Friday, February 26, 2010

A Command Performance....

In what may be a gastronomical record, after our memorable lunch in Houme we finished our dining experiences in New Orleans that evening with a dinner at Commander’s Palace, a venerable restaurant that has been garnering accolades for decades, beginning in the late 19th century

Upon returning to the hotel after lunch we rested a little, walked a little and then got DFD’d for the evening. Still avoiding herding the Momster through the maze of one way and small streets of the down town sector, we got a cab and had a nice ride through the garden district past the lovely homes there to the restaurant which is located in the Garden District in an old ante bellum Victorian house. Since sometime in the mid last century, it has been under the Brennan umbrella, which alert readers will know is an important name in the New Orleans food scene.

Having made our reservation on line, we were a little worried (of course) but again fears were foundless. Upon disembarking from the cab, the valet parkers greeted us with a pleasant, eye contacting, “good evening, welcome to Commander’s Palace!). This spirit continued throughout the evening, as all the servers said “hello” or some other greeting as you passed them or they came to the table. At the “stand” inside the door, we were acknowledged and immediately shown to our table. We were seated in the maid dining room although come to find out there are several in the building. It was high ceilinged, somewhat ornately decorated and many tables. Most were occupied, several of them with family groups sporting balloons indicating special events. Locals and special occasions are a good sign. Of course there were also tables occupied by tourists and business men, and for the most part DFD was observed. And, in fact in the little e-mail we received confirming our reservation it was mentioned that they prefer gentlemen wear jackets.

Commander’s Palace (CP) is an old time classic model of a restaurant. That is, there is a “captain” for the room, a person in charge of your table, and a host of “back waiters” whose tasks are to make sure you have your correct silver, the glasses are kept full, dishes are removed, and the general mechanics of dining are taken care of. Upon being seated the captain, a pleasant man in a gray suit and tie, approached the table and asked if we would care for a drink. MFO deferred (the Vouvray of the afternoon still somewhat present), but of course duty made me order “the drink”. He immediately asked if that meant I wanted a little bit of sweet vermouth, or dry. Imagine that! Soon after that, our server Edward came with the menus. He, like the entire wait staff were dressed in black slacks, and gray vests over a white shirt. They did have a name badge, but names were never exchanged. The menu is a large, one sided plastic card with basically three areas: a la carte; Chef Tory’s Three Course Specials; and The Chef’s Playground. The latter two are basically prix fixe menus with the “three” having soup/salad, a couple of entrée choices, and desserts. The latter is a more elaborate adventure, almost a tasting menu consisting of 7 courses with such items as: Foie Gras “Du Monde” - Skillet roasted foie gras over spiced apple, pecan and foie gras beignets with a foie gras café au lait and chicory coffee “mist”; and Cracklin’ Crusted Duck - Hot & sour melted onions over Jack Daniels-buttermilk coush-coush with pepper jelly glazed sweetbreads & roasted pecan duck fond. Each course has a suggested wine, and the food is $70 and the “optional” wines add another $40. I think you would have to be in pretty good shape to tackle that option, so we left it for another time.

Somewhere in there, my Manhattan made its appearance as did some excellent little garlic toasts to munch while absorbing the menu. After a bit of thrasing we settled on first courses of a citrus salad for MFO, and after consulting with Edward who said there were people that had their turtle soup daily, I tried the “Soups 1-1-1”, which consisted of a demitasse of their soup du jour (a crab and corn chowder), the gumbo du jour (classic shrimp) and their famous turtle soup. For main courses MFO took a wild mushroom strudel, and I went for their signature Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish - Champagne poached jumbo lump crab, crushed corn sauce and spiced pecans; which narrowly nosed out an interesting Black Skillet Seared Wild Fish - A hearty selection of winter vegetables with char grilled Meyer lemons, ripped herbs and brown butter vinaigrette.

Having settled on the food, attention was turned to the wine list. The wine list is about telephone book size, with a table of contents. New world reds, whites, a whole section devoted to burgundies, multiple pages of Bordeaux’s, Alsatian, German, you name it. Almost any price imaginable. An amazing document. We settled on an ’03 Nuits-Saint Georges 1er Cru, “Les Pruliers”.

As we sat, we saw several dishes passed of their “crispy” whole fish special of the day, eyeing us as it went by. Service remained attentive and friendly, and then the food arrived. My soups were all good, but in fact, I did like the Turtle soup the most, although the gumbo and chowder were very good indeed. The main courses were also elegant, the pecan crusted fish had vertical development and was very tasty (the exact fish it was escapes me at the moment). For dessert, we had pre-ordered their (famous, of course) bread pudding as it was cooked to order, and we soldiered our way through that. It was lighter than I feared fortunately, otherwise it would have been a bit much. It was a great meal, second of the day! There was a certain energy around the place, and all the servers appeared to generally enjoy their role of making you happy. It's easy to see why this place remains at the top of several lists. They work hard at it...

During the meal we were visited by a member of the family, she was very gracious and said to be sure to get a kitchen tour at the end. We finally finished and Gregory our second waiter conducted us to the kitchen. It was a huge space with the cold space, the hot line, a completely different room for the pastry chef. What struck me was how quiet and efficiently things seemed to be going. There must have been at least a hundred diners in the building, but no evidence of scrambling was evident.

So, that ended our dining experiences in New Orleans, and probably the last big deal meal of the trip. At this point, resolve, budget considerations, and travel ennui have set in and I think that we’ll leave Savannah and Charleston to another time and RTB the digs..

But, there are still pictures, experiences, and restaurants to be recalled in future editions…

And, at the other end of the spectrum I have been informed that the Olive Garden in Lexington Park has opened to long lines, full parking lots, and the endless salad bowls and breadsticks must be flowing.. Sigh… least I hope there is some consideration for


Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Real Find.....

As most loyal readers know, I get a lot of (food) magazines. One of which is “Southern Living”, a sort of smarmy feel good publication that idolizes the (perceived) tradition of southern culture. Of course, they have some food stuff, mostly given over to yams and sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and the like. MFO was perusing an issue a while ago and came across an article about a restaurant in Houme, LA, called Christianos. It was touted as an outpost of Italian Cuisine in the land of mudbugs and jambalaya. We filed it away.

Well, when the cross country travel plans formalized, we drug out the article and thought maybe we would try it when we came to the Big Easy. As plans firmed, the idea of getting a lunch someplace out of the city in a special place gained traction. Finally when we settled on the plans of Bayona and Commander’s Palace for dinners, we decided to include Christiano’s in the mix for a lunch. A chance to try something out of the ordinary. It proved to be a wise choice.

After our Bayona experience which good but somewhat below expectations, we awoke the next morning and got ourselves together (no small task), and jumped into the Momster and headed south into bayou country.

Houma (pronounced Home-a) is south and east of New Orleans, and the ride down produced a lot of interesting shots of “local” stuff .

After a bit of thrashing we finally found the restaurant on a side street on the same corner as the NAPA auto parts store

With some trepidation we went inside, they knew of our reservation, and we were about the first table to be seated (we had a 11:30 slot). The restaurant is in a renovated house with lots of little rooms and crannies, art on the walls, a pretty calming place. The menu was left at the table along with a wine list, and we were asked if we wanted still or sparking water. Since I was a bit recovering from the Bayona experience, I opted for sparking so two lovely clear blue bottles were brought to the table, along with a plate of lemon and lime wedges, looking extremely fresh cut. One side of the menu was the “winter” menu, and the other was the classic side. All Italian, the usual categories of Antipasta, zuppa/insalata, pasta and secondi plate. The “seasonal” side had fewer dishes, but kind of like Bayona, the more adventurous would find some interesting dishes there. While the “traditional” side had classics like Osso Buco and Vitella Marsala, the Inverno side offered things like an antipasto of Shaved duck prosciutto, house grated horseradish, organic baby arugula, and a secondi of Bourbon glazed duck breast, Madagascar vanilla risotto, arugula; and Skin on wild striped bass, porcini duxelle butter, and arugula risotto. We were also supplied the wine list and it was impressive indeed. Here in the lower portion of the bayous, you could get a Silver Oak, or maybe an Opus One, a selection of Turley wines, French and Italian. Prices were commensurate with the bottles, but not exhorbitant. To start with as we considered both the menu and wines, I had a glass of Vouvray, and MFO tried a Gewurtztraminer. Oh, our server merely asked about service with no personal information included. Some nice bread was brought, and the quiet lunch started to feel good. That leisurely lunch thing. The choice of antipasti was difficult. We passed up the Fried Green Tomato ~ Fried green tomato with lump crabmeat remoulade; and the Chef Mason’s Chargrilled Oysters ~ Chargrilled Louisiana oysters with roasted red bell pepper garlic butter in favor of splitting the Piatto di Charcuterie, a Selection of Italian meats and cheeses. For our mains I wanted to try the Pappardelle con Gamberi: Pappardelle pasta, gulf shrimp, fresh basil, pine nuts and garlic in butter sauce; and MFO went for Pollo Piccata: Sautéed chicken breast with white wine, lemon, butter & capers. I was a bit surprised that a Veal version wasn’t on the menu. Everything we had came from the classic menu. We were also told that that menu served for supper as well. Exhausted from this effort we decided that maybe a bottle of the Vouvray would be appropriate and it was brought to the table. I noted that it was at a perfectt “cellar” temperature instead of the all too common “refrigerator” temperature.

