Archive for the ‘ Restaurant Reviews ’ Category


SKY: luxurious Lappish cuisine with a view

Monday, March 24th, 2014

On my last evening in the Lapland capital of Rovaniemi, I was looking for a really nice place to enjoy one last Lappish meal before my departure. I asked a number of the locals which restaurant they thought I should try; nearly all said, “SKY Restaurant.” SKY is located at the Ounasvaara Ski Resort area at which earlier in the day I had fun snowshoeing and tobogganing. SKY derives its name from the amazing views that greet and entertain diners. Large plate-glass windows expose the dining area to a star-lit sky and city lights below. The restaurant is located atop one of the ski runs, where I imagine if you were eating lunch you’d observe skiers racing down the slopes.

The ambiance of SKY is formal, but not stuffy—The service superb and the presentation exceptional. Most of the food is locally grown and sourced…for example; the seafood comes from a well-known fishing village called, Inari. The Lapland staple meat of reindeer comes from Salla where the lichen (a regional delicacy enjoyed by both people and reindeer) is picked by hand by the staff throughout the surrounding area. The chefs at SKY try to utilize all the local seasonal delicacies throughout the year, and, the ideology is to use no processed foods. The chefs are akin to where the ingredients come from and also train the staff on the sources by often sending them to the origin of the ingredients. This level of dedication certainly shines through as evidenced by my server’s knowledge…she was able to answer all of my ignorant indigenous culinary questions.

For a region with no vineyards, I was also impressed by the extensive wine selection…and, again, how well informed my server was as she described each one in great detail prior to each course being served. My meal was prix fixe, so each course was paired perfectly by either the chef or on-site wine steward.

Each course was not only decadent and full of flavor, but also artfully presented. The main course of reindeer filet was not just plated beautifully, but the presentation as it was brought to the table was something that I’d never experienced before. As the dish made its way to the table, I noticed a glass dome over the plate, but could not see through it. As the server delivered the entrée, I could then see that the glass dome was full of smoke. I really wanted to take a photo, but before I knew it, the server had removed the dome and released a plume of wonderfully scented spruce smoke into the air. It was quite dramatic and amazing how the smoke flavored the food. The following items are what I tried during my dining experience:

First course was a traditional onion soup paired with G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut.

For an appetizer, I had the Rainbow Trout from Vanttauskoski, it had roe of trout, fried king crab and pickled winter vegetables. This dish was served with a “Le Haut Mesnil” Sancerre wine.

For the entrée, it was roast of reindeer…a reindeer filet with parsnips, cep and spruce smoke. This dish was paired with Masi Costasera Amarone Classico Riserva red wine. The wine was absolutely fantastic and a vintage I’d never had before.

For dessert it was a milk chocolate and blueberry concoction served with Château Roumieu Sauternes, a mildly sweet dessert wine.

It wasn’t just enough to have dessert, so to finish the evening off we had cherry marshmallows and salty caramel chocolates served with Martell V.S.O.P cognac.

If you’ve ever eaten at SKY, I’d love to hear what dishes you’ve tried and/or like best. Please leave a comment below and share with my readers and me.

SKY Restaurant Information:

Phone:+358 16 323400

Alchemy turns food into fun fare

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Located in the San Diego community of South Park (just east of downtown) is a neighborhood restaurant the locals rave about, so I had to check it out for myself. Alchemy is a casual and slightly eclectic place serving up some interesting culinary fare and craft cocktails. The focal point of the space is the bar, as well as the large and ornate stainless steel tree sculpture. There is also a random pattern of books affixed to the ceiling creating a literary collage, while the exposed duct work provides a bit of an industrial look. The walls are adorned with original artwork that periodically rotates, showcasing local talent.

My date and I started off by ordering glasses of wine, accompanied by the restaurant’s most popular, or perhaps, its most well known dish, the Taro Tacos. These pork belly tacos have thinly sliced spicy cucumbers, micro cilantro and are topped with bacon salt. Each bite sent us closer to hog heaven!

We decided we’d try a few additional items from the “Bar Snacks” menu, which are quite affordable. Next up was a cup of the sweet potato soup, which was both creamy and full of flavor. Then, we tried the Norwegian Cabbage Roll…this colorful dish was a large piece of purple cabbage filled with roasted lamb, then rolled up topped with juniper berries and accented with fresh dill. The dish was a distinct set of flavors than neither of us had experienced before. Then it was the Red Snapper Ceviche served with some freshly fried corn tortillas lightly dusted with sea salt. This was the first time both of us had tried, and/or, even heard of a ceviche being made with Red Snapper…it was outstanding—so much so we almost ordered another one.

