A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.

0914 “It’s Like a Really Fancy Breakfast”

The idea of mushroom crostini had been kicking around my head since we had dinner at Lupa Trattoria.  This is why restaurant meals – cheap or expensive – are worth it to me on occasion: I go home with good ideas that I can’t get out of my head until I’ve put them on a plate. The crostini didn’t quite happen tonight, but the idea led to a really good meal nonetheless.

First, crimini mushrooms, halved and baked in a parchment paper packet with herbs, large sweet cloves of garlic, and a splash of vermouth. I intended to chop these up for the crostini, but they smelled too good to wait. Instead, we ate them over crusty bread with poached eggs, a small salad, and the half bottle of wine we never got around to drinking in SF. Shane commented that it was “like a really fancy breakfast”, and I concur.

Recipe:
Funghi al Cartoccio al Forno from Jamie’s Italy

0703 Wines of Ontario

A couple of months ago, I got it into my head that we should take a weekend trip to Niagara Falls.  I’m not sure how I came up with NF – I’m guessing I was looking at Google Maps to figure out how long of a drive it would be if we wanted to visit friends in Boston or Vermont, and then noticed that a certain ginormous tourist destination was right in the middle of both routes.  In fact, Niagara Falls – at least the Canadian side – is only about 5.5 hours from Ann Arbor!

We hit the road early this morning and were in Canada by a little after 9.  Fortified with Timbits, we pushed on down the 401, enjoying a surprisingly peaceful drive on a beautiful summer day.  Neither of us enjoy driving, but we were determined to embrace the ‘road trip’ aspects of the weekend, which is how we came to find ourselves tasting wines of the Niagara Escarpment region.  Until we started planning this trip, I really had no idea how agriculturally rich the area was, so it was exciting to taste the fruits of the Greenbelt, 1.8 million acres of permanently protected green space.

First stop, Kittling Ridge, where we tasted a couple of really mediocre wines and also a surprisingly delicious alcopop-beverage whose name has completely escaped me.

Tasting at Kittling Ridge

Rather than getting back on the highway and continuing on to Niagara Falls, we decided to take the back roads and see where we ended up, stopping at several wineries along the way. Peninsula Ridge Estates provided a lovely rosé and remarkably beautiful views of Ontario wine country. We also tasted both the 2001 and 2002 Arcanum (Arcana?) – the former had turned and so was on sale, but the latter was a real knock-out of fruit and spice, though we couldn’t justify the $40 to bring a bottle home.

Rosé

At Rosewood Estates, we tried four different meads, and left with a bottle of their Mon Cherie, a mead blended with tart Niagara cherry juice. Shane remarked that he couldn’t believe he hasn’t made a mead yet, so I’m hopeful this will serve as inspiration for an upcoming day of brewing.

4 Meads

I also really liked these guardian bunnies:

Rabbits

Our first few tastings ran us $1 or less per 1 ounce sample, so when we stopped at wineries charging $2 or more, we decided to end our tour and just take in the beautiful countryside on our way to Niagara. There’s something so perfect about driving through rolling hills with the windows down and the radio turned up in the middle of summer.

Peninsula Ridge

Ontario Wine Country resources:

  • Wines of Ontario has a 30+ page booklet in PDF format with information on the wineries of the region.  It does not, however, include pricing information for tastings or tours.
  • Niagara Wine Trail focuses on Niagara Falls and the Niagara Escarpment area
  • Crush on Niagara Wine Tours – if you don’t feel like doing the driving yourself
  • Ontario’s Greenbelt provides lots of information on the agricultural riches of the area.

0616 Pollo alla Cacciatora

Last of the Harvest

Tonight I used up the last jar of the tomatoes I canned last summer.  The timing was just right on this, as 2nds tomatoes have been appearing at the market the last few weeks, and I suspect we’re right on the cusp of a full-on tomato explosion from both the market and our garden.  Nonetheless, I felt like the last jar of tomatoes required something special.  Actually, that’s not true.  I just happened to be making something special in order to use up the rest of Monday’s chicken, but I feel like it was a suitable vehicle for the last jar of tomatoes: Pollo alla Cacciatora.

Chicken Cacciatore is one of the first dishes I remember making as a pre-teen.  Of course that time it came from a jar of Chicken Tonight, and the extent of my preparation involved simmering a couple of chicken breasts in the sauce – but that doesn’t change the nostalgia associated with the dish.  My culinary skills and ambitions are a bit more refined than they were back then, so tonight’s Cacciatora was of the from-scratch variety.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

I marinated chicken pieces (left over from Monday’s Chicken Breasts Niçoise) in red wine and herbs for an hour, then browned the chicken in a heavy-bottomed skillet, removing it to a warmed plate while I made the sauce, comprised of the rest of the marinade, the aforementioned jar of tomatoes, a handful of capers, anchovies, and a few other things I’ve forgotten in my hunger.  Once the tomatoes started to break down, I put the chicken back in the pan, covered it with the lid, and popped it in the oven for an hour.  The recipe called for 90 minutes, but the internal temperature hit 160 after an hour, so we pulled it early and served it with bread and a salad.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

When we sat down to eat, I realized that I’d made essentially the red wine version of Monday’s dinner – a bit heartier and with a longer cook time – but the same idea.  Shane agreed, but said that while he liked the Niçoise he liked this version MUCH better.  It was also MUCH better than I remember my childhood Chicken Tonight being.  I’m now curious to see how this recipe (from Jamie’s Italy) stacks up against the Mario Batali recipe we made this past fall.  Good stuff!

