Category Archives: wine

U Street Two-fer: Dickson and Dodge City

Returned to Dickson (903 U Street) for dinner pre-9:30 Clubbing, again with the pork belly banh mi, which is still good if extremely fatty. Friends tried the ribeye banh mi, also reportedly good.  You have to watch out for the occasional jalapeño slice, they are not evenly dispersed across the sandwich and some of them pack quite a punch.  Also enjoyed an excellent Tuscan red wine.  The basement is much quieter than the main floor, where conversation is nearly impossible when it is crowded, which it was this time.

We returned to U Street a few doors down from Dickson after the show for a beverage at the newish (?) Dodge City, which has a well-selected draught beer list, including Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, woohoo!  No food though (FB says pepperoni rolls but we were told by the bartender “no food” — maybe pepperoni rolls do not technically qualify as “food”?).  Kind of weird space in downstairs front, simultaneously narrow yet barren-feeling, but the outdoor patio is nice, plus there’s  a balcony and indoor upstairs too.  Shiny new high-quality scorching hot heat lamps outdoors, they could easily keep the patio open all winter with those things running full blast.

Maryland Alcohol Legislation Wrap-up

Governor O’Malley signed boatloads of bills on Tuesday but the wine shipping bill (HB 1175) and the alcohol tax-hike bill (SB 994) don’t seem to be on the list (click on the April 12, 2011 link). I haven’t heard anything about the gov not planning to sign those two — maybe he has a double secret ceremony set for this week.

To recap, the wine bill allows Maryland wineries and out-of-state wineries to ship direct to us Marylanders — but third party wine discounters like Wine Spies (NYT has more on the phenomenon, h/t Steve) are still barred. Baby steps. And whatever wine (and any other booze) you buy, you will pay 9% tax instead of 6%, first raise in many moons.  Lots more context on these bills from the Gazette.

Virginia Wine Country

Finally getting around to writing this up. Last Commonwealth post for a while, promise. Our Ashby Inn dinner was preceded by an afternoon in Virginia wine country:

Hume (5396 Washwright Road, Hume) — newish, nice rustic space, cool two-piece label, funny tasting notes, enthusiastic and knowledgable folks behind the bar. We weren’t crazy about the Chambourcin, but was it the grape or just their version?  Detour (85 cab/15 merlot) was pretty good, but the Seyval Blanc — “sharp as a Japanese blade” say Hume’s  notes — was my favorite. All in all, a great start for these guys.

Desert Rose Warning

Beware the Agritourist Trap!

Desert Rose (13726 Hume Road, Hume)– even newer than Hume, it was their grand opening weekend, full of mostly friends and neighbors, we just stumbled upon it thanks to a referral from Hume. Fun Western kitsch decorations, especially the spacious, pristine, well-appointed bathrooms (nice cowboy boot soap dispenser), but the wines need some work (give them time!). More strange was the agritourism disclaimer — who knew wine tasting was so risky? I have never been so conscious of my mortality, as an agritourist. This kind of sign does not make me want to go back to Desert Rose, makes me worried they are going to release bears as soon as we are through the door, and then sue us for negligence in not defending ourselves from the bears.  Or something.

Linden (3708 Harrels Corner, Linden) — We’ve been to Linden before, always great views, good wine and service, though you get better service if you are in their case club. We are not, but it didn’t matter since we were the only ones crazy enough to be there on a snowy April 1 (yes, snowflakes fell as we arrived at Linden).  Best wine overall (their petit verdot was my favorite of the day), everybody there is very nice, and we even got to chat with the awesome Jim Linden Law.

Delaplane (2187 Winchester Road, Delaplane, conveniently about five minutes from Ashby Inn) — also lovely views, hopefully someday they will have funds to build a big deck off the front windows, whose large glass doors currently open into the abyss. Love the open, modern space, and the wines are pretty good too, though a little pricey at $30 apiece for the Cinq and Syrah, which we liked but not enough at that price to buy any.

A fun day overall. Virginia’s wine industry is growing rapidly and quality is improved in general, but while certain wines from certain vintners are excellent, I’m not convinced quality is up across the board sufficiently to justify prices that seem to start at $20 for most reds and often run into the $30s. Some of these wines would be a nice deal in the $10-18 range but not so much in the $23-30 range. I think they have gotten ahead of themselves with the pricing, but if they are selling at these prices then more power to them.

