Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Case of the Denver Vice-Triumvirate

While on an investigation into the recent acts of 'cabotage' at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California, a brief personal respite was taken by Watson and I into the Queen City of the West where we were fortunate enough to find ourselves amidst a swirling triangular vortex of vices; vices the likes of which I am most susceptible.... Gastronomic, Alcoholic, and Intoxicant, for my mind rebels at stagnation.

This serendipitous triple play had us first visiting the Jagged Mountain Brewery, a wonderfully industrial yet perfectly comfortable Pour House in the very center of Denver proper with a large collection of 20 (or thereabouts) proprietary craft creations. From the fruity, farmhouse style Summer Ale 'Isabella Bird', to the more robust 'Whiskey Barrel Aged Voodoo Goat' -  and with a blinder of Pale Ale betwixt and between.

Most certainly Jagged Mountain Brewery is a serious operation with a total dedication to the mead itself, all else being inferential as evidenced by their lack of any true food or other public offerings outside some locally packaged nuts for purchase. However, this enterprise also operates 'outside the triangle' by conjoining with local gourmands for a food pairing that draws in both the devoted beermeisters as well as those more gastronomically inclined. (To wit, an upcoming joining includes melding the eclectic chopped beefsteak burgers of local Colorado food denizen Troy Guard's TAG Burger Bar , a highly regarded enterprise in its own right.)

Yet on this desolate Sunday (having arrived unannounced upon its 11:00 am opening), and as delightfully wicked as it was to inhale the aromas of the finest Pale Ales and Porters our lovely attendant Ms. Rachael had to offer, our lengthy trip from the home of Gasparilla demanded that we answer the ever insistent beckoning of hunger. 

However, upon closer perusal the immediate area was digustibly bereft of anything visible save brick, glass, and asphalt until, beckoning us from it's stand-alone singular location, we spied La Popular Food Company hidden in plain sight down the opposite side of Lawrence.

La Popular, with its freestanding red brick building, gives one the impression that behind its doors lies a robust enterprise of Mexican delight, and that would prove to certainly be true in this case but not in the manner in which one might first believe.

Opening the heavily tinted front doors and expecting a large but low-scale sit down restaurant I was caught unawares by the immediate and extreme lack of seating, or any seating at all for that matter. Reminiscent of a small bakery with it's glass counter of baked goods standing proudly on the left and eliciting a dull throb in ones sweet tooth upon sight, this operation screamed both 'local dive' and 'authentic' in the same breath.

Making tamales and burritos 7 days a week for the walk-up crowd, La Popular is also a full scale wholesale operation offering their own stock in trade to passersby as well as providing for those larger enterprises wishing to offer the tried and true without reinventing the stone-ground tortilla wheel. Chips, salsas, and tortillas are for sale in 1 dozen counts to 1000 dozen counts and are also found in local markets such as King Soopers. (My investigative eye will surely one day delve into what kingdom this 'King' actually rules over!) 

Additionally, alongside the hefty sizes of the fresh core tortilla ingredient Masa, one will delight in various empanadas, cookies, and pastries that (as it did with this investigator) pull themselves from behind the glass and find there way into a rapidly filling outbound satchel. The purveyors of this popular bodega seem to just be catching on to the nuances of food enterprise for they've only been in operation for........60 years!

So quickly transacting a fully loaded deluxe burrito, along with two Mexican cookies and both an Apple and a Peach Empanada (all for less than half a crown, or I should say what you Yanks call a ten-spot) I was quickly striding back towards my new found favorite brew house when my eye was suddenly drawn askance for, intriguingly, found between La Popular and Jagged Mountain and forming the new right angle of this Vice Triangle is
"Cannabis Station", a legal marijuana dispensary well positioned in what appears to be a former Esso petrol station - and all this a mere three blocks from nearby cricket-house Coors Field - as well as the many parking lots feeding this downtown Rocky Mountain attraction.

Already fighting off the effects of the relatively mild "Isabella Bird" Pale Ale with its 6.5% ABV content I quickly reasoned the review and perusal of this enclave, one of EIGHT locations under the umbrella "Rocky Mountain High Co.", would not be served with a simply stop in and a mental note was made for a future more extensive............ investigation, for there is nothing like first hand evidence!

Returning to my bar side stool, and availing myself to further tastes of both Ms. Isabella's Ale as well as the more formidable "First Descent", a Whiskey Barrel Ale topping out at 15.5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume, or more appropriately:All Bragging Vocalized!), my La Popular Deluxe Burrito hit the spot and kept the ale's headiness from assuming total command of my faculties.

