Category Archives: Travel

A Visit to Philly

I was in Philadelphia for work all last week.  The weather was perfect fall weather, cool and crisp.  I also ate pretty well there. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to share, but here’s the rundown of where I ate:

Q BBQ & Tequila:  I went there for lunch.  Ehhh, is my feeling on the place. I got a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw on top.  It was just okay.  None of the three bbq sauces were very good either.  On the plus side, they pour on the fries, literally, my entire tin plate was covered in french fries.

Aqua:  A bunch of friends and I went to Aqua for dinner, I was in the mood for some good Thai/Asian food.  The restaurant was nicely decorated although completely empty besides our party. It is a BYOB (a big thing I totally love about Philly is the proliferation of BYOB restaurants).  I would say if you go to Aqua, skip the dumplings, and order the Beef Chow Fun.  The dumplings were a play on soup dumplings but the pork was not so tender.  The chow fun on the other hand was delicious, the beef was tender, and it wasn’t too greasy.

Salento:  We had a girl’s night out at Salento (another BYOB).  Again, the restaurant was almost empty but the service was fantastic.  They have a $27 prix fixe menu that most of my friends went with.  I would say that the food is consistently good and the portions are very generous.  A couple of my friends ordered mussels and calamari and they were super happy with those as appetizers.  I ordered an arugula salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and it was exactly what I wanted, light and fresh.  For an entrée, I had the spaghetti Bolognese, which was good, although a bit on the salty side.  Overall, a great experience, and it kind of puzzled us that there weren’t more people at the restaurant.

Pat’s King of Steaks: We couldn’t leave Philly without eating a cheese steak or two.  So we headed to Pat’s.  My friend and I split a cheese wiz with onions cheese steak. It was very good.  The meat was tender and all of the flavors melded together.   My friend tried a Geno’s cheese steak (the two restaurants are directly across from each other and have a hard-core rivalry going on).  My friend declared Pat’s the better sandwich, and while I didn’t try Geno’s, the meat was kind of gray looking.

Alyan’s Restaurant: A good friend of mine is kind of obsessed with falafel so a group of us headed to Alyan’s to get our falafel on.  We split a large plate of their home-made french fries.  They were so good.  They were obviously double fried, hand cut, and they cooked them with onions and spicy peppers.  Yum.  For my actual meal, I ordered the chicken shish kebab sandwich while everyone else smartly went with the falafel.  My sandwich was underwhelming, the chicken pieces were too large, the yogurt sauce lacked flavor, and overall it was kind of lackluster.  But everyone declared the falafel to be delicious.

El Vez:   El Vez is a trendy Mexican restaurant and by far, my favorite of the bunch.  It had great atmosphere and awesome decor.  It was packed with people and had an old fashioned photo booth that my friends and I took advantage of (I absolutely love those).  We split an order of the nachos and they were really delicious, cheesy and packed with flavor.  The guacamole was pretty good, they had a bunch of different varieties of guacamole that you could order.  I ordered a salad with steak.  The salad itself was crunchy and delicious with a chipotle ranch dressing, but the real star was the steak. It was cooked perfectly and very well marinated.  Each one of my friends was very happy with their meal.  I feel that El Vez is one of those restaurants where it’s hard not to have a great time.

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Restaurant Review: The Wine Bar

We actually had a purpose for being in Toronto and that was to see my favorite band of all time, Stars.  If you have never heard of them, I highly recommend giving them a listen.  They are all sorts of amazing. They have this great indie pop sound, and there are two lead singers, a man and a woman and both have wonderful voices.

We were kind of pooped from our afternoon excursions but we were set on having a good dinner.  We decided on The Wine Bar.  The only reservation we could get was for 6 PM.  The restaurant itself is beautiful, with two large bars on both sides of the restaurant, running the entire length of the restaurant.  On the back wall, there was a huge display of all things pickled and it was color coordinated.  We sat at one of the bars, right in front of the chef’s station, where we could see all the cooking, aka magic happen.

We started with the most important order first, drinks of course.  We both got dirty martinis.  They were pretty pricey at $12 a glass but very good, with tiny delicious olives.  Then we got down to the business of eating.  We ordered french fries with three dipping sauces, home-made ketchup, pesto mayo, and spiced aioli.  The fries were plentiful but a little greasy.  J attributed it to the oil not being hot enough.  I liked the spiced aioli a lot.  We also ordered a creamy tomato soup with pepper croutons.  That was delicious.  Nice and creamy with a nice tangy tomato flavor.  I didn’t think the croutons did much for the soup but we thoroughly enjoyed the bowl.  We also ordered a prosciutto salad with frisee lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and a vinaigrette. It was absolutely fantastic, very light, bright, and the prosciutto just added this delicious smoky, meaty flavor to everything.

As entrees, J ordered a seared mackerel and I ordered the “Miami” short ribs.  Both were great.  J’s mackerel was perfectly cooked and flavored. My short ribs were actually Korean short ribs and they were so freaking tasty.  Full of flavor and tender.  They were a little sweet, salty, and garlicky.  YUM.  So I hate to admit this, but I ended up ordered another order of the ribs because I knew it was going to be a long time before I had ribs like that again.  The waiter thought we were going to order dessert, and looked a little flummoxed when we asked for more ribs.

We ended being at The Wine Bar for two hours! We had such a delightful time there.  We headed over to the concert and Stars totally rocked the place.  It was amazing!

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Restaurant Review: Smoke’s Poutinerie

I was pretty adamant that while in Toronto, we had to try poutine (a French Canadian dish consisting of fries, smothered in gravy and cheese curds).  So after our lunch of delicious ramen, we wandered around Toronto a bit.  I got a bubble tea (yay!) which was really delicious actually, perfect blend of jasmine and black tea, perfect amount of sugar, and bubbles of course!

I was also in search of a place where we could get poutine.  My feet hurt so much from walking around that we made our way back to our hotel eventually and lo and behold! Smoke’s Poutinerie is literally across the street from our hotel.  Sometimes, it seems that fate just wants me to eat good food.  Of course we went straight in and ordered a traditional poutine.  They had at least a dozen different types of poutine: Mexican, hamburger poutine, an Oktoberfest poutine, etc..  I also got this soda pop that looked like real soda.  We got our order and dug in.  It was good, the fries were nice and crispy for like two seconds before getting soggy with gravy, the gravy was very flavorful and rich, and the cheese curds were curdy.  We both agreed that while the poutine was good, that we preferred our fries naked.  I also would like the cheese to be melty versus curdy.  But at least we got to try it.

The soda also was very good.  It was black cherry flavor and when I looked at the list of ingredients, there were only five or six ingredients and I could pronouce all of them. I also thought the bottle itself looked old school and charming.  All in all, a nice meal at Smoke’s.

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Restaurant Review: Kenzo Ramen

J and I spent the day and night in Toronto on Saturday without Future Foodie (!).  Yes, it was our first night away from our daughter in over 20 months.  We stopped in Syracuse, dropped her off, and drove off towards the border.  Of course, we had done lots of food research prior to trip (about 10 pages worth and yes we are weirdly obsessed with food).  We both really wanted some good Asian food as Toronto has a substantial Chinatown and a large Asian population.  Once we got to our hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn, which was really nice by the way, we made our way towards getting some Asian food in our bellies.  We were right downtown and Chinatown was only about 3/4 of a mile away.  On the way to where we thought we were going to eat, I spied a line at this tiny little Japanese ramen restaurant called Kenzo Ramen.  They had big pictures of all the ramen bowls they sold and I told J that this was going to be our final destination.  I always think it’s a good sign when a restaurant is crowded and if it’s an ethnic restaurant, crowded with people from that nationality.  We waited about ten minutes and sat and ordered as quickly as possible.  I ordered a chicken ramen noodle dish and a hot ramen noodle dish.  The noodle bowls came out fairly quickly.  The bowls were very large and steaming hot.  Both were delicious.  The noodles in both dishes were perfectly cooked, firm but not too firm.  The broth in the chicken ramen was delicious, nourishing and there was definitely miso in it.  It had egg, mushrooms, ground up chicken, and lots of bean sprouts in it.   I would have preferred more noodles to bean sprouts but overall it was very good.  The hot ramen dish was so, so good.  It had the same type of noodles and mix of vegetables but also had some ground beef in it.  The broth was so good, red and spicy. I just slurped it up.  My favorite was the spicy noodle dish and J loved the chicken ramen. Overall a great experience but the one not so great thing about Kenzo Ramen is the pretty bad service.  No one was unfriendly but I literally had to ask three times for a glass of water and they finally brought me some at the end of our meal.  I understood that they were busy but still.

We were talking about how sad it was that Albany didn’t have anything close to a ramen shop.  We think it would go over really well.  One can dream.

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Awful Arby’s

Don’t be grossed out but we got Arby’s on Sunday during a momentary lapse in reason.  We were on our way home from LI and had foolishly stopped at Woodbury Outlets thinking that it would be a nice break in the drive.  BAD MOVE.  The place was PACKED to the gills with tourists lugging huge rolling suitcases filled to capacity with shopping bags.  Everywhere we looked, there was either a crush of cars or people, it was kind of draining and overwhelming.  But the good news is that J got a pair of Kenneth Cole loafers and Timberland snow boots for under $100!

Anyway, we were starving on our way out of the outlets and I saw an Arby’s and thought, hey that might be good.  I was dead wrong.  We got two roast beef with cheese sandwiches.  As you can see from the picture above, I’m not sure any portion of those sandwiches were actually grown from anything found in nature.  The cheese was a step below cheese whiz and the meat, UGH, the meat.  It had like this weird brown gray color and these weird holes in it.  I took one bite and immediately regretted it.  Gah, it was gross.  J being J, ate his whole sandwich. I ate my chicken tenders that I also ordered, which actually were good and at least made up for that sorry excuse Arby’s calls a sandwich.


Maine, Part 2

On Monday, J, Future Foodie, and I went to the Side Street Café for lunch. It was very charming inside, with bright colors, and local paintings on the wall.  I ordered a burger with avocado, bacon, and aioli.  Wooheee, was that burger delicious!  It was tender, the bacon was crispy, the meat had flavor to it, the bun was nice and soft.  I devoured it.  J ordered a lobster roll (are you sensing a theme here?).  He thought the roll was divine, kind of what Thurston’s should have been.  It had a perfect blend of mayo, lobster, and spices.  We ordered macaroni and cheese with spinach for Future Foodie.  It was very impressive because the kid’s order was huge, it came out piping hot, and it was delicious.  We were definitely sneaking our bites in as well.

We stayed in for dinner again and J made crab cakes using Faidley’s recipe (a famous crab cake stand in Baltimore).  They also bought steamer clams, which J liked because he found them to be creamy, but our friends disliked them for the same reason.

On Tuesday, we stayed in Portland.  We made a beeline for Duckfat.  Let me just say this, BEST FRIES EVER!!! In Portland of all places! Who knew? I mean I’ve had fries in the birthplace of fries and I go and find the most delicious fries ever in Maine of all places.  They are fried in duck fat (duh) and are so crisp, and come out so hot, and stay hot (how, I’m not sure).  We got garlic aioli and truffle ketchup to dip the delicious sticks into. Yum.  We ended up getting three orders of fries, because we started with a small order of regular fries and we wanted to try the poutine (fries covered in melted cheese curds and gravy).  The poutine was pretty good but I preferred the naked fries.  Then after eating both of those, I decided we needed another order and proceeded to finish that one as well.  Reading that over now, kind of makes us seem like total gluttons.

Lest you think all we eat are fries, we did order the carrot and ginger soup (for Future Foodie who wanted nothing to do with it) and I orderd the tomato fennel soup (creamy and delicious, with just a hint of fennel).  J ordered the ruben Panini made with beef tongue.  He thought it was good, but nothing to write home about because the tongue didn’t have that “tongue” texture which he likes.  We also got a strawberry milkshake, which was so damn good that Shake Shack should be ashamed of itself.

We actually did take out for dinner from the Dogfish café.  We were so tired and we really couln’t envision ourselves sitting down to another semi-stressful meal trying to entertain Future Foodie and eat at the same time.

We shared the Dogfish burger (8 oz, with an onion ring, bacon, tomato, mesclun mix, and bbq sauce). It was another mouthwatering burger.  You had to open your mouth very wide to take a bite but that bite had so much going on with it.  The tasty burger itself, the vegetables, and the crisp bacon and onion rings, and the spicy bbq sauce.  It was a delight. I also ordered a half rack of ribs, which got better the more I ate them.  I wish the meat was more tender, I really don’t like having to rip the meat off, I prefer it to fall off the bone by itself, but the bbq sauce was really tangy and spicy and kind of addictive.  I also enjoyed the cole slaw, it was wonderfully crispy with red and green cabbage and some carrots slices thrown in.

The next morning, we ambled over to Hot Suppa!, a local place devoted to fresh ingredients and local ingredients.

The restaurant itself had a nice, cool, hip vibe to it with a GIANT chalkboard with specials on it.  It was pretty quiet when we got there.  Our server, a young guy, was great, really friendly, welcoming towards Future Foodie, and most importantly, great at being a waiter.  J and I both ordered the corn beef hash as it’s highly lauded (even in national food magazines).  J, very smartly ordered a side of hash browns with it.  Future Foodie got a fruit plate.

The food came out fairly quickly and J immediately declared it THE BEST CORN BEEF HASH EVER. I thought it was good, but it didn’t blow my socks off.  Here’s why I wasn’t so crazy about it and for the same reason, why J loved it.  It’s not a traditional hash, the corn beef is more shredded in bigger chunks, and there’s a very small amount of potatoes.  It was tender and tasty, but didn’t blow my mind. It also bugged me that it wasn’t hash like.  That’s what I like best about corned beef hash, the mushy quality of it.  I just felt like I eating big chunks of corned beef.  But J loved it and raved and raved.  Although I do have to say, his hash browns ROCKED.  They were so crispy and perfect. He mixed them into the corned beef.  So I caved and ordered some too.  The fruit plate for Future Foodie was great: sliced bananas, grapefruit, orange slices, strawberries, and grapes. She was loving it.

I am almost embarrassed to admit to this level of gluttony but J and I just had to have Dogfish burgers again. So we each had our OWN burger. I knew this time to order extra bbq sauce (I love my condiments).  J and I went to town on those burgers and finished the big things in like five minutes.  I’m getting misty eyed thinking about it because I know it’s going to be a while until I have it again.

That pretty much concluded our Maine trip.  As you can see, eating played a huge factor in the trip, as it always does.  We loved Maine. We want to retire in Maine.

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Maine, Part 1

So this past week, the foodie family went to Maine for our first family vacation.  The majority of the time was spent in Bar Harbor, but we did a stop in Rockport first and then headed up to Bar Harbor.  Rockport was so beautiful, with gorgeous views of the ocean and a cool downtown area.  Bar Harbor is beautiful but touristy and filled to the gills with “cruisers” of a certain age.  I don’t think I saw a shop that didn’t sell paraphernalia with “Bar Harbor” or “Maine” plastered all over it.  But the town did have some good restaurants.

We first had lunch at the Lompoc Café.  Friends that we were vacationing with recommended it.  The meal didn’t start off so well, since a clumsy waiter spilled beer, first on J and then all over Future Foodie.  So with Future Foodie smelling like a beer, we got our salad of roasted beets and new potatoes with crisp sage leaves.  The salad was good, it was dressed with a light horseradish dressing and the beets were sweet and tender.

I ordered the Bang Bang sandwich, which was cornmeal encrusted chicken, topped with a red cabbage slaw and aioli.  They used a soft, delicious focaccia bread.  I also put honey and Chalupa hot sauce on the sandwich.  The entire thing was spectacular.  The chicken was crisp and tender, the slaw had a real kick to it due to the slices of jalapeno, and the honey and hot sauce blended really well together.  One of the better sandwiches I have ever had.  J ordered fish cakes which he found to be unimpressive.  They smelled fishy to me.

For dinner, we went to This Way Café.  We had the oddest waitress. She seemed to be moving at a very slow speed under water.  She took forever taking our order.  Which felt extra, extra long, due to us trying to wrangle our cranky toddler at the same time.

I ordered a brie fondue with wild mushrooms.  It was very good, although nothing exceptional.  I think it would have been great over pasta. It was salty, melty, and the mushroom pieces added some nice texture.  J ordered scallops wrapped in duck bacon.  He said the scallops were cooked perfectly, and the duck bacon added a

smoky, subtle flavor.  The duck didn’t overpower the scallop.  Our friends ordered the quail appetizer which looked a little sad to me, the poor little quail didn’t look like it had a chance.  But they really enjoyed the dish.

I actually got the tastiest entrée, a vegetarian shepherd’s pie.  They used fried eggplant as the bottom and top, and then as a filling used goat cheese mashed potatoes.  The entire dish was smothered in a creamy sauce that had corn and a kick to it.  All of the flavors were delicious together, all creamy goodness. The eggplant added some meatiness to the dish.  Everyone else got lobster rolls prepared three ways.  The lobster itself was good however everyone felt that there was too much bread.  I also have to add that I really liked how they prepared Future Foodie’s kids meal (pasta with tomato sauce).  It came out on a kid friendly melamine plate that had different compartments.  They separated the pasta and sauce, added a small corn on the cob, and a carton of apple sauce.  She enjoyed it very much.  All in all, a charming restaurant with pretty good food, albeit a tad pricey.

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A detour back to Denver

Before talking about Maine, I really needed to tell you about Osteria Marco, my hands down favorite restaurant in Denver.  It wins that title because of its casual but very cool atmosphere, its fairly varied menu, and delicious and well priced food.

Osteria Marco is in the very pretty Larimer Square.  We sat outside since we try to avoid enclosed areas when eating out with Future Foodie.

We started with their meat sampler, which was a sampling (duh) of their own house made salamis.  The soppresata was out of this world, J and I were fighting over the last few pieces.  There was also a wild boar salami, which was very good as well.  All of the salamis were sliced paper thin and delicious.

We also ordered a whole grilled artichoke as an appetizer.  I wasn’t sure about it, because to be honest, we have ignored artichokes for a long time in our house.  But this appetizer definitely reminded us of how delicious artichoke can be.  It was grilled, and there was a lemony, garlicky, buttery sauce spooned all over it.   There was a garlic aioli sauce to dip the leaves in, and it served as a perfect compliment to the tender leaves.  J and I devoured the artichoke; another four or ten would have been great.

We ordered the margarita pizza.  When they brought over the pizzas, they also brought over a bottle of chili oil.  I had never seen that before and was all for it.  The pizza was really really good.  Nice and salty, the cheese had a nice flavor to it and the chili oil added a nice kick to the whole thing.

I actually brought some friends back to Osteria Marco a few days later, and they also were big fans of the place.

There are not a lot of restaurants that provide a cool, hip atmosphere with great affordable food, but Osteria Marco does it very, very well.

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Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs

I’m not sure how loudly I have proclaimed my love for hot dogs in the past, and I’m going to keep on proclaiming because I had one of the most delicious hot dogs of my life in Denver.  I was lucky enough to go to Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog stand on 16th and Champa.  Anthony Bourdain is supposedly a big fan and now, so are J and I.

It’s a food cart, and they sell hot dogs for $5, but the catch is that these are no ordinary hot dogs.  They serve elk, boar, and buffalo hotdogs along with all beef hot dogs. It seemed like a popular place because there was a line of hungry looking but patient people.

J ordered the Elk jalapeno and cheddar dog.  I went crazy and ordered two different dogs, the veal hot dog and the Louisiana Red Hot (all beef dog).  You can get the option of cream cheese and caramelized onions (cooked with Pepsi) on the dogs.  I was not sure about this but I went ahead and did it anyway and am so damn glad I made that decision.

My other favorite part of this food cart was the variety of toppings they offered:  fresh chopped onions, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, sauerkraut, Sriracha, etc.  It was wonderful!

Let me tell you, when I bit into that Louisiana Red Hot, I was amazed by the deliciousness going on in my mouth.  It was spicy, not too salty, popped with flavor.  The cream cheese and onions really added to the entire experience.  My mouth is watering thinking about it right now.  The veal hot dog was really good but not as transcendent as the Red Hot.  J loved his elk, I found it a little dry. I probably could have eaten at least one more Red Hot, but I held back and I was thinking it’s probably not the healthiest thing to down three hot dogs in ten minutes.  Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so reasonable but I am so happy that we got to taste that little slice of hot dog heaven.

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