meals can also come with side salads or soups.

I sampled the Wisconsin mac and cheese (pictured above), made with traditional elbow pasta, creamy cheese sauce and cheddar jack cheese. The full size bowl plus drink and roll cost about $8 and was well made and filling.

I also tried a trio of Indonesian peanut sautee, tofu and green salad. The trio is lighter eating than a full bowl of food, but the variety is excellent.

The staff is very helpful selecting vegetarian choices for you, and the menu is available for takeout. Check out the pictures below.

Noodles & Company

20 October 2007

The Sandwich Challenge

What a classic lunch staple is the sandwich. The old trusty lunch box mainstay has roots into olden times, with roots even deeper than the 18th century English Earl for whom the sandwich is named.

Sandwiches come in all shapes and sizes, be they filled with meat or (more appropriately) any and all types of vegetables, spreads and cheese. This run down will feature all of my notes about the best (and worst) vegetarian sandwiches I've ever eaten.

Athens, Ohio is a hot bed of quality cheap food to feed the poor collegiate hoard. Avalanche Pizza, easily Athens' best pizza, also makes Athens' best (and biggest) veggie sandwich. The sandwich is called the boulder and is advertised as being as big as your face. The veggie boulder is three buns piled high with mushrooms, green peppers, onions, banana peppers, black olives, roasted red pepper, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese with a choice of dressings that include Italian, honey mustard and creamy pesto. I didn't snap a picture the last time I was in town, but this image should give you some idea of how big these things are. Plan on gaining a pants size after eating an Avalanche boulder.

Also in Athens (but slightly more refined than the more-is-better Avalanche approach) is Mistretta's Italian Market. They make great panini sandwiches. These grilled Italian delights feature the quality Italian mozzarella that separate Mistretta's from Subway. All sandwiches are made on flatbread, including the fresh mozzarella with a choice of pesto or tapenade, mozarella with red peppers and red onions, and a mushroom panini with porcini, portabella, white mushrooms and mozzarella. The menu features some pictures of the sandwiches. The deli sides can also be very excellent.

When I lived in Chicago, there was only one place for submarine sandwiches: Cap'n Nemo's. Well, maybe there were three--I used to eat at the one in Winnetka, but there are two other locations in Rogers Park and Lakeview. They offer vegetarian chili and split pea soup in addition to three vegetarian subs. The first is the vegetarian, made on a hollowed-out roll stuffed with radishes, pickles, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes and onions with brick and provolone cheese and the vinegar-based Captain's Secret Sauce. The super cheese has five kinds of cheese and is literally like eating two pounds of dairy products in one sitting. The third vegetarian sub is the Mexicanne, made with the vegetarian chili, guacamole, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, giardinera and brick cheese. There might seem to be an ingredient in these sandwiches that doesn't seem to fit, but trust me...outside of the mayo, these ingredients harmonize perfectly together. Trust the expert on this one.

Nestled on the north end of German Village in Columbus is Katzinger's, the deli that offers a treasure trove of vegetarian (and vegan) sandwich options. The menu items that I have tried include the Fred's Jazzy Pita Treata, a hummus and pita sandwich with tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and kalamata olives. Franklin's Kibbetz is grilled on sourdough bread with fresh mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes. The Bill Clinton, while not vegetarian, is sure to leave a mess on your chin.

Some places don't offer the selection of these larger scale outposts, but the quality of the one offering keeps me going back for seconds. One such sandwich is Weezie's Cheesy (pictured above) from the Brown Bag Delicatessen. The sandwich is made on nine-grain bread with tomatoes, sprouts, onion and cucumber with Muenster cheese, vegetable cream cheese and honeycup mustard. The cozy deli also sells wine and beer, putting it a leg up on the rest of the competition.

Danny's Subs
in Westerville also fits the bill of an establishment with one well-made vegetarian sandwich. You get a choice of white or wheat bread, any or all of provolone and Swiss cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, black olives and banana peppers topped with Italian dressing, salt, pepper and oregano. The sandwich is stacked as high as it can go, and as a result, the lines can build up at peak lunch and dinner hours. The place is small and family owned, and as a result, they are closed on most holidays while keep relatively short hours on other days. The owner and his staff are all very friendly. Danny's is definitely a winner.

Benevolence is a vegetarian restaurant. They feature many soups and sandwiches, including the falafel sandwich which is made like a veggie burger patty. Their food is great because I'll never say no to anything with falafel.

