Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wine of the Week

San Martino Winery and Vineyards
2005 Tempranillo

San Martino is a gorgeous winery just outside of Rockwall.  Its tasting and barrel rooms are housed in a grand Spanish Mission-style building, surrounded by beautifully manicured landscaping and two small vineyards.  The owners, Maria and Emilio Ramos, welcome guests with open arms to the winery they built from scratch and named for Emilio's ancestral homeland of San Martino, Spain.

Winemaking goes back generations in this family, over 100 years, and I felt the full impact of this rich history with my very first sip of their 2005 Tempranillo.  Rich, ripe fruit is perfectly balanced by mild oak in this medium-bodied red.  The combination of Emilio's superior craftsmanship and premium Newsom Vineyards fruit from the High Plains results in a wine with depth, character and style that reaches far beyond its $20 pricetag.  Give this Spanish variety a try the next time you're planning to serve Merlot or Shiraz.

San Martino Tempranillo is available only at the winery, and at the Fairmont Hotel downtown.  What a great excuse to head east this weekend!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RIP Bennigan's?

Crazy news out of Dallas-based Bennigan's Restaurants today - looks like all corporate-owned Bennigan's outposts have locked their doors as of this morning. This was very unexpected, even to those working there, and so far it looks like Metromedia Restaurant Group, who owns Bennigan's, as well as Steak and Ale, isn't commenting publicly on whether this is a permanent or temporary situation.

The good news for Bennigan's fans (I don't personally know anyone who falls into that catergory, but there must be some out there) is that many Bennigan's are franchised, and those will remain open.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Humane-itarian, Part V: An added bonus

It would seem that my recent switch to a "Humane-itarian" diet (see blog post from June), has the added eco-friendly benefit of reducing my carbon footprint.  While flipping through the latest issue of SELF magazine yesterday, I ran across the following blurb:

"Livestock accounts for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse-related gases, including deforestation that clears grazing land and the transportation of your steak, a United Nations agency in Rome finds.  Trade beef for beans once a week to save greenhouse gases equivalent to those emitted while driving 1,160 miles a year.  Craving a burger?  Eat organic or local beef, which isn't shipped as far."

So I'm saving the earth when I eat vegetarian and I'm part of the solution when I choose organic meat as well?  Nice.  I will hereby feel virtuous the next time I eat a spinach quesadilla ...instead of furious that it's the only vegetarian offering on the menu besides a limp iceberg salad.  Incidentally, does anyone know of a restaurant in the affordable price range, besides Chipotle, that serves organic, free-range, and/or grass-fed meats?  (My current running spin-q total: 157 and counting).


J.R.-Wiches Put in a Cameo at Blog Fan's Birthday Bash

Hey there fellow foodies!  Let's all raise our glasses to Suzy Shoup - totally awesome blog fan and newly crowned member of the 30-and-Fab Club (I got my membership card back in March, and I'm loving the perks!).  

While sipping sangria at her luau-themed birthday bash last night, I glanced over at the buffet table and lo-and-behold, there sat a tray of tempting J.R.-Wiches, in all their ooey, gooey glory.  

"Suzy!" I exclaimed, "Are those what I *think* they are?"  

"Why yes, Classy," she replied, "And they've been the hit of the party!"

Indeed, those 'Wiches disappeared within moments after our exchange, and everyone seemed to love the little poppy seed-speckled party starters as much as we did back in the spring.  Click the links to March 08 on the left-hand side of your screen for the recipe.  Thanks for a great time Suzy, and many happy returns!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wine of the Week: Vegas Show-Stopper Edition

Ponzi Vineyards
Tavola 2006 Pinot Noir
(Willamette Valley, OR)

Caution: The following blog post may arouse feeling of jealousy, envy and/or an insatiable desire for Oregon Pinot Noir immediately upon reading. You've been warned.

Last weekend I joined a group of party people to Las Vegas to celebrate a friend's milestone birthday. It was an occasion to be remembered, full of good food, slot machines and several hilarious rounds of off-camera Fashion Police in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace. (Nothing works up an appetite like giggling over neon spandex and knee-high black socks with bermuda shorts all day.)

Our favorite meal by far was had at DB Brasserie, Daniel Boulud's chic-but-caszh eatery inside the Wynn Resort and Country Club. It's not formal by any means, but crisp table cloths, sumptuous surroundings and impeccable service raise this restaurant to heights above and beyond grill and bar territory. Our party was seated right in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that comprise one wall of the dining room. We were able to gaze directly out on a tranquil pond surrounded by evergreen-lined cliffs, which created a natural theater for a twice hourly show of holograms, music and lights. Every so often we would be treated to a fanciful mini-show - a tree frog singing Louis Armstrong or a disco-style dancing montage to the tune of Lady Marmalade.

None of this eye candy was any match for the menu, however, and we all hand-picked from the list of classic French and American bistro favorites to create our own dream meal of salads, soups and creatively comforting main dishes. I (bien sur) was tasked with choosing a wine to pair with this over-the-top meal and I must say that I've never been presented with such a unique challenge. What to match with Judy's Pate de Campagne, as well as Larry's Roasted Chicken and J.R.'s Crispy Duck Confit? The birthday boy himself was indulging in Loup de Mer in a very rich sauce, and is not a fan of any sort of overly bold, assertive wine (no heavy tannins for Mr. Gray, thank you very much).

