Friday, August 29, 2008

Perilla

On Wednesday I was in New York to attend the Shear Genius Finale Viewing party with the lovely Laura K of Blogging Reality Television (Blogging Project Runway). A very Bravo sort of day, we went to dinner with designer Malan Breton and model Amanda Fields (both of PR). And where should we go but Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle's restaurant Perilla?

While Laura and I waited at the bar for our dining companions to arrive, we sampled a Village Mojito, made with silver rum, fresh watermelon, cucumber and mint. It was summery and refreshing, tasting mostly of cucumber, and dangerously easy to drink. We stopped at one each because we knew there'd be plenty of opportunity to drink later at the party (not that we would, mind you....)

Once they arrived, we got to sit in one of the curved booths in the back of the restaurant. After a bit of chattering, we ordered.

Malan and I both chose to start with the "Crispy Rock Shrimp Salad mizuna, piquillo peppers, red onion & spicy mushroom soy vinaigrette." I enjoyed the contrast of the crisp shrimp and the soft mizuna. The dressing was subtle and there was just enough of it to moisten things. The piquillo was a nice addition but I wished there was a little more. We were all so busy chatting, I forgot to ask Malan what he thought of the salad.

Laura K got the "Heirloom Tomato & Lomo Salad toasted pine nuts, red mustard greens, feta cheese & brown butter balsamic" Lomo is a dry-cured Spanish ham, like Serrano, but better. Laura was kind enough to give me a piece to try, and I found it to be seriously delicious.

Amanda had the Edamame Falafel with lemon-tahini sauce and she had already dug in before I got out the camera, so no photo of that one. Basically it was a fairly large serving (6 pieces?) of greenish orbs. She said they were delicious.

Laura chose the Seared Diver Sea Scallops plum kimchi, radish sprouts & chilled corn sauce as her entree, which was something I was also eyeballing. As we ordered appetizers as entrees, the portions were too small for me to go sticking my fork into everything to try, so I can't tell you what this tasted like. The scallops appeared to be perfectly cooked, however, and Laura had no complaints.

Malan chose an actual entree, the Summer Truffle & Sheep's Milk Ricotta Ravioli lobster mushrooms, snap peas & truffle butter which looked and smelled beautiful. Again, I didn't partake. We were so busy chatting, I kinda forgot to ask for a nibble.

Here's Amanda delicately salting her Faro Risotto artichoke confit, parmesan & chili-grape salad. We had a bit of discussion about what risotto was as we perused the menu, and I hadn't noticed at all that this particular one was made from faro, a grain popular in Italy. So that wasn't rice you ate, Amanda. Sorry for telling you otherwise. :)

Here's my entree, the Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly pea tendrils, trumpets & banyuls-vanilla gastrique appetizer. I *did* get to taste this one, of course. The pork belly was perfect - meltingly tender with a thin crispy layer on top, and remarkably un-fatty. The trumpet mushrooms were appealing earthy nuggets dotting the greens and the vanilla in the gastrique was not at all distracting. Of course, having eaten nothing since a yogurt at 7 AM, my palate was registering mostly the sensation of eating really good food and not paying much attention to the subtleties of the dishes.

Judging from the table full of clean plates, I'd say we all thoroughly enjoyed the meal. The bread was really good too.

Laura K's mantra is "it can't hurt to ask" and she did ask our waiter if we could meet Harold. So after we finished our meal, he ushered us into the kitchen where we found Chef Dieterle. I pointed out that we were having a Bravo evening, what with Laura from BPR, myself from BSG, and Harold from Top Chef. Not to mention Malan and Amanda.

I even got my picture taken with him. Laura told him I was a food blogger, at which point he turned to me and said, "please go easy." Ha! Of course - Harold was my favorite cheftestant that season and I pegged him to win from the beginning. I knew I would enjoy his food. This was Laura's second visit to the restaurant so she obviously enjoyed it as well.

I'll definitely go back. :)

Perilla
9 Jones St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-6868

Perilla on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don't People Think?

Gummy Fail, Dirty Mind Win
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Frankly...

...I'm not surprised.

fail owned pwnd pictures
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Don't Believe Everything You Read

For those of you who thought Wine Spectator was a reputable publication, read this.

Thanks, EL.

Dancing With the Chefs?