We then shared a fish market special entree for the evening, which was Seabass topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and capers on a bed of Asian noodles. It was cooked to perfection and the ideal final course for our meal. Final main course that is!  We did decide to indulge in dessert.

For dessert, we opted for the blueberry bread pudding with bourbon caramel, topped with streusel and cinnamon gelato.  If that were not enough, we also tried the duo of house-made sorbet accompanied with two cups of coffee with Baileys Irish Crème swirled in for good measure—this was like a dessert itself…a hug-in-a-mug even.

Alchemy truly feels like a neighborhood establishment where everyone knows your name…where new friends meet and old friends reconnect. If you’ve been to Alchemy before, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what dish or aspect you enjoy most.

Alchemy Restaurant information:

Phone: 619-255-0616
Website: Alchemy San Diego
Address: 1503 30th Street – San Diego, CA 92102
Menu: Sample Dinner Menu

Nili takes guests on Lappish culinary journey

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Restaurant Nili in downtown Rovaniemi, Finland is a local staple that whisks guests away on a culinary journey by creating a dining experience that embodies the fresh ingredients from its Arctic region. The interior furnishings are traditional Lappish, with hand crafted materials such as reindeer horns, Lappish woods, and reindeer leather that accent the rustic design. While the setting may be agrarian, the culinary dishes and presentations are well refined.

During my visit I tried the following menu items:

Appetizer – Tender reindeer rillette à la Chef Kyllönen with marinated forest mushrooms, Lappish cheese and Juniper berry sauce. I’ve had reindeer several times now while vising the Lapland region, and this dish was by far the tastiest preparation. The local cheese and Juniper berries really set this starter item off well.

Entree – Arctic Circle Pike Perch from Kemijarvi is the world’s most northern wild pike. This dish was served in a lightly crusted breadcrumb,  accompanied with with a parsnip puree and king crab sauce. The combination of ingredients was so wonderfully palate pleasing.

Dessert – Cloudberry Panna Cotta is a local classic creamy dessert that is similar to a Crème brûlée, but truly unique, as are the Cloudberries that topped the dish. Cloudberries are indigenous to the Lapland region and are quite sensitive to the environment…if the conditions are not ideal, the harvest can be significantly impacted.

If you’ve ever been to Restaurant Nili…please leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite meal is there.

Contact information for Restaurant Nili:

Phone: +358 (0) 400-369-669
Web: Nili.fl
Address: Valtakatu 20, FI-96200 Rovaniemi, Finland

Restaurant Juuri serves fantasic Finnish experience

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

As a self-proclaimed “foodie,” I absolutely love it when I discover a restaurant that can play a symphony for my taste buds, while at the same time exciting my other senses. During a trip to Helsinki, Finland, I had an opportunity to dine at Restaurant Juuri, an authentic European-feeling bistro providing a warm, inviting and intimate ambiance–which set the stage for a gastronomic experience I won’t soon forget.

Juuri is located off a quiet, cobblestone street with a minimalistic storefront and signage. The large arched bay windows both invite diners, while providing views of passersby. The name “Juuri” means “roots” in Finnish and has sort of a duality to its meaning—in addition to  the food being inspired by Finnish heritage, much of the produce they use is root vegetables. Juuri is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and their longevity is certainly due in part to their commitment to producing a first-class dining experience.

The amuse bouche for the evening was a trout tartare, a single bite that simply teased my palate. As I painfully, but enthusiastically waited for my next course, I sipped a bit of sparkling wine made from local berries. Playing host to my wine were three distinct artisan breads that come from a bakery just down the street. Each bite of the bread was graced with a generous layer of hand-churned butter.

Since I was in Finland, I wanted to try everything Finnish, so I asked my waiter to recommend some seasonally inspired and locally produced dishes. Juuri serves an array of Sapas, which if I understood correctly, is a Finnish play on the Spanish word, Tapas…loosely meaning, “small plate/portion.” This was the perfect opportunity to try a variety of Finnish dishes, while not stuffing myself. For my starters, I tried these three Sapas:

  • 10-hour turnip with Swiss cheese and linen seed.
  • Sugar salted trout with red currant and licorice.
  • Grout sausage with lingonberry and mustard seeds.

For my entree, I had a local Whitefish with Whitefish potato cake and a roe vinaigrette. This delectable dish was further enjoyed by a local pilsner brewed by a solo artisan brewmaster.

