26 February 2008

Sedeo Cafe

Sedeo Cafe, another of the panoply of fine dining establishments in Powell, is named for an Old Latin word that means to sit, relax and enjoy. While the food was delightful, some aspects of the service sat and relaxed a little too often, preventing me from fully enjoying the experience.

The restaurant is a little off of the main drag in Powell. I ate there close to when the place opened, and had a very good experience. The fare consists of American classics with impeccable presentation.

The Web site touts Sedeo's ability to prepare food based upon vegan or vegetarian dining requirements. The printed menu is fairly limited in vegetarian options. It might be advisable to call one day ahead of your reservation in order to allow Chef Alonzo Horn to prepare the best possible options for your vegetarian dining pleasure.

Sedeo Cafe has gotten fairly good reviews from Columbus Monthly (Columbus' best new restaurants), the Columbus Dispatch and ThisWeek News. The reviews were excellent in highlighting Sedeo Cafe's high points and equally adept at showing off its flaws.

I started with the spring salad (pictured above), which was made from mesclun, dried cranberries, candied pecans, Maytag blue cheese and a shallot-balsamic emulsion. The dried cranberries, cheese and dressing provided an excellent foil to the greens.

The main course was a chef's special. It was a tomato stuffed with rice on top of a bed of barley with sides of carrot, seered zucchini and green beans. The barley was so delicious that it might have been a better tomato stuffing then the rice, which was rather plain.

The service was friendly and attentive. The wine list was decent if short of spectacular. There was a big problem with serving temperature of the vino. The malbec, pinot noir and syrah were all excessively chilled, and the Australian muscat (which I ordered as an after-dinner drink) was definitely not made to be drunk before dessert.

Sedeo is a fine establishment that needs to iron out a few of its problems before they are considered to be the best of the best (or even the best of Powell). Check out the pictures below.

Sedeo Cafe

Strip clubs: Now absolutely meat-free

Casa Diablo is the place for those who like the strip club experience with as little sausage as possible.

According to the Willamette Week, Portland, Oregon is home to the world's first vegan gentleman's club. The club offers vegan Mexican food along with a side of panocha and pechos.

All of the performers are not vegan, although owner Johnny Diablo (if that is his real name) has been a vegan for 23 years. If you're in the Portland area and hungry for some vegan eats and teets, Casa Diablo just might be the place for you.

22 February 2008

Carlsberg Vintage No. 1

So I must have been sleeping on the job when I missed the notice that Carlsberg, brewers of Denmark's version of Heineken, is offering a specialty beer for sale in their home country.

"How special?" you ask. How's about $400 for a 375 mL bottle special for a reserve brew called Carlsberg Vintage No. 1. This dwarfs the nearest competition, Sam Adams Utopias, by a clear margin (Utopias averaged about $200 for a 750 mL upon release). The beer is aged in French and Swedish oak casks, and is available only at the brewery and in specially selected restaurants.

I like craft beer as much as the next guy, but $400 for about 12 ounces seems a touch excessive to me. Maybe I could go in on it with about 20 other friends and we could each take a small sip. What does anybody else think? Is this a product of our flailing economy, an example of shrewd marketing or a ridiculous ploy to make the folks at Carlsberg rich?

21 February 2008

Señor Antonio's

Señor Antonio's is about as close to traditional Mexican cuisine as Pizza Hut is to Italian food, as close as Panda Express is to Chinese food, or even as close as John McCain is to conservative. You know what you're getting when you walk in the door...tacos and burritos, chips and salsa and big Margaritas. Even with the predictability of the menu, Señor Antonio's does offer big portions at a fair price with fast service, making it a winner despite its more urbane upbringing.

The first winner for Señor Antonio's is that they feature seven vegetarian combos that are clearly marked "vegetarian combos." If I haven't stated this in the past, I will do so again: All restaurants should prominently feature vegetarian items on their menu. Vegetarianism, unlike the Atkins diet, is not a fad that is going away, and I'm glad Señor Antonio's is hip to this reality.

The chips and salsa are fairly standard. The salsa is mild with more tomato character than pepper spice. There are better chips and salsa options around, but I'm not going to complain about anything I get for free in a restaurant, whether it is an amuse bouche served by the executive chef of a four star restaurant or free chips and salsa at the neighborhood Mexican joint.

There are a wide variety of vegetarian combos on the menu. The choices are made up of fajitas, bean burritos, cheese enchiladas, veggie chalupas and bean tostadas. The garden quesadilla (pictured above) consisted of a large tortilla stuffed with some form of queso blanco (chihuahua, I'm guessing) and grilled green and red peppers and onions. For $6.99, it makes for quite a lunch alongside the chips and salsa. The other bonus is that the service is quick. Those who are on lunch break can get in and out with relative ease, making this a good lunch option that shouldn't cost more than $10 unless you are drinking your lunch, which whould indicate that you probably shouldn't be gainfully employed, anyhow.

Speaking of which, the margaritas from Señor Antonio's are well made and not weak. The tequila selection is a little limited, but you don't get shorted on the tequila, so it should make for decent drinking on National Margarita Day (or any other day, for that matter).

Check out the pictures, and if you're in the neighborhood, check out Señor Antonio's.

Senor Antonios

18 February 2008

Zax Deli

Now that I'm working in Lewis Center a few day per week, I decided to grab lunch at Zax Deli after reading about it in the Columbus Dispatch. The reviewer praised the vegetarian sandwich, and I can't say no to a good veggie sandwich...so here it is.

