April 25, 2008

Eating at Dos Brisas

My sweet ever lovin’ and I spent a night out of town last week at a place called the Inn at Dos Brisas. It is a 330 acre property with four “casitas” and an excellent fine dining restaurant run by Jason Robinson. The meal itself is reason enough to leave town, but the relaxing setting (and horseback riding!) made it all the more worthwhile.

While making the reservations I opted for the tasting menu (Chef’s Grand Collection) with accompanying wine selection. It was the right thing to do, but if we were going to spend more than one night there, I don’t think that our stomachs could take two nights of such adventure.

The dinner started with the most amazing wine for an aperitif. It was a sparkling Riesling from Lingenfelder called the Sekt Satyr. It was a nicely acid, rather dry, minerality sparkling wine that you would not have guessed was a Riesling. Well, maybe a little. An excellent drink. The Amuse Bouche that they brought with this was a collection of local small tomatoes from the garden. Red, Yellow, Black, and two toned small tomatoes with greens and a light vinaigrette. My bouche was amused.

For the appetizer, they brought us two different dishes. As a matter of fact, they brought us different dishes and wines for each course. I will try to do them justice. Doreen started with a Sake cured sea trout in its own row, detailed with garden microgreens. Wow! What a fish. The roe just popped in your mouth and the trout was very subtle. I had sesame tuna martini, with wasabi tobiko and sesame soya. Great, rich flavors jumped out of my martini glass (set in ice). For wines, I had a Palacio de Menade Verdejo from 2002 (!). IT held its age well, and had some nice rich undertones. Doreen had a White Burgundy – Domaine Fèvre Montmains 1er Crue. Top quality, crisp chardonnay.

Next we had two Foie Gras dishes. I started with sear Foie with brûléed banana and chocolate ganache (yes, bananas and chocolates!). Doreen started with the same seared foie, but with poached rhubarb and burnt honey ice cream. We had a Madeira from The Rare Wine Company as our wine. Doreen was a little put off by the wine, and though the chocolate was too early in the meal. I agreed, but though the wine was fine. The foie, however, was delicious.

The soup course was next, and this may have been the highlight of the meal. I had a caramelized lobster bisque, which was wonderful, but Doreen had a truffled garden vichyssoise. Oh! That vichyssoise brings tears to your eyes! The black truffles just leapt up and grabbed you, kissed you, and have you a back rub. It was just great. We had no wine with the soup. I am not sure if that was by design or by accident. It did make us concentrate, I can tell you that.

Next was the fish course. (Wait, didn’t we already have a fish course? I guess that was the appetizer) Doreen was served a roasted LaBell Rouge salmon, with garden arugula, sunchoke purée and olive dressing. I had a seared Alaskan halibut with organic sweet pea purée, yellowfoot chanterelles, and red wine essence. The wines were an Austrian Riesling (Berger, from Steingraben) and a German 1996 (again !) Riesling from Kloster Eberach. I think that the German Riesling was better, but they were both great.

The meat course was next – a roasted venison loin, chickpea purée, with garden chard and some Texas Akaushu Beef Filets, with garden Brussels sprouts and a rutabaga purée. The wines were a 1998 Del Dotto Sangiovese from Napa and a 1988 Bairrada from Luis Baga (that is Portuguese). It had been aged in chestnut barrels which gave it quite an interesting aromatic aroma. Both wines were extremely bold considering their age. The meats were perfect – the beef was almost raw and the venison had a deep roasted wild flavor.

Next (no, we’re not done yet!) we had some local Dos Brisas cheeses – a goat and a milk cheese aged on premises along with a raspberry flavored beer (Liefmans Frambozenbier from Belgium). An odd, but remarkably tasty combination.

We finally ended with a chocolate covered bombe. Oh! It was almost too much. We had more mareira (from 1922!) to go with it. Then we staggered back to our casita and swore we would never eat again.

Or at least until breakfast…

Peggy Noonan

Make sure you read the last section:

Declarations - WSJ.com

April 19, 2008

Inn at Dos Brisas

Early last week Doreen pointed out that we didn't have any plans for the weekend. I agreed, and mentioned what a good thing that was. She said that she would like to go to Dallas. I didn't think that was the best idea I had heard recently. So she said that I had to find something to entertain her for the weekend.

We had recently read a review of a small inn near Brenham call The Inn at Dos Brisas. It has rooms for eight couples, and while I didn't think it was likely that we would be able to get a room on such short notice, I called to make an inquiry.

Luckily for me, they had a cancellation for Friday night. So I grabbed the room, made a reservation for the Chef's Tasting Menu with accompanied wine pairing, and we left Houston about 1:30 on Friday afternoon.

We arrived there about 3:00 PM, and we greeted warming and showed to our casita. (Photos here) we started the afternoon with a nice glass of grower's champagne, and the weekend just kept getting better.

Doreen had a massage and we got to dinner about 7:30. Dinner lasted until almost 11:00, and was comprised of about 8 courses (each! we had different dishes at each course, and we shared) with a different wine for each plate. If I get the energy,I will describe the dinner in a later post.

The next day we awoke to a wonderful breakfast on our patio. We then went for a horseback ride (!) and after a great lunch we drove home.

It was a very nice evening.

April 15, 2008

Baby, I was Born to Run.