MFO asked if the Southern Living issue had made a good “bump” in their business and she said it had. About this time the Charcuterie arrived via another server. It was served on two cold slabs of marble, the lower one had 6 meats and the upper smaller one had four cheeses. The server described each of the ten items with a little about them, beef, pork, chorizo, speck, etc. Each cheese was explained as to milk, a cow’s milk gorgonzola, a bloomy rind sheep milk, etc. You know sometimes when you order these kinds of things at odd times (this was a Tuesday afternoon, the week after Mardi Gras) you get meat with a dried edge, or a shriveled cheese. Each of these were extremely fresh, just cut, still moist, the cheeses with no “hard parts”. Delightful stuff. In spite of ourselves we finished the ample servings (aided by the Vouvray). As we were finishing we were each given a single serving of one of Chef’s Oysters (it was explained that they do this for all “first time” diners). Plump local oysters (all of our seafood is five minutes away) with that roasted red bell pepper garlic butter, covering a just set very smoky oyster. A great dish. Somewhere in here a gentleman appeared at the table who turned out to be the general manager. We had great conversations on running a restaurant in an “out of the way” place, and that in fact they had done it for 12 years. He stopped by a couple more times to check on things.

The mains eventually arrived. I have to admit that I had hoped for a good dish, but was served an outstanding one. I would have to have a “taste off” with similar offerings from Tony’s..My pappardelle was long ribbons of a fresh pasta about an inch wide, with several shrimp swimming in a garlicky broth with the basil and pine nuts. Each shrimp wasn’t the “giant” kind, rather maybe index finger size, but I could believe the 5 minute theory. Great tasting shrimp. MFO’s chicken was light, moist with a great picatta sauce.

Food and wine both gone, we opted for a Tarte Tatin (okay, the French have some things right) and coffee. What a great meal. I don’t often subscribe to “destination dining”, but this would qualify. If you’re ever in the area, go there. This lunch will go down in the memory banks, right up there with the Tapenade experience.

After that, the long drive back to the city provided some more interesting shots.

The results of the evening’s meal at Commander’s Palace in next edition. For which you can be sure we were


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Risky Business....

Hello again, it’s that old thing about doing things gets in the way of talking about doing things. I’m going to fast forward over many, (many, many) miles of deserts, mountains, two lunches with two good friends, a great “off” half day in San Antonio and the River Walk, a good Mexican/Southwestern dinner, and catch up on those later because they do deserve talking about and looking at. So here we are in the Big Easy for welcome day of lay over.

I was struck last night by the “taking a risk” thought I had about Tapenade in La Jolla which turned out to be unfounded. Many (repeat) years ago, when I was beginning to wake up to what good food can mean, I tagged along with MFO to a library convention that was held here in New Orleans. I had done a little research and read some magazine articles, and was attracted to a restaurant called Bayona with (then) a lauded chef, Susan Spicer. It was on this same trip we were treated to Dookie Chase. Anyway, I had a night to myself so took the chance to visit Bayona. I don’t remember about drink tests, but I do remember that after much consideration, I had my first dish of Sweetbreads, and found out how things you might fear putting in your mouth can delight you when you do. That meal has remained high on the list of “memorables” in my aging brain. So, it was with much anticipation (and yes, high expectations) we decided to make Bayona our first meal of three planned here in New Orleans: lunch today (an adventure) and dinner tonight.

Over 500 miles from San Antonio found us getting here around 7:00, giving enough time to undialate our eyes, relax a bit, DFD, and still make our 8:30 reservation (it was that or 6 when we called to reserve). Not wanting another driving adventure in the Momster, we took a cab and arrived at the quiet street (Rue Dauphine), and entered at the side of the quaint old building.. Good evening Mr. Moody, your table is not quite ready, but please have a seat in the lounge and enjoy a drink for a few minutes. We joined about 6 others in a similar situation, and eventually the hostess took our drink order. MFO selected a glass of white “Mastroberardi” which we assumed was Italian. I did the standard drink test, and was asked what bourbon I preferred, a good sign. About this time we became aware (we couldn’t avoid it) of the party at the other end of the salon, which contained a gentleman who apparently assumed that everyone eagerly wanted to know what he was thinking at any particular moment. One of those people who sort of “perform” in a grand voice proclaiming loudly that he would like a drink, what did the ladies want, and so forth. Mercifully their table was ready and they departed with much self appointed fan fare. We secretly prayed that our table wasn’t adjoining theirs (which proved to be true, thank you very much).

Before our drinks arrived we were shown to our table, a four top against the back wall, providing an excellent view of the whole room. Although memories of the food remained, any trace of the space had vanished. Tables were nicely set with white linen, silver utensils, and crystal. The walls were covered in a light chocolate colored fabric, and there were several panels of mirrors with muntins giving the effect of windows and opening up the space. Quite comfortable. We were approached by a young man in a blue shirt and slacks who brought with him a little amuse bouche of house pickled olives, cauliflower, and garlic cloves (I had to ask).. I was surprised, because we got the “Hi I’m …. . be taking care of you along with …… tonight”, and when he was advised our drinks were on order, he departed. Eventually the other half of the team arrived and said the bar was a bit backed up but our drinks would be right out. We probably were now 20 minutes or so after ordering them. The room was pretty full, so we were not surprised. After another few minutes, they did arrive, and I am pleased to report that they passed the test with a perfectly prepared dry Manhattan. MFO’s wine was characterizes as “flinty”, and was served at a drinkable temperature instead of the all too common ice box cold. At that point she also asked if we had been there before, and when I replied it was years ago, she thanked me for coming back (with a twinkle) and said she would explain the menu anyway. On one side of the two page menu were the classic dishes, called the “signature dinner menu” which have not changed in 20 years (and did contain those sweetbreads); while the other was printed the day (with date) with the daily selections.

Signature starters had things like: Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream, and Grilled Shrimp with Black Bean Cake and Coriander Sauce;
entrees included those “Veal Sweetbreads with Sherry Mustard or Lemon Caper Butter” along with “Grilled Duck Breast with Pepper Jelly Sauce and Wild Rice”. There were not many choices in each category, but each were tempting.

Daily specials included things a bit farther afield like starters of Grilled Tomatoes, Warm Pancetta & Arugula, Shaved Pecorino, Balsamic Vinegar, and Coho Salmon Tartare, Smoked Salmon Beignet & Grilled Salmon Belly Gravlax. The main courses included options such as Andouille-stuffed Rabbit Roulade & Buttermilk Fried Leg, Smothered Greens, Stoneground Grits, Creole Mustard Sauce; Niman Ranch Pork Chop, Rosemary, Crispy Polenta, Broccoli Raab, Roasted Red Pepper-Garlic Relish

She highlighted a couple of dishes here and there letting us know that “this is one of my favorites”. Okay hold it right there, lady…I was surprised that in this high end restaurant, there had now been two of what I consider amateurish service blunders. The name thing and the server telling me what she liked. Who needs that?? If I say I’m interested in seafood, she can suggest, but I’m not about to select something because my server likes it. I don’t know her tastes.

Thank you, we’ll consider, and off she went. Bread was delivered and we munched while thinking about our selections. Finally, after the second Manhattan, I couldn’t resist re-visiting those sweetbreads, this time as a starter, and then when in the south, go for the rabbit with Boudin, and MFO selected a salad with fried egg, and for her main course the peppered lamb loin with goat cheese and Zinfandel sauce. That settled, we turned to the wine list which was extensive. For instance there were 21 sparkling wines, with some obscure labels and many 3 figure prices. All the other categories were equally filled with many choices, domestic and foreign. Given our food selections, I easily fell for Pinot, and since we were “on vacation” I went for a Burgundy, an ’06 Fixin 1er Cru, Clos Napoleon from Domaine Pierre Gelin. 06 wasn’t a huge vintage, but usually premier crus make the best of what they have, and besides this wine wasn’t one of those 3 figure jobs.. The wine appeared exactly as on the wine list (always check), and it tasted fine.

The food soon arrived and without going on and on, it was as exquisite as I had hoped. Everything on the plate stood on its own, the sweetbreads, the rabbit, the sausage the grits, and MFO’s lamb was exactly as described for “medium” pink, warm center.

Throughout the meal our server checked occasionally, but it seemed that while she asked, her eyes were darting to other tables, and it was more perfunctorial than a real interest in our well being. About half way through, the table next to us turned, and four people were seated that MFO characterized as “soprano like”. Well DFD’d for sure, but another centerpiece show. Kind of loud, cell phones constantly being eyed or texting, that kind of thing. Not much consideration for anybody but themselves. Fortunately we were pretty much through, and just before we left, they were joined by (and I’m not making this up) two people in jeans and tee shirts with writing on the back. No evidence of self conciousness, they sat down and joined the hoopla. When our server brought the (considerable) check, we mentioned that we thought they were inappropriately dressed, and she said something like “yes, but what can you do?”

