Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Fighting the Sea Monster, Round 2

July 1, 2011
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(alternate title: “Fighting male-pattern baldness”. I think it’s time to throw in the towel and Bic that bitch. But how awkward if I end up having a birthmark that says “Live Nudes” or something…)
About a year ago, I decided to buy an octopus and cook it. Maybe because it was cheap. Maybe because I’d been mesmerized by a recent viewing of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and felt humans had to even the score. Or, perhaps I’d cobbled together a stash of Assyrtiko, and was compelled to cram my suck-hole with something briny and very Greek. After determining that a long kiss with Olympia Dukakis would be too Greek (and certainly far-too briny), I opted for an octopus.
But here was the problem: like nibbling into the lower lip of Olympia Dukakis’ leathery maw during the hypothetical make-out session that should have never advanced to this disturbing point, my cooked cephalopod of one year ago was exceptionally chewy. Like rubber.
But that tends to happen with octopodes. The interweb is littered with tips and tricks to eliminate the chew. A sort of boiling method- last year’s opus- failed miserably.
So why battle this tricky little critter again? I blame it on a recent meal at Atlanta’s Kyma, where they crank out an octopus dish so tender and delicious, it’s like eating heaven, provided heaven is an 8-legged sea creature that predicts soccer matches. Honestly, good octopus is akin to a firmer, milder scallop, in my opinion. If that sounds like something in your wheelhouse, then you can understand my misguided persistence. Gleaning some hot tips off our waiter, I opted for a new preparation, sure to be a smash hit.
Out of a marriage of trade secrets and my own chops in the kitchen, I decided to cut my octopus into individual tentacles, braise it for an hour in a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemons, garlic, fresh oregano, salt, and pepper, then finish it with a good crisp on the grill. Tender and Crisp was the goal. Like a Burger King TenderCrisp sandwich, except edible.
(no matter how it turned out, few things look cooler than a tentacle on the grill).
I garnished with some grilled lemon slices, a few herbs, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a drizzle of good olive oil…
…disaster. So chewy. Inedible to some.
Sea Monster – 2. Balding Land Ape – 0.
I guess all I can do is toast that which has become my latest white whale
…at least until I get my peepers on Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus. Gator tail, anyone?
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Posted in cooking, food, octopus

Hazy and Busted in the Second City

May 5, 2011
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Last time I was in Chicago was 1989. I was 10 years old, preferred dinosaurs to baseball, McDonald’s to Portillo’s, and chocolate milk to Burgundy (I credit good parenting for that last one).
To me, the Second City was a giant lake, a tall building named after the store where my parents sourced me burlap-like “Toughskins” jeans, a cool museum full of prehistoric bones, and a boring visit to my mother’s great-aunt’s 90th birthday party (but I suppose 10-year-olds and 90-year-olds just don’t mix). I had no idea what wonders Chicago had to offer an adult. Particularly one with a penchant for cocktails and low-density lipoproteins.
It is a big city of friendly folks (like Manhattan with good, Midwestern sensibilities), yet the city center seems condensed. I felt I could walk everywhere, and everywhere is flat. Which is needed, as the rest of one’s time can best be passed gorging like Joey Chestnut in training. In more flattering words, Chicago’s food scene is incredible. Again, it’s a walkable, flat city, that’s chilly and on the water, and full of amazing food. I’d make the shoddy metaphor that Chicago is San Francisco for people who think hills are stupid and tiring, sans Nancy Pelosi, plus even shadier politics.

Those not insecure about looking like tourists can indulge in the fire-kissed delights of the Weber Grill, a restaurant that employs real charcoal kettles indoors, and probably a few carbon monoxide monitors as well. You can call me a tourist all you want, as long as your shoving pretzel rolls with cheddar-butter in front of my face- the perfect prelude to juicy cheeseburgers (here’s where the metaphor dies: Midwestern dietary philosophy takes a MASSIVE detour from that of Northern California. I swear these people do not give a f**k about what goes into their bodies. And that’s coming from a deep-fried Southerner. I mean, cheddar-butter?!).

