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Value Vino: ‘Girly wines’ aren’t so pretty in pink

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

We tasted these, so you don’t have to


Any kind of marketing at all is suspicious to some of us. Men’s insecurities are targeted by Cialis, their vanity by the-more-blades-the-better Gillette, but the blatant efforts being made in the wine world to pitch product directly to women seem especially insidious. Perhaps it’s a legitimate way to reshape a market in which, despite the fact that women buy most of the wine consumed, the product is nevertheless one largely controlled by men. But given the category’s emphasis on glittery, over-the-top labels and the implication that the contents are fun, often sweet, and in no way complex, forgive me if I don’t think so. Women are also said to have better palates.

A stroll down the wine aisles at World Market or most H-E-Bs is an eye-opener. Bottles of Italian Petalo Moscato, a blowsy rose on the label, cohabit happily with Sweet Bliss sweet red wine sporting a stemmed cherry erotically dripping chocolate. Even Central Market isn’t immune. Here, Sofia Coppola’s Sofia, a pink sparkler packaged in a four-pack of juice cans, complete with a built-in straw, flies off the shelves. (“They’re popular for indulging yourself while getting a mani-pedi,” admitted wine manager Heidi Holcomb. Sadly, I didn’t have one scheduled.) The 100-calorie Skinny Girl stood out at Gabriel’s Superstore.

The Skinny Girl product line was dreamed up by former Real Housewives personality Bethenny Frankel. Though Frankel sold the company, which also markets pre-mixed cocktails, in 2011, the Huffington Post recently called it “massively successful…one of the fastest-growing on the market.” A panel of both sexes gathered at the Current tasted the Skinny Girl White with these results: “This smells like a cheap wine,” “Not even re-run material,” “100 calories doesn’t sound that low…if there were a big difference, maybe.” (100 calories isn’t that low; an exemplary German Riesling would weigh in at just a few calories more per five-ounce glass.)

The 2011 Little Black Dress Divalicious White, a California blend of four white grapes plus 6 percent “other white,” fared only a little better: “I wouldn’t buy this but don’t actually dislike it,” “It’s a cookie wine,” “Maybe if I were going to watch You’ve Got Mail on mindless repeat…” Some detected a little green apple, but most agreed that “90 percent [of the target audience] would have no interest in what’s in the bottle; it’s all about branding.”

Another white, the non-vintage New Age, a blend of torrontés and sauvignon blanc from Argentina, might almost be picked up by an oblivious guy—or at least he wouldn’t be too embarrassed at the checkout stand. The image of a long-necked beauty is printed on the back of the back label and must be viewed through the bottle. Such subtleties did not extend to the wine itself. “Its carbonated edge [not mentioned on the label] seems accidental,” “Would be better as a cocktail or spritzer”—a suggestion that is made on the label.

The only purposefully spritzy wine in the lineup was a sparkling Italian rosé, prettily packaged in pink with bunches of bubbles. Iconoclastic Washington state winemaker Charles Smith makes Secco with “two Italian sisters”—but it didn’t rock the boat: “Avril Lavigne would drink it,” “It has a Sweet 16 look,” “It seems flat”…Yet there were mild dissenters of the “It’s the least bad wine so far” sort.

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Market Eats: LocaVore dishes up worldly eats

Photo: Denise Mojica, License: N/A

Denise Mojica

There’s nothing boring about these grits


The Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market has seen its fair share of food trucks come and go, but it may have finally found a mobile vendor that gels with the market’s local-local-local mantra. After launching in early June, LocaVore has settled into making tasty and varied farm-to-table eats that pair with local market finds.

Chef Nick Fuentes and partner Jessica Vargas are dealing out morning and lunchtime fare that’s as enticing as it is unfussy, and that’s how they like it.

“We’re not trying to push the envelope. There’s no molecular anything … it’s just straight comfort food your grandmother would make,” Fuentes, whose résumé also includes a four-year stint at Jason Dady’s Tre Trattoria, just recently stepped down as sous chef from Bruce Auden’s Biga on Bank to focus on LocaVore. For her part, Vargas has been working on hospitality for the last several years. Most recently as a manager at the Fairmount Hotel, where the two met.

While the food is simple, it’s far from boring. “We’re attracted to more colorful food,” Fuentes said.

Their shared passion for simple food is evident in the varied menu, which already has some favorites such as the Braised Bits on Blue Grits with Guajillo pepper-braised pork (via Loncito Cartwright of Peaceful Pork) on organic blue corn butter grits (out of El Paso), topped with a sunny-side-up egg and charred okra (purchased via fellow market vendors). It’s farm to truck to your mouth in a matter of hours.

