Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Green Mountain Gluttons

That would be us. It’s a good thing Vermont is so beautiful, otherwise we could be accused of going there just to eat and shop. Which isn’t far from the truth, but we did do a lot of walking and admiring the beauty of the mountains and Lake Champlain, too, plus think of all the fresh air we inhaled!

Ah, it’s no use. The food is the main attraction, and always will be. And when it’s this good, it doesn’t need to be justified, really. On last weekend’s trip we were accompanied by friends from Boston, because Burlington happens to be located conveniently right at the midpoint between there and Ottawa. I picked a fabulous B&B off the internet (I seem to have good luck with that method, somehow) and we set off from Ottawa at 3:30 on Friday afternoon, rolling into Burlington just after 8 p.m.

We began the weekend with a late dinner at a place called the Green Room. Our friends had arrived first and booked us a table, choosing the restaurant from the glut of information on offer at the Inn. Ironically, Chris and I had wandered into the Green Room on a past trip to B-town and had left before being seated, because the vibe felt off to us, and ended up discovering the Daily Planet, which has since become a fervent favourite of ours. More on that later.

Obviously, we weren’t about to veto our friends based on a “vibe” from two years previous, so off we went on foot to the Green Room (the greatest thing about Burlington being its walkability). It hadn’t changed much – dimly lit, with green walls, dropped ceilings, industrial grey carpet, black metal-tubing chairs – but the menu sounded promising, there were plenty of pretty young people in the room, and the vibe felt warmer and more welcoming than it had the last time. We settled in gratefully and ordered drinks while perusing the oh-so-trendy menu of small plates, sharing plates and daily specials. Our waitress, an extremely expressive and earnest young woman with black hair and an elocutionist’s enunciation, was almost too much, but somehow escaped being irritating by paying us just enough attention throughout the meal.

Since we’d had sandwiches and cookies in the car, I skipped an app (though I did have some of Chris’s) and settled on a roasted quail stuffed with sausage accompanied by a baby spinach and pear salad with cider vinaigrette and cranberry compote; a few stalks of asparagus rounded out the plate. The quail’s meat was tasty, though I thought it could have done with a few more minutes under the broiler to crisp up the skin. The sausage stuffing was a little bland and greasy, but the salad and the tart cranberries went a long way towards perking it up. I think a simpler stuffing with some fruit in it might have been nicer. The quail was a last-minute decision – I had originally decided on the duck confit tacos, but changed my mind. I’d still like to try those, next time.

Chris began with the daily small plate, a duo of soups: one was potato, leek and horseradish, and the other was squash with ginger. Both were heavily enhanced with cream – perhaps a bit too liberally – but were tasty nonetheless, and the portions were generous. Our friend J had these as her main course and was unable to finish them, in fact. Chris’s main was another small plate, a duck confit quesadilla (sensing a theme?) which he enjoyed. I didn’t get any, so I couldn’t say (sob).

D began with the yellow curry hummus, which was smooth and nicely kicky and boasted halved red grapes tucked away in its creamy depths. The accompanying flatbread arrived piping hot (literally; we all burned our fingers on it) and was delicious. He went on to try one of the daily dinner specials, a black angus striploin with smoked gouda and a white truffle demiglace. The meat was served beautifully rare and was nicely flavoured with garlic, and the portion, again, was generous to a fault – he shared with all of us and was still stuffed.

Despite all this abundance, we all needed dessert – the four selections were enough to appeal to each of us. Chris had a delightful trio of sorbets – strawberry-kiwi, mango and something else I can’t recall. J had the chocolate mousse, which she pronounced good, if a little sweet and not quite dark enough for her liking. D had a sour cherry and apple turnover with ice cream, which he loved, and I went for the butterscotch “crème brulee”, which resembled pudding and whose burnt sugar crust was far too thick for my taste. It was tasty, but it wasn’t crème brulee.

D and I shared a delicious bottle of California petite sirah; Chris had a beer he adored from Vermont’s Long Trail Brewery – it was called The Hibernator; J had a cosmo that rendered her quite tipsy on an empty stomach. If we go back, I think it will be primarily for drinks, because they were awesome, and perhaps we’ll snack on a few small plates (that hummus was to die for).

