Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sammy's Bakery - Spring Bread Schedule

This morning we strolled over to Sammy’s Bakery on MacArthur Ave. in Bellevue to pick up something for breakfast. My husband could not pass up that old breakfast standby – Chocolate Chip Cookies. The brown sugary goodness spurred him on to finish tiling the kitchen floor and begin work tiling the hallway (Bless you, Sammy!). I did not want anything sweet and ordered a Bishop Roll – a large roll with a crunchy peaked crust and a soft middle. I pulled the roll apart at home and enjoyed it with butter while sipping hot milk and coffee.

While at Sammy’s I picked up their Spring menu with the weekly bread schedule:

Tuesday: Whole Wheat, Bishop Rolls

Wednesday: Multi-Grain, Sourdough, Baguettes

Thursday: Multi-Grain, Sourdough, Baguettes

Friday: Whole Wheat, Bishop Rolls, Challah

Saturday: Multi-Grain, Baguettes, Cheddar Pepperoni

Sammy’s Bakery is open Tuesday – Friday from 8 AM – 6 PM and on Saturday from 8 AM – 4 PM. They also carry pies, cakes, pastries, cookies, a variety of quiches, and flat breads. And they are now serving Breyer’s Ice Cream.

Grab a Hot Holly at NYD

Before watching Venus at the Byrd Theatre last night we ventured over to the New York Deli. The revamped eatery just a few doors west of the theatre had garnered somewhat iffy reviews in the past, but curiosity and the need to take on a new dining adventure spurred us on. An open space with exposed brick, long bar, and wood flooring greeted us. Because we arrived very early on a Friday, the bar scene had not ramped up, thus, limiting the smokiness of the non-smoking dining section. I would have had breathing trepidations if we had entered at a later hour. Happy hour (4-7 PM every night) was in full force with $2 rail drinks. The wine list contained few gems. I opted for a whiskey sour which seemed watered down on the sour side and very cheap on the whiskey side, but the glass was larger than normal and I purchased two for less than the price of one in most establishments. NYD also listed a variety of premium liquors.

The regular menu contained appetizers, salads, and sandwiches (generally in the $7-$10 range). We also received a smaller entrées for the night list (pricier and no real stand-outs). My husband decided on the Deli Club with fries (other sides were options, as well, including sticky rice). The Club was large and, thus, a little difficult to eat, but good-tasting. The toasted-just-right white bread was the crowning touch. I espied the Holly sub. Shades of college delis from long ago invaded my brain. I had to order it. Sliced turkey and rare roast beef with melted cheese (if you order your Holly hot), crunchy dill pickle slices, thin slivers of red onion, lettuce, and tomato (if you really want it – of course, I opted out) in between a sub roll. Mayo was served on the side. Holly was fresh and lip-smacking good. The pickles were extra crispy, the onions mild, and the lettuce in extremely good form (none of the limp days-old variety that many a college deli used to serve back in the day). Please notice that I raved about the veggies before the meat, but, never fear, I particularly liked the piled up rare roast beef. The only real drawback was the sub roll. A little too soft, and not really toasted, thus, it broke apart while eating.

Bottom line – go early, ply yourself with a cheap drink, and grab a Hot Holly.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I'll Stick to the Margarita

My hubby and I dined at The Cheesecake Factory last week. He had received a generous gift certificate and with the kitchen that continues to be in flux, we deserved the treat. The décor called up repressed collective tribal memories of Atlantis. Watery, ethereal, exotic. The menu contained something for everyone from down home comfort food favorites to Asian-fusion inspired offerings to Italian crowd pleasers. We paged through many menu pages, but only half of the pages listed food choices. Advertisements filled the opposing pages. Disconcerting, but we forged ahead. Wine choices were limited, but the cocktail list was extensive. The only pet peeve with the drink menu was the lack of prices. Why do nation-wide chains do that? I intrepidly ordered the El Diablo Margarita anyway. Tres Generaciones Anejo tequila with pomegranate and grapefruit juices. What a combination. Of course, the tequila had that peppery-licorice quality that I adore. The juices did not make this concoction overly sweet, just yummy. Our entrees (omelet and pork cutlet) were tasty, but not exceptional. The portions were quite large, however, and we took home leftovers in order to save room for dessert. I had never seen so many cheesecake choices in my entire life. I chose the Key Lime Cheesecake and my other half tried the Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. Both desserts disappointed. It seemed like neither of them were really baked, like a real homemade cheesecake would be. While both contained great flavor, the texture did not meet our expectations.

