Friday, February 17, 2006

Encante en Rio


Well, Encante is not actually on the river, but it is across the street from the Rio Cuale that runs through the center of Puerto Vallarta. The restuarant is a bit off the beaten path and is in a largely residential neighborhood on the south side of the river. The houses that line the river have a dirt road on one side and chickens and dogs run around freely. The little kids are a bit more closely supervised, but they run around quite a bit too. You don't have to roam too far from the center of town and the hotels and restaurants that line the bay and the mountains above to find remnants of the old Mexico. I find that comforting because that means places like the Blue Whale will continue to flourish.

There wasn't a bar in here, but then I am no longer on my quest so I can kick back a bit and just enjoy a dinner with friends on occasion. And it was a very good dinner indeed. Both my friend Donna and the Mysterious Chinese Woman had shrimp and they were very happy with their choices.

My Friend Donna Anticipating Her Meal

The coconut shrimp came piled high on skewers stuck into a thick slice of baked pineaple.

Coconut Shrimp Piled High

The Mysterious Chinese Woman seemed more interested in her drink than her meal. But then I think her drink was bigger than her meal.

Mysterious Chinese Woman and her Big Drink

I had a delicious cut of pork with an orange glaze on a bed of, in my opinion, slightly over-cooked vegetables. But the pork was so good there really was no reason to complain.

Nobody complained about their meal and we all agreed we would return again, although probably not until next year because everyone but me and the Mysterious Chinese Woman are leaving soon. I may return, however, and bring along friends who will be joining us in a week or so. The place was nice and cool and painted in shades of mint green. Nice lamps, mirrors, and a kind of garden scene against the back wall made this small place a refreshing stop.

The Whole Gang, Donna, Bar Man, MCW, Chris and Bruce

The owner of the restaurant was very pleasant and chatted with us a bit. She pointed out a very small, looks like it is in someone's living room, restaurant across the street where she said she sometimes eats. If that wouldn't be authentic Mexican food there is no such thing. Looks like it would be a small step up from the taco stands on the street that I like so much. And boy, are those stands busy at night. We passed a whole block of them all full of Mexican families having dinner out. If I hadn't already eaten I would have happily joined them.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Off To Mexico

Yesterday the Mysterious Chinese Woman and I headed off to Mexico. Took a cab out to JFK, thank goodness the snow had melted, and after checking in headed to a nice, and relatively new bar at what looks to be a new terminal.

The Greenwich Village Bistro

A nice cheery place with drinks that weren't over the top in price. I had a draft Sam Adams in their super-sized 22 ounce glass.

Perhaps a bit of a brighter place than I would have preferred, but quite cheery. It is in a food court setting so you feel a bit like you are drinking in a shopping mall.

We caught our plane and got to Mexico City with no problem but then we ran into a bit of a snag. They changed the procedures this year so that now you cleared customs and immigration after you got to Puerto Vallarta. In the past you had to retrieve your bags in Mexico City, clear customs and immigration, then recheck you bags before boarding your connecting flight. Well this would have been great, if they had told you about the change in advance.

We got off the plane in Mexico City and, as usual, there was nobody around to actually give you any instructions. We did as we normally did, followed the crowd and went down to immigration and customs. By the time we cleared that we had missed our connecting flight so we had to spend the night in Mexico City. This might have been fun except that it was after midnight before we got everything straightened out and got rebooked for the next day. About all we did was hit the airport hotel, quite a nice but also expensive place, and crash.

Of course when we were getting our tickets sorted out we were told that they couldn't understand how we missed our connection because nobody else had missed it. Then next day though we did run into other people who had missed the connection for the very same reason, nobody had told them about the change in procedures.

Everything is well that ends well, I guess. Aside from absorbing the cost of the hotel room and not getting into Puerto Vallarta until about 3:00 P.M. on today instead of late last night all was well. Our bags were waiting for us at the Puerto Vallarta airport so we just picked them up and jumped into a cab.

