Monday, January 26, 2015

Sonoma Grille

This past Saturday was one of our show & dinner date days. We saw Pippin and then we went to dinner at a new-to-us place: Sonoma Grille. Sonoma Grille is on Penn Avenue just a couple blocks from the Benedum. It's part of the Big Y Group which also includes Seviche, NOLA on the Square, and Perle.

We went to dinner in spite of my stomach issues. I was feeling better, but not great. I really didn't want to go home and eat grilled cheese plus I felt guilty cancelling on SP because he'd been dealing with me all week and I'm sure it wasn't fun listening to me barf for a few hours or gasp in pain every hour or so for 4 days as another excruciating cramp roiled through my mid-section.

Sonoma Grille is much more spacious inside than I expected. The walls are a soft, earthy color that I think of as a peachy-terra cotta color on the walls. The tables are spaced nicely apart. When the restaurant was full and busy, it wasn't too loud. It was relaxing and comfortable. It's a wine bar, so there is an extensive wine list including several wine flight options. I didn't want any wine but SP ordered a glass of Stags Head Viognier which, when I sipped, made me wish I felt 100% better because it was really to my liking. Instead of wine, I ordered iced tea.
There are a lot of starter options (tapas, cheese, appetizers, salads, flatbreads) and it took us a while to negotiate which ones we wanted to share. After we ordered, we received a bread basket with Mediterra bread. I can't remember specifically which bread this was. It was a delicious, hearty bread and the honey butter was delicious, too.
We decided to share a couple of the Tapas. Above is the Shrimp Tenpura with steak sauce and an aioli. The shrimp were a nice size, perfectly cooked, and the breading was light and crispy, much like what I used to enjoy when I lived in Japan. Below is the Halloumi:
Halloumi with cornflake coating served with cherry gastrique and chimichurri sauces (sauces not pictured). I asked for all of the dipping sauces on the side. Fried cheese, of course it was tasty, and thanks to halloumi having a high melting point, it wasn't too melty-messy.
SP ordered the Brussels with black garlic sauce. He said they were delicious, nice and still slightly firm and lovely blackened parts.
He also ordered the Crab Bisque with crab claw beignet, creme fresh, and chives. I tried a tiny bit of beignet dipped in soup. It was very good, lots of crab flavor and a hint of red pepper. He said it was one of his favorite crab bisques.
For his entree, SP chose to create a Mixed Grill plate with one selection: herbed branzino. He chose the stir fried vegetables with it and for his dipping sauce he chose minted cucumber yogurt. It was a large portion of fish and there were a lot of vegetables underneath. He said it was delicious, but he couldn't finish all of it so he took some home for lunch the next day.
I chose Coq Au Vin. I was curious to try it made by a pro to see how it compares to the coq au vin we make at home. It came with whipped potatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and pearl onions. I picked out all the onions. The dish was very good. The chicken was cooked through but still juicy and it was easy to cut. Lovely herbs sprinkled on the outside. The chevre whipped potatoes were fantastic. The sauce was different from ours. Ours is more of a red sauce from using tomatoes while this was more brown. It's definitely something I'd order again. I wanted to keep eating because it was so good, but I was feeling quite full and I didn't want to push my luck since my stomach was kind of behaving.  It was still tasty the next day re-heated for lunch.

Neither of us ordered dessert because we were too full.

We enjoyed our food and would go back. Service was good but a little different. For instance, our server spent a lot of time going over the menu when he greeted us and telling us how much we were going to like everything. It was a little much. It wasn't just our server, we heard the same spiels from the other servers around us at other tables. The restaurant filled up while we were there so the servers became much busier as we were there and our service became a bit slow after our entrees arrived. We sat for quite a while before our plates were cleared/boxed. It would not have bothered us as much if, after eating my entree and sitting a bit, my stomach hadn't started it's post-sick-not-yet-better gurgles and such. We were there 2 hours total. However, in spite of being busy and trying to make sure everyone going to a show later that night got out in time, our sever never seemed harried or grouchy or annoyed. I was seriously impressed with his calm, pleasant demeanor throughout the evening. Everyone from the hostess to server to other employees (table clearer, bread delivery person, etc.) was cheerful and pleasant.

Another solid choice in the Cultural District. We would go back. It's actually getting quite difficult to choose a place to dine after shows because we've had so many delicious meals lately in the theater area, which I suppose is a good problem to have.

