Friday, November 2, 2007

Comfort Food in Boston - Silvertone

Hidden on a side street in downtown crossing is Silvertone. It's a bar with great food, and good drinks. Really, you can't go wrong. Cocktails are in the $6 - $8 range, and beer on tap is $4. Food runs from $4 - 18 at dinner time, with the majority under $12.
The steak tips are great ($10) as is the mac and cheese ($8). Portion sizes are decent, and it's a fun place to go with a group. Friends have had the meatloaf and raved about it.
One warning, if your party is arriving separately and they are busy, they will not let anyone who sits at the table later order. It is a completely retarded rule, and I can't figure out the reasoning behind it. We've had that happen to us once, and luckily it was still not super crowded that the two that were half an hour late were allowed to order.
It's kinda like that hidden dive bar, but with the law school in the area, it's usually got a good size crowd.
Location: 69 Bromfield St (at Tremont) - Park Street T stop served by both the Red and Green lines, a short walk from the Downtown Crossing T stop for Orange and Red lines.
(617) 338-7887

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kingfish Hall - At which Todd English joins us for dinner

Ok not really, but he was at the next table. Kingfish Hall is his seafood restaurant in the heart of Faneuil Hall. Since this area caters heavily to tourists, I tend to not eat at the restaurants, I figure overpriced and mediocre. But last night my favorite neighborhood restaurant was booked solid and I wanted something good to eat. And in my world, one cannot go wrong at any of Todd English's restaurants. I did like that he was there, popping in on the kitchen and watching the goings on in there. It's good to know he still takes the time to keep an eye on his restaurants.

The menu is very expensive for such a casual place. There was an incredible sounding crispy lobster, which is basically a de-shelled lobster tempura fried, for $49. Other entrees were all over $28 and fairly basic. And since I wanted to eat more than one dish, I opted for some Kumamoto Oysters served with a cocktail sauce, I opted for just some lemon juice squeezed on top. I ordered the tuna tartare, a starter which I thought would be small. I was wrong. This was a lot of tuna, served on a lot of sushi rice, with a thin layer of seaweed in between. Basically a deconstructed tuna roll. And completely delicious! There was a hint of Sriracha on top which nearly burned my tongue off. I also ordered a side of the mac and cheese, which was served in the cutest cauldron, but lacking in cheese flavor and left a filmy layer on my teeth. I took a few bites, brought it home and reheated it with additional cheese. Sadly, I can make a better mac and cheese myself.

N ordered the fried calamari and the seafood gumbo. The calamari was delicious. It was covered in sauce, which resulted in it becoming soggy rather quickly. The seafood gumbo was served in a shallow skillet and was good, although over salty. You definitely tasted the seafood in the stock, however it looked and tasted as if it was thickened with black beans. Something we both found odd.

The service was a bit slow, even though there was enough staff and the restaurant wasn't very crowded.

A cool thing about the space, if you get a seat on the second level and can get into one of the booths that look like giant clam shells, they turn. So you can opt to sit facing the open kitchen or you can face the dining room. The light fixtures are also all funky and I would love to have one in my house.

Overall, I would not go here again for dinner, our total bill was $90 (including 2 glasses of wine) and for that much money there is far better food in the area at less casual places.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Small and Classy - Melt Spa

Are you looking for a small, intimate day spa? Melt is your place. Yet another spa on Newbury street you say? Yes, but this one is different.
The waiting area is small, just three chairs, meaning it's not the type of place that is so busy you have to wait around. There are 2 side by side pedicure stations (great for bringing a friend!), and from what I could see 3 treatment rooms. Satin sheets on the bed for facials, soft cotton flannel sheets for massages. The odd thing is there is one bathroom, no shower, and I had to change in the treatment room. There was a closet in the room for my clothes if I didn't want to leave them on the chair.
I was offered water, wine or champagne after my massage.
The massage itself was incredible. Sheila listened to me and avoided the areas I was uncomfortable with. She asked me about the pressure more than once, leaving me comfortable to indicate if it was too hard or too soft. There was music in the room from an ipod. Next time I will ask if I can use my own tunes.
Their prices are on par with most places, but the intimate aspect of the spa and the great service is priceless.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Breakfast in Eugene - Glenwood Restaurant

If you are looking for a healthy breakfast look no further than Glenwood Restaurant. I am sure there are other breakfast joints in town, but this must be the best. Seriously. On a Wednesday morning at 11 am this place was completely packed. And this wasn't the location on the U of O campus. So you know it's good.
The menu is pretty typical, scrambles, pancakes, egg dishes, and sandwiches. But the food is anything but typical.

I was torn between french toast and pancakes, as I usually am, but decided on the pancakes. To make matters more complicated there were three options. Buckwheat, honey and wheat, and some other natural grain one. None of that white flour boring pancake stuff here. I opted for the honey and wheat flour one, and am so glad I did. There was no need for maple syrup on this, even though a small pitcher of it was brought out. The pancakes were already slightly sweet and the butter made them perfect.
My companion got the eggs benedict, which were also quite delicious, although surprisingly a bit heavy on the hollandaise.

We also ordered a side of the home fries, which were of the red potato variety. Not overly greasy, with a a good sprinkling of herbs and garlic. The bacon was cooked well and not greasy. I don't know how they manage to make breakfast food taste so good and yet go light on the grease!

The price is pretty reasonable, our breakfast including coffee and juices ran just $20.
Next time I'm back in town, I will be trying the biscuits and gravy. I couldn't stop wondering about them the rest of the day.

