Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 3 Recap

You know what I like best about Rocco's Dinner Party? It's only an hour long. Compared to the 90 minutes of torture that is Food Network Star, an hour of Rocco and Friends really isn't bad at all. (Did I just type that out loud?) And he didn't seem half as douchey this week as he did in the past two shows. Not only that, either the Botox has worn off, or I'm getting used to his face, because he doesn't look weird to me anymore.

Wait. What's happening to me? Noooooooooooooooooooooo!

::::hurriedly finishing recap while men in white coats wait impatiently nearby::::

This week's chefpetitors are the extremely Italian, cute-in-a-disheveled-way-and-maybe-smelly Carro brothers, whom you may or may not recognize from Iron Chef America (the episode was broadcast last weekend, btw), plus an Armenian caterer from New Joisey named Ninamarie Bojekian. Ninamarie is somewhat surprised that the two men who make up her competition bear a strong resemblance to each other. Like they were twins or something.

Which of course they are.

Once they're settled in the kitchen, Rocco comes in to give them their first challenge, in which they must create their signature dish so he can get the pleasure of ripping each of them a new one.

The fratelli are a beet competitive.

Nicola tells us he's making "blahblah di blah gobble di BLAH-a a-blahblah," while his scarily identical (down to the cheesy chin pubes) twin is taking a completely different tact and making "blahblah di BLAH gobble di blah-a a-blahblah." Ninamarie is being hugely ambitious and smoking some lamb chops, causing Rocco to make jokes about turning off the fire alarms before she sets them off. She's very confident of her abilities and even goes so far as to insult the Carro's style of plating.

Time's up and the chefpetitors, clenching their buttocks, take their dishes to the Altar of Judgement. Rocco's critiques actually seem somewhat warranted and much less-snarky this week. Nicola's dish is too full of strong flavors - the BLAH and the a-blahblah compete with the gobble di. Ninamarie's smoked lamb is a bit over-cooked for Rocco's tastes, but he is extremely impressed with her dish overall. Rocco then praises the composition of Fab's dish (take that, Ninamarie!) before taking him to task on his nearly-raw lamb chops. Ultimately, the elements of Nicola's dish were at war with each other, and he was sent packing - much to the shock and dismay of his brother. Ninamarie was chosen as the winner of the challenge and given first choice of dining room and serving time.

Rocco then claps his hands, summoning party planner Jes Gordon. After he compliments her on her dress, and she returns the compliment on his suit, I am disappointed that nobody compliments her on her giant forehead. The theme of this week's dinner party is - wait for eet - Italy. We first see Jes consult with Ninamarie who has chosen to use the Formal Dining Room. She's not Italian, nor has she been to Italy, so she wants to go with what she knows: New York's Little Italy and the over-the-top famiglia/paisan/meatball quality of its restaurants. Fabrizio, on the other hand, knows Italian, and wants the guests to imagine themselves not in the Terrace Dining Room but in the Italian countryside.

The chefs meet in the kitchen the next day to battle it out. Fab tells Nina that if she wins, he will switch to cooking Japanese food for the rest of his life.

The guests arrive, and they run the gamut of celebrity nobodies who happen to be Italian: Bravolebrity and Jersey Housewhore Caroline Manzo and her long-suffering husband Albert; comedian Tammy Pescatelli; restaurateur Silvano Marchetto; power couple Arthur Fonzarelli and Pinky Tuscadero; former 'N Sync-r Joey FatOne; and NY television personality Sara Gore.

Sara is on a diet and is not eating carbs, so she asks the chefpetitors to go easy on the pasta for her.

The guests head into Ninamarie's room, which is a tacky nightmare, complete with neon signs that read "eat!" and "mama" and a giant replica street sign that takes up much of one wall. And then comes the food.

Ninamarie starts off the party with a lemon-infused prosecco martini and a fancy selection of home-made antipasti including zucchini bread, eggplant caponata, roasted peppers, and asparagus. This is followed by a pasta course of chopped chicken scarparelli and cockles and mussels served with Israeli couscous. Sara throws up her little hands and wonders what she can eat; Rocco helpfully points out that she can pick out the chicken and mussels from the pasta dishes.

