The Sardine Room, Plymouth, Michigan

The Sardine Room, Plymouth, Michigan

I celebrated another birthday yesterday. I won’t tell you which one… which means I’m definitely getting older. Over the weekend my husband, Josh took me to The Whitney, a gorgeous restored mansion-turned-restaurant, in Detroit and The Common Grill in Chelsea for two delicious dinners. To keep the ‘The… [Restaurant Name]” theme going, for my actually birthday dinner yesterday I thought it would be fun to try The Sardine Room in Plymouth, which I hadn’t been to yet.

They don’t normally take reservations for small parties early in the evenings, but when Josh called on Saturday they were kind enough to accommodate us with a 6:15 Monday reservation. It was lively when we walked in, but not completely full. It’s long and narrow with sleek high-top tables backlit by a contemporary lighted wall. We were lucky enough to be seated in a booth in the back that had a view of the kitchen.

The Sardine room focuses mainly on small plate style dishes with a few snack items and larger entrees and also some soups and salads on the menu. We went with the intention of sharing several dishes so we narrowed down our choices and decided on this selection: fried green tomatoes, a cheese board, pan seared sea scallops (for Josh), and fish tacos (for me). We also chose a larger fried chicken dinner to split that was on special. It came with a choice of two sides so we went with the mac and cheese with button mushrooms and grilled corn on the cob.

Cheese Board at The Sardine Room, Plymouth, MI

The cheese board came out first and included a cheddar with Cajun spices (my favorite), a double cream cheese and a humbolt fog goat cheese with a layer of ash, all accompanied by truffle honey a few baguettes slices and something called pear mostarda. The honey was fabulous drizzled on all the cheeses. I had never considered doing that before, but definitely will going forward! The pear mostrada was a sweet fruity condiment with a hint of mustard seed; also very good. I would have loved a few more slices of bread, but I was happy enough eating the remaining cheese straight from the board with my fork and a little honey on top.

Fried Green Tomatoes - The Sardine Room, Plymouth, MI

Next came the fried green tomatoes dusted in cornmeal and topped with a smoked corn relish, chile remoulade, and scallions. They were tasty, but we vacationed in Charleston, SC a few weeks ago, so we were a bit spoiled by the amazing Southern version we had down there and this didn’t quite stack up for me.

Josh loved the pan seared scallops  with pork belly confit, house bbq, hollandaise, pickled onion.  I’ll have to take him at his word since I’m very allergic. It’s one of his favorite foods so he has high standards, which these apparently met.

Grilled Fish Tacos - The Sardine Room, Plymouth, MI

My fish tacos were made with grilled red snapper with thyme scented cabbage, corn salsa, jalapeno slaw, tequila lime crème and served in soft corn tortillas. The tacos were tied with the cheese board as my favorite dish of the night. It was my first time eating snapper, which I thought was deliciously moist and tender. The slaw and lime crème gave a nice bright note of freshness.

Fried Chicken Dinner - The Sardine Room, Plymouth, MI

Our last savory item of the night was the fried chicken dinner special. This was probably my least favorite part of the meal, although Josh really enjoyed it. I thought the skin was crisped nicely, but lacked seasoning. The mac and cheese was on the liquid side, almost like processed cheese, and I prefer a firmer style, although the breadcrumbs were good. The grilled corn on the cob was nicely seasoned, simple, but tasty.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcake - The Sardine Room, Plymouth, MI

Even with all that food I couldn’t pass up dessert on my birthday so I had the strawberry rhubarb shortcake. It took a little while to come out, but was worth the wait in my opinion. I loved that they used a pâte à choux style dough instead of the traditional biscuit or pound cake. It was light and airy with a nice buttery flavor that complimented the perfectly sweetened pieces of fruit.

They also have extensive cocktail, beer and wine lists. I was considering something called the hemingway – el dorado 3 year white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, luxardo maraschino – but decided to keep it simple and stick with non-alcoholic iced tea instead.

Our server was great too. Very friendly, he made a point to ask if we had been there before and if we enjoyed our visit enough to return again, which we told him we definitely did.

Traverse City, Michigan – A Foodie Delight!

Traverse City, Michigan – A Foodie Delight!

My husband, Josh, and I went to Traverse City, Michigan in late June to enjoy a few relaxing days and eat some fabulous food. We succeeded in doing both. In fact, given the amazing weather we had while we were there, the beautiful scenery, food and siren song of the bay, it was rather challenging to convince ourselves to come back home on the last day. I think our bosses should consider themselves lucky that we didn’t call in to quit and tell them we were buying a cottage on the water up north!

Before I dive into the food portion, take a look at some of the gorgeous morning views of Traverse Bay and sunsets over the water from our great hotel room at The Cherry Tree Inn.

Traverse City Sunset

For this trip we decided to plan ahead and make dinner reservations for the nights were there instead of taking our chances with long waits. Friday night was Mission Table on the Leelanau Peninsula, Saturday was The Cook’s House and Sunday was Amical.

Mission Table

Mission Table had great food and excellent service. Our waiter was very attentive, knowledgeable on the food and wine menus and very friendly. The menu is sectioned into four courses which are based on increasing portion sizes. We decided to order a couple of smaller dishes to share and each get our own larger entree course.

Mission Table is part of Bowers Inn Estate vineyards so they make their own wine on the premises. I had a glass of the Peninsula White and, although not generally a wine drinker, really enjoyed it. It was light, crisp and slight fruity. Josh opted for an amber ale also brewed on the property, which he liked.

We started with a salad with fresh red and yellow cherry tomatoes, a creamy white cheese (I can’t recall the type), and microgreens. I found certain bites to be a bit on the salty side, but I loved the tomatoes and cheese. Josh, not a lettuce fan, ate some of the tomatoes and cheese and liked it as well. The colors really popped on the plate!

Mission Table - Summer Salad

Next, we had a pork belly appetizer, which of course I forgot to take a photo of because I was so excited to try it. It included, pickled mustard seed, goat cheese, figs and wheat berries. I loved the crunch the wheat berries added to the dish – and shockingly, so did the non-adventurous husband of mine. The pork belly was rich and tasty, with the sweet figs and tangy goat cheese as great compliments.

The main entree I chose was the Walleye, in part because it’s a well known Michigan white fish, I’ve even caught one in the past when I went fishing! This was served in ramp sauce with baby carrots. I really liked the oniony flavor of the ramp sauce and the tenderness of the fish. The carrots were nice and sweet, but still slightly crisp.

We passed on dessert that night because unfortunately nothing on the menu quite grabbed us. Maybe next time, but I definitely would come back for another meal.

The Cook’s House

I was searching local articles and blogs for Traverse City before our trip because you can sometimes find the best insider tips that way. Did you know that Mario Batali has a vacation home in that area? I stumbled across one of his favorite TC restaurants, The Cook’s House,  in a blog article. How can you go wrong with a restaurant that’s backed by a Food Network star?

I was really exited about our visit to The Cook’s House and it did not disappoint. It’s situated in what truly appears to be someone’s home and the tables, only about 10, in what would be their living room. I didn’t realize how small the restaurant was at the time I made the reservation, but I’m really glad I had booked a table in advance!

One of the only slight dings I have against this place is that one of the front staff is a bit on the bristly side. We walked in and she immediately said, ‘What’s the Name?’. A, ‘Hello, how are are you?’ or ‘Welcome’ would have been nice when we were about to drop the amount of money this dinner cost. She also scoffed a bit when we asked for recommendations on the wine menu as we were new to wine drinking. Aside from her the rest of the staff was impeccable, extremely professional and personable.

We were seated at a table that was right next to a bookshelf lined with old tattered cookbooks and food resources. I loved the inviting feeling of being able to pick up a recipe book and start paging through it while we waited. We had a clear view of the chef himself preparing the food toward the back of the room and separated by a counter and deli case showcasing fresh ingredients. My favorite part was the Sponge Bog pail sitting on top of the case amongst the fresh spices – how cheeky and non-pretentious!

I started with a gorgeous strawberry and mixed green salad with sprouts and a balsamic dressing. The lettuce was some of the freshest I ‘ve ever had, I believe they have their own garden out back. The strawberries were perfectly sweet and juicy and the garlic sprouts added a great texture and flavor.

Strawberry and Sprouts Salad - The Cook's House, Traverse City, MI

Josh and I shared a Smoked Rabbit Barley Risotto that was absolutely divine. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better risotto. It was rich, complex and almost buttery. The seasoning was absolutely perfect.

Smoked Rabbit Risotto - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

I went for Pork Belly the second time in two days when I chose it as my entree at The Cook’s House. I wondered if it would be too much meat for me, since I normally eat mostly vegetarian or vegan the rest of the time. After one bite, my concerns disappeared, it was delicious! It was crusted in a mix of sweet spices and filled with a rhubarb puree. I usually don’t care for anise because of it’s licorice flavor, but the other spices and the richness of the meat made me enjoy the spice in this particular environment. The tartness of the rhubarb puree was a perfect foil to the sweet spice crust and richness of the pork belly.

