Category Archives: Good Food

Last Week in Wine

It was a hell of a week. In short, my mother is getting older and has many of the problems that go with that; these things cause me to spend inordinate amounts of time in hospitals and wine shops.

After the first 48 hours had gone by (including on night sleeping in a chair) and things were looking up, I headed home Wednesday to have a comfort meal with Jake. I’m not sure if I was exhausted or just feeling spendy, but instead of picking up a pizza like a normal person, I stopped at Wegmans for charcuterie and cheese, then the wine shop for what I decided was a night worth a “good” wine.

See that box of figs in the background. Insanity.

See that box of figs in the background? Insanity.

Enter Bacio Divino 2006 Red Blend for $50. We often have conversations about the price of wine, mostly wondering if we go upwards from $30 do we gain as much as we spend. Is a $50 red doubly as good as a $25 red? After this bottle, I’d say sometimes, maybe. How’s that for clarity?! We’d recently had the 337 Cab Sav were pretty happy considering the price tag. These two wines tasted side by side really demonstrated what time and cost might get you in terms of wine. The Divino was rich and delicate at once, with a sort of ‘nothing’ start, then the fruit comes but not too fruity (I lack wine words…) with a long finish. That my first thought, actually. A very long finish that I liked a lot (see, poor wine vocab on my part). Overall, it was subtle and I wasn’t entirely sure it was worth it as we were eating the platter of cheese, meat, fruit and bread.

But then. THEN. The dark chocolate covered figs. Mother of God. I’m weak in the knees just thinking about it. It was one of those pairings that makes you remember how wine makes food better and food makes wine better. Just ridiculous. Perfect pairing.

There was more dietary and alcoholic insanity as the week went on. Thursday was a beautiful 65 degree spring day, so again, on my way home from the hospital, I made the decision to get some Rose so I could sit on the porch and enjoy the weather. A wine friend at the shop recommended the Roger Et Didier Raimbault (note: I paid about 25% more than this link suggests) and the L’oliveto. I’d initially ignored the L’oliveto because it was $8 (note: it appears to be retailing at other shops for $14). Live and learn. She raved. I drank. It was solid, especially for wine you plan to drink a bunch of while sitting on your porch. I went back and bought a case. I also told her that we were having oxtail ragu over gnocchi for dinner (Jake is soooooooo good to me….) and she picked a Malbec that was a great match.

Saturday night was Jake’s first attempt at duck confit and it was RIDICULOUS. I picked a young pinot noir, Acrobat, I think (it’s all fuzzy by then) and promised a myself a solid detox this week.

This coming week will likely be devoid of wine (she says on Monday…we’ll see when Friday comes) and devoted to veggies and hopefully movement from the hospital into rehabilitation (fingers crossed). Because my richness and stress quotas have been met via charcuteris, oxtail, duck and old age.

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Char

We go to Char entirely too often. Need a quick bite before RBTL? Char. Nightcap after RMSC event? Char. New Years Eve? Char. Date night? Char. Happy Hour before Play Ball at Strong Museum? Char.

See, a long time ago, we had a pork belly app here that still calls out to me. We return in the hope of getting that pork belly again. Unfortunately, it’s not on the menu anymore. But now they have a spicy sausage stuffed calamari and this oxtail gnocchi thing that are easily two of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Please keep in mind there are always many glasses of wine and a baby sitter associated with Char, so I might be biased.

I posted about RMSC Uncorked the other day and how it wasn’t really as, um, good/informative/not crowded as we’d hoped. We arrived there right at 6, after stopping at Hedges (always, it’s just down the road from our house and has a great view, dated everything else, but a great view) AND Char, for a glass of Girard Chardonay and some potato wedges. We knew there would be food at RMSC, but wanted a bit beforehand just in case there wasn’t enough. Well, there wasn’t enough.

Just after 8 we headed back to Char and were seated right away. Our table was one of the less desirable, but no wait is no wait. Overall, excellent again, both service and food.