Zax might be located in Lewis Center near Powell and 23, but they keep Downtown Columbus business hours. They are open Monday through Friday 11 am to 2 pm. You will have to plan accordingly.

The $8 combo is a great deal. You get a regular sandwich, a side of either cole slaw or potato salad, a pickle, a cookie and a fountain drink. The other bonus is that you get free popcorn while you wait for your order. I took liberal advantage of that perk.

The veggie sandwich comes with cheese, cucumber, tomato, sprouts, green pepper and onion with your choice of white, rye, whole grain or croissant bread available grilled or not. The grilled whole grain bread was very tasty, as was the side of hummus that comes with the veggie sandwich.

This is a cool lunch spot that offers the convenience of internet orders on their Web site. The location is tricky to find because it is in a weird commercial/industrial park. The limited hours also make eating at Zax a trick. Despite those obstacles, they do make a fine veggie sandwich, and the sides and free popcorn make it an extra treat.


Plank's Pizza

I'm still actively trying to track down the best pizza in and around Columbus. My latest venture was Plank's Cafe and Pizza on Parsons.

Plank's features thin crust pizza with all of the usual suspects available as toppings. They also offer sandwiches (including a vegetarian sub) as well as salads, a variety of fried appetizers and soups (warning: I don't know if the soups are vegematarian friendly).

Just looking at Plank's pizza, I wanted to hate it. It looked like a fairly standard thin crust pizza. I got green peppers, mushrooms and onions as toppings. The toppings were fresh, but definitely not top quality.

My first bite also caused me mild apprehension, as the sauce was very sweet. However, despite my initial prejudice against Ohio pie and Plank's sweet sauce, it began to grow on me. It grew so quickly in fact that I ate the whole damned thing.

Plank's is a mini chain, with three locations. I understand that the pizza is slightly different at each place, so I'll have to do some future investigating on the subject.

This is good pizza. It isn't in the same class as some of my favorites (Adriatico's, Hound Dog's, Wholly Joe's), but it was competitive with the most of the area thin crust offerings. I'll definitely grab another after work in the near future.


Plank's Cafe & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


After hearing all the buzz about Powell's Maca (Top 10 New Restaurants in "Columbus Monthly," plus that undeniable buzz that comes from blog posts and blog posts about your establishment), I just had to swing in and check out all the hoopla.

And there is a reason why Maca is getting noticed. Carefully crafted small plates accompany fairly priced drinks in an intimate atmosphere that seems to have put Powell on the map (well, I can find it now, at any rate).

Maca is very small. I would be surprised if they can seat 30 in the dining room and bar areas. Based upon the size of the restaurant, either show up early or come on the weekends because Maca does not take reservations. You order food and drinks at the bar station, and you can eat as much or as little as you would like.

There were four vegetarian tapas on the menu. It was simple to figure out what the vegetarian items were since the chef was cooking on the line within whispering distance of the bar area.

I started with the cheese platter, which had bread made by Omega Artisan Baking in the North Market, as well as what I believe was manchego, mahon and a soft, creamy, mild blue cheese served alongside small apple slices.

The goat cheese stuffed red peppers were so good, I ordered them twice. The mild acidity of the cheese accents the seared pequillo peppers, and it is a delicious but simple delight.

The eggplant cigarettes were battered and fried. Something in the batter gave the sticks a sweet finish. If you imagine hush puppies surrounding finely cut eggplant, you'd be living in the neighborhood of taste from which these items reside.

Patatas bravas are a Spanish specialty that is a must-have at most tapas establishments, and Maca's potatoes were no exception to that rule. They were served with a chili sauce and a garlic aioli. If I'm ranking Columbus area patatas bravas, I'm still leaving Barcelona's patatas in the driver's seat, but the potatoes from Maca finished a close second (much like Tony Stewart).

The dessert, a dark chocolate mousse with olive oil and salt, was understated, savory and delicious. I was impressed that there wasn't a wine on the menu priced greater than $7 per glass. The bottle prices were also excellent, and they were also available to take home after the meal. The beer selection was small and also well priced, with Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and a Barcelona Lager called Estrella Damm (named after an Alsatian brewer who made lager in Barcelona) available for $3.

Maca was definitely as good as advertised, and it had some great vegetarian options. Check out the pictures, and if you get there yourself, make sure to show up early.


Maca Cafe on Urbanspoon

14 February 2008

A torrent of tasting notes

This it is...a clearing house for my latest beer tasting notes. These are relatively new beers that didn't fit into my preexisting categories (i.e. Belgian style beers, seasonal beers, et al.). Here goes nothing.

We'll start off with an absolute classic from Young's. Young's doesn't make a bad beer, and one of my personal favorites is Young's Double Chocolate Stout. The tap brew is delicious, and its closest take home approximation is the nitrogenated cans. Some people fear the words chocolate on the brew, but when they understand that the first chocolate in "Double Chocolate" is chocolate malt, they really start to panic.

Instead of being a fountain dessert drink from a malt shop, chocolate malt is a roasted barley with a nutty, medium sweet character. This brew is also flavored with dark chocolate and Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops. It isn't exceptionally sweet, but it has flavors of hazelnut, cocoa and smoke with a creamy texture and a savory finish. The nitrogen carbonation makes this brew like Guiness with ten times the character and flavor complexity.

