Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I am a Smoker...I Refuse to Quit

Coming out of graduate school I dreamt of one day owning a few things...being that I had accountant and banker roommates who worked hard, played hard, and were able to conduct their fantasy football leagues from "work" as well as collect nice paychecks to buy nice man stuff...I was jealous seeing their heavy stack of accouterments....flat screens, dvd's, dvr's, poker know, man stuff.

So, when Meg and I first moved in together our lot in life was to purchase a flat screen. Sony Bravia...42 incher. You should have seen how we stuffed it in the Mini Cooper the day after we got engaged. Literally, we poured out of the car in the parking lot of our ghetto apartment like clowns. Very discreetly, we snuck the flat screen to our 2nd floor apartment under cover of a big wool blanket. "Careful", we thought..."Can't let the neighbors see this gem"...pretty smart of us considering the neighbors next door got their door kicked in by the S.W.A.T team conducting a drug raid. Funny how the last night of our residence there was a pissy drunk latino who kept trying to get into our apartment at 3am...what was I doing up? Oh, I was drinking a few coldies and finishing off the remainder of our pizza from a few nights prior...needless to say, we moved out the next day into our new house.

Ah, back to the story. After watching these roommate clowns from back in the day cash in on their early successful jobs, I decided I NEEDED and HAD to have a few quintessential things once I was finally all grows up. Cool enough indeed my girlfriend, fiance, and wife (all the same person) signed off on these things, never revoking my man card, NOT EVEN ONCE. God bless that lady! Oh, what is on the list that every man needs to have?

1) Vegas Poker that for an anniversary gift

2) Home Brew that one for an anniversary as well

3) A wife who says, "Honey, you haven't made any beer lately, can you make some for Thanksgiving"...BONUS...Score!

4) Another flat screen t.v...a blue ray wireless DVD player...

5) A Smoker for smoking meat...

Yes, our friend Bryan retired his smoker to us for an upgrade. Boy do I love it when a guy I only know through my wife (because they used to be neighbors in college) Reunites with my wife via Facebook, and we start hanging out...and then he says, "You need to have a smoker have mine...for FREE!".

Ding ding ding! Can you think of anything better? And then your wife becomes a junkie to all web sites devoted to smoking meat product. Literally, she has sent a countless barrage of recipes all pertaining to the art of smoking meat (stop right there...just stop the dirty thoughts). And by gosh we have had a great time experimenting with this propane smoker and the array of different wood chips available.

Gotta say I love the propane simply for the fact I can set it at one temperature and not worry about stoking a's easy..that damned easy, and EVERY man needs this little toy. Haven't you noticed you always flock to the house where bar-b-que'd meat is a plenty? My late father-in-law could attest..some of the better pulled pork I had eaten was done on his mega lie.

Rather than boring you with the trivial "Here is the report of what we have cooked", I'll transition to the next man gift...

The Kegerator.

I have acquired a 1950s Hotpoint refrigerator which I am currently painting "Corvette Red" and fashioning for outdoor homebrew dispensement.

Reports and photos will follow...but my curiosity is piqued at the fact and the chance for hilarity to ensue if any of the neighborhood finds out there is readily available beer so long as they open the fence gate, stroll in, and pour themselves a pint. Seriously, the Kegerator is to be housed on the back patio under the deck...oh wait, I just gave away too much info...ah, you still don't know my address..okay, some of you do...

Picture my wife discovering our recovering alcoholic neighbor passed out at 5pm in our back yard...better yet, picture the ghettonians from 4 blocks down trying to smuggle the fridge out of the back yard (I have placed it on a furniture dolly for better transport) would be like seeing Ice Cube and "Smokey" from the movie "Friday", trying to rob me in broad ass daylight...oh the mental picture.

And then, picture the police wondering why these hoodlums are pushing a "Corvette Red" fridge on wheels up the road...cops pull over, arrest the guys, "Confiscate" the fridge for evidence and get loaded on my homebrew right there next to my house (Picture the movie "Superbad" and the drunk cops).

Later, I pull in, see a few guys arrested in the back seat of a police car, and see some rowdy officers dancing around the keg, chanting, bowing to it...

Being drunk, they easilly comply to return the Kegerator on a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and then it returns back to my house like some bad journey...a "Milo and Otis" for beer lovers of sorts...shoot me if you don't remember that movie.

Then the officers agree to let Ice Cube and Smokey go...we all become friends...the world unites.

Oh what a story that fridge will imagination runs wild...

