Sunday, January 15, 2012

Over the River and Through The Woods, To Find A Great Deal at Pickity!

At the end of a rutted dirt road, deep in the forest of Mason, New Hampshire, there lies an enchanted cottage with the best deal I have yet found in my travels. Pickity Place only serves lunch, and you must come at one of their scheduled seating times (11:30, 12:45, or 2), but this is a meal well worth the trip! For $16.95 they serve a five course luncheon including their yummy drinks.

As we waited for the lunch bell to ring, we wandered the beautiful grounds. Pickity grows most of their own herbs and edible flowers, so we enjoyed their subtle aroma as we took in the lush greenery. The scents were even more pungent inside the "drying shack" where plants filled the room, hanging from the rafters and lined up against the walls. Should you be feeling inspired by all this nature, they have a garden shop filled with whimsical delights. I purchased a tinkling wind chime to remind myself of this magical place when stuck back in the concrete jungle that is Los Angeles.

Pickity Place also has a gift shop. The front section is filled with sweet little tchotskys such as magnets and placards reminding us why "daughters are precious" and "Mothers are angels." There's also some hand crafted jewelry and gourmet soaps. It is in the back section that this gift shop really comes into it's own. Imagine the spice rack at the local supermarket. Now expand that to fill the next two aisles and you will have some idea of what this room looks like. Herbs, blends, teas, dips, even mixes for cakes and breads fill the room. To stave off any pre-lunch hunger they even have yummy samples.

The final stop before heading into the restaurant is the Little Red Riding Hood Museum. The cottage that is now the restaurant was actually the inspiration for the illustration of Grandmother's House in the 1948 edition of Little Red Riding Hood. They've recreated an exact scene from the book in one of the rooms, and I can only imagine little children will be enthralled to find the wolf disguised as grandmother lying in the canopy bed.

On to the main event: the food! Pickity serves the same five course menu every day for a month and then changes it completely. This ensures that the food is always in season. To plan your visit in advance, you can check out the menus online. They offer the choice of a vegetarian or meat entree.

We were led out to the porch, a tiny glassed in structure with four tables. The red table cloths, fresh flowers, and napkins wrapped in ribbon give the room a festive atmosphere. Any meal at Pickity Place automatically becomes an event!

Upon being seated, they offer the choice of coffee, mocha, herbal tea, spiced tea, or lavender lemonade. Having previously tried the lemonade (a surprising and deliciously refreshing choice) I opted for the spiced tea. Served with a cinnamon stick, it looked comforting and homey, however the flavor was not as intense as I might have wished.

They also presented us with their fresh baked bread of the month: Sunflower Nut Bread. Served warm, this tasty treat was soft but substantial, exactly what I expect from homemade bread. The flavor only improved when I slathered on a generous helping of honey lemon butter. It was the sort of nostalgic mouthful capable of transporting one to a simpler time - perfection!

Also waiting at our table was the "first course" which was a veggie dip. As a true foodie, I find it hard to consider dip a first course, but I forgive them (even at four courses, this is a ridiculous deal!). The dip itself had a robust tang, the result of sour cream, that was tempered by the mellower mayo. The strongest flavors were garlic and onion, a satisfyingly savory start to our meal.

Next came the Summers End Soup. This delectable treat was chock full of fresh veggies and the broth had a smoky depth unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was complex and intense while still maintaining the integrity of the vegetable flavors. A true treat!

Next came the Artichoke and Mozzarella Pinwheel Salad. The zing of the vinaigrette was offset nicely by the creaminess of the mozzarella. With the herbs intact, we were able to fully experience their flavor which made them an interesting addition to the salad.

For the main course, I chose the Pork Rollade with Caramelized Onions. The edible flower and herbs were a genius way to add color to an otherwise very brown dish. The pork was moist and tasted great with the generous amount of caramelized onions. Sauteed Zucchini, served on the side, was a pleasant surprise. I have previously found this dish to be flavorless and watery, but they must use ample amounts of butter and plenty of herbs to kick up this side as it was positively scrumptious!

We ended our feast with Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Blueberry Cream. The filling was packed with strawberry flavor while the rhubarb imparted an interesting texture. Encased in a buttery flaky crust, I couldn't resist devouring the whole piece despite my full stomach. The blueberry cream was a revelation, lightly sweet with just a subtle fruitiness, I thoroughly enjoyed every bite!

All in all, this is the best deal I have found since writing this blog - I give it five belt notches out of five! If you ever find yourself even remotely close to this restaurant (like within two-four hours away), I suggest you take a detour and give it a try - you will not regret it! I confess, my family and I made the three hour drive from Cape Cod, stayed in a B&B, and made an entire excursion out of this one meal. We all heartily agreed that it was well worth it!

Pickity Place serves their $16.95 Five Course Luncheon Daily.
248 Nutting Hill Road
Mason, NH 03048

Pickity Place Restaurant and Herb Farm on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Appetite Stimulus Menu at Katana

Walking into the bar area at Katana, one experiences an overwhelming sensation of Hollywood trendiness. The concrete walls with recesses for candles, the piles of bricks, the low lighting, the funky world music, the model gorgeous hostesses and bar tenders. It's just the sort of atmosphere in which you expect to find Lindsay Lohan dancing on tables as paparazzi jostle you in their quest for the money shot. However, the clientele at Katana is surprisingly low key. When the hubby and I went on a Sunday night, we found a lot of families and almost touristy looking couples. So while the hostess may be in stilettos, you can certainly come in your keds.

After waiting for about ten minutes (with a reservation) we were escorted back to the surprisingly empty dining area. What were we waiting for? The room is a study in what Americans think "Asian Decor" looks like: Lots of dark wood with embroidered silk cushions and small smooth pebbles where you can rest your chopsticks. A fun place for a date night.

We had come for their Appetite Stimulus Menu - Four courses for $35 dollars. I'll review them in the order they came (which was the opposite of what they were supposed to be, except for dessert). However, our very sweet waitress did warn us that the first course does take a while, and I had fun eating it all tapas style.

First came the sushi (you could also choose a chicken teriyaki entree). A confession: While I enjoy sushi, I don't feel overly qualified to review it. To me it either tastes fishy (which is a very bad thing) or it doesn't. This didn't. The fish tasted fresh and had a nice texture, but it was all pretty basic stuff. A nice simple plate of tuna, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, spicy tuna, and a California roll.

Then came the Robata or skewers, which Katana is apparently known for. I can't tell you about the salmon with pesto as I hate cooked fish. (I did take one intrepid bite - just for you dear reader - before reassuring myself that I do indeed despise the stuff). The chicken meatballs with teriyaki sauce was steaming hot, moist and tender. However, the teriyaki was quite light and lacked the deep flavor I was expecting. Luckily, all robata are served with three dipping sauces: ponzu, spicy mustard, and ginger. These flavorful concoctions did wonders to elevate the chicken. Finally, we also had cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon. Now, there is a soft spot in my heart for all things encased in bacon, but these didn't blow me out of the water. The bacon was so thin it simply added a complex note to the steaming tomato juices bursting in your mouth. While I would have liked a little more meat, it did balance the acidity of the tomato beautifully and was quite a tasty morsel.

Finally, the supposed "first course" of Chicken Gyoza arrived (there were two other options offered which I don't recall). The wrapping was light and pliant, and the filling seemed to be made of the exact same ingredients as the chicken meatball robata. So, once again, this dish benefited greatly from the use of the dipping sauces.

We ended with the rich Chocolate Volcano. This tiny cake packed a deep chocolate flavor. Served piping hot with vanilla ice cream, the molten center was divine when used to smother the accompanying berries. Definitely my favorite course of the night!

While the food at Katana was good, it certainly wasn't anything special. If you're looking for a trendy atmosphere, this might be the place to go. Personally, I think you'd do better to spend your $35 on the Farmer's Market Menu at Josie. I give this two and a half belt notches.

Katana's Appetite Stimulus Menu is available all night Sunday-Thursday.
8439 W. Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA

Katana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Old Yarmouth Inn Needs an Update

While still in the land of early bird specials (and the week of both my parent's birthdays), we decided to try the deal at the Old Yarmouth Inn: Between 4:30-6:30 you can order three courses off their prix fixe menu daily for just $19.95.

The Inn, established in 1696, is the oldest on Cape Cod. The proprietors play up this heritage, seating guests in colonial dark wooden chairs and wall papering the room in a toile fabric patterned with an idyllic scene of children playing. Even the wooden molding, with it's square "dental" pattern, seems straight out of another era. The ceilings are a bit low (remember, people were shorter back then!) but, with two of the walls composed entirely of windows, the light and airy space never feels claustrophobic. One final welcoming touch is a pretty vase filled with fresh flowers on the table.

Having been out exploring Cape Cod all day, we were thrilled when the bread arrived. It was light and airy with a substantial crust. The sweet butter which accompanied it made for a simple and delightful mouthful, we were ready for our meal!

Not being a big fan of mixed green salads (how boring!) I chose to pay the $2.25 up charge for the Caesar salad. Now, normally I love the rich, creamy tang of the dressing, but this dish was completely overpowered by the anchovies in the dressing. I know there are purists out there who will claim that the anchovy taste should be present in a true Caesar, but I believe it should simply be part of the underlying depth of flavor, not the first thing that assaults your taste buds. The salad was very cheesy, but it seemed the sort of shredded Parmesan that you might buy at your local supermarket, not the delicate flakes I have come to expect. While the croutons were buttery and delicious, this salad certainly left a lot to be desired.

For my main course, I opted for the braised, boneless Short Ribs in a Hoisin and Beer Sauce. The meat itself was served steaming hot and fork tender, but it didn't have much flavor. The sauce was flavorful and rich, but I think they put in a little too much cornstarch as the texture felt artificially gelatinous. The carrots were way overcooked, completely falling apart. That's the sort of side I would expect at a cafeteria. The only redeeming items on the plate were the crispy snap peas and the creamy mashed potatoes. While it wasn't a bad dish, it certainly isn't one I will order again.

The final disappointment came with dessert. I selected the Lemon Cream Cake garnished with Raspberry Coulis. Dear reader, I kid you not when I say I have had better desserts from a supermarket bakery (which is where I suspect this came from). The cake was cloyingly sweet, yet still managed to have a slight bitterness. The best thing on the plate was the fresh strawberry. This restaurant is in desperate need of an on site pastry chef!

Overall, the Old Yarmouth Inn is clearly stuck in the past, but more an embarrassing 1980s big shoulder padded, neon colored, poofy haired sort of past. This place is in desperate need of a culinary makeover! It is a beautiful space with ample potential, however the food leaves a lot to be desired. I give this one belt notch.

Old Yarmouth Inn serves their three course special Daily from 4:30-6:30.
223 Route 6A
Yarmouth Port, MA 02675

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Somewhere...Beyond The Sea...A Deal is Waiting for Me

First off, dear readers, an apology for being so behind on this blog! I have indeed been dining on deals and am eager to share them with you, it's just taken a little longer then expected to write about my experiences. But, never fear, I remember each morsel in delicious detail.

My travels in the past few months took me to New England, so I used it as an excuse to slip away to one of my favorite places in the world: Cape Cod. This elegant peninsula is a mix of vacationing families and retirees. While the tourists may get stuck paying top dollar for so-so fare, the locals know that this town is chock full of deals! This being an older crowd, they are mostly found in the way of "early bird specials." So off I went to catch the worm!

My first deal was found at the Cape Sea Grille. Get your order in by 7pm, and for the price of an entree you also get a soup or salad and a dessert. Two additional courses completely gratis! This restaurant perfectly captures the beach side sophistication that is lost in so many tourist traps. The walls are lined with windows with views out on to the tall grasses and sweet cottages that define the area. The colors are plucked from the environment, with sand colored walls accented by sky blue details. We sat on the enclosed patio, the fading sunlight all around us spotlighting the perfect pink rose on each table.

The two types of bread were from a local artisan bakery. While the Pecan and Raisin bread had nice complex flavors, it was slightly burned on top. I much preferred the perfectly cooked Wheat bread. The light and airy texture of the inside contrasted nicely with the substantial crust.

I started with the soup of the day: Gazpacho. Done well, this is one of my favorite soups, and the Cape Sea Grille's version did not disappoint. The acidity of the fresh tomato gave it a nice tang which was offset by biting into the sweet corn kernels nestled within. The abundance of veggies cut into tiny pieces made every mouthful taste like summer's last hurrah. My only quibble was the creme fraiche. While it gave a nice color contrast, the mellow flavor was completely superfluous on top of the bold veggies.

For my entree I opted to go with the $24 Orange and Soy Roasted 1/2 Chicken. (Disclaimer: I thought I took a picture, but I apparently took a video, so enjoy!) The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, the meat was nice and moist. The sauce was subtle, something I did not expect with such potent flavors. What really made the dish shine was all the veggies on the plate. The caramelized onions melted in your mouth. The creamy blue and white potatoes contrasted beautifully with the crisp snap of the peas. Overall, the plate provided a lovely array of textures and a depth of flavors. I'm continually impressed by how great chefs can elevate the lowly bird.

Finally came the Chocolate Bread Pudding. This is like no other bread pudding I have ever experiened because there was no trace of "bread." That little ramekin contained pure unadulterated chocolate wonderfulness. The texture was remarkable, more substantial then fudge but far silkier and creamier then cake. Overall, a very sweet ending to a delicious meal.

The ambiance, the service, and the food all work together to ensure a special dining experience to be enjoyed by the customer. I would give this place four out of five belt notches.

Cape Sea Grille is located at:
31 Sea St.
Harwich Port, MA 02646

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dining On Deals is All A-Twitter!

That's right, I've finally joined the masses of little birds on Twitter. I'll be tweeting about the latest deals and specials as I learn about them, as well as keeping you up date on new posts. You can follow me at diningondeals (or just click on the link to the right). See you there!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Somewhat Weak Power Hour at Morton's

There's something about Morton's that just oozes class. From the bowtied waitstaff to the white linen tablecloths to the cart of lusciously marbled steaks and impossibly large vegetables, this is a place of timeless elegance. So when I heard they offer a "Power Hour" with $5 bar bites, I grabbed my girlfriends and headed out for an upscale evening at a downscale price.

The bar area is beautiful, all dark wood polished to a high shine with a large mirrored wall displaying countless varieties of spirits. We were pleased to see that we could sit on benches a around high table in the bar area, rather then being forced to line up at the actual bar itself. I particularly enjoyed the playful lamp on our table. The base consists of an adorable metal sleeping pig, a Morton's signature that I have always loved.

We began with the Petite Fillet Mignon Sandwiches. In my former life as a non deal diner, I have tried the actual Fillet Mignon at Morton's and found it to be delicious: perfectly tender and simply packed with flavor. So, needless to say, I had high hopes for it's baby sibling. Sadly, these tidbits are clearly the red headed stepchildren of this meaty family. (Not that I don't love red heads - and step children;) While I'm sure they use all the same steak, the strips found in the sandwich are clearly the trimmings that don't live up to the Morton's standard. They were much fattier, and not in a marbled sort of way, more in a chewy, my teeth can't break this down sort of way. I would almost venture to say gristly. The soft white buns were huge, dwarfing the little slivers of meat, and doused with a healthy dose of Mayo. Certainly a filling plate for five bucks, but not what I've come to expect from Morton's. If I went again, I would try the three prime cheeseburgers instead.

Next came the Blue Cheese French Fries. While you can't go wrong with pungent blue cheese, a touch of heat, and fried anything, this dish was less then impressive. While I appreciate their generosity with the cheese, the fries themselves were large and almost mushy. I like thick cut fries as much as the next girl, but they're supposed to have a nice crispy outside to contrast with the fluffy interior. Alas, this dish could have been so much better.

Our final choice was the Chicken Goujonettes, which is basically a fancy name for chicken fingers. Now this is the sort of thing you would expect to find on a $5 menu, and they did it well. The chicken was moist with a nice, crunchy bread crumb coating. It was served with a tangy yet smooth mustard/mayo sauce. Simple, cheap, and delicious, this gets my stamp of approval!

Finally came the sweet stuff, Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake (Full price at $9). This has always been one of my favorite desserts on the planet and it did not disappoint. Luscious fudgy goodness melting out of a moist, cake like exterior is basically my definition of Heaven. The raspberries add a touch of tartness to offset the decadent richness of the cake. Be warned, it takes about twenty minutes to make, but when you're in the company of good friends and anticipating heaven, who could complain about that?

Overall, if you're looking for a fabulous atmosphere with friendly service that won't break the bank, this is definitely one to check out. The three of us were completely stuffed by the end. However, if you're looking for flavor that blows you away, this might not be the place to find it. Save your pennies and mosey on over to the full service dining room instead.

I give this two and a half out of five belt notches.

Morton's Power Hour is 4:30-6:30 and 9-close every day in the bar. You can check out the full Power Hour menu here:.
3400 W. Olive Ave.
Burbank, CA 91505
(This is a nationwide chain, check the website for other locations)

Arnie Morton's The Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Soup Kitchen Wednesday at Campanile - All Bark With Very Little Bite

Campanile is known as an iconic LA institution. In the fickle world of restaurants, it has stood the test of time for the past twenty years, winning numerous awards and nominations including the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award and the James Beard Best California Chef Award. Plus, chef Mark Peel even appeared on Top Chef Masters just last week. So, given all this, I was really excited to try their $22 three course "Soup Kitchen" menu.

The space itself is stunning, exuding the feel of a castle. The soaring ceiling is mostly composed of skylights, filling the restaurant with a bright white light that gradually dimmed into candlelight as the evening wore on. Walking in past a gurgling Mediterranean fountain, I immediately noticed the patterns traced on the stone wall which give the room the look of a Medieval feast hall. I was ready for a meal fit for a king.

As soon as we sat down they brought a bread basket and butter. Hurrah! I wish more places would bring bread immediately, instead of waiting till after you've placed your order. I have a tendency to show up at restaurants starving, so a little bread to munch on while I mull over my evening's meal is a welcome treat. Campanile is partnered with their neighbor, La Brea Bakery, and all their bread comes from there. The multi-grain bread was dense and nutty, but nothing to write home about. Far superior was the airy white bread, with just the right amount of chewiness and a nice crust.

Our waiter, a distinguished older gentleman, made sure to point out the Wednesday Night Special, explaining that they had first started the deal during the Writer's Strike. As soon as the recession became "official," they decided to reintroduce it. It always features the soup of the day, a chicken, fish, or vegetarian entree, and ice cream or sorbet for dessert.

After placing our order, we were pleasantly surprised when Chef Mark Peel himself came out of the kitchen to chat with us. I love when "celebrity chefs" can actually be found in their restaurant instead of just on TV. After speaking with us for a brief spell, he continued to circulate the room, clearly at ease with his guests. We were off to an impressive start.

First came the chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup. The yogurt imbued it with a really nice tang and creaminess while hundreds of tiny slivers of cucumber gave it a great texture, especially when eaten with the smooth richness of the avocado garnish. A perfect dish for all the hot days of summer. If I could change one thing, I probably would have used more avocado for the garnish, both for the texture and also to break up the monochromatic look of the dish.

Next came the Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms and Garbanzo Beans. I opted for pasta since I don't like fish and we're currently on the poultry section of my cooking school, so with all the leftovers I eat a lot of chicken these days. But my dining companions both got the Halibut and assured me it was delicious.

The pasta was good, but not great. It could have used a little more oil as some of it stuck together, and the garbanzo beans were harder then I would have expected, almost like little nuts! However, I do give them credit for being fairly generous with the mushrooms considering their price tag. They were buttery and delicious, thoroughly enjoyable, just like the accompanying slivers of garlic and Parmesan.

We ended with Vanilla Ice Cream. I have to say, this was the most disappointing part of the meal. I understand that this is the "cheap" menu, but they couldn't afford any other flavors? The vanilla itself was very custardy and rich, I would guess it has about five egg yolks in those three little scoops:) Although, for my personal taste, it could have been a little sweeter. The hazelnut biscotti served on the side was buttery with a great crumb and flavor. I only wish they'd giving us a full sized biscotti on such a big plate.

Overall the meal was tasty, but certainly not the rapturous experience I'd come to expect after all those accolades. And while I appreciate the value and the $22 price tag, I'd be happy to see them charge $25 or $30 and spring for a better dessert. I give this three out of five belt notches.

Campanile Soup Kitchen Wednesdays: $22 for three courses.
624 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Campanile on Urbanspoon