Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two New, for us

Last week we tried two new places, to add to our dining list. Not that they had just opened, but we had not made it on our extensive list of places.
The first was "Aoi" Japanese Cuisine, One Levee Way Newport KY-859-431-9400. This Japanese Restaurant is located on the ground level of "Newport on the Levee" across the driveway from "Brio's". There is dinning both inside and out.
The first thing we noticed, upon entering, was a group of 9 Asia Business men, in their dark suites, placed on two sides of a long table. The table was full of several dishes and servers were handling libations on a regular schedule. When we left, 2 hours later, the scene remained the same. Some people know how to enjoy a leisurely dinner.
Upon being seated, on the patio, I asked what the gentlemen inside were being served and was told it came from the Japanese menu. Of course, I asked to see that and was pleased that the items were in English as well as Japanese. I selected from that menu a serving of thin sliced beef tongue, grilled, and served with fresh lemon. Others in our group had some various raw fish items also from the Japanese menu. I also had the "Role of mixed seafood" which was the special of the evening. I tackled a 22 oz bottle of Kerin beer with satisfactory results. Others had duck breast, soy beans, assorted cold plates and several vegetable dishes, spinach and also mushrooms.
Sake was plentiful and hot Green tea was served at the end of the meal.
From what we hear "Joan" near the Toyota Hq is the top Japanese restaurant in the area but "Aoi" is no slouch.

The other, new for us, spot was "Virgils Cafe" 710 Fairfield Ave( KY Rt 8) Bellevue KY 41073-859-491-3287. According to the owner, chef, with whom we visited, they have been open since March. It has created somewhat of a buzz. Friday night they were pleasantly full and handled the patrons promptly and politely. It is an informal cafe.
The menu is eclectic and I chose, after Bombay, Frogs legs, well seasoned and lightly fried, but slightly chewy and a salad of Lump crab meat, artichoke bottoms, avocado and greens, a light but filling dinner. All were prepared well and served by the efficient kitchen. Marilyn had a cup of "Minestrone soup, without pasta, an order of Duck Spring Rolls, served crispy and correctly seasoned, and a Caesar salad. Our total dinner plus tip was under $50.
The other couple split a first course and salad and had a very good, slightly unusual, Shrimp Gumbo. The shrimp had been cooked in a tomato based gumbo sauce and were served, separately, over a bed of grits. I took a taste and found the dish very taste.
The chef prepares his own Pastrami, from scratch, but since they had "run out" I went without a taste. I'll return for lunch and give it a try, as well as other items.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heading South

When you live in Cincinnati, as we do,"Heading South" usually means Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolina's or even Florida. From Eau Claire WI you have most of the US.
Our afternoon and evening in Eau Claire included a tour of the Leinenkugel's Brewery, with several tastings, some good, some bad, a visit to a nearby Park and Zoo, dinner and an amazing multi acre drive around the Headquarters and distribution area of "Menard's". All enclosed in miles of brown fencing
Our friends, a young couple, spent the time with us and provided the transportation and commentary. Dinner was at "Stella Blues" 306 Madison St. Eau Claire, WI-715-855-7777. We started with an order of Deep Fried Crawfish Bites and an additional order of Cornbread, both with appropriate dipping sauces. we did a lot of splitting and items included a warm Beet salad, Fish Sandwiches, mounds of Cajun and plain French Fries and some grilled chicken, we were partially behaving. In Eau Claire, as one might guess, this was accompanied with Leinenkugel's. We split 2 orders of homemade Brownies covered with Wisconsin Ice Cream. Calories, fat and salt to cover us all for many weeks.
After a nights sleep we headed to Chicago with a stop at "Culver's", near Madison WI, to test the flavor of the day, "Carmel-Cashew".
In the Chicago area we stay with friends, probably too often, in Glencoe. We usually see our "Lobster Group". The "Lobster Group", 4 couples who had a self prepared "Lobster Shore Dinner", 40 years ago has met ever since to repeat the evening, at least once a year, somewhere. As we have aged we have allowed Restaurants to take over the preparation.
The first two nights diners are not worth reporting. We went with local, good friends Sunday to a Hamburger hang out and bar, sort of a repeat of the night before in Eau Claire, and on Monday night we met friends of ours and our son at a street cafe in Wilmette IL.
On Tuesday we were taken by some city friends to a very nice lunch place in Winnetka and then I went into the city, with one of the participants to view the new wing of the Art Institute, done by Lorenzo Piano, an impressive addition.
Tuesday night the 4 couples of the "Lobster Group" met at "Demetri's" in, I believe, Northfield IL-847-940-0777. We have all been there together, once before, to do our planing for the main (or Maine) fall event. "Demetri's" is a large, suburban Greek restaurant with an extensive additional seafood menu. We always have a "rock us", good time and that night was no exception. We had too much to drink, too many appetizers as well as large main courses and several desserts for the table. Both Marilyn and I had whole Dover Sole's which are hard to pass when they are priced around $30, depending on the market. It was a great evening of food and friendship, and over indulgence.
The next day, Marilyn's birthday, we drove home with a stop at "Chic-a-fillet", her favorite fast food joint were they honored the event with a dish of soft serve ice cream, with sprinkles, and a toy stuffed cow, there trademark.
That night, with family we celebrated at "Otto's". Paul Weckman, the chef, had prepared for the occasion Walleye another of Marilyn's favorites, what goes around comes around.
Were blessed with wonderful weather for the 12 days we were gone and too much of everything else.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Walleye Alley/Minnesota

