Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery - North Conway, NH

Once the Thanksgiving dishes were done and turkey sandwiches consumed (are they the best or what??) we headed up north to New Hampshire. No visit to North Conway would be complete without a trip to Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. After a particularly blustery and snowy day at Santa’s Village (have you ever been on a ferris wheel or roller coaster in your ski clothes?), we stopped for dinner.

Located in a historic building, Moat Mountain caters to everyone. Families are welcome, the bar is usually full of folks catching a game and the charming sunroom is a more intimate area for couples. It has a rustic, yet kitschy atmosphere.

Beer at Moat Mountain is brewed on-site and worth trying. As with any brewery, a sampler is the way to go. If beer is not your thing, there is a small wine list of recognizable favorites and a cocktail list as well.

Being chilled to the bone is no fun, so to take the edge off I immediately ordered the brisket and andouille chili. (pictured) I could eat a vat of the stuff! A hearty chili, loaded with cubes of smoked brisket, andouille sausage and beans. (You can order without beans, if you wish) It’s spicy and very flavorful. The cup I ordered came with a tasty sweet potato and jalapeno cornbread. We also tried a cup of curried corn and crab bisque. It was nice and thick with a delicate curry flavor. I did enjoy it, but thought the chili was better.

Yes, we did leave room for dinner! The Mr. ordered the smoked salmon, Jr. had the Mac-n-cheese, and I had the smoked pork sandwich on a Kaiser roll (you can also have it on raisin bread). The salmon dish was a generous portion of rum and sugar brined fish on a bed of beans and rice, topped with a mango pineapple salsa. I thought the salmon was too sweet for my taste, but the Mr. enjoyed the flavors that reminded him of a tropical island, forgetting the howling winds outside.

My pork sandwich was delicious; a pile of tender, shredded pork topped with cole slaw, red onion and a house made barbeque sauce on a fresh roll. It also came with a side of hand cut fries. I usually order sweet potato, but I think I prefer the regular ones. Perfectly salted with a pronounced flavor of…Potato! Having eaten at Moat Mountain many times over the years, I have to say the pork sandwich continues to be a consistent favorite. Others include the Carolina Pulled Pork and the burgers.

Service at Moat Mountain is very friendly; the waitstaff has the patience of saints, considering the number of families with small children at any given time. It seems to be a popular pit stop on the way back from Story Land. (you can spot those families immediately, dad has a glassy look in his eye and wants nothing more than a cold beer) Check it out next time you find yourself in New Hampshire!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Lurkey Doo

As soon as I receive a magazine in the mail, I turn to the most obvious page; the last one. It sets the tone for the rest of the issue. (you read magazines from the beginning?)

One my favorite sections of Bon Appetit magazine is the back page where they interview a celebrity. Sadly, a couple of years ago they eliminated my favorite question: “If you could invite anyone to your dream dinner party, who would you ask?”

So I thought I would devote this post to creating my fantasy Thanksgiving dinner guest list.

Drumroll please....

Elvis Costello – I suppose he could bring his wife
Sig Hansen – he would make crab dip
Betty Grable - hands off Elvis, you've got your own bombshell!
Little Edie Bouvier Beale – when things get dull she could perform cabaret
Frederick Law Olmsted – maybe he could give me landscaping advice
Paul McCartney – he would bring the side dishes
Louisa May Alcott – someone has to perform the post-dinner reading of “Little Women”

I think that’s a well-rounded group, don’t you think? I’d be interested to hear your choices!

Looking forward to turkey sandwiches and football tomorrow,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Feng Asian Bistro - Canton, CT

One of the perks of having a blog is that it eliminates the need for water cooler discussions at work. Never again will anyone pretend to act interested while you discuss at length your trip to the wallpaper store or how you foraged for mushrooms all weekend. They will have already read about it!

Last night we had a craving for sushi. Luckily for us, Feng recently opened a place in Canton so we had to check it out. Ginza has long been my favorite sushi place and Feng in Hartford rarely disappoints.

We arrived at 7:30 without a reservation to learn we were in for a 45 minute wait. No problem; it would give us time to grab a cocktail. The bar area is very small, with a 6 (or 8 seats?) seats. After a short wait, we ordered drinks…a Spellbound Petite Syrah for the Mr. and a Zen Green Tea Martini for me. I thought I was over the whole “frou-frou” martini thing until I had a sip. It had a nice mellow flavor of green tea liqueur and citrus, infused with real tea. A touch of sweetness, but not overpowering. There were a couple of interesting cocktails on the list, a nice way to start the evening.

