I did grab one shot of the turkey after my triumphant carving job, and some random table and buffet shots. I hope that your day was as delicious and relaxed as ours was.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
I did grab one shot of the turkey after my triumphant carving job, and some random table and buffet shots. I hope that your day was as delicious and relaxed as ours was.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
My Oven-Fried Buttermilk Chicken has benefited from experimenting with chicken legs in addition to thighs, and I finally upped the cooking time since my original 45 minutes was ridiculous--it always takes me at least an hour on the first side. I don't know what I was thinking!
Our favorite pasta dish is this Rigatoni Alla Bolognese Bianco, and I've improved it by doubling all of the vegetables (after realizing I was chasing every mushroom and carrot around the plate), adding ground beef or ground turkey, reducing the half & half a bit, and upping the pasta amount. It's making my mouth water just thinking about it, and we just had it! Fantastic for leftovers, too.
Comaburgers are even more outrageous when topped with pimento cheese. I also adjusted the portions here, because with all of the toppings a quarter pound burger made more sense.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The Ultimate Vegetable Torta from Cooking Light. This torta is seriously labor intensive, but pretty delicious. I've made it twice now and I'm not entirely sure it is worth the effort, however it is a great way to use up the results of an over-zealous Farmer's Market trip.
Roasted Cod with Warm-Olive-Caper Tapenade from Eating Well. Mmmm, I loved this and it was such a snap to pull together on a weeknight. If you like briney things you'll be all over this. I served it with the suggested orzo (cooked in vegetable broth) and spinach.
Ziti with Grilled Gazpacho Sauce and Sausage from Gourmet. Another total winner, smokey and delicious. I used penne, and turkey Italian sausage in a vain attempt to lighten the recipe. Delicious, great leftover as well.
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa from Gourmet. Delicious, healthy, filling. I served this with something--grilled chicken or fish maybe? It should tell you a lot that the side dish stuck out a lot more than the main course. Would make a lovely vegetarian lunch all on its own.
Beef Saté with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Cooking Light. Another super speedy and tasty weeknight dish. The meat wasn't my absolute favorite but I liked this meal well enough. I made it with brown rice instead of the instant.
Chicken-Chorizo Burgers with Avocado Mayonnaise from Cooking Light. I liked these, although I over processed the meat mixture and I think that made it a bit tough. Great flavor, though, and a nice alternative to beef or turkey burgers. The recipe makes a lot and I froze a stack of the patties, seperated with parchment. I'll let you know how they fare after being thawed.
Green Onion Pancakes with Tomato-Avocado Salsa from Cooking Light. Oh, baby, I loved these. Served them with a pile of garlicky grilled shrimp. I used my own guacamole recipe, however, because I'm not a huge oregano fan. I also used Gruyeré in the pancakes.
Crispy Soft-Shelled Crabs with Bean Salad from Martha Stewart. The dish of the summer! If soft-shelled crabs were in season longer (and I could afford them), I think I'd make this all the danged time. I used some fresh black-eyed peas, edamame, and some coarsely chopped green beans in the salad. And make the homemade garlic mayo, please. You won't be disappointed. I made this same salad later in the summer to serve with crabcakes and it was lovely as well.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Rooms For Improvement
Downtown’s newest upscale eatery has the right idea, but needs to find its footing.
When I think of hotel dining, I usually think of just one thing: room service. I used to have a job that required extensive travel and one of the only things I liked about that was coming back to my nice hotel room after a long day, getting into the enormous bed, ordering room service, and watching loads of bad television.
Because of this affinity, I’ve never given much thought to eating in restaurants housed by hotels, especially here in Knoxville. And so when I heard that an attempt at fine dining was being made at the downtown Hilton, I was as curious as I was apprehensive. Could Marty’s Bistro be as good as it sounds? The description on the hotel website promises “eclectic new American cuisine with a special focus on regional ingredients and classical presentation…enhanced by our seasonal wine list featuring the best of California as well as alternative selections from around the world.” I really don’t look for much else from a local restaurant, so I was ready to go check it out.
The hotel itself was recently renovated and presents a gorgeous, open lobby upon entrance. Marty’s Bistro is tucked away next to the “Market Café”, which serves breakfast and lunch. Further down the lobby you can find a Starbucks and The Orange Martini, featuring specialty drinks and a casual bar menu.
Marty’s is a small restaurant but could clearly be opened up to include the Market Café space for larger occasions. The décor is sedate and contemporary, and much to my (and the harried solo server) surprise, the restaurant was at least half full. It seems that the rainy, cool spring night has kept many hotel guests in for the evening, giving the restaurant an unexpected boost of business. We were seated promptly and given menus and a wine list.
The wine list is more than adequate with a good range of prices for all diners. Don’t expect a sommelier in your server, however. Our server mistakenly thought that Sauvignon Blanc was a red wine and seemed flummoxed by the different varietals. However, all menu items are thoughtfully graced with wine pairings—usually at least two choices per dish (one available by the glass and one by the bottle).
The Low Country Crab Cakes ($9), while definitely more “southwestern” than “low country”, were packed full of lump crabmeat and topped with a grainy mustard remoulade and loads of spicy corn kernels, all puzzlingly resting atop a cornhusk. A perfectly fine start to the meal, even if wrongly named. The suggested Sauvignon Blanc wine pairing was indeed a nice match to the zesty cakes.
However, upon spying my neighbors Bleu Cheese Caesar ($4) I felt like I should have made a different choice. A tidy bundle of whole romaine leaves arrived encased by a Parmesan crisp and topped with a sprinkling of Stilton. If it tasted anywhere as good as it looked, I’d say it was quite a nice little salad indeed.
My dining companion quickly zeroed in on his entrée choice, the grilled Veal Chop with Bacon-Onion Polenta and Roasted Shallot Sauce ($26). I had a bit more trouble making my choice, but ultimately settled on the Lemon-Thyme Chicken served on a bed of Tomato Gnocchi, Fresh Asparagus Tips, and Sun-dried Tomatoes ($17). I’m not usually a chicken person but was tempted by the tomato gnocchi—not something you often see on menus around these parts and I was curious as to whether it was house made.
