Monday, July 30, 2012

Wine Wednesdays at Mayberry: A Steal of a Deal

It was a dark and stormy night.

Wait. It was a Wednesday afternoon that just looked like night when storms blew through.

There are many things I love about working in downtown Cincinnati. But it gets creepy when you look out from the 20th floor of your office building on Fountain Square and can't see Kentucky.

Or across 5th Street

Co-workers receive messages that power is out at home. You know traffic will be a mess no matter what direction you're traveling in. What to do?

I stuck with Plan A, which was to check out Mayberry's every-other-Wednesday 5:30-7:30 happy hour deal featuring four bites and four pours of wine for a remarkable $10. I'd stopped by the previous week, thinking I was on the "every" rather than the "other" Wednesday and learned they'd skipped a week due to July 4th and anticipated Choir Games traffic that never materialized. Chef Josh Campbell said he'd be starting Wine Wednesdays up again the following week, and I assured him I'd be back.

So glad I didn't let that storm sway me from my resolve. The wines featured that particular evening were Spanish, and paired with generous portions of tapas-style components from dishes on the newly tweaked Mayberry dinner menu.

Like this wedge of Manchego from the artisan cheese board.

This Dill Potato Bacon Fritatta, which accompanies the BBQ Grippo’s Fried Calamari with Green Tomato Carpaccio entree.

And this bacon-wrapped date, from the "Snacks and Salads" section of the restaurant's menu.

A chocolate dessert was the fourth "bite," all four served on the same plate. The short pours of wine (after all, this whole she-bang is just $10) are poured sequentially. Mayberry's wine guy was on hand to provide helpful explanations if you, like me, don't pretend to be a wine guru and are curious to learn more. I really enjoyed the food and wine pairings, and I'm eager to return.
Each "every-other-Wednesday" will feature a new combination of bites and wine flights. The pairings for this coming Wednesday (Aug. 1) have been announced: Melini Orvieto with Asparagus and Ham, Grooner Zweigelt and a Blue Cheese Fritter, Villa Pozzi Nero D'Avola with a Beef Tartar Crustini, and Pacific Rim Framboise with Chocolate Goodness.

If weather cooperates, the outdoor courtyard behind Mayberry is a hidden oasis, as I discovered when I took my parents to brunch there in June. (The food, service, and lack of wait lines were the perfect prelude for showing off the changes in OTR to my 'rents, including a visit to the relocated Art Academy, where my father once taught.) When the weather is less kind, Mayberry can also crank up the AC in its new and spacious interior space (across from Japp's on Main).

I will definitely be back, although I may need to set aside a separate evening for a full-on dinner. Mayberry's Wine Wednesdays are a very satisfying series of bites (from app to dessert), at a ridiculously affordable price. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spur-of-the-Moment Porchetta Dinner at Bouquet

My Friday dinner at Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar was a last-minute impulse spurred by spotting photos on its facebook page of porchetta being prepped for evening service. I'd been fortunate to taste Chef Stephen Williams' porchetta once before, thanks to my new farmer friend Tricia Houston of Napoleon Ridge Farm + Nature Center, who arranged for me to attend an unforgettable pig tasting dinner there featuring one of her animals. A quick call to Bouquet confirmed they could fit me in at 6:30. So I turned the car around and sped to Covington.

Bouquet's menu always embraces the season and spotlights the best local produce, proteins, and other products Chef Williams can lay his hands on. For my first course, I was intrigued by the inclusion of blackberries in this tomato salad with julienned snow peas and shaved sheep's milk cheese, dressed in a basil-flecked mignonette. I am SO going to put blackberries together with tomatoes at home after tasting this combination.

"That salad is all Tricia," the chef told me when he stopped by my table, referring to the produce bursting with summer flavor. The one component from another source was the cheese. As soon as I read the menu description of it as "Kentucky sheep's milk cheese," I had to ask my server if it was from Good Shepherd Cheese. Sure enough. I met the owners of Good Shepherd last fall, who laid claim to making the only sheep's milk cheese in Kentucky, so I figured it had to be from them. I knew they were trying to expand into the Northern Kentucky market, and am delighted to see their cheese featured at Bouquet. When a couple at a table next to me raised the same question, I was even happier to know word about Good Shepherd is spreading.

