Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Hazards of Restaurant Reviewing – Why Amateurs Fail

August 11, 2011

A Pan Seared Sea Scallop

The following review of the Mattabesset Canoe Club restaurant in Middletown by Matthew F. Donahue appeared recently in Middletown Patch:

Wandering the shops of Main Street, my path lit by the glowing neon open signs of local eateries, I often find picking a venue to indulge in Middletown’s latest gustatory creations difficult with so many options. One night I found myself wandering the beaten path of Main Street, venturing down the off-shooting street, deKoven Drive, heading toward Harbor Drive and happening upon the old Harbor Park Restaurant.

As it has recently opened under new ownership as the Mattabesett Canoe Club, I decided to give the new place a peruse.

As I walked through the park toward the restaurant with one of my closest friends, Kaila Madera, the outline of the Canoe Club’s exterior came into focus and it was evident at once: the entire building was renovated and business was looking up, as seen by the crowded parking lot. Pleased with the aesthetic changes to the exterior and sunset in the horizon lighting the Connecticut River with golden rays, we approached the door with excitement; we aren’t the type to skip a meal and seafood always tops my list of favorites.

The hostess greeted us with a warm smile, asked us where we would like to sit and led us upstairs to sit at an outside balcony table. Guided by the light of a flickering candle centered in the table, we perused the menu and found ourselves crippled with indecision. As the waitress approached, we both looked blankly at the menu and by the time she arrived, we decided to order multiple menu items, splitting each dish. Sampling never hurt anyone, right?

Starting off with some shrimp and a couple of fresh oysters, we were ready to tackle the rather large meal about to arrive. We started off with seared sea scallops drizzled with a balsamic reduction glaze served over risotto. After getting past the idea of the origins of sea scallops, I thoroughly enjoyed the lightly grilled wonders, noting the nice contrast between the sweetness of the risotto and tartness of the balsamic reduction.

After nearly licking my plate clean and prodding my seafood-apprehensive friend to be a little more adventurous, we welcomed our second course: pan-seared swordfish served alongside a fresh mango gastrique, served over a house-made succotash that featured snow peas and roasted vegetables instead of lima beans.  The mango gastrique, a sauce composed by carmelizing sugar and then adding vinegar, fresh fruit and juice, highlighted the perfecly cooked swordfish steak’s robust flavor, while adding a tangy kick at the same time.

Even more pleased with the pan-seared swordfish steak than the other dishes, we both agreed that it was a great combination and a must-have the next time we happened at the Canoe Club.

Taking a break from seafood, we took a breather and then sampled a small piece of slow-cooked braised pork shank, sitting atop a parsnip puree and served with slender and tender asparagus shoots. The pork fell off of the bone with ease and its tender meat was welcomed with warm hungry mouths, but the four to 12 hours of cooking did not prove as satisfying as first thought, although perhaps this was because our portions were merely samples of the entire dish.

About ready to burst, but ready to tackle another plate, we savored the taste of an unlikely pair, rosemary and blueberry, in our next dish: salmon toasted in rice paper served over a blueberry and rosemary red wine sauce. Apprehensive how the strong flavors of rosemary and blueberry would mesh, we slowly forked small bite-fulls into our mouths. I was pleasantry surprised how well the rosemary complemented the blueberry and red wine reduction, while contrasting with the crispy crunch of the salmon’s wrapping and cool cucumber chunks.

Kaila disagreed. Not a huge fan of rosemary and fennel, she thought the blueberry sauce was overpowered by the rosemary; however, upon completion of the dish, she still deemed the dish satisfying and even stabbed a few fork-fulls of mine!

Cleansing our palette with a fresh summer salad, we were about to throw down our napkins and call the meal a done deal when our waitress recommenced their new pineapple crème brûlée and we could not resist the temptation. We were not disappointed, either, even though we were definitely full, we somehow found enough room to eat the entire crock of crème brûlée, dipping small pieces of biscotti into the custardy delight.

Fresh pineapple chunks proved refreshing and a nice alternative to a dish that usually remains rather bland with just a splash of vanilla.

Accompanied by an acoustic show, a great view and the best of company, our night out at Mattabesett Canoe Club was one to never forget!

Pork Shank, Parsnip Puree, and Asparagus

Our response:

Matthew Donahue, our young scout on the prowl for gustatory delights, just happened upon the Mattabesset Canoe Club while venturing on an “off-shooting” street. The ghost of the Middletown Yacht Club loomed as though reborn and aesthetically changed, the fleeting rays of sunlight reflected off the river enhancing the enchantment. Scout Odonahue and his companion were hungry and hardly ever known to skip a meal.

They were escorted to a balcony table by a smiling hostess. The table with its center candle provided the perfect atmosphere for a couple’s dining pleasure. The menu was presented and, what to their wondering eyes did appear but a plethora of visual and gustatory delights for eye and palate. They perused and perused but could not decide so when the moment of truth came our intrepid scout declared; “We’ll try everything, sampling never hurt anyone, right?”

And so it went, course after course, sample after sample, tidbit after tidbit, on and on with the balsamic reductions,mango gastrique, the rosemary and blueberry sauce until our explorer was about to lick his plate clean while simultaneously bursting.

Our explorers were about to throw up…or rather throw down… their napkins. but the meal was not quite “a done deal yet” because the waitress “recommenced” their new pineapple crème brûlée. (I don’t pretend to know exactly when the Canoe Club “commenced” their pineapple crème brûlée but I am pleased that it is being offered again)

Feeling “definitely full” our brave pair “… somehow found enough room to eat the entire crock of crème brûlée”

Moral: Food writing and restaurant reviews are fine fodder for satire, and even ridicule, which of course was not our intent.

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Uganda Echo at Willimantic Co-Op Feb 14 2009

February 15, 2009

29 Cakes for Willi Co-Op Birthday

Valentine’s Day 2009 was also a birthday celebration at the Willimantic Food Co-Op in Willimantic (CT). This is their 29th year and the organization appears healthy and active. The February 14 shindig featured food displays and sampling, music and dancing, and 29 special cakes. We were able only to catch the first hour or so of the party but had fun photographing the crowd and making the following video:

Below is an earlier video with most of the same personnel:

Let Them Eat Cake....

Let Them Eat Cake....

Feet to the Fire Festival: More Info….

May 8, 2008

The Wesleyan community will explore its environmental impact through an eco-arts festival called “Feet to the Fire” on May 10 that will feature food, music, art, theater and a premier by a world-renowned choreographer Ann Carlson (pictured above).

Running from noon to 5 p.m. at Veterans Park in Middletown, “Feet to the Fire” will combine the variety of arts performances, interactive exhibits and a farmers market with food from Connecticut vendors. Exhibits coordinated by the Jonah Center for Earth and Art will highlight energy conservation, sustainability and resilient communities.

Ann Carlson, award-winning choreographer, launches a new series of performance works, Planet Next, that envision life on a future earth. The first of these works, “Green Movement,” uses elements of humor and surprise while challenging the audience to intimately confront the realities of their present day existence.

“Feet to the Fire is an extraordinary campus-wide and community exploration of one of the most urgent issues facing our world today,” says Pam Tatge, director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts. “The idea that so many students, faculty members, community members, and artists have collaborated to make works for the festival is simply thrilling.”

The event will also feature a sculpture garden, labyrinth, theater, dance, music, poetry, art and performances by Art Farm’s Circus for a Fragile Planet, Marion Belanger, Tom Callinan, Electric Junkyard Gamelan, Green Street Arts Center, Independent Day School, Kalimba Liberian Group, Geoff Kaufman, Jesse Karlsberg, The Middletuners, Mixashawn, Noah Baerman Trio, Oddfellows Playhouse, RJ and the On-the-Spot Jug Band, Susan Romano, Sirius Coyote, Toussaint Liberator, Wesleyan students and more.

The festival is a part of “Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art,” an 18-month project that includes research opportunities for a team of students and faculty to explore first-hand the effects of global warming, fieldwork studies in art and science, performances, pedagogical exchanges in existing courses, commissioning of artists and convening of experts.

“All of us working on the Festival are united in the belief that the arts have the potential to help us see and understand the impact of climate change while at the same time assist us in envisioning a sustainable future,” Tatge says.

The project is funded in part by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Wesleyan’s grant is one of only eight grants given to challenge campus-based performing arts presenters to integrate their programs more organically within the academic environment.

The Festival is co-sponsored by Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts and Environmental Studies Program, the Jonah Center for Earth and Art and the City of Middletown, in collaboration with the Center for Creative Research and the Green Street Arts Center.

Feet to the Fire will take place from noon to 5 p.m. rain or shine. Admission is free and open to the public. The event is located at Veterans Memorial Park in Middletown, located off Newfield Street. For more information and directions call 860-685-3355.

Source: The Wesleyan Connection

Coginchaug River at Veterans Memorial Park (June 2007)….

O’Rourke’s Diner Redux….

February 11, 2008

Brian O’Rourke opened his, or should we say the community’s, diner today for the first time since the disastrous fire many moons ago. According to the staff it was gangbusters from 5 Am ’till closing at 3 PM. I didn’t get a chance to interview Brian this afternoon but hope to do so in the near future.

Cows and Pigs are SUV’s, Bugs are Bicycles

February 10, 2008

Humans need to become insectivorous and to encourage this imperative the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is sponsoring an event titled “Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The NY Times reports today that among the topics to be addressed at the workshop later this month is “Why douse fields with pesticides if the bugs we kill are more nutritious than the crops they eat?” Of course NY Times coverage would not be complete without the obligitory food do-gooder to disabuse meat and potatoes Americans of the notion that bugs are, well, yucky.

The Times folks trot out one David Gracer: “one of a small but growing number of people earnestly working to transcend the yuck factor. By day, Gracer teaches expository writing at the Community College of Rhode Island. By night, he stalks America’s elite chefs with an electric wok and Tupperware stuffed with six-legged critters in an attempt to convince them that consuming insects is both pleasing to the palate and good for the planet.”

Says Gracer; “Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.’s; bugs are the bicycles.”

Source: NY Times Magazine 2/10/08

Also see “Insect Cuisine: Good for You”
“Food Insect Festivals of North America”

New article today on our Global Warming..page.