Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Spotted Pig for Lupper

The Spotted Pig
314 W 11th St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 620-0393

I had to visit a project in Tenafly, NJ which is pretty close to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Knowing that the day's work would probably be done by 2 or 3 if I went without lunch, I planned to go into the city to eat. You can't not be that close and not go.

Since my ever-present dining partner (wife) wasn't going to be with me I had to go someplace she might not be inclined to go for. Since Una Pizza Napolitana is only open Thursday - Sunday, that was not an option. I figured what better place to go then a gastropub? Great eating alone option I'd say. Since I'd never been to The Spotted Pig I figured I'd give it a try. I saw April Bloomfield on Iron Chef one time and was really impressed with her knowledge.

Since I got there about 4 o'clock they were serving a limited bar menu. In all actuality it really wasn't that limited. They serve this limited menu during the hours between lunch and dinner (3-5). I didn't much mind because I was starved and there were no crowds to fight.

So I go in and the hostess stand is right there in the front to hand you a menu. She told me to sit anywhere I wanted; so I decided to go upstairs. The decor had artwork, plates, signs, and all kinds of stuff on the walls. It's actually a very homey setting. Instead of chairs there are actually these short upholstered stools. I wasn't sure how much I was going to like them, but they were surprisingly comfortable.

Since I had to drive back to the office I couldn't really drink (unfortunatley) . As I perused the menu I noticed something called "Roll Mops". When I asked the waiter what they were, he told me that they were pickeled herring.

"Why not?", I thought.

I also decided on the Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestrings. I love Roquefort Cheese, but have never in my life put it on a hamburger.

So the Roll Mops arrive. I'm now starting to question my sense of adventure. There are two pieces of herring wrapped around pickled onions, topped with creme fraiche, with the pickled juice, olive oil, and parsley surrounding it on the plate. The herring was the first piece of non-crispy piece of skin-on fish I'd ever eaten. I have to say I was extremely surprised how good it was. For me, the pickled portion of it made the dish. So often I watch things on tv and say to myself, "How could that possibly taste good?" It was an Iron Chef moment. Not at all fishy and the flavors seemed to come together to where the individual flavors combine to make a "new" flavor. Highly recommended.Clean plate.

The cheeseburger arrives. There's so much I liked about this thing just looking at it. Very thin shoe string potatoes with pieces of sliced garlic and rosemary. I think I like a large mound of shoestrings because it's mostly air. You're not packed full of potatoes when you're done eating. Grilled bun (on both sides) looked delicious. Roquefort is dripping out the sides of this thing. Get out of my way. I'm going in.

The intense flavor of the cheese kicks this cheeseburger into the upper echelon of burgers. Nothing else required. No Heinz. No tomato. No onion. Bun, beef, and cheese, period. As for the shoestrings. Even though I thought I'd need some ketchup (I actually had them bring me some) I didn't touch the bottle. I would love to try these with some of Bar Cento's aiolis. Even without anything to dip them in the fries more than held their own.

If you're in NYC I would recommend The Spotted Pig. Though I didn't experience the crowds I have read that it can be a pain. You might consider going in the mid-afternoon (Lunch + Supper= Lupper?).Regardless of when you go, I think you'll be impressed with the menu. This is what a gastropub should be.

Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pizza My Heart

I really sometimes wonder about the things I read on Yelp. It can seem as though certain cities are more accurate (or more suited to my tastes) than other cities. Since the visit to Darby Dan's went so amazingly well, I figured we'd try another lunch time Yelp referral for the day.

Since the Monterey Bay Aquarium was the morning and early afternoon's entertainment we figured we'd try to find some nearby pizza-by-the-slice place. The goal was to not ruin our appetite since were had a much anticipated reservation for Passion Fish in Pacific Grove.

So where would our search through Yelp lead us?

We ended up going to Pizza My Heart, a chain of pizza places based in NoCal. Since this is the only one I've ever been to I don't know if they all have the surfer decor or not. This one did. The bright airy restaurant had a selection of 3 or 4 pizza-by-the-slice pizzas out front (a la Sbarro). Of course if you were hungry enough you could obviously order an entire pie.

Made from hand tossed dough, the reheated slices had a subtle crunch to them when you bit into them. Even though there was a little bit of crunch to them you could still fold them over. Good stuff. With a lighter but still very tasty sauce and a moderate amount of cheese the pizza was very enjoyable.

What I also found interesting about Pizza My Heart was that the side bar had a very wide array of spices you could sprinkle on top of your pizza. I can't say that I've ever seen that many spices for putting on pizza, before.

Overall I thought this place was a winner. It's one that I'd definitely go back to. Unfortunately, I thought this was going to be one of about three pizza places I'd try during our trip (A16 and Pizzaiolo were also on my radar), but it ended up being the only one. Like I told my wife, though, it gives us two more reasons to go back.

Pizza My Heart on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pork Chops, Peaches, and a Grill

I can't tell you how many times I've opened up a cookbook and as I leafed through it said, "Pass.......(page flip).......pass.......(page flip).........weird......(page flip).......pass." I don't imagine I'm the only one that has performed this routine, either.

While I hate his new show, Mario Batali can write one helluva a cookbook. One recipe I found to be a little on the weird side for me was Pork Chops with Peaches out of the The Babbo Cookbook. In the past I had made Berkshire Pork Chops with a recipe from, Cleveland's own, Andrew Carmellini. One of the key components of Carmellini's recipe was to brine the chops. Since I had been doing this with the Thanksgiving turkeys for the past few years, I figured I'd give it a try on pork chops. For me brining was the difference between Mom's "bone dry, Shake 'N Bake, bible page thin, ultra lean, mass produced" pork chops and the "juicy, I don't know what this is on the outside but it kicks ass, will it cook all the way through it's so thick, I'm not eating all that fat (oh yes you will), butchered by the guy who knows where the pigs came from" pork chop. So after trying Carmellini's recipe I was now on a quest to see if I could find an even better brine.

It's true, there is more than one way to skin a cat. While I don't have a desire to find one way to skin a cat, I am interested in finding different ways to brine meat. Carmellini's recipe called for a brine of about 6 hours, Batali's is twice that (minimum). What's right? Who knows, I think they're both great. Although I haven't tried to do it, I'd have to believe that brining would at the very least help those lean, thin, grocery store pork chops taste better.

I think the type of pork and it's thickness make all the difference in the world. I've made Berkshire chops that were thick as hell and I swear I'll never go back unless I can't afford them. They are much more expensive. But I think they grill better because the fat is allowed to cook longer due to the thickness off the chops. The thinner they are the less margin of error you're going to have for overcooking them. The ones pictured here are on the thinner side. Admittedly they were cooked a little more than I like. As anything, I've found that when I make a recipe a third time, it's usually money. This was my second time. The culprit in this case was the thickness of the chops.

The part of this whole equation that makes this recipe a show stopper is the grill. I prefer to cook on a small Weber grill; fueled by lump charcoal. I like the fact that it burns clean and hot and doesn't start off with any chemicals. A chimney starter, some paper, and a match and you're ready to rock and roll. The other nice thing, I like, is that you can easily extinguish them with the cover and re-use the leftover pieces of charcoal. Like anything, they are little more expensive (and don't last as long), but I like them more.

So where's the recipe? Here we go:

Grilled Pork Chops with Peaches and Balsamic Vinegar

From Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook

Serves 4


4 - 8 ounce double cut Pork Chops (we used single cut from the Farmer's market)
1/2 c Kosher Salt, plus more to taste
1/4 c Sugar, plus more to taste
4 fresh Peaches, halved and pitted
1/4 c extra virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Best quality Balsamic Vinegar (we used a 12 yr old balsamic vinegar from DiBruno Bros in Philly) for drizzling


1. Place the chops in a nonreactive casserole. In a deep bowl, combine salt, sugar and about 2 cups of water and mix well. Pour the mixture over the chops and let them brine in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.

2. Prepare a grill or broiler

3. Brush each pork chop and peach section with some of the olive oil, season both meat and fruit well with salt and pepper, and set the peaches aside. Place the pork chops on the hottest side of the grill and cook for 5 minutes on one side, then turn and grill for another 5 minutes on the other side.

4. While the second side cooks, place the peach halves on the grill and cook until lightly charred and juicy.

5. Place a mound of broccoli rabe on each plate and top with one pork chop. Garnish with the peach halves, drizzle both pork and peaches with the balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.

We also paired this dish with Batali's Broccoli Rabe with Garlic (you can see it peeking out from under the chop). For whatever reason, this side dish isn't a big item you'll see in Cleveland, but it's all over restaurant menus back in Philly. It's a wonderful alternative to broccoli or spinach. We found that both our local Heinen's and Whole Foods carried it (I think I've seen it at Fresh Market from time to time as well). You may need to ask someone in produce to help you find it, just make sure they don't accidentally give you Broccolini, which is not the same thing as broccoli rabe.

Broccoli Rabe with roasted garlic

From Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook

Serves 4 as a side dish (I think it's more like 2)

1 head of Garlic
2 tbsp plus 1/4 cup of extra virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and freshly Ground Pepper
3 salt packed Anchovy Fillets, rinsed and drained
Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove the first few papery layers form the garlic. Drizzle the garlic with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Roast until the garlic is very soft, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, separate the cloves and squeeze half of them from their skins into a small bowl. Set aside the remaining unpeeled cloves. Add the anchovy fillets to the squeezed garlic and gently mash together. Set aside.

3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Set up an ice bath nearby. Blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and immediately refresh in the ice bath. Once cooled, drain and squeeze dry in a clean kitchen towel. Roughly chop the broccoli rabe and set aside.

4. In a 12 to 14 inch saute pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over high heat and stir in the garlic and anchovy mixture. Cook over high heat and stir in the garlic and anchovy mixture. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the broccoli rabe, remaining cloves of roasted garlic, and red pepper flakes. Saute over high heat until the broccoli rabe starts to brown at the edges. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Montrio Bistro

Montrio Bistro
414 Calle Principal
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 648-8880

This isn't going to be a long gushing review about the absolutely, unbelievably, crazy ass wonderful restaurant that I ate at last night kind of review. Rather, it'll be more like the atmosphere was good, prices were good, and the food was good.

Montrio Bistro was the first of our California dinners. Set in the heart of dwntown Monterey, this lively bar/restaurant serves a combination of small plates (Mrs. Dine O Mite's fav) & entrees. From the conversations we had with our neighboring diners plus those we overheard, we caught quickly that this is a spot popular with the locals.

Mrs. Dine O Mite, still somewhat full from her Darby Dan's lunch, opted for carrot ginger soup a heirloom tomato basil/mozzerella salad. I chose the braised special of the day, which was the short ribs.

Desserts were Blueberry Financier with lemon cream and Banana Muffin with ice cream.

My overall impression was this: the desserts were the highlights. So many times I go into dessert and I feel like I have literally tamp the dessert down my throat because I'm so full. These desserts weren't like that, they were a smaller size with a smaller price. I like that. How many times have you seen a fairly expensive dessert, and when it arrives you say, "That's it?". These were a good size, yet they were proportionately priced. Nice.

If you're looking for looking for a moderately priced, good overall restaurant this is a good place to start.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

South SF, 17 Mile Dr, and Darby Dan's

I don't know how the rest of you feel about this, but my wife and I really love trying to dig up good places to eat. More often than not price isn't really as important as the experience. We had two spots to pick from for lunch that are close to San Francisco Airport. We narrowed it down to Darby Dan's and Little Lucca. I don't remember the reason we decided on Darby Dan's, but we did.

Darby Dan's Sandwich Co.
733 Airport Blvd
South San Francisco, CA 94080
(650) 876-0122
No Known Website

We get the rental car and head a couple of miles to Darby Dan's Sandwich Company for a bite to eat before we head to Santa Cruz. Now I remember why we picked it. I didn't want to drive out of the way to go to Little Lucca's. This was literally minutes from the airport.

Has anyone ever had "Dutch Crunch" bread before? Up to this point I hadn't. With the exception of the heavily sesame seeded bun at Primo's in Philadelphia, this is an epic sandwich bread. I think the best way I can describe it is a white type bread with a rice flour topping that crackles apart (kind of like old paint or varnish crackling). It gives you the crunchiness of say a french bread but the crackling exposes some of the softer bread underneath. At the end of it all, you end up with a crunchy yet less chewy sandwich.

The Crab/Shrimp Sandwich is served on Friday and Saturday only. Mrs. Dine O Mite opted for that, while I decided on the Darby Dan. My sandwich, The Darby Dan, was your typical italian hoagie type of sandwich (ham, mortadella, Italian Salami, and provolone). Not entirely exciting from outward appearances. However, the Dutch Crunch bread combined with the jalapeno relish, and garlic mayo launched this sandwich into the stratosphere. I've never had the bread or the relish in my life, but the two combined with garlic mayo was freakin' awesome.

Darby Dan's is the real deal. If you want a unique and awesome sandwich experience, stop by to or from San Francisco airport. You'll be glad you did. Next time I will have to try Little Lucca's just for comparison's sake. 

Darby Dan's Gourmet Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

17 Mile Drive
We decided to check into the Jabberwock Inn (the bed and breakfast we were staying at). Really nice place perched on a steep hill in Monterey. I would recommend staying there. Clean, affordable, lots of amenities, and just an all around nice setting, as well as a view of Monterey Bay. After that we decided to do the majority of 17 Mile Drive. A winding road that laces around the perimeter of Carmel Bay through Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Pebble Beach. It's a neat ride but now that I've done it I don't think I need to do it again. There are some cool views, but I found the architecture in Carmel much more interesting than the coastal views from 17 Mile Drive. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bad News Keeps on Coming ...and I could care less

For the past week things have absolutely sucked at my house. For starters, the rain that we haven’t had for the last month decided to finally come just in time for the weekend. The Buckeyes decided to pull the January disappearing act in the middle of September. The rain that had been coming straight down was now going sideways. We lost to the Steelers….AGAIN. Then the power decided to go the way of the sunshine and take a few days off. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Well, I suppose it would, if I were home.

You see, on Friday morning when the rain was still tolerable I was on a direct flight to San Francisco. By the time we landed the fog had burned off and there was sunshine. When the Beanie-less Buckeyes were getting pummeled I was wandering around Carmel. On Sunday, when the really nasty weather arrived on the North Coast, I was watching otters at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. During the Browns’ brutalization, it was dinner delight at Gary Danko. Power outage? Well, that did suck because there would be some refrigerator fatalities when I got back.

For probably the next week or two we’ll be writing about our trip to the Bay Area. My guess is that some people probably won’t want to hear about things that exist on the other side of the country. I think more than anything I’m doing it to add to the body of things we’ve written about up to this point.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about cool things to see or do. Then forget about them. That’s why I like to arrange all of my visits by city or neighborhood so that people don’t have to look through the entire list of blog material.

I think the other reason I do it is because we get a lot of our ideas from places like Zagat, Yelp, Chowhound, and to a lesser degree Urbanspoon. (I’m sorry, but when Steak on a Stone is voted number one restaurant in Cleveland, you really have to call into question the method by which the site operates). Methods aside, I think you owe it to these sites to add your two cents so that they continue to develop more reliable opinions.

I will say that I take into account the hyper critical nature of Zagat, the hip factor heavy Yelp, the hair splitting of Chowhound, and the ballot stuffing of Urbanspoon and attempt to formulate a list of places to go.

So in the coming weeks offer opinions, tell me about your favorite San Francisco spots.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Very Bittersweet Day For Me

I wasn't alive when Pearl Harbor took place or when JFK was shot. That moment for me (and the rest of America) was September 11th, 2001. I just remember thinking what a beautiful day it was when I left for work that morning. Little did I know it would be the first time I ever cried watching the news. To this day I still can't believe it ever happened.

I took the horror of that day and decided to go back to school. That was the day I decided to get a job that I really wanted to do.I went from making good money; to working for $7 an hour and taking classes. Within a couple of years I graduated OSU (again) and got an absolute dream job. Today I have this happiness because of one single horrific day in American history. Not a day goes by that I don't think about those people. In fact, I have a framed picture of the one on the left that reminds me not to take today for granted. It hangs in the hallway so I see it when I get out of the bathroom every morning.

God bless the souls of all those that lost their lives and the families and friends that were impacted by their departure.

If you click on the picture it should take you to the Here Is New York website. They have what I consider to be the most compelling photos of this ordeal. Proceeds from the photo sales go to charity.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why We Love Moxie (By Mrs. Dine O Mite)

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

Moxie the Restaurant

3355 Richmond Road
Beachwood, OH 44122

Just returned from another satisfying meal at Moxie...let us share the many reasons why we love this place:

1. Innovative menu that changes often - I love that you can go to Moxie and always find numerous items on the menu that are appealing; the variety is a real plus. They redo their menu often, which keeps your curiosity peaked. The only downside to this is that sometimes you wish you could "get back" some of your favorite dishes. For example, last year the Mushy Peas that accompanied their Salmon were out of this world. They made them with chicken stock and (I believe) Parmesan cheese...I absolutely loved them. I've tried to recreate the dish at home a few times but haven't quite been successful. I'd love to see the Mushy Peas back on the menu (or get their recipe, at the very least).

Props go to chef Jonathan Bennett for the ingenuity, variety and quality he puts into this menu season after season.

My entree was Roasted Duck with Peaches, Spinach (I asked for a substitution from the Mizuna greens for personal preference), ricotta, hazelnuts, vidalia onions and duck confit. This was my first time having duck as an entree and I was extremely pleased. The portions were just right so that I was able to share with my husband and have room for dessert. Mr. Dine O Mite had the spice Rubbed Bell & Evans (B&E) Chicken. He's been on a chicken kick lately, and this was another winning choice, complemented by 24 hour roasted cherry tomatoes & zucchini. We were so impressed by the tomatoes that we plan on picking some up at the farmer's market tomorrow for our own 24 hours roasting experiment!

2. The Energy - This place always has a nice crowd and the atmosphere and look of the room is great. The action in the kitchen is on display, giving you this communal feeling with the production that goes into your meal. You'd never know it from it's location (tucked off a busy street in an office type complex), but Moxie seems to be popular almost any day of the week and there's always been a good crowd of diners when we go.

3. Knowledgeable and Friendly Staff - Service here is never pretentious or pushy. The staff is familiar with what they are serving and are always pleasant. I have no complaints in this department. Note the back of the menu, where they list the names and titles of all of their staff in the righthand margin. A nice touch that gives a nod to everyone who's involved in the operation.

4. The Moxie Burger - Mr. Dine O Mite reports that the Moxie Burger is neck in neck with Players on Madison for the best burger he's had in Cleveland. The Moxie Burger is huge: certified angus beef, topped with adam's reserve cheddar, mesculin, neuske's bacon, tomato, onion and aioli. Plus it comes with a mound of frites and onion rings. Thankfully, this item is a constant on the menu, so season to season, you can rest assured it will be there for you to enjoy.

5. Dessert - Some of the best in town: Tonight it was the Baked Hot Chocolate and the Nutter Butter. Although the Baked Hot Chocolate is a Moxie classic, current pastry chef Kate O'Donnell and her crew are cranking out some of the most satisfying and unique desserts in Cleveland. The labor and complexity of the Nutter Butter makes it a real treat...I can't begin to describe all the components (partly because Mr. Dine O Mite was stingy and didn't share much with me)...you just have to try it and see for yourself. I will give you some hints though, it's richer than it looks and includes peanut butter fudge, milk chocolate and marshmallow fluff (not a ton, just enough on the plate to complement the rest of the dessert).

Moxie continues to please, visit after visit and I'm glad that it's so close to home, it's practically in my back yard. Check out their website, sign up for their newsletter and book your reservation at www.opentable.com.

Update: December 30, 2008
We joined our friends from Buffalo for lunch.

Cal : Moxie Burger, still one of my favorite burgers in Cleveland. No dipping sauces on the lunch burger. Tastes great.

Regina : SLT House Smoked Salmon, Watercress, Tomato, Boursin on Pumpernickel. Available for lunch only, thought it was delicious.

Nutter Butter dessert for take-out. I love this thing.

Moxie on Urbanspoon