Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BBB Beer of the Week: DuClaw X-1

I've always liked what DuClaw had to offer, but some time during the past year my appreciation for what they do has grown considerably. Nearly every beer I try of theirs is something to behold. Each time I try a something new from DuClaw I find myself enjoying beer that has big flavor but is also extremely well rounded. A few months ago while doing my winter seasonal bottle shopping I happened across a bottle of X-1. Being that this beer took a medal at the World Beer Cup it's a beer that I've wanted to try for quite some time. Yesterday, after forgetting that I had this bad boy sitting in the basement I was finally able to sit down and enjoy the X-1.

Style: Imperial Chocolate Rye Porter
ABV: 7.7%
IBU: 60

Appearance: X-1 pours pitch black and is topped off with a fairly substantial head that was bread like in its texture and chocolaty in color. I don't know what it is, but anytime a beer has a head with a color different than the usual white/off-white color it makes it look all the more inviting to me.

Nose: The aroma on this one is great. There are big chocolate notes on top with roasted coffee underneath it all. I'm not always a fan of chocolate and beer but in conjunction with the roasted malt the aroma on X-1 totally won me over.

Taste: DuClaw X-1 could very well be not only the best chocolate beer I've ever had, but also the best porter. A lot of what you smell is what you taste, but I was happy to learn that chocolate presence was more subdued than the aroma had me anticipating. That's not to say the chocolate flavor isn't a major player. It's just not the be all end all of this beer. The sweet chocolate notes are balanced perfectly by the bitter roasted coffee flavors you get on the finish.

Final Verdict: Like I said on my Untappd check-in last night, what a f'n beer. It truly is delicious. When it comes to Porters and sweeter/maltier beers I often find it a challenge to drink more than one beer at a sitting. By the time I get through the sweet flavors I've worn my palate out and I'm ready for something else. With X-1, I don't see myself having that problem. This is perfectly balanced beer that is worthy of any accolades it's received. If you see this one on the shelf or hear about it being offered on tap, do not hesitate to seek this one out. DuClaw X-1 is a great beer.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Honey Pig

I've thought long and hard about how I wanted to approach my review of Honey Pig. In the world of restaurant reviews, people have differing opinions on how one should approach negative restaurant situations. I know many people out there that believe you should simply pass on even mentioning a restaurant if you leave unhappy. Other people seem to find something wrong at seemingly every restaurant they visit and so it seems more like nitpicking and less like honest criticism. And there are others like me who believe in balance. If all I ever I did was tell you how great every restaurant I visit is, what good are my reviews? At that point, it's all just the same old crap on repeat and my blog is a big waste of space. I like to think that my blog is only a little waste of space.

Obviously, I've decided to air my grievances. Not to exact any type of revenge or anything like that. I'm just a big proponent of balance. I heap plenty of praise on restaurants throughout the area in hopes that people who come across my posts will take what I have to say and be a little more inclined to visit a new restaurant. On the same token, if I've experienced a particularly bad encounter I think people ought to know about it so they can take that information and do what they want with it.

So, with the gigantic intro out of the way, I now present to you my visit to Honey Pig.

After I left the restaurant the night of our visit, I was scanning Twitter just trying to pass the time. It just so happened that someone was tweeting the fact that Honey Pig had a Groupon or LivingSocial offer available. I replied to that tweet that I could never recommend a visit to Honey Pig and that their management was a joke. I didn't realize Honey Pig had a twitter account, but my tweet found its way to them. They asked that I e-mail them with my grievances and so I did. Below is the exact e-mail sent to their team:
I was given this e-mail on Twitter after having a brief discussion there about the service I received yesterday. 
Last night around 6 PM I visited your Ellicott City Location for the first time. Our dinner and service were both excellent. While we were eating we began discussing future visits and who we could bring along with us.And then the the check came. When it came I got my phone out to show the server the LivingSocial deal I had purchased months prior. I paid $15 to get $30 of value. She looked at the deal and pointed out that it was only good Sunday-Thursday. First, let me state that I know it was my fault for overlooking that fact. However, it had been months since I purchased the deal and I simply forgot about the finer details. I apologized for attempting to use it on a Friday, but that it was an honest mistake and asked if an exception could be made. I explained that I drove 45 minutes to eat at HoneyPig and that with only one week left to use the LivingSocial deal it would be impossible for me to come back and redeem the deal I had already paid for. She said no and walked away from the table. After thinking for a few minutes and realizing it was my fault for trying to use the deal on a Friday, I asked if I could get the $15 I already paid off of my bill rather than the $30 value. I felt like that was a good compromise, but still I was told no. So, I asked to speak with a manager. And this is where the majority of my frustration was borne. The server I was speaking with turned and called over someone else. I explained the situation and she replied with "let me speak with the manager". This confused me because I had just asked to speak with the manager. If she wasn't the manager I don't know why she was sent to my table pretending to be one. The second server went up to the register and spoke with another woman. After about five minutes the second server returned and said no exception could be made. I asked again if I could speak with the manager. She said no and walked away. I waited another minute and caught her attention as she was coming back across the dining room. I explained to her that I enjoyed the food and was preparing to come back for future visits, but the fact that they were unwilling to work with me and wouldn't send a manager over solidified my decision not to return in the future. She said fine and walked away. 
To summarize, I had a nice dinner last night. I wanted to come back and try the food again. I realize I was trying to use a livingsocial deal on an improper day, but the fact that they weren't interested in working with me to find a compromise and their dismissive attitude towards me (despite the fact that I never raised my voice once) left me very frustrated. Because of this, it would be very hard for me to ever recommend this restaurant to my friends and readers.
The response I received to my e-mail was only slightly less useless than the responses I got in person while at the restaurant. After being asked to write them an e-mail, and then taking my good old time on a Saturday morning to write them a detailed response, I was expecting a half way decent reply. I was starting to come around to the fact that it may have just been an off night for the people at their location, and that their management, wherever they existed, actually cared about customer service. And then I got response that boiled down to a Thank you for your e-mail. We're sorry about your experience and we'll address this when it's not the busy weekend hours.

So, what do I expect those of you who read this to do with this information? Well, whatever you like. There's a very good chance that your visit will be nothing but good times. As I mentioned in the e-mail the food was good and the restaurant experience itself was very fun. However, if you happen to have something disagreeable take place during your visit be aware that you will most likely be summarily dismissed and that they will do next to nothing to make sure you leave there feeling like they cared about your business.

Honey Pig on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit 2013: Buca Di Beppo

The rules of The Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit are simple.  Each category is worth 2 points (allowing for half points). The only pizza I'm considering is the basic slice of cheese. At the end of the year, the highest score wins the coveted Baltimore Bistros and Beer's Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit title. This week's entry is surprise entrant Buca Di Beppo. Click here to see how the last entrant fared.

I wasn't planning on including Buca in the Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit, but after tasting their stuff during lunch last week I thought they deserved a mention. A future review of Buca di Beppo as a whole will be posted at some point in the future. Please keep in mind that despite the picture showing 3 types of pizza, the only one under consideration here is the cheese pizza.

Droop Factor - It's a bit hard to score this one when it comes to Buca's pizza. The pie was fairly small and it wasn't cut into the traditional triangle pieces. Because of this, droop factor really doesn't come in to play and so I'm giving them a 1 by default.

Score - 1

Greaseification - This pizza was greasy, but in a totally delicious way. I've mentioned the fine line pizza walks between grease gross and grease great. Buca di Beppo's was grease great.

Score - 1.5

Aroma - I realize this category is kind of BS, but it's my party and I'll make stupid criteria if I want to. Pizza either comes out smelling fantastic, or it comes out smelling really good. Because the pizza we got came with two other types of pizza attached to it, it's hard to evaluate the sexy aroma of the cheese alone. To be fair, I'm also giving a default score of 1 here because I can't be sure that that I wasn't influenced by the meaty aroma that was the godlike pepperoni.

Score - 1

Cheese - Buca's cheese was extremely tasty. Salty, creamy, greasy, and delicious. The pizza was cooked just the right amount of time to the point that the cheese started to get those beautiful little browned areas here and there. Really tasty stuff.

Score - 1.5

Sauce - I REALLY enjoyed the sauce. I enjoyed it so much I hit the caps lock button when I typed really in the previous sentence. There was ample tomato sauce throughout. The flavor was bright and acidic and there was an underlying flavor of garlic that a lot of the other pizzas I've been eating could have benefited from.

Score - 2

Crust - Buca's crust was quite delicious as well. It was thinner than usual and I really enjoyed that. This is a pizza you can eat without feeling like you're eating a bread anchor. They put a nice brown on it and overall it was a crust well done.

