Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cellar in Corning

For our second, and last, dinner in Corning, we decided to try The Cellar. After our disastrous meal at MSBC, I was really hesitant to try another brew pub/family restaurant in the area, so we decided to try this "modern, fusion restaurant." We made reservations using OpenTable. Inside, it's dimly lit. Upscale. When we were seated, the hostess left us with a tablet to explore all the wine options as well as beers and cocktails. You could search the wine by white/rose/red, by region, by grape - we got a little geeked out by it, exploring all the possible search approaches and such. I think we played, I mean, thought about what to order for about 10 minutes.
SP chose a Sazerac (rye, absinthe, bitters, simple syrup, orange peel) and I chose a glass of 2012 Steltzner Bordeaux Blend. We both liked our choices and stuck to one alcoholic beverage each.

The menu is comprised of tapas (small plates), salads, flatbreads, and entrees. We ordered several dishes and shared everything. We also ate everything.
SP chose Pickles - an assortment of seasonal vegetables. I'm not a fan of pickled veggies, so he got to keep this all for himself. He loves pickled veggies, so this was a big hit.
Lamb Lollipops with chevre, fig demi-glace, crispy prosciutto, and mint. For me, these were the highlight of the meal. Delicious lamb, a local goat cheese, lots of tasty sauce, a bit of mint, and crispy, salty prosciutto chips. Yes, I ate two of the three lollipops. Honestly, SP is lucky he got one of them!
House Salad with mixed greens, caramelized walnuts, tart cherries, balsamic vinaigrette. A very tasty salad, dressed just right.
Pumpkin Ravioli (half order) - spiced pumpkin, smoked tomato cream, pepitas. This was very good, but the flavors were pretty... bold, maybe, is the word I am looking for, and a half order was just right to share. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed them as much if it had been a full order just for me.
Trying to get a photo of the inside of the ravioli. I really liked the smoked tomato cream sauce. Smoky. Spicy from the pumpkin. A great autumn dish.
Day Boat Sea Scallops (half order) - spiced New England pumpkin puree, pear & fennel compote, chestnut foam, toasted pecans. Another very fall-like entree. The scallops were nicely cooked but a little thinner than I am used to for day boat scallops. The pumpkin-pear-pecan-chestnut flavors worked nicely together and we scooped up all the sauce.
We shared an order of the daily special flatbread. It had apples, goat cheese, and sage, and maybe some kind of apple cider reduction but I might be thinking of another, similar flatbread we had on the trip. It was very tasty. The flatbread was nice and crispy and chewy and I really liked the crumbled sage with the apples and cheese. It doesn't look like there was a lot of sage, but it was just enough to flavor each bite and not be too much of a good thing.
For dessert, we ordered a medium press pot of coffee. It was 17 ounces, so enough for us to each have a cup, which is all either of us wants right after a meal. It came with a small hourglass timer so we knew when to press the plunger.
We were too full to each order dessert, so we had to negotiate a shared dessert. I didn't want pumpkin cannoli because I had enough pumpkin with the ravioli and scallops. SP isn't a fan of s'mores (but I LOVE them!) so I agreed to pass on the s'mores. We ended up agreeing on the Caramel Apple Creme Brulee. It was interesting. I had not had a creme brulee with chunks of stuff in it before. This had thin slices of apples in the creme brulee. I'm not sure I really like having chewable chunks of fruit in my creme brulee. It was tasty, but I think I prefer straight, creamy creme brulee. It was nice for something different, and the creme brulee itself was very good.

Overall, we really enjoyed our meal at The Cellar. Our server was friendly and didn't rush us. We enjoyed all of our food. It is a great place for a date night on vacation dinner. I liked enjoying a little bit of a lot of dishes. If we are back in Corning, we would definitely return to The Cellar.

  The Cellar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. Let's start off with a rant.

My billing problem with UPMC is still not resolved.

