Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Dark Chocolate Tease

Through the years, Consumer Reports magazine has reviewed just about everything that Americans buy -- from automobiles to kitchen appliances. So why not add dark chocolates to the list of CR's reviewable subjects?

CR's panel of experts recently tasted and rated a 14 different brands of dark chocolate bars. Are you ready to be shocked? According to CR's website:

The champion has a big chocolate flavor with a smooth melt, and the nibs add an interesting crunch. It costs just 68 cents an ounce ($2.39 per bar) and bested some bars that cost nearly twice as much.

Two other very good bars were also relatively inexpensive: another, which has a complex flavor, is moderately bitter and has a distinct snap when bitten, and another, a tasty bar with no obvious flaws.

So which brands of dark chocolate were rated highest? I wish I could end the suspense, but I can't. If you want the actual ratings, you'll need to click through and subscribe to CR. Talk about teasing your audience. By the way, CR adds this cautionary note to chocolate consumers:

. . . get 'em while they're good. A chocolate industry trade group has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow manufacturers to replace cocoa butter with cheaper fats and still call the result "chocolate."

Why Is It That a Drink Called an "Awful-Awful" . . .

. . . is so damn good? I'm talking about a milkshake, but the only people who realized that from the headline above are probably from the states of Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Believe it or not, that is a real term.

This was something I learned when I spent several weeks working in Woonsocket, R.I. back in the early 1990s. Some colleagues from the local area introduced me to Newport Creamery (a dairy bar) and the drink they call an awful-awful. I fell in love with 'em. Just hearing the term awful-awful puts a dopey smile on my face.

I wrote this post about the awful-awful last July. Proof that New Englanders love their ice cream (and like to reminisce) is the fact that this post has received several comments in the months after I wrote it.

So if you find yourself in Rhode Island and a few of the locals ask if you wanna go buy a "cabinet," don't worry -- they aren't expecting you to purchase a $600 piece of Chippendale furniture. They're only asking you if you want to join them for an ice cream drink. This web page (courtesy of Rhode Island Monthly) can help you make sense of the different names for different beverages.

No one knows how to make BBQ like Southerners. And no one knows how to make ice cream and milkshakes like New Englanders.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Alternative to Ballpark Food

Unless you eat right before you enter a professional baseball stadium, you're doomed to dine on mediocre, seriously overpriced food, right?

Wrong. There is at least one exception. Kansas City Royals baseball fans can bring their own food and beverages into Kauffman Stadium. According to what I was told, the only restrictions are that the food items must be carried in bags or soft thermal containers -- nothing made of glass and no hard-surfaced ice chests.

That's pretty cool. And it's likely to encourage more fans (especially those with children) to attend games because bringing their own sandwiches or other snacks keeps the costs manageable.

BTW, I ate one of those $4.75 hot dogs at Kauffman Stadium, and it was pretty blah.

Granite City Makes the Grade

I'm not a fan of restaurant chains, but they are here to stay. And I'm pleased that there are a handful that do a good job of serving tasty food.

One example is a Minnesota-based restaurant called Granite City. It bills itself as a restaurant and brew pub. I've only drunk one of their featured beers so I can't really weigh in on how good their beer selections are, but the food is pretty darn good.

Just the other day, I ate at a Granite City on the north side of Kansas City with some family members. We all seemed to enjoy our food. I ordered the pork shoulder sandwich. The menu description stated that it would be served on ciabatta bread. I love ciabatta, but I was skeptical whether the ciabatta bread served by Granite City would be a poor imitation of the ciabatta that I'm used to.

As it turned out, the ciabatta they served was excellent. So was the quality of the pork. The burgers also got high marks.

So if you have to pick a chain restaurant to dine at, Granite City seems to be a nice option. I've eaten at three of them, and I had a good meal all three times.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kudos to Midwest

In an era when airlines have proven what we knew all along — i.e., that they were incapable of serving anything worth eating — I must say that Midwest Airlines keeps it simple and tasty.

I'm referring to the two freshly-basked chocolate chip cookies that Midwest serves to each passenger on any flight that's over 90 minutes long.

