Friday, August 30, 2013

An Unexpected Birthday Treat

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know these two things:

1) I've been very lazy about writing posts and 

2) I was born and raised in NJ. See this blog post for more on that...Tomato Pie, Pork Roll and Oyster Crackers

 I'm trying to get back to posting more often and I hope this is the start of that. I bring up the New Jersey connection because I spent a lot of my youth at the shore. Yes, we called it the shore, not the beach. Those from NJ will understand. Well, these days I rarely, if ever, get to the NJ shore but in the last 4 years, Cynthia and I have fallen in love with another beach community, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Just about 5 hours from our home in Northern Virginia, OBX, as they call it, is a narrow strip of islands just off the East Coast, connected to the mainland by the occasional causeway or bridge. 

That's where we recently spent 3 days celebrating my birthday. Did I mention it was one of those "round number" birthdays? The ones that seem to have all kinds of special meaning and sometimes traumatic effect? For me, this one was number 60 - or as I prefer to call it, 30 version 2.0. The trip was a bit of a last minute thing that Cynthia convinced me to do. After all, we have a week scheduled back down there at the end of September. But, it was my birthday, so I managed to rearrange some stuff at work and Cyn found a bed and breakfast willing to rent us a room for exactly the three days we needed AND allow us to bring both our dogs.

gratuitous dog picture

Our first full day was a Monday, my birthday, and after a perfect day at the beach and then an exploration of a part of the area that we hadn't seen before, Cynthia mentions, oh so casually, that she had done some research and found a restaurant that looked pretty interesting. You know, good reviews from people on Chowhound, good looking list of craft beers, solid menu - and that she hoped we could get in.

The restaurant, the Brine and Bottle, is less than imposing from the road. It's the kind of place you might ride by for a really long time without giving it a second glance. That would be a mistake. When we arrived and I say to the person who greets us, "two for dinner", Cyn manages to slip in, "we have a reservation, Cynthia and Alex". Next thing I know, we being escorted across the room to the perfect table for two overlooking the deck that sits right on the Roanoke Sound. As we're seated, I see she has that sly smile on her face giving me a look like "fooled you, didn't I?"

Then, I look down and see this.....

Note the date and the "Happy Birthday Alex". My wife had been planning this little soiree for quite some time and had been working with the owners, Andrew and Ashley Donovan, to plan the individualized six course meal with paired craft beers!

I won't bore you to death by recounting the meal blow by blow, but do know that the food was nothing short of outstanding and the beer pairings were spot on. Well, maybe I'll bore you just a bit, if only to show off the presentaion.
If you haven't had bacon jam, find some or find a recipe and make some. This rich, slightly sweet dollop of heaven is making my mouth water just looking at the picture.

Scallops can either be great when done right, or terribly disappointing when done badly. These were clearly the former. Perfectly seared on the outside and translucent on the inside they were paired with summer squash fritters that just screamed southern food. The charred tomato vinaigrette was tart and complemented them both.

Admittedly, foie gras isn't my favorite (OK, I'm a heathen, I admit it), but I will say this was prepared expertly and I ate my share, you know, just to be polite. For the record, I think Cynthia is still salivating over hers. For me, the stewed honey fig compote was the star of the dish.

It wouldn't be a southern meal without shrimp and grits, right? Well, these local shrimp were perfectly complimented by the rich cava creme and the grit cakes were a surprising and pleasant twist on the typical version.

Perfectly cooked duck breast with goat cheese spoon bread - this is about where I started to run out of steam. I wonder if the 5th beer had anything to do with that?

I rallied a bit when this inspired choice of desserts was served - watermelon brulee with a beautiful little cheese plate

Seriously, if you ever find yourself in or around the Outer Banks make a point of eating a meal at the Brine and Bottle. Thanks Andrew and Ashley!

Side note from Cyn:  These smaller, 'boutique' restaurants are worth seeking out - no matter where you are.  Usually owned and managed by dedicated and educated food people, they're working their butts off to make sure your dining experience is spot on.  Ashley was a dream to work with on this surprise for Alex, and the wait staff at the restaurant followed up with amazing service.  The kind you don't expect from a little place on the causeway to Manteo but are delighted to receive.  I didn't catch our servers name (thank goodness she wasn't required to give us the 'spiel') but she was personable, friendly and had exactly the right amount of personality while maintaining a professional attitude.  If the food didn't impress the heck out of me (and it did! Chef, you're talented!) then the service we received would have made us repeat customers anyway. Can't wait to see these guys again in late September and see what new seasonal offerings appear!


  1. What a wonderful surprise for you! Cynthia rocks! And a happy belated birthday to you. A fantastic menu.

  2. Galina, you're right about two things - it was a wonderful surprise and Cynthia does rock!


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