Last Sunday, Moms and I drove to Poughkeepsie to meet my cousin. My cousin Derek (who just finished production work on the ANNIE film to be released next Fall at some point) lives in Brooklyn, and we weren't able to see him over the holidays, as he went to Florida to visit my Aunt, who just moved there. Got all that? As per usual, Moms left the task of choosing a restaurant to me. Hey--I don't try to do governmental auditing and she doesn't choose the restaurants...we all have our areas of expertise. I chose Poughkeepsie so that Derek could take the train and not have to deal with driving and although I don't really know the area that well, I found a WINNER in Brasserie 292. Honestly, most every restaurant with "Brasserie" in its name will attract my attention anyway, ever the Francophile. PLUS--the last time I was in Paris, Derek was with me...so...as I clicked through to Brasserie 292's website, fingers were crossed that the menu would tempt me.
Yeah--they pretty much HAD me at "Braised Short Rib Potato Cake". Really. Now, I am known throughout the land as a card-carrying Eggs Benedict SNOB....I love the dish and ALWAYS sample it when I see it on a menu. So...the fact that I passed on it here in order to try the Short Rib Potato Pancake speaks volumes.
You may commence drooling. So delicious was this dish alone...that I have convinced Hubster that we need to drive down to Poughkeepsie some Sunday when we aren't working. And...a drive down the Thruway on a rare day off is NOT normally something I consider a good time. Now..back to brunch.
Moms often leans toward the sweet, rather than savory, side of Brunch. She chose the Pumpkin Pancake, served in a skillet and accompanied by a rich maple sauce. Sinful. And...NOT too heavy handed on the pumpkin front. When overdone, the flavor of pumpkin can be quite overwhelming to the palate, in my opinion. Derek chose from one of numerous omelette combinations, including smoked salmon and goat cheese, lobster and asparagus, crab and scallion, and mushroom and manchego (his choice). Perfectly fluffy, and accompanied by a small green salad and crispy home fries, this was a great example of how SIMPLE food can be elevated to extraordinary heights when prepared well.
And..did I mention the atmosphere of this place rocks? TRUE Brasserie style...almost thought I was in Pareeeee. How ya gonna keep them on the farm after they've eaten at Brasserie 292? Don't even try.
Winners: Short Rib Potato Cake, Pumpkin Pancake
Just Missed: Bloody mary could have used a touch more spice.
Scratches: None to report
I first dined at the space located on 390 Broadway WAY back when Brindisi's originally opened. And...while I enjoyed it for the first couple of years, it ended up alienating me with constant menu changes and inattentive waitstaff. After the space sold and became Russo's...i"ve got to be honest..it never captured. my attention...and I never tried it. Obviously, I was not alone.
When I learned that Christel and Colin MacLean were planning on taking the space over and transforming it into an "extension" of their popular Circus Cafe, albeit with a far different spin, I was thrilled. Knowing their penchant for flawless execution, both in the back of the house and the front, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for them and a perfect fit as well. Last weekend, for birthday dinner #3 (hey, i'm an only child...sue me.), I wanted to try The Crown Grill. I hadn't dined there yet, and I had just received their email newsletter highlighting some menu additions and cocktail specials. PLus...I did feel rather guilty that Hubster and I hadn't visited yet...especially after the superb treatment we always received from Christel and Colin in the past. Trying a new restaurant is one of my great joys in life and this experience did not disappoint.
The atmosphere of The Crown grill is one of ABSOLUTE warmth. The bar literally glows...you feel as if you are dining by firelight...and we ALL know how gorgeous firelight makes us, don't we. The rich, what I will call "polo blue" backdrop demonstrates how VERY important the proper color scheme and decor is to a restaurant. You want the atmosphere to absolutely be reflective of the menu and the philosophy. Had I not peeked at the menu here beforehand, I STILL would have known what type of cuisine to expect...just from the atmosphere. Restauranteurs take note...match stellar food with stellar ambience and you should be successful for years.
And..the piece de resistance? The back room has a wall treatment behind glass doors that is a view of the Saratoga Race Course paddock area in black and white. SO cool, seriously. LOVE it.
We were happy to see that Melissa F. was still involved in the MacLean's operations, as we remember her fondly from the Sperry's days.
After a quick tour of the new digs, we were escorted to our table. We often like to begin our meal with a cocktail, and then order our wine with the meal. Being a card-carrying cosmo snob, I needed to sample one here. Happy to report that it was the perfect shade of PINK...NOT red with too heavy on the cranberry...NOT PALE pink...too heavy on the vodka or orange liqueur. No--this was the Goldilock's version...perfect shade of pink and had a delicious balance of tart and sweet.
We were served a starter of Duck Cigars with the most glorious dipping sauce...the perfect balance of salty, sweet and spicy. I detected a hint of mint in the sauce. Other starters that I can't wait to sample include Crispy Asparagus and the Savory Profiteroles...next time for sure.
We were equally happy with our entree selections...although hubster ALWAYS seems to prefer what I order...which was a delightful Skirt Steak Oscar. I LOVE Oscar preparations...so old school and delicious. My steak was cooked to my specifications...the crabmeat was succulent and fresh...the asparagus had the right snap...and the bearnaise nage was luxurious and had just the right amount of tarragon. Speaking of which--the pervasive theme throughout our meal was this: PROPER SEASONING. I CANNOT emphasize this enough. I've had plenty a meal where the first thing I reached for was the salt. Seasoning while building each layer of a dish is CRITICAL. Ever watch Top Chef? What's the most common complaint from the judges? Lack of seasoning. And..it's really so fundamental. On this...and many other points..Crown Grill is a winner, in this winechick's book. We look forward to returning very soon.
Winners: Skirt Steak Oscar and Perfectly Pink Cosmo
Scratches: None to report.
As many of you know...I grew up going to Maine every summer. I've seen restaurants come and go like the frothy waves on the beach. I've also seen the resurgence of lots of places....an unfortunate few that never made it...and a lot of spots that have stood the test of time. So...this post will be just a little different...the following are my favorite places to eat in the southern tier of Maine. If you ever find yourself travelling Down East...simply refer to this can't-miss list and you'll be wicked good.
Bintliff's Ogunquit: SO many varieties of Eggs Benny, your head will be swimming in Hollandaise. Their homemade slow-cooked Corned Beef Hash is beyond compare. Seriously...this is NOT your run-of-the-mill corned beef hash...it's got huge chunks of slowly cooked corned beef, along with slivers of potatoes and onions. It is...in a word...divine. Topped with poached eggs and hollandaise? Well...I won't tell your cardiologist if you don't.
All Day Breakfast: Just good old-fashioned fare. Highlights include Maine Blueberry Pancakes and Irish Benedict. During the season, there WILL be a wait, so plan accordingly.
Amore Breakfast: Located on the road leading to Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. HIghlights include Bananas Foster Stuffed French Toast, Lemon Bread French Toast, a variety of Bennies and Omelettes, and a ROCKING good cup of coffee.
The Maine Diner: Pretty much a great option for every meal...but a personal favorite is the "2's Are Wild"...2 eggs, 2 bacon strips, 2 sausage links, 2 pieces of toast and 2 of the best wild maine blueberry pancakes you will ever eat. Their home fries are also a don't miss...red potatoes and just the perfect seasoning.
Congdon's: World-famous for their donuts so if you're in a donuts and coffee mood...this is your nirvana. My fave is the toasted coconut, but every variety pretty much kills it. I GREW up coming to this place...and it has stood the test of time. Often a wait...so get your donuts to-go and eat them on the beach.
Arundel Wharf: When Jeff and I head up...this is our first stop (provided the weather is good) Why? Because the expansive deck at The Arundel Wharf is one of THE most relaxing spots in all of Kennebunkport. Their wine list is perfectly fine for this sort of casual spot...they ALWAYS have a nice, zippy kiwi sauvie on the list, and a lot of times it's a brand you can't get in New York State, so that's cool. Their Lobster Stew, touched with a splash of cognac is to die for, as is their Fried Haddock Sammy. A MUST-visit.
Barnacle Billy's: This is another one of those places I GREW up visiting...so I have a soft spot. It's not for everyone. If you're looking for a place to be pampered and waited on hand and foot...this is NOT for you. However, if you don't mind placing your own order, and fetching it when your number is called out (inevitably, by a super cute tanned young man with a wicked accent)...all while enjoying the view of Perkins Cove and some of the best steamers? You'll be right at home. Their strawberry shortcake also rocks.
Alisson's: It's great year-round...BUT...it's particularly great if you find yourself in Kport in the Fall and Winter months. Not as crowded, same great food, and ALWAYS the Pats game on. A huge variety of seafood, sandwiches, burgers, and other pub fare. I like "A Fish Called Wanda"...broiled (yeah, right) or fried haddock with melted cheddar on a toasted bun. But...you really can't go wrong with anything here. Eat at the bar and chat up the super friendly bartender who's been there for years and grab yourself an Alisson's baseball cap to commemorate your visit.