Well, I’ll tell you what you can do, you can follow Bayona’s own dress code “the requested attire at Bayona is casually elegant or business casual. We do not require coats or ties for gentlemen”.

Since we had to wait for a cab, we expressed the same sentiment to at least that evening’s manager, and didn’t get much of a response. I’m sure that table will generate three or four times what our table did, but our table was disappointed.

So this time the risk of going back was realized, but not for the food which was again outstanding, but for service that to me didn’t fit the restaurant and the lack of others respect for the food. In the end, I would almost have to say we felt “processed” rather than served. Will we go back? Sure, we would, but it wouldn’t be without some trepidation.. and, we (as were the great preponderance of other diners) were


And PS to my newly found cyber friend formerly from NO, I would be interested if you ever go back now some 8 years later and see what you think….

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking a Risk...

A quieter second day in the San Diego area included some more birding in the morning

A peaceful afternoon spent leading up to the culinary highlight to date, and which will face stiff competition not to remain at the top of the list. We always face a challenge when going to a city to try to find a good meal, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always do sufficient homework. Yelp, Chowhound, Zagat, Epicurious all have guides but they’re tough and who knows how reliable. We’ve dined at several places in San Diego, and the travails of just getting there sort of overcame any research.

So, a decision of our hosts and us was to return to Tapenade in La Jolla, the scene of a previous wonderful meal. Hazardous as it is to return, we relied on its continuing reputation as one of the areas top dining spots. A reservation was secured for 6:45 and we showed up quite promptly. As all alert readers will know, Tapenade is a condiment from Provence, and hence French cuisine featured. It’s hard not to talk about “last time”, but it seemed the “maitre de” was a bit more French as was our server, Gregory. At first we thought him overbearing as he had a heavy French accent and was very demonstrative. Come to find out he was from the town of Albi, and as the evening wore on he became quite friendly.

We were seated at a table in the middle of the room, nearby the table from “last time”. We thought maybe the room had been re-painted from “last time”, but of course memories fade. Still it’s minimal and plain décor, but verypleasant. Upon being seated we were given menus and a cocktail list. Eventually Gregory (with no names mentioned) came and asked about drinks, and recited the appetizer and entrée specials of the night. Of course, I immediately forgot them. I applied the drink test, and MFO asked for the wine list for a glass of wine. The wine list was supplied and she wanted a glass of Sancerre. Fine. After a bit too long, the maitre de arrived with a silver tray with two “up” manhattans, dark with sweet vermouth, and a cheery. Um, excuse me, we asked for a dry manhatten, on the rocks, with a twist. To his credit, he replied: “well I guess we missed on three accounts” and left. He came back with exactly the right drink, and it was gratefully accepted. Bread was supplied, and we began to settle into the meal.

They have an interesting menu, one for “les Classiques” and one for “Winter Flavors”, a nice touch. The “classiques” offered such dishes as “Homard au maïs blanc, cèpes et vanille Tahitienne, (which of course you know is) Maine Lobster, White Corn, Porcini Mushrooms and English Peas, Corn and Tahitian Vanilla Sauce” or the classic Coq au Vin de Bourgogne. On the seasonal side were dishes like: Saint Jacques, Vonassienne au poireau, champignons, asperges; Diver Maine Scallops, Yukon Gold Potato and Leeks "Pancake" with Green Asparagus, Wild mushrooms & Port Wine Sauce. Or Sanglier Braisé "à l'ancienne": Braised Wild Boar, Celeriac and Black Truffle Raviolis, Root Vegetables with Huckleberry Red Wine Sauce. My god, how can you not love this stuff..

After settling in with the drinks and orders selected, I looked at the wine list. A challenge with appetizers chosen of Wild Mushroom Raviolis, a Mesclun salad, Lobster Minestrone, and I took the special Foie Gras Terrine. Chosen entrees were the Diver Maine Scallops (St. Jacques); the “Salmon d’Alaska”; and when it was determined that MFO secured the last scallop dish, the duck breast was selected. I could not resist trying the wild boar. What the hell. As I said, wine was problematical, so go with the middle of the road Pinot Noir. Scouring the wine list, I eventually found an Oregon Domaine Serene, which I had enjoyed before. It was listed as the ’06 vintage.

The appetizers arrived, delivered ladies first, not “who had the..”. The foibles of the wrong drink, the little too long time for service were erased with the taste. I don’t care what you think about Foie Gras, it’s a damn lovely food. God it was good. Everyone else appreciated their first course. Great presentations, good flavor, although there was some reluctance on the lobster minestone..

The wine delivered to the table was an ’07 vintage. When I pointed out it was on the wine list as ’06 it was removed, but alas, a search of the cellar didn’t reveal an’06. Unfortunately, I’m not yet good enough to know if an Oregon ’06 is better than ’07 so I accepted. In truth, it was not what I had hoped. I had remembered concentration of fruit with dark colors, but I didn’t find this in the ’07.

Entrees arrived and erased any apprehensions of “last time”. Without any emoting they were outstanding. The boar (tastes like beef) was tender, flavorful, and, as is a signal of a great place, each side made you pay attention.

Gregory softened, and with the food and wine, dessert was accepted. The crème brulee was served as a “ball” and was a great finish to a wonderful meal.

If you’re in San Diego and do the Del for lunch you couldn’t go wrong at Tapenade..It’s just amazing what can be done with food….and of course we were


Friday, February 19, 2010

Welcome to the Hotel ..... Del!! (not California...)

For us, no trip to the San Diego area is complete without a visit to the venerable Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island. Somehow despite the thousands of tourists that swarm over the place it seems to be able to retain its elegance and style. Many changes of ownership have brought some differences but mainly the old girl has kept her grace.

And again for us, no trip is complete without a brunch/lunch on the ocean terrace, now called “Sheerwater” for some unknown reason (maybe one of those ownership things). It is a splendid place to watch the ocean roll in, the whole spectrum of DF and NDF people wandering around, the occasional bevy of seals (Navy, not animals – no comments please), and enjoy consistently prepared food. As most of the outside tables were occupied, we opted to be on sort of the veranda with no sun issues, a bit more privacy, and less bird issues (the only continuing detraction). Having been there over a number of years, we recognized a few of the servers, aged like us, but still there. There is some reason for that, they are always courteous, respectful and friendly despite your state of DF. We accepted the menus, and again (good habits are okay), we decided on the traditional ($15) glass of champagne. MFO selected Domaine Chandon, and I took Jornan “J” Brut. Our friends decided to try a Mojito. The much needed drink choices being settled we took a look at the menu, which is just right for an outside(ish) brunch, whether you’re looking for lighter dining or heavier fare. There are starters with soups, bisques, fondues (!!??!!), Salads, Plates, Flatbreads and Sandwiches. A lot of seafood there, but also for those with heartier appetites the good old American “aged white cheddar bacon burger” served with fries, and with a nod to California, served on a brioche roll. A nice feature is “pairings” which are half sandwich/quesadilla/flatbread with half soup/salad. Meanwhile our drinks arrived

I went for the “whole” flatbread: Shrimp Scampi and Goat Cheese Flatbread with roasted red pepper, arugula, whole grain mustard, pesto. Others went for the various half and half creations of Rustic Chicken Noodle Soup & Hearts of Romaine Salad and - 1/2 Achiote Chicken Flatbread & Lobster Bisque. Conversation, people watching, and eavesdropping on tables filled the interim and then the food arrived. Again, despite the high volume they turn out a pretty nice dish.

Prices are not punishing, for instance the “pairings” are the same price as that champagne. Besides, who cares when they also buy you the experience of the Del. Don’t miss it.

Then some shopping, and we exited through the lovely and much unused courtyard.

The rest of the afternoon was occupied by shopping the local area on the distaff side, and the male half went birding to Santee Lakes which supplied some excellent views of waterfowl.

That evening the high level of food continued on our host’s table, consisting of some Thai Curried Shrimp, some green beans, a lovely salad, and oh, yes, some wine.

Life can be good if you are


Next, we hit a culinary high light which may not be exceeded for the rest of the journey, and then head back west (with new brake pads)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

California Continues...

After clearing the traffic nightmares from our head and having a restful night in the land of Steinbeck, we headed south on US101 (in the face of dire traffic warnings from our friends) toward San Diego, our next scheduled stop. We wanted to at least look at some wineries along the way and so off we went, enjoying the clear blue skies and warm temperatures, still a novelty to us after the recent Maryland weather.

