Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wine Corner Review #38: Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec

Hear, hear! We must salute the star that has stepped out on her own. Malbec has been overshadowed for many years as just one of the primary blending grapes of the esteemed Bordeaux claret. In your above-average claret, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot also struggle to make their voices heard. Well, a few years back, Argentina heard malbec's frantic call for attention and came to the rescue, so much so that this noble blending grape assumed primacy in that South American country, rather than be allowed to rot on the vine, so to speak. You are cordially welcomed to consider such related topics as claret, Argentina's colorful history, or whatever your mind fancies, but when doing so, please do so with a glass or three of one of the stars of the pampas, the Mendoza region's own Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec.

The robe of the Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec is regal navy plum. The nose contains definite notes of black raspberry and black cherry. On your palate, you should notice definite dark chocolate overtones as well as raspberry, currant, and Concord grape, with a slightly chewy finish. Malbec can stand up to all spicy red meats and chicken, and always works well with game; in fact, try it with steak in garlic butter sauce tonight. Website is, but in all honesty, I did not find this website very user-friendly, even in its English language version. Heed the call yourself soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 26, 2008


When you go down on Deep Ellum,
Put your money in your socks,
Cause them Women on Deep Ellum,
Sho' will throw you on the rocks.

The above lines are from a song entitled "Deep Ellum Blues". In case you didn't know it, Deep Ellum was a hotbed of blues activity in the 1920's, with Blind Lemon Jefferson literally wandering the streets, and Ledbelly, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith playing the clubs. Robert Johnson made his epochal blues recordings just blocks from here in downtown Dallas in the 1930's; Cream's cover of his "Cross Roads Blues" is considered one of the seminal recordings in rock and blues history. If you desire more information on this pivotal place, you must purchase Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged, by Alan B Govenar and Jay F Brakefield. Deep Ellum (the name an approximation of the African-American-pronounced "Deep Elm") reached its zenith in the 1980's and 90's, when nightspots such as Video Bar, Art Bar, and Club Dada ruled the scene. Since then, high rents and crime rates have put a damper on the action, but you can still get a good meal in this now-uncrowded scene. A sweet lady named Margie, who toils on behalf of the blog Eating in Dallas, decided to host a Rat-Pack-like Summit Meeting of Dallas food bloggers not long ago, so my lovely wife the Rock Star and I joined several others in making the trip south to this lovely and still (if you look carefully) vibrant historical district, specifically meeting for brunch one Saturday at Pepe's and Mito's Mexican Cafe.


Hole-In-The-Wall is not just the name for a great blues-and-burger place on Harry Hines, nor is it just the name for the hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You can accurately describe Pepe's and Mito's this way. Historical marker out front. Metered parking on the street and a small adjoining lot (Be sure to feed the meter!). Dim, bar-like lighting indoors. Surprising numbers of tables and chairs crowd into its three dining areas. This father-and-son place has been in business for ages, and does a brisk business during the week due to nearby Baylor Hospital, but weekends are rarely crowded. We entered, and were seated in the bar area with host Marge and husband Hubbard (Eating in Dallas), and were soon joined by Classy & Sassy and Foodie Princess (Dallas Eats), and later by Donna and her Better Half (Donna Cooks), ready and willing for a leisurely brunch.


Handmade and homemade with fresh ingredients, this repast started with bracing, lime-infused margaritas, cold and well-made. Hubbard played the genial host and ordered deep-fried, savory beef and chicken taquitos as appetizers. Both versions, like Elvis, left the building quickly. Salsa and chips were full of bite but not obnoxious and complemented our meals perfectly. Everyone ordered different entrees, and I'm not completely privy to their taste, but I must comment on the few I was able to sample. The Rock Stars Fajita Quesadillas were grilled-cheese heaven, with fresh chicken and tortillas, and thoroughly delightful. My own entree, Brunch Tacos with chorizo, rice and beans and papas (fried potatoes), was a great cure for morning hangovers. (Donna felt the same way, as she ordered and devoured them herself.) I'm usually completely satisfied with my own order, but Margie made the mistake of letting me try some of her Beef Fajita Tacos, seasoned with poblano wine sauce. Luckily, she had already eaten her fill, otherwise there would have been a confrontation. Brunch, as I said, was leisurely, and we filled up two plus hours with delightful companionship and conversation. We all declined dessert, boxed up what was ours, and in due course took our leave.


