Sometimes the most unappetizing thing to eat is your own words! Especially when you are not shy to share your opinions – like me. So today, instead of breakfast, I AM eating my own words…fortunately I have a nice cup of coffee to wash them down – thanks, honey!
For quite a while I have been saying that I don’t believe we have any REALLY good restaurants in Central, PA. That is not to say that there never have been…..some of you may remember The Empire in Carlisle or Brian Kent’s in Hershey….and it is also not to say that there aren’t current restaurants where you can get a good dish (dare I say even a great one), or good service, or nice atmosphere. The problem I find is that these things rarely come all at the same time in Central PA.
So when I am asked about my favorite restaurant or where I like to eat, I usually preface my answer with something like, “If you don’t mind traveling…..”. Or, my answer is that I prefer to cook at home.
You see, when you come from a family of great cooks and you yourself have a passion for cooking….you get used to amazing food at home. I certainly do not mean to brag, nor do I believe I am the best cook ever…..in fact, I know I have much to learn; but I love trying new recipes, no matter how daunting, and am blessed with a husband who will try just about anything right along with me. And the best part of cooking at home is that you get to enjoy great food in comfort!
Why am I telling you all this? Well, it is because I am now eating my words. Thanks to our dear friends, Nancy and Lowell, we have found a REALLY great restaurant in Central PA!!! Last night the four of us went to one of their favorite places – Restaurant Sidney in East Berlin.
I don’t mind sharing with you that when I get a restaurant recommendation from someone, I get a little nervous. Unless you really know what people consider “good food,” you can end up in some pretty disappointing situations. Be honest – you know people who think that getting A LOT of food means it’s good. And you know people who vote for Red Lobster in the “Best Seafood Restaurant’ category in Harrisburg Magazine’s annual Simply the Best poll. I’m not dissing Red Lobster or anyone who eats there. I am simply saying it doesn’t belong in Best Seafood Restaurant on any list.
However, after getting to know Nancy and Lowell, and learning about places they’ve lived and traveled, we were almost certain we could trust their recommendation. Whew…..we were right!
Restaurant Sidney did NOT disappoint. From the moment we walked in the front door, I knew we were going to like it. We were warmly welcomed, our coats were hung for us, and our waitress,Crista, showed us to our table. The dining room was comfortable:
- lighting – just the right level. Not glaring, so you could relax; but not too low that you couldn’t read the menu or see your food. And the oil candles on the tables were a pretty touch.
- table settings – formal, but not stuffy. I appreciate a crisply ironed tablecloth and a precisely folded napkin – thank you Restaurant Sidney for providing them. I’ve often been to restaurants where they missed the small details – the tablecloths were wrinkled, the linens stained, etc. Not so last night. I believe if you’re going to do something (like use linens), then you should do it well. I may sound like a snob (OK, I realize this whole post may make me sound like one), but “good enough” is just not good enough.
- consistency – each place setting (not only on OUR table, but on all the tables) was the same – you can tell someone took great care to ensure that each item on the table was carefully placed.
- furniture – the chairs were simple, pretty and could be in your home or mine. They gave the dining room a homey, but not too casual feel. In the rear of the restaurant, near the rest rooms, was a beautiful old butcher block table. Seeing it made me wonder about its history – about the many wonderful dishes that were lovingly prepared on it over the years.
We were first presented with the wine list and Crista explained that Tuesday nights after 5:00 are Half Price Wine Night; therefore select bottles of wine were discounted. A nice touch! Our drink orders were taken and we were given some time for conversation – THEN we were given our menus.
Crista shared soup selection and menu changes with us. Unfortunately, Restaurant Sidney did not receive their seafood order yesterday and so a few of the appetizers and entrees weren’t available. However, other items were offered in their place and it didn’t affect our meal. I was so wowed with the appetizer selections that I really wanted to order a few appetizers and skip the entree – fortunately while those gears were turning in my head Lowell told us that sometimes he orders a selection of appetizers and doesn’t order an entree. Ahhhhh, a man after my own heart! Interestingly, that’s what we all ended up doing.
We each ordered three appetizers. Nancy and I ordered wine, Lowell had a cocktail and Jeff had a beer. Crista asked us if we had a preference regarding the order in which our appetizers were delivered, but we left that up to her and the chef. While we were enjoying our drinks and waiting for our food, the chef sent out an amuse-bouche – a single, bite-sized hors d’ouvre that is not ordered from the menu, but rather is a “gift” from the chef. It was delicious – a crostini with hummus and golden raisin.