You can find the Glenwood in two locations: 1340 Alder Street (541)687-0355 and 2558 Willamette Street (541) 687-8201.

Tapas in Albany - Fonda Restaurant and Cocktail Bar

We went to Fonda on a Sunday afternoon right before they started thier dinner service. So it was wasn't packed, but given the quality of the food, I would guess this place does get pretty crowded in the evenings and weekends for the dinner crowd.
We all got glasses of wine, although the cocktail menu seemed pretty inventive and made me want to go back and try a few of them.
They brought out chips with salsa and guacamole when we were seated. The salsa was hot and the guac smooth. We requested more chips so I could eat up all the guacamole.
We started off with a tomato, cucumber and queso fresco salad, it had a very light and refreshing dressing, I would guess lime juice and oil.
A ordered the yellowfin tuna tartar, it was served on three pieces of crostini, but with a sufficient amount of tuna that there was enough for the four of us.
J ordered the duck tacos. I doubled that order as there were 2 per order. They were amazing. Lots of duck filling, that wasn't greasy at all, and a soft taco shell. It was served with guacamole and salsa for spicing it up, but I thought they were perfect just as they were served, and you know I love the spicy! It didn't even need the guacamole to smooth it out.
N ordered the seared steak, done medium-rare. So I didn't try any of it. But she commented that it was very tender and everyone else liked it as well. I did, however, try the manchego onion rings that came with that dish. Oh my! So tasty!
I ordered the rack of lamb, an order that we also doubled as it was only two lamb chops. So good! The chimichurri sauce was very flavorful and we all gnawed the meat off right down to the bone.

Then it was dessert time. We ordered two of the warm chocolate cake, which had the most perfect melted chocolate center. Served with a side of delicious whipped cream. We also ordered (off the appetizer portion of the menu) the figs with Belwether Farms ricotta, which had a delicious honey drizzled over it. If you like figs, then you must get this dish.

The decor is very lofty, with large windows, high ceilings, and lots of wood beams. There is seating upstairs (but not until 5:30), and they have a good mix of comfy armchairs for that loungey feel, bar seating, regular table seating.

Price: It is a bit on the expensive side for the portion sizes, but the food is good and this is Solano Ave. so it is almost to be expected.

Fonda is located at: 1501 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA 510-559-9006

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Butcher Shop - Restaurant Week #2

Barbara Lynch is pretty much the queen of the Boston chefs. She's opened a couple more casual places in the past few years, and as luck would have it one was participating in restaurant week.

The Butcher Shop is a small restaurant, with table seating for 19 and a long bar. In the back there is a refrigerated section with a selection of meats and accompaniments. I will admit, that I walked out with a bag of meat, cheese, honey and cornichons. The set up is a bit weird, in that there is no real waiting space so it gives a very bar-like atmosphere. Our table was shared with another couple, I'm not a fan of the communal dining, so luckily I wasn't on a date.

My dining companion (B) and I planned on splitting everything, so we got to taste the whole gamut of restaurant week offerings. Instead of the usual bread and butter, here we were served Irish Soda Bread and butter with Fleur de Sel (man that salt is good!) and a giant side of their unfiltered honey. We both ended up buying jars of that and B doesn't even like honey!

I needed to try the chickpea fritters off the regular menu, so we started with those. They had a yogurt and mint sauce with them, the yogurt was a thick greek style and the mint flavor was very mild, perhaps dill would have worked better? The fritters themselves were good, very dense, but a bit dry, so that after 2 I had enough. Good to share for a table of 4, where everyone just gets one.

Watermelon gazpacho with honeydew, prosecco, and mint: I love nothing more in the summer than a chilled melon soup. I believe it's just the lightest starter for a meal. This was no different, although it had an ingredient that wasn't listed - avocado. I liked this addition, it gave the soup a bit of substance. B wasn't a fan of the avocado, and tasted something that "tastes like redhots" in the aftertaste. I kept eating more and also tasted it, but it wasn't cinnamon. There also was some oil in the soup, which I couldn't quite figure out the purpose of.
Arugula Salad, Goat Cheese, Pickled Onions and Tomatoes: Straightforward salad with a light vinaigrette dressing. The tomatoes were yellow and red grape tomatoes, and when plated they were hidden under the arugula. There was a good sized serving of goat cheese on it, which we both fell in love with and I had to buy half a pound of to take home. I did ask the waitress 3 times what kind of goat cheese it was, but never did get the answer to that. B loved the onions.