Well-paced and none, respectively. I've come to expect that Mom-and-Pop Tex-Mex joints will not always have a website. They have not needed it all these years, so why start now? Call 214 741-1901 with any questions or concerns.


Pepe's and Mito's will satisfy su familia for special occasions as well as the run-of-the-mill lunch. Discover this bluesy slice of historic Dallas soon, and remember:


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wine Corner Review #37: Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir

In our last thrilling episode, I discussed Bordeaux, that 800-pound gorilla winemaking region of France which has served as the industry's benchmark of quality for centuries. Yet, many quaffers would challenge that assumption, specifically naming another great region on the other side of Gaul: Burgundy. In 1750, Michel Bouchard and his eldest son set up shop in Beaune and have been making quality wines ever since. Just as red Bordeauxs most frequently feature the cabernet sauvignon grape, giving the wines a great deal of power, so Burgundys spotlight the pinot noir, resulting in more finesse. All this history is grist for the mill, I suppose, so after sufficient contemplation, you would do well to pour yourself a glass or three of a good burgundy (bourgogne) and see for yourself. If you were thus inclined, you could use the wine we're considering today, the Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

The robe of the Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir is nighted ruby (and if you were Hamlet, you should be casting your nighted color off before indulging). The nose is dusty cassis, with touches of Bing cherries. Black cherry is dominant on the palate, with notes of mint and currant, and a slight kiss of lime on the finish. Pinot noir is heaven-sent for prime rib and any sort of beef roast, and also works well with seared ahi tuna or any other red game fish. Website is, which should be in English; if you need translation, simply call the French embassy. Get involved in the Bordeaux vs Burgundy bout today, and as always:


Sunday, October 19, 2008


How on earth do the Russians figure into the very French concept of bistro? Well, according to French legend, the Cossacks who occupied Paris during the Napoleonic wars of 1814 demanded fast service in restaurants. (When you're conquering a country, it seems, you want your food and you want it NOW!) To expedite the waiters, they would shout, "Bystro!"("Quickly!") Apparently, the term stuck around after the Russians left, and over time, evolved into the modest, mid-scale French restaurants we know and love today. Food, of course, is a national obsession in France and their ethos demands that even the simplest places serve soul-satisfying fare. My lovely wife the Rock Star and myself recently decided to investigate this Russian/French axis of art form one recent Saturday evening, located at the Westin Galleria hard by the Tollway, and esconced just off the lobby escalators on (you guessed it!) the hotel's second floor.

Before you begin your own trek, I feel I must issue a warning: The parking garage entrance to the hotel is currently under construction, requiring you to schlep your spouse a hundred yards or so to a back staircase. Never fear, as said staircase opens outside to the valet entrance, and you can then ascend to the restaurant proper with only a minor loss of dignity.


Much has already been written and discussed about The Second Floor's environs, but I feel my bride put it most succinctly and accurately when she declared, "It's a hotel restaurant, people!" Indeed it is. If your not careful, you may mistake its unprepossessing external appearance for some place not worthy of your time, and give it a pass. My advice: Don't. Once you enter, you discover a beautiful long bar which dominates the front room, complete with premium bottles of potent potables lining the wall. Beige tones, sophisticated light fixtures, and rather smallish tables, unless you have a group of more than four. In short, a vibe of relaxed edginess, as suitable for two businessmen consummating a deal at the bar as for a family of tourists enjoying a late breakfast. After some initial confusion, we were seated in the smaller back dining room, where the genial and intelligent Doug took care of us.


