Chile Relleno you didn't...

While away on vacation, I missed one of my favorite culinary seasons...those short two weeks when Hatch green chiles are in abundance and being roasted at North Texas grocery stores. I grew up in New Mexico and have learned to love that time in August when the smell of blistered peppers saturates the air with a burnt pungency. To clarify, we did not eat New Mexican cuisine in my Kansas-white-boy-meets-Taiwan-girl influenced home on Clancy Street. Simply because my mother could not stomach anything spicy so although I lived in Albuquerque I did not partake of Hatch chiles until I left my childhood home.

And once I tried a specific Hatch dish...Chiles Rellenos...there was no going back. I'm not referring to the soggy ‘deep fried poblano stuffed with meat and cheese’ that Tex-Mex restaurants offer here in Texas. Oh no. (head wags vehemently) The dish that calls to me late at night and causes me to whisper in my mate’s ear that "we should visit our parents soon" is very different. 

Imagine a smoky, roasted Hatch chile that has been skinned, stuffed with gooey cheese, coated in a fluffy-eggy batter, deep fried until crispy then smothered in your choice of red or green chile sauce, and finally topped with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Oh my goodness. It's heartburn on a platter, sometimes so spicy that your nose runs, your eyes tear and your throat burns, and yet you can't stop, won’t stop, shoveling bite after bite into your gaping mouth. And don't forget to wash it down with a Mexican cerveza con limón or maybe a Margarita on the rocks. 

On one visit to the Land of Enchantment, I endeavored to eat Chiles Rellenos as many times as possible. I will share two of these experiences with you. The first was at Sadie's, that famous 60-year old institution, known for big plates and hot, hot spicy salsa. Lunch is the best time to eat a heavy meal like Chiles Rellenos; a midday serving ensures time for an afternoon siesta before heading into evening cocktails and your supper. So we visited the Fourth Street location in the Rio Grande Valley where the lunch entree featured a single relleno served with beans and potatoes. It was a huge portion, spicy and cheesy but the chile flavor was a bit bland. I don't regret my lunch at Sadie's but I don't need to go back anytime soon.

Our second research lunch was at a relatively new restaurant, Cocina Azul. Not a member of the roster of famous New Mexican restaurants, but the online reviews were compelling so we gave it a try. It's a weird space, where chips and salsa must be ordered (most eateries, as here in Texas, automatically bring C & S to the table for your complimentary enjoyment) and the floors were sticky with decor that features tables & chairs reminiscent of those found in a Furr’s cafeteria. The bartender was also unprepared…”what? you don’t know how to make a simple margarita concocted of lime juice, tequila and cointreau?” But the rellenos. Oh the rellenos. At lunch service the chiles are a la carte, no platters offered. So I stepped out of the norm and ordered one brisket filled relleno with green sauce and one regular, cheese only, again green sauce. (I’m strictly a green-only girl, no red or Christmas style for me!) The brisket was meltingly tender and generously portioned; the sauce earthy and spicy. All of the rellenos brought to our table were A++.

We dined on the same dish at two restaurants and have not even begun to scratch the surface of the Chiles Rellenos summit. So I’ll just have to make time to go back and maybe we’ll swing up to Santa Fe to see if the offerings will differ up north? And maybe next trip we will endeavor to also sample as many fluffy sopapillas as will fit in my tummy….:)) Please share in the comments below where you have enjoyed delicious chiles rellenos on your travels!

 

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Three beautiful days…eating our way through the city of lights…

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 Bar, 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. 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 were also able 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

 

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! 

 

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!

 

Mini Food Explorations - NYC Edition

Typically when I head to a destination that is known for it’s diverse and delicious food landscape, I have a list in hand of restaurants and cuisines to explore. And I did have plans over spring break to discover a couple of boroughs in NYC that we had not yet visited. Unfortunately, with flight cancellations and delays, misplaced luggage and of course, Stella the blizzard, the trip developed a survival agenda and those plans were put aside.

Rather, the goal became “what CAN we do?” and not “here’s what we will do.” And that was fine. I’m not the girl to wallow over failed plans. So  I took my son to Burger & Lobster which we had extolled as an amazing burger palace with lobster thrown in. The Flatiron district restaurant did not disappoint. We sat at the bar and chowed down on cheeseburgers, crispy fries and a sweet, creamy lobster roll. Their once 3 item only menu now offers 3 different lobster roll versions, 3 burger varieties and 3 ways to have your fresh lobster. From there we walked through Eataly, always a fun stroll for food lovers and the Italophile in all of us.

The following day, my son’s mission was to taste an authentic New York bagel. We walked 11 blocks from our hotel to Ess-a-Bagel and found a line to the door. Luckily we discovered a second line — the Express-Bagels-only line and stood behind just 5 other patrons. As luck would have it, it was the best place to be where we could see into the back as the cooks pulled the bagels from the water and placed them on sheet pans which were shuffled to the front, right behind our counter, and placed directly into the oven! When we reached the top of the line, we learned they were out-of-stock of all flavors save two—the plain and the everything! So that’s what we ordered, along with plain cream cheese and some lox. We sat at a table and devoured the warm, chewy, crusty balls of bread as though it was our final meal! Oh. my. goodness. I am forever spoiled for these bagels.

By the way, I walked all over sodden, icy, slushy, snowy, dirty Manhattan in my Ugg rain boots. They kept my feet warm and dry and I happily splashed my way over hundreds of blocks and up/down countless subway stairs. I highly recommend! 

After a hearty bagel breakfast, we were ready for some exercise and because he’d not yet seen Central Park (there was a blizzard in the city early in the week…did I already mention that?) we headed there and were lucky to cross 5th Avenue ahead of it’s closure for the St. Paddy’s day parade. Frozen ponds, snow balls, and the Boathouse for hot apple cider and cappuccino.

From there we headed to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and after walking 30 blocks or so, I was hungry again! I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we purchased our admission tickets and headed directly to the cafe! But I’m so glad we did…I had the most amazing, out-of-a-plastic-container salad. I was so obsessed by this combination of grain, green, carrot, cheese and dressing that when we returned to Dallas, I made it on Sunday and ate it 3 days in a row!!! So…it’s on the menu this week. See what happens when you eat in an unlikely place just because you’re starving? Sometimes food-joy is waiting there for you!

There is one more food memory I want to share with you. We decided to see a show very last minute and therefore had no plans for a pre-broadway supper. I knew JT would love some pasta but we struck out repeatedly for reservations at all of the recommended Times Square area spots. We finally found il Corso, within walking distance of our hotel for a 5:45 pm meal. It was tiny, maybe 12 tables and the pasta was made in-house. Service was attentive and charming. Divine Cacio e Pepe. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

A fun trip, though nothing like originally planned but delicious all the same. Lesson learned: always have an open mind, an optimistic palate and a willing stomach. Oh, and good walking shoes!