Friday, May 23, 2008

Beach Babe Hottie is of Two Minds

We're taking Jasper to the beach in Oak Island, NC. This is his new Body Glove surfer top with "rash-guard." It's way too big, but that's what I get for buying it online at 85% off. He looks pretty ambivalent here. Probably because the dude has a split personality.

He might be soothed by the sound of the waves and chill out under the umbrella all day. Since some friends have invited us to stay at a private beach, he'll be able to play it cool and get his milk on with the convenience of bikini access (modesty courtesy of a beach towel, I'm assuming).

Or, he could turn into Mr. Fussy Face and scream loud enough to clear the beach of any other vacationers. Do the sunglasses hide his angst here, or can you see the real Jasper shining through?

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Richmond Food Blogger is Born

For the past couple years, whenever I Googled looking for restaurant recommendations, I wound up at a site called Chowhound reading posts by "Janet from Richmond." Although Chowhound isn't really geared toward RVA and the Richmond content isn't very well organized, people do post questions about dining in Richmond, and Janet has been dutifully answering with her expertise. Her posts are thoughtful, opinionated (points for that!), and well informed (four meals out per week!).

Well, Janet from Richmond now has a blog. From here on out, you'll have a convienient place to go to find out about Janet's faves, and her controversial dislikes. I don't know about you, but I think maybe I'll just retire and convert this space to a baby blog. Pop by her site, and welcome Janet to the blogosphere.

To Report a Non-Critical "Restaurant Violation?"

Whenever Karen and I fight about food, I run and tell you to find out who was right. The last time, it was over the price of coffee and brunch etiquette. This time, it's a matter of feedback: to speak up or stay quiet.

We went out for sushi today and there was a problem. Out of respect, I'm not going to tell you where we went. I'd like to blog about the place when I have a more complete impression. We both want to go back and we don't believe that today's experience is representative. Now, on with the story.

We ordered an entree and a high-end fancy roll, both to split. As with all fancy sushi rolls, the presentation was fabulous, with stuff cut into cute shapes and sauce artfully decorating the plate. I wasabi'd, soy dipped, and took a bite. ... ... hold on... ... still chewing... gulping... chewing some more... ... sipping some soda... and a final gulp. Deep breath.

Okay, what was that all about? The rice was like glue. It was dense, packed tightly, and sticky beyond belief. Sushi rice is supposed to be a little sticky, but it's also supposed to be light. This was more like rice glutten paste.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Karen didn't really wanna talk about the rice issue, hoping to have a pleasant meal. We soldiered through the arduous jaw workout, each with our divergent dispositions.

The entree also came with rice. At first we ignored it, because the dish was really tasty and we were getting our carb fix with the fancy roll. But, after I suggested that I say something about the rice in the roll, Karen decided to try the little bowl of rice... Oh man. Same deal. Sticky rice, only with out the mango and sweet coconut syrup. Not cool.

I really wanted to say something and Karen wished I wouldn't. Because I know that this is probably not a common mistake at any sushi place, I felt like they should be alerted.

This isn't normal, Karen.

"It's just rice."

They need to know about this.

"[eyes rolling, deep sighing]"

What we've eaten is not a $14 roll. It's just not.

"[blank stare]"

Well, if I don't say something, then I won't wanna come back.

"She already came by and asked if everything was alright."

Yeah, and my mouth was full of my first bite of food. All I did was shrug.

"Well, she came back after that."

And I was walking Jasper in the stroller to get him to go back to sleep.

"Then why'd you eat it all?"

There was a delicious sauce! Look, I left one piece in case the chef wants to inspect it.

"[tilts head and shrugs]"

Karen had given up and wanted to stop arguing. We removed and ate the pieces of raw fish that were left on top of our remaining piece of "evidence roll." When the waitress came by, she asked how we liked everything.

Um, the rice in the roll and here (pointing to the little bowl) was really really sticky.

"Okay, I'll tell the chef. Sorry about that."

It's no problem, I say as she leaves. Looking at Karen, I try to reassure her that we did the right thing (although, I did it on my own, right or not).

The server comes back and apologizes again, saying that the chef apologizes and took 20% off the bill. I say thanks. We pay (a 25% tip on the original price of the meal for the server), and we head out. We both decide not to keep talking about the rice/feedback issue, agreeing that we wanna go back and see how the next fancy roll measures up.

So, dear reader. Having gotten a very one-sided accounting of these events. What would you have done? For Karen and me, it's probably a matter of style. She doesn't and I do. So, what about you?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

White Pizza vs. Red @ Tarrantino's

After Broad Appetit, we were still fantasizing about the food we didn't get around to trying, particularly the pizza slices from Tarrantino's. You'd think we were on withdrawal from a good NY slice (cuz, we are). As soon as I got home from work, I volunteered to pick up a pie so we could spend the evening chilling out with dinner on the couch.

A brief glance at the paper menu we picked up on Sunday had us torn: White or red? Hmmmm... Why not both? Although I love to economize (and order in bulk: the largest possible cheese pizza and eat the rest for breakfast and lunch), being fickle means we pay more for variety. Nonetheless, we got complete satisfaction; and maybe a little gluttony. (Tarrant's phone number: 225-0035, location 1 W. Broad St. at Foushee)

Karen's plate.
First off, I'll spare you a description of the pizzeria, cuz I touched on it in my previous post and another blogger beat me to the punch (although I had this piece conceived, photographed, and partially written before Brie hit "submit"). The two pizzas in their little boxes filled my car with the most amazing smell. I almost crashed from the intoxicating aroma. If I'd been breathalyzed for pizzaholicness, I'd have blown a 2.3 from the contact high alone. The white variety is the "bianca" by the way.

My plate, with my favorite beer and my only Penzey's purchase:
a shaker for crushed red pepper.

These red and a white pizzas are essentially the same. Bread topped with cheese and the difference being a layer of X in between. In this case it was a non-stingy portion of tangy marinara on the red and a garlic ricotta combo mingling together on the white. We were really glad that we ordered both varieties, because that one layer makes these two experiences very different. The red sauce will bring you back, without a doubt. And that white delivers a garlickiness that will make you swoon. As you can see, I put the hot peppers on half of my slices, and left the others as the control group. The results were predictable: I like spicy food.

So, let's talk about the commonalities: crust and cheese.

By ordering small pies, I screwed myself. You can't expect thin and crispy crust if you don't order a size that's big enough to get stretched out. So, both were slightly doughy, but not doughy like pizza from a place that shouldn't be serving pizza (most everywhere in the Fan), but doughy like small pizzas tend to be. Regardless, the bottom was scalded in just the right way and the rim was perfectly chewy. Baking soda and yeast were evident in each bite. I'd say that a New Yorker would think twice before complaining about this crust (and then boast about home anyways, cuz that's how they defend against Richmond's charm). The cheese was stringy on the red and firm on the white; in both cases above par, but not as notable as the other elements (no biggie, here).

All in all, my hunch is that the best way to enjoy Tarrantino's is to dine in with enough people to split a large pie (although carry-out is ready in 15 minutes). That way, you'll get the true crust experience, piping hot, and you can enjoy the classically rigid pizzeria booth with parm and pepper shakers at the ready. However, before ordering, ask if they sell pizza by the slice. They don't, yet. But, it's only a matter of time as passers by will be drawn in by the heavenly garlic smell. That is, if Richmond can muster enough downtown activity to warrant having pizzas pre-made and ready. Time will tell.

After overeating...

