Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Minxeats September Newsletter

The September issue of the Minxeats monthly newsletter will be hitting your mailbox tomorrow...that is, if you've signed up for it!

To sign up, fill out the form below.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Chiapparelli's

When I was a kid, growing up in Fells Point, a trip to Little Italy (or, as we pronounced it, "Lil Lily") was usually reserved for special occasions. Once in a while we'd get a pizza from DiNitti's, or a bag of ossa di morte ("bones of the dead" - very hard, clove-flavored cookies) from Vaccaro's, but we wouldn't have a sit-down dinner at any of our favorite red-sauce joints unless it was for a special reason. Ok, so sometimes the occasion was merely that we wanted to get dressed up and go out to eat. If we felt really fancy, we'd go to Vellegia's, which seemed to us to be the poshest restaurant in the area, otherwise we'd go to Sabatino's or Chiapparelli's.

Vellegia's is gone now, but Chip's and Sab's live on. Recently, Chip's offered a Groupon, which I snatched up, knowing that Mr Minx had never experienced any of the classic Little Italy restaurants. We had an opportunity to use it for his birthday - a very special occasion indeed.

While offering many of the same classics as every other restaurant in the neighborhood (ravioli, veal Parmesan, chicken Marsala), Chip's menu has been modernized a bit and offers new classics like stuffed portobello mushrooms and grilled salmon, along with crab cakes and a rib-eye for those weirdos who go to Italian restaurants but not to eat Italian food. Don't get me wrong - Chip's is still very much an old-school restaurant: the bread basket contained squishy Italian bread and a handful of prepackaged butter pats. You'll find no plates of artisinal olive oil enhanced with house-dried herbs here! And every entrée automatically comes with the famous garlic-and-cheese-laden Chiapparelli's salad, practically a meal in itself.

Once upon a time, Italian restaurants suggested ordering a pasta course AND a meat course, but since most Americans consider pasta a dinner unto itself, that's usually not the case anymore. But how could we dine at a restaurant that makes its own pasta and not have a pasta course? We opted to split an order of the "besto pesto" - the classic Genoese basil/pine nut/parm purée, mixed with a judicious amount of cream (that the menu, in a bit of reverse exaggeration, describes as a "touch"), coating strands of nicely toothsome maccherone. The dish is also available with chicken or shrimp, but I think the dish was plenty decadent without the addition of protein.

Honestly, after the giant salad and the rich pasta, I could have called it quits, but I had ordered an entrée, too. While not normally a fan of veal, I was in the mood for brasciole. Chip's version is rolled with some prosciutto and served with a generous portion of old-school potato gnocchi and a brightly-flavored marinara. Because it's so easy to make tough gnocchi, I find that most cooks try too hard to achieve the opposite effect. Eating a bowl of squishy pillows can occasionally get boring. One bite of Chiapparelli's gnocchi, however, took me instantly back to my childhood, to gnocchi that actually required chewing, and that occasionally caused an upset tummy after overindulgence. This is a good thing. Too much of one, it seems, because after three pieces of pasta and a quarter of the meat, I was done.

Mr Minx didn't have as difficult a time scarfing down most of his veal Saltimbocca, with spinach, proscuitto, and Parmesan in a Marsala wine sauce that tasted as if it contained a (un)healthy amount of butter. While not the most elegant version of saltimbocca, it was a hearty, rib-sticking dish, with tender veal and perfectly-cooked spinach.

We opted not to have dessert at Chip's, but after learning that it was Mr Minx's birthday, our (lovely, accomodating, and very suave) waiter brought a house-made mini cannoli as a sweet little gift to end the meal.

We went home that evening very full, quite content, and reeking of garlic. And with a large bag of leftovers (including an entire salad, since the pasta dish was considered an entrée) that would constitute my lunch for the remainder of the week. I don't know why we don't eat in Little Italy more often. Next time - Sab's.

Chiapparelli's
237 S High St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 837-0309

Chiapparelli's on Urbanspoon
Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Natural Disaster Week!

Between the earthquake and the hurricane, I'd say the East Coast has faced it's share of disasters last week, eh? A damn good thing we're not expecting Brood X for another 10 years.

