31 January 2008

Home Depot

Home Depot has announced that they will lay off 10 percent of their employees at their Atlanta headquarters. Analysts are citing the downturn in the housing market and the problematic economy as being responsible for the terminations. I have an alternate theory. With Michael Vick getting off so easily after his dogfighting ordeal, it seems like upper level management of the Depot (and the Falcons) had to make somebody pay the piper.

30 January 2008

Die Hippie, Die!

It's official--U2 is managed by Eric Cartman.

Actually, that isn't true. The cultural dinosaurs, following on the heels of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are actually managed by a relic named Paul McGuiness. U2's manager delivered a scathing diatribe at the Midem Music Conference in Cannes about the state of the music industry.

In his rant, McGuiness demonstrated how he has his finger directly on the cultural pulse of the world by blaming hippies for the downfall of the music industry. With management like that, U2 should keep putting out shit music and receiving unbelievable adulation for their sorry efforts for years to come.

McGuiness is (more so than the hippies) a symptom of a music industry that is so out of touch with its audience that it no longer can conceptualize how to reach them. Reality talent farms like "American Idol" and the newest junket into the genre "Gone Country", where CMT tries to recycle has-beens like Bobby Brown and Dee Snider into country music superstars, are another symptom of how those in charge of the business blame their problems on everybody BUT themselves.

And Mr. McGuiness, do you blame the old Grateful Dead-era hippies, or the newfangled Yonder Mountain String Band hippies for the shortages in your music revenue? Whoever the culprit is, I'm sure this helps explain how Sting and his merry band of hippies The Police were the highest grossing touring band of the year, even topping the second place Rolling Stones (the band that is credited with ending the 1960s, by the way).

Maybe U2 should hire Thom York from Radiohead to manage all their future projects. Radiohead still seems to sell pretty well, even with all of their hippie album releases. Plus, unlike Paul McGuiness, Radiohead started their music career in the 20th century, which puts Radiohead 90 or 100 years ahead of the McGuiness and his reactionary philosophy.

Whatever the case may be, hopefully McGuiness is seen for exactly what he really is...an out of touch relic from a bygone era of music. Peace and love to you Paulie McG...best of luck in your antique endeavors, and leave the music business to those who can use counterculture terminology that comes after the year 1987.

29 January 2008

Celebration of fermentation

I have an absolute backlog of tasting notes that I'm going to attempt to get up as part of my quasi-regular beverage column. Now that the holidays are over, I have plenty of seasonal brews to wax philosophic about. There is also my regular army of Belgian (and Belgian-style) brews. There are many other beers that don't fit easily into these preexisting categories, and a number of wines that will round out the prose. Enjoy!

Winter just might be the most wonderful time of the beer. The majority of the world's breweries, from the masters in Germany to those who produce industrial quantities of rice swill in St. Louis and Milwaukee, produce a special beer in the winter season. Summer beers are also extremely popular offerings. In my humble opinion, there is a great deal more character in the winter brews than there is in the summer counterparts. Winter beers are a great way to warm the soul if you're trapped in a snowed-in basement.

One of the greatest brews produced every holiday season comes from De Dolle, a Belgian craft brewer that hits the mark every time (see the Mad Bitch and Oerbier for evidence). Their seasonal goes by the name Stille Nacht, which translates into English as Silent Night. The white candy sugar gives this brew its seasonal kick. I definitely always look for the Frosty the Snowman artwork every year, as should you. But this is a brew that is used to the alt tab scrutiny that often accompanies the season. Buy anything and everything you can purchase from this Belgian gem.

Rogue's seasonal brew embodies everything I love and everything I hate about winter beer. Santa's Private Reserve is an uber-hopped version of the Saint Rogue Red Ale. The hops are augmented by a mystery strain identified by head brewer John Maier as "Rudolph," and these hops are not used in the red ale. I really like winter ales like Rogue that base their flavor profile more on malt and hops than they do on adjunct spices. However, from a marketing standpoint, I believe that framing beer with the Christmas theme limits those who will drink the beer and when they will drink it. This beer would taste good all winter long; however, it looks out of date December 26th.

Great Divide's winter brew, Hibernation Ale, is the original craft strong ale from the Rocky Mountain state. The ale is cellar aged for six months before release, and the age tempers the rich malt and aggressive alcohol character of the brew. This beer should also greatly improve with a few additional years of bottle age--highly recommended!

