Tarragon-Tinged Sole Fillets

November 30, 2011

Tarragon-Tinged Sole Fillets

Wine Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc

One afternoon, after trolling the fish stands at the Pike Place Market for the freshest catch of the day, I brought home a generous serving of glistening Petrale Sole fillets and had to figure out what to do with a fish that, frankly, I rarely cook. So with a small bag of good-quality, sea-salt-studded potato chips at the ready, I let my imagination run wild and created the following loosely constructed “recipe.”

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

2. Rinse and thoroughly pat dry about one-and-one-half pounds of petrale sole fillets.

3. Mix one-half cup each crushed good-quality potato chips with one-half cup of panko (Japanese) bread crumbs. Add about two tablespoons of freshly chopped tarragon, a dash of cayenne, and salt to taste (you might not need any at all, depending on the salt level in the chips). Pour onto a dinner plate and spread out into an even layer.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, with a fork or a whisk, stir together one large egg and two or three tablespoons of milk. Dredge the sole fillets through the egg wash and pat in the crumbs.

5. Place about one tablespoon of unsalted butter on the foil-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and allow the butter to melt and turn light brown. Watch the oven carefully and do not allow the butter to burn or it will be bitter.

6. Arrange the fish fillets without crowding over the baking sheet and cook seven to 10 minutes, or until the fish just flakes and the crust is crispy. Do not turn the sole fillets during cooking.

7. Divide the fish among four or six dinner plates (depending on appetites!) and serve immediately.

Recipe from Braiden Rex-Johnson’s private collection.

Wine Tasting in Québec City

November 29, 2011

Uncle Tony’s Pub was the setting for our afternoon wine-and-food-pairing in the Old Town section of Québec City.

While some might think of the phrase “Québec wines” as an oxymoron, we were happy to try to prove them wrong. Here’s some useful background info from the Quebec Wines website:

“There are over 30 wineries in Quebec located in five distinct regions.

“Although grapes have been cultivated in Quebec for centuries, it is only in the last 20 years that local wine production has taken off in a big way.

“Few people outside the region are familiar with Quebec wines because the majority of production is consumed domestically. Many wineries sell out their inventory simply by marketing to visitors of the winery.”

When we arrived at Uncle Tony’s, places had been set up in a back room with three wines and samples of Wild Boar and Venison Paté, Brie Cheese, and dried apricots, along with a basket of sliced bread.

The white wine, Orpailleur Classique, was sourced from one of the original five founding wineries in Québec, Vignoble de L’Orpailleur. Made of 90% Seyval Blanc and 10% Vidal, it was a light-bodied and crisp wine that displayed green-apple aromas and flavors as well as what our wine guide described as “boxwood” notes and a green-bean finish.

Comparing the wine to a Sauvignon Blanc (which was more of a fond wish than actual reality), she suggested we pair it with the raw-milk, Brie-like local cheese.

Orpailleur Rouge, a red blend made from three local varietals, displayed notes of cherry and black currants, and, once again, “boxwood.” It was designed to pair with the paté, and was likened to a California Merlot, Beaujolais Nouveau, or a Spanish or South African red. Hmmm. . .again, wishful thinking.

Les Vergers de la Colline L’Ensorceleuse 2008 Mistelle de Pomme was an intriguing dessert beverage described as an Ice Cider.

The multi-award-winning Ice Cider was produced from a whopping 80 McIntosh apples per each bottle, according to our wine guide. It was very apple-y tasting, with notes of licorice and oak.

It paired okay with the dried apricot, but would have been better with our wine guide’s suggestions–drizzled over a fruit salad or served with a dark chocolate tart.

Incredible Québec City

November 25, 2011

We arrived in Québec City right on time at 8 a.m. and were excited to have an entire day to spend there before returning to the Eurodam for one last dinner prior to disembarkation the next day.

We had scheduled a shore excursion that included a 1 1/2-hour walking tour of the Old Town and a tasting of Québec wines at an atmospheric pub during the afternoon.