1. Girard Chard–we like it, it’s not too expensive and pairs nicely with the oysters and calamari we ordered.

2. Oysters–$3 a pop, the special, and I can’t remember what variety they were. Four of the six we ordered were great, but two of them (two of mine) were bad–one had lots of broken shell and the other one tasted like cat litter. We told the server, assuming he’d take the $6 off the bill but instead he took the whole dish off. Great job, Char!

3. The aforementioned calamari stuffed with spicy Italian sausage and bread crumbs, grilled and served over cannellini beans and cherry peppers. This is the full squid, stuffed with the fattiest spicy pork sausage ever. Amazing. In some ways it reduces the calamari to a sausage casing, but I don’t care, it’s delicious and we get it every time.

4. The red wine-braised oxtail ragù with ricotta gnocchi. Do I even need to say anything else?! Tender, fatty, rich, amazing. Surely needs a good red to work with all that fattiness, but we didn’t order one to compliment this. (Are you counting; I’m up to a glass at Hedges, a glass at Char, tastings at RMSC, splitting  bottle back at Char…)

And we were home by 11!

RMSC Uncorked

Friday night we had a grown up night at the Rochester Museum and Science Center; we’re members and like to do the adult only fundraisers because it allows to actually look at exhibits we like for as long as we like without someone (ahem, Raddy G….) insisting that we move along.

I’m glad we went, but I’m not sure I’d go again. There were a wealth of local wineries, restaurants, breweries, bakeries, etc all with tastings included in the ticket. Sounds great, right? It was, mostly. To sum up: too crowded to actually talk to any vendor about their product and not enough, um, quality? Maybe that’s the food and wine snob in me (and I’m far from having a well developed palate) but there were only two wineries that I had what I would consider some of the best the Finger Lakes has to offer. And don’t get me started on the abomination that was the amatriciana from Mario’s. We’ve never had a great version outside of Rome, but this was basically orecchiette with sweet tomato sause, not the wonderfully fatty guanciale and tomato over bucatini that is typical.  I would have loved to talk to the Owl House rep longer, and the Silver Thread Winery owner too, but the crowd was huge!

The upside was walking through the temporary DaVinci exhibit with plenty of time and glass of (too sweet and not great) wine.  It focuses on many of his drawings turned into the three dimensional inventions he had in mind and also includes a very detailed analysis of the Mona Lisa. We enjoyed that so much we might go back.

In the end, I’m glad the museum can hold popular fundraisers, but I wish they could spread out the sampling area throughout the musem to relieve the crowds and encourage people to look at more exhibits. We left after two hours, annoyed by the impossiblity of actually relaxing and enjoying our samples, headed over to Char at the Strathallen and had an excellent unplanned dinner.  (review to come)

So, we went to Key West, again.

And we did nothing. Really, nothing. There was some booze and lots of long walks, a nap or two, more food than is advised but that’s pretty much it. So instead of a play-by-play I’ll give some summary thoughts.

1. Lodging: We really like Almond Tree Inn but might be ready to stay elsewhere. The rooms are large and very well kept, the service is excellent, the pool and hot tub relaxing, but…We go out for these meandering walks and find ourselves intrigued by other inns, B&Bs, and rental properties. So maybe the Gardens next year. Or not.

2. Things we won’t do again: Roof Top Cafe has lost us. I wonder if we just happened to have a great meal last year and mediocre is their standard. We went for a bar snack/light meal around 8:30 on a Sunday and had both poor service and food. The place was empty and still the bartender took FOREVER to serve us, recommended a wine that was really not very good, and then served us cold food. That also didn’t taste that great. Very disappointed. We had a similar experience at the bar last year, but figured since our dinner was so good it was an anomaly. I think the good dinner was the anomaly. We also are over Hog’s Breath Saloon. I like the music but it smells like college in there. And the bathrooms are icky. There is a shit ton of live music in Key West and I’m not sure why we stayed attached to this place. Anyway, next time, these two are out. And why, oh why, do people like Half Shell Raw Bar or Turtle Kraals? Cheap food, that tastes like cheap food, the most poorly schucked oysters of all time, conch fritters that had no discernable conch in them, and drunken tourists (I resemble that remark) but not the good kind. I’m being judgy, I don’t care, I didn’t like either of these places at all. Maybe I missed something by going during happy hour.