On Tuesday afternoon, I heard a rumbling and looked up at my office ceiling only to find it undulating like Jell-O. My first thought was that the building's maintenance crew was doing wind sprints in the penthouse, but half a second later, my brain said "It's an earthquake, stupid! Get out!" I grabbed my purse just as our Fire Marshal was telling us to evacuate the building. We spent an hour outside, most of us attempting to contact family via cellphone. I was only able to text, and after several frustrating minutes, was able to contact my loved ones to make sure all was well.

A few days later, we braced ourselves for Hurricane Irene, which terrorized the coast from the Carolinas to Maine. We were pretty confident that we'd escape relatively unscathed, but packed away a day's worth of food in a cooler just in case. As it turned out, rain and wind did little damage in our immediate area (just north of the City line), but we lost power anyway because our block happens to be on the crappy City grid. Two days later, when power returned, I was a bit annoyed that we'd have to throw out everything in the freezer. Meanwhile, our neighbors across the street had power the entire weekend.

In both cases, however, we escaped unscathed.

But the event that affected me most in the past week was not the work of Mother Nature, but the suicide of former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan. I became a rabid baseball fan after the 1979 World Series, and Flanny was one of my all-time favorite players. Having recently seen him acting as color commentator on MASN, I found his death more than a bit shocking.

My heart goes out to his family; their personal disaster will have lifelong repercussions that make a couple of natural ones pale by comparison.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Simple Summer Supper

Another great thing to do with a plethora of tomatoes is to make salsa.

Pan-fried, cornmeal-crusted mahi mahi on a bed of dead-ripe tomato salsa.
Simple Summer Salsa

2 cups ripe tomatoes, diced
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed, minced
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Drain off any excess liquid. Serve salsa with tortilla chips, or as a topping for chicken, pork, or seafood.

(Mix drained liquid with vodka or tequila; drink.)

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Meatless Monday - Tomato Tart

Recently, my brother donated to us a box full of ripe tomatoes and jalapenos given to him by a coworker. Yum! I love tomatoes, but this gift was more than we could eat in the short time we had before the fruits would go bad. I knew I'd have to make several things rather quickly; the first one to come to mind was a tomato tart.

I had both puff pastry in the freezer and conventional pie crust in the fridge. Heck, I even had a box of fillo in the freezer, but I oped to use the puff because it seemed simplest. I topped it with layers of shredded cheese and caramelized onions before the gloriously-red tomatoes went on, and then sprinkled it all with some of the abundant rosemary from our garden.

The best thing about baking at 400F (especially when it's hot outside) is that the heat releases food's incredible aromas. Almost immediately, my house smelled of onions and rosemary, a fragrance that lingered enticingly for several hours, long after we cleared the dinner dishes. And the flavors? Amazing. The tomatoes were sweet to begin with, and time in the oven only served to concentrate the sugars. The bed of onion added a bit of savoriness, as did the cheese. Overall, a gorgeous thing to do with an overabundance of produce.

Tomato and Caramelized Onion Tart

About 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

Cut the tomatoes into about 1/4" thick slices, sprinkle them with a bit of kosher salt and place them on paper towel-lined plates with another towel on top. Allow to rest for about half an hour to absorb excess water. In the meantime...

...in a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt until they are very soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll pastry out about a half inch larger on all sides and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leaving a 3/4" inch border on all edges, first sprinkle cheese on pastry, then top with an even layer of cooled, caramelized onions. Finally, arrange tomato slices over onions, overlapping very slightly. Scatter rosemary over all.

Bake in preheated 400F oven for 4 minutes until pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes have started to shrivel quite a bit.

Serve hot or at room temperature.


Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flashback Friday 8.26.2011

This post is from February 11, 2009

------------------
Chicken + Waffles

I thought I'd continue tying Top Chef into most of my posts here at MinxEats by cooking one of the recipes from this season. Stefan has won most consistently, so I figured I couldn't go wrong with one of his. I didn't want to make anything too complicated, so I decided on his chicken pot pie recipe from the amfAR Christmas party episode.

A couple of weeks ago, Mr Minx and I discussed having waffles for dinner, and that stuck in my head. So instead of waiting for puff pastry to thaw, I whipped up some savory waffles instead.

