Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Chicken Dish For Fall

It's apple season.  Fall is apple season.  October is the time for apples.  It's time for apples, apples, and more apples.  This time of year, apples are the only seasonal produce that matters.

Or so I decree.

October has been a busy month for me.  It seems every weekend I have some kind of party or event.  On top of that, I'm working on a murder mystery play with my theater group and have to deal with rehearsals during the week.  Cooking new recipes falls by wayside quite often.  Still my father has an October birthday and I needed to carve out a little time to make him a nice dinner, even if it was two weeks late.

I incorporated apples into much of the meal.  I went into the archives and made my apple almond tart for dessert.  

But apples aren't just for dessert.  I made a main dish out of apples too.

The photo may not look all that appetizing, but this was a spectacular dish.  This dish combines my love of caramelized onion, sweet-savory combinations, and gooey cheese.  I cooked chicken breasts in a simple sauce of caramelized onions, apples, and brandy and then topped them with brie.  Initially I wanted to stuff them with brie, but in the end I just didn't want to be bothered.  They were perfect served over creamy mashed potatoes, lightly flavored with garlic.

The taste was not quite what I expected, but everyone loved them.  This recipe is a keeper.

Chicken in Apple Brandy Sauce with Brie

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl butter
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large firm apples, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 5 leaves fresh sage
  • 1/2 pound (appox.) creamy brie, cut in thin slices

Heat butter and olive oil over low heat in a large pan.  Add the onions and cook until brown and well reduced (about 40 minutes).  Add apples and cook until soft.  Remove from pan.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Raise heat to medium and brown the chicken well on both sides, about 5 minutes on each.  Remove from pan.

Add brandy and sage to the pan.  Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom.  Bring to a gentle simmer.  Return chicken, onions, and apples to the pan. 

Simmer an additional 20 minutes or until cooked through.  In the last 2 minutes of cooking, lay the brie slices on top of the chicken.  Cook until melted.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New Kid In Town: Spice Kitchen (I cheated on my favorite restaurant and paid the price)

There is so much new construction happening in my neighborhood right now (and I'm not always sure that's a positive thing) Whatever issues I might have with that, I can't help being excited when a new restaurant moves into town.  One of the latest restaurants to come into the neighborhood is the Indian restaurant, Spice Kitchen, conveniently located directly across the street from our building.  Kevin and I were torn between wanting to try it, and feeling like we were being disloyal to one of our favorite local restaurants, Rani Mahal.

Well, after we broke down and decided to finally try Spice Kitchen, I realize the gods at Rani Mahal were having the last laugh.

Spice Kitchen has some impressive decor.  It's a small restaurant with an intimate feel and a very modern vibe.  It is the kind of Indian restaurant you expect to find in Manhattan.  Everything from the wall decor to the seating was done with meticulous detail.

(Note the table pictured here was empty when I sat down.  This is going to be important for later.)

We were seated quickly and the staff was friendly.  We ordered our first glasses of wine.  As I looked around this beautiful space I wondered how I could ever go back to Rani Mahal.  Rani Mahal is a large open space with very simple decor.  It is lacking in this cool vibe.  How could I ever eat Indian food without this cool vibe?  Cool vibes are part of the dining experience, right?

They put down exactly two pappdums in front of us.  I thought one wafer each was a little cheap, but they did offer us more after we ate them.  Silly me, I told them we wanted to save our appetites for dinner.  

I opened the menu eagerly.  What would this new restaurant offer?  Would the food be as unusual as the decor?

The menu was pretty much the same old - same old.  There were some different appetizer offerings from other Indian menus, but otherwise it was the same tandoori/tikka masala/vindaloo entrees that dominate every Indian restaurant you have ever been to.  The menu was cleverly set up though.  Rather than list each and every dish, the menu had a wheel set up with each type of sauce available and which proteins you could order with it.  There was a description of each sauce type below.

Since the menu had some unusual appetizers listed, and I thought the Tangy Eggplant sounded good,we went with that.  We also ordered mango chicken (that was one of the few dishes on this menu I hadn't seen on other Indian menus) and chicken tikka masala (Kevin's perennial favorite).  Our server used a little electronic device, like an iPad to take our order.  She had to question me twice what I was ordering, and I thought I saw her push a few buttons.  I'm not sure why she seemed so confused when she took our order, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

Our eggplant came out. These were like the eggplant chips I have often eaten at Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants.  They were delicious.  We gobbled them up quickly.  They weren't really tangy though.  Also the dipping sauces were the same ones that came with the pappdums (standard tamarind and coriander sauces).

We finished our appetizer and waited for our dinners.  A busboy came along and put dinner plates in front of us.  We received our naan bread (and they charge you by the piece instead of giving you a big basket).  We kept waiting for the rest of our dinner.  We ordered a second glass of wine (because we were waiting so long, we had finished our first glasses and wanted to have something to drink with our dinner).

Our server came to our table and asked if we wanted to order anything else.  We were confused.  We were still waiting for our main courses, so we weren't really interested in dessert at that point.

We kept waiting.  That empty table in the photo filled up.  The group who sat there received their dinners.  Other tables that came in after us received their dinners.  We were still waiting.

Finally we flagged down our server and asked what what was happening with our entrees.  She had no memory of us ever ordering anything.  Whatever she did with her little device, she did not actually enter our order with it.  She had to take our order all over again.  The entire staff, including the owner was apologetic.  We had multiple  staff members coming to our table and apologizing.  Our food finally came out of the kitchen.

Was it worth the wait?  It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't worth the wait.  I enjoyed the meal, but it didn't blow me away.  For all the excessive decor, there really isn't much about Spice Kitchen that differentiates it from most other Indian restaurants in the area.  The mango chicken was just a thick, sweet, heavy sauce. 

After this was all over, I was hoping that they might try to compensate us for their incompetence.  Maybe they would offer us a dessert on the house or comp us those second glasses of wine (which we never would have ordered if our food had come out on time).  If they had tried to make their error up to us in any way, then we might have just considered this ordering glitch to be a simple mistake by a new restaurant trying to work the kinks out.  We might have returned in a few weeks to see if service had improved.

When we received our bill, not only did they not comp us any of our meal, but they double charged us for the mango chicken (they remedied that).

I'm not inclined to come back here again.  The next time I'm in the mood for Indian, I'm going back to my old stand-by Rani Mahal, where the owner will pour me a second glass of wine on the house just because he's a nice guy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Restaurant Review: Anniversay Dinner at 273 Kitchen

Before I start this review, I will state that I am really getting tired of restaurants naming themselves after their address.  It has stopped being clever.  It is beginning to make restaurant owners look too lazy to come up with a creative name.  I say this even though one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood is 360 American Grille.  The trend is over.  Go back to naming your restaurant after your dog, or your favorite movie, or the setting of a book.

Now that I have that off my chest, I promise that the name of the restaurant I am reviewing does not bias me in any way.

When it came time to plan our anniversary dinner (14 years!), SPP and I were stuck trying to decide on a restaurant.  Our anniversary was on a weeknight and we didn't want to be out too late, so he was pretty adamant we stay local.  The problem is I was tired of most of the local restaurants.  Even the special occasion places have been done to death.  I wanted something new.  Did we have to visit one of the restaurants on our crowded little strip once again?

I asked Kevin how far afield he might be willing to go.  Would Harrison be acceptable?  That is merely one town over.  He said it would depend on the restaurant.  I said I had one in mind.  I had been itching to try 273 Kitchen, a recent addition to the village that had been receiving rave reviews online.

It's hard to describe what kind of restaurant 273 is.  It sits on one of the busiest corners in town at the intersection of two main streets.  The space was occupied for decades by a giant pharmacy (now usurped by an even bigger CVS across the street).  When the pharmacy left, it became a Quizno's. (Harrison has way too many delicious Italian delis to ever have the need for a Quizno's, or a Subway or any such place.)  It was briefly a casual cafe and then 273 moved in.  It calls itself Mediterranean, but it's not like any Mediterranean I have ever tried.  It's not Italian or Greek or Middle Eastern or French or Spanish.  It is an odd mix of all or none of them.  The menu changes daily.

When we walked in and sat down, observing the hip decor of reclaimed wood and artfully placed ordinary objects, I said, to Kevin, "This place is so not Harrison."  He knew exactly what I meant.  Harrison is a stodgy, conservative little town, where a resistance to change and to the exotic is commonplace.  (I'm allowed to say that.  Harrison is my hometown.  I grew up there and know from whence I speak.)  The restaurants that tend to stay in business in Harrison are Italian restaurants and pizza places (reflecting the town's main ethnic group I suppose).  When you step into 273, you feel as if you're stepping into a world away from a suburban town's main street corner.

We ordered our wine and toasted our anniversary.  A server overheard us.  A few short minutes later, a server brought complimentary glasses of champagne to our table.

The menu changes daily.  The paper menu was attached with photo corners to what I can only guess is the back of a recycled clipboard.

The restaurant offers 3 courses and dessert.  You can order any number of any of the dishes.  If you order all three, one from each course, it's a $45 price fixe deal and they give you dessert for free.  It was our anniversary, so we took that option.

We had some slices of garlic bread to begin.  It was ordinary garlic toast.  It wasn't anything special, but who doesn't love garlic toast?

I started with sweet potato soup.  I have never tasted anything like this sweet potato soup before.  It had no mealyness at all.  It was smooth and creamy.  The first flavor I noticed when I took a bite was lemon, which is unexpected against sweet potatoes.  The more of the soup I ate, the more flavors I tasted.  There was cream and butter and thyme and something even more savory I couldn't put my finger on.  I was shamelessly scraping the bottom of the bowl with my spoon to make sure I didn't miss a drop of it.

 Kevin's first course was the most typical Mediterranean dish we had that night.  He had a meze platter of pita, hummus, olive spread, and tzatziki.  I could have been a meal in itself.

My second course was braised pork belly served atop fennel puree and finely chopped roasted cauliflower mixed with bits of cracked wheat.  This was the weakest dish I ate.  It was delicious, but after the unusual taste of the soup, I was expecting something unusual to pop out with the vegetables.  Their flavor was far simpler.  The pork belly almost literally melted in my mouth.  

Kevin went for planked quail.  It had an unusual assortment of vegetables including red cabbage and tomatoes.

We both went for the same third course.  This was duck breast with seasonal vegetables, polenta, and a poached egg. 

It was a weird, but fun combination and very well prepared.  The duck was perfectly cooked and the polenta was creamy.  

We ended with a brownie for him (never got a photo) and a brown butter cake for me.  His brownie had a spice mixture in it that I wasn't fond of.  I'm glad I decide to deviate from my chocolate habit and try this extra-buttery cake. 

Portions here are small, but I would be hesitant to call them "small plates".  If you have a petite appetite, one plate might satisfy you nicely, particularly if you order off the Course 3 (more entree type foods) list.  Larger appetites will likely be satisfied with two plates.  We were really stuffed after eating three.  It wasn't just about the size of the dishes.  It was about the richness.  The chef doesn't skimp on butter.   My dishes were a bit on the heavy side.  If I go back, I will probably order two plates instead of three, even though it means I have to pay for dessert.

Did I just say, "If I go back"?  I mean when.  I want to come back here again soon.  Kevin and I are already coming up with excuses to come here for future occasions.  I hope 273 sticks around for a long time - name and all.