Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I love a chain restaurant?

So chain restaurants are far from what I consider “good dining” – the mere phrase “chain restaurant” conjures up thoughts of pre-frozen, over-salted, under-seasoned and completely unhealthy excuses for food. Entrees we as a public are supposed to be happy with – even excited about if you believe certain advertising campaigns…

This is why this particular piece may be surprising to people – I know it is to myself. But everything I have had at The Cheesecake Factory is good – the ingredients seem to be high quality, and although there is not a whole lot to be considered “healthy” on the menu – there are healthy options that are equally as delicious as the more sinful choices.

The restaurant as a whole is more upscale than most chain restaurants – the décor is extravagant and castle-like. The service I have found to be above average. There is a full bar and an extensive menu – it’s more like a book – complete with a spiral binding – it takes a good 25 minutes to get through – so sit back, order yourself a drink, and read on…

My all time favorite dish is the Seared Tuna Tataki Salad – it is amazingly good – especially for a “healthy” dish. The dinner-sized salad features a mound of mesclin greens in a Wasabi Vinaigrette dressing that is both tangy and sweet, but so light and refreshing I have to stop myself from shoving forkfuls into my mouth... The salad is surrounded by thin slices of seared tuna, the center still raw and incredibly delicious and tender. It is served with a generous helping of sliced pickled ginger, tomatoes and slices of avocado.

And oh yeah, if you happen to like cheesecake, you’re in luck.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tapas Toujours!

This is the third time I’ve been to Rezaz Enoteca in Asheville, North Carolina – and every time I leave I can’t wait to go again.

I only get to go once a year – and literally all year long I dream about this warm, cozy, relaxed, and authentic wine bar.

My sister lives in Raleigh and during my annual visit she’s nice enough to take me to Asheville – no short trip, we’re talking 4 hours… but so worth it..

So plan our 2 day trip around eating at various restaruants. Rezaz is scheduled for day 2. As the time approaches we get excited - to take the first sip of wine and the first bite of cheese.. we cannot wait...!
So we get there, and as we enter we see our waiter, the same one we’ve always had – a youngish guy who literally ‘flits’ from table to table, black Reeboks sliding on the wood floor for added speed..

We sit at a table near the window and accept the menus - heading right for the Wine by the Glass section. We're both fans of the red - my sister starts with a Rioja, and I with a Sangiovese. Then we get to the tapas.. .ahhh… the tapas...

We choose to go with a “Create Your Own” selection and we choose 8 items (becuase 5 is just not enough). We decide on 2 cheeses served with a house made onion jam – one is a Tallegio that is out of this world, we choose 2 kinds of olives, 2 kinds of smoked meats, including a soppressata and prosciutto, roasted asparagus and Spanish roasted red peppers..

And it’s all served with fresh peasant bread that’s been cubed, drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil and warmed up.. omg… I died and went to wine and tapas heaven…

If this is how it’s done in the Mediterranean, then book me a flight – I’m ready to endure this age old tradition.. on a daily basis…

Ahhh..It's Good To Be Back

Sorry for the hiatus...

I mean, it’s not like I’ve stopped eating or anything – god forbid.. I have just been too busy to keep up with blogging about it!

So I will once again try and give this a go – look forward to a few stories about my recent trip down to Ashville, North Carolina with my sister, (hush puppies not included, can you believe it?) as well some updates regarding a few of my local favorites.

So stay tuned my hungry friends…you shall be rewarded...

Friday, March 7, 2008

What do you expect from a restaurant with a schizophrencic name?

That's what I have should been thinking before I insisted on trying Jose Malone's in Troy..

Not that it was "bad" - just not that good - First of all there were only 2 Irish dishes on the menu - and I have a hard time counting Corned Beef and Cabbage Quesedillas as one - so it's hardly a combination of Irish and Mexican fare..

Monday, February 4, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

Hungry the second you wake up? Yeah – me too…

The solution? I find a nice hearty breakfast helps silence the hunger pangs.. And at the Catskill Country Store in Windham, I can get just that – and address my shopping addiction as well – what could be better?
Right – nothing…

It’s a beautiful drive up route 23 to Windham – a nice little ski town featuring a quaint Main Street with all the must-haves: a gallery, a diner, several gift shops and realtors with pictures of “vacation” homes on their window for tourists to drool over and imagine they can afford - yeah, we’ll just quit our jobs, open a Bed & Breakfast and live in the country! Yeah.. right..

