October 31, 2006

LEO's Eat 'N' Blog: This drink’s for Fido

… followed by placing: it in a doggie bag (from  www.winedoggybag.com) …You order an excellent wine to go with your restaurant meal, and when dinner is done, the bottle is half empty. Or half full, depending on your worldview. What do you do?Common sense would dictate that you poke the cork back in the bottle and take it home to enjoy another day. But common sense, by and large, does not inform alcoholic-beverage-control laws. In Kentucky, restaurants are generally not licensed for “package liquor” sales and, historically, have risked a fine or loss of their drinks license if they permit customers to carry out wine.In a rare display of common sense, however, Kentucky’s legislature this year passed a new law allowing consumers to take the partially consumed bottle home. The law requires that restaurant staff re-seal the bottle, place it in a closed bag and provide a dated receipt. The consumer must keep the bottle in the trunk, a locked glove compartment or other place “inaccessible to the driver” during the trip home, a rather bureaucratic set of requirements apparently aimed at ensuring that thirsty motorists won’t slug their Chateau Gotrocks right out of the bottle while speeding along the Watterson.The law is intended to foster moderation because diners don’t feel pressured to drink the whole bottle at the… followed by placing: it in a doggie bag (from  www.winedoggybag.com) … restaurant before driving home. Many in the restaurant industry like the idea because a bottle of wine becomes an easier sell if the diner can be assured that it won’t be wasted. “Our anecdotal evidence indicates that wine bottle sales are up and restaurants are enjoying the wine-to-go arrangement,” said Stacy Roof, President/CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association.… and then including the receipt to prove ownership, we suppose.Finding myself with a good half-bottle of Hess Collection Napa Cabernet remaining after a pleasant dinner at the just-moved Cutting Board Café the other night, I asked the server if I could get a doggie bag for the pasta and, er, my wine. “Sure,” she chirped, whisking the bottle away. The pasta came back in a white styrofoam box, the wine in a brown paper bag, with a cork shoved back in (it was the cork from a different wine, actually, but no matter), and the bag stapled shut. These measures wouldn’t have gone far to slow down a thirsty alky intent on a quick slug, but I guess it’s the thought that counts. I stashed it between the front seats, not thinking about the “inaccessible to the driver” law, but hey, I skated; and we enjoyed the wine with dinner the next day.The Cutting Board, by the way, recently moved a few doors up Goose Creek Road from a smaller location, shared with a tire store, to the more spacious quarters that had formerly housed Hungry Pelican. They’ve thoroughly renovated the building, successfully eliminating all vestiges of old fried-fish grease, and expanded the menu to incorporate a broad range of main courses (from $12 for a grilled portobello mushroom dish to $28 for a grilled lobster tail, shrimp and scallop “seafood delight”) plus soups, salads, wraps and panini.Finally, he seals the deal: so you don’t pop that bottle open before you get home. Put it in the trunk to stay legal.We were very pleased with a Chinese-style potsticker appetizer and a pair of excellent desserts; a little less whelmed with a creamy but inauthentic “Tuscan Carbonara” and a bland steak-and-gorgonzola panini that seemed more like chipped beef and cottage cheese, and a bit surprised by a $60 tab for two, plus 20-percent tip and the $28 take-home bottle of wine to bring the evening’s toll up to $100. Still, it’s a cozy, attractive place that’s bringing in crowds, and I’m sure we’ll be back to try a few more entrees.The Cutting Board2929 Goose Creek Road423-9950www.cuttingboardcafe.comRating: 79 points Aldi-dahNow that you’ve got that half-bottle of leftover restaurant wine inviting you to stay home for dinner, you might want to consider a change of pace in your next grocery-shopping trip.Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent LEAH STEWART suggests a visit to Aldi, a European small-grocery chain that started in Germany in 1948 and now boasts some 5,000 stores worldwide. The chain is expanding rapidly in the United States and now has five properties locally, including Louisville stores at 3442 Preston Highway, 4301 Bardstown Road and 10304 Dixie Highway, and in Southern Indiana at 3131 E. Highway 62 in Jeffersonville and 3118 Grant Line Road in New Albany.Aldi, according to the chain’s Web site (http://aldi.us), is “an international retailer specializing in a limited assortment of private label, high-quality products at the lowest possible prices.”Stewart, who shops at the Preston Highway Aldi often, says that it just may be the best little grocery you’re never heard of (or never been to). Here’s her report:When we started shopping at Aldi a few years ago on the advice of a friend, we bought very carefully and tracked our purchases for three months. We were saving on