30 January 2010

Our first encounter with the Baltimore Foodies

I've been a member of the Baltimore Foodies for a while but for one reason or another hadn't been able to attend a gathering until this past week. The event? The 6th season kick-off cocktail party at Alexander's Tavern.

22 January 2010

Date Night: The Good, The Bad, The Phallic

Mrs. Micro partake in date night ever so often so this time we decided to try out the new Sam's Kid asian-inspired tapas restaurant in Fells Point. A friend of mine brought this place to my attention after Elizabeth Large gave it fairly high marks in her recent review.

We trekked down to Fells and found parking and walked/ran to the restaurant. We actually went right by it without even noticing our first time around. If we hadn't had the street address we may have never found it at all. The storefront looks more like an art museum, a theme that persists throughout.

14 January 2010

Third times a charm: Home-cooked burgers done right.

On New Years day my wife and I finally made found ourselves in the perfect situation to finally try out the much raved about ice cream at Bloom's Broom dairy farm in Bel Air. After a few tastings I finally settled on a delicious rendition of rum raisin I began aimlessly browsing the store as I happily noshed. Lately, I've been on a personal mission to find good quality local ingredients to cook with. Driving 40 minutes to Wegman's in Hunt Valley every time I wanted to cook something exotic was getting old fast. So you can imagine my glee when I happened upon freshly made beef and lamb products in their freezer straight from the Woolsey lamb and beef farm in Churchville, a farm I had no idea existed until I read the label on the dark crimson packages of freshly ground beef. I asked the girl at the counter what the fat content of the ground beef was and she looked at me like I had two heads. Nonetheless I was determined to take another stab at making passable home-made burgers and was thrilled to find good beef to serve as a foundation.

09 January 2010

Tasting Hunan Taste

I had the privilege of attending my first meeting of the 'Charm City Hounds' this past weekend for lunch at Hunan Taste in Catonsville. We sampled 21 things from their extensive authentic Hunanese menu (we didn't touch the American menu).

Although I had a lot of unique dishes and most certainly broadened my horizons, there weren't any groundbreaking dishes to be had. While that may be the case, there were some damn fine ones. Let's take a look at the order list posted here near the end of the topic by one of my fellow diners accompanied by some of the pictures I managed to snap while we feasted. Keep in mind that these dishes were going around the tables so some of them were almost gone by the time they came around to me. I did the best I could!

To save myself A LOT of repetition, as my fellow foodies reported: the heat was lacking across the board, I was expecting much more after reading various internet reviews. I think they may have dumbed it down for us a bit, which is bizarre considering we were a huge group of people all ordering from the traditional Hunanese menu. Bah, we want the heat!

(#2) Spicy sliced ox lung

This was one of my higher ranked dishes. The meat was super tender and the overall flavor was great. There was much discrepancy at the table over exactly what we were eating, but nonetheless it was very tasty.

(#8) Shrimp with mixed bitter melon

I can appreciate bitter, but this melon was just too bitter. Unbalanced dish in my opinion and one of my least favorite.

(#17) Mao's braised pork

I was really looking forward to this dish and it wasn't quite as good as I expected. I would've preferred the fat rendered down a bit more due to a longer cooking time. Overall it was still one of the better dishes.

(#19) Spicy fried mutton chops

Sweet batter on lamb? Fail. And I love lamb. So sad.

(#21) Spicy pig skin

Strange texture. I, as most other diners, expected crispy skin. It was still very interesting and the texture reminded me of something but I can't quite put my finger on it... A thick seaweed salad maybe?

(#?) Spicy Chanzul Frog

This was frog? I never would've guessed... Unmentionable otherwise.

(#24) Steamed fish head-on with diced hot peppers

My first helping was great because I got a nice meaty hunk of cheek meat. The second helping was all bones and fat and remembering it now is making me sick to my stomach. I'd recommend this dish if you don't stray too close to the head and pay attention to what you're putting on your plate.

(#41) Double cooked pork with garlic

Another one of my favorites. Maybe some of the other diners didn't get a pepper on their plate but I definitely bit into some heat from this dish.

(#52) Preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoot. Not sausage - slices of salt preserved pork

The last dish that arrived at the table and by far the best. This would be the dish I return for. Excellent balance of pork and smoky bamboo shoot. Very very good.

(#55) Minced pork with sauteed sour beans

This was the first dish that hit the table and remained at the top of my list until the very end. I can't really describe it but the flavors were very addicting. A great start to the meal.

(#75) Eggplant in clay pot with garlic sauce

Nothing memorable/mentionable.

(#83) Stewed duck with ginseng. A thin soup, more than a stew

Sorry, no pic for this one! This was by far the most flavorful soup. It was like liquid essence of duck. Very good.

(#94) Tea Tree mushroom with pork casserole

I didn't realize until my second helping that this dish had pork in it. It didn't matter, the mushrooms alone made this one of my favorite dishes. Sweet woodsy, earthy bliss. Would definitely order this again.