Our food came out as follows:
- COURSE 1: Seasonal Oysters on the Half Shell with sherry-vodka mignonette for Jeff, Lowell and Nancy. Goat Cheese Salad with Poached Quince, spicy pastry, prosciutto ham and caramelized port wine for me. Unfortunately we didn’t have an answer on Restaurant Sidney’s photo policy before we stared eating our first course, so I don’t have pictures to share. But I will share with you that my salad was INCREDIBLE. It was beautifully presented on a long, thin plate with the greens on one end, the goat cheese on the spicy pastry next to the greens, then the proscuitto and quince on the other end all drizzled with the most delicious red wine reduction. Mmm mmm mmm x 1,000! Although I didn’t taste them, my dining companions all enjoyed their oysters.
- COURSE 2: The soup – Veloute of White Bean with a garnish of sauteed mushrooms and brussel sprout leaves for Nancy, Jeff and me. Freshly Cut Salmon Tartar served with classic garnish, creme fraiche, and brioche toaste points for Lowell. The soup was heavenly. It had a delicate flavor and a velvety texture. You could tell it had cream in it, but just a whisper – not too rich. It was artfully drizzled with olive oil and the garnish was not only beautiful, but extremely tasty as well. Because I also ordered the Salmon Tartar, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it during our second course!
- COURSE 3: Escargots with Crispy Kale and Goat Cheese Fritters for Lowell and Nancy. Grilled Octopus with Spanish Chorizo served with crispy smoked potatoes and piquillo pepper aioli for Jeff. And the Salmon Tartar for me. Wow….when this course arrived the aromas at our table were heady. Not immediately, but after a moment, the smokiness from Jeff’s plate wafted over in my direction – ahhhh. I tasted Jeff’s octopus – it was quite tender and the chorizo was an excellent balance. I also tasted Nancy’s escargot and kale fritter. Both were terrific. When I’ve eaten escargot before, they were nearly drowning in garlic butter and the garlic overtook the flavor of the escargot. Not true last night. The flavors were subtle and satisfying. I absolutely loved the fritter. Tuscan kale is one of my favorite veggies and I was glad to see this interesting preparation. My salmon tartar was very good, but those of you who have been reading know that one of the single best dishes I’ve ever had in a restaurant was the Salmon Tartar at The Oregon Grille. Restaurant Sidney did many things well, but they did not top my favorite dish.
The bread basket was filled with several interesting selections – from the very simple to a complex corn muffin with jalepeno peppers. Only after being tempted by the oohs and ahhs of my dining companions did I even give the bread basked a glance and I wasn’t at all sorry I tried the corn muffin.
Knowing full well that I didn’t have an ounce of room for dessert, I still couldn’t pass it up. When you have a meal where every dish has amazing flavor and the attention to detail is so precise, you just cannot skip one part! At least I can’t – and neither can Jeff. We shared the Veloute of Chocolate with Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce. Nancy and Lowell shared the Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream, Granny Smith Apple Sorbet, and Caramel Sauce.
I’m quite certain my first reaction to our dessert was to exclaim, “chocolate perfection.” It was not too sweet, nor too rich and was beautifully presented in a wide-rimmed white bowl that really made the dark color of the creation stand out. I did not taste the tart, but Nancy shared a thinly sliced apple garnish with me and it was superb. It was sliced so thinly that you could just about read a novel through it. And it looked like a cross between stained glass and an angel’s wing.
Just before the check was presented, Crista brought us a little treat – a warm Walnut Financier. Oh my, a great final bite!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the service. It was superb. Crista was attentive and social, but not too much so. She was polite, but not stuffy. She remembered small details about Lowell and Nancy, who are regulars, and interjected just the right amount of humor. Our food was delivered by Crista with the help of other servers/runners. Sometimes that can be over the top and/or confusing, but it was seamless and unobtrusive. While we were enjoying our meal, Nancy and Lowell pointed out Ruth, the restaurant manager, as she stopped by the table next to ours. We were so engrossed in our conversation that I didn’t eavesdrop on theirs, but you could tell that she was sincerely interested in talking to the customers.
I am happy to report that I can no longer say there are no really great restaurants in Central PA. Restaurant Sidney provided excellent dishes, great service and a formal, but not stuffy atmosphere. We were comfortable from the time we walked in the door until the time we walked out.
After a fine meal like the one we had last night, I certainly don’t mind eating my words for breakfast. I need a low calorie start to the day!
I’d love to hear from you…..What do YOU think are some REALLY good Central PA restaurants?