Monday, August 13, 2018

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Last year's Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament winner Fabio Mura is a busy man these days. Not only does he run the kitchen at Grille 620 and River Hill Grill, he's also in charge of food at the new Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar. Located in the same Turf Valley Town Square shopping center as Grille 620, Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar has the same casually elegant vibe as its two sister restaurants. But while the menu at Grille 620 has more of a steakhouse vibe and River Hill Grill has the elevated bar food thing perfected, the food at Mad Chef Kitchen has a bit more of an international flair. Evidence of Chef Mura's Sardinian roots peek in here and there, too.

Full disclosure: we've worked with Chef Mura in the past. He was featured in our book, Baltimore Chef's Table. That doesn't prevent us from speaking about his food honestly.

Between consulting with our waitress and the Chef, we decided on two small plates, one shared entree, and two desserts.

Mura drew inspiration for his Sardinian fonduta (the Italian version of fondue) from several things: a recent trip to Italy; the Sardinian honey and cheese pastries known as seadas; even fajitas. These elements became melty broiled provolone cheese drizzled with honey, citrus zest, and almonds, served on a hot cast iron plate with crispy rustic bread on the side. The flavors of the dish played well against each other, with the orange zest being an especially welcome addition. The cheese was also hot and somewhat gooey, but unlike melted mozzarella which tends to stay soft and traditional fondue which has a more liquid quality, the provolone was a little more solid and needed to be cut with a knife before manipulating it onto bread. Still, a flavorful start to the meal. I couldn't help think that this combination of ingredients would be killer on a pizza crust.

We didn't order the empanadas because we didn't want to be greedy, but Chef Mura sent them out anyway. The pastry was light, crisp, and greaseless, with a flavorful ground beef and onion filling. The accompanying salsa had a nice kick to it, but the empanadas were moist enough not to need a sauce other than their drizzle of lime crema.

We're a sucker for lamb ribs and are happy to see them pop up on menus more and more frequently. These were billed as "Korean barbecue" but didn't strike me as being from any one particular area of Asia. The sauce was light and sweet, but not cloying. The ribs themselves were very meaty, extremely tender and easy-to-eat, with a nice lamb-y flavor.

The luxurious paella for two included shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, lobster, and sizable chunks of scallop. I've made paella at home, but it was nowhere near as good as this stuff. The short-grain Bomba rice, redolent of saffron and seafood stock, was perfectly cooked, and the various sea creatures adorning it were tender. The scallops in particular were delightful, and I did my best to bogart all of them for myself.

Then there was dessert. Chef Mura himself said we must order the zeppole and his tiramisu, which had "a new twist." The twist turned out to be pretty innovative; rather than coffee-soaked ladyfingers topped with a mascarpone cream, the cream was layered between crepes. The dish had all of the flavors of the original, but with a completely different texture. Pretty clever, Chef!

While the tiramisu was delicious, the zeppole were fan-freaking-tastic. The sugar-dusted orbs of fried dough were impossibly fluffy and moist on the inside; pretty much perfect on their own. But a drizzle of the accompanying dark chocolate hazelnut orange sauce made them absolute heaven. A must-order.

Mr Minx and I very much enjoyed our meal at Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar. The restaurant was comfortable, the staff friendly, knowledgeable, and on-the-ball, and the food was very good.

A shout out to the young man who refilled our water glasses. His reply of "my pleasure" to our "thank you" was a refreshing change from the current usual reply of "no problem." It shouldn't be a problem to serve a paying guest, and indicating that possibility could exist tends to make guests over a certain age uncomfortable.

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar
Turf Valley Towne Center
11085 Resort Road, #404
Ellicott City, MD 21042
(410) 203-0327

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

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Flashback Friday - Pesto Mac

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on July 20, 2012.
I had leftover roast chicken. I had pesto. I wanted to make something interesting, inspirational. Fabulous at the very least. Something worth blogging about. But my brain just wasn't cooperating. I almost made a risotto, only I didn't have any short-grain rice. I did have a box of cavatappi, that fun spiral pasta that's like a conga line of elbow macaroni, and realized there was plenty of cheese in the fridge, so my lazy brain went there.

Mac and cheese. But with pesto and chicken. Not exactly a life-changing dinner, but it was very good, and rather easy. I used Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac recipe as a guideline, switched up some quantities, and added sauteed onions for more flavor. You could skip the onions to make an even quicker version.

Macaroni with Pesto and Chicken (adapted from Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese)

1 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cavatappi
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 5-oz cans evaporated milk
6 ounces milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
16 ounces shredded cheese (we like a combination of sharp cheddar, Swiss, and pepper Jack)
3/4 cup pesto (home-made or store-bought)
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until very soft and starting to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain water, return pasta to pot, and add butter.

Whisk together the eggs, milks, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese, the onions, and the pesto. Cook over medium heat until cheese melts and pasta is well coated. Stir in chicken and fresh basil and taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary.

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Monday, August 06, 2018

Ludlow Market Bar & Bottle Shop

I must admit never having visited the Wine Market Bistro, the precursor to Ludlow Market Bar & Bottle Shop in Locust Point. No particular reason, we just don't venture down to South Baltimore very often. Not long after the opening of the place, we were invited in to taste some of the small-plates style items that are ideal pairings for drinks at the bar or as a starter for a multi-course meal.

We had to try some drinks, too.

My taste in cocktails leans toward bold, unusual, and perfume-y, so I was happy with Ludlow's complex creations. The slushie Crush a Lot was far better than any of the typical insipid vodka-based "crush"-style drinks I've had. I normally avoid them entirely, but the promise of an icy drink comprising strong black tea and bourbon was hard to resist. It was strong and juice-forward, but also bourbon.

The Deluxe House was also quite nice. Mezcal drinks can sometimes be too smoky, but the agave liquor was tempered nicely by the addition of Spanish vermouth, dry curacao, and Baltimore Whiskey Company's fab 1904 Ginger Apple liqueur.

Room Service: Hamilton Rum, Demoiseau 110 Rhum, pineapple shrub, Jamaica #2 bitters
Chef Christopher Audia's creative menu borrows from various world cuisines. The Beef fat fries are a riff on British chef Heston Blumenthal's famous triple-cooked chips. They're super crisp on the outside and very tender on the inside, like no fries you've ever tasted, and they come with a trio of dips including mustard greens mustard, curry ketchup, and a malt vinegar aioli.

Beef fat fries, mustard green aioli, malt vinegar aioli, curry ketchup
Greens are a recurring theme on Audia's menu. The black eyed pea fritters are served on a nest of positively addictive marinated collard greens and topped with a dab of smoked mayo. The fritters themselves remind me of falafel and the whole plate would be pretty great stuffed into a pita.

Black eyed pea fritters, marinated collards, smoked aioli
The shrimp toast topped with radish salad and chili oil is a nod to everyone's favorite puu puu platter staple, only with much more flavor and no grease. I only got a piece of this (though I bogarted the fritters) and wished I could have savored more.

Shrimp toast, radish salad, chili oil
We also sampled a rockfish crudo with bright and refreshing cucumber and jalapeno flavors...
Rockfish crudo, cucumber, jalapeno, agua verde
...and the hangar steak with grilled broccoli, bacon lardons, and a mimolette cheese sauce. It's shown portioned for sampling but comes as a main dish.

Hangar steak,  grilled broccoli florets, mimolette fondue, lardons
What I really wanted to try, after seeing photos on Instagram, were the lamb ribs. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and came with a chunky hazelnut harissa, not too spicy but full of flavor, and the spark of pickled red onion. Another dish I had to share but really didn't want to.
Lamb ribs, hazelnut harissa, herb salad
Ludlow Market is strong on both the food and the drink sides of things, which I hope will make it a very popular dining destination. Mr Minx and I might even venture down into Locust Point more often.

Ludlow Market, Bar & Bottle Shop
921 E Fort Ave #135
Baltimore, MD 21230

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

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Flashback Friday - Summery Couscous Salad

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on July 27, 2012.

This summer, we planted four kinds of mini tomatoes and one larger yellow tomato, and a plethora of herbs (Greek oregano, Thai, purple, and sweet basil, lemon balm, tarragon, and thyme to go with the perennial chives and mint). Despite the heat and relative lack of rain, everything's been growing like crazy and I find myself harvesting a pint of tomatoes a couple times a week.

I'm not complaining!

One can only eat so many Caprese salads, so the basil and tomatoes need to be put to other uses. I found some tri-color pearl couscous at Shop Rite recently and thought it would make a nice variation on a pasta salad. It was also a good way to use up some of the garden's bounty.

Couscous Salad

1.5 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearl or Israeli couscous, cooked according to package directions
salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, mint) plus more for garnish
1/2 pint tiny tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup diced cucumber
3 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

In a medium bowl, stir together the mustard, honey, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the couscous and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and add more olive oil if the consistency seems dry. Stir in fresh herbs, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, pistachio and green onion. Chill before serving. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

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