When I ordered the chicken I was told that it takes a bit longer to prepare than other dishes, but when it arrived I wasn’t sure why. It is basically a bone-in paillard—a thin breast cutlet. Seared to golden brown on each side, the chicken was nicely cooked and served atop a hearty serving of tomato gnocchi and chunks of asparagus and sun-dried tomato. The gnocchi had a non-uniform appearance that made me think it was indeed made in-house, but it was slightly heavy on the tongue and doughy. The flavor was good, however. The asparagus was asparagus, and while I’m not sure where the “lemon-thyme” flavor was, everything was tossed in a serviceable wine sauce.
My dining companion’s veal chop was a more impressive dish to look at, with a thick bone-in chop accompanied by two small wedges of fried polenta, steamed asparagus, and shallots. However, the smoky charred flavor brought on from the grilling tended to overwhelm the delicate veal flavor. The bacon polenta was delicious and my partner wished there was more on the plate to balance the enormous chop. Overall the dish was well prepared (after all, it is simply my preference to have veal seared instead of grilled) and lovely to look at.
The dessert options ranged from a pecan pie to a cheesecake, but we went with the one dessert made in-house, a chocolate torte. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we received—a rather basic chocolate layer cake reminiscent of cake mix and layered with an insipid, over chilled chocolate mousse. Honestly, it was a disappointing dessert, especially as it was described as “melt in your mouth”.
I think that Marty’s Bistro is making an admirable attempt to be the only upscale restaurant housed in a downtown hotel. The space is nicely decorated and it seemed to be a draw to hotel guests. However, to attract a local crowd the hotel needs to have more people on staff (the sole server/busboy/host was in a complete panic by evening’s end, and I can’t blame the poor guy), revamp the menu to reflect more of the promised focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and promote the new space by including it on the signage outside the hotel. I think it is exciting that this endeavor is being made, and with continued efforts I feel that Marty’s Bistro could establish itself among other fine dining options in the downtown area.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
A Foodie Divided:
The roots below Maryville’s newest hot spot might surprise you.
I have a confession: for the most part, chain restaurants make me cringe. I would always rather support a local business, and I feel like so often the quality suffers. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule—big restaurant conglomerates that manage to maintain the passion of a small boutique restaurant owner. I wouldn’t have thought to include the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain to be in that category, that they would be interested in opening a small, trendy, unique restaurant with little to no media fanfare or advertisement—but that is just what they’ve done. Ruby T opened not long ago and has quietly become a charming, bustling little restaurant.
With its use of bright lighting and slick stainless steel, the outside of Ruby T projects the feeling of a neo-modern diner. Inside, you’ll find an incongruous, but not unpleasing, blend of unstained wood, luxe patterned upholstery, and over-the-top light fixtures. Not a bit of “flair” to be seen. My guest and I were greeted warmly by the staff and continued to be very impressed by the level of service as the evening went on. It was a fairly busy Friday night, yet we were seated immediately (however, reservations are recommended for large groups). My only nit to pick on the atmosphere would be the salad bar placed in prime position. I admit that I hate salad bars and wish they would be regulated to fast food restaurants, but after checking it out I must begrudgingly admit that everything looked incredibly fresh and there were some unique choices such as edamame, marinated cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, and what appeared to be homemade dressings. And it seemed like the majority of patrons chose the salad option, further proving that I am mostly alone in my condemnation. Well played, Ruby T.
Perusing the wine list, I found it a bit limited, but I didn’t mind because there are some decent choices and very good values, such as the Cavit Pinot Grigio ($5.00/glass). Feeling festive, I was pleased to see some specialty drinks featuring fresh-squeezed juices and happily ordered a signature Ruby T Margarita ($7.00) from our darling waitress. This was a very nice margarita, one of the best I’ve had in a while, not too sweet and with lots of fresh-squeezed orange and lime juice.
My thirst quenched, we moved on to two appetizers—Chicken Dumplings ($7.00) and Thai Phoon Shrimp ($8.00). They came promptly with nice presentation and generous portions. The peanut sauce that accompanied the dumplings is positively delectable, and the dumplings themselves had the proper crisp yet tender exterior and delicious chicken and water chestnut interior. The shrimp were a surprise: they are served absolutely drenched in a creamy chili sauce. I actually really liked the sauce but found the application to be a bit heavy handed and the extra sauce on the side to be unnecessary. That said, these little crustaceans were addictive. The fried coating managed to stay crunchy even under the weight of the sauce, and there was a slow burn from the chilies that had me going back for more.
I found the entrée selection to be a little sparse, but there is something for everyone, including a comprehensive burger list on the back. I was in the mood for fish but disappointed to see only 3 offerings, 2 of them tilapia. And so, I went with the Chicken Oscar ($12.50) instead—the lump crab topping satisfying my craving. Topped with a generous mound of the aforementioned crab, a creamy sauce, and asparagus, the chicken was quite nice—seasoned well, moist and properly cooked, and another portion. The pile of steamed broccoli seemed unnecessary with the asparagus (and actually I would have liked more asparagus instead), but the white cheddar mashed potatoes were rich and flavorful.
My dining companion also enjoyed the potatoes but wasn’t blown away by his Ruby’s Ribeye ($15.00). The steak was on the thin side and weakly seasoned. Not bad, but not a great, steakhouse-quality steak.
At this point we were so sated that dessert seemed laughable. But on we forged, ordering the Double Chocolate Cake ($5.50). It was described as your typical decadent chocolate cake with an oozing, molten chocolate interior, but was actually something quite different. The cake was almost more of a sponge cake, with a depression in the center filled with warm chocolate sauce. However, I actually preferred this version to what I was expecting, because it was lighter and not as rich. Served with a wonderful vanilla ice cream, this is a dessert that can be easily split between two people.
Our entire meal, including tax and tip, came out under $80.00, and we ended up taking half of it home for leftovers. Ruby T is a great choice for those in the Maryville area seeking out a fun, trendy atmosphere and fairly priced food.
