Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steak Night - Stoney River

Last night the group convened for a extemporaneous Wednesday night Steak Night at Stoney River in Duluth, GA.
Drinks at the bar were well poured by an attentive staff. No snacks available, though many order appetizers and even full meals at the bar.

Once seated we were greeted immediately. The breadbasket arrived shortly thereafter filled with their delicious, miniature poppyseed rolls and honey butter. We went through the first heaping basket with ease, though the second basket was more of a challenge than we could meet.

We ordered their version of bleu cheese chips. They started with good quality homemade chips then topped them with a bechemel based bleu cheese sauce with a hint of nutmeg. Garnished with chives, this variation on this often overdone dish was excellent. (For the best bleu cheese chips in Atlanta visit Buckhead Diner where they don't skimp on the Maytag Bleu Cheese).

Then came our wine, at the recommendation of our waiter we ordered a bottle of the 2005 Franciscan Cabernet priced at $48, it was a 100% mark-up over retail, a much lower mark-up than many of their other bottles. The wine was good, though could have benefitted from a decanting. It improved as the evening went on. The waiter again made sure our glasses were always crimson and took the extra second to wipe the bottle with a black napkin, fold it neatly, and place the cork on top creating a bit of restaurant still life with every pouring.

My two compatriots ordered the lodge filet, a 10 oz steak, that is their best seller. Its price at $39 is quite fair particularly with the addition of the included starch of your choice. I had the 12 oz ribeye and found it quite succulent and perfectly cooked.

We skipped dessert on this trip due in large part to the sheer number of roles ingested, but enjoyed espressos and lingered over the last bit of our wine.

All in all Stoney River delivered a very enjoyable Steak Night at a relative bargain of <$80 per person including tax and gratuity.

Stoney River Wrap-up

Atmosphere: 4 (a bit loud, though still a comfortable place to settle in)
Drinks: 4 (a good wine list including reserve list, though mark-ups a bit high, our female member raved about the Belini Martini)
Meat: 4.5 (they use their "lodge" seasoning, good if a bit salty, but not for everyone)
Sides: 4 (one startch included with your entree)
Desert: 4.5 (order the Top Hat)
Service: 4.5 (a bit too attentive)
Value: 4.5
Overall: 4.3

Note: A good solid chain steakhouse in the burbs.

Stoney River Legendary Steaks on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A National Treasure Facing Foreclosure

Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope. ~ Edith Wharton

I came across a story on Luxist about the fate of Edith Wharton's home The Mount back in March. The home was facing foreclosure and a future that likely involved it becoming private property no longer open to the public. The fact that this Historic Landmark might be yet another victim of the mortgage meltdown was quite frightening.

I immediately went to their website and pledged what I could and was told that they wouldn't ask for any of the donor's to send in their pledges unless they were able to raise enough commitments to restructure their debt and keep The Mount open to the public.

On August 15th I received a letter asking that I submit my pledge as they received over $1 million in donations. They're still working on suring up the future of this great house museum, but for 2008 at least they are open and it appears that if they can continue to raise funds this can be at least one happy foreclosure story. They're still hoping to reach their goal of $3 million by the end of October, so please do what you can to not only give a little but raise awareness.

Please visit The Mount website and make a donation.

Wharton, the author of Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, designed and built the house in 1902. She wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture and gardens and was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Mount is one of the five percent of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women. It only gets around 30,000 visitors a year but is a lovely and significant reminder of a more gracious era.

Wharton designed The Mount, built in 1902, and put into practice many of the principles she espoused in The Decoration of Houses, including an enormous first floor gallery and a bedroom suite that accommodated her writing. As a Wharton fan, I’ve wanted to visit The Mount, especially as it has been substantially restored to Wharton’s original plans. Below are a few picture's from The Mount's website.

A Well Stocked Bar IV

Money, like vodka, turns a person into an eccentric. ~ Anton Chekhov

It's now time to start discussing spirits. While it's not my favorite distilled spirit it is still the most versatile of all spirits and one which every bar should include - Vodka.
I could simply tell you to buy Grey Goose and leave it at that, as it is, at least to my palette, the most enjoyable of all vodkas. But instead I will tell you that when it comes to selecting spirits it's a rather personal decision. It can come down to taste, or price, or even how the bottle will look on your bar.

Before you select your "house" vodka I would suggest the next time you're out having a few beverages with friends that you order, over the course of the evening, several vodka tonics sans lime (this is a scientific experiment afterall) and determine which is your favorite. I would then suggest with this knowledge in hand that you go to your favorite liquor store and look at the oversized assortment of vodkas and compare the prices to your ratings. Where your palette and wallet overlap is probably the right selection. I have friends with very good palettes that argue that Vox and Absolut are far superior to my beloved Goose, they're wrong of course, but it shows how individual the selection of your preferred spirits can be.

If you and your guests primarily use vodka in very elaborate concoctions I might suggest the ever versatile, drinkable, and affordable Stolichnya. If you and your guests rarely drink vodka I would again go for the Stoli. If instead you favor something without four kinds of fruit juice and Pucker I would again steer you back to Grey Goose.

What's your house vodka?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nashville Part II

“The quality of food is in inverse proportion to a dining room's altitude, especially atop bank and hotel buildings (airplanes are an extreme example).” ~ Brian Miller (Food writer and former New York Times restaurant critic)

One of life's great pleasures is staying in a world-class hotel. An extension of this, for excellent hotel's in your own town and for those who would rather dispense with their wealth by other means, is spending copious amounts of time in the hotels' bars and sometimes restaurants (I can't wholeheartedly endorse all great restaurant's dining options). This was the inspiration for today's quote which I have, using the Scientific Method, repeatedly confirmed, for when views are the primary attraction the food certainly suffers. I should have given up on dining in the clouds a long time ago, but seem to tempt the fates once or twice a year only to lose again.

The hotel on which I wish to lavish praise is The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. I have previously written about the pleasures of The Oak Bar located beneath the hotel in what some might refer to as a basement. This my friend's is, as Mr. Miller suggests, an indication of the fine quality of the bar and adjacent restaurant.

I have now had the pleasure of staying at The Hermitage several times with increasing frequency and now have begun to be recognized by the staff, who have proven it is possible to exceed their already impeccable service by greeting you by name at almost every turn.

I took a few pictures of the room during my last stay to share as the hotel does not provide quite enough pictures to really satisfy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar III

To date we have determined we need trays and ice buckets with generous scoops as the foundation for our bars. The next essential item is glassware. Rather than showing you pictures of glasses, I will instead implore you to buy good quality and in good quantities. In barware this means weighty and wide bottomed: old fashioneds, tumblers, and footed water/iced tea glasses devoid of color. In stemware it means light weight and well proportioned, again without color, and preferably with ground not rolled rims. If you insist on using your dishwasher for stemware go ahead and used rolled rims as they're more durable, but I assure you it's worth hand washing to drink out of a better glass.
Following are my recommendations for the average household, if you never entertain you can certainly scale back and if you're the consummate host by all means add in quantity of the essentials and then in variety.


12+ footed white wineglasses (for reasons of economy or space a good all around wineglass can work for both red and white, but it certainly increases the enjoyment to have both)

12+ footed red wineglasses

12+ footed water/iced tea glasses (make these dishwasher safe)

12+ tumblers or use your Riedel 'O' and similar glasses for this, but please don't use them for white wine

8+ old fashioneds

6+ champagne flutes, unless you're a bruncher in which case I'd have at least 12 on hand


6+ brandy glasses (aka Snifter, the same word is also used for a small quantity of a distilled liquor)

6+ dessert wine glasses

6+ irish coffee glasses, a worthwhile purchase for some, you know who you are

12+ shot glasses, if you do shots, and I don't entirely recommend it, you might as well have a great number of glasses on hand, particularly of the souvenir variety

8+ margaritta glasses

8+ martini glasses, though just because you serve a beverage in this glass, despite the almost universal bastardization of the word, it does not make it a martini. More on this topic in a later post

I do not recommend, except for the most ardent ale connoseurs, investing money or storage space in beer mugs or pilsners as footed waters and good old fashioned pint glasses work for beer and myriad other beverages not the least of which is the bloody mary.
The quantities are merely suggestions, you know what you, your friends, and your family drink. Adjust accordingly. The suggestions of 8 or more are generally for "cocktail party" items while i find the items suggesting 6 are pulled out during the course of a "dinner party."

