Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jianna - Greenville, SC

The last meal out that I had on vacation was at an Italian place.  Now the stereotypical Italian place is a pasta and red sauce place with a rustic look.  Many that I have been to have paintings on the walls that make it look as if the place is very damaged with cracked walls, and an open ceiling.  While Jianna does feature pasta, the space has a very modern and clean look, located in a second floor space with a balcony.  The walls are white, and while there is some trellis work around the bar, which occupies the center of the dining room, the trellises are not decorated with grape vines.  The food would be familiar in many Italian restaurants, though the dishes are frequently treated with a modern twist and many are served as small plates.  I was with a large party, so we ordered a large number of appetizers to share, though our entrees were eaten mostly individually.  Most of our appetizers would easily be recognized as Italian, but there was also a raw bar that featured oysters and fish.  From that selection we went with some Tuna with Lemon Gel, Hazelnut, Arugula, and Olive Oil.  This would look familiar in a sushi joint, but it did have an Italian twist.  It was tender, and flavorful with some great flavors from the lemon, arugula, and olive oil.  The Ciabatta served with the appetizers was grilled, so it had a nice crispy exterior with a nice airy interior.  Also on the appetizer list was Gnocchi with Smoked Bacon, Tomato, Chives, and Parmesan Brodo (broth).  The gnocchi was soft and had a rich flavor added to with the bacon, chives, and tomato, and the Parmesan broth.  grilled Octopus was served with Arugula, Potato, Guaciale, Pistachio, and Sherry-Lemon Vinaigrette.  I love octopus and this was very good.  The Italian Cheese plate came with three cheese as well as Grapes, Pickled Radishes, Fig Jam, Almonds, and Ciabatta Toast.  It was simple as cheese plates usually are, but as long as the cheese is good, which these cheeses were, it fulfills its purpose.  Generally when a cheese plate is ordered, a charcuterie plate is as well.  The plate that fits this bill is was the San Danielle Prosciutto, a sweeter version than the di Parma version.  The last of our appetizers was the Polpette, Veal and Pork Meatballs, with Polenta, Tomato Sugo (sauce), and Parmagiana.  They were very tender and flavorful and very good meatballs, but of our appetizers, I think my favorite was the Octopus.  They had a very good wine and cocktail list, but I decided to take it easy with a Lonerider Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen (from Raleigh, NC).
In many Italian places, the menu is divided into antipasti (appetizer), Secondi (pasta), Terzi (large entrees), and Dulci (dessert).  The menu at Jianna was divided in the same manner although it was written in English.  Generally, if you order pasta, you won't order from the entree section, and this was the case as well.  Our group seemed to split fairly evenly between pastas and entrees.  I went with a pasta.  After the large number of appetizers, I was looking for something a little lighter, so i went with the Casarecce, wich is similar to a rotini that has been more loosely rolled.  The casarecce was served with Lump Crab, Corn, Peas, Lemon, and Chili Flakes.  It had a lot of crab and vegetables, but it was pretty light.  The lemon gave it a tart flavor that really did away with a need for any sauce.  It was very good and I liked it a lot.
To finish things off, it seemed that after our large meals, we were going to wave off dessert.  While I do like dessert and I thought the food we had been served thus far had been great, I had eaten enough that I would have been fine to go without dessert.  Despite this thought, we still ordered several desserts to share among us.  We started with a New York Style Cheesecake with Blueberries, continued with a Honey Lavender Panna Cotta, and finished with a Salted Caramel Semifreddo.  The cheesecake was simple and straightforward and was quickly gone.  The Honey Lavender Panna Cotta (a panna cotta is a sweetened cream dessert thickened with gelatin) was sweet and floral with a nice bit of tart sweetness from the strawberries.  I thought it sounded good, but there were a few that seemed at first to be a little intimidated by it.  After everyone tasted it, they joked that they would leave the rest for me.  I had a few more bites, but then left the table before finishing it and was happy to see it was mostly gone when I returned.  The last dessert, the semifreddo (semi-frozen) was served with Biscotti Crumbs, Caramel Sauce, and Shaved Chocolate.  It had the texture of a frozen mousse and a fantastic flavor and was an easy sell.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food was fantastic, the service was very good, and it was an interesting spin on an Italian restaurant and Italian food.     

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Carolina Breweries

I continued my exploration of the mid-Atlantic beer scene when I continued from Washington DC to Greenville, SC.  As Greenville is very close to North Carolina, and specifically Asheville which has a nationally known brewing scene, I wanted to visit breweries in both states.  This also would allow me to say that I visited breweries headquartered in Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  I say headquartered because while I visited a Dogfish Head Ale House, it was in Virginia and Dogfish Head's main brewery is in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  My visits to the breweries in the Carolina area actually took place over a couple of days and we started out with a brewery tour of Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, SC.  Thomas Creek is the oldest brewery in the area, starting as a brewpub in downtown Greenville in 1994 and becoming family-owned Thomas Creek in 1998.  They have a pretty big facility that brews their own beer as well as doing some contract brewing for area breweries.  The main entrance put us next to the home brew supply store and close to the small in-house taproom.  Before we started the tour, I happened to notice a couple of their ads, which were pretty unconventional and funny.  The tour entitled us to 4 - 4 oz pours and they generally started everyone off their most popular beer, River Falls Red Ale which was a pretty good red ale.  We then walked around the brewing area and given a short history before returning to the tap room where we were able to talk to the brewer and other members of the family while trying other beers on tap.  They had 12 beers on tap, of which there were many pilsners, pale ales, and IPAs.  They did have some other unusual styles and flavors, of which, I tried one.  Other than the Red, I had the Sour IPA, the Trifecta IPA, and Bing Bong 4/20 Gruit.  As far as color and clarity were concerned, they looked pretty similar, but there were some wide flavor differences.  The Trifecta IPA was a good IPA, using Citra hops.  The Sour IPA, I was uncertain about because I wasn't certain how well a bitter IPA would work with souring.  It worked well because it was neither overwhelmingly bitter or sour. And the Gruit, I had to try because it was a gruit.  As the name indicates (Bing Bang 4/20 Gruit).  It was aiming for the dank flavor of marijuana.  It was really unusual because a gruit is mildly bitter (without hops) and has a salty finish which this did well, but it also had a dank flavor.  It was really good and I'm glad I got to try it, but it looks like it was an experimental batch, so the only place that I might be able to try it would be at the brewery.
I didn't have a strong aim or agenda when we went to Asheville, NC.  I did want to visit some local breweries, so while I am sure that Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues would have been very good, I saw that there were a few breweries near downtown Asheville, and decided that that would have been a better choice especially since we were traveling an hour to get there, it would be better to have more things to do instead of just one.  I saw that Asheville Brewing seemed to be the biggest place, so it seemed to be as good a place as any to start.  The downtown location of Asheville Brewing, there are three locations, is the original and seems to be in a large former warehouse.  The public space is separated from the brewing area and there are three large rooms, two dining rooms, and the bar/taproom where you could also get a full menu if that is what you desired.  As we were just starting, I did not need food, although I did get pretzels with my flight.  The beer served had a wide range of colors and clarity and they also had a great t-shirt that played right to my chemist geek self.  For my flight, I started with a Lemon Space Dog American Wheat Ale, made with Lemon Zest and Lemondrop Hops.  It was a good wheat ale with a very nice lemony flavor.  From there, I went with a Ninja Latte Coffee Porter, which is brewed with Mountain Air Roasters' Coffee and Lactose to make a nice coffee porter with a creamy finish.  From there I went with a Fire Escape Pale Ale, brewed with Roasted Jalapenos to give a nice smooth pale ale a fiery finish (It was spicy, but it wasn't overwhelming).  In every flight, I will generally choose an IPA if there is one available.  There were a few available when I went, and I decided to explore a little more and picked the one that was likely the most different, Ashvillain Black IPA.  It was a black beer that was as much a stout as it was an IPA and it had a great logo.  I was glad that we started there first because the bartender gave us a lot of suggestions as to where to go next.
There are seven breweries within a quarter mile including one right next to Asheville Brewing.  We didn't visit all of them and in fact, our next stop was at a doughnut shop.  Vortex Doughnuts was located in the brewery district and did some very good gourmet doughnuts and coffee.  After the flight it was time for coffee and good coffee can always be found in a good doughnut shop.  Since we were on a brewery crawl, I decided to match my doughnut to it and had a Rotating Tap Cake Doughnut with Beer and Pretzels (I'm not sure what beer was used).  It was sweet, salty, and malty and was very good.  My friend had an Apple Fritter which was apparently very good, but it didn't look as lumpy as a standard apple fritter does.  After the doughnuts, we continued our journey as we had planned.
