Trouble With Toast

Interview, part deux

January 30, 2009
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So, the lovely Oxen Cox of Foodie Pop was interviewed recently, so I asked her to do the same for me.  I’m not going to repeat the instructions, since I already posted them here.  On we go!

1. So I saw on your site that you are engaged.  What is the first meal you made for your significant other?

Wow, I have no idea, since a) that was a long time ago, b) we ate out a good amount in the beginning of our relationship, and c) I cook A LOT.  I do, however, remember the first and only meal my fiance ever made for me.  It was in his teeny tiny kitchen in his teeny tiny Foggy Bottom studio apartment, and it was spaghetti and salad.  I believe he also attempted chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  It was a HUGE gesture for him to make, since he doesn’t really use knives or know how to boil water.  Very sweet.

2. If you were to open or invest in a restaurant, what would you call it?

Great question–but difficult!  The literary geek in me would like to call it “Prufrock’s” or something (I’m a T.S. Eliot guru), but I’d probably be the only one amused by that.  Maybe I’d just stick to using my name.  “Betty’s” has a nice ring to it, I suppose.

3. Which one of the Seven Dwarfs do you connect with the most?

Today, probably Sleepy!  Most of the time, though, I think I’m Happy.  I’m a pretty upbeat, energetic, glass-is-half-full kind of gal, even if I don’t whistle while I work and all that.

4. Someone picks you up in a time machine and says that you can go and visit one place in time.  Where do you go?

I’m a huge James Dean buff, so I would probably go back to the early- to mid-50s in Hollywood.  He was such a pivotal figure for teenage rebellion during that time frame, and I think it would have been cool to witness his all-to-brief acting career while it was evolving.  There were some other very bright stars during that period, too, so it would be a side benefit to see Hollywood when it was filled with talent (as opposed to the reality TV assclowns who seem to dominate the airwaves these days).

5. What is your favorite meal of the day?  Breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack, dinner, drunk food…you get it.

Breakfast, hands down.  I think eggs are pretty much the perfect food, and breakfast carbs (bagels and donuts in particular) ain’t too shabby either.  I am equally enamored of bacon and sausage.  Add some mimosas in there, and I am one happy lady.  Don’t get me wrong, drunk food is good stuff, but since I usually end up treating my drunkenness with greasy breakfast-related goodies (gotta love the Waffle House, baby), it all comes back to the most important meal of the day.

Ta da!  Have a great weekend, folks…


My grandma’s gonna make me famous

January 29, 2009
11 Comments

A few weeks ago, I got a comment on the blog from John Kessler at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asking me to give him a call.  I was flat-out giddy–after all, John has been a staple in the Atlanta food scene for over a decade, and he’s a culinary school graduate and a doggone good writer to boot.  I was really curious about what he wanted with ME.  I secretly hoped that he was retiring and had hand-picked me to be his replacement.

Well, no such luck–but John informed me that he was writing a feature on local food bloggers (specifically those with a significant home cooking component), and he wanted to include me in the piece.  Squee!  In addition to an interview and a photo shoot, I would also have to submit an original recipe for inclusion in the article.  This gave me a little heartburn, since most of what I do is try out and fiddle with other people’s recipes, but then I realized that my grandma’s famous clam chowder would be the perfect submission.

This recipe (I call it “Long Island” clam chowder) has been in my family for decades, always making an appearance at our very non-traditional Thanksgiving celebration.  The briny flavor of the clams and the saltiness of the pork really remind me of my childhood in Huntington, New York.  It’s a bit time consuming, but it makes a lot of chowder and the flavors keep getting better as they mingle in the fridge.

Note: For any interested parties, the AJC piece should be running next Thursday, February 5.  The recipe in the article will be different from the one below, as the newspaper’s recipe stylist played around with the proportions and did some ingredient substitutions.  The version in this post was literally dictated to me by my 86-year-old granny. 

