Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Married Madness In Three Acts

Act I

Friday evening. The Wife, Ph.D., is drained after another long work week with a red pen in hand, sore vocal chords and dwindling patience. She tells me she wants to stay home. She says she wants homemade pizza and red wine. I oblige since any meal involving those two items rattles me alive. A leftover chicken breast, a red onion, some mozzarella and barbecue sauce are put to good use. My apologies to California Pizza Kitchen. Please don't sue me; this blog has not yet turned a profit.

That night in her sleep, The Wife, Ph.D., barks out instructions to her science students and frequently twitches her hand as if she were doodling cherry checks, crosses, stars and happy faces on the white sheets. Habits die hard and restless nights die harder.

2007 Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand) - Wonderful deep red color. Very tight bouquet with hints of raspberries, cherries and cinnamon. Bitter tannins and quite disjointed. The Wife, Ph.D., was totally disappointed. 85/100.

Act II

Saturday night. The Wife, Ph.D., is a homebody. She tells me she wants to stay home. She says she wants homemade pizza and red wine. I am happy to cater to her desires. It is round three of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (Greatest. Sporting. Event. Ever.) and I would rather glue my eyes to the screen than abandon my comfortable cocoon and metamorphose into a faux social butterfly somewhere out and about. The games start at six p.m. and end at around five a.m. so I give The Wife, Ph.D., a few hours of quality family time in the shape of a Neapolitan pizza and an average-to-detestable chick-flick. Unsurprisingly, she falls asleep on the couch twenty minutes into the movie, I think the lead actress had just been transformed into a zombie elfish vampire by an evil sorcerer played by James Franco and she was Googling antidotes to her predicament. I sigh and switch the channel just in time to see another buzzer beater. Bless March Madness.

2007 Domaine Argyrides Mourverdre (Cyprus) - Earth-driven aromas of mulch and tobacco with nuances of spice and red fruit. Lovely red fruit on the palate with some good spice and a short finish. Alcohol spikes towards the end but overall a good effort. 88/100.


Another Friday night. This time it is delivery Chinese food and red wine. The Wife, Ph.D., wants to uncork a bottle of 2008 or 2009 Palo Alto Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Shiraz blend from Chile that has become our preferred everyday wine. I veto her call and go with an island wine instead. She complains about my "job" but calms down once she starts juggling a broccoli floret and a mushroom with her chopsticks. She takes a sip of the wine, smirks and reminds me that she's always right. Her glass goes untouched for the remainder of the evening and a nearby voice that yelps "Bad Student! Principal's Office! Palo Alto! A-Plus!" startles me awake at four thirty-five am.

2008 Aes Ambelis Cabernet Sauvignon (Cyprus) - This wine did not show as well as the last time we tried it. Tight bouquet with a touch of mint, smokiness and some earth. Cherry, raspberry, eucalyptus, tea leaves and pepper on the mouth. A green and bitter finish. 85/100.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Gluttunous Disposition

I have a growing and rather disturbing obsession with pork shanks. Succulent, slow-roasted pig legs lightly rubbed with dried herbs, salt and pepper. Scrape off the slushy fat that separates its golden crunchy skin from the tender meat and get to work like a gentile. Pick the meat with your fingers. Dip a slab of skin in hot mustard and bite into it as if it were the perfect cracker. Lick the bone clean and burp. There is no need for potatoes or salad or any other unexciting foods that would detract from your devouring of Miss Piggy's chunky inner thigh. All you need is a chilled beer and a gluttonous disposition.

Souxou Mouxou Mantalakia is a smallish Greek tavern nestled off of Ledra Street in old Nicosia. Many Cypriots had told me they were disappointed with the food so one weekend not too long ago I decided to see for myself with The Wife, Ph.D., Cousin #1 and Cousin #4 in tow. The place itself is quite casual with light wooden furniture, some sparse decorations and artwork on its white walls and an intricate tiled floor that reminded me of a stone path. The menu is limited but includes several interesting choices such as kontosouvli (marinated chunks of grilled pork), a breaded chicken breast stuffed with spinach, cheese and red pepper, an artichoke dip and the obvious object of my affection. We ordered these items along with a Greek salad and some spinach pies, and a bottle of retsina (a terrible white wine that tastes like the Original Pine-Sol cleaning product) to wash it (no pun intended) all down. I guess the choice of retsina was the unfortunate byproduct of a poor wine list dominated by uninteresting Greek wines.