A further welcome surprise to the Jagged Mountain visit was the proliferation of available local artwork festooning the walls. From ice adventures to the nearly the surreal, it gave the atmosphere it's well deserved neighborly and adventurous ambiance.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Christmas Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future Arrived in St. Petersburg, FL!

Unbenownst to Watson and I when deciding to close our investigative enterprise at 221-B Baker St. and relocate to the St. Petersburg, FL area, was that this accord would bring us so closely into the nexus of an unexpectantly vibrant theater scene.

Evoking the quality of production long ago seen in the West End (i.e. The Lyceum, The Old Vic, and even the Old Globe) where the careers of such esteemed actors as Sir John Geilgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Dame Judi Dench were codified, such is the sprituous  scene with the venues found in this Bay area including The Straz Performing Arts Center in Tampa or the bellicose ensembles at Ruth Eckerd Hall; venues drawing in the larger troupes and Broadway productions traveling thru on the euphonious circuit if you will. 

Yet the exemplary work of revered outlying British odeums as the Royal Plymouth Theater on Royal Parade in Plymouth, England (and a tip o'the hat to Miss Lady Louise and her troupe) conjure the reflectively astounding performances at The American Stage Theater, with their recent move to much larger quarters adjoining USF St. Petersburg and their continued impressive pursuances.

These venues alone have astonished the good Doctor and I so fervently that we have elected to participate in this thespian endeavor much more frequently, such is the surprise and the wonder that is the live theater on Florida's West Coast.

Yet there lies another jewel in this crown, a smaller production company in the St. Petersburg area that while dwarfed by its nearby brethren in both it's physical size and in its enterprise sponsorship, puts forward penetrating performances as deep and as rich as ever has been staged anywhere.

The Freefall Theater, found with a brief chivvy a mere 4  miles west of the burgeoning Downtown St. Petersburg scene, is a gift unto its own as well as to all those who choose to take advantage of it.

And it was just such a gift bestowed upon our little group when we attended the final year end performance of Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol' - and on Christmas Eve no less! In this ensemble's fourth year of producing this classic, it availed us a festive and cheery way to envelope ourselves to the holidays.

These ardent professionals, under the exquisite direction of Artistic Director Eric Davis, fit 10 litres of glorious production into a 1 liter topper-hat and they did it with confidence and verve aplenty! Inventive sets, demiurgic lighting, and symphonious music....all on par with far larger productions and yet shoehorned magically into a space reminiscent of a gymnasium sized gilly sprinkled with puck and spirit!

With a deft nod to fellow Brit Alastair Sim, (whose depiction of the miserable Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 cinematic classic is perhaps the most chilling recorded on film), the Freefall Theater's seasonal curmudgeon was played with consanguinity by a similarly gifted actor - David Mann, who while a resident of the Tampa area has a gifted dynamic much more spacious than this area can contain and with esteemed theatrical escapades in San Diego, Miami, Washington, DC and elsewhere this particular gift will hopefully be opened in much larger circles anon. The flair for which his Scrooge performance was delivered and the dedicated focus required to transport this audience to 1850's London was a celestial trip worth far more than the pursers meager admittance fee.

In my line of work it is my habit to know exactly when a fine performance is placed before me (as evidenced by early calls to greatness of Ms. Nina Ariande in "Venus in Fur" and Ms. Mary Louise Parker's turn in 'Proof', both Tony winning deliveries) the fine Dr. and I previously espied Mr. Mann in his 2013 portrayal as 'The Emcee' in this troupe's delivery of Kander and Ebb's 'Cabaret'. His interpretations of both the Joel Grey character (in the 1967 Broadway depiction and in the 1976 film version with Liza Minelli) and here as Dickens' Ebenezer are far more enthralling depictions than any small local theater company would be expected to produce.....and thus became this season's true gift of the holiday's!

The high level of performance is easily a world class effort and this individual's work lifted the entire production. Yet one must also hand an equally respectful and mirthful acknowledgement to actors Stephan Jones, with four roles including a robust Mr. Marley and Mr. Fezziwig, and Mark Richard Taylor, also with four roles including the booming Ghost of Christmas Present.

The transcendent nature of this performance was such that it will be hard for me to say no to anything that Freefall produces in the future. Moreover, with the continually vibrant dining landscape burgeoning in the center city area, a jubilant time is there for the taking with no effort whatsoever.

