Wednesday, December 29, 2010


There is just something about a good meal, nicely served and presented that speaks to your soul for a while. So it was with our evening meal at Niche and our lovely lunch at I Fratellini that set up our Christmas Eve day. Unfortunately, old man winter wanted to be noticed and he sent us the makings of a White Christmas

No matter, we were prepared with one of the St. Louis Icons for lunch

God that stuff is good..wish I had the recipe…

By the time evening arrived, roads were cleared and we were able to participate in the traditional “Lasagna” Christmas Eve dinner at FOJTE’s house with his friends and guests. Always a nice affair, we supplied cheeses and (Volpi) Salumi to accompany appropriate wines and nibbles as starters. Although we were the, um, elders, of the evening we were treated with proper respect and full glasses of lovely wine for the evening.

So the next day which would be Christmas, with all the “wintry mix”, we were hopeful that our family could join us. And indeed they did. Both FOJ’s were there with their families and we had a wonderful time. Dinner? Schnucks took care of that with a fried (!) turkey, roasted veggies, garlicky potatoes, and gravy. All pitched in on the prep..

FOJTY took it upon himself to carve the bird and he did an excellent job. He has talents..

So we had a good meal, opened gifts, and generally enjoyed the each other. It’s not often that MFO and I get to be with our families, but when we can, there is nothing to compare with just being together, sharing stories, and being ourselves. We all have our lives to live, but on special occasions joining up, having fun, sharing a few drinks and food can sustain us for a long time. MFO and I so much enjoy our family. And I’m sure you do too. Who cares if you are


And so, with that pleasant time with our sons and families, we departed for Wisconsin and MFO’s mother.. stay tuned..

What a Day!!

Our journey continues, again a little behind time wise, but duties with MFO's mom have cut into "blog time" so we'll jump back to a great dining day we had in St. Louis...

Another benefit of larger cities (like St. Louis, for instance) is that they have lots of restaurants to choose from, and many options in price, cuisine, etc. In Sauce magazine (a must for any STL foodie) I kept reading about Niche and so in planning our trip we made arrangement to try Niche with a couple of friends on the eve of Christmas Eve. So Thursday turned out to be a big culinary day.

We had a scheduled meeting with our “financial guy” on Thursday to make sure the old retirement coffers weren’t being depleted faster than I am, and it just so happened that it ended around lunch time. He suggested continuing on to lunch, a great idea. We had “done lunch” before, and had a couple of good meals at the nearby Il Bel Lago so we thought trying someplace else would be good. He asked if we had ever been to "I Fratellini" in Clayton. We had not - so we set out for there. Turns out it is on Wydown, right across the street from my old barbershop (Ted’s then John’s) near Hanley Road. We arrived before our friend, found the place and entered to be greeted by a very friendly lady. When we replied negatively to a question about a reservation, she cheerily said “no matter, you get the last unspoken for table!” and led us to a very nice four top along the wall. The place is a storefront, rather small, maybe 12 tables and a cozy bar. The space is walled by unadorned brick, undoubtedly original. Tables were marble with place mats, very simple and nice. Turns out our friend knew a bit about the place, it’s been there a couple of years, and was founded by a group of brothers, hence the name. I he told us that it is at least “run” by Zoe (I forget her surname) of Café Zoe another lauded Clayton restaurant many years ago. In fact, she was the friendly lady that greeted us at the door. And, once again, a fine meal was accompanied by a knowledgeable person working the floor continually checking and watching. That’s what she did..

Anyway, we were seated by her to await our friend. Almost as soon as our seats hit theirs, a young man appeared with a bottle of water (with no label, probably tap, just in a clear bottle). That presaged an almost fanatical passion about keeping those glasses full. Sip fill, sip, fill, sip fill. It was not intrusive and done very discretely and just kind of fun to watch. Our server arrived and asked if we would like a drink while waiting and gave us the wine list. There were surprisingly few by the glass, but certainly enough to satisfy any wish. MFO selected an Italian white, and I had a chardonnay. Our friend soon arrived and asked if there were Pinot Noir by the glass (there wasn’t on the wine list). The reply was “I think I do have one” and sure enough one eventually appeared. Another feature of a good restaurant, the servers aren’t kids working after high school. Efficient and quiet, things just happen when they should. The service remained good throughout the meal.. “may I clear?”; “would you like to take that with you?”.

As to the food—As you might guess it’s Italian. The luncheon menu contained a lot of pastas, some entrée items, and there were a couple of off menu selections as well. Our friend recommended that we try a Bruscetta for the table to start, which we did. That proved to be an excellent suggestion as six slices of very nice bread (that big city thing again), arrived with three different toppings: excellent chicken pate with shaved parmesan; cannellini beans and garlic; and roasted tomatoes and the usual herbs. All were very good. For main courses we had tagliatelle, I had my sucker dish of risotto with butternut squash and roasted chicken, and MFO chose a daily special of a grilled shrimp salad. Meanwhile, the glasses remained full, Zoe checked from near and far, and as I said it was a wonderful lunch with great service and conversation. You St. Louis dwellers, put it on your must do list.

