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Preview: The Traveling Food Critic

The Traveling Food Critic

Lina Bierker, former Food Critic of the Lancaster Sunday News, gets around to share her latest gastronomic travels

Updated: 2018-03-06T06:24:54.009-08:00


Quantifying Myself


A few weeks ago, I purchased a Fitbit.  As you can see in its description on the left, it tracks one's activity throughout the day.  Lest you call this a glorified pedometer, you might want to know that it also tracks sleep activity.

Yes, it will tell me what my sleep efficiency is given how long I slept and how many times I woke up in the middle of the night.  As a skeptic, I was amazed at its accuracy.  The first night I slept soundly through the night and was awoken only when Eric kissed me goodbye.  The second night, I knew I woke up around 2AM a few times, and it accurately tracked that as well.

But the thing that I realized I most needed was, indeed, the pedometer.  I've heard many times for several years that one should take 10,000 steps each day.  I, for one, had no idea what that exactly meant, but I was sure I was close.  Yeah, I work at a desk, but compared to others, I took the stairs to the 5th floor.  I walk over to my coworkers' offices if I have a question for them.  I'm the one who avoids the moving walkways in the airports, which I think are The Laziest contraption that has been created by society.  So imagine my surprise when I logged a whole 3,000 steps by the time I got home from work on that first quantified day.  I was truly shocked.  So THAT is what I do on a daily basis without working out?  And then I did what the Fitbit was meant for - I was motivated to get my sneakers on and I walked out into the cool, dimmed light of the emerging evening and I walked the Lina Walk - the route Eric and I take when he helps me "get healthy" that day.  Unfortunately, even that walk wasn't enough, so I kept walking around the block until I got to 10,000 steps.  So THAT is what it takes to get to 10,000 steps?  Boy was I living in LaLa Land.

Two weeks later, I'm averaging about 8,000 steps per day and am working toward a 10k average.  My key strategy is to make sure I take several walking breaks during the day so that I don't find myself at 7PM with a lot of walking to still do.  And to make sure I stay on the bandwagon, they've given me badges for steps taken and stairs climbed.  My next strategy is to start "friending" folks to create a leaderboard.  I know I'm of the competitive ilk, and that would get me motivated to no end.

Perhaps in another month, I'll actually get motivated to log my food intake to really take quantification to the next level.  But I've tried that before, and I don't last longer than a week.  So the only solution is to wait for something like the Philometron Patch which is designed to calculate BOTH caloric output AND INTAKE.  Now THAT is something I could get behind...

Korean ChamPong Makes Me Happy!


As you know, I am on an epic quest for Asian culinary delights in Central PA.  Although the area is one of the least diverse places that I have lived, and I have lived all across the country, I utterly refuse to believe that I should settle for anything less than great ethnic cuisine.  And so the search continues, and today, I happened upon this little gem of a place, while Eric and I tooled around Mechanicsburg, also visiting the Wegman's.  On Yelp it was described as a Japanese restaurant, but then all of the food described was Korean.  Now, I've had my fair share of bad Japanese in the area, and honestly, I'm taking a break from my epic search for that cuisine currently.  But Korean?  The only Korean place I was aware of was in Lancaster at a diner called The Onion Cafe.  It was decent, and I shunned it not.It was only mid-afternoon.  Eric and I had eaten lunch only a few hours before, so a Korean deep-dive wasn't an immediate desire.  But we're almost an hour away from home, we've got a new place to try out, we shall not leave town without giving ourselves and this new restaurant a chance!We walked into Spring Garden and were greeted by the Korean owner.  She was extremely pleasant and had a bit of sass, which is always a good thing in my book.  We explained that we would like to take the food to go but that we weren't going to eat until several hours later.  And then I began to peruse the menu.  Oh my goodness, they have JamPong, or Cham Pong, or Jjampong, boy I've seen this spelled differently anytime I've ever seen it.  It's a spicy seafood noodle soup that was brought to Korea from China, so it employs the use of Chinese-style noodles.  But the Koreans are known for their spice, and just as the Chinese everywhere is catered to local tastes, this version became spicier and spicier until it became, for me, a dish that I would consider decidedly Korean, but with the Chinese influence. Yes, I am a fiend when it comes to noodle soups.  I have found a noodle soup that I cherish in almost all the Asian cuisines.  In Taiwan, it's the rich, dark, and sensuous Beef Noodle Soup.  In Vietnam, the fresh, bright and light Pho.  In Japan, it's the toothsome opulence of the Chinese-influenced Miso Ramen.  In China, the spicy numbness and savory delectability of the Sichuan-style noodles.  In Korea, it's the Cham Pong that makes my heart sing!  One day, I'll round out the group with a definitive choice in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand... I have a lot of traveling to do!The last time I had a good one was about 10 years ago on the campus of Ann Arbor where I was getting my MBA.  It's a little divey place called the University Cafe.  Oh yeah, it serves Korean food.  Whut?  But the Cham Pong was great, and I've longed for it every since.At the Spring Garden, I immediately looked up with wide eyes and a string of drool starting to hang out of my mouth.  Cham Pong!  We discussed how I could take it home without the noodles getting all gummy and nasty.  Simple - she'll just wrap up the noodles and I could take them home and cook it there.  She brought them out, and I was stupefied that they were fresh.  Beautiful strands of noodles that were malleable and soft.  So rare in some of my favorite places, and here I am.  Fresh Noodles.  Bodes well...Fresh noodles are just so wonderful.  They don't really have that hard core that dry noodles have that give them that toothsomeness we're all familiar with, as long as you're not overcooking the heck out of them.  This is a different kind of toothsome - there's an evenness throughout the entire noodle that gives it a satisfying wholesome texture.  These cook really fast, and as soon as it comes to a rolling boil again, it's drain time.And then lovingly bathed in a splendid seafood broth that is balanced in its spicy savoriness.  My singular complaint is that the[...]



