Friday, December 31, 2010

the year (2010) in food

Happy New Year! Hambone and Spice continued to eat well in 2010. We enjoyed many fantastic and memorable meals in restaurants, in our friends’ homes, and in our own home. I did far less cooking and entertaining this year, and I’m a little sad about that, but we always manage to do our best here. Hambone stepped into the breach this fall when I was encumbered with night classes twice a week.

Here are some highlights from our year in food and drink:

Last summer, I invested in a bottle of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur and drank just ½ an inch. Recently the liqueur found its place in a gimlet, though I’m still tweaking the proportions and hope to publish my findings soon. The Ale Jail opened on St. Clair this summer. We’ve enjoyed a stunning array of beer and look forward to a more systematic perusal in the coming year. We also welcome Scusi to our neighborhood and anticipate many small plate, pasta, and pizza meals.

best things eaten this year

~pasta and grain salads with grilled veggies and (sometimes) meat
~Alemar Cheese Company’s Bent River. Made in Mankato, Minnesota, this camembert-style cheese is fiercely buttery. I love it best on Lesley Stowe’s cranberry-hazelnut Raincoast Crisps.
~pho and the pork loin sandwich at Ngon (and sweet potato fries with sriracha aioli)—three years running
~crispy soft-cooked egg at Alma

~food in crusts: the chicken-liver pate-topped chicken pot pie at Haute Dish (above) and Cornish pasties in UK
~the spicy, savory, crispy, creamy migas at Bon Vie
~“dipped in butter, rolled in sugar”: ethereal doughnut muffins at Bars, St. Paul’s newest bakery

~dense and nutty pecan short stack at Uncle Bill's Pancake House in Cape May, NJ 

2011 promises more good food!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

happy merry to all!

It’s Merry Chaos here in Princeton. Has a year gone by already? This fall has been very busy. I took four interior design classes, two of which were studio classes and another that had a lab. More on this later. For now, a comment on the day. As anticipated, there is no snow here in New Jersey, which is fine by me. It's a blessed relief from the two feet of snow that blankets my neighborhood. I don't need a white Christmas to be happy, just surrounded by family. Lots of squeals of delight over plastic crappies (Scarlett and Sophia, 4 and 5, respectively) as well as more subdued gratitude for much desired cell phones (Simon and Winston). 

I feel like a kid myself after consuming half a pound of grapefruit gelees in lieu of breakfast. But, a 23-pound turkey with Southern cornbread stuffing--straight out of the Columbus, GA, Junior League Cookbook--and bourbon sweet potatoes are in my immediate future. So all is right in the world.

No matter where you are and what you believe, I hope that your day is filled with peace and glad tidings!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haute (pronounced “hot” not “oat” or “hottie”) Dish

My friend Kathleen is a committed foodie. In fact, she was a foodie before there was even a term for serious food lovers. She was pretty influential in my own embrace of cooking. I will always treasure the meal she cooked for Hambone and me when she was our houseguest—pasta with an olive oil, walnut, and anchovy sauce and a salad dressed with a vinaigrette at the heart of which was an orange juice reduction. All of which she seemed to just whip up. When I asked about the pasta, she mentioned casually that it was a favorite dish from a NYC restaurant. She and her friends were trying to re-create at home, and Kathleen, apparently, had nearly perfected her proportions and technique.

Kathleen was in town last week for a conference. We hadn’t seen each other in five years and needed to catch up in a way that is best done over a major cocktail and a delicious meal. I called 112 Eatery, which seemed like an obvious choice for food quality and ambience, but couldn’t get a reservation. Sitting at the bar after a long wait for seat didn’t seem right, plus, while the food is good, it does not trump the discomfort of a few hours on a barstool. And, I wasn’t up for the trek over to Alma, so then what? I am so out of the restaurant scene.

Then I remembered a friend’s recent interest in Haute Dish, which has a bad-boy chef known as Colonel Mustard. Awareness of Landon Schoenfeld’s antics coupled with his scarcity—Chef’s track record made him impossible to find—piqued my curiosity.

First impressions were strong. The restaurant’s design takes full advantage of the vast physical space, formerly Café Havana. High ceilings support oversized chandeliers. The textured tobacco-colored walls mimic dark wood paneling. Tables have generous space cushions around them. The vibe is great. Our server was attentive. No complaints, so far.