No real way to make this look appetizing. Sorry.
The recipe on the Bravo site is pretty weird. It calls for a pound of eggs (?!) and far too much butter and flour for the white sauce.  And it called for celery.  Like chef Jamie Lauren, I'm not big on celery (I know it's essential in mirepoix and trinity, but I don't want to taste it).  So I altered the recipe to make it work for me.  Sorry, Stef. ;)

Creamed Chicken

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
2 T vegetable oil
2 cups chicken stock
1 small sprig rosemary
pinch of sage
pinch of thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4  cup of light cream
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup parsnip, diced
2 T butter
2 T flour
salt and pepper

Heat veg oil in large skillet. Saute chicken pieces until lightly browned on all sides and remove from pan.  Add veg to pan and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.  Add chicken stock and herbs and simmer until veg are soft.  Strain off liquid and reserve.

In another pan, melt butter.  Stir in flour and add the reserved chicken stock, whisking well. Simmer this mixture until it's thickened.  Add cream.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add chicken and veg back to sauce and cook for an additional 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Yield: a lot. A quart and a half or so.

Cornmeal Waffles 

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 T butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk, more or less as needed
3 scallions, both green and white parts, chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well blended. Add the eggs and butter. Gradually add the milk, mixing well until a thick batter is formed.  Stir in the scallions and jalapeno.  Cook the waffles as specified by the manufacturer of your waffle iron.  Keep warm in a 300° F oven until all waffles are cooked.

Makes 10-12 depending on the size of your iron

Serve creamed chicken over waffles.

It turned out really well - the chicken was tender and I liked the addition of parsnips (which I've never cooked with before).  As I was eating, I was thinking that a creamed seafood sauce would be even better over the waffles - something decadent with lobster, perhaps.  I'm definitely going to try something like that in the future.


Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zucchini Bread

It's zucchini season! I love the stuff, but unfortunately, Mr Minx can't abide it. I buy it anyway, hoping to have an opportunity to sneak it into some dish or another. The easiest way to get the hubby to eat Summer squashes is to concoct something sweet. Zucchini bread, especially when it's full of nuts and chocolate chips, is really the ideal vehicle.

I tried the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It's good, but a bit too cinnamon-y for me, so I cut back on the quantity of that spice in the directions. If you love its flavor, feel free to add the whole 1.5 teaspoons to your batch! I also upped the amount of zucchini - the more the merrier - but made sure to squeeze out a lot of the moisture so I wouldn't end up with a soggy bread.

This made for almost a week's worth of yummy work breakfasts for me!

Zucchini Bread adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1.5 cups grated zucchini, placed in a tea towel and squeezed as dry as possible
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 cup dried cherries, cranberries, chopped apricots, or mini chocolate chips, or any combination thereof

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour one 8 x 4 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in oil, vanilla, and sugar, followed by the zucchini. Add flour, spices, baking soda and powder, salt, and whatever mix-ins you're using.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

No Recaps for Now...

...Not until Top Chef: Texas (coming this fall!). In the meantime, you could always read my parodies of Food Network shows:

Fumetto #1 - Sandra Lee
Fumetto #2 - Paula Deen
Fumetto #3 - Giada DeLaurentiis
Fumetto #4 - Sandra Lee
Fumetto #5 - Guy Fieri
Fumetto #6 - Sandra Lee
Fumetto #7 - Paula Deen
Fumetto #8 - Guy Fieri
Fumetto #9 - The Neelys
Fumetto #10 - Melissa D'Arabian
Fumetto #11 - Guy Fieri
Fumetto #12 - The Neelys
Fumetto #13 - Brian Boitano
Fumetto #14 - Aaron McCargo, Jr
Fumetto #15 - Ina Garten
Fumetto #16 - Nigella Lawson

And don't forget Top Chef Bastards, part I and II!







Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oceanaire Seafood Room

While my first Summer Restaurant Week 2011 experience was less than stellar, my second was right on the money. I've been curious about Oceanaire for a while now, but it always seemed so crazy expensive to try cold. Mr Minx was never particularly thrilled with their Restaurant Week menu, so I was happy to find out that my dear high school chum, Kim, had put it on her short list.

We dined early on a Friday; when we arrived the restaurant was mostly empty, so the simple and elegant space seemed cavernous, rather like the dining room of a cruise ship. Which I suppose was the idea. Our waiter, Chad, greeted the table with a smile that did not leave his face; he made us feel welcome and at home during the entire meal. And the food was as lovely as his demeanor.

Kim started off with a nicely-dressed Caesar salad, and I opted for the red chili calamari. The generous and tender portion of rings and tentacles had been drizzled with a sweet chili sauce that reminded me of dipping sauces served in a Thai restaurant as an accompaniment to fried things. But without the heat. Underneath the squid was a chopped vegetable salad of sorts that had absorbed some of the chili sauce and made for a tasty surprise.

