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A Traditional Birthday Meal

Well, a traditional meal if you are over in East Asia.  Or if you’re me, it’s something that I’ve been doing for the last six-ish years.  That’s right, it’s sushi time!

This year for my birthday meal, Lindz and I went out to Osaka with Matt and Janessa.  Since it was my birthday I got to get whatever I wanted (not sure how that is different from any other time we’ve gone there, but I just rolled with it).  I decided that it was past due on ordering a boat load of sushi.  I mean that quite literally.

A boatload of happy!

Osaka has an item on their menu called the Love Boat.  It contains 10 pieces of sushi, 18 pieces of sashimi, a rainbow roll, and a dragon roll.  All served in a wooden boat.  Hence the name.

All of the pieces were “chef’s choice,” so from the outset I wasn’t expecting anything too lavish as far as selection.

Close up of the bow selection.

Close up of the stern of the boat.

I was right about the selection.  A lot of tuna, salmon, and the like.  Nothing off the beaten path, but all very tasty and a lot of it.

Ever since Matt and Janessa ordered deep fried crab in RI, we’ve been ordering it as a an appetizer.  Been working good so far.

Not quite as good as Enn’s, but then that was the best I’ve ever had.

Since I can put away a lot of sushi, I finished off Lindz’s half and still ordered a couple of extra pieces to cap off the meal.

A bit of octopus and eel as a nice finish to a nice meal.

The Salty Hog

If you’ve ever been to Baker’s Square, you know that they have quite a selection of pies.  Every month they have a featured pie.  In September, it was definitely something that caught my eye (and taste buds).

Everything is better with bacon.  Well, most things.

The idea of candied bacon on top of french silk pie, on top of chocolate cake, on top of caramel and almonds, on a pie crust seems like a good idea.  Unfortunately, the whole is not equal to the parts.  I think if you took away the cake, it would have been a great improvement.  As far as specific ingredients, the candied bacon was by far the best.

The Salty Hog in the display case.

And the close up shot.

RI: Connecticut Tigers Game

All of us are baseball fans to varying degrees (I’m probably the most fair weather fan of the group), so it was a unanimous decision to catch a minor league game while we were out East.  The fact that we got really awesome seats for $10 helped to make the decision even easier.  Since we had a bit of time before the game, we stopped by a small eatery to catch supper.  The Sea Swirl reminded me of a Mom & Pop version of a Dairy Queen that also served a nice variety of seafood.

Famous for clams. They definitely can talk the talk and back it up with walking the walk.

There was a lot of clam strip dinners ordered and all of it consumed.  BTW, there are fries in there somewhere.

The clam strips were quite good.  In fact, I used the tarter sauce for the fries because the clams didn’t need any kind of adornment.

I saw this on a building next to the Sea Swirl. I couldn’t help but wonder what is Mystic Soup? Do witches make it? Inquiring minds want to know!

I tend to get this look a lot. Usually it comes after I say a really bad pun or my dorkiness is running amok.

After we ate (and were incredibly stuffed), we made the short journey to the Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium where the Connecticut Tigers call home.

$10 seats and the only thing between you and home plate is a net!!! Seriously, how awesome is that?

The happy couple.

I did take some pictures during the game, but I won’t bore you with them.  Although, I did get some really cool shots with the continuous shooting mode.  I took a series of photos of each pitcher throwing the ball.  It comes out as a nice slow-motion montage.

The Tigers beat out the Brooklyn Cyclones with a home-field advantage.

Since it was a Friday game, they had fireworks afterwards.  Again, I’m totally in love with my new toy.

Oooooh!

Aaaaaw!

Yeah, the new camera is fun.

RI: Enn

When Chef Aaron from the Seminary found out a bunch of us were going to Rhode Island, he gave us some suggestions of places to eat.  He went to culinary school out East so he had the insider knowledge.  Top of his list was a sushi joint called Enn located in Lincoln (north end of RI).  He claimed that it was the best sushi that he had ever eaten.  So naturally, we wanted to go and give it a whirl.

The happy couple and the last blurry photo!

We went there on Thursday and the special was half priced wine and sake.  Matt opted for the sake, Lindz, Janessa, and I split a bottle of malbec.  Dave was the responsible driver and had his Diet Coke.  Lately, my wine of choice has been malbecs.  It is a full bodied red which is not as heavy in tannins as a merlot, and it has a nice bouquet with notes of plum and earth.  (Yeah, I looked up that last part.)

This was a very good year for the vinyard.

Collectively, the group ordered three apps.  Lindz and I got the fried oysters.  They were quite good and the creamy dipping sauce was amazing.  These were much like the clam cakes that we had at Champlin’s.

