Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rockwood Filling Station again

After going to the new Rockwood Filling Station Pizzeria on opening night, I decided to wait a few weeks to try it again. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it the first time, but I wanted to wait for the crowd to calm down and the staff to get into the swing of things.

I went back for a second try a few nights ago with a friend. I had the eggplant pizza that is topped with roasted eggplant, onions, ricotta, and fried capers. The crust was thin and crispy with the right amount of toasty brown. It was not at all burned. I loved the salty fried capers. Maybe I will try that at home. They'd be very good on a salad or in a butter sauce.

My friend had meatballs on his pizza, and he seemed to enjoy his meal. The meatballs are made with pork and duck. I confirmed this with the owner because I overheard the following conversation:

A guy said to the waiter, "There's a rumor that the meatballs are made with duck. Is that true?"
The waiter said, "The meatballs are 100% pork. Who told you they were duck?"
The guy said with a sort of satisfaction in proving someone wrong, "I read it on a local blog Delicious Durham."

It's not every day you hear your own blog mentioned in public, and I was quite certain that the waiter was telling the man inaccurate things. So I walked up to the owner in the bar to ask him to clarify whether or not there is duck in the meatballs. He said there certainly is duck in the meatballs and that he would correct his waiter.

I don't like the suggestion that I might be misleading people on this blog. Certainly I offer a large dose of my opinion but I try to be clear on what is factual. I get my facts by either reading on the menu or asking. I'm not going to make statements about what is in a certain dish unless I either know for certain or preface it with words like "I think."

Anyway, after this second visit, it seems like Rockwood is doing well and they have their act together. I highly recommend for people to give it a second try, especially those who went the first week or two it was opened.

My only complaint is that my red Italian wine showed up in what looked like a highball glass. So some people might find that hip and cool, but I'm not one of them. One of the great joys of life is that glassware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit every imaginable kind of beverage. I can't see any good reason why the wine should appear in what is more suitable for a mojito.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Smokehouse baked beans

Sunday I went to a picnic, and I was asked to bring baked beans. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but until now I have never made baked beans. You know how North Carolina BBQ is practically synonymous with coleslaw? Well, Kansas City BBQ joints tend to feature quite a lot of baked beans. In fact, if you are ever in KC, you must go to this place called Smokehouse Bar-B-Que for the divine baked beans and brisket burnt ends.

I studied some old church cookbooks from my childhood to see if I could find a comparable recipe to take to the picnic. I remembered my friend Marion has a delicious and easy recipe. It is basically a can of baked beans doctored up. It requires BBQ sauce but not the vinegar kind. Be sure to use the thick, tomato-based kind like KC Masterpiece.

4 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled
1 large can (40oz) baked beans
3/4c. brown sugar
1/4c. chopped onion or 1T onion flakes
1 T chili powder
1T yellow mustard
1t. or more liquid smoke
1c. barbecue sauce
1/4c. molasses

Combine all ingredients. Taste as you go and adjust the various flavors to your preference. I like a bit more mustard than the recipe requires. Put beans in a casserole dish, top with bacon, and bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes or so.

Make some potato salad, grill some burgers and you've got a picnic.

Potato salad is just as easy: boil taters that you've cube. Cool. Add a chopped onion or two to the potatoes. Stir in mayonnaise by large spoonfuls until it is as you like. Be generous with salt. Add some pickle juice if you have a jar in the fridge.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tyler's Tap Room

It's been party time at work. Besides going to An, we went out to Tyler's Tap Room a couple of nights ago for beer and a casual dinner.

I like the old warehouses that have been converted into something useful, but Tyler's is a bit of a barn and the lights are very bright.

Tyler's does have a good selection of beers on tap, and they were featuring some local brews that everyone seemed to like, especially after two or three. The dinner menu is loaded with greasy treats like garlic fries and fried pickles.

Fried pickles are wonderfully strange. I cannot decide if I like them or not. They are certainly worth trying for novelty if nothing else.

I had a girlie beer, Unibroue Ephemere, and fish tacos. I ordered the fish tacos thinking they might be kind of healthy only to discover the fish was fried. It included tomato and shredded cabbage wrapped in flour tortilla. It was good, not exceptional. The hamburgers looked good so I may try one at some point. Ephemere is a tasty summer beer. It is pale, refreshing and it reminds me of apples without actually being as sweet as a cider.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Asian fusion: return visit to An

Last night I went with my new boss and some colleagues to An in Cary off of Harrison Ave. The cocktail list looked great but I opted for a glass of viognier. It was dry and not overly fruity. The bar is an interesting place to sit, but I have a feeling they hire the female bartenders for their looks because they didn't seem very knowledgeable about the wines.

We shared some tuna rolls and chicken spring rolls for the first course. We liked both. The spring rolls came with a sweet mango dipping sauce. There was no better way to celebrate the last bite of tuna I will take for a while. I've been pondering Greenpeace's fish/seafood red list. As much as I like fish and seafood, I like having the oceans populated with fish even better. Some fish and seafood are just not viable for us to eat. But I digress.

My main course was lemongrass beef with rice thread noodles. The cool noodles and cucumber were a good foil to the spicy fire of the lemongrass. I will certainly order it again.

The dessert list looked good but I was too full. Instead I had a cup of white tea which, if I recall correctly from my trip to China, is supposed to be good for digestion.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tiny gem of the Caribbean

I'm back, not overly excited about the real world, but there isn't much to do about that. At least there aren't ants in my cereal.

Where have I been? The highest point in the Netherlands which is a tiny place near St. Martin called Saba that no one has ever heard of except SCUBA divers. It is an old volcano that rises straight out of the sea. There are 1500 full time residents. Pretty cottages cling to the mountainside. It is quiet and outside of diving and hiking there isn't much to do, which is why I went. I logged 13 dives and wrote 10 chapters of a book. My cottage was adorable with views of the sea and the mountain.

