Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the draft vault - Regina's Pasta Factory

Sept/Oct 2011: It's not often that I go out to eat as much as I did this week. What's even more rare is that every night, I went to the same place. I may have an addiction. I'm kind of torn on how to blog three different evenings, so bear with me. I might hop around a lot.

Wednesday: My daughter and I needed to run some errands. While we were at the store, we determined that we were famished. While SuperTarget is super in its own respect, I wanted something different. Something awesome. Something unexpected. It wasn't in the freezer section or at a drive through. I remembered some obnoxious radio commercial about Regina's, and then recalled how a friend and I tried to go there a few weeks ago but then found out there was no wine and we ran away in tears. Well, I ran... she kind of just sat in the car and cried, but that's ok. I'd heard such good things, and we were so close to the restaurant. I could go one meal without wine, right? It's just one meal.

The first thing I noticed as we pulled up to the store front of Regina's is that there is no lighted sign. It would be easy to miss, if one wasn't looking for it specifically. We saw people inside, so we ventured on. The second thing I noticed about Regina's is the smell that overcomes you as you walk in the door. I've mentioned this before... the tomato, the garlic, the basil. The wonderful, fresh aromas permeated the air as the owner Dario welcomed us in and invited us to sit down. He explained how the restaurant worked, he showed us his grandmother's pasta machine, he waved to his mother who was serving another table. He joked with us and made us feel at home. Someone brought us fresh rolls and olive oil with garlic and basil for dipping.

I decided on the lobster ravioli with crab alfredo sauce, while my daughter opted for the garlic and herb pasta with marinara. We talked and ate bread, watched them put our pasta through grandma's machine. Things were starting to get exciting.

As we waited, we had time to look around the restaurant. It's very clean, with lamps made from shiny colanders, bright red walls and paintings and photos scattered  about. There are a handful of tables, maybe ten or so, and a small meeting room off to one side. Sinatra, Connick, and Martin play on the radio and set the mood perfectly. Relax.

One of the servers brings our dinner, more bread and more water. The servings are good sized, and the bowls are deeper than they look at first glance. Each plate has a bit of freshly grated parmesan on it, and there is no parmesan or salt and pepper on the tables. I actually would have liked more pepper in my sauce, but it was incredible without it as well. The raviolis were stuffed full of ricotta and lobster, and there was plenty of crab meat in the sauce. My daughter's pasta was delicious, although I admit I don't recall anything specific because I was kind of in an alfredo fog... at some point through the meal we decided that this was our new favorite restaurant. We ate as much as we could and then decided to share a limoncello marscapone cake for dessert. It was the perfect compliment to our meal, nice and light, not overly filling.

Wednesday dinner was a roaring success. I found out we could bring our own wine in, Dario invited us back, I said "See you tomorrow night" and we came home... to my son, who was pretty pissed that he didn't get the initial invite. Bah. Guess where we're going next week for dinner?

The State of Things and Looking Ahead

It's been so long! I can't keep up. The economy sucks and has taken its toll on a handful of great restaurants that I'd tried or who were on my list to try.

Regina's Pasta Factory - Cosner's Corner - Closed
Was amazing the first few visits. I loved the family atmosphere that Dario and his wife provided there, it was as if one was walking into their home. Warm, welcoming, the smells of garlic and tomato permeated the air. The antipasto salad was incredible, the fresh pasta unbeatable. The sauces were flavorful, authentic and delicious. I loved that we could bring our own bottles of wine to enjoy.

And then something happened. I don't know if it was too much business too soon, if there wasn't enough business, if things were mishandled or inconsistent, if the location was poor... but something happened. Regina's in Southpoint is no longer. I had heard unfavorable reviews over the past few months and the last time I went, the pasta wasn't as good, but everyone has a down day now and then, right? I'm sad.

Thankfully, J and I were able to take a one-on-one cooking class with the owners of Regina's last November, when times were good. We know how to make the pasta and I've figured out the Mi Amore sauce, which was my favorite there.

I'm sad for Dario and Elizabeth, I hate to see good ventures fail. I don't know if their King George restaurant closed also, but I wish them well, hope for the best and I'm thankful that we were able to learn something from them and enjoy their hospitality for even a little while.

Sully's Steak and Seafood - Southpoint - Closed
My personal experiences at Sully's were always good. I loved the firecracker shrimp, they grilled a mean steak, their lunch deals were amazing, everyone was friendly and I was always pleased with the service.

