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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Decadent Delights In The Corner Kitchen

Never in my wildest gastronomic dreams would I have thought of Asheville, North Carolina as a culinary destination. Well, let me tell you a thing or three, that mountain city set me to being right in the head during our visit last week, and one of the best dining venues in this "Land of the Sky" is the Corner Kitchen in the historic Biltmore Village.

The Corner Kitchen is housed in one of those beautifully restored 1890s Victorian homes built for staff members working at the Biltmore Estate back in the day. Stepping across the threshold is like walking into the family home and being greeted by a warm and friendly young lady who immediately guides you to an awaiting table.

Moments later Mackenzie, our lovely server for the evening, appeared with menus and a desire to take our drink orders: a couple of glasses of Prosecco, s'il vous plaît. We also requested a bottle of Westrey Williamette Valley Pinot Noir with red current, red-raspberry, white pepper and white chocolate character to accompany our entree selections.

Our glasses of Prosecco were presented along with a savory bite of food to amuse the mouth and invigorate the palette, chicken with a hint of the Southwest on a tortilla chip.

My bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, chose the soup of the day to start her gastronomic journey. This was a creamy bowl of broccoli soup with a Parmesan cheese accent.

I am an oyster aficionado, so I was drawn to the Corn Fried Oysters with arugula, tomatoes, and a mustard drizzle. Crispy, crunchy on the outside and creamy in the center, this was a beautiful prelude to my entree.

And, my entree would be the Lobster Claws with Andouille Sausage in a Creamy Fettucini with Tomato Fondue and Fried Basil. There were so many elements to this dish that I simply adore, even now my taste buds are throbbing with desire.

Oops! It would appear that my mind jumped the tracks for a moment there, but it should be mentioned that there is something sensuous about food ... especially decadently good food.

Speaking of decadent and good, let's consider my bride's choice for an entree. Her Sweet Mustard Glazed Three Meat Meatloaf with Collards, Cheddar Grits, and Three Sauces was not only a work of art, but a dish that is probably illegal in many states that simply don't allow that much gastronomic goodness.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I shared our last dish of the evening; a bread pudding with a custard base and a ball of caramel drizzled ice cream. I am not a dessert person, so while the Belle enjoyed the pudding I just drifted off in a food induced coma.

All food and adult beverages came to a very pleasant $150.87, and we had no problem tacking on an additional 20% for Mackenzie.

Corner Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bouchon est Magnifique

High on our list of things to do, or should I say places to dine, while in Asheville was dinner at Bouchon. This restaurant was one of the reasons that my bride and I were prompted to drive all the way up from Tampa. And, let me say right up front that Bouchon and it's sister restaurant Crêperie Bouchon were so worth the drive.

We arrived at Bouchon a good thirty minutes before the restaurant opened so we decided to indulge ourselves with a couple of glasses of wine at the Creperie. Emilie was our delightful server who was thrilled to hear that we intended to dine at Bouchon. After serving our wine on the outdoor patio, Emilie kindly said that she would go next door and let them know we were coming at five. Emilie could give a few other restaurants that we visited a lesson on customer service. Bouchon, by the way, does not take reservations. It is first come, first served.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I arrived at five and were promptly escorted to a table. Alexandra, our lovely and professional server for the evening, quickly followed with menus. While perusing the menus, we finished our two glasses of wine from the Creperie, then requested a bottle of Mas Carlot "Les Enfants Terribles" Costieres de Nimes from the south of France. This is a blend of old vine Mourvedre and Syrah; full-bodied with fruity notes of blackberries, blueberries and tobacco.

From there we chose the Roasted Garlic Rouille with toasted baguette while we decided on our next courses. This rouille was a creamy delight and not so garlic heavy as to deter any vampires lurking about on Lexington.

As soon as my eyes spied L’Os à Moëlle Braisé with a sherry, mushroom, balsamic reduction I knew this heavenly bone marrow gift from the gods would be mine. I swoon at the very memory.

