Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bacon Holiday Part II - The Health Trio Sandwich

I consider my body a temple. Anything that enters this sacred vessel is, ahhh who am I kidding I just made the world's least healthy sandwich. Well unhealthy in the sense that it was made in my home, it's still probably better than a Whopper. Yes I actually just combined the above three products between two pieces of bread. It did not suck. Baconaise is perhaps the greatest addition to the world of condiments since someone came up with ketchup.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bacon Holiday Part I - Bacon Cheeseburger Bloody Mary

The holidays can be a difficult time for someone who doesn't care for sweets. Luckily for me, Santa was kind enough to provide me with a huge array of products featuring the single greatest product known to man, bacon. I plan to share my adventures through these crazy creations with you my loving readers.

To start with, perhaps the most ridiculous present I received this year (by which I mean awesome,) Oxford Falls Bacon Cheeseburger Bloody Mary Mix. Looking at the bottle can prove a little daunting. There seem to actually be pieces of cheese floating in the mix, so clearly they are delivering what is promised on the label.

The taste was actually surprisingly mild. The bacon definitely comes through, and it reminds me a lot of a bull shot, a bloody mary made with beef stock. There is a slight hint of onion in the background which isn't unpleasant in a bloody mary at all and would certainly be expected on a good bacon cheeseburger!

Let it be known now, I am very much of the opinion that if something is good, bacon can only make it better, and in the world of mixed drinks, this seems to ring just as true as with food. While this may have been a gag gift, the end product is actually a really nice beverage. Though the vodka that goes into the glass probably doesn't hurt the enjoyment either!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Olive Grove - Linthicum, MD

Hello blog. I've been neglecting you and for that I apologize. I am going to try to continue updating this site on a more regular basis, but lately money has been tight and we haven't been eating out very often. Which if the amount of business my restaurant has been doing in the past 6 months is any indicator, seems to be a similar situation for a lot of people.

Tonight was Kim's grandmother's birthday so we headed off with her brother to meet her family at the Olive Grove Restaurant in Linthicum, MD. My first reaction when I was told where we were going for dinner was "ugh great, another generic Italian place." I'm quite happy to report that my experience was actually anything but generic.

We started off with an order of oysters on the half shell. I'm always interested to see the differences from place to place when it comes to oysters, especially this time of year when they are in peak season. Remember, if the month has an R in it, you're good to go! The Oysters were fat and flavorful. I didn't get a chance to inquire where they were from, but they were good so that's all that really matters. My only complaint with them was that whoever had shucked them didn't bother to run the knife underneath the meat of the oyster to disconnect the muscle that holds the meat to the shell. This made eating them somewhat awkward. There were also only five oysters to an order, which I found odd seeing as they normally come by the half dozen or dozen, but they were good, so who cares.

On to the mains. I ordered the Seafood Orzo Medly which was described as "A teste of Italy! Tender shrimp, mussel meat, calamari, clams and octopus over orzo pasta." What I was served was pretty much exactly what was promised and all of the seafood inside was delicious. There was some crab stick in there too, which I thought was a little strange, but hey I like fake crab meat. As you can see from the picture, this dish could certainly benefit from a little more love in the presentation department, but the great taste is what will leave a lasting impression. I am not a huge fan of Orzo, and I think I would have preferred the dish over pasta, which I'm sure they would do on request. All in all I was very happy with my decision.

Kim ordered the Ravioli a la Oscar which was "Jumbo raviolis stuffed with Prosciutto ham, asparagus and cheeses. Topped with creamy jumbo lump crabmeat sauces." When they say topped with crab sauce, it should really read "we dump a ton of lump meat all over your plate." Wow that is a lot of crab meat! I was also extremely pleased to see that they make their own pasta in house, so many run of the mill Italian restaurants just boil some frozen bag Cysco garbage and throw it on a plate. The texture of the ravioli was perfect and the sharpness of the ham made for an excellent contrast to the creamy crab topping. It was an excellent dish.

If it weren't so out of the way for us I think I would go back to the Olive Grove regularly. One thing that should be mentioned were their crab cakes. I saw when we walked in that they had several awards for best crab cakes hanging on the wall. I thought that had to be impossible considering the famous G&M's is nearly across the street from this place. Well, someone at our table ordered the crab cakes and I wish I was able to take a picture of them. These things were bigger than my fist! I will definitely have to go back to try them.

If you happen to be in the Linthicum area, and are in the mood for above average Italian fare, I would highly recommend giving this place a try!

Olive Grove on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Food Inc.

I have gotten some flack recently from friends and co-workers due to my deeply held feelings on the food and restaurant industry. I understand that often my passion on the issue can come across as preachy and egotistical; which always makes me feel bad.

It is my personal belief the this country is in the middle of a serious epidemic. The way we eat is run almost entirely by a very few number of multi-national corporations. Tonight I watched a movie called Food Inc. that I think really highlights the most severe elements of this ongoing problem and shows us how to combat it every time we enter the supermarket or make a choice where to eat out. Eric Schlosser, the brilliant investigative journalist and writer of Fast Food Nation, is a producer and central figure in the movie and I think that anyone who has any concern about their health and what they are eating everyday owes it to themselves to watch this film.

Some interesting facts I learned from the movie:

Types of food can actually be patented

It is actually illegal for a farmer to plant seeds from their own crops

The average agri-chicken never sees light (not sunlight, light)

30 percent of the United States is now covered by corn fields and its production subsidized by the government

1 in 3 Americans born after the year 2000 will have early onset type I diabetes

Monday, July 13, 2009

Little Havana - Baltimore

My friends and I are always on the lookout for a new place for Sunday brunch. Looking at the menu online for Little Havana's 13.95 (though it's actually 14.95) brunch deal, I was quite excited. The price includes your choice of any one of the restaurant's brunch entrees and bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas.

I am glad that I was properly filled with pitchers of booze, because the food and service on our visit was absolutely terrible. Everyone at my table received their food and I was left wondering what happened to the Cuban style fried eggs I ordered. After notifying our server I waited another 15 minutes only to be given a completely different entree. After sending this food back I did finally receive the food that I had ordered (a full 90 minutes after ordering) long after the rest of the table had been cleared and everyone else in my party was finished eating.

Looking at the plate that was presented to me, I wish I had just stuck with the drinks. The eggs I was served were so overcooked that they could have been used to tile the roof of the restaurant.

Being that I work in the hospitality industry I can understand the kitchen can get flustered and that servers sometimes make mistakes. What really bothered me was the attitude of our server. At no time was I apologized to in anyway for not receiving food at all and then being given an entirely separate dish from what I had ordered. Our waitress essentially gave me the impression that I was a huge inconvenience to her and she didn't care what I thought because she could just add automatic gratuity to our check!

They say you only have one chance to make a first impression, sadly Little Havana made one that will never have me returning. I have been here in the past for the night life and my only advice would be to stick with this place for the mojitos and drinks, avoid the waitstaff and food as best you can.

World of Eats Rating - 2/10

Little Havana Restaurante Y Cantina Cubana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pho Dat Thanh - Towson

One conversation that typically comes up between my foodie friends and I is the topic of favorite meals. If you only had one dish left to eat in this world, what would it be? I consistently come back to only two dishes; Sichuan Hot Pot (which I have never been able to find on U.S. soil) and Pho.

The seemingly simple Vietnamese beef noodle soup is heaven in a bowl; and yet perfection is often illusive. Before I move any further I must insist that diners learn the proper pronunciation of this magical soup. Pho is pronounced "Fuh." I am constantly irritated by the ignorance of my fellow diners and butchering of my favorite food's name. I may come off as an elitist jerk, but I think that if someone is going to through hours of painstaking preparation to make me happy, I would like to at least show them I appreciate their work enough to pronounce the name of the dish correctly.

Let it be said that while in Vietnam last year I ate this dish in some form almost every single day and Pho Dat Thanh in Columbia easily equaled and sometimes even surpassed what I ate in the dish's homeland. I was absolutely elated when I learned that my favorite place for Pho perfection was opening a sister location on my doorstep in downtown Towson.

