Dallas has few diversions other than eating, drinking and shopping.....and shopping does not interest us.
So we spend our time hopping from restaurant to restaurant and to every pub that we can find in search of the perfect meal and the perfect beer.

We randomly review restaurants and bars, dishes and beers at whim and give our brutally honest opinions of our findings. And while we concentrate on Dallas, we travel far and wide to sample cuisine from all regions of the country and beyond.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beer Review - Maredsous Blonde

Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV Maredsous Blonde - 6.5% ABV

Let's continue on our theme of refreshing summer ales, shall we? 

Imagine if you will, sweaty little fat men in brown robes and shaved pates scurrying around wooden vats of beer.  Imagine them fussing over the ingredients ... so obsessive in their quest for the perfect abbey ale that they use eye droppers to add exact amounts of flavoring.  Take that thought and throw it right out of the window with your dreams of actually meeting Santa Claus because this ale, like the rest of the Maredsous line, has been brewed in a state of the art brewery by Duvel since 1963.  They brew under license from the abbey so that they can call it an abbey ale.  You and your silly dreams.

Though labeled a tripel for taxation purposes, this fine sipper is a simple golden ale.  The lovely golden ale lightly smells of yeast, malts, citrus and hops and lo and behold, the flavors follow right along.  Medium carbonation and a dryness are all that you could not get from the smell.  Nice, light, balanced.

Abbaye de Maredsous
Denée 5537

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beer Review - Monk's Ale

Abbey Beverage Company Monk's Ale - ??% ABV

"Hmmm?  A new ale produced by a bunch of monk's locked away in an isolated monastery?   Holy macaroni, I hadn't thought that there could be a new Belgian bee ...... what?  It's not in Belgium, it's where?  New Mexico?"  Oh well, if it's anything like Chimay or Orval then HALLELUJAH!

The Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert began brewing their "with a care and a prayer" beers in 2005 in Abiquiu (Santa Fe ish), New Mexico on a limited basis.  They acquired a minority interest in the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Pecos, New Mexico in 2010 and began producing their beer at that location.  This Monk's Ale and a Wit are all that they are brewing at the moment but they have grand plans to step it up in the near future.

The beer is pretty enough with it's clear orange/gold coloration and has a moderate head and moderate carbonation.  The nose is ... let's say subtle.  The flavor is also quite subtle, bordering on non-existent but slowly intensifies to barely discernible as the level drops.  Ever so slightly sweet with perhaps some citrus and cloves and a bit of sourness that tastes as if it could be from natural yeasts, though I suspect that there aren't many natural yeasts floating around in the dry desert air.  Hops were sparingly used as well.  The Abbey's website says that they have begun growing their own hops and will be using them soon, I just hope that they actually remember to put some in the brewing tanks next time.

I honestly will not drink this one again, but if you are a Bud Light drinker this one is probably watery enough for you to try.  You can be sure that drinking this will not get you drunk enough to do any sinning so the Monks collective consciences can remain clear.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert
PO Box 270
Abiquiu, NM 87510

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Restaurant Review - Ciao Chicago

Ciao Chicago - Addison, Texas

I must admit that I am a hard to please patron and the kind of customer that wait staff dread.  I am more than happy to point out sloppy service, cold food, rudeness or just plain old crappy offerings.  There are several restaurants in Dallas that I will never again pass over their threshold simply because the service was poor, even if the food was excellent.

Ciao Chicago opened their doors recently in the space just south of Buttons on Addison Road (just north of Beltline just in case you don't know where Buttons is) in a space that has had more restaurants that I have had haircuts.  The owners come from a long line of Chicago restauranteurs .... OK, would you believe that they lived all their lives in Chicago ... Ok, actually, she is from Turkey and he is from Russia and they lived for a while in Chicago, but that is not a negative because we have some wonderful ethnic additions that we would not get in a straight Chicago pizza joint.  Like Pide.  How do you pronounce that?  No effing clue.  But it is a kind of boat shaped flat bread pizza with some recognizable ingredients and some that are only vaguely familiar.  Lahmacun.  No, that is not a South American Leprecan, it is a extra thin flat bread ground beef, pepper paste and tomatoes and some really interesting spice combinations and no, I have no frigging clue how to pronounce that either, but it is really delicious.

