Thursday, November 12, 2009

The MFA and Parish Cafe - hey, a rhyme!

Holy schnikes, it's been a while since I posted. Moving to Boston will do that to you.

Joe and I uprooted from Baltimore in June to pursue some pretty awesome career opportunities in Beantown. And the short story is, we're LOVING it. Couldn't be happier. Although what is UP with it getting dark at 4:00pm and snowing in October??? Our little Southern bodies are confused!

And low and behold, my little sister, E, helped us move to Boston, fell in love with it during her 4 days here, and four weeks later, she'd uprooted from Virginia and has started a new life of her own here too. Two cousins also moved to Boston this summer for law school and physical therapy school. Just too exciting! Having family so close is a first for Joe and I. Love it.

And last night was just one of many chances we've had to take advantage of that. Joe and I met after work for a double date with E and her bf at the Museum of Fine Arts. Once a month, the MFA has Free Community Day where they open the whole museum, including the special exhibitions, to the public until 9:45pm. Perfect!

We'd been this summer on another free day (cheap-os!), but we didn't make it through the whole museum. And we still didn't last night. But we did get to see The Secrets of 10A: Egypt 2000 BC. Very, very cool. The coffin on display is the most elaborate coffin that has been recovered to date.

And we finally toured the Japan and Korea wing. But I'm a sucker for Impressionist art. It's magical to be in the same room with Renoir, Monet, Manet, Millet...And for the first time I actually reveled in the old European wing, dreaming about my recent visit to the Uffizi and wishing I were back there.

I was happy to see so many young people at the Museum. Guess that's what happens when they let you in for free :)

Off we went to the Parish Cafe, a new favorite of ours on Boylston, but a favorite to all who live here. The concierge at Hotel Marlowe (my home away from home with visiting colleagues) recommended it, so we tried it out a few weeks ago. The menu is all sandwiches and salads, but the recipes are collected from chefs all over town. The top four sandwich items never change (get the Rowdy or the Zuni roll), but the rest rotate, so you can always count on something new.

I ordered the beet salad and tomato and rice soup. I was so excited to get to New England and find BEETS on the menu! Heaven forbid you see them anywhere in Baltimore or Virginia. What's up with that? I love knowing I don't have to rely on just cooking them at home - they're perfectly acceptable in menus all over Boston.

Joe got the Campbell, some veal sandwich that looked pretty substantial. And then we meandered home to the Navy Yard. Good times in Boston.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wine and cheese

Planned meals have temporarily ceased to exist at my house. Blame it on a crazy schedule, but wine and cheese have officially become my default dinner.

We've been in and out of our house dodging, um, visitors, I guess you can say, so cooking has taken a back seat. The last three dinners at home have featured a bottle of red and a block of something golden or white.

My girlfriend, Adriana, came over last week and brought some gorgeous cheese and fig spread while I supplied the Cabernet Sauvignon and crackers. My Extra Sharp Cracker Barrel cheese, courtesy of the Inner Harbor Lofts Convenience store next door, was quickly trumped by her European selection. After noshing and chatting for two hours, we decided that wine and cheese is THE perfect dinner. Anything more is just over achievement.

Guest blog post is up!

Check it out on Baltimore Magazine's "In Good Taste" page here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baltimore magazine guest blog

I just submitted my guest blog entry to the Food editor at Baltimore magazine for her blog, In Good Taste. The editor, a frequent PR pursuit mine, is going out for knee surgery and asked for guest bloggers during her recovery.

Shout out to Twitter for alerting me of the opportunity. @sunnye03 was all over it.

She was open-minded enough to give me the green light, so my post should appear sometime next week. I'll link to it when it goes live.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First foray into Robert Oliver Seafood

After every BSO performance, Joe and I marvel at the colorful water in the glass bar of Robert Oliver Seafood on Cathedral St. It never looks like anyone's in there, so we're curious but not compelled to peek in.

But we did on Saturday. We stepped in the front door and entered one of the few Manhattan-like settings I've found in Baltimore. Super chic and sleek. Gorgeous.

The interior color scheme is all neutral browns with black furniture for contrast. Design lines are straight and clean. A baby grand piano is perched sweetly at the top of the short steps up to the formal dining room, which is adjacent to a lounge area with stuffed chairs and knee-high tables.

The bar itself is completely out of sight from the dining room, so the rainbow of effervescent water doesn't clash with the decor. We headed to the bar for a post-show cocktail and were joined by a couple musicians straight off the BSO stage, including a cellist we'd been eyeing all night directly in front of our row.

The bar has a sloping wall of glass that peers into an outdoor courtyard in warmer weather. We parked ourselves on two bar stools and ordered drinks and calamari. The menu is pretty pricey, so we walked away with a pretty hefty bill given our light order. But the scene was cool and it was new to us, so we'll be back to try the dinner menu.

Note to self - they put that pretty baby grand to use each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Fling in Annapolis

My mom, dad, and sister came to Baltimore today to join me for Annapolis' Spring Fling off of State Circle. It was pretty steamy today, so we opted for a 90-minute cruise on a double-decker boat up the Severn River so that we could be outside with a constant breeze from the water.

The $20 boat ride came with food and drink bar on the first floor and then an audio tour of the scenery up the Severn River. Our family had been chatting with Captain Dean Scarborough before we left shore, and it came up that I work in PR. Guess he spotted my natural gift for bullshitting, so when the audio cd petered out on us 10 minutes into the tour, he asked if I'd be up for reading the script for the rest of the cruise. He promised me a beer for my troubles.

You mean I get to be a ham AND get free drinks? Where do I sign?

Long story short, I became an unofficial member of the Annapolitan II and taught the guests and myself about neighborhoods like Sherwood Forest with its mandatory green or brown painted houses and Epping Forest with its sprawling mansions built on a former golf course. Those homes along the river are just incredible. Everyone was out on their boats today, and the whole scene was bliss.

Once back on land, the four of us (Joe was on call) inquired about the wait time at Pusser's - an Annapolis "must" on nice days. Three to four HOURS for an outdoor table. Riiiiight. So on to Buddy's Crabs and Ribs, which was fine.

My girlfriend Kelly and hubby Devin met up with us downtown, and it wasn't until then that we realized we weren't close to the actual Spring Fling event at all. Whoopsie. So we strolled a few blocks over and found tented vendors, live music and foodies. A precious new street in Annapolis that I'd never been down!

After we parted ways with them, we took a stroll to "the Yard," the Naval Academy campus. My goodness, is that place gorgeous. Especially on a spring day today when the green grass and flowering trees were the only color against the otherwise gray stone buildings. We walked down the row with captain homes and turned right towards the domed chapel, which dad had been eyeing since our cruise earlier. The chapel doors were locked, but we got a narrow peek inside. Enormous and beautiful.

The whole day was wonderful, and Annapolis was buzzing with energy and people eager to break in their new shorts and sandals. My feet are aching from all the walking, but every step was worth it.

Paolo's at Reston Town Center

Friday night we had dinner with my best friend Ashley and her boyfriend, Frank. It was the first day of what was to be a gorgeous weekend, so our only recruitment was that they find a place outside for us to eat. So we met at Paolo's in Reston, which has lots of outdoor tables that were in direct sunlight.

I felt bad for our servers who all seemed to be getting reaccustomed to outdoor service as they dodged trees and each other to maneuver between the close tables. I had this great martini called Damn The Weather, and Joe and I shared the calamari, tortellin rose appetizer, caprese salad and cucumber carpaccio.

The cucumber carpaccio was screaming summertime to me, so I had to have it. It was so light and fresh. A layer of shaved cucumber was stacked with fennel, oranges, radishes, leeks and ricotta cheese with olive oil. I'm keeping this in mind for my summer recipe interpretations.