Given the name of the restaurant is Butcher Shop one option was Hanger Steak, Great Hill Blue Cheese and Radish. I had a few issues with this dish, we asked for it medium, and it was a bit too pink for me, plus it came out cold. I asked if it could be cooked a bit more, and it was (rather, it was a whole new plate). But it was still cold. I think, they had prepared a bunch ahead of time and so they weren't fresh out of the broiler/pan what have you. The other being, that it was served not with radish, but with arugula. So if you had ordered the salad appetizer, you were essentially getting two of the same salad, one with blue cheese and one with goat. But the meat was good, not the best slice of steak I've ever had, but again that could be the cold factor. The Great Hill Blue was VERY strong. So much, that I opted to only eat the tiny crumbs. If you have a deep burning love of strong cheeses, this is certainly the one for you. Again, we had the plater who likes to hide things, the cheese was in the middle of the arugula.The next option was Crispy Chicken Breast with Corn and Shitake. Seeing as this was my lunch yesterday at Radius, I was curious as to how it was done here. This was GOOD! Although, not chicken breast. There was a drumstick and some thigh. It wasn't breaded, just skin on lightly fried with some herbs. B exclaimed that the corn was "da bomb" and she was sooooooo right. Neither of us could get enough of it. Fresh, crisp kernels with I have no idea what. The shitake was very garlicy. This plate was wiped clean with only the drumstick bone left on it. Desserts: My favorite part of any meal.
Fruit Salad with Chantilly Cream: Other than dessert in general there is nothing I love more than fresh cream. And this came with a GIANT MOUND of it. Underneath we had blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and a sliver of apricot. All delicious, light and a good end to a meal. B felt like the berries could have used something more, maybe sugar. The other dessert was Chocolate Almond Cake with Peaches. This was one dense piece of cake. A small piece, but anything more would have been a waste. Topped with a cream (possibly almond flavor?) that was weird. I couldn't put my tongue on exactly what was weird about it, but it was something in the texture. The peaches, I am fairly sure were apricots, sliced and just amazing in this heavy sugary sauce. I could've eaten a plate of those alone! Lucky for me, they didn't sell those in the retail shop. Service: Very good the first 2/3 of the meal. Our waitress was friendly and prompt with everything, until after the entrees. There was a 20-30 minute or so lag between those and the desserts. The only thing we could think of was they ran out of desserts and had to make new ones? She even came over at one point to mention the desserts were coming. I suppose us looking around wondering if maybe she thought she had already brought them may have fueled that comment. But other than that time lag, it was flawless.

Ambiance: As I said before it has a definite local bar feel. Which means I would be very likely to go back with a group of friends, rather than a date. There is a large butcher block area in the middle of the restaurant where when the wait got to be an hour and half a lot of people congregated. Besides, that is a good location to have a place to put drinks while waiting for a table.

Rating: 8/10. I would recommend it, and would take friends. And next time I will be sure to order the antipasto platter the table next to us had. It looked amazing. The $14 hot dog on the other hand, still seems a bit much to me.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Radius - Boston Restaurant Week

Coming from SF where restaurant week lasts a month, and generally the theory behind it seems to be "let's give customers the real restaurant experience to make them want to return, even if we are a 4 star restaurant and don't need to beg for customers" my first foray into Boston's restaurant week (really 2 weeks) seemed to be a tad different. I was warned by a friend that the theory behind Boston's is "let's get people in and out fast and not really put our best foot forward because we don't need the additional customers".

Lunch today was at Radius. This being one of the city's celebrated restaurants I was expecting food that stands on par with it's regular prices. Sadly, I would give it a 5/10 and most of that being for the service.

Both my dining companion and I opted for the Salmon tartare. What we got was not really a tartare. Cooked salmon mixed with mayonnaise, topped a scallion paste and kumquats, sitting on top of cucumbers drizzled with chili oil. I felt like there should have been some sort of companion to eat it with. Basically, it was what I would call salmon salad (in the vein of canned tuna salad). I ate a few bites and left the rest on the plate, the waiter did ask if everything was ok and I told him that to me tartare generally is raw and not mixed with mayonnaise. He agreed and said they should have called it something else as it isn't tartare and the label is misleading. My companion was also not a fan, but being more polite and hungrier than me, she did eat her entire dish.

Here and at dessert my companion and I opted for different dishes so as to taste all the options.
Hers: Grilled swordfish, sauteed squash and zucchini, potato confit. The swordfish should have been topped with a tomato and caper "salad" but it was left off the plate and we had to send the waiter back to the kitchen to bring a side of it. There was a dash of a basil puree streaked across the plate. The swordfish was very tender and well grilled. I wasn't sure I would like swordfish, but it was good. The tomato and capers added a good flavor to it. The potato "confit" was an utter disappointment. No flavor, just boiled potato taste.

Mine: Crispy chicken paillard with wild mushroom and corn succotash and bacon tomatillo sauce. This translated to fried chicken breast, not pounded thin as paillard tends to be, but a thick chunk of chicken breast. Luckily, it was very deeply fried and so very tasty for fried chicken. There was no bacon tomatillo sauce anywhere on my plate, unless they consider the very tiny slivers of bacon mixed in with my corn and mushroom to have been it. I didn't taste any tomatillo flavor at all.

Hers: Chocolate Pilon with Fenugreek Ice Cream and salted peanuts. I admit, I wanted her to order this because I was curious as to the flavor of fenugreek in ice cream and as part of a dessert. Fenugreek has a very strong and distinct flavor, not one I would ever think of using in this context. The dessert was a giant explosion of contrasting flavors and textures. The dense chocolate mousse core was delicious, but the almost curry like flavor of the ice cream was odd next to it. There was also some golden raisens and what we determined to be black currants involved and a very sticky strongly flavored not really caramel but the same consistency sauce. When deconstructed, the dessert was good, but as a whole, while interesting and the most memorable of all the dishes, it just didn't work for us.

Mine: Mango and Raspberry Tart with Pistachios and Hibiscus Ice Cream. The tart was just a giant shortbread cookie with raspberry sauce squirted on it and some sliced up mango a couple raspberries and pistachios. The cookie was very buttery and yummy and I had to control myself from eating it all. The hibiscus was a sorbet that my companion described as very flowery. Hibiscus always has a tart taste to me and so I was expecting a bit of that, but she was right, it was very flowery. Regardless, it was a light and summery companion to the dense cookie.

