So first off--this is not about gambling. And I don't want to get into First Nations politics. This is about my first visit to Turning Stone Casino for a dinner out with my Bahamian in-laws. We all went to Pino Bianco for Italian food--it seemed like the best choice for our mix of palates. I can't say that the meal was particularly memorable save for one thing. For this foodie, it was like hitting the jackpot. Check it out after the jump.
Talk about being lucky in food! I went to Stone Barns Center to check out how its developed since my first visit three years ago. This time, my plan was simple: visit the gift shop, walk around the grounds, maybe grab a nibble from the Cafe. But on a late Friday afternoon my friend Steph and I rolled up to find the gift shop open (check) and the Cafe closed (bummer). But it was a pleasant evening and after walking around the property a bit and peering through the closed doors at the Cafe we decided to get a drink at the bar of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. After all, why not make the best of a not-so-bad situation?
We sat down and asked for some nibbles and the bartender brought out a 3-course prix fixe menu--sweet! Just like my first visit, Dan Barber was in the kitchen but this time, I'd actually get to eat the food that came out of it. Three years ago I spied Barber in the kitchen and begged his assistants for an interview (like 3 minutes worth) but it was not to be. Ever since, it has been fun to watch him take the reigns as the Alice Waters of my generation--a thoughtful, literary, passionate, sustainable agriculture-locavore chef.
Blue Hill has been a media darling--both the one at Stone Barns, and the original restaurant in Manhattan (also known as "date night central" for the Obamas). I can't speak for the operation downtown but there is no doubt in my mind that Blue Hill earns every good word that gets written about it.
Let me note a few highlights and then let the photos speak for themselves. But trust me, they hardly do justice to this exquisitely elegant meal at the bar.
No reservation, no problem. Dinner at the bar is one of the best (and more affordable) ways to eat at a high profile restaurant--this is how I was introduced to the Union Square Cafe years ago.
Dinner at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns bar offers two choices per course. Steph and I ordered both sets and were then able to sample everything.
Kudos to the well-trained bar staff who could speak about the food, its origins, and how to grow some of the ingredients at home.
Eating at the bar didn't mean skimping on any of the restaurant niceties: an amuse bouche, careful and attentive service, elegant presentations.
Don't forget to enjoy the bar--the Purple Basil Mojito and Elderflower Sparkling Wine Spritzer were super-refreshing on a hot night.
Cooking in season means making the most of what's available--Peas were the star of our meal--check it out:
Amuse Bouche: Pea Burgers with Chamomille Spritzer
First Course: Mesclun Salad with Farm Fresh Egg
First Course: House-made ravioli (stuffed with local cheese) with peas, pancetta, and pea shoots
Berkshire Pork medallions with pork belly, peas, and farro
Roasted Sea Bass with peas and pistachios
Strawberry Sorbet, marshmallow and mint
Flourless Chocolate Cake, coffee ice cream, sea salt
If there is any day when a new tortilla place might want to pull out the stops it would be today. I thought this might be a fine day to try out the new quickie Mexican place I spied in Armory Square a couple of weeks ago. Fresco Tortilla Grill, on Walton Street (where Movino Pizza used to be) was to be my ticket--I needed lunch, I hadn't much time, and I wanted to try something new.
Call me naive--I thought this was going to be like the Cali-Mex burrito places I used to frequent in California. They can turn out the freshest, flavorful burritos with all the fixin's like nobody's business. I'm afraid Fresco Tortillas Grill disappointed me. Even though it was a chain (most of it's storefronts are in NYC) I thought I'd give it a chance.
Let me say this--the food wasn't bad. It just wasn't great. Friends of mine compared the chicken to the same recipe used at some of the establishments serving chicken in the food court at Carousel Mall. I ordered a chicken burrito but it didn't have me celebrating. The tortilla was stuffed with chicken, white rice, black beans, and large shreds of iceberg lettuce. There was a hint of cheese of some type. It came with a spicy salsa that added a necessary kick. These basic ingredients aren't bad in and of themselves, indeed, in the right hands, they are all you need for an outstanding burrito. This rendition, however, was just pedestrian. I had hoped that the dining room would have put me in a Cinco de Mayo mood but it was eerily quiet and when I asked about Cinco de Mayo at the counter, the staff didn't know what I talking about.
Que lastima--It is too bad because I think this end of downtown could really use a good taqueria. To add insult to injury, a friend told me later this evening how rocking Boom Boom Mex Mex was. I must get there soon--my craving for good Mexican food is stronger than ever.
It takes a lot for a meal to linger in my memory long after it has been consumed. Hazelnut Kitchen had been on my list as a "must visit" ever since I'd read about their relationship with Ithaca-area farmers to source ingredients last year. Hazelnut Kitchen opened in April 2007 by co-owners, co-chefs, and partners in life Jonah and Christina McKeough. I met Jonah briefly at an Edible Finger Lakes party last spring and that started my obsession with getting down to the Ithaca/Trumansburg area to check it out.
As luck would have it, my husband's work brought us down to Ithaca on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October. Back then, Hazelnut Kitchen only took reservations for large parties (they now take them for parties of any size) so Harrison and I strolled up and down Main Street, eagerly waiting for the restaurant to open to ensure a seat. Well, we got in and proceeded to have one of the most delicious meals I've had in Central New York.
You might guess that we are a picky lot, my husband and I. We went to a much-hyped restaurant while in Chicago this summer which was known for sourcing locally, organically grown ingredients and while the meal was fine, it didn't wow us. Unless we're going out for pizza (and sometimes even then) we hate feeling like iwe could have done better (or as good) making the same meal at home. So the question for us is, can a restaurant that is likely to be cooking with the same ingredients (from even some of the same sources) prepare a memorable meal. Well this one can. Hazelnut Kitchen didn't disappoint. At all.
If I lived near T-burg, I'd eat here all the time. The menu changes frequently but you can see what was on offer back in mid-October. I had the quail--it was amazing. The flavors of smoky bacon, grilled quail, blueberry (concentrated in a gastrique that provided a note of sweetness without being syrupy) and that potato and celery root hash--it was so good!
Harrison had one of his favorite combinations--steak and polenta.
There was nothing left on the plate when he was done. (Okay, I ate his
Aside from the incredible food, the other think we loved about Hazelnut Kitchen was it's intimate feel. This was truly a neighborhood restaurant--the kind every neighborhood ought to have. There's an open kitchen up front lending the feeling not so much of "dinner prep as theater" but of friends prepare an incredible meal. We can't get back there too soon.
So the quality of this photo (taken with my iPhone in a darkened dining room) stands in inverse proportion to the quality of the meal we dined on at MilA last night in New Orleans. This was a hickory smoked lamb chops on black eye puree--perfectly done.
Thanks so much for the restaurant recommendations in the comments--we chose MiLA because they were great about sourcing locally when possible (it is still Eat Local Challenge month, after all) and the the menu was just too delicious to resist. There were seven of us and everything was absolutely first rate from the cornbread with lima bean spread (think southern hummus) that came in the bread basket, to the crispy sweetbreads atop creamy grits that was the first course to the caramel laced apple slices with baby beignets and ice cream that was one of the desserts we shared--it is now lunch time in New Orleans and my friends are still raving about last night. Oh yes, the red snapper and the tea-brined duck were also hits. Barely open a year yet, this restaurant has certainly hit its stride and makes the concept of eating local, seasonal, and still with that southern/Lousiana flair, not just a dream but a reality.
If I get a chance to have another meal in New Orleans, MiLA will be my first choice. Thanks for the recommendation!
It is a wonder to watch the city of Syracuse transform itself before my very eyes and the lunch I had at the brand new Hawley Green Bistro is as potent a symbol of that transformation as you're likely to find. The space that was previously the Pascale's Bake House Cafe is now a restaurant and bar that seems to be channeling the sophistication of some of my favorite haunts in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.
I had a very nice lunch there yesterday and am looking forward to making this spot a frequent hangout once again. By the time I arrived at 2:00 pm (lunch service ends at 3:00) they were sold out of the quiche of the day (avocado and goat cheese) and a lavosh wrap (which changes by the day)--both sounded delicious and provided a none too subtle suggestion for me to get to lunch a littler earlier next time. Other lunch items included a Caesar and mixed green salad, Italian sub, and fish and chips.
But it wasn't as if I had to settle. The chicken and Brie sandwich with garlicky fries (these come with most entrees) I ordered was good to the last bite. Succulent bites of grilled chicken with gently melted Brie and caramelized onions on buttered toast and a hint of mustard is a simple but ingenious combination. The side of chicken jus was a thoughtful but unnecessary touch--the chicken was that good. The fries were crispy and they didn't hold back on the garlic--just the way I like it.
I didn't have dessert--there was just one option--creme brulee and I wasn't up for it on this particular day. They expect their lunch dessert options to increase in the coming weeks. Also, if you've been tempted by the Black Angus Sliders on the website menu--you'll have to come for dinner for those. In fact, I'm going to try to get back for dinner as soon as I can because that menu has even more irresistible items on it.
Currently, lunch and dinner are being served downstairs but that will change in a couple of weeks when the upstairs renovation is completed. This will allow for a full bar and lounge atmosphere on the lower level and the dining room, serving both lunch and dinner, will be upstairs. There are other plans in the works too. Once they've been up and running for a while and can plan in advance, Hawley Green Bistro hopes to subscribe to a CSA share in order to source more local ingredients.
This first impression of Hawley Green Bistro indicates that great things are ahead and they are already off and running.
Chicken and Brie sandwich with jus and garlicky fries
A carafe of water for me to pour at will was a nice touch.
The transformation is evident from the moment you enter.
The Hawley Green Bistro bar--with seating by the bay window on the other end. Hawley Green Bistro, 304 Hawley Avenue (at the corner of Catherine Street) 315-423-0442. Open for lunch 11:00 am- 3:00 pm Monday through Saturday; and 11:00 am - 4:00pm Sundays. Dinner is served Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm and from 5:00 pm - 11:00pm on Friday and Saturday.
Anisa, who commented to my last post called it, we ate at Rendezvous last night--a Memphis institution. Rendezvous opened nearly 60 years ago and is still a family-owned operation. In fact, one of founder Charlie Vergos' sons, Robert, Sr. came over to greet our table. This place is the real deal, in fact it is the deal when it comes to dry-rub style pork ribs.
Ordering was easy for our table of 15. We shared several plates of sausages and cheese--think dry rub spiced and sliced sausages with strips of cheddar cheese, pickles, and pepperoncini. No fancy presentation, the aim here is just to get combinations of these ingredients into your mouth and let the flavors fire up and get you ready for what's to come.
For us, meaning the entire table, what came next was pretty easy. We were given explicit instructions: when the waiter comes your way simply say, "Full Order". We all complied. We were a pretty festive--even feisty--group while we were chowing down on our sausages and cheese and taking relief from the spice from the pitchers of beer and sweet tea that seemed to magically arrive on the table.
Then the ribs came. Now, if you had changed the scenary you would have thought that we had all settled in for prayer (we were a group of Episcopalians after all). There was a long row of us, heads bowed down low, and near silence. The licking of fingers, the rattle of bones chewed clean, and the slurping of beer and tea were about the only sounds for the first few minutes.
We eventually got back to talking and very few of us actually finished our Full Order--I didn't. The thing is, except for a small side of baked bean which were studded with pieces of smoked pork, and a small cup of slaw (not sure what was in it but it wasn't to my liking) the main course consisted of the ribs and parker house-style rolls. Frankly, it was all I needed. These ribs were encrusted, it seemed, with a layer of spice rub to which I added some of the milder BBQ sauce from the squirt botte on the table. But they easily pulled apart and were some of the most tender and flavorful pork ribs I've had in a long time. I left Rendezvous feeling "sassified"--a term some Miami friends of mine use to mean pleasantly full but not stuffed. The only complaint: they need to get some industrial size handi-wipes because the little packets they handed out barely got the sauce off. When I arrived back at my hotel room, my fingers still smelled like they had been in the smoker. They did, however, give us cloth napkins but I hated to mess them up with all that sauce.
This is not like the BBQ you would get at the Dinosaur--about the only thing Rendezvous and the Dinosaur have in common is the authentic atmosphere. This isn't a fancy place--heck, there was a case of guns and rifles hanging on the wall next to us. It wasn't fake, Hard Rock Cafe style kitsch either. In fact there are stories about the fires that erupt from the smoker from time to time--and as we departed we took in the unmistakable aromas of the smoker--working over time for the incoming late dinner crowd.
I only get to Memphis once a year but the next time I come I'm going to insist on checking out the other barbeque joints--I have a feeling that I've just tasted the tip of the iceberg.
Sorry for the fuzzy photos. These were taken with my cell phone and then beamed via Bluetooth to my computer.
I lived in Philadelphia to do an internship in the summer of 1993. This was "pre-Striped Bass" Philly, "pre-Food Scene Philly", this was "food is all about either cheesesteaks, White Dog Cafe or Le Bec-Fin" Philly. I ate exclusively from the Reading Terminal Market supplemented by milk purchased at my local Wawa. This was "pre-Fork Restaurant" Philly.
What happened? Well, probably alot but by 1997 when I came back for a conference, the convention center had been completed and Striped Bass was THE place and Fork was soon to open--Philadelphia had a bona fide food scene. Tonight, while on business in the City of Brotherly Love, I had the chance to dine at Fork and, oh my. I could live here.
Fork is all about the seasonal, local, fresh New American style and they have got it down. But in addition to the "standard" new American fare, they offer takes on Mexican cuisine as well--pan seared chili-spiced Mexican prawns with caramelized pearl onion and mango relish is one example. The excellent wine list is heavy on old world wine and Fork is known for its innovative cocktails.
Ellen Yin, one of the co-owners came to my table to talk about the places like Branch Creek Farm (Bucks County) and the other producers that supply their meat and produce. But this isn't just another restaurant latching on to a trend. Fork actually hosts Slow Food dinners, has supper club meetings, and is a vital part of the community.
There were some twenty of us sitting down for dinner in one of the private dining rooms and we all managed to be served in good time, with good pacing, correct orders and all the professionalism you'd expect of a restaurant of this caliber. Every now and then the room would fall to near silence as we tucked into our dishes. I'll look forward to returning when I can sample more from their menu and I hope to hit the Fork:etc. next door which sells food to go from breakast through late night (it's a four hour drive back home to the 'Cuse, after all). If you find yourself in Philly, check out Fork--just a few minutes walk from Independence Hall.
Crispy Duck Confit with Frisee, Bacon, Sekel Pears and Basil Vinaigrette--the sweet pears where a nice contrast to the tangy vinaigrette and succulent duck confit.
Grilled Chimichurri Marinated Hangar Steak with Sauteed Swiss Chard, Yucca Frites and Spicy Aioli--I shared my frites, and I ate and ate, and could not come close to finishing this delectable dish. Yucca is a root vegetable similiar to potatoes but with a sweetness much like sweet potatoes. This dish paired deliciously with a Simon Hackett "the Gatekeeper" 2003 Shiraz.
Espresso Cheese Cake with Shortbread Crust and Chocolate Sauce--okay, I did save enough roon to polish off this dessert--a very fine, creamy rendition of one of my favorite desserts.
Fork Restaurant, 306 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 215-625-9425
We're going to start with dessert first because, frankly, it was the highlight of our lunch. Let me back up a bit. Following our wine tasting at the New York Wine and Culinary Center on Saturday, my friends and I went upstairs to the Taste of New York Lounge for some lunch.
Like the wines, the wonderful thing about the Center is the ability to taste a variety of foods from producers across the state that aren't easily available. Take this ice cream, for example. These scoops of Mercer's Ice Cream are usually only available in the North Country--think Boonville--the Oneida area, and the Adirondacks which are not places I get to very often. This ice cream, however, might just change that--it was fantastic! Especially the chocolate. We're still trying to figure out just what made this deep, rich, and creamy cool treat so good but if you've haven't had Mercers--find some! They pride themselves on getting their milk only from local dairies--no wonder it tasted so good. Oh yeah, the other flavors were pistachio and orange pineapple.
The other two desserts on the table were a hazelnut torte and a Lively Run goat and marscapone cheesecake. I didn't care too much for the torte--the cake beneath the ganache was a bit dry for my liking--it wasn't horrible--just okay. But the cheesecake was wonderful. I'd never had a cheesecake made with goat cheese before. This one was super creamy with a complexity of flavor that had me going back for more and more--I was supposed to be sharing! It wasn't cloying as some cheesecake can be either.
A complaint? Just a little one. Well, maybe it is pretty big given the aim of the Center to educate people on the New York foodshed. No one could tell me where those strawberries and blueberries were from. I was hoping the blueberries might be local but I can't believe the strawberries were--the rains killed the strawberry season nearly two months ago. The kitchen, however, was unable to tell me anything about them. In fact, it was pretty difficult to get any information about the source of some of the food that was on our table.
Like many restaurants who have come to understand how interested people are becoming about where there food comes from, a Center that aims to source the majority of its food from within the state should proudly identify its farms and purveyors on the menu or at least inform the wait staff. I ate the strawberries anyway, but with just a little bit of suspicion...
This lack of information held true for our main course as well. There was an heirloom tomato salad on the menu but no real info on where the tomatoes were from. We were told they were from Dusty Acres farm but I can't seem to find a listing for them in New York state.
Nevertheless, our lunch entrees were pleasing if not spectacular. I had the smoked salmon grilled cheese sandwich made with McAdam Munster cheese with a couple of tablespoons of pickled red onion on the side. The sandwich was okay--I'd like to try this with a flakey smoked salmon or trout instead of the "lox" style. The pickled onion was scrumptious--could have eaten that all day--it was a nice, sweet, complement to the savory cheese sandwich. All the sandwiches came with a side of "old world style" potato salad--basically a German style potato salad which was very tasty. If the juices from the potato salad hadn't made my grilled cheese sandwich soggy, it would have been a perfectly good dish.
The other sandwiches, though not listed as such, were served open face. We had a tarragon roasted chicken salad on the table as well as a grilled and chilled vegetable sandwich and a crab salad special. We were all happy with our meals but I have the sense that they can do better. Still, I can see the balancing act they may be attempting in striving for a menu that reaches out to a wide range of tastes using ingredients and recipes from around New York state. And the prices were pretty good--we had five entrees, three desserts and two glasses of wine for under $100.00 not including tip.
Now if they get the food source info thing worked out and change the menu seasonally, I'll be back soon.
With friends in town from Boston and Albany I really wanted to show off Central New York. But these weren't just any friends. They'd been here before. We were all classmates in grad school at Cornell University in the early to mid 90s. I wanted them to see Central New York with new eyes. On Saturday we traveled throughout the Finger Lakes for some good food, wine tasting, and a visit to our beloved alma mater.
We started out at the New York Wine and Culinary Center. I was extremely pleased to see how bustling things were there on a day that was one of the most beautiful--weather wise--of the summer and that was full of competition for fun events like boating on the lakes and the Fox Run Garlic Festival over on the westside of Seneca Lake. This was my first time there since the Center has been officially open.
We started out by tasting some wines. The bottles on offer for tasting changes each week but they seem to always offer four flights of wine and one of grape juice to taste. Between the four of us drinking wine, we tasted two different flights and were able to make some nice comparisions between them. I tasted the "New York on the World Stage" which featured NY wines made from European grape varieties. I especially enjoyed the chance to compare Cabernet Franc wines from the Hudson Valley (Millbrook's 2004) and the North Fork of Long Island (Palmer Vineyards' 2003) at the same time.
They make it easy for you to do these comparisons by giving you a placemat with all the wines in the flight labeled, with a few tasting notes. They pour all the wines at once but line them up in the prefered order for tasting. My flight began with the 2005 Eveningside Reserve Chardonnay from the Niagara Escarpment (another regeion I'd been anxious to try). I found this one to be unlike any other Chardonnay I've had--there was a bit of carbon dioxide making it a bit more jumpy on the tongue than I prefer.
The 2004 Vineyard 48 Reserve Chardonnay from Long Island's North Fork was the second wine in the flight and I loved it. It had a very deep gold color to it and a wonderful note of pineapple on the nose that came through subtly on the tongue. The 2004 Millbrook Cab Franc was another winner--and I was surprised to like it more than the Palmer Vineyards (which I didn't much like). I've always thought that Long Island had the upper hand when it comes to Cab Franc but the Millbrook was great--notes of berries and black pepper--yum! Finally, the Long Island 2001 Peconic Bay Merlot was also a favorite of the tasting. Once it opened up a bit, the black cherry, chocolate and cedar notes won me over.
Alas, I have no photos of the wine--check the next post for the food porn. The NY Wine and Culinary Center tasting room was a great way to kick off a day in the Finger Lakes. We were able to purchase some of the Long Island and Hudson Valley wines we'd tasted and then go on to visit the Finger Lake wineries themselves. I don't know when I'll next get to the Hudson Valley for wine and we have no Vintage New York wine shop in the area. But looking out over Canandaigua Lake on a sunny Saturday I'm convinced that this really is the way to taste the wines of New York.