October 25-26, 2011 Pleasanton, CA to Benevento, Italy

Mary: Much like last trip, John will be helping with the blogging. I feel like a juggler with three blog balls up in the air. I am so glad that John is keeping Today’s Worry from dropping. If you are interested, there are also posts up today on The Adventures of Clark and Lewis and Dining Lite.

John: Departure day.. We awake at 4 AM, shower, finish our last-minute packing and run through our checklist many times before our friend George picks us up just before 6 AM. We have left some extra time to allow for traffic. There is no traffic, only darkness. We check in, rather on the early side and head to the Admiral’s Club for a pre-breakfast breakfast bagel.

Lewis peruses the menu

Mary: Today we seem to have a lot of pictures of Clark and Lewis and not too many of us or sights. This is probably because we look like zombies after the long flights and we really haven’t seen much except the inside of airports, the car and the hotel.

John: The flight to JFK is uneventful and gets in ahead of schedule. Mary even has a sleep. We settle down in the JFK Admiral’s Club and have some wine and munchies. Clark and Lewis enjoy the whole experience.

Yay, for snacks!

John: Next, on to Rome! The flight is good; we both get some sleep (a miracle). We land on time, breeze through immigration (no passport stamp, though), baggage claim, customs, and car rental. We’re on our way in record time.

We had landed in a light drizzle. As we drive south on the A1, the rain gets heavier. A few kilometers before we are to get off the autostrada, traffic stops. It appears that a truck has jackknifed across the road and cars can get by only on the right shoulder. This costs us about 20 minutes. Lots of emergency vehicles. We hope the truck driver is OK.

The big backup

John looks tired

John: We finally arrive at our hotel, the UNA Il Mulino, in Benevento. It’s in a converted mill complex, very new. Our room is large with plenty of closet space space and a fine enclosed shower. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.

Mary: I am very impressed with the hotel. Our room is enormous. This is just a one night stop so I wasn’t trying for anything too exciting just clean and not too expensive.

Clark and Lewis are ready for bed

John: We have dinner at the hotel restaurant, Le Macine. We really do not want to have to drive anywhere else today. It’s a very good choice:

- tasty bread and exceptional fennel-flavored bread sticks.

Fennel bread sticks and bread

Mary: Just want to say that in the old pre-diet days we would have eaten all the bread and all the breadsticks and probably asked for more. We had a couple of breadsticks and a couple of slices of bread. The end.

John: – an antipasto compliments of the chef: sauteed calamari strips, fried artichoke slices, and garbanzo beans in a garbanzo puree.

Antipasto compliments of the chef

Mary: I cannot even tell you how good the fried artichoke chips were.

John: – a small rigatoni-like pasta with white beans and local cheese for Mary’s primo, and artisan tagliatelle with broccoli and mussels for John.

Plate of goo


John's primo

Mary: John made the better choice here. I had a plate of goo. It was okay. I tried to avoid as much goo as possible.

John: – grilled fish filet, (maybe bass), served with fried spinach, sauteed fennel and a wonderful cauliflower puree with black salt grains and local olive oil. Best fish I have ever had in Italy.

Our secondi

Mary: I think the fish was swordfish.

John: – for wine, we have a local 2008 Caudium Aglianico made by Masseria Frattasi. A nice light red that goes really well with all our courses.

And so to bed. Tomorrow, on to Puglia.

Connor Butler – Restaurant Review

John reviews Connor Butler -

On Thursday night, July 31, 2008, we chose to continue our anniversary celebration by booking a table at Restaurant Connor Butler, a small, relatively new (2 years old) restaurant just over the Granville St. Bridge south of downtown Vancouver.
 
Since we had booked on the early side, there was lots of opportunity to interact with both the sommelier, Ron Douglas, and with the chef, Connor Butler himself.  It was just the start of an extraordinary evening, rivalling our earlier experience at Cyrus in every respect.

We started with an amuse-bouche which included, among others, an anchovy-stuffed sour cherry, which was quite good.  The others I cannot recall.

Chef Connor was interesting, engaging and animated.  He said he had some items not listed on the menu: foie gras and duck.  Intrigued by the notion of duck and duck, we asked if he could prepare a foie gras appetizer and a duck main, and that we preferred items savory rather than sweet.  And, we would like Sommelier Ron to pair wines for us.