My party ordered a few simple appetizers of Bo La Nho (beef wrapped in grape leaves) and Thit Heo Nuong (grilled pork.) Both served with the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce Nuoc Cham, which adds a perfect interplay of sweet,sour, and spicy to each delicious bite.

The appetizers were merely a warm up for the main event though, as there was no doubt with anyone at my table what we had come for, a soul filling bowl of hearty Pho. I always opt for the large D1 on the Pho Dat Thanh menu. This variation is probably as close to what could be considered "the classic" as possible. It contains eye-round steak, bible tripe, brisket, and soft tendon along with the noodles all floating in a rich broth. There are several other variations if you aren't feeling adventurous enough for the nasty bits and there is even a chicken version available. When discussing the differences between Pho joints, the broth is usually the hottest point of contention and often the decision maker on what makes one place better than another. Simply put, Pho Dat Thanh in Towson had one of the most rich and densely complex broths that has ever graced my lips. It is quite simply a revelation. It may even be better than what is served in their location in Columbia, which is a bold statement indeed.

This place just opened last week in Towson and if you haven't made it there yet, run, do not walk to get your first bowl of bliss. Vietnamese cuisine is largely unavailable in northern Baltimore County, and I think once people get their chance to try it, they will be just as hooked as me. In fact, its lunch time and all this Pho talk has me hungry. I know where to go!

World of Eats Rating - 10/10

Pho Dat Thanh
510 York Road
Towson, MD

My apologies for the horrific quality of these cell phone pics

Pho Dat Thanh on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ra Sushi - Maki Madness

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of competing in my very first professional eating contest at Ra Sushi in downtown Baltimore. The contest was set up in a number of bracketed rounds in honor of the March Madness Basketball Tournament and all of the proceeds from the event went to benefit a breast cancer charity whose name escapes me.

Each round consisted of four competitors. Each person was given two uncut Tootsi Maki rolls and a glass of water. The two that finished these rolls the fastest advanced on to the next round in the bracket. I did quite well at first; demolishing my competition in round one and finishing even to move on in round two. By the time the semi finals were reached however, I was in another league of competition and was sadly knocked out by the amazing gormandizer that went on to win the event.

The whole thing was a great deal of fun and I even got some exposure from the local news media! I will certainly be keeping an eye out for any future eating contests in the area as they combine two of my favorite things in the world; eating and competitive sport!

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nam Kang - Maryland Ave, Baltimore

Yesterday I was desperately craving some Korean food and the type of love in my gut that only kimchee can provide. Initially I had wanted to put together a full scale Korean BBQ trip, but since no one was really available to commit to the gastronomic undertakings of eating Korean table-top BBQ with me (I have a slight tendency to try to order everything on the menu.) So with the desire to fill my cravings but the need to eat a sensible meal, Kim and I decided to take a seat at Nam Kang, which has become our go-to eatery of choice for Korean food in Baltimore.

If you have never been to Nam Kang, the restaurant is open until 4am every night except for Mondays. Almost every experience I have had eating here has come after a full night out in Federal Hill or Canton, so this was a nice time to try out the food without any liquid fueled hunger advising my order.

The Banchan (side dish) assortment brought to the table with every Korean meal was especially delicious on this particular night, and the liberal use of spices made for a very nice warm-up on a chilly February night.

I ordered a variation of Bi Bim Bap that featured short ribs. For the uninitiated, Bi Bim Bap is a a rice dish that comes out to your table sizzling and spattering in a hot stone pot. The rice is topped with various veggies and meat which all get mixed together, topped with a chili sauce, and gormandized down my gullet. This is one of my favorite dishes to eat when it is cold outside and Nam Kang did not dissapoint. If I had any type of gripe it would be that the chili sauce provided was a little on the mild side and didnt give the dish the total amount of kick I might have wanted.

Kim decided to order a pork and tofu dish thats name totally escapes me. The dish was served with a miriad of veggies and even some parts that I couldn't identify. The use of spice and and seasoning in the dish was fantastic and it is certainly something I would try again.

All of our food was washed down with some Korean OB Beer, and of course, a nice robustly flavored bottle of Soju; the omnipresent dinner table accompaniment of Korean meals. It has a slightly sweeter taste than vodka, and is only about half as strong. It is tradition for diners to pour small cups of this for each other throughout the meal.

Our server on this particular visit seemed fairly indifferent with the fact that we were even there, but the food and drink were delivered promptly, and the overall experience was assistive enough for us. I don't think that there are too many diners at this type of resturaunt that go in expecting a 5 star service experience anyway. I can only imagine what some of these poor waitresses must have to endure at times when the drunk crowd rolls in at 2am.

Nam Kang is one of my favorite places to eat in Baltimore. There are certainly better places to get Korean in the area, but this makes a great introduction to the world of Korean cuisine if you would like to introduce those not familiar with this type of fare.

World of Eats Rating - 7/10

Nam Kang on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cooking: Roast Pork w/ Crispy Skin

I love pork. Anything to do with the pig is usually going to end up tasting great. I borrowed most of this recipe from Gordon Ramsay's Sunday Lunch cookbook. I was extremely pleased with the end results and my dinner guests seemed to enjoy it as well.

Ingredients for the Pork:
3-5 Pound Pork Rib Roast
Zest of one Lemon
3-5 Cloves of Garlic (I always prefer more garlic in anything I cook)
Fresh Parsley (Chopped)
3-4 Sage Leaves ( I chopped them)
Onion Powder
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

3-5 Whole Carrots
Half a bag of Red Potatoes
Olive Oil
1/4 Knob of Butter
Plum Sauce
Salt and Pepper

I decided to use a rib roast rather than a loin for two different reasons. Firstly, I think when roasting any cut of meat, having the bone in will always provide a superior flavor than without it. Second, the ribs make packing in the seasoning into each individual pocket nice and easy.

To start, chop up the fresh herbs and garlic, and combine them with the lemon zest.

Pack this mixture into the cavities of the rib roast and rub into the pork liberally. I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of the roast with the herbs rubbed into it, but this was for a dinner party, schedules are tight!

Scour the skin side of the roast in a checkered pattern, then pat it dry with paper towel, rub with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the whole roast up tight with kitchen twine. I happened to be out of kitchen twine on this night so I just used some thick sewing thread. I have even read accounts of people using dental floss to tie their meat, just so long as it was unflavored.

Lay out the roast in a large roasting pan skin side up.

Crank up the oven to 500 F and let the skin get nice and crispy on the outside. I let mine go for about 17 minutes at this temp.

Take the oven heat down to 350F and continue to roast. I highly recommend using a remote cooking thermometer as it gives a great deal of insight on both the internal temperature of your meat and how to balance the timing of your side dishes. I set my thermometer to have the pork at an internal temp of about 160F as i didn't want it to dry out. I worked out the total cooking time to about 72 minutes, as the pork needed about 15-20 minutes per pound.

Quarter the red potatoes and cover them with salt, pepper, and another nice drizzle of olive oil. Add the potatoes to the pork's roasting pan when the meat has about 45 minutes left to cook.

When the pork has reached it's ideal temperature, remove it from the oven, cover it in foil, and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

While the pork is resting, get to work on your veggies. I left my potatoes in for a little longer than originally anticipated just to get them a little crisper all over.

Boil the carrots until they are soft to the fork. Once they are ready add them along with the butter to a sautee pan. Continously ladle the melted butter over the carrots while they are in the pan. At the last second, add a healthy squeeze of the plum sauce and give them a final toss.

Plate and enjoy!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baltimore Restaurant Week - The Wine Market

Every year, restaurants around the Baltimore metro area participate in a week in which diners who might not normally be inclined to try a more adventurous or expensive establishment, have the ability to get a 3 course meal for around 30 bucks. Having argued with a number of friends over which place to sample, we finally settled on The Wine Market in Locust Point. I had never been here before, but the restaurant week menu spoke to me immediately in a way that none of the other places quite managed. Kim and I, along with her brother Denny and his girlfriend Kelly, set out with high hopes of a first class meal. Sadly what was delivered was high on ambition, but mostly missed the mark in execution.

For the first course, Kim opted to try the lobster bisque, while I was certainly not going to miss what was described on the menu as "Duck Confit Galette with Japanese Rice Porridge and Plum Mirin Glaze." We made an attempt to order different things on the menu so each of us could get a little sample of everything.

The lobster bisque was just lazy. The restaurant where I work makes seafood bisques on a regular basis, and they amazingly, wait for it, contain seafood! The Wine Market might argue that this was a fine puree, but honestly the only flavors that came through strongly were that of shrimp and lobster base (the kind that comes in a plastic tub). The squeeze bottle action on top of the soup did add a nice note in terms of presentation, but did little for the taste.

The duck confit dish was one of the reasons that I had initially been attracted to the menu. Anything roasted in its own fat has to be delicious right? Unfortunately it was again, a bit of a let down. Calling this dish a galette really confused me. A galette would usually indicate a pastry crust involved in the dish in some respect, but there was nothing on the duck other than duck. The meat itself was the most disappointing aspect of the dish. When you cook something in fat, it should be moist and tender. The duck was indeed tender, but it was quite dry and did nothing to excite the palate. My intuition was that it had been cooked quite a long time before it arrived on my plate, and had been quickly blasted in the oven prior to serving. The rice porridge and miso glaze actually made a very nice interplay with the taste of the duck. Had the duck been cooked properly, this dish could be a true shining point.

For entrees I chose to try the "Tuscan Braised Monkfish" and Kim went for "Prime Sirloin Roasted with Fine Herbs."

This was my first time trying monkfish. I have read quite a bit about the delights of monkfish liver, which was sadly not a part of this dish, but I certainly cannot fault the chef for not including something just because I wanted to try it. If you have never seen a picture of a monkfish, they are horrid and ugly creatures with huge gaping mouths and razor teeth. For such a ferocious looking fish, I was really quite shocked at how mild the flavor was. I would compare the taste as very similar to Mahi Mahi or Tilapia. It is a typical white fish without a great deal of notable flavor accents. This being said, the fish itself could have used a bit more seasoning. The rest of the dish was really the highlight. The fish was served with "lacinato, prosciutto, eggplant, and fennel topped with a garlic aioli crostini and fried capers ." The resulting flavor of this side dish was almost reminiscent of a tapanade. It was very nice to spoon a little bit of it over the crostini and take a nice crunchy nibble. One word that was included in the description that was painfully absent in the dish was prosciutto. I mean, pork fat makes everything taste better! I'm skeptical as to whether the prosciutto was in the dish at all, and if it was, I certainly didn't notice it. Kelly had the same dish and agreed that she didn't notice any flavor resembling anything from a pig. This dish was again one that tasted as if it was almost there and just missed being fully realized.

I only had a few bites of the sirloin. To the chef's credit, the meat was cooked absolutely perfectly to the ordered medium rare. The "pinenut polenta" the beef sat atop was also quite moist and served as a refreshingly different starch accompaniment. As with the monkfish, the main problem with the beef was that it was just plain bland! Wars were fought over spices and seasonings guys, use them.

Before talking about desert at The Wine Market it should be made clear that I am not normally a fan of sweets in any way. Nine times out of ten, I never order any type of desert at a restaurant and normally enjoy a snifter of Gran Marnier while everyone else at the table gobbles chocolate and ice cream. This being said, the deserts we experienced on this night were quite simply a revelation.

I ordered a "Toasted Walnut and Honey Stuffed Roasted Pear - with Shaved Pecorino Cheese and Spiced Wassail Reduction." I am all for roasting fruits. If done correctly, the natural sugars caramelize beautifully and create a whole new world of flavor without damaging the original fruit's delights. The sharp bite of the pecorino cheese played against the sweetness of the pear and the earthiness of the walnuts perfectly. A large pat on the back to whomever came up with this one.

Kim went for a more simple desert option, but that isn't to say that it is something you would find on too many other menus. A "House Made Spiced Apple Cider Sorbet" brought back memories of going to farms as a kid and tasting the fresh made cider from that season's harvest. The flavor was sharp, light, and fresh. It made for an excellent cleansing of the palate at the end of a meal.

The final course really saved this place for me and I would consider going back to sample the menu outside of restaurant week. They feature an excellent wine selection and have a 20 percent discount on all menu items on Monday nights. If The Wine Market would have just gone a little bit bolder with flavors, I think this review would have been much more celebratory.

World of Eats Rating - 6/10

The Wine Market
921 E. Fort Avenue Suite 135
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: 410-244-6166
Visit: www.the-winemarket.com

Wine Market on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Famous Yakitori One - Maryland Ave, Baltimore

My friend Eric had sent me a link about a new Yakitori restaurant that recently opened in Baltimore. For those who might not know, Yakitori is a wonderful Japanese culinary tradition of grilling various types of skewered meats and veggies. Having spent some time in Tokyo earlier this year, I was enthralled at the prospect of having this type of eatery virtually on my doorstep.

Tonight I made the trip downtown with Kim (my girlfriend) and my buddy Gerry to check out if this place was merely some kind of novelty, or if it could truly be the real deal. I am extremely pleased to say that this restaurant has hit the nail on the head in every respect.

Almost immediately after arriving, the owner came over to the table to greet us and explain the concept behind the restaurant. He also explained that as his place has only been open for about a month, that they are still working on some new ideas and menu items. He told us that he would bring over some new items free of charge in exchange for our feedback. This type of hands on approach with one's customers surely shows an owner who cares about who he is serving and what is being served in his establishment. Bravo sir.

The menu has a large variation of a-la-carte Yakitori choices, combination platters, Japanese Entrees, as well as some Korean choices. Being that it was our first experience with the place, we decided to stick with the Yakitori combination, as well a few Japanese entrees to share.

The first item to arrive at our table was one of the aforementioned "test" dishes. This was explained to us as a New York Prime Steak, partially frozen to be sliced paper thin, wrapped around scallions, and then quickly grilled. I don't know what further testing really needs to be done but this should be a signature dish of the restaurant. It was the perfect size for a single bite, the quality of the meat was excellent, and scallions complimented the steak very well.

Almost immediately afterward, another new dish arrived on the house. A type of fried tofu (I don't recall the name) sitting in a soy based sauce. It arrived with piping hot centers, and was mild in flavor without being bland. I am not normally a fan of softer tofu, but this was quite nice.

Gerry ordered some soft shell crab. I normally wouldn't have gone for this choice as the crab is not locally in season right now. To my surprise the crab was quite good and the tempura batter was not too heavy. The portion was actually larger than what is pictured, but it looked so tempting that my fellow diners and I had to jump in and try it before it occurred to me that I had yet to take a picture.

We wanted to try a little bit of everything when it came to the Yakitori itself, so we opted for the Combination D platter ($29.95). This consisted of a large array of different meats and 30 skewers in total. I should say now that the menu prices here are insanely low. The combination was more than enough to feed the three of us. All of the skewers were tender and did not taste like they had ever seen a freezer. It took me right back to nights in Shibuya.

We finished our dinner with Okonomoyaki. This is a type of Japanese pancake with various toppings finished off with a Japanese mayo. It was probably a bit much to order after all that we had already eaten, but I made room. Okonomoyaki is not in anyway light fare, so I would suggest bringing an appetite if you're going to attempt to tackle this dish.

Famous Yakitori One is exactly the type of place that the Baltimore area has been screaming for. There are no real attempts at being flashy or overly complicated. The dishes were all very straightforward, fresh, and delicious. I will be returning in the very near future, and I suggest you make the trip to try this place as well. It was noticeable in some respects that the eatery is still finding itself, but if they are managing to get this much right this early on, the future should be very bright for Famous Yakitori One.

Yakitori goes best with a group of friends and some beers. Sadly the only draft choice at the time we visited was Coors Light. They had an nice selection of bottled Japanese beer, but I would love to see some draft Asian beer available down the line. This place is open until 2am so its the perfect setting after a night out in the bars. Go seek out this awesome food!!!

World of Eats Rating - 9/10

Famous Yakitori One
2101 Maryland Ave
Baltimore, MD 21218
(410) 332-1100

Famous Yakitori One on Urbanspoon