  • 2-3 dozen large Quahog clams
  • 2-3 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 pound salt pork, sliced, de-rinded, and chopped (you can use a thick-cut bacon if you can’t find salt pork)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Fresh thyme
  • Tabasco sauce
  • 5-6 pounds white potatoes (NOT baking potatoes)
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled, uncooked, unseasoned tomatoes, drained and chopped

Scrub clams and put in empty 12-quart stock pot.  Fill stock pot with cold water until the clams are just covered.  Cover stock pot and put over high heat; bring to a boil.  When clams have steamed open (probably about 10-15 minutes altogether), turn off heat.  Remove clams and drain.  Strain clam broth into another pot; set aside.  Wash original pot to rid of sediment; put clam broth back in.

Fill another large pot with cold water.  Peel potatoes and add to cold water.  Let sit while you continue with next steps.

Put deep saucepan on medium to medium-high heat.  Put salt pork in saucepan; cook down and break up.  Add to saucepan the onions, celery, and carrots.  Add pepper, thyme, and Tabasco to taste; cover.  Stir frequently.  When onions are soft/translucent (but carrots still have flavor), put mixture in stock pot with clam broth, set to medium heat, and cover.  Add tomatoes to clam/veggie pot; cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes on medium-low heat.

 Coarsely chop potatoes and add to pot; cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes on medium-low heat.

 Remove clams from shells.  Coarsely chop and add to pot; cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

 * I’ll post a picture this evening, as I totally forgot to upload the file.  Whoops.


Recipe: Creamy parsnip soup

January 28, 2009
8 Comments

Day two of soup week involved an ingredient I’ve never used before: the parsnip.  Related to the carrot (but nutritionally richer), the parsnip never popped into my brain as a star ingredient until I saw this appealing recipe in my handy dandy “Good Food Fast” cookbook.  I was excited about potentially discovering another winter veggie that would bridge the gap between my favorite fall and spring flavors.

Sadly, the parsnip did not win me over.  While this soup was quite creamy and comforting, and while it certainly didn’t taste BAD, it really didn’t have any oomph.  Perhaps some garlic or herbs would have built another layer of flavor, or perhaps things would have been tastier if I had used an apple with a little more tartness, like a Granny Smith (I opted for Gala).  Who knows?  Until I figure out that missing link, though, parsnips and I will continue to be casual acquaintances instead of dear friends.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound prepared leeks, sliced (2 cups)
  • 1 pound parsnips, trimmed, peeled, and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium baking potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper

Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring,5 minutes. Add parsnips, apples, potato, broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth. Return it to pot; stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper.

parsnip-soup


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Recipe: Lentil soup

January 27, 2009
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Soup, how I love thee!  Let me count the ways…

One: you are warm and comforting when the weather is cold.

Two: when I am sicky sickerson (which I have been for the past three days), you make me feel slightly less like battered ass.

Three: when homemade, you are a relatively low-calorie meal that is healthy yet satisfying.

Four: contrary to popular belief, you are not complicated to make.

I could go on, but I think you get the drift–yes, it’s soup week here at Trouble With Toast!  The stars aligned, and the circumstances seemed perfect to focus on recipes that can cure your ills, help trim your waistline, and make you feel warm and cuddly in the cruelest of winter months.

Let’s start with one of my favorites, an underappreciated powerhouse of nutrition and flavor.  Lentils contain high levels of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  They have a nutty, earthy flavor that pairs well with many veggies and starches.  And bonus–they’re cheap!  You can buy a bag of dried lentils for about a buck, and they’ll last in your pantry forever (just keep in mind that the older they are, the longer they’ll need to cook to get tender).  This recipe, which I adapted slightly from “Good Food Fast,” is pretty straightforward and uses ingredients that should be standard in every kitchen.  The vinegar at the end is a great touch, and you can certainly adjust the amount based on your personal taste.  Just a couple of notes: 1) if you want to make this a true vegetarian soup, omit the bacon (duh), cook the veggies in olive oil, and use vegetable broth; 2) the cooking time will depend on how old your lentils are, so continually taste them and make sure they’re to your liking before cutting off the heat; and 3) if you find that the soup is getting too thick, just add more water till you achieve your preferred consistency.

Enjoy!

  • 3 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4-inch half-moons
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

In a Dutch oven (or other 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add onion and carrots; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute. Add lentils, thyme, broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve immediately.

lentil-soup


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Interview with a blogger

January 26, 2009
4 Comments

Thanks to the interview “meme” that’s been circulating lately, I discovered a new blog.  This is great for my entertainment but bad for my overall productivity.  Oh, well.