Speaking of falafel, Aladdin's Eatery makes falafel sandwiches the old fashioned way--in pita bread. You can get the pita stuffed full of vegetables or as a smaller-portioned rolled pita, with an optional choice of hummus or baba ganoush in the pita. This is one of many vegetarian sandwiches from this chain with great healthy dining options.

The Fast Food Olympics

And what would a review of sandwiches be without a critique of fast food options? Who has the best quick and dirty sandwich, and who makes the worst? Picking the worst always gives me pain, because the worst vegetarian sandwiches are made by some of the first places I ever ate a veggie sub--Subway. Subway sandwiches aren't completely awful. Think of them as civilian MREs. According to Jared from Subway, these are very healthy, but in reality, I think of the subs as tasty cardboard.

In third place for the cookie cutter fast food sub sandwich category is
Potbelly Sandwich Works. Potbelly is indeed better than Subway, which is akin to saying that you are taller than Verne Troyer or smarter than Miss Teen South Carolina. The subs are average and fairly-priced. Potbelly sandwiches are $2 cheaper than Quizno's, most likely because they are smaller and don't have as many topping options. Overall, they could be better and they could be worse. Outside of the culinary realm, however, Potbelly also should do everything in their power to eliminate creepy management. One of the managers at the establishment I visited was leering at me and giving me the Larry Craig eye. I was afraid if I dropped my potato chips, he would step into his wide stance and give me the once over. I don't know what that was all about, but in my opinion, I'd keep my young children away from the John Wayne Gacy-looking gentleman that manages the Polaris Potbelly. I just don't trust him.

The fast food silver medal goes to
Jimmy John's. Unlike Potbelly and Subway, Jimmy John's has guacamole, which could almost put them in second all by themselves. I prefer the eight inch sub to the club, although the club comes on better bread. Either way, Jimmy John's also trumps everybody else because they deliver.

The grand champion of the crap category is
Quizno's, but that comes with a giant caveat. While Quizno's subs are better than Subway and Potbelly, they also cost way more. You would be better off trying any of the smaller shops described before the fast food ratings. They are worth every penny, while Quizno's is about 300 pennies too expensive.

I should update this entry regularly as I continue to eat sandwiches. Enjoy the pictures, and go eat a freaking sandwich.

Sandwich Challenge

19 October 2007

Las Margaritas

Yeah, I'm really falling apart here. I'm reviewing cookie cutter restaurants with more in common than most fast food joints. But take it easy on me--I'm eating out with some friends and family with less adventurous palates than mine, so the neighborhood Las Margaritas offered me veggie-friendly fare while they could get all the traditional Mexican fare that their stomach could handle. Plus, I'm not going to complain about any establishment with big Don Julio, Patron and Corralejo margaritas. So eat that, foodie snob!

Las Margaritas is exactly what it appears to be...a classic Americanized Mexican restaurant with combo platters consisting of tacos, burritos and enchiladas served beside refried beans and other Mexican accoutrements with the endless bowls of chips and salsa and 400 different flavors or margaritas. The place is almost interchangeable with El Vaquero and many other eateries in this faux-authentic style. The menu offers a number of vegetarian selections, including the quesadilla, the bean enchilada and tostada (pictured above).

The drinks elevate the meal, but be warned...two of these drinks usually put a hurting on me. Enjoy the pictures, and don't criticize me too badly for enjoying the margaritas with good people who wanted Mexican rather than experimental fusion cuisine.

Las Margaritas

18 October 2007

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

After trying the new P.F. Chang's offering Pei Wei, I would have been remiss if I ignored the vegetarian menu items from the flagship P.F. Chang's. Overall, the food quality is good-not-great. The service is solid, and although the place has a great deal of vegetarian options, most neighborhood Chinese bistros offer better quality vegetarian food at better prices. P.F. Chang's is a safe option that can easily be beaten by the competition.

They do clearly indicate vegetarian offerings on the Chang's menu, a technique I applaud. The vegetarian lettuce wraps were decent if unspectacular. The ma po tofu, an item that must be carefully ordered from Chinese restaurants because it is often made with pork, is piggie-free at P.F. Chang's.

The wine list is carefully selected to be matched with Asian dining, and is passable. Check out the pictures below.