3. New (to us) places we loved: Square One is really good. We ate there twice, partly out of convenience, partly because Devils on Horseback are amazing!! I would only eat there once next time and stick to tapas rather than entrees. Nothing wrong with the entrees, just we enjoyed the tapas more. Off the Hook was great too; they had me at duck bacon. We both had fish tacos and loved them and will return for more. The service was great, the food was great, they deserve some love. The place is really really small though, like I can’t believe they run a full kitchen out of that building small. And how did we not go to Santiago’s Bodega before? I don’t know, but we’ll go back. I liked the happy hour sangria, Jake was not as enthused, but the wine list is big, the tapas delicious and it’s off the beaten path a bit meaning everyone is there because they made the effort to go there. We stopped by 2 Cents for happy hour and free bacon, left to go to Half Shell Raw Bar (see above) and ended up going back later that night for sliders, met a guy who put Jake to shame in both height and liver, had a billion moscow mules and then gin and tonics and regretted it only a little the next day.  The food I had (apps) was good, the drinks were great, the bacon a bonus.

4. Old faithfuls: Grand Vin is still great. Love the porch, the people, Donna and Greg. Mainstay for us. Think daily. La Creperie also nails it again. We ate three of four breakfasts there. Mmmm, brie.

5. Prana Spa. Its a good massage, priced like resorts are. I recommend it, but in the end it was similar to every massage I’ve ever had. It’s a nice perk on vacation, but I can get them at home pretty easily, just as enjoyably, and for less money. I’m biased as I have Eve Buckley as a SIL and she has magic hands.

So, we shall return and maybe we’ll even go on a boat, or swim, or something other than sleep, eat and drink.

Race Day, Fancy Breakfast, and the Waybury Inn

The race was the largest I’ve been involved in; even Ironman Florida was not quite this big, over 2000 entrants for the Olympic Distance. I finished respectably considering my training is nowhere near what it used to be. Jake stayed with me through my swim start (2000 people in this case means wave starts of 100ish people at a time; I was wave 14 out of 18 or 20) and then headed off to find some breakfast and wander Burlington. I spent the next 2:42:01 swimming, biking and running. He ate eggs benedict (not a traditional version–sourdough bread and spinach added) and pancakes (also not traditional–added oatmeal to the batter!) that were passable. I ate four packets of Power Gel, vanilla flavor.

 

But onto the good stuff! We drove about 35 miles south of Burlington to East Middlebury and the Waybury Inn. This was more a choice of convenience than a rigorous selection process; basically there were no rooms within 100 miles of Burlington and we got lucky with a cancellation. The Waybury is popular without a national race happening nearby, it was the inn used for the exterior shots of the Newhart Show (did I just age myself?), has a pub that Robert Frost spent time in writing, and has a pretty good restaurant.

Check in was a little weird. When we pulled up we could see a wedding that was about to begin and the parking lot was almost full. I was concerned that we’d been overbooked and would not have a room, but was armed with the emails confirming our one night reservation. We entered the lobby, very rustic, and according to Jake, exposing original beams. There was no one at the desk. We waited. We rang the bell. We waited. And finally a women who smelled of booze (seriously!! like she’d just downed a shot behind the counter or something) came out and checked us in. She told us that the wedding would make things a bit crazy and loud, but that we should put our things in our room and go to the pub for a drink.