  Sonoma Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. As I type this post, I'm listening to The Afghan Whigs.. I think Algiers is my current favorite song. I can listen over & over to it. Good thing I'm home alone because SP hates when I repeat my music selections.
2. SP bought paczki at Party Cake last week. I love paczki, and so does he. He got lemon, raspberry, and chocolate cream.
3. Last week we made Graupensuppe again. It's the second time we made it and while it wasn't quite as tasty as the first time, it was still pretty darn tasty. Definitely a filling, comforting winter soup.

4. Last week I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Really good book. Made me cry, though, and then I had to tell SP all about it because I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'd like to see the movie, but not in the theater. I know I'll cry!

5. Last weekend we went to see American Sniper. Excellent movie, even with the "fake baby." Yes, I got teary at the end and I needed a tissue. So did SP. So sensitive!

6. I'm battling another round of digestive distress. That's why there was not much blog posting this week even though I actually have lots to write about.

7. This round all started with dinner last Saturday. We had planned to go out for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week but then MIL started emailing that we had to do the current birthday dinner before the end of January. Since the only Saturday in January that we could change plans was last Saturday, we changed our plans and said we were available.

Sadly, the restaurant of choice was Bahama Breeze. I acknowledge that chain restaurants have their place and are good choices for many people but for us, well, I guess we're spoiled and for the most part, we do not enjoy our meals at chain restaurants. BB in particular isn't great from my point of view because it's got this island/Caribbean theme and I despise the predominant flavors on the menu: beans, coconut, pineapple, garlic, cilantro, spicy, corn, plantains, curry. I don't even like the non-chain Kaya from Big Burrito because of the flavors.

Add to that the fact that I do not like fish and that I never order burgers when we are out because every single time I eat a burger out, it upsets my stomach, except for junior bacon cheeseburgers from Wendy's (go figure). I don't like ordering scallops, shrimp, or lobster at chain restaurants because they are never cooked properly - they're always over cooked and tough/rubbery. BB even had a lobster mac n cheese special this time, which always sounds appealing in theory but every place I've ever tried it the lobster was tough.  Plus at BB they had some chimichurri sauce with it, which didn't appeal to me. Chimichurri on mac and cheese? Gross.

There also was the 4 pm dinner time. So effing early, all because one person insists that she has to eat that early because of her diabetes. Nevermind that 2 other people have diabetes. Their diabetes doesn't matter. (Type 1 diabetes runs in SP's family, 4 people have it). No one stands up to her on this except for us, but we've given up. I'm never hungry at these dinners and when I eat little to nothing, it is of course remarked upon. Every time. I'm so sick of it. We usually eat at 7:30 pm so changing to 4 pm is difficult.

Plus, it was a Saturday, a day of chores and errands, and we had a lot to do. We did not get everything done before having to arrive at dinner at 4 pm. So we were not happy having to cut short the errands to eat dinner at old folk dinner time at a chain restaurant.

Anyway, the only thing that ever remotely appeals to me at BB is the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad. Sadly over the past 4-5 years, it's gotten more expensive and the portion smaller. The chicken was so small, it was like 1/3 the size of the chicken breasts we buy. It was cooked but tasted a little off. The avocado was brown when it arrived. I guess they didn't bother with lemon or lime juice. The bacon portion was almost non-existent. The greens I ate tasted kind of waxy or something. It was just gross.

We stopped home after dinner and then went to see the movie. Part way through the movie, my stomach started bothering me. I kept feeling like I was going to be sick and I kept praying I could make it through the movie without needing to bolt for the bathroom. My stomach continued to bother me all that night and all Sunday.  I barely ate any of the delicious dinner we made. It bothered me on Monday as well and I commented to SP that I had been feeling a "digestive distress" coming on ever since Saturday. Sure enough, I felt super sick after dinner that night. By bedtime I had the excruciating cramping. I had to move from the bed to my recliner. And then at 4 am I moved to the bathroom for 3 hours and proceeded to barf for the second time in a year after 20 years of not barfing. Just like the episode I had last July. Pepto was promptly barfed up. I was sweating, flushed, goosebumpy, shaking.

SP worked from home on Tuesday to take care of me. I was still sick and weak. I managed to eat 12 crackers, a glass of ginger ale, and a slice of toast. I still have the cramping today, and based on experience, I will until next Tuesday. It always lasts about a week.

