Thursday, March 29, 2007

German Music Imports & Cafe

For years, I wondered how on earth a tiny little German music import store could function, in of all places, York County. Then one day, I noticed that the sign had grown - "& Cafe" had been tacked onto the end of "German Music Imports."

Was Das Waldcafe in Newport News finally getting a little friendly competition? Intrigued, I made plans to drop in and find out.

It is housed in yet another unassuming strip mall off of Route 17. Stepping inside, I momentarily experienced sensory overload - German magazines, cassette tapes, glasses, snacks, posters and what seemed to be the contents of some great-grandmother's German trinket collection, covering every available surface. I loved it instantly.

Half of the room is dedicated to retailing German music and imports, while the opposite side functions as the restaurant. Tables, draped in plastic-covered white lacy tablecloths, are arranged for maximum seating capacity, with a single booth close to the kitchen.

My husband and I opted to sit close to the lace-covered front window. Next to a small pond, a forest of live plants were dotted whimsically with gnomes. Glancing at the beverage listing, my eyes were drawn to the eclectic teas - rosehip, fennel, and lime flower, to name a few. Finally settling on a frosty Hefe-Weizen (23 ounces/$5.50), we had a few minutes to pore over the menu.

The classics are in force here, with Leberkaese (pan-fried pork or beef loaf served with fried egg and potatoes; $9.95), Wursts (sausages; $7.95) and Jaegerschnitzel (a breaded veal or pork cutlet; $10.95) vying for attention. After much deliberation, my husband went with the gulasche, while I chose the Blutwurst Belegte Brote (6.95), an open-faced blood sausage sandwich.

Our waitress reminded me instantly of dining out in the outskirts of Ramstein; she was blunt, unflappable and armed with a wry, engaging sense of humor. She also had no problem in answering my multiple questions on the menu choices, and offering some recommendations of her own.

Sitting back to check out the surroundings, it was obvious that this was a tightly-knit operation; one waitress, one or two mysterious folk back in the kitchen, and sometimes a third working the retail side. Folk who were obviously regulars began piling in at an amazing rate, and soon our sole server was running laps around the room.

Having gotten in just under the wire, we soon had generously portioned plates of German goodness in front of us. Dave took one bite of his gulasche, and started laughing, before offering me a taste. The slowly-cooked beef was meltingly tender in its rich gravy, and piled upon some of the fluffiest spaetzle (small boiled dumplings that resemble noodles) I've tasted yet. Sadly, it was also the last bite he willingly handed over, and none was left to take home.

Now, I'd never had blood sausage before, so my sandwich was an entirely new experience. It was surprisingly smooth-tasting, freckled with chunks of fat, and quite dark. It made a good companion to the hearty German bread, spread with just the right amount of cream cheese. Filling stuff, and hopefully, good for the iron-count as well.

As if that weren't enough, each of our orders came with sides.

I had the red cabbage, which was rosy and soft, with muted, warming spices. Dave went with the German potato salad, which had a consistency somewhere between cubed and mashed. The bright flavor was enhanced by smoky chunks of bacon, and both sides were a fine foil to the rich meats. A basket of rolls was set out, along with butter, but we skipped these, as the flavor and texture was unassuming.

On return visits, I've worked my way through the wursts, and been pleased every time. Now if I can just manage to save room one of these days for dessert, it will be a full, fine meal indeed. «

The Glass Pheasant Tearoom

Sure, I'd seen the Glass Pheasant Tearoom before, tucked away snugly in yet another strip mall. As neither an aficionado of tea nor 'ladies who lunch', I'd never bothered to pop in. Then one day, my mom called for a weekday lunch date, and- guess where she wanted to eat?
We walked in around 11:30 a.m. to a very charming dining room, brimming with antiques, tea cosies, and about half full with an early lunch crowd. A server/hostess allowed us to select our table, which was set with beautiful tea cups and fresh flowers. The menu offerings are appropriately geared towards light lunch items and pastries. Quiches, regular salads, and a variety of lunch salads were in full effect.
There were only two servers/hostesses working the lunch, and it took longer than I anticipated before one worked her way back to our table. My mom ordered the Triple Salad Plate ($7.95), a sampler featuring the chicken, tuna and egg salads, along with a raspberry iced tea. I went with the grilled panini, and kept it simple with un-iced water.
We seemed to have arrived just in time; shortly every table was full, and the servers running to keep up. Even so, our meals were delivered in a reasonable amount of time, along with a basket of warmed sliced bread. The plates were beautifully arranged, very colorful and enticing. The salad sampler held a thick wedge of watermelon, a sprig of red grapes, baby carrots, sliced apple and an English cucumber. The main attraction sat in three generous scoops on a vividly green lettuce leaf. The tuna salad was nice and light; the egg salad followed along in a similar vein, refreshing and pleasing. The chicken salad was truly a stunner, brilliantly curry-yellow, yet subtle in flavor. Tender chunks of chicken, pineapple, celery and roasted peanuts came together in a surprisingly savory blend that begged repeat visits. Well, at least from my fork, until it was firmly swatted away.
My own plate held a similar array of colorful fruits and veggies, all crisp, fresh and sweet. The panini was stuffed to overflowing with turkey, Swiss cheese, tomato, sprouts and a delicious pesto mayonnaise. My only quibble here is that there was too much mayo, rendering the eating of this sandwich a most unlady-like affair. The combination of roasted meats, grilled bread and cheese, however, proved too much to resist; I flagged down our server for additional napkins, and all was well.
The sandwich also came paired with crunchy, sour-sweet pickles, and a handful of potato-skin style 'chips'. Both were wonderful, and as I discovered at the end of the meal, all homemade. In fact, everything except the bread was made in house, and all very well prepared.
This homemade touch extends to the croissants, tarts and scones, which beckoned from the front-of-house display case. Next time, I'll get some to go.
Chef/owner James Defigio has been at the helm for about a year and a half now. His focus on quality food is evident on every plate, and his adherence to 'keepin' it in the kitchen' is laudable. And in this case, smashingly successful.



