Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Stuffed Calamari

Inspired by my lunch at Kokkari, I decided to try and make stuffed calamari at home. I figured I'd save tons of money by learning to recreate recipes myself, plus it's always more satisfying to spend $4.99 on a bottle of Trader Joe's Barefoot Bubbly (the best inexpensive sparkling wine available other than the Cristalino Cava for $5.99 at Cost Plus) as opposed to eight bucks for a glass of champagne at a restaurant. Mind you, I'm not opposed to spending money on a good glass of wine while out and about; I love eating out. But right now is a time for budgeting. I just want to be able to budget and still indulge myself. Hence the learning to do it myself at home.

My first attempt, I used wild calamari tubes and tentacles from Andronico's Market (I don't know if it's possible to tame a calamari tube, but I do love the little Cthulhu -esque tentacled bits; I can play Shambling Slithering Horror from Beyond the Stars at the dinner table) for $4.99 a pound.

These were the standard little tubes, about two inches long, all slithery, slippery, and slimy. Definitely time to put on Mud Pie mentality and enjoy playing in the goo. First I tossed 'em in a bowl with garlic infused olive oil, lots of lemon juice, a dash of Rebel Yell whiskey, lemon pepper, and 21 season salute from TJ's. Then I spent about a half hour stuffing the little buggers with chunks of herbed feta cheese (also from TJ's), half of which fell into the olive oil/lemon juice during the process. I tossed the mini Cthulhu bits in as well, put stuffed tubes and tentacles under the broiler on a grilling pan, pouring the rest of the olive oil mix on top. Five minutes of high heat and they were done. Dave and I had 'em with some Barefoot Bubbly and, while different than the ones served at Kokkari (hey, I'm not a 3 star chef!), they were incredibly tasty.

A trip to the local Chinese market on Vincente (a place that deserves its own post just because of the barrel of live bull frogs in the seafood section) led to the discovery that calamari tubes don't just come in the little, hard to stuff size; I could buy three 8 inch long, 5 inch wide tubes for the unbelievably cheap prices of $3.99! It didn't specify if they were wild or not, but I didn't care; I could stuff these puppies in no time.

So last night for dinner I thawed out two of the tubes, prepared the same basic marinade, then made a stuffing out of finely diced tiger shrimp, feta cheese, lemon pepper, cumin, and just a little bit of butter, mushing everything together. It was enough to fill both tubes to bursting and took less than five minutes to prepare from start to putting them under the broiler for 10 minutes, five per side. These calamari tubes were much thicker than the little ones, plus they were filled with about three inches of stuffing. The thought of biting into uncooked calamari was not appealing.

Gotta say, these were even better than the first batch. We didn't have any bubbly this time around, so we opened a bottle of Santerra Dolcetto. An excellent wine, but not my first choice for the dish. So I sipped mineral water with the meal, then enjoyed the Dolcetto while watching REEFER MADNESS: THE MUSICAL, which I'd also recommend. But next time I play with calamari, I think I'll put on DAGON for the proper Lovecraftian atmosphere. I will not, however, be cooking any bull frogs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Inexpensive and Yummy Wine Alert!

I got a bottle of Santerra Rosso in the mail from WineShopAt Home the other day. Their wine club features inexpensive wines (all under $20, usually around $10) from boutique wineries with small productions. A lot of the wines aren't available at the usual retail outlets, which makes the wine club an attractive proposition to those winos...er...oenophiles seeking out new and unusual bargains.

Sometimes the wines are decent, sometimes they're a disappointment. And now and again, they deliver a real treat, like the Santerra Rosso. For $14.50 a bottle, this wine delivered a lovely complex nose filled with leather, blackberries, vanilla (oak) and cocoa. I spent an inordinate amount of time swirling and sniffing 'cause it just smelled so damn good. The tasting notes that accompanied the bottle said that the flavors were 'vanilla, cherry, juniper and light berry.' I'll agree with the vanilla, but light berry? This stuff was earthy and dark, chocolatey (maybe chocolate covered cherries!), but there was nothing light about it. It was big, with a viscous, silky mouthfeel that made drinking a glass a downright sensual experience. It would have been downright Tom Jonesian had I not been watching OCTOPUS on Sci Fi Channel at the same time. I'd like to say that the wine made the movie better...but I'd be lying. But at least the crappy movie didn't take away from my enjoyment of the rosso.

