Thursday, April 28, 2011

Never thought I'd pick up decorating tips in a liquor store...

What is this? Two posts in one week?! Amazing! Honestly, this was supposed to be last week's post, but I chose to procrastinate. So here we go.

My very pregnant cousin, Jennifer, tipped me off about a Grand Tasting at KJ Baaron's on Saturday evening, April 16. Since she couldn't join me, for obvious reasons, I recruited my friend Sydney and her boyfriend, Jay to tag along.

I had never be to KJ Baaron's, but I've driven by it almost twice a day since I've moved back from Worcester.  It is right across the rotary from Union Station, an unbelievably central location in Worcester.  When we pulled in they offered free valet, but we chose to drive across the field that doubled as a parking lot and make a short trek back to the store.

Before we begin, I have to say, that KJ Baaron's has always caught my attention because of it's name.  I had a beloved cat, called KJ, for 17 years that I think of every time I drive by the sign.  I have to take this moment in honor of the late, great KJ (KJ =Kaithlyn and Joseph, since my mother was fed up after 20 minutes of my brother and me fighting over names for MY cat, but I digress).  KJ was a testament to her species.  She was an avid hunter (caught a cardinal on Christmas -still not sure how she managed that) and a skilled manipulator (she made a Bull Mastiff her bitch [heh heh... the dog was female, so this isn't entirely inappropriate] and convinced my father to share his ice cream sundaes with her). She is missed.  Anyway, this might be my longest tangent in this blog to date. Moving right along...

Upon entering the store, we were met my 2 greeters who handed out tasting glasses, a booklet of the available wines and instructions about the event.  There were over 20 tasting stations with an average of 5 wines a piece set-up throughout the store.  This place has tasting down to a science.  You are given a number on the top of your booklet - I was 67.  At each station, if you wanted to purchase one of the wines, you could just tell the rep your number and they would tag a bottle for you.  Magically, when you ended your evening at the register, all of the bottles you had tagged arrived waiting for you to purchase them without having to carry the bottles around.  Brilliant and very, very dangerous.

The three of us decided on a plan.  We were only tasting reds, since as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I'm not a big fan of white wine. We would work our way around in a specific order (which ended up being numerical, due to the flow of traffic) and we'd ask each wine rep to suggest a tasting order. Before reaching each table, we read all of the descriptions, so we could veto a wine beforehand if we knew we wouldn't be interested. Now, here's the kicker, there was a discount based on the number of bottles you purchased.  You maxed out at 20% from 12 bottles, so I knew going in I was leaving with 12... the question was, which were the lucky 12. (Jackson would have been a little upset if I went with my original goal of 24 bottles.  They tell me marriage is about compromise, so I decided 12 was fair.)

Two hours later, innumerable sips of wine, and some cheese and crackers later, I had my 12 bottles and a new favorite liquor store - called a package store or "packy" in Massachusetts. The tasting itself was a little overwhelming, with over 100 wines to choose from.  I found most of the reps to be helpful and personable.  I only encountered 2 reps that gave me the "wine snob" attitude.  Unfortunately, the first one I encountered was at the first station we stopped at (we started out of order, so I can't remember the station number). I really have a hard time dealing with these individuals. First of all, these people are salesmen, not enologists, not sommeliers, but salesmen. In fairness, I'm sure they have a pretty extensive background in wine, but for the life of me I can't understand how the intend to increase sales by 1) insulting, 2) demeaning, 3) ignoring their potential customers. Eye rolls do not sell wine, just saying.  I really enjoyed one of the wines, but based on this man's attitude, I decided not to buy a bottle.

On the flip side, there were some amazing reps.  A few told me the history of the vineyards, talked about decent pairings, and suggested other wines that were similar to those I was tasting.  Overall, I was really impressed by the service.  I was able to get some more information on Grenache wines, some insight into wines from Rioja, and learn a little more about how to determine decent blends. I really took a lot away from this tasting ... and not just bottles of wine.

My companions were particularly interested in the dessert wines.  While I enjoy dessert wines, I tend not to taste them and rarely ever buy them, but since they were interested, I decided to try a few.  I ended up buying this delicious dessert red (Syd and Jay bought 3 bottles) that I'm planning to serve with some dark chocolate at my next dinner party or to myself to brighten up a bad day.