Service: As expected in a good restaurant the service was prompt and smooth. Napkins were refolded when I stepped away from the table. Fresh utensiles with every course.

Decor: Large space, but warm wood tones, beautiful molding, and a very cool dash of red across the top of the walls.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mare - Organic in Boston's North End

With a name like Mare you already know the majority of the menu will be seafood oriented. What I didn't expect was a restaurant in the North End that is organic, right down to it's wine list, they also have wines that use sustainable farming methods which is pretty damn cool.

The space has the feeling of being really large, perhaps because it's on a corner and two walls are all windows. Clean modern lines let you forget you are in the North End. The only complaint is the noise level can get loud, and that does not make it a good place for an intimate meal.

We went in thinking 5 course tasting menu, at $75 it's not a bad price (you get a hot appetizer and a cold one, a primi, an entree and dessert) it is not a set menu, the chef picks it as he goes along, but if you want to try a certain dish be sure to let the waiter know and they will include it.

In the end none of us ended up with the tasting menu, because we decided we would just share all our plates.

Our amuse bouche was a crostini with fennel and onion. Good, but not supremely memorable.

Three appetizers started us off:

Kobe beef tartare was fantastic, topped with a quail egg I immediately mixed it all together and we went to town on the plate of raw meat like lions! Our waiter forgot the crostini and so the plate looked rather empty.

For our vegetarian appetizer we opted for the ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms with melon and prosciutto. Lest you think this will be the traditional proscuitto wrapped melon, it of course wasn't. The zucchini was beyond stuffed with melted ricotta. It actually squirted as we cut it, but that didn't mean any of the filling went to waste. The cantelope and proscuitto was light and full of flavor!

And our seafood appetizer was the fried clams, not terribly original on our behalf, but fried sure sounded good. And it was! Not overly greasy with horseradish. I liked the presentation in the cone, very pomme frites-like. I placed this strategically closest to me so I could eat more than anyone else.All our entrees were seafood, it was a warm evening and lamb or steak sounded too heavy. Plus these were the three we all couldn't decide between.

The first thing on the menu that caught my eye was the lobster stuffed paccheri. So that was destined to be my entree. I have a huge dislike for mushrooms, but luckily chanterelles are one of the few I do like, so it was a bonus that they were the ones in my dish. The red currents added a nice bit of tanginess to the dish, and a good splash of color. The lobster stuffing was amazingly melt in your mouth good. I only wish there had been more of the lobster stuffing in the pasta. Our heartiest entree, and the one that half of got packed up and taken home was the shellfish risotto. Full of calamari, mussels, shrimp the result was shellfish in every bite. Fantastic! Do not be deceived by the big plate, there is plenty of food in this dish.
Our most carb-conscious dish was the tuna mezzo crudo. Perfectly seared high quality tuna, polenta (or possibly mashed potato?) wrapped in proscuitto and wilted spinach in onion cream decorating the plate. We all wanted more of the proscuitto canneloni. They should seriously consider making this an appetizer.
As a side dish we got the Gorgonzola potato gratin. It was dee-lish-ous. The gorgonzola flavor was very very mild, but I will definately entertain this idea the next time I make a potato gratin at home. Serving it in an all-clad pan was a nice touch.
By the end of the meal, no one wanted to order dessert. But my personal philosophy (stolen from a good friend) is that you must always try all a restaurant has to offer the first time you go. So I ordered the bread pudding with amaretto gelato and caramel swirls (per the waiter's recommendation). I must say, the gelato was good, but the bread pudding was a bit dry and not very flavorful, even after dipped in the caramel sauce.
The table next to us had ordered the ricotta pie with coconut sorbet and left half of it as well. So I'd say skip the desserts and just head to one of the many cafe's lining Hanover Street and pick up dessert there.

The service overall was just ok. Initially our waiter was very rushed in explaining menu options and specials, which I found a bit irritating. Tack on to that the forgotten crostini with the tartare, and not being very good about refilling our empty wine glasses, it took away from me wanting to give the service fine dining status.
I'll be back though for the food was good and original for the neighborhood. And except the dessert there wasn't a single dish I wouldn't order again.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tapas Ashland Style - Tabu Restaurant

When I think tapas, I think enough for a couple bites per plate. This is not the case at Tabu. Small plates are not the norm here. So while we went for a light dinner after spa day, we walked away with lots of food in our bellies, and plenty to take back to the B&B with us. We had ordered all the food at once, perhaps the 2 of us should have paced ourselves.
We started off with chips, salsa and guacamole. The guacamole was smooth and fresh, I almost forgot about the salsa. A generous portion that I kept dipping in.

Next was the empanada of the day.

Pork, corn, carrots and creamy goodness fried to perfection. With a slaw like salad on the side and 2 dipping sauces (chipotle crema and something else). I am not a huge pork fan (my companion is) but this was some good stuff. We ate one and took the other back with us.

There was of course the requisite queso fundido. Cheesy goodness, some bread and the overwhelming desire to take it home and eat it for the rest of the night.

Then we had the meatballs in a saffron broth. This was the dish that should have been small, but oh no. These were some serious meatballs!

The saffron tomato broth was light, but there was also the mashed potatoes. They were yummy and there was trouble deciding if I should eat more meatballs or more potatoes. The meatballs won. I can't explain just how large they were, but take the size of a meatball in a homestyle Italian restaurant and that sounds about right. There were 3, we ate 1 1/2.