Dave and I hit the highway, headed towards Williamsburg's Monticello Marketplace. Spectator's, a sports bar bearing the catchphrase "Food & Fun," had recently come on my radar. Our afternoon out coincided with the Australian MotoGP (it's a motorcycle race, for all you non-Moto fans); nothing I like more than taking care of business in one fell swoop.

We arrived minutes after the race had started. The interior of Spectator's is clean and open; couples, families and singles all seemed equally at home in front of one of the many televisions, or outside on the open patio.

A quick glance at the multitude of monitors revealed the prevailing sport of choice: football. The host quickly assured us it would be no problem to change the channel. After locating a suitable booth, we were seated, menus in hands, watching the exciting first lap. The cool thing here are the tabletop speakers, which let you tune into the set of your choice. Nice touch!


Several minutes passed before our waitress popped by the table. It was only 4 p.m., so we requested a couple of Budweisers, with the warning that we wouldn't be ordering dinner for at least another hour. "We don't serve dinner until 6 o'clock," she promptly informed us, pretty much the last thing we wanted to hear. I amended the order to include some Buffalo wings ($6.95) to tide us over, along with a water - no ice.

She scribbled on her notepad, then asked what that second thing had been. "A water with no ice," I repeated; she scribbled something, then looked at me again. "You want a Bud Light how?" I started from the beginning: a regular Bud in a bottle - not draft - a Foster's in the bottle and a water with no ice. She nodded and hurried off.

We were able to catch four more laps before she cruised by the table again. "So, that was just a regular Bud Lite you wanted, right?" I smiled, said that I would like a regular Budweiser in the bottle ... and a water, no ice. Mumbling something about wanting to get the order right, she disappeared again.

Two more laps raced 'round, and she finally returned. Bud and Foster's in bottles were set down, along with a steaming order of Buffalo wings. No water in sight, and she was gone before I could ask again.

The wings were fat specimens, steaming and construction-cone orange. I pulled one out and bit in. Juicy. Hot. Bland. I looked down at my orange-colored fingers, the hallmark of the typically fiery and exciting sauces used to coat wings. I bit again. Juicy. Meaty. Bland. Never mind the heat, where was the flavor?


The race roared to an end (go Melandri!) We were faced with the prospect of sitting in a room with some very excitable football fans, and no dinner for another hour. I called the waitress over, and asked if it would be possible to place an order for dinner now, so we could be served as close to 6 p.m. as possible. She didn't know, so I asked if she could check with her manager.

Moments later, she returned with the surprising good news: "Actually, we're already serving dinner." Dave and I had come to our decisions earlier, so we placed our orders and sat back with a fresh adult beverage.


I ordered the seafood skewers ($13.95), two grilled skewers lined with shrimp, bay scallops and tomatoes.

Grilled may be one way to put it; I'd say that the seafood was uniformly overcooked and burnt. Even so, the scallops were emitting an odor that was less than fresh. The plate came with a small ramekin of vegetables. The brilliant colors of the green beans, summer squash and zucchini were misleading: they tasted bland, and the texture was mushy.

Dave had ordered the Sunset Menu flounder, fried ($9.95). What she brought to the table was a pale, gelatinous-looking piece of broiled fish. He told her that he'd ordered the fried, and with a word of apology, she took the plate back to the kitchen.

Having lost interest in the main part of our meal, Dave and I focused on the fries. Not a great example of America's favorite potato, but not bad once salt, pepper and ketchup were applied.

Before we'd made a dent in the pile, the waitress returned with a piping hot plate. The flounder had gone several shades beyond golden-fried perfection. It was dark, like tree bark. Dave cut into it, tasted, grimaced, then offered his fork up to me.

The exterior portions of the fish were dramatically over-cooked and dry, while the center was still cool to the touch. The french fries that came on the side were also overcooked, and in keeping with the theme, the vegetable medley was mushy. Finally, there was only one plate between us and home base, and that was the chocolate cream pie (included on the Sunset menu). Chocolate-flavored whipped cream on a cookie crust - it tasted of elementary school and cheap cartons of milk.


She finally brought the waters - both with ice.

Olivia's at the Point

Olivia's at the Point, in Gloucester Point, beckoned quietly but insistently from just across the Coleman Bridge. My husband and I finally heeded that call one Sunday afternoon.

Located in an aging strip mall, the interior is fairly spacious, well-lit and open. We arrived early, beating the post-church crowd, and had our pick of tables. We chose a window-front booth, and checked out the menu.

Sunday offers both regular menu items and specials: lunch and dinner is served all day. Seafood plays a heavy hand here, as does pasta, steaks, sandwiches and salads. My husband was drawn in by the promise of fresh fried flounder ($13.99). Sadly our waitress gave a small shake of her head. "I haven't seen CatBird all weekend, and he's the one who usually brings it to us- but let me double-check." CatBird brings the fresh flounder in? Sounds pretty authentic and local to me.

When she returned with a negative on the flounder, we'd decided to split the Crab Muffins ($7.99), and continued perusing the menu for our entree choices. Finally, Dave decided upon the open-faced prime rib sandwich ($7.99), while I ordered the crab cakes ($13.99). I know, I know, but what can I say: I'm a sucker for the fresh crab.

As the church crowd finally began ambling in, our appetizer arrived in the form of one piping hot plateful of bubbling, crabby, cheesy goodness. Even though cheddar was the dominant flavor, I could still taste the freshness of the crab. Served on a nicely toasty English muffin and crowned with sliced tomato, this was gooey, satisfying goodness. We couldn't finish it all, but I'm happy to report that it reheated quite nicely for lunch the next day.

The restaurant at this point was getting decidedly full, yet our increasingly busy waitress kept up admirably with the hustle. Dave's sandwich came large and in charge, a uniform piece of beef smothered in mushroom gravy and sauteed onions. He dug in with knife and fork, laughed, dug in again. Then, "You may have one bite, and one bite only! This may be the best prime rib sandwich that I've ever tasted." I took my one bite without protest. The meat was beefy and utterly tender, while the gravy was full-flavored, and rich with mushroom-umami. I'm sure I'll try plenty more prime rib sandwiches in my life, but thus far, this was top-notch.

He'd requested fries, but the plate came with a side of veggies. Anathema, if you've been keeping up with his tastes, so he passed the veggies to a runner with another request for fries.

My two crab cakes came fat and broiled, no other adornment necessary. Again, the crab was decidedly fresh, and composed the majority of the cake. A squeeze of lemon provided just the right acidity to the sweet meat. I did request the sauteed veggies as a side, and found the colorful trio of squash, zucchini and carrots quite fresh and tasty. My house salad was pretty average: lettuce, tomatoes, onions and carrots with a sweet, house-made balsamic vinaigrette. Luckily, that left more room to sample Dave's fries, which had finally arrived. They were hot, thin, and just a little spicy- we both approved.

Our waitress returned to tempt up with dessert, and indeed we were tempted by the array of homemade goodies. In the end, we decided to save our swollen bellies, boxed up the leftovers, and headed back home.

Olivia's proved to be a most unexpected groovy treat, giving true to the old adage, 'you can't judge a book by its cover'. Our waitress provided excellent and prompt service, while the owner made rounds to each table, checking to see if things were okay. Those attitudes are, quite frankly, refreshing. As far as I could tell, each and every person who crossed that threshold was privy to the same treatment. Throw in some killer seafood and gut-busting entrees, and I don't have any problem crossing that bridge again- and again- and again.

Red Maple Inn

The Red Maple Inn is postcard perfect, a tenderly renovated, antique-filled two-story house surrounded by stunning gardens. My husband and I chose to visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon for the "Sunday Supper," a Southern-tinged fixed menu with varying entree and side options.

Hostess and co-owner Charlene Fowler greeted us graciously, and led us to a cozy adjoining dining area.Our server ambled by with menus, waters and the modest wine list. He also mentioned, much to my husband's delight, that the listed pork chop was being replaced by a grilled ham steak. A no-brainer, to be certain.

Dave Bankes, co-owner and Sunday chef, came out of the kitchen and chatted amicably with us for a few minutes. He takes command one day a week to give his son and full-time executive chef Ben Bankes a day of rest. His passion for the restaurant and gardens was palpable and refreshing.

As our waiter returned with the wine, he slipped back into the kitchen to ready our meals.The Hugues Beaulieu 2003 Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet was light-bodied, with hints of peach and apple balanced by a bright squirt of lemon-lime, and a hair away from being grape juice at only 12.5 percent alcohol. Sipping away, I glanced around the room. An old piano stood proudly at the rear, laden with plates and serving pieces. Antiques, all for sale, hung on the walls and sat on the sideboard. Tables, chairs, and dishes are all a charming medley of mix 'n' match pieces.

First course was the salad, a mixture of fresh field greens and marinated tomatoes, onions and peppers. Really, a classic chopped salad, which had just the right ratio of tart to sweet, and was the perfect beginning to the meal. Along with that, we received warmed sweet potato muffins dusted with a touch of powdered sugar. Subtly sweet and spicy, I can see why people request these to take back home.

Our entrees arrived spice-dusted and strewn with rose petals. My husband's grilled ham steak was exceptionally good, very juicy, meaty and tender. The seasonal vegetables, which in this case were summer squash, zucchini, onions and grape tomatoes, were lightly sautéed and tender-crisp. A light sprinkling of salt was all it needed to ramp up the fresh flavors to perfection. The herb-seasoned white rice was a bit sparse in the herbage department, but fluffy nonetheless.

My own plate was truly a sight to behold. The crab cake, lightly sautéed and perfectly browned, was heavy with fresh-tasting jumbo lump crab, and light on the filler. It was just fine sans sauce, but a quick dip in the sassy remoulade revealed the perfect pairing between sweet meat and zippy sauce.

My sides included a baked sweet potato that was melting with maple butter, and sautéed peas and mushrooms. Again, the vegetables were wonderfully cooked and seasoned, and notably fresh in taste.Although our waiter tempted us with creme brulee and coffee, we'd both reached maximum capacity.

