Sunday, April 27, 2008

STORM Hill Country Challenge 2008

STORM Hill Country Challenge 2008

Back to Comfort, older and wiser than the last time. I didn't blister my hands, run out of water, or dress too warmly. Speaking of attire, this was the inaugural race for my new Rice Cycling Team kit. Sadly the fresh steaming cow patty I rode through not only splattered the Yeti, but my new jersey and shorts as well. The shorts also ended up with blood stains. Dang.

The bogeyman tried to frighten us away with prophecies of thunder, lightning, hail, and heavy rain for race day. But the wrath of God act was not to be. Beautiful weather instead - at least for the race. The ranch got pretty cold and windy after we hit the finish line.

I placed fifth after a good, but not outstanding effort out on the course. Drew and I spent almost the whole race dueling it out for fourth place. I lost a lot of seconds on the descents - especially the backside towards the finish. I did, however, clean the three spots that had me worried: a hop up rooted ledge right between two oaks, a chunky drop called 'evil worm' just past the top of the climb, and a big stone ledge drop at the end. I shouldered a tree, but everything else went smooth - including my start. I avoided another anaerobic detonation like Waco by not trying to hang on to Clint's wheel for too long. I have no idea what the results from this race will do to the overall point standings. Good news for Clint though - he's locked the series up. Look for him in sport at Double Lake.

Drew looking thoughtful, some dude, me napping, Chris looking nervous, Lonn thinking about sidewall protection, and Clint looking laser-focused as ever.

  • Two dinners at Cracker Barrel. Cornmuffins! Saturday chicken and rice special! Pork chop! Cheap!
  • Saturday found me tasting wine at Becker Vineyards (get the cab sauvignon, skip the provencal) followed by lunch at the Silver K Cafe (get the spinach salad, skip the chocolate cake).
  • My stunningly sexy pre-ride partner took a tough fall that banged up her knee pretty bad and her chin just a little bit, but she climbed those rocky ascents like a vet!
  • Did anyone else notice that the Galactica ep had a lot happening, but nothing actually happened? Morbo demands more Grace Park screen time!
  • Reality met pseudo-reality when Bibi Martinez and I chatted for a bit about our blogs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fife Redhead Red 2004

Fife Redhead Red 2004 Mendocino Red Wine

This bottle comes to us from Fife Vineyards - specifically the Fife Vineyards’ Redwood Valley winery in Mendocino County started by Dennis Fife. This landed in my basket while I shopped for hot sauce at H.E.B. Central Market back in the middle of February. I paid $14.99.

I paired this blended California red with the movie Cloverfield (we're about a half an hour in - so far not great). I didn't get much from the smell in the glass - a bit of dark berry, but not much else. I'm not crazy about how this wine starts - the flavor begins lemony - a little bitter, a little woody, but still generally light.

I'm going to pop some popcorn and we'll see if that helps. Mmmm... better. This wine improves in the middle... now we've got some strong dark cherry flavors. It's smoothed out and gotten rich and gutsy. A bit smokey too. This reminds me of a nice pipe tobacco. The movie's gotten better as well.

I don't see myself buying another bottle - but I didn't dislike it. Two chainrings?

Drink well. I'm off to Comfort for race numero six.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ra Sushi

The sushi bar at Ra Sushi

Ra Sushi on 3908 Westheimer in Houston

The half-full glass: Holy wow the tea! Holy wow the crispy spicy tuna roll!
The half-empty glass: The signature rolls are singularly bad and the sake menu is barely worth opening

My loyal readers have listened to me blather on about Ra's green tea for months now. Time to post up or shut up I figure. So the crew found itself parked at Ra's sushi bar this evening.

Tea indeed - Ra's fantastic, hot, nutty elixir of happiness and joy. Edamame to start, naturally, followed by squid salad. I've had better textured squid, but Ra doused it in something good.

Our chef behind the bar recommended striped bass and halibut, so we ordered nigiri for each. Ra in Houston must have a good buyer - the fish has been consistently above average every time. The halibut and bass were fresh, tasty, and nicely textured.

Halibut, stripped bass, and the legendary tea

Hang on, this meal has more ups and downs than the Waco course. We ordered up a Kizakura Pure - no race this weekend so I had a couple of sips. Not that I would want more anyway - way too lite for me. Nothing interesting in this sake. I think estrogen leaked from the fru-fru label into the bottle.

Have no fear, the crispy spicy tuna swoops in like superman obliterating all negative taste bud experiences in its path. This is the signature item on Ra's menu. They deep fry these little balls of rice with a crispy coating and top them with spicy tuna sprinkled with cilantro and jalepeno bits. Flavor and texture my friends, flavor and texture.

The crispy spicy tuna at Ra Sushi

If you find yourself at Ra enjoying your tea and crispy spicy tuna and feel like ordering a New Zealand roll, you are about to make a big mistake. The flavor of the smoked salmon inside gets diluted by the cream cheese and the kiwi bits with mango sauce overwhelm that and the scallops. So it's kinda just a fruity gooey wad. The lobster and shrimp maki we ordered tasted fine, but not great - plus it's cha ching.

The New Zealand roll at Ra Sushi

We decided to finish with pork gyoza potstickers and yellowtail scallion maki. The gyoza was pleasantly greasy and tasty and the quality of the yellowtail made the roll.

I'd say this was my fourth visit to Ra. The tea and crunchy little tuna balls keep me coming back. Some members of the crew appreciated the scenery. My experience with the service had been previously spotty, but our server tonight gave us great attention and didn't rush us out. Eat well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tiz Red 2004

The Tiz Winery is a Kendall Jackson project - a big winery putting a pretty label on a table red. Normally I would chafe against this sort of thing (see my review of Horseplay), but not this time. The blend is 63% Merlot, 22% Cabernet, 15% Syrah. I picked this one up at Krogers for $7.99. Here's the web page KJ tossed up for promo.

Smells like citrus in the glass. The taste starts light and fruity and then goes to creamy and smokey in the middle. Finish is just a bit woody but it smooths out. Cool how the wine stays light, but not limp and never sweetens too much.

This is a fantastic complex wine that's got the depth and sophistication of bottles five times this one's cost. The big KJ comes through - maybe I should ask them for sponsorship.

Drink well.

2004 Tiz Red

Monday, April 14, 2008

Singletrack Stampede 2008 (Reimers Ranch)

Three days before: My head cold had officially finished migrating to my chest. 24-7 Nyquil/Dayquil rotation.

Two days before: I landed my back on a rock during pre-ride sending nerve pain from there all the way down to my heel. My ongoing MCL strain in my right knee flared up on the second lap and I soft pedaled back to the car.

Morning of: My front brake wasn't releasing on one side no matter how much I futzed with the tension screw. A neutral mechanic declared the bushings shot and he coaxed it back to life by fire-hosing it with lube.

Five minutes after the start: The rider sitting in fourth went for a quick pass, taking me off guard. We tangled bars and I went down hard superman-style. My hand pump went flying out of my pack to who knows where and I got back on. I coughed some phlegm onto the ground for good measure.

One minute after that: I realized nothings shifting or breaking because my bars had spun 360 degrees. I stopped to fix it and got going again having dropped from third to about twenty-fifth. The front brake was jacked again and my handlebars were about 15 degrees off center.

One hour later: After slamming into a tree, endo'ing in a rock garden, and some passing (just a bit) I'm up to fifth position directly behind the rider from the bad pass at the beginning of the race. I overtook him with a quarter mile to go and finished fourth - one second ahead of him.

Metallica's cover of Stone Cold Crazy stuck in my head.

In case you're curious, third place was two and a half minutes ahead of me at the finish. Sweet trophies too! Congrats to Eric for taking the win. We tried like heck to jinx him at the start.

So as you can maybe see, the stars didn't quite line up for me on this one. No matter. Bike and knees and cough aside, my mojo worked. I felt like a mountain bike racer, not someone hoping to be or pretending to be or trying to be a mountain bike racer.

As far as the course goes, the rougher rocky parts going up and going down were a lot of fun, but the miles of flat, smooth, twisty singletrack in the second half of the course needed a couple of hills to break it up. The downhill finish done chute style simply rocked.

The whole place had a fun mellow vibe. They brought in a giant tanker truck of spring water. The expo area stayed lively and parking was a cinch.

Ride well.

Drew Richman, some dude, Lonn Hart, Eric Warden, me, some other dude, and Colin Hill in the orange and white.


* The biking beauty had her third ride, doing part of the course with me during pre-ride on the Friday before. The skills are starting to show!

* This Tiz Red 2004 I'm drinking right now is awesome. Light, fruity, buttery, and complex without being limp or too sweet. Look for a review soon.

* I don't own a kilt, so I've been doing the bare ass bike short shuffle before and after every race. I discovered this time that wrapping a fleece around me like a big towel spares me all the embarrassment of nudie-ness.

* I banged my kneecap pretty hard in one of the crashes. The knee's been getting ice and the Yeti goes in for tlc at Bike Barn tomorrow. It's making odd clicking sounds around the bottom bracket.

* I'm up to episode four of The Wire's fourth season. High freakin art man.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Uchi Restaurant

Uchi Restaurant on 801 S Lamar Blvd in Austin TX

The half-full glass: original, tasty, and contemporary menu delivered with outstanding service
The half-empty glass: fish quality, while good, does not match the menu, service, or prices

I appreciated the traditional sushi house ambiance at Uchi, but the needle on the decor pointed a little towards bland and a bit away from simple Japanese. I blame the wallpaper, the time of day, and my long exposure to Houston sushi bar interiors. Uchi compensates a bit with a cozy outdoor seating area arranged with low laid back chairs.

Let's start with a highlight - outstanding service. Uchi employs a very attentive knowledgeable staff that easily accommodated my haphazard ordering style (I never order all at once). Our server took a lot of time talking about dishes, ingredients and specials.

The basics worked out well. The edamame was clearly not the previously frozen kind, the miso was delicately flavorful, and the green tea came in my own pot - what a treat!

My online preview of the menu excited me to the idea of trying Japanese black snapper. Keep in mind that I have no benchmark for comparison for this fish. The texture stood out the most, being extremely tender - but not at all mushy, it fell apart exquisitely in my mouth. While the piece tasted very fresh, I found the flavor a bit too subtle.

Madai (Japanese black snapper) at Uchi

Don't panic, things go quickly uphill starting with grilled baby octopus. Uchi coaxes maximum flavor out of these little red charred tentacle balls. The texture seemed as non-rubbery as octopus can get. Three small piles of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper come on the side for dipping. Remember the sugar sticks that you dipped in the packets of sugar (Lik-M-Aid's Fun Dip)? Like that but with seasoned infant invertebrates instead of pure sucros.

Baby octopus at Uchi

Now for the big finale - the zero sen makimono. Yellowtail with avocado, crispy shallots, yuzu kosho, golden roe and cilantro sided with a spicy sweet red pepper sauce. It's been a while since a roll impressed me (futomaki at Nippon, I think), so I was really happy to have these ingredients come together in a balanced flavorful experience. Great stuff!

My wife ate the hot rock wagyu beef - a cook-it-yourself-at-the-table experience. This brought instant flashbacks of my bachelor party. I expected a geisha with a strong Boston accent to pop up at any second and berate me to drink more. Good times. Oh yeah, my wife loved the beef dish - apparently a lot of flavor.

Okay, so clearly Uchi steers away from traditional Japanese. But the food and service deliver what the setting cannot - a unique, contemporary Japanese inspired foodie experience. The depth of the menu deserves second, third, and fourth tries at this Austin sushi gem. The Uchi omakase for two still beckons.

Eat well.

  • We ate lunch at Food! Food!. I had an excellent black bean soup.
  • We spent a while at Bicycle Sport Shop. This place goes on forever with bikes and bike stuff. They have a coffee bar in the store and a pro section with nothing but high-end awesomeness (including a drool-induced shirt stain producing GF Superfly).
  • I drilled my back on a rock and stressed my MCL during my Reimer's Ranch pre-ride. I also feel compelled to mention my flemmy hacking cough. All perfect racing ingredients.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Aka Sushi House

Aka Sushi House on 2390 W Alabama St in Houston

The half-full glass: Amazing sake selection, wonderful rotating specials menu, big happy hour menu, and interesting house special rolls
The half-empty glass: Good - not great fish and above average sake prices

A while back when my quest to get the crew to unglue from their Friday night stools at Zake began, Saba Guy found Aka, gave it a try, and recommended we all check it out. Since then I've been back a few times - mostly on the strength of my first visit. We had some awesome aji that night.

The visit for this review wasn't with the crew. Instead the other sushi addicts (big Kyoto fans) in the family got together with just my wife and me.

I'll see if I can place Aka ambiance within the spectrum of Houston sushi bars. Less clubby and sceney than Zake, but more hip looking inside than Kubos. Almost like if Ra opened a family restaurant - lots of reds and dark woods. I can't really consider it a place to just come and drink but I also can't point to Aka as a Japanese restaurant like Nippon. It's also nowhere near as chi chi as Uptown Sushi or Blue Fin.

A lot of the food presented and tasted fairly standard: the seaweed salad, the green tea, the miso, the edamame, and most of the fish. You regular readers of my blog know all those things can be found well above standard at other places. Some of the fish has really stood out on occasion, like the aji and sea bass, but other fish like their tuna and salmon has just been average. Maybe their buyer is inconsistent. I don't know.

However, even though I said Aka doesn't necessarily work as a drinking destination, it does have the best sake selection of any sushi house in Houston (I think). Unfortunately, while I haven't done a rigorous comparison, the sake feels about ten percent more expensive than other joints. Enough grousing, let's get to the Aka highlights: the maki and the daily specials.

The rolls are pretty decadent with tempura ingredients for more than a couple. But I like the originality of their rolls and the production of some original flavor combinations. Presentation on all the maki I've had there so far is excellent.

The rotating specials menu has always delivered for me with creative dishes using excellent ingredients. My whitefish sashimi with apples and ponzu the other night electrified my taste buds - partly due to the sprinkling of little hot red pepper slices. To be perfectly honest, the rest of the menu is so huge that I really can't summarize it here.

I also want to note the fairly large happy hour menu as well as the fact that Sunday is happy hour all day. Sweet!

So there's Aka. Perfect for roll addicts, teetotaling sushi bargain hunters, and sake aficionados with cash to burn. The crew and I will keep it on the Friday night list, no doubt. Eat well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Frontier Red "Anniversary Lot 72"

The wine buyer for my local Krogers keeps this one consistently on the shelf, so I've had a couple of bottles before reviewing this one. Ironically I bought it at Whole Foods for $10.99. I think Krogers carries it for a buck less. The label pitches this wine as "a great American value". To me that means five dollars a bottle, not ten.

Frontier Red comes from the Fess Parker Winery. Fess Parker played Davey Crocket back in the fifties. I think the label looks very silly - it puts out a National Rifle Association vibe and has a cheesy faux antique look. However, it's a California red blend with a screw top. How can I resist a table red with a screw top?

The blend comes from Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre, Cinsault, and Carignane.

Jamming my nose in the glass gives me a sweet oakey dark berry aroma - a good sign of things to come. The taste starts sweet, light and spicy and then gets a little woody, but still balanced in the middle. The end gets kinda creamy but still a bit astringent. A nice change of pace if your drinking a lot of somewhat milder Red Truck.

Overall a gutsy kickin red that pairs very well with hot wings. I'm obviously recommending you buy Frontier Red since I keep buying it myself, so I'm rating it three chainrings. Drink well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Warda Race 2008

Sunscreen - important!

First off, congrats to Clint on another win. Secondly, major props to Seth for crashing and still finishing top ten.

Ahhh... back on home soil. Can't say I miss Waco much in comparison, what with it's broken glass, pavement start, no room to pass, micro short BG course length, and Monowad - oh I mean Monogod.

Sweet course in Warda - ups, downs, twisties, roots, rocks, and passing areas. Plenty of time for the pack to sort itself out before the singletrack. Gosh golly perfect! Of course, as usual, Warda was a very well organized race as well. Two baby calves were born during the expert race and while cool, that was more placenta than I needed to see in one day.

I finished seventh out of thirty. I'm not sure how our group got six DNFs. Freaky! I went with the Ryan Moore tried and true strategy of starting in the middle of the pack then pass pass pass. And that's pretty much how it went. I wasn't having much luck making up time in those woods, but I held my spot until I could hit the straits for more passing. With the exception of easing up for five min a couple of time for recovery, I stayed on tempo. The beginners did two laps and the 14 mile total length did a lot to help me out.

The whole gang came to ride. Except for Metcalf - he cat'ed up to finish 3rd (!) in sport. We're turning into a pretty congenial bunch and people settled in pretty quick and smooth. I had zero issues with other riders. Great folks - drama free. Nice to see the pieces finally come together for Lonn.

The Yeti ran great. I admit I came pretty close to racing my wife's Paragon 29er. Loyalty pays off I guess.

Still second in overall points. Don't expect it to last!

Ride well.