While perusing the menu I had been eyeing the sweet potato fries with jalepeno crema dipping sauce. But we decided we should get one of the dinner platos in addition to all the tapas. So we got a slow roasted pork, covered in cheese, with the potatoes on the side. And boy was that the right choice.
Again, not a fan of pork but this was tender and tasty. And of course I inhaled the fries. My friend and Tabu just may have converted me to the other white meat.

The drinks were good, the food was plentiful and tasty. And yes, as if it weren't obvious my hungry belly and I will surely be back.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Home Cooking in Portland - Mothers Bistro & Bar

Tasty tasty and cute! We popped in on a Saturday morning and while there was a line outside the wait was maybe only 5-10 minutes. I'd heard good things about Mother's and they were right. The french toast dipped in cornflakes sounds strange, but works, really well. So well, you don't even need syrup. The stuffed frittata was tasty, I like sour cream and bacon and cheese and if you put all that together you can't really go wrong.

The decor was so bright and airy, I loved the big windows, and the yellow and green walls and the chandeliers. I want a big house so I can decorate it like that.

Moral of the story: don't be intimidated by the long line on a weekend, it goes by fast.

I can't wait to get back to try thier Mac & Cheese, something tells me it won't disappoint.

Great Ambiance, Lame Service - Bluehour

I had been to Bluehour before in 2003 and absolutely loved everything about it, the food, the decor, the service. Sadly, my last visit had a very different experience. The service was subpar. Our waiter could have cared less that we were there (no bread for us, yet all the other tables got some), we ordered the cheese tray and he just put it on the table and didn't tell us what he brought out. When we asked he seemed annoyed and said "I can't really explain what I want to say" and just walked off. We stared at the cheese and each other, laughed a bit, were confused as to if he was serious. He walked by the table a couple more times, and stopped in and started telling us how hard his job was, memorizing new menus everyday, and wines, and cheeses, and he'd been there since 10 am. So here was the cheese list, we could take it shopping with us if we liked the ones he put on the tray. (Um ok, but really this is your job, I don't call my clients and bitch about how much work I have to do everyday and tell them I can't be bothered with thier work). He just had a bad attitude, and I don't go out to what is supposedly still one of Portland's best restaurants to deal with a snarky disgruntled waiter.The only thing that is meriting more than one star is the food, it is still excellent (altho my lamb was more fat than meat - it's a good thing I like lamb fat) the tuna tartare and avocado mixture was very tasty, nice touch with the tangerines, the burger my friend got was enormous, and the cheeses were quite good. We didn't try dessert, since he didn't ask us if we wanted any, and brought the check after clearing our dishes.

Monday, July 9, 2007

New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro - Ashland

While planning our trip to Ashland, I of course had to find a couple fancy food places to go. I had stumbled upon New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro in a San Francisco Chronicle article years ago, and then again in my research skills this time around. For a place in a small town outside of Ashland to have a 2 month wait list is pretty impressive. So I was excited to try this place that had no website, no menu anywhere online and quite a dramatic Bay Area history. Charlene Rollins was a cook at Chez Panisse and Vernon Rollins a French wine importer. Charlene does all the cooking and uses all organic and to the extent possible local ingredients.

Sammy's did not disappoint.

All reviews I had found said that it was hard to find, a shack hidden behind overgrown shrubs, and a parking lot that was more like a gas station. They were outdated, Sammy's is now clearly visable from the road due to a new facade, and what seems to be a greatly expanding space. It will be amazing when done.
Right now, finding the front door is a bit tricky (hint, it's inside the new building to the left down a hallway) and we had some random people who were sitting in the parking lot show us the way. There still is a garden in the back where a lot of the veggies and herbs they use are grown.

Inside, it is an eclectic old shack. Lots of menus and posters and wine labels from France line the walls. There are 2 tables in a back room (where we sat), and 4 or 5 in the front room. The ceilings are low (and I am only 5'2) and in the bathroom I almost hit my head. But all of this adds a certain charm to the spot, the hideaway it was for the owners who wanted to focus on nothing more than preparing good food and serving great wines.

I wish I knew more about non-domestic wines, the wine list is apparently incredible and impressive, but completely lost on me. Although there are some seriously expensive bottles on there (upwards of $800!) so if you are an oenophile, you should get yourself there in an instant. We had Vernon recommend a couple glasses of wine that would go well with our meals, and he was spot on.

For dinner I opted for the evening's three course prix fixe menu ($58) with the addition of an appetizer from the regular menu. Yes, the prix fixe came with a salad, but the appetizer sounded too good to not try.

We had an amuse bouche, mine was a chicken pate with a pickled cherry (soooooo good, I wanted to come home and do the same), some mustard, and pickles. It took me a while to finish it because it was so yummy I wanted to make it last as long as possible. My companion (A) had a sorrel soup, it was fresh tasting with a touch of creme fraiche and wasabi. The wasabi threw me off a bit, since normally I am ready to suck down anything involving sorrel and it took me a moment to realize why this tasted different.

The appetizer I got was fresh sugar snap peas (from the farm) with proscuitto and a sort of rice pudding. Portion size was quite hearty and it was indeed very filling. The freshness of the peas and mint was a good balance with the richness of the rice. We kept forcing ourselves to eat it, even though we were full and had other dishes coming, because something about it was just so right.
The salad that came with the prix fixe dinner was also huge. Soft boiled egg, applewood bacon, bay shrimp, and more fresh greens from the garden. I couldn't eat it all. It was fantastic however.

