Friday, May 31, 2013

Anthony I am NOT!

 Happy Friday

I wanted to start with some snappy statement like “it happens every time”, but this “every time” doesn’t happen very often.   However, it just occurred again.  Every time some creature crawls out of the dirt like our recent brood “N” (or whatever), invariably there appears some article talking about eating the critters.  And we’re talking hominoids here, not your pet dog or chicken.  Sure enough, in Wednesday’s edition of our local newspaper there was a story called “Bug Bites”, complete with a disgusting (large) picture of skewered Cicadas, two dripping with chocolate coated , and one “plain one”.  It’s kind of like the proverbial train wreck thing about you don’t want to look but you can’t help it. I had to choke back the bile.  Not satisfied with just a visual, the story goes on to talk about “dry roasted Cicada chocolate chip cookies” and offers recipes for both preparations.  There were no descriptors of “tastes like Chicken”, but did compare their flavor to a baked potato, well, a greenish baked potato.   Gaaacccckkkk.

I have one very pointed question:  WHY?

I know Anthony Bourdain (who I am not) trots around the world eating grubs, large spiders, eyeballs of various creatures and so forth, but he gets paid handsomely for that.  Plus he has that maverick oddball character image to maintain.  Besides his staged antics I saw a statistic in some article that X% of the world’s population includes insects in their diet.  And it wasn’t a small number either.  I would submit that in those cultures, the individuals grow up with that diet and so consuming such things seems as natural to them as eating a cheeseburger does to us.  Well, but Mr. Feeder, aren’t you supposed to be on the culinary cutting edge?  Maybe for quality and service, but not necessarily food.  I don’t mind trying different preparations of various organs, I love Foie Gras, sweetbreads, and even liver and onions.  But eating a bug?  Nope.  Just showing off for shock value is silly.

Anyway, I’ll pass on the Entomology course.

Notes from the News

I kind of hate to regurgitate (a fitting word here) stuff you can read in the newspaper for yourself, but I found a couple of articles in Sunday’s Post kind of interesting.  The first was about a bakery in Arizona which gained “fame” as the only restaurant that Gordon Ramsay of: “Kitchen Nightmares” reality show has given up on..  The reason was that the owners were intransigent about changing anything, wouldn’t take his advice and so forth.  The main point of the story was to talk about the importance of social media to restaurants these days.  In response to numerous customers’ complaints and bad reviews, the owners posted on their Facebook page: “I am not stupid all of you are!  You just do not know good food”.  Nice!  Ramsay was quoted as saying “The store-bought ravioli smelled “weird”, a salmon burger was overcooked, and a fig pizza was too sweet and arrived on raw dough”.   The article points out that using sites such as Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram customers can put out immediate comments that are often more vitriolic than a legitimate critic.  And usually they are not how good things are.. “In the past, people just sent bad soup back.  Well, now they are getting on social media and telling their friends and friends of friends how bad the soup was and why they should find other places to get soup in the future…”  They close by quoting the results of a 2011 Harvard study that said Yelp’s 40 million reviews disproportionately affect small businesses.  A one star increase in their rating system can result in a revenue jump of nearly 10 percent, but chains with huge marketing budgets were unaffected.  Bottom line was that whether they like or not, restaurateurs have to pay attention to customers, swallow hard and say “thank you for your feedback” instead of yelling at them. Interesting article.


A picture caught my eye in the obituary section (as you age, you seem to watch the weather channel more and read the obituary pages).  It showed a lady with wheels of cheese behind her.  The story followed Dr. Patricia Elliott’s career as a country doctor, and then as a cheese maker.  She lived on a farm near Rapidan, Virginia.  In her late 60’s (!) the doctor acquired a Border collie and to give the bundle of energy something to do, she got ten sheep, who of course started producing milk.  She got interested in cheese making, travelled all over the world to learn the art, and of course Wisconsin (duhh).  Eventually Everona Dairy gained top honors at many cheese contests such as 10th at the 2010 World Cheese Championships, (we could have a little sidebar about how you could have a cheese “championship”, but so be it) and their cheeses have been served at the White House. Anyway it was a pleasure to read about a productive life (she passed at 84).  What was also interesting was that she was born in Lansing Michigan (1929), got zoology degrees at Michigan State, and her medical degree at University of Michigan.  Readers may remember that the Bottom Feeder was also born in Lansing Michigan, and attended MSU.   So she pre dated me by only a few years.  Nice to read this stuff.. Have to keep my eye out for the cheese...

Yet Another “Coming Soon”

Recently there has been much activity in the old CiCi’s Pizza place next to the gym in San Souci. Yesterday I noticed a trailer outside with the famous “Now Hiring” sign draped on it.  Except I couldn’t see anything announcing what they were hiring for.  MFO just called on her way to Leonardtown saying there is now a banner proclaiming Mission BBQ.  At least it’s not Mexican Food!  It does not appear to be a chain, but there are a couple of them in Glen Burnie and Nottingham.   Look to be kind of “Texas” based..  another product you apparently cannot have enough of..

To Do

Nothing really overwhelming this weekend for the Flutters, we are staying in for the most part.  I tend to cocoon when the temperatures get over ninety.  If you wish you could go to the Beer Bands and Barbeque thing at Summerseat.  From what I hear, the emphasis will be on the latter two.  And speaking of beer, three weeks from tomorrow there will be our Historic St. Mary’s City third annual BeerFest.  There you will be able to taste more than 25 craft beers brewed locally and in Maryland..Ruddy Duck, DuClaw, and others.. more to come.
oh yeah


Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Reading

Just some Friday diversions before a long holiday weekend.. in no particular order:

Service that makes a smile

Since I beat on servers and poor service a fair amount (with good justification for the most part), I should pass along a compliment when deserved.  Last evening I met a friend at the Back Door Lounge of CD Café for a pre dinner libation.  We were there shortly after opening to get in a drink (or so) before getting in line to have supper up front.  At that time there was only the barkeep there and between the bar and a few tables that were already occupied he was pretty busy.  With orders for food and drinks he was really hopping.  Readers will remember I have recently become enamored of “up”drinks for their esthetic qualities. So when he took our order I ordered an "up" Beefeater Martini, with a twist.  At this point he could have left, but despite being busy asked: “how dry would you like it?”.  How often do you hear that?  Check mark one.. I said about 4 to 1 and he said that’s fine.  Off he went. 

If you read or happen to see any drink related magazines, you may have noted that it is trendy now to serve such drinks in one of those conical little glasses that are about four inches high, with a little “foot” or blob on the bottom.  That is what my drink came in.  There are a lot of reasons that “up” drinks are  traditionally served in the classic stemmed glass we all associate with a martini.  First, as noted above, it is pleasing to the eye.  Secondly, since you hold it by the stem, the heat from your hand doesn’t hasten the warming of the drink.  I will give you that it is more easily tipped or spilled and therefore hard to handle as a server.  Anyway I did have some conversation like that along the way.  We ordered a hummus appetizer, and continued our chatting.  When the first drink (which was nicely made) disappeared we ordered a second round to help finish the Hummus (as good excuse as any).   Without asking, my second Beefeater was served in the classic up glass.   Check mark two! Kudos, go to the top of the class.  That is service.  Good place.  On the list. (at least if Michael is behind the bar).

Dinner up front was as always quite good, both my Shrimp Pasta and friend’s daily special trout were well received, nicely presented.  I also had a second to talk to Terry who has manned the burners there for ten years now.  Not bad for tenure the way things go in the culinary world.


More changes

I guess since I saw it in the paper, everybody else did too, but the food scene in Leonardtown is changing..  First, it is noted that the long shuttered “Rustic River Grill” that has stood vacant will be resurrected in the form of a “Japanese Style Steakhouse” called Sakura Bar and Grill.  Kind of an incongruous name..  will feature Sushi as well as the other stuff.  Their wrinkle is that there won’t be a flat top in the middle of the table, so no flying shrimp.

The other change is that the Brewing Grounds will be changing hands and will be called BTB Coffee Bar, and will have a revised food menu and they have applied for a liquor license..

More Mexican

The recent post about Mexican food resulted in a note from a reader that he and several friends visited Los Primos, the little Mexican Market on Great Mills Road that also (now?) serves food.  I think I reported previously that I had heard good things about the place and this most recent review supported that.  Besides his comments he also sent along some pictures (thank you!)  Menus in English AND Spanish and their server had SOME English.  All the food was good, but did say it was “definitely spicy” which is a tiny flag for me, but will have to experience it first hand.  Besides Flautas their table included Tacos (you can specify the number),

Enchilada Verde

 which put me in mind of my go to Suiza dish.  Certainly unadorned!  Think maybe that’s good, food speaks for itself.  Anyway, as noted previously, it might be a potential “just right”.

More to the Point

This is a bit dated but we had dinner at Morris Point not long ago.  I don’t think I put it in the blog, but speaking of “just right” this is pretty close.  My analogy has always been it’s like going to somebody’s home for dinner.  Talk flows between dining spaces and kitchen, table to table, inside to outside, and so on.  You know the food is freshly prepared, you can watch it if you wish.  Usual waterfront fare, plus blackboard items reflecting catch of the day kind of thing.  Since the kitchen staff is comprised of one, occasionally it might take a bit but what the heck that only prolongs the fun.  And the food is worth it.

Speaking of Kitchen Staff

MFO prepared a pretty nice dish the other night.  I am recently in pursuit of a diet that includes more fish and less (not eliminate, mind you) red meat so we/she have been experimenting.  You might remember that quite a while ago I chronicled the fabrication of a salmon that was lathered in Mayo before baking.  MFO found a recipe in an October 2004(!) Everyday Food mostly the same thing applied to Red Snapper.  Called for the Mayo along with Kalamata Olives, tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.  How can you miss with that?  She further embellished it with some veggies from our neighbor.  Anyway I intruded for a couple of quick shots, pre  


 and post oven:

It was quite good; just nice every day food.  Nothing fancy.. and as we consumed it we of course were

Quick "to do" post script: Tomorrow the (7th Annual) Potomac River Waterfowl Show will be held at the Fairgrounds near Leonardtown.  There is a five dollar fee (over 12) but the money goes to the Community Foundation of Southern Maryland which does good things with it.  We plan on attending.. (10 - 4)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bites and Bits...

Well, when last we chatted, I had that bottle of Plymouth Gin and the Lillet awaiting.   Since then I have made a “couple” of Clayburn Martinis, and I think I may have gotten it to where I think I like it.  Wound up with about four ounces of the precious gin, and translated the “splash of Lillet” to about a half an ounce, making it a ratio of eight to one, although I may play around with that yet...  I used a potato peeler to get a nice thin slice of lemon peel to float in it.  Combined liquids in the shaker, added ice and stirred (not shaken) and strained into an iced “up” glass.  Classic!  It produced a wonderful drink.  ….almost too wonderful!   I think the cost per ounce helps keep consumption within reason..That Plymouth gin is really nice.. 



Plethora of “Pla-tha’s”

It seems that the proliferation of Mexican restaurants continues to move forward around here, and the two latest additions curiously enough have “Plaza” in their name (which depending on where you are, might be pronounced “pla-tha”).  The already opened “Tolteca” continues to fill the La Quinta parking lot.  The drawn out re-occupation of the old Damon’s is now sporting a sign proclaiming “Plaza Azteca”.  I still don’t know whether Monterey will shutter in San Souci or this is another version of it.  I would hope they would keep the former open, it is a large hole to fill.  Time will tell.  I rarely eat what we call “Mexican” food, although chips and (mild) salsa are always welcome.  Somehow a plate of sloppy beans, blown out rice, sad lettuce and some sort of tortilla product all smushed together isn’t my favorite.  When in places like San Diego, I have had some very imaginative and creative dishes reflective of Spanish or Mexican Culture.  So I guess we get what “they” think will sell.  And obviously it does as judged by the amount of cars in the parking lots..

And speaking of Italian food – oh, wait, we weren’t.  But anyway it appears that the original team that opened DiGiovanni’s (Dock of the Bay) is now back in command, serving “Authentic Italian Seafood”.  That’s a phrase that always kind of aggravates me.  Who or what judges what “Authentic” is anyway?   Italy is a big place…  Northern? Southern?  What the heck makes it authentic..  Just a thought.


Lost your Marbles?

I was reading the May/June edition of Imbibe magazine, and found something I never have heard of before.  It was a little blurb about how to preserve wine (that half bottle you’re stuck with after dinner).  It starts out by saying that “wine preservation is a mega money-making industry with gadgets that range from ten dollar air pumps to inert gas systems that can cost thousands, but one is as easy as a sack of marbles”.  Huh?  Say what? Then it says that for centuries (italics mine) oenophiles have used marbles to preserve wine.  Oxygen is the enemy of opened bottles of wine, so getting rid of a half bottle of air is what it is all about.  Hence the “vac-u-vin” and similar gadgets. The centuries old trick (which I had somehow missed) is to fill up the partially used bottle with marbles, which will eventually raise the liquid level to the neck , and then tightly re-cork it.  Claims it is good for a couple of days.  Then all you have to do use a strainer to collect the marbles, clean and store them.  I will leave it to you, dear reader, to conjure up the mental image of all that.  Worth it?  Maybe just have another couple of glasses.. no thanks on the marbles..


Nobody ever went broke… etc.

I subscribe to a few little services that fire me e-news and notes from the food service industry, so I can learn things like Burger King will be introducing an almost exact copy of McRib, along with a Carolina BBQ sandwich, and that McD will be dropping its Angus burger.  Big news like that.  Besides the food notes there are often links to various articles about the business aspects of the industry.  Yesterday there was one that led you to a piece where Howard Shultz’s shared his recipe for success.  There was a more interesting one about servers (one of my pet subjects) and how important they are to a guest’s restaurant experience, so I read it.   Among other things it contained results of a survey on what people "prize" in a server.  One of them was something that you hear me rant about: “Nearly three-quarters claim to be impressed when a server doesn’t “auction off” plates and remembers which dish each guest ordered.”  I might take issue with the “impressed” part, it isn't hard and it’s their JOB for God’s sake..   Anyway it also contained a little statistic about guests that surprised and depressed me:  Nine out of 10 ask for the server’s recommendation, and 71 percent will take that advice.” NINE out of TEN?  So, when you’re with another couple at the table do (roughly) all of you ask the server “what’s good?” Or “what do you recommend?” and three of the four take that?  Wow.  I certainly don’t.   Uncharacteristically for the Feeder I won’t go off on that although I could rehash a former rant and go into who knows what the server likes and dislikes are and how it relates to me and so forth.  That is pretty obvious.  In a fine dining place that I have not done my research on, I might go so far as to ask the server “what does chef do well?” and hope for an honest answer.  And that is only if I think the server has some experience.  I just don’t like to hear an unsolicited “that’s one of my favorites” from them.  Sigh.

Last Course

And to close, the Feeder and the feeder readers lost a good friend recently with the passing of Bill P.  I worked with him for a long time both in St. Louis and then here at Pax.  Besides being a expert aerodynamicist, he had a good palate and was also a valuable source of information and opinions on various eateries.  Was never shy about expressing his thoughts on reviews of places.  I will not be alone in missing his presence.  Rest well… I will raise a glass..




Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Muses and Boozes

As a wannabe food writer and critic, I try to pay attention to professionals in the field to try to learn how to get better.  No remarks about a long way to go, please.  During my readings, I often come up with articles and reviews I like, recipes of interest, and some surprising things.  Since there isn’t much else going on, I thought I would pass a few of my more recent findings along.
Julia's Sauce

I was browsing around to see what I could find in the way of a recipe for Hollandaise made in a blender or food processor.  Yes, I know I am a classical guy, but making it the traditional way is hard, messy, time consuming, fraught with failure and so on.   I know that any of my chef friends will disagree, but they have made it hundreds of times and can do it easily.  What got me started was a recipe for food processor mayonnaise I found in a little cookbook devoted to chicken, as part of a chicken salad recipe.  I tried it, it was darned easy, and it turned out very good, plus you can regulate the taste and consistency to your liking.  So I thought (correctly) that there must be some out there for (cheater's) Hollandaise.  One which turned up in my google list was “Julia Child’s Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce”.   What?  Julia Child the empress of classic French cooking?  Blender?? C’mon, man, this can’t be true!!.  Ah, but dear reader, dig out your copy of “Mastering the Art….”, look on page 81 and you will find “Hollandaise made in the Electric  Blender”.  There it is, right there.  It is quintessential Julia.  She starts out saying that it is a very quick method and cannot fail (if you add the melted butter in a small stream of droplets).  She adds that if you are used to the handmade variety, you might find this method lacking in quality which she speculates might be due to completed homogenization.  Concludes her opening paragraph by saying “But as the technique is well within the capabilities of an 8-year-old child it has much to recommend it”.  Sounds good enough for me..

Then she goes on to describe the actual preparation, and at one point when she talks about adding the butter to the (blended) egg yolks, lemon juice, and seasonings she advises: “you may need to protect yourself with a towel during this operation”.  Sounds like you might also need three hands at this point.  I tried the recipe (in a food processor not a blender) and was not terribly happy with the result.  Needs more work.   But, I am not going to let an 8 year old beat me!!

Robert the Writer(?)

In the latest edition (Issue 206) of Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate”, he describes some of his latest culinary experiences.  He is given to doing this, and while interesting to read there is that proverbial snowball’s chance of my ever sharing them, let alone the astonishing wines they serve.  This meal was in Getaria, Spain at a fish restaurant called Kaia Kaipe, which he says “many people consider it to be one of the greatest fish and shellfish restaurants in the world”.  Wow.  Big statement!  He goes on to talk about the wonderful food including langoustines, which he calls the best he has ever had, and so forth.  But what got me was his attempts at describing the food.  Here he is, one of (if not the) best known wine critic and gourmands in the world, and he comes up with brilliant phrases like: “The preparation is perfect.  The fish are not over – or under – cooked and everything is bursting with flavor”.  Gee Robert, I think that 8 year old could have written that..(or even the Bottom Feeder).  Oh, besides the langoustines, he lauded the Pibales;  which you can look up yourselves (part of my culinary education outreach). 
Have a drink!

And for the last of the literary findings, I want to quote some things that were part of a column called “Tending the Bar” in the May 2013 issue of St. Louis Magazine written by Chris Hoel. Since he was a former sommelier at the French Laundry, I would take him as a fairly credible source.  Subtitle for the piece is “Five ways a restaurant can improve a major profit center”.  His point was to urge restaurateurs to consider cocktails and the bar with equal emphasis as the cuisine, given the “potential profit in all things liquid”.  He praised St. Louis restaurants “Taste” and “Blood and Sand” as doing it right.  I would like to quote the whole article (or go buy the magazine - maybe on line, I don't know) because his feelings about cocktails align completely with mine.  He must be a bottom feeder reader.  Some of his points:
  • Begin with the basics – if a bar serves a sidecar, then it should be a classic sidecar with the correct ingredients and measurements.  If the bartender wants to interpret it differently, then he should call it “Mike’s Sidecar”….. AMEN!
  • Use quality ingredients – quality should always be paramount.  Don’t cut corners: Use fresh juices, bottled mixers, and premium liquors.  ANOTHER!

And for my favorite one, I will use the full quote because I believe strongly in what he says: 

  • Don't Shake up the Martini List: A classic martini consists of two parts vodka infused with juniper berries and other botanicals (otherwise known as Gin), and one part dry vermouth.  Its erroneous to call everything shaken and poured into a cocktail glass a martini.  A martini list should only include the following:  martini, perfect martini, dry martini, and extra-dry martini – all containing gin.  That Banana Split martini containing strawberry and banana puree mixed with vanilla vodka?  Call it what you want, but don’t call it a martini..

I love it.

Speaking of Martinis:

When we were in Providence, I think I mentioned we had dinner at a little bistro called Chez Pascal.  Both MFO and I were feeling pretty good about our individual accomplishments of the day, she with her “pPeserving Ephemera” workshop and my little venture down to Newport.  The first thing we looked at was the drink menu.  I think I may have also mentioned lately that “up” drinks are growing on me (a figure of speech).  So as I was perusing the “straight up” section of the drink list, an entry called “Clayburn Martini” caught my eye.  It was described as “plymouth gin, splash Lillet, twist”.  I was still feeling adventurous from my day, so I forsook my DMOTRWAT and ordered the Clayburn Martini.  Soon enough it arrived in a chilled classic martini glass, the liquids clear as a mountain stream, icy cold with a generous golden lemon peel floating in the liquid.  A beautiful thing.  My first sip (and nothing spilled mind you, a hazard of “up” drinks) may change my future drinking habits.  It was smooth, without that bite you sometimes get from gins.  A great drink (with a nod to Mr. Hoel above).  As we were leaving, MFO inquired about the genesis of the name.  She was told that a Mrs. Clayburn came to the bar one day, quoted the drink recipe and became a regular night after night.  She passed not so long ago and they honored her by immortalizing (at least in my mind) her drink.  Here’s to you Mrs. Clayburn! 
Mr. Mixologist

So naturally when I got back here to the digs, I decided to try re-create the drink and so recently went out and invested (fifty bucks!) for

I have not attempted to fabricate it yet, but a concern for me is that little word “splash” in the description of the drink.  I’m an engineer for heaven’s sake.  How much is a splash?  I did a little researching on “how much is a splash”, and if you want to amuse yourself, you can too.  Nothing definitive.. ½ Tsp; ½ Oz; cover the mouth with your thumb, tip the bottle; use a quick speed pour,  and so forth.  Not very helpful. I suppose the answer is “practice, practice, practice”.  Which doesn't seem like a bad task.  Reports to follow. and I will be
DFD(rinking experiments)



Friday, May 10, 2013

End of Providential Travel...

As much as we might have liked to, we couldn’t stay in Providence forever, so after our lovely day (workshop, Newport) and very nice meal at Chez Pascal, we got back in the MOMSTER the next morning and began the journey home.  MFO has a dear cousin who lives in Bayport, Long Island and since we were “in the neighborhood”, she wanted to stop by to see him.  He is getting up there in years, so these opportunities are not to be missed.  Not wanting to “double back” to get there, our inventive and imaginative trip planner (MFO) found a ferry that goes from New London to Orient Point, on the very tippy tip east end of the island on the “north fork”.  So we drove down to the port town of New London (home of the Coast Guard Academy) and queued up with many others to take the ride across Long Island Sound to New York.

Eventually the behemoth appeared

And after some jockeying around, they backed the ferry into the pier and disgorged the people who had left Long Island (smart thinking folks, IMHO)

We were finally ushered aboard along with the other travelers, parked the MOMSTER where told to, and went up on deck.  The sun was out, and although it was a little breezy but water was fairly calm which was a relief, since the crossing was quoted as taking about an hour and a half.  It was a busy little port, with many comings and goings of other vessels.

As we pulled away from Connecticut, we did get a nice view of the Eagle, the USCGA’s "tall ship":

Although the port area was pretty industrialized, there were a few indications of time past

We didn’t have much company up on deck (most people were inside with either cell phones or laptops), but there were other travelers;

Finally we passed Fisher’s Island

Rounded a couple of marks and were welcomed to New York by the ambassador

I had not been to Long Island in a long time, but at least on the Eastern end of the place it was fairly pleasant with a lot of agriculture and even quite few wineries that have popped up here and there.

For a while, the roads were mostly two lanes filled with people that apparently had a lot less time than we did.  But, between the hand held phone/GPS and printed directions from MicroSoft Streets and Trips, we only made a couple of wrong turns and eventually wound up in Bayport at her cousin’s house.  He wanted to take us to lunch, so we all went over to a little local place called "Bistro 25"

The hour was a bit late for lunch, around two thirty, but they were glad to seat us and even let us sit in the main dining room since the kind of bar/lunchroom area was occupied by a ladies club of some sort who were having a great time, if you get my drift.  Of course we were there to talk and reminisce rather than dine, but it was a very pleasant experience.  The server lady was extremely nice and just let us know that the soup today was a mushroom bisque. I didn’t want to “load up” prior to the long road that awaited us (we had decided to push for home regardless) so said I would have some of MFO’s bisque and ordered the crab cakes from the appetizer menu.  MFO added a mushroom (what the hell) risotto to her order.  Cousin also did soup, and ordered a hamburger that turned out to rival any I had ever seen.  A large, thick patty with cheddar and bacon (lettuce, tomato, etc.), but he tucked into it with enthusiasm.  Despite the talk of bisque with two spoons, the lady brought me my own bowl, and dispensed everybody's soup from a nice silver pitcher.  I always like that touch.  Both the bisque and the following three golf ball sized crab cakes were just at my spicyness limit (which as I always admit is not generous).  Everything was pretty good but the conversation was best. 

But alas, to use a phrase coined by my friend on the other coast, the “traveling Jones” took over and we had to leave for the portion of the trip I had dreaded most.  Given our location on Long Island (Southern coast), and our destination (home) we had little choice but to traverse New York City (as far to the south as we could), crossing on the Verrazano Bridge.   And of course we would be setting out around four o’clock, on a Friday afternoon.  A real stroke of genius, eh?.  Upon departing the restaurant, they asked us where we were going, and just kind of rolled their eyes. But, nothing to do but tough it out, our attitude (aside from my angst) was tempered by MFO’s always calm approach.  We departed glad to see Cousin, and hope we can do it again sometime..

I have maybe complained about this earlier, but somehow the New Yorkers have a penchant for giving roads names in preference to numbers.  So although it is I495, or SR27, most signage refers to the Long Island Expressway (or just LIE), and Sunrise Hwy; and who knew the Southern Parkway is actually route 47?  This only adds to at least my confusion as right seat navigation officer.  You come up to one of those electronic information signs, which is displaying knowledge like: WPW 10 Minutes; MBP 17 Minutes; BPW 12 Minutes.  Boy that is helpful!  I’m sure it is if you know you want to take the Wantagh Parkway or the Meadow Brook, or maybe the Belt it is informative rather than mystifying... and frustrating.

And, is sometimes the fact (I should learn from this) the reality was not as awful as the thought of it.  And while we did experience the occasional

For the most part we kept moving (not fast, but moving).  We passed by Kennedy Airport (and the Van Wyck Expressway which leads to it (or I678 as the uninitiated would call it)), and eventually saw

After (ponying up the cash) and crossing the bridge  we traversed Staten Island, and finally headed south on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Another few instances of

And finally nearly midnight found us back in the digs.  And so ended a very long but interesting day and (equally quick) trip.  We saw lots of things, ate some good food, and had some learning experiences (like “no ticket” means you already have one and don't need it, not that you can get one).  I liked the end points, but not the passages.  There sure are a lot of people who own cars in the world and live in the “Northeast Corridor”   A few friends and loyal readers have given us some tips for “next time”, if there is one.  Amtrak sounds interesting..  But, through it all we were



Monday, May 6, 2013

a MUCH better day... in two parts

After our harrowing day on the byways of several states (shucking out money like popcorn, we had a so-so (lateish) dinner in the hotel, so “so - so” in fact that I forgot what I had.  Only comment on that experience was that we heard the word “ABsoLUTEly!!!!!!” many more times than I wanted, and they changed the linens on the table right next to us while we were dining (or more like eating in this case).  
Anyway here's a long description of the next day.. feel free to absorb it in pieces and parts..
Part the First

But mercifully that all faded the next day. MFO went off to her “Out of the Ordinary – Preserving Paper – Based Ephemera” workshop at the Rhode Island School of Design, and after lollygagging around the hotel room for a while, I took the relatively short drive down to Newport.  As with most of the roads (parkways, turnpikes, expressways) out east, you kind of “pay as you go” and for a mere $4, you are allowed to cross the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge into the town of Newport. 

It is (what I perceive to be) a typical New England seaport town. I am not sure I would use the word “quaint” but something along those lines would apply.  I did a little driving tour to orient myself, and decide where parking was appropriate.  Guess what?  Parking is something like three bucks for the first half hour, and goes on from there.  Anyway, I found a lot reasonably near my intended destination, got my little ticket and headed for Bannister’s Wharf

Which is home to a few restaurants,

and of course many of those little “gifty” shops with nautical stuff, local memorabilia, along with some reasonably nice clothing.  Since the hour was a bit early (not quite eleven) I strolled around a bit looking at the scenery to fill the time before lunch

Based on some tips and a little research (more on that later), I had decided to take lunch at a restaurant called “Black Pearl”, which was touted to have some of the best chowder (okay, chowwww daaa) and seafood in Newport if not the whole of New England.  Black Pearl is housed inside a long pierside building

There are two dining choices: inside or outside.  "inside" options are the "Tavern" (which is what you would expect) and the adjoining "Commodore’s Room" which is a more formal dining space (with separate menu).  In addition to those rooms, there is the even less formal outside dining area (and a bar) which was being prepared for the lunch trade

After some debate (and thoughts of dermatology) I opted for inside dining and was seated along the wall in the Tavern.  Given they had only just opened, I was probably the second table occupied. The decor was prettyt much what you might expect for waterside tavern dining, rustic with lots of wood, and nautical charts on the walls

I was given a menu (and a nice glass of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay - it was almost noon by then) by the nameless lady, relaxed and sort of sipped and settled in.  Besides the menu items there was a board on the wall with daily specials, which, given it was written with that kind of bluish neon crayon on a blacklight background,  I had no chance to comprehend it without getting up.  The printed luncheon menu had a bewildering number of categories and items such as appetizers, eggs and omelets, salads, grilled sandwiches, regular sandwiches, burgers, entrees, too much to consider.  I didn’t want to spend time poring over the menu, so nice lady read me the blue and black board which contained a grilled mountain rainbow trout (okay, not seafood exactly) with a buerre blanc, rice and sautéed julienned vegetables.  That, along with a cup of chowder made up my decision.

The “famous” cup of chowder arrived along with a grind of fresh pepper

And some crackers (not “oyster” as I expected, but don’t know what is traditional there).  The little "slop over" was how it was brought to the table, not due to my slovenly eating habits. If I were to be critical, I would allow it shouldn't have left the kitchen that way.  After it cooled enough to enjoy, it was very good.  Not so glutinous as some of the stuff you get around here, but had a very nice consistency.  Nor was it overly salty, just a nice balance of consistency and flavor.  The clams were not whole, and in fact you had to work a little to find them as they were cut fairly small, but were present.  I am not an expert on clam chowder, nor widely experienced, but this was very good.

The trout arrived (with a second glass of wine) and had very nice flavor, obviously grilled with smoky notes.  The rice wasn’t blown out and the vegetables were fresh.  I would have preferred a little lighter hand with the sauce on the fish. 
All in all it was a good lunch.  It's hard to know what to expect.  I would like to have had time to explore other places, including one that looked interesting called the “Spiced Pear” on the other side of town.  It was more of an upscale place, maybe better for dinner.  Perhaps next time.  On the way back to the car I fulfilled a request to obtain locally distilled Rum, but that merits its own story.

So back in the car, and another four bucks got me back on the highway and arrived at the Marriott in time for a little nap and relaxation.   Which led to:
Part the Second

Since MFO would be done with her workshop around five this would be our (only) chance for a nice dinner in Providence.   New town, no background, no friends, so where do you go for one shot?  Certainly not to the front desk with “what’s a good place to eat around here?”; although that is sometimes helpful if you gage the person behind the desk. 
Anyway, I find that I tend to use Yelp a lot (as opposed to trip advisor, urban spoon, chow hound, etc.).  It may be that familiarity helps but I have found Yelp to be fairly reliable.  I generally search first for “restaurants near…..” and try to weed them a bit by price to eliminate Pizza Huts and the ilk, or use “top rated”.  Once the top few show up I do read the reviews quite a bit.  I try to kind of take the average because there is always a “worst meal I’ve ever had” in there and maybe ten to the contrary.
I found a place named Chez Pascal that continued to be praised, which was characterized as a French bistro kind of thing with an attractive (culinary wise) menu (yes, I do look).   They seemed to stress local sources (which is getting maybe too common) and have an adjoining “Wurst Kitchen” featuring Charcuterie..  Okay good!  I called (before Newport) and left a message and was called back that afternoon by a nice lady who said yes, they would be glad to have a table for us at 6:45.  So after MFO arrived back at the hotel (via their shuttle) we got DFD’d, and the nice hotel shuttle person drove us out to the restaurant, which was out of their normal “zone”.  Nice young man..

We were dropped near the restaurant (street construction a nightmare of wrong way one way streets nearby).  It was on a street corner in a mostlhy residential district.

We went inside to find a warming room with small tables (yes, with the paper square on top), and were offered a table at a banquette on one wall with a good view of the rest of the place

There was a nice buzz about the room, seemingly mostly occupied by locals.  A few of the younger ones were NOT DFD’d to my liking, but most were appropriately attired.  A server approached with the menu, and a beverage list.  No speeches, just sort of talking to you like you were a guest in her home.  Hi, how are you...  While there, she did point out that there was a special fresh asparagus salad (wrong table for that!!), and that a fish dish which specified Yellow Fin Flounder on the menu was now a similar preparation with fresh caught Ocean Perch.  She left us alone (she had a bunch of tables) with the menus and some very nice sliced baguettes. All the pre dinner kind of drinks were on the wine list was quite nice, with a good selection old and new world wines, and very reasonable prices.  However, given the fact that we were to face the New York traffic in the morning, we decided against a full bottle and instead MFO ordered a glass of Viognier which she is quite fond of.   And, get this, the Feeder did NOT have a DMOTRWAT for once!.  Many of the reviews of the place lauded their cocktails, so I thought: Damn It!  I’ll try something new!  One of the specialty drinks that caught my eye was called a “Clayburn Martini” which wasn’t packed with Mango Nectar, or Grapefruit Juice, froo froo and the like (if you can’t see through it… etc.).   So i ordered that and was VERY pleased with it to the point that I am going to make a special post about it (and my Rum experience in Newport). The Menu itself contained a nice selection of choices with something for most any taste (only seven entrees).  Besides the drinks we ordered a (three) cheese plate). During the ordering I found another mark of a good restaurant.  MFO was attracted to the duck entrée: “slow roasted half duck with parsnip purée, roasted turnips, carrots, & a sour cherry sauce”, not so much for the duck as for the rest of the items that accompanied it.  So she asked the server if she could have the grilled marinated skirt steak, but the  puree, turnips, etc., that came with the duck.  Without a moment’s hesitation, the answer was “yes, of course!”.  Not “I’ll have to check”, nor “Sorry we can’t do that”. Just “yes of course”.

We (really) enjoyed our drinks, and soon the lovely cheese plate arrived

A very nice selection of freshly cut cheese, and of course now I can’t remember anything about them but “cow, goat, cow”, even though each was carefully explained along with their place of origin.  The little bits of relish (apple, pear, raddicio “slaw”) and darling little crackers were great along with the breads.  I just love cheese...  Entrees followed in about the right time and guess what?  They actually knew who had what without asking!!  Everything was very good.  Here’s my perch

sitting atop the turnip puree, roasted fennel, citrus and wilted ramps.  And as of course you know, ramps are a seasonal item not found everywhere, and are considered a spring delicacy.  Was a great dish.  I had a glass of Barbera (DWTHYL), and MFO nursed the Viognier with her steak and duck trimmings.  A traditionalist would say we should have switched.  Nope we were both happy.  During the meal an eye was turned in our direction as our server passed by, but the only intrusion was for full water glasses.  No, “How is everything?”  no need, they knew it was good.  No “are ya still werkin’ on that?”  just “may I clear?” when we were done.  We were tempted by much more complicated desserts but settled for a blood orange sorbet and two spoons. 

All in all a wonderful meal.  Lunch was good, this was great.  The hotel shuttle arrived fairly smartly after we called, and so ended a much, much better day than the previous one.  And it ended as it should