Haluski – The Perfect Food

I married an Italian.  Before I married him, I dated him.  And, while we were dating we talked of food and he cooked a lot of Italian food for me.  Not to have the Italian food outshine the food of my heritage – I proudly informed him that I would make him “cabbage and noodles” also known as haluski.  He looked at me as if I were crazy and then declared that it sounded gross.  This of course coming from the man who came from the land of luscious tomatoes, sweet basil, creamy mozzarella cheese, delightful ricotta cheese, and on and on.  You could see why he would think my offering was not worthy.

Until he tried it…. now he like me is in love with haluski.

Its so easy to make – take a head of cabbage – chop it up.  Take a half a stick of butter toss it in a big huge pot.  Through in the chopped cabbage.  On low heat, let it cook, stirring regularly until the cabbage begins to loose some of its liquid and starts to get fragrant.  Meanwhile, in another huge pot, boil water for egg noodles.  When the cabbage is soft and a little bit brown and the noodles are cooked and drained – toss it all together.

Add some salt and dig in.  Comfort food at its very best.  Even the Italian agrees.

 

RIP El Camino In Bloomingdale DC

I wrote one time about El Camino in the DC neighborhood of Bloomingdale.

I now write to alert all that it has closed.  I will keep my post up to forever remind me of my fond memories dining there – memories of good food, great atmosphere and welcoming staff.  I will miss you my El Camino.

 

In the Shadow of DC’s Mayflower Hotel But Nonetheless Outshining It – LeDesales

I love DC’s Mayflower Hotel for so many reasons.  If you are in town – you have to visit, if only to walk through is gorgeous first floor.

First, it is an iconic DC hotel – regal, elegant, expansive.  It opened in 1925 on Connecticut Avenue and it still operates in all its grandeur today.  Second, many a famous person has graced its hallways.   Harry S. Truman thought so highly of the place that he called it the second best address in DC. (the first being the Whitehouse.)  New York state’s former Attorney General and former Governor, Elliot Spitzer, also known as Client #9 who got caught up in a prostitution scandal, met his ladies at the Mayflower.  Third, it provides great service – the rooms are sumptuous and the bar is welcoming and cozy.  So, to recap – its just amazing all the way around in away, casting its awesome shadow over all its neighbors.

But one, Le Desales.  An impressive, in its own right, for its own reasons, french bistro, literally in the shadow of the Mayflower Hotel on the tiny street, DeSales Street, running parallel to the grand hotel.

I will now start my praise for Le Desales.  I made reservations but my beloved and I were running about twenty minutes, I called ahead and let them know.   They said no problem, see you when you get here.  When we walked in the maitre d’ was talking with another customer who was making a fuss so we could not help but over hear.  The customer was explaining that she had gotten “all dressed up” to go to dinner but now that she Le Desales discovered it was not white table cloth so was disappointed.  I have truncated her complaint, she was far more verbose.  The maitre d’ attentively listened to her compliant, told her that indeed her observations were accurate, it was a casual bistro and not a white table cloth restaurant.  He then went on to tell her that there were plenty of white table cloth restaurants in the area and he would be happy to get her into one at that very moment since he knew all of them and would call on her behalf.  She started up again; when he diplomatically said to her, would you mind if I helped these two guests?  She said no and he turned his attention to us.

When I told him our name for the reservation, he immediately and sincerely thanked me for the call that we would be late.  Then he took our coats and walked us to our table.  We were seated at a quiet table, which was my request given that my beloved has a hard time hearing sometimes.  The maitre d’ went back to his aggrieved, potential diner.  (I later observed her eating at a high top in the bar area. So apparently to her mind, it made the cut.)

Our waiter appeared and presented the menus and, did not ask immediately what we wanted to drink but instead said he would give us a minute.  I cannot stand it when within seconds of parking into my seat at a restaurant, before I can even look at the menu, the waiter is demanding to know what I want to drink.  He brought us water, gave us a minute and then checked in.  The drinks were perfect.  My beloved ordered his beloved drink – the Old Fashion.  It came out perfect in color, a gorgeous orange peel delicately floating between a large ice cube and the glass.  From the menu, I ordered “Her Name was Lola” which had vodka, hibiscus, rosemary, grapefruit and soda.  An interesting and refreshing take on my beloved vodka.  It was tasty and I would and will order it again but must say the rosemary overpowered the other flavors such that I did not taste the hibiscus or grapefruit at all.

With our dinner we each selected our own glass of red wine with the help of the informed and decisive waiter.

Further testimony to the skilled and courteous nature of the staff as that when our waiter realized we were big water drinkers, he left us our own little pitcher on the table. And even further testimony to the staff’s skill – no one hovered, waiters who were not our waiter, checked in with us and cleared the table, and, the table was only cleared when we were really done and not still lingering over our final bites.  And further testimony, when I asked if I should go with the venison or another meal, our waiter actually gave his opinion which I always appreciate.  The staff was engaging and not stuffy.  Evidence – when one waiter came to clear our plates and asked if we wanted to see the dessert menu, we said yes and she playfully said – “the chocolate tart – I am just saying…”

The meal was remarkable.  So much so that I look forward to my return, again and again.  We both ordered the french onion soup.  The cheese was thick and had just the right bit of crispiness to it.  The bread too was thick and flavorful.  The onions were so melted that they almost had the consistency of the broth.  Fabulous.

For my meal I had venison, with mashed celery root, crispy onion and cranberries.  A group of flavors and texture that perfectly complimented one another.  The venison to my mind was just a wee bit over done around the edges but was melt in your mouth in the center.  My beloved had the half chicken with mustard.  It too was melt in your mouth and was nicely paired with the mustard.  The mustard did not overpower the chicken.

For dessert I did go with the chocolate tart, almond crust and espresso gelato.  It was worth every calorie.  The chocolate was dense, creamy.  The crust was soft and tasty.  The gelato was a delicate espresso flavor – it did not overwhelm the chocolate but paired perfectly.  Speaking of pears, my beloved had the poached pear with vanilla gelato – also delightful.

The atmosphere is cozy and quiet.  It brings the french bistro theme into the surroundings without being kitschy.  The art on the walls is sort of french grafitti-like.  The tables are wood and not too big so you don’t feel far away from your dinner companions.  The chairs are room and comfortable.

For summer, the place will open up to patio tables – I look forward to many a meal or happy hour at those patio tables.  This place was great.

What To Do In Harrisonburg, Virginia?

Harrisonburg Virginia is a delightful place to spend a day.  It is a gorgeous little southern town nestled in the Shenandoah mountains.  The tempo of the town is friendly and slow – a great welcome for those of us who are urban dwellers.

Many of the buildings are Civil War era and have been kept in great shape – they are just gorgeous.  So simply strolling through town looking at the houses and churches and civic buildings is a worthwhile activity.

On Saturdays they have a farmers market.  The farmers market is a combination of farm fresh foods and local arts and crafts for sale.  There is a Mennonite community in the area and a Mennonite university in the area so, it seemed that some of the farmers and artisans were from that community.  The fresh baked goods like breads, cookies, and muffins were gorgeous as were the vegetables.  You can also order meats of all kinds – lamb, beef and pork.  A local coffee shop was selling warm coffee delivered with friendliness and efficiency all of which was welcome on a chilly fall day.  Other artisans included potters, basketmakers, woodcarvers and jewelry makers.

A short stroll from the farmer’s market is the Main Street of Harrisonburg.  We went to the Virginia Quilt Museum housed in an Civil War era home.  The home, we learned from the friendly, informative, very chatty docent, was used as a hospital in the Civil War and then at times was the city’s jail and its city hall.  It also was home to local families at times over the year.  The Museum charges $7 to get in which as the docent explained was necessary since the upkeep of the house is expensive.  I think it was worth the $7.  Even my beloved, who has pretty much zero interests in quilts, mine is not much more but for my mother’s extreme interest in sewing and fabrics. I inherited an interest in fabrics – to look at not sew) found the walk through the tiny museum interesting.  The docent gives a good explanation of the importance of quilts over the years, where ladies got their patterns from and how quilts are developed.  A stroll through the museum reveals quilts from the 1800’s which are stunning.  It was cool to see some of the quilts “signed” that is  quilt makers stitched their names into the quilt.  It warmed my heart to see their names in the quilts and to see the old photos of women sitting around a big table all quilting away together – they did not have cellphones.   It was not hard to imagine that they were actually talking and connecting with one another live in person instead of over Facebook.

There are also more contemporary quilts.  Although I enjoyed the older quilts more, it was interesting to see the evaluation quilting has taken over the years.

Harrisonburg has a lot of art galleries and craft shops.  We strolled through the Smith House Galleries  housed next to the Virginia Quilt Museum.  As was the house the Museum is in, the Smith House was equally stunning because of its age, Civil War, and its design.  The gallery had an eclectic collection of watercolor, oil, photography and sculptures.

Further up Main Street is the Agora Downtown Market.  It houses a bunch of little shops with handcrafted items like soap, leather goods, candles and much more.  Its an eclectic mosh up of hand made goods.  Housed in the back of the Market is a quaint little coffee shop, Broad Porch Coffee, that has little cafe tables both inside the market and in the breezeway.

In addition to these shops, there are also outdoor clothing shops, bike shops and other charming little vendors throughout the town.

Rocktown Kitchen – Rocks it

Rocktown Kitchen a farm to table restaurant situated in the Icehouse complex in Harrisonburg, Virginia is a perfect place to order your food to eat while you enjoy beers at the Pale Fire Brewing Co.  also in the Icehouse complex.

Rocktown serves sandwiches, salads, and appetizers that are essentially your basic bar and grill selections but they do it really well with a bit more sophistication than basic bar food.

For example, as an appetizer they serve burrata with watercress and tomato bruschetta on a toasted ciabatta; another example the black bean burger.  And yet another example is the Pesto Chicken Salad with greens grilled red onions and grilled asparagus, olive relish, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette.  The Pesto Chicken Salad is a great combinations of flavors and a unique combination of flavors for a salad.  It was absolutely delicious.  I am going to give it a shot in my own home.  The grilled veggies, olives and sundries tomatoes bring a depth of flavor to the salad that is not always the case with grilled chicken salads.  In fact, those items brought so much flavor that if I were to order it again – I would pass on the dressing.  I would also recommend getting the dressing on the side because as is too often the case – the dressing literally drowned the salad.

My beloved ordered a reuben that came with fries.  It was a classic reuben but stood out because it reached a perfect balance between the kraut, meat, sauce and cheese which is vital in a reuben because any reuben lover knows how heartbreaking it is to commit to the calories of a reuben but then find all you are eating is kraut with a slice of corned beef.  The bread does not swallow up the reuben innards either.  No risk of that at Rocktown.   The fries are hearty and crispy and basic that is without some jazzed up flavoring that usually simply takes away from the quality and taste of a good potato.

We had the Rocktown team bring our meal to us at the Pale Fire Brewery so, cannot say much about the ambience at Rocktown if you eat there or about the service there.  But the server we encountered who took our order and brought it to us was friendly, engaging and timely in delivering the food to us.

Definitely a spot for chow in Harrisonburg.

Harrisonburg, VA Microbrewery

Harrisonburg, Virginia a small college town nestled in the Shenandoah Mountains has a charming worthwhile food scene and microbrew scene.

A welcoming microbrew, Pale Fire Brewing Co. is part of that scene.

It is situated in an building called the  Ice House  because …. it was a former ice house.  🙂

The Pale Fire space is roomy with both indoor and outdoor seating.  It has high wooden tables with cool metal chairs, a huge u-shaped bar, a big fire place with overstuffed chairs, and a big shelf of books.  The indoor area merges with the outdoor area because of garage door like doors that on nice days open to a big porch with wrought iron tables and chairs.  Dogs are welcome outside, there were three there on the day we visited.

The staff at Pale Fire is attentive, fun, engaging and knowledgeable.  They gave us the beer list and asked if we wanted them to walk us through the selections.  No need for that because the descriptions of the beers were spot on.  My favorites were a pale ale called Village Green and a stout called Lucille.  The Village Green was crisp, light, fruity, smooth but still packed plenty of flavor.  The Lucille was really dark, creamy with a bit of chocolate and coffee depth to it.

Pale Fire does not have a kitchen so it only serves snack foods like pretzels and chips.  But, they have a great partnership with the other restaurants in the Ice House complex so you can go order your food at one of the other restaurants and they bring it over to you in the Pale Fire.  So no food at Pale Fire – no problem at all.

The atmosphere, staff and beer made for a fabulous fall Saturday afternoon.

Chicago Yacht Club Needs to Focus on Sailing and Leave Making Food to Others

Dinner at the Chicago Yacht Club on the shores of my beloved Great Lakes – specifically Lake Michigan.  Seems like a recipe for a relaxing, exquisite meal served with impeccable attention to the diners.  Think again.

First, the decor is old school yacht club.  Which of course can be a really cool look if done right but, here it is old school yacht club not because it is trying for a cool look but because it has not been updated oh…maybe in decades.

Second, try to get there from the city – its a bit of a cab ride.  Try to get home at the end of the night – its not only a bit of a cab ride but its a wait for taxis and for ubers to get down to the club.

Third, both times I have walked in for a dinner, at the hostess stand, there were two or three staff folks, drapping themselves over the hostess stand as they chit chatted with the hostess.  When I asked for my party, the hostess just pointed to a room.

Fourth, both times I was there, other than my party, there were not too many folks around.

Fifth, the tables are large so you sit far from your dinner guests.  And, they don’t seem to have a good technique for groups of about 7 – 10 diners.  For example, during my last visit they pushed a round table next to a square table to fit all of us.  The construct was incredibly strange and did not make for easy socializing given the distance between the guests.

Sixth, the service is not good.  We sat and waited and waited and waited for them to take our orders.  Then, we sat and waited and waited for them to bring the food.  Then strangely, they brought out food for all the guests, about 9 people, but for one meal which they did not bring out.  Rather than informing that diner or frankly any of us that it was on the way, every single waiter vanished.  It took some time until someone appeared and when we asked about the meal, they reported it was coming.  It finally arrived.

Seventh, the food – is unimaginative and cannot decide if its upscale dining or a bar.  So, you can get a burger and fries but also branzino.  The salad choices are limited to a iceberg wedge, beets with burrata and something else, and shaved “baby” vegetables.

I went with the shaved baby vegetables.  The radishes in that salad were not babies at all – the were salty old grandpappies that needed to be put to rest – they were bitter, hard and gigantic.  The other veggies were baby but, any delicacy to their flavor was drowned literally by the water on the plate that the whole pile of veggies were swimming in.

A fellow diner’s skirt steak looked like shoe leather – the bottom part of the shoe, not even the side.

I found nothing inspiring enough to eat on the main menu – basic fish, some eggplant dish that did not make much sense to me, a burger, a nondescript pasta.  So, I went with the tuna carpaccio appetizer and the mushroom tart appetizer.

The tart I must say was fabulous.  The crust was buttery, flaky and substantial.  The mushrooms were tasty, sautéed enough not to be raw but not mush and it all paired well with the greens and the goat cheese.

The tuna carpaccio was a little warmer than room temperature which is really gross for raw tuna.  Plus, the carpaccio was smothered, to the point you could almost not see for all the hard boiled egg crumbles and a wasabi mayo on top.  It had some capers but I  so wished for more capers.  Now, I love my wasabi mayo with my carpaccio but this was taken to a new level.  Essentially, I had a bit of carpaccio with my order of wasabi mayo and hard boiled eggs.

So – the yacht club in Chi-town may be old, it may be prestigious but, it is not a good place to eat.  They need to stick with their core competency – sailing and leave the restaurantuering to those in the know.

Back in Love with Kimpton By Way of Hotel Monaco Chicago

I first stayed at a Kimpton several years ago and fell in love.  I loved how hip the decor was and how comfortable the beds and bedding were.  I loved the clean, a bit fruity room scent that was not over powering.  I loved how welcoming the staff always was and all the efforts they made to make you comfortable.  I loved the happy hour – great for business travelers to get a bit of free wine and chit chat with others in town for business. I loved the free speedy wi-fi and the “raid the mini-bar” credit you get when a member.

