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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Birthday Cooking

When it is your birthday, you generally call the shots from entertainment to dinner plans.  For my son's 25th birthday he wanted to go to Great Adventure, which we did and have the family over for a celebration, which we also did - the same weekend!

Since we were out of the house on Saturday, I had to prepare something fairly easy on Sunday.  Luckily, his pick was pulled pork.  Simple enough to season the meat (several pounds) then place in the dutch oven for about 6 hours, serve with barbecue sauce and hard rolls.  I also grilled chicken breasts for those who may not care for the pork.  The chicken could also be placed on a hard roll if one so desired.  But what else?  What makes it a party?

The classic vegetable platter is always a favorite.  My son tries to limit carbs and though he could never be 100% Paleo in this house (I could never go without my beloved carbohydrates), I do try to cut back. Veggies are bought at the farmers market when possible and I used a Pampered Chef gadget to create the crinkle cuts on the cucumbers.  So fancy!

A creamy and garlic hummus was side by side with a creamy french onion dip for both the veggie platter and a bowl of chips (what's more classic than simple and thinly sliced potato chips?).

For the main course, I wanted something different.  No potato or macaroni or pasta salads.  I still wanted the summer food vibe.  Hmmmm, more veggies... (imagine humming the Jeopardy theme song in your head for a moment.....) ah, what about grilled veggie skewers?  But the veggies don't cook at the same rate. (more Jeopardy song....)  I par boiled the potatoes and sweet potatoes so they would be slightly softer - although truth be known, I went a minute or two too far and broccoli actually wasn't a great idea at all.  I then set up an assembly line and voila!

Once they were place on skewers that had soaked for a few hours in a vase of water I sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper then let them wait on a foil lined pan until the guests arrived.

A buffet line was created in the kitchen.  Rolls, pulled pork, grilled chicken, the veggie skewers, the remaining raw veggies and dips, chips and oh yes, of course corn on the cob.

Dessert time.  We are not a huge birthday cake family and just like the rest of the meal, the celebrant selects the sweet course.  For our son, sliced strawberries, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and brownies!

Not a single complaint. A fabulous day with friends and family.  Easy prep, easy clean up.  What more can anyone ask for on their birthday but to be with people they love and to be Fed Well!?!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

La Piazzetta,in Wurtsboro, NY - 4.5 Thumbs Up out of 6

Lucky and fortunate.  This year, I was able to enjoy two birthday dinners and one of them was at La Piazzetta, the newly opened Italian restaurant on Sullivan Street in Wurtsboro.  It just so happens that a very dear relative lives ridiculously close to the restaurant and I was quite happy she was able to join us for the meal.

Nothing says, "Grand Opening," quite like rainbow colored triangular flags!  It certainly made the restaurant easy to find.

I have often compared the outside of a restaurant to both a book's cover and the wrapping paper on a gift.  Though we are told and try to not take the package into consideration, we are judging the appearance.  It simply can't be helped.  Since this restaurant is housed in a completely remodeled and gutted building that has been under construction for quite some time, I am especially anxious to get inside and check it all out.

Amazing.  I really can't think of a better word.  The staff were dressed.  Really.  A suit for the maitre d, white shirts, black pants and an air of confidence from all employees.  Nice.  However, for a moment I felt horribly under dressed in my denim capris and casual black top.  We are greeted quickly and though table are available up front by the bar, we are walked back to the main dining area.  I am able to quickly take a photo of one of the auxiliary dining rooms before it begins to fill with a large party of women.
Lovely.  The decor is warm and inviting and we take in every detail.  Fresh, new and clean can be quite impressive.

Drinks.  Well, since I am the birthday girl, I start with a Cosmopolitan.
It may not be Italian, but to me it is classic.  Wine lists, signature cocktails and a full bar are available.

We are told the evening's specials from appetizers to main courses and while we continue to decide are brought a variety of breads.  Each of us is given a bread plate to which a young man squeezes a house seasoned olive oil  When asked he shares the oils ingredients including parmesan cheese.

Though not everyone is a seafood fan, I order a calamari appetizer and this was the presentation. Rings only with lemon wedges and the sweetest, delicate marinara dipping sauce to compliment the crisp and salty fish.
For some unknown reason, some dinners included a salad and those who qualified were given a choice between two dressings.  The rest of us were not given the opportunity to add one at an added expense.  I didn't mind but later found out a few members of our group may have had a salad if asked.

