Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spring really IS here!

As we strolled through the Salem Saturday Market with clear skies and warm sunbeams, my heart was filled with a giddy energy. We've truly turned the corner. It's not summer yet, and there will no doubt be more rain and chill, but the worst is behind us.

My day started at Freddies as I grabbed some fuschias and marigolds, and stood in a rediculously long line to have them planted for free. It's not like I didn't have a greenhouse full of two types of potting soil and compost; that's not what it's about. Rather, it was the excitement of standing outside on a wonderful spring day and chatting with others who are likewise excited to see winter receeding from sight in the rearview mirror.

We then hit our farmer's market, and then headed out to Independence. Their farmer's market is a whole six tents sitting in a bank parking lot, but the objective for me was to get some bread from the guys who do The Bread Board. Alas, when we got there, they were all sold out (and had been for about an hour). Yea for them! They did have a few bowls of samples left, and they fed us well and we got a taste for just WHY they sold out so quickly. Every bread they had, from a sticky bun to a sourdough was fantastic. My favorite, however, was their whole grain. It has a number of toasted seeds that are included; the aroma and the taste is toasty and nutty. MMMM!

We took a turn through Running with Scissors; that store is SO adorable and has such a GREAT selection of cardmaking and scrapbooking supplies. I did what I could to support them. You should too!

The topper of the day, however, was lunch at J. Bella's. We'd driven by but never stopped, and decided to give it a try before heading back home.

Oh. My. God.

Seriously, one of the best meals I've ever had.

To start, we split the fried brie and fruit salad. Everything about it was perfect: the mix and quality of greens, the variety and amount of dried apricots and cranberries, the fresh fruits including grapes, cantelope, and strawberries. We took the waitresse's recommendation for the raspberry vinegarette, which made the bits of hazelnut encrusted fried brie just EXPLODE on the tongue. This has got to be one of the best combinations I've ever eaten under the title of "salad." So many luscious flavors. It was made all the better by sitting at a table in the front window with the sun bathing us in warmth.

We really liked the generously sized tables, and the nice spacing in their high ceilinged old building. Too many places go with small tables and crowd them in to squeeze every last cent out of the ROI--at the cost of the experience for the customer.

Scot had the Wild Mushroom Chicken sandwich. A moist and tender chicken breast with sauteed wild mushrooms was served on soft and flavorful foccocia bread with greens, onions and a home made mayo like sauce. He paired it with a side of clam chowder and, I have to say, it now knocks the chowder at Kyllos off as best clam chowder ever. A creamy (but not glue-like) base with a buttery taste and texture, lots of chunks of potato and clam. And clam. And clam. This one was different, however, as there is a fairly strong note of rosemary and thyme in it... but it was wonderful.

I had the baked chicken manicotti: tender sheet pasta wrapped around a generous portion of grilled chicken, prosciutto, spinach and ricotta. It was topped with a creamy parmesean sauce and cheese, but not so much that it was swimming or overpowered. The garlic bread that came with it was a bit odd but wonderful; instead of an airy and light french bread, it was instead made with a more dense and sweet farm style loaf, with a crisp but not deadly crust. It was very yummy, although I could see that not setting well with some who prefer less sweet bread. But it was right up my alley.

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