Pretty soon the verdant hills began to have signs of the noble fruit

Paso Robles was the first viticulture area we hit which is sort of centered on was the little town of Paso Robles, just off the highway on SR 46. Meridian Winery which I was familiar with is located there, so we sort of zeroed in on that. I wasn’t sure of what else was there, but I eventually picked up a little brochure for the upcoming “Zin Festival” and it listed over 140 vineyards and wineries in the area! Some of the more familiar names would be Justin, J. Lohr, Robert Hall, Tablas Creek, and Wild Horse, but also a plethora of ones you (I) never heard of….Pomar Junction, Red Soles, on and on. Some are just vineyards that most likely sell their fruit, but many, many are also wineries. I don’t (still) know enough about the business to know if they bottle under their own label. What is apparent is how much of the local economy is driven by wines, grapes, juice, and tourists. And Paso Robles isn’t nearly the scope of a Napa Valley…Amazing.

Anyway, we finally found Meridian

And drove up the long driveway

through the vines (some trimmed, some not) to the lovely building

And the usual well appointed gift shop/tasting room

I did their tasting (5 bucks) through some reislings, chards (which I remembered as their star), and eventually bought a bottle of Pinot which resulted in re-couping the tasting fee – for a fee sort of. The wines are not memorable and I don’t think they’re intended to be, but they make nice value priced, everyday wine..

Upon leaving, we saw their original digs, quite different from today’s edifice.

We didn’t stop at any others in Paso Robles, although there were plenty of chances. Most of the little wineries have banners proclaiming “tasting today”. Boy, you gotta wonder how they make it.

As it was getting near lunch, we headed for the little town of Los Olivos, where a little researching revealed a possible nice luncheon spot, the Los Olivos Café. It had several good recommendations (along with the few grumpy ones), has Zagat and Wine Spectator accolades, and was involved with “Sideways”. Anyway, we veered off the highway on SR 154, through some lovely country (boy, it’s green now in CA) and turned off on Grand Avenue into the little village. It’s a lovely little wine oriented town with several tasting rooms from area wineries (Qupe, Robert Hall, and others) along with galleries, gifty shops, and places to eat. We found the Café, an unassuming little building

And went inside. One half of the place is devoted to wine sales

And the other half to dining.

Although “outside” dining seemed attractive the 20 minute wait drove us to accept a table inside which was pleasant enough. We were just seated along that back wall, and water from a big bottle was brought to the table along with menus and (duhhh) a wine list. Oh, did I mention there were white paper table squares? I’ll never figure that one out…

Anyway, the place was bustling with tourists (unlike us) and had just about the right amount of noise. Our server didn’t announce his name, but asked about drinks and we said the fatal “give us a minute” as we had just sat down and wanted to peruse the menu and list. There was a “standard” menu and also an insert of today’s features. The wine list had many wines from the local vineyards, although we didn’t see but one Fess Parker which isn’t all that far away. It begged to be tasted through, another trip necessary! Food was all over the place from tri tip sandwiches, braised beef sliders for appetizers, house cured olives, rustic (?) pizzas, interesting salads, all featuring local stuff where they could. We finally decided on a Scottish salmon over crispy potatoes and greens for MFO, and I went for their version of the Salade Nicoise, which they called “Café Nicoise”, which today had a grilled mahi mahi over the standard green beans, (fingerling) potatoes, and hard boiled eggs. Cherry (I think a local addition) tomatoes and tomato vinaigrette. We thought we would start with the artisanal cheese plate, which the daily menu said consisted of all cow’s milk Comte de montagne (French); Cashel Blue (Irish); and Truckle (English). MFO selected a suggested wine with her entrée of Presidio Estate Pinot Grigio (from Solvang); and I went for a Au Bon Climat “cold harvest” Viognier (also located in Solvang). A lovely tray of I think soda bread with salted tops and some toasted baguette slices were brought along with the wine which was lamentably (and too commonly these days) too cold. So there was people watching/listening while the wine warmed, but still no cheese plate. Both of our wines were very nice, and I am quite fond of a well crafted Viognier. So fond in fact that it was gone any food arrived. At this point the server stopped by and said our order would be ready shortly, and indeed it was, The salmon and the Niscoise was gracefully set before us. Um, how about the cheese plate? Oh, I forgot that, I’ll go get it. I suggested at this point that perhaps the cheese plate should transfer (as is more proper anyway) to the end of the meal. He agreed. Both the salmon and the salad were delicious. The Mahi just barely flaked and all the stuff in the salad was fine. Fresh greens, good beans, eggs that looked to be hard boiled by hand, not those processed perfectly done ones you see these days. I decided at this point that water wasn’t sufficient so looked at the wine list again and ended up with a Whitcraft Pinot that I very much enjoyed (Santa Barbara). Dense and fruity, did well with the Mahi.

The cheese tray arrived, with the three wedges of cheese, plus some toasted Marcona Almonds, Fig Jam, grapes and honeycomb honey. The blue was excellent, but we thought the other two selections were too much alike. Both semi hard, good flavor but I would have appreciated more variety. And, I can’t help but wonder why if the restaurant was focusing on local stuff, why weren’t there some local cheeses. Surely there must be some (yes there are and stop calling….).

A good meal, service could have been more attentive, but unfortunately in the tourist business, turning tables is the name of the game. Go there when you’re in town.

After that, we headed back to US 101 through Solvang (home of Anderson Pea Soup)

And then back to playing pinball on US 101. Hey! What’s that over there?

Then, the roof fell in… around Santa Barbara, the traffic ground to a crawl, and it stayed that way for the next hour and a half, maybe advancing us 15 miles toward the objective. Finally, it broke and we got back up to speed for a while, and before it got dark we remembered what’s what..

We survived the remaining transit through LA on 405 to 5 to 805 to 8 and San Diego, and got to our friends house around 9 and had a nice bowl of potato leek soup and a salad. And some clear liquid on the rocks. Good start, harrowing finish. Yesterday a lovely day including a visit to the venerable Hotel Del, next edition..

We just heard there might be some depot level maintenance required on the Momster so we might get another night to


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

California Begins...

Our first day re-united as a team started very nicely, even though it was 3 am local time when eyes opened, we had some good conversation, lolled about in the room for a while, and eventually I was, and I will freely admit it, not dressed for the lobby, but I went down and got a couple of lattes..and a croissant. No planes to catch, no roads to navigate, just enjoying life in the room. Then, a bit of surfing with a cooperating computer, allowing the first post to emanate from California. Then we took a little walk along the bay in the fog, seeing numerous waterfowl stabbing the mud for their breakfast. No snow to deal with, just quiet lapping and gentle poking of the birds. Very tranquil and peaceful.

After that serenity we fired up the Momster, and then headed north to “the city” which was enshrouded in fog, and although we saw some of SFO and the Coit tower, the whole transit of the bay across the Bay Bridge was obfuscated by fog, and we never saw the water. With relatively little road hassle, we arrived at the final destination and off loaded the family baby furniture and crib to the new owners, who were most appreciative. Quite heartwarming. We anointed the new location of the furniture with mimosas and a lovely cheese plate. They are currently “camping” in a basement apartment while their real home is undergoing renovation. wouldn’t say it is a different world, but it isn’t southern Maryland anymore..

After that, they gave us a tour of their real house at it present state, but looks like it will be a lovely home and then they took us to lunch at Marzano (of tomato fame presumably), a little Italian spot on Park Boulevard in Oakland. It’s a comfortable place with high ceilings and beams, an open wood fired oven for pizzas, and several tables, including a “community one” where you might get seated with strangers who will not be for long. I have to report that there were no paper squares on the tables, but “bistro” was not part of the name. Geez, I can’t figure that out. Anyway, we were given menus and seated at a four top near the back where we could observe the semi open kitchen and the wood oven. The luncheon menu was of course heavily Italian, with not surprisingly sections for antipasti, contorni, insalate, pizzas, and entrees. The back of the single sheet was given over to the wine list and has a very nice selection of wines, although I am still not all that able to discern what’s what in Italian wines. Cannonau di Sardegan, Templum ’07 anybody? Plus they did have many by the glass and also offered large or small carafes of their house wine(s) with choices of rosso or bianco . Prices were fairly reasonable with many selections below $50. The menu also had some very different and unusual food options. There were 11 pizzas, with some standard (does the occupancy permit require a margherita pizza?), and others not so - potato with piquillo peppers, garlic, calabrian chili, pancetta, mozzarella & marjoram. Most were 15 bucks. Most sneaked “wood fired” into their description.

The antipasti and contorni were more interesting with stuff like wood oven roasted root vegetables, roasted octopus, pan seared brussel sprouts (for all you fans), wood-fire Tokyo turnips. The three entrees were wood-oven (hey, they gotta get their moneys worth from that oven) braised chicken, pan seared tuna, and a house made pappardelle with porcini (which were wood oven roasted criminis).

Service was kind of team oriented with whomever spotted you helping, although pretty much one person was our main server. Both of the “boys” ordered a beer, a Green Flash IPA. When it was brought to the table the server guy poured it and sat it about half way between us. We both sort of eyed it and then casually remarked that we didn’t who whose it was.. The server immediately replied that “Hey! that’s the only entertainment I get as a server!”. Anyway, after much wandering through the menu we got a plate of warm castelvetrano olives & toasted almonds for the table, I ordered a starter of their House Cured Monterey Bay Sardines (toasted almonds, cara cara orange & mint), MFO got some wood fired meatballs, and their was also a bowl of Lentil soup. Because we knew we would be on the road later, we also got a four cheese (Quatro Formaggi) pizza for leftovers. Our hosts got orders of the pan seared tuna, and the pan seared brussel sprouts.

