Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Heading out on the road again

Got a summer trip coming up with lots of eating and road tripping. First from the bay area to the Grand Tetons and back. Then from Dayton in Ohio back to the East bay. Should have some great food stops to share. This time, as well, I'm going to share the places we had on our list but didn't get to. And if you have suggestions, please add them. Would love to know where else we should be stopping.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Onyx Hotel, Boston

Asha loved it and the kids had a great time. This contemporary designed hotel was decorated in bright, whimsical colors and patterns and our two rooms were nicely secluded in their own alcove so that we weren’t bothering other people (much). One room had a King and the other two doubles. The kids shared a room which had its own issues (like sleeping or not). Afternoons they had popsicles for the kids and the Wii but it was at a very inconvenient time, 2pm. Who is hanging around the hotel in the middle of the afternoon?
During our stay, there was major construction happening outside the hotel which made loading and unloading the cars a pain, but other than that it wasn’t a big deal. The hotel’s location is very central but it’s on this one block street that isn’t particularly nice (not unsafe though). We were able to walk almost everywhere we wanted to.
The hotel lounge had breakfast in the morning (but we never ate there). Instead we walked around the corner to a coffee shop. It also had a free wine hour in the evening, or you could have cocktails at the bar.

Driving to Poughkeepsie

Driving to Poughkeepsie
It was raining. Boston to Poughkeepsie is about 4 hours across Massachusetts on 84 into NY. Coming out of Boston, the number of cops was incredible. They must be waiting for people to speed through the tolls. On the toll road there are lots of fast food stops and gas stops so you don’t have to get off the toll (the rest areas have food courts with Mexican, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, etc). Of course, you miss any good food places that require exiting the toll road (such a different approach to travel then Canada’s don’t miss our small towns approach).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Blue Hill Stone Barns, NY

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Well this should have been our quintessential farm to table restaurant experience. Blue Hill is on its own farm where they have an enormous garden, cattle graze, chicken run around and I’m sure there were lamb off somewhere as well, but I didn’t see them. The farm is beautiful and I do wish we’d come much earlier and spent some time exploring the farm, sitting in the café, and perusing the food market. By the time we arrived for our 7:30 reservation, we only had a half hour to wander and the café and market were already closed.
The restaurant is set in one of the several stone buildings that make up the central area. These are gorgeous stone buildings with decorative brick work that feel almost like a fortress. Inside the restaurant there is a fairly large bar area and then the restaurant itself with dark wood, white tablecloths and formally dressed wait staff (and lots of them). Because we were early, we waited in the bar area but in the 15 minutes we were waiting, no one ever got around to taking our order. When our whole party had arrived (David, Donna, Marci, Jeff and Lisa, dave and Terri and I), we were seated at a round (inconvenient) booth.
We were given a menu. On the left side is a list of the current products in use. There are tons of them (much more than the website shows) including veggies, meats, cheeses, fish, etc. all of which are from the farm or the local area. On the right side it indicates the two types of menus: the farm prix fix, $135 which includes 6 savory courses and 2 desserts; and the regular tasting menu for $105, 4 savory and 1 dessert). The whole table has to select one choice. Meanwhile, David was ordering our wine, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. After much hemming and hawing we did decide on the 8 course. The waitress indicated that the actual amount of food is the same, but that you get to taste more things, obviously, in the 8 course. Upon reflection, I do wish we’d had the five. From my perspective, it was too many flavors that had no thematic or cohesive sense and was kind of too much for my senses (plus, most desserts, from my perspective are not very good).
After we selected the menu we wanted, the waitress asked if there were any allergies, did any of us not want raw fish? No meat eaters? Cheese? And from our responses to these questions, the menu is designed.
It started with a “deconstructed” salad (at least that’s what I called it) with slender baby carrots in a light dressing impaled on nails on a piece of wood with one carrot for each person. Next to each carrot, was one piece of lightly dressed Romaine. Each person got one impaled cherry tomato on another piece of wood and a piece of summer squash coated in sesame seeds and prosciutto (so the rumor goes, but I didn’t taste that). Each slab of wood is brought out separately, but fairly quickly (in fact, throughout the meal, I didn’t have time to finish many of my dishes before they cleared but maybe I was eating too slowly). We still did not have our wine because they said they needed to chill it.
The vegetables came with a summer soup (gazpacho) in a shot glass, fresh bread with fresh ricotta and butter that are made from their cows. This is served with a tomato powder which seems like a lot of trouble for little flavor. It looks pretty, however. They kept trying to take my bread to clear the table which felt a little rushed (now, the meal took over 3 hours so it’s difficult to see how I was feeling rushed, but I was). They also brought a bite of sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese, in a tiny cream puff. I found this barely worth eating and didn’t finish it. The sweet cream puff did not compliment the flavors of the tomato.
The second course was a piece of sea bass on a sauce of fresh, muddled peas, pine nuts and spices. The sea bass was wonderful, tender, almost sweet and lightly flavored. The peas were also very light and sweet and complimented the sea bass.
The third course started with an introduction by one waitress to the farm’s onions which she explained would be made into broth. It was a cut out rectangle from the center of the eggplant and I don’t think it had been cooked (maybe steamed?) and it was served with some garlic sausage and a bit of tomato and some slice of white thing which we aren't sure what it was.
A kind of mini salad of tomato and melon came in the middle with basil and little flowers. I loved the tomatoes. They were soooo sweet.
a little mound of pasta, linguine, dressed in a light red sauce. The pasta was not quite al dente and had way too much bite. The sauce was not particularly flavorful but I guess it tasted lightly of tomatoes. My little mound was so small, I would say it barely made one bite.
Fourth, we had another fish course. This was halibut with some shellfish (a combination of a tiny piece of lobster and of shrimp). The lobster was wonderfully sweet and tender. The shrimp, in contrast, had an off flavor and was a bit tough. The sauce on the halibut was a corn broth.
At this point, David ordered a Cabernet of Ridge, 2005 that was very good. Unfortunately, the waitress spilled one glass across the table making an enormous, mucky mess with some splashing on David, most staining the tablecloth. They tried to be discrete in cleaning it up but it was a mess and could never satisfactorily be taken care of so they just had to put big white napkins on top of the mess.
Fifth was slices of rare beef in an asian sesame dressing. This was quite flavorful and the meat was both tender enough (with some bite) and tasty. This was probably the most flavorful course, and hence, my fav.
The dessert courses consisted of a jellied custard with large tapioca (or the things in bubble tea—are those tapioca?) and currants. This was creamy and sharp tasting with the currants and then when you bite into the bubble it’s kind of fun. I did like this course. The second dessert course was corn ice cream on some dried fruit with fresh blueberries. The blueberries were some of the tastiest I’ve had, but I did not like the corn ice cream at all. Marci said the ice cream was better if eaten with the accompaniments of dried fruit.
They did bring a little ending course of corn meal macaroons which I did not like and didn’t eat.
A note on the service: they were practically dancing as they served us our plates in a choreographed service. Three or four people would come and place the plates for four, then they would rotate one and then put another plate. They cleared the plates the same way, hence they needed us all to be finished at the same time. If i wasn't, they just took my plate anyway.
The experience, the conversation and company were enjoyable, but overall the experience was a disappointment. Many cheaper meals were better tasting and certainly more filling.

