The Gleeful Gourmand: October 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Bonefish Grill's New Fall Menu

*I was given a gift card and invited by Bonefish Grill to try their new Fall Menu. All opinions good, bad, or otherwise are completely my own.*


It isn't typical for me to seek out seafood when I'm dining out. My son is highly allergic to almost all fish and shellfish, and it's become very routine for us to not only avoid it at home, but also avoid it at restaurants (with the exception of when we're visiting the ocean). But when I was invited to try the new Fall Menu at Bonefish Grill, and read all the delicious descriptions of their offerings, not only was I enticed, but I suddenly remembered that I actually love seafood, and I hadn't had any in a very long time. "Sold!" I said to myself.

We set off for the nearest Bonefish Grill with a couple whose food opinions we really value. Bonefish Grill's Fall Menu, which you can find here, has a few true hints of Fall flavors such as pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin créme brulée, and some richer fare you wouldn't  necessarily see on, say, a Summer menu. But working with fish and Fall flavors must be a bit of a challenge because the overall vibe from their new menu didn't precisely scream "Fall!"

Our waitress was prompt and professional, and knew her wines and beverages backwards and forwards, even pausing to make sure I really wanted to switch the wine I was drinking with my meal (my pre-dinner drink was a Sauvignon Blanc, and I switched to a recommended pairing of a Chardonnay for my entrée). I appreciated that for a chain restaurant their waitstaff seemed very knowledgeable, ready to answer any questions and guide choices.

We started with their famous Bang Bang Shrimp, and the Cold Snap Fresh Ceviche. Of course the shrimp delivered in all its perfectness, but we were left scratching our heads over the Ceviche. While it was served in a creative bowl made out of ice, it seemed half-filled with strips of lettuce, and very little of the Ceviche itself. It also seemed to lack the proper seasonings, most notably hints of lime. There were plenty of warm tortilla chips, but not much to put on them.

The Cold Snap Fresh Ceviche.

For the entrée I settled on the Pan Roasted Snapper + Shrimp, which boasted broiled grape tomatoes, a scampi sauce, fresh herbs, haricot vert and an herbed couscous. I truly enjoyed my fish and the shrimp, both of which were cooked to perfection. The Snapper was tender and delicious, and the sauce was very fresh and lively. The tomatoes seemed like a bit of an after-thought, however, tossed on perhaps for a burst of color. The haricot vert were perfectly seasoned, and wonderfully crisp, but I did not enjoy the couscous. It seemed to be of the larger "pearl" variety, and I wasn't overly fond of its texture. It had a rich, sumptuous flavor thanks to either chicken broth or stock, but I couldn't help but wish it was normal, fluffy, light couscous (Disclaimer: This could just be a "me" problem. I have issues with certain textures).

The Snapper + Shrimp (L), Pumpkin Ravioli (R)
Our friends had the Vintner's Burger with house made chips, and the Malbec Marinated Steak + Shrimp. The Burger was good, made sweet with caramelized onions and a red wine jam, and tangy with Danish blue cheese. The cheese was a tad too skimpy in their opinion, but they noted that if you found yourself at Bonefish Grill and either couldn't, or didn't want to order seafood, this would be an excellent option. The house made chips were also particularly good. The Malbec Marinated Steak was very good, and had a nice flavor profile, though our friend wished he had taken the upgrade to the filet from a sirloin. The shrimp on the steak was delicious, as were the mashed potatoes, which boasted small nuggets of roasted garlic. One misstep on his dish was the succotash it came with - a mixture of edamame (we think) and corn that was terribly bland.

Bonefish Grill's Vintner's Burger with house made chips.

The only true head-scratcher of the night came with my husband's dish, the Atlantic Salmon + Bacon Jam Butter. The salmon itself was wonderful, and the bacon jam butter complemented it perfectly. The salmon was cooked to absolute perfection - moist, but crisp on the outside. He also had the succotash which he did not like at all, and a side of Pumpkin Ravioli, which was delicious. The pasta was nicely cooked and the pumpkin filling had great rich flavor without being overbearing (but we both thought the addition of the crispy sage on top was unnecessary and added nothing to the overall taste). The problem was the way it was served. The salmon and dollop of the dreaded succotash were served on an absolutely enormous plate, with both salmon and succotash shoved together to one side of the plate in a haphazard manner, leaving a huge blank space. The three Pumpkin Ravioli came on its own tiny plate. It didn't seem to make much sense - why were they on their own plate? Why couldn't they be on the plate with the salmon? And if they couldn't be there, why put the salmon on a plate that was so enormous so as to leave half blank? We may never have the answers, but it was a little bizarre, especially since up until then all the presentations of the plates were fine.

Also, as a note, two of us chose the suggested wine pairings with the entrées, and found both to be on-point with the flavor profiles.

For dessert we had the Pumpkin Créme Brulée, which was rich without being too heavy, and sinfully delicious (though we wished the sugary caramelized top had been a trifle thicker); and our friends had the Coconut Pie, which was out of this world fantastic with a buttery rum sauce.

Overall we had a grand time (thanks to the lovely company), and the food was very good. There's plenty for seafood lovers to enjoy with both their Fall and regular menus.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fall Comforts: Johnny Marzetti

The memory is very clear in my head: I'm 12 and sitting at the little table in my Grandmother's kitchen; the table that was always laden with desserts, fresh fruit for picking a quick snack, and scrumptious breakfast rolls and pastries from the bakery down the street. My cousin is there with me, and we're talking to Grammy Jeanne, immersed in a serious conversation about some current event. My Grandmother is buttering a white soufflé dish liberally, pouring in a mixture of macaroni noodles, ground beef, and tomato sauce and generously sprinkling fresh shredded cheddar over the top.

After popping it into the oven, she sits down with us to talk some more. Maybe we don't always agree, but the delicious smells overwhelm kitchen and the conversation is cordial. Right up until her death, my Grammy Jeanne loved talking about news and politics. I can see this picture in my head, and my memory lights up as I remember thinking, in the midst of serious conversation, I can't wait until dinnertime.

Johnny Marzetti
And then I flash to another memory: Coming home on a cold Fall day from who-knows-where. Maybe riding my bike, or roller skating on the street. I come to the backdoor and before I even open it I inhale and close my eyes. Onions sautéing in butter. Ground beef dusted with garlic powder. Cheese, tangy tomato sauce. My Mother is making Johnny Marzetti, working from the recipe her Mother had written out for her after she had gotten married.

Both of these memories are so strong and speak of comfort and love. And yet, when I mention Johnny Marzetti to most people, it's almost always responded to with a confused, "Johnny Marzetti, what's that?" When I explain it to them, they often correct me and say it's Goulash (it's not), glorified Hamburger Helper (Heaven forbid), or want to know why it's called Johnny Marzetti. Up until this week, I had no idea why it was called that, and how it came into existence. Well now, dear readers, I have the answer.

The year is 1896, and Marzetti's, a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio has just been opened by Teresa Marzetti, an Italian immigrant. Since Marzetti's is very close Ohio State University, it's often frequented by hungry young men looking for good, filling comfort food that reminds them of home. Realizing that these starving students also need a meal to fill up on that's cheap, Teresa concocts a dish that uses ground beef, cheddar cheese, tomato sauce, and elbow macaroni noodles. She names it "Johnny Marzetti" for her brother-in-law, Johnny, and sells it for ¢45. The dish becomes wildly popular, and by the 1920s has spread like wildfire across the Midwest (it's also the national dish in Panama - thanks to soldiers during WWII eating so much of it - but made with olives and Arturo sauce).

"Why after her brother-in-law?" My Mom asks me over the phone as we talk about how this dish got its start in our family. After all, my Mom's family is from South Jersey, not the Midwest. "Why not her actual brother, or her husband?" I don't have an answer for this, but in my head I imagine that Johnny the brother-in-law loves this dish so much he eats his weight in it, and much like me, has a reverence for it that becomes something akin to devotion; a desire so strong for this simple dish that nothing can comfort him but this. Forget your eggplant parmesan, your spaghetti, your alfredos. This dish is the pinnacle of his culinary love. So much so that Teresa is forced to say, "Wow. He likes it so much, I should probably name it after him."

My Grandmother's recipe that I wrote out exactly as she had written, and her locket. That's her and my Grandfather.

Anyway, that's the story I tell myself. My Mom vaguely remembers eating Johnny Marzetti in high school, which would have been in the early 1960s. But she has no idea how Grammy Jeanne came across the recipe in the first place. Was it a magazine or newspaper article? Had a friend or family member passed it along to her at some point? That part of the story is lost, but the point is, Johnny Marzetti became a family favorite, and it's still a family favorite today in our home. Not only is it ridiculously easy to make, but it's kid-friendly and delicious. My kids can be picky at times, but not when it comes to Johnny Marzetti. I can casually mention the name and it will be met with screams, claps, and lots of jumping up and down. I'm not exaggerating.

You know it's good because their faces are covered with it.

And yes, I realize that you could hustle your little self to the store and buy a box of Hamburger Helper, and it would be much the same, except that it wouldn't be, at all. I like picking out the freshest ingredients. I like knowing what noodles I'm using, and real cheese (extra sharp is best). I love sprinkling fresh parsley into it. No, it's not a healthy dish, but I like creating it all on my own.

You can dress it up or dress it down. There have been notable substitutions and additions (not by me, I'm a devotee to the original recipe) of ground turkey, italian sausage, cream of mushroom soup, paprika, pimentos, mushrooms and even soy sauce. You can use different noodles if you're not an elbow macaroni fan. But sometimes what's simplest is best. I give you my Grandmother's take on it:

Johnny Marzetti

2 Tbsp. butter
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 small cans tomato sauce (or 2 regular ones)
2 1/2 or 3 cups elbow macaroni
Salt & pepper to taste
Garlic powder
Freshly chopped parsley

• Sauté onion in 1 Tbsp. butter, add seasonings to taste, and ground beef. Stir fry for about 15 minutes.

• Boil noodles in salted water, drain, toss with the other tablespoon of butter.

• Add 1/2 of the grated cheese to the meat and onions and stir until melted.

• Add one can of tomato sauce to the meat mixture and stir well.

• Add the noodles to the meat mixture and blend. Place in 2 buttered casseroles. Cover each one with 1 can of sauce. Divide the remaining cheese over the top of each.

• Bake one of the casseroles at 325˚ for 25 minutes and cover the other casserole with Saran and aluminum foil and freeze for later.

*NOTES*

I typically use 1 large sweet vidalia onion. I also use way more cheese on top of the casserole that's going into the oven, and leave the one going in the freezer cheese-less. I like having freshly grated cheese on the dish.

Instead of buttering the dishes (2 8x8 pans, or one 9 x 13 if you're feeding a crowd), I like to spoon a bit of tomato sauce evenly on the bottom instead. Not only does it add flavor, but the Marzetti comes out just as easily.



Enjoy!