Sunday, January 17, 2010

Catch the Aroma!

We started our weekend up on "the hill" on Friday night by participating in the inaugural Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. We had the honor of viewing 'Legacy', a psychological thriller/murder mystery combo filmed right in Idyllwild. It was a joy to see so many people flooding into the Rustic Theatre. An excitement filled the air with the films producers, directors, actors and their family and friends. We kinda felt like those infamous White House party crashers because it seemed like everyone knew everyone and we were intruding on a private affair. But we didn't care. We were at a red carpet premier! We bought some wine and took our seats right near the front. A great night it was. We hope that the film festival becomes an annual experience for us and Idyllwild.

On Saturday morning we wanted to get some exercise and take a "little" hike at the Idyllwild Nature Center. We decided to take the 'perimeter' course and started on our adventure at about 10am. Being huge fans of outdoorsy shows like Man vs. Wild and Survivorman, we were prepared with our layered clothing, multi-tool (just in case) and a sufficient water supply. Imitating Bear Grylls along the way by pointing out wild animal tracks and possible edible plants and bugs that we could consume in case of emergency, we must have somehow gone off course. Or maybe the 'perimeter' course was designed for the heavy duty hiker and we just didn't know it. In any case, after an unexpected 3hr hike in the Idyllwild woods we were hungry, really hungry. We dropped the old pup dog off at the cabin for a much needed rest and we headed to Café Aroma.

It always takes some creative maneuvers when it comes to parking, but it's always worth it for Café Aroma. Actually, the further away you park, the better it is, because as soon as you exit your vehicle your nostrils are attacked with the sweet smell of roasted garlic. Mmmm, it awakens ones appetite for sure.

We walked up to the steep staircase and waited to be seated. Since it was a little bit cool but sunny day, so we decided to sit on the outdoor patio. It was busy, but not swamped. Our lanky server came to our table almost immediately. He handed us the menus and asked what we wanted to drink. G asked for a Sierra Nevada and I an iced tea with lemon. As we glanced over the menu we were treated to the sounds of the 'Puente' band. I guess they would be considered a quirky rhythm & blues band, interesting to watch and listen to.

Armed with our drinks and 'just outta the oven' fresh bread with garlic olive oil, our server asked the dreaded question, "What would you like?" Oh, decisions, decisions. I finally spoke up and went first. I decided on Kappy's Salmon BLT. G went for the Polenta Pie.

The Kappy came on a medium sized plate. The triangular artisan bread was artfully drizzled with aioli mayo, then topped with a petite salmon fillet which was lightly smoked. Field greens, roma tomato slices and two pieces of thick sliced smoked bacon finished off the pile of goodness. The ingredients were fresh and simple. A delightfully delicious sandwich. I do wish it was just a tad bit bigger or maybe a small side would have accompanied the sandwich.

The Polenta Pie came on a large deep dish. Surrounded by a pool of homemade tomato marinara, the polenta pie was filled with sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, bell peppers, artichoke hearts and garlic. An entire clove of roasted garlic accompanied the pie. Oh my goodness, It was fantastic. Super sweet roasted garlic heaven. This dish was hearty, but not dense. Tasty, rich and comforting. A keeper for sure!

In conclusion, Café Aroma is always a delightfully, welcoming and hip place to eat. We enjoy their interesting twists on familiar dishes and their fearless use of one of our favorite ingredients...garlic!

Café Aroma - Bistro • Gallery • Social Club
54750 North Circle
Idyllwild, CA 92549

Hours of Operation:
Sunday - Thursday 7am - 9pm
Friday & Saturday 7am - 10pm
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Beer & Wine, Wi-Fi, Live Music and Dog Friendly (on patio)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Popcorn Blues

I plopped down on the couch to watch some boob tube before shuffling off to bed. Not 30 seconds passed when I thought, "I'm hungry." What can I snack on? Should it be the half-eaten Christmas cookie tin? The yummy, rich truffle assortment from Trader Joe's? No, I want something crunchy. Rummaging through the kitchen cupboards like a ravenous wolf, not one kind of potato chip, tortilla chip, cracker or dry cereal could be found. Disappointed and nearly defeated, I reluctantly reached for the dreaded popcorn snack staring at me the whole time like the Geico googly-eyes. Was it even worth it? I really, really, really dislike popcorn. To me it always seemed a waste of a cute-sounding name for such a tasteless food product. And furthermore, how can its original kissing cousin, the cob-of-corn so sweet and succulent, be so extremely yummy and delicious!

