Friday, October 30, 2009

Wine Corner Review #57: La Mano Mencia Roble

In the all-consuming search for wines that won't bust my budget, I've learned to leave America behind at times and investigate the rich terroirs of such far-flung places as Argentina, South Africa, and Spain. Until recently, Rioja Spanish wine garnered all the press, but lately such stalwart seekers as Robert Parker have kept up the quest for other values from the Iberian peninsula. The astute Mr Parker has awarded 90 points to today's selection, and while I think that may be a tad generous, I still have to put forth my own recommendation on a value-conscious tipple of Espana, namely the La Mano Mencia Roble.

The Robe of the La Mano Mencio Roble is burgandy onyx, in other words, quite opaque until you swirl it a bit in the glass. The nose suggests dusky plum, cherry, and minerals. Black cherry and currant wash over the palate, finishing ever-so-slightly with mint. As you quaff, you'll probably note the similarities between mencia and cabernet franc; in fact, mencia was once thought to be distantly related, but that notion has been disproved with DNA testing. Mediterranean cuisine would be a natural match; spicy kabobs, gyros, and souvlaki would play well against La Mano's somewhat muted flavor profile. In an all-too-familiar turn of events, I could find no website, but I did discover some usable info at Put forth your own recommendation soon, and remember:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Celebration day. My lovely sister-in-law The Wild Thing has a new job, and most of her family and friends have descended upon Richardson to wish her well in her new endeavor. Many of the usual suspects in my previous posts were there: The Wild Thing, of course, her sister aka my lovely wife The Rock Star, her formidable mother The Momma, Beaners the nonstop niece and her husband, and a veritable plethora of lifelong friends too numerous to name. So, where did my sister-in-law want to go for her celebration brunch? The Mansion? The French Room?? Abacus??? None of the above. You see, despite her Troggs-inspired nickname, The Wild Thing is rather a simple sort of girl, and wanted a restaurant with a great, inexpensive food and homey ambiance. So it was that we piled ourselves into various and sundry conveyances and drove the few short blocks to Cafe Amore, an Italian restaurant that has often filled the bill for celebrations and such.

Speaking of places like The Mansion, if you want ultrachic, Art Deco-inspired decor and the like, you will not find it at Cafe Amore. Everything about this neighborhood gem speaks volumes of homespun, from the open brick kitchen to the rather simple scenes of Italianesque life plastered on the walls. We were quickly shown to a table for a dozen near the front of the establishment where we immediately engaged in copious conversation and leisurely menu perusal.

Leisurely is indeed the word of the day at Cafe Amore, and the decidedly slow service is one of our only ongoing quibbles with the restaurant. Our waitress proved quite capable throughout, yet it was obvious that she was assigned too many tables, probably half-a-dozen in addition to our party of eleven. Luckily, it was Sunday brunch, and none of us were in a hurry. The Wild Thing insisted that everyone start their repast with the Mozzarella and Tomato ala Caprese. We've had this appetizer on many occasions in the past and have always enjoyed the simple blending of flavors: fresh mozzarella, basil, fresh tomato, red onions, extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper pleased our crowd; oddly enough, I found it a bit drier than usual. One couple ordered the Seafood Fritte and urged me to try it. This was better, and the fried calamari and baby shrimps served with aoli constituted a simple pleasure, as it was not redolent of frying oil. I wondered for a moment why more restaurants don't serve this satisfying combination, but it was soon time to move on. Basic yeasty rolls with butter were brought, good for sopping up juices, a great pairing for the entrees to come. For our main courses, my wife and I decided on the Cremora preparation; hers with shrimp, mine with veal. Sauteed jumbo shrimps and veal scaloppini respectively were served with fresh mushrooms, green onions, and chopped tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce that was plate-licking good, the delicate cream bathing the tender meat and seafood with a light, gentle kiss. I wish I could tell you some of the other entrees we enjoyed, except that by this time both the wine and the conversation were freely flowing and my thoughts were engaged elsewhere. I can only report with accuracy that Beaners and her husband ordered something with mussels, because I remember eyeing them enviously, and that The Momma ordered lasagna because she always orders lasagna when dining Italian. This seems as good a time as any to tell you that Cafe Amore is BYOB, and that we took full advantage, which to me is an excellent selling point for this neighborhood gem. My wife and I concluded our repast with the Cappucino Pie, a coffee, ice cream, and pastry bomb that reminded us just how much we enjoy basic Italian desserts when done right. Again, I can't report on this course for anyone else, except that I kept hearing contented sighs of "heavenly tiramasu" emanating from the other end of the table.

Service improved throughout the course of the day, as lunchtime diners departed, and as noon bled into afternoon, no new ones took their places, so our waitress was better able to keep pace with the needs of our large party. No website per se, but you can go to, which will give you the menu and at least some of the essentials of Cafe Amore.

