A Rare Airline Shout Out!

I don’t love the airlines. Any of them, really. I spent some time, too much time, traveling regularly for work on both Southwest and USAirways. Southwest was always on time and I had quite a few milage perks, but I really don’t like the cattle call boarding.  We had one poor SW experience when heading to Key West but I’ve mostly found them to be reasonable (Jake would not agree–recap here and he’s still pissed about it). However, I loathe USAirways, hatred with the fire of a thousand suns. Unfortunately, I’ve got a boat load of miles with them so I continue to try get just a few more and get our three free flights to Italy. We’ll probably be late to take off, miss our connection, lose 1-2 days of vacation and be super pissed off the whole time. But, FREE!!! (snort)

Anyway, USAirways is an entirely separate rant. This post is about the outstanding customer service I just got from Southwest. I might be ready to forgive the cattle call.

Short version: Family trip to Disney in May; my mother has fallen ill and can’t go in May, might not go anywhere soon or ever; I need to cancel Mom and Dad’s flights and pray for a refund, because they won’t be able to use the cancellation credit before it expires. SW to the rescue!!

I called Southwest to cancel my parents’ tickets and talked with a lovely customer service rep who chatted with me about my mother, shared her story of her father’s illness, and explained what I needed to do to get my refund. I was then connected to the customer service department for refunds and without question, they told me I could get a refund for my parents as long as I had a letter signed by my mother’s doctor indicating her inablity to travel. That’s it. Easy. No arguing about the policy of cancelled tickets, or about giving them an airline credit that I’m sure they would never use, and no making me feel like this was a special favor. Just a straightforward process–claim numbers, email address, include this and that and 2-3 months to process and you have your money back. The whole thing took me less than 10 minutes.

Frankly, I was stunned. I had been prepared to get nothing as the tickets are non-refundable and I knew that when I bought them. Armed with my ‘nice person’ voice I hoped they would make an exception, either extending the credit or allowing us to change the name, or partial refund. Anything.

I’ve long known that Southwest has a great policy about changing and cancelling tickets, but I really had no idea that they would be so reasonable and easy to deal with when an extenuating circumstance arose. I talked to real people, was not put on hold, even got sympathy for our situation along with actual action. I couldn’t be more pleased. Now, if they only flew to Europe…

Last Week in Wine

It was a hell of a week. In short, my mother is getting older and has many of the problems that go with that; these things cause me to spend inordinate amounts of time in hospitals and wine shops.

After the first 48 hours had gone by (including on night sleeping in a chair) and things were looking up, I headed home Wednesday to have a comfort meal with Jake. I’m not sure if I was exhausted or just feeling spendy, but instead of picking up a pizza like a normal person, I stopped at Wegmans for charcuterie and cheese, then the wine shop for what I decided was a night worth a “good” wine.

See that box of figs in the background. Insanity.

See that box of figs in the background? Insanity.

Enter Bacio Divino 2006 Red Blend for $50. We often have conversations about the price of wine, mostly wondering if we go upwards from $30 do we gain as much as we spend. Is a $50 red doubly as good as a $25 red? After this bottle, I’d say sometimes, maybe. How’s that for clarity?! We’d recently had the 337 Cab Sav were pretty happy considering the price tag. These two wines tasted side by side really demonstrated what time and cost might get you in terms of wine. The Divino was rich and delicate at once, with a sort of ‘nothing’ start, then the fruit comes but not too fruity (I lack wine words…) with a long finish. That my first thought, actually. A very long finish that I liked a lot (see, poor wine vocab on my part). Overall, it was subtle and I wasn’t entirely sure it was worth it as we were eating the platter of cheese, meat, fruit and bread.

But then. THEN. The dark chocolate covered figs. Mother of God. I’m weak in the knees just thinking about it. It was one of those pairings that makes you remember how wine makes food better and food makes wine better. Just ridiculous. Perfect pairing.

There was more dietary and alcoholic insanity as the week went on. Thursday was a beautiful 65 degree spring day, so again, on my way home from the hospital, I made the decision to get some Rose so I could sit on the porch and enjoy the weather. A wine friend at the shop recommended the Roger Et Didier Raimbault (note: I paid about 25% more than this link suggests) and the L’oliveto. I’d initially ignored the L’oliveto because it was $8 (note: it appears to be retailing at other shops for $14). Live and learn. She raved. I drank. It was solid, especially for wine you plan to drink a bunch of while sitting on your porch. I went back and bought a case. I also told her that we were having oxtail ragu over gnocchi for dinner (Jake is soooooooo good to me….) and she picked a Malbec that was a great match.

Saturday night was Jake’s first attempt at duck confit and it was RIDICULOUS. I picked a young pinot noir, Acrobat, I think (it’s all fuzzy by then) and promised a myself a solid detox this week.

This coming week will likely be devoid of wine (she says on Monday…we’ll see when Friday comes) and devoted to veggies and hopefully movement from the hospital into rehabilitation (fingers crossed). Because my richness and stress quotas have been met via charcuteris, oxtail, duck and old age.

Char

We go to Char entirely too often. Need a quick bite before RBTL? Char. Nightcap after RMSC event? Char. New Years Eve? Char. Date night? Char. Happy Hour before Play Ball at Strong Museum? Char.

See, a long time ago, we had a pork belly app here that still calls out to me. We return in the hope of getting that pork belly again. Unfortunately, it’s not on the menu anymore. But now they have a spicy sausage stuffed calamari and this oxtail gnocchi thing that are easily two of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Please keep in mind there are always many glasses of wine and a baby sitter associated with Char, so I might be biased.

I posted about RMSC Uncorked the other day and how it wasn’t really as, um, good/informative/not crowded as we’d hoped. We arrived there right at 6, after stopping at Hedges (always, it’s just down the road from our house and has a great view, dated everything else, but a great view) AND Char, for a glass of Girard Chardonay and some potato wedges. We knew there would be food at RMSC, but wanted a bit beforehand just in case there wasn’t enough. Well, there wasn’t enough.

Just after 8 we headed back to Char and were seated right away. Our table was one of the less desirable, but no wait is no wait. Overall, excellent again, both service and food.

1. Girard Chard–we like it, it’s not too expensive and pairs nicely with the oysters and calamari we ordered.

2. Oysters–$3 a pop, the special, and I can’t remember what variety they were. Four of the six we ordered were great, but two of them (two of mine) were bad–one had lots of broken shell and the other one tasted like cat litter. We told the server, assuming he’d take the $6 off the bill but instead he took the whole dish off. Great job, Char!

3. The aforementioned calamari stuffed with spicy Italian sausage and bread crumbs, grilled and served over cannellini beans and cherry peppers. This is the full squid, stuffed with the fattiest spicy pork sausage ever. Amazing. In some ways it reduces the calamari to a sausage casing, but I don’t care, it’s delicious and we get it every time.

4. The red wine-braised oxtail ragù with ricotta gnocchi. Do I even need to say anything else?! Tender, fatty, rich, amazing. Surely needs a good red to work with all that fattiness, but we didn’t order one to compliment this. (Are you counting; I’m up to a glass at Hedges, a glass at Char, tastings at RMSC, splitting  bottle back at Char…)

And we were home by 11!

RMSC Uncorked

Friday night we had a grown up night at the Rochester Museum and Science Center; we’re members and like to do the adult only fundraisers because it allows to actually look at exhibits we like for as long as we like without someone (ahem, Raddy G….) insisting that we move along.

I’m glad we went, but I’m not sure I’d go again. There were a wealth of local wineries, restaurants, breweries, bakeries, etc all with tastings included in the ticket. Sounds great, right? It was, mostly. To sum up: too crowded to actually talk to any vendor about their product and not enough, um, quality? Maybe that’s the food and wine snob in me (and I’m far from having a well developed palate) but there were only two wineries that I had what I would consider some of the best the Finger Lakes has to offer. And don’t get me started on the abomination that was the amatriciana from Mario’s. We’ve never had a great version outside of Rome, but this was basically orecchiette with sweet tomato sause, not the wonderfully fatty guanciale and tomato over bucatini that is typical.  I would have loved to talk to the Owl House rep longer, and the Silver Thread Winery owner too, but the crowd was huge!

The upside was walking through the temporary DaVinci exhibit with plenty of time and glass of (too sweet and not great) wine.  It focuses on many of his drawings turned into the three dimensional inventions he had in mind and also includes a very detailed analysis of the Mona Lisa. We enjoyed that so much we might go back.

In the end, I’m glad the museum can hold popular fundraisers, but I wish they could spread out the sampling area throughout the musem to relieve the crowds and encourage people to look at more exhibits. We left after two hours, annoyed by the impossiblity of actually relaxing and enjoying our samples, headed over to Char at the Strathallen and had an excellent unplanned dinner.  (review to come)

What happened to our last wine shipment? Uh, we drank it.

wine shipment

March Shipment-Ravines Wine Club

So the March shipment was pretty good, all wines we really like from Ravines Wine Cellars. On the left, almost invisible (thanks, stupid daylight!) is the 2013 Gewurztraminer, then 2011 Artgetsinger Dry Reisling, followed by 2013 Kueka Village Red and 2012 Pinot Noir.

First to go was the Pinot. We had some charcuterie and bread for dinner (pretty typical Friday night fare around here) and opend this. And then the the Village Red went too.  Viviane at Foodandstyle.com does a much better job than I at describing what there is to love about Ravines Pinot, and although this was a differenct vintage her description of a light-in-color, delicate-in-taste wine is spot on and we too, paired some cherry tomatoes tossed with oil and arugala with this. When that was gone we opened the Village Red.

Village Red is my dirty secret wine. It’s very easy to drink and pair, light, a tiny bit sweet and…mixed with some Orange Sunkist and fruit is awesome Sangria. I know. Whatever, it’s good stuff.

So half the bottle was gone. Just a few nights later we were having a cheese board for dinner (I know…but bread and cheese are delicious) with some gouda, young cheddar, asiago and mozzarella. Perhaps not the best mix, but all of them need a sweeter wine, so we drank the Gewurztraminer. Here’s what I like about Ravines Gewurzt–it doesn’t taste like I’m eating flowers. I really have always hated Gewurztraminer for the intense florals in the ones I’ve tasted. This is not like that at all. Again, someone else has described it better than I (thanks, Joe!).

The last bottle, the Argetsinger Reisling will have to wait. We met Sam Argetsinger last summer at Ravines and loved him right away. A man who believed in a full pour, drank his own wine, loved what he did, and learned viticulture at a late age. He died  in December and the Finger Lakes lost someone special; Jake and I have been so lucky to have been able to meet and talk with him. Evan Dawson wrote a lovely post on the New York Cork Report, that like all things, is much better than I could have done.

St. Patrick’s Day

This is all that’s left of the Irish Brown Bread Jake made last night…

bread

Jake’s Irish Brown Bread remnants

He asked me not to give away his recipe, but I’m sure you can google just as easily as anyone else!!

Anywhere Wednesday: The Black Sea

Bulgaria? Maybe….Read this and you’ll be convinced too.