Monday, March 23, 2009

Let's Talk Wine

wine bottles
"In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary." - Ernest Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"

Agreed! I love wine too. I think that most people who truly love to eat, are also lovers of the grape. It is such a natural pairing, isn't it? A great glass of wine can complement your meal by accentuating foods' flavors and seasonings like nothing else. Am I a connoisseur? If quantity was a determining factor, I might be, but unfortunately it is not. For all my exposure to wine, countless explanations about how it is made, matured, how is should be tasted, etc. I simply have no retention of the facts. I liken it to Alex's feelings about cooking. It is not a matter of ability, but of desire. I guess I'm just not that interested. I don't want to talk about it, just pass the bottle man, I want to drink it! Despite all my efforts to the contrary, my mom did a pretty darn good job instilling manners in me and I can feign absorbed fascination convincingly well. While the experts are going on and on about the color and clarity, aromas, and flavors, all I really hear is "blah blah blah blah blah". Sad isn't it? Once I taste a wine, I know if I like it or not, and I am fairly good at remembering the label of a favorite wine. (Not the name, but the picture on the label...again, sad, I know.) It is with this background that I found myself entering the "Let's Talk Wine" store a couple of Saturdays' ago.

First, I have to say that I am not a fan of the store's name. No surprise there, since I already revealed that I don't really like to talk about wine! Further, it doesn't seem catchy to me. Just my opinion. When I entered there was one other customer who was just completing a purchase, so I browsed around the bins. The store is fairly small, so it is impossible to be unobserved. Once his customer left the person behind the counter, who I found out later is the owner, Ian, approached me and offered his assistance and a tasting of Riesling. As I said before, I know what wine I don't like, and I am not a fan of Rieslings. They just aren't my thing. On the other hand, I am not going to decline an offering of wine at 4:30pm on an errand laden Saturday. We chatted a bit about what wines I like and don't like, what I was interested in getting, spending, etc. Buying wine can sometimes feel like buying an appliance, or car, or furniture. There's a screening process involved. If I only put as much thought into every $20 dollar purchase! After a brief chat, Ian started his recommendations.

Of course, I got every one he suggested. I really am a soft sell in a wine store. He gave me detailed descriptions of each wine, its origins and flavors. I have to admit I liked Ian. He describes wine as "rock star" good, which made me smile. We have progressed from rock stars of the 70's stumbling around with bottles of liquor, to rock stars of the millennium sipping Ian's favorites! Here's what he suggested:

Atalaya Wine BottleSanta Martina Wine Bottle

Atalaya Mourvedre 2007-Spain
Santa Martina Rosso 2005 - Italy
Maipe Bonarda 2008-Argentina
Marco Polo-Pinot Grigio - 2007
Domaine Sainte Eugenie Recolte 2004-France

The only bottle remaining untasted is the Santa Martina, which I am sure will be popped this weekend. We enjoyed all of them. Of course, I am not going to give you professional reviews, but I will tell you that the Argentinian wine was so heavy that it turned our teeth purple! HA! I loved it. I thought The Domaine Sainte Eugenie Recolte was 'just okay'. I would definitely buy the Spanish wine again, it was very interesting. One suggestion Ian made that I actually remembered, was to save my receipt. It prints out the names of all the wines you purchase. If you bring it back on your next visit, it will help him make new suggestions, based on what you liked/did not like from the previous batch. Of course, I want him to keep all that information in his computer database. I mean, I bet Google knows what wine I buy, they know everything else about me. But, since he seems like such a nice guy, I actually still have my receipt.

So, the next time you are in Great Bridge, or on your way to the Outer Banks for the weekend, please stop in and see Ian. Whether you want to talk about wine or just drink it, I'm pretty sure he can hook you up on both accounts. Or, as a rock star once said, "Never understood a single word he said but I helped him drink his wine…and he always had some mighty fine wine." -- 3 Dog Night


Let's Talk Wine
Located right off the 168 Bypass
Take exit 8A, Hillcrest Pkwy
Hours are 10:30am-7:00pm
Friday and Saturday
usually till 9:00pm
Closed on Sunday

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Angies Family Restaurant

Angie's Family Restaurant, Chesapeake Restaurant
If she was driving in the pouring rain for 20 hours straight, with no food or water, and her car broke down on a completely deserted highway from which the only sign of life as far as the eyes could see was Angie’ Family Restaurant, Alex might decide to walk to the next nearest place. Angie’s is located in an older shopping strip, next to a nail place that’s next to an auto repair shop and behind the BP gas station. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it? It’s just not Alex’s style. Having lived in Chesapeake now for over 4 years now, I have driven past Angie’s a minimum of 1500 times with the same sort of mindset. It struck me as passé, outdated… kind of “icky”. My husband mentioned earlier in the day that it might be interesting to try Angie’s out. He reminded me that our neighbors go there and in fact, Mr. V* raves about the steak dinner. I’m pretty sure I gave him some vague answer about trying it sometime, and quickly changed the subject. It is amazing how a week of rain, a day of errands, a hungry husband and starving 5 year old can change your frame of reference. Suddenly, early this Saturday evening to be precise, I found myself firmly planted in the mother-hood and Angie’s appeared to be an oasis in the storm.