Next, the photo gallery of entrees:

The Mr.'s favorite - Chicken Marsala.  However, he was disappointed to not have pasta on the side.  It was not discussed when he ordered and he thought it was understood that pasta would be served.  The chicken itself was quite flavorful and tender.

My Aunt ordered the Chicken Parmiagana and was quite happy to see the amount of spaghetti was not overwhelming.  In fact, the platter sized plate included a higher ratio of protein to carbs.

Our older son had a chicken dish with red peppers, mozzarella and white wine sauce.  He ate every bite.

Papperdelle.  When I see it on a menu, it makes me smile.  Who wouldn't want tender ribbons of pasta on their birthday?
Mushrooms, cream and topped with truffle oil, I am one happy celebrant.

A veal chop special for our younger son.  It is stuffed with proscuitto among other ingredients, but it is the meat that attracts the man cub.  The price was not discussed when the order was placed - neither by us nor the server.  Later, I found out the price was about double of most of our other entrees.  We should have asked.  It does look like an elegant dish and again, every bite was eaten.

The above plate is lasagna.  I know, it does not look like the traditional triple decker stack of curly edged noodles with layers of meat and choose.  However, I did hear it was good.  The reason the rating for dinner was only 4.5 out of 6 was this guests experience. Not a fan of calamari, not offered a salad, she was still hungry. Well, the silver lining is having a bit of room for dessert.

Cannolis.  Freshly filled and plated with a bit of whimsy.  

Tiramisu.  I love the design in the sauce.  

My birthday dinner draws to an end.  I go around the table and ask everyone if they would return.  I feel that is the true sign of a good restaurant and yes, I received 4.5 out of 6 thumbs up.  The lasagna, the unknown reason for some dinners including a salad and the rest of us not offered to add one and the Mr.'s disappointment in his side dishes were the reason for the dropped rating.  No one is perfect, but for a brand new restaurant still in the early days of celebrating a Grand Opening, we were Fed Well and would love to try some more dishes.  Happy Birthday to me!

La Piazzetta on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is Home Depot a Date Night Destination? Ruby Tuesday Review - Middletown, NY

It is only on the rarest of occasions and often a matter of convenience that we will eat at the big box restaurants.  Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Ruby Tuesday are a few in Middletown and we dine there when we are combining a night or afternoon or errands with food.  A recent Friday night found us in Home Depot picking out new bathroom flooring:

These are tiles designed to look like wood flooring and for the sake of the photograph are laid out on the bedroom carpet.

Once we completed our selection and a few other errands it was a quick drive across the parking lot to Ruby Tuesday.

I do have a weak spot for biscuits.  All biscuits.  I was content and calmed by the plate of biscuits which came to our table not long after we ordered.

Next up, a classic Margarita.  I have a confession to make; the summer of 2013 has been one filled with the fun and salty Margarita.  Once I find a cocktail I like it is hard to make a switch to something else.  This explains why the last 10 years or so have been filled with Cosmopolitans.

We decide to share an appetizer and the Mr. leaves the decision making up to me.  Sometimes it feels like a trap.  He knows I am more than aware of what he likes and I do want us both to be happy.  Shrimp fondue?  Well, that is what the menu called it, but in reality it was a cheesy dip for tortillas with some small shrimp mixed in.  Fine.  Not a dish I would lose any sleep over if I could never have it again.

Ruby Tuesday does offer a streamlined ordering process by listing the variety of available side dishes at the bottom of the menu. Once I decided on the steak it was easy to put it all together with some mashed cauliflower (not available everywhere) and spaghetti squash (also not necessarily on locally owned restaurants).  I'm kind of excited for my meal.

Fancy?  No, not at all.  Well prepared, yes and bottom line, I enjoyed eating it.

The Mr. went out of his restaurant comfort zone and ordered seafood.  The lobster meat was sweet and tender (yes, he gives me little forkfuls on my plate so I can try it) and I politely said no thank you to the shrimp as well as the macaroni and cheese.  I took his word for it that they were well prepared and seasoned.