Conversation filled the gaps in service, but eventually the olives arrived with an apology. I think they were pretty much the best (among many) of the dishes we had. They were warm, had a tart flavor and the oil on them were also sweet and “olivey”. The nuts were also good. They did contain the pits, which brought up an interesting food query at the table. If you see “pitted” olives listed, does that mean they contained pits, or have the bits been removed?

In the interest of brevity, the remainder of the meal had its ups and downs. Plates arrived somewhat randomly, and I believe the pizza order got dropped (I was keeping an eye on the oven guy). With the exception of the pan seared tuna (which arrived more or less cooked through) the food was very good. My sardines were salty and made an unexpectedly good pairing with the citrus, MFO’s meatballs spicy and enjoying their friends of swiss chard, tomato, and prosciutto brodo. Soup, excellent, pizza, tasty and stringy with the cheeses. Other dishes on the way to their owners looked equally attractive. I’d gladly go to Marzano again, but with somewhat circumspect expectations (mostly in the area of service – but it was Sunday afternoon). All in all our visit to Oakland was great and what a good time with relatives we don’t get to spend enough time with. Maybe we’ll just have to go check out that crib and its occupant when the time comes!!

After that, things went downhill fast. We left their temporary digs to get to I-880 via the way of a couple more, and immediately ground to a halt in traffic. 20 minutes later, we broke free and headed down the northern side of the bay to intersect US101 to trek toward San Diego. I had the driving chores as MFO had certainly done her share behind the wheel, and it was pretty much white knuckle for me. I had forgotten how California/Freeway drivers and ethics are, but speed and turn signals are the order of the day. If your turn signal is on, it’s license to do whatever you pretty much please… Did I say I was going left? Sorry, right looks better now, well, maybe not. And then there’s the always present 18 wheelers which pretty much seem to fill up their lane and a little of yours..

We didn’t have any lodging reservations for the evening because of the lack of schedule, and after about a couple of hours I was getting pretty weary. As we were passing through Salinas (for you Steinbeck fans) and MFO spied a couple silhouetted signs off the highway and said “Hey! That looks like Marriott (our preferred road homes)!”. After a troublesome off the highway, across the highway, back on the highway, off the highway, through the shopping center, we finally confirmed that indeed there was a Courtyard and also a Residence Inn. We gladly settled in the Courtyard and spent a restful evening for our first (full) day in California.. and since we dined in (on the pizza) we didn’t have to


Preview – yesterday we wended our way to our present location in San Diego with a wonderful morning and another lesson in California driving in the afternoon….stay tuned

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Together again....

Well, after 6 days and 3363 miles in the Momster, and one day with unknown miles in in two airplanes, we both converged at San Franciso! We did it! Amazing..

I began my one day with a drive up to BWI with some awesome friends, and despite my apprehension (I always have apprehensions – expect the worst and you’re never disappointed) it was as if the airport was closed. There were NO lines at either the check in desk (with a real, live, breathing eye contacting person) or security so I was sitting at the gate a full hour before boarding time. Usual amount of people watching opportunities with the usual set of loonies. Bluetoothies talking and gesticulating to the air like madmen, others with hand covering ear and cell phone, many seated staring at laptops, and the requisite number of unsupervised little rug rats running here and there. The latter I don’t judge to harshly, travelling with little kids is harrowing regardless of the mode of transportation. I will say, however, some are more considerate than others..

Anyway, time passes, boarding time arrives and due to the (now dwindling) stock of frequent flier miles, I was able to be “up front”. I think there were as many crew riding there as paying passengers due to sorting out the difficulties arising from the recent storm, and I was sitting next to a very nice lady trying to get back to Dallas so she could go back to work and fly out (today) to London. What a life. 25 years she said. She’s looking to move on from the flight attendant world, and in fact spent a lot of the time studying some course notes. I suppose it’s due to their lifestyle, but I never saw so many devices with one person in my life. One played music, one looked suspiciously like a Blackberry, a net book with thumb drive, a portable DVD reader, and probably a couple I missed all with the spaghetti of wires.

It is nice that they come and ask you if you’d like something to drink before lunch, in this case a Mimosa was appropriate and was served with some warm mixed nuts. Said lunch was nothing to rave about (or expected) and I made the poorer choice of a beef and cheese quesadilla which turned out to be an orange pie shaped leaden coagulated lump with some beef like chunks embedded. I did eat more that I should have, and it remained with me most of the rest of the day. The little green salad was good enough and some pita chips with Rondele spread filled out the tray. Another poor choice was the Glass Mountain cab which turned out to be kind of thin. But, however, comma, whatever, it was much better than sitting in back and being asked to pay 4 bucks for a cookie, and oh, by the way we only take credit cards. The rest of the flight was above the clouds till we got closer to Dallas where it broke enough to see the snow covered ground. After the usual 10 mile taxi to the terminal I spent the next couple of hours in the Admirals club still regretting the encounter with the quesadilla..

Turned out that the last leg to SFO was aboard a 767. I am not sure I have ridden in one before, and for sure I have never been in first class. When they announced that first class could board, I expected the usual regal walk past all the envious teeming masses, but half the darn boarding area got up. First class in a 767 accommodates 6 rows of 6 seats!! Where’s the conceit in that? Behind every seat was some sort of plastic cowling affair, which on the side toward the passenger contains almost an office. A drop down table that couples with the one from the seat arm to make a rather expansive work space. But the most amazing thing was the seat itself. They have an entire panel with 15 (count ‘em 15) little buttons to control the darn thing. Each piece (back, sit upon, and leg rest) can be put in almost any position. It even will let you lie flat (hence the cowling affair). I did try that, but mostly just plain sat. Soon after we boarded, the first officer came over the speakers and told us the whining we heard was the carts outside the jet because the on-board APU was busted. Nice.. Jennies….And, due to crew travails we had a “volunteer” crew that accepted a last minute invite. Hmmm…., and, oh by the way, the second officer was en route and would be here “soon”. Without the gory details we pulled away from the gate almost an hour after schedule, and then we got out on the field, and he said that they were having trouble loading the weight and balance data into the computers (okay, pal, take your time there!! Get it right). So eventually after 1.5 hours we were airborne.

It was a pretty spiffy ride despite having to endure the “in-flight movie” which contained a million clips of guess who? Michael Jackson. And sadly, I confirmed what I had been experiencing lately, they have removed Classical Music from the audio channels. Hip Hop, Country, Classic Rock, New Wave, almost anything BUT Classical music. What a shame. I ended up listening to some Japanese sounding “mood” music to avoid the MJ. One of the great things about travel is meeting people and I had the good fortune to sit beside a lady who was coming to SFO for a conference on teaching math to elementary kids. She works for a consulting outfit that is contracted by school districts to help make things even better. We had a delightful conversation that made the 3 hours, 33 mintues and 9 seconds pass fairly well…After the movie thankfully departed the screen(s) they have a geographic overlay showing the location of the aircraft, toggling with screens of time left, over the ground speed, OAT, and time of arrival. The reason I don’t mention food again is because I only took “a tray” which means the salad and sidey stuff without the foil covered bit. Oh, speaking of which, it is nice to have real glass, ice, silver and plates. Yes, FOJTE, Living Well Is the Best Revenge (which I think from here on out will be LWITBR)

MFO had beaten me here by a few hours and was waiting at the San Franciso Airport Marriot, and it was with great relief that we again were a team. Whe shared stories at the bar with a dry manhattan on the rocks with a twist (failed first attempt) and a bombay sapphire gimlet. She had a wonderful drive, I had a typical airplane experience and now we can start to enjoy a more leisurely travel period. And, I think this is is the first time in two weeks (?) that I have not walked in or seen ground covered with snow.

Today we’ll deliver the raison d etre of the whole odyssey, the passing of the baby stuff. Then we head south to hopefully balmy, dry, sunny, San Diego. Start having fun NOW…and we will be


PS happy valentines day daaaahlings!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Planes, Trains, and........

Well, maybe not the trains, but we got the planes and automobiles down. MFO is trekking in the Momster across the bottom of the country, and today expects to RON in Palm Desert, CA. If I get it together sufficiently, I’ll pack tonight and ride the great silver bird tomorrow and we will converge on a Marriott near the airport in San Francisco tomorrow night. At least one of us will breathe a great sigh of relief.

Hopefully, once we’re a pair again we’ll have time to stroll down to San Diego to see our best friends there, and have some good home cooked (she’s a wonderful cook) and restaurant food. I suspect there are wineries along the way in a place called Santa Barbara.

Between the winter weather here, and then what descended upon her in Abilene, it seems the winter of 2010 continues to make us at least stressed, if not uncomfortable. It has been an interesting time, the times that try men’s (mine) souls. You know in your heart that everything will be fine, but I always descend into “what if” or, “what’s going on”…. Cell phones are a wonderful invention. Just think, you can dial a number and call somebody who is actually driving along a road.