  • They never faxed the form I asked them to fax (I asked on 9/26) because they decided the problem wasn't the form (even though 2 insurance companies said it was). 
  • Then on Oct. 1 they told me they were working with insurer #2 to resolve the issue and it would take about a week and they'd be in touch. 
  • Meanwhile on Oct. 6 they started calling me weekly, requesting payment and when I explain the issue and ask why they are calling me about an unresolved issue, they say, oops, sorry we don't read the notes, we just call. Then I get frustrated and angry and raise my voice and ask what they are doing to resolve this and why can't they fax a form and they say, oh, we don't have to take this/listen to you. Click. Call terminated.
  • On Oct. 17, UPMC offered me an explanation for why insurer #2 won't cover it. It's different from the explanation insurers #1 & #2 tell me. I said fine. 
  • So I called insurer #2 for clarification on how the 2 insurances work together so that I don't find myself in this kind of nightmare again and I explained what UPMC told me. 
  • Insurer #2 told me that what UPMC just told me is incorrect, that my original understanding of how the insurances work is correct, and that they would cover this bill even if insurer #1 didn't but the reason why they didn't this time is because of the missing form that UPMC won't fax to insurers #1 & #2. 
  • Insurer #2 can't make payment on a claim that insurer #1 processed with no patient liability. 
  • It was processed with no patient liability because UPMC didn't send the form to insurer #1. 
  • Insurer #2 now has a 3rd insurance party involved (local office of insurer #2). 
  • On Oct. 17 #3 sent UPMC a fax and asked for the form and some other info to be faxed to them. 
  • On Oct. 21 insurer #2 called me to say that UPMC had not yet responded to the fax from #3 but that they'd keep me posted.

So sorry if I am super frustrated and raising my voice and yelling and being a bitch to UPMC reps, but really? Not faxing one stupid form that has been requested numerous times by the patient and 2 insurance companies and now by a 3rd insurance party involved in this issue? Not ever calling me back after supposedly investigating on several occasions since August 4? Calling me weekly - no make that harassing me weekly to pay a bill that 3 insurers say I am not liable for? A bill that 3 insurers say is illegal for them to be trying to get me to pay because it violates terms of a contract they signed? Deciding that you don't like my angry tone and bitchy voice which are a direct result of your harassing me and your incompetence and your inability to resolve an issue I called to your attention on August 4? Thinking you, a billing department, know more about how my insurances work than the actual insurances?

Not to mention that the customer rep for insurer #2 has told me several times that UPMC has been unwilling and difficult to work with on this issue.

Yeah. Awesome customer service there, UPMC. Jerks. If it was a $20 co-pay, I'd pay it just to be rid of this headache. I was actually cradling my head in my hands last Friday when I was on the phone with various people. But it's not a small amount and given that my insurers have repeatedly told me I am not liable because UPMC didn't submit the paperwork to make me liable, well, I'm not inclined to pay it when it's more than the cable bill, more than the internet bill, more than the gas bill, more than the electric bill - you get the idea.

2. Last night we watched Snowpiercer. I enjoyed it a lot, and so did SP. I tend to not think too much when I watch a movie, but at the end, when a character who had nothing emerged wearing a warm, fur coat and big, furry snow boots, I asked aloud,"How'd he get the coat & boots? Where'd they come from?" SP shot me this withering look and incredulously responded,"THAT'S you're biggest problem with this movie? Where he got the coat & boots?!"

3. I am so excited for the finale of Boardwalk Empire this Sunday! I can't wait to see how it all ends.

4. I like watching House Hunters but sometimes the hunters annoy the heck out of me. One of the recent episodes I watched featured an older couple with 3 dogs. They "needed" at least a 3,000+ square foot house, at least 3.5 bathrooms, and a pool (or space to put one in) for one of the dogs. How can 2 people need that much space? That many bathrooms? And how can you possibly think it's reasonable/makes financial sense to put in an in ground pool for a dog?

