Monday, October 30, 2006

Monet and Margaux's in Raleigh

My Mom and I took a little trip to Raleigh to see Monet in Normandy – a special exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Highlights for us included a series of 3 paintings along the cliffs at Varengeville and the 3 painting Manneporte series. You can check it out at Now as much as we enjoyed the artwork, we weren’t even able to enjoy the Blue Ridge Restaurant at the museum. Of course, the exhibit was crowded, but the hostess stand was utter chaos and even though we listed our name and waited, etc., the seating order was truly beyond our comprehension. Thus, we left and happened upon Margaux’s Restaurant located on Creedmooor Rd. And, alas, we lucked out. The place is only open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and only serves from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. We arrived at 1:35 PM. The interior boosts a large stone fireplace and lots of contemporary and whimsical art. There is also a huge aquarium presided over by a meditating Buddha. The lunch menu featured a “Soup of the Moment” – Hot N Sour Szechuan Crab ($7.95) at this particular moment as well as several salads and entrees. My Mom and I both started with a Traditional Caesar Salad with Herbed Croutons and Fresh Parmesan ($5.95). Traditional, indeed, but with a generous amount of grated Parmesan. We stepped outside of traditional for our next course and both ordered Vietnamese Fresh Shrimp Spring Roll with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Pickled Carrots, Peanut Pesto, & Red Chili Jam ($11.95). What a delight for the mouth. Fresh-tasting; a little hot; sweet, large chunks of crab; vinegary slivers of carrots and cucumbers. If ever presented with the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to eat dinner at this eclectic eatery.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

3 Days - 3 Restaurants

What a whirlwind of restaurants and food lately. Of course, my husband going out of town really sparked this eating out spike. And it turned out to be a fairly diverse group of eateries as well.

  1. Zed Café ( – A recent addition to the Lakeside Ave. restaurant scene. It’s now open for dinner Thursday – Saturday and features organic meats and produce along with vegetarian dishes. Highlights included a non-alcoholic libation entitled Love Portion #9 – pomegranate juice and organic lemonade – served in very tall, vase-like glasses; Red Pepper Tart with Roasted Olives – roasted peppers and feta between very thin slices of eggplant; Tea Infused Boiled Eggs that came with the salad; and a Mocha that was about as different as one can get from the Starbucks variety (and since I ordered it without looking at the drink menu, and since mocha was not listed on the drink menu, I think the waiter just made it up!) – My “Mocha” had very little coffee, if any, in it and no steamed milk. It did contain unsweetened melted chocolate which served a similar digestive purpose that an espresso after dinner would. Espresso has always been too bitter for me, but this “Mocha” struck a better balance between flavor and bitter. Since what I had was nowhere to be seen on the menu, it will be interesting if Zed continues to serve it. I would order it again. By the way, this past weekend Zed acquired a license to sell wine.
  2. Positive Vibe Café ( – My friend 007 wanted to take me out for my birthday and we decided to be Positive. Positive Vibe (located in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center off of Forest Hill Ave.) serves as a training facility for persons with disabilities to learn food service skills and to help folks go on to secure employment in the community. The wait staff is made up of volunteers from the community. Positive Vibe also focuses on organic products. Highlights were Avocado Corn Salsa – the salsa had nice avocado chunks and white corn (not too spicy), accompanied by blue corn chips; Buffalo Bistro Steak – I had a choice of the 5 or 10 ounce size, I opted for the smaller version, very tasty and lean, and grilled medium rare; Chocolate Chip Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream – an intense chocolate brownie made at the restaurant topped with Bev’s ice cream. How could one go wrong? Positive Vibe has live music on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. So, what are you waiting for? Get Positive!
  3. Brio Tuscan Grille ( – Yes, I do occasionally eat at a chain restaurant, especially those who send $10 off coupons around my birthday! My hubby was finally back in town. Yesterday was beautiful and we decided to go to the Art Affair event at Stony Point and eat lunch at Brio’s. Highlights included the Ultimate Cosmopolitan – Grey Goose vodka, Grand Marnier, a splash or cranberry juice for color and a slice of lime; Chicken Milanese Pomodoro – Romano and breadcrumb encrusted chicken breast topped with melted fresh mozzarella nestled in herbed spaghetti and surrounded by Pomodoro sauce. The herbed spaghetti makes this dish and since the tomato sauce surrounds the pasta and does not cover it, I can enjoy the pasta two different ways. The chicken is tasty, too. I almost always get this dish when I go to Brio’s. It has a lot of flavor and it’s so big that I always have leftovers to enjoy for another day. Now, if only they would do a better job at pricing their wine list and if the male waiters would drop the faux Italian image…

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunday Evening at La Grotta

My husband had a dilemma. My birthday happened to fall on a Sunday this year. He wanted to take me out for a nice supper. As he called around to some of our favorite places, he discovered that almost all of them were closed on Sunday. A chain restaurant was simply out of the question. But he can be a persevering soul and when the day finally arrived, we drove down to Shockoe Slip and landed at La Grotta. The décor has this underground wine cellar atmosphere crossed with medieval looking furniture and ironwork. Although the restaurant does not immediately come to mind when thinking about places to eat, the setting is unique enough to intrigue out-of-town visitors.