Recipe:
Pollo alla Cacciatora from Jamie’s Italy

0602 Dinner at Vinology

Dinner at Vinology

Shane’s off to DC tomorrow, returning Monday night, and after he gets back, we’ll have houseguests for the better part of a week.  I was in a terrible mood, so to combat that and also get some quality time in together, he suggested that we go on a date.  We decided to check out Vinology’s happy hour specials: half price wine by the glass, $3 draft beer, $6 fancy flatbread, or 3 sliders for $5.

We both really like wine, but for a variety of reasons rarely drink it at home.  As you might have noticed, Shane likes beer, and likes to explore pairing beer with food, so depending on what we’re eating, he’s likely to have something from his collection ready to go.  I often want a glass of wine with dinner, but only a glass, so I’m unlikely to open a bottle just for me because it means that I’ll either drink more than I want, or it will sit in the fridge for a few days, by which time it’s lost a good bit of flavor.

I felt that Vinology’s menu made selecting a wine really accessible for a relative amateur – they use icons to indicate whether a wine is big, bubbly, luscious, crisp, etc in addition to sorting by type – so if you have an idea of what you like, you should be able to find at least a couple of appealing selections by the glass or by the bottle.  Our server was very knowledgeable, and helped us both choose wines we loved – I wish I could remember exactly what I drank, but I know that one was a Garnacha from Catalunya, and the other was very earthy, with more than a hint of tobacco.

Vinology’s dinner menu is arranged around the different wine tasting profiles, which made it easy to find a select an entree that paired well with both of our wines.  Another appealing thing about the menu is that you can get a half portions of many – if not most – entrees – which, in my experience, is usually more than enough food for me.   Most of the half portions come in between $10-20, so tonight we split a half portion of the roasted venison (with spaetzle, braised cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, omg!) and the happy hour flatbread (sausage and pepperoni, but changes every day) for $22 total – a very reasonable price for a delicious dinner that totally filled us up.

I had been on the fence about going out tonight – bad mood, spending money, etc – but I’m awfully glad we did.  I’m also excited to have found another affordable AND delicious happy hour option.

Eating and growing locally: week nine

Eating:

Local meal #5

Our OLS meal for the week was salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots from the farmers’ market, a Meritage from Rappahannock Cellars (67 mi.), and local pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce from local seconds tomatoes, ground buffalo, and herbs from our garden.  The spaghetti sauce was a big disappointment, but we froze a jar of it, which will be excellent later in the year reconstituted with some goat cheese.

Making Spaghetti Sauce

Tuesday night was a different story.

Day 332 - 6/24/08

We got a big hunk of prosciutto from Cheesetique for 99c, so I cubed about half of it, then sauteed it with local onion, garlic scapes, and peas, then tossed it all together with local aged cheddar and non-local macaroni.  So, so, so, so good.   I also roasted little local carrots with some maple syrup – they were like candy.  Too bad SB wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t enjoy it when it was hot.  😦

Our farmers’ market haul this week: pork sausage, ground pork, a little poussin, eggs, chocolate milk, squash blossoms, tomatoes, nectarines, onions, dinner rolls, carrots, green beans, and garlic.  Very exciting!

Growing:

  • Our tomatoes look sad and droopy, so yesterday we bought a big just of Terracycle and are hoping they’ll perk up with the introduction of quality worm poop.
  • I thinned the lettuce again, resulting in big salads for both of us.
  • We have OMG peppers growing!  I’m trying to resist the urge to pick them small so that they have a chance to turn red.
  • We have kept basil alive for two months.  This is kind of a big deal.

Winning the Lottery

I walked to the dealership this morning – three miles or so – I could’ve gotten a ride, but I had nothing else to do, so I walked. It was really nice – warm and sunny with a great breeze. I talked to Jen for a long time. I retrieved my car, then went to Friar Tuck’s – it was a liquor wonderland! I need to win the lottery so I can go on random spending sprees. On the top of my random lottery winning spending spree list:

  • wine – before I moved I was going to have a cellar. Now I just have two bottles on a shelf.
  • lingerie – I’m seized with the desire to buy a lot of pretty silky lacy things.
  • sandals – two pairs from last summer are now defunct, plus I need flip-flops.
  • new jeans – hip huggers?

Anyway, got out of there with one bottle of wine – Evolution, which has hella great packaging and was advertised as a good choice for Easter (appreciate the irony, kids) – and Skyy vodka cosmo mix. Tasty. I had big plans to play in the park, but I ended up online talking with Jen for a while, then napped for hours and hours – from 3-7. I kept stirring from sleep, thinking I should go play outside, then snuggling back down into my bed.

And tonight? Ice cream and movies and a cosmo. The cats are asleep next to me. I was hoping to hear from the boy, but I probably won’t until he gets home. I’m going to watch He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (I heart Audrey Tautou) and maybe The Thomas Crown Affair (love it). Tomorrow the girls and I might go to breakfast, then I will have laundry and reading in the park. I wish I could take a photo of the view from my bed – all sunshine and green. It makes me smile so much.