I don’t often opt for dessert while dining alone, but in this case the portions were modest, allowing me enough room to indulge. I had the Brioche chocolate pudding with ice cream and parsnip puree. Yeah, I know, the parsnip sounded odd to me too, but let me tell you, it worked! The dessert dish had an almost yin and yang symbiotic thing goin’ on…it was both unique, and delicious. The entire meal, from the ambiance, the service to the taste and artfully presented dishes was sensational.The folks at Juuri use authentic flavors infused with passion and the skill to use what the local lands provide. If you’re a foodie like me and find yourself in Helsinki, don’t miss a chance to dine at Restaurant Juuri.

If you’ve ever been to Restaurant Juuri in Helsinki, Finland, please leave a comment below and let me and my readers know what you like best, including your favorite dishes.

Restaurant Juuri Information:

Phone: +358 50-4398465
Address: 27, 00130 Helsinki, Finland

Best Restaurants in Plattsburgh, New York

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Foodies will rejoice over these Fantastic Four Restaurants in Plattsburgh, New York

Everyone expects to find great dining options in the big cities, but what I like to do on Mike’s Road Trip is discover epicurean delights in small town America. As a connoisseur of good food, I look at a number of factors when deciding to recommend places for my readers to dine. I evaluate the atmosphere/environment, the quality of the ingredients, the menu selection, the presentation, the service, and, of course, the taste and creativeness of the meal itself. I really believe that eating should occasionally be an experience, and not just something we do purely for sustenance. Food is one thing that we all have in common, no matter our ethnic, religious or political beliefs…a good meal is something we can all agree brings people together and often creates memories that will last beyond the consumption.

Even though Plattsburgh is a relatively small community, it serves a significant tourism population that descends on the area for its rich history and Lake Champlain recreation. I believe that you will see the number of high quality eateries increase as the four trailblazers below have elevated the culinary offerings to a level you’d experience in any large city. Plattsburgh has a good chance at becoming a destination for gastronomic enthusiasts.

I visited the Lake Champlain region on two different occasions and dined at nearly a dozen Plattsburgh restaurants to come up with this final four list of the best Plattsburgh restaurants. I have to thank the North County Chamber of Plattsburgh for providing me with a list of prospective restaurants to get my culinary tour started. Without further ado, here are the four best restaurants in Plattsburgh, NY.

Anthony’s Restaurant & Bistro – Locals will not be surprised to see Anthony’s make the list because they basically started the gourmet food movement in Plattsburgh all the way back in 1980.  After all these years they still dazzle diners with their European-American cuisine enjoyed in the unique and intimate atmosphere of a historic nineteenth-century farmhouse. Patrons have two options when dining at Anthony’s, the upscale main restaurant, or, the more casual and moderately priced Bistro.

Anthony’s is lead by owner/chef, Scott Murray who began his employment at the restaurant in 1983…many years later he become the head chef, then eventually owner of the restaurant.  Anthony’s has a long and loyal following—one of the contributing factors for this is the extremely long tenure of not only Chef Scott, but his team…many of whom have been with the restaurant for well over a decade.  The longevity of the staff has certainly helped in producing a consistent product, which everyone knows is one of the key ingredients for restaurant success.

An area in which Anthony’s specializes is the creation of many wild game dishes, such as Bison flank or wild boar.  Wine aficionados will really appreciate the insanely extensive wine menu (over 270 bottles)…probably the largest restaurant selection I’ve ever seen. During my visit, I started off with the ceviche (shrimp, calamari, scallops and avocado), which was a mouthwatering seafood safari. For my entrée, I had a perfectly prepared filet of Seabass which was presented on a bed of roasted vegetables.  This was not only a healthful choice, but so colorful and downright delectable. One of my favorite types of dessert is a slice of pie.  My favorite fruits are berries…so, when I saw the freshly baked blueberry, raspberry and strawberry pie, my decision was predestined.

Anthony’s Restaurant and Bistro Information:
538 Route 3 Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Irises Café and Wine Bar – Irises serves contemporary American cuisine in an upscale setting within a wonderfully historic 1867 building in the heart of downtown Plattsburgh. Inside dining offers intimate booths with intriguing local artwork adorning the walls.  During the summer months, many folks choose to dine on the outside patio to watch passersby…while the setting sun casts an appliqué of shadows on the historic structures that make up the core of downtown.

Irises is lead by Chef Kevin O’Hara whose menu is a tapestry of locally inspired New American cuisine. I was excited to dive in, so I started my meal with what I was told is the most popular appetizer on the menu…the crab stuffed portobello mushroom. The combination of lump crab and meatiness of the portobello with melted dill havarti, citrus cream sauce and balsamic reduction was a sensational amalgam of ingredients.

