Friday, July 29, 2011

Minx Answers Your Questions

I've noticed that search engines lead many people to this site as an answer to a specific question. The most popular query, hands down, is "Is Fabio Viviani married?" I'm not sure why so many people need to know the answer, but it is "no, not currently." (He does, however, have a girlfriend.)

Here are some other questions I can answer. If you have questions for theminx, send them to me via e-mail and I'll do my best with them.

Where can I buy Nzorbit M tapioca maltodextrin?
There are a couple of outlets on the Internet that sell Tapioca Maltodextrin. Willpowder and L'Epicerie are two good ones, and both carry other tools for "molecular gastronomy" or whatever the kids are calling it today. If you just want a sample to play with, you can order it from National Starch.

Are chia seeds more beneficial crushed?
More beneficial, no, but their crunchy texture is minimized by a spin through a coffee grinder or mini-prep. Otherwise, they've a texture reminiscent of poppy seeds, which might not be desired in something like a chicken burger.

And that there is the answer to "What can I add to extra lean hamburger for moisture?"

Does honey attract flies?
You had to look that up on the Internet? Really? Really? Basically anything that emits an odor attracts flies: decomposing bodies; feces; your perfume; your toothbrush; food. Honey falls into that last category, and sweet things are especially tempting to the type of flies known as fruit flies. So the answer is, "yes."

Where can I find recipe for Rocco's chicken salad made with yogurt?
I've seen a couple variations on this query, plus someone came right out and asked the Rocco's Dinner Party Facebook page where the recipe could be found in his cookbook. Guess people weren't paying attention to the show because they were too busy being blinded by the awesomeness that is Rocco DiSpirito, but the recipe was created by Chef Ryan Poli, a competitor on the reality show. If anyone would like Poli's recipe for his Chicken Salad, Celery, Herbs, Non-fat Yogurt, Lemon Zest, it can be found here.

Is Penny [Davidi, Food Network Star] an embarrassment for Middle Easterners?
What a question! I doubt the answer can be found on Minxeats, since we're not Middle Eastern, but she seemed to make really good food every week, which should count for something, eh? However, her caustic behavior should be embarrassing to her own self, which I guess would make the answer to this question, "yes."

Who will win the Next Food Network Star 2011?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not psychic. And as far as I know, no sloppy Food Network intern has yet spilled the beans to the media. You'll just have to suffer for another 3 weeks just like the rest of us.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 7 Recap

First off, I want to say that I got a kick out of the gazillion hits the Episode 6 recap received in about a five minute period last night. Apparently a bunch of haters lovely folks from the Philadelphia/South Jersey area found my link on Facebook and came here to leave hate mail love letters in the comments. The more hits on the blog, the more $$$ I make from my ad provider, so keep 'em coming!

This week, our three competitors are Kevin Gaudreau, a corporate chef for The Pier Restaurant in Rhode Island and a former Marine, Janet Kim, a chef at Gordon Ramsay at the London, and Chris Colcagno, the executive chef at Cafe Amici somewhere in New Jersey. All three are self-taught, with no formal culinary education. That said, they all seem extremely competent, which makes the show a bit harder to recap in a humorous manner.

For their Signature Dishes, Kevin - who tells us that the restaurants under his purview have been run like machines - is making a version of shrimp and grits with leeks. Chris, who is cocky as all get out, is doing a blackened mahi-mahi with a sweet corn mash and spinach. And Janet, who is Korean, is doing a fancy deconstructed dish of spicy Korean pork belly in a crepe served with three kinds of kimchi.

While Rocco noses around the kitchen, he notes that Chris is making a beurre blanc and obnoxiously starts to quiz him on technique. Cocky Chris is sure his dish will be perfect, that is, until he ladles the sauce onto his plate and finds that it has broken.

At the Altar of Judgement, Rocco gives him the old "I told you so" face and tells him that while his sauce is a complete and utter fail, his fish was almost perfectly cooked and his corn was tasty. On to Janet, whose twee tweezer-applied bits and pieces of kimchi cause Rocco to cry out in pain over the loss of texture that a good kimchi would otherwise provide. Lucky for her, her pork belly was exquisite. Finally, Rocco tells Kevin that his dish looks mass-produced but tastes great.

