Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Pleasant Evening at Kitchen 64

After a day of wrestling with ordering, picking up (and don’t forget waiting for the order), loading, and unloading boxes that will eventually turn into kitchen cabinets, my hubby and I did not want to cook and did not want to drive anywhere to eat. Basically, we wanted alcohol, some decent food, and a casual atmosphere. Thus, we walked over to Kitchen 64. We arrived at 5 PM – just before the hostess had gotten her act together. The bartenders/kitchen staff were slicing lemons and limes for the beverages that would be served that evening at one of the back tables. Despite this lackadaisical welcome, all but one of the inside booths were filled and the bar sported a few patrons. The outside patio (encased in tenting and plastic to maintain warmth) displayed a number of empty tables and we opted for the semi-outdoors.

We settled in and ordered mojitos ($7) which arrived in tall frosted glasses. Fairly refreshing, but more sweet than minty or limey. I happened to be the klutz of the evening and after just a few sips knocked the glass over and the liquid onto me. Our waitress, Petrina, immediately came to my rescue with napkins to mop up the mess. She then whisked my glass away and returned with a fresh drink. I call that fantastic service.

We also ordered a bottle of 75 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa ($36) for the meal. Petrina only presented the bottle after we had finished the mojitos (as good wait staff should) and our colorfully tattooed server was able to converse about this particular wine as well as a few of the other wines that she liked on the menu (pleasant conversation without being snooty). This is what the Richmond restaurant and wine scene should be about. And one other thing. The cabernet was a bargain from a restaurant mark-up point of view. Most places sell the 75 cab for $25 a bottle. This is a fantastic red wine and I am very glad that Kitchen 64 carries it and has it reasonable priced.

My spouse ordered the Fried Oyster Platter ($15.95) and I selected the Prime Rib ($18.95). Both came with a mixed green salad and rolls (white and wheat). The salad greens were fresh and the tomatoes (according to my husband) were sweet. And he really, really liked the oysters – very sweet and not “swampy.” Although the cornmeal batter was not his favorite, the quality of the oysters made up for it. He will be back for these sea goodies. His dish also included cole slaw (average) and fries (so-so). My prime rib (ordered medium rare) was more done on the outside than I expected, but very pink on the inside. I enjoyed the horsey sauce – not too overpowering. My meal was accompanied by a small baked potato and mixed sautéed veggies. Not the best prime rib, but a great meal for the money since it included the salad.

After dinner we lingered over the rest of our yummy wine. Folks were now rolling in and waiting for tables inside. Since we were walking, we decided to go for the gusto and ordered an after dinner desserty drink – Red Eye Russian ($9) with vodka, Kahlua, espresso, and whipped cream.

Kitchen 64 was exactly what we needed last night. It behooved us to arrive early on a Saturday. I hope they continue to carry great wines at reasonable prices. And we would like Petrina to be our waitress all the time.

Kitchen Renovation Saga Part 7

And you thought we might have finished by now. Oh ye of vast quantities of optimism. No, we are not through, although we did begin looking at kitchen cabinets back in July. Many obstacles were flung in our way. A few were self-induced, others, not so much. A couple of things that we did accomplish included finding a fantastic light for the hall from a shop in downtown Staunton.

And framing our gigantic 4 ½ foot by 6 foot picture window in a charming grapevine motif.

Yesterday, we also picked up all of the cabinet pieces and parts from Ikea (thanks in large part to our friends R and K who have a truck!). The boxes are now stacked up and waiting to be opened. My hubby estimates it will take him 6 days (3 weekends) to get them installed. We’ll see. For us everything takes longer than expected. It is now a running joke. Of course, cabinets are just the beginning. We have yet to pick out countertops. And, admittedly, I am in a quandary. I do not want concrete or laminate. I’m not sure if I like granite. The shiny surface does not feel right to me. Corian or Silestone may work, but the colors I gravitate towards are on the high end of the scale. Are there other alternatives? I have never been impressed with Lowe’s or Home Depot regarding special orders, so who should we engage?

If you have ideas or suggestions, please let me know.

