Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tray Chic: Lunch at Jean Robert’s Table

The afternoon lunch rush just got a little more chic. Jean Robert’s Table recently began serving a tray lunch Monday through Friday – a $14 meal including a soup, salad, savory dish and dessert. No substitutions allowed and no reservations necessary.

The tray program is promoted as a quicker, more efficient way to have a full meal without overextending your lunch hour. With all four courses served at once you’re free to set your own pace once the tray has arrived. It’s the water slide rather than the lazy river.

Don’t be fooled though, as with any meal at Table, careful prep and excellent ingredients make up each dish. If it’s truly speed that you need, grab a sack of coneys from down the street. But if you have a full lunch hour to spare, a seat at the Table bar is waiting for you.

I stopped in on a work-from-home day this week. I may have been there a little bit late in the lunch time frame, and it was a rainy afternoon, but everyone around me seemed to be lingering rather than rushing back to the office. I probably spent a full hour in the restaurant from the time I took my seat at the bar to my exit back to the cold, drizzly sidewalk. I wasn’t in a hurry.

As promised, four courses arrived at once – a mushroom soup, salmon salad, duck confit and a small square of flourless chocolate cake with a pillow of white chocolate mousse propping up two slivers of strawberry on either side.

What do the French do to potatoes that makes them so much better than potatoes? I have my suspicions.

I started at the soup and worked my way counter-clockwise to dessert. Portions were just right, and my petite dessert was a perfect way to end my meal without sending me careening toward a 3:30 sugar-induced nap. I left completely satisfied and just $14 poorer – for a weekday lunch, it’s a great fine dining option without the fuss.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Getaway

I spent Monday afternoon and night at the Inn at Cedar Falls nestled into the heart of Central Ohio's Hocking Hills. It's an adorable, rustic-yet-sophisticated inn and restaurant with a cluster of cottages and cabins. Alex and I spent a night off the grid in said adorable cottage with no internet, TV or cell reception. It was glorious.

A full post is on the way, in which I will describe how I overcame my fear of ticks and tasted some of the best mushrooms I have ever put into my mouth. For now, take a look at my photos from the Inn and the surrounding area. And then maybe turn off your computer, phone, TV, and find a place to kick back for a while. I promise it's not as scary as it sounds.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shooting Your Food

Restaurants are pretty much the worst when it comes to photography. Anyone who has pulled out an iPhone at a mood-lit bistro to snap a photo of her dish knows this. Extreme low light and colored light sources can make the most mouth-watering entrĂ©e look disgusting in a photo. For examples, please look at any picture I ever took at Bootsy’s.

A big DSLR fares much better in low light, but say goodbye to anonymity when you pull it out in that brand new restaurant. And don’t forget that you’ll have to haul it around through sessions of pre-dinner cocktails and whatever you’re doing after dinner.

It’s a no-win situation.

In recent years though, compact camera makers have attempted to load point-and-shoots with specialized modes for low light situations. Higher end compacts offer bigger sensors with better light-gathering potential, but they also cost about the same as an entry-level DSLR.

Sony’s WX9 attempts to fight the good low-light fight at a reasonable price. I was recently invited to test it out with a group of food bloggers in San Diego over two days of diet-busting indulgence.

We photographed a lot of food that was styled specifically for our needs as eaters and photographers. Therefore, what you see here could be thought of as somewhat a-typical of normal dining circumstances. We had lunch under the open sky on the beach. This is not how I usually photograph food.

But putting that aside, it was really, really fun. The WX9 will make most of your photographic decisions if you want it to, and it generally does a good job at getting things right. You think less about your settings and more about how you want to compose your shot, and then more importantly, how you want to get the food on your plate into your mouth.

We were also turned loose on a farmer’s market in Oceanside. Note that in the image below hot oil had soaked through the napkin and was scorching my hand. I kept still anyway for the photo.

Like most other point-and-shoots, the Cyber-shot WX9 fared very well in the ample sunshine of the farmer’s market. A lot of food bloggers aren’t going to do much editing or tinkering with settings anyway, so it might be ideal for the person who wants to snap a photo and move on to the next one.

We were also provided with plenty of interior lighting during dinner – all twelve courses of it. Chef Chris Ivens-Brown, VP of Culinary Development at Compass Group prepared a beautiful meal for us to capture with our cameras and our forks. It was a delight.

Dinner was served at Sony’s San Diego headquarters in a lovely dining room on a top floor, providing us with the opportunity to use the camera’s Sweep Panorama mode. This is a feature that Sony pioneered and now offers on nearly every Cyber-shot camera. You’ll press the shutter and pan the camera across a horizontal or vertical scene while the WX9 captures a handful of rapid-fire images and then stitches them together to create one panoramic image. It’s intuitive and mindlessly easy to use.

As point-and-shoots go, the WX9 has a lot to offer at a tasty price. For my money, it doesn’t solve the low light problem, but it is a lot of fun to use. And here’s the better news – Sony has provided me with a Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 to give away to a lucky Chickpeas, Please reader! Leave a comment on this post and tell me about what you most like to photograph and you'll be eligible to win. I'll keep the contest open through a week from today - Wednesday May 18, at which point I'll randomly pick a winner. Good luck and good shooting!

Disclosure: Sony paid for my travel to and from San Diego, ground transportation, two nights at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and all of my meals over the course of the trip. The WX9 camera I used was mine to keep when I went home. A review of this camera was published on Digital Camera Review where I'm the site editor – we did not keep that product sample, and we never keep the cameras that we review.