On a happier note, I am watching the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach on the golf channel, and due to the outing with FOJTE last year, I can say: “Hey! I’ve been there!; I parred that hole!: I put it in the ocean there (No. 7)!; I picked up at about that point”. What a great experience. And what remains one of those memories you always take with you was the “girls” cheering and meeting us on 18, that classic golf hole, and then adjourning to the deck of the Inn at Pebble Beach and enjoying a perfectly made dry Manhattan, on the rocks, with a twist with family and can be good.. or, as that FOJTE is fond of quoting: “living well is the best revenge”.

Lastly, I was saddened today to learn of the death of Henry Katz, a special friend and mentor during my matriculation as a flutter engineer. It was his tuteledge (with help from others) which eventually led to my (dubious) status as “Flutter One” on the F-18 E/F test program. Henry was a unique person, from his stories of being an alternate on the “Sviss Ski Team”; the weirdest golf swing I’ve ever seen, our races to Edwards Air Force Base from Lancaster, his favorite Swiss Doicha saying which starts out with (something like) “weira sevichta……”. Henry had been in this country for a long time, but you still had to say “what?” sometimes to wade through his accent. Life is occasionally blessed by special people and Henry was one of them. He will be remembered by the McDonnell Douglas flutter family…I hope he meets up with Frank Foppe…

Okay, suitcases and Dopp Kits beckon. Next publication will be from the road somehow, on the trail of great food and wine..and I have packed enough clothes to always be


what a long strange trip... it will be...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

California Dreamin'....

With the weather once again obviating any enthusiasm for food and cuisine (unless you deliver) we can veer off and maybe take a little look at MFO’s progress on the journey to the Golden State. Eventually we’ll get around to some food topics but first we’ll do some road tripping..(riveting reading, eh?)

As mentioned before, her first night was spent in Commerce, Ga., followed by that visit to the nice tire man, and last night she found accommodations in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Interestingly enough, Hwy. 61 goes through Vicksburg and the musically inclined readership will know the importance of that road and how maybe it should be revisited (blues fans will also perk up). St. Louis readers may be surprised that the local name of the road is Halls Ferry. Of course I don’t write these things down, but I believe there was a 575 mile day followed by a 550 one. A current fix is that she’s about 50 miles from Dallas in full sunshine. I’ve been told there is such a thing, but I couldn’t verify it lately. Tonight’s target destination is Abilene, TX. (isn't there a song about that?)

Her (planned) future route entails Deming, NM (with a quick stop in Elon, AZ to drop off the “shoe cabinet” at her brother's house); Blythe, CA; and then the final push to Oakland. That’s where the feeder is supposed to join up by air this Saturday. Well, I am wondering if that will happen. This damn weather.

At any rate, I suppose at one point we will re-unite and hopefully have a leisurely drive back to the digs. That portion of the trip is supposed to be the “fun” part. Non competitive driving, looking for wineries, dining establishments, little road food places, do some birding, photography, blogging, and the like.

Currently the itinerary is:
Wander from Oakland south to San Diego, to spend a couple of days with friends. Then the planned RON spots are:
Elon, AZ
Van Horn, TX
San Antonio, TX
New Orleans, LA (maybe a couple of days)
Gainesville, FL
Polk City, FL (more friends)
TBD North, although Charleston SC, would certainly beckon…

SOOOOO, finally, if any of the vastly experienced and culinarily discerning readers have any favorites of any level of dining at or near the above sites, the feeder would appreciate hearing about them.. Best avenue if you don’t have the personal e-mail would be to send a note to Would appreciate any tips. And rest assured we will not embarrass you because of course we will be


okay, back to watching blizzards...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Bowl of Super....etc.,

Yesterday was occupied with getting stuff packed (including my camera gear) and put in the Momster and getting MFO off on the first leg of her epic journey to California. As it turned out, it was a harrowing start, more later in the MFO Chronicles…

However, the previous evening was spent with some friends “enjoying” the Super Bowl. We had started out with lofty plans of exquisite food and drink, and then the stupid weather came in and we had to scale back and sort of make do with what we had on hand and in fridge. As it turned out, we did pretty well for ourselves with some help from those same friends. Among the things (no photos please!) that garnished the table were:

Shrimp, both “cocktail” style, and a surprisingly good recipe of “pickled shrimp” I found in one of my spiral bound Southern cookbooks, one called Louisiana Lagniappe which contains a lot of good other stuff… but, I digress

There were a couple of cheesey/crab balls for spreading on Crackers.

A riff (sorry, foodie term) on “Kim’s Little Meat Balls”, a venerable recipe I’ve schlepped around for 15 years or so, but I didn’t have all the ingredients so had to improvise

Some cold poached chicken breasts marinated in Lime and Basil, on a bed of Romaine from another useful little unpretentious cookbook called “Chicken Breasts – 116 new and classic recipes for the fairest part of the fowl”

Standard Munchies including Doritos (so the commercials could keep coming), Tostitos with salsa, along with some Whitley’s Peanuts (a must have staple for any serious snacker), and a bag of Smokehouse Almonds.

Liquids included choices of wines, a couple from last years Napa trip, a, ‘05 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay which was wonderfully smooth and bursting with tropical fruits (I have one left); an ‘07 Morgan “Cotes du Crow’s” Grenache/Syrah; one of the few remaining bottles of the ’04 Cavallotto “Bricco Boschis” Barbera d’Alba. Of course a football came needs beer, and despite the clever Bud Light ads, we opted for Smithwick’s Imported Irish Ale, a Belgian White Wittekerke, and a Saranac IPA.

But perhaps the most interesting course was the Mac and Cheese imported from Seattle. Alert readers will remember that from the same source we were able to try some of the Beecher’s Flagship Handmade (Cheddar) Cheese as sold in Pike Place Market (and other outlets apparently). Turns out besides doing cheese to eat they also have a line of Mac and Cheese frozen products. We tried the “World’s Best Mac and Cheese” a classic style (although they use Penne instead of elbows”, and also a “Mariachi” variation that was quite spicy. Both were head and shoulders above what you can get around here, although I’m sure there are “scratch” varieties that are quite good as this is of course a classic comfort dish.

So, all in all, it wasn’t a bad effort. Some Brownies and coffee allowed us to watch the end of the game.

WARNING: – Small Football Rant (probably somewhat irreverent, but that’s what rants are for).

First of all, I have absolutely no problem that the Saints deserved to win the superbowl, there is no doubt they were the best team on that night. And I’m aware that the win is a great source of pride for the citizens of New Orleans. But what gets me is that there is the perception that by winning one football game, it “proves” New Orleans is “back”, whatever that means. It was sort of sad to see the owner of the team prancing around yelling “we’re back! We’re Back! This proves it…”. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they had lost! In either case win or lose, the city is what the city is. There are still people in need of services and a bunch of athletes winning a game doesn’t change that, despite the now growing cries of the “Who Dat Nation”. Somehow there’s always a nation. For this year. Okay enough

MFO Chronicles (a new and continuing section):

The journey of MFO to California to deliver the furniture to her nephew began yesterday on the heels of “Snowmageddon” and despite the apprehension of the Feeder, roads were not a problem. As part of a scheme to lower risk of a single driver on an extended journey we subscribed/activated the OnStar in the MOMSTER. A fairly nominal fee, and after a couple of trips to the dealer in Leonardtown we finally punched the button and a voice came from the heavens and said “Good Afternoon Mrs. Moody, how is your Yukon and how may we help you?” Amazing. They led us through setting up the system and we thought that was that. So, yesterday afternoon I got a call from her and the first words were: “Well, the OnStar has already paid for itself!” After recovering from unspeakable visions in my brain, it turned out that she had punctured a tire and it lost air slowly enough for her to get to the shoulder, although the tire was in shreds. With the aid of the OnStar, somebody showed up in less than half an hour, replaced the bad one with the good one, and she was on her way. She got to Commerce, Georgia where she RON in a comfort inn and this morning is in the process of purchasing a new foot for the Momster..

This just in, two tires and $$$$ later, I-85 exit 140 waiving to the intrepid MFO

It’s always something…

Here we go again.. got enough bread, milk, and TP? Sheesh..

Let's all go here

Don’t know if I have the will to


Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Snow and Sunday....

What a weekend.. Saturday morning we were sort of congratulating ourselves about missing the brunt of the storm, and then we looked out the windows. Sideways snow

That pretty much continued the rest of the day. While I re-fretted over things like power, heat, food, drink (well not so much here, there’s that wine cellar), the dancers didn’t care and twirled and danced in the air for us..

Somehow, we made it through the night and (super) Sunday morning light revealed the beauty of the snow. Mother Nature is indeed an artist

The view through our porthole on the loft gave a nice looksee…

But reality again hit and it was time to see if we could re join the world. So we got out the shovels and gave it a shot…

Again, with so much snow, there were some interesting art forms here and there, such as MFO’s “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” tree.


With the aid of friends and mechanical equipment, the driveway was finally cleared so that our “super bowl” friends could arrive (see below).

