Yes, I have been traveling, which is always a good excuse to eat out -- or a reason to suffer through bad meals. Turns out that this recent spate of trips has involved a variety of tasty tidbits -- including some very good hotel food! And, while the airplanes themselves are utterly hopeless (ok, I occasionally buy snacks but the "free" things, even on cross-continental flights are truly bad). So, here are a few places I have eaten lately in absolutely no meaningful order (ok, maybe alphabetical is meaningful?):
Marriott Detroit Metro Airport: I wandered downstairs to the hotel restaurant simply because I was not ready to face room service. It was cold, but otherwise a nice venue with a menu that was surprisingly wide ranging for an airport hotel. (Ok, it was a Marriott rather than a Courtyard Marriott. Maybe that explains it?) In any case, I ordered a lovely organic chicken dish and was disappointed when the waitress returned to inform me that the chef was sorry but they were out of that dish. So: I went with lamb shepherd's pie as an entree to follow a salad. I was delightfully surprised. The meat was tender ground lamb, not gamey at all, and the gravy was subtle in a way that brought together a range of flavors from cinnamon-y to I don't know what. The potatoes were whipped rather than mashed, which was ok, but I always think that makes them a bit too soft to hold up to the fork (as it were) and wish restaurants would tell you whether you are getting whipped/pureed potatoes or truly mashed ones. Other than that, the other very pleasant surprise was the chef's apology for the absence of the chicken dish -- which involved paying for part of my meal. Yes, service and attention to the customer still lives -- and does to in unexpected places. Finally, the bread pudding, which I took back to my room for dessert, was light and the raisins soaked in brandy. I had half for a late dessert -- and half for breakfast with a pot of coffee. Overall -- this was a top of the line restaurant meal in many ways. It was not chi chi or snobby, but the food was well prepared and very good; the service was amazing.
Hotel Grand Pacific Room Service: The Hotel Grand Pacific is on the Inner Harbor in Victoria, British Columbia. I wish I had had a chance to try their dim sum afternoon tea, but instead had room service the first night I was in Victoria. I ordered hazelnut gnocchi and a salad. The gnocchi were reasonably light, the sauce itself not too nutty but nutty enough, and the meal fine. I ate it too fast and thus was not at my best to assess the meal. But I would order it again. The combination of crunchy hazelnut and al dente gnocchi was nice. My one complaint? When I asked room service for suggestions on something to drink that was non-alcoholic and without caffeine, the person at the end of the phone was baffled. Alas. I ended up giving up and just asking for cranberry juice.
Moe's Grill and Bar in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport: Some airports have spectacular food (Minneapolis for example). Others have terrible food. And Cinncinati? Well, I wanted to sit down and be served. And I confess I did not want Cincinnati's chili, served on spaghetti. The fact is, this just seems weird to me. So, Moe's it was: a sit down place where I could get pretty traditional pub fare. (there is one in Concourse A and I ate in Concourse C.) I had a blue cheese burger, one of my favorite things. It came with waffle fries. My review: the bun was just chewy enough. The 1/3 poundburger was a bit big for me (though I did finish it) and the blue cheese was actually cheese rather than the mayo/blue cheese mix offered by some places). The service was pretty darn good and they let me sit there for my oh-too-long lay over. For those who care (and I do not), they also serve Canadian smoked meat sandwiches. For an expedia article on being stuck in this airport, click here.
Niche was recommended to me by the concierge at the Hotel Grand Pacific. It is on Quebec Street and in a smallish building that looks like someone's home. The ambience was perfect;a fireplace in the middle of what might have once been the parlour. Not too many tables, it was very quiet when I arrived (circa 6 pm maybe) but got progressively noisier as it filled up. The waiter was attentive and informed. What did I have? Well, first I had the amusee bouche which was a crispy wonton with pork inside and a smear of jerusalem artichose puree served on what semed to be a slate tile. (The serving on slate turned out to be more widely true.) Then along came bread; not bad --but with a spread that was great -- squash and beans of some sort, right between savoury and sweet. Mmmmm. Then a salad -- a beet salad with a local blue cheese and arugula. The beets were of various colors -- and tastes --and at least some sliced so thinly I thought of a mandoline. For my entree I got the special: a duck breast with a chocolate and cherry theme. And then I had dessert. And it too came on a slate tile; on the left, a smallish chocolate cake-y bit, in the middle a fruit-y compote (which I think was the same cherries as in the duck), and on the right a spoon with sorbet (very berry, very purple, and very tasty). I thought I wanted the chocolate, but actually I liked the sorbet and cherries even better. The service was pretty good -- especially in what became an increasingly busy restaurant and I was a table of one. plus, I was reading, which I think is pretty out ofplace sometimes but I never know what else to do with myself when I am on my own in a restaurant. Anyway, Niche was a real hit. The best meal away from home I have had in ages.
Oak Bay Marina Restaurant: Oak Bay is near Victoria BC. The setting wasbeautiful, looking out over beautiful boats in the marina and into the harbor. And, the food was swell.KNown for its sushi bar, that is not what I had. I had tuna, done rare. Sometimes these days this is pretty standard fare. Not here: the tuna was indeed rarebut it was also soft, definitely sushi quality and beautifully presented. Dessert: a spicey pumpkin creme brulee was less exciting but also tasty. One great thing about this place: they participate in the Ocean Wise program and have a clue where their seafood comes from. In these days of wildly overfished waters, this is important.
Pescatore's Seafood and Grill: I was tired. I needed a walk but not too long a walk. And I was in Victoria. So, dwn Government Street I went -- and then I wandered into this place. It was dark, and it was late-ish for lunch. But, yes, they said, you can have lunch. So:I was hte only person in there. I had trout and potatoes and green beans and coffee (lots of coffee, very dark and very hot). The trout meuniere was very good and so was everything else. The potatoes were halved and roasted. I have no idea what the sauce on the beans was -- shallots, I am sure, and it was very dark and salty. I rubbed everything on the plate into it and ate every last drop of that sauce. I loved it. It was like the little nuggies I consume when I cook at home of things that absorb all the tastes of cooking. Wow. As for the service, well, considering I was the only person there it was fine, but the waiter did hover just a bit more than I like and it was a bit dark to read. But then again, who am I to complain when a whole restaurant is feeding just me?
Phillips European in the Rochester (NY) Airport: I end up getting sandwiches from this place a lot, since airplanes do not feed us anymore. What do I get? A french bread sandwich with some combination of roast turkey, provolone (only sometimes), jalapenos, and either spinach, sprouts or something else. Sometimes I get coffee, sometimes just my bottle of water for the flight and, when desperate, a coke and/or chips. (I am trying to cut down on calories and cutting down on coca cola has been my number one effort.) The sandwiches are made for you while you wait, and they are pretty predictably good. I admit, I am traveling so much though, they are starting to bore me. Maybe I will branch out; they have wraps and other sandwiches. One caveat: htey do not take airport vouchers so if you are stuck there and get a voucher, they are no help. Alas. There is a restaurant away from the airport. I have never been.
So: some options for you!