Enotria Barbera

J. Emerson sponsored a wine tasting a week and a half ago featuring wines from the Graziano family in California. The 2002 Enotria Barbera from Mendocino came up a true winner at $13.95. Hearty, yet easy to drink. I ended up going home with a case.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Fun with Frisee

I just had to do something else with frisee. In this case I loosely chopped up about ½ a head of the spindly stuff. I whisked up a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and tossed with the greens and set the bowl aside. I minced up a small garlic clove and a small shallot. I added the garlic and shallot to a pot with a regular can of Cannellini beans. I turned the heat to medium; let the beans boil; turned the heat down to simmer for about 5 minutes; drained and rinsed the beans; set them aside to cool to room temperature. I chopped up one cooked Surry sausage link (available at The Fresh Market). Added the sausage to the frisee and then added the beans and tossed. We enjoyed it with a French baguette.

This spur of the moment bean salad was definitely inspired by the White Bean and Arugula Bruschetta appetizer at Enoteca Sogno. And since I had the Surry sausage on hand, it seemed like a good thing to add some smoky/meaty goodness to the dish.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Frisee aux Lardons

I fixed the most wonderful salad for dinner tonight – Frisee aux Lardons. I had stopped by The Fresh Market to pick up something for dinner. As usual, I had no clue what I wanted. I strolled by the produce to look at the lettuce. I glimpsed a picked over section that did not appeal whatsoever. I glanced up and spied the frisee. The brain clicked. I had bacon at home as well as these very cute and tiny fresh-from-the-chicken eggs. I knew I could whip up a bit of vinaigrette, as well. And, thus, I proceeded to go home and produce this awesome salad.

Frisee aux Lardons

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 head frisee, loosely chopped
3 slices of thick slab bacon, chopped
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette by whisking the white balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a medium-sized bowl. Add the frisee and toss. Fry up the chopped bacon (or lardons) in a non-stick pan. Remove lardons when crispy and set aside. Fry the eggs over easy in the bacon grease, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad. Divide the frisee into two salad bowls. Sprinkle the lardons on top. Lay the eggs over the salad and serve.

I love the contrasts of textures and tastes with this salad. Up until now, I had only ordered it in restaurants. I’m so glad I took the chance to actually make this seductively simple dish. The flavors are subtle enough to enjoy with a decent red wine.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Smoky Waiting Area Led to Baker's Crust

Last Thursday my dear hubby wanted to go to Olive Garden. Yeah, I know. But he had a coupon. We had not stepped foot in the the one on Broad (or any other) for at least 10 years. I humored him and agreed. It was already 7:30 PM on a week night. Little did we know that the place seemed to be as popular as ever. We entered and were immediately greeted by a foyer full of waiting diners as well as a ton of cigarette smoke wafting in from the bar. The hostess informed us that the wait would be 20 minutes. We made a u-turn and never looked back. Served us right.

We made up for it by going to Baker's Crust in Carytown. The non-smoking establishment seated us immediately. We catered to our impulses and ordered the Baker’s Crust Tavern Chips - House-made parmesan-dusted chips, topped with melted white Vermont cheddar and bacon. Served with buttermilk chive dressing. Very yummy. We also indulged in a bottle of 2004 Franciscan Napa Vally Merlot. (Why did we originally want to go to that other place?) For dinner proper I chose the Kickin’ Corn & Crab Chowder - A sweet and creamy chowder that combines tender crab with sweet corn, a splash of brandy and just the right amount of spice to give this unique chowder a spicy kick. Baker's Crust has been serving this chowder for years. I have found it to be always consistent and delicious. My husband selected the Jersey Grinder - Melted provolone, Genoa salami, capicola ham, sweet ham, lettuce, tomato and onion on a warm crusty baguette with oil and vinegar. He was disappointed in this sandwich. He thought the capicola tasted a bit muted and that the baguette overwhelmed the rest of the ingredients. He did enjoy the wine. Since we rewarded ourselves with the Tavern Chips and the Merlot, we decided against dessert. But the crepes were very tempting. Maybe next time.

Baker's Crust Bread Market on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Taste of Spring

Yesterday turned out to be a glorious day (until about 4:30 PM when the clouds rolled in). We celebrated by eating lunch on our deck and admiring the daffodils.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Tasty Italian White

River City Cellars held a North by Northeast Italian wine tasting this evening. The standout was a little gem of a white - 2006 Tenuta Roveglia Lugana for $14.99. A very fat mouth feel with lots of fruit bursts as well. And since the temperature landed in the mid-70's today, a tasty and satifying white wine hit the spot.