In any case, Brian of Life of Brian was interviewed recently, and he decided to keep the dream alive by interviewing little ol’ me.  Here are the questions and answers!

1. What inspired you to start blogging to begin with?

Well, it wasn’t so much inspiration as it was boredom and narcissism.  Back in spring of 2005, I was getting ready to graduate from law school and move to DC.  With my plans already arranged, I didn’t have a whole lot of productive things to do (note: I should have started studying for the bar exam right then and there, but that brilliant idea didn’t occur to me at the time).  After reading a few blogs written by friends, I decided to start one of my own so that friends and family could read about my adventures, so Drawn to the Rhythm was born.  It had a nice run, despite not having a cohesive theme or any visual appeal.  After a while, though, it felt really forced.  I did a little bit of writing on my sister’s boyfriend’s blog, EatFoo (which is still active and much better than it ever was when I was involved), but then I decided to go it alone and create a food blog that would allow me to write about the dishes and restaurants that  speak to me.  And here it is!

2. What would be your last meal, if you could pick it?

It would be a multi-course affair, no doubt.  For my amuse bouche, I’d eat a serving of eggs benedict in one bite (hey, if it’s not one bite, it’s not an amuse).  I’d move on to a mushroom-swiss burger, served rare, with extra crunchy tater tots.  Then I’d enjoy a large Hawaiian pizza.  For dessert, I would destroy a whole batch of my mom’s homemade brownies.

3. Would you be a TV chef if it was offered to you?

I’m torn on this one.  I do adore some TV chefs (Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Alton Brown come to mind), and I definitely think I have the personality for something like that.  But, since chefs are bona fide celebrities these days, to accept a TV gig I would also have to accept the paparazzi, the haters, the non-cooking-related commitments, the product placement, and all of that rubbish.  I think public television is the only way I’d be able to go.

4. You have to spend 1 million dollars in one day and have nothing to show for it at the end, what do you buy?

GREAT question, Brian!   I think I would commission a private jet and fly to Barcelona, and then I’d rent a killer convertible and drive to El Bulli for dinner.  Whatever was leftover I would probably give to charity (animal rescue and cancer research are my two primary causes).

5. One ingredient you could never live without?

Cilantro.  Not only is it one of my favorite herbs, but it is an important ingredient in both Latin and Asian cooking.  The only frustrating thing about it is that so many people hate it.  More for me!

Thanks again to Brian–definitely check out his blog!  And feel free to shout out in the comments if you’d like me to interview you.  Here are the rules:

1. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. Be sure you link back to the original post.
2. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
3. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


Delta’s ready when you are

January 23, 2009
6 Comments

First, mega brownie points for anyone who recognizes the title reference.

Even though I don’t live in DC anymore, I frequently read Tom Seitsema’s live online chats through the Washington Post website.  Without fail, there’s always some killjoy whose sole purpose of writing in is to bitch and moan about how much DC’s restaurant scene sucks, and to complain about how we don’t have good burgers/pizza/ethnic food, and to haughtily claim that everything was superior back in New York/Chicago/San Francisco.  I have two things to say to those people:

1) See the title of this post.  Seriously, if you hate DC (or any other city, for that matter) so much, get the hell out.

2) Obviously, you’re not asking me for restaurant recommendations.  Because in my humble (read: expert) opinion, DC is a fantastic dining destination with oodles of choices for every taste and budget.