 

And that is just what we did. After I took a shower and scrubbed my race numbers off we went straight to the bar, the bar we’d been told was open and to go to. When we go there the bartender very brusquely told us that we couldn’t be in there, the wedding had rented the bar and we were going to make the bride mad. He agreed to make us each a drink that we could take out to the porch and he’d send us a waitress. Evidently I took too long to decide (because he didn’t have the first two things I asked for) and he told me I would have to leave.
I was pretty angry, especially since the front desk of this 10 room inn sent us there, it’s not like it was some giant resort where the left and right hands don’t know what each other is doing. This is one small building. Anyway, the porch waitress brought us each one drink and then never came back. Jake braved the wrath of the bartender and got us two more or three more or who knows. I cheered up quickly when I realized the awesome people watching potential that “Rick and Val’s Wedding” was about to provide. Let me just say: lots of tattoos, black jeans, smoking in the parking lot, and at least one ‘dress’ baseball cap. Not to mention “Val” was about 50 and had nine bridesmaids and the full on big dress shenanigans. Priceless.
What the Waybury lacked in service (and it continued to be shabby service but I’m thinking its a problem of having a small pool of people to hire, it was pretty rural) it made up for with good food. We ate dinner at the inn, sharing bacon wrapped scallops and a caprese salad with local fresh mozzarella. Jake had rack of lamb. I assume is was good as he ate the whole thing and I got not even a bite. I had venison and it was perfect. For my life I can’t remember what we had for dessert. I do remember having a Bailey’s though.

 

We spent our after dinner time on the porch again listening to the last wedding guests dance to Bon Jovi…

is it pasta? is it Risotto? I’m not sure, but it’s good.

What you’re going to need in no particular order:
Half of a package of your favorite bacon
6oz cleaned mushrooms
Minced garlic
Olive oil
A lemon
A bottle of cheap white wine
1lb of pasta
2 red peppers
1 onion
1 qt chicken stock (you won’t use all of it)

We know  that we haven’t been posting much at all, almost not at all. It turns out a baby is a lot more work than one would think.  We stand corrected.

On the way home a few weeks ago I was listening to splendid table on NPR.  There was a fellow on that day talking about cooking pasta as if it were Risotto.  Hmm. Interesting.    Lets just get to it.  Please disregard the crappy electric stove, its been 6 months since we moved here and it still just don’t seem right.  (Poor grammar intended). Get yourself a drink, and we’ll start making dinner.

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Where all great dishes start. Guinness and bacon.

We’re  going to start where every great dish starts…bacon.  That’s right I said it, bacon.  “Jake, make me a key lime pie!”  Sure hope you like a crust made with bacon grease, ’cause that’s what you’re getting! Don’t judge me.  One thing before we get started, if you want exact amounts so you can replicate my recipe just go ahead and go someplace else.  Also, when I say tablespoon I mean the one in your silverware drawer, the big one.  Same goes for the teaspoon.  Back to the bacon.  I feel for those of you who live somewhere where you don’t have a Wegman’s grocery store, because you wouldn’t know about the wonderful products they carry.  Their uncured pepper bacon for instance, mistakenly bought by Kim one day.  As I took it out of the refrigerator  that day I looked at her ( it wasn’t smoked) as if she brought me soy milk or some other nonsense.  I cooked it up and after putting it into my mouth, I had to admit that, well she wasn’t wrong.  We haven’t bought any other type of bacon in about a year.  As for the amount of bacon? I don’t know…half the package I guess. Cook it not unlike you may cook it for breakfast, only nice and crispy here. Then pour half of the grease into another pan, and set the bacon aside.  Cut it up so its ready later.

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Peppers onions and tomatoes, who's that lurking behind?

You  may as well chop up a whole onion, two red peppers and slice up about a dozen grape tomatoes.

Now we have two pans.  We’re going to call them left and right.  Were going to add a little more oil to lefty and righty, olive oil will work fine and lets put lefty over medium heat and righty over medium low heat. Maybe a couple tablespoons of olive oil per pan.  Get a pound of pasta, your choice but I like something that will hold the sauce, so for us its orecchiette.  Spirals or any other pasta with some surface area will work.  I’m not sure why, but it seems as though for our purposes it is accepted procedure to coat the pasta in oil. ” If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” I always say. So after coating the pasta in the oil in righty I pour half a bottle of cheap white wine and the juice of a lemon over the whole mess.  This is the Risotto  part.  About now you should have some chicken stock just hanging out on the stove in a saucepan warm. As the pasta absorbs the wine you should turn it over and ladle stock over it as it needs more liquid.  Its going to get a creamy consistency you didn’t know pasta could get.  Throw a little basil over it if the mood strikes you.  It struck me.

