Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The shell of a clam....

....the claw of a lobster. - "Garbage" from Dear World.

And that's exactly what I ate! So I am currently in Ogunquit, Maine doing a production of The Sound of Music at The Ogunquit Playhouse. This place is AMAZING! The town is SO cute and is feet from the ocean. You must come check this place out.

So yesterday was our first day off since we've opened and a few of us decided to treat ourselves to a lobster dinner. Now our choices here are infinite, each one with it's own perk. Our ring leader, Adinah, picked the spot....Beach Plum Lobster Farm.

I was told to bring my own beverage and a side dish. We called ahead to place our order, two 2 lb. lobsters and an order of steamers (steamed clams), and we were told that it would be ready at 7:15. So load up the car with our beverages (beer...Shipyard Summer Ale...local, not too hoppy, clean and cool) and our sides. We head north on Route 1 about 10 minutes out of town and we pull over to this shack on the side of the road. Here we are....Beach Plum Lobsters. Literally a shack, gravel driveway with a few picnic tables. Most people probably order ahead, pick them, and take them home, but we wanted to full experience. We went inside, paid NOTHING for these lobsters. Up the street they are charging upward of $20/lb. Not at Beach Plum. $6.99/lb. WHAT?!?!?! Of course we're not sitting at a candle lit white linen covered table. But who cares, you're getting dirty wherever you eat it.

They called our name and I was handed a paper grocery bag that was heavy and steaming. The anticipation was killing me! I opened the bag and there they were...2 big red lobsters just waiting for us and a styrofoam take out container with our steamers. Because I am one of those weird eaters that likes to eat one thing at a time, I decided to start with the clams first. Delicious little jewels of the sea. Not too fishy and steamed perfectly!

Time for the lobster. I was a little intimidated but I went in with confidence and some coaching from Adinah. I think that this was my first time doing the lobster start to finish. I had the tools in my hand, the butter ready to go and in I went. It was DELICIOUS! Totally worth every squirt of lobster water that landed on me and the struggle to get through that shell. I feel pretty confident in saying that this was the best lobster I have ever had, but have to admit that I do not have much history with this crustacean.

I think doing lobster the dirty way is much better. Like I said earlier, I would have gotten just as messy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Find a new road....

....forge a new trail. - "Bounce" from Bounce.

So it's a Monday night and I'm supposed to go to Edward's again for Cincinnati Night with Tyler and Julie but because of circumstances out of our control we thought it best to not go. There is always next month! So we try to figure out where we should go and then I remember that I had promo from Blackboardeats.com to Marc Forgione. We quickly whip out Tyler's iPod touch and find out where it is...only a block away! Great!

We walk up to a dimly candle-lit space that matches the address. We're sold. The very nice hostess seats us at a table and we tell her about the Blackboadeats.com code and we're all set. This place is so warm and rustic and cozy and sexy. Exposed brick walls, chunky wood tables, big lanterns with large pillar candles hang everywhere, a wall behind us with shelves holding antique odds and ends, a mini exposed "kitchen" acts as a waiter's station, shelves held up with industrial wires holds the wine glasses. It feels like home, yet industrial. We all approved.

We are greeted by our waitress, Erica, who we fell in love with. She was so nice, SO knowledgeable of not only the food but the restaurant itself, and funny. She was a good match to our kooky personalities. She gives us the rundown of her suggestions and the special for the night.

We decided on our wine, a Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina, Tierra Divina. Tyler has a blog, thetyblog.com, where he reviews wine among design things, etc. We decided our review of the wine was "light bodied, full flavored, fruity but not gay....like Jason Mraz, so a metrosexual wine." Yep, we're weird.

Our meal started off with a basket of their homemade bread and butter. I was sold already. Warm, light, delicious....just how I like my bread. We decided to try their "mac & cheese" simply because we all like mac and cheese and it was made with Guinees spaetzle. Their version is made with gruyere cheese and oxtail. OK, so here's the deal with this one, it's a VERY loose interpretation of this comfort food fave of mine so I was disappointed in that aspect. HOWEVER, it was pretty f-ing good. Very meaty and full of flavors. The oxtail was so juicy and tender and basically fell apart. I could have had a little more cheese, but when can't I? So I do give this dish a thumbs up on taste and I agree with their decision to add quotes around "mac & cheese" suggesting an interpretation.

