Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Indian Summer's Over...Bring on the Fall Foods

These days, most of the meals J and I share are in restaurants. In fact, I've been eating in restaurants a lot more than usual ever since I moved back to Dayton. This past Friday, I met Brian & Lisa at Sidebar in the Oregon District ( http://sidebar410.com). J was supposed to join us, in fact left early so that she could. But, by the time she got snarled up in traffic from 3 accidents, she was so frazzled that she just wanted to head to the hotel and wind down. She missed a good meal, but I don't think the crowded & loud restaurant was the place for her that evening. I'll take her another time. The three of us started with a trio of appetizers to share. The octopus Gallego-style was tasty and came with hunks of bread for dipping into the paprika-sparked olive oil. The pork skewer with chimichurri was good, but the sauce was a good deal more delicate than I'd expected. The beef empanadas' powdered sugar dusting alarmed me momentarily, but turned out to be a nice counterpoint for the filling. For my main course, I chose beef tenderloin with a Cabrales sauce that I expected to be a bit more robust and a delicious side of cheddar risotto. I am not usually a fan of risotto, but this was definitely a hit. Lisa had the lamb shank, rich and sumptuous in its Malbec sauce, the velvet cloak of dinners. I wished I'd gotten it when I tasted hers and plan to have it when I go with the WHO group later this month. Brian went for the corvina, which was perfectly cooked and flavorful. I didn't get to taste his mashed potatoes, but Lisa sighed happily when she sampled them. I couldn't decide on a cocktail, confronted by a ridiculously large and intriguing drinks menu, so I settled on a glass of Moscato instead. Seeing the gorgeous cocktails around me firmed my resolve to try a cocktail there someday in the not-too-distant future. They specialize in speakeasy-style cocktails, using recipes from the 1920s with the sort of glasses you'd have seen then, too. Very stylish. I was tempted to indulge in their strawberry dacquoise, but was entirely too full to be foolish enough to order dessert.

Saturday, J and I browsed at the Planned Parenthood book fair straight through lunch, so ended up sitting down to an early dinner at the Bonefish Grill bar. I despise hightop tables, but I disliked the idea of making my hungry wife wait another 45 minutes for a real table when she'd been saying in the car that she could happily eat a dog. Our waiter was attentive but so far from charming and friendly that I only tipped 15%. He wasn't rude, exactly, just a smidge cold and a little arrogant. When my short little legs are dangling as I eat, I need someone pleasant waiting on me to make up for it. The food, however, was delicious. We started with the bang bang shrimp, crunchy and slathered in a fabulous spicy sauce, and an order of kobe beef & ginger dumplings, in another delicious spicy sauce and scattered with garlic. We both ordered from the specials menu. J, who is mad for lobster and for cream sauces, had the dorado lobster thermidor. I am a fan neither of lobster nor of cream sauces on anything from the sea and considered the dish a case of the ruination of a good piece of fish. J, however, loved it and my swordfish on pumpkin ravioli was magnificent. J's garlic mashed potatoes were the first garlic mashed potatoes I've had out that actually were garlicky enough for me. We were surprised that the seasonal veggie of the day turned out to be cinnamon-dusted spaghetti squash...and we both loved it. For dessert, I decided to give the chocolate creme brulee a try. J usually loves creme brulee, but this had way too much booze for her. It was rather strong, but I liked it. The only thing I was disappointed in, besides the unpersonable service was the white wine sangria, which I found to be practically tasteless and a waste of money.

Sunday's lunch was an attempt to satisfy my hunger for the particularly yummy frittata at Brio without veering too far off course from our appointed errand path. Figuring Bravo should have brunch since it's owned by the same people, I took us there. It was a mistake, the second time this fall that I have been sorry I chose to eat there. It won't happen a third time, although I might go in every so often just to have a bellini. Those are reliably good, much better, in fact, than the ones at Brio. Go figure. The frittata at Bravo didn't sound nearly so good as Brio's, so I ordered pasta al carbonara. J went for the chicken parmesan, which it's hard to mess up too badly. She didn't choose it for that reason, but I was glad she chose it because when my carbonara turned out to taste like dirt (that's not a metaphor, that's what it tasted like...soil, earth, ptooey), I was able to put some of her lunch on my bread plate and send my nasty choice back to the kitchen. I did enjoy the sauce for the calamari, but I much prefer the calamari at Carrabba's, if I'm going to do chain Italian & let my wife order her adored calamari. I was so thrilled to have a nice, juicy room service burger for dinner. We started with a chicken BLT salad, went on to the burger and finished with a very tasty rendition of Bananas Foster.

Today, we ignored our breakfast vouchers at the hotel in favor of sleeping in and having brunch at the Original Pancake House. J had been dreaming of it for several days and it did not disappoint. Our waiter was impeccable, the perfect blend of friendly and efficient, not rushing us at all but also never making us wait unnecessarily. I chose the Dutch Baby, which was perfectly eggy and arrived completely puffed and gorgeous. Sadly, my sausage was a little cool, but not terribly so. J had my favorite egg dish, the salami & scrambled eggs, which I often order there but never remember to make at home. She subbed a strawberry blintz crepe for the pancakes that come with it and that was good, too.

By the time dinner rolled around, I was beyond thrilled to cook! I love going out to eat, but I miss cooking when I've been eating out a lot. Plus, Indian Summer ended abruptly overnight Saturday and today was cool and grey, feeling much more like November than the rest of the month has been. I was happy tonight's dinner had a solidly autumnal feel to it. I baked some pork chops with a little salt and pepper. I'd wanted to do rosemary on them, as well, but I keep forgetting to stock my aunt's spice drawer with it. With the pork chops, I served green beans and roasted autumn veggies. In a preheated 375 degree oven, I baked an acorn squash (peeled and chopped), 3 parsnips (the same), 4 carrots (more of the same), 3 potatoes (skins on, but otherwise treated like the others), a couple onions (no skins, cut in wedges) that I had tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme on a large, rimmed baking sheet. I think they probably spent an hour, or close to it, in the oven and they emerged tender and sweet. For dessert, I made my apple crisp, which can be found in The Joy of Cooking, under "fruit paradise" if you have the modern edition, "apple crisp, or paradise" in my grandmom's battered 2nd edition, held together with a rubber band. It is probably somewhere on this blog, as well. You basically peel, core & slice 6 or 7 apples. I think it's wise to choose a few different varieties. Tonight, it was Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Braeburn and Jonagold. Toss those in a baking dish (I like a 2 qt. casserole because that's what my mom used when I was growing up). Drizzle with lemon juice and, if you're less lazy about lemon zest than I, sprinkle with lemon zest. We never used it when I was a kid, so I consider it less than essential, which means it gets left out in favor of just the juice. Blend together (use a pastry blender or Foley fork, if you're lucky enough to have a good vintage one) a cup of flour, a cup of brown sugar, a stick of cold butter cut into smallish bits, and a smidge of cinnamon, if you want. You can also toss in a hint of salt if your butter's unsalted. You want it well-mixed but not oily, so be careful not to overmix. It should resemble coarse crumbs when you top the apples with this mixture. Pop it in a 350 degree oven and let it do its thing for about half an hour. It's luscious enough that you don't need vanilla bean ice cream, but that never hurt it, either.

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