Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Special Thanksgiving Day Visit

Perkins Restaurant & Bakery on UrbanspoonThanksgiving in the States is always a festive occasion, one which involves the gathering of families and friends to enjoy the company of one another, drink too much Irish Whiskey and Egg Nog, and no doubt watch the Detroit Lions lose another game of what you American's mistakenly call 'Football', a sport with 53 players on a team yet only two can actually touch the ball with their feet! Very peculiar indeed.

On such an occasion, Watson and I in past years might have enjoyed a gathering of our own, filling our quarters at 221-B Baker St. with all manner of guests and associates that we've come to know thru our professional and social circles. This year however, due to a quirk in scheduling we had been invited to attend a Thanksgiving feast at the home of Prince Michael and Lady Elizabeth but such an event was not to take place until FRIDAY, the day after the traditional celebration is observed. It seems that Lady Elizabeth was working at the hospital attending those in much more need than the likes of a couple of old Londoner's and we all readily agreed to postpone our own rejoicing for one day so that we might celebrate together.

Additionally, with Watson's Mum in a wonderful ALF/Sanitarium nearby, we thought this might be a splendid opportunity to visit with Dame Watson and give HER thanks for bringing my old pal into this world. The only ripple with this plan was that Dame Watson insisted on going out and ordering Potato Pancakes for lunch as it had been a long while since she had  had such a treat. And who are WE to deny such a small culinary request?

Now normally this would not have been an issue in ANY manner of being as the options availed one in Northern Pinellas for such a menu item are plentiful. However, on this particular day it might have proven to be more of a quandary had it not been Old Lady Watson herself who suggested "Let's go to Perkins! They have great Potato Pancakes!"

And so it was that we found ourselves at this particular Perkins Family Restaurant on Thanksgiving Day, joined by the lovely Lady Stephanie, ordering all manner of foods to satisfy our inner rumblings. [Rumblings made all the more onerous from an early morning jaunt at the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot in Clearwater at the proverbial crack of dawn.....So early in fact that we were seemingly made responsible to awaken the sun itself!]

The Perkins table was soon filled with Potato Pancakes and Applesauce and sour cream, Blueberry Pancakes with Over-Easy Eggs, Chicken Club Sandwiches, French Toast, Hash Browns, Fresh Fruit, Chicken Soup, and endless pots of coffee for the taking. Hefty portions of all left everyone filled to the brim with much to accompany us home as well but it was the other patrons in the restaurant that had my attention. An endless stream of cars pulling up depositing hungry families, elders and youngsters, fathers and mothers with their OWN father's and mother's, aunt's and uncle's, all ordering from a wide  gauntlet of items including the Thanksgiving Special Turkey Platter with Mashed Potato's, Gravy, and Stuffing for $12.99....Stupendous I say! 

And the PIES and CAKES! Box after Box of delectable goodies taken by nearly all to the car afterward for visits oncoming, with many simply idling outside while cakes and pies were purchased at the counter and brought to the waiting motor coach. 

Everyone employed at this grist-mill was extremely pleasant to deal with and more than happy to accommodate every request, especially our waitperson Holly who was full of smile and simply the epitome of professionalism and poise.

This visit was much more than a pleasant surprise and won Perkins a place in our future endeavors!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Creperie for a Special Treat!

Crepes & Crepes on Urbanspoon

On our last day in Denver recently visiting the Baroness of Downing, she had us visiting an area we had not been to in over 25 years, the Cherry Creek Shopping District, for a quick spin thru and a stop in to a  little French place for brunch called Crepes and Crepes.

Sequestered away between two forward sitting outcropped storefronts, it's very easy to stroll right by but resist that urge and seek out this delectable denizen of dining for while the outside of this abode is nothing to look at, the inside is beguiling in it's railroad flat chock-a-block manner of internal design.

Not since our adventures on I'le St. Louis in Paris had we found as delicate AND as formidable a French breakfast parlor and Crepes and Crepes certainly delivers. With Crepe choices tempting us such as Seafood Provencal (Salmon, Scallops, Crab, and eggs in a white wine bechamel sauce) or the Fresh Strawberries and Blueberries with Chocolate Sauce (from the 'savory' side and the 'sweet' side respectively), we chose to relax a bit, read thru the menu carefully and.............order an Irish Coffee (or two) in order to make certain we all chose expertly.

