Friday, May 29, 2009

100th Post: Top 10 Restaurants

This is the 100th Lake Norman Foodie posting. This blog now contains 49 restaurant reviews, 18 recipes, and 15 wine ratings. Its come a long way since I first thought of it five months ago. But, this little blog is getting bigger every day, and I have you (the readers) to thank for that.

So, as a way to commemorate this occasion, I'm listing my Top 10 List of restaurants that I've reviewed. Keep in mind, these are my personal preferences and yours will probably be different.
But, if your favorite restaurant isn't listed below -- let me know! Leave a comment, and tell me what restaurant I'm missing. Chances are, I may not have been to it yet -- I've still got a lot to visit. Ahh, so many restaurants and such little room left in the waist of my pants!

1) 131 Main
2) Dresslers' Restaurant
3) Prickly Pear
4) Mickey and Mooch
5) Toast
6) Sangam Indian
7) Mama Mia Too
8) Azteca
9) House of Taipei
10) Brixx

Thursday, May 28, 2009

T1 Tapas (Huntersville)


When first I saw T1 Tapas being put into an empty space, I was excited. I LOVE tapas. The small servings of Spanish cuisine are always high on my list of things to eat. Then once I learned that T1 Tapas' food wasn't spanish style, I was left with a negative impression. However, now that I've actually gone and experienced it, my feelings about T1 Tapas are more positive than negative.

Last Friday, my wife and I decided to eat at Brixx in Birkdale. However, the line was long and we'd have to wait an hour for a table. So we decided to hit T1 Tapas, because we noticed they had some tables open during our walk to Brixx.

We entered T1 Tapas, and I was immediately struck by the sleek yet cold vibe of the interior. With the framed HD TVs showing photos, dark furniture, and lime green walls, I got two distinct impressions: 1) This decor would be better suited in DC or NYC and 2) They were trying too hard to be trendy. After all, Birkdale has a very relaxed family friendly vibe. T1 Tapas doesn't.

We were seated on the small patio and were immediately attended to by our waiter. After we looked over the menu, we made our selections, and enjoyed the weather while our orders were being made.

First came my caesar salad. This was one heck of a good salad! It was accompanied by a fried asiago cheese crouton. Really, if they just sold these croutons by themselves, I'd buy them by the dozen.

After our first course, the rest of the tapas came out. To be honest, the food was good, but I wasn't overwhelmed by it. The Cuban Pork Empanadas were good and the shrimp ceveche was refreshing. My wife enjoyed the mushroom risotto and the scallops. But nothing really struck us as "really good" or "amazing."

That is, until we had the dessert.

I had the Chocolate Trio, which was good. It had a raspberry chocolate truffle, a pecan praline chocolate mousse and flourless chocolate cake. However, my wife's Strawberry Banana Crepe topped with caramel sauce was truly amazing. Actually, amazing doesn't cover it. It was so good, that we'll be heading back to T1 Tapas for dessert. And it is that dessert which bumped the food score from a 3 to a 4.

Restaurant info:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5 Slow at times, but very helpful and friendly.
Total: 11/15
Price: $$$$$ (Salad, 2 tapas, wine, coffee, dessert and tip, put this over $40)
Kid Friendly: Unknown. (Sorry, I forgot to ask if they had high chairs or kids menus)

Conclusion: I thought the tapas were good, but not great. However, I've heard good things about this place before, so I'll be back trying a new batch of tapas.

Restaurant Info:
T1 Tapas
8625-C Lindholm Dr.
Huntersville, NC 28078
p) 704-895-4373
http://www.t1tapas.com/

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Clos du Bois Chardonnay

The other day while shopping with my wife, I hit the wine aisle. When I returned to the cart with a bottle of Chardonnay. My wife looked disapprovingly at my selection and said, "Why don't you ever get a bottle of Clos du Bois?"

I promptly turned around and returned with a bottle of Clos du Bois Chardonnay. This made my wife happy. And that made me happy!
We had this 2007 Chardonnay the next night. And I had nothing to complain about.

The Clos du Bois isn't too heavy or too light. It's got a faint hint of oak, and a subtle creamy-ness that is off-set by a slightly acidic finish. It only served to compliment our grilled salmon, and did not overwhelm any of the subtle flavors of our meal.

This California grown Chardonnay isn't the greatest I've had, but it's certainly not the worst. It's a good consistent wine and one that I'll always be glad to have.

Rating: 3/5

Price: $$ (about $15)

Wine Info:
Clos du Bois
2007 Chardonnay
19410 Geyserville Avenue
Geyserville, California 95441
p) 707-857-3100 or 1-800-222-3189

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hickory Tavern (Huntersville)

Since I reviewed a tavern yesterday, it seems only appropriate to review a tavern today.

Last week, my friend and I were looking to get out of our respective homes. So we decided to hit the recently opened Hickory Tavern on Sam Furr Rd. Just to the west of Birkdale.

