Going Wherever It Leads

You know that scene in the latest Walter Mitty movie where the photo of Sean Penn comes to life like a portrait at Hogwarts and beckons Walter into the great wide open? If you don't, incidentally, you should. That movie's really cool and a complete cinematic eyeball treat.

It makes me think, though, of how often I'm lured out and about. That as much as I crave our home, and everything it entails: nights in, cooking a homey meal for just Shawn and me and then snuggling up for a late night movie on our couch, I spend an awful lot of time traveling. That's good, because in order to write about food, I have to continually cast a wider and wider net to bring it all here for you. But it can be tough. It's not like Sean Penn up there is inviting me out for cocktails with he and Charlize every weekend.

But enough bellyaching! My recent travels have taken me deep into the Poconos (no longer the heart-shaped bed capital of the Northeast), up to Syracuse for a quick brunch with a dear friend, and down to DC Metro for some girl time and great grub. Want to come along?

Dinner with Guy

Back in May, we held Big Hungry Melinda's bachelorette party at Mounty Airy Resort and Casino, in the Poconos. This place has been around since I was a kid, and used to be the kind of getaway with in-room jacuzzis shaped like champagne glasses. It has since undergone a massive renovation and come out the other end resembling Vegas more than our beloved, but sometimes shabby, Pennsylvanian honeymoon locale.

With its new pool complex, spa, and modern casino floor has come Guy Fieri's Poconos Kitchen, open all night for Mount Airy's hungry gamblers and party girls alike. Though I've read the dismal reviews on Fieri's Manhattan restaurant, I set up our girls' dinner at this new outpost optimistic at its prospects. After all, I am an admitted Diners, Drive-ins and Dives fanatic.

We started with some pretty on-point tuna sashimi tacos. The fish was fresh and clean tasting, diced small enough so as not to fall out of the wonton/taco shells when you bit into them, but big enough to carry good sashimi flavor. The jicama salsa provided crunch, and while the wasabi cream could have been much more pungent to suit my tastes, it was bright and sharp enough for the masses as well as to round out the dish. We gobbled these up in short order.

Pulled pork sliders were pretty run of the mill, for me. It's a shame that pulled pork and BBQ sauce have become so ubiquitous on fast-casual menus. But Guy talks all the time on TV about his competition BBQ team, right? So we tried them. The pork was tender and juicy, but the sauce was very much the too-sweet, too-thick supermarket variety, rather than true to Carolina or any other BBQ region of the country. Again, this is food to please the masses, for sure, but nothing I'd order a second time. 

The was an insane burger on the menu topped with mac and cheese. It's really hard for me to resist ordering insane things. I should have practiced more restraint. This thing was gargantuan, but also a total mess. The mac and cheese was gluey, without any identifiable cheese flavor save American, and this donkey sauce that comes on everything, which is supposed to be the signature sauce of the joint, is just junky. Guy's version of special sauce, it's mayo mixed with some horseradish and ketchup, and it was in such abundance on my burger that the toppings wouldn't stay on the bun. They were swimming in an ocean of the stuff, sliding all over the place. It was impossible to eat, greasy in the extreme, and not great. Think: Applebee's. I've had vastly better flavored burgers at Food & Fire in Johnson City and Skewed Brewing in Watertown.

To make matters worse, sandwiches at Guy's are served with a trio of from-the-freezer fried potato products, not a one with any genuine potato flavor. So whether you try a fry, waffle fries, or wedges, you'll not find a hand cut spud among them. These were pure junk food.

On the bright side, our server Desiree was absolutely sublime. She was not only a good waitress who knew her menu and how to guide us through it, she also endeavored to aid in our fun evening out, posing for photos and playing along with all our shenanigans. 

But the food here, overall, was what I should have expected from all those snarky NYC reviews. This is a chain restaurant through and through, with little of the culinary expertise I know Guy to have. They're packing them in, though! The line was out the door the night we visited. You can take from that whatever you like. Are all those people (ourselves included) fooled by the name? I suppose so. You expect a Guy Fieri joint to have approachable food elevated above the usual processed crap. Elevation was not to be found here, alas.

Brunch in The Cuse

A few weeks ago, I met my friend Kristina for Sunday brunch at Modern Malt, a new diner in Armory Square that might have aspirations of being a bistro when it grows up. 

This industrial, hipster-chic joint is cranking out good ideas like breakfast poutine, red velvet pancakes, and French toast crusted with fruity pebbles. I outsmarted all of those crafty dishes and ordered the pig Benedict. Behold:

Biscuits, eggs, pork belly, hollandaise, cranberry reduction and fried onions. Oh mama! The biscuit base was definitely made by a Yankee, unfortunately. It was dry and crumbly rather than flakey and light. But the braised then crisped on the flat top belly, sunny side up eggs, rich hollandaise and tart-sweet cranberry sauce were all slam dunks. The potatoes on the side? I'll lump those in with the overcooked biscuit - they were fried to death - but let's concentrate on the positive. Modern Malt is going places, and I don't expect its tables to be empty any time soon if it keeps heading in this direction. Bottomless mimosas don't hurt, either. 

I will be back in the future for a full review of MM.

Reunion in Arlington
Click to add a blog post for Liberty Tavern on Zomato

My friend Lindsay and I hadn't seen each other in too long. We had worked together in Owego for a while, so it was fitting that to reunite in Arlington, VA, we would meet at a restaurant owned by dudes from Binghamton. 

Liberty Tavern is a cool spot, you guys. When the barmaid prepared my Bobbi Jean cocktail, she slapped the thai basil before muddling it to release its oils. Our waiter appreciated our dinnertime banter so much that he bought us dessert! Guys from Binghamton own it! You've gotta go!!

We started with an antipasti platter adorned with some of the most buttery soft prosciutto I have ever tasted. There was also a light-as-air dollop of glorious, milky burratta cheese, some mild, warm, green and black oil cured olives, and even some salty, chewy salami, sliced so thin you could see light through it. This is good eating.

We both had pasta dishes, and both were excellent. Linds went for lobster all'amatrciana - basically linguine with tomato, bacon, and onion sauce topped with a juicy, tender lobster tail. It was salty and rich, but still light, somehow. Earthy, fatty, but not heavy. The pasta had chew and the sweet lobster meat pushed that sucker right over the top into abondanza territory. 

My braised lamb neck tagliatelle with sugar snap peas was even more complex. The tender, shredded, juicy lamb meat was just slightly funky/gamey, not so much as to be unpleasant, but enough to give the other, more mundane ingredients personality. The peas were bright, crisp, and sweet, a perfect contrast to the mellow, unctuous meat. The cream fraiche made a creamy, neutral base, and the toasted breadcrumbs on top gave a more robust crunch than the peas, for textural interest. The creme fraiche a (think:fancy sour cream) could have been in a bit more abundance, for me. The fresh pasta soaked up a lot of the moisture and the works got a bit gluey after a few bites - a problem easily remedied by a little pasta water or a splash of cream, but one that should be addressed in the fine tuning of this dish. I don't mind a tight sauce, but the wide pasta needs a little more help than the dairy was lending, in this case.

If business or pleasure takes you to Arlington, do yourself a favor and take yourself to Liberty Tavern. The food swings on the gourmet side of things in this chic, hipster/industrial interiored space, but there's plenty to find to suit any palate, and it's all delicious.

actually got to spend a weekend at home this past week, and I'll be up in Watertown this coming weekend reviewing restaurants for my column in the Watertown Daily Times. Traveling is fun, but home is just that much more delicious. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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