Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ithaca NY Eats

1000yregg told me that Ithaca, NY was a runner-up for Bon Appetit's Top Foodie Town last year. Well, whenever Redneckhunter and I go up there to visit his alma mater we always eat well. Of course there's the famous Moosewood Restaurant -- amazing for being a vegetarian restaurant that Redneckhunter enjoys!!

We also always make a nostalgic stop at Collegetown Bagels. I like the bagels (though I'm still a New York City bagel girl), but I always grab a loaf of Ithaca Bakery bread to bring home. My favorite is the Southwest sourdough - this trip (a couple weekends ago) I ate half the loaf on the car ride home!

This trip we also made it to the Ithaca Farmers Market. Great market -- lots of organic local products and produce -- but it was freezing and rainy, so after a quick swing-through we decided to actually sit down and warm up, and eat at the old-school State Diner.

Since we were staying up near the Taughannock Falls, for dinner we went to the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg. Redneckhunter would come out here (about 20 minute drive from Ithaca) to hear bands.

In the mythical land of Rongovia they serve up their own version of Mexican. Like the Moosewood (and unlike most Mexican restaurants in the US), it tastes healthy.

I ordered a butternut squash mac and cheese. Sounds heavy, right? It wasn't - instead it was nice and creamy, but surprisingly not rich. I couldn't discern chunks of squash, until I surmised that I think the squash was actually pureed into the cheese! It was served with housemade chorizo (again, healthy-tasting and mildly spicy) and a sweet mole sauce.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fiola, DC

Fiola is a recently opened Italian restaurant in DC. It marks the return to the area of James Beard award winning chef Fabio Trabocchi. Despite being open only a few weeks, there is already a back and forth on the net about the food from Fiola. However, I had a pretty great dinner there this week.
I was glad to have a fellow DC foodie along so we were able to try several item from their menu. We started with two antipastos. First was Apulia buffalo mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and a pesto of basil Genovese. While simple, the ingredients were fantastic, and the flavors particularly of the pesto were confident and delicious.
We also shared a salad of violet baby artichoke, fava beans, English peas, and mint. The peas were a puree at the bottom of the salad. This was light, beautiful and fresh tasting.

For the pasta course, we shared a spaghetti with Dungeness crab, a sauce made of sea urchin, and sprinkled with red chile flakes. This was a wonderfully complex and rich plate. The urchin sauce was creamy and coated the noodles, and the chile added a nice surprise in the mouth.

For my main course, I ordered the Branzino served on a bed of olive oil crushed potato and topped with a brodetto, a stew of littleneck clams and fish. The fish was perfectly prepared- light and tender, and the "sauce" complemented it well, and had a slight kick to it as well.

My friend ordered the veal chop. This was prepared with a layer of mushrooms all wrapped in proscuitto. It was accompanied by hazelnuts and Jerusalem artichoke puree. It was a contrast to the fish course- much more rich and hearty. The veal was also perfectly cooked.

For dessert, we tried two items. I ordered the fennel gelato with blood orange on top of an olive oil semolina cake. The fennel flavor was so good. It had a licorice-like quality without the harshness. The tanginess of the blood orange and the sweetness of the cake went well with the fennel flavor.
My friend had the trifle of fresh strawberry and lemon granita. Like the other dessert, this was a wonderful combination of flavors: the sweetness of the cream, the sour flavor of the granita, and the strawberries.
We also received a trio small petit fours from the pastry chef including a chocolate chip macaroon.
Needless to say, we were stuffed by the end of the meal. I'm very hopeful for Fiola, and I look forward to returning very soon.

601 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kimko Seafood, Korean Style Sashimi in Ellicott City, MD

I often find that going to Korean restaurants can be challenging. Usually, websites for their restaurants are completely in Korean, and at the restaurant, their menus are only partially translated. However, with research and the blessing of Korean speaking friends, I'm discovering incredible Korean places nearby.

My friends Anna & Davis told me about a Korean style sashimi place deep in Ellicott City, just west of the Enchanted Forest site. It used to be called Bethany Seafood Restaurant, but they recently changed their name to Kimko Seafood. They told me that this place will often have San Nakji, the live octopus sashimi, as well as lobster sashimi.
We went this past evening with a group of friends and ordered a large sashimi course. Alas, they had run out of the octopus that night, but I tried several kinds of sashimi that were new to me.

After toasting with some shots of soju, we started with the bonchon appetizer courses. They warm you up with a wonderful cup of congee. We then proceeded to receive 19 different items on plates and in bowls to get us started. This included a large seafood pancake, a soup with seaweed, potato salad, salmon collarbone, cooked eel, and several other preparations of fish. My favorites were the plate of grilled chicken gizzards, and a hot stone bowl of rice with fish roe. It was an unbelievable spread.

They brought in the "large" sashimi platter which was a 1 meter long wood board chock full of sashimi. Anna told us that Koreans eat sashimi a little different that the Japanese. First, while they sometimes use soy sauce with wasabi, they prefer to dip the fish into kochujang, the Korean style red chili pepper paste.
Also, she told us Koreans prefer fish that tend to be more chewy than the Japanese. Whereas tuna is the staple fish in the Japanese palate, the most popular item for the Koreans is halibut. This was reflected in our "plank" of food as a quarter of it consisted of halibut. I estimate we were served about 40-50 pieces.

On the other end of the board, we received sashimi items, I was accustomed to from eating at Japanese places. We received about 60 pieces of delicious white tuna, salmon, and yellowtail.
In the center, they put the specialty items of the house. These sea creatures were stored alive in tanks in the front of the restaurant, and were dispatched only a few minutes before they arrived at the dinner table.

The first item I tried was the lobster sashimi. We were served only the tail. The rest would come later. It came split open and sliced into bites and topped with some roe. The raw lobster still has a wonderful sweet flavor, but since it is uncooked, the texture is different. There is a little resistance when your first bite in, but just past that, it melts in your mouth.

Next I tried the abalone sashimi. It's texture was close to being like squid or a mushroom. It does not have a very strong flavor.

I was very excited as well to try sea cucumber sashimi. I love cooked sea cucumber which has a slightly rubbery texture like tendon when prepared this way. In it's raw form, it is a completely different experience. It is very briny in flavor, and the texture is similar to raw octopus. I loved it.

Our last and final item might have been the least popular at the table. That was the sea squirt sashimi. I wasn't sure how to eat this, and I did not realize they had a soft shell which you could not chew. Instead you just eat the soft bits. My experience was varied with this item. The first piece I had was bitter, but subsequent bites were less so. I would say I am neutral to sea squirt sashimi.

When we had our fill of sashimi, the remaining parts of the lobster, the claw and the head, followed. Of course, we first welcomed 5 more plates of vegetable bonchon to the table.
With the lobster, they take the remainders and, with some fish, toss it into a spicy broth to cook the whole time we were eating. The resulting soup had a flavorful broth that, despite already eating my fill, I could not resist going for seconds and thirds.
With that course, the meal had ended. We were served sliced oranges for dessert, and we were done. It was an incredible dinner. I'm already looking forward to going back to try their San Nakji.

10176 Baltimore National Pike #116
Ellicott City, MD

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Songkran Festival at Wat Thai, Silver Spring, MD

I went to the Songkran, Thai New Year, Festival held at the Wat Thai temple in Silver Spring, MD this past Sunday. There were dozens of food stands serving different Thai dishes, and even though I arrived as soon as the festival opened, it was already crowded.
Since it was my first trip to this event, I decided to head to the food stand with the longest line first. I made a good choice because it led to my favorite taste of the day, a version of the floating market noodle soup. When I made it to the front, I could see a pile of roast pork as well as other pig parts. They asked me if I wanted everything, and I said, "yes, please".
I received a bowl of dark broth loaded with meat, a soy egg, and rice noodles that were square and came in small rolls. This was topped with cilantro & ginger. At a side table, they told me to add some fish sauce, a spicy vinegary sauce and chili powder. The resulting flavor was sweet and savory, and as I ate, it became more and more spicy.

Now I love all kinds of noodle soups, with authentic Japanese ramen being at the top of the list. I think after having floating market soup, it might just be second on the list, toppling off Vietnamese pho.
When I finished, I proceeded to check out other food stands, sampling small bits of what a could and trying to negotiate for loosies. I felt like Chris Rock from an old skit from back in the day, "How much for a wing? Just one wing."
It seemed like every other stand had grilled satays. I gravitated to one that had pork and beef meatballs. They were drizzled with sweet chile sauce.
I also tried a table that made small savory balls of tapioca filled with pork and chiles.
In the deep frying section of the festival, they were making fresh pork rinds, fried banana, and sweet potato. I had nibbles of all three, the best being the pork rind.

I went on to explore the dessert stands. There was one with that had "soups" that were made of sticky rice or tapioca with fruits, coconut milk and other items. I tried one item that was described to me as Thai "jello", which was a firm custard made with coconut milk on top and taro on the bottom. They also had sweet fried taro cakes that were good.

I made sure I saved room for durian fruit with sticky rice and coconut milk. If you've never had durian, it is a fruit that you either love or hate as it has a strong pungent odor to it. It's texture reminds me of a roasted garlic bulb, soft and a little stringy.
I had another order to eat later, mango with black sticky rice and custard. The black rice is more toothsome than the white rice.

I also picked up a couple curries to eat over the next couple days. First, I had a fish curry. The fish was ground very fine and it was loaded with ginger. I think it's usually supposed to be poured over noodles, but I didn't have any so I used rice instead.

The second curry I got was a red curry with pork belly. This was tasty as well, and again, had a lot of ginger in it.
After this safari, I still have a craving for that floating market soup. It needs to be the next fast food craze.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bojangles' Vs. Popeye's Fried Chicken & Biscuits

It's no secret that Fougoo & I are fans of Popeye's Fried Chicken. I can't call it "Louisiana Kitchen". However, I've always heard from friends who have lived in the South that Bojangles' Famous Chicken & Biscuits makes better fried chicken and biscuits than Popeye's.
I discovered that a short drive from my house to New Carrolton, MD would take me to both a branch of Popeye's and Bojangles' about a half mile apart from each other. I wanted to see who's menu items would reign supreme.
I did drive-thru first to Popeye's then to Bojangles', ordering from both places the two-piece meal with biscuit.
I first compared the two biscuits. On visual inspection, the Popeye's biscuit has a slightly more yellowish color and is just a little less thick than the one from Bojangles'. I've always felt that Popeye's biscuit is a bit too greasy, but I usually cut it with some honey or jam. Bojangles' biscuit is much less greasy, and it is also fluffier. It was clearly better, as I finished the Bojangles' biscuit off. I would most certainly return to try one of their biscuit sandwiches.
Now on to the chicken. The Bojangles' chicken (above) is a little less battered than Popeye's. When you bite into the skin, there is slightly more obvious texture of fried skin. The Popeye's chicken seems to have a little more saltiness and flavor than Bojangles'. My preference between the chickens falls to Popeye's in this case.
I tried a few additional sides. The seasoned fries clearly were dominated by Popeye's. The mashed potato & gravy sides were a draw as Popeye's uses a spicy meat gravy and Bojangles' uses a creamy gravy. Bojangles' offers pinto beans that hold nothing to Popeye's red beans & rice.
Winner: close one, but I would give it to my Popeye's. Loser: me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pambazo at La Fiesta Mexicana, Rosedale, MD

I dropped into Fiesta Mexicana, a small Mexican eatery in Rosedale, just outside of Baltimore for lunch.
I ordered their Pambazo, a sandwich that is thought to have originated from Veracruz. It started with a roll brushed with a red guajillo suace and then pan seared. It's stuffed with chorizo, potatoes, lettuce, crema fresca, & queso fresco. It's really hearty and filling.
I also enjoyed a small lengua taco. I like Fiesta Mexicana also because they do not pull punches on their salsa.

8304 Philadelphia Rd.
Rosedale, MD

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ba Bay, DC

Ba Bay is an incredible modern Vietnamese restaurant that opened at the end of 2010 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington DC. I finally made it down there for a memorable dinner off their recently debuted springtime menu. I was joined by fellow foodie and Ba Bay regular, Leleboo.
I arrived a little early, so I started with a cocktail called the "633" consisting of Brugal rum, St. Germain, & milk punch topped with culantro. It was a fresh tasting starter.

We shared a trio of appetizers. First, we had an "autumn roll", consisting of rice paper filled with egg, jicama, veggies & Chinese sausage. The dip of hoisin sauce and peanut was good. The roll had a nice kick, too from jalapenos inside it.
We got a small portion of their chili glazed wings topped with scallion. They were more sweet that spicy, and they were finger licking good.

The third appetizer was a purple cabbage salad tossed with peanuts & herbs. The magical ingredient though was the dressing, a fish sauce vinaigrette. There was a complexity to the dish combining the bitterness of the cabbage with a little sweet and pungent. It was light and delicious.

For the next course, I ordered their soup special. It was a smoked pork broth loaded with Saigon noodles, which were like segments of udon noodles, topped with braised pork, ham hock, celery, and a soft poached egg. The broth alone was tremendous and complex in flavor.
Leleboo shared her dish, Papa Weaver's grilled pork loin with a fish sauce glaze, accompanied by rice noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts & scallion. The pork was wonderful with a nice crispy skin.
We also shared a side of flash fried cauliflower with chiles. This was also really good.

We ordered two desserts to share as well. First was the Vietnamese coffee milkshake with a small churro in it. They gave us straws normally used to sip bubble tea for this drink, and like Vietnamese coffee, it had a stronger, bolder coffee flavor.
The second dessert was a lemongrass pot de creme with a lime sabayon, pineapple compote and almond crumble. This was spectacular- not at all heavy and a wonderful combination of sweet and sour flavors.

633 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington D.C

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Atlas Room, DC

I had a really good pre-concert dinner at The Atlas Room, in the Atlas neighborhood of DC.
Their menu is unusual in that it is divided by (I hate to use this term) "proteins". For instance, under beef, they list several plates of increasing size so you are able to select a small starter, an appetizer to share, or a larger entree sized item.
I started with the grilled seafood salad which consisted of mussels, calamari, scallops, & shrimp on a bed of Israeli couscous. It was plated with droplets of basil & oil.
My second course was an order of their beef short rib ravioli served with onions, mushroom and an herbed demi-glace.
For my final course, I got one of the medium plates, the saddle of lamb with chickpea puree, fennel, tomato, olives ragout and parsley sauce. The lamb was cooked a perfect medium rare, and was just beautiful.
The restaurant also has a good selection of pre-prohibition style cocktails. I started dinner with a Clover Club made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, housemade Grenadine, lemon juice and egg white. It was sweet and pleasant.
For dessert, I opted to have a second cocktail, a La Rosa Flip. It was Cruzan Blackstrap rum, Java Head Stout, and an egg yolk topped with nutmeg. It was nice and creamy, reminding me of a coffee milkshake.
The Atlas Room makes simple, very well executed plates of food and great drinks. I would say it's probably the best restaurant in the Atlas district right now.

1015 H Street NE
Washington D.C.