The restaurant itself is very stylish, with a clubby feel. Be prepared, the noise level is very high, but I personally think it adds to the atmosphere. There is a separate room for the hibachi tables. One thing I love when eating out is the feeling that you've been completely transported to another place. Feng does exactly that, which really enhances the overall dining experience.

Once we were seated, we ordered sake for our meal. I tried the Ozeki Nigori and Mr. went with the Nagasaki. His was very clean with a slight hint of raspberry. Mine was crisp, with citrus notes. If you’ve never tried premium sake before, it is really worth exploring. You’ll never drink hot sake (you know, the stuff that smells like Mr. Clean) again. After perusing the menu we decided on a couple of rolls; the “Irene’s paradise”, “Angry Dragon” and a regular salmon roll.

While waiting for our rolls, I observed other dishes coming out of the kitchen. The plates were beautifully presented; the Jasmine Tea Smoked Filet Mignon seemed to be very popular. Our rolls were artfully prepared, and incredibly delicious. The “Angry Dragon” was a wonderful combination of spicy tuna, king crab, shrimp tempura and papaya. “Irene’s Paradise” was another delight, set off by a honey wasabi sauce. Both were excellent and after the first bite, we were already planning our next visit. The salmon was also some of the freshest I've ever tasted. I think we have a winner folks! Hibachi, anyone?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Yesterday I was faced with that age old dilemma…it was a rainy, dreary Saturday; we were about to watch the “Anvil - The Story of Anvil” documentary. What would be a fitting meal for such an anticipated event? Why Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, of course! DUH. Carbonara is a dish that is incredibly simple to make, yet so many restaurants seem to miss the mark on it. Easy enough for a weeknight meal or elegant pasta dish for a party, it’s delicious anytime. Don’t skimp on the fresh pasta, it makes all the difference. I used a combination of egg and cracked pepper fettuccine (thanks to New England Pasta Company!).

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

¼ lb. pancetta - chopped
1 lb. fresh pasta
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Black pepper

In a heavy pan over medium-high heat, add the chopped pancetta and fry until browned.
Remove pancetta from pan, strain grease on paper towels. Remove pan from heat.

In a small bowl, beat eggs with ½ cup of Pecorino.

Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Drain well.

Add pasta to the pan; stir in eggs, cheese and pancetta. Mix thoroughly until eggs are set. If you’re using egg pasta, add pepper to taste.

Garnish with ¼ cup Pecorino and parsley.

Serves 3-4

Back to the “Anvil” documentary…it was an incredible story of perseverance and eternal optimism. I was moved by the band’s lifelong quest for fame that seemed to elude them at every turn. Dreams never die people!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Joe Pizza - Canton, CT

Tucked away in a small plaza on Rt. 44 in Canton is one of the finest pizza joints in the area…Joe Pizza. It’s a small family owned place with a good reputation and at the top of our take-out menu file. We were there recently grabbing food for a last minute gathering at home, no one left hungry. Here's the lowdown:

Let’s start with our favorite appetizer: you MUST try the eggplant fries. Strips of eggplant lightly breaded, fried and sprinkled with grated parmesan. Oh, did I mention that it could probably feed a family of 4? They’re so addictive; you may not want to share! The Backyard Wings went over very well with our friends, in fact they were gone within minutes. Substantial pieces of chicken bathed in buffalo wing sauce, I thought they were better than most places in town.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I am a girl who loves her burgers. Joe Pizza has the distinction of being my FAVORITE burger within a 25 mile radius. (after that, they’re encroaching on some legendary territory) The beef is ground twice a day, formed into half-pound size patties and cooked medium. The meat itself is so doggone tasty, you barely need condiments. *sigh* It is worth driving there JUST for the burger. Do it today.

Another crowd-pleaser on Sunday was the meatball grinder. It came loaded with homemade meatballs, tomato sauce, cheese and peppers on a crusty grinder roll. The meatballs were substantial and full of flavor. The grinders are huge; you need a game plan before you dig in!

