Sitting in Butter – NYC Style

Recently, family and friends connected in the Big Apple for a celebratory weekend. (I am fortunate to have married into a family that celebrates everything.  My hard scrabble midwestern mom is not prone to celebrate but loves life in a different way.  My southern dad is not a celebratory at all but finds good times in daily life. So the frequent celebrations have been a welcome addition to my life.)  Since it was a last minute celebration, we were left to find a place to dine that could accommodate all of us.  My fabulous, perfectionist sister-in-law found Butter in Midtown.  It was a great selection; all of the diners raved about their meals; and this is a sophisticated experienced bunch of diners.  In fact, part of our dinner conversation consisted of discussing where and when each of us had the best meals of our lives.  Both my family and my in-law are big on food – cooking it, eating it and talking about it…. just a big focus of our lives!

The atmosphere at Butter is edgy, heavy wood, really high ceilings and unique furniture.  It is rustic, woodsy, cabin with a New York City hippiness.  There are a lot of booths in a half circles – always better for a group to sit together in a round table because then you can engage with everyone in your party.  So, we were pleased to be assigned a large semi-circle booth far enough from the bar to not get the noise but close enough to be a part of the buzz.  The noise level is low so you can talk with your dinner mates.  The seats are comfy and a reasonable distance from the table.  The table was large enough that we could all comfortably sit and have all our food delivered.

Warning though about the space – don’t get excited about having dinner or drinks in the fabulous garden that is displayed on the website because that is only available for private parties.  Such a shame because the space looks likes its really welcoming and like a quiet refuge in the insanity of NYC.

Given that we were celebrating – we started with cocktails.  Of particular note was the “calamansi” – vodka, watermelon cubes, mint, and calamansi lime juice.  Our guest who ordered it most enjoyed it and the waiter willingly provided some extra vodka to the mixture when asked.  The mojito drinker raved about it as well.

The wine list had diversity in price and in varietal – we quickly found something that we all enjoyed.

Appetizers were the panzanella salad, mache salad, and escarole causer salad.  The leaf base of each of these salads was very fresh.  The tomatoes in the panzanella were flavorful and fresh as well.  Dressings were tasty.  The dressing did not  overpower the greens with intense flavor nor were the dressings soaking the greens – done very well.

The grilled, chili-rubbed octopus was elegantly prepared, winding over the plate, leaving the diner to cut it rather than having it cut up in the kitchen.  There was just enough chili to add zing.  Presenting the dish over white beans with some green tomatoes added a nice consistency to the dish..  However, it was not as warm as the diner would have preferred.  Others got the oven-roasted chicken and the tobacco smoked pork chop.  The chicken was perfectly prepared, juicy, not over done as was the pork chop.  The salmon and trout were similarly perfectly prepared.

Dessert was disappoint simply because we were not satisfied with the number and variety of the selections.  We did not want to get a full on dessert but just wanted a scoop of homemade ice cream.  They only had two flavors available and, although very creamy, neither flavor was intense enough to taste like anything more than frozen vanilla flavored custard.  The creme brûlée that was on the menu the night we went was a grand slam – sweet enough and creamy enough to be delightful but not overwhelming.

One down-side was the service.  We ordered our cocktails and we did not see the waiter with our drinks for a ridiculously long period of time.  It was fine since we were settled in for a long evening together but, we wanted our hooch to start the party.  It was an awkwardly long time to be sitting there while the water guy just kept pouring more water.  We even got our rolls and butter before our cocktails arrived.  These delays played out over the course of the whole meal, we would just find ourselves waiting and waiting for the waiter to take our order, bring our food and clear our table.  He did not demonstrate any particular interest in or knowledge of the menu.  Disappointing given the quality of the food.

In the end, definitely try it… its always good to be sitting in butter.

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BEST DESSERT I HAVE EVER HAD!

I have a sweet tooth.  I have indulged my sweet tooth my whole life.  I have eaten a lot of great desserts in all kinds of places.  I have a mother who has won blue ribbons at the county fair for her baking; I have eaten at Michelan starred restaurants; I have eaten at bakeries and restaurants in every corner of the world; I have baking skills and deploy them whenever I get a hankering for a treat…. through all this I have had mind blowingly  great desserts.

But, a couple of days ago – it happened, I ate the singularly greatest dessert I have ever had in my life.  It was not something my mom made.  (sorry mom, I need to tell her about this dessert).  I was at a fund raiser dinner I was not expecting anything…. when….

Out came the dessert, it was like a little column of chocolate, sitting on a little sea of chocolate sauce.  I cracked the dark chocolate shell open and inside was a pale, chocolate colored creamy substance.  The menu had described the dessert as a chocolate “cheesecake” with peanut butter and pretzels.  Huh?  You can see why I was not expecting much.  But the inside did not have the consistency of cheesecake, nor did it have a strong cheese taste but rather it was light, fluffy, creamy with a hint of milk chocolate flavor.   A bite of the creamy middle sitting on the hard, dark chocolate shell – fabulous.

What pushed it over the edge though, was that inside the dark chocolate shell, the creamy middle sat on top of a layer of creamy peanut butter and a salty crust.  So when you prepared a very carefully engineered spoonful – including the hard out shell, the chocolate middle, the peanut butter and the crusty – WOOHOO – the best dessert – ever.  Loved it.  (Disclaimer:  you have to be a chocolate lover.)

It looked great too – that little chocolate column was a creative design.

 

The Chi-Town Riverwalk Wine Bar… Where You Need to Pack a Lunch

Oh boy… For the most part, I find something good about my dining or eating experience and the good usually outweighs the bad… but that cannot always be the case and, I have recently experienced bad more than good.  (still found a bit of good)

Cyrano’s Cafe on the Riverwalk in Chicago  – I just don’t know where to begin.  I will say the good stuff, the location is really fun.  It is on the river in Chicago and is  inside a tent with casual tables and chairs.  From that perspective, its cool.

But, when you are paying to dine out, you really don’t want the bartender to reach into a cooler, that looks just like the one you use haul your stuff to the beach, to get the white wine. Yup… that is what happened.  Behind the bar there they were – the coolers, all piled on top of each other and holding the wine and beer.  Needless to say, nothing is that cold if you hit Cyrano’s at the end of the day.  Don’t ask for lemon for your drink, they don’t have it but they did have lime.

Appetizers consisted of various cheeses and/or meats on bread – cornbread, pretzel bread – great concepts especially since they had a duck one… but the bread was dry and hard, the cheese or meat what ever was on top was dry and hard.  I have visions of the duck, looking a bit too red, kind of curling up, as it perched on the bread. The meal continued the dry and hard theme – which does not make for tasty salmon at all.  The bistro salad was tasty – with green beans, walnuts, roasted pears and a flavorful dressing, they did not drench the salad – which is a common food prep error Cyrano’s avoided.

The staff, well friendly, but distracted and harried and unprofessional…..the lead waitress did stop by, ask how everything was going and dropped a ton of welcome Midwestern love… but she could not overcome the items identified above and we chose not to go through the list.   In the end, stop for the locale, sitting on the river in Chi-town… maybe pack a lunch….and order a red wine… avoid the need for a fridge.

DC’s Version of a “Diner” – Ted’s Bulletin

DC has some great restaurants that I cannot say enough about.  But what it does not have are your classics in any real sense -diners, pizza joints, bakeries (where they serve kolach and nut roll), or a market.  To make my point lets talk markets for a moment.   When I say market, I mean market where you can get pig’s feet, haluski (thats cabbage and noodles, an Eastern European delicacy ;)), rabbit,  brain, pierogi, nuts, handmade sausage, olives, cannoli and most important – you can get a bargain.  Bargaining occurs when you offer the seller of say, fresh tomatoes, a price, he declines and you end up in a screaming match and the best tasting tomatoes you ever imagined at a price that will never be beat.   This makes me realize – I need to do a series on markets…. But I digress.

Back to what DC dining lacks.  DC does not have a real market because its just too fancy, lacking character, and not gritty.  Real markets are in Cleveland, Philly and NYC.  Diners, pizza joints and real bakeries spring forth from the artisans and their families that are selling at the market.

But… DC has been fortunate enough to have the food entrepreneurs who created Ted’s Bulletin, MatchBox Pizza, and DC-3 to deliver something that kind of meets the definition of a diner but with a DC twist with Ted’s.  It meets the diner definition because it serves biscuits and sausage gravy, pancakes, corned beef hash, grits, and egg creations.  It is the DC twist because it also serves homemade pop tarts.

It has a cool atmosphere built with pieces they got from an old movie theater and those displays to list their menu.  There is a fun buzz as patrons and staff rush about.  Heavy plates, heavy wood chairs and lots of heavy metal accents make if feel comfortable and homey.  They play old time movies and TV shows on the multiple TV’s – adding to the atmosphere.

The staff is attentive, cheery, speedy and willing to take any special requests to the kitchen and about 80% of the time, the special request is fulfilled.