I tried to run in there a couple months ago and saw that it was no longer open. (I don't get out much) The Mad Crab has a second location there now, so I'll need to check it out.

Buttermilk and Olde Lace - Downtown Fredericksburg - Closed
This was a fairly new restaurant at The Chimneys downtown. I'd heard good things, and my daughter and I ran in once to grab a menu. It was overly decorated with antiques and Victorian charm and the food smelled amazing... but it also apparently fell victim to either a floundering economy or the ridiculous politics associated with owning a restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg. I never saw a bad review for B&OL, and was really looking forward to a Sunday brunch one day. Nothing seems to stay at The Chimneys for long.

Barefoot's Seafood - Downtown Fredericksburg - Closed
Closed Oct 2011. I can't comment too much on Barefoot's because I worked there. A lot. I was there to open the restaurant, I was there to experience first hand the drama, the chaos, the weirdness that every restaurant has it's share of. I made good friends during my time, and it was definitely a learning experience. I think that with a couple minor changes and one major tweak, Barefoot's would have been a huge money maker... but for various reasons, couldn't make it through the growing pains. I saw the very best and the very worst that the business has to offer at Barefoot's, realized it was a sinking ship and eventually left. I've been fortunate enough to stay in touch with some of my favorite customers. I miss the fried oysters and being able to have crab bisque every day. I miss my wine distributors. I do hope that someone can build a successful business there because it appeared that Fredericksburg really enjoyed having a crab shack and seafood house.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but I am looking forward to trying some new places soon. I owe you a years' worth of reviews and am working on them now. In the next few weeks, look for my searches for the best reuben, the most amazing crabcakes and the tastiest steak in the 'burg and just my usual two cents on:

Soup and Taco, etc. - Downtown Fredericksburg
Smyrna Mediterranean Cuisine - Ferry Farm
Fujiya House - Central Park
The Tavern at Lee's Hill
Delaplane Winery - Delaplane, VA
Vintage Ridge Winery - Rectortown, VA
Lake Anna Winery - Lake Anna, VA
Red Bowl - Spotsylvania
Castiglias - Downtown Fredericksburg
Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville
The Inn at Poplar Springs, Casanova, VA
Blarneystone - Downtown Fredericksburg
Vita Felice - Lee's Hill
Colonial Tavern - Downtown Fredericksburg
Amy's Cafe, Downtown Fredericksburg
Paul's Bakery
Old Towne Steak and Seafood - Downtown Fredericksburg
The Bavarian Chef - Downtown Fredericksburg
Pho Saigon -
Carl's - Downtown Fredericksburg
The Bavarian Chef - Downtown Fredericksburg

...and probably a few others, depending on where I happen to be when hunger strikes.

I'm really going to try to be better about posting updates and getting out there to try out new places and foods, and love getting suggestions on new restaurants (or just new to me) and specific dishes.

Is it lunchtime yet?




Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Foode

Well, we FINALLY made it.

Saturday, May 21st, 2011.

Let me start out by saying I love what these ladies are doing. Love love LOVE it. I love the "farm-to-table" concept and think it's one that more restaurants should adopt. I love the fact that smaller and/or local farmers and growers are being supported by local businesses. I especially love the fact that what is being served at Foode isn't anything that I wouldn't feed my family at home. It's natural. It's fresh. It doesn't come out of a can. There is no factory processed mystery behind a single ingredient. If I were to open a restaurant, this would be the route I took. It's win/win. Support your local eateries who support the local economy and enjoy eating real food. Oh! it's win/win/win. And, it's delicious. As usual... I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm pretty excited, but I'll try to stay on track.

Back to Saturday evening... We'd had an eventful, fun day in the area, what with the Renaissance Faire at Lake Anna Winery and then getting the Large One and his girlfriend off to prom. At around 7pm, we realized that we hadn't been caught up in any kind of apocalyptic chaos or The Rapture or anything, and we were child free. It seems I found myself alone with a man on a Saturday night, and I didn't have to work. You know what that means?

We get to EAT! We jumped into the car and headed downtown.

K parked us on a side street and we walked down Caroline until we saw the sign for Foode. I had hoped that there would be a bistro table available outside in the courtyard, but apparently all of Fredericksburg has discovered this new hidden treasure, and has welcomed them with open arms. Not a table in sight. We almost turned around when we saw the group of people standing in the doorway. I went to see how long the wait was.

We were greeted by a woman who told us there was no wait, that we could sit at one of two tables. We chose one by the wall, and were given water, menus and silverware. We were then told how the restaurant works: You order your food at the register and they bring it to you. Huh. This puzzled me a bit. Like Noodles and Co.? Yep. Order your food, take your seat and wait for the goodness. I have to stand up? I'm going to need a drink.

Thankfully, Foode has a lovely selection of beer and ridiculously reasonable prices on their bottles of wine. I think the most expensive bottle that day was $22. Yes, I said bottle. And it was $22 because it's organic. They also offer sodas and both sweet and unsweet tea, and some other choices. We decided on "The Margarita", which is described as an "organic agave wine margarita cocktail", and the pitcher was $15. I haven't a clue what was in it... but it was goooood. It was served in a small rocks glass over ice and garnished with a salted lime. I was pretty geeked about the lime and tossed it into my drink before I realized I really wanted a photo of it. Oh well. Next time. Take my word for it, the lime is pretty.


For our appetizers, I ordered two pimiento cheese toasts ($1 each) and the Rosemary Loaf, which is served with a dish of their housemade dipping oil. There was balsamic involved. I wanted to swim in it... Anyway, the bread... well... half of the bread... is pictured above. It was really really good. Warm, soft in the center, crusty on the outside, with just the right amount of rosemary. The loaf is huge, easily 8-9 inches in diameter, and plenty for a group of four. The portion of dipping oil is generous, too. The pimiento cheese toasts were thin slices of French bread which were spread with house made pimiento cheese and then presumably broiled. I think I'm going there to get some for lunch this weekend. Yum.

For our entrees, K chose the slow-roasted pork bowl, described as organic, vegetarian fed pork, slow-simmered and served in a clay crock filled with black beans, seasoned rice, spices tomato sauce, corn tortillas, house pickled slaw and crumbled queso fresco. I selected the pan-roasted chicken, which was 1/2 of an all natural, vegetarian-fed chicken, marinated then pan roasted with fresh herbs, served with creamy mashed potatoes with basil pistou butter and sauteed organic field greens from Blenheim Organic Gardens.

When the server brought our food, I was immediately jealous of what was placed in front of K. It looked and smelled incredible. This is not to say that my chicken was inferior by any means, the presentation was lovely, the greens were obviously fresh, the potatoes light and delicious. I just think there is some Central American blood in me somewhere. Those of you who know me are aware that in 2004, my family lived in Nicaragua. I love the people, the culture, the art, the food, the way restaurants smell there, the taste of fresh tortillas and the smell of beans and rice cooking on the stove.

We eat a LOT of Mexican and Central American food at my house... so much that K's son once asked if I was Mexican. At any rate, K must have seen the look on my face, because he loaded up a tortilla and handed it to me. If you've seen the movie Ratatouille, you'll remember the part where Anton Ego tries the dish at the end and the taste brings back memories of his childhood. This is what it was like. One bite and I was on the side of a volcano in Catarina. It was the most authentic tasting Central American fare I have had since our plane lifted off the ground in Managua. I hope Foode has something like this on their menu always. The only thing missing was fresh avocado. I might have had to wrestle the bowl away from K if there was avocado.


The chicken was beautiful, as I mentioned. As I write this, I'm still thinking about the stupid pork and I'm going to really try to be as descriptive with the chicken dish. It was excellent. The mashed potatoes were fresh and fluffy and comforting, the way potatoes should be. The greens, although we couldn't decide what they were, were delicious, slightly crisp and not bitter at all. The portion of chicken was large, and the meat was moist and flavorful.

Crap. I can't do it. All I can think about it the pork. There's a picture of the chicken up there. It really was good. 

For dessert, we were offered  home made chocolate chip cookies or a chocolate torte. We were too full to even think about dessert, but boxed up the rest of the giant rosemary loaf to take home for the after-prom snack attacks.

I should mention that I also had a Groupon that I had forgotten to use when we paid initially, but the woman at the register was so sweet that she made it work. What would have cost us just over $60 cost us around $20. I love me some Groupons.

My overall impression of Foode: Impressive. Really. Aside from a couple minor details, I was so impressed with what the owners have done. Read the blog at  http://thefirst365.wordpress.com/ and you'll come to appreciate all of the blood, sweat and tears they've put into this place. Being in the restaurant business myself for so long, I understand what it's like to start fresh with new ideas and it was encouraging to watch them succeed in this town. Again, the farm to table, organic, clean-eating concepts are ones I would love to see in more restaurants. An ever changing menu based on what is fresh and available, delicious food that won't break your budget or waistline. It's all there. The drawbacks were minor. The biggest was that I actually enjoy the interaction with a server and I missed that at Foode. We had different people deliver our food and I spoke to the women at the register, but I did miss having one person dedicated to ensuring our meal was everything we wanted it to be. Don't get me wrong, it was. It was great. Really. I just think I like messing with people and K has already heard all my jokes. The only other thing that was a little different was that the kitchen is upstairs, and the restaurant downstairs. The food comes from the kitchen, down an outside staircase and into the inside restaurant. That's all fine and good, because it wasn't raining, but when they bring the food into the restaurant, they yell your name. So, we would be in quiet conversation and then hear "MATT!" or we would be talking about one of the kids and "BOBBY!" or as I poured more margarita into my glass and "CHERYL!!!". I don't know how they could change that, and maybe I'm the only one that was jarred by the way that was done. Will it keep me from going back? Nope. I still love it. Should you go?

Yep!

But call me first. I want to go back... and I have another Groupon. :)

The details:
1006C Caroline Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
540.479.1370
http://www.foodeonline.com/
http://www.thefirst365.wordpress.com/

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen

I finally got to Poppy Hill! And once again, it was not a Party of One. One of these days I'll go out alone maybe... but last night three friends and I decided to go out to dinner. It was last minute, and we were in downtown Fredericksburg. Perfect! We headed to Foode (because I had Groupons!) but by the time one member of our party took us on a 5K walk (and I was wearing heels) up and down the cobblestone and brick streets and sidewalks trying to find the place (and then I realized I had the address printed on the dang groupon) we made it there around 8:15. They closed at 8pm. We were hungry. Defeated. Disappointed.

I will say that Foode looks awesome. It's set back off the main street and has iron bistro chairs in a courtyard. I can't wait to go back... one night before 8pm. We headed back towards William Street and decided to pick a place. I didn't want pizza, and I've already blogged about Bistro Bethem and La Petite, but would have gone back to either in a heartbeat. Then S suggested Poppy Hill. I always forget it's there. I got excited. I'm starting to think there's something wrong with me because I get that excited about food...

We arrived at Poppy Hill a short time later. The restaurant is located in the basement of an old building at the corner of William and Charles Streets. There are bistro tables set up on the sidewalk at street level and heading down the old stairs into the restaurant in three and a half inch heels was interesting, but I made it. I had to duck my head to get into the room. The restaurant is small, but quaint. There are two levels inside as well, basement and what I would call "the pit". I wouldn't want to work the pit and have to navigate those stairs. Still, it was cozy and warm, original art graced the walls, linen napkins and table cloths on the tables. There was one other table when we walked in. Our server didn't seem overly excited to see us, probably because they closed at 9:00 and we rolled in about 8:30. We promised to be nice.

One thing I should mention about Poppy Hill is that the menu is small and changes daily, depending on what fresh ingredients are available. Their menu online is not indicitive of what is actually being served on any specific day. They are a farm-to-table type restaurant (a concept I absolutely LOVE) and clearly use quality ingredients. The wine list is very nice as well. I ordered a Montepulciano, which I've discovered I can't pronounce properly until I've had two glasses of it. As we sat down, our server brought us a basket of fresh bread, with plates and olive oil for dipping.

For starters, S ordered the bruschetta and I ordered the steamed mussels. Side note here: our server kept pronouncing it "BrooSKETTa" which bothered me enough to google the word this morning, only to find that I'm a dumb American who has been pronouncing the word improperly for a good portion of my life. So, S ordered the brooSKETTA. I was going to steer clear of it, because it was made with goat cheese, and generally I am not a fan of the goat. If we're grilling and chilling with some cabrito, I'm down... but I'm just not big goat cheese lover. The bruschetta was served with thinly sliced and toasted Italian bread, sweetened goat cheese and fresh tomato. I was told I had to try it... so I did. It was actually really good. The cheese was super creamy and not overly goat-y (as if that makes sense) and the tomatoes weren't overcooked. Lovely. Our mussels were steamed with white wine and garlic and were tasty. We also ordered house salads, which were a plate piled high with mixed greens (no iceberg lettuce here), some sliced carrots and an Italian toast point with some more creamy sweet goat spread on it. Yum. At this point in the evening, they'd run out of tomatoes and there were no candied pecans on our salads as the menu read... but the dressing was a semi-sweet poppy seed vinaigrette. It was delicious. We made do without the tomatoes and pecans.

