Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chincoteague Weekend

Fall finally arrived and my husband and I decided to get away for a weekend in Chincoteague. After some brief research we made reservations at the Anchor Inn ( located on Main St.. Our 2nd floor room sported a small private balcony overlooking the water and a mini-fridge. At $95 a night (including continental breakfast), we were pleased. We also enjoyed the breeze and the relative quiet – water lapping at the docks and the chattering of numerous ducks.

As we strolled down Main St. we discovered the usual seaside tourist retail establishments, but also came upon a couple of art galleries, used book stores (yes, more than one!), a decoy shop, and (isn’t it wonderful?) a wine shop ( Since we had a balcony overlooking the water and we had use of a mini-fridge, we purchased a 2004 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel from Napa and a Gruet Winery Sparkling Rose. The Frog’s Leap was very tasty as we watched the sun set over the water. The Gruet we saved for Saturday night.

For dinner we walked about two blocks up to Bill’s Seafood Restaurant. Of course, we had a hankering for some seafood. Bill’s tends to be a popular place and when we arrived around 7:15 PM, the place was hopping. All the other parties in line had made reservations. When we finally flagged down the somewhat harried host, we were told it would be an hour wait. Bill’s does not have a bar, so we made an 8:15 PM reservation and took another walk down the street. While many shops were closed, a few were open later to take advantage of weekend tourists. We happily browsed and then returned to be promptly seated in a much quieter setting. Now what to order? We looked around at some of the dishes. The seafood (especially the shrimp) looked tempting, but, whoa, the steaks looked out of this world as well. What to do? Well, we asked for the wine list. Bill’s carried a 2001 Stags Leap Petite Syrah for $49. Yes, it was the most expensive, but with The Fresh Market retailing the bottle for $39, the price seemed a bargain for a restaurant. And, thus, I ordered the Filet Mignon & Fried Jumbo Shrimp ($22.95). Hubby stuck with the Fried Jumbo Shrimp only ($15.95). The meal came with a mini loaf of whole wheat bread as well as crackers & a cheese spread (vaguely white cheddary) for starters as well as a choice of salads and a choice of sides. I ordered the Caesar Salad while my spouse had the Garden variety. Both had fresh lettuce, but mine came with shaved Parmesan cheese. Yummy. My Filet was indeed medium rare and had the requisite grill marks. What a great pairing with the wine. But the Shrimp stole the show. Butterflied with a light breading and oh so sweet! Sheer heaven. As for the sides, baked potato for me and fries for my other half, merely mediocre. Our waitress was pleasant and allowed us to take our time and enjoy the meal. Bill’s is open year round for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if the morning line to get in was any indication, Bill’s must serve a mean breakfast, too!

On Saturday we headed over to Assateague Island(oval stickers proclaim As Is). Assateague is a National Park complete with beach, marshlands, a lighthouse, and wild ponies. The entrance fee was $10 for vehicles which garnered you a seven day pass. Even though we were only around for a day we did appreciate the flexibility of going back to Chincoteague for lunch and returning. The lighthouse was our first stop. At the parking area signs warn visitors about mosquitoes. Heed the signs! We had to go back to the car for repellent. The lighthouse was open to climb for an additional $4 fee. I decided to trudge to the top and earned a congratulatory sticker for my efforts. Upon safely regaining solid ground we headed for the beach where we happened upon a wedding. After beachcombing we looked for lunch.

Maria’s Family Restaurant on Maddox Blvd. was the choice. The décor left a lot to be desired. Plastic covered chairs guarding plastic covered tables holding plastic plates and glasses. At least the silverware was not plastic. The special was the Shrimp Basket ($5.75) and it is what I ordered. My husband went with the Meatball Sub ($4.95). The shrimp were small yet tasty, fries just okay. But I had plenty of shrimp to keep me happy. The Meatball Sub was the real thing with a decent sauce. While Maria’s could use some assistance with interior design, the food was decent at a reasonable price.

The rest of our afternoon was spent on As Is walking the Woodland Trail and admiring the wild ponies and then driving around the marshy lake taking in the ducks, herons, and little Asian elk.

On the way back to Anchor Inn we stopped in at Mr. Whippy to enjoy a milkshake.