That Kegerator could spell the unification this nation has been waiting wonder why Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin all brewed beer...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Virginia Wine Doesn't Suck...

Virginia isn't just for lovers anymore...although the wine may aide in the love department. Quickly, Virginia is establishing itself in our view as something special. The special ingredients other than the majestic views, nice people, and growing cuisine with "think local" inspiration, are the grapes. Clear and simple, the grapes are quickly being brought to the forefront with the restrictions the vintners are using to craft a thoughtful and relevant wine to people who actually like to drink wine.

Let me digress. I am a Carolina boy at heart I guess. But comparing the neighboring states's vineyards should be peanut butter and jelly...both good separately but nice when compared. To be honest, peanut butter and astringent vinegar. God, I hate to say it but Virginia (especially in the Charlottesville region) has such a leg up in restriction and know how...compared to the North Carolinians who tend to predominantly hick it up with scuppernong varietals for the winos ducking out of Baptist church. The Charlottesville and Northern Virginia Region (Okay, Sunset Hill and Hillborough especially) has studied the terroir and adapted the right vines to their soil and extracted the right juice that can actually sort of hang with what the mainstream produces.

Sure, a lot of the wine is still "young" per se. But some of it by Jove is making strides to actually make it's own way in the world. Literally, we just had the Veritas "Cabernet Franc"...berry berry good...god do I love a nice Cab Franc..and that's good for Virginia as it grows really nice in their soil. Now imagine, we had half a bottle...and as the pizza consumed our wine, I yanked out an old favorite Sangiovese from a year old Italian wine dinner. Yawn. Not bad...but we just tasted Barboursville Sangiovese today...I gotta say...Virginia 1, Italy 0. Such an anecdote, and 99 times out of 100, Italy wins...France wins, and so doth California. But like every NCAA tournament, we all love a Cinderella. And when the Cinderella becomes a prominent sweet 16 contender year in and year out....they become old hat...what's the latest rage they say? Welcome to the latest rage, move on over old hat...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dining at the Clifton Inn

So angry from the long trip of the w(h)ine trail(please see two entries prior), we rolled into the Clifton. Attempting to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates from our meat and cheese with cracker, lotsa wine lunch at 2pm...I mandated McDonald's (No worries, we held back with a double cheeseburger and single). As we drove up the drive to the Clifton and saw the Relais & Chateaux insignia, I thought to myself..."Meg, throw the McDonald's wrappers in back seat, out the window, burn them, stuff them under the seat...anything" god was I embarrassed. Hurridly, doors slamming and distracting the host from our hamburglarery, we walked up to the matre d, shaking his hand and helped him welcome us to some kind of wonderful.

God do I want to talk about the upgraded suite for no reason, the complimentary Madeira inspired by Jefferson...the fact we have our own porch, sitting room with windows abound. But I MUST tell you about our dinner. Our fancy night. Our night that mandates no sexy time after...the one where you feel so Thanksgiving or damned are happy to not have to bid adieu to family, so happy they're not still hanging around(picture that crazy Uncle who just wont leave and all you can do is wish he would, cause you're just SO FULL).

That's us...tell me 10 months ago that I would be dining in this opulence, I would laugh. "Surely you jest little person", I would say..."I have been to the mountain, have you seen my food resume?" "The Inn at Little Washington, The Laundry, Michael Mina, Gary Denko, Komi, Volt, Cindy Paucin"...I guess our list grows.

And our list plain out stopped at unexpected innovation. Think about it. You dine at "The Inn at Little Washington" or "The French Laundry" and nothing surprises you because you know everything MUST be the BEST...OR IT SUCKS! Weigh our differences between the two, Chef O'Connell wins outright. But you come here...much like the McDonald's in the car and the drive up to the special insignia...we expected nothing close to what we have come to experience.

More or less, it's like going on a blind date, expecting to see Rosie O'Donnell, and there you have it, Gisele Bundchen arrives.

By my life, accidental has been the best ride. Ask me about my soul mate, the one whom I adore? She came to me after a parody act on stage, goofing on a graduate school professor. No expectations, I found a priceless artifact from heaven. And you're asking me, "Are you comparing the food at The Clifton to your angelic wife?"

Well, "Does the food compare?" Well, someone was singing at the chef's table. It was no angel, and he has been seen in the Devil's choir. Fail to differentiate heaven and hell, you have no difference who actually sang the praises (In one life, it coulda been an angel).

