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.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Barbuto - NYC (West Village)

I like New York in June - how about you? Actually, it’s not too shabby in August either, if you hit the right day, and we picked a peach…perfect weather for a Saturday lunch at Chef Jonathan Waxman’s sidewalk bistro, Barbuto.

Garage doors flexed open in a curved band of metal, forming a pseudo-awning, and the concrete, side-entrance made me wonder if we there for an oil change or lunch. But grease monkey met glamour bar within steps, where Waxman blended comfort and class to prove that New York edge could still have some heart.

‘Top’ billing: Dishcloths were folded napkins against stainless steel tabletops and my mom squinted over their metallic glare, asking, “Is that Gail Simmons from Top Chef?” When Waxman emerged from the kitchen in a pink polo shirt to welcome her, it was official. I wanted to throw my fork in the middle of them (an accidentally slip of the hand, of course) and partake in their culinary quips, but that’s why Manhattan is Manhattan (and not LA)…people can live their lives as they please because others respect when you don’t want to be noticed.

Cuc-ktails: Never a fan of cucumber, I found myself slurping this muddled veggie over ice with gin, club soda and lemon. I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying refresher on a hot, summer day. I’d be pickled by the time I left.

Brunch Crunch: Time to focus on food. We already had our appetite set on some of Barbuto’s signature items like chickpea fritters and the forever-raved-about gnocchi, but after noticing that half the menu involved eggs, I realized brunch was our only option.

New game plan: Crispy potatoes were absolutely awesome, sautéed with scallions (and probably a stick of butter.) Home fries with the emphasis on “home”…me likey a lot.

Breakfast pizza: Pancetta was ground almost like sausage, blanketing the dough with its salty swagger beneath a few fried eggs and swirled with Waxman’s featured chimichurri sauce. But the chimichurri was saltiness squared with an oily finish that cancelled out its fresh herbs.

Pancetta (salty) x chimichurri (salty) = saltlick (I wished I could go and ask Gail what she thought).

JW Chicken: Waxman’s signature simplicity was showcased with his chicken, whose aroma alone breathed exotic while providing the homespun feel of grandma’s house. But again, robust seasonings of cumin and cinnamon were overpowered by the oily chimichurri.

Dear Mr. Waxman,
Here are the facts, man.

I have a hunch
I’d like the lunch,
But in no hurry
Due to chimichurri
Though I still think
You and your drinks

Are cool as cucumbers

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Mixx - Manasquan, NJ

The Mixx is a Miss
It’s nearly impossible to get in The Mixx, not because of the crowds, but because they’re never open during said business hours. On a Thursday afternoon in August, we headed down for lunch: CLOSED.

Their website said they should be open, but that was alright, the giant red-lettered banner hanging out front advertised, “Sunday Brunch 10am-3pm”, so we’d be back.

Sunday, 1pm: CLOSED. We noticed a man inside wearing a chef’s coat, so we waved at him to ask when they would be open next , but he set his gaze upon us and walked out of the room. Nothing like customer service…

My question: Who can afford to be closed on a summer weekend at the Jersey Shore? On top of that, who blatantly ignores customers approaching the restaurant? If you don’t want the business, then you might want to take down the enormous banner advertising otherwise.

Crab dip makes me crabby: The biggest disappointment (and MAJOR inconvenience) was that my 91 year old grandmother was along for the ride both times since our visit had been based on her desire for their warm crab dip, which she adored (the one time she actually got in.) And their menu had sounded amazing...I was so excited to try the duck spring rolls.

But it looked like I’d have to go without and Grandma would have to savor her mind’s memory because The Mixx didn't give the quick fix it promised and that was something that needed to be fixed…quick.