Food *** ½ (out of 5)
Atmosphere **** (out of 5)
Service ***** (out of 5)
216 W. Church Avenue
Maryville, TN 37801
Monday, May 21, 2007
The Merchants Drive area is hardly Mecca for gourmands, what with its proliferation of fast food and chain restaurants. One unlikely oasis in this barren culinary desert takes the shape of a small family-owned Vietnamese restaurant, located in a small, care worn strip mall just minutes from I-75. On our visit, it was a cold night and the shabby little strip mall was looking worse for wear. However, inside T. Ho it was warm and bright, and the fragrant Vietnamese food beckoned.
I was immediately transfixed by the (I assume) family photos that lined the wall in the main dining area. They are blown up and very evocative, and if I had any say I’d quickly replace the out-of-place French café paintings in the smaller dining area with more of the same. Quickly seated by our somewhat harried and distracted waiter, we placed an order for Tsing Tao beers ($3.25) and studied the menu.
The menu has been updated and now features some appetizers other than the signature spring rolls. The sampler ($7.50) included a large crab cake, wedges of fried eggplant, and some strips of fried calamari. The crab cake was crisp with buttery panko breadcrumbs and well seasoned, but I particularly enjoyed the fried eggplant, which managed to be crunchy yet not greasy or soggy inside. The calamari, while served a bit on the cold side, was tender and cooked properly. The real standout was the spicy chili dipping sauce that came alongside the trio. It was so good that we requested more of it to accompany our spring rolls.
The spring rolls that are served with all entrees are really spectacular. Delicately spiced with crisp, flaky layers, I could have easily eaten more than one. Given the choice between vegetarian or pork, I chose vegetarian—stuffed with peppery cabbage and delicious. As I mentioned before, we chose to dip these cigar-shaped delights in the spicy sauce that accompanied our appetizers, since we found the spring roll sauce to be devoid of any flavor. Heavy on the cornstarch, this “sauce” tasted just barely of red pepper flakes, but overall was just viscous goo.
After poring over the extensive menu I chose to go with one of T. Ho’s traditional Vietnamese dishes—Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Country Style Crepe—$8.75). I wasn’t sure what to expect and was pleased with the fluffy-yet-crispy rustic crepe that was set in front of me. The crepe itself was enormous, studded with shrimp and chicken, and stuffed with onions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. Some sort of sweet sauce was puddle beneath the crepe, lending just enough spice without masking the delicate flavors of the dish. Alongside the entrée came a pile of T. Ho’s signature quick pickles—a slice of cucumber and shredded carrots with a very pleasant mild pickled flavor. A refreshing garnish to a very hearty meal.
My dining companions stuck to the traditional “House Favorites” side of the menu as well, choosing the spicy Pho ($8.00), Bun Bo Nuong (Beef with Thin Noodle—$8.75), and Stir Fry Beef with Lemongrass on a Hot Steel Plate ($9.50). They are not kidding about the hot steel plate—the sizzling dish could be heard before it was ever seen. While I didn’t taste any distinct lemongrass, I enjoyed the charred flavors in the beef and the freshness of the sauce. The pho, a traditional noodle soup, was indeed spicy and not for the faint-hearted. However, the flavors were so bright and intoxicating that I found myself sneaking spoonfuls even though I am not usually a fan of very spicy foods. The thin noodle dishes (this also can be ordered in chicken, shrimp, or a combination) are among my favorites that T. Ho serves, so I was as usual happy with this bowlful of noodles, salty sweet beef with caramelized edges, and multiple crunchy garnishes. While there are no desserts on the menu, I was glad for it, but those with a sweet tooth can order coffee or tea with condensed milk ($2.50)—a traditional Asian treat. However, after stuffing myself with so many Vietnamese delights I couldn’t imagine eating another thing, and was happy to retire next door to the Pint House.
The Pint House was opened by the owners of T. Ho earlier this year, and is another surprising gem in this less-than-impressive location. The cozy bar features multiple televisions, a nook with dart boards and a foosball table, several booths, a decent beer selection, and live music every Friday night and alternating Tuesday nights. While at first it seemed odd to see a somewhat trendy bar in this part of town, it’s very nice to have a place next door to the already popular T. Ho where you can relax with a beer while digesting your excellent meal. Who knows, maybe Merchants Drive will become the next hot spot in town? Only time will tell.
Food **** (out of 5)
Atmosphere *** ½ (out of 5)
Service *** ½ (out of 5)
Price $$ (out of 5)
T Ho Vietnamese and Oriental Restaurant
815 Merchants Road
Knoxville, TN 37912
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Originally printed in the April issue of Cityview Magazine.
This is a busy time of year—spring has sprung in all of its glory and suddenly your weekends are starting to fill up in anticipation of summers festive warmth. As you get busier and busier, don’t you wish you had a moment to get away for awhile? A chance to get out of the city and unwind in a completely different atmosphere?
In these instances, we are particularly lucky in Knoxville. Within an hour you can find a bevy of rustic getaways offering ranging from no-frills to truly luxuriant. One glaring void, in my opinion, has been in the cuisine arena. And if you are a gourmand, you can’t truly get away from it all without satisfying your more carnal urges.
This is where Dancing Bear Lodge rises high above its nearby competitors. And competitors there are, in Townsend alone there are thousands of cabins for rent. What sets Dancing Bear apart? For one, it has an excellent pedigree, owned by those experts in accommodations at Blackberry Farms. Also, it offers a great range of rooms and cabins, as well as a truly lovely lodge that houses the restaurant and would make a wonderful location for a mountain-inspired wedding or event.