I appreciated the humor and playfulness of the menu. Among other things, the paper menu is affixed to a piece of plywood, which let’s you know attention has been paid to presentation. Food is divided into three sections: first (starters), middle (small plates), last (entrees). As I looked closely, the arrangement seemed a little unfocused and possibly even slightly confusing. It seems as if you’re meant to select a dish from each section, as you were at Alma, customizing your prix fixe. What is the middle section? The prices are too high to be sides. To some extent, the middle dishes feel like upscale pub grub—mac and cheese with crab, tallegio, and truffles; a gussied-up pork and beans; General Tso’s Sweetbreads. All a little over the top.

Kathleen and I split the House Salad—iceberg wedges with tomatoes and crumbled bacon, drizzled with blue cheese and French dressings, a much fancier version of what you would get in any South Dakota steakhouse. For my main, I chose the signature dish, Tater Tot Hautedish. A divine take on a Midwestern classic,* the Hautedish featured a succulent beef short rib perched atop baby green beans and adorned with potato croquettes the size and shape of an Ore-Ida tater tot. 

Kathleen had the fried chicken, which had been marinated in buttermilk, then double fried in lard. Under the super-crispy exterior, the chicken was silky.

So here are my main complaints:
1. That perplexing, disjoined menu
2. The cocktails were totally watered down. Also, the Pimm’s Cups tasted more like gin than Pimm’s liqueur.
3. The entrees were utterly unseasonable. All were stewy, hearty, and rich—perfect for the darkest winter days.  None were very appealing on a hot (87 degrees) and humid July evening. The only exception was the fried chicken, which was served with pickled watermelon rinds and a cooling pressed watermelon and felt like a summer picnic.
4. My “tater tots” smelled and tasted funky. I couldn’t figure out what was off, and that was a little disconcerting. But I had no problem eating all of these crispy/creamy morsels.
5. Everything is so clever, which is both the high and low point of Haute Dish.

I’m also feeling a little fussed over all the slathery reviews. I know Twin Cities foodies are desparate for exciting new places to eat. But, unless the restaurant has taken a precipitous downturn in quality since May, then a bunch of reviewers lost major credibility in my book.

That said, the short rib was impeccable. Velvety and unctuous, it was ideal in a way that I’ve never been able to achieve at home. I will return to Haute Dish because I'm curious about the duck in a can, which may be the most unique menu item in town. I'm looking forward to chef Schoenfeld and his all-star staff working out their kinks with food quality and service—I’d like to see him succeed here.

*The hot dish—typically meat, noodles, and veg bound by a canned cream-based soup— is a staple of many Midwestern family meals as well as church dinners and potlucks. It’s salty and tasty and, I’m sure, very simple to make. As best as I can figure, never having made it, you brown a pound of ground beef, thaw a bag of mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, green beans), mix with a can or two of cream of mushroom soup, and top with a bag of tater tots, then bake. Tater tot hot dish never graced my family’s dinner table. I always felt a little ripped off by that, though now I’m thankful for a mother who had the good sense not to pollute our bodies with processed foods. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

#5 full English breakfast

Hambone and Spice recently took Alpha and Beta to England. Who would have guessed that full English breakfasts would have been one of their favorite things from the trip? 

It seemed really uncivilized to bring my camera to the table first thing in the morning, but now I regret that I don’t have a picture of a full English breakfast. Thank goodness for the internets where I borrowed a photo from

Where to start with the full English breakfast? I have really fond memories, from 20 years ago, of getting a hot breakfast whenever I stayed in a bed and breakfast. As I made hotel reservations for this trip, I got a little excited by the promise of a cereal “starter” (cornflakes or “bits and pieces,” muesli with dates and nuts), followed by runny eggs, thick bacon rashers (recognizable to Americans as ham), fat English sausages, baked beans, and broiled tomatoes and mushrooms. Toast and preserves? Yes, please.

