Amuse Bouche

26th February
2010
written by spd
(img: Sean Patrick Doyle) Although it is not posted, photos are prohibited at La Venencia.  This shot was the lone survivor from my visit there, as the bar woman shook her finger at me after the shutter snapped.  The folks at spottedbylocals.com share a similar story... the people at La Venencia believe, "pictures steal the soul".
(img: Sean Patrick Doyle) Although it is not posted, photos are a no-no at La Venencia. This shot is the lone souvenir from my visit, as the bar woman shook her finger after the shutter snapped. According to spottedbylocals.com, the people at La Venencia believe, “pictures steal the soul”.  Well, how does one argue with that? :)

When the door to La Venencia shuts behind me, I am transported to another Madrid. Dust covered bottles hanging behind the bar, large ancient barrels holding Jerez wine (sherry), a cat passing through customers’ legs, wilted posters hanging on yellowed plaster walls…. Through the puffs of cigarette smoke, I can’t spot a single tourist. One possible expat, but I suppose the rest turned around at the entryway. I feel as if I’ve landed in the 1950s, or possibly earlier… the 1920s when this bar served it’s first glass? The decor is decidedly unfussy, with a staff to match (the female bartender is wearing a moth-eaten turtleneck) and, strangely enough, I love it! I order a fino (your only options are manzanilla, fino, oloroso, amontillado or palo cortado) and sip it slowly while munching on garlicky olives. The gal behind the bar keeps my tab in chalk on the old bar, and later declines my tip with a nod, “no.” The people-watching is unreal, and the sherry is top-notch. Sherry, unlike other wine, doesn’t benefit from age in a bottle, and is better closer to the source… so Madrid is a perfect place to sip this product from nearby Jerez de la Frontera. Grab a glass and take a trip in time before catching the flamenco show at adjacent Cardamomo.

La Venencia, Calle Echegaray, 7 | Sol | +34914297313

3rd February
2010
written by spd
The first round of a generous tasting at ViniPortugal (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

The first round of a generous tasting at ViniPortugal (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

I can’t speak highly enough about this incredible initiative to promote Portuguese wines! Grazed over in my guidebook, I wouldn’t know to make a visit to ViniPortugal had it not been for the incessant chatter on Chowhound. Located on the western side of Praca do Comercio, this vaulted showroom gives an incredibly informative introduction to this country’s wines with a four-glass tasting, free of charge! It’s competent staff cannot help you choose specific wines, as all of the vineyards help to fund the initiative, but they guide you by educating you in the three regions that are the current stars of their rotating showcase. David and I fell in love with Lagos, a complex vihno tinto from the surprising region of Algarve. We also sampled the caramely Muscetals of the Setubal region.

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1st February
2010
written by spd

Largo de Sao Domingos is a sight to behold at dusk, and at the center of it all, stands this tiny shoe-box of a bar. Red-faced old men, young couples, and north Africans in colorful garb all stand on this pedestrian street sipping ginjinha com fruto (brandy with fermented sour cherries). A somber portrait of Espinheira, the friar who invented the drink in the 1840s, keeps watch over the locals at Lisbon’s first bar to serve the drink. You’ll either love the stuff, or walk away scraping your tongue, but the event itself is worth taking part in!

The crowds outside of A Ginjinha at dusk (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

The crowds outside of A Ginjinha at dusk (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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15th January
2010
written by spd

Beer Bistro in Toronto, Ontario

Beer Bistro in Toronto, Ontario

Brian Morin brings his brew-centric cuisine to Beer Bistro, a chic, airy space on the edge of Old Town Toronto.  The food is fine, but the beer list, which takes up nearly 40 pages of the menu, is the real draw.  You can get a sampling of three draught beers for only $6CAD.  My favorite was the Mill Street Coffee Porter, a local Ontario beer with a punch of espresso flavor.  Sling a few back while dipping cubes of sourdough into their decadent Cheese and Lager Fondue with aged cheddar, emmental and hacker-pscoff edelhell.

Beer Bistro. 18 King Street East. Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, Canada. ph (416) 861-9872

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6th December
2009
written by spd
img: In Our Nature (flickr)

img: In Our Nature (flickr)

Pho Pasteur is a no-fuss noodle house that is perpetually packed, and rightfully so.  The walls are dotted with plaques and various honors from Yelp, Zagat, you name it; but the local following says it all.  Since it was a stone’s throw from the Boston Opera House, where we played for two weeks in November, I ate nearly every other meal here. You’ll forget the florescent lights and dental office decor when your piping hot bowl of Pho Ga arrives.  I also enjoyed the Bun Ga Xao Sa Ot, Lemongrass Chicken with Vermicelli noodles.

