Sunday, October 15, 2006
Though I'd heard rumors of three-month long waits for a reservation (this warning was, in fact, printed boldly on our gift certificate), Peter was able to secure a Saturday night spot just a few weeks after he called, in honor of our one-year anniversary. When Saturday rolled around, we arrived perfectly on time, ready to experience the meal of our lives. My first impression of the small bar we entered was somewhat more chaotic than we expected. Most likely because it was 9 pm, and a sort of changing of the guards, it was crowded with people coming and going. Had the hostess even noticed us? Why hadn't anyone asked to take my coat? Was our name really in the closely guarded reservation book? I took the waiting time as an opportunity to peek inside the dining room, which was fancier and more traditional than I thought it would be. Perhaps it's because I've become so accustomed to the cool, hip, modern decor of the "it" restaurants that seem so typical of Chicago that I was a bit caught offguard. The room was lovely, don't get me wrong, but with its muted palette, textured wall covering and wall sconces, it felt much more Maisonette than I was expecting.
We were seated not long after, and one of the waiters presented us with paper menus. I was still skeptical. The menu cover had the signature Trotter "T" logo of course, but the edges of the paper were a bit tattered and worn and seemingly unfitting of a restaurant of this caliber. I opened the paper cover to find two simple, printed pages on the inside, again not terribly remarkable. But when I looked at the right-hand side and saw printed at the top "Happy 1st Anniversary, Angie and Peter!" I was pretty wowed. While I'd thought we had just been shuttled in and sat at the first available table in a hurry, all the while they'd known exactly who we were and why we were there. A very nice, personal touch, plus I now had a keepsake of the evening!
We read through the two eight-course tasting menu choices, offered in "vegetable" and "grand" varieties, and quickly settled on the "grand" option. Not much of a decision in my mind, since I think you'd be crazy to come to a place like Trotter's and order just vegetables. There was no indication of price printed anywhere, mind you, but I was confident that what we'd chosen would cost a pretty penny. We also decided on the chef-selected wine pairing to accompany our meal. This came with it an $85 per person price tag, but we figured that such a special occasion was no time to skimp.
As I've tended to do of late, I had planned to unobtrusively take notes during the meal on the back of an envelope I had in my purse. I wrote down the name of our first wine, a delicious Bouzy champagne, and tucked the envelope to my side, only to realize a few minutes later that the envelope had fallen between the seat and the wall completely out of my reach. This wouldn't have been that all that big a deal if I hadn't had a check inside the envelope. I didn't want to ruin the moment though, so I put it out of my mind and tried to commit every detail to memory.
Our first couple of courses proved to be tasty, but strange. In fact, that theme carried throughout all our courses. The meal began with a nearly raw skate wing with mushrooms and horseradish foam. The foam was something I'd seen in Charlie's books, and I was always amazed at how he could create this substance in a professional kitchen. Even more surprising to me was that the foam held its shape and substance for upwards of ten minutes, whereas I had assumed foam would deflate in mere moments. I liked the dish, but Peter thought it was just okay. From there we had two additional seafood courses, one a Japanese hamachi and the other an extremely flavorful ocean trout. Service was friendly and informative. Everyone who brought us a glass, utensil, wine or food was accommodating and happy to explain the details of what we were eating. With each wine pairing came a fresh, perfectly shaped Riedel glass, perfectly suited for that particular varietal (never mind that every teacher I had in culinary school thought that Riedel was full of it and just marketing 80 different types of wine glasses to make money).
Our first "meat" course was a whole-roasted squab breast, served with hominy and huitlacoche sauce (yup, that's right, it's corn fungus). This was by far our favorite of the savory dishes, and finally had the richness, substance, and body we had been looking for. The lamb loin that followed was okay, but the fried pieces of brain that accompanied it almost finished me. It looked nice and creamy inside, and I knew I had to be adventurous and try it, but after half of a bite I was convinced I didn't need any more fried brain. Truthfully, it was the texture that got to me. A little softer than cooked egg white but not as firm as feta, it just didn't taste good. The waiter that picked up our plates at the end smiled at me and inquired, "Are you sure you don't want to finish your brains?" I was sure. It looked like he'd carried a lot of half-eaten fried brains back to the kitchen.
Next began the sweet courses. We had a sherry granita with dates that was good but overly boozy tasting. The next course was my all-time favorite. Instead of just one beautiful plated dish, our table was suddenly covered with three varieties of desserts: an apple and endive crisp with a bleu cheese cream, chocolate profiteroles with crème fraiche ice cream, and a small dish filled with mignardises: small tidbits of sweets including ginger gelee and pistachio nougat. Every last bite was absolutely delicious.
It had been three hours, eight courses, and seven different wines, but I can't say that after all this did we find ourselves overly full of either food or wine. There was no one dish that I thought was truly a standout or that I would even order again, but we'd eaten some things we never had (fried brains, olive sorbet, corn fungus) from one of the most highly regarded chefs in the country and it had been a fun experience.
And then the check came. Again, recall that the dinner price was not printed anywhere on the menu, nor is it listed anywhere on the official Trotter's Web site. We had of course assumed that this meal would be pricey, but nothing prepared us for the amount that was printed on the bill. Our only consolation was in the fact that an 18% gratuity was already included in this ridiculous high price. I won't disclose the exact amount but I will tell you that even with the gift certificate this meal was three times what we'd estimated, and three times that of a prix fixe (and what I'd consider tastier) meal at Jean-Robert at Pigall's. We had to laugh about it a bit to make ourselves feel better, but in truth I think that no matter how long I live in this city I won't think that the meal we had there was worth what we paid.
So as we prepared to leave, still shocked by the total amount bill, I suddenly remembered the check in the envelope I'd dropped down the edge of my seat and asked for some assistance from our waiter. Ever the accommodating staff, he sent us off on a tour of the restaurant with another waiter and said that he'd have the envelope for us upon our return. This was by far one of the coolest parts of the evening as we got a glimpse of the behind the scenes view of the surprisingly small production kitchen, the sleek and luxurious TV-show kitchen, and the expansive wine cellar. Sure enough, we came back to find that the waiter had magically made my check appear. We exited and just as we turned to head down Armitage to catch a cab, the woman working at the valet stand handed us a mini loaf of sweet cherry bread, beautifully packaged and again adorned with that signature "T." Again I had to admit, it was a nice touch. Throughout our entire experience, there wasn't a single detail left undone.
Was it an enjoyable meal? Sure, it was good. But was it the meal of our lives? I'd have to answer that it wasn't. It was wonderful, and the small touches and impeccable service made everything that much more delightful, but I can't look at the price of the meal and equate it to our experience. I'm glad we went, but unless someone else is footing the bill, I can't way we'll be back.
The damage: I refuse to write it. Unless you're accustomed to frequenting restaurants of a national caliber regularly, you can take the most expensive meal you've had and double or triple it and that will put you in the right ballpark.
Food: 4 1/2 out of 5 forks - good, but strange. You're completely in the chef's hands, so get ready to be adventurous. You'll undoubtedly try something you've never ever had before.
Romance: 4 1/2 out of 5 kisses - the soft colors and refined atmosphere can't help but put you in a romantic mood. Plus, it's always kind of fun to giggle through the experience of trying completely new food together.
Watch out for: yes, I'll mention it one more time and then I'm done: the cost! Just have room available on your credit card is all I'm saying.
816 West Armitage
Chicago, IL 60614
Monday, August 21, 2006
We arrived early to check out the ambience over a drink and weren’t disappointed. The loft-like space was filled with beautiful people and things and we made our way to the bar to soak it all in. The crowded bar almost meant that we had to go to the upstairs lounge (which, curiously, had no bartender), but just as we made our way to order beverages, spots opened up and we found ourselves in a prime location. On the surface, Butter looked certainly like the upscale place I expected: beautiful orchids artfully arranged in large vases with shiny rocks, flickering candles on each table, and immense works of original art on the expansive walls. Still, the longer we sat, the more we realized it was all just a façade. I reached in the vase to find that the orchids were fake, picked up the candles to find that they weren’t even real wax but battery-powered. The art was still cool and fitting of the space.
