Friday, June 22, 2012

La Marginal: Home Cooked Puerto Rican

Last week we went out for Puerto Rican cuisine. I like it and Val has never had it so we ended up going to La Marginal for early dinner.

La Marginal
2447 Nacogdoches Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78217
Tel: (210) 804-2242
Mon-Wed 10am-9pm,  Thu-Fri  10am-1a.m, Sun 10am-6pm
4.5/5 stars.

He Said:
   This restaurant meets one of my requirements to be called a hole in the wall. It was kind of hard to find at first and is fairly small. But, this is a good thing. No crowds to fight and usually great food. Parking is tight but sufficient. We were seated fairly quickly after entering but it took awhile to get menus and drinks. I was going to call this "the review that almost didn't happen" because it took them so long to get to us. But, once Alanso saw we weren't being served he was very "on point" to make sure we were taken care of.

Plantano Loco
   The Decor: Interesting 3-d art on the walls makes the dining area feel open through the clever use of forced perspective and proportions in the murals. Almost could feel like you were dining open air on a quaint city street. There was music playing, but just loud enough to be pleasant and didn't intrude into conversation or trying to understand our server. Plenty of examples of cultural art to make it feel very festive without being hectic.

   The Service: Like I said, we almost left except our server, Alonso, saved the day by reading our body language across the restaurant. After he became engaged the service was top-notch. I'll ask for him our next trip. He is a young soft spoken man that knows the menu and cuisine like a pro and answered all of Val's questions concisely and showed no signs of frustration at all. The menu has very clear pictures of the different dishes to ease selection.

   The Food: After running through the menu with Alonso, I decided to get the Plantano Loco. It is a sandwich made of toasted plaintain slices around smoked ham, roasted pork, with a light touch of mayo and white cheese. This was served with yellow rice and crispy plantain fritters on the side. I got tea to go with.

The tea was strong without being bitter. A simple squeeze of lemon and it was good to go.
I started of with the yellow rice which had pigeon peas and little bits of pork mixed in with it. It was served compressed into a low cylinder shape that easily fell apart with my fork. The rice was moist and firm without being remotely hard or soggy, it was "right in the groove". The spices and peas balanced this out to a wonderful savory goodness.

The plantain fritters were crisp and warm without being oily/greasy. The actual sandwich was awesome! The roasted pork had a caramelized, crispy skin and moist, tender, fall-apart meat. The ham was lightly smoked and firm without being tough. A light touch of mayo and white cheese really rounded this out.  Did I mention there were 2 of them in my order?

Val got a cross sampling of the menu and shared. I tried the fried Yucca which was crunchy and light and was completely incredible with their in-house made garlic sauce.
The hot sauce which came to the table was a great balance of spicy chilies, garlic, and other spices I didn't take the time to zero in on, they were in such a good balance.

Coconut Flan is the best.
The time for dessert came. They have several types of flan and other goodies. I got the coconut flan while Val got the flan sampler. My flan was firm, yet somehow light and filled with custardie goodness topped with a toasted coconut "crust" and drizzled with caramel with a flourish of chocolate sauce on the plate.

 Summary: I'm more than willing to put this place in our regular rotation and work my way through the menu. Everything was flavourful and more than yummy. I'd give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars due to the wait and that it was a little warm inside. I'll say on that front though that it appeared they were having A/C issues.

She said:

First Woohoo to Thomas for starting his first post!  He is getting more comfortable with the Blogspot format and posting on his own more so let's encourage him :)

So I had never tried Puerto Rican food before, and I am a super picky eater and nervous about food that I know nothing about.  It gets more dicey when you wander into cultures with menus that involve words in languages you don't speak.

The atmosphere was charming.  The little houses they designed on the wall made the place feel cozy and charming and you could forget you were in a small restaurant in a strip mall.

After the long wait to get menus and drinks, I was really frustrated, but our waiter was considerate and conscientious.  He took the time to explain everything on the menu and seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm for trying some of the dishes.  I ordered a wide variety of items and shared them with Thomas and Goggles. 

El Bohio with crispy plantains
I asked him what he thought I should order and he recommended El Bohio ($10.99) "Tender marinated chunk pork with fresh garlic, pineapple and tropical spices, fried to golden brown garnish with red peppers and onions." Normally the peppers and onions would throw me off, but this dish was AMAZING.  The pork was crispy and well seasoned. If that was the only thing on the plate I would have been happy. 