Ninamarie's  meat course is veal Milanese served with the unusual accompaniment of peaches, and dessert is a fairly simple mix of basil-infused fruit with creme fraiche. Sara decides that she can eat both the peaches and the fruit, seemingly not understanding that sugar = carbohydrates. She's not pretty enough to be that stupid.

Rocco takes the forks out of everybody's hands and shoos the group to the next party, where Jes Gordon has festooned the room with bunches of dusty-looking and obviously-plastic grapes (because Tuscany is full of plastic grapes), pampas grass, and astroturf. The guests ooh and ahh and say they feel like they're in Italy and all that sort of stupid shit. Not a one of those bitches is honest, like I would be, and point out the tacky factor. Another reason why *I'd* never be invited to one of Rocco's parties.

Fab serves a negroni and aperol spritz to start, with a mostly store-bought antipasti selection of Italian cured meats, plus caponata, and eggplant Parmesan. While one guest complains that Fab didn't actually make much of the food, Caroline defends his choice by saying that the selection comprises "traditional Italian antibas'." Hey, Caroline - want to buy a syllable?

Fab also presents a plate of his homemade polpettine, with breadcrumbs for the table, without for Sara. Rocco is surprised at his audacity, because everyone knows that his Mama Nicolina makes the best meatballs in the world! (Yeah, we made them once. They were just...meatballs.)

Fab's pasta course is a lasagna with bechamel and home-made pasta. He also makes a carb-free version for Sara, substituting zucchini for the pasta. The general consensus is that it would be wonderful if it weren't so disappointingly bland, and that Sara's version was probably the tastier of the two. He also serves a bland fish course of branzino and potatoes in an acqua pazza (crazy water, and no, that doesn't mean it came from the East River). Finally, his dessert is a panna cotta al caffé, which is delicious, but according to Silvano, is "not a real panna cotta but a mousse served in a cup." Ouch. Take that, Fab!

Meanwhile, several times during the course of the hour, we're treated to commercials for Phantom Fireworks starring none other than Joey FatOne. Because his career is even more completely in the toilet than Rocco's.

Back in the kitchen, Nina is tired and Fab is afraid to think that he has won. "The last time I thought I was wonning, I lost." But not to worry - despite his bland food, Fab is declared the winner. It's got to be for one of two reasons:

1) Fab is Italian. 2) Fab made extra dishes for that dieting bitch, while Ninamarie basically ignored the request.

Next week - another bunch of guests who really aren't famous eating food in tacky rooms! Stay tuned!

Posted by theminx on

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

24th Annual Orioles Wives Food Drive

The Maryland Food Bank, WJZ-TV and Baltimore Orioles advocates are once again teaming up to fight hunger during the 24th Annual Orioles Wives Food Drive. This year’s on-site drive takes place July 15 to 17 at Camden Yards during the Orioles vs. Cleveland Indians series. Tickets may be purchased here.

Most-needed food items are: peanut butter, canned chicken, canned tuna, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, and canned fruit and vegetables. Last year, the Orioles Food Drive collected more than 2,000 pounds of food and nearly $20,000 for the Maryland Food Bank.

Those who do not attend the games can contribute online at a virtual food drive. For every $10 of food purchased, contributors will be entered into a drawing to win two tickets and the chance to throw the first pitch at the July 15 game. The virtual food drive ends at 10 a.m., July 11, and the winner will be notified at that time.

Posted by theminx on

Miss Shirley's Food Truck

I'm sorry, but I feel a rant coming on.

I've never been to either of Miss Shirley's brick-and mortar-locations for one main reason. Ok, two. They are most famous for their breakfasts, and we never go out for breakfast. And if we did, you'll never catch me paying $11 for two eggs, bacon, hash browns, and a biscuit. Or $7 for a bowl of oatmeal. Or $10 for 4 pancakes. I can make eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits, and pancakes at home for about $16 - for four people. Yes, the main reason we've never gone to Miss Shirley's is because it's too damn expensive.

Now Miss Shirley's has a food truck. And the offerings are, as expected, too damn expensive. The sandwiches cost $12 or more. For lunch. From a truck. If I'm going to pay that much for a turkey sandwich, I had better be sitting at a table while someone serves me, then cleans up after me. I'm just sayin'. (And for these privileges, at a Miss Shirley's restaurant, one is charged one cent less at $11.99. I'm seeing a clear lack of sense at work here.)

