Saturday, March 31, 2012

Very Pop(u)lar



As you (should) know, we are currently at the Rotary Club’s District Conference at the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge Maryland.  The Eastern Shore is quite a pretty place so we were glad they chose this location.  We’ve been on the eastern shore several times, but mostly to Easton.  Great meals there (Bartlett Pear Inn, followed by Mason’s, Out of the Fire, Scossa, etc.).  Sadly, it seems that every time we come there are more lights, chains, and cars down Rte. Fifty.  Too bad.  Quaint ain’t so much quaint anymore, at least on the main arteries.

Anyway, the “real” conference started Friday and since we arrived Thursday night there was only a little “formal” activity.  So we decided to avoid that and try for a night in town.  What was reasonably my only “kitchen pass” from banquet/hotel/production food turned out to be chosen well.  I had done a little research on the restaurant choices here, and most of the “highly thought of” ones were clustered in their “historical district”.   The top three places were (kind of in order) Bistro Poplar, Jimmie & Sook’s (for all you crab lovers), and High Spot, all located relatively close to each other.  A they featured French Cuisine, we chose Bistro Poplar, and were joined by another couple here at the conference.  Our friends who had arrived earlier in the day had lunch at Jimmie’s and had enjoyed it but were up for something a bit more upscale for dinner.

Once we finally (another story) got here and knew the time situation I called and reserved a table for four.  After bouncing around a bit and finding a parking place we walked to the Bistro which turned out to be right next door to the J&S place.  Their historical district is not as well developed as some, as there are several old, empty buildings around. There is alittle enclave of restaurants, a gallery here and there, but that’s about it. There may be a chocolatier, but not the restoration you might see in other older towns. A little red awning was over the door and the store front style revealed an inviting space inside, with white tablecloths, wine glasses and silver.  We identified ourselves and were seated sort of near the door, a good spot for observation.

I have not been to a lot of Bistro’s in France but somehow the place was evocative of that (or at least my perception).  Wooden floors, high ceilings, the walls in a warm yellow with large mirrors here and there, a couple of those French posters, and tables kind of scattered around.  Somehow the room seemed to evoke the atmosphere of an old world room, it just sort of fit with the Bistro idea.  Plus, it was in sort of a run down area. The bar was sort of plopped in the back, with a simple counter in front, and a relatively few amount of bottles.  The staff was in white shirt and tux vest.  When I say “staff” it appeared to be one server, a back waiter, and another who sort of bounced around.  I figured (without asking) that he could be one of the owners or at least the manager.  He didn’t seem to have a well defined task.

Natalie (whom we found out because of the Hi.. I’m speech) took a bit to get to our table as other diners came through the door and she apparently was also responsible for seating them.  She returned, dropped the menus and was off again.  Usually I comment on the service after the food, but it sort of fits here.  She turned out to be a very friendly and accomplished server, answered very knowledgably about menu items, and generally attended to the table.  It just seemed that she was behind the eight ball all evening, always sort of being in a rush.  Since you could see the whole restaurant from our table she was always pretty much in sight.  She took drink orders, went behind the bar and made them, served them, ran food and generally was on the go most of the evening.  Not that she didn’t spend time at our table when she had to, just sort of set the pace for the place.  Despite that, when we left, I would say the service was not a distraction.  She remained bright and cheerful, adding comments about the lemon tart for dessert would be good for breakfast. Maybe consistent with a bistro (and yes, they did have the paper squares on the tables.

After corralling Natalie we were able to put in a cocktail order, and I have to admit they weren’t exactly up to what I wished.  My DMOTRWAT showed up as an “up” Manhattan with sweet vermouth (which was replaced and repaired fairly quickly), and MFO’s Gimlet lacked a lime slice.  These were created during a time when she was doing about five things simultaneously, so we kind of gave her a pass, although I think the concept of a dry manhattan was a bit new to her.

As to the food.  No matter the level of service, the food overshadowed any nuances there.  It was very, very good.  The menu was a simple one page affair, nicely labeled “Dinner D’Hiver” indicating some level of seasonal attention.  It consisted on choices of ten starters and nine mains, something you could easily deal with.  For Starters, there was a nice mix of expected items, French Onion Soup (Onion Soup Gratinée); Duck Confit; salads (Bibb Lettuce with roquefort, tarragon vinaigrette; Haricots Verts & Marble Potato Salad - walnuts, radishes, sherry vinaigrette), along with some not so expected: Sautéed Sweetbread with glazed oyster mushrooms, dill; Beer Battered Brandade with tomato tartare.  We did ask after the Brandade (hey, I don’t know everything!) and Natalie explained it was a French winter staple of an emulsion of salt cod, olive oil and potatoes. I was a bit surprised there was no offering of a Charcruterie plate.  Mains also had a nice variation available, with our old friend Steak Frites, a Bourguinon of… Bison, Leg of Lamb, a pork shoulder, and from the sea Roasted Salmon, seared Scallops, and a not so familiar Pan-Roasted Monkfish Amandine.  Pretty pleasant menu.  They also had a nice selection of wines by the glass on another one pager.