But really, I’m here to tell you about the food, and the food is great. You won’t find a large menu, but what you will find is seasonally appropriate ingredients prepared with a skilled hand and served in an extremely welcoming environment. The dining area is small and warm and we were lucky to be seated next to a roaring fire on this cool early spring evening. Our charming waitress was quick to supply us with menus, including specialty drinks and a wine list. Feeling like we were on a mini-vacation, my dining partner and I chose to start with a White Dancing Bear Cosmopolitan (white cranberry juice, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, Finlandia vodka, $12), and a Dancing Bear Manhattan (Maker’s Mark whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, $10). Both drinks were fresh and delicious, although my Cosmopolitan was a bit sweet for my tastes. While we sipped our libations we perused the concise yet tempting menu.
While looking over the menu we were brought a napkin-wrapped bowl of Tennessee Cheese Puffs, the Lodge’s answer to a bread basket. These airy, cheesy puffs may have been the single best thing I put in my mouth all evening, and you must understand that I loved my dinner. They are that good.
Whilst munching on the cheese puffs I immediately zeroed in on my selections for the evening: Tomato Basil Soup with Garlic Parmesan Croutons ($5); followed by Almond Crusted North Carolina Rainbow Trout, Butter Beans, Roasted Mushrooms, Spinach and Crayfish ($17). The soup arrived quickly and was exactly what I was craving—thick warm, bursting with flavor, and studded with crisp, fresh croutons. I ate every bite and had barely rested my spoon before the bowl was whisked away and replaced with the trout. Now, I am a huge fish fan, I cook it several times a week and really appreciate it when people know how to prepare it well. This delicate filet was masterful—the almond coating was impressively crisp and the fish was impeccably cooked, quite a feat when dealing with such a thin variety. Underneath, I found a bundle of wilted greens surrounded by the butter beans and mushrooms. While I did find the occasional undercooked bean, it hardly detracted from the rustic elegance of the dish. A topping of crunchy fried crayfish finished off a meal that felt both light and decadent.
My companion selected the Iceberg Wedge with Bacon, Sweetwater Valley Cheddar, and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing ($6); and then the Pan Seared Center-Cut Pork Chop with Marinated Mushrooms, Roasted Tomatoes, Green Beans, Mashed Red Potatoes and Fried Onions ($22). His salad was one of those that seems so simple, but can really leave a lasting impression if handled with care. The slivers of local cheese were especially nice paired with the smoky lardons of bacon. I encouraged him to order the pork chop as a test for the kitchen—in my experience as an avid restaurant-goer pork chops are much maligned and usually cooked to a grey, rubbery death. Not so with this hefty, bone-in chop. It was succulent, flavorful, and even though it was cooked completely through (I live dangerously and tend to like pork chops with a touch of pink), it was extremely tender. The accoutrement complemented the rich chop nicely, in particular the vinegary vegetables paired with creamy rough mashed potatoes.
We were quite full after this wonderful meal, but it was so cozy by the fire that dessert seemed to be an obvious decision. After being so delighted with our meal thus far, imagine my disappointment with our choices—an anemic sounding chocolate cake and a “New York-style” cheesecake. Regardless, by this point I was ready for something sweet and since I am normally a huge cheesecake fan that was our choice. Sadly, the dessert did not begin to match up to the rest of the evenings offerings, and while it was in the end tasty, it seemed reminiscent of a frozen cheesecake topped with a quick berry coulis. At a restaurant that succeeds in showcasing so many local specialties, why not a dessert that follows the same bent? Even a piece of really excellent pie would have been more than welcome.
But I can’t let this one small disappointment color the experience overall. Dancing Bear Lodge provides something that Townsend quite needs—a tranquil rustic retreat with world class dining and impeccable service. On our way out the door I mentioned how much I adored the cheese puffs and was delighted to receive the recipe in an email later that weekend. These are the details that will have those of us in Knoxville making the one hour drive again and again—dinner at Dancing Bear Lodge was a lovely little escape that left me wishing I was staying for the entire weekend. Sounds like a perfect excuse for another trip…
Rating (out of 5 stars):
Dancing Bear Lodge
137 Apple Valley Way
Townsend, Tennessee 37822
reservations for dinner are required
TENNESSEE CHEDDAR PUFFS
courtesy of Dancing Bear Lodge
Makes about 80
10 ounces cheddar cheese
2 cups water
2 cups flour
8 ounces unsalted butter
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Grate cheese and set aside. Melt butter with water, sugar, salt, and cayenne. Once butter is completely melted with the water add the flour all at once. Reduce heat and stir with a wooden spoon constantly for 1 minute. Pour into mixing bowl and mix with paddle attachment for 1 minute on medium low to cool the mixture. Increase speed to medium and add eggs one at a time making sure each one is incorporated before adding the next. Fold in grated cheese. Drop with a small ice cream scoop (or you can use two spoons) onto sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bake for 11 minutes, turn the pan and bake for 11 more minutes. Serve warm.
This recipe is easily halved and once cooled, leftover puffs can be frozen.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Sure, I have fallen prey to the occasional vinegary chicken wing or platter of fried variety meats, but never of my own volition. When dining outside of the home I prefer to eat at a place known for a specialty other than flaming shooters.
And so it was with a bit of trepidation that I went into Sapphire with the intent to eat a meal, rather than raise a glass. While Sapphire is a lovely, upscale lounge, it still makes me think more of happy hour than food to devour. But, you see, I was so wrong.
The space itself is lovely, a gorgeously polished room with plenty of seating, anchored in the center by an enormous bar. Seeing Sapphire earlier in the evening was different, a definitely smaller crowd and much more laid back than the sometimes raucous beautiful people of downtown who hold court until the wee hours of the morning. We were quickly seated at the table of our choice and given multiple menus—for specialty cocktails, wine, food, and a new sushi menu. Sushi? Indeed, we were lucky enough to choose to dine at Sapphire after Chip Meyer, former head chef at Nama, had come on board. More on the sushi later.
Being a bar, the specialty drink and wine selection was thorough and interesting. I decided on a Pom Fizz ($10) to start—a dazzling concoction of premium vodka, pomegranate juice, and champagne.
