Saturday, September 29, 2007


There are some restaurants around Phoenix that all us self-described Foodies/Chowhounders know about. Ever since moving to Phoenix a few years ago, I've been hearing about Pizzeria Bianco and it's acclaimed pizzas. As famous as it's pizzas is the 2+ hour wait to get in on any given night. This has been the primary reason I've never tried it. However, if you can get a party of 6-10 people together, you can make reservations for 5pm, 6:30pm, or 8pm. At one of our recent dinners with some fellow CHers, someone suggested we get some folks together, set a date and get a reservation. After waiting for them to reopen after their later summer vacation, I was able to get enough people and finally secured a date a few weeks from now for us to go. Can't wait.

One restaurant that has been on my radar for a while is Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. It's been reviewed by many publications and bloggers recently and it's only whetted my appetite for it even more. Generally considered one of the top two places currently in the Phoenix area along with Binkley's in Cave Creek, it's also one of the most expensive. Since Tara and my birthdays fall very close together, we decided to forgo our traditional buying birthday for each other and pool the money for a single trip to Kai. I made the reservations for that trip this week as well. Unfortunately that is still a bit over two months away. My stomach is growling just thinking about it. Of course, the bacon currently cooking in the oven isn't helping with that either. :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

State of the Bacon

Ever since trying Vonhanson's bacon, we've tried to find anything near as good. Whenever we've heard about any other meat markets, we've grabbed some bacon from them to try. So far we've tried the bacon from Hobe Meats and Midwestern Meats.

Vonhanson's bacon is double-smoked and has a distinct sweetness to it. Midwestern Meats bacon ranks a strong secoond to VH. It also has a sweetness to it, but it's not as strong. Hobe Meats' bacon is very good bacon, but it doesn't have that sweetness and suffers a bit for it. While we wouldn't turn down bacon from HM, we're willing to drive the extra miles to get VH or MM bacon.

While looking at the CH Southwest board yesterday, I saw mention of Butcher Bob's out in Surprise, at 116th Ave and Bell. Someone posted a very favorable comment about it, and since it's about 1/2 the distance from our place as VH or MM, I'll probably stop by soon to give them a try.

If anyone else in the Phoenix area has a bacon favorite, we'd love to hear about it. We have heard that The Pork Shop in Queen Creek has good bacon, but that a long drive even for us.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A bored Foodie afternoon...

After getting back from breakfast with some friends at The Good Egg, Tara decided to take a nap. I was kind of restless, so I decided to drive semi-aimlessly and see where I wound up.

My first stop was Midwestern Meats on Main Street in Mesa. We'd heard some of the Chowhounders talk about it and we tried to go last week, but of course, they are closed on Sundays. I looked through their fairly large meat selection and grabbed a ribeye for Tara, a piece of marinated "carne asatha" for me, and for comparision to Vonhansons, a half-pound of bacon.

Next up, I made my way to Pop's Soda Shoppe at 74th St and McDowell. I hadn't made it to their new location yet and was surprised at the much roomier layout. After browsing their large selection, I picked out four bottles to try. Jones Pure Cane Soda MF Grape flavor, Jackson Hole Soda Co's High Mountain Huckleberry, Empire Bottling Works Grape, and Moxie Original Elixir. Being from Maine, Moxie has always been around, but I remember I didn't care for its, to put it mildly, "acquired taste". I got it so Tara and I can see exactly what it tastes like. As I was about to check out, the guy in front of me was told there was a $5 minimum for credit/debit cards. Since that is also how I was paying, I went back and grabbed a bottle each of Capt'n Eli's Orange Pop and Capt'n Eli's Parrot Punch. I was looking for soda made with sugar/pure cane sugar. I haven't tried them yet. They are still chilling.

I then headed up to Souvia Tea at Miller and Camelback. I'd found coupons online for a free pot of tea at each of their locations. Last week at the Moon Valley store, I'd talked to the person behind the counter about a tea I'd had from a coworker years ago in Dallas. From my description, he'd narrowed down the probable tea (I never knew the name) to a couple candidates. I got a pot's worth of Tung Ting Premium oolong tea leaves that day and it's a great tea. Hideously expensive compared to the likes of Lipton and Bigelow, but worth every penny. Today I opted to get a sampling of Jasmine tea. I've tried it and it's not bad, but I prefer the nice oolong.

Souvia is in the same strip mall as Bread Basket bakery, my next port of call. I got there 4 minutes before 4pm, their closing time. I got a three-pack of their crack-like macaroons and a loaf of their even more addictive cinnamon pecan bread. Since it was closing time, the lady behind the counter also let me have the diced up sample oatmeal chocolate chip cookie as well.

My final stop was west on Camelback to the AJ's at Central. I grabbed Tara a Vosges Barcelona Exotic Candy Bar and a Black Pearl Bar (wasabi, ginger, and black sesame seeds in a 55% cacao dark chocolate) for myself. I also snagged a loaf of Simply Bread's Kosher Challah for use as French Toast tomorrow's breakfast.

Total mileage for the excursion: about 100 miles. The things I do for food. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ressurecting a TiVo

Last month, I upgraded one of my TiVos when the hard drive was failing. During that process, my backup TiVo had a drive failure and died completely. I was finally able to grab a replacement drive to see if I could get it going again. I tried using the upgrade method I used last month, but the old drive was shot. It registered in the BIOS, but any attempt to access data failed.

I searched TiVo's site to see if they had any info on replacing a completely failed drive, and I couldn't find anything. I searched on Google and found a reference to a program called InstantCake. For a $20 download, it said it could take an off-the-shelf drive and after answering a few questions, it would be able to create a new drive for your TiVo. I decided to give it a try. I downloaded the ISO image for ImageCake and burned it to a CD. After configuring my desktop computer with the new drive and setting it to boot from the ImageCake CD, I booted my computer. The ImageCake software started up, asked couple questions, and then kicked off the drive making process. About 1/2 hour later, the process finished successfully.

I removed the drive from the computer and put it back into the TiVo unit. I fired it up, and the TiVo started normally. I got a message about a service update being applied and that it might take up to an hour. I let it sit and when I came back, it was booted up. A message on the screen said it's account wasn't activated. I checked that the TiVo serial number was right, and it was. I logged onto and verified the SN was activated. I did a manual connection to TiVo and it finished and showed "Account in Good Standing" in the system information. I finally restarted the TiVo again. When it was up, it said it was applying a servicie update again so I waited again. This time when it came up, I got a message that the guide info was empty, but no account activation errors. I went through the Guided Setup and when it finished, everything was working fine. The TiVo now has up to 402 hours of recording capacity (up from 80hrs) and it is back in it's home in the back bedroom.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hana Sushi revisit

Hana has become one of my top favorites for sushi. We haven't been in a while and tonight I decided I wanted some raw fish. We got there much earlier than usual, around 7:45, and it was packed. One two-top and four seats at the bar were open. We took two seats at the end of the bar.

After debating for a while, we ordered toro, albacore, and unagi sushi for me, a Hana roll for Tara, gyoza, edamame, a Negi Toro Tempura Mint Leaf roll from the special board, poke chips, and an Ebi Yakisoba noodle dish. I stuck with water and Tara had a coke.

First out was the edamame. They were stone cold. When I asked, the waitress said traditionally they are served room temperature. These were far below room temp and she took them and nuked them for us. Every place else we've ever ordered edamame it's been hot or at least warm out of the steamer. I don't know the whole "traditional" thing is true, but Tara has a thing about cold food that was once hot and I didn't want slimy and cold beans either. They are passable heated.

Despite the note on the specials board warning that sushi will take extra time, our Hana roll was ready in about two minutes. I was shocked and even more so to find the two shrimp in this shrimp tempura roll-on-steroids to be piping hot. I had one piece just as they brought out the poke platter so I put it on Tara's tray. It was an outstanding roll. Tara had pleasure of finishing the rest.

The poke is a ceviche-like mix of krab and other stuff served on tortilla chips. Despite Tara's aversion to spicy items, she loves these, as do I. Her first one nearly killed her, but she settled down and finished her half.

My albacore and toro showed up next. The albacore was dressed with a nice sauce, a tiny sliver of chile, and green onions. As usual, it was great. Both pieces were gone in short order. The female sushi chef (I want to say it's the main chef's sister, but I'm not positive) also gave me a small ramekin of real wasabi. I mixed that with some soy sauce and dipped the toro in it. The sharp spiciness of the real wasabi with it's shorter burn was excellent with the toro.

The Negi Toro Tempura Mint Leaf roll was chopped up toro pressed between mint leaves, lightly battered, and fried. Cut into four pieces, it was topped with eel sauce. I loved it. The interesting combination of flavors was great.

Our gyoza with pork filling came out next. Nicely caramelized on the bottom, we made short work of them. I kinda wished they'd fried the top as well, but they were still really good.

The Ebi Yakisoba noodles came out very hot, as had all but the edamame. The sweet flavor of the noodles is something I really enjoy. I kind of wish there weren't vegetables mixed in, but it's ok. We were getting pretty full by this point, so we ended up taking most of them home.

Last to show up was my unagi. Possibly my favorite item at Hana, their unagi is always cooked perfectly. The eel is cooked through, but not charred at all. As is also normal, they were cut differently than the other two times I've ordered them. Still, they were almost like dessert. Tara even tried a small piece and liked it, but resisted my offer to take one of the three pieces for herself.

As usual, we were both given a small tempura cream puff with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Despite being full, we scoffed them down, as they are always a great ending to the meals here.

Despite the packed house, service was prompt and friendly when time permitted. Tara's coke and my water were refilled as needed, dishes cleared, and questions answered with no attitude or brush-offs. Despite our infrequent visits, they do remember us, mostly because half of the waitstaff is from Wisconsin and they and Tara did some Midwestern bonding on previous visits. They are BYOB, as two guys next to us found out. One vanished for quite a while and when I asked his friend what was up, he told me he'd gone on a beer run. When he got back, the waiter took the six-pack, put it in their fridge behind the counter, and served them with no problems at all.

My biggest issue is still the lack of sound-deadening material on the walls. A large group at the first two tables would make a deafening noise when they all broke into laughter, and I couldn't hear anything else. It's one of those things that I can put up with for the excellent food I've always gotten. It's a very casual atmosphere, devoid of the mega-attitude over in Scottsdale. Hopefully they'll be able to keep it up as word-of-mouth spreads. We just need to curtail our ordering, as we always order way too much. It's just all so darn good, though. :)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Palatte revisit

We went to Palatte for lunch today. The owner greeted us and asked if we needed to look at the menu, but since we knew what we wanted, we went right to the counter.After Tara ordered The Egg, we were told that it was sold out. We were there at 2pm and they closed at 3pm, so that was fine. We went back to the menu stand to look for a back. In doing so, we noticed some items we didn't remember. One was the Wild Mushroom Tart, which Tara decided to get with a side of the pear salad. Another was a French Toast with warm apple compote, tart berry syrup, and cream. Since I love French Toast, I decided to get that. Tara added a side of bacon. Mine dish came with choice of the smokehouse selection of meats, so I decided to try the chicken apple sausage. While we were debating, a table cleared, so we snagged that after ordering.

After a short wait, our meal arrived. Tara's came in one of their usual square tart crusts with a fairly sizable portion of the Pear Salad. She really enjoyed it, although she didn't think the mushrooms were wild mushroom, but regular button mushrooms. Still, it was very good when I tried it.

My French Toast was two long slices of challah bread with a very generous amount of finely cubed apple compote, drizzles of the tart berry sauce, and a large dollop of cream on top. Several pieces of the sausage were beside it. It was very good. The apple compote wasn't too sweet and almost like a dessert, with the occasional tastes the tart berries adding a nice contrast. The chicken apple sausage also had a nice flavor. Overall, it was a definite success.

About halfway through the meal, the owner came over to ask how we liked our meal, since we picked two of the new menu items. We assure him that we really like them and they were definitely a worthy addition to the menu. He said he's changing the menu to reflect seasonal offerings and to keep things fresh. We talked to him a few minutes about the horrible traffic flow, and he acknowledged that it's not great, but since he was reluctant to tear out a load-bearing wall or two (perfectly understandable), he did the best he could with what he had. Apparently we went at a good time today, as in the morning, the restaurant and all the outside tables were full, with more people waiting for seating. They've added misters that help, but still, we were very glad to beat the rush and eat inside. He also said there was a 1hr 15min backup for food this morning as a chef called in sick. We're REALLY glad we slept in. :)


After months of threatening, we finally got a gas grill this weekend. I saw online that Lowes in Happy Valley had one for $78, so of course we left with the $138 one. :) It's got three burners and a side burner for who-knows-what. I went to assemble it today, only to come to a screeching halt at the fourth part. One corner of the bottom plate that holds the propane tank had a huge glob of slag partially blocking a screw hole. I took the plate to Lowes and they exchanged it, but to do so, they needed me to "return" my purchase via a charge-back on my credit card so they can RMA it. I would then "buy" another one for the same price, when in reality they were simply exchanging the part. The problem came when went to "buy" it again. The charge-back hadn't gone through yet, so my credit card was declined. D'oh! I called the customer support line on my card, only to find out they are closed on Sunday. After some debate, Tara used one of her emergency cards to buy it.
After some shopping for groceries, we got home and I resumed the build. So of course, a few more pieces, and when I got to the side burner, it didn't fit quite right, so a screw hole was about 1/32" out of alignment. After about 1/2 hour of pounding, drilling, and filing, I was able to get the screw in enough to secure it. Once that drama was over, it went together smoothly. I really liked that the grill part itself was all assembled for the most part. I didn't have to mess with the gas fittings, knobs, etc, except for the side burner. So around 10pm, I finally fired it up and we grilled some hot dogs. They were delicious.
With Tara's carnivorous streak for red meat, we'll recoup the cost by grilling steaks at home in about a month. :)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fry Bread House - Phoenix

Growing up in Maine, we always looked forward to fall and the many fairs that popped up in the various counties and towns. It was a tradition to go to the Topsham Fair from as far back as I can remember and later in my teens, we'd go to the Fryeburg Fair in far western Maine. The two foods I looked forward to were cotton candy and doughboys. Doughboys are round thin pieces of dough that are fried in a deep fryer. I like mine with cinnamon, butter, and powdered sugar. A fair wasn't a fair if I didn't get one or both.

My first summer in Arizona back on '04, Tara and I went to the Arizona State Fair with her friend Leslie. It was here that I was introduced to Navaho fry bread. Not having heard of this before, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it's basically identical to a doughboy, but with the ones we got at the fair had lettuce, cheese, refried beans, and seasoned meat. Messy, greasy, but oh so good. Later that fall, the Phoenix New Times came out with their Best Of Phoenix issue, and The Fry Bread House won for some category that I forget. Having enjoyed the one at the fair, we gave it a try and have been back many times for their outstanding food.

Located on the west side of 7th Ave just north of Indian School Road, FBH is set back from the road and very easy to miss the first time. The usually full parking lot holds twelve or so cars and it's fun watching the mess when large trucks try to back out without taking out any over vehicles. The restaurant itself is not very big, with maybe twelve tables and booths in the L-shaped space. You order at the counter and they call your name to pick up your order when it's ready. Unlike some places (Palatte comes to mind) the traffic flow is natural, albeit usually somewhat crowded.

We arrived today around 2pm, and it was a mostly full house. The menu consists of fry bread tacos, stews, and burros, along with some dessert fry bread. Meat is ground beef, plain or seasoned with red or green chiles, spicy chorizo, and plain. I usually get a combo with chorizo, lettuce, refried beans, and cheese. Today both Tara and I opted for a ground beef combo. I got a large iced tea (free refills according to the sign behind the counter) and Tara got a coke (nothing about refills was noted). We got a booth and waited for my name to be called.

After a few minutes of waiting and Tara playing with a cute two-year-old girl in the next booth, our order was up. The two 12-inch pieces of fry bread were folded in half, with the ingredients in the middle. Butcher paper was loosely wrapped around each one and tied together, so it wouldn't fall apart. Each sat on top of a paper plate with a napkin, knife, and fork. A bottle of hot sauce was put onto the tray as well.

The bread was freshly fried and piping hot. While not as good as the chorizo one, I still really enjoyed the taco. I devoured mine in short order and Tara finished only slightly behind me. Not even remotely healthy, but sometimes you need to clog your arteries. After we finished, we decided to split a dessert fry bread with cinnamon, powdered sugar, and butter. Except for being prepared with regular sugar, it was divine. Liberally sprinkled with the cinnamon and sugar, it was a nice contrast to the main meal.

Full and with noticeably slower heart beats, we left very satisfied. We don't go often, but when we do, it's never disappointed. FBH is definitely a unique Arizona restaurant. There are a few other places that serve fry bread, but the one in Mesa that tried wasn't on the same level. I got a red chile fry bread there and it had no spice. So we will stick with FBH. They are closed on Sundays.