“The other vendors now know who we are and we’re consistent with the orders so they’re ready,” Vargas said.

Other brunch items include a chorizo hash and variations on eggs Benedict with fresh hollandaise, but LocaVore is stretching its legs to include lunch and dinner options.

Although the mission of LocaVore is to stay local when sourcing ingredients (the couple also uses prickly pear from around the area for a sweet punch), don’t expect the menu to hone in on any one particular cuisine. A lobster roll landed on the menu after Groomer Seafood’s crustacean-centric fest; Fuentes also whipped up a “porchetta di testa,” using hog jowls, tongue and ears in the same style as a pancetta; a house-made mortadella was also a hit; and a light ceviche using scallops, shrimp and baby octopus wowed market-goers.

“That’s what we’re trying to showcase—that you can do so much more with Texan produce,” Vargas said. “You can make beautiful stir-fries, Italian, Puerto Rican … it can be anything.”

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On the Rocks: A rum chat with NAO’s Tim Bryand

Photo: Ron Bechtol, License: N/A

Ron Bechtol

Tim Bryand’s take on a rum Old Fashioned


This is the only time rum and Coke will be mentioned. We will not discuss mojitos because enough already. Nor will tiki drinks be touched upon as they are a subset unto themselves. However, as this is a piece about rum, we will dwell on the daiquiri. But first a word from our sponsors.

Just kidding. But I did sit down with a congenial host to get the lowdown on a spirit I have ignored over the years. Tim Bryand is the assistant manager and head wine and spirits guy at NAO; its small bar sports 25 rums—if you count the three cachaças. With stints including Bohanan’s Bar and The Esquire under his belt, Bryand is well placed to conduct a tutorial in almost anything spirituous, but as NAO’s focus is Latin American, rum is a natural. He started by sampling me with small shots.

The first was a silver, unaged rum (made, as are most, from molasses) from Panama’s Caña Brava. It was snappy and bright with a hint of lime peel. Next came 10 Cane from Trinidad. The label doesn’t use the term rhum agricole, but that’s what this was a twice-distilled version of—a “first-press” rum made directly from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice. (“Only about five percent of rums are made this way,” explained Bryand.) It had hints of vanilla and light caramel. Both of these categories can be aged, often in used bourbon barrels, to yield amber (or gold), then dark products. But for sobriety’s sake we next went to a blackstrap from Cruzan. “They boil it three times,” Bryand said of the molasses used in this dark and distinctive variation, heavy on allspice and clove aromas and flavors. The final leap was to a Smith & Cross Navy-strength rum at 57 percent alcohol (40 percent is the norm), a potential burner that turned out to be merely a little rowdy with fruity banana tones and a touch of yeast. Having successfully completed the course so far, the reward was a brace of daiquiris.

The daiquiri may be the ultimate, unfussy summer drink. Bryand’s ratio is two ounces rum, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice and ¾ ounce simple syrup shaken with ice and served in a chilled coupe—no garnish. Variation number one–fragrant, crisp and bracing—was made with Caña Brava, number two with the Smith & Cross Navy-strength—“deelishus,” according to Bryand. I’d agree, but would take either one. I’d also happily repeat Bryand’s variation on an Old Fashioned with 12-year Zaya rum; it was stunningly spicy and aromatic.

And I’d get back to NAO often for one of Bryand’s weekly creations. “We don’t reinvent the wheel,” he said modestly, of his seductive riff on a French 75 that was Mother’s Little Helper, a summery blend of Cruzan with house-made hibiscus syrup, lemon and a splash of sparkling wine. For NAO’s second anniversary he’s created another version with cachaça, Aperol, lime and mango syrup.

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Flavor File: Good news for Hot Joy, new owner for Cockasian Food Truck and how to audition for MasterChef

Photo: Casey Howell, License: N/A

Casey Howell

Yes, you can still enjoy the wings


Getting into Hot Joy (1014 S Alamo, (210) 368-9324) these days will be slightly trickier. The Southtown eatery was named the No. 7 best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit food and drink editor Andrew Knowlton for being part of a “growing subgenre of ethnic cuisine (see: Mission Chinese Food and Mott Street) that, when executed with passion and skill, rewards the pleasure center of the brain just as much as some preciously foraged $100 tasting menu.” While the restaurant does take reservations, they do hold half the tables and all of the bar seats for walk-ins so diners can still stop in for an impromptu dinner of ramen and twice fried chicken wings…or the migas fried rice…or the lamb dan dan noodles…you get the idea.

