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.