I also tried two more brews from Montreal's McAuslan Brewery. The St. Ambroise beers are new to Ohio as far as I know. Every beer I have tried from them was very interesting. I first tried the oatmeal stout in a previous post. I liked it so much, I decided to try the Apricot Wheat Ale. It is an unfiltered wheat beer, with flavors of lemon zest, peach and cereal grain, with the apricot coming through on the finish. It's refreshing, and it has far more in common with a hefeweizen than it does with a lambic. The apricot actually adds a new dimension to the beer. It is tailor made for a warm summer day.

The other beer was the pale ale. It is made in a European style with a subtle hop content, a ruby/amber color and flavors of fruit and flowers that push through a lively carbonation. It's a nice beer, albeit a bit lighter on the hop content than I expected. It's a nice beer, but I will rank the oatmeal stout highest, the apricot wheat second and the pale ale third.

I also sampled a range of barleywines. These sweet, high alcohol beers are often released in the winter months. Rarely does a barleywine possess less than 10 percent alcohol by volume, and a special yeast strain is often required to ferment these monstrous brews.

The first brew I tried was from Brooklyn Brewery. Brooklyn Brewery is to New York what Goose Island is to Chicago or what Sierra Nevada is to California. It is the regional craft brewer with the best distribution. Brooklyn's Monster Ale is their vintage barleywine. Due to the subtle differences in the malt and hops in a given year, there are subtle differences between the barleywines from different vintages, and I sampled the 2007 edition. The beer is aggressive at first, but it softens with five to ten years of bottle age. The brew has a tawny color, a balanced aroma of hops, and flavors of maple syrup, cherry and raisin with a well integrated carbonation and alcohol content. I enjoyed the beer, but it left me wanting a little more. It was a good barleywine with training wheels, but I definitely wanted more from the Monster. Maybe it will deepen with time.

The opposite was the case for the Stone Old Guardian. Stone's beers are all well made, and their barleywine is no exception. Most beers made by Stone are heavyweights. While this barleywine was also carries a big stick, it also spoke more softly than some of the other Stone brews, which typically offer all the restraint of Deion Sanders at a Kennedy family reunion. Old Guardian is a little restrained for a barleywine made by this loquacious brewery (buy the beer and read the manifesto on the back of each bottle for details), with a soft color that brings out the subtle (for Stone) hops and fruity malt. This beer is beautifully drinkable upon release, and it should continue to improve for decades.

New Holland Brewing, from Michigan, offers an interesting take on barleywine with Pilgrim's Dole, a barrel-aged barleywine that consists of 50 percent wheat. This brew has piles of fruit on the flavor and aroma profile, circling from lemon and blueberry and showing off the bourbon barrel notes on the finish. There is a little cloying sweetness that annoyed me, but the beer difinitely had more positive characteristics than problems. If I was grading it, I'd give it a B+ rather than an A. I liked it but didn't love it...but I'm not sorry for trying it.

Weyerbacher is another brewery that specializes in big beers. The latest one I sampled was the 12th anniversary ale. Consisting of 50 percent barley maly and 50 percent rye, this barleywine is a little more tart than sweet, with an aggressive hop character that comes through on the finish.

Back to the IPAs, my next brew was the Steelhead Double IPA by Mad River Brewing in California. They offer both a mortal pale ale and a juiced-up double IPA. The Double IPA is a style that emphasizes aggressive hop content, and with 85 ibus, this beer definitely has hop character. It is flavorful if not a touch astringent with the brutal hop character. It's a tasty beer, less hoppy than some of the uber-hopped brews from Dogfish Head and Stone, but it's far hoppier than the traditional style pale ales by Sierra Nevada.

Great Divide Brewing also features two pale ales in their portfolio. The first is an IPA, and the one I sampled highlights the beautiful flavors and aromas of beer's greatest bittering agent--fresh hops. The Fresh Hop Pale Ale utilizes freshly picked hops that are still wet with all of the essential oils that produce that unmistakable flavor and aroma that defines the pale ale style. The beer has a golden color, flavors of citrus and a hint of vegetation with the overpowering aroma of hops. The hops are well integrated into the beer, making this special offering an absolute winner.

AleSmith, like Stone, is a San Diego area brewery that specializes in big beers. AleSmith is an acclaimed microbrewery/brew pub that isn't afraid to put the pedal to the metal in the brewing process, producing such highly rated beers as the barrel aged Speedway Stout along with a number of other gems that are among the best quality brews in the United States. Their IPA, however, is one of their few beers that didn't take my palate for a magic carpet ride. The aromas of pine, eucalyptus and flowers promise great things, but the flavor is more restrained than its other AleSmith bretheren. While this is a quality beer, considering the price, there are a number of other IPAs that I consider to be of a better quality. I think the Speedway Stout is worth the price of admission, while I found the IPA to be decent but not otherworldly.

Great Lakes is another brewery with multiple pale ales. The everyday pale ale carries the sharp name Burning River, named after the history of Cleveland's polluted Cuyahoga River which was once so toxic that it actually burned. The other offering from Great Lakes is the Commodore Perry IPA, named after the naval hero from the War of 1812 who fought on Lake Erie. The golden color hides a less than subtle aroma of grapefruit and pine. The hops are so powerful that they coat the tongue in an oily finish that goes on for days. I'm glad this beer went from a seasonal to an all year product because it is delightful.

They might not call it an IPA or a Double IPA or a Monster Pale Ale or an Imperial IPA, but Bell's Hopslam could go by any of these monikers and it would fit the bill. The picture of the guy crushed by giant hop buds on the label pretty much tells the story. The beer is made with hops, hops and more hops, and it is definitely an assault on the palate. Don't plan on tasting anything else for a day or two after trying this on for size.