For our entrees we decided that we would share three in order to get the most options. Plus I like sharing. Sharing is caring, after all. I always feel closer to someone when we can share our food. Anyways, we opted for the Black Sea Bass, the Suckling Pig, and the Duck Breast. Where to start? AMAZING!!!!!!! There was not one thing that I did not like. The Black Sea Bass was served with Olde Salt Little Neck clams, a rutabega fondant, and a carrot emulsion. So delicious. Bass is one of my favorite fishes to eat. Firm yet light, and the earthy flavors of the carrot and rutabega added such a combination of flavors. The Duck Breast was cooked to perfection and probably one of the best duck dishes I have ever had (not that I order it THAT often). Moist, tender, flavorful and served with native wild rice, black trumpet mushrooms, and a squash emulsion. WOWZA! This one knocked my socks off. There was a spice in there that we could not pinpoint...something sort of smokey and something sort of sweet....we eventually found out it was a smoked cinnamon from Upstate NY where the chef has a friend makes spices for him. I need to find this place and marry this person. So good! Now the Suckling Pig (go on Tuesday night from 6-9 for all you can eat Suckling Pig sliders for only $16 and a drink special to go with it....who wants to go?) I could not get enough of. Braised in beer, bacon and butter (three of my favorite things ever) and served with spiced red cabbage and smoke whipped potatoes. I want to eat this dish when it's snowing out. Made me feel warm and cozy and like a man that had been out chopping wood all day and came in for a nice dinner. So rich and so delicious. The bowl was topped with fried pork rind that I could not stop eating. Smokey, chewy and salty.....if all jerky was like this I'd eat it all the time.

Of course we had to save room for the dessert and after mulling it over with Erica we decided on the caramelized banana souffle with milk chocolate peanut butter sauce. We were warned that it takes a little longer as it has to properly rise which we were fine with. Next thing we know there is a very sexy man in a black chef's coat standing at our table with three shot glasses. It was Marc Forgione himself bringing us a special treat just for us. He was so great and so nice and so thrilled that we loved the place. We raved about his food and the restaurant, asked about the mystery spice which is how learned of the smoked cinnamon. He puts a shot glass down in front of each of us with a spoon and tells us to close our eyes, put it in our mouths and it will remind us of our childhood. Like I said, he's sexy. So we follow our new friend Marc's instructions and he has brought us a homemade creamsicle sorbet. YUM! And a nice palate cleanser. Thanks Marc!

Up comes the souffle. Upon presentation, the food runner digs a hole in the center with a spoon and pours in the chocolate peanut butter sauce. People, I have no words. So light, so chocolatey, so tasty, and so moist (even though I hate that word and so does Erica because we had a good laugh about it). And there are few things better than the chocolate peanut butter combination. Great end to a great meal.

I really can't rave about this place enough. Please do yourself a favor and go. You really won't be disappointed.

Dirty....just dirty.....and I mean that in the sense that it was dirty f-ing good!

If the meal includes a deal....

....accept I may. - "Always True to You (In My Fashion)" from Kiss Me, Kate

So I wanted to pass along some deals that I have found online.

  1. Groupon.com - Each day, Groupon features an unbeatable deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in your city. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, they get discounts you won't find anywhere else. They call it "collective buying power!" Just click "BUY" before the offer ends at midnight. If the minimum number of people sign up, they'll charge your card and send you a link to print your Groupon. Once you're charged, you'll receive an email with a link to sign in and print your Groupon. If not enough people join, no one gets it, AND you won't be charged! If interested, shoot me an email (chriscrowthers@gmail.com), and I'll send you a referral. If you subscribe within 72 hours, I get a $10 credit.
  2. Blackboardeats.com - BlackboardEats is a free e-mail and website delivering exclusive deals on restaurants handpicked by seasoned food editors. They also highlight the best food-related specials LA and NY have to offer, including prix fixe discounts, tasting events, weekly dinner bargains and more. I just had 30% off at Marc Forgione (rave review to follow) and a free charcuterie plate from The Vanderbilt in Brooklyn.
  3. Restaurant.com - Restaurant.com is about celebrating the dining experience more affordably. They provide certificates for literally thousands of great restaurants that bring you the fun and pleasure of eating out while spending less. It’s so easy. Just use the search feature to find a restaurant. Many of their participating restaurants have different offers. They provide handy descriptions and even menus to help you decide. Follow the instructions for purchasing a gift certificate and print it out. It's usually $10 for a $25 gift certificate, plus they will email you a promo code for 80% off. So I just paid $2 each for several $25 gift certificates.
If you have any other deals you know about, let me know and I can post. Happy eating!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Come down and....

