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Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year Starting at Gruene Onion Grill 2010

Hi Boys & Girls!

I am sure 2010 has been a tough year for you as it has for millions of citizens.There is a universal feeling of insecurity and trepidation of our economic future and our leaders. This has not been a good year for those on unemployment and those losing homes. The wars in which our country is engaged still continue and we continue to lose young men and women in what seems like hopeless battles. What are we really fighting for? So, many of us have lost hope and excitement for the future. But it is New Year's Eve! There must be some hope! We must celebrate and wish for the best for it is tradition. We never give up.

This is New Year's Eve! I decided to try a restaurant in New Braunfels for our New Year's Dinner.
The Gruene Onion Grill has been open for a few years and usually has really great food. We wanted to give it another try and bring in the New Year at a local establishment.

This classic restaurant has a great Martini Bar and Happy Hour every  day. It is hip, modern and lots of great food. http://www.grueneoniongrill.com/ I remember when it first opened the chef actually waited on tables sometimes to see and experience his customers. Although upscale, we were not out of place coming in our jeans and boots. The atmosphere is relaxed and low-keyed.

Tonight's celebration dinner was a reservation only affair with 2 seatings...one at 5 pm and another at 7 pm. We chose the 5 pm seating. We had a nice booth and a very nice waitress. We chose our wine and indicated we wanted a leisurely dinner...not hurried. The wine was a fine choice...a good Merlot. The menu started  with several choices of appetizers. Roberto chose the chicken crepes and I chose the fried shrimp.

The chicken crepes had a teriayaki sauce and were rather tasty. They were served on a bed of greens...spinach I believe that was pan fried. The shrimp had a lot of breading and was also served on a bed of pan fried spinach. They were very tasty and had a full body shrimp flavor. The pictures do not show the actual colors of the crepes and the shrimp. It was a tad dark in the restaurant, even at 5 pm. The shrimp was a rich pink and the chicken crepes were rich brown in sauce and fillings. The spinach was a vibrant green and obviously very fresh.
I was disappointed that the spinach had to be fried but it did look pretty on the plate. I ate it and it was good. I had not finished my appetizer before the dinner salad arrived. That sort of set the pace for the rest of the dinner. I paced myself and made sure I did not put my fork down which would indicate that I was finished with my portion. As I mentioned earlier, the waitress had been informed that we wanted a leisurely dinner.

The dinner salad was nondescrip with the exception of chopped pears which was a nice touch. Pecans and cheese added texture along with the salad greens. It was nice not having just regular iceberg lettuce. The dressing was a blueberry vinegrette. The color was not pleasing and the flavor was basalmic vinegar with no hint of blueberries.

I tried not to put my fork down but I can only keep that up for so long. Along comes the main course before I was finished with my salad. I asked the waitress to keep it warm for I was not finished with my salad. She complied. That should have given her a big hint. One nice touch was the sherbert served with our salad. We were told that would cleanse our pallet for the main course.

We had a choice of several items for the main course. I chose lobster and tenderloin; Roberto chose salmon with shrimp. The salmon was served with risotto cooked with sun dried tomatoes.  Asparagus and fresh carrots accompanied both entrees.

The lobster came with twice baked potatoes. Roberto's salmon was very delicious. Moist and cooked to perfection. He was not crazy about the risotto for it was cooked the traditional Italian way...very moist. My tasting of it only imparted these feelings...the sun dried tomatoes were too large and were not soft. The risotto was cooked to perfection but the sun dried tomatoes should have been chopped smaller and the flavor was a bit bland. It need something...basil? Tarragon? I am not sure...it was not cooked in chicken broth that is for sure.

Twice baked potatoes were starchy but had a nice crisp topping. The skin of the potato looked like a baking potato but the texture of the potato was a bit gloo-ey. I imagine the potatoes were whipped too much. Here is a good recipe if you like twice baked potatoes. http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/twice_baked_potatoes/

The asparagus was small but flavorful. Asparagus is out of season so I asked the waitress its place of origin. I also inquired about the lobster and its place of origin and whether it was farm raised or fresh.

OK, the asparagus came from Mexico. Since I had no way of knowing if the asparagus was free of  pesticides, I did not finish them. http://green.yahoo.com/blog/daily_green_news/332/the-new-dirty-dozen-12-foods-to-eat-organic-and-avoid-pesticide-residue.html

The lobster came from Maine and the waitress confirmed it was farm raised. That explained the perfect tail and the perfect fit on the plate. It could also explain the toughness of the lobster meat. Was it steamed and kept warm to be heated in the microwave when ordered? Did they have it prepared prior to our ordering?

Wine was still in our glass when the champagne was poured. That indicated the dessert was on its way. So, we finished as much as we wanted of our main course and just accepted the fact that dessert was soon to come.

I ordered tiramisu and Roberto ordered chocolate mousse. I must admit I am rather proud of my own accomplishments in both these recipes so the standard has been set. Tiramisu is a combination of sponge cake or lady fingers that has been soaked in a liqueur and combined with sweet whipped cream, mascarpone cheese, coffee, coffee liqueur, cinnamon and cocoa powder or a combination of similar ingredients.

As you can see, the presentation of the tiramisu is outstanding. Upon closer inspection, you will see the ratio of ladyfingers to whip cream is out of proportion. Maybe there were 2 full size ladyfingers in this dessert. They were soaked in kalua. The whipped cream tasted fresh and not canned. If you would like to give this recipe a try, please do. You will love it and I can almost guarantee it will taste better that what I experienced. I have made this for many years.
4 fresh eggs
1/2 cup Tia Maria or brandy
1 lb mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pckg stale ladyfingers
1/2 cup strong espresso
2 1-oz squares semisweet chocolate
Separate eggs into two large bowls. Add liqueur to egg yolks and stir until blended. Add mascarpone; stir until blended. Add half of egg whites to cheese-egg yolk mixture and blend well. Then add rest of egg whites and fold in gently. Set aside.
Dip ladyfingers quickly in espresso. (don't sturate them.) Place flat side down in shallow dish (10-inch round or 9-by-12 inch oval.) Add half of the cheese mixture and smooth the top. Grate half of chocolate over top, covering surface. Then add another layer of espresso-coated ladyfingers. Top with remaining cheese mixture and smooth the top. Cover with remaining chocolate. Refrigerate finished dessert, covered, several hours or overnight before serving. Recipe courtesty of Nora Ephron, director of Sleepless in Seattle.

This chocolate mousse was a disappointment. It was dry, heavy and tasted like chocolate pudding. If you love mousse, you know it is supposed to be light and airy. It was served on a fried won ton wrapper.

So ended our New Year's Eve dinner. It may sound like a total loss. On the contrary, the dinner was a delightful way to end 2010 and bring in 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.
Is that what is happening to restaurant dining? Are the old standards of pride and cleanliness passe?
(The waitress clearly needed a clean uniform.) Is fancy fried fideo mounted on a plate meant to enhance the dinner plate or to hide the food's imperfections?
Clearly, this restaurant has a mission. Maybe I am from the old school but I do not believe in ever turning away customers. During my seating there may have been a total of 18-20 people. Four sets of couples were turned away during our meal. Either they did not have a reservation (clearly, there were plenty of empty tables) or the price discouraged them. In any event, hundreds of dollars walked out the door.

So, enjoy eating out but do not lower your standards. Expect only the best effort of any cook or waitperson.
Remember food is to be enjoyed. Eating serves two purposes: nourishment for our body and nourishment of our soul. Food is beautiful and meant to lift our spirits.

 Share your favorite restaurant with me. Why do you like it? What is your favorite Twice Baked Potatoes recipe? Have you tried Tiramisu?

Until next time, call your mother! Ask her for a favorite recipe she always made for you!

                                                            Happy New Year!

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