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!