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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tidbits from Vermont!

I am so sorry that it's been SO SO SO long since I've posted!  what can I say - applying for a new job and planning a beautiful wedding just became all consuming!  Now that the wedding planning is over, and the job is now in transitional, I have a moment to write.   Please forgive the lack of pictures, which we were really excited about tasting and experiencing some amazing food, we were on our mini-moon, and blogging wasn't really back on my radar yet!

We stayed at the Inn at Shelburne Farms (The Inn), which I have always wanted to stay at!  This is the main house at Shelburne Farms, which used to the the Webb estate, in Shelburne VT.  Dr. Webb married a Vanderbilt daughter in the late 1800's and the house was built around 1890.  Now that Shelburne Farms has been a non-profit organization for 40 years, focusing on agricultural stewardship and education, they Inn helps support the educational focus of the organization.  Every effort to maintain the integrity of the house has resulted in a beautiful place to stay and be transported back in time.  There is no air conditioning or heating (the furnace was donated for scrap metal during WWII), and none of the rooms have TV's - which was really nice on a mini-moon.  Don't fret though, they have free wifi!  Every afternoon, the Inn serves afternoon tea with small sandwiches and sweets.  This is the perfect place to just get away from real life for awhile.  It also helps that I worked at the dairy farm on the property in college, so I have friends just down the road!  we're the only couple who helps load some cows during their mini-moon.

The benefit of staying at Shelburne Farms, is that you have the option to stay on the property exclusively - there is a restaurant attached to the Inn which focus on local and seasonal food!  Over 50% of the food they cook with comes from the farm itself, and the rest is local to the area.  We had our first night's dinner there, which just seemed the easiest after a morning of saying goodbye to all of our wedding guests, driving to VT and just remembering all those small details from the night before.  The last thing I thought I wanted to do would be to leave the property.  Turned out we were a bit stir-crazy though and hit up Church Street for 2 hours since we had a late seating for dinner.

We were seating right after 8:15 which was our reservation time, after a quick munch on some Shelburne Farms cheddar which they have right at the hostess area!  We're fans of the tractor cheddar they have, but that might not be for everyone as it is not always consistent.  We started with the corn chowder and butcher board.  The soup was heart warming and creamy, the butcher board an interesting combination of ingredients (different meats, bread, mustard and pickled veggies) which we had fun mixing and matching.  For dinner I got the lamb and my other half got the pork.  I got the lamb because 1 - I always LOVE lamb, and 2 - it came with some interesting sides.  It came with a eggplant puree and a salad of tomatoes and fresh greens.  I was very impressed.  The lamb was fork tender.  The pork was also great, tender and juicy.  Slightly pink, just the way we like it.  The potato and broccoli gratin it came with was not overcooked with a little bite left in it.

To finish, we had the pumpkin panna cotta with a raspberry caramel and shortbread cookie.  Words do not even describe it.  The panna cotta was flavorful and smooth in texture, creamy and dreamy.  I would just dive right in.  In fact, I am desperate for the recipe.
Inn at Shelburne Farms on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at the bearded frog
The next morning, we wanted to venture into Shelburne.  After much research, I found that a local restaurant which got great reviews also had a small cafe which served breakfast.  After ordering at the counter and drooling over the pasteries, I got the challah french toast with fresh fruit and a citrus marscarpone.  My other half got the breakfast sandwich with egg, potatoes and I think sausage.  He loved it and ate every bite.  Great balance of flavors.  I loved the frnech toast - not too dry, but the marscarpone did melt a little bit and that creaminess was lost.  We would definitely go back!  We did take a few treats for the road - the Guinness and kalua opera cake was very yummy, but the strawberry, basil and cracked black pepper cheesecake bite was bit over my head.
Bearded Frog on Urbanspoon

Dinner and Leunig's
To be honest, I first went to Leunig's with an old boyfriend in college.  But we were poor college students, and while we pretended to know what we were talking about, we weren't really knowledgeable about food. It was so different going as an "adult."  We got the tasting meal - $100 for a feast for two.  A great deal for us since generally we'll both get an appetizer, entree and dessert, which can easily top $50 per person.  This allowed us to taste a ton of different things and be surprised with each plate coming out.  I'm not going to go through each dish since there were so many, but the highlight was the fried duck.  I've never heard of fried duck before and I was a little dubious as I am much more used to the classic pan seared duck breast, and this was amazing!  Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with a slightly tangy and spicy asian inspired dipping sauce, we fought over the last few pieces.  We were too full for the final cheese plate, although it looked so good, we took it back to our room for late night snacking!
Leunig's Bistro on Urbanspoon

sneakers
Please see my full review of the wonderful place that is Sneakers.  we actually ended up with 3 breakfasts this time since we couldn't make a decision.  We got the crab cakes benedict - always a good choice (I've had it before) as the crab cakes are moist with larger chunks of crab.  I do also very much like the the California benedict with the mushrooms and avocado - creamy and earthy - but that wasn't in the cards today.  We also got the basic waffle with the side of fruit.  The waffle was slightly crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, but the fruit always elevates the dish.  Gone are the days of macerated strawberries making soggy waffles...  each piece of fruit was ripe and flavorful.  And this is not just a sign of summer, this is something that is consistent at Sneakers year round.  Last, but not least, was a calamari omelet special with spicy sausage.  Unfortunately, this was not a home run for us.  The calamari were breaded and the egg made them a bit soggy.  I was concerned that they would be rubbery, but fortunately, the double cooking did not make them overcooked.  I have to admit that the fact that this omelet didn't sing for me might be that it also contained more ingredients that I am not a huge fan of - including red onions and tomatoes - but my other half was not too impressed either.  I do think that one miss out of a history of great meals is acceptable, as I am just pleased that the chef there has enough creative freedom to try new things.  I've had some spectacular specials there (get the carrot cake waffles with cream cheese frosting if you see them), but new and interesting flavor combinations are not always for everyone.
Sneakers Bistro & Cafe on Urbanspoon

All in all, a great weekend with some great food.  We can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Smokehouse - Madrid, NY

Just up the road in Madrid, NY is an homey and warm BBQ joint.  This is a favorite pit stop during the snowmobiling season to grab a drink and a bite while you warm up, but is also a great time in summer when one can sit on the back porch, sip a beer and have some great BBQ.  Just look beyond the corny old western saloon decoration (and people painted on the walls), and find a non-assuming family friendly restaurant that is where friends run into each other.  The service is good, although the water glasses are small, so sometimes you need to ask for a water refill.  If there's a wait to get into the dining room, there are some small tables in the bar area which work in a pinch!

The menu is extensive for your classic BBQ options, but always make sure to check the specials, as they occasionally will even have brisket!!  I will saw we generally start out the meal with steamed clams, and they're tender and succulent.  Other good options are the fried pickles dunked in ranch!  salty and crispy with the creaminess of the dressing....  make sure the try them once in your life.  They also have a good selection of beers (in bottles) and a full bar.

I've had a variety of dinners there, and none of them have been bad (although if you don't like smoked flavor, don't get the prime rib).  The last thing I got there that I really liked was the pulled pork salad.  It was a surprisingly good dish!  Warm pulled pork with BBQ sauce over a bed of lettuce with corn kernels, shredded cheddar and crumbled tortilla chips.  I got it with ranch on the side and the combination of BBQ sauce and ranch was great!  Creamy mixed with tangy with the crunchy lettuce and tender bursts of sweetness from the corn.  The pork was tender and juicy, and for some reason, it all just worked together.

Other favorites are hamburgers which are large and flavorful.  I also sometimes get the pulled pork potato skins which is more than enough for a meal, even though they're an appetizer.  They are pilled high with pork and then smothered in cheese.  I am also a great fan of the smashed sweet potatoes that are covered in toasted marshmallows as a side (you get 2 with most entrees).  The ribs are also tender and fall right off the bone.




LaCasbah, Potsdam NY

Sorry that there are no pictures with this review, but the lighting in this restaurant is certainly not conducive to good pictures.  La Casbah is a Moroccan restaurant in Potsdam. Now, this is certainly a place that has a ethnic flair that I was surprised to find up here in the North Country.  The dining room is broken into 2 sections - an middle eastern decorated front room with lower tables and pillow covered benches, and then a bar area with more generic furniture.  There is a sort of sun porch off the the side of the bar area, which I assume is nice in the summer when it's sunny, but is slightly chilly in the winter months.

Service has always been good, although I've never been there when it's super busy.  I do get the impression that the bar on the second floor is more of a money maker than the restaurant, although have never been up there.  The last time we were there, the only person working was the owner, and he was very attentive.  The wine list is pretty generic, but does cover all the bases.  If I remember correctly, their red wines also includes a Malbec, which is a big hit for the fiance, since that's one of his favorites types of wine and it's not the most common to see on a menu around here.

We started with the festival platter, which is a sampling of Zaalouk (eggplant with tomatoes, garlic and herbs), Bakkoula (sauteed celery and spinach), Barba (fresh beet salad with herb vinaigrette) and Shakshouka (fire roasted peppers and tomatoes in a lemon olive oil vinaigrette).  We weren't big fans of the Barba, but then again, I don't think anyone at the table would claim to be big fans of beets prepared in any way.  The other options were good and I was particularly a fan of the Zaalouk, with the creamy eggplant with a subtle undertone of garlic with some bright herb flavor.  I think this is a good option for those that haven't previously experienced a lot of middle eastern dishes.  This will introduce one to many of the flavors, and you can try a few things!  Just make sure they keep that pita coming for dipping!!

For entrees, you will notice that about half of their menu are "international dishes."  I see these as a throw to those who aren't adventurous enough to try a middle eastern dish.  To be honest, there are plenty of places in the area that offer similar dishes to these, but only one place in the area that offers Moroccan food...  So expand your minds and palates and try something Moroccan when you're there!!

Now, I am only going to comment on one entree.  It's by far my favorite thing there, and I think it's a great introduction to Moroccan food for those who are trying it for the first time.  The Tfaya Couscous is AMAZING!  It's a very flavorful saffron couscous with caramalized onions, raisins, grilled veggies and a meat choice.  I've always stuck with chicken since I think it goes well with the couscous and absorbs the flavors of the saffron, onions and raisins.  It's a mix of meaty flavor with hits of sweetness from the raisins and crunch from the veggies.

All in all, a good change from the average restaurant in the area.  Go there for something different.


LaCasbah

La Casbah on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

La Chronique - Montreal, Canada

I was not intending to blog about this meal, but it's been 2 days since we've had it and I still can't get over it.  The hubby and I headed up to Montreal on Monday evening for a special dinner - a combination of my birthday present from January and an early celebration of Valentine's day.  I let him do the research and he discovered a gem.

We walked into La Chronique for our 6:30 reservation and the small restaurant was empty.  We picked our own table and we quickly informed by our waitress that not only were the menus only in french, but there was no selections to be made - it was a set menu of 5 courses with a fixed price and wine paired with each course to match the meal perfectly.  For a heads up, cost wise, you're looking at $70 for a meal without wine, $125 for a small glass with each course, and $170 for a larger glass with each course (and even an option for wine choices).  We were able to look at a list of the courses, but between our elementary french from high school, neither of us was completely sure of what to expect.

The service was attentive, but not rushed.  In the European style, you knew that for the amount of the meal, that table was yours for the night.  By 7pm, other diners were trickling in and the restaurant (all 10 tables or so) was full for the night.  Our first course was a lobster bisque poured table-side over a mound of crab, gently sauteed leeks and topped with cream and a Parmesan crumble.  While the waitress was pouring the bisque over the crab and leeks, the overwhelming aroma of lobster wafted up to my face.  Each spoonful was full of flavor - the lobster and crab together were amazing and the added crab gave it a bit more bite.  The leeks were unexpected but the caramelization gave it an earthiness, and the Parmesan crumbles just a bit of crunch and texture.  This was served with an amazing glass of champagne.  The bubbles were refreshing and light.

Now, before I continue to over analyze this amazing meal and gush (which I told myself I wasn't going to do - I just wanted to focus on enjoying the meal and my fantastic man's company).  What followed was sear scallop with caramelized endive, halibut with a truffle mousse, quail over braised purple cabbage and seared fois gras (melt in your mouth indulgent).  The dinner was capped off with a lovely chocolate brownie (although I bet they called it something different) with a caramel sauce, espresso ice cream and topped with a puff pastry and 2 chocolate light cookies (almost reminiscent of freeze dried).  This was a lick the plate or even take their home made bread and mop up all of the sauce for every course and for each component of the meal.  It was amazing.

Now I know this is an extravagant meal, but if you ever have a special occasion, this is a special treat and an intimate dining experience.  Now, if you're picky or nervous about having someone else dictate your meal, this isn't the place for you.  I do dare those skeptics and control freaks (and I am the later) to let go and let the experts at La Chronique guide their meal, they won't steer you wrong.

One last word of warning - this is a 5 course meal, I am still kicking myself for snacking on bread from the bakery up the road before dinner.  I was getting full during the halibut course and wish I could have licked that plate as I wanted to (and I also didn't finish my fois gras during the following course).  Come Hungry!

http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/index.html


La Chronique on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Violi's

I apologize for the hiatus from posting.  I still have 2 posts I am working on from the summer, but to be completely honest, life has been so busy recently, my better half and  have not had many opportunities to go out to eat recently.  We were excited one Sunday evening to have the evening free and spontaneously went up to Massena, NY to one of our favorites in the  North Country - Violi's.  Now, if you want a mental image of Violi's, just imagine a 1970's or 1980's upscale restaurant - lots of floral brocade on the booths, dusty rose walls, low lighting, and you have Violi's.  Classic and cozy, but a bit in need of a facelift.  I have a favorite restaurant in Los Angeles which is very similar - La Frere Tex.  What the decor promises is that there is no flashy distractions from the excellent food.

I have to admit that the service didn't start out fantastically, but it did dramatically improve quite quickly.  There was no host/hostess to seat us and I stood next to the menus for awhile before someone noticed me and we were seated.  And then there was quite a lag between putting in our drink orders and when we ordered the rest of the meal.  Finally, we had to prompt the waitress to tell us the specials - and she even had to go check in the middle of telling them to us in order to go make sure she wasn't forgetting any.  But after those initial stumbling blocks, the waitress was attentive, but didn't hover (I have it when the keep interrupting your meal).  The dining room was quiet enough that after the initial order, it was easy to catch her eye and have her come over if we needed something.

We started the meal with some crusty Italian bread - the kind that is hard and crispy, but also crumbly on the outside and soft and warm on the inside.  YUMMY.  It also came with a small platter of olive tapenade on crustini, carrots and pepperonchini.  Something to tide one over until the rest of the meal arrives.  I love olive tapenade, and they were nice enough to bring seconds when we devoured the first round.  We then moved on to our appetizers - the mushroom cap special and the escargot.  The escargot was classically done - snails in their shells cooked in a butter and garlic sauce.  I did feel like the flavor of traditional escargot includes more herbs in the butter/garlic mixture, but Violi's put their own spin on it with a squeeze of lemon juice over the top, which was nice and refreshing.  The acid of the lemon juice cut through the richness of the butter.  It was surprising but very nice.  The mushroom appetizer was, without a doubt, the highlight of the night.  It was a grilled portobello mushroom cap, filled with creamy goat cheese, and then piled with a fresh tomato slice and slightly wilted spinach.  The plate was then finished with a balsamic reduction.  It was such a complex flavor, we nearly licked the plate clean.  The mushroom was rich and meaty, earthy and dense without being heavy.  It was filled with creamy and tangy goat cheese mixed with just slightly cooked spinach which added some slight crunch in texture and a fresh veggie flavor.  The balsamic reduction was sweet with an undercurrent of acid to add some brightness to the dish.  I have to admit we loved this dish so much, I tried to replicate it at home, and to be honest it wasn't easy to do with the same complex flavors and finesse that the original had.


My fiance got his favorite Italian dish on the menu - Veal Saltimbocca!  I've only had this once before, but I can see how he finds it so appealing.  Let's take an amazingly tender cut of meat, add cheese and prosciutto, and how can you go wrong?  Personally, I couldn't eat a whole plate of it, but I don't like really salty food.  The cheese and prosciutto add an assertive salty flavor, but it does have a melt in your mouth, luxurious quality.  We got it with a side of pasta, which mixed well with the gravy.  I think the best pairing would be a vegetable - it would add a fresh and bright component to a dish that is rich and almost thick.  It would add texture to the meat which was so tender that it didn't even need a knife.
 I decided to have the butternut ravioli special.  It is fall, so it felt appropriate.  Violi's makes their pasta fresh, so I knew I couldn't go wrong with a fresh pasta dish.  The ravioli was in a classic brown butter and sage sauce with a finish of roasted hazelnuts.  My one criticism might be that the butternut squash filling was a bit under seasoned.  It just didn't have as much flavor as it could have had (and I know from experience as I have made butternut squash ravioli and had the same problem).  I think the brown butter sauce kind of coats the palate and the sage itself is a strong flavor, and can easily overwhelm the flavor of the pasta and the squash filling.  I loved the crunch of the hazelnuts and kept eating them long after the pasta was gone.  The dish definitely needed that textural component.
I ordered the tiramisu for dessert, which is always a risk for me.  I love tiramisu, and have frequently been disappointed in the past by dry, almost cake like attempts at this classic dessert.  Violi's present their dessert in a martini glass.  Now, this presentation is not my favorite.  As a vertically challenged person, having food another 8 inches off the table, makes it much closer to eye and mouth level and awkward for me to eat.  I can, however, understand why a vessel like the martini glass was picked.  The tiramisu was scooped into the glass as it was almost trifle like, with large pieces of lady fingers soaked in coffee and liqueur, and sweet dollops marscarpone cream holding it all together.  It was moist and full of coffee flavor, allowing it to live up to it's name of "pick me up."
We're always excited to have an excuse to drive to Massena and eat at Violi's.  The people are nice and the food is high quality and fantastic!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Tea Party Cafe - Ottawa Ontario

I got a groupon for high tea for 2 a few weeks ago, and had the opportunity to use it when Mom and I were in Ottawa the other weekend for some shopping.  Now, mom and I really enjoy having tea, and considering that she lived in England for 2 years, we consider ourselves quite the experts.  We have yet to have a better scone experience than in Sierra Madre, CA, a small town just east of Pasadena.  Now, I know that it doesn't bode well to start a review with a comment on my favorite place for the same meal, but I did want to give a shout out to one of my old haunts.

This place is right near byward market and an easy walk if you are in that area for some shopping.  The cafe is on the first floor of a brownstone on a beautiful tree lined street.  After placing out order, we had the daunting task of picking our tea flavor.  There is an entire wall of loose teas which range from the classic british varieties, to fruit teas, to asian flavors.  There is something for everyone.  I went with a favorite and picked a plain vanilla.  It smells wonderful, it's warming but light and not too deep like a traditional black tea. 

The high tea includes 4 different types of finger sandwich and 4 different sweets.  There was the classic cucumber and cream cheese, along with a lettuce and cream cheese.  There was also a pesto and tomato sandwich which I did really like.  The pesto had a ton of flavor and texture.  The tomato gave the sandwich a touch of acidity and substance with the thick slices.  The final sandwich was a roasted red pepper and feta.  Now, I do enjoy feta cheese in salads and sometimes I like roasted peppers in a dish, but I would never eat them on my own.  Let's just say that this sandwich wasn't up my alley.  Mom and I traded her pesto sandwich for my red pepper and feta. 

On the top of the tier are the sweets:  a turtle bar, a scone, a brownie and a chocolate chip shortbread cookie.  The scone was good, not great.  It wasn't flavored and didn't come with cream/butter or jam.  I thought it was a bit boring, although moist and crumbly.  I didn't really like the cookie, it was just kind of flat in flavor.  The chocolate aspects of the dessert made up for it though.  The turtle bar was definitely not big enough.  It was caramel and dark chocolate over chocolate crumbles, so it was gooey with crunch.  yum yum yum.  The brownie was amazing as well - moist, rich and gooey on the inside while having that slight crispness to the crust. 

An interesting place to stop for soup, salad, high tea or just a glass of tea.  Good service and an interesting menu (other than the high tea). 


The Tea Party on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Next Door Bar&Grill - Rochester, NY

I am going to include Rochester in this blog as a potential component of the North Country - Rochester is certainly part of the Northern/Central NY region that those in NYC consider "up there."  I also really thought this was an interesting restaurant.  Mom and I stumbled upon it after Rochester for a wedding errand for the afternoon. We were looking for an easy but interesting place to eat an early dinner, and at first I was excited to just go to Wegmans (I LOVE Wegmans) and get something from the deli section there...  but then I found out that not only was there was the flagship Wegmans down the road, but there is a restaurant owned by them across the street.  I was intrigued.

The menu was a bit all over the place but had some very interesting options.  There's a mix of European appetizers and entrees along with pizza and then there's a sushi bar and Robata grill (a Japanese technique which uses a special charcoal).   There are a lot of interesting options on the menu and they also have some options for hosting parties there.  They have a test kitchen where one can host a party and have cooking demonstrations.  They have have smaller private dining rooms for smaller private parties too.  This would definitely be an interesting place for an adult birthday party or other celebration.  

They have a weekly fixed menu suggestion which did look very interesting, but we were looking for a lighter meal than the 3 courses recommended. This place is actually a great option for a lighter dinner as you can order appetizers (I think I could have been excited for half of those options), sushi or one or two things from the grill.  I think the Robata grill is intended to have you pick a few different protein and vegetable options, but each individual part is small (my mother actually ordered the scallops - the serving consisted of 3 grilled scallops on a skewer), but I can see how it would be an interesting meal with the veggies on the side.

I had a hard time photographing this meal, so please forgive the image, the restaurant is rather dark.  Mom was nice enough to share her appetizer (especially since she couldn't share mine due to a shellfish allergy) since it was very interesting.  She ordered the seaweed salad quartet.  On presentation, this dish was somewhat disappointing as it was supposed to be 4 different seaweeds, and there were only 3 on the plate.  I think ideally, if a dish isn't going to be as advertised on the menu, the customer should be informed and given the option to change the order.  My mother was not given that option, and considering she was super excited to try several different types of seaweed (we love seaweed salad when we go for sushi), she was pretty disappointed to be missing a quarter of the dish.  Given that, the dish was interesting.  I've only had basic seaweed salad (which was one of the seaweeds on the dish), but there were two other kinds - one was a redish twig kind and the third was a dark green thicker seaweed.  The red twig one was kind of firm and almost too fibrous in texture, although it did have a little crunch.  The green one was more like pasta al dente, which is a texture I like, but it didn't really have a lot of flavor.  The dish came with a sesame vinaigrette which did add some subtle flavor and creaminess.  Overall not a hit of a dish, and certainly only for adventurous taste buds. 
I got a watermelon and crab salad.  I thought this was such an interesting combination and was super excited about trying it.  It came with a drizzle of truffle oil and black sea salt.  How decadent does that sound?  I thought it was very chic.  Well, I never realized how fragrant truffle oil is, I am sad to say this was my first experience with it.  It was a fairly powerful smell, although none of the other ingredients really have an odor.  The watermelon was nice and fresh, moist and sweet.  The crab was tender and succulent, and was piled high with a bit of arugula on top for crunch and texture.  It was fun to be able to experiment with all the different components on the plate since the oil and sea salt were drizzled around the edge.  I think my favorite bite was watermelon, crab, arugula and a small amount of the truffle oil.  I did think the sea salt was a it overpowering since the pieces were a bit large.  I think a bit of the flavor permeated the truffle oil though.  To be honest, I think I'd like to try some truffle oil in another context.  I think it doesn't quite go with the watermelon and the crab.  Those two ingredients are so delicate and light and fresh, the truffle oil in contrast is decadent and rich.  However, I still cleaned my plate and had a great time experimenting with components.


Lastly I got a sushi roll.  This was a new one to me:  tempura shrimp, asparagus, cucumber, roe and spicy mayo.  I loved the crunch of the tempura and the little bursts of saltiness of the roe.  The asparagus gave it an earthiness and depth of flavor.  It was a great sushi roll.  I think the sushi is something they really do well here.

Overall an interesting experience, worth another trip to try some new things and expand the palate.  I guess the words of advise are to make sure you know exactly what you're getting as the menu is diverse and a bit out of the ordinary.

Next Door Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon