Monday, October 14, 2019

Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro

I have long lamented that there aren't any really good Chinese restaurants in northern Baltimore County. There are plenty of smaller American-style Chinese carry-outs, and Szechuan House, which has always been hit or miss. (They deliver, however, so that is definitely in their favor.) When I read in Kit Pollard's Hot Plate column for Baltimore Fishbowl that a new Sichuan restaurant opened on Allegany Avenue, we visited post haste, hoping for the best.

Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro is a rather expansive restaurant with a soothing decor and not particularly comfortable, unpadded, Chinese-style wooden chairs. The kitchen is also large and visible through a plate glass window at the back of the restaurant. Continuing the size theme is the menu, a glossy tome featuring not only lists of available dishes, but also helpful photographs of nearly all of them. Another theme of Red Pepper is spicy, which of course one would expect to find in a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Sichuan province. My kinda food.

I'm always attracted to spicy wontons, so we had to order the Sichuan spicy wontons in red oil. I'm forever chasing the flavor of a similar dish I had years ago in a restaurant in Randallstown called Szechuan Best. There, the red oil was as aromatic as it was spicy. Red Pepper's rendition is very good, with nicely tender pork-filled wontons, but the sauce didn't have the kick that I was looking for. Still, it was pretty tasty and I'll order it again.

One of our two favorite Chinese restaurants is Grace Garden in Odenton, and one dish we always order there is the Sichuan pork belly, a dish of thinly sliced pork belly stir fried with chiles and leeks. We thought the Fried Salty and Dried Pork with Scallion at Red Pepper would be similar. It was, and it wasn't. When tasting the dish in the restaurant, I did notice that the pork was indeed salty, but it wasn't until I ate the leftovers at home three days later that I noticed the pork had also been smoked. Saltiness aside, the dish was quite nice, and as it was not spicy, somewhat of an antidote to the following dish.

We used to get a dish called "beef on toothpicks" at our other favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Taste (which appears to have closed permanently). Literally fried slivers of beef impaled on toothpicks, the meat was flavored with cumin and chiles. Red Pepper offers both beef and lamb with cumin. The dishes seemed similar enough despite the lack of pointed wooden implements, so we tried the latter. Baby, it was hot, but also redolent of the promised cumin. I can dig the heat of dried red chiles, which to me doesn't last as long on the palate as that of fresh green chiles, and is much easier for me to tolerate. However, Mr Minx found it a bit incendiary.

Another way to beat the heat of the lamb dish was to take bites of Shrimp with Rice Crusts. The menu describes the dish thusly: "When rice crust is combined with beef or pork, it tastes spicy. With shrimp or fish filet, amazingly, it changes to sweet and sour." The rice crusts - squares of crisply fried rice - are presented on their own in a large bowl, with the topping poured over at tableside.  Rather than some mysterious alchemical transformation, the shrimp and fish versions are simply presented in a somewhat brothy, lightly sweet and tangy sauce that is absolutely nothing like the ketchup-and-pineapple juice sweet-and-sour that Americans are used to (thank god). I imagine that the beef and pork versions have a spicy sauce, which we will have to try at another time.

The shrimp were plump and sweet, and there were a nice amount of vegetables. The rice crusts themselves have a nice roasty flavor, and I'd love to nibble them on their own. I am torn about their texture once deluged with sauce.

Finally, we tried the Stir-fry Green Beans, which I loved. The beans were still a little crisp, garlicky, and salty. Mr Minx likes them a little softer, and preferred the reheated beans a few days later. Still, a very good rendition of a favorite dish.

With only one visit under our belts, we determined that Red Pepper doesn't quite tickle our palates in the same way as Grace Garden or Hunan Taste, but our meal was still very good. Amazingly good for Towson. And while it might not be at the top of the heap for us just yet, we will put Red Pepper into our regular dining rotation and hope to taste most of the menu (might skip fish maw though) in the not too distant future.

Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro
11 Allegheny Avenue
Towson, MD 21204
http://www.redpeppermd.com

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Flashback Friday - A Little Bit of Korea

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on October 5, 2011.

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One day last week, I lunched on something that was billed as "Korean BBQ tacos." With that description, I hoped to chomp down on some toothsome beef that was both spicy and sweet and seasoned with garlic and sesame oil. Imagine my disappointment when instead I ended up with a mouthful of pot-roast-like meat seasoned with a ton of thyme. (I hate when that happens. The thyme part. I think thyme - especially dried thyme - when used in excess, tastes like something that would be better used to clean floors.) Turns out that the person who assembled my lunch used the wrong beef and the tacos weren't supposed to taste so bizarre. Still - a huge disappointment that left me wiping my tongue in disgust.

I made up for the experience by making Korean-style food at home over the weekend. Rather than duplicating the taco idea, I made a sandwich with marinated flank steak topped with vegetables including a Korean spinach salad known as sigumchi namul (a popular banchan dish), and a spicy mayonnaise.

After a couple of bites, Mr Minx said, "this is one of those things that tastes so good, you just want to keep eating more and more." Words I looove to hear. And I gotta admit - it was damn good. The meat was garlicky, sweet, and sesame-y, just like Korean short ribs, aka kalbi. The assortment of veggies added a variety of textures, and the mayo added some heat. While I'm not a huge fan the bizarre hair-like texture of sprouts, I felt they added a nice earthy flavor to the sandwich. If you don't like them, feel free to leave them out; ditto for the pepperjack cheese.

Korean-style Flank Steak Sandwich

Flank Steak
1/2 cup light soy
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon kochukaru (Korean red chile flakes)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 bunch scallions, root end removed, chopped into 2" sections
1 1.5 lb flank steak

Place flank steak in a zip-top plastic bag and add the remaining ingredients. Marinate for at least one hour up to overnight. (The longer, the better!)

Preheat broiler and move oven rack to the highest position. Place the marinated steak and scallions on a foil-covered shallow baking pan and broil for 3-4 minutes on one side. Flip steak and broil for an additional 3 minutes or until desired doneness. (Use a digital thermometer to access internal temperature. Ideally, 130-140 is medium-rare). Allow meat to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly on a diagonal against the grain.

Sigumchi Namul
1/2 lb fresh spinach
1.5 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
black pepper

Blanch spinach in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to retain the green color. When cooled, carefully squeeze out all of the water. Chop the spinach coarsely and mix with the remaining ingredients.

Spicy Mayonnaise
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I like Kewpie)
2 teaspoons gochujang
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger

Mix together in a small bowl.

Zucchini Pickles
1 lb small zucchini, peeled and cut into coins
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
large pinch of kosher salt

Mix everything in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours before using.

To assemble sandwiches:
Radish sprouts
thinly sliced pepperjack cheese
baguettes or crisp-crusted hoagie rolls

Split roll horizontally. Spread both sides with mayo. Top with broiled scallions, sprouts, steak slices, cheese, spinach, and zucchini. Serve with your favorite chips. (I used Garden of Eatin' Sesame Blues, figuring the sesame accent would work well with the sesame in the sandwich.)

Makes 4-6 sandwiches, depending on how generous you are with the toppings. There will be zucchini pickles left over - refrigerate, and enjoy them within the week.


Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Samos

How is it that I've lived in Baltimore for [many many] years and never went to Samos? We don't get to Greektown very often, and the last few times it was to dine at Ikaros. Ikaros is good, but we discovered that it is not Samos.

We wanted to eat everything, so we did. There were three of us, but we ordered enough food for 5 or 6. First was the trio of dips; from the five options, we chose the taramasalata, or fish roe dip, tzatziki, and olive tapenade. They came with a smattering of crudites and a pile of addictive toasted pita triangles. Oh, the pita. I could have just eaten that and been happy.

But we also ordered the grilled octopus, which came with a sprightly salad of tomatoes, red onion, green olives, and the evil chickpea (which were easy enough for me to pick out). And more pita. The char flavor on the cephalopod was quite excellent.

We also had the spinach pie, which was nicely flaky but not as thick with spinach and feta as some other places. It was good though.

We also tried some souvlaki. My brother debated with the waitress between the pork souvlaki served sandwich-style or merely skewered. I convinced him that we had enough pita on the table. Still, when I ordered one pork skewer and one of shrimp, our waitress assumed the pork should be the pita-wrapped version. It was actually a very tasty sandwich (is it a sandwich, technically?) The four shrimp at $7.75 seemed a bit skimpy, but they were excellent. And came with pita.

We also had the lamb chops, which seemed pricey at three for $25, but they were so juicy and delicious, I can deal with the cost. Plus they came with a small Greek salad, a pile of potatoes and veg, and of course, more pita.

I couldn't resist the Greek green beans, which were so so good.

Oink! We finished most of the food, apart from some of the veg and a pile of pita triangles, and we ordered dessert, too. I was in the mood for galaktoboureko, a custard-filled filo concoction topped with cinnamon and honey. My brother ordered the same.

Mr Minx got the baklava. Both desserts were served warm in large, shareable portions, each a steal at only $4. Delicious. But probably too much food for me. Or any normal mortal.

I ate too much, but everything I ate made me happy. And isn't that the most important part of a meal?

Samos is cash-only, BYOB, so be forewarned. There is an ATM on premises though. Also, they don't take reservations, so if you like to eat at peak dinnertime, be prepared to wait. We old folks arrived at 5pm and had no problem getting a table. However, we also had to contend with multiple families with very small children, who, though well-behaved, were also very vocal. Good thing they were cute.

Samos
600 Oldham St
Baltimore, MD 21224
http://samosrestaurant.com

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!



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Friday, October 04, 2019

Flashback Friday - Woodberry Kitchen

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on October 17, 2011.

This was a fun post to write, even if the meal wasn't very much fun.
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Like Cindy Wolf's Charleston, Spike Gjerde's Woodberry Kitchen is touted by both local food press and foodies alike. When I read such effusive praise, I'm always very skeptical, especially since we weren't at all impressed by the one visit we paid to Charleston. We had managed to avoid dining at Woodberry Kitchen for almost four years, but thought maybe it was high time to give in to the hype.

One of the main reasons we've never eaten at Woodberry Kitchen is that every time we check the online menu, we're not tempted by any of the offerings. They all sound so boring and plain and homey. If we want chicken and dumplings or a pork chop, we're perfectly capable of doing that in our own kitchen. And if we do go out and pay $28 for chicken and biscuits, well, the thing better be singing and dancing, I don't care how local/sustainable/free range/spoon fed it is. As it happened, Mr Minx and I were looking for a place in which to celebrate our 11th anniversary. A glance at Woodberry Kitchen's online menu revealed some items we might actually be into trying, so I made a reservation. Unfortunately, by the time October 7th rolled around, the menu was once more full of ho-hum selections. We went anyway.

The restaurant itself is set in one of the many old mill buildings that line the Jones Falls in the Hampden area of Baltimore City. With exposed brick, wooden tables, and plaid-clad servers, the place tries hard to evoke a feeling of modern rusticity. Kind of like the joints run by the bearded, pickle-making hipsters in Brooklyn who have already become a modern stereotype mocked by food critics. There's nothing else quite like Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, though, so we've fallen for the image.

Not us, however.

If there's a bad table to be had in a restaurant, it's almost guaranteed that Mr Minx and I will get it. Maybe our preference to dine early gets us labeled as middle-aged or elderly rubes who won't appreciate the place and don't deserve a quieter or less-trafficked table. At Woodberry Kitchen, we clearly got the worst table in the house - a tiny one on the second floor, next to the service counter, where we were treated to the sight of servers slicing bread and packing up leftovers for two-and-one-half hours. Over my right shoulder, I could see particulate matter in the air coming from the fryers and the wood oven beneath us, and I knew that when we left the restaurant we'd be reeking of food odors. Immediately to our right, in our peripheral vision, was a line of round paper lantern-style light fixtures suspended from the ceiling. As the evening grew darker, these lights grew to have the effect of a bare lightbulb suspended from a basement ceiling. And strangely, as it got darker outside, the lights dimmed more and more until eventually we were sitting in the shadows.

It took us a while to decide what to eat. Between the stink of the fryers and the din of the music, I was irritated. Eventually, though, we were able to select a few items that seemed interesting. Because we expected small portions, we ordered both a flatbread and the "butcher's board" for starters, along with an order of wood-roasted okra.

The okra came out first. It was not a dish to convert okra-haters, those pussies who whine about the vegetable's delightfully mucilaginous texture. To me, it's more creamy than slimy, and what's more, okra tastes wonderful. WK's okra was still crisp and crunchy, with flavorful spots of char here and there, and made a good start to our meal.

Wood-roasted Richfield heirloom okra, pickled fish peppers
Soon afterward, we received the "foraged" mushroom flatbread. I don't know if the foraging was done in the wild or at the farmer's market, but the pizza-like creation was sublime. The crust was perfect - thin and chewy, the mushrooms nice and roasty, and the cabbage surprising. Forget Woodberry Kitchen - Spike Gjerde needs to open a pizza parlor. Looking down onto all of the many flatbreads arrayed on tables below our perch is all the evidence I need to declare Spike's Pizza a rousing success. (One party of six monopolized a table for about as long as we did. They ordered one dish of popcorn, some cheese and crackers, and five out of six "entrees" were $15 flatbreads. I think our dinner for two cost more than theirs.)

 Foraged mushrooms, savoy cabbage, onion, goat's cheese
With the flatbread came the WK Butcher's Board, a long plank topped with an arrangement of cured meat products. While a nice presentation, the board was longer than the table was wide, so part of it hung out over the edge of the table. The portion was generous, probably better for a party of four to share than a party of two. All of the meats were quite tasty, and I especially enjoyed the head cheese and the air-dried beef, which had a flavor reminiscent of pepperoni. The house-made pretzel sticks and pickles were also quite good.

 WK Butcher's Board - cured pork neck, black ham, pork belly, air-dried beef,
pretzels, head cheese, apricot jam, pickles, brown mustard, and assorted crackery things
Considering that the flatbread and Butcher's Board were so large, I'm rather surprised that our server didn't say anything when we also ordered entrées. Considering how long it took for our entrées to arrive, we probably could have cancelled the order. (Guess they had to kill the cow.)

I ate less than half of my Kitchen Burger and about three of the fries because I wanted to save room for dessert. The burger was fine, I suppose. Cooked perfectly to medium, the meat was juicy, but like most beef these days, it didn't taste particularly beefy. I loved the squishy sesame seed-topped bun though, which was toasted and buttered. The fries were also very good - crisp outside and soft within, like fries should be.

Kitchen Burger - house-ground chuck, lettuce, onion & pickles, fries/ raw cheddar
Mr Minx ordered steak because he was hungry and was surprised at both the generous amount of vegetables and the small amount of steak on the plate. The steak was tender, with a nicely seasoned crust, but the aggressively spicy padron pepper sauce underneath everything killed the flavor of the meat, which didn't have much of the expected "nutty" or "buttery" qualities customary to dry-aged beef.

 Liberty Delight dry-aged tavern steak - fried potatoes, green beans, tomato, padron pepper sauce
We also shared a side dish of underseasoned, slightly sandy, chard.

For dessert, Mr Minx went for the C.M.P., an item touted as the "best thing he ever ate," by Charm City Cakes' Duff Goldman. The bruléed marshmallow sauce on the top was a nice touch, but it made me fear for my dental work. The hubby, on the other hand, loved it.

C.M.P.  - malt ice cream, chocolate sauce, marshmallow fluff, wet peanuts
I had a sundae as well, the "Big Whoop," consisting of pumpkin ice cream layered with a pumpkin whoopie pie, candied pecans, and bourbon caramel. I expect whoopie pies to be soft, but this one had a bit of a crunchy crust. Crunchier still were the candied pecans, both of which lent nice contrast to the melty ice cream. I loved it. (No picture, because by the time dessert arrived, it was so dark on the 2nd floor, the only parts of the sundae visible in the photos I took were the bright blobs of ice cream.)

So while the faux-rustic surroundings, poor lighting, and incredible din were less-than-pleasing to us, I have to admit that the food was pretty darn good. Hype-worthy? Maybe not. But Woodberry Kitchen is certainly busy enough not to need my opinion one way or the other to be successful. Just ask Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, who scored a much better table than we did.

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Rd
Baltimore, MD 21211
www.woodberrykitchen.com
(410) 464-8000

Posted on Minxeats.com.