Friday, March 31, 2006

Avalon Restaurant & Bar

I'm at work. It's a georgeous day. Spring Fever is walloping my brain. As I drive home I conveniently neglect to stop by the grocery store (sorry, Fresh Market) and announce to my husband "I don't feel like cooking. Where do you want to eat?" After lots of discussion (we always have a difficult time deciding), we realize that we have a gift certificate to Avalon. Whew! Decision accomplished.

We drive to the Main St. establishment in the Fan looking forward to a nice experience. It's been a while since we have dined here, but it's always been great. So much for always. As I perused the menu (new for Spring) the word raspberry popped out at me. I hate raspberries, and the menu had a bumper crop of them. Alas, I resigned to fact that my choices for dinner would be limited. We ordered wine - Conde de Valdemar Crianza Rioja 2002 ($23). Well-balanced between fruit and body. A yummy choice. Unfortunately, the rolls came next, two cheese rolls and two olive rolls. Unfortunately, the waiter did not alert us to the fact that the olive rolls were olive rolls. We mistakenly thought they had mushrooms instead. Despite our initial error, the olive rolls were better than the cheese. The cheese remained sharp leaving the rest of the bread bland. The two of us decided on the same meal - a mixed green salad with strawberries, almonds, and rosemary balsamic vinegar dressing followed by Avalon Broil. I enjoyed the strawberries on the salad. They added a sweetness to the vinegar. The dressing itself became too puckery once the berries were consumed. A sign of cheap balsamic. I could not finish the salad. The Avalon Broil turned out to be a London Broil. We asked for medium rare and received medium rare to rare with the meat being served lukewarm. The marinaded meat had a hint of dill and a slight vinegar twang. The taste was to our liking. The dish was accompanied by grilled potatoes and portobello mushrooms and dotted with creamy goat cheese. I spread the goat cheese on the potatoes and moaned with delight. We were also served spring veggies - slightly steamed baby carrots and straight from the can green peas (and we are not talking baby peas). All in all an inconsistent experience. And to cap off the evening, even though we were seated in the non-smoking section, we smelled like cigarettes when we emerged from the restaurant. A lingering reminder that we may want to give Avalon a wide berth before dining there again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Metro Bakery - Best Bread in Richmond

Metro Bakery's Italian Peasant Bread is the best. I've tried the others from Billy Bread to Montana Gold, but nothing beats the taste and texture of Metro. Of course, there's always some trick or technique to ensure bread success. I don't know if Metro has one, but I have one after I get the loaf home. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place bread directly on the oven rack for about 5 minutes. The crust should get hard. Just make sure you don't burn it! Take out of the oven, slice it, and seve with real butter (I prefer unsalted Plugra, available at Fresh Market and Ellwood Thompson's). The crispy crust and the soft interior is a little slice of heaven. If you have leftovers, treat yourself to homemade French toast the next morning.

Located in Carytown, Metro also has an assortment of the usual bakery offerings. The chocolate chip shortbread is very good. A note of caution - Metro is closed on Sunday and Monday. If you get a bread craving on those days, you'll have to opt for the less than ideal.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Friday Evening Wine Tastings

Are you over 21? Looking for something entertaining and cheap on a Friday evening before spending money eating or clubbing? Friday evening wine tastings might be what you seek. It's free, fun, and educational (gasp!). I generally hang out at 3 different places (usually not on the same night, but occasionally I become ambitious...).

1) River City Cellars - wine tastings from 5-7 PM. River City is located in Carytown across from the Byrd Theatre. The shop generally stocks wines that are unavailable in the rest of the Richmond area. They taste 5 wines every week. Because the regions can be unusual, tasting before buying is a bonus. River City also samples out a cheese for the evening. The atmosphere is casual and hip. Check out their web site - or better yet, sign up for the weekly email.

2) The Wine Cellar - wine tastings from 5-8 PM. Located across the river on Midlothian Turnpike. Not many places would make me head to the Southside on a Friday evening, but The Wine Cellar tends to have fabulous tastings and they keep me coming back. The tastings I attend most often feature the same grape varietal (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel) by different wineries allowing tasters to compare the differences. The Wine Cellar also has a cheese and meat counter. Go to the web site to sign up for weekly emails.