But wait...there's even more. In celebration of lent (that is the stupid time of year when stupid Catholics give up eating meat, and continue to act stupidly by still eating fish. How stupid!), fasting monks would subsist off of a double bock beer. There are a number of classics made in this style (see Salvator and Celebrator for classic German examples, or Bell's Consecrator for an American version). These full bodied, high calorie beers kept German Catholics fat and happy during a Lenten fast.

Flying Dog, Colorado's gonzo brewer, made a new Wild Dog offering, and this time it's a dopplebock. Interestingly enough, it was an open source collaboration with home brewers, and the complete recipe is available online. The beer is deep mahogany in color, with a sweet, fruity flavor that is counterbalanced by a hoppy finish. It's quite tasty, and it should help you get through the season whether you are fasting or simply drinking your way through the season, religious rules be damned.

My first experience with a beer carrying the name dopplebock was brewed by Wisconsin's favorite son Leinekugel's. The Big Butt Dopplebock used to be available as a dollar drafts at my favorite watering hole back in the day, and man did I abuse that privilege. This dark complected lager, while now costing quite a bit more than a buck, still is one of my favorites from Leinie. It's dark, sweet and strong, and it should help you drunkenly stumble your way through the Catholic holidaze.

Since we're waxing philosophic on German beers, now is the best time to talk about Paulaner Hefe-weizen. This classic style has given birth to a number of American knockoffs (Blue Moon is the most urbane example), but to appreciate it, you must go to the source. And Paulaner is a fine example of a German classic. This unfiltered wheat beer often has it's acidity magnified by the addition of a lemon, but it's delicious with or without the addition of citrus fruit. It is a clean, with notes of clove and tropical fruit. This beer was destined to quench your thirst on a balmy summer day.

Finally, I'll wrap it up with a few other odds and ends. I sampled a brew from Oregon's hippie kingpins Rogue. No matter what, Rogue's beers always display great character, and the Morimoto Soba Ale, made with roasted buckwheat, is no exception to the rule. The brew is redolent of hazelnuts and cream with a long finish. It is a different taste, and it should be, as buckwheat is technically a fruit and not a grain. Whatever it is, it tastes delicious.

Jolly Pumpkin is a Michigan brewery that craft brews beers, many of which are bottle conditioned, including the Bam Biere. While I am a big fan of most of their beers, this one came off as a bit too aceitic for my liking, with a vinegar character that overpowers the rest of the flavor profile. I like Jolly Pumpkin's brews, but this one swung and missed in my humble opinion.

I bought the Stoudt's Fat Dog stout strictly because it was called Fat Dog. Okay, maybe I bought it because Stoudt's makes good beer, but the fat Lab on the front label definitely sold the deal for me. Fat Dog is actually a bottle conditioned mixed breed, as it is a blend of oatmeal stout and imperial stout with a fatty 9 percent alcohol. The roasted malt is apparent in both the aroma and flavor profile, and the imperial stout sweetens the finish up nicely. You'll feel like a fat dog after drinking six of these.

The Shiner Black Lager was the same color as the Fat Dog, but it was not nearly as hedonistic of a pleasure. It is a Texas brew made in the Schwarzbier style, and it comes off as light and almost flavorless. Shiner makes some decent brews, but the Black Lager is definitely not one of them. Stick to the (questionably named) bock and the hefeweizen.

One of my worst experiments gone wrong came in the form of the Baltika 9. I remembered Baltika as a fairly characterless Russian swill, and my memory served me well. But I couldn't pass up the 51 ounce plastic bottle that it came in. The 9 is Baltika's extra fancy reserve beer. I'm not sure if it was the plastic bottle or the inferior Russian brewing tradition, but Baltika tastes about what I would have expected Boris Yeltsin's urine to taste like after a three day vodka bender. File this under the label "toxic."

Last but not least, Straub Light is a Pennsylvania brew advertised (as are all Straub products) as All Natural. Though free of preservatives, it was also free of taste. It is priced between Miller Lite and Amstel Light, and it's quality falls between the two, making it a fair market value. Drink this if you're too hoity-toity for Miller but too plebian for Sam Adams Light.

Check out the pictures below, and make sure to put something cold and delicious in the fridge.

Celebration of fermentation

13 February 2008

Great article

I love the topic in today's New York Times article about the tension created in couples where one half of the duo has different dietary restrictions or practices than the other (i.e. one vegetarian, one carnivore). It is an interesting topic, but the real truth of the matter is that it doesn't matter whether I date somebody who is vegan, omnivorous or lactose intolerant--eventually they'll all figure out that I'm an intolerable douchebag.

90 Day Lame

I don't want to come off as an asshole or anything, but I'm glad it isn't going to take 90 days for Jane to kill herself, because if it did, I might expedite the process and kill the bitch myself.

In case you missed it, some young lady, in a morbid effort to draw attention to her otherwise inconsequential existence, began a blog that's purpose was to document her last 90 days on Earth. "Why were they her last 90 days?" you ask. According to her blog, it's because on day 90, she is going to kill herself.

"Why would somebody undertake such an endeavor?" you might also ask. The first explanation for me would be that she wanted to bring suicide to the Web 2.0 platform. I mean, why kill yourself by blowing your head off in the middle of a shopping mall, or by jumping headlong into oncoming traffic on the highway hoping for the news media to pick up on your death when you can ponder the decision in the blogosphere, and film your demise while sailing off into that good night. If Lindsay Lohan dies on the same day Jane offs herself, 90 Day Jane might not even make the evening news broadcast.