Kim enjoyed the black and bleu flat iron steak, cooked a perfect medium (although she requested medium-well)...

...while I devoured the shrimp and grits. The Cajun butter sauce was very rich and studded with sliced garlic, which gave the dish an almost Italianate flavor. I think this dish is ordinarily an appetizer on the regular menu, and I would definitely consider ordering it again.

After we ordered our three Restaurant Week choices (appetizer, entrée, dessert), Chad inquired as to whether we might also like a vegetable. The creamy mashed potatoes were a perfect choice to accompany Kim's steak; I chose the multicolored carrots, bathed in a butter sauce with a touch of sweetness and a good dose of dill.

Because there was a lot of butter on both the carrots and my shrimp dish, I opted to take my dessert home - there was no way I'd be able to eat more than a bite of the giant, hand-sized, chocolate chip cookies. Instead, I took a taste of Kim's lemon icebox pie, a generously-sized, blueberry-topped slab much like a no-bake cheesecake, but with a less-cheesy, more-lemony flavor.

Overall, it was a very good experience. The service was lovely, the food was really very good, and we felt comfortable and taken care of. Oceanaire has officially made it to my list of "Special Occasion" restaurants to visit in the future.

Oceanaire Seafood Room
801 Aliceanna St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(443) 872-0000

Oceanaire Seafood Room on Urbanspoon
Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Figckles

Recently, I picked up some fresh figs at the supermarket, and while I adore figs, I can never seem to get them all eaten before they start to spoil. In order to preserve them for a bit longer than the two days they're usually good for, I made a quick batch of pickles, based on the pickled cherry recipe mentioned here last week.

They turned out great, and worked really well as a sweet element to round out the flavors of a chicken salad sandwich. Granted, the sandwich was a little on the exotic side.
Figckles

3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons fig or apple cider vinegar
1 branch fresh rosemary
six fresh figs, cut into halves

Bring brown sugar, vinegar, and rosemary to a boil. Add figs and cook about 5 minutes, using a spoon to baste figs with liquid. Remove from heat and pour figs and liquid into a glass container with a lid. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Eat within one week.

Chicken Salad Banh Mi

2 - 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
1 teaspoon lemongrass paste
1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
2 cups cooked chicken, cut or torn into chunks
2 scallions, white and some green part finely chopped
lime juice
salt and pepper 
Thai basil leaves
1 tomato, sliced
figckles
1 baguette, cut into 6" - 8" lengths

In large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, Sriracha, lemongrass paste, and cilantro. Stir in chicken and scallions. If mixture is too stiff, add more mayo. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Arrange 2-3 tomato slices on a baguette. Top with chicken salad and figckles. Serves 2-3.


Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meatless Monday - Black Bean Soup

I love black beans, but oddly, I seldom cook them at home. Then, I had the thought to make up a batch of black bean soup as an antidote to the meatfest we had scheduled one recent weekend. I had made reservations at Fogo de Chao to take advantage of the large Restaurant Week discount and knew that downing large amounts of fatty protein would leave my body crying out for something much leaner the next day. Unfortunately, one of our party had a change in plans so we scrapped the whole idea.

But I still made the bean soup. And it was good.

Black Bean Soup

1 poblano chile
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts sliced and thoroughly rinsed
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
3 cups veggie stock (or chicken, pork, or ham stock)

Roast poblano chile over an open flame (a grill, or a gas burner on your stove; alternately, place on a baking sheet and roast under the broiler). When blackened all over, place chile in a paper bag to steam. When chile is cool enough to handle, remove the blackened skin. Cut chile open, remove seeds and veins, and discard stem. Chop chile into about 1/4" pieces; set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and leek; cook until vegetables begin to turn translucent and soften. Add garlic and about 3/4 of the roasted poblano (reserving the rest for garnish). Mix in cumin, add beans and broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 20-30 minutes. Remove soup from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a conventional blender. Reheat until soup has thickened slightly, 15 minutes.

