Archive for February, 2010

In Search of the Elusive Shamrock Shake

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by virginia

After filling our bellies with burgers and fries at White Manna, Josh and I continued on our Jersey food adventure and went in search of the famous Shamrock Shakes from McDonald’s. I’ve heard about Shamrock Shakes in passing but admittedly never thought too much about them. After reading about them on Serious Eats and on various other blogs, I started to get curious about how hard or easy it would be to find the shake in northern NJ, since they don’t seem to be available anywhere in Manhattan.

There is a McDonald’s almost directly across the street from White Manna but we didn’t see any signs for the Shamrock Shake, and it’s hard to make the left turn onto River Street from White Manna. Instead, Josh decided to search on his iphone for Shamrock Shake sightings on, the website where people post confirmations about which McDonald’s offer the shake and which do not.

The closest confirmed sighting was in Paramus on Route 17 North. We headed for the highway but the mall traffic on Route 4 diverted us from going the more direct way. We decided to take back roads, and in doing so I knew that we would be passing by a McDonald’s in River Edge that was much closer. We pulled into the lot but didn’t see any Shamrock Shake posters there either. Bad sign.

Undeterred, Josh hopped out of the car and went inside to ask. He was gone for 10 minutes, and I figured that he must have been successful. Indeed, he came out carrying two shakes in medium sized soda cups. He said that when he first walked in and asked about the Shamrock Shakes, he was promptly rejected. As he turned to walk out, the counterperson called him back and said that he was wrong, they had just gotten the shakes in that day. Perfect!!

I quickly removed the lid from one of the cups and took a peek at my very first Shamrock Shake. At first glance, the shakes were a very light green in color, with darker green swirls. A quick sip yielded mostly vanilla flavor, with a few hints of mint.

Darker green swirls in an unmixed Shamrock Shake

Using the straw, I mixed up the shake as best as I could so that it was a pale green color overall, without the darker green swirls. My second sip yielded more minty flavor, but it was still pretty subtle.

After mixing, the shake is a pale green color with subtle mint flavor

The verdict? Not bad, but also not mind blowing. It did have a refreshing minty-ness to it without tasting like toothpaste, which was a good thing, but if you really didn’t know what you were drinking you’d probably think it was just vanilla flavored.

Some people on other sites complained about getting whipped cream and a cherry on top, but ours didn’t come with those. Our shakes also weren’t served in the smaller clear McCafe cups, but in regular medium sized soda cups. They definitely didn’t mix the syrup into the shake very well but that was easily remedied using the straw. I can’t comment on the mint factor though, or lack thereof, since I’ve never had a Shamrock Shake before.

I do think that the main appeal of these shakes are that they’re only offered for a limited time, and finding a McDonald’s that serves one is half the fun. Josh and I were more thrilled with our success than with the actual shake itself. Would I drink another one? Sure, but I won’t go out of my way to find one the next time.

McDonald’s (multiple locations)
1118 Main Street
River Edge, NJ

White Manna

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I grew up less than five minutes away from the White Manna hamburger stand in Hackensack, NJ but we never ate there until after we had moved into the city. It’s kind of sad when we think about how many burgers we missed out on over the years so whenever we’re home visiting our parents, we always try to make a trip to White Manna either for lunch or a quick snack. In recent years, however, the stand’s popularity has really increased due to more exposure on food blogs and on TV shows, such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. As a result, every time we try to go, the line is usually out the door.

The restaurant is tiny and has approximately 20 stools altogether. The prime spots are at the main counter where you can watch the burgers cooking on the large griddle. Surprisingly, it’s not too difficult to get a seat even when the restaurant is busy, as most people take their orders to go.

The menu

The menu is posted up on the wall behind the main counter. In addition to burgers, they also offer cheesesteaks and breakfast items such as omelets, though I’ve never seen anyone order breakfast. I wonder if they really do even make those? While it can get a bit hectic, especially when it’s crowded and people are packed into the small space, there’s still some semblance of order. People line up and call out their burger requests to the cook manning the grill, and it’s amazing that nothing is written down, yet the cook always remembers each order exactly. To prevent from sounding like a newbie, there are a few simple rules to remember:

1. Know where you are in line. Though people try to line up single file down the middle of the restaurant, the line tends to mash up when more people try to smush their way into the restaurant. The people working behind the counter don’t know who’s next so everyone is on the honor system to order only when it’s their turn. If you call out when it’s not your turn, the people ahead of you will make it quite known that you’re out of order.