The decor is ok, exposed brick walls and a former wine room from one of the earlier incarnations that is now used to store booze and warm beer.  The service was, well, really bad.  Not that they didn't try, but I am quite sure that the young lady that was our server has never worked in a restaurant in her life.  Very sweet, but very incompetent.  She managed to somehow get every single part of our order incorrect.  We ordered Chicken Parmigiano and 2 stuffed pies. 

Now if you know anything about Chicago stuffed pies you know that they take a very long time to prepare .... 45 minutes to an hour.  10 minutes after ordering the Chicken Parm arrived.  I suggested to our server that perhaps it would be better to wait until the pies were almost done before submitting the Chicken Parm order to which she thanked me for my advice and walked away.  So we got to watch one of our group eat their superb Chicken Parm, which we all tasted, while we continued to wait.

30 minutes later the pies arrived, and instead of two stuffed pies we received one stuffed and one deep dish pie.  The one stuffed pie, at first thought to be the only correct item, contained incorrect ingredients.  "Yes, pineapple and pepperoni both start with P, so perhaps you should write down at least part of the ingredient so that you order the correct one when you punch it in."  "Thanks again."  *Sigh*  Really, really incompetent.

Now here is the odd part.  Even though the service was horrible and the Russian beer was warm, I would seriously consider going back, because that meal was absolutely terrific.  Perfectly prepared with fresh ingredients and utterly delicious.  I would suggest you give it a try, but just be aware that there is a pretty good chance the order that you receive will be a surprise to you and your server.

Ciao Chicago
15107 Addison Road
Addison, TX 75001

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beer Review - Allagash Victoria

Allagash Brewing Company Victoria - 9% ABV

So the brewmaster of Allagash visited the famous (at least in Maine it's famous, I have never heard of it) mansion in Portland, Maine.  With it's opulent grandeur and with ornate frippery everywhere the mansion passes right by gaudy as if though it is standing still.  One room in particular is dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine and this room inspired the fellows at Allagash to create a tribute beer.  Good thing they didn't visit a house of ill repute.

The beer pours a slightly hazy gold with a head that is not large but leaves a nice lacing.  The smell is yeasty, fruity and flowery with the alochol esters quite noticable.

This being a Belgian style trippel you have tastes that you expect, bananas, malts and hops to be sure, but there were flavors here that I could not quite place.  Fruity, but not extremely so, hidden in the background, familiar but not easily placed.  Kind of like a vague memory from your childhood.  Tropical fruits, pepper, mint, melon are all there but very well blended so that you are challenged to pick them out singly.  What is that taste?  "Grapes.  Chardonnay grapes"  says Brandon with a self-satisfyed smirk.  Ass.  Even though they used 200 pounds of chardonnay grapes in the mash you really will have a hard time picking it out, but after you are told what it is you can easily identify the flavor.  Really, really well done.

Allagash Brewing Co.
50 Industrial Way
Portland, Maine 04103

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Food/Beer Pairing at Il Cane Rosso

We hope that you are enjoying your summer and are enjoying some refreshing summer beers. 

The beers have been selected and chef Matt Reddick is creating a menu of tasty creations to go with these seaonal treats.  Here is the list of our selections:
  - Harpoon Summer Ale (5.5% ABV) - A Kolsh style beer that is light and refreshing much like a lager but using ale yeasts in the brewing process.  Crisp and dry, perfect for summer.
  - Affligem Blonde (6.7% ABV) - This Belgian Pale Ale has hints of hops, fruit and sweetness.  What could be more summer than that?
  - Victory Golden Monkey (9.5% ABV) - This monster will be a challenge for Chef Matt but we have faith that he will create a masterpiece to accompany.
  - Buffalo Bill's Orange Blossom Cream Ale (5.8% ABV) - Yes, it tastes like orange blossoms and is really not a great stand alone ale, but Matt assures me that is will be wonderful as part of his dessert creation.
  - Special Surprise!  DBS will be supplying a special beer that your more than likely have never heard of or tried.  Let me assure you that it is terrific and is one of my summertime favorites.

Please contact Il Cane Rosso at 214-741-1188 to make your reservation for the evening of Tuesday, July 19th.  We look forward to seeing you all there.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beer Review - Live Oak Hefeweizen

Live Oak Brewing Company Hefeweizen - 5.2% ABV
Let's do something different, let's try this one together, shall we?