We arrived early and were promptly greeted, seated, given menus and drinks. The service is friendly and brisk. The down home atmosphere doesn’t mean this is the kind of place where the server sits down at the table with you (that drives me crazy!) These ladies are busy, so they keep it courteous and move on. The menu offerings are as expected of a place labeling itself as a family restaurant: steak, chops, fried seafood, broiled seafood, spaghetti, etc. My daughter loves the classic popcorn shrimp, while my husband and I opted for Delmonico steaks, medium rare. Entrées are accompanied by salad/vegetable/potato. Bread is also brought to the table, along with a pitcher of water for us H20 lovers. While we waited for our food to arrive, the restaurant quickly started to fill up. The demographic was grandparents and older couples, the typical 5:30pm diner. There was a cute group of high school teens decked out in formal wear that came in too. Ours must have been one of the first orders in because the meals came out in about 10 minutes flat with all the condiments you could possibly want.

You know what? It was good. Seriously! You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?! The steak was really good and I didn’t need to use my stimulus check, which apparently has been lost in the mail anyway, and half my paycheck to buy it. I didn’t even smother it with any of the assorted steak sauces provided. The baked potato was really baked too, not microwaved. My baby doll devoured her shrimp, a testimonial of goodness from a girl who can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 5 hours to eat a meal. I nibbled a few and tested out the fries too. Not too shabby. Don’t get me wrong, these are not 16/20 count, peeled, lightly battered and fried. They are definitely pre frozen, but they are tasty and you can see that there is a real shrimp in there, not some miniscule, weird krab / seafood conglomeration.

I would definitely go back to Angie’s again, and it would not have to be at the end of an exhausting, rainy day. My Philly friend Brianna* told me that she goes there after church on Sunday’s for breakfast and says it is great. Let me clarify that Angie’s has not jumped to the top of my ‘favorites’, nor would it be an acceptable dinner “date” destination. It is definitely a place I would have to be in the mood for. Further, if I had gone to a prom, and the date had started by taking me to Angie’s, it would have been a rather short evening out for us. Sometimes a girl just wants to be wined and dined. When she’s in formal wear, that should be a given. Ah, youth!


Angie’s Family Restaurant
335 Centerville Tpke S
Chesapeake, VA 23322
(757) 482-9614

…of course they don’t have a website…

Thursday, March 12, 2009

21st Street Deli…they make a mean sandwich!

21st Street Deli, Norfolk Restaurant
If you want an authentic, delicious, high quality deli sandwich that isn’t “nouveau’d” or “metro’d” or reduced calorie or in any way, shape or form sissy-fied, grab your hearty appetite and go to 21st Street Deli. This was Alex’s suggestion for the week, and I have to say it is a bright spot in an otherwise lack luster week for me. The restaurant is bright and inviting, decorated in a cheery yellow with lots of old Norfolk B&W photos on the wall. Everything is very clean and organized. You grab your chips from the rack, your drink from the cooler and step up to the counter to place your order.

Of course, you’d expect noon to be a busy time at a sandwich joint, and the deli staff was jumping. We were greeted by the owner (my guess) and politely told he would be right with us. ***Note***This guy looks like an ex-marine. Big, muscular, shaved head, serious (no-joking ) attitude. Popeye on steroids, minus the pipe, plus a goatee. In-between greeting us and taking an order over the phone, he is yelling at the employees. I can’t remember the specific reasons why, but it was really intimidating. Next he put the phone customer on hold because “they don’t know what they want” and came to take our order. For a moment, I was speechless. Luckily my buddy *Brianna, who is a take no prisoners Philly gal, wasn’t phased a bit. She ordered the Sloppy on rye (pastrami, Swiss, cole slaw) and I recovered enough to ordered my all time favorite deli sandwich, the Sailor (pastrami, knockwurst, Swiss). When Alex came in, a little late due to an encounter with a moronic driver on Princess Anne, I warned her about Mr. Friendly. Alex loves to special order. She lives to reinvent the recipe and I just knew this was not a guy who was going to follow that flow one bit. He was a little curt with her one simple question, so she opted for the safe Turkey sandwich and returned to the safety of our table.