Which would also apply to Niche, where we went for dinner with our friends. We started the evening with a glass of wine and great cheese at their lovely carriage house beautifully decorated for the holidays. Then a convoluted GPS aided (thanks, Droid) journey to the near south side to Niche on Sydney street, just west of I55. Due to the navigation we arrived just short of their “15 minute” policy (later than that, your table vanishes and good luck). You enter the restaurant with a stand in front of you, and some tables to the left and more to the right. Kind of a sleek bistro affair, and yes, there were those brown paper squares on the table. For the life of me, I NEVER will like that. I don’t care how traditional it is, I just don’t see the point. Anyway, we were led through that room, past the window to the “open kitchen” and lo and behold there was another room with two rows of tables along the walls. Also sparsely but tastefully decorated. We were approached by our server (which sort of rotated through the evening), and asked about anything to drink. MFO and had a glass of a sparkling Mirabelle Rose which was quite fruity and tasty. Our server returned and explained about the menu, a combination of prix fixe and a la carte, split into “snacks” a few of amuse bouche kind of things, then “first things first” (7 choices), “on to bigger things” (also 7 options), and “sweets” (only 6!). There is also some “to share” things which amount to sides. The choices in the categories are interesting, with things on first things such as crispy octopus and foie gras banh mi, the bigger things include such items as: “Troutdale Farms Trout with butternut squash, bacon, Brussels sprouts, cacao ribs, and mulled wine”; and “Amish chicken – popcorn farratto, gewürztraminer, prunes, and chervil”.

There is the option to “choose three” from the courses for $40. If you add up the individual choices, you reach that figure pretty quickly so it’s a very good deal. Since my friend and I share a liking for anchovies, we ordered a “snack” of white anchovies on toast with smoked paprika. Neither of the wives shared the taste, so we had two to ourselves while we considered the menu options. They came out perfectly formed little anchovies resting on a rectangle of toast with the paprika providing a bed. They were salty and briny. How can somebody not like that? Anyway, we all finally settled on the “three-fer” option, I took the starter of Vitello Tonnato (three ways), “Golden Tile fish” for the main course and a Liquid Chocolate cake with peppermint bark ice cream. Our friends did starters of salad and pappardelle, both chose the trout, and chocolate cake and a blood orange tart for the “Sweet”. MFO also did the pappardelle, then the Amish Chicken, and the blood orange tart. I chose a bottle of a Nicholson Dijon Clone Chardonnay for the table..

While all of those look good on the menu, they were even better on the plate. Everything was nicely presented.I’ll spare you the course by course replay, but for instance the Trout came not as your usual flat filet, but instead the fish was filleted then reassembled to resemble a section of trout (both sides) and placed at the top of the plate with strips of probably pureed golden squash, then a wave of the shaved sprouts, and then the rich mulled wine sauce. Rave reviews. My tile fish was delicious with the skin crispy brown over the pearly fish. Everything tasted as it should, which sounds dumb, but it did. As I always say a mark of a good restaurant is that each ingredient can stand alone. It did.

One thing that they did has long been on my “wish list”. When the course was served, the server described the dish, ingredient by ingredient saving that “what the heck is this stuff?” problem when your order arrives. Kudos for them on that. I wish more places would follow suit. A great touch. At the end, the manager stopped by the table to ask if we enjoyed everything. We did.

So there’s a couple of places that STL readers should seek out. I don’t think you can miss..

Do you think we were not


Next we headed toward the Great White North of Wisconsin.. it is..

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time Warping....

Preamble: Since we left SOMD last Tuesday, the 21st, today(12/27) is the first day that I have had reliable (laptop) access to the internet . Yes, the Droid does let me do limited browsing and e-mails, but more complicated tasks are so frustrating as to be unusable… That means I have been without general internet capability for almost a week. So here’s an interesting conundrum: is that a blessing or a curse??

Currently ensconsed in the Courtyard in La Crosse, today is the first time I have been able to get out a bottom feeder. And, cursed with my logical engineering mind, I feel the need to sort of do things chronologically. So, if the gentle readers will allow a time warp, we’ll start with the beginning of our journey, which began the 21st

Travelling in winter, besides the angst associated with weather woes, is quite pretty; especially when there is a little skiff of snow on the ground.

We did our usual route of I64 through Virginia, West Virginia, and into Kentucky where we stayed overnight in Lexington. After travelling 591 miles in 10 hours we weren’t in the mood for fine dining, plus of course you have to snack in the car as you go so we didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. Of course the well equipped traveler carries the stuff for nice cocktails.