Look at that color, beautiful isn't it?  A lovely glowing golden yellow.  A bit cloudy but that is what we expected, right?  It smells like a hefeweizen all right with the subtle aroma of the bananas and cloves coming through and a bit of citrus as well.
Take a sip and hold it in your mouth ... don't swallow yet.  What do you taste?  NOTHING!  The only sensation I get is the prickling of the carbonation on my tongue.  Now swallow.  Damn, there is the flavor I expected from the first.  Nicely citrus, bananas, malts and a hint of sweetness.  Very strange.  I am going to suggest to the Live Oak people that they rename this one Hefeweizen Light.  And I don't mean that in an insulting manner because it really is a very good beer .... light and refreshing, it is just not a full flavored hefeweizen.  I think that they would be able to sell a lot more of it to the rotund masses that delude themselves into thinking that they are imbibing something healthy just because it has the word 'light' in it.  Buy and enjoy but don't be surprised by the lack of flavor, it is a Texas beer after all.

Live Oak Brewing Company
3301-B East 5th Street
Austin, TX 78702-4909

Monday, July 4, 2011

Extreme Road Trip Dining - Suzhou, China

Bianshi Caigenxiang Sichuan Cuisine Restaurant , Suzhou China

I must admit that I despise the word 'extreme'.  'Extreme' sports, 'extreme' refreshment, 'extreme' exitement ... 'Extreme' is one of those words that advertisers have shoved down our collective throats to the extent that I feel bile rising whenever I hear the word.  Why do I now use this word that I so abhor?  Because this dinner was planned as a birthday celebration for an old friend ... in China.  Long way to go for a meal, but damn was it ever good.

Birthdays are odd in China (hard to believe, eh?) in that the person having the birthday is expected to throw their own party and pay for it as well.  Your status is judged by who attends and how many attend.  Having a friend fly in from the states to attend is a big coup. 

The reserved rooms have large tables with giant lazy susans in the center where many dishes will be placed for all to share, family style.  Instead of having a dish passed to you, you point and ask for a dish and the dish will be delivered to you via the turntable.  Quite clever actually.  Because of the multitude of unrecognizable dishes being spun around the carousel at a mind numbing pace the expatriots call it the Wheel of Death.  Not a confidence building term I must say.

Sichuan cooking means that is it going to be hot, spicy, but not brutally spicy.  In fact many, if not most, of the dishes served are easily recongizable as food served in your local, higher end chinese restaurant.  The biggest difference is a wonderful little addition called a Sichuan peppercorn.  They look much like a regular peppercorn, but the flavor is similar to anise and the pepper has a mild anesthetic effect that slightly numbs the mouth making the mass of chili peppers much more tolerable.

 The first dish wheeled in front of me was a very recongnizable and perfectly prepared Moo Shu Pork with a sichuan sauce.  Moo Shu Pork is typically a northern Chinese dish but the chefs had no qualms about adding chili peppers and peppercorns and calling in Sichuan.  Notice, if you will, how the sauce looks very oily and that is because it is.  Most of the food we ate in China was quite oily, greasy even.

 The next revolution brought me an eyebrow raiser.  Boneless baked chicken breast served in an incredibly spicy peanut laced sichuan sauce.  Indescribably delicious.  The surprise was that it was served cold.  Even being served cold it still took several glasses of Tsing Tao to ease the burn enough that I could go on to round 3.

Round 3 ... want to try to guess what this is?  Meat on a stick?  Sorry, not even close.  Breaded, deep fried squash.  The potato, fried onion, corn and green chili relish was even better than the squash. 

French fries you are guessing?  Maybe, but again, no.  You have missed 2 now, one more wrong answer and I will have to kick you out of the cab.  These lovelies are fried Lotus root strips.  Light, delicate with flavors unlike any that I have tried before.  In this case the chilis were not overpowering in the least and added a much needed kick.

Desert in the middle of the meal?  Why the hell not?  Super chilled watermelon and pineapple with strawberry ice cream  Holy poop on a stick.  The Chinese have only recently discovered ice cream and you find ice cream shops everywhere.  I saw as many Ben and Jerry's as I saw McDonalds.  Dairy Queen, Nestle and even stand alone soft serve McDonalds ice cream windows are everywhere.

I kind of wish that the wheel had been rotating in the other directions, because I really could have used the ice cream after this dish of pork stir fried with green and red chili peppers.  Oh sure, they threw in a couple of carrots and potatoes for texture, but they were quite superfluous.  This one I call 'Oh my god my mouth is on fire'.

