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foodzings: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

No Tapas on Saturdays

For Saturday brunch/lunch, W really wanted tapas. Every time I ask her where she wants to go eat, she always says tapas. Well, this time, I was convinced to make her wish come true. So I made a reservation at Bar Ferdinand by sending an email. Mistake number one. When we got there, they were closed. Oops. So then we drove to Amada. They were closed too. So I didn't bother trying to go to Tinto. I figured if Amada was closed then so would Tinto. So basically, what I learned is that you can't get tapas on Saturday for brunch. Sunday, yes, but Saturday, no. Lesson learned. We were all starving after driving around and being disappointed, so we ended up at North 3rd because we'd driven past it and they had a big sign that said saturday and sunday brunch. We were sold.

I'd been to North 3rd before a couple of times to drink, but never to eat. But I'd always heard good things about the food so I was not worried. I'd always remembered their strange decor. Wouldn't you know it, when they sat us, it was right under this giant painting of a pair of huge naked boobs. Seriously. And we were with my mom! But luckily, we all found this to be amusing. It was funny, all the ladies were facing the wall, so we had to keep constantly seeing these giant knockers, while the boys had their backs to the wall, so they couldn't see the largest pair of painted boobs I'd ever seen in my life. Boo hoo to them.
Onto the food! Bro got the pigs in a blanket, which was breakfast sausage wrapped in a pancake. I'm not into breakfast sausage, but he's always been into them. He also got some eggs and potatoes. We all got these potatoes and they were delicious. Cooked well, with plenty of onions and spices.
W got some kind of omelette. She said it was ok, but nothing special.
My mom got brioche french toast. She liked these a lot. She almost ate all four of these. Little lady, big appetite.
J got a breakfast special, which was 2 eggs your style, bacon, potatoes, and a side of fruit. Nothing to complain about these items.
And I went with the eggs benedict. It came with canadian bacon, and I love me some bacon from our northern neighbors. It sure wasn't tapas, but it was certainly a fine breakfast. We were all stuffed, and it was quite painless on the wallet. The service was good too, and being the odd family that we are, we didn't mind eating under a giant pair of boobs. It's probably not for everyone.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Swedish Cafeterias

My family has a mental defect. Why? Every black friday, we go shopping. We don't do any of that doorbuster nonsense, but we do go shopping. To malls, shopping centers, that kind of nonsense.
On this black friday, we stopped by Ikea. Luckily, stuff from Ikea isn't typically what makes for good holiday gifts, so it wasn't very busy. Since it was lunchtime, we had to stop for a meal at their cafeteria. Moms got the shrimp sandwich and some potato soup. I've had the shrimp sandwich before and yes, it's good. It's got a freakishly large dollop of mayo, but otherwise, good stuff. The soup was also pretty good.
As for the rest of us, we all went with swedish meatballs. C'mon, we're at freakin Ikea, we've gotta get the meatballs! I don't know what it is about these that makes them so damn tasty. I just can't help myself. They always come with lingonberry jelly. I got mine with some mac and cheese too, cuz y'know, I love me some mac and cheese. I always make myself a lingonberry juice spritzer when I'm there. Oh so good. And man, the food here is so damn cheap. And there's no lunch prices and dinner prices. It's just Ikea prices all the time. If I was homeless, I would totally eat here all the time.


