Thursday, December 30, 2010

db Bistro Moderne - Manhattan

Lean with Envy
Could this be happening? My husband, Bubba, had nonchalantly mentioned that while he was in Manhattan for the holidays, he and his family had eaten at a “really nice” restaurant. But I didn’t get the full scoop until later, and once I did my pangs of regret were only matched by pangs of hunger. The “really nice” restaurant was only one of the most successful, respected, suber (= super + uber) chefs around, Daniel Boulud’s, db Bistro Moderne. And that was only the beginning. Why not go for the full-blown, red carpet treatment? I'm talking complimentary bottles of champagne, appetizers and a dessert menu in its entirety that would make even Willy Wonka's how it happened.

Back story: My sister-in-law, Keri (the opera singer) had rented out a room when she first moved to Manhattan a few years ago, owned by an eccentric, older woman whose shelves were stacked with valueless volumes and walls decorated in artists’ canvases. She provided reasonable rent to inspired, young talent, so Keri and her husband shared the place with another couple, who both happened to work at Thomas Keller’s, Per Se – she was a pastry chef and he cooked on the line.

So needless to say when we stayed with Keri that Christmas, I found myself in the same space with my version of superstars, and the best part was that the pastry chef had been baking like mad to bring her family treats for the holidays. Emerging from the kitchen with broken pieces of rosemary shortbread, she offered them up saying, “They’re cracked so can’t use them in my gift packages.” One bite and I was tempted to run in the kitchen and throw every other tray to the ground, adding, “These look broken too” as I shoveled baked goods from the floor into my mouth. Their fractured pieces had made my heart whole…full of happy, herbaceous, artery clogging love.

Flash forward: to Christmas 2010 and Ms. Pastry Per Se had now become the executive pastry chef at db Bistro Moderne in the theater district...and that is how my husband came to revel in the high life for a few hours. Champagne was delivered and tarte flambée (a pizza-like pastry with fromage blanc, bacon and onions) came to the table without ordering.

Plus, Bubba loves a nice rack…of lamb and said it was probably one of the best he's ever had. And believe me, he's quite the connoisseur. They should call him Shari Lewis for all the lamb chops he’s had his hands in.

Since the pastry chef was their “in”, dessert was the main event. A taste of every item on the dessert menu was sent out. Bubba’s recollection was foggy (and believe me I grilled him), but he recalled, “There was a lot of chocolate and the desserts were all neatly rolled up...kinda of geometrically cut.” When I led him to the online menu, there were only a couple of items that were included in his visit and he raved about both:

1) APPLE MILLE-FEUILLE - Apple Confit, Confiture De Lait, Rum Ice Cream

2) VANILLA POACHED PEAR VACHERIN -Toasted Almond Chantilly, Marzipan Mousse, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Pear Sorbet


Take out: Bubba did bring me back a slender, gold bottom box and inside rested some unexpected jewels…an exquisite row of house-made treats – fudge, dark chocolate and one item whose spiced scent had intoxicated my nostrils since I’d opened the box: cinnamon marshmallows. As someone who has never enjoyed marshmallows (not even in novelty form like S’mores), these brought new perspective as they dissolved on my tongue. Granted, they were homemade and prepared by a four star kitchen, but I could now say me and the "marsh" were mellow. Boulad had changed my mind and even though I hadn't been at the table, I still sat impressed from afar.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Forno's of Spain - Newark, NJ

Layover Leftovers

We were officially on our way to Spain to see my sister-in-law perform in Sevilla (she’s an opera singer, don’t ya know?), but before we left the States, our four hour layover in Newark allowed enough time for my mom (in Jersey) to grab us for dinner. Forno’s was fitting fare to say the least, known for its classic, Spanish cuisine and only about 10 minutes from the airport. After seeing crowds pour in from 5pm on, I knew we were about to be properly schooled...old school.

Enough fancy floated around the table for us to be impressed with waiters dressed in vests and bowties fawning over us (“Is your preference white or red sangria?”), while busboys bustled, bringing baskets of warm rolls, followed by garlic bread, followed by greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette…and that was all before we even had time to read the menu. Entrees were a bit pricey (high $20-low $30), but along with the impromptu items from the start, dishes of saffron rice, veggies (green beans and cauliflower) and thinly sliced, crispy "papas" were lavished upon us during dinner.