So we were on our own all morning, and after several hours of window shopping, we decided to eat lunch al fresco at a famous Old Town restaurant–Le Lapin Sauté–where the patio dining area overlooked a pumpkin-filled plaza.

Here’s the homey interior of Le Lapin Sauté, clearly being enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Our Planked Salmon Salads were among the best dishes on the entire trip!  The salmon had a light maple glaze and the greens were very fresh and clean. I’m not usually much of a fennel fan, but the layer of pickled fennel was surprisingly refreshing and formed a fitting contrast to the lovely fatty salmon.

I had a glass of Québec Vidal, a light white varietal that smells and tastes slightly of apples. As you might imagine (since it is so cold with such a short growing season in this new wine-growing region) it was a bit thin with there wasn’t much of a finish.

Québec winemakers might do better to stick to their famous ice wine and hard cider. There were more than half a dozen hard ciders on the menu!

Cruising the Gulf of St. Lawrence

November 22, 2011

After our exciting day in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, we had a relaxing day at sea cruising the Gulf of St. Lawrence on our way to the remote town of Saguenay, in Quebec Province.

We got up at 6:30 this a.m. to see the parade of islands.

Although we had high hopes, you can see that the fall colors were sadly underwhelming. After we returned, we heard from East Coast-based friends that the leaves never did much this year.

Some theorized that the hurricanes forced salt water into the leaves and they didn’t turn; others said there wasn’t a long enough of a cold snap to foster fall colors.

At our next port call, Saguenay, Canada, we were met at the $50-million dock by costumed locals who performed dances and songs as their ancestors might have done. The music reminded me of Zydeco and the costumes looked like American frontiersmen.

We were plied with fresh blueberry pie and frozen maple syrup when we got off the boat. The costumed locals poured the maple syrup on fresh snow so it would harden around wooden sticks, like very tasty, cold lollypops.

The sugar rush allowed us to walk up the hill to the small downtown, which we walked through before heading back to the boat for lunch.

Halifax and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

November 18, 2011

Continuing our Fall Foliage cruise diary, once we left U.S. waters, the weather took a decided turn for the worse, as the Eurodam started playing hide-and-seek with the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia that was working its way up the Eastern Seaboard.

The result was 40-foot waves and unsettling groans and moans of the ship all night as the expansion joints in the windows and walls moved back and forth ceaselessly.

Communications with the Mainland (or any land!) also became dodgy. As expected, the moment we entered Canadian waters, our cell phones quit working unless we paid odious data-roaming charges. So I broke down and bought a computer plan at 55 cents a minute so I could stay in touch with my work and family as needed.

Our first port call in Canada–Halifax, Nova Scotia–was underwhelming. After we trudged up the hill to The Citadel, a Canadian military outpost (from where the photo above was taken), we went back downtown in hopes of finding interesting shops and a good place for lunch.

Finding neither, we went back to the boat and enjoyed delicious salmon and lamb burgers. Oh, well!

The storm was so serious that our scheduled stop in Sydney,Canada, the next day was cancelled! This is referred to as a “blow-by,” and really upsets the local economy and residents of these other-worldly places who rely on tourism to scratch together a meager living.

Our next port call after Sydney–Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada–was in question due to Ophelia’s wrath. It’s a place I’d always wanted to visit since I’d heard a lot about, and even sometimes eaten the famous PEI mussels.

But after another rocky night, we got through to Charlottetown okay. Even though we were greeted by extreme wind and cold and weather that ranged from hail to sleet to sun and even snow (!), it was VERY nice to be on terra firma once again.

We enjoyed a long bus ride through the countryside en route to the Anne of Green Gables house and a lobster lunch at a local jam shop and restaurant–the Prince Edward Island Preserve Co. This shot was taken through the bus window as we were leaving–it was so cold and drizzly we didn’t even want to get off the bus for a better shot.

Our lobster lunch was fun and tasty and the shellfish was from local waters. We shared our table with a Dutch couple who were very experienced mariners–the husband had worked for Holland America for many years, although there was a bit of a language barrier and we never could figure out exactly what he did.