I was surprised and impressed by the extensive menu, with different sections for hot, cold, raw and sweet foods. The options for starters were wide ranging—from kettle chips with blue cheese to salads and more, but my companion and I opted for the tuna tartare ($12). On the menu the tartare is said to be accompanied by quail egg and avocado, but if the quail egg was there, I didn’t notice it. Regardless, the tuna was excellent, with clean fresh flavors illuminated by creamy avocado and wasabi-spiked tobiko caviar. The chunkiness of the tuna and avocado made it a bit hard to eat, and the texture-freak in me wished for something crunchy to scoop the fish up with—maybe I should have ordered those kettle chips after all. For another starter, I ordered the Lobster Shooters ($12) for the table, intrigued by the “coconut curry” they were served with. Sadly, this dish was one of the few disappointments we had all night. The sauce was overly sweet, almost dessert-like, and completely overwhelmed the chunks of lobster. The presentation in 6 shot glasses was unique, but I would have preferred a much simpler preparation that showed off the delicate flavors of the meat, rather than cloaking it in a cloying, viscous liquid. If I could do it all over again I would have chosen the raw oyster shooters in a heartbeat.
A more substantial menu item—and arguably the best value to be found—was the Chicken Wellington ($9). Served atop a mountain of rough mashed potatoes, the chicken was cooked properly; the puff pastry flakey, and the mustard sauce on top added a piquant punch. This hearty dish, accompanied by a salad, would make a perfect meal for one. Not the most inventive menu item, but tasty and a nice option for the less adventurous diner.
To round out our meal we ordered a sushi platter for one ($15), and glasses of crisp white wine—Domaine du Poup Grassa ($6.50). While Meyer will take requests for the sushi platters, we wisely gave him free reign and were rewarded handsomely for the decision. Slabs of gorgeous ruby-red tuna, the best eel I’ve ever tasted, and inventive rolls—this is really where Sapphire shines. The sushi menu is new—it debuted in early January—but is by far the best choice for dinner; I highly recommend letting the chef work his magic and put together a great meal for you.
Stuffed as we were, I forged ahead and inspected the dessert options. Just like the rest of the menu, they are wide-ranging and unique. I am tempted by the Caramel Jack Bananas ($5), the blueberry and Stilton crostini ($8), and the gourmet chocolate sampler ($8), but settled on the sweetened mascarpone with poached seasonal fruit ($6). The resulting dessert was quite pretty and extremely sweet—even if I hadn’t been so full I don’t know if I could have managed more than a few bites. I loved the creamy mascarpone, but the cherries served alongside seemed to be dried or candied and then poached in a sweet red wine based liquid; delicious, to be sure, but probably overwhelming to anyone without a major sweet tooth.
While Sapphire’s décor is lovely, the atmosphere can come off as cold when there aren’t a lot of people there—the large, lofty space is hardly cozy. However, once it fills with revelers it is undeniably convivial and ultimately comfortable. When Sapphire first opened I admit that I found it smug and too proud of itself, but I’m pleased to see that it has evolved into an upscale neighborhood watering hole, of sorts—very inviting after all. Parking is easy to find in the State Street garage and you can take advantage of Sapphire’s back entrance, making this one of the more accessible restaurants downtown.
Between the happy hour specials ($5 mojitos and martinis, $3 house wines and champagnes) and fresh, delicious sushi, this bar could easily become one of my favorite restaurants. If you want great sushi downtown with no wait, please give Sapphire a try.
428 S. Gay Street
The American Steakhouse—dark leather; men in perfectly tailored suits; the scents of charred meat, cigars, and brandy commingling in the air—this is not an environment that exactly welcomes everyone across its threshold. And yet, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar seeks to do just that with a large open space both clinging to and shrugging off old “steakhouse” stereotypes. This is purposeful—Fleming’s has made including its potential female clientele a priority; rejecting the old school notion that steakhouses are dark, masculine, and smoky. In fact, you’ll find that smoking isn’t allowed at all, so leave those stogies at home. Fleming’s means to join the new order of the steakhouse by creating a restaurant that would appeal to women and families as much as stockbrokers; by offering lighter options on the menu; and by employing an open floor plan that wouldn’t be possible if there was smoking allowed at the bar. While the open bar and kitchen area can sometimes create a rather raucous, noisy dining environment, overall the atmosphere is warm and convivial.
Fleming’s is the mastermind of one Paul Fleming—the very “P.F.” behind the monumentally successful P.F. Changs Chinese Bistro. Fleming’s sets itself apart in many ways, but one standout is the innovative wine program, featuring 100 wines by the glass, as well as selected specialty bottles running up to $600 a bottle. The Fleming’s chain has a wine manager employed but does not have sommeliers at each location—rather, every member of the wait staff receives thorough training on the varieties of wines offered, as well as their best food pairings. Another unique offering from the restaurant is the choice to order “tastes” of wines, enabling the customer to order three 2 oz. glasses of wines from the same varietal; allowing you to try a multitude of styles without breaking your budget.
But your budget might be a concern at Fleming’s. While the food is top-notch, the prices reflect it, and the average Knoxville diner might balk at having to order everything a la carte. While the creators of Fleming’s might have had a more affordable alternative to the typical New York Steakhouse in mind, the prices for this market may take some getting used to. However, the food will not disappoint, whether you choose one of the expertly cooked steaks (I can say with authority that the 12 oz. filet mignon that I tried was impeccable), or any of the tempting starters—“family style” side dishes ranging from “Fleming’s Potatoes” (potatoes au gratin, touched with jalapeno) to steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce. The portions are what you would expect at such an American restaurant—generous and enough for multiple people. Please don’t overdo it at dinner, though, because no matter what, you must save room for dessert. I thought I had reached my breaking point, yet a chocolate mousse cake that was as smooth as silk kept calling me back to the table, as did a peach cobbler that would make your grandmother smile.
The service is quite enthusiastic, no doubt reflecting the intense 3 day training session the staff went through before Fleming’s opened its doors in late summer. The training staff at Fleming’s is quick to point out that they choose to hire for the “hospitality gene”, meaning that they often choose personality over experience.