One of the benefits of a food truck, in my opinion and experience, is that they provide to the neighborhood (UMMS in particular) a variety of foods not already found in the local eateries, at pretty comparable prices. For example, the stellar grilled asparagus and goat cheese wrap offered by Souper Freak, the several varieties of tacos offered by the Gypsy Queen, and the addictive spicy chicken burritos from Curbside Café, are all things that can't be found in any of the many delis and sandwich shops in the neighborhood. I can get a 12oz "cup" of soup and a salad for $6 from Souper Freak, and that CC burrito, served in a bowl instead of wrapped in a tortilla (honestly, the tortilla muffles the gorgeous orange flavors in the chicken) for the same price. So why does a turkey sandwich from Miss Shirley's cost twice as much? Because it has brie and apples? Or are the turkeys organic, hand-massaged and spoon-fed by Miss Shirley's specially-trained turkey wranglers?

Anyhoo...there are a couple of things on the menu that are much less-expensive at $5 each, so I thought I should give them a try. (Of course that's relative, if you consider $5 for an order of sweet potato fries, which one can get for $2 from the Chowhound truck, or $5 for three slices of bacon, to be a reasonable price. Honestly - why would anyone just order three slices of bacon? To make their $12 turkey sandwich $17?) The fried green tomatoes are pretty good, drizzled with a lemon herb "aioli" (it's not an aioli, just a flavored mayo) and served with a "relish" (really a salsa with a touch of vinegar) of various colors of tomatoes and onion. They were still piping hot once I got them the two blocks back to my office, but they were slightly soggy. Sauce on the side would be nice. The presentation was lovely, but if that's what I'm paying for, I don't need it.

The gumbo was the standard chunky, light-colored soup that one tends to find outside of New Orleans (a.k.a."gumbo").With the addition of green beans and tomatoes, it seemed more like a marriage between gumbo and Maryland crab than the genuine article, with only the addition of andouille taking the flavor profile down towards the Gulf. There was a decent amount of seafood in my serving of soup, which again begs the question, why $12 for a turkey sandwich?

So the food that I was willing to shell out for was decent enough. And I have to give them props for their green packaging. The shell that held the tomatoes was even compostable. Not that many folks would be composting at work, or taking empty take-out containers home to recycle, but still - a nice thought.

Editor's Note, 9/8/11 - I checked out Miss Shirley's truck menu on Facebook today and it appears that prices have been lowered. Bacon is still $5, but the turkey sandwich has been marked down to $10 from $12. Still expensive, but slightly better.

Posted by theminx on

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


On a recent weekend, when the humidity was so suffocatingly high that going outside felt like having a hot, wet, blanket thrown over one's head, I had the brilliant idea to make baby back ribs. In the oven.

We always use Alton Brown's method, in which the racks of ribs are marinated overnight in a dry rub, then braised in a slow oven for a few hours. The result is always succulent, fall-off-the-bone, finger-lickin', lip-smackin' deliciousness, so why try anything new? But I did. Oh, not in the cooking method, but rather in the flavoring.

My brother, who is currently low-carbing it, was coming over to partake of the porcine delight, so I wanted to use as little sweetener as possible on these ribs. As luck would have it, Mary Sue Milliken won the penultimate challenge of the season in that week's episode of Top Chef Masters and she did it by making baby back ribs with a modicum of sweetener. Following her example, I constructed my dry rub sans the usual brown sugar. Her sauce, in which she used only a scant three tablespoons of maple syrup, became the inspiration for my sauce, made with fresh rhubarb. I figured rhubarb was at least as tangy as her tomatillos; however I did not take into account that while tomatillos contain a high percentage of water, rhubarb instead is very fibrous. So my sauce was a bit thick and dense - not to mention quite a bit less-sweet than we're used to - but it was still rather good - bright and tangy in a mustard sauce kinda way.

RhubarbBQ-glazed baby backs served over hominy stewed with onions and garlic.