3) Once Upon a Vine - wine tastings from 5-8 PM. Located on MacArthur Ave. in the Northside. Once Upon a Vine reminds me of an impromptu community block party every Friday. Different wine distributors conduct the tastings and can range from a South African line-up to a mini-lesson on ports and sherries. A lot of times the shop holds beer tastings, too. Look for a great selection of snacks to continue the party at home or the home of friends. The web site lists the weekly wine tasting line ups.

Education has never been as fun. I'm sure there are other places to quaff samples on a Friday. If you know of others, let me know. I'm always up for a wine adventure. Salut!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Perly's on a Saturday Night

Perly's has been a fixture in Richmond for decades. The "place to go" downtown for breakfast or lunch. Perly's is now serving dinner on Friday and Saturday nights with a jazz trio playing on Saturday. Despite the great reviews, a new dinner menu, and jazz; I still had never been to Perly's until last night. What made me change my mind and insist on going? Last week I found out that Perly's is one of the few non-smoking establishments in Richmond and it may be the only non-smoking place in Richmond where I can have a decent meal and listen to live jazz. Miracles can happen!

As we entered Perly's all was laid back, very relaxed. We seated ourselves and admired the wooden art deco booths. Funky circa 1930's lamps illuminated each table. The wait staff had a folksy attitude, nothing rushed, but still very attentive. My husband and I perused the wine list which was very short, but offered quality choices for $25 and under. We decided upon a Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia 2003 ($22). A mix of very dark fruit and tannin with a little acidity on the finish. Upon tasting the wine (which was served in nice, big wine glasses - yay!) I decided to order the prime rib with mashed potatoes and green beans. My husband ordered the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a salad.

The prime rib was a wonderful medium rare, just as ordered. The mashed potatoes were real (thank goodness!) served with a mushroom gravy (I could have done without the mushrooms, personally). But the green beans, oh the green beans took me back to my grandmother's cooking. Well done beans cooked in a significant amount of bacon to give that old-fashioned smoky flavor. True comfort food. My husband was intrigued by the house dressing for his salad, a sesame-soy affair. After tasting it, he was ready for sushi. In the end he thought it was a touch too salty. His meatloaf was very filling but a little bland (it did not remind him of his mom's).

While we ate and enjoyed our wine we listed to Carol Covell and company - a guitarist and bassist. Carol has this great silky, sultry voice which matched the atmosphere very well. The trio performed vocal standards with some instrumentals (a la Les Paul and Django Reinhardt) interspersed. The guitarist and bassist maintained a good balance between instruments. In between sets Carol made a point to stop at each table and thank patrons for coming. I appreciated the personal touch.

Non-smoking, great jazz, retro decor, relaxed staff, nostalgic side dishes, and good wine values. How could anyone go wrong?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz 2004

This Australian wine (~$13) from New South Wales packs an explosive amount of fruit up front, yet it also has a good amount of body. The mouth feel is almost chewy. I'm making homemade pizza with roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella. I believe I'll enjoy both food and wine tonight.

Shiraz (or Syrah) is always a fun grape. I love the intense purple of the grape, but I also have to live with the wine staining my teeth for the night. The price one pays for deliciousness.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Burgundy Wine Dinner at CanCan

Last night my husband and I attended a wine dinner at CanCan Brasserie in Carytown. What a lovely evening. The theme was Burgundy. Here is a rundown of the menu and wine pairings:

Johan Crab Claws
Scallop Ceviche
2002 Bourgogne Aligote, Domaine Rollin

Notes: Aligote is a lesser grape of Burgundy and was instrumental in the invention of the Kir. The wine was a little tart, but paired well with the seafood. I'm not an oyster fan, so I abstained from this delicacy; however, I did sample the other items. The shrimp was not very sweet (too watery tasting). The crab claws were decent, but very hard to eat standing up. The scallops were heavenly and were perched on a housemade waffle-cut potato chip.

