To Keurig or Not to Keurig?

Apparently, we’re actually going to have a winter this winter. Who the Hell made that call? While I am not one of those people who relies on coffee to wake up, or who drinks it all day, I definitely have a two cup little habit each morning. In the winter, even more than other times of the year, I love that start-of-the-day hot beverage to warm things up and get them going.

My favorite mug, from the Koffee Kove in Clayton

Shawn must have bought me my Cuisinart coffee pot four or five years ago. It was, at the time, a technical marvel for me, with the ability to let me have my first cup before the brew cycle was finished, and a built-in clock that I imagined would allow me to set the appliance to make my coffee for me at my desired wake-up time, but which, in reality, I never used. Old Cuisi has served me well, but because of our terribly hard well water, I have to decalcify her a couple times a year to keep her lines clear. I fear the CLR may have hastened her demise. She finally gave up the ghost last week.

RIP, Old Friend

Coincidentally, I have been taking a lot of heat lately about my apparently ancient and insufficient coffee pot. My friend Mimi came to visit a few weeks ago, and found the brew time Old Cuisi enjoyed to be overwhelmingly unsatisfactory. Mimi is from the camp of folks who require on demand coffee minutes after waking, and my more relaxed method of morning beverage preparation did not cut the mustard. She took to Facebook to shame me into ditching Old Cuisi for a Keurig, a move which was heartily endorsed by the Keurig Faction of my friends, who are a powerful lobby, indeed. Look out, Capitol Hill.

So, this week, upon the passing of my old coffee maker, I caved. The Keurig is nigh.

While three boxes of K-cups came with the new system, so did the little refillable filter pod, which is what I will mostly use. I’m just not into all the waste associated with those endless little plastic cups. Even if you recycle them, which I would/will do, it’s still a lot of waste just to manage. My favorite aspect of Keurigdom is that every, single cup of coffee is perfectly fresh. When I was in high school, I worked at Nancy’s Coffee Collection in the Salmon Run Mall. Part of my gourmet coffee education there was that, if a pot of coffee had been sitting on the warmer for more than 15 minutes, it was old, which is reflected in the taste. While a lot of that job was total B.S. (Ahem, leaving a 16 year old by herself to manage the business and expecting her to NOT take slices of cheesecake for free is just unreasonable), this rule held much merit. Fresh coffee is king.

Other than that, I’m just glad Mimi is willing to visit again, now that the Hotel D’Shelb has On Demand Coffee. What about you, Big Hungries? Are you part of the Keurig Lobby? Are you demanding that Americans who have purchased a Keurig in the past year be given a tax deduction? Has it changed your life? Do you bully your friends into buying them? Or are you an old school coffee potter? Report your status in the comments! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


A Well-Stocked Life

Recently, some of my girlfriends and blogger pals, Steph at Life According to Steph and Gwen at Confessions of a Gila Monster, published posts about the contents of their purses. As we are now in the deep, dark recesses of winter and I’m trying to get back on track with healthy eating and some semblance of exercise in the new year, I thought it might be prudent to take a week off from restaurant reviews and talk about something a little more akin to the Big Hungry mindset than my purse: my pantry and fridge.

1. Sriracha. A mix of chiles, garlic, and vinegar. Like hot sauce, but with more flavor and not so spicy it will blow your head off. I use it in stir fries, soups, and leftover Chinese food to kick it up. You can also get nutty with this fun, trendy ingredient, and try experimenting with it in sweet applications, like cookies laced with bacon and sriracha. The spicy will counter the fatty and you will end up with something delicious.

2. I am addicted to Wegmans Italian Classics line of bagged pastas. They cook in a bit of a shorter time than boxed, dried pastas, but don’t overcook as easily as fresh. The ricciolo variety, which is what I have in there now, is particularly delicious in this recipe for squash and corn pasta with ricotta. which is really more of a summer recipe, but completely delectable. I also like the orechiette variety with sausage, swiss chard, and some hot chile flakes and parmesan.

3. Whiskey pickles from the Brooklyn Brine Co., picked up at one of the Finger Lakes wineries during my birthday party wine tour. A gift from Jill and Tommy. I almost don’t want to open them, because every time I go in my pantry, I’m reminded of that awesome day. Jill says they're delicious, though.

4. Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain hot cereal. I use a little of this in my morning porridge recipe that keeps me on track when I’m trying to keep the lbs off. It’s very high in protein and whole grains, while keeping the more highly processed grains out of the mix. It adds body and chewiness to the stone ground oatmeal, and makes that more expensive product last longer. I really like that it has flaxseed in it, as that’s supposed to be good for you. I need all the help I can get!

5. I eat a lot of fancy, hoity-toity food. I love foie gras, shellfish, truffles, exotic cheeses, saffron and Kobe beef. But to prove to you that I’m still an Upstate NY, down-home girl, here is my tell tale box of Success Rice. On either side are basmati and Arborio, plus cous cous and thai rice noodles, but I have to have that safety box of instant rice up there, or I just don’t feel like…me. Sometimes, I like that familiar, old school, fluffy processed crap, and I will not be ashamed to admit it.

6. On the fancier end of that spectrum, here is the precious NapaStyle parmesan dip. You can order it here and always know that you have a salty, nutty, soulful, fantastic snack item if friends drop by. A spoonful of this on a charred baguette slice is pure unadulterated indulgence.

7. Stovetop Stuffing. I had no idea this was still in there. Huh. Must be at least four years old?

We also have shelves that hang from the door. This is my nut shelf. Don’t act like you’re not impressed. I have the pine nuts, the slivered almonds, pecans, glazed pecans, and sliced almonds. The little glass jars help keep them fresh, as nut oils can spoil. And that completes today’s nuts lesson. Nuts.

Ahem. Here’s my fridge, as of Monday evening:

1. Growing up, we always drank 2% or 1% milk, but when I moved in with Shawn, he was a skim man, and I followed suit. What do you drink in your house?

2. Next to the trusty Frank’s Red Hot, we have Shawn’s homemade hot sauce, which he made up a couple years ago from a mix of haberneros and thai chiles he grew in his garden. The day he ground up the chiles we coughed and gagged a lot. I do not recommend doing this in your home if you have small children.

3. Do you remember my review of Pastabilities, in Syracuse, in 2010? The spicy hot tomato oil they make there, recently featured on Triple D, was my favorite thing about that visit, and now you can buy it off the shelf at Wegmans! This is killer to dip some of that charred baguette in, in fact, serve a small bowl of it alongside your parmesan dip. But it’s also a good pasta sauce, and I used it last night to baste sautéed boneless chicken cutlets, with fabulous results.

4. These are pomegranate seeds, or arils. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that they now sell them in little containers like this, because it is an absolute mess to thwack them out of their shells. I sprinkled these on a spinach salad last night, but they are also delicious with yogurt or in a fruit salad. They look scary, but taste devine, and they pop when you bite into them. Delightful.

5. Down in the cheese drawer is some feta and a hunk of parm, and then this baby. This is my secret to the most delicious caprese salads: Antonio’s salted fresh mozzarella cheese. When I’m dieting and trying to stay no-carb at night, I eat a lot of caprese salads, and because this cheese is salted a wee bit more than other fresh mozzarellas, it adds a lot of flavor without me adding a ton of oil to my salad. You can get it at Wegmans in the fancy cheese case.

6. Summer Fresh fig and balsamic topping, also from Wegmans. I bought this at Christmas time to use with brie, but I’ve found it is absolutely delicious on my morning oatmeal to make a savory/sweet breakfast. It has the almost overwhelming sweetness of figs and that hit of balsamic tartness that balances gorgeously.

As you can see, I have a good mix of fun, schmancy stuff and staples. And don’t worry, there’s two whole drawers of vegetables down there you can’t see. I made a frittata Monday night with chicken, spinach, broccoli, red bell pepper, black olive, onion, and a tiny bit of feta, and had it with my spinach salad for last night's light dinner. It was yummy! What are you eating this week in Big Hungry Nation? Anything good?

Remember, you can follow along with my eating and dining adventures on Twitter @BigHungryShelby or on my Facebook Group, which is just called Big Hungry Shelby. I know, I know, original! You also can actually subscribe to this blog, and then something called RSS will let you know whenever I put a new post up. Just click on the little blue join this site button in the left-hand navigation. Burn up the comment section, down below, too. I love to hear what you think about my blog, and I even took away that painful security code thingie to make it easier for you to post. See you back here same time, same channel next week for more in something yummy. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


On the Importance of Good Diction When Discussing Small Plates

Last week, a woman at work who enjoys local food, but not necessarily keeping up with my blog, was quizzing me in the ladies room about my favorite new restaurants, and I told her about Zona and Co Grille, and that I was trying a new tapas place in Endicott that very night. As the color drained from her face and she stammered before me, I realized that she had misheard me, or at least misunderstood the term, “tapas,” thinking instead I was enthusiastically announcing my intention to visit a strip club for dinner in the women’s lavatory. And that is not the first time I’ve had someone misinterpret my tapas fervor.

So, before I launch into this week’s review of Feliz Wine and Tapas Bar, in Endicott, let me educate you on Spain’s small plates, and how they differ from dancers of the exotic variety. Tapas, which literally translates to, “cover,” is a Spanish culinary tradition of sharing small plates of appetizer-like foods in a tavern while drinking, with the dual purposes of enhancing conversation and making bar patrons thirstier. This happy hour mentality has traveled to America in some literal interpretations, like Beso in Staten Island and the divine Jaleo, in Washington, DC, as well as Americanized small plates menus emphasizing the practice, though not the cuisine. The rhyming of the word to “topless,” is coincidental, and in no way should sully your thoughts about small plates of bacon-wrapped figs, garlicky shrimp, or flatbread pizzas. You can keep your shirt on while eating them, it’s OK.

Feliz is in a rough part of town, though BAE Systems’ move to downtown Endicott has certainly breathed new life into the greater Washington Avenue area. Just be sure to lock your car. Once you step inside, though, you’re immediately delivered to an attractive, contemporary respite from the Southern Tier. The color palette is dominated by purple, and the wall-mounted fountains and candles sprinkled throughout the space help to alleviate the grit of Endicott’s still-struggling economy. The owner enthusiastically informed us of all the live music plans they’re making, but I really enjoyed how quiet it was inside, and I hope the jazz nights and piano bar chicanery don’t impede on the serenity this space provides.

The owners of Feliz are first-time restaurateurs, but they’ve made two smart moves right off the bat:

1. Hiring a chef who has a world-cuisine point-of-view and who has lots of experience

2. Keeping the menu simple and short to start, with vibrant and adventuresome specials to tempt and test their clientele

First off, you should order the vegetable and coconut curry rice dish, no matter what. I don’t care if you don’t like vegetables, or if you don’t like curry. Order it anyway. Big Hungry Lisa didn’t think she liked curry, and this is now her favorite dish off Feliz’s menu. The small bowl of Indian comfort food is warming and earthy, broccoli, cauliflower and basmati drenched in a tandoori curry sauce rich with cream. The veggies are crisp-tender perfection, the rice is fluffy, and the mixture of light tomato flavor, not-sweet but detectable coconut, cream, and spices in the mild sauce is luscious. Lisa has vowed to order this every time she eats at Feliz, and I don’t blame her a bit. I could tuck into a bowl right this very second and be a happy camper, indeed.

If you’re looking for a lighter starter, ask your waitress if they’re running the butternut squash and ricotta salad on the night you visit. This oddly conceived dish totally works, with mixed greens, a sweet dressing, crunchy and softer vegetables, and creamy ricotta all working in harmony on the plate. It’s light, but still satisfying, and the dollops of ricotta cheese under the lettuce provide a velvety, bland foil for the sweet dressing and bitter greens.

You know I had to order the red velvet waffles with fried chicken wings. Come on, I’m only human! Oddly, though I liked the dish, it wasn’t my favorite of the evening. The waffle hit most of the right notes, with that dry cocoa flavor and overall sweetness coming through. But the chicken wasn’t strong enough, for me, to stand up against the monster flavor of the waffle. It needed a touch of cayenne or some other kicker in its seasoning, and for me, the wings should have been meatier. I understand that serving the wings, rather than breasts or thighs, with this dish makes it easier to keep the price to a tapas-friendly range, but they need to be larger wings to make this dish work.

Lisa ordered the steak with blue cheese polenta, sautéed mushrooms and pearl onions, which was fantastic. The bite-sized portions of sirloin were cooked perfectly, and the blue cheese in the firm but not dry polenta was high quality. That said, the entire dish needed to be hotter, temperature-wise. The polenta was lukewarm at best when this dish hit our table, and the experience suffered for it. That said, a bite of the mushroom, onion and polenta all-together was crazy good, with the shrooms sautéed enough to give off a caramelized sweetness, and the onions just slightly less sweet, cleaner, and exquisite with that blue cheese.

Our final dish was the lamb pops – baby lamb chops with the bones frenched so that each had a tiny handle. We both loved the tender, mild, meaty lamb, but again, I wished the cauliflower puree under them had been even a little warm. It was just room temperature, and cost the entire dish a lot of the sweet/bitter flavor it was just nearly starting to deliver. The tiny, punchy green bean salad served alongside had the same sweet dressing as the squash salad we started with, and was a good source of crunch and freshness with the savory lamb.

Feliz Wine and Tapas Bar is serving some very edgy, upscale, promising food for this part of town, and I have high hopes for her chef and the new space. I think a permanent salad item on the menu is a must, as is a soup, and more shellfish would do well, since it fits so well into the tapas framework. They told us they’re adding desserts soon, so stayed tuned for those. And I’m dying to try the pork dumplings. We awarded Feliz an eight on the BHS scale, knowing full well that hotter food and an opportunity to taste more of the kitchen’s wonders could move this needle to the right. Please check out this new, locally-owned spot on Monroe St. in Endicott, and let us know what you think. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Feliz Wine and Tapas Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Own the Zona

New year, new restaurants! Woo-hoo! We have a couple newbies in the Southern Tier I’ve been jazzed for weeks to review, and the first happened Friday night, when Shawn and I joined Melinda and BLD at Zona and Co. Grille on Hawley St. in Binghamton. The Asian, Southwest, and American food eatery is owned by friends of BLD, whom I’ve met, but don’t know well. Ever since they started remodeling the space, next door to my favorite Binghamton shop, the Garland Gallery, I’ve been excitedly awaiting its opening.

Zona is funky inside, with booming music befitting a downtown location, and an exposed brick and animal head amalgam of décor. The seating area is a little tight, as most of the space is allocated for the bar and some high-top tables. One negative I hate to ding them on right off the bat is the tippy tables and chairs. My chair wasn’t level on the floor, and neither was our table, which is odd considering Zona just opened on Christmas night. They’ll need to be mindful of keeping up their interior if they want to pack the place with a line out the door like it was on Friday.

The complimentary starter brought to our table made up for the ailing table, though: chips and salsa. Shawn died over the chips, which were fried flour tortilla triangles, uber crispy and slightly puffy. The salsa was very saucy and mild – fresh-tasting and clearly made in-house. Personally, I would have liked more heat and spice in it (salt and cumin were lacking), but I know tons of people who don’t groove on the spicy foods for whom this would be salsa perfection.

Those same luscious chips accompanied BLD’s appetizer choice, the queso dip. While the chips were a hit, none of us cared for this dip, which was very gluey with no discernable flavor – cheese, jalapeno, or otherwise. I’m not sure what happened with this weak starter, but most of us abandoned it in favor of devouring the splendid buffalo shrimp, which had all the fire and flavor the queso lacked. These perfectly-cooked, large shellfish carried all the kick for the table, and passed my hiccup test on the heat scale, meaning they were fiery and delicious. My only note on this dish is that I would turn that mound of cabbage served under the plate into a cooling, edible avocado and blue cheese slaw, and raise the price of this item by a $1. Why waste the garnish?

Can I just insert a sidebar here that’s been stuck in my craw this week? I had a conversation with my Dad over the holidays about spices used in food, and he sort of accused me of being odd for liking food with bold flavors. That lead to me thinking about cumin, a spice that, for me, is essential to salsa and many other dishes. Cumin and coriander (cilantro’s dried sister spice) both are integral to the cuisines of Mexico, India, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, China, Southeast Asian, and the Carribean, but somehow, the American historical palate doesn’t care for either. How did this happen? Why are we so bland? The spice rack in my mother’s kitchen when I was growing up sported cinnamon, garlic salt, onion powder, paprika, and parsley. Somewhere in a cupboard, she had a little tin of nutmeg, plus dry mustard and cream of tartar. That was it. How did it come to be that America, the melting pot, spawned cooks who cooked without cumin? I’m sure there’s an anthropological reason, and I hope someone smarter than me will help me out with this conundrum in the comments.

But back to Zona: the single menu choice I was most amped about ordering came next: foie gras fries. We’ve talked about foie gras before, but in case you missed it, this magical ingredient, much lauded by celebrity chefs, is duck or goose liver. Unlike scary beef liver and onions of old, foie gras is unctuous, less mineraly, salty, but not gamey or assertive. If you’ve ever had dirty rice, giblet gravy, beef wellington, or pate, you’ve had something close enough that foie won’t be foreign. Paired with Zona’s excellent house-cut, homemade fries, this dish was perfection: sweet, salty, crunchy, fatty, creamy, and scrumptious. But again, I have a suggested tweak: the proportion of fries to foie was a little odd. I would suggest going up another ounce or ounce and a half on the foie, and down about a half cup of the fries, and raising the price to $17. Foie lovers will surely pay this, and it will be much more bang for their buck. By the way, Parker’s, Tully’s Good Times, Basha Mediterranean Grill, and all you other establishments out there using frozen fries – go to Zona and try theirs. It’s a testament on a plate on why you should be making them from scratch. These were textbook and wonderful. A dipper would have been a nice addition to this dish, something sweet to compliment the foie and break up all the rich saltiness of the fries, like a fig and port wine jam, or a sour cherry ketchup, or something.

Melinda ordered the fish tacos, which were on my shortlist of possibilities, so I was grateful for the bite she allowed me. The mahi-mahi was delicious, and these double-corn-tortilla’d babies carried all the complexity and flavor the queso forgot to bring to the table. Melinda exclaimed they were, “like summer in my mouth.” I couldn’t agree more, and liked the bright acidity from the cilantro and lime, creaminess from queso fresco and chipotle aioli, the crunch from the red cabbage, and the earthy corn flavor from the two tiny tortillas enveloping each taco. The portion was gigantic on this, and it was a solid dish.

Shawn’s cheesesteak choice was the other stunner at the table. The menu denotes this as a Philly cheesesteak, but we all know it’s not a Philly steak unless it’s made on an authentic Amoroso roll, with Cheez-wiz, correct? While this sandwich may not have been authentic to the City of Brotherly Love, it was fantastic – its crunchy, garlicky roll, beefy, flavorful, juicy steak, truly caramelized, sweet onions, and that distinctive, creamy, wholesomeness you only get from American cheese melded into classic comfort food at its best. And those delectable fries were served up with it.

I was psyched to order the ramen selection from Zona’s newest menu addition, its noodle bowls. The highly-anticipated noodle bowls had just been added last week, and I couldn’t wait to slurp up a bowl of something good. The menu describes this as house-made fish stock with fish cake, scallion, and cabbage. I ordered mine with pork as well. I’m sorry to say, this did not hit a home run for me. A good Asian soup broth needs to bring complexity, assertive flavors, and the classic sour, sweet, salty and spicy umami to your palate. The broth in my noodle bowl was scant, overwhelmingly starchy, and bland, unfortunately. There was no hint of my favorite Asian flavors: soy, miso, chile, or even fish sauce, that I could detect. The only reason for this that I can come up with is that the chef cooked the noodles in the actual broth, instead of cooking them separately, and then combining just in the bowl? The starch content in the broth was unlike anything I’ve tasted before, and while the pork was tender, the fish cakes good, and the scallions, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, and corn were very nice additions on top, I would have needed a carafe of tamari and one of sriracha served alongside to get through this gigantic bowl of insipid food. Luckily, I had those and white miso at home, and was able to doctor up the leftovers on Sunday, along with some pork base and a lot of water, into a really satisfying lunch. This is a brand-new dish that needs some serious tinkering before I can recommend you try it, Big Hungries.

I didn’t taste BLD’s southwestern chicken sandwich, but he housed it, loved it, and it looked divine, so I’m going to recommend it on behalf of him. I will also report that a table next to us ordered the shrimp po’boy, and it looked amazing. I want it, along with that guacamole burger. Melinda testified that the quesadillas are top-notch, so you may want to try those if and when you hit Zonas. I’m betting that buffalo shrimp version is to die for.

Like all new restaurants, Zona and Co. has some fine-tuning to do, for sure. They can hardly be faulted for that, especially since they’ve been open for just about two weeks, and the line is already out the door. It can be hard for a kitchen staff to tinker and tune when they’re in the weeds every night and slammed just trying to fill orders. This place is in a great location, so they should expect those crowds to keep on coming, and my friends and I were all confident the kitchen would catch up soon. We give Zona an eight on the BHS scale, with some room for improvement that still reflects the originality and precision most of the food is carrying, as well as the fun atmosphere and good setting. When they were renovating pre-open, they also went though the permitting extravaganza required for outdoor café-style dining, and I just know having fish or shrimp tacos on Zona’s patio this summer will be a real treat. When you go, try something new and report back in the comments what you liked and didn’t like. Every new restaurant needs feedback like that to hone in on what its customers crave.

Next week, meet back here for a glimpse of a new tapas bar in Endicott. Yes, you heard it right – Endicott! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Zona and Co. Grille on Urbanspoon


Can You Say Tratt-OR-ria?

Happy New Year, Big Hungries! I’m not one for resolutions, but I can tell you this, at least my early 2013 needs to contain a little more antipasto and a little less osso bucco; a few more apples and fewer pommes frites. I have been on an eating free-for-all since sometime in August, and the buck stops here. Or maybe it stops Monday. I’ll get it together – I’m trying!

Last week, Shawn and I were in Watertown for an extended holiday visit due to a death in the family. This is unfortunate, and I wish Shawn’s loved ones peace and sympathy, but it also afforded us the opportunity to spend lots of time with our people, and to dine at the new Pete’s Trattoria twice in one week! Pete’s is a Watertown institution, of course, and on I’ve discussed with you before. But it was recently sold by the venerable Costanzo clan to Geoff Puccia, of Ives Hill Country Club notoriety, and this was my first chance to hit it up since the changeover.

It’s the same old Pete’s inside, and though my parents and I dropped in without reservations on Christmas Eve, the hostess quickly found us a table in the cozy bar area (which had better music anyway!), in which we received wonderful service from the bartender. The loaf of bread she brought us as a starter was also an old favorite from the old days, and we enjoyed that classic Italian bread flavor and the chewy but still light texture, dipped in EVOO seasoned with dried thyme, basil, and parsley.

The salad course was an upgrade over most mom and pop Italian joints. Mom and I had the garden salad, with a fabulous, fresh, balsamic dressing that was tangy without too much bite from the acid. Dad’s antipasto had real kalamata olives (rather than boring old canned black olives), a very light vinaigrette, and high quality salami and provolone to round out the greens and roasted red peppers.

Natch, my Big Hungry Brain wanted me to order either the osso bucco or the short ribs, but I was really craving something a little lighter. I went with the gnocchi scampi, and was thrilled with the choice. The shrimp itself may have been the best I’ve ever had. It was ultra fresh, but really tasted like shrimp – the sign of a good quality product. The tiny, gorgeous gnocchi were tender, and the buttery garlic sauce crowned with fresh parsley was light but with enough of a punch to catapult the gnocchi into flavortown.

Dad’s entrée, eggplant parmesan, was the other star player on our table. I will order this in the future; it was righteous. The perfectly seasoned eggplant steak didn’t have a hint of bitterness, the serving was huge, and the sauce was sweet while the cheese was salty – perfection.

Mom went old school and ordered the homemade pasta with marinara and meatballs. I didn’t try her meatballs, but she allowed me to sneak a few bites of her sauce, which was fresh and chunky, but without the laziness of some sauces where all you get is raw tomato flavor. Geoff’s marinara is well seasoned and well-cooked without the all-day, cooked-down flavor of a Sunday sauce.

On my return trip, with Shawn, Lance, and his fabulous kids, I decided not to hijack everyone’s dinner and simply concentrate on what I ordered: bruschetta and osso bucco. Both were good, but didn’t hit it out of the park for me like the eggplant and shrimp dishes.

The bruschetta at Pete’s certainly has a lot going on. There’s bread, a traditional tomato topping, cheese, balsamic, herbs, etc. But the balsamic wasn’t quite cooked down enough for me, and the tomatoes were lacking some seasoning. I’m still giving Tony’s in Endicott, the crown for the best bruschetta in Upstate NY.

I had really high hopes for the osso bucco, which is made with pork shank rather than veal, at Pete’s. This dish has become one of my favorites, and I’m so glad to see more and more restaurants embracing peasant foods and braised dishes. At first bite, I was enthralled – the demi glace was punchy and robust, and the risotto underneath was al dente, cheesy and salty in a really pleasing way. But I must say: the shank was not braised for long enough, and the texture of the meat suffered for it. While some parts were tender, the connective tissue was still intact to a degree that made parts hard to eat, and the overall shank just hadn’t had enough time to break down to that unctuous, velvety consistency osso bucco needs to be.

I have similar high hopes for the short ribs with gorgonzola mashed potatoes and the bone marrow appetizer – neither of which I’ve had a chance to eat as yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. Overall, I was really pleased with both dinners, though I wish my pork would have had another 45 minutes in the oven. The new Pete’s is enjoying some controversy in Watertown. Many, many people dislike change, and loved the simple, old school, Italian-American dishes and Sunday sauce the Costanzo family served up for more than 40 years on Breen Avenue. But you know me, I love change, and if the eggplant parm and gnocchi are indicators of the other pasta dishes on the menu, I don’t see what all the fuss is about – there’s plenty of red sauce-anchored meals here to please the masses! We awarded Pete’s Trattoria an eight on the BHS scale, and I can’t wait to go back and get the bone marrow in my belly!

I would also like to report that all of my tom and jerry consumption this year took place at another Watertown institution: The Crystal. And boy, were they delicious! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

  Pete's Restaurant on Urbanspoon