Category Archives: eats

Christmas Eve Chinese Banquet

My family has an unusual Christmas Eve tradition. Every year, we eat a 12-course Chinese banquet with our neighbors. Between both our families, more than a dozen of us easily fill the restaurant’s large round tables. The courses are brought out one or two at a time and placed on a large lazy susan in the middle of the table, allowing us to help ourselves to a bite without having to leave our seats. Tea flows endlessly, stomachs are filled, and we eventually leave to cruise for Christmas lights.

Christmas Eve Chinese Banquet
Appetizer plate with jellyfish and cold cuts. Photo by Jeremy May.

Here’s what was on our menu this year. Our neighbors order in Chinese so I don’t know the exact names of the dishes, but I’ve tried my best to be descriptive.

  1. An appetizer plate of jellyfish and cold cuts
  2. Bean curd filled with greens and mushrooms
  3. Shrimp with peanuts and mushrooms
  4. Bamboo membrane
  5. Soup with dried scallops and mushrooms
  6. Lobster, broken up and sauteed
  7. Crispy chicken
  8. Beef and broccoli
  9. Noodles with mushrooms and Chinese broccoli
  10. Fried rice with shrimp
  11. Melons
  12. Sweet red bean soup

If you want to see more of the food, check out Jeremy’s photos. And if you want to experience it first-hand, the restaurant we went to for the last two years has been Majestic Restaurant (Map Marker 29 Route 23 S, Wayne, NJ), which also offers buffet-style dining.

More Gifts for Food Lovers

After writing my “Gifts for Food Lovers” list last month, new ideas keep popping into my head. So, here’s part 2, also Rhode Island-centric.

6. Ripe 2008 Calendar – What better way to get big kids to eat their veggies than a calendar full of tasteful nudes? Brown and RISD students pose artfully among local produce, raising money for the Southside Community Land Trust, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the Brown student garden.

Available through Farm Fresh RI, the Brown Bookstore, and Farmstead.

7. The Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce – If you live in Rhode Island you probably know of, have an opinion about, and maybe have even met Providence’s ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci. He returned to the city this year after a stint in prison, but his pasta sauce has been on store shelves all along. Profits from sauce sales go towards scholarships. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve always wanted to pick up a jar for a gift.

Check out this Chowhound discussion for ideas on where to find it.

8. A teapot and tea from Basically British Tearoom – Besides being a great gift, this is a good excuse to go check out the tearoom’s new digs in Warren’s Cutler Mills. While you’re there, have a pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream (these are the best scones I’ve ever had). If you like the decor, you can bring it home – the tearoom is also an antique store.

http://www.basicallybritishtearoom.com/

9. A growler of Trinity beer - I often pick up a growler from Trinity Brewhouse for the holidays. The brown glass jugs are printed with a RI license plate, so they are a neat souvenir as well. The beer menu changes often and usually includes 6 brews.

http://www.trinitybrewhouse.com/

10. Local gift certificates - So many Starbucks gift cards change hands over the holidays. Why not support local businesses by seeing if your favorite cafes, restaurants or food shops sell gift certificates? Not only will you be giving the recipient a chance to pick out their own gift, but you’ll also allow them to discover a place they might not have otherwise found.

If you live in the area and know of some local eateries and food shops that sell gift certificates, please leave a comment.

Happy holidays!

Chocolate Dinner at La Laiterie

Last night we trudged through the slush for an event I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – a chocolate dinner at La Laiterie (Map Marker 186 Wayland Ave). Jeremy and I have long been planning a large dinner featuring chocolate in all the courses, so when I saw the event on their newsletter, I knew we had to see how the creative and talented folks at La Laiterie did it.

La Laiterie has received a lot of press, national and local, so you might have already heard of it. It’s a small restaurant attached to Farmstead, an artisanal cheese shop in Providence’s Wayland Square. About four years ago, when I used to live less than a block away, Kate and Matt Jennings took over a little shop called “The Cheese Shop” (which seemed to sell more condiments than cheese) and transformed it into one of the best cheese stores in the northeast. It’s definitely a must-see if you’re visiting Providence.

This dinner was held in conjunction with Taza Chocolate, a Boston-area chocolate producer. We heard about Taza over a year ago, when we went to one of their “chocolate lounge” evenings in Cambridge. In their Somerville factory, they grind the beans using a Mexican stone grinder, producing delicious organic bars.

Chocolate dinner at La Laiterie
I had to sneak a picture – this is the seared tuna with chevre-stuffed dates and yankee grits

After a reception in the cheese shop, we sat down to a delicious – and educational – 5 course dinner. I won’t go into every course in detail, but here are some highlights: (click to read more)

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Wednesday Wine

Wednesday may be the perfect weekday to meet a friend for a glass of wine.

Or six.

If you think I’m suggesting a mid-week drunken rampage, you’re wrong. I’m recommending an exercise that will challenge your palate and your mind – wine tasting.

Providence has two regular tastings every Wednesday. Many people are intimidated by wine, but these events are both accessible and affordable.

Wine Tasting Wednesday at the Napa Valley Grille
Tasting wine at the Napa Valley Grille (photo by Jeremy May)

1. Wine Tasting Wednesdays at the Napa Valley Grille
When? Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm
What? To drink, 3 reds and 3 whites (from California, of course). To eat, an appetizer plate with three small, but satisfying, creations. For your education, cards with tasting notes for each wine.
How much? $2 a pour
Where? Map Marker 111 Providence Place, Providence (at the mall, street access)

2. Wednesday Wine Flights at Gracie’s
When? Wednesdays, 5-7pm
What? To drink, three wines in the week’s theme (see the schedule on their site). To eat, tasty treats from Gracie’s famous kitchen.
How much? $10 total
Where? Map Marker 194 Washington St., Providence (downtown)

Narragansett Creamery

In my post about the winter farmers’ market, I mentioned Rhode Island’s new cheesemaker Narragansett Creamery. On Tuesday I attended their ceremonial cheese cutting at Eno Fine Wines in downtown Providence, where a large crowd happily munched away at 5 types of cheese and toasted the creamery’s beginnings.

Cheese from Narragansett Creamery
Queso Blanco and Salty Sea feta from Narragansett Creamery

Among the crowd were local food personalities as well as the mayor and secretary of state. The two politicians performed the cheese-cutting together, a true sign of Providence’s food renaissance.

Narragansett Creamery may be a new name, but their cheeses are produced under Providence Specialty Products, a company that has been producing and exporting cheese for almost 20 years. They teamed up with local food activist Louella Hill to turn their focus to Rhode Island, marketing the cheeses inside the state and using milk from within a 50-mile radius (their hope is to one day source milk from inside Rhode Island).

Now onto the cheese! They brought 5 varieties:
Queso Blanco – an non-aged farmers’ cheese
Salty Sea – a feta (Providence Specialty Products’ award-winning recipe)
Renaissance – a delicious ricotta
Divine Providence – raw milk gouda
Atwells Gold – an asiago

If you curd use a piece, head over to Farmstead, the new wintertime farmers’ market, or Venda Ravioli. (Really, did you think I could get through this post without a cheese pun?)

Wintertime Farmers’ Market

Providence might be a small city, but we’re lucky to have a lot of people who care about good food. That’s what I was thinking on Saturday when I went to the opening of the new wintertime farmers’ market at AS220.

Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm
Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm

It’s not huge – about 10 vendors – but they brought diverse goods such as produce, coffee, honey, seafood and chocolate. I was planning to cook mussels for dinner so I was thrilled to find some that were fresh, plump, and half the supermarket’s price! I also picked up a dozen oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm, a pound of coffee from New Harvest coffee roasters, RI-made tortillas (only $2 for a huge package) and my first piece of cheese from RI’s new artisanal cheese maker, Narragansett Creamery.

Gifts for Food Lovers

The holidays are approaching. Are you looking for unique gifts? Here are some of my favorites, with an emphasis on Rhode Island.

1. Chocolates from Garrison Confections. I’ve bought these for birthdays, holidays, and hosts. If it’s hard to choose, pick up a seasonal collection. You might want to buy a piece or two for yourself because they’re so good, nobody will want to share.

http://www.garrisonconfections.com/

Chocolates from Garrison Confections
Chocolates from Garrison Confections

2. Ice Wine from Newport Vineyards. I once sent a bottle of this excellent dessert wine to my parents, and it was such a hit that they now pick up a few bottles for gifts throughout the year. This is a wine that can be appreciated by wine enthusiasts and novices alike.

http://www.newportvineyards.com
also available at local stores such as http://enofinewines.com

3. The Genesis Center cookbook. Support a good cause – the center’s culinary job training program – while cooking up recipes written by the culinary students and staff. Recipes from 25 cultures are featured alongside short bios of their authors.

Available online at http://foodforthoughtri.org (see bottom left).

4. A subscription to Edible Rhody. I just ordered one for my mother so she can read about Rhode Island food from far away. The quarterly publication covers local food, restaurants and recipes.

http://www.ediblerhody.com

5. Foodie Fight. This one’s not RI related, but I had to include it for the trivia and food freaks on your list. I gave this to my dad for his birthday and we found the questions quite challenging.

Foodie Fight on Amazon.com

50 Mile Meal

Tonight we went local to eat local. Downtown Providence’s Local 121 recently started a Sunday “50 Mile Meal” – three courses with ingredients from a 50 mile radius.

For a starter I had fried green tomatoes, for an entree, a seared tuna salad and for dessert, a pear poached in white wine with caramel and a delicious scoop of ice cream. This, with a glass of wine, was included in the meal’s $29.95 price tag. My boyfriend had beet salad, a delicious pork shank braised in Sakonnet Vineyard’s Vidal Blanc, and a brownie parfait.

50 Mile Meal at Local 121

The dinner runs from 3-9, and if you’re there between 5 and 8, you can also enjoy a live Irish session by the bar. The mood is mellow and cozy, and you’d feel equally comfortable dressed up or down.  Before dinner, I recommend sampling their creative cocktail menu at the beautifully restored bar.

NYC Chocolate Show

In my two posts about my trip to New York last weekend, I somehow neglected to mention why I was there – the 10th annual Chocolate Show!

Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show
Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a 40,000 square foot exhibition hall full of chocolate. Visitors shuffle through in a daze, tasting samples from international chocolate makers, buying bars and truffles, watching cooking demos and more.

Our favorite this year was Comptoir du Cacao from France. They served up chocolate in several forms – solid pieces, pralines, and “croustines” – little clusters. I was also pleasantly surprised by the new “Crave” bar from NewTree. The pairing of apricots and milk chocolate almost didn’t interest me, but it was great (I should have known – I love their milk chocolate lavender bar).

Before my chocolate high wore off, I picked up some retro bars from Chocolate Bar and the new Chili Cherry bar from Chocolove. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention my favorite purchase (and undoubtedly the one which will last the longest) – a chocolate-scented Chocolate Show hoodie!

The entrance fee is $28: a bargain for chocolate enthusiasts, and for everyone else, a good excuse to go at least once. But if you missed it, why not pick up $28 worth of chocolate and have a tasting at home?

Nonna in New York

Do you think eating in New York has to be expensive? Not at a hole-in-the-wall takeout place, but what about at a romantic restaurant with good service and food?

I thought so, but I was proven wrong last Friday night at Nonna (520 Columbus Ave.) They offer a $25 5-course tasting menu: arancini (fried rice balls), an antipasto platter, a pasta dish, a meat dish and dessert. This menu is only available for two or more, since the appetizers and desserts are served on shared plates. To accompany your reasonable meal, the menu lists quite a few decent wines under $30.

The pasta choices were wild mushroom tagliatelle and wild boar strozzipretti – we each tried one, and my tagliatelle almost made me wish I had ordered a whole plate. For meat we both chose the pork, which was stuffed with sausage and served with polenta. Dessert was tiramisu and delicious zeppole with honey dipping sauce. The chef was very thoughtful and sent out extra tastes for our friend who’d only ordered an entree.

Nonna
http://www.nonnarestaurant.com
Map Marker 520 Columbus Ave., New York NY
(Nearby attractions: The American Museum of Natural History and Central Park.)