Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chef Marion’s 10th Anniversary Nuevo Latino Rum & Heirloom Chocolate Dinner

Rum Chocolate DinnerThe first dinner in Chef Marion Ohlinger's 2015 Appalachian Global Dinner Series was held last night. As he searches for his next restaurant, he's completing his dinner series in a host of guest kitchens in the area. The 10th Anniversary Nuevo Latino Rum & Heirloom Chocolate Dinner was held at Table 9 on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. The goal of the Appalachian Global Dinner Series is to highlight the role of Appalachian cuisine in global culture, and to bring West Virginia recognition as a culinary destination, as per the website.

Rum & ChocolateThe dinner, which was reservation only, featured single-origin chocolates from Latin America and ingredients indigenous to Appalachia and around the globe that are being raised organically in West Virginia. The website describes it best:

"Along with showcasing West Virginia’s bountiful agricultural heritage and future, our goal is to bring attention to heirloom varietals and responsible organic agricultural practices. The Nuevo Latino Rum & Heirloom Chocolate Dinner is designed to highlight the savory side of chocolate, rather than the sweet. In its original form, chocolate was utilized in Latin America to accompany meats, most often pork dishes, but also chicken, wild game and occasionally fish. The moles of traditional Mexican cuisine are probably the most well-known and raw chocolate is an essential ingredient in hundreds of dishes in Central American and South American cultures. The chocolates featured are single origin, single bean heirloom varietals, meaning they are grown on a single farm or plantation in the area the individual bean is indigenous to, and from genetically undiluted cocoa. They are organically grown, handpicked and processed into chocolate by their growers. The heirloom chocolates will include a 78% cacao Peruvian Forestero, a 66% cacao Venezuelan Criolla and a 73% cacao Costa Rican Trinitario. The meal will be accompanied by an optional flight of premium rums to enhance the meal. The rums will range from clear sweet rum from Trinidad, house-spiced locally-distilled rum from West Virginia and rich aged rum from Venezuela."

Rum Chocolate DinnerSmoked chocolate bruschetta with Oregon sea salt. I've never had a bruschetta in this way (which is exactly why I want to frequent these dinners). But the flavor combination isn't too far off - think of a chocolate covered pretzel or maybe a piece of toast with nutella. The crunchy and sweet combo - plus the salt - was tasty.

Rum Chocolate Dinner

Portabella, black truffle and chocolate soup, paired with Pampero rum. For as many restaurants I've been to, I don't think I've had just a bowl of mushroom soup. I tend to think of it as a cooking soup. But this was different - I liked the texture of the mushrooms and a some nice bits of pepper in there was surprising.

Rum Chocolate DinnerFirefly Farms Appalachian chevre salad with chocolate balsamic vinaigrette. This was a perfect progression as the soup we had was this deep flavored, velvety texture dish, so the nice light crunch of fresh greens, cabbage, a soft cheese and the balsamic dressing was lovely.

Rum Chocolate Dinner
Cocoa rubbed free range pork, chicken or tofu with Juniper chocolate barbeque, paired with 10 Cane rum. I went with the pork because it seemed to be the best with the flavor combo. I tend to say I'm not crazy about pork in general -- but that's because it's never done like this. This is some of the best pork I've ever had. Easily. My photo doesn't do this justice. The pork was cooked perfectly, and that sauce - I would buy it by the gallon if I could.

Rum Chocolate DinnerWhite Chocolate ice cream with black chocolate cracklins, paired with spice-infused Forks of Cheat Ridge Runner Rum. Dark chocolate is a bit bitter for me, so I focused more on the ice cream itself, which had giant chunks of white chocolate. Inside the ice cream. Delicious. Oh, and the rum for this one was sooo smooth. Just so good.

Stay tuned for his next dinner.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Morgantown Edition: New Foo Sheen Chinese Restaurant

New Foo SheenA new Chinese restaurant in downtown Morgantown has opened. New Foo Sheen serves American Chinese food for delivery and take-out on Beechurst Avenue. Limited dine-in space is available.

