Food and Wine

Last night Kirsten and I enjoyed a great meal at Aida Bistro in Columbia, MD. It was the restaurant’s 5th anniversary, and they had a special fixed-price menu (3 courses with wine for $30).

First Course (pick one):

Chilled Asparagus and Cucumber soup, with white balsamic pickled cucumber and asparagus tips. [John] This had a nice presentation: the pickled cucumber and asparagus tips where stacked in a pyramid in the center of a small soup bowl. The pureed (cold) soup was poured over this at the table. The soup was very tasty and refreshing – and I normally don’t like cold soups. The soup tasted very “cucumbery” – like a sweet pickle. Very nice.

Romaine lettuce and local Larriland Farms Strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and lemon ice Granite. [Kirsten] Tasty.

Wine: Huber Austrian Gruner Veltliner ’06: Very nice white wine. Crisp, dry, with just a touch of sweetness. We are going to try to find this for home.

Second Course (pick one):

Duck confit spring roll with spiced mango and sweet soy sauce. [John]: Quite delicious! Melt-in-your-mouth tender duck. The Mango and sweet soy sauce was a great complement.

Crab and Mango spring roll with sweet chilli sauce. [Kirsten]: Delicious.

Wine: Tangent Edna Valley Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc ’05: Just ok. 1st course wine was much better. This one is too dry for my taste.

Third Course:

Spice rubbed and grilled sushi grade Tuna served with fresh berry compote. Side of horseradish whipped potatoes and fresh asparagus [John and Kirsten]: Absolutely Fabulous. The tuna was perfectly cooked: seared on the outside and rare and warm in the middle. I would never have thought of pairing berries with tuna, but it goes very nicely. Wow. Best tuna ever. The whipped potatoes and asparagus were also perfectly cooked – the asparagus was slim and tender, but with a very slight crunch. Yum.

[there was another selection: lamb, but we didn’t try that]

Wine: Santa Martina Toscana Rosso ’05: blend of Cabernet, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah. Ok wine, but the first wine is still my favorite of the three. In reds I prefer a straight merlot or pinot noir. Kirsten really liked this wine, and it tied with the first as her fav.

Dessert wasn’t included, but I had a bread pudding with strawberries, and Kirsten had a cannolli. The desserts were ok, but didn’t quite match up to the (wonderful) three other courses.

This was a fabulous meal, and Kirsten and I had a great time.

Irony: Sitting in Starbucks having my second “blackeye” while reading an article in the Washington Post about how Starbucks has “lost its soul and can’t find it”. It’s true: Starbucks doesn’t even smell like roasted coffee anymore — it’s “sterile and cookie cutter”. Odd thing is that the quotes are from the Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Shultz. They don’t even manually make the espresso anymore; they press a button on an automated machine. The coffee is sealed in packages (no smell!). The article also stated that Starbucks has 13,000 stores (and Shultz wants to expand to 45,000); they wonder why they are “sterile”.

I do like the taste of Starbucks’ coffee. I used to go to a local coffee-roasting shop, but the Starbucks store is more convenient for me right now. I think I’ll start going back to the local place again, even if it is a few extra minutes away (they have good coffee – and it smells like roasting coffee in the place).

China MiévilleThe boys and I went to see China Miéville give a reading of his new young adult book, Un Lun Dun last night at Politics and Prose bookstore in D.C.. This was the first time I had seen the author live, and he was quite an engaging speaker (and reader). China read a chapter or so from the book (about 15 minutes), and then spent something like 45 minutes answering questions.

Both boys enjoyed the reading; both even asked the author questions afterward. China inscribed a copy of the book for Brandon – “to the one who got the name! Cheers”. Brandon’s question had been about the setting (London), and why the author had chosen it (answer: because he lives there :) ). Dylan had a question about how the author used the term “rubbish”; he wanted to know if he got the term from a Harry Potter book. China smiled, and told him how the term was used in England – and also that he had written a note to himself to explain that but forgot. He also mentioned that J. K. Rowling didn’t invent the term. :)

I recorded the reading/talk on my iPod, but I probably won’t use it – Politics and Prose makes recordings of the author events available on their website.

I did also get a chance to use the Movie mode of my new Canon Powershot S3 IS camera. Whoa. Almost as nice as a dedicated miniDV video camera – but in a still camera. I was able to record about 21 minutes of video on two 2GB SD cards. I also took some still shots (above) without flash. Nice to have such flexibility. And the sound recording was *MUCH* better than the iPod sound. I had the option of just recording sound (about 2 hrs worth) – that will come in handy too.

Prior to the event the boys and I wandered in to Comet Ping Pong, next door. Turns out it’s a funky pizzeria, with ping pong tables in the back. That was a stroke of luck – we had fun playing table tennis in the back and had pizza for dinner. The pizza is thin-crust, made in a real firewood oven (the wood is stacked in a hallway). A bit pricey for the food, but ping pong was only 50 cents. Finding the bathroom was a challenge: find the unmarked wooden doors blending into a wooden wall. No, the trough in the corridor is not to be used, boys.

Kirsten and I went to see Vienna Teng (a “Singer, pianist, and songwriter working in a pop folk style”) this Wednesday night at Rams Head Tavern in Annapollis, MD.

I’ve been listening to two of her cds, Warm Strangers (2004), and Dreaming Through the Noise (2006) for awhile now at work, and I really enjoy her work.

Vienna played for about 90 minutes, and sounded great. She had a cello and violinist accompany her. A couple of her songs I hadn’t heard before, but she played most of the ones I was familiar with. We had a great time – the concert was great, and if you get a chance, definitely see her live.

The opening act was Adrianne Gonzalez (on right), who did an acoustic guitar set of about 20 minutes. She was also quite good, and I grabbed one of her cd’s after the set (she signed it for me). Her stories from the road were quite entertaining as well.

Rams Head Tavern is a small venue (seats about 250 in the stage area), and we were off to the left of the stage. Unfortunately that meant we were staring at Vienna’s back all night as she played the piano. The tables are *really* small, so unless you want real intimacy with your tablemates, eat in the restaurant before – the narrow tables only support 2 diners, though they seat 4 (more appropriate for drinks and maybe chips). The sound/acoustics were very good, though at times the noise of waitstaff filling glasses with ice overshadowed softer passages. They really should close off that kitchen area better.


We made reservations for dinner before the show in the larger RamsHead restaurant (onsite). I like the atmosphere – sortof an upscale brewpub, with brick walls and nice tables. I had a “Genius Stout” which was quite good, similar to Guinness. However, I was not as impressed with my meal as I had hoped from the description:

“GM Filet”: 8 oz center cut Filet Mignon enveloped with puff pastry, topped with Mousseline pate and a green peppercorn demi-glaze. Served with a side of garlic mashed potatoes.

Sounds good, right? Well, while the steak was perfectly cooked (medium-rare), it was not “enveloped” with puff pastry; I had been expecting a “beef wellington” type of pastry/meat. Instead, the steak was sitting on top of a flat, squashed pastry. The pate tasted like bland liverwurst, and was too soft. The demi-glaze was uninspired. Overall the dish was quite tasty, but mostly because the steak itself was such a great piece of meat. I didn’t notice until the end of the meal (we were hurrying to get to the show) that I never received any mashed potatoes. Bummer. The salad with honey-mustard dressing was good (mixed greens were crisp and fresh).

I’ll definitely go back, but I’ll probably choose a more pedestrian meal. I’ll be having the Genius Stout again, though!

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