I guess I was hungrier than I thought because I did ultimately reach for the popcorn snack. Grumbling all the way to the couch, I opened the Holiday 2-Pack of Moose Munch. I bought it for that just-in-case Christmas gift. But the just-in-case person never showed. One pack dark chocolate and the other milk chocolate. Hmmm... chocolate. That was a smart move on their part. My philosophy has and always will be, "Everything's better with chocolate and/or bacon!" I chose the dark chocolate one.

I ripped open the pouch and reached in. The first bit was a piece of just the caramel coated popcorn. Not bad. The piece was very fluffy, not stale and the caramel coating was pleasant and not sticky. I dug in again. Next was a dark chocolate coated cluster of about 3 popcorn pieces. I shoved it into my mouth. Mmmmm, this bite was quite good. Now I needed to inspect the 20 ounce bag and see what I needed to do to get the best bite possible. I spotted the nuts. To my delight not just one kind of nut was in the bag, but two. Almonds and cashews. And on top of that, they were jumbo sized and liberally coated with the caramel coating. Ok, the next bite will contain one of each component in the bag. So I dug for an almond, a cashew, a chocolate cluster and a caramel coated popcorn. I shoveled it in and started vigorously chewing.

Oh yeah! That's the combination man! Bravo to Harry and David for making the not-so-exciting popcorn sing in my mouth! Next year the Moose Munch will still make it into our Costco cart for that emergency Christmas gift. And we'll buy an extra one or two for us.

So, here I go. I'm sorry popcorn. Well, to an extent. I still don't like to be alone with you, but when you're in a group with chocolate, caramel and those crazy nut friends, you come alive and you're fun to be around!

Hey, Harry and David. Have you ever thought of selling your delightful popcorn Moose Munch snack at the movies? EI

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Wild Gift

I saw the salmon out on the counter when I got home from work, so I knew I was in for a treat.

As I finished up some computer work, I was summoned to the dinner table. There upon my plate was a lovely parchment wrapped gift! As I opened the slightly steaming pocket, the aromas wafted through the air. A gorgeous deep pink Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon fillet topped with steamed spinach and lemon. A side of savory but simple brown rice accompanied.

How he did it! He placed the salmon fillets skin side down in the center of a large piece of parchment paper. He slathered the salmon with the sesame ginger marinade and a clove of fresh garlic, minced. He then placed a mound of fresh spinach leaves and topped with slices of lemons from our own young lemon tree. A small pat of butter was placed on top to permeate the ingredients as it steamed and to create its own juices. He carefully lifted the sides of the parchment upward and folded down, then gingerly locked in the sides. Like a little gift. Then he placed in a 350º oven for 20-25 minutes. A creative and impressive presentation!

Tonight G made us a lovely, healthy dinner. I suspect the motivation for the light fare is because he has an appointment with the doctor tomorrow. EI

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Gnome

On a cold Tuesday night we decided not to cook. We agreed to venture into town and see what caught our eye. What do we want? Pizza? Chinese? Gyros? What? As soon as we parked we saw it. We walked passed it many a times on our weekend town walks with the dog, but never made the trek inside. Lovingly known as "The Gnome" to locals and Restaurant Gastrognome to everyone else we both agreed that this was our dinner place of choice.

We leaped arm in arm over the piled up snow on the curb and clunked up the covered wood plank walkway. If it were a nice summer night we could imagine dozens of people on the outdoor front patio. Many intimate sitting areas evoke much socializing, we presume. After admiring the exterior venue, we made our way inside.

What a cozy delightful place. We were immediately greeted by the Maitre d'. Since it was only turning 5pm we were given our choice of any table. Would it be the large dining room with the stone fireplace to the right or the smaller intimate room to the left? We chose the latter. We took the table directly in front of the retro pipe fireplace, a perfect table for two. Having a few moments to take in the atmosphere we couldn't help but notice the miniature door-like windows that lined one wall of the room. At any moment we thought a mythical gnome would scurry in with a freshly baked wild mushroom pie. Not sure where that came from, it just sounds good, doesn't it? The thought awakened our appetite.

Our petite server came just at the right time to introduce herself and take our drink order. A nice local Pinot Noir for the gentleman and a not-so-exciting Diet Coke for the lady. Two glasses of water and a hot basket of assorted bread with butter accompanied. The dark sort of peasant bread was especially delicious. By the time our drinks arrived the room became quite full with visitors and locals. Our server was busy but attentive to our needs.

Our eyes glazed over with the delicious possibilities on the menu. Would it be cioppino, grilled halibut, lamb, pork or any number of cuts of beef? They all sounded equally delightful. It was tough but we first agreed upon an appetizer of Calamari. Dredged in egg and seasoned breadcrumbs, then sauteed. It came not in the usual little ringlets one is used to, but a gigantic fillet. It was perfectly succulent and tender and served with this intensely concentrated tomato relish. It was served with a second condiment, but the tomato one was so fantastic, we now forget what it was.