Serve garnished with Cilantro Cream, Tomato Salad, and reserved poblano chiles

Cilantro Cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon chopped green onions
3 tablespoons sour cream
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tomato Salad

1 cup mixed small tomatoes (grape, yellow pear, etc.) cut in half or quarters depending on size
1/4 cup chopped pepper of your choice (bell, if you want mild, jalapeno if you want spicy, etc.)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch salt

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Allow to sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes for flavors to blend. Add more salt or sugar to taste.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Alchemy

A restaurant named "Alchemy" conjures up, at least in this diner's mind, images of a near-magical dining experience, one in which ordinary ingredients are transformed into something special, something found nowhere else. A glimpse at the pretty Hampden restaurant anointed with that name, with its exposed brick, tin ceiling, and high-backed booths in a pale and sophisticated palette, might also give the impression that something special happens inside.

Sometimes it's hard to live up to a name.

After perusing the Restaurant Week menus online, Mr Minx declared that he found Alchemy's menu to be the most appealing, so we made a reservation to eat there fairly early last Thursday night. When we arrived at 6pm, we were the only customers in the downstairs area. After placing our order with our waiter, who promised to "take care of us," we were brought some warm rolls and butter to nibble as we waited. After a longer wait than anticipated, our appetizers arrived.

In addition to our Restaurant Week choices, I wanted to try the Mojito Mussels from the regular appetizer menu. The menu description was alluring: "Kaffir lime, blood orange, cilantro, seafood broth, roasted garlic chipotle butter, dark rum, basil chiffonade, fresh mint." Considering that the mint was the only ingredient this dish had in common with the popular cocktail known as a Mojito, I shouldn't have been surprised that the mussels tasted nothing like their namesake. The heap of tender shellfish was served in a near-opaque pale orange broth that had both tart and savory accents, with a predominate sweet spice note that we felt was possibly nutmeg. I felt the dish was the essence of...Autumn.

While not in the least what we expected, we loved it and found ourselves wishing that the restaurant had provided a spoon, or more bread with which to mop up the juices.

While eating the mussels, we also worked on our other appetizers. I am an eggplant fiend, whereas Mr Minx basically abhors it, so I was eager to taste the flatbreads with "roasted baby eggplant, butterscotch hummus, Manchego cheese." In most cases, I find that "flatbreads" are just fancy restaurant-speak for pizza. The most successful tend to have a tender crust - like a Greek pita or an Indian naan - but those at Alchemy were more crisp and dry, one step away from cracker-dom. Served in three perfect squares, my flatbreads bore a schmear of hummus made with butterscotch beans, two thin slices of Asian eggplant, and a veil of melted Manchego cheese. I was disappointed. While the melted cheese was tasty and ever-so-slightly stinky, and the hummus made for an interesting texture, the eggplant had no presence at all. I was hoping for a pile of smoky-flavored eggplant goo, something babaganoush-ish, or at the very least, something even remotely roasted.

The same flatbreads were far more successful as the accompaniment to Mr Minx's chicken liver paté with "fresh herbs, caramelized onion, Armagnac, Szechuan peppercorn." This was a pretty classic paté, tasting mostly of unadulterated, livery goodness.

About halfway through our appetizers, our entrées made an unwelcome appearance that required the table to be rearranged to accommodate the three additional dishes. The server volunteered to take our obviously unfinished apps away, and I almost slapped her hand. At that point in the evening, while several more parties had arrived since we sat down, most were still perusing the menu. So WHY, pray tell, did they rush our entrées? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it our waiter's responsibility to check on our progress and request that our entrées be fired so that they arrive AFTER our apps have been eaten (and hopefully, their plates cleared)? How was our waiter "taking care of us" if he let this happen? I think that I wouldn't have been as mad as I was (am) had he come to our table and apologized for the error. Not only did he not say a word (he didn't even pay the traditional visit to the table to ask how things were while our mouths were full), but even after we had finished our apps and there were obviously empty dishes on the table, he did not remove them. Because he did not see them. I watched him every time he passed us and he didn't so much as cast an eye in our direction. And it's not because he was busy.

Notice I am not mentioning his name, although I remember it (rare - I'm terrible with names).

Eventually, a busboy took pity on us and removed the empty appetizer plates so we could eat our entrées unencumbered.

One very positive comment about the entrées is that they both still were somehow piping hot by the time we got around to eating them. Of the two, Mr Minx's soy-marinated roasted red snapper with "sesame crust, roma tomato, pancetta, basil, scallions" was the most successful. The fish was plump and downright juicy, with a smoky bacon flavor from the plethora of pancetta. My big criticism was that the tomatoes had been blanched (in order to remove the skins) perhaps a bit too long, because they had gone from tasting fresh to tasting cooked. The other accompaniment - pencil thin asparagus and onions - was unnecessary and uninteresting.

I also received the completely unnecessary and uninteresting asparagus with my dinner, served on a separate plate which took up precious space on the already chaotic table. I wish the menu had mentioned that the "Angel Fire Chicken" was boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, because I would have made a different choice. However, the breasts, which had been coated in Ancho chili powder, were nicely cooked and still quite moist. Overall, however, the dish was a disappointment. The "sweet toasted corn, vine ripe tomatoes, roasted garlic butter, basil chiffonade" was a jumble of indistinct flavors, the corn was very wet and overcooked and certainly not "toasted," the tomatoes merely red blobs. Even the topping of baby arugula had little flavor.

Our waiter finally made an appearance in time to doggy-bag the rest of my entrée.

The highest point of the meal was my dessert - the blackberry Cabernet sorbetto. It had a creamy texture, almost like a sherbet, and sang with pure, rich, blackberry flavor. Outstanding.

Mr Minx's carrot cake was topped with a Limoncello cream cheese frosting that bore the grainy texture of too much powdered sugar. The cake itself was dense, like a muffin, and probably wouldn't have worked in the usual double-layer form, but otherwise bore traditional carrot cake flavors.

So...a very uneven meal. I have read accounts of similar experiences, so I can't say I was surprised. And while I can forgive food issues if the quality is good overall, I think the service issues are quite a problem. I expect poor timing in a diner or a hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurant, but not in a fine-dining establishment. Part of me thinks that the kitchen forgot about our appetizers and went straight to cooking the entrées, which is why there was a delay in getting the first course out earlier. That indicates an issue with the kitchen, but still does not excuse the indifference of our waiter. Some people might point to the fact that this was Restaurant Week and that many kitchens are not fond of the event because it's too busy, profits aren't what they might be otherwise, etc. etc. yadda yadda. But one of the functions of RW is to introduce diners, by means of an attractive price point, to restaurants they may not ordinarily have visited. If restaurants want these newbies to return with open wallets, they have to make sure the customers leave happy. Or at least not pissed-off.

Alchemy Modern American Eatery
1011 W 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 366-1163
www.alchemyon36.com

Alchemy Modern American Eatery on Urbanspoon

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on Rocco's Dinner Party

While at times I enjoyed watching Rocco's Dinner Party, there were many occasions when I found myself watching the clock, instead. Overall, the show was a good idea, with fine production values (although that loft set was plug-ugly), but the repetitiveness grew tiresome after several weeks.

Should the powers that be at Bravo decide that Rocco's Dinner Party deserves a second season, I have some suggestions to improve the show.
  1. Ten episodes is far too many; six or eight would be plenty.
  2. Part of the reason that ten shows were too many is that the first 20 minutes of every episode was essentially the same. Rocco even said the same things ("you on a plate," "I can learn a lot about you from this plate," etc.) every week. While the Signature Dish challenge seems like it's an important part of the show, I think it can be dispensed with, by...
  3. ...having only two chefs compete each week. Assign the theme right away and let them cook. However....
  4. ...scenes in the kitchen should take up only half of the show. Spend the rest of the time in the dining room, with the guests. Presumably, they are interesting people with interesting things to say. If not, don't invite them to participate. That brings me to number 5...
  5. Invite interesting guests. The general viewing public (like me, for instance) doesn't care about furniture salesmen or New York celebrities. If you must include relative nobodies, then at least make them Bravolebrities. Face it - most viewers will probably also be watching other shows on Bravo and be familiar with their casts. A couple of Top Chefs, Kathy Griffin, Jeff Lewis, that loudmouth Matchmaker chick, and a "prostitution who-ah" or two would spice things up considerably. Not to mention well-known actors and singers.
  6. Tell Rocco to be less imperious. If he's such a great and powerful chef, why the hell isn't he in the kitchen? 
My favorite suggestion, which would cause viewership and ratings to sky-rocket, isn't possibly do-able - at least not in this imperfect world. It was suggested to me by Samantha Bee, who used it as a joke toward the end of her episode:

      7.  Put the losing chef in cement overshoes and toss him in the East River.

Hey Bravo - are you listening?