Hickory Tavern has televisions. Lots and lots of televisions. Plasma, projector, you name it -- if it is HD and can show a picture, they've got it. Lots! My friend and I were seated in the bar area, and looked around. CNN, ESPN, and ESPN2 were everywhere we looked... I immediately decided that I love this place! :)

Once I was able to stop looking at the TVs, I started to look over the sizable menu. Burgers, steaks, fish, and wood oven baked pizzas are all available, along with standard bar appetizers. We placed our orders -- I ordered the Grilled Chicken Sandwich while my friend ordered the White Pizza -- and watched some TV.

After about 7 minutes my order was ready, and it was placed under a hot light, about 10 feet from where I was sitting. The waitress asked the pizza guy if the White Pizza was done yet. He hadn't started. So, I'm sitting there, watching my sandwich get cooked under the heat lamp, while the pizza guy starts making my friend's pizza. About another 7 minutes later his pizza is completed, and we are brought our food.

To be honest, this annoyed me. I realize that it wasn't the fault of our waitress or the cooks in the back. The pizza guy only had a pizza or two in the oven (which I could easily see from our seat about 20 feet away), and was mostly busy watching TV. So, I blame him for this snafu. That said, the restaurant is still new, so I'm sure that they're still working-out some bugs. Hopefully, they'll get somebody who pays more attention to the orders and less attention to the NASCAR stories on ESPN.

When the food got to our table, I was starving. (Having my mouth watering for 7 minutes while I looked at my sandwich, had taken it's toll!) I looked the sandwich over and was impressed. The chicken was an ACTUAL whole chicken breast, not a pre-formed chicken-like deli-meat. (That impressed me by itself.) And it was topped an amazing amount of cheddar and some large slices of bacon.

The chicken itself was moist and tender -- it was cooked perfectly. The lettuce and tomato were a bit warm from being under the heating-lamps. However, the chicken was so good, I really didn't care. In addition, my fried okra side was great. It was nice and crispy on the outside.

Hickory Tavern has a definite emphasis on the food. In my opinion, its a notch (or two) above the standard bar/tavern. Definitely worth a second visit.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Total: 10/15
Price: $$
Kid Friendly: Yes. High chairs are available, and kids eat for $3 on Fridays and Sundays.

Conclusion: High quality food, warm family friendly atmosphere, and lots of TVs. What's not to like??

Restaurant Info:
Hickory Tavern (Birkdale)
9526 Birkdale Crossings Dr.
Suite 30
Huntersville NC 28078
p) 704-897-8490
http://www.thehickorytavern.com/

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Tavern at J.R. Crickets (Huntersville)

I've been spending a LOT of time in the strip mall complex that houses Five Guys and Starbucks off of Gilead in Huntersville. So, the other day when I was looking for a sit-down meal I decided to try the new bar-ish looking place called The Tavern @ J.R. Crickets.

After I parked my car I walked to the door. During my walk I noticed the patio seating -- since it was sunny and warm, I quickly decided that I needed to grab a spot on the patio. Once I opened the door and got inside, I took a moment to take-in the interior. It was dark, compared to the sunny day outside. But once my eyes adjusted I noticed several pool tables, many dinner/drink tables, and a bar with LARGE projection TVs.

The place is huge -- it practically felt like an airplane hangar. It didn't feel like the place for an intimate dinner. However, if I ever need to watch a big game, THIS is the place to hit.

As the hostess escorted me outside, I was given my choice of tables. I picked the one with the most sunlight (I'm solar powered), and took a seat. The waiter was immediately at my side asking me for a drink order. I REALLY wanted a beer -- but since I didn't want to start drinking before noon (I still had a few minutes to go) I just went to my default: Diet Coke.

Their website says that they're "more than just chicken wings." So, I of course looked at the wings section, and this was my selection process....

" MMM wiings... Tempting.... No. Be good. Get a salad."

I looked at the salad part of the menu.

"What? No buffalo chicken salad??? I'd better look at the sandwiches... but I should still try to be good and get something with lots of vegetables."

I looked at the sandwich part of the menu.

"No, not in a burger place. If they only had something with fried chicken.. Oh, they do, they DO! Wait, wait. No, I want to be good nothing fried. Ohh, how about a Buffalo Chicken Philly Sandwich. Yeah, it has lots of melted cheese. But it's not fried! And onions are vegetables, right??"

Yes, that's right. I went from looking at salds to choosing "Chicken breast thinly sliced, grilled with onions and covered with cheese," smothered in buffalo-style sauce. Yup, I'm a real health nut.

The food came out rather quickly. But I was a little un-inspired by it's presentation. The sandwich was wrapped in aluminum foil, and cut into two. The bread seemed like a slight step up from a hot-dog bun. The fries were more soft than crispy. But, man oh man, was that sandwich tasty!

