Larimer Square’s little French secret: Vendôme

We had the pleasure of spending time in Denver, Colorado this past week for a conference and though we were technically in town on business, we managed to head to dinner one evening with friends. Unfortunately, sometimes when you get a group of foodies together, there isn’t consensus on where to eat and the six of us headed to nearby Larimer Square while still trying to decide where and what the collective group was in the mood to nosh on that evening. As Lucretia just started listing off restaurants and cuisines in an attempt to get someone (anyone) to pick a destination, a random man who was walking down the crowded sidewalk near us piped up “Oh, that French place is amazing.”

Sold, to the random businessman.

We walked a bit further and then turned off the street into a little hidden alcove and in the falling dusk, I was instantly back in Montparnasse. Bistro Vendôme is secreted away and could be easily overlooked if you didn’t know where to look, but oh what a meal you would be missing!

They sat us quickly in the atrium which was a lovely little spot and in no time at all, I was tucking into a savory cup of soupe à l’Oignon which was fabulous. I also tried one of their cocktails, Frais du Jardin, which consists of a cucumber infused gin, lemon, lime, simple syrup and basil leaves topped off with soda. It was alright, however about halfway through the glass, I was wishing I had picked something a bit sweeter for my palate as the basil started to overpower the other flavors in the glass. I suppose I should have sipped it faster!

For our entrees, Joel and I both chose items from their specials of the day. I had a simply delightful quail on a bed of braised greens and potato-less gnocchi that was dressed in an insanely rich sauce. The quail was de-boned perfectly and oh-so tender that it nearly melted in my mouth. I really appreciated that the dish was lightly seasoned as it didn’t hide the flavor of the quail or the greens and I was astonished (and grateful due to allergies) that the gnocchi had no potato as they honestly couldn’t have been made any better. Joel had the Bouillabaisse which he said was excellent, but since he didn’t share before he finished it all off, I can’t confirm. It did look very tasty though.

Sadly, I must admit that I only managed one photo of another dish from our party as we were all ravenous and tucked into our meals rather quickly. Wade inhaled his steak au poivre and Cynthia had the Noix de St. Jacques, Panisse a la Pomme et Thym, which is pan roasted scallops and apple-thyme panisse on a bed of red cabbage and persimmon puree. Her dish was beautiful and judging from the empty plate the waiter whisked away, delightful as well.

I capped off my meal with a cup of french press coffee (which I willingly shared with Dave) and the sinful indulgence of their Chocolate Pot de Crème Brioche Bread Pudding which was served with a dollop of marshmallow ice cream and a hazelnut tuile. Somehow I was actually convinced to share a few spoonfuls, though I’m going to chalk that up to the beginnings of a serious food coma and will assuredly guard my dessert more carefully in the future.

The service was excellent, our waitress was incredibly patient with our table’s vast storytelling capabilities, and the staff was very careful to assure me that each item they set in front of me avoided my walnut allergy. Absolutely above and beyond. We never felt rushed and, despite what you may have experienced at other French restaurants, the atmosphere was 100% warm, welcoming and unpretentious. I would eat here again in a heartbeat and it’s fabulous to know that I don’t need to head all the way to Paris for my gourmet fix. I just have to find more reasons to travel to Denver.

The (Not So) Happy Viking

Here in the small town of Yuba City we live in, there aren’t many places to ‘eat’. Sure, there is a dearth of fast food and plenty of crummy chains, but a place to sit down and enjoy something delicious that wasn’t delivered to the kitchen pre-frozen from a corporate distribution center? Those are few and far between.

One of my MOST favorite places in town is a little sports pub called “The Happy Viking” on Plumas Street. Their wings are great, their burgers are tasty, they have cider on tap (apple AND pear), and they have exquisite Guinness Onion Rings. I like that they have multiple sports on the myriad of screens around the place and they have a great happy hour menu.

Herein lies my quandary…The Happy Viking has also screwed up our order the past several times we’ve gone there.

Joel likes the place too, but is usually unwilling to go because of the constant mistakes and after this last time, I’m finally leaning his direction. I’m so frustrated that this place where I love to eat has such a lackluster kitchen and a wait staff who takes the concept of “waiting” to all time high.

Here’s what happened this afternoon…
It’s been quite awhile since I was able to convince Joel to go to The Happy Viking, but today I was finally able to do it. (He agreed I think mostly because he had a coding project that took a long time today and because of that, we missed the lunch hour at the sushi joint we were planning on going to instead.) We ordered right before 4pm and didn’t get our appetizers or wings until after 4:30 and both came at once. We each noticed that we only had 5 wings apiece, which was odd since we thought the order was for 6, but figured that it had been awhile, so perhaps we were mistaken, especially since we each had 5.

The bill comes and lo and behold, we’re charged for 6 wings apiece. Now, this isn’t a huge deal financially. It’s happy hour and wings are $0.55 each, so we’re only talking about $1.10 plus tax, but it’s the principal of the thing.

We pointed out the mistake to the waitress who was reluctant to do anything about it until I also pointed out the counted bones on our plates. At first she offered to have the kitchen make us two wings…which was kind of a ridiculous offer since we were ready to leave and wings take 20 minutes. Then she went to talk to the manager and a few minutes later, she returned and told us that the manager had taken $1.00 off our bill.

Not $1.10 plus tax. Just $1.00.

You know sometimes when you know you’re right, but there’s just no point in continuing to push the point? That’s what I felt as I just took the bill from her and filled out the tip and total. It was pointless and futile for me to dicker over the proper cost.

So I did the only thing I could…I took it out of her tip and I hope she does what she said she was going to do and yells at the kitchen.

We’ll probably never know since sadly, we won’t be going back.

Millions of Peaches…

Well, maybe not millions, but lots and lots!

peachfest_poster2013This weekend in Northern California is the 14th annual Marysville Peach Festival, started by Jody Sodaro of Sodaro Orchards, which is one of my most favorite places to get local peaches and other fruits and veggies this time of year. I always love going to the Peach Festival because it has that small town charm, but with a myriad of vendors and musicians, it never feels ‘small’. Parking can be a little tricky since there’s a lot of folks who attend, but the festival and parking are both free which is really nice.

We always come home with several pounds of peaches, something fun (last year it was apriums), and the kids invariably find something at one of the craft vendors that they simply must have. When we first started going, I was the only peach eater in the family…I’m pleased that the family enjoys them more and more every year.

The festival is open on Friday, July 19th from 4pm-11pm and on Saturday, July 20th from 10am-11pm. See you there!

Sophia’s 6th Birthday Cake

I was going through my cake photos recently looking for inspiration for the holidays and I came across the pictures of my youngest daughter’s 6th birthday cake. She’s 7 and a half now, but even though a year and a half has passed, I’m still incredibly proud of this creation of mine.

At the time, Sophia was absolutely head over heels in love with the Disney movie Tangled. I’ve always let my children dictate what they want for their own birthday cakes every year. They take such great delight in it and I love making them, so I never really considered that they might want something that I couldn’t make. So naturally my little overachiever Sophia asked for the most difficult thing from the movie: Rapunzel’s tower.

Yikes.

Seeking inspiration, I spent several evenings scouring the internet looking at castle and Rapunzel related artwork, drawings and cakes, some good…some really terrible…all in the days before the glories of Pinterest. Finally I happened across this beautiful cake and then it all clicked. This, I could totally rock.

I decided on an in-edible tower anchored in the middle of a round chocolate cake. I started by gathering the items to make the base of my tower: an unused mailing tube, an empty cashew can, two cans of peaches (one emptied and rinsed, the other still sealed) and a flexible piece of cardboard. If you are going to give this a go yourself, make sure the cans will fit inside your mailing tube. I began by using a hot glue gun to attach the cleaned peach can to the bottom of the nut can and to attach the full can to my cake base. This made the tower incredibly stable and allowed me to make the living portion of the tower on something more manageable yet easy to add securely to the design later. I also added a cone shaped roof to the nut can as well as a bumped out bay window using the cardboard and hot glue. You’ll notice in the pictures below that the roof actually has more than one peak and the shorter one was done simply with frosting under the tiles.

Next I used a brick texture tile from Duff on Wilton fondant that I had tinted gray. Texture tiles are fun if you’re doing something small, but I’ve found that it’s easier to get a clean imprint if you place the tile or imprint mat on -top- of your rolled out fondant and then press it in to get the impression. Doing it the other way with the mat between the counter and the fondant results in a muddy design for me nearly every time. I attached the gray brick with a little bit of water, then added the white fondant wrap in the same way, cutting it carefully with a paring knife as I went.

At this point I got my cakes in the oven which was fairly straightforward since they were plain chocolate and then I sat down to focus on the living quarters. Sophia had seen the pictures by this point, so I was charged with making it -exactly- the same as the picture as I shuffled her off to bed. Kids. I hand tinted all the fondant and applied it using a little water for the most part, however the tiles were stuck on with buttercream. I actually had an absolute blast putting the little house together, though there are a few things I would have done differently if I had to do it again. I think I would have done some sort of painted detail on the window panes themselves and perhaps some lightly painted cracking to simulate plaster on the white stucco parts. I also would have been a little more careful about keeping the top spire straight and I would have added the wooden buttresses underneath the living space.

Once the cakes were done and cooled, torted, filled and stacked, I used a cookie cutter that was close to the size of the mailing tube to cut a hole in the cake. I then took the donut shaped cake, carefully put it on the prepared cake board and frosted it with green tinted buttercream frosting. I took the mailing tube and covered the rest of the exposed cardboard with foil and then lowered it into the hole in the cake and around the peach can that was glued to the board. It fit perfectly with no wiggling. Using a grass tip and the same green buttercream, I added grass detail around the edges where the cake met the board and the cake met the tower as well as some small patches here and there for detail. I switched to a straight tip (I believe it was a #2 or #3) and piped the vines, then the leaves with a #352 leaf tip. Finally, I added flowers in various hues to both the cake and the living quarters and the figurines which were part of her birthday surprise.

Needless to say, she was absolutely thrilled with the cake and I still hear from her classmates “Remember that one time? When you made that super tall Tangled cake for Sophia’s birthday?”

I simply smile and say yes, yes I do.

Are you ready for KITCHEN COMBAT?

No? Not ready? Well, then I’m going to have to assume that you aren’t the one cooking Thanksgiving dinner at YOUR place this week. (Congratulations on foisting it off on some other poor soul. You are bringing a pie though, right? Or at least wine? Please?)

For those of you that screamed out a hearty YES! and rattled your pot lids in a show of culinary intimidation, I say NAY, YOU ARE NOT READY! Why?

Because you don’t have one of these beauties…

These awesome frying pans are part of a Kickstarter project and they can even be custom made just for you, which is pretty sweet. And guys, the creators at Morlock Enterprises call them ‘Fighting Man Frying Pans’, so if you were one of those closet culinary geniuses, you can finally step out of the shadow of your apron strings with your Man Pan. Just kidding.