Consequently, as with the Dicken's Ghost's, we reminisce the Freefall's past Christmases, were overjoyed with THIS years Christmas present, and wholeheartedly look forward to enjoining ourselves robustly in any and all future productions of Christmases yet to be!

Make it part of your December and a new tradition will be born!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hop to it! The Sweetwater Brewery awaits!

Welcome to Sweetwater Brewery
It is no secret that while I have disdained all alcoholic libations during my investigative career while domiciled at 221-B Baker St., London, preferring a nice cup of ....well never mind that, I HAVE begun to enjoy a sip or three of certain intoxicants in my retirement here in the States. The cases I have been involved in since arriving in the US have had me involved in all manner of spirits....all in the name of investigation of course! 

From fine and smoky Scotches, distinct Artisinal Whiskeys, and Bluegrass Bourbon's of Kentucky, to more festive traipses towards the clearer spirits of Vodka, Rum, and my own predisposition with the Gins of Devon, England. (Gin itself also piques a particular garboil of mine for any elixir derived from a poisonous berry - juniper in this case, is one that certainly commands respect and stirs the soul!)

There is also an adopted penchant towards the wide variety of Blue Agave Tequila's sometimes located within my brim, but the overwhelming favorite libation in my bailiwick remains to be that intoxicating Mesopotamian Mead.......Beer.

Beer, taken from the Latin 'bibere' or 'to drink', is commonly referred to as the third most popular beverage in the world behind water and tea yet I would certainly challenge that statistic during any World Cup Championship weekend! The earliest recorded versions (10,000 BC) moved from the Sumerian region of what is now Iran and Iraq and on into Europe traveling via English and Celtic tribes before ultimately finding their way to the America's with the founding of this fine republic mid-century. It was thought that beer was first 'discovered' with the fermentation of grains set aside to make bread but common wisdom also acknowledges the inherent desire to sit and do nothing once imbibed which begat the yeasty chicken and egg debate: Was it early 'laziness' in the making of bread that caused the sitting (wet) grains to ferment or once fermented (and tasted) laziness itself was invented as well! Regardless of the genesis of either, they have become intertwined for all of history since!

A Kayak trip down nearby Sweetwater Creek became the genesis for the name
Once this fine craft was brought to North America, rumored to have been on the Christopher Columbus vessel 'Le Pinta' (from where we get 'The Pint'), the continued experimentation of Eastern European recipes and stout English brews proliferated in the US on and well into the mid 20th century. It was thus that centuries later, in the mid-1900's, we found there to be roughly 45 breweries in the U.S. at that time, most regional in nature yet three of them, Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, and Schlitz, representing 60% of all sales stateside.

Four deep at the bar for their Taste Testers
Of course, alongside these three behemoths of brewing sat smaller domestic brewers like Ballantine, Schmidts, Strohs, Genesee, Utica, Blatz, Ranier, Olympia, Coors, Pabst, Heileman's, Rolling Rock, Carling, Yuengling, Tivoli, and hundreds and hundreds of others. It was the natural progression of this liquid pastime that watching sports and drinking beer also achieved it's rightful nexus. One can easily reference the onset of 'the beer jingle' with samples such as the 'Official Beer of the New York Yankee's' (at the time - Shaeffer) ...Schaeffer/ is the/ one beer to have when you're/ having more than one, and their crosstown rivals the New York Mets (not to be outdone) with their pretzel twisting Rheingold ( beer is Rheingold the dry beer...) For added reference, Don Draper was not involved in either of these ditties.

However, with such sports team associations and the ribald accompanying increase in television and advertising exposure, the dynamic of 'The big get bigger and the small get smaller,' eventually saw the demise of many of the regional brewers thereby leaving in its wake mostly mass produced brews and bromides - with European origins for certain but also with their heavy marketing towards lighter lagers and pilsners. This was Darwinian brewmaster capitalism at it's very finest.....

Breathing room is found upstairs vs. downstairs
Thus we found in the late '70's and early '80's (the 1970's and 1980's that is.......) we were left with very little in the way of true variety save for perhaps that from Guinness Brewing of Ireland, a pint of which is in itself an acquired tho lifelong taste. To a beer aficionado however, it became apparent that if you wanted a brew with more specific and distinctive tastes and flavors you had to take matters into your own hands (or paddle up Schlitz Creek as it was oft opined at the time.)

