‘Man of La Mancha’: Half a loaf

‘Man of La Mancha’: Half a loaf

(Top: Philip Hernandez (Cervantes/Don Quixote) and the cast of Man of La Mancha)

The famous 1966 musical “Man of La Mancha” opened on September 25 at the Westport Country Playhouse, and continues through October 14. The musical with book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion won the 1966 Tony for  best musical, as well as best score, best leading actor and best scenic design, beating out Sweet Charity, Mame, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and Superman.

The Westport Playhouse production, directed by Mark Lamos, with music direction by Andrew David Sotomayor and scenic design by Wilson Chin, attempts to duplicate that success on a pared down scale, and with limited success.

Briefly, the show tells the story of the Spanish playwright and poet Cervantes being imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition (this never happened) and being put “on trial” by the other prisoners. Cervantes tells the prisoners the tale of Alonso Quijano , a madman who fancies  himself to be the knight Don Quixote, using costumes from a trunk he had brought with him to costume himself and the other prisoners to tell the story.

In this production Phillip Hernandez is a commanding presence as Cervantes and Don Quixote, with a great baritone voice to match: singing 9 of the show’s songs. In fact he dominates the stage completely, unlike any of the other actors.

4_WCP_ManofLaMancha_GAdisa_TManna_byCRosegg_217Tony Manna, in the comic role of Sancho, got off to a bad start in his first song, the second verse of “I am I, Don Quixote,” coming in excruciatingly flat. And staying flat for the entire song. He redeemed himself, however, in “I Really Like Him,” showing off his excellent tenor voice. It would have been better if he had separated the words in the comic lines “You can barbecue my nose, Make a giblet of my toes.”

(Above: Gisela Adisa (Aldonza) and Tony Manna (Sancho Panza))

Gisela Adisa plays Aldonza (whom Quixote calls Dulcinea) is a commanding presence as well, acting well. But her singing made her sound like she was in some other show, since as soon as she left her chest voice, her voice turned into a nasal pop style that just didn’t fit the songs or the show. Her singing in “What Does He Want With Me” might have been better if she had held the notes out instead of cutting them all short, and in her second act “Aldonza,” she basically shouted what would have been better as a smoother ballad.

For some odd reason, the directors had the cast pronounce Dulcinea as DOOL-cinea rather than DULL-cinea. We assume there was a reason for that, but we don’t know what it was.

Particular praise goes to Carlos Encinias as the Padre, who also had a lovely tenor voice, and showed it well in the beautiful ballad, “To Each his Dulcinea.” Unfortunately, the music director added some tinkling keyboard accompaniment to this song that not only isn’t in the score, it isn’t even in the instrumentation.

You might ask if there were any basses singing in the company. Well, other than baritone Quixote, the only real bass role is the Innkeeper, played by tenor Michael Mendea, who sang part of his song “Hail Knight of the Woeful Countenance” up an octave. He did sing, well, however.

The entire cast is made up of 14 performers. Don Quixote, Aldonza and Sancho just play one role, but the remaining 11 take on a number of small roles, including being the chorus, identified in the script as Muleteers. This doesn’t work out too well, as the choral numbers sound weak and off-hand for the most part. The Broadway cast had 6 Muleteers as well as having separate actors for each role.

The set by Wilson Chin is suitably dark and depressing looking and has the expected staircase that lowers from above when prisoners arrive or leave and the guards come to harass the prisoners.

However, unlike the recommendation in the script, the orchestra and conductor are not on stage behind the actors. Instead the orchestra is split and placed in the second row of each side balcony, making the front row balcony seats less desirable. More to the point, the orchestra would overwhelm the cast, and the singers all wear body mikes, something I have never before seen at the Playhouse.

I was surprised how hollow the orchestra sounded at the beginning fanfare, and that they skipped the whole overture. But the reason soon became apparent: the orchestra was only 7 players: trumpet, trombone, French horn, reeds, guitar, string bass and percussion.  The score calls for more than twice those forces: Flute/Piccolo, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon/Clarinet, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, 2 timpani, 2 percussion players, 2 Spanish guitars and a string bass.

The two percussion players play traps (snare and bass drum), floor tom-tom, suspended cymbal, triangle, large floor tom-tom, another suspended cymbal, finger cymbals, tambourine, castanets, temple blocks, xylophone and bells.  I heard very few of these in this performance.