Still, I remained optimistic and shortly we were seated at a nearby table and presented with menus and the signature Butter martinis: a slightly fruity concoction that tasted of pineapple, framboise, topped with a bit of frothy champagne. Our waitress kindly offered to hang my purse from our table with a shiny metal hook—perhaps this is par for the course in the big city, but for us Cincinnati bumpkins I was impressed by the gesture meant to keep my Kate Spade off the floor. We were off to a swimming start, happily sipping away and perusing the menu, made all the better when a server brought us three individual small bowls of “snacks” to whet our appetite: truffled popcorn, crispy shrimp chips and peppered deep-fried potato chips. Since we’d taken a late reservation and saved up for a big fancy meal, we made short work of these innovative treats, which I found to be a refreshing change from the typical baguette or dinner roll.
Looking around and reading the menu trying to decide what to order, Peter looked at me and suddenly made me aware of the fact that despite seeing many beautiful people in beautiful clothes with beautiful drinks, we’d actually seen no food appear on any table. This seemed even more remarkable when I recalled that the waitress, upon giving us our menus, had commented on the fact that the menu was all-new and that the portion sizes had recently increased. These two facts together made us slight suspicious, but I happily ordered our server’s recommended starter and entrée.
Our first course arrived a long but still reasonable 30 minutes later. My risotto with perfectly brunoised (a cut I never quite mastered) prosciutto and melon chunks was as good as the waitress had promised, but the portion size was miniscule. It was accurately cooked al dente (no gluey “rihzohtto” here as Gordon Ramsay would say) but there was so little of it that I found myself fiercely protecting each bit from my husband’s fork. He had ordered the safer but seemingly interesting “Fork and Knife Caesar Salad” and was disappointed to find that it tasted nothing like the deliciously smoky version at Boca in Cincinnati. Don’t get me wrong—it was okay—but definitely nothing to write home about. His brioche croutons were tasty though.
And then we sat. We sat and waited, and drank another Butter martini, and sat some more. We each visited the restroom, hoping this would make time pass more quickly, but came back to an empty table. There were no more snacks given, and only teeny tiny ovals of bread we affectionately began calling “bread turds.” Once we’d consumed those, there were no more given. When I looked down at my watch and noticed that we’d been seated at our table for 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was peeved. I complained. Our waitress apologized. We were starving.
Finally, our entrees arrived. I’d ordered the Chicken and Lobster. I know, I know, why would you ever order chicken when dining out? But our waitress had highly recommended it, and it did have lobster, so I took a chance. I should’ve gone with my gut, because the half of a poached chicken breast on my plate tasted like dishwater and I couldn’t eat more than two bites. The lobster was tasty, but barely consisted of more than three bites. Peter had gone with the scallop appetizer made into an entrée. His dish was certainly better than mine, but still nothing more than a basic seared scallop on a bed of black-eyed peas. His four scallops were an admittedly respectable size, but not for his Cincinnati-sized appetite.
By the time we reached the end of the meal, we’d been sitting in our cheap, straight-from-IKEA, nice-looking but uncomfortable chairs for far too long to be in a good mood. To prove to you how impatient I was, I even passed up looking at the dessert menu in favor of getting up and getting the blood flowing back to my appendages. We even stopped by Bin 36 on our way home in the hopes of getting a cheese tray, but at that point I was too weary to sit any longer.
Needless to say, we won’t be back. It won’t diminish my enthusiasm for this city or for eating out in more of the fantastic restaurants I’m so looking forward to (Charlie Trotter, here I come at the end of September), but it will make me think twice about the “stylish” places we choose to frequent. I prefer places that have the chops to back up the fluff.
The damage: about $80, NOT including tip or the gift certificate we had going for us. If this is typical for Chicago restaurants, we're going to have to eat out less.
Watch out for: exceedingly slow service and disappointing food.
Food: 1 out of 5 forks – disappointing, especially given the price. I’ll give credit for the snacks that preceded our meal though.
Romance: 3 out of 5 kisses – you’d better go with someone you really, really like though, because you’re going to be together for a looonnng time
130 S. Green Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Though I'm not quite as happy to disclose this next bit of information, I did indeed turn 30 two weeks ago. The good part about that is that for my birthday my parents (with Peter's help) gave me a very creative and wonderful gift that I'll be able to share with you: 30 gift certificates to restaurants in both Chicago and Cincinnati. So here's a sampling of some of the deliciousness in Chicago you'll be able to read about in coming weeks:
Japonais (can't wait to try the sushi)
Alinea (the description in our book sounds divine)
Topolobampo (Rick Bayless' original)
Charlie Trotter's (I've wanted to dine here for years and years)
Ambria (right on Lincoln Park at the lake)
Vong's Thai Kitchen (Jean-George Vongerichten right here in Chicago)
Ba-Ba Reeba (we love tapas)
While I'm excited to eat at all these new and wonderful places, I'm also excited to be able to come home at eat at some of my favorites!
Boca (my all-time favorite--love those scallops)
Jean-Ro Bistro (I want that pork chop again)
White Castle (I can honestly say I haven't been there before!)
Sturkey's (they have great desserts)
Graeter's (thank goodness they ship this stuff out of the city)
The Precinct (back in our 'hood)
Skyline (what am I going to do when I can't eat here once a week?!?)
So we're back! Check back often to read about our latest adventures.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
It all began after a long, traffic-filled drive to the city that brought us to Taste of Chicago in Grant Park. Sure, it was 95 degrees outside, but that didn't stop us from eating steak tacos, lobster beignets, stuffed sausage pizza, and a ginormous chocolate turtle, all washed down with some cold Miller Lite. Fine dining it was not, but satisfying nibbles nonetheless. After successfully navigating through the hordes of people, we felt completely justified in plopping down on the grass in front of one of the music stages to take a restorative afternoon nap.
Sunday morning we ate brunch at a wonderful and unique spot in Evanston called Le Peep (similar to First Watch but with more unique menu selections). Later we got snacks in the Water Tower mall at Foodlife, an interesting experience in which you can sample cuisines from all over the world. And we topped off the day with a wine, cheese and charcuterie tasting at Bin 36, conveniently located in our hotel. It was my third visit, and each time I love this place more. They’ve removed any unnecessary snottiness and scariness from the wine drinking experience, and the “flights” make it fun to try a variety of wines all at once. We sat up at the cheese counter and made fast friends with the restaurant’s cheese monger (I’ll admit I didn’t know that title existed anywhere) from Mexico City. He not only gave us his favorite tallegio, but also shared a Persian feta made in Australia as well as a cheese that tasted exactly like stinky feet. Wine, cheese, and a little sausage made us happy, stuffed Chicagoans.
Monday we were so full we didn’t eat until lunchtime, but what a lunch it was. A friend took us to Harry Caray’s, which would’ve been worth the experience just to see inside this historic restaurant and check out all the cool sports memorabilia. We dined on the best (and I might add, largest) burgers I’ve had in a long time. I had a lamb burger topped with goat cheese served with sweet potato fries. I think I’m in love.
But lest you think we were so full that we couldn’t eat dinner, fear not, because we rose t to the challenge and managed to fit even more food in. Monday evening by far our best meal. After a fantastic boat ride to see the best of the city’s architecture, we cast off our grubby walking/sightseeing clothes, got all cleaned up, and headed for the very exclusive, by invitation only Foundation Room at the House of Blues. The two kids from Cincinnati felt like rock stars in the ultra-cool yet friendly, candlelit top floor room where we enjoyed a delicious (and very expensive) martini for me, and wine for Peter. Since the Foundation Room's dining room was closed for the evening, we opted for the Smith & Wollensky restaurant we've been eyeing all weekend. We secured a lovely table outside overlooking the river and perused the traditional yet solid menu selections. Peter and I fought over the bacon chunks on my Wollensky Salad, and he tried to lick the bottom of his bowl of the day's Tortilla Soup. Our steaks were simply prepared and cooked to perfection. I couldn’t resist getting my filet “Oscar style” and wasn’t disappointed by the generous amount of crab and hollandaise on top of my tender, medium-rare beef. We didn’t really need the truffled mac and cheese as a side, but it sounded (and was) so very decadent. We took our server’s recommendation for dessert and went with the Coconut Cake. Cake is hit or miss for me, but this one was a surefire hit. The layers of soft cake and whipped cream icing were the perfect balance for the fresh coconut shavings and mango sauce.
We ate breakfast in Boys’ Town this morning, and not surprisingly all I could manage was an egg white omelet. My only consolation is that in addition to my stomach expanding, my calves are sore from all the walking we did, so I’ll hope that at the end of the day the two canceled each other out.
How can you not love Chicago? So much to do, so much to explore, and so much to EAT! But what I really found delightful is that everyone we met here was so genuinely friendly. Store clerks, valet parkers, cheese mongers, and strangers alike were kind, accommodating, and happy to have us here. I think we just might be able to live here…
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Our meal last Friday at Jean-Ro was superb, from start to finish. It’s never just grabbing a bite at one of his restaurants, but is rather dining in the truest sense. It’s sort of like Pigall’s, but a whole lot cheaper. The place was abuzz on Friday, even though it was late by Cincinnati standards (8:30 pm). Still, we were seated in about 20 minutes.
One of my favorite things about Jean-Ro is the “pichet.” That’s French for pitcher, and, at this restaurant it stands for a healthy quantity of either white or red table wine. Nothing fancy or name brand, but very good, solid wines to go with a classic bistro meal. When I say cheap, I’m not kidding. It’s only $9.50 for the larger size, which is the perfect amount for 2 people to share and get 2 glasses apiece.
I started my meal with the Belgian Endive Salad, a delicious mix of sliced endive, walnuts, chunks of Swiss cheese and crisp apple, all tossed in a cider vinaigrette. It’s the salad I always get here, be it lunch or dinner, and it didn’t disappoint. All those textures and flavors combine into a delicious starter. Peter began with a Shrimp Stuffed Avocado, which tasted okay, but a little too mayonnaise-y for me, and too much like something I might get at a hoity toity bridal shower.
We both enjoyed our entrees, but Peter’s merits some additional description. He ordered the Twice Baked Pork Chop, whose description has always piqued my interest. In a word, it was amazing. The best pork chop I’ve ever had. Our server told us that it’s brined and then roasted. Where some pork chops are tough and chewy, this chop was perfectly tender and melt-in-your mouth good. Surrounded by braised, buttery apples, it was delicious and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Crème caramel and Ile Flotant (Floating Island) topped off our meal perfectly. Neither was too sweet, but just enough to make us not feel guilty.
Jean-Robert is a master. Not only do I enjoy his food, but I know him to be a kind, genuine, passionate person, and a brilliant, devoted restaurateur. I’m eagerly anticipating his next venture, Greenup Café, a coffee and pastry shop in the old Wildflour space in Covington. Given his track record, I don’t see how it can miss.
The damage: The total amount we owed was just $60! (just kidding, it wasn't really that cheap. We were lucky enough to have a $60 gift certificate to use, so you do the math)
Watch out for: it's pretty loud in here, so you'll have to sit and talk close to your sweetie
Food: 5 out of 5 forks - this guy sets the city's standard
Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses - see "watch out for" above
413 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Salt (must be sea or Kosher)
- Mix equal parts of all ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder (just depends on how much you need whether you use 1 Tb or 1 cup of each).
- Apply rub to meat and grill.
This turned out to be far from a lecture though, and much more of a conversation. The weather wasn’t great which kept attendance down, but for me it was a great chance to get a front row seat and pick the brain of a first-class chef. Clinton (yes, we’re on a first-name basis now) has only been in Cincinnati since late last year. Over the course of his thirty-year career he’s worked in New York, California, and Hawaii. He’s worked with Alan Wong. And Charlie Palmer. I’m impressed already, and this guy must be the real deal! Though I dearly love this city, I’m always a little surprised when someone like Clinton chooses to settle down in Cincinnati, but he said he loves it here, which I hope means he’s planning a good, long stay.
Most of his talk today focused on the importance of using fresh, seasonal ingredients. To prove his point he presented us with a small plate full of lettuces and raw vegetables topped with vinaigrette. He picked up the produce just yesterday from a farmer in Kentucky. All he did was wash the vegetables, plate them, and dress them with a very simple heirloom tomato vinaigrette. He encouraged us to nibble away as he spoke, just using our fingers, so we could experience first-hand the undeniably fresh taste and clean flavors. His biggest frustration with Cincinnati have been finding fresh seafood and produce, but clearly he’s making progress sourcing produce.
Clinton also spoke about using the freshest, tastiest ingredients from the point of view that it means he doesn’t have to use an abundance of cream and butter. While he believes people should savor and enjoy their meals, he also thinks that after a meal you shouldn’t leave stuffed to the gills and feeling guilty about the meal you just had. Though his waitstaff warned him not to, he significantly cut down portion sizes soon after starting at The Palace. He was also told that we’re a “meat and potatoes” town, but he’s having success selling exotic dishes like Coffee Rubbed Elk Carpaccio on his menu.
I haven’t had the chance yet to dine at The Palace since Clinton took the helm, but now I’m just dying to. We asked for his current favorites on the menu and I’d love to try them all. Hanger Steak with a Bleu Cheese Fritter that melts on top of the steak when you break it open? Wow. Whole Fried Yellowtail Snapper with Mushrooms and Chinese Longbeans? Yup, I’m there. And top it all off with a Mille Feuille containing Pistachio Mascarpone Cream and Strawberries, right in the middle of strawberry season? Well, now there’s drool coming out of my mouth.
I learned a couple of other fun facts about Clinton. Seeing as an average day at work for him is about 14 ½ hours, he said he never cooks at home (his verbatim reply to me was “never buy a house from a plumber”). Oh, and he also said he’s never been to Skyline, which I encouraged him to try.
Now that I’ve talked to him, I don’t have to have tasted his food to know that we’re so lucky to have such an accomplished, experienced chef in town. The Palace has always been good but not great, and I’m excited to see it come into its own under the direction of Chef Jones.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
I love Chez T in Mt. Lookout for lunch not because it's less than a mile from our house (which is a bonus) but because it really makes me remember how much I love the French culture. The chef/owner clearly shares my passion, and has done everything she can to create a little piece of France right here in Cincinnati. Just like the cafes of Paris, it's a tiny little space just a few doors down from the previously reviewed Nectar. The self-serve coffee and tea bar makes the welcoming, comfortable space feel like it's the dining room of an intimate small hotel or bed and breakfast. And how cute is the bathroom?!? All kinds of knick knacks from France in a large, bright space make it a bathroom I could spend some time in (yes, women notice these things, and yes, nice bathrooms matter to us).
The food here can't be beat. Peter started with the Yellow Pepper Soup. I can't say I've had Yellow Pepper Soup much if ever, so I was intrigued to see how it would taste. It turned out to be not to thick and not too creamy, but just silky and deliciously sweet with exactly the right kick of spice. It speaks well of the chef that it didn't need an ounce of additional salt or pepper. Though I started with just one taste of the soup, I found myself lifting the spoon to my mouth for bite after bite while Peter looked at me disapprovingly.
For lunch I ordered what I've ordered a few times before: Grilled Vegetable Pita with Hummus. I also requested a substitution of the Wheatberry Salad for the slaw becuase I had it once before and remember it so fondly. My lunch was fabulous. The grill marks on the soft pita bread gave such a nice overall smoky flavor that balanced well with the roasted eggplant, red onion and creamy hummus. The side of Wheatberry Salad was just as good as I remembered. It's got a unique flavor and consistency, with its chewy grains matched with grated carrots, currants and tomato chunks, all dressed in a light but flavorful vinaigrette.
Peter ordered the ham and brie baguette, which also looked fantastic. The bread was piled high with shaved ham, a very generous amount of brie, and a tarragon mustard-y, mayonnaise-y combination. We both gobbled down everything on our plates, including the last bites of soup. If we'd had more room, we could've tried one of the yummy-looking baked goods for dessert, but we had to refrain.
The only problem is that every time I leave Chez T I'm left thinking about how much I want to go back to France, and right now it's looking like I'm quite a ways off from that. For the time being, I'll just have to settle for a taste every now and then.
The damage: $27 for beverages, soup, and two lunch entrees
Watch out for: there are no soft drinks, so you're limited to water, iced tea, and coffee. Also, remember that this is a lbrunch/lunch-only place.
Food: 4.5 out of 5 forks
Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (it's the French part of it)
1004 Delta Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45208
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
I recently found out about a new event called "Second Sunday on Main." A good friend told me about this, knowing my passion for food and wine. The second event of the season is this Sunday, and I'm definitely planning to check it out. Here's the "foodie-appealing" part of what's on tap for this weekend:
Chef Clinton Jones, the brilliant new executive chef at the Palace Restaurant, will talk about “Fine Dining with Health – not Butter and Cream.”
2 p.m. at Mr. Pitiful’s. Space limited. First come, first seated.
Sommelier Paul Ortiz of the Cincinnati Wine School will conduct a wine tasting on “Wines for the Dog Days.” Great wine for the hot summer months; wines for the front porch and picnics, while you hang out with your dog.
3 p.m. at Mr. Pitiful’s. They have to charge a nominal fee because they can't legally just give away wine for free.
Among other things that will be on Main, I've heard that you can purchase fresh produce from the Eco Garden courtesy of Impact OTR: www.findlaymarket.org/impact and sample real Italian-inspired gelato from the only real gelato maker in the area.
There's music, shopping, and art for those of you who aren't interested in any of the above activities. If you can't come this weekeend, I'll bring my camera to capture the day, and will let you know how it goes next week, right here on www.readitandeat.blogspot.com .
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The Dilly Deli has come a long way over the years since it relocated to the Mariemont Strand. It started out as just a small storefront and has now expanded into a charming restaurant, wine and cheese shop. The part store-part restaurant atmosphere is crowded, cozy, and reminiscent of a European cafe. You can eat inside, outside (they've got a nice outdoor fireplace for chilly evenings), or just carry out a selection of delectable goodies like we did last night.
Part of the fun is just perusing all the lovely selections of none too ordinary foodstuffs. A beautiful array of cheese is at the forefront, with a staff ready and willing to help you find the flavors and textures just for you. Then there are all the beautiful jars of honey, jam, sauce, tapenade and countless types of crackers, flatbreads and other "bases" for the cheese and other accompaniments. What I love is that you'll find hidden containers throughout the shelves that have small samples of the various crackers so you can get just a bit of a taste before making your selection. Last night I sampled varieties of crackers that tasted like red wine, lasagna, and vanilla. And I took much more than my fair "sample" share of almond cranberry biscotti.
If you choose to eat a more traditional meal, you'll find everything from gourmet salads to homemade soups to delicious sandwiches. I highly recommend the Mariemont Gobbler if you're in a sandwich mood--turkey layered with Brie and lettuce on a baguette, topped with the truly special ingrdient, Cranberry Fool (you'll have to look up that one yourself). I'm also a sucker for the Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Salad. I've never tried any of the entrees, but they offer things like seared Ahi and Grilled Ribeye, as well as all kinds of pasta dishes.
Last night, we of course ended up mostly with cheese, some of which smelled like sweaty feet but tasted pretty darn good all runny and oozy (make sure to eat this and all cheese at room temperature). We had some crackers of course, and the last bowls of Tuscan Bean and Chicken with Wild Rice Soup the deli had to offer. Oh yes, and Peter threw on a Chicken Salad Sandwich for good measure. All in all, the perfect meal.
If you're wondering, yes Peter cringed at the title on this blog entry (maybe I should just stick with the straightforward restaurant names as I've been doing). So what, Mr. Big Time Creative Director, does "dilly" mean anyway? All he could tell me was that Ned Flanders uses the expression "dilly of a pickle" when he's in a tough spot.
The damage: $35 or so, and we've got tons of cheese and crackers still left for tonight's snacks
Watch out for: service can be a little bit slow, so go on a night when you don't have anywhere particular to be at any particular time
Food: 4.5 forks
Romance: 4 kisses, because with all that wine and cheese, how can it not be "romantical?"
6818 Wooster Pike (in the Mariemont Strand)
Cincinnati, Ohio 45227
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
When we have all these great neighborhood choices for Asian food, don’t ask me why Peter likes P.F. Chang’s so much, but he does. And occasionally, on nights when I’m feeling either really nice or really tired, I let him have his way. Tonight it was the latter, after a long day at the office that ended with the color printer not cooperating in a time of great need, as all printers are known to do. It's as if they can sense when the really big projects need to be printed and act up only then. The screen just continued to blink “Fix Image Sensor” or some such nonsense as my co-worked and I poked, prodded and tried to repair it.
So after the drama was resolved and the sun was setting, I went the lazy route and called in an order to Chang’s. We love the steamed Peking dumplings and the fact that we choose them steamed instead of pan fried makes me feel healthy even if it’s not. Then we each ordered a shrimp dish: Orange Peel Chicken for me, and Kung Pao Shrimp for Peter (see, I told you he always gets Kung Pao something). The dumplings were good, as usual, but we both frowned at the rather skimpy portion. I was delighted with the contrast between the bitter orange peel and rich shrimp in my entree and really enjoyed the nutty, chewy flavor of the accompanying brown rice, not something you find in every Asian restaurant. Even if you don't give a hoot about nutrition, give it a try because it's so much more interesting than the bland white stuff. Peter on the other hand, was most disappointed to find that his shrimp had been seriously overcooked. I asked for a bite to taste and immediately realized that he'd actually received Kung Pao Chicken instead of shrimp. Normally this wouldn't be a huge deal, but Peter is somewhat of a hypochondriac and has recently decided that the avian flu is a real threat in the US and we should therefore avoid all chicken. I think it’s just an excuse for him to eat more of his favorite animal: the pig. It was also an excuse to polish off half of my shrimp dish.
Sure, it was an easy dinner "out" that we didn’t even enjoy in a restaurant, but tonight's meal reminded me of the true benefit of takeout: you can sit in the comfort of our own home, on the couches and pillows, watching the premiere of “The Hills” on MTV with no shame.
So what did my fortune cookie say?
Your labors will bear sweet fruit.
Well, time will tell, but for now I'm taking that to mean that the battle with the copier will ultimately go our way.
The damage: about $20
Watch out for: last minute switches in your order--always, always check the bag before you leave and it's too late
Food: 3 out of 5 forks
Romance: 2 out of 5 kisses (but this just might chalked up to fatigue)
2633 Edmonson Road (Rookwood Commons)
Cincinnati, Ohio 45209
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
My recent occasion for visiting the restaurant was a night out with a girlfriend (and now coworker) of mine. We get together from time to time to talk about life, work and most of all, the ups and downs of being newlyweds (she was married just a week before we were). Since Peter’s made it no secret that he’s not a fan of the place, I figured it would be a good choice to lessen his feelings of being left out.
Our service was quite friendly and accommodating, especially since we weren’t the easiest diners that evening. We ordered the Bella Luna Salad (we decided to pay extra to get the figs and feta) but didn’t like the overly acidic vinaigrette dressing that clashed with the sweet, dried fruit. Our server promptly brought us new salads with honey balsamic that proved to be better, but was overly sweet and thick such that it looked and tasted more like molasses than dressing.
I chose a spicy pasta dish, the bucatini, as my entrée. Bella Luna actually did well on this one, preparing al dente spaghetti-like noodles in a rich, smoky sauce chock full of thick bacon chunks. Not the best choice before swimsuit season, but the flavor was worth the splurge and I ate every last bite. Don’t tell him since I’m trying to make him healthier, but as president of the “I love the pig” fan club, I think Peter would’ve really liked this dish.
