Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Viva Las Vegas: Brunch at Hash House a go-go

With the Vegas posts, I decided to go through the course of a food day: brunch, brunch buffet, happy hour, desserts, and dinner Hubert Keller’s Fleur.

When traveling, I liked the idea of saving money by combining breakfast and lunch: two meals for the price of one.  Luckily in Vegas where the average person is sleeping off the previous night's bender and is not even contemplating existence until at least 11:00 am, brunch is readily available.  Two places Kathy and I tried where Hash House a go-go in The Imperial Palace, the casino we were staying at, and Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Casino.  


Hash House a go-go
I didn't know what I was getting into.  I should have been worried about a place with "twisted farm food,"  but I wasn't.  Even though there were posters featuring the foods they were known for, it still didn’t register.  

So, when the food arrived, I sat incredulous, shocked, and more than a little intimidated. 

Big.  Colossal.  Enormous.   Epic.  All those words came to my head as Kathy’s “Mango-Coconunt” pancake, which was the size of a steering wheel, and my dish, “Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken,” came thudding our way.  Maybe I was dreaming, but I could have sworn I heard the restaurant shaking. 

There is a good reason that "Andy's Sage Fried Chicken" is a Man vs. Food favorite.  It has a breast of fried chicken, taken from a bird with “D” cups.  A biscuit that, even when cut in half, was the size of two large biscuits.  A serving of scrambled eggs that must have taken several chickens to lay.  Mozzarella tucked in their somewhere.  Then, a cup of hollandaise sauce made spicy with chipotle cream and dressed with thick cut maple bacon, just in case the dish needed more fat.  And, as if the carb factor was not proportionate enough to the size of the chicken, a generous portion of mashed potatoes.   

Why mashed potatoes on eggs benedict?  Why not?  You're in Vegas

Oh yeah and some wilted spinach--a nice semblance of healthiness. 

How did it taste?  Good.  Creamy, spicy, crunchy, salty, meaty, eggie, fluffy, heavy.  If you have noticed that I can only write in incomplete sentences, that is because in remembering how good and ambitious that brunch was, I am so full and satisfied even the memory is affecting my ability to write clearly.     

It was all so good, I'd recommend Hash House to anyone.  My only advice when you go is to split whatever you order with a friend so that you can get the s’more cappuccino concoction I saw being bruleed with a torch and drizzled with chocolate.   Or, if you can’t take a friend, just make sure the room has a frig for the leftovers.  There will be leftovers.  

For Thursday . . . Brunch at Mon Ami Gabi
Hash House A Go Go on Urbanspoon
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

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This week, I'm starting a series of posts about a recent trip to Las Vegas with my best friend, Kathy.  She needed a vacation and since I am moving from Virginia (where she and I both live) to Lincoln, NE, in January, a fun trip seemed necessary and justifiable.

I've got general thoughts on Vegas and its culinary offerings on both Technorati and Honest Cooking.  And, starting Wednesday (8/31), I'll have more specific posts on the restaurants, happy hours, and snacks I experienced while in Vegas.  So, check out Technorati and Honest Cooking and then come back on Wednesday to hear more about my adventures. 

Viva Las Vegas!



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Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Photo Friday, Aug. 26

For my second "Food Photo Friday," I picked a picture from a fellow blogger, Kelly, who writes "Eat Yourself Skinny," a blog dedicated to making healthy eating fun.  I thought the play of the different textures and vibrant colors made the tacos look particularly fresh and appetizing.  I also enjoyed how the composition played the roundness of the limes and tortilla off the linearity of the diagonal compositions, lines on the placemat, and lines of the plate. 


by Kelly
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fancy Hill Korean Diner


On many a drive down 81 from Staunton to Roanoke I’ve often thought, I should check out Fancy Hill Korean Diner.  Even before I went to Korea, the sign intrigued me for two main reasons.  One, the two words, “Korean” and “Diner,” seem unexpected.  I won’t say “juxtaposed,” but that is more in line with my thought process.    Two, Fancy Hill is off of I-81 on exit 180A, the same exit you take to get to the Virginia Safari Park and Foamhenge.  Clearly, at one point in time it was “Fancy Hill Diner” (being a diner located in an area known as “Fancy Hill”).  But, how a Korean restaurant came to be there, I don’t know.  I marvel and am confused at how most of the Korean restaurants I find are in the middle of nowhere Virginia.  Sometimes, nowhere West Virginia.  If anyone knows why this is, please let me know. 

With all the background in place, the theme of this post, sadly, is a type of unrequited food quest.  I really miss Korean food.  It has been three months since my Korean adventure, and I miss the food.  I miss the spice.  I miss the newness.  I miss squishy tteok and sensational kimchi and tasty shabu shabu.  Honestly, I miss it all.  So, on this particular road trip, the drive of nostalgia outweighed the drive to get back to Staunton.  Thus, I finally tried to Fancy Hill Korean Diner

I really, really wanted to like the place.  I was all set to like the place.  Urbanspoon has positive reviews on it.    The wallpaper covered with Korean script gave me hope.  The waitress was really sweet and helpful.  She smiled and giggled at my attempt to say “ka sa mi da.”  The owner and cook seemed pleasant and friendly. 

But. . . .

The menus categories included “Appetizers,” “Korean Tour,” “Japan Tour,” “China Tour,” and “America Tour.”  Although a clever word trick, for me the subtext is an unwillingness to fully commit to being a Korean restaurant.  On the “China Tour,” you get the big names of Lo Mein, Beef and Broccoli, and General Choi (their spelling).  Japan provides Teriyaki in three meat flavors, and America provides cheese steaks, chicken wings (sans ranch and celery), hamburgers, and grilled chicken.  Given the clientele potential of kids pouring out of stuffy, Safari-feed bedecked cars, this combination of cuisine is probably a safe bet. 

For someone who desperately wanted real Korean food like tteok or kimichi soup or gochujang, the menu was a dream of real Korean food bubble buster. 

In all fairness, the Korean options sound really good.  They offer Gal-bi (beef short ribs), several Bul-gogi (grill) options, and Bibim-bap (a bowl fare in either cold or hot stoneware).  I, loftly, went with the Squid Bul-gogi, which, also in all fairness, was not bad.  The squid was tender as squid is going to be, came sizzling on a cast iron skillet/plate, and had a spicy brown sauce that was somewhat teriyaki driven. 

The catch is, it wasn’t what it could be.  Or, more specifically, it wasn't what I wanted it to be.  Even the kimchi, a pale red, seemed to be shadow of kimchi glory. 

Everyone else in the restaurant looked happy and enjoyed their dishes with enthusiasm.  Me, I put on a good front of being happy enough and pleased enough.  Sitting in Fancy Hill Korean Diner, I thought about what is must have been like to go to a Chinese restaurant 50 years ago.  You eat dishes vaguely Chinese in theme and more American in palette.  It didn’t matter, though, because most people didn’t know the difference.  If I didn’t know the difference, would my meal have made me happy?  
  
Sometimes, it is a shame to know what you are not getting.  

Fancy Hill Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beet Risotto


Whenever I am home visiting my parents, my mom likes for me to make risotto.  Since my beet risotto, which I normally make at Christmas, is one of her favorites, I made a batch up with mom. 

I really find the combination of beets and risotto irresistible.  It is a recipe that works in the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.  Being a bright, magenta, it is one of the most visually attractive risottos you will ever make.  As flavors go, I like to offset the earthiness of the beets by brightening the flavor with orange, dill, and feta.  You can serve it with fish or chicken, but it goes really well with beef.  While other recipes I saw recommend roasting the beets first, I tend to cook mine in the broth I am going to use for cooking the risotto.  This gives the risotto even more color and depth of flavor.   


Ingredients
4 cups broth
Juice and zest of one orange
1 tablespoon dried dill
One bunch of beets (1-2 cups, depending how much beet you like it), chopped into small cubes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, diced fine
½ cup carrots
½ cup celery
1 cup beet greens (about the greens from one bundle of beets), chopped fine
1 cup risotto
½ cup white wine
Feta and parsley for garnish



Directions
  1. Put the broth, orange juice and zest, dill, and beets in a saucepan.  Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer.    
  2. In a large shallow pan over medium heat, add one tablespoon each of oil and butter to pan.  When butter has melted and the oil is hot, add the onions, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Sweat the onions, celery, and carrots for 5 minutes.   Add the beet greens and cook for about 2 minutes.  Scoop out the vegetables and set aside on a plate.        
  3. Add the other tablespoon each of butter and olive oil.  When hot, add the Arborio and stir until the grain is translucent, except for a white dot in the center (about 5 minutes).  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed.
  4. Add a ladleful of stock, stirring continually.  Wait until the stock is completely absorbed before adding another ladleful.  Continue to keep adding broth a ladleful at a time, only adding more once the broth is absorbed.  It should take about 20 minutes to get the risotto tender. 
  5. When the risotto is soft and you have added all but the last ½ cup of broth, add the beets from the stock.  Then add the last ½ cup of stock and the vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, and beet greens). 
  6. Cover with a lid and let finish over a low heat for about 5 minutes.  When you are ready to serve, add a small pad of butter and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.      



Very Good Recipes

My blog is on Very Good Recipes
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

When Did Food Get More Complicated Than Sex?

Food Network’s Extreme Chef. Molecular Gastronomy replacing olive oil with olive oil powder. Restaurants where naked women are the new serving platters. The One Hundred Dollar hamburger.  The Five Thousand Dollar hamburger.

When did food get so complicated?

I wonder if food, like sex, has become needlessly complicated in the 21st century. I have taught several sexuality and literature courses over the last couple of years and once tried to engage my students in a conversation about what does sex really mean. To get the conversation started, I told them that at the core, sex is like shampoo directions: lather, rinse, repeat as needed. Yet, it is everything attached to sex (religion, morals, culture, etc.) that has made it so much more complicated. Food is like that, too. At the end of the day, food is just eat, chew, digest. Yet, at some point, expectations got so much higher and technique got more complicated making cooking and a food a far cry from readily recognizable.

In doing sexuality studies, I read the Kama Sutra-- the real book, not the westernized version that calls every position by the name of an animal or flower. The title Kama Sutra translates into the idea of sensual teachings. The story itself is more a drama of “Man about Town” than a sex guide. The story does include one book on biting and scratching techniques, types of oral sex (like “sucking the mango”), and a variety of positions. This section, though, is a really small part of the overall tale of a man going from single to married to finding courtesans and finally to becoming old and impotent. The myth of the Kama Sutra and the elaborateness and exoticism of the idea of the text far skewed the actual story.

In cookbooks and food trends, the myth of food preparation is getting almost to the epic level of the myth of the kama sutra. In my own life, I’ve gotten to the point in my cooking and food quests where I am losing track of how to cook honestly. When I make applesauce, I use ginger and cinnamon infused water. My coleslaw has tequila. My meat has to have a post-pan sauce reduction. Although I take pride in these things and really enjoy eating and making them, do they have more impact on my life than when my boyfriend made me fish tacos with a seasoning packet and a side of avocado, salsa, and cheese? No, not really. When you think back on the really good sex you’ve had in your life, titillation and taboo probably mark some of the other top 5, but in the best sex, I would probably bet you money, that over the top elaborateness wasn’t a factor. So, why is that we insist that the best meals of our life, have to be doing a high wire act while balancing spinning objects?

At the end of the day, does the ability to know the kama sutra make sex any better ... maybe. Does knowing how to caramelize or sous vide make a meal better, probably. But, at some point, when every night of sex has to involve a new position, then won’t it become ordinary. Conversely, when you eat too well what happens to your love of the basic? Do you lose it or just learn to appreciate it more?

I’m trying to remember to be a foodie who appreciates a great plate of pizzazz with a nice hint of wild technique on occasion. But, I’d like to also be a foodie who doesn’t ever stop loving a good missionary meal.


First Published for Technorati (July 14, 2011): When Did Food Get More Complicated Than Sex?
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Launching Food Photo Friday

The more I go down the rabbit hole that is food blogging, the more I discover how many wonderful, budding food photographers are out there in cyberworld.  Websites like Tastespotting, Foodgawker, and Food Frenzy (to name a few) are spilling over with pictures meant to tantalize our sense of taste by appealing to our sense of sight. 

Recently, while watching a cooking show on a busted television, I was further reminded of how important well-taken food pictures are to enjoying food.  The hotel I was staying at was struck by lighting, blowing Internet, TVs, phones, and, sadly, my laptop (may it rest in peace).  The TV in my room was spared complete death and instead just crippled the contrast on the images, making people's faces green and water bright magenta.  It made watching Shaun of the Dead particularly intriguing because all the blood was turned a vivid neon green. 

Although watching a food show normally leaves me salivating and frantic for something tasty, seeing the food in unnatural colors left something to be desired.  For instance, take this picture of a tasty cheese plate.
Now, look at it with distorted color palette . . . 
See what a little color distortion can do to how appetizing a picture can be? 

To celebrate the many beautiful food pictures out there on the Internet, I've decided to add a new feature to my blog called "Food Photo Friday."  Every Friday, I'll post a favorite food picture from the week.  If you have one you would like considered, then send me a link to your blog post (limit one submission per week). If I select yours, I'll post a copy of your picture with a built in hyperlink back to your blog.  If you want to be considered, you will need to email me (downhomefoodie@gmail.com) by Wednesday.  That way, I have time to get the link embedded and then you can tell your blog audience all about it. 

To kick of the first "Food Photo Friday," here is a picture by a friend of mine who writes the blog, Lamenting Icarus.  She has lots of great photos that she has taken as well as some gathered from Pinterest.  I asked her to pick one from her collection and this is the one she chose. 

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#8: Restaurant.com

I want to clarify that Restaurant.com is not sponsoring me and has no steak in this post.  So, when I say they are one of my favorite steps in restaurant research, you know I am not just blowing smoke up your rump roast. 
Restaurant.com sells gift certificates at a discount.  A lot of new restaurants do it to promote themselves and established places use it to get new business.  You buy the gift certificate and it works like a discount.
The Cons: PLEASE READ THE CERTIFICATE STIPULATIONS.  Usually, to use a $25 gift certificate, you have to at least spend $35 to $40 to $50 dollars.  Also, restaurants may specify “for dinner only” or certain nights of the week. 
The Pros: Once you get on Restaurant.com’s email list, they are almost always sending out promotional codes for you to get gift certificate at an even greater discount.  Because of this, I usually get $25 certificates for $2 or $3, and $50 certificates for $8.  I used this in Vegas to eat at Hubert Keller’s restaurant, Fleur, (write-up coming soon) and here is how it panned out . . .
I went to Fleur with a $50 certificate.  The gift certificate has the stipulations that I  had to spend $100 at the restaurant with a required 18% gratuity (which I wholeheartedly support since waiters and waitresses very often get slighted when people use gift certificates).  
With a $50 certificate, the meal came to $126.10 (subtotal=$100; gratuity=$18; and tax=$8.10).  With redeeming the Restaurant.com gift certificate, the meal ended up costing $76.10, plus the $8 I spent on the gift certificate itself.  Not bad for 6 not-so-small small plates and two desserts from a chef who was on Top Chef Masters, hosted a PBS series, and has won a couple James Beard awards.
For an example of how this works out on a smaller level, Dennis and I once ate a $45 (with tax and tip) meal at an Ethiopian place for $22. 

Use them to travel, use them to try new places, and use them to be adventurous.  At $2 a pop, they are great certificates to have around.  
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#7: Happy Hour

Especially in big cities, many fancy restaurants that I could never afford to go to will have Happy Hour.  More often than not, there is usually some food deal to compliment the alcohol deal which gives you a chance to try upscale cuisine for a reasonable price.  As long as your appetite is not too big, you can even make a meal out of it.  I just went to Las Vegas (food posts to come) and I couldn’t believe how many interesting and trendy upscale places offered a really affordable Happy Hour options.   Because of that, my friend and I got to eat and drink at Michael Mina’s newest place, Sea Blue, and at the Stratosphere’s Level 107 Lounge for about $30 dollars.  
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#6: Top 10 Lists

Inside of Bourbon n'Toulouse: a top 10 list find
When looking at ranked lists, ask yourself whether the list buys into a concept of really great food or whether it knows its stuff.  I’ve never found a high-end steakhouse/seafood restaurant with lots of wood paneling and overly generic dishes to be my cup of tea.  But, they show up on a lot on top 10 lists.  If I see more than two, I find a new list.  I look for lists that have variety of price ranges, options, and food types.  That means they thought more about the food and not about generalizing the term “good food.” 

