Sonoma Grille: Restaurant Review

24 06 2008

We recently ate at The Sonoma Grille in Pittsburgh, PA. Overall it was an amazing dining experience.

We started with the Tapas Platter for two ($22), which included a Tandori chicken satay with sweet onion ginger sauce; Shrimp Tempura with Asian slaw and scarlet orange and apricot chutney; Flash fried calamari with a twelve pepper remoulade; Ahi ceviche with blood orange, chipotle and pepitas, and plantain chips; and Duck confit and apple samosa with cilantro mint chimichurri.

The tapas plates were arranged very uniquely in the middle of the table on a wine barrel stave. The duck confit fritters pleased everyone–even the pickiest of eaters–while the ahi ceviche was bursting with fresh fish and citrus flavors.

We had ordered a single serving appetizer of the calamari ($9) before we realized that it was the same as the tapas platter. This came before everything and even though it was fresh, lightly breaded, and tasted like squid is supposed to taste like, it was a little too small for $9. I am of the mindset of American portions being obscenely large, but this appetizer was small enough that it appeared in the middle of the table, served on a bread plate, and half of us didn’t even notice it was there.

The menu was overwhelming at first, but had a nice variety of choices. I was tempted to try the $85 4-course with wine paring menu but I’m glad I didn’t because I would have gorged more than I did. Instead I chose the “Mixed Grill” option, which was kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” meal.

The “two selections” of a main dish was $24 and I chose the Spicy cilantro and lime crab cake (4oz) and Filet mignon and mushroom kabob (5oz). I could then choose two different sauces, from which I got the Zinfandel demi-glace and the Harissa cumin mayonnaise. My side was the last choice, and I opted for the side of the day, which was fettuccini with an olive and artichoke sauce.

Everything on my plate was phenomenal: cooked and seasoned perfectly. I probably would have been happy with the $14 option of just one main dish, but I almost cleaned my plate because everything tasted so good.

The other meals of choice were:

Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola scalloped potatoes, smoked tomato demiglace, grilled asparagus for $26 (one of these was asked to be lightly seasoned, and to substitute green beans for the asparagus, which was not a problem for the chef). The picky eater was satisfied with their lightly seasoned filet.

Cowboy Bone in rib eye steak (18 oz.) for $38 with a side of Perucian potato and alouette pierogis for $8. The Rib eye had a bourbon glaze that brought to mind woodsmoke and old whiskey and bourbon barrels. The cut of meat was excellent, a solidly fatty piece of rib eye, but not overwhelmingly so, with no noticeable gristle or other detractors. Doneness was requested at medium rare, and was delivered just right. The pierogies were very well prepared, with a sort of beet slaw mixed with fresh cream beneath the tasty packages that has been lightly pan cooked with an exterior that was neither too soft nor too hard, but just right.

The one possible detractor to the overall experience would be décor. It was a little “tired,” kind of like a family restaurant, but it was packed from 7:00 when we got there to 9:30 when we left. The service was slow or relaxed, depending how you like it. Some servers did not seem as knowledgeable as they should have been, especially with such extensive food and drink menus.

The wine list is bold, inventive, and extensive. All the wines are from the United States, with a heavy concentration from Sonoma Valley or other parts of California. The owner selects wines from all over the place without even tasting them, since his knowledge of various producers and vineyards from the regions where he buys wine is quite extensive.

The owner also owns Seviche across the street from the Sonoma Grille, which had al fresco dining and a line out the front by the time we left at 9:30. While dining we got word that the team behind Sonoma Grille may be adding new restaurants in various locations. We’ll be sure to follow up and let you know as soon as we hear more!

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The Green Truck

17 06 2008

There is a new phenomenon in North Philadelphia: The Green Truck, a lunch truck that serves organic, local, inexpensive, and delicious fast food. I recently went for lunch with some coworkers and was so pleasantly surprised with the service, quality, and price of the food that comes out of this truck parked out side of the student center at 13th and Montgomery Aves.

The concept originated between a veteran truck owner whose business was stalling and a Fox business student, and since they teamed up, business has been booming for The Green Truck.

The menu is extensive and affordable. For lunch, you can get a combo meal for $4.50 that includes a pita sandwich, side of sweet potato fries, and an iced green tea. I got the hummus pita and I really felt like I was eating herbs and veggies from my own back yard. It was bursting with flavor–a little messy, but only with balsamic vinegar, not oil–and the combinations of sweet, savory, and salty, went perfectly together.

I thought that the sweet potato fries were just a tad bit soggy, but I really enjoyed the break in monatony from the typical greasy side of fries (usually in a styrofoam container) that comes with most lunch combos at other trucks.

The iced green tea was refreshing and not too bitter. I’m pretty sure they added just a touch of sweetener to it, which I don’t usually like in my tea, but it was so small that it was barely noticeable.

Click here to read more about The Green Truck and how it is eliminating the carbon footprints that come from North Philadelphia.