So, we had less than half an orchestra, and I would ask: “Did we really see ‘Man of La Mancha’ at all, or was it just a thin facsimile? Without all 6 brass players, the chords were never filled in. The full orchestra would have been only 16 players and would have easily fit in their pit or behind the set as recommended. And this is professional theater, with a top ticket price of $75.

The show that we saw had the usual Westport Playhouse professionalism and most of the audience enjoyed it. But it could have been so much better!

(Photos by Carole Rosegg for the Westport Country Playhouse.)

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Barbecued ribs using an Instant Pot

Barbecued ribs using an Instant Pot

You can make really good barbecued ribs in about an hour using your Instant Pot to cook the ribs, and a gas grill or your oven to brown them. Some people have suggested using cider or apple juice as the cooking liquid in the Instant Pot pressure cooker, but we never found it made much different. Instead, we use a couple of aromatic spices added to the cooking water: garlic and bay leaves.

Barbecue aficionados frown on cooking the ribs until they fall off the bone. They should be cooked but cohesive.

  • 1 rack baby back pork ribs, cut in half
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 2 bay leaves

raw ribs in pot

  1. Place the ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal and cook on Manual for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat your gas grill on high
  3. Release the pressure and take the ribs out and put on a platter to carry to your barbecue grill. Or, place them on a foil lined cookie sheet to put in the oven.

Using a gas grill

half barbecued

  1. Turn the middle burner off, and turn the outer 2 burners to medium. Lay the ribs on the grill over the middle section, and brush with your favorite barbecue sauce.
  2. After 15 minutes, turn, and brush the other side.
  3. Cook about another 15 minutes, or until the sauce begins to caramelize.

Using your oven

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚
  2. Brush the top of the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce and cook for 15 minutes,
  3. Turn, brush the other side and cook for about 15 minutes.
  4. If the sauce hasn’t become bubbly, put under the broiler for 5 more minutes.

barbecued on platter

Serving

Cut the ribs apart and serve on a platter. (See above.)

Leftovers

Don’t worry about buying too much pork. You can probably do 2 racks at a time if you wanted. And once it is cooled, refrigerate it. The next day, just cut off the pork and cut it up a bit. It makes great pulled pork sandwiches. Just put some on a bun, add some barbecue sauce and heat it up for 30 seconds in the microwave.

pulled pork sammich

hash browns and corn

Thinkpad and Surface: choosing a new laptop

Thinkpad and Surface: choosing a new laptop

 

When my old Thinkpad finally went south, a friend of mine suggested I consider the Microsoft Surface laptop instead of another Thinkpad. After a bit of messing around, I finally ended up with two laptops on my desk to choose from and a large (but temporary) bill on my credit card. One was going to be sent back off the island.  How to choose among these two tremendous laptops?

Since I have a number of compute-intensive applications, I chose a pretty high end model (16 Gb of memory of 1 Tb of solid state disk space), but many of the criteria apply to lower priced systems as well.

The Surface laptop screen is a touch screen in all models, and you can buy a stylus to do actual drawing on it if you want. Any place you’d want to click your mouse, you can just touch the screen. This is integrated with Windows 10, which supports and encourages your using touch, including the otherwise baffling Edge browser that supplants Internet Explorer. But, after having used a mouse in Windows for many years, I just didn’t see why I needed this. If you are working in graphics, you might find it helpful.

Both laptops come with Windows 10, which has its own learning curve, but the Surface Laptop gave you a choice of installing Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. The Thinkpad just gave you Windows 10 Pro right out of the box. Windows 10 comes with the new Edge browser that replaces Internet Explorer, although IE is still supplied for diehards. The Internet scuttlebutt is that the main use of the Edge browser is to download another browser, such as Chrome, and I did that immediately, because Chrome has all my bookmarks and passwords stored in my account. As soon as you try to download it, Edge scolds you, saying that Edge is much faster than Chrome.

On the Thinkpad, it seems a perfectly capable browser, and it can import your bookmarks from Chrome after you install it. On the Surface, all of your bookmarks seem to turn into big squares at the top of the window, wasting a ton of browser screen real estate. This feature is presumably for touch screen users, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. So, on the Surface, I used Chrome exclusively.

