Friday, October 19, 2012

Restaurant Love and Autumn Dinners

I keep a mental list of restaurants that I want to go to in my head.  Whether it be from passing one while visiting a new town, or word-of-mouth, or articles in the Dining&Wine section of the New York Times, I store and file and save until the right time.  Most of these places are far-ish away or fairly expensive, so they're stockpiled in the "Special Occasion" section.  Now, these could be family and friends birthdays, winning the lottery, new job, passing a test, knowing someone who passed a test, buying a new pair of shoes, parallel parking perfectly on the first try, or having the same day off as your best friend.

I've been eyeing Deanna's in Lambertville for a couple of months now.  I go to Lambertville/New Hope on a fairly regular basis, and thought that I knew every restaurant in the area...until my dad and I accidentally turned down the wrong tiny little street at the end of town and I saw an old fashion "Bar" sign and another advertising handmade pasta.  As soon as I got home I did some research and discovered Deanna's.  It wasn't the menu that won me over (though the over half-a-dozen fresh made pasta dishes did help a little), but the photos - Deanna's tiny, yet cozy space is transformed into a whole new space for every holiday.  It looked warm, welcoming, and intimate, and I immediately fell in love.  And then stored it in the little filebox in the back of my mind.  Until yesterday...

It happened to be a "Having the Same Day Off As Your Best Friend" occasion, and Chelsea and I headed into Lambertville to walk around on a beautiful, warm autumn afternoon and, of course, eat really good food.  And Deanna's was on the top of the list.  The orange twinkle lights and giant skulls decorating the exterior had me a giddy mess before we even got in the door (if I haven't already mentioned it, I'm a Halloween junkie.  I can't get enough.) For our date night, Chelsea and I sat at a small table in the bar area, under screaming banshees, surrounded by cobweb curtains and intricately carved pumpkins and masked, antlered, sparkly half-naked mannequins.  And one of the specials that night was pumpkin ravioli with a walnut alfredo sauce.  Which I of course had to have.  Unique, inviting, fun atmosphere paired with phenomenal, fresh, delicious food?  What more could you ask for?

If you asked for a store front in the next building that sells Deanna's pasta and sauces, then your wish has been granted.  Chelsea and I popped our heads in to check the place out, with no intention of buying anything, and I left with a dozen pumpkin ravioli.  Part of it was a spontaneous, over-excited purchase, but a much larger part was me wanting to try my hand at recreating a vegan version of the wonderful dinner I had just eaten.  Which, I'm proud to say, tonight I did just that.  I didn't want to be a complete copy cat, so I added rosemary and sage to my sauce to create deep, earthy flavor that I thought would pair well with the pumpkin.  The only thing that I'd do differently would be to grind the walnuts up finer, there were too many chunks which didn't add anything texturally to the dish.

Vegan Walnut Cream Sauce
1½ cup walnuts
2 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbs fresh sage, chopped
2 tbs Earth Balance butter⅓ cup sweet white wine (I used an Spiced Apple dessert wine)
1 can coconut milk
salt & pepper to taste

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the walnuts flat on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with 1 tbs each of rosemary and sage.  Bake for ten minutes, or until the walnuts are brown and fragrant.
+ Once the walnuts have cooled, grind the walnuts and herbs in a food processor or small blender until it becomes a coarse meal.
+ Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the rest of the herbs and saute until they just begin to brown.  Add the wine and cook for a minute or two.  Then add the coconut milk.  Cook until it reduces a bit and thickens up.
+ Stir in the walnuts, reserving about a tablespoon for garnish.  Cook until desired thickness is reached. 
+ Serve warm over a pile of Deanna's pumpkin ravioli.  Garnish with reserved walnuts and chopped rosemary.

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