Crispy Frog Legs
Parsley Root Puree and Garlic Celery Broth

2002 Bourgogne Blanc "Montmeix," Domain Mestre-Michelot

Notes: The only type of Chardonnay to consume is a white Burgundy. White Burgundies are never cloying with a ubiquitious Chardonnay smell. It is crisp, yet full-bodied. This wine was fantastic with the crispy fried frog legs, and stood up to the richness of the puree. By the way, this was the first I had ever had frog legs. I was impressed.

Coq au Vin
Boulangerie Potatoes and Roasted Baby Carrots
2004 Brouilly, Domaine Lapalu

Notes:The great growth Beaujolais was light and fruity and was enjoyable with the chicken which had a hint of sweetness to it. The wine was even better with the potatoes, which had a smoky flavor. The wine was served chilled and this is in keeping with the French tradition of how to serve Beaujolais. I would have preferred it to be at room temperature to experience more of the fruit essences.

Pan Seared Venison
Roasted Parsnips, Carmelized Pears, and Pomme Puree
2003 Bourgogne Rouge"Emotion de Terroirs," Vincent Girardin

Notes: What a great Burgundy! The wine was well balanced and could take on rare venison and carmelized pears. Burgundies can be so expensive and so hard to find that to discover one within the reach of one's purse-strings makes for an exceptional evening.

CanCan is currently hosting wine dinners every Wednesday. The cost is ~$50 per person including taxes and gratuity. It's one of the best ways to begin discovering how food and wine pair together. Bob Talcott is the wine director. He imparts some of his vast wine knowledge in between courses and is a delight to hear. He has done a fantastic job of selecting wines for both the dinners and for the restaurant itself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Tale of Two Cabs

It was the best of wines; it was the worst of wines. Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (~$24): full-bodied, nice berry fruit, just enough tannin and acidity to make you go "Yum." Ray's Station Vineyards Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ( ~$15): no body, no fruit, with enough astringency to make you go "let's open a different wine." When given a choice, I generally go for a Sonoma Cab over a Napa Cab. Not this time. Here's hoping that you are enjoying a wine that makes you go "Yum!"

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Fresh Market

My favorite grocery store now has a home in Richmond. The Fresh Market is for folks who truly enjoy cooking. They focus on a wide variety of produce; they have an honest-to-god meat counter. For all of you who hate buying all of your meat in bulk, this is the place for you. I enjoy purchasing one steak and then getting two strips of bacon to wrap around the steak. They will also sell you 1/4 lb. of ground pork and a 1/4 lb. of ground beef to make pasta sauce. This is the only place I know of that allows very tiny purchases. The produce section has lots of varieties of apples. I like the fact that they always carry Yukon Gold potatoes (the best for mashed potatoes) and shallots. The Fresh Market almost always carries decent looking fresh green beans. And since they have opened (about a week and a half) I've been able to find tomatillos, fennel bulbs, radicchio, and fingerling potatoes. Don't forget to check out the cheese section and to sample their coffee of the day. Currently, they are selling a dozen roses for $5.99. I know this price will not last, but it's nice to have roses for now. And if any of you are trying to score brownie points with your significant other....

Alas, there are a couple of disappointments. The wine section is not as big as the store in Williamsburg. And there is no bulk staples, especially for rice and other specialy grains.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Castle Rock Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

If you are looking for a decent Cab at a decent price, check this one out. Most wine shops in the Richmond area carry it for around $12 a bottle. I discovered a few weeks ago that J. Emerson (wine shop on Grove Ave.) sells it for under $10. And, if you buy 12 bottles (a case) of the same wine, J. Emerson will give you a 15% discount. Now we are talking bargain. However, for most wine purchases I recommend buying one bottle to determine if you like it. Everyone has different tastes.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Welcome to the River City Food and Wine blog! My postings will mainly cover food, wine, and restaurants in the Richmond, VA area. Occasionally, I'll also include comments about restaurants in other areas. Cheers!