Forbes: Can you imagine I used to hate going here when I was younger and always wanted fancy fancy fancy? True story...my Mom can attest to this. As I grew older and more appreciative of simple done well...my fondness for Forbes grew. I never understood my Mother's affinity for the Forbes "Scrambleburger" when I was younger. Now? I make it myself at home. Go figure. I guess even food snobs grow up. Their fried clams are out of this world, as is their Chocolate Frappe.
Mabel's Lobster Claw: It's been there forever...and I JUST tried it for the first time 2 weeks ago when I was up with Mom. It's not the kind of place that LOOKS like you'd need a reservation. Looks can be deceiving. SO popular and world-famous is this little lobster hut that they routinely have to turn customers away if they don't have a reserved table. A favorite of former President Bush and Barbara, who are often seen dining there during the summer months. A surprisingly great wine list, which is always a plus for me. Fresh, fresh...like just off the boat fresh... fish. Peanut butter ice cream pie...or one of Mabel's blueberry pie slices for dessert. Make a rezzie.
Arrows: No...it's not located with a view of the ocean. It IS, however, nestled in the woods just a few minutes outside of the main thoroughfare of Ogunquit, surrounded by their gorgeous kitchen gardens. Award-winning chefs Clark and Mark are often actually HERE...like cooking and chatting with diners! Imagine that! On your way in, an amuse bouche du jour is offered to you, which makes you just wish every place offered this lovely representative bite of plates to come. Their resident sommelier, at the time of this writing, Danielle, is eager to offer her expertise on which wine to sip with dinner. I don't need help on this front...but will often just let her surprise me with her picks and have never been disappointed. This is a serious, special occasion, money is no object place..so plan accordingly. Rezzies are a must and jackets are required for gentlemen. If you want a less fussy peek into their culinary clatch...head to MC Perkins Cove...same owners, same great atmosphere...slightly less formal. Both awesome. Hey...they didn't win all those James Beard awards for nothing.
Hurricane: Just such a lovely little spot...and one where you don't have to dress to the nines to dine that way. Well-appointed and very tasteful decor...no nautical kitsch here...rather, ceiling fans crafted from fishing rods and beautiful seascape murals and dark wood seating and bar. A classic menu, and by that I mean, Baked Stuffed Lobster with a succulent and rich seafood stuffing...Tenderloin with a Bacon-Bleu Cheese Demi...Rack of Lamb...you get the idea. One of my favorite things at Hurricane is...wait for it...their SALAD! I know! Caaa-razy! But, the perfect mix of baby greens, roasted shallots, pistachios and peppercorn dressing is probably my favorite salad anywhere. Nice wine list, although not really pushing the creativity envelope, but nice nonetheless. White Chocolate-Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding is my favorite finisher here. Rezzies recommended.
Clay Hill Farm: Another old-school favorite of mine. I still remember visiting when I was WAY younger and being intrigued by the strange man with the little necklace. Of course, I would later learn that this strange man was actually the sommelier...and the necklace, a tastevin. Even at that young age, I was mesmerized as he described his wine suggestions with such flowery language. I suppose we should have known back then that my path in life would go to the grapes. Well...not much has changed through the years. Sure--the decor has been updated a bit and the menu has evolved, as is necessary with changing times. But..the important stuff, namely the QUALITY, has remained. The Lobster Bisque is smooth as glass...the whiskey smoked shrimp cocktail nothing sort of genius...the lobster and clams en croute an innovative spin...and the Pork Filet Mignon might make you forget about the original. Rezzies.
Cape Arundel Inn: Located on a hill on Ocean Drive in Kennebunkport, get a window table and you'll enjoy the most spectacular view of the Atlantic, and might even dine next to G-Dubs Daddy, GHWB. This is not a place where you enjoy a drink at the bar while deciding what you'd like to eat. There IS no bar to speak of. Rather, there is a "living room" and porch where you can enjoy your cocktail or starter sip of wine, in the event that your table is not yet ready for you. Rezzies an ABSOLUTE must and wear your nice dress. The menu is constantly changing, depending on the whim and whimsy of the Chef.
One Dock at The Kennebunkport Inn: Chef Gordon Ramsay's favorite meal when he was in Kennebunkport was enjoyed here. But...THIS gal knew about it long before the ornery (albeit immensely talented) Chef did. Start with the trio of ceviche or the succulent lobster cakes...continue with the Seared Lobster or the Slow-Roasted Ribeye...finish with the Lemon Cheesecake or Maine Blueberry Buckle. Great wine list and a nice, cozy bar area to sip your cognac afterwards.
Big Daddy's: For some of the best ice cream
Sushi Black: SERIOUSLY great sushi right in Ogunquit
Pedro's: Some of the freshest and best Mexican I've had.
Joshua's: a nice restaurant too...but VERY tasty wild maine blueberry martinis.
Enjoy and if you find yourself lucky enough to visit any of these spots...give my regards to Maine!
Often, when it's not yet the busy bustle of track season, Hubster and I will venture to points unknown...in search of a great new restaurant to sample. This past Saturday, we did just that. On the recommendation of one of my wine representatives, whose opinion I trust, we meandered down to Red Hook, New York to try Mercato. Unsure of how long it would take us to get there, we arrived a touch early before they began service. A short stroll away, we discovered Flatiron and bellied up to their beautiful bar to enjoy a cocktail before dinner at Mercato. We almost never left! Their concoction of Tito's vodka with pink peppercorn infused simple syrup and lemonade was the ideal sipper for the hot and sunny day. (Definitely going there to try their menu next time) But...we were there to try Mercato this day and strolled back to the eatery. Warmly greeted by Brooke, we were escorted to our table. This is a homey sort of place, for sure. No fancy floors or central air here...no. But, it does have a vibe to it that made me absolutely know that I was about to enjoy food prepared from the soul. Our server was aware of our interest and expertise in wine and left the list for me to peruse at leisure. As I expected, the list is very heavy on Italian offerings...which is just marvelous with me. I ADORE cool, esoteric Italians. Hell...I even married one. Sure...there was a Pinot Grigio listed...but I was delighted to find Falanghina...Greco di Tufo...Pecorino...Gavi..Fiano..not to mention 4 delightful rosato options. The reds were equally thoughtful. Yes, yes, they had Chianti..but Sagrantino? Teroldego? Cannonau? I knew if they paid as much attention to detail with their food as they do with their wine offerings, I would be one very happy customer. Since we were taking our time deciding on our food, I went ahead and ordered a bottle of rosato. I have a passion for dry pink wines and preach my passion to all who will listen, or at least pretend to. So...a nice chilled rosato on a warm and sunny day was perfection. We decided on the Spinetta Sangiovese Rosato. With its salmon pink hue and a bouquet of apricot and red fruits, this was a wine that I knew would complement our entire meal, no matter what dishes we decided upon.
In order to get the most representation from the menu, we chose 2 antipasti, a primi, and a secondi. Begininning with the Coach Farm Goat and Pecorino Gnudi over a Kale Puree. This was heavenly...the pillowy texture of the gnudi and the slight tang from the goat cheese coupled with the slight bitterness of the kale puree was the perfect foil for the wine, as I suspected it would be. In fact, this was my favorite dish of the evening. We continued with one of the evening's special starters...prosciutto wrapped asparagus with egg, truffle emulsion and parmesan shavings. I do admit that I am a card carrying truffle fanatic. The earthy and salty flavors...with both crunchy and silken textures was perfectly balanced. A great dish and one that I will be attempting to replicate in my own kitchen very soon.
Continuing with our Primi...Rigatoncini Carbonara with Egg, Guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano. I find it difficult to find places that actually prepare their pasta al dente. "To the tooth" should be exactly that. Here...it was. Many people might have found the texture of this pasta to be a little too al dente, but in fact, it was truly what "al dente" should be. Another pet peeve of mine is overly sauced pasta preparations. Once again, I was pleased when the pasta was the star of this dish, not being overwhelmed by excess sauce. Do not misunderstand...i love a good sauce as much as the next girl...probably more...but the pasta is not meant to SWIM in sauce...it is meant to merely take a quick dip in the shallow end. This dish spent the appropriate time in the pool.
We moved on to the Branzino. While the fish was expertly prepared, the side was a bit disappointing. The parsley potatoes seemed like an afterthought really. While al dente is my preferred pasta preparation...it's NOT preferable for my potato. Also, a decided lack of seasoning on the potatoes hurt my foodster feelings. Certainly not representative of the meal, so perhaps it was just a mea culpa. Had the Gnudi been served on the side, I would have turned culinary cartwheels.
To finish..we chose a dessert on the lighter side. I love Panna Cotta in all forms. This was airy, light, and accompanied by macerated sour cherries. Nice. With a nice little glass of Moscato d'Asti (the REAL stuff...from Piedmont...you know...with acidity and flavor??), the Panna Cotta was a great finish to an almost flawless meal. In the mood to take a little day trip? Mercato is worth the drive...and then some.