Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fra-gil-e. Must be Italian.

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season!  Christmas is one of my absolute favorite holidays (it's about equal on my list to Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's Day), so I've been reveling in the holiday spirit, starting well before I headed out of SC a few days before Christmas.  Believe it or not, I'm still trying to use up the rest of my giftcards that I won last January.  I discovered that one of them was going to expire before the advent of 2012, so I called up R and we headed to use that one up at Ristorante Divino.

As you might have gathered from the name, Ristorante Divino serves authentic Italian food.  And by "authentic," I mean that the chef / owner is from Italy.  Right on.  The restaurant is tiny - like maybe 15 tables in the entire place.  We didn't have a reservation - it was the middle of the week, so we didn't think we'd need one - but we probably should have.  I absolutely adored the atmosphere.  It was intimate without feeling crowded, dark without being overdone.  I personally wouldn't have gone to dinner wearing anything less formal than what I had on (I had come straight from work), but there were other people there in less formal attire.  I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, but there was a sign at the hostess stand that asked that cell phones not be used in the dining room, a directive I was happy to comply with.

We were seated right away, and our server came over almost immediately to take our drink orders.  After perusing the menu, we each decided to start with soup.  R had the soup of the day, which was a wild mushroom dish.  It was incredible.  The flavors were spot on.  It was rich, creamy, and delicious.  This was probably one of the best things about our meal that night.  I had the lobster bisque, which was equally rich and creamy.  There were huge bits of lobster in it.  I very strongly considered a) licking the bowl and b) using the fresh bread on the table to sop up every last bit of soup.  In the end, I did neither, as I do, on occasion, have a wee bit of class and know how to behave properly.

The pace of dinner was great, as we had a few minutes to relax and chat before our entrees arrived.  I ordered the linguine ai fruitti di mare, or for those of us who don't speak Italian, seafood linguine.   It had shrimp (which I picked out and gave to R), scallops, calamari, tomatoes, and garlic in a pinot grigio sauce.  The entire plate was also ringed with mussels.  I really wish I could have taken a picture of this dish, because the presentation was beautiful.  It tasted as good as it looked.  The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the tomatoes and garlic created a great flavor.  The pasta was a perfect al dente, which is huge in my book, as I despise overcooked pasta.  It really was a deceptively simple dish.  Everything complemented everything else and tasted absolutely divine.

R ordered one of the specials that night, which I believe was trout.  It was served with mascarpone mashed potatoes and a red wine sauce.  R enjoyed it.  The fish was perfectly cooked, and the mashed potatoes were out of this world.  They were creamy and a little bit tart, as you would expect from potatoes made with mascarpone.

And of course, no meal would be complete without the perfect dessert.  I had the cheesecake (of course).  It was creamy and awesome.  It came with a drizzle of raspberry sauce and fresh berries.  It was a rather large portion after a huge dinner, but the berries were the perfect way to end the evening.  R had a grilled chocolate pound cake with whipped cream and berries.  It was a much lighter choice than my cheesecake, but again, for me, the berries were the standout.

Once again, I enjoyed a fantastic meal at a locally owned Columbia restaurant.  Anyone who tells you we don't have a food scene in this city must not be looking too hard.  Ristorante Divino is just another brillant gem that Columbia has to offer.  It's probably not much of an everyday spot, as it's a bit pricey, but I would definitely head there for a special occasion.

Final Rating

You can find Ristorante Divino on Facebook, or on the web

Ristorante Divino on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DRY Soda - Product Review

I'm officially the worst product reviewer in the world.  My sincere apologies to the lovely people at DRY Soda who sent me drinks to review almost three months ago.

Back at the beginning of October, the sweet people at DRY Soda emailed me to ask if I'd like to review their product.  DRY was just launching a new flavor, and were doing so while they were part of the Urban Outfitters Store on Tour. The first stop on the tour was Columbia, and while I didn't make it to the event because I was out of town, I was still on board to try out the new flavor of DRY Soda.

It may seem a little odd that I decided to review a line of sodas because I'm not a soda drinker.  I might have a soda five times a year.  I think most of them are way too sweet.  I stick to water, and not flavored water either.  Artificial flavoring just doesn't do it for me.  However, according to the press release that the DRY reps sent me, their product is all-natural, contains four ingredients, and is less sweet.  The soda also comes in a variety of flavors outside the norm - no Dr. Pepper or Coke knockoffs here.  DRY has flavors like rhubarb, vanilla, and lavender, as well as the slightly more normal wild lime and blood orange.