Fish here was fresh and fabulous, plucked from the ocean and cut into thick filets. My mom snacked on sautéed snapper with garlic, olive oil and red chili flakes. The chili brought some bite, but otherwise it was a bit flat - an acute case of seasoning sickness, though I can’t fault the fish, because that was one quality catch.

My hubby went for halibut, grilled to perfection and topped with paprika and pine nuts. Thick, substantial and masterfully handled like a fine steak, my meat-and-potatoes man never once asked, “Where’s the beef?” Served with boiled taters, I realized how much these people loved their carbs (two types of bread, rice and papas, plus a potato with dinner?) - my kind of people!

As for myself, I went for the sole Francaise. Flaky, white filets were dredged in flour and egg, then doused in butter and lemon to combine the guilty pleasure of comfort food and fish’s natural ability to remain light = sole food.

By the time we got up to leave, there was an hour wait. We hugged our goodbyes and my mom happily claimed my leftovers that wouldn’t make it across the Atlantic. Forno-cation ( = Forno + vacation) had been one righteous rendezvous, leaving us relaxed, content and sleepy for the long flight. Next stop...Spain.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Bird Battle - Thanksgiving, San Diego

Fowl Play: Since we’d hosted the past four Thanksgivings, we were happy to return from Spain knowing this year, it was in someone else’s hands. Well, the hosting anyway. My husband, Bubba, was still determined to make a turkey, since his annual obsession to concoct the ultimate recipe had become tradition. Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday after all (he called it, “Christmas without the pressure”), and every year he managed to move further into his role as the mad scientist of ceremonial supper. Thanksgiving at my house = feasting, football and the Dr. Frankenstein of fowl.

To add to his obsession, there was a bit of competition this year. After Bubba volunteered to make a turkey, our friend, Daniel (aka Grandma), had also decided to take on Tom Turkey and all the trimmings. Bubba warned him, “Don’t cry when nobody eats your turkey,” at which Grandma had scoffed – he prided himself on being an “old char woman” that knew his way around the kitchen. But once in the Thanksgiving arena things got a little greasy. While piling our plates at the serving table, I noticed Bubba’s turkey was nowhere to be found…Grandma had benched Bubba’s bird! And let me tell you, I was on the lookout because this year Dr. Fowl-enstein had truly brought his creation to life.

Brine Design: Bubba had researched brines by the boatload. He swayed away from his salty standby, which had done him well in the past, but focused on more subtle, autumnal ingredients to beef up his bird. He landed on a base of apple cider, its natural sugars highlighted with orange slices, but downplayed enough with aromatic herbs (rosemary, sage, etc.) and onion = powerful, but delicate.

Stuffed animal: When Bubba asked if I wanted pecans or apples in the stuffing, I answered with a confident “no”. Sometimes I feel I might be swayed since I enjoy both outside the Thanksgiving realm, but experience has taught me that the juice from the apples makes stuffing soggy (too soft) and nuts always turn into tough bits of molar mortar (too hard). So like Goldilocks, I settled for “just right”. We’re talking straight forward sausage, celery, onion, sage and thyme. My only decision now would be which bed to nap in afterwards.

Shhh! He’s sleeping: A vital lesson that Bubba learned along the way was the importance of his bacon blanket = salty pork layered across the breast to keep things juicy. Once removed, the skin stayed oiled up for crisping into browned, fatty goodness. The bacon blanket also meant 6-8 pieces of savory, sliced delight for an impromptu appetizer (one year Bubba even maple-coated the, that was something to be thankful for).

Floats My (Gravy) Boat: “Bang! Zoom!” As I swallowed this liquid gold, I pictured Ralph Kramdon sending Alice to the moon because I was seeing stars. Juice from the bird and brine-left-behind parlayed themselves into some dazzling drippings – citrus, herbs, turkey tidbits, bacon fat. After removing any fat floating to the top, Bubba added his flour/water slurry to thicken (no corn starch allowed!)= depth without heaviness.