For main course we had just a cup o’soup from the “market” in the Fairfield. We also discovered (after we got the micro bowl back to the room) that there was no microwave, only an ice box. A trip to lobby led to the discovery that our room rate “didn’t include a microwave”. What the heck is up with that? We’re (thanks to MFO’s cross country journey last year) Gold members, but apparently that don’t hack it. So we were invited to use the microwave in the “dining area” used for breakfast. Kind of stupid.

Anyway, next morning we resumed the journey finally being able to see some of the “horse country” around Lexington,

along with other local culture:

then Louisville,



And finally

So leg one completed with 945 miles, but a fairly easy journey arriving on Wednesday afternoon. The house we were staying in while in STL is sort of "west county" but inside I270. We’re reminded how nice civilized things can be as there is a new Schnuck’s store nearby, which some apparently call the “Palace on Ballas”, and it is indeed spiffy. Kaldi’s coffee shop, ongoing wine tastings, cheese counters, cooking demos, quite the place. And get this, the even have people roaming the aisles asking “do you need to find anything?”, which of course we did. Nice place.

Dinner that evening was supplied by that establishment, some pretty good ham and split pea soup, and some spaghetti and meatballs that were passable. I think due to the long day and adjusting to new time zones, we may have not exactly been


We were however the next day when we dined well… stay tuned

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ho Ho Ho..

Who wouldn't go...

Well, here we go again. For the Nth year (N=14?) we’re off on our annual winter odyssey to St. Louis and then to Wisconsin. The MOMSTER is packed (for the most part), we have the “contingency” kit (blankets, water, snacks, and wine) plus a load of wrapped presents to distribute while there. Right now the weather forecast is amenable but we’ll see. plans are to RON in Lexington, and then the rest of the way on wednesday...

We’ll get to see both FOJ’s, and other friends. We do have some plans for food, including luncheon, a dinner at Niche, and the annual Christmas eve dinner at FOJTE’s digs. After leaving STL, the dining options go a bit south in the north, but we’ll see. There’s always Butter Burgers…. The laptop and camera will of course accompany us, but once again connection to the sky is always up for grabs.

Of this and that…

I had a second visit to La Tabella lately, this time for lunch. It was with a good friend and we must have chatted for almost an hour before considering food. About same comment on food, pasta was voluminous and pretty good. Of course I did the usual “Yes, I would like to take it with me” and then in the post luncheon confusion I left the darn thing on the table.. ever done that?? Funny thing, last time I thought the service was slow, but this time the entrée arrived half way through the salad.. The hour was getting late for lunch so maybe the kitchen was in a hurry to get ready for dinner service. Still worthwhile to check out while they grow.

Last night MFO and I attended what was probably our last holiday event. It was a dinner at the (soon to be dark) JTDCC, put on for friends of Sotterley. The food was a home run. It marked the debut of a new Catering Service, called “Canard’s Catering” and if you know your French, you might guess it’s associated with Ducks. And you would be right. The Kelley’s of Brome Howard Inn have brought their catering talents to this new venture. It was a wonderful meal both in quality and presentation. Look for places to enjoy their productions…Check out this dessert! Meringue snowmen and drifts, chocolate trees filled with mint chip ice cream and the little one with a pastry cream…

Okay, time to go pack some more and get ready for the road. Next posting..??????

And if you’re wondering we will be taking sufficient clothes to


Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Hole-y Story

As alert readers will recall or infer, the Christmas Season is not quite the Feeder’s favorite time of the year. “Why is everybody ELSE filled with joy and good will?” Anyway a small feeling of the season occurred in me this morning, and it revolved around donuts!

Some may remember that when I was gainfully employed, I brought donuts to the team (almost) every Friday morning. I somehow survived many years of arising around 4 something, dragging myself to a local donut emporium, first at the long defunct bakery in San Souci and then later the only choice of Donut Connection. During years of doing this I sort of developed a friendship with the owner of the DC, a very sweet gentleman from India. We had many great conversations, although there remained somewhat of a language barrier. I think one time I commented in the formative Feeder days that I spent some time with him one morning trying to give him an idea where exactly Missouri was. Well, one year I gave him a tin of our favorite (Whitley’s) peanuts. He was so grateful, and even the members of his family that help in the store went on and on about them. So, a tradition was born…

So I tried to keep up with him, but despite good intentions, plans, assurances, and promises to visit “Pete” (as he is called) during retirement, I think it’s been a year since I was able to see him. But somehow, the idea of giving him and his family peanuts again started eating on me. So, this morning, I made the sacrifice and walked in with my tin of peanuts at 4:45. It took him a minute to recognize me, but such a light came into his eyes when he saw me that it kind of made everything worthwhile. We chatted for a while, interspersed with his courteous “may I help you?” into his head set as people approached the drive through. I also saw one of my “donut buddies” that was a very long time regular as well, so it was kind of a little homecoming. Just three guys at 5am in a donut shop in the middle of Lexington Park, but maybe a little light shone upon I always say, little things and friends…

And maybe as my reward I was allowed to see this..

and at that time who cares if you were


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Headed This Way!!

