July 8, 2011 § 3 Comments
For the 4th of July, we ventured down to Asheville, NC. In addition to some incredible company (my mom and sister joined us from Georgia), the food we enjoyed put our trip over the top. Having grown up with a family cabin in Balsam, NC as our prime vacation destination, it is always nostalgic to return.
In addition to a few new finds (like the incredible bagels at City Bakery!), revisiting an old favorite inspired me to give it some attention here on the blog. Rezaz should not only be a must on any visit to Asheville, but it also brings up fond memories and challenges my tenets in food. Situated in Biltmore Village, Rezaz has been a go to for my family for several years. In fact, we followed the Chef/Owner Reza Setayesh from his previous post at a golf club tucked somewhere in the mountains not far from Cold Mountain, where the well-known novel was set.
Two of the signature dishes that never leave the menu come straight from his time at that country club and ironically both defy some of my food principles. You see, before my senior year in high school I worked in the kitchen of The Southside Grill in Chattanooga, TN. I was eager to learn and lucky enough to find a restaurant that embraced the locavore movement years before it had a name. We grew herbs in our garden, had daily produce deliveries and sourced meat and fish from local purveyors. The food was remarkable, paricularly for Chattanooga at that time (2000) and I learned more about cooking and baking in three months than I could have ever imagined.
I worked both garde manger, preparing and plating all of the cold appetizers and salads, and as an assistant to the pastry chef. As such, two of the menu items I was responsible for were the caesar salad and creme brulee. I still attest that both of these classics were some of the best I’ve had, but gradually the sheer size of the batches we prepared put me off of them both completely. Emulsifying two gallons of olive oil into a vat of dressing or separating 90 egg yolks will do that to anyone, I suppose. If nothing else I came to appreciate the sporadic occurrence of a double yolk! Torching the sugar on the creme brulee, however, never got old.
Following my summer at Southside, I vowed that creme brulee and caesar salad were dead to me, and for the last 10+ years, I’ve not waivered much in that stance. Mr. Setayesh versions have been the exception. In what is a seemingly simple twist, Setayesh quarters and grills heads of romaine on a wood burning grill for what I imagine is no more than a minute or two as the lettuce barely wilts and remains cool and crisp. This nuance in flavor, in addition to a well executed dressing that is a bit thinner than the classic, makes the salad one I hold all others to in comparison.
The addition to lavender to the creme brulee is another small innovation that elevates the classic to something unique, setting it apart from the ubiqutious versions on nearly every dessert menu. Of course, here again, execution is also key. The proper custard consistency, a shallow dish, and a thick well bruleed crust strike a near perfect balance.
The rest of the Rezaz menu spans several cuisines. The restaurant describes itself as mediterranian but only subtle hints of these are sprinkled throughout the menu. Southern, Italian and Spanish influences also dot the dishes which maintain one consistent feature – they are all outstanding. As my sister remarked, everything on the menu sounds good and is then even better and different (in a good way) than you imagined. To me, this is the sign of a great chef.
On our visit, we had an incredible friend shrimp and calamari salad of sorts that tossed the crisp seafood with green onions, a spicy/sweet asian sauce, shredded lettuce, sesame seeds and green onion. The combination was a case of the whole being more that the sum of the parts. It worked perfectly. Another small plate,a soft, pillowy potato gnocchi was paired with tomato, spring peas, fresh paremsan and a balsamic reduction, also exceeded our already high expectations based on the description alone.
In addition to the food, one of the most remarkable things about Rezaz is the value, the pricing of menu items and the well-selected wine list makes you feel (especially when you have been conditioned with New York prices) that you are getting away with something. I would like to think Rezaz has found the optimal price that keeps customers filling the tables but does not make them sacrifice when it comes to quality ingredients. They love and are proud of what they do and it shows on the faces of each staff member. While I believe they could get away with charging more, I love that fact that they embrace the neighborhood restaurant vibe and make it a place one does not have to reserve only for special occasions. If not for the some odd 600 miles standing between us, I would certainly be a regular.
October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
When our adventure left off, we had just completely a whirlwind two days of cycling, imbibing and eating of Healdsburg. From Healdsburg, we heading towards Napa with a few specific tastings scheduled based on the wonderful suggestions of my friend Mark at Terroir. We left just after breakfast and on our way out were sure to go back for a bottle of Alexander Valley Zinfandel from Quivira and a few picnic items at the Dry Creek General Store. We also stopped by Ridge’s Lytton Springs facility for a quick tasting and marveled at their eco-friendly straw bale construction. At this point several wrong turns may have ensued and some may recall a bit of bickering over directions, but we quickly got back on track and en route to Napa.
