Friday, September 20, 2019

Flashback Friday - Everybody Goes to Gino's...

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on September 8, 2011.

Gino's service has improved quite a bit, thankfully, and we go there on a semi-regular basis.

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...and I think they were all there on the same evening we decided to try out the brand-spankin' new Gino's in Towson. Not only were they all there, but they all got their food before we did.

We thought we were smart, getting to the restaurant at 4:30pm. There was no line, and there seemed to be open tables both inside and outside, so we figured we were golden. Wrong-o. After placing our order for two Gino's Giants, one with fries and one with onion rings, plus two fountain drinks, we were given two plastic cups, a plastic card with the number "1" on it, and a receipt noting the time of 4:35pm.

4:36pm: We fill our cups with fountain beverages and grab two seats at a short counter near the side entrance. The plastic "1" went into the metal ring atop the condiment caddy to alert a server to our presence when he or she brings out our food. The restaurant is pretty full and includes almost as many people waiting for carry-out as sitting at tables. Most of the seated people already have food, so I'm pretty confident that we'll have a short wait. I'm expecting 20 minutes.

4:42pm: My chair is jostled by some fatass with a balance issue. There's definitely enough room to move past me.

4:50pm: Food seems to be coming out at a decent clip, so I'm sure that we'll get our food soon.

4:55pm: It's been 20 minutes, but we're still not eating.

5:01pm: At this point, I start to wonder if offering an amuse bouche might not be a good idea, just a little something to appease those of us waiting for a while. At a fine dining establishment, we would have been done with the appetizers and waiting for our main courses by now. (Of course, were we at Alchemy, our main courses would be on the table already, too.)

5:05pm: Hey! That couple came in after we did, and they just got their food! Grr.

5:08pm: My chair is jostled again, by a server taking food to another table. Grrr.

5:10pm: That trio definitely came in after we did - and they're eating! Grrrr.

5:12pm: I notice that the line for ordering food is out the door. There should be a sign out front like the ones posted near roller coasters, "one hour wait from this point." Better yet, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

5:13pm: A lone woman diner, sitting at a table behind us, manages to get the attention of a staff member to complain that she had been waiting since 4:29pm and still has not received her food. She also kindly points us out as coming in right after her and being in the same boat.

5:15pm: A server offers us a coupon for a free shake on a future visit. I think, "fat chance of that."

5:16pm: Another server comes over to check our receipt. Apparently our order disappeared and they need to know what food we paid for.

5:20pm: My chair is jostled for what must be the fifth time by a vertically-challenged busser who can't seem to be able to lift the plastic bucket of soiled napkins and food baskets high enough to avoid whacking me with it. At this point, I'm almost annoyed enough to whack her back.

5:26pm: Our food arrives. At this point, both parties that arrived after us but who were served 15 minutes earlier have finished eating and left the building.

After fifty minutes of sitting in a restaurant redolent of beef and fried potatoes, we are ravenous. After a couple of bites of both fries and burger, Mr Minx turns to me and asks, "Salty?" Yes, I have to agree - both items had been aggressively seasoned. The onion rings, on the other hand, were perfect, and just the way I like them: cut into extremely thin slices and fried to a deep golden brown. They come with a little tub of sauce that tastes a bit like a Sriracha mayonnaise, but not as interesting. It was a little too spicy for the rings, but it works with the fries. The fries are merely ok, a little hard, and of course, salty. Our sandwiches - two well-done patties topped with American cheese, dill pickle slices, lettuce, and Gino's "secret sauce," on a squishy sesame seed bun - sadly arouse no feelings of nostalgia in either of us. Not that they aren't good - apart from the surfeit of salt and pepper, they are tasty, with a good ratio of toppings to burger, and just enough sauce to drip out onto our fries but not cause the bun to disintegrate or the meat to slide out - they just taste like fast-casual burgers. Not like Gino's burgers.

Granted, it's been at least 30 years since I've had a Gino's Giant. There was a Gino's down the road from Catholic High, on Edison Highway, and occasionally a few of us would hike down there after school to grab a burger before heading home. I remember liking Gino's much more than McDonald's. The burgers seemed tastier - possibly because of the Baltimore Colts connection - and they sold Kentucky Fried Chicken back then, too.