What I enjoyed the most about KJ Baaron's was their decor. Hanging from the ceiling of the main room is a wine bottle chandelier.  It's awesome!  I grabbed the photo from their website.
I want one... which means I need to buy a condo so I can have one. This will have to be filed under "long-term goals" for now.

Their tasting room is stunning. It was packed when I was there, but from the website it looks like an elegant, calming space.  I've learned that it can be reserved for functions.  They have these great wine bottle lamps and a modern design that elevates KJ Baaron's from your average package store to a more professional and trendy environment. I copied this picture from their website as well.
Side Note: While I'm sharing long term goals, a friend recently sent me an email with these photos attached.  I'll definitely need one if I keep shopping at KJ Baaron's. (I can't credit the original owner of these photos, but I will if someone knows the owner.)

Amazing, right? I know.

Just one more fun fact about KJ Baaron's before I end.  During the tasting, I noticed they design custom wine gift baskets.  I happened to be in the market for a gift basket to donate to my family's fundraiser The Odgren's Kayer to Find a Cure 3rd Annual Dance! KJ Baaron's is arranging a beautiful basket for us to raffle off tomorrow night and is working on donating a gift certificate for us to raffle as well. Their staff has been unbelievably accommodating and I am very appreciative.

So, I'm now heavy 12 bottles of wine - at 20% off, a gift basket, and the need to purchase property.

Congrats KJ Baaron's you've tipped the scales in Worcester's favor.  Cheers!

Until next week!
<3 K

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Can Dance If You Want To....

This blog will be one of the rare instances where I promote, rather than review, an event. Why? Well, it would be just plain rude of me to keep this Worcester gem a secret and cruel if I were to blog about it next week when you'd have to wait a whole year to experience this party. Since I would like to think that I am neither rude, nor cruel, I'm taking off my critic cap and trying my hand at advertising.

[Take this moment to envision me joining the cast of Mad Men: my Manhattan office decked out with Bauhaus inspired furniture and a fully stocked bar, I'm clad in Dior that would make Jackie O jealous, and I have Don Draper at my beck and call... okay, good, you've to the picture.]

Here are the specs:
The Odgren's Kayer to Find a Cure 3rd Annual Fundraising Dance
Friday, April 29
7pm EST
Pine Ridge Country Club
28 Pleasant St Oxford, MA
$10 - All proceeds go to Relay for Life

Now, it's no secret that my family (yes, I am promoting my family's fundraising event) knows how to throw a party.  The last year alone boasts three epic events - a Halloween Bash [costumes required], a New Year's Eve Extravaganza [buffet included], and to be completely shameless - one gorgeous wedding. When we throw a party, we go all out.  Here's what to expect on Friday night -in no particular order:
  • Music provided by Champagne Toast Entertainment - They'll have you dancing all night long! Find them on Facebook
  • Raffles that include:
    •  Red Sox tickets!!!!!!
    • Autographed Sports memorabilia 
    • Wine Baskets 
    • Electronics 
    • Quilts
    • Gift Certificates
  • Snacks on us! Chips, pretzels, etc.... snack donations from Walmart
  • Jen's Legen-wait for it- dary! Confetti Cake
  • A large and decently priced cash bar 
  • Dance offs
  • Photo ops
  • and much more
 The best thing is that this event is for a great cause.  Unfortunately, everyone has a loved one who has battled cancer.  Relay for Life is fighting to end that battle and find a cure for cancer. So, please join us for dancing and drinking in honor of kicking cancer's ass!  

Here's some photographic proof that this is a great party! (Photo's courtesy of my cousin's facebook page)

Be there!  

But if you can't, you can still make an online donation to our team at The Odgren's Kayer to Find A Cure
Until next week - when we'll be back to business as normal!
<3 K

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Boulevard - The Worcester Diner Series

A week or so ago, my very dear friend, Maria suggested that I do series on the diners of Worcester. Well Maria, this one's for you, kid...

