Awesome, foodie pen pals, NoOodles, pumpkin sauce

Foodie Pen Pal: October

This month’s lovely box of Foodie Pen Pals goodness comes to us from Stephanie, of Illinois.  Her note said this was a box of seasonality, unique and local and she nailed it on all accounts.  She also managed to fill it with many of my favorite things. 

For seasonal she included a jar of Cucina Antica Tuscany Pumpkin sauce.  I always buy this line of pasta sauce, but have never seen this variety offered local.  I’m extremely excited about this flavor and am actually planning on bringing it with me when I head to NY (where I’ll be when this posts) and share it with some family.  She also included a bag of Montebello Conchiglie pasta, another favorite in our household, but I think I’ll save these for a hearty batch of Mac ‘n Cheese later in the season.

For ‘unique’ she included two bags of ‘NoOodles,’ which are a yam based noodle. I think I’m going to toy around with these in both a sweet and savory recipe–maybe something like a burbur cha cha.

Rounding out the ‘local’ was a bag of Matt’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip cookies. When I saw these–combined with everything else–I felt like Stephanie had looked inside of our pantry and made up the box from there.  She even included two of my favorite flavors of KIND Bars–Chocolate Cherry and Peanut Butter Chocolate.

This was a really great and thoughtfully assembled box.  I can’t thank Stephanie enough for sending me some very unique items, as well as some household faves. Thanks for sharing a bit of the season and your favorites, Stephanie!

Awesome, Bar Lola, beginning of the end, carmel fairies and pork belly dreams

33 dishes, 5 restaurants, 3 days, 2 people–Day 3 pt. 1

March 6, 2010Early Reservation

Bar Lola
3 courses for $30.10; We opted for 5 courses as this was the better value than the RW menu, 2 more courses for only $6 more pp. The best thing? It’s available All the Time!!!

First Impression: There is just something very comfortable about walking through the threshold of Bar Lola. Whether it’s the lighting in the bar, the warm reds in the dining room or the sincere greeting of Stella at the door, Bar Lola is just an extremely welcoming restaurant. At times it did get a bit noisy, but never jarringly so.

Ceviche: Maine Shrimp,House baked crackers with Sparrow Arc Chiles
Cheese Plate:Winnemere/Cabot Clothbound Cheddar; both aged at Jasperhill Farms in VT.

Truthfully, if I could have ordered both dishes myself, I would have. I managed to only sneak away one bite of the lady’s ceviche, something I never order out enough, before she had quickly eaten it all. While she was a little puzzled by the baked cracker, as it wasn’t tremendously crisp, I thought it was wonderful and used a small bit of it to pair with the Winnemere. The last time I was in at Bar Lola I also had the Cabot Clothbound(trust me, it’s above and beyond any Cabot branded cheese on the market), but this one had a little more of a horseradishy bite, a profile found in nicely aged cheddars. The Winnemere, however, was a bit younger than I prefer because it just gets smokier and more complex as it ages out. That is not to say it wasn’t a good piece of Winnemere, because every one is a good one.

Fresh Citrus Salad: With watercress and Endive
Warm Fingerling Potato Salad: with house cured bacon and bacalao

The Mrs. ordered the citrus salad merely in order to compare it to the one she had the previous evening at 555. This was the complete opposite of that one. More simple, better dressed and, as she noted, bearing more than two segments of citrus this was greatly enjoyed. While hers was light and crisp, mine played like a warm German potato salad on fatty, salty steroids. The dressing was slightly tangy and the bacalao was a really nice touch that I haven’t seen before in this type of salad.

The Mrs. and I: Heritage Pork Belly with Crispy Spicy Slaw x2

Oh, this was good. This was beyond good. This was an amazingly well cooked pork that was just greasy enough to make you feel slightly naughty about eating it and secretly wanting more. Actually, my favorite part was shaving off a bit of the fat and running it through the slaws dressing. Now, if they would only make this in a larger portion…

Pasta: Handrolled Pasta with Ricotta, Caramelized Onions and roasted red peppers
Daily Fish: Monkfish with Broccolini, capers and brown butter crutons

The Mrs. had an immediate wrench thrown into the works when we were told that the lamb dish listed was not available. Having had steak the night before, she opted for the pasta dish, which truthfully we hardly ever order out. While she found it nice, and I found the flavors to be nicely balanced, she did actually comment that the sauce was a bit on the oily side. She thought the same of mine, though I didn’t share her sentiments. I thought the brown butter, from the croutons, that dressed the plate was just enough. The monkfish was nicely cooked and the broccolini made me feel better about not having anything else green the entire meal.

The Mrs.:Caramelized Banana Napoleon with Pastry Cream and Chocolate Sauce
Me:Salted Carmel Tart

While I had coveted her dessert the night before, I was reigning sweets queen at the end of this meal. Rich, thick, salted caramel served inside of a brownie, masquerading itself as a simple tart shell, I wanted to command every diner in there to order that for dessert. I’ll admit it, I’m a carmel whore. I make sea salt caramels for gifts just so that I can eat any unfortunate slight mistakes. I’ll wake up, when it’s in my house, and eat a piece before I even start the morning coffee. I f’ing love it and we both raved about this dessert. Needless to say that her lovely Napoleon never stood a chance.

Ambiance: Very comfortable and romantic; my partner noted that you could definitely pick up Stella’s influence in the front of the house. While seating did feel a little tight, we never quite felt like we were being smothered by other patrons–like the lovely couple from the Carolinas who were raving about Seriously, they were lovely and this proper southern woman nearly lost her shit over the pork belly. It was actually a tad bit precious.

Service: It was nice, very well dressed, but a little distracted the Mrs. thought. The room filled up within a half-hour after our arrival, so his casual demeanor that started the meal got shaken pretty early one. And, well, she also was a little pissed that he never once asked if she wanted another beer. That and our coffee arriving after we were 3/4’s of the way through our desserts did make us feel a bit forgotten. But, again, he was very, very sweetand I never got around to asking where he had gotten that shirt from.

Food: The food was wonderful. The plates were consistent and well presented. What I like most about the menu is that it feels very grounded, like a collection of dishes you’d try to make yourself at home. In fact, that reminds me… I need to see if Guy will part w/that Spicy Slaw recipe.


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