Taking a page out of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, Maison's fare is simply prepared with mostly local and organic food, and the result is simply fantastic!  It's quaint and cozy with a charming farmhouse decor. But for as small as the space is, it can be disproportionately loud, so prepare for the "lean-in," with a hint of "ear-cupping."  And it took a while for the servers to figure out who was taking care of which table, which was surprising since there aren't that many tables.  Finally, someone came by and said, "Is anyone taking care of you?"  Nope.  Then they overcompensated, and when another couple was seated next to us, two servers doubled efforts and the couple got hear everything twice until the servers realized their duplicity.  Devil is in the details, man.  We all got a good laugh out of that, though, and the tone that was beginning to sour was reset.And it got better all evening when glorious deliciousness came one after another.We paid a $5 corkage fee for our BYO-2-liter-bottles-of-B.  While I liked the flavor of each as a sipping beer, and both come from pretty stellar brewhouses, I found the pairing with the food awkward and remiss, relegating my imbibing to the good ol' backup - water.I usually don't comment much on bread, unless it's memorable.  The bread is sourced from MiLi's Bakery.  Along with the sweetness of flavor, it's substantial, chewy, moist, yet airy.  The salt flakes on the soft butter bring it together, and it's such a lovely and satisfying eat.  And then you understand why extra bread is $1 per person.We began with two salads, the French Country and the Octopus & Fennel.  Both were flavorful and impeccably dressed.  But the French Country was the more noteworthy of the two.  You really can't lose with the combination of crispy lardons (i.e. little bacon cubes), crunchy croutons, and blue cheese.  Yum!  I do like the way it was made entirely with frisee.  It's a really nice green, and yet I see people pick them out of a mixed green salad all the time because it looks like a "weed."  Right.  I'll take a weed over iceberg lettuce any day. Entrees were Orecchiette Bolognese and the Roasted Heritage Pork.  Both were tremendous.  The pork was moist and tender with an exceedingly agreeable crispy skin.  Combine a single bite with the creamy polenta, the sweet-sour play of the agrodolce, the toothsomeness and chargrilled flavor of the grilled savoy cabbage, and...rapture. The desserts, while good, were like the Ringo Starrs of the evening spent with all the Beatles - a star that is eclipsed by better stars.  New on the menu was a savory-sweet custard infused with bay leaves topped with a shortbread cookie.  Upon first bite, you get that herbaceous hit that dissolves into a mellow sweetness, but the finish?  Not so great.  So what to say when the proprietor comes by to ask how it is?  Honesty is the best policy, right?  So I told her what I thought, and when she put it on trial with her own tastebuds, she said she agreed.  Not sure if she really thinks that, but I applauded the creativity and I was really pleased that she was open enough to hear the feedback.  Now that's a great neighborhood bistro. As for the chocolate peanut butter dessert, the flavors were good, they were fine, and while I love the rustic idea of the mason jars, if there are layers of something, a deep jar just doesn't do it justice.  The bottom held a crust that is almost impossible to get to without digging your way through to the bottom like a groundhog. But let's put things in perspective.  The food is fantastic.  The servers are friendly, the owner is sweet, and we'll definitely be back.[...]

Opposites Rule in Bentonville, AR


On a recent visit to the world's largest retailer, I found myself on a plane to Bentonville, AR.  Truth be told, I wasn't looking forward to it.  Not only is it unquestionably inconvenient to fly between two small city airports, but it's not exactly a cosmopolitan mecca.  Then again, I have a good friend who just moved there, so I was looking forward to a little gal time. Our Girls' Night started with drinks at the very quaint and English-bar redux, Tusk & Trotter.  The specials were playfully written out on a chalkboard, including this eye-catching cocktail - "Cucumber-Mint Gin & Tonic."  After having come in from a sickeningly sultry 100 degree day, that just sounded positively refreshing.  I'd also recently been introduced to Hendrick's Gin, which is uniquely infused with cucumbers and rose petals.  My drink of choice lately has been muddled cucumber slices with Hendrick's and tonic with a nice wedge of lime.  It's clean, crisp, cool, and I like it a lot.So imagine my surprise when I got this.  Whoa, where was the nuclear meltdown?  Umm.  Did you run out of mint leaves?  Ohhh, you use creme de menthe for the "mint" part.  I stopped short of recommending that they should rename this "Scope Gin & Tonic."  I finally admitted that I couldn't drink it, sent it back like one of those divas that I dislike so much, and ordered a BOTTLED beer.  All the while, my girlfriend is just shaking her head.  There's nothing like a stereotype that totally manifests itself right before your very eyes.Then we walked around the corner to a place called Table Mesa.  This was redemption, baby!!  We started with the Cheap Dates - Medjool dates stuffed with blue and cream cheese and wrapped in bacon.  Delectable Yumminess!  Then we split two entrees.  First, the Korean BBQ tacos.  The beef was moist and tender with a spicy sweetness that had a kick.  Then the Seafood Paella special.  Not quite like being in Spain, but the flavors were complex and balanced, and wow - I'm in Arkansas?  The meal was capped off with the Key Lime - Tres Leches.  I'm not normally a cake kind of gal, but I'll eat this kind of cake any day.  Housemade cake is soaked in three milks (what kind of milk?  Ah, I should have asked) and key lime and then drizzled with pureed fruit.  It was mildly sweet, but the beautiful thing about this is that there was no way it couldn't be moist!  When our server recommended it, I remember thinking, oh man, it's either going to be a soggy mess, or actually taste like a sponge.  Fortunately, neither was the case, and I'm glad I took the cue from the server.Lately, I've been thinking about the Rule of Opposites and how it almost always holds true.  Here, indeed, it does.Table Mesa108 E Central On The Square Downtown Bentonville 479.715.6706  [...]