Because a broken beurre blanc is such a rookie mistake, Chris is out and Janet and Kevin get to go on to the dinner party. This week's theme is "Gastropub," which sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

Jes Forehead comes out and she and Rocco do the pretend kiss thing they do every week. This time, it looks like Jes lands on on his cheek, and he, though contorting his mouth into fish lips, seems more like he's trying to avoid touching her with them. He's clearly afraid of The Forehead.

Kevin is the ultimate winner of the challenge and therefore he gets to choose his room first. He goes for the formal dining room, which he wants to make somewhat rustic. Janet wants her room to be a real explosion of Anglophilia, something she describes as a "cross between Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood." As an Anglophile, Janet should have known that Sid Vicious and the rest of the Sex Pistols - and indeed every "punk" who came afterwards - owes their entire look to Westwood. She is literally the Grandmother of Punk.

Next comes shopping. While at Garden of Eden, Kevin tells us he's making a pea soup, fish and chips, lobster pot pie, lamb tenderloin, liver and onions, and a chocolate banana bread pudding. Janet is making an equally ambitious menu of bacon chili crisps, Pimm's and lemonade beet salad, bone marrow with Stilton, beer brisket with Yorkshire pudding, and finishing up with a rose mascarpone "cloud."

Rocco stops into the kitchen to tell the chefs that there is one annoying diner who has dietary restrictions and will eat no beef, pork, or organ meats. The chefs immediately scurry to make substitutions.

The guests for this week's dinner are food writer Amanda Hesser, actor Christopher McDonald (who's wearing an astonishing amount of pancake makeup), chef Ken Oringer, So You Think You Can Dance presenter Cat Deeley, Frank Carfaro of home furnishings company DESIRON, and actress Raven Symoné. Funny, I never noticed the "é" at the end of her name before. I gotta wonder why some folks use accents (or in the case of the stupid - apostrophes) and yet mispronounce them. Her name should be pronounced "sy-mo-NAY" not "sy-MOAN."

Janet serves first. For the non-pork eater, she makes malt vinegar-flavored crisps (potato chips) while the rest of the group gets a batch flavored with bacon powder (made with tapioca maltodextrin, a parlor trick I've tried in the past). Turns out that Raven SymoNAY is the culprit, but she exclaims "I taste bacon and I taste chili but those smell like old feet!" pointing to the vinegar chips that Cat Deeley seems to have in front of her. Or maybe the editing was just bad. In any case, for Raven's second course, she gets a Stilton fondue to eat while the rest of the table rhapsodizes over bone marrow with Stilton. The next course is beef cooked in Guinness, with a welcome dish of gnocchi for Raven. And finally, the dessert gets mixed reactions. Cat Deeley claims not to know what an "English milky tea broth" is even though she is British. Um...looked like tea with milk in it to me.

My biggest objection about Janet's dinner party is that Rocco pronounced mascarpone incorrectly by putting an extra "r" in the first syllable. You're Italian, Rocco. For shame! Heaven forbid Giada De Laurentiis ever get a hold of you, she'd be all, "mas car POWN ay" in your face.

Kevin is up, and he can only allow the diners a generous 8 minutes per course if he wants to finish serving in the hour time frame. He rushes out some pea soup with prosciutto (tomato for Raven), fish and truffled chips, a lobster pot pie with far too much saffron (that someone remarks is like licking bathroom tile - WHO licks bathroom tile, aside from my retarded special old cat?), a lamb course with beans that also gets served to Raven because she didn't clarify that she didn't eat red meat, only pork and beef.

Liver and onions came next, with an edamame salad substitution for Raven, and then finally, a deconstructed banana bread pudding which was the least favorite dish of the six.

While both parties seemed fun and most of the food seemed appreciated - there were so many courses served, however, we didn't get to hear all that much praise or disdain for any of them - Rocco had to pick one winner. It might have come down to decor. Janet had great ideas, but I think Jes Forehead let her down. The colors were too bright and poppy, like a fluorescent-lit 2011-version of punk rather than the filthy, heroin-addled, safety-pin-and-unemployment-riddled dark time that it was. Kevin's vision was much cozier, more pub-like and welcoming. And maybe his food was better, because he got the win.

Congrats, Kevin!

Next week: A bald Douche. Fashion. Kara Janx.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Potbelly Sandwich Works

Potbelly Sandwich Works opened up near UMMS sometime in the last year or so. The first time I ate a Potbelly sandwich, I stood in line with the rest of the customers. That day, it was packed, but the tasty roast beef and cheese on multigrain bread seemed worth the wait. The beef was lean and lacked the rubbery quality that I hate so much about non-Jewish-deli roast beef. The bread had been toasted and was a far cry better than the stuff served at the other sandwich chain nearby - Subway.