For dinner, I chose salmon. K ordered salmon as well until I commanded him to get steak. I've decided that I'm overbearing and bossy. I felt bad for a second and told him to order whatever he wanted... but he stuck with the steak. I was going to share my salmon anyway... just wanted to try more than one dish. He's starting to figure out that it's all about me. Sometimes. S decided on the fettucini alfredo with grilled chicken and W went with one of the nightly specials: a cod filet served over shrimp risotto and topped with a mediterranean relish. Everything was beautifully presented and delicious. K's steak was medium and served with an espresso and mushroom sauce that was phenomenal. His sides were fresh asparagus and roasted potatoes. My salmon was crispy on the outside and juicy and tender inside, served over the shrimp risotto. Three asparagus spears laid over the salmon. There was a tapenade (which I probably misspelled) that was supposed to be served on the salmon, but I asked for it on the side. It was very good, but I generally don't like to cover the taste of salmon with a lot of sauces and extra flavorings, so I left it alone. S's bowl of fettucini alfredo was a good sized portion and was creamy and good (he said), and W's cod looked wonderful as well. The shrimp risotto was ok.. I felt like it needed a little more flavor and a lot more shrimp, but the white wine was evident, and it was a good consistency.

We were too full to think about dessert, but there was no tiramisu or creme brulee so we were safe. We chatted with our server a bit and asked for our checks. Ours was $76.31, for two glasses of Montepulciano, steamed mussels, a dinner salad, steak, salmon and iced tea. Overall, we spent probably a little over an hour at Poppy Hill talking and laughing and enjoying ourselves.

Will I go back? Yes. Should you try it? Absolutely. Although we came late, our server didn't rush us along so she could go home. She was sweet and gracious and attentive. The kitchen was quiet and didn't make any noise about us being there too long, and even offered to run across the street when they realized they were out of tomatoes so we could have some for our salad. The food was delicious and thoughtfully prepared, the restaurant was warm and cozy and felt a little like we were in someone's home. All in all, it was an unplanned, relaxing evening with great friends. I needed that, guys... and I'm so grateful to have each of you in my life. Best yet,  I now know how to properly pronounce the word "bruschetta". I'm probably going to still say it like a dumb cracker, though.

The details:
Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen

1000 Charles Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
(540) 373-2035
poppyhill@cox.net

http://www.ciaopoppyhill.com/main.html

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bistro Bethem

I am so late to post this review... but like everyone else, my life is crazy busy... one large hoodlum going to prom, the small hoodlum went to Orlando on a spring trip, daily chaos and drama of the life of a single mom and I work too much. Way too much. I don't even have time to go out to eat. At least not to the places I'd LIKE to eat.

So one Tuesday in April... or it may have been March (yikes, time flies) I called into the restaurant and begged for the night off. Then, I called Thing One and Thing Two to inform them that we had reservations and they needed to get dressed. Shirts with buttons. No holes in the pants. No ratty baseball caps. When I arrived at the house, the "pinkies up!" jokes started because we were headed to a "fancy" restaurant. I warned them that they couldn't get burgers. Or taco salad. There would likely be no french fries, but probably a lot of things we couldn't pronounce.

We pulled up to Bistro Bethem for our 7pm reservations. There was no street parking. Ok, there MAY have been a parallel spot, but I'm a girl. And it was raining. And... we rounded the block and parked at another restaurant (Shhhh don't tell. It was Renato's. There were signs threatening to tow me, but I parked there anyway).

We walked into the restaurant, were greeted immediately and taken to our seats. My wise acre kids walked to the table with their pinkies up. Tables around us asked to be seated elsewhere. Not really, but if I was them I would have... Anyway, we sat down and my son said "Hmmm fahn-ceh" and proceeded to drink water from a giant wine goblet. Yes, his pinkie was still up. There was some discussion about trying to get through the entire meal with ALL of our pinkies up, but thankfully the menus arrived to distract them. I saw their faces as they perused their menus with words like "aoili", "fennel", "organic" and "anchovy-infused". I saw the nervousness in my son's eyes over the $28 grass-fed wagyu sirloin, and my daughter's apprehension over the potato soup with pickled hops. Me? I dove right in. Bring the wine.

We started with the cheese board and Prince Edward Island Mussels. The cheeseboard was lovely, albeit very small for $12, but satisfying. The cheese was a selection of grass-fed cow's milk cheese, mild and creamy, but flavorful. There was a small portion of apricot jam, some fresh orange blossom honey, walnut brittle and lemon confit, which I had to convince my son was ok to eat. There were also a few foccacia toasts and I think, if memory serves, a bit of smoked gouda. The kids ate that up. I got a tiny taste. For my appetizer, I was feeling particularly brave, and having recently tried and enjoyed my first oyster EVER in my life a few days prior, I decided that shellfish would be a grand idea. At $12, the portion of mussels was insane. Huge. I could have split them with three people. What I found most interesting about these mussels was what it was cooked in: a ginger and fennel sauce. I'd never heard of preparing seafood this way, and it smelled amazing. Therapeutic even. The taste was even better. I knew there was a meal on the way though, so I ate about five mussels and packed the other twelve or so in a box to take home.

My kids still had their pinkies up. Bring me more wine.

For dinner, I knew the Large One was eyeballing the sirloin, so I told him to order it. We never go eat like that, just the three of us. Live a little. He jumped on that like a fat kid on a cupcake. The sirloin was served over fingerling potatoes, but he is decidedly anti-spud, so we asked for a substitition of some kind of vegetable. Turns out they had some unidentified greens that looked like the chef emptied the bag on his lawnmower into a bowl. The steak came medium rare only, with shitake and hedgehog mushrooms. My son LOVED it. The steak was perfectly cooked, he ate the yard clippings as if they were the best thing to cross his lips and his mushrooms didn't stand a chance.

The Small One decided on a bowl of cream of potato soup. Yes, the same soup that was garnished with pickled hops, and contained a little beer as well. She also had a side of sauteed mushrooms. I was able to taste a little soup, and it was very good. I think there may have been some cheese involved. The soup was rich and had a very slight beer flavor. Excellent. She ate it all, and as many mushrooms as she could. The remaining 'shrooms were donated to her starving brother, who had finished his steak minutes before and was threatening to lick his plate.

For my entree, I chose seared sea scallops, served with crispy fried sweetbreads and brussels sprouts. Scallops, I love. Sweetbreads, I knew they were something gross but didn't recall what they were, however I'd just watched Anthony Bourdaine over the weekend and was feeling kinda cocky. Brussels sprouts? Are you kidding me? Gross... but I'll choke them down because that's what comes with the scallops. And they're good for you. Well, when the server set my plate in front of me, honestly my first thought was "really? Three effin' scallops?" My son leaned over and said "How much was that plate?" because it sure didn't look like a lot of food. And I'm a big girl... I can eat. The sweetbreads were still thankfully unidentifiable, but I was relatively sure based on the size and texture I wasn't dealing with intestines or anything, so I dug in. They. Were. Delicious. Velvety texture, crispy on the outside, with a very mild beef flavor. Veal. I don't eat veal. Pictures of baby cows flashed in my head as I took another bite. And another. And another until the baby cow pictures in my head disappeared. My son kept asking "what IS that?" My response was "I don't remember, but I think it's something gross." That thought alone caused me to only finish about half of the sweetbreads. Moving on to the food that I'm familiar with... the sea scallops were large and cooked perfectly, very tender and flavorful. The biggest surprise of the evening were the brussels sprouts. I'm not sure what the chef did to them, but they were incredible. No bitter, cabbagey taste, no nasty steamed ball of vegetable wrong-ness to try to swallow whole before Dad caught me trying to feed it to the dog... (that never worked, by the way. Beagles don't like brussels sprouts) but I wanted more. They were slightly sweet, slightly crisp, not overly seasoned. I want some right now. And, what appeared to be not enough food turned out to be exactly the right amount.

The server came to ask us about dessert. Of course we will! My son and I had the creme brulee, and my daughter had a chocolate pot de creme. A discussion ensued over the proper pronunciation of "pot de creme" and surprise, she ordered with her pinkie up. The desserts were perfect. The creme brulee at Bistro is one of the best I've ever had, and the serving size is just right. It's paired with a little crisp gingerbread cookie. The pot de creme was incredible. I am still on the fence which dessert I liked better.

Overall, I spent $167 for three dinners, two appetizers, two glasses of wine, three desserts, a 20% tip and a great evening with my kids. We talked about school, about different kinds of food, about trying new things, about really enjoying a meal and I even gave them a little primer on wine. We joked around (quietly, because we were in a fahn-ceh restaurant) and spent some really good quality time together. At least, I think so.