PF Changs

16 October 2007

Pei Wei Asian Bistro

Pei Wei Asian Diner is a newer concept from the P.F. Chang's folks that is popping up like weeds (or Starbucks) all across the United States. This is basically a Pan-Asian noodle shop with counter service that makes for a decent power lunch option.

There are a number of vegetarian options marked by the lovely hippie leaf logo on the menu, making the items easy to spot by vegetarians who are incapable of reading (although, come to think of it, illiterate vegetarians wouldn't be able to read the text at the bottom of the menu explaining the veggie symbol's meaning. It is a useful gesture for saving my time, nonetheless.).

The spring rolls were good if uninspiring. The noodle and rice dishes are fairly big portions, and none of the dishes cost more than $9. I tried the blazing noodles, a chow fun noodle dish (a fettuccine-like rice pasta) made with tomato black pepper sauce, broccoli, carrots, scallions, pea pods and cilantro with tofu. The sauce was flavorful and medium spicy, but I definitely would have liked the five inch broccoli stalks and the tofu slabs to have been cut more finely while I was eating with chop sticks. I do possess mad chop stick skillz, but the pieces were so large that I ended up eating in installments off of the sticks or taking down a whole piece in one ridiculous bite.

Then again, it was all made up for by my fascination with people who can't eat with chop sticks.
I love watching people labor with the Asian cutlery, and I love it even more when they tap out and have to ask for silverware. In retrospect, maybe they figured something out with these four-inch tofu blocks and broccoli trunks that I hadn't. Maybe I'm really the dummy.

Regardless of my personal shortcomings, Pei Wei is fairly priced and should be attractive to those with a limited amount of time for lunch that want to eat vegetables for lunch and not deep fried animal goop from Kentuckyfriedbellkingmcdonalds. It is a decent option that isn't nearly as quality control driven as some of the swankier Asian bistros, but probably is economic enough to churn out a consistent business all the same. Check out the pictures below.

Pei Wei

11 October 2007

An Army of One

The Marines are suggesting that they should withdraw from Iraq and concentrate their efforts on Afghanistan while the Army remains in charge in Baghdad. Iraq is such a crappy place to be, the leathernecks would rather be hanging out in Afghanistan under U.N. command than stay in Mesopotamia. That's unreal.

The Washington Post detailed the White House's desire to target companies who employ illegal immigrants, and explained why the courts nixed that decision. It's good to see somebody in the other two branches of government actually CHECKING the power of the Executive branch for the first time in a long time.

The House resolution to recognize the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks during World War I has ruffled some feathers in the Turkish government. Now that the U.S. is nearly the last country on board regarding the state-sponsored campaign of murder that darkens Turkey's past, apparently Turkey will be the last to recognize the error of its (past) ways.

The general public might draw the conclusion that the media are prejudiced based upon Ann Coulter calling Christianity "perfected Judaism" and Fox News radio host John Gibson identifying the Cleveland school shooter as white based upon the premise, "
I knew it as soon as he shot himself. Hip-hoppers don't do that. They shoot and move on to shoot again." It's too bad that purported news outlets would give these simpletons a soapbox to stand on, but you should expect nothing less than a quality product from Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch's operations.

Finally, the crazy story of the day has to be the New York pizza shop owner who is accused of manufacturing counterfeit money behind the pizza oven. I'll take a large pizza with green peppers, mushrooms and convincing counterfeit $100 bills (for research purposes only, of course).

India Corner

What used to be Dosa Corner, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant take out/buffet in Lewis Center, has now become India Corner, a North/South Indian vegetarian take out/buffet. Dosa Corner still exists on Henderson Road, and it looks like the Lewis Center institution may be under new ownership--hence the new name.

They offer a $5.99 lunch buffet with crispy lentil pancakes, rice with lentils and spicy green peppers, an almond curry dish, okra and a battered vegetable dish that was the hottest of the mostly mild fare. There is basmati rice, gulab jamun (honeyed doughnuts) and a variety of greens and sauces alongside the sambhar.

The okra was excellent, as were the curry and the fried vegetables. It is difficult to complain about a $5.99 buffet. There is definitely higher quality Indian food available in and around the area, including but not limited to Cuisine of India and Bay Leaf Bistro. But this is a huge step up from most of the other six dollar lunch options in the area because you'd at least be getting some vegetables for lunch. On the plus side, you can also get great beer and wine to accompany your meal at From the Vine further down the plaza during dinner time. I didn't see beer for sale, so maybe they'd allow you to BYOB.