Sigh...and the bottle is all gone now...

But you can still buy it through 1-800-Wineshop if you're so inclined. They had, as of this morning, 650 bottles left. Trust me...it's worth the $14.50 price tag. I've tasted much more expensive wines that didn't have half the complexity of flavor or overall yumminess as the Santerra rosso.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Random Thought

We all know that anything sounds better, more palatable, when it's said in an accent. I'm talking from the American perspective, mind you, and our love affair with accents, especially British, Australian, and French (Irish and Scottish are in there too...). Male or female, if you have an accent and you're visiting the States, you don't have to be particularly attractive to score with the opposite sex. Or the same sex, for that matter.

What I want to know is, is there a country in the world where an American accent of any sort is considered sexy? Does anyone out there hear "Yo, dude!" surfer talk or the ubiquitous "Oh my GOD" of the very real Valley Girl and think, "Damn, that brainless dialect is sexy!" Or the flat nasality of New York or New Jersey...does that turn anyone on? Does anyone find any American accents sexy? C'mon, tell the truth! Or are we just here to make the rest of the world sound good?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Glass Beach

It's funny 'cause even though I've always thought of myself as a very feline type of person (you know the game of 'what animal would you be if you had the choice?), I realize that I have a very large dose of magpie as well. As in 'ooooh, pretty shiny! Must acquire!' My favorite thing to find on my beach walks are pieces of beach glass. Clear, white, brown, emerald green, teal, and the occasional rare cobalt blue...Doesn't matter. I just love the stuff. So when I heard the stories of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, I knew I had to go there.

I'd first the tales of Glass Beach from Mom, who'd brought back a carefully selected dozen pieces. She didn't want to take any more so there'd be some for other visitors. I had the impression of a beach with more than the usual amount of beach glass, but still a place where you needed to spend time hunting for it. Dave also told me about it after a few walks together at Ocean Beach, during which I'd crow with triumph every time I found a piece of beach glass.

He told me it was the site of an old dump in the '40s, and a lot of glass had since been broken and polished by the waves. He said that there was 'a lot of glass' on the beach. I was determined to go there.

We made plans for a day trip in November. The day of the trip, it poured. It didn't just rain, it poured. Deluge time. The sort of rain that reduces visibility to five feet in front of your car. We made it as far as the Anderson Valley and gave up the idea of Fort Bragg that day. We'd go in December, spend the night there.

The weekend we planned to go in December...it poured. We made plans to go for my birthday in February for a day trip on a Sunday. We'd leave very early in the morning, spend a couple hours there, and head home.

The Sunday we'd chosen, however, was the day after my roommate moved out. We'd spent that Saturday lugging furniture and boxes down the stairs into the truck and realized that there was no way in hell we'd be up to an early morning expedition the next day. Not even for beach glass. So the trip was put off yet one more time.

"Are you sure there'll be glass left?" I asked. Dave just laughed at me.

We decided to go mid-February, make it a Saturday trip so we'd have Sunday to relax at home before another work week started. And we invited Rick and Jen (our bad movie night buddies) to go with us. We'd meet early Saturday morning for breakfast at the Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley, drive up to Fort Bragg, check out Glass Beach, and then hit a few wineries in Anderson Valley on the way home.

The day before our trip, the weather turned cold. An Arctic air current decided to drop in on Northern California. Thunderstorms and possible snow were predicted for Saturday. The same Saturday we were planning on going to Glass Beach. I knew it was a conspiracy. The weather gods did NOT want me to get to Glass Beach. Dave suggested we wait and try for Sunday instead. The weather was supposed to improve on Sunday. I reluctantly agreed, sure that it would pour again on Sunday and the trip would once again be postponed. I just KNEW all of the glass would be gone by the time I made it up there.

