Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Riverfront Revival

As a Realtor, it pains me to see empty buildings around town.  One in particular has been the former New Orleans restaurant.  This building occupies one of the most prime locations and views of the city than anywhere else in town.  Sadly, since January 2010 the building has sat empty and lonely. Until now.

Stone River has recently (like 3 weeks or so) opened.  They are touting themselves as Columbia's premiere wedding and event hall. Extensive renovations/changes have been made to include new stacked stone accents inside and out, new big beam timbers framing the entrance and what appears to be an outdoor covered space, walls have come down to open up the building and the decor is sharp & modern (lots of wood, black & white.) And, they also serve lunch. 

I headed over there today with my mom and dad to try out the lunch menu and to check the place out.  I really like the upfitting that's been done to the building. It's very attractive.  While at first glance, the new openness may seem too open, when you consider what they've designed the place to be (events) it really makes sense. The dining areas have all been pushed out toward the windows, overlooking the Saluda river and downtown Columbia.  And of course, there is dining on the porch. Where previously there had been rows of tables in the center of the room, there is now open space for dancing, cocktail mingling and bouquet throwing.  The tables are dressed with white tablecloths under black, simple black chairs and I know you may think I'm nuts to say this, but I even like the water glasses.  They are a highball size rather than a giant milkshake sized glass.  I rarely drink a whole glass of water during any meal and I really hate it when this huge vessel of water ends up just flooding my table with condensation.  (Does anybody remember the simple little "bev-nap"?)  Valuable little square of paper, in my opinion but today, you have to request them if, like me, you hate a drippy, wet table. With this shorter glass, I don't feel like my table is so cluttered nor is there as much surface area to sweat all over my placesetting!

So, how about if we talk about the food?  Yes, let's.

My mom ordered the club sandwich with baked potato salad. Like a lot of clubs, it is huge.  Nice, homemade looking bread loaded with turkey, ham and bacon, pretty red tomato and a little mayo.  Mom really liked the potato salad, which is noteworthy because usually potato salad (of any kind) is the last side dish she orders.  But she opted for this rather than fries and was pleasantly surprised.  The salad was warm and had gooey melty cheddar in it.  I tried a bite and it really had that baked potato flavor.  I'd order that myself.

I love the way they stand the sandwich up! Side of baked potato salad.

My dad chose the three salad plate (chicken, tuna and shrimp.)  In a nutshell, he said his tuna and chicken salads were very nice, but the shrimp salad, and this is a direct quote, "is a total disaster."  I knew the answer, but I asked it anyway.  Pre-cooked and/or frozen shrimp.  You know the kind.  They end up looking translucent, feel slick & rubbery in your mouth and have zero flavor.  I tried a bite.  No bueno.  Here's my thing about this.  We live in a coastal state.  The shrimp is only a couple hours away.  Hell, you can find a fisherman in Charleston who would meet you halfway on I-26 every morning with fresh shrimp, crab and fish. So what in the world is any restaurant in Columbia doing buying sub-par shrimp from a freezer?  If the Stone River guys take this piece of advice, throw out that junk and serve SC shrimp, this dish will improve exponentially. 

Chicken, tuna and shrimp salads with homemade pita chips.

I ordered the Cobb salad.  I always joke about installing a salad bar in my house right after I win the Powerball.  I am a salad junkie.  I love them, I crave them.  Cobb salads are one of my favorites because I am also addicted to bacon and blue cheese.  This is one righteous salad, friends.  It was served with a very generous amount of fresh blue cheese crumbled on top, pinwheels of smoked turkey and ham, fresh bacon pieces, avocado chunks and bright red, tasty tomatoes.  Traditionally, a Cobb is served with hard-boiled egg, which I loathe.  So, I always request no egg.  However, unless I really missed it big time, the menu didn't list egg, so I said nothing.  Yep, egg was on the plate.  However, since the salad was laid out in rows as a Cobb should be, it was a piece of cake for me to just eat around the egg. No big deal.

Cobb salad-isn't that pretty?

As for the people, everyone we encountered was very pleasant.  We were welcomed by the owner, Chris and later greeted by the GM, Jay.  Our waiter was Cameron and he was very personable, knew the specials and was attentive to us. It's so exciting to see something happening in this space after sitting vacant for so long.  As far as using it for an event hall, I can see loads of potential there.  You overlook the river and the riverwalk, have an awesome view of the ornate Gervais Street bridge and enjoy a great view of Columbia's skyline.  How could you not be happy sipping champagne at your cousin's wedding or enjoying lunch with friends while a couple of kayaks glide by? 

It's such a prime spot for a restaurant and an event space.  I wish Stone River well.  I think they've put together a great multi-purpose venue and they serve a nice lunch as well.  

Stone River on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thank you Pinterest

Since joining Pinterest a couple years ago, I've pinned many, many recipes.  I think the exact number is one zillion and two.  And I know I'm not alone here. In that time, I've made some of them.  Some have been successful, some lackluster, some not good at all.  But tonight changed all that.  Tonight I made a crock pot of creamy tomato soup that I've been eyeing for months and as cliche and juvenile as it is, all I can say is "OMG."  (It's like Moon Unit Zappa's horrible 80's "oh ma god, like gag me with a spoon.")

So, in full disclosure, the recipe came from here. I didn't grow up eating tomato soup because my mom can't stand it.  And, that crap in the can tastes like some weird sugary tomato concoction that can only have originated in Willie Wonka's factory. For quite some time now, I've been on the look-out for a homemade tomato soup.  The photo of this recipe lured me in. As soon as I read the recipe, I've been dreaming of making it and pairing it with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  However, the hubinator has been craving baked potatoes lately and that sounded like a pretty good combo.  So, today was the day.  I whipped this soup up in my trusty crockpot and I am so happy that I did, that...well, I just felt compelled to write about it and tell you. So, as I type this post, I have a warm belly full of the most awesome, rich, fresh, flavorful tomato soup and the happiness that this entails.

Even if you never fancied yourself a lover or even a liker of tomato soup, if I were you, I'd venture out and try it.  The ingredients are cheap, so if you hate it, throw it out and it'll be no biggie. I bet you won't though.  In fact, I think even my mom would eat this soup and like it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baby's First Dish

As you all know, it's always been my goal to engage my child in cooking, food and nutrition.  As soon as she was old enough, I've had her in the kitchen.  Starting at things like pushing the buttons on the food processor, to measuring ingredients, mixing stuff up and even some beginner knife work.  But, tonight was the culmination of it all...my baby COOKED!

She's ready to roll!

 That's right.  She cooked an entire dish all by herself.  Of course I was standing right there overseeing, and I did all the prep work (chopping) but she cooked all by herself!  We decided to go with a Chinese flair tonight, so I worked on beef with broccoli while Viv worked on the veggie fried rice.  

So, this is onion, carrot, broccoli and ginger (which I think is nectar of the gods!)
I was so proud of her.  One: because she actually listened to and followed all of my directions.  Two: because she was talking constantly about her observations and her technique of stir-frying the veggies.  Three:  she sloped the rice up the sides of the wok like I told her and scrambled the egg down in the center. She did it all and we ended up with a great batch of fried rice. The real joy of it all was, of course, her pride in her creation and the excitement of being allowed to work with the stove and just do it.  Like all cooks though, at the table she kept insisting that my dish was better than hers while Neil and I insisted that the rice was the best.  

The beef with broccoli did turn out well too.  I used a flatiron steak, sliced really thin. Marinated in soy sauce, a little flour, a tiny bit of sugar and sherry cooking wine.  Stir-fried broccoli then cooked the steak with its marinade, which creates the sauce. 

I can't ever give Viv the plate that was chipped by the dishwasher. Ever.

  I may have said this to you all before, but I'm going to say it again. The beauty of Chinese cuisine is quantities.  Over dinner, we talked about this.  People walk into a place like Longhorn and order a 12 oz. steak.  That's a hell of a lot of meat.  That's more meat than a person is supposed to eat at any given sitting. Our dinner tonight was made with 8 oz. of steak and it was more than enough for the three of us.  What the Chinese know and have known for thousands of years is that you can take a little bit of a lot of things and make a satisfying meal.  

Think about this for a minute.  Fried rice is loaded with vegetables and tiny cubes of pork, chicken, tofu, or shrimp, right?  But, it's plenty for you.  MooGooGaiPan is thin slices of beautiful white chicken surrounded by tons of veggies.  Sweet and sour pork uses about 8 oz. of meat and the rest is all veggie.  And for those people who always say after eating Chinese food, they are hungry an hour later...all I can say is vary your selections.  You can't eat a wheelbarrow-load of fried rice, fried wontons or egg rolls and escape the carbohydrate coma and hunger that comes quickly.  You simply must treat this cuisine like any other.  Incorporate a salad, a main dish with protein, a veggie side and yes, carbs too.  But don't lump all Chinese in with your starch/MSG stupor and subsequent hunger.  Don't do it, I say!

My happiness tonight isn't stemming from the fact that I made beef and broccoli that Neil, the Vivver and I loved, but rather from the fact that my baby got in the kitchen tonight and OWNED  it!  I've waited for this day. Having her cooking alongside me, not having to worry about her getting hurt or spilling some hot something all over herself.  It was wonderful! If you have kids, bring them into the kitchen.  It will prepare them, in many ways, for their future life but also will bring so much joy to the here and now.  For you both.


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