Prices are reasonable and the portions are generous; if you’re in Canton it’s definitely worth checking out Joe Pizza.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanksgiving Porn - the Poem

Move over Maxim, SI and GQ;
The Thanksgiving issue has arrived for you.
Showing a little leg, so what if it’s cooked?
Deep fried or in brine, now you’re hooked.
Cranberries glisten so scarlet and bright,
Buttery Mashed Potato looking just right.
Page after page of stuffing you see,
Wild Rice or cornbread, what will it be?
The Williams family from Maine is featured this year,
All in matching sweaters, you jealously sneer.
Open the centerfold, your hopes are so high!
For decadent Pecan Tart or that stalwart Pumpkin Pie.
Glossy photos they tempt and tease,
For the Thanksgiving issue never fails to please.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DISH n' Dat Redux

First, let me state the obvious. Argentinian Malbec and Aged White Cheddar popcorn are NOT an ideal pairing for an evening snack.

Last night we decided to pack up Cheeseburger Jr. and head out for dinner on a school night. We chose “DISH n’ Dat” because we had been there just after it opened and thought it a good idea to check it out again. I’ve been looking forward to one thing since the last visit…chicken and waffles.
SOOO, we arrived and after a short wait, we were seated in a comfortable booth. There were people of all ages enjoying dinner…older couples, teenagers, and young families.

Breakfast was calling our name, but nothing could get in the way of my chicken and waffles. The Mr. ordered fish tacos and Jr. ordered macaroni and cheese. Our food arrived and we were ready to dig in. I would have been ready, if I had a chainsaw. The chicken appeared to be over-fried, as it was covered in a dark brown crust. I reached into my purse for some optimism and decided to try it. The chicken itself was very moist, but the coating was very bland and lacked flavor. The waffle seemed a bit overcooked also; although I did like the light drizzle of molasses (?) based syrup.

On the flip side, the Mr. enjoyed his fish tacos. Two generously sized tortillas were served with mahi-mahi, cabbage, salsa and lime, with just the right amount of spice. He opted for the potato salad, which was pretty tasty and a side I will consider for future visits.

I think my expectations were pretty high for the second visit, and unfortunately, they fell short. I consider myself to be a fair critic when dining out, and understand they may still be ironing out kinks in the kitchen. I would definitely give them another chance as they offer the perfect atmosphere for family dining. They’ve got a winning formula for our area, let’s hope they continue to improve.

Oh, and by the way…try Argentinian Malbec and dark chocolate for your next evening snack. Wow.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Willimantic Brewing Company - Willimantic, CT

Last night we paid a visit to Willimantic Brewing Company/Main Street Café for a little birthday celebration. Located in a former post office on Main Street, they provide a unique venue for enjoying pub grub and of course, BEER.

The building itself is an architectural beauty. Traces of the former post office still remain; from the detailed woodwork to the old customer counter now serving as the bar. It’s worth taking a moment to take a tour the space and appreciate the historical significance of an era gone by.

Thirsty yet? They have one of the finest selections around, from their own handcrafted beer to a “guest” list of over 20 microbrews. Beer lovers, unite! We stuck with Willimantic Brewing selections and were not disappointed. I’ll list them out in order of preference:

Junk Mail IPA – India Pale Ale – hands down the crowd favorite
Three Cents – Pale Ale
Certified Gold – Golden Ale (this one would be perfect on a warm summer day)
Postmark Porter – one of the more complex beers I have ever tried; my personal favorite

If you pay them a visit, try a sampler. It’s the best way (at any brew pub!) to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating quality beer.

If you’re going to be drinking beer, you will definitely need to eat. I’ve been eating at Main Street Café since they opened and I will say that their food has been consistently good over the years. For starters, I recommend the nachos. The nachos will make your eyes pop when you see the huge mound of chips smothered with cheese, jalapenos, tomatoes and scallions. A meal in itself and a perfect way to build a thirst for…MORE BEER. Air Mail Wings are also worth ordering, in varying degrees of spiciness.

The entrée menu offers a wide selection, guaranteed to please any palate. DO NOT ignore the multigrain bread that is placed before you. Served warm with sweet (maple?) butter, it’s extremely addictive. I think overall, my favorite menu items are the build your own burgers. Similar to a steak and Cabernet, burgers and beer are the perfect match. I’ll take mine with smoked bacon and cheese, please. You’ll notice the post office theme throughout the menu (you can test your zip code prowess).

Willimantic Brewing is one of the finest brew pubs in the state, well worth the drive down Rt. 6. If you are a beer lover, it might become your new home. For the rest of you, a fun place to hang with friends, watch a UCONN game or have lunch with family in a cool setting.