It’s here. After treating us to high winds and freezing temperatures early in the week, Old Man Winter decided that some snow might be a nice way to wind up the week. So, last night the weather pundits started posting “advisories”. As usual, the DC centric folk worried about the one or two inches in the metro area, tossing off as an afterthought “with higher totals possible further south of the city”.

Hey buddy, that’s US down here in Southern Maryland you’re blowing off. So we awoke this morning to find that three counties had canceled school, the roads had been “treated”, and there was absolutely no snow. School officials over reacting as usual, what dunderheads, etc. Up until about 10:30 when a fine misty snow began to appear. Given the recent cold wave, it immediately began to pile up on the streets. Fortunately the chemicals worked their magic, and the snow adhered to the road as if with Velcro, much to the delight of the SUV and manly pickup owners, who immediately speed up to show their stuff. I made it home (from Starbucks) without incident and now we sit and watch out the window.

Of course we have many visitors at the stations

We’re supposed to go to one of our favorite parties tonight over in Leonardtown, so not sure if we’ll make it. What a miserable season for parties for us (another story for another time)

Anyway, all of the visitors at our bird feeders are of course


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Critical Confusion...

Since George hasn’t gotten back to me yet about writing Messiah II, we’ll veer back into more familiar ground.

As a wannabe food critic, I always pay attention to other “critics” and reviewers in my various food publications. One normally thinks that they have wider experiences with food, a reasonable pallet, and the guts to tell others what (they think) is good and what isn’t. For instance, I’ve always had pretty good luck trusting people like Tom Sietsema and Ruth Reichl as a guide, and generally believe what I read about various restaurants in most food magazines. Yes, I know things can be relative; there are no absolutes, but the critics do provide data, and for the most part recommend reliable and interesting places with enough description to allow you to make some evaluation if you would like to go spend your money there. At worst they will help you avoid a bad experience..

After reading through my last edition of St. Louis Magazine (Dec. 2010; Vol. 16, No. 12) with “STEAKHOUSES” emblazoned across the front, I have become somewhat shaken. Well, that’s maybe a bit strong, but at least curious.. The magazine’s stable of food “Critics” are Dave Lowry, George Mahe, and the venerable Joe (and Ann) Pollack. The article about the 12 top houses (in no particular order, thank goodness) is comprised of a couple of paragraphs about each one. Some are familiar, (at least to the STL crowd), such as Annie Gunn’s, Al’s, Mike Shannon’s, Kreis’, and Morton’s, along with some not so familiar like Prime 1000, Shula’s 347 Grill, SLeeK, and Stoney River. Good reading and a guide for those carnivores enjoying “Pleistocene hunks of meat”.

While they avoid rating and ranking the places (good move) each of the critics has a little box entitled: “Picks and Pans: A Critics Take”, wherein they list Best Independent, Best Chain, and Most Overrated. One might think that each critic should be generally aligned with each other, after all, they’re supposed to be knowledgeable, and they have to work together!

Here’s the Rundown in order above (best independent, best chain, and most overrated)

George Mahe: Annie Gunn’s; Morton’s; Andria’s Steakhouse
The Pollack’s: Mike Shannon’s; Ruth Chris; Citizen Kane’s
Dave Lowry: Citizen Kane’s; Ruth Chris; Annie Gunn’s

Whoa! What a hodge-podge! Mahe’s best is Dave’s overrated; Dave’s best is Pollack’s overrated. What’s a diner to take away from that? Where should I go? Does it make any difference? Next time I get a new issue with their reviews in it, how should I take them? Get a second opinion? Methinks the editors might have considered how that might be received…

Local Notes:

I see in the paper this morning (I hate finding out things in the paper, I should be better than that!) that the old “Bingo Parlor” situated on our corner (Millstone Landing/Rte. 235) by the McDonald’s is being renovated to become………a liquor store! We sure need more of those! Now there will be all the necessities of life in one convenient location: a bank, a McDonald’s, and a liquor store. What more can you wish for in Southern Maryland? Maybe the demons will come down from their stoplights and get a belt.

Driving tip!

And, speaking of those demons, I have at last found a way to thwart their habit of turning the light red just before you get there causing you to sit out the 10 minute cycle gnashing teeth and pounding your head on the steering wheel. All you do is calmly reach into the seat next to you, pick up your smart phone (which you never use while driving) and start looking at your text messages/e-mails. Before you know it, a horn behind you will snap you out of it and the light will be green! Painless! That time compression thing..Try it!!

Boy, it sure is cold…make sure you also


Monday, December 13, 2010

A note to George and Frédéric....