Although my dinner reservation was impromptu, there was nothing last-minute about the porchetta main course. The Napoleon Ridge pork belly was stuffed with dijon, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and lemon zest, tied into a tight roll, then cooked sous-vide for 12-14 hours.

Chef Williams served a slice of the fatty, herby porchetta roll on a bed of peaches and carrots (a little too al dente for me) with tarragon, drizzled the plate with blackberry preserves, and topped the dish with one of my favorites – stuffed squash blossoms. These blossoms were filled with mascarpone, roasted mushrooms, and more blackberry preserves.

A great combination, and I liked the medium-sized portion for a dish that remains as rich as porchetta. Still, I hesitated when it came to ordering dessert. I considered sticking with a simple scoop of one of Bouquet's house-made ice creams, which never disappoint. But the "Jar Pie," a peach cobbler of sorts, sounded tempting.

I finally chose the rum cake. And was glad I did.

I got a scoop of Bouquet's house-made ice cream (vanilla) after all, sitting on a miniature rum cake. But the star of the course was this mango froth over strawberries, with pistachios and a chiffonade of mint.

I asked Chef Williams how long he thought he'd have that porchetta, and he anticipated that what he's prepped will last through part of Saturday night's service. He has more Napoleon Ridge pork belly to work with and will likely start the two-day prep process with it next Tuesday. There's a possibility he'll offer this special in future as well, depending on, er, whether he can lay his hands on more pork belly.

You can find Tricia Houston, who also supplied the squash blossoms and peaches for Bouquet's porchetta, at the Covington Farmers Market Saturdays selling produce, eggs, sausages, and sometimes pork from her farm and others. She also operates a hidden gem called the Napoleon Ridge Grocery and Deli (just past where I-71 splits from I-75 toward Louisville). Keep an eye on the deli's daily specials via facebook and drool. Or better yet, stop by.

Meanwhile, even if you're not the porkavore I am, at Bouquet you'll find delicious and thoughtfully conceived dishes including vegetarian options that highlight spectacular seasonal ingredients, as well as great wines (and beers) and a knowledgeable and welcoming front-of-house staff. Seize a bit of summer on a plate and get yourself to Bouquet!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Battle Mint, Part 2: Farmers Market Salad with Minted Shrimp

The most recent Culinary Smackdown wasn't a battle at all, as I was the only participant. But here is my mint dish anyway. In case you missed Part 1, I took my inspiration from what I found at a bunch of local farmers markets. Then, given our heat wave, I added one of my favorite cold foods, shrimp.

My farm market finds included okra and some intriguing purple pole beans (they're at the bottom of this photo).

The okra I cut into 1/2 inch chunks, sauteed in a bit of bacon fat, shallot, and chopped mint, then spritzed with vinegar, and let come to room temp. I steamed the purple beans – which turned more green during cooking – and marinated them in olive oil, balsamic, chopped shallot, mustard, torn mint, and salt. Hot veg soaks in marinade well. Then I refrigerated them for my cold dinner dish.

To accompany my salad, I couldn't resist a slice of the toasted garlic scapes ciabatta from Atwood Family Farms that I found at Bellevue Farmers Market, along with my new favorite Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese, their brie, which I eventually sprinkled a chiffonade of mint on to as well.

To dress the cold shrimp, I combined mayo, mustard, smoked paprika, a bit of caper brine, minced shallot and mint, and lemon juice and zest. I added torn mint to my salad greens, dressed them with the mint vinaigrette I'd marinated the beans in, and assembled my plate.

Cookerati, our host for this Culinary Smackdown, says she'll award me the win this time, by default. What other choice does she have? Let me know if you'd like to keep the Smackdown going or if you'd like to take a summer break. There's so much great summer bounty to cook with, but this is also the season of vacations, lots of other tempting activities, and abysmal heat and storms. If you'd like to participate and have any suggestions for the next Smackdown theme, I'm all ears :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

MarketGarden for World Choir Games: Cincy Food Trucks and More at 5th + Race

The entire parking lot at the northwest corner of 5th and Race has been turned into what the City of Cincinnati is calling MarketGarden during the World Choir Games. It includes the largest number of Cincinnati food trucks I've seen permitted to congregate in one place so far, plus other food booths, some non-food vendors (some selling World Choir Games memorabilia), and beverages - you can even get beer here.

If you were up for that sort of thing rather than making a quick walk to pick up lunch and return to your office, as I did today. Here are just a few of the booths/trucks I spotted today.

EAT!, Taco Azul, Chilly Willy's

Queen City Cookies, Kona Ice

Mecklenberg's and Eddie's BBQ

Taste of Julia's and Ruby's

Mr. Gene's Doghouse and the Queen City Cookies Schnecken Shack Truck

Choir Games Memorabilia and non-food vendors

Sugar Plum Cupcakery and Cafe de Wheels

Some of these I'm familiar with, some I'm looking forward to checking out on future visits during World Choir Games. The City hasn't published a comprehensive list of vendors, even on their facebook page for MarketGarden, although a good source for Cincy food truck updates in one place is here. Today I did not spot any of the anticipated produce vendors.

The Sugar Plum Cupcakery is also selling Madisono's sorbets and gelati! Sadly, the Queen City Cookies Schneckenmobile will not be offering their award-winning bacon schnecken here during the World Choir Games, although they will have their regular schnecken and many fabulous cookies.

MarketGarden has not been well publicized by the City, and the weather has been brutal. It is my understanding the cost is being borne by vendor fees, so I hope you'll check out what they have to offer and support. The booths are under tents, and there is also a large tented area on the north side of 5th Street for diners at MarketGarden. Plus one of these giant misters that are also on Fountain Square.

My lunch choice today was the glazed shrimp basket from New Orleans to Go. Partly because I wanted to check up on Mr. Randy. Thankfully he is out of the hospital after his weekend episode (he drove his food truck directly to the ER after feeling chest pains).

It was too hot inside the truck for Toya and Randy to turn on the oven for their famous Po-Boy's. But this shrimp basket with a refreshing Strawberry Jazz Lemonade was just what the doctor ordered today for me (now that I can finally walk the block from my office to 5th and Race after my unfortunate "frozen food meets foot" incident).

Sing, dance, eat, and explore the wonders of Cincinnati as we welcome our international guests for World Choir Games! Feel free to share more in the comments here about what's going on at MarketGarden and all around town for these festivities!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June Culinary Smackdown, Part 1: Farmers Market Inspiration

I thought about titling this post "What If We Threw a Smackdown and Nobody Came?" It's been crazy hot everywhere (except the Pacific Northwest?). We've been contending with storms, power outages, vacations, who knows what in our personal lives, plus lots of summertime opportunities. Our Smackdown host this month, Diana from Cookerati, was kind enough to extend the June deadline for Battle Mint to July 2 since she's been vacationing in Colorado. And I kinda got my Battle Mint entry together, thanks to some farmers market inspiration.

Last Saturday morning I stopped by Bellevue Farmers Market, where Chef Matt Buschle of Virgil's was doing a cooking demo with local product from the market, including chickens from Atwood Village Family Farm. I've gotten eggs and this hearty loaf of garlic scape ciabatta from Atwood before – now I know to check out their chickens too.

I ran into friends from Slow Food Cincinnati, who were covering the Thistlehair Farm booth featured on the Boone County Farm Tour. Matt gifted me with some mint, and I knew it was a sign I'd better get my dish made and a post up.

But first I had to scurry off to meet Katie of Taste and See Cincy, another Smackdown buddy who didn't have time to post this month. Katie and I met at the Boone County Farmers Market in Burlington, KY, which this time of year is open 7 days a week. In the oppressive heat, we hit only 3 of the 15 farms on the Boone County Farm Tour, but our mutual favorite was Thistlehair Farm.

Thistlehair's onsite farm stand is open Thursday and Friday, 10:00-7:00, and we loved our tour of this organic farm, where Vickie and Ed Tewes cultivate lots of heirloom vegetables and are branching out into asparagus and even artichokes - yes, in Kentucky. They also raise bees. This whimsical structure is where they demonstrate pollination.

McGlasson's is also charming, and where I found fresh okra.
I'm headed to the river to visit friend Cindie in the morning and will be back later in the week with the actual dish I made for Battle Mint. Meanwhile, have you ever tried adding mint to a BLT? Mint wakes up this old favorite. And somehow cools you down at the same time.

Happy 4th to all!