Crusty the Clown: For me this year, my efforts would be focused on recreating my mom’s famous pies, known for their flaky, buttery crust (she used to sell them to a local restaurant years ago) and the easy, two step recipe that she assured me was simpler than I thought. Since Grandma wasn’t pure evil, he decided to come help me, but as he started peeling apples for the filling, I noticed that my dough wasn’t coming together at all. I fumbled around for a bit and then finally added more water – a big no-no. Though the inside of both the apple and pecan pies turned out like Mom’s, my crust didn’t even compare. A good crust (like a man who cooks) is so hard to find...thanks again Bubba!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wine Vault and Bistro - San Diego

The Vault is a Lock

Wine Vault and Bistro’s 5-course, tasting menu reinvents itself every Saturday for $30 (add an extra $20 for wine pairing) and has been kept under the radar for far too long. Maybe it’s because their menu can only be viewed though their mailing list or website updates, but that’s because it varies weekly.

And though they specialize in these constant, culinary, costume changes, there are no detours once you arrive for the Saturday night show. The stage is set and all control is handed to the kitchen, which can be quite liberating to find dinner being brought to the table without even ordering*:

Spice Crusted Beef Carpaccio | Mosto Cotto | Fennel | Pickled Grapes | Slyvetta Arugula – this raw protein, delicate as tissue paper and tearing as easily, brought the same joy as ripping into gifts on Christmas morning. Interesting accouterments like "mosto cotto" (grape musk = the syrup of the grape) accompanied each dish with a type of edible education.

Butternut Squash Bisque | Green Apple Fritter | Foie Gras Emulsion | Spiced Cream | Lemon Thyme – “Waiter, there’s something fly in my soup!” Apple fritters?! Now this was genius. And pouring the soup table-side only enhanced the excitement of knowing a winning prize lay at the bottom of this Crackerjack box - a treat within a treat.

Housemade Pappardelle Pasta | Wild Mushrooms | Pecorino | Guanciale | Truffle Froth | Poached Egg - As someone who prides herself on devouring every pork product known to man, I couldn't believe one had gotten past me. Guanciale (cured, pork cheeks) brought out the same, salty bond I felt toward its bacon brethren. My only complaint was that I wished I had a few more pieces of pasta - the two, lonely strands left me stranded when trying to sop up the yolk. Four would have been plenty and at no real extra cost to the kitchen.

Veal Loin | Crushed Potatoes | Braised Lobster Mushrooms | Tarragon Pistou | Braised Greens - Every component here was soaked with sodium and though I still reveled in each heavily seasoned bite, I understood how it might be overpowering for others. I think the braised greens were the main culprit, capturing the abundance of salt in its crudely, crocheted net.

Apple Crumble | Brown Butter Ice Cream | Blis Vanilla Maple Syrup - I'll definitely scream for this...and ask for a double scoop. Brown butter ice cream – who even knew that existed? Paired with a hot apple pie cocktail, this sweet ending brought an inner, autumn warmth that can only be gleaned from warm apples and after-dinner sipping (the setting also helped - outside seating was like hanging on someone’s porch. My two buddies, transplants from the east coast, kept saying, “This reminds me of back home.”)

Wine pairing
2007 Tobin James "Ballistic" Zinfandel
2008 Cass Grenache
2008 Foxen "Santa Maria Valley" Pinot Noir
2006 Chateau La Tour Figeac Bordeaux
Hot Apple Pie Cocktail

Our wiseman waiter not only knew his culinary contexts, but had the instinct to let us divide the wine between ourselves when bringing over the bottle to pair with each course (smart man, never get in between two lions fighting over a zebra).

Safe bet: Swallow some unexpected flavor, spit some fresh knowledge. Return for the next lesson as soon as possible (they also offer a 3-course tasting menu on Fridays for $20 and often host "wine maker dinners", featuring selected wineries to pair with menu items).

*they do ask if there are any food allergies before service.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Anniversary Dinner Home(run) - San Diego

With a ‘Little’ help from my friends

It seems that the older I get, the lazier I am in the kitchen. But after unofficially celebrating our first anniversary in Palm Springs, I decided that for our true anniversary date, I would make an extravagant dinner for my husband at home. What was I thinking?!

Luckily, Little Italy was minutes from the house, and within a few blocks I had collected all the ingredients for a gourmet meal that would require almost no effort on my part. Lazy like me? Here’s the checklist for a fabulous, two-person dinner around $40:

Assenti’s – is the headquarters for fresh pasta. Silver trays of fettuccine and penne met me at eye level with their savory, carb-filled rows and like a child at a dessert case, I felt overwhelmed when trying to choose one treat. It wasn't easy. Besides the endless assortment of shapes and sizes, they specialized in unique options like black pasta (with squid ink) and even included seasonal options like chocolate pasta around Valentine’s day. Plus, they offer an eggless variety for those vegan types ($5-7 for a lb. of pasta).