George, I’m really sorry. I try, I really do. I’m sure it’s just me. Every year around the holidays, musical groups fall all over themselves to perform your “Messiah”, and people flock to hear it. It’s sort of a holy grail (ha ha). And, almost every year, I think: “well, maybe this year I will like it”. And, I go, but I don’t. I’m sorry. I do enjoy the Hallelujah Chorus, that’s pretty stirring, but it also means that it’s almost over. Hallelujah! And the part that starts “For unto us a child is born…and his name shall be…”, that one. Usually accompanied by timpanies and that is fun. But beyond that it drives me nuts. I suppose I’m this way because I’m an engineer (or is it I’m an engineer because I’m this way?). If you want to pass information or quote scripture, just do it.

Here’s an example: The words of one of the (shorter) "Airs" for the bass singer were printed in the program:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (Isaiah 9 :2)”.

That takes about six seconds to read, and maybe just a little longer if sung straight through. Fine. But no, you have turned those six seconds of information into maybe four or five minutes of vocalization. This isn’t accurate because I don’t know the score (ha ha), but it was performed sort of along the lines of:

The people that Walk-Ed in darkness
Walk-Ed in Darkness
The people that Walk-Ed
In Darkness
Have seen
The people that Walk-Ed in darkness have seen a great light
A great light
Seen a great light.
Walk-Ed in Darkness have seen a great light.
And they that dwell in the land
Dwell in the land of the shadow
Land of the shadow of death
Upon them hath
Dwell in the land of the shadow of death….

Well, you get the idea. I got it the first time. And, each word is sung slowly (and very nicely) with plenty of inflections. You can imagine what an Air takes that is maybe three times that amount of words.

C’mon already! Just sing it once and move on..This year’s opportunity for me to enjoy the Messiah was presented by the COSMIC Symphony, a wonderful local organization that provides opportunities for young musicians to play alongside of more accomplished and experienced performers. Their presentation was not even the whole work, sort of a “Cliff Notes” version. They are quite talented and led by a wonderful conductor, but I could only last until intermission and so I didn’t get to listen to the Sopranos. Darn. I’m sorry George, I know it’s an iconic work, it’s just not for me. I tried.

Ah, but Frédéric, I’m sure you, as did I, would have enjoyed listening to your works played yesterday by several Pianists from St. Mary’s College. They’re sort of celebrating your 200th birthday with several Chopin recitals and concerts of your music (with a few by your contemporary Mr. Schumann). Yesterday afternoon we assembled in good old “Room 25” of Montgomery Hall, sort of in the bowels of the “art” building. The concert was performed by several piano students along with “faculty” Beverly Babcock and Brian Ganz (the killer piano duo at the college). The pieces were grouped into “categories” like “Prelude to a Celebration, Childhood I, Study Period, Shall we Dance” with appropriate pieces in each. It was very interesting to me (am I and engineer because…) to listen to the “students” play and then hear the more experienced Brian and Beverly. They were all good, but some of the students seemed (to me) to just “play the notes” and survive(my approach to guitar playing), but when say Brian played, the music just left the keyboard and floated to you in the air. I’m sure you would have loved to hear him play your delightful little “Prelude in A, Op. 28, No. 7”.

The concert was broken into two parts, the “youth” sort of stuff at four o'clock, and then after a dinner break was to reconvene with the more mature parts of your life. Unfortunately I could only join the youthful part of the concert, and so begrudgingly had to miss a performance of Jonah Yeh, a very talented “youngster” who fits in piano when he’s not playing ball..

And it is such a treat to hear live music played by talented people. Go to a COSMIC Concert, and if you have not, you MUST hear Brian Ganz, even if you don’t particularly care for classical piano. He just might convert you, and you never know when somebody may make him an offer he can’t refuse..

George, again apologies for me, but rest assured there are a whole lot of people who enjoy the Messiah, and maybe by next year, I’ll give it another go…maybe not.

And, unlike some of the attendees for the Chopin event, ahem, I WAS


PS there is another Ganz "Studio Recital" tomorrow night (14th) at 5:00 in the friendly confines of St. Mary’s Hall. Unfortunately (I use that word a lot, don’t I?) a meeting of a local civic organization will prevent me from attending.. Go for me!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

"The Table" is Set?

Alert readers might note there has been a little blogging gap this week, as the BottomFeeder had issues with the first part of his nom de plume, which led to lack of partaking of the latter, sort of taking up time....But, I’m happy to report that

Last night we joined several good neighbors and friends for dinner at La Tabella, the most recent occupant trying to make an a la carte restaurant out of the retirement center dining room in Wildewood. As you might guess, the menu is sort of classic Italian, which is sorely needed in our area, so kudos to them opening in the face of the never ending (disgusting) breadsticks and salad bowls of OG. Quick read is that although they may not be really “open” yet, there is promise shown that would easily make me want to favor them over the OG. As with any new restaurant venture, there are a few opportunities for improvement, but that comes with time. The good news is that the food shows a lot of promise.

Before proceeding, I know that several of our party will be reading this, and as usual I point out that the BottomFeeder tries to look dispassionately at the restaurant, not to affect what was a great evening with friends, which after all, is what really matters.