Ok, the nitty gritty: Should you go? Not just yes. YES! The service is top notch, the wine list is extensive, the food is unique, presented beautifully and delicious. I love the decor of the restaurant as well... it's full of original art by local artists - all for sale, of course.

Bistro Bethem
309 William Street
Fredericksburg, Virginia
540-371-9999
bistro@bistrobethem.com
The evening's wine: it's on the fridge at home... will update asap.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sully's Steak and Seafood

I know. I'm cheating. Sully's isn't in downtown Fredericksburg at all. It's in Spotsylvania. I took my daughter there for dinner tonight to celebrate Valentine's Day. And now, I feel like I ate a baby.

I should mention that Sully's has quickly become a favorite spot of mine. When the kids are with their dad and I don't feel like driving all the way downtown, I inevitably end up there. They have a small bar where I can sit and eat by myself, and the waitstaff is always friendly and funny. I enjoy talking to them during my dinner, and they have some great, inexpensive house wines. So, before I even begin, you should know that I'm biased. I already love this place.

We arrived around 5:15 on Valentine's night, with no reservations. The parking lot was nearly full, but we found a spot right away. After waiting a couple minutes inside, Mike (the owner) came to greet us at the door, explained the specials and then sat us in a nice quiet booth in the corner. Our server brought us a loaf of warm bread served with cinnamon butter and we snacked on that while we looked through the menu. Em wanted calimari as an appetizer, I ordered a bowl of cream of crab soup and a glass of Copperidge Merlot.

The calimari was exactly as it should be: thinly sliced, crispy, the coating flavorful. The marinara sauce is made in house, I believe. My crab soup was delicious, creamy and filled with lump crab meat.

For dinner, Em chose the firecracker shrimp, a baked potato and a dinner salad. I ordered the special... a New York strip steak topped with crab imperial, a baked potato and a caesar salad. And another Merlot. What? I was thirsty. The dinner salad was substantial, with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese and croutons. My caesar salad was a good size as well, and the dressing was peppery and tasty. By the time our meals arrived, we were pretty full. No one ever accused either of us of being quitters though... so knife and fork in hand, we carried on. My steak was huge. Thankfully, the crab imperial that covered it was a thin layer, and I scraped it off after determining that I am a steak purist... I love crab imperial, and I love steak. Separated. I'd ordered the steak medium rare and it was cooked perfectly. Charred grill marks on the outside, cool to warm bright pink center, great seasoning, excellent flavor. The crab imperial was super creamy and extremely rich, so I ate a few bites with a piece of bread. Emily's firecracker shrimp was out of control. It was easily 1lb of shelled and deveined shrimp that was breaded, fried, and then tossed in a mildly spicy sauce.  I was able to get about four bites of steak in before my stomach realized we were full. Em gave up after about three shrimp. Stuffed. Oh, and while it's difficult to screw up a baked potato, I feel the need to mention that they were awesome too.

Earlier in the evening, we had heard another table order a chocolate peanut butter pie, and prior to consuming the steak baby, it sounded like a grand idea. After we'd boxed up all of our uneaten food though, we decided that dessert would be best saved for another time.

Should you go? YES! They have a huge selection of seafood, steak, chicken, ribs... you name it. Bring along a non-seafood lover and they'll find something on the menu. Sully's does an awesome and affordable lunch as well. The servers have always been very friendly and attentive, the food has always been fresh and good, the prices are reasonable, especially for the amount of food they trot out of the kitchen. The total of our check was $63.29, plus a $14 tip. Because I like them, that's why. Go for lunch or dinner, soon. They'll treat you right. And tell Mike and Brenda I said hi. :)


The details:
Sully's Steak and Seafood
5442 Southpoint Plz Way
http://sullysseafoodandsteak.com/

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ristorante Renato

Friday, February 11th

I was in the mood for some really great Italian food. I wish I could report that it was great. I even wish I could say it was good. I can say that the Cono Sur Pinot Noir was good, and the unnamed cabernet was enjoyable enough, but let me start at the beginnning...

I was joined by friends, so once again, the whole "Party of One" thing is a big fat lie. But, I am very happy that I had witnesses to this epic culinary tragedy. It would have been far too depressing to have gone through alone.

We came two by two...Our reservations were for 7:30 but we were a few minutes late. I was afraid that Ristorante Renato wouldn't hold our reservations, but when we arrived, I was pleased to find that our friends had secured the table. We settled in at a very small, crowded booth, enjoyed some wine and conversation, we relaxed and I was looking forward to dinner. We were served a basket of bread and B was on it like he'd forgotten to eat all day long. Joy and bliss...there was real butter. That's nearly the only prop I'll give this place. The waiter came and I realized that I apparently have an addiction to calimari, so I ordered that. It was fresh and Renato's clearly breaded it there, but served it in thick rings. This is purely personal opinion, but I much prefer thinner, crispy calimari rings, as they seem to be more tender and less chewy than thicker pieces. Unlike La Petite Auberge, Renatos served the spidery tentacles. Sadly, they looked nice and crispy, but reminded me of deep fried baby tarantulas... so I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. The side of marinara sauce was unmemorable, and not flavorful enough to even add any taste to the calimari.

Our salads arrived a short time later. Now, when I say salads, what I MEAN to say is that we were served a few pieces of lettuce, a slice of tomato and some salad dressing. It wasn't a salad so much as a burger topping. No onion, no cucumber, no shredded carrots... not even a crouton. Can you toss me a crouton? B just ate all the bread. Work with me, people.

Dear Renatos: Lettuce and tomato a salad does not make. Work on that, please.

Now, a really good marsala sauce can perform miracles. It can make a bad day better, it can transform a boring piece of chicken or veal into a succulent, delicious, satisfying meal, and if prepared properly, it can even render me speechless for a short period of time. I'm telling you...Miracles. Thing is, marsala sauce isn't that difficult. A little butter, some good Marsala wine, a little cream. Done right, its the stuff dreams are made of. At Renatos? Not so much. The chicken was pounded thin, but the sauce was lacking. It was very sweet, and a little too thick as if it had been prepared and left sitting on a counter for a bit before it was brought to our table. I had a side of string beans, which were all right. Yes, I ate the chicken and whined a little with each bite, but mostly because I know I can do a much better marsala sauce at home. K ordered veal scaloppine. In case some of you aren't familiar with this dish, here's the wikipedia definition:  "(a small scallop, i.e. a thinly sliced cut of meat) Scallopine is an Italian dish consisting of thinly sliced meat (most often veal, although chicken may also be used) that is dredged in wheat flour, sautéed, then heated and served with a tomato-, or wine-sauce...."  Thinly sliced. Sauteed. Yum. Scaloppine is famous for being tender, thin and light. Well... my dining partner needed a steak knife. On the other side of the table, A ordered the server-recommended special, which was rockfish served with shrimp and scallops in some kind of sauce. We were all tempted by that option, but pretty thankful only one plate of it was delivered. It was a small portion of rockfish, served with two medium shrimp and two scallops. I tried a scallop... it was tender, but very fishy tasting. B ordered a trusty Italian standby: chicken parmesan. Again, it was a small portion, heavily sauced and although I didn't taste the sauce myself, was told it was reminescent of Prego. The presentation of all dishes (aside from the lack-luster salads) was pleasant although the portions were small, and we all agreed that the food was mediocre at best.

Our server was adequate. He was nice enough and seemed very busy, but we weren't in a rush, so it was ok. There was a table next to us that was louder and more obnoxious than we were, too. 

Overall, the evening was great because of the company. We laughed, caught up, drank wine and kvetched about my choice of restaurants. Although the creme caramel tempted me a little, we decided to pass on dessert.

Ok, so the bottom line: Should you go? No. I'm sorry. The total bill for our table of four was $145 and some change, which included four entrees, one order of calimari and six or seven glasses of wine. Or eight. I don't recall, really. Maybe it's just me, but when I think of Italian food, I think of fresh, ripe tomatoes, spicy garlic aromas filling the air, thick, fragrant sauces that are alive with flavor, crusty breads, perfect al dente pastas, and the cheese... oooooh the cheese. I'm sorry to say that we didn't get any of that at Ristorante Renato. What we had was bland, average and very disappointing.

That said, this evening was just more proof to me that it's not the little things (like overpriced, less than delicious food) that matter. It's the people you bring to the party that make all the difference. So, at the risk of sounding like a dollar store Valentine's card, on this Valentine's Day, remember to live your life to its fullest, laugh at all the things that don't matter, and love with all you have. To those who suffered through this experience with me, thank you so much for being in my life and joining me for dinner. I love y'all.