Overall, Cafe Amore did an excellent job of providing great food and ambiance that served as the backdrop for The Wild Thing's celebration day. Stage your own party there yourself, and as always:


Monday, October 12, 2009


There's no doubt that I'm a proud Texan. I love the people, the atmosphere, and most of all, the cuisine. Yet, I once left the state for a couple of years and had to do without my beloved barbecue, Tex-Mex, and chicken-fried steak, and even though my destination city had its own culinary charms, most notably much better pizza than we had at the time in DFW, still I suffered serious withdrawal pangs. As you can probably tell, I've since moved back to the Lone Star State, and while I often harbor dreams of living in such wonderful places as Seattle or Las Vegas, I'm sure I would miss Texas dishes. But as I delve more and more into exploring the cuisines of other states and countries, I'm finding many similarities to our native specialties. For instance, do you know that while chicken-fried steak is in many ways uniquely Texan, it actually closely resembles dishes in other countries, such as German wiener schnitzel or Italian cottolette alla Milanese? In fact, milanese is a generic term that applies not only to the pride of Milan, Italy (hence the name), but also the breaded-and-fried beef, chicken or veal treat that is actually quite common in Europe and South America, not to mention Mexico. Therefore, to make a (very) long story short, I discovered that El Ranchito Restaurant in Oak Cliff serves one of the best milanesas I've ever encountered under any name. Unfortunately, my lovely wife the Rock Star was attending to other business when I pointed my vehicle and made the long journey south to Jefferson Street.

First off, you should know that parking in Oak Cliff can often be a tricky situation. Therefore I would suggest if you go there for lunch, you get there very early or late. I got there well before noon and the smallish lot was almost full. Luckily, one space was left. Upon entering, I found that there was no need to worry about finding an empty table, as El Ranchito is quite large. I was quickly seated within site of the in-house Torterilla Sanchez (the lovely lady who actually makes all the tortillas used by El Ranchito) where I began to peruse the colorful array of murals, fiesta decorations, and other trinkets.

In this case, I really did not peruse the menu, as I knew what I wanted. Mondays at lunchtime, El Ranchito serves milanesa, and I had determined in advance that I must have it. First, very good chips and salsa found their way to my table, the latter a red variety with just enough kiss of fire to make for good eating, but not so much that I had to reach for my ice tea glass every few seconds. Next I was presented with an excellent cup of caldo de res, with zucchini and other vegetables floating in a savory broth with fork-tender stew meat. A bowl of this soup would make a marvelous meal by itself, particularly on a cold day. Then, the daily special was brought, a substantial slab of milanesa pounded very thin and served under fried papas and alongside some of the best rice and beans I've encountered in this fair city. Coupled with the in-house-made corn and flour tortillas and a small salad, this lunch proved to be a Tex-Mex meal to remember, as I savored every luscious, slightly peppery bite of the fork-tender beef. I spooned on salsa instead of cream gravy and noticed how easily the breading melted away at my touch. Soon enough, I boxed my leftovers and left.

Service was quite nice and accomodating, and I noticed a great variety of patrons, from families to business partners to solo diners. Website is, and I fully intend to return to try some of their more exotic fare such as cabrito.

Overall, I think that El Ranchito Restaurant served me one of the best lunches I've had all year, and at about ten dollars for all that food, one of the best bargains as well. Discover your own reason to stay in Texas soon, and remember:


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wine Corner Review #56: Oops Sauvignon Blanc

Bordeaux has long been recognized as one of the worlds premier wine growing regions. Six noble grapes established its reputation as a haven for great red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. Sadly, the phylloxera aphid attack in the 1860's wiped out the great grapes, and while the others were replanted with the help of Texas root stock, only the Carmenere could not be resurrected, so it is rarely found in Bordeaux today. Luckily, Carmenere had been sucessfully transplanted to Chile, where it thrived so well that it was mistaken for Merlot. Then, in 1994, viticulturist Jean-Michel Boursiquit discovered the grape deception. Oops! Carmenere contines to make great wines today, sometimes bottled solo, but more often used as a blending grape, such as in this affordable little quaff we are considering today, the Oops Sauvignon Blanc.

The robe of the Oops Sauvignon Blanc is pale gold with touches of peach. The nose suggests many citrus fruits, tangerines and nectarines, and a whisp of minerals. The taste suggests some of a typical sauvignon blanc's grassiness, but more complex and rounded, with parsley and clove thrown in, and resolves in a peachy finish. This blanc would be equallly at home with picnic foods such as ham as well as the more usual seafood, particularly fresh fish. Website is, where you can read the entire history of Carmenere on its wordy label. Discover your own happy wine mistake soon, and remember: