Monday, November 29, 2010

Quan Ba 9

The Friday after Thanksgiving was grey, rainy and cold. Roommate Lynn and I had already planned to get pedicures, but decided to add on a trip to get Pho as well. The weather practically insisted on it for us.

Our regular nail place couldn't take us, and that solidified our plan to hit Buford Highway for Vietnamese nails and eats. It was harder then we thought to find a nail salon-every place we stopped was either closed, had no nail people or was a "spa". The kind of spa that has blacked out windows and specializes in massage.

We were lucky to find Nail and Spa, on Chamblee Tucker in the same shopping center as the Wal-Mart. Big and clean, with a wonderful staff and awesome Vietnamese/French versions of 1980s pop songs. The guy who did my toes sang along to a female, French version of "Last Christmas" and mentioned what a handsome man George Michael is. A pedicure was only $18.50 and worth every penny.

I had never been to Quan Ba 9, but Roommate Lynn had, and reported that it had the best pork noodles with egg roll that she has ever had (her favorite).

Then for Pho! We have a tradition of going for pho when it is cold and rainy. We try to rotate the spots. I am a particular fan of Pho Dai Loi. I do draw a line between pho joints and Vietnamese restaurants. For a more extensive menu, we both prefer the awesome Chateau Saigon.

I wanted to order spring rolls, but the waiter pointed out that they were wrapped in pork skin. I was all ready to jam them down the old salted pork hole, but RL (who has never eaten cracklin'!), demurred. Instead the waiter offered to make us non-shrimp summer rolls (she don't eat shrimp neither!). Next time I'll make her get her own egg rolls and I'll nosh on some Babe flesh.

But, oh, the pho! I got Pho Tom (shrimp), and RL stuck with the basic beef (round, flank). The broth was some of the best I've ever tasted! Rich and meaty, I could have eaten it with no additions. In fact, I ate half of it before adding in a little Sirancha and hoison, which I just do because I like the taste of both. The greens, sprouts, and herbs for adding were all fresh, and I was especially pleased that I got a large portion of shrimp; some places do skimp. (On shrimp. It rhymes so it's true).

When we went to Quan Ba 9, I was both getting over a cold and a little hungover from the eating and drinking of Thanksgiving Day. Their pho was exactly what the doctor ordered. It cleared my head and my nose. My only complaint was with the service. After being quite attentive at first, our waiter disappeared and never refilled my water! That's a requirement for me when it comes to spicy, delicious pho.

For a review with photos, check out Creative Loafing's.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wine, Women and Song!

Roommate Lynn and I recently returned from a vacation to California wine country. This was our first wine buying trip. We are talking seriously about doing multiple domestic trips over the next few years, then branching out internationally. First stop: South America. That way I can either drink myself to death with Malbecs and Carmeneres, or just shut the fuck up about them.

I was a terrible tourist for wine country. I barely took and photographs (the survivors did make it onto Facebook) and took no notes on the vineyards we visited. I bought three bottles of wine (to Roommate Lynn's seven), but two of them got drunk before we even left town.

I do want to make note of a few great surprises/misses.

Hotel: The Flamingo in Santa Rosa, CA. I loved the pink and turquoise, but dislike the chintzy amenities. But an excellent location for the routes we took, and located in town near a handful of good restaurants, coffee shops, a Safeway and a CVS. Clean and cheap. I wold stay there again, but would remember to bring a lot extra, including a cooler and some kind of plastic bottle, for taking wine out into the patio/pool/hot tub area.

Food on the Way: We stopped for the most glorious of all Northern California cuisines, Indian pizza. I had been introduced to Golden Gate Pizza previously, and it was enough on our way from the airport to hotel that we stopped for a Vegetarian: Special Spinach Curry Sauce, ginger, tomatoes, red onions, garlic, cauliflower and eggplant bhartha with mozzarella on a traditional pizza crust. God's own recipe.

Day 1: We decided to do Pinot Noirs and used a combination of an online PN tour and recommendations from locals. The star of that day was Hook & Ladder. Their Pinot is actually on the by the glass list at Bone's in Atlanta, so I was already prepared to love all of their wine. The basic tasting was free (awesome), and the reserve tasting was only $10. Since we bought three bottles based on the reserve tasting, we did get a little discount. The wines have an unbelievably rich taste across the board. Very reasonably priced.

After a day of rough tasting, we drove out to the ocean for a look at the Pacific, which I realized I had never seen before. We then drove back past the Applewood Inn, for my first meal in a restaurant with a Michelin star. It's a gorgeous place, and I would love to stay there one day. The food was excellent, but the service was poor. We went without a reservation, and instead of the staff telling us they did not take walk ins, they seated us and treated us like dirt. It was extremely disappointing.

Day 2: Massive hangover due to not enough sleep, not enough water, too much Pinot, and boiling alive in the world's hottest hot tub (while drinking, natch). We ate breakfast at a dim sum place in Santa Rosa, Hang Ah. God Bless those wonderful people. I threw up in the bathroom before the dim sum, from the one leftover piece of Indian pizza I insisted on eating as soon as I got up. The dim sum was excellent and is truly great hangover food.

We tried to stick to whites on Day 2, and did until my head and our stomachs went back to normal. We drove into downtown Sonoma, which is pretty lame if you aren't a serious tourist or rich. We did find one really great tasting room, the name of which I cannot remember, where they fed us homemade Cheddar and spinach ravioli. The pourer also directed us to Imagery, which was the stand out of the day. We both bought bottles there; I got a bottle of "Code Blue", which has a high percentage of blueberries, and I'm planning to drink with a lot of goat cheese. It will be the perfect pairing.

We took it easy in the afternoon, just eating goat cheese and sourdough in the hotel room, then went out for sushi in Santa Rosa. There was no way I could leave the West Coast without some fresh fish.

Day 3: I had to get Roommate Lynn to the airport fairly early for a flight back to Washington, so I ended up with a day to kill on my own in San Francisco. I went to the Zoo and the SFMOMA, just grabbing Trader Joe's for lunch, then headed across the bridge to Oakland for dinner with Berkeley archivists at Pizzaiolo, which is definitely some of the best pizza and pasta I've ever eaten. Excellent cocktails too.

The trip ended for me with a red eye back to Atlanta. For once, I slept on a plane! It was a rough trip home to a grey, rainy city, after a long weekend in 72 degree wine country sun. I ate some Ramen and slept for hours, which is the best recovery for practically anything. It was a good trip, and I learned some important lessons about hydration, regular snacks/meals, and not eating 2-day-old Indian pizza for breakfast when you are hungover.

Next trip for me: a long weekend in Chicago. It will definitely include a breakfast trip to Hot Doug's.