Lamb and Bell Pepper Fireside Pizzetta
I arrived at Woodinville, WA's Willows Lodge yesterday looking forward to its Happy Hour menu of garlic fries and fried calamari with Chipotle remoulade. I left obsessing about an entirely different menu item altogether: the Artisan Cheese Plate, found in the desserts, Happy Hour and dinner menus.
Mini-Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy, Fries
What happened was, we walked into our hotel room after checking in -- free room, board and food thanks to my musician husband who got paid in gratis instead of dollars -- and saw a white plate with, "Welcome Back!," written on top in dark chocolate, and covered with little bites meant to go well with wines.
I don't know about you but I think I'm an Artisan cheese plate person. I seem to go crazy whenever I'm near a platter or plate full of little bites of things, whether it's hummus, pita, and olives, or cheese, fruit, and jams with crackers and bread.
Fried Calamari, with Gremolata, Chipotle Aioli
Of course, I can't seem to replicate such plates at home no matter how often I've tried. I usually just end up littered with excess stale bread, overly sweet whole-wheat crackers, bitter fruit, and an upset stomach.
I may have figured out the formula finally. The Artisan Cheese Plate served at Willows Lodge is a thing of beauty, the perfect snack food for the many millions of times I've felt hungry after hours but not hungry enough to eat a full meal.
The stand-outs on this plate were the French bleu cheese wedge, A La Francaise crackers, and fig jam. Together, they became a culinary masterpiece. If you find bleu cheese terribly rank, it won't be when married with the succulent, syrupy fig jam. Fig jam is less sickeningly sweet when eaten with the tart, sinewy, salty bleu cheese. The crisp, unsweet, hearty cracker underneath is the perfect, neutral, sturdy texture between both worlds.
Plus, these purple grapes were out-of-this-world sweet, ripe, and juicy. I normally don't even like dried fruits, but I was wolfing down dried pear and apricot like there was no tomorrow. In combination with all these other Artisan cheeses -- a tart but creamy cheddar and a creamy, Gouda, and the smoked almonds, which taste so meaty you won't need to ever eat charcuterie.
Artisan Cheese Plate, Pellegrino