Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saffron Cafe

FLOE felt a little late to the ball having seen lots of great reviews flow in on Saffron Cafe.  But this week we finally had a chance to give it a whirl.

As they have their menu online, we'd given it a bit of thought before we arrived.  We knew that the antipasto plate was right up our alley.  Hummus, Zaalouk (Morrocan eggplant spread) & Bakoula (Morrocan spinach spread) served with a tasty warmed pita.  The only question was how we'd keep Ozzy away from the pita basket!  

Careful to limit the boy's carb consumption, we dug in.  Fred found the spinach to be captivating; far outshining the hummus, which was a real surprise to us.  Neither of us could place a single ingredient past the spinach, but were consistently commenting on how flavorful it was.  The eggplant was also high on Libby's list, reminding us heavily of babaganush.   Even when the pita ran out, the serving spoon made for a satisfactory delivery device.  All in all, a great start to the meal.

Always excited about new and exotic ways of cooking, both of us chose Tajines for the main courses.   A Tajine is a traditional Moroccan stew cooked and served in a decorative ceramic pot.  Think of individual little crock pots that've been cooking all day and bursting with spices.  yum!

After ordering an Alhambra Negro (a wonderful, dark Moroccan lager), Fred chose the Ginger Chicken Tajine.  Half a chicken slow-cooked with ginger, garlic, peas & carrots with a healthy dose of saffron and a most unique flavor addition:  pickled lemon. We're not sure if they intend for you to actually eat the pickled lemon wedges, but WOW talk about a flavor bomb in your mouth!  It was intense, in a good way.  Aside from the lemon, the dish was very mild, floral with a pleasant flavor.  However we both agreed that this was not the best choice of dish.  Due to the slow, wet cooking method, the skin was unappetizing.  That combined with a large amount of bones made for a less than stellar overall experience.  The flavor was spot-on, but with so many other amazing options, you should consider them instead. 

Libby chose the Tajine Lamberel. Presented in the beautiful Tajine dish, it was a sight to behold....stewed leg of lamb, resting in a brown sauce that contained eggplant in some capcity(yum) and the aroma...absolutely wonderful!  The LesTrois Domanes Rouge,(a mild red table wine from Geurouane, Morocco) paired perfectly. Definitely not a dish heavy on spice.  Richness was the word that came to mind.  The lamb was beyond fork tender.  The table bread, special in it's own way with heavy tones of beer, was perfect for sopping up the goodness.  When craving a lamb dish, this is exactly what comes to mind...tender, rich, depth of flavor...comfort food. 

Ozzy made due with half the pita from the appetizer.  We had ordered him a side of roasted red potatoes, which mommy and daddy both agreed were quite tasty.  Ozzy on the other hand was much more interested in another boy's toy police helmet and had no time for food.  One of these days, boy, we'll turn you into a foodie.  You can't hold out forever!

For dessert, the choices were a tiramisu, a baklava, and a marscapone cheesecake.  Ozzy heard the word "cake" and quickly declared his, the marscapone cheesecake it was!  This was not cheesecake in the usual sense of the was really more like a strawberry shortcake...and wow!  It was the best strawberry shortcake we have ever had!  A huge piece layered with marscapone cheesecake and the shortcake, covered with whipped cream and strawberry sauce...just fabulous!  Light and heavy at the same time.  How did they pull that off?!

Wrap Up
Price-$$$-$$$$, Pricey but with a wow factor.  The couple on a first date in the corner certainly had the right idea!
Atmosphere-***, Small, but beautifully decorated with comfortable seating.  An open concept with a very affable and ever-present owner.
Service-****, We had a very early reservation and there were few other tables, but the waitstaff was attentive and personable without being overbearing.  

Fred - B+, I'm sure a different tajine would only improve this rating.  But you have to call it as you see it.
Libby - A,  My experience was excellent.  I look forward to coming back for more.  I appreciate their openness to allow accommodating young children.  We saw another table made a fast-food run for their youngster which was simply joked about by the owner as he brought out a complimentary appetizer for the large family to share.
Ozzy- C+, No kids menu whatsoever, but Ozzy actually fork-blocked mommy for the dessert!
Estelle- A, Stella's personal, very private dining experience was not looked upon with shock and dismay by the staff, but rather seemed welcome and natural in the setting.

Saffron Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Red Lion Grog House

FLOE is finally feeling well and glad to be back to one of our favorite!  On this rainy almost-Spring day, an English pub sounded like the thing that could warm our hearts and tummies!

In October of last year, Fountain Square welcomed newcomer, Red Lion Grog House to the scene.  (Check out the website...nicely done.)  Although they are located in the heart of Fountain Square on Virginia Ave., it takes a minute to find them due to a distinct lack of a good outdoor street sign.  It helps to know it is part of the old G.C. Murphy building. 

Upon entering, you notice how clean and new everything is.  Rich red-brown walls, beautiful hardwood floors, a dark tin ceiling, and at least 5 flat screens.  The restaurant has a long narrow shape, is well arranged, and has a nice, albeit, alcohol-free bar at the moment..(liquor license pending within the next month).

The lack of a freshly tapped beer at a grog house was quite the disappointment for Fred and Libby, but we were still optimistic and so glad to finally be out and about after so long.  The menu features typical English 'n chips, bangers 'n mash, shepherds pie, scotch eggs, a little curry, and some sandwich and burger options. 

FLOE decided to start with the fried pickle chips with garlic dijon-aioli.  Fred chose the curry dish, the Chicken Tikka Masala while Libby stayed very English with the Fish and Chips...although the Blanket Bangers sounded oh, so tempting!  Ozzy, being in a mood after waking up cranky from a brief car nap and losing a toy the moment we set foot in the pub, settled on some of the fresh-cut fries and a water...oy.  Stella seemed very content post pre-dinner peas and squash. :)

The pickles came out fresh and hot.  A nice crunch, a light fry, and that dipping sauce was just fantastic!  Something to save for anything else you could possibly dip in it! They were gone far too quickly, but definitely got us in the mood for more!

The entrees arrived soon after.  Fred's Chicken Tikka looked so good that poor, quick Stella stuck her hand in it the moment Daddy's attention went to picking her toy rings off the floor for her...a little too warm and a shock brought the pleasantness of the evening to an abrupt halt.

After soothing the wee one, Fred found the Chicken Tikka Masala to be rich and flavorful.  He had always heard that the English did Indian very well, but had assumed that their version would always be a bit watered down on the flavor side.  But this was heavily seasoned and certainly equal to anything he's had at India Palace.  The only thing missing was the naan.  And a hefty beer, of course!  Served with only basmati rice, it was a hearty portion that left a wonderful warmth around the lips and belly. 

At first glance, you could tell Ozzy's fries were going to be good.  A perfect brown hue promised a lovely flavor to those  house made fries...and they did not disappoint.  Ozzy was very happy, complaining only that there were too many for him to finish.  Libby was so pleased to see an equally welcoming perfect golden-brown fry to her Atlantic cod.  This was easily one of the best fish and chips entrees ever, and there have been many.  The fish was not oily, of good quality, perfectly fried with a tasty batter...and a perfect amount.  Not over battered, mushy, or underfried.  Well done.  A little(or maybe a lot) of malt vinegar and we were good to go!

To round off the meal, and to try and salvage an evening that had been full of follies, we chose to try the dessert...two large chocolate chip cookies over vanilla ice cream drizzled in can that not be good?  It was great.  The cookies were even a little underdone just to put it over the top.  Yum.  Ozzy was so enthusiastic he proclaimed that it "tasted very healthy!" and tried to convince me he saw some greens in it...if only chocolate chips could count as greens...

Afterwards, one of the owners came up to let us know there were going to be a few locals on tap, including two Sun King brews and Upland Rad Red (complete with a custom Red Lion tap)...not a bad start.  She also made sure to let us know there would be no domestics...even better.  There will also be about 20 bottled beers available.  We will definitely be back when the taps are present and full and we can get the full Grog House experience. :)

Wrap Up
Price-$$, Well worth the money for far above average pub-grub.
Atmosphere-** - ***, We never thought we'd say this, but they need more sh!t on the walls.  And beer...
Service-****, Service was top-notch, although it was a slow night and they had plenty of extra staff on hand.

Fred - B+, Assuming they get that liquor license, this place could be dangerous...  Perfect fried pickles. Must try the Blanket Bangers next time.
Libby - B,  The meal was good.  But sadly the rating has to take a hit when there's no grog in the grog house.
Ozzy- B, Enjoyed the fries and dessert, but there really weren't any children's items available.  Although the waitress did offer to come up with a PB&J!

Red Lion Grog House on Urbanspoon