I took my first bite and was instantly placed in a Buffalo Chicken Philly induced euphoria. The chicken breast grilled with the onions and cheese, was amazing by itself. Then to have the tangy and spicy buffalo sauce mixed in, just made this sandwich a notch above most other sandwiches. I will need to taste it's Buffalo-y goodness again.

It should be noted that their menu does have a fair assortment of selections, from fish entrees to salads, they really do have something for everyone -- including standard bar fare as well. From what I can tell on the website, this Crickets is probably a franchise, and it appears that there are about a dozen -- most of them in the Atlanta area.

Restaurant Info:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 11/15
Price: $$ (Tax, tip, drink, and sandwich brought me to over $10)
Kid Friendly: Not particularly. I didn't notice any kids menus or high chairs.

Conclusion: Very good sandwich, and I really enjoyed the patio dining. I felt the interior was a little too open for a quiet dinner and conversation. But this would be a good place to hit to watch the game or play some pool.

Restaurant Info:
The Tavern @ J.R. Crickets
9818 Gilead Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
p) 704-992-1410
http://www.thetavernincharlotte.com/

Friday, May 22, 2009

Recipe Friday: Fried Green Tomatoes

Since I married a woman from the South, and moved to Charlotte I thought it would be appropriate to learn how to make a few Southern dishes. And one of the dishes I learned to cook is Fried Green Tomatoes.

Last year our tomato plant worked overtime and we had lots of tomatoes ripening on the vine, while our fridge was filled with already ripened tomatoes. So, I had the perfect opportunity to try out a few different recipes. This is the one that worked best for me. It's now one of my favorites, and I'm stalking our tomato plant waiting for some green tomatoes.

Ingredients:
Canola or Vegetable Oil
Buttermilk
Flour
Corn Meal
Green Tomatoes

Directions:
Slice green tomatoes to desired thickness.
Dip slices into buttermilk
Dredge those slices through 1/2 flour and 1/2 corn meal mixture
Place coated slice into very hot oil (use deep skillet or fryer)
Cook for about 3 minutes each side, or until golden brown. (use metal spoon or tongs)

Serve with D'Marie Spicy Mediterranean Dip Mix.

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pops BBQ (Huntersville)

A few months ago I started to notice a BBQ trailer in front of the Cashions at the intersection of Catawba Ave. and Hwy 73. The trailer is only there on Fridays and Saturdays, and going to a BBQ trailer is something new for me -- where I grew up, there were taco stands, not BBQ stands.

So, I decided to take a chance and fill up on gas -- and top-off the car too. :)

I went up to the trailer, and didn't see anybody inside. After yelling "Hello?" I received a response, and it turns out that Pop (I don't know if that's what he's really called, but he is the owner of Pop's BBQ, so that's how I'm referring to him.) was in the back of the trailer.

As I got to talking with Pop, it turns out that cooking BBQ is a hobby that he's using to supplement his income. From our brief conversation, it sounds as if his other business isn't doing so well in the recession, so he sells BBQ to make ends meet.

I've gotta say, he's doing us all a favor by selling his BBQ, it's good stuff.
Once I got it home, I opened the box and took a look. I had a LOT of pork BBQ with his vinegar based sauce already on it. The pork was accompanied with two sides: coleslaw and baked beans. There was also a standard hamburger bun included, in case I wanted to make a sandwich.
The BBQ is standard pulled / chopped pork with a vinegar based Carolina BBQ sauce. The pork was nice and moist and the sauce had more tomato than I was expecting. It was thicker than the vinegar-based sauces that I'm used to, and it was much more red in color. In addition, it has a nice black pepper flavor to it, which gave the BBQ some depth of flavor.
I wasn't as happy with the sides. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, while containing some carrots and bell peppers. However, it didn't have the typical mayonnaise-based sauce and because of that it seemed to be lacking in flavor. The baked beans cold. They had a nice thick molasses-like sauce but there was little, if any, meat.
That said, Pop is quite friendly, and served up the food quickly. In addition, there were a few other menu items than just BBQ. I'd definitely recommend giving Pops a try.
Score:
Atmosphere: 1/5 (It's a trailer in front of a gas station, there is no atmosphere)
Food: 3/5 (The pork is great, but the sides were lack-luster. I'd recommend getting a BBQ sandwich.
Service: 4/5 (I came to like Pop quickly, so I'll say the service was above average)
Total: 8/15 (or 7/10 I don't' think that the lack of a dining room should be held against Pop's BBQ)
Price: $ (food and drink just under $10)
Kid Friendly: No, but since you're not eating here, it doesn't matter.
Conclusion: Good BBQ for a good price. If you're driving by and in a hurry for a meal, Pop's BBQ is a good option.
Restaurant Info:
Pops BBQ
(In front of Cashions Quik Stop 5)
16600 Highway 73
Huntersville, NC 28078

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wine Wednesday: St. Clement Merlot