Today's Gino's is more like a Five Guys, except with a crappy system. In my experience, at Five Guys, one places an order at a counter at one end of the store, then goes to wait at a separate counter on the other side, or at a table. Folks who are ordering and those who are waiting do not mingle. At Gino's, the restaurant is set up like a more traditional fast food joint, with ordering and pickups done at a long counter at the back of the restaurant. Unlike a fast food restaurant, however, a customer does not immediately receive a pre-made burger and fries slapped onto a tray or placed in a paper bag, quick-and-dirty service allowing the customer to get out of the way of the next patron in line. Instead, like at Five Guys, Gino's patrons have to wait for their food to be cooked to order. Those who choose to eat in can take a table, but those waiting for carry-out orders sit and stand near the counter, some getting in the way of customers who attempt to avail themselves of self-serve fountain beverages.

While getting a piping hot burger that spent no time languishing under a heat lamp is a good thing, having to wait nearly an hour (in our case) is not. The problem seems to be the order numbering system. At other restaurants, one gets a receipt with a number printed on it. The receipts come out of the computer in numerical order, so it's pretty easy for someone making food to know the sequence in which the orders were placed, and thus, the order in which they should be filled. At Gino's the numbers are completely random. Our number was "1." The number of the couple in front of us was "31." The woman who came in at 4:29pm had the number "54." The trio who were in line behind us received "100." And "100" received their food before both "54" and "1."

All I have to say is, "WTF?"

6:30pm: Editing post which has become a rant about more service not equalling better service. (Ok, so I didn't edit out too much.) All I'm gonna say is...table service is a dumb idea. Patrons are perfectly capable of listening for when their number is called, getting their fat asses up from a chair, and retrieving their meal at the counter. Instead, servers who do not know exactly where their particular customer is sitting are often forced to circumnavigate the entire dining room AND check outside before finding their quarry. The high backs on some of the booths getting in the way of a server's line of sight don't help things one bit.

Initially, I was quite happy to see that Gino's was making a comeback. That quickly turned to disappointment when I realized the only thing that the new restaurant had in common with the original was the font used in the logo.

My recommendation to folks who are still eager to try Gino's, even after reading this, is to wait a couple of months so the crowds die down a bit. Maybe the table service doesn't seem like such a dumb idea when the restaurant isn't lousy with patrons. I think I'll schedule my next visit for sometime in 2012. By that time, the new Perry Hall location should be open, and they'll get the crowds, leaving Towson a quieter place.

6:45pm: Find a giant chunk of black pepper stuck in back molar.

Gino's
8600 LeSalle Road
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 583-0000

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, September 16, 2019

NoNoNo New York

There is far more to Japanese food than sushi, but it's hard to find a restaurant that offers more than seaweed salad and tempura in addition to the usual raw fish favorites. At least in Baltimore. But in New York, one can dine at an izakaya--a Japanese style pub--or at a restaurant that specialize in one or more specific dishes, like yakitori or ramen. NoNoNo, on the edge of Manhattan's Koreatown, is one of those places, with a menu of yakitori, or various chicken bits on skewers, plus noodle dishes and various other delights.

I wanted to dine at NoNoNo last December, but didn't have the forethought to make a reservation. This time around, I did, and so we feasted. We enjoyed some dishes more than others.

I am a fan of chawanmushi, an egg custard made with dashi broth rather than eggs, studded with savory bits and bobs, usually a shrimp or two. NoNoNo's version can be had plain, or for a small upcharge, topped with salmon roe, snow crab, and uni. Unfortunately, they were out of uni, and the snow crab was a disappointing small spoonful of shredded meat, but the overall portion of custard was large and, I thought, quite good.

The yakitori on offer includes everything from thigh and breast to skin, gizzard, even back cartilage (a favorite of mine). But we bucked the trend and went for beef skewers, instead--short rib with onion and skirt steak with shishito peppers. In both cases, the meat was flavorful and juicy, with the expected pleasant chew.

A skewered soft egg wrapped in bacon and topped with truffle salt made for another lovely mouthful or two.

We also tried the duck nanban, or deep fried duck topped with egg salad. The egg salad seemed more like mayonnaise with bits of white onion in it, and I felt it was a strange topping for the duck. I've seen too many food competition chefs get dinged for putting a wet sauce on a crisp piece of protein to think this is a good idea. But even the pieces of duck that escaped the sauce were a bit on the soggy and chewy side. Not my favorite dish.

Because our meal was going to be meat-forward, we ordered the grilled romaine, which was much like a Caesar salad. A very good Caesar salad.

We also ordered the deep fried grilled mushrooms with a very garlicky basil and scallop filling. I'd love the filling tossed with pasta. Those mushrooms were a challenge to pick up with chopsticks, by the way. Slippery devils they were.

Then there was the grilled salmon belly topped with shaved radish and salmon roe. I was hoping for a fatty and lush texture, but the meat was a tad overcooked.

Finally, we had the cold sukiyaki udon, which may have been my favorite dish of the evening. Fat slippery udon noodles swam in a tasty broth topped with various mushrooms, slices of beef, tofu, scallions, and a goodly hit of wasabi.

I'm not sure if we ordered badly, or what. The beef dishes were excellent, but some of the others had issues. There was still plenty more interesting items on the menu to explore, and I think we may have made a mistake in overlooking the chicken skewers. There are plenty of other restaurants in NY in which to dine, so we probably won't be revisiting NoNoNo in the future. Still, I'm glad I was able to satisfy my curiosity.

Check out the online menu and be intrigued yourself. Prices per dish are all pretty inexpensive, but if you order as much as we did, your meal won't be cheap.

NoNoNo
118 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016
https://www.nonononyc.com/

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Flashback Friday - Spice and Dice

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 9, 2011.

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We Minxes love Thai food and ever since the demise of our regular haunt, Bangkok Place, we're always on the lookout for a new favorite. While we really enjoyed a meal at Bangkok Garden, being in Columbia makes it a bit of a haul and not exactly good for any spur-of-the-moment meal decisions. Recently, Mr Minx received a coupon for a place called Spice & Dice, located in a nondescript office park on Joppa Road about halfway between Goucher and Loch Raven Boulevards. That's not far from us, so we made a point to have dinner there one recent Tuesday evening. 

Spice & Dice has a bright and happy interior that, sans tables, would work well as a daycare center. Ignore, however, the many colors and patterns on the walls and concentrate instead on the menu which has a large selection of appetizers, plus curries, stir-fries, and noodle dishes. On our first trip, we sampled the fish cakes and the chicken laab from the appetizer section, plus the gingery chicken ped king and the vibrantly-spiced duck with basil sauce, all washed down with generously-sized glasses of sweet and milky Thai iced tea. After that successful experience, we vowed to visit again soon, this time with camera in tow.

A few weeks later, we met my father and brother for dinner at Spice & Dice. After taking some time perusing the many interesting menu options, Dad opted for the jasmine rice soup followed by pad thai with pork. The soup was outstanding, its light broth tangy with lemongrass and full of tender chicken. The pad thai was a fine rendition of the ubiquitous noodle dish, served with an extra helping of crushed peanuts on the side.

Jasmine Rice Soup
Pad Thai with Pork
We also sampled two appetizers, the chicken teriyaki dumplings and fried calamari. The dumplings were drizzled with an unfortunately goopy sweet sauce that did nothing for them and were otherwise forgettable. The calamari was slightly chewy, as it often is when served in the diamond-scored-rectangular chunks that tend to be typical of Asian restaurants, but was otherwise tasty, particularly when dipped in the lightly spicy pink mayo-based sauce.

Chicken Teriyaki Dumplings - pretty but meh.
Happy Calamari
As fans of Thai basil, my brother and I both ordered dishes that featured that ingredient. Or so we thought. His chicken with basil dish displayed no evidence of that herb's presence, but otherwise had a lively garlic flavor.

Chicken in Basil Sauce
My dish, shrimp with eggplant, contained a decent amount of basil leaves in a sweet-ish sauce that had partly been absorbed by the chunks of bright purple Asian eggplant. It was a bit inconvenient to eat the tail-on shrimp, but otherwise I happily hoovered up this dish, lusciously-sauced romaine leaves and all.

Eggplant and Shrimp with Basil
Mr Minx opted for the jungle curry, a preparation that contains none of the coconut milk present in other Thai curries. It had a very distinctive and unusual herbal flavor, predominately galangal and ginger, and was quite unlike any other Thai dish we've tried.

Jungle Curry with Pork
Some of the dishes at Spice & Dice are a bit on the sweet side - probably a nod to American palates - and the teriyaki dumplings were nothing special, but everything else was quite delicious.

While the decor was busy, the restaurant was not. I hope more people find this cute spot and stop by for a meal so it'll stay around long enough for us to become regulars.

Spice and Dice Thai Restaurant
1220 E Joppa Rd #108
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 494-8777

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

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Dining in New York, August 2019, Part 1

Mr Minx wanted to see an exhibition of old Batman comic art at the Society of Illustrators in New York, so we made a long weekend out of it. Blessed with magically cool late-August weather, we enjoyed our wanderings even more than usual.

Our first trip after dumping our luggage at our hotel was to Rip's Malt Shop. Some of you may know that I am a graphic designer, but you probably don't know that I designed Rip's logo and menu. Their original Brooklyn location is a bit of a palaver to get to, but their new Manhattan location is a short subway ride away from our regular Midtown base camp. After I snapped some pics of their snazzy neon sign, we sat down to enjoy some vegan comfort food. I had the Chicago dog, topped with tomato, neon green relish, sport peppers, diced onion, celery salt, mustard, and a pickle spear (with another on the side). It was a pretty reasonable facsimile of a meat hot dog.

Mr Minx had the Rip's Burger, a vegan patty topped with chili, cheese, bacon, special sauce, and cole slaw. It, too, was tasty, but not as convincing a replica to my taste buds. I'm not crazy about meat substitutes, and never sought them out in my brief time as a vegetarian. YMMV, of course.

After Rip's, we wandered up to Dough for some giant-ass doughnuts. We tried the Cafe au Lait, "inspired by a classic coffee cake made with a roasted coffee glaze and crunchy pecan topping," and a blueberry one with an oaty crumb topping. They were pretty good, but maybe too big? If there's such a thing as a donut that is too large, that is. And they were super fluffy as well, more the texture of coffee cake than a donut. The flavors of the glazes could have had more oomph, too. I dunno. I wanted to be more impressed than I was.

After dinner at NoNoNo (post coming soon), we hit up the Spot Dessert Bar in K-town for dessert. The Milky Puff sounded best to us: warm puff pastry, brulee bananas, white chocolate honey comb, corn flakes, and condensed milk ice cream. It was pretty good. The puff pastry was cooked nicely, and the chocolate honeycomb was a fun novelty that we had seen made on a recent episode of the Food Network's Worst Bakers in America. (The trick is to spread melted chocolate over bubble wrap. When it hardens and is peeled off, the result looks a bit like honeycomb. Cool, huh?) I wanted more bananas though, and didn't see the need for cornflakes when the puff pastry had a similar texture.

I know my reactions to these items are pretty meh, but they failed to excite me. We did eat a lot more on our trip, and much of it tasted great, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out these sites.

Rip's Malt Shop
48 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY 10012
https://www.ripsmaltshop.com/

Dough
14 W 19th Street @ 5th Ave
New York, NY 10011
https://www.doughdoughnuts.com/

Spot Dessert Bar
11 W 32nd St, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001
https://www.spotdessertbar.com

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Flashback Friday - Figckles

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 23, 2011.

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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.


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

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Wholesome Pantry Snacks

I've really tried to be good this summer, eating whole foods and skipping things like sugar and grains, eating way more fruit and veg, and laying off the meat. Many people who do this go on forever about how good they feel, how well they sleep, poop, etc., because they're living this new somehow more perfect lifestyle. I won't. I feel as good as I ever did (I never felt bad, physically), but I've lost some weight, which is a plus. (I've always carried way too much weight for my medium-sized frame.)

Even those of us who are seemingly virtuous in our eating habits need to snack once in a while, especially when we're out and about doing summertime activities. Generally, when I feel snacky, I reach for dried fruit, nuts, and granola. My number one favorite dried fruit is mango. It's fabulous, chewy and sweet, and comes in pieces big enough that two or three makes an adequate nibble. So when I was offered a selection of snacks from ShopRite's Wholesome Pantry Organic line, and they included dried mango, I jumped at it. Besides, we shop at ShopRite regularly; it is honestly one of my favorite grocery stores.

Raw cashews are also a great snack, but they can also be transformed into stuff like cashew milk and cheese substitutes. And if you prefer toasted cashews, just toss them in a heavy dry skillet over medium heat and cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant and lightly browned. Shake the skillet regularly and don't walk away from the pan--nuts are high in fat and can burn easily!

Wholesome Pantry Organic's sweet potato tortilla chips are so good! They're great with salsa, but perfect just on their own straight from the bag (my preferred method of snacking). And if you're feeling particularly naughty, they're also just lovely popped into the toaster oven with a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.

Those granola squares in the photo? Yeah, they're a smart snack for summer, but I ate one for lunch the other day (had a big breakfast) with a piece of fruit and it kept me satisfied until dinner.

The Wholesome Pantry Organic line consists of USDA-certified organic items, and "free-form" products made with simple, clean ingredients. Check them out next time you're in ShopRite--you'll find the products in every aisle, from fresh veg to meats to sauces.

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

Posted on Minxeats.com.