The second time around, I decided I wouldn't waste my time in line and ordered my sandwich via Potbelly's handy online order system. That time, I tried the chicken salad, which was a bit bland, full of white meat and mayo. Not the best version I've ever eaten, but certainly not the worst.

Third time's the charm, they say, but that adage seemed to work in reverse for me. On my third trip to Potbelly, several months later, I tried the vegetarian sandwich, which consisted of Swiss, Provolone, and Cheddar cheeses, plus mushrooms. Despite the variety of cheeses, the sandwich was surprisingly...bland. The cheese tasted generically cheesy, and the mushrooms were cooked (until warm, but not any further than that - certainly there was no caramelization going on) but they seemed unseasoned. Even the pickle slices that I had requested were rather flavorless. Mayonnaise seemed to be the most dominant flavor. Disappointing.

So...bread's better than Subway. Roast beef is pretty good. Everything else...meh. There are several places to get a decent sandwich in the area; I think I'll stick to the UMMS cafeteria.

And this is why we need food trucks.

Potbelly Sandwich Works
519 W. Pratt St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 528-0901

Potbelly Sandwich Works on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Refrigerator Pie

When I saw the recipe for 10-Minute Lime Cracker Pie posted on Serious Eats, I decided it would be the perfect thing to serve on the Fourth of July. And I was right. A big ol' slab of lime-flavored heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk was just thing to have after indulging in hamburgers and bratwurst. <g> Ok, not really. But a couple of tablespoons of the tangy stuff hit the spot.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The dish took a little more than 10 minutes to make, maybe 15, and it needs to hang out in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours (or even better, overnight) in order for the crackers to absorb the liquid. But the result is much like key lime pie, but with layers of "crust" within rather than just one on the bottom. So like key lime pie, in fact, that I think this would be much much better if made with plain graham crackers rather than Ritz. The Ritz (we used the low-sodium variety) tasted sorta, well, Ritz-y.

I think an orange or lemon version with chocolate cookies might be fun to try.

10-Minute Lime Cracker Pie (from Serious Eats)

2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup lime juice (about 4-5 limes)
10 ounces (about 2 1/2 sleeves) Ritz crackers
zest from 2 limes

Combine milk and heavy cream in a large bowl. Add lime juice and whisk until thickened, about 1 minute. Spread 1 cup filling on bottom of 8" square baking pan. Top with single layer of Ritz crackers. Repeat, alternating layers of filling and crackers until pie plate is full (finish with a layer of filling). Sprinkle with grated lime zest. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Serves 8-10.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Food Network Star 2011 Episode Eight

This week, the Wanna-bes head to New York to finish up this grueling (for the viewer) competition. After dumping their bags at the Flatotel, they head to Chelsea Market and the Food Network kitchens where they meet up with Bobby Flay. He looks a little jet-lagged but doesn't his coloring work nicely with the kitchen's decor?

And look at the local luminary we have to judge the Camera Challenge this week - all the way from the Hamptons, Ina Garten!

The Wanna-bes' challenge this week is to bake cupcakes that show their personalities, and give a one-minute on-camera presentation. Funny that everyone seems really excited and nobody is bitching and moaning about the fact that this is a dessert challenge. And that they have to bake cupcakes.

Some of the Wanna-bes' cupcakes sound good, others, not so much. While I like the sound of Vic's tartufo-inspired cupcake, covered in chocolate, and was drooling over Mary Beth's roasted strawberry with strawberry balsamic frosting, I'm gagging at the idea of Jeff's cupcake stuffed with five different Italian meats and Susie's corn cupcake topped with a duck confit slaw. In-between are Whitney's completely unimaginative coconut almond cupcake, an knock-off homage to the one Ina brought, and boring plain yawn-inducing Jyll's rather boring plain yawn-inducing staid orange and chocolate cupcake.

This far along in the competition, it seems that most of the Wanna-bes have their all-important POV firmly in mind during their presentation. Susie's working "Spice it Up" and gets raves. Mary Beth tells a story about strawberry picking with her son. Bobby says her cupcake is the best thing she's made, and Ina insists she'd download the recipe. (But, I'm sure, not pay for it.)