5. I need a cookie to take my mind off this UPMC billing issue problem. And a cup of tea. And maybe another blood pressure pill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Poppleton Bakery & Cafe

We took a break from our day at Corning Museum of Glass to meet SP's cousin for lunch. We met him at Poppleton Bakery & Cafe. It's a cute little bakery and cafe serving soups, salads, crepes, sandwiches, and baked treats. They also have bubble tea.
SP ordered a Cranberry Chicken Crepe (cranberry cream cheese, chicken, romaine, and herb almonds). For his side he got carrot chips.
He liked it a lot - and that's all he can remember about it now, 2 weeks after we were there!
It was just the right size for him at lunch. I ordered Pimiento & Cheese Panini with Chicken and for my side, broccoli salad.
It was a tasty panini. The pimiento cheese was a little different from what I am accustomed to. I overheard it described as cheddar cheeses and pepper jack cheese melted together. The pepper jack gave it a nice peppery taste, but it was a little different than pimiento taste. I really liked it, though. Ooey, gooey cheese with a bit of a peppery bite. The broccoli salad was good, too. Tiny florets with tiny bits of chopped onion, tiny shreds of cheese, and a very light vinaigrette.
SP got a scone for later in the day. I never got a photo of it so I guess it was tasty. I got a chocolate chip biscotti and ate it the next day while we were driving over to Ithaca. It was big, a harder rather than softer biscotti, and very good. Lots of chips.

This is a great spot for a lunch in Corning. It's cute & cheerful inside. The people were really friendly and chatted with us. All of our food was tasty. Of course the best part was visiting with SP's cousin - we hadn't seen him in 3 years so it was great to talk and catch up.

  Poppleton Pastries on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Market Street Brewing Company

The first stop on our vacation around the Finger Lakes area was in Corning. We arrived around dinner time after an afternoon of driving and stopping at Kinzua Bridge. After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we headed into town. We had no reservations, no plan, we just had our restaurant research list. We decided to try Market Street Brewing Company.

MSBC has 3.5 stars on Yelp and 88% like on Urbanspoon. So we thought it would be OK bar food. I have no idea how the ratings are that favorable because our experience was awful.
  • It is wheelchair accessible, but there's a bit of a difficult lip at the door and a heavy door that likes to automatically swing shut. The hostess stood there and watched us, doing nothing to help, until the bartender said something to her, at which point in time we had managed to make it over the lip and not get squashed by the door.
  • The hostess then said she had only a booth available, and since it was late and we were tired and hungry we said OK. It was a bit tight getting through the bar area to the booth in the bar area, and as SP & I paused to figure out how best to situate me (transfer me into the booth or just roll up to the end of the table), we were blocking a guy who wanted to get buy, the hostess seemed clueless, there seemed to be general confusion around me as I eyed the booth, and a server started asking the hostess why she wasn't seating us at one of 2 available tables in the next room. ? Why on earth would you put a wheelchair at a booth when a table is available? Why on earth would you put a wheelchair in a tight pathway when there are open and more spacious seats?
  • After we were finally seated at a table, it took 5-10 minutes for our server to come over. She told us the soup of the day and took our drink orders. I asked if the iced tea was fresh (having been burned by awful pre-made crap at gastropubs/brew pubs before) and was told yes. She asked if we wanted unsweetened, we said yes, but asked for sugar on the side.
  • 5-10 minutes later our iced tea arrived. Without sugar.
  • We had to flag down another server to get sugar because our server was MIA/not looking our way when she did walk by.
  • I ordered the soup on the day (Tomato Gouda) and our server said,"Oh, I was just in the kitchen and there's just a little bit left, I don't think there's enough left for a cup of soup, it didn't look like it." ? Well, is there or isn't there? Are you going to check for sure? Or do you not want to be bothered? Is it too much effort? I was flabbergasted, as was SP, and we sat there staring at each other while she stared at us before she said,"Sorry, I shouldn't have told you about it since we're out." ?
SP ordered Mahi Tacos - fried fish filets, creamy jalapeno slaw, corn relish, flour tortillas, topped with zesty remoulade. Isn't it supposed to be fillet not filet? Maybe that was the problem. Filet vs fillet. He did not expect 2 skinny fried fish sticks on 2 small tortillas with a spoonful of corn 'relish' and a plop of sauce. I'm not sure where the jalapeno slaw was. The sweet potato fries, which cost extra (I think), were limp and soggy and gross. If you picked one up, it drooped down.
I ordered MSBC Grilled Cheese - asiago bread baked with smoked gouda and monterey jack, red onion, diced tomato, and basil mayo. I have no idea why a grilled cheese description would say baked, but let's ignore that. I don't think mayo belongs on a grilled cheese, so I asked for no mayo. Given the level of competence exhibited by the time I ordered this, I was afraid to push my luck and also ask for no onions, so I picked them out. The bottom slice of my sandwich was the heel of the bread and I dislike heels so that wasn't too great. I chose chips and salsa. I assumed salsa meant tomato salsa, not corn and black bean, and the menu didn't specify beyond the word 'salsa' so that was another strike since I despise corn and black beans. As for the tortillas... what a pathetic amount. The above photo is before any were eaten. Nine chips.

