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Restaurant Files: Modern Classic or Classic Modern? Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, CT

July 18, 2014 10 comments

Restaurant Ready for serviceWhen it comes to the Italian cuisine, or probably any cuisine for that matter, what constitutes a “classic cuisine” for you? Old familiar dishes, which stay unchanged for many many years (if it works, don’t touch it)? And then another question is what is the “modern cuisine”? You change the recipe all the time, just to make sure you use ingredients which are “in vogue” (like pork belly or Brussels sprouts today)? Or do you take the familiar dish and put a spin on it? If you ask me, I’m all for the “tasty” – I’ve had classics such as fried calamari or mozzarella sticks done in many unusual ways, so I generally don’t trouble myself with classification “classic versus modern” – if it tastes good, that’s all I want (okay, it is definitely a bonus when food also looks good).

Let me explain why I am taking about this classic/modern relationship. Few weeks ago we visited restaurant called Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, Connecticut. The restaurant had been around for 15 years, and while it has a decidedly Italian flair, the menu represents that exact combination of classic and modern dishes I’m talking about here. You know what – forget this classic and modern – creative is the right word – and I think you will agree with me when we will be talking about food. But – let’s start with cocktails and wine.

The cocktail list was very creative (aha, see, I used that word again) – and here are some of the cocktails we tasted: Mambo Italiano (Averno Amaro, muddled mint and lemons, ginger ale), Black Cherry Mojito (Cruzan Black Cherry Rum, muddled mint and cherry), Cucumber Gimlet (Pearl Cucumber-fresh basil, lemon and lime juice on the rocks) and Clementine Caipirinha (Leblon Cachaça, St. Germain, clementine, orange & lime). Caipirinha was nice, but not necessarily my favorite – I simply prefer more lime.

The highlight of the cocktail extravaganza was the concoction called Campfire (graham cracker glass rim drizzled with chocolate syrup, Smirnoff Fluff Vodka, Baileys, flaming marshmallows). While I didn’t taste it, I captured it in the making:

When it comes to the wine, we didn’t really get a chance to look at the wine list, the wine were preselected for our dinner. The choice of red was 2011 San Giuseppe Pinot Noir Veneto IGT (12% ABV). I’m yet to find a Pinot Noir (or a Pinot Nero as it is typically called) from Italy which I would like – this was definitely not the one. This wine was flat and boring – it was drinkable, but really had no life in it (Drinkability: 7- ). The white wine, 2012 Donnachiara Fiano de Avelino DOCG Montefalcione (13% ABV) was very good – sweet fruit on the nose, plump, open, with touch of minerality and fresh cut grass, nice acidity (Drinkability: 8- ).

And now, to the food!

We started with the two appetizers: Bleu Chips (hand-cut potato chips, gorgonzola fonduta, fig jam, bacon) – a delicious combination, and besides – who can say no to the potato chips? And then the “Original” Balsamic Calamari – the name says it all – it is fried calamari, drizzled with the balsamic reduction – a somewhat unexpected, but a very tasty combination.

Our dinner continued with more appetizers. First, Heirloom Tomato Salad Bruschetta, where you could actually taste a difference in the tomatoes (many times I bought so called heirloom tomatoes in the store which tasted exactly the same as regular tomatoes). Next dish, Charred Hierloom Carrots (straciatella cheese, cilantro-honey citronette) was one of my favorites, as it was simple, yet delicious (I since made the carrots on the grill in the same style, and everybody loved them). Kobe Meatballs (tomato sauce, garlic bread) were very nice, but not necessarily better or worse many other well-made meatballs ( which to me means that they shouldn’t be too dense, and these were just fine). Burrata (bacon jam, pepperoncino) was traditionally delicious, but my very favorite appetizer was Fig & Beet (baby greens, goat cheese ricotta, onion, wildflower honey toasted oats, marcona almonds, Vincotto) – I’m very impartial to the beets salad in any shape and form, and the flavor combination of the beets, marcona almonds and figs was just spot on.

Next we had two entrees family style. “Loaded Baked Potato” Gnocci (hand-made potato pasta pillows, smoked bacon, broccoli, Italian cheddar) was can’t-stop-eating-this delicious and incredibly satisfying. I would even say “homey”, but – this is a descriptor for the next dish. Italian “Ramen” (hand-made noodles, chicken broth, local egg, parmigiano, pepperoncino) had such a surprising simplicity to it, nevertheless the whole table went “wow” after the first sip. I don’t know if chef Sam used some kind of magic potion on this soup, but despite the hot day, this soup was literally warming up the whole body and soul, and this dish alone will definitely worth a separate trip as the temperatures will stop dropping. Our  last entree was served on individual plates, and consisted of Pig Roast (slow roasted “Porchetta alla Romana”, broccoli rabe, pickled farm stand tomato) and Wild Ivory King Salmon (spicy spinach, Sultana raisin vinaigrette, walnut romesco aioli). The Pig Roast was perfectly done – meat was falling apart, while the skin was delightfully crisp. And the Ivory King Salmon? Wow. This was my very first encounter with the white salmon – delicious, mild flavor profile, again, very comforting and satisfying.

Believe it or not, but we still got dessert after such a meal. Blueberry Upside-down cake was every morsel delicious. Then Coffee & Doughnuts. I can tell you that in general, I’m not a fan of doughnuts. But this cappuccino/chocolate semifreddo sauce was beyond delicious, it was divine – together with the doughnut, it was one incredible flavor combination. And the Quattro Crème Brûlée? You must love this dish for the presentation alone – and as a bonus, it was outright delicious.

As usual, we had an opportunity to talk to the Executive Chef and Owner Sam DeVillis:

Executive Chef Sam DeVillis

and of course we thanked him wholeheartedly for the spectacular meal.

There you have it, my friends. I can’t tell you if our dinner was more of a classic or modern, but it was top notch creative, and in and out delicious. As Carl Anthony Trattoria celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, I can only wish Chef Sam and his team best of luck to continue satisfying all the demanding foodies for many many years ahead. Cheers!

Disclaimer: I visited the restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.

Carl Anthony Trattoria
Clocktower Square
477 Main St
Monroe, CT 06468
(203) 268-8486

http://www.carlanthonys.com/index.htm

Carl Anthony's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

How Do You Describe Coffee Smell In Words – Visiting Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters

July 7, 2014 14 comments

DSC_0814Seriously, I really mean it as a question – how do you describe coffee smell? I’m asking here the people who cherishes or may be even worships the good cup of coffee – how one can describe that “pick-me-up” goodness when you walk into the room and smell freshly brewed, real, delicious coffee made with love? It is hard, right? You can describe the effects of that smell (invigorating, uplifting, awakening…), but not the smell itself. But – if you are into the coffee, it is enough to say “the wonderful smell of fresh coffee”, and we understand each other. And let me throw in a few pictures for the good measure…

When I walked into the shop of Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters in Trumbull, CT, I felt like a kid in the toy store. It was all about coffee – the smell, the coffee makers, huge bags of coffee beans – it was all coffee, coffee, coffee. Shearwater Coffee Roasters has a very simple mission – to let people experience the best possible single origin organic coffee, one small batch at a time. This is a loaded sentence, so let me explain it in a few more words.