Besides pasta, they made their own sauces (i.e. sage butter, gorgonzola cream). I was going elsewhere for that, but I did need some meatballs. These babies must be baked because they opened like “delicate flower” with the gentlest prodding. I have to admit, I like mine a bit stiffer, but they won me over because extra garlicy = extra tasty.

Pete’s Quality Meats - how do you know when you’re getting fresh sausage?

1)when it’s one of three items on the menu
2)when they grind it right in front of you

This reminded me of the deli where they hung out in The Sopranos. It’s a grungy, tight space with only a few seats and even fewer menu items. Eggplant parm, meatballs and sausage are the only options, all as sandwiches, but only the sausage was available to-go* and we’re talking about some serious meat magic happening right before your eyes. Sweet or hot, you can taste the love in each link (5 links for around $8.)

*Maybe because you can buy the sausage uncooked and they only sell meatballs in sandwiches? Still, next time I’m going to figure out a way to get a tub of meatballs.

Buon Appetito Market – The best part about this place is that they have my favorite items from their expensive restaurant next door, but here, it’s affordable. Thick, clingy balsamic vinaigrette ($3.50) could breathe life into any lettuce and the creamy marinara ($4.50) was subtle enough to still showcase the fresh pasta. Then there’s the heroin infused tomato/basil dip ($4.50) - I’m assuming there’s heroin in it because I crave it constantly – and a loaf of crusty bread ($2) for appetizers.

Mona Lisa – Quality cold cuts from a cold faced woman. I needed a bit of salami and provolone for my crispy, cheesey-meat bread and Mona Lisa was the lady to see (¼ lb. of each - $6).

Jersey rides again: The Scone Pony – Any Jersey Shore local understands this witty pun taken from the Asbury Park institution and bar, The Stone Pony, where Springsteen became a legend and still surprises crowds by popping in for a jam session now and then. Spring Lake bakery, The Scone Pony rocks out with strong flavors and inventive concepts, one being the cupcake tower of multiple varieties (red velvet, German chocolate, chocolate with chocolate, vanilla with vanilla and vice versa) at our wedding as a fun twist on the traditional cake. But we did need something for the ceremonial cutting of the cake, so they baked a perfect gnache covered, chocolate round and topped it with detailed flowers of sugar that matched my bouquet.

Now we needed it for the traditional “first anniversary bite”, but we had left it back in my mom’s freezer in NJ (where we were married). She shipped it and even though it arrived a day late, we still had it in time to celebrate. I don’t know if it’s a testament to the bakery or to how gross my husband and I are, but we ate our entire year-old, day late, cross-country, wedding cake.

I had clearly found my soul(food) mate.

Melvyn's - Palm Springs

You can’t go to Palm Springs without reminiscing about Old Hollywood, where film stars escaped from LA to play in the desert. Ingleside Inn preserved that memory in the most lavish way with manicured lawns and polished chandeliers, dark woods and ornate furniture, enough to make me feel like a character stepping from a Fitzgerald novel..and even more of an upper crust, top drawer, fancy-pants for “taking lunch” on the veranda.

Melvyn’s, was the Inn’s enclosed restaurant to the side of the porch, so for lunch service outside they brought our own personal waiter specifically for us, which again brought that Gatsby-esque notion of decadence. Brambly roots wrapped around porch posts in a way that reminded me of the private serenity of Brair Rabbit’s briar patch.

The food here isn’t great, though they do have some interesting items from back in the day like the “alligator pear”, which is tuna or chicken salad served in a papaya or avocado (weird). Vichyssoise, cold potato and leek soup, is another old-time recipe not seem much anymore, and a cool touch on a hot desert day. The Caesar salad was loaded with too much parmesan, but again the atmosphere is really the main attraction.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Palm Canyon Drive - Palm Springs

Springs Strip Strut
Hair of the Dog – Do I smell vomit? Get ready to take the plunge because this is quite the dive - definitely a locals’ bar with sideway glances shot at out-of-towners by the likes of us. A friendly bartender with a small town feel that was a bit too small, watched us with interest. One drink here was enough – down the hatch!

