Yang Wedding Banquet in Taipei

We were fortunate to be part of Andy (yang1815) and Sugi’s wedding banquet in Taipei last weekend. Here are some pictures from the banquet (especially the food!), which was hosted at the very nice Regent Taipei Hotel.

Andy and Sugi pose with their nephews in the greeting room just outside the banquet hall. We had met the middle of the three nephews at the wedding in Maui last year and enjoyed meeting the other two on this trip. 

There was a large ice sculpture of two cupids about to kiss, melting quickly underneath the lightbulbs. It wasn’t until the way out that someone pointed out to me that the “male” cupid was anatomically correct and, I suppose, less well endowed after two hours than he was at the start of the banquet.

Andy’s father speaks to the guests while Sugi’s father, Sugi, and Andy sit at the table and await the first course. Chinese banquets are elaborate affairs. Usually about a dozen courses and great care is taken to choose the best (read: “expensive”) ingredients as a matter of showing a good “face” to the guests. The Yangs certainly were outstanding hosts as this was one of the finest banquets I’ve attended and every course was impressive. Here they are in the order they arrived.  

The first plate (everything at this banquets was plated for us, not served off common platters) was an appetizer salad of smoked goose breast. The orange ingredient is a kind of solid “cake” of fish eggs, if I understand correctly, the saltiness of which paired nicely with the tender, smoky goose.

The next course was a small bowl of slightly sweet mochi (sticky rice) dumplings with longan fruit. This was an interesting dish that is similar to desserts I have eaten in Thailand. It seemed strange that something dessert-like would be served as a second course, but the dish was tasty. 

Third course was abalone. This is one of those big-ticket ingredients that impresses guests and this particular succeeded in doing so. The abalone was tender and flavorful, a really good example of why the price tag is so high. 

The fourth course was braised scallops. In general, scallops are one of my favorite ingredients and these particular scallops were cooked really nicely. 

The next course was shark’s fin soup. Yes, this is an unpopular ingredient these days as most shark fins are harvested in a horrific manner. While I don’t know the source of these particular fins, I can say that this was the best shark fin soup I’ve had. Normally, the fins are cut into very thin strips and the broth is murky with cornstarch. This was a clear-broth soup and the fins were in large pieces. A good example of why this dish is considered a must-have on Chinese banquet menus. 

The sixth course was steamed sea bream with scallions. Chinese know how to cook fish and this captured the reason why: steaming keeps the fish moist, captures all the sweetness of fresh seafood, and avoids overcooking.

The seventh course was braised pork tendons with okra and chestnuts. The gelatinous texture of pork tendons doesn’t appeal to everyone, I’m sure, but it is hard to beat the flavor! 

The eighth course was something I’ve never seen before, a pork chop that has been cooked confit style and crusted with what I swear were Doritos and corn flakes. The meat was tender and very tasty. Definitely unusual. 

The ninth course was a chicken soup made with “black bone” chicken. This type of chicken has black skin but tastes like any other chicken. One truth, though, is that chickens in Asia (in general, and Taiwan in particular) are so much tastier than the chickens in the United States. The broth had the type of flavor that you always imagine chicken soup should have, but rarely does. 

The tenth course was a small bundle of glutinous rice with Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and lotus seeds, steamed in taro leaf. This is a dim sum staple and provided a little starch to help fill you up, just incase the previous nine courses had left you hungry! 

 

The eleventh course (the first dessert course) was actually two types of pastries, the left one filled with sweetened daikon radish and the right one filled with barbecued pork. These are familiar to anyone who goes to dim sum.

We concluded with a platter of fresh fruit, something sweet but refreshing to conclude the banquet. By this point, nobody had the appetite to do more than just nibble!

Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and thanks to the Yangs for their very generous hospitality! 

 

Horsing Around in Omaha

While in the US, we flew back to Kansas City for a few days visiting family, then drove to Omaha for two nights to visit Andy and Sugi, whose wedding we had just attended in Maui. To make the trip even more fun, we brought my six- and nine-year old nieces along. The main event: ride one of Sugi’s mother’s horses.

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On the three-hour drive north to Omaha, we skirted around a rather imposing storm front, managing to stay dry most of the way. The first evening at Andy and Sugi’s house was a bit of a challenge as the girls were supposed to share a bed but the younger one takes a long time to fall asleep. Her older sister couldn’t take it, so decamped to our bedroom, where we set up a comforter, blanket, and pillow on the floor.

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The next day, we headed to Sugi’s parent’s house outside of the city. Sugi’s mother has three horses, one of which is very gentle and perfect for children to ride. When we first came into the barn, I think the girls were a bit apprehensive. The older one, Emily, is a little more reticent than her sister, Ava. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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We each took turns saddling up and riding for a little bit, first in the indoor riding area and then outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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Don’t I look like an old pro? (Photo courtesy of Andy.)

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We had the girls wear a helmet for safety’s sake. Their reactions to the horses were interesting to watch.

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If you aren’t familiar with horses, I can understand how you would be a little in awe of them. They’re awful large, especially when you are a child.

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We pose with our ride and Sugi’s mother, Myra. Many thanks to her and her husband Mike for their hospitality. The girls had a great time and helped brush the horse after the ride.

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Andy and Ava seemed to be the perfect foil for each other.

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We stayed for dinner at Myra and Mike’s house, which was a mixture of foods (including grilled items!) that included several things that spoke to Myra’s heritage growing up in a Japanese-American household on Hawaii. There were a few dishes that the girls were unfamiliar with, but for the most part they gamely gave everything a try.

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After dinner, it was some time for Dance Nation!

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You can probably guess which song Andy and I were dancing to.

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Sugi and Emily share some dessert at brunch the following morning.

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After brunch, we went to the old Union Station in downtown Omaha, home of the Durham Museum, a science and technology museum geared towards children. The station’s lobby has wonderful period sculptures, including this businessman reading the train schedule.

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Downstairs at the station, there are several refurbished train cars you can walk through, to give you a sense of what life was like on the Union Pacific line back in the day.

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Everyone enjoyed hanging out in the lounge car.

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In the science part of the museum, we enjoyed an exhibit about puzzles. This one involved four people working together to raise and lower a “hot air balloon” to land on targets on the landscape. Each person controlled a rope that was attached to one of the four sides of the balloon. It took a lot of cooperations, communication, and coordination in order to land on the targets.

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Ava and Uncle Tawn pose next to a sculpture of a soldier and his sweetheart waiting for a train to depart.

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Ava and Andy got along quite animatedly.

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It was a fantastic two days in Omaha and I hope Andy and Sugi weren’t too overwhelmed by our nieces!

 

Andy and Sugi – The Wedding

Last Sunday fellow Xangan Andy was married to Sugi at the King Kamehameha Country Club on Maui. I shared one picture a few days ago, but let me share a few more for my family and friends who know the couple.

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Beautiful view of the wedding site, which offered a sweeping vista from one end of the Maui neck to the other.

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The flower girl (Sugi’s niece Taylor) and ring bearer (Andy’s nephew Cayden) needed a little encouragement.

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The bride is escorted by her father, Mike. As soon as she started down the aisle, tears started flowing. And lest you think that Andy is some tough guy, he started crying, too.

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Sugi and Andy exchange rings. A Shinto priest from the temple close to Sugi’s family’s house in Pa’ia performed the ceremony.

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Sealing the deal with a kiss. The flower girl, Taylor, is barefoot because she said her shoes hurt her feet.

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The newlywed couple walk down the aisle.

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The bride’s sister and matron of honor, Jessica, escorted by the groom’s best man Travis. The flower girl is Taylor, Jessica’s three-year old daughter.

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The bride’s mother and father. Beautiful Japanese-themed dress and cloak!

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The bride and her nearly 95-year old grandfather, who was the hit of the party.

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The couple immediately after the ceremony!

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Tawn poses with the flower girl while she still had her sandals on!

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Andy W (obscured by request), Kenny, me, Tawn, Sugi, Andy, Fei, and Travis. Fei and Travis went to high school in Omaha with Andy.

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The groom and bride address the guests. I was the emcee for the event and, with only a short while to practice, had to introduce all the out of town guests and family members!

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The beautiful wedding cake. They went for a small cake because the main desserts were pie including my favorite macadamia nut cream pie!

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Tawn and I pose with one of the cutest children at the wedding, Chinasa. The friend of Sugi’s college roommate, Chinasa was this perfectly calm one-year old who didn’t mind everybody holding her. No fussing, no crying. But she kept a poker face the whole time and was slow to smile!

It was a beautiful wedding – one of the nicest I’ve been to – and we were really glad we made the effort to fly over to be a part of it. Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and may you have many happy years together!

 

Rehearsal Dinner on Maui

It is our last evening on Maui. I’m a bit bloody, bruised, and battered from kayaking in the ocean in the cove outside Sugi’s aunt’s house. More about that soon. Nonetheless, it has been a lovely trip and I’d like to share some pictures with you.

We arrived in Maui last Thursday. Andy and Sugi’s wedding was Sunday afternoon and in lieu of a rehearsal dinner on Saturday, Sugi’s family invited the out of town guests to their oceanfront home in Pa’ia, on the north shore of the island.

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The family compound, which is where Sugi’s grandfather Ohata originally had his medical clinic and home, faces onto Pa’ia Bay with a view of Kahalui and the ‘Ioa Valley in the distance. Pardon my clumsy stitching in the above photo. At least, you have an idea of how spectacular the view from their backyard is.

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There were at least thirty guests from out of town. With Sugi’s more immediate local family members, the crowd was close to fifty. One of the first orders of business was to rehearse the wedding ceremony, which the celebrants did on the lawn.

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While everyone practiced, I shot some pictures, including this cute three-year old who is the daughter of Andy and Sugi’s friend Linda, who was also the wedding’s photographer. June, being the daughter of a photographer, was ready to strike a pose on request.

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The sun was still strong at this point in the afternoon – going on 6:00 – so Tawn was seeking whatever shade he could find.

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After the rehearsal, the tiki torches were lit and the luau began. Above, Tawn poses with the bride and groom to be, Sugi and Andy. To their left are another pair of Xanga friends, Andy (ungrandvoyage) on the far left and Kenny (kenpcho) second from the left. Andy has always kept his identity hidden on Xanga (sound familiar, Matt?) so he asks that we obscure his face when posting pictures that include him. Tawn and I have met Kenny a few times before but this was our first time meeting Andy.

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Several adorable children running around. In addition to the photogenic June (center) we have Sugi’s niece Taylor on the left and Andy’s nephew Cayden on the right. I enjoy watching children interact, especially young children as they can so easily play together and so easily ignore each other.

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Another shot of the children, who were helping Sugi’s youngest niece, Malia (in the yellow outfit), as she wobbled around the yard.

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We also met Sugi’s college roommate Amaka and her adorable baby Chinasa. Chinasa was so cute because she was totally willing to be held by one stranger after another without fuss, but she looked at each one of us with this poker face, as if she was trying to size us up without revealing her feelings.

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As the sun set over west Maui, the photographer has Sugi and Andy pose for some photos. While the sunset was subdued that evening, the pictures turned out well and – most importantly – we had a very Hawaiian welcome that made all of the guests feel very much a part of the family.

 

Omaha

Before heading to Kansas City and the craziness that two young nieces can create, I drove north to Omaha for two days of acclimating to the American Midwest with Andy and Sugi.  (Better pics of the events on Andy’s blog.)  Since we first met a year ago when we were in the Omaha area for our wedding, Tawn and I have enjoyed having the opportunity to see Andy and Sugi several times, including in Taiwan last November.

Thursday evening shortly after I arrived, we headed out to Shucks Oyster Bar and Fish House to join Sugi’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece for Thursday Fish Taco Night.

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A dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Delicious.

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Fried fish tacos (also fried shrimp tacos) had a nice batter with just a hint of spice.  Different from the Baja-style fish tacos that I’m used to from San Diego, these were very tasty, too.

Thanks to a Tylenol PM, my second night in the US was a good one, sleeping straight through for about seven hours.  Sometimes I find that the best way to fight jet lag is to beat it into submission with some medication.  Sugi and Andy had both taken Friday off from work and we had a full day planned.  But first, some breakfast.

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Baily’s restaurant specializes in Eggs Benedict, including this type with a slab of tomato and thick slices of smoked bacon.  The eggs were perfectly cooked with a firm white and a golden liquid yolk.

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Our first stop was the Strategic Air and Space Museum a few miles west of town.  The museum focuses primarily on the history of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the operational establishment in charge of America’s land-based strategic bomber aircraft and nuclear missiles until 1992, after which a military reorganization led to the closure of SAC.

As an aviation enthusiast, I found the museum very interesting.  Even people who aren’t so interested in aviation – Sugi, for example – enjoyed the visit as we went on a docent-led tour with Bob, a former Korean War pilot who had a wealth of information and a cute sense of humor.

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Andy and Sugi in front of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane which is dramatically displayed in the museum’s entry lobby.  The museum has two hangars with about two-dozen aircraft displayed, many of which have been expertly restored.

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C-47 Skytrain, the military version of the classic Douglas DC-3 passenger aircraft.  Over 10,000 were built for World War II and General (later President) Eisenhower identified the C-47 as one of four pieces of equipment critical in winning the war.  The other three were the jeep, the bazooka, and the atom bomb.

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B-1A Lancer – This bomber was actually one of four prototypes built to test all of the systems before full production of the bombers – redesignated the B-1B – began.

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F-101B Voodoo – an all-weather fighter/interceptor designed to protect America from incursions over the North Pole from Russia.  Was also operated by the Canadian Air Force.

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B-17G Flying Fortress – A heavy bomber that was critical to America’s success in World War II.  More than 12,700 were made and more than 4,700 were lost in combat missions. 

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B-25N Mitchell – A medium bomber that was made famous by Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo, a 1942 surprise attack by 16 B-25 bombers launched from an aircraft carrier hitting five cities in Japan.  The success in this attack helped lift the sagging American morale in the wake of Pearl Harbor and damaged morale of the Japanese civilian population, who had been told that their homeland would never be reached by bombers.

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After a few hours at the museum, including a disturbing special exhibit about the Nazi’s eugenics experiments and extermination programs, we drove further west to Lincoln and visited the James Arthur vineyards.  Yes, wine in Nebraska!

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The tasting room (and the winery behind it) is located atop a small hill with a cute garden around it, the perfect place for an afternoon tipple.

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We tried tastings of a half-dozen different wines along with a sampling of local cheese produced by the University of Nebraska’s agricultural department.  The best of the James Arthur wines were the semi-sweet whites, the grapes of which are well-suited to this climate.  The reds were not as good.

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Beautiful skies and rolling fields of corn and soybeans lent a pastoral look to the passing landscape.

After the wine tasting we drove to Sugi’s parents’ house on the north side of Omaha.  Sugi’s sister was celebrating her birthday and I was fortunate enough to be invited along.  They live on 20 rural acres with a sweeping view of the countryside.

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Sugi’s mother prepared an elaborate dinner including baked lobster tails, grilled beef teriyaki, and clams boiled in a garlic-sake broth.  She didn’t want any pictures taken, but Andy and I both managed to snap a few shots.

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Sugi’s mother is passionate about horses and has two that she trains and shows.  Taylor, her niece, loves the horses and they seem equally fond of her, following her from the barn to the exercise yard.  They probably know that she usually comes bearing carrots!

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Taylor riding bareback on Callie, a beautiful 13-year old mare.  Lest you worry for her safety, Callie’s grandfather was standing in the back of the picture, cleverly hidden, holding her leg.

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Cowgirl Taylor is eager to ride the open range.

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Sunday morning after another relaxing night’s sleep Andy, Sugi, and I went for breakfast at WheatField’s, a local chain of German bakery restaurants.  The selection of baked goods was overwhelming.

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The cute indoor patio seating area, which was a bit over air-conditioned.

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Wanting to enjoy some fresh seasonal fruit I had the peach crepes for breakfast.  As pretty as it looks, the dish was a little disappointing.  The flavor was very one-dimensional and about one-quarter of the plate would have been more than enough.  The yogurt they drizzled on top wasn’t substantial enough to add anything to the overall flavor.

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Andy ordered a seven-piece serving of Ron’s Honey-Drizzled Fried Chicken.  It was really well-prepared and the honey does add a nice touch.  You’ll be glad to know that Andy did take a few pieces home.

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Sugi’s choice was probably the best – half egg salad and half chicken salad with a side of homemade chicken mushroom soup.  You can tell how cold it is in the dining room by noticing that a skin was already forming on the soup’s surface.

After that filling breakfast I hit the road for the three-hour drive back to Kansas City.  Thanks again to Sugi and Andy for a wonderful start to my visit.

 

Food in the US – Lidia’s Kansas City

While I don’t have a lot more pictures to share of things we did in the US, I will share a series of entries about some of the food we ate.  I’m a big believer in the value that a good meal adds to your life.  Not only quality food and careful preparation but also good company, all of which are necessary to really eat well.  This first entry is about Lidia’s Kansas City, the first location of several restaurants opened by Italian grandmother and public broadcasting celebrity Lidia Bastianich.

Andy already wrote about this meal, so if you read his blog as well, you’re in for a rerun especially as his camera is better than mine.  Nonetheless, humor me with this entry.

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Lidia’s was the location of our wedding reception last August.  It is a charming space in a converted freight warehouse adjacent to the rail yards across from Union Station.  Service is great and the food is prepared with a lot of attention and love.  Just the kind of place to celebrate our union.  In fact, the waitress who served us on our most recent visit turned out to be one of the waitresses who had worked our reception. She was very excited to see us back and took good care of us during our meal – a good reminder of why it is always a good idea to treat servers very well.

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Andy and Sugi made the drive down from Omaha to visit us and spend the night in KC.  While I grouse in my entries about the feeling of having to make lots of appointments and visits with people while we’re in the US, that really doesn’t apply quite as much when we’re in Kansas City, where most of the people we know are family.  Andy and Sugi feel just like part of the family and seeing them was one of the highlights of our trip, and a reminder of how much we miss close friends while we live overseas.

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A Friday evening, it seemed appropriate to begin with drinks before moving on to a really nice bottle of wine.  I’ve recently decided that Campari and soda is my new apéritif of the moment – the bitters are nicely refreshing.

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Lidia’s features a nice selection of homemade bread, including some of the lightest breadsticks I’ve ever enjoyed.  The menu includes seasonal selections with an emphasis on locally grown produce and meat.  There is a three-course fixed price menu for $32 which is a good value given the quality of the food.

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Choosing from three “primi” or first-course offerings, I enjoyed the Montasio Cheese Frico.  Kind of like a quesadilla made without the tortilla, the frico has potato, leek, and in this case lump crab fried with melted cheese until crisp.  It is then topped with a light salad.  Very refreshing and flavorful start to the meal.

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For my “secondi” I chose the Battutina of Veal.  As the name implies, it is a battered (pounded) veal steak that is fried and served with broccoli, prosciutto, and a Taleggio sage-tomato sauce.  Despite its tenderizing, the veal wasn’t all that tender.  It was very flavorful, though.  In hindsight, I should have enjoyed the risotto with Gorgonzola and pear instead.

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Andy enjoyed a wild boar ravioli.  Lidia’s gets bonus points for all of their pasta being homemade.  An excellent touch that makes all the difference in terms of taste and texture.

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Another option on the menu is the bottomless tasting of a trio of pastas, the selection of which changes daily.  Servers bring pans around, refilling as long as you’d like more pasta.  Of course, no obligation to take seconds, but if you want just a few more bites of your favorite, of course that’s okay!

Today’s trio included a spinach linguini with shrimp and tomato sauce, a rigatoni with butter and herbs, and a wild mushroom ravioli.  All were very nice – my favorite was the mushroom ravioli. 

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Why is it important to treat your servers well?  Because when you come back next time they treat you well in return.  After we ordered dessert, our waitress brought us a plate of homemade cookies, candied orange peel, and vanilla gelato.  Yummy. 

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We split two desserts including this very good tiramisu.

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We also had this Torta del Mascarpone, a Mascarpone cheesecake with pistachio crust, vanilla rhubarb, and salted pistachio brittle.  I’m a sucker for anything with rhubarb in it.  Beebop-a-reebop rhubarb pie, if you know that reference.

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After dinner Tawn, Sugi, Andy, and I posed for a picture against the original brick wall of the freight warehouse.  Interesting artwork on the wall, eh?

It was a wonderful dinner with wonderful company, followed up by some more wine and conversation at the Trio Cafe on the Country Club Plaza.  As we called it a night, the freezing rain was coming down.  By the time Andy and Sugi dropped us off at my sister’s house, the first flakes of snow were falling.