Monday, February 23, 2009

Wine Corner Review #46: Parkers Estate Tolleson High Corniche Sauvignon Blanc

Grassy or grapefruity? Sauvignon blanc drinkers the world over ask themselves this question every time they peruse this varietal at their favorite wine shoppe. New Zealand sauvignon blanc tends to be long on grassy notes, while California blanc tends to include more fruit, primarily grapefruit, of course, but also melons and citrus. For myself, I really love New Zealand blancs, but mainly those with more fruit than is typical from Down Under, as too much grass gives me the distinct sense that I've just finished mowing the lawn. Balance is the key, as is the case with so many things in life, and if you like a well-balanced blanc, you would do well to consider our tipple under review today, the Parkers Estate Tolleson High Corniche Sauvignon Blanc.

The robe of the Parkers Estate Tolleson High Corniche Sauvignon Blanc is pale meadow dawn. The nose is most definitely floral with slight touches of lavender and very little grass. Yes, there is lots of grapefruit on the palate, also melons, oranges, and lemons, resulting in a quiet lime finish. Now that winter seems to be ending, salads will start taking center stage on menus once again, and grilled chicken with Buffalo spices would make a most interesting pairing. Website is, but don't expect much help there. (One of these days, I'm going to get serious about my vow to ban all wines that don't have an informative website to peruse.) The Parkers Estate line is listed as one of the Kroger House Wines, which either reflects dependability or marketing, take you pick. Enter the grass vs grapefruit fray soon, and remember:


Sunday, February 22, 2009


Sunday Brunch. Merely speaking the words invokes magic incarnate, the will-o-the-wisp meal of the week. More than just breakfast, better and finer than mere lunch, and the only socially acceptable time to drink alcohol before Happy Hour, Sunday Brunch showers you with expectations of Eggs Benedicts, medium-rare breakfast steaks, and crunchy wraps filled with queso fresco and fresh ingredients. What could be more wonderful, particularly on the extra special occasion that is Valentines Day? (All right, it was technically the day after, but let's not split hairs.) With our special Las Vegas lunch at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill still fresh in her memory, my lovely wife the Rock Star was positively ecstatic about combining the most romantic holiday of the year with brunch. Furthermore, she loves Al Biernats and since they have just added Sunday Brunch to their repertoire, we decided we'd love nothing better to check out the old place and see how it's holding up. Thus, we eagerly motored down the Tollway one recent Sunday afternoon.

Al Biernats atmosphere is Super Tuscan in overdrive, from the villa-esque covered outdoor patio, to the columns, arches, screens, and gentle earth-tones of the interior. Their loyal patrons love the high energy vibe that rules the dinner hours there, but some diners quibble over the excessive noise level and cramped feeling. However, at brunchtime it's a different story and the place is much more sedate. Rachel took charge of us at once and was always readily available throughout the afternoon with helpful suggestions.

Scanning the menu took some time for my bride, not because it's as extensive as a Tolstoy novel, but that everything therein is purposeful and well-chosen, not unlike the language in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. She loves mimosas, so she requested one right away, while she continued to peruse the menu. The champagne and orange juice combination was well-balanced, and not too dry, which satisfied her immensly. I started with a glass of the Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignon, and while it was pleasant enough, I simply felt I needed a bit more spice in my glass when it was time for my entree, and I changed my selection accordingly. We split a wedge salad, and while I'm not normally a fan of iceberg lettuce, I felt that it worked very well as a vehicle for the nicely aged blue cheese and smoky crumbles of crispy bacon which adorned it. Let me say at this point that if you decide on a Sunday Brunch at Al Biernat's, please prepare for a leisurely-paced repast, as it's not the kind of thing to schedule if you have a plane to catch. Finally, our entrees arrived, my wife selecting the Lobster and Scrambled Egg Burrito, a giant wrap absolutely stuffed with lobster, eggs, avocado, queso fresco, and more of that crispy bacony bacon. Very fresh-tasting and reminiscent of California cuisine at its Malibu and surf-drenched best. For my part, I selected the Sliced Filet of Beef, Crab, and Asparagus benefit with smoked tomato Hollandaise. Imagine upscale Eggs Benedict crossed with steakhouse surf-and-turf, and you've basically got the idea. The smoked tomato Hollandaise breathed a swarthy bite into the dish, but the beef filet was the unquestioned star of the plate, sliced perfectly medium-rare and speaking well of the thousands of hours Al Biernat toiled on behalf of The Palm before opening his own place. This time, I chose a different Aussie as partner-in-wine, and the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz provided proof that few countries can match Down Under for quality-and-value tipple. In due course, Rachel boxed what was ours and we motored happily home.