Kaiser Grille – It was appropriate that this was named Kaiser because it had all the warmth of a German emperor. I guess that’s a little harsh, but so was their response when we asked to have cocktails at an outside table. The place was empty, but they seemed worried that we weren’t eating (I guess paying $12 a cocktail doesn’t count*), so we promised we’d order an appetizer. We decided on the calamari, which was mediocre, and the other dishes that I saw emerge from the kitchen looked generic and mass produced. Kaiser’s wasn’t even worth stopping in for the drink (and you need permission to even do that).

*I understand not wanting people taking up tables just for drinks, but no one was there! And the dank, swank bar inside was our only other option. No thanks.

Las Caseuelas Terraza – the entire time we were at Kaiser’s we heard peels of laughter, strumming guitars and general sounds of merriment coming from across the street, so we went to check it out and this place was hopping - restaurant, bar, mini-concert - all in one. The live band played outside, packing the patio as a makeshift dance floor while we ordered margaritas the size of my head at the inside bar overlooking a small, dining room. A cocktail waitress roamed around replenishing our drinks, and this was exactly the welcome we were looking for.

Maracas – Americanized Mexican to the 10th degree. I think my order said it all – “Mexi pot stickers”, clearly an authentic dish (and clearly a bad choice on my part) that reminded me of something from the frozen section. Stay safe with the carnitas street tacos - queso fresco, shredded pork and cilantro - or stay even safer and keep walking.

Zin Bistro – On principle alone, I couldn’t go back here (see Zin Bistro review), but damn the menu looked good. I think I saw veal and ricotta meatballs – eep! Next time, I might have to swallow my pride, so I can swallow some of those meatballs.

Though I do have to note that they finally changed their menu from, “squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese” to “Humbolt Fog stuffed squash blossoms,” so that people know that they’re getting the potent, blue-veined strength of Humbolt Fog as opposed to the mild creaminess of chevre (which is usually what we think of [and receive]when ordering “goat cheese”). And with Humbolt Fog being a specialty cheese that’s more expensive, they should want to showcase it anyway.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Casa Cody - Palm Springs

Compliments of Cody

I had kept Casa Cody tucked away in my mind ever since my mom and I stayed there a couple years ago. As the continuous “budget bounders” we didn’t always stay at the most posh establishments, so when bougainvillea, twined gates opened to cottage-like rows of rooms, we knew Casa Cody was a rare find.

And as I found myself coming up on my first wedding anniversary, I knew Cody’s charming chalet was where I wanted to celebrate with the hubby. Palm Springs was ideal for a few reasons:

1) Two hour ride from San Diego without LA traffic.
2) Enough to do (tram, hikes, shopping), but not too much (won’t feel guilty for just sitting around the pool).
3) Already had a fabulous, affordable place to stay off the main strip, but within walking distance from everything.
4) Casa Cody also allowed dogs ($15 a night = Chianti, our mastiff, got to celebrate with us too!)

Last time I’d stayed along the back row of rooms, steps from a secluded, rectangular pool, though a larger, kidney-shaped number rippled up front, surrounded by other suites, a furnished patio (where continental breakfast was served) and the main office.

I reserved a studio ($99 a night with full kitchen*) and when the woman said she had one near the office, I asked for another, but there weren’t any available. Remembering the layout, I knew that would put us in right the middle of foot traffic and pool shenanigans. So I asked again when we got there and the answer was still “no”…BUT only because they had upgraded us to a one bedroom suite instead! Happy Anniversary to us, compliments of Casa Cody.

Travel Tip: Always let people know when it’s a special occasion because they might want to help make it extra special if they can (i.e. UPGRADE!!)

Sweet Suite: Wide, ceramic tile left its adobe footprint amongst the creature-comfort-coziness of rustic décor. A field of green, equipped with a grill and lounge chairs out front, plus an enclosed, back patio gave us all the privacy we needed (hot tub sat off the main path too).

Room with(out) a View: On our last day of sunbathing at the kidney pool, we noticed a couple emerging from the studio next to the office. Yikes - that would have been our room! Nothing like a front row seat for every passerby – no thank you. Our celebration style would have been severely cramped and our romantic, out-of-the-way, only-people-on-earth vibe that carried us throughout Casa would have evaporated.