Plus Jane will get to react with her readers, and she can solicit suggestions for how to kill herself. My personal recommendation would be for her to fly over to fly to Pakistan, dress in a Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoon bathing suit, and run down the street waving an American flag screaming at the top of her lungs, "My god could kick your god's ass, infidels!" If it were 89 days and 23 hours through her little ploy, she'd be dead with 57 minutes to spare, and nobody would argue that her efforts weren't suicide.

She also might want to try the McDonald's diet. If you saw "Super Size Me," it was obvious that McDonald's was killing Morgan Spurlock. The other positive element of this approach is that Jane would be a cadavorous stiff by day 45, effectively eliminating the need to drag this ruse out any longer. I guess it might be difficult for her to die of McDonald's poisoning exactly on day 90, so maybe this isn't the best plan.

My third suggestion would be to spend her remaining hours trying to find a research lab that stores Ebola. It might take some research, but I'm sure if she Googled enough labs, one of them would be bound to store the deadly disease. She could mix it into an Orange Julius and drink it down. I would definitely tune in if she set the Web cam up and started dying a la "The Stand" right on her Web site.

In all seriousness, however, none of these things are going to happen, because 90 Day Jane is in fact a complete hoax. She speaks about it as a piece of art in the following post from yesterday:

I feel a massive sense of responsibility to my art, but more importantly the readers of this blog. My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify. This is why my project, 90DayJane, will be taken down in the next few days.

This is really too bad, because after the pain Jane put me through reading her middling prose, not only did I want to kill Jane, but I wanted to kill myself. People in the United States speak out strongly about the horrors of waterboarding torture, but those who think waterboarding is a horrible way to treat prisoners should catch an eyeful of 90 Day Jane's writing. If they fed this prose to the prisoners in Guantanamo, they'd beg for the torture rack.

With lines like, "My generation has had no great depression, no great war and our biggest obstacle is beating Halo 3. So, if I feel like saying "game over", why can't I?" and "I got an email this morning from a guy at work asking me out for Valentines Day. I'm not sure what disturbs me more, the fact that he emailed me when we work in the same office or that he's asking me out for Valentines Day specifically," it makes me want to kill myself, 90 days be damned!

The other issues with this poorly planned hoax start with the scheduled suicide. I mean really, who schedules their own death? With the exception of euthanasia, it's relatively difficult to plan to die. She probably should have just called herself "Shirley Gonnakillmyself" or "Dead End Dolly" and not set a final date, because then everybody would have had to check out her blog on a regular basis waiting to find out if this was finally the day. Oh well...maybe next time.

Also, did anybody really believe that Blogspot was going to let some poor misguided youth kill herself on their blogosphere? If Blogspot would shut down sites for posting copyrighted material about television shows like "Lost" or for posting dirty pictures of boobies, nobody would buy that they were going to let some doofus off herself and post the video (and YouTube probably wouldn't allow suicide videos either).

Oh well. 90 Day Jane might have been an entertaining idea considering the media attention it drew, no matter Jane's protests to the contrary . Unfortunately, it was poorly written, executed and planned. At least Jane didn't kill herself, and at least I didn't have to torture myself by reading another sentence she wrote.

12 February 2008

I see it coming...

In the not-so-distant future, I see beer reviews coming. New episodes of "The Wire," as well as new On Demand episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (plus work) are keeping me busy. I promise I will drop a malt bomb really soon.

10 February 2008

El Paraiso

Despite my personal aversion to paying for parking at North Market (and also because Banana Bean's brunch crowd was lined up from German Village to Clintonville), I grabbed lunch at El Paraiso, the new-ish Mexican joint across from Firdous.

I have previously expressed my displeasure at having to pay 75 cents for parking at the North Market when I am already paying for lunch or groceries. In a real city like New York or Chicago (or even Pittsburgh or Salt Lake City, for Christ's sake), fresh markets increase their business by offering free parking. The money invested building one of these fancy structures, often referred to as a parking garage, is offset by the increase of business brought by the expanded room to park customers' motor vehicles. Further revenue is generated by hiring staff who call tow truck companies to remove vehicles that are not driven by patrons shopping in the aforementioned markets, keeping parking spaces free and towing companies fat with cash.

It's just a thought. Ms. Becke Boyer of Columbus Foodie fame told me to suck it up and quit my whining about North Market parking. But sometimes David Bowie and I would like to see a few minor ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in the way the world around us works. I just believe a little design planning in the North Market (and most of the rest of C-bus, really) would go a long way. But I digress.

Luckily, El Paraiso does a pretty good veggie burrito (pictured above), which helped to turn my frown upside down. The secret ingredient of El Paraiso is Firdous owner Abdul Aburmaieleh, who brings a similar simple quality to his Mexican offerings as he does to Firdous' Mediterranean fare.

The burrito comes with a choice of rice: Spanish style rice, with tomato and spices, and the spinach rice (which I got), with a rich, earthy hint of green leafy vegetables. The burrito is also made with black beans, fajita vegetables, lettuce, tomato, onion, a choice of salsa, sour cream and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. It made for a tasty combo, and the burrito was more than big enough for lunch.

