Saturday, April 23, 2016

Restaurant Review: Tom's Oyster Bar

Things have Changed and it's for the Better

Update 8/3/16 below. . .

It's been years since we have eaten at Tom's Oyster Bar. While I love visiting restaurants in downtown Royal Oak, sometimes the food isn't as good as it could be, but why would a restaurant put in that extra effort when they can be jam packed every night anyways?

Tom's Oyster Bar, in my opinion, was kind of boring before. . . Now for those that really enjoy oysters that might not be the case but I like a variety of seafood and oysters just aren't on that list for me. Don't be discouraged though because Tom's is not old boring Tom's anymore. This is a new place.

I had read that the menu had been updated due to a new chef but I kind of filed that away. The impetus to go there was a gift card that I won. Yes, I won a gift card to Tom's Oyster Bar by guessing the closest number to the actual number of Flaming Spanish Coffees sold in January! 

We waited until the first night the patios were open in Royal Oak. The weather was a little crisp but still wonderful to celebrate the official end of winter! A jacket and a cocktail can always counteract the chill in the air on a spring evening.

We started with an appetizer of Calamari which was lightly battered with brown butter, mirepoix, Thai bird chili, garlic aioli and arugula. That calamari featured both rings and tentacles which I think is much better than just one cut. I loved the garlic sauce for dipping which had a little heat. I did think the mirepoix was just a tad too much as I also ordered a salad, it was more of a chopped salad than a garnish. I wanted to find my calamari a little easier but it made for a treasure hunt of sorts. I don't want to be too critical because this was still very good - perfectly fried so it wasn't too crisp or greasy.

The Caesar salad was generous with two wedges of Romaine lettuce. While I have had many wedge salads I haven't seen too many Caesar versions but this was very good as the lettuce was incredibly fresh. I can't stand a wilted salad and this structure could stand up to dressing as well as nice shavings of Parmesan. The wedges were topped with buttercrumb and two anchovies. I will confess I did not touch those little fishies but the salad was very good and I would definitely order this again.

My husband loves fish and chips and these did not disappoint him. This is a generous portion, served in a whimsical metal bucket with newspaper for decoration (it wasn't to blot up any extra grease because they were fried perfectly). Tender and flaky, this was fresh. The fries were delicious as well with a nice outside crust. I personally enjoyed the little side of coleslaw. Cole slaw is either very disappointing or very good to me. This was a good version with a cream base that had just a little bit of spice that complimented the crisp cabbage. This wasn't the least bit soggy which really emphasized the freshness of everything we were served that night.

I saved the best for last. I really thought these scallops were divine. There's no other way to describe them. First, let me start with this was a difficult decision to order these as I was torn between scallops and Fisherman's Stew (I will have to go back). Secondly, I had disappointing scallops the previous weekend elsewhere (and that's my own fault for eating at a well known chain and expecting that the scallops would be good?). These scallops were everything the disappointing ones were not. Perfectly seared on one side, wonderful translucent color that just let you know that they were going to be the most perfect texture. . . yes, that's a lot of "perfect" but it was well deserved. Not only were these scallops so very good, the plating for the entire dish made this just more than scallops and I actually enjoyed everything in that bowl. These gems sat on top of curried carrots, cauliflower (both white and purple), peas, lemon oil and cardamon walnuts. I don't even like peas but I ate every last one that was there. I was hoping for a tiny wedge of bread to scoop every last bit of the sauce that formed at the bottom. I even tried to make roasted curried cauliflower and carrots at home but I don't think I could ever get this right (mine wasn't even close).

Now, it would be completely negligent of me not to try the drink that got us there in the first place right?  While I did have a beer with dinner I thought that it was appropriate to have a Flaming Spanish Coffee to finish up this memorable meal. It did not disappoint either. I have to imagine that the rum is 150 proof to get that nice crusty cinnamon sugar rim. Often I find that coffee drinks can have an overpowering amount of alcohol that does not allow them to go down smoothly. It could just be me. I can hear the retorts right now. This drink was a nice balance and I got the warmth of the alcohol without sacrificing the good coffee flavor or that delicious sugar after-note. Good stuff.

Moral of the story? Give local restaurants a second chance. Often things change and it can be for the better. I am glad we have this place back on the radar and plan on having it be a summer hang this year. Eat local!

Update 8/3/16 

What would possess me to update a perfectly good review? More important information in the form of delicious updates! Pineappletinis! Pineapple infused vodka makes for a summer treat. . . This drink is so light and tropical without being overly sweet. Think of it as pineapple juice with a kick and just remember that even if you don't notice that "kick" it's there. This is potent stuff but oh so good!

Book Review: The Fiery Cross (Outlander Series) by Diane Galbadon

Book 5

It's been a commitment 

Even as I write this I am admonishing myself for being so whiny. As I have mentioned before, the first book is the best, but I've made a commitment to see this through. I have thought about how I would review this one because while I wouldn't recommend it, I have started Book Six - A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and it's already so much better than this one. I don't think you can actually skip this one but I would do my best to skip it.

Premise? Well that's just it. There really isn't much of one. It's set in pre-revolutionary America and it's the background for what is imminently coming. As Claire knows the history, as well as Roger and Brianna, they are trying to get ready for what is to come.

In so many ways this book is more mundane that the rest and it's almost as they get a little more boring as we continue on with the story. I'm just hoping that Book 6 continues to be better than the last few.