While righty cooks nice and slow and turning over, lefty is hungry for garlic  so give it what it wants.  A tablespoon should do.  Let the garlic saute for a minute then throw in a half onion, diced, and a red pepper, diced.  After letting the onion get translucent we add our chopped bacon and about 6 oz of sliced mushrooms and a tablespoon or so (maybe as much as two) of liquid smoke.  Mushrooms are like nature’s sponge; savory goodness ensues.

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Take the mushrooms off the heat after they’ve cooked down nicely.  At this point if you’re using reduced sodium broth you may want to put a pinch of salt into your pasta, and while you’re at it a little garlic couldn’t hurt either.  After a while your pasta will be creamy and start getting soft all the way through.   Toss in a  half onion diced, and let it sit and soften a bit. Follow with a red pepper diced and a dozen grape tomatoes sliced up thin.  If you happen to have fresh basil, cut up a handful and throw that in too.  A word of caution about cheese.  I’ve made this dish a few times and thought melting some cheese in was a must.  The first time we used peccorino (too salty)  and the second time we used soft goat cheese (a little better).   I suggest no cheese.  I know, I can’t believe I just heard myself say it.  The truth is that melting cheese in muddies the flavors. Without the cheese this dish is very bright and the smoky salty bacon and mushrooms play well against the crunchy red peppers and wine /lemon soaked pasta.

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If you must, (and I must) shred a little hard Italian cheese over it and serve it up with some premium box wine!

Bistro de Paris

How did we miss this on previous trips? Even this reservation was a second choice after Iron Chef Cat Cora cancelled her chef’s dinner. Bistro is inside the France pavilion in Epcot but does not accept the dining plan offered by Disney and holds a stricter dress code than other theme park restaurants. All the cast members our part of an exchange program with Euro Disney and the heavy French accents confirm this. (btw, it’s impossible to tell someone they can’t eat here without a reservation with a heavy French accent and not sound super snotty!!)

We overdressed, especially for walking through Epcot, but the atmosphere, price and service demand it. Plus, Jake doesn’t believe there is such a thing as overdressed; underdressed, sure. He wants to burn all the juicy sweat pants, pj bottoms and uggs he sees.

We could smell butter and lard as we approached; im sure if it was quieter we would have heard arteries hardening…Anyway, we checked in and were escorted to the second floor dining room overlooking the World Showcase lagoon. The menu options are limited and we decided to select our own courses and wine rather than go with the fixed menu (this would have been $180 with wine plus tax; our bill ended up $211 with a full bottle rather than tastings and larger portions).

We were presented with an Amuse Bouche of what I believe was Parmesan cheese soup with a baguette. The down side of an all French staff is difficulty understanding the food descriptions. My description is: awesome!!

First course was raw tuna and cous cous with greens and lime vinegarette for me, savory bacon cake for Jake. Perfect tuna, melting in you mouth with a citrus flavor to brighten the greens. Just outstanding. Jake’s bacon cake defied the laws of physics, cramming a ridiculous amount of bacon flavor in a golf ball sized cake. He’s tried this at home, even putting bacon grease in corn bread and nothing has tasted like this.

Second course was duck for me and lobster cassoulet for Jake. Again, rich, fatty, intense, heart stoppingly good. Paired with a bordeaux that we picked for price rather than taste, it was still outstanding.

Dessert was lemon souffle with berry sorbet. Again, something supernatural was going on to pack that much berry creaminess into a sorbet scoop!! We asked our waiter to pick a dessert wine for us and he selected a very sweet wine, insisting we taste it before ordering, just to be sure we would like it. It was just right with the lemon and berry flavors.

The meal was slow, the service impeccable, the food rich and well portioned. We find ourselves wishing it wasn’t in Epcot; that it was easier to get to. Of course, the challenge might be part of maintaining its limited set of customers and premium menu.

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