After paying the bill, we went for a quick stroll out back. It was then we realized that, in addition to the covered porch at the side, there is also seating outside among the flowers. The backyard is alive with colorful flora, all carefully maintained by Dave Bankes. We spent several minutes looking at roses, phlox, daylilies and the herbs that had been on our plates.

Red Maple Inn is truly a welcome departure from the fast-food, hurry-up mentality of corporate America. This is the place where a diner (not an eater) can relax, chat, and spend a couple of leisurely hours enjoying good food and conversation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hayashi Sushi & Grill

Huge imposing black doors. Long, luxurious cocktail lounge. A compact sushi bar, flanked by an open kitchen. Double dining rooms, one side devoted to the art of the hibachi, both sides a dazzle of color, texture and flow. Hayashi’s here, baby, and Newport News’ City Center at Oyster Point is its new home.
Dave and I popped by one early evening, and were immediately led to an intimate table. Our server offered each of us a warm cloth to cleanse our hands, then took our order.

Normally fans of sushi a la carte style, we were on our way to see the Kodo Drummers of Japan (highly recommended). With that in mind, we decided upon the “Special Boat for Two” ($45). The chef’s mix of assorted sashimi, nigiri, and rolls, fleshed out with soup or salad made this a no-brainer.

My house salad arrived in an elegant eye-shaped dish. Piled high with crisp greens, slivers of red cabbage, carrots, tomato and an apple, it was visually appealing. But the taste? In a word, awesome! The light sesame-based dressing was a little sweet, a little nutty and the perfect complement to the bright, fresh salad. Dave began with a classic bowl of miso soup. While I’m not usually fond of miso, this was one excellent rendition. The broth was well-balanced and warming, bobbling with bright bursts of green onion. All in all, a very nice start.

I also ordered my favorite salad, ika sansai ($8). This cold, marinated squid salad came in a petite pile, flanked by thinly sliced cucumbers. We both dug in. While the cuttlefish was fresh, we couldn’t find the spice in the advertised spicy sesame dressing. Our server checked to make sure it was okay, but I assured her we were just saving room for our ship o’ sushi, which wasn’t entirely an untruth.

The giant wooden boat, complete with netting, could barely fit across our table. We ooh-ed and ah-ed appreciatively as she managed to maneuver it in catty-corner style. The colorful array of gleaming fish exuded the fresh scent of clean ocean water, and we eagerly set chopsticks in motion.

There were two rolls, California and a spicy tuna with artful tails of tempura shrimp on each end. The first was nice and light, but the spicy shrimp and tuna lit up like a happy fish firecracker in my mouth. The sashimi was vibrant and well-represented: red fin tuna, fresh and clean; pale, fatty belly-meat of tuna, melts in your mouth like butter; raw squid decoratively cross-hatched, but with a chewy texture and mild flavor; red clam, fairly firm, subtle in taste; salmon, smooth and buttery; and octopus, a little sweet, a little chewy, a-lot-of-fun suckers.

It was a heroic amount of food that was everything sushi should be: quality ingredients, artful arrangement and very, very fresh fish.

Our waitress smilingly asked if we were interested in dessert — a choice of sorbet — but it certainly wasn’t happening that night! She brought our check and a segmented orange, which was just our speed.

I’ve been to Hayashi several times since they’ve opened, ordered takeout, and even used them for catering. Without exception, the quality of the food has been consistently fresh, flavorful and clean. One recommendation for that special night out: omakase, basically a ’chef’s choice’ style tasting menu.

You lucky online readers can check out the photos from previous nights:

Simply put, an amazing experience presented by a team that is fluent in the art of sushi.

Hayashi Sushi & Grill
11820 Merchants Walk, Suite 106, Newport News
Phone: 223-5783
Specialties: hibachi grill, sushi
Price range: appetizers: $3-$16; salads: $2.50-$14.50; hibachi grill dinners: $13.95-$29.95; Japanese entrees: $16.95-$27.95; sushi entrees: $15.95-$80.00; sushi also available per roll.
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 12-11 p.m. Saturday, 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards
Noise level: conversational
Atmosphere: romantic, upscale
Additional info: daily specials, catering, hibachi grill, sushi bar, lunch and dinner
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 4 1/2, service 4
(out of five stars)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nestled In

I love spring for a multitude of reasons: fresh spring asparagus, fields of newly-bloomed flowers and cute baby bunnies. My personal seasonal highlight tends to come along in mid-March, with the annual re-release of Cadbury's Mini-Eggs.

Thin, crispy candy shells, painted in speckled pastels, encircle tiny milk-chocolate eggs. I'm certainly no candy freak, but I look forward to these with every ounce of enthusiasm my 7-year old self could possibly hope to have mustered.

While there's no shame in eating them out of hand (or out of the freezer), I'm particularly fond of making Easter nests: cookies or confections crafted into cute, kid-sized nests, and crowned with candy eggs. Many renditions utilize chow mein noodles or thumb print cookies, but that leaves out one very important component from the equation: coconut!

There are plenty of good coconut macaroon recipes out there, but this special time calls for a special recipe: I turned to Ina Garten for assistance. Egg whites, vanilla and a pinch of salt partner with equal portions coconut and sweetened condensed milk. Once in the oven, the scent of sweet coconut sneaks into the air in about 20 minutes. Ten minutes more sees them transform into tender, rich little cookies; adequate browning ensures a charmingly nest-like exterior.

If ever there was a recipe suitable for the whole family to join in, this is it. Adults can handle the whipping of egg whites and the baking of the cookies, while kids can portion out the dough, and carefully fill each finished nest with a bounty of colorful eggs.

Coconut Macaroons

adapted from Ina Garten

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 12-ounce package Cadbury Mini-Eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in bowl. Whip egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks.
Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool briefly, then fill with eggs.

Cook's Notes: I like to press the mini-eggs into the macaroons while slightly warm and still pliable. The size of these cookies will generally hold three comfortably.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Bachelor & The Chick

I perched on the edge of a paint-splattered stool in a tiny yellow kitchen. A small tray filled with cheese and crackers sat in front of me, and I idly indulged in the new-to-me luxury of oozingly warm, creamy brie.

My date had his back to me. Opened cans were spread across the limited counter space, and we chatted while he chopped and minced tomatoes, olives and garlic. A gleaming silver pan held a spreading pool of oil, heating slowly on the stove top. After a single green onion plopped in provided a satisfying pop, he added the rest, along with a fragrant burst of garlic.

He paused for a sip of wine and a sly smile. "This is the first meal that I made up," he explained while washing his hands. Opening a package of chicken breasts, he continued: "Everybody should know how to make a few good meals. This one's easy, pretty cheap and tastes great."

The chicken breasts were dredged in seasoned flour, then added to the now sizzling oil. In a few minutes time, they'd nicely browned. He put them off to the side, then poured in some wine. It sputtered for moment, then bubbled enthusiastically, releasing something tantalizing into the air with the quick scraping of a wooden spoon.

In went the remaining melange of ingredients. The tomatoes were roughly mashed, and the scent changed again, increasingly complex. We continued chatting as he cleaned up. The chicken breasts were at last added back to the sauce, and he covered each with a fat wedge of feta, crumbling the rest into the pan. Once the crumbles were mixed in, he dropped the heat down to low, then covered it all up.

I'd never had a guy cook for me before, and had certainly never seen it done with this much casual confidence. If the scent in the air was any indication, it was going to be one remarkable evening with this dude Dave.

Bachelor's Mediterranean-Style Chicken

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
flour, for dredging
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups white wine
½ (11.1 ounce) jar pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
6-8 ounces whole feta, thickly sliced lengthwise

Dredge chicken breasts in flour seasoned with the salt and pepper: shake off excess.
Add olive oil and butter to medium deep skillet over medium heat until combined.
Add the garlic and scallions, cooking until just golden, then raise heat to medium-high.
Saute chicken breasts in pan until lightly browned on both sides: remove to the side.
Deglaze pan with 1 1/2 cups white wine, scraping any blackened bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.
Add the chicken breasts back to the skillet, along with the olives and tomatoes.
Cook uncovered over medium heat, flipping once, for about 10 minutes, until mixture is slightly reduced.
Place slices of feta over each breast, and crumble any excess into the sauce.
Ladle a bit of the sauce over the feta; cover, and reduce heat to medium low.
Let simmer about 15 minutes, until ready.

Please see this posting for further serving suggestions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Three Olives

As my husband Dave and I drove up to Williamsburg’s Three Olives Greek Restaurant, I had visions of fat gyros and fluffy falafels.

I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption.

Three Olives sets a slightly upscale tone with flashy modern architecture and the ever-popular hanging art glass lighting. On Saturday evening, the room was buzzing with diners — a reservation assured that we weren’t sent to the lounge to kill time while tables cleared.

The host led us to a four-top with banquet-style seating. We quickly parked ourselves on the bench for maximum people-watching. After about 10 minutes, another couple was seated beside us. In moments, they had water, a complimentary appetizer and the assurance that their waitress would be with them soon. Somebody finally came by our table with water, adding that our waitress should also be with us in a moment. Almost 20 minutes after we sat down, she finally showed up.

We selected a bottle of Greek wine — the only option available in this appropriately focused wine list. Before any further time was lost, we went ahead and placed the remainder of our order. Another server came to present and pour the Kouros Red of Nemea 2003 ($24) — a pleasantly dry red table wine, neither overpoweringly tannic, nor too frivolous with fruit.

The pace of service finally began to pick up when our waitress returned with the complimentary appetizer.

The simple bread rolls came with a plate of herb-enhanced dipping oil. I’m not sure what the herbs were, as I couldn’t get past the bracingly sharp vegetal character of the oil.

The appetizers are divided into hot/cold choices, and as usual, there was some difficulty coming to a decision. Presciently, there is a Hot Greek Sampler ($9.95 for two) offered. Soft triangles of warm pita bread provide the perfect utensil to sample the tzatziki. This cucumber-yogurt dipping sauce was creamy and smooth, with the requisite tease of garlic tamed by a bright splash of lemon.

Good things in small phyllo packages continued to please as we reached for the tiropitakia and spanakopita: feta cheese and spinach/feta/green onion, respectively. Each golden bite released the warmed, salty cheese in perfectly allotted amounts. Fried zucchini sticks played good cop/bad cop with the fresh, good-for-you squash coated in a crunchy, crispy, undoubtedly bad-for-you crust.

Dolmades, rice-filled grape leaf bundles, were attractively presented, yet fell somewhat short. The rice was subtly seasoned, tasting mostly of lemon. Not bad, but not great partnered up on that particular plate.

The 3 Olive Greek Salad ($4.95) was a large portion of fresh crisp lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and feta, covered in a light, zippy house dressing. Garnished by one spicy pepperoncini and a pickled purple beet I couldn’t help but to notice: there were no olives in the salad, not even three.

