Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy Birthday To Us

Once a year, my side of the family gets together to celebrate our collective birthdays in one shot and that's what we did over the weekend. This year, everyone met up at our house and it was the first time I was under the gun to pick the celebratory restaurant.

The event kicked off Saturday morning with the baking of the Grandma Cake. The recipe has been handed down from my Grandma Lilly (also of Grandma Cookie fame - what can I say, we didn't come up with very clever names). It is a tricky recipe and that is mostly because you have to cook by feel. and that is never good in baking. For example, the only measured amount in the frosting recipe is for the butter. Everything else is to taste plus you have to eyeball it to make sure you have enough to frost the whole cake. My oldest brother was in charge of baking the cake this year and I was his assistant along with 3 kids. I took a few photos along the way. Here's the batter during several milk additions to get the proper "ribbon" flowing off the spoon.

Two cake pans filled with batter ready to get baked.

The frosting gets mixed up while the cake bakes. You need to frost the cake while it is still warm. The frosting came out great. The leftover was mixed into some milk for some afternoon hot chocolate.

My brother's first time using an offset spatula to frost. A butter knife is the usual frosting tool.

We piled into two vehicles and headed off to Garden Bistro 24. I figured it was a casual enough restaurant to have a few kids with coloring books and the food was good enough to make the adults happy too. For the most part, I'd say it was a great restaurant pick. Three hiccups stood out to me, and I'll detail them, but above everything else I must say I really enjoy their mussel dishes, the steak that came to the table was delicious, the kids liked the chicken fingers (house made) and burger, I thought the Merabec Salad was fantastic, frites are awesome, the staff is very friendly and my mother was happy with the vegan meal they prepared for her. So even with the hiccups, we enjoyed the restaurant.

So the hiccups...I had called almost two weeks in advance to make the reservation and make special accommodations for my mother who basically eats a vegan diet with minimal fat. I was assured it wasn't a problem and to remind the server. We did and there were a few awkward moments there where it seemed like there was going to be a scramble to get her a dinner because there is nothing on their menu other than salad for her to eat. It was awkward enough for my wife to ask me if I had called in advance to set it up. In the end it worked out nicely and she got some very fresh, lightly sauteed vegetable over a bed quinoa. Lovely. Nothing major, just a minor bump.

Hiccup number 2: We ordered a bottle of wine with five glasses. The glasses were delivered to the table and a few moments later the bottle of wine was place on the table in front of me with a - and this is a quote - "Here you go." The bottle had a twist top which had been loosened and I poured wine for everyone. I understand there wasn't a cork to present, but something slightly more formal would have been nice. Instead, it was me saying, "Hey, pass me your glass."

The final hiccup: the appetizers were weak. They aren't bad, but they aren't good either. Certainly not in comparison to everything else. Maybe it was an off night, I don't know. I've never had any appetizers there before. My wife and I split a salad, then we each get a dinner, then maybe we'll split a dessert. We ordered the Crispy Calamari and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake. If a place can put that much attention to detail into their salads - seriously the Merabec salad with a maple/mustard vinaigrette was really delicious - they can make much better crab cakes and fried calamari. The skill in the kitchen is clearly there. There just needs to be some of that skill focused at the appetizers.

Hiccups and all, we enjoyed ourselves and the night. We skipped dessert at the restaurant and headed back to the house for Grandma Cake. After singing Happy Birthday to Us, we tore into the cake. It was a good time.

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