It was just a big lovefest….. UNTIL….

My assistant booked a non-refundable fee for a three night stay that I had to cancel.  I called the Kimpton manager for the hotel, and asked if he could just apply those nights to a future stay that I would for sure be doing in the near future.  He dug in his heels – absolutely not.  Dude would not budge an inch.  He did not care that my trip was cancelled because of an unexpected health situation that prevented traveling; he did not care that I was a frequent Kimpton user and Kimpton club member; he did not care that I talked up the hotel to everyone and encouraged all to stay at Kimptons – he just shut me down.  He stated you bought non-refundable, you are now cancelling – you do not get your money back nor do you get a credit.  BOOM – he was done with me.  I was out about $1000.

I WAS FURIOUS!  I broke up with Kimpton.

I was so sad because I did not want to dump them but being treated like this did not outweigh all the stuff I loved.  Plus, it made me feel that all the loving Kimpton gave its guests was a mirage and in the end, sadly they really did not care:  when they so warmly welcomed me, helped me get good dinner reservations, give me wine and chocolates the time I was their guest of the day during a stay – did not really mean anything because, when things got rough – they tossed me out.  Rather, then telling me that although they were upset that I bought a non-refundable stay and now wanted a refund; they understood and would give me at least one night stay in the future.  Something – anything.  I got nothing except a cold, rudeness from the manager.

So… I went on in my life without staying at Kimptons, I quit going to Kimpton restaurants and bars in my hometown, and I started telling friends not to stay at the Kimpton.

Until…

I was booking the trip I am now on.  I got on line – intending to stay away from Kimptons.  Unfortunately, there were limited places to stay for me; and I reluctantly booked at a Kimpton.    But, I promised myself there would be no re-commitment to Kimpton instead – it was going to be a one and done – a moment of desperation.

But…

I was warmly greeted by the doorman and he teased me about the homeless guy hitting me up for cash.  Then, the front desk check-in took less then five minutes (I cannot stand those hotels where it takes so long to check-in.  You stand there, the clerk is typing furiously into the computer, typing what, who knows; but you stand there and wait and wait.)  And, in that five minutes, when I asked for a room away from the elevators, the clerk smiled warmly and said, no problem because we have upgraded your room.  WAIT – WHAT? An upgrade?

I zoom up to my room – its gorgeous and I am back in love with Kimptons.

The Kimpton Chicago is stylish and clean, it smells fresh but not sickeningly so.  The room scent is so relaxing it smells like a spa.  My room had two rooms.  One with a great couch, desk and TV.  The other with a bed with fabulous sheets and pillows. In fact the pillows were so over the top comfy that I bought two just before writing this.  The soaps and shampoos are lightly scented and plentiful, not little thimbles of acidic smelling bath supplies like some hotels.

The best part – a huge window seat with great views out over the street and of the river.  I sat there and did my work – it was so relaxing.  I loved it so much that I took photos so we can replicate it when we build our house.

Then, of course, I had my Kimpton $10 raid the minibar money and the excellent speedy wi-fi.  No wine and socializing this time -too much work to get done.

But, on my way to dinner, the staff was warm and engaging.

I have forgiven Kimpton.  Just because they had some jerk as a manager for one hotel, does not mean I should leave them forever.

I am back in love with Kimpton.  And, so, you should try a Kimpton.  The Kimpton in Chicago – Hotel Monaco is nothing short of spectacular.  (See my post on Airbnb – I really needed this. ;))

 

 

 

Stubbs – You Can Do Better

Stubbs Legendary Bar-B-Que I am sorry to report is living off its legendary status rather than its current goods.  Bar-b-que aficionados know Stubbs.  In fact Stubbs is so well-known, you can buy their sauce at the grocery store up here in the north.   A great American story Stubbs is and his restaurant undoubtedly deserves its legendary status.  Its just not a good meal.

It was started by Christopher B. Stubblefield after he got of the US military.  He started cooking across the street from the fair grounds in Lubbock Texas and not only encouraged good eating but great music.  Legends like Stevie Ray Vaughn, George Thorogood, Linda Ronstadt and others all had the opportunity to sing their hearts out at his joint.  This alone makes a visit worthwhile.

When we got there, a band was playing and the place was filled.  We were hustled to our seats and then hustled to order, to wrap up and pay.  They needed to turn those tables and, you were not going to stop them.  We had virtually no connection to the wait staff who took our orders or dropped our food off, they did not bother to connect. They rush over, grab your order than rush back plopping down a metal tray with whatever it is you ordered.

The food was at best mediocre.  First, the collard greens lacked any real flavor and were cold when they came out.  Second, the cole slaw also lacked any flavor.  Third, the fried okra was too hard for my liking and did not have much flavor; and it too came out cold.

As for the  beef and pork bar-b-que, the signature dishes, both were dry rubbed and both were a little dry.  The Stubbs’ sauce is on the table so, I drenched the meat with it.  But, even that did not up the flavor game.  They give you a piece of bread to put your meat on  – think of a thicker piece of Wonder Bread and you got what they serve you.  In fact, it almost looked like that weird bread you get when you are a kid in the cafeteria – the crust is almost the same color as the bread and it has no distinguishable taste; and it sort of becomes the consistency of Play-Do once you start eating it.  To my mind, you can do so much better in Austin if you want good bar-b-que and good music.  I am grateful to Stubbs for what he has done for music and good bar-b-que but, his restaurant has seen better days.

On the plus side – they have a good beer selection both on tap and in bottles.  So if you want to check it out, drown your meal with some good beer – drink enough and anything is tasty.

Good Food – Not So Good Atmosphere

Another night in Austin, my beloved family member and I met up with some friends to catch up over dinner at Uncle Julios.  First, its a chain – not many of those in Austin.

Second, it was so loud I could barely hear the person at the table sitting right next to me nor could anyone else – let alone the person across the table.  The noise came from a combination of the acoustics in the room, the high ceiling and wide open space as well as from the tables of younger adults, dining out with the purpose to tie one on and scream as much as they can while doing so.

Now… the young adult patrons are welcome to that; and, most of us have been there and done that.  But, you need to be up for that scene if you hit Julios – I am just saying.  We asked the waitress to move our table because we had the young adults in stereo, groups on both sides.  The manager came over and told us it was a no-go since there were no tables available.  Irritating this was since we could see several tables that would have fit our group that were away from the young adults.  Thus, we sat either in silence or yelling at one another with out much success through the meal.  Really a disappointment.

Further, the service was inadequate.  The waitress would leave our table and we would not see her for what seemed like forever.  A couple of time we had to flag down another waitress to get our waitress to bring us some water or chips or whatever.  In fact, the waitress did not bring me the salad dressing I had asked for.  Once I pointed it out, she said she would get right over with it.  I ended up eating my salad with the dressing she brought in error since it took her so long.

The chips were the highlight of the meal. Thin, salty, not greasy and crispy.  The salsa had zing, a great tomato flavor with a bit of smokiness.  The chili con queso was simply the best I ever had.  The cheese was cream and flavorful which was enhanced by the pico de gallo.  I could not stop eating it – which is why I went for a salad for my meal.  My salad was just OK.  Greens, jicama, avocado, shrimp – nothing special.  I ended up with the lemon vinaigrette despite my ask for the spicy ranch.  When the spicy ranch arrived, it really was not that spicy.  My dinner mates were pleased with their fajitas but noted nothing spectacular about them.

As for drinks – a great selection, and I was happy to see a skinny guava marguerita which I ordered.  It was full flavored despite being a skinny.  But, the yummiest of the drinks, hands down was the marguerita with the jalapeño.  The heat with the ice was interesting; and frankly worth every calorie.

Bottom line, if you are looking for a rowdy mexican place with some great drinks – Uncle Julio delivers.  Dont go if you are actually looking to talk with your dinner companions. Remember to be patient with the staff because you won’t see them much; and nurse your drink because you may wait awhile for your next one.