Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Brined Turkey

The turkey came out really good. I haven't perfected the browning process, as you can see by this one's farmer's tan, but it still tasted great. It was incredibly juicy. Now all we need to do is figure out what to do with all the extra. A 17lb bird is way too much for us to eat in one meal. The brined meat makes great turkey salad, though. Roughly dice it up and mix in mayo and pepper. Yummy. I'm pretty sure that'll be my lunch tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Turkey Brine

While doing our normal shopping this past week, I noticed that several places had fresh turkeys on sale. Not a ton (I saw maybe six total between a couple stores) compared to the freezers and freezers stuffed with Butterball and the like, but I was confident on being able to buy one when we were ready to cook one. After the fiasco that was the chicken brining (well, the brining went fine, cooking not so much), we were anxious to try the real thing.

We didn't buy a fresh bird on our usual Sunday shopping run, figuring we didn't have the space in the fridge to keep it till we were ready to use it, so last night I went looking. The Albertson's a half mile from our house had one on Sunday, but of course it was gone last night. I tried the Super Target at Bell/3rd St, the Safeway across from that, and a Basha's. None had one. I remember the Wal-Mart Supercenter having some on Sunday, so I went there at lunch today. They had one left, a 17-pounder. That's a bit bigger than we normally do (there's just the two of us) but we can freeze the leftovers. The leftover brined meat makes great sandwiches.

The brine is simple to make. I love Alton Brown's recipe from the classic "Romancing the Bird" episode of "Good Eats". I made the brine last night to give it time to cool down. We used to get a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot and stash it in the fridge, but then we saw Alton use a 5-gallon Gatorade-type cooler for a brine. We picked up an Rubbermaid 5 Gallon cooler at Wal-Mart and just stash it in a corner overnight to brine. I just put the turkey in it so it'll get a nice long soak.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

F**K YEAH!!!!

The Red Sox won ANOTHER World Series! Twice in my lifetime. As a life-long, die-hard Sox fan, it's pretty sweet. Not quite as good as 2004, but not much compares to coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees. :-D
Boston's gonna be a nightmare tonight. But we deserve it.

New Beer trend?

Now, I don't drink, so I might not be up on the latest and greatest beer trends. I was shopping at the local Albertson's last night and I needed some beer to boil my brauts in. When I was looking for some beer to get, I noticed these two items.
Now, it might just be me, that looks disgusting. The fact that the idea went through the complete product development cycle at a major company, was greenlighted, and TWO flavors were produced, just makes me weep for our future. Exactly who thought "Gee, Clamato and beer would taste GREAT together!" and why aren't they in a 12-step program?

Monday, October 22, 2007

When sushi is too fresh...

No idea what anything says on this Dutch site, but the video says it all. Tara, if you read this, don't click the link.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All Sync'ed up

After giving it some thought, Tara and I decided to see about consolidating our cell phones under one carrier. I've had AT&T since they were last AT&T, and she was on Verizon. She bought one of her former coworker's phones back in '05 and since it was Verizon-only, she switched. We stopped into the nearby AT&T store to see what we could do. After about 20 minutes waiting in line, we talked to Mike there. We explained what we wanted. I was eligible for an upgrade from my mostly reliable V3 RAZR which I've had since Jan '06. It was starting to have some odd issues and a lot of dust has gotten under the screen via the vents, so it's hard to read.

We'd seen the Samsung Sync on the AT&T web site and it seemed like it would work. Bluetooth, 3G compatible, music, camera, and all the other goodies. We asked about pricing and Mike went in the back. He came back with a pair of blue Syncs (Tara had wanted a blue one but hadn't mentioned that yet) and said we could get the pair for no cost with a new 2-year contract. That was more than a good price for us. Not sure how we'll tell the phones apart, but we are now paying about the same for two phones as both of us paid before for our single phones. It's always nice when everyone's happy. :)

As far as the no-cost phones, I've seen some pricing charts for the various costs that phone companies pay for devices vs the cost of what they charge you in a year vs their cost to have your phone on their network. "Raking it in" and "Hand over fist" don't begin to cover the profits. Giving you a free phone is peanuts compared to what they make over the course of a contract. I'm in the wrong racket.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Susan G Komen Drive for the Cure, Finale

Today was the final day of the 2007 drive. Both fleets were the BMW North Scottsdale dealer. Of course, I forgot my camera. That didn't matter when it came to the food. It was a joke compared to the S. Scottsdale event. I went upstairs at 11:30 to where the food was. The lunch consisted of sandwiches (ham, turkey, roast beef) cut in half. The top pieces of bread were already dried out at 11:3o. It's nice to see that a lot of effort went into the big finish. I ended up taking two halves, discarding the dry pieces, and putting them back together for a double-decker half. The meats weren't bad, but compared to the freshly grilled meats on Wednesday, it was a joke. Oh well. Pretty much what I expected.