....have a little stew! - "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover" from Annie

It's winter, it's cold, it's snowing. I have the day off. My slow cooker is staring at me. Beef stew sounds like the perfect answer to all of these problems. I looked through a few cook books and couldn't find anything that stuck out so opted for the internet. I ended up on MarthaStewart.com cause she usually does me right. I found a recipe from her Everyday Food Magazine (which I subscribe to and thoroughly enjoy) that gave me a dutch oven option and a slow cooker option. Since I am a big advocate of "Set it and forget it", I went with the slow cooker. I did a run down of the ingredients and then went to my local grocery, Key Foods. Not my favorite place in the world, but didn't have the energy to run all the way into Whole Foods in the city.

The recipe was quite simple and doing it in the slow cooker made it even more so.

3 lbs beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1/3 cup of tomato paste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 lb. medium onions (about 2), cute into 1 inch chunks
1 lb. small white or red new potatoes (about 6), scrubbed and halved if large
1 lb. carrots, cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves

Place beef in a 5-quart slow cooker. Distribute tomato paste, vinegar, and flour over beef; season generously with salt and pepper. Add onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, and bay leaves. Cover slow cooker; cook on high until beef is fork-tender, about 5 hours (or cook on low heat 8 hours). Serves 6.

Here's the link:

It was great! The beef was falling apart. The vegetables weren't over cooked. And the flavor was great. Definitely a keeper!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cookin' up a breakfast....

....dat hits da spot! - "Hominy Grits" from Grey Gardens

Ah, Sunday brunch! It's nice to not have to work one! Being someone who has spent some time working in the service industry, to have this meal off is cause for celebration. And when I become president it will be required that all U.S. citizens will have to work a minimum of two months in a restaurant and at least 4 brunch shifts. I'm just saying.

Since I was fortunate enough to have this particular Sunday off, I rounded up my boys (although we call ourselves The Mean Girls...we all did a production of Fiddler on the Roof together and bonded from the beginning. Love these boys!) and we headed over to Friedmans Lunch which is tucked away in Chelsea Market. For those of you who do not know of Chelsea Market, then you are really missing out. It's a foodies dream. Filled with 25+ retail shops and over 10 restaurants, Chelsea Market is also home to several TV studios including The Food Network. It's a good thing I don't live closer or I'd be spending all my money here. Wine, cheese, books, cooking supplies, seafood, baked goods, flowers...you name it, it's here. And on the weekends, much to my surprise, there is a live music. It's rare that I am there on a weekend afternoon, as I usually stop in before work if I need to kill time, or after work to pick up a bottle of wine at Chelsea Wine Vault. Let me tell you, it's crowded.

So I was given the duty to pick our brunch spot since I am doing this blog and could use some material. I went on to yelp.com and typed in "Chelsea cheap brunch." As I sifted through a few options, I came across Friedmans Lunch. Sold. A) It's really cute with an open kitchen, exposed filament bulbs, dark wood tables, and chalkboard wall. B) Cheap. C) Comfort Food. D) All of the above!
We met at one and had to wait about 20 minutes for something to open up. Gave us plenty of time to start catching up, etc. We were seated at a high communal table (something I'm really enjoying as of late). After ordering coffees and mimosas (pomegranate...including the seeds...delish!), we dove into the menu. A few of us got very excited about the Southern breakfast, but when the very attentive staff member told us that they were out of the fried green tomatoes, we changed our minds. Who knew they were a deal breaker. I decided to go with the Huevos Rancheros. Not a typical brunch option for me (odd, being that I love Mexican food). Ole! I was so happy with my choice. The dish was almost set up like a tostada. So we had crispy corn tortilla on the bottom, a nice layer of black beans then topped with 2 over easy eggs, spicy red salsa and avocado. At first I was a little concerned that there were too many beans and it would be overwhelming but once I got into it and my eggs were running, I was quite happy. I also had a side of double cut bacon....so good! And I got a potato pancake which was quite interesting. Golden brown and crispy on the outside and the inside resembled very dense mashed potatoes....highly enjoyable. Other dishes that made it to our table were the Shrimp and Grits (I have to say, I was jealous of this one), Baked Eggs, Pastrami Hash, and Southern Breakfast (the subbed in corn fritters instead of the FGT.) My boys were all very happy with their dishes, not one bad review. I think we'll be going back and I'll be spreading the word.

Friedmans Lunch is open 7 days a week for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner (I wanna go try a later in the day meal). Take-out, dine-in, and full service catering available. Farm-to-table cuisine with the option of most dishes being gluten-free, for those of you that are Glu-tarded (a phrase my friend Adam came up with).

Check it out!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If you will meet me in.....

