Everything's Up to Date in Summery Clayton

Bellas on Urbanspoon

I hate it when I'm busy doing laundry and blogging, and miss whatever they just made on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which looks like fabulous, crispy, fatty carnitas mixed with sticky rice and teriyaki sauce. Guy! Gimme that, whatever it is! ...Sorry. The pork dazzled me. I'm supposed to be here this week to talk about Clayton, the bezel-set diamond of the St. Lawrence, quietly glittering on the coastline, letting Alex Bay get the oohs and aahs while it gets the job done.

There are some new joints in town finally getting their land legs under them now that we're heading into summer's last month, and some old friends pulling out all the stops to breathe new life into this cool little town. So let's take a gander, shall we? It's summertime, and the eating is easy, after all.

On Mary St., across from the Antique Boat Museum, in a building that's been many an eatery in my lifetime alone is the new Wood Boat Brewery. I haven't had a bite to eat there yet, but that porch is money, with good tunes not turned up too loud, great beers (Dogfish Head Festina Peche is above), and a simple menu of sandwiches and pizza. As ever, I'd like to see seafood do some more heavy lifting when I have a water view like this, but hey, if pulled pork sandwiches sell, so be it. Had lobster rolls been on the menu, they would have had a dinner party of three, but instead we rolled on down the road.

Bella's Bistro, over on Riverside Dr., AKA WATERFRONT, has welcomed back former sous chef Andy Wehrle as its executive chef this summer. "Where have I heard that name?" you might ask? Andy was heading up the kitchen at Skewed Brewing in the Salmon Run Mall until recently, but decided a riverside gig suited his disposition, and returned to Bella's kitchen. Since we last visited this little gem, the owners, Missy and Matthew, have added an absolutely gorgeous waterfront patio and deck. It's glorious enough for a proposal or rehearsal dinner, and suited us just fine for mom and dad's 30th Anniversary dinner.

My moscato strawberry lemonade also liked its view:

And here, for me, Andy brought the seafood. I enjoyed this special immensely, a sort of deconstructed sushi platter, with the nutty, toothsome, inky black forbidden rice, and tangy, citrusy seaweed salad anchoring a gorgeous fan of tuna barely kissed by the heat of a grill. This fish was handled with finesse, and the tiny pops of tobiko (caviar) in the spicy ginger sauce were like fireworks for the mouth. This was the taste of summer I was looking for, and though decidedly not a lobster roll, quite yummy.

Just up Riverside and across the street sits the grande dame - the historic Thousand Islands Inn, birthplace of thousand islands dressing. New owners Jamie and Brad are in the middle of a complete redo of the interior of this landmark, and had hoped to open the kitchen this summer with BHS darling Chef Gabe Aubertine at the helm. Unfortunately, extensively renovating a building of this age is no easy feat, and construction is at a bit of a stall just now as they submit grants and finalize the new layout. But Gabe has a passion for feeding we Hungries, and has found a stop-gap measure for the starving St Lawrence masses: Gabe's Kitchen, a pop-up, window-service taco stand is set to open at the end of this week. I asked Gabe about the stand, and learned that he and his brother have talked for years about starting an authentic Mexican taco truck; the stand is an extension of that dream for him. 

Yes, I swiped this photo from the Inn's Facebook page. Full credit and disclosure!

I'm especially excited to share that Gabe is debuting a Big Hungry taco at the stand - a combo of herb crusted pork loin, sweet potato fries, shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon jam, Creme fraiche and bacon sprinkles. OMG. I'm not heading to Gabe's Kitchen until August 9, but he better have one of those on standby for me. I'll also try the fish taco, and I was intrigued to learn that a rif on the classic thousand island dressing and a top secret dessert are in the works. Man, I love a chef who really loves food! Gabe does, and he wants to feed you, so hop in the car and get some happy in your mouth!

So, in a couple weeks, I'll be back with a full review of the taco stand and more breathtaking views of The River. Our Miss Thousand Islands Pageant is in Clayton in three weeks, and I always enjoy breakfast at Koffee Kove and pizza at Attilio's while we're there, so I can't wait to add great tacos to that list, and to recommend Wood Boat and Bella's to everyone coming on down for some pageanty sparkle! Hit the road this summer (before the good weather leaves us), and try something new! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


State Dept. Of Tapas

I'm pretty excited to tell you about a meal in had last week in Binghamton. As a matter of fact, I'm fairly enthused just to have written that sentence, as it's not often I actually get excited about any food in Bingamton, but I feel like this town has really been aiming for the moon lately, and I'm happy to be here for the ride. 

The brand spanking new Social on State lures you in with an industrial/Art Deco sign outside, and while the interior is sleek, I think they were going for swank, and they kind of missed. The main bar is very modern and cool, but the animal print and red lighting veered a bit into garish for me. But as you'll quickly learn, good service and great food can more than make up for a hair too much cheetah.

Grab a drink - we liked the antisocial and the basil slap, though I thought the chile presence in the simple syrup could have been stronger in both. Then hope that Eric is your waiter, because this earnest, attentive young man set plates down so gently on our table, we might not have known he was there, except his great concern over whether we were enjoying our meal and how the kitchen could improve was a positive signal, indeed. As we were dining on the kitchen's first official night with its full menu, the request for feedback was wise, and we were happy to oblige Eric.

My favorite thing about the lobster caprese is that it exists on a menu in Bunghamton, NY. This splendid dish was herbaceous, bright and licoricey with tons of basil, graced with a generous portion of tender, creamy lobster and loads of tart grape and cherry tomatoes. We loved the combo of the seafood, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes, but felt this dish could have used a finishing sprinkle of sea salt, and a little more cheese and bread. There was so much good lobster, but the bread was gone three bites in. A little balancing, and this dish will be famous in this town, I tell ya.

The ahi tuna tower was just about perfect. God, I love raw tuna, and I love that there are now so many spots to gobble it up 'round these parts! This one was diced and layered with avocado, accompanied with wasabi cream and soy drizzle, plus some wonton skin "chips." The wasabi balanced the fresh fish and creamy avocado with a bit of bite, and the soy with some much needed salt. But we did ask for more chips - again, there was so much good protein here, the "starch" provided wasn't ample enough to get through it all!

The pork belly and pineapple, predictably, was my favorite dish of the bunch. The sweet acidity of the fruit counterpointed the fatty, lush, meatiness of the pork, and I adored the very smart, clean-tasting addition of shaved, pickled cucumber. The spicy/sweet chili glaze was the first truly spicy thing to hit our table, and essential to offset the pineapple. There was good kick here, and it balanced this dish right on the edge - delicious.

We ordered the fondue, and I found it a bit one dimensional compared to our first three dishes. The whole grain mustard served alongside perked it up, but was messy. I would recommend so e white wine, kirsch, and garlic added to this recipe, or even some hot sauce if they wanted to go non-traditional. 

The gazpacho was everything it should be: light, bright, complex, acid-forward without enough sweetness to balance. I liked the texture, too. Not chunky, but not a true purée, either.

We ordered the chicken Osso bucco, which were really chicken legs prepared buffalo chicken style. The blue cheese dressing served alongside was well flavored and homemade, with cheese crumbled throughout. The chicken tasted more Frank's Hot Sauce doused than the listed sriracha, but still tasted good. But we thought they could have brought the spice more boldly. Also, the celery salad listed in the description was really just a few shavings of celery, which was confusing.

Fried ice cream was dessert, and it was resplendent. There was Kahlua in the chocolate sauce, adding depth and complexity. Yes, the fried coconut coating could have been crunchier - perhaps some crushed corn flakes in the mix would have helped there - but it was delicious. We loved it.

In fact, I loved our meal as a whole. Good drinks, good service, inventive, creative food. Yes, there are items that needs tinkering, but we were there on night one - opening night! From this first taste, I would award SoS a seven on the BHS scale. Get on down there and give them more practice in that kitchen so this place can become even greater! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Summer Soupçon

P.S. Restaurant & Luxury Lounge on Urbanspoon

Alright, alright, alright, folks, I think we can officially declare ourselves in a state of summer now. The Fourth of July is under our belts, ice cream stand windows are enjoying long lines, and a woman on Rachael Ray's show the other day made a cake out of watermelon and whipped cream...

And we got a pool! Shawn and Dad are crouching so it looks bigger, but no joke, we have floaties with drink holders, and a cooler that also floats, so basically, everything we need to make life stop sucking in the summertime.

Oh, and also of note, my local supermarket is carrying Genny Cream Ale in 30 packs. So, um, if your grandad is thirsty from the summer sun, have at it. Whatever floats your boat, you know?

Mom, Dad, and I hit up The Great NYS Food and Wine Festival up in Clayton a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed re-tasting some excellent, crisp, clean whites from Fulkerson Winery, on Seneca Lake, as well as some glorious, creamy, smooth, full-bodied root beer from Otter Creek Soda.

It was good fun, though I wished there were a few more food vendors among the plethora of wineries.

Also a couple weeks ago, Melinda and I shared a terrific dinner at P.S. Restaurant, our old favorite in Vestal. Except this time, we tried all new (to us) stuff, and it was pretty epic. For instance, I've found my new favorite wedge salad. Yeah, I know, iceberg is for chumps. Except, hush your mouth, because I love its cool, benign crunch, and the steady, substantial base it creates for piquant blue cheese, salty, fatty bacon, and bright tomatoes. At P.S., Chef Rick Dodd adds toasted walnuts for even more body and richness, and the blue cheese dressing is deeply cheesy and flavorful. You have to try this thing!

The braised lamb shank is no slouch, either. You guys know I can't resist food with a gigantic caveman bone sticking out of it, and this lamb was perfectly braised into melting, meaty goodness with just the slightest hint of that gamey funk and the decadent umami of roasted beast.

I've read reviews of P.S. that claim it's expensive for what you get and so forth, and I admit, I've know Rick, and his wife Silvana, for many years, so it could be that I'm getting above average service there, but I find it such a welcome respite, a refuge, really, from the hustle and bustle. And Rick has some yummy, special gems on his menu that you just can't get anywhere else in the Southern Tier. If you've written it off as stuffy and too high end, I recommend you give it another taste.

The new Social on State, in Binghamton's downtown, is now open, so I'm scheming to get over there straight away to sample some cocktails and vittles. Expect a review soon. Here's an early glimpse of the drink menu:

I hope the food is as creative as the booze! That Antisocial has my name on it, and it will be mine soon.

My pageant, Miss TI, is coming up in exactly a month, and production prep is in full swing. This fun meme, unearthed by my girls Olivia and Kristina, is not true, but in like it anyway:

A little more glitter and a little less bacon would probably do his body good. Ahem. Anyway, I hope you're having loads of fun in the sun this month, and let's meet back here next week and talk more good eats, K? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Dispatch from NH: Love in My Tummy

MT's Local Kitchen &Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

A couple weeks ago, in Nashua, NH for work, I discovered the perfect appetizer. It's about time, right? A variation on the seriously awesome grits and pork belly appetizer I had with house made hot sauce and sunny side up egg at the Apple Pie Cafe at the Culinary Institute a couple years ago, the bacon and eggs at MT's Local Kitchen and Wine Bar has captured the crown.

I wish they had seated us closer to a window so I could give you a better look at this masterpiece of comfort: crispy pork belly with the perfect ratio of tender fat to chewy meat, deep fried egg with still-runny yolk, dense, creamy grits, and a little dried apricot compote. The grits might not have passed muster with a true GRITS (girl raised in the south), but this Yankee was thrilled with the hearty grind of the corn, the perfect, balanced selenity of the pork, the rich egg yolk, and the sweet, musky funk of the apricots. If I had my own restaurant, a variation of this dish would be on the menu, and it's something I wish I could get around these parts, because it's all the things, for me, that make perfect comfort food.

MT's Local, right on Nashua's little Main Street/downtown area, is decorated in soothing colors and cool art. In fact, the watercolors of churches in the ladies room were so cool, I had a fleeting impulse to abscond with one. But I have to say, while our meal was good, that appetizer really was the highlight of the meal. There were a couple other good bites that you should know about, though, as overall, this was one of the brighter spots in the Nasua culinary scene that I've experienced.

The cheese plate came complete with fried discs of tangy, ripe, creamy goat cheese - given the side eye by our more conservative eaters and gobbled up by those of us on the more adventurous side. I also enjoyed the rather spicy apricot jam on this plate - Mr. MT knows what he's doing with apricots, you guys! It was sweet and tangy, pairs well with the funk of the goat cheese.

I ordered the white wine braised pork with pappardelle for my entree, and eagerly anticipated its treasures after that fabulous pork belly and grits appetizer - but the pasta was a bit gluey. I liked the light, lemony flavor of the dish overall, but a finishing sprinkle of sea salt or a shower of pungent Romano cheese would have gone a tremendous way in helping amp up the flavor.

The braised duck with gnocchi and ricotta was the winning entree of the table. Lucky Shannon for ordering this gem! The duck was lush, deep, savory incarnate. Pick this if you hit up MT's.

Liz went for the special, which was fried chicken. And it WAS special! I loved the dark meat, with its succulent crust and a little moat of delectable, rich, homemade gravy. Home style is done correctly here.

An odd little menu tick stuck out to us and we asked the waitress to bring us a sample: crispy ham croutons, which were listed as an ingredient in the field salad. Joke's on us! Rather than the homemade pork rinds I was imagining, these were crispy cubes of bread, and large cubes of ham. Separate - not a crouton made of ham, but ham AND croutons. Wah-wah. 

We sampled some desserts, but they didn't really toot my horn. I think that appetizer was so ooey gooey good, I only had eyes for it. We all chatted and gave MT's a seven on the BHS scale - there were some great dishes and some problematic ones, but lovely, warm ambiance, fab drinks (order the It's Me Time!), and good company. Keep it on your list, order the duck, and snag me a watercolor, will ya? My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!