My final verdict:
  • Terrible, lazy, unaware hostess
  • Terrible, lazy, uninterested server
  • Awful food
  • Sadly small food portions
  • Poor menu descriptions
Given the service we experienced, we left wondering where the adults were at the establishment. The hostess and server were young, but that's no excuse for the service we received.

The atmosphere was more of a King's Family Restaurant or Eat'n Park than brew pub. There were a lot of kids there at 7 pm on a Wednesday.

We would not return to MSBC if we are again in Corning, NY.

Market Street Brewing Co. & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Willow


This past Saturday we had a difficult time deciding where to go for dinner. The problem was that after 8 days of dining out (vacation) followed by 3 days of pizza and lasagna, we were just not interested in food. Every restaurant we thought of was rejected for some reason. I was very close to saying we should just stay home, but I really didn't feel like cooking. So I started flipping through the dining listings in Pittsburgh Magazine and saw an ad for Willow. That sparked a bit of interest. We have been there twice before, but not since it became a sister restaurant to Grit & Grace, Spoon, and BRGR. This past summer, the interior was re-designed and a new menu created. I think it just re-opened at the end of September. So we decided to try it. Fortunately, we were able to get a 5:30 pm reservation using OpenTable.
I couldn't resist ordering the Gingers Club cocktail: bourbon, ginger liqueur, Snap, molasses, bitters, lemon. I liked it, but it was a little strong for me. The ginger liqueur and Snap (gingersnap liqueur) gave it quite a strong spicy kick. SP tried a New Castle Wolf beer, which I didn't photograph.
The new menu has some bar snacks, sandwiches, small plates, salads, and large plates. I was thinking about trying the agnolotti with spinach, squash, and goat cheese, so I asked about garlic. Our server consulted with the chef and to my surprise, returned with a marked up menu showing which dishes had garlic in them and which didn't. Pretty much everything was crossed off! I am pretty sure I could have had some of the crossed off dishes and been OK because it's usually a matter of the type of garlic/cooking time that affects me. For instance, a bit of dried garlic in a rub is usually OK and garlic cloves simmered in a braise for a very long time don't seem to bother me (although I don't eat the actual clove) BUT garlic in a ravioli filling or garlic sauteed quickly or a meat rubbed with it/studded with it almost always sets off my stomach. I really didn't want to be annoying with that level of detail and since several of the dishes I had been thinking about were on the 'safe' list, I just skipped the agnolotti (which had garlic in the filling and sauce).
To start, we shared Chopped Pear & Apple Salad (romaine, almonds, bacon, blue cheese, honey, thyme). Our server split it into two small bowls for us so we didn't have to serve ourselves from one big bowl - that was much appreciated. We enjoyed this salad a lot. The blue cheese was in tiny bits, lots of bacon, pear and apple chunks, a light touch with dressing, crisp greens. Delicious.
We also shared Parker House Rolls (bacon butter, bacon salt). Oh my gosh. These are so good. Yes, there's lots bacon flavor, but it's not overpowering. Delicious, warm, soft, fluffy, melt in your mouth with a golden slightly crusty/crunchy exterior rolls. I would go back just for these rolls. We took 2 home and on Sunday, they were just as tasty (we heated them for a bit in the oven).
Lobster Rolls Bites (lobster, celery, red onion, lemon). A mini top-split hot dog roll with a leafy green pushed down into the split and a heaping scoop of lightly dressed lobster salad piled on top. I like that the leafy green acted as a barrier to keep the salad from making the roll too wet/mushy. I had a hard time eating it because my mouth is not that huge, so I couldn't just pick it up and bite into it. I ended up scooping off the lobster salad and eating it with a fork while taking bites of the roll and lettuce with each forkful of lobster. It was very good, but my personal preference would have been for less/no onion since I found the onion a little strong. I loved how teeny, tiny the bits of onion and celery were.