Dessert–Raspberry Cream Pie made from local berries–was to die for.

Driving back to the ship, we marveled at the wild waves (turned a dramatic rust color from the hurricane!) on the Island’s north shore.

Our guide pointed out the mussel beds. But sadly for this foodie, we never did get to taste the Island’s most famous export.

Blushing Blueberries and Lotsa “Lobsta” in Bar Harbor, Maine

November 15, 2011

One of my favorite things to do when we are traveling far and wide is to sample the local specialty foods and drink.

And during the third port call of our Fall Foliage cruise this fall, we did just that in the northern Maine town of Bar Harbor.

The weather was gray and damp/cold, just the way we like it. I don’t think I have ever seen so many moose- and blueberry-themed items in my life at all the little souvenir shops scattered throughout the town.

The fact that four other big cruise ships were in port the same day as us didn’t help. We felt overrun by fellow cruisers!

Our first encounter with local cuisine was of the beverage variety. We enjoyed sipping and sharing a bottle of Old Soaker Bar Harbor Blueberry Soda.

The soda wasn’t too sweet and tasted of natural, not synthetic fruit. Spencer said it reminded him of the Grapette sodas he enjoyed as a child.

We bought our bottle of pop at the oldest continuously operating grocery store in Bar Harbor.

With 110 years under its belt, J. H. Butterfield Co., purveyor of fancy food, wine, and beer, was located at 152 Main Street.

In addition to blueberry soda, the venerable store featured all sorts of ale, wine, turnovers, muffins, maple products, and local and imported cheeses. We enjoyed sampling the big wedge of Grafton Village Cheese Extra-Sharp Cheddar Cheese and even back to the boat with a small wedge for late-night nibbling.

Located on the ferry dock in Bar Harbor, Grumpy’s Bakery’s window tempted with other local specialties–freshly baked blueberry pie and muffins and apple cider.

But after a couple hours of sightseeing and shopping, we wanted something more substantial, so headed over to the wildly popular (lines out the door) Stewman’s Lobster Pound at 123 Eden Street and 35 West Streeet.

There I discovered that a lobster pound is “a place where live lobsters are cooked outdoors in wood-fired lobster pots. The centerpiece of any shore dinner, a freshly steamed lobster is beyond perfection accompanied by clams, mussels, corn on the cob, and a baked potato.”

And the restaurant is justly proud since President Obama ate there last summer.

We’d been eating a lot (this, after all, was a cruise!), so I opted instead for an authentic Lobster Roll–lobster salad on a toasted brioche-style bun with cole slaw and a pickle.

Frankly, I found this New England delicacy kind of underwhelming. I did much better the day before in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with with my steamed “lobsta.”

But Spencer gave me bites of his Fish ‘n Chips platter so I didn’t starve. And we felt very sanctimonious when we passed up a slice of good-looking blueberry pie à la mode for dessert.

“Lobsta” in “Glosta!”

November 11, 2011

Glosta lobsta: Braiden wrestles a 1 ¼-pound lobster

During the second port call of our Fall Foliage cruise on the Holland America Line, we stopped in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a.k.a. “Glosta.”

It was a small and not very interesting town, sadly. But we did enjoy lunch at the Seaport Grille, a popular waterfront restaurant and bar, before we got back on the boat.

I was drawn to this particular place (among several recommended dining options) when I saw one of the specials of the day–Steamed lobster with coleslaw, puréed squash (which reminded me of sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving) and potatoes au gratin–all for an astonishingly low $12.95.

I didn’t eat much of the starch or coleslaw, but I did manage to eat the entire lobster. Here are the poor creature’s sad remains.

Glosta lobsta eaten

After I excitedly emailed the “before” photo to a select group of family and friends, I received this response from my talented web designer, Christopher Prouty, founder of Studio 99 Creative.

“There is no better lobster than a Gloucester lobster,” he said. “And here’s a tip. A splash of vinegar in your melted butter adds some incredible flavor… got that from an old Maine lobster man.”