....St. Louis, Louis! - "Meet Me in St. Louis" from Meet Me in St. Louis

Part Deux of my trip took me to St. Louis to visit one of my best friends Anna, her husband Rob, and their new baby, Charlie. The Reby Bertmans, which we've shortened to The Reberts.
I've been to St. Louis a few times and I've always loved it. The neighborhoods all have their own charm and all have several great restaurants. One wouldn't think of St. Louis as being a food town, but I'm here to tell you that it is. They even have The Sauce, a monthly food periodical letting you know of restaurant/bar openings, events, restaurant reviews, etc. Does your town have that? Having spent some time there, I knew a few places I needed to visit in order to get my fix.

After spending some time at The Rebert household with baby Charlie, also known as The Bean, which came from him looking like a bean burrito when he was all wrapped up. See why we're friends? The kid's nickname is after food and Mexican food at that. Of course they did get married on Cinco de Mayo (which we coined Cinco de Wedding) and had a mariachi band at their cocktail hour. And, might I add, was one the best meals I have had at a wedding. Cheesy bagels as cocktail food, YES! And that cake! Enough about that past....on to where we'd go for dinner. Anna and I left Charlie with Rob and headed to the Central West End to dine and chat at Liluma. Two years ago I was in St. Louis for work and I lived in the CWE. It's so cute! Great restaurants, great bars, great cafes, great shops. Maybe I'll live there one day (Anna, that was for you). Everything is within walking distance in the CWE which made my summer there very easy.

Liluma serves American, French and Italian foods and also offers a $32 create your own 4-course tasting menu, which is a great deal! The atmosphere is great, a very relaxed bistro sort of feel. Even when it's busy, it isn't loud. I've yet to be disappointed here, although when the server told us that they were out of all foul, I was thrown. I opted against the tasting menu this time and started with the Chopped Salad. This is not something I would generally order as I tend to go with salads containing the greener greens, but for some reason it stuck out to me. I was very pleased. Perfectly chopped romaine lettuce with bacon (always makes things good!), tomato, and red onion tossed in a blue cheese dressing. It was just the right size,very fresh, and the blue cheese was not overpowering as it can be.

We both went with the Missouri lamb pasta and shared a side of the brussel sprouts with pancetta (never a bad idea!). I love brussel sprouts. I don't know what is about them but I just love them. I think they're so funny looking, in a good way. And then toss them with pancetta (rich man's bacon), you can't go wrong. I will say though, that I did miss the crunchy leaves that happen when these baby cabbages are roasted and I like my cooked vegetables to be more on the crunchier side. With that being said, they tasted fantastic and were not overly oily, which I enjoyed.

The Missouri lamb pasta, also not something I would generally not order, being that I am not the biggest pasta eater and I can probably count on 2 hands how many times I've had lamb. But hey, when in Rome. Boy was I glad they were out of foul. This was amazing! The lamb was braised and was literally falling apart. So tender and tasty. The pappardelle was so light and thin but did such a great job of standing up against the meat and sauce (a tomato ragu, if you will). Such an interesting and different twist comfort food....spaghetti and meatballs? And the portion was perfect. I left with a full stomach but wasn't feeling stuffed. Liluma wins again.

Tuesday morning, after The Bean had his breakfast, we went to one of my required stops, City Coffee + Creperie. Holy crepe, I love this place. A European style coffeehouse that serves breakfast, lunch, and brunch items. There need be more crepe places in the world. Or maybe I just need to find them.
I always end up getting a breakfast crepe but they have a whole list of sweet and savory options.
But they also have Belgian waffles, homemade pastries, sandwiches, soups, and quiches. I always order the same thing. Bacon and egg with gruyere cheese on a traditional crepe (they have the option of Buckwheat as well). You order at a counter and they give you a number in a mini Eiffel Tower to take with you to your table. So gimmicky. I like it! As I sat there sipping my latte with Anna and The Bean, full of anticipation. My crepe arrived and it was just as I remembered. Perfectly folded in a triangle stuffed with my ingredients of choice. The eggs light and fluffy, the cheese gooey, and the bacon crispy, all blanketed by the thin soft crepe. Mmmmmmm! I could sit in this place all day, it smells so good!

For dinner that night we tried a new place in town called The Good Pie: Pizzeria Napoletana.
Exposed brick walls adorned with bicycles and large blackboard where you can read about some of the pizzas and an exposed pizza oven made this casual spot a great place for Anna, Rob and I to have some pie. We sat at a high table on bar stools, which I like. Being tall it sometimes nice to not have your feet on touching the ground. I really wanted a beer. You know when you just get a craving. I tried the Schlafly Pilsner, a medium bodied, golden colored lager with German and Czech hops. Great aroma and very smooth. Schlafly is a local brewing house featuring 7 regular beers and revolving cast of season brews. On one of my visits, I had a very delicious brunch at one of their brew pubs.

