Sunday, January 23, 2011

Japanese New Year's Card Lottery

Instead of sending Christmas cards, the Japanese send New Year's cards. They are called Nengajo. These cards are often personalized with art or photographs by the sender. They are the size of postcards. The Japanese postal service is supposed to deliver them on New Year's day. At the lower right of the front of each card is a six-digit number for a chance in the postal service lottery. The numbers are drawn in mid-January. There are four levels of prize. The top prize includes a choice of a trip to Hawaii, an HD TV, a domestic trip, etc. There are only three of these prizes awarded. The lowest level prize is a set of two special postage stamps for the zodiac sign of the new year. This is the year of the rabbit. Many thousands of these prizes are awarded.

I received three Nengajo this year. One had a winning number for the lowest level prize:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Salute! - Real Italian Food in Sarasota

Finding a restaurant that serves authentic Italian food is a rare pleasure. Last night, we experienced that rare pleasure. We had dinner at Salute! - a new Italian restaurant in Sarasota ( It was fantastic.

The owner of the restaurant, Alberto Guadagnini, also has a resort, vineyard, and winery ( just outside Montalcino in Tuscany. We had been only 3-4 miles from that winery during our recent visit to Tuscany. Unfortunately, we were not aware of the winery at that time.

When we were seated, Signor Guadagnini presented the wine list and explained the wines from his winery. (The wine list included over 120 wines from all over the world, but we wanted to try one of his wines.) We chose a Super Tuscan, the 2005 Argante Rosso Toscano IGT, for $48. It is made with 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. It had been aged in oak barriques for 18 months. It was served slightly chilled and was terrific.

We started our meal by sharing two appetizers - a bowl of mixed Italian olives for $4.50 and a plate of bruschette (plural of bruschetta) with tomato, onion, and basil for the same price. The plate of bruschette had four nice-sized pieces of bruschette. While our waitress was nice and attentive, she was clearly inexperienced. When we started to eat the bruschette, Signor Guadagnini came over and poured some olive oil from his estate on the bruschette. The bruschette were perfect, with very nice tomatoes.

(Here I'll mention that most Americans, including our waitress, pronounce bruschetta incorrectly. The "sch" is pronounced like the "sch" in "school," not the "sh" in "shucks.")

For our next course, we shared a plate of homemade pasta. (Most of the pastas served at Salute, except the spaghetti and the penne, are homemade by Signor Guadagnini's sister-in-law.) We chose Sacchetti al Tartufo - purse-shaped pasta filled with truffles and ricotta cheese and covered with a gorgonzola cream sauce for $15.95. This dish was fantastic!

For her next course, my wife had Vitello Piccata, sauteed veal medallions in a lemon butter caper sauce, accompanied by a few roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables for $18.95. The veal and potatoes were delicious, the vegetables - ordinary.

I had Salsiccia all'Ucceletto - homemade sausage with cannellini beans, tomatoes, onions, and rosemary for $15.95. Signor Guadagnini came over and poured olive oil from his estate on this dish. The taste of this dish was terrific. The sausage skin was a bit difficult to cut. The sausage is made by the restaurant.

For dessert, we each had zuccotto, a cake-like dessert which originated in Florence, for $7. It was delicious. However, my wife said she would probably choose tiramisu over the zuccotto. I had wanted to try this dessert since I learned about it, but had not seen it on a menu while we were in Italy. I liked it, but would choose something else next time.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was nice. Signor Guadagnini, his adult son, and another man, whom I think was his brother, were very busy watching over every aspect of the restaurant's operations.

We unknowingly picked a very busy time to go to this restaurant in downtown Sarasota. The annual Thunder by the Bay motorcycle event was underway. This charity function was very well attended, and there were hundreds of parked motorcycles on Main St.

The restaurant is located at 23 North Lemon St. Phone - 941-365-1020.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Chinese Food Fix in Columbia, MD

On a recent trip to MD, I decided to try to get a Chinese food fix - because we haven't found a good Chinese restaurant near where we live in Florida. With a little Googling, I came up with the Red Pearl Restaurant in Columbia, MD.

My friend M.C. met we there, and we had a very nice meal. He had Mongolian Beef for $11.95, Hot & Sour Soup for $2.95, and a large can of Sapporo beer for $8. He said that the Mongoligan Beef was delicious and compared very favorably to a Chinese restaurant he enjoys near his home. In fact, he thought the beef at Red Pearl was of higher quality.

I had two mouth-watering vegetable spring rolls for $3.25, and a delicious dish called Hunan Delight for $17.95. The dish had jumbo shrimp, scallops, chicken, beef, baby corn, mushrooms, broccoli, and pea pods in a Hunan sauce. Since the Hunan sauce was described as spicy and I wasn't sure how spicy it was, I ordered it mild. It was very nice. I also had a riesling wine called "Relax" for $7 for a very generous glass.

The menu was extensive and included Sechuanese, Hunanese, and Cantonese dishes. In addition to the dishes one finds on menus catering to Americans not of Chinese origin, there were a number which seemed intended for a Chinese clientele, including duck tongue, jelly fish with "Chef Special Sauce," Beef Tendon & Tripe with Spicy Sauce, and Sliced Boneless Pig Feet.

The restaurant also offers dim sum dishes during the afternoon, and I have read rave reviews about them.

The atmosphere was very pleasant and the hostess was very attentive.

The restaurant is located lakeside in Columbia at 10215 Wincopin Circle, 410-715-6530.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Wonderful Thai Birthday Dinner, Sarasota

Last night, the family celebrated a birthday dinner at Bangkok Restaurant, a terrific Thai restaurant in Sarasota ( Every meal we've had there has been delicious. While there are other nice Thai restaurants in town, none has the atmosphere of Bangkok.

The birthday girl and her mother both had Pad Thai, which they enjoyed very much.

My wife had Pad Khing with beef, a stir fry dish with ginger root, green and yellow onions, red & green bell peppers, carrots, and black mushrooms. She loved this dish and has ordered it at Bangkok before.

Our grandson, not a big eater, had chicken satay.

Our son had a curry dish, which was tasty.

Our daughter emjoyed Tofu Pad Thai.

I had:
- Tom Kha Soup with shrimp for $3.50. The soup had coconut broth with lime, straw mushrooms, yellow onions, sweet bell peppers, lemon grass, galanga root, scallions, and magrut leaves.
- Pad Woon Sen with beef for $10.49. The dish had thin bean thread noodles with egg, yellow onions and green onions, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, celery, bean sprouts, baby corn, and black mushrooms.

Both of my dishes were terrific.

The wine my wife and I shared was a South African Sauvignon Blanc called Sincerely by Neil Ellis for about $27. We had this wine at Bangkok the previous time we dined there. It goes very nicely with Thai food.

Reservations are recommended because this restaurant is very popular.

The restaurant is located at 4791 Swift Rd., Sarasota. Phone 941-922-0703.