2. When it’s your turn to order, call out to the cook what kind of burgers you want and how many of each. When ordering your burgers, you can either get it with cheese or without, with onions or without, and single or double patties. It’s important to note that the cook only takes burger orders. If you want a drink or french fries, someone else behind the counter will take that order.

3. When your burgers are almost ready, the cook will ask if you’re staying or going. If you’re staying, they’ll pile your burgers onto a paper plate with a large handful of pickle slices. There are ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce bottles on the counters so you can use whichever condiments you prefer. If you’re taking your order to go, you’ll have to tell them if you want pickles, and which condiments to put on the burgers. Each burger is then wrapped individually in wax paper and given to you in a paper bag.

4. When you’re paying, it’s up to you to remember exactly what you ordered as there is no bill or check. Usually when you eat in, you can pay when you’re finished. Just remember that there are no free refills on soda, so count each drink individually.

5. While service is informal, it’s still nice to leave a tip for the cook and the counter workers as they’re really busy standing on their feet all day getting orders out as quickly as possible to keep up with the demand. There’s a tip bucket on the counter in front of the cook so you can just drop in a few bucks before you leave. Prices are super cheap so it’s easy to leave a decent tip, percentage-wise.

On this particular visit, Josh and I had been craving White Manna burgers for months so we decided that we would stay no matter what the line looked like. As usual, when we pulled up, the line was snaking its way out the door. We waited outside for a few minutes until more space opened up inside, and then we squeezed our way into the tiny restaurant. I snagged some empty counter seats for us while Josh stood in line to place our order.

Even though the line was relatively long, it only took about 10 minutes for our turn to order, and another 20 minutes to get the food. It wasn’t super fast, but it wasn’t too long either, and we entertained ourselves by observing how the burgers are made.

Watching the burgers cooking up on the griddle

We also got two sodas and an order of fries, which came almost immediately so we munched on the fries while we waited for our burgers. The fries are the crinkle cut frozen variety, a la the Shake Shack, but they’re always just-fried, piping hot, crispy on the outside, and have nice potato flavor on the inside.

Crispy crinkle cut french fries

We got five hamburgers and five cheeseburgers, all singles and with onions. They’re not huge burgers, maybe a little over an ounce each, so they’re closer to sliders than regular burgers.

A pile of burgers with pickle slices on the side

The cheeseburgers are each covered with a slice of American cheese that are the perfect size for these small patties. The onions are sliced super thin so they get nice and caramelized during their time on the griddle, and they add an extra boost of flavor.

Cheeseburger with onions, up close

The hamburgers seemed just a bit drier in texture, mostly because they didn’t have the coating of melted cheese. The burger patties are so small that they’re not really cooked to order, so some may get a bit more well done than others. The meat is somewhat coarsely ground and the patties are broken up a bit when they’re smashed on the griddle, resulting in a looser texture. The Martin’s potato rolls that they use are just perfect for soaking up all the juices that come off the burgers and the onions, and I love the squishiness of the buns.

Hamburger with pickles and onions, up close

We ended up getting way more food than we could actually eat, as the burgers are bigger and more filling than you think. Not a problem, we just got some wax paper from one of the counter workers and wrapped up the extra burgers to go. And the cost of our burger feast that included five hamburgers, five cheeseburgers, an order of fries, and three medium sodas? Just $20.06 after tax. We tossed a couple of bucks into the tip bucket and walked out with full bellies and a sack of leftover burgers, perfect for snacking on later. And when we left, the line was still out the door.

White Manna
358 River Street
Hackensack, NJ

NC – Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by virginia

I don’t usually write about fast food places unless it’s something that I don’t usually have access to, like In N Out. I was craving fried chicken so my brother took me to Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, a southern fried chicken chain similar to Popeyes.

We picked up a 20 piece box that came with 10 biscuits. The chicken was lightly floured and fried, and the seasoning on the outside really packed a good kick. It wasn’t super spicy but there were some bites that made my mouth tingle. The skin was slightly greasy but not worse than most fast food fried chicken joints. I really liked the flavor though, and it was still piping hot when we brought it home.

Nicely seasoned fried chicken

For people who want an extra spicy kick, they provided us with plenty of Cajun spicy sauce packets. The sauce was more vinegary than spicy, and reminded me a bit of an acidic buffalo sauce.

Vinegary hot sauce

The biscuits were fantastic – crispy out the outside and soft and crumbly in the middle. For even better results, pop a few in a toaster oven for a couple of minutes to really crisp up the outside. The flavor was sweet, salty, and buttery all at the same time. Yum!

Buttery biscuits

We also got a picnic sized order of fries. The fries were in between regular fries and steak fries, meaning they were wider than most but not too thick. They were lightly seasoned on the outside with a mix of Cajun spices but were slightly soggy.

