Dia de los Puerco!
I wish I had known about this restaurant while I was a student in Cambridge as my exhausting two years at MIT Sloan might have been more pleasant (if that’s possible). O Ya is a Japanese-fusion restaurant located in the Leather District of Boston in between the Waterfront and Chinatown. After being dropped off by my cab at the correctly numbered building, I spent 15 minutes looking for the entrance. Needless to say the front door is inconspicuously hidden in the alley and made of large, reclaimed wood boards.
The humble entrance paints the picture perfectly for the quaint, casual dining room of a half-dozen tables (37 seats to be exact). The best seat in the house is at the sushi bar where you can watch the chefs work fast and meticulously to create their plates of edible art. With 22 courses available on the tasting menu, the three sushi chefs are constantly busy building towers of nigiri for hungry patrons (most of which order the tasting menu instead of wading through O Ya’s overly large list of a la carte items).
From foie gras nigiri to gold flake and caviar topped poached egg over dashi sauce, the procession of creatively produced and presented food was beyond my expectations. If you or your dinner date aren’t gastronomically adventurous, O Ya also offers more tame plates of wagyu beef, bone-in pork chop and shrimp tempura.
In terms of accolades it should come as no surprise to any O Ya diner that this establishment has recently received a top food rating of 29 out of 30 from Zagat and more importantly, a James Beard award for head chef Tim Cushman. And if you haven’t dined with them yet, be sure to make a reservation far enough in advance.
Chef Gary Mennie gave an amazing performance last week at High Cotton’s first ever Mount Eden wine dinner. Using fresh, seasonal foods, Chef Mennie created perfect pairings for the Northern California wines presented by Abigail Costello.
The night began with passes of salmon, beef tartare and crab fritters paired with the Mount Eden, Wolff Vineyard, Chardonnay. This was followed by the best course of the night: Columbia River Sturgeon with speck ham, celery puree and peas. This first course was paired with the Estate Chardonnay. I found them both equally oaky and wouldn’t drink them on a regular basis, though they were paired well with the food flavors.
The second course was maple-glazed duck with a golden squash pancake paired with the 2010 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir. This Pinot would have paired well with the sturgeon as well, but balanced out the fattiness of duck perfectly. As a lover of Willamette Valley Pinots, this wine held its ground with a relatively low ABV and strong berry and rhubarb notes. You can purchase a bottle on klwines.com for only $34 ( a steal by California wine standards).
The third and final course was a lamb loin with a vidalia onion tart (reminiscent of my favorite quiche) paired with the Mount Eden 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The depth of the lamb dish and wine was a great ending to a increasing procession of flavors. Although I am usually partial to big, tannic cabernets, the Mount Eden Pinot Noir was my favorite wine of the night. In a way I could’ve paired that wine with any of the three courses.
I hope this wine dinner is a sign of great things to come for Chef Mennie and High Cotton of Greenville. Be on the look out for the new Maverick store Charleston Cooks! coming to North Main Street in the old Atlanta Bread Co. building. This new store will feature retail kitchen items as well as a hands-on teaching kitchen for those of us who only know how to open wine.
The Good: The Food and Drink
What you eat and drink is obviously the most important aspect of a restaurant and The Owl and chef/owner Aaron definitely provide creative and yummy offerings. From the lamb pot pie to the perfectly cooked duck you won’t be disappointed in their culinary delights. If you’re lucky, Chef Aaron will serve his “creations” from the kitchen a la Frankenstein. Also on the menu is a daily special that stretches their creative cooking muscles even further. Try one of each course to really get a feel for the edgy, molecular gastronomy trend they’re going for.
The Bad: The Execution
Unfortunately The Owl is trying to be too much to too many people. The idea was to make this kind of food and cooking accessible to more people, not just the foodies and wealth endowed. Admittedly the short menu is well priced, but after a few drinks and an appetizer, your bill reflects $50-$60 per person which prices out most families looking for giant plates of pasta and all-you-can eat soup and salads.
The Ugly: Atmosphere
Its hard to completely renovate an old Pizza Hut on a shoe-string budget, this much is clear. Some kind of atmosphere and removal of the office space from the dining area is immediately necessary. I want to forget my work day, not be reminded of it. Also, some signage on Wade Hampton Boulevard would be nice and logistically sensible. I still drive by twice before I find the place. Only a picture of an owl adorns the still brick exterior. This is not easy to see while hurling down a crowded road at 55 mph. Finally, a dress code for the wait staff probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. Ill fitting jeans and funny t-shirts are usually reserved for Irish bars and pizza joints.