Our first stop was Stony Hill Vineyard, a fantastic family-owned vineyard tucked away in the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park not far from St. Helena. In fact, their location is so remote that we were sent incredibly detailed instructions from Owner Willinda McCrae and were told to call her back if we didn’t receive them in email or we would never find them! This alone was an incentive to go and explore! The McRae home and surrounding vineyards were spectacular, definitely the most serene and beautiful of our entire trip. Willinda was kind enough to walk us through the aging barrels and tell us about the history of this small but wonderful winery which produces some lovely Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon and Gewurztraminer. After the tour, we sat down to taste several of their current vintages and were given several printed recipe pairings to take home with our wines. During our visit, Willinda inquired about where we were heading next, and we told her we’d be staying the night in Yountville and dining at ad hoc. As it turns out, ad hoc serves several Stony Hill wines and the crew had been up for a visit/cookout not long ago.
After winding our way down the narrow, twisting roads of the State Park, we quickly came upon the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus where we detoured to have our picnic and explore. We found a nice picnic bench for lunch and then strolled through the gift store. Luckily we didn’t have much time before our next apportionment or space in our suitcases or I could have done some serious shopping for kitchen gear. Soon after, we arrived at Corison, another recommendation from Mark, ready to sample Cathy Corison’s legendary Cabernet Sauvignon. We had the place to ourselves and had a great time chatting with Bob while tasting. One of the most unique wines we tasted and took home was the Corazon Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, which we opened a few weeks ago before summer ended in New York.
Before setting out, we asked Bob for a few other recommendations and he quickly suggested Quixote. “Even if they aren’t open for tasting, you have to check this place out for the achiteture alone,” Bob explained. Intrigued, we made our way to Quixote and quickly understood Bob’s comment. Quixote, part of Stag’s Leap Ranch, specializes in Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting room itself was designed by Viennese architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and certainly stands out in Napa. As we tasted, we were shown a binder documenting the correspondence and sketches during the construction, which certainly illustrated Hundertwasser’s passion and devotion to his style and vision. The wines was as delightfully unique as the building itself and we bought one bottle of Panza Petite Syrah to add to our collection.
Yountville (The Land of Thomas Keller)
Finally, after a day-long journey, we arrive in Yountville and dropped our things at the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Relative to some of the pricier options right in town, this hotel was a great find. While it felt slightly Chattanooga Choo Choo-esque, we had a great stay and enjoyed being right in the heart of town. We spent an hour or so browsing Washington Street, picking up a quick snack at Bouchon Bakery and checking in to see if The French Laundry had any last minute openings (never hurts to ask, right!?).
Luckily, we were more than happy to stick with our original plan and dine later that evening at ad hoc. The 4-course family style menu that night featured an incredible salad with fresh corn, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes, a delicious hanger steak with fingerling potatoes and padron peppers, a mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with hazelnuts nad peaches and finally a chocolate peanut butter bar with ice cream. Everything reflected Thomas Keller’s immaculate, refined cuisine but felt as though we were eating in someone’s living room thanks to the friendly, approachable staff and warm, lively ambiance. When we order a glass of dessert wine from Stony Hill and mentioned our visit, our server informed us he had been at the party they hosted for ad hoc just a few weeks earlier. Small world!
Stuffed from a delicious dinner, we walked home reflecting on our favorite parts of the day. The next morning we were up early to grab pastries and coffee to go at (again) Bouchon Bakery for our drive to San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the blueberry muffin was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the almond croissant met my high standards instituted from studying abroad in Paris. While we have a Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center in New York, the original is certainly a bit more quaint (aka not located in a mall) and welcoming. With plenty of pastries and caffeine to fuel our journey, we set out to Oakland to ship our wine before returning to the airport to drop our car. In the next and final chapter of West Coast Adventures, it’s on to San Francisco!
September 29, 2010 § 2 Comments
September 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
September 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
In July, Rupert and I set out on an ambitious tour de force of the West Coast. While on future trips I could spend days or even weeks in some of these spots, our goal on this trip was to explore several cities and determine which would be worthy of extended return visits (or even possible inhabitation) in the future. The trip was fantastic – 6 cities, 5 hotels, 2 marathon bike rides and LOTS of incredible food and wine over the course of 9 days. While I could go on and on, I’ll stick to the highlights and do a series of posts featuring the best of each destination. Up first, Seattle!
I come from a family that considers where we eat to be the first and most important aspect to planning almost any vacation. I’ve carried this tradition on and luckily Rupert embraces the same philosophy. This trip was no exception and in addition to the recommendations of friends & industry folks, I turned to Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure for inspiration. These sources served us well, to say the least!
Food & Wine honored Jason Stratton as a Best New Chef in 2010, and in my mind, this is the only endorsement I need to know a restaurant merits a visit. The chef’s counter seating that peers into a relatively open farmhouse style kitchen makes the meal even more of an experience. Everything from the antipasti misto della casa to the pastas we shared was delightful and demonstrated a classic but refined style of cooking.