I’ll stick with the margarita…better, yet, I’ll experiment with making my own!

Byrd House Market

A new Farmers' Market is about to appear in the heart of River City. The Byrd House Market will have its grand opening on Tuesday, May 1 from 3:30 - 7:00 PM and will take place every Tuesday evening. The new market will be located at the William Byrd Community House at the corner of South Linden St. and Idlewood Ave. next to the Grace Arents Community Garden. Parking will be free.
What a great opportunity! I've never been able to take advantage of the 17th St. Farmers' Market because it happens on a Thursday morning and I don't work anywhere near it. For more information go to the Byrd House Market site.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When Priceless Turns Frustrating

I had the opportunity to taste some very fine wines from Chateau Montelena at J. Emerson. In fact, the two estate Cabernets retailed for about $100 and were divine. Indeed, priceless.

So how can a tasting this divine start out extremely frustrating?

Advertise that the tasting begins at 5: 00 PM and do not begin until 5:15 PM!

Much to the consternation of customers, staff, and the wine representative the owner/manager kept delaying the pouring until “more people arrived.” How does that make the rest of us feel? If you want to begin at 5:15 PM, then advertise the tasting as starting at 5:15 PM!

This is not the first time that the owner/manager has delayed an advertised tasting. It’s disappointing that a quality wine shop forgets that time is also a valuable commodity.

I do want to commend Matt who works at the shop. He chatted with customers while they were waiting and endeavored to hasten his employer as much as possible. Thank you, Matt.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Perfect Sunday Morning

The ingredients for a perfect Spring Sunday morning listed below:

Before striving for perfection, ensure you have the right ingredients – sunny and warm (about 70 degrees)

Preheat your appetite by securing an outside table at CanCan for Sunday Brunch

Order Café Noir and glasses of Rose d’Anjou (light and dry, yet, oh so fruity!)

Order Eggs Benedict (heavenly Hollandaise sauce)

Order Sausage, Potato, and Cheese Omelet with a side order of toast (the crumbled country sausage is slightly spicy and extremely delectable)

Eat, relax, and enjoy life

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chateau Montelena at J. Emerson - April 24

This is your official wine service announcement courtesy of pjpink...

On April 24 from 5 - 7 PM, J. Emerson will be tasting the following wines from Chateau Montelena Winery:

2005 Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay
2003 Montelena Estate Zinfandel
2004 Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2000 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2003 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Hors d'oeuvres will be served and special pricing will be available on these wines during the tasting.

J. Emerson is located at 5716 Grove Avenue.

This promises to be a fantastic opportunity to taste great wines. If you go, make sure to sign up on the snail mail list for future tasting opportunities. And, you might be lucky enough to run into yours truly!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hola El Caporal

Last week Phriendly Jaime from West of Shockoe asked me about a good Mexican place north of the James. To my chagrin, I could not really come up with a wonderful answer (south of the river is an entirely different matter). I realized that I had frequented the usual suspects (with little fanfare), but had not ventured to some of the other establishments. I have started to remedy this situation with a trip to El Caporal…