Finishing off the seasonal beers (and beating out all the other 2008 equinox offerings) is the E.S.B. from craft brew pioneer Sierra Nevada. The term E.S.B. traditionally refers to a strong British style pale ale, and the acronym would stand for "Extra Special Bitter." In the case of Sierra Nevada, E.S.B. stands for Early Spring Beer. It is a fresh, unfiltered beer with an outstanding balance of malt and hop character, and it should provide an early relief for beer drinkers who are already fed up with winter ales.

Check out the pictures below, and I'll return later with my remaining tasting notes.

Celebration of fermentation

26 January 2008

Cameron's American Bistro

While there may not be a cornucopia of choices for vegetarian diners at Cameron's, the classic American establishment, which is the flagship of the Mitchell restaurant empire, carefully selects and prepares dishes that are so yummy, you'll probably forget that you were limited in your menu options.

Cameron's menu changes seasonally. They always seem to offer a vegetarian entree alongside one or two vegetarian appetizers. The latest menu had dead animals in all of the salads, which was a mild disappointment, but they made up for it with great first course options like the goat cheese beignets (pictured above), served in a tomato coulis and basil oil with ricotta cheese. They were savory, tart and delicious.

My main course was the bistro vegetable plate, which came with a breaded eggplant Napoleon in goat cheese, roasted red peppers, oven dried tomatoes, broccoli raab and artichoke hearts in a cilantro pesto sauce. The presentation was artfully executed, and the course was very good.

The bread comes with a whole roasted garlic clove to spread with the butter. I love love love roasted garlic with fresh bread, and the Cameron's rendition is no exception.

The wine list is solid if unspectacular, consisting mostly of basic varietal wines from the Left Coast. It seemed to me as if they could have fleshed out the beverage options in a better fashion in order to keep up with the dynamic kitchen fare. Nonetheless, I had to deal with an A to Z Pinot Gris, the Chalone Pinot Noir and a 20-year Fonseca Tawny Port. There is also a reserve list with more trophies from the Pacific coast.

The service was attentive, sharp and efficient. While they worked well during my early dinner hour, they may have been stretched thin when the place filled up closer to 7 p.m. It would have been difficult to maintain this level of service if the server was helping twice as many people.

There weren't tons of options for vegetarians, but the limited selection I tried was still very good. Mitchell's kitchens are always very talented, so I'm sure they could work around any dietary restrictions that aren't covered by the pre-existing menu items if they were given advance warning.

Check out the pictures below.


Cameron's American Bistro on Urbanspoon

19 January 2008

Tria Greek Kuzina

Tria is located in Powell. There is only one reasonable way to get to Powell, and if it's rush hour, that way is a disaster. Despite the circa 1879 traffic design that makes the trip a bit of a headache, Tria is well worth the trip out to Powell.

Tria offers traditional Greek and other Mediterranean fare, prepared in an authentic fashion with high quality ingredients. There is saganaki (flaming cheese) exploding all over the place (and of course I had to try it to satisfy my inner pyro).

The vegetarian entrees are mostly Greek pasta dishes made with varying combinations of fresh vegetables, olive oil, garlic and feta or some other Greek cheese.

The wines are well chosen. The Rioja by the glass was a great value, with bright cherry fruit and a clean finish that grows as it lingers on the palate. The mixed drinks are also very good, with Three Olives flavors as the house plain and flavored vodkas.

Despite the treacherous wagon trail ride to Powell, Tria is worth the trip. Check out the photos below.


Tria Greek Kuzina on Urbanspoon

18 January 2008

Mulholland Brewing Company

You would have to drive a car into me while overcharging me and force feeding me dead animals in order for a brew pub not to pass my (less than) stringent judgment criteria. That being noted, however, Mulholland in outside-the-mainstream Reynoldsburg easily meets my heavily relaxed quality standards.

I read about the place in today's Columbus Dispatch review. I checked the interweb, and wouldn't you know it--Mulholland sells Belgian-style beer and vegetarian food. That means a late lunch for me.

The fringe benefits of a late lunch include the $2 draft beers at happy hour price. Mulholland offers six of their own drafts plus a dozen or so more brews from various local, national and international microbrew operations. The Saison was citrusy with a clean, yeasty finish, and the Imperial Red showed aggressive hop character that is often absent in beers of this style.

I started with the red pepper hummus, which had a great presentation that featured pita triangles and red and yellow peppers surrounding a ruby-hued mashed chickpea and olive oil base. It was quite good.

My main course was a fettucine in a white wine, garlic and butter sauce with sauteed tomatoes, peppers, squash and spinach topped with chunks of goat cheese. It was like a creamy, pan-Mediterranean interpretation of pasta primavera, and it's pictured above.

The other interesting feature of this spot is that it is a more upscale restaurant upstairs and a sports bar downstairs. There are, however, big screen televisions throughout the bar areas on both floors. Think of the upstairs as business and the downstairs as business casual.