Friday, November 28, 2008

My Mom's Famous Spring Rolls

So my mom's been making these spring rolls lately, and yes, I truly believe they're going to make her famous. There isn't one person who's tried them that hasn't fallen absolutely in love with them. And how could you not love them? They're f'in lovely. And delicious. And healthy.
Above are all the ingredients to my mom's version. I make the much more standard vietnamese version with noodles, shrimp, cucumber, carrot, cilantro, and sprouts. Well, my mom hates cilantro so she would never make anything with those. Instead, she incorporates red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, avocado, spring mix, vermicelli noodles, shrimp, and imitation crab legs. They're a sight to behold. The colors are amazing.
The worst part about making these is really getting all the innard ingredients ready. There's just tons of julienning and slicing and dicing that has to happen. But once that's all done, putting them together is actually a piece of cake. And you don't really have to cook anything, other than the noodles and the shrimp.
The wrappers themselves are dry and once you either run them under hot water or soak them in hot water, they become all rubbery. You lay all the ingredients in the middle and then roll up the little suckers. It's really as easy as that.
And voila, you have a plate full of these gorgeous handfuls of fresh, crisp, healthy goodness.
Gah, I could literally eat a dozen of these at a time. Yes, I know they're supposed to be an appetizer, but seriously, I could make them into a meal, and any meal of the day. For whatever reason, the dipping sauce of choice for these is just straight out of the bottle sweet chili sauce with a little bit of sriracha thrown in there (however spicy you want it). When I make my regular viet version of springn rolls, I stick with the hoisin/peanut variety of sauce, but for the mom version, trust me, sweet chili sauce with the sriracha is all it needs.

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Not Very Traditional Thanksgiving

My family doesn't really do much for thanksgiving. It's never been a big holiday for us, and we've never really gotten together with extended family for it. At least not for at least 15 years. This year wasn't much different. Just my moms, bro, and sis-in-law eating well, let's face it, a very schizophrenic thanksgiving dinner.
I told you we didn't go traditional, but we had to have turkey. I really do like turkey a lot, so this had to be included. And heck, let's throw in a ham while we're at it.
In addition to other non-traditional random foods, we had kalbi and some of these shrimps that my mom had marinated with lemon and lime juice, tons of garlic, and some parsley. The only annoying thing was that she left all the shells on. Totally wished she would have peeled em. There was tons of other food too, including some delish spring rolls, but more on them later. It was so much food that when I saw the table, my immediate reaction was "who's gonna eat all this food?" But I guess that's what thanksgiving is all about.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Atlanta Airport Dining

Renting a car in Mexico is not fun. It takes forever, picking it up, or dropping it off. So you best just get used to waiting in lines. Because it took us so long, by the time we got to the airport, they had to pull us out of the line so we could sneak in front of everyone to catch our flight. That's how close we'd cut it. So we had nearly no time to eat.

We grabbed something quick and my turkey and cheese croissant ended up being ok, but R's philly cheesesteak turned out to be atrocious. Note to you all, don't get a philly cheesesteak at the Cancun airport. So when we got to Atlanta and had plenty of time to actually sit down and eat, we went to Chili's. Yes, Chili's. Here's a not-so-secret secret. Whenever I'm at an airport and I need to eat, if there's a Chili's, I'll eat there. Chips and salsa from Chili's. Ok, it's so not the same as when we were in mexico. The chips were thin and greasy and super salty. The salsa was runny. But we still enjoyed it nonetheless.
R's quesadillas.
And yes dammit, I ordered me a salad. Why? Because I'd gone an entire week without eating any uncooked vegetables and my body was actually craving lettuce. And luckily, it was a giant plate of lettuce with a nice sizeable piece of chicken on top. I believe it was the southwestern cobb salad. The only bad part was that they forgot to put bacon on it and I didn't even realize they'd forgotten until I was pretty much done. It's a shame too, because it would have been that much better with heaps of bacon. Dang. But for my first real post-Mexico meal where I could relish in as many raw foods as I possibly could, it was perfect.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Karaoke on the Beach

Akumal does not have that many restaurants. Because they had karaoke on wednesday nights, we stopped by La Buena Vida for dinner. It's on Half Moon Bay and there are several dining rooms. One is on the beach itself, which is where we were. There's also a bar which is covered, but also pretty much outside. There is an indoor dining area on the second floor. One of the coolest tables they have are the treetop tables. There are tables built into the top of the palm trees where they rope up the food / drink to you in a bucket. Pretty cool if you ask me. I'm not often a soda drinker, but when you're in Mexico, you really need to play it safe and only drink things out of bottles and cans. I wanted apple soda again, but like other places in Mexico which are geared towards tourists, they didn't have any. I was irked again, but settled on my second favorite choice, Fanta! Again, these are made with real sugar and not corn syrup. That makes them even sweeter than the ones we're used to. When in any restaurant in Mexico, it seems you get complimentary chips and pico de gallo. This is a custom that I could totally get used to. Everyone in the US should do this too! We went out pretty late, and I couldn't wait until we got to the restaurant, so I actually ate a real dinner at the condo. So once we got to the restaurant, I didn't have much room. That's why I just ordered the lime soup. R got a bowl too. It was basically tortilla soup but not as thick. It was a lighter broth. We both liked this a lot. R got the surf and turf. It was a giant piece of meat along with 3 huge shrimp that had been butterflied. It came with veggies and a potato with sour cream. R had asked for rice instead of the veggies, but they gave her rice along with the veggies. She wasn't eating the broccoli and cauliflower, so I gobbled them up. After a few days in mexico, and not having eaten any vegetables, my body was craving them. And since they were cooked, they were totally safe to eat! Whoo hoo! Eating on a beach with sand between your toes, while looking at stars in the pitch black sky, is rather luxurious. Oh, and the karaoke was funny too.

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Tulum Small Bites

Another actual town is Tulum, famous for their Mayan Ruins. These old ass ruins are along the Caribbean coast. The water is beyond stunning. If I lived at a place like this, I'd never leave. But somehow, the mayan civilization just kind of collapsed and disappeared. You know how everything in America is hundreds of years old at most? Well yeah, this stuff is thousands of years old. It's another concept entirely.
The main strip in Tulum is along the only real highway, and is strewn with restaurants, shops, drug stores, diving places, and taxis. We wanted a snack so we stopped at this Pane, Pizza, E Fantasia place which looked crowded and popular. Well, it didn't really end up being all that popular, it's just that the place was so teeny tiny and so inefficiently run, that people had to stand in line for an extremely long time before being waited on. This would so not work in the US at all. But that's ok. They only exist in Mexico. This place serves coffee, pizza, paninis, and desserts. There's also free wi-fi, which is kinda awesome.
Since R took the last slice of plain pizza, I was forced to get the other kind, which was a veggie pizza with zucchini and squash. It tasted fine and was super cheap. I wanted apple soda, but they didn't have it, so I hopped on over to a bodega and got myself a lovely bottle of manzana lift. And you know what? It was glorious.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dining with Dolphins

Along the yucatan peninsula on the riviera maya, there are only a few actual towns. One of them is Puerto Aventuras. It's a bit more upscale, mostly condos, has a marina, and is pretty gringo. They have one of those swim with the dolphins things in the middle of the town, and it's all open so you can watch the spectacle. It's pretty fun. Dolphins are pretty f'in cute.
We wanted a quick bite, and unlike Akumal, there's actually a good number of places to eat there. We ended up at Wahoo Sports Bar & Grill on the far end of the marina.
Sipping a mexican soda, which is actually made with sugar and not high fructose corn syrup, while watching dolphins, isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. One annoyance is that this place is so gringo that they do not have apple soda. Grrr.... don't they know that the availability of apple soda is one of my most favorite things about mexico?
Complimentary chips and pico de gallo. Dudes, these chips were amazing. Warm, super crunchy, and too good to not be home made. And the pico was just right.
R got the chicken tacos. These were pretty bare bones. Rolled up in those flour tortillas was just plain chicken, and nothing else. And it came with a side of rice and some beans. According to R, this was her favorite meal of the entire trip. Plain ol chicken tacos.
I got the beef enchiladas. I ordered steak enchiladas but it came with ground beef. I didn't care. I also had a choice of green or red sauce, but they didn't ask me. And it just came out with red sauce. Had I been asked, I would have picked green. Again, I didn't care. However gringo this sports bar is, my mexican dish was great. It was made with love and I could tell with every bite. The beans were also very good, and that's always a good litmus test for how good mexican food is. Service was good and they were very polite to us. Since we were sitting outside and we were in mexico, there were people smoking. But luckily, it didn't bother us one bit.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Mexico Grocery Shopping

Our lovely little condo has a full kitchen, so we stopped at the Chedraui in Playa Del Carmen to stock up on some groceries. Shopping in Mexico is so much fun. It's all in spanish, first of all, and all the stuff is different. Frosted Flakes? There's no such thing, only Zucaritas! And it's mad cheap too. They're ggggreat! Svelty! Ha! It's nice to call this yogurt something that you hope it would make you. We have Wonder and Stroehmann bread, they have Bimbo bread. It's good too. What do you put on your Bimbo bread? Well, certainly not grape jelly! In this wall full of jams, preserves, and jellies, they don't have grape jelly. They have blueberry up the wazoo, but no grape jelly to speak of. It does not exist in mexico!

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Hotel Breakfast Buffet

The condo in Akumal wasn't available until Sunday, so we were forced to find other accommodations for saturday night. That's how we ended up at the Avalon Grand Cancun for a night. It's kind of the low or mid season here, so we ended up getting a sweet oceanfront room with a balcony. Whoo hoo! Buffet breakfast was included, so we got to enjoy a nice, late, leisurely brunch on Sunday. R got an omelette, bacon, french toast. There was tons to choose from at this buffet, mostly americanized, since Cancun is a big tourist spot. I got some fried eggs over hard, and also tried the french toast and bacon. The bacon was too crunchy and the french toast was ok, but nothing exciting. Eggs were great, but then how do you screw up eggs on a big commercial griddle? I tried a couple of the hot sauces they had, and damn, they were way too friggin hot. Like habanero hot. Oye! But the best part of my brunch was the chilaquiles. So damn good!

Other observations... Juices are made with nectar, so it's a bit watered down. The yogurt here is high in artificial coloring, so everything has a dayglow brightness. The pastries look sweet, since they usually have a sugar coating, but really aren't that sweet.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mexican Steakhouse

For our one dinner in Cancun, we decided to go out on the town. We drove round and round, and even ended up in the city center. It was a bit too sketch for us, so we headed back to the hotel area. While our first choice was seafood, after making u turn after u turn, we somehow decided on a steakhouse, of all places. La Mansion calls itself a mexican steakhouse, or the mexican steakhouse. I'm not sure what that means, even still, but they love them some meat. It's one of those pick your own meat places, where it sits in a case and you have to decide. They also roll out some meat to your table to describe it to you. It's a very nice and luxurious place. I felt like a bit of a fraud when we got there. I certainly did not belong there, but they treated us with some of the best service I've ever had. It was pretty late, but they eat their dinners late here. The waiters hung up our purses on racks that were at each of the tables. That was just the start of the too nice service. You get complimentary bread and man, it was warm and delicious. Even the little rolls of butter were delicious. They gave two hot sauces for the steaks. One was freakin hot and not possibly usable by me, and the other was more like a pico de gallo, but the veggies were cut very fine. There were seafood items available on the menu, but we would have felt silly, so we both ordered steaks. R got the porterhouse steak. She didn't ask for ketchup, but they just brought it out anyway. She also got some souffled potatoes. She thought it would be a souffle, but it ended up being long cut potato slices that were deep fried. Still good, but she just didn't expect glorified fries. I picked a tenderloin that they butterflied for me. I got mashed potatoes and they brought me some chimichurri sauce for my meat. I am usually not a steak eater. You would be hard pressed to find me at a steakhouse, or at least voluntarily. I'm not sure I would even know how to cook a steak. But damn, this meat was mmm, mmm, good. Extremely tender, flavorful, and cooked just right. In addition to the sauces, you also get a little bowl of lightly cooked onions and various peppers. I did not touch the peppers but I did eat the onions with my steak and it made it that much better. I'm usually not a dessert person either, but we both decided to splurge that night. The waiter had brought over a tray with all their desserts and basically wooed us with their beauty. R got a banana pudding type thing. We're not sure exactly what he called it, but it was a fairly thick banana pudding. He described it like a creme brulee. It was good! I love anything passion fruit related, so I got the passion fruit mousse. They called it a mousse, but it really wasn't mousse like at all in its consistency. It was a bit chewy and rubbery, as if it had a bit of gelatin in it. It would have been awesome as an actually fluffy mousse. But as it was, it was still pretty good.

Oh, and before we got our meats, the waiter placed cloth bibs on us. Not handed us bibs so we put them on, he tied them onto our necks. It was weird, even though it was supposed to be fancy. And when I went to the bathroom, I had to go down some steps, and the waiter put his hand out so he could guide me and make sure I did not fall? All this fancy and gentlemanly service was nice, but also kind of bizarre.

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This is Why I Love Delta

I'd fallen in love with Biscoff cookies awhile back on a flight. Then for the life of me, I could never remember what airline it was. This summer, by chance, I actually found biscoff cookies at the Genuardi's in Conshohocken. I thought you could only order them on the internet! I quickly snatched up several packages and stuffed my face. What's weird is that the Genuardi's by my house does not carry them. It's only this one Genuardi's in Conshy. Blows my mind why that would be. Anyway, it's Delta! On my flights to Mexico, I had the delightful opportunity to snack on these addictive cookies. I swear, they're baked with rich sugary crack. To the people that got peanuts instead of biscoff, ha! My other airline love? In-flight magazine crosswords. Seriously.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Off to Mexico!

I feel like such a jet setter as of late, but I'm off again! To Mexico this time. One night in Cancun (to get the silliness out of the way), then heading south to Akumal for a week of leisure. I don't expect to do anything other than snorkel, eat, sleep, and maybe get a slightly bit less pasty. Not going to miss the dreary wet weather!



Pho On a Dreary Day

Ever since I got back from LA, the weather at home has been particularly dreary, wet, and depressing. It's a good thing I escaped! The day before taking off for warmer and sunnier weather, I headed off to South Philly for a nice warm bucket of pho at Pho Hoa. I actually hadn't been to this one before. The restaurant is fairly big on the inside, you wouldn't necessarily be able to tell from outside. There's booths and tables and flat screen tvs. It's nothing exciting or interesting, decor wise. The summer rolls. These are pretty much a given. I wanted hot food though, so I didn't partake. They were probably ok. I myself, I make a mean summer roll. And my sauce beats any restaurant sauce. I swear. Chicken pho. Kinda seems to defeat the purpose of pho, but it looks good, if not healthy. I still miss my unhealthy chicken pho from the long defunct Le Cyclo. Best. Chicken. Pho. Ever. Never to be tasted by these lips again. How sad. I went with my simple brisket pho. I wanted to see how Pho Hoa stood up against the other pho joints, so I made sure to taste the broth before I adulterated it with sriracha and such. And I do have to say that the broth was quite great. This was a great bucket of pho. I cleaned my bowl. Service was perfunctory, as usual. The food came out super fast, as usual. Even though it's a "chain", this is a good one.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cafe Brasil

For my last dinner in LA, I kept looking around and found a few things. Then I was watching Take Home Chef and he picked up someone from a brazilian market in LA. Then I realized that there would be brazilian restaurants here! So that's how we ended up at Cafe Brasil. It also helped that it was only a few miles from the apartment.

The place is casual. You order up front and take a number and wait. Then you pick up your food when called. It's super cute inside, with mismatched tables and chairs in all kinds of colorful primary colors. Everything is bright and colorful. Maybe a bit too colorful. There's outside seating too, but that's probably only recommended when it's daylight out.

J got the red snapper. That came with rice, salad, beans, salsa, and plantains. It's a good thing he ordered this and not me. For whatever reason, everything came with a mustard base. The snapper had a mustard crust. The salad had mustard dressing. Even the salsa had some mustard in it. It was bizarre. I don't remember any of the food that I had in brazil having any kind of mustard slant to it.
I was feeling nostalgic so I got the feijoada. That was served with rice, farofa, collard greens, and oranges. We also got an additional side of plantains, which I gobbled up quickly. We also got a couple of pao de de quiejo (cheese bread), but these were not fresh at all and therefore cold, crunchy, and not that good. I enjoyed my feijoada very much. It had big hunks of meat in it, including fall off the bone pork. I'm not usually a fan of greens, but these were pretty good and nice and garlicky. The farofa? I dunno about this stuff. When I was in brazil, we always called it sawdust. Not because it tasted like sawdust, but just because it looks like sawdust. Well, this particular farofa tasted like bacon. Like bacon sawdust. I guess I just don't get farofa. I also got a guarana by Antarctica. That was the brand we always had in brazil. I was very happy to get my brazilian food fix!

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