While Whitney's presentation was lovely and her cakes moist, Tushface still worries about her star power. Hell, I'd watch her, mostly because she doesn't have that obnoxious in-your-face Food Network energy. Vic's cupcake is too chocolate-y - as if there is even such a thing. Jyll's cupcake was balanced in flavor and had "lots of impact" (impact? it's a freaking cupcake), but even Ina thinks she's a phoney. And finally Jeff's cupcake is so bad, Bobby says he's going on a diet.

Ina has to dash back off to the Hamptons so another Food Network star is trotted out for the next challenge.

It's been a blissful seven weeks without her, but it's finally time for Rachael Ray to make an appearance. She'll be hosting the Wanna-bes on her daytime show as they give a 30 second self-intro and do a 3-minute cooking demo while answering audience questions. The task du jour is to put their own twist on a classic family dinner: Whitney - chili; Mary Beth - shepherd's pie; Jyll - meatloaf; Jeff - pork chops and apple sauce; Vic - lasagna; and Susie - chicken stir-fry.

Whitney gets to show her live-audience chops first. She does a very good intro to her imagined show, Four-Star Flair, and makes a tasty chicken chili. Despite doing a really good job, and having lots of positive energy, the judges still have to complain that she's a great teacher but not a storyteller.

Mary Beth is next, and she's really fired up. She presents Sunday Suppers with a tag line that the judges love - "wear your heart on your plate." But during her demo, she loses energy and doesn't have enough to say to fill the three minutes. Her carrot-topped shepherd's pie is both pretty and tasty though, and that gets points from the judges.

Mama's Boy Vic is next, making a Frankendish he christens the "lachanga" - leftover lasagna wrapped in a tortilla, deep fried, topped with sauce and cheese, and popped into the oven. It's overwrought, he's so busy cooking that he forgets to take an audience question (I know what I would have asked), doesn't make the point that his dish is a good way to use leftovers, and...the judges hate it.

Susie is next, making what she feels is a more elegant version of fajitas, the closest thing to chicken stir-fry in her repertoire. She tells the audience that she wants them to dismiss their ideas about Mexican food. Backstage, Bride of Fogelstein thinks she's denouncing her cuisine. DUH! She's denouncing the audience's concept of Mexican food, which most likely is TACO BELL. In any case, Susie is nervous, runs out of time, and forgets to field a question.

Jyll comes out and does a decent job with her intro, then makes a mess of the presentation. She's making meatloaf in a pie pan topped with mashed potatoes, which is more like a shepherd's pie than Mary Beth's shepherd's pie. The audience question throws her off and she starts babbling about giving home cooking a California twist, and entertaining on a budget and all these things that she's never mentioned before during the course of the show.

Finally, we get Jeff, who has decided he will win this challenge with his humor and energy. His intro is great, he gets the audience pumped up, and does an over-all fantastic job. Rachael Ray proclaims him to be her favorite.

Later, in front of the Selection Committee, it's apparent that Rachael's vote was important. While Jeff didn't talk about the food as much as he should have, everybody loves both him and his pork chop sandwich. He is the winner of this challenge.

Whitney was also given high marks and is safe for another week. Meanwhile, Mary Beth, Jyll, Vic, and Susie are all on the bottom. While the Selection Committee searches for negative comments to make about everyone, it's pretty obvious that Jyll was the big stinker this week. She didn't embody her POV, came up with two new ones, and her artificiality stuck out like a sore thumb. According to the judges, that is. Honestly, I think most people on the Food Network (with notable exception of Ina, Bobby, and Alton) are big fakes.

So we're down to five Wanna-bes: Mary Beth, Jeff, Whitney, Vic, and Susie. Personally, I like all of them and would probably watch any of their shows (if they air in a time slot other than 9am on Saturday, that is). So who's your favorite?

Next week - the Wanna-bes get "roasted" by Gilbert Gottfried?

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Friday, July 22, 2011


Guess this means I gotta start being good. <EG>

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A Mediterrasian Soup

Some years ago, when the restaurant Ixia opened on Charles Street, then-chef Edward Kim offered a dish he called a Sriracha chile bouillabaisse. A wonderfully spicy red seafood broth topped by a piece of crisply fried red snapper, the dish made such an impression on me that I recreated it at home.

My version is pretty simple and needs only a handful of ingredients: canned tomatoes, onion, olive oil, fish stock or clam juice, and of course Sriracha. And some sort of seafood, of course. I've made it with and without snapper and decided that if there's enough protein in the broth, there's no need to go to the trouble of dirtying a sauté pan. Recently I made a version using only squid. While the popular Thai chile and garlic sauce called Sriracha is a main ingredient, the overall flavor of the dish was never particularly Asian. This time, I pulled the dish firmly into the Mediterranean by the use of sliced fennel, yet emphasizing the vegetable's licorice-y savor with a garnish of Thai basil.

Mediterrasian Seafood Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup sliced leek, carefully washed
1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup lemoncello
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 bottle clam juice + 1 bottle of water
1 tablespoon Sriracha (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 lb cleaned squid, bodies sliced into rings and tentacles left whole
2 tablespoons lime juice
salt and pepper
Thai basil leaves

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and add leeks and fennel. Cook over medium heat until vegetables soften, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and stir, cook an additional minute or two. Raise heat and pour in lemoncello, bringing to a boil. After another two minutes, add tomatoes, clam juice, and water. When liquid comes to a boil, stir in Sriracha, red curry paste, paprika, and squid. Turn heat down and simmer for 90 minutes, until squid is very tender and broth has reduced somewhat. Stir in lime juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Thai basil.

Serve with crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

Serves 2-4.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 6 Recap

Sorry I didn't do a recap last week. Actually, no, I'm not sorry. I went to New York on Thursday and had a damn fabulous time. Friday and Saturday I was super busy, and by the time I had a spare moment to look at my notes on Sunday, I really didn't feel like dealing with it. Honestly, if I don't do it right away, I don't want to do it at all.

But before I start this week's recap, let me tell you about a dream I had last night because it's vaguely related. What I can remember is that I was suddenly thrust into cooking for a dinner party, and no, Rocco wasn't anywhere to be seen (although I do remember wishing at one point he was around to help me in the kitchen). Instead, the party host was Caroline Manzo, one of the Real Housewhores of New Jersey and a recent guest on Rocco's Dinner Party. The kitchen was chaotic, with dinner guests already seated, a giant pot of beans on the stove badly needing to be drained (and I'm not able to lift it), no planned meat courses that I was aware of, and my having to cook brown carnaroli risotto with: 1) no idea how long it needs to cook; 2) no stock. Meanwhile, Caroline was in a panic arranging antipasti, and at the same time chattering on about me marrying an Italian boyfriend, who, now that I reflect on it, appeared in an Inception-style flashback-within-a-dream cameo as Andrew Garfield. That scrawny guy in the new Spiderman movie. And yes, I did watch the trailer yesterday afternoon. My mind is so freaking susceptible to suggestion, it's scary. Obviously I was much younger in my dream, because Garfield was born the year I graduated high school. ....

In any case, my dream was far more interesting than last night's episode of Rocco's Dinner Party, which was more annoying than anything. And sorry for the lack of pictures - Bravo only has images from the Signature Dish challenge and none of the rest of the show, and two of three videos are mostly useless.

Anyhoo...the three chefs this week were caterers Daniel "Darth" Vater and Vanessa Cantave, and biscotti baker and royal pain-in-the-ass Natalie Stone. That Natalie bitch talked non-stop, whether anyone was listening to her or not. I was kinda hoping that Rocco would be extra-super-douchy to her because I woulda been.

Her "signature dish" was - no, not biscotti - a pan-seared cod over white sweet potato and turnip puree and a corn relish. As she finishes plating her dish she yells, "I hate it I hate it I hate it!" which causes all and sundry to step away from her, wondering if she weren't perhaps a victim of head trauma at some point in her life. She does have five kids, so that might be part of the madness.

Oh, I know. You're capable of great annoyance.
Daniel was almost equally annoying. He claimed that his stuffed chicken breast dish, which he called "chicken ballotine" to fancy it up, wowed celebrity diners from here clear to New Jersey.

Hey, man, don't bother Daniel with things like fancy French pronunciation. Do you think he's gay or something?

Meanwhile, third chef Vanessa is much more modestly confident and definitely more quiet as she works on her seared scallops dusted in porcini powder and served over creamed leeks.

When it's time to present the dishes on the Altar of Judgement, Rocco tells them he's going to first taste the one that he finds most appealing, which is Lord Vater's. While it looks good, it's a bit overwrought for what is essentially a stuffed chicken breast. Vanessa's dish is technically proficient, and the worst Rocco can muster is to make fun of her quail egg topping. And finally, Natalie's dish, which looks like shit, surprises Rocco with its deliciousness. Looks like she's going to be staying. But can wee bird eggs beat out fussy chicken? I'm not sure I can deal with both Darth Feyter and Nutjob.

And I don't have to. Vanessa is proclaimed the winner of the challenge and Daniel is sent off to grumble about how great he is while he packs his knives and goes.

Rocco then tells the girls that this week's theme is French cuisine. They'll need to plan their menus using Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as their bible. Jes Forehead is then trotted out to help them with party planning.

Vanessa's parents are from Haiti, so she decides to inject some Island soul into her decor, with soothing blues and greens and a blue toile tablecloth. Natalie, who is clearly insane, tells Jes Forehead that she wants her room to be romantic, intimate, like a woman's bedroom, but also decadent like Paris in the 20s, gluttonous, with nude fat people, and lots of fruit on the table.

While the chefs shop, we learn that Nutjob wants to make gorgonzola-stuffed dates wrapped in bizute (prosciutto - she's Sicilian), bacon and onion gnocchi, filet of sole stuffed with duxelles, and a gateau a l'orange. Vanessa is making a red snapper crudo, an onion and plantain soup, braised short ribs, and a banana tart. The only French I'm seeing in these menus are the words "duxelles" and "gateau."

Back in the kitchen, Nutjob hasn't stopped talking for a minute.

Meanwhile, the guests arrive: Julie & Julia author Julie Powell, actor Michael Ian Black and actress S. Epatha Merkeson, event planner Marcy Blum, French model Leah de Wavrin, and French chef Alain Salhiac. Rocco brings Powell into the kitchen to meet the chefs, as if they're supposed to be excited to meet a blogger who turned out a book so uninteresting, they had to add a whole other book AND Meryl Streep to turn it into a halfway watchable movie.

And still they failed.

Nutjob serves her food first. Her dining room looks like a Russian whorehouse - a ton of fruit on the table, purple tinted drawings of nudes on the walls - it's just hideous. This week's annoying vegetarian is Marcy Blum (who eats fish, which means she's NOT a vegetarian) whose dietary pecadillos must be accommodated. I'd be like, "Sorry bitch, you should have told me well in advance. You're going to have to be satisfied with eating the parsley garnish." But Natalie complies by omitting the "bizute" from her dates and makes plain pasta for her first course. Not that it's served mind you - a waiter gives Marcy a plate of bacon gnocchi, which sends Rocco into the kitchen to whine about it for her.

While Nutjob's decor is a mess, it seems that the guests enjoy her food, particularly the cake. Model Leah - who is a skeleton even with the supposed 10 pounds the camera puts on - tells Rocco that she is "pigging herself" on it.

Back in the kitchen, Nutjob tries to foist her food on Vanessa, who is nervous and can't eat. Nutjob says turning down food offered by a Sicilian mother is like spitting in her eye. Me, I would spit in her eye. Maybe it would shut her up for 10 seconds.

It's Vanessa's turn to serve and she sends out her raw snapper amuse. At this point, it's Epatha's turn to be a dick and say she doesn't eat raw fish. It's an amuse. One bite. Just don't fucking eat it. But Vanessa's a better woman than I and cooks a bit of snapper for her. She then sends out her soup course covered in sliced black truffles. Julie Powell is all over the truffles, saying they are like sex. If sex smelt like cheese, garlic, and old socks. To Michael Ian Black however, it smells like a "bladder infection." Nice.

Truffles make another appearance on the short rib dish (more snapper for Marcy), which is so adored by Salhaic that he declares it the best short ribs he has eaten in hees life. Dessert is also a big hit.

Time for the verdict. Rocco meets with the chefs at the Altar of Judgement and tells them they both did a remarkable job but only one can win. Thankfully that's Vanessa and not Nutjob, who keeps chattering all the way out the door.

Next week: She's So Raven! And a competitor who may be even more douchey than Rocco!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And All That Chazz

There's been a lot of buzz about the new Italian restaurant in town, Chazz: A Bronx Original, and Mr Minx and I were excited to receive an invitation to sample the menu. A partnership between actor Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects) and local restaurateurs Sergio and Alessandro Vitale (Aldo's), Chazz specializes in coal-fired pizza but is much more than a pizza joint.

Mr Minx and I started out our meal with a couple of drinks from their list of signature cocktails. Mine was the tartly refreshing and possibly too easy to drink Al Fresco, made with strawberries, lime, basil and the locally-produced Sloop Betty vodka. Mr Minx, a sucker for a Manhattan, tried the Pikesville, a classic made with Maryland-produced rye whiskey. It seemed somehow lighter than the usual version, which made for a pleasant Summer sipper.

Al Fresco and Pikesville Manhattan
Because there are so many categories on the menu, it was hard to decide what exactly we wanted to sample. We were advised to try a cheese, a pizza, a pasta, and an appetizer, but the vegetable selections tempted us. As did the bruschette. And panini. And salads. We couldn't possibly have eaten one of each (ok, maybe we could have), so we went for things that sounded the most tempting.

We started out with Chazz's rendition of a Caprese salad, this one featuring a honkin' slab of Burrata cheese, with roasted tomatoes, pesto, and a balsamic syrup. Burrata is a fresh cheese comprising a shell of mozzarella filled with more mozzarella and cream, and Chazz imports theirs from Italy the day it's made. In other words, it's very fresh, and almost evilly luscious. The accompanying sweet little pesto-coated tomatoes added a bit of refreshing acid to the dish; all I needed was a loaf of crusty bread and I would have been quite satisfied to call it dinner all on its own.

Caprese salad with roasted vine tomatoes, burrata, pesto, and balsamic syrup
Because I am a real sucker for fried calamari, we tried Chazz' version. These were piping hot, perfectly crisp, tender, and well-seasoned. A fine example of the dish that has become an appetizer staple.

The fried calamari came with goathorn pepper aioli and
spicy tomato sauce (not pictured).
To be different (and pretend-healthy), we sampled two of the vegetable dishes: roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta, and Roman-style artichokes. We loved the sprouts (because we love them in any form) with their chewy nuggets of bacon, but they are pretty well-cooked and might be too-cabbagy for some. The artichokes, served at room temperature, have an almost creamy texture and are accented with a bit of mint.

Top - roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta
Bottom - Roman-style artichokes
The veal meatball appetizer is a signature dish, but we chose to try the tender and juicy meatball sliced onto a NY-style pizza instead. Mr Minx is always on the search for a thin crust pizza that isn't too doughy and that has a nice cheese-to-sauce ratio, and I think he's found it. Leftovers were just as delicious two days later.

Veal Meatball NY style pizza with tomato and mozzarella
Besides the Burrata, my favorite dish was the spaghettoni, a thick spaghetti topped with a spicy tomato sauce containing guanciale (a bacon made from the jowl or cheek). The fresh pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce had a serious kick to it. We ordered a half portion which was almost hard for me to share, except for the fact that we had so much other food!

Housemade Spaghettoni All'Amatriciana with guanciale
Many of the Italian restaurants in and around Little Italy get their desserts from Vaccaro's, so we usually skip the middle-man and head directly to the Little Italy institution to gorge on cannoli and gelato. However, Chazz has an in-house pastry chef, Janae Aiken, who trained at the CIA; that made it imperative that we try desserts.

Sorry, Vaccaro's, but I gotta say Chazz's cannoli is some stiff competition, with a ricotta filling made extra-rich by the addition of heavy cream. My only criticism (of the entire meal, actually) is that there might have been a bit too much cinnamon in the filling.

Sicilian Cannoli
Lemon-honey ricotta cheesecake with shortbread crust &
warm lemon blueberry sauce
We also sampled the ricotta cheesecake and the chocolate espresso torte. What sold me on the torte was the accompanying scoop of raspberry lime granita - a bit of tanginess to offset the sweet chocolaty richness of the torte. The cheesecake was that perfect texture in between fluffy and dense, and I loved the tiny wild blueberries on top.

Chocolate espresso torte with raspberry lime granita
After gorging ourselves, we (and our doggie bag) went home quite full. And satisfied. I have to admit that we were impressed by the offerings at Chazz, a red-sauce joint that manages to be much more than that. By the time we left the restaurant, it was full of happy, noisy diners, some enjoying multi-course meals, and others who had just popped in for a pizza. While the overall feeling of the restaurant is fairly casual, the quality of the food would make Chazz a good special-occasion spot, too. I know we'll be back.

Chazz: A Bronx Original
1415 Aliceanna Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 522-5511

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