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

Blue Ribbon?

My mom, the individual responsible for my love of food, is a determined and often victorious competitor.  She regularly enters not only food she has made but also her crafts into the county fair and wins.  In the event she does not win – she has been known to find the judges and ask how she needs to improve for the next year so she can win.  She has won ribbons with her buckeyes and her apple dumplings.  And, without revealing the state, she is not entering into tiny county fairs in sparsely populated counties.  She is entering her good into one of the larger fairs in our state.

As for crafts, she has won blue ribbons for her rugs that she has braided.  Rug braiding is something the first American settlers did, using old fabric and braiding it together with little metal tools to make a rug.

This year she entered two items:  a braided rug and peach-pineapple jam.  The rug not only one blue ribbon but also best of show – impressive.

As for the jam, did not even place.  When I asked her if she was upset she explained she was not because the jam was not ribbon worthy.  She told me she knew this from the get go – because the peaches were not very flavorful and were mealy.  Plus, she was forced to use the fair mandated pectin (to prove she used it she had to submit the packaging with her jam).  These two factors, according to her resulted in jam, although having a great color, was a bit runny and it did not have very good flavor.

The thing about a talented and determined competitor – even when they don’t win, as long as it was fair and they know why, they are OK with it.  So my mom was OK with no ribbon and as all great competitors do, she is developing her strategy to bring home victory next year.

 

Peach Pie – Not Good

My husband wanted a peach pie.  Easy – I can make those things all day long and love doing it.  I bought simply gorgeous white Virginia peaches that – well tasted a little flat.  Would not you know… the pie looks gorgeous and has good consistency but, tastes a little flat.  So disappointing but boy did I love baking it.

And, as my aunt and my mom do….. if you have the oven on you might as well make other things as well.  So I also baked banana bread – tried a new recipe with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg.  I got the recipe from an old cooking magazine, I can’t remember which one.  I also baked banana (I store up a lot of bananas in the freezer) oat, chocolate chip cookies.  The cookies were fantastic in flavor – just enough banana but you can clearly last it- the oats added a great heaviness and chocolate in anything takes it to the next level.  The banana bread was fabulous also.  My husband is taking the banana bread to work but we sliced it making it easy to carry and to allow us to eat some – it was relish!  Heavy, moist, banana tasting – will make again.

One Weekend Two Disappointments

Friday night my spouse and I met for drinks and dinner at the Fig & Olive in City Center DC.  I had been there once for lunch awhile ago and had a great dining experience and that does not even include the fact the staff let me sit at the bar and work for about three hours until my next appointment.  But alas… dinner was a disappointment.

The staff was attentive but not overbearing and the outside space was contemporary and comfortable.  The patio is not on any street so you just get the friendly, energetic activities of tourists and rushed DC folks on foot.

The menu is mediterranean focused and has a decent selection.  The wine, beer selection is  nothing special but expansive enough both in price and variety.  I started with an Acai French 75 a cool and refreshing drink of gin, acai vodka and sparkling wine.  My spouse got a cool crisp beer.  We started with a cheese plate – the accompanying bread was grilled a bit but in flavor and texture was not far off from wonder bread.  You don’t get to select your cheeses and the three selections were all relatively strong and creamy – no diversity in flavor or texture.  We also ordered a side of olives – tasty but not outstanding.  They also bring complimentary bread with three types of olive oil.  All three olive oils were just how I love my olive oil – very strong, fruity with a tinge of bite.  It was the best part of the meal.  The accompanying bread was relatively bland.

For the main meal – I ordered the acclaimed shrimp and salmon over an arugula, fennel, onion, avocado salad.  The shrimp and salmon were both tasty and were not over done. But, the salad was overdone with dressing – the greens were drowned to the point I could not even really taste the greens.  Thankfully the dressing doing the drowning – citrus-cilantro was light and carried a great flavor – just way too much.  My spouse got the branzino. Strangely for DC summers – there was a side of mashed potatoes – when its 95 degrees and muggy – who can eat mashed potatoes?  But the branzino was flaky, gratifying and not over done.