After a bit of thrashing, we settled on starters of the soup, the bibb lettuce, the Haricots Verts, and I went for the sautéed sweetbreads.  Mains were two orders of the scallops (based on a recommendation from Natalie when compared to salmon) a roasted quail, and I, after discussion regarding the Veal Escalope, went with the leg of lamb.

Like the menu, each dish had a nice little twist to it.  MFO’s Haricots were a nice stack of good flavored beans, some lovely walnuts and the radishes came in form of little matchsticks complete with red tops, the soup didn’t have a covering of melted cheese on a huge crouton as is fairly common.  What for me was the dish of the night was the sautéed sweetbreads.  Sometimes you get them sort of diced and fried, but this was several little slices of yes, the thymus gland.  Sauteed (seared almost) provided a nice little caramel crunch hiding the sweet meat below. They were served over a lovely bed of caramelized mushrooms good in their own right.  Don’t be put off by what it is, just enjoy how it is in the mouth!  Bibb lettuce with gorgonzola was a delightful stack of lovely green lettuce.

Okay, this is getting long so we’ll contract.  All the main courses were cooked nicely, presented well, and had appropriate flavors.  My lamb was subtle without that overpowering flavor you get sometimes.  Anyway, for dessert we ordered two lemon tarts and “four forks” and were presented with four plates containing half a tart.  Lemon is one of the all time favorites for dessert.

So if you are ever in Cambridge I would highly recommend Bistro Poplar.  We would go back in a second, and I think a return visit after experiencing the first would be even more enjoyable in that you would have some realistic expectations..

mas oui, we were

DFD

quick update (Saturday PM):  King Oyster has been highly received, hotel food has been better than some i've had.  Yesterday's lunch was plated, but last nights (Business Dress) was buffet... go figure..


Thursday, March 29, 2012

A quck One before the road...

Alton Brown: "Cracker Barrel is where southern food goes to die. And you may quote me if you like."

Anthony Bourdain:“Cracker Barrel is where southern food goes to die? " dude!. You KNOW where Southern food goes to die. And it ain't CB...... y'all."  (the meaning of which is left to the alert reader)

Rest easy, Earl Scruggs...

headed for Cambridge where we will be

DFD

PS have located a possibility for a Feeder Experience if we sneak out of the convention dinner tonight!!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Still Topless....

At least in the "lap" computer division..  am slowly adding more capability to my “wiped” one, but still not completely up on picture capability, so you still have to deal with words..

More windmills

I swear I am not making this up.  As the college basketball wars wind down I tend to watch both genders battle themselves down toward a final four.  So I was watching a couple of women’s teams the other night (I forget who) and of course the winning team had to suffer the post game microphone stuck in their face with the usual idiotic questions: “tell me how were you able to…?” .  So here was a female interviewer talking to a female coach of a team which, as near as I could tell, was composed completely of members of the fairest gender.  Several of the questions from the lady interviewer to the lady coach were “how were you guys able to overcome their zone…”; “what were the last instructions to your guys before you left the locker room”;  “what made you guys confident you recover from ten points….”.  Nobody batted an eye.  Does this seem odd to anybody else?  Howling in the wilderness again.

And I suppose I rant on this every year, but I need to do this again…  I really try to be objective in this, I really do, but I have to wonder  Last night, there were two games, both a number one seed versus a number two, vying for spots in the NCAA Woman's Final Four (or perhaps the guys final four).  At this point the Cinderella’s should be pumpkins and you would expect close games.  Notre Dame, fresh from a closely fought game with St. Bonaventure eking out a 44 point victory, took on Maryland who had a pretty good run in the tournament, taking out the defending champ Texas A&M.   Maryland was unable to score 50 points, losing by 30.  I am not sure what all this means.  Enough..  

Letter to the Editor....

Alert readers will remember that I often report that the restaurant Charleston in Baltimore receives accolades both locally and nationally as number one this, and (gulp) best that, always in top ten lists and so forth, and the one experience we had was memorable.  So an equally alert MFO called my attention to a letter to the editor in Baltimore Magazine regarding their list of top restaurants recently published.  It began with “Are you kidding me? Charleston is number one?”  It went on to say that “if the clientele were all millionaires, I might understand the over-the-top, ridiculous prices for mere morsels of food”.  He complained about his $20 appetizer and though it was advertised as three pieces of seafood, he could only remember a calamari.  Then, the entrees were so small you "needed a microscope to find them".  He concluded by saying they also ate at a non-rated restaurant, and again miniscule portions with exorbitant prices, and so could not understand why Charleston is considered one of the best.  That was it.  No mention of service, no indication of how those “miniscule” portions were paired, presented or tasted, just that they were small. 

Well, sir, I really don’t know you, but maybe some research would have given you some clue.  Perhaps you would be better served at an “all you can eat” buffet, or places with “endless salad and bread sticks”.  If quantity and not quality is what you seek, there are lots of places that should appeal to you..