Speaking on bad eating habits, “dragged through the garden” Chicago-style dogs (left), juicy, grilled onion-slathered Polish sausages, unbelievably heavy deep-dish pizza, and “beefs” (Italian beef sandwiches) pepper the landscape of the Windy City, offering delicious, affordable junk food to all with complete disregard for doctors’ orders. Portillo’s, Gino’s East, Mr. Beef, and an outpost of Al’s Beef (among other tasty culinary disasters) sit within a few blocks of each other. Conveniently, a Walgreen’s sits central to all of these places, making multiple runs for Rolaids and Lipitor manageable.

But there’s more to Chicago than stuff that tastes particularly good at 3 AM. Frontera Grill lives up to the hype for Mexican-lovers. Bartender Mike is whipping up some ridiculous old-school cocktails like Sazeracs and Negronis at Sable. We also (of course) found ourselves in unbelievably unique wine-and-food meccas like Pops for Champagne (an all-sparkling wine bar… insane), The Bluebird, and the Purple Pig (perhaps my new favorite place on planet Earth). These spots featured what I consider the calling card of good wine lists: tons of stuff I’ve never seen before. As much as so many places want to sell me Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay for five times the retail price at the Piggly Wiggly next door, I really appreciate the extra effort when a restaurant’s list is unique and interesting. And I’ll probably spend more money, wanting to try new things (which happened. Ouchie.)

More than the the food and the drink, though, we had the incredible pleasure of tilting some glasses with Atlanta friends Capo and Jess (pictured right, as Capo blesses an absurd amount of pork product at The Pig), who happened to be in town. Furthermore (thanks to Twitter), I was able to connect with local winos Mike T, Douglas, Sasha, and one of my favorite (former for the most part, now that he’s “in the business”) bloggers, the excitable Sam Klingberg of Broke Wino fame. I continue to be impressed by the folks I meet in-person, with whom I initially connected online. Anyone who says social media is anti-social is a buffoon. I can pretty much go to any city in the U.S., and there’ll be someone there to introduce me to a terrific local hangout, assuaging my insecurity about looking like a tourist (huge camera-in-tow notwithstanding).
Like any big, hip city, a drink runs about $9-13. And there are lots of nice restaurants who prey on the business-dinner crowd. If you come to visit (and you should), bring some papers, or a high-limit credit card. Chicago ain’t cheap, but it sure is fun. I ran like I was still in my 20’s, and I woke up like I was not in my 20’s. But I had a blast doing it and can’t wait to get back. Granted, it will probably be with the kid(s), so wine bars and mixologists will have to wait.
Good thing I still like dinosaurs and McDonald’s.

Tasty China

February 8, 2011
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Some old footage from back in December.
If you live in Atlanta and you haven’t been to Tasty China, you’re missing out on some of the best Szechuan food in the U.S.
The secret of mercurial chef Peter Chang has long been out (in fact, he’s opened a second place in Atlanta), but the cravings never subside. Seeing these pics, I must make arrangements for a plate full of “dried fried eggplant with hot & numbing flavor” soon.
As for you, pack up some off-dry Riesling and prepare for a miserable following day. Living for the moment has never echoes so truly…

Two Shots in the Ass

November 30, 2010
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“I don’t care what you have to do. I just want to taste my Thanksgiving turkey.”
It was a simple plea from a guy on day seven of a sinus infection that showed no signs of letting up. Before parenthood, I never got sick. Maybe once every three years. Even then, I’d knock it out in a couple days. Now (especially with a critter in day care), I constantly feel as if I need to be wrapped up in bandages and sent off to live with the lepers. A bit of an extreme metaphor to describe my situation, but the metaphor well is about as dry as…
…uh, something dry. See?
Anyway, I’d hit up a doc-in-the-box on the way home from the office on Thanksgiving Eve, still dealing exclusively with a diet of textures, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. My nose was still clogged, keeping my sense of smell- the true vessel of flavor recognition to the brain- in check. But, with the most gluttonous day of the year on the horizon, simply gumming the textures of soft foods like mashed potatoes and stuffing seemed…unacceptable. Unthinkable. Unholy. And what of the wines? Thanksgiving ushers in the season of emptying out one’s wine stash. The good stuff had to come out, and it had to be consumed as ravenously as the smorgasbord of turkey and bland carbs.
“Hmm. You really should have come in here earlier than today. Do you have a problem with shots?” The doc was offering a glimmer of hope, as the cost of getting poked. Two fleeting pin pricks in exchange for rich, meaty mouthfuls of drumstick; buttery, fluffy potatoes; a nose full of cranberries in a fresh glass of Brouilly; the honeyed nectar that is slightly-chilled Sauternes, served with a slice of warm apple pie…
Needless to say, my pants were around my ankles. A shot of cortisone in the left cheek, and a shot of antibiotics in the right (if you’re currently disturbed by a mental image of my bare rump, watch this to desensitize yourself). 24 hours later, I was on the mend, and digging into a 3-day bender of Crestor-ic proportions.
Thank you, science. You’ve made it fun to write about food and wine again.