Even if taking Lipitor, people my age should not eat a full English breakfast every morning, for obvious reasons. But eggs and bacon are so delicious, and I only had five mornings to take advantage of consuming them. The boys loved their full English, especially since they were allowed to drink milk and sugar–laden “wake up” tea, which is what our family calls English breakfast tea. To their credit, a full breakfast tided us over well past the lunch hour, but sometimes they also made us feel like we needed a nap at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

#4: Ngon Bistro

St. Paul has no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants lining University Avenue. Many of these have little to recommend themselves, aside from tasty, cheap food. Ngon Bistro stands out from the rest. By appearances, the space is charming and inviting, with work by local artists staged above sunny gold wainscoting. The menu is a clever (and fitting) French-Vietnamese fusion, such as sweet potato shrimp croquettes, sugar cane shrimp, croque madame (with pork belly). You’ll also find the best versions of traditional Vietnamese dishes. For instance, pho and hu tieu both feature housemade broths that are so rich and earthy and redolent of star anise. Whenever I feel run down or get the aches and pains that precede a cold or the flu, I want Ngon’s soup. They’re soul-warming, and, I believe, instantly healing.

My very favorite menu item is the pork loin sandwich. This is not your $3 bahn mi, either. Baguette-style rolls are slathered with liver pate then piled high with local duroc pork, which has been shellacked with Vietnamese “BBQ” sauce, and topped with vinegary jalapenos, carrots, and daikon. A tangle of skinny-cut sweet potato fries with  sriracha-laced mayo are equally addictive. You’re given a generous portion of sweet potato fries, and I tend to eat every single one.

There’s a lot of good farm-to-table stuff going on at Ngon. Even the beers are from local brewers—Summit, Brau Brothers, Surly, Lake Superior, Flat Earth, and Lift Bridge, to name a few really good beer makers.

Ngon Bistro, 799 University Avenue, St. Paul, MN 651-222-3301

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

H&S 100: #3 Brach's Easter Candy

Some of my favorite candy is available only at Easter, and I may even venture to say that Brach's Pastel Fiesta malted milk eggs is my favorite candy of all time. No other malted milk eggs compare. The ratio of crunchy shell to chocolate layer to malted milk interior is perfection. Surprisingly, this Brach's candy is difficult to find locally. Our primary grocery store, Lund's, carries it but has been known to run out of stock long before Easter. Also, I find that with every passing year, there are fewer and fewer candy pieces in each bag. Nonetheless, the speckled candy shells and pastel colors are emblematic of time and place. My boys love them, too.

Brach's Jelly Bird Eggs (read, jelly beans) run a close second. My mother always included these jelly beans in our Easter baskets as well as in the plastic eggs she hid around the yard. Plus, she often makes a white cake with lemon curd filling, frosted with seven-minute frosting, dusted with coconut, and crowned with a nest of jelly bird eggs. When jelly bird eggs are stale, the gel center is more stiff and tacky, and this is what I like best about these jelly beans. Recently I bought a bag of "fresh" beans, and the interior was so sticky and springy—all wrong. Thank goodness these jelly beans are available year round.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

H&S 100: #2 Clancey's Meat and Fish

Clancey's Meat and Fish

4307 Upton Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55410-1556
(612) 926-0222

I have proclaimed my Clancey's love on numerous occasions. If you live in the Twin Cities but haven't visited this Linden Hills meat and fish market, go. Go now. Go for the unique housemade sausages (lamb-pine nut-dried blueberry or beef-[Surly] Bender [beer]-cherries-blue [cheese]) and for the dry-aged steaks. But don't overlook all the other lovelies—the sunchoke tapenade or the duck rillettes or the duck jerky. These foodstuffs are great when you're entertaining or for Friday date-nights-at-home. Four petite filets cost the same as one served at any local steakhouse, which means you can splurge on an extra-nice Cab or rioja. You'll also find a freezer case laden with items such as stock, duck confit, and pork leaf lard.

(tiny merguez sausages and chickpeas)

We're Clancey's fans because the fare is of an impeccably high quality, made with love. The owners are passionate about what they do, and they're interested in how you're going to prepare your purchases. I always have an inspiring conversation about food while I'm in the cozy shop. Places like Clancey's are true measures of civility.

As I was looking up Clancey's address, I noticed a new web link...yay! The site is still under construction, but once it's functional, I have no doubt it will be entertaining. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

H&S 100: #1 Bittman

Taking the lead from our friend Apur, we refer to Mark Bittman’s behemoth How to Cook Everything as Bittman*. When we’re making the Saturday morning pancakes with the boys, we’ll say to one of them, “Get Bittman.” The cookbook has become indispensable for recipes and techniques. When I bought Bittman, we already had Lukin’s and Rosso’s The New Basics Cookbook, as well as Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, and thank goodness we did because I learned a lot from them. Ultimately I found The New Basics kind of overdone and, though I love Julia, The Way to Cook is kind of out of step with the way we eat.

