On our way back east there was a night spent in New Orleans. In less than 24 hours we took in a classic dinner, po’ boys for lunch the next day with bread pudding and beignets squeezed in between not to mention a fair amount of bourbon. Enough with the wine we were in New Orleans after all bring on the cocktails. Dinner was the highlight of our tour of gluttony where I had Shrimp Tchefuncte from the Palace Cafe. I can’t even describe it because broken down into its individual ingredients it sounds rather average and it is not average. So a couple bites into this dish I’m panicking. Can I recreate this? I must have this in my life and often! With no plans to live in New Orleans (although that is one solution) I was filling a little desperate. A quick internet search came up with both the recipe and a little history about the dish. I’ve tackled Shrimp Tchefuncte twice now and while it doesn’t match the real thing…it is my current favorite for savory spicy comfort food. Try it for yourself.
Any sanity or sense Steve and I had two years ago must certainly be long gone. If you need proof of this we thought driving from North Carolina to California would not be so bad. We’re pros at this, right? While the trip was really smooth, it was long and tedious and left us questioning are reasoning abilities about making the decision to go all the way from east coast to west for a short-term winery job.
To our credit we did try to plan things to do along the way to break up each day a bit. This is easier planned than executed as more often than not we just didn’t have the energy to take a big white van off the interstate to track down the local charm. That said there were a few highlights. We visited Stonehill Winery in Missouri. Way, way back, 1800’s back, Missouri had a fantastic wine industry. Today they have a surprising number of wineries producing lesser known grapes / wines that are well suited for the climate. We bought a bottle of sherry- our first. Next up was barbecue in Kansas City at Gates Bar B.Q. where much of the restaurant was shrouded in smoke from the pit. It was obvious that half the customers eat there weekly and the other half stagger in as if on a pilgrimage to a distant, holy land.
That was about the extent of our tourist stops on our westward trek. We did visit pals in Denver and met their adorable little boy. With a little luck we made beers happen with our wildland firefighter buddy as we passed through Winnemucca, Nevada. He is good at being anywhere and everywhere in the American West. I’m not sure how he has such mastery over his geography. It is a mysterious combo of truck, helicopter and I suspect nose wrinkle.
Just before reaching our final destination we spent a cool (literally- there was snow at elevation) weekend in Tahoe. This was a favorite spot of mine from our 2009 travels. With my foot swelling (sting ray) and weekend crowds on the trails, we kept our hikes short and our vista lingering long. For such a touristy area somehow parts of the Tahoe area manage to be not only bearable but actually pleasant. With a mellow weekend behind us we rolled on into northern Sonoma County and a tiny but just right apartment on a big ‘ol hill overlooking the Russian River Valley. More to come!
Is it possible to have a one night stand with a restaurant? Oh yes, it is.
Looking for adventure and whatever comes our way, we left Gisborne and drove three hours south to Napier. Napier is not much larger than Gizzy but it feels very different. Thanks to a 1930’s earthquake much of the city was reconstructed in the Art Deco style. Interesting I guess but it doesn’t really turn me on.
Being located squarely in the prosperous wine region known as Hawke’s Bay gives Napier a little of that Napa style charm with numerous little gallerys selling expensive artisan jewelry. That’s nice and all.
Driving into town we made eye contact. You were hanging out there on the corner, just beyond the posh boutiques, nearly in the shadow of the Pak’n Save. Red checkered curtains, the outside painted up like the Italian flag, no Cuisine reviews for you. Your sign had me at pizza and pasta. A brief discussion and knowing nods followed about how that would be the place for dinner.
We checked into our room, went to the uber-hip cafe for a late lunch, cruised the galleries, all in an effort to make the hours pass quickly until a reasonably hour was reached for us to settle in at Antonio’s.
Nervously we approached the building. It looked empty. With our luck it had probably been closed for months. No, whew, it was only the curtains blocking the people. We entered. Even with the door proped open on this fall evening the place still felt like a sauna. Counter, kitchen, take-away area and tables were all there in one open room. A large pizza oven with no apparent venting reigned over the cooking area and created the sauna sensation with a smokey haze from the baking pizza dough lingering just above our heads.
We were seated. We were blessed with an overwhelmed waitress leaving us lots of time to linger with the menu. I hate being rushed through the ordering process. I need to consider all my options. After much deliberation, Steve picked a spinacci pizza. I went with chicken cannolini. Hearty Italian red wine for Steve and the East Cape’s own Tolaga Bay merlot for me.
As we waited for our food, we realized this was our first dinner at a restaurant since mid-January, and here is was mid-April. Take-out or in Kiwi speak, take-away is the thing to do in Gisborne. We did this a fair amount. Take-away fish-n-chips on the beach with a bottle of bubbly- lovely! And Gisborne does have a couple nice restaurants. I never went to them. I have no love for fine dining. I do love good food but nothing leaves me less satisfied than spending heaps of money on fancy food.
What Gisborne and our lives have lacked for the past few months was a place like this. I must admit Lexington had plenty of good, cheap eats. I do miss that, good food without any mark-up to pay for tasteful decor or an ocean view. Old wine bottles holding candles and vintage Italian posters gave Antonio’s a grungy charm that would make me a regular for years to come- except I don’t live in Napier, New Zealand. So for me amore it was one night only.
The evening ended with strudel and more conversation. A dreamy discussion about our completely wonderful honeymoon in Italy and how a future crazy scheme must include a lengthy stay there. And that strudel, what a lovely apple, almond, creamy concoction that was.
Oh Antonio’s, I will always love you.