New Foo SheenThe location was previously occupied by "Foo Sheen" years ago (I never went), so "New Foo Sheen" seems to be the new and improved version.

The building, located at 450 Beechurst Avenue, has a red square pattern on the outside. But that's not actually the restaurant front; it's weird. You walk in through that way, go to the slight right and then open the door to the restaurant. The BP next door has a few parking spots, which is where we parked for our takeout.

I ordered General Tso's, because what better way to measure an American Chinese restaurant by the ubiquitous General Tso's dish?

New Foo SheenAfter paying at the counter, receiving the order I had called in and heading back to work, do you want to know what excited me most? That container that has a division for the rice and chicken. The chicken was pretty average with some chewy/stringy pieces of meat and an average sticky sweet sauce. Nothing more, nothing less.

New Foo SheenThe cheese wontons we ordered weren't bad. They were creamy inside, but most of the taste is overridden with the greasy/fried taste of the outer wrapper.

So, convenient if you're in the area (though Lavender is very close...) but nothing I would go out of my way for.

Grade: C
New Foosheen Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Restaurant Redemption: Bartini

For the past couple years, I have posted a ton of restaurant reviews. Some good, some bad, many indifferent. When my blog began to pick up some momentum, some restaurants that I've graded low, or maybe not so low, have contacted me in various ways. Some are angry, and some want to know how they can improve my experience.

Restaurant Redemption is a small series I've created that will allow me to give those restaurants who are keeping up with their social media (notably, my blog) and have made an attempt to rectify a poor or mediocre dining experience. For the restaurants that have contacted me, I'm giving it another dining go. For the most part, I will try a different dish and make note of the previous observations about the experience as a whole.

When I went to Bartini before, my main complaint was how loud it was. The food was good, and I had an overall good impression. But, Bartini wasn't satisfied with just "good," and I received an email from the chef:
I would like to apologize for your experience at Bartini, and thank you for the honest feedback. We would like to invite you to Bartini twice again. Yes twice. Your first visit back I would like to invite you into our kitchen, where you will be able to experience our fresh concept. Then, return to have fun with friends and experience Bartini for what we have intended.
Thank you once again for your feedback.
Joe Price
Chef Price has been patient as I've been bopping around to new restaurants, but I recently had the chance to go back. With his sincere and honest comment, I was totally happy to try Bartini out again. It was clear they want patrons to really try their food and appreciate honest feedback. I can't ask for more.

While it was more of quick decision, and I didn't have a chance for two visits, I did shoot Chef Price a quick email asking what he suggested. One of his favorites was the coconut shrimp tacos. OK, sounds tasty.

When I went to the restaurant this time, it was much more mellow. No loud noise - maybe that's saved for later - and I was able to speak with my dining partner. Yes. We ordered the suggested appetizer of the shrimp tacos.

[FYI, he also recommends the pesto flat iron and jalapeno-maple galzed salmon and the coconut breaded pork if you're looking to visit any time soon.]

Bartini RedemptionThe tacos were topped with a fresh apple-mango slaw that added a nice fresh crunch. The shrimp had a tasty coconut breading, and the limes accompanying each taco were perfect to add just a touch of sour to even out the flavor.

I could not stop staring at the delicious slider options. The crab sliders, meatball sliders and buffalo sliders were calling my name. So Brittany and I ordered all three and split them. Each order comes with a mound of potato chips, so we had quite the impressive spread after the three orders.

Bartini RedemptionThe buffalo sliders had deep-fried breaded chicken tossed in Frank's red hot, blue cheese and a mini brioche bun. These babies have some kick. But in the best possible way. I just need the waitress to leave a pitcher at my table next time. Love that flavor combo, and these were executed perfectly. Simple. Tasty.

Bartini RedemptionThe crab sliders have a remoulade sauce and lettuce and also share that brioche bun. They were lighter than the other two options, but also quite milder in comparison. Still good. A nice satisfying bite.

Bartini RedemptionAnd the meatball sliders were my favorites, I think. They were topped with a pesto ricotta. The meatball itself was flavorful and was seasoned well, but the ricotta really sold it for me. Truthfully, ricotta on anything makes me happy. While each component was simple, the flavors together were great.

On Wednesdays, I believe you can order $2 sliders, so for the love of god, go to that. You can try all of these without having three separate orders and a giant mound of potato chips. I wish they did this every day because I think I'd go more often.

So, my experience with Bartini this time around was much quieter, and the meal I had was quite tasty. I appreciate the updated menu options, and the meal I had was simple and delicious. They're still new, so I think they're still finding their way a bit. But, I know I had a tasty meal.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Morgantown Edition: Pascal's Bistro

Pascal's Collage

A French restaurant has opened in Cheat Lake. The chef, Pascal Le Seac'h, who has been cooking professionally for the past 30 years in France and New York City, trained at the Michelin 2-star restaurant Chanteclerc in Nice, France.

Katherine Le Seac'h, the general manager and sommelier, handles the front of house and also served in Michelin starred and James Beard Award winning restaurant The Modern. She also recently served as the bar manager at The Wine Bar.

The couple took a split-level home in Cheat Lake and transformed it into a restaurant, Pascal's Bistro. The garage area has been transformed into the kitchen, while the dining area is upstairs.

The restaurant opened on Jan. 24, and I went on Tuesday evening - their first regular day after the grand opening.

I ventured out to Cheat Lake, which was actually kind of nice to get out of town a bit. The restaurant location is just before the BFS plaza area, if you're coming from the highway. The building sits just back off the road and up a small hill. A good-sized parking lot housed only a handful of cars on this night.

There are a few stairs to climb to reach the door, so something to keep in mind for those who require mobility assistance.

Inside, it's fairly minimal - no tablecloths, few pieces of art and no frilly centerpieces. Our server brought menus, which coincide with the theme. Just a few appetizers, main courses and sides. Our server - very attentive and helpful - remained patient with me and my group as we chatted through our entire meal. She was great.

Pascal'sI refrained from ordering an appetizer, though both Vicki and Tony ordered the Caesar salad at $12. I'm indifferent on Caesar salad, so I wasn't too impressed. But here are Vicki's thoughts: "The Caesar salad at $12 was also outrageously priced given that it was totally average. Tasty dressing, but not much of it, with bits of bacon, fresh romaine and fresh-grated parmesan. But the croutons were stale and chewy, not crunchy. A more reasonable price? Maybe $6."

Pascal'sWe also had a basket of bread, which wasn't bad. Either warming the bread or butter or both would make it a bit easier to spread.

Pascal'sFor my main entree, I ordered the "Roasted Chicken Grand-Mere with potatoes, pearl onions and bacon" at $28. The chicken was nice and lightly crispy on the outside, while the meat was flavorful and tender. Fingerling potatoes were nice when soaking up some of the delicious sauce - a nice, rich, deep flavored broth. The onions were slivers - not white pearls. Bacon could have been crisper. But the flavors together were pretty good. It was quite tasty, though I still have a hard time swallowing a $28 pricetag for a chicken dish.

Pascal'sMy side of macaroni gratin with mushrooms was killer, though. Like, worth every penny of the $6. It came out in a mini cast iron casserole dish that was just filled with this cheesy pasta with a few mushrooms throughout - I love the variation in texture - and a nice crisp topping of baked cheese. It was hearty and homey and perfect.

Pascal'sTony had the braised lamb shoulder with nicoise olives and chick peas. Here was his thought: "The braised lamb shoulder was solid but not spectacular; the red wine sauce was the star, and while a full bite with lamb, sauce, chickpeas and basil was tasty, it never raised to the level I was expecting for $28."

Pascal'sVicki had the steak, which was an 8 oz. strip steak and fries with bernaise or sauce au poivre: "The 8-ounce strip steak was well seasoned and perfectly cooked (medium-rare) but for $42, it should have been a melt-in-your-mouth, tender 8-ounce filet mignon. It came with fries (nothing special), a slightly salty pepper sauce and well seasoned green beans. It was filling and tasty, but nothing spectacular. A more reasonable price would have been around $28."

Pascal'sLisa had the trout, which was served with curried carrots and cauliflower. She noted she liked it, though she wished the skin was crispier. The carrots, she said, were quite good.

Pascal'sLisa and I both ordered dessert: She went with the chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream, while I had the creme brulee.

Pascal'sShe seemed to be a fan of the chocolate cake, and I also liked my creme brulee. The custard was the perfect texture, and the brittle sugar coating was thin but lovely for the overall flavor.


My overall thoughts - all the food was good. It was all quite good, really. I love the idea of a simple menu covering a range of entrees - from lamb and trout to chicken and steak and mussels. I love that we have this highly trained chef in town. My only real qualm is the price, really. I'll pay that amount of money if I plan to be blown away. Blown away, I wasn't. But, it was all good. I just wasn't overly impressed by my final bill of nearly $60 between chicken, macaroni and cheese and creme brulee plus tip.

Tony's thoughts: "Overpriced, but one of the better places in town if you're willing to pay extra for the idea of French food in Morgantown. When I think of French food, I want a technically superior dish with depth in its composition and flavor. The technique and care are there, but I didn't have anything that I would necessarily want again - or something that was innovative in any way."

Vicki's thoughts: "I would go back — if the prices were 30 percent lower. The food was good, but not great. And at Pascal’s prices, every dish needs to be great. Memorable, in fact. You’re clearly not paying for ambience in this location; our floor and table trembled five times during dinner from something slamming or dropping in the kitchen (a converted garage) underneath us."

Overall, good dishes. The service was lovely. With prices like that in Morgantown, people expect something really innovative - not just well-executed.

They have an upcoming Valentine's Day event, if you're interested. You can also get take out. For reservations and more information, visit the website.

Pascal's Bistro located at 186 Fairchance Road in Morgantown, WV, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Grade: B
Pascal's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 23, 2015

Morgantown Chef's Duel

Sher Yip Chef Off

It's a pretty exciting time in Morgantown to be a foodie.

Sher Yip Chef OffNew restaurants are popping up, our culinary horizons are slowly expanding, and a real foodie community has grown - partly due to this new chef's duel/knife fight monthly event.

Sher Yip Chef OffTable 9 and Atomic Grill formed this competition where two chefs from area restaurants have an hour to create three plates using secret ingredients for a panel of three judges. It's hosted on a Monday night - because that's the off night for the food industry - and it's at 10 p.m. Table 9 usually posts it under their "events" section on their website.

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It's really of interest for those involved in the local food scene - you'll see chefs from local restaurants Peppebroni's, Stefano's, Tin 202, Antonio's, Morgantown Brewing Company and more. It's pretty informal and lots of mingling. There's no cover or anything like that, but they have $2 beer specials and $6 wine specials. It's all very informal, but it's also way, way cool.

Sher Yip Chef OffThey just finished up their fourth competition, Antonio's vs. Puglioni's. Here's a rundown of past ones, winners and the secret ingredients.

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  • Antonio's vs. Puglioni's (Antonio's) - calamari, black lemon
  • Hash Browns & New Grounds vs. Stefano’s (HBNG) - chestnuts, quail
  • Morgantown Brewing Company vs. Regatta Bar & Grill (Morgantown Brewing Company) - black garlic, preserved Asian meats: cured duck, cured pork belly, dried oyster, dried scallop, dried shrimp
  • Atomic Grill vs. Table 9 (Atomic) - zucchini flower, bronzini
Sher Yip Chef OffChefs prepare four dishes for each of the three courses for the judges. Attendees can grab a fork and head to the scavenger table, where there's one dish and everyone who wants a bite can dig it. I've yet to brave that, though every course I've seen that comes out always looks amazing.

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I wish I would have been smart enough to keep track of all the different dishes that have been made, but clearly I'm not that smart.

Sher Yip Chef OffBut you can live vicariously through these awesome photos.

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All photos are by Sher Yip.

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