As we walked up to the entrance of El Caporal the ghost of Long John Silver’s greeted us in the form of an iron door handle shaped like a sword. But as we entered to a hearty “Hola” from the host, the old pirate beat a path back to the shipwrecks of forgotten fast food places. As we sat down in a booth, we observed that the joint was hopping. Our wait staff, bearing fresh yellow tortilla chips, also welcomed us with “Holas” and “Como esta?” When my husband belatedly drug up “Muy bien” from his vaguely-remembered Spanish high school class, we all erupted with laughter. The staff really made the difference on this night since across from us dined a large family with loud and active small children. As a bonus Tuesday night was $1.99 Margarita night (lime only). If you want to go on a Thursday, you can also take advantage of this special. The Margaritas tasted a bit on the sweet side with no real tequila kick. Of course, they were only $1.99 (less than a soft drink in a lot of places) and served in a milkshake glass. The chips came with a tomato-based salsa and a white sauce. I liked the salsa, mildly hot. The white sauce was too sweet and mild for me. The chips were slightly salty and not overly heavy. And we scarfed those suckers down! Our waiter was attentive and nice enough to bring us more. El Caporal’s menu held many choices from steak and chicken entrees to burritos and enchiladas to a large offering of vegetarian dishes. In the end the Chile Verde ($8.45) called to me. Cooked pork with tomatillo sauce served with rice, beans, and tortillas. The dish was simple, yet very tasty, with the pork cooked to tenderness and the beans containing an abundance of seasoned flavor. My husband ordered the Burritos Mixtos ($7.75). Two burritos filled with chicken, carrots, green beans, and corn covered with cheese dip, served with rice or beans. Basically this dish turned out to be a burrito stuffed with chicken and a can of mixed vegetables. The kitchen did add some sautéed onions to the mix. Although strange, my hubby really liked the dish. It reminded him of his mom’s home cooking, but with a decidedly South of the Border twist. The waiter neglected to ask if my husband wanted rice or beans, so rice was apparently the default side. Not a big deal since the rice was very good. But the “cheese dip” put this burrito over the top. At times I cringe when I hear cheese dip – is it the white melting queso or the velveeta-like nacho cheese? In this case it was the white queso. The melted pools of gooiness were “muy bueno.” And all of the burrito entrees on the menu proclaimed “covered in cheese dip.” We had enough food to pack up for lunches the following day. We will definitely return to try other dishes such as: Pollo Chipotle, Enchiladas Poblanos, Tacos Machos, Chori-Dip, and Choco Chimichanga. As we paid and headed out the door our host sent us into the night with a cheerful “Buenas noches!” A good night, indeed.

El Caporal
Mexican Family Restaurant
1417 East Ridge Rd.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tarrant's Cafe - Our New Drug of Choice

Last night we finally had the chance to eat at Tarrant’s Café, located at 1 West Broad St. in the space formerly occupied by Tarrant’s Drug. We arrived before 7 PM without a reservation and lucked out in securing the only bar table (high table near the front door for two). And since this establishment is non-smoking (hallelujah!), we were quite pleased to be nestled at the bar table. After we were seated many a would-be diner who had not called ahead were turned away. The menu offered salads, wraps, sandwiches, and a few entrees and specials. The talapia stuffed with crabmeat and topped with a lobster sauce special ($18.95) sorely tempted us, but other less expensive menu items called us away. When we asked for the wine list, the hostess pointed to a hutch with wine bottles standing upright ready to be perused. Prices were on the bottom of the bottle. Slightly unorthodox, but I enjoyed examining the labels, years, etc. And we knew exactly what they had in stock. We selected a Red Diamond Merlot from Washington State ($17). This was not your typical California Merlot. This medium-bodied red emanated quite a bit of spiciness reminding me of a traditional Cotes du Rhone. To eat, my husband ordered a cup of the New England Seafood Chowder ($3.95) and the Tuna Nicoise Salad ($9.95). The chowder was very flavorful with an herby creamy texture and plenty of seafood. The salad turned out to be a bit surprising. A slab of medium rare tuna steak topped salad greens, olives, boiled egg, slices of cooked zucchini, and potato salad. My husband loved all of it except the zucchini (too mushy). I took the sandwich route and selected the Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($5.95). Once again, not your typical grilled cheese. I received melted white and yellow cheese, sliced ham, and bacon sandwiched between grilled Texas toast. I could have also have gotten tomato slices on my sandwich, but since I have an aversion to raw tomatoes, I skipped this option. I had a choice of sides – potato salad, pasta salad, of chips. I chose the potato salad. And I was delighted that I did because it was some of the best I have ever had. An oil and vinegar mix with a few mustard seeds, celery, and chopped parsley bound the potatoes together. Utterly fantastic! We had great food, at great prices, and in a place across the street from the Jefferson Loan Company Pawn Shop. I never thought I would enjoy a meal in this part of town. Kudos to all of the art galleries, restaurants, and businesses that have sprung up to make downtown a viable eating destination! To top off the evening we ran into friends from Williamsburg that we had not seen in almost five years. They enjoyed Tarrant’s Café as well. You should, too.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stuffed Nameless Peppers

Two nameless peppers sat in my refrigerator. I meant to use them in some Mexican dish about a week ago. Alas, I neglected them. So forlorn. But as I perused the meat and cheese counters at The Fresh Market, I struck upon a slightly unorthodox idea – stuffed peppers, but stuffed in a very different manner with nameless, slightly hot peppers…

Stuffed Nameless Peppers

2 medium light green, slightly hot nameless peppers

1 Surry sausage link, chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 ounce herbed goat cheese

¼ cup crème fraiche

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tops off of the peppers and carefully deseed, keeping the rest of the pepper intact. Set aside. In a small bowl mix the sausage, goat cheese, and crème fraiche until incorporated. Stuff the peppers with the cheese mixture. Place peppers in a pan lined with aluminum foil, Pop the peppers into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until the peppers have softened and the cheese is oozing. Serve immediately.

