Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fill 'er Up and Fill Me Up Too--The Gourmet Gas Station

Gas station food isn't your favorite? Ah but you haven't had the fresh fish special at the Gourmet Gas Station in Gallitan Gateway, Montana. The GGS offers a sit down diner- style motif with an inspired menu of hearty fare. For dinner this means Mexican specialties, fresh seafood, special BBQ nights and occasional pile-0-rib-roast platters. Tom, who runs this child-friendly establishment isn't shy about portions. The Giant Burrito, my personal favorite isn't adorned by all those foofy california condiments. No Sour cream or guac on the inside--just tender moist chicken, rice and beans--and tons of it, wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. And it all starts with multiple varieties of house-made salsa and chips.

Not a fan of Mexican and you think its a bad idea to eat Fresh Alaskan Halibut when you find yourself more than 100 miles from any ocean? Well it is a bad idea--knucklehead! But somehow the GGS gets it right enough. It's not fancy, not le Bernadin, or even Fish Market, but its better than Red Lobster (it is FRESH afterall) and a welcome break from the standard Montana hunk-o-cow bar and grill. Thank God for airlines connections to cities with oceans.

But, you say, you ARE in Montana and you want hunk-o-cow? Show up for the barbequed bison ribs or make it for prime rib and get Tom to reserve the end cut.

Wine list. Yes I said WINE LIST. Very servicable, a couple of dozen choices of decent brands in high distribution. I always find something I know I will like. No doubt the best Gas Station wine list on the North American continent, I wager.

Dessert? How about batter-fried cheesecake. Actually, I have never made it to dessert, but the dessert board has tempted many of my dinner mates. Again think good country efforts and large portions.

The bottom line is The GGS gets 5/5 on the Gas Station Food scale and a 2.5/5 overall.

The GGS is attached to the Conoco Station on Highway 191 about 9 miles from downtown Bozeman on the way to the Big Sky ski area and Yellowstone National Park. Heading South turn left right after passing the Gallatin Gateway Inn on your right.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Olena Gives Boston 3 World Champions

My good friend Adam Grosser Posts on 2 Boston Restaurants, One Burlingame fiasco and his new favorite herb. Take it away Adam . . .

Two Boston Restaurants

I have had occasion to eat at two very different restaurants in Boston recently, Hammersley's Tavern, and Oleana.

Hammersley's is a cozy experience, with redolent smells permeating the restaurant. I had a breast of garlic chicken over white bean puree that was fantastic. It was very simple, served with deglazed pan juices, and some rosemary. My guest had the evening special of short ribs - braised with vegetables, and again, well cooked. We followed it up with a lemon tart and home-made ice cream. If you're in the mood for lovely seasonal fare, with a bias toward comfort, check out Hammersely's.

Oleana, on the other hand, was something completely different. Tucked away on Inman Square in Cambridge, the restaurant is a tiny gem you could miss if you blinked. When we arrived, the place was packed, but they had our table ready. The place is cramped, and we were seated between the two aisles which compounded the feeling. As we perused the menu, our server asked if we'd been there before. When we said no she said, "The food here is a party in your mouth". I started with a small plate of grilled hummus wrapped in Turkish Pastrami (Basturma) served with roasted tomatoes. My appetizer was a Spinach Falafel and Arugula Salad with house cured Beets. My entree was "Sujuk" - a house-made Turkish Sausage with a Fava-bean Moussaka. Words don't begin to describe the flavors, and the sophistication of the pairings. The chef, Ana Sortun, was recently named "Best Chef Northeast 2005" by the James Beard Society. I'd be back once a week if I lived there, as all of us independently decided that it was a Top-Ten Lifetime Dining Experience.

A Burlingame Restaurant
Stella Alpina Osteria opened recently - less than a month ago. It is half a level below street level, and takes the place of the long-lasting Alpine Inn. Skip it. The food was awful. The servers weren't into the food, and all of it tasted like bad institutional offerings. My wife had the delightful sounding "Saffron Risotto with Sausage and Porcini". It tasted (and looked) like bright yellow paste with a bottle of cheap sauce poured on top. I had the "Gamberi a la Diavola" which turned out to be almost raw prawns in ketchup. Dessert was a piece of Chocolate Bread Pudding - ostensibly the owner's mother's recipe - I think she didn't share the full list of ingredients. The only pleasant part of the experience was dining outside on a warm summer night.

An Undiscovered Herb.
I'm obsessed with Shiso - the Japanese herb that tastes like a blend of Thai Basil, Tarragon, and White Pepper. You can buy a bunch of leaves in any Japanese market for about $1. I like to take paper thin slices of beef, wrap them around a Shiso leaf, and grill the bundle quickly over charcoal. Sprinkle with Olive Oil and Salt/Pepper. People will eat them faster than you can make them. I've also made a steamed Sea Bass in Shiso Broth with Shiitake Mushrooms. I'm going to make Shiso Pesto to see how that works, but I suspect, that will become a new favorite as well.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bartolotta is a Wynn-WIn

Las Vegas again. Business again--really! This time Rick Lewis and I hit the new Steve Wynn Hotel on the Strip for--of all things--authentic Italian Seafood. Casey got sick playing basketball, he went straight to bed--at least that's his story. Chef Bartolotta has created Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare from his Ligurian memory. He imports the fish fresh from European sources and uses it fast to create familiar flavors, with Fine Dining presentation and Las Vegas flair. The red mullet appetizer with capers and halved cherry tomatoes was spectacular, if skimpy on serving size. They claim they are creating a small plate opportunity so diners can engage in variety. And variety is key at Bartolotta--because you get fish here you just can't get anywhere outside of Europe--and certainly not in any other desert setting. So you want to try more than one course.

I was tempted to get a second course of penne with the same mullets because I just love this fish. But for variety sake, I made my primi a rabbit (sorry no fish, but I just can never resist eating the little hopping mammal from a chef, who is new to me). It was an outstanding carmelized loin on a bed of baby artichokes.

My main course was a pile of perfectly cooked Langostino (the lobster/shrimpy crsustacion that is the source of real Scampi) in a "must sponge it up" sauce again with dozens of halved cherry tomatoes. You just know some fresh-faced apprentice is spending all his day cutting these ripe red morsels in half. Fresh, tasty, perfect tecture. Boy did it make me miss Italy. Rick had a European Turbot fillet that had a firm texture--not swordfish firm, but was perfectly moist. He preceded that with a standard Insalata Mista and a plate of little-pillow Gnocchi in a tomato sauce. And the wines--all Italian, many single glass selections of hard to find, moderately priced grape juice from regions like Friulli, the Veneto and Sicily. But they also have a great selection of the Super Tuscan, Brunello and Barolo sort.

Love fish, but sick of the Salmon, Swordfish, Halibut, Mahi Mahi rotation. At Bartolotta, you are looking at a dozen types of seafood that you simply won't find at other places--European Sea Bream, Purple Snapper. A half-dozen whole fish selections, simply prepared, as well as more deconstructed high-style concoctions.

Check out the most recent Wine Spectator review of all the Wynn restaurants. Wynn's brought a gang of up and comers to Las Vegas, and is making them live there and work in their beautiful custom-designed culinary palaces. For me, I can't wait to go back to Bartolotta: 4/5.

The rest of the trip--not to food-eventful. The worst convention food ever was found at the World Series of Poker at the Rio. Casey and Rick actually threw their hotdogs away. Still the actual event was a hoot. And we did meet a bunch of Poker TV stars including James Woods and Jennifer Tilly. Not sure what they were eating.

No rating--don't bother, better choices around every corner for the same or less money.
1/5 I will eat here, but something is always left wanting, food or service or something.
2/5 Good food. Not always consistent. Decent value eating.
3/5 Solid. Consistent. You look for reasons to eat here.
4/5 Excellent. You will not be disappointed even if it costs more.
5/5 Beyond a meal. An experience, like going to the opera at la Scala or watching your team win the World Series.