On the road…

Tomorrow MFO and I once again saddle up the MOMSTER, and this time we will go over the Bay Bridge and spend the weekend in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore.  The annual District Conference of mid-atlantic Rotary Clubs is being held there, and part of my duties include royal appearances of King Oyster.  So the velvet and ermine robes will be packed along with the crown and scepter, to stroll around dispensing largesse.  The two day agenda is full which includes various luncheons and banquets, so dining opportunities will probably be limited to “hotel food”.  And to add insult to injury we will pass within a few miles of the Bartlett Pear Inn….  Sigh.

His majesty will be

DFD

Saturday, March 24, 2012

It Always...

rains on Maryland Day (commemorating the founding of Maryland)...  this year appears to be no different.  at least it's not snow

Maryland Day will have special meaning for us this year.  During the ceremony, Historic St. Mary's City Commission will be awarding the Cross Bottony to MFO.  The Cross Bottony is given annually to honor outstanding efforts on behalf of Historic St. Mary's City.  In MFO's case it will recognize over ten years of (volunteer) service as their Archivist.  She spent a good deal of that time in dank moldy, cellars, opening boxes and boxes of "stuff" that accrued during the development of the Museum.   She organized, filed, tabulated, and preserved years of corporate records, documented important events like the 300th Anniversary in 1934, and generally put their house in order.  She played a large part in the Museum achieving National Accreditation, as one of the requiremnts is organized corporate history.   She also has a pretty good idea where all the "bodies are buried" as they say... She has mothballed the collection and although she will remain "on call" at the City, she has "retired" and now will spend the majority of her time as Archivist for the St. Mary's Historical Society.  Through her work in both places she has gained a lot of knowledge and appreciation of our history in little old Southern Maryland.  It is a special award for her...much deserved.

Realize this is a bit late, but the ceremony is at one o'clock today (Saturday) near the visitor center (and bathrooms) instead of out at the chapel site where is has been for the last few years.  It is always a pleasant event, flourishing of flags by the Militia, and especially the fourth graders from each county who carry their counties flag.  Mom and Pop are always there taking pictures, kids get lost, and it is generally a fun event.  Come and see it if you have some time in the land of nothing to do.

Laptop Update

As feared, the worst has occurred and the hard drive had to be "wiped" with the result that I lost a bunch of feeders, pictures, documents and so forth.  Of course it never happens "to you", but I now have a greater appreciation of doing backups and it will be a good lesson for me.   And you.  And because the damn thing was "aging" in today's technology, I got out the plastic and will be getting a new one in a week or so..

Food Stuff

A side note(s) the "Jerry's Bistro" near us (by the bowling alley) has opened.  We did a take out the other night, I had the "special" fried rice (a mixture of all meats kind of thing), and MFO tried their Pizza.  My rice was okay, pretty much on a par with all the other rices I've had (with maybe exception of Oga's).  MFO's pizza was sub par, and we both finally agreed that it was underdone.  I will add that it was the first night they were open, so maybe that's a factor.  We'll see..

I see that ground has been broken for our long awaited Cracker Barrel.   Yahoo!  It will be great to have a restaurant where you enter through a gift shop with fuzzy animals and candles.  I'm sure like it's neighbors it will be packed.

okay, enough, time to consider getting ready for the doings this afternoon.  have to find duds so that we will be

DFA(ward)  and,

DFR(ain)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

W32 Blaster!!!

After seven years, it is apparently my turn…

So there I was, typing along on my trusty laptop, ranting a little about “guys”, and all of a sudden a little screen popped up saying I had been infected with W32Blaster worm.. and another popped up that started a scan.  What followed was a harrowing 15 minutes of watching file after file being shown as infected with the worm along with some other sinister sounding things like Trojans and Backdoor this and that.  It wouldn’t let me open any programs like Outlook.  So currently the thing is in quarantine to get sanitized, hopefully without “wiping” it.  All my pictures, the software I use to manipulate them, everything.     So am not sure of the immediate future of the Feeder, hang with me a bit.. updates (from this desktop) to follow.

 What I was going on about was that I have occasionally been accused of tilting at windmills, fighting the rising tide, and other insinuations of engaging in futile causes.  My relentless drive to DFD, railing against the canned “Hi I’m…..” speeches from servers, and other restaurant things like having the fork you used for your salad being set aside for you so you can use it again with your entrée.  Lately I have been complaining about the rampant use of the term “you guys” when referring to a party of mixed gender.  You’re being silly!  It is too common!  Yes it is.  But how would you like it if you were at a table with all males, and the server walks up and says; “can I get you gals something to drink?”.  Well, that’s different you say.  Just go ask your wife/girlfriend/other how she feels about being called a guy…


All for now---sigh



DFD

Monday, March 19, 2012

books and basketballs......


That pretty much describes the last few days..