Bittman’s great if you’ve got a gorgeous cut of meat, say a New York strip, or even a tough cut of meat, say a skirt steak, and you want to know how to broil or grill or pan-saute. You look up steak and find straightforward methods that are completely do-able, regardless of your kitchen skills. You may even find pan sauces, as well as references to recipes that go well with steak. Even if you don’t think you need a recipe for something as obvious as, say, deviled eggs, you can use Bittman as a guideline. Maybe you need a reminder of how long to boil an egg. He also give good recipe tweaks. How about adding herbs to your egg-mayo-mustard mixture?

I love Bittman's voice. Here's his note on Basic Pancakes:
Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.
Our copy's binding is broken. It opens right to breakfast foods. You’d think we’d have that pancake recipe memorized by now.

*We also really like Bittman’s Minimalist column in the New York Times, as well as the themed 100 lists that occasionally run as larger features in the Wednesday food section.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saveur 100

One of my favorite food magazine issues is Saveur’s January issue, which features their annual 100. The 100 is a staff-generated list of favorite food-related items, typically including kitchen gadgets and equipment, recipes, prepared food items, cookbooks, personalities, websites, and restaurants. Basically, almost anything food related. From this list, I get an ego boost from things I’ve already discovered, but I also add to the lengthy list of must-eats. This year’s 100 was, for the first time, culled from reader recommendations, which I enjoyed for the wonderful personal stories. Here are some of my favorites items:

#3 Pacifikool Hawaiian Ginger Syrup
I think this ginger syrup would be a great stand-in for ginger ale in a Dark and Stormy. Fortunately friends are traveling to Hawaii in March…

A community-driven visual potluck. I will lose productivity but gain inspiration from time spent on this website.

#35 eating at New Orleans Jazz Fest
I agree, best festival food anywhere. Some folks even strategize their eating ahead of the festival, based on which the stages where they’ll be listening to music. I’ve eaten the pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, but next time I’ll also be sure to try the deep-fried boudin balls.

#36 Den Gyldene Freden, Stockholm
In 2001, Hambone’s brother, who lives in Stockholm, took us to this restaurant. We had a table in the cellar, where candlelight played off the creamy stucco walls. I don’t remember what we ate, but rest assured in was an exquisite dish of traditional Swedish food. The restaurant has been open since 1722.

#55 Rittenhouse Rye
Goes on my to-try list

#59 kruk
More elegant than a molcahete, this traditional Thai mortar and pestle goes on my kitchen tools to buy list

#71 Hot Doug’s Chicago
This haute hot dog joint has been on my radar for a long time. I stood in solidarity as they received the first citation of Chicago’s since-rescinded foie gras ban. Yes, a hot dog featuring foie…I live to try one.

#87 sumac
Hambone turned me on to this super-tangy Middle Eastern spice, which ate on rice—a super cheap meal at a long-gone Lebanese restaurant. We now use season house-made pita chips with sumac and sea salt with sea salt. I’m making a note to use the spice more often—on grilled meats, on roasted vegetables, in stews, and in meatballs.

#91 Wisconsin
Oh yes, Minnesota does great sausages and smoked fish, too. I love Death’s Door gin and appreciate the staunch German fare. But, I’m really interest in the “melty bars” and the wintergreen patties from Oaks Candy, Oshkosh. Wisconsin can keep the squeaky cheese curds, though.

#100 Sweetwater’s Donut Mill Doughnuts
I hope I have the occasion to travel to Kalamazoo, MI, one day…

In the spirit of list-making and of celebrating our favorite things, I am inaugurating the H&S 100. Throughout the year, I will be featuring beloved kitchen equipment, restaurants, food stuffs, recipes, cookbooks, ideas, websites, and more. Stay tuned…I think I already have some catching up to do!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Greek-Style Pasta