Again, it is most helpful to remember that bistros serve simple, modest food, and The Second Floor achieves this with both technical and taste precision, reminding the diner that they are related to Bijoux, that five-star bastion of Gallic excellence located just a little farther down the Tollway. In fact, one of the simplest dishes made the greatest impression. Roasted corn chowder, garnished with truffles, sent my bride into paroxysms of ecstasy, more so that her beloved butternut squash soup from Gregory's in Plano. Now that the weather is turning cooler, a marvelous bowl of potage will not come amiss and this chowder would be worth a trip to The Second Floor alone, never mind the rest of the menu. After sampling as much as my wife would let me, my own cup of duck soup with saffron, though well-flavored, seemed almost ordinary by comparison. When pressed, Doug confessed that Executive Chef J Chastain was giving the chowder a dry run to see how it was received. Chef, the experiment should be ended at once; the soup's a keeper. The Rock Star yearned for scallops and was very pleased with the nightly special of Day Boat Scallops with tomatoes, cauliflower, and pearl onions, served with tender risotto. Deliciously balanced, although slightly fishy at first, until I sampled them with a swig of her Clayhouse sauvignon blanc, which accompanied the dish beautifully. I opted for a much simpler dish: Pork tenderloin sandwich, with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles between foccacia, and served with stone-ground mustard and pomme frites (very tasty, true French fries), and washed down with a simple French burgundy (pinot noir) that brought out the pork's marinade quite nicely. We did not even consider dessert after such an elegant repast and instead, opted for more drinks, another sauvignon blanc for her, a Glenlivet scotch with Speyside sparkling water for me.


Doug was tireless, effecient, and talkative in just the right way, deftly straightening out issues with the bill with aplomb. Which reminds me: Make sure you have a clear understanding of your bill and what's on it, otherwise a $12 scotch can turn into $22 if your not careful. This was cheerfully rectified. Website is


You don't need a Cossack to take over Paris to find your own little slice of Gallic heaven in the Galleria. Investigate The Second Floor soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wine Corner Review #36: Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux

Bordeaux. The name connotes the classic be-all-and-end-all of what red wine should be to most aficionadoes: A supremely aged claret blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and/or petit verdot. For centuries, this 800-pound gorilla of vino has cast a King Kong shadow over the rest of the wine world, impressing and even intimidating the most seasoned sommlier. Yet, Bordeaux is not all red wine; some lovely white wines are crafted as well, with sauvignon blanc as the principle grape. Some judicious searching in your local wine shoppe may yield some excellent finds of surprising values, such as today's quaff, the Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux.

The robe of the Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux is pale pewter with highlights of fool's gold. The nose gives the classic washed gravel and mineral aromas, with light touches of nectarine and pear. Lots more pear and subtle peach in the taste, with a light, dry finish. Like any sauvignon-blanc-based wine, this blanc is great with spicy seafood; in a fit of whimsy, I tried it with candy corn and it actually worked, the dryness playing against the corn's sweetness quite nicely. I was unable to locate a website anywhere, yet I was finally able to read a rather interesting article on, which taught me much about the grape that I did not know. Discover your own white gorilla soon, and remember:



When you think of quality dining in Dallas, what area first pops into mind? Downtown? Uptown? All around the town?? Everyone has a different standard, but I bet neither one of my readers think first of Downtown Carrollton when making that assessment. Yet, in this revitilized Mecca, there is a case to be made indeed. Amici Signature draws a steady throng of patrons with its French-inspired Italian fare and BYOB policy. Babe's Chicken Dinner House pulls in fans of true, downhome cookin' with its almost-all-you-can-eat policy (meats excepted). And Cafe on the Square brings in the lunchtime crowds with signature dishes like braised ribs and horseradish mashed potatoes and is a D Magazine Best Neighborhood Restaurant selection. And just on the edge of downtown stands a Mexican outpost of culinary distinction, quietly carving out a niche in the statue of Dallas dining, Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar. Always looking for good south-of-the-border sustenance, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I made the drive into the wilds of greater Downtown Carrollton one recent Saturday eve.