The 8 bottles that are still in my fridge.  Maybe I should move them to the front so I remember they're there.
I was sent 12 bottles of soda (sidenote: soda in bottles!  That require a bottle opener to open!  Love it!) in flavors including rhubarb, vanilla, lavender, cucumber, wild lime, and blood orange.  I was pretty excited to try the lime and orange sodas, as those were the closest to the types of "regular" sodas I drink on occasion.  

The blood orange was divine.  I think it's my favorite of all the ones I received.  This is a flavor that I could drink on a regular basis.  The wild lime was pretty good too.  It tasted almost like a flatter (in a good way) Sierra Mist.  That's the other thing - I really like that DRY Soda seems to have less carbonation.  It makes it easier to drink.  I enlisted the help of my roommate when trying these out, and she had the cucumber flavor.  She said it was like drinking cucumber water with a splash of seltzer.  That sounds lovely and refreshing.

To be honest, I still haven't tried the vanilla or lavender flavors yet.  In my defense, I'm so used to drinking water, that reaching for something else to drink doesn't even occur to me until it's too late.  I did try the rhubarb last week, and I was not a fan.  It still had the same basic qualities of the others - less fizz, more natural flavor - but I just don't like the flavor of rhubarb.  Of course, I'm pretty sure the only time I've ever had rhubarb was in a strawberry-rhubarb pie, which is definitely not the same thing.

Despite not yet trying the vanilla or lavender, I'm pretty confident that I can recommend DRY Soda to you.  The flavors I have tried are awesome.  I love that the actual flavors are the star of the show - that they aren't masked by carbonation or excessive sweeteners.  And, for all of you waistline conscious readers, each flavor is under 100 calories per bottle.  For those of you who like to drink mixed drinks with assorted sodas, I think that DRY would be a great mixer option.  The lack of sugar and carbonation would probably even help to keep the hangover to a minimum the next day.  Included in my case of soda was a handy little adult beverage guide, detailing which flavors paired best with which liquors.  Very thoughtful of the folks at DRY Soda.  Bottom line?  If you're looking for a more natural or healthier version of your favorite fizzy drink, I would give DRY Soda a shot.

Disclaimer: While these product samples were sent to me for free, the opinions above belong solely to me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Food and Music in the AVL

I may have just had the best weekend in the history of weekends.  Excellent company, spectacular music, and amazing food.  Pretty much the Hungry Lady trifecta of good things.  So where was I, that I enjoyed such a wealth of awesomeness?  I was in Asheville, N.C. for the Warren Haynes Xmas Jam. This magnificent event is a weekend-long festival of fun and music, put on solely to benefit Habitat for Humanity.  So not only was I having a blast, I was also upping my good karma by charitable giving (no really.  In addition to the concert itself, I donated a ton of winter clothes/blankets to the Grateful Bread clothing drive to benefit the homeless of Asheville).  I had such a good time, that I'm trying to figure out if it's too early to book a hotel for next year.

So on to the main event:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Time for Thai

Ever since I moved in to her house, not quite a year ago, my roommate  has been pestering me to go to Mai Thai. I'm a big fan of Thai food, so you would think I would easily cave to the pressure to eat it.  Except that every time J invited me to go to Mai Thai with her, I always had other plans.  So, when she finally told me, three weeks in advance, that she and her girlfriends were going to Mai Thai, and she hoped I would join them, I put stars on my calendar and blocked out any other potential activities.  Really really glad that I did.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Food Truck Update

I got a comment the other day about my post from a couple of weeks ago about Saving Columbia's Food Trucks.  Sorry for not relating this info sooner....this is why you should follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  Sometimes I update those and forget to update the blog.  Oops.

Anyway.  I ended up going to the City Council meeting that was dealing with this issue, after emailing my post about it to the Mayor and Council Members.  There was quite a crowd there to support our local trucks.  First the representative from the SC Hospitality Association spoke about his concerns.  After he finished, and the Council asked some questions, 5 or 6 people spoke on behalf of the trucks.  The Free Times ran a great article about this, so I suggest that you go read it here.  Their coverage is much more comprehensive than anything I'd be able to relate.

Bottom line, there were some positive results for our food trucks.  At one of the Council meetings in September 2012, the issue will be revisited to see how the trucks and restaurants are living in harmony.  In the meantime, keep on truckin'.  Sorry...couldn't resist.  But seriously, keep an eye on each truck's Twitter feed, as that's the best way to keep track of who is where on any given day.  And make sure to let the trucks know how much you enjoyed your meal.  Feedback is always a great thing.