My friend ordered good old spaghetti and meatballs. The dish looked great, but she was disappointed to find that the meatballs really didn't look like they were cooked all the way through. Not wanting to bother our server with a replacement yet again, she just picked them off and placed them to the side.
Not quite ready to go home and busy watching a violent thunderstorm roll in, we took our server’s advice and ordered the restaurant’s famous bread pudding for dessert, which we were told was a hit at last year’s Taste of Cincinnati. I love bread pudding, and hey, I needed more carbs, right? But this version wasn’t like any bread pudding I’ve ever had, and that’s not a good thing in this case. The consistency was much too smooth, as though the bread had been pureed in a Cuisinart instead of just soaked in larger chunks. I was also disappointed that there were no hidden “goodies” like nuts or dried cherries in the pudding, but just ultra-smooth, bland pudding. The sauce here was thin and syrupy where I like a more traditional thickened whiskey sauce with my version. We left most of it on the plate.
All in all, the food part of the dinner was a pretty mediocre experience. It wasn't food I would classify as terrible, but also wasn’t good enough to be memorable or worth in the money. I will give credit to Bella Luna for its charming, romantic atmosphere. Inside the decor is funky and brightly colored without being garish, and offers diners comfy booths filled with cushions and pillows—just right for those looking to relax, kick up their heels and gab. It’s my philosophy that atmosphere and service are half of what contributes to a good or bad dining experience, so Bella Luna got that half of the equation right.
The damage: about $30 each, which seemed really high considering we had no alcohol at all (my pregnant friend looked longingly at the wine list though—did we get charged for that?)
Watch out for: the vinaigrette salad dressing
Food: 2 forks (overall inconsistent)
Romance: 4 kisses, thanks to good lighting and 1/2 price bottles of wine served on Wednesday nights
4632 Eastern Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45226
Monday, May 29, 2006
36 cherry tomatoes
2 cups chopped lettuce - we used Bibb
8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
3-4 Tb. mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
- Slice the very top and bottom off the cherry tomatoes, using a serrated knife for ease of preparation. Using a knife or mini melon baller, remove the pulp from the tomato and rinse, making sure tomato is still whole. Set the tomato top side down on a paper-towel lined cookie sheet to drain. If you cut all the way through the tomato cup, it's okay.
- Chop lettuce and place in a mixing bowl with the crumbled bacon. Add enough mayonnaise just to combine and season with salt and pepper.
- Turn over tomatoes and stuff tops with lettuce mixture (we found the easiest way was with our hands).
Friday, May 26, 2006
Cactus Pear bills itself as a Southwest Bistro. I'm not completely clear on how "Southwest" differs from traditional Mexican fare, but I can tell you that there were many interesting menu items, all of which sounded delicious. Atypical things such as tofu and eggplant fajitas, Enjoying the bistro's delicious (and free) chips and salsa, we decided between things such as tofu and eggplant fajitas, various noodle dishes. Incidentally, the salsa was not just any salsa, but a dark, rich, smoky and most out of the ordinary salsa that we could've eaten plain with soup spoons.
We ordered what I thought sounded like the most interesting appetizer: casserole of chihuahua (Peter says this should be pronounced chah-hoo-ah-hoo-ah) beans with beef and cheese. It came served warm with flour tortillas so we created mini burritos right there at the table. The taste was good, and reminded me of those chilitos I used to get at Zantigo's (now Taco Bell) on Ridge Road.
While waiting for our entrees, musicians entered the restaurant looking to set up and start playing. Peter eyed them nervously, wondering if they were going to be loud and disruptive, but they were most pleasant. I got to mouth "Fly Me to the Moon" across the table to Peter, who actually looked amused.
For dinner I had the blue corn enchildadas , which were covered in a sweet, flavorful mole sauce and sour cream. Peter had the beef tamales, which were topped with a tangy tomatillo sauce and yes, more sour cream. Truth be told, with the exception of the sauces our two dishes didn't actually taste all that different. There was an overwhelming amount of tender, shredded beef inside and for once, we requested a box to take home leftovers. Peter encouraged me to dump the rest of our salsa on top of the rice I was packing up, which I reluctantly did just as a server came back to the table to clear our plates. Embarassesd, I felt like that person who tries to take home all the free rolls or salad at the Olive Garden. Peter of course made the most of the opportunity and reported to the server that I was stealing salsa. Nice. A few minutes later, the server dropped off an entire plastic container of the salsa, all packed up and ready for us to enjoy at home--what a great surprise and way to take home a little more of our dining experience. Since chips and salsa are officially Peter's favorite meal, we were both ecstatic.
The damage: $61.61, for one app, two entrees, wine (two for me, one for Peter) and a pint of salsa!
Watch out for: I honestly can't think of anything!
Food: 3 out of 5 forks (good, but not the best I've ever had)
Romance: 3 of out 5 kisses (it increased to 4 when the musicians started)
Cactus Pear Southwest Bistro
9500 Kenwood Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45242
Monday, May 22, 2006
Yes, it's a chain, and in my oh-so-snotty way I typically avoid that restaurant genre, but Brio is one of the few exceptions I'll occasionally make. After a week and a half of rain, the nice weather beckoned us to Brio's lovely patio that sits at the heart of Newport on the Levee, in clear view of the fountain and valet parking stand. With the exception of traveling to a client meeting, I hadn't been outside all day, so the fresh air and sunshine were a welcomed change. Though it was right in the middle of the busy dinner service, the fact that it was a Monday meant that we got right in with no wait at all.
We began with the Brio Bruschetta appetizer for the table to start. We were deep in conversation so the appetizers all but vanished before our eyes, but not before Peter had time to remark about how much he really loves grilled bread. He was right. The grilled bread doused in flavorful olive oil was a perfect base for the grilled shrimp and roasted red peppers topped with melted mozzarella cheese.
Peter ordered the Bistecca salad as a next course, and our waiter generously offered to split this between the two of us so we could each taste. While I'd assumed that "bistecca" translated to something involving beef, I was instead surprised to find that this was more of the traditional iceberg lettuce wedge salad, complete with bleu cheese crumbles and dressing, bacon pieces, and chopped tomatoes.
For dinner I went with the fish special of the day: a sauteed tilapia with a cream sacue, roasted new potatoes, and spinach with prosciutto. The server advised us that they're making some adjustments to the menu tomorrow, so Peter ordered the "Straw and Hay" pasta dish that's about to be discontinued. It was a mix of regular and spinach fettucine with peas and bacon in a light alfredo cream sauce. His was just okay (I see why it's coming off the menu), while mine was divine and should be a permanent menu feature. My dad's lamb chops must have been good because he didn't offer us any bites, and my mom went lighter and had a crab cake appetizer as her entree, trying to be mindful of the cruise they're going on in just a few weeks.
Convinced that we simply couldn't and shouldn't order dessert, we ended up talking ourselves into sharing a chocolate cake among the four of us. The cake itself was a bit bland and gelatinous, but the vanilla bean gelato and chocolate fudge drizzle on top made up for it, so we had no trouble polishing off the entire dish.
I sure am glad Peter gets along with his in-laws so well. I had a lovely time tonight and wouldn't mind repeating tonight's meal frequently.
The damage: I honestly have no idea. There are times I still act like a major daddy's girl and let him pay, hoping it makes him feel needed.
Watch out for: parking at the Levee. It's expensive to park there and seems specifically designed to make sure you can't find your car at the end of the night. I advise the lot across the street, if it's available, or the valet parking option either at the Levee or Tropicana.
Food: 3 out of 5 forks (though our meal was good, I just can't bring myself to go higher on a chain)
Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (close your eyes, forget your in KY, and you might just be able to imagine you're in Tuscany)
Brio Tuscan Grille
1 Levee Way, Suite 1140
Newport, KY 41071
Saturday, May 20, 2006
I've always heard that there's no better place for dim sum in Cincinnati than Pacific Moon Cafe. I've been a fan of the cuisine ever since I lived in San Francisco and used to frequent the extremely well-know establishment called Yank Sing. I've even experienced the privilege of having dim sum in Hong Kong where it just doesn't get any better. I was in heaven while my family looked warily at each cart of food, certain that they would get food poisoning at any moment. But right here in river city, it's a little more difficult to find authentic dim sum, so when Sihui, one of our co-workers, offered to make a reservation at Pacific Moon and serve as a guide to those who were interested, we (and six others) jumped at the chance.