There's a lesson here: when you don't have access to fresh ingredients and adequate kitchen facilities, simpler is better. Serving multi-course meals on domestic flights — even one-course meals — just doesn't make any sense when airlines are unwilling to invest the money and resources it would take to do it right.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A New Way to Be Pretentious

I'm all for anything that de-mystifies wine and wine-drinking, but I think this is going too far. According to this N.Y. Times article:

Before going to La Cave des Fondus, it’s wise to warn your dining companion that the wine is served in baby bottles.

. . . For the record, the bottles are made of glass, not plastic. The egg-yolk-colored latex nipples have been slit so you can drink, not suckle. And the embossed measurements mean no cheating on the wine pour — you get eight ounces.

The joke is that the French word for baby bottle (biberon) is also slang for a bottle of booze. The idea to conflate the two originated at Le Refuge des Fondus, in Paris, which La Cave is modeled after, down to the tightly set communal tables and benches that require clambering over your neighbors.

It's one thing to lend a casual air to wine-drinking; it's a whole 'nother to lend an infantile air to it. The irony is that drinking wine out of "baby bottles" is at least as pretentious as drinking wine while babbling on with wine-speak terms.

Wine-drinking shouldn't be stuffy. But neither should it be deliberately silly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spicy . . . and Royal

An article from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Executives at McIlhenny Co., the Louisiana company that produces the fiery pepper sauce, have gone to great lengths to document the fact that their product is kept in stock in the Buckingham Palace pantry. And their efforts have earned them the ultimate royal seal of approval.

This year, McIlhenny will become one of just a few U.S. companies to receive a Royal Warrant of Appointment that distinguishes the company as a supplier to the queen.

The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales have their own royal warrants that can be granted to suppliers to the royal family following a tradition begun in 1155. McIlhenny earned its seal from Queen Elizabeth herself.

. . . Tabasco is almost as historic as the distinction it has earned. Created in 1868, the sauce is still produced at Avery Island, where the peppers are grown, harvested and then fermented in white oak barrels before being bottled and shipped.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dreaming of Shortcake

Strawberry season in the mid-Atlantic region is only 3-4 weeks away. So this recipe for strawberry shortcake caught my eye.

I have made shortcake a few times using Bisquick, but I've found the shortcake came out tasting too dry and just a bit bland.

I think this FoodBuzz blogger, Susan Filson, has the right idea. In this post, she writes:

Some [recipes] call for an angel food, pound or sponge cake for the base. I prefer the traditional biscuit shortcake. It is firmer, thus, it doesn't fall apart when you put the berries inside. Also, it isn't as sweet as a regular cake, allowing the strawberries to be the star of the show. I like to adorn my shortcakes with nothing but pure and rich, freshly whipped cream. This is the kind of shortcake that I grew up on, and I'm sticking with it!

Pomegranate Puffery

Are the producers of this pomegranate juice making deceptive claims? Or are they simply launching a cleverly worded advertising campaign?

The Washington Post's David Brown writes:

What exactly does it mean when a bottle of fruit juice wearing a cape declares, "I'm off to save prostates!"? What are we to think when we see the same bottle with a hangman's noose cut from its neck and are told it can "cheat death"?

. . . " 'Cheat death' is simply the use of puffery, tongue in cheek. It's a voice that is frankly designed to cut through the clutter," Matt Tupper, president of Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful, said recently.

But puffery aside, please do believe that pomegranate juice has all sorts of benefits in preventing -- or is it treating? -- conditions as disparate as coronary heart disease, impotence, diabetes and prostate cancer. That seems to be the main message of the company's advertising campaign in the Washington Metro and other high-profile venues around the region.

The rest of the article is here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Weekend of Eating in NYC

Dinner at Cafe Boulud

I have a few restaurant experiences to share from a recent weekend that I spent in New York City.

Centovini on the northern edge of SoHo was fantastic -- Italian in a smart, post-modern decor. I ordered the homemade orrecchiette, which was sublime. My dining companion ordered the duck, which was also good, but not as good as my dish. Desserts were also good.

Centovini's three-course deal for $38 is an excellent value. If I lived in NYC, I would be a fairly regular diner there.

The other night in New York, Cafe Boulud was our destination. It couldn't be more different than Centovini. Cafe Boulud is located on the quiet and stately Upper East Side, just a stone's throw from Central Park. The decor is warm and traditional, and the clientele (and staff) is much blow-dried and dressed-up.

The foie gras au torchon was superb. So was the pancetta-wrapped veal loin. The breads they brought to the table were exceptional. We weren't overwhelmed by the desserts we ordered, but the ice creams that accompanied them (caramel and lemon-rhubarb) were totally yummy.

My base for this trip was the Le Parker Méridien on West 56th Street. The rooms were sort of done up in this Euro-funky decor that worked well. We decided to give Norma's, the hotel restaurant, a try for breakfast. We read somewhere that New York magazine named it "best breakfast" in New York. At least that's what the Méridien's website says.

Eating at Norma's was a frightful mistake. The hotel's website declares that "Norma's makes breakfast fun again!" Only if you like to pay an outrageous sum of money for a lame and dismal breakfast.

The only thing that deserved praise was the fresh-squeezed orange juice. Other than the juice, everything else we was utterly disappointing. The pancakes were barely edible. Norma's had the right idea by serving French press coffee, but someone needs to tell them that the whole point of a French press is to let the person drinking the coffee decide when to stop the brewing process -- instead, they brought it with the press pushed down (and the coffee was much too weak).

If you're staying at Le Parker Méridien, your best breakfast bet is on the same block. Just walk across the street and look to the right for the Dean & Deluca. Pick up a pastry and espresso/coffee over there. You'll be much happier, and so will your wallet.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

N. Wisconsin Food Diversions

If you find yourself driving in rural, northern Wisconsin (as I've been the past few days), you won't run across many Starbucks or other chains. But that's part of what can make these excursions kind of fun.

Heading east of Superior, as I entered the (blink and you'd miss it) town of Iron River I noticed a faded sign for Sue's Pie and Pasties shop, located right off Route 2. I stopped for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. Wild blueberry pie was one of the choices. I ordered a slice, and it was tasty. The crust was just so-so, but the filling was superb -- not too sweet, not too tart, and none of the gooey, cornstarch-laden taste.

A half-hour east of Iron River, in the small town of Ashland, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble onto the Black Cat Coffeehouse. The Black Cat is located at 211 Chapple Avenue in Ashland, only a few blocks south of the Chequamegon Bay. The Black Cat is a cozy place with art displayed on the walls and lots of exposed brick.

The cinnamon roll I ate there with my latte was marvelous -- flaky dough and amazing texture. The Black Cat gets its pastries from the Ashland Baking Company (located directly across the street).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Salt Default

Baltimore Sun food editor Elizabeth Large (restrain yourself from giggling) wrote this recent post on her blog about chefs who oversalt dishes. Excerpts:

. . . it always puzzles me why chefs don't err on the side of slightly underseasoning if they are going to have salt and pepper on the table.

. . . I'm not fanatical about salt. When I cook, I use it on meat and starches but not fresh vegetables. I like salty snacks when I'm in the mood. My blood pressure is good, so I don't have to worry about it.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is more health conscious than I, never salts anything and drives me crazy by actually de-salting pretzels with his fingers before eating them.

. . . The moral of this story is -- well, there is no moral except my usual boring everything in moderation. But the point is, I like salt but I wish restaurant kitchens would go easy with the salt shaker.

I agree. I have noticed that many upscale European restaurants don't even have salt and pepper shakers on the tables. There is an understanding in these places that the chef and other kitchen staff will season foods as they are supposed to be seasoned. I have very rarely experienced food that was oversalted.

I think Americans tend to use more salt than diners across the ocean. But if you're headed for Italy, prepare yourself for the restaurants in Venice -- they terribly oversalt foods, especially fish.

Rising Stars

Food & Wine magazine has posted its 2009 list of Rising Stars -- "to single out the 20 [restaurants] that offer the planet’s most exciting dining experiences of 2009."

The article is right here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Bland World of Rice Pilaf

Rice pilaf. Just the sound or sight of those two words immediately casts a gloomy shadow over a meal. At least that's how I see it.

Rice pilaf is really blah. Sure, there are recipes for rice pilaf like this one (with pine nuts and basil) that sound slightly more interesting. But the key word is slightly. At the food website Simply Cooking, Shannon tells us that rice pilaf is "versatile." But isn't that what the Aussies would say about vegemite?

Why would anyone make rice pilaf when they could make risotto?

I find couscous, spaetzle or almost anything else to be much more appetizing than rice pilaf. To me, rice pilaf is what you make when you don't want to make a real side dish. But I'm sure there are some people somewhere who really like rice pilaf. Maybe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Restaurants' Poor Use of the Web

The Internet can give ordinary people immediate access to valuable, consumer-empowering information. But are restaurants still using the web as if this were 1995?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is "yes." From what I've seen when I explore restaurant websites, too many restaurants still have outdated menus posted. In recent weeks, I have even found a few upscale eateries with "autumn" menus posted.

Hello? And why haven't restaurants taken the initiative to post their "specials" for lunch and dinner on their websites. In this era of texting and IM-ing, that's not an unrealistic expectation.

I am dining tonight at Blue Duck Tavern, and it would have been nice to be able to peruse the special appetizers and entrees hours before my meal.

Restaurant owners and managers need to understand that diners (especially we "foodies") want more from a website than their street address, their chef de cuisine's bio or the menu they posted on there two months ago.

More restaurants need to provide a means for diners to make online reservations -- or participate in sites like, which make reserving tables more convenient. As lovely as they may think their recorded phone-music sounds, we are busy people and aren't willing to navigate their automated phone system just to make a rez.

Australia's Wine Woes

Slate's Mike Steinberger writes:

Depending on who's doing the counting, exports of Australian wines to the United States fell by 15 percent to 26 percent in value last year; whatever the precise figure, the arrows are all pointing sharply downward . . .

Foster's may be Australian for beer (mate); it appears that screwed is now Australian for wine.

There are several culprits, according to Steinberger. Currency exchange rates, droughts in Australia's wine country etc. But one of the sources deserving of blame, writes Stenberger, is the cheap wine Yellow Tail. Read more right here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Favorite Wines Under $50

I was glad Saveur magazine had this article on six sommeliers' favorite bottles of wine under $50. But I was disappointed that most of the sommeliers offered sparkling wines (something most of us don't drink much year-round) as their choices.

Not only that. One recommendation was the Julien Fouet Crémant de Loire, NV -- a sparkling wine that I'm willing to bet is next to impossible to find in most wine shops.

Oh well. The article is still worth checking out.

I have a few inexpensive wines to suggest for wine drinkers who have the recession on their minds. Both are available at most Whole Foods outlets -- the Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon and the Quattro Mani Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. Both can be purchased for under $12. Great values.

The Food Police Are at It Again

I almost never drink sodas with sugar and, yes, I believe that they can have a negative effect on health if consumed in large quantities. But I am getting tired of political officials who behave like the food police -- trying to use taxes and laws to harass producers of foie gras, marketers of sodas, and other food producers.

The latest example: New York's health commissioner is making a pitch to start adding a special tax on non-diet sodas. Here's the N.Y. Times article about it.

When it comes to food, government's role should be limited to the following:

1) Inspect and monitor industrial and retail food preparation for safety and hygiene standards; and

2) Ensure that farmers, food producers and food retailers provide complete, accurate information on the ingredients and methods used to produce or prepare their products.

If there's some other role that government should play, I sure as hell can't think of it. The same politicians who whine about sugar/obesity and foie gras are the same people who are willing to consider watering down the standards for "organic" to benefit their campaign contributors and friends.

I don't think the average politician or government bureaucrat gives a hoot about the public health. Their real interest is public grandstanding and/or raising taxes.

Considering what a great job our politicians did policing the banking and securities market, why shouldn't we let them act like food police?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tea: The Gateway Drug

In 1757, an English pamphleteer named Jonas Hanway was determined to sound the alarm to his fellow citizens.

At that time, members of the wealthier classes in England were drinking coffee or chocolate. Tea, on the other hand, was the preferred drink of the masses. And in Hanway's opinion, commoners had to be dissuaded from drinking tea -- a beverage that he labeled "a drug."

It seemed to bother Hanway that tea drinkers consumed this beverage "when they are thirsty and when they are not thirsty." In his 1757 pamphlet, Hanway wrote:

"When [tea] is genuine, it hurts man; when adulterated or dyed, it has been found poisonous . . . What a deplorable situation is that poor creature in, who having but three pence or a groat a day, consumes a quarter part or more of her income in the infusion of a drug which is but a remove from poison."

I suppose advertising and "message development" had not yet evolved to the point that Hanway could have suggested this slogan:

This is your brain. This is your brain on tea. Any questions?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Adapting a Vietnamese Tradition

Have you ever heard of banh mi pho? I hadn't until I read this article at the N.Y. Times. It's a classic street-vendor sandwich in Vietnam -- kind of like the Hoagie of Vietnam. According to the article:

Fred Hua’s banh mi pho does not look like a cultural revolution. But in its juicy, messy way, it is. Served at Nha Toi in Brooklyn, where he is the chef and owner, banh mi pho is stuffed with the ingredients for pho, the sacred soup of Vietnam: beef scented with star anise and cinnamon, fresh basil and crunchy bean sprouts.

“I could never get away with this in San Jose,” said Mr. Hua, referring to the city with a large Vietnamese-American community in Northern California, where he grew up. “New York has a history of being open to creative ideas.”

If you haven’t tried a classic banh mi, imagine all the cool, salty, crunchy, moist and hot contrasts of a really great bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Then add a funky undertone of pork liver and fermented anchovy, a gust of fresh coriander and screaming top notes of spice, sweetness and tang.
You've got to admit that the preceding description doesn't make bahn mi sound all that tasty.

Introduced to Vietnam by the French in the early 20th century, the first banh mi (pronounced BUN-mee) were just bread, butter and ham or pâté — the traditional, minimal Parisian sandwich. “Then, the Saigonese made things interesting,” said Andrea Nguyen, a writer and food historian, referring to the riot of garnishes that lifts the sandwich from good to genius.

Tipping for Takeout

In this post, Washington Post food writer Tom Sietsema considers the question: how much should one tip for a takeout meal?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

D.C. Restaurant Riffs

I had an excellent lunch at Bistro Bis the other day with my friend, Lauren. She ordered what Bis called a "pork cannoli." When it arrived, sure enough — it looked a little like cannoli. But it was shredded pork inside a soft crepe-like roll.

She let me taste it, and it was delicious. I ordered the duet de saumon, a house-cured salmon + a seared salmon. Both were excellent.

The only disappointment was dessert. I ordered the carrot cake. If I had to give it a grade, the cake part would have earned a B-. Traditional cream cheese frosting would have been better than the uninteresting gelatinized topping that the pastry chef produced.

Better option: Bis's apple tart.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lunch at Michel Richard's Central was excellent. I wish they offered a better range of wines by the glass, but I must admit that the ones they offer are good. I drank a glass of white from the French region of Savoie.

I started with a frisee salad (which came with a poached egg on top). It was wonderful.

My friend had a cheeseburger, which he was very pleased with. I had the roast salmon with lentils. It was cooked perfectly. Their fries are always tasty.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Food Ideas From the Tube

I watched a few interesting cooking shows last night. The first was Lidia Bastianich's show, on which she prepared turkey meatballs.

The meatballs were non-traditional -- they included ingredients such as pine nuts and golden raisins -- but I'm willing to bet they were good. She prepared a sauce made up of sauteed garlic, tomato paste, chicken stock, and some veggies (onions, celery and carrots) that had been pureed.

(I couldn't find Bastianich's recipe online, but this recipe was pretty close to what she did.)

Bastianich said the turkey would lower the fat content (as opposed to using veal or pork), but she fried the meatballs in order to brown them. Doing this probably negated any advantage to using turkey, but whatever.

One strange thing is that she served the meatballs with corn on the cob, which was cooked or braised in the tomato-based sauce that she made. That would either be really good or really bad.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Last night, I also watched a couple of cooks on "America's Test Kitchen" discuss how to make a better blueberry pie. I love pie so (as you can guess) I was listening closely.

They talked about how so many blueberry pies that are made have that gummy, gelatinized texture -- in other words, it's about the corn starch, not the blueberries. So the cooks probed a few ways to make a blueberry pie that isn't like this, yet still holds its shape better than many blueberry pies.

They did two things that succeeded. First, they took about a cup and a half of the blueberries and simply cooked them in a saucepan until they sort of turned into a loose jam. This, they said, released the natural pectin within the blueberries. Then they added this to the other blueberries. Second, they used one tart apple in the recipe, grated it and added it to the blueberries. They said the tartness of the apple would work well with the berries. Plus, apples are naturally high in pectin and that would help give the pie filling, once baked, form and stability.

The pie they baked looked very good, and it definitely wasn't soupy. Nor was it the other extreme -- the gummy, corn-starchy texture that store-bought pies tend to have.

I may give this new-fangled recipe a try the next time I am baking pie.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Disappointed in Pete's "Apizza"

When I heard that a place called Pete's was bringing New Haven-style pizza to Washington, D.C., I was as excited as anyone else who has ever eaten pizza in that Connecticut city. Last night I ordered a takeout pizza from Pete's (there's not really a seating area to eat in). This was my first taste of Pete's Apizza, and I was really disappointed.

The toppings were excellent (great calamta olives and good pepperoni), and the crust was good, albeit not quite what you'd get at a New Haven institution like Frank Pepe's. But those were the high points.

Now, here's why I was disappointed. The cheese didn't work for me. I don't know if they used too much parmesan or peccorino (or something else), but I didn't like their mixture of cheeses. I'm a traditionalist who prefers that nearlyall of the cheese be mozzarella.

And the tomato sauce was dismal. It tasted like something out of a jar of Chef Boyardee. Very, very bland. To the owners of Pete's, I have some advice. Go and buy a takeout pizza at Vace's deli (pronounced voch-ay) on Connecticut Avenue and find out how a superb tomato sauce can transform a pizza.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Walnut-Grapefruit Salad

I was checking out recent posts at one of my favorite food blogs: Eat Life. They posted this recipe for a salad with a walnut oil vinaigrette.

It looked very good.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Missing Some Details

One of the letters to the editor in the April issue of Details magazine:

The write-up of the Wiener's Circle in Chicago ("The Best Late-Night Eats in America" by JJ Goode, Jan/Feb) is a bit misleading.

First, I have never seen an order of regular fries look like the ones in the picture; usually the fries are quite offensive and are only ordered as a joke or as a result of a dare.

Second, the joint has been closed since your story appeared because of health-code violations.

Chicago, Illinois.

I have no idea what Chicago eatery (present or former) our friend Dylan is writing about, but the text of his letter has me intrigued -- French fries ordered as "a dare"?

Maybe that explains why the place was shut down.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Carrot Cake Ice Cream?

Yes, it happens to be one of several very unconventional flavors that the L.A. Times' David Lebovitz is embracing. In this article, he writes:

. . . when it comes to making ice cream, I've been learning how unlimited my imagination really is.

Vanilla may be the most popular flavor, but being popular isn't everything (which I kept telling myself in high school), and I sometimes find it hard to get excited about a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream.

I like vanilla as much as the next guy, but I rarely eat a scoop all by itself. At my table, it invariably gets paired with a warm apple pie, a fruit and berry crisp, or I douse it with chocolate or caramel sauce.

And although I do like the classics, lately I've been using ice cream as a base for some wacky flavors, including an earthy buckwheat ice cream, extra-tangy frozen lemon yogurt enlivened with a few crystals of citric acid, and carrot cake ice cream, which combines everything I love about carrot cake in one colorful scoop.

Carrot cake ice cream sounds good. I agree with Lebovitz' view of vanilla, but I don't view cookies as a necessary companion to ice cream. But, hey, to each his own.

Anyway, the article above contains links to some of these new-fangled ice cream recipes.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Fromage Fest on Wheels

That's essentially what a cheese cart is. The cheese cart holds a special place in the hearts of so many foodies. It has enough appeal that at least one New York City restaurant built its menu (and appeal) around the cheese cart.

The cheese cart -- or chariot du fromage as it is sometimes called -- can still be found in many restaurants in the French countryside. But it is harder to find in the restaurants and bistros of cosmopolitan Paris.

For this reason, the N.Y. Times' blog Bitten reports with a tone of pleasant surprise on a Parisian restaurant where this tradition endures:

Ahem. Presenting the cheese “plate” (or tray, or table-filling platter) at Restaurant Astier, a 60-year-old bistro in the 11th arrondisement . . .

The cheeses are splendid, but equally important is supporting the old tradition (before worries about sanitation overtook the world) at your table, where you can pick it to death until someone else asks for it. (You can even ask for it back.)

This discourages ordering dessert. In fact it discourages ordering much of anything besides red wine. But it sure is fun.
I am a dessert person, not a cheese person. But my spouse gets this dreamy-eyed, contented look (that is most charming) whenever the cheese cart or cheese tray appears before him.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's One Tasty Tavern

I had another excellent meal at The Liberty Tavern, located across the river in Arlington, Va. Everything was superb, starting with the bread basket.

They don't offer a lot of wine-by-the-glass choices, but the ones they have are good.

New Ballpark, New Food

Earlier this week, officials for the New York Mets baseball team opened their new stadium to let media check out the food and dining options. According to Serious Eats-NY, there are several star-quality chefs behind the eateries at Citi Field:

Danny Meyer will oversee the Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, El Verano Taqueria, and Box Frites booths behind home plate, as well as all the food and drinks at the Delta Sky360 Club, the premium-ticket-holder area with enough room for 1,600.

Esca's Dave Pasternack will oversee the Catch of the Day fish shack just beyond right field. And Drew Nieporent of Nobu and Tribeca Grill consulted for the Acela Club, the 350-seat restaurant overlooking left field.

. . . We'll see how this translates to real game days — this weekend, the Mets will host the Red Sox for two exhibition games — but with people coming into this with such low generic stadium food standards, they will probably leave impressed. And full.

I wish the food at Nationals Park here in Washington, D.C. looked half this tasty.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Talking Food in N'Orleans

I sat down at my banquette last night, prepared to eat a quiet dinner at Herbsaint, which happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans.

As fate would have it, I got into a very pleasant conversation with the diner seated adjacent to me. She told me that she and her companion were just finishing their meal at Herbsaint and they'd loved every minute of it.

She also described the nightmarish dinner they'd experienced the night before at Restaurant August -- example: entrees arriving only a few minutes after they'd started eating their appetizers.

I took her observations very seriously. Why? Because she happens to be the chef instructor of the Le Cordon Bleu program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago.

Alisa: Thanks again to you and your dining partner (didn't catch his name) for giving me the latest on the Chicago dining scene and talking restaurants with me.

BTW, my dinner at Herbsaint turned out much like theirs -- delightful. Excellent service and creative food that is masterfully prepared. I ended my meal with the Banana Brown Betty Tart. God, was that dessert amazing.

If you want to see a photo of the tart, along with its recipe, click right here.

Welcoming Strawberry Season

Strawberries are making their season debut in California, and they will start ripening over the next several weeks in much of the country, including my region: the mid-Atlantic. I like making strawberry-rhubarb crumble, especially with local or regionally grown strawberries.

This info comes from the website Recipzaar:

. . . the strawberry is a member of the rose family and has grown wild for centuries.

The most common American variety is the result of crossbreeding the wild Virginia strawberry and a Chilean variety. This has produced a hardy berry that is able to withstand both shipping and storage.

More flavorful, is the European Alpine strawberry -- tiny exquisitely sweet wild strawberries of France known as fraises des bois. They are considered to be the "queen of strawberries."

I have tasted fraise des bois, and they are magnificent.