Archive for May 24, 2009

Alsatian Pinot Blanc

May 24, 2009 Leave a comment
La Maison Pierre Sparr

La Maison Pierre Sparr

I mentioned in a January post that I don’t know much about wine, but I do enjoy reading Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s weekly wine column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. That earlier post was written in response to their article on Washington Syrah. Yesterday’s topic was Alsatian Pinot Blanc. Here’s some of what they had to say:

We’re partial to Alsatian wines in general, though we have raised some alarms over the past few years about a rising level of sweetness in Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. We have a special soft spot for Pinot Blanc because, to us, it just seems so very relaxed and easy—and inexpensive to boot. … Under the rules of Alsace, a wine called Pinot Blanc can actually be made from any blend of Pinot Blanc and a grape called Auxerrois, which is Pinot Blanc’s traditional blending partner in Alsace. As a result, some wines labeled Pinot Blanc are 100% varietal Pinot Blanc, while Schlumberger, for instance, is 30% Pinot Blanc and 70% Auxerrois. …

We always say there are no guarantees in wine, but we [are] convinced that there are few wines on shelves or restaurant lists as reliably pleasant and filled with personality as Alsatian Pinot Blanc.

In Dottie and John’s tasting, they found that their favorite was Domaines Schlumberger ‘Les Princes Abbés’ 2006. $14.95. Their best value was Pierre Sparr Reserve 2007. As they always note with their tastings, you may not find the wines they’ve tasted, but there are many more, with availability varying greatly from store to store, so just give it a try.

We don’t drink a lot of white wine, but I figured I would keep an eye out for a bottle of Pinot Blanc. And my opportunity arose just hours later, when I went down to our local grocery store, Bert’s, in Madison Park. They have a large wine selection and an in-house expert, who is usually there on Saturdays. But he was nowhere to be found yesterday. And I couldn’t even remember what it was I was looking for. I hadn’t thought about buying wine until I walked in and remembered the article.

Pinot something. And white. So not Pinot Noir. Alsace. So I looked for the import shelves, then the France shelves. And looked first at the recommended bottles, which are laid out flat in a rack for display, separate from the ones stored vertically on the shelves. One jumped out at me. The label said Pierre Sparr. Alsace. I found it! That was fast. Oh, wait. Pinot Gris. Oh darn. What color am I looking for? Not Noir. I want a white wine. But Pinot Gris is a white wine. Don’t I want Blanc though? Can’t find it. Well, maybe it was Pinot Gris I read about. Maybe I’m confused.

I bought it.

As soon as I got home I confirmed my stupidity. Still, I hadn’t done anything bad. I just didn’t get to experiment with an Alsatian Pinot Blanc. That will have to await another day. Meanwhile, we can drink the Pinot Gris.

Which is what we did. I made spaghetti, already the planned dinner. Whether Pinot Gris is the best wine for the food or not didn’t much matter. It’s what we were going to have. And it worked. I could imagine better wines, but we were happy. I lack a suitable vocabulary, so I can’t say much more. The label tells me that the wine has a “hint of peach and quince flavors. Good weight and outstanding balance. The finish is crisp and dry.” Maybe so. Not sure about the quince though.

After dinner, I read up a bit on Pierre Sparr. They go back to 1680, are now run by the 9th generation, who are ready to perpetuate the tradition and passion into the 21st century. (The website is in French. This is my attempt at translation.) And they’re in Sigolsheim, just outside Colmar. I might have driven past their vineyards during my one visit to Colmar, at the beginning of February 1983. Not the best day in my life. But that’s another matter.

Colmar itself is a little more than halfway from Strasbourg south to Basel, and is home most famously of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald great crucifixion. Worth a major detour. Maybe we’ll go next year. And have Pinot Blanc.

Categories: Stupidity, Wine


May 24, 2009 1 comment
Applebee's Ultimate Trio

Applebee's Ultimate Trio

Having made it this long without eating at a Denny’s, I have no intention of starting. And I pretty much felt the same way about Applebee’s, to the extent that I thought about Applebee’s, which for the most part I didn’t. When I see their ads on TV, I imagine the ads are for other people. We don’t have Applebee’s in greater Seattle. At least I can’t picture one. I figure they’re somewhere else. Like maybe Georgia.