From the ABC Web site:
ROCCO DISPIRITO - The James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef and author Rocco DiSpirito combines his world-class cooking with a passion for empowering home cooks. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Rocco opened the 3-star Union Pacific in New York City in 1997. In 2003 he launched Rocco's for the reality series, The Restaurant. Rocco will next appear on the A&E series, Rocco Gets Real, beginning in October, along with its companion cookbook, Rocco Gets Real: Cook at Home Every Day. He teams with Karina Smirnoff who returns for her fifth season. Karina teamed with R&B singer, Mario, last season.
What do you think? Can the man dance?

Birthday Food

Last Thursday was Mr Minx's birthday. I took the day off from work so we could go to the movies (Tropic Thunder - fun-ny!). He didn't feel like an elaborate dinner, so we went to the Cheesecake Factory. Say what you will, Mr Bourdain, about a restaurant that attempts to do 1000 things correctly; in my experience, they are pretty damn successful.

The appetizer section is always more appealing to me than anything else on the menu - part of me feels weird eating Chinese-style food anywhere but in a Chinese restaurant (P.F. Chang's is also not a Chinese restaurant) and pasta I can make at home. But give me some avocado eggrolls and I'm happy. This time, we chose to order from the small salads section ("small" being a completely relative term), a chopped salad for him and an endive salad for me; sliders; and an item from the upcoming new menu, gumbo.

Cajun Kate's need not fear Cheesecake Factory. The dish of shrimp, chicken, and andouille in a savory sauce with rice was as much etouffée as it was gumbo. It had lively flavors in a Cajun-esque manner, but lacked the dark savoriness of the real thing. The sliders were yummy little things that reminded me of my childhood favorite fast food burger joint, Gino's. Mr Minx's chopped salad was full of sundry veggies like edamame and apples in an Asian-style dressing, and my chopped endive salad with bleu cheese had the nice touch of toasted nuts and a straightforward balsamic vinaigrette. It was as good as the similar salad I once ate at the Tribeca Grill in NY.

On Saturday we continued the birthday festivities with our annual crab feast at my MIL's. To supplement the smallish crabs, I made some roast beef, blt, and marinated portobello wraps on lavash and Mom made cole slaw with apples. The crabs were perfect and there were enough left over to provide us with a crabcake dinner on Sunday.

You just can't beat homemade crabcakes prepared with steamed crabs you've picked yourself.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Interview with Lisa Fernandes

Top Chef Chicago gave us some memorable personalities, including one everyone loved to hate - Lisa Fernandes. But she landed in the Final Three, and, it seems, deservedly so. Many of the dishes she prepared on the show looked, well, good enough to eat, and I'm a sucker for Asian-influenced anything. I thought it might be interesting to get her side of the story, and she was nice enough to take a few moments to answer some questions for me.

M: How has being on Top Chef changed your life?
LF: people stop me on the street, in restaurants and on the train so they can take a picture with me and just talk. its so much fun! they ask me for advice about cooking or culinary school and they are really excited that im willing to take the time to talk to them.

M: Where are you working now, and did you get the position in part based on your performance on Top Chef?
LF: am now working at Mai House in tribeca. I found out about this job through Spike. He brought me in to meet the owner. Drew, the owner really liked my personality, passion and food.

M: Speaking of which - how much of your personality was editing and how much was Lisa? You inspired a lot of passionate dislike from viewers.
LF: come down to Mai House and meet me. You will see that im always smiling, funny and pretty goofy. Lots of "passionate" viewers have met me and immediately seen the real Lisa. Im a great chef with an amazing personality!

M: What is your favorite food, and why?
LF: i dont really have a specific favorite food. But in terms of cuisines, I love Thai, Vietnamese, Cuban and Puerto Rican. My favorite restaurants to visit in NYC right now are Nobu, Tailor, Sripraphai and Stanton Social.

M: What is your favorite thing to cook, and why?
LF: I love cooking Asian cuisines and Latin cuisines. Everything from Indian to Malaysian, Cuban to Puerto Rican. But really I love cooking, so anything I get to cook is great!

M: I made your apple caramel steak with peanut butter mashed potatoes last week - it was delicious. While the caramel is clearly a riff on a classic Vietnamese sauce, what inspired the combination with apple and peanut butter?
LF: I love to combine flavors that usually go well together in new and different ways. I love to eat caramel apples with peanuts. So that was my goal. When you eat that dish, your taste buds get a mix of dessert with a salty, delicious piece of beef. I have a few dishes on the menu at Mai House that cross these lines of fun combinations. You should come check them out!