The one downside was that it cost extra to add guacamole to the burrito. There is an unwritten rule in vegetarian circles that since we aren't putting sauteed carcass on our burrito, you should hook us up with free guacamole as an equal exchange. If you don't believe me, read the vegetarian handbook--the free guacamole rule is right in there on page 23 next to the explanation of macrobiotic dining. I broke down and paid the extra 50 cents for guacamole.

There are a few other vegetarian items. They consist of the usual Mexican suspects...tacos and quesadillas. There are also sides that include guacamole and black bean hummus. The prices aren't extremely cheap, but you should be able to get out for less than $10.

Columbus Underground had a short thread about El Paraiso when the venture was first announced. I previously took pictures of North Market...and you can find them here. For future reference, it is possible to find free street parking during the week if you want to avoid the sand trap that is the North Market parking lot. But it isn't a guarantee. You might find a spot in the alley two feet from North Market for free, or you might end up driving around for hours just to end up paying to park in the North Market lot you were attempting to avoid in the first place. You can't win them all--but you can live vicariously through my camera by checking out my pictures below.

El Paraiso

09 February 2008

Cuco's Mexican Taqueria and Market

I had heard so much buzz about Cuco's that I just had to go and see for myself. It was definitely worth the trip, with good food, great prices and a plethora of veggie-friendly dining options.

There are numerous establishments in and around Columbus that peddle similar wares as Cuco's--that is, traditional Mexican fare. Most of these establishments (Las Margaritas, El Vaquero, et al.), however, are not nearly as good at this seemingly simple task.

The first bonus points for Cuco's are earned by the menu clearly designating all vegetarian items. I love this attention to my dietary restrictions.

The chips and salsa they bring to the table are very good. Even better is the salsa bar, where you can self serve a variety of salsas with endless chips to shovel the sauces into your mouth.

The guacamole was tasty, with chunks of onion and tomato integrated into the spicy avocado paste. My entree was the vegetarian burrito, pictured above, with rice, green peppers, onions, black beans and a few other grilled vegetables wrapped with cheese and guacamole in a tortilla. There are only two words to describe it: muy sabroso.

The service was also very quick. The entrees came out less than 10 minutes after they were ordered. It was extra impressive because the food was made by hand and did not taste like it had been sweating under a heat lamp all night.

Some of the other interesting looking vegetarian items include the avocado sandwich, quesadillas, nachos and the veggie fajitas. The sandwiches looked especially delicious.

Probably the weakest link was the margaritas. They were decent but not spectacular. There is a limited tequila menu. Although they don't short you on tequila, the drinks were not quite up to the excellent quality of the food. The bar crowd, however, didn't seem to mind. Maybe next time I'll stick with Negra Modelo.

There is also a little market area that sells a limited selection of Latin grocery items. This is a very good Mexican restaurant. If you're looking for high end food or Tex Mex options, you might have to look elsewhere. But if you enjoy traditional Mexican food that doesn't break the bank, Cuco's is definitely a winner.

Bonus: Everybody else loves Cuco's too. Check out the reviews here, here and here. The Cuco's Web site also has a ton of pictures of the inside of the restaurant and the food. Be warned...unlike my pictures, it is not all vegetarian.


Cuco's Mexican Taqueria on Urbanspoon

07 February 2008

Look Before You Eat

If you eat out often, you will either want to ignore or pay close attention to the Men's Health article about the 16 secrets the restaurant industry doesn't want you to know.

If ignorance is bliss, don't read this. If you fear eating an appetizer with 2,900 calories, read on.

Some offenders in the article are better than others. Places like
Applebee's advertise low fat items that are laden with calories and carbohydrates. Hooters sneaks all sorts of unpronounceable chemicals into its chicken wings. Arby's puts artificial flavoring into its "All Natural" chicken because the FDA can't regulate the term "All Natural" (Luckily, little of this affects my vegetarian eating habits).

But there are a few more insidious culprits. IHOP offers a 1,335 calorie omelet with more saturated fat than a crock of Crisco. Outback Steakhouse was the guilty party with the 2,900 calorie appetizer. I'm sure they meant you to share it.

There are a number of other establishments that offer food with artificial coloring (Panera Bread), fry French toast with four grams of fat per stick in oil laden with trans fat from their poorly prepared pork, chicken and fish menu items (Burger King) and sell smoothies with more than 60 grams of sugar (Dunkin Donuts).

The worst offenders, like Fuddruckers, Maggiano's Little Italy and Red Robin, refused to release the information to the authors of the article. Apparently restaurants are now allowed to plead the fifth.

The article in Men's Health describes how professional restaurant organizations and the Governator in California ignored legislation that simply would have required restaurants to post nutritional information on their menus. Apparently ignoring this practical suggestion might help to explain why Arnold is looking so soft around the midsection (the article is in Swedish, but don't worry--you don't need a translator to understand the pictures).

The consumer is responsible for what they put into their body. But being unable to figure out what crap is in the food you're eating makes keeping tabs a difficult proposition. I don't eat at these places, but on behalf of those who do, it's about time that the powers that be allowed the public to know exactly what they are eating.

If I buy a 9-millimeter hand gun, it would be fairly easy for me to judge what would happen to me if I point the gun at myself after firing it at a practice target a few times. Without being able to find out how many calories are in your lunch, you might be killing yourself thinking that by eating you are gaining simple sustainence.

Nutritional values should be public information. By keeping this information secret, and further, by serving food with no available nutritional value, the restaurant industry is playing a huge role in the nation's obesity epidemic.

06 February 2008

Belgian beer is best

Over the course of history, controlled scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated the superiority of Belgian beer to its German counterpart.