Website is, where you can catch up on the new specials, peruse the rather staggering wine list, and become acquainted with Al's brand-new blog. One caveat: Parking on this stretch of Oak Lawn is definitely an issue, so you will want to take advantage of the excellent valet service before you dine.

In sum, Al Biernat's proved up to the challenge, delivering the special magic that is Sunday Brunch with typical aplomb and finesse. Impress your loved one soon, and remember:


Friday, February 13, 2009

Product Sampling #3: Pineapple Jerky

Ever since the cowboy days, whenever a buckaroo was home on the range, he toted along some kind of snack to make the long trail rides bearable, or so the myth of the West goes. In reality, the dish goes back thousands of years and it's no suprise that Native Americans, both North and South, knew it well. In North America, it was known as pemmican and was a substantial part of the diet of New World explorers. In South America, it was called ch'arki, from which we get the modern word jerky. These days, jerky, like June, is busting out all over with new flavors. A company called specializes in a number of these gourmet fixings, not only expected flavors like beef, buffalo, and venison, but more esoteric offerings such as ostrich, elk, and even pineapple jerky. Pineapple jerky? I received an offer to try this fruit-based jerky the other day, and thus intrigued, I had it dispatched to mi casa forthwith.

Examining the package closely, I noticed two very good things: the jerky was made in Maui, the Garden Island of Hawaii and my own personal favorite, and it consisted of two ingredients: dried pineapple and honey. No sugar added, so it wouldn't be too sweet. I promptly opened the package, tore a slice in half and gave the other half to my better half. We both delighted in the chewy consistency and long-lasting flavor with a kiss of clover honey on the finish. My wife said it was great but just a tad too sweet; I loved the fact that the flavor listed for nearly half an hour after we were finished. In the end, we were both satisfied and look forward to trying new flavors. Website is, the pineapple jerky can be viewed at and if you venture there, you can see all they have available, including jerky combos, gift packages, and a chance to win free jerky. How can you beat that? Mosey on over there soon, and remember:


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have recently experienced culinary rebirth. Phoenixlike, from the ashes, we have risen anew in our passion for all foods Greek. Gyros, souvlaki, hummus, pita, baklava, it seems we cannot get enough delights from the Hellenic Republic. We have dined several times recently at our beloved neighborhood Zorbas, even furnished our Super Bowl spread with Grecian goodies (this last meal proved a resounding success, both with ourselves and our guests), thus like Sparta of old, we seek new worlds to conquer. In fact, in doing some preliminary factfinding from this post, I've discovered that Athens, in its citystate days, even sent a failed expedition to Syracuse, not the one in New York State, of course, but it's ancestral namesake, on the island of Sicily. One wonders how gastronomic history might have been different if today the Godfather island were under Grecian and not Italian rule. Grist for the fanciful mill, indeed! However, these days Food Wars are thankfully much more benign than in Peleponnesian times, and in short, my lovely bride and myself wondered how Kostas Cafe would stack up in a culinary sense against our new-old friend Zorbas, and motored to Kostas one recent eve to undertake just such a comparison.