Pho Pasteur. 682 Washington Street (at the Beach St. intersection). Boston, MA 02111. ph: (617)482-7467

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19th November
2009
written by spd
(img: Miss Shirley's)

(img: Miss Shirley's)

Miss Shirley’s is a micro-chain in the B-more area that is a local Brunch-time favorite.  Open every day until 3pm and serving mostly Southern-inspired, seafood-centric cuisine, I found it so satisfying that I dined there two mornings in a row!  Order the Benne Seed Chicken ‘N Waffles (Benne Seed Fried Boneless Breast of Chicken Pieces & Honey-Mustard Aioli on White Cheddar-Green Onion Waffles with Peppadew-Jalapeno Butter) or the Crab & Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict (Poached Eggs, Jumbo Lump Crab Meat & Corn Hash with Roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise Sauce.)  Their signature Bloody Mary is one of the best I’ve had, with a half-dozen skewered, pickled vegetables resting on top of the Old-Bay dusted rim.

Miss Shirley’s. 750 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore. ph.(410) 528-5373

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10th September
2009
written by spd

Something funny’s going on in Old Town, and it’s no secret. The line out the door at Voodoo Donuts is populated with camera-carting tourists, locals sipping Stumptown coffee, and giggly girls waiting to pick up an order of “Cock-n-Balls” Donuts for a bachelorette party. Yes, you read that correctly. And, surprisingly, the donuts get even more outlandish. They were out of the Nyquil Glazed Pepto-Bismo donuts this particular afternoon, which is probably a good thing, as I’d be tempted to try them. It was early enough that the cereal-inspired donuts seemed appropriate: The Captain Crunch and the Triple Chocolate Penetration, covered in Cocoa Puffs. NOT to be missed are the Bacon Maple Bars, which might look off-putting with two slabs of bacon nestled in the frosting, but pack an entire pancake breakfast into one bite – to die for! Skip the Grape Ape, as we suspect cough syrup might be an ingredient here as well (blech).

Voodoo Donuts. 22 SW 3rd Ave.  Portland, OR 97204-2713. ph. (503) 241-4704

Colorful confections at VooDoo Donuts (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Colorful confections at VooDoo Donuts (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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17th August
2009
written by spd
Joan's on 3rd

The cheese counter at Joan's on Third. (img: Joan's)

A mother-daughter operation situated on trendy Third Street, this pricy gourmet market resembles a quaint Dean & Deluca, or the shuttered East Hampton gem, Barefoot Contessa. Their well-curated shelves hold non-perishibles, and separate counters display top-notch baked goods (we loved the chocolate coffee cake) or savory prepared foods (like the baby heirloom and bocconcini salad). Guests can grab their charcuterie and Fromage D’Affinois and have a picnic elsewhere, or plant themselves at the communal table or outdoor cafe tables. If the wait at Toast is unbearable, don’t resist having your brunch here, where a short but spectacular breakfast menu is served daily. The Goat Cheese and Asparagus Omelette is fresh and perfectly cooked!

Joan’s on Third. 8350 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. ph. (323) 655-2285

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8th August
2009
written by spd
Monsieur Marcel (img: People)

Monsieur Marcel (img: People)

To get our French fix before catching a matinee of  Julie and Julia (run, don’t walk!), David and I stopped for a light lunch at Monsieur Marcel in the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax.  This gourmet market’s outdoor cafe is a great place to people watch while working your way though a surprisingly large menu of charcuterie, fromage, quiche, etc.  We fell hard for the escargot tower – escargots stuffed into a french baguette with tomato confit, served with a beurre blanc sauce.  “Bon appetit!”

Monsieur Marcel’s Gourmet Market. 6333 W 3rd St # 150, Los Angeles, CA 90036-3191.  ph (323) 939-7792

5th August
2009
written by spd
xooro

(img: Xooro)

Xooro (pronounced Sure-oh, like “churro” rolling off the tongue of a northern Spanish native) elevates this traditional street treat to a fine, modern desert.  With an endless array of options, these fritters are filled, dipped and coated to order.  We chose the Sicilian; filled with pistachio creme, coated in dark chocolate, and rolled in chopped nuts.  :)

Xooro. 8360 Melrose Ave #107, WeHo CA 90069, ph. 323.951.9592

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