So, when I learned that we would be visiting the “new” restaurant, the old “expectations” thing went through my head…

Their Givens:
One, The space was created as a retirement center dining room, NOT a restaurant.
Two, You (at least I) can’t find the damn place at night. Wildewood is the darkest place I’ve ever been.

So I can’t really hold that against the new occupants, they have accepted those terms. They have, however, addressed “given” number one to some extent in that a row of planters now creates sort of a “bar” area, which has three (!) sizeable flat screens on the walls. They are in full view of the bar area of course, but they are also in full view of the dining area. Maybe taller plants would help.

Anyway, I was a bit late after the usual “ooops! There it was!” (“given” number two) and a U-turn to get back to the parking lot. As a result, most of our party was already seated, so I missed the recitation of any off menu items, and I don’t know if there was a “Hi I’m…” start. They were in the midst of drink orders. Some chose wine from the wine list, and our server pointed out a wine she had tried and really liked. You know what I think of that. Others ordered cocktails and I of course levied the drink test.

Great conversation filled what was a pretty long time between ordering drinks and their delivery, but some fairly tasty bread helped (eventually with olive oil). When the drinks arrived, all was well except a Martini that was supposed to be on rocks arrived “up”. My DMWATOTR drink was well made to my order and of good size, and a nice value at $6. The menu presents a myriad of choices, with a rather large column devoted to “pasta” (17 options including baked and stuffed – alfredo, carbonara, lasagnette (?), all your favorites) and 2 steak and 2 seafood choices. The other side of the menu is devoted to “Specialities” (I think there must be a better term) which contains various preparations of chicken, veal, shrimp, along with seared scallops and crab cakes “Southern Maryland Style” – whatever that is. Most dishes come with a side salad. I am pleased to report that they have vegetarian options and even a note that says they will do Gluten Free upon request. Good for them..

Between the 8 of us a good variety of things got ordered. I of course tried my benchmark Veal Piccata, while others chose Veal Parmesan, Chicken Ravioli, with one stuffed rockfish and a request for just linguine with olive oil and light garlic.

I never know when to talk about the service--maybe now. All the servers are dressed in black, were very courteous, and eager to please. Water glasses were nicely attended to. If I had to nit on something, (which I always do), I would ask that servers refrain from recommending wine or dishes or commenting on my order. Don’t tell me I made a good order if you’re not prepared to tell me I’ve made a poor choice. And (maybe this is just once) I really don’t care to be referred to as “M’Dear”. And another pet peeve while I’m at it: when I use my (only) knife to butter the bread and eat the salad, I really don’t like it when they set it aside when clearing the salad. When I noticed this being done across the table, I purposely put my buttery knife in the salad bowl, and when she came to clear, she asked: “did you want to keep your knife?” and when I greeted that with silence, she said “I’ll get you another”. Kudos for that, it should be standard practice. Other than that, I couldn’t complain much, she did a pretty good job with a table of eight. The only other comment on “service” was that there were very long waits between drink order and delivery as well as food order and delivery.

Speaking of food, as I said that is what gives me hopes that they can make a go of this place despite the “givens”. It was generally very good. The green salads were crisp and fresh, with dressing on the side so you can have as much or as little as you like. Eventually the main courses arrived and for the most part were placed at the proper seat. There was a little gap between seven of the dishes and the simply prepared pasta, but it got there. Since I had Veal Piccata, I didn’t get a chance to taste the red sauce but everybody else liked it. My Piccata was quite good. The veal was tender, and although I would have cooked it a little more, as it wasn’t golden brown but still it was tasty. Everybody else was happy with the food. And for the most part there was LOTS of it. I had four pieces of veal each that would easily fit in the palm of your hand just about the right size, but they were perched on a huge mound of pasta. Kind of disproportional. It’s kind of tough to make a large serving of red pasta look really good on a white plate. Maybe a sprinkling of parsley would help, or if that’s all they’re going to plate, maybe a bowl would look more appropriate. Or perhaps a colored plate. When asked for some Parmesan cheese, we were brought a couple of little shaker top jars like you have in Pizza Joints, one with cheese and the other with crushed pepper.

Anyway, the food is the cornerstone of a restaurant, and I think they have a great start on that. You can fix “M’Dear”, replace silver, work with portions and presentations, but with good food to build on, I’m hopeful that it will be able to develop. Prices are affordable, and as I said portions currently are such that lunch the next day is pretty much assured. I think they’re trying hard, and I’ll go back in a few weeks to see if some of the growing pains are being eased. I will never “like” the space, but I will live with it. Meanwhile, go take a look. If going for dinner, you might want to punch the coordinates into your GPS to help with given two.

And, I’m happy to report that everybody we saw was acceptably


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Leave the weather, then under it!