So, head to Fleming’s for hearty portions of excellent food, an unsurpassed selection of wine, and service that will make you feel catered to. Skip it if you can’t handle the sticker shock when you get the bill, but overall I think that it’s a great choice for special occasions and the odd craving for a nice hunk of meat.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
11287 Parkside Drive
Knoxville, TN 37934
For reservations, call: 865-675-9463
Thursday, April 05, 2007
The blog won't change, I'm forever The Unemployed Cook because being unemployed changed the way I cook permanently. If anything, I think having a more structured, regular job will open up more time to devote to this space. I've been diligently photographing and writing down everything I've been cooking so I have a nice hefty stockpile of posts once I have the time to give them some online lovin'. That sounds dirty but you know what I mean.
AND SO, there you have it. The good news keeps coming and I'm seriously excited about all of it and feeling pretty energized about this little website. I really think I never would have gotten to this point if I hadn't had this outlet. Mwah.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Also, I have 4 entries simmering that I don't have time to finish, but they are coming! I promise! I think tonight I'll try to get my very favorite new chicken recipe up before taking off.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Ich Bin Ein Berliner (for one night at least)
The Bavarian delights at Restaurant Linderhof are worth the drive west
King Ludwig of Bavaria was known as both the “Fairytale King” and “Mad King Ludwig” by his people, and for good reason. His favorite pastime was building strange, elaborate castles with garish color schemes, which have become some of Germany’s most beloved tourist attractions. How peculiar and amusing then, to find a restaurant in the depths of West Farragut serving authentic German food and named after one of Ludwig’s beloved castles. After all, what better place for a restaurant inspired by the decorating tastes of a 17th century king than a forlorn strip mall on Kingston Pike?
Opening the main door into Restaurant Linderhof makes me feel a bit like Dorothy walking out into a Technicolor Munchkinland. Multiple chandeliers cast light upon gilded frame after gilded frame, vibrant royal blue walls, lavender chairs, the occasional miniature Christmas tree or chubby cherub…to be truthful it was a bit overwhelming. But, considering that the restaurant gets its inspiration from a German king who made Liberace look understated, it was a fitting and fun introduction to an authentic German restaurant with the charm of a lovingly decrepit Eastern European hole-in-the-wall.
We are quickly seated and I’m glad to find that there isn’t a wait—from what I hear, however, the restaurant does a brisk business and since they don’t take reservations you are risking a wait, especially on weekends. With cold weather making its way into town, you can be sure that people will be craving the sturdy, warming German fare that is featured.
The menu offers a few starters, including a grilled sausage platter for two and herring salad. I found myself most tempted by the Leberworst Brot ($6.75)—earthy, smooth goose liver pate spread thickly over a layer of butter on a hearty slice of German bread. Accompanied by a bit of gherkin and slice of raw onion, the dish was utterly lacking in pretension but satisfying. After doing some research, I found that the preparation is a very traditional one, but the cook in me couldn’t help but think it could be improved by toasting the bread for a texture boost.
There is a small but comprehensive German wine selection, as well as several Bavarian draft beers to choose from. I went with a glass of Jakob Demmer Reisling ($4.50). While sweeter than described by our server, this golden wine cut through the well-spiced richness of the pate wonderfully.
The salad platter that accompanies some entrees might throw novices for a loop, but it’s really quite good. Piled high with German-style potato salad, cucumber slices tossed with dill, lightly dressed cabbage salad, and lightly pickled red cabbage, I had only one complaint—a ubiquitous canned 3-bean salad that did not hold up against the fresher offerings.
On the evening of my visit, the soup of the day was a pleasant, mildly spicy white bean and vegetable offering. It was a warm and soothing contribution to a chilly evening, and was even better with a piece of hearty German bread with butter.
My dining companion decided on the Schweinshaxe ($21.75), a Fred Flintstone-worthy hunk of pork shank, slow cooked until falling off the bone, almost reminiscent of pot roast or pulled pork barbeque. Served alongside a mountain of delicious fried potatoes, there was enough left over for both of us to have lunch the next day.
I once lived in Eastern Europe, where I developed an unabashed love for Weiner Schnitzel ($23.75), so of course I couldn’t resist trying Linderhof’s version. They offer multiple varieties of schnitzel, but I went for the traditional—tender veal, crisp coating, sprinkled with lots of lemon and also accompanied by those fantastic fried potatoes.
Although we were beyond full and had enough leftovers to feed a small family, I felt it was my duty to try the Apple Strudel ($6.50)—see the sacrifices I make? Sadly, this dessert was utterly skippable with a viscous vanilla custard-like sauce, disappointingly soggy crust, but at least a tasty enough filling. Perhaps it was an off night for the strudel, but I would be shocked if you had the room for it after gorging on the numerous German delights offered. In fact, considering the hearty portions at Restaurant Linderhof, you might want to take advantage of the $3.50 plate-sharing fee, which thoughtfully comes with an extra soup of the day.
You are doing yourself a disservice if you’ve never ventured out to Restaurant Linderhof. It has its quirks to be sure, but it provides a rare opportunity to sample great German food right here in East Tennessee. Sure, some might call the service a little slow, but I prefer to think of it as “relaxed” and “European”. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy, digest, and people watch—a rare treat these days.
11831 Kingston Pike (in the Ingles Shopping Center)
closed Sunday and Monday
3.5 stars (out of possible five)
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Today, this very day, is my bloggaversary.
One year ago I pulled myself up from my depressingly unemployed bootstraps and started writing about food. It's become the best thing I've ever done with my life, leading me to:
1. Get a fantastic job as a restaurant reviewer.
2. Make new friends.
3. Learn new things and approach projects I would never have dreamed of.
4. Pursue work I really love, like the TV production and food writing I'm doing now.
5. Find out that the uncertainty, the struggles in life are often really worth it.
And so, this is my third in a dull series of (mostly) photo-less posts, but I couldn't let the milestone go unnoticed. Sporadic as I may be in posting, I treasure this blog and each and every person that takes a minute to read it.