Despite my gloomy predictions, Sunday dawned semi-clear and cold, no sign of rain, hail or snow. We met Rick and Jen at the Dipsea Cafe at 7:30, had breakfast, and hit the road for Fort Bragg. It's approximately a three hour drive from San Francisco and, as I mentioned, includes some gorgeous scenery, albeit on windy, hilly roads (if you're prone to nausea, take Dramamine or be in the driver's seat. Right, Jen?) through the Anderson Valley to the Pacific Coast Highway. Lots of wineries, redwoods, and breath-taking coastal views. But be aware that when a sign says 'Fort Bragg, 10 Miles', it's talking 10 miles as the crow flies, not 10 miles of distance easily translatable into 'oh, we'll be there in 10 minutes!' It took a good half hour to drive 10 miles, even with jen's Nascar-esque driving techniques.

We finally reached Fort Bragg, drove to the far end of the town, and parked on Elm Street. I was practically hopping from foot to foot in my anxiousness to get to the beach. I also had to pee, but that's beside the point. I wanted my beach glass, dammit! Grabbing my plastic bag (for the beach glass; we went up the street to Denny's to use the bathroom) and Dave's hand, I practically ran down the dirt path that led to the ocean. We reached the top of a fairly steep slope, I looked over the edge, and...there it was.

Glass Beach.

I knew how explorers looking for ancient Aztec gold or buried pirate treasure felt upon reaching their goal. How Ponce De Leon WOULD have felt if he'd ever found the Fountain of Youth. Yards and yards of shimmering glass lay below me, piles of it spreading up the incline and down into the water and tidepools. I could see bits of emerald green glinting in the sunlight. Madre de dios, the legends WERE true...and I realized that Dave had been perfectly within his rights to laugh at me. But only about Glass Beach.

I scrambled down the incline, as carefully as possible considering the total lust I had to wade in and start collecting. It was total beach glass overload. Everywhere I looked were sparkling gems in various shades of green, amber, brown, and white. Some were like highly polished gemstones, others in varying stages of the sea's smoothing process. I wanted to dive into it, roll around like a cat in catnip. I didn't, though, 'cause it WAS, after all, glass. Besides, I would have looked silly.

Instead I plunked myself down in a likely looking spot (okay, every spot on the beach was a likely looking spot, so let's just say I plunked myself down as soon as I hit the bottom) and started collecting. I could have stayed in the same spot for an hour and still added to my bag of glass, but that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun as my subsequent exploration of as much ground as I could cover. I burrowed into the layers of glass, rocks and sand under cliff faces, in the stream running down into the ocean, in tide pools. I found little bits of ceramic, pieces of old plates, cigarette holders, unidentified thingees. I found pieces of glass that had fused together into globules; I found a lump of smooth, fused emerald glass the size of a golf ball. Every now and again we'd find cobalt blue glass, but it was in short supply.

I took a break in my glass picking and went with Dave up onto some rocks that looked like they were a film set for a post apocalyptic movie. Metal, rock, pieces of machinery and glass all fused together in jagged boulders made for very careful navigating; a fall onto this stuff would leave a person seriously messed up. The tidepool water in this Mad Maxian landscape was coppery and cloudy. I briefly considered investigating them to see if there were any interesting treasures (I found the best pieces foraging under rocks and in the water), but sensibly thought better of it and went back to the beach for one last look around before we headed back to the Anderson Valley and wine tasting.

Meanwhile, Rick had caught the bug too. "You've infected him," Jen yelled to me across the beach. She and Dave, while picking up carefully selected pieces, didn't have the same glassy version of gold fever that had struck me and Rick. "It's not how much you got, it's what you do with it!"

And my mother would agree. But think of how much MORE I could do with a large quantity of beach glass! Visions of decorating and crafts danced before my eyes, along with the dazzling sparkle of sun reflecting off the beach. Oh yeah, I was hooked. I tried to stop. I really did. But I knew that there was just ONE more perfect piece just a little further down the beach. The siren song of beach glass was even stronger than the call of wine tasting.