The sandwiches really were outstanding. The deli uses Dietz & Watson meats and cheese, and they slice it when you order it. I don’t know what kind of bread they use, but it was some of the best rye I have had in a long time. Very fresh, very flavorful, no hint of dryness that some rye’s get. The portions were big too, but not crazy, insane large. Some places are all about quantity and the sandwich gets so big that you can’t fit the darn thing in your mouth. These were reasonably stacked full of meat. I noted some of the other orders around us too. The subs looked to die for. My only disappointment was that the sandwich was not heated. In all the times I have ordered a sailor, it was always grilled. I didn’t even think to make the request.

For future reference, you can view the menu online and call in your order to have it waiting for you when you arrive. The tables filled up while we were there, but no one lingers and no one had to wait for a seat. The customer demographic was a mixed bag of a folks, a typical Norfolk group.


No sandwich for you!

A new old place. The 21st Street Deli has been a fixture in Ghent for some years now and I had never been prior to today! Unbelievable. Laine and I wanted a new spot and we were rewarded this week. It is exactly what it says, a deli. No frills, but good, solid food at reasonable prices. Be prepared when you go in or take a few minutes to peruse the menu. I thought asking the man at the counter for a suggestion for a newcomer...he was not too interested in offering advice. He simply told me 'its personal preference'. So, of course I jumped to the first item that I knew I would like and did not take enough time to look at all of the interesting sandwiches. As assertive as I am, I shied away from this guy's gruffness. My choice, the honey turkey and cheese was still a good selection though. I went with Muenster cheese, as it is my favorite and wheat bread.

After you place your order, you sit down...without paying, that's the kicker. For this type of restaurant, they usually ask you to pay when you order. Trusting, these people are in this era. Laine and our friend, *Brianna, had already ordered, so I joined them at the table to wait. Very shortly thereafter, our sandwiches arrived. My two wishes were that I had asked them to toast the bread or heat the whole sandwich and that they did not use shredded lettuce (honestly, I hate that). There was a lot of meat, no scrimping on the ingredients here, but I think it would have been better hot. You also get a snack-sized bag of chips with your sandwich. I was very satisfied with the quality of the food as well. Apparently, they cut your meat when you order your selection, not hours or days beforehand. The menu has many, many kinds of sandwiches and as many kinds of cheese and meat you can imagine. They offer various breads, white, wheat, sourdough, rye and pumpernickel and also have canned sodas and bottled water. They sell Dr. Brown's soda which is one of my favorite lines. Canned sodas are $1.25 and bottled water is $1.75. The sandwiches range slightly in price and are all reasonable. For under $7, my meal hit all of the marks. As I mentioned before, take a little time with their large menu before you order and remember to ASK if you want your sandwich heated. I do not get the impression they will offer a 'would you like your sandwich heated'. The demeanor reminds me a little of the soup Nazi from Seinfeld, except 21st Street would say 'no sandwich for you!' Even I was going to ask a lot of questions, which is a once in a lifetime experience for me.

This is a back to the basics kind of place, but the food is good, the portions are generous and service is fast.


21st Street Deli
222 21st Street
VA 23517
Deli Hours are:
Monday - Friday 11:00am - 7:00pm
Saturday 11:00am - 6:00pm
Sunday Closed
or as their website says 'Open when we get here, Closed when we leave ...'

21st Street Deli on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Dirt on Local Restaurants

finger testing cleanliness
Did you ever wonder what it looks like in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant? It's kind of interesting how we all just blindly march into a dining establishment and consume whatever they set before us. Most articles on restaurant cleanliness will tell us that our kitchens at home would fail miserably if subjected to the rigorous inspections that restaurants must endure. Personally, I'm more comfortable with my own family's dirt and germs than I am with a stranger's.

Having been a waitress in my younger years, I found most restaurants were genuinely concerned with food preparation, safety and cleanliness. Everyone had their little card authorizing them to serve or prepare food for the Commonwealth, and we all had our side work which ensured the facility was maintained properly. But, if you don't work there, how do you get to see what's going on in the kitchen? Back in the day I dated a guy who actually walked into the kitchen of every restaurant. (One of those things that was "cute" at first, but quickly turned irritating and embarrassing. I am not a proponent of this.) There is a much better and less conspicuous way to get all the 'dirt'.