I then had the Arugula salad…which I found light, refreshing and had great flavor. However, I would have liked to have seen it with a few more ingredients. For my main course, I tried a dish from the specials menu…Char, which is a fish I don’t believe I’ve had before. If you’ve never tried Char, the perfect description is in between salmon and trout. This dish was served with grilled asparagus, rice pilaf and a horseradish cilantro sauce. It was divine. To finish the meal off, I tried the apple raspberry crisp. The fresh apples and raspberries were from the area and the dish was beautifully plated with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a spot of caramel sauce brushed into the shape of an apple. Being a “wine bar,” you’d expect a great wine list, and Irises doesn’t disappoint. I actually tried a couple of flights so I’d had the perfect wine with each course.

Irises Café and Wine Bar Information:
20 City Hall Place Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Latitude 44 Bistro – Latitude 44 is one of the newest restaurants on the Plattsburgh culinary block…they serve up flavorful American dishes in a casual and vibrant setting.  As soon as you walk, in you notice the kitchen staff hard at work entertaining guests at the chef’s table. As you flow into the space, there is a lounge with illuminated fish tank… then finally, a more intimate dining area.  On pleasant evenings, guests will enjoy dining on the patio.

Latitude 44 is lead by chef/owner David Allen.  The menu is an eclectic collection of vibrant American dishes that tease the palate into a culinary frenzy. I started my meal off with a beer and some sweet potato fries, which were served in a unique cone shaped apparatus specially designed for serving gourmet fries. The sweet potato fries were flavorfully seasoned and accompanied by a  poppy citrus dipping sauce. I then tried the coconut shrimp with ginger puree, which was followed by my Mahi Mahi entrée— which I have to say was one of the best Mahi dishes I’ve ever had.  I’ve eaten Mahi many times in Hawaii, but for whatever reason, it’s never been as good on the mainland.  That is, until I had it at Latitude 44.  The dish was pan seared with a cauliflower puree, tomato and espelette pepper broth, then garnished with garlic scapes…which really made my photo pop. Not that I wasn’t full at this point, but I do have a soft spot for warm Apple Crisp à la mode with caramel whipped cream.

Latitude 44 Bistro Information:
5131 US Avenue Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Latitude 44 Bistro

Aleka’s Grill – New to the downtown scene, Aleka’s Grill serves up traditional Greek and Mediterranean dishes in a fun and casual atmosphere. Aleka’s is not in the same fine-dining category as the previous three, but the food here exudes love and passion.  The owner (Peter Kritziotis) is half Greek and half Italian, hence the blending of the two ethnic foods. I have spent a fair amount of time around both Italian and Greek families, so I know that they show their love through the food they prepare…trust me when I say, no one leaves Aleka’s hungry.

I am a huge fan of fries…regular, yam, sweet potato, parsnip, you name it, I’ll try ‘em. When I saw “Greek Fries” on the Aleka’s menu, I paused.  Never hearing of “Greek fries” before, I had to give them a try.  I was so glad I did…the deep fried potatoes were covered with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, fresh herbs and topped with olive oil and white wine vinegar. It was a combination full of zest and flavor. My entrée was the Falafel Salad, one of the most popular items on the menu and one that isn’t quite a traditional salad. This platter of Greek goodness includes deep fried Falafel served on a bed of mixed greens with hummus, feta, kopanisto, tabouli, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes & marinated root vegetables (turnips & beets) served with warm pita and Tzatziki. After all that, I stayed with the Greek theme and tried the Baklava—this sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey is traditionally served cold, but here they warm it up which gave it an entirely different texture, which was quite good.

Aleka’s Grill
103 Margaret Street Plattsburgh, NY 12901

While I visited many other Plattsburgh restaurants, these were without question the best-of-the-best.  I’m sure there are a few others in the same caliber, so if you know of one that should have been included, please give them a shout-out by posting a comment below and share your experience with my readers and me.

Five Best Santa Fe Restaurants

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Santa Fe, New Mexico is located about an hour north of Albuquerque and offers a unique southwestern experience. The dining options are as plentiful as they are distinct and impressive, rivaling that of larger cities with its innovative creations and overall selection.  As a matter of fact, last year the Santa Fe restaurant scene was recognized for having the “best food” in small town America by Rand McNally and USA Today, in which I was one of the judges. Don’t miss the video below, it highlights the Santa Fe restaurant scene…complete with chef interviews and behind-the-scene food preparation.

With so many wonderful choices, it was tough to narrow this list down to just the five best Santa Fe restaurants, but I can assure you, each of the five below with give your taste buds a southwestern whirlwind tour of Santa Fe.

