Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mini-vacation report: Burlington, VT

Be warned in advance; I took almost no food photos on this trip because I was having such a good time. I do have a photo of the delicious jumbo shrimp I ate on the last night, but you've all seen shrimp on a bed of ice before, so I don't think I really need to post it. I'll let you know where to imagine the shrimp, OK?

So: now that we've dispensed with the formalities and everyone who only reads foodblogs with lots of photos has sloped off to check Smitten Kitchen or the Pioneer Woman, I will tell you all about the delicious food we ate in Vermont this past weekend and where you can get some of said food.

We were in Burlington from Thursday night until Sunday afternoon with our friends from Boston - it's an excellent meet-halfway point and a cute college town to boot. We stayed at the Lang House on Main Street, which is an excellent B&B Inn that we loved the last time we went. I'd venture to say we loved it even more this time because we managed to score the two rooms situated in their renovated Carriage House at the back of the property, so we had the place to ourselves and could make a bit more noise than we otherwise might have. We also had our own dedicated tea-making station, and a staffer brought a thermal carafe of coffee out to us at 7 a.m. the first morning. We let them know that no one really drank coffee so they wouldn't waste it on us, but it was thoughtful.

The breakfasts at the Lang House are a huge deal. You begin with a tiny baked good of some kind - we had three breakfasts there, and on two days it was a wonderful mini-scone; on the middle day, a warm zucchini-walnut muffin. This is followed by your choice of three mains: one is always housemade granola with yoguert and fruit; one is a savoury egg option; the third is a sweet option like waffles, pancakes, or french toast. I had the savoury option the first two days: Friday, a potato-squash hash topped with fried eggs, ham on the side; and Saturday, a huge and utterly delicious breakfast burrito with eggs, black beans and cheese, alongside guac and salsa. Sunday I had the challah french toast with bacon, and it too was mouthwatering. Other items included cornmeal waffles, berry pancakes, and an onion-dill popover filled with cheesy scrambled eggs.

Obviously, we didn't need to eat huge lunches, so we stuck with burritos and salads on two of the days and saved our appetites for dinner. The first night we arrived past 9 p.m. so we simply went for cocktails and snacks at the Daily Planet, a restaurant we've loved in the past. I had a very nice tuna tostada that comprised small cubes of raw tuna and a cabbage slaw atop crispy corm shells with guac on the side.

On Friday night we tried a new place, the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. It was buzzing all evening, and they don't take reservations, so we waited, but fortunately it's just off Church Street, which is filled with shops that stay open late, so we wandered and occasionally checked in with the restaurant until a table was available for us. It was worth the wait - the food was yummy and the service impeccable and friendly. I had a turkey burger that could have used a bit more seasoning and maybe a little more dark meat (the patty was dry) but was topped with good gouda, yummy cramberry chutney and perfectly caramelized onions alongside divine french fries, dark golden brown and crispy.

Chris had his mind blown by the house meatloaf with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. He also had some very good ice cream for dessert, while I tried the maple bread pudding with pumpkin caramel sauce. It was good, but a bit finely-textured (almost custardy) and not served hot, which I prefer. The resto specializes in beers but had a nice draught cider from upstate New York called Original Sin that I enjoyed immensely.

One of the best things about the Farmhouse, though, was the low noise levels despite a full and busy room. They have taken a number of sound-dampening measures including fabric-covered walls and acoustic ceiling panels, and apparently they even have sound-absorbing stuff stapled to the bottom of all the chairs!

On Saturday night we splurged on a really lovely meal at another new-ish resto, Church and Main. This was much more upscale bistro-style food, in a pretty (and only sliiiiiightly pretentious) atmosphere. I found our waiter a bit cool and distant, but the rest of the staff were wonderful, and the bartender knows her stuff.

I started with five delicious and perfectly cooked chilled jumbo shrimp on ice from the raw bar (here's where you imagine the photo!) while Chris had the cauliflower cream soup, which was perfectly balanced - not too sweet, salty, creamy, grainy or bitter. Yum.

His main was lobster and mascarpone risotto - again, not too heavy or creamy, very nice restraint - while I enjoyed the ale-braised beef short rib with cheddar grits and broccoli rabe. The meat was cooked perfectly and gorgeously flavoured, but the entire dish needed to be much hotter - it was served nearly room temperature, which was unkind to the grits in particular.

My friend D and I splashed out on a really, really good bottle of Chateuneuf-du-Pape (his latest obsession) and while it's not something I would do often, it was wonderful with the meat.

Desserts were a standout as well - my pumpkin-date cake with brown butter frosting was a generous-but-not-huge portion of moist, flavourful cake, with a tiny scoop of cinnamon ice cream and a fresh cherry coulis. Chris's coconut cream tartlet was pronounced a huge hit, as was D's pear-cranberry cobbler. J had some of that cinnamon ice cream and called it the best example of it she'd ever eaten.

Our farewell Sunday lunch was at the Burlington branch of American Flatbread - excellent wood-oven pizza I've written about many times on this blog. It lived up to the usual standards. I should also mention the apple cider doughnuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, which were some of the best doughnuts I have ever tried.

Bottom line: Vermont is a great place to eat, and I think everyone should try it. I know we'll be back again and again, because it's also a great place to hang out, shop, drive around and look at pretty things.

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