The VHD, or Virgina Department of Health, routinely inspects and post inspections of all food establishments. This includes day care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and correctional facilities. All the information and violations are public record and posted on the VHD website. To locate your city and start snooping go the the VDH site , locate your city and then find your favorite restaurant. The PilotOnline also has a nice search for this which is a little prettier and user friendly. Be warned, you will see violations. Virtually every establishment gets one or two. It's up to you to decide how dangerous it would be to your health, and if it would prevent you from further visits. Hey, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger...right?


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A "Fishy" Review: A.W. Shucks Raw Bar & Grill

thumbs up
A.W. Shucks is a hidden spot in Norfolk's Ghent area. Shucks and its sister restaurant, Tortilla West, both service large portions at a reasonable price. Laine and I have been to Shucks previously, but it was in the pre-blog era. I have been a number of times for lunch, brunch and dinner. Typically, I am a big promoter of Shucks and I'm sure I will be again the next time I go, but today's meal was not my favorite. Let me state that I think I have made a profession out of being late. I try and try, but alas, I am 10-15 minutes late 99.9 percent of the time.

Today was like any other day, I was late, which meant I rushed in and ordered the first thing that popped in my head, the Nicoise Salad, one of my usual selections at Shucks. Their Nicoise has seared tuna, hard-boiled egg, Greek olives (pitted, thankfully), green beans, tomato and cucumber. I am a compartmentalized eater, so even in a salad, I tend to eat one thing at a time, moving from vegetable to vegetable and then to the protein. The 'salad' part was fine, but I swear the tuna was fishy. I asked Laine to try it and she said it was good, but I am still thinking of it and not in a positive light. They do season the tuna, but I have had this entree numerous times and have liked it. I should have gone with a burger and will the next time I go to Shucks.

The burgers and po' boys (oyster, shrimp, chicken, fresh fish or Texas Tofu – sounds like pretty much anything you would want in it) there are great and the fries and hushpuppies are phenomenal. Laine brought up their mac 'n cheese. We did not order it, but I have in the past and it is very creamy and definitely homemade. You can definitely make a meal out of the sides. Along with fries, hush puppies and the
mac 'n cheese, Shucks offers garlic green beans (some of the best I have had), broccoli and tomato and mozzarella). Shucks' menu also has a variety of sandwiches (the crab cake sandwich is a very popular item), salads (a Greek and Cobb are available, in addition to the Nicoise), steamed shrimp, chili, fresh seafood and a variety of appetizers. I must also mention the large selection of fresh oysters
Shucks offers and there are always delicious specials that include at least one pasta dish.

Brunch on Sunday is my favorite meal at Shucks. Their frittata is killer, but they also have crab/egg Benedict, an omelet, shrimp and grits and a few other items. Shucks serves brunch until 3 or 4pm (depends on the Sunday), which is later than most brunch places. While I will not judge Shucks by my meal today, I will steer away from the Nicoise. For a full selection of their menu go on Sunday since
they serve the regular menu along with the brunch menu. There is a full bar as well and you usually see someone you know if you are from the area.


I have to admit that the line about the tuna tasting fishy made me giggle, but that’s what friends are for, right? It tasted fine to me, but I am a big sushi eater too (Alex is NOT) so I can see where she may tread a bit lightly where I would boldly go. My meal was great. I have completely fallen off the diet wagon and ordered an oyster po’ boy with fries. Hello fat! Hello cholesterol! It’s your old friend Laine! It was seriously, decadently, delicious. Essentially, it is oysters on bread topped with cole slaw, some lettuce and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper. They pair it with an interesting white sauce on the side, which is their answer to the usual tartar sauce most restaurants offer. The darn thing was fairly large, and I had to eat it with a fork as I could not get it to function as a sandwich without making a complete mess. Their French fries really aren’t French either, but a more Americanized battered potato fry. Yummy.

The service was brisk and the place was full by the time we left at about 1pm. Having been in a few empty restaurants lately, I think their ability to maintain a steady flow of customers during these economically challenging times speaks to the quality of their food as well as our review. For those of us not overly familiar with all the ins and outs of Ghent, this restaurant is not very easy to find. It is back in the corner of a parking lot off Colonial and 21st streets. You cannot see it from any street. Activate your GPS when heading there if you have never been before or get good directions.

Recently A.W. Shucks won the Pilot’s taste award for best Mac and Cheese. I haven’t had it personally, but think the “award” is noteworthy. Click here to read that article.