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the Friends of the Library book sale was held over the weekend where days of sorting took place over the previous week, where this


Was turned into


with a reminder that this is only a look at the Non Fiction building with the Fiction and Children’s buildings looking pretty similar.. after putting the finishing touches on sorting and tidying Friday morning we were finally ready for the “members only” day opening at one.  The “dealers” (who must sign up as members) show up early hoping to get the first crack at the good books and grabbing some real bargains.  We had dealers from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  Our little book sale has quite a reputation..  Anyway they queued up out side the doors a good hour before opening


Finally at the stroke of one the doors open and in they come with tubs at the ready


Usually they have a focus area (biography, history, etc.) and proceed directly to that area.  Some have little scanners that read the book's bar codes and instantly give them pricing.  We have been told we are one of the best shows they go to,  things are clean, organized, and excellent values.
My job is to take the money when they check out so I get to chat with them.  Generally they are pretty friendly; we seem to have weeded out the ugly ones.  Most stay all day, with the folks from Tennessee being shoved out the door at eight that night.  The pricing for our "regular" books is two dollars for a hard back and one for a “trade paperback”, with the smaller paperbacks (of our youth) going for fifty cents.  Many of the dealers spend upwards of five hundred dollars.
But mostly the people that come are community folk, and I always enjoy seeing many friends and it is a fun way to spend the weekend.  It is so rewarding that people still want a real book in their hand, not just a screen to look at.  The little ones are so proud thay they have a book of their very own!  We had a book about birds near us which had descriptions of birds and a little device into which you could punch it's "number" and it would play the song.  One little boy fell so in love with it that his mother couldn't resist getting it for him for a whopping 6 bucks.  He sat for hours (while mom shopped) listening.   And maybe we have created a future birder!!

 Saturday was a pleasant day and we were able to offer food since the “hot dog guy” came and set up shop.


I was saddened to learn through chatting with him that he has decided to “retire” for a while so he can devote some of his weekend time to family rather than half smokes and brats.  Too bad (for us, good for him!).  He was a boost to our local food scene..
Yesterday (Sunday) was “half price day” at the sale, and we unloaded a bunch more books.  Even so, we’re left with hundreds of books and what do you do with those?  Our local Rotary Club located a place in Annapolis that takes books and eventually gives them to service folk and charities and they said they would take all we had left.  So, the dirty work of taking down all the lovely books we assembled began by putting together “Gaylord” boxes

And with the help of the Rotarians we filled ‘em up.
Loaded them on “the truck” (fork lift not pictured!)

And off they went.
There were just about three truck loads, with each truck holding about seven or eight “gaylords” with each box holding I don’t know how many books.   It’s nice to know that the books won’t just be recycled.  So, like last year, we end the sale with exactly zero books (except holdover rare and unusual ones) and yet each year we have all those books due to donations by people like you.  And the proceeds from the sale will augment our local libraries ability to have nice computer equipment and special programs.
Too bad we don’t make enough to buy them a new library, we see the need if our local government doesn’t.  Nuff said.
Before leaving the literary side, if you have books you would like to donate for next year’s sale, take them to the back end of the Leonardtown Library.
Roundball

Meanwhile as we were moving books, many college basketball teams were moving the basketball as “March Madness” began all over the country.  As usual, I have filled out a couple of (for recreational purposes only) brackets and, as usual my carefully researched and emotional choices get bounced.  In one of them, I had Missouri being National Champion.  Thanks, plucky little Norfolk State.. how did you enjoy the Florida game?  Duke, meet Lehigh!  At least my Spartans (second National Champion) is still alive. It is fun to watch teams that have never played go up against one another, and I guess that’s why a Norfolk State can knock off an alleged national power.   As somebody said, “It’s why they play the games”.  So that will go on over the next couple of weeks..good luck.
 Foodie Corner
And just to keep a foodie hook alive, after Saturday at the sale we joined some friends for dinner at Morris Point Restaurant.  I don’t have much to add to previous reviews that it is like going to a friend’s house for dinner, with Dad in the kitchen, Mom running food, and a smaller one taking orders.  Questions about menu items are relayed directly to the kitchen through the open window , as in: “what kind of white wine do we have tonight?” or:  “how is the rockfish prepared?”.  Once you get into the flow, it’s kind of fun.  It’s slow but that’s why we ask what kind of wine they have.  I had a crab stuffed rockfish that was very good, although MFO would have preferred her fish to remain on the heat a while longer.  And where can you get glazed beets for a side?  or Roasted Green Beans?  At home of course, or Morris Point..  It is a good experience for fun, and by golly it isn’t a chain. It's local, it's special. But you must be
DFD


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Books, Books, And More....


Happy Ides of March!  Beware, beware…

Pop Question/Quiz:  Who wrote “The Three Musketeers”?   Correct.  Next question: Who created “From Absinthe to Zest”?  Get that one?  Answer: it’s the same person!  Alexandre Dumas.  Apparently Alex was quite the gastronome (at least in his own mind) and he wrote “Le Grande Dictionnaire de Cuisine” which was published posthumously in 1873, three years following his death.  He wrote the dictionary “to be read by the sophisticated and practitioners of the art”.  The good folks at Penguin books extracted this portion and published "From Absinthe…"  It’s one of those books that you lose and then find and start reading.  This little 100 pager was a Christmas gift from a cherished friend, and I picked it up a bit ago.