My petite bride chose the Salade du Grand Père as her diet-conscience appetizer; fresh greens dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette, sprinkled with lardons and walnuts. I am certain that the lardons were heart-healthy. It's bacon for gosh sakes and anything with bacon is good for you. Right?

Enough foolin' around. Let's get serious and move on to the entrees. For her the Steak au Poivre, a
superbly prepared sautéed beef shoulder tenderloin steak with classic black pepper-Cognac sauce, vegetables, and pommes frites.

That steak was tender, juicy, and delicious. The fries were crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and perfectly seasoned. A sauce was included, but the Belle said the fries needed nothing. They were perfect as they were.

I have tried preparing a cassoulet in our home kitchen and it never seems to come out as good as I would like, so any chance I get to indulge myself with a professionally prepared version of this classic, I am there. The Cassoulet Bouchon is probably the very best I have ever had. The Languedoc region’s classic dish of baked white beans got a Tarheel twist. Bouchon included confit of NC-raised poulet rouge leg quarter, with a house-made garlic-lamb sausage, and pork belly.

Oh mon Dieu! A duck quarter, garlic-lamb sausage, and pork belly. Three major food groups. I quiver at the mere thought.

Dessert? We needed that like we needed an extra stomach. Actually, we could have used a couple of those to hold the sinfully wonderful Crêpe aux Fruits Chocolat; a gluten-free crêpe filled with fresh seasonal fruit, homemade chocolate sauce, served warm, and topped with whipped cream.

I hesitated posting the following photo thinking it might be cruel and unusual punishment for anyone reading this review, but ... Oh, well!

Bouchon provided us with one of the most fantastic dinning experiences that we have ever had, and all for a measly $130.54. That would have been a $200 or more dinner back in the Big Guava.

FYI for our Doctor Kathie back in Tampa: most everything on the Bouchon menu is gluten free. So there!

Bouchon French Bistro on Urbanspoon

Bouchon French Bistro on Foodio54

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not So Ordinary

After dining at a couple of way too ordinary oyster bars in Charleston we were on the lookout for something out of the ordinary so we went to The Ordinary. The Ordinary is a fantastic seafood hall and oyster bar on the outskirts of the old town in a refurbished former bank building.

I have no qualms about saying that The Ordinary provided an extraordinarily superb dining experience for my bride and I ... once we got past the door-Nazi chicks.

Our taxi dropped the Belle of Ballast Point and I off at the front door at 4:45 or so. Our dinner reservations were at five and we knew that The Ordinary didn't open until five, but we were at the mercy of the taxi driver and the door was unlocked. We stepped inside and were greeted with a terse, "We don't open until five."

We acknowledged that, but since the taxi dumped us at the door and there was nothing of consequence in that nondescript neighborhood, we asked if we could just sit off to the side out of the heat. "No you can't. We don't open until five." It was ten to five as we stepped outside and if there had been a passing taxi we were inclined to tell the door-Nazis what they could do with themselves at five.

But at five, since we had not seen a passing taxi, we went back to see if we could get past these two paragons of parallel universe customer service. We succeeded and were led to a table near the oyster bar.

Adam, our friendly and professional server for the evening brought menus and inquired of our desire for an adult beverage. "Yes, yes, a thousands times yes," we croaked through parched lips and dry throats. We ogled the menu whist sipping a couple of glasses of ice cold Val de Mar French sparkling Chardonnay.

Since the oyster bar was so close, I walked over to see what was available that evening. The Wellfleets looked and sounded the best, so I ordered a  half dozen. The gentleman manning the bar and the knife did a spectacular job of shucking and presenting these salty, creamy, gifts from Neptune with subtle hints of seaweed.

I have no idea what condiments were provide since those Wellfleets needed absolutely nothing to enhance their briny goodness. My bride, meanwhile, was enjoying her house salad that was included in the $35 Prix Fixe Saturday menu. The protein on that menu was a tender, juicy New York Strip Steak with a savory sauce sprinkled with farm-to-table cherry tomatoes.