We passed on dessert.

Next up for the weekend – we headed to an early dinner at Red, White and Basil.  First, this place could not be any cuter if it tried – little red tables, basil growing in pots all over the place.  They achieved their goal of a casual, welcoming, comfortable place reminiscent of Italy.  The deal is you get a three course meal: salad, pasta (you choose the sauce), and cannoli for around $16-$20.

The sauces are what you would expect: red sauce, pesto, creamy pesto, vodka, spicy red sauce.  You also get to select your salad and can add meatballs, shrimp, lobster, chicken if you want.  They have “specials” which based on the menu I thought were some type of chicken or fish dish – nope more pasta with chicken or fish as part of it.  So, if you want something other than pasta – you are out of luck.

The salad has a good selection of ingredients but was delivered soaking with what seemed to be a balsamic vinaigrette which, although having a great balsamic flavor was a disappointment because I thought the menu said it was a lemon vinaigrette.

The pesto sauce seemed to be creamy rather than straight up pesto and almost had a mustardy flavor rather than basil  but it was  a tasty dish.

The cannoli – was soggy, covered with honey and the inside was very liquidy – it was not worth the calories.

No bread to start with – disappointing love my bread and olive oil.

Wine and beer selection is limited but its OK since the place is really trying to be a casual pasta bar and not some high end italian joint.

The staff was attentive but yanked our plates before we were all done.  Its OK place for  a quick pasta meal but not worth a trip.

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Jam

Made raspberry jam about two weeks ago with berries my friend picked at his farm.

Bursting with raspberry flavor, a gorgeous vibrant red color, all the “jars” popped so were properly sealed… but…

The jam never really set.  My mom, the maestro of all things food, especially canning -declared:  “That’s what happens when you double the recipe.  Only make one batch at a time.”  And, at one point when my husband and I told her it was not getting thicker the longer I cooked it – that it was getting more watery – she exclaimed:  “Hogwash, that is scientifically impossible – it won’t get more watery the longer it cooks, its just your imagination.”  She was right but it never did thicken.

Remembering back on the first jam I ever made with my husband – we realized we had the luck of the rookie with us – it was perfect and it set.

So… we will just have to do it again – wonderful wonderful moments of making jam with my mom growing up and my husband now.

Athlete’s Need to Stick with Sports

A trip to Joe Theismann’s Restaurant in Alexandria was a disappointment but not a surprising one –  professional athlete restaurant’s are generally not for foodies.  On the plus side, its roomy, great sports photos all over the place (to the point you actually want to stop and stare at some of them), a good place for families with kids (up to and including teenagers) and for folks who are not foodies.

But if your thing is a food – not your place.  First, the menu is basically effete bar food  – burgers, fries, some pastas, steak.  For example, the house salad came out droopy – all of it droopy the lettuce, onions and cukes – droopy.  The blue cheese dressing was so watery I thought it was ranch or something else and, it really only had one piece of actual cheese and not much flavor.

Then the ahi tuna with rice, sugar peas and an Asian sauce – was soggy – all drenched in the sauce.  Now the sauce was flavorful but unoriginal your classic ginger-soy-sesame sauce.  The tuna which was supposed to be rare was as hard as a hockey puck and the rice was basic white and kind of clumpy.  Others got the crab cakes which were a decent size but lacked flavor.  The fries were crispy but had really had no flavor either.

Dessert choices were all standard: cheesecake, bread pudding, molten chocolate and a “grilled” banana bread.  Not sure why one would grill whats basically a breakfasty type bread and serve it with ice cream but it did not taste bad – just nothing unique or to write about. 😉

Wine menu -what you would expect from a chain.

As for service – below average.  The good-the waiter was patient with the big crowd and appeared regularly.  The bad – when he passed out the silverware – he kind of flung it and it bounced around the table.  The weirdest part though was our table was between a wall and a large pillar.  The waitress serving the table next to us, rather than going back to the kitchen via the walkway – decided to try and squeeze herself between the pillar and the chair of one of our guests.  The guest could not scoot the chair in any further to give the waitress room to squeeze by – rather than aborting the waitress got irritated and told the person with great attitude: “I am trying to squeeze by.”  Yes – waitress we – know we saw and we puzzled.

The menu is reasonably priced and there is out door seating.

Joe Theissman’s Alexandria

 

 

 

Woodstock Brewhouse – Totally Cool (Hint Not in NY but VA)

In tiny, adorable, authentic, tucked away in the Shenandoah Mountains town of Woodstock, Virginia is a hip, cool brewery with mouthwatering bar-b-que and an enticing variety of brews – Woodstock Brewhouse.

The Woodstock Brewhouse sits about a half a block off the main drag  of Woodstock. It is easy to find parking on the street out front.  There are maybe two tables outside but not worth sitting there given the buzz inside.

You walk in, its a wide open industrial space with big metal tables, a bar that overlooks the brew operations which are located in the basement.  You can sit at the bar and look down at the brewing.  Big huge windows and high ceilings give the sense of being in a “great hall.”  Laughter and teasing and hubbub is all around.  The owners, local folks from Shenandoah have created a true sense of community – in fact one of the regulars at the bar asked if I wanted  to try his beer -even though I never met him – to try and help as I made my beer selections.

All the way in the back is the bar and kitchen where you place your order.  Over to the right in the back are napkins, plastic cutlery, and the scrumptious with just the right amount of snappiness bar-b-que sauces made in-house.  Once you place your order, you get your beer immediately and your food is brought to your table.

As for the beers – the Brewhouse always makes new varieties from crisp pale ales to long, heavy stouts and porters.  Friday when we were there – some had the Casey Jones Vanilla Porter – it was so smooth we drank too much and had to stop at a custard place to get sober enough to drive on.  The porter was heavy with a hint of coffee and way smooth.  It was tough to taste any vanilla.  The Seven Bender Pale Ale was crisp and citrusy with a hint of sweet.

The menu is limited – brats and bar-b-que.   The pulled pork sandwich and beef brisket were perfect.  The meat was flavor and tender.  Both the heavier tomato sauce and the vinegar sauce were tangy and perfect to enhance the meat.  We also ordered the mac and cheese – pasta was not overcooked and it was dripping with a creamy, zesty cheese sauce.

And… then when you find that you drank too much and lingered for too long and need to let the buzz dissipate so you can stop at Katie’s Custard (870 West Main Street, Woodstock) – a little custard shop right off the Woodstock main drag as you head out of town back to 81 and sadly leave this little town and get back to life.

LINK TO WOODSTOCK BREWHOUSE

 

 

 

 

Vital Info on Burgers in NYC

Quick post – Bloomberg’s Food Critic, Richard Vines just posted a great article on the best burgers in NYC according to Shake Shacks’ culinary director.   Who better than to opine on this then Shake Shack’s culinary director?  This is vital information for those planning trips to NYC this summer.   Article

 

Orange-Almond Cake

So a couple of weeks ago I made this Orange-Almond Cake that was in my Food and Wine magazine.  I was curious about it since it called for pureeing the oranges and then adding them to almond flour, sugar and a couple other ingredients.  My curiosity was initial replaced with horror when half the cake got stuck in the pan as I tried to release it – rookie mistake in the cake baking world.  I was just impatient to try the cake and had not loosed it enough before trying to slip it out of the pan.  Then, my horror of having a cake that was broken in half was quickly replaced with complete delight as the spouse and I took warm pieces of broken cake and popped them into our mouths.  Then the delight went on steroids when we added the orange flavored fresh whipping cream to the broken pieces of cake.  The cake was a moist, heavy, orange flavored delight.  Thankfully it was just the two of us so the fact it was broken apart did not matter – no guests to serve it to.

But I am not a huge orange fan so, as I popped broken pieces of cake into my mouth – I started scheming on another fruit that can replace the oranges – and… it will be raspberries.  I have not done a raspberry version yet so stay tuned.

Here is the link to the recipe – I highly recommend it:  Food and Wine Orange-Almond Cake