 Anyway I have really enjoyed reading it.  It does in fact have entries for each letter of the alphabet (except x) sometimes more than one.  It contains recipes, backgrounds, anecdotes and so forth for a variety of foodstuffs.  He is well, quite conceited, and doesn’t mind tooting his own horn about his cooking prowess and knowledge of food, and is extremely jingoistic about French Cuisine.  France, as I have already said, is the only country that knows how to make a pot au feu”.   In the section on Homard he relates a story about a meal he decided to prepare for his friends.  his (friends) cook, even though he claimed her to be a cordon bleu was unanimously demoted and I was elected to in her place.  She was free to keep the title of vice-cook, but only on the condition that she would not oppose the chief cook (Alex) in any way”.  He goes on to relate his preparation of the dinner, which consisted of (a linguistic mix) :  Tomato and Shrimp Bisque; Lobster á l’amáricaine; Plaice with sauce normande; Mackerel a la maître d’hôtel; Poulet a la Ficelle; Pulpe Frite (fried octopus); Tomates a la Provençale; Scrambled Eggs with Kidney Gravy; Points de Asperges; Coeurs de laitue a l’espagnole; and finally Dessert de Fruits.  Wines were listed as: Corton; Pommard; Ch. Latour, and Ch. d’Yquem..  Preparation of each dish is described in detail, all starting from scratch and each one has several steps.  He prefaces the preparation of the lobster with this admonition: “We beseech our readers, and above all the ladies, to pay great attention as the dish is very complicated”.  It is left to the reader to speculate on his meaning.  The words conceit and arrogance might come to mind. Then he goes into the five step process which he closes out with the following: “As this dish is somewhat complicated, it should not be attempted by novices; one must be a real cook, equipped with a certain skill, in order to attack it.  Finally he admits at the end of an hour and a half, the meal was on the table.  Hmmm…. pretty darn fast there, Alex..

Despite all this, it is a very pleasurable book to read, and I recommend it highly to anybody with an interest in reading about classic late 19th century French cuisine.  There is quite a bit of interesting facts and notes.

Another book I have enjoyed is called “Love in a Dish” a collection of essays and articles (most from the now defunct Gourmet magazine) by M.F.K. Fisher (1998 – 2002).  Any foodie worth salt will know she was a legendary food writer.  I very much enjoy her style, full of sensuous descriptions of life and food.  I especially enjoyed the article called “I was really very hungry” in which she recounts a lunch she had in France which turned into a almost spiritual experience.  Another entitled “Love letter to an empty shell” which is all about oysters.  She expresses an exuberance to food that will inspire you.  There are lots of sources for her work, so pick one up and read it (and then don’t read the bottom feeder for a while!).

And just to show you I am not a one trick pony, I read about things other than food.  I have been reading a lot lately about Irish History (unbelievably confusing), and 17th century English and  (what turned into) American history, sort of around the time of Historic St. Mary’s City’s rise and fall.  I’ve pretty much read all the local books, and am now branching earlier and later.  Anyway at the book sale yesterday as I was sorting I came across a book called “The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastry” and picked it up.  It is 350 pages of small print, so I am not sure I will get through it.  But what really bothers me about this book is a shared trait of a lot of academic books.  I’ve noticed this before in “scholarly” books authored by professors and university people.   In this case, okay, I would like to know about the Rise and Fall.  So we open the cover and begin. The first section is called “Introduction to the Paperback Edition” in which the author “updates” some information from the original hardback edition.  It goes on for thirteen pages of small print with small margins during which he rambles about the Falkland Island war and other sort of side line subjects.  Okay, whew, I slogged through that.  Let’s get on with the Rise!.  Nope, we now get to the Preface of five more pages.  Then we get the Introduction!!  Nine more pages!!  So after about thirty pages you finally get to the subject.  I’m worn out.  I guess it’s common practice, but get on with it!


And lastly since we’re going on about books, MFO would club me if i didn't include a reminder that tomorrow (Friday, 16 March) is the first day of the annual Friends of the (St. Mary’s County) Library book sale.  I remind you every year and hope you are able to come and avail yourself of the opportunity to get some very good books at incredibly low prices, and support our local libraries at the same time.  There are thousands of books on all subjects and they pretty much fill up three buildings at our fairgrounds, one each for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Children’s literature.  Tomorrow is “members only” day, open to current and new members of the Friends (you can join on the spot for $15).  It opens at one and stays open until 8pm.  Saturday (open to all) hours are 10 to 5, and Sunday is noon to three.  All left over books get recycled and given to charities, so they start from scratch each year.  It is fun to come and browse.  You never know what you might find tucked away someplace.  All the books are grouped into fairly narrow categories so you can pursue your interest fairly easily.  Cook books?  You betcha..







I will most likely be in the Non Fiction building taking money.  Stop by and say hello!  And buy some books!  (2 bucks hardcover; 1 for “trade” paperback; and 50 cent “regular” paperbacks).  There are also some videos, books on tape, and usually some of those old things called records..

Pretty fun event. And you can be



DF whatever you want to!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Great Restaurant (??)


With San Diego in the Memory banks, I was going to do a report today about some books  that I have read lately (part of my relaxed lifestyle), which deserve talking about.. But another subject has pushed it off the front page.

Last night, an alert and discerning reader forwarded me the following link to a restaurant review by Marilyn Haggarty from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

How he came across it was not divulged, but as I read it (you should, please) I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  It was a review of their newly opened Olive Garden.

After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome

She went on describing her experience and what a wonderful meal it was.

The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.”

All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here

My first reaction was that it was tongue in cheek, a masterful piece of sarcasm, and a parody on chain restaurants.  But the more I read it, the less convinced I became of that opinion .  I don’t mean to denigrate her, but she turns out to be 85 years old, and has lived there for most of her life.  I was so fired up I sent her an email, not necessarily criticizing her for reviewing a “chain” but pointing out what a disservice to her community it was to drive people to a chain.

So this morning I woke up, and as usual we tuned in to the Weather Channel (old people watch the Weather Channel), and they cut to somebody (Mike Sidell?) in (get this) Grand Forks, North Dakota!  His lead in was that “I’m usually here to describe the winter weather, but this time I’m outside the Olive Garden”.  Holy crap!  He further reported that Maryiyn’s “review” had gone (I hate this word) viral on the internet.  So I googled it and there were a plethora of foodie posts slamming her.  There was also an article by the newspaper defending her, saying that foodie people are snobs, only respecting high end restaurants and on and on.

A recent google research reveals she is now headed to New York to be a guest at Le Bernadin, and other upscale places.  Is she savvy enough to launch her review with that in mind?

I am not sure what to think, but I will relate that by pushing some chain in Grand Forks, she is taking revenue away from (hopefully there are) local places.  When you support a chain, you eat food developed in a corporate kitchen; marketed research to give you dishes what they think most people want (Chicken Alfredo) prepared off site, shipped in and finished for your dining pleasure.  But you know what? Your check puts money in the corporate till, it leaves the area to join a regional pot.  Your local restaurants that can prepare unique dishes with locally sourced ingredients, displaying talents of a chef able to innovate and express his/her individuality lose their chance.

Thanks, Marilyn.. I hope your local restaurants appreciate your power play.  And when you are at Le Bernadin will you be

DFD?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dining In....and done..


Besides all the “dining out” adventures, we also dined “in” a fair amount, meaning we just stayed home with our friends and enjoyed their home cooking (which was very good thanks to her being a great cook) so we ate (and still DFD'd) very well.  And by staying in a lot we also had plenty of time to talk, listen to nice music, actually read a book, and take a guilt free nap(s).  Although “big deal” meals are fun, it is also quite satisfying to have a good meal without having to make reservations, get in the car, drive, make menu choices, drive home, and so forth.

One of the meals "in" was a “Costa Rica night” (they had traveled there) dupulicating a meal of beans and rice and fried plantains.




Along the way, we had things like a lovely sausage and mushroom pasta dish (for which I now have the recipe!), some tasty sandwiches for lunches, homemade pizza, homemade caramel for treats, and of course homemade DMOTRWAT’s, good wine, and good desserts.

 When making lunch one day, we had some jicama and carrots  out for crudités, and the conversation sort of drifted to food photography.  I mentioned that there was a growing profession of “food stylists” who prepare the plate for the shot, putting bits of parsley just so here and there, put a casual crumb on the plate, place the fork, and so on.  So my friend and I got busy and created a food stylist picture of our own… the Jicama Crab Plate...or is it a spider... no, crab sounds better..



Which presided over our table of fresh fruit and tuna salad sandwiches.



One of the days it was chilly enough to have a pleasant fire



A few of the evenings we were treated to a video show of the birding trips they went on, and we also kind of fell into watching a couple of (Netflix) episodes of Doc Martin, a great show if you have not seen it.  There’s a lot to recommend just staying home.

One of the days when we didn’t stay home we visited the (famous) San Diego Zoo.  Besides the critters of four feet they have several aviaries which house exotic and tropical birds (thank you San Diego Weather) in huge enclosures.  We spent a lot of time getting shots.





Gorgeous creatures.

 We also took the “bus tour” around the rest of the park after our feet grew tired where we saw a lot of other animals..



One of the things they do at the zoo (hey!...) is to release the macaws near the entrance gate and they all take off much to the delight of the visitors



Anyway it is a nice place to visit, but a word of caution, to get a regular day pass it costs you a healthy $42 bucks!  It does include the sky tram and the bus tour, but still, think about taking a family!  Investment touring.  We didn’t check out the food or souvenir prices, but I suppose they are commensurate.  In all fairness the zoo has many worldwide programs for specie preservation and research, so it goes to a good cause.  Still pokes a hole in your wallet..

Which finally brings us to the end of a wonderful week in SOCAL.   We saw what we wanted to see, ate what and where we wanted to, and saw the ocean. 



But what will linger are the memories of relaxing (not easy, but you CAN do it) and enjoying the company of good friends and their hospitality.

So after some delays, finally we were on the great silver bird headed east.  With amenities..



DFT(raveling)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Like No Other...