The Town Center has completely exploded recently with new, hopping restaurants and a new wine bar that we tried to weasel our way into. They stuck to their guns and told us to come back next week when they open. The Tasting Room looks like an awesome, chic bar with what are sure to be a wide selection of wines for every price range and taste. It will fill up fast, so we'll see how desperate I am to elbow my way to the front of a crowded bar.

Friday, April 24, 2009

REAL customer service

Last night Joe and I had 8:00 tickets to the BSO, and our goal was to squeeze in dinner with ambiance, if possible, in 45 minutes. We blew into Abacrombie across from the Meyerhoff at 7:15 with no reservation, expecting to be stressed to the last second before our show started.


We told the hostess about our 8:00 commitment, and the rest was cake. We were seated immediately, and water and bread appeared in seconds. Our rockstar server from our visit in the FALL swooped down to our table and said, "Welcome back, guys!" We were floored that he remembered us and seemed so genuinely excited at our return.

We frequent lots of spots in Baltimore, and some often enough where we'd expect staff might naturally recognize us. However, this server had such a keen eye for his customers that he filed us away for months. Bonus, he was rocking lavendar patent leather shoes.

The amuse bouche was a chilled tomato soup served in a thumbnail glass. Immaculate. Praised it up and down so they'll make it a menu item.

He had our salads and grilled artichoke out to us within 3 minutes of ordering. Prosecco was on the table as soon as we said the word. The staff quietly dropped off the bill shortly after the entrees arrived so that we wouldn't be waiting on them to get us anything.

The pastry chef sent out two chocolate truffles covered in Chinese five spices for dessert. Melted in our mouths. We were done with our meal in 30 minutes, leaving us 10 minutes to slowly sip our bubbly before walking across the street at 8:00. Time to breathe.

For the smoothness and appreciation for our time restraint, we will definitely return to Abacrombie soon. Kudos to a seamless staff who make you want to brag about them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring in Baltimore - by Gavin

I had to post this beautiful video of the Mt. Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore. My Twitter friend, Gavin, put this together over the weekend when the weather was gorgeous.

Brings out all kinds of Baltimore pride in me, which I'm finally starting to realize I have. Only took five years :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bluegrass at Boordy

Joe and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather on Sunday and trekked up to Boordy Vineyards for Red, Whites and Bluegrass. Each weekend in April, Boordy hosted a different bluegrass band, and a $12 admission gets you in to the vineyard with unlimited tastings.

Our mission was more or less just to lay on a blanket in the sunshine and soak up good music, but we're not ones to pass up wine. Boordy has a large array of wines, including the basic reds and whites and then the "Just For Fun" wines, which tend to be infused with other fruits like apples and melons.

Boordy is one of the most popular vineyards in Maryland, but I'm sure that's based on the setting of the vineyard and the special events they feature each year. The wine is Maryland wine. Enough said. We asked for two glasses of the 2007 Landmark Reserve Chardonnay and found out it was only $1.75 more for the whole bottle. Twist our arms.

We took our bottle back to our blanket on the hillside and talked and talked for the rest of the afternoon. The band was Jackass Flats from Richmond, VA. The four-man band had a good sound and moved lots of people to dance on the stone terrace. Very festive atmosphere. It did get crowded around 2:30 when a tour bus of people showed up and lined up at the tasting bar. That's when we hightailed it with the bottle!

Joe and I have spent the past several weekends apart for various family reasons and crazy schedules, so it was wonderful to resume our Sunday night dinner together. We made homemade carrot pasta dough and rolled it out into ravioli stuffed with baked eggplant and parmesan cheese. I made a mushroom and red wine sauce to serve over the top, and a fresh salad of chopped beets, red peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella chunks and cilantro as a side.

It was good to be back!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mom's (chickenless) chicken casserole and biscotti

Erika came up for the day for some cooking and girlie movies. Since she's such a coffee-lover, I thought we could try our hand at homemade of biscotti along with mom's famous chicken casserole.

The biscotti dough requires an hour of chilling in the fridge, so after we made the dough, E and I walked a couple miles down around the Inner Harbor and along the Ritz Carlton boardwalk. That was my first time strolling along that brick boardwalk, and it was just gorgeous. It's incredible to see so many of those gorgeous townhomes and condos uninhabited. Hello Ritz - I'll take one off your hands.

We popped the biscotti dough in the oven for 8 minutes, but they came out looking funny. And now, as I read over the directions for the first time, I see why. Erika, we were supposed to turn them over repeatedly so they lightly browned on each side and dried out. Whoops. At least we nailed the taste.

Mom's famous chicken casserole has been my brother's, sister's and my favorite dish since we were little kids. Now that we're in charge of our own cooking, I decided to omit the chicken from the chicken casserole. Per Erika, she didn't miss it at all, and neither did I. So I guess that makes it just mom's plain casserole.

  • 1 c fat-free mayo
  • 1 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 2 cans diced water chestnuts
  • 1/4 small onion, diced small
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup, undiluted
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, diced, no yolks
  • 2 c corn flakes
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1/2 - 1 c sliced almonds

Mix all together in large bowl and put in greased long casserole dish. Top with melted margarine, corn flakes and almonds. Mix together and top casserole. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Freezes well uncooked. Leave off topping to freeze.

It was SO nice to make this dish on my own instead of begging mom to make it when I go home. Such a comfort food. Tons for leftovers, so Joe can nosh when he gets home from work tomorrow.

Erika brought "Nights in Rodanthe" for us to watch while we cooked. Holy sob session! Note to little sis - do not bring movies that will make Meghan cry UNLESS they are happy tears. Otherwise, thanks for spending your Sunday with me :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh Little Town of Occoquan

My parents and I drove to Woodbridge, VA on Sunday to spend the day with my sister. She recently moved out of my parents' house in Harrisonburg and has created the beginnings of a great life for herself in NOVA. Go Erika!

She was totally the hostess with the mostest on Sunday :) After treating us to lunch at her place, she threw us in the car, and off we went to a local vineyard she'd been stalking called Potomac Point. Northern Virginia is chock full of wineries, but this one had caught her eye for its romantic Italian architecture. (This photo page may take a minute to upload, but skip over the wedding photos and scroll to the bottom for best winery photos).

It was a remarkable building. Huge inside with a tasting bar in the center of the main room so that guests can be served from all four sides. Lounge with a formal fireplace and oversized couches for sipping a glass. We purchased the Premier wine tasting for $10 each, and from that we were able to sample about 10 wines. None of them bowled us over, so we didn't feel compelled to buy anything. But my family loves hunting down new wineries and tasting the day away.

In addition to wine, they sold flavored olive oils by Stella Cadente, winner of the Best in Show at the Oils of the World Competition. (I volunteer to be a judge there!). They serve the oils in huge steel canteens, the equivalent of a Gatorade cooler except for olive oil. Mom and dad treated E and I to a 4-oz olive oil of our choice, so I chose the Blood Orange olive oil. It reminded me of my first blood orange at the farmers market in Mission Bay, San Diego four years ago on a trip with my sister.

We moved from Potomac Point to the waterfront town of Occoquan, a place Erika had encountered during a search for a local post office. Oddly enough, mom had seen an article about this town in Southern Living six years ago when I first moved to Baltimore, and she tore it out and gave it to me for a day trip suggestion. And here we were!

We rolled into town at 3:30pm on a rainy Sunday, so the stores that were still open weren't exactly busy. But the town is precious. It's basically one main street that sits smack dab on top of the Potomac River. Houses are all clapboard and look like water homes. I had taken a post-wine nap on the 10-minute ride from the vineyard to Occoquan, so we caffeinated ourselves at The Coffee Shop of Occoquan. Besides an eager Irishman dressed in a plaid kilt two days before St. Patrick's Day, the place was normal.

Across the street, Mom's Apple Pie Company was calling our name. This place is so charming! It's got a great big welcoming porch and screen doors that were open. Can I digress and tell you how much I love screen doors? I've told Joe that no matter how modern our house is, it must have at least one screen door, preferably in the kitchen, that can slam as people run in and out. The sound of a screen door slamming brings back so many childhood memories in South Carolina. People behind a screen door are approachable - it means you don't need a solid barrier between yourself and the rest of the world. Just something to keep the mosquitoes out.

We ventured down Main St. to yet another wine tasting - oh darn! - at Tastefully Yours gourmet foods. An Italian winemaker fron northern Italy, Walter Lodali, was in the store greeting tasters as they sampled his wines. His halting English sounded fabulous, and when I asked him to take me back to Italy with him after his U.S. tour, he stuck out his elbow and escorted me right out the front door! See ya! The store owner shouted after me, "They don't have any heirs to the vineyard, so he does need a wife!" Hmm, Italian wine heir. What to do, what to do. Joe would understand if I fell for his brethren. Right? I'm telling you, when I get to Italy, there's a very strong change I may not be returning.

Erika, dad and I each left the store with at least one bottle of the Lodali wine. After sampling Virginia wines and then Italian wines within two hours of each other, the difference in quality was absolutely incredible. I won't even begin to try to put words to it. It was a joke, really.

Great planning, sis! When can we do it again?

Baltimore Pho Vietnamese restaurant

One day recently when Joe was post-call, I whisked him up off the sidewalk on his walk home and took us to Baltimore Pho, the hot Vietnamese restaurant on Hollins St. across from the Hollins Market.

I'd been reading reviews all over the place from the Sun and Baltimore STYLE, and I was tired of not seeing for myself. First of all, we made mental notes to ourselves to come back to visit the Hollins Market. I've heard great things about its history (built in 1838 and is "Baltimore's oldest home to food merchants"). According to this website, Civil War soldiers stationed nearby used to stop at Hollins Market while supplies were shipped to Washington for Union soldiers in the field.

The decor is great. Exposed brick walls, tin ceilings, walls laden with archways to provide division without making rooms feel separate, and a great bar with lots of colored lighting and two flatscreen TVs. The restaurant only has 26 tables, so it feels intimate, which we always love. Boutique restaurants tend to take better care of their customers.

This lunch day was slow, so we were rewarded with a very attentive, informative waiter. The restaurant owner served in Vietnam and fell in love with the country, going so far as to adopt four Vietnamese boys! He explained the signature menu item - Pho, pronounced "fuh." (Imagine Joe sitting there saying, "What the fuh?" I reminded him why he's not in marketing). The Vietnamese typically eat it for breakfast, but I can't see Americans slurping down broth and whole vegetables at 8:00am.

We got two bowls of Vegetarian Pho with Tofu. Each bowl is more than enough for one person. The broth takes hours to prepare, which is one of the main reasons it's so delicious. The flavors steep together for more than a day. Our tofu broth was poured over rice noodles, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower. Pho is served with bean sprouts, hoi sin sauce (sweet sauce), a hot sauce that I can't pronounce, lime, and a couple other flavorful leaves that you're supposed to rub between your fingers and place in the soup to let the flavor seep out. Drop a dollop of the hoi sin sauce into your pho and stir it around until it blends in.

We tackled the soup with chopsticks and managed to splash broth all over our chins. Mmm, sexy. All in good taste! It was delicious, and we had a great view of the foot traffic across the street at Hollins Market.

Baltimore Pho is in a tough spot with really no other major commercial draws, but according to the manager, Pho's owner owns every single property around the Market and has plans to develop it into other retail properties as soon as the economy picks up. In the meantime, keep the place alive and go slurp down some Pho!

St. Patrick's Day in Annapolis

Yesterday after work I met up with my girlfriend, Lyndsey, and we drove down to Annapolis to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with our great friends, Devin and Kelly. St. Patrick's Day is THE biggest day of the year for Devin's family, and Kelly had given us a heads up on his giddiness. He couldn't WAIT to get to the bar. Every year his family marches in the Albany, NY St. Patty's Day parade. They don't have a float or anything. They just walk and wave and wear green. It's a requirement that they all attend :) I love that spirit.

So anyway, we met at Sly Fox off Church Circle. A few years ago, I was a regular with Kelly in Annapolis, and Sly Fox was our favorite outdoor bar. She taught me a few good tricks there ;)

The best part about Sly Fox is the outdoor patio behind the original building. Last night they had covered half of the brick patio with a white tent and had a live band. The rest of the patio had heat lamps spaced out all over it, and the bar was hopping. I roasted myself under a heat lamp for a few hours while we talked our faces off. Poor Devin had to step in for conversation control when we got too work-centric. (Lynds, Kelly and I used to work together and love swapping stories).

We eventually migrated to the downstairs pub in the basement of the Sly Fox restaurant. In typical Annapolis fashion, the hallways sloped and tilted from hundreds of years of settlement. The floors are completely brick, the ceilings are low, and the walls are whitewashed plaster. It feels like you're stepping back in time. Huge indentations are carved out of the walls where fireplaces used to be scattered around the room.

I don't know who was in our company, but it seemed like all of the Annapolis politicians were out and about. Drunk networking is so much fun to watch. I have to agree that it makes it less painful!

We all left the bar around midnight. I can't WAIT until it warms up so I can go out in Annapolis and crash at Kelly's. I love the change of scenery - the crowds, the bars, being in a water community with water good. Sly Fox, I've missed you!

Friday, February 27, 2009


This is a totally gross post, but it does revolve around food. Sort of.

Embarrassingly enough, I noticed mice droppings behind our faucet on the kitchen sink a few days ago. Joe kindly cleaned them up, and we vowed to keep an eye out for more droppings that would indicate we had an actual active mouse - not a one-time visitor.

Well, I found our dear mouse today when I pulled the trash bag out of the kitchen trash can. Oh yeah. At first I thought our trash just really stunk until I leaned closer to the actual can. Hmmm. Stronger. And wait...that's not a green pepper on the bottom of the trash can. Unless the pepper had a tail.

Uh huh, yeah. In a terribly ironic twist of fate, our house mouse appears to have been crushed by the very food that he tried so hard to reach. Tsk, tsk.

Of COURSE Joe wasn't home for my revelation, so I screamed bloody murder on my own and ran around like a totally spastic girlie-girl. I'M SO GROSSED OUT! I managed to carry the toxic trash can out our front door where it sits waiting for Joe to come home and dispose.

I am so thoroughly grossed out right now and want to bomb my apartment. Don't they do that for insects? That tenting thing? Must download music and distract myself.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kudos to Woodberry Kitchen!

I'm flipping through the January issue of Bon Appetit, and Woodberry Kitchen's got a callout and a page-dominating photo.

Hailed as one of "the new american taverns" in this month's "THE HOT 10" column, Woodberry is listed as a 'gastro-tavern' - "smart, casual spots serving excellent drinks and modern takes on American (and global) comfort foods."

Other contenders were from Seattle, LA, Chicago, Brooklyn, the usual suspects. Another sign Baltimore is earning some culinary nods!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moonfish - Orlando

On my final night in Orlando, we went out with another client and his family to a local restaurant they've fallen in love with. Unless you are some Disney palace or crazy faux Hollywood set, most restaurants in Orlando are set within strip malls and look pretty unglamorous. This one, however, was a diamond in the rough.

Moonfish is known for serving Orlando's freshest fish from around the world. The interior was quite a surprise given its humble exterior. The kitchen is open, so when you walk in the main entrance, you are staring straight into this multi-level grill with flames shooting everywhere. Copius bottles of wine line the backs of booths. (Always a good sign!).

Our gracious host ordered calamari, coconut shrimp, spicy tuna rolls and scallops to start. I chose the Macadamia Nut-Encrusted Mahi Mahi served with sticky rice, Szechuan green beans and mushrooms. To complement the fish, I ordered a flight of 3 Chardonnays for a little dining experiment. I liked the oakiest Chardonnay from Sonoma, whose name I, of course, cannot remember.

The fish was delicious. My fellow diners ordered filet mignon and ribeye steaks, which I'm sure were amazing for beef lovers but held no appeal for me. After dinner, our host ordered four slices of various cakes since we were all so indecisive about what we wanted. So we sampled coconut cake, chocolate heaven, Creamsicle cake, and cheesecake with baklava. All were ridiculously good. The slices were as big as my head!

It was a pleasant experience, and I was grateful for the chance to get off the conference resort. Orlando is much more fun when you're not working :) Back to Baltimore this afternoon. Goodbye 78 degrees!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marie Louise Bistro - Mt. Vernon

I'm about to go out for a client dinner in Orlando, but I wanted to blog about our recent brunch at Marie Louise Bistro, 904 N. Charles St. in Mt. Vernon. After Joe got home from the hospital this past Saturday morning, we went in search of a fun brunch spot. Our original goal was City Cafe, but on our way there, we remembered we'd recently been unsuccessful in our nighttime hunt for Marie Louise, and perhaps we'd have better luck finding it in the daytime.

Sure enough, we found it at the corner of Charles and Read streets right beside Spirits of Mt. Vernon Wine Shop. They haven't invested in an awning or flag to grab your attention on the street, but it's there. (When we told the management later about our trouble identifying it, they said awnings have been ordered and are on the way).

Long story short, we were enchanted by Marie Louise. The inside is delightfully French and airy with 25+ feet ceilings and a stone wall that makes you feel like you're in the countryside. Above the stone, walls are painted a creamy taupe, and French country pottery and furniture decorate the space. Every table had a glass bowl of red baby roses, and larger vases of full-size red roses were placed around the room. The front dining area felt like a cafe with the crazy espresso machine and gorgeous pastry display. A huge storefront window lets in ample light, but if that wasn't enough, two enormous antique chandeliers dangle from refurbished, shiny tin ceilings. Super classy.

Brunch is clearly their "thing", and I was ecstatic to find a favorite menu item in veggie condition - the Veggie Bennie is a vegetarian Eggs Benedict, served with potatoes. Really delicous Portabello mushrooms and peppers on the poached egg and English muffin. Joe got the Crab Benedict, which he says was great. We topped it off with two mimosas. Er, four.

Food was great. They have a full list of coffee beverages prepared to your liking, plus gorgeous teas, such as vanilla grapefruit. Doesn't that sound amazing? I asked to sit in the front dining room with all the natural light, but the back half of the restaurant is lovely too, just better suited for dinner. It has beautiful dark hardwood floors and lower ceilings, so it seems a bit more formal. Upstairs, loft-style, is a giant bar surrounded by high top tables and one private back room with a table for 10-12 guests. From the loft bar, you've got a beautiful view of the front cafe dining area and chandeliers. The whole place is so elegant. I seriously considered going back the very next day when we were on another hunt for a brunch place.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Universal Studios - Dinner in Orlando

I'm down in Orlando, FL for a client conference this week, and it's pretty damn nice. The daytime highs have been mid-70s. We've been in a conference center around the clock, but I've been able to stick my head outside for brief, brief periods between sessions.

Last night my colleague and two conference attendees went to dinner at Universal Studios Citywalk! - the bar/restaurant scene at Universal. I'd forgotten how spread out Orlando is. You can drive for almost an hour and still be within Orlando city limits!

We tried to eat at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, but even in February, the wait for a table was an hour and 45 minutes. No thanks. So we rounded the pond to Hard Rock Cafe. A classic American choice. I'd eaten there with my family when I was 14, but I think this time I was even more impressed by the infrastructure it takes to support that restaurant. They can seat 1,400 people at a time, and they usually turn tables over 5 times during the dinner hours. That's almost 7,000 people a night! I can't imagine what the servers take home. (I think someone forgot to tell all of them that Goth is out. I've never seen so many piercings in one concentrated area).

The food is so-so, but of course that's not why you go there. The dome ceiling over the main bar is painted like the Sistine Chapel, but instead of heavenly cherubs, the "saints" are famous rock and roll stars with lines from their songs on tablets at the feet. Janis Joplin looks good in heaven.
A full-size 1950s pink Cadillac convertible rotates on a pedestal in the center of the bar. Gongs ring out when birthdays are announced. Horrible (aka, amazing!) rock videos are looping on the TVs.

Shockingly, a cheerleading convention was in town, or at least that's what we finally dubbed it. Hordes of 14 and 15-year old girls had taken over the top floor of the restaurant, and upon a trip to the bathroom, I found a group of them sitting on the floor of the hallway, hugging each other and crying as a group over something. Lost competition? First heartbreak? Cell phone got lost? Ugh. Way too much teenage angst for me. No pity from this former cheerleader.

Gotta run back to the conference now, but the night was really fun. Behaved myself and enjoyed the scenery.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rusty Scupper brunch

We were striking out on brunch options after church today. Our one staple, Regi's, had a wait, so we got back in the car to head to Little Havana. As we approached the Rusty Scupper on Key Highway I said, want to try here? I'd been for dinner once before, and Joe had never been. It seemed like the kind of place that would be likely to have a signature Sunday brunch. You know, something designed to feed the masses.

Boy was I right.

The wooden restaurant practically oozes cheeseball nauticism, but that didn't seem to mind the hundreds of brunch guests who packed the place. The restaurant was set up as one giant brunch buffet, and lines were twisting and turning from one banquet table to the next. Except for the omelette line, everything moved super quickly. We were seated at a great rear table right against a window facing the Ritz Carlton condos. Looking out our window, there was nothing below us but the Inner Harbor, so it made us feel a little bit like being on a cruise ship. Hehe.

The buffet was loaded with seafood options. Given our total bill, I'm guessing the buffet is about $30/person, which included all your cold salad selections, plus hot items, a custom omelette line, desserts, shrimp and scallop scampi, salmon, oysters on the half shell, steamed clams, everything you could want, sans crabs.

A grand piano was set up in the bar, and a pianist and bass guitarist were great background music. They have this duo every Sunday brunch. Every other evening during the week, it's just the pianist. We filed that away as a cocktail option for a great Harbor view and music.

The Rusty Scupper is a Baltimore staple and continues to get praised for its enduring strengths. We don't plan on having dinner here anytime soon, but I would recommend the brunch as a solid option for plentiful food and great views. They seemed able to accommodate very large family parties, too, so bring everyone!

Special dinner for Erika - Peking chicken amuse bouche

My sister came up on Wednesday to see "He's Just Not That Into You" - a great movie for anyone interested in love stories with real life challenges. (Not all's perfect). It's so great having her in NOVA because we can jet back and forth to see each other during the week.

Joe had offered to prepare a special dinner for us while we were at the movie. I must say, after watching some less than ideal story lines unfold in the movie, I felt incredibly blessed to be coming home to a sensitive, thoughtful man who doesn't waste time with false hopes. While life doesn't always go the way you planned, it certainly goes a lot smoother with honest communication.

But enough about that. Check out this menu. (My 21-year old sister almost fell off her bar stool when Joe broke out the amuse bouche).

Amuse bouche: Peking Chicken on Fried Eggplant and Fresh Basil, Topped with Peach Roux
  • Pre-heat over to 425.
  • To create the roux, start by melting 1/4 stick of butter in pan.
  • Salt the butter.
  • Add 1 small onion, sliced.
  • Reduce onion to an Italion-style sauce.
  • Add 1/2 a peach, sliced. Crush the peach into tiny pieces with spatula.
  • Leave the fruit in the pot for about 45 minutes to allow the peach to break down.
  • Flash boil 1/2 chicken breast for 2 minutes until chicken turns white
  • Cool and soak in marinade of Tabasco, honey, soy sauce, and freshly squeezed lemon
  • Wrap marinated chicken in aluminum foil "Dutch oven". Sprinkle with fresh lemon and remainder of marinade.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.

Serve the chicken on top of one piece of fried eggplant with 2 fresh basil leaves, and drizzle peach roux over the top.

Now that was just the amuse bouche, but as usual, it was hard to move on after that and convince our palates that anything else could taste as good. But dinner came next - 1/3 of a baked sweet potato for each of us served with a small puddle of honey with cinnamon. Wilted spinach with garlic.

Poor Erika didn't know what hit her. She loved everything! It was a "tasty explosion," as I like to joke. Thank you, Chef Joe.

Food & Wine's Twenty+ Best Healthy Recipes Ever

The March issue of Food & Wine has a gorgeous photo on the cover of "layered root-vegetable gratin with a rich Chenin Blanc." It's one of the issue's Twenty+ Best Healthy Recipes Ever. I'm making it later today for our Sunday dinner.

But last night I borrowed another recipe from this issue for our Valentine's Day meal. We had tickets to the BSO to see world famous tap dancer Savion Glover perform to Marin Alsop's direction. We needed to be at the BSO around 6:30 to enjoy a pre-show jazz band and cocktails - a special bonus for this specific concert and an ambiance that we planned to take advantage of!

We didn't allow much time to prepare and enjoy dinner before rushing off, so here's where F&W came in: Linguine with Red Cabbage. I've become such a fan of this nutrient-rich vegetable (grandma Goetz would be proud!), and prep time was only 50 minutes.

Here's the step-by-step recipe, or improvise this way:
  • Add 1/4 cup of vegetable oil to a hot skillet.
  • Over medium-low heat, saute 1 medium red onion.
  • Add 2 Tbsp diced garlic.
  • Slice 1 head of red cabbage into thin strips. Add to softened onions.
  • Saute vegetable medley for approximately 20 minutes or until cabbage is soft.
  • In the meantime, prepare your linguine.
  • Drain linguine.
  • Plate linguine and dress with onion/cabbage medley.
  • Sprinkle crumbled Greek feta over top.

Nutritional facts for one serving: 388 cal, 15 gm fat, 3.9 gm sat fat, 54 gm carb, 4.8 gm fiber.

It was so delicious and simple! According to F&W, red cabbage is "full of cell-protecting anthocyanins." This past October, a study was released in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that said red cabbage contains 36 cancer-fighting anthocyanins. It may also improve heart health and brain function. (And psst, it's yummy!).

We oohed and aahed over this for a few minutes before heading to the BSO for a sold out, fantastic performance. As we stood in the lobby sipping champagne and listening to the Brad Linde jazz band, we couldn't help but notice the average age of the attendees. Most guests were baby boomers, if not older. It makes me nervous for the future of arts establishments like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Support the arts, people! Young 'ens, it's a wonderful concert venue. Don't be afraid of trying something new.

We had sweet seats just 5 rows back from the stage, and Savion knocked our socks off (and the media's!). It was also our first time seeing Marin Alsop in action, and we fell in love. She seems worth all the praise she's been earning. The orchestra was just eating up her enthusiasm and playful spirit. Her buzz has been priceless for the BSO. Now go see her!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Della Notte and Ol' Blue Eyes

Joe's best friend, Ben, came down to Baltimore Friday night to get a change of scenery from his simulator flight classes. (He was in Delaware learning to fly a new plane for his company's fleet). I had spent the day cooped up in the back seat of a cab, riding around D.C., soliciting pedestrians to get in our free cab and tell us about their jobs. All in the name of a client conference video. Joe had just come off a 36-hour call night at the hospital without a wink of sleep.

Our sorry butts needed a good night out!

I'd passed Della Notte on the corner of President and Fleet St. a million times, and I'd always wanted to go. It looked slightly cheesy from the outside, but so do all the good Italian joints in little Italy! And I'd heard it had a piano bar!

Joe and Ben got there before me and, praise God, had a glass of Champagne waiting for me on the table. That was my one wish as I toppled out of my colleague's car and dragged my cab-smelling self inside. (Am I painting a pretty picture?)

The piano man was great! He immediately put me in a great mood, and the three of us became his biggest fans for the next two hours. Larry Scott played all our favorite Sinatra tunes, plus a little Dino and Buble to round it out. He even surprised us and threw in some trumpet for sass! I loved it!

By the time we ordered dinner, I was happy as a clam with my Champagne and live music. The never-ending Restaurant Week was still at large, but I simply ordered the Bucatini - Chanterelles, Royal Trumpets, pancetta, garlic, white wine, chicken stock, Mascarpone cream sauce, and truffle oil. To die for.

Ben came back to our place for a bit before hitting the road back to Delaware. We love our visits with Ben. He set us up on our blind date, so I'm forever thankful for having crossed his path one random brunch. Pretty soon we'll be visiting Ben, Melissa and baby Emma, so we've got to soak up all our quiet, uninterrupted visits until April :) In all seriousness, we can't wait to meet Emma Grace and see Ben as a dad. Here's to another great Dolan!

Amuse bouche and spinach pasta

After a leisurely stroll around Locust Point yesterday (including an awesome pit stop at Thornton's Pub - a hole in the wall bar and home to sweet potato fries with honey cinnamon sauce), we spent the rest of the day cooking Sunday night dinner. True to Italian fashion, we prefer to drag the process out for most of the day, sipping on wine and enjoying tiny snacks along the way.

Joe lead the charge with an amuse bouche that I think was the most flavorful dish he's ever made. We never make meat, although sometimes we find ourselves missing the savory meals that only meat can truly provide. He had bought three small pieces of lamb - literally 2 oz. each - for a total of $2 as a teaser to our main course. Amuse bouche essentially means "to please the mouth."

Final product was kiwi-covered-sweet-wine-mushroom-cap-on-sea-salt-encrusted-lamb. The amuse bouche was literally only two bites, and small ones at that, but it was rich enough in flavor to make you feel guilty about eating anything else after it. We savored every bite until we couldn't wring any more flavor out of it. But isn't that how great food should really taste? You don't want to swallow it for fear of letting go of the flavor.

To make this, he'd cooked the lamb in a pan for 3o seconds on each side and then baked at 350 for three minutes. That's it! He'd sliced one whole kiwi and sauteed it down in a pot with a stick of butter, pinch of salt, and a final dusting of flour to thicken the texture.

We spent the post-amuse bouche hours preparing spinach pasta made from scratch with our new pasta machine. I boiled 1 cup of spinach in water, drained it, squeezed out the water with my hands, and patted it dry with paper towels. After all that, that fluffy cup of spinach was boiled down to half the size of my palm. I threw it in the food processor and gradually added 2 Tbsp of water to create a paste. I transferred the spinach puree to a bowl and whisked in 1 egg.

Meanwhile, Joe was making the pasta dough. When the dough was partially kneaded, he formed a "volcano" with the dough, and I poured the spinach puree into the center. Kind of like lava from a 7th grade science project. He kept kneading the spinach in, and after rolling, cutting, pressing and slicing the dough, we had perfectly colored light green spinach pasta! It's so fun cranking out the pretty noodles. I keep having this image of me sitting in front of a MOUNTAIN of green noodles. Ha!

I had lightly sauteed some sundried tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms and eggplant, which we tossed with the pasta. Topped that bad boy off with a beautiful 2004 Cuvee Margot.

Hot damn! Homerun at our house! I think next time I want to try sweet potato pasta. Who wants to join us for dinner?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Chocolate Affair

I attended the Chocolate Affair, sponsored by Health Care for the Homeless, tonight at M&T Stadium. I was there on behalf of a client, but I got to have a little fun for myself! This annual event draws a LOT of attention, but I was there to work the media.

I learned from a staff member that they were expecting 1,600 guests. At $75/ticket (and up), that's a solid fundraising effort. Roughly 150 food vendors (restaurants, caterers, chocolatiers) volunteered their time and products to show off their sweet and savory wares. Three vendors in, I was already sick of chocolate. Whew!

It was a tasteful event. Attire was dressy business to semi-formal (I saw models sporting Victor Rossi ballgowns and other girls with hot pink pantyhose). Sampling was endless, and the bars were open. Live entertainment included bellydancers, a Caribbean band, Baltimore jazz singer, Maysa Leak, chef demonstration by "Top Chef" contestant, Jill Snyder, and guest appearance by Ravens tight end, Daniel Wilcox.

To prevent getting my hand slapped by NBC, let's just say that I had an opportunity to meet Jill Snyder. She and I had spoken several times over the phone, and it was great to finally meet and catch up. When I asked how Sotta Sopra was going, she said she's now at Woodberry Kitchen! Woo hoo! One of my favorite places! She was trained by owner Spike Gjerde, so I'm glad an opportunity came about for the two of them to reunite. I really enjoyed hanging out with her and look forward to sampling her contributions at Woodberry!

I wasn't too impressed by any of the savory vendors, but here are the sweet vendors that I cared enough to pick up info about:
  • Sweet Fortunes - a beautiful hand-dipped chocolate fortune cookie company. I had the strawberry kiwi cookie and the LoveBerry. You can customize fortunes for a special occasion. (Lots of people are doing this for weddings now. You can have fun with it). They have 52 flavors!
  • Dominion Ice Cream - They make ice cream out of fresh vegetables! I was in heaven! I tried the "Muscle Up" spinach ice cream and the "Sweet Tooth" sweet potato ice cream. They also had cardamom ice cream, but I was stuffed.
  • CakeLove - I hit up this table towards the very end of my visit, so my sweet tooth was starting to rot. But I talked with CakeLove founder, Warren Brown, for a bit. Super nice guy and very interested in talking and getting to know the guests. I like him even more after reading his bio.

Now can someone please show me the way to the gym?

Mid-week vacation

Last night felt like a little taste of a vacation in the middle of the week. Our fridge is completely depleted, sans two cucumbers and a carton of sour whipping cream, so we went out to preempt our Black Keys concert.

The concert was at Ram's Head Live!, so we took a cab straight to Power Plant and went into Babalu Grill. We decided to grab dinner at the bar and just hang out til concert time. No one approached us for a good five minutes until finally the manager came over. We'd been watching him run around like a crazy man trying to work the bar by himself in his suit. When he finally came to us, he apologized for the wait. Apparently his bartender was getting sick in the bathroom. Poor guy. We softened up after that and were even considering jumping behind the bar to help him out.

Joe got the spring rolls and quesadilla. I got the chicken tortilla soup and salad. I thought I ordered the Cuban Style Salad, but I didn't realize until just now that I think they brought me something different. The greens were served inside a hollowed out pineapple. The salad was tossed with goat cheese and a light vinaigrette, and pineapple slices dotted the permiter of the plate. Nice presentation.

Chicken tortilla soup was ok, but I couldn't help but thinking it would be better if it didn't have chicken in it. Joe said the same thing about his spring rolls. They were chock full of flavorless chicken. Too bad.

After selling our extra concert tickets to a couple drunk and obnoxious women (who cares, they bought the tickets!), we headed to Ram's Head. It's been a while since I'd been there for a concert, and we had a good time. I wasn't familiar with The Black Keys, but Joe and our buddy Scott really like them. It's just two guys - a guitarist and a drummer. Their website describes them as rock/blues, but they were definitely banging out the rock last night. It's hard to go wrong with live music.

Ram's Head was packed. Looking around, I was so grateful not to be 17 anymore. (I'm sure one day I'll regret saying this). The high schoolers were lining the walls and chugging illegal beers as fast as they could and rubbing up all over each other. And the relationship drama definitely unfolded right in front of us. Man, drunk girls are obnoxious. Not that that's EVER been me...

Our buddy Ben is coming into town tomorrow night for dinner, so we're excited to take him out! And Joe actually has the entire weekend off, as in Saturday AND Sunday! I feel like we should fly to Europe or something with all that free time ;)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pazza Luna

Saturday night we went to dinner at Pazza Luna in our favorite neighborhood, Locust Point. We spent so much time house hunting there last year that it felt like coming home as we drove down Key Highway, past Domino Sugar and Tide Point, across the railroad tracks and through the residential streets.

We'd eaten at Pazza Luna during our neighborhood "research" last year, but the dining experience was totally different. We were pleased to find every table taken at the restaurant, so the host warmly offered us a seat at the bar and promised a table within five minutes. I ordered us two glasses of Prosecco while we waited, but the bartender informed me they were out. Instead, he gave us Champagne on the house. Oh darn. But that generous gesture set the tone for the rest of our evening.

The interior is deep and narrow like most restaurants in Baltimore rowhomes. We had a cozy table for two upstairs, which we hadn't seen before. Warm yellow walls, celestial decor, candles on tables. It almost felt like dining at someone's house - very welcoming and comfortable.

I had the artichoke salad with red onion (Insalata Pazza Luna), and Joe got the spinach bisque to start. My salad was great. The artichokes tasted like they'd been smoked. Joe's bisque was a shocking green color, not completely visually appealing, but really delicious. Tasted just like creamed spinach.

For my entree I ordered the Manicotti stuffed with butternut squash, spinach ricotta, butter sage and shaved parmesan. Delicious, and a very manageable portion. Joe was intrigued by the use of ossobuco in a stew, so he ordered the Pappardelle. We were envisioning an actual stew, but it was Pappardelle noodles (large and flat) tossed with ossobuco veal stew. He loved it.

He ordered the Tiramisu for his dessert while I ordered the Apple Streudel. Joe insists you can tell a good restaurant by their Tiramisu. According to him, the dessert should retain a blend of crunch and mousse textures. Pazza Luna's was exquisite, but he said it lacked a distinct crunch. My Apple Streudel had cherries in it, along with the apples, so I was in heaven.

Our entire dinner conversation revolved around Locust Point and how we can't wait to live there at some point. I asked the bartender if they've seen more traffic with the opening of Silo Point, and he credited that and the new townhomes across the street with the surge in popularity. Good! I'm glad things are going well at the neighborhood joint. Hopefully we'll be able to walk to Pazza Luna from our house one day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frank and Nic's comes to the Westside

Yesterday was a day to celebrate! A new president, a new era! I had four different news mediums on all day long to soak up as much detail as I could. Twitter was my best friend and gave me the itty bittiest details of how people on the Mall were feeling, what the lines were like, how cool the presidential limo was in real life, etc.

So when I got home from work, I literally tackled Joe and said, we're going to go have champagne and dissect every detail of this inauguration! We walked to Frank and Nic's West End Grille, which just opened one block from our house. Finally, restaurants are coming to the west side! Frank and Nic's sits on the first floor of the Zenith apartment building at the corner of Pratt and Paca, across the street from the new Hilton.

Its website description took the words right out of my mouth - it's a "casually elegant destination" that leans a bit towards a sports bar. I wore jeans and a baseball hat and fit in just fine with the post-conference businessmen in suits. We sat on the bar side so we could watch their beautiful HD flatscreens. (I needed a clear picture of Michelle Obama's ball gown, which was lovely, I must say). They passed Joe's music test by playing artists like Thievery Corporation, Stone Temple Pilots, and a song from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack! I got so excited to hear this music somewhere other than my living room where I've been blaring it on repeat :)

I got a champagne split to complement my celebratory spirit. To start, we sampled the Asian dumplings and Seared Tuna Sashimi. The sashimi was served with an Asian slaw spring roll, and all was delicious. The Asian dumplings were pork fried dumplings served with soy and peanut sauces. Perfect as they were.

Our sever recommended the BLT 9, which was chock full of tomatoes, so I couldn't pass it up. They fried a red tomato and served it with crispy bacon, avocado, lettuce and mozzarella cheese on lightly toasted bread. It usually comes with mayo, but I passed. The sandwich was very good but was lacking the "glue" that ties all the flavors together, which I assume would have been the mayo that I nixed. In lieu of mayo, I spread a little ketchup on the toast to moisten it up. Never can have too many tomato products in one meal! Sandwiches come with fries, which were thinly sliced and totally addicting. Joe got the Roast Veggie Panini, but I didn't get a bite of it, so I can't comment.

CNN was just starting to cover all the inaugural balls, so we weren't in a hurry to leave the bar. To help pass the time, we ordered the Banana Bread Pudding served a la mode. The warm, gooey bread was the perfect ending to our celebration.

Our buddy Scott needed an outlet to celebrate too, so he joined us after dessert for a beer. He seemed to approve of the place, so hopefully we can convince other folks to come over to the west side a little more often. It's clear that Frank and Nic's money time will be baseball and football seasons. Sitting right next to Camden Yards can be a lonely place when there are no games. But if the restaurant can ride out the next three months til O's Opening Day, they should be set for a successful first year.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Visit with Uncle Dan

My uncle Dan is in town for a few days to provide security for the inauguration. Last night he asked us to join him for dinner after his shift ended, so Joe and I met him at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore, supposedly Baltimore's oldest hotel. Ironically, I had stayed here with my family as a kid when we came up for our first O's game. At 11, 8, and 5, my brother, sister and I thought it was the most beautiful hotel we'd ever seen. I remember the circus came to town the day after the O's game, and we were able to convince our parents to stay an extra night and take us to the circus. God bless you, mom and dad!

I was so happy someone from the Norville side of the family got to meet Joe so they could spread the word that he actually exists! Some family and friends still think he's this phantom boyfriend I've made up since his work schedule rarely allows him to leave town with me. I've considered putting a picture of his head on a stick and taking that to family functions with me. Just kidding :)

We hung out in the Radisson bar, sipping day-old coffee and munching on a bucket of popcorn from this carnival-style popcorn machine, watching the Ravens vs. Steelers and waiting for uncle Dan's shift to finish. Then we headed to Roy's Hawaiian Fusion restaurant in Harbor East. It had always seemed like a fun place to try, so we crossed it off our list.

The place was dead since the whole town was camped out at dive bars watching the Ravens make a run for the Super Bowl. We, on the other hand, were happy to take advantage of a quiet city. Roy's atmosphere is warm with purple and golden hues and soft lighting. It appears dressy casual, but I'll bet you can get away with pretty much anything.

Uncle Dan got the blackened shrimp served with polenta and spinach, Joe got the Roy's Classic Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi, and I got the Jade Pesto Grilled Hawaiian Ono, the fish special of the day. It was served on a bed of Bangkok noodles with shrimp and black bean stir fry. It was a very neutral, light-tasting fish, so the stir fry really had an opportunity to shine.

Dessert was Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle for uncle Dan, and the Caramel Macadamia Almond Nut Tarte for Joe and I, served a la mode. To say dinner was good would be an understatement. Roy's presentation was impressive, and the food was as flavorful as you could hope. Next time I'd like to try their sashimi and sushi, just for kicks.

Thanks uncle Dan for spending time with us in Baltimore! I love your visits. Good luck with the inauguration! The people are in great hands.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jack's Bistro in Canton

Jack's Bistro has been on our list of restaurants to visit, and last night we finally got to check it out. Our friend, Claudia, was visiting from NYC, so we used this as an opportunity to check out a new place. On our drive to Canton (which we never venture over to), we confirmed that Baltimore seriously has a bar on every corner between the Inner Harbor and 95. Wow. Great dives that I'm dying to check out like Ale Mary's (a classic I've heard), Bad Decisions (the stomping ground of my colleagues), and Jack's neighboring bar, Pickled Parrot. Mmmm, tasty. I should do a dive bar crawl one night. THAT would be a colorful blog entry.

I'd read a bunch of reviews of Jack's Bistro, so I was really looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. Turns out, not much. The place is small and narrow like lots of Baltimore restaurants. But there was no place for us to stand while we waited for our table, so we huddled in a corner up against the bar, bracing ourselves every time the door blew open and frigid air blasted us. The bar takes up most of the space, and it was packed to the gills. Felt a little too much like a crowded college bar.

We were finally seated in a small booth still in the bar area, so we battled the noise of a dozen other conversations all night. It was hard to talk across the table, and I found myself eavesdropping on other conversations simply because they were unavoidable. Not a good place to go when you want to play catch-up with a visitor.

Drink was The Fritz, champagne with St. Germaine elderberry. Very good, but almost too sweet. Good summer drink. Nursed this the whole meal.

The menu had some interesting items, like crisp sea beans (?), but for the most part, it was fatty comfort food. So when in Rome...I ordered the Mac + Cheese + Chocolate appetizer because how can you not order something that sounds that blissful? Cheese and chocolate?! Joe got the toast + mushrooms + egg, which was served toast on the bottom covered by sauteed oyster and button mushrooms with a poached-looking egg on top. The egg had been cooked at 147-degrees for two hours, so when he stabbed it with his fork it wouldn't crumble. Interesting idea. Not sure if the egg was necessary though since it was just a solid yolk. Mushrooms were great. Mac + cheese + chocolate was good but certainly not the tastebud explosion I'd been hoping for. It was just really cheesy mac and cheese with cocoa powder dusted over top. The server described the taste as the savory experience you get from a chocolate-covered pretzel - a little salty and a little sweet, yet complementary.

Since my appetizer was the farthest thing from healthy, I chose the Lolla Rosa salad, which appeared very simple and clean on the menu. Sike! It was basically a plate of thick white salad dressing drowning beautiful red lettuce leaves. I was able to save a couple sundried tomatoes from submerging in the dressing pool, but the rest was unsalvageable. So long lettuce. Joe got shrimp fettucine. Pretty basic.

Dessert was a diabetic's nightmare - Fried 'Smores. It was served on a tray with three circles, so it presented nicely. In the middle was a scoop of Maggie Moo's Smores ice cream, and on each end was a ball of deep graham cracker crumbs with marshmallow on the inside and melted chocolate on the outside of the graham cracker. Shocker, the deep fried fat was wonderful. We practically licked the serving dish.

However, when the check came, I was left feeling like I'd seriously overpaid for a very loud, pre-atherosclerosis meal that completely lacked atmosphere. When we first arrived, Claudia pointed out a review from The Sun's Elizabeth Large who only gave the place 3 stars. At first I was shocked, but now I can see why.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reunion at Paolo's

Have I mentioned how much I love girls' night? I love it. I do.

Last night five girlfriends from my former agency got together and just gabbed, gabbed, gabbed. We sat in the bar, which we thought would be more "gab" friendly, but we think a booth of three guys actually "ssshhh"d us at one point. Ew.

We all get together every couple months or so, and it seems like everyone has so much going on. Babies on the way, weddings to plan, new jobs they're settling into. But somehow despite all the new developments, it's always so easy to pick right up where we left off.

We met at Paolo's in Towson since it's kind of in the middle for everyone. I think I've blogged about their sangria in the summer and their fabulous olive tapenade and breadsticks. Had some of those, plus fried calamari and bruschetta. But there was so much talking going on, the food was really an afterthought to essentially pay for our seats.

Cheers to great girlfriends! You never can have too many!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New twist on sweet potatoes

I love eating sweet potatoes simply baked and sprinkled with a little cinnamon. But last night, Joe tried something new to fancy up this modest tuber.

It was getting late, so we wanted to make something quickly for dinner. I zapped a medium sweet potato for seven minutes in the microwave so that the skin just peeled right off the flesh.

In the meantime, Joe whisked a cup of cream with a half of a hand-squeezed lemon and a dash of pepper. I split the sweet potato in half and mashed each half separately in our bowls. He drizzled this lemon cream over top of the potato mound to bring it to life.

He was afraid it wasn't going to taste very good, but how can you go wrong with cream and lemon? The end result was DELICIOUS! The lemon flavor was very light and reminded me of summer. It was a welcome change of flavor from our recent winter recipes. It was all done in seven minutes!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Attempting to bleed purple

My colleagues kindly informed me on Friday that I apparently live in a bubble. Everyone was wearing Ravens jerseys to work, so in a department meeting I asked, "Is there a game today?"

You've never seen heads swivel around so quickly. "Is there a GAME today? Are you serious? Haven't you noticed the city lit up in purple?" 

Yikers. Friday had been deemed "Purple Friday" or something by the city in honor of the Ravens vs. Titans game on Saturday. I hadn't turned on the TV in days, I listen to a DC radio station, and I don't know two things about the Ravens, so I was clueless. (I'd be a great jury member if a team member was on trial).

So on Saturday, Joe and I attempted to be pro-Ravens by heading to Cross Street for a hearty beer and pre-game celebration. We settled on Ryleigh's, probably the yuppiest bar on the street. Shocker. But they had TVs set to sports, which was all the qualification we needed. At 2:30, no one was out pre-gaming yet. What?!

I got a Blue Moon (I like my beer like water), and Joe got something actually substantial. I am the slowest beer drinker ever because it makes me feel so full and gross. By the time I actually finished my glass, the beer was warm. Ew. I must have been more efficient in college.

I got the ham and grilled cheese sandwich that's layered with sliced apples. Why didn't I ever think of adding apples to a grilled cheese sandwich? The tart apples were the perfect contrast to the cheese and the saltiness of the ham. Joe got a regular old burger for a regular old guy drinking a regular old beer at a local bar. It was exactly what he was going for :)

We had stalled all we could stand by 4:00, which is precisely when the rest of Baltimore showed up for the 4:15 kick-off. We were "those guys" who asked for the check and walked out of the bar as the Ravens stormed the Titan's field. Oh well. We tried. And the Ravens won without us.

High-end restaurants planned for Baltimore

The Daily Record posted some exciting new restaurants coming to Baltimore!

Personally, I'm ready for some new flavor. I like having new joints to check out, especially since a bunch of them are going to be on the west side of the city within walking distance to my house!

Pizza and pasta at the Dexter's

Saturday night we went over to Dave and Lisa's and were joined by Ben and Adriana for homemade pizza and pasta night! It seems we're all trying to behave ourselves financially these days, so we each contributed pizza toppings and wine.

Dave and Lisa have every cooking tool known to man, including a pasta maker, er, cutter. He makes the pasta from scratch, and this machine slices it into linguine. The pizza dough was also made from scratch, and Dave had promised to teach me how to throw the dough up in the air like a real chef. I was told to knead the dough ball into a circle, curl my hands into fists, lay the dough over the tops of my knuckles, and shove my fists up into the air with a slight finish to the left so the pizza would launch, spinning, above my head. Uh huh. As my friends can tell you, my pizza went flying alright, but it did NOT stay in orbit directly above my head. Let's just say I'm very grateful that no wine glasses were toppled during this experiment. For the sake of the Dexter's kitchen, I had to step away from the dough.

He made a couple's pizza for Joe and I, so we each got two hearty slices of homemade pizza with our choice of toppings. Joe chose roasted eggplant, sundried tomato, homemade sausage, onions and fresh mozzarella for us. Well done!

I would not recommend homemade pizza-making for those who are short on time. The entire preparation, rising and baking time took about 7 hours, start to finish. Thank you Dex and Lisa!

We were happy to fill our waiting time with bottles of wine, baked brie, smoked salmon, and the lovely idea of playing Rock Band. Ha! I was all set to play the electric guitar and be the new Slash. Can I please tell you how mortified Joe was when I compared myself to the God that is Slash? His face was priceless. Alas, Rock Band was not cooperating with us, so everyone was spared my reenactment.

Of course, my performance could NEVER compare to Joe's star moments as Slash standing 10 feet in the air on our kitchen counter, headbanging to "November Rain." I'll have to video that for you.

Joe and I had to bail before they broke out the pasta and the great dessert Adrianna brought. She sent us home with her Mexican brownies so we could sample. I asked what makes them Mexican, and she said you include cinnamon and chipotle powder. They were delicious! The spice wasn't overpowering at all, and in fact gave it a much more interesting flavor. This wasn't her recipe, but here's one to try.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Anthony Bourdain's thoughts on Baltimore

Friends were shocked when I told them Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations" was shooting in Baltimore. Here's a preview of his impression before the show airs. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Swordfish dinner

Yes, it's a new year, and who isn't talking about being a little more health-conscious? We hit the gym after work last night, joined by a packed house of gym newbies. Isn't it fun to work out in January?

We made a very light, healthy dinner for us after our workout. Joe fried one small swordfish fillet in fake butter (gotta love it), chopped white onions and Thai Peanut sauce. He let the fish simmer for about 10 minutes before pulling it off the burner.

In the meantime, I pulled out a bag of brussel sprouts that I'd bought at the market over the summer and preserved for the off-season. I steamed about 10 sprouts for 15 minutes so they became bright green and tender.

We split the one fillet in half and added a handful of brussel sprouts to our plates. Great lean and green meal with lots of protein! And we didn't roll ourselves away from the table feeling stuffed. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Very Murray Christmas

My mom's family, the Murrays, got together on Saturday at my parents' house in Virginia. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and two 2-year old second cousins poured into the house. Joe was actually able to join me and meet my mom's family so they would finally believe he was a real live boy :) I was beyond happy.

His family gatherings are a little different from my family gatherings. While his Yankee relatives lay out course after course of Bon Appetit-style masterpieces, my family lays out God's gift to southern cooking. Between the aunts, we had baked beans with ham, North Carolina pulled pork barbecue with homemade vinegar sauce, coleslaw, K&W's legendary macaroni and cheese, sausage and cheese balls, macaroni salad, and honey cured ham. It was a beautiful feast, all buffet style and cooked from the heart.

Mass chaos ensued when we had to line up with our plates for the dinner assembly line. Wine and beer were flowing. And sweet tea, of course. We played our traditional games of bunco, a competitive gift stealing game that will work you into a sweat in no time! For the first time in years, I walked away emptyhanded.

It was so nice to be with family. No matter how crazy they are. And my parents' home is such a warm, welcoming contrast to the modern loft apartment we live in. At home, you can sit on the back deck and see every star in the sky because you're surrounded by a national forest. At home, you can walk outside in your bare feet with a cup of coffee and not worry about stepping on anything but gravel and grass. At home, you can look out the window in the morning and see a doe grazing beside your driveway. At home, we're reminded of what's most important above everything else. Love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Joe and I rang in the new year with our friends Scott and Janell at Woodberry Kitchen. Our reservation was at 10:00, and we had a great table along the glass wall on the main floor. Since it was a special night, I ordered one of the featured cocktails, the Midnight Hour, which was made with cava and a sweet foam that I believe was made with elderberry. Delicious, sweet flavor and very interesting presentation as the light purple foam bubbled over the top of the flute.

Dinner for me was Ladyfinger Popcorn, Adolescent Lettuces, and Roasted Cauliflower. The cauliflower was served with warm cheddar, bacon, capers and raisins. Although I'm a huge fan of capers, I could have done without their contrasting flavor. The combination of cheddar, salty bacon and sweet raisins was complex enough, so the capers were almost a distraction.

At around 11:45pm, servers started passing out 2009 Bowler hats for the guys and 2009 tiaras for the girls. A DJ set up in the corner next to us and lead the countdown to 2009. On cue, a huge net full of black, gold and white balloons fell from the ceiling onto all the guests, and we started hugging and toasting!

The DJ started playing music in hopes of starting a dance movement, which I was busy doing in my chair, but when it changed from 70s and 80s classics to hip hop, we were out. Seemed odd for Woodberry Kitchen to be pumping out "bump and grind" music, as my sister likes to call it.

It was a wonderful celebration with great service and wonderful friends!