Saturday, August 30, 2008

Then again, you can't get this in Georgetown...

While I dearly miss my beloved hometown, some things just aren't available without an hour or so drive to Portland. Unless the culinary landscape has changed since my last visit, Vietnamese still isn't very common in Mid-Coast Maine. Sure, they are a dime a dozen in Boston, Worcester and thereabouts, but not so much in Sagadahoc County.

I never really got into Vietnamese until I finished college. Despite having a ton of Vietnamese friends in college, the one time we went for it I nearly gagged. I was the only white guy among a group of two Vietnamese girls, an Indonesian guy, and our Atlanta native white girl friend. My meal came out a full half-hour after they got their food and every piece of "chicken" was apparently joint-meat. It put me off for years.

Then came one of my visits to Montreal for the F1 race. I went with one of my Vietnamese college friends, T, and a coworker of hers. We ate lunch at a little Vietnamese place somewhere in Montreal and I loved it. Perfectly cooked, subtle flavors. Yum.

When I moved to Dallas in '95, I met said friend's family, who lived in a Dallas suburb. By that point, I'd known her and her sister, L, who went to BU, for six years. Memorial Day of '96, L was visiting her family and they invited me to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. This was my first exposure to pho. They showed me how to use the various sauces and fresh herbs to season it. I was more or less addicted to pho from that point. There was a great pho place near my longtime home in Carrollton, TX, that I went to so often they recognized my voice on the phone before I'd even order. :) Dallas has a huge Vietnamese population among it's sprawlburbs, and I tried so many places I lost count.

Jump ahead to my move to Phoenix. While there are some great restaurants here, there just isn't the volume that I was spoiled with in Dallas. One place I've been to many times is Pho Avina. Tara went into work today, so I had the day to myself. Since I was going to be on that side of town anyways, I stopped in for lunch. They don't serve their banh mi on weekends, so I got the grilled pork with egg roll bun I snapped a picture of above. The grilled pork was nice and sweet. I love their egg rolls. The barely visible plate in the upper right is what's left of my appetizer order of them. All in all, the meal hit the spot. Speaking of spots, my poor white shirt took a beating, as my somewhat rusty chopstick skills tended to splatter the nuac mum just a bit. Well worth it, though.

Not that I wouldn't kill for fresh lobsters right now. You have to pick your battles. :)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why my sister is evil...

Because she posts pictures like this on her blog. She and Mom aren't very subtle about wanting Tara and I to visit more often.

Evil, I tell ya. :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweet Republic Ice Cream - Scottsdale

Our good friend and uber-food blogger Seth posted a review of Sweet Republic on his site a couple days ago. Being avowed ice cream lovers and having read their flavor menu online, we knew we had to try it sooner rather than later. We were in the neighborhood this afternoon, so we dropped in.

Sweet Republic is in the small strip mall on the northwest corner of Shea and 91st Street in Scottsdale. Due to the shape the mall and the Bank of America on the corner, it's hard to see from the road. I'd looked up the address ahead of time so knew which nook to look in.

We were the only to patrons when we entered. They have a typical ice cream shop layout. The display with their daily selection of ice cream faces the door. They had eight or ten varieties of ice cream and then another ten in a separate freezer with their selection of sorbet and yogurt. They are happy to let you sample as many as you like. We tried nearly all the ice cream and a few of the sorbets/yogurts before we left.

Tara got a scoop of their Sugar 'n Spice- "molasses sugar cookies meet cinnamon spiced ice cream". It was outstanding. Strong cinnamon flavor and a great grainy texture with bits of cookies, sugar and spices. We both loved it.

I got Belgian Chocolate- "made with extra-rich, smooth Belgian chocolate". Compared to their other very flavorful creations, this was rather plain, but still a great ice cream. It had an incredibly smooth texture and a nice chocolate flavor. I really enjoyed it.

After we'd finished, we looked over the flavors again. The lady behind the counter asked if there were any other flavors we wanted to try before we left. So of course, we went nuts. I loved the Real Mint Chip- "fresh mint leaves & rich flakes of chocolate - pure minty goodness". The flavors came in waves. First the ice cream, then the strong, natural mint flavors, and then the chocolate. It's hard to describe the fullness of the mint flavor. The use of mint leaves brought on different stages of mint flavor for me. This is on the top of my list on the next visit.

Tara had a similar experience with the Peachy Keen Sorbet- "ripe yellow peaches – a pure juicy bite of summer". She said it had an extremely pure peach flavor and was probably her favorite of all we tried. In all, we sampled twelve different flavors of frozen goodness. If you like coffee ice cream, try the Sumatra Espresso Shot- "made with locally roasted bold, full-bodied Sumatran espresso beans (More Than Fair trade)". It had a great, strong coffee/expresso flavor.

They rotate their flavors, so every time you go, it will be different. The flavors Seth and J had weren't available when we went. We hope they are able to do good business in their location, as they have great product.

One word of warning: If you are lactose-intolerant, stick to the sorbets or yogurts. Trust us on this one. The richness of the ice cream will wreak havoc with you. If you are like some lactose-intolerant, ice cream-loving people I know, you might consider it worth it. Just be prepared to pay the Piper afterward.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Omnivore’s Hundred

This list has been ALL over the lately. It's a list of 100 things every good omnivore should try at least once. This list was developed on a blog called Very Good Taste. Here's a link to his original post. Tara and I both saw it and counted how many we've tried. I had to revise my count after I'd looked up some items I didn't know. Turns out, I'd actually eaten them. Is it just me, or is that kinda scary? :) Looks like 42 is my magic number.

And as all true Geeks know, 42 is a great number. :)

Here's what to do:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. I just did them in red.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho (Love pho)

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart (Brud’s in Boothbay Harbor)

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns (a staple at any dim sum I go to)

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava (another favorite of mine)

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam Chowder in Soudough Bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted Cream Tea

38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala (one of my favorite Indian dishes)

48. Eel (unagi from Hana in Phoenix is like candy for me)

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (way over-rated)

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang Souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom Yum (I prefer Tom Ka, but Tom Yum also good)

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a Michelin 3-star restaurant

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Temptation and Torture

Tara worked some of today to get caught up at work and have a co-worker help her with an Access database. I hit the gym, a rare occurrence for me on a Saturday. When she got home mid-afternoon, we wanted to get out of the house so we took drive. She got hungry around 5pm and got her yearly pizza craving. She only wanted a slice or so, and since I can't do tomato sauce pizza, we swung by Luna Pizza in Deer Valley at the 101 and I17 intersection. I used to go there for lunch when I worked across the street and knew that had good pizza by the slice.

Tara got their special (2 slices of two-topping pizza and a drink) and garlic knots. I got two pepperoni rolls, hoping they were sans-marinara and a drink. We each helped ourselves to a Pepsi at the soda fountain and waited for our meals.

After 10 or 15 minutes, Tara's slices were dropped off. Two woefully out-classed, thin paper plates were overloaded with her to large, greasy (in a good way) slices of pepperoni and garlic pizza. They smelled so good. They were fresh out of the oven and extremely hot. I was all but drooling. A minute or two later, the garlic knots and my pepperoni rolls were dropped off. Thankfully, the marinara sauce was on the side. They looked like two cinnamon rolls, except made with pizza dough with chopped pepperoni instead of cinnamon.

Once they'd cooled down, I took a bite, They were really good. Nicely browned and the pepperoni grease flavored the dough nicely. They didn't have the nice crust that the pizza had, but they were a pretty good substitute. Tara liked her slices (she's normally not a pizza person), but she was only able to finish one. Between the size and grease, she had to stop. I scavenged the pepperoni and crust from it. I really wanted to scarf the whole slice down, but I knew there would be very bad repercussions if I did. I was THIS CLOSE to just giving in. I love the high-quality gourmet pizzas from PB and Humble Pie, but there's a lot to be said about the simple perfection of a greasy, NYC-style slice.

After we finished, we headed home so Tara could change shirts (did I mention the abundance of dripping grease?). We watched some incredibly boring covering of the women's Olympic marathon for a while and I decided I wanted something for dessert. We eventually decided to go to Mary Coyle's on 7th Ave just north of Missouri. Across the street from my beloved Hana (more temptation...).

Tara got a small sundae and I got a regular one. They were both pretty good. Unfortunately, being Asian, Tara is extremely lactose-intolerant and Mary Coyle's ice cream hits her hard and fast. We hadn't been there in ages, so we'd forgotten. So we headed home and she retired to the bedroom until her stomach decided to relent.

I'd just gone into the bedroom to finish reading one of my Dresden Files novels when I got a call from the support team on one of my accounts. I forgot that they were patching servers this weekend, so I get to stay up until the Intel team finishes so I can verify my servers are running normally. So much fun... I just want to sleep.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My current pizza methodology

Lately I've been buying F&E pizza dough and experimenting with it. I've tried making my own dough, but my aging KitchenAid isn't what it used to be.

I cut the dough into two balls, roughly 8 oz. each. I preheat the oven to 450 and put our 12" Lodge Logic cast iron skillet on medium-low. I put 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or any convenient oil) in the skillet before heating and use a pastry brush to spread it evenly. I roll out the dough until it will just about take up the whole bottom of the skillet. Once the skillet is up to temp (350 or so), I put the dough into it. I then brush the top of the dough with more olive oil. Once the bottom has gotten a bit of a crisp and browned, I use tongs to flip it over.

I then top it. Since I can't have tomato products of late, I've used pepperoni, ham w/pineapple, and/or mushrooms. I've also used pesto instead of tomato sauce with good results. I sprinkle liberally with mozzarella and then bake it for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is nicely browned.

I take it out and let it cool on a rack for a few minutes. I usually get a nicely crispy (although with occasional small burnt spots on the bottom if I'm not careful) pizza. The top gets a nice crust from the initial crisping so the toppings don't get it mushy. The pizza is even good cold, which is one of my benchmarks for good pizza.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Uber-Geek + Romance =

You've gotta hand it to our friend Michael. After being chastised for being too low-key in his first proposal, he bribes a few of his fellow Google-rs and comes up with this. See his full site for it here:

Geeks in love. Be very afraid.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Eden's Grill

Friday, much to my surprise, Tara let me know she's been craving Eden's Grill for weeks now. She never mentioned it until then. Apparently, the beef she had on our first visit was so good that she was like Odysseus with the Sirens. So we headed over for dinner.

Tara ordered a small bowl of their curried lentil soup and the Beef Kebab dinner. She got her rice with almonds, but without raisins. I got a small Fattuchee salad (Romaine lettuce, cucumber, and parsley topped with deep fried pita bread and house dressing, hold the tomatoes) and the Chicken and Gyros dinner. I got my rice without raisins or almonds. Both of us stuck with water with lemon for our drinks.

Tara's soup was really good. She usually doesn't do curry, but the friendly waitress assured us it was for flavor, not heat. She nearly licked the bowl clean. The small tastes I got I liked. My salad was very good. It was very large, split nearly equally between romaine and cucumbers. The deep fried pitas added a strong crunch. The flavor is hard to describe, but I enjoyed it. I really liked the many layers of crunchiness.

Tara loved her meal. The beef was perfectly cooked to her tastes and the rice/almond combo was superb. Mine was equally good. The chicken had a nice flavor from being marinated. The gyros were sliced in long, thin strips, perfectly cooked. The rice at Eden's is amazing. A deep yellow color, it's full of flavor.

You get a huge amount of food, and Tara and I both took home enough for another meal each. We had to force ourselves to stop eating. We knew we were full, but it was so good we just wanted to keep eating. I think that's a sign of really good food. All told, with tax and tip it came to about $51. Considering we got a second meal from our leftovers, it's a really good deal.