Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Domaine Hudson - Wine Bar

Update: See my new review of Domaine Hudson with food porn!

You know nothing about wine, so you blindly choose one from the restaurant menu. You're never impressed with the wine you order. You write off liking wine. You're not the problem! It's the poorly thought out wine list at most restaurants. What you need is someone that offers good wine, and is happy to help you discover what you like. What you need is
Domaine Hudson.

Domaine Hudson is a quaint little wine bar that opened late last year in downtown Wilmington. The best part about Domaine is that it's a couple of blocks from my house, so I can liberally enjoy myself and walk home responsibly. This is a major selling point. I initially rented an apartment in downtown Wilmington thinking that I would be in walking distance of places of interest - restaurants, bars, parks. I quickly found out that downtown is DEAD after the bankers go home; many restaurants are only open to serve the lunch crowd. So, I was excited when I noticed their sign on Washington St. For you, the wine will be their selling point.

The first time I visited, I went alone and sat at the bar. I went around 6 and was one of three people there, but the evening crowd quickly filled the cozy bar and dining area. The bartender handed me a two-page, paper wine menu which breaks the wines into categories - white, red, champaigne, and dessert. You can order a 1.5, 3, or 5 ounce glass of wine. This system allows you to try out a new wine to see if you like it, or sample flights of wine without committing yourself to a full glass. A 1.5 ounce glass of red or white wine costs $2.25 to $4.50. A 3 ounce glass costs $4.50 to $9.00. A 5 ounce glass costs $7.50 to $15.00. These prices seem reasonable, but, before you know it, you can sample yourself into a hefty wine tab. If you're feeling confident in your choice of wine, you can order the bottle, but this is a less fun approach. I recommend enjoying an evening of sampling wines and discovering a new favorite. It's fun.

Domaine Hudson also offers a food menu of appetizers, small plates and larger plates that change seasonally. Their vegetarian options are limited, but I'm accustomed to this. I can eat two of the salads, one of the appetizers, the cheese plate, and the desserts. No problem - wine, cheese, and dessert are a dream come true. The chef kindly made me my own dish of roasted vegetables and potatoes served with a curry sauce, which was tasty. I would never make such a special request, but the befriended man next to me at the bar decided to speak for me - men can be such asses. Sorry and thank you, chef!

On another occasion I sampled one of the cheese plates. You can order one variety of cheese from a list of about five different cheeses. The large hunk of cheese is served with bread, crackers, and fruit. That night the cheese plate was accompanied by figs and slices of red delicious apples - the worst apple around, as far as taste and texture. I did not hesitate to comment about this faux pas on the comment card. I also commented on the lack of warm desserts offered - three of the four desserts listed were ice cream or sorbet and it was December. On my next visit, I noticed that three of the four desserts were warm desserts. Perhaps they listened to me. I haven't had another cheese plate, but hopefully they acted on that suggestion, too.

If you're inexperienced or afraid of wine, don't let this stop you from trying Domaine Hudson. The servers will suggest wines to sample or pair with your food. The owner will probably engage you in conversation and make wine suggestions. He's not hard to miss; he's the blonde man in a sports jacket that looks horribly nervous about his new business venture (he used to be an accountant). His wife, on the other hand, looks like she's got a grip on everything. I'm betting it was she who brilliantly located the wine bar next to my apartment.

Domaine Hudson
1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington, DE 19801
Mon- Thurs,5-10:30p.m.
Fri-Sat., 5 - 11p.m.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Mayonnaise Monkey

Yes, I'm a mayonnaise monkey. Of course, not just any mayonnaise will do. Kraft and Hellman's taste like plastic sugar. The only great tasting mayonnaise out there in the grocery store is Duke's Mayonnaise.

I grew up eating Duke's, and, perhaps, that's why I like it. I remember seeing on some food show that there is no one mayonnaise that the masses prefer over the others in a blind taste test. People almost always choose the mayonnaise that they grew up eating. So, if you grew up eating Kraft, you probably think that mayonnaise is supposed to be sweet. I'm sorry for that mis-information.

Duke's was created in Greenville, SC (my home state) in the early 1900's, and is widely available in groceries in the Southeast. What makes it taste so good is that it is made with natural ingredients, just like if you were making your own mayonnaise from scratch. You should try this sometime. Homemade mayonnaise is rich and very satisfying. The Original Duke's Mayonnaise doesn't contain any sugar, so right there you have a completely different mayonnaise from the other national brands - great for diabetics, too. The reduced fat and light varieties do contain sugar, but it is a very small amount comparatively.

What to do if you're not in the Southeast? I've had friends bring me jars of the stuff as they pass through the area, and I have brought jars back on planes after visiting home. This Christmas holiday I had the full luggage and person search which revealed my many bottles of smuggled mayonnaise and wine used to terrorize Delaware and Pennsylvania. Needless to say, I got funny looks.

You don't need to plan your next vacation down South to smuggle your weapons of mass destruction. You can
order the stuff from their website, or - yippee! - I have located jars of the Original Duke's Mayonnaise at Super G grocery store on 202 in Concordville, DE. Look around your area, there might be some lurking on a shelf.