I will be posting occasionally from Puerto Vallarta so stay tuned if you are so inclined. The weather here is great and there are, as many of you know, plenty of bars and restaurants.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bad Valentine

Not My Idea Of A Romantic Valentine's Day Dinner

I wasn't going to post a new blog until I got to Mexico but I had such a bad experience at dinner, a dinner that I had looked forward to, that I feel compelled to write about it.

As you may recall, before I went to Marty Markowitz's inauguration I stopped into Thomas Biesel for a beer. I really liked the looks of the place, old world charm and all that, so I made reservations to have my Valentine's Day dinner there. I hate to say it but I have never been so disappointed in a dining experience in my life.

For starters, when I made my reservation I specifically asked if, in addition to any specials they might offer, they would still have their regular menu available. I was told that the specials would be in addition to the menu, not a replacement. I even asked, specifically, if the pig cheeks would be available and I, again, was told "Yes, of course," because it was one of their specialties.

Okay, so we get there a bit before 8:00 P.M., the time we had reserved. We found that they had, shall I say, an uninspired prix fixe menu and then I was told that their normal menu was not available. Now when I say uninspired I mean uninspired. I ordered the steak tartar for an appetizer and it was terrible. The flavor was okay but if you throw enough salt, pepper, and garlic into anything you can make it taste okay. But the meat was ground, it was mushy, it was disgusting. This is not a difficult dish to make but they totally botched it. On top of that it took a long time to get it. Now the Mysterious Chinese Woman ordered a salad and my dish doesn't require cooking and the place was pretty empty. Why the hold-up, I do not know.

The main course took even longer to arrive and it was as bad if not worse. I opted for the meatloaf and if they actually cooked it in their own kitchen the cook should be shot. I would bet my bottom dollar they had it delivered. Again, the meat was mush and it was less flavorful than the steak tartar. The Mysterious Chinese Woman ordered a pork chop and I was suspicious right away when they didn't even ask her how she wanted it prepared. It came out grossly overdone and had almost no flavor. The vegetables that accompanied our meals consisted of some limp greens and mashed potatoes that I am sure came out of an envelope.

To make matters worse, a table of people who came in about an hour after us did get to order off the menu. When I asked the waiter about this he said that they had to "move" the specials before the kitchen could prepare the regular meals. What a way to treat a customer.

The only bright spots were the staff and drinks. The waiter almost seemed embarrassed by what was going on and kept coming by to see if everything was "alright." Of course it wasn't but there wasn't a thing he could do about it. The drinks, Bombay martinis for me, were fine though but the complimentary glasses of "champagne" you got were sweet, warm, and the champagne probably went for about $5 a bottle. I did get a complimentary martini and glass of port with an espresso which would have been appreciated it it didn't appear to just be a way to compensate for the rest of the meal. I really do feel badly for the staff because this fiasco must have been a "management" decision.

All and all it was a memorable night but for all the wrong reasons. The cask conditioned ale I had at Brazen Head on the way to the restaurant was, by far, the best part of the evening. And the cheese plate the Mysterious Chinese Woman prepared for lunch (she went to a local cheese shop and had them put together a selection of "stinky" cheeses for me) and bottle of Cava, Sumarroca, was inspirational.

Even though I really wanted to try the pig cheeks at this place, I simply do not think I can bring myself to return here. You would have thought a Viennese restaurant would have gone out of their way to make Valentine's Day a romantic adventure.

Thomas Beisl on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 13, 2006

Oh No ! ! Not BoCoCa ! !

I went to Pete’s Waterfront Ale House this evening to have my picture taken for the review I wrote for The Brooklynite. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a big deal. I figured somebody would show up with a camera and snap off a few photos and that would be all. It turned out to be a much bigger deal than I had expected. I am not quite sure if I was ready for my close-up.

My Close-Up

My brother-in-law Jim showed up to observe the hoopla and have a drink or two. Somehow the conversation at our end of the bar got around to the practice of giving neighborhoods cute names, usually by a developer who is trying to get higher prices. Of course New York, and especially Manhattan, has had its share of these cute names for quite awhile, NoHo and SoHo for, respectively North of Houston and South of Houston, and Tribeca for the triangle below Canal. They have been around so long they feel almost normal. Changing existing names kind of gets on my nerves though, like trying to change Hell’s Kitchen to Clinton. Even worse, in my opinion, is coming up with these cute acronyms.