On to our main course decisions.

Because it was such a bone-chilling night, we were not in the mood for a cold salad. But we have our eyes on the Caesar Salad for next time.

G decided on the Pepper Steak. A nice sized filet minion sauteed, then served with a brandy-peppercorn sauce. It was a gorgeous piece of meat and it melted in our mouths. The sauce glistened rich with brandy and whole peppercorns throughout. The sides were creamy garlic mashed potatoes and nicely steamed asparagus. The spears were on the large side, but they were surprisingly tender and flavorful.

R decided on the scallops and salmon wrapped in bacon. Mmmm bacon – We believe it's the best food on earth! The seafood nuggets blanketed in heaven came on skewers. A crispy, salty, smoky outside with a perfectly cooked scallop or salmon piece in the center. A fantastic combination. The portion was 3 scallops and 2 nuggets of salmon. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it was quite satisfying. The sides were a buttery rice pilaf with the same asparagus spears we mentioned above. Fantastic!

Well, to top off our delicious entrees and the holiday season, we decided to share a dessert. Again the options all sounded equally delightful but we settled on the slice of pecan pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and two rich cups of coffee with cream. The slightly warmed pie had a nice homemade flaky crust and the amount of pecans were bountiful in the not-too-sweet filling. A hearty ending to a perfect leisurely dinner.

Restaurant Gastrognome
54381 Ridgeview Drive
Idyllwild, CA 92549
959.659.5055 (view their online sample menu)

Hours of Operation:
Lunch: Monday-Saturday 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Nightly from 5:00pm
Sunday Brunch: 11:00am-2:30pm
Fine Dining, Chef Specialties, Full Bar

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Resolution

It’s a new year and we decided to do that “resolution” thing that everyone tries to do but normally fails by mid-January. We are smart educated people, so we need to think about this carefully. What can we really commit to for the entire year? More importantly, what will we succeed at? It has to be fun, but helpful. It has to be something we are passionate about and something that is close to our hearts. And definitely something that we’ve never done before. It has to benefit us and benefit our fellow man.

Let us give you a little background on ourselves before we reveal our resolution.

We are a forty-something “DINK but with Dog” couple who are new to Idyllwild – well kinda. We bought our little dream cabin just about a year ago after trekking to Idyllwild’s camping spots for more than 10 years. We fell in love with the area and decided to take the plunge as “vacation homeowners.” We are both professional Graphic Artists during the day and culinary fanatics at night and on weekends. When we aren’t designing logos and print ads, creating sets and collateral pieces for television or developing product packaging, we are watching our beloved Food Network, experimenting with recipes and unusual ingredients or experiencing a great meal around California and beyond. We’ve had fondue in Switzerland, eaten the freshest fish tacos in Maui and devoured the finest tiramisu at Le Cirque in Vegas. And we’ve relished every moment. We have deemed ourselves “lovers of food” to a ridiculous degree. And we’ve decided that nearly every aspect of our life revolves around food...and that’s the way we like it. From the first palate-awakening taste of our morning joe to that final little cold bite of leftover meatloaf straight from the fridge right before we shuffle off to bed – we live, love and breathe great-tasting morsels of goodness.

So now, because we’ve made the commitment to own a vacation home – our little dream cabin in the big Idyllwild woods – we need, NO! WE WANT to experience the culinary brilliance of Idyllwild. Yes, we’ll still travel abroad to Greece some day or take that California coastal trip that we always threaten to take but never do. But we’ve realized that most of our vacation time and weekend getaways will be right Idyllwild!

So what “resolution” will we be committing ourselves to for an entire year (or so)? Well, we’ve already deemed ourselves the “lovers of food”, so why not go a little further. Yeah, this is our resolution!

We now deem ourselves, Idyllwild’s Best Food Commentators. Yes, our dream job is now a reality! We will humbly commit ourselves to serving you, the Idy-public and beyond, by visiting ANY and ALL food places in Idyllwild. Restaurants, delis, coffee houses, candy shops, events –Whatever it takes. We'll simply tell you about our best foodie experiences "on the hill" – and we'll even throw in our own homemade food experiences along the way. It sounds like a win-win for everyone, don't you think?

To make it doubly official, we will be anonymous. We will be known as R & G. How mysterious! There will be no sucking up to us in any way. No, we want raw everyday attitudes and service from these food places. No free food or drinks (wait, should we rethink this?). NO! We are doing this for the good of all man! Ok, we’re getting outta hand here. Focus. We are committed and ready to serve...or rather, be served.

Welcome to Eating IdyllwildTM

Now Eat!