RhubarbBQ Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
pinch salt
5 cloves garlic, crushed
6 stalks rhubarb, stringy bits removed with a vegetable peeler, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, minced or 1 tablespoon jalapeno powder
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions and pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rhubarb, jalapeno, ginger, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium. Cover pan and cook until rhubarb is completely cooked down, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove pan from the heat and, using a blender or immersion blender, purée the rhubarb mixture. Add maple syrup and paprika. Cook on medium low heat for another 20 minutes until mixture has been reduced to a thick sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When I tried to cut the racks of ribs into smaller portions, I wished I hadn't followed the technique to the letter. With a bit less cooking, the ribs would have been easier to cut, and thus neater to photograph. But who cares - the flavor is what matters, right?

Posted by theminx on

Monday, June 27, 2011

Food Network Star 2011 Episode Four

The show starts off with the Wanna-bes at home. Bespectacled Justin D tells us he's not feeling good about his latest performance and right off the bat we have our loser edit of the day! So why do we need to put up with another 88 minutes of this shit? Because the Food Network is all about the torture, people. It's like waterboarding, but without the possibility of a welcome death at the end.

So the eleven remaining Wanna-bes head to the Star Kitchen where they find Melissa D'Arabian waiting for them with a pile of Kellogg's products - we all know how much she loves All-Bran! And, on the tables in front of them, are cloches concealing the Kellogg's product they will be required to use in creating "an impressive and sophisticated hors d'oeuvre" for a mystery guest who will be appearing in 45 minutes.

The products are revealed! I know - the suspense was killing you, too, right?

Penny gets Town House Flatbread Crisps
Jyll gets Rice Krispies
Jeff gets All Bran
Frat Boy has Corn Flakes
Orchid has Eggo waffles
Justin D has Crispix
Whitney gets Poptarts
Vic gets Pecan Sandies
Susie gets Town House Flip Sides
Mary Beth gets Cocoa Krispies
Curious George gets Cheez-Its

The Wanna-bes scurry to make their dishes. Justin D has a brain freeze and can't figure out what to make. He's smelling more loser-y by the second! And time is...up!

In walks the special guest judge, none other than long-time Food Network fixture, Iron Chef Michael Symon. Susie immediately freaks out and reveals that she has a crush on him because he's sooooo cute! <giggle><eyeroll>

Bob Tushface joins Melissa and Michael while the Wanna-bes are led into the Butler's Pantry to await their turn to present their disastersdishes to the camera.

Frat Boy comes out all pumped and delivers the best performance of his tenure on Food Network Star. Which ain't saying much at all.

Michael Symon and Vic have a mutual baldness admiration society going for a few minutes. Jyll's crabcake is a big hit. Susie is predictably nervous in front of her crush, calling her product Town House "Flip Shares" for some reason, throwing off the rest of her presentation. But she gets a thrill when Michael tells her that he enjoyed her bite best of all. Middle Eastern Penny's dish and presentation do not impress Melissa D'Arabian, who calls her "lower middle of the pack." That just makes me laugh out loud.

And guess what? this week's loser Justin D didn't do very well with either his food or his presentation. Same goes for Curious George, who has great culinary skills but is a dud in front of the camera. However, he gets a compliment from Melissa who calls him "lovely" when he smiles. I still think he looks like a giant monkey that just happens to have pierced ears.

Jeff, always the clown, thinks that using All Bran gives him the right to make thinly-veiled poop jokes. Unfortunately for him, the gag was more of a sinker than a floater.

Overall, Tush was impressed with everyone's creativity. Frat Boy and Jyll scored the most points, with Jyll getting the win. On the bottom were Curious George and his stiff presentation and Jeff and his Inakindergarten humor. Somehow Justin D escaped the wrath of Tushface this time, but we're pretty sure he's going to get eliminated this week!

Next the Wanna-bes head back into the Star Kitchen to meet Bobby who is standing with Busy Phillips and Bill Lawrence of the ABC comedy, Cougar Town. Penny tells us she loves Cougar Town because she's a cougar herself. Eww. Being that she's more scary than sexy, no matter how much cleavage she reveals, I can only imagine the conversation that happens when she's too lazy to cook dinner.