On a Local Organic Mission


I've talked about how Eric and I have turned into an Organic household.  Now we're taking it one step further and trying to source everything locally, if possible.  Get the freshest stuff just picked at the peak of ripeness and didn't have to travel thousands of miles to me in a freight train?  We're in.  And it can't be that hard, right?  I mean, I'm surrounded by farmland.  Turn left out of my development, and in one minute, there are cornfields.  I'm thankful for this.  With some of the best growing soil in the world, during times of  economic hardship or war, I've read about how this area rises above it all because of its self-sustaining ability. So a few weeks ago, I took a trip to Root's Market.  Root's is the oldest family-run market in the county, originating as a poultry auction in 1925, which they still do.  If for anything, go just so you can see this take place.  It's such an experience if you're a city slicker.  Naturally, I thought that if I need to find organic goods, this should be a gold mine!Alas, as I roamed through the vast rows and rows of gorgeous, brightly colored produce for sale, I saw lots of "Natural" and "Home Grown" and "Local" signs, but nothing that said, "Organic" or "Chemical Free" or "No Pesticides."  Whut?!?!  So I started asking the stand attendants.  "No, we spray," was a consistent answer.  I respect the honesty, and everyone seemed genuinely sorry that they couldn't help me.  At one stand, a customer next to me was ogling a beauty of an eggplant with its shiny purple skin.  It was at that moment that I felt like I was looking at that alluringly beautiful red, shiny apple being sold by the old woman outside that woodsy cottage, and I shook my head, thinking, but it's poisonous...Out of the 200 stands that are at Root's, much of which isn't related to food, to be fair, only 2 stands had organic anything.  One was Chiques Roc Farm, the farm close to where I live.  The other was a Spice shop.  A little disappointing, as I trudged away with my empty canvas bags. So what's an organic gal to do?  Eric used the Social Network and trawled through the web to find these stellar markets.Eastern Market isn't new to us, and now it's expanded into the corner block with free parking just a few yards past the market, in its old stomping grounds.  All the produce is organic, beautiful, and very reasonably priced.  Open on Saturdays from 9AM - 2PM, we also stock up on the many ready-to-eat stands that are there also - Nowal and her fantastic Falafels, Victoria's tremendously flavorful Kenyan fare, Awful Good and its panini sandwiches.  Eric got their Cuban today, and it was crusty and full of great ingredients.  Lastly, we grabbed some eats from the Puerto Rican stand today - pulled pork, yellow rice, and stewed onions.  We take them to go and have some great sustenance for the rest of the week.The Millersville Community Market is where we go when we need something on a Wednesday or need garlic.  This is small, but growing, and I'm most impressed with the Promised Land Farm Garlic stand.  There are so many varieties of garlic at this stand, and I got a really great education, like the fact that I (and probably you) have only eaten the Silverskin variety my entire life.  The Promised Land Farm grows many, many more varieties sustainably and without chemicals.  Lately, we've been enjoying the Siberian, with its spicy pungency and large cloves. Troublingly, most of the garlic that's being distributed in the US is from China.  And I don't know about you, but when Japan and Korea has banned food shipments from China, I hardly think it's safe for me to have in our house, either. It was at this market that I discovered Ground Cherries.  What the heck are these?!  Sweet little tomato/berries that was such a wonder to me, I dreamt[...]

Living Organically - Part 2


I went to visit an old family friend, Lorene.  She's a doctor living in Chicago who got into Eastern Medicine as a supplement to her Western training about 15 years ago, so she's a unique medical practitioner who balances both worlds.  She founded The Whole Life Center in Lagrange Park, IL.  I never remembered her as a kid since her younger sisters babysat me, so I figured she had to be at least 10, maybe 15 years older than I.  But when I actually saw her again, I saw a woman before me who looked no older than 35, 15 years younger than she is biologically.  That was the moment I was really sold.I went to visit her because I have a mild blood condition that western medicine doesn't have a solution for.  They say they'll jump in if the condition becomes critical.  Really?  Critical?  And then the solution they have in mind has severe side effects.  So it seems like a lose/lose situation all around.  So my mom talked to her mom, and her mom talked to Lorene, and Lorene said there was a TON that could be done from the Eastern medicine point of view.  She's a specialist in nutrition as the first line of defense, so off to Chicago I went for a session with "Weastern" doctor who looks at life holistically.One of the main things that she recommended was getting more Greens into my diet.  She recommended a book called Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko.  Downloaded it from Amazon onto my iPad's Kindle app and was reading it voraciously the very next day.  Isn't technology spectacular sometimes?  Such a simple, old concept that in this modern day and age we've forgotten all about.  The premise is this: we don't eat enough organic greens.  Not vegetables, mind you, but the deep leafy greens that you've heard time and time again when you get into the mode of wanting to be healthy in your life, and then you don't do it.  Why?  Because let's be honest.  McDonald's fries taste so much better!  In Boutenko's book, she facilely outlines why greens are just so important, and if someone had told me that while he or she perfunctorily said, "Eat more green vegetables," I would have heeded the advice much more ardently.  Boutenko's gig is to get the greens via smoothies.  Blend it all together and voila!  All the greens you're supposed to have!Today, I ran to the local supermarket and for $20 got an organic smorgasbord of collard greens, mixed salad greens, swiss chard, green apples, bananas, and lemons.  We've now switched almost exclusively to organic produce, and we're now purchasing grass-fed, free-range meat and eggs.  Whoo hoo!  We're finding that we're not buying as much food because organic is more expensive, but we're also not wasting as much.  So our food bill evens out.Into our Cuisinart went the whole lot of collard greens, 2 green apples, 1 bananas, the juice of half a lemon and 2 cups of water.  And as I'm wont to do, I didn't follow one of the myriad of recipes outlined in the book and thought I'd wing it.  Well, I didn't add enough water to the mixture and it came out all pulpy and fibrous.  But it was my first time "drinking" it and I didn't know what the texture was supposed to be.  I poured both Eric and myself a healthy glassful, and we sat there looking at each other as we sipped, and chewed at it like cows on the range.  Not bad, I thought.  At first.  Upon reaching the midpoint, I looked up and declared, "I can't do this.  I think I may throw up."  I went back to the concoction, threw in another apple, another banana, and 2 more cups of water.  Alright, this is starting to look and taste more like a smoothie!  Thank goodness for the sweetness of the fruit, I say.  But what to put it in?  Eric had an empty beer growler hanging around the kitchen.  Fair game.  [...]