Score - 1.5

Overall Score - 8.5  out of 12

As you can see, Buca Di Beppo scored very well. Without the default scores of 1 for a few categories, this one would be right up there at the top. I visited them during lunch break because I had a coupon and wanted a cheap lunch. I left surprised as hell at how much I enjoyed their pizza. Walked in with chain restaurant bias. Walked out thrilled that I can walk there from work any day of the week.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BBB Beer of the Week: Lindemans Kriek

This beer might have just totally flipped the script on me. I'm kind of flabbergasted (in the best way) that what I'm drinking is considered a beer. If you think you know what beer tastes like, try Lindemans Kriek and prepare to have your world turned upside down. I've had a sour beer or two before, but none were anywhere near as drinkable and delicious as what I'm sipping on as I write this. 

Style: Lambic Kriek
ABV: 4%
IBU: 18

Appearance: The first truly unique feature of this beer is the color. It's a beautiful ruby red like I've never seen before in a beer. Combined with the massive head on top that is tinted pink, this is one of the all time visually impressive beers I've run into thus far in my career as an imbiber.

Nose: Lindemans Kriek smells like cherry, a touch of earthy malt, and deliciousness "beersonified". You also pick up the tiniest bit of sourness and maybe even a little bit of Luden's Cherry cough drops for those of you familiar. That probably sounds odd, but trust me when I say this beer smells as delicious as it looks.

Taste: Wonderful. Perfect. It's dry, a touch sour, sweet, and full of picture perfect cherry flavor. If you've never tasted a Lambic, the flavor of this beer is going to totally surprise you. People that previously didn't consider themselves a fan of beer, or someone who is just looking to change things up would be wise to give this a try.

Final Verdict: I hate this beer. It's derivative and boring. In all seriousness, this beer was fantastic and has me excited to find more beers in the same category to blow my mind. It's awesome. My only regret is that I opened this without Deana around assuming that it was going to be too sour for her taste. The good news is that I'll have to buy another one so that she can share in the beauty that is this beer. Lindemans Kriek needs to be on your must buy list.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

After 100 Posts....

This marks my 100th post at Baltimore Bistros and Beer. And as luck would have it, Kathy from Minxeats reached out to me a week or so ago and asked if I would like to use her talents at graphic design to develop a banner for my page. What better way to celebrate 100 posts than with a makeover?

Obviously, you can tell I said yes just by glancing up at the awesome new banner atop my page. I really like the new banner and I appreciate her efforts in helping a fellow blogger out. She didn't have to do this for me, but she wanted to help a fellow Baltimore blogger out and so I'm very appreciative. 

Kathy and her husband recently released a book called Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore. If there is one thing I've learned since starting this blog it's that there are millions of places throughout the Baltimore area that I never heard of and there are always new places to visit and eat. A book like this would be super helpful to me and I'm sure it would be helpful to you when you're looking to discover new nooks and crannies in the area. 

So, once again thanks to Kathy from Minxeats for the graphical upgrade and thank you to everyone who has ever read a single one of my posts. It's a ton of fun for me to write them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Elkridge Furnace Inn

Elkridge Furnace Inn is quite a bit different from the average restaurant I review in the sense that it's very formal. You don't feel like you're eating in a restaurant. Rather, you feel like you are visiting someone at their house. Albeit, a very nice house and one in which there are waiters dressed in formal attire and the basement is stocked with an endless supply of delicious wines. If you're ever looking to step your game up on the date front this is a great place to take someone. It's quiet, intimate, and truly unique compared to most other places in the area.

The night we visited the Furnace Inn I decided to try one of my favorites in French Onion soup and I also ventured from the familiar and tried rabbit for the first time. Deana went with a Pork Chop.

The soup was excellent. Not to toot my own horn (toot toot), but it reminded me very much of the recipe I use for French Onion. The crock was filled to the brim with carmalized onions and the broth had notes of wine in each spoonful. The sweet/tart grape flavor was a nice contrast to the saltier beef stock. And of course it was topped off with ooey gooey cheese that was melted under the broiler. I think the crunchy cheese bits on top of a good French Onion are one of the best bites this world has to offer. As someone who orders plenty of this soup I can say that their interpretation is one of the best around. 

My rabbit, while I'm glad I tried it, it's not something I think I'll find myself ordering again anytime soon. Of course, that is of no fault of the chef. I think I'm just not a huge fan of rabbit itself. The texture came across as chewy chicken. I don't remember exactly what was in the sauce, but it reminded me of a more complex and well rounded version of sweet and sour sauce. The mix of vegetables was probably my favorite part of the meal. There were carrots, peppers, and a variety of tender potatoes that made me plenty happy.

