Sunday, June 30, 2013

Art, Architecture and Food Finds in Buffalo

I was looking forward to exploring more of Buffalo, New York, a town I had only briefly stopped through before. I had my friend Lynn along with me and our day was filled with quite a mixture of activities – and restaurants.

We were up fairly early and headed to breakfast at Betty’s, a popular place recommended by Peter Burakowski of the Buffalo-Niagara Tourism Board. The menu did indeed look quite appetizing and we had a tough time narrowing it down.

We finally decided to share an Asparagus and Artichoke Quiche along with the Peach French Toast, which was filled with cream cheese and topped with streusel and blueberries. They were both good, but the French Toast was my favorite.

We had gotten passes to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and enjoyed walking around seeing works of old new artists, all leaning toward modern and contemporary art.  

The exhibits here change often so you can always plan on catching something unique whenever you go.

After the museum, we met Margie Stehlik for a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House. The house was closed since it was a Tuesday, but we got a private tour of this former home designed by the famed architect. From the unusual greenhouse to the detail in every window, it’s quite a spectacular place that’s well worth a stop.

From downtown Buffalo we headed to East Aurora. This quaint village was highlighted by the Roycroft Inn, a National Historic Landmark in a town known for its background in the arts. I loved the old world charm and it was a picturesque setting for lunch.

We started with the delectable Inn Made Truffle Chips with smoked gorgonzola cheese and white truffle oil. I also enjoyed the Asian Chicken Vegetable Soup and an excellent Turkey Apple Panini, which had caramelized onions, cranberry mayonnaise and provolone cheese melted on sourdough bread.

After lunch we went to downtown Roycroft and walked a bit. I was fascinated with Vidler’s 5 & 10, the biggest store of its kind I had ever seen. I don’t think there was anything you couldn’t find in there, from souvenirs and old fashioned candy, to handmade soaps and natural cosmetics.

We had some time to rest a bit before we went to VeraPizzeria for dinner. It was just Lynn and I so we decided to go for a little of this and that (I think the phrase “small plates” was invented for me.

The cocktails were pretty classic and there were a lot of whiskey drinks, rather surprising for a pizza place. We ended up sticking to wine and I really enjoyed the Caleo Fiano, light and lemony.

The Goat Cheese Arancini was crispy, but not greasy. The Wheat Berry Salad, with figs walnuts and gorgonzola in a honey balsamic dressing was sweet and fruity.

We ordered a Caprese Pizza which was a perfect mixture of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil and balsamic. The Spring Pork was excellent. It had a honey and lavender brined and came with roasted asparagus in blackberry butter and a smoked gouda gratin which were also fantastic.

For dessert we had a delicious Nutella Cannoli and then headed back to Hotel Lafayette.  In the morning it was off to Niagara Falls to continue our trip.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Buffalo Bound

The flights to Buffalo were quick and easy and I had no trouble finding my friend Lynn in Buffalo airport. I hadn’t been to this part of upstate New York since I picked my brother up at college (SUNY-Fredonia) many years ago so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

It was a quick trip to the downtown area. I was immediately struck by the interesting architecture, even comparing the different neighborhoods and buildings to Chicago. It turned out I wasn’t too far off, as Buffalo did share some of the architectural geniuses, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Frederick Law Olmsted.

We quickly dropped our things at the Hotel Lafayette and were met by Peter Burakowski of Visit Buffalo. Our first stop was at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, known as much for its brews as its food.  We were starving since we’d been traveling for hours and enjoyed a serving of their potato pancakes with homemade applesauce while we waited for the main dishes.

Lynn had the Bowtie Pasta and I went for the Reuben sandwich while we sampled some beer. Everyone who knows me knows that beer is my last drink choice, but the fruity smells coming from the sampler really spiked my interest and I have to say the Blue-eyed Blonde (blueberry) was quite good, as was the Don Cherry.

We spent the afternoon driving around the area. Peter told us about the $295 million development being done by the waterfront that will include canals, shops, restaurants and even an ice rink. We also saw the Erie Basin Marina which is shaped like a buffalo when viewed from the air.

We finished the driving tour in the neighborhood of Elmwood, filled with quaint shops and restaurants. I saw quite a few interesting things and even picked up some spices at Penzy’s and found the perfect gift for my mom, a beautiful locket at Shoe Fly.

While we weren’t hungry to stop at any of the restaurants, Peter did insist we try a Buffalo favorite, sponge candy. The only thing I could compare it to would be a chocolate covered graham cracker, though the center is much thicker and a bit sweeter.

We headed back to the Hotel Lafayette and relaxed a bit in our two bedroom suite. The hotel was quite large and a cross between antique and contemporary that I really liked. It had been renovated just a year ago.

Dinner was downstairs in one of the hotel’s restaurants, ButterwoodSweet & Savory. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the name and I felt the same when I saw the menu. It was quite eclectic, but I like a challenge and suggested we order a bunch of small plates to do some sampling of food and cocktails.

There was no doubt that For Ginger Sake (Domaine De Canton, House Ginger Syrup, Zipang Sparkling Sake and candied ginger) was my favorite cocktail, but it was harder to narrow down the food.

The Sweet & Savory Salad was just fantastic, with candied beets, goat cheese, avocado and tomato relish and finished with a passion fruit vinaigrette. I was also a big fan of the Short Rib Mole with Drunken Onion Rings and the Pappardelle Pasta, with a chorizo sausage broth, wild mushrooms, sweet peas, roasted red peppers and saffron in a goat cheese fondue (not nearly as rich as it sounds).

We were ready to leave until the waiter led us to the dessert case, where I picked a delectable chocolate-peanut butter cone that I didn’t eat nearly enough of.

A few minutes later we were upstairs and fell asleep early after the long day. I was anticipating more interesting things to come in Buffalo, followed by a few days in Niagara Falls

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Living Life Like Mary in Minneapolis

My friend Jaimee and I checked out early from the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis.  We had a full day ahead of us to explore.

Our first stop was for brunch at Spoonriver, in the Mill District that runs along the Mississippi River. The food that chef/owner Brenda Langton offers here is local, organic and gourmet. She’s also come up with an interesting cocktail menu to bring into the restaurant.

The brunch menu at Spoonriver definitely had my attention and I knew right away it was going to be tough to narrow it down. I was especially impressed with all the vegetarian and vegan items, which all sounded good. 

We ordered the Bloody River (voted best by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine) and the scone of the day cherry, banana and coconut. Both were wonderful and we were beginning to think we couldn’t go wrong with anything ordered.

I settled on a special omelet with wild rice, squash, leeks and Amish cheddar cheese. I had a side of their vegetable and potato hash browns with it. All tasted fresh and was excellent. Jaimee said the same of her ham, roasted potato omelet.

We were pretty stuffed, but I’m easily tempted with dessert. We decided on the Toffee Pudding and a heavenly looking chocolate cake, only we wished we were able to finish them.

From Spoonriver we went to the Walker Art Center. We walked around this modern museum for quite a while. I was especially enthralled with a Cindy Sherman photographic exhibition (the exhibits here change here often).

Jaimee and I still needed to work up an appetite so we left the car and walked to the Prairie Kitchen and Bar in the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. It was late afternoon and we caught the end of lunch, but the food tasted just as fresh as it had in the previous place.
I had a delicious combination of the roasted chicken and herb soup with wild rice and a goat cheese and Lingonberry tart. Jaimee had the Walleye & Chips, a specialty since the fish is caught nearby. She really liked that too.  Andrew, the manager, and Eric, the chef, both came by to greet us and explain how the menu changes seasonally and they try to keep specials based on what’s available.

We were also convinced here to try some dessert and did so with no regrets. Another specialty of the house was brought out… Sweet Vanilla Pancakes, served with bananas and locally made cinnamon ice cream.

Before I left Minneapolis, I had one last stop to make. It was downtown in the pedestrian Nicollet Mall. The Mary Tyler Moore statue stands there and, just as she did in the opening sequence to her 1970s show, she’s throwing her hat up in the air and cheering the city.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Minneapolis Getaway

I had always thought of Minneapolis as a shopping mecca as it is home to the Mall of America, one of the largest malls in the world. I recently started hearing more about the cities food and cocktail scene and decided it was something I needed to check out for myself.

It’s about an eight hour ride from my home in Champaign, Illinois, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I brought my friend Jaimee along for the ride and we were both surprised to see the change in landscape as we drove through Wisconsin to Minnesota. I made note that I needed to check out the Badger state on a future visit.

We were staying right downtown at the Hotel Ivy, a four-star hotel next to Orchestra Hall. The room won my favor with a large tub (I will never understand hotel rooms with only showers). I was also surprised to learn that this contemporary accommodation is actually on the National Register of Historic Places as the Ivy Tower was originally designed by architect Thomas R. Kimball for the Second Church of Christ Scientist.

Our first stop was to meet Kristen Montag from Meet Minneapolis for drinks. We were originally set to meet at Union Restaurant (which has a retractable rooftop on the upper level), but it was closed for a party so we instead had martinis at Zelo before heading to Eat Street Social for dinner.

Eat Street Social is quite an eclectic place. From the selection of house made bitters to the unusual menu, I was thoroughly impressed, despite what first looked like an overcrowded bar. This place is anything but a “bar” given the menu of food and drinks they offer.  

I picked the right cocktail to start – T & Tea. It was a smoked plum black tea infused gin with winter tonic (they make and change their own tonics as well as the bitters). Jaimee enjoyed sipping the Tropical Void with Milwaukee’s Rehorst Vodka, pineapple, Jamaican #2 Bitters and lime.

The drinks were delicious, as was dinner. We had a selection of dishes from Steak Tartar (Jaimee said it was tender and flavorful) to a juicy pork chop with wonderful sweet potatoes.

The dessert selection at Eat Street Social changes often, but if the Upside Down Apple Cake we had is any indication, you won’t want to skip the final course.

We took a cab back to Hotel Ivy for the night and stopped for a nightcap at the Ivy Bar (warm and inviting) before heading upstairs. We had one more day left in Minneapolis to sample some more food and check out some art.