About time I get back to work.
Bemidji MN is in North Central Minnesota and is a town of about 12,000 full time inhabitants. It is also the home of Bemidji State University and equally important a medal winning curling team in the last winter Olympics.( Medals and clippings in "Dave's Pizza)
We spent Thursday and Friday there visiting our Granddaughter who is a sailing instructor at a girls camp in Cass Lake MN. Our Hampton Inn was on the shore of Lake Bemidji and is a very pleasant 5 story hotel with many amenities.
The first night Marilyn and I dined alone, our Granddaughter was working, at "Tutto Bene" 300 Beltami Ave. Bemidji -218-751-1100. We had eaten at "Tutto Bene" once before, on another camp visit. It seems to have slip slightly but is still above the norm for a small town Italian restaurant. Marilyn had "Pasta Lemonee", a mixture of fresh tomatoes, chicken and summer veggies in a lemon butter sauce. I had Pasta with spicy sausage which was just as the name implied with a bit of cheese added. Both meals came from the kitchen slightly cooler that we might have wished so mine was returned for some extra physical heat. Pasta, salad, bread and olive oil or butter plus our drinks (beer) came to $25 each including tip. The atmosphere and service are both more that acceptable.
The next day our Granddaughter join us and after a first stop at the Laundromat, to clean 2 weeks of her cloths we went to the "Green Mill" a Minnesota chain whose Bemidji property is physically connected to the Hampton Inn. We sat on the terrace, overlooking the lake and received wonderful service from a "trainer" and her charge. We all selected salad, all a full sized meals, but the biggest surprise was an order of "Walleye Sliders" a new menu item. The three, 3 bite sandwiches contained a 2"x2" piece of grilled fresh Walleye on a soft bun. The bun had a light portion of shredded lettuce and each piece of fish was topped with a round slice of half-dill pickle. A spicy garlic mayo was served on the side along with several large pieces of fresh lemon, for those who desired. As you can tell I was enthralled. Now to get someone locally to copy this dish.
After an afternoon of shopping, what else do you do with a teen age girl and her Grandmother we relaxed before driving to Walker MN, about 30 miles, for an outstanding and surprising dinner at the "Boulders" 8363 Lake Land Trail, Walker MN 56484. Phone-218-547-1006.
The "Boulders" is in a beautiful free standing "A" frame structure with a large glass window and deck along the front wall. It is staffed by a very competent chef and the service personnel are all well trained and above the age of High School, as is sometime the case in resort areas.
We started with drinks and a shared platter of homemade chips cover with Blue Cheese, then had salads followed by main courses of Walleye, Marilyn, Paella, Granddaughter and Lamb Chops in a wine reduction for me. Proper garnishes or sides came with each. A shared fresh Red Raspberry Bread pudding and Marilyn's de-caf finished a wonderful evening. With a good sized tip the evening came to about $40 each.
Next morning we drove thru the beautiful lake region an on thru the Twin cities to Eau Claire WI. That comes next.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Walleye Alley/Wisconsin Part 2