My favorite “10 Best” site is 10 Best: What to Know Before you Go.  They breakdown the list by happy hours, cheap eats, fine dining, etc.   They also provide a good range of options and, coupled with a little research into their suggestions, produce some pretty fun food finds.
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#5: Know What You Want

I really liked Culinary Woman’s post on “How Do You Like to Eat.”   I agree that you know best about what you want to eat and experience and how best to do that.   I have been pretty lucky in my life in that my belly leads me on the right track.  That is not a very useful tip to give, especially if you don’t have a very good track record of going with your gut.  So, I’ll amend the statement to say, you know what foods you like and the type of restaurant that looks good to you. 

Think of your top five favorite restaurant experiences.  Think about what is on the menu, what the restaurant looked like,and  what kind of ambiance it has.  Then, go with a restaurant that fits that description.  If you like upscale, trendy, yuppie, then go to that neighborhood and walk around.  If you like diners and dives, look for those.  You want an ethnic adventure, find the most interesting looking one and give it a shot.    You know best about what you like.  Just because I love to go with a good hole-in-the-wall joint doesn’t mean you will.  Just because it is on a top 10, doesn’t mean it would be on your top 10 list.  

You know what you want, so go out and find it. 
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#4: It's Not a One Shot Deal

When finding restaurants, try not to think about it as your one shot.  Instead, think about it as an adventure. 
Something I wrestle with is putting pressure on myself to find the best possible food experience I can get while I’m in a new town.  Just like you might kick yourself if you missed a rare museum experience, I used to kick myself if I missed a rare food find.  Lately, though, I look at it as finding a meal that makes me happy and makes the trip exciting, but doesn’t necessarily have to be THE ONE.  This may mean going to a restaurant based on how many Michelin Stars it received, whether it is a James Beard Winner, or if it is owned by a Food Network Star. 

However, you may want to be a trailblazer who tests out a local dive and learns from the experience.  That may mean going to a no name place with food that hits the spot and provides cooking ideas, but may be nothing to write home about. 
At the end of the day, picking a restaurant is about picking what you want from the moment.  Don’t kick yourself for the food you didn’t eat, figure out how to enjoy and understand the food you do. 
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#3: Be Careful of Asking Locals

Rachel Ray used to have a show, “$40 a Day,” and it featured tips for finding good restaurants while traveling.  In the episode, she usually did a little spot of asking locals for advice on where to eat.  Although it worked for Rachel Ray, this only works for me half the time. 
I love finding out the place where locals go to on a regular basis.  Yet, when I try to ask locals about where they would recommend, the recommendation I get is for the pricey steakhouse that serves pretty generic fare.  For some reason, when asked, most locals don’t give you the best choice, they give the one that they think would be of interest.  If the local you ask responds by asking questions back about what you are looking for, I take that as a good sign of credibility.  I always feel a little bad when someone visiting Staunton asks me about where to eat because the answer is usually more than he/she bargained for. 
When traveling, feel free to keep asking; but, ask several people, try to be clear about what you looking for, and take it with a grain of salt.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#2: Microbreweries

Tip #2: Microbreweries
When deciding where to eat in Lincoln, I chose Lazlo’s, a microbrewery in the Haymarket area.  Dennis asked me why that choice and I replied, "because it's a microbrewery."  This answer was the only reason I had, but it seemed to be a good one.  Later after dinner, while relishing in a tasty, satisfying experience, Dennis congratulated me on a good choice.  It was at that point that I really understood why “because it’s a microbrewery” is a perfectly good reason.  

If I had any travel wisdom on picking a good restaurant, I'd say that “go with a microbrewery” has served me well.  My rationale is that when a place cares enough to brew, temper, craft, and design their own beer, they will also be just as passionate about their food.  Why put so much care in one and not the other? 
After a good turn at Square One Brewery and Distillery, Blue Mountain Brewery, Devil's Backbone, and Lazlo’s and many other breweries, I am standing by the food tip, "go with the microbrewery."  
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tips to Happy Food Travels--#1: Know the Value of Food Serendipity

I was reading a fellow blogger, Culinary Woman, who has a series of posts about helpful tips on finding good places to eat while traveling: Finding a Meal, What is there To Eat?, and How Do You Like to Eat?
I really enjoyed her list of tips and especially liked the post on “How Do You Like to Eat.”  I was reading her posts while I was traveling and in the process of pre-writing “Road Trip 2011.”  Her blog posts made me think about what my own tips would be.  So, I am taking a stab at it and hope this helps you have happy gastronomy based travels. 
Since most people have a list of sites (Urbanspoon, Yelp, Chowhound) that they already use, I am going to give one tip everyday (in no particular order) for narrowing down and selecting.  I just hope I don’t fork it up.  
Tip #1: Know the Value of Food Serendipity
How could I not go the restaurant of my favorite action hero!
Over dinner in St. Louis, Dennis mentioned that I should write a post about the importance of “Food Serendipity.”  Food Serendipity is lot like karma for bellies.   If you put good food karma out, accepting the happiness potential of the food given, then good food will find you.  I believe a lot in food serendipity because it brought me to places like El Burrito Mexicano, Square One and LEMmie’s Eatery.  It even brought me to Jackie's Kitchen, a restaurant in Korea that features "Jackie Chan's favorite Noodles and Dim Sum."   

There is something to be said for researching beforehand; but, you should also keep your food instincts out for the chance to be surprised by a happy accident.  Going with the flow and allowing food adventures to find you may be the trick to finding a rare victual moment. 

Or, it good be crap.  Either way, you’ll have a great story to tell your friends. 
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Cleveland

Melt Bar and Grill
This is the last entry of my "Road Trip 2011" series and it makes me so happy to end on this food note.  I visited Melt Bar and Grill on my last trip to Cleveland and have been in love with this restaurant ever since.  Melt is simply the holy land of grilled cheese and all grilled cheese disciples must at some point make a pilgrimage.  Melt is so important to me that the hotel was chosen according to proximity to Melt (well. . .and the hotel was really cheap). 

Here are the reasons why I love Melt . . .
Grilled Cheese Challenge from Melt's Website
  1. They do things with grilled cheese that I have only dreamed about.   
  2. There are amazing beers on tap and in the bottle to accompany the grilled cheese. 
  3. Melt was featured on two of my favorite food shows: Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Man vs. Food.
  4. They put pierogies in their grilled cheese.
  5. They have a grilled cheese challenge that involves 13 different cheeses and over 5 lbs. of food
  6. It is a great warm and comforting food escape from the cold Ohio winter weather. 
  7. They put pierogies in their grilled cheese.
  8. They make their sandwiches with deliciously fluffy and buttery Texas toast.
  9. The restaurant is decorated with “found art:” i.e. record albums for menus, silverware and broken bottles for stain glass and discarded glowing holiday lawn decorations. 
  10. And, the main reason, they put pierogies on their grilled cheese. 
Sorry, I have a one track mind; but, it is only because two of my "couldn’t live without" (why even bother living without) foods are pierogies and grilled cheese.  The Parmageddon, as Melt lovingly named it, is two potato pierogies, vodka sauerkraut, onions, and cheese.  If you are not drooling uncontrollably, then we just can’t be blog friends anymore.    

I, alas, have only had the Parmageddon once because last visit to Melt I got the second reason you have to go to Melt, The Godfather.  This grilled cheese concoctions features three cheese lasagna, fennel-oregano pasta, red sauce, provolone, and “garlic spiked” bread.  Think of all those times you had lasagna with a side of garlic bread and fantasized about what it would be like to eat it at the same time.  Fantasize no more, just go to Melt.  The Godfather is tender, full of Italian flavors, and well-balanced because of the fresh fennel pasta that keeps it from being a heavy starch overload. 
On last year's visit, Dennis ordered the Northcoast Shore, which is a crabcake, garlic spinach, roasted red peppers, and herbed cream cheese.  The crabcake was delicious, the spinach rich and warm, and the whole thing well courtered by tart peppers and cool cream cheese. He claimed to like it more than the Parmageddon, but I don't fathom that as being possible. This year, he ordered the Municipal Stadium Magic—bratwurst, vodka kraut, grilled peppers, and cheese.  This was good, but probably not as strong as the other three; it needed more balance of ingredients.  Plus, it isn’t lasagna in grilled cheese.  

One day, if I’m lucky, there will be a Melt near me.  Sure, I could make my own pierogi grilled cheese.  Sure, it would be good.  But, it wouldn’t be Melt’s Parmageddon. 

Melt Bar & Grilled on Urbanspoon
   
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Lake Erie Wine Tasting


John Christ Winery 
Along with going to grocery stores, checking out wineries is one of my favorite ways of getting to know a new place.  You get to meet local people, find out things about the area, and drink wine.   Since my July trip to Ohio was my third, I thought it would be fun to check one out, and the Sandusky, Huron, Avon Lake, and Lakewood area have quite a few.  After some scouting on Catch Wine, I found a place, John Christ Winery, which would be on the Route 6 drive from Sandusky to Lakewood, Ohio.

The winery is a pleasant space with a large tasting room and both an indoor and outdoor seating area.  The reviews on Catch Wine had talked about the great atmosphere and it would be a good place to come, have a snack, and hang out with a glass of wine.
The tasting is $.50 per taste for all the wines except the ice wine, which is $1.00.  This could be a great set-up for people who like to only get whites or reds, but I prefer doing the guided flight for one lump sum.  This is mainly because there have been times that I have liked the wines I would never have thought to choose and hated the wine that I thought I would like. 

For whites, I tried the Pinot Grigio, Vignoles, and Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.  The whites were a one-note flop and just a little sweet, overall.  The Pinot Grigio, in particular, had an unpleasant aftertaste of grass instead of the pleasant “lingering spicy finish” as the description boasted.  I knew the Ice Wine would be sweet, but found it more syrupy and honey-like.  In short, the sweet was too overpowering.  The Vignoles, marked as medium sweet, was again too saccharine: the bright nose and citrus notes simply couldn’t balance it out.  I did appreciate the tasting notes’ suggestion that the Vignoles is a great breakfast wine: I’m guessing it pairs well with Trix. 

The reds were only a little better.  The Special Blend, a gold medal winner and the #1 seller, is a blend of concord and Niagara grapes and is marked as a sweet wine.  It is a beautiful red; but, it reminded me of wine coolers.   The Claret had potential, except that it has a lot of smoke and not enough fruit.  The Merlot, which also had a smoky nose, was a little sour.  The best of the bunch was the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dennis and I each had a glass to enjoy the outdoor seating area.  The Cabernet starts sweet but gets spicy with each sip.  Unfortunately, I found drinking a whole glass weakened my initial judgment.  The main reason is the more I drank of it, the more I realized that it was one note and that one note was clove.

With only doing one winery tasting in Ohio and having only sampled bottles from two other vineyards, I can’t speak with any conviction or authority about Ohio wines.  However, I am going to make the statement that at this point, Ohio wine is not for me.  Most of my encounters have been flat and too sweet.  Nevertheless, I am sure there are other Ohio trips in my future, and I am more than ready to keep testing my impressions.  
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Sandusky/Huron, Ohio

For some reason, I have pretty great food karma.  I like to think it is because I ask so little of food . . . only that it be tasty and fantastic.  And, in return, I spend a lot of time talking about food and singing its praises and only occasionally making sacrifices.   You don’t want to piss off food karma. 

Food karma reminded me that it is looking out for me by placing LEMmy’s Eatery in my path.  While driving away from Sandusky and en route to Cleveland, we had stopped at a gas station in Huron.  Across the way was a little restaurant with wear and tear and a full parking lot.  While Dennis got gas, I ran across the intersection to investigate.  LEMmy's had everything I look for in a roadside diner: a restaurant full of happy people, a menu of intriguing breakfast fare, and a large sign with a lake monster.  How could I not eat there?

LEMmy’s Eatery
LEMmy’s Eatery is named after the “Lake Erie Monster” that supposedly was captured by two fishermen in 1931 and has since taken up residence in the basement of the eatery.  The legend goes that there had been several sightings of a serpent-like creature at Lake Erie.   Then, one night, the twenty foot long serpent came along the fishermen’s boat.  The two men clubbed the beast, threw him into a six foot long box, and nailed it shut.  But, since it was too dangerous to open the box and onlookers were too scared, no one ever got to see LEMmy. 

LEMmy’s Eatery features some pretty exciting menu options.  There is something called LEMmy’s Monster Mash: fried of eggs, potatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese.  They also have Sauerkraut Balls, Walleye fish, and lots of Lake Perch options. 

Given that I was in a local eatery that serves a local specialty, it seemed that it was a must to honor LEmmy by getting a dish of one of his favorite foods.  So, Dennis got the Green Dragon omelet and I had the Lake Erie Perch and Cheese omelet.
The Green Dragon was a delightful omelet of spinach, artichoke hearts, swiss cheese, and garlic.  It was green goodness that was creamy and flavorsome.  
 The Lake Erie Perch Omelet was also delicious.  I had expected flakes of fish scattered throughout the omelet, but instead it is more of an omelet/fish sandwich.  Two pieces of fried crunchy fish, which is slightly flavored with a little lemon, cradle the omelet.  Then the whole thing is topped with a slice of cheese—Kraft by my guess.  I piled mine on slices of buttered rye and chowed down like a ravenous lake monster.

My only complaint was the home fries were a little dry.  But, it seems like that home fries are a lot harder to pull off then one might think; I rarely find them to suit me. 

So thank you, food karma, for sending LEMmy’s Eatery my way.  I offer this post up in your honor.  
Lemmy's Eatery on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Chicago (Pt. 2)


Frontera Grill
After watching Rick Bayless win Top Chef: Masters in 2009 with his mole sauce, I made it a goal to eat at one of his restaurants.  I really admired that the chef with the most positive attitude, least amount of competitiveness, and best enthusiasm won.   

I also think Rick Bayless has one of the coolest stories about how he came to cooking.  He was doing doctoral work in Anthropological Linguistics in Mexico and got so interested in the food that he turned to studying Mexican cuisine.  The mole that won Top Chef was a recipe that he has been working on for years, fine tuning and crafting.  
Scarlet Wave
One of the other things I really admire about Rick Bayless is that while at this point in his career he could have just high-end restaurants with impossible to get reservations, he hasn’t gone that route.  While in Chicago he does have a high end restaurant, Topolobampo, right next door he also has a mid-range restaurant, Frontera Grill, and a reasonable quick-service place, XOCO.  This means that you don’t have to be rich and affluent or break your food budget to get the chance to try some really knock-your-socks-off cuisine from a James Beard Award winner.   

To start the meal, I had the refreshing Scarlet Wave, limeade with Jamaica flower tea and Peychaud bitters.  It is a beautiful magenta color that looks bright and thirst-quenching.  It is fresh, tangy, and the bitters were a nice touch to offset the tangy lime.  It was a great way of brightening the palate and preparing for a spicy meal.  

For the salad, I got the Jicama Callejera, a salad of jicama, pineapple, and cucumber and seasoned with lime and chile.  The salad was a balance of cool and warm and served in a banana leaf.  It is best to stir it to get the chile evenly dispersed and get to the juice at the bottom.  
For the entrĂ©e, I had Cazuela de Tinga and Dennis had the Pato en Mole Coloradito.  Both dishes are served with a bottomless supply of warm, homemade tortillas for making little tacos.  The Cauela de Tinga is pork shoulder that has been braised with tomatoes, chorizo, and potatoes and topped with avocado and queso fresco.  The braising made the pork rich and tender.  The chorizo gave spice and heartiness, but didn’t make the dish greasy.  And, like the Jicama, the hearty meat and tomato sauce was delightfully balanced with fresh cheese and avocado. 
The Pato en Mole Coloradito lived up to its expectations and then some.  Dennis remarked that the Oaxacan mole coloradito, a harmonious blend of chocolate, nuts, and spice, is something he could eat all day.  The Mole also came with a side of ground Iroquois corn that was cooked almost polenta style.  It was flavorful and a great conduit for the mole. 
The meal made me admire Rick Bayless all the more.  Eating the food reflects a great love of a country’s cuisine and a need to share that love and fascination with others.  So, next time you are in Chicago, stop by Frontera, have the mole, and share an incredible celebration of Mexican cuisine.  

Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon
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