Beer is the new Wine


We celebrated a friend's birthday at Baltimore's Brewer's Art.  It's got four distinct spaces, giving me the initial impression that it just didn't know what it wanted to be.  Through the main entrance on Charles Street, it's a good-looking bar with cool woodwork and high ceilings.  The bright space then succumbs to its living room beatnik spill-over where philosophizing seems encouraged while lounging in comfortable and deep upholstered chairs.  That space meets up with the maitre d's stand which shields a gorgeously classic dining area where a jacket could have been required if we were still living in that kind of era.  But before entering that space, you could veer down the stairs to the left and find yourself in a completely different kind of divey dungeon where pub fare rules and the bathrooms are painted black and graffitied.  So can you blame me for wondering what was going on?We found some cushy chairs in the lounge as we waited for the others in our party.  Eric got the sampler tray of everything they had on tap.  As I made my way around their lighter brews for the summer, I'm going to just say it straight out.  Despite the cool names like Ozzy, Resurrection, and Sublimation, they were disappointing.  I'm of the Ommegang and Chimay Blue ilk.  And if that's what you also like, you and I both would not be enjoying a pint of ANY of these.  So I moved onto their extensive beer list to peruse their "Guest Beers."  They break them out by country, and the Belgians are broken out even by whether it's really made by the monks or not.  No doubt these guys know what they're talking about when it comes to beer.  It's just unfortunate that I couldn't get into their drafts.  But we shall revisit the discussion of "their beer" in just a moment.I chose the satisfying Tripel Karmeliet with its golden color and refreshingly mild flavor. We were seated in that adoringly classic dining room with modern touches, and there was a sense of tentative hopefulness.  I've been skeptical about places that purport to have great beer AND great food.  In my broad experience of eating out, very, very rarely do the two meet in quality.  Either one or the other is the king of the owner's heart, and you can tell.  So we were hoping for the best, knowing that if it didn't work out, we'd have to celebrate that same birthday another weekend.  Alas, the menu was creative and inspiring, driving much table discussion as to what would maximize gluttonous pleasure.  The appetizers were all winners.  The opulence of the Roasted Berkshire Pork Belly over cornbread and a rich sweet-savory Bourbon sauce, the freshness and vigor of the watermelon, feta and olive salad, but the knock-you-off-your-feet Ceviche was unfortunately, not mine.  The two glasses it was served in was combined en platter, and I don't recall ever having a ceviche with such a well balanced flavor.  Most times, it's way too acidic, but here, the flavor combination is impeccable, as is the generous portion of the seafood medley.I dare say the appetizers may have upstaged the entrees.  Steak Frites was center stage with 75% of the carnivorous table ordering the dish.  We'd read much about how great the dish was and how the Rosemary Garlic Fries were out of this world.  I ordered the Pan-Seared Cobia, a nice, flaky mild fish that I would not hesitate to order again, but I'll admit that I was more intrigued with the Corn and Spring Onion Risotto.  Decadent, with a creamy mouthfeel, it did not disappoint.  The Steak, however, was met with less enthusiasm.  High expectations combined with the fact that we've got game with a steak cooked in our backyard, and this was a table of hard-to-please customers.  The fries, though, were pretty bangin'.  But here was the ult[...]

A Little Belgian in Laguna Beach


Laguna Beach at Sunset in July
My parents live near one of the world's best beaches - Laguna Beach.  For several years, I didn't take advantage of it for a number of reasons.  I was there for Christmas.  The place kinda shuts down during the cold season, even though it's positively balmy compared to the East Coast.  Or I was visiting for only a few days, and everyone knows that when you only visit Mom & Dad for just a few days, every minute of every day shall be spent sitting at the table to eat Mom's home cooking with a face of rapture and plenty of "Mmm-ing," and to let them stare at you in wonderment that their long lost child has come home.

So imagine my chagrin when, after all these years, I actually spent a significant amount of time - all of 1 week - hanging loose in SoCal and being a bit of a beach bum, as much of a beach bum as a type-A business executive can be, that is, and discovered what I was missing.

Among the many decent stores, microbreweries and restaurants in the pristine beach town is Brussels Bistro.  It's modern with clean lines, decidedly more California than Belgium, but that's of little significance when one savors what it can offer so much more.

The beer list is impressive, and the servers are experts, and I mean it!  When someone can rap with Eric about beer and school him on a few things, the guy knows what he's talking about.

We were introduced to Kwak, and they have a special wooden beer holder for their beer.  The Leffe Blonde was refreshing and mildly sweet.  But you know, at a Belgian place, I expect that the beers will be stellar as long as they carry them in bottles.  And if the place is located in the middle of a popular beach town, I don't expect much from from the food.  I expect that it will be expensive and mediocre.  Surprisingly, though, the food was very good, albeit quite expensive.  I got the pot of mussels in the curry sauce.  I couldn't believe how huge and succulent the mussels, the quantity served, and how divine the sauce.  As someone who watches her intake of carbs, that curry nectar was so sumptuous that my intake of bread increased 4-fold to sop up that gold liquid.

The Steak Frites was excellent, as was the decadent gourmet Mac & Cheese.  Holy moly that was good and I had more than just a neighborly taste of my friend's dish.

This is one place that I will be sure to revisit on my next trip home.

The Alibi Room


Vancouver's Gastown District is charming with an old-town feel emanating from the brick sidewalks and boutique stores lining the quaint streets.

Tucked into a neighborhood just a little off the main drag is a hip little place called The Alibi Room.

In our quest for all things gastronomic, we came across this highly recommended restaurant known for an extensive beer list as well as for pretty good food.  Of all the great meals that we had during our week in Vancouver, this was toward the top of our list.  Extra points for their sustainable philosophy.  Of course, the top of the list is like the results of a 50m swim meet in which the difference between first and eighth place is still less than one second.

Items of note: Everything, including the stellar burger Eric ordered and that I failed to photo because I thought, it's just a burger.  But it's the Captain America (er, in Canada) of burgers.  Perhaps that smoky onion mayo?  Who knows...

The Wild Salmon dish was rich in mouthfeel and in Omega 3s, I'm sure.  The roasted vegetables were notable, but not as much as the black rice.  Black rice has been creating quite the buzz recently.  It's also known as "Forbidden Rice" because back in China's heyday, black rice was set aside for the Emperor, forbidden to anyone else.  High in nutrition, nutty in flavor, but still kinda expensive, I love the texture and the fact that my first actual eating experience was in this down-to-earth, progressive hangout for the hip and young in a developing area of Vancouver.  This town rocks!!

But the surprise and delight for me that evening was the Free-range Chicken WINGS.  That's right.  Admittedly, I expected some Buffalo Hot Wings, being that I'm so American and naturally ethnocentric.  These were crispy on the outside, piping hot, moist, and tender on the inside, and tossed in a honey, garlic, chili, and herb concoction that blew my mind in its utter simplicity.  I almost drank the sauciness at the bottom of the bowl, it was so good.

Finally, the molten chocolate cake was truly molten, which is surprisingly messed up 50% of the time, but it was also more voluptuous than others, and Eric threatened to lick the ramekin regardless of the fact that we were in public.  It was served with their homemade cashew brittle that was amazingly light and airy, yet solid and crunchy.

The Alibi Room - it's so good, it's criminal.

Guu-dness Gracious!


When visiting Vancouver, one must bike along the Seawall.  A dedicated bike trail meanders around the perimeter of Stanley Park and Vancouver's downtown.  It's flat, and therefore perfect for any fitness level.  But regardless of whether it's your first time on a bicycle in several decades or you're training for the Tour de France, the views are spectacular and the fresh cool air breathtaking. Afterwards, there is no shortage of great eats.  As we leisurely worked our way back to our hotel diving in and out of the number of boutique stores that decorate Robson Street, we found ourselves perfectly timed to begin waiting outside the doors of Guu, a Japanese Izakaya known as much for its Japanese tapas as for its wait to get in.The moment the minute hand struck 5:30PM, the door opened, and the growing line of patrons were shuttled in and efficiently placed along the bar if you were a small party, and at a table for a larger group.      All the while, the servers and chefs behind the bar are screaming "Irashaimase" or Welcome! to everyone who walks in.  The reviews on FourSquare comment exhaustively on the yelling and noise, mostly negatively, but I rather liked that all the orders were loudly reviewed with the chefs.  The hustle and bustle give the intimate joint a lot of energy, so what's with the desire to oppress it?  Besides, the food is so good, who cares, anyway?The beauty of a small plates restaurant is the ability to try out a number of different dishes.  If I had my way, I would want all the restaurants to offer some kind of customizable sampler plate.  This is the Kabocha Korroke - Pumpkin Croquette.  Kabocha is my favorite pumpkin because its flesh is so sweet and tasty that often times, people think I've added sugar.  It's not a very attractive pumpkin, what with its warts and oft times misshapenness, but the flavor is unparalleled.  The core is a hard boiled egg, and it's all deep fried to create a crispy shell.  Sweet and savory, with a smooth texture offset by the egg and crispy shell.  Lovely.This is the Pork Cheek.  Some might describe it as "tough," but that would misrepresent what I would rather call the toothsome texture that lends an interesting chewiness that I quite enjoyed.  The flavor was outstanding and it was our server's favorite dish on the menu.  Speaking of chewiness, I also ordered a dish of Pork Intestines.  Eric will eat anything once, and I appreciate that.  So I can't complain when he doesn't want to take another bite.  I did contest that the dish was quite exceptional versus other intestinal dishes I'd had in my life, of which had been many.  He claimed that it tasted too... "natural."  Interesting.  Interesting that he can eat a plateful of Scrapple's "natural" flavor.  I mean, if you think about what's in Scrapple, this is a pretty close cousin...But the star of the evening was unanimous - the Miso-Glazed Black Cod.  Oh, Black Cod.  What would I do without you?  It began as a second-class citizen in my life, a begrudging replacement to my beloved Chilean Sea Bass.  But now, it's become quite a coveted menu item.  And this did not disappoint.  I'm sure I had much more than my half of it.  A big part of what makes our marriage work is that Eric is remarkably kind about letting me eat more than my fair share of things in which I find particular enjoyment.  What a guy!Next time I go, I'm going to try one of their fried rice dishes, among other things.  They accidentally placed an order of Kimchi Fried Rice in front of us, and I deviously wanted to feign confusion as to what we ordered so I could dig in.  It's just looked so guud.[...]

Battle of the Food Trucks!!


It's Japadog vs. Mariscos 4 Vientos, folks!  Japadog is Vancouver's answer to merging the Japanese culture that is so prominent in the city to a good ol' American Favorite - the Hot Dog!Mariscos 4 Vientos is in the heart of LA and has their own unique Mexican offerings.  Which will win?  We had a sampling of items at each truck, but I will highlight the best items and pit them against one another.  So we start with the Yakisoba Japadog.  All of the Japadogs start with the base of a plump and juicy hot dog nestled in a soft white flour bun.  It's how they finish it off that adds the Japanese flair.  In this case, Yakisoba is layered on top, much like one would with sauerkraut, perhaps.  Yakisoba is Japan's fried buckwheat noodle dish.  It's a classic, and I spent just slightly less time in the Yakisoba shops as a student in Japan than I did in the Ramen houses I called my second home.Here, the hot dog rivals those of New York, dare I say, even more satisfying because of its sheer size and flavorful drippings that shoot out the moment the taut skin is broken by a diner's incisor slicing through it.  And then it gets thrown down by the Asian intruder that seems to mollify the invasion and they both finally meld together into something uniquely, head-tiltingly, strangely as if they belonged together all along.  A happy fusion.Ah, but then there is this shrimp taco dream.  I was hanging out in LA with my cousin Jake and his fam when he said, "We gotta go get this shrimp taco."  My cousin is a sales guy in LA and he does a lot of driving around, and the dude likes to eat.  I know, it runs in the family.  So without a second's hesitation, we were off, picking our way through the LA traffic for a $1.75 Shrimp Taco that he insisted all along the way was unlike any other shrimp taco I had ever had.  And indeed, he was correct.Upon laying eyes on this smothered wonderment, I immediately thought, oh great, the whole taco is soaked in salsa.  I can't STAND soggy edibles that should be crunchy.  I was already slightly disappointed.  Underneath the salsa was a layer of sliced avocado shingled atop the taco.  And then there was this blackness on the inside.  Boy, they sure did fry the hell out of this whole thing!  And THEN I thought - how is someone supposed to eat this saturated mess? I gingerly pinched the shell on one side and lifted, hopeful.  Amazingly, the whole thing rose.  The shell was structurally intact which promised a crispiness that I had written off.  I took a bite and it was absolutely, sublimely crunchy, while the tender minced shrimp concoction delightfully seasoned the tastebuds with its fullness.  Oh DANG this thing was good!  The disappointment I initially felt was buoyed into sheer happiness and gastronomic satisfaction. So which one is better?  Eric would say he would rather go back to Japadog simply because it's so rare.  But in reminding him that it's not about availability, but taste, he would still go with Japadog.  I, on the other hand, was a hung jury as I thought about documenting this battle in my blog.  However, as I write this post, I have an intense craving for Mariscos' Shrimp Taco experience.  And so I must give it the edge for continuing to make such an impression.  [...]

A Tale of Two Meals


It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  When it comes to meals, that is.

Our first night in Vancouver, British Columbia welcomed us to an impeccable meal that was fit for royalty.  The space was Middle-Eastern gorgeous, and upstairs, you could even sit Moroccan-style on beds and lounge as you feast on the many delectable small dishes fanned out in front of you.  Then again, I've always had a hard time eating a meal in bed, so we opted for a nice table that formed the divide in their expansive open window.

We began with cocktails, mine the Khira - Sapphire gin with muddled cucumbers and cardamom-infused syrup and fresh lime.  A refreshing drink that disguised the sensuality of the cardamom.

Standouts were the Ahi Tuna over roasted brussel sprouts, cauliflower, bacon tossed in a mustard vinaigrette.  That vegetable (and bacon) medley was so sickeningly delicious, screw the perfectly seared tuna, I say!  The Grilled Octopus is also a scene stealer.  Those of you who have ever said to me, "Oh, I don't like Octopus.  It's rubbery," have never had the tender morsels of that sea creature done right, and boy do they do it right here.

The very next night, we thought, hey, let's kick back a little.  Where to go, where to go?  Yelp called out an Irish pub with stellar reviews and we went all in.  Honestly, I barely even want to talk about it, because days later, I'm still feeling a wave of regret.  It was so bad, in fact, that for the first time ever, I logged in a review on Yelp.  It said,

"I don't understand the draw. Between the awful Guinness Stew, average beer selection, and ditzy waitress, I'm beating myself up for wasting a meal in my limited time in Vancouver.  Okay, the hearty soda bread and decent Shepherd's pie make this meal slightly better than tragic."

In the 1973 short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, the utopia found in that town is possible only because pure evil is concentrated wholly onto one pitiful citizen.  Opposites must exist.  And it does, indeed, in Vancouver.

Guest Blog: A Kiwi's Winter Stew


From my Kiwi friend, Tim.  As I happily sweat in the 80 degree weather here at my parents' house in Southern California, they are experiencing winter.  But let's be honest - a quick look online as to what their weather is really like and it's still a high of 50-60 degrees.  Please.  :-)  Still, a nice hot stew would be welcome during winter no matter where you are!

It's pretty well mid winter in NZ right now and for some reason when contemplating what one wants to eat at this time of the year the slow cooked stew seems to end up at the top of the wish list. There are a couple of things that you really do need in the kitchen before attempting this sort of meal.  An oval cast iron  le creuset dish with lid is really useful....and,  despite the fact that slow cooking does make the ordinary taste extraordinary, quality fresh ingredients also help...

Ok so its Sunday afternoon and you want some comfort food for the Sunday evening meal.

Start by cubing 2 lbs of  fine NZ grass fed beef (or whatever beef is available in Hershey), roll in flour and then  brown in your cast iron casserole dish with a little olive oil and garlic.

Set aside.

Then  gently  make a sofrito by frying (very very slowly) a few (3) finely chopped onions, (3) grated carrots and  (4) chopped celery stalks in a little olive oil and garlic, again in the bottom of your cast iron casserole dish. As you gently fry add some  orange rind (no pith) , a couple of cinnamon sticks, a couple of bay leaves and some chopped parsley - season well with salt and pepper.... When you've finished this step the onions should be translucent and smell sweet....but don't worry if the celery is not properly cooked.

Add the browned beef. Add a US pint of beef stock and a US pint of decent red wine ( I use  NZ merlot from Hawkes Bay - merlot  is  a much  maligned but actually really good red wine).

Season well with salt and pepper then bring to the boil.

Then put on the oven for 3 hours at  350 degrees F for about 3 hours.

Once  cooked let rest for 5 mins so the meat can absorb more moisture then serve on a bed of basmati  rice with a side salad ....with another big glass of red wine......and a decent track on the stereo like the Tao of groove for example

Superb ....

Stir Fry for the Soul


Last night, I had a rare evening to myself while Eric painted Camp Hill red with his buddies.  As I relished the first moments of being alone in the house, I screamed my lungs out just because I could and then pondered what I should do that night.  And it came to me in a flash.  Stir Fry.I've allowed my life to be a little too consumed by my work, both physically and emotionally.  Physically because of all the travel that goes along with it.  Emotionally because I am a tad of a Type A perfectionist who actually likes my job a tremendous amount, which will lead to bouts of insomnia for any reason ranging from stress to simply because I had a great idea on how to do one thing or another.  What has suffered, among other things, is my first cooking love - Stir Fry.My parents are Taiwanese immigrants.  My first utensil was not a spoon or fork, it was a pair of pink pearlized plastic chopsticks that I could carry around in its little pink case with a cartoon panda adorning its front.  I carried those around like a treasure.  Even then, food was a passion of mine.My mom was and is a Stir-Fry master.  Anything could be stir-fried, I learned, and the wok was the tool of the trade.  The saw to a carpenter, the paintbrush to an artist.  Indeed, it wasn't until I was well into my 20s that I finally got a soup pot from a friend who was a little more than astonished to see that I heated up some Cream of Mushroom soup in my wok, and no, she wasn't Chinese."What's the big deal," I countered, "it still tastes good and I didn't spill anything anywhere, and if it were a Chinese soup, you probably wouldn't have said a thing..."  Still, I appreciated having another pot for multi-dish meals.Last night, I ran to the fridge where I had defrosted some sirloin steak with the intent to grill whole.  Intentions were made to change.  Some onion, some garlic, broccoli, soy sauce, satay sauce, hot sauce, any other condiment that tickled my fancy.  Eric had brought in a bunch of cilantro from the garden in fear that it would begin to bolt.  Perfect.I sliced the sirloin at a bias to ensure ease of bite-ability and began marinating it some tapioca starch for tenderness and to help thicken the sauce later on, pepper, soy sauce and satay sauce and let it sit.  Diced some vidalia onion, ran my knife through the cilantro, and I was set.  I like to cook as if I were on a cooking show, where all the ingredients are already put into little bowls and just have to be tossed into the dish.  It's not only so that I can feel like a star, though.  In Chinese stir fry, it's actually quite important because things cook quickly at a high heat, and if the mushrooms are supposed to go in, but the chef is still working to slice or quarter them, the whole dish is at risk.  Yes, it's that important...Oil into the wok, heated until it starts to smoke.  I threw in my favorite get from the Beijing market - Sichuan Peppercorns.  It's also called the Flower Pepper because you can see how it flowers out by the time it's purchased at the market.  It's apparently a sign of good quality.  Sichuanese is my favorite regional Chinese cuisine due in no small part to the Sichuan Pepper.  Its chemical composition is unique in that it leaves a tingling or "numbing" feeling in the diner's mouth.  It's spicy and gives you a unique sensation that I haven't experienced elsewhere.  Whenever you see a "Ma La ..." kind of dish, it translates into "Numbing Hot", indicating they're using Sichuan Peppers.  Unless, of course, you're eating in Lancaster, PA at Tony Wang's, and I'm not sure they've[...]

Muriel's - Jackson Square


San Francisco Airport Tip!


Every so often my travel karma gives way to the roaming demons who, out of boredom, just want to mess with people.  And then I raise my fist and cry disdainfully, "United!" 

If you're flying from the West coast to the East coast, and anything, I mean ANYTHING, goes wrong, you're screwed.  With the 3-hour time change combined with 6 hours in the air, the last flight out of the West coast is 3PM, with no chance of any connections.  Harrisburg Airport has a lot of great advantages, but direct flights are not one of them.  

On my latest flight out from San Fran to Dulles connecting to Harrisburg, my 1PM flight that would get me home by midnight was painfully delayed, and I knew I would be spending some pillow time in Washington DC, just as everything was closing down.  They put me on an 8AM flight the next day.  Total anticipated time at the hotel?  A mere 4.5 hours.  On a Saturday, to boot.

But IF you're going to get screwed, pray that it happens at the San Francisco airport because if you're lucky enough to be close to Gate 82, you can partake in wine tasting at Wine Wisdom to drown your sorrows away.

Thank you, Wine Wisdom, for allowing me to taste every single bottle you had open TWICE.  Thank you for regaling me with stories of wine distribution.  Thank you for making my 2 hour plane delay cum 10 hour delay to home more tolerable.  

Everyone go by the Wine Wisdom and tell them I said, "Hi," and that I did finally make it back home safely.

Mr. B's Bistro - a Happy Mistake!


One night there were a few of us who desperately needed to escape a *gasp* BAD MEAL.  We were in New Orleans, and we found ourselves facing a buffet of turkey cold cuts, French's mustard, and a faux etouffee served on Uncle Ben's rice.  Exactly.  So we assessed the crowd, slowly walked backwards toward the door, and then made a run for it.Out into the street we scampered like rats, scared that we might get caught, but finding it strangely exhilarating to be so free from the torment. By the time we careened around the corner, we had picked up a few other stragglers along the way.  Catching our breath walking down the street, all of us had our heads down checking our smartphones and various foodie sites to find our next culinary extravaganza.  For just one moment, a couple of folks looked up and saw this dive of a place that looked to be a Gumbo place.  This is a high risk, high reward type of situation, and it's not for the faint of heart.  It's polarizing, which doesn't quite work for a large group of people, even if it means escaping grocery store deli meat.  Not that there's anything wrong with that...We all walked into the Bourbon House, and it was fine, a nice restaurant that looked like it could be on the corner of a popular street in Atlanta, or maybe Chicago, perhaps Sacramento... So an even smaller group decided to take the risk and backtracked back to the little divey Gumbo place.  But then we walked in, and a pungent stink of death came upon us.  If it hadn't stunk so much, we might have enjoyed the quirky atmosphere of every little piece of paper that had ever entered the place having been stapled onto the wall.  Thankfully there was nary a soul there to even notice us, even though the place was utterly empty, which made our spin around less awkward. Wandering down the block, we ran into Mr. B's Bistro.  Its corner window emitted an inviting warm orange glow.  We glanced at each other - why not?Mr. B's Bistro is part of the Brennan Family restaurant dynasty.  And as long as they keep serving up eats as good as this, I'm happy to methodically and systematically go to every single one of them.The interior is rich and comfortable, yet I felt a little uncomfortable being so casually dressed, with dozens of beads adorning my neck.  What a tourist.  But they didn't mind.  We swooped in and were seated immediately.  Our servers were classically dressed and professional, but with a witty humor that brought levity to an otherwise serious environment.For my appetizer, I ordered the Niman Ranch Pork Belly.  I am powerless against the words pork belly.  When I see it, I must have it.  Add the words Niman Ranch, and it's like kryptonite.  This particular dish was oven roasted with fig preserves and served with spinach and a nice crunchy crouton.  Truly melt-in-the-mouth wonderment came over me.  The fattiness lends a rich mouthfeel and a juxtaposition against the meat itself, and then throw in the sweetness of the fig preserve to counter the saltiness and this thing was cookin'!  Too good. And then came the entree.  I went through quite a bit of indecisive agita on this one.  Rarely do I see a menu where I would be willing to eat everything listed.  This was one of those few times, and my discourse with the server was akin to a therapy session.  "What do you FEEL like having tonight?" and "This dish always makes me feel really happy when I eat it" and "Nothing beats some good comfort food, if you ask me..."  I finally followed my in[...]

All Hail New Orleans Oysters!


Have you ever seen such an oyster?  A raw oyster so large, it engulfs the fork upon which it perilously balances?  An oyster so massive, it had to be bitten in two lest it choke the diner?  I believe one can only find the monstrous quality of oysters such as these in New Orleans, Louisiana.  At the Acme Oyster House just one block off of the famed Bourbon Street on Iberville, there is almost always a line that crawls around the corner of patrons, both tourists and locals, awaiting the pearly flesh of oysters that have just been trucked in that day.  If you wait until your fourth meal of the day, just 15 minutes before it closes, your chances are great that there will be no line, as we had come to find.There was a fleeting thought about the risk of eating anything from the Gulf, but no one seemed to harbor those same thoughts.  When I asked a local about it, he looked at me, trying not to roll his eyes, and said, "Girl, nothing is goin' to happen to you except that you'll miss out on some fine oysters..."  Okay then. A dozen raw oysters is a must.  This is WHY I decided to partake in a fourth meal.  I mean, it's not for my health, for goodness sakes.  I embark on these occupational hazards for you, my readers...They were surprisingly meatier than any other oyster I have eaten in my life.  They were so delectable, I had a new understanding of oysters as aphrodisiac.  People who believe it's a myth has never had New Orleans oysters.  My dining companion actually closed her eyes when she ate them. A dozen chargrilled oysters are a must.  This is WHY...  Okay, I didn't have these on my mind, but a quick trip to Yelp convinced me otherwise.  These are topped with garlic, butter, and cheese, then chargrilled.  The result is an over-the-top decadent luxury that borders on too rich.  I could only have 4 of them before I felt the butter coursing through my veins and getting trapped. Last on the oyster list is the Oyster Shooter - an oyster dumped into a shot glass with a squirt of cocktail sauce on top and then filled to the top with vodka.  Skip this.  It's not nearly as enjoyable and I almost wanted to hurl.  I don't know if it's because I had already had too many oysters, but I don't really care. At the end of the evening, we chatted with the staff who said that even though they are exposed to oysters everyday, they still love to eat 'em.  I know what they mean; I feel that way about working at a chocolate and candy company.  [...]