Shucks is open 11am-1:30am daily (they serve the same menu for lunch and menu and actually serve until 1:30am) and has Sunday brunch from 11am-until they decide it is no longer brunch. They do not have a website, but you can view the menu here or swing by the restaurant, located at 2200 Colonial Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23517

If you are in the West Ghent area, visit Shucks’ sister restaurant, Tortilla West, which offers southwestern style entrees and many, many,many kinds of tequila. Again, no website, but you can view the menu here. T Dub, as locals know it, is open Monday-Saturday 4pm-2am and serves the full menu until 1:30am. Sundays, they open at 11am and have a great brunch, like Shucks. T Dub is located at 508 Orapax Street, Norfolk, VA 23507

A. W. Shucks Raw Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bardo Edibles & Elixirs, Ghent

Bardo Edibles and Elixirs, Norfolk Restaurant and Bar
This weather. This past weekend, Kelly (a male Kelly - remember, Laine and I keep our guests' anonymous by giving everyone an alias) and I ran around all day, partly in Virginia Beach, so when it came time for dinner, we opted to stay in good ole Norfolk instead of driving back to the beach in the pouring rain. Kelly is from out of town and we have been to most of the good local Norfolk spots. We debated between Luna Maya (we have been there a few times) or Bardo, where we have only been once. I think I was leaning towards Luna, but I am VERY glad we opted for Bardo, an Asian-inspired Tapas restaurant.

Bardo has a large menu, composed of four tapas levels. Level one contains appetizers, levels two and three are more entree-esque selections, yet still of the small-plate tradition and level four is dessert. In the past, I have had the hot nuts (yes the dish is truly called that), the vegetable spring roll, the soba noodles and then a few desserts, the dim sum doughnuts, heaven and hell and the dessert fondue. The hot nuts were a disappointment both times I had them. The concept is good (stir-fried nuts, yum), but I swear they use the Planters mixed nut can, the one that is mostly peanuts. Boring. If Bardo used gourmet nuts, the dish would be exponentially better...where are the big, gourmet cashews! The doughnuts are served with three sauces, chocolate, caramel and raspberry and are one of Bardo's most popular preparations. The Heaven and Hell is grilled angel food cake with strawberries, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Absolutely fantastic!

My most recent visit to Bardo was my best meal there to date. It seemed we ordered everything with all of the plates near us. We probably ordered a fifth of what they offer, if that says anything about the scope of their menu. First, the edamame and tofu infused guacamole which comes with crispy wontons for dipping, the vegetable spring rolls, seaweed salad, the sushi roll of the day, the fried crab-stuffed avocado, soba noodles, pad Thai, the crab rangoons and finally, the waffle cake served with homemade ice cream, which is a new item. The guacamole was fresh as could be, the soba noodles and seaweed salad were up to par, the crab rangoons were something good and new, but the fried crab-stuffed avocado was phenomenal and by far, my favorite item of the evening. The Bardo chef halves an avocado, stuffs it with crab and then fries it into a ball. It is served with a balsamic garnish and is the perfect mixture of flavors. When it came out, it reminded me of those anti-submarine mine field explosives, round with pokers sticking out of it. Odd looking, but great tasting. The funnel cake was fun. We chose the brownie sundae ice cream (over the strawberry sundae) and it was so superb. I don't like 'fairs', but I do like funnel cake, so I was able to enjoy the dessert without having to go on rides that make me sick and are run by people that look like they should be behind bars.

As with tapas, before you know it, you are at $100 for two people, so while the individual item prices are low, you keep ordering because by the time each of you takes two bites, the dish is gone and you are still hungry. Bardo was very busy when we arrived around to 8pm on Saturday, so we opted for the food bar seats over a 45 minute wait. Sitting at the food bar is great because you can watch the chef team work their magic. Kelly noted that this was a superbly run kitchen and those guys were definitely hopping. Bardo is great if you want something small or if you want a great sampling of Asian-inspired tapas. The decor is Asian-inspired modern and the service is typically good. Our waitress on Saturday was exceptionally attentive.

On March 15, Bardo is having a 'bizarre food night' which will include tarantulas, rocky mountain oysters (yes the real thing, for those of you that know what they are) and five or six other unusual selections. The regular menu will also be served if one in your party is not keen on the bizarre offerings (that would be me). They are ordering the selections based on reservations, so call in advance if you would like to enjoy the bizarre food night. I believe it is a fixed price for the variety of selections, somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 per person. Bardo does not appear to have a website, but you can view their menu here (There are some new selections on the current menu in the restaurant).

Bardo is located at 430 W 21st St (@ Colonial Ave) Norfolk, VA 23517 and is open daily for dinner and late-night snacks.


Bardo Edibles + Elixirs on Urbanspoon