The lobster rolls came with potato chips, which are in the blurry background of the photo. Usually, I don't pay much attention to chips because I don't really like them. I didn't even bother to include them in the photograph. But for some reason, I took one look at how thin these chips were and popped one in my mouth and suddenly, I couldn't stop eating them. So thin, so crispy, so good! SP liked them a lot, too, and something I thought would never, ever happen, happened: we were fighting over the potato chips. Something neither of us usually likes. We took some home (with the one lobster roll I couldn't finish) and they were still crispy delicious the next day.
Crab Cake (aioli, cucumber, Chesapeake vinaigrette). This was all crab and delicious. I managed to control myself and saved SP a bite.
SP decided to try the Charred Shishito (bonito flakes, miso butter). He said they were very tasty and that he wanted to try shishito with an Asian flavor profile, but even though they were good, and even though he usually prefers Asian flavors, it turns out he prefers shishito with more of an olive oil/cheese/nut flavor like he's eaten before (Dinette, E2).
SP's other choice was Rabbit & Dumpling (carrot, cremini, celery, pearl onion, gnocchi). He loved this dish. Usually when he's had rabbit, it's been in a red sauce, whether a tomato marina kind of sauce or red wine based sauce, so this was a nice change, a light colored broth/sauce. The rabbit & veggies were great but what he really liked was the gnocchi. They were charred on one side. He said they were the fluffiest, pillow-iest gnocchi he's ever had.
For dessert SP ordered coffee, I ordered tea, and we decided to share Pear Cake (pears, puff pastry. walnut filling, port caramel, walnut anglaise, salted caramel gelato). I don't really think of this dessert as a cake but more of a... well, puff pastry dessert that kind of tasted like baklava to me. I could taste the pears but would have liked more pears in the dessert. I loved the salted caramel ice cream. I think SP only got a wee bit of that before I scooped it all up.
We enjoyed our food at the 'new Willow' much more than we had in the past at the 'old Willow.' Our server, Victoria, was fantastic. She did a lot of work to make sure I didn't get sick from garlic and made sure of the order in which we wanted our food to be served (since we ordered multiple small plates, not the usual appetizer-salad-entree). She was friendly and chatty and easy to talk to. We enjoyed our food, in particular the rolls and rabbit-gnocchi. We would definitely go back to Willow especially since there are several dishes we didn't get to try (SP had a tough time deciding what to order since he also really likes mussels, hamachi, grouper, kale salad).

  Willow on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday Thoughts (Vacation!)

1. The past week all my thoughts have been about vacation! We just returned from a week in the Finger Lakes region. It is so beautiful this time of year! I loved driving around, soaking in the yellows, oranges, and reds of fall. I was ready to come home after 8 days away, but once I started reading emails and opening mail and looking at the list of 'still not done' crap, I kind of wanted one night in my own bed and then to head out again for another week of admiring fall colors and tasting wine and cheese.
2. I think we had more fun tasting cheese at Muranda and Lively Run Goat than we did at the wineries. That's not to say that the wineries were not enjoyable - the employees were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and the views were fantastic, but for medical reasons, we both need to watch our alcohol consumption, so we only went to two wineries.