Look closely at this one.  See there at the top of the dish?  That is the head of the whole catfish boiled in oil with masses of chili peppers and peppercorns.  As is served myself this one I came across a surprise that made me pause for a moment.  A bit more than a moment actually.  Long enough that the guests laughed long and loud at my confusion for underneath the fish was a mass of long skinny rice noodles that looked uncomfortably like the intestines from the fish floating above.  I was assured by the locals that they also had no interest whatsoever in eating fish guts either.  Delicious.

Sesame seed coated peanuts.  Simple and magnificent.

Bubba recognizes this one.  Could any self-respecting BBQ connoisseur be fooled at all by pork ribs with dry rub?  Slow cooked and so tender that it was difficult to even pick them up without the meat falling off the bone.  Hot and spicy?  Good guess.

Pork dumplings are a staple in all areas of China.  And I did my very best to eat every one.  Steamed pork dumplings like this are the most common, but you can find dumpling served in so many ways that you literally cannot try them all.  I know, I tried.  Dumplings served floating in broth.  Dumplings with spicy broth.  Dumplings with the broth on the inside of the wrapper (careful, you will burn the skin off the inside of your mouth).  Dumplings with chicken.  Dumplings with vegetables.  Dumplings with beef.  I have to say that I am quite sure that I ate more than a hundred in 2 weeks.  Yes, even for breakfast.

Simple stir fried potatoes with onions and *gasp* chili peppers.  Simple, elegant and perfect. 

Regardless of what you have heard about China being a closed society the Chinese are anxious to talk about democracy, freedom (or the lack thereof) and, of course, the economy.  They have lots of questions about how a free society works and lots of accurate, honest observations.  Not once did I see any sneaky, sunglasses wearing government officials tailing us to make sure that we kept our evil western thoughts from contaminating their blissfully ignorant citizens.  Conversation flowed, the weak Chinese beers flowed and we had many toasts to friendship, our countries, our families and the future.  While I was quite aware that their goal was to get me rip roaring drunk they really had no clue what kind of lush they were dealing with and I was quite pleased that I was able to walk a straight line out of the restaurant while my new friends pinballed off of every verticle element in their path on their way out.  How much for all of this you ask?  You may be surprised to find that this feast with all these unbelievably wonderful dishes and massive quantities of beer cost about $120.00. 

Frankly I had never really had much of a desire to travel to China but I have been charmed by the people and overwhelmed by the energy of a society coming out of their dark ages.  And I can't wait to return.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Avery Beer Dinner - June 2011

Avery Beer Dinner at the Meddlesome Moth.

There comes a time in MOST peoples lives when quality becomes more important than quantity.  I know, almost inconceivable I know, but it is not really a bad thing, realizing that enjoying the flavor of beer can be better than slamming so much cheap beer that you puke in the backseat of your buddies car.  Then if you are lucky, you may realize that beer makes a great accompaniment to meals, and I don't mean popcorn and hotdogs at a ball game, I mean a real, grown-up, sit down dinner.  Somehow, beyond all comprehension, I have reached that stage.  So now instead of searching out drunken fiestas, we search for interesting beer/food pairings AND WE REALLY ENJOY THEM.  Damn, I must be getting old.

One of our favorite venues for beer dinners is the Meddlesome Moth on Oaklawn in the Arts District.  Thanks to the long reach of Keith Schlabs we not only get the pairings, we get to meet the brewers who create our favorite libations.  Don't think that we attend all of them, we pick and choose based on the brewery and to be quite blunt, not every dinner is successful though kudos for chef Chad Kelly for attempting to produce a pairing for beers as brutal as those produced by the Stone Brewery.
Joe's Pilsner
The Avery pairing was indeed one of the more successful pairings that we have attended, but to be fair, I really like Avery, thought not because all of their beers are great, but because they experiment.  The hardest part of this evening was driving home after consuming the 5 food courses and the 9, yes, 9 beers offered.  No occifer I'm not as think as you drunk I am.

Our welcoming beer of the evening was the Joe's Pilsner (4.7% ABV).  This American style lager was quite innocuous and did not offend the palate whatsoever, but it did little to excite it either.  A hot summer day on the lake?  Why not?