Let’s start with “organic“. All the coffee roasted at the Shearwater is USDA certified organic. The coffee comes from all of the world, from Guatemala., Colombia, Ethiopia, Costa Rica and other places, but only from the producers which had being certified by USDA as organic. USDA Organic requirements cover full lifecycle of the coffee production, from the soil and trees handling until the green coffee beans will be packaged for shipping. That organic certification also includes the Fair Trade Certification, which means that the people who grow the coffee are treated properly. Additionally, the Shearwater production process and the whole facility had being also certified by the USDA, so the final product which goes into the little yellow bags is in and out USDA Certified Organic.

Now, a few words about “single origin“. The best way to explain the concept is in the analogy with wine – this is the wine blog after all! Single Origin is really an equivalent of the appellation, or in some cases it can equated to the estate or even single vineyard.  Same as grapes, the coffee is a product of mother nature – it exist in multiple varieties, and its taste will be affected by the soil type, the climate, the amount of water, the altitude – yes, you can call it a “coffee terroir” – and if coffee beans are treated properly from the bud breaking until it will make it into your cup, you will be able to taste it.

Now, the “small batch“: that simply means that coffee is processed (i.e., roasted) one small batch at a time. How small? 20 pounds to be exact. 20 pounds of fresh coffee beans are roasted at a time. That’s it – only 20 pounds. Working in the small batches, you have much better control over the process, and you can ensure that all the beans are roasted uniformly. And you can also make each batch to taste individually different. Which gets us to the last term I want to explain – “best possible”.

The “best possible” coffee combines everything which we talked about before – the organic, single origin, the small batch – but it is also a process of Artisan Coffee Roasting. At the heart of the Shearwater operation, supporting the passion of Ed Freedman, the Head Roaster, is the highly efficient machine called Diedrich IR-12, an infrared coffee roaster. This machine allows very efficient control of the temperature during the roasting cycle (which is very short – takes about 14 minutes to produce medium roast coffee), and the roasting process can be fitted exactly for each and every varietal and type of coffee, to allow it to achieve its fullest potential! How about that for the “best possible” coffee? As I said, I’m fully relying on pictures to share my excitement, so here is the machine:

The machine is controlled manually, but it allows full recording of the process (time/temperature changes ) on the computer, so for each batch it is known precisely how it was produced and how the process can be adjusted if and when necessary. On the pictures below you will see Ed Freedman explaining what happens during different stages of the roasting process and how it is recorded on the computer:

The process starts from the green coffee beans been loaded inside, and the temperature gradually increased until you hear coffee to start crackling, pretty much like popcorn. Once you hear that noise, depending on the type of roast you are producing (light, medium, French etc.), you will have to decide for how much longer to continue the process. Also you can all the time have the visual of the progress:

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Once you are done, the coffee goes out of the roasting chamber and now it should be cooled off very quickly, to make sure it is not going to roast any more:

Once the coffee is cooled off, it goes into the bin to rest – the coffee needs to rest at least for 2 days before it can be packaged and sold:

DSC_0856That’s it! Short 14 minutes, 20 lb of the green coffee beans become 17 lb of the wonderful roasted coffee, and you have a room full of delicious invigorating smell as a an added bonus. And you can also check what kind of roast did you achieve, using this simple set of the colored circles (of course you can buy a machine for $10,000 which will do that for you, but Ed feels quite happy with the circles : ) ):

That concludes my story about the Shearwater Coffee Roasters. They are located in Trumbull, Connecticut, so if you live close by or visiting the area, that might be a good place for you to visit (they sell all the coffees and coffee makers right at the shop). If you are not local, but still want to experience Artisan single origin organic coffee at its best, you can order directly from Shearwater web site.

I hope I managed to make your Monday morning – no, I can’t deliver the smell, but I hope I gave you enough coffee pictures so you can add the smell on your own. Oh yes, the cup of fresh coffee sounds divine – time to make one. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Canoe Restaurant in Atlanta – Great Food, And Close Encounter With The Rare Bird

June 26, 2014 6 comments

Think about your best restaurant experiences – what do they consist of? Of course the company is first and foremost – if you are in the wrong company, nothing will taste or appear right – this is given. So outside of the company, food, wine, service, views, decor, ambiance – all play a role, these are all essential factors of your great restaurant experience.

As I mentioned many times before, when traveling, I always look for the opportunity to experience new restaurants. My last trip to Atlanta, Georgia was not an exception by all means – of course I looked for a good restaurant to visit. I used Yelp as my reference source, and it worked quite well. Canoe restaurant, located in the Vinings neighborhood, was well worth the 4.5 stars yelp rating out of 626 reviews (this was the number of reviews at the time of our restaurant visit).

I read in some of the reviews that the Canoe Restaurant had a perfectly romantic appeal. It definitely had, especially considering how dark it was in the dining room (hooray to all the FlashLight apps on the smartphones, we would be left hungry without them). But on a more serious note, the restaurant is situated right by the river, with luscious greens and smart lighting making an outside look like it was a Thomas Kinkade’a painting. My photos will not do any justice to that outside setting, but I hope they will give you an idea of beauty and tranquility.

Going back to our dinner, while everybody were looking at the menus, I grabbed the wine list (what a surprise, right?). That wine list…. How can I describe it… It was probably the best wine list I ever held in my hands – there was an incredible amount of the excellent wines (that it not necessarily unique), priced in a very (did I say “very”?) appealing way. Moreover, one line in that list almost made me speechless – the rare bird was there, and it looked almost, almost – for the group of like-minded friends – affordable. Take a look below – can you spot the rare bird I’m talking about?

P1010323
I’m assuming you found it – yes, it is the Screaming Eagle. Of course $850 is an exorbitant amount of money for the bottle of wine, but considering that this wine is simply impossible to find at any price, it might not sound that bad – I have a few friends who would simply jump at such an opportunity. But I was not with those friends, so as you can imagine, I was left salivating about such a close encounter with this rare bird.

Have you ever got excited of seeing something, took a picture, and only later on, looking at the picture, noticed that there was a more to see in the object of your “excitement-driven” photograph? This was precisely my case. Only looking at. The picture I realized that the Screaming Eagle bottle was actually a second label of this cult wine, called Second Flight (it doesn’t make a difference from point of view of the opportunity of trying this rare wine). Then also noticed lots of other cult wines being present in that list, such as Harlan and many others, many at a extremely reasonable price (for example, Peter Michael Le Pavots retails for $175 – $225 on the wine list is a steal). Anyway, I think I have a great incentive to go back to Atlanta, and drag a couple of friends along.

Enough about the wines we didn’t drink, let’s talk about the wines we had. For the white, we got the 2012  Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri, Santorini, Greece – touch of minerality on the nose, white stone fruit, refreshing palate with crisp acidity and more of the white stone fruit undertones. Our choice of red was 2011 Chehalem Three Vineyards Pinot Noir from Oregon – nice smokey nose, good fresh red fruit on the palate, some raspberries and sweet cherries, good acidity and good overall balance. It was nice and easygoing wine to drink, and it complemented well most of the group’s dinner selections.