A date night.  Conversation roams over the routine and the meal, the upcoming bathroom renovation and we are content. Comfortably Fed Well.  The big box has its time and place and I watch as a mother switches the hip her baby is resting on as she holds a plate from the salad bar.  I missed seeing how she was able to place food on it while holding the little one.  A father walks a young boy to the bathroom.  We are in a place for families and really, what could be bad about that?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cafe Maya

If life is like a stream, sometimes flowing gently and smoothly, rushing with force over rocks or in danger of drying up, I am quite happy with the current, slightly musical but calm place mine is right now.  My birthday has arrived and though I may be a bit apprehensive about the new number, overall, everything is fine and I am grateful.  I suggest a family birthday dinner on Sunday though my birthday is Saturday and this confuses my sons.  I thought Sunday would be easier for everyone, no one would be working and so they feel bad when they realize I have no plan for the anniversary of my date of birth.  My older son offers to treat us all to Cafe Maya - Wappingers Falls.

My older son's girlfriend tried to make a reservation for our group of 5 but was told reservations are not accepted on the weekend.  I was a little apprehensive about having to wait for a table, but we were seated outside relatively quickly.

The only thought I have about the decor is my recent concern about silk flowers and plants.  I understand they are used for atmosphere and low maintenance, but I can't warm up about liking them.  In this case they serve as sort of screen from the outside dining area to the parking lot and street in front.

How best to kick off a birthday celebration or any event for that matter at Cafe Maya, a classic Margarita on the rocks with a salted rim of course!

One of the evening's specials included a pineapple guacamole.  Thing is, not everyone is equally adventurous and I have to admit I was hesitant.  I asked if we could have the pineapple on the side and those who wanted to try it would be able to mix it in.

Of course my first taste was of the pure version and after awhile I warmed up to the idea of the pineapple.  I think I am still on the purist side, but it was flavorful and refreshing.

Next up, a glorious version of shrimp cocktail served over a bed of lettuce with some avocado.  The shrimp were sweet and enough to share.

Time for main courses.

I had a shrimp dish that was the special and served with risotto and beans with a bit more guac.  I was in love.

Here are the other orders:

Traditional rice and bean sides

Beef Mexico City Tacos

Texas Ribs

I did sample the ribs.  The meat was pull apart tender and the smoky flavor although present was not overpowering.

Fish Tacos

A Cafe Maya Sampler Platter

We were well taken care of, the food and environment were colorful, the atmosphere a bit lively and honestly we were fine without a Mariachi band!  I can't really tell you about the bill because my older son treated us all.  A sure sign that he was raised to ensure his family and those he loves are Fed Well.

Cafe Maya & Cantina Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Manalapan Diner After Great Adventure

Food in New Jersey?  After visiting a theme park?  For a group with varying tastes?  Yes, a diner.  While my sister drove, all passengers were on the lookout for a diner and the Manalapan was where we stopped our search.  Looked like it was recently updated and with cars in the parking lot, we thought it seemed like a good choice.

One of the best features of a diner is the variety.  Not only are the novel size menus filled with hundreds of options, diners can order any meal any time of the day as well as any number of specials. My sister and I opt for the seafood bisque. 

The Mr. typically stays away from anything that remotely resembles baby food and the soup is no exception. It could have used a bit less salt and though the crackers are provided for texture, I would have preferred oyster crackers if I had a choice.

A packed bread basket includes a cheese danish.  I've never seen that before.  

Had a moment of confusion as we received the bread and soup long before drinks.  When I asked for our drinks, our waitress was a bit sharp and then when she returned with them (one was wrong but we were afraid to say anything), she told us a story that included her revealing her age (73).  Was that designed so we would give her a break?  Not sure.  She seemed lovely, but that wasn't the point.  I was thirsty from the salty soup is all.  I worried the mood was ruined.

The Mr.'s wrap. Yes, chicken.  He was happy.  The fries were crisp, the pickle was dill-icious and snappy.

A classic order of spaghetti and meatballs (well, one large) for my older nephew.

The younger nephew also chose a classic; penne a la vodka.  A beautiful and large portion.

My sister enjoyed the eggplant parmigiana. 

Where is my dish?  Well, it was delicious.  I simply put the camera away and forgot all about it.  I did have sweet potato fries and a shrimp salad wrap.  I avoided eye contact or any verbal exchanges with our waitress and she paid attention to my sister.  Awkward.  

However, as part of her peace offering, she allowed my nephews to order a complimentary dessert upgrade (I was never asked if I wanted anything).  Here's what they both decided on:

They loved it.

The rest of the ride home included stories of the day, reviewing the photos on my cell phone, telling a few jokes and memories that will feed us well for a lifetime.

