My opinions and insights about the products and services I've used may save you time and trouble before you make your next purchase or help you find that book, hotel or gadget that you've been hoping to find.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America

A pocket guide is just that, a book designed to fit in your pocket and be carried around to places where it might come in handy. National Geographic's "Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America" will indeed fit into a large pocket and is perfectly suited to tagging along on outdoor recreation trips where one might encounter birds and want to be able to look them up to help identify the species.

Because of its small size, it has some omissions, but that's the trade-off with a pocket guide versus a larger book. Read my full review at this link.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dante's Bistro Bar and Grill

I rank Dante's Bistro Bar and Grill at 567 Route 125 in Barrington, New Hampshire as one of the top Italian restaurants in New Hampshire. One of the primary reasons for this is attention to detail. Whether it is the food, the d├ęcor, or the service, everything is done to perfection.

The Menu

According to Dante's website, the recipes used in the restaurant were developed in ValCellina, Italy by the Meneguzzi family in their authentic Italian restaurant, The Spaghetti House of Montereale. For Italian food connoisseurs, that's in northeast Italy, not far from Venice. While I can't personally vouch for the Menguzzi family's Spaghetti House, I can say that the recipes certainly translate well to America.

Dante's Menu covers all the bases for an Italian restaurant: carbonara, puttanesco, all the parmagianos, gnocchi, pastas, pesto and the New England Italian favorite lobster ravioli. They also have filet Mignon and escargot. In all, the menu is broader than I am used to for an Italian restaurant, yet doesn't seem to have any weak dishes. Selecting one's meal would be difficult with so many excellent choices if not for the fact that it's nearly impossible to go wrong.

The pasta entrees are available in individual portions or family style and everything is made to order from ingredients that Dante's strives to acquire from local organic growers, including organically fed meat and fish from local farms.

Dante's even offers to accommodate special dietary needs including gluten-free meals. For the budget conscious, choose La Gondola: any three items from the broad antipasti menu as dinner for two for just $25.


On my most recent trip, our waiter was Miles, his professionalism, like everything else at Dante's was impeccable. There's nothing that destroys the ambiance of a pleasant dinner like a waiter that interrupts the table conversation eight or ten times to ask if everything's OK, especially when I'm with someone whose company I enjoy as much as my wife's. You'd be surprised at how often that happens to me. It did not happen at Dante's. Miles was attentive, responsive and friendly without being obtrusive. At hand without being underfoot. Perfect.

Food Quality

I've eaten at Dante's several times, which is prima facie evidence that I like the quality of their food. On this occasion, we started with the Pizza Crudo a Mano and the Escargot. The escargot, cooked perfectly, was served in a truffle quattro formaggio (four cheese) sauce that was simply amazing. The deconstructed pizza with cherry peppers, Prosciutto di Parma and caprese ingredients was fresh and delicious. The presentation of these two dishes was obviously well-planned and elegant. Portions were generous for appetizers.

In addition to the regular menu, Dante's offers daily specials. On this day, that included an IPA battered haddock with Tuscan fries and cole slaw. The IPA's hoppy flavor was a pleasant compliment to the fish. Again, even for a dish as informal as fish and chips, the presentation was elegant and precise.

We also chose the Frutti di Mare. The tomato sauce was a delicate compliment to the seafood and pasta instead of dominating the dish. The seafood, including the calamari rings were cooked to tender perfection. We could not find a single fault with any dish we tried.

The Wines

Dante's offers a good selection of French, South American, Californian, and of course, Italian wines at a smaller mark-up than most other restaurants of similar quality. We had the Chianti, D.O.C.G. Gabbiano with dinner. We were disappointed that a dessert wine we had tried before at Dante's did not appear on the dessert menu this time. We mentioned our disappointment to Miles and he inquired for us and was able to locate a bottle of Alcyone, despite its absence from the menu. We each had a glass which was served slightly above room temperature to bring out its aromatic nature.

Alcyone, if you haven't tried it, is an absolutely marvelous Uruguayan wine made from the Tannat grape. It is sweet and full-bodied with the most delightful chocolate flavor and smell. This unique and little-known digestif (or digestivo in Italian) is almost worth the visit to Dante's by itself. As a dessert wine, it certainly puts the exclamation point on an excellent meal.


In warmer seasons, Dante's offers outdoor seating on a covered veranda. For those who prefer a bit of competition, there are Bocce courts and horseshoe pits. For others who may be bored waiting for certain members of the party to finish a match, there's a full spa and salon, Adagio, in the same building, owned by the same proprietors.

Perfect Date Night

For date night, I'll mention that there is also a movie theater, BarnZ's of Barrington, right across the street. Guys, you can't go wrong if you take your wife to Adagio for a couples massage, dinner at Dante's and a romantic comedy at BarnZ's Cinema.

The author of this review has no material connection to Dante's, Adagio, or BarnZ's and received no compensation from them for writing this review.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: The World's Rarest Birds

Imagine holding a photo contest to get pictures for your upcoming book about rare birds and getting not just one, but several pictures of birds that have NEVER, ever appeared in a photo before. That's exactly what happened to the authors of the newly released "The World's Rarest Birds." Not only did photos submitted from around the world contain an unbelievable number of the world's rarest bird species, but the quality of the pictures received was incredible as well.

As a result, "The World's Rarest Birds" is a stunningly beautiful 360 page book with over 1000 photos and illustrations of rare birds species that we may never have the chance to see again.