Sitting down over a nice meal with my wife, I opened this 2005 bottle of Merlot to share. But after I had a sip, I wasn't so sure if I wanted to share it with my wife....
This wine is actually 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it's noticeable. The merlot doesn't taste as mellow / relaxed as other merlots that I've had. The Cab definitely adds some flavor and complexity.
This wine starts with a hint of leather, that gives way to a vibrant currant / berry flavor with a very slight hint of tobacco. Then finishes with a dry tannin.
Also, when doing a little research, I learned that I'm not the only one who likes it. Wine Enthusiast gave it a 92, and Wine News gave it a 90. Both rather good scores from folks who know their wines.
Rating: 4/5 It's a solid wine that I'll definitely buy again.
Price: $$ (I paid less than $20, but I've seen it for almost $30 online)
Wine Info:
St. Clement Vineyards
2005 Merlot
2867 St. Helena Highway North
St. Helena, California
p) 800-331-8266

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Five Guys (Huntersville)

Five Guys Logo
As you know, I try to stay away from chain restaurants. They don't capture the local flavor as well as independent establishments. However, this doesn't mean that I won't hit a chain occasionally (i.e. yesterday), and when I do break the rule, I like it to be for great food. And Five Guys fits this description.

For several years I used to work near one of the original six Five Guys locations, in Alexandria VA. And I grew to love Five Guys. The bag that becomes translucent with grease, the HUGE amount of fries, and the newly cooked burger with fresh veggies just makes this a delicious meal.

So, when I recently found myself craving a good burger, I headed over to the Five Guys on Gilead. Ya know, next to the restaurant I reviewed yesterday!

I placed my order for a Little Bacon Cheeseburger with Cajun Fries, and waited for my meal.Greasy Bag Five Guys may look like fast food, but it's really not overly fast. My burger was done in about 5 minutes. Think of it more as good food, relatively quickly.

When I got the bag home, it has the expected french fry grease that has been absorbed by the bag, making it translucent... in fact, if you click on the image to the right, you can ACTUALLY SEE some french fries INSIDE the bag! (Man! I love this place!)

I opened up the paper bag, threw half of the fries away. I did this for two reasons: 1) after they fill up the styrofoam cup with fries, they throw in a few dozen more. And 2) If I see them, I will eat them.

I then pulled out my meal, and dug in.

My Little Bacon Cheeseburger is quite large and has one beef patty. FYI, the regular sized burger contains TWO patties, not one. The burger has crispy bacon, fresh lettuce, ripe tomato, melted cheese (American cheese, I think), pickles, and fresh white onion. The fries went from the fryer to my bag in less than 15 seconds. The fries are always fresh, hence the huge amount of grease on the bag.

Burger and FriesThe Five Guys burger is great. I know it's just a burger, but they really take the burger to another level. There is only one restaurant burger that I like more, and that's an In-N-Out burger.
The never-frozen beef that is cooked as I wait, tastes great. In addition the fresh produce just adds to the flavor. Though the fries are greasy, the burger isn't.
The fries while greasy enough to make a paper bag transparent, are not soggy, and actually are crispy. Also the cajun spice/salt they put on the fries is quite good, and gives them just a hit of spicy heat.
Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4.5/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 10.5/15
Price: $ (food and drink under $10)
Kid Friendly: Not really. No kids menu.
Conclusion: The service and atmosphere are that of a standard fast-food restaurant. However, the burgers are extraordinary. I was very tempted to give the burger a 5 out of a 5.
Restaurant Info:
Five Guys Burger and Fries
9826 Gilead Rd
Huntersville, NC 28078
p) 704-992-2033

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tijuana Flats (Huntersville)

Last week I agreed to cat-sit this weekend for my friend. As a reward, I was treated to lunch at Tijuana Flats (TF). TF is is just on Gilead Road across from the Bi-Lo, in the same strip-mall as the Starbucks and the Five Guys. They've got a prime location in that mall since their outdoor seating is next to a water feature / fountain.

We walked in and were greeted by a friendly TF staff member, and I thought she was going to seat us. Instead she took our drink orders, and then walked behind the counter to the register where she took our orders. We looked over the menu, and it took me a few minutes to make up my mind. I wanted a burrito, but the menu is soooo visually busy, I needed an adjustment period to figure out what I was reading.



Since I'm always in the mood for a burrito, that's what I chose. I went for a Regular (the smallest of three sizes, but still huge) Beef Burrito with everything. Everything includes: lettuce, tomato, onions, jalapenos, sour cream, and black olives.



After my friend paid (THANKS!!), we went outside, took a seat near the fountain, and had a sip of our drinks. After we realized that we were given each others drink -- a Diet Coke for me, and a Diet Mr. Pibb for my friend -- we switched drinks, and enjoyed the weather.



I went back inside to check out their hot sauce bar. They've got a LOT there. I'm guessing about 20 different types of hot sauce. Ranging from mild to scalding, they've got something for everyone. To be honest, I would have preferred a salsa bar. Hot sauce is good, but the fresh veggies (i.e. tomatoes, onions, and cilantro) in salsa is better. *Yes, I know that tomatoes are technically a fruit -- no angry e-mails please. :)



I grabbed some rather mild sauce, and headed back outside. Shortly thereafter our food what brought to our table. This confused me -- is this place fast food? Or a restaurant? The service and food were something in between.



