Saturday, January 5, 2013

The perfect days of winter

We are in the perfect days of winter. There is no time, in my mind, when winter is more beautiful.

A few days ago, we had a perfect snow. We got 6-8 inches of powdery, dry, fluffy, beautiful white stuff. Enough to cover everything in beautiful, pristine, white. But dry and powdery enough so that clearing the driveway in the morning was not super hard. We got the beautiful looks, but not so much work.

Add to that, we are in the days when we can see the daylight growing. Equinox was way back on Dec 21 or 22. We get a little more daylight every day. We have had about 50% sunny days, so I notice, very much, the longer days.

Additionally, the temps have been low enough to freeze the ponds, and keep the snow on the ground, but not so cold that it is a life threatening exercise to walk down the street. We've gotten some wind, which has added to the beauty of the winter. We don't have much snow, but it is cold enough that what snow we have is blowing and drifting with the wind.

Since we don't have so much, what we do have can be packed easily. The dogs and I went to a local trailhead today, and the trails were all packed for walking. Lovely!

Like I said: the MOST beautiful days of winter. Some sun, some snow, days getting longers, temps tolerable - not severe. Lovely!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A restaurant review for New Year's. I actually was at this restaurant about a month or two past. But, I needed to write a review for them, as they were awesome. And, VERY few restaurants make it into my "awesome" category. This was posted to Yelp.


There are VERY few restaurants in the world that get 5 stars from me. And, they won't necessarily coincide with your Michelin ratings. I look for exceptional quality, excellent taste, freshness, good quantity for the dollar, and a certain adventuresome quality. I like spicy, but simple flavors are good, too.

So, for instance, Marina's on Overton in Memphis, who specialized in a rotating Mediterannean cuisine (menu changed monthly) always did well. Under the original owners, they never served me a dish I did not like. Then there was a cinder-block crab bar in Maryland - where nothing was more than utterly blue collar plastic plate except the crab, in many glorious forms. By the bucket, or crab cakes, it was marvelous, and I could have it with a Yuengling, which is a very respectable beer, even for a lover of craft brewing like myself.

The exterior of "The Local Table" is unremarkable. What got my attention was a signboard outside that said "Local Beer Friday" - or something like that. I had a free Friday night, so I figured what the heck. Things had been going well the past month, and I deserved a reward. And, I got it, in spades.

The architecture and interior design of The Local Table struck me as a little odd at first - but it is what they could make out of converting a building from one purpose to another. You enter a narrow hall space, which opens up into a surprisingly large dining area and bar. While I prefer my space a little more personal and cozy, once seated, I realized the interior designer had done their job well. I was comfortable, and the lighting was good (not harsh, no glare, etc.).

The menu offers a good selection - some safer offerings along with stuff for the more adventurous. I picked the "Mini Crab Cakes" for an appetizer, and a pint of something from the tap. I think that first pint was a summer wheat offering. It was decent, but the crab cakes were a shocker. The crab cakes were small, but not "mini", and they were every bit on a par with that cinder-block bar in Maryland. Firm crab was the main ingredient, and I was a happy man!

For dinner, I had an old, old favorite of mine - Chicken Piccata. Now, keep in mind, I cut my culinary teeth on Chicken Piccata, at the feet of a teaching chef from Original Joe's in San Francisco. More than a couple decades ago, mind you. I have, since that time, usually avoided Chicken Piccata, as it is usually a disappointment to me. But, tonight, I was AGAIN pleased, and satisfied! Just the right amount of capers, only the very lightest breading, all made a pleasing lemony, LIGHT presentation where I could still taste the chicken. And, it was cooked properly, just enough, not overcooked and rubbery.

Oddly enough, it was when I tried the vegetable accompaniment that I realized the chef knew what he was doing - and wasn't just lucky with a couple of good recipes. I had spinach. It was simple, no fancy spices, just good flavor. It was only cooked JUST past the wilting point, and the stems still had firm and crunchy bits. It was perfect.

The real trial for me will be how well the other dishes do when I return. It is reliable quality that gets my all-time 5 stars, but the impression of this dinner could not have been better. Wonderful job, kudos to the chef, the owner, and the staff.

Oh - I only have one complaint, and one bit of advice. The thing that got me in? "Local Beers"? We need a little more variety. What was offered was good, and top quality, but not exactly my taste. Hmmm, pretty petty, in retrospect!  The chef is from the minimalist school of presentation, where beauty is more important than quantity. He still provides a decent quantity, though, and I like to be full when I leave a restaurant. He provided excellent and more than excellent presentation in the dishes I ordered, and respectable quantity. For my sake, I hope they continue to be mindful that quantity is more important to at least some diners, such as myself!