Interesting Find – Virginia’s River Realm

There are just some experiences that you will remember and talk about for a long time.  This past weekend, we traveled to Virginia’s Oyster Country and it was truly memorable.  It also coincided with the famous Urbanna Oyster Festival.   From the minute we arrived at the Tides Inn in Irvington, VA to our last oyster at Byrd’s Seafood Co., we were met with genuine hospitality that you cannot experience in many areas.  From a food aspect, this is a foodie paradise.  Our trip began at the idyllic resort, the Tides Inn. We definitely had a room with a view!

What was the first thing I ordered?  Oysters of course!   I cannot count how many oysters we consumed over the weekend, and I might add, all were incredible.  There is just something about eating an oyster that was in the water in the morning and on your plate within hours. 

  

My husband and I were graciously welcomed by Michelle Brown, Economic Development and Tourism Coordinator for Middlesex County, Virginia and Susan Cockrell, Deputy Town Manager and Community Development director for the Town of Kilmarnock Virginia.  Both are associated with Virginia’s River Realm.   Virginia’s River Realm is comprised of 465 miles of shoreline, eight great small towns and many unique attractions in the local area.  However, my mission for this weekend focused on oysters.  Since it was Urbanna’s Oyster Festival, our first stop was downtown Urbanna, VA.  This small town hosts thousands of visitors during this two day celebration of everything oyster.  Included in this event is their annual oyster shucking contest.  The Urbanna Oyster Shucking Contest has become an annual event in the Historic Port Town Urbanna since 1982, and the winner is declared Virginia State Champion and advances to compete in the National Oyster Shucking Contest in St. Mary’s, Maryland. The National Champion then travels to Galway, Ireland to participate in the World Championship. This is serious oyster shucking and when you mention the name, Deborah Pratt, her name is famous in the area.  Deborah is the former National Shucking Champion and has competed many times in Galway, Ireland. Although the emphasis is on speed, other factors on which the contestants are judged include the amount of shell fragments, clean separation of the oyster from the shell and damage to the meat of the oyster.  You have to see it to believe it, a competition like no other. 

Here I am with Deborah Pratt, former National Oyster Shucking Champion 

The Oyster Festival is one that tantalizes all of you senses, the smell of oysters roasting, the sight of hundreds of booths selling everything oyster related, the sound of bands playing, the touch of those oyster shells while consuming those small gems and the taste of raw oysters, roasted oysters, oyster stuffing, oyster chowder, oyster shooters…… I think you get the idea. 

                                 

Our morning stop included visiting Something Different Restaurant.  A unique restaurant that years ago was once a grocery store that now houses a popular restaurant featuring a variety of delicious dishes. They take pride in serving quality foods all made from scratch. From homemade buns and subs, to in-house roasted peanuts, all are prepared daily and made to order. The Beignets (photo above) are hard to pass by, a great place to start your day in downtown Urbanna. Oh, did I mention they roast their own coffee beans and the walls are a testimony to the many varietals served by looking at the burlap coffee bags they display.  I am pictured above with Sarah Gill-Kimble, who is the proprietor with her husband, Anthony Kimble.  A definite must stop.  During the Oyster Festival, Something Different is alive with activity and they feature a live band in-house.

Below are some photos that I think capture the essence of the festival.

The judges checking each oyster at the oyster shucking contest.

A local community group selling oysters.

Rappahannock Oyster Co. at the festival

Dennis Ridings, festival volunteer, who made the best oyster shooters!

Here I am with Ms. Oyster

The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s bike patrol.  I just could not pass up this photo.

Our day concluded at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Merrior in Topping, VA.  I previously visited Rappahannock Oyster Company but this time is was dinner with Travis Croxton, one of Rappahannock’s co-owners.  We had a lively discussion on oysters while tasting almost all of their menu.  Travis ordered and we just enjoyed everything that was served.  This is one restaurant that I can’t wait to return to.  Their story and how they are now one of the key leaders in the oyster industry is fascinating.  They are also instrumental in training and developing the oyster workforce along the Rappahannock River.  In the food world, it is inspirational to hear their story.  