The burrito which came with tortilla chips was a dense, heavy burrito. Not just in weight, but in taste as well. This was probably because there was no rice in it. As I ate, I poured in different hot sauces to get different flavors, and I kinda enjoyed this. I felt like a mad scientist, creating different flavors for my amusement.



All in all, the food and service were OK, and the atmosphere there is -- different. The outside is nice and relaxing with the water feature. However, the inside contains large, EXTREMELY colorful murals that go straight to the visual cortex -- sorta like a Mexican inspired acid trip (not that I would know, of course). :)



Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 9/15
Price: $ (under $10)

Kid Friendly: Yes. They have a kids menu and your children will probably like the colorful murals in the back.



Conclusion: The whole "fast casual" dining concept kinda throws me off kilter.... do I leave a tip or not? Either way the food, service and atmosphere were all average. Nothing special. I will probably go here again, but I'm not in a rush.



Restaurant Info:
Tijuana Flats
9826 Gilead Rd
# C101
Huntersville, NC 28078
p) 704-948-6242
http://www.tijuanaflats.com/

Friday, May 15, 2009

Recipe Friday: Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Here is a fairly easy pasta recipe, which packs a TON of flavor into every bite. This carbonara sauce can be slightly tricky though. To keep the eggs from scrambling, but to still have them come out cooked, is to use a warm bowl when tossing the pasta and the sauce. FYI, this is a great recipe to have outside during the summer with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

This recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. This is the greatest recipe book around, I've never been disappointed by it. Go get one now!

Ingredients:
3 Eggs
1.5 Ounces Parmesan Cheese
3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
8 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup White Wine
Salt and Pepper
1lb Spaghetti

Directions:
1) Pre Heat Oven to 200 degrees and insert large bowl, and bring water to boil on stove for pasta
2) Whisk eggs, cheese, and garlic together in bowl, and set aside
3) Cook the pre-chopped bacon and olive oil in a skillet until bacon is crisp. Add wine, and simmer for about 5 minutes
4) Cook spaghetti, and place in warmed large bowl. Then add egg and bacon mixtures, and thoroughly toss.
5) Enjoy!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sushi at The Lake

The following review was first available earlier this week on the Lake Norman Social website at http://www.lknsocial.com/. Be sure to check it out!

-------------------------------------------

My friend gave me a call the other day, asking if I’d been to Sushi @ the Lake. Since I hadn’t been there, and I was in a Sushi mood, I headed over there to see what I would find.

I’ll go almost anywhere for good sushi. In fact, in California I often visited a sushi restaurant that had bullet holes in the windows, wanted posters taped over the holes, and cars without wheels in the parking lot. Strangely, that was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had!

Fortunately, Sushi @ the Lake is nearby and I wasn’t worried about my personal safety. It’s located in the same strip mall as Matt’s Chicago Dog. And is right off of the mess that is Catawba Avenue in Cornelius. (When are they gonna finish that project anyway?)

My friend and I were quickly seated and our drink orders were taken immediately. We glanced over the lunch specials, and I quickly found two of my favorites – California Roll and Tempura – together in the same special.

During a short wait, I had a chance to look around. There isn’t much in the way of atmosphere. The walls are mostly bare. But there was 80’s music playing, and blue neon lights on the tops of the walls. Which meant that I grew to like the place. In addition, they have a separate room with Hibachi Grills. It appears those are only open during dinner.

When the meal arrived, my large plate was loaded. It had six California Rolls. Almost 10 large pieces of Tempura, including two shrimp. And a large salad mostly consisting of lettuce.

The California Rolls were good, and rolled tightly (I hate it when they’re loose and fall apart!). The tempura was fried perfectly – from the onion to the large shrimp. And I found the salad refreshing. The provided dressing, and the simplicity of the lettuce kept the meal from over-filling me. Just what I was looking for.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 11/15
Price: $$ (Including meal, soda, and tip, it came to almost $17 – more than I was expecting)
Kid Friendly: Yes. They have high-chairs, and a contraption with netting that holds a baby carrier. They also have a children’s menu.

Conclusion: Though the price was a little higher than I was expecting, the food and service were very good. I’ll be back to try the Hibachi Grill.

Restaurant Info:
Sushi @ the Lake
19732 One Norman Blvd.
Suite 300
Cornelius, NC 28031
p) 704-987-8080
f) 704-987-8030
http://www.blogger.com/”http://www.sushiatthelake.com”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Menage a Trois

I admit it. I expanded my horizons.

The opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment.

I had a Menage a Trois, my wife joined, and it was GREAT! (I'm talking about the wine -- what were YOU thinking about??)

This past Friday, I shared a bottle of the Menage a Trois, from the Folie a Deux wineries in Napa County. And I was surprised how good it was.