Coyote Cafe is a very popular stop in Santa Fe. And, for good reason—they live up, and dare I say…exceed their stellar reputation. Lead by Chef Eric DiStefeno, Coyote Café is a collection of talented and passionate individuals who are seasoned in the art of Southwestern hospitality. Some of the dishes I’ve tried include:

  • Mexican Sashimi Plate: Tuna, white shrimp, avocado and fresh crab meat. This dish is colorful, flavorful, and beyond delicious.
  • Lobster latte: A lobster soup with cream, otherwise known as heaven in a spoon.
  • Grilled Maine Lobster drizzled in New Mexico Chile with Vietnamese chutney.
  • Smoked duck salad with Belgian endive and port wine.
  • Prime fillet of beef with a vegetable crepe, tempura asparagus, and veal with demi-glace. Sensational!
  • Mango strawberry shortcake with basil ice cream and New Mexico tiramisu.

Anasazi Restaurant offers a welcoming, fine-dining experience wrapped in elegant and rustic Southwestern decor. Lead by chef Juan Bochenski, Anasazi stands out for its healthful and artistically presented meals.  The roasted lamb loin with purple potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, bok choy and chocolate & cherry mole’ is culinary perfection. The mole’ adds a wonderful complexity to the dish. You may also want to try the chicken enchiladas…made with slow cooked chicken, green chile, black beans, asadero cheese and Mexican rice. This enchilada dish is anything but ordinary.

Fuego - At Fuego the menu items are delectable…a mix of classic New Mexican cuisine and American fusion created by Chef Carmen Rodriguez . For dinner, the menu features upscale regional cuisine with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients…with some northern New Mexican influence thrown in to make it a genuine Santa Fe experience. Some of the items I’ve had include:

  • Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup: Cucumber, avocado and spring onions blended together to make a lovely smooth and refreshing starter. Oh, and it’s topped with lobster relish, made of Maine Lobster, tomatoes and fresh cilantro.
  • The Cubano Sandwich: Slow roasted citrus marinated pork loin, which is sliced and grilled with sweet ham, then placed on traditional toasted Cuban bread.
  • Chicken Enchiladas: Natural chicken roasted and shredded, mixed with jack and cheddar cheeses, then wrapped in corn tortillas, smothered in ancho chile enchilada sauce and served with boraccha beans and cilantro rice.
  • Chocolate Mousse: For dessert, a deliciously rich and creamy chocolate mousse. The recipe came straight from the chef’s grandmother.

La Casa Sena is situated in Sena Plaza, one of the oldest surviving houses in Santa Fe, which is located just across the street from the famed St. Francis Cathedral. It’s clear that Chef Patrick Garrity has a desire to stimulate the imagination of his guests while tantalizing their palates…leaving them completely satisfied. In addition to exciting your taste buds, the wait staff at La Casa Sena will entertain you with live Broadway and jazz performances. It’s really an amazing experience—one minute you’re being served a drink, the next…that very person is belting out a popular theatrical tune. The waiters are not just servers, they’re highly talented and very entertaining performers…making for an overall fun dining experience. Here are some of the items I’ve had the pleasure of trying:

  • Goat Cheese, Sweet Corn Croquettes: Goat cheese cajeta, crispy wontons and mocha snow.
  • LCS Caesar: Red chile, lime and anchovy dressing with lime-cotija flatbread.
  • Wild Mushroom Tamale: Poblano scented masa with exotic mushrooms, garlic-sage butter, and crispy shallots. The masa is infused with poblano flavor to highlight the chile’s flavor, not the heat. (This is a common theme in the New American West).
  • Aztec Dusted Salmon: Pan seared filet with spiced mocha crust, yellow mole, quinoa-radicchio salad, and mango-sesame dressing. Yellow mole uses honey in lieu of chocolate and sweet yellow peppers rather than chiles.
  • Grilled New Mexico Hanger Steak: Green chile dusted with calabacitas and cheesy mashed potato-stuffed relleno.
  • Dessert: House-made apricot ice cream with oat crumbles and blackberry sauce.