The menu does a good job explaining the brewing process, and the brewing equipment is closer than it typically is in most brew pubs, putting patrons within spitting distance of the brewing and fermenting action. I'll definitely be back to check the new seasonal beers. Check out the pictures below.


17 January 2008

The deraj1013 diet

Eat as much vegetarian food as you can. Drink beer while doing cardio with a steep incline on the treadmill. Repeat as necessary (and I named this diet plan, so 85 years from now, when every numbnuts on the planet is blindly following my dietary manifesto rather than Atkins or South Beach or Jenny Craig, you'll know which crackpot to credit). Wearing a sweater while exercising is optional but very recommended to complete the joke.

Amul India

Amul India is a convenient, if slightly inconsistent, Indian restaurant on Sawmill Road in Columbus. I stop there frequently when I'm shopping at the Anderson's Market or Whole Foods. The buffet, while well priced, is not the best in the Columbus area. Some items can be of an excellent quality; however, on this visit, Amul failed as often as it succeeded.

There are many items on the buffet for vegetarians. There was a potato curry, a mushroom mater, saag paneer, dal makhani, vegetarian lentil soup and vegetable pakoras. The free naan is a nice addition to the buffet. While I appreciate free bread, however, it is difficult to keep naan hot enough to truly enjoy under the glare of a heat lamp.

Truthfully, I enjoy eating at Amul more when I order off the menu rather than being limited to the buffet. The staff is typically helpful if not a touch distant. The crew when I was visiting was unable to answer my question how many vegetarian items are part of your buffet. This question is usually easily answered at most restaurants from the Indian subcontinent. On most of my previous visits, the staff and its service have been very efficient and friendly, so I'll mark this trip down as a hiccup in an otherwise well oiled machine.

My beverage did come to the table flat. I normally have a very good meal at Amul, but this was another symptom of a visit that definitely missed the mark. My advice would be to skip the buffet and order form the menu. The rice pudding is at least very good whether you get it from the buffet or the main menu.

One of the points noted in the Columbus Dispatch review of Amul India is that the cuisine they offer is more Northern Indian in character (very true), and therefore, less vegetarian friendly. It is an Indian restaurant, however, so there are definitely a number of choices for those who don't eat members of the animal kingdom.

If you are really in the mood for Indian food, give Bayleaf and Cuisine of India a try. These are my two favorites, and I definitely rank them above Amul in terms of atmosphere, food and beverage options. I will be back to Amul in the future, as all of my previous visits have been positive experiences. Even Babe Ruth struck out every now and again, and unfortunately my last visit was more like Jim Rice's last run at the Hall of Fame...close, but no cigar. Check out the pictures below.

Amul India

14 January 2008

Spaghetti Warehouse

When I railed against pasta emporium Italian restaurants in yesterday's review of La Plaia, I think I might have been describing the Spaghetti Warehouse. Considering the prices, you would be better off making pasta at home yourself.

Considering that this menu consists of many pasta dishes, you'd think there would be more vegetarian pasta dishes than there are. I tried the manicotti, which was stuffed with ricotta cheese with alfredo and tomato sauces and sauteed mushrooms. The bottomless salad is a nice touch. The sourdough bread was tasty. But for $12, the whole was definitely a problematic price to quality ratio.

The service was efficient. In downtown C-bus, the place is so enormous that I don't think there's enough parking to fill the whole place. The decor is kitschy Americana.

They are basically an Italian-American TGI Fridays. It's probably a good spot for kids who aren't adventurous eaters. Check out the photos below.

Spaghetti Warehouse

13 January 2008

La Plaia

If there was a cuisine that could be summed up by an analogous comparison to a cookie cutter, Italian food would be that cuisine.

With places like Buca di Beppo, the Olive Garden and Carrabba's on slightly fewer street corners than Starbucks, interchangeable, run of the mill pseudo-Italian slop is churned out in massive quantities for a slew of diners with the palate nuance of a drunken banana slug.

Luckily for me, there are still places like La Plaia hidden from this barbarian horde that craft great food that tastes like it came straight off of a plane from Piedmont rather than from a laboratory kitchen facility in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Many of La Plaia's specials are for carnivores. They feature a slew of pork and veal dishes prepared in the classic Italian style (My table of meat eaters spoke very highly of their dead animal dishes). The vegetarians will have to settle for the carefully prepared pasta dishes that are as complex as they are delicious.

The salad was prepared in a light olive oil that brought out the subtleties of the greens. The ciabatta bread was fresh baked, piping hot and absolutely divine. The bruschetta was laden with tomatoes, a sharp, clean olive oil and fresh basil.