Tradition:

The first definition according to Merriam Webster: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior “.   In our case there are a couple of things that we have fallen into the habit of doing on any trip to San Diego.  According to Merriam, I guess that puts us close to making them a tradition.  One has to be careful of turning tradition into tyranny, as in “damn it, here we are so we have to……”; so far we have avoided that…

Anyway we seem to always find time to visit the timeless Grand Dame of Coronado Island



Which you should know is the Hotel Del Coronado.  It holds sort of a magic draw on us, to the point where a visit to San Diego without touching base leaves kind of a hole in the experience.  I think it has changed ownership a few times since we began visiting years ago, but it remains stately and grandiose.  It just has a majestic feel about it. And part of the tradition is to have a bite and sip on the Ocean Terrace which is now called Sheerwater (why, I don't understand), a restaurant with open air seating completely outside, or on the porch, or altogether inside.  The weather while not balmy, was warm enough to stay outside.



 It is a lovely setting offering views of the ocean and a parade of passerby’s which is always rewarding.  Before I go on, you might notice the ball cap on the gentleman in the above picture.  I will not fault him for this in this instance, because the place is popular for dining to all sorts of creatures.



The avian customers have been a fixture since we first experienced the Del, but by and large the staff and customers shooosh them enough that they are not a huge problem.  We were seated at a table, the water glass immediately filled and presented with menus.  It is a one sheet affair with drinks on one side and food on the other.   Guess which side we looked at first!





It is left as an exercise for the reader to decide who had what drink..  And I guess this is as good as time as any to mention the service there.  Again harking back years and years, the service has always been gracious.  The food may take a while, but the table service is always timely and attentive.  When one thinks of the hordes of tourists and characters that come through the place day after day, it is amazing to me how they maintain the level of friendly servers.   You don’t see inside their minds of course, but outwardly they make you glad you came.


So fortified with liquids we turned the menu over to the food side of things (and I apologize to my support team for the stupid shadow in the picture)





It is a pretty good menu because you can find most anything to suit your appetite and mood.  After waffling back and forth a few times I settled on the penne pasta, and MFO chose a lamb burger (not pictured on the menu) and a side salad.  Somewhere a second glass of the Pinot appeared and we enjoyed the passing scene and reflected on our trip  (living well is still.....).  In the morning we “did” the San Diego Zoo with our friends (more to come on that) so just sitting and sipping was very welcome.  Water was kept filled (with lots of ice, thank you) and pretty soon the food was there.   What’s not to like about pasta…





The rock shrimp were good, there were several kinds of mushrooms not just crimini, and the brandy lobster sauce was true to its description.  The pasta was just nicely cooked, not at all mushy.  I couldn’t finish it all…. because, you have to save room for dessert!  After more waffling (that second glass of wine) we decided on a lemon curd and two spoons.  How’s this for a presentation?





The lemon curd was tart and creamy, berries fresh, and the pistachio merangues were a welcome foil. A cappuccino finished off the meal. I suppose it shouldn’t be a shock, but all the food was very good, nicely served and presented.  In a “crank ‘em out” setting, wandering tourists, some regulars.  Nice job.  The tradition continues..


Speaking of which, another visit that is becoming on the verge of a tradition is a "big deal dinner" in La Jolla at Tapenade.  We have always enjoyed meals there and our hosts suggested we do it again.  No Brainer.  Long time readers will recall I have reported on it before in glowing terms.  This visit gave me no reason to revise my opinion.   I believe the chef may have changed but the food and service have not.  Exquisite in both departments, servers in crisp white shirts, bow ties and black vests, muted tones on the wall, tables set far enough apart to allow some sense of privacy, gleaming crystal, the whole package of what a great restaurant should be.

Our server inquired about drinks and she soon delivered three glasses of Sancerre and a perfectly made DMOTRWAT.  The menu is divided between “Les Classiques” and “Seasonal Flavors” for both appetizers and entrees.  Sort of an imaginative way to give the kitchen some latitude while retaining classic French dishes (Escargots de Bourgogne au beurre d’ail; Bisque de Homard) as well as some seasonal dishes (Celeriac "remoulade", poireaux vinaigrette, truffe; Civet de Sanglier à l'Ancienne).  After enjoying our drinks we got down to food.  

There were tough choices all around.. appetizers were the snails (MFO); Assiette de Charcuterie Maison; Lobster Bisque and Salade de mesclun, croustillant de chevre, chutney de poire.  My plate/assiette contained paté, salami, and prosciutto along with the requisite Cornichons and crusty bread.  For entrees we had a classic coq au vin, MFO also stayed on the classiques side and followed her escargot with Homard au maïs blanc, cèpes et vanille Tahitienne .  I had a lovely plate of roasted loin of venison presented with slices and bacon wrapped noisettes, and the fourth was a ravioli dish.  At this point I have to admit I stopped taking notes as the bottle of Latour 2005 Cote du Beaunes gradually filled our glasses.  At some point you just have to enjoy the food and the hell with the little notebook.  Consequently some of the details have escaped me.   What hasn’t escaped me was the enjoyment of the company of our good friends enhanced by food and service.  When it’s done right, you just flow.   Wonderful..And in deference to the establishment the Canon stayed in the pocket except for a parting shot of a lovely chocolate dessert.. beautiful.