Yet Anchor Brewing Company, brew-meisters in San Francisco with origins dating back to the Gold Rush of 1849, after bouts involving the San Francisco Eartquake in 1906, Prohibition from 1920-1933, and near-bankruptcy in 1965, began a mini-resurgence in the yet uncoined and nascent 'Craft Brewing' Industry. Bottling their Anchor Steam in 1971, Anchor Brewing almost single handedly began a slow but sure resurgence in this fine art and the resulting growth experienced from the ten craft brewers still in business in 1980 (Anchor Brewing, Albion,  Sierra Nevada, River City, Placer, and DeBakker, all in California, Boulder Beer in Colorado, Prinz Brau of Alaska, and Cartwright Brewing of Oregon), soon ballooned to the over 2400 brewers today - including one hugely popular Atlanta, Georgia delight: The Sweetwater Brewing Company.

Now, it is not my intent here to unearth and aerate within this particular investigative diatribe (the above historical perspective notwithstanding) the very beginnings of Sweetwater Brewing it their Boulder, Colorado connections or their subsequent San Francisco sojourns. No, I shall leave that to beer archivists or the brewers themselves and their own website for it is a fine story told exceptionally well. 

No, the analysis herein will simply be a look at what has become a near ritual for lucky Atlantan's every week - as well as for Watson and myself one lucky Friday afternoon - The Sweetwater Brewery Tasting Tours!

The first challenge in this case is GETTING to the Sweetwater Brewery location, a task unto itself as our guide Prince Michael himself (perhaps not as well versed in the backcountry passages of Hot 'Lanta as he had let on), took one turn too early from Monroe to Ottley south of the highway and we found ourselves on Interstate 85 for a mile or so before having the joyous yet thirsty opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the immediate area and try again.

Upon arrival the parking situation also appeared a bit adventurous as we were situated on what appeared to be a service road or side road one block from the brewery and thus parked along this side road and gallivanted thru what appeared to be the lot for another business (beer drinkers themselves we would surely hope!) [Aside: a 'Service Road', as one might call it, is referred to by many different colloquiallisms and I might invite you to to take this 25 question dialect quiz which will not only introduce you to such regional phrases but will also likely (and confoundedly) pinpoint your own speech patterns to within a few miles of it's derivation. A truly astounding bit of sleuth work indeed and with a trained ear proves quite useful in our own casework!)

Positing ourselves on the fairly long and vibrant patron queue already in place, three to four deep mind you, had us slowly but assuredly advancing the 60-70 meters to find there were actually two queues at the front: CASH and CREDIT. Lucky for us that my vast experience always has me laden with bills of all denominations for just such episodes. Tip of the day - Bring the $10 cash fee and vault forward on the cash queue for the credit card queue was demonstrably 10x longer.

The Downstairs bar is quite a bit more popular
But OH what one receives for this $10! This is not simply the two free cup dispensary of (say) a Busch Gardens (with it's perfectly fine light pilsners and such) NO! The proffered $10 gains one six Willy Wonka-like 'red tickets' which avails you the opportunity to 'test' six of Sweetwater's finest.

With entry gained and the long upstairs bar and resident keep before us, your first choice is poured into nicely coifed Sweetwater pint glasses which you are free to take home as well. Fret not a wit when your pint is not filled fully for these are 'taste testers' and are only near-filled 2/3rds or so of the way to the glass rim. Ones initial disappointment at this test-level fullness and not getting (music queued here) 6 FULL PINTS of beer for $10, and a FREE Sweetwater Pint Glass, PLUS a tour of the premises AND Free Music from a live house band no less is oh-so-quickly dissipated when your first quaffs are taken.

Whiskey Kegs are used for One-Off Seasonal Brews and special runs
On this day we delightfully had 6 brews to choose from, these being: Sweetwater Georgia Brown - Smoother than a Bill Clinton Apology they say; 420 Extra Pale Ale - their most popular brew; Sweetwater Blue - with a slight blueberry lilt; Sweetwater IPA - a classic; Low-RYE-der IPA - a RYE based brew; and Road Trip- one of their 'Catch and Release' Seasonal Brews.

With the plan to 'taste-test' all six brews in their entirety, we began with their best-selling and multiple award winning Sweetwater 420, an Extra Pale Ale with an inherent crispness that lets you know immediately what you are in for with all of their resident choices. 