The cars were the stars for me anyways. I drove the 550 sedan, 535 wagon, 335i sedan, X5 4.8, X3 3.0, 328i convertible, 335i coupe, 650i convertible (twice) and the Z4 3.0si. The 335i sedan surprised me by being nearly as much fun as the 335i coupe. With the traction control off, it would swing it's tail out more easily than the coupe. It was a blast. The 550 was fun, too. I couldn't adjust the seat to my liking, but I made do. I kinda killed one of the 335i coupes. Apparently they don't handle the heat very well. One went out of service earlier in the day (not my doing) and the second one's check engine light came on as I was merging onto the 101 at 56th Street. I got off at Scottsdale and let them look at it. BMW does an outstanding job at making it's wagons feel like sedans, and the 535i was an excellent example of that. While not quite as rocket-like as the 335i or 550, the twin-turbo 3.0 six still made for a fun ride. The SUVs drove nice, but I'm more of a car person. The 328i convertible was also capable, but not quite as fun without the twin-turbo. I drove it mostly to get a feeling of how the hard-top worked up on the highway. It was certainly livable. The last car I drove was the Z4 3.0si. It's a great car to toss around. I can't imagine what a screamer it would be with the twin-turbo engine. One can only dream... :)

Hopefully by the time it comes around next year, the new 1-series cars will be in the mix. Smaller than the 3-series, they will have the same engines, including the sweet twin-turbo. I can't wait.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Practice Run

So we're brined a couple chickens for dinner tonight. A couple because the first one I got at Hobe Meats was only 3lbs and Tara's comment was "I could eat that myself." So I grabbed a second, 7lb one at Albertsons. I go to cook it tonight, it's in the oven for a while and the temperature alarm on the thermometer tells us it's done. I let it rest, go to carve, and keep hitting bone. Finally we realize what I'd done. Genius me cooked the damn thing upside-down. We flip it over, put in the probe, and it's a whopping 141 degrees and just doesn't look cooked. So I turned the oven back on, wrapped foil back over it, and shoved it back in. It's currently still cooking.
The sad thing is we're pretty sure I did the same thing the last time I cooked a chicken...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pizzeria Bianco

After weeks of planning, first to find enough people to be able to make reservation to bypass the famous "2-hour wait" and then to set a day, we finally made it to Pizzeria Bianco last night. Tara an I met up with our Chowhound friends Winedubar, AZHotdish, and Seth. AZHotdish brought his girlfriend A and Seth apparently brought two of the Seth-clones he keeps in the basement, Seth-D and Seth-N. Tara and I arrived about 7 minutes past our 6:30 reservation time, but the others had checked-in, so all was well. We made the introductions for those who didn't know each other yet and after about 5 or 10 minutes of chatting, a hostess called our group in to eat. Sure beat waiting two hours.

We were seated in the very back of the restaurant at three two-tops with eight place settings. Given that at least four of us equaled the space of six people, it was a tight fit. We made do though. A party of nine was seated just behind us. I sat on the outside end, Seth, N, and D took the left side, Tara, AZHd, A took the right, with Winedubar in the inside end.

Our waiter came over and verbally harassed Seth. Apparently on all three of Seth's visits, he's had this same waiter. He took our drink orders, several iced teas, a Coke, a Bubble-Up, and iced water rounding it out. A few minutes later, the drinks arrived and somehow we ended up with nine glasses of water in addition to the drinks.

Our waiter explained the menu to us. He pointed out the pizzas that didn't have any red sauce, gave us the rundown on the Farmer's Market salad of the night (fennel, pomegranate, candied walnuts, and apples) and said that the antipastos were enough for two to share. We ordered, in no order, three Wiseguys, two Rosa, one Biancoverde, one Margherita, and possibly a Sonny Boy. Two antipastos, and two Farmer's Market salads rounded out the order.

Tara and I split one of the Farmer's Market salads. We really enjoyed it. Everything was very fresh and the dressing wasn't overly sweet. Seth had the other one and liked it as well. He said it was slightly different than the last one he'd had there, but like it better because it wasn't as sweet.

A while later the pizzas started arriving. I got one of the Wiseguys (Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage) and Tara got a Rosa (Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios). I loved the sausage. It reminded me of the house-made sausage at the restaurant my sister works at back home in Maine. The mozzarella was heavenly as well. I liked the crust, but it seemed to be a bit more charred than the other pizza I tried, Tara's Rosa. It still was good, but Tara's crust was better. The thin crust was also a bit overwhelmed by the relatively substantial weight of the sausage slices. They are very generous with it and it's not really a complaint. I took about half of the pizza home and the crust had firmed up so it held the sausage without collapsing.

In fact, I actually preferred Tara's pizza. The Parmigiano Reggiano was perfectly browned and had an amazing flavor. It was a much sharper flavor than the sausage on mine. Her crust seemed to be a bit more moist and fluffy since it seemed to have taken less heat. The flavor combination just hit the spot, and that pizza was finished in short order.

Seth was in love with his Biancoverde (Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Arugula), mostly due to what appears to be a very unhealthy love for arugula. I'm fairly certain counseling or at least an intervention is called for. He offered a slice, but I'm not an arugula fan, the disclosure of which almost cost me a limb.

It was hard to communicate the entire length of the table, but the general impression was that everyone loved their meals. D and N were both Bianco virgins like us, and from what I gathered, had no complaints. There was a lot of slice trading going on at that end as well.

Service was very attentive. Water and iced tea glasses were filled on a regular basis. Someone dropped a fork and before they'd picked it up, a waitress was on her way over with a new one before she knew who actually needed it. Given that the restaurant is always packed, such attentiveness is nothing short of amazing.

Is Pizzeria Bianco the end-all, be-all of pizza? Probably not. Worth a two-hour wait? I wouldn't. It's definitely some outstanding pizza, and I'll be back. The way to go is to get a group together and make reservations. We were in and out in under two hours.

A note on parking: If you park in the garage at Monroe and 5th Street, they will validate your parking slip so you'll only pay one dollar for parking. We parked on the first level and it was a two minute walk to the restaurant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ultimate Drive for Susan G. Komen, Day 1

So today was the first of my two drives this week. My first drive was at 9am, but unfortunately due to traffic, I got there at 9:15 and literally walked by my first scheduled car, the 335i coupe, as the Australian guy running things signed him out in it. So I went and checked in, signing the "Whatever dumb ass things you do in these cars, there's no way in hell BMW can be held responsible" disclaimer/release form. I then went down and asked what I could drive. Luckily for me, the 650i coupe was free so I got in, adjusted everything to my liking, and hit the road.

The course went from the BMW dealer on McDowell, east to the 101, south to the 202, west to the Priest exit, north on Priest to McDowell, then finally east back to the dealership. The best part is the twisty section of Priest/North Galvin Parkway between East Van Buren and McDowell.

The second car I drove was the 528ix. This was probably my favorite car of the ones I drove for a daily driver. Plenty of power, very comfortable, and a very smooth ride. I didn't realize it was the all-wheel drive, signified by the "ix", until I took the picture above.

After that, I was able to get into the second car I reserved, the 650i convertible. It was just after 10am, bright sunshine, and 72 degrees. If there is such a thing as perfect weather for a convertible, this was it. While not quite as solid as the coupe is, it's still a great car.

My favorite car of the day to drive was the 335i coupe. I'd heard great things about the twin-turbocharged engine in the 335i, and at first it unimpressive. However, once I got on the highway, it came to life. Once in mid-to-upper revs, the response is amazing. Hit the gas, and it just surges forward. Driving it through the twisty section was incredible. After I finished and was talking to some of the other guys there, most of them found it their favorite or second favorite behind the 550i sedan, which I will drive on Saturday.

Another one I was looking forward to hard-top convertible version of the 335i. Top up, it was very quiet. After about 1/2 mile, I put the top down, set my hat a size too small, and took off. The engine was just as much fun with no top. It, too, had a noticeable reduction in rigidity, but not too much. Even more impressive was that I was able to out-drag guy in a 750i from a stoplight. That amazed me as well as him. I could certainly live with this convertible.

The final car I drove was the coupe version of the Z4 roadster. Sadly, I didn't like it. Visibility was horrible, with huge blind spots and a nearly useless rear-view mirror. Pill-box was the word that came to mind. It shared the great engine in the 335i, but the cramped interior made it hard to for me to maneuver it. I'm about 5' 10, and I had the seat all the way back and it squeaked against the back of the cabin. The ride was also very harsh. While a beautiful car to look at, I would take the 335i over it in a heartbeat.

I also drove the X5 3.0 SUV. Even with the smaller engine, it was a nice drive. Definitely underpowered after driving the other cars, but still very livable. The 750i was a nice car, too. I think I drove another vehicle, but I can't remember it.

After talking with the lady who organizes this event, I found out that the event on Saturday is the last one of the year. Both of the fleets will be at the N. Scottsdale location and it sounds like it should be fun.

After I finished drive around 1:15pm (traffic at the 101/202 exchange was starting to get bad), I signed the Signature Vehicle for this year, an X3. The Signature Vehicles are put into the BMW museum.

Finally, the best non-car part of the day. For the third year running, they had a chocolate fountain. Oreos, strawberries, pineapple, angel food cake, marshmallows, pretzels, and rice crispy treats were available to be put under the chocolate. A rich, delicious treat after the great lunch they provided. Freshly grilled kielbasa, steak sandwiches, fried fish, french fries, pasta salad, caesar salad, and a couple other dishes. And it was all free. :)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The best charity work ever

This is mostly non-food related, so feel free to skip it if you don't like driving German cars for breast cancer research.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way...

Almost every year since 1999, I've taken part in the BMW Ultimate Drive for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Simply put, you get to sign up and drive almost any current BMW car or SUV unchaperoned over a 12-15 mile course along the local roads around the BMW dealership. For every mile put on a car, BMW donates $1 to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Two separate fleets travel all over the country. This year, they are in the Phoenix area this week. Wednesday, Oct 17, in South Scottsdale and Saturday, Oct 20, they will be in North Scottsdale. Being the car geek I am, I've signed up for both days. N. Scottsdale is much closer, but S. Scottsdale always has much better food, including a chocolate fondue fountain. The S. Scottsdale course also has some better roads.

My first one was in 1999 at Texas Motor Speedway. They had an autocross course setup and a short instruction school for it. My first car was a 1999 M Coupe. I loved it. I drove quite a few more cars that day. In the years since, I've only missed a year or two. It's a great time if you like driving and/or abusing expensive German cars. Where else can you drive, for FREE, a 650i Convertible or a fully-loaded 750i sedan with no one looking over your shoulder?

Like a lot of people, several members of my extended family have had breast cancer and one has even died from it, so it's definitely something that hits close to home. Being able to combine charity work with driving some of the best cars on the road is something I can't pass up.

So if you are in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area this week, you can actually just stop in and sign up on site. They will put you in whatever cars are not reserved at the time. I've signed up online to reserve the ones I really want to drive, but you can (and I usually do) spend as much time as you want there and just about drive all the cars. They are coming to the Camelback BMW too, but given it's location and the light rail construction, it's hard to really enjoy the cars. If you aren't in Phoenix, click in the link and see if they are coming to your city. If you missed it, there's always next year. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Centro Paninoteca update

It was bound to happen. We went to Centro last night and for the first time, Chris the owner wasn't there behind the counter doing the cooking. Almost predictably, the food suffered for it. Both our paninis were cold once you got through the bread. The cheeses weren't melted and the bread didn't have the delightful crusty crunchiness. On all my previous visits, everything was warmed through at the minimum and very hot fresh off the grill. I guess next time I go if I don't see Chris, I'll just leave.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baiz Market - Phoenix

This past Friday I met a couple of my fellow Chowhounders, Winedubar and AZHotdish, at the restaurant inside Baiz Market on 20th Street between Roosevelt and Washington for lunch. Baiz is a fairly huge Middle Eastern grocery store. If you ever need a 40-lb bucket of tahini or a 2-gallon bucket of nutmeg, this is the place to find it. The whole place smells like Middle Eastern spices, so you get hungry just walking around. This is good, since the front corner is occupied by the restaurant. I forget it's name, but it sells a wide variety of foods, many of which I'd never heard of.

After looking at the large display case full of meat pies and other items, I decided to get a small hummus and a chicken schwarma. AZHotdish got a small meat pie and I believe a lamb schwarma. Winedubar got a chicken taook (?) platter. Drinks are of the bottled variety from a small stand-up cooler near the counter. We all got sodas of various varieties.

It's a counter-service place, so they randomly yell out the name of whatever item is ready and you walk up and take it if it's yours. First up was my small hummus. Small being relative I guess, as a large amount of hummus was in a large, shallow bowl. Several pitas were wrapped up below it. The hummus had a liberal drizzling of olive oil on it. My first taste was without the olive oil and didn't do much for me. AZHotdish said it tasted like too much tahini. Upon mixing some hummus with the oil, it really brought out the flavor. The pitas are baked on-site and are about the thickness of a tortilla. They are somewhat chewy, but good. I found that mixing the olive oil with the hummus that I brought home was the way to eat it.

The chicken schwarma was excellent. It came with sliced pickles, diced tomatoes, spices, and a sauce, all very tightly rolled in one of the pitas. The chicken was grilled and you could taste it. The spices are spot-on. I loved it.

Both Winedubar (who'd been there before) and AZHotdish really enjoyed their meals as well. His schwarma looked identical to mine. Her platter held enough food for a small army. She also got some sort of a cheese dessert whose name escapes me. I tried some and it wasn't for me.

Overall, I really liked Baiz and look forward to eating there and shopping there in the future. The menu held lots of items that interested me, and the prices are very low. The schwarma are only $3.99 and my small hummus was about $2.99. It doesn't look like much and the neighborhood is airport-adjacent at it's finest, but the food is worth the trip. It's just off the I10 at the Washington/Jefferson exit, so if you are heading someplace and are driving by, definitely give it a try.

I brought Tara to Baiz late Saturday afternoon to show her around. She liked the place as well, but we didn't get any food. She thought it smelled great as well, so we'll probably head there for lunch some weekend. It's the best Middle Eastern market I've been to, but that's not exactly a large number. If you are looking for olive oil or any type of Middle Eastern spices, this is the place to get it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Another busy, but successful, Saturday

In addition to our stellar meal at The Capital Grille (we'll just not mention our third bad visit to Golden Buddha for dim sum. See the thread on Chowhound), we hit up several of our favorite spots for groceries.

After our dim sum, we walked across the parking lot to the Super L Ranch Market. Tara wanted some kaffir lime leaves and I wanted to look for some Tung Ting tea. Since Souvia sells it for $31 for 100g, I wanted to see if they had some cheaper. They had Tung Ting for $12 for about 4 or 5 ounces. It didn't say premium, like the tea I got from Souvia, but considering the cost savings, I was willing to risk it. Tara was able to get some lime leaves, so we were all happy. The tea turned out to be really good, so it was a good buy. Curiously, we stopped by Lee Lee Market in Chandler later in the day and they didn't have it. I would have bet on Lee Lee having it over Super L. Go figure.

Since Tara wasn't with me on my trip to Midwestern Meats the first time, we hopped back onto the 202 East and took Val Vista down to Main Street. We grabbed another ribeye, a couple bacon hamburgers, and a huge beer brat. I also got some ice cream at their bakery. Two scoops for only fifty cents? I'm in. :)

We then went to a nearby Marshalls and grabbed some white truffle oil and maple syrup. The syrup was good on pancakes yesterday morning. Tara still hasn't figured out what to use the truffle oil with. She just wanted to get some so we had it.

Heading south on Alma School from Marshalls, we hit Vonhanson's. We were out of their great hot dogs and had to stock up. We also got a half pound of bacon and some breakfast sausage. We also reserved a fresh, free-range turkey for Thanksgiving. We can't wait to try that on Turkey Day. Given how much we love their other stuff, we aren't too concerned. :)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Capital Grille - Scottsdale

What a difference a day makes.

A couple weeks ago, Tara schlepped one of her bosses all over town. A couple trips to the car dealer and one to the airport. To show his appreciation, he offered her choice of gift certificates from various restaurants through his American Express rewards. The choices were a $25 one for Red Lobster, a $50 one for either PF Changs or Cheesecake Factory, or a $100 one for The Capital Grille. Being the uber-carnivore that she is, TCG was the obvious choice. Her boss warned us that we'd probably be spending at least an extra $50, but since we usually spend that much on a weekend dinner, it wasn't an issue. We decided to use it this weekend and had dinner there last night. I used OpenTable to make 8pm reservations at their Scottsdale location.

We arrived shortly before 8pm and took advantage of the valet parking, despite the gorgeous, almost chilly (for Arizona) night. We entered the restaurant and after the host finished a phone conversation trying to explain to the caller they were located directly under the huge blue spire (in the process, explaining what a "spire" was) at Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright, we checked-in. He explained that they were just starting to rotate some tables and were pretty much on schedule and that we could enjoy a drink in the bar and they would get us when it was ready. The bar was packed, so we found a spot along one of the walls of personal wine lockers near the host stand and waited. We had a great view of the kitchen area and the wait staff would rush by us carrying various orders. The smells were making us really hungry. While we waited, we noticed that any time someone asked the staff where the restrooms where, instead of just giving them directions, they would walk with them until the entrance to the restrooms were in sight. Nice touch.

As we waited, we enjoyed the people-watching that Scottsdale has to offer. Tara commented that she was definitely not showing nearly enough cleavage, judging by the other guests we saw. You can always tell when you are in Scottsdale.

After about a fifteen minute wait, a lady came over and apologized for the long wait. She said she was a manager and in appreciation of our patience, that our table would be ready shortly, and she was giving us a free appetizer once we were seated. This surprised us, as we could tell they were busy and weren't making a scene, just waiting. About ten minutes later, we were lead to a booth in the main dining room.

As we sat down, the hostess who seated us gave me a black napkin and took the white one that in front of me on the table. As near as Tara could figure, people wearing dark pants were giving dark napkins and light-colored pants kept the white one. This was a first for me. She handed us our menus, thanked us, and returned to the host stand. A bus person then arrived and asked if we wanted sparkling water or ice water. We both chose ice water and looked over the menu.

A bread basket containing slices of crusty baguette, pumpernickel, a seeded roll, and a crispy lavosh cracker was set on the table, along with a silver ramekin of butter. The pumpernickel seemed to have some sort of a fruit in it, adding a tangy flavor. The seeded roll was our favorite, with a nice crust and dense insides, with the toasted seeds adding a really great touch. The lavosh was very sweet and my second favorite of the basket. A second ramekin of butter was hidden at the bottom of the bread basket.

After deciding the the $45 cold shellfish appetizer would be woefully abusing the free appetizer, we settled on the lobster and crab cakes. Our waiter appeared after a few minutes, greeting us by name, and offered to go through the menu for us since it was our first visit. He also went through the specials for the night. One of them, the king crab legs, sounded really good. He also mentioned a lobster mashed potatoes dish, but it was part of another special and not a separate item. He left to get Tara a refill of water and we made our meal decisions. Tara went with a Kona-rubbed dry aged sirloin, a wedge salad with blue cheese, and the parmesan-truffle french fries. I went with the crab legs special, a bowl of lobster bisque, and the lobster mac and cheese. I had a feeling we wouldn't be leaving hungry.

The lobster and crab cakes arrived first. In another classy touch, we were each given a plate containing one cake, a corn salad on a lettuce leaf, a ramekin of remoulade, and a lemon half wrapped in a fine yellow mesh to prevent seeds from falling into our food. The cakes were wonderful. Large chunks of lobster, large enough that I could identify the part of the lobster they came from, were mixed with the crab and some binder. The remoulade set off the flavor very well. Tara absolutely loved the corn salad that came with it. Crunchy kernels of corn and a few herbs well-chilled with some sort of oil, it was nicely sweet. She immediately made a mental note of what she thought was in it so she can attempt it at home. These were a definitely keeper.

After we'd scraped up the last morsels of corn, crab, and lobster, our plates were cleared. Our waiter gave Tara a very nice steak knife, saying he always found it easer to eat the wedge with a sharp knife. He gave me a soup spoon for use with my bisque as well. A few minutes later, Tara's salad was brought out. She waited for my bisque before she dug in. And waited. A few minutes later, our waiter was walking by and asked if my bisque had arrived yet. Seeing that it obviously hadn't (the large, bowl-shaped void and unused soup spoon were a dead giveaway) he went to the kitchen and came back shortly with a large bowl of bisque.

The bisque was extremely hot. I let it cool for several minutes. As I stirred it, large chunks of lobster meat were visible. Claw meat, tail meat, and some knuckle meat. Once it cooled enough to eat, it was very good. Extremely rich, as all good bisques are. I enjoyed it a lot, as did Tara when she tried it.

Her wedge salad was a decent wedge of iceberg lettuce with a ton of blue cheese dressing nearly completely covered with bacon morsels. Three slices of tomato were on the side. It was a very good blue cheese dressing, with huge chunks of cheese throughout. Tara really liked it but thought there was just a bit too much dressing. I like lots of dressing, so it looked fine to me. She didn't quite finish it, so I polished it off for her.

After our empty plates were removed, new silverware was given to us in the form of another steak knife for Tara and a small three-tined fork for my crab. Our waiter and another server brought our dishes over and I could almost watch their silent 1-2-3 count as they timed it so that our plates were put in front of us at exactly the same moment. The sides were brought as well.

Tara's plate held a large piece of steak, very thick with a noticeable darkness to it from the rub. She loved it. It was perfectly cooked medium, with lots of juicy pinkness. I tried it and found it rather bitter from the coffee, but I'm also not a coffee drinker. Her parmesan-truffle fries were really good as well.

My plate contained a large pile of crab legs, all sliced in half length-wise, so I only had to pry the meat out. A small bowl of melted butter was along side. I tried the small fork once, but soon resorted to my well-honed lobster-picking skills instead. The meat came out cleanly and I was able to only get most of it with no problems. It was really good and the butter added just the right touch. My lobster mac and cheese came in a much larger portion than I expected, housed in a wide, shallow cast iron skillet. I can't remember the cheeses in it, but I believe one was fontina. I only had two bites of it, as by this time I was very full. Tara had a little more than I did and she really liked it. I enjoyed what little I had.

Once we were finished, I excused myself to wash the various crab/butter juices off my hands. When I got back, our leftovers were gone and being boxed up. The waiter brought us dessert menus and dropped the bag of leftovers beside our booth. Several of the desserts sounded really good, and we'd seen a few go by and they looked good, but we were both too full. When we informed the waiter we were done, he asked for our valet ticket and took that and the leftovers away. When he came back with the check, we looked it over and saw that the appetizer hadn't been comped. We mentioned to him and explained what the manager had told us. He apologized and said he hadn't been told and would take care of it. A few minutes later, he came back and said it was all taken care of, and he'd continued the free lobster theme and took the bisque off as well. This was certainly unexpected, and brought down our post-gift certificate total down from $47 to $17. Given the high-quality of the whole experience, we had no qualms leaving a $40 tip on our "$17" bill.

When we got to outside, our car was already at the valet stand with the leftovers on the passenger's seat. We tipped the valet and head on our way. We know The Capital Grille is a chain, but it's a very high-end chain. We enjoyed it from start to finish, and the outstanding customer service was much appreciated after the debacle we endured the night before.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thai Hut - Phoenix

I'm somewhat of a hard-ass when it comes to my service at restaurants. I have certain minimum requirements that I like having met: drink glasses refilled as needed, our orders taken in a timely manner, our food being brought out in a reasonable amount of time, and the correct food at that. Tonight, well, tonight was just bad. I don't enjoy leaving no tip, but sometimes I'm so shocked/horrified/stupefied at something that happens, I just can't leave one.

Tonight, like other nights we've "cheated" on Osha Thai Cafe by going somewhere else, we treated to a bad experience. Having heard about a new Thai place on McDowell, and having heard favorable things about it, we decided to try it. Thai Hut is on McDowell just east of Central, on the south side. We parked in the overflow lot and walked over in the beautiful, cool night air. We got there a little after 7pm, and they had quite a crowd. A large group was eating in the east dining room, and most of the tables and booths were taken. Upon entering the restaurant, we where hit by a blast of arctic air from the air conditioner. It seemed like they had the thermostat set a few degrees above "meat locker". We were taking to the west side of the U-shaped dining area, past the diner-like counter with stools, and asked to wait while the cleaned and separated two tables that had been pushed together. I took the opportunity to used the restrooms and when I came out, Tara was seated. I sat next to her and started looking at the menu. When I leaned on the table, it shifted towards me on uneven footing. As this was bugging both of us to some extent, I asked if we could sit at an empty table beside us and they moved us to a stable, smaller four-top. We spent several minutes looking over the menu. In the meantime, a waitress asked for our drink order. Tara got a Pepsi, and I asked for a Pepsi and a glass of water. Our Pepsis arrived a few minutes later, but sadly, my glass of water never arrived.

After looking over the menu and debating what we wanted, we settled. We ordered appetizers of fresh spring rolls, satay, and a bowl of tom kha kai for me. Tara ordered the Crispy Pad Thai and I decided to order something different and got the Spicy Noodles (aka Drunken Noodles) asking for them to be on a lower end of the spice level if possible.

As we sat, the other tables around us started filling up, first table we'd orignally been seated at, then the one next to, and a large table seating about 10 people slowly filled as they arrived in small groups. One thing I noticed was tables that ordered after us seemed to be getting their food first. Mostly it was what appeared to be items associated with the nightly combo special, so it didn't bother me too much.

After somewhat of an extended wait, our fresh spring rolls arrived. Well, they sort of arrived. A waitress took them to the table we were seated a previously and the people there said they hadn't ordered them. She looked at us and I waved her over. Two rolls were cut into thirds and came with a very light-colored peanut sauce (almost beige) and a sweet/spicy sauce. The oddly-colored peanut sauce turned out to have what seemed like a high coconut milk content. I liked it but Tara just sort of shrugged. The rolls had shrimp, tofu, veggies, and noodles in them. They seemed to be freshly rolled and I enjoyed them with the peanut sauce.

Another dish was brought to our table, but it wasn't something we ordered, so the waitress asked around and found the right table.

Our satay arrived at the correct table on the first try, so they seemed to be learning. It came with the same peanut sauce as the spring rolls. The chicken had an odd texture, both grilled and charrred and somewhat runny. It was strange, but it was still good. Again, Tara wasn't a fan, but ate a couple skewers because she wasn't convinced the waitstaff would be able to bring us our entrees. In retrospect, ominious music should have played in the background at this prophetic statement.

After another long wait, long enough to convince me that my soup was eloping with my missing glass of water, they brought me what I will very loosely term my "tom kha kai". A bowl held a pure white liquid with visible chicken and mushrooms sprinkled with cilantro on top. Every other tom kha kai I've had has had large amounts of red spices sprinkled through it. This was white as the driven snow. Thinking that the spices might be on the bottom for some reason, I stirred it around, but no, it was still white. I tried some of it and it tasted for all the world like coconut milk with chicken and mushrooms. No spices at all. I did see one small piece of lemongrass. I pushed it away and the next time our waitress came by, I asked that it be returned and taken off our bill. She asked why and I explained. She said they must have left the spices out of it. Um, huh?!?! She offered to bring back another bowl, but I declined.

At some point, my Pepsi was refilled, but Tara's stayed empty for a LONG time until I set it right on the edge of the table. Eventually they got the message.

Next came our entrees. Well, almost. I watched them being taken to the table next to us with the large group. I heard the waitress say "Spicy Noodles" and heard the confusion from the people at the table. She set the dishes in front of a couple guys and left the table. For several minutes, I watched her go behind the counter and look over the order slips trying to figure out what was going on. No one from the waitstaff was still at that table. Finally, she goes over, takes the dishes, and tries to give them to us. I refused, saying we wanted fresh dishes. She asked why and I told her I wasn't sure if the guys had tried them. She asked "They tried them?" like she wasn't sure either. At that point, any return visits by us were not going to happen. I find it inexcusable that she'd try to serve us dishes she left unattended for several minutes at another table and wasn't sure if the people at that table had eaten some of it. I'm fairly certain that violates several heath codes. After arguing some more, she returned to the kitchen to get us freshly made entrees. At least, we hope she did. When she returned ten or fifteen minutes later, the dishes looked different, but weren't terribly hot.

I did like my noodles, but they were just a bit too spicy for me. I picked out the chicken and some of the noodles, but left most of it. Tara's "crispy" pad thai was actually my favorite dish. The noodles didn't seem crispy to me, but they were definitely not the usual noodles. It had a really good flavor and was sweet, but too sweet for her. She's more of a savory person. She likes crispy noodles, though, which is why she tried it.

So when the check finally came, I left a goose egg for the tip. The staff was busy but still somewhat friendly, but Tara was getting upset because they so busy and seemed to be impatient because of it. Trying to serve me possibly used food, though, it just not something I can live with.