Because it was my birthday, I celebrated with a Cosmopolitan for starters. Bread, grissini, and ciabatta arrived in short order accompanied by a garlic, eggplant, and olive oil tapenade (heavy on the garlic). The wine list was fairly extensive. But only one wine caught our eye at a somewhat decent price: 2003 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo ($45). Bold, full-bodied, and smooth. We were happy.

The menu tempted us with several salad choices. I ordered the Insalata de Campagna – Julienne of radicchio and fennel, tossed in a white balsamic dressing and topped with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. I liked the play of the bitter radicchio against the subtle balsamic dressing. The cheese came in large shaved sheets and was strong enough to stand up to the bitter red cabbage. The prosciutto seemed to have been soaking in some kind of liquid to keep it moist, which made it a bit suspect. And believe it or not, the salad paired decently with the wine. My husband stuck to tradition and selected the Insalata Tricolore – Homemade mozzarella, tomato, and organic baby greens tossed in a white balsamic dressing. His was tasty with no surprises.

Selecting the entrée turned out to be more difficult than the salad selection. The filet, New Your strip, and the quail all caught my eye. In the end I ordered the special – Veal Chop with cheese melted on top and finished with black truffle oil. The veal was medium and extremely tender. The cheese (something akin to Fontina) was a little too rich for my tastes. The balck truffle oil seemed to be non-existent. So, while I enjoyed the chop, itself, the enhancements left my taste buds a little flat. My husband ordered the Filetto al Pepe Verde – Filet mignon finished in a green peppercorn and cognac sauce. He liked how the green peppercorn sauce permeated the entire filet, adding a delightful piquancy to his meal. Both meals were served with mashed potatoes with possibly mashed parsnips added and sautéed Swiss chard. The potatoes were decent and gave us a taste of Fall. The Swiss chard (served instead of spinach) was another story. I had never had Swiss chard. I’ll probably never have it again. It was all I could do to chew and swallow. This is the type of green vegetable that is way too green for me. At least I attempted it.

For dessert we shared a Tartufo – a core of vanilla ice cream surrounded by chocolate ice cream, dusted with cocoa, and nestled in a hazelnut cream sauce. Dessert was heavenly. The dusting of cocoa added just the right amount of pizzazz.

Pat took excellent care of us the entire time. He did not rush the meal and he kept the wine flowing the entire time, well, at least until the bottle ran dry.

So, if you need a Sunday supper solution, head on down to La Grotta. In fact, I think the last time my husband’s birthday was on a Sunday, we ate at La Grotta, too.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Go Eat! Richmond Restaurant Week Oct. 23-29

Richmond Restaurant Week will take place October 23 - 29 this year. For $22.06 you will get a three course meal from a great restaurant and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Central Virginia Food Bank. What a way to support a great cause and enjoy great food. Restaurant participants this year include:

Cafe Lafayette
Old City Bar
Graffiti Grille
La Grotta
Sam Miller's
Six Burner
Twenty Seven
Zeus Gallery Cafe

Roma's Pizza

I hope all of you made it to The National Folk Festival this past weekend. It was a blast, especially Willie King and the Liberators. After being at the festival all day, we were craving pizza for dinner. We generally do not do the chains, and we weren't in the mood for our usual fare from Zorba's (on MacArthur). So, we took a chance on Roma's located on Staples Mill. We called in a pick up order for a medium Roma Combo - pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions (NO SUBSTITUTIONS). Cost: $17.75. The medium was huge and I'm having leftovers tonight. We liked the thin crust and the sauce was fantastic. A decent amount of pepperoni and sausage kept us satisfied. And there was a mound of veggies which was good and not so good. I don't like mushrooms, but since NO SUSTITUTIONS were allowed, I thought I could easily pick them off. I was wrong, but I endeavored. The green peppers had been cooked to almost mush. not what I expect from peppers on a pizza. The onions were plentiful and fine. Next time, and despite the flaws in the combo, there will be a next time, we will opt for a small pepperoni, sausage, and onion pie.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Raising a Toast with Jerry Garcia

A hint of chocolate on the nose, a bright fruit tang on the tongue, and an ample amount of body as it slides down the throat. Let’s all raise a toast with the 2002 J. Garcia Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. I was able to pick mine up at The Fresh Market for $13.99. Of course, the label caught my eye at first. Clos du Bois, which has partnered with the Garcia estate, produces the wine and uses a Jerry Garcia painting as the backdrop for the wine label. Check it out -

Monday, October 09, 2006

Beef Stew with a Cuban Flair

Stew – another weather related recipe. And a great remedy for a cold, rainy, and downright miserable Saturday. I discovered Ropa Vieja – Braised Beef, Peppers, and Onions with a Cuban flair from The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl.