I was content to stay with small plates, so from the oysters I moved on to more oysters. This time it was the Crispy Oysters with Beef Tartare, an ambitious pairing that worked perfectly. The oysters had a creamy center with a nice crunch from the breading and created an exciting juxtaposition with the beef tartare.

Next came the Capers Inlet Clams, Fregola, Soffrito, Fennel.  Fregola is a bead-shaped pasta from Sardinia; it's nicely chewy and was used as a phenomenal base for the clams and soffrito. I swoon over pasta and clams, so this dish was definitely swoon-worthy.

I am starting to think that I should have invested in a pair of stretch pants, but my eyes said to ignore the stomach and get that Squid a la Plancha, Olive, Paprika dish. A la plancha is a Spanish term that refers to a method of searing food over a very hot metal plate. This is a rather simple dish that is loaded with flavor.

Well, I am done ... d-u-n done. My bride, though, had a dessert coming; a Chocolate Vanilla Bread Pudding served warm with a caramel sauce and a dollop of ice cream. It looked good, but I chose to sip on a very pleasing Moscatel.

Suddenly, another dessert appeared. I had to ask my bride, "Did I order that?" She said I did, and I had to ask, "Why?" I was thinking maybe we should eschew a cab back to the hotel and just walk, but then a voice commanded that I just eat that delicious Posset, a cold dessert made from thickened cream similar to a creme brulee and topped with berries and chocolate.

Our dining experience at The Ordinary wasn't cheap, but we weren't driving and a fair amount of alcohol consumption possibly occurred. Our bill came to $219.20. We added 20% for Adam.

I might mention that a few days later we arrived a bit before opening at The Optimist in Atlanta and were greeted warmly and invited to sit at the bar and enjoy a beverage until our table was ready.

The Ordinary on Urbanspoon

The Ordinary on Foodio54

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Oysters Weren't Particularly Noisy

For the longest time I had been hearing that the city to visit for superior oysters was Charleston. With that in mind my bride and I saddled up our trusty steed (actually a PT Cruiser) and set off on a road trip.

One of the recommended oyster bars was the Noisy Oyster at 24 Market Street. We wandered about for awhile listening for the sounds of noisy oysters. Finally we heard their calls and arrived at their door step. We were promptly guided to an open air booth overlooking a busy thoroughfare.

Let me just cut to the chase here and say that the absolute highlight of our visit was Shealy, our cheerful, helpful, and effervescent server. The food choices were geared more to the tourist crowd, not to people looking for a memorable dining experience.

While placing our orders for adult beverages, Shealy gave us a real tour guide rundown on what to do and where to go while in Charleston. Did I mention that she is a real treasure?

We sipped our suds and decided on our choices for lunch. The Raw Bar Trio with steamed shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and seared tuna called my name.

This was an interesting though uninspired dish. What was disappointing is the recurring practice of not cutting the oysters loose from the bottom shell forcing the diner to pry the mollusks loose with a cocktail fork. This is the second Charleston "oyster bar" that did this. Shealy said that's what they do. Oh well!

The Belle of Ballast Point fared better with a chopped salad accompanied by a superb Parmesan crisp and a delicious side of fried green tomatoes floating on a bed of creamy grits.

That tomato dish was enhanced with a light, but toasty breading and a delightful lemony after taste. Now that was memorable!

Our total for food and beverages came to a reasonable $61.02. We tacked on an additional 20% + for Shealy's exceptional service.

I am glad that we went, but I do not envision a return.

Noisy Oyster Seafood on Urbanspoon

Noisy Oyster on Foodio54

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Aw, Shucks

Before departing Tampa for our trip up country, I did some Googlin' to find some outstanding oyster venues in Charleston. One that was recommended was A.W. Shucks at 35 South Market Street. We wandered in to a mostly empty restaurant around 7:30 Friday evening and were promptly shown to a booth.

Our server soon appeared with menus and with a rather glum expression she took our drink orders, a Palmetto pint for me and a Miller Lite for my bride.