Both Kostas and Zorbas seek to give you that experience of dining in a Thessalonian home, as best they can considering their strip-mall locations. (I'm very glad to report that there are three Kostas locations to choose from; in this case, we did our primary research at the Preston at Park digs.) Lots of homey wallpaper and bric-a-brac on upper shelves. Smallish dining areas. Old photos depicting Greek dining and day-to-day life. Piped-in, popular tunes straight from the Aegean islands. (Greece basically consists of a smallish mainland by American standards, as well as islands. Lots and lots of islands.) We were seated immediately in the front dining salon, and turned our attentions at once to the menu.


If appetizer battles can be seen as small skirmishes, then I believe Kostas was victorious during the opening salvos. Hummus proved both lemony and lip-smacking, and Kostas served delightfully warm pillows of pita to go with, and we were so taken by them, that I think one could easily make a meal and be totally satisfied. Avgolemono means "egg-lemon," and the avgolemono soup continued our lemony pledge to give Kostas seniority in this conflict. However, the outcome began to swing back toward Zorbas with the presentation of entrees. Nothing wrong with the Gyro Plate: the delicate strips of lamb served with fresh tomatoes, onions, and particularly cucumbery tzatziki were every bit as nice as Zorbas. That was the Rock Star's choice, and I wish mine had met with such success. Ultimately, though, my Athenian Combo fell a bit short: the lamb chops were nicely done medium-rare, but smallish, and the souvlaki was a bit dry. The biggest disappointment, I fear, was the broiled scampi, which proved to be quite dry and overly fishy. Next time, I will order something else. Finally, baklava provided redemption in the form of fresh phyllo laced with cinammon and what seemed like nutmeg, and was some of the nicest baklava I've had in recent years.


Service at Kostas was quite adequate on this evening, lacking the special touch of friendliness and extended family which makes Zorbas so memorable. Website is, and the best news about that is they offer coupons! We'll be back.


So far, I feel that despite Kostas success in the appetizer, soup, and dessert departments, the service and entrees give a slight edge for the moment to Zorbas. However, the battle is ongoing. Form your own expedition soon, and as always:


Monday, February 2, 2009


Quixotic as it may seem, there is an establishment here in town that combines California-style Fresh-Mex with genuine old-school Tex-Mex tamales, complete with red sauce. In 1928, Walter Berryhill bought a bicycle and began selling his homemade tamales from a pushcart in the decidedly upscale River Oaks section of Houston. Sadly, Mr. Berryhill retired in the 1960's and both pushcart and tamale recipe sat idle until 1993, when the concept reemerged as the taqueria Berryhill Hot Tamales. Now morphed into the Berryhill Baja Grill, the mini-chain currently boasts 14 locations, including two right here in Big D. Acting on a tip from a fellow blogger, and always on the lookout for authentic-Tex-Mex-combined-with-Fresh-Mex restaurants, my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself motored on over to Berryhill Baja Grill one recent evening.


Despite its rather humble Houstonian roots, the atmosphere at Berryhill is genuine California, from the adobe walls with faux bricks peeping thru to the wooden barrels topped with surfboards that serve as tables. Plenty of signage, from Happy Hour specials to notices of Texas Hold'em poker tournaments. A live music area and a smallish patio. We were escorted immediately inside, where JoJo took charge of us almost at once.


A quick glance at the menu reveals that Baja Grill's cuisine is all over the map, from fish tacos and Hawaiian shrimp salad to more familiar Tex-Mex offerings such as enchiladas and chimichangas, not to mention breakfasts. Whatever direction your taste bites take you, make sure you order the queso, a thin concoction with the satisfying bite of Rotel and one of the best we've encountered recently. For me, when evaluating a new place, I tend to begin with the basics. Tamales are what made Berryhill's reputation, and I was resolved to try them. Let's face it: At most Tex-Mex joints, the tamales tend to be on the dry side, in some cases utterly devoid of liquid and therefore flavor. Not so with Berryhill's Famous Tamales, as all three I tried proved to be quite moist and fresh. The beef tamale and the spinach & corn tamale were both very good, but the pork tamale, kissed with lime and delectably juicy, may be one of the best non-taqueria tamales in town, particularly when dipped in the absolutely-authentic red sauce. Charro beans were meaningfully soupy and full of flavor as well. The Rock Star found the fish taco excellent, but really squealed with pleasure over the corn enchilada, made with whole kernel corn, red onions, Anaheim chili and cream cheese, and topped with zesty tomatillo sauce and Monterrey jack cheese. In short, our dinner revealed the full spectrum of Mex choices that Berryhill Baja Grill has to offer, and we are making definite plans to return.