Here are the ingredients with a couple of my own omissions/substitutions:

3 pounds flank steak (mine came from The Fresh Market)

8 cups water

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, course chopped (the recipe called for celery, to which I am not partial)

1 bay leaf

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 ¼ teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon whole black pepper, crushed

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

14 ounce can whole tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

½ cup green olives, pitted and chopped (recipe called for pimento-stuffed green olives)

(The recipe also called for 1 cup of frozen peas which I conveniently forgot to get when I went grocery shopping.)

WARNING – This is not a quick meal. It takes about 3 hours to finish. Now that you know, I’ll proceed with the instructions.

Combine beef, water, carrots, yellow onion, fennel, bay leaf, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper in a large heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset enamel pot) and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, about 1 ½ hours until beef is tender. Remove beef to a bowl or plate. Pour liquid through a large strainer. (The cookbook here says to discard the solids, I say set them aside in a medium bowl. You’ll see why.) Return liquid to pot and boil until reduced to 3 cups. Pour reduced liquid into a boil. Wipe out the pot. While liquid is boiling (or when the meat is cool enough for you to touch), shred the meat with your fingers and set aside. The meat should be so tender that it almost falls apart.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the wiped out pot and sauté the green peppers and red onion until very tender (the recipe says this takes about 10 minutes, it took me more like 20 minutes – I like my onions crunch-free). While the peppers and onions are getting tender, open the can of tomatoes and add them to the set aside solids. Also add the tomato paste. With an electric emulsifier (a.k.a. boat motor), puree the mixture. Add the pureed mixture and shredded beef to the green peppers and onions. Cover the pot and simmer on low for about 20 minutes. While this is simmering, in a frying pan, pour in the remaining olive oil and sauté the red and yellow peppers…mmm, about 20 minutes. Once the peppers are tender, add them and the olives to the pot. Let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or so. Serve with crusty bread or over white rice.

This turned out to be a very hearty meal with lots of leftovers. It would be great for a meat appreciative crowd. The cumin and olives added a subtle flair, but did not steal the show. I simply loved how the flank steak pulled apart after boiling and I also liked how the seasoning for the water added flavor to the beef. I will consider using flank steak with other beef stew recipes. We enjoyed our stew with a 2003 Castle Rock Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (~$12), but a Crianza Rioja or a Priorat would be tasty as well.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Savory Olive Cream Cheese Spread

Here’s a great spread for crackers:

Savory Olive Cream Cheese Spread

8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened

3 ounces of garlic or herb flavored goat cheese

¼ cup green and black olives, finely chopped

1 shallot, minced

¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Thoroughly mix all ingredients and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature for ½ an hour before serving.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

2006 Richmond Italian Festival

Don’t you love gorgeous Fall weekends? I do. It’s definitely my favorite time of year. Cool, crisp breezes. Perfect blue skies with a few lazy white clouds as counterpoint. I can take a deep breath, sigh, and exclaim “Life is Good!” This has been such a weekend. And we celebrated on Saturday Italian style by attending the Richmond Italian Festival ( A small affair located on E. Broad St. at St. John’s Church. Booths lined the street offering artwork, handbags and shoes, jewelry, etc. Of course, we came for the food and wine. What a pleasure to find both wine and beer (Peroni, of course) offered. Nine Italian wines (3 white and 6 red) were available to taste, or to purchase by the glass, or to purchase by the bottle. Since we had arrived in time for dinner, a bottle was in order. All bottles were $21 a pop (of the cork, as it were). We skipped the Chiantis and headed for the Morellino di Scansano (Sangiovese). Even though the wine was unoaked, it still contained some body and suited our purposes for the evening. Now, what to eat. Many reputable local Italian restaurants were plying their scrumptious wares – Roma’s, Angelo’s, A Taste of Italy, DeFazio’s, etc. We headed for The Italian Kitchen West for Spicy Sausage Subs with Sautéed Peppers and Onions ($5). This place makes its own sausage. Heavenly – just the right amount of heat, but nothing to overwhelm the meat. We parked ourselves at an outdoor table, enjoyed our wine and food and did a considerable amount of people-watching. Before we left The Italian Kitchen West booth we were encouraged to try a Sformato (sp?) pastry ($4). Orange-flavored ricotta custard nestled in strips of pastry and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Absolutely delightful! We took ours wrapped up for home and enjoyed it with a small amount of Belle de Brillet (pear cognac). As we ate the sounds of Ron Moody and the Centaurs wafted our way (It was far better to just listen than to actually watch them).

This tiny festival was just right to grab a decent Italian dinner and dine al fresco. Viva L’Italia!