The alfredo sauce was a careful combination of freshly grated Italian cheeses and cream with thick fettucine noodles. The sauce showcased the parmesan and romano cheeses. You could tell this alfredo sauce was made by hand.

The staff is very friendly. They took the time to update the playoff football scores for us as we dined. The owner and the chef often come out and make sure every detail is to your satisfaction.

The wine list is small. It might be the one shortcoming in a place that elevates classic Italian cooking to another level. The wines are nice, but you probably won't be drinking a bottle of 1990 Gaja Barolo if that's how you roll. You'll have to make due with delicious food and a limited (but tasty) selection of wine from the boot-shaped country and elsewhere.

The interior is small and tastefully appointed. The lighting is soft and (dare I say it?) romantic. La Plaia fills up fast for dinner, so I would recommend reservations. They also offer limited weekend lunch hours.

Check out the pictures, and next time you get a hankering for pasta, steer clear of the dime a dozen Italian eateries that ruin the reputation of a great cuisine and head on over to La Plaia.

La Plaia

La Plaia on Urbanspoon

Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails

Sometimes looks can be deceiving. Take Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails in downtown Columbus for example.

I had strolled past Tip Top many times, taking it for a dirty little dive bar in the desolate wasteland that is the heartland of the Buckeye capital. Once I got by the unassuming storefront, though, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The understated wood-accented interior more than makes up for the vanilla character that defines the exterior. Tip Top also has a menu that pushes local produce, alongside an Ohio-themed list of cocktails and brews.

The menu has a ton of vegetarian and vegan options. The kitchen is also open late all week long, which puts it light years ahead of the other downtown establishments that close at 3 in the afternoon and aren't open on weekends.

The spicy corn chowder was delicious. It was chock full of vegetables and had a sneaky bit of heat that slowly overtook my mouth spoonful by spoonful. I also applaud the vegan French onion soup because whichever jerkoff ruined the onion by assaulting it with boiled beef juice should have to be taught at least once in their life how to cook this vegetable properly. It's gooooood soup.

I also sampled the vegetarian pot roast, prepared in a vegetable stock with potato, tomato, carrots and all the fixins (pictured above). Besides Ohio origins, the menu is held together by the central theme of comfort food--hence the pot roast (and hence the mac and cheese and hence the sammies with fried sides).

Sandwiches abound on the menu, including a veggie sandwich, a grilled tomato and cheese, a portabella sandwich, an eggplant, tomato, spinach and mozzarella melt and a vegetarian or vegan Italian beef (Viva Chicago!), which was a giardinera laced delight.

The owner is the same person who owns the Surly Girl Saloon, one of Columbus' best beer-and-a-bite establishments, and the same attitude that defines the Short North watering hole is present in the downtown model. They also own Betty's, and they serve Betty's delicious mac and cheese. The staff is very friendly, and they seem to be able to get people in and out in a fairly efficient manner.

Pop is served in glasses that are the size of a pipe of port. The beer is more conservative than Surly Girl's more adventurous selection, but it still features a few gems. The main drink focus is whiskey cocktails. There is no shortage of whiskey and whisky, as well as a number of drinks that have other spirits in them. The drinks all have an Ohio related name. There is also a small but interesting selection of wines.

Check out the review by the mainstream media, check out the photos, and then get over to Tip Top and sample some of their lovely wares.

Tip Top

Tip Top on Urbanspoon

11 January 2008

Vino 100

I've driven past Vino 100 about 100 times. I finally decided to check it out today. It's a slightly different store that is geared toward the novice wine drinker rather than the well-trained sommelier, and I'll definitely be back after my first trip into the store.

The concept of the store is 100 wines priced at $25 or less. There are also a few carefully selected wines from a higher price bracket. The wines are arranged by body rather than by appellation or varietal. This mirrors a number of restaurant wine lists, which help sell fermented grape juice to people who could care less about whether a wine is a right or left bank Bordeaux and more so whether it is dry or sweet, or light or full bodied. I applaud the idea, and I hope it catches on elsewhere.

The staff was very helpful and friendly. They offer wine to taste (which is always a must do in my book). There are a wide variety of wines from all over the map, including the U.S., Italy, France, Australia, Austria and Germany.

There is also a limited selection of olive oli, pasta sauce and cheeses, including four cheeses from Sacramento area Pedrozo dairy, an artisinal cheesemaker that uses raw milk to produce cheeses that taste like Gouda, some of which are treated with rose sparkling wine, Cabernet Sauvignon and stout beer to give it a little extra flavor.