Seasoned fries

Overall I thought the fried chicken from Bojangles’ was pretty good, though I’m not a fried chicken connoisseur. I liked it better than Roy Rogers and found it to be better seasoned than KFC, though I think I prefer the thicker breading on KFC chicken. The fries were a pass but the biscuits were delicious, some of the best that I’ve had from a fast food joint. If you’re passing by on the highway, it’s not a bad place to stop for some Cajun style fried chicken. It looks like they have locations all over the South, and also in Pennsylvania.

Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits (multiple locations)
5425 South Miami Boulevard
Durham, NC

NC – Ole Time Barbecue

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 by virginia

As promised, as soon as we landed in Raleigh, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew picked us up from the airport and we headed straight to Ole Time Barbecue for lunch. The restaurant was smaller than we expected, and completely packed when we arrived, which is usually a good sign. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for a table, though it was a bit of a tight squeeze with Alexander’s car seat. They brought us a basket of hush puppies to munch on while we looked over the menu.

The menu cover

These hush puppies were fantastic! Hot, crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of corn flavor. They were irregularly shaped and clearly homemade, unlike the perfect logs that we’ve gotten at other bbq restaurants in the area. They were addictive and we polished off the basket quickly.

Amazingly good hush puppies

The combination meals seemed like the best way to try the most dishes. Josh and my brother both opted for hand chopped bbq pork and bbq chicken. The bbq chicken was falling off the bone tender and pretty tasty, while the chopped bbq pork was soft and super vinegary. Both were made even better after being doused in the acidic bbq sauce and tangy hot sauce.

Hand chopped bbq pork and bbq chicken

For his sides, Josh selected the french fries (at my request) and fried okra. The fries were pretty bad – cold and soggy – but the fried okra was delicious. The little crunchy breaded slices of okra were bursting with flavor, and not slimy in the least. I may have found one of my new favorite side dishes.

Crunchy pieces of fried okra in front, limp and soggy fries in back

My sister-in-law had the chopped bbq pork and Brunswick stew combination, with sides of collard greens and fried apple sticks. The stew was meaty, but the portion was small compared with the other combinations.

Unfortunately, I had the worst meal of the bunch. I opted for the full rack of baby back ribs, which were so dry and tough that never mind trying to pull them apart with my fingers, I couldn’t even cut through the meat with a knife and fork. The meat was flavorless and stringy, and I ate about two ribs before giving up. What a huge disappointment. My sides of collard greens and baked beans were good, but nothing could salvage the awful ribs.

Dried out baby back ribs, tangy collard greens, and sweet baked beans

Overall I think we were all disappointed by the food we had at Ole Time Barbecue. It came recommended to us by a reader who commented about our dining choices during our first trip to Raleigh, plus it was featured on the Food Network show Road Tasted with the Neelys. While the hush puppies definitely lived up to expectations, everything else was downhill from there. I did like it better than Danny’s Bar-B-Que but it was nowhere near as good as Smokey’s BBQ Shack. The barbecue at Ole Time simply wasn’t as flavorful or as meltingly tender, and the ribs were just terrible. I know my Northern palate isn’t up to the same Southern standards, but dry is dry. None of the meats were really outstanding, and unfortunately, I don’t think that we’ll be going back the next time we’re in NC.

Ole Time Barbecue (multiple locations)
6309 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC

Trying to Follow 10 Rules for Food Blogging

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite bloggers, The Amateur Gourmet, aka Adam Roberts, just came out with his ten rules for food blogging. The Amateur Gourmet was one of the first food blogs that I started reading, and I love Adam’s witty style of writing. I even bought his book, also named The Amateur Gourmet, as a gift for Josh, as I think some of his stories hilariously match up with some of our own experiences (particularly those relating to his mother!).

In hopes of having some sort of success with my own blog, I’m taking Adam’s rules to heart:

1. Have a hook. That hook might be cooking your way through a cookbook, deriding disastrous cakes, or advising fellow workers on where to eat in midtown.

This piece of advice was also given to me by a classmate from high school who has since become a published food writer. With so many blogs out there, you need to carve out a niche in order to stand out. I’m still trying to find mine, though it’s been tough. Lots of my favorite bloggers are hungry Asian girls, just like myself. I’m basically just an untrained amateur cook who loves to eat. I’m the first to admit that this blog is neither unique nor special, but I would like it to be! Anyone have suggestions on something that I can focus on to help make Two Fat Bellies more noticeable in the food blogging community?