You must go to Le Parigo:
French cooking finds an incongruous home in Bearden
There are many that would not predict likely success for a French restaurant in
Walking into Le Parigo, I can’t help but notice the similarities and differences the décor has to the previous restaurant to hold court in this location. It is a disservice to an establishment, I think, to compare it to the previous tenant. But in the case of this small space, I couldn’t help but to seek out reminders of Mango, the Kenny Saio restaurant that was the inaugural inhabitant of the building. And reminders are indeed still there, in the palm leaf frieze on one wall (likely covering some sort of electrical panel), the smoke-reducing fans above the now smoke-free bar, and most jarringly, the vibrant russet, Bordeaux, and pumpkin colored walls. The art is different, of course, and the furniture has indeed changed. In fact, it’s the furniture that made the unchanged color scheme stand out so—pink velvet upholstered boudoir-esque chairs that did not, in any way, meld with the vibrantly earthy colors meant to match Mango’s eclectic fusion menu. Luckily, once you are folded into one of these admittedly comfortable chairs, the music sinks in, your attentive waiter brings you a glass of wine in a varietal-specific piece of stemware, and the food makes you forget any incongruities that the décor brought to mind. Because it’s the food, my friends, that really matters at Le Parigo. In fact, after eating (and eating, and eating), I quickly realized that this was not a restaurant that needed to rely on sleekly coordinated décor—just take one look, one smell, one bite of the dish in front of you, and suddenly your surroundings are oh-so harmonious.
From the moment I arrived at Le Parigo, the service was impeccable. Greeted at the door by the host I was immediately swept off to my waiting table, where another staff member swiftly pulled out my chair for me and handed me a wine list. When I requested to wait to order wine after ordering my meal, the dinner menu was in my hands seemingly before I finished the thought. A nearby table wobbled briefly and yet another waiter ducks in with a shim to stabilize the situation. I don’t even think the affected patrons broke their conversation. It’s these small touches—such as having your table crumbed between courses, never having to ask for a replacement for cleared silverware, or your water goblet never dipping below half full—that really do make the higher price you are paying for the food worth every penny. The service here evokes its Parisian ideal, where a career as a waiter is considered a noble profession worth dedicating your life to.
Not only is the environment evocative of a French dining experience, this is French food—replete with complex, labor-intensive sauces, showcasing perfect examples of classic ingredients—and yet it’s unique as well, paying homage to American cooking’s youthful ingenuity. I started with what is considered to be a classic warm weather French soup—vichyssoise (indeed created by a Frenchman, but in
With this auspicious beginning I was rapturously awaiting the next course. I purposely ordered the house special beef tartare ($12), because I feel that this is a dish that is easy to over do. High quality beef should not require too much fiddling, the idea behind tartare is to really let the exceptional flavors and textures of a supreme cut of beef shine through. And shine it did, with such aplomb that I began to wonder why you would ever want to cook such a meltingly tender cut of meat. Packed with flavor that complimented, rather than overwhelmed; the rich, unctuous steak was paired with wafer thin toast points and a lightly dressed salad of baby lettuces. If I had to offer a complaint, it would be that I would have liked more of the toasts with the dish, yet it seemed that I finished every bite of meat with no problems.
From here the evening took on the jovial, almost giddy tone that can only be set by excellent food. My dining companion and I were never rushed; rather I had the idea that our table was just that, our table, with no plans to seat another pair of diners at it for the rest of the evening. This added to the luxurious feeling of the meal, after all if you are going to have four courses of perfectly rich food you might as well take nearly three hours to enjoy it, which we did. After the first two courses, I took a moment to digest and enjoy the excellent glass of rosé I had ordered from the all-French wine list, a Caves des Papes Cotes du Rhone Heritage Rosé—pricey at $10 a glass but the tart raspberry notes summoned daydreams of summers in the south of France. After this breather came the entrée I had chosen from the tempting menu: pan seared sea scallops with pommes Anna, spinach prosciutto custard, carrot puree and buerre blanc ($27).
This is a masterful dish with sweet scallops perfectly complimented by the incredibly unique custard—the spinach and prosciutto concoction is light, with a flash of spinach flavor filling your mouth and then gone in an instant, leaving behind the savory chunks of prosciutto to compliment the buttery scallops. The crisp wedges of pommes Anna served alongside are a little dry and tough, but in the long run this is irrelevant, so entranced was I by the custard, the scallops, and the satiny carrot puree. Those with hearty appetites might balk at the four scallop serving, but they will find the dish so rich and ultimately filling that it might be difficult to finish.
Sated as I was by the parade of delights I’d just consumed, I felt it would be nearly criminal to not partake of one of the evening’s tempting dessert offerings. Crème brulee ménage a trios was in order—3 “shots” of the classic dessert, a perfect size after a decadent meal. Warm and crisp on top, perfectly cool and creamy inside—the mocha and pistachio flavors definitely outshone the classic vanilla, leaving my companion and me scraping each bit of smooth custard, following with a fantastic coffee from Vienna Coffee Company. The “Le Parigo Blend” custom-made for the restaurant is served with the rustic brown sugar cubes that can be found at any café in
Le Parigo is a restaurant that obviously prides itself on the small things that make a restaurant memorable, and they show that it’s these small things that can often matter most. Scrupulous attention to detail, exquisite ingredients and preparation, and an elegant yet relaxed atmosphere—these are the elements that will keep loyal customers coming back to Le Parigo again and again.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Neuvo Latino Cuisine Makes a Splash on Market Square
La Costa is the newest entry to the blossoming downtown dining scene
by Marianne Canada
Chances are, you’ve heard of Gregg White’s first restaurant endeavor—the outrageously popular Nama—which has found success with inventive sushi and envelope-pushing fusion. So why open a restaurant featuring “Nuevo Latino” cuisine? White explains that he “wanted to continue to do something different, take the concept of higher end, high quality cuisine to a new level,” and that he saw a niche that La Costa could fit into.
White feels that the principles of sushi (small plates, quality over quantity) relate to all good food, and so the philosophy of La Costa is quite similar to Nama, even though the cuisine is very different. Working with Dean Holsberry, former Executive Chef at Mango and Edison Park, he created a menu that offers truly inventive and delicious food to the discerning downtown crowd. When the location on Market Square became available, he jumped at the chance to be a part of the thriving nightlife of that area.
Walking into La Costa, you are immediately surrounded by the warmth of the space. Though sparse in decoration, La Costa resonates with a Moorish atmosphere that fills you with anticipation for your meal. The dining area is set up like its sister restaurant Nama, with a bar flanking one side of the long, narrow space, and booths and tables along the facing wall. However, unlike Nama, there are more tables, both inside and out, and La Costa can accommodate larger crowds, thanks to two oversized booths up front. Spare yet warm décor keeps the space inviting—rich colors on the walls, exposed brick, dark leather and lots of wooden accents create a luxurious, but simple, vibe.
Here at La Costa, Spain meets Mexico, and you wouldn’t believe what a happy union they make. The inviting menu is full of choices—from burritos to empanadas to ceviche—and almost every option is reasonably priced. La Costa offers a great wine and beer selection, including two custom draft beers from Woodruff Brewing Company—an “amber” and an “oro”. You’ll also find a variety of specialty drinks unlike anything you would ever encounter at your typical Mexican joint, so I happily settled into our cozy, high backed leather booth with a Blood Orange Margarita ($8.50) and began making my choices for dinner. The margarita was fantastic: the mellow, rosy pink juice made a better compliment to the tequila than the traditional lime, with just the right amount of salt to balance the sweetness.
The appetizer menu tempts from many different directions, but my dining partner and I settled on two—the Roasted Corn & Crab Dip ($7.00) and the Roasted Red Pepper & Lobster Bisque ($5). The crab dip was incredible, hot and savory with heaps of crab, studded with smoky corn kernels and crunchy bread crumbs, served with thin bread rounds. After being advised that we should stir the crumb layer into the rest of the dip I could see the genius behind this dish—layers of textures and flavors that satisfied until the bowl was scraped clean. The soup was a lovely compliment to the dip—this was no typical silky, cream laden bisque, so don’t let the word “bisque” scare those of you with calories on your mind—rather, it was a more rustic version of the old classic—sweet, mellow, and subtle roasted pepper flavors with big chunks of grilled lobster stirred in. I was really pleased by the amount of lobster meat in the soup, especially for the price. The soup was light and filling, and would make a great lunch paired with a salad.
To go with our main course choices I ordered a glass of Alancia Vinho Verde ($6.00), one of my favorite summer wines that I was thrilled to see on the wine list. Vinho verde is a very young, slightly effervescent white wine from Portugal, and it pairs well with light, spicy flavors.
I ordered a trio of main dishes to share with my dining partner, starting with the Duck Confit Quesadilla ($7.50). The quesadilla made me swoon—stuffed with shreds of house-made duck confit, roasted red onion, queso blanco, apricots, and cilantro, the flavors melded together in a most pleasing way. With a dab of the accompaniments, pica pica salsa and sour cream, this was really a sensation. For your money, you get quite a bit of the tender duck and could easily eat this quesadilla alone for a light meal.
When White found out that restaurants are the #1 generator of trash in the retail market, he made it a personal goal to have La Costa be the first “Certified Green” restaurant in Tennessee, meaning that they compost, use products made from 100% post-consumer waste, recycle, and are working to use organic, local, and sustainable products whenever possible. White is also committed to providing more options for vegetarians and vegans, such as the Chickpea, Walnut, Spinach and Cheese Empanada ($5.00). This good-sized hand pie came with a piquant cabbage salad and was topped with a sizable dollop of pumpkin seed mole. At first I found the sludgy green mole a little off-putting in appearance, but one taste showed me how it really complimented the flavors tucked inside the flaky pastry. I think anyone, vegetarian or carnivore, would be happy with this unique dish.
The last entrée we chose was the Twice-Cooked Pork Tamale ($7.50). Served in a traditional corn husk, the tamale is split open and generously stuffed with meltingly tender pork and roasted onions, and is served alongside a tomatilla salsa and cabbage salad. You can make a meal out of this dish by adding rice and beans for an additional $2.00. This was another winner of a dish; however, after the two appetizers and two entrees we had already eaten, our appetites were starting to fade. Luckily, the attentive but unobtrusive waitstaff scooped up our barely touched tamale and wrapped it up for us to take home (a touch I always appreciate, as I hate trying to wrangle the to-go box at the table).
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how you can feel so full and satisfied, yet when the dessert menu comes around you have no trouble reclaiming some of your appetite? My dining companion ordered an Organic Coffee ($2.25) and we agreed to split the Phyllo Banana and White Chocolate Relleno ($6.00). What arrived at our table was masterful—a gorgeous presentation of buttery phyllo encasing a whole banana, white chocolate, and walnuts. Served with seriously good cinnamon ice cream (from Hilton Head Ice Creams) alongside, this was a lovely end to a lovely meal.
Reservations are taken, and I would recommend them on weekends, as well as on Thursday nights during the Sundown in the City concert series.
31 Market Square
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I fell into quicksand.
I've given up cooking altogether.
I hate you all.
I no longer can taste food and am living in a cave.
But my favorite is:
I'm still at the beach.
Oh, how I wish!
But really, it's nothing so exciting or tragic. I just got...busy. That's a lame excuse, but a valid one. After all, when someone that starts a blog called "The Unemployed Cook" starts being more and more employed, well, the blog is going to suffer.
And also I guess I needed a break. As good as it is to have an outlet, I was feeling more and more pressured to produce content for this wee site. And eventually it was easier to ignore than to put the effort into.
And so, I'm not making any sort of "I'm back" proclamations. BUT, I have been cooking like crazy, and the magazine I write for has given me permission to post my reviews once the current month has passed. I hate New Year's resolutions, but nevertheless, I'm hoping to post at least once a week. After all, I have so much to talk about.
Or divine Country Cookin':
I mean, that's the very tip of a melting iceberg. Happy New Year.