I can never remember all of the Italian ins and outs with the various grape varietals, etc., so if you pop in, ask Peter to give you the downlow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Three Parts of Cafe Caturra

My sister, bless her, gave us a gift certificate to Café Caturra this past year. We decided to try the one on Alverser last night.

Part 1

The evening started off rocky. We entered, saw folks eating, and waited to figure out the protocol. What looked like a menu graced the counter where the cash register and a young woman donning an apron stood. She finally asked what we wanted (no real welcome). We told her we wanted to have dinner. She then pointed to a menu on the wall, which we had not seen. Apparently, we were supposed to order at the register and then find a table. The menu on the counter happened to be a wine menu. Okay, so we craned our necks and figured out what we wanted between choices of paninis, sandwiches, and salads. The wine menu contained 6 reds and 6 whites. The wine we ordered could not be found in the register. She also mistook our saying Petit Verdot for Merlot. In a flustered huff she went to find a manager-type to assist (no real ‘excuse me, I’ll be right back’). Once we got the orders straight and sat down to wait, she could not even pick us out of a small place to give us our order. This person even went to the outside patio to try to deliver our sandwiches (it was 50 degrees – no one was outside). We did observe that the rest of the staff seemed to have a pleasant and service-oriented demeanor. But one bad apple had the potential to spoil our evening.

Part 2

We both had ordered paninis. I ordered the Cured Prosciutto Panini with fresh mozzarella and fire roasted red peppers. The prosciutto was surprisingly tough and did not impart the saltiness that I expected. While the sandwich was decent, I would be inclined to try other items next time. My husband had the Cuban Pork Panini. Now, let’s face it, a Cuban sandwich will always be the one at Kuba Kuba until I travel to Cuba. And this sandwich did not resemble the Kuba Kuba variety in the least. But it was a great tasting sandwich. The pork was smoked and the pickles were sweet. A great combination along with the provolone cheese. This reminded us more of a Southside Virginia version of a Cuban sandwich. Both were accompanied by chips with hints of rosemary or lemon pepper.

Part 3

The wine selection did come across as sparse. The reds generally ranged between $20-30 and featured a Sicilian, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux, Chilean, Argentinean, and Australian. All selections could also be ordered by the glass. And we may have considered ordering by the glass if we had known that the Café had a fantastic wine preservation system. Not even upscale places invest in these babies. Very impressive. If only we had been informed. Anyway, we ordered the most unusual from our perspective – 2005 Deen de Bartoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot from Southeast Australia. Upon the first taste the wine wavered all over. Heavy body; tart, bright fruit. And every taste was separated. No smooth melding of flavors. But as we got some air into the red liquid (Caturra used large 14 ounce glasses, thank goodness), the elements all came together and could pair well even with smoked pork and sweet pickles. At the end we were touting the wine as containing a blackberry body with a raspberry fruitiness.

I was pleased that our evening ended on such a happy note after a very tenuous beginning. I hope that more wine selections will be added in the future. I look forward to trying some white wine by the glass.

Buy Wine at Kroger This Week

While Kroger is not my primary place to shop for wine, I am always on the lookout for their every-so-often 15% off 6 or more bottles deal. Well, that deal is going on right now through the weekend. This is a fantastic way to stock up on everyday wine as well as wine both decent enough to drink, but cheap enough to use for cooking. Here are some of the selections that I ran across at the Willow Lawn store:

Redwood Creek Pinot Noir $6.19 – A light, but decent French Pinot. It’s a crowd pleaser and the right price to cook with.

Kenwood Sonoma County Merlot $10.39 – A yummy and inexpensive find.

Valle Escondido Gouguenheim Temperanillo $9.09 – The best Argentinean brand I’ve run across.

Montecillo Rioja Crianza $9.49 – How can you go wrong with a Rioja?

Of course, Kroger also carries pricier gems. Just remember to compare price tags. Their yellow “special” tags can be deceptive.

Silly Candy Day is Today

I have officially declared March 12 as Silly Candy Day! Go out and celebrate with some Big League Chew gum, Gummy Snakes, or Pez.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cheers to Nathan!

I was back imbibing at Northside Grille last night. And my favorite bartender was there. And his name is Nathan. He's attentive and congenial and makes a mean whiskey sour.