Food Porn.

November 4, 2010
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Caution: the following post is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistlines).
Read through the pages of Anthony Bourdain’s many food tomes, and you’ll notice frequent references to the relationship between food and sex. Similarities in the chemical and physiological changes in the body before a good meal or a good romp.
Enter food porn: the only pornography more shame-inducing than watching the real thing. Indeed the human animal is drawn to that which is taboo. Traditional porn showcases pleasures of the flesh (or so I’m told… … …), always stalwarts in the Pantheon of sinful deeds. Furthermore, in an American society resting on the slumping shoulders of heavyset and unhealthy citizens, the concept of ogling fatty treats with a lustful eye seems just as forbidden. Thus- I surmise- the notion of “food porn” has arisen.

Need an example? Take the Philly Cheese Steak. Who knew that Pat Olivieri’s innocent act of replacing a hot dog with some griddled beef in depression-era South Philadelphia would be the impetus for the ULTIMATE in dreadfully unhealthy, sinfully delicious junk foods? Indeed, the philly is a treat that’s life-saving at 3 AM with a belly full of beer, yet surely the harbinger of death only a few hours later.
Yep, phillies are the sandwich-equivalent to a double order of Waffle House hashbrowns- scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, capped, peppered, and ranched (Bonus points to whomever can identify the toppings in the comment field. College kids from the South are not eligible).
Now, despite the proliferation of food porn on this site, I try (with little success) to keep a trim figure. I don’t answer the Philadelphia Cheese Steak’s sirens’ song frequently. So, when I am lured in by its sultry promise of eventual gastrointestinal discomfort, I make sure to do it right:

Bread: Any salty Philly folk (and they’re pretty much all salty) will say that the bread is critical. I usually decide not to mess around and source Italian rolls from a Northeastern bakery, like J.J. Cassone or Amoroso’s. It takes a little more work to find perfect rolls, but when that soft, chewy bun starts soaking up flavorful grease, you’ll relish in your persistence. Warning to bakery zealots: these two companies ship the rolls frozen (they thaw up quite nicely). If you just can’t handle that, find a local baker who can make some decent Italian rolls. Just don’t come crying to me when a Philadelphia native dresses you down with a rant about bread geography.

Meat: It’s called a Cheese Steak, not a “Cheese Roast Beef” or a “Cheese Hamburger Meat”. So get steak. I prefer Ribeye, because it’s got a lot of flavor (read: fat), and it’s what the silverbacks like Tony Luke use. You can get a butcher to take a partially frozen ribeye and shave it down for you. Thinly shaved meat allows you to take clean bites, and it cooks quickly, so it retains all that juiciness (that will eventually soak into the bread…hey now). I’ve also used top round, and I’ve had success with the chain meat off a whole tenderloin (the stuff from step 2 in this video). Just make sure there’s some fat in there. Otherwise, go eat a celery stalk, Denise Austin.

Cheese: the more processed, the better. Traditionally (according to Pat’s King of Steaks), the proper slather is Cheez Whiz. I just put the whole can on the griddle and let that stuff turn into a molten cauldron of goodness. If you can’t stomach the thought of eating something that processed, use some White American. Provolone can also be employed if you’re a real sissy. The takeaway here is: if you’re in the mood for a cheese steak, have very little regard for what is going into your body.
Veggies: just to keep things healthy. The traditional roughage is grilled onions. Foks sometimes get fancy and throw in green peppers and/or mushrooms. Both tasty, but not traditional (they often make it onto my sammich so I feel like I’m getting a balanced meal). Beyond that, I’ve seen cherry peppers, tomatoes, and even broccoli rabe. Just don’t get too cute. The veggies will serve the purposes of flavor and texture ONLY. Their healthful properties will be swaddled in a cocoon of LDL.
In the end, we’re left with a disgustingly wonderful treat that is worthy of shameful adoration. Pair with beer, or a “cheeseburger” wine (like Garnacha, Zinfandel, or Aussie Shiraz). Throw in some Teddy Pendergrass, add a few strips of bacon, and you’ve got something that’ll really make you feel flush:


Stalking Bourdain

September 29, 2010
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Ever since catching my first few episodes of No Reservations and blazing through the addictive pages of Kitchen Confidential, I’ve sort of- like many- had an obsession with Anthony Bourdain. Well, an obsession with what he does (I couldn’t handle being the shorter person in a relationship).