M: How did you and Padma get along?
LF: Padma is really cool. She is funny and pretty down to earth. We got along great.

M: Would you ever consider being on another reality series? How about a cooking show, or as a combatant on Iron Chef?
LF: I dont think i would ever go on another reality show just because its so stressful. I had a great time on top chef but thats it for reality TV for me. As for a cooking show...Of course i would. and on Iron Chef, thats a huge yes! i watch iron chef every week!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doggie Bags

After reading Elizabeth Large's blog post about doggie bags today, I thought I'd make my own post on the subject.

I don't understand why some people are embarrassed to take their leftovers home. Why? They are paid for and would otherwise be thrown away. I think that's very wasteful.

Now, if all you leave behind is three french fries and some discarded iceberg lettuce from your burger, ok. But if you have a pile of fries left - take them home! They make great home fries. I chop them up and put them in a sauté pan with some chopped onion. The fries are greasy, so there's really no need to add additional oil. I add spices (cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, nigella seeds) and sometimes sesame seeds, and cook on low heat until everything gets dark and crispy. Much better than the usually-lousy hash browns one gets in a restaurant (or "hash whites" as my Dad referred to them after a recent Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's).

There's always extra Chinese food to be brought home, particularly when we order enough to feed an army. We've even brought home extra dim sum dumplings. After a couple of days in the fridge, everything gets plopped into the same pan to create a new dish - General Tso's Hunan lamb, perhaps - and our rice cooker is employed for the starch.

A trip to the diner offers lots of leftover possibilities. After one eats the salad or soup and two veg, how is there room for that strip steak and the stuffed shrimp? There isn't, so the protein often ends up in a styrofoam box, to be turned into a salad topping or pasta sauce ingredient later in the week.

I think the biggest leftover haul I was ever responsible for happened in Orlando, after dinner at Emeril's. I wanted to try *everything* on that menu - appetizer, soup, salad, entree, AND dessert. (Once upon a time, I was a HUGE Emeril fan, but that's a whole other story.) So my friend LaRaine and I did. This was 9 years ago now, but I do remember us ordering the calamari with olive salad and one other appetizer, the three nut-crusted goat cheese salad with Andouille sausage dressing, the tomato stacked salad, a bowl each of turtle soup and gumbo, the "study of duck" that had foie gras, duck breast, and confit, and half a roast chicken with southern cooked greens. We ate the salads and soups and a couple of bites of the appetizers and entrees and took the rest to our condo. One day we warmed up some food for lunch, and another day had the leftovers for dinner. I put the confit in the freezer to take to my then-fiancé, Mr Minx, who I know loved duck and had never tasted confit. We packed it in a cooler full of ice for the two-day drive home, and I'm happy to say it survived the trip and another few days in our home freezer before I could get it to my sweetie.

So what do you do with your leftover restaurant food?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mo's

On Sunday night, Mr Minx, MinxBro and I went to Mo's Fisherman's Exchange in the Satyr Hill shopping center for dinner. Mo's used to be a favorite of my mother's, and every Saturday for several months running she ordered the mahi mahi, broiled, with a baked potato and veg medley. Sometimes my brother and I would go, mostly because Dad paid. But the food was also good, particularly a dish called Steak Christopher, which was a filet topped with lobster, crab imperial, AND bernaise. Now you don't get the lobster and it's $6 more. Ahh...the good old days....

Mo's will never win any awards for service, but the food is still consistently pretty decent and hugely portioned. I had the "stuffed" scallops ($20.99, actually, a bowl of scallops topped with crab imperial) and there was enough good crab meat there for a pretty large crab cake. The scallops were just barely cooked through, so that was perfect. My brother got stuffed broiled grouper (about $24, I don't remember, and the Web site prices are off by a dollar or so): two large fillets balanced on their sides and curved into a bowl, which was then filled with an impressive amount of crab imperial. Mr Minx had the Sunday special NY strip and fried shrimp ($19.99). I didn't try the shrimp, but the steak was tender and cooked exactly to medium-rare, as ordered. Sides - baked potatoes, salads, veg medley - were all fresh, the veg nicely al dente.

The restaurant was my brother's suggestion. It was about halfway between his place and ours, and he had just been there on Friday. The place must be good if a man's going to eat there two nights in one weekend, eh?

