a year in brews

New Year’s Eve 2010 found Sean and myself with one of our great friends, Geof, at a bar in Huntsville called The Nook. This bar prides itself on serving only craft brews and I must admit they do a fine job of it. As we sat there enjoying some tasty libations we pondered some of our favorite beers that we’ve had the chance to sample over the past year. Here’s a run down of our top five.

World Wide Stout
Brewery: Dogfish Head
I don’t even know where to start with this beer other than, Wow! The World Wide Stout is one of those beers that long after you’ve tasted it, the flavors still stick around for you to fondly remember. The nose makes me think of raisins and ports. The taste has roasty chocolate notes with lots of flavors of dried fruit. It’s a complex beer that’s great to share with other friends (at 18% it’s not one that’s easy to get through on your own) and sip as an after dinner drink (or really any time you want to enjoy a great beer).
ABV: 18.0

Older Viscousity
Brewery: Port Brewing Company
The nose on this reminded us of a blend between a whiskey and a port. Once you taste it, though, that’s all forgotten. There are strong coffee and dried cherry notes. The bitter and fruity notes balanced each other out well. The finish is smooth and lingering going back to the way that a good whiskey sits on the tongue. This is a good one to curl up on a cold winter’s night and sip away with.
ABV: 12.5

Cuvee of the Emperor Blue
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker
We had the pleasure of trying this one as part of our New Year’s Eve festivities this year. The beer has the wonderful sweet nose of a Belgian strong ale. The taste, though, we felt was lighter than the typical strong ale. There were wonderful spicy brown sugar notes that lingered on the tongue. It was a very easy beer to drink and enjoy. Sadly, this one is a hard one to get hold of, so if you find it, definitely give it a shot.
ABV: 11.0

Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Company
How can anything that combines coffee and beer not be fantastic?! At least that’s how we feel. The Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (yes, it really is a bit of a mouthful) immediately hits the drinker with coffee and oak notes on the nose. As it’s consumed we got the expected imperial stout notes along with nice chocolate notes. The finish is almost like you just finished drinking a cup of coffee. It’s a pretty powerful combination, but amazingly easy to drink. Best part is a recommended food pairing for the beer is a breakfast burrito. Can’t argue with that.
ABV: 9.5

Theobroma
Brewery: Dogfish Head
This one comes with a disclaimer. We had a taste of Theobroma in previous years, but this review is for the draft version. Yes, that’s right. If you’re super lucky, you can find this one on tap. We lucked out at our local Whole Foods Market where there’s a wine and beer tasting bar. The beer has a very clear appearance with a light floral and honey nose. The taste was lighter than the bottled version but still had the wonderful honey and cocoa notes that we love about this beer. The finish isn’t long, but is definitely very refreshing and pleasant. We’re looking forward to hopefully seeing this one on tap again in the future.
ABV: 9.0

an offal dinner

of·fal (noun) 1. the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings; carrion.
2. the parts of a butchered animal removed in dressing; viscera.
3. refuse; rubbish; garbage.

Okay, so none of those definitions make the word seem any more appetizing. Perhaps you might wonder if there is any way that offal can be appetizing? After my dinner last night, I can say with absolute certainty that offal can be phenomenal. Sorry for the rhyme.

Two of our friends, Jeff and Erin, were willing to accept the challenge of a four course dinner at Petite Maison on Halloween that consisted predominantly of offal. I’ve posted about Petite Maison before, so I won’t go into too many details about the restaurant except to say that this was the first time I’ve had a chance to have the chef’s cooking (I’ve previously only been for a staff meal which is prepared by a guest chef). We got seated at one of the patio tables, which was nice because the nights lately have been perfect. The one choice we were given was whether we wanted to wine pairing with the meal or not. Jeff and I chose to have the wine pairing, while Erin decided to have sips off of Jeff’s (admirable since she was our DD). I’m not going to go into the wine pairings, because I’m sure I’ll screw them up. Suffice it to say that every wine paired with its course was perfect. It cut through the richness of each dish without being overpowering. I was thoroughly impressed.

First Course – Country Style Head Cheese with Grilled Rustic Bread, Cumberland Sauce and Spicy Mustard
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The waiter indicated that not only all of the various parts of the head (thus the name head cheese) were used for this course, but also the heart and kidneys were used. Head cheese is interesting. You get the meatiness of the various parts, but then you get this delicious richness from all of the gelatin around each piece of meat. The Cumberland sauce had a nice sour note that played well with the grainy mustard when all combined onto the bread. That was one thing that we all noted. Each component of each dish was really nice on its own, but if you got a little bit of everything on your fork, the dish just sang.

Second Course – Trotter and Sweetbread Crepinette with Fried Chicarones
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I’m Southern. I might not live in the South anymore, but there’s a part of me that will always love Southern things. One of them is fried pork rinds. That’s what fried chicarones is, delicious crispy, fried pork rinds. This was served on a mustard cream sauce (I’m not going to attempt to misspell what the waiter called it and we joked about for the rest of the evening. It was some fancy French name that I can’t perfectly remember anymore). The trotter was remarkably meaty. I was expecting a lot more fat, but was definitely pleasantly surprised. The sweetbread was tender and delicious. Sean swears I’ve had sweetbread before. Now I can definitely say I have and am open to eating them again.

