Thursday, March 29, 2007

2-ton Paella

I stopped into the M and S Grill in downtown Minneapolis after a meeting. I had already told the BF to get dinner on his own, so I took the opportunity to try this place as I'd been told they had great food. I bellied up to the bar with my briefcase and ordered an intriguing fish dish (don't remember what it was - doesn't matter because they were out). I ended up with my second choice - the paella.

While I awaited my entree, a group of roudy 28 y-o dudes in suits came in exchanging lively banter with the bartender and inappropriate attention to the very married female server. The loudest mouth of the group sat next to me and seemed to be itching to try to draw me into a conversation - my usual "don't screw with me - I've been working all day and I just want to drink my beer and eat alone" vibe held him off - temporarily.

The Paella, all 5 lbs of it arrived garnished with 2 king crab legs. The mixture was a dense creamy collection of fish, shrimp, cheese and other things. Even though I knew it was too rich, it was one of those days. It was so over the top, Mr. Mouth had to ask me "what is that?" My reply - Paella. "What's that" You've got to be kidding . . .

After Mr. Dude left me alone, I looked at my plate in disdain.

Holy crap - I can't believe I ate the whole thing. While I'm sure M and S grill has it's charms, the 2 ton paella is not on my return-to list.

Indian Luxe in the Capital

I don't eat Indian enough. I've rarely found myself in the mood ever since I left Atlanta 5 years ago. There I had a set of reliable places like the cheap, but tasty Zyka, which was located in a former church adjacent to a Montesouri School on Lawrenceville highway (in Decatur, GA). I went every other week, so I knew the menu, had my favorites and, still being fresh from college, was comfortable with the relatively cafeteria feel of the dining room. Now, whenever I think of Indian, the unfamiliarity of the dishes and the risks of new, more expensive venues (such as we have in Minneapolis) I'm not as motivated.

On my recent trip to Washington DC for the HRC Equality Convention, I took a chance by agreeing to have dinner with some of my fellow Minnesotan convention attendess (whom I did not know very well) to try a highly rated Indian gastronomic palace called Rasika. I'm so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone.

The company was incredibly lively and intelligent - we discussed everything from politics to how the oil & water relationship one of my dining companions had with his partner resulted in an explosively vibrant sex life. No doubt the openess of the conversation was fueled by the incredibly flavorful food. We shared the three appetizers pictured here. The highlight was the Palak Chat - an impossible mixture of crispy fried spinach, sweet yogurt, tamerind and date chutney. We also had the Ragda Patties (spiced potato, tamerind date, chick peas with mint chutney) and an incredible tilapia grilled with currry spices in a banana leaf. My entree was a sinus clearing dish called Chicken Green Masala. I'm not sure how some mint, coriander and spices could come together as such a volcanic sauce. Not to say it wasn't a welcome experience. Spicy flavors activate pleasure centers in the brain - the plate was very clean.

The scene was definitely a see and be seen crowd - the decor uber modern and lively and the service was attentive, prompt and top notch. I'm a gainfully employed adult who values food, so the price didn't phase me (it also helped that one of my companions picked up the bill). Nevertheless, this was not the cheap Zyka Indian-in-the-Church-Hall from a prior time in my life, but I think we can all stand a little more luxe in our Indian cuisine.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Folksy Counter in DC

I was in Washinton DC earlier this month for the Human Rights Campaign's annual spring lobby day and equality convention. Fleeing an impending blizzard in Minneapolis, I arrived about 12 hours early. I found time to wander out of my hotel to try a local lunch counter, CF Folks, that had been highly rated by several sources. CF is a small, unassuming place and not what you'd expect to find in a big city. The patrons are in the DC norm suits and ties, but behind the counter, it's like these folks came through a wormhole from some small town in Kansas straight into this urban jungle.

Wednesday was Indian and Italian day (not in the same dish, mind you), so I decided to try the lamb curry. The elderly lady behind the counter asked me if I wanted the "secret sauce" which I readily accepted. The sauce was a fruity, spicy chutney that pulled the melange of tender meat and rich thick curry slurry together.

Not to get out of place like that without dessert, I requested the sweet of the day, warm peach cobbler with rum rasin ice cream. Not my grandma's cobbler, but the first bite sent my eyes to the back of my head. CF Folks definitely offers a soul-satisfying experience that assures me there is still some heart left in the nation's capitol.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Old fashion tipple

If you need to drink bourbon in the middle of the week, I strongly endorse the "Old Fashioned" route. Susan at JetSet hooks me up with a good one every so often.

One of these offers a touch of civility that my other perferred cocktail, the Manhattan, can suggest, but not match. The downside of this drink is the strange urges I get to start smoking cigars and referring to women as "broads" about halfway through it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

3 days of Mexican

This was not planned, but I've just completed a three day Mexican series - sort-of . . .

After the Of Montreal concert at First Avenue, my companions and I dropped in at the Chevy's "Fresh Mex"; downtown for Margaritas and snacks before braving the "Y'all Come Back Saloon" - a local institution that never ceases to be popular with the boys. I had eaten dinner earlier in the evening, so I ordered the "Guac My Way" which was promised to be a table-side fresh preparation of Guacamole just as I wanted it. The cheerfully flirtatious server bounded over with a tray of fresh avocados and various accoutrements so that he could try to match my taste preferences. I asked for it chunky, spicy, a touch garlicky and a some salt for good measure. To my horror, his bowls contained garlic powder, very sad looking chopped tomotoes and no salt to speak of. In the end, it ended up bland and tasteless despite his best intentions. After sucking down the 12oz "Blue Agave" margarita, I decided to forgive him and Chevy's for their transgressions. It was just confirmation that if I want a good bowl of Guac - My way - I have to make it myself.

In preparation for my Sunday dinner, we decided to drop by the Midtown Global Market to pick up some things that I didn't trust my local grocery store to carry in good quality (ripe plantains, Mexican queso fresco, and fresh tomatillos). We were pleasantly surprised to see how busy the stalls and shops were on a Saturday night. We opted to cap off our shopping with dinner at "A la Salsa"; - one of the few sit-down establishments in the market that has been getting rave reviews. I started the meal with the first of my 2for1 Mojitos which tasted much like the kind I get when I'm in Mexico or the Caribbean - light on the lime, balanced on the mint and sugar, and just enough rum to make it worth the while. We moved on to the first course of Tostones con Camarones where they took thick fried planks of plantains and topped them with perfectly grilled shrimp topped with this delicious spicy mango salsa. My main course, a Pollo en Mole Poblano - a delicious quarter chicken covered in a rich, ever so slightly sweet mole sauce with two savory tamales on the side - was a delicious exercise in simple complexity. I love a good mole poblano that can balance out the sweet, the chocolate, and the various spices to make it a brain-tingling experience. The A la Salsa folks did not disappoint.

I cooked for us tonight and reached for my friend Rick Bayless for inspiration. I live and die by his "Mexican Everyday"; cookbook so I picked two recipes for this meal: Gulf Coast Rice Pilaf with black beans and plantains supporting Spinach/Mushroom Enchiladas in Salsa Verde. While the pilaf was very good, the enchiladas again stole the show. The sauce is a simple mixture of fresh tomatillos, garlic and jalapeno chilies reduced and then balanced with some stock and crème fraiche. Although the assembly is messy (you dip the tortillas in the sauce, roll in the filling and serve, rather than rolling in the fillings, saucing and baking before serving) the result is fresh, fragrant and intoxicating. I paired this meal with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon that I opened yesterday, but kept fresh in my newly refurbished "Pek Supremo" wine preservation system. More on that in a future update.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Big beer

There is something criminal about drinking a Newcastle from a big ass bottle. Keep in mind that I have big hands so the size is understated, but trust me when I say this bottle of beer is huge!

I enjoyed this bad boy at a concert at 1st Avenue - a standing-room-only mega club in Minneapolis made famous by Prince in the movie "Purple Rain". The band was Of Montreal and it was a blast. I have really been digging their new album, "Hissing Fauna, Are you the Detroyer?"

I see a good live concert (or a sports event for that matter) as a good way to fully enjoy a big ass beer! Given the high diva factor the lead singer of "Of Montreal" brought to the stage, I felt that the classiness of a fine brew like Newcastle was appropriate.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wide Mouth Kitchen Aid / Big Mouth Turk-Mex Burger & softening those hard buns

I had a notion of experimenting with creating a Mexican inspired turkey burger for dinner Wednesday night. Here's what I threw together:

1 lb Ground Turkey
1 Jalapeno Chile (seeded & quartered)
1/2 Yellow Onion
3 cloves of peeled garlic
Ancho Chile Powder
Chopped Cilantro
Kosher Salt

To get the seasoning particulates preped to go into the meat, I wanted to inaugerate my brand new Kitchen Aid Wide Mouth 12 Cup Food processor. I had been lusting after this thing for months but could not justify replacing my current relatively new and functioning Cuisinart food processor/blender with a $270+ appliance. Luckily, my Mom (God bless her soul) recently sent me a Christmas gift (yes, it's March) of a gift certificate for $100. The merchants on "Giveanything" are divided into categories like "Stores you know" and then there is everything else. I found a deal on my mixer at a place called (clearly not a "store you know") Despite being a tragically ugly site, they offered a great deal on the processor I want. After my gift certificate, and the $20 rebate, I barely spent $80 bucks on a new, quieter and uber sexy food processor - did I mention this thing has 3 different integrated work bowls, the biggest feed tube in its class and a handy accessory case to keep it all organized? Heavenly . . . . back to the food.

Anyway, I threw everything but the meat into the mini bowl of the processor and chopped it finely, added it to the meat and made up 4 thick patties. While those were under the broiler, I reached into the cabinet for the Brioche Buns I had bought at Trader Joe's on Sunday. To my horror, they were hard as rocks. Yelling my dismay to my BF in the next room, I had him Google up a solution for our hard buns. Here's what we did:

Brush top of buns with cold water
Wrap tightly in Aluminum foil
Heat at 300 Degrees for 10 minutes

Woila! Dinner was saved. The BF loved the flavors in the burgers. I found the onion and garlic too overpowering so I suggest you turn those down (1/4 onion, 1 - 2 cloves garlic per Lb of Turkey max) and plus up the salt a touch. Further, even though we were able to resucitate the buns, it's best to freeze the devils until the day you need 'em to get the best flavor and texture.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pizza Pizza - Go!

I broke one of my personal dining rules by eating the same thing for lunch and dinner - Pizza and spinach salad in this case. Both were very different studies of the same concept.'

Lunch was provided by my office cafeteria. I wanted the "healthy option" from the grill - a whole wheat spicy chicken quesadilla with carrots. As the line was too long, and I was on a tightly mandated 46-minute lunch break from my management training, I defaulted to what was hot and grab&go - the sliced pizza and pre-mixed salad bar.

The slice was a 1lb honking mass of thick cornmeal dusted dough covered in cheese, a decent tasting sauce and greasy pepperoni (according to Sodexho, each slice is worth 400 calories, but I don't buy it). I tried to balance it out with the house spinach salad which consists of slightly wilted baby spinach leaves, thin sliced red onion, mandararin oranges, glopped with a raspberry vinaigrette. Uff!

Contrast that with my take on this idea at dinner. We started with a small refrigerated deli pizza from Trader Joe's that was heavenly. The crust was perfectly crisp on the edges, but flakey and tender on the inside. It was topped with pesto, sliced roma tomatos and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. The check-out dude at TJ's warned me that these were so good, he would eat them two at a time. Luckily, I only bought one which my BF and I shared. We paired the pizza with my standard (need a salad, and need it now!) spinach salad. Here's how I make it:

Basic Spinach Salad:
1) Dump a bag of triple washed baby spinach into a bowl (wash all you want, if it's got e-coli you can't do a thing about it)
2) Sprinkle 2 generous pinches of coarse kosher salt over the leaves
3) Drizzle lightly with good extra virgin olive oil (about 3 seconds worth of drizzle)
4) Splash with some aged balsamic vinegar (Trader Joe's again has a nice 10-year for only $3)
5) Fresh Grind some black pepper on top to taste
6) Toss and serve

Dinner was done in 10 minutes, which gave us time to get out to the Minneapolis Auto Show, where we could smell the leather and continue my multi-year effort to buy a new car. Will it be a Beemer, Land Rover or another Infiniti? Either way, I may have to cut back on my grocery/restaurant budget given my taste in vehicles.