Thus it was that we were brought a Ratatouille Crepe for the Baroness, a Wild Mushroom Crepe for Watson (Champignons sauvages domestiques aver sauce aux champignons) while I chose a Florentine Crepe of Spinach, Canadian Bacon, and Jarlsberg Swiss cheese..... and another delicious Irish Coffee in a mug as large as the English Channel.

All were savory, scrumptious, and delicate and made with eggs melded inside in the style of our choosing. Completely satiated and a little wobbly (darn Whiskey!) we made our way back thru the rooms towards the front door with the feeling that we had stepped back into a little French ambiance and gastronome and found ourselves back out in the shopping district.

Once back out on the sidewalk the memories came flooding back. No visit to this enclave could be complete without due homage paid to two of the anchors of this area from eons ago: The Bay Wolf Restaurant and the original Tattered Cover Bookstore.

It appeared to me that the famous Bay Wolf Restaurant and Jazz Club was located on the west side of Detroit St. between 2nd and 3rd and was reached by stepping down the brick steps that now lead one to a ...... Yoga Studio............ and it was here at the Bay Wolf that I had once feted one Miss Irene Adler on an inaugural date and subsequent christening of an American Express card that they certainly had NO sense in sending to me in the first place. My financial standing at the time was similar to that of a fine brassiere: No visible means of support.

Nevertheless it was a very special occasion and left a lasting memory only now recalled fondly.

Similarly, walking along 3rd Ave I spied what I might venture was the 2nd 'original' location of the Tattered Cover Bookstore, now an Artisan's Center.

For it was so many years ago working on a case after leaving the University that had me 'posing' as a N.Y. Times delivery person in this now gentrified neighborhood. Picking up the stacks of the news at Stapleton Airport where they had been 'flown in' after printing back in NY, I brought The Olde Gray Lady to nearly all of the metal delivery boxes in Cherry Creek as well as many of the 'more informed' homes nearby.

Now as I recall it was rather quite pedestrian by nature to handle the individual home deliveries but the news boxes posed a unique problem and was an integral aspect of my initial investigation, one which was soon solved (but only after securing my services mind you!)

It was only after several months of painstaking detective work and diligent planning that I was then entrusted to this particularly coveted route, one which not only gave me exposure to a sizeable amount of coinage but also access to a much greater treasure.

Hidden amongst the stack of newspapers at Stapleton was a cash burlap bag filled with dozens and dozens of quarters mixed with perhaps hundreds or rubber bands, buried together to keep the jangling to a minimum lest they should draw attention to the carrier needlessly. Quarters that were then used to gain access to the boxes, retrieve the old papers and deliver the new ones inside.

Yet the 'golden treasure' was being given The Key to the Tattered Cover! The responsibility was palpable and was handled with the gravity that such responsibility warranted.

With key in hand I was entrusted to open the store door (all these deliveries took place between 12:00 Midnite and 2:30 am under cover of darkness), disable the alarm, deliver the Times to it's place at the front of the aisle near the register and remove remainders. Then I was to scurry back the same way I had come, reset the alarm, close and lock the door and return to my delivery coach and spirit away before being discovered.

As my first assignment as a 'detective' I had discovered that I had been plucked from the seeming hordes of applicants because I had for years been an avid recipient OF this fine paper and as such had been deemed to have the integrity and the strength of character to be entrusted with such responsibility. This was a lesson that I kept with me inside and continue to hold to even now for what is it but the trust of others that allows one to keep your wits about you, especially when all others seem to be losing theirs.

So as we left the Baroness to her own designs that Sunday afternoon, Watson and I headed out towards Mayor Federico Pena Blvd. reminiscing about the hoopla back in the day about the space and urban planning needed to replace Stapleton Airport which was being quickly over run with housing and commercial development. The thickness of 'The Brown Cloud' pointed the community leaders then, headed by the Mayor (and his marathon running wife Ellen) towards placing DIA in what could only be viewed than as Kansas. Sly as a Fox that one!

True leadership is understanding that your decisions may not always be popular when they are made but that if your faculty's are correct and your deductions reasoned, the ultimate good will will be paid once the wisdom of your decisions is recognized.......sometimes many years later, sometimes only after your passing. It is fortunate for all who visit this Queen City that such wisdom was evident so many years ago and that Mr. Pena and the city planners of his day took such bold steps.

