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Archive for April, 2007

Ohmigod…..

I got a call from “Mr. Mustard” (Dick Christenson) of Mustard’s Last Stand regarding their Italian Saturday Night Special.  They were serving up AT LEAST six courses of Italian food (he didn’t have the menu quite finalized yet) and it was only $26.75 a couple.  Was I interested?  Are you kidding?  This man doesn’t know me well…

Charmed and I arrived at the appointed 6:30pm with our bottle of Sangiovese in hand.  Bless them, they don’t serve alcohol, but they happily ENCOURAGE BYOB.  They had hot thin crust pizzas at the table for our appetizing pleasure, so we sat down to a couple small slices, opened our wine and enjoyed the music of Tim McKeagh on guitar. 

We were soon given a small plate of Antipasti with fresh veg, cheese and Italian meats drizzled with balsamic vinegar and oil.  Pretty flavorful.

Not long after that, we received a small bowl of Tortellini Alfredo.  I could have put my head in this bowl and licked it.  This was so good.  It wasn’t a huge portion but it was wonderful!  I could have stopped here and have been a happy person.

Following this was a bowl of Zuppe Minestrone.  This had nice spicy chunks of sausage.  Again, a tasty morsel….but I’m starting to get full….

Next course – salad!  Just a simple salad of greens with a sweeter raspberry vinaigrette that cut the spicy remnant of the sausage from my palate.  Nice touch.

We were then served our entree and at this point I’m ready to slide under the table to sleep!  This was a lovely Garlic Tilapia with Aglio Olio and a side of Broccoli in Garlic Butter.  The fish was obviously frozen and reheated, but the flavor and texture were still pretty good.

We then (visions of Monty Python and “wafer thin” start coming to mind….) received a plate of Spaghetti Pie with Meatballs and Sausage.  The Spaghetti Pie was wonderful.  Even in my totally porky state, I loved it!  Charmed and I shared this plate because there was no way we were going to finish two! 

Of course, there was a Dolce…..  Fudge Brownie with your choice of Ice Cream. 

Was this Valentino at the Venetian in Vegas?  No.  Was it good, Italian “home-cooking” that I assume someone’s lovely Mama Leone would make?  I think so!! (My Mama was German… I have no clue!)  This was simple, unpretentious, yet wonderfully flavorful Italian comfort food.  Danville lacked a good Italian restaurant, and this may fit the bill.  All of the pasta dishes are available for purchase at Mustard’s on a daily basis – except for perhaps the fish.  The shame is the location….

We received exceptional service from the Christensons and their staff and even got to know the guitarist.  All in all, this was an excellent evening out even though it was a bit too much food!  The price – what can you say but WOW!  I tried to make out my check for $53.50 thinking that it was $26.75 / person, which I believe it was worth. 

I have visited Mustard’s for a Chicago dog in the past but have been bad to not return only because it’s not on my beaten path.  If this doesn’t make me remember them, nothing will! 

If you have the opportunity, they’re hosting another Italian Night on Saturday, May 12.  They just ask for reservations so they know how many they’re feeding.  This is a lovely opportunity to support a local restaurant and sample a variety of the dishes they have to offer.

Mustard’s Last Stand     924 Oakwood Avenue     Danville     477-1100

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Charmed and I have been attempting to visit Montgomery’s on the Square in Monticello since weather foiled our Valentine’s Day.  A hair appointment brought me into Champaign on Tuesday and that translates to dinner out for the two of us.  Charmed remembered that it was “Flight Night” at Montgomery’s on Tuesday, so reservations were made and away we went!

Upon arrival we were greeted by a lovely atmosphere of old town charm on the outside and understated elegance on the inside.  The bartender was very friendly and accomodating upon our arrival, chatting us up, asking us if we’d dined there before, etc.  He explained that it was “Flight Night” and wished us a Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day before ushering us to our secluded booth.

Our waitress, Penny, brought us lovely breads to start our evening – Mediterranean with olives, three cheese, sweet, kosher salt, and garlic and herb were all presented for our choosing.  We both started the evening with a cocktail – a key lime martini for me, a Manhattan for Charmed.  She also brought this fantastic little salt service.  I usually believe that all food should come seasoned from the kitchen, but this was an interesting method of delivery.

Salt Service

The wine steward, Eric, was soon at our table to discuss the flight of the evening and the food pairings.  I was less than impressed with the nibbles on the flight menu, but Charmed is all for planned combinations, so he ordered the Tuesday Flight and I ordered the Spring Greens as an Entree.