Now, let’s talk about the food. Our waiter (we had a great service, by the way) explained that the restaurant’s specialties are the game and seafood. Somehow, I felt like embracing seafood (we only scored 9 pm reservation, so it was rather a late dinner), and I didn’t regret that at all. For the started, I had an Grilled Australian Octopus (Chorizo, Peppers, Horseradish Tomato Broth) – the octopus was perfectly cooked and it was chewy just enough to preserve the texture, and very tasty overall. For the entree, I went with Bacon Wrapped George’s Bank Monkfish (Asparagus, Brioche, Grape Tomato Vinaigrette), which was absolutely delicious – perfectly cooked, the flaky fish was melting in the mouth, and the vegetables were nicely fitting in.

And then it was the time for a dessert. Our waiter, who brought the dessert menu, mentioned that restaurant’s pastry chef was a genius, so after such an endorsement I had to change my mind (I wanted to skip the dessert altogether). With the dishes such as Caramelized Goat’s Cheese Cake (Bourbon Cherries, Balsamic) or Rhubarb Crisp (Strawberry Ice Cream, Oatmeal Crunch), it was almost impossible to decide on something.  I ended up taking Popcorn Ice Cream Sundae (Canoe’s Cracker Jack), which was absolutely delicious and very unusual. Freshly made vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered popcorn and caramel sauce – this might be one of the possible spellings for “nirvana”.

P1010338
To conclude my report of the wonderful dining experience, I can only say that this was an excellent and very memorable meal, and if your travel plans will take you to Atlanta, I highly recommend you will find the time to visit the Canoe Restaurant – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

Canoe Restaurant
4199 Paces Ferry Road, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30339
(770) 432-2663

http://www.canoeatl.com/

Canoe Restaurant on Urbanspoon

From Family Recipes: Olivie Salad

June 12, 2014 12 comments

There are recipes. And then there are family recipes. What is the difference, you ask? Family recipes are more of a traditions. They don’t have to be secret recipes (well, let’s leave the secret recipes discussion for another time), but they are passed from a generation to generation virtually unchanged. They are treasured, and they have a lot of memories connected to them.

It just happened that for me and for my wife, as we were growing up in the same city (large one, mind you – with about 1.6M people living there), one and the same salad was a food icon. This salad, called Olivie, was probably the most popular and famous salad in Russia, or may be I’m simply biased. The origin of the salad is unclear. I was always under impression that this salad came to Russia from France – but according to many sources on Internet (well, they all might be copying from each other), the salad was created in 1860s by the Belgian Chef Lucien Olivier (hence the name of the salad), who was working in Moscow in the French-style restaurant called Hermitage. It seems that the list of ingredients supposedly in the original salad varies widely from the source to the source, and really has nothing to do with the Olivie salad as I know it. But, at this point, I think this is rather a matter of historical curiosity, and not overly important  for what we are talking about here.

The salad essentially is very simple, and has only 7 ingredients – potatoes, carrots, meat, pickles, boiled eggs, sweet peas and mayo. Of course a number of variations exists, firstly evolving around the use of different kinds of meat (bologna, boiled/roasted chicken and boiled beef are all possible options), but then some of the other ingredients sometimes can be omitted or substituted. But – once the recipe is changed, it is not the family recipe anymore, it becomes “some other recipe”. In a nutshell, here are all the ingredients of the Olivie Salad:

Deconstructed Olivie Salad
Here is the same, but zooming in on all the individual ingredients:

The family recipe is often associated with the happy moments in life, as it would be typically invoked for the special moments, whatever they are. While now we can make this salad any day (it was not always the case growing up back in Russia – some of the ingredients, like sweat peas, for instance, were very hard to find), it is still typically associated with holidays or at least special dinners of some sort (like a visit of good friends). Also, it is almost a privilege to make this special recipe – 95% of the time my wife simply doesn’t let me to make this salad, exactly as my Dad was, as I don’t always cut all the ingredients uniformly, and this is a big issue in her eyes (and I can’t argue with perfection).

In general, when I cook, I take very relaxed approach to the substitution of the ingredients, use of specific brands etc. – I believe it is totally okay to perform substitutions as needed. Except when it comes to this Olivie salad. If you want to make Olivie salad according to the Levine family recipe, no substitutions or changes are allowed, outside of what I will mention below. Don’t get me wrong – you are free to do what you want, it just not going to be the Levine family Olivie salad.

Okay, time to get to it. Below is the list of the ingredients you will need, and the instructions (very simple, mostly in pictures!) are follow. One more important note – the recipe below will yield the amount good enough to feed a small army, but this is the only way we make it, so feel free to cut it down accordingly.

Levine family Olivie Salad:

4 Medium Potatoes, whole, unpeeled (Russet, White or Idaho – don’t use Yukon gold, it will not retain the shape after it is cut)

4 Large Carrots, unpeeled

1.25 lb good bologna, whole or sliced into quarter an inch rounds (don’t use supermarket deli Bologna, go to the German or Polish specialty deli)

8 medium size pickles, use only Vlasic Whole Kosher Dills, no substitutions!

8 medium hard boiled eggs

1 large can of sweet peas (any brand :))

About 1/2 cup Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise – no substitutions!!!

Wash potatoes and carrots, don’t peel, and boil them for about 20 minutes (start timer after the water started to boil). You can check readiness with the knife – you should be able to poke through with very little resistance. You want to boil carrots and potatoes with the timer, as you don’t want them to overcook – if they do, they will lose shape once cut. Once potatoes and carrots are boiling, boil eggs for about 10 minutes. When potatoes and carrots are done, transfer them into the cold water to stop cooking process, also cool down the eggs. Get all the ingredients on the plate, and let them cool off so you will be able to handle them.

Next step – peel off and discard skin from potatoes and carrots. Peel off the shell from the eggs, then wash them and dry – you don’t want any pieces of shell in the salad. Okay, now all the prep work is finished, and all you have to do is to cut the ingredients (dice might be a better word).

Dice potatoes into about quarter of inch squares, same goes for carrots, eggs, bologna. Cut the pickles and put them in the strainer – you don’t need extra liquid in the salad. Open sweet peas, drain them completely (again, use strainer), and add them to the bowl.

At this point you need to mix everything together – tread lightly, as you don’t need a mush instead of a salad. Once you are done mixing, taste it – you looking for the balance of flavors. If you think you need more salt or acidity, add more pickles – in the end of the day, you just want to arrive to the tasty combination.

Now, the last step – you need to add mayo. This should really be done “by the taste”. Start from the small quantity, mix it, taste it, and add more if you think you need it. This salad must be served cold, so you have to put it in the fridge before you will serve it. The best thing to do is to let the salad chill, and then add more mayonnaise right before you will serve it – this way it will look and taste the freshest.

There are few possible modifications to this recipe. One is to replace bologna with chicken or beef. The trick is that to cook either one just enough that it will be ready, but not overlooked, because overlooked meat will just break down and it will not be Olivie salad anymore. You can bake or boil chicken breast (should be breast only, as you don’t need any extra fat). If you will use beef, you have to boil it – or if you will decide to roast, it will have to be well done, as you can’t have any blood in this salad.

Last modification you can make is to add a tiny amount finely finely diced white/yellow onion. My dad used to do this, and it adds a nice note to the salad in my opinion, but it is a big no-no in our house now.

There you have it – Levine family recipe Olivie salad. Feel free to comment, especially after you will try it. Cheers!

Magnificent Views and Delicious Food – The Mountain House in Woodside, California

June 10, 2014 9 comments

DSC_0433When it comes to selecting the restaurant for a dinner, especially if you have a time to plan it, the overall location and “the view” are important in that process. Thinking about my own experiences, most of my “views” had been of the water – sea, bay, lake, river – some type of water was involved most often. Dining out looking at the sea is definitely magnificent and memorable, but that shouldn’t limit your choices.

I remember about 5 years ago stumbling upon a restaurant in the San Francisco area, up on the mountain drive. We were just passing by, enjoying the beautiful drive through the redwoods park, but then we thought – hmmm, might be a good place for a dinner. The experience was wonderful (I didn’t have a blog at that time though :) ), so I always wanted to come back and experience the place again. Finally, the opportunity presented itself during my very recent trip to San Francisco, and making reservation at The Mountain House was one of my top priorities of the trip.

In essence, your restaurant experience starts from the moment you enter the Redwoods park – well, mine did for sure. I don’t know about you, but when I look at the redwoods, straight as an arrow, and almost having no start and no finish, just going up into the sky, I almost feel an awe, a reverence. A slow drive while surrounded by those magnificent trees (the road has enough of the very tight curves and turns to ensure your ride will be slow), creates a certain atmosphere, it puts you in the very special mood. Once you arrive, if you are a few minutes early, you can fully admire those amazing trees. And if you want to feel it for the fullest, arrive really early with some spare shoes, drive about a mile past the restaurant and spend time on one of the hiking trails – the silence which you can experience while standing among those trees, is something which is only possible to feel in a very few places on Earth, especially for those of us who lives in the cities and towns.

Finally, you are in the restaurant and ready for the dinner. The best place to seat ( assuming you are there during the warmer times) is outside on the terrace. The terrace is completely screened, but you can see an open sky and the magnificent trees right above you, which greatly enhances your dining experience. Before we talk about food and wine, I would like to mention that the restaurant has a long history. It had been around since 1920s, and through all these years had only three owners. The present owners had been at helm for about 27 years – all of this history commands great respect in my book.

Okay, food time. Err, no. Let’s select the wine first. The wine list at The Mountain House is expectedly California-based, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Two things make me very happy with that list. First, the selection is very good, with enough variety, but not overwhelming. Second, a lot of wines are offered at a very reasonable prices, often at around double retail or even better. I couldn’t make up my mind between 2010 BV Rutherford (retail about $25, restaurant – $63), 2008 Ridge Zinfandel Lytton Springs (retail – about $40, restaurant – $72) and 2010 St. Clement Oroppas (retail – about $45, restaurant: $70), until Irene, Matr’D, confidently said – try Oroppas, you will not regret it.

St. Clement Oroppas

I had St. Clement wines before, and have a lot of respect for them. 2010 St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.6% ABV) had beautiful dark garnet color in the glass. On the nose, the wine showed cassis, a hint of blueberries and a touch of espresso. And the palate… Boy, it is so hard to describe what was going on on the palate. On the palate, this wine was powerful and dense. Dark fruit, perfectly restrained, thick, practically chewy mouthfeel, perfectly structured and dry, and layered and silky smooth at the same time. The wine was at the level when you want to follow every sip with the words “mmm, this is good”. Drinkability: 9-

And finally, it is the time to talk about food! We started with Ahi Tartare Tacos (cucumber, avocado, tahini – miso vinaigrette with jicama slaw), which had very interesting Mediterranean flavor profile, I guess due to the tahini, and nice texture, based on large chunks of tuna and avocvado. We also had a simple Kale Salad (shredded brussells sprouts, marcona almonds, pecorino romano, lemon vinaigrette), which was very refreshing.

The Mountain House’s specialty is game, so it was easy for us to decide on the entreé. In a word, Tea Smoked Pheasant Breast (Apricot-Sherry wine Sauce and Mediterranean couscous) was outstanding – moist, delicious, with incredible flavor profile, very very tasty. And then the special of New Zealand Elk Medallions, prepared with cherry port reduction sauce and served with steamed vegetables, was simply spectacular – the meat was melting in the mouth, the sauce was perfectly complementing the meat, and the wine fully matching both the sauce and the meat – definitely one of the very best pairings I ever experienced. I also want to add that the wine was working very well with the first entreé, complementing the gaminess of the dish.

 

Despite the fact that we didn’t leave the morsel on the plate, we still decided to try the dessert, just to see if it would be on par with the delicious meal. Strawberry-Rhubarb crisp (vanilla ice cream) and Butterscotch Pot de Creme (creme fraiche, caramel and sea salt)  were both very tasty, with me having a small preference towards Pot de Cream – salt and caramel are always good together. However I have to mention that this Por de Cream dessert was a bit too rich, so we couldn’t finish it.

Service was great, timely and attentive.

That concludes my report about The Mountain House. If you are in the area, you definitely don’t want to miss this restaurant – I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did. Cheers!

The Mountain House
13808 Skyline Boulevard
Woodside, CA 94062
(650) 851-8541

http://www.themountainhouse.com/

Mountain House on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Files: Davanti Enoteca, Rama Thai and Sushi Ota in San Diego

June 2, 2014 7 comments

In my previous San Diego post, I gave you my version of a perfect day in San Diego, where of course the food was a very important part of the experience. Today, I want to add a few more of the restaurant suggestions, just to expand your cuisine selection.

Let’s start with Davanti Enoteca in the Little Italy neighborhood. The restaurant is appropriately Italian for the Little Italy area – but if the word “Italian” brings up an image of mozzarella sticks or a pasta with meatballs, shoo those images away, as they have nothing to do with modern, exquisite, creative Italian dishes served at Davanti Enoteca.

When you look at the Davanti Enoteca restaurant on outside, it is hard to tell what to expect. Inside, the restaurant is nice and welcoming, and offers a number of sitting options including [unexpectedly large] completely enclosed patio, which creates a great dining atmosphere.

So you are situated inside, and it is the time to eat. How about some Focaccia di Recco (Ligurian style baked focaccia, fresh soft cow cheese…must add honeycomb) for the starter? Very different from what you might expect, this one comes with the layer of soft cheese baked into a paper- thin crust. Addition of honeycomb on top increases “deliciousness” ten-fold. When you take a bite of that focaccia, the foodie’s climactic moan can be easily heard at the table. To keep the excitement level high, how about some Mascarpone Polenta with pork ragout – every morsel as delicious as the Focaccia. And then how about some Bruschetta? No, not the traditional tomato and onion, but may be a Creamy Avocado Mousse Bruschetta will do? Very unique and different again. Keep in mind that both Bruschetta and Mascarpone Polenta might have different toppings on different nights – but I’m sure they will be every bit as tasty as the ones we had.

When you look at the list of entrees, one thing becomes clear – it will not be easy to make a choice. You definitely got options. For instance, a Polpo con Rafano (seared octopus, warm fingerling potato salad, marcona almonds, finocchiona, fresh horseradish aioli) – perfectly cooked octopus (not an easy task in itself), absolutely delicious with all the little condiments there on the plate – every bite makes you happy. Spada Davanti(grilled swordfish, toasted bread crumbs, calabrian chili, brussel sprouts, calabrian chilies, mint) – another home run.

Craving meat? Davanti Burger (special blend beef burger, bacon jam, roasted tomato, cheese curd, arugula, roasted garlic mayo, shoestring fries) – it is just a wow on the plate. I had a pleasure to experience the famous Boulud Foie Gras Burger – this Davanti Burger will give it a good run for the money, it is so juicy and delicious (and those shoestring fries are addictive!). And if you are in a mood for a steak – Bistecca con Cippolini e Funghi (grilled hanger steak, cippolini onion, grilled oyster mushroom, saba, salsa verde) is just what doctor ordered – succulent meat and great combination of flavors.

You know I have to talk about wine, right? Wine list at Davanti Enoteca is not large, but it has a good amount of interesting selections at reasonable prices. Focus is mostly on the Italian wines as one would expect. We had two wines that evening. 2012 Attems Sauvignon Blanc Venezia Giulia had an excellent herbaceous profile, both on the nose and the palate, with some notes of fresh cut grass and hint of grapefruit skin, only a delicate hint, and perfect acidity. Definitely very nice wine. Our choice of red, 2012 La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was fresh and lovely, with the very pronounced, but soft tart cherry profile and a hint, a whiff rather, of a cherry pit – light and simple, and very versatile food wise.

When it came to the dessert, I honestly stopped paying attention to what exactly did we order – I know that I tried a few different desserts and they all were very tasty.


Davanti Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Let’s continue. So far, considering both San Diego restaurant posts, I offered to your attention mostly restaurants with European cuisine. I think it is time to change the direction and go towards Asia.

Rama Thai Restaurant is located in the Gas Lamp Quarters, a primary dining destination for people living in San Diego and visiting from afar. From the moment you set your foot inside the restaurant, you are transported – you know I like to use this term a lot when I talk about wines, and it simply means that your experience affects your emotional state, the way you feel at the moment. This is definitely the case with Rama Restaurant. The ambiance, lighting, decor, the music, pictures on the walls, muted sound of creek-running water, statues of Buddha – all of it puts you in a different mood.
And then, to our delight, the food perfectly matched the overall atmosphere. We started with the few appetizers. Satay Skewers (chicken and beef with peanut sauce and cucumber salad) was perfectly done, with peanut sauce being simply delicious. Same goes for Fresh Spring Rolls, which were super fresh and crunchy, also served with similar peanut sauce, with just enough heat to make it very tasty. The Pot Stickers (pork, ginger soy sauce)  were not necessarily unique, but cooked just right.

For the entrees we went with a very nice selection of the dishes. While Pad Thai is generally considered “The Dish” in the Thai restaurants, my personal favorite is Drunken Noodle (flat rice noodles, thai basil, tomato, chili garlic, kai lan) – for me, it has some homey delicious feeling, this is my ultimate Thai comfort food, which I’m ready to eat any day. The next wow dish was called Garlic and Pepper (crusted chicken, beef or shrimp, sweet and spicy reduction) – we had the chicken version, and every bite was perfectly crunchy and just right spicy – I can highly recommend this dish.  Salmon Panang curry (ka‑r lime leaves, green beans, cherry tomatoes) was very well balanced dish, with Panang curry flavors being present, but mild enough. Last, but not least were  Pan Seared Sea Scallops (with sautéed spinach, chili sauce) – you know, when the scallop is seared and done just right, it needs no explanation to any scallops aficionado, so this was our case. All in all, great meal, and I can’t recommend this restaurant high enough as a whole experience, with ambiance being a big part of it (and great service). Sorry, have no pictures for you – to get the pictures, I would have to use the flash, and I really didn’t want to disrupt the atmosphere…

Rama Thai on Urbanspoon

Last but absolutely not least for today is the Japanese restaurant called Sushi Ota (yes, we are continuing  to explore the Asian cuisine of San Diego). Sushi Ota is considered to be one of the very best sushi restaurants in San Diego (4.5 stars based on 1676 reviews on Yelp, very impressive), so one would probably expect to find  such a restaurant again in the Gas Lamp district or may be somewhere in downtown, surrounded by many other restaurants. When you drive to Sushi Ota, you take the highway exit, and the very next thing you do is start thinking if you had the right address written down, as you clearly see that you are in the area of car dealerships and small business offices, far away from the perceived “hot dining setting” by all means. But then GPS tells you that you have arrived, and you barely notice the name “Sushi Ota” on the sign of the tiny strip mall. Yep, you actually arrived to the one of the very best sushi joints in San Diego. I also hope you actually made a reservation at least few days in advance, because otherwise, you will need tremendous amount of luck to score even single sit by the bar.

At 5;30 pm, when the restaurant opens for dinner, it instantly gets at least half full, and it is a full house at 6 pm. What matter is that you got your table, so it is time to eat.

As a starter, we took a Tuna Tartar dish. This is not your average Tuna tartar – it is presented on top of tempura eggplant, and each one of the 4 pieces has different topping. This dish was done more of a single bite style (a big bite, I have to say), and really delicious.

Next up – Clam Miso Soup. It is a “kicked up” Miso soup as it contains a few clams in the traditional aromatic broth  – definitely a nice touch.

DSC_0335Our next selection (highly recommended) was the Spanish Mackerel sashimi. What you get is essentially the whole fish, with all the meat cut up in the small sashimi pieces. I like Mackerel sashimi in general, but it never tastes like the one we got at Sushi Ota. Typical mackerel sashimi is rather on the dry side, and can be even chewy. The one we had at Sushi Ota was succulent, sweet, soft and was literally melting in the mouth. Take a look at how it is served:

Spanish Mackerel SashimiAs you can see, you do get literally the whole fish. Wonder why you are get served the bones too? Well, once you done with the sashimi, the plate is taken away from you, only to be brought back in about 20 minutes after that fish skeleton was deep fried to the point that you can literally eat it like the potato chips! It is so tasty you literally can’t leave anything on the plate! Here you are:

Spanish MackerelAnd then, of course, we had sushi. We got a few different rolls and Uni (uni, a.k.a., sea urchin, you can eat only when it is super-fresh, and that’s the way it is at Sushi Ota). For the rolls we got Double Double Tuna, which is a combination of spicy tuna and regular tuna on top, as well as Eel Roll – fresh and delicious. And to finish the meal, of course, the mochi ice cream – green tea and mango. All in all, an outstanding meal, which makes you to leave the restaurant with the promise to self to come back as soon as possible.

Sushi Ota on Urbanspoon

That’s all I got for you for today – more choices for your possible San Diego trip. If you have already or will visit any of these place, I would love to know what do you think. And until the next time – cheers!

A Perfect Day In San Diego

May 27, 2014 13 comments

When I travel on the plane, I often skim through the airline magazine, such as Hemispheres on United, before I get to my beloved sudoku page. One of the articles I often pay attention to is “Three perfect days in a particular town”, which describes how you can potentially spend three days at some town, starting from the lodging, talking about attractions and dining options. Over the past 3 month, I was in San Diego in California twice, and came across a few places which I found worth talking about, thus I decided to come up with the similar post to those I mentioned before. Writing about 3 perfect days might get a bit too intense, so let me compose for you just one, potentially perfect, day. Here we go.

Let’s start with the  place to stay. San Diego has no shortage of the hotels, of course. The reason for me to recommend the two hotels below is because I personally stayed in both and liked them very much. First option is the Residence Inn San Diego Downtown, located at 1747 Pacific Highway. Yes, it is the part of the chain of Marriott hotels, and while it is not unique, it nevertheless offers a great convenience of stay for the family, with all rooms being suites with kitchenettes. It is also located within walking distance from Little Italy area (lots of great restaurants!) and the number of attractions right by the water, like USS Midway Museum. This hotel is within 20-25 minutes walking distance to the Gas Lamp Quarters (lots of restaurants and great night life), and it is easy to get to and from the highway.

The second hotel I can recommend is called Kona Kai Resort and it is located on on 1551 Shelter Island Road. Even taking into account that hotel was undergoing renovation during my stay there, the location and the views were absolutely spectacular. Yes, I stayed at many beach-front hotels before, however, in case of Kona Kai, the combination of marina with numerous boats and the hill covered with the houses was one of the most tranquil settings I ever experienced in the hotel. Just sit in the chair and be transported away in the dreams… Small private beach, lots of different water sport activities, bonfires – the hotel definitely offers a lot for the very enjoyable stay.

Kona Kai Marina View

Kona kai Marina View at Kona Kai Resort

Now, let’s talk about few things you can do. Of course San Diego Zoo, as well as Seaworld need no introduction, so I will not be talking about them. Also, if you are traveling with kids, don’t forget that Legoland is only about 40 minutes away from San Diego. However, I would like to bring to your attention a few of probably lesser known places. After breakfast (please see below for recommendation), head out to the Cabrillo National Monument. While you can think basedon the name that this is only a single structure, Cabrillo National Monument is actually a park, which offers stunning views of San Diego and San Diego harbor, the Lighthouse, a small military history museum and the number of hiking trails – you can easily spend a few hours there.

Depending on how much time you will spend at the Cabrillo National Monument, you might or might not be ready for lunch – in any case, you will find my suggestion below. After lunch, I have few more places for you to visit. First, the Balboa Park, which is a very interesting collection of botanical gardens, beautiful grounds and lots of different museums. Depending on how much time you will have available, there will be no problems to spend not only half day, but pretty much the whole day in the Balboa Park. One of the most stunning images for me was the Towering Moreton Bay Fig tree, with the root more resembling a dinosaur’s foot and towering crown disappearing high in the sky:

Towering Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Towering Moreton Bay Fig Tree at Balboa Park

One feels really humbled walking around these magnificent trees.

Once you are done with the Balboa Park, I have the last attraction for you to see for the day – Sunset Cliffs. This is also a park, which offers stunning views of the ocean, as well as opportunity to surf and hike. To me, just sitting down and watching the waves, is enough of attraction on its own. And I would also guess from the name that the best time to visit the cliffs is during the sunset, but I didn’t have an opportunity to check this myself.

And now, let’s talk about food! As we are talking about the perfect day, I would like to share three recommendations with – yes, we are talking breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Fabrison's on Urbanspoon

And now, it is time for lunch. I hope you are craving seafood, as the place I want to send you to is a fresh seafood heaven, very much resembling the New England, or rather even Cape Cod seafood joints, the hallmarks of the fresh seafood restaurants. With its unassuming and non-pretentious simplicity, Point Loma Seafoods reminds you of many of the Guy Fiery’s triple-D worthy establishments – inexpensive, always filled with people, offering great variety of seafood which is as fresh as it can be, with different styles of preparation. In the mood for sashimi? You got it. A plate of fried oysters or clams? No problems. A whole clam sandwich (this is what I had)? Here you go. Fresh fish, salads, soups, oysters, crab cakes – definitely there is a variety to chose from. Make sure you will allocate time, both to find parking and to wait in the line – but the wait is very manageable, the service is quite quick and efficient. I highly recommend you will include Point Loma Seafoods into your travel itinerary.

Point Loma Seafoods on Urbanspoon

After all the walking, climbing, and may be swimming, kayaking and sun bathing, you probably feeling tired and reading for an exciting dinner. Your wish is my command. Let me suggest that you will take a short trip to Coronado Island, and find the place called Chez Loma (yep, we are going French again – how about that!).

Again, an interesting parallel with New England, as Chez Loma restaurant is located in the regular house-looking structure. Simple ambiance and chanson music definitely add to your mood. And the food… Well, before we talk about food, few words about the wine. The wine list has reasonable size and very reasonable prices, with most of the selections coming from California, France and New Zealand. For no particular reason, we started with NV Scharffenberger Mendocino County, California - simple wine, with nice touch of toasted apple on the nose, and good weight on the palate. This wine had a bigger body than typical NV Champagne would have, with the same toasted apple being a main theme. Overall, easy to drink and refreshing. Our second wine was delicious 2012 Matua Pinot Noir Marlboro New Zealand (13% ABV) – smokey nose, vibrant acidity, tart cherries on the palate, excellent balance – the wine was perfectly complementing the variety of dishes we had for dinner.

And then, there was food. For the appetizers, we went with the few different options. Ceviche “Verde” (rockfish, tomatillo sauce, avocado) was somewhat “off the beaten path”, very refreshing, with the avocado and tomatillo sauce adding an interesting touch. Escargot (mushroom, sweetbread, asparagus, garlic butter) was probably the best I ever had – somehow, all the elements worked together creating literally a sublime experience. Tartare of Beef (hand cut beef, shallots, horseradish, parsley, pomme frites) was another great appetizer. I fell in love with this dish in Paris, and ever since, when it is on the menu in the restaurant which I would trust to serve me a raw beef, I would go for it. This version was very nicely done, with the perfect flavor profile. And lastly, the Three Beets (yellow, striped and red, thyme vinaigrette, Bucheron goat cheese) was simply a music for the eyes – bright, colorful, and most importantly, very tasty! Perfect texture on the beets – not too hard and not mushy, just right, and an excellent pairing with very gentle goat cheese.

Couple of entrees I want to bring to your attention. Peppered Filet Mignon (tenderloin, black pepper crust, brandy sauce, potato puree, haricot vert) was perfectly cooked, with very fresh cracked black pepper, simply a perfection on the plate. And the Sea Scallops (vanilla infusion, cauliflower puree, bacon crisp, orange sauce) were perfectly done, with the right texture and delicious textural enhancement of cauliflower puree and bacon bits. Again, one of the best Sea Scallops  dishes ever, and I have to tell you that 3 times out of 4, if the menu has Sea Scallops on it, this would be the dish I would take. For dessert, we shared Gingerbread (orange-caramel sauce), which was mostly a nicely done bread pudding. All in all, a great dining experience and I can’t recommend this restaurant high enough.


Chez Loma on Urbanspoon

After leaving the restaurant, see if you will be able to get a quick tour of the historical Hotel del Coronado – it definitely worth a few moments of your time – seeing all the wooden paneling and lavishly appointed hallways. Note – you might have to look for the way to sneak in as a registered guest. Upon return to the hotel you are staying at, spend a few moments admiring San Diego and marina nightlights. It was a long day, but I hope it was a good one.

Here you have it, my friends – my version of the perfect day in San Diego. Whether you visited any pf the places I mentioned or not, I would love to know what you all think. Cheers!

Cozymeal – A Unique Dining Experience

May 22, 2014 6 comments

What I want to share with you today is a guest blog post written by Nanette Wong and Samad Nasserian, presenting unique and interesting dining concept Cozymeal. I like the concept, and I think it nicely expands your Friday (or any other) night dining options. Cozymeal is available today only in San Francisco and Northern California, but they plan to expand to East Coast very soon. Please read below and feel free to comment. Cheers!

Picture this: It’s Friday night, and you’ve made reservations at the hottest new restaurant in town. When you arrive, you still have to wait a little bit, despite making reservations. No big deal (sort of). Finally, you’re seated and everyone’s ordered. The food comes out, and it’s pretty good, but it’s a tiny space and you keep bumping elbows with everyone. It’s a little noisy too, so it’s hard to carry on a normal conversation. On the way out, splitting the bill gets complicated and everyone is a little frustrated with how it’s done. Does this scene sound familiar at all?

We’ve all experienced situations like this before, and that’s where Cozymeal comes in. Cozymeal is offering a new way of eating and enjoying the benefits of a restaurant, without the not so pleasant parts. Also, you can have the cooking classes with the chefs, so you can even eat the delicious foods you cook. Pretty cool right? It’s a complete foodie experience.

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Here is how it works. Cozymeal is a trusted community of food lovers and home chefs who share their passion for food. In order to enjoy a Cozymeal, all you need to do is to browse through the offered Cozymeals, find the dining style you like (or a cooking class) and the date which works for you (or you can request the new date), book it and then come to enjoy a great evening of great food and conversation in cozy and comfortable setting – it is as easy as that!

There’s a wide array of meals offered. From Peranakan Food on a Boat to Old Style Nordic Cuisine to a French Country dinner, there’s a meal to fit everyone and anyone’s taste buds. And that doesn’t even cover all the cooking classes offered as well!

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One of the most popular cooking classes currently offered is James’ Italian Comfort Meal cooking class, where you learn to make your own, fresh pasta! Located in the colorful Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, professional chef James will teach class participants how to make a scrumptious egg tagliatelle, topped with slow cooked pork sugo.

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And that’s not even the main course. The main course is a slow-cooked beef brisket, simmered in white wine and milk. The whole meal is rounded off with a creamy La Quesada (think if cheesecake met flan) and fresh, local berries.

Boat Dinner-3

Another unique dining experience is Desiree’s Peranakan Dinner on a Boat. With Desiree, you can enjoy a sunset dinner on her boat docked at the Berkeley harbor.

She is half Hainanese and half Peranakan, and offers an authentic fusion meal for Cozymeal diners. The meal starts off with crispy sardine puffs, followed by chicken nut stew and jasmine rice. A simple yet flavorful and traditional tofu dish also appears on the menu. And of course, can’t forget dessert, which are a sweet, fluffy Kaya puff.

What’s most interesting about the whole experience is that professional chefs, or really talented home cooks, not only put the effort into creating this meal, but they also welcome you into their home. You get to interact directly with them, chat about how they cooked the meal, and pretty much ask them whatever you want! (Can’t guarantee they’ll spill all their secrets though). This is also being a great benefit for travelers. How often had you traveled abroad, hoping to taste the authentic food of the nation, but are limited to restaurants. And let’s face it, the restaurants are probably catered to tourists. Now that we think about it, it’s kind of being in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, where you’re Guy Fiery and the chef is sharing his food with you in his own home! Pretty awesome. Anthony Bourdain ain’t got nothin on you.

Cozymeal is growing rapidly and will be expanding to the East Coast very soon. If you are interested in becoming a Cozymeal host in the East Coast, West Coast or anywhere else, reach out to us by visiting our host page.

Check out Cozymeal here, or visit us on Facebook.

 

 

Spring [Menu] Has Arrived to Bailey’s Backyard in Ridgefield, CT

May 11, 2014 6 comments

What do you expect when you go to the farm-to-table restaurant? Probably that everything will be fresh, locally produced and seasonal? I like that “seasonal” part very much, as it means you can visit the same restaurant many times, and every time expect to see a different menu. You know that the taste and quality will be there, but then it is the foodie adventure served right up for you, the dilemma being solved without you thinking “hmmm, this is what I had the last time, it was good, so should I take it again?”.

The new season – Spring – has arrived to Connecticut (considering the way this last winter was, I wonder how many people didn’t expect spring to arrive at all), and it also arrived to the new menu at the Bailey’s Backyard restaurant, which I already wrote about the last Fall. I was very excited to visit the restaurant and try all the new food, as since the first visit, it became one of the favorite restaurants not only for me, but also for a few friends who were very happy with my recommendation. I was a bit short on time, so I had to leave before trying a few dishes, but nevertheless, there were lots of very tasty dishes which I need to tell you about.

The dinner was served with a number of cocktails – and it is not only food which is fresh and locally made at Bailey’s Backyard – all the cocktails, artfully imagined by the master-of-all-liquid-cocncoctions, Bryan, contained some of the ingredients which were locally made, like ginger infused vodka or mint-infused rum. Here are the cocktails which were served at the dinner:

Six Toed Cat (Blueberry & Mint Infused Rum, Lime, Fresh Mint, Ginger Beer) – absolutely delicious version of Mojito! Refreshing, bright, with a bit of the liquid happiness served inside.

Don’t Call Me Shirley (House Made Citrus Vodka, Fresh Citrus Juice, Cointreau) – Bryan’s answer to the Cosmopolitan – zingy, refreshing and delicious.

Samuel Clemens (Ginger Infused Vodka, Lemon, Ginger, Black Pepper , Club Soda) and Rude Barbara (White Rum, strawberry-Rhubarb Puree, Lime) – I didn’t get the chance to try these two, but I’m sure they were every bit as delicious as the previous two.

And then, there was food (and lots of it).

Chicken Liver & Grand Marnier Pate (Apricot Mustard, Thyme Toast) – if you are a fan of the chicken liver (like I am), this was the perfect dish, delicious combination of flavors, all melding very well together.

“Devils on the Horseback” (North Country Bacon, Armagnac Plums, Pear) – bacon and plums – who would’ve thought? It was actually very tasty.

Goat Cheese Profiterole (Aged Balsamic/Crispy Parmesan/Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette) – goat cheese profiterole – just say it a few times – does it produce a moth watering sensation in your mouth? Delicious! And I would take it over the actual dessert profiteroles at any time.