When we stumbled upon Piroshky Piroshky while browsing the Pike Place Market on our first morning in town, the line alone made it evident that we had found our breakfast. After about 2o minutes, we made it up to the Russian bakery’s case of decadent sweet and savory selections. My sweet tooth (and aforementioned poppy seed obsession) lead me straight to the Poppy Seed Raisin Roll, and Rupert as usual went the savory route with a Spinach Egg & Cheese Piroshky. Both were incredibly fresh and delicious. Later that day, the Cheese Onion Garlic roll we took to go was a indulgent afternoon snack.
It was by luck that we stumbled upon the Seattle & Potland Beer Festival, or rather spotted it when staring down from the Space Needle viewing deck. It was a perfect way to spend a warm summer day – beer, gourmet hotdogs, and bluegrass music. Proceeds benefited Pet Cross, so pups of all sizes were out in numbers making for some great dog watching. The vast selection of beers was overwhelming, but after several tastings my favorite remained the La Folie from New Belgium. This sour ale was almost sherry-like and different than any beer I’ve had. As an aside, Fat Tire is my favorite beer of all time and I am constantly saddened by the fact that it is not yet distributed in New York. (Hint hint, New Belgium!) This almost marked my first time trying cream cheese on a hot dog (is this a regional thing?), and I have to say I am a fan.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a few gratuitous Pike Place Market shots. Stay tuned for the next installment: Portland!
August 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
While I try not to go more than a few months between visits home, every now and then life gets busy and I find myself away longer than I would like. My last visit to Dalton, my tiny hometown in Northwest Georgia, was over Memorial Day, and it may be until October or November until I can make it back. In addition to missing my family, friends, and family dogs, I always become nostalgic over some of the great restaurants I always try to incorporate on trips home. Here are just a few for anyone passing through Chattanooga, TN, which is just a 30-minute jaunt from Dalton. I truly believe that these rival the majority that I have found in New York!
I began calling Chattanooga my second home while attending GPS for middle and high school. I also had the opportunity to live there for about a year after college writing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. I can’t say enough good things about the city, the renewal and creativity taking place there, especially on the Southside. I would tell anyone to spend a weekend there and guarantee them a wonderful weekend of fantastic food, unique shops & galleries and natural beauty.
St. John’s Restaurant & Meeting Place
While I am perhaps biased as a former employee, I can confidently say St. Johns is one of the best, most inspiring restaurants that I know, certainly the best in Chattanooga. Chef Daniel Lindley spent time in the Gramercy Tavern kitchen before returning home to open his own restaurant, and the refined cuisine is a testament to his hometown roots and New York City training. For a more casual, bistro atmosphere and menu, pop in next door to The Meeting Place. The scallop dish, a menu staple, is probably my favorite scallop dish of all time. Both the Meeting Place and St. John’s ice cream sundaes are not to be missed when dessert menus appear. The staff and service at both restaurants is of the highest quality and enhance the entire experience and the design of two-level space, a lobby of a historic hotel, is clean yet stunning.
Just around the corner from St. John’s, Alleia is the latest venture from the St. John’s team, and my one meal there early after it’s opening indicated it would be another hit. Chef Lindley’s skills translate perfectly into the Italian menu.
A local favorite, this bakery featuring a vast selection of artisan breads, pastries and other doughy treats. Sandwiches are also available and great for picnic fodder along the River Walk or in Coolidge Park.
The one word you need to know in this tiny, quirky North River hangout is pancakes. Aretha’s even sells their signature mix. The biscuits (and breakfast sandwiches featuring them) are also out of this world for those who lean towards savory breakfast fare. Be sure to snag a spot on the porch or the two-top inside which in its former life was a Pac-Man table.
River Street Deli
Another perfect spot for picnic grub or a quick bite. The Muffaletta is mammoth and the Grilled “ChattaGooey” featuring pimento cheese and ham or turkey is decadent. My sister, a lover of all things sweet, swears by their signature Elana Ruz, another grilled offering with honey cured turkey, cream cheese and strawberry preserves. For a truly Southern experience, be sure to ask for a side of black eyed pea salad.
After lunch at River Street, walk upstairs to Clumpy’s for homemade ice cream that had developed a loyal following around town. The name is fairly brilliant for an ice cream shop as well. The coconut almond chuck, ginger white chocolate chunk and grasshopper are some of my favorites. Kids and those who are young at heart might take pleasure in the animal cracker complete with pink frosting or firecracker which features Pop Rocks. As an aside, ice cream will be featured prominently and frequently on this blog, so be prepared. I’m a girl after my father’s heart, afterall.
August 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
The past month has been a whirlwind of travel, work functions and spending time with good friends. Naturally, some incredible food has been involved along the way. Here are a few notable bites from recent meals in New York and beyond.