Once it hit me, I knew the way to go, and selecting this Ponzi from the restaurant's list of Oregon Pinot Noirs was a breeze. I liked the friendly price-tag and Ponzi has a long history of doing great things in the Wilamette Valley, a region renowned for its production of precious Pinot. It turned out to be an excellent match for just about everything on the table. I savored it with mouthfuls of Scottish Salmon and Morel Cream, probably making little humming and purring noises without even knowing it. My attention was pulled from the show on the water; this wine was a performance in itself. Chocolate and spice and ripe fruit danced center stage against a luscious velvet curtain in the background. The aroma was like perfume and the color was garnet, with a touch of raspberry.

We all left sated, ready for a night on the town - especially the birthday boy himself. Money was won and more cocktails were had, and there was even a little dancing and a tank full of piranha at one point (ask me later). It was Vegas, baby, but this is a discovery that you can enjoy any night of the week.

For more info:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wine of the Week

Messina Hof
2005 Barrel Reserve Merlot

Trust me on this one: Messina Hof Barrel Reserve Merlot will become your go-to red after just one sip. This medium-bodied blend of Merlot (75%) and Cabernet (25%) is great for sipping or pairing with a full-flavored main dish such as penne with italian sausage or grilled burgers topped with blue cheese.

In addition to its excellent pair-a-bility, I love M.H. Merlot for its subtle complexity. Pass on the bargain kangaroo wine - understated oak and tannins keep this Merlot totally approachable and crowd-friendly, without venturing over into one-note territory. The winery's website ascribes "berry aromas and silky smooth elegance" to it as well, and I must say I completely agree.

Available everywhere from Albertson's to World Market, for right around $12. This is a particular fave of mine, and I can't wait for you to try it!

For more info on this Texas winery, visit

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Humane-itarian, Part IV: A Quick Bite

Just a quick note on a couple of satisfying sammies I've discovered in the past couple of weeks.  This Humane-itarian gig has forced me to examine every nook and cranny of every restaurant menu, and in the process I've made a couple of delicious discoveries:

Great American Hero
Lemmon Avenue @ Throckmorton, Dallas

This little neighborhood spot makes a mean hero - or panini or wrap or what-have-you.  They offer a wide range of vegetarian sandwiches, and I've developed a special place in my heart for The Healthy Hero, a satisfying combination of cream cheese, jack cheese, sprouts, mushrooms, cucumber and the like on fresh baked bread.  It's crunchy and creamy and downright delish - and at only $5, it'll leave you with plenty of dough for dessert.  (p.s. Yes, we're calling cream cheese "healthy" now.  You got a problem with that?)

Panera Bread
Various locations to choose from

I just love Panera.  The bread is fresh, the service is fast, and they have free Wi-Fi.  Nice.  Only thing that would make it better would be the use of organic, free-range deli meats (especially my beloved turkey).  Barring that, I'll stick with the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich - basically a Greek salad on bread, with an added schmear of hummus to provide palate-pleasing protein.  I'm also excited to try the Portobello and Mozzarella Panini - with a name like that, what could be bad?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wine of the Week

Brennan Vineyards 
2007 Viognier

This wine is ideal for summer weekend sipping - whether you're sunning on the deck of your boat or snuggling on the sofa enjoying a Top Chef marathon on Bravo.  It's light fruit flavors are complimented by a touch of honey and will pair well with grilled poultry, fish or a cheese and fruit platter.

Brennan Vineyards is one of my favorite Texas wineries (, and this is their flagship offering, honored with the title of Top Texas White at the prestigious Lone Star International Wine Competition.  Reward yourself with this award-winning wine and you'll not only be supporting a local farm and business, but you'll have discovered a grape that is among the best-suited to Texas.  While native to the Rhone Valley in France, many Texas growers and winemakers have found that Viognier (vee-on-YAY) is also a perfect fit for several of our grape-growing regions as well.  Viognier is up-and-coming in the Lone Star State, and you'll be hearing much more about it in years to come!

Under $20.  Available at Goody-Goody and at

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Humane-itarian, Part III: The Problem with Pub Grub

I had a sneaking suspicion that Fourth of July weekend would pose a problem with regard to my new Humane-itarianism...most likely in the form of one of my relatives attempting to force-feed me a hot dog while accusing me of manufacturing my esoteric new dietary program just in time to avoid the annual patriotic spread. But as it turns out, my family were the least of my worries.

The Annual Burning of the Meat (or Pops and Brats, as it is sometimes known) with my Dad and his clan could not have gone better. I suggested ahead of time that I bring the meat - knowing that I would be able to source something equally virtuous and grill-worthy that would please everyone invovled. Sure enough, with just the teensiest bit of grumbling from dear old Dad, I was allowed to take over the hunting, while the rest of the family gathered side-dishes, breads and desserts. The free-range organic chicken did beautifully on the grill with just a kiss of barbeque sauce, and as an added bonus, everyone commented on how tender and flavorful this chicken was, in comparison to the average, everyday bird.

Crisis averted. Or so I thought. Later in the weekend, I hit the Londoner with friends for some laughs and several dozen beers. As the evening progressed and my Blue Moon tally went from 2 to 3 to "it's gonna be a long night", I knew that my tummy needed a little something to bolster its beer defenses. No sooner had I begun to ponder the menu than one of my companions announced that a round of cheese fries would be arriving forthwith. Joy! Perfection! Cheese and carbs and not an animal product in sight! Well...kinda.

The fries arrived with a generous coating of *gasp* bacon bits standing between me and hangover prevention. Rather than make a scene, I simply did my best to avoid the bacony badness - and felt totally terrible about it every bite of the way. In retrospect, I should have ordered a second basket of fries, 86 the bacon, and probably no one would have even noticed. Instead, starving and too embarrassed to make a scene, I made my first pitfall one week into the program in the form of pub grub topped with politically incorrect pork confetti.

This week's tally: Beer Goggles 1 - C&S 0