I was intrigued. But what kind of vinegar to use, I wondered. Balsamic would certainly be a big statement. Apple cider would add an interesting tang. Blueberry? Not so much.

Another round of emails elicited suggestions from both Chris and his wife, Amy.

“Malt vinegar for me,” Chris replied, “but Amy is a traditionalist and likes white. You know you get the right amount when it is indiscernible, yet different than regular butter. Yum-yum.”

BTW, my Gloucester lobster paired perfectly with a glass of California Sauvignon Blanc.

Lobster Salad at the Black Pearl

November 8, 2011

During our first port call on the Holland America Line’s Fall Foliage cruise from New York City to Québec City, we stopped in Newport, Rhode Island.

We began our exploration of this venerable and historic city on the legendary Cliff Walk, an easy bus ride from downtown.

We enjoyed a brisk stroll with threatening skies above, crashing waves on one side, and the back side of millionaires’ formidable mansions (nicknamed “cottages”) on the other.

Upon returning to downtown, we strolled the main drag, Thames Street. It’s pronounced the American, not English way, like the proper name, James, with the “Th” pronounced like  the “th” in “the.”

It was a pretty ticky-tacky mix of chain stores you’d see in any American city plus some local businesses, but offered another good stretch of our legs.

Between that and the Cliff Walk, we had worked up a pretty good appetite, so settled in at the historic Black Pearl, which had been recommended by a friend of mine who hails from Newport.

A gorgeous lobster salad  at the historic Black Pearl in Newport, Rhode Island

Here’s the lobster salad I enjoyed–plenty of the freshest shellfish mixed with just the right amount of mayo and served over tender butter lettuce and a handful of sweet pear tomatoes. A good pairing with real brewed iced tea.

New York, New York

November 4, 2011

Some of you know that Spencer and I have been anticipating a Fall Foliage Cruise on the Holland America cruise line for well over a year now. We actually signed up (and chose our cabin!) last year during our cruise of the Scandinavian countries, St. Petersburg, and Estonia.

The Fall Foliage Cruise finally came to fruition right after a significant birthday for me (I’ll let you guess which one!), as well as a milestone birthday for Spencer en route.

The cruise began in one of our favorite cities in the world, New York City.

So we stole 36 hours before it began to celebrate my birthday with dinner at the legendary Jean Georges.

We also tried Mario Batali’s new paean to all things Italian–Eataly–get it?!?! for lunch, then our final dinner at Eleven Madison Park–a stellar experience all-around.

Photo from our hotel room

Here is a photo from our centrally located and LOVELY hotel–the Renaissance Times Square. Highly recommended.

In subsequent posts, we’ll give you updates on our port calls and notes from the journey–high winds, a hurricane, all sorts of nautical tales, and “lobsta.”

So please stay tuned!

Tavolàta Sunday Dinners

November 1, 2011

Our friends at Tavolàta in Belltown offer Sunday dinners that are tons of fun and always a sellout–don’t miss your chance to get in on the family-style fun!

On Sunday, November 6, enjoy Roasted Turkey!

Dinner will be served family style at the communal table (the tavolàta), where seating is limited to 26 guests.

Dinner begins at 6 p.m., and cost is $50 per person.

Reservations are required. Please call 206.838.8008 to reserve your spot.

Final 2012 Sunday Feast – SAVE THE DATE

December 4 – Roman-Style Feast

Opened in January of 2007 by chef Ethan Stowell, Tavolàta is an urban-Italian eatery located at 2323 Second Avenue in Seattle’s bustling Belltown neighborhood.

Sublime housemade pastas, simple Italian cuisine, and a 30-foot communal table (the tavolàta) that runs down the center of the narrow room keeps the crowds coming back.

Tavolàta offers a full bar and a wine list that is 100% Italian.

Tavolàta serves dinner seven nights a week from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and until 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

A happy-hour bar menu is offered from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. every evening.

For more information or reservations, call 206.838.8008 or visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com.