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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Swine Southern Table & Bar

     With a name like 'Swine', you can only conclude that the cooks are arrogantly sure of their menu, and those who come to try it must be boldly intrigued, as I was on this crisp Valentine's Day. The space is long and tall. We sat on the balcony with a bird's eye view of the ground level and its dramatic stone wall and floor-to-ceiling recessed display of wine bottles and firewood logs.
      The atmosphere is a well-balanced combination of sleek and trendy with a strong hint of rustic aided by the blues and rockabilly music playing.
     John added a Turbodog to his collection of bizarre beers. My drink was called "Cherry Walnut Cobbler" so I expected dessert in a glass, but what's in a name? The ingredients sounded promising- Bourbon, Drambuie, walnut liqueur, cherry vanilla bitters and smoked pecans, but the bitters were so overwhelming, I couldn't get past the first sip to find the other flavors. The second act was much better. I replaced the Cobbler with the "Blackberry Bourbon Smash", an effervescent mix of Bourbon, fresh blackberries, lemon, mint and soda, served in my favorite drinking glass, the mason jar. Sweet Country happiness!
     A basket of plump buttermilk biscuits were delivered as a starter accompanied by maple whipped butter and a little jar of rich, powerful blackberry jam, my new favorite. I could've settled right there with this basket and my mason jar and called it a day. The biscuits were big, but every bite quickly melted in my mouth and all that lingered was the strong addictive sweetness of the blackberry jam, which left me begging for another bite of warm biscuit, and another, and another... The appearance of the waiter at our table with our brunch entrees broke the spell, and I prudently released the basket I  held hostage.
     For brunch entrees, we ordered the Pulled Pork & Eggs and the Brisket Steak & Eggs. The pork was sweet and tender, and the egg yolks spilled silky and warm over a bed of stone ground grits. It came with a small cast iron skillet of Brussel sprouts with chunks of green apple, everybody sauteed in a tangy and rich bacon vinaigrette. Southern comfort at its best.
     My opinion is that the brisket must have been cooking for at least a week by the way it surrendered to the fork with the slightest touch. John chose to have his organic eggs scrambled, and the dish came with a hash brown casserole with cheese and bacon that I found hearty and flavorful.
     Something called a Warm Sticky Icky Bun kept distracting me when I was reading the menu. Try as I might, I couldn't keep my eyes off it. "Maple-bourbon toffee syrup and sweet potato pie ice cream" are words that will not be ignored. But alas, I made a fatal mistake- I wore tight jeans and after my pork and eggs, a biscuit and my jar of liquid joy, there wasn't an inch left to fill. I reluctantly abstained from the sticky bun. That's a mistake I will only make once.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Centolire Trattoria Italiana

     It's a bittersweet circumstance when you visit a restaurant and part of the experience is redolent of past delights and the rest is simply average. At Centolire, authentic imported Italian waiters welcome you with a warm and hearty 'Buona sera!' On this particular evening, one was from Puglia, one from Napoli, and the chef from Rome. I actually had an opportunity to practice my emergent Italian, and felt pangs of nostalgia remembering my honeymoon in that magical land.
     The restaurant is so small, we circled the block and went right by it twice before we caught a glimpse of a chalkboard on the sidewalk with the name on it. The interior is cozy and elegantly simple- dark wood, white walls and linens, black and white photography on the walls.
     John ordered the Bistecca Pizzaiola, and I had the lobster ravioli in pink sauce.
The Pizzaiola was flavorful but not plentiful and surprisingly, it did not come with a side of pasta, which didn't give the dish that  generous and satisfying look we've become accustomed to getting from traditional Italian eateries. The ravioli were tasty, the lobster mild and pleasant, but they weren't memorable. Neither dish helped perpetuate that wistful feeling that washed over me when I first arrived.
     We were intrigued by the Nutella ravioli on the dessert menu. They were quite good and adequately stuffed with that chocolatey, hazelnutty (new word) food of the gods, but we expected them to be doughy and warm, and to release their contents with just a bite. Instead, their texture was more like a crunchy cookie that had to be shattered to get to the goodness inside.
     I so wanted to love this place! I kept hoping to find at least one element that would make it special because I was so enamored of the waiters and how they did give the atmosphere a proper Italian flair. But in the end I couldn't find anything outstanding that would make me go out of my way to return. I'll have to find somewhere else to practice my Italian. 'Ciao, amici!'

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