After another bit of amuse, a slice of nicely seared tuna, the appetizers arrived.  The foie was accompanied by sauteed purple potato dice, small bites of bacon and morel mushrooms in a simple pan reduction.  The result was astounding, and this time the morels were in perfect balance (see previous review of Fireside Grill).

Ron brought three wines to sample: an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, a German Riesling Spatlese, and the sweetest, a French desserty wine.  In the end, we went preferred the last one, since it most resembled the traditional Sauterne in terms of sweetness and viscous texture that we like with foie gras.

The main course was seared sliced breast of duck, served with potato puree, garnished with a few sour cherries, citrus supremes, and pickled golden beets.  This was incredibly tasty: the best-cooked duck we’ve ever had, with the potato puree retaining its identity rather than merely dissolving into the pan jus, as sometimes happens.

Ron paired this with a BC Pinot Noir that did justice to all the flavors on the plate, from the succulence of the duck to the vegetal acidity of the beets. 

We finished with a plate of three delicious cheeses from Vancouver Island (where, perversely, Victoria IS and Vancouver IS NOT).  We followed this with a stint at the bar drinking cognac and grappa and chatting with the chef and the sommelier.

Couldn’t have been better.  (John: A+, Mary: A+)

Fireside Grill – Saanich, BC – Dinner 7/28/08

 

Our hosts at the Gazebo Bed and Breakfast recommended a nearby restaurant in Saanich, BC, the Fireside Grill.  Housed in an attractive, Tudor-style structure, it seemed to offer Creative Northwest-influenced dishes, just what we were seeking.

A new menu had just been introduced that day.  This has not always yielded great results in our experience, but it looked good anyway.  The appetizer page looked especially appealing, so we decided to create our meal from starters alone.

Here’s what we had:

An order of flatbread with the spread of the day.  Nicely toasted and seasoned, the flatbread wedges were served with a blueberry cream cheese.  Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Anyone who follows our culinary adventures should know that we’re not fans of sweet things, and we especially avoid sweet spreads (and sweet bagels for that matter).  But we were WRONG.  The fresh cream cheese had some goat cheese mixed in, and the blueberries behaved more as a savory (or should we say savoury?) herb than as a sweet fruit.  A beautiful concoction; we were wowed.

Next, our salads: an organic green salad sprinkled with small roasted pumkinseeds for John, and a roasted red beet, lettuce and goat cheese salad for Mary.  The only quibble was that a mix of beet types would have been even better.

Finally, as our main course, we both had the Organic Foie Gras and Qualicum Beach Scallops, with morel mushrooms and sweet peas.  The foie gras and the scallops were delicious and perfectly cooked (we’re very picky about these).  The sweet peas were a nice addition, again perfectly cooked.  The morels were tasty, but perhaps they could have taken a less aggressive role in the dish.

All in all, an excellent meal.  (John: A-, Mary:A-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008 – Healdsburg, California

We started our trip with a stop at Imagery Winery to pick up a wine club shipment.  We like Imagery a lot, it has many interesting varietals.  Since it was lunchtime, we sat on their patio and had lunch.  Since it was our anniversary, we had a bottle of wine.

Picnicking at Imagery Winery 

Then we headed on up to Chateau St. Jean and tasted some wine on their back patio. 

On the porch at Chateau St. Jean

Later, we had a fabulous dinner at Cyrus in Healdsburg.  We’ve been there several times before and have never been disappointed.  John had Thai marinated lobster with avocado, melon and hearts of palm, sea bass with sweet corn and spring onions, mussel and saffron sauce, pompano with cannelini beans, trotters and crayfish glaze, and rabbit ballotine with agnolotti and chanterelles with an olive oil froth.  I had the lobster as well and also the sea bass but I also had a terrine of foie gras with lychee and tamarind and toasted crumpets and a crispy poussin with potato puree, haricots verts and morels.  We started with champagne and then had the sommelier pair wine with the rest of it.  It was great!  We also had amuse bouche, a cucumber gelee, some sort of popsicle palate cleanser and bunch of tidbit desserts (which we didn’t order.)  Even though the portions are not large at all, we were really, really full by the end.

It was a pretty perfect day.  Happy Anniversary John! Toasting our 36th

 

REWIND DINER, KANAB, UTAH

On a sunny February day we happened into Kanab around lunchtime.  Our plan was to go to the Rocking V Cafe but we found that it was closed for the season.  As we peered into the Rewind Diner, a local worker passing by commented that they had really, really good food.  I have to admit that taking a recommendation from someone unknown and from Utah was chancy (see Utah Rules!) but it turned out he was right. 