average 40 percent over Kroger. You won’t find many national brands, just Aldi “house brands,” but I don’t think you’d be able to tell the difference between them and national brands. And if you don’t like an item, Aldi offers a “double quality guarantee.” They’ll replace the item AND refund your money. Aldi keeps costs low with a no-frills approach: No greeters. No cart jockeys. No coupons. No published phone number. Merchandise is displayed in the giant boxes it was shipped in. Prices are posted on the shelf. Bring your own bags. You’ll bag your own stuff and carry it to your car. Bring a quarter for the cart. Bring cash, EBT or debit card, but no checks or charge cards. The selection is basic but comprehensive, in its own way.Aldi stores are a standard design, so if you’ve been in one, you’ve been in them all. At a modest 15,000 square feet, they’re about one-fourth the size of an average Kroger and maybe 1/10th of a big Wal-Mart. You’ll have 1,200 products to choose from, not the 40,000 you’ll find in the super store. But sometimes smaller is better. It’s not overwhelming, and I really don’t need 43 cereals to choose from.You’ll find no artistic displays of fruits and veggies, no mountains of polished apples, no clap of recorded thunder as mist rains on the produce. What you will find is fresh fruits and veggies, prepackaged in reasonable quantities. You’ll almost always find apples, oranges, pears and bananas, and usually an “exotic,” like mango, pineapple ($1.99), papaya or kiwi. The veggie selection will include potatoes (in 5-pound or 10-pound bags) onions, lettuce, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots. There’s a good variety of canned and frozen fruits and veggies, dairy items ($1.39 for an 8-ounce block of cheese) and bread. The frozen cream puffs are a real treat. Try dipping them in a chocolate fondue.Do not expect to meet a friendly butcher who will cut a pocket in your porkchops, but you can buy your own chops for $1.99 a pound. You will find fresh chicken, chuck roast and ground beef at value prices, and a variety of frozen meat and fish. We’re particularly fond of the frozen salmon fillets, $3.99 for four good-size portions. And now a few Aldi insider’s tips: If you don’t want to look like an Aldi Virgin, read this carefully. Aldi veterans get a knowing smile, and it’s not hard. See the line of shopping carts all chained together? You’d like a cart, wouldn’t you? Shove a quarter into the front of the black box on the cart handle, and a chain will pop out the back and release the cart. Only a quarter will work, not two dimes and a nickel. When you return the cart, reverse the process — shove the chain into the back of the box, and your quarter will pop out of the front. It’ll make more sense once you’ve tried it.As you shop, you’ll find some interesting non-food specials. One week it was dog beds. I once purchased a lamp. And two mini-refrigerators. Sometimes there are computers on display. The Indiana stores sell wine. I frequently pick up fresh flowers ($2.99 for six roses or a bunch of seasonal blooms.) I wish I had bought the garden lights I saw last spring.You’ll meet interesting people at Aldi, too. Because quality is high and prices low, it’s a great place to stretch the food budget for recent immigrants. I enjoy hearing a variety of languages spoken in the aisles, and have to wonder just what (or who) is being discussed ... once I was trying to explain cheeses to someone with a decidedly French accent and very limited English skills. Is cottage cheese like mozzarella? Ummm, no ...You’re at the greatest risk for being spotted as an Aldi Virgin in the checkout line. A word of caution — this line moves fast. The checkers can have a small order rung up in full before you can get your money out of your wallet. Really! To look like a veteran, put the heavy items from your cart on the belt first. This is very important. Scoot your stuff right up behind the order in front of yours, and put the plastic divider stick behind your order, so the next person can start unloading. Then bring your cart up to the front where the cashier can reach it. There’s no belt on the far side, so as the cashier rings up your order (remember that this goes very fast) she puts your items back in your cart. You really want the jug of laundry detergent to go into your cart before the bread. Once you’ve paid for your items, move on to the bagging area. Do not try to bag your groceries as they come off the belt, because you can’t work that fast, and the cashier will yell at you. Or talk to you sternly, anyway.The Aldi experience: It’s worth a try. NibblesOne for the teacher, one for the docGourmet for Everyone will demonstrate cooking with “Fabulous Local Fall Apples” on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m. The demonstration will highlight traditional and non-traditional varieties of this wonderful seasonal fruit and provide great apple recipes. The demonstration is free and will be held at Gourmet for Everyone, 111 S. English Station Road. For more info, call 253-9656. Contact Robin Garr at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com