lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

abreo restaurant rockford, il

Happy New Year 2014!

My husband & I celebrated New Year’s Eve at Abreo Restaurant, in downtown Rockford and it was amazing, just as we knew it would be.

We’re big fans of Abreo, who catered our wedding, and this is our first time there since their remodel. We don’t make it down there as often as we’d like, but we always enjoy our experience there, when we do.

Our dinner reservation was for 8:30, but we arrived at 7:30 to enjoy a cocktail at the bar. The new bar area is beautiful, though the fireplace is gone, which I kind of missed. As my husband noted, it was most likely taking up prime real estate, as far as seating goes, and I have to agree on that point.

We waited only about 40 minutes before they seated us (we were an hour early, remember) and I can’t say I love their new dining area. It may have been a set up strictly for New Year’s Eve, but it’s not nearly as intimate and unique as it used to be.

We were well prepared for the menu offerings for the evening, since I’m a smart cookie and subscribe to their e-newsletter. They offered 2 menus: a three-course for $50 and a five-course for $75. Of course, we opted for the five-course and It didn’t take us long to decide what each of us would be ordering. We agreed to each order something different than the other, so that we could taste a wider variety of things.

abreo_restaurant-new-years-eve-rockford-il-review-lola-rugula

Here are the selections that we chose:

First Course:

  • Me: Vodka-cured hamachi, toasted crepes, cream fraiche, chive oil, osetra caviar and pickled fennel
  • Husband: Foie gras torchon, micro herbs, fig, sourdough toast and pickled apple

Second Course:

  • Me: Yellow fin tuna sticky roll, with jicama, mint, cilantro, sesame lemon vinaigrette, wasabi caviar and cucumber
  • Husband: Pork belly with a slow-poached egg, poblano potato mash, frisee, sweet & sour croutons and pickled onion

Third Course:

  • Me: Lobster cocktail, with horseradish brulee, peas, tomato gelee, preserved lemon and micro greens
  • Husband: Roasted beets with frisee and arugula, dijon, aged gouda, red wine vinegar and sunchoke chips

Fourth Course:

  • Me: Coffee-cured beef tenderloin with balsamic jus, roasted mushroom, asparagus and hazzard farm polenta
  • Husband: Elk prime rib with parsnip mash, dried cherries, port wine, roasted brussels sprouts and bacon

Fifth Course:

  • Me: Chocolates – chili, miso, dried cherry, salted caramel and orange lavender
  • Husband: Chambord crepes with raspberry and vanilla

Overall, the shining star was the pork belly dish – my husband & I could have devoured about 6 of them alone and been blissfully happy.

His elk and my tenderloin were the next favorites and temped beautifully. Both were very flavorful and I absolutely loved the coffee flavoring on my tenderloin. We weren’t served steak knives with these, which struck me as odd, especially when I saw other diners with them, but we happily didn’t need them – that’s how tender these cuts of meat were. We each had a glass of Cabernet with our dinner and it was a perfect accompaniment to both of these meats.

The hamachi and caviar where delicious, and I loved the tuna rolls, with its fresh herbs and lemon. The foie gras was good, though it didn’t bowl us over, but we loved the roasted beet dish.

My chocolate dish was pure chocolate overload and could have been split between the two of us. 5 pieces of chocolate was a lot to digest at that point, but my favorites were the chili and the miso, with the caramel a close third.

Sadly, continuing snowfall made for inclement weather and cut our evening a bit shorter than planned.  After enjoying some coffee, we headed back out into the snow, and slowly made our way home.

I hope that if you live in the area and haven’t had a chance to experience Abreo, that you’ll get there in 2014. Service is always friendly and helpful (thank you Melissa and Debbie) and the food is always fabulous. Paul, the owner, splits his time between Abreo and  Social, another fantastic downtown Rockford restaurant; both are worth the trip.

Happy New Year to all my friends and family. Thank you to everyone who helped make my blog a success in 2013 and I hope we’re all blessed in the year to come.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

greenfire restaurant rockford, il

My husband and I finally got to check out GreenFire in Rockford last Saturday night and, for the most part, we had a very nice evening. We arrived at around 7:30 and the place was jumping with a nice mix of people. We had to wait for a table, which we had expected, so we headed to the bar and grabbed a seat.

The decor has an eclectic urban, organic flair, with the white trunks of birch trees adding a nice feel to the dark wood and tile used throughout. I loved the large lighting fixtures used in the entry and bar areas, as I definitely have a light-fixture fetish. I also love the expansive, open feel to the place, including the open kitchen which was bustling with activity. We grabbed two of the available seats at the bar where, unfortunately, we were forced to talk to the bartender over approximately 25 bottles of wine sitting on the bar. It was a minor thing though and the bar was certainly large enough that there was still plenty of room to set our drinks.

It looks like they have a great beer selection, which we’ll definitely take advantage of the next time we go, but I was in the mood for a cocktail that night. I was very happy they had Tito’s Vodka, which I ordered with tonic and lemon ($6.50) and my husband had the same. Our drinks were made and served quickly and the bartender was very friendly. Our wait for a table was about 25 minutes, which I consider very reasonable considering it was a Saturday night at 7:30 and we didn’t have reservations (which I don’t even know that they take).

Can I tell you how thrilled we were to scan their menu and find a carpaccio appetizer ($12)? It’s a favorite of ours, one that we occasionally make at home, and there was no doubt we’d be ordering it. The fact that it was made with Kobe beef was a bonus. My husband decided on Moroccan duck ($28) and I opted for the sea scallops ($26). Unfortunately, I quickly learned they were out of scallops, so rack of lamb ($29) it was.

Our server, who I won’t name, was very friendly, though getting our second round of drinks was not a speedy affair, by any means. My husband opted for a red zinfandel ($9) on the second round and was happy with his selection. I ended up switching to the same before our main courses arrived and I agree the wine was delicious, along with being a perfect pairing for our duck and lamb.

The carpaccio arrived in good time and there were 5 beautifully thin slices of Kobe beef, with a toss of baby mesclun greens on the top. There was a light sprinkle of capers, which we love, but also drizzle of aioli, which my husband, being a non-mayo person, was not thrilled about. To GreenFire’s credit though, it probably specified this on the menu and we were simply blind to anything past the word “carpaccio”. I thought the entire dish was divine and honestly could have licked the plate when we were finished.

It was a little disconcerting to have placed our order while there was one couple at the table next us, see them leave, have another couple sit down and order, and then watch the second couple get served before us. It definitely made us raise an eyebrow. They were also immediately served a basket of bread, which had not been offered to us, but when my husband requested one, was quickly brought out. We were not charged for it, so we’re assuming it was an oversight and, for the record, the bread was crunchy and flavorful.

My husband’s Moroccan duck breast was out of this world and something I hope to duplicate at home very soon. The flavor totally lived up the spiced aroma surrounding it, which we deduced was a mixture of clove, cinnamon, cumin and possibly cardamon. Heavenly. He asked for it done medium and it came perfectly temped. The gnocchi that accompanied his duck were light as little pillows, just like they’re supposed to be but not how they usually are.

My rack of lamb was beautifully presented, with the nicely-Frenched bones standing straight up on the plate. I requested it medium-rare and one chop was medium, the other 2 medium rare. It came plated some sort of delicious blueberry sauce (I’ll admit that I hardly glanced at the menu description, as I’d originally ordered the scallops), which I loved, and a small mix of grilled vegetables (green beans, zucchini) and smashed potatoes, which honestly got lost on the plate. The rack was very, very good and I’d recommend it to any lamb lover out there.

A huge pet peeve of my husband’s and mine is when they offer to clear one person’s plate while others at the table are still eating. I wasn’t expecting this to happen here but, sadly, it did. The spotty service overall is really our only complaint of the evening, because the food and atmosphere were terrific and all of the staff very friendly.

As a side note, my husband and I are partial to Chef Philippe Forcioli’s restaurants. We had our official date at his now-defunct Rockford restaurant, Cafe’ Patou. Patou was a quirky, intimate French restaurant with fabulous food, so we were sad to see it go. We’re thrilled we finally got a chance to check out Philippe’s newest venture and were not disappointed.

We didn’t really have a chance to check out the little market area they have, but it looks to be filled with a number of things, including wine. We also love that they strive for using organic, local and sustainable in their food and concept, so that’s a huge plus. I read a number of GreenFire reviews this morning on Yelp, UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor and am surprised by the number of people that think GreenFire is overpriced. In my opinion, if you’re looking for fabulous food that supports everything mentioned above and done uniquely and well, then a little higher price is to be expected. There are very few places currently in the Rockford area that serve duck, elk, boar and foie gras and if you want a restaurant to truly raise the dining bar, you should expect to pay a bit more for it. Abreo and Social are 2 other Rockford restaurants that we really enjoy that tend to be a little higher-priced but well worth it.

Also, no, I did not take any photos to share. I had no intention of dragging my camera, lenses and lights there, just to take photos that could possibly do the plates justice. I’m pretty sure my phone camera, in a dim restaurant, was not going to suffice. If you want to check out some truly fabulous shots of GreenFire’s restaurant and food, check out their Facebook page and commence with the drooling. But if you’d like a sneak peak, here’s a shot of their elk burger with foie gras and chanterelle mushrooms….

greenfire restaurant rockford il elk sliderIf they still have this the next time we visit, I think this is what I’ll be ordering. They’re also quite well known for their wood fire grilled pizzas, which are on my list to try.

Life’s too short not to eat well and remember: always support your local restaurants when you can.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

spring art scene – rockford, il

We went downtown for Spring Art Scene last weekend and had a truly wonderful evening being able to wander around and stretch our winter-weary legs.

First we stopped at J.R. Kortman Gallery where, if you’ve never been, has a ton of fun, unusual items. Then we walked over to Kryptonite Bar, where we enjoyed a cold craft beer while perusing the art. Dear Husband had a Smuttynose Robust Porter and I had a New Belgium Shift Pale Lager…both of which I recommend if you’re a beer lover.

We then wandered through the artful nudes at Irish Rose and from there we headed up to see my friend who’s a bartender at Someplace Else II.  We relaxed over a cold Corona while we caught up and then headed back down E. State St to The Office.

Once a regular at The Office, this night I was there to check out the photography of my friend John, who I hadn’t seen in quite a while. John, aka JD Nelson, had some amazing shots displayed and it was truly great to see him again. Seeing as how I’d also ordered one of his prints last fall, it was also exciting to see my choice hanging  in his show.

We bid adieu and from there we stopped over at Abreo. We’d hoped to have a chance to say hello to Paul and Karen, but they were out catering a wedding that night. We checked on a time for a table and moseyed up to the bar for a cocktail. I ordered a bottle of Harp’s and Dear Husband opted in for a Maker’s 46 Manhattan:

Terrible photo, I know. The drinks were delicious but, unfortunately, our wait at the bar grew longer…and longer…

So we cancelled our wait for a table and walked down the street a bit to check out Kuma’s Asian Bistro for the first time. Very, very glad we finally had an excuse to try this restaurant because it ended up being a wonderful dinner.

We started off with a mixed appetizer of fried won tons, crab rangoon, egg rolls  and steamed edamame, along with a Chang beer for each of us. Their menu is quite extensive but we were starving and had a good idea what each of us wanted. DH had Korean Beef BBQ and I had Spicy Calamari Stir Fry and we both had the sheer audacity to say we’d like a definite kick to our plates. Jamie, our incredibly personable server, tested our heat-tolerance level with a few well-aimed questions and she left to place our order.

The mixed appetizer was delicious – even the crab rangoon, which everyone seems to love no matter where they order it and of which I am typically not a huge fan.

The dinners were the true delight though. Both large servings came with heaping mounds of rice, kimchi and pickled Daikon radish.

I’ll apologize here for not taking any photos but I was admittedly starving and I’m pretty sure my husband was on the verge of passing out by the time we sat down to order.

Anyway, the food was divine! I had just a taste of my husband’s, but the beef was tender and the scoville level was definitely on the upper side of fiery. My dish was only 1 step down in heat but the calamari tubes, sliced into meaty slices, were cooked to perfection.

As hungry as we both were, we still weren’t able to finish the generous portions and were forced to ask for take-home containers. And most delightful of all? Mixed appetizer, 2 dinners and 2 beers came to a grand total of $50.00. We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Kuma’s.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening out. Spring Art Scene was an array of mixed media and the weather blessed us with a warm evening. I finally got to catch up with some old friends and my husband and I had the chance to experience a new downtown restaurant.