Our final (short) day in Chicago began with a nice breakfast buffet (okay, good for this application) in our spiffy hotel. After reluctantly prying ourselves from the palatial bathroom and after getting DFB (and DFT(ravel)) we joined what was left of the wedding party in a lovely room overlooking the winter wonderland..well, a parking lot with lots of snow in this case

It was a bright room with the usual “Stuff” for breakfast

With normal breakfast stuff, and nicely set “sides”

Besides the normal chafing dishes there was an ‘omelet” station

With your choice of----

I always enjoy omelet stations, because the preparation of the omelet varies from place to place. When making them at home, I prefer the classic (?) technique of letting the eggs “set” over heat, then adding the ingredients and rolling it onto the plate in a neat little roll. Of course I normally use a ten inch pan and these are maybe 8. These were made by first putting the egg mixture in the pan, and then adding the meats or vegetables, and gently swirling the mixture so everything was all mixed together. This was allowed to cook until the eggs got “done” and then if cheese was desired it was added. The whole thing was then tipped onto the plate an folded once, or not. Nothing wrong with this, tasted good and it’s always fun to watch.

Oh yeah, the best dish for breakfast? you just can't beat:

After good conversation and goodbyes, we all scattered to our various destinations. Of course the flutters are no different and since we were most of the way there, MFO decided she’d take the rent-a-racer and go north to visit Mom in Onalaska. I bummed a ride with our hosts and went to Midway. Fortunately, traffic was lite, and our driver knew a nicer way to approach Midway that didn’t quite give you the feeling you might be shot as when we used Cicero Ave.

Anyway, all those obstacles were crested and after the laborious trek through security (no full body scans nor patdowns) I arrived at the gate, eventually boarded the plane, quietly ate my peanuts, and after the usual interminable approach to BWI landed without incident.

And, e sincSouthwest Airlines didn’t lose my bag that flies free, another sardine can ride in the rental bus brought me to the Avis section of the rental barn, and the little board told me my car was in stall F43. In that stall rested some little bright yellow Pontiac product with a wing on the trunk. How prophetic it was painted yellow. How long has it been since you drove a car with no cruise control? Fun? You betcha!. And Hey! Why is it that when I turned the corner the turn signal is still clicking away? Because the damn thing doesn’t work! Manual on, manual off. All the way from BWI. Oh, and I don’t know if you’ve ever driven a car with that wing on the trunk, but it obscures the parking lights of any car behind you, so you think the car is inches from you. Or, it reflects overhead lights making you think a car is there that isn’t. Oh well, it probably improved my gas mileage at least .02%. Finally driving in the driveway to the digs, I discover there is no internal trunk release. So I get out, and after several increasingly hard thumb punches to the fob, the thing opens. Okay, finally home. So next day time to turn the Sunkist Kar back to Avis, I punch the “unlock” key on the fob. Nothing happens. Again. same. Okay, I’ll just use the key. A this point, apparently because the smarts in the car had not received an “unlock” signal it though it was being stolen when the door opened and the horn proceeded to bleat. Over and over. Fortunately the unlock tab must have taken because it stopped before the neighbors appeared. And, why do they EVER put gas on the right..

So there was sort of a sketchy conclusion to a great weekend in Chicago. And to top it all off, I must have picked up a bug, because now I’m sort of housebound…if you get my drift.


DFD, because there probably will be no D to DF today!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Windy, check that....

the wind brought in some white stuff.... from our Hotel window:

Speaking of hotels, we're staying in a pretty spiffy one. Spiffy at our age means a great bathroom and this one is. we've stayed in hotel rooms smaller than this one!

separate little compartments for the "necessities"

and, get this! see that little dark square in the mirror the above? and that little black thing on the counter? it's a "remote". press "on" and guess what?

you got TV!! Gotta love that...

Anyway besides the great facilites, last night we had the Rehearsal dinner with very good passed apps INCLUDING Toasted Ravioli!!, class all around!!

now almost time to get DFW(edding).

more later

Friday, December 3, 2010

On the.....Air again

with apologies to Willy..

we're about to embark on a flying journey to the Windy City to attend a wedding. There are group events for a lot of the food so not sure there will be much opportunity explore other dining venues..should be a fun weekend..

will return to Pax on Sunday night, with MFO making a side excursion to visit Mom in LaCrosse. Can't make these things simple..

And I guess this weekend marks the beginning of the "holiday" season, or as I like to call it the "holicraze" season. Parties and open houses begin. If you attend, make sure you look over the buffet table past those supermarket cheese trays for genuine little home made gems..

okay that's MFO in the background urging me to off we go

packe to be


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Easter Shore, Soul....

There is a difference between “Soul Food” and “Food for the Soul”. While the former refers to a particular cuisine, I think of the latter as something that remains with you for a long time, sort of as exemplified by my favorite quote from Thomas Keller:

"A good meal is the kind of journey that returns you to sources of pleasure you may have forgotten and takes you to places you haven’t been before"

Our final dinner in Easton was at the Bartlett Pear Inn (where we were staying). After our less than joyous return to Scossa the previous evening, I was wondering how a second meal at BPI would turn out. I needn’t have worried a minute.