The Stuffed Nameless Peppers rose to the occasion and happy eatings were had by all.

The Surry sausage took on more of a ham-like taste when mixed with the cheese. And I was able to purchase only one link from The Fresh Market (being able to buy in small quantities is a big plus!). Of course, chorizo would work with this dish, as well. Next time, I am inclined to add some chopped cilantro, also.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading Champagne

I just finished reading ChampagneHow the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don and Petie Kladstrup. A quick and delightful read outlining the history of the area and the bubbly from Attila the Hun through World War II. The Kladstrups give an interesting comparison of Dom Perignon and Louis XIV, who were contemporaries. The description of the extent and uses of the crayeres (caves) is fascinating. The book also gives particular insight into the devastation of World War I. Most of the major champagne houses are represented along with outlandish, daring, and heroic episodes. And, of course, when reading, indulge in a taste of the stars.

Some of my favorite producers include:




Kitchen Renovation Saga Part 5

My stove has been moved to its new resting place. We rolled the refrigerator back into the kitchen after its holiday in the sun room. Unfortunately, where we thought it would rest permanently needs to be rethought. It works for now while we hash out different ideas. No matter. I'm thrilled to have my refrigerator handle upon which drapes my trusty dish towel. I have missed my dish towels. Until we moved the fridge there was no place to hang either dish or paper towels. Little joys make this endeavor worthwhile.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ashland Coffee and Tea

Last night we went to Ashland Coffee and Tea to hear Page Wilson and Reckless Abandon (their version of Low Rider was unexpected and a hell of a lot of fun). We are talking about a non-smoking intimate music venue in the heart of Ashland, folks! With no less than 7 trains rolling through in a 3 hour period, further adding to the charm. While settling in we ordered dinner from the casual menu. The menu had beer and ale along with a limited selection of wine. All wines were under $23 a bottle with both a regular and rotating selection. We chose a 2005 Louis Latour Pinot Noir from France. A light red, but decent enough to go with a Café Nibble of Bagel Chips with a creamy olive spread, The Ashland Panini (turkey, pesto, Swiss cheese, and sweet peppers), and a Lemon Dill Tuna Wrap (tuna, capers, lemon, dill, sweet onion, and sweet peppers). Other food offerings include soup of the day, salads, various grilled cheese sandwiches, and the quiche of the day. All food items are $9 or under. If wine or beer is not your thing, Ashland Coffee and Tea offers the bottomless cup of coffee, coffee drinks (the latte/mocha type), and even milkshakes. And don’t forget a cookie or brownie for dessert. If you go when it’s cold, dress warmly or bring a sweater. The “Listening Room” can be a tad chilly. What a great little gem and well worth the drive!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bakery Art

Bakery Art is an Armenian and Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery located at 5716 Patterson Ave. Proprietor Artin Ayvazian carries traditional cookies, cracker bread, cheeses, cured meat, and pomegranate wine among a long list of other delights. Yesterday we tried an elongated cheese bread ($2.25)- Armenian cheese with hot pepper flakes encased in bread. When I got it home I heated it in the oven for about 7 minutes at 400 degrees until the cheese bubbled. Very tasty. We washed it down with a 2003 Grizzly Flat Petite Sirah Big Bold Red from Lodi, CA (under $10 at Kroger). Lots of berry, chewy fruit.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cassoulet - Duck, Sausage, & Beans

For the past couple of weeks my husband has had a craving for cassoulet. Of course, he was really lusting after the delectable comfort-style dishes that we had in places like Thoumieux in Paris. I’ve struggled to find decent recipes. Most have led to less than satisfactory experiences – the beans were more like the refried variety; we had so much leftover that neither of us wanted to even think of beans or duck. And we have had similar disappointments at restaurants. The last one occurred a couple of years ago at Blue Talon in Williamsburg – the beans were crunchy to the point of being the dried, uncooked variety and the service was abysmal.