Read my full review of "The World's Rarest Birds."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point

A marine science center, extensive walking trails including wheelchair friendly trails, an ocean beach, a colonial New England homestead, World War II bunkers and gun emplacements, a picinic area, excellent bird watching areas comprised of several different habitat types, and more can be found at the Seacoast Science Center a Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire. It's a great place to spend a day with the family. Read my complete review of Odiorne Point at this link.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Fly Away from Spirit Airlines

If you use an online travel booking site like Orbitz or any of the others, you'll get a list of the lowest cost flights that meet your travel needs. At least that's what they tell you. I'm not a novice flyer and I understand that some airlines have baggage fees, but I expect, at worst, a reasonable fee for a checked bag. Most airlines don't even start charging until the second checked bag. Spirit Airlines, on the other hand, charges extra fees not just for every piece of checked luggage, but also for carry-on bags. I'm only half-joking when I say that they charge extra to say hello to the airport staff.

Furthermore, if you don't book your luggage when you make the reservation, their fees increase. If you should happen to arrive at the airport without booking your luggage and carry-on in advance, they will increase the baggage fees yet again.

They also charge you an extra fee for boarding passes if you don't print them out yourself at home. There are extra fees for using their reservation center to book your flight, there is a fee for choosing your own seat, a "passenger usage" fee, an "unintended consequences of DOT regulations" fee, and many more. A complete list of "optional" Spirit Airlines fees can be found here.

Spirit Airlines says that these are optional fees. You don't have to bring luggage or even a carry-on when you travel. I suppose you can wear three layers of clothing, and stuff your evening wear into your purse and fly cheaper with Spirit Airlines if that's how you want to travel.

The bottom line is this: if a travel comparison and booking website tells you that Spirit Airlines is your lowest cost option, keep looking because they most likely are not. You can pay as much for your luggage as you did for your seat.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Review

Buffalo Wild Wings is a cross between a restauarnt and a sports bar. It has giant flat sceen televisions all over the place, and game consoles that allow you to play Texas Hold'em (for fun) or compete in trivia contests. They have a full bar, of course, and a decent if sparse menu.

As the name suggests, Buffalo Wild Wings specializes in buffalo wings with dozens of different sauces incluing Asian Zing, Caribbean Jerk, Mango Habanero, Thai Curry and one called Blazin' that will have your eyes watering before you even taste it. They're good and not your ordinary buffalo wings (although they have them, too). I won't make a specific flavor recommendation, because it all depends upon how much heat you can stand.

In addition to wings, they also have a wide selection of appetizers. I recommend the Spinach Artichoke Flatbread and the Garlic Parmesan Mushrooms.

For entrees, you can build a gourmet burger to your specification, go with a sandwich wrap, or try something like the popcorn shrimp meal. Personally, I like to order appetizers all night while watching the fights, but the popcorn shrimp dinner is served with a french fries, so it's almost like a two-in-one appetizer.

It's relatively inexpensive, but part of that may be because the portion sizes are a bit on the small size for my taste, anyway. It's a fun night out, especially if you're there to watch a particular sports event or your family enjoys playing trivia challenge games.

If you're a fan of the UFC and MMA fighting, Buffalo Wild Wings is licensed to show the pay-per-view UFC events on their big screen televisions. In my opinion, there's no better place to watch the UFC except ringside. Here's why I say that.

Find a Buffalo Wild Wings location near you.

The author has no material connection to Buffalo Wild Wings and received no compensation for this review.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: The Unfeathered Bird

This book is what I call a bad weather birding book. It is a great read when the weather makes it hard to get out in the field to go birding. Written and illustrated by a former London Natural History Museum curator (and taxidermist), The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw is full of information about the ways in which bird behavior is influenced by the structure of their bodies. It shows what is going on underneath the feathers in rich details with more than 380 illustrations drawn from actual bird specimens.

Read my complete review and see a slideshow of some sample images at this link.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Method Smarty Dish Plus Dishwasher Detergent

Before finding Method Smarty Dish Plus, I'd used Cascade Complete in my dishwasher for years. It was the only one that had done an adequate job of getting them clean. Even with Cascade, however, I've been getting a light brown staining on some of the glassware and white porcelain that can only be removed by intense hand scrubbing. I tried OXI detergents and boosters to no avail. Until now.

Method Smarty Dish Plus naturally derived dishwasher detergent tabs actually prevented the stains from occurring in the dishwasher. Glassware was pristine and spotless and the white dishes were as bright white as new-fallen snow.

I will be using Method Smarty Dish Plus from now on. It comes in tablet form, just put one into the detergent dispenser in the dishwasher.

The reason that I tried Method Smarty Dish Plus in the first place, is that I recently became employed by a company that makes one of the key ingredients and I saw the results in our labs when we compared detergents with our additive compared to those without. Lab results are one thing, but it also worked much, much better in my own dishwasher at home.

Since the removal of phosphates from detergents, I have been underwhelmed by their performance until now. While I'm more than willing to forgo the extra performance phosphates provided in exchange for eliminating the environmental harm they did, finding a new detergent that finally restores that performance without harming the environment has certainly brightened my day and brightened my dishes.

Method Smarty Dish Plus prides itself on being a "naturally derived dishwasher detergent" made from non-toxic, mineral and renewable plant-based ingredients. It is bleach-free and phosphate free, but still manages to be the best dish washing detergent that I have found.

Highly recommended.

*Disclaimer: I'm not employed or paid by Method to write this blog. I do work on the manufacturing end of a company that provides one ingredient to Method Smarty Dish Plus (and other companies for various uses), but am not being compensated in any manner by them for this blog post. I use the product, I believe in the product, and that is the sole reason that I have chosen to review it here.