As you’ve heard me say many times on this blog, ice cream is one of my vices in life. No matter the temperature outside, no matter how full I might be, there is absolutely no way that I would say no to ice cream. I love ice cream. Love it. What’s not to love? And I’ll eat ice cream any time of the day – morning for breakfast, midday for a lunch or a snack, in the evenings as dessert, or in the late evenings as a late night snack. Ice cream is always good, no matter what.
While preparing for our long weekend trip to Denver, I scoured the Internet trying to find some good eats in Denver and one thing I kept coming across was rave reviews of a small, local ice creamery called Little Man Ice Cream. After having read about it again and again, and seen other people comment that it was the best ice cream they’ve ever tried, I knew I had to try it for myself. For months prior to our trip, I kept telling my husband that we had to go to Little Man Ice Cream, absolutely had to go. It wasn’t even a matter of, hey, maybe if we have time we’ll stop by. NO! This was a matter of life-or-death, I absolutely needed to try Little Man Ice Cream. In fact, a few days before our trip, I told my husband that if we only did one thing in Denver, it would be to go to Little Man Ice Cream. Ok, so I’m a little crazy!
Located in the hip and trendy district of the Highlands, which is Northwest of Downtown Denver and across the Platte River, Little Man Ice Cream is located in Highlands Square which is considered one of the new “it” spots in Denver. Little Man is instantly recognizable sitting right at the main intersection of Highlands Square with a giant old-fashioned milk jug as the “building” that houses the ice cream shop. With employees wearing vintage uniforms, Little Man ensures the high quality of their ice cream by hand making its ice cream, sorbet and gelato flavors in small batches with quality, local ingredients. There’s often a long line, day and night, of people waiting to get their hands on Little Man Ice Cream.
Because Little Man makes all of their ice creams in small batches, their multitude of flavors changes on a daily basis, and once one batch of ice cream is gone, it’s gone and replaced by another flavor. On the day we went to Little Man, they offered some interesting and unique flavors I hadn’t seen at other ice cream shops before. These flavors include: chocolate coconut gelato, pineapple sorbet, honey gelato – what a flavor that is, concord grape sorbet, chocolate chip orange gelato and orange sorbet.
There was also butter pecan ice cream, salted caramel peanut butter cup ice cream, chocolate cupcake ice cream, strawberry ice cream, chocolate ice cream, salted Oreo ice cream, root beer ice cream, rum raisin ice cream, and chocolate malt ice cream. In fact, Little Man actually ran out of butter pecan ice cream while we were there and immediately replaced it with fluffer nutter which is ice cream made with a combination of peanut butter and marshmallow crème. In addition to just ice cream scoops, Little Man also serves up malts, shakes, banana splits and fresh, homemade waffle cones. All the ice cream possibilities under one roof, er milk jug.
After a short wait in line, it was finally our time to order. My sister-in-law probably got the pretties combination of flavors! She took a scoop of pineapple sorbet and a scoop of the concord grape sorbet on a cake cone. She loved the concord grape sorbet. Not only was it a pretty pinkish color, it was also delicious. She wasn’t as impressed with the pineapple, but says that that it could have been because the flavor of the delicious concord grape sorbet washed out the flavor of the pineapple sorbet.
I went with a scoop of the chocolate cupcake ice cream and a scoop of the salted Oreo ice cream in a waffle cone. I’ll start with the waffle cone, while it was good, I ran into a problem with it. As it’s homemade, it wasn’t exactly sealed at the bottom of the cone, and had a hole big enough for drips of ice cream to start coming through. I had a few drips onto my clothes and the ground before I realized I was leaking ice cream through the bottom of the waffle cone. A wad of tissue papers couldn’t keep up because I couldn’t eat the ice cream fast enough. Eventually, my waffle cone also suffered some structural integrity issues as part of the cone just collapsed on me. That’s when I had to get a cup and transfer my ice cream into a cup to continue enjoying it. On to the ice cream itself. The chocolate cupcake ice cream was fantastic. I’ve not seen or tasted anything similar to this ice cream. The ice cream base tasted like a cake batter ice cream, but with smooth chocolate layered into the cake batter, and then a generous amount of rainbow sprinkles were mixed into the ice cream. The ice cream was rich, smooth, creamy and full of flavor. I would definitely order the chocolate cupcake ice cream again. The salted Oreo is one of Little Man’s newest ice cream creations. And as my brother-in-law, who ordered the salted caramel peanut butter cup ice cream said, “when they say salted, they mean salted.” I don’t mind salt, but this really was quite salted. I loved the concept of the salted Oreo, the ice cream base itself was fantastic, and the Oreos were plentiful, but the salt was just a bit too much as each bite of ice cream was salted.
My husband also decided to go with a waffle cone and took a scoop of the root beer ice cream and a scoop of the chocolate chip orange gelato. Eventually, my husband also ended up with a bit of dripping out of the bottom of his waffle cone and needed to switch to turning over his waffle cone into a cup and finishing the ice cream that way. My husband wasn’t completely impressed with the chocolate chip orange gelato, not because it wasn’t tasty, it was. But his problem with it was that the orange flavor was very minimal and not very pronounced, so he felt more like he had ordered creamy chocolate chip gelato with a tiny, tiny hint of orange. He would have liked the gelato a lot better with more of an orange accent to it. However, he loved the root beer ice cream. The root beer flavor tasted exactly like a strong root beer, which is what he likes. He said he would order the root beer over and over again.
A few months prior to our trip to Denver, my husband and I sat down at the computer and put together a short list of places we wanted to see, things we wanted to do, and some restaurants that we were interested in. As our trip approached, we started planning in earnest, making final decisions on where we would go and what we would do. Somehow, in the shuffle of all of the planning, this list that we had made months earlier escaped our minds. When it came time to plan meals, which is what I was really concerned about, I started scouring the internet to try and find places that I thought that all four of us might like to try while in Denver. I came across a lot of recommendations for a particular restaurant serving Asian cuisine that I thought might be good since I knew my husband and I liked Asian food, but also knew that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law were fans of as well. After looking at the restaurant’s menu online, I told my husband that no matter what, I wanted to try this place out. He agreed, but said that we should play it by ear as to when we’d go there depending upon what was going on during the course of a given day. The funny thing is, a few days before we flew out to Denver, I found the list that my husband and I worked on, and decided to look through it. What do you know, the same Asian restaurant was on the list that we made months beforehand, I just hadn’t remembered. This must mean I really wanted to try it if I came up with the idea to try out this restaurant on two separate occasions.
ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro is a highly acclaimed restaurant located in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) section of Denver. Situated at the end of the very popular 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, the restaurant is an eclectic mix of modern industrial restaurant with tranquil, hip interior decorations and a lovely outdoor patio. The restaurant is the brain child of a husband and wife team located in Denver, along with the wife’s longtime friend and fellow chef whom she met 13 years ago while they were both doing fellowships at the Culinary Institute of America. The chef, who has worked under the guidance of some of the world’s top chefs at some of the world’s most renowned restaurant, including a period of time in which he traveled extensively through Southeast Asia before returning to New York City to ply his trade, had always talked about creating a restaurant with the wife and her new husband. So, the chef decided to relocate to Denver, and the three of them came up with the idea to create a restaurant called “ChoLon” which translates to “big market” and pays homage to the largest Chinese spice market found in Saigon. This family style restaurant has a menu that “features inspired interpretations of traditional Asian dishes” which encourages guests to come together and share.
The restaurant’s menu appears to be limited in-depth, but believe me, not in flavor. They may only make a few items, but they do these few items extremely well. The menu is designed to be family style with a number of small bites, or appetizers, all of which come in servings of 4, perfect for four people, a number of salads and soups, a selection of larger plates, more like entrees, and then a collection of dishes from the wok, which serve more like side dishes to meals. Our waiter had indicated to us that for a party of 4, 7-9 dishes shared between us would be appropriate with some small bites, some plates and some from the wok dishes mixed together. After looking through the menu, we were able to agree on a number of plates, and after placing our order, the food began to roll in. Each dish seemingly more impressive than the previous dish.
But before dinner could begin, we were presented with what the waiter called ChoLon’s version of the traditional chips and dip you’d find at some other restaurants. In this case, the chip was a large rice paper cracker with black sesame seeds, and the dip was a spicy tomato chili chutney. The presentation of the large rice paper cracker was dramatic and certainly meant to be shared through the table. The spicy tomato chili chutney was delicious with a hint of spice, but not too overpowering. Within a few minutes, all four of us had devoured the entire rice paper cracker.
First up, of the dishes we ordered, was the soup dumplings. Our waiter had mentioned that this dish was one of the restaurants specialty dishes. And it is the dish that everyone raves about. So, of course, we had to try them for ourselves. Essentially, you have sweet onions and Gruyère cheese stuffed into a traditional Chinese dumpling that is then steamed in a traditional Chinese bamboo bowl and served hot at the table. Translation, you actually have one bite of French onion soup wrapped in a doughy dumpling all to be eaten in one bite! Huh, you may wonder? But trust me, this was probably one of the most creative and amazing dishes I’ve ever tried. How someone even comes up with a dish such as this blows my mind. The bamboo bowl comes to table, steaming hot directly from the steamer. You’re supposed to wait a couple of minutes for it to cool down or else the soup inside will burn your tongue. Then you’re to take the entire dumpling and eat it in one bite. When you pick up the dumpling, you can feel that it’s liquidy inside as the dumpling kind of rolls around and doesn’t have much shape. When you pop it in your mouth, you can taste the doughy consistency of the steamed bun. Then you take a bite and it’s literally a flavor explosion in your mouth! The sweet and salty French onion soup broth explodes in your mouth in one delicious, concentrated bite. You then get the creamy, melt-in-your mouth sweet onions, and the stringy, nutty Gruyère cheese, all the while getting a hint of the sweet steamed bun which I guess substitutes for the crouton you usually get with French onion soup. I still don’t understand how they put something liquid like soup inside of a dumpling, wrap it up and steam it. But it doesn’t matter how they do it, it just matters that they did it and it was AMAZING! The best one bite I’ve ever had. It was so good, that later on in the meal when we were told that the restaurant had run out of an entrée that we had decided to order, instead of ordering a replacement entrée, we all agreed that we’d go for another order of the soup dumplings just so we could have more of them!
The next dish to come to the table was the kaya toast. I had read that this was probably more of a dessert item than an appetizer, but that it was well worth ordering. Essentially, it’s crunchy toast with a coconut jam spread over the toast. You are given a bowl of something they call an “egg cloud” with which to dunk your coconut jam toast. The toast on its own with just the coconut jam was really tasty. Yes, kind of sweet, and probably more of a dessert item, but good nonetheless. The “egg cloud” was more like an egg custard that hadn’t quite set and then was topped with perhaps sea salt? It was hard to tell. But it was also good. Dunk in the toast into the egg mixture and it was a mix of creamy and sweet flavors. It was almost like having a donut to dunk into a cup of coffee, it just makes for a great combination.
Shortly after the kaya toast came the pork and vegetable potstickers with ginger mustard dipping sauce. The potstickers were perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful on the inside, and the perfect combination of crispy and well cooked on the outside. The ginger mustard dipping sauce was the star of the dish. We all agreed that the ginger mustard had the right mix of sweet, and spice. It was initially sweet when you first tasted it, and you could definitely taste the ginger in it, but then it left a little hint of spicy heat as an aftertaste which was nice. The sweetness of the dipping sauce paired well with the sweetness of the port and vegetables inside the potsticker. I think we all agreed that we could have handled another order of these beautiful 2-bite potstickers. However, we never got a chance to get another order as we still had a ton of dishes coming.
Pork belly buns were up next. The pork belly pieces were perfectly cooked with a sesame-honey glaze which was perfectly sweet enough to balance the pickled vegetables (cabbage, red cabbage, red onions and carrots) served with the dish. Along side was a bamboo bowl that came with steamed buns. You’re supposed to take the buns, and open them up like a sandwich, load it up with the pork belly, the pickled vegetables and then some of the hoisin-sriracha sauce also served on the plate. Put it all together and you have pork belly buns that were a little sweet, a little sour, and a little spicy – a perfect trifecta of flavors and textures with the pork belly, the crunchy pickled vegetables and the soft steamed buns. Wow! Each dish that came to our table was just so full of flavor and was so creative and unique.
Our “from the wok” dish of brussel sprouts came up next. I was initially interested in ordering the brussel sprouts because I had read good things about them, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else would want it. But, when we went through the menu, our waiter had mentioned that the brussel sprouts were a house specialty, so I think that convinced everyone that we should give it a try. According to the menu, the brussel sprouts came with ground pork and mint. But let me tell you, the menu description didn’t do the dish justice whatsoever. Besides the soup dumplings, the brussel sprouts may have been the most surprising and eye-opening of dishes. I think that when you think of brussel sprouts, you assume that they are either steamed or roasted, but in this case, they were fried! It was incredible. The texture of the crispy and fried brussel sprouts was amazing and it really brought out some sweetness in the brussel sprouts. Not only was the dish served with ground pork, and mint, but a whole other world of flavor and ingredients that had to include puffed crispy rice, sweet chili sauce, and fish sauce, and perhaps Thai basil and some sort of citrus either in the form of lime juice or perhaps kaffir leaves among other items. You could certainly taste the mint, but it wasn’t strong and overpowering, but rather a background note of flavor. All of the ingredients in the dish melded well together and combined to create a perfect combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. This dish, to me, epitomized ChoLon’s concept of featuring “inspired interpretations of traditional Asian dishes.” Using a familiar North American green of brussel sprouts and treating it with Asian flavors to create something so unique and different and incredibly flavorful. I know my sister-in-law said this was her most favorite dish of the night.
The entrée plate we ordered arrived next. We all agreed to try the diver scallops with spring vegetable “pad Thai” and cashew gremolata. The dish, again, came to the table looking like a work of art. Though, we were confused about the fact that everything else we had ordered had come out perfectly for a party of 4 to split – 4 soup dumplings, 4 pork belly buns, 4 potstickers, etc. – but the diver scallops came out to the table with 5 diver scallops! How would we possible split a diver scallop 4 ways? And it became a problem because we all loved the scallops! The dish was incredibly flavorful and rich and vibrant. The diver scallops were cooked perfectly and tasted heavenly. The spring vegetables were flavorful and delicious with a nice mix of bean sprouts, and shredded carrots and diced bell peppers. And the cashew gremolata was amazing as well as it provided nice texture and crunch to the dish and the sweetness complimented the flavor of the scallops perfectly. It was a beautifully prepared dish, and even more delicious to eat.
The mark of a terrific restaurant is when they do their best to make up for a mistake that wasn’t even their mistaken to begin with. When we ordered the diver scallops, our party had also agreed to the seared salmon entrée. Our waiter had told us that he would quickly put the order in as they only had enough salmon for one order, so he told us to cross our fingers that our order would get in there. A few minutes later, he came back to tell us that even though their system said they had enough salmon for one order, they didn’t actually have the salmon in the kitchen so therefore, no salmon for us. At the time, we weren’t that bummed, we just went ahead and ordered another serving of the soup dumplings! However, as our meal came out to our table, the manager actually brought out to our table the seared salmon dish. He explained that he knew we had ordered it and he was sorry that the restaurant couldn’t provide it to us as they didn’t have a whole order of salmon left, but they did have a couple of salmon pieces and they wanted us to have a little taste of their salmon dish. The dish was given to us compliments of the kitchen staff with apologies that they couldn’t give us a whole dish, but they hoped we enjoyed the little sample we received. How terrific is that? The restaurant cared enough to try to make a wrong a right, when the wrong wasn’t their fault in the first place. The seared salmon came over miso-buttered corn and shitake vinaigrette. The corn was actually a mixture of corn and diced green beans, which all of the veggie lovers in the group loved. The salmon was flavorful and perfectly seared on one side to a nice crisp golden brown, with the other side being warmed through. The flavors of the dish were delicious and inviting.
Finally, our last plate arrived at the table. I don’t know who thought 7 dishes, plus a dish that was compliments of the house wasn’t enough?!?! We ordered one more dish from the wok, it was hakka-style eggplant stir-fry, with cauliflower, and sugar snap peas. This was served over a bed of white rice. Luckily, our waiter told us that as we were intending to order a side of white rice to go with our food. Unfortunately, we were all so taken with the food that I forget to snap a photo of it before we pretty much devoured the whole thing! The Japanese eggplant was delicious and the whole dish had some wonderful flavor to it – a little sweet, a little sour, and a little spicy with some chili. There was also shredded carrots and sweet corn mixed into the veggies, and the stir-fried cauliflower was wonderful. The dish was robust, and healthy and so full of flavor. On the one hand, we were so full from this dinner, but on the other hand, it was so good that we could have kept going!
However, you know me. Even if I was full to bursting, I couldn’t pass up dessert! After looking over the menu, we settled on a couple of desserts. My husband went with the coconut chiboust cake, with mango and passion fruit sorbet. We had no idea what chiboust was, but all my husband saw was coconut cake and that was enough for him. What came to the table wasn’t really a coconut cake in the sense of the word cake, it was more like a coconut panna cotta. It turns out that chiboust cream is a type of pastry cream that is lightened with stiffly beaten egg whites and is commonly used a millefeuille cream. That explains the lightness and airiness in the texture of this “cake.” However, one bite into it and you could taste the sweet and light coconut. The dessert was fantastic. The texture of the coconut cake was rich and smooth, and it was perfectly balanced with the mango sauce spread out over the plate with the tang of mango. Then the cool and creamy passion fruit sorbet which actually sat on top of small diced pieces of passion fruit. This was such a light and airy dessert with lots of wow factor, and bold flavors and tastes.
My brother-in-law and I decided to go with the spiced doughnuts with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and condensed milk. This has to be one of the more popular desserts in the restaurant as I saw it brought out to numerous tables. Four beautiful and delicious doughnuts, more like balls of deep-fried dough, are rolled in a spice mixture similar to cinnamon sugar, and then piled onto a plate with some sort of condensed milk/coffee sauce and then a canal of Vietnamese coffee ice cream was placed on the other end of the plate. The Vietnamese coffee ice cream was outstanding! Such terrific and strong coffee flavor in the homemade ice cream. And the ice cream and the spiced doughnuts paired perfectly together. It was like having breakfast for dinner!
Overall, this might have been one of the most fun, and unique dining experiences I’ve ever had. Fun in the sense that we had really good company, I loved being able to spend time with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was just open and vibrant and fun. Also, fun in the sense that all of the dishes were playful and interactive and hands-on, which made it that much more enjoyable. And unique in the quality, creativity and level of food that was served. Each dish was immaculately conceived, created and presented. All of the dishes were full of bold, wonderful flavor and everything was fantastic. It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Denver, because I might find myself eating at ChoLon all of the time. Literally! This is a place not to be missed if you’re ever in Denver!
Last year, my husband and I were banding about a couple of potential locations for a Christmas trip. My husband’s first thought was to go to Denver since neither he nor I had ever been before. But, seeing as it was Christmas, and winter in Denver, all I could see was the potential of getting caught in a blizzard and then not being able to make it home to get to work. After all, we don’t have unlimited vacation time. So, we settled on Phoenix instead. But, Denver was always in the back of our minds. After having discussed our desire to spend a long weekend in Denver, my sister-in-law and her husband said they would be interested in meeting us in Denver since it’s pretty much halfway between where we live and where they live, so we said we’d go for it. And we settled on Memorial Day weekend. A nice long weekend getaway to a beautiful city.
On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I left Los Angeles on our way to Denver. My sister-in-law and her husband left Minneapolis on their way to Denver. By the time we all arrived, and made the trip from the middle of nowhere, also known as Denver International Airport, to our hotel in the heart of Downtown Denver, it was late Friday night. Here we were after having a long day of work, and then the mad rush to the airport on a holiday weekend, and then the travel on top of it, we were all kind of tired and just looking for something to eat. We decided that the easiest thing to do would be to eat at the restaurant that was right next to the hotel, in fact, so close that one of the entrances to the restaurant was from the hotel lobby. The Yard House Restaurant is chain brewpub/restaurant that is prevalent in Southern California, but that we apparently had to travel to Denver to try for the first time. But it seemed like a great atmosphere, with a big menu, a good crowd, and a terrific location. The ad in front of the restaurant advertised that there were more than 100+ beers on tap, I think that was enough for the majority of our group to be happy with. What I discovered later was that the idea for the Yard House actually came from a man who moved from Denver to Southern California and had the idea to open a restaurant with some partners that specialized in having one of the largest selections of draft beers and diverse American fare food. This is exactly what we found inside the restaurant. A terrific, 3-full page list of craft beers on draught and a large menu selection of all types of American food. This seemed like it would be a good ending to the beginning of a great mini-vacation.
For the first time since we’ve been together, I actually saw my husband order a beer at a restaurant! I’m not a drinker, so I don’t partake in any alcohol at all (blasphemy, I know!), but that’s not my husband. But though I always tease him to order something when we go out, he never does. But, I think bolstered by the fact that there were over 100+ choices of draft beer, and the fact that my sister-in-law and her husband would also be drinking, he decided to try something! Luckily, the type of beer he was looking from a brewery located in Bend, OR, was actually on tap, so I guess the timing was just right!
The four of us decided to order a couple of different appetizers to split. On the menu was blue crab cakes, which my husband and I just couldn’t resist. Served with mango papaya chutney, passion fruit beurre blanc and tomato oil, the 2 blue crab cakes came out looking golden and crispy on the outside. The inside was filled with blue crab meat with a sauté of peppers. The mango papaya chutney and the passion fruit beurre blanc really added sweetness to the flavor of the crab cake. Personally, I prefer the taste of Dungeness crab over blue crab as I feel like Dungeness has more flavor to it, so having added fruit flavored sweetness to the blue crab cake was the perfect complement.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law really wanted the fried calamari served with spicy tomato and tartar sauces. I was excited because I’m a big fan of fried calamari, but my husband is not. So, to have the chance to have some fried calamari excited me! It’s the little things in life! The fried calamari was so yummy. The batter was nice and light and fried to a perfect crispy, golden brown. The spicy tomato sauce with the fried calamari was really good and the spice helped to add delicious flavor to the calamari. My husband actually tried a piece of the fried calamari and admitted that it tasted way better than he remembered calamari tasting.
For my entrée, I think that my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I knew I was starving, having really not eaten all day, and I wanted something that would fill me up, so I chose a full order of the St. Louis style ribs. I figured that as hungry as I was, I could easily finish a full rack of ribs. Little did I know how big a full rack of ribs was. I literally thought that the full rack would be half the size it was when it came to the table. I knew then there was no way I was going to finish! Oops. The ribs were served with creamed corn and bbq pinto beans. The bbq sauce was a little spicy for my taste, as advertised, but not anything I couldn’t handle. What I loved about the ribs was that there was soooo much meat on them. Most of the time when you order ribs, it’s a lot of bones and very little meat. Not in this case, I felt like each rib had enough meat it could have come off of 3 bones instead of one. The creamed corn was so yummy. I love creamed corn! As I thought, I couldn’t finish the ribs, but luckily for me, my brother-in-law had a hankering for ribs, and was still hungry after his meal, so he actually finished off my ribs for me!
My husband opted to go for miso glazed sea bass served with bok choy, carrots and edamame over jasmine rice. He actually had intended to order something else, and when I saw the sea bass on the menu I was surprised that he wasn’t ordering the sea bass. But I guess I must have seen the sea bass on the menu before he did, because as soon as he saw it, he wanted to have it! He can’t resist sea bass. It looked so delicious when it was brought to the table. I tried some of it and was kind of sorry I hadn’t ordered it. The sea bass was so flaky and light and perfectly cooked. The bok choy was super flavorful and tender. The dish was amazing and my husband loved it.
Coincidentally, during the day, my husband had a craving for butterscotch pudding, and they just happened to have it on the menu at the Yard House. In fact, our waiter told us that they had the world’s best salted caramel butterscotch pudding. Of course, my husband couldn’t pass it up. The butterscotch pudding is came out in a glass cup with the pudding on the bottom, the salted caramel on top and then the dessert was topped with homemade whipped cream, cookie crumbles and maldon sea salt. My husband said that the dessert was really good.
After looking through the menu, and debating whether or not I should get anything, I settled on the mini crème brulee. Boy, am I glad I did. The menu describes it as vanilla bean custard and chocolate topped with caramelized bananas. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when it came to the table. But when it arrived looking like it did in the picture, I knew I was going to love it. After all, I’m a banana freak. And caramelized bananas, yum! There were 2 slices of caramelized bananas on the side of the plate, and then a ring of caramelized bananas over the ramekin. This had to be good. One dip of the spoon into the ramekin and I got a little bit of caramelized banana, a spoonful of vanilla bean crème brulee and then a little bit of chocolate. Oh, it was good alright. The chocolate was a semi solid disc of semi sweet chocolate right at the bottom of the ramekin with the custard right over the top of it. Put the vanilla and the chocolate and the bananas together and you have a trifecta of flavors!
My brother-in-law decided he too wanted dessert, and after looking through the menu, decided upon the mini lemon soufflé. I had seen that earlier on the menu and had thought it looked delicious, so I was glad he ordered it. The soufflé had fresh raspberries and homemade whipped cream on top. And it looked like a work of art to boot. And judging by the fact that the soufflé was gone within seconds, I’m going to say that my brother-in-law liked the dessert.
Yard House was a great choice for late night eats when we were all tired but in need of sustenance. It helped that the restaurant was located next to the hotel, so that meant we didn’t really have to wander out anywhere. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was relaxed and fun, all centered around a central bar with hundreds of beers on tap, and surrounded by flat screen TV’s with plenty of sporting events playing. We had a nice low-key dinner, plenty of good food and drinks, and were able to relax. That’s really all we were looking for. The Yard House hit the spot that night.
Recently, my husband and I took a long weekend trip to Denver to meet up with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law for a mini vacation. My husband helped to put the trip together for the four of us by researching and then booking a hotel for us, among other things. We ended up staying at the Sheraton in Downtown Denver, which was a perfectly situated hotel and terrific jumping off point for all of the things we wanted to do in and around Denver. The hotel itself couldn’t have been situated in any better location being right at one end of the pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall, only a block or so from Civic Center Plaza where the State Capitol, City Hall, the US Mint, Federal Courthouse, Federal Reserve Bank, Colorado Convention Center and many other sites are located. The hotel itself is extremely large, having over 1,200 rooms and being Colorado’s largest hotel, and catering specifically to the convention crowd attending conventions both inside the hotels many large conference rooms as well as large conventions at the Colorado Convention Center. The Sheraton is comprised of 2 separate and distinct buildings, the main Plaza Building where the main lobby, restaurants and coffee houses are located, and then across the street, there is the large Tower Building built in the 1950s by the acclaimed modern architect I.M. Pei.
Within the Tower Building of the hotel, which is 22 stories tall, the top 2 floors are appointed as the Club Floors which allow guests access to the private Club Lounge where guests can enjoy morning breakfast, afternoon social hour, relax and watch T.V. or use the business facilities to get work done. We were lucky enough to get a room on the Club Floor and take advantage of the wonderful accessories the Club Lounge has to offer. Each day, the Club Lounge serves breakfast to guests with access to the lounge from 6 am – 9 am. And in the evenings, there is a Social Hour from 5 pm – 7 pm where snacks and hors d’ouevres are served to guests.
When my husband and I arrived into Denver from Los Angeles, and then made our way to the hotel, it was just before 6 pm. After an early morning of work, and then rushing to get to the airport for our flight, we both ended up not having had anything to eat all day and were starving. As we arrived right in the middle of Social Hour, we just had to go and take advantage of what the Club Lounge had to offer, so that we could grab enough snacks so that we wouldn’t starve to death, while not overeating and ruining a late night dinner with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who would be arriving a little later that night.
The Club Lounge had a nice selection of small finger foods that we could grab to either eat and relax in the lounge or take back to our room, that was just enough to tide us over. There was a small spread of various crackers and breads, along with small canapés such as stuffed grape leaves.
Also, there were 2 hot food selections. The first was a delicious Chinese and vegetable fried wonton. Yum, I loved these. A few of these babies and I was good to go.
And there was also pigs in a blanket, little mini cocktail sausages wrapped in a baked bread bun with some sort of mustard sauce inside.
Pair all of this with the unlimited cold bottled water and soda on hand for guests, and that’s really all you need as a snack in the early evenings before dining out. One of the things I loved about the Club Lounge was that the water and soda was stocked 24/7, so you could grab some drinks for the road, or you could come back to the hotel after a hot day out and about in Denver and cool off with some drinks.
There was also a fully loaded espresso machine that would fresh grind coffee beans to make lattes, cappuccinos and espressos. How nice is that?
Of course, every morning, the breakfast spread was quite popular in the Club Lounge. There was a nice selection of cut, fresh fruit which usually included watermelon, pineapple, honeydew and cantaloupe. Honestly, I would have been happy with just this!
There was also fresh orange and grapefruit juices, along with the espresso machine and fresh brewed pots of coffee.
If something heartier for breakfast is what you are after, there was a selection of mini pastries including croissants and some sort of chocolate Danish and of course bagels and cream cheese!
And there was a toasting station with the usual bread assortment of white and wheat bread, as well as English muffins, and the accompaniments of various flavors of jams and jellies, honey and butter. There was also one hot dish each morning that changed from day-to-day. The first day we were there, there was some sort of sausage biscuit sandwich, and on another day there was pecan French toast with maple syrup.
Of course, if you’re more of a cereal person, there was a selection of dry cereals as well as hot oatmeal with brown sugar and other fixings. And there was also baskets of fruit (oranges, apples and bananas) for the on-the-go types that didn’t want to stick around the lounge.
The Club Lounge wasn’t fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly a nice little perk. In the mornings, it was just enough to get you through the morning with a little bit of fresh fruit and a light breakfast. And in the afternoons, the finger foods were a nice afternoon treat. And of course, the unlimited cold drinks, especially since it was hot in Denver while we were there, was much appreciated. I’ll take these little perks when I’m traveling.
Recently, my husband told me that there was a special credit card promotion at a nearby restaurant that I might be interested in going to. He urged me to load the special promotion to my credit card in the event that we did end up going to this restaurant. He was also given the same promotion on this credit card, so he loaded it too. Next thing I know, he tells me that the restaurant, located in Beverly Hills, has available reservations the following night, in case I’m interested. I think he tricked me into looking into the restaurant, and them waylaid me by telling me we could get reservations the next night! After looking over the menu, and reading about the restaurant, I said yes, let’s go for it. But, who am I kidding? This restaurant is a steakhouse, and I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl. How could I say no? And with the great credit card deal we were getting, it was even more of a no-brainer.
The restaurant is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Originally opened by restauranteurs Paul Fleming and Bill Allen, the first Fleming’s location was opened in Newport Beach, California in 1998. Today, Fleming’s has over 60 locations nationwide, include the location in Beverly Hills, recently opened last December, that my husband and I dined at. Fleming’s is known for aged prime cuts of beef and fresh seafood served in a contemporary and lively atmosphere. Fleming’s has quite the happy hour menu with stellar prices in a nice bar setting.
The steakhouse is also well known for it’s Fleming’s 100, which is 100 of the most popular and premium wines served by the glass with the wine list presented to the guests on a tablet at the table for you to choose from. That was something new I’d never seen before! Unfortunately though, I don’t drink, so I didn’t have use for the wine list and therefore didn’t have an opportunity to play on the tablet. However, where we were seated in the restaurant was right next to the where the wine bottles at the restauant are stored. It’s a very large, all-glass enclosed, 2 story space, that holds hundreds of bottles of wine. It served as a nice centerpiece and talking point in the restaurant.
While my husband and I were perusing through the menu, our waiter brought the traditional “bread and butter” tray to our table, except it wasn’t traditional “butter” that we were being served. With Fleming’s homemade sourdough bread, we were served 2 small ramekins, one filled with a chardonnay infused whipped feta cheese mixture, and the second one with a whipped sundried tomato spread. How interesting, who would have ever thought that feta whipped and smeared on sourdough bread would be good? But, as skeptical as I was, I must admit that it was quite good. Perhaps it was the infusion of the chardonnay that helped to dampen the saltiness of the feta cheese. Whatever it was, it was a nice tangy and flavorful spread that went on nice and smooth over the hot homemade sourdough bread. And, though I’m not a huge fan of sundried tomatoes, I do admit too that the whiped sundried tomato spread actually was very nice and tangy on the the sourdough and created a nice balance to the feta mixture. This was promising to be a great start to a wonderful meal.
For his appetizer, my husband couldn’t pass up ordeirng the baked brie. It is a plate of brie baked inside of pastry dough, served with candied walnuts and sliced Gala apples along with a small mixed greens salad. My husband loved it, because when you cut into the perfectly baked flaky pastry dough, the melted brie cheese just began to ooze out of the pastry dough. Pair the nutty flavor of the brie with the candied walnuts or the slices of tangy and sweet Gala apple, and it was a match made in heaven. It’s not often that you see baked brie as an appetizer on a menu, and my husband who is a huge lover of brie, thought that this was such a tasty and fun dish and light enough to start off what would be a heavy meal.
As soon as I saw tenderloin carpaccio on the menu, I knew that would be my appetizer. I just can’t pass up carpaccio. I told you, I love my meat. The carpaccio was served with caper creole mustard sauce, thinly julienne sweet basil, and a side of toasted cheese baguettes. Oh my goodness were they yummy! That cheesy toasted bread brought everything together. But the carpaccio was amazing. I don’t know how they can slice the meat that thin. It was so paper thin that it basically stuck to the plate. The caper creole sauce was nice and tangy, and briny from the capers. The addition of actual capers also provided a nice saltiness to the dish, and the sweet basil was the perfect topping. I could just have carpaccio all day long. Some of the best carpaccio I’ve had yet!
For the soup and salad course, my husband couldn’t resist the French onion soup. My husband is not a big soup lover, except French onion soup. That’s one of those things that he just can’t resist. I think it has to do with the globs of cheese that are melted on top of a cup of French onion soup. At Fleming’s you get a pretty generous portion, with a very hearty crusty slice of bread that floats on top of the soup, and then grated Gruyere and parmesan cheeses which is then melted under a broiler. When you sink your spoon into the soup and get some of the crusty bread, some of the salty broth and the creamy onions with the stringy cheese, how can you go wrong?
I chose to go for what I thought was a tradtional Caesar salad. But, I guess I should have known it wasn’t traditional when the menu states that it is a “modern Caesar” salad. And modern indeed it was. There was an added twist that I’d never seen before with a Caesar salad. Based on the menu, it describes this modern Caesar as hearts of romaine, parmesan, fried capers and prosciutto chips. And that’s exactly what came out to the table along with a thinly sliced piece of bread that was baked crisp and golden to substitute for croutons. The fried capers is something I hadn’t really seen before, but quite liked. The capers provided a bit of a salty and briny flavor, but it wasn’t overly strong since it had been fried, and because they were fried, they provided a nice crunch. The briny flavor of the capers also paired well with the anchovies that were presumably used in the Caesar salad dressing. The prosciutto chips are what was new and refreshing. They were an eye catcher on the salad, provided a nice crunch and burst of flavor, but yet were light enough not to make this a very heavy salad. Definitely, a modern salad.
For our steak entrees, my husband and I chose 2 different cuts of steak. I opted to go for the special of the evening, which was a petite filet mignon with the bone-in. I never knew you could get a filet with the bone-in, and since the bone is where most of the flavor comes from, I figured this had to be good. Of course, when at a steakhouse, you have to order the steak medium rare. When my steak arrived at the table, it looked more like a large filet mignon than a petite one, but I guess that has to do with the bone, because the bone was massive! Since the filet was still attached to the bone, there was a bit of fat attached, which you wouldn’t normally see. But the filet was definitely much more flavorful and juicy. And it was ultra, ultra tender. Pretty much fork tender.
My husband opted for the ever popular prime bone-in ribeye. It was a huge chunk of meat, one that only a guy could probably finish. One slice of the ribeye, and one bite into his mouth and my husband looked at me with eyes wide and exclaimed “wow!” He said that was literally the best piece of meat he’d ever eaten. Without any steak sauce or bernaise or chimichurri or anything else you could put on the steak, it was, in his words, hands down the most flavorful piece of meat. He was in love with Flemings. And bear in mind, my husband isn’t even that big of a steak lover, and yet, he absolutely loved, and subsequently devoured this ribeye.
With our meals, we ordered a couple of side dishes. We each got to choose one, so I opted for the creamed sweet corn. I love creamed corn! There was an option for sauteed or creamed sweet corn, when I asked the waiter, he recommended going with the creamed corn, so that’s what I did. This isn’t just plain old creamed corn, this was creamed corn with a bit of a bite to it. Instead of just being sweet corn cooked in some heavy cream and served at the table, the creamed corn was topped with some cheese (which included Gruyere) and melted under the salamander, thereby creating a nice crusty cheese layer on top which had a wonderful nutty accent to it that went went with the earthy corn. Then the whole concoction was topped with three slices of deep-fried jalapeno! Woo wee. Oh, so, I’m not a jalapeno eater, so I brushed those off to the side. But one bite of the creamed corn and you know there’s something to it. The creamed corn was cooked with cayenne and other spices to give it a bit of a kick. Not so much a full frontal spice assault, but more of a subtle kick of spice that left a bit of a bite at the end. It was delicious though! I could have eaten a bowl of the creamed corn.
My husband chose the chipotle cheddar mac & cheese. I told you, my husband loves his cheese. One bite into the classic elbow macaroni and cheese mixture topped with a crunchy bread crumb mixture and you could taste the chipotle! Again, not too strong to overpower the taste buds, but strong enough that you know it’s there. It gave the mac and cheese great flavor and a bit of a punch. Of course, not a surprise, my husband loved it. But then again, what’s not to love about mac and cheese?
By this time, we were both full, and were debating back and forth as to whether or not we should have dessert. But, in the end, we were getting a screaming good deal on the meal, and we didn’t know if we’d ever be back to Fleming’s again, so we figured we could find just a little bit of room for dessert. A sweet treat to end the evening. Walnut turtle pie was my husband’s dessert choice. Made with homemade caramel, walnuts and chocolate baked in a chocolate pie crust, it had enough non-chocolate elements to it that my husband was willing to give it a try. I loved the touch with the large chocolate shavings covering the pie when it was brought to the table. look at the size of those whole walnuts they put in there! My husband said the pie was delicious and he ended up finishing the whole thing. A bit of a surprise since not only isn’t he the biggest chocolate fan in the world, he’s also not a fan of pie crust. But he managed to finish off the chocolate pie crust.
I am the chocolate lover in the family, and I couldn’t resist a good old chocolate dessert – the chocolate lava cake. This is a rich chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center of Belgian chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream and chopped pistachios and a side of chantilly cream. As it’s a molten lava cake, it needs to be made-to-order and takes about 25-minutes to make. So, halfway through our meal, our waiter had actually mentioned this to us and said that if we were interested in ordering it, we should go ahead and do it so we wouldn’t have to wait so long after our meal was over for the dessert to be ready. Boy was it rich chocolate cake with very rich Belgian chocolate in the center. Slicing open this bad boy, the melted Belgian chocolate flowed right out of the cake just like lava. It was rich, and lucsious. Almost too rich, which is where the side of chantilly cream really comes in to play as a dollop of the cream right over the cake helped to balance out the sweetness of the chcoolate cake. But I was so stuffed halfway through this dessert, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. That is, until my husband stepped in to help me finish my dessert. Boy, he must have had a chocolate craving that night.
In my book, you can never go wrong with steak and potatoes. And when the quality of the steak is as terrific as it is at a place like Fleming’s, it’s almost a match made in heaven. My husband was over the moon about how wonderful his meal, especially his steak was. We walked out of the restaurant already starting to plan our next trip back there to have some more delicious food. I think that’s got to be one of the best compliments you can give a restaurant when you’ve just walked out of their establishment and you already want to plan your next trip back there! Everything from the level of service we received, to the amazing menu, to the dishes that were classic steakhouse dishes with a bit of a modern flair, to the taste and quality of the food all combined to make this a memorable dining experience.
My husband and I recently stayed at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California for a little “staycation” trip to celebrate, among other things, my husband’s birthday. During our trip there, we had the chance to dine at the amazing Stonehill Tavern restaurant for dinner. The morning we checked out of the hotel, we decided to join in their Sunday brunch at the Motif Restaurant. The restaurant is a European-style cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with both indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating is on the terrace that looks out over the grounds of the resort including the main lawn, the pool, and then beyond that the 18-hole championship golf course, and beyond that Monarch Beach itself and the Pacific Ocean. Sunday brunch at Motif is one of the most popular events for weekend guests at the hotel. So, why not live like kings while we’re staying at the resort?
On the Sunday we were at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, it wasn’t a Sunday Brunch like the Motif’s traditional Sunday Brunch, it was Mother’s Day, so the restaurant jazzed up their standard fare for a special Mother’s Day Sunday Brunch. Having spoken to one of the staff at the restaurant, he indicated to me that an average Sunday Brunch garners about 150-200 guests between the hours of 11:30 am – 2:00 pm. For the Mother’s Day Sunday Brunch, Motif extended it’s hours from 10 am – 4 pm and were expecting to serving just about 1,000 guests! Wow! And I can attest to the fact that it was a very busy event.
With our noontime reservations, even though the restaurant was busy, we were seated right away. The first thing I noticed at Motif was the service! Not once did our drink glasses get more than half empty that they were refilled. Every time we got up to get more food, our napkins were re-folded for us. Each time we were done with our plates, they were cleared away immediately! What attention to detail. We were lucky to get a seat indoors, right in the heart of the action, closest to all of the food stations and right next to the doors that lead out onto the patio and even more food stations! There was every kind of luxurious food you can think of being served for brunch!
One of my favorite stations was the outdoor Asian station! There were chef’s there cooking all types of Asian food right before your very eyes. There was an ever popular Indian section where they grilled naan bread, made curries, and had samosas. My favorite was the Japanese tempura shrimp and vegetables. You can never go wrong with tempura, right? Batter and deep fry vegetables, a great way to get your daily serving of greens! There was also a Chinese section where there was a variety of dim sum items inside of bamboo baskets, including shrimp dumplings, shu mai and bbq pork buns! And at the very end of the station was a Mongolian stir fry station where they made noodles to order just for you with all sorts of vegetables!
As this was a brunch, meaning breakfast and lunch, there were a bunch of breakfast menu items. My husband went for the eggs benedict, which he loves, straight away! He even had seconds because they were so good! There was, of course, bacon and sausage as well. And there was an egg station making made-to-order omelets with all sorts of vegetables and protein items to choose from. And there was a pastry station with all sorts of croissants and danishes and Belgian waffles with toppings to select from. Since it was noontime, I opted to go more towards lunch-type items rather than breakfast-y items.
However, there was one breakfast station I couldn’t pass up, the pancakes and French toast station. Fresh made pancakes and French toast made the way you order with all sorts of fresh fruit, dried fruit, sweets, and candy options to use at toppings! Oreos, sliced almonds, shredded coconut, fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and bananas, Reese’s peanut butter cups, chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles, it was a like an ice cream bar, but for pancakes and French toast. And of course, there was fresh whipped cream, and chocolate whipped cream, and even strawberry whipped cream, and powered sugar, and maple syrup and all the yummy things you probably shouldn’t be eating! But, as one of the chef’s working at Motif told me, it’s Mother’s Day, there’s no such thing as calories on Mother’s Day! Oh, if only that was true!
If you were looking for something lighter, there was a nice selection of salads. There was the standard make-your-own salad with various greens, toppings, and dressings. There were a few prepared salads, and then there were these cute little individual salads, including one that my husband really liked that was topped with a nice piece of seared ahi tuna!
Next to the salad selection was the cheese and charcuterie section. Brie and blue cheese, and salami and prosciutto, really, is there much better than a charcuterie and cheese selection with a varied selection of breads and crackers? Yum!
Like any good buffet, you’ve got to have a carving station. Not breakfast food, but since this is brunch, and it can include lunch food, then you’ve got to have your standard carving station. At the Motif, the carving station included a whole salmon and a beautifully cooked prime rib with all of the fixings! I didn’t get a shot of any of it, but there was also chafing dishes with plenty of amazing food as well – including one I really liked, sweet basil mashed potatoes! But there was also various fish dishes, and prime steak dishes, and vegetarian dishes to choose from.
One of the most popular sections of the brunch was the seafood section! Because it’s brunch, you’ve got to have your selection of breakfast seafood. What kind of seafood can you have for breakfast?? What about smoked salmon and gravlax? And if you’re not sure what the difference between smoked salmon and gravlax is, like me who had to look it up, smoked salmon is just that, it’s salmon that’s been smoked, whereas gravlax is raw salmon that is cured in salt, sugar and dill. Learn something new everyday! With the smoked salmon and the gravlax come the usual fixings, the diced/minced onion, the dill sauce and the capers among others. On top of the smoked salmon and gravlax, there was also really delicious seared ahi tuna!
There was also a selection of ahi tuna tartar and poke. Poke being something that I don’t generally see at a buffet. There’s also a great selection of fresh ceviches as well.
One of the most popular stations was the fresh seafood – the Dungeness crab claws, the chilled jumbo shrimp and the raw oysters. Of course served with the proper sauce accompaniments. I definitely took advantage of the crab claws! Yum! Generally most places serve lots of crab legs, where its hard to get the crab meat out versus having crab claws where all the meat can be found. The oysters seemed to be very popular with most of the guests.
Sushi and sashimi were both very popular at the brunch as well. There was everything from California rolls to tuna rolls along with the traditional fixings of wasabi, soy sauce and picked ginger.
Of course, you can’t have a buffet without dessert. There was a whole section of the Motif Restaurant devoted just to dessert, and decadent ones too! Sweet mini crème brulees, mini pistachio eclairs, earl gray panna cotta and champagne gelee just to mention a few items. They even had made-to-order crepes with fresh berries, nutella, bananas, and other toppings along with fresh whipped cream. So delicious.
At the end of the meal, each woman in the dining room received a long stem rose in honor of Mother’s Day along with a goody bag filled with a few more sweet treats for the road. What a terrific and decadent brunch. Probably the most decadent brunch I’ve ever been too. Unfortunately, I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I didn’t have the chance to try all the things I wanted to try. But, oh man, was it good!
When I last left you, I had gone on and on and on about all of the chef’s compliments dishes that my husband and I had been presented with at Stonehill Tavern after having ordered our dinner. The restaurant is situated on the grounds of the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, where my husband and I had gone for a quick weekend getaway trip. The trip was almost more of a “staycation” than a vacation because Dana Point is only about 20 miles south of our home in Orange County, California. The resort is amazing, situated on the crescent-shaped Monarch Beach and boasting a championship 18-hole golf course along with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, which can also be seen from the outdoor terrace at the Stonehill Tavern, an incredible Michael Mina restaurant.
After having plowed our way through an incredible bread and butter starter, as well as 3 different chef’s compliments dishes of ahi tuna tartare, blinis with creme fraiche and trout roe, and comte gougeres, we finally received the first of the dishes that we actually ordered.
My starter dish was a salad called the “OC” salad. Composed of poached Maine lobster, farmers market citrus, avocado and brioche this was a scrumptious and luxurious salad. I had expected a small salad with just a few pieces of lobster meat. What I received blew my mind away. I am assuming that this is referred to as an “OC” salad representing the Orange County lifestyle of ultimate luxury with a health conscious society, so you have the ultra glam Maine lobster and the creamy avocado which is a famous California addition to salads, and combining it with farmers market citrus and turning it all into a healthy salad. Instead of just a few scant pieces of lobster meat here and there, I felt like I pretty much got a whole lobster’s worth of meat on my plate, nice chunky pieces of delectable lobster meat perfectly poached. Atop the lobster meat were 2 wedges of buttery lettuce topped by a tangy and sweet avocado vinaigrette. The salad also consisted of small wedges of terrific citrus of what I believe was pink grapefruit and pomelos with a perfect amount of tang and tart which combined nicely with the sweet lobster meat and the creamy avocado vinaigrette. Also, the addition of housemade brioche croutons which provided for a great buttery flavor and a crunch to compliment the buttery lettuce and a few slivers of shaved radish which provided a peppery bite and terrific crunch to pair with the tender lobster, and the cool crispiness of a few slices of cucumber. And the final addition was sliced creamy, nutty, California avocado which just brought the whole salad together. This was one of the most unique, luxurious, and delicious salads that I have ever eaten. The ingredients were bold, but the flavors were really subtle and they combined together so well to create something velvety smooth.
As part of my husband’s chef’s tasting menu, he was presented with the first starter course which was Araucana hen egg, served with dandelion, woodlands ham, pumpernickel and black truffle. The egg was presented at the table atop a sea salt platter to provide a beautiful resting platter for the delicate egg shell. The top third of the egg shell had been removed, and the creamy egg and mushroom mixture had been poured back into the egg and topped with the pumpernickel and woodlands ham along with dandelion flowers. Inside the egg was the hen egg mixture and sitting at the bottom was slivers of black truffle. The mixture was liquidy and creamy, rather than having a cooked soft-boiled egg-type mixture inside. My husband was blown away by the combination of the creamy egg and black truffle combined with the crunchy pumpernickel and salty woodlands ham. My husband said it was amazing and he’d never experienced anything like it. He loved the flavors and the textures of the dish and only wished that there was more of it, especially of the woodlands ham which combined so well with the Araucana hen egg mixture.
We couldn’t believe it, but yet another chef’s compliment dish came to our table about this time. What we received was black brioche with truffled egg salad. These were cute little 1-bite egg salad sandwiches, for lack of a better word. The black brioche was a very thin and more like a cracker than bricohe bread. There were 2 slices of black brioche with truffled egg salad sandwiched in between. My husband loved this chef’s compliment dish because he loves truffles. It tasted more like truffle oil on little black crackers than an egg salad sandwich. The truffled egg salad was very luxurious and the black brioche provided for a nice crunch to this little dish. The dish looks more like baby Oreos than it does a truffled egg salad sandwich!
Next up on my husband’s chef’s tasting menu was the roasted sablefish. When this came to the table, it looked like a work of art! It was like a mini-forest on his plate. The sablefish is served with steamed Manila clams, baby bok choy, broad beans, mushrooms and a broth of dashi. The broth was fantastic, I stole the baby bok choy from my husband’s dish and tasted the perfect cooked bok choy with the dashi broth which was perfect for the oily sablefish. My husband said this was his first experience with clams, and he enjoyed the Manila clams and the mixture of the mushrooms and broad beans with the broth. Finally, my husband said that the roasted sablefish was delicious and perfectly flaky and a terrific light second course to the chef’s tasting menu.
So, we thought for sure that we were done with the chef’s compliment dishes, but to our surprise, we weren’t! Can you believe that? Crazy! Although, this time, it was just a small roll. However, it wasn’t just a bread roll, it was described to us as seaweed bread, served with butter topped with some fleur de sel. This was a very unusual roll, it was obviously yeasty and bready, but it didn’t exactly have the yeasty flavor, which must have come from the seaweed. There were small green bits of seaweed throughout the roll, and it was quite surprising how much milder the taste of the roll was because of the seaweed. Very interesting idea.
The next dish to arrive was an appetizer that my husband ordered separate from the chef’s tasting menu. He really wanted to give it a try, and decided to order it. Our waitress had recommended that the first 2 courses of the chef’s tasting menu be served first and then the appetizer as the first 2 courses are more on the lighter side and the appetizer is a bit heavier. What my husband ordered as his appetizer was the handmade pea raviolo. The raviolo is basically a sheet of pasta rolled out, filled with fresh California peas, folded over and then cooked al dente. The raviolo is served alongside morel mushrooms, Serrano ham, quail egg and coconut-spring garlic. The Serrano ham was cooked crispy, just like bacon, but not as salty and was a nice garnish on the dish. The coconut-spring garlic was turned into a foam which dressed the dish and proved to be a flavorful compliment to the raviolo. The morels were super flavorful and my husband loved it. And the raviolo itself was amazing. My husband said that he was really glad he ordered it in addition to his meal because he really liked the flavor of the perfectly cooked raviolo and the fresh peas inside. It was one of his favorite dishes of the entire evening. I hate peas, but he asked me to try a pea because he thought I might change my mind about fresh peas, and I do have to admit that I didn’t hate the fresh peas as opposed to the frozen mushy peas you usually get. With the peas being fresh, they had a bit of a crunch to them, like they were a bit under-ripe and firm.
The chef’s tasting menu continued with my husband’s favorite dish of the evening, the Barbary duck. He liked it so much he was still talking about it the next day. The duck was served with Balinese peppercorn, kohlrabi, Medjool dates, and hibiscus. The dish was brought to the table, again looking like a work of art, and then the duck sauce was poured over the duck tableside. On the dish was also a small square of what was sort of jelly/jam-like flavored like star anise and covered with a gold leaf. One bite into the duck, and combined with all of the various flavors on the dish and my husband was in love. He absolutely thought that the flavors paired well together, the duck was perfectly cooked, and whatever was in that jam/jelly thing really made the dish come together as one cohesive plate. It already seemed like so much food had come to the table, and yet we weren’t done yet. My husband still had 2 more dishes as part of chef’s tasting menu and I still had my entrée and a dessert plate to come!
My husband’s last course before his dessert was the Wagyu beef served up with garlic roots, field asparagus, comte cloud and pistachios. Again, this dish looked more like art than food. The white comte cloud filled the dish like nothing I’d seen or tasted before. The dish came with a couple of medallions of perfectly cooked Wagyu beef. Combine the beef with the comte cheese cloud and the dish was heavenly. The asparagus was flavorful and perfectly cooked and the garlic root provided for even more flavor to the dish. My husband loved all of the dishes of his tasting menu to this point, but still found himself thinking back to his Barbary duck course.
For my entrée, I ordered the butcher’s double cut of Imperial Wagyu beef cooked medium rare and served alongside pureed potato. On top of the strip of Wagyu, was a compound butter made of organic leeks and beef marrow, which added a wonderful richness and flavor to the meat. Also served with the dish was beef jus to use as steak sauce as needed. The Wagyu was incredibly flavorful, perhaps the most flavorful steak I’ve ever eaten. The compound butter of the leeks and bone marrow just added a richness and depth of flavor that I’ve never had before. The steak was just out of this world. The potato puree was the perfect pairing with this dish to cut through the richness of the bone marrow compound butter on this excellent piece of Wagyu beef.
After all that food, it was finally time for dessert. For my husband, his dessert was already included in his chef’s tasting menu. What he got was something called tempura gianduja with marshmallow fondue, Thai basil and kumquat ice cream. Talk about something whose name doesn’t give away what the dessert might be, plus a bunch of ingredients which on their own sounds interesting, but together sounds kind of weird and different! Unbeknownst to my husband and I at the time, gianduja is a sweet Italian chocolate which contains 30% hazelnut paste invented in Turin, Italy at the time of Napoleon. So, this dessert was really centered around a tempura-battered and fried ball of chocolate. This dessert looked so cute and whimsical when it was brought to the table. The tempura’d gianduja was dusted in a bit of powered sugar and placed next to a cloud of marshmallow fluff surrounded by cookie crumbs. On either side was a Thai basil mousse and a canal of kumquat ice cream. The Thai basil mousse was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it, and while you’d think that a basil mousse wouldn’t fit in with the dessert, it actually worked. The mousse did have a distinct basil aroma and flavor and was easily identifiable as basil, but also noticeably as Thai basil as opposed to sweet Italian basil. The stronger Thai basil flavor worked better in this form as a mousse because Thai basil also has hints of mint and cinnamon which work in a dessert setting. My husband loved the whimsy and creativity of the dessert and thought it was fantastic. He loved the different textures from the tempura chocolate to the marshmallow fluff, to the mousse and the ice cream.
For me, my dessert was one that was recommended by our waitress, the chocolate toffee bar. I thought that this would literally turn out as a homemade candy bar, but that’s not what it was at all. It was kind of like a deconstructed candy bar that was kind of pieced back together. And each layer of flavor of the candy bar was very pronounced from the peanut, to the toffee, to the caramel. The dish that came out to the table looked almost like a thin slice of chocolate cake covered in glistening chocolate sauce and topped with all sorts of whimsical designs, what it actually was inside was the candy bar put together in layers and covered in chocolate and topped by squiggles of chocolate, caramel and toffee. The white powder atop the candy bar and on the dish looked like it was confectioner’s sugar, but in fact was powered peanut. That is a true work of molecular gastronomy and the new age of cooking in action. The powder did in fact taste just like peanuts but in silky powder form, and that kind of brought the whole dessert together. On the side was a canal of homemade salted caramel ice cream which paired well with the toffee and chocolate flavors of the candy bar. This was probably one of the most whimsical desserts I’ve ever had. But what I loved was that the whimsy never once took away from the flavor of the dessert, it only added to it.
As if we hadn’t an amazing amount of delicious food, or food in general, we received one last chef’s compliment dish, or rather, compliments of the pastry chef, it was earl grey miniature ice cream cones topped with some sprinkles. These were the most adorable ice cream cones ever! Handmade, tiny waffle cones filled with the most amazing earl grey ice cream. One tiny taste of the ice cream revealed a very aromatic and decadent earl grey ice cream. The ice cream was completely infused with the essence of earl grey. But the taste of the ice cream wasn’t completely overpowering. As a 2-3 bite treat, this was perfect. And I am not even a tea drinker. This was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
And finally, as a parting gift that is given to all guests at the restaurant, we were given a little container with filled with Stonehill Tavern’s very own rosemary gray salt which they infuse themselves. This is the same rosemary gray salt that went into the ricotta and honey mixture that was given to us with the grilled semolina bread at the beginning of the meal. It’s just a little gift of something different and magical that we can take away from the restaurant and experiment with in our own home kitchens. So nice!
What an amazing dinner experience! As we left the Stonehill Tavern that night, my husband said to me that this was the best dining experience that he’d ever had. We’ve been to fancy places, and hole-in-the-wall places that all served incredible food, but this dining experience – from the food, to the preparation, to the presentation, to the service – was hands down his favorite. Even days later, we find ourselves still talking about our dinner experience at Stonehill Tavern. Without any hesitation we would definitely go back there again for a special meal!