Despite previous setbacks, I remained undeterred. I began with searching for cassoulet on and found, lo and behold, a recipe for – you got it – Cassoulet. But this time, I resolved to not follow the actual recipe step by step. I read it and immediately began figuring out what to change. First of all, I wanted to reduce the size by half (enough for 4 – 6 people instead of 6 – 8 folks). I also decided not to use confit duck legs due to price and purchased duck legs from Tan-A. I used pork and fennel sausage links from The Belmont Butchery and also substituted fennel bulb for celery. Finally, my bread crumbs came from a Tuscan-style rosemary boule and I used pinto beans because I had them on hand.

Petit Cassoulet

  • ½ pound dried pinto beans
  • ~ 5 cups duck broth
  • ½ large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 sprigs fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 5 sprigs fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 can (14 ounce) diced tomatoes with juice, pureed
  • 2 duck legs (~ 1 pound)
  • ½ pound of sausage (usually the garlic-pork variety, I used a fennel-pork type, both available at The Belmont Butchery)
  • 1 cup course fresh bread crumbs from a nice loaf that you like (I used a Tuscan rosemary boule)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Make the duck broth – Take the skin and fat off of the duck legs, chop into ½ inch pieces, and set aside. Place the skinned legs in a 6 – 8 quart pot. Fill the pot with water. Heat water to boiling, turn heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for about an hour until duck meat is just falling off the bone. Remove legs and let cool. Set pot with duck broth aside.

Prepare the sausage - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roast sausage uncovered for about 30 minutes. Once sausage has cooled, slice into ½ inch thick pieces.

Prepare the beans (quick soak method) – Place picked-over beans in medium pot. Cover beans with at least 3 inches of water higher than the beans. Boil the water and let beans boil uncovered for two minutes. After 2 minutes, cover pot and remove from the heat. Let the beans sit in the water for an hour. Drain the beans.

Cook the beans – remove the duck meat from the duck legs, shred the meat, and set aside. In a pot large enough to accommodate all ingredients, place the duck legs, beans, duck broth, onion, fennel, and ½ of the minced garlic. In a cheese cloth put in the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns and tie it into a bouquet garni. Place it in the bean pot. Let the beans come to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer uncovered until the beans are tender, but still hold their shape, about an hour. Taste the beans periodically to test for doneness.

Sauté the sausage and duck meat – In a small pan place duck fat and skin. Add about 2 tablespoons of water. Over medium heat cook fat and skin until the water has evaporated and the fat has rendered. Continue to cook until the duck skin is brown and crispy. Remove the crispy duck cracklings to a bowl. Add sausage slices and sauté until slightly browned. Remove sausage to a bowl. Add duck meat and heat through and remove to sausage bowl.

Once the beans are tender, remove the duck bones and bouquet garni. Add the pureed tomatoes along with the sausage and duck meat and salt and pepper. Simmer on low.

If oven is not on because you had roasted the sausage a while ago, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the bread crumbs – Heat any remaining duck fat in pan on medium heat. If there is not enough fat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the rest of the chopped garlic and quickly sauté. Add the bread crumbs and stir to soak up the oil/fat. Add the chopped parsley, duck cracklings, and salt and pepper and briefly stir to incorporate.

Assemble the cassoulet – Place bean and meat mixture in a cast iron enameled pot. Spread bread crumbs evenly on top of the mixture. Bake uncovered for an hour.

This was definitely a weekend dish. It took a lot of time (but sparkling wine can make any labor extremely enjoyable!). I liked making my own duck broth for the beans and adding the broth, the legs, and the bouquet garni. These steps helped flavor the beans and I did not need to use an exorbitant amount of salt and pepper for seasoning. Sautéing the sausage in rendered duck fat toned down the sausage and helped the meat to meld into the entire dish. Because I only cooked the beans enough to make them tender, instead of cooking them with all the other ingredients for hours on end, the integrity of the beans remained intact. The can of tomatoes possibly added too much tomatoyness. My husband liked it; but I might use maybe 8 ounces next time. I liked the crunchy bread topping, and the topping did not completely take over the dish. I was very pleased with the outcome, and we had enough for last night and a round of leftovers tonight. And except for the splurge of great house-made sausage and the fennel bulb, the ingredients were relatively reasonable. And while this cassoulet still did not hold a candle to Paris bistro fare, I would make this again. We celebrated this culinary success with a bottle of Sass pinot noir.