 The interior of the Rewind Diner tries VERY hard at looking like a 50′s soda shop. So we were figuring it would be heavy on the burgers and fries but, no!, we were offered a vegetarian menu as well as the regular menu.  (Apparently veg food can not be sullied by being on the same menu as meat.)  We had a faux gyros wrap which was so tasty that it didn’t need to be called faux anything.  Also we had a falafel plate.  The falafel was great!  (Yesterday I had a falafel plate at House of Falafel in Pleasanton, CA and it wasn’t nearly as good.)  The hummus it was served with had enough texture that it didn’t just ooze out of the pita.  This was a great lunch and totally unexpected in this remote corner of Utah.

This is a tricky rating.  I want to give it an A because it was so surprisingly good for Utah.  But, really, the service was a little ditzy, they ran out of falafel so we could only get one plate and the falafel was fried a bit dark.  So…

Table consensus – B/B+

 

HOT DOGS AT THE DOGFATHER’S

TODAY’S WORRY

 When we are driving from California to Utah in the summer, we often taken the route through Yosemite NP with an overnight in Tonopah, NV.  We travel through a lot of territory that is pretty desolate.  Before the first time driving this route, I googled up the names of the small towns I saw on the map and asked for places to dine and stayover.  I got nothing.  After passing through them, I realized why.  These are really small, nowhere places.  Maybe they have a gas station/convenience store, maybe not.

So we’ve taken to packing a lunch and picnicking along the way.  We’ve eaten in Yosemite NP a couple of times but often it is too early for lunch when we are there.  This time we decided we would find a table in a park maybe in Benton Hot Springs or its sister city Benton.  The sign as you come into Benton Hot Springs says population 13 1/2.  There was no picnic table.  But the town of Benton boasts 279 people and actually has a little park.  A sad little park.  We stopped and had our lunch there.  We saw no people.

Now what does this have to do with hot dogs?  John and I went out for hot dogs before we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean part II.  (which I enjoyed – Johnny Depp, what more can I say?)  There is a place that we’ve been eyeing called The Dogfather’s.   It’s kind of a cute name and an occasional hot dog won’t kill us.  (hopefully)  We have a conversation with the guy behind the counter because he pegs us as non-Utahans from the getgo.  He admits that he is originally from California as well.  So we play the “where are you from”  game.  He mentions that he comes from near Bishop, CA.  “Oh,” we say, “yesterday we were near there are on our way to St. George.”  “Actually, I’m from Benton,” he says. 

What are the odds that we’d meet someone from a town that has a population of only 279?  While we were sitting in Benton the day before, we wondered why anyone would live there.  There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of jobs.  It’s ramshackle and depressing. I guess you’d only be there if you’re parents happened to have landed there.  And then like the guy at Dogfather’s you’d find a way out.

BTW -  the hot dogs were bland an unappealing.

YOU CAN HAVE YOUR TORTILLA AND EAT IT TOO!

Do you ever feel like you are saying stuff and no one is listening?  Well, yesterday I had an experience of someone actually listening.  Last June, we took Ryan and Jon out to dinner at Don Jose’s Mexican Restaurant in St. George.  You can read my review here.  In case you don’t go back and read it, let me tell you that it was really bad.  But apparently there are new owners and the new owners obviously must have googled up their restaurant.  And what they found was my review.  So they wrote to me.  Here’s what they had to say -

“Just wanted to let you know that Don Jose Mexican Restaurant is under new ownership and would love to invite you back for a much better experience.
Changes were made with a lot of the recipes and the response has been very favorable.
We now have someone making fresh corn and flour tortillas. Margaritas were definetly a must so we obtained our liquor license in order to be able to serve Margaritas and a wide variety of beer. Last but not least all you can eat chips and salsa is served with your meal.
Changes have been made and for the better….. ”

Yay, for them.  I think we’ll venture back for a second try.

SPAM AND OTHER FOOD PROBLEMS (REVIEW OF AMBER RESTARUANT, DANVILLE, CA)

TODAY’S WORRY

Last month Jon helped me with the spam problem by requiring comment posters to type in Mary before their comment would be posted. But it looks like the spammers have figured a way around. Today I got over 400 spam comments. Surely not as bad as the 5000 I had last month but still enough to make my screen freeze when I tried to delete them. So this is another problem that will need to be solved.