We are never eating at Bahama Breeze again. It helps that SP said his meal was disgusting, too. His salmon tostada salad had a greasy pool of melted cheese that made the "crispy baked tortilla" a soggy mess. He wasn't happy.

8. I am hopeful we will be able to keep our dinner reservation for this weekend, but if I'm still having the cramp/spasm excruciating pain, we'll have to cancel and stay home, which really ticks me off.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I'm a little behind on my blog posts. I really need to start writing down my thoughts on meals when I make/eat them if I'm going to take my time posting them. Like this meal we made 2 weekends ago: Pastitsio. I can't remember much other than it was really, really, really good. It's one of the recipes I bookmarked in Ina Garten's cookbook Make It Ahead. Basically, Greek lasagna, or Greek macaroni - it's a hearty, comforting, delicious cold weather meal.
It's also a bit time consuming to make. And uses a lot of pots and pans. The sauce is first: ground beef and ground lamb with tomatoes, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, cayenne, red wine, and onion. It simmers for about 45 minutes and the house smells wonderful. 
 While the sauce simmered, we cooked the pasta: mini shells.
Meat sauce and shells mixed together in a bowl and dumped into a 13 x 9 pan. Next we made the bechamel sauce which includes eggs and yogurt in addition to the whole milk, heavy cream, parmesan, butter, flour, and nutmeg. The bechamel is poured over the pasta mixture and then even more parmesan is sprinkled on top.
While the casserole baked for an hour, we cleaned up.
 Bubbly, cheesy goodness. Brown edges we fought over.
This dish is rich and delicious and definitely worth the time and effort. I enjoyed the mixture of beef and lamb since I find ground beef a little boring and ground lamb much more flavorful. We really liked the hint of cinnamon warmth and kick of cayenne. The bechamel sauce is absolutely delicious - - of course, because it's so darn unhealthy with all that cream and butter and cheese! The yogurt adds a nice tang to it.
I liked this better than regular lasagna even if it seemed much more time consuming and messy to make. But gosh this pastitsio is delicious and filling and comforting - perfect for this time of year.

Recipe here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. This past week I read Gray Mountain, the latest by John Grisham. I don't enjoy Grisham as much as I did in college when The Firm and A Time to Kill were the books we passed around the dorm and everyone just had to read them, but this was pretty good, even if it was a bit too much information on coal mining and strip mining for me.

2. I read one of those old National Geographic magazines! Only 2 more to go!

3. Saturday is usually our night out, but last Saturday it was so darn cold and SP had something he wanted to do from 3-5, so we ended up staying home and making homemade hoagies for dinner. After we ate, we watched The Equalizer. Not much of a plot but it's always a pleasure to watch Denzel.

4. Worst Cooks in America is back. We love this show. It's hilarious watching these guys wield knives (but also, cringe worthy and worrisome). And that teddy bear meatloaf?! I crack up every time I think of that misshapen lump of ground meat and Anne's reaction!

5. That's it for this Thursday. I have lots on my mind, but I'm not ready to share any of it on the blog just yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Picnic Cafe (Georgia)

Center of Square in Dahlonega, the Gold Museum
Surprise, surprise! I forgot to finish the final post from our holiday trip to GA. Whoops! Our last day there, we met up with my mom, SIL, and niece to walk around the town square and wander through the shops. Around noon, we were hungry, and so was mom, so we decided to grab a quick lunch at a favorite Dahlonega lunch spot: Picnic Cafe. SIL & niece continued shopping since they were not hungry. Of course I forgot to take any photos of the entrance or interior and I nearly forgot the food until SP reminded me.
Chicken Salad Sandwich with Tomato Soup and a side of fruit
It had been a few years since our last trip to GA (since 2011, I think!). Picnic Cafe looks much the same, but this time when SP ordered iced tea, there was no lime wedge - kind of disappointing since that was a nice surprise/treat last time we were there.

We all ordered sandwiches with soup (tomato soup for everyone). SP was happy to be able to choose his bread and he chose a wheat bread for his chicken salad.
Mom chose egg salad on croissant with a side of potato salad.
I chose pimiento cheese on croissant with a side of potato salad.
The pimiento cheese was yummy, but a wee bit mayonnaise-y for me. When we make it, we use the bare minimum amount of mayo required to make it come together. It also seemed to lack pimiento. I couldn't really taste it. But that didn't keep me from eating all of the cheese and croissant!
I really liked the potato salad. Yes, it was very creamy, lots of mayo, but also some sour cream that gave it a nice, different taste for me since we never put sour cream in our potato salad. I think I liked the potato salad more than the pimiento cheese!

The tomato soup was very tasty, too, but I gave most of mine to SP since I had way too much food anyway and I know he loves soup.

There are some new restaurants on the square since we last were there and the pizza place is gone (Caruso's) but Picnic Cafe remains, and that makes me happy because I really like it for a quick, filling, casual lunch. The servers are really friendly, too. We didn't get any treats this time, mostly because we were full but also because SP & I hauled 10 kinds of cookies to GA and we were starting to get cookied out!

Picnic Cafe & Dessertery on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 12, 2015

Parmesan Chive Smashed Potatoes

When we made the Braised Lamb Shanks with Olives, Lemon, and Tomatoes, we decided on two side dishes: steamed broccoli and smashed potatoes. I'm not sure why smashed potatoes popped into my mind. I've only had them at restaurants. We've never made them, never even thought to make them. SP said they sounded good plus, they'd be something new.

Later that night, I was flipping through a cookbook my mom gave me for Christmas: Ina Garten's Make It Ahead. Lo & behold, there was a recipe for
Parmesan Chive Smashed Potatoes. So we decided to follow her recipe.
Smashed potatoes are easy but they are a little time consuming because you first boil the potatoes for 17 to 20 minutes, drain them, smash them, bake them for 25-30 minutes, sprinkle with parmesan, and bake another 2-3 minutes. They take about an hour and they make a lot more dirty dishes than simply baking potatoes or roasting potatoes. But, personally, I find these the second tastiest of the potatoes we make (cheesy scalloped potatoes are the best) so the extra work and dirty dishes are worth it.
We used only red potatoes and made enough for 2 meals. For us, that was 2~2.5 potatoes per person per meal. We packaged the leftovers in a glass container and reheated them for 20 minutes in the oven.

The parmesan makes a nice little crunchy, salty bite with the soft potato. I would have preferred fresh chives, but since it's winter we had to settle for dried. These are definitely a make again side dish. Also - it's fun to smash the potatoes!

Recipe here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. I don't do New Year resolutions. But I think I might set a goal for this year: to finally, after 4 years, finish the cross-stitch I am working on. The photo above is from 9 June 2011, the day I started this cross-stitch. I used to work daily on my cross-stitch projects, even if only for a half hour or so, but in the past 2 years, I've lost interest, I suppose. I go 3-4 months without even picking it up. One time, I moved the cross-stitch bag to the sunroom and then forgot all about it for 5 months until I glanced in the sunroom one day and saw it there, slowly freezing over the winter months in the unheated sunroom. It's almost complete. I just need to do all the final detail work, like the back-stitching and tassels. But sometimes I find that part more difficult than the cross-stitching.

2. We finished watching season 2 of OITNB. I was "meh" about the show when we started watching, but as it progressed, I got more & more interested. Even though it's been out for a while, I won't spoil anything other than to day we really enjoyed the finale - Go Rosa!

3. Last Sunday we watched Galavant on ABC. I am torn. At times, it was very clever and amusing but at other times I wondered if it bordered a bit on that stupid humor I can't stand. We'll probably keep watching since there are only 3 more hours.

4. Downton Abbey is back! One of our favorite shows.

5. I finished reading Station Eleven. It's not my usual kind of book. The side of the book had a Sci-Fi/Fantasy sticker on it. Ugh. Really not a Sci-Fi/Fantasy person, but I decided to give it a try because it seems to have popped up on many lists for one of the best books of 2014. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world, after a virus wipes out 90%+ of the world's population. Maybe I'm a little "post-apocalyptic world"-ed out after The Walking Dead, the Justin Cronin trilogy (although I am looking forward to book 3, whenever it comes out), Contagion, etc. Overall, I felt letdown by the book. I felt it didn't quite live up to all the praise it has received.

6. We roasted a chicken on Sunday and have eaten chicken for dinner for the past 4 nights. It's a really tasty chicken, and dinners have been super easy and super quick, but I'm sick of chicken. We've been poor planners since the holidays, so it looks like if I do not want chicken tonight, I can have eggs or dried pasta with jarred sauce.

Or pizza. Ordering pizza is always a good idea.