Anyway, the thought of getting paid seven figures to write, travel, and eat sounds like something I could definitely handle. Yeah, I’m sure it’s not all fun. I know there are lots of takes, there is plenty of writers’ block, and gastrointestinal discomfort abounds when digesting some of the things Tony puts in his mouth. However, being desensitized to monotony by an Atlanta commute, all-too familiar with writing woes (as evidenced by the crap I put on these pages), and a shameful penchant for Taco Bell, I feel primed for the “sausage making” and eager to bask in eating better than anyone I’ve ever seen in awe-inspiring places I’ve never seen. Toilets or no toilets. And frankly, it has to be more good than bad. Mr. Bourdain seems to have lost quite a bit of his signature snark.
A year ago April, the wife and I spent some time in Puerto Rico, and I made sure that we braved non-existent car-jackings and kidnappings to get to the mountains of Cayey to enjoy roasted pig and fixins at Lechonera Los Pinos (on that note: anything you read on Yelp! was written by a pansy. If you want to really enjoy a place beyond the inoculated surroundings of your resort, don’t listen to these hamsters). However, there was a total devoid of English, but we scraped out enough Español to do as Bourdain did: gorge ourselves on the crispy skin and tender meat of the “noble and magical animal”.

Fast forward about 18 months: the wife and I were roaming the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District, 3 month old daughter in stroller, continuing our quest to eat where Bourdain has. We ducked into R & G Lounge, left the stroller with the hostess, and headed downstairs to a small eating area built around a bar and several fish tanks filled with critters both familiar (lobster, prawns) and unfamiliar (some fish that looked like grouper, others like bass). However, we were after crab. Dungeness Crab, local to the area, and it just so happened they batter and deep fry the critters at R & G. Southerners rejoice in unison.

While that madness was cooking up, the wife and I (with super baby sleeping in her car seat under the table) munched on crispy salmon & avocado egg rolls. Delicious, but nothing compared to the cocktail I’ve been dreaming about since that San Francisco episode of No Reservations. Seasoned with the perfumed, sweet white flesh of the Chinese lychee fruit, the eponymous martini was just about the most damned-refreshing alcoholic thing I’ve ever had to drink. Yes, including Keystone Light.
And- finally- the pièce de résistance:
At first, I wondered about the merit of the thin, crispy, salt & pepper batter on the outside of the shells. However, during the messy procedure that is deconstructing a crab, the bits got on my fingers. They got on my plate. And, of course, the succulent meat captured all sorts of the seasoned flotsam.
The meat itself was ridiculous. Boiled crab always seems to get cold quickly to me. That’s fine and good, but something about the quick, hot method of frying kept the meat extra tender and hot, down to the last leg. And after the last leg, I was wishing there were double. Maybe I should have drank another lychee martini or two.
If you’re ever in the Bay Area, knock it out. You can say you’re stalking me. Of course, that means you’ll have to hit up Taco Bell later.

Dinner for Schmuck

August 8, 2010
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I’ve seen an awful lot of pub for the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” lately. I’m horribly skeptical. The previews are nothing more than clips of Steve Carrell saying particularly stupid things that- I suppose- are intended to be funny. I do think Carrell can be hilarious, but sometimes bad writing is insurmountable. Case in point: I’m not famous yet. Nor am I rich. Guess I’ll be firing my writer. However, regardless of my schmuck-status, I was recently invited to a dinner that was worthy of those movie star-types. Perpetrated by hosts Brad (twitter.com/biskuitATL) and Jimmy (eatitatlanta.com), the dynamic duo/gruesome twosome took on recipes from Thomas Keller’s heralded French Laundry Cookbook. The pics obviously don’t do justice, but the meal was as ambitious as it was tasty. Throw in some impressive wines, including a trio of Chardonnay-based whites from Burgundy (crisp, minerally Premier Cru and Grand Cru offerings from Burg’s most northerly region of Chablis, and a much richer expression of the grape from Meursault, further south in the Côtes de Beaune). The night also ended with a (suspected) 1960 vintage Port…not something many people get to try everyday. Needless to say, there was nothing disappointing about this dinner for schmuck(s).