I love the whole concept of dim sum. It's kind of like my obsession with tapas, but with an Asian spin, consisting of small plates of food best shared among friends. While I love eating out, I find the excessively large portions of food typical in many restaurants overwhelming, not to mention boring after several bites. Maybe it's the influence of Peter's ADD-ness on me? Regardless, any kind of dining experience in which I can sample many different flavors all in the same meal makes my tastebuds happy.
As we arrived one by one we ordered tea, discussed the recent Da Vinci Code movie release, some of us nervously eying our chopsticks. When we were ready, Sihui signaled to the servers that we were ready to get started. Here's how it works: servers roll carts around the restaurant, each containing dozens of steaming hot round metal containers and ceramic plates of items. The servers pull the lids off the containers, give a brief description of its contents, and you have a few seconds to respond with your yes or no answer. There must be at least 100 different items from which to choose, but Sihui did a fantastic job of ordering and two minutes later the oversized lazy susan in the middle of the table was overflowing with containers of unrecognizable dishes. Don't like what's in front of you? Just spin the wheel until you see something that piques your interest!
We all bravely dug in, sampling steamed pork buns, bean curd rolls stuffed with pork, mushroom dumplings, roast pork, scallop dumplings, fried tofu, short ribs, and curried calamari. Thankfully, Sihui had steered clear of the chicken feet (and yes, they look just like you'd think they would, but covered in sauce). Far and away my favorite dish was the jalapeno peppers, which were split lengthwise down the center and stuffed with shrimp. The dish had just the right hint of spicy kick from the jalapeno, an ingredient I don't recall seeing in Asian cuisine. The crispy salt and pepper prawns also went over well, but were somewhat of a disaster at our table. Peter managed to spray his shirt, shorts, and the tablecloth (thank goodness I bought him all those Tide to Go stain sticks for Christmas) with a reddish orange sauce while pulling the head and peel off, while another co-worker made the mistake of attempting to eat the prawn without peeling anything off. The only dish that the table unanimously dismissed was the beef tendons, and I have to admit that they looked and sounded scary enough that I couldn't force myself to try even a small bite.
After a brief pause to sip our green tea and ice water, we dug into the dessert cart. Even though we were stuffed, we still managed to polish off chocolate tarts with mango filling, custard buns, and sesame buns filled with sweet bean paste. I truly had trouble breathing at that point, and wished I'd worn pants with an expandable waistband.
We tried so many things that I was convinced that the check was going to sting, but everything is priced by the plate or container in the $3 - $5 range, and therefore turned out to be surprisingly affordable. In the end, a small price to pay for such a fun outing. Who knew you could have such a good time with your co-workers when you're not forced to be together and without any alcohol involved?
The damage: much to my surprise, it was only $20 per person, including tip
Watch out for: getting there! The location is unassuming and easy to miss, so make sure you look for the large sign that reads Market Place along Montgomery road and turn there. Also, Sundays are super crowded and not the best for dim sum newbies
Food: 4 out of 5 forks
Romance: 3 out of 5 kisses (though we're off the market, I think this would be a great place for groups of friends to go to introduce other friends for potential setups)
Pacific Moon Cafe
8300 Market Place Lane
Cincinnati, OH 45242
"What's European about it?" Peter wondered as we walked in, and even now I'm not really sure I have a good answer. Sure, they claim that Greek-style gyros are their specialty, but other than that the menu isn't all that European-themed. There are plenty of classic lunch favorites to please any palate, from soups (none on Sundays though), sandwiches and salads. We briefly perused the menu and quickly settled on the gyros, both lamb and chicken, since they're just not something you see every day. And because we've been on such a health kick lately, we added on an order of onion rings to share.
Our service was attentive and prompt in the bustling cafe, and the counter was perfect for us to sit and debate the pros and cons of the open houses we'd just attended. Our gyros were delivered to us steaming hot and handily wrapped in foil wrappers for ultimate ease of stuffing our faces. The tangy cucumber yogurt sauce served on the side was the perfect complement to the flavorful meat as we poured it on the soft, fluffy pita bread. It's pretty hard to ruin onion rings, but these were especially light, crispy and golden brown. Delicious with gool old Heinz Ketchup.
I was pretty full after all that, but that didn't stop my sweet tooth from forcing me to order some of the homemade baklava. The single serving consisted of two triangles that were plenty large to share, and the employee who retrieved it from the case for us was kind enough to heat it up before we ate it so that the flaky pastry soaked with honey and nuts absolutely melted in our mouths. In my attempt to feed Peter a bite with my plastic fork, I watched him go at it with such anticipation that he actually bit through one of the plastic tines. Since he didn't spit it out, I'm pretty sure he swallowed it.
The only thing we didn't try was the scary-looking hookah on the counter. What do you do with those things, anyway? Yes, I'm pretty naive as far as those things are concerned, but I'm sure Peter would be happy to supplement my knowledge in that area.
I don't know if we'll be able to come to any resolution on where to buy a house in this lifetime, but I know we'll be back to this great lunch location soon.
The damage: a very reasonable $16 total, including tax and tip, for 2 gyros, onion rings, and soft drinks (that didn't include our $2.95 dessert)
Watch out for: crowds on weekends and closing early (2 pm) on Sundays
Food: 4 out of 5 forks
Romance: 1 out of 5 kisses
9450 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I warn you upfront--I'm going to gush about this one, and as a result this posting will be longer than most.
Some of my favorite dining experiences are those unexpected times when we just happen to go to a great place. Peter and I met at Lowe's after work, in an attempt to choose a new kitchen light. Unsuccessful at making a purchase but full of new lighting ideas, we were both cranky and starving by 7 pm. Peter nonchalantly suggested Boca, which took no convincing to get me to agree. Skeptical that the always-crowded restaurant might not accept us, I called to first be told we'd have an hour wait (really? on a Wednesday?) but then convinced the hostess to hold one of the front tables for us if we arrived within 10 minutes. We got there in 5.
From start to finish, this dining experience was flawless. Truly, Boca ranks up there as one of our favorite, if not the single favorite, restaurants in Cincinnati. We were fans way back when they were located in a hole in the wall in Northside (now home to the delicious Honey). But, like Bangkok Bistro, this restaurant has a special place in our hearts because it is the first place we ever dined as a couple. As I've said in previous posts, it was a phenomenal first date, and one neither of us will ever forget. It made such an impression that as part of Peter's marriage proposal to me, he had my sister photograph him in all of the places we'd gone on our first date, holding signs that read "Will," "You" "Marry" and "Me?" A wonderful and touching surprise, evidenced by the photo above.
I could write an entire post about how great our server was. He was competent and knowledgeable about the menu, yet friendly like a guy next door all at the same time. When I inquired about specific ingredients in particular dishes and asked for his recommendations, he expressed informed opinions that showed he'd tasted everything on the menu and had passion for his real favorites.
We intended to have just a quickish sort of meal, but when we saw the newly expanded dinner menu we had a really difficult time choosing between our options and after ordering glasses of an Australian Shiraz, elected to go with four courses each (well, it started out as three and we added on dessert). I started with a seasonal special, the morel mushrooms with fiddlehead ferns in a cream sauce. It was to die for. The entire dish tasted like spring, with fragrant green flavors of the ferns and onion grass, earthy mushrooms, and a delicate yet rich sauce that I sopped up with my warm bread. Peter had the grilled romaine salad, one of our standbys, which didn't disappoint. The smoky, charred lettuce is a beautiful complement to the creamy caesar dressing with shaved parmesan topping.
Next we each had a pasta course, sharing between us appetizer-sized plates of what had to be homemade pappardelle (wide, flat pasta) with cinghiale (boar meat sauce) and a spring pea ravioli with butter basted lobster. The lobster "raviolo," as it's phrased on the menu, was divine. Sweet yet creamy, the sugar in the pea filling matched perfectly with the based buttery lobster. The pappardelle was delicious, but we couldn't honestly tell the difference between this and your average meat sauce made with ground beef.
For our third course, we couldn't escape without our real favorite, the scallops with carmelized Brussels sprouts (which the menu now indicates as "3-hour" sprouts), shaved parmesan and truffle oil. This is one of those dishes that is so distinctive and memorably good that I can close my eyes, think hard, and imagine its flavors on my tongue with minimal effort. I'd commit my first born child for this recipe. Our server was nice enough to split the dish between us so there wouldn't be any fighting, which was a wise move.
Not wanting the meal to end and being true conoisseurs of dessert, we chose to have both the classic mascarpone cheesecake with hazelnuts and a new dish: crispy waffle with apple fudge and vanilla gelato. The waffle was good but sounded a lot better than it tasted, and the cheesecake's smooth, light consistency won us over as it always does.
I drove by our old apartment on Erie on my way home, just for old time's sake.
The damage: More than I'd like to share, but not that much to pay for such a great dining experience that I'd put against any other I've had in Cincinnati and beyond. We're also very good tippers when servers prove their worth, so in short, it was a lot of money.
Watch out for: this place on Thursday-Saturday nights. If you're not in a "going out" sort of mood, this place can let its great reputation swell its head a bit too much.
Food: 5 forks - there's not a better meal in the city.
Romance: 5 kisses - there's no better place to go for a first date, a fifth date, or a fiftieth date.
3200 Madison Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45209
Monday, May 15, 2006
3 15-oz. cans Great Northern beans, drained
8 oz. cooked and shredded chicken breasts (we grilled ours, diced it, and added about twice as much for good measure)
1 cup chopped onion (any kind of onion is fine)
1 1/2 cups chooped yellow, green or red bell pepper (we used yellow and red only 'cause they're the sweetest)
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
sour cream (I always go with fat free)
shredded cheddar cheese (gotta go full fat here)
tortilla chips (we like blue ones)
1. Combine all ingredients except topping in slow cooker.
2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
3. Ladle into bowls and top with sour cream, cheese and crushed tortilla chips.
*Adapted from Fix it and Forget It by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good
Saturday, May 13, 2006
One of my recurring party rituals is to produce way too much food for the number of guests in attendance. Always better to have too much rather than too little, right? My most recent gathering made no exception to my rule. Billed as a simple lunch/brunch/snack, I could have kept the meal pretty straightforward. Instead of just one kind of sandwich I insisted on three: ham and brie, turkey and cheddar, and egg salad, for the vegetarians in the group of course. I set up a yogurt parfait bar with berries, granola and yogurt. There were raw veggies and dip, including green beans and pea pods, my favorites. There were Terra chips that everyone thought was pot pourri--those didn't go over too well. Since it was cold, very late last night Peter made a white chicken chili in the slow cooker. I had lemonade and fruit punch, and orange juice and champagne that never made it out of the fridge. For a sweet finish, cupcakes of course (white cake, raspberry filling, white frosting), and chocolate covered strawberries. Wait, did I forget to mention the lemon hummus with pita bread?
All this for about 10 people, when clearly I was more prepared for 20 to 30. I was feeling under the weather Thursday-Friday, which made the preparation challenging, and in the end I feel a little let down. Why did I make so much food and now what do I do with the leftovers? I fear the leftovers will rot and mold as they tend to do in our house, when our fleeting attention spans have moved on to the next meal. Am I left with so much extra because summer is approaching and people are more eating more sensibly and exercising portion and calorie control? I'll figure it out, and will still look forward to the next party. But with me and party food preparation, it's kind of like drinking too much alcohol. You swear you'll never do it again but then find yourself right back in the midst of the exact same thing. And enjoying it.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I'm officially filing a complaint. I first created this blog by myself with all my own individual information, then had the idea for this great blog in which BOTH my husband and I would post our opinions on various restaurants where we've dined together. Realizing that having everything in my name was a little self-centered, I went through the rather arduous process to change everything so that it didn't just say "Angie" anymore and said "Angie and Peter" everywhere. So now I ask you, where the heck is Peter in all this posting? He claims to be this fantastic writer/editor/food critic extraordinaire, but I'm starting to think it's all a bunch of bull. He's even boasted that his last name is now "Blogsome" instead of "Blocksom," but again, he's all talk and no write.
It's not like it's that hard. He could be writing about the great pizza we just had at Dewey's (by far our fave in the city), or how we raved about both the House Salad and the Candied Walnuts and Grape Salad, or how we now smell like roasted garlic from our Edgar Allen Poe and sausage/onions/prosciutto special order, but no. You can see for yourself from the picture here exactly where he is and what he's doing.
Write in and tell him that he should support his wife and that he should be part of this wonderful phenomenon known as electronic journaling. Long live the Internet!
Monday, May 08, 2006
But we go there time and time again because it's consistently good. Whether we're in the mood for sushi, pad thai, or edamame, the menu at Bangkok covers a range of Asian food to suit our mood. It's also a special place for me because it's the site of our second date. First date, we went all out and did it up right at Boca. Second date, we went for the more friendly, neighborhood favorite of the Bistro. I vividly remember that second date, partly because of the excitement and optimism that surrounds a new relationship after a phenomenal first date, and partly because we ordered the sushi boat. That's right, I said boat. Much too much food for two people, and it comes extravagantly presented on a large wooden boat form that's sure to raise a few eyebrows, especially if you're sitting in one of the cafe tables that line the street like we were.
This evening, tired from a long day spent traveling, I was quite pleased to switch gears and go to one of our old favorites. I truly love starting my meal with the Hot and Sour Spicy Shrimp Soup (hmmm...I'm starting to see a trend here with me and spicy shrimp). The soup is a deliciously spicy broth flavored with sliced mushrooms and 3 large, whole shrimp. It's a healthy portion, and tonight I enjoyed mine so much that I had trouble getting down much of my Drunken Noodle entree. Peter enjoyed his regular dish, Pork Pad Thai, though he didn't have quite as much left over. But that's the beauty of almost all the dishes at Bangkok Bistro--they're perfect as tomorrow's lunch, midnight snacks, or just to finish right there and then at the table with a satisfying pat of the belly.
I didn't have the sushi tonight, but I frequently do. No, it's not the quality of Beluga, but it doesn't cost nearly as much either.
I'm sure we'll be back again next week. And hopefully as many weeks as we're married.
The damage: $70 for four entrees, and three of us had large bowls of soup to start. Plus, we've all got lunch taken care of for tomorrow.
Watch out for: service can be inconsistent.
Food: 4 out of 5 forks.
Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (but I'm biased).
3506 Erie Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45208
Saturday, May 06, 2006
We were surprised to see tables covered with white tablecloths. Seeing as we were both in "Saturday errand clothes" we thought that maybe we'd be underdressed. But a closer look showed us that the tops of the linens were actually covered with butcher's paper and crayons had been placed on each tabletop for ultimate doodle-ability (ah, I get it now).
Everything on the menu sounded good, and even better, it was almost all under $12. We ordered Spicy Shrimp Wontons to start, which arrived topped with chopped peanuts and a yummy soy sauce turned out to be tasty, but more sweet than spicy. We also ordered a cold Sesame Noodle salad to start, which was light and fresh-tasting with its shredded raw carrots, bean sprouts and carrots. For our entrees Peter chose the Kung Pao beef--I will give him consistency on this one--he hardly ever orders anything else when we're getting Asian food. I ordered Sesame Chicken with Shanghai Noodles. As so often happens when we're eating out, I try to order something that sounds healthy but tasty and Peter goes for the most fat-laden thing on the meal, and I end up eating half the food off his plate because it's so much tastier. His was great, mine was pretty bland. The cold noodle dish that was SO enormous we were sure that we'd have leftovers to take home quickly disappeared and Peter even tried to eat my bland chicken skewers when all this Kung Pao was gone.
All in all, it was a pretty good night out. We left stuffed to the gills and had to walk around the Square to get our bloated stomachs back to a normal size. I don't know if it's true, but I at least felt like it was healthier than the average Chinese take-out places.
The damage: $44, including 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 sodas.
Watch out for: Spice level - if you like spice, make sure you tell them to kick it up a notch, because Peter's 6 out of 10 spiciness wasn't so much.
Food: 3 forks
Romance: 2 kisses (good people-watching through the glass facing the square).
3443 Edwards Road
Cincinnati, OH 45208
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Even after doing a bit of brief window shopping at Macy's, I arrived at 10 minutes before noon to find my friend sitting in the bar area because the dining room was booked up and had a 30-minute wait! Who knew this downtown spot overlooking the soon-to-be completed revamped Fountain Square was such a popular dining choice?
Our service was friendly and a bit slow, but perhaps that's to be expected on such a busy day. I ordered the Greek salad with rotisserie chicken, primarily because I've had the chicken as a dinner entree in the past and found it to be quite enjoyable. But while the cucumber-yogurt sauce and mixed greens with feta, slivered red onions and Greek olives was tasty, I was disappointed with the oily, rubbery chicken on the side. The portion seemed skimpy, and the pita bread wedges that were listed on the menu were mysteriously absent. I was more disappointed to bite down on some gristly bits in the chicken twice throughout the meal. Who wants to have to deal with politely spitting that into one's napkin while in the midst of a lively conversation?
My friend's salad looked better, and the experience was a pleasant one, but I'd attribute that more to my friend than to the food itself. Despite today's lunch, I've always liked Palomino--it certainly ranks as one of the higher-quality, more dependable, slightly more unique of the chain restaurants that are so plentiful here. Hit or miss, for sure, but it's a nice spot and not too unreasonably priced. From now on I'll stick with making this more of a pre-Aronoff choice for me when they're not so rushed. Or a drinks-only delight. Those pear martinis are like no other.
The damage: $35 for two, including two "big salads" and soft drinks.
Watch out for: the gristle in the chicken and not having a reservation.
Food: 2 out of 5 forks.
505 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Sunday, April 30, 2006
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tb ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tb vanilla
- 3 cups shredded carrots
- 8 oz. crushed pineapple, juice drained but reserved
- 1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs, both sugars, buttermilk, oil and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add in spices and other dry ingredients. Stir in carrots, pineapple and nuts by hand. Batter will be quite runny, but do your best to scoop it into muffin pans lined with cupcake papers. Fill the cups almost to the top because batter does not rise much. Bake for 20 minutes, until browned on top. While cakes are still warm in muffin pans, poke holes in top with toothpick or fork and drizzle with buttermilk glaze (below). Let cool and frost with Pineapple Cream Cheese frosting (below)
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 3 Tb granulated sugar
- 1 Tb light corn syrup
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
Combine all ingredients in saucepan over low-medium heat until smooth and simmer for 5 minutes, being careful not to get it too hot or glaze will break and separate.
Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 2 Tb unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1-2 Tb drained pineapple juice
- 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
Combine all ingredients in bowl of electric mixer, using only 1 Tb of the pineapple juice to begin. After mixture starts to come together, add more juice or sugar, depending on desired consistency.
Based on recipe from American Home Cooking, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison.
carrot cake cupcake
I spent my morning making cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes, but wedding cupcakes. This was a trial run, a tasting, for a close friend of mine who's getting married in July. The happy bride-to-be and her fiance wanted carrot cake, one of my favorites, and the flavor of my wedding cakes (oh yeah, we also had some Opera Cream Torte from the Bonbonerie too). Sure, I went to culinary school and worked in a professional pastry kitchen, but the thought of making a traditional multi-tiered wedding cake scared the hell out me. Just too much risk associated with stacking the layers when it's not something I do every day. But cupcakes, now those I think I can handle.
I put two competing carrot cake recipes to the test, the doctored them up a bit to give them some choice. The winning recipe came from a classic book, American Home Cooking, and though time-consuming to make, yields a cake that tastes dense, rich and worthy of a momentous occasion. I love "from scratch" cakes and this one's a delicious example of why. Freshly grated carrots, crushed pineapple, chopped pecan and a hint of buttermilk make this recipe a standout. For some reason, I had trouble judging the number of carrots I need to grate to get to three cups, grated enough carrots to feed an army, and am now left wondering if I should make carrot soup. Once the soupy batter is baked, you poke holes in the top of the warm cakes and then pour a sweet buttermilk glaze on top to soak in and make the cake rich and gooey. I finished the top with a cream cheese buttercream frosting, lightly flavored with pineapple. After eating at least three cupcakes "just to make sure," Peter agreed that the cake was a winner.
The tasting went well, and I now have my work cut out for me come July. But sitting between my friend and her mom and listening to them talk through decision after decision about detail after detail, I remembered again why I'm so glad all my own wedding planning is behind me. It's only after the fact that you realize that no one will remember the color of the napkins, the kind of centerpieces, or even the taste of the cake.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
The dish looked promising enough when it came out, but when we went to dish it up, we saw that nearly the entire 8x8 pan fit into just our two bowls. This would've been fine, except that the recipe indicated that it served 8-10. The taste was just okay--not terrible, but much too salty and it had a definite oily sheen. I got about halfway through my portion when Peter told me he'd used an entire cup of mayonnaise in the mix. So given that we were already eating portions meant to feed 4 people, I now had 1/2 CUP of mayo in my serving alone? I had to put the bowl aside and put my hand to my mouth to keep from seeing what I'd already swallowed come back up. That was the end of that. To say the least, we won't be repeating this recipe again. Good thing that we bought some popcorn to go along with our viewing of King Kong tonight. If only Peter could keep the popcorn off the floor.
My mom has a similar but vastly improved recipe, and if readers are interested I'd be happy to post it here. It's much lighter and has the additional crunch of water chestnuts. Peter will vehemently disagree with me here, but there's no earthly reason to use full-fat mayo when the light stuff tastes so good.
The night we were there the restaurant fit the bill perfectly. Having worked far too much at my day job in advertising, both my husband and I were in desperate need of both some alone time together and some nourishment beyond pizza and Rice Krispie treats. After one glass of wine on our porch, we decided it was the perfect evening to try out a new restaurant. Nectar was full of other patrons, but not to the point that it was overflowing or that we had to wait for a table. Our service was prompt and cheerful, and I was delighted to see that though the wine selection was limited, every offering was available both by the glass and in full bottles. The warm rolls and marinated olives quickly disappeared from our tabletop and I had to use every ounce of willpower to refuse seconds.
I began with the bibb lettuce salad, a starter I chose largely for the salty, crunchy marcona almonds mentioned in the description. The dish did not disappoint, with a very well-balanced, not too acidic vinaigrette and just the right amount of seasoning. For my entree I chose the healthier-sounding escolar, served on a bed of le puy lentils. The dish was rich and flavorful and the fish was seared to perfection--crispy on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside.
We were enjoying everything so much that there was no way we could pass up dessert. To be extra indulgent, we chose the cheese course and a fried banana concoction, not to mention dessert wine, which we hardly needed after 2 other glasses of a yummy, crispy white wine. The cheese course gets especially high marks for its the presentation complete with membrillo (quince paste) and Fourme d'Ambert , which we recently learned about on Bravo's Top Chef. Is there any better way to end a meal than cheese?
The decor is a bit stark and lacks personality. Some wall hangings could help to really cut down the ambient noise for a more pleasant dining experience to match the refined food. This is really a minor criticism to an overwhelmingly positive special night out.
The damage: about $70 per person, for three courses each plus 3 glasses of wine each.
Watch out for: it's loud in here. Also, there is no bar or waiting area, so call ahead and make a reservation .
Food: 3.5 out of 5 forks
Romance: 2 out of 5 kisses (it's so close in here there's not much privacy, but the lighting and atmosphere are nice).