Zucchini Fries (Shaved Parmesan, Pecan Puree, Mint) – I love zucchini in all shapes and forms, and lately I encountered a number of indigenous dishes in few restaurants, with zucchini being simply a star. This dish was one of them – perfect combination of the light crunch outside and delicate zucchini slice inside.

Tempura Vegetables (Sweet Potato, Asparagus, Red opinion, Cashew powder, Hoisin Sauce) – perfectly executed, very light and delicious.

Grilled Asparagus Salad (Frisée/Prosciutto, Black Truffle Hollandaise, Shaved Pecorino, Herbed Red Wine Vinaigrette) – great acidity, very refreshing, and black truffle Hollandaise…. black truffle… need I say more?

Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke (sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, Wakame, Black Sesame seed, Puffed Wonton) – one of the most delicious tuna dishes ever. Incredible flavor profile, just right amount of heat – close your eyes, and you are in Hawaii…

Whipped Foie Gras with Caramelized Onion Perogi (red wine pearl onions, Chive Crema, white truffle and Bacon Powder) – as Chef Forrest presented the dish, he explained it as a “rich man – poor man” play. The luxurious creaminess of the whipped foie gras paired with simple goodness of the onion perogi – this dish was a textural heaven, combined with the great balance of flavors.

The two dishes which I had to miss were Firecracker Rock Shrimp Scampi (Hand cut Linguine, Diced Shallots, Roasted garlic, Meyer Lemon) and Slow Roasted Suckling Pig (yellow corn Fritters, Lavender, Buttered peas, crackling-red eye gravy) – well, that gives me an incentive to visit the restaurant rather sooner than later.

And we are done here. I just want to say Thank You to the Executive Chef Forrest Pasternack, Bryan and Sal for the evening of great food and great cocktails. Until the next time – cheers!

Disclaimer: I attended the dinner as a guest of management. All opinions are my own.

Bailey’s Backyard
23 Bailey Avenue
Ridgefield, CT 06877

http://www.baileysbackyard.com
Bailey's Backyard on Urbanspoon

A Night of Great Food and Great Wine – Arezzo in Westport, CT

April 17, 2014 8 comments

DSC_0277Have you ever been in the situation where you read about the restaurant and look at the menu, and your first thought is “ahh, it’s that same thing again…”? Continuing the situation, how many times did you actually still ended up going to the restaurant, and afterwards were glad you did? My personal account – more often than I care to admit! My latest experience – the restaurant called Arezzo Ristorante & Bar in Westport, Connecticut.

Arezzo is located at the intersection of route 1 and Riverside Ave, with its patio overlooking Saugatuck river. While restaurant had been in the same location for a while, you can consider it brand new – Juan Ceballos and chefs/brothers Llanos are the new owners of the Arezzo restaurant.

What I really like in the restaurants is the diversity of the setting – this is when the restaurant inside doesn’t look “uniformly the same”. Arezzo has a number of different areas – a spacious bar, almost as a separate room, a “foyer” with soft and comfy chairs, the main dining room, huge patio – you can come to the restaurant many times and every time discover something new.

Open kitchen and huge wood-fired oven, imported directly from Italy, are definitely creating the next level of excitement for the guests – I don’t know about you, but I can stare at the tamed flames for a very long time…

We started our evening in the bar. I personally made a rookie mistake of ordering Espresso Martini as my first drink – while very tasty, this was definitely a drink to have after the meal, not before. Well, I’m still working on my cocktail culture…

As usual, a few words about the wine list. May be only two words – Very Good. While the list is not big (which is a good thing in many cases – flipping through 50 pages looking for a bottle of wine is not the fun for all), it is modern, attractive and not boring, sporting a number of unusual wines by the glass together with some safe choices. Bottle selection is also very good, and reasonably priced, which for me is always important.

The wine list is focused on the Italian wines, with some California and France. After the fiasco with espresso martini, I needed to refresh my palate, so I started with 2011 Donnachiara Irpina Coda di Volpe DOC, Campania (13% ABV), the wine made out of indigenous Italian grape from Campania, Coda di Volpe. Bright golden color in the glass, inviting nose of white stone fruit and perfectly vibrant acidity on the palate, paired with dense and round, medium to full body mouthfeel – just what I needed (Drinkability: 7+).

The red wine, suggested by Juan, was an absolute favorite of the group. Renieri is an excellent producer, making the wines in the number of regions in Italy. While I was somewhat familiar with their Brunello wines, this wine was new to me – 2010 Renieri Invetro Ross Toscano IGT (14% ABV),  a super-Tuscan blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet and 25% Merlot. Dark ruby in the glass, clean nose of dark red fruit, very inviting, and beautifully refreshing palate – ripe raspberries, cassis, plums, warm spices, touch of minerality, full bodied and perfectly balanced with tannins and acidity in check. Great wine overall. Drinkability: 8+.

And then, there was food.

A number of appetizers were served while we were at the bar.

Pizza Margherita ( fresh tomato, basil, homemade Mozzarella) – fresh, sweet tomato, basil – always a winning combination.

Focaccia Robiola di Arezzo (white truffle oil) – this was sublime, as anything with the right amount of truffle oil.

Lobster Arrancini (saffron aioli and Lemon) – absolutely delicious, very tasty bites!

Rosemary Marinated Shrimp Skewers – one of the group favorites – incredible balance of flavors.

Italian Sausages Skewers with Roasted Peppers – simple and very well executed. Also a pleasure to look at.

The rest of our dinner was served at the table. First, a trio of pasta:

Risotto (fresh porcini mushrooms, truffle oil) – incredible, simply incredible. If you like mushrooms, I’m sure you are not going to leave a single morsel on the plate, no matter how big the portion will be. The umami factor simply doesn’t let you put the fork down.

Short Rib Tortellini (braised us jus sauce) – why all the braised, slow cooked meat invokes such a homey feeling? This was delicious.

Cavatelli ai Piselli (home-made pea-ricotta, how and sweet sausage ragout) – this was perfectly on par with two other dishes – savory and satisfying.

Pan Seared Pink Snapper (caponata purée, fregola, vegetables) – one of the best pieces of fish ever – flaky, perfectly seasoned and cooked.

Roasted New Zealand Lamb Chop (spinach, tomato, Yukon gold potatoes) – to tell you the truth., I’m extremely picky about my lamb chop – I don’t want any fat on it, I want it to be perfectly seasoned, so it will not have that unpleasant lamb flavor – yes, I’m high maintenance when it comes to the lamb chop. So what can I tell you about the lamb chop which was served to us? In a word, wow. In another word – delicious. Seasoning, texture, taste – wow.

For dessert we had Pannacotta and Nutella Pizza – yes, it was very tasty, and I will spare you my lame attempts to describe it.

And we are done here. The only thing left to do, as usual, is to thank Juan Ceballos and Executive Chef Vinicio Llanos for the wonderful food and wine. Whether you are living in the area or visiting, Arezzo will be a perfect dining destination for you. Cheers!

Disclaimer: I attended the restaurant as a guest of management. All opinions are my own.

Arezzo Ristorante & Bar
5 Riverside Ave
Westport, CT 06880
203-557-9375

http://www.arezzowestport.com/

Arezzo Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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