"Stop looking down!" said Jen. "Just look away!" And then "Make her stop!" to Dave, who finally dragged me away from the treasure trove and back up the incline...where I discovered that there was a whole other section of beach that I hadn't seen yet on the other side of the path. Majority ruled that it was time to go, however, so I reluctantly walked away from as of yet undiscovered territory. But I'll go back.

I just hope there's some glass left...

Dietary Suicide

I was teasing one of my co-workers about his dietary habits; specifically lite beer and Snickers bars for dinner (you find out very interesting thing when you do people's expense reports, especially those itemized hotel bills). He not only defended this particular combination, but asked me if I'd ever tried a fried Mars bar. I thought he was having me on, but he told me to Google deep fried Mars bar and see for myself. The following is just one of the various articles I found on the subject. I can hear arteries hardening in Scotland even as I type this...

Deep-Fried Mars Bars Myth No More
LONDON, Dec. 17, 2004
(AP) Like the Loch Ness monster, the deep-fried Mars bar has often been regarded as a Scottish myth. But a study published Friday in a medical journal confirms that Scots consume thousands of the battered bars each week, and that more than a fifth of fish and chip shops — which specialize in deep-fried food — sell the strange sugary delicacy. The study was conducted by Dr. David Morrison, a consultant in public health medicine in Glasgow, and Dr. Mark Petticrew, associate director of Glasgow's Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. They decided to investigate after the treat was mentioned by television host Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show." "We live in Scotland but we'd never actually seen deep-fried Mars bars for sale," said Morrison. "We thought they might be fictitious. But the Scottish diet is a major health issue and it's important to know what the facts are. We can now confirm that there is no doubt — the deep-fried Mars bar is not just an urban myth." At more than 400 calories per bar, the snack isn't health food. But then, Scotland isn't noted for healthy lifestyles. Parts of Scotland have the highest incidence of heart disease, cancer and strokes and the lowest life expectancy in the developed world. Morrison and Petticrew, whose report appears in this week's issue of The Lancet medical journal, called nearly 500 chip shops across Scotland to inquire whether they sold the bars and discovered that 22 percent are proud to offer them, and another 17 percent have done so in the past. One shop reported selling up to 200 a week. Children are the main consumers and some shops reported being asked to deep-fry other candy bars, including Snickers and Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Reports of the deep-fried Mars bar emerged in 1995, when a chip shop in the northeastern Scottish fishing town of Stonehaven said it was selling the delicacy. News reports said the bar was the result of a bet between the shop's owner and his portly best friend. The original shop, The Haven, is now the Carron Fish and Chip Bar, run by Calum Richardson. "They are not my cup of tea but some weeks we sell as many as 300," he said. "I suppose people like them because they are different. At first it was a novelty but not any more." The Carron charges $1.35 for a deep-fried Mars bar. Or for $3.29 you can have the supper: deep-fried Mars bar with French fries. "

Friday, February 17, 2006

Days of Wine and Zombies...

Yup, if I ever write my memoirs, that's gonna be the title. Alas, I could find no images of zombies and wine together. Zombies don't drink...wine. If I had a winery, I'd use a zombie on my label. I could have Shambling Shiraz (or Syrah, since I'm not in Australia), Mangled Merlot, Masticated Mourvedre, Cadaverous Cabernet, Chewed Chardonnay, Pestilent Pinot Noir, and, of course, Zombie Zinfandel. Blends could be Rotting Red and Wailing White. Probably wouldn't get a lot of buyers, but I'd amuse the hell out of myself.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And another thing (Curmudgeon Rant, Part II)

Twin Fin Pinot Noir. Now dagnabbit (that's curmudgeon-speak), I tried this wine when it first became available at Trader Joes. I was attracted by three things: the price ($5.99); the label (it has surfboards sticking out of a convertible); and the screwtop cap.

Waitaminute, you say. Screwtop cap? Isn't that, like, what they use for Ripple and Thunderbird?

Well, yes. But it's not the screwtop that makes the wine bad. It's just...bad wine. Point of fact, according to the Essential Wine Guide at Epicurious.com, the screwtop cap 'makes the perfect wine closure; no taint, no oxidation, no problem. After all, if screw caps are good enough for $200 bottles of Scotch, why not for $20 bottles of wine?'

Ever gotten a bottle of wine at a store or restaurant, opened it and smelled a nasty, moldy smell that you just knew wasn't part of the winemaker's intention? "Hmmm, let's see if we can't get a hint of dirty sweatsocks with a touch of mildew in this Cabernet..." Nah, doesn't happen. That icky, funky stench means that this particular bottle of wine is corked . Specifically, it's a wine that has been bottled with a cork that is contaminated with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). And that's as technical as I'll get.

This begs the question that a wine can be corked, if you get a bad bottle wine with a screwtop, can it be screwed? No, but you the customer can be if it's a crappy wine to begin with.

ANYway...back to Twin Fin Pinot. I tried a bottle for the above reasons and was blown away by the quality and flavor. Total pinot noir cherry/raspberry nose, a rich mouthfeel (something that I like in a wine), and, well, just a lot of bang for the buck. And it had surfboards on the label! Figuring it'd be around for a while, I got a few bottles over the last month or so, including one I found at Target (yes, Target!), and another at a little liquor store in San Diego.

Then...Trader Joes wrote it up in their Fearless Flyer.


I went back last week to get a bottle and they were sold out. And, horror of horrors, the Twin Fin pinot noir would no longer be available at TJ's.

I called around all of the local stores within a 40 mile radius. Sold out. I looked at Safeway and Albertsons, where Debbie, a Twin Fin wine rep, told me I'd be able to find 'all of their fine wines.' Hah! You lied to me, Debbie! I found the Twin Fin cabernet, the Twin Fin merlot...but no pinot noir.

So I Googled Twin Fin Pinot Noir and discovered that, much like zombies, everyone had discovered it.


Thanks to SIDEWAYS (a movie that I love because it's brilliant, yet hate because now everyone is getting into wine, especially pinot noir, and it's made the prices in the Santa Ynez Valley wineries and restaurants shoot through the roof) and TJ's, no more Twin Fin pinot...at least not until they release their 2003. And I bet the price goes up too...

Ah well. Can't keep zombies and good wine a secret forever...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Don't ya hate it...

...when the masses co-opt something that you've liked for ages, way back before whatever it is was popular? I liked unicorns before you could buy 'em on every street corner (damn you, unicorn pushers!). My sister dressed in second-hand military garb, cargo pants, khakis, before Banana Republic made them chic.

And now...zombies?

I mean, really. Vampires, fine. Ann Rice made them vogue with her 'I'm beautiful and trapped between two worlds' interpretation of the vampire myth. Eurotrash vampires still stalk through the horror shelves at bookstores, films at all budget levels, and the imaginations of Goths everywhere. But...zombies? I mean, everyone and their mother is making zombie movies these days. Bad zombie movies. Well, mostly bad.

I'm sorry, but I was a George Romero fan back in the day. We're talking DAWN OF THE DEAD, the original release in 1979 (possibly 1980, I'm too old to remember these things clearly), my first date movie ever. I ditched classes in high school to go see it a few times at the Clairemont Theater with Mo. I awaited DAY OF THE DEAD eagerly. Saw Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE at the theater, along with the sequel GATES OF HELL (also known as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Hunted down every bad foreign zombie movie in existence, including NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, where the flesh munching action is interspersed with nature documentary footage (how African elephants got to New Guinea, where the story takes place, is a mystery greater than the origin of the zombie plague) and SWAT team mercernaries in tutus. Gotta love it. Or not, depending on your love for zombies and bad movies.

Then there's FROM BEYOND (Lucio Fulci again with an incomprehensible storyline about seven gates to hell and carnivorous spiders that make clicking noises when they crawl -- ADR crime!), ZOMBIE 3 (again Fulci, in an attempt to cash in on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH, which has ninja zombies in pajamas...and don't forget CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, which has the worst wardrobe in cinema history and some of the finest over-acting I've ever seen. And if you know me, you'll know that by 'finest', I mean so bad it's good. SHOWGIRLS bad. Dana heaven.