This red is a combination of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And even though I tend to be a purist when it comes to my wine. (I prefer one type of grape from same vineyard.) But this time I'll make an exception.

This 2007 Red Wine hits the tongue with a bit of leather. That flavor quickly transitions into a fruity currant with a hint of pepper. This is one of the sweeter and lighter red wines that I've had. It didn't over-power the food, but it had enough body to serve as a complimentary taste.

While not the best wine I've ever had, it's a great table-wine, and will be enjoyed with most types of meals.

Rating: 3.5/5 It's a solid wine that I'll happily enjoy again. Recommended buy.

Price: $$ (Bottle is about $12)

Wine Info:
Folie a Deux Winery
Menage a Trois, 2007 Red Wine
7481 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
p) 707-944-2565

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Courtney's Restaurant (Raleigh)

This past weekend, my wife and I went to Durham to see one of her close friends get married. Strangely enough, I had a good time. The reception was fun -- it was held in a re-finished barn -- and I had a good time with her friends, and their husbands.

After all the catching-up during Saturday, we decided to meet with another couple for Sunday breakfast/brunch in nearby Raleigh. After we met the couple at their hotel, they guided us to a nearby restaurant, Courtney's, known for it's breakfast.

Fortunately, it's reputation for good food wasn't misleading.

We arrived just before 9:00am, and were quickly seated. Courtney's menu has only three descriptive words on the cover, "Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch." So, immediately I knew that we were in the right place. After we were seated, the hostess took our drink orders, coffee for everybody. The coffee took a while to actually appear. So during the wait, I looked over the menu.

Courtney's menu is large and the described portions were large too. The omelets were described as FOUR egg omelets. Yes, you read that right... four. That seemed about 2x too large for me, so I continued reading. And almost decided on french toast. But the omelets just kept calling to me.

So, I decided on the Spanish Omelet. It's described as a four egg omelet, with diced chilies, cheese, and topped with Spanish salsa and sour cream. I'd never heard of Spanish salsa, but with chilies and peppers how could I go wrong?? Also, I upgraded my home-style hash browns to be topped with cheese, chives, and bacon. I normally wouldn't have thought about this, but the menu suggested it. (In other words, it's the menu's fault -- not mine!)

Now, all I needed was a side of Lipitor, and I would've been set!

The coffee eventually came, and the waitress gave us one carafe of coffee per couple. This seemed like a good idea -- all the coffee we could drink. Usually, this is a great thing. I'll tell you why it wasn't in a minute.

Then the food came to our table. By the time our server left, the ENTIRE table was covered with food. The portions were even larger than expected, and I was almost a little overwhelmed. The omelet was large and fluffy, and the potatoes looked amazing. The next time I order hash browns, I want them to be served like this!

The omelet was very good. I liked the flavor of the mild green chilies, mixed with the spicy-ness of the salsa, the cheesiness of the cheese, and the creamy-ness of the sour cream. All-in-all a VERY good omelet, and I'll probably try to replicate it at home.

The hash browns were good too. Without the cheese, chives, and bacon, they probably would've been too bland for my taste -- but with all the toppings, the hash browns were amazing. They were the envy of my breakfast companions; everybody wanted a taste.

As we got up to leave, I took-in my surroundings. Now, there was a line out the door and the place was packed. However, the restaurant looks a little cheap. Most of the pastel colors were left-over from the 1980's. In addition, the plastic / vinyl table cloths and paper napkins leave a bit to be desired.

But this restaurant obviously gets customers who are looking for a huge and delicious meal at a great price. They don't care about the decor, and frankly, neither did I.

After we got back in the car for the drive home, my wife and I were just exhausted, and we couldn't shake the lethargic feeling. Then it hit us -- for some reason, our carafe was filled with decaf, and nobody told us!! Ugh -- time to hit a Starbucks!

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 2/5 (the delay in getting the coffee and then the decaf mix-up were the only flaws in the service)
Total: 9/15
Price: $$ (My total came to about $15 including tip)
Kid Friendly: Yes. High-chairs and kids menus offered.

Conclusion: They only serve breakfast and lunch, and they do the breakfast very well. There wasn't a complaint at our table (except for the decaf).

Restaurant Info:
Courtney's Restaurant
407 E Six Forks Rd
Raleigh, NC 27609
p) 919-834-3613

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back Tomorrow

Hey everyone, I was in Charlotte this morning and am running behind on today's To-Do List. So, my blog entry for today, will be posted tomorrow. Sorry for the inconvenience.

-Lake Norman Foodie

Friday, May 8, 2009

Recipe Friday: Sausage and Beer

Here is one of my favorite recipes from my Father. I consider it to be a great bachelor meal. The amount of ingredients used in this dish depends upon taste, but I've given you some basic guidelines. It's very simple, and you need only a large skillet. The sauce created by the beer and mustard is delicious.