5 fried oysters, 5 people in our group.  Coincidence?

Matt and Janessa wisely chose the soft shell crab tempura.  Hands down, this was the best app that we had.  Which is saying a lot because this was the best sushi place that I’ve ever been to.

This. This is worth driving 1400 miles for.

Dave opted for the agedashi tofu.  I’m glad that he ordered it because it is something that I never would have even considered.  There always seems to be something else that would catch my eye (and stomach).  It is a firm tofu that is dusted in a starch and then deep fried.  It is served in a tentsuyu broth that consists dashi, mirin, and soy sauce.  It’s definitely worth trying once if you see on the menu.

I’m middle of the road on tofu, but this has me rethinking my opinion.

As for the entree’s, Matt and Janessa decided to split four rolls between them.  Had they known how big the rolls are, I think they would have chosen differently.  One thing that I found impressive was the plating on a couple of these rolls.  The first one to show up was the Summer Tuna Roll.  Inside it has avocado, spicy mayo, tobico (fish roe), and tempura flakes.  And on top it has maguro tuna, jalapeno pieces, and a creamy sauce.

Seriously cool plating.

Next to come was the Craig Roll.  This one has soft shell crap tempura, cucumber, and avocado topped with eel and shrimp.  If I had opted for rolls, this would have definitely been one that I would had chosen.

Amazing how a little piping of sauce can spruce up a plate.

Their last two rolls came together on one plate.  On top, there is the B-52 Maki (at least I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right).  This one has a crab stick, avocado, flying fish roe, and scallion rolled with yellowtail tuna, then it’s deep-fried and layered with rice.  The bottom one looks like a California Roll which has crab, avocado, cucumber, and fish roe.

Your basic sushi presentation. But the food still looks good, so why mess with the basics?

Dave ordered the Sushi / Sashimi platter.  Which is a gamble in my opinion.  It is an assortment of sushi and sashimi which is left up to the chef to decide what you get.  It also comes with a salad and a bowl of miso soup.  Here in the Mid-West, it usually consists of a couple of kinds of tuna, salmon, shrimp, and egg custard.  All of which I like, but it just reeks of being “safe” and cheap.  I was very impressed with the chef’s choice at Enn.  The platter actually consisted of many things that I normally order a la carte.

At the very top is what looks like a tuna roll. The next row has flying fish roe, shrimp, and surf clam sushi. The row of sushi below that has binchou (albacore tuna), mackerel, and fresh-water eel. The sashimi is maguro (red meat tuna), salmon, and, well, honestly, I have no idea what the last one is.
Update: Dave informed me the unknown fish is “yellowtail, sweet delicious yellowtail.” (hamachi)

Lindz ordered a la carte like I did.  We’ve found that it’s cheaper and we get exactly what we want.

Starting far left and going clockwise: a spicy tuna roll, tobiko (flying fish roe), unagi (fresh-water eel), salmon, and a Blaze roll (at least that is what Lindz thinks it is).

I always get a smile on my face when Lindz explains why she orders the flying fish roe: she like the popping in her mouth as she eats them.  Really I have no room to talk because that is definitely a factor as to why I order them all the time too.  I think I’ve said this before, but the unagi (fresh-water eel) is a favorite of both of ours, so it’s no surprise that you see it on every plate that we order.  The Blaze roll has spicy tuna, cream cheese, and avocado on the inside.  Then the roll is deep-fried in tempura batter and finished with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Finally, we get to my plate!  As I said before, this was the best sushi place that I’ve been to.  It had the freshest fish hands down and it’s very reasonable priced.

Starting at the bottom and going widdershins (because I like to be difficult): I got the unagi, octopus, surf clam, and mackerel sashimi.  And two of the flying fish roe (tobiko) sushi, one with and one without a quail egg.

Honestly, I really didn’t notice much of a difference with the quail egg on the tobiko.  Both were good, but I don’t think it was worth the extra $0.75.  The mackerel (saba) was breathtaking.  It had a nice full fish flavor and was oily without being overwhelming.  The surf clam (hokkigai) was good, but wasn’t significantly better than others that I’ve had.  The octopus (tako) was nice and tender with just the right amount of chew to it.  The unagi!  Oh, the unagi.  Words cannot do justice to this oily, fishy, sweet morsel from heaven.  All in all, this was as perfect of a sushi meal as I’ve ever had.

Well almost.  The only thing that could have made it better was if Ringer was there.  We have a longstanding tradition of going way off the beaten path every time that we have sushi.  I love my standard selections, but I do miss going crazy sometimes.

So Chef Aaron was right.  Making a trip to Enn was well worth it.  It will take a really impressive sushi place to even come close to this meal.

RI: Port of Galilee

A quick apology first.  Since I was just learning how to use my new toy, there was a bit of a screw up.  Somewhere along the way, the camera got switched to manual focus and I didn’t realize it for a day and a half, so there are a bunch of pictures that I’m really less than satisfied with.  Please bear with me, we’ll get to better ones soon.

The whole dream of the Rhode Island vacation started with an invitation from our friend Dave’s parents.  They have a beach house that they were kind enough to open to Dave and some of his Seminary friends for a week.  Through a couple of iterations of who was interested and available, our group came out to be Dave, myself and Lindz, and Matt and Janessa.

Da group. Matt, Janessa, Dave, and yours truly. Lindz was behind the camera.

Our first day in Little Rhodie, we went over to the Port of Galilee for some seafood lunch.  There is a restaurant that Dave’s family goes to all the time that is about a 20 mile drive from the house (or about 10 miles as a crow would fly).  Champlin’s Seafood is located right on the inlet from the ocean to one of the many saltwater ponds in the area.

Champlin’s Seafood. One of my new favorite places ever. Too bad it’s a half of a continent away.

They have a great working relationship with the fishing boats that use the Point Judith Pond as a harbor.  Many dock right outside of the building.  One touch that I thought was really cool is that they have the names of the fishing boats that they buy from on the life preservers hanging up around the building.  Besides the restaurant, they also sell a large variety of fresh seafood.

This is one of the fishing boats that supply Champlin’s. The photo was taken from my seat where I ate the first of many unbelievable seafood meals.

Their menu has a selection that any seafood lover would drool at the mere mention of a quarter of the items.  I would highly recommend at least looking over the menu before you go.  That way, you aren’t staring slack-jawed at the menu board trying to make a decision while people are waiting for you.  They have a full bar, so if you would like a homemade bloody mary, a beer, or just a soda, they have your thirst taken care of as well.  I should warn you that you should be prepared to spend a bit of money.  It’s not excessively expensive, but it isn’t cheap either.  I really should clarify that a bit: the quality to cost ratio is unbelievable, but it’s not someplace most people can afford to go more than once or twice a month.  Yeah, I feel better with that description.

Dave bought a half-dozen clam cakes to share around the table.  Think of a doughy (in a good sense)  crab cake and substitute in some clams.  They were really good.

Deep fried clammy goodness.

Lindz and I went a little wild with our order.  Based on Dave’s recommendation, I went with the deep fried whole-bellied clams.  In hindsight, I should have gotten them a la carte, and shared Lindz’s fries and slaw.  Whole bellies are whole soft shell clams as opposed to clam strips which are sliced hard shell clams.  The whole bellies that I ate had a nice mild clam flavor with a sweet undertone.  You didn’t need tarter sauce or anything to accompany them. I’ll put it another way for you.  I kept eating them after I was stuffed halfway through my meal.  Hands down, they were the second best clams that I have ever eaten.  Lindz ordered a lobster roll dinner for herself.  I think she still has the lobster bug from when we ate at Cosmos.  Ha ha!  Lobster bug, get it?  I’m so punny!  I did swipe a bite and it was really good.  Perfectly cooked and oh, so tasty.  Speaking of Cosmos, that is the reason why I got a 1/2 pint of their lobster bisque.  This was good, but it wasn’t quite as good as the one at Cosmos.  Significantly cheaper, but still slightly disappointing.  I shouldn’t be complaining because it’s still far better than you can find most anywhere.

Lower left: whole belly clam dinner. Upper right: lobster roll dinner. Bottom right: 1/2 pint of lobster bisque. Upper left-ish: 2 cherrystone clams

Finally, I saw that they had raw cherrystone clams on the menu.  I’ve never heard of, much less had clams on the half shell before.  So I ordered two of them.  I figured I’d offer Lindz one and if she declined, then I could eat both of them!  But, she was feeling adventurous that day and decided to try one.  Which still made me happy.  Janessa kindly documented our experience.

A little squeeze of lemon . . .

Hoist them and say “Cheers!” . . .

And suck them down!

I’m spitting out a lemon seed, not the clam.

If I was still hungry and we didn’t already spend a healthy wad of cash, I would have happily gone back and ordered a baker’s dozen.  They were everything that people tell you that good shellfish should taste like.  Slightly sweet and a bit like a fresh ocean.  These are the clams that claim the #1 slot in the best that I have ever tasted.  Lindz even liked them.

As far as seating options go, you can either sit inside (it’s really spacious) or out on the deck (a bit more limited).  It was a gorgeous day, and the place wasn’t busy, so ours was an easy choice: the deck.  I would suggest going there for lunch or an afternoon snack because I heard that around supper time, the line can get up to a hundred feet long or more.

One of the “patrons” hanging out at the restaurant.

Watching boats go by while eating fresh seafood is priceless.

One of my stated goals for this trip was to eat myself stupid with really good seafood.  This place fulfilled that dream and then some.  It also set the bar unbelievable high for the rest of the trip.

My 100th Post

As I’ve been getting nearer and nearer to my 100th post, I have been trying to figure out what would be a good one?  A retrospective?  Too early.  The Rhode Island trip?  Too long.  I have to break that up into quite a few posts.  A dish that I’ve cooked?  Maybe, but which one?  Someplace that we ate?  Again, maybe, but still which one?  Then I stumbled across the perfect idea.

Lindz and I were going up north to visit Grandma Bert after the Rhode Island trip.  As usual, we stopped off at the Burger King in Ramsey, just off of US10.  For some reason, we decided to go in and order food instead of going through the drive-thru.  While waiting for our food to come up (which took way too long compared with the service that I’ve gotten at other BK’s including that one), I noticed a sign on one of the tables advertising a new dessert.

Yeah, Baby! Bacon Sundae!!!

And that, my loyal followers, is my 100th post.

Brunch at Longfellow Grill

A friend of ours was up in the Cities from Iowa.  So a bunch of us got together at the Longfellow Grill on Lake St.

Szechwan Beef Salad

I had the Szechwan Beef Salad.  It had beef strips, greens, carrots, fried wonton strips, sesame seeds, and a sweet peanut sauce.  On the side was served a piece of cornbread.  Longfellows definitely earned bonus points for having chopsticks with the salad when they brought it out.  Yes, I used them to eat it too.  The beef was tender and very flavorful.  The greens were fresh but the salad was overdressed.  I liked the dressing but it got really sweet towards the end.  I liked the fried wontons in place of croutons, it fit with the theme of the salad.  The cornbread stole the show though.  It was moist.  I cannot stress that enough, it was borderline dripping.  It tasted like one of the main ingredients was creamed corn.  Not the canned stuff either.  I’m talking the stuff that is made by some hillbilly’s great-grandmother in the backwoods of the South and then smuggled over the Mason-Dixon line and sold to the highest bidder on the black market type of creamed corn.  Yeah.  It was that good.

Biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, and a fruit compote

Lindz had the biscuits and gravy. This choice surprised no one.  Pretty much by default, she always gets biscuits and gravy no matter where we go.  I would venture that it is her favorite dish.  I didn’t try any of it because I was still trying to finish off my own plate.  You can’t tell from the pictures, but the servings were very large.  Okay, I’m going to qualify that a bit.  The servings didn’t look large when they were sitting in front of you, but you noticed it after eating for ten minutes straight and not being able to see any difference in the quantity of the food still in front of you.

As with most of the places I write about here, if you get the chance you should go and eat there.  You will be happier person afterwards.  Probably will want to slip into a food coma, but happier nonetheless.

Another Beautiful Selection from Pizza Luce

This is from the last time that Lindz and I went to Pizza Lucé.  One of their specials of the month was a Thai Chicken pizza.  Being the lover of Asian food that I am, it was an easy choice.

Despite all the jalapenos, it was surprisingly mild in it’s heat.

This is a great combination.  I really wish they would put it on the regular menu.  It was a nice balance of what you would expect from something labeled “Thai.”  Crunchy peanuts with some heat from peppers (I know jalapenos are not the usual choice, but they worked) and some herby basil to round things out.

Maverick’s

As seems to be the case all too often lately, by the time that I got home from work it was late and neither of us had any energy to make something for supper. Lindz was kind enough to run out and grab us some food. After running through the list of places nearby, we both decided that Maverick’s sounded the best.

Maverick’s Real Roast Beef is a small Mom & Pop BBQ place on Lexington Ave by Larpenteur. There is nothing fancy about their food, it’s just plain good. And good plain. (Notice that word play? I’m so clever! And I most certainly didn’t steal it from the CityPages review.) Also it’s very reasonably priced to boot. Although they are equally good, I usually get the brisket basket and Lindz gets the roast beef basket. The bonus for me is that they have a really good horseradish sauce that you can put on your sandwich. I grew up with homemade horseradish, so I am particular when it comes to this condiment. You should read that last sentence as “I am a horseradish snob.”

Not the greatest shot, but I was hungry. BTW, this is the brisket. The Horsey Sauce is top center. Yum.

To sum up, this is a place that deserves your business and you deserve to eat there.

601 Graves, part III

The restaurant that Lindz and I went to was the one located in the hotel.  I can’t describe Cosmos any better than the line from the New York Times: “Hybrid of SoHo slick and Minnesota nice.”  Like the rest of 601 Graves, it has a modern chic decor.  The staff was unbelievably nice from the hostess, to the bartender who chatted with me at the bar while I was waiting for Lindz to come down, and to our AMAZING waiter who was spot on with personality and menu suggestions.

The first step into going out to a fancy place is getting suited up properly.

Lindz is justifiably proud of her smokin’ hot dress.

We were seated in a quiet corner of the restaurant, which wasn’t too hard because there were not a lot of people dining that night.  But they did take care to place at least a couple of tables between us and the closest diners for a more intimate experience.  Lindz and I decided to split a bottle of one of their cheaper wines.  $40 is cheap for a bottle considering they had some that ranged upwards to $1000.  Like I was ever so subtly hinting at before, our fantastic waiter struck up a conversation with us right after we were seated.  In the process of explaining our little celebration, he threw out a few suggestions to try on the menu.  One of which was the tuna tartar appetizer.  He described it as “habit forming” and that he would eat it as often as he could.  Since both Lindz and I like sushi, we figured this would be a safe bet for a starter.  Boy were we wrong.  Saying that this tartar was a safe bet is like calling McD’s cheeseburger a safe bet and getting filet mignon set down in front of you.  This tartar is not comparable to anything that I’ve ever had before.  The freshness of the tuna was unquestionable.  The richness of the fish and whatever spices they mixed with it was heavenly.  Plus, as a side, they put a dollop of avocado ice cream on the plate.  This may sound like a weird concoction that you would see on Iron Chef, but it really does work.  The creaminess of an avocado transitions beautifully into the creaminess that one gets with a high quality ice cream.  So like our waiter said, habit forming.  One quick example why I have a bit of a foodie crush on our waiter is that he went ahead and had the kitchen split our app orders without asking us.  He was able to anticipate our wants and needs even before we realized them.

This photo does absolutely no justice to the beauty that was on my plate.

The other appetizer that we split was some lobster bisque.  I’m not sure what Lindz’ motivation was, but I just like to say “I’ll have the lobster bisque.”  Makes me feel like a Vanderbilt.  I was not to be disappointed with this selection either.  The bisque was a thick creamy seafoody bowl of goodness.  It was everything you would expect out of a bisque plus more.  The more was a couple of morsels of lobster chillin’ in the bottom of the bowl like the prize in a cereal box.  Only better.  Much better.

This lobster gave its all. And all it gave was gleefully cherished.

Between our app and main course, the waiter brought out a palette cleanser for us.  It was one of those fun little things that molecular-gastronomists like to do.  It had a concentrated citrus liquid (orange I believe) suspended in a gelatin skin, which was in turn suspended in a different liquid in a shot glass.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of it and the only thing I remember is the strong taste of citrus and the pop of gelatin skin.  While it may not be the highlight of the meal, it was definitely fun and amusing.  The timing on the courses was stellar.  There was no awkward lag between one dish and another.

Lindz decided to go all out on the fancy seafood this night.  For her entree she chose the butter poached lobster.  There is really no way you can go wrong with that combination.  The little bite that I stole from her proved that very well.  Without a doubt, this was the most perfectly cooked lobster that I’ve ever had.  The butter flavor was infused into the meat and since it was poached, the meat was unbelievable succulent and tender.

Now this is how to create visual appeal on a plate.

I opted for the white wine braised rabbit.  I choose it mainly because I haven’t had rabbit in a long time, also it was the most out of the ordinary dish they had for entrees.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like to be adventurous with my food.  It pains me to admit this, but this was the weakest dish that we were served the entire night.  I’m a self-proclaimed salt fiend and by the time I got to the end of my dish, it was getting a bit salty even for my palette.  Other then being a bit heavy handed with the NaCl, this was a great dish.  the rabbit was tender and flavorful.  The pasta, I’m 98% certain was made from scratch and cooked to the perfect chewiness.  All in all, it was a great meaty and earthy dish.

I usually shy away from pasta dishes, but with one like this, who am I to resist?

Even taking our wild sushi meals into account, this was by far the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten.  That being said, it was also without question one of the top three meals that I’ve ever eaten.  As soon as we can afford it, I’m planning on going back.

Ouch!

I do feel a little guilty about the tip we left our waiter.  Don’t worry, it was in excess of what we normally do and we are generous tippers.  If we could have afforded it, I would have left him a 100% tip because with his help the experience was that great and the food selections were even better.  If you can afford to splurge for a night, I recommend this place without hesitation.