I can never say enough about River City Cellars, my favorite wine and cheese store, and I'm ashamed that it took me so long to get to Secco. The atmosphere at the wine bar is exactly the same: casual and unpretentious, but still sophisticated. Sara, our server, who is also the cheese expert at the store, treated us like guests in her home. We could tell how enthusiastic and proud she was of the food and wine, and her attitude enriched our meal.
My favorite thing about Secco's menu is the mix and match cheese and meat plate. You have the option of one, three, or five meats and cheeses of your choice, and they're served on a slate board with the names of each written above in chalk. There was an abundance of crostini (Sara brought us a fresh basket) and a nice dollop of spicy pear chutney on the side, which paired well with all of our selections.
We also sampled the flamenquines: tender pork rolled around ham, breaded, fried, and served with wisps of fried potatoes and a meyer lemon mayo. I was impressed by the lightness of this dish. The strong citrus flavor in the mayo really cut through the meaty flavors, and the texture combination with the thin, crispy potatoes, and smooth, cool sauce made every bite pop.
Our last choice was the panzanella, which is a bread and tomato salad with basil, capers, onion, and cucumber. Again, the vibrant flavors and various textures added to the overall impact of the salad. There is nothing fancy about panzanella, but the balance and quality of ingredients made it seem extra fresh and special.
After reading about it in Style, I couldn't wait to try Sprout Market & Cafe. Davy and I ventured there with another couple for a late Saturday night dinner, and despite some reservations by the male members of our group, we all left happy. When we walked up to the door, our soon-to-be server was relaxing on a bench outside. The restaurant, which is cozy and rustic on the inside, was empty aside from another server.
David, who took care of us, made us feel very comfortable and welcome. He brought the chalkboard drink list over to our table so we didn't have to strain to see it, recommended a reasonable and tasty beer, and chatted with us about the songs he was playing. The menus were fastened to different record covers, which makes me think he's the owner or at least very involved in Sprout.
Our food, which is made almost solely from local products, matched the environment. We shared an order of cheese hush puppies, which were crisp and delicious, and the rest of our food ranged from good to amazing. The surprise standout ended up being the sliders, which was garnished with an incredibly ripe, juicy tomato. The burgers themselves hadn't dried out despite their size, and the greens sandwiched between the small rolls were a mix of fresh lettuces. I opted for a roasted squash and zucchini panini, which did not disappoint, and the vegan ricotta was a pleasant spread to complement the roasted vegetables and greens.
There was only one choice for dessert, half of a peach baked with oats and brown sugar and served over a raspberry sauce. It was just the right amount of indulgence to end a healthy, conscious meal.
Dinner at both Sprout and Secco reminded me why I love going out to eat. While it is nice to have special occasion dinners at fancy restaurants, I truly enjoy feeling at home in someone else's dining room. These two venues offer a relaxing vibe and food that will keep me coming back.
As we continue the transition between summer and fall, I'm trying to find dishes that highlight warm weather produce as well as the hint of cooler temperatures. There are two noteworthy dishes from the past few weeks, outside of the normal salads, pasta, and frittatas, that are worth sharing.
I made the first dish with four delicious tomatoes from my parents' plants. They had gotten just a little too ripe, but they were perfect to stuff. I sauteed zucchini, shallot, the tomato insides, and sausage and combined the mixture with parmesan and breadcrumbs. Once I spooned it into the tomatoes, and miraculously came out with the perfect amount of filling, I topped everything with shredded mozzarella. I don't remember now exactly what the baking temperature was, but I think it was somewhere around 400 degrees for 25 minutes. With a tasty salad and foccacia, the tomatoes made a comforting and light meal.
Along the same lines, I made veggie chili this week that yielded enough food for a hungry family of ten and also used a lot of our share. I chopped and steamed our pumpkin squash in place of the yellow squash called for in the recipe, and lessened the 1/4 cup of brown sugar to account for the sweetness in the orange squash.
Jalapenos, four healthy looking peppers, also went in, seeds and all.
I threw in the pak choi close to the end of simmering the chili, but we couldn't really taste it.
We used petite diced tomatoes, chickpeas, zucchini, sweet peppers, and corn as well, and a variety of spices that made us think of chili. By the time everything was in the Dutch oven, it was nearly full, but after 30 minutes of simmering it had reduced and there was just the right amount of liquid.
We'll definitely be eating the other half of this chili out of the freezer, hopefully on a chilly fall day when we're reminiscing about hot weather and missing our CSA.