On Sunday, I found myself up bright and early with not much going on.  Jackson had a fantasy baseball draft (this from the guy who just passed up tickets to opening day at Fenway...) and I didn't have plans until the afternoon.  I busied myself cleaning my apartment, which is honestly a constant item on my to-do list. When I'd made a significant dent in the project, I decided to scavenge for some breakfast food.  Talk about a wasted effort. We didn't have anything that even resembled breakfast food... okay a slight lie, but if I eat any more oatmeal, I might turn into the Quaker Oats guy. Anyway, I found myself without an appealing breakfast option and decided I needed to remedy the situation. Instead of being a responsible adult and using my free time to grocery shop, I determine the much better plan was to call Maria, pull her away from her Graduate thesis work and entice her to meet me at the Boulevard for chocolate chip pancakes.  Let's just say, I really had to twist her arm to get her to agree.

The Boulevard Diner is located on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester was established in 1936 - so bonus points for being historic.  The exterior is an old club car design, with a red and white awning and neon lights for the late-night crowd.  I have to admit that this is the first time I've been to the Boulevard in the daylight.  My normal Sunday morning at the Boulevard is normal in the wee hours of the morning, after frequenting some of the other establishments on Shrewsbury Street.  The place is hopping late at night, I've often had to wait in line for seating at 2 a.m. and there is rarely parking without a bit of a walk after midnight on any weekend. It's also a great place to meet really interesting (ie. drunk) individuals who are just as enthusiastic as I am about food ... heh. But, no matter what the hour, the cheery staff of the Boulevard welcome patrons with a hello and a cup of coffee.  (God bless their smiles at 3 a.m., I always leave a big tip, because they put up with a lot.) Inside you have the choice of a booth or the "bar" which is right at the grill with those twisty stools that can keep kids (or me) occupied for hours. Maria and I opted for a booth this time.

 Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thomsen - Panoramio

At the Boulevard, you don't get a personal menu, you read the sprawling list of possible options above the grill. However, you don't necessarily have to order for the menu, just ask what you are considering and it's possible they'll have it or be able to make it - which also gets bonus point because this makes me feel like a celebrity or VIP.  They're pretty fantastic in that regard.  Being a greasy spoon diner, you'd think that you ought to stick to the breakfast items, but the food is solid across the board.  It's all artery-clogging good (no weight watchers friendly options and Vegans should just keep walking [I'll review EVO soon for that crowd]) and the portions are heaping.  A local favorite is their Italian toast, which I would equate more to a loaf of bread, grilled in what seems like pure butter. The chocolate chip pancakes are my go-to selection, but this time I ordered a breakfast sandwich - bacon, egg and cheese on a grilled bagel..  So delicious. Maria ordered the 3-egg breakfast.  It comes with toast (she opted for the italian) and home-fries and to drink - a hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream, delightful!  You can't beat the prices.  The facebook page says it all.  Entrees range from $0-$10, accessible to any budget.

While there, I overheard a family who were connoisseurs of diners. They'd traveled from Pennsylvania and just had to stop at "the Famous Boulevard." It's no surprise that the Boulevard is a prominent stop on "diner's of the North East" tours.  It's got quiet a reputation for excellence.  Just from a quick Google search it turns out my humble (hehe) blog will now join the ranks of some extremely popular food blogs that have reviewed the Boulevard.

The Boulevard is a Worcester treasure and is definitely tipping the scales in the city's favor.  It's part one in my series of competing Worcester diners and I am totally up for the challenge! Any one want to join me for breakfast?

<3 K

Monday, April 4, 2011

Date night and a nod to Kevin Smith

Sorry about the delay, I realize I kind of skipped last week, but you'll get 2 posts this week to make up for it, promise! 

While it is no surprise to most of my readers, I have to begin this post with a serious admission.  I don't cook. At all. Ever. Well.. hardly ever.  Notice the word choice used above.  I do not cook, not cannot cook. I am a perfectly decent, sometime bordering on good cook when I set my mind to it, however those moments are few and very far between. Jackson is also a decent cook, but we aren't amateur gourmets like some of our peers.  We don't enjoy cooking dinner every night and if we cook dinner it is normally from a bag from Trader Joe's (and it's delicious, so don't judge).  Which leads me to the point. We eat out, a lot. Probably two or three times a week. A typical week looks something like this:
Monday:  Exhausted from the back to work scramble, I pick Jack up from the train and we decide we have errands to run and stop to eat on the way home.
Tuesday: I often have a dinner meeting for work and Jackson fends for himself.
Wednesday: We unfortunately eat at the Piccadilly because of trivia.
Thursday: We cook a pre-made Trader-Joe's meal and watch NBC because The Office and 30 Rock are that important.
Friday: We go out to eat or order in.
Saturday: We go out to eat with each other or friends.
Sunday: We normally eat at my mom's house.