Compound Restaurant dates back to the 60s when formal attire was required and notable socialites were common. Today the Compound Restaurant is a bit less formal and inviting thanks to chef/owner Mark Kiffin (formerly with Coyote Cafe). The modern menu emphasizes bold flavors with historic culinary traditions. There are several lovely indoor dining areas that are both elegant and cozy…however the ambiance of the patio makes for a special experience. The Compound typifies fine dining—from the cuisine to the service and the atmosphere, a superlative experience awaits. Here are some of the delicious dishes I’ve tried:

  • Jumbo Crab and Lobster Salad: Mango, red onion and butter lettuce with tangerine vinaigrette.
  • Beef Tenderloin Medallions: Slow cooked soft polenta and spring pea cream porcini demi-glace.
  • Crispy Fried Soft-shell Crab Sandwich: Chipotle-lime mayonnaise and summer vegetable escabeche.
  • Scottish Salmon: Prosciutto wrapped, sofritto and tarragon green lentils with white balsamic glaze.
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Torte: Crème Fraiche, chocolate tuile.
  • Cantaloupe Sorbet: Greek yogurt semifreddo, watermelon, and honeydew consommé.
  • Blueberry Tart: Corn meal cookie crust, sweet corn ice cream, noble maple syrup.
  • If you’ve been to any of these Santa Fe restaurants, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what your favorite meals are? Or, if your favorite Santa Fe restaurant isn’t mentioned, give them a shout-out and let us know what makes ‘em stand out.

Amuse Bouche: Bistro offers French panache, gourmet petit déjeuner

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The adage “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is one that resonates with me. I enjoy having at least one hearty and/or decadent breakfast per week; Sunday is typically that one day. While I’ve had many wonderful morning meals through my travel, breakfast is not one I usually go out of my way to write about…until now.

While in town visiting the folks for my mother’s birthday, I discovered a petite neighborhood bistro I thought Mom would love…Amuse Bouche. This relatively remote bistro is located in the western part of Surprise, Arizona in a somewhat nondescript strip mall—just the type of restaurant I like to seek out. What amazes me is how far foodies will travel when they learn of an epicurean local restaurant, which is what’s been happening ever since Amuse Bouche was featured in the New York Times, Arizona Republic and PBS’s “Check Please.”

My plan was to take the folks to dinner, but as I soon learned, Amuse Bouche only serves breakfast on Sunday. (Mom’s birthday). Given that my folks love dining out, and the relative proximity to their home, I was surprised that they had never heard of, or been to, Amuse Bouche. This added to my delight, as I know how much my folks enjoy trying new places.

As we arrived, we had to make our way through a deluge of people waiting outside for a table…thankfully I had made reservations. As we entered the diminutive setting we had a feeling of being in an authentic French bistro. If you’ve been to Europe, you know that the dining affair is often an intimate and communal experience, with tables close together and bistros all a buzz. The aroma of cinnamon, freshly brewed coffee and other breakfast scents filled the air, which created a delightful degree of anticipation for our forthcoming meal.

We started our breakfast out with some fresh and hot beignets, which, if you’re not familiar, are basically square fried dough balls sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. We enjoyed our beignets with some wonderful French roasted coffee.

We then shared the following items:

Smoked salmon eggs Benedict – poached eggs over toasted English muffin, wild smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce served with seasoned country potatoes.

Belgian Waffle - with fresh strawberries, bananas, vanilla whipped cream and brown sugar cinnamon syrup.

Corned Beef Hash Benedict – homemade fresh corned beef with onions, red bell peppers, and potatoes served with toast, two poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

Quiche Lorraine – with bacon and Swiss cheese accompanied with country potatoes.

The meal was simply scrumptious and the overall dining experience authentic, which was certainly an unexpected “surprise” given the geographic location. As I indicated, when it comes to good food, no distance is too far for those who appreciate a culinary experience that is backed by passion, experience and execution.

The word “gourmet” is often an abused superlative, such as “Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.” Refreshingly, Amuse Bouche Gourmet Bistro delivers its expectation of the word.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at Amuse Bouche, please share your experience with my readers and me.

Amuse Bouche Gourmet Bistro & Catering Contact info:

Restaurant Phone: 623-322-881
Catering Phone: 623-680-7280
Address: 17058 West Bell Road, Suite 104
Surprise, AZ 85374

Discerning palate gets pleasant ‘surprise’ at Vogue Bistro

Monday, January 7th, 2013

As a travel blogger and food critic, I’m always on a quest to discover locally run eateries that will surprise my discerning palate.  Located at the northwestern edge of the Phoenix Metro area in a nondescript part of Surprise, Arizona, I found Vogue BistroThe moment you step inside Vogue, a sense of culinary optimism stirs your taste buds with excitement.  The ambiance is warm and inviting with a local cosmopolitan feel.  The décor is stylish and sophisticated without being pretentious.