I was at The Richmond Arms waiting for an old friend when I got a call from Doreen. This was very unusual, as it was only about 5:30, and she was probably still at work. She said that someone had given her tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert that was at the Toyota Center that night, and should we go? It took about 2 seconds to say “yes” even though that meant that I had to have just one quick beer with my friend (Sorry Marty)

Oddly enough, I had been talking to my sister Jeannette here in town, and she said that she was going to the concert as well! We tried to coordinate meeting before and during the concert, but the tickets we had did come with some strings attached, so that plan fell through.

Everything else fell into place. Doreen drove down to get the tickets and then came home to pick me up. We got downtown about 7:40 or so, and found a place to park on the street. We walked over to the Toyota center in the brisk (really!) spring air and got in line to enter.

So why do women bring purses to these things? I mean, they have to check every bag (for weapons? Cameras? Booze?) before letting you in, causing a queue at the door. Then they have to find a place to put them down while they rock out. What is wrong with pockets?

We wandered around until we found our seats (Section 120, row 10, seats 1 and 2) and found out that we had our own beer vendors, food and bathrooms in this area! Great. We each grabbed a hotdog (Doreen got chili cheese, I got mine straight) a beer and had a snack before the show started.

Once we got inside we realized how good these seats were. We were at about midcourt, 10 rows up from the floor. The stage was where the hoop would be. So we were seated just a bit above the stage, and not too far away.

We ran into one of Doreen’s board members (Not associated with the free tickets) and someone I knew from when I worked at Input/Output. We then settled in for the show.

He started about 8:15 or so, and it was pure out rock and roll. He started with some stuff from new albums (which I am not familiar with) and then had a ton of songs from his old ones. I felt like I was 18 again sitting in my brother Mark’s apartment in Madison when I was visiting from Appleton. It was LOUD and your chest just thumped with the bass. It has been a long time since I have heard that.

He played a bunch of the songs I hoped he work – the E Street Shuffle, Rosalita (come out tonight), Thunder Road, Because the Night, Born to Run, 10th Avenue Freeze Out. He ended with a pro-immigrant Irish drinking song., after bringing Alejandro Escovedo and Joe Ely one stage for one song each. It was quite a night.

April 5, 2008

Business Plans once more

Today is the third and final day of the Rice Business Plan Competition. Today I was a judge for the Challenge Round. In this round, you take teams that won neither first or second place in their flights (First place teams go onto the finals, the second place teams go onto the wild card round. The winner of the wild card round then goes onto the finals. Last year's wild card winner won the competition, and $100,000). In the Challenge round, the teams have 25 minutes to present, but the judges are encouraged (nay, required!) to interrupt and ask questions. It was as fun as it sounds. (in the other rounds, you can't ask questions until after the teams present)

There were four teams and four judges today. One of the judges was a doctor (a retired MD) one was a VC, and I am not sure what the other did. We had four teams – TWO Tuberculosis diagnostics tools (one for the developed world looking for latent TB, one for the developing world looking for pulmonary TB. One aimed at NGO, one aimed at the rich. Interesting segmentation) One of the other teams was going to install LED streetlights - turnkey – for municipalities, and the final team had anti-counterfeiting nanotechnology stamps that allowed verification three ways – UV Light, Small Magnets, and a specialized reader.

All the teams did pretty well on their feet, but they all wanted to reply on their presentation. That was a universal flaw.

We are now dressed up and about to go to the awards presentation.

If you want to listen to any or all of the Elevator Pitches, click here. A local radio program (run by a friend) recorded all the talks. Here is an interesting show he taped a while back)

April 4, 2008

Biz Plan Competition, Day Two

So today I did the actual judging for the Rice Competition. This is where it gets serious. There were about 30 judges in my flight, about 180 judges overall. Each flight (there are six of them) judges six plans. The teams have 15 minutes to present, and then we have 20 minutes of Q&A. At this point it is investigating the plan, not the cosmetics or style.

Of the six plans, one was a clear winner. I don’t want to reveal it all right now, due to the (extremely unlikely, I will admit) chance that someone may read my notes and think I am giving something away. The second place team (in my opinion) was also a clear winner, just not as good as the first. Both of those plans will get funding one way or another, and will go on to become successful businesses.

The third through fifth place teams were all a wash. With a little luck, some money, and lots of hard work, any of them could make it. The last one I didn’t think had a chance.

I will give my results later.

April 3, 2008

Rice Business Plan Competition

I just finished the first half day of the Rice Alliance Business Plan Competition. Today was the “Feedback Round” an unscored session where the competitors present their plans, and a group of judges (there were seven of us in this room) give feedback – mostly on style rather than content.

The business plans presented were a company that derived electric power from the gasification of rice husks in rural India (University of Virginia), a company that replaces incandescent streetlights with LEDs (University of Waterloo), a company that grows a tree and uses its beans to generate biodiesel in rural India (Bits Lilani), a company that has a secret process to grind coal and make it burn like natural gas (Kennesaw State University), a company (University of Michigan) that harvests energy from evaporating water and uses it to power WIFI chips, and a company (Harvard/Hanover) that rips thin silicon wafers off of silicon ingots thereby making pv solar cell half as expensive as they are now.

Some of the plans (Rice, Kennesaw) were just outstanding in both their presentation and concept. Some looked like *I* did them ten years ago. Some of the presentations were so well practiced that you would have thought they were asking for millions of dollars (some of them are) and ALL of them are for real companies.

This is my favorite part of the competition. Though one of the judges here was sort of a snoot. I looked up his bio, and he is now running an internet company in the “stealth” mode (yeah, right) after losing over $150 million in a company that was trying to digitize the world’s books.

I only lost $35 million trying to collect the gravity gradient of the world…