A nice memory of the big storm..

It’s funny what sticks with you. Saturday morning after it became apparent that the “real” snow was arriving at the digs and had already deposited several inches on the driveway, I got a call from a friend who asked if we would like our driveway plowed. Now this was when the storm was pretty much in full roar and travelling was obviously becoming hazardous. I waffled a bit, and finally he said it’s now or never, so I agreed. Eventually a pickup with a blade became visible in the blinding snow, and we got most of the driveway cleared. This was shortly before noon. When we were finished, he turned to me and said: “you got any Bourbon?”. You bet! I replied. We came inside, and while the storm raged outside we shared a glass of the amber liquid, and had some good conversation. What a good friend. A reminder that true friends are not to be taken lightly or for granted. Don’t lose them. So, as i look back, I will always remember the kindness of thinking of us, and that warming glass of bourbon during the storm of 2010..

Other others

Mushy brain and fast fingers led me to make an error the other day when I reported the good news about our friend Marty Sullivan. His transplant was a liver, not a kidney as i mistakenly stated. Reports are that recovery is proceeding...

Enduring the dire warnings and whining from the Feeder, MFO calmly climbed in the MOMSTER this morning for her journey to California. A couple of road calls have quelled my apprehension some as she reports that the roads are not as hazardous as I had feared. Currently on I-95 in VA where she reports a lack of traffic and trucks. As anybody who has endured that harrowing strip of highway, that indeed is a rare occurrence

I had intended to put in a superbowl rant here, but fatigue from this mornings prep for the journey have sapped my edge. Do that tomorrow along with the menu we enjoyed last night...where we were


Saturday, February 6, 2010

We're Moving...

The "storm of the century" moved in yesterday afternoon, with tremendous snowfall north of here. I think we got more sleet than snow, maybe around 10 inches, while DC is reporting over 20 and still coming. Trees are drooping, but so far we have power so I'll send out this quickie. Maybe those people that trimmed the trees aren't so bad after all..

More predicted for tuesday, and again on friday. What happened?????

updates and maybe photos later..

right now the last thing on my mind is


Friday, February 5, 2010

Cradle of the.....

A journey of 3000 miles begins with but a single press of the accelerator…

MFO’s father was somewhat of a woodworker although he preferred to work with metals and had quite the machine shop. One of the things he did was to build some baby furniture for us, consisting of a cradle, a little desk, and a chair. The design reflected his engineering background, in case a 400 pound baby was to use it, but they have a certain charm.

After our use with both of the FOJ’s, we saved the furniture in case it was needed again in the family and it appears that it is. MFO’s nephew and wife in Oakland, CA, are expecting, and we offered them the use of the “family” furniture. They enthusiastically accepted. So we faced the problem of the prospective parents being on the west coast and the furniture residing on the east coast. After much discussion it was decided that passing the cradle in person would be a nice gesture. After more discussion the final plan evolved into MFO loading up the back of the MOMSTER, driving out to Oakland where I will join up by air and then both take a leisurely drive back across country (where was that restaurant?) to the digs.

So, the current schedule calls for her to launch next Monday (2/8). There is a carefully planned out itinerary with reservations in place, routes selected, and maps positioned. A southern route was selected to avoid such weather as we appear to be slated for this weekend. It is not without apprehension on my part, but OnStar, and cell phones should provide risk reduction.

We’ll be chronicling her progress until we join up then you’ll have to suffer the trip back with us. Perhaps I’ll publish the return itinerary in case anybody has any tips on restaurants along the route. Meanwhile, we’ll wait for the damn weather to figure out what it has in store for this weekend..

Other snowflakes:

On a happy note, our friend Marty Sullivan recent executive director of Historic St. Mary’s city, and current director of the National Portrait Gallery has received a much needed and long awaited kidney transplant and hopefully will soon return to good health. We all wish him a speedy and happy recovery. Marty is not only a shining light in our Southern Maryland community, but a national treasure..

Other ice pellets:

Along with many other events, tonight’s “First Friday” stuff in Leonardtown has fallen victim to said weather and will be canceled..

Well, Sunday's super bowl will mercifully put an end to the weeks of hype. Lately, I have listened to “Mike and Mike” on ESPN radio some, marveling at how they can fill hours with banality, with brilliant statements like: “Indy will have to avoid turnovers if they want to win”. Gosh these guys are insightful. Anyway, yesterday they interviewed Mike Ditka. They started out with some question like “if Peyton wins this game will he go down as the best (our favorite word) quarterback ever?”. Whereupon “coach” launched into a tirade which will forever endear him to me. He echoed our opinion that calling anything “Best” is dumb, because (in this case) the game has changed, players are better, the season is longer, on and on. He did allow as how his defense in 60 something was “pretty good in it’s day” (after another question about defenses from M&M). Pretty straight forward guy...

Other sheltering in place:

With the inclement weather coming today, don’t know how it will affect publishing the “feeder”. Also, I am going to send this laptop with MFO so I don’t have to take its clothes off at the airport, and also the camera gear. So, publication will be reduced to text only for a while.

Did I mention I’m tired of this weather??

But, no matter of where you are, you can

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thoughts on a Snowy Wednesday...

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of this..anyway, just a few musings today:

As most loyal readers know, the Feeder subscribes to a plethora of food and drink magazines of varying degrees of depth and cuisines. A friend has a couple of times suggested that I look into one called Garden & Gun. At first I thought this was just a cute oxymoronish joke, but no, he maintained it was real. Yeah yeah, (remember my reaction to suggestions of going to the Korner Café)? Well, once again the feeder has been humbled with his haughty pre-conceived notions. Yesterday, I was sitting in the dentist’s office waiting for a crown to be numerically controlled machined (another miraculous bit of technology for another time), and my eyes wandered to a little pile of magazines on a chair in the corner. Hey! What’s that? By golly, it is Garden and Gun! Let’s take a little peek and see how silly it is, probably an NRA ad on every page. Well, all I can tell you is that after I got home I got out my checkbook and wrote a check for a year’s subscription. While there are articles relating to hunting and gardening (including a great one on boxwood hedges), there were some really nice foodie things. In fact, if I had to re-title it, it would be something like “Southern Food with a Little bit about Gardening and Shooting”. It’s definitely an upscale publication with top shelf ads catering to the “well to do” (hopefully they’ll let me in), and slick production and some very nice photos that brought to mind Saveur. You can take a quick look at their website and get a flavor (ha ha). Any magazine with an article on cast iron skillets is okay. Probably not commonly seen but if you see a copy check it out..

Then, I thought a little bit about the juxtaposition of our look see at Corner Kafe and Casey Jones the other day. Readers should realize that although both places served good food, there was no intent to imply that they were equal. Would I go to the Corner expecting Fennel Dusted Seared Tuna? Don’t think so. If there were fried oysters at Casey Jones, I bet they would be different from the Thompson’s (excellent fried ones). Both places served excellent food for what they are. It’s that expectation thing again. I would expect going to the Corner Kafe for lunch would get me solidly prepared, local food made with good ingredients in kind of a home style slant. Yes they did. We go to Casey Jones for something special that you wouldn’t get most places, and also expect that it would be well prepared, presented, and served. Yes they did (and on the other night exceeded expectations in the “prepared” category). Harmony. Food and place need to go together..

And, on a little more sensitive note, in our drive to become more of a food aware and caring community, I must point out that people who own, manage, or work around restaurants are “restaurateurs”. You will note that there is no “n” in that word. I see/hear it a fair amount with an “n” inserted between that final a and t (which I won’t repeat here). The closest I have seen is maybe not a word, but it turns up and that is “restauranters”. I don’t like that word somehow. So, let’s be correct when we refer to our friends who serve us good food!

And, as always we can do our part to

Monday, February 1, 2010

Go away, Phil....

I don’t know what Punxsutawney Phil will report this morning, but besides the good food over the weekend, there was this snow thing.. It started Saturday morning fairly benignly,

But it never ended all day. And after a day of snowing and blowing, snowing and blowing, blowing and snowing, we woke up Sunday morning to see out the windows

And depending on where you stuck the high tech measuring device…

Here and there the wind did some interesting things with the snow, like this little gem that formed only about 4 inches high right next to our patio door..

But the cold (get it?) reality was that the driveway was covered, drifts had to be moved, and so out came the equipment. After an hour or so, some advil, and one snow shovel later, we had:

Attn County Road Commission: We, as well as our neighbors live on a circle with the driveways radiating to the houses on the outer (longer diameter) with a community circle on the inside. Gosh, look at those snow covered streets what will we do? Okay, hooray, here come the snow plows!. But, INVARIABLY, INVARIABLY, they start plowing counterclockwise on the inside of the circle, clearing the inner curb, and shoving the windrow of snow into the middle of the road. That won’t do, so let’s make another pass, and shove that nasty (now larger) pile another few feet to the right. Great! almost done guys, one more pass will do it and clear the road. Ah, that’s great. Well, guess what? All the driveways are now effectively sealed from that clear road by a two to three foot wall of icy, heavy, cubes and chunks of snow. "That's your problem Mr. Homeowner, we're here to serve the public!" Is it not possible to begin outside and work in? I just don’t get it.