Dave decided to keep to tradition with his entree of pastichio ($12.95). A large wedge of bechamel-laced pasta was mixed with ground spiced beef, then baked casserole-style. It was good, but a generous dollop of a powerfully cinnamon-enhanced tomato sauce fought to take over the melange of comfortably baked flavors.

I skipped tradition and went straight for seafood in the form of whole grilled rainbow trout ($16.95). This very petite fish had been stuffed with crab and shrimp, and tasted strongly of the advertised bath of olive oil, lemon and oregano. Its accompanying sides didn’t seem to have garnered quite the same amount of attention. Fat potato wedges were disturbingly under-cooked, while the horta (braised greens) were limp and bland.

As we called for the check, a belly dancer shook and shimmied her way across the dining room, something you’ll catch if you come by on a Friday or Saturday night. While younger couples seemed taken aback, the older folks were appreciative, and children looked on in open-mouthed awe.

We took dessert home along with the check: baklava ($3.75). This honey-soaked classic was generously portioned, and just the right mixture of rich nuts and cinnamon-laced phyllo. Truly the perfect way to end the night— or in my case, begin the next day.

Three Olives Greek Restaurant
203 Richmond Road, Williamsburg
Phone: 259-7300
Specialties: Greek/Mediterranean food
Price range: appetizers: $5.45-$9.95; salads: $3.95-$4.95; traditional entrees: $9.95-$15.95; seafood: $10.95-$16.95; from the grill: $12.95-$19.95; kabobs: $12.95-$15.95; desserts: $3-$5
Hours: open 7 days a week, 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit card
Noise level: rather noisy
Atmosphere: casual
Additional Information: lounge area, belly dancing Friday & Saturday evenings from 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Star rating:
food 3,
atmosphere 3 1/2,
service 3 (out of five stars)

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Real Deal

"Ya'all come back now, y'hear?" While they never actually said this during my visits to FDR, it certainly wouldn't have been out of place. Food Done Right has been slinging down-home food since late 2004, all served up with a dose of Southern sass and good-natured charm.

I'd first noticed the restaurant last year, and only because I had to park right in front of it to get to the supermarket. Stepping up onto the curb, I suddenly realized the mirrored corner windows seemed to house... a restaurant?

Later that week, I returned with my husband, Dave, for breakfast. The food was simple, hearty fare. Tender homemade biscuits ($1.00). Sausage & gravy ($4.95, with biscuits) that could make you scream for mercy, and not in a bad way. Simple eggs, bacon & toast ($5.95), if early morning shrieking wasn't your thing. Even the home fries could sneak in a slowly-rising, long-maintained smile. I began to feel like I was sitting in my Mammaw's kitchen for some serious, post-churchin' chowin' down. Service was alternately friendly and harried, depending upon the crowd, but always sincere. Countless months passed as, yet again, Dave and I strolled out slowly, toothpicks rotating between upwardly-curved lips.

Now, that's not to say there's only breakfast here. There are also mid-day and evening entrees, which differ only in portions. Take heart- they are serious when saying homestyle entrees come sized to feed the family.

Seafood is a favorite of mine, so I wasted no time in exploring their locally-sourced offerings. Crab cakes ($8.95) come grilled or fried; I'll go for the latter every time. Spicy, zingy, and overflowing with lump crab, it's a scrumptious little reminder of why it's great to live here in Tidewater. While their fried scallops ($15.95) tend to get lost under the thick, heavy breading, the oysters ($15.95) are another bivalve entirely. I popped one into my mouth, and the delicate coating was just the right contrast to the wonderful, ocean-laced brine. Like biting into the sea, but breaded and perfectly fried, this was the consummate specimen of oysterdom. Well done.

Country-fried steak ($8.95) turned out to be another gullet-pleaser. Not too heavy, if you can imagine such a thing, even though it came laden with peppery white gravy. Fried chicken ($9.95), on the other hand, was fried a bit much, and came out dry both times I tried it. That's okay, because FDR redeems themselves with some exquisitely mashed potatoes ($1.55). Take your choice of gravies, light or dark; both are excellent.

Soups, salads, and sandwiches are also on the menu. The barbecue sandwich ($7.95) is North Carolina-style 'cue, but strictly standard fare. No smoke, and it arrived on the bun naked and rather dry- a request for additional vinegar sauce solved that nicely. Clam chowder ($6.95, with 1/2 sandwich) comes thick and creamy, studded liberally with hearty chunks of clam. A side of coleslaw turned out to be the perfect palate-cleanser, light and refreshing in taste and texture.

FDR sits tucked into a quiet corner, next to Farm Fresh, and adjacent to Home Depot: new clapboard signage should help you spot it. The interior is simple, clean, and well-lit. Booths and free-standing tables abound, while crafty country collections decorate corner bookcases. While they may not hit a homer on every entree or side, FDR is what they advertise: simple, unpretentious food, cooked up right by real folk.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Long name, killer seafood

The charmingly named area of Rescue has an even more charmingly named seafood restaurant perched on the edge of Jones Creek in Isle of Wight County.

Captain Chuck-a-Muck’s Ship Store and Grill Secret Hideout #2 is the second incarnation of a restaurant that closed in 2002 due to a fire. Up and running since August 2006, the new location features a small bar and dining area, along with outside seating and views on the deck.