Back to The Good Pie (sorry, I know I can be the king of tangents....get used to it). We decided that we would each order our own pie, being it thin crust and we would each start with a salad. I was so excited because they had an arugula salad, my green of choice. When my bowl of goodness arrives, I couldn't wait to dive in. So simple. Arugula drizzled with a lemon and EVO (not to quote Rachel Ray, but that's how it was listed on the menu) and topped with pecorino cheese. I love the fresh, pepperiness (I just made up that word) and bitterness of arugula so much, then paired with the hint of citrus and the creamy olive oil and the cheese. YUM! And so so simple. Highly enjoyable.

For the pizza, I choose the salami. Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and genoa salami. The pizzas here are thin crust but not crunchy and the edges are chewy, almost resembling naan bread, almost. The sauce was great and the pie was not too overwhelmingly big. I managed to eat 4 of the 6 slices. Rob had the marina diavola which had a nice kick to it and Anna tried the funghi which was also tasty. I'd say overall that The Good Pie has a got a good thing going.

My last meal in the town known as The Gateway to the West was lunch at The Terrace View Cafe (sister restaurant to Liluma from the other night).
This great little spot is in City Garden - "an urban oasis in downtown St. Louis." Full of sculptures from renowned arts like Jim Dine and Keith Haring, City Garden was the perfect backdrop for our meal. Windows on all sides of the building we had a great view of the park and downtown. We both started with the roasted beet salad which is probably the best beet salad I have ever had. Formed in to a round the bottom layer was diced golden beets then a layer of goat cheese topped with a layer of diced red beets, drizzled with a sherry vinegar and sprinkled with pine nuts. WOA! So good. The earthy beets, the tangy goat cheese, the bite of the sherry and the crunch of the pine nuts. Well done!

For our main course we both had burgers. I thin patty on a delicious bun with a a horseradish slaw and cheddar cheese. I believe it was a quarter pound patty, which is smaller than most places, but it was perfect for lunch. The slaw was tasty and I'm not the biggest slaw person. Oh, the fries were great. Seasoned nicely and cooked exactly the way I like them.

What a great trip! Good friends and good food. It doesn't get much better than that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A town so smart, it's spelling starts with: C-H-I....

....CHIC! - "Chicago, Illinois" from Victor/Victoria

So this past weekend I did a little jet setting to the Midwest. The first half of my trip found me in Chicago, Ill. visiting my good friend and roommate, Steph, for her birthday. Having not really spent much time in Chicago other than some trips as a kid and an overnight a few years ago, I was really excited about doing some exploring. Steph used to live there so I had the perfect tour guide for my whirlwind of a trip. And being it birthday weekend, I knew we would hit up some great places.

My only request was that we have Chicago style pizza. I remember having it on one of my trips and liking it, but I'm so used to the thinner New York style, that I wanted to give it another go around. Luckily, being that Chi-town is not the warmest place and also known for the wind, there was a place directly across the street from where Steph lives, Giordano's, home of the world's most famous stuffed pizza. For those not familiar with Chicago style pizza, let me inform you. It's DEEP dish, we're talking like 3+ inch crust, and generally the sauce is on top with with cheese and toppings underneath. Now with stuffed pizza, there is another layer of dough on top of the toppings creating a pocket. This is not for anyone on the Atkins diet. After some discussion of what additions to our pizza we would like, we decided on pepperoni and green peppers (always a favorite of mine). Since it takes about 35 minutes to make, we started with some spinach artichoke dip. I've had better, but it was nice to have something to munch on while our pie was in the oven. It helped minimize the anticipation.

After an exact thirty five minutes, out came our lunch. WOW...we even went with a medium and it still was daunting. Piping hot and oozing cheese, I knew that I was gonna love it. Our lovely waitress served us each a slice, steam billowing and the cheese stretching like dough being pulled. My mouth was watering. Too thick to pick up and eat, and there was no possibility of doing the "New York fold" (a term I use where one folds the pizza in half length wise in order to not make a mess...I had never seen this technique until I had moved to NYC), I opted for knife and fork. As I cut through the slightly crisp crust, pepperoni, green peppers, mounds of cheese, another layer of dough and the sauce, I opened my mouth to take a bite of this town's signature dish. Exactly what I remembered. The sauce was sweet and full of spice, the peppers cooked but still added crunch, the cheese melty and creamy, and the edges nice and crusty. Even our fellow diner and toughest critic, a three and a half year old from London named Joe, said "this is the yummiest pizza I have ever had" (cuter when read with the British accent). I'd say Giordano's lives up to it's reputation.
The rest of my time in Chicago brought many other dining options, some better than others, and nice idea of the different neighborhoods and good "weekend feel" of the town. Steph's birthday dinner was at Las Mananitas in Boy's Town. Not the best Mexican food I've ever had, but I'm also a tough Mexican food critic. I have to say, the guacamole was the perfect combo of creamy and chunky and also great margaritas!