2. If you don’t have a hook, have a name. Like this guy or this guy, both of whom made a name for themselves in the food world before starting a food blog.

This is kind of a strange rule, as most people don’t “have a name” before embarking in the food blogging realm. I’m definitely not famous, nor do I plan on giving my name out anytime soon. Even though Josh and I aren’t exactly in hiding, and I do talk about tidbits from our personal lives, we do refrain from stating our full names or posting pictures of ourselves so that we can retain some anonymity right now. That might change in the future, maybe as we (hopefully) gain more exposure.

3. If you don’t have a name, have a singular, stand-out voice that’s unlike any other voice out there.

I’m not sure what is meant by a “stand-out” voice. I do have a particular writing style that I’ve carried since my days as a sports writer for my college newspaper, but I also take on a more casual tone in my blog posts. I’m definitely less formal in my posts and try write like how I would speak, if I didn’t have a fear of public speaking.

4. If you don’t have a singular, stand-out voice, take beautiful pictures of beautiful food and include recipes.

I definitely do take a lot of pictures, though that’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. We recently bought an SLR so there may have been some improvements in our photos as of late but we’re still learning how to use it. We have a lot of trouble when it’s really dark inside a restaurant, but I try not use flash, unless it’s appropriate for the venue.

However, I felt very conspicuous busting out a big SLR in restaurants such as Daniel, Aureole, and A Voce Columbus. Those are places where we definitely don’t use flash yet I still feel uncomfortable clicking away sometimes. I try to do it discreetly but when you have servers hovering over you constantly, it’s hard to prevent them from noticing. I don’t know if that results in better or worse treatment for us, but fortunately we haven’t run into any issues yet.

With regard to recipes, I haven’t posted any full ingredient lists and line by line instructions because that’s just not my style. I rarely follow any recipe to letter, and when I do, I don’t feel right posting someone else’s recipe so I’ll either link to it or just refer to the book that I used. I don’t want to run into any copyright issues or try to take credit for something that I didn’t create. To the lawyers who read this blog, are there any repercussions to posting someone else’s recipe, even if I give credit where it’s due?

5. Update frequently, at least three times a week. Even if you’re not a great photographer, include pictures in your posts; preferably, a lead picture at the top and several illustrative pictures studded throughout. (Edit these pictures in Photoshop, for maximum effect.)

I generally do post at least three times a week, though I aim for more. At one point I was posting almost every day but I’ve come to realize just how tough it is, given my current workload and general state of mind.

With much encouragement from Josh, I started this blog almost a year ago as an outlet for some of my frustrations at the time. I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and what I was truly passionate about, and the only thing that came to mind was food. But I wasn’t (and still am not) ready to make food a career choice, so this blog was the next best thing. It was a way for me to keep in touch with the world of food and to hone my writing skills. It wasn’t meant to become a second job for me.

There are times when I stress over the fact that I’m not posting enough, or that my posts are poorly written and uninteresting, and that’s when I start to pull back from the blog a bit. Writing this blog was meant to be a hobby for me, and an enjoyable one at that. When it starts to become to taxing and stressful, then it ruins my purpose of having a blog in the first place.

Overall I do love having Two Fat Bellies and enjoy writing posts for the site. I take a lot of pride in my hard work, and I do hope that people recognize that it’s not always easy to keep updating. But your encouragement and support really does mean a lot to me and definitely helps me to push through when things start to get tough. The last people I want to disappoint are my readers, and that provides a lot of motivation too.

6. Spend time on the design of your blog. If you’re not a design person, pay a designer to make it look great. It’s a worthwhile investment.

We did make a conscious effort to redesign our site after our initial WordPress template launch. We commissioned our good friend John to design our top banner and we absolutely love it, so we don’t plan on changing it anytime soon. I guess we could be fancier with the fonts and stuff, but I think everything is pretty straightforward and easy to read through. Maybe our next project will be to clean up the tags, since there are a lot of them right now!

7. Interact with your readers. Prompt them for comments, acknowledge their comments in your later posts.

Please comment!! I love comments! Even critical ones, as they’ll only help me to make the blog better. We do take your comments to heart, and we definitely try to respond to comments where appropriate.

8. Offer your readers various ways to read your blog: syndicate your blog through RSS, send it out over e-mail, if you’re techno savvy (and I’m not) create an iPhone app.

I’m definitely not tech saavy, and am impressed that I’ve simply learned how to put up posts by myself. I’m going to pass this rule on to Josh, as he runs the technical side of this blog.

9. Tweet. Nowadays, a great way to call attention to your blog and what you’re blogging about is Twitter. Build up a large Twitter following and then link to your posts when you write them.

This rule is a tough one, as Josh and I are famous in our group for avoiding social networking. We don’t have Facebook accounts and we don’t use Twitter. Sometimes, I don’t even check my personal email for days. Not purposely, but the only time I can use these sites is from home, as they’re all blocked at my office. When I have a rough day at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is jump on the computer, since I stare at one all day. But maybe it’s time for us to stop shunning social networking, as it’s definitely a good way for us to try to gain some more exposure and get a few followers. Perhaps we can compromise and just use it for blog promotional purposes, rather than for cyberstalking former classmates (though the temptation will always be there!). What do you guys think?

10. Be exuberant. No one wants to read a shoulder-shrugging blogger. If you’re passionate, you’ll get a passionate response.

I admit, sometimes I do shoulder shrug when I write up a restaurant review. There are times when I absolutely love a place and I’ll rave about it. And there are also times when I absolutely hate a place, and I’ll tell you exactly why. But for the most part, a lot of restaurants do garner a shoulder shrug reaction. They’re either good but not great, or they’re bad but not awful. I don’t keep it so black and white because if I go back to a restaurant that I tell my readers was terrible, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?

For the most part, a lot of where we eat is dictated by our budgeting constraints. I would love to eat at three star Michelin restaurants all the time (now THAT would be a cool niche to corner the market in!) but it’s just not realistic. Right now we’re eating at and posting about places that are easily accessible to ordinary New Yorkers who don’t have a huge amount of disposable income. When we do get to go to interesting or upscale places, I’m excited to post about them and you can probably tell that based on my reaction to the experience, good or bad.

But I’ll definitely try to be more decisive from now on. Just please don’t take any lukewarm reactions to certain restaurants to mean that I’m not passionate about eating (and I’ve got the fat belly to prove it)!

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Back to Raleigh

Friday, February 19th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I got a good deal on some last minute weekend plane tickets to Raleigh so we’re off to see our nephew, who has grown so much in the four months since we were last down there. Seeing him on Skype just isn’t the same as seeing him in person, and being able to squeeze his delectably chubby cheeks.

My brother has already promised to take us for some more BBQ but really this weekend is just about spending some quality time with Alexander. He’s such a cutie and I’m pretty sure he’s going to grow up to be a good eater, as I’ve seen him cry his head off when his container of applesauce was finished.

We probably won’t be able to do much posting while we’re down there but I hope to pick up again soon. It’s just been a crazy time at work and it’s hard to come home and jump on the computer. And yes, I know I still need to write up a post on Daniel. Please stay tuned!

Killington Day 3 – Frank’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by virginia

The original plan for our Killington trip was to ski three full days, from Saturday through Monday, and drive home on Tuesday. But an impending snowstorm changed our plan, and we ended up skiing a half day on Monday before hitting the road, heading back home a day earlier than planned. Part of our reasoning for leaving early was also because we couldn’t face having another mediocre dinner, and was looking forward to having a good meal back home (and we did, at the Akai Lounge in Englewood).

We got a late start on Monday so we skied until 2 pm, then went back to our condo to shower and pack. We were on the road at 3 but because we had skipped lunch, we were all pretty hungry and decided to stop for some pizza at Frank’s in Lake George. Josh’s family has been going to Frank’s during their annual ski trip for as long as he can remember. It’s conveniently located and helps to break up the drive between NJ and Vermont. We decided to split two house salads and ordered a large cheese pie, plus two extra slices, so that everyone could have two slices each.

The salads were standard, mostly a pile of iceberg with a few carrots, croutons, cucumber, and onion slices on top. We doused them with oil and balsamic vinegar, and they were decently crispy and refreshing. At $3.50 for a large bowl, there’s not much to complain about.

House salad

When our pizza arrived, we were told to let it sit for a bit before removing slices, as the cheese needed some time to cool down. I thought that was a bit weird.

Large cheese pizza

The pizza looked doughier than I remembered, and the sauce and cheese on the whole pie looked like they had been haphazardly applied.

Uneven cheese and sauce application

The crust was pretty thick and dense, though had a decent amount of browning on the bottom.

Browned bottom but thick and doughy crust

While I didn’t think the pizza was awful, it wasn’t what I remembered. I did think the crust was too thick, which made it a bit brittle. There was too much sauce on the pie in general, and it was pretty sweet. Surprisingly, the two additional slices we ordered looked much better, and more like NY pizza.

The single slices we ordered look very different from the other slices

Their crusts were much thinner, and the sauce to cheese ratio was better. Josh had one slice from the whole pie and one of the extra slices, and he said that the dough for both crusts were the same, they must have just stretched out the pie for the extra slices more. It did make a huge difference in the texture of the crust, and we both preferred the thinner slices.

Underside shot of the thinner slice

Overall the pizza at Frank’s is perfectly fine if you just want to grab a quick bite to eat. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than any of the other pizzerias in the area, but like I said, it’s convenient, and service is fast and efficient, allowing us to get back on the road quickly. Prices are cheap (a large pie is only $12.50), and the menu is actually pretty extensive if you have the time for a longer sit-down meal. It encompasses all classic Italian favorites, and those were pretty reasonably priced as well. I do hope though that they’ll take better care in making sure that their pies are more consistently prepared, as there was no reason for the slices from one pie to be so vastly different in comparison to slices from another pie. But otherwise, it’s definitely the kind of place to bring the kids, and I liked the casual and homey pizza joint atmosphere.

Frank’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
1483 State Route 9
Lake George, NY

Killington Day 2 – Santa Fe Steakhouse

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by virginia

After a grueling second day of skiing (it was super icy and I was having boot issues), we were starving and looking forward to having a nice, relaxing meal. It was Valentine’s Day so the few restaurants we called in the area that take reservations were all booked up. There are many Killington restaurants though that don’t take reservations, but wait times were ranging from 1-2 hours. We decided to stay in for a while and watch some of the Olympics before heading out for a late dinner, hoping to miss the prime time rush. We ended up stopping at the closest restaurant to our condo, the Santa Fe Steakhouse, and were able to get a table right away.

Josh and I ate at the Santa Fe Steakhouse last year and found the food to be pretty good, which is why we recommended stopping there. The décor is a bit kitschy but the atmosphere is lively. There was live music playing from the lounge next door, which we could hear from our little alcove on the upper level. While we looked through the menu, our waitress came by to take our drink orders and informed us that they were out of several things, including the rack of lamb, which I had my eye on. I had eaten the lamb last year and it was nicely prepared and well seasoned, and after the bland food we had at Hemingway’s the previous night, I wanted something that packed a lot of flavor. I ended up choosing a steak from the specials menu, and after we placed our order we headed down to the salad bar that is included with all of the entrees.

The salad bar offerings

The menu calls it a Caesar salad bar, and while there is Caesar salad available, that’s not the only thing. There was also a big bowl of mixed greens, and an assortment of salad toppings such as tomatoes, onions, beets, beans, and cheese. It was actually a pretty good selection and makes for a great appetizer.

I ended up sticking with the Caesar salad, topped with a few grape tomatoes. The dressing was tangy and garlicky but there wasn’t enough of it. The salad was pre-mixed in a large bowl and I wish they had put some extra dressing on the side, as I really wanted more. Still, it was refreshing and all the vegetables were crisp and fresh tasting.

Caesar salad

While we munched on our salads, we also nibbled on the basket of rolls they brought. There were plain ciabatta rolls and some seeded rolls, all served hot right out of the oven. Though the interiors were a bit dense, they had nice crispy crusts and good flavor. We ended up polishing off several baskets.

Hot and crusty rolls

For my entrée, I went with the Mardi Gras ribeye, which was one of the specials of the day. It was a huge piece of meat and cooked medium rare as requested. The steak was coated in a lot of different seasonings, which gave it a nice charred crust on the outside. I think cumin was the predominant flavor and imparted a pleasant smokiness. Ribeye is a fatty cut but the meat surrounding the fat was tender and juicy. The steak was topped with a creole crab mustard sauce that was thick and rich, with little bits of crab mixed in. It was a delicious steak, and I’m happy that I ended up ordering it. The mashed potatoes and vegetables that came on the side were a pass though. The potatoes were over seasoned with a weird combination of spices, and the vegetables were limp, tasting mostly of chewy, tinny corn.

Mardi Gras ribeye

Josh ordered the pork loin, which our waitress said was one of the more popular dishes at the restaurant. The loin came thinly sliced and topped with a brown sauce, but the pork was completely overcooked. It had an unappealing gray color to it, and when I took a bite it was like chewing on sawdust. The chipotle demi glace sauce did nothing to help, and it was a disappointing dish overall. Josh ended up eating only one slice of the loin out of four, and I gave him half my steak (it really was huge) so that he could fill up.

Super dry pork loin El Paso

The other entrees ordered at the table were not quite as bad, but they were also just only passable. Jess had a tuna steak that was perfectly cooked rare, but it had a crust of blackened seasoning that was super spicy and totally overwhelmed the fish. Alice had shrimp scampi that was extra garlicky as requested, but nothing special otherwise. Lloyd’s duck with a Jack Daniels maple sauce was better than the duck we had at Hemingway’s, but nothing to write home about.

Fortunately service was great, as our waitress was very attentive, filling up our water glasses continuously and bringing us extra bread when requested. She noticed that Josh barely touched his meal and apologized, even though it wasn’t her fault. She ended up not charging us for the pork, and instead just charged him for a salad bar entrée, which was much cheaper.

Although we did enjoy the salad bar and the bread, aside from my ribeye, none of the other entrees were ones that I would order again. The food wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t great. Although entrees are a tad expensive, they do come with the aforementioned salad bar, so that helps to make the price seem a bit more reasonable. The annoying part about coming here, however, is that no one was answering the phone so we didn’t know what the wait would be. They had an answering machine message pick up that only gave the hours of operation, and then hung up. It was kind of frustrating, and not a good way to attract customers who don’t want to take the chance that there may be a huge line. I guess my advice would be that if you do come here, stick with the steak. It is a steakhouse after all, and they do cook a pretty good piece of meat.

Santa Fe Steakhouse
3501 Killington Rd
Killington, VT

Killington Day 1 – Hemingway’s Restaurant

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by virginia

When I was thinking about the good food that we would have up in Vermont, Hemingway’s was the restaurant that I had in mind. Josh used to talk about this restaurant reverently when we were dating in high school and through college, though it was years before I finally got the chance to go. My first time was in 2005, to celebrate Josh’s successful defense of his Masters thesis. It was MLK weekend and we headed up to Killington immediately after his defense to have dinner and get in some skiing. I don’t remember exactly what I ate but I remember being blown away by the food, the presentation, the atmosphere, and the service. Granted, at that time I wasn’t as into food as I am now, but we had eaten out enough to know what separated good restaurants from spectacular restaurants.

When I started joining in on the February family ski trip a year later, Hemingway’s became an annual destination. Although we had never had a bad meal there, over the years we started to notice that the menu had gotten a bit more limited, the choices starting to repeat themselves year after year, and the food was slipping slightly. Still, it remained the best restaurant in the area, receiving accolades such as four diamonds from AAA. We had a pretty good meal there last year, and I was really looking forward to our meal this year. Josh’s parents tried to get a reservation for Valentine’s Day but we had to settle for Saturday night instead. No biggie, as I was excited to start our trip off with a bang.

The restaurant is located inside a large country house, and has the coziness of dining in someone’s home. You hang up your own coat in sort of a mudroom in the front, and when you walk through the door the restaurant is warm and cluttered with knickknacks. There are several different dining rooms, though we always end up in the same one, with tall ceilings and funky art hanging on the wall at unusual angles. The lighting is dim, giving off a romantic atmosphere, and it’s easy to see why the restaurant was booked up for Valentine’s Day.

Our meal started off with two different kinds of bread, a french roll and a slice of raisin almond molasses bread. The french roll didn’t have a super crispy crust but it was light and chewy in the middle. The raisin almond molasses bread had an interesting flavor to it, was slightly sweet, and had a nice texture.

French roll and raisin almond molasses bread with creamy butter

We also had sort of an amuse bouche, which was a plate of profiteroles filled with Vermont cheddar cheese. While it was tasty (mostly due to the cheese), it was kind of a departure from other amuse bouches that we’ve had here, which were usually more refined and a bit more exciting.

Cheddar filled profiteroles

Looking over the menu, it seemed like it was the same exact one from last year, with repeats from the year before that as well. While I understand that restaurants have their “classic” dishes that patrons will complain about if they don’t see it on the menu, I think having some variety from year to year is important as well. With only five options from each category, there really isn’t much to choose from. You tend to eat the same things over and over, and it just gets boring after a while.

Per usual, Josh and I picked out the dishes we wanted to eat and then swapped plates halfway through. I started out with the risotto with exotic mushrooms and truffle essence. This was a dish that I remember Josh’s sister having two years ago. I had tasted her dish and loved how creamy and comforting it was. This time, however, the risotto was a complete disaster. It wasn’t cooked long enough so that it was unpleasantly crunchy, and the starch hadn’t released to make the dish creamy. The mushrooms were unseasoned, and there was hardly any trace of truffle essence. What a huge disappointment.

Undercooked risotto with exotic mushrooms and truffle essence

Josh’s butternut squash soup with a scallop and crab cake was better, though it was also something that we’ve had before. I like that the soup isn’t too heavy or rich, focusing instead on the flavor of the butternut squash. The scallop and crab cake was a bit small but fortunately didn’t have too much filler in it. It wasn’t spectacular, but this was my favorite dish of the evening.

Butternut squash soup with scallop and crab cake

For our main courses, Josh started with the duck breast with a confit of duck strudel. I had ordered this dish last year and remembered that it was pretty good, with the duck being well prepared. Josh wanted to make sure that the skin of the duck would be crispy, as he hates fatty duck skin, and our waiter said that “it could be.” Sadly, the duck arrived sans crispy skin. Instead, it had a weird, congealed quality about it, and was definitely still quite fatty. The duck was overcooked in my opinion, rendering it dry and tasteless. To add insult to injury, it was also cold. The only thing I liked on the plate was the strudel, which was kind of like a duck spring roll with a flaky crust. At least that was hot and crispy and had some bit of flavor to it.

Breast of duck with confit of duck strudel

The veal tenderloin we ordered fared slightly better, but not much. At least it wasn’t overcooked, and it came crusted with fennel that provided some flavor. It was accompanied by a corn cake, which was like seared polenta and had a nice creaminess to it. I was excited to have the Brussels sprouts and bacon that came on the side, but the Brussels sprouts ended up being really mushy, and the whole dish just lacked basic seasoning.

Fennel crusted veal with corn cake, brussels sprouts, and bacon

Because the menu seemed so limited, the risotto and the soup were the only appetizers we had on the table, and everyone encountered the same issues that Josh and I had with each of those dishes. For the entrees, both Jess and Lloyd had the beef filet, which was cooked well but also lacked seasoning. Alice was not too pleased with her sea bass, lobster, and couscous dish, as the fish was coated in cornmeal and had an unpleasantly gritty texture. The couscous turned out to be Israeli couscous, and there were only about three pearls altogether. Seriously. She ended up barely touching her dish.

Needless to say, none of us were impressed with our food and we even passed on dessert because we couldn’t wait to get out of the restaurant. They did bring us a little plate of sweets that had a tiny chocolate macaron and a maple pecan truffle for each person. A nice finish, but a little too late.

Tiny macarons and truffles

Even service was subpar, as our waiter seemed indifferent and inattentive. The only time he appeared was to refill our glasses of sparkling water, and we ended up going through more bottles than we would have liked. But even as he was pouring the water, he did it quite sloppily, spilling his way from one glass to the next. When it came to our wine, however, he disappeared with our bottle of pinot noir after the initial pour and didn’t resurface with the wine until after we were already finished with our entrees. He also didn’t bother to take the time to explain our dishes to us, and he didn’t come by to check on us and ask us how things were.

We were all really disappointed by the overall experience we had at Hemingway’s this year, although it did feel like this was bound to happen eventually. Over time, the menu has gotten very boring and limited, and I kind of feel like they’re just resting on their laurels at this point. We saw that the restaurant earned another four diamond rating from AAA in 2010, and that just makes me question the authenticity of a four diamond rating. We were so disheartened by the lackluster meal that I don’t think we’ll be coming back here anymore. The restaurant is very pricey, even by NYC standards, and the mediocre food really just didn’t justify the cost. It’s sad when a restaurant you love falls apart, and I kind of feel like it’s the end of an era for us at Killington.

Hemingway’s Restaurant
4988 US Route 4
Killington, VT

The View from the Top

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by virginia

Ok so when I said that we would be doing lots of good eating up in Vermont, I lied. Unintentionally, of course. The food was quite a disappointment, but at least the skiing was decent. I was surprised by just how un-crowded Killington was, especially since it was President’s Weekend. I guess the recession has taken a toll, as lodging prices were still unreasonably high for this long weekend, as compared with other weekends.

The snow (or lack thereof) might have also kept people away, as there just really wasn’t very much of it. There was more snow on the ground in NYC/NJ than there was our whole way up into Vermont. Although they were blowing snow on some of the trails, conditions were pretty icy, especially in the afternoon. That, coupled with my nagging boot issues, made it a bit tougher to ski but I conquered my first black trail at Killington (though also unintentionally).

The scenery wasn’t as breathtaking as Heavenly but I managed to take a few shots from some nice vantage points. You can see from the trees and the mountains in the distance just how little snow there was overall. We ended up cutting our trip a day short due to an incoming storm, and simply because we couldn’t face one more bad dinner. Still, the condo we rented in Fall Line was nice and cozy, and it was good to spend some quality time with Josh’s family.

The view from the window in our condo

The view from the top of the Superstar lift

The view from the top of Snowshed, my favorite slope (it's the bunny slope)