Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Grillin' with Friends

On Monday we had the opportunity to enjoy a little slice of summer with friends for dinner. The atmosphere, company, food and beverages were delightful.
It seems like summer goes by so quickly and we often say we wished we had more time to do things like this, so when we do we always try to enjoy every little bit.
Our host had a festive atmosphere as we arrived and fed us quite well on a menu that included chips, salsa and guacamole for appetizers, along with a carmelized onion and summer squash tart that I baked. Then we had a trio of salads, grilled asparagus, shrimp skewers and steaks. Dessert was some of Gail Ambrosius' decadent chocolates. What a perfect end to a great meal!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Badger State Trail

Tim's on vacation for two weeks so he can watch the Tour de France and not have to stay up too late on a "school night" (aka work night). When he's not watching the race, and I'm not working, we've been working on some projects around the house and riding our bikes. On Sunday we rode the Badger State Trail from our front door to Monroe, WI. We stayed overnight at the Gasthaus and then rode home the following day. Round trip it was just shy of 100 miles, including meal stops. The section of the trail that runs from the Southwest Bike Trail in Madison to Purcell Road in Fitchburg is not yet completed. The train tracks were removed a couple of years ago but it has not yet been graded. Supposedly it will be completed next year when the funding finally comes through. The trail is only about 2 years old and seems like it is not yet heavily used by bicycles. According to the website, limestone provides a hard surface...not so much. The trip south to Monroe runs at a slight incline the entire way and the gravel was so thick at times that you would spin out. It made for slow, frustrating going and a long day. 48 miles later, upon our arrival in Monroe, tired and dirty from the trail we found that our motel was at the far south end of town and not near any local dining. So back on the bikes we went in search of dinner before it got dark and we had to ride our tired butts back in the dark. The highlight of the trail comes about 4 miles south of Belleville, where there is a 1200 foot tunnel, which I found out the hard way, with my sunglasses still on is quite dark and under water at the entry. Oh well, I took off my glasses and with the aid of my bike light and a flashlight could see much better, and my shoes and socks dried eventually. While going through the tunnel you can hear the bats singing their happy songs--good to have a bike helmet on if you're scared of bats!

Nau-Ti-Gal Fish Fry

Last Friday we stopped in for lunch at Nau-Ti-Gal. Tim had the Friday Fish Fry, which comes with deep fried haddock, fries and coleslaw. I had the Hot & Cold Shrimp appetizer.

The fish fry was hot and fresh and didn't taste greasy or like the oil was old, which happens at some places when you order fish fry. It is a generous portion that will fill you up even though it's not "all you can eat".

The Hot & Cold Shrimp comes with three peel & eat shrimp and three deep fried coconut shrimp, cocktail sauce and honey mustard sauce. The coconut shrimp were steaming hot and sweet enough on their own that they would benefit from a spicy mustard sauce instead of the honey mustard. All of the shrimp were quite large and had great flavor and texture.

Paired with an ice cold tap beer or a Pirate's Blood (Nau-Ti-Gal's special Bloody Mary), it's a great way to start the weekend!
Nau-Ti-Gal on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nicoletti's Ristorante

When we travel we love to visit local restaurants, and we choose carefully because we only have so many meals to eat each day. When in St Louis we enjoy the thin crust pizza at Nicoletti's in Ballwin. On our last visit the restaurant was busy as usual, but we were able to be seated immediately. When you first enter you step directly into the dining room and at first glance it appears to be a small place. But once you look a bit further you'll notice quite a few tables in the bar area and an additional dining room off the main one. The decor is furnished with antiques and is quite charming.
While we were dining Mr Nicoletti stopped by our table to ensure we were enjoying ourselves and his food. We assured him that we were and that we stop in whenever we can while visiting town. The menu is traditional italian and offers everything from pasta to steaks. We've tried a variety of items offered but enjoy the thin crust pizza the most.
Nicoletti's Steak & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Uptown Grill

If you've ever driven from Madison to St Louis you know there's a long, boring stretch through Illinois with not much to look at, and not too many great places to stop and eat. We stumbled upon an unlikely upscale restaurant in La Salle a couple of years ago and now it's a regular stop whenever we're going through. The Uptown Grill menu is printed daily with specials featuring what's fresh and local. On our last visit I had a difficult time deciding between some of the specials but settled on a beautiful dish of mussels, one of my favorite things. They were prepared with a lemongrass sauce that was light and refreshing and had just a little kick of hot pepper added. There's always a wide range of appetizers offered, which you can make into a shared meal, or if you prefer your own dish, you're sure to find something among all the specials, salads, sandwiches and entrees made by the talented kitchen staff.
During warm months there is screened dining outdoors in addition to a large dining room and spacious bar area. The restaurant seems to always be busy with groups of all ages. The staff is well trained and the food is always outstanding. We definitely recommend you plan a visit on your next trip through central Illinois.

Uptown on Urbanspoon