My mayonnaise secret - I actually like that cold, generic macaroni salad you find at every salad bar across the country. Yes, I do know that it comes out of huge tubs, is horrendously fattening, and is not considered a fine food. I always take a little and act like I'm trying it for the first time - you know, just to see what it tastes like. I'm so ashamed.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cafe Chettinad - Southern Indian in Newark

Edit 3/28/06 - Cafe Chettinad has closed, but some other Indian restaurant has taken over the same spot. I haven't tried the new place.

I love Southern Indian food on account of Devi at Touch of India in Columbia, SC. I swear my soul that it doesn't get any better than her food. I love her dahi puri - an appetizer made with puri, potatoes, yogurt, and tamarind chutney. I have yet to find it on the menu at another Indian restaurant. The other day, I tried out
Cafe Chetinnad on Kirkwood Highway between Wilmington and Newark to see what was up with Southern Indian in the Wilmington area.

Short answer - not much!

I walked in with my partner about 9 p.m. on a Friday evening and only two other couples were eating. I figured it was probably all about the lunch buffet like most Indian restaurants. The atmosphere was like any standard restaurant in a strip mall - nothing fancy, but usually the good finds are stuck in some defunct strip mall. They weren't playing any music, which detracted from the atmosphere. Play a soundtrack from a Bollywood movie! It's what one expects. It was too quiet in there. The poor couple next to us had to listen to me talk about sex. Hell, play anything!

We placed our order for the
andra spicy masala dosa - a crepe with potatoes, onion, coconut, tamarind, and chutney - and an entree that contained paneer. We were told that they were out of paneer, lamb, and shrimp. OUT OF PANEER? Are you kidding me? This is like a pizza joint running out of cheese. We gazed again at the vegetarian entrees, and most had paneer as a main ingredient. We order bhindi masala - main ingredients okra and tomatoes.

The service was pretty much non-existent. Both servers would peek around the corner from the back and gaze off into the distance at imaginary customers, never making eye contact with us. Or they would gaze at the floor as they walked past us and lift their eyes after they had passed. It was rather difficult getting their attention to order a beer that we had forgotten to put in with the food order. When we finally got their attention, they gave us a choice of about four beers. We chose one to have them come back and offer us a choice of one beer - not the one we wanted. OUT OF BEER! That lunch crowd must get crazy.

The dosa was good. I recommend it. It's not the best, but most certainly not the worst - the worst are flimsy, old dosas sitting on a buffet. The crepe was crisp and the filling was delicious - not too spicy. The dosa came with the standard sambar side and coconut side. It also came with a tomato chutney that was unimpressionable. The tomato chutney reminded me a little of condensed tomato soup (I guess it did make an impression, just not a good one). I asked for a side of raita - a yogurt condiment, which was not listed on their menu but they produced it.

The bhindi masala was most disappointing. It was edible (we ate it), but instead of Southern Indian, the dish tasted more like Southern! Memories of my mom's okra and stewed tomatoes over rice came to mind. These are good memories, don't get me wrong; okra is one of my two favorite vegetables. This dish was simply missing the complex mix of fresh spices and the heat that I normally associate with Southern Indian food.

Back to service. When we were given the check, the server hovered over us as we looked at the bill and did not leave. She literally looked at the bill as we were filling out the tip amount, and actually touched one of the copies in her attempt to help us find the right one to fill out. This was very unnerving. I honestly think she was mentally a little gone or suffering from effects of drugs. I've never had this happen at a restaurant.

Seeing as this restaurant is in a location that I rarely find myself, I probably will not be back. There was nothing to rave about - mediocre food, poor service, poor atmosphere, and a poorly stocked kitchen. They blew it on first impressions, which, like your parents or teachers tell you, count for a lot.

Macaroni and Cheese

I'm constantly on the quest for macaroni and cheese served in a restaurant that's as good as my mother's. I am most certainly biased. Bias works for me.

Macaroni and cheese would be the meal I request before being executed, but I'm sure the prison chef will mess it up like most restaurants do. Most restaurants make it with a blend of "exotic" cheeses like Fontina, Gruyere, Gorganzola, and the likes. They always top it with a bread crumb mixture. Very distracting. Some even use other pasta shapes. Sacrilege, sacrilege! Nope, this is not what I want.

I want a cheap sharp cheddar cheese — Cracker Barrel to be exact. There's no fancy bechamel sauce. The closest I've come to my mom's is mac & cheese at soul food restaurants, but these are always dripping in grease and leave your lips and face with a waxy, greasy sheen.

I'll let you know when I find the right one. I'll let you know about all the wrong ones, too. Sooo many wrong ones. Lament with me.

Macaroni and Cheese

  • Boil enough elbow macaroni to fill a normal size casserole dish and do just that.
  • Put 5 or so pats of butter in with the pasta.
  • Put a tablespoon or two of flour in with the pasta.
  • Throw a beaten egg or two in there for more stick-together-firmness, if you like.
  • Cube Sharp Cheddar Cheese into the dish.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Mix all of this together.
  • Fill the dish with milk until the milk pretty much covers the pasta - not completely covers, you want to still see the noodles.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and done.
Loosen up, people. My mom didn't measure and neither do I. It'll be ok. If not, try it again - but change something.