Tuesday morning, July 7, we headed North from Madison. Lunch, from our cooler, in a park in Chippewa Falls, on the banks of the Chippewa River and then on to Camp Nebagamon in Lake Nebagamon, WI.
As all who know me know, I have been connected with "Camp Nebagamon for Boys" since 1940, my first year as a camper. In the 1940's as a camper and staff member, in the 1960's and 1970's as a parent of campers and staff members( male and female) as well as a "family camp" attendee and finally in the 1990's and this decade when Marilyn and I were privileged to be on the Staff as "Camp Grandparents" both in title and actuality.
Enough of past history. Now on to this years visit. We were only at camp for approximately 48 hours but during that time visited 3 of our favorite, North woods, eating establishments.
The first night along with our two Grandson's, and two other relatives campers, we dined at "The Deep Lake Lodge" in Iron River WI. Each evening Marilyn and I had Walleye, what else when they are in the lakes of both Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Southern Canada. At the "Deep Lake" the main courses, served at our table went from steak, what else do campers eat when being treated, to ribs and seafood kabobs. Several of us started with delicious home made Minestrone Soup and since our meals came with a starter, salad, main course and potato everyone had the works. The "Deep Lake Lodge" is as of all places on Deep Lake and our window table gave us a beautiful and warm view of the evening sunset.
Lunch, the next day, was at "The Anchor Bar" on Tower St. in Superior WI. It has been a favorite of mine since I passed the age of 21. I can only describe it by saying it is an old time seaman bar, near the Lake Superior waterfront and is dark, smokey and highly informal. Why do I love to go there, as do many including some food reviewers? Because all the food is cooked from scratch, they way they think best and turns our to be wonderful. Burgers, and that is 90% of the menu come with an array of toppings while French Fries, made from potato's cut after you order come crisp, hot and with just the right touch of grease. Beer is cold, and the serving staff has always been independent but efficient.
Wednesday night was Adults night out, drinking allowed. Four couples connected with camp and our eldest Grandson went to our eldest son's favorite, the "White Birch" in Solon Springs. Our son says "the White Birch has the best salad bar" and has been quoting that since the mid 70's.
Again Marilyn and I had Walleye, always pan fried, and you guessed, the "salad bar" and potato's. This after my Bombay( none the night before) which I have found cheaper in Northern Wisconsin that some beer. The salad bar may not compete with some in large city steak houses and California but then again it is hands down the best in Solon Springs and environs.
Next we'll move on to Northern Minnesota and the female side of our camping family.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walleye Alley/Wisconsin Part 1

We have returned from our 10 day driving trip to Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Chicago area. Things went very well with beautiful weather, good visits with family and friends, lots of nostalgia and of course our normal interest in food on the road.
The first day, July 6, we left around 9;30 AM, with a full cooler of leftovers,( our lunch the next two days) and after a stop to pick up ice cream at "Graeter's", for a present, we headed to Madison WI. Madison is usually our first stop, heading to Northern Wisconsin, and we stay at the Hampton Inn East, exactly 500 miles from our front door.
I was searching for German food, especially sausage, for dinner, however we were out of luck in Madison as the recommended German restaurant is not open on Monday nights. The very nice women, working the hotel desk gave us her copy of a Madison food guide which we perused careful as we cleaned up for dinner. We chose "Greenbush Bar", 914 Regent St,-608-257-2874. The desk clerk got directions, from her computer, and sent us on our way.
"Greenbush" is a great "dive" in the basement of an old building which once served as an Italian working mans club. The have a flourishing business, quite mixed age clientele, and a wonderful bar and a mix of 4 and 2 top tables, which they put together for larger parties. Unfortunately it is not handicap accessible as one must negotiate narrow, fairly dark stairs.
The Pizza, thin crust, looked wonderful but I settled on an excellent, in house, prepared Gazpacho, seasoned perfectly, and a home made Italian Sausage covered with well grilled sweet onions and peppers on a toasted bun. What else but Italian beer to wash it down. Marilyn, who is more mundane, had a house salad and a grilled veggie and cheese sandwich. "Greenbush" was not known to the Hampton Inn1 staff but was well know to the staff at camp, especially those who are attending the University of Wisconsin. They heartily approved of out choice as did we.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Catch up