And just so you know what I am thinking about, Americans! stop eating out and spending megabucks for suboptimal food. We just went out to dinner and it was sad. This was at Amber in Danville, CA. My main course was a phyllo purse filled with seasonal vegetables. Well, last time I looked it was May. My seasonal vegetables were carrots and zucchini! Where was asparagus, or fiddleheads (I am smitten with the fiddleheads), or spinach or something that was even vaguely reminiscent of spring! Add to this lettuce leaves with chicken (totally ground up cooked chicken with no flavor), beef satay made out of tenderloin (certainly a skirt or flank steak would have been much more flavorful) with a blah peanut sauce and a potsticker filled with shrimp (I like the ones from Costco better) and you have a meal which is badly cooked, unexciting and pedestrian. I don’t want to pay a lot to eat bad food.

So Americans, a call to arms! And these arms would be your chef knives and santucos. You can do so much better for cheaper at home. Be creative! Try something on a Tuesday beyond meatloaf. You’ll save money and eat better too.

HERBIE FULLY LOADED

TODAY’S RESTAURANT REVIEW

THE HERBFARM, Woodinville, Washington

Speaking of fully loaded, last night we ate a nine course dinner at the five star Herbfarm.  Each menu is designed around seasonal products of the Northwest and our dinner was “A Menu for a Copper King.”  The entrie menu featured salmon and, of course, herbs.  After a tour of the herb garden with small tastes of different plants, we sat down to this sumptuous dinner at 7 and arose around midnight.  Each course was explained and paired with wine.  It was quite an experience!  Our menu -

1. Paddlefish caviar on crispy salmon skin, stellar bay oyster with sorrel sauce and copper river salmon dog.  This was served with a 1997 Argyle brut.  I think the real star of this dish was the caviar which was served on creme fraiche and was not too salty. It went well with the crispy skin.  The salmon dog on a brioche bun was also really good.  And although I’m not an oyster fan, I enjoyed that as well.

2. Lemon thyme consomme with dungeness crab, halibut cheeks, and razor clams served with a 2005 King Estate Pinot Gris.  This was also pretty good.  I would have liked the consomme to have been a little hotter but all the ingredients worked well together.

3.  Nettle, goat cheese, and green garlic ravioli served with a 2004 L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon, Columbia Valley. The ravioli were served with wild fiddleheads and a lovage sauce.  This was really good.  The goat cheese wasn’t too strong and I’d never had fiddleheads before.  They were quite delicious.

4.  Copper River sockeye salmon salad with pea sprouts, wild greens, radishes and herbs served with a 2005 Soter Vineyards North Valley Rose.  This was fabulous.  The salmon had been cooked slowly at 185 degrees and was meltingly perfect but I really thought the greens stole the show.  In combination with the salmon, the little piquant tastes of watercress, arugula, mint and other herbs was just perfect.

5. May Wine Ice.  A strange herbal Moselle sorbet which worked as a palette cleanser.

6.  Copper River King Salmon with morel mushrooms, asparagus, lentil croquette and pinot noir-fennel sauce served with a 2004 Beaux Freres Belles Soeurs Pinto Noir.  My absolute favorite thing of the evening?  The lentil croquette.  Yes, the lowly lentil was raised to a new level in a savory croquette full of herbs and with a hint of sweetness.  I couldn’t eat all the salmon because I was really full at this point but if they’d given me another croquette, I would have found room.  The asparagus was too crunchy for my taste and I would have liked a little bit more of the sauce.  Oh, and morels?  Yum.

7.  Sally Jackson Guernsey cow cheese with a dried fruit turnover and cress salad.  Surprisingly strong cheese  that combined well with the cress and the sweetness of the fruit.

8.  Sweet cicely creme brulee and fritter, rhubarb cobbler with angelica ice cream and lemon verbena sherbet cone.  Not one, not two but three desserts.  Can’t keep eating.  Must lay down.  Took small tastes of each.  All good.

9.  Brewed coffees, teas and infusions with a selection of small treats and a vintage 1916 Barbeito Malvasia Madeira.  We each had our own French press for teas and coffees.  Could not eat small treats.  I am now at bursting point.  Headline reads, “California Woman Explodes at Herbfarm.”

Oh, and there were also these incredibly tasty onion-potato rolls that they kept coming around and serving you with a chive butter.

Wow, what a meal. 