Next time, the extra fee of the one bedroom suite would be worth every, extra penny**…privacy is priceless. Either way, we would find ourselves here again. In fact, all of Cody’s customers that we talked to were return ones, as I had been, as my husband (and dog) would now become. This Casa was “su casa” and we wouldn’t think of staying anywhere else.

*Rates change seasonally
**Or even the regular rooms towards the back without a kitchen (but a mini-frig), as my mom and I had before – still more private.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Le Vallauris - Palm Springs

French Connection

When I think fancy, I think French, so for our first anniversary we headed over to Le Vallauris for a night of “bonne chance”. In a matter of steps, we went from foyer to some sort of restaurant terrarium, an outside kingdom surrounded by glass walls, dipping at various angles to make way for limbs sprouting off trees in the dining room. Oval globes of white lights hung like decorative beehives, and I was struck with an air of transcendence, as if we’d fallen down the rabbit hole, but somehow managed to keep our open-air view.

Don’t bring me down, Bruce: Our sommelier/waiter, Bruce, was engaging, kooky and knowledgeable – enough to make a lasting impression, along with the suave, silver-haired owner who fluttered over in his white suit to say, “Bon soir” and wish us a happy anniversary...a personal touch that touched me.

House Specialty: What’s the special here? Everything! A dry/erase board was brought to the table and listed the evening’s menu in marker – because when you’re working with fresh and seasonal ingredients, nothing’s permanent*, except for one thing…great food.

Foie gras ravioli were propped like pillows of decadence and fluffed further by a velvety, parmesan sauce. The swirl of balsamic reduction prettied up the plate, but I wished there was more because its sweet, tartness worked flawlessly with the creaminess of parmesan and foie gras.

Crunchy scallops with apple were wrapped in crispy, potato shoestrings, but still remained juicy on the inside with the perfect amount of acid from the apple.


Veal loin with chestnut pancakes
and porcini, congac sauce – Of course I was drawn in with the promise of savory pancakes, but they were dry and even a tad burnt. If they had come off the flame a few minutes earlier, I believe they would have been sinful (instead of singe-ful)! But the veal made up for it with fork tender medallions and the forest-y foraging of brandy flavored mushrooms.

Lamb chops with vegetable ragout made my husband realize for the first time that he didn’t need a starch. Well, not when the meat is this high quality and the vegetables have caramelized in their sugars all day.

We skipped dessert, only because we were about to burst, but I have no doubt their ending would be the end all. This is the place to impress for special occasions, but be aware that Le Vallauris also leaves quite the impression on your wallet.

Overall experience: the atmosphere – surreal; the menu – exceptional; the service – impeccable; and the memory - unforgettable...we'll be back next year.

*they do offer a seasonal prix-fixe that stays the same.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cheeky's - Palm Springs, CA

Eggs Benediction: A Tale of Redemption

Apparently pigs can fly. The “flight of bacon”, a tasting of four to five, homemade and ever-changing varieties (i.e. jalepeno, applewood, double cut, maple), was the first sign Cheeky’s was going to surpass any expectations we had about breakfast.

This “diminamilist” (= diminutive + minimalist) space used its spit-spot slate of white walls and concrete floors to ensure that their larger-than-life quality of art, staff and food could shine all the brighter. Details like squat-sized condiments were charming, as was our pixie-like waitress, Colby, along with touches like St. Germain in the champagne and a Bloody Mary served in a glass boot (including accessories like the spiciest pickle known to man).

With a menu that changes weekly (fresh & seasonal reigns here), I agonized over ordering the egg/BLT (or what I like to call the “BELT”) with heirloom tomatoes and aioli or eggs benedict. I’d been let down by the latter several times and started labeling it, “eggs Benedict Arnold” since I often felt betrayed by one or many aspects of the dish: soggy English muffin, rubbery meat, broken hollandaise, overcooked eggs – there was just so much that could go wrong. But Colby insisted if I had ever been a fan of benedict, I needed to try this one.

The outcome?

And this is why…
HOMEMADE cheddar scone vs. English muffin
HOMEMADE bacon vs. Canadian bacon
HOMEMADE hollandaise vs. broken/watered-down/congealed/package hollandaise
Sautéed arugula vs. nothing

Every bite, I moaned…and everyone around me understood. The scone stood solid with enough cheddar to counter the spicy bitterness of arugula. The bacon in one word, extraordinary. And if there was a definition for flawless hollandaise in the dictionary - def. 1. a rarity in the restaurant world 2. the norm at Cheeky’s.