Before starting on this little piece, I thought I better take a look at what I said after our first visit last May. You know what? I could cut and paste that description to characterize our meal on Thanksgiving Eve. Every little detail I mentioned from our first visit was repeated (crumbing the table, wine by the glass served from the bottle, etc.) and the food was still heavenly. The staff was courteous, Alice the Innkeeper made sure things were going smoothly; dishes were served at proper temperature and cleared appropriately. Our server immediately asked about a drink before ordering (no shilly shallying around with names), and we asked for the wine list. An interesting selection of wines, with varying countries of origin and grapes, and prices friendly for any budget. Anyway, MFO selected “Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare”, from that rascal Randall Graham, and I went for “the drink”. The bread arrived (which is brought in from a “friend” in a New York Bakery) in a silver basket and white napkin, warm and crispy with that wonderful butter topped with a sprinkle of Hawaiian Sea Salt. Soon followed by a silver tray containing the wine bottle, a glass, and a perfectly made Dry Manhattan (with that same knot-like lemon twist I had at Scossa! maybe a local tradition). Both pours were of good proportions. With the edges rounded a bit, we turned to the one page menu, still divided into that “Begin With; On to Entrees; and Essence A La Carte”. Which could be translated as Starters; Complete Plates (center of plate with sides); and single item dishes with a selection of sides available (at extra cost). I think you could throw a dart at the menu and not be disappointed ordering whatever it struck. Wherever possible local sources are used (Firefly Farms Goat Cheese), or at least farmer owned and operated farms (Creekstone Farms beef).

Anyway, MFO selected an off the menu cold smoked salmon over greens starter and the (Creekstone Farms) Grilled Hangar steak with Caramelized Shallots, and Béarnaise Sauce, and since I had the Steak Tartar starter last time, I switched to the other sucker dish, Pate de Campagne (Inn made), and the Hudson Valley Duck Leg Confit with Ribbons of Magret Breast, and Farmhouse Sauce. Learning from last time, we only ordered one order of the seductive fries (and ate what we couldn’t finish on the way home). As to the wine for dinner, although we had schlepped along a good bottle we thought we might use, we found out that the Talbot County Ordinances prevent “corkage”. Not a big deal if there is a good wine list..which there was. We selected a Washington State “Uriah” from Spring Valley Vineyards in Walla Walla. It was a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. And, although I hate to use the term, it did “pear” (pun intended) well with the duck and steak. A nice bottle.

All the food was delicious and nicely presented. For instance, my Confit turned out to be a little Napolean, constructed of circular layers of the duck meat separated with crunchy little discs of Lavosh. This was placed in the “upper right” of the plate, and the thinly slices strips of Duck Breast were fanned out from under it, sort of making a little shooting star. This was all served with the “farmhouse” sauce which was silky rich with vegetable flavor. What a great dish (“takes you to places you haven’t been before”). I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of the nice things about staying in a local B&B is the people you meet. At dinner, we were seated next to a couple (not a whole lot younger than us) who were taking “Mom” out to dinner. They obviously were friends with the Lloyds, who stopped by their table to chat (as they did most) about local stuff, it’s so nice to see community being connected by food. Another benefit was that I had a good chance to talk to (Chef) Jordan. One of the reasons the food is so good (besides his talents) is that he spent two years working in Citronelle with Michel Richard. He also spent some time in Les Pinasse in New York. That’s where you learn and practice this stuff. The next morning at breakfast (home made granola, wonderful pastries, local milk or yogurt, French press coffee), I asked him about the sauce for the duck. He said it was sometimes called Sauce Grabure (or “Garbage Sauce”) because it is made with “stuff from the garden”, and was a “simple little sauce”. He then proceeded to sort of go over the preparation of the “simple little sauce” (this is not accurate but you’ll get the idea): Roast whatever vegetables you have, carrots, onions, potatoes; cook the duck, render the fat, add the juices, reduce to a “jus”, puree the vegetables, add the jus, reduce some more, strain, finish with butter. (apologies to Jordan, I’m working from faulty memory here). But you get the idea. Why go to all that trouble? because it tastes like heaven! Like that Sauce Béarnaise . They make everything in the Inn and it shows. Everything is right and all the details are there. When we finally had to leave, he said next time we visit I could maybe spend some time with him in the kitchen… where’s my calendar??

So we finished our visit to Easton with that great meal. As readers will remember, I often end yakking about restaurants saying things like: “I will go back”, or, “I’ll try another visit sometime”. With the Bartlett Pear Inn, it’s: “I can’t wait to go back”. That’s what separates the good from the extraordinary. It’s just done right all around. They make you WANT to return. I have a friend who often uses the phrase: “the devil’s in the details!”, well sometimes the Angels are in the details..

And I don’t have to say