Table consensus – A+

 

 

I’M EATING OUT WAY TOO MUCH

TODAY’S WORRY AND RESTAURANT REVIEWS

 Wow, I have been eating out way too much lately.  As Alexander McCall-Smith would describe me in his mystery novels located in Botswana, I am a traditionally built lady, but all this eating out is making me too traditional!

First an update on the post about Jardiniere.  I wrote to the restaurant about the overabundance of salt in their dishes.  The executive chef, Robbie Lewis, wrote me back.  It seems that they have switched from kosher salt to sea salt from Isola Egadi which is off the coast of Trapani, Sicily.  He explained that this salt is much saltier than the salt they had been using and the chefs are still getting used to it.  He also said he hoped that we would come back again.  After the nice personal note and explanation, I am sure we will.

We ate at the The Peasant and the Pear in Danville, Ca. last week.  The menu had just been updated to reflect the spring season.  We started with calamari fritti.  The rings were so tiny that it would have been impossible for anyone not to overcook them.  We also had French fries as an appetizer.  (I know, strange, but we had a real FF lover at the table.)  Unfortunately, the fries lacked crispness.  We were later comped for both these items.  The lamb shank which was the only carryover from the old menu was excellent according to John and George.  Karen had a flat bread pizza which was awful.  Doughy and undercooked.  I had cannellini stuffed with ricotta and in a mushroom sauce.  The sauce was too thick and the pasta overcooked and flabby. 

A – for the lamb shanks and C-/D for everything else.

An update on a previous restaurant review and a new one tomorrow!

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

CELEBRATION – JARDINIERE, SAN FRANCISCO

 Because we are bad parents, we were not around when it was Sarah’s birthday at the end of last month.  In an effort to atone, we took her out to dinner last night at Jardiniere in San Francisco. 

Jardiniere, San Francisco

The Jardiniere is an upscale restaurant located near Davies Symphony Hall.  Downstairs is some seating and a circular bar.  The balcony seating overlooks the bar area.  It is nicely furnished and has an intimate feel.

Here are the selections we chose last night:

Sarah had duck confit on top of a salad of marinated le puy lentils and heirloom oranges as a first course. This was followed by a loin of cervena venison with black trumpet mushrooms and a sauce au poivre with glazed baby spring vegetables, smoked bacon and creamed nettles.  I can only tell you that Sarah was way too stuffed for dessert.  She made me promise not to review her meal since she is doing a review at Braisin’ Hussy (entry date 4/10/06.)

John started with the braised Colorado lamb and shelling bean soup with Swiss chard and basil.  He said it was very good with the lamb not dried out at all.  He followed this dish with red wine braised beef shortribs with horseradish potato purée and herb salad.  I had this main course as well.  The shortribs were cooked perfectly.  They were moist and  meltingly delicious.  I thought the portion was way, way too big but John managed to finish his and mine too.  Our biggest complaint was that the potato puree melted into the sauce.  The potatoes were just too thin to stand up to the red wine sauce.  They acted more as a sauce thickener.  I was really looking forward to the horseradish mashed potato portion of this dish and I think the whole thing could have been improved by having rustic mashed potatoes instead of puree, more of the potatoes and lessof the shortribs.

My first course was Maine diver scallops with sautéed mushrooms,smoked bacon, Italian parsley and toasted almonds.  You know if you’ve read any of my reviews that getting the scallops right is a big thing we me.  No overcooking!  These were cooked perfectly.  Yum!  But the rest of the dish was really salty.  I like things well seasoned so I would imagine that this amount of salt would be way over the top for most people.

Rating - 

Sarah – B+

Mary –  B+  

John – A-

 

Boulevard, San Francisco, CA

Last Thursday for the birthdays, we went to Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco. And although the traffic was really bad getting into the city, it was worth the trip. We had a great dinner with great service. Here are our choices -

Both George and I started with the sauteed fresh Hudson Valley foie gras with steamed persimmon pudding, persimmon sauternes coulis and red flame and pomegranite relish. Although once again there is a noticeable difference between European and American foie gras, it was melt in your mouth delicious and the steamed pudding was a sweet counterpoint to the foie. He and I also ordered the same entree, the grilled Florida butterfish (escolar.) I’ve had this fish twice before, once in Florida and once in Utah (of all places) and it is a firm white buttery flavored fish. Kind of like Chilean seabass but without the guilt. This was served with butternut squash and fresh porcini mushrooms with an aged balsamic vinegar. Wow, yum. My fish could have been cooked a tad less but it was still great.

