Monday, July 30, 2007

The Nest Lounge: Red Robin Bar

We came into Washington, DC very late last night and the hotel restaurant was closed so the staff (so nice!) walked us over to this lounge located in the hotel. It was surprisingly great. Hotel food, I have found, is generally offers sub-par food but at the Willard InterContinental, it's very very good. My colleague and I decided to split an ahi tuna burger with fries because we both dislike going to be on a full stomach.

The sandwich was awesome. The chef split the sandwich for us and put it on two plates so that we wouldn't have to fuss and make a mess, which I did plenty of while eating. The tuna refused to stay between the bun. It was thoughtful of them to do so particularly since we didn't specifically request it. The tuna was thick and cooked to perfection. A very good sized sandwich. I'm glad we shared. The wait staff, very nice. The sandwich was $15 without tip. I would eat here again, for sure.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tea -- Drake Hotel

Celebrating 10 years of friendship!

If I haven't already made it clear, me encanta Chicago. Chicago is a fantabulous city, enhanced by my amazing friends. Chicago is home to a laundry list of greats: food, hot dogs, people, neighborhoods, baseball, restaurants, architecture, history, art, live music, comedy, culture, museums, weather (yes, even the weather), and tea-time.

At 10 AM, I'm on the phone with Camish.

Me: Susie's made reservations for us to have tea at the Drake?
C: What?! Imagine the "Wha'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" tone with her right eyebrow raised, eyes looking down her nose, and one hand on her hip. The classic Camisha move was in full force. You mean like what the Brits do? Skeptical but game she inquired, What do I wear?
Me: The classic tea outfit, of course. Jeans, t-shirt, flip flops. I laughed.

We arrived for our 1 PM seating, the lobby infused with the scent of tiger lilies, my favorite flower. The menu is fixed except for the tea. I had Darjeeling, while the troublesome two had wild blackberry and ginger peach. Once again, I set aside my vegetarian ways to fully experience tea-time.

We gave those trays a once over and were skeptical. How could those dinky little sandwiches with no crusts (top plate) and three slices of banana nut bread and currant scones (2nd plate) possibly fill up the 3 biggest eaters in Chicago-land. We dug in, all the while being regal and refined.

I started with the tomato and cheese on white bread. It was good, very good, in fact. Then I went for the ham and asparagus sandwich, which actually looked like sushi because it was rolled. It was better than the tomato/cheese. My favorite, hands down, was the roast beef on wheat, which had very tasty mayo. In between the savories, I dipped down to try the scones, which were excellent. Personally though, I just loved the savory and would have preferred to have more it than the sweet, which says a lot considering how much I adore sweets and butter. Much to our surprise, we were stuffed before the dessert plate came out but that did not prevent us from chowing down even more! The flavors are so wholesome, so satisfying, and so rich that you become incredibly full though everything is rather small.

We ate, chatted away, laughed, took a break,
ate some more, made fun of the woman seated next to the fountain who took her tea a little too seriously by wearing pearls and a big ol' hat (think Queen of England), and bemoaned the fact, and I mean bemoaned, that our group was incomplete without Sam, the fourth friend in our circle. We raised our glasses to her.

Camisha was so smitten with our activity she couldn't stop talking about it; she's a convert and has developed a whole theme for her daughter's birthday. As she said, "If this doesn't put a little bourge in Morgan, I don't know what will!" It was such a memorable and fun way to spend the afternoon. Every time I think about tea, I can't help but smile. We''ll alway have this memory.

Tea at the Drake is about $35/person, including tip. While the tea was great, Susie swears by the one at the Peninsula Hotel, which is also slightly less expensive. On Sunday tea (at the Peninsula) commences at 4 PM, a little late. Try Saturday! Reservations are not necessary.

cr, sb, y sg vosotros amo.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

White Castle -- Chicago

Dare I say it? I ate White Castle at 3 AM on Saturday morning and it was so good. You see all that food? A mere $8. We had a mini burger, chicken rings, and onion rings. White Castle is a Chicago institution, like In 'N Out Burger is to California. The little burgers are a perfect size. They're even smaller than the McDonald's burger. Perfect for little tots.

I keep eating meat. It's a phase, I think. It's kind of like the rebellious teenage phase. I just need to get it out of my system. I think White Castle did me in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adesso -- Chicago

Chicago is a fabulous place to visit, eat, and just be. The people are friendly, nice, and down to earth. In contrast, I found that people in New York don't really make eye contact with others. Another reason why I love Chicago is that during the summers you can eat outside in the evenings in shorts or a skirt, and not worry about getting cold. In the Bay Area, that's definitely not the case except during a heat wave or under a heat lamp which is not the same.

On Saturday afternoon, I met a friend that I hadn't seen in seven years for lunch. Funny how life works. While we lived and worked in the same city for 2 years, we never ran into the other. In any case, we met at a small but very cute restaurant in the Lakeview District of Chicago, just south of Wrigley Field. It's a cute hip area.

We sat outside because the weather was a fabulous 75 degrees with no humidity. Truthfully, I really wanted humidity. I kind of miss it. Over lunch we caught up on our lives and what each had done. He had a chicken arugula salad with Parmesan cheese and I had the mushroom and goat cheese frittata with a salad, which was one of the specials for the day. I enjoyed my frittata but I don't think it was better than the frittatas I've made. In fact, I would argue that it was probably too egg-y, and didn't have enough mushrooms. But over all it was good.

For dessert, we shared tiramisu made at the restaurant. Of course, after ordering it, I remembered my lactose intolerance. The tiramisu was excellent. We had tried to order wine but the restaurant was located across the street from a church and there is an old city ordinance that doesn't allow restaurants to sell alcohol if that's the case. However, you are allowed to BYOB, which is true of the other restaurants in the vicinity. After 4 cups of decaf, I was completely caffeinated.

We probably spent 2+ hours and I never once felt rushed. I would definitely eat here again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

West Indian Food -- Brooklyn

On Friday, we had lunch with our client on the 1100 block of Nostrand Ave in Brooklyn between Long Island Ave and Lincoln Road on the even number side of the street. Can't remember the name of the place but the food was just amazing. At lunch they have a buffet where you can select from at least 20 items, everything from goat curry to chicken curry to jerk salmon to BBQ chicken to sweet potatoes, and so much more. I was completely overwhelmed. This is not what you call vegetarian friendly but I really wanted to relish and experience West Indian food in its entirety so I ate meat. It was so worth it.

After getting a play-by-play on all the dishes, I got a little salad (not West Indian), sweet potatoes, goat curry, and beans and rice. It was amazing. Deliciosa. Then I noticed the salmon on my client's plate and was bummed, but he kindly shared a piece so my momentary anxiety on having missed out on some thing special dissipated rather quickly. In total, my lunch with a bottled water was under $6! The amount is determined by weight.

I'm Indian but didn't know what West Indian food was.
Actually, I still really don't. I'm much more familiar with the North/South distinction which I could write a dissertation on. But I know that in Trinidad, Guyana, and the Caribbean in general, there are lots of Indians. In fact, I learned that Guyana's population is 50% Indian. So West Indian food seems to be a combination of classic Indian dishes like curries mixed with traditional Caribbean food like sweet potatoes, plantains, etc. I know I'm not describing all the nuances so I dare not go further.

It was so worth it to set aside my mostly vegetarian ways to eat well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Morimoto -- Manhattan

It was restaurant week so my childhood friend made reservations for us to enjoy lunch at the Iron Chef's restaurant! It's sort of funny because she actually lives very close to me in California but her work brought her out to Manhattan for the summer, so it was totally awesome to enjoy NYC with her in a new place. I was particularly excited about this restaurant because I love the Iron Chef show on the Food Network Channel. He always makes fabulously creative food.

I decided to opt for the pre-fixed sushi lunch (which isn't terribly creative at all). The lunch which usually goes for $35 was $25 and very generous. The meal started with a mixed green salad and miso soup followed by the 6 pieces of spicy tuna roll and 8 pieces of nigiri, including eel, salmon, tuna, yellow tail, tuna, shrimp, and two other pieces of nigiri I can't remember. All of it was delicious.

Our brownie dessert was pretty good though I think I could make better brownies. But it was nice to have something sweet after all the salt.

While it was all very very good I have to say it wasn't anything that I hadn't experience before, in terms of quality, which was excellent. The ambiance was, of course, very New York. At our 2 PM seating the place was hopping. The bathrooms were unlike anything I've experienced before, with heated and adjustable seats. There were so many buttons, I didn't know what they were for. And the downstairs bar was something reminiscent out of Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Or at least, I could imagine it being that way.

I was happy to have done it, and would do it again, even if I had to pay more.

Food & Travel

These last few entries are out of order. In my excitement to get entries out, I completely forgot to write about Sankaku Sushi & Noodle before Rae. In any case, I've been traveling for work since late Tuesday afternoon through Sunday evening. That's a lot of meals out. I generally eat 1-2, may be 3 meals out a week, if that. Working out won't be an option though the hotel apparently has a nice facility since I had to choose between taking a laptop or my running shoes. The running shoes were sadly left behind.

In any case, after 2 7 AM mornings, and no breakfast or lunch on Tuesday before my flight, I was ravenous when I arrived at SFO. I was determined to eat well. I walked by Klein's deli (though I later picked up a garden salad for the flight) and Guava Java (a definite no), and found Sankaku in the United Terminal. I recently read that sushi is one of the most healthful things you can eat while traveling but was reluctant to try sushi at the airport. Instead, I opted for a salmon bowl which came with a nice piece of salmon over a bowl of rice. Very simple and tasty. At $9.50, a good deal compared to other less tasty options.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rae, Philadelphia's 30th Street Station

So, I haven't posted in some time and it's because I was traveling to New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago for work this week so I couldn't cook. Instead, this week, I decided I should report on foods and restaurants I've tried out while away on my travels.

On Wed. afternoon we met clients at Rae at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. Rae is this cute uber modern restaurant attached to the station itself so if you're waiting for your train; it's a good place to have drinks, meals, or snacks. The sides of this restaurant are large sheets of glass from which you can people and car watch. It was poring out so it was nice not to have to step out of the station to get to the restaurant.

We arrived a t 3:30PM. A little too early for dinner so we shared a Caesar salad, had coffee and iced tea, and munched on this hor dourves table that was available to patrons. It was AWESOME! A variety of cheeses, fondue, breads, crackers, fruit, marinated figs, and salamis were served. The marinated figs, I hadn't tasted anything like them. They were amazing. The service was friendly. I recommend this place if you're taking the train to/from Philly. The dinner menu looked a little pricey but the food I saw other people eating did look delicious.

It was a good thing my colleague and I ate those snacks. While we returned to Manhattan at 7 PM we didn't get back to our hotel until 9 PM because of the steam pipe incident at Grand Central Station. Our hotel was only a few blocks away and since every street was blocked off we had to walk around in a rather large circle to go the mere 5 blocks we would have otherwise!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blueberry Scones

I just adore scones but don't love that they don't taste so good when I've purchased them in stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. They're dry, too sweet, hard as rocks, and not fluffy. Having wanted to make scones forever, I decided to forge ahead after a friend shared her recipe. Plus, Sunday mornings scream scones with a nice cup of coffee or tea. The recipe, like my friend, is kick-ass, and I think I hit a grand slam in preparing them. They were perfect -- slightly crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and just perfectly sweet. The home was filled with the smell of butter and blueberries. What a way to wake up!

I've made low-fat scones and lived to blog about them. I shouldn't have. They weren't nearly as good. Not even close. The fat is what makes a scone successful. And if you use good fats, then a scone isn't nearly as unhealthy as one would think.

-3 cups flour
-4 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-8 T butter

Cut butter into the dry ingredients listed above (until coarse, you want little chunks of butter the size of peas). Stir in wet ingredients listed below:

-1/2 cup sugar
-1 large egg, beaten
-2/3 cup buttermilk (I used low fat only because that was the smallest container available, otherwise I would have gone full fat)
-1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Stir until just mixed. Divide dough into two parts, and pat each into a circle. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until brown.

The dough is very sticky so I would flour your hands when you pat down otherwise you'll end up with a lot of dough on your hand, like I did. Don't be tempted to add any more liquid even if you think the batter is dry. It will come together, especially if you use frozen blueberries and they start to thaw a bit. Adding more liquid will just make the dough that much more sticky.


Monday, July 09, 2007

My Babies

My tomato plants are growing so fast! The one you see above is just one of six seeds I planted. 5 of 6 germinated. Not bad. I held out hope for the 6th one but it's a no show. I got a rather late start due to delays so I decided to go with a variety that would produce fruit rather quickly, which left me with the early girl variety. This tomato has a very short growth period of 52 days versus the typical 80 plus. I'm not convinced because my babies still look rather runt like. It's been 2 weeks since the seeds germinated and 3 weeks since planting. Every morning I walk out on to my front porch waiting to see them bursting. I need more patience!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Vanilla Cupcakes and Chocolate Frosting

Cheers! Toasting our 14 year friendship!

What do you do when your very good friend comes into town? Well, I made the food that we bonded over when we first met. In our case, lots chips and salsa (we were the reason Tostitos and Pace Picante saw higher than usual earnings during those years) and boxed cake fueled us through late night study dates, rants about all things Italian, and 80's music marathons.

For our reunion, I decided to take it up a notch and make cupcakes from scratch because anything from a box no longer makes the grade, unless you're in elementary school.

I made vanilla cupcakes and frosting previously (December 2006 recipes) but given our predilection for chocolate, I decided to go for a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting. The frosting was amazing. Not too sweet, not too stiff, and tasted like true chocolate. Home made frosting is the opposite of anything Duncan Hines produces.

While I thought the frosting I made in December was good, it is even better now. Partly, it was the addition of chocolate, but mostly I think it was the weather. In December, though I whipped the heck out of the frosting, and I mean beat it for a solid 7 minutes, I just could not get it to be lightly and fluffy. And while I live in a relatively mild climate, it makes a big difference. Today, in the middle of a heat wave, the frosting came together so quickly. I couldn't believe butter could be so airy!

Ingredients for Frosting
-1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (let sit on counter over night)
-1 and 3/4 cups powdered sugar
-1/4 cup cocoa powder (use unsweetened)
-2 T milk
-1 tsp vanilla

Beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, milk and vanilla, and beat on high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, if not longer.

Yields enough frosting for 12 cupcakes very very generously. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a week or frozen indefinitely.

These cupcakes were really very good, made even more sweet by sharing with a friend who knows you so well that no words are necessary to feel understood.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fettuccine with Sauteed Peppers and Parsley

I was totally appalled by the Italian food I had at lunch. In fact, it was so bad that after two bites, I threw it out. Authentic Italian food really focuses on vegetables which is something that some Italian restaurants really neglect, instead focusing on gobs of cheese and too much pasta. In Italy, vegetables are often the focus, as they should be, because they are so abundant.

So I came home to take the offensive taste out of my mouth. Really, I made this dish because a friend was coming over for dinner, and as usual, I decided to make a guinea pig out of her. This dish was really good, has few simple ingredients that you would most likely have in your fridge, and takes fewer than 3o minutes to bring together. I just love love love dishes that come together so quickly. It's also colorful, healthy, and so pretty to boot!

The parsley is key because it really brings the dish together, and it's a good recipe for using a lot of parsley so you don't have to feel about letting any go to waste because most likely, you won't! You really cannot have enough parsley in this dish.

Once again, this recipe comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Serves 4

Cooking Time:
30 minutes or less

-4 large bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange, or all one color)
-4 T olive oil
-Salt and freshly milled pepper
-1 pound fettuccine
-2/3 cup chopped parsley
-Freshly grated Parmesan, optional

Heat large pot of water for the pasta. Meanwhile, cut peppers into strips about as wide as the fettuccine. heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the peppers; give a stir, let them sit for a few minutes, and stir again. Continue cooking this way for about 10 minutes. The peppers should caramelize along the edges, soften , and yield their juices but not lose their sins. They will smell sweet. Season well with salt and pepper, add a ladle of pasta water, and turn the heat low.

Add salt to the boiling water and cook pasta until al dente. Scoop past out and add it to peppers, allowing some water to drip into the pan. Raise the heat and toss the pasta and peppers with the parsley. Plate dish and add cheese.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Open Open Open

Is what I was saying at 5:45 AM on Saturday morning in front of a Starbucks.

You see things that are subconsciously understood but then you're confronted with it. I was waiting for my mint tea to cool down when I noticed that staff were stocking up on muffins, etc. and they were coming out of an ugly brown cardboard box covered with plastic. Where else are their treats supposed to come from. I know that Starbucks doesn't make these items from scratch and they're probably manufactured at some plant in some unknown location that I've never been to yet their website claims to buy their baked goods from local suppliers. But then why does every Starbucks more or less have the same set of baked goods? Perhaps there's a new definition of local that I missed!?