The ThinkPad beautiful display comes with Dolby Vision, which allows each individual pixel to have a wider range of color and contrast. This is primarily for entertainment apps, but the screen is really impressive to work with.

front dark

As soon as I set the two laptops side by side, it was obvious that the Thinkpad screen was wider. It’s almost an inch wider than the surface, and this makes a significant difference when you need to switch between app windows. Since the Surface is a bit taller, you probably get about the same amount of screen, but the width is what makes to different to me. When you first boot up the Surface, it comes up with a tiny font: much too small to do actual writing with. So I had to find the control panel settings that increased the system font. This also affected the fonts in the browser, and I found that I had to enlarge it using Ctrl/Shift/+.

The Surface immediately found and connected to my wireless printer. On the Thinkpad, I had to tell it to scan for printers, and it found it right away.  Neither Windows 10 machine allowed me to share files with my Windows 7 server upstairs without some screwing around I still haven’t completely solved.

On the Surface, I seemed to be making more typing mistakes, and when the measured the two keyboards, the Surface keyboard was 10.75” from the outside of the left shift key to the outside of the right shift key. The Thinkpad was 11.12” and that 3/8” difference made a significant different in my typing accuracy.

But the main difference turned out to be the number of USB ports. Since I habitually use a wireless mouse, I needed a port for this and another port to connect USB flash drives to so I could transfer data from the old computer and from my camera. Without a second port, this meant giving up your mouse every time I needed to copy data from my camera or the old computer.  By contrast, the Thinkpad had 4 USB ports, two full size and two micro ports. This one feature turned out to be the deal breaker. My friend told me this must have been a recent change, as her Surface had two USB ports. If that had been true of mine, I might have kept the Surface, because it is quite a slick  machine, but in fact I am typing this article on my new Thinkpad, and the Surface has left the island.

Oh, and the Thinkpad turned out to be $400 cheaper, too!

 

  Thinkpad X1 6th gen Surface Laptop
Display 2560 x 1440 pixels 2736 x 1824 pixels
Display size 12.25 x 6.93” 11.38 x 7.5”
Memory 16 Gb 16 Gb
SSD storage 1 Tb 1 Tb
Weight 35.9 oz 45.6 oz
Keyboard width 11.125” 10.75”
Processor Intel Core i7 (8th gen) Intel Core i7
USB connectors 2 full, 2 micro 1 full
Touch screen No (but they sell one) yes
Price $2089 $2499

 

 

‘Parlor Pizza and Bar’ opens in Wilton

‘Parlor Pizza and Bar’ opens in Wilton

signTim LaBant’s eagerly awaited new brick oven pizza restaurant Parlor opened last weekend to such enthusiasm that we couldn’t get in the door. So we went last night Wednesday to try it out. Parlor is still a work in progress: their liquor license hasn’t come in yet, so you can order soft drinks or BYOB. The sign on the door notes that Ancona’s liquor store is just a few doors away. No matter. We came for the pizza.

We also came for the salads. While they haven’t yet added appetizers, the salads are terrific. We split a large Waldorf-like salad ($17 for the large version for two), made up of apples, raisins, walnuts, romaine and radishes. They also offer Caesar, Watercress, Roasted Butternut and Roasted Cauliflower salads.

waldorf

The menu is undergoing changes as they grow into the place. The pizzas they offer are

  • Tomato, broccoli race, garlic, hot pepper
  • Margherita
  • Clam pie, lemon, broccoli rabe, olive oil, parsley
  • Mushroom pie, mozzarella, tallegio, scallion, black pepper
  • Pepperoni, shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce
  • Cheese pizza, shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce
  • Sausage, onion and smoked mozzarella

All  of these ae baked in their Ferrari level wood fired brick oven. According to a recent column on NPR’s  The Salt, a brick oven is practically required to make Neopolitan-style pizzas. The properties of brick ovens are such that the heat gets transferred to the pizza more slowly than in a steel oven. And, of course, the smoky taste of the wood fire is added to the pizza flavor as well. These ovens are quite a bit hotter than your home oven, usually 625˚ to 700˚ and cook the pizza in just a couple of minutes.