After dinner, we asked some locals where the closest wine bar type place would be. We had more celebrating of Steph to do! A table of very nice guys pointed us across the street to The 44th Ward Dinner Party, named because it's in the 44th Ward Police District. It was a cute place, almost like you were in someone's library and parlour, although I was a little confused as to where the "dinner party" takes place. A little louder than we had planned and they could use a much better beer selection, but filled with locals all having a good time. We all opted for wine, toasted our dear friend, had some great chat, and then called it in night.

We did Sunday Birthday Brunch at Wishbone on Lincoln. This place was HUGE, we don't have spaces like this in NYC. They call their food Southern reconstruction cooking. Very extensive menu and MANY options, almost too many as I had a problem deciding which direction to go in. I opted for steak and eggs. It was just ok, but my cheddar grits were awesome. Great texture and great flavor. I forgot how much I like grits.
Our walk thru town took us first to Sweet Mandy B's, an old fashioned dessert shop. SO CUTE! I think they had walls in every pastel color possible. The staff was very friendly and the desserts looked awesome. Their cakes were so adorable. I had to try a cupcake, of course. Yellow cake with green icing. It appeared at first that the cake was a little dry, but it tasted great. It's hard to compare to all of the amazing cupcake options we have in NYC. I wished that I could have sampled a few more of their treats, but alas, Daddy was full from brunch.
Our walk thru all of the charming neighborhoods lead us to into a lot of local retailers and eventually we needed a beer so we found ourselves bellied up at The Tavish Bar. Only one other small group there, which was actually quite nice as we could delve into a heart to heart. After we threw back two pints and watched some ice skating, we were on our way back out into the cold to head to Bucktown for dinner.

Steph had found this place called The Bristol, which offers a locally-sourced and seasonal menu with Mediterranean roots. The menu includes bar snacks, daily specials, a rotating chalkboard menu (which I highly enjoyed since I just did my own chalkboard wall in my kitchen) featuring nose-to-tail cooking, charcuterie and 5th Quarter offerings focusing on sustainable foodstuffs. PEOPLE! This place was amazing! From the minute I walked in, I know I was gonna like this place. Exposed brick walls adorned with local art, low lighting all done with Edison bulbs (I'm obsessed with them and need to bring them into my own home), the chalkboard wall, big chunky wooden tables, and a warm, cozy and rustic vibe. YES!
The menu, one single sheet of card stock printed (in all lower case, which I love) on both sides, was not overwhelming yet had several options in each category. The cocktail list gave hand crafted classic and contemporary options, both of which provided with some very intriguing concoctions. You could tell there was a mixologist behind these drinks. We opted for red wine, being it so cold outside we wanted something to warm us up. Steph chose the Vesevo Benevanto Aglianico, which I had never had before, but will definitely be looking for at the wine shop.

For our meal we decided we would split a few different things. Our server, who was very knowledgeable and very helpful, suggested a few things and thought we chose wisely. We started with the apple salad. Slices of green apple, shaved fennel, manchego cheese, and hazel nuts all tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette was the perfect start. Crisp, cool, tart, sweet, full of texture and such a great combination. The creaminess of the cheese paired nicely with the refreshing green apple, the hazelnut added an earthy crunch, and the dressing provided a little bite. Our next dish was a raviolo. No, that was not a typo. We concluded, once the dish arrived, that a raviolo is just one and is quite large. This could be totally wrong, but we liked our definition and I'm sticking with it. So, said raviolo was stuffed with ricotta and egg yolk and topped with a brown butter sauce. First of all, if top anything in a brown butter sauce, I'm sold. It's just SO good. We cut into our large pillow of goodness and the egg yolk and ricotta came oozing out into the sauce. A quick swirl around of the fork and into my mouth my bite went. I had died and gone to heaven. I'm not really even sure how to describe it other than it being fucking awesome (pardon the language, but sometimes you gotta just drop the f-bomb). I need this dish in my life again very soon. Our entree, a half chicken topped with a crunchy salad was served over a bed of mustard spatzle. It smelled amazing. The skin was perfectly crispy, the chicken moist and full of flavor, the crunchy salad was indeed crunchy and crisp, and the mustard spatzle was very savory (you put grainy mustard on anything and I'm happy). The flavors danced in my mouth and made this boy very happy. For dessert, I let Steph choose, as it was her birthday. She went with the spiced panna cotta with pumpkin jam. After singing Happy Birthday and her blowing out the candle and making her wish (which I hope was that all meals can be like this one), we dove right in. Delicious! I don't have much experience with panna cotta so I wasn't sure what to expect. The texture was creamy yet firm, the flavor was full of vanilla and with the pumpkin jam, we had a match. I felt like it was one of those challenges on Top Chef where they have to take an everyday dish and give it a modern twist. This would have won that Quick Fire Challenge.