One of the worst examples is in Brooklyn where a developer seems to have successfully changed the name of Vinegar Hill to Dumbo for Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Overpass. Now that is just stupid. On top of that, for awhile they had a picture of a large elephant painted on the side of a building where you couldn’t miss it if you were driving over the Brooklyn Bridge. Note: nobody has ever called it the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass.

Of course the name Vinegar Hill was also the result of a developer who named it that in 1800 in an attempt to attract Irish immigrants. Vinegar Hill is a rough English translation of the Gaelic term for “hill of the wood of the berries” where a battle in the Irish rebellion was fought in 1798. It must have worked because another name for the area was Irish Town and it was known as a rough and tumble neighborhood of bars, brothels, and gambling dens.

Now I live in Downtown Brooklyn and I don’t intend to ever call it anything else. I like the sound of the name. Much to my dismay though there is now an attempt to rename the neighborhood BoCoCa, short for Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, three somewhat adjacent neighborhoods. BoCoCa, now that is just ridiculous. It makes it sound like we are in Miami Beach or something. Instead of wearing black people will probably start wearing Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Of course Jim, once he realized how much I disliked the name, insisted on using it at every opportunity and proceeded to tell everyone how much he liked it.

Jim, The Provocateur

Luckily there was a nice couple next to me with whom I could have a reasonable conversation.

The Nice Couple John and Lisa

We talked about beers and bars and things like that while Jim continued to try to market BoCoCa to anyone who would listen.

As usual at Pete’s I had a couple of interesting beers that I had never had before. One was Lump of Coal, a Russian Imperial Stout brewed by Hepworth in England. The other was Mogul Madness brewed by Rogue in Oregon. They were both very good, quite dark. The Lump of Coal was kind of like a dry Guinness while the Mogul Madness was a bit sweeter with more malt. I finished the night off with a Maker’s Mark Manhattan just to verify my comment yesterday that they did indeed make a decent cocktail. Research, strictly research. By the way, they do make a decent cocktail.

Pete's Waterfront Ale House

I had to steal this picture from Pete's website because there has been scaffolding up in front of the building for about a year now and I haven't been able to take a good picture myself.

Just thought I would post this because I am going to be there tonight to have my picture taken to accompany a review I wrote for The Brooklynite, a quarterly magazine that comes out in my neighborhood. They asked me to write a short, very, very short review of my favorite Brooklyn bar and Pete's was it.

Why is Pete's my favorite? Well, there are a lot of bars in my neighborhood that I like, but I have been going to Pete's the longest. I started going there when they were across the street where Last Exit is now. When they moved it was to a larger place but they managed to keep it looking and, more importantly, feeling just about the same. They have a great selection of beers, both bottled and draft, and they rotate the selections often enough so that you can always find something new and interesting to try, everything from Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale from Scotland (the last time I was there) to local favorites from Brooklyn Brewery. If you aren't sure what you want just ask one of the bartenders. They tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the offerings.

Pete's claims to have warm beer and an ugly owner but I can assure you, the beer is cold. As to the owner, well you will have to stop in and judge for yourself. They do have delicious food though and it reflects Sam the manger's interest in barbecue. He has a number of trophies that he has won in various competitions on display and they sell his homemade barbecue sauce too. It is also available to put on your food along with a wide variety of other hot sauces that sit on shelves above the tables in the dining area across from the bar.

To top it all off they have a popcorn machine where you can help yourself to a free bowl to have with your beer, or Scotch, Tequila or Bourbon of which they also have a good selection. I guess you could even have one of their specialty drinks like their apple pie vodka if you are so inclined. Not exactly Bar Man's style, but during the holidays their eggnog is good. They do make decent traditional cocktails as well, but I generally focus on the beers and ales in here. Live music on Friday nights is also a treat. My favorite is the first Friday of the month when Dmitri's Black Coffee Blues Band performs.

Pete's Waterfront Ale House can be found at 155 Atlantic Avenue between Clinton and Henry Streets. You can check out their website by clicking below.