"Hello, Domino's!"
"Hi. This is Penny Davidi. I'd like an extra-large hand-tossed with extra meat. Preferably that cute blonde guy who delivered last time."
(holding hand over receiver) "Hey, Josh, that scary woman who answers the door wearing only an apron and stilettos wants you again."
(Josh, runs screaming through plate glass window, never to be seen again.)

The Wanna-bes have to prepare a lunch for 150 members of the Cougar Town cast and crew, inspired by the five different groups that work on the show. This is one of the lamer team challenges since each department doesn't really have a theme to work with. The Wanna-bes start saying stuff like "oh, writers eat a lot of take-out so we'll do something really homey," blah blah blahzzzzz. I black out for a couple of seconds, only to awake in time to figure out who is in what group.

Art Department - Curious George and Jeff
Crew - Penny and Mary Beth
Writers - Orchid and Frat Boy
Vanities - Vic and Jyll
Cast -  Whitney, Justin D, and Susie

The teams get together to discuss their game plans. Right off the bat, Susie decides to make stuffed bell peppers, and she instructs Justin D, who is going to Whole Foods, to pick up ten boxes of quinoa. Whitney tells us that Justin can get "spacey" at times, so you know he's going to fuck something up. Which only reinforces the fact that he's going home this week.

While Justin is shopping, Susie calls him to remind him about the 10 boxes of quinoa. She says "ten" and he says "two" and writes it down. Although the home audience can hear the difference between ten and two very clearly, perhaps whatever corporate sponsorship cell phones they are using are really to blame? Justin can't really be that spacey, can he?

While Justin D thinks he knows what he's getting for Susie, he's not sure what he's getting for his own dish because he can't find the five ingredients he needs for his smoked trout salad. I have a hard time believing that Whole Foods didn't have radicchio, but whatever. Maybe his glasses were fogged up. Jeff was also having issues finding either ground chicken or ground turkey for his lettuce wraps and ends up buying tofu, which scares him.

The next day, Frat Boy finds that the frozen lamb shanks that he bought are still frozen, despite spending the night in the fridge. From experience I can tell you that a bunch of frozen stuff in a box isn't going to thaw overnight, as it's acting as its own ice pack. Penny and Mary Beth have decided to be all phoney-baloney to keep from killing each other. And Justin D says he's being haunted by his original salad plan even though he is now forced to make something entirely different. Meanwhile, Susie wants to know where the fuck are the other eight bags of quinoa she wanted?

Something smells like it's burning in the kitchen, but nobody can quite figure out what it is. Penny is positive her food is fine. And then, when things couldn't get any worse for some of the Wanna-bes, Paula Deen comes in to eat them all.

The chefs pack their stuff and head to Cougar Town, where each of them exclaims in turn how "awesome" it is being on the set of a television show. Like Food Network Star isn't a television show.

As the contestants are setting up, Bobby and Paula go around to heckle them. Paula has to point out the giant ugly holes in Curious George's ears.

Well, dummy, if you didn't want them to be a conversation piece, then why do you have them? Surely it's not because they look good.

Time to eat - the cast and crew of Cougar Town descend on the buffet and take samples of everyone's food. While Mary Beth's meatloaf is getting raves, nobody seems to want to eat Penny's macaroni and cheese. Hmm. Jeff is desperate to get people to try his tofu dish and is putting on a hard sell. As if people in California don't eat tofu.

When everyone is seated, the teams make their presentations to the group. The Writers Team of Frat Boy and Orchid go first. Orchid sees Courtney Cox's frozen face and freezes herself.

Frat Boy steps up and does the intro and Orchid finally gathers the strength to say something. Paula Deen tells us that when she saw Orchid's collards, she was prepared to be embarrassed for her, but was surprised when they were completely delicious. Now why on earth would Paula think that Southerner Orchid couldn't make good greens? Because she looks Asian? Racist any?

The Art Team goes next and Jeff presents his tofu dish with humor that is welcome this time. Even racistPaula Deen loves his dish. Curious George is his usual clinical self, sounding like he's reading a menu.  And then we reach the hour mark and I basically tune out the rest of the show. I can't help it - it's a self-preservation instinct.

