Monday, June 30, 2008

Maker's Mark and ice cream anyone?

While visiting Columbus this weekend, we finished dinner and had to decide where we were going to have dessert. I fully expected to be hit with the "Hey let's go to Graeter's!" reply. Instead I got "Let's go to Jeni's."

Jeni's? What's this Jeni's stuff. More importantly, when did she move to Columbus?

I have a pretty good handle on what goes on in Columbus' food front. This, however, just broad sided me. I had initially thought it was this place that was in Worthington (which I didn't like). Josh said they had one in Grandview and Short North. Well this weekend was Comfest. There was no way in hell I was going to Short North. So off to Grandview we went.

Let me start by saying the line was out the door, albeit a short one, out the door nonetheless. From my view on the sidewalk it appeared to be the best decorated ice cream parlor interior I'd ever seen. With milk bottle lights, modern color schemes, and well tied together concept the outward appearence was very smart. It reminded me a lot of Capagiro in Philadelphia, but even nicer.

The line actually moved pretty fast. So I get inside and take a look at the flavors. Hmmmm. Thai Chili? Reisling Poached Pear Sorbet? Coriander Rasberry? Maker's Mark Buttered Pecan? C'mon, man. How do you come up with Maker's Mark Buttered Pecan? Well, that was it. That's what I was getting. After paying we all went outside with our booty and dug in. I can say that it was a very, very creamy ice cream. I could definitely taste the bourbon in the ice cream, but it was strangely tasty. It's like when Andrew Zimmerman bites into {insert animal}'s testicle and says, "Very nice! You wouldn't think it would be that good, but it really tasty!" It was surprisingly tasty. Columbus really does have some good ice cream places like Graeter's, Jeni's, Brewster's.

What I like about the whole experience is that you have someone who has really thought out the flavors they have put together. In most cases you go to an ice cream shop and it's pretty much the same flavors with slight alterations. At this place you're really trying some unique combinations that go well together. Not just being different for the sake of being different. In terms of ice cream this just might be the most unique thing I've seen. But don't take my word for it, if you're in town try it. It's a pretty unique experience.

Jeni's Fresh Ice Creams on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 29, 2008

This is what I believe to be the best BBQ in Ohio

During my weekend swing through the state capitol I went to my favorite lunch spot, City Barbeque in Upper Arlington. I'm not going to go too far into the subject of barbeque because, frankly, it could end up being a very long post. Most people have varying degrees of passion about how how much sauce there should be, how long it should cook for, etc. I personally prefer the Carolina BBQ myself, but will eat it if it's from Kansas City, Memphis, Texas or whatever; I just love to try them all.

This is one of the places that was discovered while being broke going to school. I knew I could always get people to go with me because it was cheap, and more importantly very good. Whether it was classamates or coworkers at Scioto CC we could always round up a posse for dinner. My Dad would call it "food that sticks to your ribs". I think this place would be a huge hit on the west side of Cleveland.

Smoked for 14 hours, City runs the gammit whether it's pork, chicken, brisket, turkey, or Texas sausage. If your not a vegetarian, there's something for everyone's taste.

The sauce has a vinegar zing to it that just really agrees with the palatte. This, too, is incorporated in the baked beans (that have sizeable chunks of brisket in it) that are unmatched. I have actually tried a number of recipes to try and recapture the magic and have been very unsuccessful. The sides are the usual BBQ fare. While I can't say that I've had them all, the one's I have had have all been good.

Everyone I've ever taken to this place always walks away happy.

While I don't typically have dessert when I eat here; I have a friend who absolutely loves the banana pudding with 'nilla wafers. After gorging myself on one of the full slab dinners, I tapped out. My buddy Doug decides he's going to get a pint of the banana pudding. I thought there was no way he was going to get all the way through it. As I looked over not only has he polished off the pint, he went back up to the counter and order a quart sized container and finished that as well!

"Did you like it?", I asked.

"Damn dude, that's good stuff."

Good stuff. That pretty much sums it up.

City Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A New Top Chef is Crowned

Season four of Top Chef has crowned a new winner, Stephanie Izard of Chicago.

The challenge was to make a four course dinner. The day before the dinner is to be cooked the contestants were given a choice of celebrity chefs, (who would also be the guest judges) to be their sous chefs. Each chef had certain proteins that were assigned to them. So not only were you picking the proteins but you were picking the chef to go with them. I was pretty stoked to see the guest judges: Eric Ripert Le Bernadin, April Bloomfied of Spotted Pig, and Dan Barber of Blue Hill. Can you imagine what it must be like telling these guys what you want and how you want it done?

Let me start by saying that this is one of my favorite shows. However, this season was really kind of strange. Don't ask me how a hack like Lisa Fernandes made it to the final three. Granted, she finally cooked good food. It may have taken the ENTIRE season to do it, but I must admit I was a little nervous she was going to win the whole thing. One good week does not make a Top Chef.

Richard Blais, who was my horse from the beginning, was a surprising disappointment. He simply lost it. I agree with the judges assessment that he over thought his approach. The only dish he nailed was the dessert (which I think he had recycled twice during the season).You hate to see something like that happen to someone who clearly lives for food. I don't feel too bad for Richard, though, he could end up being the most successful of all of them.

Stephanie was a deserving winner. Going into the final I knew she would cook solid food. In order for her to lose someone was going to have to wow the judges. She was just a solid performer week in and week out. She was definitely the tortoise in this long race. Steady as she goes.

So now the depression sets in. What am I going to do on Wednesday nights? I guess I'll just go out to eat.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who here can say they had dinner with Paul Newman? I can't.....(but I did eat at his restaurant).

For the last few years I have been visiting a project we have in Pound Ridge, NY. When I go to these places I always scope out potential restaurants of interest. The Dressing Room in Westport, CT has been at the top the list for quite a while. Typically, when I've had a long day I usually say, "Screw it. I'm tired and I just want to go back to the hotel." Once I've taken a shower and checked emails I usually end up eating somewhere nearby. By nearby I mean less than a quarter mile. Finally on Wednesday I had a thunderstorm shortened day that left me with nothing to do the rest of the day. This was my opportunity to hit the Patagonia store and finally eat Michel Nischan's healthy, sustainable and culturally significant food .

The Dressing Room is a joint venture between Michel Nischan (who is currently a candidate for a James Beard award) and Paul Newman. The two men are using this restaurant as platform to showcase the local food producers and raise awareness of sustainable food production.
I'll start by saying that I really liked the menu. Not just what was on the menu, but was actually in the menu. What I found cool was that the front page of the menu had about 6-8 small blurbs about individual food types of food information about actual food producers, and local goings on (they hold farmer's markets on Thursdays and Sundays). One thing they talked about was how they eliminated both spring and sparkling bottled water. They bought a reverse osmosis machine that purifies water and also carbonates it so that it doesn't need to be shipped in.

Since I had a long drive ahead of me I wasn't interested in eating a big meal. That being said, I ordered the Spring Pork Platter that had pork prepared three ways roasted, braised, and a piece of pork belly. This was served with fiddle head ferns, stone milled grits with ramps. What can I say other than it was absolutely delish. The braised pork tasted like it had been slow cooked for a really long time (think melt on your tongue). The fiddle head ferns were the other highlight.

My impression walking away, is that in terms of the local food and sustainability aspect these guys walk the walk. I really think their approach is maybe the best I've seen. They do a very good job of talking about what they do and why they do it. I think too many times we hear chefs talk about fresh ingredients and sustainability and that's great. But how about making a connection between the restaurant and the grower? Tell me about these people. I'm just as interested in supporting local growers as I am local restaurants. If the food I'm eating kicks ass it probably started growers. That way when I see something on the menu that came XYZ farm and I've liked it in the past I'm probably going to like it again (provided the kitchen does their job). I think the education part of the equation is usually missing. The server had an answer for all of my questions. I'm impressed by that because the chef felt it was important enough to require them to know this stuff.

I would recommend a visit to Westport. Yes, it is very affluent (there's a Tiffany's downtown) but it's not uncomfortable. If you do go to Westport you have got to stop at The Dressing Room. I think it's a great example of how to get people interested in the local sustainability movement.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dinner at Parallax

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

The in-laws made it back from Florida last week and let my wife pick where she wanted to go for her birthday. After mulling her options she settled on Parallax. Zach Bruell's place is typically the restaurant du jour when my boss (Paul) comes to town. Now that I think of it, it's the only Cleveland eatery we've ever gone to with him. He absolutely loves the walleye. This is the first time in a long time that we've actually gone there without him.

All together there were five of us, so I was really looking forward to seeing a wide range of appetizers and entrees. If I were to choose any starter from the menu it would be the Spider Roll. That's some serious goodness. We got one of those, a Fresh California Roll, the Japanese Shrimp, and ..... Calamari Fritti.

We took some pictures but there was some a lot of sun coming through the front window. Three hundred other days out of the year we wouldn't have had that problem, but today we did.

Spider Roll - Tempura Soft shell crab, Avocado, cucumber, baby lettuce and smelt roe. I could eat two orders of these and be well satisfied. One of my favorites.

Fresh Crab California Roll - Snow crab, Avocado and smelt roe. I think are also quite good, but not as good as the Spider Roll. (These are on the same plate).

Japanese Shrimp My brother-in-law ordered these monsters. I had one but the stuff that's wound around the outside is a bit much for me. All in all, this was probably my least favorite, but they looked cool.

Calamari Fritti - (not pictured. Aren't you crushed?) These were decent. I wasn't really to excited about the sauces it came with, but the were okay.
Every time I've come here in the past I've typically ordered from a wide variety of fish dishes on the menu. People have commented that the Grilled Chicken Breast is a signature dish. My Mother-in-law and I ordered that. I can say first hand that mine was really good. The chicken had a beurre blanc sauce that really made the dish. I highly recommend the chicken breast! The pommes frites that came with it were also the way I like them, thinly cut. Good stuff.
The others either got Soft Shell Crab (which was on special or the Grilled Hanger Steak.
Judging by the reaction from everyone else I think they were just plus/minus on the Soft Shell Crab and the Hanger Steak. They finished their food but I don't think they were blown away.

I would also recommend the Baricelli Cheese Plate for dessert. Actually, the cheese plate is appropriate for two people to share as I was laboring to finish it. The others had an assortment of ice cream and chocolate cakes.

I would say this is probably my favorite Tremont restaurant, My in-laws are partial to Fahrenheit. While I, too, like Fahrenheit I think Parallax gives you more bang for your buck.

Parallax on Urbanspoon