Crepes and Crepes is a jewel to be treasured and should be visited for a treat not afforded us often!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

ODEON in Tribeca

Odeon on Urbanspoon
I've discovered during my research that some of the more remarkable and serendipitous occasions has been afforded me when involving a spate of spontaneity, wandering around and giving 'chance' an occasion to flex it's muscles. And so it was with a trip to Odeon in New York recently. [It should be noted that this visit occurred on the Saturday prior to Hurricane Sandy making landfall and ODEON and many other structures in the Tribeca area were subject to the brunt of Sandy's furies and residual waters.]

When Watson and I retreated from a matinee performance on 47th St. of the remarkably fresh and lively performance of 'Once' at the Jacobs Theater, we had a plethora of evening functions before us: Esperanza Spaulding at the Apollo was an attractive draw but with our energy levels low on vitality, it appeared that a lower key evening might be in order. 

 Taking the F Train south to 4th St., with a change to the E train, and in very short order we stood before the construction site of the World Trade Center in S. Manhattan. Now suffice it to say that the emotional toll that such a visit takes on one's soul after being among those in this area for oh so many years, a time spanning decades, well, this is not the place to record any sort of testimonial about the events of 9/11/2001, however revered and humbled one might be.

Thusly, our primary focus in this space will be the fine eating establishments thriving in this area of Manhattan known as Tribeca, or the TRI-angle BE-low CA-nal St. as they like to say.

With iPad in hand and a very spotty 3G link we circumnavigated our way to a few choice locations in the area and simply chanced upon ODEON on S. Broadway and Thomas St. Walking in unannounced at approximately 6 PM on a Saturday evening found us introduced to several available tables but a full bar area with patrons wetting their proverbial whistle.

'No Issues' was the response from our fine host and we were immediately squired to a table and asked about our preferred libations. Now as many of you know I am a stickler for the attention paid to the proper blend of ambiance, theme, menu, and beverage availability. ODEON classifies itself as somewhat of a GastroPub and with an architecture not teeming with such a proclamation I was interested in how they would present themselves on paper……..and reached for the menu eagerly.

'Great Scott!' I rejoiced internally for their alcoholic profferings included 12 different bottled brews, fully HALF of which I had never seen before, in addition to another 3 on pull. But not content with that there was also a full 10 spot of Whiskey's offered including the relatively rarely found Stranahan's American Micro-Distillery of Denver, Co. Accompanying this list was also 13 very select Single Malt Scotch varieties including Laphroaig 10 yr., Bunnahabhain 12 yr., and one of my favorites - Macalan Highland 18 yr. which my father had me sampling as a small boy in the hinterlands of Scotland while on holiday. And with a very healthy listing of fine wines, champagnes, and other niceties there was enough to make even the most hardened curmudgeon smile.

Dropping his sometimes infuriating pretense for tea, Watson stretched his horizons if only for a bit and ordered a Radeburger Pilsner from Germany while I chose a Chimay Rouge Ale from Belgium, both of which were new experiences to us.

And an experience they were! The Radeburger was light , airy, and as fresh a pilsner as can be had and was the perfect choice for Watson's sometimes delicate constitution. Think the sudsy Stella Artois only much better! The Chimay Rouge Ale, in it's short, squat amber bottle offered a slightly fruity ale taste with a circular heavy gravity. Served in a petite wine glass, it's 11.5 oz. may have been light and fruity but it delivered on it's advertisements fully.

With our initial inquiries all met and exceeded, Watson and I decided to push this envelope and see how much this ODEON could take from our investigative eyes. Soups were thus ordered, a Celery Root for Watson and a French Onion Gratinee for myself, and *poof* they appeared on our tables in no time.

The French Onion Gratinee, served in a soup bowl that I believe is a hidden mandate in all restaurants that French Onion Soup be served in (ah, you know the one!), it was tart, brothy, served startlingly hot beneath a toasted crouton and cover of melted cheese, and had the finest slivers of delicate onion without a hint of sherry. The Celerey Root apportioned to Watson was served in a perfectly sized bowl-ette and it's mix of chicken, chick peas, and carrots along with the cream of celery root acted as a deliciously calming influence to Watson't grumbling innards.

Our primary plates were a Grilled Eden Brook Trout with Red Quinoa, vegetable salad, smoked almonds, and parsley butter along with a Sullivan Farms Pan Roasted Chicken with Autumn Vegetables and Au Jus.

The Eden Brook Trout was served skin on and folded closed on the quinoa, not a presentation we had seen before and initially gave the appearance of a much smaller portion than it was. However the burst of flavor in this dish was more than the sum of it's visible parts.

Just as impressive was the Sullivan Farms chicken in Au Jus. When I first spotted the term Au Jus I anticipated a simple broth of darkened chicken juice at the bottom of the plate. Yet this au jus was as sweet and as delicate as the Port I ordered later with desert and was more delicious than any broth I've had the pleasure to taste. And I'm making a note to investigate Sullivan Farms in the future for there MUST be something untoward occurring at this farm for this was the most succulent, most delicious piece of bird I've ever experienced. Also served skin-on this breast was done perfectly and I mean with exquisite attention. Magnifico'!

With the Chimay quickly downed, I opted for heft over delicacy and ordered the Schneider Organic Edel Weiss in it's 16.9 oz. bottle, a Yeti of a bottle for certain. But I was mistaken here as well with my initial anticipation for it too was as delicious and as delicate as I have tasted, and the size allowed me to taste, and taste again throughout the meal.

All the previous tastings notwithstanding, it was the simplest of deserts that sent our minds wandering into a fog not dissimilar to those induced by the demon morphine. A  bowl of freshly made ice cream with representative scoops  
of Chocolate Chip Mint, Chocolate Dream, and Cinnamon - simply the most astounding array of flavors in one bowl! Fresh Mint leaves within the ice cream had this Londonite transported to his upbringing in the Brentwood section of Chelsea with it's Leg of Lamb and Mint Jelly accompaniment made from the mint growing wildly in the fields. And the Cinnamon! As fresh and as willowy as a breakfast of French Toast with it's airiness swirling about. Touche' Old Boy! 

And so it was that with a Decaf Cappucino and a PortSmith Woodhouse Special 
Port we tidied up our bill and headed back out all the more elated at such a find, only to stumble into the chef himself at the door who asked how we enjoyed our meals. When we waxed poetic about it's grandeur he was all the more inquisitive about what it was exactly that we had. 

His genuine interest in specifics sealed the case for me as one of utterly superb dimensions and gained ODEON a tip of the hat indeed!

Come Quick Watson! The Game's AFOOT!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dimitri's on the Water - Tarpon Springs, FL

Dimitri's on the Water on Urbanspoon
Putting our last caper behind us, Watson and I felt perhaps it was a good time to enjoy a hearty burgundy and some well tended Greek food and with Tarpon Springs, FL boasting the largest percentage of Greeks in these United States, it was high time that we focused our powers of observation and keen analytical skills on the famous Sponge Docks here, an intriguing area northwest of Tampa simply teeming with Greek restaurants and shoppes.

Part tourist haven and part Greek pantheon, this dockside destination cannot help but drip Greek authenticity what with so many great eating establishments:  Mykonos, Hella's, Mama's, Costa's, Plaka, Yianni's...a cacophony of Spartan enclaves - and still there were more and with most on the same main strip of Dodecanese Blvd. And while some of these places simply drip heavy Greek kitsch and give one the strong impression of being on a restaurant movie set rather than an authentic Greek Restaurant, there is no doubt in this investigators mind that each offers their own versions of true Greek cuisine.

 Investigating the entire lot of restaurants seemed to be in order but with a need to start somewhere, a tip from a trusted local led us to 'Dimitri's on the Water' for our first excursion. 

Let us see what this true Greek mecca could serve up. 

An early Saturday afternoon hunger brought us into Dimitri's around 5:30 PM and we were quickly seated right on the outside dock area next to the water. 

The outside of this restaurant, with it's heavy block mustard brown facade, gave us no indication what awaited us inside. Yet upon entering I noticed immediately the melange of Greek life all about us. Not the trappings of commerce mind you but actual Greek life; full Greek families, couples, parties, kids..... all very much Greek (this was a known given the Greek language being spoken so heavily and the festive Greek aura at each table). All thoroughly enjoying themselves, some dancing to the lone musician singing Greek melodies on his guitar near the bar, others merely clapping and singing at dinner parties throughout.... and with nary an 'OPA' to be heard!

 The other clue that we were on to a veritable Greek experience was the visible lack of 'tourists' to this emporium. While seemingly not  a clue worth noting to most but take note I did for with very few tourists in a predominantly tourist-y area, and with visibly tourist-minded Europeans meandering in their lobster-burnt skin up and down Dodecanese Blvd., here Dimitri's was filled with locals...... those who know where to go and where to enjoy their true gastronomic heritage - THIS was going to surely be the test of fine Greek food as our past experiences have pointed us towards a positive final result most when locales are laden with a heavy local customer base thereby ensuring it's success. 

And this was just such a place. Hmmmmm... intriguing to say the least.

Seated, we were approached quickly with water and laminated menus (the stuff of legend for sure), our stomach's were already beginning their own separate dialogue ... and most loudly I might add. 

Upon first perusal the menu entries seemed almost rudimentary, one might say pedestrian even, with category headings titled 'From the Boat' or 'From the Farm' along with Appetizers and 'Burgers, Sandwiches, and Wraps'; in my view this did not bode well. It wasn't until I focused more closely on the handwritten listings underneath each heading - these were in fact TRULY Greek specialties we were being offered.

Watson and I ordered an appetizer of Melitizanosalata, which might also have been a flying dinosauropod in prehistoric times for what I discerned but was actually a small yet spritely melange of eggplant, garlic, onions, parsley, and olive oil served with toasted pita wedges...Trusting only our instinct with these offerings we ventured courageously and gastronomically forward. 
And Great Scott was that a tasty dish! So tasty was it that like the smoke from my restful pipe, *Poof*, Watson and I had finished it off before one of us could even snap a picture! Yes, THAT was tasty!

Thalassina - Grilled Octopus, Scallops, Calamari, and Shrimp
Continuing to peruse the entree listings I felt as if I was being wrapped by stretching tentacles and pulled into the offerings themselves, suddenly overwhelmed and taken by anything and everything involving Octopus.... this cephalopod was listed more on this menu than on any I'd ever read and these very listings drew me to them like the Sirens called Ulysses. My acute hunger zeroed in on the 'Grilled Thalassina', an amalgam of Grilled Octopus, Calamari, Scallops, and Jumbo Shrimp..the Four Seaman of the Deep if you will. And as if that wasn't enough to satisfy my pangs I was given the further choice of two additional side items. So staying outside the Kings Square (or the Queen's 9 dots you might posit) I elected the Rosemary Chickpeas and the Briam, or braised vegetables, which I ordered simply because I had no earthly idea what it was at all.

Rosemary Chickpeas - served hot!

BRIAM - Braised Vegetables, also served hot!
Watson was less venturesome and went out on a limb ordering a ........Greek Salad! (Oh COME now Watson! Stretch your culinary boundaries and live a little my boy!) But such entreaties fell on deaf ears as our waiter soon warned my good friend that the size of the Greek Salad ordered was certainly reason for pause. And at a whole whopping (a'hem, cough, cough)  $14.00(!) I seriously doubted it COULD be very large. Additionally, with Watson's portly disposition I doubted that Dimitri's could deliver on such any such warning that the Dr. could not handle easily. 

Dimitri's Greek Salad
Yet when our meals arrived I sat flummoxed as the succulent morsels of chargrilled sea denizens were nearly too much for even myself! I dove in immediately! 

However, it was Watson's Greek Salad that drew my uncomprehending and discerning eye. It was simply MOUNTAINOUS, large would not be the correct term...more like the size of a Royal Pheasant or what you American's sometimes call a Butterball turkey! It was so stupendous that afterward it took TWO large to-go boxes to cart out the remains....and yes their WERE remains although Watson DID put a King James sized dent in his plate! 

 As stupendous as that was however, the deliciousness of the Grilled Thalassina is certainly not to be underemphasized. Served on a very large dinner plate yet swimming in a hot broth of lemon, olive oil, and spices, the shrimp and calamari were teeming, the scallops spare yet superbly succulent, and the octopus was without question the most delicious I have ever had in all my years of study...grilled or otherwise. So mouth-watering and delicious was it that the tentatcles of it's taste is still reaching into my mind over a week later.
Thalassina - Grilled Octopus, Scallops, Shrimp, and Calamari

By the time we were wrapping up our meal the early evening sun was setting on the serene Anclote River and it cast the entire area in a warm October glow......perfect for an after dinner stroll along the curio shoppes nearby. 

Our stomach portly, and our hunger sated, we exited with smiles on our faces and a determination to take this Greek city one restaurant at a time but we both agreed that Dimitri's was an excellent First Choice!

Come Quick! This Game is surely afoot!

Dimitri's on the Water on Foodio54