Vogue Bistro has an open layout, yet segmented into three areas…a bar/lounge, the main dining area, and the patio.  My friend and guest for the evening  (Susan from Chicago) sat on the patio near the fireplace, even though it was a chilly winter evening, the flexible walls, heat lamps and fireplace provided enough heat to make the space very cozy for the perfect dining experience.

Visitors and residents alike have come to expect a plethora of outstanding restaurants in the Phoenix Metro and Scottsdale areas, but in the far west valley of Surprise, the culinary options are mainly limited to large chain establishments catering to retirees and cluster communities—to find such a quality restaurant as Vogue Bistro was a wonderful “surprise.”

The menu is an interesting mix of traditional French foods (inspired by its French chef, Aurore de Beauduy) and American dishes, some fused together for something truly unique. It was my friend Susan’s birthday, so we used this as an excuse to indulge a number of dishes we’d probably not typically go out of our way for.

  • To start off, we both ordered a glass of red wine from the broad menu.  We enjoyed our wine with a classic French hors-d’œuvre of escargot, which was simply delicious.  The delicate Burgundian Escargot was baked in a puff pastry with herb and garlic infused butter.
  • Next up was the most unique and delectable plate of bruschetta I’ve ever had…toppings included a zucchini pesto, roasted yellow tomatoes, petite greens with sherry vinaigrette.
  • As we relaxed by the warmth of the fire we had to try one more appetizer that seemed perfect for the cool evening…French onion soup, another French classic.  I’m not a “French onion soup” connoisseur, but this was fantastic.  Unlike what I’m used to with a piece of French bread atop the soup, this seemed to have a thin layer of croissant-type pastry with perhaps some Gruyere cheese.

After a bit of digestion, our entrees arrived, both were from the daily specials menu:

  • Hawaiian Snapper with roasted fennel, Minnesota wild rice medley in a lemon-caper sauce.
  • New York strip steak with fingerling potatoes, caramelized chippolini onions & chives, eggplant, chili pesto in a Malbec red wine sauce.
  • Of course we could not leave without a palate cleanse, so we tried one of my favorite desserts… Crème Brûlé with thin wafer cookie, blackberries and a strawberry—a dessert that will answer aficionados’ prayers.

Vogue Bistro is run by the husband and wife team of Roman and Aurore.  Roman is a graduate of the Thunderbird School of International Management and knows how to handle the business side of the restaurant, while Aurore is a scholastically trained chef taking care of the back of the house. The passion and care this culinary power couple has for the restaurant business is clearly evident. We visited Vogue on a Wednesday evening and the place was nearly packed, so I would suggest making reservations to assure a seat at this wonderful dining establishment.

I’ve been to an array of amazing top-notch restaurants, casual to fine dining…I can say without question that Vogue Bistro stands with the best of them. I would also add that given the quality of this restaurant, and the ingredients they use, the prices are extremely reasonable. If you find yourself in Surprise, Arizona, do your palate a favor and stop by Vogue Bistro for a menu selection and dining experience that will be sure to impress.

Vogue Bistro Contact information:

Address: 15411 West Waddell Road, Suite 108
Surprise, AZ 85379
Map: Google Map
Phone: 623-544-9109

Tantalizing terroir cuisine at T. Maccarone’s

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Over the past decade Walla Walla, Washington has seen a stratospheric surge in its wine industry, going from a couple dozen vineyards, to well over one hundred today.  The growth of high quality vino being produced in the Walla Walla Valley  has spawned a world-class culinary scene.

Located in the heart of Walla Walla, jutted off Main Street is a modern, Italian-influenced American bistro called, T. Maccarone’s I’ve had an opportunity to dine at this intimate and vibrant establishment a couple of times now. My most recent trip included the following menu items:

  • STARTER: Pear salad, mixed greens, shaved Parmigiano, Reggiano cheese, toasted pine nuts and a white truffle vinaigrette.
  • ENTREE: Red chili-rubbed Alaskan halibut with baby vegetables and coconut basmati rice.
  • DESSERT: Pumpkin Crème Brûlée with house-made ginger snap cookies…can you say “oh my!”

With an abundance of locally grown and hand-crafted ingredients, T. Maccarone’s is able to craft dishes that reflect the community which help produce it. The nouveaux “farm-to-table” movement has never been more evident than in Walla Walla. As a matter of fact, earlier this year “BootsnAll” named Walla Walla one of the best foodie small towns in America.  The town was also one of six small towns selected by Rand McNally and USA Today’s, Best of the Road for “Best Food.”