Upon a first taste the deliciousness was evident and the freshness palpable. However, despite that initial delight I also quickly learned that this Extra Pale Ale had an immediate effect on my faculties and seemingly vacuumed liters and liters of oxygen from my heat-oppressed brain thus rapidly causing a loss of my usually reliable logic inducing skills. 
Part of The Dank Tank Series

Reasoning that this particular bebiere might be the sole culprit I moved to a 'lighter' brew and chose the Sweetwater Blue, which gave me a welcomed yet brief respite while I re-oxygenated my brain cells. By the time I'd moved to the third taster I had deduced that 6 tickets might be too MANY tickets to hand out. Peering at Watson my hunch was confirmed as I was handed a fistful of the Dr's. unused tickets as well.

"Mr. Holmes, I seem to have reached my limit I'm afraid....", my friend exclaimed,  notwithstanding that the Doctors' pint was only half filled - and still from the first pour.

Glancing askew at Prince William and Lord Stanton, fine young emissaries of brew and the promulgators of today's festivities (along with the beauteous accompaniment of Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jessica) I was chagrined to find that no such ailment had befallen these young and vibrant souls, in fact they looked longingly at the unused tickets within my grasp.

Still unconvinced that my years and years of loving this luscious liquid would fail me at such a critical juncture, I returned to my friendly barkeep and tactfully demanded (pleaded) for something I could drink....uhm, responsibly, where I was lead to the 'Catch and Release' Seasonal Brew called 'Road Trip' with it's ale-like recipe. Yet this too I found to contain an altogether un-Holmesian level of hoppiness, a flavor that in many others might rightly bring happiness and frivolity but in me brings only ruin. With a strong reliance on Cascadian hops I found that my voluminous drinking history was easily cut short.

Kismet chanced upon me with the announcement of the last brewery tour downstairs which allowed me to make a graceful exit and occupy my focus with the inner workings of this fine enterprise! However imagine my surprise when our first exposure on this tour was to a seemingly deranged, sex-addled, bound and leather clad figure strapped to the brewers tower.......only to find this to be the inspiration for one of Sweetwater's Dank Tank Series, brews from the darkest parts of the brewMaster's soul (with seemingly no connection to a 'Chamber' of any sort either.)

All in all the entire operation was a fascinating expose of what started from the desire of a couple of University of Colorado roommates to their product now being available in markets all throughout the Southeast U.S. as well as on all flights of fellow Atlanta Plc Delta Airlines.
A Healthy Plethora at a local Publix Supermarket

The Tours themselves, 5:30-7:30 Wed-Fri and 2:30-4:30 Sat-Sun, top out at 1000 people which is a level sometimes attained very quickly, especially on a Friday afternoon like the one we had participated in. 

And as a final aside, the Sweetwater Gift Shoppe certainly has great schwag (their own term mind you) and my chapeau is duly tipped towards the vibrant and colorful designs of all the brewer's garb made available but the wares viewed this day were not fully stocked ..... or had been thoroughly and previously picked clean while I was  still regaining my investigative faculties upstairs. What was also apparent within said Shoppe was that the growing beer belly of America had caused a dirth of XL sizes on shelves everywhere while S and M (not to be confused with the Dank Tank S&M) remained in plentiful quantities. This likely a testament to the quantities of brew enjoyed by long as their wits are kept about them (and their Pale Ale levels held in check!)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pelagia Trattoria's Golden Spoon Award is well deserved!

Pelagia Trattoria on Urbanspoon
 Upon domiciling in Florida after an exceptionally long career of investigation and other capering in boggy London, Watson and I chanced upon a publication early on in our retirement geared towards those with an interest in all things 'Business' in this Sunshine State: Florida Trend Magazine.

As a monthly general business publication it ingratiates itself to the many who have come to rely on it's unique specificity into doing business in this disparate territory. Yet it was not the discussions of the citrus or sugar industry, tariffs or cruise ships, politics (hanging chads), exports (perhaps TO Chad), Who's Who, (or Who is Not) and the like that caught our keen eye, No! It was the yearly commitment to the innumerable and tireless perfectionists known as 'The Restauranteurs', that brethren either breaking new ground at the table or astounding year after year throughout this state as they hone their craft and offer up these gastronomic jewels for those lucky enough to partake. 