Now for the food – its tasty for the most part.  The grits are done with cheese, but not enough, so ask for extra cheese.  The pancakes are fluffy, sweet with great consistency that holds up under a boat load of syrup.  The hash browns are golden brown and greasy.  The pork sausage – a flavor burst and it too is greasy.   So, the diner basics are met.

For the DC twist – the pop tarts.  WOOHOO!  What a twist this is.  You want find a pop tart in a real New Jersey diner. (that is where diner is defined).  But after having one at Ted’s you will hope for a homemade pop tart on every menu.  The outside is a flaky, sweet crust and the insides are creamy and bursting with whatever flavor you can think of.

For another twist, try a milkshake for breakfast – the chocolate, banana, peanut butter shake is heaven on earth.  It is thick, creamy, with perfect proportions of the main ingredients.   I must admit…. I have done it for breakfast but, its best… as an adult shake when you visit Ted’s for happy hour.

Lost in (West) Virginia Volume 3

You can get lost in West Virginia or its neighbor, rural Virginia, for days and days but at some point you need ice cream.

For Lost in (West) Virginia Volume 3, I will cover Katie’s Custard Stand in Woodstock, Virginia.

Katie’s Custard stand sits on the main drag into Woodstock, in a parking lot.  Its a little caboose looking building where cute high school and college kids hang out the window to hear your order.  They record your order, for the tax man, in a notebook by hand and give you your treat with a big smile.  You can sit at the picnic table in the grassy area connected to the parking lot.  Locals are sitting in their cars, young and old, eating their ice cream.

The fare is your basic software but there are plenty of toppings, sauces, syrups and add-ons to almost rival DQ.  The hot fudge, peanut butter sundae is my favorite.  And, amazingly, my spouse had their first banana split there.  Amazing because the spouse is a major league ice cream monster and I had no idea that they had traveled so far in life without every having a banana split.  The look on their face when handed the banana split, and as they started diving in – will forever be in my heart.

Go warm your heart with some soft serve.

Lost in West Virginia, Volume 2

Wild, wonderful West Virginia, not almost heaven – it is heaven.  Its quiet, beautiful, people are friendly and courteous.   But, you gotta eat.

So Volume 2 on where to eat when Lost in West Virginia – The Lost River Grill.

The Lost River Grill sits in the valley, on a country road, across from a gorgeous farm with cows that mosey to and fro.  Its a cute red building, with a screened in porch attached to a real estate office.

As you enter, you see the dessert case, jam packed with big, yummy homemade pies and cakes – which are worth every calorie.  The walls are covered with photographs of local scenes that are for sale.  There is a wooden statute right by the door.  You can usually pick your table – booth of table.  The decor is dated but comfortable, you immediately feel right at home.  You feel more at home when the waitress approaches and calling you honey, asks what you want.   Sometimes, you need to wait a little bit for your food but just let that go, let the time pass, relax and realize there are places where the world is not rushing about madly, answering emails and attending conference calls – soak it in and let time slow.

The Grill serves breakfast on weekends and dinner seven nights.  It serves lunch too but not every day.

The menu is American country – meatloaf, spaghetti, burgers, prime rib, taco salad and other basics.  They usually have a special.  The salmon kebab with rosemary – is healthy, flavorful and filling.  On the other end of the health spectrum – the cheese fries, with bacon, and ranch dressing are enough to feed an army but warm, greasy, cheesy and comforting – a complete indulgence.

For a kick, go to the bar, warm, cozy, serves up whatever you like and its a great place do the all you can eat shrimp or crab legs.

Enjoy!

Vodka with Muddled Raspberries or Blackberries or Strawberries

I get on food kicks, drinking kicks, restaurant kicks – I just keeping eating or drinking the same thing over and over.  Sometimes there is nothing special about the “kick.”  For example, when my spouse travels, I can eat tuna, lettuce, tomatoes, and olive oil – for breakfast, lunch and dinner – its strange but functional.  Plus, I love tuna, tomatoes, and olive oil – the lettuce is just a filler.  But, I am not always so boring with my “kicks.”

A better kick was the Rumchata kick.  Rumchata, a rum, cream liquor, captured my attention and palate for about three months a year ago.  I loved it so much that I told a friend, who is not a cook.  She loved it so much, she got on a Rumchata kick and to prove it, she sent a photo of her fridge, empty but for a bottle of Rumchata.

Several months ago, I had a hankering for a good mojito.  I tried making a mojita from scratch.  They were OK at best.  Then I bought an expensive mojito mix – total flop.

Stymied, I started scrolling the internet for other “summer” drinks.  I found a simple one:  vodka (my preferred spirit), muddled raspberries, simple syrup and club soda.  I tried it, not really measuring, just guesstimating.   It was fabulous – clean, crispy, fruity and screaming summer time.

Its my drink for summer 2017.  And, when I ran out of raspberries, blackberries worked just as well, and when I ran out of blackberries, strawberries were equally as tasty.

Give it a try – guesstimate the measurements.  You will love it.  I will keep drinking it until the leaves start falling and I need to move to Rumchata and pumpkin – but that is for another post.

Lost in West Virginia Volume 1

Wild and wonderful West Virginia, almost heaven West Virginia, and its neighbor, rural Virginia both live up to these descriptors – wild, wonderful and heaven.  The Shenandoah valley and Blue Ridge mountains cut through both of these states, vast, green, forested, smoky, peaceful.  Both states have large national and state forests so you can drive for miles, hike for miles and rarely see another person.

Where does one eat when roaming the wild of West Virginia or Virginia.  Often, I am  eating an energy bar or a package of tuna and crackers on a mountain ridge with my honey but when I am not – I have found some places that I love.  Thus, this will be a multi-volume post on where to eat in West Virginia and rural Virginia. (Remember there is northern Virginia, the suburbs of DC, these posts are not going to discuss where to eat there – not that there are not fabulous places to do so, but that is for another post.)

Lost in West Virginia Volume 1 – Kac-Ka-Pon Restaurant in Wardensville, West Virginia.

The Kac-Ka- Pon Restaurant sits on the main drag of the tiny own of Wardensville.  Every time I have been its filled with locals, enjoying one another’s company and having a bite to eat.  The waitresses are sincere, kind, and efficient – you never wait long before one is over to take your order, see how you are doing, and tend to your dining needs.  They always call you sweetie or honey.  The warmth comes from the people both working at the restaurant and dining at the restaurant.  The tables and chairs are basic metal, for those who have been, they look like the standard tables and chairs from a midwestern church basement.  Every inch of the place is clean and neat and tidy – the pride of ownership shines through.

The flowers are plastic and the TV is on but silent.  The decor is bright, cheery country with lots of West Virginia University paraphernalia on the walls, on the floor and on the diners.  Its is so comfy and homey – you never feel rushed and no one is taking cell calls or pecking out emails.

The place shines at breakfast… particularly the biscuits which are perfect.  They stand about two inches high, are light in texture, break apart in your hand, and have a great biscuit flavor whether paired with eggs or by themselves with lots of butter and jam.  The eggs are done to your liking and the sausage, scrabble, bacon, and ham is fresh.  The pancakes reflect the perfection of the biscuits and so does the biscuits with gravy – it does not get any better.

If you are picky on coffee, bring your own in a travel mug – they don’t mind.  Or, if you want to roll with ambience get their coffee but don’t expect some fancy blend, don’t look for a mocha on the menu or for a bit of fresh milk or cream on your table.

For lunch or dinner – the fries are always crispy and warm.  The chili is rich, spicy, chunky and a great treat with cornbread after a hike.  The menu is basic:  mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken but all cooked in-house and all down home tasty.

The pies are beautiful, visible in a case and its been more than one time I have seen someone order a slice and polish it off for breakfast.  A great way to live and eat – I highly recommend pie for breakfast and love to see others eating pies for breakfast.

You can’t go wrong by stopping in for this wonderful, almost heaven homestyle place.

 

 

Tarragon at Inn at Honey Run – Holmes County Ohio

WHAT A GREAT MEAL!  YOU GOTTA HIT THIS PLACE FOR MEAL AND A STAY!

So this place is in Amish country Ohio.  You hear Ohio call itself the heart of it all – this place is exactly why.  You have to drive far to get there – no matter what city you live in.  (its about 70 miles from Cleveland and probably about the same from Columbus) Soft rolling hills, amish buggies being pulled by horses, lots of cows and sheep languishing in lush fields, corn, soybeans and trees.

The Inn at Honey Run is nestled in the side, literally of a little hill and you can walk to dinner past the sheep and the golden rod in the fall.  The rooms are fabulous – modern, with all the amenities and many have their own stone patio to sit on.  You won’t even want to leave to go to Tarragon for dinner.  But you gotta go because its a great meal with a great atmosphere.

