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Everything posted by iamthestretch

  1. "Value" seems to be a word that crops up a lot in connection with Excelsior's recent cab efforts, despite the South African rand appreciating almost 50 percent against the dollar over the last few years. Robert Parker called the 2002 an "extraordinary value" at $8, while James Molesworth over at WS plumped for "heck of a value." Both agreed it packed a ton of good fruit into a middleweight package with a touch of African earth to boot. I noticed the 2003 vintage on the shelf at the new Wegmans in Virginia last week for $7.50 and picked up a few to see if the new bottling would stand comparison. Happily, it does, and then some -- it's thick and rich with soft tannins and loads of blackcurrants, plums and chocolate. Not exactly subtle, but a treat with a spice-rubbed broiled flank steak. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, as 2003 was supposed to be one of the finest vintages in recent memory in the Cape. John Platter, South Africa's Parker equivalent, calls it "an outstanding year, with concentrated, structured and generous reds as well as whites." Unhappily, I'm obviously not the only person to appreciate this little bargain, as when I went back for a case some other thrifty bugger had cleaned out every single bottle in the store. But Excelsior is one of the largest estates in South Africa and cranks out up to 75,000 cases a year, so I've high hopes of this finding its way to a nearby Costco soon enough. (They were selling the 2002 for $6. $6! First time I ever wished I had an SUV...)
  2. I should start with the usual disclaimer. Hello, my name is Stretch, and I am a 2 Amys addict. In fact, there probably haven't been but one or two weekends in the past 18 months when I haven't inhaled at least one of their pizzas. My wife just looks at me now around noon on any given Saturday and goes, "2 Amys?" And I'm all, like, "What-ever." But inside, the crust junkie has already begun to dribble and twitch. So I was more than politely interested when Tim the formerly-ponytailed-proprietor told me a while back that he and Peter Pastan had decided to make some changes -- which are now becoming apparent. Basically, they're clearing out the back room by the bar to create more of a holding area -- replacing the dining tables with small, high bar rounds and stools -- and bringing in a small plates menu for people to nibble on a la Mario B. That's going to make waiting for a table, which I gather you can now expect to have to do most evenings, a lot more pleasant. It's also going to present an opportunity to go sample some of the best home-cured meats around. Trust me, I got to go down to the "pig room" the other day and there are some serious prosciuttos and such airing out down there. (Along with some real honest-to-God guanciale, which is just one more reason to order any of the special pizzas with the house sausage on them. Unless you're a wuss like my wife and don't like pig faces.) Anyway, the antique slicer is in and you could probably make a more-than-decent meal out of some of the cold cuts and a few of the existing appetizers like the roasted olives and the suppli -- breaded, fried risotto balled around a mozzarella core. The wine list is decent, and there's always the La Chouffe on tap. ("One of the few beers treated and revered like wine," says one British beer reference. "Only if you can run to top notch Alsatian Gewurztraminer should you contemplate drinking anything else with your next curry." Or pizza, say I.) Which kind of brings us to the pizza. There's already a long thread on who likes what in D.C., and I like Pizzeria Paradiso just fine, but for me this is it. Just the right amount of tooth in the crust, and really good stuff on top. I know people who happily eat nothing but the perfect Margarita Extra, but you should at least check out the specials now and again. Today I had one with fresh hedgehog mushrooms, nutty, slightly caramelized whole cipollini onions, a thick sprinkle of Grana Padano and a nice fresh egg cracked into the middle and perfectly baked by the heat of the oven. Aaaaaarrrgggghhhhh. One downside is the place is getting seriously slammed, even at lunch on weekends. But it seems like a happy shop, with the same faces at the oven and out on the floor for years now, and they really hustle so the service hasn't suffered much. Go early and often is my advice. Just don't try and talk to me when I'm eating...
  3. No offence, man, but if it took you several dozen meals to notice that Maestro is something special then you've either got a severely jaded palate, or you generally prefer restaurants for their scene rather than their cuisine. If the former, I'm sure Gaignaire/Taillevent/Savoy/L'Astrance et al may help. If the latter, I reckon Cafe Milano will be right up your alley. And Jenny's right, the website is pure brilliance. A savage, spot-on satire of the sort of clueless, nouveau riche brand-humpers who retreat from their own manifest personal inadequacies into the grossest forms of fuck-you hypermaterialism. Some very nice subtle touches, too -- the overpriced Ford Mondeo, the American Psycho grooming regimen -- but I do think that if you want to develop the comic persona further you will have to ratchet back the parody a little. People just aren't going to believe anyone could be that much of an tool in the real world.
  4. Oh, yeah. Definitely Montmartre, and not just on the weekend. I've eaten lunch there three times in the last few weeks while on Hill-related business and it's an extremely amiable scene with food that's hard to fault. The sautéed monkfish with chickpeas and caramelized sweet onion sauce was up there with the best bits of fish I've had and I'd also recommend the braised rabbit leg with olives, shiitakes and creamy pasta -- though perhaps not, when paired with a few Stellas and a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, if you have hopes of accomplishing much in the P.M. hours. The friendly proprietor and charming, statuesque Gallic hostess also add a certain savor to the experience. Go.
  5. While many of the best wine stores are out in the sticks (OK, the suburbs), one of the benefits of being in D.C. is that here we can also get the good stuff delivered to our door from all over the country by those nice men with the shorts and the brown vans. There's a world of choice out there on the Web, and I've found the upfront savings on offer generally compensate for the unfortunate fact that wine is heavy and expensive to ship. Since I'm originally from there, I'll enthusiastically second painemilla's endorsement of the fine juice coming out of South Africa these days. I'm a big fan of the guys at Southern Hemisphere Wine Center out in sunny Huntington Beach for some really good special deals and a lot of stuff from the bottom half of the world that you won't find anywhere else. Right now, I'm laying in the 2002 Fairview Goat Rotie from the Cape and the 2001 Ross Estates North Ridge Shiraz and 2002 Angus the Bull Cabernet from Down Under. If you want an easygoing, cheap everyday drinker (hey, I just described myself!), you'll probably enjoy the 2002 Excelsior Cabernet from South Africa, which Costco is giving away right now for $6 or so. I've also had a lot of fun, and spent a fair bit of money, with the good people at Wine Library, Zachys and Sherry-Lehmann. Even if you don't buy anything, you're bound to learn something just browsing. Like there's so much wine in the world, and so little cash...
  6. OK. Now this is a topic in which I have some experience having just quit my job and wound up what my hefty, debauched Italo-Irish colleague and partner-in-crime labeled a "farewell tour" and my wife, more accurately, described as a "three-day drunk." So what we did this morning, after we ate all the Advil, was take the leftover pate a choux out of the fridge (the fat Fenian had previously insisted on making cream puff swans. Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Page 702. Elaborate and pointless. Though less so than the Toad-like Squab. Page 402. Pull the other one, Jacques! But I digress.) and we piped it through a pastry bag into nice hot oil and had ourselves a whole lot of creamy, crispy, airy, sugary, sort-of Frenchy, seriously good funnel cake. And, you know, I'd do it again. Maybe with some leftover port...
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