Of all the pork shanks I have had, this one was pretty darn good. It was perfectly cooked; the meat was juicy and the rinds crispy and a touch of dried herbs added a zest to the dish. I can confidently say that along with Beer Academy (the pork shank must be the only thing keeping that sad establishment in business), Souxou Mouxou Mantalakia makes the best kotsi I have had on The Rock. Come to think of it, I am now depressed for having missed out on Shank Night during last October's trip to Munich; I passed out at five p.m. courtesy of a sleepless Lufthansa flight followed by four liters of heavy beer and half a chicken (Best. Bird. Ever.) for breakfast/lunch at the Braurosl tent.

Besides the shank, the kontosouvli and stuffed chicken breasts were flavorful, lean yet tender and accompanied by potatoes cooked in different ways. This is a good time to divulge the fact that I do not eat potatoes and that I will refrain from reviewing them. I understand that on The Rock ignoring the spuds is the equivalent of kicking a Cypriot moufflon in the nuts or casually mentioning that Turkey makes better gyros. However, I do not enjoy them so please forgive me if I do not shower them with attention. The artichoke dip was a bit bland and overloaded with garlic, while the spinach pies could have used a few more minutes in the oven or pan to crisp up. Overall, though, the meats shone as is expected of any restaurant on this carnivorous island of ours. Shank God.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Thursday, March 10, 2011


My first experience at Domus, a restaurant, bar and lounge housed in an old renovated mansion within Nicosia's Venetian walls, was four years ago for drinks in the ground floor. We were tightly packed, kind of like vacuum-sealed chunks of octopi legs in olive oil. Some of us leaned up against the bar stools, others stood immobilized by the patrons trying to navigate the contrived space, all of us felt our hair stand as our heads swept the dangerously low-lying ceiling and produced static electricity. The speakers screamed and we moved our jaws to the beat of the punchy music. Men craftily unhooked brassieres with their stare while women, dressed and accessorized in labels, repealed such approaches by turning away and sharing their disgust with their girlfriends. Trying to carry a conversation with someone involved setting your lips on that person's ear and barking out questions that required either monosyllabic responses or hand gestures. Most people, some holding martini glasses or tumblers full of ice and strong liquors, were undoubtedly there "to see" and "be seen." Yet, at the end of the night, "seeing" was as far as they would go; no one there wanted high society to judge them for dragging a random stranger home for an after-party short (or long) stack of blueberry pancakes. I still thank whiskey for making my time there flash by and prevent me from bitch-slapping those fools who dared ridicule my obtuse outfit. Granted, the ground floor lounge has been renovated since I last went but I am still guessing it ain't my cup of chamomile.

On the other hand, the restaurant upstairs, thanks to its small rooms and spread-out tables, provides diners with a sense of privacy that is nonexistent below. White curtains and walls separate the many different dining spaces which in one way or another mimic the set of a David Lynch movie; framed mirrors of all shapes and sizes cover the walls, the lighting is exorbitantly dim, antique chandeliers sway above and rustic hardwood floors menacingly creak under one's footstep. The Wife, Ph.D., and I sat in a long corner table usually reserved for six, my female companion hogging the beautiful Victorian-style purplish sofa that faced the main corridor into the restaurant. Several long crystal teardrops (or, uhm, spermatozoa if you are of a one-track mind) hung from the high ceiling and provided a great deal of depth to what is basically a hallway pretending to be a dining room, while down-tempo electronic music (St. Germain and The Gotan Project, among others) played in the background. As soon as we sat, I selected the 2009 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko from Santorini and within a few minutes my precious was poured, revealing its citrus and mineral aromas and flavors.