We sat for a while discussing how fantastic everything was, how fresh and flavorful each dish tasted, and how obsessed we were with this place. I took a peak at the brunch menu on my way out and I was bummed that I wasn't going to get a chance to try it, but The Bristol, I'll be back, don't you worry.

My final meal in Chicago was Monday lunch. My friend, and fellow foodie, David told me I had to get a sandwich at Pastoral. This darling little store sells artisan cheeses, breads, wines, and sandwiches. After spending some time choosing, they were like 20 options, decided on the Canard Balsamico. Herbed duck confit, balsamic cipollini onions, what grain dijon mustard (a selling point as noted earlier), field greens, and Fromager D'Affonis served on their local handmade baguette. Party in my mouth! My only complaint was that I wish the duck had not been so cold. I didn't need it hot, but room temperature would have made it even more amazing. But who am I? The duck was so savory, the onions marinated in the perfect amount of tangy balsamic and very crunchy, grainy mustard, and the creamy cheese were a perfect end to my stay in Chicago. And this place was SO cute.
I hope to blow back into The Windy City again very soon!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

But now I've tasted chocolate.....

....and I'm never going back. - "Without Love" from Hairspray

I just wanted to make sure that we are all in the know about NO PUDGE BROWNIES. If you haven't discovered them, now is the time. People, they are the best brownies I've ever had. Well, maybe second best. There is a place in my neighborhood called Il Bambino (I'll talk more about that place later) that makes RIDICULOUS brownies. So I'll say that NO PUDGE is the best BOX brownie I have ever had. Now those of you that know me know that I generally do not go for boxed or pre-made anything and prefer to do it from scratch. I am not sure why I am this way, but I am. Maybe the challenge, maybe because I am choosing what products go in to these things and it feeds the controlling side of my personality, or maybe because I am crazy. However, NO PUDGE is my one exception.

So here's the skinny, literally. They are FAT FREE. This perk automatically sends off a signal in our brains that it's full of chemicals and it's not gonna be that good. All lies! They are all naturally and absolutely delicious. They are fudgy, chewy, rich, decadent, and they never get hard or gross. On top of that, they are beyond easy to make. All you add to the mix is yogurt. How easy! And even better, there is a recipe for single servings. So on a night at home watching some prime time tv and you need your fix, this is your answer.

A woman by the name of Lindsay Frucci came up with NO PUDGE because she was a brownieholic and was tired of them being loaded with fat. In January of 1995 she began her quest to come up with a brownie to her liking that was fat free. After several months and trays of brownies that ended up in the trash, NO PUDGE hit the shelves of stores in New Hampshire in August 1995. Now they are sold nationwide. Lindsay....if you're reading this, you're a genius.

I have to admit, I've been using NO PUDGE for a while now so this isn't something new to me, but I finished off a batch last night and thought I should share. They do come in a few flavors as well.....raspberry, cappuccino, and mint (you will learn how I hate the combination of chocolate and mint...go ahead, judge me, but I just don't like it!). But I like to keep it simple and stick with the original.

They recently changed their packaging which threw me for a loop since I was used to seeing my hot pink box glowing at me from the shelf.
But now it's this...
I like the old one better. Flashier.

The website: www.nopudge.com is full of fun recipes. Maybe I'll try one. But why fix what ain't broke?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh.....

.....Why did I ever leave Ohio? - "Ohio" - Wonderful Town

Well I have my reasons, of course. I mean how was I ever gonna become a HUGE Broadway star living in Southwest Ohio? Funny.....

But tonight, I was swept back to my homeland of Cincinnati, Ohio by the way of Edward's, 136 West Broadway in Tribeca.
This popular neighbor restaurant hosts Cincinnati Night the last Monday off each month. The menu consists Skyline Chili, LaRosa's Pizza, Montgomery Inn Ribs served with Saratoga chips (dipped in the sauce...yes, please!), and my absolute favorite thing from Cincinnati, Graeter's Ice Cream. I could eat their Black Raspberry Chip everyday and be the happiest boy alive.
This night has become so popular that when I called to inquire, I was told I wasn't going to get a table unless I made a reservation and they do 3 seatings, 6:00, 7:30, and 9:00. I quickly called back to reserve a table for four at 7:30.