As I write I wonder should I list the menu outright, should I blog detail by detail, or should I just hit the highlights of the chef's creative juices? And then I wonder, it does no justice to just mention what the chef did without mentioning the staff and their elaborate detail to everything. Then I think about what the sommelier said as I casually mentioned while walking out, "I just wanted to dance on the kitchen table". "I think they might have liked that", she said.

Hell yeah I thought...pirates, swashbucklers making their way through cuisine like pioneers, conquerors, or the people who defended their beloved land and pressed onwards, sometimes diving on their own swords out of allegiance to greatness. Their flag was in their food, their own locavore movement of "Good". There was no foolin' around. There were no frothy foamy trickery of gimmicks on a plate. Food appeared, nothing but the whole food...God Bless Grilled Squash, Squash Puree, Toasted Squash Seeds, and Braised Rabbit. God Bless the home made pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta ,and the Chicken Liver Pate with Char...God bless the fact they incorporated a Char...and I don't mean Artic Char, but burned Char to just about every course. THAT was the inspiration amongst many other things that made the menu unique and GREAT! THAT was the secret ingredient, the spice if you will. Ninety-nine of One-Hundred chefs would have effed that up, guaranteed.

Per our usual routine at the beginning of the meal, we gave the menus back to the server and said, "Just have them pick what they want for us, we'll take the five course tasting." And mid-way through the meal the sous chef and one of the youngest of the fold looked at my wife and said, "How can you just say, "Pick out dishes" and not worry"? And we thought, and trusted, and I guess we just knew. Replying with conviction we uttered, "We know it is all going to be good, we wanted you to pick out your favorites". In an unspoken word, at a chef's table, you can feel the energy, the passion, and the know how that whatever makes its way to your's like something mom or grandma made. When it hits the nostalgia meter...the chef has transported you home.

That is a Chef's table, that is a kitchen.

That is the Clifton Inn.

Next time, I'm jumping on the freakin' counter top, grabbing copper pots and banging them around!

The Locavore

Local, fresh, slow food...yes, it has taken us by storm...things Alice Waters tried to create way back when...and the kids are finally getting it right...thank you East Coast for finally listening to our Left Coast brethren. And as tired as it seems as everyone advertises Organic and Fresh, and's the way I have always eaten out of necessity growing up (you own a garden because it's cheaper than buying or eating out), and the way we would have it if we were not tied to any family in the states.

Yes, we would move...preferably to Italy or France...possibly Australia. They do it right...seasonal, wine, work, exercise, controlled yet delectable portions. FUCK Appleschmies and TGI-McFrankfurters! There, I said it.

As we were wheeled into the ambiance that is "The Cliffton Inn" last night, the house staff suggested we might try, "The Local"...a place outside of Charlottesville proper plopped down in Belmont. And it's in short a proper locavore "Gastropub"...think great pub food with a gourmet flare, local brews, local wines...local spirits...yeah, you get the point. College aged kids behind the bar who think their food is great...and...

So stick a minute with me on this. Back in the day of Chapel days mind you, 9 years ago...we had no such thing. Sure, we had a couple of places you would take a date when you wanted to get laid, but they were "fancy"..they weren't hip, they were just "fancy"...the bars we had were smoke laden dens full of fried food and "South Paw Light" for 2.75 a pitcher. Micro-brew? Wine? Silly talk, just silly!

Fast Forward...these post grads who are definitely wicked smart are the ones running the new food and drink movement. It's cool to be smart, goofy eclectic, driven, and "Brooklyn Sheik". These unkempt bar maids and bros are dressing in their thrift store clothes and dabbling in the philosophy of mixology and roaring 20's drinks. Matter fact', it's hip, it's cool...and goddamn it, I like it.

Step into "The Local". All red brick inside that's been so shined up it looks lacquered. The unfinished ceilings give it the polish it needs. Luckily, it was 1/2 bottle wine night upon sauntering in. And here's the thing. The folks of Charlottesville are so proud of their wines, it's really something special...ask for the wine list...the locals are in the front of the book, want something less risky, sure venture to California or France...but they are out there in front, ready to be tread on and judged...and they ain't bad. Me, being w(h)ined out took the hopville highway towards some high gravity hop resin goodness with froth topping...Meg, she took the vino to the head and bagged about 3/4 of it for safekeeping at our inn(she's a lightweight and only Jacobs via marriage).

The food...

Well, by accident and great hospitality we were "comped" two dishes.