So, by the end of any given week, I normally have quite a few places to review.  This week I narrowed down the options to my new favorite decently priced sushi joint Osaka which we visited on our pseudo-date night on Friday.

If you are looking for the best sushi in the city, go to Baba, but if you are looking for a good meal, with a relaxed atmosphere and friendly service, Osaka is it. Tucked away in the White City Plaza, this little gem is surprisingly popular on any given night. They pack a lot in a little space, but it never feels overly crowded.  They have a long bar you can eat at or just have a drink.  They have a section with booths for family dining and 4 hibachi grills for dining and entertainment.  Jack and I like to sit at the bar because I am fascinated by the process of creating sushi rolls and Jackson likes that their tvs are always tuned to ESPN.  The waitstaff is great, always attentive and personable and (though I embarrassingly admit this) when I left my phone behind once, the waitress found it and kept it behind the hostess stand for me.

After a quick dinner (we were running late) we picked up our favorite 3rd wheel - whose never really a 3rd wheel- Maria and made our way to the West Boylston Cinema to see The Fighter.   I'm not evaluating the movie, there are film critics for that and honestly, this one speaks for itself, but I am going to tell you all about the treasure that is the West Boylston theater.

Back in high school, this was everyone's favorite cinema for a few different reasons.  One, they didn't really card, so R movies weren't an issue for those underage (I'm sure they've gotten better about this...) two, they have an awesome selection of candy, and three they are ridiculously cheap! Now, back in high school, I had one idol: Kevin Smith. I had a phase where I wanted to be a director and Kevin Smith was the man. Honestly.  I can still quote the Jersey Trilogy and Dogma, word for word. My friends and I all respected Mr. Smith's genius and in honor of "Mallrats" we deemed the West Boylston Cinema the "dirt theater" in direct reference to Brody's (Jason Lee) favorite mall affectionately know as the "Dirt Mall." The dirt theater stretched our meager funds to the max.  It's still only $5 for a movie - less on Tuesdays.  Popcorn still comes in buckets and it's wicked cheap as well.

The only downside is you have to wait about 2 months to see a movie after it is released.  For Jackson, this is a problem.  He loves to see movies on opening weekend, if he can help it.  And while there are a few movies I'll undoubtedly go to a midnight showing for -namely Harry Potter- I really don't mind waiting a month or so to see some movies.  So this is how we ended up at seeing the Fighter on Friday night.  Jackson had already seen it (of course), but he decided it was good enough to watch again and Maria and I, being the big Bale and Walberg fans we are, were psyched to see it on the big screen. 

There is something charming about the dirt theater and it's "Building 19" feel.  It's not flashy like new theaters.  They have posters from hundreds of older movies decorating the walls (we're talking early Kevin Smith movies old - not Casablanca old) and their bathrooms haven't been renovated since approximately 1989, but you get what you pay for.  The theaters are small, but intimate and it's always funny to see trailers for movies that you might have already seen at a larger theater, but again, it's part of the dirt theater experience.  The staff is a bunch of polite, yet disinterested high school students, who I would bet are geeky film buffs like I was at their age.  It's kind of great to go to the movie and not be overloaded with the corporate feel - no one asked me if I wanted to upgrade to the larger soda of just $.50 more and it made me smile because honestly, I ordered the medium on purpose and I don't need a patented sales technique to try to change my mind. Of course for research sake, I had to order a soda, popcorn and snack just to be able to report to all of you that I spent less than $10 on snacks! Unheard of at a movie night nowadays!

I managed to juggle my obscenely larger Medium popcorn and soda and my packet of Junior mints as I made my way to the quiet little theater at the end of the hall with Jackson rolling his eyes at me the entire way.  We enjoyed our movie and exited the theater without having to worry about the traffic and parking issues of some of the larger theaters and even if the movie sucked, we wouldn't have been suffering any buyers remorse from spending way too much money on a night at the movies.

This weeks rating: 2 thumbs up for both venues! Great deals! Great news for Worcester!

Until later this week... heh heh...

<3 K