Mo's Fisherman's Exchange
2025 E Joppa Rd
Parkville, MD 21234
(410) 665-8800

Mo's Fisherman's Exchange on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another Great Idea from the Food Network

Not only does the Food Network like to make their hosts travel about and stuff their faces with someone else's food, but also they want to make the common man do that, too. Check this shit out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No Peetsa for You!

cat
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Forbes Names Top Earning Chefs

Forbes Magazine recently compiled a list of ten top-earning chefs. Note that the list isn't titled "top ten earning chefs," which implies there are others that perhaps rake in more dough. Like Emeril, for instance. He owns 10 restaurants and just sold the rights to his empire to Martha Stewart Omnimedia for $50 million. I think he probably earns a little more than, say, Bourdain, wouldn't you think?

Seeing Rachael Ray at the top of the list makes me a little queasy, but considering her face is everywhere, it's not particularly a surprise. But she's a cook, not a chef, and I think the same is true of Paula Deen. Perhaps a more accurate title for this table should be "Ten Randomly-selected People in the Food Industry and Their Earnings."

1. Rachael Ray - $18 million
2. Wolfgang Puck - $16 million
3. Gordon Ramsay - $7.5 million
4. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa - $5 million
5. Alain Ducasse - $5 million
6. Paula Deen - $4.5 million
7. Mario Batali - $3 million
8. Tom Colicchio - $2 million
9. Bobby Flay - $1.5 million
10. Anthony Bourdain - $1.5 million

Sad that Bobby Flay owns five restaurants and a burger joint, has several best-selling cookbooks, food products, a line of dinner- and cookwear for Kohl's, and two or three currently-running shows on the Food Network - and he only pulls in $1.5 million a year. A full $3M less than Paula Deen.

Guess more people like mayonnaise than ancho chiles in this country.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fire!

I read this and giggled evilly. Not only should Tushface and Fogelstein be fired from the Next Food Network Star, they should be replaced at the network. I think they've pretty much ruined TVFN for me with the craptastic selection of non-cooking shows with obnoxious hosts who travel the country for the sole purpose of making us watch them eat.

Burn 'em at the stake.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cooking Like a Top Chef

...Top Cheftestant Lisa Fernandes, that is.

I miss Top Chef and thought I'd play a little with some TC4 recipes. One that intrigued me was Lisa Fernandes' steak with spicy apple caramel sauce and peanut butter mashed potatoes. Sounds kinda weird, but the judges all seemed to like the dish; I thought I'd give it a try. The recipe looked simple enough, but I made a few minor modifications.

There were a couple of cute little cherry peppers in my garden which I used instead of Thai bird chiles. I didn't puree any peanuts into fresh peanut butter - I just used what I had (a combination of Peanut Better Thai Ginger and Red Pepper and Jif). And, instead of NY strip, I used a sirloin, seared in a hot pan and finished in the oven.

The sauce was a variant of a Vietnamese style caramel sauce, similar to this one I made last year. But tastier. Last year's sauce was a bit insipid. Lisa's was rich and flavorful, sweet but not obnoxiously so, the garlic giving it great savor. I didn't puree it in the blender, as called for in the recipe (who wants to clean out a sticky blender?) or strain it.

Now I know why the judges raved over the dish. Peanut butter and potatoes is a match made in heaven, as is apples, caramel, and steak. It was a rich combination of flavors that was definitely restaurant-quality. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the steak itself. It was a sirloin from Ceriello's, a cut of meat we had bought from them half a dozen times in the past, so it should have been great. But it was a bit tough and not nearly as flavorful as I expected. Maybe because it had been frozen for a couple of weeks, I don't know. I don't think that should have made so much difference in the texture of the meat.

The tart apple salad was a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce and the unctuousness of the potatoes. I'd definitely make this dish again.

Steak with Spicy Apple Caramel Sauce (courtesy of Bravo)

Ingredients


Peanut Butter Mashed Potatoes:

1 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup fresh peanut butter
1 oz peanut oil
2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup melted salted butter
1 cup warm heavy cream
Salt to taste

Spicy Apple Caramel Sauce:

1 cup sugar
1 tsp water
1/2 can coconut milk
1-2 tsp fish sauce
1 clove chopped garlic
1-2 red Thai bird chilis, minced
16 oz fresh apple juice
4 Thai chilis, rough chop

Salad:
1 green apple, julienned (I used granny smith)
1 tsp roasted peanuts, chopped
1 scallion, sliced
2 tsp apple reduction
Salt to taste

N.Y. Strip Steak:
1 grilled strip steak, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Peanut Butter Mashed Potatoes:

Puree roasted peanuts into fresh peanut butter with enough peanut oil to make smooth.