Take last weekend’s visit.  On Friday night, my friends and I went to Proof for dinner.  In terms of atmosphere, it doesn’t get much better for me–Proof is chic without being fussy and upscale while still being accessible.  We started with the jamon serrano, the speck, and the housemade pate from the charcuterie list. I focused on the pate, and it was rich and incredibly flavorful. We also had two hot appetizers, the pumpkin gnocchi (with sage, spinach, and yummy yummy wild mushrooms) and the pork belly confit. The gnocchi was outstanding, as has been every other seasonal preparation of that dish. The pork belly was tender and flavorful, and my friends really dug the Asian slaw that accompanied it (it contained peanuts, to which I am allergic, so I didn’t formulate an opinion).  In terms of main courses, the seared scallops, in addition to being perfectly cooked, were served with a delicious wasabi-onion emulsion that I would like to buy by the bottle. The duck breast was also impeccably cooked and had an amazing spicy crust. Both plates were practically licked clean.  We ordered the new cookie plate for dessert, and we were pleasantly surprised by the wonderful fruitiness of the strawberry meringues. The salty oatmeal cookie was probably the table favorite, though I also liked the madelines and the chocolate chip cookie. The flavor of the ginger-molasses cookie was intense and would have been delicious at my holiday parties.  Service was excellent, and all of the wine recommendations were spot-on (Proof, as its name would suggest, has an insanely varied selection of vino and other beverages).  We left the restaurant trying to pick out our favorite part of the meal, but it was just too hard, since everything was so fantastic.

Then there was Saturday’s lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso.  I expected Georgetown to be a madhouse with inauguration crowds, but we walked in and were seated quickly by a very friendly host.  The aromas in the restaurant were just heavenly, by the way.  Their beer selection is INCREDIBLE, and it was just what we needed after a night of heavy drinking (what, you’ve never heard of “hair of the dog”?).  The pizzas also hit the spot, with their cheesy carby goodness.  I ordered a veggie version, with tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms, and it was a delicious way to trick my body into thinking it was eating healthy.  My friend’s four-cheese pizza with pine nuts had no such illusions, but it was amazingly flavorful.  The crusts were perfectly cooked on both–tender, but with a little charred crunch.  There are lots of mediocre restaurants in Georgetown, for sure, but Pizzeria Paradiso is a nice place to enjoy a casual, tasty bite.

The final taste treat of the weekend was in Arlington, at Ray’s Hell Burger.  When I lived in DC, I visited Ray’s the Steaks as often as possible, as it is both affordable and yummylicious.  My inaugural (pun intended) trip to the sister burger joint didn’t let me down, either.  Just like RTS, the atmosphere is…minimal, to say the least.  But who cares about decor when you have cow juice dripping down your chin?  I ordered the Soul Burger (with bacon, a cheese I cannot remember, mushrooms and onions, lettuce, and tomato), cooked recommended, and it was the closest thing I’ve ever found to my dad’s backyard burgers–thick, juicy, TASTY (as in, you can taste the meat), and immensely satisfying. The bun handled the patty and the toppings with minimal issues. My friend got a burger with blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions, cooked medium, and she really enjoyed it.  They have a bunch of cool, retro sodas (like Cheerwine!), which is a nice touch.  They also have sides and chips, but you don’t really need them with a 10-ounce burger.  Honestly, if that doesn’t fill your tummy, just order a second one.  Having RTS and Hell Burger in one strip mall is possibly the only thing that could convince me to move to Arlington.

These are just three of the HUNDREDS of quality dining options available in and around DC.  I lived there for three years, and I didn’t even come close to trying all of the city’s great restaurants.  So before you start judging our nation’s capital by its proverbial cover, give it a real chance.  If it doesn’t impress you the way it did me, see the title of this post again.


Hot foodie love

January 21, 2009
8 Comments

As I flew back to Atlanta yesterday, the pilot turned the plane in such a way that I could see the huddled masses on the National Mall.  I expected to have guilt about being in DC during inauguration weekend but not attending any inauguration-related events.  But, for the first time in my self-flaggelating Jewish life, there was no guilt.  Because, despite my lack of Obamamania (not because I don’t dig him, but because it was too damn cold for all of that mess), I had one kickass weekend.

There was too much awesomeness to recount here.  The highlights  included dinners at Proof and Ray’s Hell Burger (both to be detailed in future posts), beers with friends at Wonderland Ballroom, my first Pizzeria Paradiso experience, being a diva and having a dear friend bring me donuts to fight my wicked hangover, psychology at work at the Reef with three fascinating men, splurging at Denim Bar while strangers commented on my ass, and pounding beers while discussing the finer points of birthday cake with nuts (don’t ask).  The piece de resistance, however, had to be cooking with Lemmonex on a chilly Saturday night.

