Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

Here's a hearty and healthy recipe to nourish you in the cold months to come (adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup
Serves 4

1 cup dried cannellini beans
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 cups coarsely chopped lacinato kale (stems removed)
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dried crushed red pepper
4 cups cooking liquid (reserved from cooking the cannellini beans), plus 1 cup of water (and extra if needed)
2 Tbs olive oil
4 strips thick cut bacon, diced (or, if you prefer something spicier, try a hard chorizo, finely diced)
2 carrots chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced Italian tomatoes (canned)
3 Tbs freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Place the dried beans in a pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans sit for an hour to soften.

2. Drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add 7 cups water, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and sage. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the salt and kale and cook for another 4 minutes to soften the kale.

3. Drain into a large bowl (reserving the cooking liquid). Pick out the bay leaf and discard. Remove the garlic cloves, if desired. Add the lemon juice and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. In large pot, heat the olive oil and add the diced bacon. Cook until bacon is crispy and fat is rendered. Then add the carrots and celery. Saute about 5 minutes. Then add the cooking liquid, water, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Add the cannellini beans and kale. Simmer to meld flavors, tasting and seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too thick, add some water to thin it.

5. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and serve!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mistral Kitchen - Seattle

Our good friends Beth and Raleigh treated Cindy and I to a much anticipated dinner at Mistral Kitchen last night. It was a great evening. The four of us enjoyed several very memorable tasting menus at the old Mistral location when it was so gourmet that the food critics worried it was "too good for Seattle". In fact, it may have been, at the time, as we were usually eating in a very empty restaurant. That is not a problem at the Mistral Kitchen - it was packed on a Wednesday evening by 6:30.

Finding the restaurant and gazing in the windows is easy but actually finding the door in the dark is a bit of a trick as it is dark metal that just blends right into the wall. However, we did get in and as it was Happy Hour we enjoyed drinks before dinner. The bar/cafe area was very popular all the time we were there. Raleigh had an interesting drink - absinthe pured over sugar cubes via a very unique instrument. The drink is not that good but worth it just for the show.

After drinks we enjoyed an excellent bottle of California Pinot Noir with our dinners. The small plates portion of the menu had many interesting choices and we tried 3 or them - the seared Foie Gras (awesome with some gingerbread crumbles and quince slices), a seared Scallop - excellent- I meant to share a taste of but devoured instead, and a very interesting salad of Belgian endive and duck confit sauced with a creme fraiche and pine nut creamy dressing - Yum!

For the main event Cindy and I each selected the Veal Chop cooked in the wood oven - I almost always order a veal chop if it is on the menu and this one was excellent. Raleigh had the Carlton Pork chops and gave a good report. Beth had the bone in Ribeye which was very well seasoned and excellent but was about half the thickness I am used to serving when I do Ribeye - but I assume that is the chef take on the dish not an economy move!

Desserts were a hit as well. I had the Apricot & Olive Oil Financier, Milk Chocolate-Coriander Ice Cream, Warm Apricot Soup. Really, really good if you like apricot - I know I do. Cindy had the Ultra Brownie, with a Sour Creme Ice Cream which was very nice. I have to confess I was enjoying my dessert so much I didn't even notice what Beth and Raleigh had!

Thanks guys - it was a treat!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Restaurant Review: Peasant

Restaurant Name: Peasant
Restaurant Location: 194 Elizabeth Street, NYC

Peasant is a big, welcoming, inoffensive place. The atmosphere is very rustic and laid-back. It's warm (due to the big wood-burning pizza oven in the back), which is great as winter grabs us all in a stranglehold, and the staff and servers make you feel at home. The food is good, but not intimidating. It's exactly the sort of spot I'd recommend to out-of-towners who want a meal that will be easy, relaxed, and please everyone. That being said, while everything was well-prepared, the food didn't stand out as exceptional.

We dined with a party of four, including vegetarians (who had no problem finding choices on the menu). I started with the burrata served with drizzled olive oil and roasted tomatoes. The burrata was creamy and nice with the olive oil, but a little too close to mozzarella for my own tastes (what I love about burrata is the creamy, gooey center, and this was a bit lacking). For an entree, I opted for one of their house-made pizzas with hot chilies and sausage. It was good, and the chilies did take it to the next level flavor-wise. The crust was super-thin, charred, and crispy. Nothing to complain about, but not the stuff of fevered dreams, either.

As it's impossible for him to dine somewhere that offers roast suckling pig and not order it, my husband had the porchetta arosto. It was fine, if maybe a little dry. If you want awesome roast suckling pig, get thee to Maialino.

I know we had dessert, and that it tasted nice, but I can't remember what it was (And I can remember intricate details of specific dishes I had over ten years ago, so that tells you something right there).

So. Peasant is pleasant. Take your relatives there when they come to visit. Or go there with a big group who usually can't agree on food; the place is lovely and has something for everyone.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, December 6, 2010

2010 Culinary Holiday Gift Guide

As the holiday shopping season gets underway, I thought I'd suggest a few great food-related gifts.

Kitchen Equipment

An All-Clad Grill Pan
This item was given to me by my then-boyfriend, now-husband about 6 or 7 years ago. It's still in great condition (any All-Clad item should last for years, if not for life), and I use it all the time. A perfect gift for an apartment-dwelling friend or relative who has no outdoor space in which to grill. Obviously, the grill pan isn't a true substitute for a barbeque, but it does give a nice char and funnels the grease and oil away from the meat, thereby simulating grilling.

A carbon-steel Wok

A good wok is another gift that will last a lifetime. A lot of people are intimidated by using a wok or cooking Chinese food. But, I'm here to tell you that it's soooo easy, delicious, and quite healthy. A supplement to this gift could be the fabulous, straightforward cookbook Breath of a Wok. This has detailed instructions on how to season and use your wok as well as many simple, delicious recipes. Nearly every page of my copy is splattered with stains.

I've really enjoyed Gordon Ramsey's Chef for All Seasons.
Usually "seasonal" cookbooks annoy me. Recipes for "spring" will sound good in the fall and the ingredients will be hard to find, and so on. But, this cookbook is well laid-out and each season has enough delicious recipes to entice. The other great thing about this book is how Ramsey manages to include impressive gourmet dishes that are simple to make. None of the recipes have complicated instructions or crazy ingredients, but all are flavorful, beautiful, and will dazzle your family and guests.

I'd also recommend Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. Finally, TK has put together a cookbook that mere mortals can use! There's no doubt that the Bouchon and The French Laundry cookbooks weren't for the casual cook, but Ad Hoc assembles the kind of recipes that normal people like to eat on a regular basis (pot pie! fried chicken!) and delivers kick-ass renditions of them.

Slotted Spatulas
Well, though I've long been a devotee of tongs, it appears that they are now out. TK reports that they can bruise and damage food and instead advises use of a slotted spatula (originally developed to flip fish). I'm going to give it a try (I've got one on my wish list!), and I also pass the tip along to you.

Delicious Edibles
Vosge Chocolates
Sumptuous, decadent, innovative, and a splurge...a box of Vosge chocolates would make any true lover of chocolate happy. Get one of the exotic truffle collections and the lucky recipient can work their way through an assortment of flavors like cinnamon and dulce de leche, chili, wasabi and black sesame seeds, taleggio, balsamic vinegar, and pine nuts.....sorry, just drooled on the computer.

What about something fabulous from D'Artagnan? Pick up some duck fat or duck glace, or maybe truffle butter, or a little charcuterie, or a pate of foie gras for your favorite foodie. Everything here is top quality and they ship overnight and have gift certificates.

Happy shopping...and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Restaurant Review: Mercat

Restaurant Name: Mercat
Restaurant Location: 45 Bond Street, NYC

As someone who always wants to eat widely across a menu but can't pack in too much chow before getting full, I am in love with the 'small plates' concept. I am even more in love with the Spanish version of small plates: tapas. I've reviewed a number of New York City tapas restaurants on this blog (see reviews of Boqueria, Casa Mono, and Tia Pol). Today I add one more to that tally.

Mercat specializes in Catalan cuisine. Centered around Barcelona, the Catalan region focuses on it's local abundance of great seafood, cured meats, and cheeses. All of these are featured on the menu at Mercat, and they have fabulous wines, too.

My favorite tapas dish, hands down, is patatas bravas (fried potatoes kissed with spicy pimenton and garlic, often in the form of an aioli). I always order them and I judge a tapas restaurant by the awesomeness (or lack of awesomeness) of their patatas bravas. On this score, Mercat passed with flying colors. The potatoes were light and crispy and the sauce was creamy and spicy. While my fellow diners weren't looking, I slid the dish over to my side of the table and ate them all.

Other offerings at Mercat were equally sublime. The piquillo peppers stuffed with short rib and served with caramelized beans were oh-so-good, as were the mushrooms with fried egg and salsa verde (though not quite as fabulous as a similar dish we had in Madrid this Fall...but close).

My biggest gripe with Mercat, however, would be it's lack of consistency. While some dishes were standouts and very memorable, others were just...blah--not bad, not great, and not very flavorful.

For instance, the grilled hanger steak with cipollini onions and crispy sweet potatoes should have hummed with meaty, salty, onion-y goodness, but it was under-seasoned. The short noodles with sepia and ink (pushed by our server) was downright too fishy and generally ick. Other dishes, like the Cod with artichokes and Romanesco, were well-enough prepared but forgotten soon after we finished eating them.

We asked our server for a wine recommendation and he selected a very full-bodied, blended red that we couldn't stop drinking. It was goooood. I drank too much of it to remember what it was called.

Service was attentive and friendly and the restaurant dark and cozy, lit with lots of candles. It was very convivial and we had a wonderful time eating there. Go with friends, get lots of wine, and accept that some dishes will blow your mind and others will...not.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Friends with Class! Karen's Birthday Party

Our good friend Karen celebrated her 70th birthday in incredible style last week due to the efforts of her awesome husband Rick - and we were among the lucky 50 folks who got to enjoy it. It was a totally classy event from beginning to end. First, Rick was able to cajole super chef, one of Food and Wine Magazines Best 10 Chefs nationally, 2010 James Beard Best Chef Northwest semifinalist, and amazingly nice guy Matt Dillon of Sitka and Spruce
and The Corson Building
to cater an incredible dinner at The Quartermaster Inn on Vashon.

Then, he talked Jennifer and Andy Krikawa , founders and amazing talents of the Vashon Opera into putting on an hour of up close and personal opera performances throughout the evening. I am not an opera fan but I was entertained, amazed, and in awe of the talent and the music when enjoyed in this close up personal atmosphere.

The food and wine: Bar Ferd'inand supplied the wines for the evening. The white wine was a Vin de Pays L'heurault from Moulin de Gassac 2009; a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette, and Grenache Blanc.
The red was a Cotes du Rhone Villages 2008 form Mas de Boislauzon; a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.
The Cremant was from Hubert de Verdereau and is a Blanc de Noirs (White wine made from Pinot Noir grapes). This sparkling wine accompanied the passed apps which included wonderful, salty, fresh Oysters, gougeres, and a crostini with pork rillettes.

Chef Dillon's dinner was served family style from large platters in the courses followed by a wonderful dessert.

The first course included a salt water brined King Salmon Lox with honey, huckleberries and pickled chantrelles. WOW!

Another platter was thin sliced Persimmon salad with dry cured Duck Breast and Hazelnuts. Double WOW!!

The final platter of this first course was a Smoked Trout brandade with Pickled Peppers, crackers and radish. YUM.

The second course also included three passed platters:

One platter included plump Penn Cove Mussels cooked in Cider & Bay with apples, fennel, and Brown Bread. Best Mussel dish I have ever had!

Another platter included large pieces Steamed Halibut with sorrell sauce and Japanese pumpkin that was just fabulous.

The third platter was a Vegetable Bagna Cauda which immediately on returning home sent me to to figure out how to recreate it. I was drinking the oil bath!

The Third course consisted of a whole lamb, selected and slaughtered by Chef Dillon served two different ways with Chestnuts and Pears. this lamb did not die in vain.

The lamb was supported by a separate platter of Yellow Finn Potatoes cooked in cream. WOW again!

the final platter of this course was a perfect Salad of lettuces and chicories

The dessert consisted of huge fry pans of Apple Clafoutis served with a big passed bowl of whipped cream.

It really is great to have friends, both for birthday parties , and everyday who have the class of Karen and Rick. Happy Birthday and thank you!.

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ShopHouse - Pop-Up Thai on Capital Hill

Super talented Lark Chef Wiley Frank is running a pop-up restaurant in Licorous 928 12th ave. location on Monday nights from 5pm to midnight. Six friends made the trek from Vashon Island last night to try it out. Word has already obviously spread because when we arrived at about 6:15 the place was almost full. Wiley has spent a couple of years cooking and eating in Thailand , most recently most of this last year.

The menu at Shophouse changes somewhat each week as Wiley presents the many gems of flavor delights he has discovered in Thailand. Last night we literally had everything on the menu - over a dozen items, some of them so good we ordered 2 or 3 times - the short ribs and the fish cakes most memorably.

We had a couple of folks who were a little worried about it being too highly spiced but that did not turn out to be a problem at all. The higher layers of spice for most dish's were achieved, if you wanted, by the condiments and side sauces presented with each dish. Most of the items are small plates with a few larger portioned items. Therefore it is easy to try many different items without breaking the bank. The drinks and beer are great as well.

This is really a great restaurant - nothing like the typical Thai restaurants that abound in the Seattle area. don't miss out = set your sites on a Monday night in the near future and visit Shophouse on Capital Hill

Licorous on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brunch: Adventures in Hollandaise

Eggs Benedict, that most iconic of brunch dishes. But, without the rich, creamy Hollandaise poured atop the quivering egg, what would it be but eggs and toast with a bit of meat? Not much, if you ask me.

I've always loved Eggs Benedict but have been too intimidated to take on the task of preparing Hollandaise sauce. I mean, you hear these horror stories about broken, curdled messes sending chefs into fits of weeping and days of ennui. Who wants the heartache?

But, I also figured if I was really going to lay claim to the title of Kick Ass Home Cook, I'd better learn how to make Hollandaise. It was easy! I recount my experience here as a how-to guide for the equally trepidatious.

First off, I'd always thought of Hollandaise as an egg sauce. But, as I learned this morning, it is actually better described as a butter sauce. There is a truly sick amount of butter in Hollandaise, all of which is meant to absorb into the egg yolks. Julia Child recommends no more than 3 oz of butter per egg yolk, and sometimes less is more.

Each tablespoon of butter is equivalent to about 1/2 an ounce, so you want no more than 6 tablespoons of butter per egg yolk (and that is a maximum).

To serve about 4 people generously, I started with 3 egg yolks and 14 tablespoons of butter (well shy of of the maximum - and it still came out plenty rich).

You'll also need about 1 Tbs lemon juice (fresh squeezed), 1 Tbs of cold water, and salt to taste.

Here's what you do:

Melt 12 Tbs of unsalted butter over low heat. Then set it aside. Cut 2 Tbs of cold butter and have at the ready.

Set a pot with an opening large enough to accommodate your metal mixing bowl to a low simmer with 2-3 inches of water.

In a large, metal bowl, whisk 3 egg yolks until creamy and well-incorporated (about 1 minute). Then add 1 Tbs lemon juice, 1 Tbs water, and a pinch of salt. Whisk again, about 1 minute.

Place 1 Tbs of the cold butter in the egg mixture and then place the metal bowl over the lightly simmering water. Gently whisk the eggs until the butter melts and is incorporated. The idea here is to thicken the eggs very gently. If they seem to thicken too quickly or to start to curdle, you must take them off the heat immediately and plunge the bottom of the bowl in cold water. Once you can see the bottom of the bowl each time your whisk scrapes over it, the eggs are sufficiently thickened (this will take only 1-2 minutes). Take the bowl off the heat.

Set the bowl on a dishtowel to brace it and whisk in the remaining 1 cold Tbs of butter to temper the eggs and cool them slightly.

Then, whisking constantly, add a few drops of the melted butter. At this early stage, you must add only a very little butter and whisk vigorously. You are trying to force the thickened egg yolks to absorb the butter. You can graduate to drizzling in 1 Tbs of melted butter at a time, whisking and drizzling. If the butter seems to slow in its incorporation, stop drizzling and whisk vigorously. This process takes about 3-5 minutes and requires a strong whisking arm, but it's well-worth the effort. You can stop short of whisking in the pale milk solids that will have settled to the bottom of the butter pan.

Your Hollandise should now be thick and fabulous:

Once all the butter is incorporated, season with salt to taste. The Hollandaise can be set aside in a warm spot (near the stove) and will hold for at least 30 minutes. Don't try to reheat it; it's meant to be served only just warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the desired quantity of poached eggs. I like to cheat and cook mine in those little silicone cups. I season them with salt, olive oil, and hot sauce and poach them in a covered pan of simmering water for 4 minutes. You'll also want to have some nice English muffins toasted up to serve as a base. For the meat, you can use what you like - Canadian bacon is a classic, but I recommend a spicy chorizo or Cajun sausage to add kick and cut the richness of the sauce and poached eggs.

All that remains is to assemble the Eggs Benedict - muffin on the bottom, then the meat, eggs perched on top. And, at last, pour over that glorious yellow Hollandaise sauce. Believe me, one serving will earn you back all the calories you burned whipping the sauce...and then some!

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Maialino: Dishing on The Whole Hog

Restaurant Name: Maialino
Restaurant Location: 2 Lexington Avenue, New York

Located in a quiet and idyllic spot just off Gramercy Park (actually off the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel), Maialino is Danny Meyer's latest gift to New York City. For this outing, Meyer has chosen to focus his Italian restaurant around that most humble-yet-glorious of beasts: the pig.

For regular readers of this blog, it will come as little surprise that I'm yet again extolling the virtues of a meat-centric, pork-heavy eatery. Vegetarian I am not, and Maialino would indeed be a tough sell for a vegetarian. There is very little on the menu to serve the herbivorous among us (even the side vegetables have bacon, guanciale, and the like in them).

Like many of Meyer's restaurants, Maialino offers diners two approaches to their meal. If you've made a reservation (about 2 weeks in advance), you can eat in the dining room. If you want to walk in and take your chances, then there is a bar area in the front with smaller, more casual tables. The service seems equally friendly-yet-distracted in both parts of the restaurant, and the menus are also roughly the same...BUT with slightly different specials.

There's the rub. The special dish at Maialino is the whole roasted suckling pig (serves 3-4). You can order this any day of the week in the dining room, but only on occasion in the bar. So, if you want to ensure you can have the pig, you gotta make a reservation. It's well worth doing this once. The suckling pig is truly awesome.

The meat is roasted to a melty, tender sigh-inducing perfection. Every bite of meat remains moist while the skin (oh, the skin!!) is crispy and toothsome and so very flavorful. It is, quite literally, the most perfect pig skin I have ever eaten.

The whole roasted pig is, as you'd expect, a gigantic portion. Our waiter claimed that 2 people could wrestle it down, but we gorged ourselves and still had about half of the meat left over. This actually turned out to be a good problem to have. Maialino's pig makes for great sandwiches later in the week. Though, a tip to the wise, the skin does not reheat very well - so be sure to gobble as much of that down at the restaurant as possible.

Oh, and the pig comes with roasted rosemary know, just to make it look a bit less like you are ordered and are eating nothing but a whole pig.

The other offerings at Maialino are also excellent. The first time we ate there we dined in the bar and shared a bunch of delicious pastas, cheeses, cured meats, and wine.

The super-awesome Malfati pasta came with a ragu of (you guessed it) suckling pig and fresh arugula. It was gone before I even realized I'd eaten it, though we found the Carbonara pasta to be overwhelmingly peppery. They've got an impressive selection of cheeses and house-cured meats to munch on. If you feel compelled to eat a vegetable here, I recommend the Kale with Chickpeas and Pancetta.

We were so full by the time dessert rolled around that nothing really sound good, so we let our waiter chose the bread pudding for us. It came out looking a little unglamorous, but DAMN, it was good. It was a classic brioche pudding plated via a ring mold. Inside was a warm, melted reservoir of chocolate. Yes, please.

Overall, Maialino was a big win in my books. If you go, though, please be sure to save me some roast suckling pig.

Bon Appetit!

Maialino on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recipe: Spicy Meatballs in Fiery Tomato Sauce

These are juicy, spicy, and work well as either a hot tapas dish or as a hearty sauce to put over couscous or pasta. The flavors are more Mediterranean than Italian.

Spicy Meatballs in Fiery Tomato Sauce
makes about 40 small meatballs

Ingredients (meatballs)
2/3 lb ground pork
2/3 lb ground sirloin
2/3 cup freshly dried breadcrumbs
2 Tbs milk
1/2 cup finely minced onion
3 large cloves finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin (ground)
1 tsp ground coriander
pinch of ground clove
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 fresh egg, lightly beaten

Instructions (meatballs)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Holding your fingers in the shape of a claw, loosely toss and mix the ground sirloin and ground pork together. Add the minced garlic and onion, the spices (cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, paprika and salt & pepper). Using the "claw" hand, mix gently.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and pour it over the meat mixture. In the same bowl, moisten the breadcrumbs with the milk. Add to the meat mixture. Use the "claw" hand again to loosely mix the ingredients (try avoid overmixing or tightly compacting the meat).

Lightly oil a large baking sheet with olive oil. Using a 1 TBS scoop, roll small meatballs and place them on the baking sheet (they may be close together, just not touching). Place the meatballs in the oven and cook for 10-12 min. Remove from oven and set aside.

Ingredients (Sauce)
1 28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes
1 Tbs salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2-4 dried hot chilies (torn into pieces), or 1 Tbs crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup finely diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp granulated onion/onion powder
3 Tbs olive oil

Instructions (Sauce)
In a large sauce pot, heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the red peppers. Saute about 5 minutes.

In a blender, puree the canned tomatoes until smooth. Add to the pot (carefully, to avoid splattering from the hot oil). Add the vinegar, cover and let simmer on medium for about 15 minutes.

Uncover the sauce and stir. Add the salt, granulated onion and garlic - taste and adjust seasonings as needed as you continue to simmer the sauce for about 10 more minutes.

When the sauce tastes as desired, gently add the meatballs. Unless serving immediately, turn off the heat, cover, and let the sauce cool. Gently reheat to serve as desired.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noodle Boat -Great Thai in Issaquah

Noodle Boat may be the best Thai restaurant in the Seattle Area. We recently ate their with friends before going to a show at the Village Theatre in Issaquah. Fortunately, I called for reservations because the place was absolutely slammed when we arrived at 6 pm. It took us the full 2 hours before the play to get thru dinner as the kitchen was so busy - so plan in accordance if heading over to the Theatre.

We shared a variety of items , all unusual and all great. We started with the Fresh Thai Rolls which were actually steamed rolls stuffed with cilantro, green onion, tofu, bean sprouts, cucumber and topped with a great tamarind sauce. YUM!

We also had Larb Gai which is ground chicken, cilantro, mint all served as a salad atop a cabbage leaf. Unusual, highly recommended by others to us and very good.

We then had the Green Boat which is a noodle dish of steamed rice stick noodles with a stir fry of green curry, coconut milk, green beans, broccoli, bamboo shoots, and red bell pepper. Loved it.

Other dishes we thought were superior were the Red Curry, and a Phad Thai. They also had a very unusual brown rice which actually was RED and very tasty. One serving of the White or Brown rice easily feeds four as many of the items on the menu come as salads or noodles.

Noodle Boat Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 4, 2010

From Miranda's Kitchen: Carnitas Enchiladas

Carnitas Enchiladas
(serves 4)

2 lbs baby back pork ribs or country style pork ribs
1 lime (zest only)
1 orange (juice & zest)
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 red onion, finely diced
1 Tbs rice vinegar
salt to taste
Corn tortillas
2 cups canola oil
Cotija cheese, finely grated (about 4 cups) - this is a hard, slightly salty Central American cheese that can be found in most grocery store cheese sections.
2 jalapenos, minced
1 can spicy red enchilada sauce
1 can green enchilada sauce
accompaniments: hot sauce, sliced avocado, sour cream


For the filling -- rinse ribs under cold water and pat dry. Cut into 3-4 rib sections and place in a large, heavy duty pot. Try to use as wide a pot as possible and lay the ribs in a single layer. Cover the ribs with water (water should not come more than 1/4 inch above the ribs). Add half the lime and orange zest and one half of the orange juice. Add about 1 Tbs salt. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and reduce to simmer on low about 2-3 hours, until meat is falling off the bone. Check periodically to make sure the water does not dry up (though it should be reducing).

After a few hours, the water should have reduced down so that most of what remains is the grease and fat from the ribs (if it has not, continue to boil it down while you shred the meat). Remove the ribs from the pot and pull the meat off, using a fork to shred. Be sure to discard all the bones, cartilage, and membrane. Return the meat to the pot, bring heat up and fry in the remaining fat for about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the zest, the rest of the orange juice, the apple cider vinegar, and more salt to taste.

Remove the meat from the pan, leaving behind as much fat as possible. Add the onion dice to the fat and fry until soft and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Deglaze with the rice vinegar. Then stir the onions into the meat mixture. Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the enchiladas.

For assembly.
Mince the jalapenos and finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a saute pan with straight sides. Fill a wide, shallow bowl with 1/4 cup of each type of enchilada sauce. Set the pan(s) you wish to bake the enchiladas in at the ready.

Briefly fry each corn tortilla until it just begins to puff (a few seconds only). Lift the tortilla out of the oil with a slotted spatula and place it in the sauce mixture. Moisten each side of the tortilla with sauce and then transfer to the baking dish. Fill with meat, jalapenos, and cheese, and then roll. Repeat this process until the pan(s) are full.

Drizzle the remainder of the enchilada sauce over the rolled tortillas, paying careful attention to moisten the ends of each roll to prevent drying in the oven. Sprinkle a layer of grated cheese and any remaining jalapenos over the tops of the enchiladas. Also add a sprinkling of salt.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with sliced avocados, hot sauce, and sour cream.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Prime Meats, Cholesterol, and You

Restaurant Name: Prime Meats
Restaurant Location: 457 Court Street, Brooklyn

Getting past the starting gate at Prime Meats can be a pain. They don't take reservations and the wait is usually long, even if you show up early. But once you're is *so* worth it.

The atmosphere is sort of rustic-meets-classy, with lots of dark wood and an old-school tavern feel. But the place somehow still appears bright and white-tablecloth-y, too.

The menu revolves around meat, much of which is cured or in sausage form, though there's a standout burger and a massive steak. Bottom line: you want to show up here hungry and carnivorous.

We were surprised, though, to find a lot of temptation beckoning from the first page of the menu - starters and salads. With more than six salads to choose from, we debated awhile before deciding to share the evening's special - a frisee salad tossed with smoked, thick-cut bacon and topped with a poached duck egg and a bacon vinaigrette. Honestly, it was obscene how good this salad was. Silky egg yolk, salty and greasy bacon, sharp and slightly bitter frisee. We ate it all with great relish, let me tell you.

The other starter we shared was the Roasted Beef Bone Marrow served with gremolata, radishes, roasted garlic, and toast. I've had a lot of bone marrow in my day. You might even call me a connoisseur. This one was the most awesomely fabulous I've had--by far. The lemon zest in the gremolata just woke all the other flavors up, its tartness playing off the rich marrow. And the roasted garlic - what a super idea! Smeared on the bread underneath the quivering marrow, it add depth and complexity.

At this point I was pretty much thinking that dinner could not possible get better, that perhaps we should just ask for the check and leave before things went downhill (I know, what a pessimist, right?). Well, I was both right and wrong.

I had ordered the burger. It came out all juicy and sloppy and dripping with cheese, served along a house-made dill pickle and plenty of fries. It was pink all the way through, toothsome, and all around one of the best burgers I have ever had anywhere.

My husband had ordered the Sukrut Garnie - a platter of pork belly, bratwurst, calf tongue, and knackworst. It was served with mustard, some potatoes, and sauerkraut. This was a bit hit and miss. Some of the sausages were a little dry. The calf's tongue (predictably, I suppose) was not very good. Overall, this dish was a little bit of a letdown. From what we've heard from friends (and what we witnessed other diners having), it looked like the Weisswurst might have been a better bet.

Did we have dessert? I honestly can't even remember. I think I must have been dazed from all the fat and cholesterol (and possibly still a little drunk off that glorious burger).

In sum: totally awesome.

Prime Meats on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Restaurant Zoe Revisited - Seattle

It has been a while since we last visited Restaurant Zoe - but it is still as much fun and as good as ever. Zoe is among only 7 traditional restaurants Zagat's rates 27 or above on food quality in greater Seattle- a very good sign of quality. Zoe has a really great atmosphere, fun but sophisticated. Their drinks menu is very good and somewhat unique to them. When you arrive you get prompt and friendly service and a nice plate of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We started off with a shared appetiser, not on the regular menu, of a torchon of fole gras with figs. The torchon is pure, raw foie gras compressed into a roll, seasoned, lightly poached and, in this case, rolled in pistachio nuts and cut into rounds. The figs were lightly poached too. It was beautiful and delicious. The brioche was perfectly toasted. It went beautifully with a rose cremant from Burgundy.

We were then brought "spoons" of candied fennel bulb, onion, and peppers as a complimentary amuse bouche. Again, pretty and tasty.

Our next course was a dungeness crab salad for me and ricotta gnudi for Cindy. Again beautiful and of high quality.

Before our main courses we were given another complimentary course which was a small bowl of gazpacho that was creamy and light. Coincidentally I had just made this last weekend Thomas Keller's Sun gold Tomato Gazpacho from his Ad Hoc At Home cookbook. Zoes version was almost identical with the addition of a hint of melon and some creme fraiche on top. It is very refreshing - made with tomato's, onion, cucumber, and olive oil blended very, very smooth.

So far the meal was impeccable. Our mains we excellent but both suffered a bit from what I consider design flaws in the dish composition and presentation. We were debating between the Whole Hog which is not really described on the menu and the Poached Salmon with corn and Chantalle's. Our friendly waitperson described the Whole Hog accurately and Cindy ordered that. It is basically a shredded pork timbale - yummy parts of the pork braised to perfection, rolled in a breading, and stuffed into a mold. It is then unmolded and deep fried to give a crispy exterior and a shredded pork interior. The mold used was a basic rectangle so the timbale looks like a small brick. It was served on a flat plate atop a very nice complex, saucy endive salad. The design flaw, in my opinion was that there was no sauce on either the interior, or at presentation under the timable so it was a little too dry - though delicious. It's shape was very unfortunate as well and served as a "brick"atop the salad on a flat plate it was really extremely unappealing looking. A concave plate with a pool of sauce on the bottom and a meatball shape or else a rounded mold would have worked from a texture and presentation viewpoint much better. Or using a gelatinized sauce on the interior of the fried timbale would have provided the moist sauce without impacting the delicious and crunchy exterior.

I ordered the Poached Salmon which our server said would be served medium rare which was really not accurate missing the mark in both directions. the Salmon, possibly one of the best tasting and wonderfully textured and sesaoned I have ever had, was poached using a very low heat sous vide method I am almost certain. The result was that the fish was fully cooked through, not rare, and was firm and flakey with a mere touch of the fork. that is as good as it gets for anyone eating a fish. I have had many a rare salmon that had some inedible and tough raw interior parts which is the usual price paid for a perfectly cooked exterior portion. Sous Vide allows the fish to be exactly the same perfect texture all the way from surface to middle. Fortunately her diescription of rare would stop many folks squimish about raw fish from ordering the dish. This is good because using the sous vide method the fillet appears visually to be completely raw - as in totally uncooked. The long low heat ina vacum allows for this. It looked like a big thick piece of lox. Chefs like to provide drama and surprise with a meal but when that plate was put down the surprise was not appetite stimulating. As I said it was fabulous and fully cooked but I could not get Cindy to even take a bite. This dish needs to be described better so people know that are not about to be served raw fish. Or, it could have been lighly sauced to disguise the raw apperance - which would have been the better dish design appraoch in a mainstream restaurant.

We had to run to the theatre so were not able to fit dessert into our time frame.

Hopefully, my "complaints' won't disuade you from visiting Restaurant Zoe - it really is a great evening and a great meal.

Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bisato - Seattle Restuarant - WOW!

I have been meaning for literally years to get to Lamperia, and then Bisato, Scott Carsberg's shrines to culinary perfection. I could kick myself! This is perhaps the most perfect cooking I have ever enjoyed - Including Thomas Keller's Per Se!

Cindy and I stopped in last night and had an unbelievable food experience at an incredible price. We each ordered 5 courses and then shared bites. The menu price per item was around $11 so for under $60 menu price each we had a 5 course meal that I will not soon forget. The total bill including wine, tax and tip was around $90 each - I have paid 4 to 5 times that for meals that were not as exquisite.

The restaurant/bar is very nice, Scott greeted us when we can in the door and was very present in the kitchen the whole time. Each menu item was both a presentation and flavor masterpiece. Each item was just 6-8 bites - very small but just right to get the maximum enjoyment and still have room to continue moving thru the menu. With 5 courses I left wanting more - which is so much better than leaving feeling ill for the rest of the night. Portion size is perfect.

We started with a glass of a nice prosecco which we enjoyed for the first few courses , then I moved to a barolo. The food courses included stuffed zucchini blossoms, a duck breast paired with a chantrelle mushroom dish, poached duck egg on a crispella, a fig stuffed with foie gras, lamb chops and potato puree, an artichoke heart stuffed with a ribiolina cheese, polenta with a meat ragu, and an amazing fresh truffle pasta. For dessert Cindy had orange confit and a caramel mousse, and I had figs stuff with marscapone. As I said each dish was so beautiful it was hard to ruin it by eating - but tasted so amazing that you literally wanted to order another of each dish.

I will be back soon - I am anxious to get 4 people and go to order literally everything on the menu and have it come in 6 or 7 courses where each person has a unique dish in each course. Cindy and I loved that approach last night and have really enjoyed it in the past at other high end tasting menu restaurants. It is really a great way to have a foodie evening.

Bisato on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Lobster Shop - What a Difference a Decade Makes

Ten years ago The Lobster Shop was our "fancy destination restaurant" on the Tacoma waterfront. It hasn't changed at all in the last decade but we sure have. We received a gift card for the restaurant when we bought a new Pruis this Spring and thought we would use it last night. It was a beautiful evening, the restaurant was crowded, and we got perhaps the best table in the house with its great waterside corner view of the Sound.

The Lobster Shop has three distinct personalities depending on when you eat there. Sunday brunch is iconic, the early bird dinners are a great bargain and both of the above are jammed. We arrived as the early bird crowd was finishing their desserts. This crowd is mostly multi-generational families enjoying a "fancy 3 course dinner" out for less than $20 a head with a specific lower food cost menu offered prior to 6pm. We went to the "expensive" version of the Lobster Shop - around $160 including tax and tip for the 2 of us, including a shared app, mains, shared dessert and a bottle of wine ($21 for a 2007 Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc that retails for $14 - their wine markup is 10 years out of date which is great for the consumer - that bottle would be at least $28 and more likely somewhere nearer $42 at most restaurants - unfortunately, I found it totally lacking in varietal flavor - tasted more like a $6 grocery store wine). Their wine menu, as If have indicated is incredibly well priced but also extremely bland in varietals and quality - i.e. White Zinfandel as their entire rose choice.

The ingredient quality and quantity was good but not seasonal (pea pods and asparagus as veg in September). The mashed potato's we just that, so thick and dry you could stand a fork up in them, while the potato croquet Cindy had was watery and terrible. My halibut and Cindy's steak were served "Oscar style" i.e. low quality shreds of crab or lobster with an insipid version of Bearnaise for the steak and Hollandaise for the Halibut. There was apparently no seasoning of any kind used in any of the cooking. It was a large quantity of bland, boring food from another era.

I think The Lobster Shop is just fine for a fancy dinner out at a really nice location for probably a very high percentage of the population who value quantity and don't really care about great food. It's just not our place any more. I realize I sound like a "food snob" (or maybe just a snob depending on the reader) but if you are either a really good cook or have been exposed to really good seafood restaurants you are not going to be impressed. I would only recommend this restaurant for brunch or the early bird for a bring along grandma and the kids "treat" even though the food will not be very good. People, including us really seemed to enjoy themselves as it is a beautiful spot, good ambiance and the food is "safe" and "dependable". If you are going to spend $60 plus per person why would you eat here?

Lobster Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Casina Spinasse - Seattle

Cafe Juanita on Capital Hill!!

Last night Cindy and I had an early dinner, following her botanical painting class, at Cascina Spinasse on Capital Hill. Chef Jason Stratton was selected by Food and Wine magazine as one of the Best New Chefs of 2010 - well deserved based on our dinner. We were also lucky enough to have a good view of the kitchen and I spotted a "newcomer" in the kitchen Chef Stuart Lane - who along with Jason were mainstays of the great Cafe Juanita kitchen. Those two together again in the kitchen in Spinasse will be magic.

We were greeted with complimentary glasses of bubbly as Spinasse is celebrating their anniversary. We ordered their Anniversary Tasting Menu, for $65, began with several extra mini courses of toasted bread with anchovies, prosciutto, a salami with citrus peel and some very nice Columbia Bakery rustic bread. We also order a carafe of a nice 2007 Nebbiolo Roso.

Next we were served a stewed dish of eggplant, roasted peppers, anchovies that was very rustic and nice - not our favorite course but interesting none the less. The next dish was a beautifully prepared plate of 3 house made, stuffed fresh egg pasta that were rolled and filled to look like tootsie roll shaped candy. The filling was a lemon ricotta, and the pasta were served on a bed of walnut sauce. YUM!

Were were then served the house specialty which is a fresh house made angel hair pasta tossed with butter and marjoram and served with sauteed chantrelles and lots of finely shaved parmigiana. WOW! The courses kept getting better.

We then moved on to 2 large Rabbit Sausages shaped like meatballs served over a bed of fabulous Polenta which included fresh corn in the finish with a little broth and a sauteed green on top. This was the top course of the night for us - Beautiful in every way and assertively spiced which as great.

We then had dessert and Italian Espresso. Cindy had a Chocolate Semifreddo, and I enjoyed a Peach/Goat Cheese Mousse . All top notch.

Everything about the evening was great . I really recommend this place - not cheap though for 2 including tax, tip it was $225.

Cascina Spinasse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Old Spaghetti Factory - Seattle

Last week we took our 2-year-old to Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. Jeff has strong nostalgic memories of going there as a kid, and it was a college-student-on-a-budget staple for us years ago. I was leery of dinner for two reasons....1) we're used to pretty high-end, quality food, so i was worried it was going to be nasty, and 2) in the past I remember waiting FOREVER for a table, which is pure torture with a toddler. To avoid problem number 2, we went there at 5:15 and there was no wait at all. We were impressed right away with their kid-friendly setup. As soon as we sat down, our daughter was presented with an activity/color sheet and 2 crayons (as a parent, I appreciate that she was only offered two colors, so we didn't have to spend the next 15 minutes chasing runaway crayons all over the floor). The coloring kit also came with a package of saltine crackers, which kept her busy until the bread came. Pure genius!!! The kids menu was great - lots of choices, and came with apple sauce and milk, along with the small bowl of pasta with spaghetti sauce and one giant meatball.
Given our nostalgic feelings towards the place, we were pleasantly surprised with the dinner. It was not fancy. It was no gourmet. It was not quality ingredients. But it was hardy, tasted good, and was dirt cheap. We LOVED it. For tired parents with a toddler, this is an ideal outing for dinner. My only complaint was that the vanilla ice cream (or spumoni, if you choose) that was served to my daughter was WAY too much. We solved that quickly by scooping two-thirds of her dessert into my husbands bowl without her noticing.
Overall, if you have little kids but really don't feel like cooking, head out to your local Old Spaghetti Factory. Just get there early, or you'll end up waiting forever for a table. There was already a wait by the time we left and headed to the car. Dinner for 3 $23!!
Old Spaghetti Factory on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Luc Cafe and Bar - Seattle

Luc is a French-American café and bar named after Thierry Rautureau's father, Luc. Located just up the block from James Beard Award winner Rautureau's Rover's in the heart of Seattle’s Madison Valley, Luc is a neighborhood spot with excellent food, fresh cocktails and a well-selected wine list. Cindy and I ate an early dinner there last night and were very impressed overall. It is interesting to see how all of Rover's fine points are handled in this dramatically lower priced venue. Of course, there is no comparison between the two places - Rover's being the top fine dining in Seattle with everything that goes with it to match and Luc essentially being a bar with very good small plates of comfort food with a great French Twist. However, it is easy to see Theirry's skills and taste at work throughout the operation.

Cindy and I started with an incredible, fairly priced bottle of a wonderful French Rose - Domaine de Fonsainte Gris de Gris 2009 ($35) and the best dish of the night - a Tartine of Smoked Salmon. This appetiser had a generous portion barely smoked fresh Salmon flakes on a toasted country french bread with a light spread of capers and goat cheese and a nice topping of arugula drizzled with olive oil ($8.95). It was both beautiful and amazingly tasty.

We then shared a salad that was very good but not life changing. It was fairly small and was composed with arugula, house pickled Bing Cherries, a small amount of caramelized shallots with a nice olive oil dressing($7.95).

For our main courses Cindy chose the Hamburger($11.95) and I had the Steak Frites($18.50). Cindy felt the burger was one of the best she has been served anywhere. Small, very chewy nice bun, tomato jam, aioli. My steak was typical Rovers, properly sauced, cooked and presliced. The fries were very good but being a small cut cold quickly. The dipping sauce was excellent but had an unfortunate look of a cheap thousand island dressing. The presentation of both plates was very casual, as intended. This type of fries needs to be a smaller portion or in a cone or napkin to retain heat though.

The dessert was an excellent fresh fruit cobbler with house made ice cream. Small and satisfying. We thought the whole thing was extremely enjoyable - with a good crowed vibe in the room. At $125 with tip not as "inexpensive" as it should from the mention of menu prices but still a very nice evening.

Seattle if lucky to have Theirry's excellent restaurants - you get what you pay for - and there is no huge profit in the type of operations he runs - I practically consider it a community service!

Luc on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Woodfire Grill

I sure am glad I don't live in Atlanta. Aside from the appalling humidity, of which I am not a fan, I would spend all my money and evenings at the Woodfire Grill. Hidden behind overarching trees, it sits nestled near the end of a road in do I put this politely...more "adult" area of town.

This is a fairly typical New American style restaurant boasting of fresh/local/organic style food sources. Seriously, there's a laundry list of food sources on the back of the menu and although I was not familiar with them, I firmly believe that telling customers where you get your food adds significant value.

The interior has an excellently styled interior, which can get a bit too loud for my tastes, but the smallish kitchen with the (yup you guessed it) wood-fired grill, is right there for all to see. As a side note, if you wish to use the restrooms, the Woodfire Grill logo upside down is for Men and right side up is for women. You'll get it when you see it. This is important to save the host/hostess the stress of chasing you down to send you to the correct door, which I'm sure happens daily.

We decided on the 7 course grand tasting menu as we had the time and an adventurous palate that evening. Looking back on the trip, it's likely one of the best decisions we made the entire week. Given it was a tasting menu, we were subjected to food at chef Kevin's whim. As it turns out, there are many, many worse ways one could spend an evening out. Our service was always prompt and friendly, and courses came out appropriately sized and at a very nice pace.

I can't say enough good things about the food here. I'm not going to go over each course in detail because it would take too long and it wouldn't help anyone because the menu changes constantly. However, nearly every course was perfectly balanced, in fact, my least favorite courses were the ones I would have normally thought I would have loved the most (i.e. meat).

The meat courses were merely very good, but the real action was that Kevin had me loving things I normally am not a huge fan of: eggplant, cooked carrots, and clams to name a few. The only issue with any of the dishes I could find was I had some beets that seemed to overpower my duo dish of venison and quail. They were simply too sweet for the rest of the dish.

Other than this tiny issue, every dish was exquisitely prepared and tasted incredible. The last time I found myself liking vegetarian dishes more than the carnivore dishes was when I ate at The French Laundry. So, there ya go Kevin, your favorable comparison to Thomas Keller from a semi-periodic food blogger is complete.

Incredible eats here! It would be a huge mistake to miss this place if you are in town.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fine Dining in the U.K.

A recent trip to the U.K. saw three bloggers from this site enjoying ten days of incredible meals at Michelin starred restaurants. For those of you who may be planning summer travel to the U.K. (or just wish to live vicariously and calorie-free through our experiences), I thought I'd share a few highlights.

Prior to the start of every meal (regardless of venue), we were ushered to a lovely outdoor patio or settled in a plush indoor lounge for drinks and appetizers.

While enjoying this leisurely start, the waiter would bring the menu for us to peruse and make our choices. By the time we were seen to our table, everything was in place to begin. Really a relaxing and elegant way to dine. Also, in general, the service in the UK was more solicitous (sometimes even too much so) than anywhere else I've ever eaten.

The Waterside Inn, Bray, England
Located just outside London in the tiny (and I do mean tiny) village of Bray, the Waterside Inn has a lovely setting (situated right along the banks of the Thames, complete with swans).

I believe the Waterside is a Michelin 3-star. And, while the food here is very well-prepared and beautifully presented, it definitely did not exceed my expectations. Some of the menu choices were a little bit too aggressive to suit my tastes (for instance, a shellfish soup that tasted over-poweringly of oysters). The winning dish here was the spring lamb, which was perfectly in season, and incredibly tender and delicate.

The Whatley Manor, Costwolds, England
I probably couldn't find enough time in the day to sing the praises of the Whatley Manor, which is situated in the countryside of England's Cotswolds.

This was most likely one of the most beautiful manor-house hotels we visited during our trip. The grounds were exquisite, the manor gorgeously restored and luxurious, and the Michelin 1-star restaurant was clearly striving for its next star (and likely very soon to get it). The food here was among the very best we had (the only other contender for the crown was Andrew Fairlie in Gleneages, Scotland). Pretty much ever single course (and there were looooots of them) was amazing. A favorite: smoked scallops with pureed almond and sea beans.

The smoking gave the scallop a depth like nothing I've tasted and paired incredibly well with the nut flavors. Really something special. Another winner here was the salad. Often one of the duller courses, Whately Manor prepared theirs with fresh herbs and greens grown on the grounds, baby artichokes, and black truffle viniagrette. It was irresistible.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England
The grounds of Chatsworth House (the seat of the Earl of Devonshire) are worth an entire day's visit all by themselves. I'll include a few shots here, just to give you an idea:

While the grounds here are amazing, the reason I mention Chatsworth here on the blog is because of the unexpectedly lovely tea room. Despite the large, tour-bus atmosphere of Chatsworth (it is a huge tourist destination) they nevertheless had a calming, charming, subdued tea room where they served a very good afternoon tea.

If you visit Chatsworth, this is not to be missed.

Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles, Scotland

The final restaurant I'll mention here (though we ate at several other lovely spots) is the amazing Andrew Fairlie, located in the Gleneagles Resort in Scotland. This is reputed to be the best restaurant in Scotland, and I can well-believe it. Andrew Fairlie is everything lux, fabulous, and elegant. From the incredible bonsai sculptures and chandeliers, to the top-notch service and impeccably prepared food, there is nothing to dislike here.

The other restaurants we tried and would recommend are:
English Lake Country: The Samling (on Lake Windermere)
Edinburgh, Scotland: Ondine Restaurant (sleek and modern, not far from the castle)

Happy Travels, and Bon Appetit!

Monday, April 5, 2010

BARK: Delicious Dogs in Brooklyn

Restaurant Name: Bark

Restaurant Location: 474 Bergen Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Picture this: a hot dog joint committed to local, sustainable ingredients of the highest quality all done up in reclaimed woods with a retro diner-esque feel. And they have absurdly good milkshakes. Welcome to Bark.

Homemade pickles, heritage pork and free range chicken from Upstate NY and ice cream from Il Laboritorio de Gelato are just some of the great ingredients that elevate these hot dogs, burgers, and milkshakes well above the ordinary and make them (almost) worth paying $5-6 bucks apiece for.

After an early Spring Saturday in the park, Bark is just the way to round out the afternoon.

Bon Appetit!

Bark Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blue Ribbon, Brooklyn: Order Smart, Leave Happy

Restaurant Name: Blue Ribbon Brasserie

Restaurant Location: 280 5th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

My husband and I have lived in Park Slope for about two years now but have been leery of eating at Blue Ribbon. We've heard rave reviews and total pans. We've heard it's expensive but worth every penny and so outrageously overpriced and overrated as to be utterly avoided. Finally, (after deciding we'd spent enough money at Al di La for a little while), we went to investigate Blue Ribbon for ourselves.

Boy, am I glad we did. Here's what we learned: order smart and you will leave Blue Ribbon very happy.

The menu here is big, and rambling, and suffers a little bit from multiple personality disorder. Recently, though, I read a write-up on the owners in Saveur Magazine. Apparently, they trained at Le Cordon Blue and decided to open their own spot that brought excellence to all their favorite comfort foods. Hence the very eclectic menu...and the excellence that comes close to justifying the high prices.

One thing we noticed about the menu at Blue Ribbon is that *everything* is expensive. From the fried chicken all the way up to the lobster, you can plan on paying in the ballpark of $30 bucks for an entree. So, why not get the most luxurious foods? I mean, even if the fried chicken totally rocks the house (which I hear it does), you might feel cheated paying $26 bucks for it. But an awesome steamed lobster seems like a fairly good deal at $30 bucks. Ditto for a paella that is big enough to feed two and full of luscious seafood.

The other thing we learned was that if you arrive early, they have a Happy Hour special on fresh oysters - another way to incorporate more luxury for less money.

We started with the aforementioned oysters as well as a rich, creamy, glistening plate of roasted marrow bones that was To. Die. For. This was followed up by the classic, perfectly cooked lobster with drawn butter and a baked potato and the Basque Paella with shrimp, mussels, chicken, and various other yummy seafoods (which purports to serve one but is more than enough for two). Stuffed by this excess of riches, we finished with a single scoop of mango sorbet - the promise of summer in a little bowl.

With a carafe of wine and the tip, our bill came out to about $120, the same as if we'd eaten at Al di La, but with a greater emphasis on rich, special occasion foods. We walked (okay, teetered) out onto 5th Avenue full and happy.

Bon Appetit!

Blue Ribbon Brooklyn on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bar Jamon: Wine, Tapas, and Dark Corners

Restaurant Name: Bar Jamon

Restaurant Location: 125 E. 17th Street, NYC

Bar Jamon is the teeny tiny sister location to Mario Batali's Casa Mono, with whom it shares a corner (and a kitchen) near Union Square. Atmospheric, with its dark wood and low lighting, this bar provides the perfect spot for drinks and excellent tapas. The place is truly miniscule and can fill up fast, but patient hovering usually pays off.

Bar Jamon is a great place to do nothing but drink wine (served by the bottle or in cuartos, which amount to about a glass and a half), but they also have a pretty extensive menu of gorgeous, creative tapas, too (the menu does not overlap with that at Casa Mono).

Over the course of a couple of visits, here's what I've tried (all of which I'd happily recommend):

The Coach Farm Piquillo consists of a glistening piquillo pepper stuffed with herbed Coach Farm goat cheese and served on a bed of raddichio and citrus fruits. It's much larger than I'd expected (more than enough for two to share), and the bed of tangy fruits and lettuces provides a delicious counterpoint to the plump, rich cheese-stuffed pepper reclining atop it.

The Pulpo with Spiced Garbanzos was also much bigger than anticipated and consisted of perfectly grilled meaty sections of octopus served on a mound of crisp, spicy garbanzo beans. I'm not usually a big fan of octopus, I guess partly because it's often poorly prepared, but this was excellent. My only complaint would be that the garbanzos were a bit dull; they didn't bring much to the overall preparation. They might have been better fried (as so many things are).

The thinly sliced Chorizo with Pickled Peppers was a smaller portion - about five or six wafer-like rounds of chorizo with a tangle of peppers piled atop. Very edible, but nothing out of the ordinary here.

Finally, the Jamon Serrano was a generous portion of really lovely, tender cured serrano ham served with chewy Italian bread. This by itself would be a great accompaniment to a cuarto of wine.

And, speaking of wine, I've sampled three different cuartos at Bar Jamon:
the Oro de Castillo, a bright and tany Verdejo; the Agro de Bazan, a full, lush Albarino; and the Olivares, a very drinkable Garnacha with a good finish. Most of the cuartos range from $9 to $19, and at the lower end of that scale, the Garnacha was an especially good deal.

Bon Appetit!

Bar Jamón on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A New Favorite Bar in Carroll Gardens: The JakeWalk

Restaurant Name: The JakeWalk

Restaurant Location: 282 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Last weekend, my husband and I were in need of a fun place to eat before heading to the movies at Cobble Hill Cinema. Happily, we stumbled onto a place that has now become my new favorite bar: the JakeWalk.

All dark wood and dim lighting, the JakeWalk has the feel of an old-school bar without the sour booze smell and lack of food options. A small space with a wrap-around bar and two rows of charmingly rickety tables, the JakeWalk offers up creative cocktails, great wine, and solid tap beers. It also has an enticing menu - one whole side of which is devoted just to cheeses and charcuterie (heaven!). We selected from among nearly 30 cheeses and a diverse selection of sausages. The food was delivered on a wooden cutting board; each cheese happily paired with a bit of fruit preserves. Favorites included the Seal Bay Triple Cream cow's milk and the hot, addictive chorizo coins.

They also have a number of entrees on offer, all comforting and hearty. We tried the Chicken Pot Pie (satisfying, creamy, and salty but not mind-blowing) and next time will not pass up the baked Mac & Cheese with pepperjack and a side of Duck Rillette (had we not already gorged ourselves on charcuterie, we would have definitely tried the rillette or the country pate). For cheese lovers, there is also a fondue entree of emmenthaler and aged cheddar served with bread and an array of meats. In fact, I'm starting to salivate just writing this review...might be time to plan another trip to the JakeWalk.

In sum: great wine, awesome cheese and charcuterie list, homey entrees, good service, and no wait for a table.

Bon Appetit!

Jakewalk on Urbanspoon

Occasional Dinners in Park Slope: Now For Something Different

Restaurant Name: Cafe du Charme

Restaurant Location: 668 President Street

This tiny little Euro-cafe on quiet President Street in Park Slope serves up coffee, pastries, and conversation during the day. But at night, just once per a week, the owner pulls all the little tables together and covers them with linens and candlelight. He turns to the stove and prepares a home-cooked meal for 6 or 7 lucky people who all come together in the communal space and share an evening with strangers.

We live just up the block from Cafe du Charme and pop in pretty regularly during daytime operating hours. When we heard the owner, Christian, was starting up his occasional dinners, we decided to check it out.

The atmosphere and space are great for this purpose. The cafe is truly tiny and so it works well as a private dining space. We felt that we had been invited into a friend's home. In addition to us, there were five other diners, all of them strangers. Of course, there are pros and cons, to communal dining with people you've not met before. But the interest provided by meeting new people usually outweighs potential awkwardness. The conversation was interesting and lively and punctuated throughout with plates of steaming, hearty food.

The cuisine offered up for dinner was strongly Swiss-German in its orientation. We started with lovely warm bowls of soup (puree of celery root with apples and cinnamon) - filling but not heavy. The main course was a roast of beef slowly braised in red wine until tender and silky. It was served with stewed red cabbage and rich, buttery mashed potatoes. Dessert was a milk chocolate mousse with strawberries. At one point during dinner, the owner commented that he does not view himself as a chef. And, indeed, rather than fussed-over, carefully arranged offerings, the food was more in the style of an accomplished home cook - hearty, generous, and satisfying.

So, if you are interested in something a bit out of the ordinary - grab a bottle of wine and go have dinner in a cafe occasionally transformed into a welcoming kitchen for a few intrepid strangers.

Bon Appetit!

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