A Mother's Day Message from Jasper

Jasper whispers sweet nothings to his grandmother on Mother's Day, 2008. It's an early vocalization, at five weeks, but it may have been a response to the misstatement that the year is 2007. Jasper demands accuracy... and milk.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Appetit: Compete to Eat on Broad Street

As soon as we got in the car, Jasper started screaming bloody murder and the rain picked up from a drizzle to an event dampening light shower. I could see the headline, "Rain Wets Broad Street's Appetit." We debated turning around as I became increasingly pessimistic. Sneaking in the back way (Two Street), we parked next to the Wachovia, but forgot to get cash at the ATM. "I'm sure they'll have cash machines at this thing. After all, Broad Street is revitalized."

Well, there were no ATMs and the vendors only took cash and the rain started pouring and Cous Cous didn't have mock chicken tagine, and... is that Jasper crying? No. It was my tantrum this time. I imagined Broad Apetit being small and pathetic, but it was big and impressive (and crowded!). Nothing pleased me. This was a foodie pity party in the making. Then, we tried the grub and everything changed. The clouds parted (intermittently), hunger pangs subsided, crankiness waned, and Jasper slept for the duration. By the end, we had spent $21 on food for two and we were obscenely stuffed. Cha-ching! It was like a cross between a gourmet State Fair and playing Top Chef judge for Richmond's most popular eateries. Here's the rundown on our purchases:

Cous Cous: Vegan spanakopita w/tofu and nuts
I went for the mock-chicken tagine, but they didn't have it. Instead, they offered a phyllo dough triangle stuffed with tofu, nuts, and all sorts of tasty goodness (no clue). Since my wife and I were splitting everything, I made a fauz-paz by asking for two pastries for an extra buck. Not a cool move on my part. Every food item had a set price of $3. I learned and adjusted quickly.

Six Burner: Scallop ceviche with watermelon, cucumbers, and jalapenos
It was bay scallops, which bring out the snob in me. I love ceviche, but I thought the juice was a little too light (needed more lime/jalapeno). Karen liked it though. And she's really skeptical about savory watermelon dishes.

Comfort: Deviled egg w/curry sausage and watercress. Fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce
This was Karen's one meat treat and she dug it, although she doesn't usually like sausage that much. I decided that I've never had a deviled egg that was either good or bad. They're all just fair to middling in my book (including Comfort's). The fried green tomatoes were awesome, but the portion was especially small. We make these at home as soon as we've got unripe fruit on the vine and our sauce is about the same as this remoulade.

Hidden Treasure: Parmasan and pepper crusted salmon atop a tomato and pecan risotto
These folks were not busy at all, but the food sounded good. They heaped it on the plate, which pleased us both. Karen said the salmon was fishy, but I thought it was all tasty enough, especially the roasted pecans in the risotto.

Enoteca Sogno: White bean and tuna salad

Karen loves white beans and after one bite she was insisting that we make this to take to work for lunch. The tuna was scant, but Karen confessed to eating a big chunk before I got the plate. Lemon juice and olive oil tossed with bitter greens. Mmmmmm... I'll soak those beans in roasted garlic spiked broth and lunch will be extra special.

Louisiana Flair: Beignets with Mississippi blueberry sauce
After hitting Cafe du Monde 3-4 times during Marti-Gras in 1999, I have been pining for another authentic plate of fried dough N'awlins style. Can Can? Not even close (although serviceable with their strong coffee). These little puffs really took me back. Straight out of the flyer, steaming when we ripped them open, and they melted in our mouthes. The cinnimony blueberry sauce was likewise addictive.

Stuff we really wanted to try, but they ran out or we didn't want to brave the line:

  • Savor: Java Tempehwich
  • 1 North Belmont: Coffee smoked scallops
  • Tarrantino's Pizza: It looked like NY style and I saw several people using napkins to mop the grease off the top of each slice. Mmmmmm...
  • Personal Chef to Go: Blue corn crusted West Indian curried lobster and crab cake
  • Tarant's: We've never been, but the chalkboard sign out front made us want to walk right in with full stomachs and try the fish tacos.
And the winner is:

Karen said the beignets were her fave. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves dessert. Of the savory foods, what was the best? It was unanimous. The flavorful phyllo pastries at Cous Cous knocked our socks off. And I'm not giving the prize to these folks cuz it was my first bite of food and they bent the rules for me, by selling me an extra pastry. It was simply satisfying as hell. There was a plate of cous cous involved too, but neither of us are wild about that stuff in general (although I ate every bite). The lunches I've had at the restaurant haven't impressed me that much, but I recognize that they're gaining in popularity for a reason. Maybe it's time that Karen and I give Cous Cous another try.

Runner up goes to: The three dollar plate idea. We tried seven things and split every one of them. An affordable way to satisfy many curiosities; just the way I like to dine. They say the event is going to be annual. I think it should be weekly (not feasible, I know). About 5,000 people showed up and many of the yummiest sounding dishes were all gone half-way into the day. So, kudos to those who pulled this together.

As I write this, NBC12 News at Eleven is showing footage of a throng of white people milling about downtown carrying little plates of food. The newscaster is explaining that Broad Appetit's goal was to bring people downtown who don't usually venture there "and push the crime out." WTF? My gluttonous impulses do not make me a superhero crime-fighter. Is it just me, or is there a bit of a message embedded here? I understand the downtown revitalization theme, but the blocks between Belvidere and 1st Streets aren't especially dangerous. I counted 10, mostly non-violent crimes on the Broad Appetit stretch of the street so far in 2008. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broad Appetit's promotion was similar to the outreach effort for the Charrette's first installment, resulting in a mostly white turnout, but maybe NBC12 was putting words in the mouth of the event, by labeling "crime" as the issue (it's really a white fear issue). I dunno, it just seems like that same old racial polarization and crappy Richmond media spin. Nonetheless, the food was damned good.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wisteria: More Buds for Your Buck (and the Tag Trick)

Last week, I wore this new shirt to work, but I left the tag on it, in case I decided to return it. One of my hobbies is to order bargain clothes from Sierra Trading Post* and then use their enclosed UPS return label to return the stuff that doesn't fit or just looks hideous. This shirt passed the test. It'll be one of my faves once I lose five pounds, and I'm not crazy about that criss-cross shoulder panel, but overall, it's a keeper.

The tag-trick isn't normal for me, but I just thought I'd show you the depths I'll go to ensure a good value. Is it ethical? (yes, if you agree that the customer is right "by any means necessary") Tacky? (probably, but I tucked the tag into the shirt while at work) What if I stank it up? (I didn't) One of Sierra's return criteria is "it shrunk." Does that mean I can send something back after removing the tags and washing it? Doubtful. Speaking of bargains, my wisteria plants have really taken off over the past three years (that's them with the purple flowers.

Wisteria is known for climbing all over everything and leaving a behind taut vines that wrap around your fences, etc. On our back porch, the black wrought-iron looked kinda cheap, so we bought plants that would spruce it up. So, we bought two of them for $15 each and positioned them strategically. A landscaper friend of ours counseled us to be patient, saying they'll "sleep, creep, and leap." The first year, they won't do much. Then they'll come back in the spring and start crawling up your stuff. And in the third year, your wisteria will be taking over and that's the big payoff.

Actually, these purple flowers are the real payoff, as they'll make you the envy of the neighborhood (for about a week or so, before they fall apart and make a big mess). Let's remember my porch flowers with this picture until next May rolls around. Cheers.

*I love the deep discounts at Sierra Trading Post, but I can't help but pass on this one detail. Their site features a "what we believe" page. Item number three states: That our business ethics must be consistent with the faith of the owners in Jesus Christ and His teachings." I've tried to remind their customer service department about this statement when addressing little things that come up from time to time. Nonetheless, Jesus isn't about to turn over the marketplace installment in the temple at Sierra. Business is still business.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Jamie Oliver's Asparagus and Potato Tart

Last week's brunch party began in the early AM with Karen baking a delicious coffee cake that included chocolate chips, orange zest, and two layers of crusty pecan streusel. In fact, this link to the coffee cake recipe is my main reason for posting today. Work and fatherhood have gotten me behind in my blogging. Fulfilling my promise to a coworker to share this recipe compelled me to follow through despite a lack of pictures or, frankly, motivation. Luckily, the two dishes featured here are worth reading about and trying yourself.

When we saw the asparagus episode of Jamie at Home on the Food Network, we knew we had to try and make this beautiful brunch item. The asparagus and potato tart involved a couple items that we didn't have and couldn't find, so we substituted. The recipe called for lancashire cheese (why all the specifically English ingredients?). River City Cellars didn't carry it, but their cheese bible recommended l'etivas, a very sharp and crumbly swiss variety. Also, Jamie showed off the tart's crispy filo dough crust by cooking his in a tart pan with a removable rim. We didn't have the right size tart pan, so we went with a standard Pyrex baking dish. It had to be rectangular to showcase the asparagus pinstripes properly.

On TV, the yellow and green striped tart was absolutely beautiful with its golden brown accents. However, after reading over the mixed reviews of the recipe, I started to have second thoughts. People said it was basically a fancy serving of mashed potatoes, that it needed more cheese and eggs, and that it was prettier than it was tasty. So, I added one more egg and a 1/2 cup more cheese. However, I didn't accurately measure out 1 lb of potatoes, so I think it all balanced out. Next time, heap the cheese and double the eggs. How many potatoes makes a pound, anyhow?

The end result was a really pretty pan of cheesy fluffy potatoes wrapped with fillo and embedded with asparagus (again, I'm sorry I was too distracted to take pictures). The l'etivas cheese imparted a sharpness that stayed with you after each bite, but it was mellowed out by the fresh ground nutmeg. The asparagus on top seemed like they were mostly for visual effect. Maybe some of the attendees of our brunch party can chime in about this. I think the best addition were the four organic eggs that came from our friends' chickens. They intensified the yellowness and the fluffiness.

Lessons learned:
  • Try at least one dish from each episode of Jamie at Home on the Food Network.
  • Push extra sweets off on the guests before they leave, otherwise, I'm stuck eating it and getting fatter.
  • Limit Jaser's social opportunities to smaller groups. The dude got a little overstimulated and his screaming may have permanently damaged my eardrums.
  • Frankie-poo Bubbas will not be upstaged. Five out of six visitors to our house leave wanting a pug (picture soon to be uploaded).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How to Order Milk with Style, by Jasper

It's probably too early to know for certain if my son is going to have the same high-maintenance foodie tendencies as his daddy. However, I did recently catch Baby Jaz giving some lip as he was placing an order for his favorite snack. The flash of anger shown by Mr. Fussy Face conveys plenty of sentiments. In case you don't pick up what Jasper is putting down, I've included some translation, so be sure to read the quotes. In essence, Jasper says, "If I don't get my milk, there will be blood."
What's that you say? Is it dinner time already? Well, I suppose I could have a little taste. What's on the menu.

Hmmm, wait. Don't tell me. I've heard that you carry some homemade dairy products? And how do you serve that dish here?

Boobies? My favorite! Well, let me get warmed up for this, so I can get my drink on proper. First, I turn my head to the side and open wide.

Then I clamp down, thusly. Wait, don't laugh. A good latch is crucial to avoid the discomfort of gassy bloating.

Oh yeah. Here we go now. Workin' that boobie and pulling down some dairy. Mmmmmwwwwa!

Woman, don't laugh at me! I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE. I DRINK IT UP!

My sucker pucker will tear up a boobie. C'mon, let's have it, already. Right here on the porch. I don't give a &^%$@#!

What the hell are you lookin' at? Is somebody talking to you? Fool, do not disturb me when I'm gettin' ready for my milk.