For dinner we made reservations at AJ’s…on the Creek ( And we were smart to reserve a table because this place was hopping as well. We ordered drinks to start – a Cosmopolitan and a Mojito Martini ($6 each). For appetizers – Clams Casino ($7) and Coconut Shrimp ($7). The 5 clams were baked in the half shell topped with chopped red bell peppers, onions, bacon, & herbs. It was served on a bed of rock salt. The clams were fantastic! The 6 shrimp were jumbo sized and served with an orange-mango sauce. While we enjoyed our appetizers we mulled over the wine list and the rest of the menu. Our waitress was fine with waiting a bit for us to order the rest of our meal. To be that flexible on a busy night without getting flustered is true talent. For wine we decided upon a 2005 Cline Zinfandel from California ($17). For dinner hubby ordered the Filet Mignon ($26) and I went for the Veal & Shrimp ($22) - sautéed veal & shrimp with artichokes, peppers, mushroom, & onions in a light sherry sauce. Both entrees were accompanied by great tasting French rolls, a salad, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Once again I had the Caesar Salad and hubby ordered the Garden Salad. For $2 extra I ordered Fried Asiago Buttons to top my salad. I liked the Buttons, but they were not necessarily worth the extra price. Both salads were small and served in tiny bowls making it hard to eat. While my Romaine lettuce was crisp and fresh, hubby’s Mesculin Mix was rather wilty. The entrees were delicious. The Filet, cooked to my husband’s liking, was accompanied by a couple of onion rings and garlic mashed potatoes. The potatoes were whipped so smooth that they could have been instant, so, even though the taste was decent, the texture made the side suspect. My veal scaloppini was lightly breaded and fairly tender. It was topped with 3 large, sweet, tasty shrimp. I also enjoyed the bell peppers and the artichokes. The onions were not sautéed enough for me so I skipped them along with the button mushrooms. The sauce which was advertised as light was not light in the least and there was so much of it that my meal was swimming. Cutting into the veal and de-tailing the shrimp became somewhat of an ordeal. Thank goodness my efforts were rewarded with good food. AJ’s is also open year round for lunch and dinner.

We had walked to AJ’s from the Anchor Inn (about a 45 minute stroll). We did not really want to walk back. And we did not have to thanks to the weekend Pony Express Trolley ( For a 25 cent fare we were picked up at AJ’s and deposited right in front of our motel. A bargain indeed!

Chincoteague was a great place to get away for a couple of days.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Languedoc Wine Dinner at CanCan

CanCan began their Fall Wine Dinners this past week. Dinners are held on Thursday nights and are limited to 24 diners. The cost is still $49.98 with hors d’oeuvres, three petite courses, and four wines.

For this wine dinner we traveled to Languedoc. Here is a run down:


Plum Mignonette

Shrimp Remoulade
Potato Gaufrette

Pork Rillette
Whole Grain Mustard

2003 Blanquette de Limoux Blanc de Blancs, Saint-Hilaire

The reception began at 6 PM, but we were running late. While we had an ample pour of the sparkling, we were only able to sample the shrimp. The Saint-Hilaire sparkling has always been one of our low-cost favorites to drink by itself or to use as a base for Mimosas or Poinsettias. The Shrimp Remoulade on top of the house made waffle potato chip tasted lovely. We were disappointed that we missed the pork.


Pan Seared Scallop
Brandy Poached Pear, Almond, Watercress & Golden Raisin with Horseradish Vinaigrette

2004 Vin de Pays d’OC Chardonnay “Le Noble,” Vigerons de St. Jean

The scallop was seared just right and paired very well with the unoaked chardonnay. The pears were heavenly by themselves, but too sweet for the wine. The vinaigrette had a delicate balance, a hint of sweetness with a hint of heat from the horseradish.


Roast Pheasant Breast
Figs, Fingerling Potatoes and Goat Cheese Gratin & Port Wine Sauce

2003 Minervois “Plaisir de Lys,” Domaine Khalkal-Pamies

The potato baked with goat cheese was a wonderful juxtaposition of plain and flavorful. And the fig was delightful. And while I enjoyed the pheasant breast, most of the participants at my table thought it was bland and tough (in other words “tastes like chicken”). The port wine sauce was too overpowering. The Minervois was very spicy; thus, not a great match with the pheasant. If the bird had been a touch gamey or had been grilled, I think the pairing would have been a success. The wine itself was very tasty and would have showed itself well with CanCan’s Hamburger.


Grilled Lamb Chop
Morels, Dried Cherry Spaetzle & Rosemary Lavender Jus

2001 Coteaux du Languedoc “Consensus,” Maison Nicolas

Let’s start with the wine. This red is phenomenal! It’s bold and chewy and in your face. All of the red wine lovers at our table adored it. This was indeed the highlight of the evening. And the morel was a wonderful selection for this wine. I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but I gobbled this one up. Unfortunately, the lamb chop was a major disappointment. The meat was overcooked and lacked the rosemary-lavender flavor that the menu promised.