So, that makes four apps we got into...and good golly we wanted more, but we could tamp nothing more into our stuffed gullets:

1) Cornmeal battered and fried oysters with a caviar and local vodka creme and a mixed green and red beet salad

2) Crispy Shrimp with a black sesame and ginger seaweed salad

3) Truffled Mushroom ragout with house made fettuccine and shaved Parmesan

4) Black truffle and cheddar mac and cheese


Long live the locavore movement, this could be America's saving grace...Lord knows the folks in Charlottesville are well on their way towards saving the ones who dare to care.

The W(h)ine Trail

Meg couldn't wait to take me to Charlottesville for my birthday. Ten months later after a few family tragedies, the day finally came for our trip. The gleam in her eyes was easily palpable...plans...she had plans. And when the Burton women better drink your coffee, get a good night's sleep, and say a few "Hail Marys"...cause it is gonna be a lonnnng day.

GDD...Gym, Drop the dog off at Grandma's, and Drive...yep, that's our reality show. Now let us all forget (not really) that it was about 12:20pm once we had left our precious pup at Grandma's house. For anyone who knows me, I eat every 3-4 hours, require 30 minutes of exercise a day, or I'm generally a huge piece of shit to be around.

"We need to find a quick place to eat", I said. "Ok", she said, "maybe there will be something at the winery".

Did I mention our plan?

Drive to 3-4 wineries "along the way" to Charlottesville, Va from Middletown, Md...wait a second, that's at least a three hour drive. "Hey honey, these wineries are in Charlottesville right?" "Hey Matty, turn right here". Let's not forget we were 20 minutes into the trip.

First stop, Breaux...yawn...the Wine Barista was was Monday, 10 people were at her counter, and she had NO skills in triaging her wine...the vintner...a real estate tycoon from the Outer Banks, apparently "Sun Realty"...not undrinkable..except the fact I'm a Jacobs, so I can drink some hooch. Bottom line...stick to real estate, the wine thing and the atmosphere, and the fact you want to charge 48 dollars for your Nebiollo cause they charge a lot for good bottles in Italy...go back to real estate bub.

Getting angrier, we literally drive 3 minutes to a friend of a friend's vineyard...Hillsborough.

Literally I bust in the remodeled barn door (god was it beautiful), and raid the meat and cheese fridge...I must have looked like some kind of mongrel rummaging through their product on a Monday at 2pm muttering things like, "mmm, meat...cheese....mmm, do you have bread?"

My poor wife...said something like, "Listen, our friend Bryan's buddy Karem works here, and we called ahead, and yeah, sorry for my husband, he's like a Wildebeest when he's hungry, we didn't plan for lunch".

Magically, after stuffing gobs of Amish Sharp Cheddar and Pinot Grigio Cured Salami into my mouth the clouds lifted...I could see the beautiful view of a kaleidoscope of changing leaves on trees and grape vines...our conversation with the Wine Barista was familiar...friendly, we were getting drunk on atmosphere and pretty decent Virginia wine...I must say, the "Onyx" would feature as a nice little table wine...did I mention we somehow got this friends and family discount of 20% after my erratic caveman behavior? Have charm, will travel (feed me first).

Next stop...Sunset Hills...literally another 3 miles or so. Sated...I didn't have ANY expectations. Best wine of the day, the most complex Virginia wine I had ever tasted...seriously. You can actually lay these bottles down for a few years and they might actually taste good.

Looking at my watch...3 o'clock..."Hey Meg, how much further of a drive?" "Oh, about three hours"...

Seriously? Really? As the blood sugar ticked down slowly, and the drive got more trafficky, and longer, and the roads wound on and on I kept trying to notice the ABSOLUTE BEAUTIFUL scenery that passed us by. Farms, hills, mountains, changing leaves, oh my God was it beautiful. But I was hungry...meat and cheese and wine do not make for good nutrition prior to a 3 hour drive.

And at 6:30pm, we pulled in, wearily, to a beautiful surprise...The Clifton Inn...a place on the Relais Chateaux list...the same list as "The Inn at Little Washington?" Patrick O'Connell was just here two weeks ago? Oh, that's because he is the president of the "list" on the East Coast. The Obamas were just here last week? Do go on...we've been upgraded from the Garden Room to the Blue Ridge Suite overlooking the property?

Do go on...forget the W(h)ine trail and the longest drive ever...lets move on to our first dinner..."The Local"...

Meg, she done good...real good! And Virginia...your wine is starting to make some ways in our world.