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Rocco's Dinner Party, Season 1 Finale Recap

I'm sorry, @RoccoDispirito, I did not watch your Dinner Party this week. Yes, I realize that Liza Minnelli and Friends were probably your most interesting guests of the entire series, but I had good reasons for missing this episode.

1. I had a brain-scrambling sinus headache;
2. It was a 90-minute episode. It's a rare occasion when this gal stays up past 11 o'clock on a school night. So rare it happens only once a year - New Year's Eve. And that's only because I enjoy guzzling half a bottle of champagne while watching Kathy Griffin threaten to out Anderson Cooper every five minutes. That, my friends, is entertainment.

Not that I didn't make a valiant attempt to watch. It wasn't until after the first 22 minutes that I succumbed to my pain and dragged myself to bed, which, conveniently, was just enough time for me to find out which two of this week's three chefpetitors was going on to cook for Liza Minnelli's Birthday Party. So I figured - I'll still do a recap. I'll just make shit up. Lord knows it'll be far more entertaining than my last nine recaps have been!

So, shall we begin?

This week's chefpetitors all came from varied work backgrounds. First we see former truck driver and current restaurant owner Antonio Bettencourt enter Rocco's fake loft kitchen. Behind him coming up the steps and no doubt checking out his ass is current lead soprano for the New York Grand Opera, Lucia Palmieri, who worked as a chef once upon a time. Immediately upon entering the kitchen, Lucia starts hitting on Antonio, who, I gotta admit, is pretty cute. He reminds me of Andrew Ridgeley from Wham!, with a little bit of Adrian Zmed. (I'm really dating myself here, aren't I?) Unfortunately for Lucia, he's happily married. Or so he says.

And, finally, in glides caterer Frank Piccone, once a personal trainer. Notice that I said their work backgrounds are varied. Every single fucking one of them is Italian, which seems to be true of 80% of all chefs appearing on this show. Doesn't any other nationality in the Tri-State area know how to cook? Frank (while I'm old...Mr Minx is even older; he thinks Frank looks like a young Phil Silvers) also claims to be single, but that's only because they hadn't yet passed the gay marriage bill in NY at the time of filming. It's pretty obvious that the man is as queer as a three-dollar bill.

What is it exactly that makes a three-dollar bill queer? Is it because it doesn't exist? If it did exist, would it be printed in glitter ink? Who would be on the front?

After introductions, the three chefpetitors scurry about in the kitchen, making their Signature Dishes for Rocco, who of course has to come in and poke around their ingredients, belittle their technique, and generally act like a pain in the ass. The usual. After the requisite thirty minutes of cooking, they present their dishes at the Altar of Judgement.

Lucia has made chicken Francese with rapini. It's a dish found in any old-fashioned Italian restaurant in the country, but she says none will taste like hers. Rocco eyeballs the dish - which looks like a big old pile of cat barf - looks skeptical, and takes a bite. And then another. He loves it! Hey Rocco!

On to Frank, who's made quinoa pasta with various shellfish. In the process of chopping onions for his sauce, he lopped off the top of his thumb, thereby enriching the dish with a little blood. Rocco goes on a bit about how "kinwah" (it's KEEN-wah, dummy) is hard to take for some people, blah blah this dish is going to suck...wait.... YUMMY!

Finally, Rocco checks out Tony's red snapper (no, that's not a euphemism) with spicy grapefruit, fennel, crispy Prosciutto di Parma and olive tapenade.

Despite the defiled Prosciutto, he loves Tony's dish, too.

You can tell that Rocco is disappointed that he can't find anything truly bitchy to say, and that makes it especially difficult to choose one person to go home. At this point, I'm thinking that since it's a 90 minute episode, all three will be cooking. But I'm wrong - Rocco sends the three of them back to the kitchen to cook him a perfect steak. In five minutes.

Six minutes later, Lucia presents him with steak she's hacked into bits in order to facilitate cooking. Frank gives him a bloody-looking plate with steak in a wine sauce. And Tony presents a perfectly-seared steak topped with a lovely reduced sauce. Well, it looks perfect, but on the inside, it's still mooing. That makes Rocco's job so much easier - bye bye Cute Italian! The show will go on with only the Fat Italian and the Gay Italian.

Frank gets the overall win, and this is where I go to bed, folks.

:::::beginning fantasy sequence:::::

Rocco then tells Lucia and Frank that the party they are catering just so happens to be for Liza Minnelli's 65th birthday! Wait - what? Liza celebrates her Age of Social Security with a party for only six guests, four of whom she probably doesn't even know, and taking place on a television set for a show that only eight people will be watching? This is Liza Fucking Minnelli. Doesn't she deserve better than that?

As a fellow performer, Lucia is ecstatic. And it goes without saying that Frank is over the moon.

When they meet with Jes Forehead, Frank tells her he wants to drape the walls of the Formal Dining Room with stage curtains and install a giant neon sign that reads "Kit Kat Club" on one side. Lucia is a bit star struck and decides to decorate the Terrace Dining Room with Liza memorabilia as an homage to her career.

While shopping, Frank tells us that since he's doing a Cabaret theme, he's serving German food. His amuse will be a currywurst slider, followed by "liverwurst paté with toasted pumpernickel croûtes." The main course will include "knackwurst with a sauerkraut and mustard purée," and, for dessert, "krapfen (donuts) filled with thick white cream."

Lucia is sticking with Italian food one can find in any old-fashioned Italian restaurant. She's starting off with an antipasti plate, followed by a pasta course of linguine with clam sauce, veal saltimbocca, and tiramisu.

Back at Rocco's fake loft, both chefs get to work on their dishes. Lucia spends a lot of time singing opera, much to Frank's chagrin. When he complains, she starts belting out "Maybe This Time" in an operatic voice and Frank finds himself joining in. At this point, Rocco comes in to sneer at their menus. He seems baffled at Frank's choice of pork for every course, but Frank reassures him that he "knows how to handle sausage." Rocco then goes over to sniff and prod at Lucia's ingredients. Realizing that maybe he's single, Lucia starts peppering Rocco with questions about his personal life. Prudently, he reveals only that he's not involved with anyone, and that he lives alone with his four cats, "Fluffy, Jeffrey, Zsa Zsa, and Mrs Tinkles."

Soon, the guests arrive, and for once it's a collection of real star power. First we see comedian/actress Sandra Bernhard, followed by fashion designer Kenneth Cole, and actor Alan Cumming. Composer Marvin Hamlisch shows up next, and finally Liza arrives with her BFF Sam Harris. Yes, that Sam Harris, from Star Search. Gotta say - love him. Not that his music turns me on or anything; I think he's a fine comic actor, and I was crushed when The Class was cancelled. He was brilliant as Perry Pearl.

Wait - this is supposed to be all about Liza, right? Hey, she looks great for 75! What? She's only 65? Hmm...maybe not as great as I originally thought.

After a couple three cocktails, the group heads into the Terrace Room to partake of Lucia's "Liza is Italian" theme. Liza is a bit creeped out at the sheer magnitude of Liza-related stuff that's decorating the walls and tabletops, particularly the life-sized wax figure of her that Jes Forehead borrowed from Madame Tussaud's in Times Square. Liza serves her dishes, which go largely unnoticed as Liza holds court.

There are no complaints, except from Alan Cumming, who was disappointed in the lack of Scottish fare.

On to Frank's party, where the dark damask curtains bear a subtle swastika pattern, and the neon lights give the room a seedy glow. Liza's place at the table is marked by a bowler hat, which she gamely puts on as she turns her chair around and sits backward. Sandra Bernhard is offended by the decor and refuses to enter the room at all, preferring to take her meal in the corridor between sets.

gif make
Frank's sausagefest is served, and this time, Alan Cumming is thrilled. While he was hoping for haggis (which is like a sausage, right? a big, bloated, Ron Jeremy-esque sausage) he was more than happy with the big and juicy knackwurst.

Sandra Bernhard shouts from the hallway that she has suddenly developed a dietary restriction and needs Frank to make her a cheeseburger, which he does, using extra bratwurst that he removes from its casing. Shh...don't tell her that.

After all courses have been served, Rocco goes to the kitchen to reveal the winning chef. And the winner is....

Frank! While his decor was creepy, everyone agreed that the man really knows how to handle a sausage. He then took the opportunity to entertain the party guests with a medley of tunes from Cabaret, with accompaniment by Alan Cumming and Liza herself.

And a good time was had by all.

::::::::::ending fantasy sequence:::::::::

Especially us, now that Rocco's Dinner Party is officially over. I'm betting it won't be back. But if it is, I have some suggestions....

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.
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