Anyway, this homey restaurant also features a country store selling everything from homemade bread and jams to crafts, candles, slippers, art work, books and more. It’s a great place to browse for gifts..

Okay - back to the food..
The Catskill Country Store serves lunch and breakfast – and both are good – but going out for breakfast, to me, is one of the greatest joys in life.. And with menu items like “Gimme Smores” (pancakes with chocolate chips and marshmallows), and “Eggs in Purgatory” (poached eggs in salsa, served over pepper parmesan bread) – who wouldn’t love breakfast?

So I headout to breakfast – and upon my arrival I was seated and given a very large menu. As I took on the task of trying to decide what to get – it all sounds great – I overhear the inevitable “downstate” contingent – just in from their ski condos down the road, donning the latest in fashionable ski wear, filling up before they hit the slopes. Thankfully they are not interested in taking in the ambiance and manage to ingest their food at lightning speed and leave so as not to miss a precious moment on the slopes..

Back to me – so I decide to go as healthy as I can tolerate – 2 scrambled eggs, and rye toast, with a side of lean Canadian bacon.

So I tried to be good – you saw what I ordered.. and yet out comes my dish along with a sizable helping of well-done home fries, all nice and crispy, fragrant with caramelized onions and soft, sautéed red peppers .. I didn’t ask for home fries – they come with the eggs - but you can bet I wasn’t sending them back! Not only are my home fries delicious, but so is the side of marble-rye toast – homemade and addictive.. and the Canadian bacon was yummy too – Breakfast also comes with fresh berries, and a slice of cantaloupe and orange. The coffee isn’t bad either – and features an “endless cup”.

Ahhhh… now I’m all fueled up and ready to hit the slopes!
Wait.. I don’t ski.. Back to the treadmill...

Score! Or Should I say "Voila!"

So here's the scoop:
Don't wait! Get to the Mountain View Brasserie in Greenville, while you can - before the 'food gossip flood gates' open and the masses invade... Mountain View Brasserie IS as good as I hoped... as good as it's predecessor, the Freehold Country Inn... In a nutshell, the food was delicious, the menu was innovative, yet familiar - the presentation beautiful, thoughtful and appetizing.

So here’s the deal - I went, and met the parents there, on a miserably cold night that featured both wind and freezing rain – but you can bet nothing kept us all from going...
Finding the place was easy enough – right on Route 32, near enough to the road to be easy to spot on such an awful night..

Walking in from the cold and rain we found an atmosphere that was warm and inviting, not stuffy or formal. The four of us sat at a table near the window, adjacent to the gas fireplace. The décor is slightly reminiscent of the Freehold Country Inn – country-chic I’ll call it - although the interior is much more modern, as the building is much newer.

So onto the good stuff.. the food!
The menu was a nice size, not overwhelming, yet something for everyone, and there were several specials. We all toyed with the idea of appetizers, but skipped them, not wanting to take anything away from the main course – and possibly dessert.. Although with choices like Smoked Salmon with Dill Cucumber Salad and Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with Spinach– it was not easy!

As we enjoyed a basket of fresh baguette slices our choice of salad or soup arrived. Three of us opted for the salad, one got the soup – a nice hearty looking cream of mushroom. The salads were delicious and fresh, and the house dressing, a balsamic vinaigrette, was fine.

At this point we decided on a wine - Stormhoek 2005, a South African Pinotage, very tasty – nice, fruity and very drinkable!

And then dinner – the main attraction – arrived! For me - there was no choice – I went right for the Vegetable Risotto with Roasted Shrimp – something I heard was a great dish here – I agree 100%. It was a battle trying not to eat it all - !
And sharing with everyone else at the table was not even an option – everyone wanted some. The rice was perfectly done, and lighter and less “pasty” than other risottos I’ve tried. The vegetables were a nice complement, making the dish less rich. The shrimp were incredibly large and fresh and delicious.

The other dishes were equally good: Crab Cakes with Lobster Sauce and Grilled Center Cut Loin of Pork served with Roasted Apples with Calvados Sauce – yummmm.

Uhhh – so we’re all full – but who can pass up the chance to try dessert? Not us..

We shared: French chocolate mousse – amazingly rich and dark, not too sweet.. And an apple strudel with French vanilla ice cream – not a bite remained on anyone’s plate – enough said..

The service was nice, no one was rushed. The atmosphere pleasant and comfortable. And best of all the food – very good. I know we’ll be back!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Little Spoon's Next Big Eating Adventure

I can't wait till this weekend - I am finally going to a restaurant I've been wanting to visit for months - a "reincarnation" of the once fabulous "Freehold Country Inn" -a gem of a dining experience, tucked away in the unlikely little town of Freehold in Greene County.