(#95) Eggplant on iron plate

Nothing mentionable.

(#106) Soft Shell Turtle in brown sauce

This was turtle? Everyone thought it was duck until our waiter told us otherwise. Who knew?

(#128) Duck soup

A big disappointment. This soup was very thin and only faintly tasted of duck. Completely outclassed by the stewed duck with ginseng.

(#130) Clam soup with winter melon

This was my personal addition to the order and a big disappointment. As in the case of the duck soup, this tasted like broth with a very faint clam flavor. Intentional or not, this was a letdown.

[off-menu] Saute snow pea leaves

Again, no picture of this dish. This dish reminded me of perfectly cooked broccoli rabe.

(#?) Taro pancakes

Sorry but that was my share so that was all I could snap a shot of. This was doughy and juicy, the texture reminded me of the sesame balls they sometimes have at chinese buffets. I love those things so naturally I liked this dish.

Holy crap my eyes are bleeding. If that's not enough pictures for you, then I give up... Until next time my micro friends!

Hunan Taste on Urbanspoon

05 January 2010

The Portrait of a Pazo Pig-out

Yes, that's right, I've finally mustered up the courage to compose a Pazo post. As you may know by reading my front page bio Pazo is my favorite restaurant in Baltimore. So here we go.

Everytime I go to Pazo I order some standby dishes as well as try some new ones. We were dining with another couple who had never been there and Nikki and I love to see new diners reactions to the outstanding food. This trip was no exception. There was one major letdown and that was that they were out of calamari which is the best calamari I've had.

Immediately we had our friends try the little sesame seed crackers that Pazo has set out on the table, complimentarily of course. They loved them at first bite, and even more so after we told them to drizzle some of the house olive oil on them.

We could eat pounds of these things, they're subtly sweet and have a great crunch without being dry and splintery. We also pointed out the little dish of crack dust as I called it, which was the house sea salt which makes virtually every dish on the menu better. Even beverages. I sprinkled some over my water and it turned into a three olive vodka martini. Honest. Throughout the night we went through two bottles of the Clos de los Siete which is a Malbec/Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet blend. It was good, not great, but definitely sufficed.

Let us get right to the order. I ran through my favorite things on the menu for them and after much discussion and deliberation we placed our order.

Malloreddus alla Norma(2)
Manchego & Manzana(2)
Sauteed Broccoli
Cristina pizza

New dishes:
Wood Grilled Chicken
Kobe Beef Brisket
Lamb Chops(4)
Seared Scallops alla Plancha
Pan Roasted Spanish Octopus
Goat's Cheese Stuffed Agnolotti
Sausage & Arugula pizza

(for more in-depth descriptions of the dishes please see their menu)

The first plates to hit the table were the Manchego & Manzana and the Sauteed Broccoli.

The salad is one of my favorite items on the menu. The cheese, apples, and walnuts create such a wonderful flavor profile. The key is trying to get a little bit of each item in every bite. The sweet crisp apples, the nutty cheese, and the oaky crunch from the walnuts. It's blissfull.

The brocolli is another dish that is surprisingly good. I actually discovered just how good this dish was when I took my mother and her fiance here for her birthday back in September. The liberal application of lemon shines through and makes the dish.

Next up were the tuna and the scallops (our two replacement orders when the waitress regretfully informed us that they were out of calamari... which made me die a little on the inside.)

This is another dish that usually delivers, my only qualm being that sometimes their salsa verde comes out a little bland. Luckily this time it was spot on. The jicama salad while good on its own, didn't really feel like it matched the other components of the dish. And I will admit I'm not quite sure what those corn things were but they tasted like upscale beer nuts, which garnered no complaints from me!

Ever since our dinner at Le Bernardin I've been a little wary of unique scallop flavor combinations. These were served along side a butternut squash puree and 'aromatic peppercorn sauce'. Well the scallops were just how I love them, sweet and flaky with a nice sear and fortunately they worked wonderfully with the butternut puree. I don't recall tasting the peppercorn sauce, but then again this was probably around the time we were killing our first bottle of wine so that may have had something to do with it.

The seafood portion of our meal concluded when our grilled octopus hit the table. The other couple we were dining with were very hesitant and only agreed to trying it after much prodding. They were glad they did.

This was definitely the best rendition of octopus I've had to date. The suckers (there's gotta be a more scientific word for those...) were nicely crispy and tasted like straight up bacon. The application of lemon and capers added a nice acidity to the dish. The crushed potatoes rounded out a very hearty yet light dish. This was one of two pleasant surprises of the evening.

The next round of dining featured our heavier veggie dishes: the agnolotti, malloreddus, samfaina, and croquettas.

This turned out to be one of the best dishes of the evening. I've been craving mushrooms recently and have newfound love of goat cheese after the eye popping fried appetizer at Sala 19. The shrooms were super woodsy, but once my teeth pierced one of the agnolotti I immediately felt as if fireworks were going off in my mouth. The filling was super creamy and tangy. Wonderful. The bitterness of the greens succeeded in cutting down the freight train tanginess balancing out the flavors. At my next visit I may just have them strap an agnolotti feedbag to my face and burn me with lit cigarettes. Wait, scratch that last part. Just the feedbag.

The second disappointment of the meal (the first being the absence of calamari) was the malloredus. While discussing the menu with our friends I pointed out that this was my favorite dish and we order it every time. Since I have pictures of this dish from two separate visits I want to do a little comparison. Can you tell which malloredus is the bad one and why?



Well? Did you figure it out? No, of course you didn't, it's freakin' pasta. The second picture is the pasta in question and the issue with it was the pasta was undercooked which resulted in chewy almost gummy texture. After our initial tastings, we barely touched it. Disappointing, but considering the overall fantastic meal we'd been having up to that point, who were we to complain about one dish?

Luckily the samfaina was there to save the day. What an amazing dish. Add a little crack dust to this beauty and the flavor sails off the charts.

While it may not look all that pretty, trust me this stew is straight up money. This one is also feedbag worthy. If all Catalan cuisine is this good I need to get my ass to eastern Spain ASAP.

The croquettas were just as good as they always are.

A nice lightly fried crust containing fluffy whipped potatoes with a little zing from the added manchego. Slice one of these bad boys open, sprinkle a little crack dust on the exposed innards and dive in.

In my opinion by far the best deal on Pazo's menu are their individual 10" pizzas which run $11-14. Nikki always orders the cristina but this was the first time I'd had the sausage & arugula.

The star of the cristina is definitely the creamy buffalo mozzarella. The crust is reminds me of a more deep dish style crust, buttery and semi-crumbly. While generally I'm not a huge fan of deep dish pizza, it works very well here. The tomato sauce is thin and tangy. My only qualm, and I really am being nitpicky here, is I wish the basil leaves were torn up and spread out. Yep, that's my only complaint.

The proportion of sauce to cheese to crust is perfect and the crust provides the perfect vessel for the toppings which is a huge plus because I hate sloppy soggy pizza.

I have a love/hate relationship with arugula which made me skeptical as to whether or not I would like this pizza. Luckily the combination of sausage and arugula worked well here. I think arugula may be growing on me. The bitterness was balanced by the slightly sweet(I think... damn wine!) and smoky sausage. This sausage kind of reminded me of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, in a good way. I would've liked some spiciness, nonetheless this was another great pizza.

It kills me to say this, but I've enjoyed the pizza here more than any pizza I've had in NYC. Yes, even Di Fara. It just proves just how subjective pizza love can be. There are so many styles and variations that there just can't be any single best pizza joint. I do, however, plan on returning to Di Fara at some point before I'm six feet under and ordering straight pies with minimal, if any, toppings. Someday.

Our last wave of plates arrived, the meats. At this point we probably could've taken the check and been happy as we were all groaning with bloated stomachs. But we toughed it out, bring on the meat I say!

The empanadas are served alongside the aforementioned salsa verde. The dough used in this dish is very similar to the pizza dough, I wouldn't be surprised if they were one and the same. Now that I think about it, the sausage is very similar to the sausage topping our pizza. I guess that means basically the empanadas are little pizza pockets sans cheese served with salsa verde instead of tomato sauce. Here's a nice interior shot:

Empanadas in the morning, empanadas in the evening, empanadas at suppertime... That was a great jingle.

The brisket was almost too tender. It was like if your mom on a whim decided to use Kobe beef instead of the usual discount bin meat to make pot roast.

There was a very slight chew to it, but not much. I scoffed at the offering of a knife, you could cut this with a wet noodle. I didn't try the potatoes because honestly I was beyond full at this point, but they smelled like the bomb.

The lamb chops were as good as lamb chops should be. They were moist and gamey, which I love. Give me a big old bucket of gaminess, I love it.

The pomegranate sauce/seeds gave a nice bittersweet pop to the dish. The bright red sauce along with the green pile of arugula created a nice semi-Christmasy visual appeal. Here's a shot of the interior doneness of the lamb chops. I know it's very blurry, but it gets the point across: The chops were cooked perfectly.

After looking through my photos I just realized I neglected to get a shot of the wood grilled chicken, sorry about that. I know you guys love perty pictures. The chicken was moist and the wood grill at Pazo, the only one in Baltimore according to our waitress, imparted a lovely smokiness to the meat.

Welp, at this point I'm pretty burnt out. This is a lot of writing in one sitting! Yikes, I gotta go get ready for my dad's New Year's Eve party. Even though this post will be delayed since I just posted the conclusion of our trip to NYC, happy New Year everyone!

Pazo on Urbanspoon