Third Course – Sous Vide Veal Tongue with Crispy Bone Marrow and Foie Gras Jus
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I don’t know what the fuss everyone has about tongue. Granted, this tongue was cooked sous vide which will take the toughest cut of meat and make it melt in your mouth. This tongue, though was fall apart tender with a richness that I rarely taste in any meat. The dish itself was like a pot roast style comfort food dish. The tongue was served on top of creamed potatoes and the foie gras jus was this wild mushroom gravy. If my system wasn’t already getting overloaded with rich foods, I could have easily devoured my whole plate of food. And the bone marrow. Wow. Jeff’s comment was that it was like a mozzarella cheese stick taken to a whole new plane. I agree.

Dessert – Sonoma Foie Gras Creme Brulee
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The creme part of this dish wasn’t so much custard as a heavy mousse. The sugar on top was burned perfectly so that it was this intense caramel flavor that melted as you took each bit. The salt flakes on top kept the dish from being overly sweet. Sadly, by this point, though, all of us were in overload from amazingly rich food. I think Erin summed it up best for us.

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Once again I was thoroughly pleased by Petite Maison. Everything from the ambience of the restaurant to the food was excellent. I look forward to another meal here.

South In Ur Mouth – our intro to staff meals

Last night we went to this small restaurant tucked just off of Scottsdale Road and Camelback. The area surrounding it is filled with all of the trendy Scottsdale bars. Petite Maison, though, is anything but trendy or a bar. Instead, it feels like your walking into a small little French villa and you’re being welcomed into someone’s home rather than a restaurant. There’s more seats outside on the patio than there are in the small dining room. The interior is paneled in wood, giving a warm glow to the room. The patio is surrounded by vines and small potted trees. You feel like you’re in a garden sitting out on the patio.

Petite Maison serves a late night staff meal where their normal staff gets a chance to sit down and eat after service and other guest chefs can come in and prepare the meal. The rest of us also get a chance to sit down and have a nice late night (10pm – midnight) meal. There’s usually only a couple different plates that are offered and their reasonably priced around $10 – $12 a plate. There’s also a drink offered, fondly dubbed the “red cup”.

Sean and I finally got a chance to get up to Petite Maison because a friend of ours, Tony Morales was preparing the staff meal that night, which he fondly dubbed “South In Ur Mouth”. So, no, I didn’t make the title of this post up. It’s his fault. In my constant quest of good Southern food that I didn’t have to spend the time making in my kitchen, whenever I hear Tony’s working in a kitchen, I try to be there. Last night’s meal was no exception to a delicious late night meal.

The two dishes that were served were Rock Shrimp with Smokey Cheese Grits and Fried Green Tomatoes with Catfish Hushpuppies and a red pepper remoulade. The red cup was called Orange Marmalade. Delicious is a tame word for the two dishes. Sean was kind enough to let me have the shrimp and grits in front of me since he understands my obsession with grits. I took my first bite with a small piece of perfectly fried shrimp in a light flour batter, surrounded with cheesy looking grits and I was in heaven. The grits were perfectly cooked. At first, we thought the cheese in them was smoked Gouda, which would be a good one to put into grits because of the creaminess you get, but Tony corrected us. It was a sharp smoked cheddar. Brilliant! You get the smokiness, but also a nice tanginess with the sharp cheddar. Needless to say, there were no grits left when the plate was taken away.

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The fried green tomatoes were coated with the standard cornmeal style coating, but it was thick enough to truly encase the tomato slice. The green tomatoes used were at just the right ripeness so that they were soft enough to eat, but still had that slightly bitter tang that unripe tomatoes have. When Sean shared one with me, at first I thought that the tomato was under-salted, but then when he shared some of the remoulade on his plate, it was exactly right. Everything came together perfectly. Now, on to the catfish hushpuppies. I should put a disclaimer here. I eat catfish. I was raised on fried catfish, so I’ve never had a problem eating it. Sean does not like catfish. He doesn’t like the muddiness you tend to get from it and thinks that when it’s cooked, it’s usually too dried out by the time it’s served. Sean ate the catfish hushpuppies. Not only did he eat them, I was lucky to get one off of his plate to try. He consumed them. The typical muddiness wasn’t there at all and the fish was moist and delicate. If I didn’t know better, I would have almost questioned whether that really was catfish.

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Now that I’ve had a chance to wax poetical about the food, let me mention the “red cup”. It was called an Orange Marmalade. I love orange marmalade. It’s kept in the fridge and it frequently finds its way onto my morning toast. This was like orange marmalade turned up to 11. It was fresh squeezed orange juice, vodka and lemon peel that had been sitting in Everclear (the remnants of making limoncello). It was deadly delicious. I consumed 2 before I realized that I was going to have to drive my car home and I wanted to make it home in one piece.

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Overall, the late night meal was a great experience. We also got the added bonus of meeting some of the foodie friends that we know through Twitter. We’re already discussing an opportunity to go back to Petite Maison to order off of their standard menu.