For such a tiny place, Saba has very good food. There are no chain restaurants or stores, so everything is run by locals living there. I had excellent fish two adorable restaurants called My Kitchen and Brigadoon. Michael and Trish at Brigadoon do an excellent job. Trish makes great cocktails and is an excellent hostess.

At a place called Scout's I tried johnny cakes which are nothing like the New England version. Caribbean johnny cakes are made from white flour and are basically savory fried dough. Imagine an unsweetened beignet type of thing. They are really good w/ slices of melting gouda. Fried dough and cheese! What's not to love other than the cholesterol?

My favorite meal was at a place aptly named the Rainforest Restaurant. It is located at a sustainable, environmentally friendly hotel called the Eco-Lodge. Many of the ingredients are grown in the restaurant's own garden. Once a week the restaurant serves up an Indonesian rice table which includes a variety of wonderful dishes. I had various types of lamb, beef, and chicken curries, spicy shrimp, corn pancakes, vegetable side dishes of beans, cucumbers, and I cannot even remember what else. Spicy and flavorful. For dessert I had passion fruit ice cream. I like the tart/sweet combination.

My other favorite meal was a massive grilled steak at a little bar called Swinging Doors. The proprietor Eddie grills steaks every Sunday and chicken and ribs every Tuesday and Friday. Eddie cooked my steak to tender perfection.

The restaurant with the best view is the Tropics Café. I went for dinner and twice for breakfast. It overlooks the sea with views of the mountain. One morning I ate rum-soaked French toast served with a side of a spicy, locally made rum called Saba spice. It is rum spiced up with cinnamon, cloves and other things.

If you dive or hike, Saba is a must.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How I ate an ant

My vacation and the self-imposed technology cold turkey are nearly at an end. I'm in a lovely, remote place in the tropics that, oddly, happens to be the highest point in the Netherlands. My writing projects have gone well, but I have been somewhat distracted by scuba diving. I'll tell you about it later when I can upload some pics. The land-based creepy crawlies of the tropics scare me a bit, especially when I accidentally eat them.

This morning I accidentally ate an ant. It was very traumatic, less so for the ant because he was already dead. The ant died a slow painful death by refrigeration. I bought cereal a few days ago, and I left it out on the counter overnight by mistake...because where I come from putting cereal in the fridge is not a natural reflex. Apparently some ants got in there before I thought to put the box in the fridge. So this morning I'm eating my cereal and I look down to see a dead ant in the spoon. No telling how many ants I downed before realizing this. I raced outside and dumped the bowl and spit into a bush. Then I brushed my teeth vigorously, it seems like ant legs could get stuck between the teeth, and went out for breakfast.

As I was walking to breakfast I saw a rat snoozing in the sun on a wall. What was a rat doing tanning on the wall? Then when I went for a walk a soldier crab growled at me. Yes, growled. Who ever heard of a growling crab?

The sea life is much less terrifying.

When I get back I'll give you the skinny on where am I and what I ate.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Indy's NC wine tasting panel

Our local alternative rag, The Independent Weekly, featured a story on NC wines this week. As part of the feature on NC wines, they put together a panel of tasters to try NC wines in a blind taste testing. The results were also published in a story this week.

Lucky me, I got selected to be part of this panel as the non-expert but somewhat informed taster , e.g. I don't work in the wine industry, and I represented the "wine consumer." I was honored to be asked to participate, and after a hard slog at the office, a wine tasting mid-week was right up my alley.

I arrived at the Indy's new offices, which are gorgeous by the way, and headed to the conference room where the tasting convened. Peg, from Weaver Street Market, seemed really lovely and she is committed to finding good NC wines.

The other wine professionals worked in a variety of capacities: wine buyers, wine shop owner, wine writer, and sommelier. Interacting with them was the most interesting part of this experience, way more interesting than the NC wines, unfortunately.

You can read my comments on the NC wines so I won't rehash that here. In summary, most of them were not even good. I don't know about you, but if I'm paying $12 for a bottle of wine, I expect it to be tasty and drinkable. Now, granted, $12 is not a lot of money and I'm not exactly short on cash at the moment, but it's a matter of VALUE. I'm not paying $12 to drink something that tastes like manure. I'm also not drinking unfiltered wine. It's just not my aesthetic though I appreciate that it is someone's. My comments were rather unfiltered, if you like, but that's fine by me.

What I found interesting about the wine professionals is that they seemed to think it is acceptable to ask people to pay $10 or $12 for a bottle of mediocre to below-average wine. Comments like, "Someone might drink this for $10" really got under my skin after a while. It seemed to assume that $10 wines are below par, and that is just not accurate.

Additionally the wine professionals were very careful not to "bash" wineries. Ok I get this is their profession and that burning bridges is a bad idea and all that. But be truthful. Don't try to put lipstick on a bulldog. I am not sure if it was sycophancy or arrogance, but something like that came through among some of the wine professionals. I was also reminded more than once that I was the "consumer," which probably means I don't know anything.

So here's my NC wine theory in a nutshell: Buy local if you want to support local enterprises, but make sure your expectations are level set regarding quality of taste and value.

And my overall wine theory is: Really enjoyable wines do not have to be expensive. I've had good ones for $10. Additionally, food and atmosphere do enhance the wine drinking experience, but a good wine can also stand on it's own. A good wine doesn't need a porterhouse steak to give it legs.

As for wine professionals, if you ever get condescension from any of them, stick to your guns. You know what you like. I like minerally, bone dry whites. Some people like floral whites. Drink what you gives you pleasure and make Bacchus proud.