Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Graze, Winchester: Local KY

Graze Restaurant, Lexington Side Salad Filet Mignon with Penne Osso Bucco Pork Udon Baby Foodie
On a recent trip to visit our good friends in Lexington, Kentucky (Picky Foodie and her husband) my wife and I were taken to a really interesting restaurant called Graze. Although it looks more like a little house in the middle of behemoth farms smack in the middle of Winchester countryside. If there wasn't a sign outside you'd drive by and think it was a local villager who wasn't lucky enough to own one of the beautiful farms in the area. Instead, it's something much better. A dinky restaurant based on serving only the freshest, most local food that Kentucky has to offer.

If you're thinking of Googling it and checking out the menu, don't. They change the menu constantly and it is all based around the local, seasonal philosophy. Something that is dear to my heart. Having an organic farm not even a mile from my house in England and doing my best to live my life around this philosophy, restaurants like Graze really strike a chord with me.

On this occasion it was Pasta night. And I have to be honest, before I arrived I was slightly apprehensive. Pasta is not something Americans do very well, (sorry Jersey but it's true) and I imagined Pasta in Kentucky to be about as far removed from authentic as Southern Fried Chicken would be if eating it in Birmingham, or Leeds. But, I was pleasantly surprised as soon as I saw the menu.

Not long after we ordered the mains a Side Salad with a Balsamic Dressing and Pine Nuts was brought out to us. If I was paying for it I might have been disappointed, but it was a nice little Salad to get you warmed up for the main course and it was free. So I won't complain. For mains, we had: Pork Udon in a Miso Broth, Filet Mignon with Penne and Blue Cheese, and Osso Bucco, which was served with Potato Mash instead of pasta. Every single dish was well executed and extremely flavorful. In fact, it was one of the nicest meals I had on my recent trip to the States. The Filet Mignon with Penne was beautifully cooked and presented. The Blue Cheese, although quite chunky didn't take away from the lovely meat flavors.

My Pork with Udon Noodles was brilliantly done. It was gorgeously spicy due to the Kimchi and the noodles were cooked perfectly. However, my only critique would be that the seasoning was slightly off. The Osso Bucco was also over seasoned. But they clearly like their salt in Kentucky. Every restaurant we went to seemed to employ the, "more salt is better" philosophy. That's obviously the preference there, so who am I to grumble? It only affected me as I got to the end of my dish. My Miso began to taste more like Sea Water than fermented Rice and Soy and I just couldn't finish it.

We had a new diner with us, Baby Foodie, daughter of Picky Foodie, pictured above. I didn't review her meal because, well, she still has a limited palate and her Pasta was made quite plain for her. :)

All in all I was very impressed with Graze. And despite the hefty price tag on each dish, which was between $25-26, I walked away happy. It's good to see that even in rural Kentucky there are people dedicated to bringing fresh, local food to people. Well done!

Graze Market and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2015

New Orleans, Mardi Gras 2015. Whew!

Mardi Gras-Bourbon Street, New Orleans Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras in New Orleans Lafayette Cemetery St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans Degas House, New Orleans Johnny's Po Boys, New Orleans Cajun Blackened Chicken Po Boy, New Orleans Alligator Sausage Po Boy, New Orleans Alligator Sausage Po Boy, Johnny's Po Boys Line at Cafe du Monde Beignets at Cafe du Monde Busy Workers at Cafe du Monde Tennessee Williams' House, New Orleans Bourbon Street-After Mardi Gras St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans William Faulkner House, New Orleans Oyster Po Boy in New Orleans Louisiana Hot Sauce on Po Boy Po Boys in New Orleans Shrimp in New Orleans Jumbalaya in New Orleans
There isn't much that makes me nervous. Venomous snakes in Marrakech? Blah! I pose with them and don't feel nervous at all. Being in the car when my rally-driver brother-in-law takes me and my wife out in the snow in his insanely fast Mitsu Evo... please, piece of cake! But New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday to be more precise, made me nervous. Seeing that many people crowding Bourbon Street and the ancient decks above it was, quite frankly, a very intense experience for this traveler. I am very happy I went, but I will not be in a hurry to go back.

Mardi Gras should be on everyone's Bucket List. It is so full of wild abandonment, that any red-blooded human being should glimpse it's secrets, just once. I didn't mean to go to Mardi Gras. I have been over in the States for a bit and finished what I was doing quicker than I thought and I suddenly had some time on my hands. What to do with it? Ah, let's drive to New Orleans. Perfect! And it just so happened that the only day we could go was Tuesday. Fat Tuesday, the last day of this, one of the most celebrated Carnivals in the world.

Being a foodie and thinking mostly with my stomach, I knew I was in for a treat. I have read and heard so many good things about the food in New Orleans. However, my excitement was quickly squashed when I noticed that the vast majority of good restaurants closed their doors on Fat Tuesday. Signs just read, "Closed on Tuesday. Will re-open on Wednesday." And walking around the streets of New Orleans I could see why. To me Mardi Gras is like every 15 year old's fantasy. You get to dress up in whatever outfit you want to wear, even if that outfit is no clothing at all, and you get to do basically whatever you want to do and nobody judges you. The closest thing I can relate it to is when my mom used to go away on business trips and leave me alone. It was like Ferris Beuller's Day Off and Risky Business all rolled into one extremely fun weekend. The difference is, I was 15, the people around me during Mardi Gras seemed to span all age groups from twenty to eighty. It didn't matter, everyone was doing the same thing!

Once I realized that it would be virtually impossible to have a relaxed, calm, good meal in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I just loosened up and got into the spirit of things. We needed dinner and we couldn't wait. We picked a place on Royal Street called Royal House Oyster Bar. We were led upstairs and I actually really liked it. The dining room was exactly as I imagined it to be, old, crooked and with lots of windows and shutters. It was lovely. And the food was pretty decent too. The winning dish had to be my Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya. It was slightly dry, but very tasty. It had all those Cajun flavors I've had in so many restaurants outside of New Orleans.

After dinner we walked along Bourbon Street for a while, but the crowd was heaving and in the end was too much. The smell of stale beer and pot made us even more reluctant and we made a quick exit. Walking around the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday and trying to find a bar or restaurant that was tame was clearly a stupid idea and we shouldn't have had such high hopes. We did stumble onto the Ritz Carlton though and the bar and drinks there were top notch. It still had Mardi Gras revelers, but they were much more mild.

The next day we made it our mission to eat as much as we could. Our first stop, well, after William Faulkner's House and Tennessee Williams' House was Cafe du Monde. Even people who have no interest in going to Mardi Gras, or New Orleans know of Cafe du Monde. Their coffee is sold all over the world. However, there is one item that is even more popular than their coffee... Beignets. Those warm, triangular shaped doughnuts, that are coated in more powdered sugar than is wise, or healthy. We ordered three each and I shared a coffee with my wife. Both were good, but the Beignets were absolutely delicious!

We had a long drive back and knew we needed to be getting a move on, but we couldn't leave without eating at Johnny's Po-Boys. So, an hour after we had Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde we were standing in a long line outside Johnny's. The lines in New Orleans are staggering. Besides Cafe du Monde, which I'm pretty sure we accidentally cut the line, we waited in line at every single place we ate at. And we didn't eat in some places because the line was just too long, the Acme Oyster House was one such restaurant.

Johnny's Po-Boys serves typical Cajun "Fast Food" Grub. We had two Po-Boys, Alligator Sausage and Cajun Blackened Chicken. Both were very tasty, however, the Shrimp Gumbo that accompanied the Alligator Sausage Po-Boy was, quite simply, terrible. It tasted like swamp water. The Shrimp were pale and bland and the seasoning was poorly executed. A total waste of money.

We left New Orleans feeling a bit perplexed. We all loved it... and hated it. We couldn't help but think it was probably a really brilliant city 50 years ago. It has clearly done what so many other old cities do. It has become far too commercial. It's like Las Vegas and Disneyland but with some history. The only way I see myself going back is if Marty picks me up in the DeLorean and I can go back and see the real New Orleans. The New Orleans Faulkner writes about. That must have been quite a place!

To see my professional food photography please visit: Taylor Young Photography

Café Du Monde on Urbanspoon

Royal House Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Johnny's Po-Boys on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 19, 2014

Monty's Deli: Bliss Between Bread!

Monty's Deli Monty's Deli, London Salt Beef at Monty's Deli Reuben Sandwich Monty's Deli
There is only one thing that would make me walk around freezing Bermondsey Market in London... the thought of biting into juicy, tender meat stuck between two thin slices of bread. And what better place than Monty's Deli?

I first heard of Monty's Deli while watching Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food on BBC 2. When I watched the show with my wife she literally grabbed my arm, fingernails digging into my flesh, and said, "sweetie, you have to take me there!" Fast forward a year and I've finally fulfilled my promise to her. And it did not disappoint.

Having lived in Manhattan for a couple of years I have eaten my share of deli sandwiches. I was a regular at Katz's Deli and I have even learned the ancient art of dislocating my jaw in order to receive the delicious deli sandwich squarely and wholly into my mouth.

Monty's Deli doesn't mess around. Their meats are so good, so juicy, so tender and so flavorful that there is really no comparison to anything else I've had in London. Each giant mouthful takes me back to the Lower East Side and suddenly I can hear New Yorkers yelling their orders across the restaurant and the smell of meat cooking so slowly, it almost goes back in time.

My Reuben with Salt Beef, Toasted Rye, Melted Cheese, Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut, served with Coleslaw and a crunchy Pickle was as nice as any sandwich I have ever tasted. At a crisp £7.50 it wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had either.

Well done chaps!

To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Monty's Deli on Urbanspoon