Hana Japanese Eatery

Recently we had the chance to eat at a well known establishment in central Phoenix. Hana Japanese Eatery is tucked away into a small strip mall along 7th Avenue.

Thankfully, we go there just in time because the restaurant filled up quickly after we got there. Hana isn’t very large. It’s got about 20 tables in it and the sushi bar. Upon walking into the restaurant, you can tell that this is a local establishment well loved by its patrons. The hostess greeted people with familiarity. Several people were conversing with the sushi chef at the counter.

The menu had a good amount of variety for being such a small place. You can get everything from the standard pieces of nigiri to bowls of filling ramen. Thankfully, Sean and I met up with 2 other friends when we went which meant we got a nice variety of food to try out. Amongst our orders were the
Yakibuta Ramen
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nigiri
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Hana Tempura
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Hana Bento and a couple of their specialty rolls
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The service was actually pretty good even if they were very busy from the moment we walked in. Our teas and waters were kept filled. Food was brought out promptly. Everything was fresh, so you knew that none of our dishes had been sitting in the kitchen for too long. The food was delicious. I got the ramen because bowls of ramen are like chicken noodle soup. They’re soul comforting and this definitely hit the spot. The roasted pork in my soup was very tender and perfectly cooked. The tempura that one of our friends got was crispy with just the smallest coating of tempura batter so that you could still enjoy the vegetable itself. They didn’t just use the standard set of boring vegetables in their tempura. There were a few we actually had to think on what they were. I’ll never turn down a tempura fried carrot again. Sean’s bento box was the perfect amount of food considering the variety that he had. All of us left pleasantly full without being stuffed which is always a plus in my book. The staff also didn’t try to rush us out the door once we were finished and had paid our bill which was great since we wanted to catch up with our friends.

Overall, Hana Japanese Eatery is a great restaurant with good food and good staff. I’m looking forward to getting another chance to eat there.

weekly menu – 27 september 2010

After a couple of week’s hiatus (last minute traveling doesn’t allow for much time to post), I’m back with at least my weekly menus. The theme with this week’s menu was keeping the ingredients and combinations as simple as possible. Sunday was the exception, but it usually is to our menu planning.

Monday – Steak Fajitas
I take skirt steak from Circle Key at the Ahwatukee farmers market and sear it until cooked to my liking (medium-rare for me). I then slice it really thin and serve it on fresh cooked tortillas (My Nona’s ready-cook tortillas are found in the refrigerator area near the canned biscuit dough). I like to serve shredded lettuce and sour cream with my fajitas, but that’s always up to the consumer.

Tuesday – Chicken Stir Fry
I love stir fries. They’re the perfect “time to clean the veggie drawer in my fridge out” meal. This past week I used snap peas, onion, zucchini, bell pepper and bok choy. Combine that with chicken that’s been seasoned with Savory Spice Shop’s Asian Delight BBQ Rub and you’ve got a great meal. One thing to keep in mind about stir fries is that the vegetables are meant to be cooked quickly and at high heat. Don’t hesitate to let the oil in the pan start to smoke a little bit before putting the vegetables into the pan.

Wednesday – Chicken Dinner Salad
I’m not sure why I put two “empty my vegetable bin” meals in a row, but it’s how it turned out, so I rolled with it. More chicken breast grilled up with Savory Spice Shop’s All Purpose Seasoning. I cut that up and added it to a salad of mixed greens, bell pepper, snap peas and cucumber. Doesn’t sound fancy, but it really hits the spot when you’re trying to keep things simple and still eat healthy.

Thursday – Omelettes
Normally, I get home really late on Thursday nights because I take a yoga class until 7:45pm. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well on Thursday so no class. The advantage, though, was that I had an easy dinner to fix. We had ham for dinner on the Sunday night before. I kept it simple and just made up a ham and cheese omelette. Don’t underestimate the tastiness of an omelette.

Friday – Grilled Salmon
Keep It Simple Stupid! I’ve been dying to use that saying for a long time. We took two salmon steaks and grilled them with just salt and pepper. We then served that up with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. So simple and yet so incredibly wonderful.

Saturday – Caffe Boa
Since Sean and I had to juggle our schedule a bit so that we could fly home last weekend to be with a friend, we had to change our plans to celebrate our anniversary (we still wound up having lunch together on our anniversary, but what better excuse to go eat at a nice restaurant?). We had just picked up a Groupon from Caffe Boa, so we made reservations for dinner there since we’d been wanting to try it ever since Chef Payton moved over there. On the menu for us? You’ll have to wait for me to type up the review to find that out. It was definitely delicious, though.

Sunday – Spaghetti and Meatballs
A while back, I had posted about a Cook’s Illustrated recipe called Hearty Italian Meat Sauce. You take baby back ribs, Italian sausage and homemade meatballs and simmer everything together in a homemade tomato sauce. The combination is to die for, but for whatever reason I’ve always felt like the ribs weren’t necessary. I decided to try the recipe this time with just the sausage and the meatballs (which are the best part of the recipe). It turned out phenomenally. Sorry baby back ribs, but you’ve been voted off of the island.