John started with the fresh Monterey calmari two ways – pan roasted and stuffed and crispy fried. He says the stuffed calamari was the real star. He followed this with a second appetizer, the char-rare ahi tuna with pan seared foie gras and once again, the aged balsamic vinegar. He said this was perfect.

Karen, who is more of a meat and potatoes kind of girl, chose a salad of hearts of romaine and the wood oven roasted Berkshire pork prime rib chop. Yay, they didn’t overcook the pork! The mashed potatoes with white carrot-parsnip swirl looked especially good and Karen wished there had been more.

Accompanying the first course we had an Alsatian Weibach Riesling, and a Sonoma-Cutrer chardonnay for the main course. John had a glass of pinot noir from Volnay with his main course.

Since it was birthdays celebration, we also had dessert. A huckleberry buckle and a 3 dessert sampler which included a sweet corn ice cream and an intense chocolate thing. The ice cream, I thought, was especially interesting and innovative.

So all in all a delicious over-the-top restaurant experience – worth the hassle and the price.

Table Consensus – A

Mustard’s Grill, Yountville, CA

Last week when we were visiting Sonoma and Napa , we stopped at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville for lunch. We’ve been there many times over the years and we’ve never been disappointed.

Since we were both having seafood, we ordered the Viognier flight, three half glasses from Praxis, Saddleback and Miner wineries. This is a fun way to try and compare different varietals.

We started out by sharing Crispy Calamari with curried slaw and Fresno chilies. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL! THE BEST FRIED CALAMARI ! One caveat, these are delivered to your table with the slaw on top. Remove it immediately so the calamari don’t get soggy. The calamari were tender and perfect with a light tempura type batter. The slaw was really tasty and included pieces of arugula and cilantro.

John had Mahi-mahi Tostada with jicama slaw, black beans and feta. This was much like a fish taco with perfectly cooked fish but with perhaps a bit too much slaw on top.

I had risotto with scallops. It was pretty good although the dish came very hot and the scallops which were perfect when the dish was set down became a little done in the hot rice during the meal. The rice was creamy but had a very firm center.

John’s overall grade – A-
Mary’s overall grade – A-

Crispy Calamari grade – A+

Cyrus, Hotel Les Mars, Healdsburg, CA

The people who used to live in our apartment did not forward their magazines so we are receiving their Food and Wine. Just by chance, while flipping through, John noticed a review for Cyrus, the restaurant in the pricey Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg. We decided to try it for his birthday dinner.

This is a fabulous restaurant. The décor and service are terrific. When you are seated a champagne and caviar cart arrives followed by amuse bouche. The three tidbits included a spoonful of beef tartar, a polenta diamond and a shrimp on a bed of slivered marinated carrot. All were delicious.

The menu is broken down into various components; vegetables, lobster, fish and shellfish, risotto, foie gras, poultry and meat. There is also a cheese and dessert category. Each category has a number of selections. The price of your meal depends on how many courses you choose. So you can mix and match whatever you like and have it in any order.

We settled on three courses with a wine pairing for each course. It was more than enough. Here are our choices.

John

Chilled cucumber soup with glazed shrimp and mint. Paired with an Austrian Gruener Veltiner. The soup was surprisingly pungent and tart, not watery and bland.

Stone bass with black eyed peas, corn, bacon and mustard greens. This was paired with a California Pinot Noir. The creaminess of the perfectly cooked fish played off the intense smokey/bitter flavors of the accompaniments. It could stand up easily to a red wine.

Lamb loin with Italian butter beans, merguez sausage and tomato confit. This was paired with a cab franc/merlot from Tuscany. Again the dish was perfectly cooked and the lamb sausage was really good.

Mary

Thai marinated lobster, avocado, melon and freash hearts of palm paired with a just off-dry riesling. This was the biggest star of the meal. I wanted to lick the plate. Yum.

Seared foie with fig compote and crispy potato, balsamic reduction. Instead of serving it with the usual sauterne, it was paired with tokai. Although this was really delicious, the foie had a really different texture from ones I’ve had in Europe, more meaty in consistency.

Filet of beef tenderloin, chanterelles, haricot vert and gnocchi paired with a Sonoma cabernet sauvignon. Tender, medium rare and I loved the gnocchi.

The cheese cart and desserts looked amazing but we were just too full. We were served small complimentary dessert bites and sent on our way with small boxes of treats. The whole dinner was a huge success and, although not cheap, it was not outlandishly expensive and we felt we got good value for our money.