These Scrolls of Mastication started initially some 40 years ago and graciously catered most to the  traveling executives and ambassadors of Florida business, its focus on providing these Captains of Capital and Policy with a reliable source of professional comfort and consistency. With our own arrival stateside in the early '90's (1890 or recall quite spotty at times) the tome sported a mere 100 Restaurants throughout the state. Yet with continued population growth, attributed to the many seeking those most sought after life qualities as forever sunshine (some 300 days per year), forever beaches (the longest coastline of any state in this union it would appear) as well as the remarkable absence of a state income tax, it became apparent that the corresponding growth of exquisite dining made it nearly impossible to fill out ONLY a Top 100 List.

Additionally, the devotion to excellence by so many of these enclaves in the Florida peninsula thusly dictated that the list expand to the Top 200 Restaurants (broken down by region of course - Florida being almost 7-8 different 'states' within itself..or at least states of mind), an added new category named 'Best NEW Restaurants', and saw the origination of the "Hall of Fame Awards", reserved for those recipients who have won their coveted Spoons 'many, many times' (a nebulous description but whose number appears to hover near 10......years that is, or more!)

Thusly, while Watson and I traverse the asphalt corridors in this region (or float gently thru it's skies), the 'Golden Spoon Award Winners' listing is kept in close proximity for whenever an opportunity posits to sit and study or ponder a case this list rightly proves indispensable AND shows the worthy provenance of the Golden Spoon recipients. 

And so it was that year after year these Golden Spoon Winners delivered unto us experience and extravagance extraordinaire (as was expected) and, very often, delivered much more than anticipated.
Delicious Sourdough and Kalamata Pate

And with above homage paid to 'The Golden Spoons', all justly deserved, Tampa's 2011-2014 Award Winning Pelagia Trattoria exhibits all the qualities worthy of such a list while being regrettably hidden on the lee side of Tampa's International Mall Food 'Pavillion'; that area on the west side with a plethora of ubiquitous branded offerings that while quite acceptable and even delicious at times, does not rise to the level of excellence exhibited by this Mediterranean find.

Located just inside Marriott's Renaissance Hotel (with a separate entrance as well) and almost appropriately adjacent to Neiman Marcus ('A chenille wrap m'lady?'), Watson and I squired ourselves into a window side table on a very early Saturday night with nary a soul in sight. We were both thankful for our luck as no wait was to be had and a bit forlorn at the lack of said activity for this surely was a treat sitting in plain sight!

Relishing the nearly isolated focus of our ebullient server, one Miss Katherine I noted, our libations were quickly proffered and with a glance at the 'Signature Bites' portion of the menu...the 'Charred Octopus with Chorizo Oil, Arugula, and Grapefruit' was also summoned - my desire to compare the Pelagia Octopus to those of Dodecanese Blvd. fame in Tarpon Springs, FL. - an cephalopod heaven if ever there was one!

The dance of flavors was admirable on this dish, the tart grapefruit and the slightly spicy chorizo oil offering quite the balance to the surprisingly meaty octopus...and despite Watson's hearty early  commitment to sampling the dish I swiftly assumed all manner of its completion - I do admit to a predisposition to any heartily grilled and marinated octopod tentacles of the Mediterranean or Greek variety.

Pelagia Trattoria, surely espousing the beliefs of gastronomic free-will and the consumptive self-determination of the misunderstood yet highly interpretive ascetic Pelagius, has a tight menu with enough of just about everything such that no one would ever walk away without feeling there was a choice made specifically with their delight in mind. And while on a normal occasion I might venture into the 'Signature Dish' category for the verbalized melange on this occasion was nearly intoxicating.... today was a day for their house made pasta.

It must be noted that once you grow accustomed to properly made fresh pasta any other kind becomes nearly inedible....or at least insufferable, and the wide variety of deliciously fresh and sumptuous pasta at Pelagia is enough nearly in itself to prompt many return visits...which we plan on doing from this date forward.

However, it is what is done with these homemade delights that sets Pelagia apart and surely earns it their place amongst the 'Golden Spoon' chosen.

To wit, a Blue Fin Tuna Pappardelle, Potato Gnocchi with Braised Short Ribs and House Made Ricotta, Cavatelli in Porcini and Black Truffle Cream Sauce. Very heady stuff these with only the prior Grilled Octopus satiation holding back a multiple entree order.
Squid Ink Linguini with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab ($26)

But it was the Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle and the Squid Ink Linguini with Seared Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab that commanded our attention (as well as the spelling of Diavolo as Diablo on the menu.....adding credence to it's 'Spicy' sauce and not to any misspelling, that's for certain!)



Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle ($26)

These two dishes were as close to perfectly done as one can imagine with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab found in plentitude along with the Ink Squid Linguini such that it neared becoming one of the finest pasta dishes eaten by my trusty partner. 

The Lobster Fra-Diavolo, with chunk lobster, spicy saffron tagliatelle, and cherry tomato sauce was simply mouth wateringly delicious and had me perfectly ensconced in comfort - full but not incommodious, and yet still yearning for more!

And more there was.......

Perhaps apropos for this city built on the fortunes of the Cuban cigar industry many eons ago, a coffee and cigar with delectable and heartwarmingly good cappuccino's were next on the agenda. Tho by 'Coffee and Cigar' Pelagia had us elated again for laid upon our cloth was a Bailey's Mousse in a chocolate tuile laid upon an espresso panna cotta produced a euphoric ending to a splendid evening.... and upon our retreat it was noted that many more were discovering Pelagia's charms.......well deserved and earned, that is for certain!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Case of the Wistful Assemblage: Wisteria of Atlanta

Wisteria on Urbanspoon
An ever increasing investigative caseload due to our consistently high level of granular specificity has Watson and I gourmandizing the Atlanta restaurant scene more often than in all the years past combined.  Our miscible observations to date are that 'Hot'Lanta' has as robust a gastronomic enterprise as any we have ever enjoyed anywhere with no shortage of fine banquet halls, excellent gastropubs, sterling bistros and cafes, exceptional steak and chophouses along with a very healthy plethora of those individually unique locations that hew closely to the locally grown and sourced integrants with their disparate eclectic dishes all served up in spectacular fashion.

Let it be here pronounced that Atlanta's Wisteria is just such a place!

Found in the curvilinear Inman Park area just east of downtown Atlanta, this evenings case again involved our amenable neo-Georgian's Prince M. William and Lady Elizabeth, our new confidants in this region with both now involved in the higher echelonic machinations of Emory University. And it is primarily due to their recent relocation here that we have quickly been drawn into over two dozen highly intriguing candidates for our espiance...and much to our delight I might add!

With its lush and rolling geography the Inman Park area was originally envisioned as an oasis for city-dwellers by landscape designer and city planner Joel Hurt in late 1880's, a time when Watson and I were working on our own thriving investigative practice at 221B Baker Street, London.  Named for his business associate and compatriot Samuel Inman, these twisty roads were designed to yield visitors a relaxed view of the expansive greenery and (after many changes in the last 100 years both economic and gastronomic) the region is again experiencing a vibrant resurgence with a very healthy quantity of top class eateries festooned throughout the region.

A Wonderful Mix of Old and New

While parking can be a tad vexing in the fairly tight Highland Corridor, the harried visitor (or soon-to-be satiated patron) can surely come up trumps with the free valet lot next to Wisteria. The tight streets belie the fact that the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, in the wide open and expansive Freedom Park greenway, is just some 1000 meters (yet an entire world) away to the west. 

Wisteria is housed in the end unit of a single story row of shoppes with brickwork more than 100 years old and the architectural use of said brick inside parlays this decor to its sure advantage. The pub wall is aptly backed by an expanse of this original brickwork .... and as justly, throughout the enclave one finds the contemporary touches of local artists adorning the walls as well. This clean, neat, sometimes classical interior proffers the proper mix of old world southern charms with a modern interpretation of style and grace and only begins to prepare you for the taste melange that awaits your palate.
Cornmeal Fried Calimari with sweet and sour
apricot sauce and wasabi creme fraiche (9)

Intriguingly, the menu is not just the beguiling twist put on southern staples like 'Shrimp and Grits' that begins to alter the provisional balance here in the New South, although that too is especially good here. No, it's more that 'Contemporary American Fare' is deftly served with a uniquely updated Southern flair and that these offerings from Chef-Owner Jason Hill are quantifiably on par with the finest available anywhere. To our great benefit!

Now, with every good dasher sporting a healthy and eclectic mix of slakes and libations these days, Wisteria is well represented herein as well for the Breckenridge Bourbon Old Fashioned I thusly summoned was among the best I have ever sampled and, with a semi-coherent belief that it MIGHT have been a mere distilled fluke, I had to have another for veracity!

A Most Delicious
Breckenridge Bourbon
Old Fashioned
Properly wetted, and to aid in our primary entree decision making, the Prince suggested we draw on an order of Fried Calamari appropriately dredged in cornmeal from the local Red Mule Mills (where said cornmeal is in fact ground locally by 'Luke', the eponymous 15 year old Red Mule himself). Served with a Sweet and Sour Apricot Sauce and a Wasabi Creme Fraiche, this delivery skillfully gives one the Southern Twist initially sought out while also delivering a delicious starter for our small cluster.

