GG, GIADA! Bao FTW

I’m a pretty big fan of Giada de Laurentiis; in addition to learning a heckuva lot about Italian cookery from her, she’s just a big sweetheart.  Anyways — lazy cookery mode in still in full swing — I was thinking about what to make for dins tonight without taking up too much time (there’s Diablo III to play) and WHAMO! a pasta craving hit me.

I haven’t made stuffed manicotti in years, and was pottering about online for ideas when I came across a recipe of Giada’s.  I’m pretty sure I’ve made it before, but looking at the ingredients now, I’m shocked by the FAT content there must be in this recipe — FAT that I don’t particularly think adds any flavor.  We all want to enjoy full-flavored food (FFF), but this just sounds unnecessarily heavy and not that tasty.  So I’ve decided to fix it.

Giada's FAT Beef and Cheese Manicotti

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Burger Renaissance

At some point during the last year, when I was cranking out recipes like a hooker in heat, I came to the realization that I was cooking far too many things that ended in ‘burger.’  I do not wish to become a burger blog, but last night I was inspired to try Chef Anne Burrell’s turkey burgers, because they (1) received pretty decent reviews, (2) are Asiany and I like Asian things, (3) are made by Anne Burrell (and nothing she makes is bad).

Anne Burrell's Turkey BurgerThis burger was like a good woman, deliciously moist and full of flavor.  Assuming you have a lot of the ingredients to hand, they’re very cheap to make and huge — I’m considering turning the four patties into 32 sliders and serving them at a cocktail party — and are sure to please everyone; I don’t even like water chestnuts all that much but found they added the most delicious crunch.  One thing to be careful of is flipping them; make sure the burgers have browned very well on one side before attempting to move.  They’re very loose (no egg or breadcrumbs in the batter).  Get the recipe here!

DC Restaurant Week — Day One, Lunch: Sushiko

I am not dead, though I probably should be.  DC Restaurant Week came and went, and I tackled six restaurants over the span of four days.  I filled my brain with new ideas, my arteries with cholesterol, and have a shiny new mouth ulcer to boot.  Hells yeah!

Day one kicked off with a Brian, resplendent in purple gingham, and a mysterious woman from Bowie (hereafter referred to as Charlaine) attempting a lunch date at a modern sushi bar.  This was a dangerous undertaking for several reasons.  For starters, our original lunch plans had been foiled by the slimy knaves of Bezu, so I was already in a pisser of a mood; Charlaine was fearful of being arrested in Chevy Chase, and, as I’m sure you’re all aware, I’m the snobbiest critic of all things Japanese.  Forgive me, Sunny.

Sushiko

Sushiko, one of two restaurants bearing that name in the DC area, reminded me of the inside of a fish bowl.  It was bright, minimalist, and marine.  Except for the white leather booths (which Charlaine found to be a bold choice), a goldfish would have felt right at home.  Or Daryl Hannah from Splash.

For 20 smackaroos, Sushiko put up quite an impressive Restaurant Week lunch menu.  Here’s what we devoured:

Brian’s Lunch

Miso soup
Shrimp tempura
Sushi (spicy tuna maki; assorted nigiri)

I also indulged in a white cosmopolitan and sesame ice cream for dessert.

Charlaine’s Lunch

Wild mushroom soup
Salmon ceviche
Sushi (same as mine)

Our Bowie beauty (how witty am I?) also shared some edamame with me, and had sansho bread pudding, green tea whipped cream and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

These lovely shots are provided by Charlaine herself, as she wields the power of film much better than I do; I am much more apt at providing the pretentious critique.

The wild mushroom soup was very delicate and earthy — great for whetting your appetite and not weighing you down.  I question, though, Sushiko’s decision for even having this item on the menu; this is unquestionably an autumnal dish in Japan, a country where seasonal cooking is the only cooking.  It was tasty, but not appealing when it’s 632 degrees outside.

The miso soup?  Well, I make better, but I make miso soup better than most Japanese I know. (Think I just nailed my pretentiousness quota.)

On to the next course.  I had the shrimp tempura (not pictured); it was two giant prawns and an assortment of vegetables in a crispy crunch.  Tempura is straightforward — it’s either well-done, or it’s not.  This was fine, but truly high quality sushi restaurants that do tempura (in Japan) will give you a bowl of coarse salt in addition to, or in lieu of, typical broth.  While the broth was tasty, I wanted that punch of sodium, dang nabbit.  Oh, and the portion size?  Ridiculous.  That alone would have fed me for dinner.

The real star of the entire lunch was Charlaine’s salmon ceviche.  Sashimi-style salmon in yuzu juice, with salmon roe, wasabi mayonnaise, and mitsuba (a Japanese green), this dish was intricate, with great depth of flavor and beautiful balance.  The eggs popping and squirting in your mouth, the creaminess of the fish and mayo, and that awesome zing from the yuzu culminated in what those of us in the know call a foodgasm.  Absolute yumminess and a clear winner for both me and Charlaine.

The sushi course was sushitastic.  Fresh fish, cut well.  Not much can be said about sushi, because, like tempura, it’s either spot-on, meh, or rotten.  This was spot-on, and for a first-time sushier like Charlaine, a good way to delve into the world of rawness.

We ended our food orgy with some dessert.  The sesame seeds in the sesame ice cream were simply not processed enough, giving the dish a very mealy texture that was frankly not enjoyable.  On the other hand, Charlaine’s sansho bread pudding was an interesting experience.  She gobbled it up with gusto, and I was very intrigued with the fact that the pudding itself was flavored by sansho, which is Sichuan pepper from Japan.  It gave you a really nice hit of heat at the end.

Overall, though, I’m not sure the dish worked as a whole, and it was because of the green tea whipped cream.  For starters, I don’t need whipped cream if I have ice cream, and vice versa.  It’s just too much.  However, the big problem was the flavor.  The green tea whipped cream was plain overpowering; it should have been subtle and worked in tandem with the spice in the pudding.  As it was, the cream was overworked and heading towards the clotted cream stage, it tasted too strong, and when I ate it with the bread pudding, I felt like someone had put pepper in my tea.  That just doesn’t jive with me.

We rounded out with a bill of 35ish for Charlaine and 45ish for me (because of that damn cosmo!).  The pacing of the service was horrible, with our dishes being brought out far too quickly — and on multiple occasions while we were still in the process of eating the previous one.  (Ironically, dessert took forever to come.)  Bad form, Sushiko!

That being said, Charlaine and I both enjoyed our lunch.  For her, it was a big leap into proper (sort of) Japanese food, and she found it to be very tasty and light; she was satiated, but not sluggish or bloated.  That’s a sign that you’ve had fairly good Japanese food.  She also talked about the ceviche for the rest of the week.

Would I go back?  Well, the food was tasty, especially the ceviche, and the company was wonderful, but I can’t imagine paying normal price for anything on the a la carte menu.  I can get sushi of equivalent quality at other places for considerably less money.  So, short of an amazing deal, I probably wouldn’t hit up Sushiko again.  Still, it was a wonderful start to Restaurant Week, and Charlaine’s outrage at being charged ten bucks for parking had me in giggles for hours.

That wraps up Sushiko.  Stay tuned for more posts; I’m doing one for each restaurant I ravaged!  (For those of us who struggle with the maths, that’s five more.)

Beer Before Bullets: A Philadelphian Dining Experience

I have been ordered by the Powers That Be to blog today, and now that I’ve sufficiently recovered from the shock of Ms Sunny Anderson commenting here, I suppose I have no choice but to comply.

This past Friday found yours truly in Philadelphia, a city that, albeit its close proximity to my current residence, I avoid like I would avoid a child with head lice.  Some mates from my stint at Oxford were in town (doing a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants East Coast tour), and my dear friend Catherine organized a mini-reunion.  I’d rather be in NYC, but I could never turn down such good company and a chance for some tasty food.

Thus we arrived at Tria, a small-plates bar that focuses on its strong selection of three different items:  wine, beer, and cheese (hence the name ‘Tria’).  When we got there — just shy of 6 pm — the place was already jumping with the post-work drink crowd, and the scene was casual/trendy, full of late-20s/mid-30s.  I wouldn’t go in looking like a hobo, but as long as you’re not an absolute fashion twat anyone can fit right in.  All and all, it was a cute place, in the “we’ve got a swank bar, 90s emo music, and cram a lot of people into a narrow space” pretentious kind of way, but I’ve been in seventeen bajillion wine bars before (yes, seventeen bajillion), and the real test was all about the food and drink.

I was immediately amused by the word choices on the menu.  My eye shot straight to the category called “Zippy Whites” — wines that promised a perky, tangy, and overful joyful drinking experience.  I had two glasses of the ’09 Sauvignon Blanc ($8/glass) and shortly thereafter all was zippy indeed.  While I didn’t partake in the beer, my friends did, and I had a gander at the selection; beers ranged from locally-brewed brands like Dogfish Head (Delaware) to some of the higher-alcohol Belgian beers that I prefer, like Maredsous 8.

Two Brits and Brian enjoy libations in Philly's Tria.

The food, however, is where Tria truly shines.  As stated on the website, most of the bar’s food (served tapas-style) is priced under $10.  This is actually misleading, as I would go so far as to say most food is priced around $8 bucks — which is amazing if you share with friends.  Granted, the portions aren’t huge, but they shouldn’t be.  Small plates!

Our first choice, of course, was cheese; we had to experience the third part of Tria’s claim to fame.  Since we had some fine English gentlemen in our party, Catherine and I ordered (and subsequently devoured with gusto) the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (Vermont, $7.50), as the menu boasted that this New England cheese kicks the curd out of its British cousins.  Whether it really does or not is debatable, but it was still damn good cheese.

Among our favorites that evening were the mole-spiced salami with honeyed almonds (about which I exclaimed, “This tastes like Christmas!”), warm Tuscan white bean spread (“Hey, this tastes like Mexico!”), Tuscan three-cheese potato chips with herbed truffle aioli (I ate the remaining aioli with a spoon), and the Italian meats platter with pickled red peppers, pickled onion mostarda, and garlic oil (I ate the remaining mustard with a spoon).  We also had two types of bruschetta:  goat cheese, garlic, and basil pesto, which I said tasted like summer (Catherine said it tasted like grass), and pistachio herbed ricotta with lavender honey (which was unanimously described as sex).

Italian meats platter at Tria.

When we broke down the bill and factored in tip, it came to $26 per person.  Considering we were all quite full and a little buzzy off good liquor, I call this place a bargain and a half.  A place like this could easily mark up its food prices by 20% and still be considered fair; if this were NYC, I imagine it would have run at least $35/person.

The next time I venture to Philly, I’ll be sure to stop by Tria again, though I wouldn’t go so far as to drive into the city for the sole purpose of visiting this restaurant.  Kudos to Catherine, whose love of cheese led us to a perfect spot for an Oxford reunion.