Fighting the Man (and fun with Game)

August 2, 2010
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Over the weekend, in an effort to be simultaneously cheap and avoid heading to the local market- thus requiring exposure to the inner ring of Dante’s 7th concentric circle of Hell (that is to say, the weather outside in Georgia)- I foraged the freezer for meats. Finding venison was a pleasant surprise, as I have neither acquired a deer myself nor even been hunting in almost 2 years. My father-in-law, however, had been up to his antlers in deer meat, so a recent trip left us with a hearty supply of game.
Venison, being of the particularly lean persuasion, makes a poor burger on its own. However, I desired burgers, so braving the blast furnace (not solace in the fact that my truck’s A/C is mostly broken), I ventured across the street to the local butcher to collect some precious beef fat. Oddly, it comes in little frozen pellets there, but fat is fat.
Cubed venison, beef fat pellets, and a little ground beef chuck for good measure made for a pleasant blend of about 78% lean to 22% fat (not healthy, but tasty). I wanted to document the process for all to enjoy, and for whatever reason, I was hell-bent on a quick photo documentary set to Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “Shining Star”. Maybe I pictured Elaine Benes dancing with game burger in hand…I don’t know.
Usually, I upload to Youtube, with the occasional inconvenience of WMG-owned music being removed from the videos. Often, I just find another suitable track. However, hell-bent is hell-bent, and I longed to have “Shining Star” as the anthem for ground deer and odd pellets of fat.
So, here’s the Blogger video. I’m sure it’s lower quality, but- dammit- it’s honest to my artistic license. And I hope it helps sell EWF’s music, and WMG doesn’t get any of it. Straight to some sweet new horns for the brass section.

Posted in burgers, food, music, venison

Another weekend in the neighborhood…

July 20, 2010
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…okay, so this was back on July 4th weekend. We don’t do this every Saturday and Sunday. In fact, I think I’m having a crust of bread and some old water for dinner tonight. But (especially when I’m wrestling with a touch of writers’ block), it’s always nice to harken back to a pictorial history of absurd feasting.

While I should plan a specific day to not write, I gotta strike when the iron’s hot. The iron is cold. Cold like the old water I’ll be drinking with my crusts of bread tonight. Well, actually, the old water’s been sitting out, so it’s not cold. Lukewarm, perhaps. Such is not the iron. The iron is cold…really whiffed on that simile there.
Anyway, bon appétit, my friends!

Posted in 4th of July, food, photos

(wine’s) Out of Touch, (but food) Makes My (writing) Dreams Come True

June 9, 2010
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Admittedly, the posts lately haven’t been 100% wine-centric (often, they aren’t anyway…why be limited to one vice, methinks?). As wine is food, or at least a perfect companion to nourishing victuals, it makes sense to incorporate some.

Whatever the case, wine’s taken the role of John Oates to food’s Darryl Hall. The mustache cannot be ignored, but the lyrical prowess is relegated to the background. There’s been a very good, incredibly overdone (at least on this blog) reason for this perhaps disturbing phenomenon: pregnancy. While in the past, opening and perhaps finishing a bottle of wine a couple times a week was not uncommon, my crippled drinking buddy has made this guy think twice about popping a cork, especially if the contents within will not stand up to a few days of exposure. Then, flash forward to the past few weeks, when I cannot take the risk of having that second nip of wine, or whatever amount would compromise my ability to drive to the hospital at the drop of a hat or the shave of a sweet mustache. I can’t go for that (no can do).
So, while my access to wine hasn’t come to a screeching halt, it is limited to wines that will last for 4 days, or soirees with friends (though- incidentally- friends aren’t knocking down your door to party when you’ve taken on the metamorphosis from mirthful gadabouts to suburbanite baby-churners). However, we all need to eat, and tasty foods have filled that wine-shaped hole, hopefully slaking your thirst for consumption-centric entertainment.
To this end, I present ribs:

Posted in BBQ, food, ribs
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