This last statement is actually a complete fabrication on my part. My palate has repeatedly demonstrated this mantra, but if you asked the average Joe on the street, they would call Germany the birthplace of great beer.

But Belgium offers a more diverse selection of beers than does the Fatherland. While the Belgian styles have caught on elsewhere in the world, they haven't achieved quite the notoriety of the German styles that have migrated to other nations. That being said, Belgian brews are almost always as interesting as they are delicious.

Belgian beer has an interesting history. Trappist ales have roots into the 11th century. An antiquated law, the Vandervelde Act, was written in 1919 and persisted through the 1980s. This act banned the selling of liquor to Belgian citizens. This law is credited with creating the high alcohol style of Belgian beers that continues while the Vandervelde Act fades into oblivion. These are just a few of the many facts that, along with the individualized glassware, make Belgian beer interesting and delicious.

The classic Belgian brew is the aforementioned Trappist ale, and the classic Trappist ale is the Tripel. A tripel is a golden ale that undergoes a secondary bottle fermentation. These ales can be aged for a great deal of time, and they undertake a greater complexity with age. Trappist ales can only be made by Cistercian monks who live in Belgium or the Netherlands. There are many Abbey ales, but only seven Trappist breweries allowed to display the Trappist insignia.

Westmalle Tripel is one of these beers. It has a rich golden hue that is cloudy from the yeast that is used for bottle conditioning the brew. The beer begins tart, with notes of citrus fruit that flesh out into a bready midpalate with a balanced floral qualities and a clean finish that belies the nearly 10 percent alcohol by volume.

If you enjoy beers like this, there are other great Trappist producers, including Chimay, Orval and Westyleteren that also make great Tripel ales. Chimay is the king, but none of these beers are worse than fantastic.

De Dolle is a small Belgian brewery near Brussels. Everything they make is delightful, and their labels are brightly colored and fun much like the ales. The Oerbier Special Reserve (of which I bought the last bottle in the store) is an oak aged cousin to the regular Oerbier. It has a ruddy color, with aromas of sour fruit and toast, with flavors of cherry, olive oil and smoke that are tempered by a creamy, frothy mouthfeel. It is pictured above.

Bottle conditioned monster brews are not solely the product of Belgium. Mikkeller, the most noted brewery in Denmark, also makes big beers that are rooted in the Belgian tradition. Although their brews are guided by the Belgian tradition, they are every bit the project and the passion of two Danish homebrewers who turned their projects into a microbrewery.

I have sampled a few other Mikkeller brews. The Black Hole is their most famous beer. But the last brew I tried was the Big Worse Barleywine, a massive, sweet beer as opaque as coal with enough malt to bake bread for a year. It's so big that it puts the Black Hole into Guiness' weight class. Big Worse has aromas of caramel and fruit that rise above the viscous brew. The hops are as over the top as the malt. This is a beer that drinks well now, but will probably show best with three or more years of bottle age, and should last forever and a day.

Denmark seems to be a hotbed for Belgian-style brews. Those who enjoy the spicy nature of Abbey ales will dig the Olfabrikken Abbey Ale. The aromas of cinnamon, cloves and pepper erupted from the glass of this double ale, and the flavors of malt, spices, prunes and brown sugar. The hops are subtle and well integrated. This is a solid, well made brew.

After scanning the blogosphere, apparently Olfabrikken has been bought by a Danish beverage conglomerate and production of the beer could be eliminated. Hopefully that is not the case; we've seen how Bud and Miller ruined the quality of beer in the States, and how other conglomerates have ruined distinctive brews worldwide. Hopefully this is not another of those sad tales.

Finally, America has also jumped on the Belgian style bandwagon. The last one I tried comes from California's North Coast Brewing. Their beer is made in the Belgian dark strong ale style, and even better, it's named after one of my favorite jazz legends Thelonious Monk.

Monk, the eccentric pianist, bandleader and composer, is one of the greatest American composers of all time. His compositions include "Round About Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," "Bemsha Swing," and "Monk's Dream." He also has one of the coolest middle names ever--Sphere!

Brother Thelonious Abbey style Ale is as close to Heineken as Monk's compositions were to Hoagy Carmichael's oeurve. The deep brown ale is loaded with aromas and flavors of fruit, including cherry, Granny Smith apples and plum with underlying hints of spice and flowers. The beer is strong and medium sweet, with a long finish.

The brewery donates $2 to the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz for every case of Brother Thelonious sold, so you can also feel great enjoying it. Although the beer isn't produced by monks, it does celebrate Monk, so I'm sold. Check out the pictures below, and drink some Belgian (or Belgian style) beer in order to taste something as different as it is delicious.

Celebration of fermentation

04 February 2008

The Super Bowl Stumble

If one thing emerged for me last night during the game last night, it became evident that the Patriots aren't the best of all time. They were the second best team in the Super Bowl. I guess Mercury Morris was right.

But hey--there can only be one greatest team ever. I'm glad I can still say that it was the 1985 Chicago Bears. The only reason the Dolphins in 1972 were 17-0 was because they didn't have to play the 1985 Bears.

The Dolphins played teams with a combined winning percentage of .396. Big time wins, guys.

And the 1985 Bears beat Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the 49ers pretty handily, so this argument keeps getting easier and easier to make. The Cowboys were the best at smoking cocaine, and that’s about it.