Here are just a few of the wonderful dishes served at Merrior.

Raw oyster selection

Angels on Horseback – baked oysters, herb butter, Edwards ham

Crabcake, grilled bread, creole remoulade 

We woke up Sunday morning and departed the Tides Inn dock by boat for an eco-tour with Capt. Gene Edmonds.  Seeing this aspect of the river gives you a whole new experience and further exemplifies the importance of this river to the oyster industry and the entire region.  

 At the Tides Inn Marina with Capt. Edmonds and Susan Cockrell

Then one last stop before heading home.  After a tour of Kilmarnock, Virginia a quaint town with a delightful main street, we headed to The Dog and Oyster Vineyard in Irvington, VA to have lunch at Byrd’s Seafood Company.  Bryan Byrd is an enterprising newcomer to the food scene in the area and works out of a food truck and under a covered tent at the vineyard.  They serve fresh local oysters harvested daily.  His champagne vinegar mignonette is sensational with the raw oysters.  He also served us roasted on the half shell oysters with jalapeno pesto and other specialty toppings.  I have to say I just loved their Fried Oyster Taco with Sriracha Key Lime Slaw.  That was all served with a glass of The Dog and Oysters blush wine.  What a great combination to end our trip.  

         

       This area is definitely a must see and a fantastic weekend getaway. 

 1 hour from Richmond

2 hours from Hampton Roads

3 hours from DC

It’s time to plan your getaway to Virginia’s River Realm and follow the Virginia Oyster Trail, I know I am, I cannot wait to return!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting Find – Sushi Hachi – Washington, DC

The life of a food blogger is so fun and interesting, and delicious!   I just never know where my next Interesting Find will surface.  This time, I can thank Facebook for this connection.   Sushi Hachi was opening in DC and they put out a Facebook note that they were looking for local food bloggers.  A friend of mine just happened to read their post and forwarded the note to me.  I replied back to their request and a few weeks later I was sitting in their beautiful restaurant trying their delicacies.  If you are a sushi fan, this is a must stop. For this post, I have a guest writer who volunteered to write about our experience at Sushi Hachi.   Below is what our good friend Barry Landew, who has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sushi, wrote about our experience.  I could not have said it any better.   

Nestled in the Eastern Market area of DC – home to Michelin-starred Pineapple and Pearls and Rose’s Luxury – is the newest entry in the burgeoning Japanese restaurant scene.  But unlike neighborhood sushi joints and overpriced ultra-contemporary Asian fusion concepts, Sushi Hachi combines unpretentious style with simple, authentic, and spectacularly fresh food.  And while the Wagyu beef, elegantly cooked at the table on a 700° stone, is as tender as it is delicious, make no mistake – Sushi Hachi is all about the fish.  And for good reason.

The 7-course $65 Omakase menu is a sushi lover’s delight.  Four of the seven courses featured sushi or sashimi – primarily nigiri style except for uni and ikura which were appropriately served gunkan.  Rather than go the route of clever sounding and overstuffed sushi rolls, Sushi Hachi’s selection, preparation, and presentation focuses on the fish. Our 5pc sashimi course featured chu toro (fatty tuna/scallion/daikon), sake (salmon/salmon roe), uni (sea urchin/cucumber), anago (sea water eel/nitsume), red snapper (tai), and tamago (sweet egg omelet).  (Note: The $75 Premium Tasting Menu offers the same sashimi and nigiri courses but adds the Wagyu beef course and omits the cold noodle dish.)