Check out the pictures below.

India Corner

Special note: India Corner has transformed once again. Now they are known as Andhra Spice. They are no longer strictly vegetarian, but they have many vegetarian items on the menu.

10 October 2007

New Music and Bad Science

Today is the day that Radiohead is attempting to turn the music industry on its head. The influential band is releasing their new album "In Rainbows" on the Web, allowing users to pay whatever they want for their latest release, and the song "Jigsaw Falling into Place" is making everybody who paid for Britney Spears' "Gimme More" feel stupid for doing so.

A debate has broken out in the White House over the Israeli response to policy regarding North Korea and Syria. Cheney is on one side, Rice is on another, and Rush Limbaugh is still a fuckwit.

The Los Angeles Police Department is under fire for another controversial bout of violence, this time involving journalists and immigration rights protesters. Why can't the LAPD beat somebody who deserves it (like Lindsay Lohan, Stephen Baldwin or Kwame Brown) rather than their arbitrary pattern of nightsticking the wrong people?

New York is up in arms about the noose found on the door of a professor at Columbia University. While NYC would like to believe that they are ahead of everybody in the world, this incident demonstrates that the city is in fact about one year behind Jena, Louisiana. If they are going to lynch somebody at Columbia, perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been a more fitting target for this kind of misguided aggression.

The battle between the Western world and people who practice goofy folkloric religions is coming to a head in Holland, where Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of gender discrimination in Islam, faces an uncertain future from extremists because of her comments about Dutch Muslims. When you need violence to prove your point, as is often the case with religious fundamentalists, you probably have no point at all. Hopefully a fundamentalist somewhere can focus their aggression against that tramp Ann Coulter and allow Hirsi Ali to demonstrate what life is like for a Muslim in the 21st century.

Finally, in off-beat news, on the heels of the Nobel Prizes being awarded, the Ig Nobel Awards are given to discoveries that make people laugh before they make them think. This year's winners include studies about the side effects of sword swallowing, Viagra as a cure for jet lag in hamsters, the "gay bomb," making vanilla scents from cow dung, and determining if rats can differentiate between languages spoken backward. Once again, science has proven that no avenue of research is too obscure to garner recognition

09 October 2007

Homerun News Day

The final division series is over, making the next two days an absolute black hole for athletic competition unless you'd like to check out the slate of volleyball available on the Big 10 network. Joe Torre may have managed his last game in a Yankee uniform. Alex Rodriguez might also be leaving the Big Apple. New York is a mess, and outside of NYC, everybody is laughing at the city and its misfortune.

The White House rush to demonstrate the effectiveness of their war on terror has resulted in some unintended consequences. After a copy of Osama bin Laden's 9/11 speech was taken from al Qaeda's intranet, the network went silent, destroying this window into this world of extremism. Bush gave up a direct link to terrorist information in order to impress the public with a two-day early copy of the senseless ravings of a deranged madman in bin Laden. This isn't the first example of the White House rushing headlong into an endeavor without a careful plan, and it probably won't be the last, either.

The Democrats in Congress, those people elected by the American population to change the direction of the country after the rudderless Republican regime, are expected to extend the warrantless wiretapping program in the U.S. The Dems are doing such a good job directing the legislative branch that they have to inspire somebody to create a third party to replace the ineffective two that the voters have to choose between.

Blackwater is in the soup now that Iraq's government will demand $136 million in damages because the security firm killed 17 civilians. Now democracy in Iraq is really chugging along, because the Iraqis have figured out how to go after the people with the bankroll. If the system is broken, you can always sue somebody.

CBS news is under fire again. First, the Dan Rather debacle damaged the news institution's credibility when they failed to fact check a story on George Bush's military service record. Then they threw a curve ball by hiring bubbly morning TV personality Katie Couric to anchor the evening news, bringing more criticism. Now, they are apparently not allowing conflict of interest problems to prevent them from using the public relations machine to build the Dick Cheney agenda. Rita Braver, whose husband derives income from legal work on Mrs. Cheney's new book, put together a fluff piece about the book, further blurring the line between news and advertising. The new sign off for the evening news can be, "Brought to you by this evening's sponsor."

Finally, those who think that American macrobrews are too similar to one another will cringe at the news of Coors and Miller combining efforts to market beer in the United States. At least now I know that there will be one single corporate entity making shit beer to appease the simple American palate and oppose the monolith that is Anheuser-Busch as opposed to two companies with the same ridiculous goal.