Clean-up is minimal, taste is good, and if you're lucky, you'll have left-overs too. Be sure to serve with a good beer.

Ingredients below are for two people:
2 Cans of potatoes
1 package of sausage (i.e. Kielbasa)
3 green onions
1 bottle of beer
2 tablespoons of any hearty mustard (Dijon, spicy brown, etc.)
Pepper to taste

Directions:
1) Slice potatoes in half and heat in skillet on medium - medium high heat. (5 mins)
2) Add sausage and green onions. Both are sliced.
3) Add mustard and beer.
4) Add pepper to taste
5) Cook until done, additional 5-7 minutes.
6) Enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Zapatas Mexican Restaurant (Cornelius)

The following review was first available earlier this week on the Lake Norman Social website at http://www.lknsocial.com/. Be sure to check it out!

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With Cinco de Mayo quickly approaching, I thought it’d be a good time to review Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant in Cornelius – just off of West Catawba Ave.

I recently visited during lunch, so the price listed below is a little lower than dinner, but not extraordinarily so. Once I entered, I was quickly taken to a booth next to a window. As I sat, the host asked me for my drink order. I told him a Coke. And he went go place the order.

About 30 seconds later my waitress appeared, also asking for my drink order. I let her know that I had just ordered a Coke a few seconds before. This was a constant theme during lunch; the staff were attentive and helpful -- and my glass of Coke was constantly topped-off!

The interior of the restaurant is nice. There is an interior pergola to the right, and in the center of the room you’ll find a working water fountain. The booths are comfy, and some of the tables have custom tile-work in the middle.

I ordered the lunch item Carnitas de Res. It’s described as, “Fajita-style! Tender strips of marinated beef grilled with green peppers and onions. Served with guacamole and sour cream.” It also came with re-fried beans, rice, and flour tortillas. So, it was a filling meal. However, it wasn’t quite what I had been hoping for.

The rice seemed stale and bland, while the re-fried beans were good though a little runny. But it was the “Carnitas” part that I found disappointing. The meat, onions, and peppers had been cooked in a sauce (I think it was tomato based) that was actually sweet. Not sugar sweet, but sweet from all of the sugars in the onions and the roasted red peppers.

Unfortunately, the standard flavors of oregano, cumin, and chili powder that I have come to expect in Mexican cooking simply weren’t there. And that threw me back a little. It tasted good – it just didn’t taste like Mexican food.

All in all, the food wasn’t noteworthy, but the service and atmosphere were good. I’ll probably try it again – in a while.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 2/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 9/15
Price: $$ (food, soda, tax and tip were $12)
Kid Friendly: Yes. On Sunday, one child per adult eats free.

Restaurant Info:
19905 NC Hwy. 73
West Catawba Ave., Suite 102
Cornelius, NC 28031
p) 704-987-8890
http://www.zapatasrestaurant.com/

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wine Tequila Wednesday: Patron Reposado

Typically, today is Wine Wednesday. But in an effort to keep with the Cinco de Mayo theme, I'm reviewing tequila instead.

But I should warn you, this is new for me.

I like tequila -- I had plenty while in college. But that was the crappy-ish Jose Cuervo tequila. In addition it was consumed in one of two ways: 1) in a margarita, which masked the flavor, or 2) as a liquor shot, where it was on the tongue as little as possible. Because, let's face it, it basically tastes like gasoline.

This time, I spent some more money than usual, and got a small bottle of Patron Reposado. It was one of the cheaper Patron's. The standard bottle size for this went for about $50. But some went for over $130. "Reposado" means that it was aged in oak barrels for anywhere between two months and a year. The Patron website claims that their Reposado tequila ages for an average of six months.

After I uncorked the bottle, I noticed that this tequila has a mild but sweet and citrus-like aroma to it. The alcohol is mostly clear, but has a very slight gold tint to it.

Following tequila tasting guidelines, I am taking three sips, each one a little bigger than the last. The first sip is small and barely touches my tongue. It's a strong liquor, and it makes my lips and tip of my tongue tingle. With the second taste, I get more flavor, and a warming sensation down my throat into my stomach.

With the third sip, I swirl the tequila in my mouth. First off, it's MUCH smoother than the stuff I'm used to drinking. I don't need salt and lemon to kill the taste or burn. It's hard to describe the flavor -- I guess it tastes like the aguave plant that it's made from, but with a hint of citrus ... and 40% alcohol! In addition, the liquid had a slight oily texture to it. But I only noticed that after I had it in my mouth for a few seconds.

This tequila was made for tasting and sipping -- not for shots. If you wanna get drunk quick, get the cheap stuff. If you want to savor a good tequila with a steak (or at your desk, at 9:00am while writing a blog) this is the one to get.

FYI, with just an ounce or less, I'm already feeling it. This stuff is potent. What a way to start the morning!

Rating: 4/5. It's smooth, and the flavors complex. It's worth the money if you like tequila.