JoJo was quite efficient and friendly, tending to our water and cerveza (Dos Equis, which paired well with everything) needs with ease. Website is, which gives some info on Happy Hour specials. When you visit, be sure to pick up a takeout menu, which goes into much more detail concerning Daily Specials and karaoke and other local activities.


Whether you seek Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Fresh-Mex, or whatever-Mex, Berryhill Baja Grill is definitely worth a visit or three. Drop by soon, and remember:


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cellar Selection #5: Inwood Estates Tempranillo-Cabernet

If you do not shop Central Market regularly, you don't know what you're missing, as they say. A new surprise awaits round every corner, from a generous fromagerie featuring the freshest of cheese to a bakery the size of a football field. Gourmet and organic are the words of the day here, plus an extensive selection of goodies not found in run-of-the-mill grocery stores, such as an entire mini-section devoted to Texas wines. In most wine shoppes, a couple of bottles or at most a shelf are all that is devoted to the Texas tipples. My lovely bride and I were ogling the section one day, practically drooling over the pricey Inwood Estates wines, when suddenly, a courteous and chatty rep from their winery swooped in, plucked up a couple of bottles like an eagle after trout, and invited us to a spontaneous tasting. Helplessly in thrall with the idea of trying Dallas' most-talked about vino, we followed eagerly, and were soon jockeying for postion around the tasting counter, simply delighting in the subtle nuances of today's wine under consideration, the Inwood Estates Tempranillo-Cabernet.

The robe of the Inwood Estates Tempranillo-Cabernet is inky rust, with faint, translucent hues of rose. The nose displays subtle strawberries and a distinct yet surprising note of apples. Cherries, raspberries and more strawberries play gracefully upon the palate, finishing lightly with washed gravel. Since Tempranillo has a Red Fruit grape flavor profile similar to Pinot Noir, it should pair quite fetchingly with pork tenderloin and prime rib and even a nice arugula salad. Website is, where you can learn more about red fruit vs. black fruit flavor profiles. Have your own spontaneous tasting soon, and remember:


Product Sampling #2: Country Bob's All Purpose Sauce

In 1982, Country Bob Edson perfected his signature sauce, and the result can now be found in Wal-Marts and other fine retail establishments all over the country. In other words, it's a steak/barbecue sauce that real working people will use and appreciate. I was recently given the opportunity to taste a bottle or two. Dominant flavors include tomato paste, anchovies, (very like Worcestershire), molasses, and a hint of corn. Country Bob's suggested pairings include steak, hamburgers, barbecue, fish (really?), chicken, and french fries. (Personally, I'm so glad that people have been thinking outside of the box when it comes to topping the skinny spuds; when I was but a lad, the only acceptable toppings were salt and ketchup. Period.)

During my own tasting, I tried Country Bob's All Purpose Sauce with a simple crock-pot preparation of roast beef, potatoes, onions and carrots. Forgive me, but I just can't see it topping anything but grilled, barbecued, or slow-cooked meats, although you are certainly welcome to try. After all, everyone's taste is different, and often stepping outside of your comfort zone will yield surprising results. Country Bob's indeed made a hearty topping for my meal, a bit overpowering at times, but on the whole quite nice. Most pleasing, it worked best when I enjoyed bites of my repast with a simple Australian shiraz. The sauce's dominance retreated graciously into the background, and the resulting subtle notes breathed new beefiness and richness into the overall dish. Website is, where you will learn about the company's products and their Christian values to boot. Pick up a bottle soon, and don't forget: