Seconda Parte: Varenna i Venezia, pasta i Gnocchi, mamma mia!

Part Two: Varenna and Venice, i.e., Italy, where pasta and gnocchi reign supreme! From Barcelona we headed to northern Italy, landing in Milan and taking a train directly to Varenna, a lovely town situated on Lake Como. (Well, to rephrase...the Milan airport is NOT close to the city but after a couple of trial and error attempts with a finicky train ticket machine, we managed to take a train to the city center of Milan and THEN navigate our way through the confusion of finding the correct train to Varenna.) Needless to say, no time for lunch!

Happily, our hotel in a tiny little haven in the hills was a five-minute taxi ride from the train station. We were deposited at the Hotel du Lac, just 8 minutes after arriving, checked in within 5 and out on the cobblestone path to find sustenance within 20 minutes of landing in Varenna. The weather was a little drizzly so searched no further than il Nilus, where we sat on the covered patio directly at water's edge to have our first meal in Italy. Starvation had no bearing on the deliciousness of our roasted sopressata-potato-gorgonzola pizza, which we immediately scarfed down with a glass of wine. Oh my. Superb. 

Did I mention that within the 20 minutes from train stop to seated for lunch, we managed to ask our hotel receptionist/concierge/girl Friday to find a reservation for dinner? She found us a table at La Vista, a terraced restaurant atop the Albergo Milano Hotel. It's a tiny town but we experienced some trouble finding which little alleyway to climb. But so worth the search, steep hill, and confusion. Sitting outside, wrapped in a fleece blanket provided with each and every table, we watched as the lights twinkled on in Menaggio, the town directly across Lake Como from Varenna. After the hustle and bustle of the big city Barcelona, we were drawn into the calm, quiet beauty of the water and the Alps that towered above.

And our dinner! What a fabulous meal we had that evening. The menu offered a la carte and either a 3 course or 4 course fixed price option which included the entire menu. If you tell me I can have a starter, first course, second course and dessert for 45 euro...it's a no brainer! After all, this is RESEARCH! I definitely researched my way to satiation in the most delicious fashion.

  • Starter-  RB: charcuterie platter, JB: velvety potato soup
  • Primi-    RB: ravioli with seafood, JB: risotto with scallops
  • Secondi-   RB: baked lake fish with creamed potatoes, JB: lamb shank osso bucco
  • Dessert-   RB: cheese plate, JB: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce

Oof. It was too much food. But so enjoyable. 

On the dawn of our 5th day in Europe, we had a light breakfast in the hotel cafe and went out to explore Varenna. At 10am, we were picked up by van to take us to Ristorante il Caminetto (in the hills of Perledo), for a day-long cooking class. Our driver was also the chef, owner and instructor, Moreno Maglia. It was a delightful six hours...Moreno is charming, humorous and well-versed in American culture. The class was made up of two other couples from the US, a couple from Manchester, England, two young girls from Poland and a lady from the Netherlands. We watched our host prep a veal roast, form pasta dough entirely with his hands, and we learned to shape gnocchi. Then he rolled and cut the pasta, adding a dollop of ricotta filling to each square and allowed us to shape the packets into tortelloni. He demonstrated one porcini mushroom sauce for the gnocchi and then a fresh tomato topping for the tortelloni. And finally, we lunched on all of these amazing dishes, helping ourselves to refills of wine and laughing at his references to American rock and roll and movie stars. If you are ever in the Lake Como area for a few days, I highly recommend this cooking class--such an insight into meal prep at a small local restaurant. I loved it.

Following the class and being dropped back in our little town square, we had just enough time to walk to the train station and meet our son, who arrived from Rome after a semester at John Cabot University. What a happy sight to see him step off that train! He looked taller, wiser, and tired; it was so wonderful to put our arms around him after 4 months apart.

That evening, we had a very late supper at Osteria Quatro Pass, another tiny restaurant. Sometimes it is a challenge to order food coherently when trying to soak up each moment with a child you haven't seen in some time. But we managed to have a delightful meal which we shared family style: salumi board, cheese plate, seafood spaghettoni, fish fillets in an almond sauce, and a cheese ravioli before consuming a sweet apple tart to finish. Note: you can never order too much food when you have a 21-year-old at the table.

The next morning, the three of us hiked to Castello de Vezio, a wonderful castle ruin with beautiful views overlooking the lake and town below. It was a gorgeous morning and the hike was a perfect bit of exercise after the previous day spent wining and dining.

That afternoon we headed to Venice which also provided some physical exertion in the manner of hauling our luggage through tiny little streets, inaccessible to any other form of traffic. We spent a quick 24 hours touring with just one real sit-down meal. A carafe of wine, a little bourbon, some lasagna, gnocchi, and fried calamari was consumed and delighted in while sitting at a small table on a cobblestone street, 15 steps from our hotel. The next morning when we walked through that same street, any evidence of the quaint little eatery with a gregarious host had been shuttered away, only to be discovered again later in the day by other lucky wanderers.

Next week: follow along as we wrap up our trip in the City of Lights. ❤️ Ruth

 

Primera Part: Barcelona, ciutat de tapes i paelle

Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We also managed to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.

Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing. 

Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.

My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:

  • Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
  • Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
  • Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
  • Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing

You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.

The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.

That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.

Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns. 

And we were on to the next city...

*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."

 

A Taste of Paris

Ten years ago, my husband took me to Paris to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It was an amazing trip, the adventure of a lifetime, a triumph on so many levels. Paris is truly a magical city and we ate, drank, toured, laughed, sat, strolled, and explored as much as possible. Since that year, we have taken other trips, exotic and foreign, but Paris still holds the power of unshakeable memories over us, always drawing us back into the "remember that time..."

One such remembrance is our actual anniversary dinner at the Michelin starred restaurant, Guy Savoy. The ambiance: elegant and reserved. The service: witty, attentive, and intelligent. The fare: delicious, rich, and artistic. The bill: exorbitant. That meal, that night, remains to this day in our top five food experiences of all time.

We were in love with each other, fell in love with the city and in turn, in love with all things France. Fast forward to this year when I have undertaken this crazy goal to cook my way through Fine Cooking magazine. I opened the April/May issue to find the "Moveable Feast" article highlighted a visit with none other than Guy Savoy (the chef and namesake of our beloved restaurant) and cookbook author, Patricia Wells, who resides in Paris! So I was quite excited to prepare the recipes from this particular issue. 

On a cold and windy evening in April, I invited friends to join us and they graciously agreed to suffer through this menu:

Spring Greens Salad with Fruit, Roquefort & Balsamic Dressing

Asparagus with Paprika Sabayon

Rib-eye Steak with Tarragon Chimichurri

Frites

Strawberry-Rhubarb Blitz Torte

The conversation was lively, the wine poured and though the steak was a bit underdone, I think the meal was a success. I'm definitely not Guy Savoy, but when I was crafting his sabayon (a cooked egg yolk sauce), I felt a renewed appreciation for the art that is Fine Dining. 

My experiment or goal or resolution, whatever you want to call it --to step out of my comfort zone and create recipes that I would not otherwise attempt--is succeeding. For the "numbers" people out there, I stand at 55 completed recipes out of 114 from 3 issues. Still a ways to go...hoping the June/July issue does not arrive for several more weeks!

 

a brunchin' we will go

 a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

Spring has been an absolute whirlwind. Maybe because I have been sleep deprived beginning with Daylight Savings or perhaps it's due to trying to schedule FaceTime sessions with a son on the other side of the world. Whatever the reason, I feel constantly behind, always running to catch up. 

Long weekends spent with family are usually a great way to slow things down. In that spirit, our Easter week began on Palm Sunday with church services alongside our son and his pregnant wife. Oh wait. Haven't I told you? Our family is being blessed in 2018 with new babies. My eldest daughter (residing in Arkansas) is expecting her fourth child, due in May and our eldest son (lives here!) is expecting his first....TWINS! SO. EXCITING. I. MAY. JUST. WRITE. LIKE. THIS. UNTIL. SUMMER. Jk. But we are indeed overjoyed by all of these tiny blessings headed our way. 

Back to Palm Sunday. After mass, the four of us came home for brunch because a leisurely meal accompanied by mimosas is a surefire way to slow time. The menu was Eggs Benedict as requested by my DH. It's a timeless breakfast entree, isn't it? Crisp english muffins topped with canadian bacon, a pillowy poached egg and rich, decadent hollandaise sauce. In the Butterfield house, we like to change things up and sometimes replace the muffin with hash brown potatoes, or even stack the potatoes on top of the toasted bread. Also, we seldom serve the traditional skinny slices of canadian bacon and opt for slabs of smoked ham. Or, maybe a crab cake for ultimate, sinful gluttony. Whatever version, the crowning glory remains the same--bright, lemony hollandaise, and I'm sharing my recipe at the end of this post. 

Dinner that evening was also a feast. Expertly grilled New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, sautéed spinach, roasted eggplant, a lovely crisp green salad with balsamic dressing. And there was chocolate cake for dessert. That was just for 4 of us! But our celebratory week was off to a good start.

Happily on Thursday, my in-laws arrived from Albuquerque without incident. They have not been in Dallas since 2015, the year of two weddings, a graduation, and a family reunion. We scheduled a number of outings for their visit and tried not to wear out their 80+year-old bodies too much. They were able to see our son's new home and hear the glad news that the twins are GIRLS! (see how I keep sneaking those announcements in..?!) On Friday, our youngest daughter, husband and canine child, Frank, were here with us from Round Rock. We enjoyed a margarita lunch, strolling around the Arboretum and a fabulous meal at 20-Feet Seafood Joint in Lakewood. 

Side Review: If you haven't heard of this little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant, I am here to endorse the establishment and send you as soon as your little feet can carry you that direction for the following reasons:

  1. It's BYOB. We brought 3 bottles of wine with us: rosé, sauvignon blanc, and a red blend. Also a premixed shaker of Manhattans (the in-laws go-to cocktail.) (we did NOT consume it all!) And they will uncork your bottles as well as provide stemware in which to enjoy your beverage of choice!
  2. The Lobster Roll. It's amazing. Also, the Green Room Mussels, Fried Oyster Po Boy, Fish & Chips, and any special they're offering that day.
  3. Service is better than any I've encountered in a casual setting. You place your order at the counter, but the servers are patient, pleasant and helpful. The table bussers are young and sweet, also helpful. There's just nothing to complain about. Tables are first come, first served, but they'll help put tables together and find an area, outside or inside for you. 

The weather was ideal Thursday-Saturday so we sat out on the patio and enjoyed our mussels, french fries, Lobster Rolls (3), Fish & Chips (2) and Shrimp Po boy (1). Afterwards we indulged in a little custard from Wild About Harry's and came home to play cards.

Saturday breakfast was 2 casseroles I pulled from the fridge making my life so easy. The kids returned to Round Rock and we prepared for the next round of guests--my brother-in-law, wife and canine arrived from Houston. We supped on homemade lasagna and caesar salad and dined al fresco while watching the NCAA Final Four.

Easter Sunday dawned cool and cloudy and the mass was just beautiful, uplifting and joyful. And then we headed to another brunch, this time at The Mercury, where although our server is the best (Medy?) the food was honestly, just ok. Not that they didn't have variety: prime rib, fried chicken, sushi, salads galore and waffles. But it's really hard to do Eggs Benedict for a crowd because it's always cold and a little congealed, don't you think? So that brunch was a bit disappointing. 

I know right now you're thinking, all those Butterfields do is EAT! And sometimes, it feels that way to us too. I have omitted the boring details of walking pups, gardening, and any exercise that made it's way on to the schedule.

Sunday dinner was a bit of a masterpiece, if I'm allowed to say so. Beef Tenderloin roast, perfectly seared on the grill by my hubby and accompanied by au gratin potatoes, maple-bacon roasted brussels sprouts, spring salad with asparagus, fruit and citrus vinaigrette (on the menu this week!) and finally a luscious Chocolate-Espresso Cream Pie for dessert was shared with my dear friend, Rosemarie and her three girls, making our number 10 for dinner. What a fun evening! After our meal we watched the live production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and digested slowly.

Monday was so nice and quiet, with just the four of us. The weather turned cold, giving us an excuse to read the paper by the fire and only venture out for a little chinese bistro lunch. They departed on Tuesday morning and it was back to work for my husband and me. Thanks to their visit, we were able to extend those five days and truly experience five days rather than the rapid, whirlwind, collapsed time that I've been feeling is my life. In three weeks we head to Europe to meet my son--can you believe the semester is at a close?

Ruth's No-Cook Hollandaise Sauce

 

Growing up a Billy Graham Groupie

It's funny how many young people I speak with whom love the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Sure, it's classic rock-n-roll but it's not like their songs are played over the radio waves or in restaurants these days and therefore in their every day consciousness. More than likely, their parents are/were huge fans back in their youth. Often these young people grew up hearing stories of amazing concerts or have listened to their parents' collection of vinyls or cds and their testament that the band was "the greatest of all time!"

In my young missionary-kid existence, things were a little different. My parents went to "The Jesus People" concerts (not kidding! they were a quartet of two young women and two young men who sang under that moniker). And they also attended the Billy Graham Crusade when the reverend came to Taipei, Taiwan in 1975. 

There's no denying the man's impact on the world. He was an evangelist that never forgot his vocation, taking his mission--to spread the word and love of God--to every corner of the globe. And in his 5 decades+ ministry, he managed to reach 185 countries and 215 million people. He had personal relationships with every president from Truman to Obama. And yet he was the evangelist who never tried to profit from followers, nor build a megachurch, nor run for president. He was not a womanizer but was married to his wife, Ruth, for 63 years until she passed in 2007. 

No man is perfect, but I feel the Reverend Billy Graham was an amazing role model for us today. And that's why I'm okay with admitting I was kind of groupie for that humble, non-self-serving man of God. And as a member of the Billy Graham fan club, let me share a few fun facts about the man of which you may or may not be aware:

  1. His birthday is November 7. And so is mine!
  2. His wife's name is Ruth. And so is mine!
  3. Ruth was raised a child of missionaries in Asia. Me too!
  4. Billy was a southern boy, born in North Carolina. I was born in Kentucky!
  5. He loved McDonald's. Oops, not me, but maybe when I was a child?

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 (Rev. Billy Graham's favorite Bible verse)

 Dad is center, shaking the Reverend's hand and my cute, chic mother is on the left of Dad.

Dad is center, shaking the Reverend's hand and my cute, chic mother is on the left of Dad.

Cooking Outside the Lines

Guest post by Lara Slabisak

Salty. Sour. Sweet. Spicy. The four components of nearly every Thai dish, and the underlying structure behind what allows Thai food to strike that delicate balance between brightness and warmth. Think: yin and yang – seemingly contradictory forces working together to create complex flavor profiles worthy of lending Thai food the epithet “French Fare of the East.” It’s one of those cuisines that has an answer to every occasion and craving.

This January, my family and I were able to spend three incredible (delectable) weeks in Thailand, where my father was born. I had not been back to visit my family there for a few years, but felt instantly at home as I was greeted with plates of coconut sticky rice and mango, mounds of pomelos, and bowls filled with green and yellow curry. I was inspired this trip to taste each food with a discerning tongue and the intention of bringing back some Thai culinary know-how and dishes to add to my arsenal. I tried not to shy from anything, even the street carts boasting unidentifiable seafoods and congealed pigs blood soup…but don’t worry, I left everything I ever wanted to know about pig’s blood there.

What I learned: Cooking Thai food can be deceptively difficult. If you look at a list of ingredients in a recipe, they are seemingly simple and few. The tricky part lies in achieving that delicate balance of flavor I spoke about before. You don’t want to overpower the subtle hints of lemongrass and galangal in Tom Kha with too much salt, or assault your Pad Thai with an overabundance of lime juice. To master this, the structure-loving, rule follower in me wanted to know exactly how much of each component is required to attain that intricate balance so I can reproduce each dish perfectly and consistently every time. However, this trip I learned that to authentically create harmony and complexity in a dish, I had to throw my measuring spoons and desire to strictly follow a recipe to the wind and instead “cook with my tongue”…as my aunt would say.

I can’t help but think that this is great life advice too. It’s okay to deviate from the script in the name of exploration. Maybe you’ll happen upon a new favorite flavor combo! Don’t shy from trying new ingredients or methods. If there’s a better way, find it. Allow space for your palette to grow! Maybe you can only stand one Thai chili pepper per dish before scurrying to grab the closest glass of water (me), but eventually your tastes will mature and change.

Life certainly doesn’t give us the perfect recipe to follow. This can sometimes be scary, but it’s also exhilarating! That means we have the chance to discover, even if through our mistakes, something new and exciting each time we have the audacity to step out and take a risk. So here is my charge…As we approach this week, may we be adventurous, make mistakes, and cook outside the lines!

 

Just a southern girl at heart

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I am the first to admit that I have an unusual background. Born in Kentucky, childhood in the mission field in the Far East, adolescence and college in the American Southwest, and finally adulthood in the great state of Texas. To say my culinary influences are wide and varied is a vast understatement! If you’ve read my blog, you know that I draw heavily from my Asian influences (Chinese New Year) and my time in New Mexico (love me some Hatch green chiles). But I most often return to the South where my mother first learned to cook American classics.

During my infant & toddlerhood in Wilmore, Kentucky, Mom was blessed by neighbors and friends who shared recipes and techniques with her that she was able to prepare for her young family. The biggest takeaway: Fried Chicken shaken in a paper sack. (original blog post here) Because I love fried chicken, I am repeatedly tweaking new recipes not to necessarily improve on the original, but to add another option to my arsenal.

Last summer I became quite obsessed with making a perfect fried chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie: I have loved Chick-fil-A in my life…I remember being a teenager in Albuquerque, working at Orange Julius in Coronado Mall and trying their sandwich for the first time. It was a revelation! Best mall food ever! (Oh, and Hotdog on a Stick, but that’s another story.) Even these days, if the only option available is fast food when we are on the road, we head for the red and white sign. 

Back to the perfect fried chicken sandwich. I made the first batch for the hubby and me to take to the Memorial Day concert at Flagpole hill. I am all about those picnics and the bubbly that usually accompanies the lawn food! They were good, but the breading was a little thick for my liking, the slaw too spicy, the roll too much. For my second try, another picnic, a wider audience: my two sons, daughter-in-law and us for the July 4th concert at Heritage Park in Farmers Branch. The sandwich received 5 thumbs up. 

James loved them so much that the recipe made his “last meals” request before heading to his semester abroad in January. We invited a few of his friends over for a send-off meal and this time, the chicken breasts got a special pickle juice bath and I cut them in half and served them on slider buns. 3 dozen sandwiches and 7 college boys later, I knew I’d found the winning combination. 

So what’s next? I need a new favorite southern recipe to try out and make my own. Any suggestions?

 

 

Happy New Year! Woof!

               2018 is the year of the Dog

              2018 is the year of the Dog

Confession: I am quite proud of my Asian heritage. I love being a "halfie" -- Dad is Anglo (white boy) and Mom is of Asian descent. My brother, sister and I grew up very aware of our "difference," teased by our American cousins, treated as a novelty by Taiwanese relatives, adored by members of our father's church. Our mother, too, was so proud of her halfie children. She grew up poor in Taiwan, of mixed race herself (Japanese/Chinese), and adored anything Western (American). She wore poodle skirts in the 50s, and watched every Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Grace Kelly film that made it to the screens in Taipei. It was purely chance (an act of God) that brought she and my father together and she immediately swooned over his movie star good looks - tall and thin, with hazel eyes and shiny white teeth. He was so good looking, she thought he would never find her attractive. But he adored her petite, exotic beauty, and then gave her the best gift ever -- three halfie children!

I grew up hearing pride in my mother's voice as she declared mixed-race children to be the most beautiful of all offspring and lacking in flat feet, flat noses, and possessing superior intelligence. Lol. Ring familiar? Every mother swells with delight over their progeny. For me, her pride led to a fascination and appreciation for my heritage, and especially the cuisine. We did not live in Taiwan long but I do remember fondly some of my favorite foods from that short time.

Jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings. My mother and grandmother would make hundreds at a time, using triple stack bamboo steamers. After steaming, my father could wolf down dozens in one sitting, dipped in a simple sesame oil-soy sauce-ginger mixture. I preferred them pan-fried after steaming, with a crispy bottom. Spicy Diced Chicken with Green Peppers. In my mind, this was my mother's signature dish. A lot of preparation went into each of her courses;  dicing the chicken into exactly the same size cubes, ditto with the bell peppers, hot peppers and slices of fresh ginger, marinating, double wok-frying and finally, sauced and brought to the table. Spring Rolls, not the Vietnamese version with rice paper but not Egg Rolls either with a thick doughy wrap. My mother's spring rolls had thin, crispy skins and were stuffed with lots of hand-shredded cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, strips of lean cooked pork and tender baby shrimp (if she felt like splurging). We didn't ever dip them in Sweet & Sour Sauce and only in simple soy sauce.

So with the advent of Chinese New Year, I have occasion to celebrate my heritage! Although I no longer have children in the house on which to bestow red envelopes as I received from aunts and uncles in Taiwan, I am able to stuff myself with Chinese cuisine. Chopsticks up!!

 

Side Note: Our family is obviously Christian so we don't really follow or believe in the Chinese Zodiac calendar as a true indicator of personality and one's future. But just for grins and giggles, my family has 2 Rats, 2 Dragons, a Horse and a Snake. You can find out which sign pertains to your year at this site, and feel free to try and guess which is my sign! 

 

Super Bowl LII: It's all about the food

Let me begin by saying that I hope this is the least watched Super Bowl of all time. I dislike both teams, the commercials in past years have been lame and I'm all around down on the NFL these days. That being said, yes, we ARE having people over for a Super Bowl "party." LOL

Because I hate to break it to you, Tom Brady, but there are more chicken wing fans than individuals who want to see you win another title! According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will consume 1.25 billion chicken wings this weekend. Also on America's menu: 11 million pounds of chips, 4 million pounds of pretzels, 2.5 million pounds of nuts, 8 million pounds of guacamole, and 50 million cases of beer. Additionally, Super Bowl Sunday is the 2nd biggest grilling day of the year. (What's number 1? Think fireworks and patriotism.)

So it's only natural that I enjoy taking advantage of the occasion to try out some new dishes on a captive audience. From the FCI (Fine Cooking Initiative), I'm serving up 

Mashed Cauliflower with garlic & anchovy Crostini

Ricotta & Goat Cheese Tart with Fresh Figs

Pancetta & Parmesan Tartlets

Kale & Caramelized Onion Turnovers

Pasta with Crab & Bacon

Haven't decided on a sweet yet...any suggestions? And I'm not serving wings but I think I'll do a twist on the Buffalo classic with the following recipe from a famous NYC restaurant. 

The Meatball Shop Buffalo Chicken Balls

What's your plan for Super Bowl Sunday? Will you order take-out like 48 million other Americans on game day? Whatever you do, have fun, eat well and maybe pick up some Tums when you're at the store (antacid sales rise 20% the day after!) 

 

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Oh, the places you'll go!

We all know and love the Dr. Seuss classic with that title. The book usually appears on a prominent table at a bookstore near the end of the school year because it is a popular gift for graduates. Our home has two or three copies floating around that were given on such an occasion.

But maybe the giver should have explained to our son, James, that Dr. Seuss' immortal push

“You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”

was not an immediate call to action! As I write this blog, our youngest child is strolling the beaches of Barcelona and sampling paella. Last weekend, he soaked his tired feet in the natural hot springs of Budapest. And the week prior, he logged 15 miles in one day exploring the streets of Rome. James is taking his semester abroad very seriously...

All kidding aside, we are thrilled that he is having the experiences of a lifetime. Of course, it was not easy for Momma to let him go halfway around the world. It's a scary thing for me (as you can see by my not-so-excited face in the first image.) Thankfully, technology allows us to stay in touch to ease my fears and he has been very communicative. Also, TCU sent 35 students to the Rome program so he is not alone; his week days feel much like his time on campus in Ft. Worth...with the exception that he walks past centuries old monuments and on ancient streets to get to class!

Being his mother's son, he loves to eat good food and guess what? He writes. If you would like to read some of the musings from his trip, check out his blog. His photography skills exceed any in the family and his voice is young but detailed. Our family is really enjoying keeping up with his travels in this way. 

His father and I truly feel an immense amount of joy that we can send him on this journey. From our meager beginnings in a little apartment to having a son in Europe for 4 months is a huge leap and we are humbled by God's blessings.

Keepin' it Fresh

I always have big plans to change habits and alter my behavior at the beginning of each new year. Most of these resolutions relate to behaviors, bad habits, weight loss, health, self care, etc. 2018 is my year to take it to a much simpler level. With regard to relationships, it's all about Cherish for me (see last week's blog). 

And for self improvement, I want to Grow. Specifically, I cook every day of the year. It's easy for me to get into a plan, execute, serve mode. I spend so much time forming menus, shopping for ingredients and then cooking that I feel I don't spend enough time experimenting in the kitchen. But I truly desire to explore new cuisines, cutting edge techniques and recipes outside of my comfort zone. 

For 2018 I am challenging myself to cook every recipe in Fine Cooking magazine, a publication that produces 6 issues annually. I subscribed in December and I love the format of the periodical. It has always been one of my favorite food magazines but it will take tremendous effort to accomplish this goal. I will have to commit to trying out unusual ingredients and new recipes every single week. But how fun!!?? The December/January issue has a section dedicated to Phyllo...with 5 completely different dishes! There are also recipes for 3 holiday roasts, a vegetarian Tikka Masala, 4 bar cookies, and a seafood pasta. Yummy....food coma induced now. There are 34 unique recipes in this edition and as it appeared in my mailbox mid-January, I'd better get busy before the new edition shows up with a whole new set of deliciousness to experiment with in the kitchen.

Follow my Instagram story to see the results...I'll post pictures of each new recipe as well as reviews from my qualified and unbiased official taste testers. 2018 is hereby declared the year of YUM.

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Cherish is my word for 2018

In December I attended a breakfast where the guest speaker encouraged each of us to find our "mission statement" and to try to keep it to 6 words or less. We could then refer to our self-created statement to help make decisions for the new year. Initially, I decided my 6 word sentence would be "I will do what benefits my family." Therefore, when an opportunity would arise in the coming year to travel somewhere, participate in an event, etc., I could ask myself "will this benefit my family?" and with a yes or no, discern how to act.

However, after the events of the past few weeks, I feel the need to make it simpler than the 6-word mission statement. We lost a dear friend in December and in mourning his passing, we have felt a deep loss that is tinged with regret for missed opportunities. So my desire moving into 2018 is to Cherish. I will

  • Cherish my sweet, sweet husband. We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in 2018. What a blessing he is to me every. single. day.
  • Cherish my family. For the first time in four years, I had everyone home for Christmas. My daughter and her family were here from Atlanta and three littles ones, aged 5 years and under, will make any event exciting! They also brought the joyful news that they are expecting their fourth in May! We had a full house and full hearts.
  • Cherish my parents and in-laws. We are very fortunate to have all four alive and kicking. But time is passing and as the priest said at my friend's funeral mass, we are all terminal. I want to cherish every bit of time I have remaining with these wise people who have shaped my life and that of my mate.
  • Cherish my friendships. I don't always think about my friends every day but now I see how every interaction is so precious; life is unpredictable so I need to cherish the moments I have with my friends and not waste any time or energy on negative or petty feelings.
  • Cherish my health. Yes, this body of mine creaks and aches more than in my youth. Yes, I have to watch what I eat and exercise just to maintain my daily stamina. But it's the only body I have and it hasn't failed me yet. 
  • Cherish the downtime. The quiet moments when I can pray, reflect and meditate are also a sweet part of life and I will not take them for granted. 
  • Cherish the everyday. While working, writing, going to the grocery store, interacting with customers, rolling out pie crust, stirring over the stove, each moment that I am simply able to do these tasks + touch other's lives does not repeat and I will see the joy in each one.

So enough about me...what's your word for 2018?

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Farewell, my Friend

I am an obsessive journaler. Beginning in 2000, I have consistently written about our everyday lives in little snippets first on scrapbook calendar pages and then in dedicated notebooks. The entries are nothing exciting - simple commentaries on what I did each day - how far I walked, what I cooked for dinner, what movies we watched, even the time I woke up. But today I am grateful for my journal habit because I can tell you the day on which I met Dominic & Rosemarie Coletto. 

It was August 18, 2001, at the St. Ann Supper Club kick-off potluck. John and I had been assigned to the same group as the Colettos for the current round. It was the first time for them to join the club and we were veterans. I wrote that we met "a cute couple from Chicago" and that it had been a fun evening. Also noted: on September 29, Dom & Rosemarie hosted the first gathering for our group of five couples. They were new to the supper club and yet jumped right in to host in their usual welcoming way. Dinner was fabulous - I remember that she made Beef Braciole and Risotto--I was so impressed and according to my journal, we stayed until 1:30 am! 

There was an immediate connection between the four of us. John and Dominic were both in sales; Rosemarie and I both loved to cook. But deeper than those superficial commonalities was a love of our faith, commitment to our marriages and tough-love parenting styles. Deep friendships are rare and precious in this day and age and we knew we'd found a special bond in those two.

Over the years we shared many occasions and created lifetime memories together. Because we both lived in Texas and away from extended families, we began to celebrate Christmas eve dinners together. One year the Colettos would host the meal and we would bring dessert and the next year, the Butterfields would host and they would provide the sweet ending. It was Rosemarie who introduced us to the Feast of the Seven Fishes. There were a lot of poppers and goofy pictures with paper crowns, but mostly there was so much laughter! And drinks. And champagne. And delicious meals. Sometimes we played games. Always lots of pictures. Grandma Rita was a part of these festivities before she was taken too early from this earth. But each Christmas Eve was a joyful night of friendship and family.

We took family vacations together to Florida and Mexico. And a memorable couples long weekend to San Diego after we "won" the trip at the Bishops Ball. There were Easter brunches and dinners out at the newest restaurants in Dallas. Two surprise birthday parties. We saw each other through 7 high school graduations and 4 college commencements. Dominic and Rosemarie were present at each of our 3 grown children's weddings. We've been through job changes, house moves and child rearing challenges. We've shared so much together.

The latest chapter in our friendship has been Dominic's illness. On August 22, 2016, we had dinner in downtown Dallas for a belated birthday celebration for Rosemarie. The following morning, she texted me to ask how we were feeling because Dominic had been violently ill overnight. That week marked the beginning of his journey fighting a horrible disease. And fight it he did. We knew without a doubt that he was not going to let cancer take him down. And if it did, he'd go down swinging. Those fists were still going when he lost that battle on December 26, 2017. It is with so much heartbreak and sadness that I must acknowledge that my friend Dominic could not defeat his illness and has left his earthly body to join his Heavenly Father. 

He leaves behind his beautiful, devoted Rosemarie and their daughters, Danielle, Alyssa and Olivia. Additionally, he leaves a legacy of a life well-lived and so many memories for those of us who knew him well and those who were merely acquaintances. Below are a few of my thoughts and musings on my friend, Dominic.

  • He is a devoted Catholic, born and raised, reignited by the Christ Renews His Parish movement. He served tireless hours in Eucharistic Adoration, oftentimes in the middle of the night. Beyond the Church, he knows Christ as his Lord and Savior and acknowledges God's dominion over his life.
  • Dominic is a grateful, committed husband and his marriage to Rosemarie is an enviable example of two souls who have found their home in each other.
  • He is a cool dad. Loved and adored by three daughters, always able to make them laugh, and having a special bond with each of them. I see Dominic in Danielle's steely determination; in Alyssa's gregariousness, drawing all into the circle; in Olivia's tenacity and drive. 
  • Dominic is a SPORTS FAN. Chicago Bears, Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs, Oklahoma Sooners. John and he shared so many conversations in text and in person about sports analysis, predictions and game-time plays.
  • He is a story teller. Not as in tall tales, but as in relaying an occurrence detail by detail. Occasionally we would tease him by saying "is there a point to this story?" But he loves to tell a good tale especially one that ends in irony.
  • Dominic has an amazing sense of humor--he loves to make people laugh and he loves to hear jokes. His ability to slip in a conversation-stopping one-liner is legendary. One of my favorite Dominic lines: "What can I say? I'm a guy."
  • He is a loyal friend. Dominic can keep secrets, provide counsel, offer advice and give encouragement. 

And Dominic is not really gone. He's still present in Rosemarie's tears, Danielle's laugh, Alyssa's ready humor and Olivia's sports enthusiasm. That is why I say Farewell, my Friend and not Goodbye. Dominic, you are not forgotten and and we feel your presence and love even now and anticipate a joyful reunion with you in heaven. 

 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

We all have family traditions, some that you've cherished for years, can't remember when they began, and are automatically a part of every celebration. Then there are the special things you might do one year because you read about another family's participation or felt inspired and you try it out on your group and they love it so you add it to the annual festivities. No surprise, our family's traditions usually have something to do with food!

A few years ago, our Christmas eve dinner became a seafood meal. We had some Italian-American friends that introduced us to the concept, rooted in Catholic tradition that involves fasting from red meat on major religious days as Christmas Eve leading into Christmas day is such. The Feast of the Seven Fishes came into being to allow for a meal that would abstain from meat and of course, seven is a big number in the church! 

So for a number of years, when we are fortunate to host our family or friends on Christmas Eve, I have attempted to serve SEVEN fish courses. Some years I have managed only 5 but last year was a winner...

Christmas Eve 2016

Smoked Salmon with crostini

Clam Chowder Shooters

Tuna Tartare with wonton crisps

Mini Crabcakes with Remoulade

King Crablegs

Endive & Goat Cheese Salad

Shrimp Scampi & Angel Hair Pasta

Seared Swordfish Steaks on Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Chocolate Cake Roll

For 2017, I am planning to scale it back a little (maybe 4 or 5 fishes) for several reasons: 1. the meal follows a church service which limits time to prep. 2. there will be only 5 people at the table, so why overdo it?  and 3. Christmas day dinner involves a complicated potato dish, a huge rib roast and a cream puff tower. Regardless, Christmas eve will be filled with laughter, spirits, fishy courses and family...I could not ask for more.

What are some of your family traditions for the holidays? 

 

 

The BG Pie Project

Back in September, a family friend approached me about making pies for his restaurants. He shared that he had recently purchased 9 locations of a steakhouse group and wanted to add fresh baked pies as a dessert option...because what's more Texan than a huge slice of pie with ice cream?! I did NOT immediately jump at the opportunity because it was an overwhelming prospect. I had so many questions...how many pies would they serve each week? what flavors were they looking to serve? how could I possibly make a large quantity of pies by myself?  how/where could I store any quantity of pies, fresh or frozen? would it be worth the extra time and work involved?

So I baked four Grandma Alice's Apple Pies and a Southern Pecan Pie just for grins and presented them to a group of 11 restaurant GMs. They loved the pies. We agreed on a price. November 1 was the planned start of the new menu. Now to produce 100 pies for pick up/delivery by October 25. Oh, and continue to manage the weekly menu side of my business as well. You know I was panicking at this point, right? 

But once again, God in His infinite wisdom, knows what we need before we do. Because I was sharing a kitchen with the resident caterer at PHPC, I met a couple of hard-working individuals that were looking for extra income. And there I found my apple preppers. When I went to the Eagle Scout ceremony for my godson, I spoke briefly with his sister who had moved home to transfer to a local university and was looking for a part-time job. And there I found my girl Friday, the I-will-do-anything-just-tell-me-what assistant. Over the summer, one of my daughter's friends helped me at the Farmers Market and her foodie friend stopped by and we reconnected a couple months later when she was searching for an outlet for her creativity. And there I found my sous chef, who I have come to depend on within just two months of her joining BG. Because the caterer and I were finding it increasingly difficult to work around each other with the approaching holidays, he spoke with the management and I was able to move back to the North kitchen. And there I found my storage space for the pies and the workspace to continue to grow Butterfield Gourmet.

So we are making a lot of pies. And we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It's an exciting opportunity for Butterfield Gourmet. If you happen by Texas Land & Cattle in Garland, Arlington or the Austin/San Antonio areas, please stop in and order a slice of the fresh seasonal pie because I would love to hear about your experience-- and don't forget to send me a picture!!

 

Food explorations - the charleston edition

How many oysters can/should you consume in 72 hours? That’s a very good question and one that I tried to answer while in Charleston this past week. But since I really didn’t test myself completely, I can report that I probably consumed just a dozen or so. Because there were so many other good things to eat as well.

My hubby and I have this thing when we dine out. It’s a (sort of) contest to determine who chooses the most delicious entree for each meal. A few years back, he ALWAYS won. Until I caught on to what he was doing…consistently choosing the special of the day. When you opt for the chef’s special, you get the best the restaurant has to offer on that night. Well, I can say that these days (in all modesty) I am beating him at his own game and especially kicking his butt when there are no available specials on the menu. Because I know what I like and what I like is usually pretty darn good!

While we were in Charleston, we ate like kings. Or maybe we ate like an inmate enjoying his last meal? Our first night we went to 167 Raw, where they do not accept reservations and the little restaurant seats maybe 22 people. We arrived early and snagged the last 2 spots at the bar, split a dozen oysters on the half-shell, had the most amazing halibut ceviche (with housemade tortilla chips) and shared a to-die-for lobster roll. OMG. What a way to start the trip! A couple of glasses of wine and all we could manage was to stumble back to our hotel and hit the hay.

The following day arrived rainy, cold and pretty miserable. Hard to sight-see when the weather is gloomy & gray. But we did manage to eat….lunch at Leon’s Oyster Shop where surprisingly, we consumed not one oyster. We shared a basket of jalapeno-hush puppies with honey butter. Wow. And then I enjoyed a kale salad featuring tender strips of butternut squash  followed by their Fried Chicken--two pieces of crispy, spicy, herby white meat heaven, which definitely trumped his Fried Chicken Sandwich. We waddled out of Leon’s and walked back to our hotel, mist or no mist. Ruth 1, JB 0.

After some aerobic shopping (gotta work off that lunch!) and a little rest, we headed to dinner at Hall’s Chophouse. This decision was my mistake. Visit a steakhouse outside of Texas? What’s the point when we have so many amazing options here in Dallas. However, after this evening we stand at Ruth 2, JB 0.

The sun finally made an appearance on Friday and we were able to walk down to Battery Park to see all of the gorgeous, historic homes. We worked up an appetite on our five mile loop of the city and so we were excited for our 2pm lunch at Husk, the much acclaimed southern gem on Queen Street. The flights of Hard Cider certainly enhanced our Pimento Cheese Toast but my Low-Country Shrimp & Grits were a disappointment. JB won this round by selecting Fried Chicken that he claimed tastes a lot like my homemade version. For dessert we just had to sample the deconstructed Apple Pie (it's called research, people!) Ruth 2, JB 1

For our final night in the city, we made a very late reservation at The Ordinary. Fortunately for us, we arrived extra early and requested an earlier slot if at all possible and the kind manager found us the perfect seats at their oyster bar. You know how I am about seat location! I think these were the best in the house...quiet comparatively speaking, private, near the kitchen but out of main traffic way. This restaurant spoke "shared plates" to us where you start on the raw side of the menu and work to the cooked. So we split a half-dozen of the plumpest, briniest oysters then moved to a Spicy Triggerfish Dip with housemade Sea Salt Potato Chips. Our most unusual and yet mind-blowing shared plate was the Steak Tartare topped with Fried Oysters and fresh Horseradish. Allow that description to sink in for a minute. It was SO unusual and SO delicious that we scraped that plate clean. For our hot dishes, JB chose the Fried Oyster Sliders and my selection was their Saturday night special - Stuffed Baked Lobster. While my choice was outstanding, the sliders were so unique that I'm afraid he won the round. Oh, and he also chose the most heavenly vegetable--Roasted Evangeline Sweet Potatoes with Sorghum Butter so he earns an extra half point. Ruth 2, JB 2.5 (Final)

We had one more half day to enjoy the flavors that Charleston had to offer so when the Farmers Market at Marion Square turned up nothing we were craving, we walked to Callie's Hot Little Biscuit and stood in line to taste some lovely, tender, melty orbs of flour, buttermilk and butter. Yummmmmmm.

Interesting side note about the City of Charleston:  EVERYONE talks food there. Sales clerks in clothing stores ask where you're eating that evening. The Uber drivers make suggestions for you to try and one of them even claimed there are 2000+ non-chain restaurants in the area. Eating Out is considered the activity that entices travelers from New York, Chicago, San Francisco--some of the biggest food-centric areas in the country--to choose Charleston as a destination. And I'm going to have to give it two thumbs up as well, because I cannot wait to go back! 

 

Ooh la la, so French Room

Everyone is talking about the new look for the French Room, the Adolphus hotel's formal restaurant. But I'm not going to talk about the refreshed architecture and how they took the interior design back to the early days when it opened in 1912. I want to give you our 411 on the actual experience of dining in the restaurant.

The occasion we were celebrating was our anniversary and we chose the French Room because it was newly reopened and we wanted a special venue. Our table location could not have been more ideal; coincidentally, we'd been seated there previously on another visit but after the revamp, we were delighted to sit on a pretty sofa in a private little nook facing the windows and most of the restaurant. On the table at our arrival were champagne flutes which were filled almost immediately and with which the restaurant congratulated us on our anniversary. A very nice touch and a lovely way to start the evening.

Our server was an energetic girl, full of knowledge and expertise--who needs the sommelier? We chose the seven course tasting menu because several of the items really appealed and if you have sampled tasting menus anywhere, you might think as I did that the price was actually on the reasonable side. We did not partake of the wine pairings because let's all agree, THAT'S A LOT OF WINE! So we ordered as our server suggested: a white to accompany the first three courses (an absolutely delicious Aligote) and a red for the following three (Pinot Noir) with coffee to finish our dessert.

The courses were very frenchy. What I mean is, exquisite presentation of proteins not on your everyday diet plan. The stand-outs were the Seared Foie Gras and the Duck Bigarade, the latter surprising me with how much I enjoyed the flavors and textures. Oh, and the seventh course was a winner too...Caramel Pot de Creme which I had just a taste of because I preferred the cheese course-always my choice!! Another perfect thing about our table, the lighting was excellent and therefore I snapped pics of all our courses...see below!

What I will remember most vividly about the evening: the service was impeccable. When I choose high-end for a special meal, I want to feel that the staff really cares about my experience in their establishment. The French Room did not miss on that count. Not only were we treated like royalty while at the table, upon our departure we were presented with a "sealed" copy of the menu as well as cards on which our server had written the names of the wines we'd enjoyed. Taking the extra step to make a final lasting impression. 

Oh, and the company was as always, the highlight for the entire night. I highly recommend The French Room and I highly recommend taking someone you love with you! 

 

On State Street, that great street

Aren't weddings magical events?

I've heard many people say they always cry at weddings. I think I'm becoming one of them. Last weekend we were in Chicago to witness our nephew, Max, marry the loveliest girl. Kate hails from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and she could not be sweeter. (Always, always, always marry your best friend when possible!) The ceremony and reception were held at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar on State Street, a fortuitous decision to have everything in one location as October 14 turned out to be the single wettest day on record for the month in the city of Chicago (8 inches!). But no matter, we laughed and partied and danced the night away, cozily dry in the 5th floor ballroom.