The new version is called the Mountain View Brasserie located in Greenville, NY, one town over from Freehold. It opened in May of 2007 by the same people that renovated and operated the Freehold Country Inn, until it was sold in August 2006. This was a legendary restaurant (take my word on this one...) – it was the kind of dining experience that truly was an “experience”.

The Freehold Country Inn served fresh, innovative dishes, prepared and presented flawlessly and served by the most professional of servers. Going there was a treat – whether it was to have the melon soup in the summer, bright and delicious and unexpected, or one of the many salads – anything but ordinary. Winter made you think of eating a more hearty dish – like the outrageously good sirloin topped with gorgonzola.. I know, I know.. sounds too rich, too heavy.. but the Freehold pulled this dish off like no other restaurant has… it was simply…”wow”…

So it is with these memories of the Freehold Inn's fabulous food and presentation, that I anticipate another great dining experience at Mountain View Brasserie - And I will do the right thing – report back for all those other food crazed fans out there – and I hope it’s good news..

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Am a Garlic Lover

Thank goodness this unassuming little Mediterranean cafe opened a few months ago on Route 4 in Troy - home of the chain restaurants...

It's called Garlic Lovers Corner and it resides in a small shopping plaza with a pet store and Pizza Trattoria (great sub platters here by the way...).

Garlic Lovers is a great little spot where you can get Mediterranean and Lebanese favorites like Falafel, Gyros, Shawarma, Couscous, and Hummus that's out of this world. And they have a lunch deal where $8 bucks gets you one entree, one side, and a soda. Not bad - especially when you consider that the dishes are fresh and made to order -

I usually go for the less evil (in terms of caloric and fat content) Falafel, or Chicken Shawarma special with a side of their amazing "salsa" - a fresh blend of tomatos, onions, cilantro and garlic.. And you always get your entree on a big delicious pita (which I try and not eat, to be good, but it's hard).

They also have a larger Dinner menus that includes kebabs - I must try those...

The ambiance is actually better than when it first opened - a new mural now graces one wall, the tables are iron wrought glass topped affairs that remind me of fancy patio furniture.. and I mean that in a positive way.. The only complaint is that it's a little on the chilly side - the all tile floor doesn't help - but I bet it's nice and cool in the summer..

And - I always leave satisfied.. and smelling a little like garlic.. which some of us think is a good thing..

Monday, January 28, 2008

Minissale's Wine Cellar Cafe - Misses the Boat

I was so excited to try this restaurant - I mean, come on, it has "Wine Cellar" right in the name -
What could be better?

Well - unfortuantely, the name had little to do with what we got -

My dining companion, who I'll call "S", agreed with me, this place was completely forgettable. Nothing was outstanding - in a good or bad way...
The bread with olive oil for dipping was fine. The salads were oversized and fresh, but nothing out of the ordinary. S. tried the homemade soup, a Pasta Fagiol - it was thin without much body.
We both had a "special" entree - me, the broiled haddock, which although cooked nicely, had an odd, stale flavor I couldn't explain.. I ate less than a third of it, hoping with each bite that unexplained taste would disappear.. it didn't..
S. 's dish was the highlight of the meal - broiled scallops in a tomato, herb broth. This was very nice - the scallops were perfectly cooked, and the broth was flavorful, not greasy or heavy.
Both dinners came with a starch (we both opted for the baked potato) and steamed veggies, which looked okay, but honestly, after the salad I had my fill of the green stuff..
The wine by the glass menu was extremely limited - especially for a place with "Wine Cellar " in it's name.. so we opted for a very mediocre Montepulciano D'Abruzzo...on special for $18 a bottle. Nothing I'd try again..
The service was fine, the atmosphere was nice and cozy, but we felt we over paid for a meal that was disappointing. Perhaps next time we should try one of the pasta dishes.. Although honestly, I doubt we'll be back to do that...

Welcome to my restaurant review blog!

After sharing my restaurant experiences amongst friends, family and co-workers, I have decided to take my many opinions "public".

So with that I welcome you to my restaurant review blog - I'll primarily be talking about restaurants in the upstate NY area - the captial region to be specific, as well as other areas, depending on where my vacation and work-related travels take me...

Hopefully these insights, of a person who truly loves to cook, bake and eat, will help you in making your restaurant choices - or, maybe they'll at least be entertaining enough to keep you coming back to read up on my latest restaurant adventures... !