Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Farmer's Market Kinda Day

Here in the Blues, there is not a plethora of organic supermarkets, or open-air farmer's markets. DucCat and I have come to depend upon our semi-weekly dose of the Williamsburg Farmer's Market to keep us connected to everything that is vibrant, local and fresh. Perhaps twice a month, we'll sneak up the back roads to Williamsburg, avoiding the constant deadlock on the highway, and spend at least one blissful hour- or, one hundred dollars, whichever happens to come first.

This particular weekend, we dabbled in a bit of multi-coloured heirloom tomato joy, followed by a vibrant array of small, sweet, yellow-and-red watermelons. I picked up some handmade soaps, a constant addiction; DucCat purveyed and selected our root veggies. Then, we came to the end of the line, which was our always pleasant encounter with the folks at Sassy Springs Farms.

Their organic meats and warm ways are what keep us coming back for more, month after month. DucCat decided to stock up on short ribs, stew beef, and flank steak. On a sultry day, this was undoubtedly a cry for Autumn.
We wandered down to Double A Farms, for one of Virginia's most famous exports. Dainty pig figurines dangled off the ears, wrists, neck, and belt of the woman who helped us to 3 pounds of uncured bacon, a pound of unlinked 'breakfast' sausage, and some good, old-fashioned spicy Italian sausage. We exchanged money, and advice on the proper preparation of our newly-acquired goods, and thanked the gods again for providing us with the heavenly pig.
I made a beeline across the walkway for Amy's Organic, and am sorry I didn't get a picture of it. Her handmade signs are as charming as her personality; her baked goods are a sign that Virginia is doing something right. I got a small loaf of her Flaxbread, about 5-inches in size, but weighed down with colon-cleansing, delicious-seedy goodness. DucCat noticed her portions of potent looking pesto- 'much more intense than your average pesto!', she promised, and he purchased two.
As we were walking towards the exit, and to our car, I spied a new stand: Maree's Marvelous Handpicked Blueberries. Like so many other vendors, a pint of free samples lay cracked open, and I tasted- and grabbed another. DucCat had no say as I plunged a berry into his mouth. He chewed seriously for a moment, then smiled. "Get a couple of those!" We did, and by the time we'd dropped our packages off at the car, and walked again past the market, Maree had completely sold through her lot. Previously, I'd never imagined a blueberry to taste quite this good on it's own. They were sensuously sweet, with a lingering blueberry taste that was so real, I'd almost forgotten what they could taste like.

After visiting The Blue Talon Bistro, and spent a day doing the necessary chores, it was time for dinner prep. DucCat took charge of cooking the spicy sausage, adding red onion, garlic, kalamatta olives, and tomatoes. He served his own dish on thin spaghetti; mine, as usual, went on slightly wilted spinach. Summer is fantastic in so many ways, and a quick, yet light, 'Italian' type meal exemplifies some of its best traits.

Dessert, as the day had promised, was a slice of that luscious blueberry pie, topped with a smattering of mascarpone whipped cream. As our Sunday Morning Show on CBS told us the following day, it seemed we were just living 'la dolce vita'. Life is too short for anything else, right?

Recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible

Open-Faced Fresh Blueberry Pie

Basic Flaky Pie Crust for a 9-inch pie
½ large egg white, lightly beaten
1 ¼ pounds blueberries, rinsed and drained
½ liquid cup, plus 2 Tablespoons, divided, of water
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used more, at least a tablespoon)
pinch of salt

Roll out dough and transfer to pie pan, folding the excess under, and crimping the border. Cover loosely, and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, and a maximum of twenty-four.

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees for at least 20 minutes before baking.

Line the pastry with parchment, and fill with dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully lift out the beans with the parchment, then prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Bake 5-10 minutes longer, until the crust is a pale golden. Check after 3 minutes, and prick any bubbles that have formed.
Cool the crust on a rack for 3 minutes, so that it is no longer piping hot, then brush the bottom and sides with the egg white.

Measure out 1 cup of the blueberries, choosing the softest ones. Place in a medium saucepan together with ½ cup of the water. Cover and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of water; set aside.

When the water and blueberries have come to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, or until the blueberries start to burst and the juices begin to thicken. Stirring constantly, add the cornstarch mixture, the sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Simmer for a minute, or until the mixture becomes translucent. Immediately remove from heat, and quickie fold in the remaining 3 cups of blueberries.

Spoon the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving. When set, the berries will remain very juicy, but will not flow out of the crust.

Store at room temperature up to 2 days.

Note: The low amount of sugar in this pie maintains the tart freshness of the berries. Taste the berries before you begin. If they are very tart, increase the sugar by a few tablespoons.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Blue Talon Bistro

(photo from Blue Talon website.)

DucCat and I have been going here since the place has opened. It is modeled upon your everyday friendly, local, Frenchie-food serving bistro, the likes of which this area has never seen. An impressive and daring endeavor, to be certain, and one that has apparently met with mixed success.

Somehow- and I can only assume that this is the Food Gods and Goddesses and Such smiling upon us- we've never had a bad meal here. Sure, the service has been substandard from time to time, or a particular part of the meal wasn't quite up to the level. Yet every time we've walked out through the double doors, it's been with a sense of having experienced yet another groovy dining moment.

I know people who have visited there, and left with a bad experience. So I can only speak for my multiple, wonderful meals.

It was a hot, humid Saturday in Virginia, and DucCat and I have just finished throwing our hard-earned cash at the Williamsburg Farmer's Market. To this day, I'm amazed that we can part with $100 in such a short amount of time. But, the watermelons looked so good...

After all this, my husband was hungry, hot, and tired, and stood patiently waiting for me to come towards the restaurant. "Woman, you come now!" he said. He was only partially kidding.

We'd arrived rather early, and the dining room was (abnormally) shocking empty. We were the only customers in there, aside from an extremely brave couple sitting outside in the heat.

Our waiter promptly placated our ruddy faces with a generous portion of the local historic water, available only in Williamsburg. It's so refreshing to live amongst historical things.

With lighting speed, and our orders placed, the waiter returned with the new vintage of our usual bistro wine, the Lalande Chardonnay. As ever, it remained a classy example of a subtle chard. No oak to kick you in the teeth, in fact, almost a hint of green apple, but richer and a touch more complex. Vin ordinaire, in a refreshingly good way. I'll be drinking this wine for a Lalande time to come.

(It's okay to groan.)

Another notable quality about the Blue Talon are the high, tin-pressed ceilings, adorned in a few places with some lucky playing cards, and the charismatic presence of blue and yellow upon the walls. There are kitchy little roosters that adorn the European-style dining area, which is the only area I've ever eaten in. The back of the restaurant has cloth-covered, traditional tables, and a new, small patio, to boot. I would have taken a picture of this, but between the wine and Julia, became far too distracted.

You see, behind the bar is a television that's always tuned into the cookly side of life. Typically, we see Julia upon our mid-day endeavors, and today was no different. One of her episodes had just finished, and the DVD was paused at the menu. Salmon was next, but per our request, they played the sausage episode, one which I'd never seen before.

In all honesty, I felt just a bit dirty watching Julia load the intestinal casing onto the sausage machine. Luckily, there still wasn't anyone close enough to hear our soft laughter.

Ah, the bistro burger. Very good, sir.
This is, without a doubt, the best burger in the area. The picture doesn't do it any justice, and to be honest, it didn't come out looking as beautiful as normal. The sandwich is a generous beef patty, topped with thick bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and most importantly, an egg. In the picture, you can see where DucCat had just pierced the yolk, letting it's eggy goodness run down the sandwich. I'm not sure what makes egg and hamburger taste so good, but it works in every way. It also comes with a cone of pommes frites, which vary in quality. Today, ,they were excellent, the best that we'd yet had there.

Since the bistro burger is more than one mere woman can eat, I opted for the asparagus salad. It was my first, but not last time, getting this dish. Think perfectly cooked asparagus, lardons, brie-and-baguette crouton, and a poached egg on top of perfectly dressed mixed greens. I couldn't stop commenting on the dressing, which in most places, seems over or under done. This was just right.

Time passed, and as we paid up and walked out, the joint was jivin'. Thank you, Food Gods, for making this place such a consistently fabulous experience for us.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Late Friday Stuff

I may be almost a week behind in posting, but that doesn't mean I've been slacking in the eating-and-drinking department. Since my loving husband is currently out of town, watching skilled motorcycle riders finesse their way around the Virginia International Raceway, I should soon be caught up.

Until then, one more late Friday posting. Recently, I've been visiting a blog by Joe, of Culinary in the Desert. Among the many interesting recipes he's posted, I chose this abnormally quiet evening to make his Banana Walnut Crumb Muffins. They smelled wonderful as they baked, but I became distractd by my fifth two-hour conversation with Dell's outsourced tech department. By the time I'd finished, with promises of an actual person to come out to my house, the tops had burnt ever so slightly, just enough to give an intense caramel profile.

When I removed them and let them sit a painstaking 10 minutes in the tray, whiffs of intense banana and slightly burnt brown sugar kept teasing my nose.

I had to have one for dessert.

I did, and ended up having to share with a little girl who had a very curious nose going during the entire operation. She, too, gave her approval. Thank you very much, Joe!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Impromptu Dinner with Syd

It was a sultry Friday evening, and DucCat and I felt like hitting the town- what little of it there is around here. We made the short trip to Port Warwick, and trapsised by the Tapas Lounge. Some of our favourite people were in there, a wedding party of friends, and their family from Turkey. We made joyous greetings aplenty, and left them to their splendiforous time. It was only a short walk to Syd's, where we planned to have a weekend-welcoming cocktail.

As it turned out, this Friday was slow and languid, reflecting the still-balmy weather. There was enough of a breeze that we could still sit outside at our favourite corner table. We placed our wine order, and Tony was soon opening and pouring a wine of almost inky darkness- a perfectly temperate Rosenblum Petite Syrah Heritage Clones 2003 soon graced our glasses. DucCat and I had encountered Rosenblum Cellars within our first few hours of alighting upon California territory. The staff had been extremely welcoming and friendly, and the wine was a palate of intriguing tastes. What a fantastic memory to recollect as we relaxed into the evening.
This luscious wine was no shy little syrah. Holding a glass up to the fading sky, it remained inky and almost impenetrable in appearance; the nose was lush, warm and exciting, with fruit and fervour. In the mouth, it was fabulous, a gushing river of depth and intensity, lithe and lingering. You can't tell that I liked this or anything, can you? It became the wine-du-jour for the evening.

Since it was a slow evening, our man-in-the-kitchen Syd sent out a little taste of summer. Fat and succulent heirloom tomatoes from his garden, thickly sliced, and stacked with purple basil; garnished by delicate yellow mushrooms that tasted like watermelon; and two fresh jumbo shrimp encased in tempura-style batter. It wasn't long before the juices were running down my fingers with glee.

Syd soon joined us, and before we knew what happened, we'd ordered a meal, and he joined us in tasting the Rosenblum. Alright, then, on to the food.

This was a summery salad with yet another gorgeous tomato, an aged cheddar, sauteed okra, and roasted garlic. Oh, the okra.
I am proud to say that I am no longer an okra virgin. No sliminess. No ickiness. It was fabulous.

We asked then if we could slow down the service, and spent the better part of an hour chatting with Syd, other diners, and random people walking by. Eventually, our entrees arrived, and we tucked back in for round two.

DucCat, my loving carnivore, went with the flatiron steak entree, which hovered on potatoes and a summer squash salad; a portion of sweet summer corn waited patiently in a sheath of butter. Due to the rate at which it disappeared, I'm assuming it was all quite good.

Feeling indeciscive, I selected a duo of small plates, scallops with zucchini, and a fat little crabcake with a mustardy-remoulade. The scallops were pretty good, but the crabcake was outstanding. Between the two of us, there wasn't a morsel of crabby goodness left to take home.

We were stuffed. The hour was getting late. But Syd wasn't done with us just yet. Dessert loomed on the horizon, and who were we to say no? The final plate appeared on our table just as the sun yanked away it's last tendril of light. Upon it lay a new rendition of the summer cake, heavy with fruit and cream. Innocently next to it was a cappuccino-flavoured chocolate mousse tart. I am embarrased to say that we made fair headway into both.

Ah, well. Friday's like this don't come along so often, right?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Syd's Desserts

Cowboy Syd's consistently puts out fantastic desserts. Last week, as DucCat and I were wrapping up lunch, two plates appeared mysteriously on our table. First, a light, summer cake cloaked in berries and syrup:

And secondly, a scoop of the most delectable, full-fat, sinful-for-you raspberry ice cream that I've ever tasted. Admittedly, it was only my second time tasting raspberry ice cream, but it was obviously a superior example:

Thank you, Syd & staff, for making life such a sweet treat!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mark West Pinot Noir 2003

The Mark West is an easy-drinking, versatile wine that can be enjoyed alone or with food, making this a frequent guest upon our wine rack.

The flavours of cherry abound, tempered by aging in oak and soft tannins. There's a complex edge to this fun wine, hints of chocolate, leather and 'umami'. And since it's in the $10 range, inexpensive enough to be considered fantastic 'vin ordinaire'.

The Crab Shack

My husband used to go to the original Crab Shack when he was young. Back then, it was literally a tiny shack built on a fishing pier. They'd purchase freshly caught seafood from the fishermen, and cook it right up. There was even a little 'bar': two coolers filled with iced-down beer sat next to an upright ledge that supported a few bottles of liquor.

The Crab Shack has come a long way from it's humble beginnings. Now, it's a full-sized restaurant that showcases a relaxed atmosphere- think lots of pale wood and servers in tee-shirts and shorts. A full, and usually lively bar, perches on the end, and a river-side covered deck that runs the length of the restaurant rounds it all out.

The Daily Press recently ran an article on the area's best crabcakes. As you can imagine, the response was varied and fiercely opinionated, although Hampton's Surf Rider garnered a fair amount of votes. But with crabs on the brain, and an errand to run on the far side of town, DucCat and I decided to spend an evening on the water at the Crab Shack.

Our enthusiastic young hostess cheerfully seated us out on the deck, per our request. There were several families out there already, enjoying the view and the breeze. Momentarily, our server came for our drink request- buds in a bottle. We also gave her our dinner order, and she whipped away to the next table.

It seemed only minutes later that she was back, slinging our bottles down, and following behind them with our salads. She was gone without a word. DucCat and I exchanged a glance, and dug in.

The salad was a meager and wilted; the vinegar was bargain-bin quality red, very thin and astringent. After a few unsuccessful bites, I began to entertain myself by throwing the scraps down to the ever-hopeful circling ducks just below us.

The server did another fly-by, this time depositing our entrees with clinical efficiency- DucCat actually had to pursue her to request a second beverage. I took the opportunity to snap a photo of his fried flounder dinner, with french fries.

I'd ordered my crab cakes fried, seeing in my mind's eye a chunky cake being pan-fried on a busy gas stove-top. Alas, it seems that 'fried' actually meant, 'coated in a tight batter and thrown into the deep-fat-fryer'.

Overcoming my shock, I picked through the crispy shell, and fished out the contents: The crabcake interior was actually quite good. There was a large portion of crabmeat, moist with a bit of mayo and celery, and touched with a hint of zip. I found the crispy exterior overwhelmed the contents, and began throwing it- and some of my tasty fries- down to the ducks. That was all fun and games until the seagulls started dive-bombing us, trying to edge in on the goods. Meanwhile, DucCat reported that his flounder was just 'okay'. The fries, at least, were plentiful and tasty.

It took us awhile to find the server to request our check. When it came- by which I mean, she zipped by the table, tossing the check down with a muttered thanks- we encountered a bit of sticker shock. Our meal and beers came up to almost $60!! Sucking it up, we pulled out cash, and began to play the waiting-for-our-server game. After five minutes, we asked another waitress if she could find her, and let her know we were ready. After another five minutes, we began deducting a dollar from her tip for every additional minute we sat waiting.

She made it down to a paltry 10%. At least the view was nice on the way out.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

....that's amore!

It all started last year, when DucCat and I saw the tantalizing promo on Food Network for the World Pizza Championships. We spent a weekend watching dough being flipped, folded and twirled majestically in expert hands; each master had their own personal philosophy on ingredients, preparation, etc. We woke up Monday, officially pizza crazy. We had it at least once a week thereafter, sometimes twice, for quite awhile. It was madness, I tell, you, yeasty, tomato-laden madness.

Our recent trip to Crozet Pizza seems to have unintentionally struck a similar chord. On the way home from our wine country trip, we stopped by a branch of Richmond’s own Bottom’s Up Pizza for lunch. It’s a local chain that I’ve heard is quite good, and specializes in a variety of gourmet-type pizzas.

We walked in to a bustling lunch scene- at 2 in the afternoon, no less- and were promptly seated by the hostess. The front of the restaurant had a bar area that was jumping with sports fans, while the adjoining dining room carried on the same color scheme and pseudo-modern design.

We were seated in a separate dining area that was extremely spacious, and had more of a family-type feel. Obviously, this had been a busy day, as the carpet was covered with crumbs, just like the table where our hostess deposited us. No matter, we were tired and hungry travelers in search of good pie.

Looking for some guidance, we immediately saw the beast that Bottom’s Up is famous for; an ultra-thick, ridiculously large, bubbled crust. I can imagine it would be most satisfying as a late-night, post-club nosh.

With a good drive still before us, DucCat and I opted for the personal thin-crusted style. He went with a half meat-lover’s/ half Mexican pizza; I chose the ‘Goat in the Garden’, with added broccoli. Our young server whisked away the menus, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It wasn’t long before he returned with our piping-hot pies. DucCat’s pizza was extremely impressive, and smelled mouth-watering. On all accounts, he gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Being Ms. Picky-Pants, I raised an eyebrow at the singed broccoli, and the abundance of cheeses. The menu had said this was a goat-cheese pizza, but there was a fair amount of mozzarella on it as well. It tasted pretty good, once I removed some of the quickly solidifying cheese-mass. The crust had a faintly greasy aftertaste, which was odd for a pizza with no meat on it. I tried a bite of the meat-lover’s, which was much more cohesive- the greasy taste was still there, but appropriate in that context.

With the casual atmosphere, quick service, and decent pizzas, I’ll return to Bottom’s Up- just not for the Goat in the Mozzarella Garden.


You’d think that would sate us, but no. A ball of Florimonte’s dough in the freezer began screaming my name, and a few days later, sat thawing in the refrigerator.

That’s right- I don’t make my own dough. I used to, before I discovered Mark Florimonte’s wonderful restaurant up in Williamsburg. His New York-style pizza is the best in the area, and his dough is pure, seductive bliss. It’s the easiest dough I’ve ever thrown. In fact, I don’t even really have to throw it, the dough actually shrugs itself into a perfect, nonchalant circle. Groovy, baby.

Since I’ve already talked about that pizza night, we’ll continue on to the weekend. Sunday morning, DucCat and I awoke with thoughts of pizza floating through our heads- but there was no more precious Florimonte’s dough in the freezer. I don’t like using dough made the same day, so it was time for a little outsourcing.

I went to a place called 5-Star Pizza for the balls of dough. Some time ago, I’d purchased some without incident. I strode in, clueless as to what awaited me.

The guy at the cash register looked at me blankly when I asked for some balls of dough. I attempted asking in as many ways as possible. “You know, I’d like just the crust, but before it is topped and baked...”, etc., etc. I was met with a blank stare each time (pizza sauce?, he finally asked), before going back to get the owner.

I ensued in a good 15 minute argument over whether or not he was going to allow me to purchase said dough. He was absolutely scandalized that someone had allowed me to purchase dough here previously. He quizzed me about dates and times, who was working, how much it was.. and what on earth would I do with it? What exactly did I want with unbaked dough? Wasn’t the regular pizza good enough? He finally relented and sold it to me, but with the stern admonition that I was NOT to cross his threshold again and ask for such utter nonsense.

It was no Florimonte’s dough, but it got the job done:

Two night later, DucCat wanted to visit the new sister restaurant of our favourite Italian restaurant. Fresco Trattoria is different from the original in that they also serve pizza. About a month earlier, I’d gone in and ordered a margherita-style pizza, not something that was listed on the menu. The server carefully wrote down my description of the toppings. That very ticket was being shown to me with the arrival of my pizza. It was written exactly as a margherita should be, but the pie in front of me was a different creature entirely.

Something had been lost in translation by the kitchen staff. The pizza was thickly studded with tomatoes, broccoli, onions, mushrooms and kalamatta olives. In short, it was absolutely the perfect pizza for me.

We ordered a salad and some wine, and then got down to business. Our friend Renardo treated us to the Ruffino Reserva Ducale Gold 2001, quite a treat. With the colour of garnets, and nose full of deep raspberry, this is a big, fun, tongue-wrapping wine. Excellent with food, or alone, we enjoyed it both ways.

No matter that we’d just had pizza the night before: I had to see if I could get the same pizza again. As it turned out, this pizza WAS actually a menu item, listed as the ‘Pizza Boscaiola‘. I ordered it in confidence, and was not at all disappointed.

DucCat ordered his new favourite dish at this restaurant, the Pasta ala Buttera. It’s a bowl full of penne, with spicy Italian sausage, peas, and a very light cream sauce. He doled out a single taste for me to try, and I practically swooned. It was extremely flavourful, each ingredient perfectly balanced.

But back to the pizza- it truly doesn’t get much better than this:

When the alarm went off this morning, DucCat hit snooze, and we curled up for 10 more precious minutes of sleep. When it went off again, he hopped out of bed, and I shook the remnants of dreams from head. Then I realized that we had been sitting at Crozet Pizza, waiting patiently for the best pizza in Virginia.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A few good wines

I'd mentioned tasting the Crose 2004 at
King Family, but don't remember if it was mentioned how much DucCat and I really enjoyed this wine. There was nothing complex about this wine, with it's rosy hue and nose full of delicate strawberry. That's precisely what makes it such a great match for the omnipresent humid and muggy days that seem to be making up this summer. Good with cheese? Check. Salads? Sure, why not. Fabulous with grilled chicken? Uh-huh. How about sippin' with a circle of friends? Gotcha covered, honey. Thank goodness we brought home just enough to make it through the rest of the summer. Sometimes, it's just about good juice.

Our friends at the Tapas Lounge introduced us to the Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2004, early one evening. Toasty, ripe, apple-ish goodness, with a touch of oak to keep it interesting. We drank this by itself, an endeavour it seemed particularly well-suited for. Very smooth, with a languid exit in the mouth.

The El Coto Rioja 2001 has become, out of nowhere, my go-to 'food' wine. It's a tempranillo that is filled with soft, red fruits that make Italian-style foods go down with ease. Also the perfect match for pizza night, and as a wine on the more inexpensive side of the radar, I'm more than happy with it.

Last, and quite possibly the least of this batch, comes the Red Bicyclette 2003 Chardonnay. This is no slam on the wine itself, which was well-suited to a leisurely, European-paced lunch of hot panini sandwiches, and salad. The nose is fruity and lively. In the mouth, crisp apples and pears are wrapped up in a toasty blanket that finishes nicely. I picked this up at the grocer when buying the makings for dinner that night, and would do it again in a pinch.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Crozet Pizza- really the world's best?

Finally, it was within our view... the pizza chosen by Fodor's as Best in the U.S.; Fun with the Family in Virginia, Compass American Guides, and Moon Handbooks as Best in Virginia; and, drumroll please: chose by National Geographic Driving Guides as BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD!

The interior of the place reminded me of a brownbar in Amsterdam. There was a lot dark wood and exposed beams, business cards stained by the years pinned to a dark wall . A family sat in the corner at a table laden with pizza, boisterously eating, and and sipping on sodas.

We walked to the back counter, where veggies were being chopped, boxes being folded, and ovens roaring. A tall, lanky young boy cast a glance in our direction, and asked if we had a call-in order. With a shake of the head, we begged a moment to quickly puruse the menu for carry-our. The lackadaisical youth chewed vigorously on his toothpick, staring, until we spoke again. DucCat (as Mr. Ducatti well henceforth be known, per his request), without hesitation, ordered the meat-lovers pizza; I got the veggie, add mushroom, and two house salads. Our server told us we could have a seat, and he'd let us know when it was ready. Throughout our interaction, I couldn't help but be reminded me of the stereotypical French waiter... stand-offish, slightly belligerant, and with a veiled air of studied indifference. It was absolutely hysterical.

We sat down in the smaller, adjoining dining room to wait for our pies, and spent several minutes studying their bulletin board. It was overflowing with pictures of people in Crozet tee-shirts around the world. The most striking example was of an astronaut with a boldly holding a Crozet tee in outer space. Real or Photoshop? In the context of all the worldly photos, it was just the right anecdote.

The pizzas arrived shortly, and we loaded the car up, and went on to Wintergreen. Going up the mountain, the sticky, humid heat finally began to drop away. By the time we reached our condo, it was almost pleasant outside. We unloaded, slipped into something a little more comfortable, and had a cocktail or two on the back porch. The view wasn't quite what I excepted- we were staring at a bunch of trees surrounding the units- but it was quiet and relaxed, birdcalls the only noise worth noting. I soon realized that I'd never before seen a chipmunk, and was shocked at how tiny they are in real life. I guess all those years of Chip n' Dale made me believe they were a bit more like squirrels.

It was almost time for dinner, so we got the pies warming, and plated our salads. There is a reason that I didn't photograph either salad, just like there's a reason that Crozet Pizza isn't world-famous for their salads: THEY SUCK!!! I'm pretty sure that I saw a sign saying the dressings were homemade, but I've never had a homemade dressing that tasted that bad. After one taste, I threw my whole salad away.

Luckily, the pie was worth the wait. The crust wasn't thick or thin, but very nicely in between. In fact, it was a bit like a thin slice of foccaccia, very filling in and of its own right. The veggies that blanketed the top were perfectly cooked; nothing had fallen into a soggy mess, or been turned too crisp. The mushrooms, especially, were some of the best that I have EVER had on a pizza. The cheese, though, is really were a large part of the oomph comes from. They only had one kind of cheese, and it's a pre-shredded mozzarella. Scary words, maybe, but this was no ordinary bag of Kraft's. It was some of the richest mozzarella I've ever had in my life, like it had been made with European-style cream, then left to marinate overnight in a tub of more cream. It was good, but a little went a very long way.

"So what do you think?" asked DucCat, courageously taking on piece number three of the Meat Lover's (note, again, that there is no picture of his pie; this wasn't due to any negative experience, but a lack of subject to photograph by the time I got around to it.) In all honesty, it wasn't the world's BEST pie. Really, what a subjective thing anyway. But it was very, very, very good, and certainly the best that I'd had in quite some time. While I'd love to go back and try some more of their specialty pies, I don't see myself driving the 2 hours expressly for that experience.

DucCat thinks that I'm being snobby and elitist, and rolls his eyes. He thinks there's no satisfying me. I think that it's fun to wonder what lies around the next corner.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Quick Dinner Round-Up

Attempting to record this trip has proven substantially more time-consuming than I anticipated. With our laptop on the fritz, I just don't have the time to hide myself away in an office on the far side of the house for internet connectivity.

So, here we go- a few interesting moments from the past week. To begin, an evening at our favourite Italian-American restaurant, Al Fresco.

Since one of our first dates, it has become customary for us to begin with a bottle of Fosco. The first one was a 2001, and we're now up to the 2003. It's an unassuming, fruity table wine, that I really think in part we love just for the flashy label, and gimmicky wax-sealed cork. At the same time, it's a good enough food wine that we keep coming back for more.

Our favourite gentleman-waiter, Vincenzo, carefully described the irresistible specials. After bringing out the wine, our salads arrived, housed in one of the best dressings I've ever tasted... a translucent, mild, somewhat fruity concoction that one could suck down sans lettuce.

For the entree, Mr. Ducati selected the Veal Roma, a scallopinne draped with thinly sliced Roma tomatoes and mozzarella, accompanied by thin spaghetti. As Vinnie said, 'very good, Sir'.

My instict was almost unerring with Bernadette's Pasta. Substituting broccoli for the pasta, it was almost the perfect dish, brimming with succulent scallops and shrimps in a white wine sauce. The salmon was tasted, and left mostly untouched, but not due to the kitchen. I can't remember the last time salmon has tasted good.

Shortly after we finished our meal, the owner wandered out and waved hello. The penultimate host, he brought a fresh bottle of wine when he sat down to chat. The Au Bon Climat 2003 Santa Maria was lush and gorgeous in comparison to our 'house' Fosco. The taste of bright cherry married with a crispness that lingered on the palate nicely. That, and the conversation, were the perfect end to the meal.


After returning from our wine country holiday, we were in no mood to cook that night. Luckily, we'd stopped by a place called the Blue Ridge Pig, and purchased some ribs to take home for dinner that night.

We put them in to a covered container with a bit of water, and cooked them in a moderate oven until sizzling hot. These seemed to be covered in mustard-based sauce, which was just fine by me. Note the heady salad dotted with fabulous heirloom tomatoes.

Alas, all was not well here. What little smoky flavour touched the ribs was hardcore and unforgiving; although extremely fatty, they miraculously maintained a chewy and tough consistency. The mustard sauce it was slathered in? Tasteless and bland. Not even judicious amounts of garlic Dave's Insanity could save this batch.

My husband ended up eating Stouffer's Mac n' Cheese, and after finishing my salad, I went with a cheese plate. Oh, Blue Ridge Pig... nevermore shall I cross your doors, nor sully my palate with inferior smoked meats.


Since our return from the mountains, I've had an intense craving for pizza, and specifically, pizza made from Florimonte's incomparable dough. Is it a sin to be in love with one man's dough?

It wasn't terribly hard to convince Mr. Ducati that pizza was the way to go, so we threw a couple of pies and went to town. There was still one, precious heirloom tomato leftover from the trip, along with some freshly-made heirloom tomato sauce. Mr. D. left these few remaining items for his wife, and went on to make what I deem the 'Mr. Bill'. Tell me if I'm wrong.

I went with the pizza that had been in my thoughts since the world's so-called 'best pizza': a thin-crusted, lightly cheesed beauty, with a coating of heirloom tomato sauce, thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes, red onions, and a scattering of fresh basil.

It really doesn't get much better than this!

Tomorrow, tales of Crozet Pizza.
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