Since Shucks promotes themselves as an oyster bar I knew I had to get a dozen raw on the half shell.

These James River oysters were shucked pretty well, but they had very little flavor. I couldn't decide if they had been washed off (a real no-no in my opinion) or if they were just bland. They also had not been cut loose from the bottom shell, an annoying practice I discovered was common while at other oyster bars in Charleston.

While I slurped the oysters, my bride nibbled on her chicken tenders. I didn't include a photo because if you've seen one tender, you've pretty much seen them all.

I was still trying to get into a Charleston oyster frame of mind, so after the dozen raw I decided to try a bucket of the steamed Local Clusters.

This cluster bucket was filled with u-shuckum oysters. They were pretty good dipped in the little tub of perfectly clarified butter. Oh yeah, that's a little chicken tender there in the background.

To round out her meal, the Belle of Ballast Point requested the bread pudding. She said it was good, I just stayed with a beer for my dessert.

Food and beverages came to $80.06. We did add 20% for our server who, as I recall, never cracked a smile during our entire visit.

I'm kinda thinking that Shucks is more for the tourist crowd. We weren't very impressed.

A. W. Shucks on Urbanspoon

Aw Shucks on Foodio54

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Skip On Over To Skipper's

My bride and I found our hungry selves about 50 miles outside of Savannah a little after noon last week while on a trip to Charleston. Maybe it was severe hunger that compelled me to leave I-95 and exit to a little Georgia town called Darien. Maybe it was the name that drew me since we have a Skipper's in Tampa, but Skipper's Fish Camp at 85 Scriven Street hooked me and reeled me in.

Skipper's has an interesting history. The floor covering is made of hand-cut bricks recovered from a demolished Middle Georgia structure that had been built in the1940s. The bar and table tops were fashioned from timbers that had been floated down the Altamaha River from the interior of the state during Darien's halcyon timber days of the 1800s.

Skipper's serves fresh Georgia seafood including oysters and shrimp dishes, plus steaks, chops, and ribs. We had reservations for dinner that night in Charleston, so we didn't consume all of the Skipper's delights that were tempting us. I saw an appetizer that really intrigued me, the Collards and Q. When I asked our charming server, Maggie, if this dish could do double duty as a lunch-time entree, she said she would take good care of me. And, she did!

Maggie said she asked the chef to add a bit more BBQ-ed shredded pork to the collards. He did and I was stuffed with this fantastic dish. I can't wait to try replicating the Collards and Q at home until I can make it back to Darien.

My bride was in porky swoon mode with her Loaded Pig, a baked tater that was loaded with savory Southern chopped BBQ. This dish was accompanied with hush puppies and a side of creamy cheese grits.

Our visit to Skipper's and Darien was short, but grand. We can envision another trip to Georgia just to explore Darien and dine again at Skipper's. The total bill for food and a couple of adult beverages came to a pleasing $26.99. We rounded up to $30 and left a 20% gratuity for Maggie.

Skippers Fish Camp on Urbanspoon

Skipper's Fish Camp on Foodio54

Friday, October 17, 2014

No Ebola On The Right


Consider this WHO report titled: “Influenza (Seasonal) World Health Organization,” dated April 2009. This is the WHO fact sheet on regular seasonal flu, the kind that is said to infect people globally, year after year, like clockwork.

Annual number of severe cases: 3-5 million. 
Annual number of deaths: between 250,000 and 500,000. 

When it comes to seasonal regular flu, the World Health Organization issues no scare reports, no dire warnings, and the press mentions nothing. Zero.  Zip. Nada.

However, with 814 confirmed cases and 456 deaths from Ebola world-wide, the whole world is put on notice and the right wing fear mongers switch into high gear. And why not? They need to do something, anything to scare the bejeezus out of the American public in an attempt to win in November. They didn't get much sustained traction from Obamacare, Benghazi, immigration, gay marriage, so now it's Ebola.

How does that old saying go? If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.