Out of the Fire and Into the…?

Having long heard of Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal, I decided an extensive review was in order. Their proximity to Seven Springs Resort seemed to position them as an off resort dining alternative, and I had planned to make several visits to thoroughly check them out. My thought now is that one visit will be quite enough.

The restaurant is housed in a large lodge like building which sits a bit off Route 31 in Donegal and can be a little hard to find if you’re not sharp-eyed. The renovation resulted in a dining room that is sophisticated and a bit rustic. I arrived at 5:00 (opening time) on a Sunday and the restaurant was already filling up. A seat at the counter of the semi open kitchen afforded me a view of the back scenes action. The restaurant is BYOB, and not having planned ahead by purchasing a bottle of wine, I settled for a Labatt Blue which I just happened to have in my car. The menu is not huge and seafood is well represented, as you would expect from a restaurant that bills itself as Fresh Fish Fine Dining. Since this was planned as a multi visit review, I decided to graze on several appetizers for my meal, figuring this would give a nice overview of several dishes.

First up was the Hummus Tasting ($10), three different hummus recipes served with warm Herb & Manchego Flat-bread and a Greek cucumber salad. The standout of the trio was the Roasted Garlic, Basil & Artichoke Hummus. The roasted garlic gave the hummus a richer, deeper flavor than the usual raw garlic version. The flat-bread was served properly warm and the herb oil it was brushed with had a nice nose of basil. However, the manchengo seemed missing in action and the salad was totally flat unless a good chunk of feta or one of the Kalamata olives was in the bite.

House Smoked Salmon Platter ($13) was served next. The salmon was perfectly smoked but I was puzzled by the glaze. It appeared to be Balsamic but it was lacking in acid and aroma and instead just came across as a nondescript syrup. If indeed it was supposed to be a Balsamic reduction, perhaps it was due to using a commercial product that I spied in the kitchen as opposed to making it themselves from a high quality vinegar. The salmon was served with a crispy flat-bread, haphazardly cut chunks of pineapple, sliced strawberries, strips of sun-dried tomatoes, and a creamy dill sauce. I failed to see the logic of the sun-dried tomatoes and the fruit was pedestrian. The dill sauce was marginally successful in providing some needed acid for the salmon, but it lacked any herbal note, possibly due to using dried dill. If it had been prepared with fresh it probably sat too long as there was no brightness in the sauce at all.

The final appetizer was Seared Sea Scallops ($10) with Ginger Infused Bamboo Rice, Spicy Pickled Carrot Salad, Sweet Thai Chili & Mandarin Glaze. The sea scallops were perfectly seared and seasoned and were served on a lump of glutinous rice. I’ve never understood the fascination some chefs have with sticky rice. In my opinion, its major virtue is that it can be molded into shapes. It has none of the perfume of Basmati or Jasmine rice unless you add flavor to it, and in this case I failed to detect the “infusion” of ginger which would have accomplished that goal. The Spicy Pickled Carrot Salad was insipid and could not be called “spicy” in any sense of the word. The Thai Chili was a bottled preparation available off the shelf and the Mandarin Glaze appeared to be the same basil heavy herbed oil which brushed the flat-bread served with the hummus.

I was seated next to a nice older couple from Chicago and observed their meals also. The Seared Sea Scallops & Jumbo Lump Crab Angel Hair Pasta looked palatable but appeared pretty light on the promised yellow and green squashes, and the roasted tomatoes. The gentleman did seem to enjoy it though. The lady was served the Pan Roasted Jumbo Lump Crab Cake which appears on the appetizer menu. I swear, I have never seen a more monochromatic dish served in my entire life. Picture a brown, spherical crab cake served on a brown roasted corn puree surround by brown spherical sweet potato hush puppies. Simply unbelievable!

Additional observations left me even more disillusioned with this restaurant than the food I had already been served. For example, I noticed even though they have white tablecloths, they top them with paper! If a restaurant can’t afford to replace a tablecloth between turns they might as well dispense with them altogether. It reminds me of covering the “good” couch with plastic slip covers. It was also disturbing to see the grill cook using the same holding rack for seafood as he used for meat. Even forgetting the potential for cross contamination, there is no way the lamb rack won’t pick up a hint of fishy odor through the course of the evening when placed in the same spot as raw fish. Another health code violation is the handling of raw food with bare hands unless it will then be cooked. Personally I’ve never been a stickler for this rule, but it is pretty stupid to do it in an open kitchen in front of customers. One of the more popular dishes leaving the kitchen that evening was the Grilled Crab Stuffed Maine Lobster Tail. No amount of micro greens, chutneys or whatever could disguise the fact that this was simply a frozen rock lobster tail filled with crab cake mixture, a “dish” you can find in a mediocre seafood house in the country. I’d be embarrassed to put this on the menu of a restaurant that bills itself as Fresh Fish Fine Dining.

One further incident reinforced my decision never to return to this restaurant and it concerns the subject of corkage fees. Corkage fees were originally designed for customers who wished to bring a special bottle of their own wine into a restaurant which served wine. The restaurant would charge a fee partly to make up for the lost revenue and partly as a charge for the labor involved in serving the wine, providing glasses, etc. I was discussing this issue with the gentleman sitting next to me and I made the point that I thought it was “cheap” of Out of the Fire to charge me the $2 corkage fee for my beer when they had provided no glasses or ice in “service” for that fee. I was not complaining, simply observing that after spending $33 on food, the additional $2 for “allowing” me to drink my beer was a little “cheap” Unfortunately the saute cook had to mutter under his breath “Yeah, it’s cheap”. I don’t know if he was agreeing with me or if his meaning was that it’s only $2. To me, it doesn’t matter. If he was agreeing with me he should be reprimanded for bad mouthing his place of employment. If he disagreed he should have remained silent. Either way, it’s highly unprofessional for an employee to interject a comment into the conversation of the patrons. Overall, this is one more restaurant in a long list which aims too high and misses by a wide mark.

Out Of The Fire Cafe on Urbanspoon

Impromtu Rainbow Trout

Planning the perfect meal is half the fun of cooking. Finding a recipe, shopping for the best ingredients and choosing a wine is to me as enjoyable as the meal itself. However, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of meticulous pre planning and must improvise. Yesterday was a case in point. While at work, my friend Jim brought me two beautiful freshly caught Rainbow Trout of about twelve inches in length. Normally I would have taken the trout home, planned the meal and prepared them the next day. However, I had plans for dinner the next evening (review to follow) and  since there was no way I would let those trout sit more than 24 hours (or freeze them) I decided to prepare them with the ingredients I had on hand. Unfortunately, the pantry was pretty bare and I had none of the items you would initially think of when preparing a mild fish, as for instance fresh herbs and lemon. What follows is the result.

 

Impromptu Trout

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Rainbow Trout
  • 6 Scallions
  • 2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Orange
  • 2 tsp Herbed red wine vinegar*
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Gut and clean the trout, leaving the head and tail on. Wipe dry.
  3. Clean scallions, mincing about 2 TBS of the green tops, leaving the remainder whole.
  4. Cut 6 half circles of the orange, reserving the remainder.
  5. Squeeze the juice from the remaining orange sections into the cavities of the trout.
  6. Place the minced scallions and orange slices in the fish cavities.
  7. Coat the trout on all sides with the olive oil and place on a bed of the reserved scallions on a baking sheet.
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Bake the fish according to the Canadian Cooking Method**, 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness, measured at the thickest part of the fish.
  10. Sprinkle the fish with the seasoned vinegar and serve.

 

 

 

* The herbed red wine vinegar is one I make myself. It is flavored with orange peel, garlic, fresh rosemary, black peppercorns and hot peppers. I will post the recipe or the version I make is available for sale at Route 31 Bike, Board & Ski, Somerset, PA.

 

** After 35 years in the restaurant business, I rarely time my cooking, rather I cook “till it’s done”. However, the Canadian Cooking Method is very reliable and I often use it in recipes or when I cook whole fish. In 1959 the Canadian Department of Marine Fisheries started publication of the Canadian Fish Cookbook, a mostly forgettable tome except for the technical aspects of cooking fish. James Beard, a veritable god in culinary circles, often quoted the book and he brought the method to my attention through his writings. The method is simple. Measure the fish at it’s thickest part and calculate 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of thickness. Calculate exactly, neither rounding up or down. For example, a fish 1 ¾ inches thick will take 17 ½ minutes to cook. It doesn’t matter if the fish is baked, broiled, fried, or whatever. It will take 10 minutes per inch to cook it perfectly. Naturally, if you’re cooking a thicker piece of fish (½ “ or larger) and the heat source is from one side (broil or grill) the fish should be turned half way through the cooking time.

 

Wing Wars:Morguen Toole Company

Although aware of the Morguen Toole Company, I had never been there before joining them for their Yuengs and Wings night this past Wednesday. I became aware of this wing night by stumbling upon their website, and although put off by the sloppy writing (there’s a difference between your and you’re) and punctuation, the photos intrigued me enough to check them out. Why would I, or you for that matter, care about grammar errors on a website? It’s relevant because when a restaurant sets a high bar of expectations, attention to detail becomes critical. In this case the website foreshadowed my entire experience.

Wing Wars:Morguen Toole CompanyMeyersdale, Pennsylvania is an old coal mining town best known today as the host of the Pennsylvania Maple Festival and for it’s location on the Great Allegheny Passage, a 135 mile hiking and biking trail. The downtown area is filled with late 19th century buildings, one of which houses the Morguen Toole Company at 130 Center Street. I approached the main door of the beautifully restored building and found it locked. After a bit of looking around, I found a sign directing me to the Alley Entrance, which is indeed back an alley. Unfortunately, once inside I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. It looked like a service entrance with no indication of where the bar was. I did hear some music, so I followed the sound to where I found what appeared to be a dining room with a sign instructing me to wait to be seated, so I waited, and waited, and after waiting some more, I wandered into the bar where I found the first indication of life, a bartender. Yuengling was advertised as the special so that’s what I ordered, and since I was the only patron in the bar, it naturally arrived fairly quickly. The beer was $3 and served in a pint canning jar, a hackneyed idea that makes no sense to me, especially in an operation that is attempting to be upscale. I guess the ceramic mugs below the bar were just for show.

The rooms are quite impressive, cavernous and loaded with original architectural details such as stamped tin ceilings, brick walls and wooden floors. Exposed utilities alludes to the industrial history of the building. The bartender informed me the pub side of the building had been a tool company and the dining room side a morgue, hence the name Morguen Toole Company. A menu was presented and I was informed that as they were conducting cooking classes that evening, the items listed would be all that would be available. I really didn’t have a problem with the limited menu as I was interested in the wings, but I was put off by the fact that the menu was a simple computer print out with no effort to present it as anything other than an after thought. Every bar I’ve visited has made the effort to at the very least add some graphics or color. Even laminating the menu would have been better than a plain sheet of copy paper. The menu listed 10 wing choices, with the “wet” and “dry” listed separately. The names “sounded” more interesting than many restaurants, but there were no descriptions and the prices were steep for an advertised “special”. The cut (1 section) wings were listed at $4.49 for 6 and $7.99 for 12, and that’s without celery or dressings. I ordered 6 of a dry rub listed as Mojo and 6 of a wet Chipotle-Sangria. The wings arrived quickly and I dug into a Mojo. Whoa! The wings were so salty I could barely eat them, and they exhibited none of the flavors I would associate with Mojo. Mojo is a Cuban marinade or sauce for grilling (primarily pork) where the predominate flavors in most versions are garlic (lots), cumin and citrus (usually orange). I picked up none of these flavors, though admittedly, it was hard to get past the salt to discern what flavors were there. If the chef was attempting to do something other than a Cuban Mojo, a description on the menu would have alerted the diner to that fact. The Chipotle-Sangria wings were better, though not what I had expected given the name. Chipotle peppers are smoked Jalapeños and although there were some smoky notes in the sauce, there was no heat at all. Also, Sangria is red wine with oranges and lemons, but the sauce offered no hint of citrus. The wings themselves were also a problem. Although not overcooked to the point of turning the meat into jerky, they were very dry. They had none of the juiciness of the better wingsin other restaurants, and I suspect this was due to using IQF wings opposed to fresh. Overall, this was a very disappointing experience. The owners have put a lot of money into this operation and they are trying to be upscale, but their lack of attention to detail will likely doom them to failure. I would like to think the Yuengs and Wings night was an anomaly since they were holding cooking classes, but I would have to think twice about making a trip to Meyersdale again based on this experience.

THE RATING
Cooking: The wings were edible but dry, likely frozen. 4
Varieties: The 10 varieties showed imagination but there were no descriptions. 5

Value: $7.99 a dozen with no celery and dressing for cut wings with $3 pints? 3

Enjoyment: The great atmosphere couldn’t overcome the substandard wings at a high price. 3
OVERALL: 3.8
Morguen Toole Company on Urbanspoon

The Alley-Central City, PA-Wing Wars

The Alley, located on the historic Lincoln Highway at the intersection with Route 160, was the next battle scene of the Wing Wars.The Alley gets its name from the fact that the building originally housed a bowling alley, and although the lanes are long gone, the sports theme remains. The huge building houses numerous pool tables, game machines and one of the few golf simulators you’ll see in the area. The bar was fairly crowded, mostly with wing eaters, but I managed to find a seat between two lovely ladies named Wendy and Wanda. And no, they weren’t twins, nor had they met prior to that evening. With no Labatt on tap, I ordered a 20 ounce Yuengling for $3. The friendly bartender quickly brought the beer, but unfortunately it was served in a flimsy plastic cup. I was a bit puzzled as there were numerous glasses on the bar, including one in front of Wendy. The bartender was a bit vague as to why this was, but it boiled down to that they “were busy”. If a bar wants to serve in plastic, that is their option. However, they shouldn’t pick and choose who gets served glass and who gets plastic. The Alley-signAnyway, along with the beer I was given a menu and informed it was wing night. Wing night at The Alley means half off the menu price of wings. Since the regular price is $5 for 6 wings and $9 for 12, this made the price of 6 FULL wings $2.50! Celery sticks and dressing are available for 50 cents each. Another pleasant surprise is that they have no minimum order. You can order 1 wing (for 50 cents) or six different varieties to get the half-dozen price. From the 16 choices on the menu, I ordered 3 each of cayenne and Alley BBQ. The wings arrived quickly, and I dug in. The skin betrayed the fact that they had been “double dipped”, but not to the point of turning the meat into jerky. The sauces were both good, though not remarkable in any way. I would have expected more heat from the cayenne and the Alley BBQ had well-balanced sweet and sour but had no real depth of flavor. Over all, these were very good wings at a super price. Getting to Reels Corners is a bit of a drive for me, but I wouldn’t hesitate in the future for this wing night.

THE RATING

Cooking: Very well cooked even though they had been “double dipped”. 9

Varieties: 16 varieties is a bit above average and the descriptions are good for extra points. 7.5

Value: $2.50 for 6 full wings is fantastic. Adding another buck for veggies and dressing drops it a bit to “very good”. 9.5

Enjoyment: Over all, very good wings and great service. Lost points for the plastic cups though. 8

OVERALL: 8.6

The Alley on Urbanspoon