I am completely torn. While I love the idea and the heart behind a place like this that will undoubtedly gain cult status among foodies in the Upstate, the execution just isn’t there. They might need to leave their lofty goals of ‘world peace’ and ‘sous vide chicken for all’ at the gate while upping prices slightly in order to pay for the repairs and upgrades that are direly needed. I am excited to see what is in store for the Owl in the weeks and months to come and will continue to patronize their trendy little cafe.
Last night the Plaid Pelican, my home away from home, held another monthly beer tasting. This time it was emceed by Danny at Advintage, a Charleston based distributer. Once again the beers were diverse (even though they were all brewed in Colorado) and the food, a la Chef Bill, was top notch.
Avery Brewing was up first with their Belgian Style White named White Rascal. It is very similar in taste to Allagash White with a slight orange peel note on the palate and coriander on the nose. This beer was created to go with really spicy food, i.e. thai, indian, etc. For this reason it paired perfectly with the coconut shrimp and spicy dill sauce. I am leading the movement for this to be on the menu. Please let me know if you want to join the revolution.
Josh, my unwilling bar partner for the evening is the acting Vanna White in the photo above, showing off the Great Divide beer that was served next. The raspberry taste is much more subtle than the name suggests. Normally I would have never chosen a beer with such a name and would have forever missed out on its greatness! Even though it tastes more like a wine cooler than a beer, it was still very refreshing. There was no pairing with this beer for good reason.
The third beer was a Left Hand Sawtooth Ale that was paired with a Pelican Chip topped with blue cheese, basil and honey. The Sawtooth Ale has the appearance of an Amber Ale, but little to no finish (this is called a dry finish on their website). Still a good beer with enough earth and hops to make up for its apparent weakness.
Our fourth beer of the night was another Left Hand Brewing creation: 400 Lb Monkey. Based solely on naming and labeling, I would buy this beer. Unfortunately, this weakness of mine pervades every aspect of my life and leads me to purchase items which I neither need nor enjoy. Fortunately, I enjoyed this beer. It is an English Style IPA which differs greatly from a traditional IPA due to the lesser presence of hops and malt.
This was my favorite beer of the night and I subsequently bought a six pack of it. The crisp, citrus palate paired with the elegant piney nose creates the IPA I was looking for. I haven’t seen this beer anywhere else in town, so stock up at the Plaid Pelican!
This photo really doesn’t do this pairing justice. The salmon was nicely cooked and paired with a spicy cream cheese. After talking with Chef Bill, he said he added some spicy pepper paste that he picked up at an Asian market. I could put that spread on a bagel in the morning with some lox! The crispness of the beer really balanced out the boldness of this pairing.
This last beer was the piece de resistance of the evening and the first time I have ever had a beer float. And believe me, its as good as it sounds. The Left Hand Milk Stout, which is excellent on its own, was poured into a glass of ice cream and topped with a cinnamon stick. The mixture is superb after five minutes of letting the flavors meld. This is my new favorite dessert.
Overall, it was another successful tasting at the Plaid Pelican and another reason I will continue to visit them multiple times per week.
For round 2 of the Greenville Foodie Fest, I visited Devereaux’s. This restaurant is a Greenville institution and is quite often my home for happy hour. For once it was nice to sit and enjoy a meal in the dining room instead of telling my life story to the bartender. My fellow dining patrons had to endure that fate this evening.
A lovely surprise was the amuse bouche that was presented to us upon our seating. This little glass was filled with a potato and leek vichyssois goodness and topped with chives. It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful dinner.
Just like American Grocery, I was disappointed to learn that Devereaux’s was not offering a specific wine pairing with each of their courses. My table opted out of the wine pairings altogether and decided to pair our own courses. Thats the upside of dining with a bunch of winos!
The seared quail breast with marscapone risotto and shitake mushrooms quickly took my sadness away. It was a good sized portion and every bite was delightful. This is definitely a plate I wish they would add to their menu.
My main course was the salmon with grapefruit and soba noodles over bok choy. It was refreshingly light after my bowl of risotto and a nice compliment to our bottle of wine (which I didn’t write down and now can’t remember).
The highlight of my meal was the almond creme brulee. Even after my first serving being too soupy for my liking, they brought out a much more set serving of which I ate with enthusiasm.
Unlike American Grocery, after this meal, I wasn’t hungry. Actually, I wasn’t hungry for a couple days. I hope to return to Devereaux’s soon for another Winosseur-worthy meal.
My Greenville Foodie Fest 2011 experience started off at American Grocery. I’ve always heard good things about this restaurant, so the Foodie Fest deal (3 courses for $30) provided me a great opportunity to dig in.
The interior is typical for downtown Greenville restaurants, with a quaint bar and original distressed brick walls. Unique artwork from local artists line the walls.