Boil potatoes and put through a ricer. Mix together in a bowl with butter and heavy cream until smooth and creamy. Add peanut butter mixture and adjust if needed. Season with salt.

Spicy Apple Caramel Sauce:
Place sugar and water in a pot and cook on high heat until golden brown in color. Add coconut milk and whisk. Add fish sauce, garlic and chilis; remove from heat. Puree in a blender and strain.

Reduce apple juice in a pot with chilis on low-medium heat until half cup is left then add 1/4 cup to caramel sauce.

Salad:
In a bowl, mix ingredients together.

N.Y. Strip Steak:
Grill strip steak seasoned with salt and pepper to desired doneness.

To Serve

Place mashed potatoes down first, top with sliced steak. Drizzle caramel on steak; top with salad.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Restaurant Nostalgia

I've been hit with a wave of nostalgia recently, so bear with me. William Beery died this week. He owned the venerable Burke's Cafe on Light Street.

I remember when I was a little kid, my Mom and I would go downtown just about every Saturday to shop at the big department stores - Hutzler's, Hecht's, Hoschild Kohn, & Stewart's. One of the highlights of our excursion was always lunch (and a trip to the toy department, natch). There used to be a sandwich shop on Howard Street between Fayette and Baltimore that we'd sometimes go to, but it closed in the early 70s. We then switched to eating at the basement lunchroom at Hutzler's. We liked the fancier upstairs lunchroom, but it was usually closed by the time we were ready to dine. And every rare once in a while, we'd hike to Burke's. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time, so it really was a hike for me.

We'd also hit Burke's if we were wandering around the harbor area, back when it was a waterfront with nothing but tugboats, McCormick belching out spices, and a seafood shack on Pier 5 called Connolly's. Now the area is completely unrecognizable. About the only thing downtown that's pretty much the same as it was when I was a kid is the McDonald's on Fayette and Howard. We went there too on rare occasion, for fries. But I digress.

I liked Burke's. It was dark in there and I liked sitting in the high-backed burgundy pleather booths across from Mom. For some reason, I seem to remember eating corned beef sandwiches there. (I also remember corned beef from the sandwich place on Howard that I mentioned above. I liked corned beef. A lot.) We'd get the onion rings too.

I think the last time I ate at Burke's I was going to a comedy show upstairs, and that had to be, oh, the early 90s? Has anyone been there more recently?

Gumbo

I know I mention it a lot here, but the gumbo from Cajun Kate's is scrumptious. Mr Minx and I just had some of their smoked duck and wild mushroom gumbo for dinner. It had been in the freezer since May, and it was completely delicious - dark, rich, complex.

If you ever find yourself in PA, just over the DE border, and it's a weekend, I urge you to get yourself to the farmer's market in Boothwyn and try the gumbo of the week. Or maybe a po' boy. Or the deep fried mac and cheese. Or....

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Crush

Crush, the new enterprise by Christopher Daniel's Daniel Chaustit, opened yesterday at Belvedere Square, in the old Hess shoes building recently occupied by Taste. As Mr Minx and I were in the neighborhood at dinner time, we decided to stop in and see what it was about. The menu, with its variety of fare both refined and casual, pleased us, so we requested a table.

It was nice to see that they didn't waste time or money redecorating the space. The red walls, striped banquettes, and odd rope-and-ladder decor was the only thing I liked about Taste. I heard that the reason that restaurant didn't succeed was that the neighborhood wasn't supportive. Mr Minx and I tried to support the place, but apart from our initial experience there, we found the food too ordinary for the price. I can make faux Tex-Mex chicken at home, thanks, for less money and with better flavors.

Everything on Crush's menu looked good, and the prices were reasonable. Mr Minx was itching to try the risotto appetizer, but didn't want to eat both that and the hamburger he was also eyeing, so I suggested we share the rice. I loved the combination of al dente rice with the similarly shaped but more crunchy toasted pine nuts. The tiny tomatoes in it gave it a bit of acid, and the shrimp had a nice grill flavor. It was garnished with microgreens, some of which tasted a bit like celery. Was it lovage? In any case, we enjoyed it.

Mr Minx went for the burger, 8oz of nicely fatty meat served with his choice of cheese and bacon for $10. It also came with a generous pile of shoestring fries and mild, mayonnaise-y cole slaw. The burger was properly cooked and had a good, unadorned, meaty flavor. I think Crush could become our new default burger joint.

I had dental work earlier in the day and worried about eating anything too chewy, so I passed on the tempting NY strip with asparagus and truffle fries and opted for the salmon sandwich, served BLT style with wasabi aioli. It also came with a mound of fries and slaw. The salmon was meltingly tender, and the mayo was as good on the fries as the fish. Mr Minx also borrowed some for his burger. My only complaint about the sandwiches is that they were served on Kaiser rolls, a bad idea because they always fall apart when in contact with hot, moist, food. Toasting them was a nice touch though.

Since we were going for the gusto, we had dessert. I ordered the cookies and IBC rootbeer float and received one each peanut butter, white chocolate macadamia, and toffee brickle cookie. They all had nice homemade flavor, but I sadly had to give away the toffee cookie to Mr Minx to save my dental work from the stickiness. He had the warm pineapple upside down cake, which came in a cute little single serving. It was delicious and made me think of my Mom, who loved the stuff.

We washed everything down with a DR Loosen 2007 Riesling, one of our favorites.

Our first experience at Crush, especially considering that it was opening night, was excellent. We loved the food and the service was impeccable. We hope to make this a regular haunt, and encourage those of you in our area to do the same. Support Crush!

Crush

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lego-licious!

Sorry, I must have been channeling Blayne from Project Runway there....

Check out "Big Daddy" Nelson's Flickr collection of photos of sushi he built from Lego toys! As the youngsters say these days, "neat-o" "groovy" "gnarly" awesome!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Baltimore Restaurant Week Summer '08 - Black Olive

For my final Restaurant Week outing, I had lunch on Friday at the Black Olive with my friend Melinda who happened to be in town that afternoon.

I had been inside the Black Olive, but had never eaten there. Some years ago, Mr Minx and I were going to have dinner with our friend Kate at a Greek restaurant on Broadway. We arrived at our destination only to find that they had gone out of business. As we were in the mood for Greek, and I knew there was a newish place farther into Fells Point, I suggested we meet at the Black Olive.

After a little difficulty with finding a parking space, we met Kate inside the restaurant. She said, "I don't think we want to eat here" and handed me the menu. I took a look at the prices, agreed, and the three of us beat a hasty, and somewhat embarrassed retreat.

I still can't afford dinner at the Black Olive, but I can certainly swing a RW lunch.

After being seated, we were brought a basket of very good crusty bread and exactly two olives in a little dish. Two whole olives.

For starters, Melinda had the salad of mixed greens with goat's cheese. The menu described it as "Mescaline and baby greens salad mixed with goat’s cheese, tossed with a touch of aged balsamic vinaigrette." Mescaline. Really? We were a bit disappointed not to find the promised 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine in the salad. Seriously - for the amount of $ charged for entrées, surely they can afford to hire someone literate to spell check the menus? (I've noticed that roughly 75% of all restaurants that serve mesclun misspell the word in some fantastical way, and that drives me nuts. I think it was PaperMoon Diner that spelled it "mesculyn.")

The salad was on the small side, and the vinaigrette got a "wow, that's tangy" comment from Melinda. Really not much else one can say about such a simple preparation.

I went for the seafood salad, a combination of calamari, lobster, shrimp, scallops, and octopus combined with onions, tomato and cilantro. I didn't seem to get any lobster. :( The shrimp were a little overcooked, but the other elements were nicely tender. The combo was cool and refreshing on a hot day.

My entrée was the Maryland crab cake, which came with a side of couscous tossed with finely chopped raw vegetables. The crabcake was about average - not a lot of filler, but no lumps, either. The couscous was a nice side, and I enjoyed the crunchy vegetables within.

Melinda had the "Village pie," a version of spanakopita with red Swiss chard, spinach, leeks, sheep's milk cheeses and homemade phyllo. It too was accompanied by couscous. Mel had no complaints apart from the extreme overdoneness of the phyllo which made it difficult to cut through.
For dessert, we both had the baklava. It was better than diner baklava, but not as good as it should be in a place like the Black Olive.

All in all, I wasn't overly impressed with the Black Olive. Service was good, decor was charming, but the food was only good when everything I heard about the place led me to believe it would be great.

Maybe I'm getting to be hard to please in my old age, I don't know....

Celebrity Pet Food

So you've probably heard about Rachael Ray's new Nutrish pet food line, huh? And remember Rocco DiSpirito was hawking cat food a while back? Who's gonna jump on the bandwagon next? Gallery of the Absurd's 14 thinks Mario might be next. Hey, he's already selling watches.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What About Lisa?

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Make that two Philly-area guys from the recent Next Food Network Star to get their own series.

Winner Aaron McCargo Jr. of Camden premiered Big Daddy's House yesterday. South Philly's Adam Gertler, one of two runners-up, is in L.A. shooting Will Work for Food. Gertler's half-hour Food Network show combines his comedy with a sense of adventure and premieres at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 30. It's not a cooking show, per se. Gertler will show how people in the food business do their jobs. Among them: potato chip inspector, shark feeder and dog-food taste-tester. Gertler, an actor and former waiter at Amada in Old City, coowned The Smoked Joint, a short-lived barbecue restaurant at the Academy House in Center City.

My Sentiments Exactly

dog
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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Big Daddy's House

This afternoon, Mr Minx and I made a point to watch the premiere of the "Next Food Network Star" Aaron McCargo's Big Daddy's House (sounds like a prison flick, doesn't it?). This is the official blurb from the TVFN site:
Watch out – Big Daddy is in the house and ready to cook! The Next Food Network Star’s season four winner, Aaron McCargo, Jr., shares his passion for big, bold flavors and fun, family cooking on his new daytime series, Big Daddy’s House. Aaron brings a down-to-earth vibe and warm smile to the kitchen while whipping up mouth-watering recipes inspired by many years of culinary experience and his fun-loving family. Expect big food and big fun on Big Daddy’s House.
It was chockablock of all the awkward moments one has come to expect from Mr McCargo. Not that he's not a perfectly likeable guy - he's just not comfortable in front of the camera. The show was full of quick cuts juxtaposed with snapshots, making for a jumbled viewing experience. Mr Minx thought that was to take some of the focus off of the host's discomfort. It just gave me a headache.

If only he could calm down and gather his thoughts before speaking. Maybe that could put an end to calling everything a "bad boy." As in "put this bad boy in the oven," and "put this bad boy on the stove."

But first, before dealing with the bad boys, Aaron makes a spice mix that he plans to use on everything he cooks in the episode - shades of Emeril's Essence! He uses it to coat a pork loin that he then browns in a cast iron pan. Actually, "blackens" is probably a better term for it because those spices looked pretty darn burnt.

He prepared "Everything but the Kitchen Sink Chicken Tenders Salad," which he says his youngest son Justin helped him invent, then he makes "Josh's Roast Pork Sandwich with Broccoli Rabe and Provolone Cheese" and some oven-baked fries. Justin is in the episode, but Josh is shown only in a photograph. Perhaps this is the runaway son to whom Aaron alluded in an episode of TNFNS, not yet returned home? Was this episode meant to be an invitation to his son to come back? Or is the kid home but did not want to be seen on television? Inquiring minds....

The thing I liked best about the show was that Aaron seems to be a bit of a germ-phobe like me. He washed his hands several times, and when Justin came out to eat with him, he made the kid wash his hands too. That's right - don't let those grubby little germ magnets touch the food with dirty paws!

As of this moment, there are no recipes online. But the oven fries looked pretty good.

We'll see how long it takes before this show is in the toilet and Aaron is tooling around town in a convertible on his way to eating at someone else's daddy's house.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Baltimore Restaurant Week Summer '08 - Tabrizi's

I had been looking forward to eating at Tabrizi's ever since they reopened a year or so ago at Harborview. I had never been to the original Federal Hill location (it was Fed Hill, right?) but I had always heard good things about the place. Now was my chance to taste for myself.

I was extremely disappointed.

Mr Minx and I had perused the Restaurant Week menu several times and had pretty much made our decisions before we even walked in the door. We were a few minutes early for our early 5PM dinner (hey, I work downtown and get off at 4:30! I'm not sticking around the office just to eat at a more fashionable hour) and the restaurant seemed very large and bright from the sun streaming in all of the windows on the east side of the building, facing the marina. We were seated near, but not within an area that looked like it could be opened up on both sides to let in the salt air. Or the humidity. Thankfully the doors were closed.

The walls were painted a curious school bathroom-ish pale blue/green which didn't quite go with the dark burgundy curtains with heavy tassel detail. The blue may have been picked to match the light color in the decorative motif over the open kitchen, but I just found it distracting. Because I hate that color.

Anyway, enough on the decor. On to the meal.

Mr Minx chose for his appetizer the "grilled house-made grape leaves stuffed with lamb and rice, finished with extra virgin olive oil, served warm with herbal goat cheese." They tasted like grape leaves. Nothing special. The goat cheese had a little kick to it, according to my husband, but I couldn't tell because the sauce on my appetizer was very spicy. And the texture of the cheese was a little too thick and dry to do anything but overpower the grape leaves. Their thinness didn't allow for much stuffing, so there wasn't any noticeable lamb in them. I must confess I prefer old-fashioned fat grape leaves with a nicely tart and lemony sauce.

Appearance-wise, although the plating was nice, the size and shape of the rolls reminded me a little too much of something I might find in the litterbox.

My "sautéed baby octopus and calamari, tossed with spicy chili garlic sauce, garnished with teardrop tomato relish and lemon zest" was terrific. There was a big tangle of tender calamari and two whole baby octopi (you can see one in the middle there, head, eyes, and all - lobotomized for my protection; the other one is rudely showing us his bottom) swimming in a sweet and highly spicy sauce that had vaguely Asian qualities. I kinda wished there was less sauce and more of the tomato relish because it had such a nice tangy-ness, and I love micro-arugula.

This was a dish I would order again.

Considerng we were one of only two parties in the restaurant, our entrées arrived after an interminably long wait, for which the waiter apologized.

Mr Minx ordered the "Lamb Kebobs glazed with veal reduction, served with basmati rice, fresh sautéed organic vegetables and pine nuts." Our waiter had specifically asked if we wanted our entrées "cooked to temperature," which seemed like a very awkward way of asking "how would you like that cooked?" Medium was requested. Very well done was received. I have no idea where the veal reduction action took place, but the meat definitely could have used some sauce. I didn't taste the rice, and Mr Minx was hard pressed to describe any flavor.

I ordered the "Muscovy duck breast, encrusted with Ancho chili-cocoa, pan-seared topped with marinated pears, served over Mesclun greens and fruit," expecting some sort of elegant composed salad. What I got was this bizarre juxtaposition of autumn and summer. My duck was also not prepared to medium as I requested. Fortunately, it was still relatively juicy and tender. The fat had been rendered nicely, but the skin was soggy because of the hot pear topping, and there was no noticeable ancho chili or cocoa flavors. Nor salt, for that matter. The pears weren't particularly flavorful, and they had that odd gritty texture that pears sometimes do. The greens were dressed with a faintly tart but otherwise uninteresting vinaigrette. The fruit was a mixture of blueberries, tiny squashed-looking blackberries, and cubes of mango. I thought it was a real mess, something put together by an amateur with little concept of plating or how food flavors work together.

This unadorned plate of worms/bran buds/Plah-Doh after a trip through a Fuzzy Pumper play set is actually Mr Minx's chocolate mousse. Or, more accurately, chocolate ganache - melted chocolate whipped with heavy cream. If it was real mousse, with egg in it, I'd be very surprised. It tasted ok, but really wasn't worth the effort of washing out the ricer. And a garnish of some sort would have been appreciated.

I had the creme brulée. Proper creme brulée should be refrigerated after bruléeing, so the crust can get appropriately crackly. This guy was still hot on top. Tasted fine though, and I really liked the extra-burnt flavor of the sugar. The strawberry had moldy spots on the underside, however, and the toasted almond slices were soggy. I'm not sure what flavor that sauce was supposed to be. It tasted...red. Sorta.

When our waiter asked how things were, I told him truthfully that the meat was overcooked, my "salad" was a hot mess, and showed him the strawberry. He apologized, invited us to return, saying the restaurant can "do better", and kindly took the two glasses of wine we had off the check, saving us $18.

At least the wine was good.

Tabrizi's
500 Harbor View Dr
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 727-3663

Tabrizi's on Urbanspoon
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