We walked into the open room, which was lined with paper-covered picnic tables. The single waitress was frantically running, so we camped out at an empty table until she made her way breathlessly over. Although the power was flickering and the tables quite full, she had a great sense of humor, and made us feel right at home. We placed our drink orders, then pored over the paper menus, which she had kindly supplemented with a printout of the day’s specials.

She returned with a bottle of the Sterling Vinter’s Reserve Chardonnay ($18.95), carefully tucked into an ice-packed bait bucket. With a quick pop, she opened the top and took the rest of our order, leaving us to sip and survey the surroundings.

Eye candy is in no short order here — nautical trinkets abound, fleshed out with parrots and other Jimmy Buffet-esque touches. It took a moment to realize that we were sitting directly in front of two adjacent garage doors. They were closed that night, but would open directly onto the waterside deck. You can bet I’m coming back for that on balmier days!

Even though the kitchen appeared to be in the weeds (that's kitchen slang for having fallen behind and struggling to catch up), our appetizer made a quick appearance. Fried calamari rings — and tentacles ($7.95) — arrived perfectly crispy and piled high. With a quick lemon twist, we dug in. The same incredulous smile crept across both of our mouths — this was some of the best calamari I’ve had in some time. The squid was tender and fresh, the bread coating was crisp and light, and the accompanying cocktail sauce provided just the right mix of spicy sweetness.

As we nibbled, the waitress came to Dave with an air of apology. They were down to one skimpy fillet of the fish he’d requested, but would be happy to supplement it with a goodly portion of fried grouper, also on special. Can you say the best of both worlds?

So it was that Dave’s platter came out with a not-so slight portion of fried flounder ($19.95). The breading-to-fish ratio was dead-on, allowing the fresh flavor to shine through this perfectly cooked fillet. The grouper was bookend perfect. Fresh and fat, this mild portion was perfect when kissed with a bright squirt of lemon.

The platter was rounded out with two sides and two hushpuppies. The hushpuppies were an excellent example of how simply fried dough can be transcendent when seasoned just right. He also tried out the coleslaw, which was mayo-based, but nonetheless light and refreshing.

I was unable to resist the lure of “THE BEST” crab cakes ($18.95). They weren’t lying! These little mounds were heavy with happy fresh crab, and just enough filler to make it all stick together. Although there were two, I was only able to finish one — the second one made for an incredible lunch the next day.

For my sides, I chose the fries and steamed broccoli. The fries were nicely crisp, not at all greasy and seasoned just right with a little shake of black pepper. The broccoli was vibrant and green, retaining just a touch of firmness to the tooth.

A reader turned me on to this place, and I couldn’t be more pleased — it’s now my go-to choice for local seafood. The family-friendly environment, coupled with pleasant service and killer seafood, is sure to make this one worth the trip.

Captain Chuck-a-Muck's Ship Store and Grill Secret Hideout #2
21088 Marina Road, Rescue
Phone: 356-1005 fax: 357-2538
Web site:
Specialties: fresh seafood
Price range: starters: $2.95-market price; boats: $5.95-$9.95; entrees: $13.95-$19.95
Hours: (winter hours) Tuesday-Thursday: 12-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 12-9 p.m.; Sunday 2-8 p.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: no
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards, checks
Noise level: conversational to noisy
Atmosphere: casual
Additional Information: daily specials, dockage, outdoor dining
Star rating: food 4 1/2, atmosphere 4, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)

Ricotta Onion Pie

In these increasingly brighter twilight hours, it's not yet spring, not quite still winter. Nonetheless, the nights are chilly, but the time for slow-cooked stews and warming soups has passed. This girl needs a little something different in her life. Could a simple ricotta onion pie hold salvation?

I first prepared this several years ago in honor of a retiring co-worker. It's really quite a simple dish to throw together.

Fry some bacon up, then saute the onions in a touch of the grease until soft and smooth. Mix it all up with some ricotta, green onions, chives, eggs and spices: dump it all in an unbaked pie shell and cook for 30 minutes.

It was easy, it was quick, and most importantly, it was the first thing to disappear from the appetizer table at work that day. Thirty hungry librarians wouldn't steer you wrong, would they?

A recent bout of food doldrums had me thumbing through past recipes, which is how I re-discovered this one. The milder days and chilly evenings seemed to craft the perfect backdrop for a savory pie that was a little rich and very filling. I made this one twice over. The first time I made the mistake of using low-fat ricotta, and entirely forgetting the onion powder. The resulting pie was unsurprisingly blase and bland. The second time, I made a pie crust with lard, used full-fat ricotta and garlic-herb flavored cracker crumbs for the topping.

The verdict? With a salad and a glass of wine, it was the perfect respite for a middling-weather night.

Ricotta Onion Pie

1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs
1 1/4 cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup minced chives
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
freshly grated nutmeg, as desired
1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350. Fry bacon until crisp; set aside on paper toweling. Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease, and saute onions until soft and browned, about 20 minutes.
Combine melted butter and crumbs and set aside.
Mix all the rest of the ingredients; add bacon and onions to mixture and combine.
Pour into pie shell and top with crumb mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes until filling is warmed through.
Cook's notes: A purchased pie crust will do okay here, but a crust made with lard will perfectly complement the savory aspect of the filling. You may also consider using flavored cracker crumbs for the topping, or even mixing in a touch of red pepper flakes. For a hearty vegetarian version, omit the bacon and reduce the onion to one half. Add two pounds of fresh mixed mushrooms; saute in 2 tablespoons butter and proceed with recipe.

adapted from Recipezaar's Arostook

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You Sixy Beast

If the tagline “little bar bistro” behind Six sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve run across the sister restaurants, Crackers and Empire, over in Norfolk. Tapas fans have eagerly awaited their foray across the water, and finally, they’ve landed close to the corner of Mellen & Mallory in Phoebus.