Last night we tried the Sausage and onion pizza, and took a picture of our neighbor’s pepperoni pizza. Each pizza is considered an individual size. They are around 11 inches, but when you subtract the crust, they are probably about right for one adult, or perhaps two children.  They are priced at $14 to $17 each.

table settingParlor had added just two desserts so far: Zeppoli, or fried pizza dough with Nutella, and Lime Posset with berries.

This was a nice introduction to a popular new restaurant. It seats around 32 and 12 2-top tables plus seats around the bar. You can also order takeout at (203) 762-6142. We wish them the best of luck.

How large are your eggs?

How large are your eggs?

We’ve always wondered whether Extra Large eggs were really much bigger than Large eggs. You sure can’t tell from the above picture! So we did some weighing experiments.

3 eggsYou probably see eggs by the dozen in several sizes in your market, most commonly large, extra large and jumbo. The adjacent picture shows large, extra large and jumbo eggs in their shells. The picture above shows their contents. How different are they? Well, the US standard egg sizes are given in ounces, 2 oz for Large eggs, 2.25 ounces for Extra Large eggs, and 2.5 ounces for Jumbo.  In Canada and most of Europe, the weight standards in grams are just about the same sizes rounded down to the nearest gram.

In New England, we have the choice of brown or white eggs, with brown being culturally preferred. They are nutritionally identical to white eggs, however, and are produced by hens like the popular Rhode Island Red.

Of course, these sizes are the average size: in a given carton there will be some variability, but the total weight of a dozen large eggs will be around 24 ounces. Well, since extra large eggs are 0.25 ounces bigger, that’s sounds like about 12% more egg. That’s pretty substantial. Would you like a 12% raise?  How about a 12% pay cut?  That’s a lot either way, but as we’ll see, it actually isn’t true for the egg contents.

How much do the contents weigh? We decided to find out.

We bought 1 dozen large white eggs (Eggland’s Best, with the Easter Bunny initials on each egg) a dozen large brown eggs (The Farmer’s Cow), a dozen Extra Large (Sunnyland Farms) and a dozen Jumbo (Land of Lakes), and weighed the eggs.

bowl of eggs

Our dozen white large EB eggs weighed 24.63 oz or about 2.05 oz each. Just a little over the expected 2 oz.

Our dozen large brown eggs weighed 24.95 oz, or 2.079 oz each. Just a little bit larger.

Our dozen Extra Large eggs were a little short, over all weighing in at 25.44, or only about 2.12 oz each. However, they were more variable in size, and if you picked the left hand 6, they averaged 2.19 oz each.  And our 1 dozen Jumbo eggs weighed in at 30.07 oz, or just about exactly 2.50 oz each.

Large white 24.63 2.05
Large brown 24.95 2.079
Extra large 25.44 2.12
Jumbo 30.07 2.50

What’s inside the eggs?

But what about what’s inside the egg? Suppose we just weigh the contents. We took three eggs representing their “breed specific” traits: in other words weighing as close to the standard as possible, weighed them and weighed their contents.

Egg type Weight Wgt of contents % bigger than large
Large white 2.08 1.84 0
Large brown 2.04 1.74 -5.4
Extra large white 2.26 1.91 3.6
Jumbo white 2.51 2.15 11

So, the contents of the large brown egg is actually 5.4% smaller than the  large white egg of nearly identical size. This is apparently because the brown egg’s shell is a bit thicker. This may mean that the brown egg may stay fresh a little longer, but you get less egg. We repeated these measurements several times.

Now, if you compare the Extra Large egg with the Large egg, it is indeed bigger, but not 12.5% bigger as you’d expect from the weight requirements. In fact, it is only 3.6% bigger!  Again, more shell and less egg. Bigger eggs have more shell as well as more contents. However, this is only true for large eggs. For extra large and jumbo, the weight measurements are exactly the same for both white and brown eggs.

So, to summarize, Extra Large eggs are not much bigger than Large eggs!

  • if you normally buy Large eggs, you will get more egg in white eggs.
  • If you normally buy Extra Large eggs, brown and white do not differ, but they are actually only 3.6% bigger than large eggs. Check the prices and see which is a better deal that week!
  •  The contents of Jumbo eggs are 11% larger than Large white eggs, and that is significant.

What did we do with all those test eggs?  Scrambled eggs one morning and quiche  a few days later!

The Chanticleer

The Chanticleer

 

The Chanticleer is an elegant restaurant in ‘Sconset, that has been home to fine dining for many years. A few years back, a new chef/owner (Jeff Worster) took over, and when we first visited, we felt that it was still a work in progress. Now, however, this is a lovely restaurant with fine food, service and décor. You still enter through a lovely garden and it still has a decorative hobby horse on display in the garden.

Inside, the décor has been upgraded a bit, with the lovely wall sconces you can see in the photo of the main dining room. While the back dining room was once a sort of conservatory with plants and ivy everywhere, it is now much more like the main dining room and more roomy as well.

decor

The service is excellent from the time you are seated until you leave. The dinner menu, of course, changes a bit from time to time, but the menu they currently have posted is pretty similar to the one we were served from a week or so ago.

The service began with warm rolls and an actual crock of butter that was delivered automatically, instead of the annoying olive oil other restaurants foist upon you. And, take a look at the elegant dish of salt, pepper, and (it turned out) Himalayan sea salt for seasonings.

For one appetizer, we ordered  “Smoked Rhode Island Bluefish Pâté with Hand Sliced Caribou Russet Potato Chips. Chips Seasoned with BBQ Salt and Green Onion.” Or, in non-menuese, homemade potato chips and smoke bluefish pâté. This had a very rich, sophisticated flavor and was extremely filling. We had to save room for the main course, or we would have devoured all of it.  Thank goodness these were “caribou” chips and not “buffalo” chips!

For our other appetizer, we ordered “Beet Salad on Orange Fennel Hummus – Nicoise Olive, Roasted Salted Pistachio, Sheep’s Milk Feta, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Hydroponic Mache,” an imaginative variation on the common island beet salad, with the addition of feta cheese and served on hummus. A light, but elegant salad we really recommend.

sdf5sh

For one of our entrees we ordered their version of swordfish: “Anson Mills Corn crusted Center Cut North Atlantic Swordfish, on a Charred Andouille and Okra Risotto, Gumbos spices Tomato Sauce and Cauliflower.” Swordfish can be a risky bet at some restaurants, because It can be overcooked or oily. But to our delight this swordfish was perfect: one of the best preparations we’ve had, and the surprising okra in the risotto was a delightful touch.

la`b

Our other entrée was “Bolognese of New Zealand Lamb & Lamb Sausage – Slowly Simmered with San Marzano Tomatoes and Fines Herbs. Tossed with Today’s Fresh Pasta, Asiago Cheese.” To our surprise, this Bolognese included a curry flavor among the spices, but it was very well executed.

Finally, we each ordered a dessert. One was the “Coconut Lemongrass Cheesecake Pie” with caramelized Pineapple sauce, Chantilly Cream and Toasted Coconut. It was smooth, light and deeply flavorful. Our other dessert was called “Petite Salted Caramel Brownie Parfait” with Malted chocolate gelato, Begium chocolate mousse, chocolate crunch, cherry sauce and an Amarena Cherry. While it was good, it was in many ways a “typical restaurant chocolate dessert.”

Overall, this was a delightful evening with delicious and imaginative food and excellent service. Kudos to Chef Worster for this lovely dinner.

B-ACK yard Barbecue

B-ACK yard Barbecue

We haven’t  been back to this great barbecue spot on Straight Wharf since they opened in 2014, and we’re glad we did. The food is much better and the menu a bit bigger: they added  Burnt Ends. The service is extremely good as well, as our waiter checked with us at least 4-5 times during our meal.

To some extent, large groups will have more choices, because you can order a platter of each of their specialties and shared around the table.  For two people, there are two options: the  Selfie Special, which gives you two meats and two side dishes and warm rolls for $28. The other option is to just order a half a pound of a couple of the meats and get one or two sides as you wish.

The main barbecue meat choices on the menu are

  • Smoked kielbasa
  • Pulled pork
  • Pork ribs (half or full rack)
  • Half roast chicken
  • Chopped brisket
  • Sliced brisket
  • Beef burnt ends

The side dishes include baked beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, grilled asparagus, Corn bread, potato salad, French fries, pickled vegetables, and stewed greens. You can also get sandwiches of any of these meats.

ribs

We decided on a half rack of pork ribs, a half pound of burnt ends and coleslaw. We probably should have rounded this out with fries or cornbread, but there was plenty of food there just as it was.

burnt ends

Our beers came nearly instantly, and the meats maybe 5-6 minutes later. There are 4 sauces on the table, Sweet, Golden (mustard like), hot and vinegar (to simulate North Carolina style). All were good, and even the “hot” sauce was not really all that hot.

crowdThe informal atmosphere includes several large screen TVs showing whatever sport is playing at the time,  but the crowd is relatively calm and families will feel welcome here.

Sometimes the most unassuming places will end up being some of the best on the island, and that is certainly true here. The pork and beef were tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. What more can you ask? Our bill with 3 beers and tax, but before tip was only $78. A delicious bargain!

Cru Oyster Bar: still raucous

Cru Oyster Bar: still raucous

“They all come here just for the mood,

And if you don’t believe me try tasting our food!”

–Jerry Bock- Lyrics to “A Romantic Atmosphere” in “She Loves Me”

tableWe went back last night to Cru Oyster Bar, the restaurant at the end of Straight Wharf that replaced The Rope Walk about 7 years ago. As before, we were seated at a nice window table in the main dining room. And as before, the music was very loud, and the noise from adjacent tables and the loud bar crowd made conversation impossible. And, as before, we asked to be moved to the middle room. Fortunately, it was still early and they were quite accommodating about moving us. The sound level in the middle room was much less oppressive and we even were able to chat with a nice young couple at the next table.

breadThey soon brought us bread, and with a little prodding, some actual butter. Since we dislike olive oil dribbling on our shirt, we usually ask for butter. It came in a nice little crock, with a little sea salt sprinkled on it. But, the bread was really tough. Not crunchy crust tough: stale bread tough. Very difficult to eat, but you could use the butter to soften it a little.

The menu was similar to that on their website,  but they had added a Chilled Cucumber Soup with crab meat, that we both ordered. (Their sometime Fried Clams shareable item wasn’t on the menu that night.) The cucumber soup arrived quickly, and it did indeed come with ample crabmeat as well.

cucumber soup

However the soup was very salty. And this comes from someone who loves salt bagels. The soup was inedibly salty. We sent it back and they  removed it from out bill. How could such inedible soup (and bread) ever come out of the kitchen? Doesn’t anyone ever taste anything? It’s part of the job, you know.

lobster roll

Soon, they brought us our Lobster Rolls ($38) served with fries, and they were impressive looking. The fries were acceptable, but most probably frozen.  As we picked through our lobster roll, we found a number of flat slippery, rubbery pieces that we decided must have come from the fins at the base of the tail. These are hard to get out, and most people don’t bother, since they don’t have much flavor. We suspect that they bought them in bulk to extend the amount of actual lobster they had to use. There were more of them than you’d find in a single lobster.

The other odd thing about this lobster roll was the eerie sheen of the meat and the top of the roll. While the menu only specified Lobster, butter and brioche roll, the top and much of the interior had a thick sort of buttery sauce. We suspect they may have added surimi, a fish paste made from whiting or pollock that is often used in fake crab meat. The lobster was real, but the weird gelatinous buttery filling is likely partly surimi. The overall effect was OK, but it wasn’t lobster and it wasn’t butter.

We got to Cru around 6:00 pm, because later reservations weren’t available. Thank goodness we came early. When we left around 7:30, the outer room was packed and really noisy. In fact we could barely squeeze through to get to the door. So, despite our strong reservations, people really come to this place in droves. They are probably mostly young people, and as a social experience, this is probably a lot of fun. But while the view of the harbor is really nice, the food really isn’t.

 

Ventuno: refreshing and delicious

Ventuno: refreshing and delicious

Ventuno has been at 21 Federal for about seven years now, and has been a very good restaurant since its inception. However, it is an absolute delight to walk into a familiar restaurant and find fascinating new dishes on the menu. Not just variations on the old Italian theme, but truly creative dishes you probably never had before.

This is the case with this year’s Ventuno menu, which has undergone a significant upgrade. We were particularly struck by Faggiano e Funghi:   hand-cut egg pappardelle, braised wild pheasant & mushroom sugo, parmigiano & savory breadcrumbs. Imagine pheasant and mushrooms on pasta in any other Italian style restaurant. And it was absolutely delicious! It is available in appetizer and full entrée sized portions ($19 and $36). The textures of the pappardelle (noodles) and the thin slices of parmesan cheese, intermingled with pieces of pheasant along with a delicious mushroom sauce were truly a marvelous experience. In fact, we both ordered it: one as an appetizer and one as a main course and both were thrilled with it.

small pheasant fungi

Just as interesting, if not original was their Insalata: sweet gem lettuces, soft herbs, torn bread croutons and house red wine vinaigrette ($15 ). It was a feast for the eyes as well as in its consumption. Or, to put it clearly: it was a great salad.

salad

Finally, our other entrée was Agnello: slow-cooked & grilled lamb coppa, heirloom polenta, broccoli rabe & minted ramp gremolata ($38). According to our waitress coppa is lamb shoulder, marinated for three days and then quickly grilled to medium rare. Just inside the crunchy exterior is delicious, juicy, pink lamb. This was an entirely new preparation we’d not seen before, and we loved every bite.

lamb

This year’s menu is slightly simpler, but it is still organized into Antipasti (seven items), Primi (4 appetizers), Secondi (six items), Un Morsi (3 side dishes), Un Morso per La Tovalo (six table sharing items) and Dolci (six desserts).

bombolonciniUnfortunately, we didn’t have room for a dessert, but you can choose from Bomboloncini (chocolate donuts and gelato and chocolate sauce), Pistachio tart, Panna cotta, Granita (watermelon and strawberry), ice creams, and Crostata:  stone fruit crostata & cisco lemon thyme ice cream. All great ways to end a meal at Ventuno.

If you haven’t visited recently, do come by and try their excellent new menu.

Le Languedoc: the Island’s best burger

Le Languedoc: the Island’s best burger

sign

Le Languedoc Has been for many years a popular, elegant restaurant on Broad St, and serves delicious high end meals in their white table cloth dining rooms. But, Le Languedoc  is also a Bistro and their menu includes some simple,  but excellent bistro food. Originally, the lower level Café served the bistro menu and the upstairs the fancier food. But some years ago, they decided to serve the same menu everywhere. Now, the only difference is that you can make reservations for the upstairs up to 30 days in advance, and you can reserve the lower floor café and the outdoor dining area the same day.

Cafe

With that in mind, we made a reservation for the Café yesterday and were seated at one of the lovely outdoor tables under a canopy, where we could order from any part of the menu we wanted. We settled on the excellent cheeseburger and fries (19.75). While the default is Garlic Fries, you can order the non-garlic version as well.

half saladWe also ordered the Chopped Salad ($16.50), but from previous experience we knew that the salad was enormous, and asked the waitress to split the salad for us. She delivered it on two plates, and it was just the right amount.

 

 

The cheese burger comes partially assembled so you can put it together the way you like, and the conventional sauces are served separately for you to add as you wish. We asked that the burgers be prepared medium rare, and they were perfectly done. This cheeseburger is unquestionably the best one on Nantucket, and is little more expensive than any other we’ve tried.

You can get lots of other fine meals at Le Languedoc, including Steak Frites, Cod, Lobster, Roast Chicken, Shrimp and Boudin Blanc, but if you are looking for the best cheeseburger, you definitely want to come to Le Languedoc. We were joking with the waitress that the burger was really a bit big for us, but I noted that for younger guys, it would be just right. She replied that those 25-year olds would probably eat two!

For comparison, we present some of the other burgers you can get on the island. They are mostly pretty good, but not in the league with this one. Listed in approximate order of quality, best to worst.

Lola burger $13.75            Brotherhood burger $16

Rose and Crown $16.99           Charlie Noble:  All American Burger, $17

Lola Burger, near the Sparks Ave Rotary, provides tasty, but sloppy to eat burgers in rough hewn tables, reminiscent of a company picnic, where parking is difficult unless their valet is on duty.

The Brotherhood of Thieves is ideal for families with children, but their burgers are dry and nowhere near as tasty.

The Rose and Crown is not really a family place: it tends to be sports bar rowdy. At our last visit, we found the burgers dry and tasteless and the fries not much better.

The Charlie Noble isn’t sure where it is a family place or a sports bar. One night it was very quiet, and the next night, everyone was loudly cheering the US Open. And burgers with bright yellow American cheese are not our favorite.

Stick with Le Languedoc.