Soon Charmed’s first course arrived – a Puree of Spring Pea Soup served with a 2005 Sileni Pinot Noir from New Zealand. 

Spring Pea Soup

Eric was back again to tell us about the wine, but unfortunately, he told us that it was from the southern island and that New Zealand has two, but told us very little about the flavors that could be expected from the wine against the soup. 

The pea soup was less pea and more celery.  It was floated with a quenelle of goat cheese which offered a creamy aspect against the wine.  The soup was fibrous, leading us to believe that the celery flavor came perhaps from celery root, but upon further questioning, we found it just to be celery.  The wine was young.  There was no eau de barnyard, as found in many pinots.  It was fruity and went straight down the tongue.  Not a bad pairing, but not extraordinary.

The second course was Field Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette.  

 Greens with Balsamic

This simple salad with homemade croutons was served with a 2005 Ciao Bella Pinot Grigio.  This Italian white was surprisingly “Welch’s” without food.  Ended dry but almost seemed to be sweet on first sip.  You would have thought the wine was a bit off if you didn’t take a bite of the salad to accompany.  With the greens the wine softened the bite of the balsamic and gave everything a cleaner finish.  Ambitious pairing – again, would have liked to have learned more about why the chef or steward decided to pair these two.

The third course was Petit Spicy Duck Tacos.  They were definitely cute, I’ll give them that.  They were served with an Argentinian Malbec – 2004 Bodega Norton Reserva. 

Duck Tacos

The duck was great with the corn tortilla thanks to the fattiness of the bird and the corn oil.  They were served on a bed of pickled cabbage that was spiced with black pepper.  The wine was bright and fruit-forward with strong notes of cherry and currant.  This was the best pairing of the meal and the wine even stood nicely against the cabbage alone.

The final course was Caveny Farm Heritage Turkey Roulade.  This is probably the biggest reason why I didn’t go with the tasting menu.  While I like turkey, I just wasn’t in the mood for a turkey roll for a night out.  Just me…

Turkey Roulade

The turkey was paired with fresh flavors of tomato and olive which overcame the inherent blandness of the meat.  Bright herbaceous notes in the wine coupled with the tannins worked well with the dish. 

My meal…..well, that’s another story.  As stated, I ordered the salad as an entree.  It came with medium-rare steak (or lamb) and fingerling potatoes.  I was served my entree with Charmed’s final course.  Upon receipt of my salad, I was surprised that the steak was in a couple large pieces instead of thinly sliced.

Entree Salad Attempt #1

Upon closer examination (and attempts to cut!) I realized that this was closer to medium well than medium rare.  The staff was quick and attentive to check on the status of our meal and upon stating the fact that the steak was not prepared as ordered, it was whisked away to be quickly replaced by something more to my liking.

Salad Entree Attempt #2

You will see the difference even with the bad photography of my phone in the darkened room.  I not only have recognizable steak I also seem to mysteriously now have my potatoes as well….  The steak was perfectly cooked if not well-seasoned.  (They did give me all this wonderful salt, after all… I just am not used to using it in restaurants like these!) The potatoes were wonderful with the goat cheese, the candied walnuts and the grapes.  The bad part though, was the spinach.  It was so bitter, coupled with the grapefruit vinaigrette that came with the salad that it overcame all the soft, round flavors that could have accompanied it nicely.  If you took a bite of just the walnuts, potatoes and chevre alone it was heavenly.  I just wish it had been served sooner in the process of Charmed’s flight.  Penny explained to me that my salad would be served with the fourth course, however I didn’t realize how little he would have left to eat when I was served and I should have asked to have mine delivered with at least his third if not second course.

So, what to say?  The staff was impeccable.  They made up for the fact that the food was not all that it could have been.  They were quick to check on us and I commend Penny, our waitress and our bartender for their prompt, friendly service.  (The bartender went out of his way to make sure that my second cocktail of the evening was sublime – a blueberry-pomegranate martini but not too sweet.  Excellent!)  The wine steward was nice but could have focused more on the wine and the food and less on the geography.  Jason, the chef, is to be commended for quickly rectifying the situation with my salad and visiting the table personally. 

I think that the restaurant is ambitious for the area and I hope that it works out the kinks because it has fantastic potential.  I know that Tuesday nights aren’t exactly the hopping evening for fine dining, and I’m hopeful that if I give them a try some Saturday night that their food is as fantastic as the service. 

You can visit their website here.

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Here’s looking at a great group of actors that filled roles at the Danville Symphony Orchestra’s fundraiser, “A Night in Casablanca.”

What an honor it was to be involved with their group and have a role in such a spectacular fundraiser.  I know of one dinner in particular for 8 people that went for $4600.  WOW!  That’s amazing AND generous!  There were 19 other auction items that took in a considerable chunk of change for the symphony.  (I lost track at over $23K!) How tremendous that such a small, predominantly blue-collar town can have such a great event.  Lovely.  Just lovely.  Hats off to all that made it a success – all the donors, caterers, volunteers, members….  You made your community proud. 

More photos of the actors can be viewed here.

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A Simple Sparkler

I love Champagne, sparkling wine, Cava …. anything with fizz.

So tonight after a particularly difficult day at work I broke into the wine cellar for a bottle of bubbles.  I picked a bottle of Cristalino Brut, a Spanish Cava.  The price point on this bottle is a very friendly $5.99 at World Market in Champaign.

 

The bubbles are plentiful with a nice, yeasty nose.  I was worried about bizarre flavor for a bottle so inexpensive, but I was pleasantly surprised with crisp green apple notes and undertones of toast and pear.  The finish is virtually non-existent.  By the time you swallow there’s little if anything left.  Residual flavors continue to focus on the apple, but those are minimal.

All in all a decent bottle of cava for $6.  While I wouldn’t serve it at one of my grandest soirees, I would definitely consider this a great option as a toasting wine for wedding receptions and parties where the majority of the attendees are not schooled in wine. 

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Fat (Cat) Tuesday!

Ahh yes….the children.  Since Charmed is in Germany and Lucky doesn’t cook for herself, I thought I’d introduce the children. 

Today’s Fat Cat is Oscar….or Ed….or Oogie….or Sock Monkey…. 

  

He was christened Oscar, but the boy has a lot of quirks that have earned him his nicknames.  For example, “Ed.”  Ed is, and I’m aware this is SOOOO not PC, short for “Special Ed.”  Oscar developed cataracts around the time he was six-months old.  He started walking into things and while sad, it was also humorous.  Oscar would’ve been the kid on the short bus with Coke-bottle glasses and a runny nose.  When he’s doing something bad he often hears this name vs. Oscar because Ed has one less syllable and is easier to shout.  While he still has cataracts, he has learned to adapt this affliction has not slowed him down.  “Sock Monkey” is another one of his monikers.  He was bestowed with this one because he developed a sock fetish.  He comes downstairs mewling and carrying a sock between his teeth that he has just rescued from the laundry basket.  We’re not really sure why he does this since he’s a boy and wouldn’t be carrying kittens, but it’s Oscar – nothing really surprises us.

At almost 7-years old and 17 lbs., he’s the master of intimidation.  He believes that he should be held at all times and attention should be paid.  It doesn’t matter that there is only two laps to share and six cats – one of them should be his, or else!  What is this “else?”  “Else” is flapping.  One of the most annoying habits in cat history.  Oscar will find a magazine, book, pile of paper, anything that he can ruffle, and pull up one corner and then let it go – FLAP!  While this sounds ooooh so cute, imagine this done to the paperback novel on your bedside table at 5am.  EVERY morning.  I try not to hit my children, therefore I spray them with water.  With Oscar, this isn’t much of a deterrent.  His hair is so thick he doesn’t feel a thing!  There aren’t a lot of options except getting up and getting the kid what he wants.  Boy, does he have US trained!

   

Although he is the most difficult of all our children, he is probably one of the most loving.  He enjoys being held and petted and is pretty patient with strangers and children.  I just wish I could de-edge my house so that he’d stop flapping for attention…but perhaps it’s better this way.  There could be worse habits.

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Sunday Sweets

It has become a bit of a ritual to bake on Saturdays to take offerings to the other poor folks that work Sundays like I am so “Lucky” to do.  I have made everything from cakes to scones to gingerbread laced with Guinness. 

This week’s inspiration came from my friend and fellow co-worker, J.R.  We were contemplating our favorite cookies and the one that topped the charts for us both was a Peanut Blossom.  Those lovely, peanuty, rolled in sugar cookies with the Hershey’s Kiss smushed in the center.  I took that same idea and wondered,  “What if EVERYTHING was chocolate?”  I encountered a bag of Chocolate Truffle Kisses on an after-Easter sale at my local drug store, and when I flipped over the bag – there was a recipe for essentially what I was looking for!  Hooray!  No internet searching necessary.  So I grabbed the bag o’ booty and baked up these for the gang:

I will say the flavor was everything that the recipe promised – brownie base with truffle goodness.  However the cookies had a thinner consistency than I would have liked and they were difficult to keep from spreading on the Silpat.  I refrigerated the dough between batches which did help but they were a little thin for my picky nature.  The gang at work thought they tasted wonderful and the entire batch was gone when I left for the day.  They were tasty, but I don’t know that I’ll make this recipe again.

Kisses Chocolate Truffle Cookies (recipe on back of package)

60 Hershey’s Chocolate Truffle Kisses                                          1/4 C. cocoa

1 pkg Hershey’s supreme brownie mix with syrup pouch          1/4 C. water

1/4 C. vegetable oil                                                                           2 eggs

Powdered sugar for dusting

Remove wrappers from kisses and freeze several hours.  Heat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour cookie sheet or line with parchment (or use a Silpat like I did.)  Stir brownie mix, syrup pouch, cocoa, water, oil and eggs in medium bowl until well-blended.  (I would recommend refrigerating here for 20 min or so, if possible.)  Drop by scant teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet.  Bake 8 minutes or until set.  Cool 3-4 minutes, sprinkle with powdered sugar and immediately press frozen kiss in center.  Move to rack to cool.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.  (I got 48 out of my batch.)

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Dinner at Bacaro

Charmed and I have had a gift certificate to Bacaro for over three years now.  Bacaro is located in Champaign on Walnut St. and boasts one of the few Wine Spectator wine lists in the state of Illinois south of Chicago.  The interior is sparse and clean – reminiscent of Blackbird in Chicago. We had purchased the gift certificate for a wine friend of ours who, promptly after said purchase, moved to Chicago for greener pastures.  So since he would most likely not be able to use the certificate, we kept it.  Last night we finally were able to use it.

 

There was a six-course tasting menu available and of course, that’s what Charmed gravitated to.  I had to go along because to order this it had to be all participants at the table.  For $60 each plus the cost of a wine pairing for each course we got the following: 

     

Wild greens and poached shrimp.  This was lemony, grassy, earthy and citrusy.  With the Prosecco pairing, it brought out flavors of fall – apples and pears.  The greens consisted of wood sorrel and miner’s lettuce.  Very tart and tangy.

 

 

The second course was a wedge of mozzarella with fava beans and fresh morels and Hawaiian salt.  This mozzarella was loose, flavorful and creamy.  This is not the heavy brick you buy in the grocery.  Absolutely amazing!  With the sweetness of the beans and the earthiness of the morels, this just sang with the occasional crystal of salt intermixed in the bites.  Heavenly!  This was paired with a syrah blend which cut the richness nicely.

 

 

The antipasti course consisted of ramps, bacon, linguine and garbanzos.  The bacon was thick cut and smoky.  The dressing of the pasta was an oil base with garlic that complemented the green garbanzos and ramps.  The red wine, which I regrettably do not remember, was bold and strong and had sediment. 

   

The entrée was a sturgeon “steak” that had been grilled, served on a bed of potatoes and greens.  The red wine served with this dish was big and fruity with heavy tannins.  The problem was that the sturgeon was phenomenal but it didn’t have the strength to hold up to such a big red wine.  Ambitious pairing but just not quite “there.” 

 

 

The cheese course was a craggy Parmesano-Reggiano drizzed with honey and served with baguettes.  This was served sans utensils, which was just fine.  We referred to this as “Ray Charles cheese” because it made you want to close your eyes and rock as you enjoyed it. 

 

 

The final dessert was a creme caramel with sour cherries and fennel.  Oh my…..the creme caramel was wonderful and that sour cherries went with it so well.  The fennel was even an interesting accompaniment offering the licorice bite with the heavy creaminess and tart cherries. 

 

 

Overall a fantastic meal that rivals some that we’ve shared in Chicago, Vegas and D.C.  We were lucky enough to meet the “cheese guru” Billy who told us that the former Persimmon Grocery next door will be turned into a cheese bar of sorts where you can have cheese and wine pairings.  YUM! 

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