T. Maccarone’s is named for founder and co-owner, Tom Maccarone–whose dedication, presence and watchful eye help assure guests have a wonderful experience.  While I’ve only visited T. Maccarone’s a couple of times, I have noticed that Tom seems to personally know half his patrons at any given time, which adds to the comfort, warmth and vibrancy of the restaurant.

On my previous visit I tried the following culinary creations:

  • Upper Dry Creek Ranch braised lamb spare ribs with honey soy glaze and smoked with Alder wood.
  • Beef Strip Loin with heirloom tomatoes, white anchovies, seasoned with sea salt.
  • For dessert I had the “Cherry Pie” made with local tartlets cherries .

If you find yourself in the charming town of Walla Walla, do yourself a favor and stop by T. Maccarone’s for some terroir cuisine and a dining experience that will make you feel like you’re one of the family. T. Maccarone’s can get quite busy, so reservations are recommended.

If you’ve ever been to T. Maccarone’s, leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what your favorite meal is.

T. Maccarone’s Contact Info:

4 N. Colville Street – Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 522-4776

Jimmy John’s dilutes definition of “gourmet” with mediocrity

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Today with all the social media outlets and review sites, I find it hard to believe that mediocrity continues to prevail in the culinary landscape.  I have a great deal of travel, dining and cooking experience, so if anyone knows the meaning of “gourmet,” it’s me! I can tell you that unequivocally Jimmy John’s (JJ’s), the “gourmet” sandwich chain sweeping the nation, is the antithesis of gourmet!  I get so irritated when I get suckered into a dining experience with marketing terms like “gourmet,” and then learn that it’s anything but!

Years ago I used to patronage an excellent small chain of sandwich shops whose name escapes me–for some reason I mistook Jimmy John’s for this other sandwich maker.  A disappointing lapse on my part.

I should have taken being nearly run down (no exaggeration) by a Jimmy John’s delivery driver as an omen of things to come. My visit to JJ’s was shared by a long time friend and one of his colleagues, one of whom had been to JJ’s before–however his taste buds are not as discerning as mine.  As we entered, I thought the décor and atmosphere appeasing enough, but noticed that there were few customers, which was surprising to me given the time of day. Not so surprising after consuming my meal.  As I perused the menu and noticed no “Boar’s Head” signs, I knew that JJ’s was not the same place I had initially thought it was.  I also suspected that a place not using one of the best cold cuts (Boar’s Head) could hardly be considered “gourmet.”

After ordering our sandwiches and filling our soft drinks, we easily found a vacant table and sat down. Our order was promptly ready, so my buddy went up to grab our lunch.  I wanted to add some sweetener to my iced tea, but there was none to be found on the tables or near the vending area.  I asked someone who was cleaning tables and he told me I needed to ask someone at the counter.  “Really,” I thought.  I walked up to the countered and asked for some Splenda (I know, it’s kind of a chick thing, but I’m trying to watch my figure) and the gal gave me several packets of the pink crap and said, “this is all we have.”

Back at the table I unwrap my sandwich and starred in disbelieve and disappointment at how “un-gourmet” my sandwich looked.  It was typical cheap white sub-style bread, with shredded iceberg lettuce you’d find at a cheap taco stand, a few slices of highly processed turkey, two thinly sliced tomato’s and a just a smidge of deli mustard that I could hardly taste.  That was my JJ’s “gourmet” sandwich.

My buddy’s colleague looked over at me, apparently sensing my dissatisfaction and said, “some gourmet sandwich, huh?” The cynicism was apparent as he too was displeased by my suggestion to try JJ’s.

While we were eating our sandwiches I was looking for a napkin…these too were not supplied with the meal, nor available at the table.  I had asked a gentleman bussing a table next to us where the napkins were, fully expecting that he’d get some for us since they were clearly forgotten by the staff.  “At the counter he said.”  Yet another trip to the counter in order obtain what you’d think as a self-evident utensil.

I will give JJ’s props where they are due…they have some very good potato chips. However, chips alone are not enough to make me want to go back.

Before publishing this post, I did call JJ’s in an attempt to ask them what specifically they do to constitute using the term “gourmet” in their banner. The receptionist told me that unless I had a name, she could not transfer me to anyone.  I told her I was with the media, but she insisted that without a name there was nothing she could do.

I used to work for a leading gourmet ice cream brand with franchises all over the country…I’m pretty familiar with the franchise model, and as I said before, with all things truly “gourmet.”  It really, really surprises me that people would be lining up to invest in a company that clearly offers consumers a product that contradicts their marketing and position statement.

Jimmy John’s now has over 1000 locations, I’m sure many of you have been there…I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think of my assessment.  Please “like” and link if felt this post was helpful.