Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Belted Cow Bistro and Bigger Pants

Last night, Danielle and I had dinner at the Belted Cow Bistro in Essex Junction, Vermont. We had a blast! She just got back from a volunteer trip to Costa Rica, and I had a crazy stressful week last week, so we both really enjoyed the chance to decompress with a friend, a glass of wine, and yummy food.
For starters, the bistro is adorable – I loved the décor! The walls are painted a warm yellow, and the whole place has a sophisticated country feel. The only down side was the view. I was seated right by a window, and instead of the rolling Vermont countryside one might expect, I was looking right at a gas station. This detracted from the ambiance a bit, but as long as I focused on the inside, it was great.
Now for the food: This restaurant falls into that same category I described in my last post. The menu is predictable, but well executed. I had roasted chicken, served with smashed garlic potatoes and English peas in their pod. The potatoes hit the spot – warm, and not completely smooth so that they still had some body to them. The peas were what really got me, though. They were bright and crisp and crunchy – everything a fresh summer veggie should be. Also, the bread and butter that were served with dinner were exceptional. They keep fresh loaves on a rack in the dining room and look beautiful (they certainly add to the rustic charm). The butter has a slight sweet honey hint to it that made the bread something special. Danielle had a scallop appetizer that was really good – two big scallops served with a grainy mustard sauce. The combination was different and unexpected – and tasty!
And then on to dessert, finally. First I have to tell a little story. As you might have guessed, I watch a LOT of foodie shows (as in, my TV is almost always tuned to Food Network). I enjoy cooking shows, like 30 Minute Meals or Barefoot Contessa. I think they provide the viewer with a lot of great kitchen tips and new meal ideas. However, food competition shows really take the cake for me (sorry, bad pun – I just can’t seem to help myself). I love Iron Chef, Chopped, Next Food Network Star, and so on. Over the weekend, I saw an episode of Cupcake Wars for the first time, and I liked it more than I thought I would. On the show, one of the teams made a s’mores cupcake. It was a gooey chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker crust and a toasted marshmallow meringue frosting (i.e. they took a blowtorch to the meringue for a toasty look, texture, and taste). Okay, now that I’ve explained all that, I can go back to last night’s dinner. So, the Belted Cow Bistro’s dessert menu already looked amazing, and then our server announced a dessert special – two s’mores cupcakes just like to ones I’d just seen on TV! We ordered them in a heartbeat, as well as a Jack Daniels Bananas Foster Cheesecake Parfait, which was exactly what it sounds like – layers of banana cheesecake, Jack Daniels sauce, and graham crackers. Danielle and I shared these two desserts, and both were amazing (as pictured above)!
The service was really good as well. Danielle and I can be pretty goofy together, and our waitress was happy to joke along with us. We had an early dinner – we arrived just after they started serving dinner at 5:00. I don’t know if this added to the casual atmosphere or if the restaurant is always like that, but I definitely appreciated it.
So Danielle and I managed to stuff ourselves to the brim, in a very good way. At the close of our meal, I was discussing an internship that I desperately want next Spring. It is an editorial internship at EatingWell magazine, based right here out of Charlotte. I found out about the opportunity four days after the deadline to apply for Fall, so I am already gearing up to apply for the Spring semester. This would be a dream come true. I joked with Danielle about how the internship would draw to a close just as I graduate with my Master’s, and how wonderful it would be if I was able to get a full-time job at the magazine afterwards. I would have my dream job, and not have to move to New York City to get it! Danielle remarked that I’d have to be sure to include her on my culinary excursions. Her final comment? “I’m gonna have to get bigger pants!”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Restaurant Review...or five

I am very lucky here in Burlington. For those of you that don’t know me, I absolutely love to go out to eat. I like to try new places, but I also have some favorites that I continue to revisit. I like the whole experience – being waited on, having new and different meals prepared for me, spending time with friends and family over the dinner table. When given the choice, going out for dinner (of breakfast, or brunch, or lunch, or…) is my favorite way to spend my extra income.
Thankfully, one of my closest friends here in Vermont, Danielle, feels exactly the same way. Over the past year, we’ve fallen into something of a routine. At least once a week, we get dinner together. If we have a class together, dinner usually falls after that, otherwise, we wing it (sometimes literally…get it…Buffalo wings…oh, never mind). Because of this, we have hit a lot of Burlington’s more prominent restaurants. Of course, sometimes we get lazy and do Chili’s or Olive Garden, but that’s pretty rare. We much prefer to check out the local foodie scene, which is extensive. Some of the notable places we’ve visited include:

Al’s French Fries: iconic and cheap – and a great cremee stand in the summer!
The Kitchen Table in Richmond, VT: One of the most hyped about places around, they focus on local ingredients. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere was great – the restaurant is housed in an old farmhouse with a lot of charm. The food was yummy, certainly not a disappointment, but nothing too special either. The chef’s liberal use of bacon is definitely a plus.
The Icehouse: Deemed one of the most romantic restaurants in Burlington – which I could see, if you watched the sun set over Lake Champlain with your sweetie. Otherwise, this establishment has nothing to brag about. I ordered a spicy seafood dish and asked them to not make it too spicy. Instead, it came out bland. Desserts were satisfying but predictable. The service was a 3 out of 5. Confession: I LOVE Red Lobster. I know, I know – a chain?!? But what can I say? I’d hoped The Icehouse would provide a good substitute, since we lack Red Lobster’s here in the Champlain Valley. Nope – although the décor was similar, Red Lobster’s food is way better. Yes, you read that right.
The Windjammer: This restaurant did provide me with the seafood I was so craving after The Icehouse let me down. The crab legs were great, if not a little pricey, and the salad “boat” is a lot of fun. Service and atmosphere were pleasant, too. The quality of my experience surprised me, considering the restaurant is associated with a hotel – not usually a good sign for culinary excellence.
The Bearded Frog in Shelburne, VT: One of my favorite restaurants so far. The atmosphere here is wonderful – warm and cozy, including a real working fireplace. The service was also really good. My appetizer and entrée were good, too, but dessert was what really shined.

At this point, I need to take a break from my listing to make an important statement. This list is only a small sampling of our experiences. We have also visited Sweetwater’s, Scuffers, The Lakeview House, and Leunigs. The reason I lump all these together is their similarity. Okay service, okay food…but nothing that makes them shine, you know? The menus are also all very predictable. Salads with Vermont cheese, steak, some kind of seafood, desserts that require assembly more that actually culinary expertise. Even the Kitchen Table and The Bearded Frog fall into this category a little, but their atmospheres and service are what set them apart. I know I sound pretty negative right now, and I don’t really mean to – despite my comments here, I still enjoyed my meals at each of these establishments. I am more just making an observation, and would welcome comments on the topic.

That’s a lot of information to take in, and it is only a fraction of what I have to offer – I didn’t even get into breakfast joints yet! That’ll have to be a later post, as I am out of time and energy for the moment (so much for the superfoods diet, huh?). Until next time!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Welcome, Welcome

So, welcome to my new blog! In case the title didn't give it away, this is a blog about eating, both in and out of the kitchen (read: my attempts at cooking as well as my adventures eating out around town will be chronicled).
I suppose if I am going to expect you all to be interested in what I have to say, I should first introduce myself. I'm Allie. I am a graduate student working towards a graduate degree in English at an undisclosed location in Burlington, VT. Fun fact: did you know that Burlington has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States? Obviously my culinary options here are ample.
As I mentioned, I am a grad student in English. More often than not, when I tell people about my subject, they say, "What are you going to do with that?" For a long time, I didn't really have an answer -- maybe a teacher, maybe a writer, maybe...My indecision is no more. I finally have a clear path in front of me -- I want to be a food writer! I want to spend my days eating delicious food (and inevitably sometimes not so delicious), and writing about it. My dream job? To be the food critic for the New York Times, or to be the Editor-in-Chief for Food Network Magazine. Lofty aspirations, I know, but what's the point of dreaming if you don't dream big?
So now you know where I'm coming from, but it occurs to me that I have yet to talk about actual food. Here it goes.
Right now I am following a meal plan I got from Self magazine. it includes a lot of "superfoods" to increase nutrition, make you look younger and fitter, etc. -- basically a miracle diet, right? So far I've only been following to plan for two days, but I'm enjoying it. Do I look younger and more full of energy yet? For lunch today I had a really yummy salad made from mixed green, chucks of watermelon, and feta cheese, with a little vinaigrette tossed it. It was a light and fresh meal, and eating it made me feel light and fresh. Too bad I had to eat it at my gloomy desk instead of outside on the gorgeous New England day.
I guess that's it for now. In an upcoming post, I plan to write about some of the restaurants in Burlington that I've visited, and whether or not they lived up to my expectations...