We can’t all be winners
September 22, 2008, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Restaurant | Tags:

I suppose it was only matter of time before I found a dud restaurant. I had one super amazing meal, and one truly awful one.

Super Amazing: Haruki East

I’m not a very good judge of sushi. I know that the crap that you get prepackaged in cafeterias and grocery stores is crap, and most restaurant stuff is good. And I know not to judge contemporary-wacky-California-style sushi places by the same standards as more “Japanese” sushi places . And admittedly, I’m still not very good at telling the difference between types of fish; I just know that I like sushi. Given all of that, Haruki East redefined sushi for me!

When I saw that their menu didn’t have too many of those “crazy” modern maki rolls, and didn’t have much else on the menu besides sushi, I thought “Wow, maybe this place really cares about the fish in its true state.” I chose a nigiri combo. Brian was ordering a few kinds of nigiri, and the waitress said “We have otoro today, would you like some?” My eyes lit up and I told him he needed to get some! Neither of us had ever had toro. Oh man, it was beautiful. It was thick, redder than a piece of beef, and so buttery it looked it like it would slide off the rice as soon as you touched it. He only gave me half a piece. 😦 My nigiri was also yummy though. Too often, I’ve had nigiri where maybe they cut the fish too thick, or it was too chewy and I felt like I have to rip it apart with my teeth. But every piece I had was the perfect thickness and they were all extremely soft and tender. Rogue’s Morimoto beer was also a perfect pairing for the meal.

Oh, I also got a tuna-guacamole thing as an appetizer. It was a mild guacamole with chunks of raw tuna in it. It felt kind of decadent eating so much avocado & tuna. It was served with some spicy freshly fried tortilla chips for dipping, but I thought there was way too much seasoning on the chips. For dessert, we had coconut ice cream with fried bananas. It was so-so, but I was still high on toro so I didn’t mind. I want to go back, like every day, but I have so much more eating to do!

Depressing: 3 Steeple Street Bistro

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La Laiterie at Farmstead
September 14, 2008, 9:38 pm
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Dinner @ La Laiterie in Providence

Me: “Grilled Cheese” made of Fig Jam, Goat Cheese, & Mixed Greens; Polenta Fries w/Aioli; House Pickles ($12)

Him: Chicken with Risotto of Mascarpone Cheese and Chantrelle Mushrooms ($?)

I want to share with you all of the cool things I get to eat, but I think I’ll do less “critiquing” about it. I always feel like I come off sounding like a pretentious ass.

I adore “bistro” dining. I wanted to be a little bit daring that night, and almost considering trying foie gras (never had it before) or the pig heart appetizer. Yes, pig heart. But I stepped back a little and chose the Grilled Sardine with Black Pepper Honey & Grilled Lemon as my “adventurous” appetizer. What thrills me most about “bistro” and small plates dining is the way that they mix flavors together that I could never do at home, and the way that there are only a few bites of food that pack in so many different layers. The salty sardine with the black pepper honey together were yummy, but give it a dip in the lemon and it was… complete.

I think this will be one of my favorite places in town. They also have two shops that sell artisanal cheeses & house-made charcuterie stuff, which they also serve at the restaurant . Did I mention I also heart cheese? Then there’s the events/classes such as “Scotch ‘n Cheese” and “Stinky Cheese & New England Beers.” It is a very nice place to take a date; just avoid the stinky cheeses and that garlic aioli.

September 14, 2008, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Life | Tags: ,

It’s been a long time since I bought a new cookbook.  When I first started cooking about 3 years ago, the first book I bought was Everyday Italian. You can probably tell from my menu lists that this and its companion, Giada’s Family Dinners, is what I cook from the most.  Yeah I know, Food Network pimps her cleavage and she has a funny bobblehead but I like her food. These were the few cookbooks that I looked at and thought, huh, I could eat these foods every day. They’re very easy and quick to make, light, and many of the recipes are not meat-centric.

I try to choose cookbooks the way I choose my knitting books: only ones that I’m sure I’ll need/use and that aren’t too trendy or gimmicky. So far, each of my books has its purpose and I like it that way.

Last week, I had a $15 Border’s gift card to burn. Inspired by the previews of the gorgeous new Alinea & El Bulli books coming out, and the adventures of French Laundry @ Home, I felt it was time for me to get a new cookbook. Oh no, I did not buy any of those masterpieces, I went a little bit more practical. Baby steps.  I  settled on the Les Halles cookbook, because of my new interest in French bistro and because it seemed challenging yet manageable. However, the book was $37 so I walked out of the store empty handed. Being the bargain shopper that I am, I went home and checked Borders’ website where the book was listed at 20% off. The book was a cheaper to start with, they accepted the gift card, I got free shipping, and I saved on sales tax. All in all, the book is now in my hands for $10 less than what it would have cost me at the store.

pretty embossed cover of Les Halles

pretty embossed cover of Les Halles cookbook

I’m starting to have second thoughts about tackling these recipes. First apprehension is that I have to find the time. Not just to cook, but to make the accompanying stock, aioli, compound butter, and those other random sauces that you pour into a squeeze bottle and squiggle around the plate. Second, what if I can’t make most of the stuff because I can’t find the ingredients? I have to look in the phonebook for a butcher and fish monger! Pheasant, monkfish, skate? They sound so foreign to me! Ok, I admit this fear is silly. The ingredients aren’t foreign at all and I should be able to find them in a city like PVD or Boston. Third, I’m afraid of having to actually cook this stuff. I am really bad at cooking meat because I haven’t had much practice. What if I spend all of that time and money tackling ingredients and I screw it all up? Look for my screw-ups in the future.

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Shopping Day
September 10, 2008, 2:55 pm
Filed under: Shopping Day

I’m feeling more organized in the kitchen now. I have finally planned out a week of balanced meals and kept track of what I spent. Grocery shopping is a little harder than it was before but I won’t go into details. We’ve got busy schedules and only one car, which B uses Monday, Wednesday Friday. We were low on food and on time to shop, so I ended up doing the shopping this week without a car. My only bus/walk accessible options are farmers’ markets and one independent local grocery store. I could get to a Whole Foods but I might have to take more than one bus. I might have to look into that though, because the local grocery store was sooo expensive – even more expensive than Whole Foods! I also wanted to get scallops, but the little market didn’t even have them. I probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway.

This week I spent about $55 on groceries. That’s not too bad, I guess, but I think I might be short one or two dinners, and I had to think really carefully about how to stretch ingredients.

$24 @ farmers’ market
eggplants (3)
zucchini (1)
yellow squash (2)
green onions
garlic (3)
pint of cherry tomatoes
red bell peppers (3)
dozen eggs (they were collected this morning! and they cost the same as organic eggs @ WF)

$30 @ local marketplace
mozzarella cheese (national brand, not even local)
Puffins cereal
elbows macaroni ($1.50 for a brand that is always on sale @ big stores for $1)
baby spinach
deli cheddar cheese
deli ham
lemons (3) (non-organic, non-local lemons, and they were $1 each! ouch)

The Menu (Tuesday – Tuesday)

– Red pepper, Goat Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomato Omelettes with salad
– Burgers (from freezer), Spinach Orzo salad
Ditalini pasta, salad or squash (2 days)
– Marinated Grilled Vegetables, Lemon Spaghetti (2 or 3 days)

September 8, 2008, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Life

On the first day of school, I left my Sigg water bottle in a classroom. I didn’t notice it was gone until I was home that evening, so I went back the next day and it was gone 😦  It was so cute and I only had it since March. There weren’t even any dents in it! I’m so mad at my myself.

You know what’s worse? I heard that Sigg is too popular now, and they can’t keep up with demand so stores are selling out/raising prices. Must I drink out of plastic like a plebian???

Eating Providence, part 2
September 4, 2008, 12:45 am
Filed under: Restaurant

I don’t review every place I eat at, just the places that stand out or are unique in some way. There are a lot of places I end up at that may not be bad but I don’t feel like reviewing them because… well, how many American bar & grill places do I want to write about? Read more for mini-reviews.

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Eating Out in Providence, pt 1
September 4, 2008, 12:39 am
Filed under: Restaurant

I had a few noteworthy meals this past month that I forgot to write about. I’ve been reading up on the Providence food scene, and we’ve been checking out some of the popular places first.

1) CAV

CAV (pronounced “cahv” like the french word for cave) is mentioned in just about every article about places you should go in Providence. It’s tucked away in an almost deserted, quiet warehouse district. Inside, the place looked like the home of an old, wealthy person who sailed his way around the world and collected artifacts from various countries. Or like that store Bombay at the mall, except their artifacts are truly hundreds of years old, and you too can buy a 14th century Chinese bust for $12,000. No lie.

On weeknights, they have a “bistro menu” that includes a salad and a smaller portion of about 4 entree choices for only $17. I chose the bistro menu and my entree was rolled pasta stuffed with chicken, spinach, walnut, and herbed cheese mousse and cream sauce, then sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and garnished with a parmesan cheese cracker.  This smaller portion came with I think 3 or 4 of these canneloni-like rolls, and it was plenty. In fact, I didn’t even finish it. It was yummy and very rich. What a great value!

My date had Sesame-Crusted Tuna with a Wasabi Aioli, which also came with a cucumber & carrot maki, and pickled cucumber salad ($27). The tuna was served rare, but not rare enough for the way we prefer our tuna. Thumbs up nonetheless. The wasabi aioli was much milder than I expected. I want to slap some on a sandwich one day.

Dessert was Mascarpone Mousse, with shaved chocolate and amaretto cookie crumble ($6.95). And an Irish Coffee for me! My only complaint was the absence of whipped cream on the coffee.

2) Julian’s

Julian’s is known for a hip atmosphere and wild menu. Their online menu only partially reflects the amazing creations that were on the specials menu. I regret losing the slip of paper that I wrote my dinner descriptions on. I had a really hard time choosing what to have because everything on the (long) specials menu sounded awesome. Eventually, I went with Curry-Crusted Tofu with Sesame Sticky Rice Balls and Beet Carpaccio. (That’s beet, not beef) I think that this item was from the selection of Appetizers/Lighter Fare. The plating was really pretty: on a rectangular platter was a landing strip of thin slices of beet, then 5 little triangles of tofu, each triangle topped with a black sticky rice ball and a single leaf of arugula. I tried to take a picture but it was too dark. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this dish. The tofu was heavy on the curry spices but the rice balls were also very heavily spiced with Indian flavors. It just wasn’t for me.

Since I didn’t like my dinner, I had to get the dessert. A Chocolate Pound Cake with Homemade Vanilla Marshmallow and Caramel and Chocolate Sauces. The hot cake was crunchy on the outside, and oozy gooey on the inside. The marshmallow was the real star though! A giant homemade marshmallow rolled in toasted coconut was sitting on top. This experience redefined my notion of “marshmallow”! For the first few bites, I thought I had misunderstood and that this was marshmallow ice cream because it had a similar texture to ice cream without being cold. I liked it so much that when I later saw some fresh vanilla marshmallows at Whole Foods (for $5, ouch!) , I got them and we finished them in about 3 days. Now I’m thinking about making my own.

I don’t know why their website says that they are open “9 am – 5 pm”; that’s just silly. We were there around 9 or 10 pm on a weeknight, and we still had to wait for a table. Julian’s has an awesome selection of vegetarian food (way more than stir fries or pasta primavera!) and a really good beer menu. Brian had a Creme Brulee Stout that tasted like liquid candy. I could smell the caramel-iness from across the table. They are also known for their homemade ketchup. Even though I didn’t like my dinner, I definitely want to go back and try a bunch of the other things on the menu that sounded good.