Our table was wonderful with a full view of the passerby outside in the early evening. We were a bit cramped at a small two top, but it was to be expected during such an event that everyone wants to partake. Also visible in the above photo is my Hendrick’s and tonic that I waited patiently for at the bar. It took about ten minutes to get the bartender’s attention and get the drink made. Again, I expected this due to how busy their dining room was this evening.
The mussels with paprika cream were are delight after a rocky start to the evening. A big hunk of toasted bread was perfect for sopping up the leftover juices in the bowl. This was paired with a Schug Sauvignon Blanc that was offered as a part of the wine pairing menu. Much to my surprise the Foodie Fest menu only offered one wine for each course no matter which plate was chosen. I would have preferred having a specifically paired wine for each of my courses and a larger pour for that matter!
Marci, my dining companion, had the heirloom tomato salad with a basil glycee. Not only was it beautiful, but it was tasty as well.
My main course was a perfectly prepared duck breast with spicy lentils. I am sucker for lentils and they were cooked to perfection; something I have yet to master at home.
Both Marci and I got the Krispy Kreme bread pudding for dessert. It was hard not to since my eyes glanced over every other option and zeroed in on the one plate with the most calories. It was just as good as it sounds since it was drenched in a lightly flavored coffee cream. Even after all of this, both of us were still hungry when we left. This is a common complaint from diners at American Grocery and I would have to agree.
Overall the food was some of the best I have ever eaten, regardless of the portion size. Unfortunately, the wine offerings were nothing to write home about and the wine glasses were less than was expected from such a highly regarded restaurant. There is no substitute for a Riedel.
I will definitely be back during next year’s Foodie Fest, but probably not until then.
I’m a sucker for any brand name that includes an umlaut, so Zöe’s Kitchen, next to Starbuck’s on Augusta Street was a no brainer for me. The clean lines, bright colors and simple layout were pleasing to the eye upon entry. Then, after a quick glance at the menu, I knew the trip would be worth while. Their offerings are all fresh with a Greek flair and they even offer many vegan and gluten free items. I’m usually a proponent of the more butter and bacon the better, but this new healthy-eating haven may just change my mind (slightly).
If you look closely you will see several bottles of wine on the counter, which only increases the awesome rating of this place. They’re open from 10:30a until 9pm everyday, which means I will be able to get some of this healthy goodness on Sundays! One of the increasingly challenging aspects of living in the Bible Belt is finding some good “home cooked” food on Sundays. I call this “home cooked” because even though it is a chain, it has the feeling of a local catering company (a la Scratch).
Not only do they offer plenty of sandwiches, soups and entrees, but they also have a small refrigerator of pre-made items such as homemade chicken salad, pasta salad, and slaw. So even though the interior is suitable for a relaxing business lunch during the week, you could also stop by to stock up for a picnic in Cleveland Park over the weekend.
For lunch during a busy work day I ordered a healthy take on a Rueben. The shaved turkey is seared then topped with homemade slaw (light vinaigrette and feta) a small amount of swiss, all on a couple slices rye. In a perfect world I would have a traditional Rueben sandwich everyday with the sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing fighting for space on the front of my shirt, but I would weigh 500 pounds and be directed by doctors not to eat such things. So to avoid such a fate, I will stick with this completely suitable substitution for the foreseeable future. I suggest everyone else does the same.
Another day, another dinner out in the Upstate. This time I headed to Portman Marina in Anderson, SC where there happens be the best Sushi restaurant on the East Coast (followed closely by Sushi Koji in downtown Greenville). In order to get to Nami Asian Bistro on Hartwell Lake, you turn off of Hwy 24 at an unsuspecting old gas station, wind down a narrow road until you see the house boats ahead. The view from the patio at Nami’s is amazing and only worth while in the Spring or Fall when the humidity level drops below 100.
At Nami, consistency is key when it comes to sushi preparation. It is always fresh and always tasty. The Rainbow and Spider Rolls are my go to favorites at any sushi restaurant. Its a great way to tell how good a Japanese restaurant is and how well they source their fish (a canary in the mine if you will). No matter what day you visit Nami’s, you will have a spectacular meal.
Some nights they have special rolls, which in the past has included a lobster roll, made with fresh lobster and plated with the head and tail. This particular evening, the Neptune roll was the specialty. It happens to be one of my favorites because it uses the underrated white fish as its main ingredient.
Another roll that is unique to the Nami’s menu is the Geisha Roll. This roll is stuffed with spicy tuna and avocado then topped with seaweed salad, tobiko and a little bit of spicy sauce.
For eel lovers this is the roll for you! The simplicity of this Portman Roll really highlights the great smoky flavor of the eel and the creaminess of the avocado. The spicy sauce on the plate makes the whole dish amazing.
The hardest thing to do at Nami’s is decide which rolls to have for dinner. If you are indecisive you can always sit at the bar and let the professionals decide for you!