I’ve just learned that Georgia is in fact where they began. I have also learned, in reading the historical summary on their website, that in 2005 they expanded to Ecuador, Brazil, and Jordan, and in 2007 to China. That’s a pretty good clue that somewhere along the way to those places they probably managed to stumble into Washington State. It turns out that they have.

Gail called me just before noon from Des Moines, near the airport, where she was discussing where to eat lunch with her sister, our brother-in-law, and some friends. She wanted to know if I would join them or if I wanted to stay home and grade papers, as I told her I might be doing. She said we could meet by Southcenter. Southcenter is a large suburban mall just east of the airport, with the usual mix of on-site and neighboring chain restaurants. I had this picture of us meeting at Bahama Breeze. In my continuing research on the Darden family of restaurants (here and here), I had focused more on Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Having been to Bahama Breeze just once, in January for a light lunch, I had more work to do. And the only Bahama Breeze west of the MIssissippi besides one in Las Vegas is the one at Southcenter. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to investigate.

But Gail called back a few minutes later to say we were going to Applebee’s. I said no. I don’t eat at Applebee’s! She didn’t argue. She just said that’s where the other 7 people were going. I could stay home.

I went.

In trying to make sense of the menu, I learned that like so many other chain restaurants — Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory — it has a little of everything. This can be a good thing, but for me it’s a bad thing. I have a hard time deciding whether to go Italian, Chinese, Mexican, or just steak or a burger. Well, I knew I didn’t want a burger. Not after having one Friday night at the Mariner game. (I didn’t get around to talking about our dinner at Safeco Field in my post on the game. Too late now. Suffice to say we had cheeseburgers made to order at a grill, which meant standing around with other fans for 10 minutes waiting for our names to be called, then getting a decent burger on top of enough fries for three, all for just $15.) Maybe a steak with choice of garlic mashed or baked potato, plus vegetables. Or maybe a salad with chicken with some sort of sauce. Or maybe the talapia with rice pilaf. Then I discovered the appetizer section of the menu. Or rather the “apps”. Given the Apple app store for the iPhone, this was confusing usage. Nothing looked all that great, but here’s the thing. You can get three. They call it the Ultimate Trio: “Pick any three trio-sized appetizers below for your Ultimate Trio for $11.99.” I could have three cuisines! You can’t beat that.

And just yesterday, while watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship semi-finals (to which I will return in another post), I saw a profile of one of the players, who said his favorite food is chicken parm. Since which time I’ve had chicken parm on my mind. It was my lucky day. One of the apps, listed as a new one, was Chicken Parmesan Tanglers: “A juicy chicken breast is sliced and tossed in breading with our signature spices, and golden fried. Topped with Parmesan and served with marinara.” Let’s do it. I ordered the trio, complementing the Tanglers with Steak Quesadilla Towers: “Sirloin steak topped with onions, pico de gallo, peppers, and cheese. Rolled in a grilled tortilla and served with salsa,” and Cheeseburger Sliders: “Fresh ground beef seasoned and topped with American cheese, grilled onions and signature burger sauce on a toasted bun.” It did occur to me that this wasn’t the most balanced meal, but at least I could sample cuisine of three countries.

Turns out I made a mistake. The trio was way too heavy. The quesadilla towers had way too much tortilla and too little steak. They were like big fried bread and cheese sandwiches. The chicken, once sliced, had lots more surface area for breading, so they were again lots of bread and not lots of meat. Plus, they really were just chicken tenders, with some grated parmesan on top, nothing like real chicken parmesan. And the burgers, well, they were burgers, which I already had decided I didn’t want. With, yes, more bread and cheese. What was I thinking?

Gail says I shouldn’t judge Applebee’s harshly on account of my own foolishness. Still, I’m kinda thinking maybe I don’t need to go back. Not when Bahama Breeze awaits. And Cheesecake Factory, and California Pizza Kitchen, and P.F. Chang’s, and Chevy’s.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

So long, Randy

May 24, 2009 Leave a comment


I may not be the most spontaneous person, but every once in a while I jump at something. And one of those onces in a while came along two days ago. To set the stage, I need to point out that I am a long-time admirer of the baseball pitcher Randy Johnson. There are a lot of admirers, especially here in Seattle. He is, after all, one of the 10 or 15 greatest pitchers of all time, and he did pitch more years here in Seattle than anywhere else. But I tend to think I have a special bond with him, a deeper appreciation of his greatness. I was there, after all for two of his greatest moments, in the Kingdome at the end of the 1995 season.