In more Asian food news, Cockasian Food Truck is under new ownership after being put up for sale this summer by original owner Candie Yoder. Taps y Tapas executive chef, Luciano Valadez, is adding the food truck to his résumé (which includes previously owning and running TexAsada food truck, along with a five-year stint opening P.F. Chang’s and Pei Wei locations across the state). Fans can expect to find an entirely new menu with pan-Asian recipes produced by Valadez and his team, including Asian steamed buns, Korean fried chicken, an edamame salad and Korean barbecue tacos.

Fans of being yelled at by chef-hellion Gordon Ramsay can audition for the Season 6 of Fox’s MasterChef Saturday, September 20 inside the Embassy Suites Riverwalk (125 E Houston), from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Interested cooks will be given three minutes to plate and present their dish (which must be prepared ahead of time); visit masterchefcasting.com to register.

San Antonio Restaurant Week could not be contained to a mere seven days. More than a dozen joints decided to extend their menu for another week, including Arcade Midtown Kitchen, Boiler House (although there are a few caveats), Kirby’s Steakhouse, Zedric’s, Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights, Umai Mi, Tuk Tuk Tap Room, Texas de Brazil, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris and The Frutería. Biga on the Banks will extend the menu through this Thursday, August 28. Visit culinariasa.org for more details.

Durty Nelly’s (200 S Alamo, (210) 224-3343) is turning 40 with an Anniversary Week celebration from Monday, September 8 through Sunday, September 14. Patrons can look forward to piano sing-a-longs, Irish beer tastings, a kilt night, and special lunch and dinner plates. Or stop by on Wednesday for a St. Patrick’s Day Practice party for green beer samples. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Club 100 of San Antonio, a nonprofit that helps support dependents of firefighters and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

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Phô Nguyen Woos Phonatics

Photo: paytonphotography.com, License: N/A

paytonphotography.com

Don’t be afraid to check out the white-board specials


I don’t expect much from Vietnamese restaurants in the way of decor; it’s more not Chinese and not Japanese than anything. I certainly don’t expect Greece’s azure seas and trailing bougainvilleas. But that’s exactly what you get at Phô Nguyen. They have unabashedly occupied a former Greek restaurant, mural-emblazoned walls and all, and, having added only a couple small shrines, are apparently experiencing no qualms of cultural disconnect.

One aspect common to many Asian restaurants hasn’t been abandoned by Phô Nguyen, however: it’s the “just you?” greeting if one is dining solo—the variation on which is “you by yourself?” It happens so often that I almost think I’d be offended if I didn’t hear it. It also sets the stage for the often oblique conversations than can lead to many happy accidents of ordering. In PN’s case, expectations are upended primarily by some non-standard nomenclature. For example, what’s labeled an eggroll, that commonly cardboardy curse of Asian lunch menus everywhere, is here really a (Vietnamese) spring roll—and, crisp and plump with pork, it’s excellent. The unfried, tofu-based vegetarian spring rolls (they might be called summer rolls elsewhere) we felt obliged to try, but they were frankly upstaged by the No. 4, stuffed with grilled pork, I had ordered on another visit—though the peanut dipping sauce was much better the second time around. The toasty rolls (no, they’re not really baguettes) that cradle the banh mi are the best part of the No. 29 with peppered “pork ham.” More actual pepper and a little more liberal use of pickled vegetables (in fact, we didn’t notice any) might have helped. But then, maybe they really didn’t mean “peppered” or “pickled.” In any case, add Sriracha.

The bowls that are often labeled bun (rice vermicelli) aren’t listed as such on this menu, but you can ferret them out by looking at the jasmine rice bowls also available with noodles. Order one. We (this time there were two of us, so the curse of being alone wasn’t invoked) liked No. 21 with marinated, char-grilled chicken, in large part because the chicken has genuine flavor and a respectable char–and then there were those good “eggrolls.” Mix the bowl up with your chopsticks before starting—Sriracha optional, but the included bowl of chili-adulterated fish sauce is obligatory. We even asked for more.

I don’t have too many preconceived notions about broken rice plates; they often seem to be a welcome forum for indulging the cook’s imagination. In addition to a mound of the rice (apparently once a cheap product rescued from the milling process that has become desirable in its own right) topped with a fried egg, PN added such temptations as fried pork, pork skins, a patty of ground pork and chicken wrapped in tofu skins, all served with a small bowl of syrupy, sweet fish sauce that pulls the parts together. Hope that it’s on the special board (though there is one on the regular menu) and have your way with it: violate the egg, scramble things up, dig in.

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