John’s grade – A
Mary’s grade – A

IKEA, East Palo Alto, California

Yesterday, John and I had lunch at IKEA in their cafeteria. We were shopping; it was lunchtime and it seemed easier to have lunch there then go get in the car and drive somewhere. Plus, with the price of gas here, driving is less of a first option. (Found a low price station where the gas was $2.55 yesterday. Most of the ones around here are about $2.67 for regular.) Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised.

We had the couscous special which was couscous and lentils with lots of different vegetables. These included red peppers, onions, carrots, corn, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms. All the vegetables were well-seasoned although the whole thing was a little greasy. This came with a thick, white garlic sauce which was so-so. We also got a fried stick of vegetables in a batter which was reminiscent of a hush puppy.

Probably the best part was the salad which was from a limited salad bar. The greens mix had lots of argula and also some watercress, radicchio and something else they looked sort of like dandelion. The toppings were chickpeas and carrots. The greens were really tasty. There was also a selection of rolls. We had dill rolls. They were good.

The whole bill including drinks came to $12. Pretty good meal, pretty good price.

Mary’s grade – B
John’s grade – B+

Kokopelli Grill, Entrada Country Club, St. George, Utah

It is always with great trepidation that we venture out into the St. George dining scene. As I’ve mentioned before, for an up and coming retirement area, there is a woeful lack of restaurants and nightlife, not to mention only one liquor store to serve about 70,000 people. But I digress. Ryan and Jon were visiting so we decided to go to the newly opened Kokopelli Grill at Entrada Country Club.

The dining room and the views are gorgeous. And the menu is both traditional and inventive. The service is a little slow but I think they are still working out the kinks. We were served rolls which we all liked although John thought they could be crustier. They have a wine list which you ask for (this is Utah) and they need a little work on wine service as they didn’t cut the foil. The waitering was a bit aggressive. Plates were cleared while you were still chewing. But this is minor stuff.

We ordered three spinach salads and a pear and goat cheese salad. All the salads were excellent. The spinach was fresh, there were slivers of tart apples and lightly sugared walnuts and a mellow dressing. The pear and goat salad had a nice raspberry vinaigrette and a crunchy crostini.

Ryan and Jon had elk which they thought was good although it could have been seasoned a little more. The side of vegetables were good and the corn fritters (really hushpuppies) were great.

John had venison chops which he felt were spectacular and seasoned well. They were served with fingerling potatoes and lovely small green beans. There was a tomato coulis for sauce.

I had NY steak. I’m still afraid to wander too far from Utah eating rules. (See note below) The steak was cooked just right and was very tasty. It was served with cheddar mashed potatoes and mixed root vegetables. There was an ancho chili sauce. My only criticism is that except for the steak everything was lukewarm.

For dessert we shared a yummy crème brulee. We wished that there had been a little more burnt sugar on top.

This was a fine dining experience. We’ll definitely go here again.

Jon – B+
Ryan – B+
John – A-
Mary – B+

NOTE: Utah eating rules were established by our family after too many awful meals. The idea is to improve your chances of a good meal by eliminating as many preparation steps as possible – fewer opportunities to screw up. The most basic meal would be, kill cow, cook cow, eat cow, as in, have a steak.

Don Jose Mexican Restaurant, St. George, Utah

As I have mentioned many times before, the dining scene in St. George, Utah is kind of grim. But we are pretty intrepid eaters and we are always hopeful that something good will turn up. Plus I am sick of cooking. And since Ryan and Jon are visiting, I thought dinner out would be a good idea. Oh, Marymom, will you ever learn?! Mexican food seemed a good bet. There are lots of Mexican restaurants in St. George and I had heard good things about Café Rio. It probably is good but when we walked in it was crowded AND cafeteria style. This was not in my plan so we opted for a different restaurant. Don Jose’s had an advertisement for fish tacos, one of my favorites, so we decided to give it a try.

What was wrong with Don Jose’s? Let me count the blunders.

1. Only one basket of chips and salsa is complimentary.
2. No beer, margaritas or any alcoholic drinks.
3. No customers and a buffet that is languishing.
4. Bland salsa.
5. Way too sweet horchatas. ( although free refills)
6. Chicken mole with unpleasant bitterness.
7. Tamale with weird sweet sauce and tough masa.
8. Fish taco with sandy-breaded, overcooked fried fish.
9. Carnitas that were large, fatty chunks, cooked only once.