A got a salad as well, which was smaller, and also quite fresh and good.

The theme of the night was definately the fresh tasting goodness of food that comes straight from the land.

A got a ravioli entree with of course more garden-fresh peas, and I got a braised lamb with ricotta gnocchi. Little fluffy pillows of gnocchi. Honestly, the best I've ever had. Her ravioli were huge and light and so fresh tasting. This was the key to Charlene's cooking, everything tasted so crisp and clean and you just knew it was fresh. It's amazing what a difference that makes in the flavor of the food.

Dessert was a bowl of melted chocolate with scoops of ice cream and cornmeal biscotti. Let me repeat, MELTED CHOCOLATE. Nothing can be wrong in this world after eating that. It was insanely rich, I doubt the chocolate was diluted with anything. And all I wanted was to figure out how to transport it back to the B&B because I just wanted to eat it all night long.

A got a strawberry chiffon cake, with deliciously thick and rich frosting and cake that was light as air. She ate the cake, I ate the frosting. There was a final dessert amuse bouche, a cornmeal sugar cookie shaped like a cow. A ginger chocolate and a Meyer lemon jelly sqaure. A bit of whimsey to finish off the evening, and so you don't forget that Sammy wanted the cowboys to come eat here.

I don't know about the cowboys, but I will be back anytime I am in the greater Southern Oregon neighborhood.

Location: New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro. 2210 South Pacific Highway. Talent, OR 97540. 541-535-2779

Friday, June 22, 2007

Spa Safari - Blue Giraffe Day Spa

No vacation would be complete without a visit to a spa. On the last day in Ashland I visited the Blue Giraffe. I had wanted a scrub and massage, but due to timing and scheduling issues I opted for just a the epicurian geranium grapeseed body polish.
The location of the spa is off Main Street in the downtown section of Ashland, behind the creek and so if you take the stairs down from Main and walk up along the creek, it is scenic and very relaxing. I was greeted promptly when I walked in and shown the waiting area and into the changing room.
The decor of the spa is unlike any other I've been in. Bright orange walls, greenery, sculptures of animals and wooden masks. Very African safari influenced. I liked it.
The changing room is very small. It seems to be meant for one person at a time, which does give it an air of exclusivity, but does make it hard to want to blowdry your hair and put makeup on afterwards without feeling like you are keeping someone else waiting. There are smallish lockers, spa shoes and robes. The robes are amazing. A very soft cotton (or maybe cotton rayon blend), they drape well, and most of all come in a variety of patterns all coordinating with the safari like decor of the spa. I opted for a dragonfly robe, that I did have a bit of a desire to take with me, because it was so pretty.
I filled out my information sheet in the waiting room (co-ed), and was greeted by my massuese (Amy) shortly there after (and possibly before my appointment time). She led me to the steam room to help open my pores and soften my skin. The steam room also doubles as the shower and is at the end of the hallway. There is a curtain around it where you disrobe, take a small towel to sit on and go in. Obviously meant for one person, and the closed curtains are a good indicator of someone being in there. I am not a fan of steam rooms and luckily she listened to me and only had me sit in there a few minutes.
There seem to be a good amount of treatment rooms, and so the one shower/steam room seems to possibly put a crimp in thier scheduling. But perhaps they aren't very busy, it being a relatively small town and all.
The room was large, and was thier couples room. I had initially asked for an appointment for my friend as well, but they couldn't accomodate us at the same time, I guess due to not enough massueses.
Amy was great, she was friendly and interesting to talk to, had a good touch (not to hard, not to soft). I enjoyed our conversation and her professionalism. I was led back down to the shower afterwards, someone was in there and I went back to the waiting room for about 15 min, until Amy came and got me. A shower to rinse the scrub off, and back to the changing room. The woman who was in the shower before me was in there, so it did make for a bit of awkwardness trying to change and primp at the same time.
One interesting program they have is if you are already at the spa and decide to add another service that day it is 20% off. It was very tempting to see if I could schedule the massage while still there, but since my friend was over at Waterstone Spa, I didn't want to keep her waiting. Definately a good way to get customers to add on services though!
Overall, it was a good spa experience, the only strange part was that I've always had a lotion application after the scrub. It seems that a moisturizer after a polish is a necessity. This is not to say my skin felt dry or parched afterwards, I suspect there was plenty of oil blended in with the polish, but the service did feel a bit incomplete.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A modern oasis in Ashland - Morical House

The Morical House Bed and Breakfast is just like home. If my home were on 2 acres of land, with amazing views from the deck, had a personal chef and neverending cups of tea.

We recently spent 5 nights here and I have never been so relaxed after a vacation. Granted, that may also have something to do with Ashland as a whole and the mellow vibe it gives off.

What I loved most about it, was that it isn't your typical B&B. The decor is like my own house, elegant and minimalist modern (think Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware instead of Laura Ashley), Alicia is readily available but not intrusive and chatty, and breakfast is three courses. There is a good selection of Tazo teas and biscotti around all day, a common room with a fireplace which was perfect for sipping tea and curling up with a book at night.

However, the huge win was really the deck with views of the mountains. We spent many hours laying out, getting some color and catching up on reading and relaxing. It was there I saw my first quail, and discovered a cherry tree behind the pond that was full of very juicy tasty cherries!
The rest of the grounds are lovely with lots of colorful flowers and plants, a flower covered trellis, and a hammock that adds to that on vacation feeling.