I can't really recommend this but I can't dissuade you either. If you are like me, and you have gotten this far, you just want to see it through.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Home: Kitchen Makeover Phase 2

Rustic Farm Kitchen

Phase 2 - Cabinets


As we progress into Phase II of this home project, I'm rethinking my label of "Rustic Farm Kitchen". Those chickens are not going anywhere but maybe it's not the defining component of what we are going to achieve here. As I look at my cabinets they may be a nod to a barn red color but the color is Emperor's Silk and really is a little brighter. I'm thinking we are going to now call this "Vintage Kitchen" or just call it "My Kitchen". My Kitchen works for me because really this is going to be more about me, and what I like, than any genre. In most situations, I don't have a label or a time period for what I do in this house. I just do what I like. Color makes me happy, repurposing makes me feel that I am at least trying to be green, and I get a kick out of old stuff.

If you are reading this for the first time and have not been following my adventure you may want to go back to Phase 1 which was all about wall color. This post today is dedicated to cabinets. Cabinets are a bitch. Yes, I'm saying bitch because they truly are. As I write this I have exactly one set of overhead cabinets done but I'm so proud of them I'm not waiting until this whole Phase is complete. Rather, my plan is to update this once they are all done. I estimate that will be at least a month. Why? I told you, cabinets are a bitch.

Now as I say that I should mention that I know I could have had it much worse. The original plan to paint over the wood was nixed after I found out most of our research demonstrated best practices that included TSP to clean them, sanding them, priming them one way, sanding them again, priming them again, sanding a final time, and then painting. Then there was talk about using saw horses to keep the doors level. It was funny, even with all these steps, the article at This Old House (which is very informative) describes this as a weekend project. I'm not convinced that it can ever be a weekend project because my first set of overhead cabinets took me more than one weekend.

After nixing the original describe plan of action above, I was going to give up but we thought about perhaps spraying the cabinets instead. In asking around on social media to see if we could borrow a sprayer, I found out from a friend about chalk paint. If you are like me, I pictured that paint you use to make a chalk board. That isn't what this is. Chalk paint is a specially formulated paint that you can use in different applications and has a chalky finish. You can then wax it to protect it for applications such as - wait for it - kitchen cabinets.

The advantage to chalk paint is that there is no preparation involved, so those cabinets that I am describing as a bitch are really not as bad as they could be. Half empty vs half full. . . I cleaned them with 409 as opposed to TSP because the idea of harsher chemicals and trying to protect the rest of my kitchen was overwhelming. I did not have to prime. Prepping was limited to filling some preexisting holes for the original hardware and sanding those small spots. The rest was really two coats of paint (some areas did get closer to three) and then two coats of clear wax with some dark wax for distressing. This still took a full weekend and some hours over the course of this past week. I write this as I am starting our second set of overhead cabinets.

Rather than complain though I'm going to rejoice. I love how these look! Technically this is not a Before and After Shot because these are two different sets of cabinets in our kitchen but it's good for a comparison.

I made the choice to not paint the inside of the cabinets. Instead we taped off the cabinets with frog tape and did the outer surfaces of the boxes once we removed the doors. Of course the green paint is not the best look and it's hard to see what the finished project was going to look like but this is the cabinet boxes before waxing, with two coats of Annie Sloan chalk paint.

Looking at this photo I realize that the macro lens was not really ideal as I took this photo from
below. I am sorry for the skewed image but you can get the idea. I also happened to notice that I'm in that reflection of the microwave and I apologize for that too. Really, after painting a kitchen I don't really look my best. 

Back to the paint. There are apparently a lot of versions of chalk paint on the market. Michael's sells their version, along with the accessories but I made a decision for this project to use the one with the reputation behind the name. I know that there are recipes to make your own by adding plaster to latex paint but when doing so many areas of a kitchen I would be concerned about matching it up every batch. Annie Sloan chalk paint is water based, with pigments. It goes on matte, with a chalky finish. There are different ways to apply it but for the look we were trying to achieve (rustic, vintage, distressed. . . ) I put this on with a soft bristle brush and rather than going in one direction we purposefully applied in different directions for texture and cross hatching. Texture is key later for waxing. Brushing took a little longer than perhaps rolling but rolling wouldn't work for this particular task or look.

Waxing is a little bit time intensive and I wanted three coats in areas that would be touched a lot, mostly the doors. I skimped with two layers of wax on the top of our cabinets. Here is a good look at the difference between the door coated with clear wax, and then the addition of the dark wax on the door on the left. After putting a layer of clear soft wax down, I pushed the dark brown wax into areas with grooves, and then wiped back until I achieved the amount I wanted. I didn't want to overdo these cabinets that they looked dingy but I did want a distressed look and to tone down the red a touch so it wasn't too bright and stark, or too modern.

None of these materials - the paint or the waxes - is exactly cheap but I think that if you are going to make a commitment to redecorate a kitchen the paint is a lot cheaper than resurfacing cabinets or replacing them. The sweat equity of priming and sanding also factored into my decision to use the better paint. I think it was a wise investment.

In speaking about investments, there was also the expense of changing out the knobs. As you can see the original hardware was sleek and modern which really wasn't going to work with our new palette or style. We chose knobs for the top cabinets rather than pulls. I actually located these knobs that have a vintage feel from Cost Plus World Market.  They have plenty of variety to choose from and they are relatively inexpensive compared to other vendors. These ran us about 4.00 each. We still will have to decide what to do with the lower cabinets as I'm going to want pulls. I was originally thinking a matte black but I think with this knob, we can go with an antique metal such as bronze if it has enough of a patina in the finish.

As I mentioned before I have one set of overhead cabinets done. I have the second overheads washed and I'm almost through taping them. The doors have already received patch for pre-existing drill holes and painting for all the surfaces begins tomorrow. I am hoping to get the majority of that work done this weekend.

Stay tuned. I will add photos once this phase is complete!