Harvard Square, Cambridge

Cambridge MA
Cambridge in the middle of July is a very busy, hectic place (at least at Harvard Square). I don’t know how many of the people milling around are tourists and how many are locals, but it was like a zoo. At the square itself is a central visitor information booth with long lines. It’s also where the T stops. There are many cops just hanging around here as well, not sure why.
Radiating out from the central square are the main shopping/eating streets and then Harvard itself which we really didn’t get to see because we had time constraints given that the bikes needed to be back. But we did wander the streets a bit. The shopping seemed primarily geared toward locals. There were not a lot of t-shirt or junk shops but more Harvard wear, trendy stuff, sports stores, a few cafes, ice cream shops, etc.
We got ice cream from a side street recommended by the visitor center but Asha’s pistachio was so yucky she tossed it out. Lauren had chocolate and she seemed to like it. The place was kind of messy and trashy (like the whole area is). There are lots of places to eat on the sidewalks if you just want to take in the crowd vibe. People play instruments and sing in various places as well.

Cafe of India, Cambridge

Cafe of India, Cambridge
This café is located off the Harvard Square and was recommended by Chow hound and some other reviews, so we decided to go to the buffet because we’d be able to get the food fast. It’s a pretty big restaurant but the buffet ($8.95) is small with about 7 items and 2 chicken dishes. It was heavy on potatoes and kind of a disappointment but the food was fine. We were so hot, though, I wasn’t much interested in eating.
They brought fresh Naan to the table. The food was very mildly spiced, not very greasy but not particularly flavorful. They have a lot of wait staff but no one even asked us if we wanted drinks, so we had to flag them down. I didn’t notice any frozen carrots. The tandoori chicken was very moist and kesh ate a lot of that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Antico Forno

Antico Forno, Boston
We read some good reviews of this Italian place in the North end neighborhood and it was on the freedom walk and it took reservations (we had 10 people) so we stopped there as we strolled. The restaurant is large with wood tables and an Italian wait staff that was not very friendly or cheerful. They sat us immediately at some tables pushed together and we waited about 15 minutes for them to take our orders.
The menu items included lots of pastas with a variety of toppings from alfredo to Bolognese (about $12), a wide range of salads and pizzas. We ordered a pretty broad selection and they were accommodating of our special needs: Lauren just wanted butter on her pasta and one of the other boys had allergies and needed a particular pasta as well.
I had a salad on focaccia with veggies and cheese and roasted peppers. It said it had zucchini but it didn’t come with it (which was fine with me because I don’t like zucchini). The salad was fresh, tasty and large (Marci and I shared it). Asha had pizza which I thought had way too much cheese on it but she ate 4 or 5 pieces of it. Marci had a baked pasta dish with sausage and red sauce which was fine but nothing special. Kesh had fettucine Bolognese. I think the noodles in this dish were homemade but they were too thick and kind of gummy but kesh ate it.
The service was lacking not only because they weren’t very cheerful but they never came back to ask if things were okay or if we wanted water refills (which we did because it was so darn hot). Overall, I wouldn’t return.