We had actually been looking for a Barbecue joint when we left Asheville Brewery.  We found the doughnut shop first and who can turn down a doughnut?  We found after we left, that Buxton Hall Barbecue, the place we were looking for, was two doors down from Vortex Doughnuts, on the other side of Catawba Brewing.  As there were more breweries to be visited, more food needed to be ingested, to handle the alcohol.  Having said this, since it was going to be a beer day, I decided to try out a beer from an area brewery that we would not be visiting, Fullsteam Brewery's Rocket Science IPA.  It was pretty bitter, but it wasn't just bitter and had both floral and citrusy flavors.  I was not feeling ribs for lunch, though I love barbecue and we were in the heart of Carolina Barbecue country, so I went for the next best thing, pulled pork, which was served with Corn Bread and two sides, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw.  Buxton Hall is an Eastern NC-Style Barbecue joint (despite being in western NC).  The sauce used is a thin, spiced vinegar style served on the side.  Generally, I like my barbecue sauce to be a little stickier, but it was pretty good.  My friend had barbecued chicken which was covered with a tomato based sauce.  He got rice and almonds and green beans under the hog for his sides.  His stuff did look good, but I was perfectly satisfied with mine.
After the lunch stop, we made a stop into the local bottle shop, Tasty Beverage Company, which had some interesting choices, and a taproom as well, but I wasn't sure how I would get any bottles home if I bought them, so I waved off and we went to our next brewery.  Our next brewery had the darkest name, but one of the friendliest atmospheres.  Burial Beer Company was black (of course) and was built into a pole barn on a hill.  The tap room was in the front of the barn with the brewing area behind it.  While there were some seats in the front and adjacent to the brewing area, there was a counter-service dining area in the back with more seating and a large outdoor patio.  There was a small crop of hops to one side and a gutted antique farm truck at the end of the patio that also served as seating.  We shared a picnic table with a couple that were also visiting the area to explore breweries.  Atmospherically, it was very dark, but it was also very farm-like.  It kind of reminded me of Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, MI.  For my beers, I went with Tiny Beasts Tripel IPA, a collaboration brew with The Other Half Brewing Company from Brooklyn, NY (I will frequently lean toward collaboration brews because they are obviously a limited release), Interstellar Invertebrates IPA, Prayer Belgian Golden Blonde with Apricots, and Keeper's Veil Honey Saison.  All of the beers were pretty good.  Tiny Beasts was interesting because a tripel tends to be malty and slightly sweet which this was.  It also was pretty hoppy which made it pretty interesting.  Interstellar Invertebrates was a fairly standard, but good, IPA.  Prayer had a lot of apricot flavor and aroma, and the honey in the Keeper's Veil limited the funk that a standard saison has.  While all of the beers were good, I think that my favorite was Prayer.
The next brewery, Green Man Brewery, originally started out as a brewpub, Mad Jack's, but has since added a production brewery right next to it. Mad Jack's was not open when when we came by so we drank in the production brewery.  The production brewery has an area that looks like an English Pub with a lot of carved wood, but the area where we drank, in the taproom next to the brewing area looked pretty industrial, with cement floors and garage doors.  There were many Green Man images throughout the drinking area which were pretty cool.  The bar was full when we got there, so we sat at a high top near the bar.  They didn't offer flights, so I had to think hard because being already three beers in and wanting to continue, I needed to limit myself.  They generally do English-style ales and what I picked definitely had an English origin and referenced English Pop culture.  I had a Paranoid Android IPA.  It was a limited release English IPA and was very good.