Breakfasts were delicious, we were asked about dietary concerns and they were accommodated fairly well, although there were a few breakfasts I was only able to take a few bites of. Breakfasts either consisted of muffins/coffee cake and pancakes with a fruit compote (no syrup) and chicken sausage, or a fruit plate with eggs (either scrambled or fried) and sausage/chorizo. Dessert everyday was a sorbet or mini cream puffs. Now, if there is one thing I would like to incorporate into my daily breakfast routine it is ice cream! There were 2 seatings 8:30 or 9:30 am. The breakfast room is cozy and full of windows, it has two tables for 2 and 2 tables for 4, so I suppose if you wanted to be social and mingle with other guests you could sit at one of the tables for 4. The space isn't too large and we did often talk with people at the neighboring tables about restaurants and plays.

We stayed in one of the suites Room 9 (picked specifically because this was the one room that appeared to have a television, it also had a dvd player and cable which was a nice surprise). The sheets were soft and a high thread count, because there is nothing better than high thread count sheets, the pillows were 100% down, thus making them squishably soft (and leaving me to wonder where exactly they were purchased, because I would love to buy about 20 for myself), there was a down comforter and a regular thinner cotton comforter on the bed.

The downside to the room was that it was a bit cold and there was no thermostat (this was also the case with the rooms inside the main house as we heard from other guests). The seating area was large, but the leather sofa and chair were not very comfortable to nap or curl up on.

Aesthetically though, the sitting area had no flaws. There was a mini-fridge in the room and teas and coffee which came in handy for storing wine and cheeses for afternoon snacking.

The bathroom had a whirlpool bath big enough for 2 and a stand up shower with no door, all done in grey stone which was beatiful. Soft towels, soap, shampoo and conditioner were changed daily, housekeeping was impeccable.

The rooms in the main house are smaller and primarly just a bed, dresser and bathroom with shower. There is one room with a clawfoot tub that is larger than the others and has a sitting area. They all also have the down comforter and nice sheets.

Room 3

Room 4

Room 5

Location wise it is a mile or so away from downtown and the Shakespeare Festival, so you will need a car to drive back and forth, it's on a main road that is almost like a highway so walking along it is a bit strange.

I have no doubt I would stay here time and again on trips to Ashland and would recommend it to any of my friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Breadboard Restaurant and Bakery - Ashland

Even though we were staying at a B&B with very tasty breakfasts, the lure of this place down the road was too much. We grabbed lunch to go one day, a chef salad ($8.25) the size of our head and a turkey burger with bacon, swiss and mushrooms with a side of home fries ($9.25). I've never been one for ground turkey, it never tastes as good as beef to me. I also dislike mushrooms. But, let me just say this was the best damn turkey burger I've ever had! I kept half for later, and even cold it was good. The chef salad was also very tasty.
They had cinnamon buns the size of which I had never seen before, sadly I forgot to get one before we left town.
We did go in another day and got the breakfast foods at lunch time (it's only open until 2:30 pm sadly). 2 huge biscuits with sausage gravy ($4.95), a side of sausage ($1.50 for 2 links - because one can never have enough breakfast meat) side of homefries ($2.50 - because they were so tasty the last time - they aren't very fried, and not greasy, just a very tasty cut of potatoes), there was also an omlette ($8.95) that had lots of good things in it (so many I can't remember what exactly).
The gravy was thick and creamy and delicious, also very good when dipping the "homers" in it. The biscuits were thick, and a bit on the dry side inside, but with the amount of gravy on the plate that really wasn't an issue. I actually liked that it wasn't buttery in this instance.
It's a very cozy, old style family owned diner type place, the service is friendly and prompt and if I lived in Ashland I would eat there everyday.

Location: 744 N Main St. Ashland (close to Talent) (541) 488-0295

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pretty Plates in Chicago - Tru

(I preface this review with my pics were taken by a camera phone, as I didn't want to be the weirdo in the fancy restaurant taking out a digital camera. Apparently I was the only one who felt this way, as tables around me were heavy with the flash and cameras)
After 3 trips to Chicago in the past month I finally landed early enough to make it to dinner at Tru. I've had to cancel a couple reservations there due to flight delays, so this time I opted to not make the reservation ahead of time. Which landed me an 8:45 seating. This is not something I was concerned about in the least as I was dying to try some of Rick and Gale's good cooking.
I can't really use any words that will justify how good this meal was. But I'll try.
There was some hesitation about going to dinner at a place like Tru alone. I
don't particularly love eating in restaurants alone, and tend to hurry through my meals. But I am a firm believer in that good food and great restaurants should not be saved for special occassions. One should indulge and eat good food when they can regardless of they why. The front of the house staff was very friendly and didn't give me the "oh sad you eating all alone face". The table was one of the banquettes in the middle of the restaurant, set for one with the additional chair removed. This gave me a good view of one half of the restaurant, allowing me to take in the art and the height of the place. And strangely, looking out at all those tables of groups out for a special dinner wasn't as awkward as I expected. In fact, I didn't read the book I had brought.
The space is beautiful in a very cool, open large way. Everything is black and white (even the napkins), allowing you to focus on the food and the art. The curtains reaching up to the ceiling, showcasing the height of the room. I spent a lot of time watching the staff, and how they seemed to just glide through the room, serving the food, taking the orders, clearing the plates, it was very beautiful. There was something very graceful and unintrusive about the way they moved.