This first wine dinner of the Fall season lacked the polish of the ones in the Spring. While the wine selections were wonderful and gave great insight into the Languedoc region, the food was less than stellar. And since these dinners only serve petite portions, getting the all aspects of the meal right is very important. I fervently hope that the quality is brought up to the standards of last Spring. Besides immensely enjoying the wine, I liked the smaller group of diners. I particularly liked the couples at my table. One couple was older and knew a great deal about wine and cooking. The other couple was young and just beginning their wine adventures. It was delightful to converse with such a diverse group. I definitely would not write these dinners off. It’s a great way to meet fellow wine enthusiasts and the wines have always been on the mark. Let’s hope the kitchen gets the hang of the food for the next time.

Girl's Night Out at Kuba Kuba

My friend JW and I used to work together many moons ago. She is now a full-time Mom. We try to go out to eat several times a year to catch up on each other’s lives. One of our favorite places to go when we worked together was Kuba Kuba. A few nights ago we decided to go back to this fondly remembered haunt. Back then JW always ordered the Pesto-Tomato-Jack Melt on Kuban bread ($6.95). And on this night she did not stray. “It melts in your mouth. The bread is crunchy in the right places and soft and gooey in the right places. I also love the fried plantains,” gushed my friend. I, on the other hand, decide to stray from my usual – Kuban Pork sandwich. I opted for the Califorinia Huevos ($7.95). My dish contained two eggs over red beans and Kuban bread topped with Monterey Jack cheese, enchilado sauce, lime sour cream, and a slice of avocado. Not much sour cream, but the enchilado sauce added some heat and spiciness to the beans. And I always appreciate the Kuban bread.

JW wanted dessert (to share) and we both wanted coffee. The only dessert option for the night was Tres Leches Cake ($4.95) – in either vanilla or chocolate. We had never heard of a chocolate version, thus, we ordered it. The cake was very moist with decent chocolate flavor, but maybe not worth the near $5 price tag. The Café con Leche with sweetened condensed milk is another story, however. At $2.50 for a steaming mug, it’s a bargain. And Kuba Kuba can make a decaf version as well, which suited JW. Sinfully sweet and a great end to our girl’s night out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Italian to Avoid

2004 Riparosso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Illuminati. We purchased this at Kroger's for $15.99. Lots of fruit up front but a very bitter taste once it hits the back of your mouth and slides down your throat. And we are not talking about bitterness from tannin, just a plain old nasty taste experience. Don't waste your money.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cielito Lindo - The Place for Mexican in Richmond

My long-time friend 007 and I went out to dinner last night. She resides south of the James. I live north of the James. We take turns (sort of) eating in each other’s neighborhood (neighborhood is very loosely defined). It was my turn to head south. Now, let’s face it, the southside of Richmond is filled with run-of-the-mill chain eateries. I was determined to go outside the “norm.” Thus, I dialed up to peruse options. In its food section, Style Weekly makes a point of only listing non-chain establishments. Kudos to them. There were a fair number of listings from Indian to Mexican to Italian to seafood.

And what was our final decision? Mexican – in the form of Cielito Lindo. This tiny place is located on Forest Hill Ave. I forgot to jot down the actual address, so, we had a bit of an adventure finding the place. The sign is very small with tiny letters. (By the way, the address is 4702 Forest Hill Ave.) The restaurant is small with a short row of cozy booths and a number of stools at the bar. I liked the bright paint colors. There are about an equal number of tables located on the front patio, complete with umbrellas. The night was gorgeous. We sat outside.

Jess, our most excellent waitress, seated us, brought us the requisite chips and salsa, and proceeded to tell us that everything was good. I started with a house margarita ($4.50). 007 wasn’t sure if she wanted one or not. Mine arrived. The mix is one of the best I’ve experienced in Richmond. After sampling this refreshing concoction, 007 proclaimed that indeed the margarita was irresistible and ordered one. The tortilla chips were decent of the run-of-the-mill yellow corn variety. The salsa, traditional tomato with a little hot kick. It took us some time to review the menu and finally decide on our entrees, so we scarfed up the chips in short order. We were down to the last two when Jess appeared with a fresh basket. Ah, a waitress attentive to every need.

The menu contained a number of temptations: Cielito Soup (cream of roasted red pepper and cilantro), Quesadillas with blackened chicken, Nachos with lump crabmeat, Stofado de Carne (Mexican beef stew). 007 decided fairly quickly – Tilapia ala Veracruz $11.95 (sautéed fillet with a verde sauce and green olives and capers). I was sorely tempted by the tilapia and I don’t even like fish! I finally settled on the Carnitas $10.95 (tender pork chunks smothered in a tangy tomatillo salsa verda). Our dinners arrived and were they ever yummy! 007 let me sample her dish without me begging too much. We both liked the combination of the verde sauce with the olives and capers. This dish was so good that the next time I go I will order the fish. My pork was very tender and could be pulled apart with a fork. The tomatillo sauce was not as tangy or puckery as some I have had in other restaurants, but very good, nonetheless. Each dish was served with Spanish rice, either black or refried beans, and warmed flour tortillas. 007 really enjoyed the black beans because of the seasoning. The rice and refried beans were decent, but nothing earth-shattering.