The extensive menu is "gourmet" for Nicosian standards and by no means inexpensive. As a starter, we ordered a wonderfully crisp parsnip, carrot, beet, celery and Granny Smith apple salad tossed in a light yogurt dressing with fresh herbs. The Wife, Ph.D., who I intuit was a vegetarian or grass-venerating cow in a past life, loved the salad so much she asked me to replicate it at home. Instead, here's a shout-out to the chef or sous-chef: if you happen to read this, how about (pretty please) leaving the recipe as a comment and saving me countless hours of experimentation? My only caveat with the salad was that the celery was cut too thick and overwhelmed, both texture and flavor-wise, the rest of the ingredients. In any case, we followed our appetizer with a stewed hare accompanied by steamed asparagus and a basic Parmesan risotto and a pumpkin, sun-dried tomatoes and ricotta cheese risotto for the herbivorous one. The hare was meaty, juicy and tender and both risottos were creamy, packed with flavor and al dente. We enjoyed every bite of our dishes, even though, in my opinion, the portions were somewhat large for a high-end restaurant. Then again, we live on The Rock and nouvelle cuisine, molecular gastronomy and its associated bite-sized meals have not been generally well received by the locals. Remember, there's no denying that meze and its massive quantities set the rules of the domestic culinary game.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

America Never Dies

Some holidays are not meant to be enjoyed. Yesterday was my choice du jour. Green Monday for those of you still unripe bananas in the art of sin or Clean Monday for those who have been bestowed by the heavens with the DNA makeup of a saint. In any case, it marks the day you are supposed to stop sinning (not if you never have, oh holy ones) and give up those foods which, when push comes to shove, are the most delicious. Say bye-bye to steak, cheese, omelets and rich eclairs.

Most years we end up in an unkempt plot of land by the beach eating greens like famished cattle and grilled seafood (no fishiness, mind you) on paper plates and with dull plastic cutlery. After lunch, the children clumsily try to fly polychromatic kites with their patient fathers or uncles as Master and Commander of the Wind, only to get frustrated as the fluttering diamonds crash onto the rough terrain for the umpteenth time. Now officially bored, the kids run off like an excited troop of monkeys to kick a football among the brush while their mothers pray there are no sprained ankles or bloodied knees. The restroom is over some weeds behind a largish fig tree and the only electricity available comes either from a portable generator or one of the pick-up truck's cigarette lighter receptacle. The trucks or jeeps or Hummers (for the posher yet more wasteful families) are essential to carry the folding chairs and tables, ice boxes, grills, disposable china and produce needed to give the luncheon a small semblance of civility. Beer is poured and wine bottles are uncorked yet for some reason the roughshod set-up, cornucopia of vegetables and dearth of dairy always put me in a finicky mood.

For a change, this year we stayed in Nicosia and enacted this lavish festivity in The Wife, Ph.D.'s godparents' backyard. The kitchen counter and dining table resembled a cross between a colorful stand in a farmer's market and your fishmonger's latest wet dream involving mollusks. I would love to list all the bulbs and leaves and seeds and nuts and fungi and maritime beasts available for the malnourishment of the guests but I fear that would read like a mean judge's sentence for a carnivore who refused to eat his green beans. Obviously, since I am an amateur chef, I chose to actively participate in the soiree by cooking up some mussels a la Provencale and stuffing my face with Russian caviar and chunks of bread generously spread with taramosalata, or what I have anointed as Poseidon's elixir. Despite my healthy servings of fish roe and The Wife, Ph.D.'s dexterity in peeling my shrimps, I still felt like I lost three kilograms just from sorely missing "real" food.

Luckily enough, wine has not (yet) been forbidden by the church on this day so we all drank merrily, some of us probably just enough to tie us down until we flew past the No-Ribeye Zone. I shared a bottle of the 2007 Santowines Grand Reserve Assyrtiko with the crowds and then opened a 2009 Moulin de Gassac's Guilhem, a bombastic and fruity Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault blend from Languedoc Roussillon that for roughly five Euros is worth guzzling down.

As I served myself a fourth glass of wine, the pain within my empty stomach failing to subside, I heard The Wife, Ph.D.'s communist uncle exclaim (in a voice vaguely reminiscent of a born-and-bred Texan, Oklahoman or Alabaman patriot) that "America never dies!" I shook my head in dismay, wrote down the phrase on my notepad and understood then and there that turning back was no longer an option. To be honest with you, not even the arrival of a twenty-five thousand liter Petrolina tank truck filled with a First Growth Bordeaux for the masses would have salvaged the day. Just imagine my predicament: stuck on The Rock masquerading as a pescetarian for the day with the commies praising the good old USA. Damn. Lights. Out.