Pork Belly - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

After three great dishes, I couldn’t leave without trying dessert – that would be a crime! I had the Honey Cake with Vanilla Mousse. The cake was rich as sweet, but again, the only other ding I’ll give the restaurant is that the luscious light fluffy mousse texture I was expecting was spoiled because they set it right on top of the still very warm cake and it melted by the time it came to my table. It was still tasty, but I was missing that lightness I had expected instead of a sauce.

Honey Cake with Vanilla Mousse - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

Truly, despite the first front staff contact and the melted mousse, this was still one of the top five meals I’ve ever had. The chef even came out at the end and made sure everything had been to our liking (I confess I couldn’t voice my disappointment about the dessert at the time). I loved the intimate and unique atmosphere of this place. We had a total of three staff attending to our table throughout the night. One gentleman even plucked a crumb, (a crumb, people!) off the tablecloth in front of me as though that was an absolutely unacceptable mess!

Mario did not steer us wrong, and although we did not have a sighting of him that night as I had hoped, it was still a great experience and we’ll be back for sure.

Amical

Our last dinner in Traverse City was downtown at Amical. It sits right in the middle of town on Front Street near the canal. I was glad we had made reservations for here as well because even on a Sunday night at 7pm they were packed. We were seated as soon as we arrived at a great table in back near the window. Our server greeted us promptly and was another great server with personality.

We stated with a fruit and cheese plate to share. I can’t remember the specific selection of cheeses that night, but almost all were very good. I’m not fan of strong blue cheese fan so the one on our plate when fairly uneaten, but the Granny Smith apple slices and walnut bread that accompanied the rest were devoured.

Cheese Plate - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

I had fish again for my main dish and it was good, but not exceptional.  It was roasted salmon with fermented limes and a spicy sauce over broccolini. I didn’t find the fish to be particularly spicy or flavorful, but it was cooked well. I did take a bite of the fermented lime on top, but found it to be very overwhelming. The side of broccolini was well seasoned and tasty though.

Salmon Entree - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

When we reviewed their dessert menu I told the waitress how unfair it was that they had so many of my favorite sweets in one place. How was I to choose? She finally helped me narrow it down to the espresso pots de creme and I was very happy with my choice. How can you go wrong with coffee in dessert? This was served in a cute little latte cup and filled with a decadent, espresso-flavored custard and topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings. I finished every last bit!

Espresso Pots De Creme - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

So, if you’re looking for a wonderful beachfront town, full of incredible eats and sweet little shops look no further than Michigan’s Traverse City. Sleeping Bear Dunes is only 20 minutes away and was voted one of the country’s ‘Most Beautiful Places‘ by Good Morning America last year.

 

Austin Food Adventures

Austin Food Adventures

My husband, Josh and I took a vacation to Austin, Texas at the end of March. In addition to hearing what a great town for music and art Austin is I was, as usual, most excited about the food possibilities! We had lots of good eats while we were down South, from the ever-talked-about food truck experience (we have a few in Ann Arbor now, too!), to tasty BBQ and some higher-end cuisine.

We had a few hit-and-miss experiences so I’ll highlight my favorites, in no particular order:

Gourdough’s

A raved about doughnut trailer just west of hip and artsy South Congress (SoCo) area. I read about this place when doing some pre-vacation foodie research and it was also recommended by boss’s Austin-local cousin.

The folks in this trailer make doughnuts with crazy, nostalgic, childhood-dream toppings. It’s basically a doughnut sundae topped with anything you can come up with, although they already have 23 pre-determined concoctions for the indecisive folks.

These confections are easily split between two people, and thankfully Josh and I chose wisely and did just that. We picked the Funky Money which is a freshly fried doughnut topped with grilled bananas, gobs of cream cheese icing and brown sugar. It was one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, but be warned that it’s extremely rich and not for the faint of heart!

Frank

Whether you’re a traditionalist or a sophisticated connoisseur when it comes to hot dogs and brats you’ll find an amazing selection of top-quality items to please at Frank in Austin.

We hit this place three times while we were in town for the week, it was that good! Plus, the atmosphere is cool and the staff are friendly. It felt like a neighborhood place for both townies and out-of-towners.