The first course was a Sunchoke Vichyssoise with Salmon Roe and Petite Chives.  Sunchoke, also called Jerusalem Artichoke, is a species of Sunflower from eastern North America and it is the root that you eat and not the seeds.  Vichyssoise is a thick soup made usually made of pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream, and chicken stock.  All I can say is that it was superb, except for the fish eggs, I could go the rest of my life never eating salmon roe again and would be OK with that.  The beers chosen to accompany were Karma and Salvation.  Karma (5.2% ABV) is a fairly decent Belgian style pale ale with very little smell and a clear amber color.  It has a earthy, bready flavor that accompanied the gardenesque soup nicely, though I doubt I would actively pursue a Karma on it's own.  Salvation (9% ABV) is really fine Belgian style strong pale ale.  The flavor is quite balanced, with malts, candy sugar, fruits and a bit of yeast.  Not as good of a pairing, but a much better beer.

Moroccan Lamb
Our second course was a delightful Moroccan Lamb with Couscous, Pine Nuts and Currants.  More pronounced flavors demanded a more forceful beer, or rather beers.  The lamb was oh so tender and not as fatty as lamb sometimes can be, with the Moroccan spices not overpowering in the least, which took a deft hand in the kitchen.  To stand up against this spicey treat they chose the IPA and the New World Porter.  IPA = hops, but not in face puckering amounts, just 64 IBU's to give it some interest.  There was a goodly amount of malts in this golden amber brew.  The malts, citrus and pine for the hops were fairly well balanced.  What Avery calls a Porter, the rest of us would call a black IPA.  It is hoppy, mildly sweet and dry.  The coffee flavor is a bit overpowering however and did not compliment the dish as well as the IPA, unless, of course, you really like coffee.
New World Porter

Giant Prawn
Hog Heaven
The Reverend
The third couse featured Giant Nigerian Salt Water Prawns with Piment d' Esplette.  Basically humongous shrimp with a not too hot chili sauce.  Big.  Damned.  Delicious. Shrimp.  Alongside the shrimp was the Reverend and Hog Heaven.  The reverend is a Belgian style quadruppel that is admittedly one of my very favorite beers.  You could pair this delight with a deep fried dog turd and it would still be magnificent.  Hog Heaven is dry hopped barley wine that would classify as a double IPA to most beer drinkers and is not one of their better beers.

 Our fourth couse of the evening was a slow roasted pheasant accompanied by a mushroom bread pudding with a green garlic jus.  Mother goose.  The pheasant was perfectly prepared, mouth watering and tender with gasps of disbelief from the group claiming that this bird was chicken.  Fantastic.  I must admit to you that I am not a fan of mushrooms.  It is not so much a taste thing as it is a texture thing.  Slimy, gummy and gross.  HOWEVER, if mushrooms were served in this fashion all the time I would probably eat them for every meal. Really an incredible creation.  The beers paired with this round were Avery Czar and Depuceleuse.  Czar is an English style ale with malts and toffee flavors that perfectly matched the meal.  The Depuceleuse (which is an obscure French term meaning deflowerer, but as in a woman who takes a man's virginity) is a sour ale where the wild yeast ale (which would be sour in it's own right) has been aged in Zinfindel barrels.  Then just in case it is not sour enough for you they add 13 lbs. of cherries to every barrel for the pucker factor.  Not really my cup of tea.

The desert course featured Mignardises, which are small, bit sized desserts kind of like a petit four.  There was a chocolate-walnut , flourless cookie and a coconut macaroon with a of vanilla-orange tapioca with sugared mint leaves.  Delightful.  The accompaniment for these delicates was a concotion called The Beast.  The aroma of this animal is that of jet fuel, with dates and raisons and coincidentally was the exact color of jet fuel as well.  The flavor of the sugar (turbinado) sweetened it so that it tasted more like sweet jet fuel.  Really, really strong.
The Beast

Our aparatif was a rare ale called Dihos Dactylon.  For a description please refer back to the Savor event review.
All in all the night was quite enjoyable and I must say that the dinner, the beers were amazing and Adam Avery was oh so charming and entertaining.  But do I really need 9 beers and 5 food courses?  I am forced to admit that this was quite a bit over the top and while it may have been worth the $95 per person cost it was just too much.  Going to work the next day was difficult to say the least and I will have to consider carefully whether or not I will attend another liver pickler like this one again.

The Meddlesome Moth
1621 Oak Lawn Avenue # B
Dallas, TX 75207-3401

The Avery Brewing Company
5763 Arapahoe Avenue # East
Boulder, CO 80303