The rice and beans were good. And the silliest thing on the menu was the dish labeled “Carnita’s Platter.” We kept wondering if Carnita was back in the kitchen.

Looking for Mexican food in St. George? Look further.

Jon’s Grade – C-
Ryan’s Grade – C-
Mary’s Grade – C-
John’s Grade – D

Parents’ Day

While we are on the subject of food as a gift, I have to talk about the wonderful Parents’ Day celebration that our kids gave us. Since we all have busy lives and John and I are only home part of the time, we decided to celebrate a combination Mother’s/Father’s Day on June 12. Since the only thing we want from our kids are their company and hugs, we decided to meet for brunch at Jon’s. Well, what an impressive meal they made! First we started with mimosas and then we had Eggs Benedict and Silverman. Eggs Silverman substitute the ham with smoked salmon. Sarah made the hollandaise sauce by hand with much whisking. Jon fixed home fries with onions and we had shaved truffles on top. The meal was great and the time spent together even better. The Braisin’ Hussy has posted the recipes if you’d like to see them.

Dad’s grade – A
Mom’s grade – A

El Marquez, Tonopah, NV

Tonopah is a sad, sad place. It used to a mining boom town. Now it is a place of empty store fronts, ramshackle houses and a couple of tawdry casinos. When we drive to St. George either through Reno or Yosemite, it is the only place to stop over night. Where to eat is always a problem. We’ve tried eating at the Ramada where we stay. First time, awful. Second time, we decided to eat breakfast for dinner. Maybe this would be safer. Still awful. We tried the Cozy Crab – fried seafood at formica tables with plastic glasses. Soft drinks only. The only things left are McDonald’s and El Marquez. So we eat at El Marquez, a Mexican restaurant. Granted, I am no Mexican food fan so my review may be biased.

We go in last night and there is a large party and this slowed things down. No one came to wait on us. Finally, a girl (who was 13 as we found out later when John ordered a second beer and nothing came) brought chips and salsa. No, not really salsa more like taco sauce. Thin and hot, no pieces of anything in it. Some time later, we were asked for our drink order. We each got a beer, bottle only no glass. We asked for water. Got one glass. Asked for water again, got a second glass. Finally, the waitress took our order. John had two chicken enchiladas which come with rice and beans. I ordered shrimp with garlic sauce. John enjoyed his. (He reminds me of the opposite of the old Life cereal commercial, “Give it to Johnny he likes everything.”) My shrimp came on top of lettuce with what I thought was hominey all over it. But no, it was large pieces of boiled garlic. There was no sauce. The shrimp were cooked okay and had black pepper on them. There was also the usual glop of rice and beans. I just didn’t get the concept.

My recommendation for dining in Tonopah? Pack a picnic supper.

John’s grade – C
Mary’s grade – D

Kenwood Bar and Grill, Kenwood, CA

During our outing in Sonoma County, we stopped at the Kenwood Bar and Grill. It’s located on Rte. 12 between Imagery Winery and Chateau St. Jean, two of the places we were visiting. At the Kenwood B & G you can eat inside or out. It is bright and airy. We started by ordering a couple of glasses of wine, an 04 Berthoud chasselas dore. This had kind of pink grapefruity taste which John liked but I did not, so I gave him my glass and ordered the 03 St. Francis chardonnay. It was fine. Then the rolls came and they are really good rolls. Crusty and soft. They are much like my favorite rolls from Legal Seafoods (Boston area and a really fine seafood restaurant.) John then had the shrimp bisque. It was not as rich as the lobster bisque that I had at Emeril’s Seafood House but still good especially after John doctored it up with some additional butter and salt. Some odd things about it were that it had little salad size shrimp in it and was served in a glass salad bowl. For a main course, John had the mussels mueniere. He is a big mussel fan. He said they were very fresh, with no grit and just barely cooked through. They were seasoned with shallots and parsley. He felt that the broth could have used a little more Pernod. I have no opinion. Mussels are too strong for me. I had poached salmon. It was served with a lemon cream sauce. The salmon was soft and lovely, the sauce went well with the new potatoes. There were also some pieces of yellow squash, asparagus (which should have either been peeled or snapped a little closer to the tip), and a giant slab of carrot. The carrot was probably 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. I realize that it was cut on the diagonal from a very large carrot but I think smaller pieces would have been better. We both really enjoyed our meals and would dine at the Kenwood Bar and Grill again. You always get a reliably good dining experience.

John grade – B+
Mary grade – B+