We batted around a lot of ideas for our tandem kitchen adventure, including pie crusts (shot down because of a too-small food processor) and sushi (shot down because the trek to Blacksalt would have been too long and too cold).  Then the perfect idea hit us–let’s balance out all of our shopping and expensive boozing by making a budget meal!  I was responsible for the appetizer, and Lem was in charge of the main course (which you can read about on Culinary Couture today).

I chose to prepare a multicultural starter, and I wanted to keep everything under $10.  As you can see, I didn’t quite hit that mark, but I still think that three types of bruschetta (which, all total, would serve at least 20 people) for under $20 is a success.  For the toast base, you can either buy them pre-made or just slice a baguette (make sure you have a serrated knife, though…ahem).  You may balk at these apps because they contain things like canned beans and frozen corn, but the fresh ingredients are so flavorful that you can keep costs down where it’s possible.  I really loved the Greek version (though I wish I had remembered to add fresh dill), but I think Lem’s favorite was the Mexican.  They were all pretty darn satisfying.

So, while I had to leave DC without getting spooned by the city’s hottest foodie, at least I left with these yummy bruschetta in my repertoire.  And Lem, I cannot WAIT until you come to Atlanta…the city won’t know what hit it.

“Around The World” Bruschetta

Traditional Italian: 2 slicing tomatoes (diced), 1 clove garlic (finely chopped).  Mix and spoon onto toast, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Total cost: $4.89, plus tax.

Greek: 1 can garbanzo beans (drained and “rustically mashed”), 1 8 oz. container plain Greek yogurt, 1 cucumber (peeled and diced), salt and pepper to taste.  Mix and spoon onto toast, then drizzle with fresh lemon juice to taste.  Total cost: $5.52, plus tax.

Hot Mexican: About 1/2 can of black beans (drained), about 1/2 bag frozen yellow corn (cooked according to package directions and cooled), 1/2 red onion (diced), 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.  Mix and spoon onto toast, then cover with shredded pepper jack cheese and place under broiler until melted.  Total cost: $7.25, plus tax.

bj-and-lem-wonderlandbruschetta-1bruschetta-2


A couple of things

January 9, 2009
1 Comment

Lots of exciting things are happening over here at TWT, so thanks for reading, and definitely stay tuned for more good stuff.

I’ll be in Florida (Clearwater and St. Pete) for the next week, so posting will be light.  I wish I could say that I’ll be on vacation, but it’s a business trip, so the sun and surf will probably be kept to a minimum.

After the sunshine state, it’s off to DC!  I can’t wait to visit my old stomping grounds, even though I know it’s going to be a nuthouse because of that minor event on January 20.  And here I thought my visit woul be the highlight of the month.  Bummer.

You’ll notice that I’ve added a few new links–definitely check them out!  You’ll also notice that the half marathon training page is back.  This time, it’s for real.  I’m logging my workouts in a number of different places, so I’m extra accountable for actually completing them.  Wish me luck!

I hope you all eat well for the next ten days or so–I’m sure I’ll have a lot to write about when I return!


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Recipe: Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

January 9, 2009
8 Comments

I don’t do too many shameless plugs on this site.  Okay, let me rephrase: I don’t do too many non-food-related shameless plugs on this site.  Happy now?  Sheesh.

Anyway, my plug is for Borders (yes, the bookstore).  Not only is their loyalty rewards program FREE (unlike another large bookstore chain I might mention), but they send me super duper coupons every month or so.  For example, right before Christmas, I got a coupon for 40% off any book in the store.  I knew I would be buying a nice hardback cookbook, since they’re the most expensive books I buy, and they never seem to go on sale.  Damn celebrity chefs and their royalties.

Long story short (too late, I know), I used my 40% off coupon at Borders to buy Ina Garten’s new cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.”  I even bought a copy for my mom, because I was so impressed with the helpful tips and the yummy-looking yet relatively easy recipes.  The only question that remained was which recipe I’d tackle first.

I settled on this pound cake because a) I had all of the ingredients, and b) I had recently eaten the last piece of the Bailey’s bundt cake.  Not only was this cake simple to prepare, but it made my kitchen smell divine.  This is a great breakfast treat, but it also works well as a dessert.  So thank you, Ina and Borders, for keeping my sweet tooth satisfied.