Before we begin the review proper, I must take a moment to remind both my readers that downtown's parking situation can be tricky even in the best of times. Like Dallas and other cities, Carrollton features limited street parking, so please allow for extra time when planning the evening's festivities. There is a large central lot, but during crunch times and special occasions, it may be full. Still, there is usually parking aplenty, but you may have to hunt and walk. Luckily, on this day, we arrived early enough so that there was still plenty of parking near the restaurant's entrance.


Agave Azul stands hard by Interstate 35 in a large building which apparently has or will have lofts above the restaurant. (Despite my best Googling, I was unable to clear up the mystery.) Lots of high ceilings, exposed ductwork, a separate, glassed-in bar, and earth tones. Roomy and quite family friendly as well, as there were lots of large families with children enjoying their dinners when we arrived. We were seated immediately, and Guadalupe took charge of us.


If you like a place that does everything well, particularly the little things, then Agave Azul may be a perfect fit for you. Chips were delivered with two excellent salsas, the red was warmed and steamy and had a great balance of flavor and thickness, while the green was room temperature and tart. Chips were fresh, but a few had that unappetizing fryer-sheen that you see at times, luckily they were still tasty. Faced with a rather intimidating list of more than 150 tequilas (you read that correctly), the Rock Star and I decided to play it safe and ordered the Margarita of the Month. Good choice. Agave Azul has rightly earned praise from such learned sources as Chowhound for its margaritas, and ours were bracing, not too sweet, and served in old-fashioned glasses. Made with Cazadores Silver Tequila and light on Triple Sec, they were the perfect accompaniment to an outstanding repast. My wife and I both ordered fajitas, chicken for her, beef for me. Marinated in tequila-lime-pepper, these may very well be some of the best in Dallas, at least according to my spouse, who has devoured literally thousands of them in an eternal quest for the best. For myself, I would have to agree, especially when paired with the outstanding sides: A smoky, soup-like cup of charro beans, good guacamole, and fresh-made flour and white corn tortillas, not to mention those fabulous salsas and the margarita, all added up to one of the best Mexican repasts I've had all year. Completely stuffed like a Christmas goose, we declined an order of Agave Azul's famed sopapillas (served with agave nectar rather than honey), and in due course, boxed the few remaining leftovers and went off in search of fresh adventures.


Despite being situated near a large family party, Guadalupe still managed to care for us quite well, deftly fielding requests and questions about margarita preparation. Website is


Justly famed for margaritas and sopapillas, Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar may well be one of the most underrated gems of the Dallas collection of south-of-the-border dining jewels. Make the trip to Carrollton's downtown soon, and as always:


Monday, October 6, 2008

Wine Corner Review #35: Su Vino Syrah

Syrah or shiraz? What's the difference?? Well, depending on how you look at it, not much or considerable. Basically, shiraz and syrah are the same grape, but as with all grapes, it takes on the characteristics of the soil it's planted in. Shiraz is pretty much only found in Australia, although some producers elsewhere have hijacked the name for marketing purposes. It is chocolatey, spicy and bold in taste. Syrah is planted elsewhere in the world and is peppery and more delicate in nature. So-called petit sirah is actually a cross between syrah, durif, and/or peloursin, all very similar grapes, and its taste is more delicate still and usually requires ageing to bring its flavors to full fruition. All of this noble rot is grist for the mill, I suppose (as we freely mix our metaphors here), but you should consider doing a tasting yourself to experience the difference, and you can start with a very nice Texas version, the Su Vino Syrah.