Manalapan Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 9, 2013

Giovanni's Inn

We used to live in the general area of Giovanni's Inn and I remember visiting quite a few years ago but leaving after reviewing the menu. At the time, the prices were more than we could pay for a young family of four.  When the Mr. and I have a chance to go out to dinner, 95% of the time we opt for a locally owned place rather than a chain and if the Mr. has a say, he wants Italian food. By Italian food he means either Chicken Marsala or Parmesan with a side of pasta smothered in a sweet tomato sauce. He likes his salad with bread and his coffee not too strong.  A simple man to please, right?  

The challenge is adding my palette and opinion. I am a bit more willing to take a risk but I do eat with my eyes and want to be impressed. I also judge the appearance, decor, staff, wait times, friendliness, cleanliness, atmosphere and overall likelihood of ever recommending a restaurant. Would I take an out of town visitor to this restaurant?

I'm not quite sure about Giovanni's Inn.  I will let you decide.

First impressions:

While nothing is glaringly wrong, it reminds me of something that has passed its prime; worn, not as cared for, a bit dull.

We are told we can sit anywhere and honestly, I walked in, looked around and if I didn't think the Mr. and our son would die of mortification, I probably would have left. I thought a table by the window may be best and this was our view into the restaurant.

If you look very carefully on the right hand side of the photo you may make out a lady with blonde hair in a black top sitting at a piano.  Marilyn was one of the evenings highlights (but more about her later). The wall behind me as well as the one to my right were covered in ribbons.  I believe they were for show dogs but I can't be sure. The mounted deer head in the left of the photo (not the various ones over the bar) was across from a lovely stuffed raccoon, and a number of "God's Eye" pieces hung on the walls. The feeling was cluttered and forlorn. I am still hopeful.

We order our drinks and I perk up a bit. The presentation is lovely and our son swears it is the best iced tea ever.

My Cosmopolitan tasted like the proportions were just a little bit off, but the glass was chilled. Fabulous.

Who can resist a classic or vintage vibe in glassware?

Marilyn Kennedy continues to play the piano and sing facing the wall.  Her voice is crystal clear and wonderful though my husband and song have yet to recognize her choices.  I decide to request, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and we chat for a few moments. Marilyn is absolutely lovely and nails my request.  In the meantime, a young couple are seated and asked their server if she could turn the music down. They never saw Marilyn and didn't realize they were being treated to a free and live performance.

First course was a clam appetizer that was not listed on the menu but a special told to us by our server.

The clams were amazing and though the Mr. picked out all of the chunks of garlic, the sauce was flavored beautifully.  However, what was the circle outline from on our dish? A price tag? I was going to edit the photo, but thought it best if readers see it the way we saw it.

Honestly, I want to like the restaurant and am a huge supporter of local businesses. I ask our server how long they have been in business - 22 years. Maybe the owners/managers no longer see their business through a new customer's eyes.

Salads were next. Crisp lettuce, red onions and cucumber were in our individual dishes. A bowl of "cucumber salad" was also placed on the table for us without any further explanation. None of us tried it. The ribbons of cucumber were swimming in something and since we weren't really clear about the contents of the dish we decided not to try it.

Time for our main courses. For the Mr....

I tasted it.  The sauce was little thin, but it was quite flavorful and I knew it was almost exactly what he would want in Chicken Marsala. He doesn't really like the wine to overpower the dish and it was a fairly healthy serving of chicken.

For our son...

The chicken looks too familiar. The serving size is generous, but it just looks a little sad doesn't it? Penne a la Vodka with Chicken.  

And here's mine...

One of the evening's specials, described as "Scallops and Shrimp Risotto."  Not quite what I pictured. BUT, it was good.  The seafood was a decent texture and the sauce hearty. Risotto? 

Marilyn continues her serenade, the young people are eating, the regulars are chatting and I overhear the dessert specials. I must try the cannoli.  They are described as, "a crispy shell that is filled with a fresh creamy ricotta filling when ordered."  Yum.

Cannoli deserve 2 views:

They were in fact, delicious.

See how hard it can be to review a restaurant.  In this case, a star system could have been useful as certain individual items would have scored at far ends of the spectrum. We had a wonderful time together and felt especially entertained by the star, Marilyn Kennedy.  I bought her CD so the memory of the evening can continue to be revisited and leave me feeling musically Fed Well.

Giovanni's Inn on Urbanspoon