Now when you think about the number of horror movies, especially slasher type moves like FRIDAY THE 13Th et al, there really weren't a lot of zombie movies to choose from. But I found them, as well as any stories or novels featuring my beloved flesh-eating ghouls as well. And there were others like me, including the creator of www.homepageofthedead.com, probably the best and most comprehensive page on George Romero's movies (and all things zombie) out there. But...we were part of a small, select club. Zombies hadn't made their way into popular culture. Hollywood wasn't interested in making zombie movies on any budget level.

Then 28 DAYS LATER came along. After that, the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. Now I loved 28 DAYS LATER. And I liked the first 10 minutes of the remake of DOTD. But dammit, what the hell is this with fast zombies? Sorry, they're just not as scary as the slow, shambling, yet inexorable slow moving zombies. I don't want my zombies sprinting or doing kung-fu kicks (ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH, you suck!). I want 'em lurching, shambling, stumbling...and never, ever stopping unless they're shot in the head. 'Cause that's what makes them scary.

Anyway, I digress. There has since been the RESIDENT EVIL movies (points for shambling zombies, but where the hell is the blood?) and...well...I hesitate to type this lest my computer burst into blasphemous flames, but there's also HOUSE OF THE DEAD, which is the worst piece of shit I've seen in my life. And now HOUSE OF THE DEAD II, which is bad on many levels (isn't there another way to denote military characters without the presence of a snare drum soundtrack following them around?), but art compared to Uwe Boll's directorial fiasco with the first HOTD movie. There's THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (bad!), LAND OF THE DEAD (George Romero, so I'll forgive the zombie equivalent of yelling 'NOOOOOOOO!'), DEAD MEAT (an Irish zombie movie which was actually a hoot), ALL SOUL'S DAY (kill me now before making me watch that again), JUNK (a Japanese entry in the genre), and...well, lots more.

On one hand, I'm delighted that there are so many movies (and now books) featuring my favorite monster. And yet...and yet...now EVERYone likes zombies! It's just like unicorns, dammit. I'm not part of an elite (kind of sick) group any more.

Oh well. I know that I was on the crest of that first flesh eating zombie fan wave. I guess that'll have to be enough.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I shakes my head, I does...

I just got word today that someone I've known for years has been put on the No Fly/Selectee list. When did this person (no name or gender to be disclosed) find out? When they handed over their boarding pass to get on a flight.

I've known this person for years, someone who is not politically active (I'm a much bigger loudmouth when it comes to my political opinions) and, while not a jingoistic asshole, is certainly a good patriotic American. The sort of person who flies the Stars and Stripes on the Fourth of July and gets choked up when they sing the National Anthem. There is no discernable reason for them to have ended up on TSI's McCarthy-esque No Fly list. Of course, babies have ended up on the No Fly list, as has Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy managed to get off the list, after three weeks of concerted effort. Those babies are probably still blacklisted, the little terrorist toddlers...

Evidently it's nearly impossible to get off the list once you've been placed on it. Doesn't matter if it's a mistake, or if you happen to have a name like John Smith that some potential terrorist has used as an alias. Or, as some speculate, you’re on the list because of certain political affiliations or activism. The ACLU is suing on behalf of some 200 plus people trying to get off the list, people who've had their livelihoods threatened because of the inability to travel quickly, who can no longer easily visit friends and family that live in a different part of the country.


It’s time for www.cuteoverload.com, where baby pandas, kittens, puppies and assorted other adorable animals can be ooh’d and aaah’d over until the woes of the big, bad world are obscured by cute animal therapy.

No fly list. I mean, fuck me gently with a chainsaw…

Um…sorry, Mom.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Solo Lunch

I like having lunch by myself. Not all the time, but on those occasions where a: I actually take a lunch (I have a bad habit of grabbing something small and eating it at my desk), and b: don't have anyone to accompany me, I make the most of it. Today I went to Kokkari, a Greek restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco.