Monday, October 2. One-game playoff between the Mariners and Angels to determine the American League West champion. Randy dominates. A complete game, 12 strikeout, 1 walk, 3 hit, 1 run performance, as the Mariners win 9-1. (Box score here.)

The Mariners then played a 5-game series against the Yankees, opening with two games in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 3 and 4. Because Randy had to be used for the playoff game on Monday, he was unavailable, and the Mariners lost both games, 9-6 and (in 15 innings) 7-5.

Coming back to Seattle, the Mariners needed to win 3 straight or be eliminated. Randy pitched the first of the three, Friday October 6, on just three days rest. He pitched 7 innings, gave up 4 hits and 2 runs, and gave the Mariners a 7-2 lead in a game they ultimately won 7-4. (Box score here.) With games 4 and 5 on Saturday and Sunday, that would be it for Randy. In game 4, the Yankees quickly took a 5-0 lead. But the Mariners came back, Edgar Martinez hit a huge grand slam in the 8th, and the Mariners won 11-8. (Box score here.) The moment Edgar hit his grand slam, I announced to Gail and Joel that we were going the next night. Whatever it cost. Whatever we had to do to get tickets. We were going.

Sunday, October 8. And we did. The greatest game in Mariner history. One of the great games of baseball history. The game that saved baseball in Seattle, that led to the Mariners not moving and Safeco Field being built. I could write about it at length. Others have. Some day I will. Let me just focus on Randy though. The Mariners were down 4-2 in the 8th against David Cone when Griffey hit a solo home run. This was followed by single and some walks, with Cone walking in the tying run. We were going into the 9th tied 4-4. Our pitching staff was exhausted. Who could come in? Randy! With just one day of rest, he came in to thunderous cheers. And he pitched 3 extraordinary innings. He opened the 11th with a walk, a bunt, and a single, the only hit against him, but a costly one, as Kelly scored from 2nd. But in the bottom of the 11th, well, you know. Edgar’s double to left. Griffey scoring from 1st behind Cora. Mariners win 6-5. (Box score here.) Randy paid for those heroics. He was injured the next year. He only pitched 14 games, had a 5-0 record.

I’ll skip over our 1997 pilgrimage to Denver to see the Mariners play the Rockies in the first year of inter-league play, and our finding ourselves having lunch at the same restaurant as Randy, just down the street from Coors Field. We didn’t want to bother him, but a waiter took Joel into a private dining room to see him. Let’s jump to this past week.

On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated had the first in a new series of articles jointly written by Joe Posnanski and Bill James, in which they analyzed Randy’s greatness. He began the season with a new team, the San Francisco Giants, and with 295 wins. As of Wednesday, he had 298 wins, tantalizingly close to 300. And then on Friday morning, having not paid much attention to the Mariners’ schedule, I opened up the Seattle Times to discover that the Giants were in town this weekend, in the first games of interleague play for the season. Not only that, Randy was pitching the opening game, that night.

We had to go, right? If not now, when? I told Gail, we got 2 tickets, and we went. But, who to root for? The Mariners? Or Randy, going for 299? I texted Joel. He suggested I root for a close game in which Randy distinguishes himself but leaves before the end with no decision, after which the Mariners come back to win. And that’s pretty much what happened. Aaron Rowand led off the game for the Giants with a home run, but that’s all the Giants could do, as the Mariners’ pitcher Jason Vargas pitched 7 strong innings, giving up only 1 other hit. Randy, in turn, pitched well too, but began to tire, finally giving up a run and coming out in the 6th after 5 shutout innings. The crowd gave him an ovation and, as he left the mound, he took his cap off to salute us. (See above.) We didn’t get to see him win #299, but we saw him pitch well in what will almost certainly be his final game in Seattle. (He turns 46 in September. This may be his last season, but even if it isn’t, the nature of interleague scheduling is such that he isn’t likely to pitch here again in the next couple of years.)

We left after 8. As we drove home, the Mariners loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the 9th. Ken Griffey came in to pinch hit for Johjima. It’s bad enough that we left for home before the end, but now it was going to end before we even got home. He hit the ball deep. We were now off the freeway and just a half mile from home. The game was about to end with a grand slam. Another historic moment from another old-time Mariner star. But no, caught at the warning track. We were home to watch the rest of the game, which ended in the 12th on a hit off the wall by Jose Lopez with the bases loaded, as the Mariners prevailed 2-1.

Categories: Baseball, Sports