It was almost too much for us to order only one 'taster' as there were a number of others that looked especially appetizing: the Ancho Chili Rubbed Sea Scallop, Flash Fried Gulf Oysters in a Sherry Cream Sauce, the Beef Carpaccio along with a tantaric Salmon Tartare Flatbread. However, Watson is not much for these early invitationals and a grumbling belly soon pushed us to quickly know our onions.

Pan Fried North Carolina Flounder (27)
What initially appeared as a limited list of 12 main plates soon showed itself (upon finer inspection) as a very well balanced assortment of dishes with all bases seemingly covered: Six were water related in some way, two beef involved, one pasta friendly, one of fowl, one of foal (lamb), and one completely vegetarian... it was a poetic balance.

Almond Crusted Georgia Mountain Trout (21)
On this night it was the Pan Fried North Carolina Flounder ($27) with herb spaetzle, baby spinach, pink lady apples, and lemon butter pan sauce that caught the eye of both Watson and the Prince while Lady Elizabeth opted for the delightful Black Pepper Crusted Grilled Salmon ($26) with little gems lettuce, Asian pear, farm egg, curried candied pistachios, and filled creme mousse. The descriptions alone were more than our senses were prepared for but their gift was in the water generating aromas given at delivery. 
Sweet Potato Souffle with Candied Pecans (6)

As a self-avowed trout aficionado I chose the Almond Crusted Georgia Mountain Trout ($21) with green beans, corn, roasted tomatoes, fingerling and red potatoes, and bacon vinaigrette. It wasn't perhaps the most picturesque delivery but the succulence was palpable. And it should be noted that trout can be served in many ways yet this was a heretofore unique amalgam.

Braised Greens Mac N' Cheese (8)
Relying on our exemplary waitperson Rob(ert) to deliver us an additional two accompaniments to complement the orders received thus far - he did not disappoint. A simply scrumptious Sweet Potato Mash with Candied Pecans($6), which we certainly would not have ordered but were instantly astounded at with its nuanced pleasure, and the Braised Greens Mac n' Cheese ($8) which has now attained a perch in our collective side-dish hierarchy of Best Ever! Simply superb!

It should also be noted that a seemingly small matter to some but huge in our investigations is the presence of teamwork in any enterprise, where all are clearly rowing in the same direction to further the efforts of the whole. At Wisteria it was the subtle drink delivery by a previously unseen steward, a quiet whisking of plates by another that showed us ethereal web intricately woven beneath the surface aiding the entire operation. A well run endeavor indeed and certainly not one glossed over.

And once dining plates do disappear the timing of the desert introduction is also another sign of measured expertise; not rushed or dallied yet smoothly enveloped in like that far-off oboe singing during an intricate classical symphony. Heavier meals in other locales might call for a digestif along with a final plate yet the light fullness of these meals suggested something perhaps with a bit of frippery.

The Small Bites Desserts, which offered three of the eight full dessert parcels in more moderation (3/$10 or 6/$18), is the perfect communal table piece allowing social participation yet discreet restraint at gluttony.

Our chosen delightful trio consisted of the hand crafted Caramel and Sea Salt S'more, Chef Walker's Seasonal Granita - this one of Pink Grapefruit and Fresh Ginger(!), and Jakes Homemade Ice Cream - tonite a Mexican Chocolate-Salted Bourbon Pecan-Vanilla Bean melange that was cool, soothing, and yet had a bite to it that rightly startled!

Overall Wisteria sports one of the largest gluten-free menu's in the area, hosts a large array of locally ground and sourced raw ingredients, and is  constantly changing based on the availability of these fresh ingredients so that the listed menu rotation will be ongoing yet the excellence with which it is served will certainly be everlasting if our experience is any harbinger.

The unique nature of the evening was brought to a pointed when upon retrieving our coach outside we saw what appeared to be a Sunbeam Tiger, a 1964-67 production aided by Carroll Shelby who also designed and developed the quintessential AC-Cobra, an automotive gauntlet whose throttling reverberations are documented in auto auctions worldwide. This 'Tiger', witnessed for the first time, was unlike anything we'd seen ever before - just as Wisteria was a find like no other!

A Sunbeam Tiger