To quote their website: Kokkari (pronounced Ko-kar-ee) is a small fishing village located on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, whose name is derived from the small onions that were once produced in nearby fields. Its fertile soil and Mediterranean climate translated into an abundance of fresh produce as well as treasured seafood and game. Legend tells thatKokkari is the site where Orion, a mighty hunter and a young man of gigantic stature and great beauty, fell in lovewith the daughter of the King of Chios. For the love of her, Orion foraged the island for wild game and seafood toprepare elaborate banquets in celebration of their love. Today we hope you will enjoy your own celebration as you dine at Kokkari Estiatorio on food "fit for the Gods" prepared with an Aegean palate and the style of innovative California fare.

I've been to Kokkari twice before: once for drinks, once for lunch. It’s large, but cozy, with a huge stone fireplace dominating one wall in the front room. The wine selection, especially by the bottle, is good if somewhat pricey. Their food...well, I've only had two things off of the menu: the Saghanaki - pan fried Kefalograviera cheese with lemon & oregano; and the Grilled Calamari - stuffed with feta, fennel & orange with black olives on a bed of watercress.

This afternoon I had a craving for the calamari, a rich and tasty dish filled with various flavors and filling all on its own. I wanted a glass of Cristalino Cava to accompany it; I'd had the combination before and it was perfect. The slightly sweet sparkling wine complimented the light saltiness of the calamari and feta. It was a combo that had lived on in my gastronomic memory banks and nothing else would satisfy me. Imagine my disappointment when the waiter told me that they were out of the Cava.


Okay, I didn't actually vocalize the 'wahhhh', but I'm sure it was pretty easy to read by my expression. The very nice waiter suggested another wine with the same hurried desperation that I’ve seen people give squalling babies pacifiers. He recommended a Dr. Unger Grüner Veltliner, a white wine from Austria. “It’s slightly sweet with a nice mineral character to it,” he said.

I thought about passing on the wine altogether because I’d had my heart and taste buds set on the Cava, which was yummy and very cheap. Also, while I enjoy tasting white wines, if I’m going to spend money on a bottle or even a glass, I definitely fall heavily into the red camp. On the other hand, I was all set to treat myself to the rare pleasure of a glass of wine with lunch and wasn’t ready to give that up yet. Besides, the grüner grape was an unfamiliar varietal and I wanted to expand my horizons.

The waiter, smart man that he was, brought me a taste. It was a generous sample, at least two ounces, served in good sized wine glass, not one of those clunky little Mini-me wine glasses that a lot of places use. You know, the kind where four ounces fills it to the brim and any attempt to swirl your wine to sample the nose is just asking for disaster? Yeah, we’ve all tried it...and worn part of our wine home as a result.

I swirled, sniffed and sipped. The nose was fragrant, citrus and floral. Yup, slightly sweet. Definitely an underlying mineral characteristic, giving a nice crispness to the flavors, which included pineapple and citrus. It also had a lovely smooth mouthfeel, with just a teensy bit of ‘sparkle’ on the tongue. It was light, refreshing, and (to use my favorite wine tasting term) yummy. I ordered a glass and waited for my calamari to arrive, happily nibbling on bread dipped in olive oil and finishing my sample while reading The Emperor of Wine, The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. I’d gotten the book for Christmas, btw, and had just started reading it on my Muni rides to and from work, but I hadn’t thought of how pretentious it’d look to be reading it while doing the whole wine tasting ritual. I kept the title of the book hidden so I wouldn’t look like a total poser.

The calamari arrived and it tasted as rich and decadent (yet still “good for you,” as the owner of the restaurant informed me) as I remembered. I savored the small appetizer for a good 20 minutes, cutting each individual calamari into several pieces. I ate one at a time, took a sip of wine, had another little bit of bread soaked in olive oil and the juices from the appetizer. Little slices of blood orange brought out the citrus tang of the grüner, which in turn balanced out the salt and richness of the feta cheese.

When I was finished, I didn’t need dessert or coffee. I was sated and happy. Sure I’d spent a couple dollars more than I’d originally planned, but after a couple days of protein bars and almonds for lunch, I felt that I’d earned it. I gave the waiter a 25% tip and wandered contentedly back to work.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to Zhadi's Den!

powered by Bloglet