The Tarragon restaurant has huge glass windows looking out over the woods – almost all tables sit right by a window.  We ate dinner while watching birds, to include a turkey frolic in the woods.  The restaurant has a clean modern feel but warm not cold and trendy – its quiet and peaceful.

The staff was attentive and Ohio earnest – Ohio friendly.  Our waitress was genuinely thrilled that we enjoyed our meal so.

The menu is contemporary American.  We started with potato gnocchi with blue cheese, apples, and honey.  It was the perfect fall dish.  The flavors combined for an interesting earthy taste but the gnocchi were not overwhelmed by the flavors.

For dinner we had scallops, pea shoots over pureed parsnips with a bit of ginger jam – AWESOME.  Intense flavors combined perfectly to compliment one another.

The dessert selection is diverse and extensive enough that everyone will find something to make them happy.  We shared the vanilla creme brûlée – intense vanilla flavor, smooth as silk with the crunchy topic – a classic prepared to perfection.

One note of warning – Sundays no alcoholic beverages at all – its the law of the county.  You can’t even bring your own in… boy did I want a nice glass of barolo!  Next time.

We finished and went back to the room and silent in the silence on the little porch – heaven.

The Inn at Honey Run

D.C. Mexican – Give It a Try But Not For Everyone

WAPO’s restaurant critic declared it a contender for D.C.’s best mexican restaurant.  I take issue – its worth a visit but you need to be a particular type of dinner, perhaps one who likes the “next best thing” rather than a fab restaurant experience.

I am talking about Espita Mascaleria that is on the corner of N and 9th in Shaw neighborhood DC.  (side note:  exact location where only about 4-5 years ago on a cold winter night we bought our Christmas tree from the garden center that was there.)  First, its a great location in a fun, emerging part of town.  For out of towners, its easy to get to – a short walk from K Street and only about a block from the Convention Center Green/Yellow line metro.

The decor is heavy – heavy dark wood tables that are really cool looking and, not too deep so you actually feel like you are eating with your dinner partner.  Heavy, dark art with a lot of Mexican influenced skeleton’s and other culture references – its really neat stuff.  Chairs are comfy and there is a great outside patio and decent sized bar.

The atmosphere alone makes it worth a visit – kick back, have a drink, a little mexican food and take it all in – its just a cool, genuinely, not trying to hard hype environment.  Its loud so be ready.

The menu is no question, really legit mexican and it is clearly all fresh.  The mole is its signature with a good variety from light to heavy and spicy.

The menu is meant to be shared – a variety of tapas.  You can select from the offering of interesting tacos (oyster or lamb for example).  They also have a good selection of salsas and ceviche along with some other mexican dishes – salads with avocados etc. and dishes with corn tortillas.

We tried the Hamachi ceviche with pineapple, radishes, a bit of complex, spicy, dense, smoky salsa – super good.  We had the roja salsa and the gaucamole with our chips.  The roja salsa was thick and not too flavorful- reminded me of tomato paste – I would not get it again.  My husband had the pipian pork mole.  It repeated the heavy them – the sauce very heavy and although  a decent mole flavor, it was just too sticky.  The pork melted in your mouth.  I had the fundido – a corn tortilla with a layer of beans, then lettuce, avocado and a mozzaralla type cheese that had a little funkiness to its flavor.  Really it was something I could make it home in about two seconds.

As for drinks – they really want you to try one of their mezcal drinks and the wait staff is more than happy to tell you about the selections.  In its essence mezcal is fermented agave from a particular region of Mexico – the south for the most part – really its tequila but it is good.

The wait staff was engaged, attentive and willing to offer their opinions and recommendations – clearly well-trained.

Here is the thing though – I am a foodie and if I need the waitress to spend what seemed to be about eternity for me to understand what a particular dish consisted of – its no good – too much work and to much mystery.

And… the whole meal took way way too long to get out to us.  Now, to their credit, its good they aren’t hustling us out.  But… good grief – I was actually the one getting irritated, bored and impatient when that is my husband’s role after about 15 minutes.  We were way passed that.  Even when we asked the waitress to bring our check…. she filled up our water glasses and went away as if we never asked – it was almost strange.  Again – I commend them for letting guests linger – so many places turn tables so fast that you are grabbing your plate back from the waiter to get your last bit of dessert.  But this was way too much – in their verve to create an experience – they created a dinner that lasted just way too long.  This includes the interminable wait for our actual meals.

All in all – go for it – like I said – great environment, some interesting selections, knowledgeable staff but I am not compelled to return.

 

Espita Mascaleria, Shaw DC