I actually made two visits to Six. The first was on a night when they were absolutely mobbed by pre-show patrons bound for The American Theatre. Both the staff and the kitchen seemed completely overwhelmed, and they were out of quite a few items. It turned out they were getting ready to overhaul and change the menu. After giving them a few weeks to get their groove on, Dave and I returned on a very quiet Monday night.

There was only one other table seated, allowing me to take in the full impact of the interior. The lighting is moody and red, the walls are brick and covered with painted and stainless steel art— there’s even a casual lounge at the front, outfitted in low-slung black couches. We chose a seat near the back, next to the chalkboard menu bearing the specials.

Flipping open the menu, I was more than surprised to discover that some of the items I’d tried previously were still listed! I thought back to that night:

—Tomato, basil & fresh mozzarella stack, $6: For a winter tomato, it was surprisingly vibrant and invigorating. A classic that was nicely done.

—Chopped house salad, $5: I was expecting a composed Greek-style salad, in perfectly tapas-sized proportions. What I got was, well, a side salad. For $5.

—Beef carpaccio, $7: Meat somewhat meager, flavor on the mild side.

—Filet ’o’ beef w/mashers, $9: Surprisingly large in size, surprisingly milquetoast in taste.

Back to the matter at hand. We placed our orders, asking if the kitchen could please stagger the dishes, and sat back with a glass of wine. The Hugh Hamilton “The Mongrel” Sangiovese ($32) was a mellow melange of red fruits and held just a touch of spice— it promised to pair fairly well with the variety of plates ahead of us.

That time was nearer than we thought. The waitress returned with one plate, then another, then another. We asked once again if they could slow it down just a bit, as the kitchen still had only the one table to occupy themselves with. With her cheerful acquiescence, we grabbed spoons and chopsticks and got to work.

The tomato & basil soup ($5) was carrot-orange in color, and flecked generously with chopped basil. The warming aroma fulfilled its promise at first sip: the tomato-vegetable blend was perfectly balanced, and not a touch too rich. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Pork & ginger potstickers with duck sauce & ponzu ($5) were six fat pan-fried dumplings nestled into a sweet, slightly thick dark sauce. The dumplings were good, in an oddly generic way. No one flavor commanded attention: with the dominating power of the duck sauce, this was probably for the best.

Hand-cut french fries with malt vinegar aioli ($5) may have been my second-favorite, but I’m an unashamed french fry-a-holic. Arriving in a cute retro plastic red basket, they were crispy in all the right places and welcomingly soft in all the rest. The malt vinegar aioli was an excellent partner, though we quickly discovered that a mixture of that and the remaining tomato-basil soup was even better.

After a slight breather, the next round of courses arrived. The hummus with grilled pita ($5) came as a scoop of hummus flanked by triangles of pita. The grilled pita wedges were perfectly tasty, but couldn’t make up for the astounding lack of flavor in the hummus. One bite in, we pushed it aside, where it was wordlessly and unquestioningly whisked away by the server.

The gnocchi carbonara ($7) offered a nice foray into the continuing carb-fest. The portly potato dumplings were dressed in a rich creamy sauce: thick crumbles of bacon provided the meaty component, while bright green peas and a touch of shaved parmesan pulled the dish together.

We finally got to the meat of the matter with veal saltimbocca with pan gravy ($9). This dish is a personal favorite- at home. This rendition seemed to have everything going for it- the sauce, the cheese, the pork. Ultimately, it never seemed to quite pull together, and came off as somewhat bland.

The pistachio encrusted lamb chops with port wine glaze ($9) were an interesting and gorgeous plate. Two cute little chops, with their pistachio crusts almost blackened, sat atop a ruby red sauce, green garnish creating an almost Christmas-sy look. However the chops appeared, they were cooked perfectly, one bite revealing a rosy-pink interior. The slight blackened flavor of the pistachios was unexpected, and I’m not certain that’s what the kitchen was striving towards.

I was still anticipating the triple “s” tuna sashimi with seaweed salad & ponzu ($9), when the check arrived. I’d been in the bathroom when the waitress had returned to ask if we cared for anything else, or just the check. Apparently, the sashimi had been forgotten in the quiet non-rush of the evening. As we were stuffed to the gills, it was just as well.

I love tapas-style dining. While Six keeps safely in familiar territory, it's still a welcome addition to the Peninsular dining scene. A little variety is the spice of life, and just the right way to have a fun night out with friends and family. Eat, drink, chat, relax: just make sure you check the schedule at The American Theatre before heading out!

Six Little Bar Bistro
6 Mellen Street, Hampton
Phone: 722-1466 Fax: 727-4790
Web site: (site not currently updated with info for Six)
Specialties: tapas and cocktails
Price range: tapas: $1-$9 (add $10 to any one dish to make a full entree)
Hours: open 7 days a week, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: only after 9 p.m.
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit card
Noise level: conversational to very noisy
Atmosphere: casual, chic
Additional Information: no reservations, no splitting checks
Star rating: food 3, atmosphere 4, service 3
(out of five stars)

Posted on Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 11:07 AM Permalink