I got the salad and the sweet plantains which were very tasty, but softer than the crispy green plantains.  The pork itself was to DIE for.  I normally don't gush but I haven't been this enthusiastic for a new ethnic cuisine since I spent a summer in Japan. I was not, however fond of the yellow rice with peas in it. Next time I will get the white rice. Goggles loved the rice, and got the same dish I did with the crispy plantains instead of the sweet. 

For some reason my normal skittishness towards something new was replaced with an avid curiosity that had me ordering a little of everything.  I ordered a Guava and cheese empenadilla (I thought it would be chopped fruit and cream cheese, instead it was all blended together and the flavor blew my mind - sweet and savory all at once)  Then I got an order of fried yucca.  It was interesting, kind of like mild potatoes and it was served with a very tasty savory garlic sauce that made me want to lick the plate.  I felt like a little kid taking delight in the simplest things. 

For dessert I ordered a combination of three different flan.  There was vanilla, Coconut, and coconut milk.  The flan was good, thick and creamy and filling without being heavy.  The coconut milk flan was not as much to my taste.  The texture was too soft with bits of shredded coconut in it, and something about the flavor did not sit well with me.  The rest of the table agreed.  The vanilla was lovely and simple, I liked it quite a bit.  Hands down though, everyone liked the coconut flan, which was basically the vanilla flan with a layer of toasted coconut on top. 

Overall this is a place I would be happy returning to, and they have brunch buffets that sound like just the thing for a nice weekend afternoon.

The service is good, I will chalk up us waiting to an error given how enjoyable the service was once the waiter came by, and he was very attentive the rest of the meal. The food is incredible, and reasonably priced for what you get. The flavors are unlike any of the other hispanic food I have ever tried.  If you have not tried Puerto Rican food you are missing out!

La Marginal on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 18, 2012

Camacho Diploma - Scorpion an amazing Father's Day smoke

The Camacho Diploma Series
Vitola: Scorpion
Size: 6" x 54
Origin: Honduras
Color: Natural
Wrapper: Corojo Quinto Corte -
Binder: Corojo
Filler: Corojo
Shape: Perfecto

Drinks: Val had coffee and kahlua and Thomas had some Dalmore Scotch

She said:
Thomas had been telling me that he loves these cigars.  So, as a treat I picked up a couple, because I wanted to try his favorite cigar.

The appearance was very smooth, no prominent veins, slight bumpiness at the foot.  I don't usually smoke perfectos, so it always throws me off a little. The cigar was firm, no soft spots or inconsistencies, in all respects a well-rolled cigar. 
I used a cutter, and just barely took off the end of the cap.  I don't like using cutters, as I hate getting shreds of tobacco in my mouth.  The draw was a little on the light side, which worried me.  The dominant flavor I was getting was mocha.  I love cigars with this flavor, so had high hopes, and wasn't disappointed.

First third: The cigar had a strong flavor of coffee and mocha, with slight hints of earth and leather.  The draw was firm, but not too firm. I had some issues burning it evenly, but I am realizing it has more to do with how I light/smoke it than the cigar or the humidor.  I am still a relative rookie to cigar smoking.

Second third: The mocha and coffee faded into the background and a leathery sweetness came to the foreground of the flavor profile.  All in all very enjoyable and still well accompanied by my coffee drink.  The cigar was producing a thick viscous (in a pleasant way) smoke.  The wrapper was somewhat oily, you can see the dark ring and sheen at the burn line, but not so oily you feel the need to sand blast your mouth afterwards. I had no problem keeping this lit, and though the outer layer of ash is somewhat flaky looking, the ash held on for quite a while. I was impressed with how long it maintained its shape.
 Last third:  The mocha and coffee flavors have come back up, and the cigar is at full strength.  The mocha and coffee is now balancing with the leather nicely, the three flavors coming together very pleasantly.  It tasted like drinking the best cafe mocha from my favorite coffee shop in the North End of Boston, if the ring around the cup that protects your hands were replaced with fresh cut leather.  The ash finally fell at about the end of the 2nd third of the cigar.  I found myself disappointed that the cigar was coming to an end, though usually I only have the patience for robustos, and this was longer than that, I wanted more.  Unfortunately I had to give up smoking it after Thomas did not have a cigar holder the right size/shape for me to keep smoking it as it was getting too hot to hold in the last inch or so.

 Overall I found it to be an excellent cigar, and would rate it 5/5.  I want a whole box of these, but that will have to wait a while.

It burned well aside from my own issues with it, the ash was white and grey, and though flaky on the outside, held on well.  This cigar goes well with coffee and scotch, and next time I want to try it with a good 10 year port.

He Said:
I've had a couple of these before and they are in the "cloud" of my favourite cigars. I can't name any one. So Val asked my fave one day and this stick came to mind.
   Low and behold she orders us a pair as a surprise. So, after a rough Sat. we settle in after dinner for a Father's Day smoke on Sunday. I Decided to air it with another of my favourites: The Dalmore 12 yr scotch.
   Construction of the cigar was as perfect as I remember, good symmetry to the two tapered ends, very few veins in the wrapper, and a wonderful "toasty" golden color. My ceramic cutter left a clean sharp cut. The prelight draw was warm and with slight hints of spice.
   After a quick toast the end lit easily and neatly. The slightly tight draw opening up as the cherry moved beyond the cap on the foot.
   One of the things I love about this cigar is the obvious, controlled power to the blend. One friend likened it to driving a Jaguar XJ12. The contrast being a Rocky Edge and a Full Blown Hemi Charger. Similar power but with a more controlled edge..
  The spice wasn't present after lighting it. But a beautiful balance of leather, coffee, and oak-ish flavours. After about the first couple of inches it settled into strong earth and leather with just the barest hints of a sweetness that could be described as strong tea with a hint of sugar. which it maintained throughout the balance of the cigar. I'd feel the strength of this puppy start to sneak up and then I'd slow down on smoking it. Which is hard since it tastes so good.
   The only thing I regret about this cigar is that I currently don't have a holder the right size o finish it all the way down. At least I have the advantage of callouses and hands used to hot metal so I was able to smoke most of it. The flavor in the last 1/2 inch was robust and intense and I wanted to see how it would finally finish, nearly burning myself. "The good thing about callouses is you don't feel the heat till its too late. The bad thing is you don't feel the heat till its too late..."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Toraño Exodus 1959

She said:

Val here, tonight was stressful, so I went to Finck's by myself to have a cigar.  I decided to check out the new Bandera Rd store, and it is very nice.  I love the ventilation in the smoking lounge, the air stayed clear.

Trey helped me out, and I picked out several cigars, and the one I chose to smoke tonight was the Toraño Exodus 1959, and it was outstanding!  Now this is what I was expecting out of all of the times my friends recommended the Toraño line of cigars.

The cigar was superbly constructed, firm with a nice dark wrapper.  I couldn't get much flavor on the pre light draw, but it lit quickly and burned well.

The ash held on very well and was about 3-4" before it dropped.  I didn't have to touch it up at all and stayed lit.  

The flavor started out somewhat mild and not very distinctive, but about 1" into the cigar the rich earth and coffee notes and a woody element to it as well and the flavor just got better and better as the cigar burned.  All in all it made my day, thank you Toraño!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Benny's Tacos on Walzem

Val here:

I don't like a lot of Mexican or Tex Mex or Southwest food.  It tends to be the wrong kind of spicy, and some of the ingredient combinations just don't suit me.  Thomas has been working on introducing me to more of the cooking other than the stereotypical dishes.  I like his homemade carnitas and pork guisado (he is allergic to beef).  I do however, like breakfast tacos.  I am sure these aren't traditional and are totally American, but hey, a quick tasty breakfast is a quick tasty breakfast.

I am very fond of Benny's tacos in the morning.  They make incredibly tasty breakfast tacos - so far my favorites are the potato and egg, and I ask them to add a strip of bacon. Nom Nom Nom.  Their pork chop taco is also really good.  Thomas often gets chorizo and bean, and Goggles likes them too.

We were just there last week, having a quick breakfast after a meeting.  The service was fast, polite and helpful.  The tacos were fresh and delicious.  I got my usual.

They have great prices and if you get there at a reasonable hour of the morning, their more basic breakfast tacos are 2/$1.50 and much healthier than any sandwich at a fast food place. This is the to-go place for breakfast.  They also cater well - we had them make the tacos for Thomas' son's 18th birthday breakfast, and they made an outstanding breakfast.

He says:
If you are in the Walzem area, go there... They have great tacos at cheap prices. Their Salsa Verde is to die for. Get there early during the school year, though. They are a local favourite and get crowded right before school..

Benny's Tacos on Urbanspoon

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño el Martillo Cigar Review

She Says:
Pre-draw - the wrapper is dark with visible veining.  The leaves had a rich smell, and a slightly oily sheen.  The construction seemed to be sound and the draw was firm without being too firm.

Thomas enjoying his cigar.
The cigar surprised me.  I normally don't like spicy cigars, and this one starts off peppery with an odd almost floral note.  After about an inch it mellowed into a very complex and rich blend of earthy flavors. There was a woody/earth flavor, a wisp of paper, hints of coffee and spices and the barest suggestion of a floral sweetness in the middle of the tongue. It was a gorgeous day to be outdoors, the shade made it nice and cool, with a pleasant breeze.  It took about 1.5 hours to smoke, and left an oily residue on the fingers (note - don't rub your eye after will regret it.)

Overall it was a fantastic smoke, and makes it to my favorites list.  At this rate I am going to have to start putting gold stars on the journal pages of the ones I like :)

He Says:
These were beautiful cigars! The Top Notch construction and appearance of these stogies had me itching to try them. So, after a picnic lunch to prepare for the trip home, Val and I fired them up.

The pre-light draw had hints of toasty goodness with slight hints of spice and wood. The foot toasted easily and lit without any need to finagle or work. This started off a little peppery and spicy but settled into a rich, warm, richness. Very complex layers of wood, coffee, leather with a slight floral hint that maintained throughout the rest of the cigar. Sharing sips of coffee we were joyed at how it almost tasted like a creme brule.

Draw, construction, and appearance were all top notch producing a long firm ash that dropped at about the 1/3 mark and retained its shape after hitting the pavement.

I will hunt these down and get more. Because, alas, Finck's doesn't carry it. (Hopefully they will soon...?)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fruit picking in Fredericksburg

This has been a busy couple of weeks for Thomas and I.  I just started summer classes, so spent tonight catching up with cigar reviews and site reviews. Sorry for the long delay in posting, I hope these few make up for it. 

This weekend Thomas and I went fruit picking with Goggles and her friend.  We spent the day in Fredericksburg, picking blackberries and peaches at Marburger Orchard.  Since it was the end of blackberry season for them, it was first come, first serve.  We lucked out and though we didn't get there right as they opened, they still had blackberries available.  Yum. It was around 3.25/lb for blackberries, with a 75¢ charge for the special box. We had a great time, and mostly avoided the thorns and got a nice pile of blackberries. 

Then it was time for peach picking. They had a few varieties, but the Harvester peaches were in the peak time for picking, so that was what we chose.  It was 35.00 for a 1/2 bushel of peaches (about 25 lbs). We had to walk a bit to get where the freshest trees were, but it was a nice day, and the orchard was pretty.

Unfortunately, the box got roughly handled up at the register, which upset us a bit. Note - this place ONLY takes cash or check, no credit cards.  It was a fun time, but I was frustrated with how many peaches ended up bruised by them shoving the boxes together.  Rather than having a couple days to decide what to do with them, I ended up having to process ALL of the peaches Saturday night, so that they wouldn't spoil.  More on that later. 

After our morning's labors in the fields, we decided a picnic lunch was in order.  We went to the park in the middle of Fredericksburg, which is really nice, and has a large, shaded picnic area.  I made sandwiches while the girls snacked on fresh peaches.  While the girls went to explore the gardens, we sat and had a cigar.  We decided to try the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño el Martillo with Dark Corojo wrapper which we picked up at the Drew Estate/Joya de Nicaragua event at Finck's.  The cigar Review is in the next post.

After the picnic and cigars we went home.  Goggles' friend needed to go home, and on the way back they brought some vanilla ice cream.

We had a hard time figuring out what to do with nearly 25 lbs of ripe peaches.  The bruising and cuts due to  mishandling at the register meant I had to process them ALL that night. 

I sliced and froze 5 quart sized bags of peaches and 2 of blackberries with the thought of using them in tea and in mead and cordial recipes.  YUM. 

In the end, an internet search turned up a few possibilities, and after examining them, we selected 3 recipes to create, then of course, made them our own with additions and substitutions until they were our recipes (I hate following recipes exactly.)

We made a syrup with the fruit by mixing honey, lemon juice and water together and baking the fruit in it - one pan of peach, the other of blackberry.  This went very well over ice cream. I like it because it is a fruit topping that has no refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup and was super simple to make. 

Then we worked together to make a peach-carrot bread and a peach tea bread.  Two loaves of each, made with yogurt instead of oil, they came out moist and flavorful. 

Still when we were done, there were a lot of the most over ripe peach slices left, and they were going to definitely spoil by morning...what to do...what to do! Ah! I know! Booze-a-mahol to the rescue! The remaining slices were chopped up and added to mason jars with about 1/4 cup of honey, 1 finger of bourbon and then filled the rest of the way with vodka - instant experimental batch of cordial. 

Casa Magna Colorado Sancho review

At the Lone Star Cigar Bash, I picked up a tin of 3 sanchos from Casa Magna - it looked like a great size for a short smoke, and smelled really good. Made in Nicaragua, which is a fair indication so far that I will like it.