Even though it only lasted one year, the Bears would beat the pants off of your sorry best-team-of-All-Time if time travel would allow it. So sing along with me now as we celebrate the G.O.A.T. :

Bear down, Chicago Bears,
Make every play clear the way to victory.
Bear down, Chicago Bears,Put up a fight with a might so fearlessly.
We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation,
With your T-formation.
Bear down, Chicago Bears,
And let them know why you're wearing the crown.
You're the pride and joy
of Illinois,
Chicago Bears, bear down.

01 February 2008

Bacchanalia--Rhone style

Don't ever let anybody tell you that the best wine from France comes from Bordeaux or Burgundy. Based upon grapes from those regions (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) being the most popular grape varietals not only from France but also worldwide, you'd believe that these were the only types of wine that mattered.

If you dig a little deeper, or really, a little further south in the French countryside, you would stumble upon the Rhone River valley. Nestled along the Mediterranean coast, the wines from this region include some of the most idiosyncratic wines in the world.

I love love love Northern Rhone wines, particularly those from the Hermitage and Cote Rotie regions. Red wines from Hermitage are 100 percent Syrah, and wines from Cote Rotie (which translates into English as the Roasted Slope) are allowed to contain small amounts of the heavily-perfumed white grape varietal Viognier. Single vineyard wines from either Cote Rotie or Hermitage can be absolutely divine. Ask me nicely and maybe I'll share a bottle with you.

I sampled the 2001 Cote Rotie by Michel and Stephane Ogier. It is a blend of grapes from the Cote Blonde (Blonde Hill) and Cote Brune (Brunette Hill). There are many explanations for how these names came about. The most romantic involves the two different areas were bequeathed to two daughters of a lord, and that the two daughters had two different hair colors and personalities. The blonde wines are prettier, more upfront and elegant, while the brown wines are bigger and more tannic.

The Ogier Cote Rotie showcased a deep garnet color, with aromas of berries, pepper, green olives and daisies. The 2001 vintage is considered good if unspectacular; however, this wine was showing magnificently, and should drink well for another 10 years.

You can also enjoy the throw in my glass that I failed to decant properly. The sparkles in my glass, pictured above, demonstrate my inability to serve wine like a gifted sommelier. Oh well...you can't win them all.

Southern Rhone wines can be every bit as interesting as their Northern cousins. The flagship wine of the Southern Rhone is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The name refers to the time when the Papacy was located in the Rhone rather than in Italy.

The wines from Chateauneuf can legally consist of as many as 13 grape varietals. I once memorized these grape names in hopes of impressing a drunken Robert Parker at a wine event, but I never got a chance to rattle them off to the wine snob to the stars. Maybe next time. The most important grapes are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault.

Chateaunef-du-Pape, after years of being lauded by the esteemed Mr. Parker, has increased in price as the ratings continued to skyrocket. A series of great vintages (1995, 1998 and 1999 in particular) put the prices in the stratosphere. Those of us with more pedestrian earning power, however, can still find a few nicely priced bottles of Cotes du Rhone, a wine made of similar grape varietals as the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, for a fraction of the price with many of the same flavors from the 2005 vintage.

I tried the 2005 Caves des Papes Heritage Cotes du Rhone. This wine was aged for 12 months in oak barrels, and consists of a blend of 70 percent Grenache, 25 percent Syrah and 5 percent Mourvedre. These wines are far lighter than Chateauneuf wines, but they still have tons of jammy fruit and a powerful character of pepper and spice that is often found in Southern Rhone wines. This is the type of wine that pairs well with spicy foods (I enjoyed mine with a great white bean chili pasta, and both were delicious). Also, as a side note, these wines are also owned by a member of the Ogier family like the first Cote Rotie.

Two of the Southern Rhone grape varietals have travelled quite well. Syrah, used in both the South and the North, is the most widely planted grape in Australia, where the natives call the grape Shiraz. Syrah is a muscular wine with berry fruit and spicy notes. Grenache is also widely planted in other areas worldwide. It is a more restrained varietal, lighter in both color and flavor.

Although less famous than other grape varietals, Grenache is one of the world's most planted grapes. It can be found in France, Spain, Italy, the United States and Australia. It has a garnet color, and it can possess aromas of strawberries, cherries and earth.

Turkey Flat
in Australia produces one of the country's most heralded Grenache wines. The wine displays a bright violet color with bright strawberry fruit, notes of leather and graphite and a firmly tannic backbone that comes across in the finish. The wine would pair beautifully with a mushroom risotto.

Finally, you can rest easy if you believe that interesting wines made from Rhone grapes are only red. White wine drinkers can find interesting choices in white wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, Condrieu and Cotes du Rhone, amongst others. Some of the more well-travelled white grapes from the Rhone include Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier.

D'Arenberg, another winemaker from Australia, specializes in Rhone grape varietals. I samled the 2006 Hermit Crab, a blend of Viognier (a peachy, floral wine with a vibrant acidity) and Marsanne (a classic Rhone blending grape with flavors of nuts and minerals). Together, the wine displays pretty tropical fruit notes with a waxy undercurrent. The wine is named after the Hermit crabs that inhabit the vineyard, with an approving nod to Hermitage, the homeland of Marsanne. It was also rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator and recognized as one of the top 100 wines of the year in 2007 for those who keep track of those petty details.

But these are just a few of the Rhone (and Rhone style) wines that are far more interesting than the cookie cutter Cabs and Chards churned out around the globe by wineries with little to no panache. Pop a cork on one of these wines, and taste something beautiful that is unlike anything else you've ever sampled before.

Celebration of fermentation