One of my very most favorite dishes in the whole wide world is only available on a buffet. Usually I’m loathe to eat buffet-style lunches because they can be the greasiest, nastiest foodstuffs, plus there’s the whole Petri dish nature of it that I try not to think about. But the yuckiest thing about buffets is the manner in which one eats—heap a plate high, snarf it down, and reload. A few lunch buffets in St. Paul have changed my mind, though, and I feel the need to mention them.
If you’ve never eaten at Christo’s, the lunch buffet is a fantastic way to sample their Greek menu. The restaurant is located in Lowertown, in the magnificent Union Depot (soon to be a light rail hub). The buffet features a couple soups (an outstanding butternut squash soup makes frequent appearances), a few hot entrees, vegetables (buttered carrots are a favorite), piles of warm pita, spit-roasted lamb sliced for make-your-own gyros, lettuce and fixings for Greek salad, and more. One of the hot entrees—braised beef in tomato sauce—never fails to comfort. The beef is tender and rich, the tomato sauce is spiked with cinnamon, and it’s the most unexpectedly delicious thing.
On many occasions, I have tried to order this dish for take out, but am always told that it’s not on the menu. So sometimes I would order the buffet and request a take-out container and would be obliged with strange glances. Then I would march my take-out across the street to my office and eat at my desk. I’ve never tried to re-create the dish at home. It’s that special thing I hope is on the buffet when I go, and I always thought the thrill would be ruined if I cracked the code. Silly, I know.
Now that I no longer work across the street from Christo’s and now that 4th Street is ripped up with light rail construction, I’d like to make the dish at home. Imagine my excitement when I ran across a pasta recipe in Bon Appetit that comes remarkably close. The recipe features ground lamb instead of braised beef, which is a welcomed time-saver, as well as a cinnamon-driven tomato sauce. A liberal sprinkle of salty feta cheese is a great foil to the sauce’s spiciness. But, the best element, in my opinion, is the addition of parsnips. I love the earthiness of this underrated root veg and feel like this pasta is a complete meal. We'll add this to our regular pasta rotation.
My apologies: no photo. We dove right into this meal, without setting up a shot. I don't even have "stock" photography of pasta with red sauce. Instead, I present saucy younger son, Winston, plugged in with his best Combat Rock.

Greek-Style Penne with Lamb, Parsnips, Tomatoes, and Cinnamon
adapted from Bon Appetit magazine (November 2009)
6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, halved through root end, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
12 ounces medium parsnips (about 4), peeled, cut on slight diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 14-1/2 ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup tomato puree
12 ounces penne
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Crumbled feta cheese

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and parsnips and sauté until slightly softened and deep golden brown around the edges, about 9 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add lamb and sauté until no longer pink, breaking up with back of spoon, about 2 minutes. Stir in cinnamon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato puree, bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until parsnips are tender, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bit, stirring occasionally. Drain, then return pasta to pot. Add lamb-tomato mixture and parsley. Transfer to plates and sprinkle with feta.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

best eats of 2009

Happy New Year! Hambone and Spice continued to eat well in 2009. We enjoyed many fantastic and memorable meals in restaurants, in our friends’ homes, and in our own home. Food was an important balm during a transition year, in which I became a full-time student. Food also helped to cement friendships and fueled many delicious conversations.

Here are some highlights from our year in food and drink:

Cocktails continue to quench our thirst. The side car kept its place at our table, as did Rick Bayless’ margarita. Perhaps it wasn’t much of a coincidence that fresh citrus features prominently in both cocktails. Cutting a lemon or lime in half and giving a squeeze takes no more time than opening a bottle of mixer, but makes a big difference to quality and flavor. We also added Pimm’s Cup to our repertoire, cutting the liquor with Gosling’s Dark ginger beer for a crisp, slightly herbal refreshment. This summer, I invested in a bottle of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur but have yet to fully realize it’s potential, though I’m sure I’ll find some use in Artisanal Cocktail, a gift from Friend Tracy. One of my favorite cocktails in 2009 was the Mariposa Aviation, a recipe taken from Artisanal Cocktail. It’s simply gin, maraschino liqueur (we like Luxardo), and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. My other favorite cocktail was the apple martini—shaken by the brothers who run Phillips—that I sampled at the Mill City Farmers Market. I despise the name but have yet to come up an appropriate moniker for this concoction of apple cider, [Prairie Organic] vodka, simple syrup, and a cinnamon stick. A few local restaurants, particularly Lucia’s, are serving these “martinis” on rocks, which makes for a tasty fall/winter cocktail.