Direct Wine Shipping Legislation Update

Again this year there is a bill in the Maryland legislature that, if enacted, would allow out-of-state wineries to ship wine directly to Maryland residents. The bill is HB 1175, committee-approved version available here (PDF), and it would allow only wineries to ship — not out-of-state wholesalers, retailers, etc. This limitation to wineries is causing some consternation, and in principle I agree that there should be a completely free wine-shipping market, and that the local liquor/wine middlemen have too much political power.

On the other hand, in practice, all I really want is to occasionally order a case of wine from a California or Washington State winery, and if this bill will let me do that, then I’m all for it.  If, in order to pass any such bill, a compromise must be made, then that’s okay with me. That’s politics.  Every year this kind of bill is introduced, and every year it never makes it out of committee because the committee chairs are in the pocket of the liquor lobby. So, compromise. Baby steps. In the long run, someday, the committee leadership will change, and then maybe more can be done. In the meantime, HB 1175 still has a final vote in the House (I think) and has to get through the Senate before going to Governor O’Malley for signature.

There was another bill — HB 234 — that would have been more farreaching, but the House Economic Matters committee didn’t like it so buhbye. Delegates Waldstreicher, Gutierrez and Carr (all of whom represent Wheaton among other areas) were co-sponsors of HB 234, to their credit. Keep trying!

Saturday UPDATE: HB 1175 passed the House this morning and heads over to the Senate for further consideration.

Open That Bottle! Plus, Gazette-o-rama

WaPo reminds us that this Saturday is Open That Bottle night, where you open (and drink!) that special bottle of wine you’ve had for ages because no event ever seems quite special enough.  We will be at an Oscar party on Saturday (yes, I know the Oscars are Sunday, my behind-the-scenes campaign to move the ceremony to a non-school night has thus far failed), I wonder what our glamorous hosts will open?

In the Wheaton Gazette today, a fun article on the “Greek Parliament” meeting at the Westfield Wheaton mall food court. Hanging out, playing cards, shooting the breeze, drinking beverages, but (as reported) not actually eating anything seems an ideal use of the mall food court.

Also in the Gazette, a review of the new Woodside Deli Rockville outpost.  Can’t go wrong with a pickle bar (though alas no fried pickles, nature’s perfect food).  We will stick to the nearby Silver Spring location, which is pretty awesome, huge-menued and mega-portioned, though quite loud.

Food Wine & Co. (Bethesda)

We don’t usually hit brand new restaurants so quickly, but we visited Food Wine & Co. (7272 Wisconsin) recently with friends in tow (actually, we were the ones in tow). The FW&C website has style but lacks substance; fortunately the American bistro-style food has both. Lamb chops (a special) were perfectly cooked, I was gnawing the bones at the end, always a good sign. Salmon was reportedly excellent. Pizza ingredients were fresh and the crust seemed high quality but there were too many toppings for such a thin crust, which practically disintegrated (in a kind of gummy way) in the middle — still, not bad.

I’m working backwards here, but we started with a melange of meats and cheeses; one of the meats literally melted in the mouth, no chewing required, with outstanding flavor. Two tomme cheeses, one cow, one goat, both lovely. And somebody had soup, what kind? I’ve forgotten, the menu is not online, and the receipt helpfully says “2 soup day”.  I think it was some sort of winter vegetable puree, we all had a taste, very good.

FW&C also has a nice wine list, lots of options at all price ranges, they pride themselves on low markups above retail. We went old-world, starting with a Paul Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape and then a Pio Cesare Barbera (or was it a Barbaresco?) — the latter was good, but the Autard was awesome, lots of tannins and flavors and just loved it.

We also liked the decor, well-designed with high ceilings, warm neutral colors, lots of wood, we enjoyed our window booth. Really our only complaint (not even really a complaint so much as an observation) was the service, which was very friendly but sloooooowwwwww, plus our server wasn’t familiar with most of the wines on the list. But to his credit he summoned the sommelier (or a manager, not sure), who was extremely helpful, so it all worked out okay, good food and great wine, I would certainly go back. This is the kind of restaurant we will not see in Wheaton anytime soon — and that’s okay, Wheaton’s feral urbanism fosters different kinds of good eatin’.

The Tasting Room

We met friends to try The Tasting Room (5330 Wisconsin), a new-since-January 2010 wine bar in the renovated Bloomingdale’s-centric complex across from Friendship Heights Metro (other branches in Reston and Middleburg). Think of the kind of food-and/or-drink establishment that would be least likely to succeed in Wheaton, and you pretty much have the Tasting Room. I’m not sure it will succeed in FH/Chevy Chase, either.