So, anyway, eventually they stop talking and get to the judgement part of the program. None of the teams were spectacular enough to earn the win, so the Selection Committee has decided to pick one winner from each team who will be safe, with the rest being up for elimination.  But first, Bobby talks about the "elephant at the table" (guess it couldn't be in the room, since they were outside) which is Penny's mac and cheese. It was unpleasantly burnt-tasting. Frat Boy pipes in that he heard other people mention that her dish was burnt, and she immediately jumps on him with an accusation of throwing her under the bus. If you're playing a drinking game, this would be a good time to take a shot or two.

I wish someone *would* throw her under a bus. I'll drive.

Jeff, Orchid, Mary Beth, Susie, and Vic are safe. Despite not having enough quinoa, Susie's dish made Courtney Cox want to lick her plate, had the Botox not prevented her tongue from getting that far out of her mouth. Vic is finally showing that he can cook. Jeff's tofu was the best Tushface has ever eaten. The best tofu.

The judges also consider Jyll and Frat Boy to be safe and send them backstage, leaving Penny, Whitney, Justin D, and Curious George up for elimination.

Wow - huge curveball! While it looked like Justin D was going home from the opening seconds of the show (87 damn minutes ago), Curious George gets the boot instead. Guess they just couldn't get past his clinical delivery, even if he is probably the best cook of the bunch.

Next week - Guy Fieri laughs like a drunken hyena for another fucking 90 minute episode. Kill me now.

Posted by theminx on

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pho Dat Than

With the recent demise of one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Saigon Remembered, I decided we need patronize the other Viet joint in town to make sure that one stays around for a while. Pho Dat Than, an offshoot of a Columbia restaurant of the same name, is located just below the annoying traffic circle at the crossroads of York, Joppa, Dulaney Valley, etc., in Towson. Luckily, the circle can be avoided by parking in the lot behind the Recher Theatre, accessible via either Joppa Road or Towsontown Boulevard.

Pho Dat Than's decor is pleasant enough - it's simple and tidy, with mint green walls, high-backed booths, and tables arranged in neat rows. On the early Friday night we were there, the restaurant had a decent number of diners, and I could see carry-out orders lining up on what used to be a sushi bar in the back. That boded well for weekend traffic.

I had already perused the somewhat messy online menu and knew what I wanted us to try. But first, we ordered some iced coffee. The Vietnamese version differs from the more familiar Thai in that rather than receiving a glass of ready-made coffee, a cup of sweetened condensed milk topped with a metal brewing device full of coffee grounds and water, along with a glass of ice, is brought to the table. I was afraid that I'd spill the coffee all over the place while transferring it from cup to glass, but with judicious use of the saucer (and assistance from our waiter), it was easier than it appeared. The coffee was rich and dark and sweet - everything a good iced coffee should be, except cold, since the ice melted on contact with the hot coffee.

We started our dinner with an order of Bò Lá Nho (grilled beef in grape leaves). I recalled having this dish at Saigon Remembered and liking it very much. Pho Dat Than's is different in that the grape leaf rolls are larger, with less of a smoky flavor than those at SR. However, the juicy chopped beef (rather like a succulent meatball) and slightly charred bits of grape leaf were a lovely combination of flavors and textures, and much more to my liking than the usual rice-stuffed Middle Eastern/Greek version.

Next came an order of Muc Rang Muoi (crispy spicy squid). The only dish that didn't come with a small bowl of nước chấm, the ubiquitous fish-sauced based accompaniment for many Vietnamese dishes, it still benefited from a drizzle. The calamari was not as crispy as I'd have liked, possibly because it was served on a bed of roughly-torn iceberg lettuce, nor was it spicy, but it was pleasantly chewy and otherwise tasted fine.

Bún Thit Nuóng Cha Giò (grilled pork & cha gio vermicelli) was a huge bowl of slender rice noodles topped with thinly sliced grilled pork, beansprouts, carrots, shredded lettuce, cilantro, plus crushed peanuts and scallions. It was very similar to the other noodle dish we tried, the Bánh Uot Cha Lua Thit Nuóng (plain rice crepe with Vietnamese ham and grilled pork), which only differed in that the noodles were thin and sticky sheets - similar to the wrapper of the Chinese dim sum dish cheong fun - and the inclusion of steamed pork roll, which I suppose was the "Vietnamese ham."

The combination of smoky pork and bland noodles, sparked with additions of nước chấm and cilantro, was delicious. I preferred the vermicelli over the crepes, which were too gelatinous even for me. The pork roll (which I initially took for chicken or turkey) provided nothing but texture to the dish, as the flavor was nearly nonexistent. I could detect a vague peanut aura and maybe nuances of wet newspaper, but that's about it. Stick to the grilled pork.

Overall, the meal was pleasant and the quantity of leftovers made for a tasty supper a couple days later. I'm looking forward to going again, to experiment with different meats and definitely try the pho, which seemed to be on quite a few tables while we were there.

Pho Dat Thanh
510 York Road
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 296-9118

Pho Dat Thanh on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 2 Recap

Welcome to another exciting recap of Douchebag'sRocco's Dinner Party! This week's chefpetitors are Joel, a high school culinary instructor (back in the day, we used to call them "home-ec teachers"), Michelle, a private chef, and NY restaurant owner, the Thai/Filipino King. And before you start thinking that this guy is even more egotistical than the host of the show, "King" is his first name, not a title. Speaking of egos, not long after the chefpetitors familiarize themselves with the kitchen, DouchebagRocco comes in to task them with their first challenge - to create their signature dish for him to sample and ridicule.

Time starts and we see Joel scoring the skin on a duck breast. DouchebagRocco comes over and decides to quiz him on technique, and Joel tells us he's a home ec teacherculinary instructor - of course he knows how and why to score the skin on a duck breast! Then DouchebagRocco goes over to King and sniffs his scallops, asking what kind they are, and is generally an annoying nosybody.

When he gets to Michelle, who is making an etouffée with all of her vegetables and roux in the pan already, he casts aspersions on her decision to make a dish that should take "four hours" to cook in only thirty minutes. Having made many etouffées myself, I cringed at her lack of a dark roux, but can attest to the fact that once that roux is made, the rest of the dish comes together in about half an hour. But still - gotta have that dark roux. (A shortcut - spread your flour on a baking sheet and roast it at 450F for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5, until brown and fragrant. Add to oil in hot pan and bam! there you have it - an almost-instant dark roux.)

Time's up and the chefs plate their dishes. Unfortunately for King, while putting his noodles down, he notices that his beautiful scallops are still in another pan and he won't get the chance to serve them. The chefs then take their dishes to the Altar of Judgement where DouchebagRocco awaits, sneering.

He tastes King's dish first, noting that the scallops are missing. King makes the lame-o excuse that they were undercooked and thus unfit to serve. DouchebagRocco counters with the fact that undercooked or raw scallops are perfectly delicious. Fortunately for King, the rest of his dish tastes wonderful.

Next up is Joel's duck. Because it is so perfectly cooked, DouchebagRocco is actually forced to compliment the man. The salsify, on the other hand, is a bit hard and crunchy and not to his liking.

He then turns to Michelle and plays dumb when he sees the whole crawfish garnish. "Do I eat the whole thing?" he asks, stupidly. After tasting, he admits that it's better than he expected it to be, which is quite the backhanded compliment because you know he expected it to taste like ass. He said there was a lot of love in the dish, but there was also the taste of raw flour.

After deliberating for a few seconds, DouchebagRocco tells Michelle that she's out because he wasn't convinced that she could pull off the evening. And because she's a girl AND a private chef. Oh, you know those were the reasons! So Joel and King get to compete for the cash.

The theme this week is "Mystery Guest," and DouchebagRocco hands a dossier of said guest to the two remaining chefpetitors. Mystery Guest loves Bali, Italy, clean flavors, and spices. Armed with that info, Joel and King meet with Jen Gordon who helps them plan their room decor. Joel's clearly never done this before and gives some vague instructions, but also decides to do a party game in which the attendees answer the question "if you were a teacher, what would you want to teach." King wants to go full-on tropical with his decor, adding a Vespa for the flavor of Italy. Mario Batali would approve.

After shopping, we find Joel and King in the kitchen prepping their meals. Joel is starting off with a steamed clam and mussel appetizer, followed by a stew of borlotti beans with a homemade Dijon sausage, and ending with a sourdough bread pudding and cardamom ice cream. Sounds completely scattered and theme-less to me. King, on the other hand, is drawing from his Asian roots and making an puu puu platterappetizer trio of bbq ribs, papaya salad, and spring rolls, followed by a seafood green curry, and a coconut lemongrass panna cotta. Right away I decide that I would prefer King's menu over Joel's, but then I wasn't invited to the party.

And I'm pretty sure I'll never be invited to any party hosted by Rocco DiSpirito, which is kind of a shame because his other guests would love me and my snide sotto voce commentary about everything. Well, his gay guests would love me.

The guests arrive and they are a motley crew: fashion designer Gilles Mendel; skeletal stylist Mary Alice Stephenson (if he wasn't dead, I'd suspect it was really Skip Stephenson in drag); and Glamour editor Cindi Leive. Hey! It's a fashion industry party! But wait...there's also Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto. And...DL Hughley, dressed like an unemployed lumberjack. WTF? If they needed a token African-American guest for their little mandatory melting pot, why not Iman? She'd fit the theme, plus she's under contract to Bravo. Or maybe they did ask her, and she gave them a look like, "do you know who I am, mortals?" and laughed in their faces. That's what I'd like to imagine she'd do. In the words of Christian Siriano, "bitch is FIERCE."

A few minutes later, the Mystery Guest arrives and it's...Padma Lakshmi! Woo hoo! A Bravo-lebrity! You know, if you invited folks that the viewing audience might know or care about, you might not have to whore out your own "talent." How about Clooney? But I'd settle for Iman.

DouchebagRocco takes Padma into the kitchen where Joel and King do a bad job of: 1) pretending they know who she is; 2) pretending to be excited. Padma hands them a jar of her own brand of spices, in the Afro-Caribbean flavor, and requests that they take five minutes and make a cocktail snack with it. Literally, five minutes. So they slam their aprons down in disgust, stop what they're doing, and work on a quick fish dish for the prima donnas to nibble with their champagne.

Out in the living room, first King's salmon and then Joel's tuna are served. The latter is more aggressively spiced and the guests agree Joel's is the better of the two.

On to dinner. Joel's going first, so the guests enter the Terrace Dining Room which is decorated with racks of spices and mossy things on the table. There are also chalkboards with the "if you were a teacher" question on them serving as clunky placemats. After the diners dutifully ask each other what courses they would teach, out comes an amuse of prosciutto on a Parmesan tuile, which is awkward to eat.

Then comes the clams and mussels, which squicks out Mary Alice (who looks like she doesn't eat at all most of the time). She tries the mussels anyway and to her surprise, she likes them. So does everyone else. The borlotti bean stew is well-received, but the guests agree that the sausage could have been better-seasoned. Finally, the bread pudding comes out and is enjoyed by all.

Meanwhile, this is the most boring dinner party ever. The most interesting thing is finding out Gilles Mendel snacks on "potato sheeps" while he is working on his latest collection. And then while DL pretends to be turned on, Padma drunkenly goes on about making potato skins in which she boils the potatoes, holds the hot potatoes in her hands, and cooks bacon slowly so it gets "spicy." She must have snuck out for a doobie on the fire escape at some point before telling that story.

The guests all head to the Intimate Dining Room for the next party and find a tropical paradise - with a Vespa in the corner. And I seem to be the only person who finds it odd. I'd like to think that Rocco is mortified at the site of it because he is suddenly and cruelly (ha ha HA!) reminded about The Restaurant, in which he tools around (tools, heh) on a Vespa. That show, of course, was the beginning of the end of his great culinary career.

Anyhoo...King's dishes come out and immediately the consensus is that everything is too-familiar. Because in New York apparently everyone eats papaya salad on a regular basis. King's best dish was his panna cotta, with even Rocco raving over the perfect texture.

DouchebagRocco leaves his guests to deliver the good and bad news to the chefpetitors. He's decided that Joel is the winner of the $20,000, and that King should just go home and cry. Cry tears of joy that he is allowed to leave with his life, even if his dignity is no longer intact.

Next week: More Bravo-lebrities in the form of Real Housewhore of New Jersey, Caroline Manzo! Gack. At least they could have invited the insane table-flipper. Now THAT would be a party!

Posted by theminx on