Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Newport, RI: Franklin Spa

Unsurprisingly, after our long, drawn out dinners inNewport, we were pretty slow-going in the mornings.  But there were things to do, cliffs to walk, mansions to tour, and we needed to be refueled.  Given the duration and relative fanciness of the previous night’sdinner, we wanted something casual, but (of course) not at the expense of deliciousness.  Franklin Spa showed up on nearly every best-of breakfast / brunch list we came across, so we figured it must be a reliable spot.  So we headed on over and found a bustling breakfast scene.  After a wait of just a few minutes spent ogling the food being ushered past us, we settled into our corner booth, ready to enjoy some straight-up comfort food.

Franklin Spa is the epitome of a greasy spoon - not exactly what I had in mind when I heard the name of the joint.  From the swiveling stools at a counter in front of an open kitchen to the vinyl booths and the no-nonsense yet affable hey darlin’ sort of service you’d expect from a local joint, you just know you're in for an enjoyable meal. 

Most of the time, when I eat out, I am looking to experience new tastes and experiences and discover combinations I’d never have dreamed up on my own.  That’s not always the case for brunch.  Sometimes I am looking to be wowed, but sometimes I just want some comforting food prepared by someone else, someone who has their shit together at the ungodly hour of one p.m. on a weekend day. 

Smoked Salmon Benedict

For me, comfort food at brunch time is found in the form of smoked salmon and poached eggs.  It’s a go-to of mine because it’s relatively healthy (though hello, sodium!), straightforward and simple.  Despite this simplicity, it’s surprising how frequently the dish falls short of its potential.  I suppose I can’t expect busy kitchens to present me with perfectly poached eggs every time, but at the very least I expect to be met with runny yolks.  Diners tend to be well-seasoned egg-slingers, so I put my faith in the short-order cooks behind the counter and ordered a smoked salmon benedict – hollandaise on the side (so sue me, I’m not immune to the threats of butterfat, and it’s impossible to tell just how heavy-handed a kitchen will be with the hollandaise, so I figure it’s best to just apply it, or dunk it, realistically, myself).  The fellas at Franklin Spa did not let me down.  My eggs were perfect – perfectly runny, not a hard bit of yolk to be found, with thoroughly cooked whites.  The hollandaise was lemony and bright, though a bit clunky.  A simple dish very well executed, and served with some well-spiced home fries.

Corned Beef Hash

Robbie opted for the corned beef hash with poached eggs and hollandaise.  What can I say, we were a little sodium-hungry, I suppose.  His plate came teeming with fatty corned beef and browned potatoes. A hangover helper if there ever were one.

Stuffed French Toast with Bananas and Pecans
CF went with the stuffed french toast, which was topped at her request with bananas and pecans.  A solid move.  The battered slices of bread were barely able to contain the mounds of maple-spiked cream cheese within.  This was unabashedly decadent; not as sweet as you'd expect but very difficult to tackle alone.  I was glad I wasn't the one faced with the task, but happy to be able to sneak a taste. 

I didn't photograph CH's dish, but it was a chili and cheese omelet.  CH is to chili as Rob is to hot wings.  If it's on a menu, it's tough for him to look past it and order something else. When he saw it combined with breakfast food, he knew immediately it'd be his.  Bad move.  Learn from his mistake.  Not only did he not enjoy it much, but it repeated on him all afternoon, as if to remind him of his failing.  

That one misstep aside (and I'll put that one on CH, as opposed to Franklin Spa), this was a very solid meal.  It was unpretentious, relaxed and really quite good.  Recommended.

229 Spring St.
Newport, RI
(401) 847-3540

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Passover!

Matzoh Ball Soup

Sundown this evening marks the beginning of the eight-day celebration of Passover, which celebrates the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt.  It's a time to relax, to eat and drink, and to refrain from leavened goods, or chametz.  Chametz is anything that is made of grains (wheat, spelt, oats, barley, rye), that has been combined with water and left uncooked for more than 18 minutes.  In Ashkenazi tradition, kitniyot are also forbidden; these include items that can be ground into a coarse meal, such as corn, legumes (peanuts, peas, beans, soy) and rice.  

Mostly everyone is aware of matzoh, which I prefer in its brei'd form: soaked in egg and milk and pan-friend, which can be served savory or sweet.  It's none too appealing on its own, though I've found my goyim friends tend to like it far more than my fellow Jews; I suppose it's a different story when eaten out of necessity.  

Here are some recipes that are Passover-friendly.  While some (such as the charoset) are specific to the Seder meal, there's no reason why they should be relegated to such a setting, as they're delicious in their own right (and that charoset, in particular, would be amazing in yogurt or with oatmeal). 

Recipes for the Seder (and Beyond)

Matzoh Ball Soup. A classic.  Spiking the matzoh balls with seltzer results in some of the best matzoh balls I've had.

I should really start making this stuff year-round

Sephardic-Style Charoset.  Not your typical wine-sogged, apples and walnuts affair, this stuff is irresistible.  It's fiercely demanded at every Passover meal with my family.

Gefilte Fish with Horseradish Cream Sauce.  It might sound crazy to make your own gefilte fish, and I won't really try to argue with that, but the rewards you'll reap with this recipe are substantial.  It's supremely delicious, but if nothing else, give the horseradish cream sauce a try - it's a bit different than your standard Gold's straight from the bottle; which isn't to poo-poo the Gold's of course, I keep that stuff stocked year-round.

Brisket with Red Wine and Prunes: this recipe is awesome for any big gathering, as it benefits from a long, slow cook and can be prepared ahead of time.  It's particularly great for celebrations, since it feels a bit more special than your typical brisket. 

Random Passover-Friendly Recipes for the Remaining Eight Days

Beyond the Seders, there are eights days during which I'll need to feed myself.  As a devout oatmeal-for-breakfast type girl, this requires a bit more creativity on my part. While I will rely on yogurt a good amount for my morning repast, I will definitely be breaking out the quinoa more, as it's one of the few grain-type items that aren't considered chametz.  While these recipes aren't kosher-kosher, they don't contain chametz.  Now I don't keep kosher throughout the year, but I do try to keep chametz out of my diet during Passover.  Call me a hypocrite, that's fine, but I see these eight days more as a commemoration and acknowledgment of my ancestors' past and struggles than anything.  Where kosher variations are available, I've so noted.

Raw Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios.  This salad is fucking ridiculous.  It's amazing how good a few simple, healthy ingredients can be.  Don't forget the pistachios, they're the ticket.

Brussels Sprouts with Poached Eggs.  Embarrassing to even include this is a recipe.  It's more of a technique than anything, and one that is absurdly simple.  Omit the bacon to make it kosher.  You can add some warm, roasted walnuts at the end to make it more substantial. 

Butter Poached Fish.  The flavors in this meal belie the ease with which its prepared.  Serve with potatoes instead of noodles. 

Kale Caesar Salad.  No croutons = Passover-friendly.   

Duck with Red Wine Sauce and Cauliflower Two Ways.  Omit the brandy in the sauce and use potato starch in lieu of corn starch to make the red wine sauce Passover-friendly.  Both cauliflower dishes are kosher for Passover and should be made stat in any event because they rock.

Lamb Sausage Patties with Feta, Garlic and Mint. Fast, easy, delicious.  Not kosher, though.

Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce.  While more of a winter-weather type meal, it wouldn't be unwelcome these days given the slight chill in the air that doesn't seem to want to beat it.  Leave out the bacon to keep it kosher.


Sometimes it's better to avoid the Passover-friendly facsimile of chametz-laden desserts and opt for things that were never intended to contain grains, such as ice cream, panna cotta, or pavlovas.  But sometimes you just want something cakey; flourless cakes work great for these purposes; Passover-izing other desserts will have a less than ideal effect on the texture, but it can be overlooked most of the time given the circumstances. A note on vanilla: some extracts contain grain alcohol, which is technically not kosher for passover.  It can either be omitted, or replaced with vanilla sugar, which is artificially flavored, and which is obviously not a match for pure vanilla, but hey, it's only eight days a year.)

This stuff is dangerous, but you'll be sorry if you don't make it

Matzoh Crack.  Just make this.  You won't be sorry.  Your ass may be. 

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.  The natural mint flavor is remarkable; far less sharp and aggressive than in commercial mint ice creams.

Frozen Yogurt with Figs and Honey.  Just great.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta.  A blank, tart, delicious canvas for a myriad of toppings.  Fruit is always a good bet on Passover.

Cocoa Brownies.  Replace the flour with five  tablespoons of matzoh cake meal.  The texture will suffer slightly, but it's not too bad.

Tonight is the first of two Seders, the meal at which we tell the story of the Jews' escape from slavery. I will be joining my family in Brooklyn for both. We always attempt to follow the Haggadah and tell the entire story, but by the time all is said an done we've hit the big-ticket items and proceeded to dinner.  Regardless, it's a time to celebrate family, to relax and enjoy the moment, to take it easy and drink a lot of wine.  

I hope you all have wonderful celebrations, wherever and for whatever they may be.

How and what are, or just are, you celebrating this weekend? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Newport, RI: Tallulah on Thames

For our next, and what we’d presumed to be our last, dinner in Newport, Robbie, C&C and I decided to class it up a little bit.  We secured a late reservation at Tallulah onThames, just a few blocks down from where we’d dined the nightbefore.  The space was small but welcoming; dim, but not dark. Dining out as frequently as I do in New York, I kind of forget what it’s like to have space between my table and others.  Like actual, I don’t even have to pretend I can’t hear those two girls talking about their relationships even though I can hear every awkward word, space.  Not only was the space plentiful, but it was airy, simply outfitted and quite lovely. 

Since all of the entrees hovered in the mid-thirties range, we opted for the prix fixe menu, which allowed us to select an appetizer, entrée and dessert from the menu for $50, with supplemental charges for certain dishes. 

Botanica, 2009 Chenin Blanc
 We selected a lovely, very interesting bottle of South African Chenin Blanc – the waitress was apparently a very big fan and doesn’t get asked about it frequently, so she insisted we give it a try.  She did not lead us astray; it was awesome.  I was at first thrown off by the minerality of it, but was hugely converted after a few sips, and we drank far too much of it. 

Tallulah espouses the same farm-to-table sentiment that’s popped up nearly everywhere these days.  Which is not to say I don’t appreciate the movement – I love sitting down with confidence that my meal did not originate in a factory. 

Butter.  Obvs.

I tend to place a disproportionate weight on bread and butter when deciding whether I like a restaurant.  I prefer butter to olive oil (that vegan thing never stood a chance), and I think you can tell a lot about how seriously a restaurant treats its food by the butter – it should be room temperature, maybe on the cool side of room temperature, but it should never be cold, since it should spread easily. And I could tell from this butter that we were in for a good meal.  Sprinkled with fleur de sel, micro greens, and edible flowers, it was just fabulous.  This butter was, ironically, my jam. 

But bread and butter alone do not, unfortunately, a proper meal make.  Since this meal happened over a month ago and I neglected to take a picture of the menu, I am very fuzzy on what was actually consumed, but suffice it to say that everything was quite delicious.  I have a general idea, though, and some pathetic pictures, so here goes anyway.

Baby greens with apples, cheese and other stuff

I started with a baby greens salad with Apples, shallots and blue cheese.  Despite all the distraction in the plating, at its essence this salad was simple, balanced, and fresh. All of the flavors played off of one another and the freshness of the mache really shone through.  

Endives, frisee and beets beets beets
CF started with the other salad option, endives and frisee with beets.  She seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.  
Appetizer win
Robbie and CH went for the broccoli and cheddar veloute.  I am not a fan of cream-based soups, and thinking the veloute would be, if not, cream-based, quite heavy, I opted for the salad, and the second Rob's soup was poured I had serious food envy.  It was awesome.  The cheddar somehow seemed to contribute only flavor, giving a little bit of an edge to what would be an otherwise run-of-the-mill broccoli soup, but did not weigh down the veloute at all.  Rob and CH won the appetizer course.

For the mains, I had been considering the fluke but was told they'd run out.  So I opted instead for the cod, which was a wonderful fallback.  Served with brandade, olives, and a piquillo pepper puree, the fish was cooked fantastically - crispy skin veiling perfectly moist flesh.  Say what you will, call me gross even, but I love crispy fish skin, and I don't give a fuck.  

Robbie also went with the cod.  Typically, I'd be secretly (and, yes, selfishly) resentful that he hadn't gone with something different so that I could pick from his plate, but since the four of us had been eating from each other's plates all weekend, I knew I'd have a chance to taste a few different things.  
Risotto avec l'arc de courge musquée
CF went with the seasonal squash risotto, which was good but not mind-blowing, and plated far too preciously for my taste.

CH went for something far heartier - steak (I believe it was flank steak, perhaps?) cooked into a rich sauce.  Piled atop some seriously delicious fresh egg pappardelle, it was the lovechild of italian ragu and beef bourguignon.  I actually really liked the plating of this dish, and the portion was definitely appreciated more by the stomach than the eyes.

Ganache et al
Onto dessert we went.  Since it was Robbie's birthday the following week, the staff graciously put a candle in his dessert.  I don't recall what this dessert was, but I think it was a chocolate ganache with some other business going on.  It was fine, but not remarkable. 

Panna cotta spiked with awesome
What was, remarkable, however, was my coffee caramel panna cotta, with hazlenut crunch and "sweet milk espuma." This was just solid all around.  The delicious little toffee pieces, the little crunchies, reminiscent of the middle layer of the Carvel cakes of my youth, the sweet milk espuma (just call it foam, dude) - all delicious, and the bitterness of the coffee prevented all the sweet from creeping too close to saccharine.

The prices at Tallulah seem rather out of line with the rest of Newport.  The meal was by far our most expensive of the weekend, and from what I understand, the $50 prix fixe jumps significantly during the busy summer months.  While I think the artiness of the plating could have been dialed back a few notches, it did not obscure the fact that the food we were eating was pretty damn great.  

464 Thames St
Newport, RI
(401) 849-2433