I danced in my seat a little to celebrate the miracle I had just swallowed. With renewed faith, I realized there were still righteous benedicts out there after all! Amen to that.

HOMEMADE maple/sage sausage also had me singing its praises and I counted my blessings that I got a bite of Bubba’s heuvos rancheros before he finished them off in a matter of minutes. The Peruano "magic" beans pureed atop gave a new twist to an old favorite. And even though I was stuffed, my eyes followed the brioche French toast with fresh nectarine compote and I was already thinking about the cheddar/bacon waffle I hoped to order next time.

Come for the flight of bacon. Stay for everything else. I don’t have one bad thing to say about this place: clean, friendly, inventive, local fare, fresh ingredients, homemade delicacies…and on a more personal note - epiphany, educing eggs benedict.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ojai weekend (part 2)

Breakfast boost: Needless to say, we were all feeling a bit rough the next morning, so waking to the smells of frying bacon and fresh coffee couldn't have been more heavenly.

Bubba’s hangover helper:
Fried eggs

*He’d taken the leftover crispy potatoes and added about a stick of butter...the fog in my head was lifting.

(Hair of the) Dog day afternoon: After a sufficient amount of grease, we decided to check out the town shops in the arcade = finding a mimosa at a nearby cafe(hair of the dog). But after walking 10 minutes in the baking sun, we hit the hippy market for a bottle of champagne, snacks and heading home instead.

Superior snack session:
Triple crème Cowgirl brie
Caramelized onion crackers
Hot salami
Sliced pineapple
Veuve Clicquot champagne

Naptime: While us ladies got some beauty rest, the men decided to prepare the evening's feast.

Fish course:
Crawfish cheesecake – a savory and decadent surprise

Meat course:
Grilled, rosemary-rubbed lamb chops - cooked just enough to retain a brilliant color and all of their juices.

Rosemary veggie skewers - the enormous rosemary plant in the backyard was put to good use, its strippped stalks made the perfect,rustic skewers.

Pasta course:
Spaghetti and homemade meat sauce was naturally sweet with Italian sausage and peppers.
Garlic bread- was greasy and fabulous. I could eat a loaf by myself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Matt's 40th birthday weekend - Ojai, CA

Ojai, Oh my
I’d never heard of Ojai (pronounced ‘Oh-hi’) before my buddy rented a house there for her husband’s birthday. And who knew that an hour north of LA the mountains dipped like roller coasters and blew a dry, desert air that brought on symptoms of summer nostalgia and inner calm?

Arcade wins:
Ojai’s arcade, a line of shops and restaurants about two miles from the house, brought us to Barrel 33, a former tasting room under new ownership where we chatted and sipped wine...but where were our appetizers?

Our order:
-Proscuitto wrapped dates with goat cheese
-Goat cheese stuffed mushrooms
-Nibble plate of cheese, chocolate and nuts

Roll out the Barrel: After about 20 minutes we finally got our goodies and the waitress explained that the kitchen had run out of proscuitto, so they went to the store for more. Wow! That was way more ambitious than just telling us they were out...worth the wait.

Stuffed mushrooms were also done to perfection and even the “nibble plate” had delectable choices like Manchego, along with simple, but noticeable touches like toasting the nuts.

Ask the locals: We decided on dinner at home since our rental had a six-burner stove (along with an outside grill), so we asked the waitress (a 35 year local) where to find fresh meat and fish. She pointed down the road, so we hiked a few blocks to the mini-grocery store with a decent meat counter and then zigzagged across the street to Sea Fresh Market.

Fish course:
Blackened shrimp with brown butter
Grilled halibut marinated in olive oil and garlic

Meat course:
Filet mignon, rib-eye and strip steak – everyone chose their favorite cut: grilled medium rare and topped with a thin slice of gooey, pungent blue cheese
Crispy oven potatoes with roasted garlic and grated parmesan
Grilled asparagus

Banjo belligerence:
After dinner (and many, many glasses of wine), the men-folk took out some instruments: a guitar and banjo. So I decided to lend my own voice. I felt inspired by this quiet town, so I crooned an impromptu song:

Ojai, oh my
Ojai, oh hi!

Yeah, it was pretty annoying, the first (and fiftieth) time I sang it...time for bed.