So the tradition continues and grows.  It is nice to know they’ll be there the next time we visit.. and you betcha we were

DFD

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Concert Alert

Know this may be a bit tardy, but would feel guilty if you didn't see it and would have liked to attend.  I will be in the audience.  I pass this along from a friend:


I want to invite you to a very special recital this Thursday evening, March 8, at 8pm in St. Mary's Hall (Auerbach Auditorium) on the campus of St. Mary's College. Jonah Yeh, student of Brian Ganz, will give a piano recital, performing the music of Mozart, Chopin & Beethoven.  Brian will join Jonah to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major.  

San Diego wrap up in work.. well, maybe next to last san diego...

if i see you tonight, you better be

DFM

and if anybody in the SMC music fraternity (is there a music sorority?) see's this I would very much like to lobby for starting these things at 7.. just a thought

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dining (local) Out Two...

Dining out again, but switching cuisines.


It turns out that some other friends were ending their winter stay on Coronado Island, so we arranged to meet them for a brunch on the island.  They suggested meet at Tartine, a little coffee/pastry/bistro kind of place near the edge of the island.  Our friends sometimes got their morning coffee there and liked it. Sometimes, not always when faced with going to a new restaurant the Feeder does a little research to get a bit of familiarity with the place.  I try not to look at menus, I would rather see the place before making any selections.   Anyway, (since it’s on my little phone) one of the places I generally look is Yelp.  I am used to it, and the searching is easy (like the living in summertime).  As is customary with these little sites they contain a number of reviews.  While it seems that a lot of them are more about “me” than an actual review (maybe said the kettle to the pot), it does give one an overview, and I try to see if there are any common threads which might be worth noting.  In the case of Tartine, most said the food was very good (especially the pastries), but service was rated from “poor” to “sucked” with a few snarky comments about being ignored if not perceived as a regular.   So, with antennae raised we braved the San Diego traffic, went over the bridge to Coronado (a lovely place) and found the unassuming place on first street shortly after 11:00.





I’m not sure why that person has to park the car in front of my shot, but I seem to have that experience lately.  Anyhow, we were first to arrive and secured a table inside (there is outside seating, but it was still a big chilly and there were smokers out there).  It is fairly small with only maybe 7 or eight tables.  There is a counter for ordering coffee drinks, but the eye is inevitably drawn to the glass case containing the pastries (and window reflections)




Braced for being ignored we were pleasantly surprised that a young man came to the table almost immediately asking if we would like something while waiting for our friends, and left the menus.  They arrived shortly after this, and we set about catching up, and chatting about things.  During the conversation they told us that the place had changed owners recently.  Jumping ahead, they have either cleaned up their act or have new servers because we were quite satisfied with the service we had, even after we lingered long enough that the place was almost full.  We never felt hustled to leave.


As you may know, Tartine is French for a slice of buttered bread with stuff on it, sort of an open faced sandwich.   The menu reflects that as several sandwiches are offered along with salads, soups, cheese plates, quiches, pates; and generally Frenchish items.  Lots of coffee drinks, teas, etc. on the multi paged menu





After some consideration I chose the “Nicoise Tartine (albacore tuna salad, nicoise olives, sliced tomato and mixed greens served in a warm baguette)" along with a glass of Pinot Grigio (not noon? what the hell); MFO selected a “Bacon Panino” composed of bacon (duhh) tomato, and Gruyere cheese all grilled on a Panino roll.  Our friends ordered the quiche (spinach) and she had a late morning bowl of oatmeal with dried cranberries.

 Absorbed in conversation time passed and the food appeared. 





The tuna and olives were good, but I got rid of the “winter” tomato slices – a bit thick looking don’t you think?  The greens were nicely dressed and pretty fresh.   Although I am still trying to learn the nuances of my new point and shoot camera, the picture still gives you an idea of MFO’s panino





Quiche and oatmeal were also enjoyed.   So with the preliminaries taken care of, it was time to avail ourselves of the pastries!!  We prowled the case of delectable items, trying to come to a single choice.  “oh, that looks good!  I’ll have that!   wait…. over there!”  I finally abandoned the “one of each” thought and settled on the Grand Marnier pot du crème (pictured in an earlier post), while MFO went for the champagne cheese cake (champagne anything always gets her).  It was lovely (and she forked it before I could take out the camera)





And in the blink of an eye





I would concur with the “yelpers” about the food (with the exception of the tomato slices) and especially the pastries.  But at least on this occasion, I would not agree with them that the service was poor.   Nice little spot for a bite and conversation, and not far from a lovely view of downtown San Diego





So if you’re in the neighborhood and want a little treat,  Tartine would be a nice choice.  Being California, and early in the day, who the hell knows what is the proper

DFD


We saw it all…

and this sort of concluded our exploratory "dining out", but we have a couple more to go in the "traditional" category..  Stay tuned