And yes, I know you can spit when you taste wine, but that's just so disgusting. I've never been in a tasting room and seen/heard anyone spitting.
3. Back to the cheese! I need to rave about the smoked gouda from Muranda. SO GOOD. Puts the smoked gouda we but at Costco to shame. It's smoked with hickory and applewood. The cheese that is a blend of Asiago and Provolone was pretty darn tasty, too.
4. The Lively Run chevre was so smooth. We bought a log rolled in herbs de provence. The Finger Lakes Gold hard aged goat cheese was excellent, too. We also got to try several blue cheeses. While I've always liked but not loved blue cheese, preferring it mixed into salads, etc., to just eating it, I liked sampling the different blue cheeses and realizing the differences between them. SP even liked these blue cheeses! One of them was pretty hard (for blue cheese) and I really liked that one.

5. So yes. We took our cooler and ice packs on vacation and our hotel rooms all had mini fridges. We bought a lot of cheese. We brought it home to enjoy in the coming weeks.
6. And yes, we bought wine. The two wineries we visited had fantastic views. We bought a chardonnay from Lamoreaux Landing and 2 bottles from Dr. Frank, mostly because they were new-to-us grapes and tasted pretty good in the tasting room. One is a white wine made from grapes from the Black Sea area (Rkatsiteli) and one is a red made form an Austrian-Hungarian grape (Lemberger). These grapes seem to be doing well in the Finger Lakes region. The Rkatsiteli is a little sweeter than I usually like but not too sweet and the Lemberger is a light red. I usually prefer heavier reds, but the heavier reds seem to make me a little... tipsier and then not sleep well!

7. We also found time to visit the Corning Museum of Glass where we got all geeky learning about light and heat and glass and optical fibers and other science-y things at several shows/demos. We didn't make our own glass because I thought I wouldn't be strong enough to hold the pole and twirl and SP was worried he wouldn't be able to constantly twirl because of his sore wrists.
8. And we hiked! OK, mostly SP hiked mini-hikes, but he took me on one that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly and while I survived and I didn't tip over or get thrown out (we used my brand new wheelchair seat belt!) it was a little... tough on the gravel path because of rocks jutting up and branches scattered on the trail and leaves covering potential hazards. So worth it though, even if I got so cold that my hands couldn't hold the camera! There are a lot of waterfalls in the area and we went to 3 state parks to see some: Robert Treman, Buttermilk Falls, and Taughannock Falls.
9. We checked out Cornell University. It was much bigger than I expected! SP went to check out the observatory and wanted to do the Carl Sagan Planet Walk, but a lot of Ithaca Commons is torn up right now so we didn't.
10. On our first day of vacation, on the drive to Corning, we stopped at Kinzua Bridge in PA. I didn't get to see it - the parking lot was a muddy mess from rain and the walkway and bridge viewing area are under construction. SP went to check it out while I waited in the car.
Even though I didn't get to see it in person, seeing the photos of the bridge wrecked by a tornado in 2003 is pretty amazing. Nature can be so destructive.

11. That's all the Thursday Thoughts for now. I still need to do some post-vacation chores and I still have to sort through all the food photos. We had some really good food and some really not-so-great food. Last night we were too lazy/too tired to go to the store/cook/go anywhere, so we just ordered a pizza!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicken Breasts Dijon

Sometimes eating delicious home-cooked dinners is a hassle. Sometimes it's just so time consuming! If we spend a lot of time making one dish on Sunday for 2-3 dinners during the week, we'll still need another meal for the other 3-4 dinners, and the other meal needs to be easy and quick. Easy enough for me to make by myself, in the wheelchair, and quick enough that I'm not spending 3-4 hours in the kitchen (since it takes me longer than a 'normal' person to get stuff done in the kitchen). Usually the answer is chicken breasts with a sauce. Sauce helps keep the chicken moist when it's reheated.
A couple weeks ago the solution was Chicken Breasts Dijon. Even though it's easy, we made it Sunday afternoon. This was very good with a great thyme & dijon flavor, but our sauce didn't thicken as much as the sauce in the photo. Maybe we didn't boil it long enough (though we did boil it more than the suggested 15 minutes).
Maybe omitting the leeks and garlic and decreasing the onion somehow caused thin sauce? We also baked our chicken in the oven instead of browning it in a Dutch oven and then returning it later to the sauce to simmer until finished cooking.
It was still very good, even with a thin sauce. We ate it with rice and steamed broccoli.

Recipe here.