Other flakes:

I don’t care about your politics, how you feel about the current administration and its leader, but I hope some of you saw President Obama join the broadcast crew of Vern Lundquist and Clark Kellogg at the Georgetown/Duke game on Sunday. The guy has a great sense of timing and humor, saying he was coming after Clark’s job in three or 7 more years, and when Vern talked about that tape of him missing his left handed shot in practice and asked him “since you’re left handed, do you have any problem going to your right?”. Without a pause, he responded “no, didn’t you see me at the Republican Caucus?”. You can think what you want, but I personally enjoyed that immensely.

And, we did NOT end our weekend by looking at the Grammies. I am only dimly aware of who "Bouncy" or whatever her name is, and can honestly say that i have never heard a complete "song" that she does. and the same goes for that country star with four names "teenage sensation taylor swift". what little i've heard of her efforts are a range of about 5 notes. But then, you all may enjoy them, i don't. Gimme Shelter.

Super bowl only 5 days away! I think the first pre-game show starts tonight!!

This just in: Phil was proclaimed to see his shadow. more to come folks
And I guess for that day, you can


FOR SALE: A slightly used bottle of Lupini Beans – reasonable offers considered

Unexpected Pleasures...

Don’t get your hopes up. Remember this is about food, , and also the feeder is getting up there in years.

Pleasure One: Friday I was privileged to have a quick tour of the “new” Port of Leonardtown Winery (which will be documented in an upcoming post), and then we decided to take lunch at Thompson’s Corner Kafe. (I have no idea why they decided to put the “K” on corner (or they could have done Korner Kafe) but that’s not the point). I had several stringer reports with advice of “you gotta go there!” to which I thought yeah, yeah, just another diner. Then, MFO brought home the remnants of a lunch she had there recently; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and by golly the ham had been carved off the bone - it wasn’t luncheon meat! Okay, you got it. This place IS worth checking out.

So, after seeing the winery we drove behind Bell’s, er, I mean Winegardners motors to an unassuming little building that once housed “Sis’s Hideaway Bar” an historical African American bar. Kevin Thompson’s (of Seafood/Catering fame) has taken it over and remodeled it and opened the “Kafe” mainly for lunch although they do serve dinner on the weekends. Upon entering, I immediately thought “Hey, I like this place!”. The same feeling you get when you walk in St. James Pub. Done in knotty pine paneling with high ceilings and stuff on the walls it somehow reminded me of a “lodge” atmosphere. There is a little knee wall that separates the largish space so that it feels a little more private, and there are many tables and booths (here they’re booths, not banquettes). On the wall to the right as you walk in there are some historical photos, but without any documentation (have to get MFO on that!), and a cold case with oysters and crabmeat for sale. Oysters were $10 the pint. Behind that, there is a “bar” for ordering that is a replica (?) of a boat. Pretty cute. There is a menu, but mostly things are on “white boards” (also reminiscent of St. James Pub), and since it’s the Thompsons, it leans heavily toward seafood. On the day we were there, there were crabcake, rockfish, and oyster sandwiches featured, along with other things that escape me at the moment. You tell the nice lady what you would like, she asks if you would like a drink, and if so, there’s a dispenser on the other wall reminiscent of McDonalds. I did see some wine bottles, but no beer taps. On such a cold, windy day an order of oyster sandwich and oyster stew combo sounded good, so I ordered that ($13.99), and my companion helpfully ordered the (??!!??) “stuffed ham soup” and we got a couple of cokes and sat down. Soon a plate arrived (they do deliver to your table) with an open hamburger bun piled with (~10) hot fried oysters, and a bag of (frito lay) chips. Just the thing. There was also two little tubs of “Kens cocktail sauce”, just as you would expect. I wondered about the stew and soup but the oysters were quite inviting so we shared a couple of them. In another couple of minutes we were presented with (Styrofoam) cups of the oyster stew and the stuffed ham soup and a quizzical look because another “oyster sandwich” on the tray. We mentioned we only ordered one, but he said “well, have another and enjoy!”. We did. Oh, the oyster stew was piping hot, and just a little kick, and you had to work to get a spoonful that didn’t include an oyster. The stuffed ham soup had all the right stuff (pun?), and also was very tasty

It’s obvious that the feeder has missed the boat here, it’s a great luncheon place, and the number of “locals” we saw testifies to that fact. The printed menu leans almost entirely to seafood, with the only non-seafood selections a hamburger, grilled chicken breast, or chicken salad sandwiches. All the dinners are seafood with the classic fried or boiled Combos, crabcake, fried scallop, oyster, fish, shrimp, clam baskets are all you can get. Prices for the luncheons on Friday were a bit hefty but so were the portions. Great food, nice place, a “northern” version of St. James. Just right.

Second Pleasure: we had decided to attend a production Friday night of the Port Tobacco players in LaPlata entitled “Once on This Island”. The daughter of one of our neighbors was performing in it so we thought we’d do “theater” coupled with a dinner at Casey Jones (officially The Crossing at Casey Jones). We hadn’t been there for quite a while, mostly out of the distance factor, and so we thought this would make a nice evening. So, with a weather eye we started out and arrived at LaPlata 15 minutes ahead of our 6:30 reservation, but the host said no problem and we were led to the dining area. As you remember, the restaurant is nicely divided by partial walls and partitions on different elevations, making each room nicely private. The warm stone walls are set off by the linens and carpet, giving a comforting feeling. The wine cabinet has art pieces on it. We were seated in a booth that was a room away from the "open" kitchen, but I had a line of sight for viewing. All evening I never saw anything but quiet attention to the food, no histrionics, just doing their job. Water was immediately brought to the table, and after a little bit, the server (dressed in a muted burgundy shirt and slacks as was the entire staff), and said Hi, would you care for anything besides water to drink? I decided to re-apply the drink test, but MFO wanted a glass of wine so started thumbing through the (quite extensive) wine list. He said “I can maybe help you if you wish, would you like white or red?” White. “We have several what did you have in mind?” I guess Chardonnay. “do you like oaked or unoaked?”. How many times have you heard that in a restaurant? He then said, “while I’m here would you like to hear the specials or wait?” Now is fine. They had a Red Spruce Cheddar appetizer with onions and fruit compote, a Kobe beef served over garlicked mashed potatoes, and a Seared Ahi tuna (that was swimming a day ago) dusted with Fennel Powder with fingerling potatoes. Out of curiosity, I asked the price of the Kobe dish. He apologized and said 28 bucks. Alert readers will be as surprised and pleased as I was. He then went off for the drinks. Plusses for service. The drink was perfectly prepared, in a nice size glass allowing for room over the cocktail and ice without being rim full, and MFO enjoyed her wine after it cooled a bit. After a bit of lingering and calming, we looked at the menu and wine list. In the interest of your time and my fingers, we’ll contract a bit here.

Both the wine list and menu have a great selection of dishes, food all described without too much verbiage (espresso-crusted long island duck breast with cinnamon seared foie gras, sautéed polenta andbraised fennel & onions, drizzled with a blackberry coulis), and prices were extremely reasonable. I believe there was only one option over thirty. Appetizers were equally intriguing. The wine list was organized by “weight”, from light to heavy and “ripeness”. It’s a great read, with wines from places I had later to go look up. Priorat, Kremstal, Les Mesnils? Again, prices were extremely reasonable. You could find a pretty good bottle for whatever you wanted to spend. We had settled on our food (after a second correctly prepared Dry Manhatten) and we decided that we’d go for the specials, and thought a Chambolle Musigny would be a nice accompaniment to the food. Order was the du jour Tomato Bisque topped with a “Grilled cheese sandwich” and their version of a Caesar salad (grilled hearts of romaine lettuce lightly brushed with olive oil, drizzled with our chef’s homemade Caesar dressing and served with a parmesan tuile and fresh croutons); and both the “specials”. The server came back and said the wine lady thought our choice was appropriate, but unfortunately the Burgundy was not avaible and suggested the bottle of Lane Tanner that accompanied him. He said let’s open it and see what you think and if it’s not right we’ll try something else. One alert reader who is a pinotphile will recognize that Lane Tanner Pinot is no slouch. It was lovely and only 33 dollars in the restaurant.

I could fill another page with the description of the food, but each course provided the “wow!” experience. I had expected good food, but what we had was just outstanding. The fingerling potatoes with my tuna I would have gladly eaten on their own, just right texture, and full of flavor. The tuna was just seared on the margins, cold in the middle with a lovely translucent red center and the fennel dust added just a tickle on the tounge. What a dish. The Kobe reminded us of what beef can be. Oh, and with the cork and carry law, we brought Lane home with us.

A great meal, totally unexpected pleasure. I hate the word “destination”, but boy, if you don’t mind a little drive (with maybe the wine in the trunk) I hope you wouldn’t be disappointed. They are worth it.

We finished the evening with a nice production of the play and thought our neighbor did an outstanding job..Nice evening. too bad there's nothing to do..

and you can be we were