The initial amuse bouche was served on a silver spoon that had a gorgeous steep curve to it, thus allowing it to stand by itself on the plate. It was a small ball of buffalo mozzerella with a green olive mousse and a shaving of black olive sugar on top. It was a complete explosion in my mouth. Light, airy, and just the right balance of savory from the olive mousse. It took me by surprise.

The wine list was an insane 50+ pages long. One page of wines by the glass, and some very impressive bottles on the list. I opted for a Gewürztraminer that had a great bouquet, but didn't bowl me over with the taste.
The second amuse bouche was a spring consumme gelee. Served in a lovely teacup and saucer, you did need a spoon to eat it with. The cup handle was shaped like a gold wing.

The consumme was bibb lettuce and spring vegetables, best I could tell there were cucumbers and zucchini in there, a gelee base added a substantial base to the light refreshing flavor and there was a dot of creme fraiche to top it off.
I opted for the 3 course dinner, since it was late. My appetizer choice was Grilled Diver Sea Scallops, Red Pepper Essence, Chorizo, Avocado Dumplings.

There was some avocado foam going on in this dish, which had actual flavor. I never expect foams to taste like anything. The avocado dumplings were rolled in japanese rice puffs and were dense but a good complement to the perfectly grilled scallops. The broth was a light chorizo lobster bisque with tapioca balls to add some body to it. On the corner of the bowl was a chiffonade of jalepeno for those (like me) who like a little heat with thier meal. I actually used very little of the jalepeno, for it was a bit too strong and took away from the purity of the dish.

My main course was the Butter-Poached Maine Lobster, White Asparagus, Bisque, Orange, Almond.

As soon as the dish was set in front of me I was overcome with the aroma of the orange. The plate has orange essence painted around the rim, and it definately plays a role in what you taste. Basically, it made me want to lick my plate. Not appropriate in a place such as this. The lobster was poached in an orange butter, so with every bite you got a hint of the orange and a lot of the moistness and goodness of the butter (with none of the greasy butter taste and feel you get when you drown the lobster in butter!). I live in the land of lobsters and this has to be the best lobster I've had. There was a tarragon lobster bisque on the side for me to scoop up with the lobster, and the tarragon added a nice touch of clean herby feeling to the dish. The white asparagus were hidden under their foam (clearly, the kitchen loves that toy) and creamy goodness, but I found and ate them all. I do like the white asparagus, they are milder and perfect for a dish such as this.
Here's my weak point, I am full and they ask if I am interested in a cheese course. My mind says, you still have dessert to go, you don't really need to add a fourth course, and yes you can have cheese instead of the dessert, but really you can't deny yourself half the reason you came which is Gale's desserts. So I succumb to the extremely attractive waiter and ask to see the cheese tray.

Oh the choices, from France to Wisconsin to Colorado! I wanted to try them all, but was limited to 3. In the end 3 became 4. The only other place I've been to with such an impressive cheese tray is L'Espalier where I had discovered my previous 2 favorite cheeses. They were toppled by two that I had this night. My two new favorite cheeses now are Regal de Bourgogne aux Moutarde which despite being covered in mustard seeds, isn't overwhelmed by them. And the Cabreton, which was softer and more flavorful that I expected. The two cheeses that flanked either end of my plate were the sheeps milk Perail and the nutty Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin. Both equally delicious. I savored the cheeses as long as I could, with a huge smile on my face. Then I remembered there was still dessert to be had and boxed the rest up.
The sides were figs, apricot, a balsamic chutney (which while the waiter was forming into the perfect shape with 2 spoons, I told him he didn't have to bother "Ma'am, we are a four star restaurant" He was so cute I wanted to take him home. Seriously) and a quince paste, that I just ate as is because I love quince that much.
Before the dessert was a red currant mint lemonade as a palate cleanser. A bit too sweet for me, I only drank half. The color doesn't come through in the photographs, but believe me, it was the most attractive red I've seen in something that didn't contain hibiscus.
And finally dessert, as I was pretty full I opted for one of the lighter desserts. The Vanilla Cream with contained Lemon Chiffon, Vanilla Pot de Crème, Lemon Curd Ice Cream, Citrus Supremes.

The lemon curd ice cream was my favorite part of the dessert. It was creamy without being heavy, full of flavor, and just the right size. It also had some caramel rice krispies with it, so I got some of that snap, crackle, pop goodness. The pot de creme sat on a bed of light spongey lemon chiffon cake, and was enrobed in what was possibly the tastiest shell I've ever had.
Lest you think that was the end of dessert, oh no. There was still the lollipop and mini cake/cookie cart. Since I had not had any chocolate in my dessert, I skipped the spearmint lollipop that looked really good and opted for the chocolate crispy I can't even remember what else was in it lollipop. It was SO good. I also got a chambord chocolate mini cake thing, That was delicious, and thank goodness only a biteful! Are we done yet? Because I am mighty full. Oh no, wait, there is still the truffle cart. Oh handsome waiter, you are killing me with your good looks and tasty food things you bring my way. I opted for the dark chocolate green olive truffle and the milk chocolate caramel truffle.

Now, you may say to me, Razzle, why a chocolate olive truffle? I reply that I am a woman of adventure and am not afraid of strange flavors! While it was not a bad combination, it was certainly interesting. Had I not known that it had been olive, I would have spent hours trying to figure out what that combination was. The caramel truffle was soooo very good. But really, can one go wrong with caramel and chocolate? Not in my book.
3 1/2 hours later, and about 10 pounds heavier, I strolled back to the hotel and fell into bed dreaming of master chefs cooking up wonderful foods for me to eat.