The first visit I had a brat on special that had a blackberry gastrique, goat cheese and crispy sage. I had them switch out the venison brat for their Jackalope which is a blend of antelope, rabbit and pork sausage. It was served on a fresh artisan bun and was amazing. The flavors really popped and the bright flavors of the berries, creaminess of the cheese and crisp herby bite of the sage made for great textural contrast and a rich taste.

My husband went the more traditional hot dog route and loved his too. We also split an order of their waffle fries with special house-bbq sauce on the side – delish! The only small disappointment that day was the chocolate chip and bacon cookie which turned out to be a mediocre cookie topped with crumbled bacon (rather than part of the cookie).

We went back the next day for a late lunch and I tried one of the regular menu choices, the Texilina. It’s a pork and beef brat with grilled coleslaw, mustard bbq sauce and white cheddar cheese. Another winner!  A nice middle-ground between traditionalist and a more adventurous palette.

Bonus points! We came back in the evening for to hear a local band play and actually saw Zooey Deschanel hanging out there! I was too busy admiring her adorable dress and shoes to notice who it was until Josh poked me! New Girl is one of our favorite TV shows.

Second Bar & Kitchen

We had dinner here the first night we were in town. Very friendly, but sophisticated vibe with knowledgeable staff. It’s attached to the posh The Austonian hotel.

I bet this place is packed on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m glad we came in on a Sunday when it was almost full, but we didn’t have to wait for a table. There were enough people in the restaurant to know we had found a good place, but quiet enough to be able to enjoy the experience.

I found a new favorite beverage here, Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider. It wasn’t too sweet, but was crisp and refreshing. This reminds me that I need to find a local store that carries it!

For dinner I had the roasted chicken breast with grilled corn “panzanella” consisting of citrus jus and sourdough. The chicken was succulent and cooked perfectly. It was seasoned well and every element of the dish came together. This was one of the best meals we ate Austin.

Malanga Tapas & Bar

There’s a fabulous tapas place in Chicago that we love so we’re always hoping to find the next great small-plate restaurant on our visits out of town. Malanga’s was a pretty good find.

The prices here were more than our favorite in Chicago, Cafe Iberico which is surprising, but the food was still very tasty. We split lamb chops, an antipasto platter and dessert.

The lamb chops were fabulous! The baby chops came medium-rare and were marinated in aged balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil. The side of basil-mint pesto and balsamic reduction was my favorite part!

The meat and cheese were a selection of 15 month old Spanish Serrano Ham, Pamplona Chorizo, Garrotxa with rosemary, and 6 month old Manchego cheeses, also very good.

For dessert we had the Mantecadas. It came out with a beautiful presentation, but the dish itself was underwhelming in flavor. It was described as ‘pastries stuffed with cream cheese and lightly topped with fresh strawberries and a strawberry reduction’, but we didn’t find much in the way of pastry and the strawberries weren’t very sweet.

Overall, we ate well in Austin and really enjoyed the trip overall. If you’re looking for some details on non-food places to go I can share those too, just give me a shout!

Peanut Butter Chili

Peanut Butter Chili

I came across this recipe for Peanut Butter Chili on the Jonesing For blog. I was intrigued because I’ve made a lot of different chili recipes over the years, but none of them had contained peanut butter before.

Even though this is a vegetarian version (you could easily add meat if you choose), I thought I might sway my peanut-butter-loving, meat-eating husband with one of his favorite ingredients. He said he’d be up for giving it a try.

This vegetarian chili calls for dried beans (soaked overnight), onion, tomatoes, vegetable stock and spices. It was very simple to put together in the morning the day I served it for dinner. If you’re a vegetable lover with a big crock pot you might consider adding whatever additional veggies you have on hand.

The original recipe does stress the need for at least a 7-qt. crock pot, I only have a 4-qt. crock pot because it’s just the two of us. I thought that if I added the last of the vegetable broth midway through the cooking process after the rest had been partially absorbed by the other ingredients that it would work out alright. My version came out less hearty than the original with more of a soup-like consistency because of the smaller crock-pot and late addition of the last of the stock.

We still thought the recipe was plenty tasty though. I topped mine with reduced-fat sour cream and a little sharp cheddar for a creamy taste. We served it with a side of honey cornbread. My husband had anticipated a sweeter chili because of the peanut butter, but it actually added more of a nutty undertone when stirred in at the end jut before serving. Adding a bit of sugar to the chili might also compliment the flavors for PB traditionalists looking for that sweeter taste.

I will definitely make this one again, but I think I’ll have the recipe to work better with my smaller size slow cooker.

View the original recipe here.