You know, after The Boy left for college I thought life and schedule would get easier. I was wrong. Turns out The Pudge and his schedule is really taking up a lot of my time. And the Mrs' job has her working a lot of late nights, so I'm sort of a single parent. Now that I've taken my work deadline out of the equation (I was working a lot of 12 hour days and weekends), things are getting better.
A few good things that happened during this time were the Mrs and my anniversary, my brother's 50th birthday party, Beer Festival on the USS New Jersey and a really good haunted prison. I fit all of these things into a schedule that includes CCD classes (Catholic Sunday school), guitar lessons, boy scouts and soccer. And I started going to the gym twice a week (I didn't realize how much I missed that). I'm really tired.
Anyway, I'll start off with the anniversary dinner and talk about the other things in subsequent posts. Those of you who watched Top Chef Season 7 may remember that the winning chef, Kevin Sbraga, was a chef at a restaurant called Rats in Hamilton, NJ (just north of Trenton). I had never heard of the restaurant or the surrounding park - Grounds for Sculpture. And I've lived in NJ all my life!
I did some research and made some reservations (2 months in advance for a Sunday dinner). It was an easy 45 minute drive. It was an overcast day and we weren't really sure what to expect. We had a 6:45PM reservation and we arrived at about 4:00PM. We checked in the restaurant with the hostess and she said that because we had dinner reservations, admission to the grounds was 1/2 price - nice. She also said 2 hours was enough time to tour the grounds and we were welcome to buy a drink and take it with us - nice again. So while the Mrs waited at the entrance to the grounds, I purchased our tickets and got us each a glass of Bordeaux Blend Chateau La Grange Clinet 2006 - and it was excellent. I didn't tell her I was getting us drinks and she was pleasantly surprised.
Here's what we saw:
This was part of the courtyard entrance to the restaurant. That's a sculpture.
The gardens and sculptures (some 240 works) were beautiful. They ranged from the classical sculptures...
To the weird. I looked at this one for a couple of minutes. I couldn't look away.
Here's me with a pile of scrap metal. I didn't say I liked them all.
This is the back end of the restaurant.
The Mrs took over a hundred pictures (that's why she's not in many and they look so good). I just wanted to give you a taste of the grounds.
Dinner was good but not as good as I had expected. The restaurant itself looks like the interior of a rustic, French peasant house with eclectic artwork everywhere. We were seated in a 2nd story loft area where we could look down on the lower dining room and had a view of the foggy pond at the rear (see picture above). We started with appetizers of Traditional Onion Soup off the menu for the Mrs and an Heirloom Tomato Terrine (special) for me. Both were good. They also had a choice of several breads. I had an herb bread that was excellent and I don't recall what the Mrs had, but she liked it. My entree was a Halibut brandade cannelloni, local spinach, saffron - vanilla shellfish broth, Maya shrimp complement (menu), which was very good. The Mrs had the Magret duck breast miso grilled local eggplant, duck confit summer roll, plum sauce (menu). It was way too rare for her (or my) taste and the plum sauce was meh. For dessert, we split a very decadent bread pudding (special) that we both enjoyed a lot. Total bill with 2 drinks each and tip was about $130 - not too bad.
Overall this was a great experience. The Mrs really enjoyed it (I scored major points - I think) and she wants to definitely go again. Maybe in the Spring. The dinner itself was good but not what I would consider Top Chef caliber, but the service was exceptional. In all fairness to Kevin Sbraga, he left the restaurant about a year ago and there is a new chef running it. Chef Sbraga is suppose to be opening a new restaurant in center city Philadelphia sometime this fall, so I hope to check that out.
More "Hiatus" posts to come - maybe.