Sushi Hachi takes the opposite approach, emphasizing simplicity and letting the quality of the food and its natural aromatics and flavor speak for itself. Even the selection of anago (saltwater eel) is a study in contrast, as the vast majority of American sushi restaurants prefer to serve unagi (sea eel) drenched in a sweet sauce which appeals to the American palette.  In contrast, anago is naturally tender and sweet, with more subtle flavors and a texture that leaves the consumer wanting more.  Kudos for being different…without being trendy.

While many sushi restaurants include toro on their menus, seldom is it available, and when it is, lovers of this tuna delicacy are usually forced to order it ala carte for an additional cost.  When was the last time a sushi restaurant served chu-toro – the melt-in-your-mouth belly area of the tuna between the akami and the otoro – as part of a 5 or 7- piece selection?  No one does…well, there’s now at least one that does.  Sushi Hachi sneaks in this quintessential nigiri as part of the 5 piece premium nigiri course, without pretense – letting the perfectly cut chu toro speak for itself.  It is a memorable highlight that underscores Executive Chef Munehiro Mori and Owner/Restauranteur Steve Yoon’s commitment to serve the freshest fish, all sourced fresh from around the globe. The menu also features a number of temaki sushi (handrolls), but the Omakase left us perfectly satiated and we’ll have to wait until our next visit to try them.

Great food and attentive service combine for a fun meal that offers spectacular value for Japanese foodies and those who need their sushi fix alike.   We’re eager to see what the fish selections are the next time we visit, and with this team at the helm, we know that classic Japanese gems – from ankimo (monkfish liver) to engawa (flounder fin) – are not just on deck, they will be front-and-center for all to enjoy on the Omakase menu.  We can’t wait.

   

                                5 piece Sashimi Plate                                                                        Smoked Sashimi 2 piece

 

                                                                                   Chu Toro – Fatty Tuna/Scallion/Daikon

                                                                         With Steve Yoon, Owner/Chef at Sushi Hachi

 

 

Sweet Potato Rolls/Interesting Find – Georgia Grinders Pecan Butter

I had a large sweet potato sitting in my vegetable basket and thought today would be the perfect day to make Sweet Potato Rolls.  The leaves are turning and I am thinking fall foods.  This recipe makes thirty-six rolls so a definite recipe to try if you are having company over the fall holidays.  The first batch I made dinner roll size and then decided to give a creative twist and make pumpkin shaped rolls – easy to do – take your round dinner rolls, before baking flatten sightly, cut eight small cuts around the edges.  Poke the middle with the end of a wooden spoon, insert a sliver of pecan and bake.  

I came across Georgia Grinders at a Farmers Market in Atlanta.  I am a true fan of peanut butter and thought I would pick up a jar of their pecan butter.  When these rolls were baking, I thought the pecan butter would be a wonderful accompaniment and I sure was on target.  A wonderful combination of flavors. 

 

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Sweet Potato Rolls

Ingredients

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 - 4 cups white flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 large sweet potato, cooked and pulp scooped out, approx. 1 cup

Instructions

  1. To bake sweet potato, scrub and poke with a fork several times.  Microwave on high for 6 minutes.  Remove, slice in half to cool, scoop out pulp.

    In a stand mixer with a dough hook : combine water, yeast and brown sugar, let stand for 5 minutes.  Slowly add remaining ingredients (add 3 cups of white flour), once all combined, knead at medium speed for 4 minutes. (Dough will be sticky.  If the dough does not pull away from the side of the bowl, add additional white flour 1/4 cup at a time.) Turn dough into a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour or until double.  After 1 hour, punch dough down.  Divide dough into 3 portions, one at a time put each portion of dough on a well floured board.  Divide each third into 12 portions, shape into balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Cover with a clean towel and let rise for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake each tray of rolls for 15 - 17 minutes.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

    To make pumpkin shaped rolls:  After the rolls have risen for 20 minutes, gently pat down the roll, cut 8 slits around the edge of each roll.  Insert the end of a wooden spoon in the center, place a pecan sliver in each.  Let rest 15 minutes, bake as directed above.

 

Interesting Find – Red Rocker Candy

You just never know where I am going to find my next Interesting Find.  This time, it was in the pro-shop at my favorite golf course, Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, VA.  Candy in a pro-shop, absolutely, what better energy snack during a round of golf!  The PGA, Director of Golf at Laurel Hill, Gene Orrico knowing I am a food blogger told me I must try Red Rocker Candy.  What a wonderful surprise of outstanding flavors, all packed in cute tins with resealable tops.  After I sent an inquiry to the owner, Sue Chaney, she generously sent me a wide selection of their products to sample.  What a great treat for on the course or off – a great hostess gift or tailgate snack.

 Below is a bit of history on her company:

Red Rocker Candy is based in the small town of Troy, Virginia. What started as a desire to make toffees and brittles as gifts for friends and family turned into the fulfillment of a life-long dream. “My vision is to create a company based on the old-fashioned values of family, quality products and a personal relationship with my customers”.

Hummus/Interesting Find – Lebanese Bistro, Burke, VA

We recently ate at a Lebanese restaurant in Burke, VA, Lebanese Bistro. It is a gem tucked away in a strip shopping center.  Roland and Maria, the owners, invited us for an unbelievable dinner.   It was so fun, I never saw their menu since they ordered all of their specialties for us to try.  Every bite from every dish was just great.  I must admit I ate myself into a “food coma”  you know what that is – when everything is so good you just cannot resist a bite.  Maria graciously shared her Hummus recipe with me after I mentioned how delicious their hummus was.  One note, she never uses canned chickpeas.  This was not new to me since I have made other recipes with dried chickpeas, but you might not be familiar with cooking with dried chickpeas.  Similar to other dried beans that you cook, you soak them overnight and then simmer them until done.  I think this step is the key to her wonderful hummus.  

Photo of the hummus served at the Lebanese Bistro 

 

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Hummus- Lebanese Bistro

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Process all ingredients in a food processor - Voila - exceptional hummus thanks to my friend Maria and the Lebanese Bistro, Burke, VA.


    To cook chickpeas - cover dried chickpeas with water to cover plus a few inches.  Cover and let sit overnight.  Drain and rinse.  Place in a saucepan and cover with water, plus a few inches, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 1/2 - 2 hours until soft.

 

Below are a few photos I took during dinner…

                                        

 

Interesting Find – Georgia Sourdough Co.

Those of you that follow my blog regularly know that I bake almost everything from scratch,  However, even I love to find great small batch companies that have mastered certain products.  When I came across the crackers from the Georgia Sourdough Co,  I knew I wanted to share these as an Interesting Find.  Each batch is hand rolled and cut from sourdough, baked and packaged.  I have tried the Sea Salt and Cheese crackers and both are terrific.  

When I inquired about the product, Tracy Gribbon sent me a quick note about how she got started in the business.  Below is a bit of our conversation.  As many have said before, you just never know what happens when you follow your passion – read below about how she got started in the cracker business.

I lived in NYC for 8 years and was a beverage director. So I filled my days tasting wines and writing lists. And due to a healthy R&D budget, my city and my tiny kitchen apartment- I spent most evenings out to dinner. I decided to move back to Atlanta in 2013 and moved into a house- it was 4x the size of my apartment for 1/2 the price. And it has an actual size kitchen. I took a few months to settle in and not work and I found myself baking a lot. On some prodding from my uncle- I made a sourdough starter. Just the old flour and water on the counter until it populated. I was convinced that I would bake my own fresh bread and life would be glorious! Only hiccup to that is it took me 18 months to successfully make a loaf of bread that was not a brick. So during that time I was experimenting with all sorts of sourdough things. I made chocolate chip cookies, coffee cake, pizza dough, biscuits, pie crust, etc. And I was making the Sea Salt crackers repeatedly. And i would just give them away to friends and family. 

I worked at a couple different restaurants for friends. But the jobs were different down here. And most required that I work at night and managing the floor- which I was not a fan of. I was part of a CSA with Greg Hutchins of Heritage Farms- and he had a little online marketplace where he sold his products and other local vendors. I brought him some crackers one day to see if he thought they could sell. His response was “watch out Nabisco! These are fabulous”. And so it began. And once we started the farmer’s markets stores started approaching us to sell the crackers in their stores. And we keep growing and we keep learning more and more about the healthful effects of sourdough. It’s so cool and I feel #blessed to be on this path. Life is pretty cool!

 What a fantastic story and I will tell you fantastic crackers, check out her website –  http://www.georgiasourdoughco.com/

And remember…..always follow your passion, you just never know what will happen!  

(When I followed my passion and started writing this blog for family and friends, I never thought in a million years that my blog would become a nationally recognized food blog and featured in Southern Living as one of their 2017 Favorite Food Blogs)

 

Southern Crab Nachos

You might wonder why I call these Southern Crab Nachos.  Well, it is because I added a layer of cheese grits!  I met Parker Hinson  from Old School Mill in Albemarle, NC. and he graciously gave me a bag of their stone ground grits.  After living in Texas for five years and making grits frequently, I can absolutely say these are the best grits I have ever had. I wanted to add a southern twist to my nachos and decided to add a layer of cheese grits.  The best thing about these nachos is not only does the top of the Southern Crab Nachos ooze with deliciousness of cheese and crab, the bottom chips scoop up a wonderful layer of cheese grits with the other toppings.  Each bite is so delicious you will want to make extras!

These grits are a find!  Check out their website http://oldschool.com  Here is a little bit on info on their mill:

Old School Brand uses the art of stone grinding grains into wonderfully pure meals, flours, and grits. Since those first products were made we have developed a line of foods and mixes that bring back all the rich goodness and flavor of centuries ago.

 

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Southern Crab Nachos

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Cheese Grits
  • 1 recipe Black Bean Relish
  • 8 - 12 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
  • 1 large bag tortilla chips (flour or corn)
  • 1 cup grated monterey jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 recipe Avocado Lime Buttermilk Dressing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare grits and spoon over the bottom of your ovenproof serving dish. Top with layers of tortilla chips.  Spoon over the black bean relish, crab meat and cheeses.  Bake until hot and bubbly, 8 - 12 minutes.  Serve with a side of avocado lime buttermilk dressing.

 

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Cheese Grits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup stone ground grits
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring water and salt to a boil.  Add grits.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. 

 

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Black Bean Relish

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/3 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon red onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 lime, squeezed
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients.

 

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Avocado Lime Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime peel
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 4 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut avocado in half and discard pit, scoop flesh into food processor bowl. Combine all remaining ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and process until smooth.  Refrigerate until ready to serve

Interesting Find – The Pit Stop Bar-B-Que

I always love it when I come across an Interesting Find in the most unexpected places.  Driving through Virginia horse county admiring the beautiful countryside we happened to come across The Pit Stop Bar-B-Que set-up in a parking lot at the intersection of Route 50 and Highway 15 in Aldie, VA.  What immediately peaked my interest was the long line that was queued up for BBQ.  You just know you have found a gem when everyone is waiting in line at this one stand.  Under four tents, with three large smokers, I met Ron Thomas the owner and leader of this wonderful BBQ stop.  We ordered their Chopped Pork Sandwich topped with coleslaw.  I will tell you this was no ordinary sandwich.  I should have known when they put forks in our bags to expect something special.  The sandwich was just overflowing with the most delicious pork and coleslaw.   There was no way you could pick this sandwich up, it was so delicious I savored every bite.  Ron also had me try his mom’s kale recipe with pineapple juice, outstanding!  This BBQ roadside icon is definitely worth the drive.  

The incredible long line….well worth the wait

Their menu….short, sweet and delicious

With the pitmaster, Ron Thomas

Interesting Find – Les Trois Petits Cochons/Three Little Pigs

When I attended ZooFari recently at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, I came across a booth serving the most wonderful pate’s and foie gras.  I have mentioned before that ZooFari (a fundraiser for the National Zoo) is an absolute foodie paradise with booths from some of the finest restaurants and food purveyors on the East Coast.  The Les Trois Petite Cochons -Three Little Pigs booth was definitely calling my name when I saw their assortment of pates at their booth. Over the years, when I attend food events, I have come to realize that not everyone is schooled in the area of food and various types of food.   I got a quiet giggle from this encounter: The two gentlemen in line behind me as I was waiting to try Tree Little Pig’s foie gras, were discussing with each other that they were interested in trying the fudge!  I thought – really gentlemen – this it not fudge! this is foie gras!   However, this story has come to my mind many times when I talk about food, food trends, and types of food.   I realize that not everyone has been exposed to culinary delicacies and as a food writer, I am always mindful to educate my readers and hope that everyone expands their palates and food adventures.

 I typically ask lots of questions when trying new things and many times I hand out my business card when discussing food or recipes.  Quitterie Peyran, French Marketing Associate for Les Trois Petite Cochons-Three Little Pigs reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in trying a few of their organic pates and foie gras.  As a side note: I receive many requests to review products and events however, my Interesting Finds are items that I have found and think my readers would be interested in.  I am very selective and I am not a marketing tool to feature just any product  You can be assured if something is an Interesting Find, I personally found the item and love it!   Les Trois Petite Cochons products are definitely an Interesting Find.  They generously sent me an assortment of their products and they were all outstanding.  One of the great things about their products is they are not something I would make at home but I love to serve them.  All were exceptional.  If you are a fan of foie gras and pates (or ready to expand your food adventures), check out their website.  

Les Trois Petits Cochons began in 1975 as a small charcuterie in Greenwich Village, New York City. Today it continues the tradition of handcrafting high quality, all natural pâté and charcuterie, offering a complete line of artisanal pâtés, mousses, terrines, sausages, smoked meats and other French specialties.

Interesting Find in DC – Radiator Pop-Up Bar and Restaurant at Mason and Rook

Pop-up you say?  One of the newest concepts around the country in all aspects of the food industry, is pop-ups.  Yes, short-term venues that might be here today and gone tomorrow.  From food stands to bars, these are some of the most unique venues you will find.  They are definitely worth searching out since you will find well thought out venues with short life spans, so you must go to them when you hear about them.  I was invited to the Kimpton Hotel in DC, Mason and Rook to check out their pop-up roof-top bar venue and have dinner in Radiator, their restaurant.  It was the most intriguing and delightful evening.   When you enter this boutique hotel, you travel via elevator to their tenth floor, and then walk up a flight of steps to their outdoor bar.  The venue has a killer view and the atmosphere was like we had stepped into a bar on the Hawaiian Islands.  The bar menu was Luau themed, the bartenders had on kukui leis and the view from the top was spectacular. From rum drinks to coconut shrimp with guava sauce, all prepared on the rooftop. I felt like I was back on the islands.  The crowd was thoroughly enjoying the beautiful surroundings and great bar.  We then went down to their restaurant, Radiator.  I will tell you, I have eaten at some the finest restaurants in DC, and the meal we had at Radiator I would list as one of the best meals I have had in DC.  Every small plate was perfectly prepared, from the bacon fat fries to the brussel sprouts with gram marsala yogurt, it was a mouth dancing night.  I must also mention the gnocchi with lolli pop kale, beach mushroom, truffle pecorino, and arugula pesto and the Wagyu bavette steak with salt-roasted potatoes, cipollini onion, and cabernet demi –  just spectacular. Hard for me to dissect every dish since every dish was so unique and delicious.  I can’t wait to return – those Bacon Fat Fries are calling my name!