The last brewery we hit in Asheville was the Wicked Weed Funkatorium which focused solely on sour beers.  The front of the place kind of reminded me of a western saloon (without the swinging doors).  It had a very nice and long bar that ran deep into the space.  Behind was a brewery and barrel aging warehouse.  The space used a lot of dark wood in the design and referenced barrel design.  For their flight, they had 4 set beers, two of which were Barrel Aged Sours and two that were Brett Farmhouse Ales.  While they were all sour, they were very different.  Bretticent, a Brett Farmhouse Ale, was a very sour golden farmhouse ale. Bombodile, the other Brett Farmhouse, was brewed with Strawberries, so it tasted like sour strawberries.  Khatta Masala was a Barrel Aged Sour brewed with Mango and Spices and had an Indian accent.  Medora, the other barrel aged sour, had a reddish cast to it.  It was pretty sour, but it was brewed with Blackberries and Raspberries, which moderated it somewhat.  Of the four that I tried, I liked the Bombadile best, though they were all pretty good.
After we left the Funkatorium, I thought we were done.  We had explored many breweries, and I had had and enjoyed many beers.  We did leave Asheville and returned to Greenville where we stopped at a place that my friend noticed the week that I arrived.  Located on the first floor of an office building, there seemed to be a patio with picnic tables, games (bags, connect four, and jenga), and many people drinking flights.  We discovered that it was indeed a Nanobrewery as well as a homebrew shop and a spot where homebrewers could come to brew on the premises.  They had a 20 tap system pouring beers from all over.  I decided to choose beers that specifically had the Upstate name all of which were brewed in house with a local brewer.  The beers I chose, Heliocentric IPA, Interdimensional Beings Kolsch, Super Belgian Blonde, and Coffee Blonde, were all pretty good, I liked the coffee blonde best, but I think the biggest draw to the place was the fact that it had such a great patio.  It was dog friendly and I made friends with a young Great Dane while we were sitting there.  Overall, it was a good and fun couple of days exploring the area beer scene and it gives me an idea of some of the beers if if I encounter them elsewhere.      

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vault & Vator - Greenville, SC

It was kind of funny to me that both friends that I visited on the East Coast decided to take me to a speakeasy.  I had mentioned going to Captain Gregory's in Alexandria, Va.  When we went down to Greenville, SC and we went out for the evening, my friend suggested we go out to this place called Vault & Vator.  I am always up for a good speakeasy, so I agreed that we should start our evening there.  Located downtown, my friend had a general idea where it was located, but as with a good speakeasy, the entrance was not obvious.  It was located in the back of a building in the basement.  We had to walk downhill to a wrought iron door under a metal deck with mirrored glass behind it and a small sign behind it with the Rules.
Looking at the Rules, I found them very familiar.  No cellphones, appropriate attire, no reservations, no standing at the bar, be respectful, I thought it sounded very much like the rules in Chicago speakeasy, The Violet Hour.  Entering, and finding my self behind a large and heavy velvet curtain, I was reminded further of The Violet Hour.  It was dark with a bar in the center of the back of the room with seats on three sides, lounge furniture, and some booths off to one side.  The walls were black and most of the lighting came from behind the bar.  We sat at the bar and talked to the bartenders.  The space was the location of a Dr. Pepper factory with the original storage (Vault) and Elevator (Vator).  It was started by a bartender originally from Chicago who loved The Violet Hour, hence the Rules.
While they had a set of rules similar to those of The Violet Hour, they weren't quite so stringent on their adherence, so I was able to take a picture of our drinks (though a flash would not have been permitted).  The drinks are modern takes on classic cocktails and styles, using small batch liquors and their own tinctures and bitters.  They also serve a small menu of Small Plates, mostly consisting of meats, cheeses, and dips, and a selection of chocolates.  For my drink, I ordered Don't Fear the Reaper, which contained Blanco Tequila, House-made Carolina Reaper Tincture, Grapefruit Sherbet, Lime, Honey, and Simple Syrup.  It was sweet, a little tart, and had a pretty nice bite to it (though it wasn't overwhelming).  My friend ordered a Caribbean Mule, which was essentially a spin on a Dark and Stormy.  It started with House Infused Pineapple Rum, Ginger Syrup, Fresh Pineapple Juice, and Ginger Ale, and was served in a Copper Pineapple.  With the Rum, and Ginger, it just needed Lime to go the Dark and Stormy route.  With the Pineapple, it was definitely Caribbean.  The place was a lot of fun and the drinks were very good.  We actually returned a few days later and tried a few more drinks which were equally good.  I would happily return if I was in the Greenville, SC area.