The combination of friendly, attentive wait staff; the best-tasting margaritas in Richmond; and killer dishes like the tilapia make Cielito Lindo the best Mexican restaurant I’ve been to in Richmond. It’s worth heading across the river.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

NASCAR Made Us Grill

Race Weekend in Richmond. And even non-NASCAR fans can celebrate by firing up the grill (charcoal, not gas). I wanted steaks. Westbury Pharmacy had ribeyes, NY strips, and T-bones all for $6.99 a pound! This is generally where I go for steaks. If Westbury is having a bad week (or a good week because all of the good beef is already gone), I can then check out The Fresh Market (good steaks, but pricier). I chose two gorgeous NY strips. Once I got these babies home, I rubbed freshly ground salt and pepper into them, placed a couple of sprigs of rosemary (I used dried sprigs from our rosemary bush because they were there; fresh rosemary would probably impart even more flavor) on both sides, and wrapped the steaks in bacon to hold the rosemary against the steak. I inserted plenty of toothpicks to hold the bacon together and placed the wrapped steaks in the refrigerator for about an hour while I had a glass of refreshing but innocuous white wine. My husband fired up the grill. I took the steaks out and let them rest at room temperature for ½ an hour. When the coals were glowing (hubby left a very short distance between the coals and the grill), he cooked them for about 5 minutes on each side. Perfect for medium-rare. The beef had a smoky bacon/grilled taste. The rosemary was very subtle. We also ate some of the non-charred pieces of bacon – this is where the rosemary really shined. The steaks were served with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted red bell pepper slices drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese. We enjoyed our meal with a bottle of Chateau St. Jean 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County. Let’s all raise a glass to race fans who kept us at home so we could have a fantastically grilled steak!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Drink This Malbec!

Last night we drank a little $10 Argentinean gem: Gouguenheim Winery 2004 Malbec from the Valle Escondido in Mendoza. Very spicy (kind of Cotes du Rhonish) and a significant amount of body for an inexpensive red. Malbec is traditionally used as a blending grape for Bordeaux. Apparently, it loves to grow in Argentina and many wineries in the country produce 100% Malbec wines. I’ve tasted good ones and so-so ones. This one is definitely worth a try.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dinner with Ernesto

Thank goodness Hurricane Ernesto passed by with a few tree limbs down and a little lake in our driveway. We were smart and stayed in for dinner. The menu for the evening, you ask? Italian sausage braised in tomato sauce served with roasted peppers and melted fresh mozzarella on French bread slices.

First of all, I roasted a red bell pepper: blackening on top of a gas burner and sealing it in a plastic zip-lock style bag until cool. I then peeled off the blackened skin, got rid of the seeds, sliced it into 8 pieces, and set it aside.

Then, in a small bowl, I mixed 1 teaspoon of dried basil with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and set it aside.

Next, I opened a 14 ½ ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes and dumped them in a 1 quart pot. I took out my electric emulsifier/whipper (for any of you Emeril fans, it’s the boat motor) and pureed the tomatoes (no tomato chunks for me!).

Then, I took 2 sweet Italian sausages (mine were from The Fresh Market) and cut them in half to make 4 small links, added them to the tomatoes, sprinkled about 2 teaspoons of dried oregano over the sauce, and added 1 bay leaf. I stirred up everything and turned the stove burner to low, letting the pot simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. About halfway through the simmer, I poked a couple of holes on either side of the sausage with a sharp knife.

About 20 minutes before I served the sausages, I turned the oven on to 475 degrees to preheat and assembled the pepper-cheese-French bread thingies. I cut 8 slices of French bread, ½ inch thick, and brushed one side with the olive oil and basil mixture and then placed the slices (oil side up) on a cookie sheet lined with foil. I then cut ¼ inch slices of fresh mozzarella and put them on top of the bread and topped the cheese with a roasted red pepper slice. Into the oven they went for about 10 minutes or until the cheese was slightly melted.

To serve, I placed 2 sausages on each plate, spooned sauce over them, and sprinkled with grated Romano cheese (none of the canned stuff, please!). Each plate also received 4 French bread thingies along with a few plain slices of French bread to mop up any remaining sauce.

I enjoyed how the sausage and the sauce melded together. Neither one overpowered the other. And roasted red peppers are always a favorite. And, usually, with a dish like this and if I have any on hand, I would pop open a bottle of red Italian wine (Chianti Classico, Barbera d’Asti, or Montepulciano); however, neither my husband nor I felt like wine, thus, we had iced tea.