Nashville Part I

My lack of posting last week was a reflection of a busy week spent in Nashville. The primary reason for the trip was ostensibly a meal. In my business, as I'm sure is the case in many fields, a large deal warrants a large meal with all the folks involved in the transaction.

We went to Jimmy Kelly's which has been a Nashville Dining Tradition since 1934. The restaurant is in a grand old Victorian home very near Vanderbilt's campus.

The bar was intimate with excellent service and ample televisions to satisy the football fan this time of year. There were a few public dining rooms of various sizes on the first floor and banquet rooms on the second.

We were seated in a good sized private room upstairs and were served by two excellent waiters who could very easily make the switch to stand-up comedy.
While reviewing the well edited menu and rather clipped winelist we were served the house specialty - corn cakes. These were thin, dense, pancakes akin to Hoe Cakes (recipe to follow), but Hoe Cakes beat them out in texture, flavor, and greasiness.

For appetizers we had fried oysters, onion rings, and crab cakes (formed into bite sized morsels at the recommendation of our waiter. These were all fried delights with the oysters being my favorite.

For salads we all bent to the pressure and ordered the house specialty "The Original Faucon Salad From My Granddad’s Good Friend, Mr. Faucon. Mixed Salty Bacon, Hard Boiled Eggs And Bleu Cheese Served On Our Iceberg Lettuce". This twist on the wedge was good if not great, the blue cheese dressing was a bit too thin and pungent at the same time.

For steaks, and everyone ordered a steak, we were across the board. I selected the standard cut of the Bleu Cheese Filet cooked to medium. I made this selection hoping that the ring of bacon surrounding the steak would be crispy, a concern I had with a medium rare order. Unfortunately the bacon was cooked but limp and the cheese had clearly been directly out of the refrigerator when packed around the steak resulting in a room temperature smear of cheese between the bacon and the steak. Several folks ordered the Bootlegger's Ribeye and seemed quite pleased with their selection. Untasted I would still recommend you head in that direction if dining at Jimmy Kelly's.

The only a la carte side selected was asparagus which still had sand in it. It should be noted that at the reasonable entree prices baked potatoes were included. These were old school wrapped in aluminum foil with a small pleated paper cup of sour cream on the side.

Only two desserts were ordered at the table: Death by Chocolate and Chocolate Decadence. I tasted the latter which was a very dense brownie covered in ice cream. I would probably recommend either the Blackberry Cobbler or Pecan Pie judging from the ones I saw coming out of the kitchen and the happy people in the downstairs dining room.

No after dinner drinks were ordered though quite a few ordered capuccinos and were disappointed to get milky coffee in the bottom of a too large coffee cup.

Jimmy Kelly's Wrap-up

Atmosphere: 4
Drinks: 3
Meat: 3.5
Sides: 3
Desert: 3
Service: 5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 3.7
Note: Still a better experience than Morton's Nashville.

Jimmy Kelly's on Urbanspoon

Here's a recipe for Hoe Cakes from Paula Deen inspired by the trip to Jimmy Kelly's:

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying

Mix all ingredients together, except for the frying oil, in a bowl until well combined. Heat the frying oil or butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Chef's Note: Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Yield: 16 hoecakes (give or take)

Recipe and Photo courtesy Paula Deen

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Omnivore's Hundred

The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life. I found the list on Don’t Call Me Gringa, a blog I’ve been frequenting in anticipation of a trip to Santiago in a few weeks. Here are the instructions:

1. Copy this list into your blog, including these instructions.

2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating (I didn’t have any items that I wouldn’t at least try).

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a big fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (A must!)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin – The only item on the list not really a food or beverage, it’s a “clay-like mineral”
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill – Not that I know of
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong - A smoked tea that should be easy to try.
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant – Not yet, I’ve done several two-stars
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
– I had it for the first time in a stew in a quaint restaurant in Bruege, Belgium, didn’t know until later what I had eaten. It was too good to apologize for.
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake
– Rattlesnake, I’m not sure what other kinds of snakes are available for consumption in the US. I know in several countries, most notably China, snakes are added to liquor “to make men STRONG”.

If my math was right I've had 79 out of 100 of these gastronomic experiences. Not too bad, though looking at the list of things I haven’t yet had I need to spend some time in Asia. How does your list look?