Price: $$$$ (small bottle, 375ml, was about $30)

Tequila Info:
The PatrĂ³n Spirits Company
6670 South Valley View
Las Vegas, Nevada 89118
http://www.patronspirits.com/

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mexican Restaurants in the Area

Since today is Cinco de Mayo, I though you might want to head out and grab some Mexican food and a cerveza or a margarita -- and NOT do dishes. So, below is a listing of sit-down Mexican restaurants that I've reviewed. I've listed them in the order of my preference:

Prickly Pear (Mooresville)
Score: 12/15
Price: $$$ - $$$$

Azteca Mexican Restaurant (North Charlotte)
Score: 12/15
Price: $$ - $$$

La Unica (Huntersville)
Score: 11/15
Price: $$

Chicos Mexican Grill (Huntersville)
Score: 10/15
Price: $

Taxco Mexican Grill (Huntersville)
Score: 9/15
Price: $$

I hope you found this list helpful. Enjoy!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Azteca Mexican Restaurant (North Charlotte)

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. And I couldn't think of a better way to get this celebration in-gear than to start the party as soon as possible.

So, this weekend my wife and I hit Azteca Mexican Restaurant, just off of W.T. Harris and I-77. The last time I was here it was 2008, so I was anxious to try it again. The last time I loved the food and atmosphere -- but would I love it again??

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: My wife and I entered, and were quickly guided to our table, and our drink orders were taken as well. Total time, about 15 seconds. As we perused the menu, I could remember why I enjoyed my time here before. Along with the carved wooden booths, and the paintings, there was a mariachi band playing. They were playing a tune, that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was familiar, but the horns and guitars were throwing me off..... it was the Macarena. I buried my head in the menu, sipped my margarita, and tried to ignore the visions of me in a bar actually dancing to that song - poorly - in the '90s.

As I went over the menu, I decided to go with one of my favorites -- steak fajitas. Simple, but delicious. My wife and I chatted over the music, which was loud, but it seemed to only add to the atmosphere. After a short while our food came out.

I actually had four plates in front of me. The sizzling platter of beef, a container with the warm tortillas, a plate with re-fried beans, rice, guacamole, and sour cream, and the empty plate where I put it all together in small individual tacos. After I took in the spectacle, I dug in.

First a tortilla. Then I spread some sour cream and guac on the tortilla. Next I took some of the sizzling steak accompanied with the onions and peppers and put it in the tortilla. Then I took a bite. Heaven. The steak was tender, and had been marinated. I thought I picked up some cumin and some tequila.... though it's possible the tequila flavor was left-over on my taste buds from the margarita.

Next I did the same thing, but included some rice and re-fried beans too. Delicious as well. I repeated the former step two times more for a total of four over-stuffed individual size soft tacos.... I was uncomfortably full. And I REALLY wanted to let my belt out a few notches!

I have never been disappointed by Azteca. The food is always good, and the atmosphere fun (as evidenced by the conga line dancing the Maracena). In addition, the service was great. I'll be back.

Score:
Atmosphere: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 12/15
Price: $$$ (Just over $20 for food, drink and tip. If I ordered a soda, the tab would've been $15 instead)
Kid Friendly: Yes. They offer high chairs, and a limited children's menu (tacos, chicken fingers, etc.)

Conclusion: Azteca offers some of the best Mexican Food in the area. Combine that with a great atmosphere, and attentive service, and you've got a great reason to go here often.

Restaurant Info:
Azteca Mexican Restaurant
7340 Smith Corners Blvd
# 1200
Charlotte, NC 28269
p) 704-598-4068
http://www.aztecarestaurantnc.com/

Friday, May 1, 2009

Recipe Friday: Chilies Rellenos

Here's a recipe to help you celebrate Cinco de Mayo this weekend!

A little while ago I made Chili Rellenos. For those of you who haven't had it -- it's delicious! It's a mild chili pepper, stuffed with cheese, battered, and then fried. Really, what's not to like??

Until I made this, I had only enjoyed this meal at a restaurant. To be honest, it's a challenging recipe. But the results are very good and worth the effort. I have two hints: 1) try to minimize the size of the cut in the chili to remove the seeds. 2) Try to seal that cut with toothpicks as much as possible. This way you don't loose all of the melted cheese.

Here's the link. http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1657,141179-253192,00.html

Enjoy!!

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Also, I wanted to include a link to my Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos. It's a much easier recipe, and very good as well!

Cinco de Mayo is almost here!

Cinco de Mayo is, according to Wikipedia, ". . . a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla . . ." (GEEZ, did the French win ANY military battle??)

But in the USA, Cinco de Mayo is quickly becoming the Mexican equivalent of St. Patrick's Day. Food, drink, and celebrations galore!

And since I got called-out about my burrito review on St. Patricks day -- something which I won't do again (I guess I should've reviewed green beer and corned beef). I think it'd be only appropriate to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a week of Mexican food and beverage reviews.

Coming up later today -- Chili Relleno recipe for Recipe Friday!