Three of my children were present for the occasion and I have to say, seeing them interact with their cousins is special. What makes the cousin relationship so unique? I really can't put my finger on it...even as a child, I remember being so excited to spend time with my Beach cousins. Although truth be told, some of them were quite awful to me! (Nickname: Chinky) Perhaps we are drawn to our cousins because we sense the familial bond as an extension of parental sibling attachment. Whatever it is, my kids are now adults and they have the best time with their Butterfield cousins.

Our food experiences in Chicago were limited by the schedule but I have a couple meals to share with you.

  • I had an immensely satisfying lunch salad at Volare--warm kale, toasted chickpeas, crispy prosciutto, roasted cauliflower and white beans in a citrus vinaigrette. Such an accommodating staff as well.
  • My brother-in-law, Robert, catered the tasty welcome reception on Friday evening, and if you are ever in the Chicago area, you should look up his restaurant in Downers Grove, RBK American Grill. I have been trying to convince him to open a catering outpost here in Dallas!
  • A completely inspired wedding reception idea? Serve sliders later in the evening when your guests have hit the open bar too many times, and burned their dinner off on the dance floor! What a nice touch. 
  • Our final evening in the city, we enjoyed a wonderful Italian dinner at Piccolo Sogno. The service was attentive and the pastas perfection.

It was a wet & wonderful wedding weekend and I hope you'll join me in wishing all the joy in life to the newlyweds, Max & Kate Flessner!

An evening in the Mediterranean

A sweet lady recommended Sachet on Oak Lawn to me and I did not wait to try it...she has great taste, after all. As it happens, we were trying to decide where to have dinner on a Thursday night and upon her comment, I called and made a reservation, excited to try something new.

Their only available times were 6:15 and 8:00, and as Thursday is not usually a late night for us, we opted for the earlier slot. We arrived at 6:10 and sat at the bar, because we like to check out all the aspects of a restaurant--including figuring out if sitting at the bar for dinner would be a good option in the future. Many times, JB and I enjoy having dinner at the bar...it's a luxury we couldn't indulge in B.E.N. (Before Empty Nesting) The bartender also clued us in that they are happy to let you sample any of their wines and there are so many and from all over!

The bar staff was casual but very friendly. We sipped our Sachet Manhattans and though we declined, the barman offered bread to nibble on while we enjoyed our drinks. A nice touch, I thought. Another nice touch: complimentary sparkling water at the bar and your table. 

The hostess led us to our table at 6:20 and she was also very friendly. She gushed about our table location and indeed, we loved where we were seated: near the kitchen but cushioned from most of the noise of the restaurant, we could have a lovely intimate conversation. We would definitely request that table again.

Our server was cute, happy and friendly. She said "everything is good" which is not super helpful when you are a first time diner, but i'll put that down to the newness of the restaurant. The menu is quite large so we had hoped for a little direction. But we muddled our way through...

The first section, titled Meze, lists no less than 19 options at 3 for $14 and 5 for $21. Most were vegetables, some nuts and olives, with the intent to be shared by the table. We opted for 1) French Lentils served on a spicy pepper dip, 2) Farro, mushrooms, and cauliflower in a lemon sauce and 3) Grilled Carrots and pepitas in an herb sauce. Honestly, this was not my favorite part of the meal. The Lentils were the most flavorful and all the items although "room temperature" were kinda cold. I would definitely order from the Meze again but choose totally different items until we found the tastes we favored.

From the Salad section, we selected the chopped salad ($11) which was perfect, with salumi, olives, sweet piquillo peppers, cucumber and manchego cheese. On the Appetizers list, I chose the Charred Octopus ($13) and it was AMAZING! Might have been my favorite thing all night. Octopus can be chewy when over-cooked and this single, lovely tentacle was seared to perfection.

The Pasta section offered nine menu items that our server promised were small enough to perform as appetizers as well. We selected Ricotta Gnocchi ($12) with prosciutto and Short Rib Ravioli ($13) with mushrooms and crispy kale. I could have eaten either of those dishes all. night. long. Absolutely fabulous. Wait, I just said the octopus was my favorite but I think it was a three-way tie!

After all that, we finally arrived at the main course and chose just one to share. The Grilled Branzino ($26) was two perfect little filets served on a bed of Swiss Chard and accented with Marcona almonds and a lovely lemon vinaigrette. The dish was delicious and a great choice to split after the other courses.

Wait--one more. For dessert we chose Almond cake with huckleberries and Lemon Ice Cream. Yum. Yum. and Yum. 

Other thoughts:

  • The decor is gorgeous and the place settings are adorable with the flatware encased in a little burlap pouch.
  • The lighting is just right, soft but not dark with a lot of natural light from large windows on two sides. 
  • I have used the word "friendly" three times to describe the staff.
  • The atmosphere in the restaurant is energetic and the groups we saw dining at tables for 6 or more made me think of friends that are happy to be together.
  • So much attention has been paid to the details and it really shows.

I know this has been a long review, but thanks for staying to the end...Sachet is a win. You should definitely make a reservation sooner rather than later. But forget about me telling you our table number, because I don't want any competition for that perfect little spot!

 

Is what you eat important to you?

I have friends who think every restaurant is good.

I'm serious. I have never heard them proclaim, "that place is awful." They like them all. On the flip side, I also know people who are sooooo hard to please. They nit-pick every aspect about dining out, even at fast-casual and self-serve establishments. I'm probably somewhere in the middle.

I really care about quality, flavors, portions, and presentation. I want my food to TASTE GOOD. The dining experience is a whole different ball of wax and can influence my impressions of a restaurant, but really the question is, does the food please my palate and satisfy my hunger?

Our bodies require the intake of meals to sustain life. Simply put, God made us that way. Regardless of taste and seasoning, the food we take in will keep our bodies running. But I believe that another truth is that because we don't have a trade-in option on the original chassis, we should take the best care we can of the bodies we currently inhabit. So when and where we can, we should choose healthy options created with real ingredients and as little processing as possible. And maybe make it a point every day to consume some raw fruits, nuts and vegetables that God placed on the earth to sustain us.

(But...I'm not gonna lie. I eat chips & salsa. And halloween candy. It's okay to eat bad stuff sometimes. A little splurge can ensure sanity, am I right?)