So my 2 friends and I travelled from Astoria to meet our fourth member there. Two of us are Cincinnati natives and the other 2 went to school there so we know our Cincinnati food. We order beers (seemed like the best beverage choice for what we were about to consume) and quickly came up with our plan of attack. We decided family style was the best option. So.....one pepperoni pizza to start, a 5-way, a rack of ribs, and we each got a coney dog. We'd choose ice cream flavors later.

First comes the pizza and we were skeptical at first, wondering if it would be as we remembered from our days at Kings Island or a day shopping downtown. They hit the nail on the head. YUM! Out comes the rest of the food and we're realizing that maybe we ordered too much? But no, we were determined! The 5-way was exactly what I thought it would be like, kind of hard to screw it up if you are using the secret mix. But I have to say, no one does the cheese like they do at Skyline back home. It's a billowy pile of thinly sliced yellow cheddar cheese (I need to find out where they get their grate. One might call it a cloud of cheese over top of the mountain and spaghetti and chili. I mean it all tastes the same but there's something about that cheese that just makes everything right.
Now it has been some time since I had Montgomery Inn. My dad is always sending me the Skyline Chili mix so I make it every so often, but shipping BBQ sauce in glass bottles is a little more tricky. Of course I'm not making ribs with it, generally a chicken breast or a pork chop. The sauce, in my opinion, has the perfect combination of tang, sweet, and bite. And the ribs, just as I remembered, fell right off the bone. And accompanying the rack on the plate were those chips that I love so much. I love it when I get one that's slightly undercooked and a little chewy. DELISH!!!!!!

I have to admit, this was the first time I have had a fully loaded coney dog. Being the picky eater that I used to be, it was always just hot dog, chili, and cheese. But now that I have a much more expansive palate, so I opted for the full monty and added the mustard and onions. Is this what I have been missing for the past 31 years? I am angry at myself for denying myself of such a "mardi gras in my mouth".

Ok...this is where I got really serious. Graeter's time. It's the best ice cream in the world and I feel really strongly about that statement. They use a French Pot method combining fresh cream and egg custard. The process consists of gently folding the mixture into itself which prevents air from whipping in and creates a creamy and dense consistency. Where as most pints of ice cream can weigh as little as 8 oz., Graeter's pints weigh a full pound! And each pint is packed by hand. People, you don't get much better than this. It's custardy, creamy, rich, decadent goodness. And the Black Raspberry Chip is my own personal Messiah. I know, it's an inanimate object but when I am eating it, I forget all my troubles and feel like I have transcended to some heavenly place. Now, when one hears "chip", you think of small like flakes of chocolate randomly spread throughout. NOT Graeter's. They use dark chocolate (which should be the only kind of chocolate, in my world) and they use chunks; large, creamy, soft pieces. I remember once as I kid digging into the pint and pulling out what was basically an entire chocolate bar. Damn, it's good.
So clearly we opted for Black Raspberry Chip (BRC from here on out). We also went with Buckeye Blitz. Never had this one before, let alone even heard of it. If you are unsure of what a Buckeye is, then let me inform you. Yes, it's a nut off of tree. Yes, it's the Ohio State University mascot. But it's also a sweet confection, made by rolling peanut butter and confectioner's sugar into balls and dipping them 3/4 of the way into chocolate, often making appearances at holiday parties. Maybe a white trash Reese's Cup?
Back to Buckeye Blitz. So it's peanut butter ice cream with mini buckeyes in them. Wowza! I mean it's hard to find a better combination than peanut butter and chocolate. We all dug to get the perfect spoonful consisting of the rich peanut butter cream and few of the explosive confections.

But nothing will ever top my BRC. Nothing. I always think of ordering a different flavor but I always come back to BRC. LIke I'll be disappointed or feel Iike I've neglected my BRC. BRC forever!

The four of us sat there, full....very full, but happy and enjoying our walk down this culinary memory lane and planning our next Cincinnati Night at Edward's. February 22nd! See you there?

Food, Glorious Food....

....what is there more handsome? - "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver!

I love food, what can I say. I love to eat it, make it, order it, experiment with it, and share it. Let's face it, we all have to eat to survive so why not enjoy what we're eating and make the most of of each eating experience.

I've decided to use this blog as a space to share my love of food and my experiences with this said love. Recipes, restaurants, bars, events, etc. And links (and some photos) to all!

Please feel free to comment and share. Looking forward to "wining and dining" with you all.