Friday, November 19, 2010

Super Bowl - Rockville, MD

Last Sunday, a few friends suggested we try a new Asian noodle joint that just opened up earlier this month. Super Bowl is located in the Ritchie Center shopping plaza on Rockville Pike, only a few shops down from one of my favorite bubble tea and Taiwanese fried chicken eateries, Bubble Express. Whenever there's a new Asian joint in town, my heart skips a beat and my knees tremble a little bit. This feeling increases exponentially when that restaurant is in Rockville because I know the competition is fierce, and the authenticity is generally a cut above the rest of Maryland. And on top of that, for me there's nothing out there that tops a simple bowl of delicious noodle soup as comfort food. Hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband, 'cuz I'm eating e'rething out here.

I helped myself to the Beef Noodle Soup, which is actually prepared in the traditional Taiwanese style. Beef Noodle Soup (紅燒牛肉麵) is actually a staple of Taiwanese cuisine and I guess it could be equated to how the Vietnamese enjoy their pho. My mother and my aunt make some ridiculous Beef Noodle Soup so I am quite particular about this dish. I'm pretty much a BNS expert (self-proclaimed). Also I just made up that acronym. For what it's worth, this did not really stack up to my homegrown expectations. While it was still very hearty (as it should be), I felt the flavor of the broth was kind of bland. I needed to add a self-destructive amount of chili sauce to make the broth taste like anything. The meat itself was pretty solid though. The meat is slow roasted so it is very tender and easily tears away in your mouth. The noodles were thick and perfectly chewy (or QQ as the Chinese say) like I likes it though. No complaints there.

Even though I wasn't the biggest fan of Super Bowl my first time around I'm definitely going to give it another shot. They have a few very traditional Asian/Chinese dishes that I cannot find elsewhere and that I need to taste before I give my final verdict. Just wait 'til I scrounge together a few bucks to go again... (don't hold your breath).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mt. Washington Tavern - Baltimore, MD

Perhaps I'm growing increasingly jaded in my old age, or maybe its just poor decision making in restaurant selections, but I just feel more and more like I'm having less than favorable things to say about recent dining experiences. In the case of Mt. Washington Tavern, it was a downright poor experience.

I have been to Mt. Washington Tavern on several occasions to meet friends for a few drinks at happy hour, maybe nibble on some bar snacks. Everything has always been at the very least serviceable. So when some friends came up from out of town and the tavern was brought up as a group dinner option. I figured why not. A perusal of the website before our night out didn't show anything particularly exciting, but nothing that a restaurant of 31 years should be able to screw up too badly either.

To start off with the pleasant, our reservation of eight was greeted politely and seated quickly. Our server was prompt, pleasant, and accommodating throughout the entire meal. The ambiance of the dining room was quite inviting, and the noise level wasn't invasive at all, though it was quite sparsely populated for 7pm on a Saturday night.

Then there is the not so pleasant, the food. I don't know if this is an owner leading a kitchen staff astray, or a kitchen that thinks its smarter than it is. The offerings are uninspired, way overpriced, and in some cases even just flat out incorrect. Tuna Tartar is described as "rare sushi grade tuna with sesame, over endive" - lets stop right there. So you are cooking a tartar.....interesting. I then inquired about the Fruits De Mer "Pan-Roasted Jumbo Gulf Shrimp,Day Boat Scallops, Littleneck Clams, and Rockfish in a Light Tomato Broth with Garlic Crostinis." The menu description was a little odd, and the server confirmed my suspicions. This Fruits De Mer is served as a hot entrée.......hmmm. Great dish? Perhaps. I'll never know because I wouldn't order a dish that is tagged as something that it isn't.

Ok, so enough of what I didn't have, what did I actually eat? I opted for the Steak Frites, medium rare, figuring it was a safe option. Rather than the more traditional flat iron, this offering was with a NY Strip covered with a "wild mushroom demi-glace" (someones being too clever) "and served with either sweet potato fries or roasted red potatoes." I ordered it with regular fries because it is listed on the menu as STEAK FRITES. All of the steaks at Mt. Washington Tavern are described on the menu as "Aged USDA Beef Selections," whatever the hell that means. Dry aged? Wet-aged? Sat out for week in the trunk of a car? Who knows?!! What I was served was without doubt, the worst steak I have ever had in a restaurant. This piece of beef had either been frozen and then quick thawed, or had been sitting unused for a very long time(perhaps this is where the aging part comes in) until it became oxidized to death. The cowhide slapped on my plate was so tough that I actually chewed one bite for several minutes to no avail, then tried to just hunk it down in one large swallow. This resulted in about 30 breathless seconds before I finally dislodged it from my throat. YUM!

A friend across the table didn't fare much better with The Tavern Steak. This, a pepper encrusted piece of leather, served with crispy onions and cheddar grits. The grits were like a molded ball of Playdough. Tough and tasteless rather than rich and creamy. I did try a bite of one of the Artisan Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Which was decent enough. I would have been amazed if they managed to screw a grilled cheese sandwich up.

Want a nice place to stop by for a pint after work? Go for it. If you are looking solely for decent ambiance and good service. This is your place. Want good food? Get the hell out of Mt. Washington Tavern.

Mount Washington Tavern on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 25, 2010

My First Vegemite Experience

My Aussie friend just moved to the States from DOWN UNDA *ignorantly poor Australian accent*, and brought along a little taste of home. Besides their love of Outback Steakhouse, Foster's Beer, and the slogan 'No Rules, Just Right', Australians apparently also love Vegemite. Vegemite is a food spread made from yeast extract, whatever that is. It sounds like some sort of stomach parasite, which I guess isn't that far from the truth considering it's made from yeast. The packaging also looks like something that the Acme Corporation from Looney Tunes would sell. I'm in.

First thought: Kraft makes this?! Second thought: I'm hungry. F' it. My friend was kind enough to make some toast, spread a light layer of butter, and then slather on the Vegemite for me. I'm not actually capable of making food for myself. Today I threw a bunch of deli meat into a bag of spinach and ate it straight. Just like a real grown up. True story. Anyways, I took a bite of my toast and immediately fell in love with this spreadable delight. It's much saltier than butter, but also much more savory. There is also an oniony undertone and a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. The salty flavor of the Vegemite mixed perfectly with the semi-sweet butter. Apparently Vegemite is an acquired taste for most, but I'm already on board. Now all I need to do is find a grocery that carries it...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pioneer Pit Beef - Windsor Mill, MD

Look at that picture. Look at it carefully. If you didn't notice, Pioneer Pit Beef looks like a dump. Suffice it to say, this joint is not taking your fancy credit card. The shack is located on some random corner near Security Square Mall. Don't worry though, it is easily identified by the horrible puke yellow/green color scheme, the all-caps screaming of 'PIT BEEF' painted on the roof, and the gigantic picture of the food product they sell on the front facade. Nothing says classy like a big ass picture of sandwich + meat, and thats how I likes my food establishments, classy as sh*t. But what is this? Tucked away under that jail cell window is a sign that says 'World Class Pit Beef. Nobody Does it Better.' Lemme tell you something son. They ain't lying.

For those of you not from the Baltimore area, pit beef is our very own distinct style of BBQ. A large hunk of top round is grilled until the meat is blackened on the outside, but juicy and rare on the inside. The beef is then thrown onto a deli slicer and carved paper thin. Typically, pit beef is served on a kaiser roll with tiger sauce, a mixture of horseradish sauce and mayonnaise, and Pioneer's model is no exception. The staff at Pioneer asks how you want your meat cooked, and then slices off a fresh bite for you to sample. This tactic is brilliant by the way. The sample I was given was so juicy and full of flavor that I decided to order a larger sandwich. Every meaty bite was tender and melt-in-your-mouth awesome. The decision to up size turned out to be rather unnecessary though. The 'regular' size along with some boardwalk style hand-cut fries would have been more than enough to satisfy me at lunch time. Good thing I'm a complete glutton.

Pioneer Pit Beef on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oishinbo (The Gourmet)

Recently, a friend introduced me to something that combines two of my favorite things, comic books and food. The fine people at Viz Media have imported one of the most popular and long-running mangas of all time, and selected some choice chapters to translate into English. Each chapter reflects on and gives insight into the overarching theme of each volume, ranging from Japanese cuisine as a whole, sake, sashimi, all the way to Japanese pubs. Its dorky I suppose, but I'm Asian and I'm totally into it, for whatever thats worth.

Oishinbo follows Yamaoka Shiro, a slacker journalist for the Tozai News, as he attempts to put together a story on the 'Ultimate Menu', representing all that is great about Japanese cuisine. Yamaoka also happens to have a very refined palate and a strong all-around knowledge of cuisine. His rival in this endeavor is his very own father and mentor, Kaibara Yuzan, who has been hired by a competing newspaper to create their own 'Supreme Menu'. While the premise might seem a bit silly, the author does a great job of illustrating the complexities of Japanese cuisine and the exquisite care that goes into its preparation while infusing humor into each scene. Within each battle or challenge, Yamaoka explains the techniques required to cook each dish, discusses the quality of the ingredients going into the dish, and generally makes me incredibly hungry for whatever the characters are eating.

I've just finished the 1st volume and, other than an extreme craving for sushi, I already feel like I have a much higher comprehension of Japanese cuisine. Definitely incredibly psyched to start the 2nd volume: Sake. Finally I will understand what my Japanese pal Yuya is jabbering about when he gets drunk. Check out the series if you get a chance!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Celebrity Chef Tour - Coming to Baltimore!

Normally I would be against posting a pay event like this, that is unless I really wanted to go; but this is for charity and there are some great chefs attending.

The October 21st event will be hosted by chef Sean Curry at the sophisticated Baltimore Renaissance Hotel Restaurant. The event features guest celebrity chefs Marc Anthony Bynum, who appeared on The Food Network’s Chopped, Jennifer Carroll, a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, Marc Murphy, featured judge on The Food Network’s, Chopped, and Amanda Cook, nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Proceeds will go to benefit the James Beard Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating, nurturing, and preserving America’s diverse culinary heritage and future.

If you are a Visa Signature cardholder – just look to see if your Visa Card says 'Visa Signature' across it – you get savings on ticket purchases. Your evening includes the unique opportunity to meet the chefs and engage in a Q&A session after enjoying a reception and a multiple course dinner with wine and beer pairings. It's sure to be an unforgettable evening. Tickets are available now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A World Without Kimchi, Not A World I Want to Live In

South Korea is running out of Kimchi! The world's greatest condiment is running low due to ruined crops of Chinese Cabbage (Napa cabbage if you wanna spend more on it).

"And on Monday, the Seoul city government began a kimchi bailout program, in which it is absorbing 30% of the cost of about 300,000 heads of cabbage it has purchased from rural farmers so it can be sold for less to consumers.

Depriving Koreans of their kimchi, many say, is like forcing Italians to forgo pasta or taking all the tea from China. The dish of fermented cabbage, radish and chile paste has such iconic status here that there is a museum dedicated to kimchi in Seoul, and portions of it were blasted into space with the country's first astronaut in 2008.

Served with virtually every meal, kimchi is believed by many to ward off aging, reduce cholesterol and fight disease. South Koreans together eat more than 2 million tons of it each year.

The shortage has raised tempers and led to intemperate political statements. When President Lee Myung-bak announced he would eat only kimchi made from what he said was cheaper round cabbage common in Europe and North America, many people erupted in anger.

The round cabbage, Internet users pointed out, was only slightly cheaper here than the Chinese variety, suggesting the president's claim was out of touch with the needs and concerns of the working class.

"For the president to say something like that is like Marie Antoinette saying, 'Let them eat cake!'" one blogger groused.

The shortages have come at the onset of gimjang season, when families lovingly hand-prepare the kimchi they will consume during the winter and spring. Many prefer kimchi that has fermented for months or even years in earthenware pots.

In a play on words, people now refer to kimchi as gold. (The two words are similar in Korean.) In restaurants, where customers wrap beef and pork in a slice of cabbage, they joke that the custom should be reversed, because the cabbage is now more costly than many meats."