This is a chain, which probably gives the organization more buying power, allowing them to offer 100 wines for less than $25. There are two Columbus area locations, one in Westerville and one in the Short North. This isn't the kind of place you go to get trophy Bonnes Mares and Sauternes. It's more of a place you go to get a cool bottle of wine to share with your friends alongside pizza on a Tuesday night.

Check out the pictures below.

Vino 100

Cheryl & Co.

Tucked between ball bearing factories and the Westerville Post Office is Cheryl & Company, a cookie outlet that seeks to overpower your New Year's resolution to eat better and to lose weight. Don't worry...your weight gain will taste quite savory as you throw your best intentions right out the window.

As a diabetic, I might be the wrong person to review a cookie shop. Luckily for me, Cheryl was kind enough to whip up some sugar free cookies that are light years better than the crap you can buy at your local grocery store (I'm partial to the chocolate chip cookie...but there are usually at least three different options available).

The main business of Cheryl & Co. is on the internet. This holiday season, however, they experimented with a retail wing of their manufacturing facility in the Westerville industrial park. The holiday experiment was so successful that they decided to keep it open year round.

There are many other retail locations open throughout the area. There are a number of sales on the holiday cookies, which are still fresh but are priced to move. They also make a ton of Buckeye-themed cookies, which most fans are now trying to move to the deepest part of their subconscious after the third straight National Championship defeat at the hand of the SEC (football-basketball-football).

The frosted cookies are fantastic (don't tell my endocrinologist). If buying cookies directly from the source isn't fresh enough, you can also buy dough and bake the cookies at home. Check out the pictures, and I'll add additional ones as I eat them. So much for MY New Year's resolution!

Cheryl & Co

07 January 2008

Lee's China Kitchen

Lee's China Kitchen is located adjacent to the abandoned City Center Mall. They proudly advertise that unlike the rest of downtown's last black hole of a mall, they are not going out of business. Lee's offers fast, no-nonsense food and prices that should help keep them afloat.

To be honest, Lee's is what it is...takeout Chinese made quickly enough to give you time to take a walk on the second half of your lunch break. It isn't four star food. It probably isn't tremendously healthy. But there are a fair number of vegetarian items priced in lunch portions for less than $7.

There are 14 vegetarian entrees on the menu. I tried the ma la tofu, which is more or less fried tofu slathered in a spicy brown sauce with a bed of steamed rice. I probably should have ordered something with more veggies, but the tofu was still crispy and flavorful.

The main reason to eat lunch at Lee's is the fact that from the time I sat down to the time I paid my bill, it took less than 25 minutes. This might not be grade A gourmet food or health nut cuisine, but it sure beats the tar out of eating at Wendy's or Chipotle or Subway or whatever other conglomerated food dump you spend your lunch budget on.

Check out the pictures, skip out on your next appointment with Quizno's and try some of Lee's vegetarian offerings for lunch.

Lees China Kitchen

Lee's China Kitchen on Urbanspoon

05 January 2008

El Arepazo

I finally succeeded and took pictures while I was eating lunch at El Arepazo. They prepare Pan-Latin food that is made fresh and cheap with enough vegetarian options to keep you from repeating an item during the working week.

I have eaten here a number of times. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting to take my camera. The store is small, and both the inside and outside walls feature interesting art work. El Arepazo is located in the Pearl Alley by Gay and High Streets.

Carlos Gutierrez, the owner, does a virtual tour of food from the Spanish speaking New World. There are vegetarian burritos and empanadas on the menu, as well my personal favorites, the arepa and the patacon from Venezuela.

An arepa (pictured above), is a sandwich on grilled corn meal disks. The vegetarian arepa is made with lettuce, tomato, cheese, black beans, banana peppers and a pinch of the cilantro sauce. It also costs less than $5, tax included.

The patacon is a boat made of deep fried plantain stuffed with lettuce, tomato, black beans, avocado and cheese. It is delicious and enormous.

There are some great sides, including deep fried plantains, the delicious Cuban cousin of the banana that gets a caramel sweetness when cooked in oil. El Arepazo also has free delivery for lunch orders of greater than $10.

They are open Monday through Saturday, and it seems like their hours can be a little bit flexible (as in they open when they get around to it, not by the exact hours on the door). But the service is fast and the fare is affordable and well made.

El Arepazo has been featured in a number of other blogs (here, here and here), and rumors are swirling that Carlos and the owners of Due Amici are planning on collaborating on an upscale Latin venture. If it's half as good as El Arepazo, I'm there with bells on for opening night. Check out the pictures below.

El Arepazo

El Arepazo Latin Grill on Urbanspoon