beer the Stone way

I took Mark out for his birthday four days early this year. No, I wasn’t rushing his advancement in age and wisdom. I simply wanted to treat him to one of his favorite things: excellent beer.

We managed to survive two weeks here without treating ourselves to one of this country’s finest breweries, and couldn’t hold out any longer.

So on an otherwise nondescript Monday evening, we tromped out to Stone Brewery, where gargoyles, chirping frogs, and every variety of ales and lagers waited. I felt immediately transported into some kind of Trappist monastery-meets-Midsummer-Night’s-Dream haze: in their extensive gardens, water trickled into ponds and fire bounced off slabs of stone. Revelry and tranquility cohabited the grounds as the evening rolled out one taste experience after another.

First order of business was dinner in what is properly called Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Mark ordered Stone’s own Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, and I chose the O’Briens IPA from California’s Alpine Beer Company.

Next came dinner. Once our server informed us that we realized were weren’t in fact limited to the “Meatless Monday” menu that was placed before us, Mark proceeded to order the Artisan Sausage Platter: Two locally-made sausages braised in Stone’s Smoked Porter, and served with herb roasted potatoes, braised cabbage and a side of stone ground mustard. I tasted his meal (twice!), and it was delicious. Something about it reminded me of the way the Forks Market in Winnipeg smells. Strange, but we can’t always control our taste associations, can we?

Despite the offerings of meat, I went with one of the Meatless Monday options: Tofu Yakisoba. It wasn’t life-changing, but it had a nice crunch of cashews mixed with chewy tofu, bright vegetables, and perfectly-chewy noodles.

And then there was dessert—one that made up for anything my (perfectly suitable) meal had lacked. I’d decided to take half my dinner home with me, and so had plenty of room for one of the BEST after-dinner indulgences I’ve ever had: Blueberry Blue Cheese Jalepeño Cheesecake. Yes, you heard that right.

I’ve loved cheesecake ever since I was little kid, and I was grateful to Mark for sacrificing his love of chocolate for this experiment (and on his birthday, too!) And it was a successful experiment, indeed: The small round of incredibly rich, soft, disappear-on-your-tongue cheesecake was accented with tiny flecks of green jalepeños and tasted ever so subtly of blue cheese. On top was a compote of blueberries and jalepeños preserved in syrup. The dessert had all of the flavor of the peppers formerly known as hot, and none of the heat. Each mouthful reminded me never to be afraid of unusual pairings.

After dinner we joined the brewery’s “DR.” Bill Sysak upstairs for one of his “Beer U” events. This one was subtitled “Sensory Evaluation,” and with his guidance we learned to properly taste about eight different beers. While the experience was far from being foreign to us, it was great fun to try such a varied line-up (including one that tasted like railway ties … in a good way!) We learned a bunch of interesting facts spanning everything from history to hops, and left pleasantly enlightened. I had no idea that San Diego was so well-known for its style of IPAs … one of our favorite styles!

The brewery offers an impressive list of weekly events including movie nights and beer pairings. Next time you’re in the area (if we don’t succeed in taking you there first!) be sure to check it out. If you love beer, don’t worry: There are no Millers or Budweisers in sight.

Stone Brewing Company/ World Bistro & Gardens
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA 92029
760.294.7866

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Review: Hazelnut Kitchen

I am a spoiled child. Mark’s parents arrived on Wednesday, and as per our usual custom with them, food and wine co-starred in our little four-person show. They leave tomorrow, and I can confidently say that we’ve sipped, nibbled, and chomped our way through a good deal of the Syracuse area.

From kale and pasture-raised chicken in Trumansburg (the post you’re reading) to slow-smoked ribs at Dinosaur BBQ, our tastebuds have not been left wanting.

First I must share this incredible nook in the nearby town of Trumansburg (15 minutes North of Ithaca) that our good friend Jennifer suggested. We’d spent a long day wine touring on Seneca Lake, and by the time 7 o’clock rolled around, we were hungry for something more substantial than wine-tasting crackers.

Enter the Hazelnut Kitchen, where eating local simply means eating well. Buzzing with life on a warm Friday evening, we could tell immediately that it was a popular place.

With pinots and rieslings still dancing in our heads, we chose cheese as a further amuse bouche. The cheese selections (along with nightly specials and desserts), were etched in chalk on the wall next to us — urban flair meets rural comfort.

The selections had changed but the time ours came, and they were all superb. My favorites were the Point Reyes blue and another soft type whose name I can’t recall, but that was perfectly tinged with lavender. A pat of balsamic strawberry jam sat in the middle, and the plate was drizzled with honey from a local apiary.

Choosing a main was difficult, but thanks to their realistic  menu, not as stressful as it is in places with too many choices. I ended up with pasture-raised chicken wrapped in bacon with a green peppercorn jus. It was served over warm bread salad (a Tuscan thing, I think), and crispy-roasted local ramps and asparagus.

I’ve been known to exaggerate once in awhile when it comes to food, but it’s Sunday and I’m still thinking about that food. I haven’t had a meal out this good since .

Mark ordered an unusual cut of beef called a hanger steak. Beef is not something I usually eat, but he entreated me to try it. Two small bites of velvety rareness were enough to satisfy the next half a year of cravings. It came with fries and a house made aioli that I could’ve spooned directly into my mouth until my arteries complained.

I also got to try my mother-in-law’s meal, which would’ve been my second choice: a porcini and mushroom and kale raab phyllo streudel, served over French lentils swimming in a thick green curry cream.  Green curry usually makes me think of bottled Thai marinades at grocery stores, but this one surprised me with its lemony subtlety and gentle heat.

As my blog’s tag proclaims, I eat for many reasons, place among them. It delights me to find nooks like this, tucked away in the small towns of America, their staff toiling away at representing their neighbors and their land.

With clean white tablecloths, mis-matched antique cutlery, and warmth that radiates from its open kitchen, Hazelnut Kitchen excells at kitschy-class.  Their peasant-inspired fare is fit for royalty; the company I shared it with this past Friday definitely fit (as well as footed!) the bill.

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Entrees: $13-$25, varied wine list with local favorites, good beer selection, and homemade desserts.

Hazelnut Kitchen

53 Main Street

Trumansburg, NY

607.387.4433

chomp on these

At social gatherings lately it seems there’s always one show-off. We don’t get out to eat a lot, and so when I hear tell of a place worth checking out, my stomach— hungry or not— immediately perks up. There’s always one, “you’ve never been to (insert name of life-changing restaurant)? You have to go…” You get the point.

Now it’s my turn to share a find: CNY Menus. The decor is a bit lacking, but they do have the most delicious list of Syracuse-area restaurants I’ve found yet. Next time you’re wondering where to go to eat in Syracuse or the surrounding area, do check out this site. It might just save you from the bad burger blues. Most of the restaurant entries come with pdf’s or links to menus.

For no extra charge, I wanted to also share a website that has been very informative for me lately: The World’s Healthiest Foods. With no commercial influence, the foundation offers relatively unbiased advice on nutrition and health. Wondering why avocado is just so darn good for you? This website will tell you more than you’ll ever need to know about any healthy food. Best of all, the foods they feature are all whole, “real” foods. From their website, they seek to “offer the latest scientific information about the benefits of the World’s Healthiest Foods and the specific nutrients they provide… we offer practical, simple and affordable ways to enjoy them that fit your individual lifestyle.”

That’s all folks. Hope I’ve been of some service, whether you’re a Central New Yorker or a health nut. Or both. Like me. For now anyway.

Review: Lao Village

It’s not that I expected bunnies and tulips on the first day of spring, but snow? How horribly anticlimactic. The vernal equinox rode in on roaring winds today, with just a tease of sunshine dueling for a hold over the late afternoon. In an attempt to counter the dismal reality of a persistent winter, we gathered up some friends and sought hot food from climates far more vernal than our own.

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curry puffs, or samosas Laos-style

A generous Canadian friend treated us to Lao Village, a restaurant we’ve heard nothing but raves about. This diminutive downtown Laotian and Thai restaurant exceeded our expectations. I immediately noticed the simple and cheery presentation. I know that good food can redeem even styrofoam, but I am quickly won over by good food beautifully accessorized. That’s why going out to eat is so special. Not only should it (hopefully) be food you’d struggle to make as good at home, but it should tug your aesthetic heartstrings a little as well.

Mark’s “I don’t know, something with chicken,” firepit-hot Thai something or other

The vegetables, as we had heard, were fresh, bright and crisp. Each dish had a distinct assortment of textures and spice. The rice was plentiful, helping to counter the tongue-tearing heat of some of the dishes. I had the Massaman Seafood Curry, on the recommendation of my little bro who is traveling in Southeast Asia. The cuisine seemed authentic, adorned with fresh basil, lime leaves and sliced chilies. But what do we know?

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only one of us was brave enough to order a “traditional Laotian entree”

Service is friendly and very accommodating, and it’s such an obvious pick over the Subway next door I wonder how the sandwich franchise stays in business. Dinner entrees are between $6.95 and $11.95. If you live in the Syracuse area, be sure to check out this local gem. They offer lunch, take-out and dinner service.

Lao Village (I’m not sure where the “s” went off to either)
208 West Genesee St.
Syracuse, NY
13202
(315) 435-8151

Review: China Road

Before I begin, I must say thank you to all my readers for 1000 hits. You inspire me.

China Road has been on my list of nearby eateries to try since I’ve been living in Syracuse. On International Hallmark Appreciation day last Thursday (aka Valentines), the husband carted me out to Mattydale to sample some fine Szechuan fish heads. Or one anyway.

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We start with these spicy marinated radishes, fried wantons with sweet sauce for dipping, and tea. You would’ve thought they didn’t want us to order any more food!

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After sharing a bowl of hot and sour seafood soup and some pillowy soft Szechuan dumplings, the Sea Bass arrives, cloaked in breading and still steaming from its hot oil bath. All around it lay the makings of a perfect Chinese meal — swollen garlic cloves, shitake mushrooms and scallions, suspended in a thick brown pool. I have a staring contest with the fish, and he wins. He lets me win when he realizes I hold the knife.

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The Sea Bass behaves very well for a series of close-ups, hardly complaining about it being his bad side.

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The snow pea shoots (recommended by our server) were probably the only dish to grace our table that were even half deserving of low cholesterol status.

China Road is a great place to try breaking away from chicken balls and fried rice. Their authentic Chinese menu allows diners to choose between the standard American-Chinese fare and the stuff the owners are really proud of. It was apparent that others thought so too, as there wasn’t an open table in the house.

2204 Brewerton Road
Mattydale, N.Y. 13211
Tel: 315-455-5888