We waddled home (fortunately, it was all uphill) and spent a couple of hours drinking tea in front of the delightful gas fireplace in the B&B.

Next morning’s breakfast was enough to sustain us through a long (and I mean long) walk to the Lake Champlain chocolate factory as well as a run (for the boys) and some marathon shopping (for us girls). The Inn always offers three choices: homemade peanut butter granola with yogurt and fruit; an egg option; and a sweet option (such as French toast or pancakes). The first morning, the egg option was a scrambled egg breakfast sandwich with chunks of ham and asparagus as well as cheese and tomatoes; the sweet option was buttermilk pancakes with blackberries and almonds. I was the only one of us who went with the egg sandwich, and I didn’t regret it for a second. Both options came with a mountain of fresh fruit, plus they bring you two kinds of pastries before your hot meal. Berry-almond bread and sausage-cheese scones were that morning’s selections. All this, plus coffee or tea, juice or cider, and a stunning view of Lake Champlain from the solarium where breakfast is served. You know you want to go.

“Lunch” that day was a slice of pizza in the mall at around 4 p.m., when we were finally hungry again. For mall pizza, it was surprisingly tasty, or it might have been just because I was ravenous. In any event, it held us until dinner at the aforementioned Daily Planet, a homey place with exposed pipes and cosy tables that has never let us down, and lived up to its rep yet again.

The biggest shock of the night, in fact, came when we discovered that the previous night’s expressive waitress also worked at the Daily Planet – and was our server yet again. Small town. She even remembered which beer Chris had enjoyed the night before, which earned her major points, and she treated us very well.

We all ordered drinks to sip while deciding what to eat, a small luxury I usually only indulge while on holiday. My Stoli Razberi cosmo was very tasty and very, very alcoholic. I certainly needed the very good bread to help soak it up. Chris and I, accustomed to leaving the Planet feeling uncomfortably full, decided to share a Caesar salad for starters, while D and J shared a house salad with grapes, gorgonzola and field greens. A main course proved near-impossible to decide on, but both men opted for the rainbow trout stuffed with mushroom risotto, while J had the Black Angus burger and I went with peach-glazed salmon on rice pilaf with more asparagus (roasted, this time, and utterly perfect). The salmon was advertised as accompanied by a “tomato and black olive relish” which excited my taste buds, but turned out to be an uncooked mélange of thinly sliced raw tomato and red onion with a few slices of black olive scattered into it. Disappointing, but the fish and rice more than made up for it – a huge filet, cooked exactly – and I do mean exactly – the way I like it, which is to say one more minute under the grill and it would have been overdone to me. I devoured every morsel and subsequently had to share a dessert with Chris, which was just as well. It went perfectly with my glass of Liberty School cabernet.

Said dessert, a “chocolate birthday cake”, was the classic layer cake with truffle filling and buttercream icing. I’ve rarely had such a lovely version in a restaurant setting. D had an almond-chocolate pyramid cake that looked lovely and apparently tasted very good indeed; J’s chocolate-raspberry mousse cake was too rich for her to finish. All of us indulged in some delicious mint tea that helped with digestion.

More walking uphill. Definitely a good way to do things. Next morning’s breakfast was just as lovely as the day before; I opted for eggs again, this time in an omelette filled with braised leek, mushrooms and chevre; everyone else had orange-cranberry French toast with sausages. Pumpkin muffins and blueberry-toffee scones were the pastries of the day. I need to get their muffin recipe, because it was perfectly balanced: not too sweet, not too rich, and beautifully spiced. Another mountain of fruit (oh, the suffering). Another day where lunch was, by necessity, a late one.

But what a lunch – American Flatbread. The restaurant in Burlington isn’t quite as fabulous as the barn in Waitsfield, but the pizzas are just as stellar. Chris and I went with our standby, sundried tomato and mushroom, and enjoyed it as much as we always do. J and D tried the daily veggie special, with butternut squash, leeks, kale and chevre. To say it disappeared would not be lying. I always leave there happy, and I was glad to introduce friends to it.

After that, there was nothing to do but roll home, sated and sad to leave. We did stop for dinner at Reuben’s in Montreal, but it was nothing to write home about. Did the job, kept us alive until we got back to Ottawa, filled with memories of culinary delight.

Man, I love Vermont.

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