Last weekend we headed to Chicago for our friends Mark & Sheryl’s wedding, and were graciously hosted by my good friends Rose & Trevor (and their terrier Ernie) who live in Lincoln Park. I fall more in love with Chicago after each visit and this was no exception, while the focus of the weekend was not food (for once!) we still fit in some great meals & snacks.
Gelato @ Black Dog Gelato
After several miles of wandering/exploring on foot after an afternoon Cubs game, Rupert & I were in need of refreshment, particularly the frozen variety. Black Dog Gelato in Wicker Park came across my ice cream radar a few months ago, and I took the opportunity to check it out. I tried two of their signature flavors, Sesame Fig Chocolate Chip and Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel. Both were delicious and I was surprised at how well the fig and sesame flavors completed each other. Rupert took a tried and true approach with Strawberry and Café Au Lait, which both proved solid as well. (As a complete aside, it should be noted a cab driver who delivered us to Black Dog not only took a comb to his bald spot and peripheral hair at a stop light but also touched up his arm hair during our ride. Amazing.)
Pomegranate Ginger Ale @ Wow Bao
After an 90 minute architecture boat cruise with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Trevor recommended a stop at Wow Bao for ginger ale. Their homemade ginger ale is available in plain, green tea and pomegranate flavors. It packed some major ginger and the large cylindrical ice cubes were icing on the cake (for anyone else who is a notorious ice-chewer). The buns and dumplings also looked delicious – I would love to see one open to NYC in the future (hint hint, Lettuce Entertain You!)
Fat Tire @ Pequod’s Pizza
Ah, my favorite from New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, CO. Slowly but surely these guys have begun distributing east of the Mississippi so thankfully I can get my fix when I visit home in Georgia. New York, however, is still deprived of this boozy delicacy, so I make sure to enjoy every drop. The deep dish at Pequod’s was also fantastic, particularly their homemade sausage!
Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes @ Toast
On Saturday morning, Rose recommended Toast, a cute brunch spot in Lincoln Park. While this combination now seems obvious, I don’t recall having ever stumbled across them in the past. Due to a recent poppy seed obsession, I was quick to give them a try. They were stellar and will certainly inspire some recipe tinkering of my own in the future. The rest of our meal at Toast was equally delicious and their collection of vintage toasters is not to be missed!
This summer I was luckily enough to join friends at their rental house in East Hampton not one but two weekends this month. We had an incredible time relaxing, playing bocce, beaching and applying copious amounts of sun block (luckily I am not the only fair skinned one in the bunch, so SPF 45 was at the ready at all times). Most meals were spent cooking and grilling at home, and we surprised ourselves with some perfectly grilled swordfish & corn on the cob as well as White Peach Sangria, which my friend Alex spearheaded. We did squeeze in donuts on more than one occasion morning and these donuts reminded me of what donuts should be!
Donuts @ Dresssen’s
You can watch these small fried rounds of doughy goodness float through the fryer in the window and have them glazed to order. The outside is perfectly crispy and the inside still warm and pillowly like a cake donut should be. After a thorough sampling, I’d recommend the cinnamon sugar for it’s simplicity.
Manhattan & Brooklyn
The major perk of my job is to constantly try and stay abreast of new restaurants. Here are several notable dishes & drinks I’ve had in during recent exploring.
The ‘Cue @ Fatty Cue
While the food at Fatty Cue proved meaty, quirky and delicious as expected, what wowed me the most was their incredible cocktail menu. Of the drinks I tried, this rum-based cocktail was the most unusual and addictive due to the smokiness of the smoked pineapple and the spicy of the Tobasco sauce.
Flourless Chocolate Cake @ Diner
Made with Mast Brothers Chocolate this was the lighest, most airy flourless chocolate cake I’ve ever had. While most prove so rich and dense for my taste, I could easily consume an entire cake slice of Diner’s version (and would kill for the recipe).
Iced Coffee & Olive Oil Muffin @ Maialino
Working two blocks from Maialino makes it a dangerously easy spot for me to grab a decadent breakfast. Anyone who hasn’t been for breakfast or brunch is seriously missing out. In my opinion, it’s what they do best. The Four Barrel iced coffee is some of the most potent and delicious that I’ve had in New York (and in cold months the latte is a formidable substitute). The Budino di Olio d’Oliva is as decadant as breakfast should get. I venture to guess based on how moist it is that you could actually squeeze olive oil out if you were foolish enough to waste one for the sake of experimenting. A recent encounter has inspired me to procure ingredients for a yogurt olive oil cake, the results of which I will share once the weekend rolls around and I find a few hours to bake.
House Smoked Brisket Sandwich @ Char No. 4
As a Southerner, I take barbeque very seriously, and this sandwich is hands down the best I’ve had in New York (or above the Mason-Dixon for that matter). Also of note is the homemade hot sauce served with the pork nuggets. Some of the spiciest and best I’ve ever had!