We are leaving early next week for a driving tour of spots in Wisconsin, Minnesota and a few days in Chicago. We'll report on any memorable, or close, meals after we get back.
In the mean time I'll get caught up on the places we have eaten out in the last weeks, that have not been reported.
"Cumin" 3520 Erie Ave-513-871-8714 has changed it's by line from "fusion Indian" to "Eclectic Cuisine" which better describes the way they have progressed. A new chef has been added to the kitchen staff and he brings with him an array of other specialties. "Yesh" is still the owner Chef and so even though they are widening the selection the same Indian presentation holds sway. If anything the food has gotten a little better, which was hard since it was 1st rate to begin. The other night I had a starter of Ahi Tuna tartar, seasoned just right, and a well prepared Artic Char while Marilyn had a beautiful duck Brest, sliced and prepared medium rare. We tried two Naan, one plain with 3 small spreads and one onion and garlic. Wonderful evening of food, service and dinner companions.
"Embers" 8170 Montgomery Rd-513-984-8090. Four of us went on a recent Saturday night and found the restaurant pleasantly full but not taxed. I ordered too much and ate it all. After drinks I consumed a very spicy Gazpacho with pureed onions, tomato's and cucumbers. That was followed by the chopped Iceberg Salad, which has bacon, HB eggs, blue cheese and tomato's. I should have stoped with the two items, as the salad was quite large. Instead I had the house special Sushi Role which was a combination of seafood's, avocado,veggies and sauces, of course, all encased in rice. Very good and filling. Marilyn showed some restraint but still had an equally large salad and a main course of excellent beef short ribs. The food was all taste and well prepared. Service, a usual, at the "Embers" was excellent.
"Cafe Mediterranean" 7454 Beechmont Ave( in the Anderson Town Center) 513-232-2400. Once again four of us and too much food, no wonder I don't loose weight. The table split a "Meditterranean Platter" five separate appetizers and a side order of Cacik(yogurt and cucmber) as well as one of Tabbouleh, plus lots of warm Pita. Again we should have stoped, but didn't. I had a grilled sea bass basted, while cooking, with Olive Oil and lemon Juice while Marilyn had an Okra stew, her southern roots were showing. The other couple had Stuffed cabbage Roles and a Shrimp Casserole, baked and covered with cheese, hardly rich. The food at "Cafe Meditterranean" is always good and we consider it the best of the Turkish or Eastern Mediterranian places in the area. It remains slight hard to find behind Macy's in the Mall but is worth the hunt.
Our last meal out, before this posting, was at "Bonefish Grill", in Hyde Park-513-321-5222. "Bonefish" remains very acceptable for fish and seafood or other items if you wish to try them. One of our party had steak which was prepared to his satisfaction, and we have had the Pork Chop which was excellent. We don't think of "Bonefish" for other then seafood although all items are well prepared and served and it is a better than average chain restaurant. I had the house salad, which I always enjoy, to which I added Danish Blue Cheese crumbles, a "Bang-Bang" Shrimp Tacos platter and a beer. For once I behaved, sort of. The soft Tacos are served with house potato chips, not thinning, and make a filling combination. The "Bang-Bang" shrimp are well seasoned but the extra spice is to my liking. Marilyn had her usual Tilapia and a house salad. Good food, nice place good price.

Oriental Wok, sorry Ed

I know I write quite often about the "Oriental Wok" at the Regency, 513- 871-6888, here in Cincinnati, but that is because to us it is very special to us.
I am aware that we are treated in a somewhat special manner, but it is nothing that anyone can't have happen, at an business, if they become a "good customer" and take time to get to know the staff and how that business operates and what is important to them. It's not a one way street."Try it, you'll like it".
We have been to the OW twice in the last two weeks, both times with another couple, one couple from Cincinnati and the other from Adams Country where they own and operate the "Murphin Ridge Inn". Both times we asked Guy Burgess, the Chef and part owner, to fix a meal, of his choosing. Both times the food has been marvelous.
Two weeks ago we started with a mixture of their regular appetizers, Egg Roll, Shrimp Toast and Won Tons, before moving on to four main courses. Our entrees were: Roasted Duck Thighs, Chicken with Chinese mushrooms, Pork tenderloin sliced and finish with sweet onions and a mixture of Shrimp and eggplant. Each dish had it's own unique sauce or accompaniment. All were delightful and the meal, as usual was more than filling.
This past week, with our "out of town guests" I think Guy really decided to show off. He started us with a Seafood egg drop soup which had white egg drops swimming in a shrimp based soup with a grilled scampi and a grilled scallop floating in the middle. There were a few touches of green provided by scallion tops and parsley. Next came a special appetizer of lightly fried crisp thin dough with chopped leechee nuts and chicken enclosed. This was accompanied by a warm "duck sauce" to which had been added orange and spices.
Our four main courses, again too much, were a plate of pickled vegetables with shredded pork, the same chicken and mushrooms as previously served the week before, an outstanding roasted barbecued duck which had been shredded with crisp vegetables; onions, celery, carrots, peppers etc in a brown slightly spicy and slightly sweet sauce, my favorite, and finally a lightly breaded "ginger beef" again with some Chinese veggies and a very light ginger sauce. A meal to die for, but we didn't.
I don't know what made the type change, maybe it got as excited as we.
Remember I am not a food critic, only a reporter, so I may be taking slight licence with some of the ingredients in some or all of the dishes.
The OW is not cheap, and being a regular I tip well, but the pricing for two exquisite meals was: the first $29 each and the second feast $50 each including "Bombay" and beer.