Rose Partay part 1 (the bottom rankings)

14 06 2008

All the Rose wine from our tasting

Rose-
It’s a huge shame, but this style of wine suffers a very poor reputation based on the side effects of the 80’s. What makes it one of the best types of wines out there is what a good rose represents. Quality rose wines are dry, can be still or sparkling, and are typically only good for two years, tops, after production. There can of course be exceptions to this, but that’s the general rule. The other wonderful thing about rose wines is that a good rose blends the fruitiness of a red wine with the bright acidity of a white. This results in a truly versatile wine that can play well with a wide variety of foods.

To illustrate the power of rose, we recently had a little party and invited everyone to bring a bottle. The results were varied and pretty interesting. Below I will outline the bottom five wines (these are my picks, not the group of partygoers, just to be fair and establish that I am not speaking for any of my friends.

#5: Woodbridge white zinfandel. This wine was light pink, very sweet, with not much complexity or enjoyability to it. It sort of felt like I was drinking a wine cooler instead of wine. That said, it did go fairly well with some of the spicier things we put on the table, like the curry chicken wraps.

#4: Rockbridge’s Jeremiah, the one with the cute frog on the label. Interestingly, we had wines at this tasting from Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon and France. This one came from Virginia, and whereas the Woodbridge was light and rosy and pink, the Jeremiah was a light ruby or garnet color, with some deeper fruit flavors, but it felt almost syrupy. Maybe I didn’t put this one dead last only because I am biased against Woodbridge…sorry.

#3: Clover Hill Winery near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I believe. The winery does state on their website that this wine is one of their sweeter offerings, which I can’t say I would disagree with. It has the familiar aroma and taste of North American grapes, being made from Catawba. It smelled strongly of concord grapes though, but to me that’s just what most American varietals remind me of…very sugary, but I am a sucker for the aroma of those native grapes.

least favorite selections

#2: This I might get in trouble for. E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rose. I think part of why I ranked this wine so poorly is because I am a huge Rhone fan, and so I tend to judge those wines the harshest of all. Guigal makes decent, consistent wine that is the same basically year after year. They have had some excellent productions in the past, but personally, the style is not particularly to my liking. It’s difficult because I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I don’t like about it, but there’s just something that doesn’t appeal to me. For a rose, I felt this was a little on the bitter/tannic/earthy side of things, which could be from throwing all the grapes, sticks, and everything else into the press, or could just be the fact that it is, after-all, Rhone wine.

#1: Williamsburg Plantation Blush, the other wine representing Virginia at our little soiree. This was definitely still a sweet wine, but for me it actually had a little character to it. Most of all, it had some great body and even though it was fairly dark for a rose, it had some nice acidity that balanced out the deeper fruit quite well, making it actually very enjoyable to drink. This was the one for me to go with the southeast Asian food or other spicy options.

I am trying to make up for the lack of wine posts recently by giving you lots of wine for thought at once. This is the first in three segments on Rose, which, depending on your interest, may either come one after another, or interspersed with other posts.

Section two, “The Middle of the Pack,” should be along fairly soon.





Restaurant Review: La Tasca, Washington D.C.

9 06 2008

I recently ate lunch at La Tasca in Washington D.C. with about 12 coworkers. We took advantage of the Wednesday lunch special, which offered unlimited tapas for $20 per person. The tapas menu available had a good selection of about 30 choices.

My overall experience was fair–it is a chain restaurant and the food that we got reflected that, except that it was tapas instead of more typical American chain fare. This was something I am not used to, as in Philadelphia, the tapas restaurants are all very upscale and expensive. La Tasca served mediocre food compared to what I am used to eating when I dine out, but the overall flavors and dishes tasted like good, down-home tapas.

The service was extremely slow, even for a party of 12, as it took us 40 minutes to be served and two hours to get through the meal. Towards the end of the lunch, someone spotted a cockroach on the wall and it put me off of the entire restaurant.

As for the food, I tasted the following:

Atun a la Plancha en Costra de Hierbas con Piquillos y Salsa Verde (Herb-crusted grilled tuna loin and “piquillos” sweet peppers)
The tuna in this dish was dry, but it worked well with the peppers, which were soft, roasted, and smoky.

Patatas Bravas con Ali-Ali (deep fried potatoes in a spicy sauce and garlic mayonnaise)
These were delicious and rich. The potatoes were soft and caramely, and the garlic mayonnaise was smooth, light, and tangy.

Champiñones al Ajillo (Mushrooms lightly sautéed in garlic and olive oil)
The mushrooms were the perfect consistency for my very picky mushroom palate—not too raw but not too mushy! They were the perfect side dish for all of the other tapas, as they were simple and the flavors were light and refreshing.

Buey al Jerez (Grilled marinated flank steak with sherry and mushroom sauce)
The mushrooms in this dish tasted exactly like the mushrooms in the previous dish. I love flank steak, and this version did not disappoint me.

Albondigas a la Jardinera (Our famous Spanish meatballs, served in a vegetable and tomato sauce)
This was the most delicious and unique dish of all. The meat was well done but moist, and the sauce was rich and filled with a variety of spices.

I would give La Tasca a second chance, as most of the food I was served was delicious, but I’d keep a close eye on the service and the cockroaches.