Deana's pork chop was excellent. There was a lot less going on with her dinner compared to my rabbit dish, but that's not to say it was any less flavorful. The pork chop was HUGE and topped with a rich glaze that made going in for followup bites very easy. Whether your stomach wanted you to or not, this was one pork chop that was going to be finished if your taste buds had any say in the matter. On the side they served tender broccolini and sweet potatoes with candied pecans. The sweet potatoes were the best part of our dinner.  As a certified pecan junky I could have had a plate of nothing but sweet potatoes. 

Overall, our visit to the Elkridge Furnace Inn was excellent. The staff was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about their menu. As I mentioned before, the atmosphere is unique, and while this isn't a place I think I'd find myself wanting to visit monthly due to a menu that is a bit pricey, it's a great place to celebrate a special occasion. 

Price: Expensive
Recommendation: Keep them in mind for special occasions
What to Order: Their menu is seasonal, but I believe the French Onion soup is offered year round. 

Elkridge Furnace Inn on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

BBB Beer of the Week: Floris Apple

A day or two prior to Valentines Day Deana asked if there was anything I wanted as a gift. I responded like any sensible person would respond and told her I'd like for her to go the store and pick up some beer. When she asked what I wanted I told her to surprise me. Floris Apple was one of those surprises and it was a nice surprise indeed.

Style: Belgian Apple Ale
ABV: 3.6%
IBU: ?

Appearance: Floris Apple poured a hazy golden color that was cider like in appearance. One of the more noticeable visual features was the effervescent bubbles percolating away. For whatever reason, I've been very into cider and apple flavored libations in general lately so this Belgian Ale was looking extra tasty to me.

Nose: This beer smelled great... Like the freshest apple juice you've ever had with a faint touch of spice in the background. There was a mix of fresh green apple and candy apple going on and it had me salivating. 

Taste: Despite this being an Ale I didn't pick up a lot of beer like features. However, it tasted like some of the best ciders I've ever had. Floris Apple was effervescent, crisp,  and refreshing. Up front you're hit with the flavor of pure apple with a touch of cinnamon and spice hidden throughout.

Final Verdict: I really enjoyed this beer. It wasn't perfect, and it definitely won't satisfy hop heads, but with spring around the corner I like to imagine myself cooling down from yard work with a drink as crisp and refreshing as this. Give this one a try if you come across it. It's worth it. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Della Notte

This is another one of those Baltimore restaurants I've driven by endless times and never visited. I always put it on my mental restaurant roledex, but when it came time to pick a place to eat Della Notte just never found their way to the front of the line. I finally put an end to that and after a great first visit we decided to celebrate our New Year's with dinner at Della Notte as well

Della Notte is a little more on the formal side of things. It's the type of place that scrapes the crumbs off your table mid-dinner. And simple me, I found it very entertaining that they refolded your napkin every time you got up from the table. I may have taken advantage of this. In addition to the great wait staff the decor is also top notch. The dining room circles a gigantic tree which makes for a cool environment in which to enjoy your dinner.

On our first visit I ordered the linguine and Deana went with pappardelle. We were both extremely pleased with our dishes. My linguine was topped with a ton of delicious clams in a simple white wine sauce. The flavors were clean and straight forward but incredible nonetheless. When you're done eating the plump clams and perfect al dente pasta, you'll be in heaven dipping the crusty bread in the remaining sauce. It was so good I ordered it again on my second visit.

Deana's pappardelle was equally fantastic. For those less familiar pappardelle is kind of like smaller lasagna noodles that they use as regular pasta. It was topped with what is easily the best bolognese sauce we've come across. The sauce had great acidic tomato presence, deep meat flavor, and a nice amount of spice underneath it all. If white wine sauces aren't your thing you can't go wrong with this bolognese. 

We ended our dinner and our year with the best creme brulee we've had. It's light, creamy, and topped with an  addictive crunchy caramalized sugar coating. It's more than enough for two, but I wouldn't look at you funny if you ordered one all for yourself. 

Della Notte was strong in all facets. The decor was great, service was excellent, and the food was delicious. I may have taken a long time to walk through their doors the first time, but repeat visits have already happened and will be happening again frequently. 

Price: Expensive
Recommendation: Great place for a nice date. 
What to Order: I don't think you can go wrong, but don't miss out on the creme brulee climax at the end of the night.

Della Notte on Urbanspoon