favorite cooking techniques: paillards and pan sauces
In the last quarter of 2009, Spice had a night class two nights a week so Hambone was required to do more of the cooking. He nailed paillards, primarily using chicken. By flattening the breasts, the meat cooks quickly and leaves some browned bits in the pan that can be loosened with an agent, such as wine or stock or (even) water. With the addition of minced shallots or onion, herbs, mustard, and cream, you’ve got an instant pan sauce that transforms chicken into something a little more luscious. Plus, chicken breasts and pan sauce are amazing kid pleasers.

another soup session with Caryl
In 2008 my friend Caryl and I made caldo verde, a Portuguese kale and sausage soup, from a recipe in The Soup Peddler’s Slow and Difficult Soups. The soup was hearty and nourishing and easy. The cooking session was a blast so we decided to pick another soup from that cookbook and have another cooking session. This time we made shorbat rumman, which seemed appropriate for many reasons: it’s delicious, easy, and slightly exotic. Here’s what the soup peddler, David Ansel, says about this soup: 
Neither slow nor difficult, this delightful Iraqi yellow split pea soup is derived from a recipe on the world’s greatest soup website, Pomegranate and mint are the surprises that lie in store for your guests at this soup session. Dazzle even your most Republican friends with this soup, and when they ask, “What’s that taste?” just say casually, “Oh, that’s pomegranate syrup. We like to keep some around the house just in case we’re having Iraqi food for dinner, don’t you?”
The pomegranante and mint were love surprises, but my favorite part was the buckets of greens—one pound of spinach and two bunches each parsley and cilantro. The soup was bright and, undoubtedly, healthy. I’m looking forward to our next soup session!

favorite food stores
France 44’s cheese counter—St. Paul Cheese Shop—opened a St. Paul location. This news came with mixed blessings. It means there is no need for me to open the cheese store of my dreams, but it also means that awesome cheeses—stored at proper temperatures and cut to order—are available on my beat. In addition to cheese, the store offers some fancy foods, such as Theo Chocolates and Ames honey, and some of the best $8 sandwiches around. My favorite is the prosciutto and provolone with caramelized onions. I’m determined to hack their recipe for the dried fruit compote that they serve on chevre. Further down Grand Avenue, Golden Fig still rocks for their house-brand spice, herb, salt, and sugar concoctions, as well as such goodies jams from Heath’s Glen Kitchens (damson plum chutney and the heirloom tomato jam are two favorites) and Barsy’s Almonds (“naughties” with sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and cayenne, and “smokies” with sugar, spice, and smoked salt).

Best things eaten this year, restaurant category
~pho and the pork loin sandwich at Ngon (and sweet potato fries with sriracha aioli)—two years running
~Khyber Pass’ lunch buffet, especially the hummus and korma e murgh—two years running
~charred ahi tuna and shishito pepper, lemon, coriander, lime salt at Porter and Frye
~seared foie gras with hazelnuts, frisee, vegetables a la grecque, and curry emulsion at Meritage
~chocolate cake with ginger-candied apricots and cream at Grand Café
~muhammara at Sanaa’s in Sioux Falls
~tri-fry tower: hand-cut russet fries, maple-bacon sweet potato fries and parmesan waffle fries with smoked tomato ketchup, béarnaise, and blue-cheese dip at Burger Jones
~“continental” breakfast (skinka and farmer’s cheese on rusk) at the Columbus Hotell in Stockholm
~red chile, chorizo, and fried egg enchilada at Barrio

 Favorite things eaten at home/friends’ homes
~Will and Helena’s tossed green salad with tomato and mango
~Bill’s smoked ribs
~fig-olive tapenade from David Lebovitz's memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris
~Steve’s smoked brisket
~Colin’s pork loin with roasted shallots and fresh figs

Unforgettable drink
~2006 Sarah Powell pinot noir
~2001 Stag’s Leap
~chilled aquavit in Stockholm
~Visby medeltidsol from Gotlands Bryggeri
~salted caramel milkshake at Burger Jones

The economic downturn at the end of 2008 precipitated many restaurant closings, as well as chef turnovers. It goes somewhat without saying that not many new restaurants opened that we could put our radar, until recently, that is (more on those later). Not immune to the economic downturn, we took fewer meals in restaurants. When we did treat ourselves, we would head to favorites, such as Meritage, 112 Eatery, and Alma. Food at each of these joints remained consistent and exciting, rarely disappointing.