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
    1 1/4 cups sugar
    4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
    2 tablespoons mild honey
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light. Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup (but do NOT mix). With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it very slowly to the butter and egg mixture until just combined. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out on a baking rack, and cool completely.


Aria Makes Music

January 8, 2009
4 Comments

For Jason’s second birthday dinner, my parents took us out to Aria, a relative old-timer in the Atlanta dining scene (having opened in Spring of 2000, it has lasted longer than many a Buckhead hotspot).  Mom and dad visited for the first time a few months ago, when a California vinyard they buy from hosted a wine tasting and dinner.  They were so impressed with the experience that they brought us along to try out the regular menu.

I have to admit, my first (visual) impression of the restaurant wasn’t glowingly positive.  There was a beaded curtain separating the small entryway from the bar, and the lounge-y area was rife with velour seating and candlelight.  Then, the main dining room brightened significantly with white-trimmed walls, bejeweled animal sculptures (one reminded me of the infamous mirrored lynx from my uncle’s Nascar wedding, if that tells you anything about its tackiness), and a light fixture that was described by my mother as phallic but that reminded me more of a cross between a mosquito and a giant squid.  The whole ambiance just screamed 1990s to me–plus, I appeared to be the youngest diner in the place, by a good 20-30 years.

Our server greeted us warmly, and we were off to the races with appetizers.  Since we were ravenous, and since all of the starters looked so good, we ordered 5 of them.  I opted for a creamless celery root soup, with black truffles and parmigiano reggiano.  Yum!  The texture and flavor were both great, and it was a light yet comforting way to start the meal.  Mom went with warm lobster cocktail, butter braised with broccoli and truffled potatoes.  The lobster was rich and flavorful, but I wasn’t sure I loved the presentation as a whole (the potatoes seemed out of place in the dish, though they were tasty on their own).  Jason’s beet salad with goat cheese and tangerines was lovely and well-balanced.  Dad’s tempura crisped prawns with spicy Asian slaw were perfectly cooked and had a nice kick to them.  The whole table split an order of seared foie gras with Fuji apples and shallots, and oh. My. GAWD.  So decadent.  So delicious.

For entrees, I went with the pan roasted striped bass with leeks, sugar snaps, and fingerlings.  The server indicated that the dish was very light, and he was spot on–almost to the point of blandness.  Still, the fish was cooked perfectly, and there was just enough tarragon to keep things interesting.  Mom’s seared sea scallops with lobster risotto and ginger were also cooked perfectly, and the scallops on their own were lovely, but there was something about the risotto that made it overpowering and a little unpleasant.  I thought it was too much butter, but dad thought maybe it was the ginger.  Speaking of dad, his zinfandel braised short ribs with celery whipped potatoes and parsnips was falling off the bone; however, in terms of flavor, it wasn’t my favorite version of the dish.  Jason got the best thing at the table, in my opinion: pan roasted breast of duck with a crispy potato cake and braised cabbage.  The duck was cooked to an impeccable rare-medium rare, and it had the most wonderful smoky flavor.  There was some applewood bacon in the dish, so it tasted just porky enough without overpowering the duck and the cabbage.  Fantastic.

I was too stuffed for dessert, but mom and Jason split the upside down caramel nut cake with walnuts, pecans, almonds, golden raisins, and malt ice cream.  It disappeared fairly quickly, so I assume it was good.  The server also brought some sorbets, and they were fine (but nothing to write home about, in my opinion).

Service continued to be friendly and accessible all night, and our waiter was right on when we asked him to bring us glasses of something white and dry from the wine list (a Sancerre is what he delivered, and it worked nicely with everything).  With after dinner drinks and tip and all of the forementioned goodies, the total wound up to be approximately $100-110 per head.

Aria certainly didn’t elicit any culinary epiphanies from those at our table.  It didn’t present us with any incredibly innovative dishes, dishes that we couldn’t get anywhere else.  But I still walked out of the restaurant with a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Why?  Because quality ingredients plus thoughtful flavor combinations plus impeccable cooking plus attentive service equals an excellent dining experience.


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