The robe of the Su Vino Syrah is blackberry jam, just pulled off the shelf and opened for enjoyment. The nose is pencil erasers, mixed with light touches of pepper and fruit. More pencil chewing, leather, berries, and white pepper are found in the taste, with a finish of nutmeg. Pork tenderloin or seared Ahi tuna would pair well with this varietal, as it just begs to work with food. Website is, where you can check out how many awards this Grapevine winery has won. Debate the syrah/shiraz difference yourself, and remember:


Sunday, October 5, 2008


Everyone's going locavore these days, which in layman's terms means eating food grown within a hundred-mile-or-so radius from your homestead, if not from your actual foodshed. When it comes to restaurants, I'm all about "local-vore"; in other words, where do the locals like to dine? Fortunately, a few months back, D Magazine made the process much easier when they came up with their extensive list of the Best Neighborhood Restaurants. You can rest assured that your most knowledgeable food critics dine at these places. I'm referring to the bus drivers, local constabulary, and hotel personnel who don't have the time or money to waste on mediocre food.
When planning my Grapevine road trips, I first consulted this learned missive, then made my selections appropriately. Speaking of which, I still refer to these lengthy, twenty-minute drives as roadtrips because as my lovely wife the Rock Star so succiently put it, "Every time we go to Grapevine, I feel like we're on vacation!" So true. And so, by her special request, we once again made the grueling trip to historic Main Street Downtown Grapevine.


Yes, it is possible to visit Grapevine without stopping by a winery. But, in my view, it is as unthinkable to do so as to travel to Boston or Seattle and not eat seafood. Parking can sometimes be an issue when visiting downtowns; not so at Su Vino, which has a smallish lot behind its historic-strip-mall location. When we walked inside, we immediately noticed the dim lighting. As it turns out, this was not mere ambience, the power was out. (It was restored about twenty minutes into our visit, much to our chagrin.) After waiting a bit for spots to open up at the bar, we perused the "Five wines for $5" tasting menu and began making our selections. Su vino means "your wine" and they advertise themselves as the first custom winery in the Southwest. They are set up on the D'Vine Wine concept, which allows patrons to make their own, if they are so interested. If this sounds too time-consuming and labor-intensive to you, do not fret, as they have a number of ready-made, award-winning selections as well. My wife and I tried five wines each, everything from an almond champagne (What a tasty idea!) to a ruby port, and each selection was delightful for both of us. (Well, almost: My bride thought that Su Vino's malbec "smelled and tasted like feet" whereas I thought the nose was merely a little musty, but the taste was rather light and spicy for this usually-intense varietal.) Our favorites were the Island Paradise, a fruity-but-dry sauvignon blanc infused with kiwi, and a fabulous syrah, which will be dealt with in an upcoming review. The tag-team service was very knowledgeable and friendly, and we bought a bottle of the Island Paradise for leisurely consumption on the premises, a practice I really enjoy and highly encourage, as it's a most pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Website is

Both relaxed and energized from our tasting, my wife and I took a leisurely walk down Main Street, watching the people and gawking at all the buildings with historical markers. Soon enough, we were ready for dinner.


Even though I prefer to judge a place as unique and standing on its own merits, it's hard not to notice the similarities between Big Fish and the Rockfish/Fish City Grill chains, from the narrow storefronts right down to the ubiquitous waffle fries. When we entered, there was plenty of space available, but the place quickly filled up with both tourists and locals as we dined. We started with crab cakes and they were the standouts of our repast: Plenty of crab with little filler, and a truly flavorful olive aioli to accompany it; the remoulade which was also offered was merely very good, not spicy enough in my opinion. The Rock Star selected a combo dinner with very good grilled shrimp (plus the usual cocktail-and-tartar accompaniments) and excellent, tempura-tasting fried catfish which was delightfully light and crunchy. She was less enamoured of the jalapeno hushpuppies, preferring the old-school plain variety, and enjoyed her waffle fries.
I selected the shrimp marinara, which was also light and full of fresh zucchini, squash, and peppers, as well as shrimp and linguini. It was very good, however I found the marinara a little watery for my taste. Service was efficient, and I boxed up my leftovers for later consumption; my bride had not left anything on her plate worth boxing. Website is

Overall, a marvelous day, and of course we vowed to visit Grapevine again, as there are wineries, restaurants, and charm enough to warrant furthur roadtrips. Have your own local vacation soon, and remember: