Best margarita in Texas (and Tex Mex gefilte fish)

bar annie

Above: “The best margarita in Texas,” according to my friend, client, and sommelier extraordinaire Julio Hernández, as served at the legendary RDG Bar Annie in Houston.

Last night after pouring and speaking about Italian wines at my client’s tasting in Houston, my friend Julio treated me to what he calls “best margarita” at the legendary RDG Bar Annie, where there may be a recession going on but there is no shortage of bling and great food.

bar annie

Above: Many believe that owner and master chef Robert del Grande is the founding father of “Southwest American” cuisine. His signature shrimp meatballs were delicious. Raw shrimp is finely chopped and formed into balls and then poached. Tex Mex gefilte fish!

The margarita recipe? Equal parts Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice (half Persian lime, half Key lime). “Silver tequila has that stoney minerality,” said Julio, “that we Chablis drinkers like so much.”

bar annie

Above: Fried tortilla strips topped with crab meat and avocado. Soooooo good, especially paired with the cocktail. Also not to be missed, although not as photogenic, are the crab beignets with creamy Tabasco sauce.

I gotta say (and I’m not kidding here, Alfonso!) that this was the best margarita I’ve had since moving to Texas and Julio is right: the dominant minerality balanced the acidity of the lime and the sweetness of the Cointreau, making it more food friendly than any margarita I’ve ever had.

bar annie

Above: Julio, left, with Bar Annie wine director José Perez Montufar.

One of the unique things about Bar Annie is that it combines Houston glamor with truly great food AND a world-class wine list. There were many trophy wines on the list, way beyond my reach, but in every section there was a little gem, like the Inama Carmenere Più, that I can afford on a night on the town.

bar annie

Above: There is no shortage of bling at Bar Annie, as evidenced by the valet parking lot. The trade-in value on my Hyundai Sonata was a Christmas windfall! ;-)

2009 has been a wonderful, wonderful year for me, despite the recession and my own struggles to make a living in this economy. Sometimes it helps to have friends in high places.

Thanks again, Julio and José, for a truly special treat!

And happy Friday ya’ll! I’ve been on the road all week and “moving boxes,” as we say in the biz, and I can’t wait to get home to my super fine lady!

Sunday poetry: For You, O Democracy (red, white, and rosé)

Above: We spent the Fourth of July in Orange, Texas, along the Louisiana border where Tracie B grew up.

Had you told me a year ago that I was going to fall in love with a gorgeous Texana and move to Austin, I would have told you you were crazy. But, then again, stranger things have happened. I can’t complain: for all of its surprises, life certainly has been good to me so far. Yesterday, Tracie B and I celebrated the birth of our nation with her beautiful family in Orange, Texas, along the Louisiana border (pronounced LUZ-ee-AH-nah), where Tracie B grew up.

Above: Tracie B’s Uncle Tim — an outstanding cook — used his grill as a smoker. He stuffs his bacon-wrapped jalapeños with cream cheese and chicken (or duck when he has it).

Living in the South has been an interesting experience for the San Diego Kid. There’s perhaps no other place I’ve lived in the U.S. where people feel such a strong tie to culinary place and culinary tradition. And I can’t imagine a warmer welcome anywhere in the world.

Above: “Low and slow.” That’s the mantra of Texas Barbecue. The centerpiece and litmus test of any Texas barbecue is the smoked, dry-rubbed brisket, smoked for 10-12 hours at 200-225° F. The “depth” and evenness of the pink “smoke ring” are two of the criteria used to judge Texas barbecue.

Yesterday, we were the guests of Tracie B’s Aunt Ida and Uncle Tim who were also celebrating their return to their home: flooding and storm damage following hurricane Ike had forced them out last September. What a difference a year makes…

Above: Tracie B’s Mee Maw’s deviled eggs paired beautifully with the Bisson Golfo del Tigullio Ciliegiolo, which has become my new favorite barbecue wine and probably my favorite rosé for the summer of 2009. It was the hit of the flight that Tracie B and I brought to the party.

Tim, an excellent cook (his gumbo is off-the-charts good), made barbecue and Tracie B and I opened a bottle of Inama Soave, Bisson Golfo del Tigullio Ciliegiolo, and Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina — a tricolor summertime triptych.

Above: Ida and Tim live on a bayou. They only recently moved back into their home. The backlog of reconstruction in the area kept some people out of their homes for nearly a year.

Yesterday’s celebration made me think of this poem by Walt Whitman.

from Leaves of Grass, 1855

For You, O Democracy

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,
and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

Above: At the end of the night, the glow of the DuPont plant down the road lit up Cow Bayou. The image reminded me of the first part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the original Disneyland in Anaheim.

Happy Fourth of July, y’all! Thanks Ida and Tim and thanks Mrs. B and Rev. B for having me!

BYOB Trailer Park Tacos, Soave, and Sangiovese

Above: Tracie B and me’s favorite wine to pair with Torchy’s trailer park tacos is Inama Soave. It has just enough richness in the mouthfeel to wrap itself around the intense flavors of the spicy pork and salsa.

It’s summertime in Texas and that can mean only one thing: BYOB trailer park tacos.

After we watched The Hangover at a matinee yesterday (hilarious, especially the raunchy closing credits), we headed out to spend the steamy summer evening with Tracie B’s childhood friend Jennifer and her husband CJ (check out their cool wedding photography blog), munching on chips and salsa and tacos, sipping Soave and Sangiovese at the Trailer Park Eatery in Austin — trailer park dining world capital.

Above: One of the trailers at the Trailer Park Eatery makes tacos, one makes burgers, and one makes S’mores — yes, S’mores. How’s that for an impossible wine pairing Dr. V?

Inama Soave is always one of our favorite pairings for BYOB tacos because of its bright acidity but also because it has a certain richness and unctuousness to the mouthfeel that wraps around the texture of steaming hot, soft corn tortilla stuffed with juicy roast pork and delivers ineffable pleasure.

I also thought the 2003 Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina Riserva showed well. I was a little hesitant to buy this wine: I’ve had too many 03s from Tuscany that are too stewy. But this wine was a beauty: 100% Sangiovese, grown at proper elevations (your ears pop as you drive up to Rufina), and vinified in a traditional manner. Great acidity, great plummy fruit, and lightness in body balanced by tannin that I just can’t resist. Both of these wines retail for under $20, btw, perfect for BYOB tacos.

There’s no doubt about it: Austin has some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten — from the haute to the bas.