08 October 2007

Brew Reviews and the Infusion Report

I was thinking to myself the other day that since flavored vodkas were exploding in popularity, I ought to try my hand at making a few batches at home for myself and save a few bucks.

Vodka flavoring is an ancient tradition. It once was used to cover up unpleasant flavors in poorly distilled liquor, but today the craft production of super-premium flavored vodkas has elevated the process to an artform.

It is actually relatively easy to infuse vodka at home. My first experiment was made with pineapple, and it was quite delicious.

There is no reason to use top shelf vodka for infusion. For one, there are reports varying in degrees of success that involve people passing cheap vodka through a charcoal filter like a Britta pitcher and removing impurities from the hooch. Beyond this, if you flavor vodka with fruit, the fruit will temper the aggressive character of the low end spirit. A 1.75 liter bottle of filtered Smirnoff works just fine for this exercise.

Also, the more fruit you use, the merrier. This recipe was quadruple berry vodka, with three cartons of strawberries and two cartons each of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. The blueberries have to be broken with a wooden spoon in order to impart their flavor. The infusion process takes five days to a week. The pineapple vodka was made with three containers of fresh, core-in pineapples as well as a half pound of pineapple chunks. The core is essential to the tropical flavor. The fruit remains in the infusion jar, and it will continue to develop in flavor over time.

As an added bonus, the fruit can later be used to garnish your drinks. It will taste VERY alcoholic. I've heard a rumor from some college kids that you can get drunk eating the alcohol soaked fruit. Of course, I didn't know that was possible because I spent my college years studying in the library on the straight and narrow path, and that's the story I'm sticking with.

Aside from that, the pineapple vodka mixes well with orange and mango juice. The berry vodka is fantastic straight, and along with the pineapple vodka, mixes well with tonic and lemon/lime soda.

And now in beer................

In no particular order, here are reviews of a bunch of killer beers. Stone 11th Anniversary Ale celebrates the new brewery, and it is made in the same ostentatious style that has made the San Diego brewery famous. The new anniversary brew is a black India Pale Ale (IPA), a deeply colored beer with notes of espresso, tropical fruit and a generous helping of aggressive alpha hops that mark almost every Stone offering. Each beer is also accompanied by a lengthy philosophical treatise on the thinking behind each beer that is heavy on the adjectives and the sarcasm.

Stone also released their newest installment of their vintage cellar dweller XX-XX-XX ale. The brews are released one year and one day from each other and are meant to be aged until a vertical tasting can be held after December 12, 2012. The newest edition is 07-07-07, made with huge quantities of malt and hops flavored with spices and lime, orange and grapefruit peel. I can't wait to drink my 03-03-03 through 07-07-07 vertical in 2013.

Speaking of anniversaries, Sierra Nevada, one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the U.S., has issued the first commercial release of their Anniversary Ale. The brewery is 27 years old, and each year they produce a special IPA to celebrate another year of business crafting world class beers. The ale is off dry, made from pale, caramel and Munich malts and treated with a cascade of Cascade and Chinook hops. The beer has both more hop character and greater balance than the flagship pale ale. It is widely available at most retailers that carry the other Sierra Nevada products.

Since the weather has gone all Florida on the residents of Middle America over the last few weeks, beer has been required to tone down the sweltering heat. Few beer styles achieve the thirst quenching character of kolsch beer from Cologne, Germany. Gaffel Kolsch is made at the oldest brewery in Cologne in the classic style. The brew is golden, with a light, crisp malt character and a hint of European hops and citrus. When global warming finally gets turned up to 11, be sure to have plenty of Gaffel on hand so you can rest in contentment while the world burns around you.

As I am an avowed hophead, I couldn't refuse the wiles of the Weyerbacher Simcoe Double IPA. This brew, as well as the brewery, has received critical acclaim for their big beers, which include many highly hopped and barrel aged offerings with enough alcohol to make you see things. Simcoe is a hybrid hop species bred for maximum bitterness without the tongue-scorching character that can accompany some beers made in the heavy handed hops zeitgeist in which we currently live. They brew this selection with a dump truck full of hops, and it is available most of the year. This beer is a monster, and it's meant to be sipped and savored.

