Monday, August 31, 2009

Best Pizza in Motown

This past weekend, the Detroit Free-Press ranked the top 10 eateries for pizza in the city's metro area. Supino Pizzeria tops the chart, but the whole list is here.

It's a nice list to have for the next time I happen to be in the area.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dining in Greece (Part II)

Greek Dining Habits & Quirks

* The Greeks eat dinner as late as the Spanish do -- never before 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., and usually closer to 9:30 or 10 p.m.

* In all but the most expensive restaurants, silverware is not resting on the table when you are seated. It is generally delivered (along with napkins) in the same basket as the bread that comes to your table.

* As in most European countries, restaurant diners drink bottled mineral water, not tap water. If you open the bottle, pour water into glasses and then leave the cap off the bottle, don't be surprised if a server replaces the cap on the bottle. If you look around, you'll notice that Greeks always seem to put the cap back on the bottle after they've poured water. It's almost an obsession.


When you think of Greece and then think of wine, what probably comes to mind is Retsina wine -- the mediocre wine with the scent of pine resin. Thankfully, you will not find Retsina on the typical wine list over there.

Having said that, don't get your hopes up too high. I drank a lot of wine during my nine days in Greece, and my observation is that the whites can be quite enjoyable to drink, but the reds were generally disappointing.

Wine is generally quite affordable in Greece, even on restaurant wine lists. At a grocery or wine shop, you'll rare pay more than 9 euros ($13.40) for a bottle of Greek wine.

If you're in doubt about which wine to buy or order, Boutari is a respectable producer -- sort of the Guigal of Greece.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dining in Greece (Part I)

Greek cuisine. It feels funny even using such a term because Greek food is distinctly unfussy. After spending nine days in Greece, here are my observations about restaurants and dining over there.

Let me cut right to the chase. Eating in a country like Italy or France is a huge part of the travel experience. This is not the case in Greece. Don't get me wrong -- there are plenty of good meals to be eaten in Greece, but it isn't about the food over there. You don't get the same vibe about mealtime as you get when you're traveling in France or Italy.

Greek Salad

Greek salad is the backbone of the country's cuisine. One interesting note: a Greek salad here in the U.S. is served with small, crumbled pieces of Feta cheese. (Feta is to Greek cuisine what parmesan is to Italian.) In Greece, a Greek salad is served with a rectangular block of Feta, sprinkled liberally with oregano, resting atop the tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion.

The quality of a Greek salad generally rests on the quality and freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers. My friends and I found that in Greece, this is hit or miss -- tomato and cucumber quality depends on where your restaurant happens to get its produce.

Tomatoes on the island of Santorini are supposed to be the absolute best in all of Greece, but we generally ate better tomatoes on the island of Crete.

Greece's "Can't Miss" Foods

1. The thyme-scented honey in Crete (and just about any other honey in Greece) is marvelous. You might even want to consider buying some to bring back home with you.

2. The olive oil is very good in Greece, although I wouldn't say that it was quite as good as the olive oils I've tasted in Italy or Spain. If you are one of those persons who likes to dip bread in olive oil, beware: this is not something that Greeks seem to do when dining out. If you're so inclined, just ask your server to bring some olive oil to the table. They'll be happy to do so.

3. If you like stuffed peppers or stuffed tomatoes, you're in luck. They are standard items on the menus of most Greek restaurants in Athens and the various islands. And they are generally well done.


Like Asian cuisines, Greek cuisine does not take dessert to great heights. The sweet salute to a meal in Greece is usually something pretty simple -- maybe a cake made of crushed walnuts and honey. Or maybe a baklava. Ice cream is also fairly popular among Greeks.

One word of warning. The quality of a dessert in Greece seems to be directly proportionately to what you paid for it. Many restaurants in touristy areas give diners a gratis dessert -- sometimes it's a scoop of ice cream or maybe a piece of walnut cake. These freebie desserts are generally not worth touching.

We had free ice cream served to us at a restaurant on Crete, and one of my fellow diners said it all: "No fruit was harmed in the making of this ice cream."

Having said that, I bought a wonderful piece of walnut cake from a bakery. It was made with honey and chocolate chips. It sounded like a strange mix of ingredients, but it was really good.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Foodies of Pompeii

It was 1,930 years ago this month that Mt. Vesuvius erupted in Italy, destroying the city of Pompeii. Roughly 20,000 people inhabited the city when the volcano erupted.

In their book, Life Is Meals, James and Kay Salter write that the residents of Pompeii devoted a lot of time and energy to good food:
. . . [Pompeii] was known for its fish sauces, its cabbage, and its luxurious villas. There were forty bakeries, many producing the traditional round loaves still made in the area.

Nearby were cultivated oyster beds and shellfish that produced the deep purple dye used for royal togas. There were elaborate wineries with machinery to press and strain grapes, and shops to sell what was made.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Peachy Keen

We are right smack in the middle of peach season in the U.S. It's hard to believe that peaches were non-existent in the continental U.S. until the mid-17th Century. They came from China.

More info about the peach's history can be found at This web page also offers guidance on what to look for when you're buying peaches from a store or roadside stand.

Peaches are one of my favorite fruits, but I have one complaint. Peaches have become so abused by the factory-style production methods adopted by agribusiness interests in this country that what shows up in the supermarkets is usually not worth eating. The skins are tough, and that's probably how the big agricultural interests prefer it -- thinking that blemishes or other surface damage is lessened that way.

Some of it is our own fault as consumers. We tend to buy fruit that looks "pretty" even if doing so seriously compromises the flavors and textures. Our appearance-obsessed society is slowly draining complex and marvelous flavors from foods.

Anyway, this is why I rarely buy a peach unless it is locally grown and/or comes from a farmers market. But if you can find some good peaches, then you've really got something. I found this recipe for a simple peach tart -- it looks tasty and it can be done with canned peaches if you don't have the time or ability to buy good fresh peaches.

I have another recipe for peaches that I will share in an upcoming post.

Foodphoria: Rested and Ready

Sorry that Foodphoria has been silent for the past 10 days or so. I took a much-needed vacation and so did this blog.

I returned from Greece, and I will have a few posts in the coming days to share my foodie experiences and observations about eating and dining in Greece. Much of Greek dining takes place in simple, no-nonsense tavernas -- one is pictured above.

I promise much more commentary about Greek food in the coming days.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's a Walu?

Last night, I met a friend for sushi at Kaz Sushi Bistro, located in downtown Washington, D.C. It's one of my favorite dining spots.

Among the different sushi I ate was a Kaz menu special called "Walu Toro." It was excellent. I wasn't sure exactly what kind of fish this was. Once I got home, I searched the web, found this food blog and realized that Walu is also known as Hawaiian Butterfish.

That made sense to me because the Walu sushi I ate practically melted in my mouth -- very delicate and tasty, not as dense as tuna. Walu is supposed to be wonderful when it's grilled (pictured above).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Holy Sweet Tooth, Batman!

Is it just several large corporations crying "wolf" for the sake of their bottom line? Or is there something to this cautionary cry? According to today's Wall Street Journal:
Some of America's biggest food companies say the U.S. could "virtually run out of sugar" if the Obama administration doesn't ease import restrictions amid soaring prices for the key commodity.

. . . The companies threatened to jack up consumer prices and lay off workers if the Agriculture Department doesn't allow them to import more tariff-free sugar.
I am deeply suspicious of these "sky is falling" threats issued by Kraft, General Mills and other companies. Having said that, I also think it's ridiculous in a country where we have deregulated airlines and other high-cost consumer markets that we would continue to use taxpayer subsidies to protect the domestic sugar industry.

The price supports for sugar are a major reason why so many food companies are driven to rely heavily on high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that many health and dietary analysts believe is fueling obesity and poor eating habits in general.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eleven Madison Park: Even Better

One of my favorite New York City restaurants is Eleven Madison Park. I have dined there several times, and each experience has been fantastic.

The last time I went there to dine, I was almost slightly nervous. Why? To borrow a title from Frost, "nothing gold can stay." In other words, I've learned from experience that most of my favorite bars, restaurants, hotels, etc., eventually lose the qualities that made me initially love them. It seems inevitable.

So I was sort of wondering last year if Eleven Madison Park would impress me less than it had before. It didn't disappoint me one point.

I am left feeling hopeful about future trips to Eleven Madison Park after reading this review by Frank Bruni in today's N.Y. Times -- the newspaper has raised Eleven Madison Park's rating to 4 stars. Clearly, the restaurant is firing on all cylinders.

Not only is the food wonderful, the bar is ably tended, and the ambience is a tour de force.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Lovable Olive

I love olives, whether it's eating them before dinner or adding them to a dish I am making. The Italian deli 15 minutes north uses real calamata olives on pizzas (if you order one "with olives"). Absolutely marvelous.

I found this website, Ode to Olives, created by someone who shares my affinity for olives. And I also stumbled on this web page with lots of info about olives, including the many varieties of olives that are out there.

Did you know why green olives are green? According to this web page, it's because they are deliberately picked before they're ripe.

I love picholine olives. They have a slight bitterness and a briny flavor that is really nice. I have one disagreement with the web page, which says that Moroccan oil-cured olives are "best used for cooking rather than snacking." I think they are equally yummy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Tomato Hierarchy

When it comes to tomatoes, I am pretty confused these days. Exactly what makes an heirloom tomato an "heirloom"?

This article seems to explain the first question: an heirloom tomato is a tomato with pure lineage -- its seed has not been used with any others. But where do "beefsteak tomatoes" fit into this schematic? Are beefsteak tomatoes heirlooms or not?

Whether I will ever completely grasp the tomato hierarchy or not, one thing's for certain. I love eating good tomatoes. They are great with a pinch of salt or a drizzle of olive oil. Or on a BLT.

I bought several beefsteak tomatoes on Sunday from my local farmers market. And I am going to eat one of them later today.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Carrot-Orange Soup

On a hot summer day, chilled soups sure hit the spot. And here's one that I adapted from a recipe found in The Silver Palate Cookbook.

It's a healthy soup, and it's so easy to make -- even people who aren't crazy about carrots are almost sure to like it because of the orange flavor and the slight sweetness.

By the way, this soup can be made ahead. In fact, it will taste better if you make it ahead because that gives the flavors time to meld.


  • 2 lbs. of raw carrots
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of Tropicana or other premium orange juice
  • 1/4 cup of low-sodium, non-fat chicken broth
  • Zest from a navel orange
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon of onion salt
  • 1 tablespoon of Cointreau or Triple Sec (optional)
  • Fresh mint and/or creme fraiche for garnish
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1. Peel the carrots and then cut them into smaller sticks. Drop them in a large saucepan or pot of water -- bring it to a boil on the stove over high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat to a steady simmer. Carrots are ready when the largest stick can be easily pierced with a small kitchen knife.

2. Drain and set carrots aside for a moment. Add the butter to the now-empty saucepan and turn the heat on low until the butter melts. Then turn the burner off.

3. Place cooked carrots in a large electric blender. Add the orange juice, chicken broth, orange zest, ground ginger and sugar. Turn the blender on the high or "puree" setting.

4. Once the soup ingredients are fully integrated in a puree, pour this soup mixture back into the saucepan or pot. Stir thoroughly so that the soup base and butter are well integrated. Then add the onion salt and stir it more. Feel free to add a little more orange juice if you prefer a thinner consistency.

5. Add the Cointreau or another orange-flavored spirit to the soup. Stir thoroughly and then place it in the refrigerator.

6. Serve the soup chilled with fresh mint and a small dollop of creme fraiche that has been sprinkled with fresh nutmeg.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The "Chase Terms" in Recipes

I like to cook, but I usually look for recipes that are less complicated and less time-consuming. I am definitely a full tier below those who cook regularly and who take on the tough recipes. What's a tough recipe?

Well, there are terms that I call "chase terms" -- words you read within a recipe that tend to chase away amateur cooks like myself. These terms signal difficulty. Here is an example of chase terms:
  • cheese cloth
  • clarified butter
  • dry yeast
  • bouquet garni
  • parchment paper
  • creme of tartar
Now, I'm not suggesting that every single recipe with one of these terms is necessarily tough to prepare. I'm simply saying that I've learned from experience or observation that a recipe with one or more of these items is likely to be tough or time-consuming. Plus, most of us don't have cheese cloth lying around our kitchen.

I noticed that posted this forum, asking visitors to name "the most difficult recipe" they had ever prepared.

I like to cook, but I also have a busy job and an active social life. Eating and cooking should fit into my life, not control it. So, for the time being, when I scan a recipe, I will keep looking for those chase terms.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Arlington's Sette Bello

I have only been to Sette Bello in Arlington, Va., two times, but I must say that I have really enjoyed both dining experiences. Other than the mediocre service, everything was excellent.

The food holds up well against several higher-priced Italian restaurants. The polpette all Romana (veal meatballs, which are fried) are extraordinary and are served with excellent onion straws. The sauce, vaguely marinara-like, is just so-so.

The mezzelune (half-moon pasta with pumpkin puree inside) are homemade and superb. I had the veal scallopini last time I was there. It was served in a lemon-caper sauce, and it was wonderful.

Sette Bello is a big place, and they happen to have a nice terrace -- it's very pleasant in the evening (especially during this unseasonably cool summer). The wine list ranges widely in price, but there are good bottles of red that are priced in the thirties. The Chianti Classico by Banfi is one example.

Watermelon Granita

I had one of the most refreshing yet light desserts this weekend. We were staying with friends at their cottage on the Chesapeake Bay, and the dessert was Watermelon Granita. It was a perfect no-fuss summer dessert.

I found this recipe for Watermelon Granita online at the Food Network's site. Three ingredients -- you can't beat that for simplicity. But our friends used a lime instead of the lemon called for in the FN recipe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bananas Foster . . . . Bread

Bananas Foster is one of my favorite desserts, and I suspect that is why this recipe for Bananas Foster Banana Bread caught my eye. It sounds (and looks) wonderful.

By the way, the source of this recipe, Brown Eyed Baker, is a marvelous blog.