Dark wrapper, firm draw with a rich mocha flavor (pre-lighting)

The flavor was earthy and rich with a touch of mocha.  It burned a lot longer than I was expecting, as it has a very tight draw and I ended up needing to double punch it to be able to smoke it.  It easily lasted as long as the full sized cigar Thomas smoked that night.

Overall I am very fond of these and am likely to continue purchasing them, however, don't be fooled by the short length, this is a full sized smoke, time-wise.

Toraño Vault Blend A-008

At Finck's Lone Star Cigar Bash, the Toraño Vault Blend A-008 was one of the cigars that they gave out.

Many people have recommended this cigar maker to me, and I was excited to try it.

She said:
In the end I was a little disappointed. It started off very spicy, right at the edge of my tolerance.  I am not fond of peppery flavors. Though the flavor is very strong, the overall strength of the cigar is medium.  The flavor smooths out as you smoke it, with a somewhat pleasantly bitter flavor, like coffee grounds and dark cocoa.  While the cigar is enjoyable, it is more of an occasional change of pace than something I would want on a regular basis.  I would give it a 3/5.

He Said:
This was something I had been looking forward to. It came highly recommended by some of the guys at the lounge and finally a pain-free way to try it, as it had come in the grab bag for the Lone Star Cigar Bash.
Started off really peppery and spicy and just as I was about to put it down as to over the top it mellowed into a complex mix of earth, leather, and just a faint hint of spices. It was well constructed but and pleasant to smoke, just didn't seem to fit the hype I had heard. May try it again, but at the price point of this guy, there are others I prefer. 

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Cigars

June 6th Finck's hosted an event for Drew Estate Cigars and Joya de Nicaragua. 

Naturally Thomas and I went, as we are both fond of some of the Drew Estate lines such as the Undercrown.

I got there early, as Thomas had work. I ended up being rather anxious, as the rep had brought a couple cigars that Finck's didn't carry, and I had never tried before, and one of them looked GOOD. They were being given away with purchase, and I knew I wanted to try one.  I would have purchased one, but they weren't for sale.

The representative and Finck's offered some good deals.  Buy 3 cigars, get 1 free.  Buy 5 cigars, get 2 free. Buy a box of cigars, get a baseball cap and 8 free cigars. Hmmm. Buy a box?  Could be good, the only other box we have bought was of fairly strong cigars. I called Thomas and was asking him about Joya de Nicaragua, as the Undercrowns are also strong flavored, and if he was going to buy us a box I would prefer it be something that was more of a day to day smoke.

Eventually we settled on a box of Joya de Nicaragua Antaño cigars with a criollo wrapper in the Grand Robusto size.  They are a size we both like, and smelled really good.  Thomas has had this blend before in the Grand Perfecto size and liked them a lot. We decided to try the Criollo wrapped ones that day because we had a whole box and the room was rather smokey, so decided it was best not to try something we only had a few of. 

All the hats are belong to me.

Ok - I must admit - one of the hats was really cool and I wanted it - a cute green box cap.  For the bonus cigars we chose 4 Undercrown since Thomas likes them and then 4 of the other cigars - the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño el Martillo with dark corojo wrapper.Oh! They had a raffle and I won!  I don't think I have ever won anything at a raffle before so I was excited.  It was just a cigar ashtray, but it was a cool ashtray and in my favorite colors.

She says:

The cigar had a nice light brown wrapper, and the pre-draw was firm. It burned fairly evenly, and was a very pleasant smoke.  The cigar was on the milder side of medium, with a mellow blend of coffee, earth and leather flavors, nothing was really dominant.  I imagine it would go well with coffee as an any time of day smoke.

Overall, this is going to become a regular in our collection, as I think it is complex enough for experienced smokers to enjoy and mild enough for new smokers.

My prize. 
Our purchase
He Says:
Finck's pulls off another Well Done Event...
Drew estates and Joyo de Nicaragua, and as Val says above, great deals and hard decisions.

I love the Undercrowns but had never had the  Antaño el Martillos. So was overjoyed (at the time) that she had made the call to split the freebies between the two. After this Saturday, though, I wish we'd had made the call to make all of them the  Antaño el Martillos. See blog review for the whys.

At the lounge we wanted to enjoy the cigars from our new box, the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño. They are as good as I remember. Upper end of mild to medium body and strength with a really great toastie flavor. Perfect cigar if you have to drive home.

Thank You to Finck's and all for another great time.