Now that everybody is making hop behemoth brews, it couldn't be long until macro micro Samuel Adams tried their hand at a hop heavy brewski. Their addition to the canon of liquidated lupuline is the Hallertau Imperial Pilsner, made from massive quantities of 100 percent Bavarian Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops. This is a deep golden lager with a floral bouquet and a resinous pine finish that is drying and extremely long on the finish. It is good to see Sam Adams making beer that could introduce the masses to the beautiful flavors and aromas in carefully selected hop varieties. Unfortunately, this beer
doesn't do much to separate itself from what is becoming a crowded field of big brews. The H.I.P. is good, not great, and too expensive to justify buying over Dogfish 90 or 120 Minute IPA for a similar price.

On the subject of my favorite brewery in Delaware if not the world, the newest Dogfish Head beer treads in both familiar and unfamiliar territory. This is another brewery with a great sense of humor. Previous offerings have included Liquor de Malt, a bottle-conditioned 40-ounce bottle complete with a Dogfish logo paper bag. They also used to make an Imperial Pilsner that was called Golden Shower and changed the name because the government frowns on suggestive alcoholic beverage labels. This beer has morphed into the Golden Era, a continental pilsner made in the idiosyncratic style of the Fish. This beer is a distinctive version of a beer style that seldom distinguishes itself, another success for the folks at Dogfish Head.

Fans of smoke, toast, cocoa and coffee flavors might stock up on the Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, a 10.6 percent alcohol stout brewed with liberal quantities of black, chocolate and roasted malt. It is brewed in the imperial style. The store I bought it in said this was a new beer, although it is a winter seasonal. It didn't matter, because it is an opaque, complex beverage with more than enough character to transcend the season. I recommend it as a tonic for Yankees fans celebrating their wasted season.

Also on the full-bodied end of the spectrum (and a year away from release date) is the Dominion Millenium Barley Wine. This beer is aged for six months in bourbon casks, and displays a ruddy color along with pronounced notes of grapefruit, vanilla and black pepper. Barley wines are usually an acquired taste, but this may be the easiest drinking beer I've ever tasted with nearly 12 percent alcohol. The brewing facility produces beer for many of the breweries in the vicinity, and the restaurant provides great accompaniment to the seasonal beer offerings that accompany the food. I highly recommend the beers and the Washington D.C. area's first brew pub for any and all occasions.

Great Lakes is one of my favorite brew pubs, and their bottled beer has as much character as a Jackson family reunion. Indians fans looking to celebrate their post-season voyage should head to Great Lakes before, during and after the games for as long as the journey lasts. Their food is great and the beer is even better. One of their most interesting brews is Nosferatu, a stock ale released between August and October. The ruby red beer has a faint sweetness that emerges out of the toffee and cereal notes of the beer that is elevated by an elegant, spicy hop finish. At 8 percent alcohol, this brew might put you in a deep sleep much like the vampire it is named after.

Don't drink and drive, and if you must, make sure to drink better beer while you drive around enjoying the photographs below.

Brew Review

06 October 2007

Dragonfly neo-v

Dragonfly is the undisputed champion of the Columbus area's vegetarian dining establishments, and even at brunch, they come out swinging. Chef Magdiale Wolmark carefully selects the creme de la creme of local produce to create a vegan dining experience that rivals the greatest temples of gastronomy in the region.

Dragonfly gets plenty of good press from sources like the Columbus Dispatch, the Washington Post and even Veg News based upon their fabulous dinner and the imaginative and well-selected drinks. But the $19.50 prix fixe brunch is one of the best values in fine dining in the Cow-lumbus area.

There was an all-you-can-eat first course consisting of green leaf lettuce salad, fresh tomato and olive oil pasta salad, multicolored been salad, squash hummus, blueberry muffins and tomato slices covered in fresh basil. It is served with complimentary coffee or tea. There are also many juices and cocktails available for an additional charge.

My second course was a risotto prepared gumbo style. It was earthy, rich, spicy and covered in a citrus-flavored green that was the bow on top of the gift box. The presentation is pictured above.

Wolmark changes his menu regularly, and grows many of the herbs and produce in a garden on site. There is a tremendous family vibe at the restaurant, where Wolmark and his wife Cristin Austin work alongside their happy-go-lucky children (both of whom are regulars while mom and dad are keeping the wheels spinning in the kitchen and on the floor at Dragonfly).

Check out the pictures below, and definitely go to Dragonfly whether you are vegan or a grade-A Atkins diet carnivore, because the food will transcend any dietary restriction you might have.


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