Austere, antiseptic, lots of dark stainless steel and black, very minimalist (and their website is of a piece with the venue itself), the space is small, a couple of four-tops, five or six two-tops and a small bar. Wine is available from the human behind the bar or you can buy a card and use it to self-serve small pours (1oz, 3oz or 5oz) from a pair of wine “carousels,” one for whites and one for reds. The Tasting Room is owned by Boxwood Winery of Middleburg, and they feature several of their own wines, in addition to a selection of a couple dozen other choices, mostly from France. We thought the quality of the wines was generally excellent, but at those prices, they had better be excellent. A few wines can be tasted for as little as $2, for a one-ounce pour, but most are more, and some are a lot more. They have one champagne, a rose, available only by the bottle, and it is very good, but expensive. They offer a cheese (+figs +sausage) plate — again good quality but not great quantity, and not cheap — and a couple of desserts, and that’s it for food. We mitigated the high prices by employing coupons from Living Social, and I overheard someone at the bar doing the same thing. I wonder how much repeat business they will get from people once the discounts run out.

I like the idea of being able to sample a bunch of wines in small quantities, but even so, the price adds up quickly. Self-service is sort of fun, but we also had a spillage incident — someone didn’t know a card was in the slot and started pressing buttons to determine prices, and out came a spurt of wine. I expect that happens with some regularity.  Service was okay, some were more friendly than others. Despite the smallness of the place, it wasn’t crowded at all. I don’t know if it would be more or less fun if it were more raucous. It is kind of tucked away in an alley behind Bloomie’s, you would never know it was there if you didn’t already know it was there, and I wouldn’t put money on their still being there a year from now.

Liquor Laws, Mostly

Nice story in today’s Gazette about saving Royal Mile’s roof from Snoverkill. Always nice when the community comes together. Scotch eggs all around.

Also an interesting story about undercover alcohol enforcement in MoCo, where every alcohol-serving business gets tested by the underage undercover team every two years, and where (in Wheaton and Bethesda anyway) only one out of sixty businesses failed in the latest round. 18-year-old “Shannon,” though, has a remarkably high success rate — beware her sting, ye local alcohol vendors!  It’s a good reminder that we should never be offended or irritated when we get carded, no matter what we look like or how old we really are. We want all our restaurants to stay in business — well, the good ones, at least — and in order to do that, they need to follow the rules, including carding everyone.

Since we’re all rigorously following the liquor laws, maybe our Maryland legislature will reward us by allowing us to buy wine direct from wineries? So far 64 alcohol-related bills have been introduced in the 2010 session, but not the one that would allow direct wine shipping (as far as I can tell by lazily scanning the bill subjects but not actually reading any full-text). One of these days, I’m sure.

Home Cookin’

People like to talk about how a good home cooked meal is better than any restaurant food, but I think that’s more due to atmosphere than anything, because a good restaurant has access to better ingredients and equipment (and likely uses better technique) than most of us home cooks. But every once in a while, I’m able to make something at home that makes me just as happy as any restaurant meal, and tonight’s pulled pork qualified. I bought a nine-pound bone-in pork shoulder at H-Mart, slathered it with brown sugar, paprika, mustard powder and garlic powder, stuck it in a 300 degree oven for about six hours, and when it came out pretty much all I did was look at it and it collapsed off the bone. Fantastically good. I made a vinegary barbecue sauce but it was superfluous. Sides of macaroni salad and sauteed broccolini, and tart key lime pie to finish — all homemade.

Seems like a situation screaming for beer but Mrs. Me was feeling winey so we opened a 2001 Castel Mireio Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages (thanks P&S!), which took a while to open up in the glass but ended up nice and tanniny with good dark berry layers and even getting into some port-like prune-raisin territory.  Ended up a fine match for the pork.

So happy.

Online Wine Whine

No point in whining: maybe we can actually do something about the unfortunate fact that, as the Post discusses today, Maryland consumers cannot buy wine online direct from favorite wineries (or from anywhere else). This is not a new problem, but some in the state legislature are finally trying to address it.  In the 2009 legislative session, H.B. 1262 got over 70 sponsors but was bottled up in committee. All three of our local District 18 representatives — Alfred Carr, Ana Sol Gutierrez, and Jeff Waldstreicher — were among the sponsors. They’ll have to start from scratch in 2010 and the Post suggests they will, but the trick will be to figure out how to get the bill out of committee. I’m sure they’d like to hear from supporters of their efforts (hint, hint).