A Strawberry Awakening


I never loved strawberries growing up, and now I know why.  The ones I grew up with came from the grocery store, might have looked nice and red... actually, nice and red for the bottom 2/3s which graduated into a white color at the stem... but tasted disappointingly sour.  It was like being really excited to go out on a date with a gorgeous guy only to find that the person within was totally vapid and that conversation was futile.  So can you blame a young girl for not wanting anything to do with it?  

I recall being confused by the paradox.  I mean, strawberries were heralded around me and by the media as being the fruit of the beginning of summer, a fantastic sweet that could replace dessert.  Strawberry Shortcake was one of my favorite cartoons and dolls, and it was supposed to represent all things good.  And yet, it tasted so marginal, so incomprehensibly empty.

Today, I stopped by the Chiquies Roc Farm near my house.  The farm is run by an Amish family and is chemical-free.  Tis the season of strawberries, and as I bite into these little ruby jewels, it's red all throughout and there's a sweetness that I have never experienced in a strawberry before.  

Here's the criminal part.  Until recently, I did not know that strawberries could be red throughout.  It's so stupid, isn't it?  I believed it could be red all the way to the stem on the outside, but that one would still bite in and see white streaks of what I know now to be unripened fruit with its big dry core.  But it's what I grew up with, sadly, and every single strawberry I'd ever had up to that point met that criteria.  It really begs the question of what our food system has become and what it has done to our ability to understand what nature intended food to be.  Since we're already more than 80% urbanized in this country and this is projected to increase, even, I feel for the kids who will grow up just like me and never understand or appreciate the real essence of a strawberry. 

So now I savor the juices of these ripe, tender, sun-warmed morsels of delight, and I think I might just have to go and find my Strawberry Shortcake doll.  I owe her an apology.  

Crawfish Boil in Lancaster!


Do you know why I always preach diversity diversity diversity?  Because of this, my friends.  Because of this.My coworker and friend, Joe, hails from the great southern state of Louisiana.  For the past 4 years, he and his fellow Louisianan Will have hosted a real, down home, authentic Crawfish Boil, right here in Lancaster County.  Ever since I have had the privilege of being on his invite list, we hadn't been able to make it.  The crappy thing about it is that we can't quite remember WHY we haven't been able to go.  Obviously the alternative events weren't very memorable.  So only today have we realized what we have been missing. They started the cooking festivities at 10AM for a 4PM eating time.  By the time I showed up a little past 4PM, most of the crawfish and shrimp were marinating amongst themselves and keeping each other smokin' hot in the plastic coolers.  But they still had one last batch, and I'm glad to have seen it all go down.Just as deliciously fun as the food is the process itself.  Joe and Will order the crawfish live from LA and pick it up from the airport.  So this is the real deal, not some sickly crawfish that might have been farmed upstate.  These suckers are big and strappin'.  Like the Andre the Giants of the Crawfish World.Start with washing off the crawfish.  Apparently they can come rustically in its own habitat, so mud and any other stuff that I don't want to know about hitch along for the ride.  Brilliant use of the kiddie pool, guys.  Apparently some of these little doo-dads don't make it all the way to their culinary destination.  Some get crushed and others meet their demise.  How can you tell?  They should be curved and if they don't curve back up, but stay stretched out, then... they're dead.  I love how all seafood has their little way of telling us humans that they're not to be consumed.  Will put this entire batch into a colander large enough to house them all.  And that's a big a** colander.  But look at the pot it fits into below.  Enormous.  It looks like Joe could fit into that if he really wanted to.  So big only a paddle will do.  Simmering in that big pot is gallons and gallons of water seasoned with all sorts of wonderful cajun spices.  They used pouches of ready-made seasoning that made itself into a broth that was rich and flavorful.  Tastefully pungent with the cajun kick you would expect, and then the complex layering that comes from boiling fresh seafood in it all day long.  I asked what they would do with all that goodness at the end of the day.  Criminally, they said they would pour it out.  Understandably, it was all hard work; they were soaked in sweat and once the event crested from its gastronomic climax, they wanted little to do with it all anymore.  Shame, really.  Next year, I shall bring plenty of plastic containers in which to fill with the rich stock that have the makings for some really excellent stews and soups during the winter months. Why not revisit the Summer Boil event months later?At the very end, the vegetables go in.  Red potatoes first, then followed by corn, mushrooms, whole onions and Kielbasa.   And then they get chucked on top of the crawfish and shrimp.  What a great system - Craft paper are wrapped atop the tables and it's all splayed out for folks to share and grab at.  Of course, the first question is - how does one really eat a crawfi[...]

Last Night's Dream


From karmacrandall.blogspot.comThe tan interior was amazingly like a car's.  Smooth leather with wood trim and styling that was modern and clean.  But I found myself sitting in a seat that was single in width and the second in two seats, one behind the other, much like how it might be fashioned in a cockpit.  All I could see was the black cap of the pilot sitting in front of me.  I didn't recall feeling any discomfort, even though it seemed rather cramped in quarters and I have never been able to sustain being in a small confined space without an emerging feeling of nausea creeping over me quickly and completely.  And yet, sitting in that cockpit was quite comfortable and I felt calm. Take off was easy and uncomplicated, despite all the trees surrounding us, and when we broke the tree line, I gasped at the glorious view.  Vivid bright blue sky engulfed us, for the front of the cockpit was made entirely of clear glass that made it seem that the pilot sitting ahead of me was floating.  The clear glass stopped when it got to me, but afforded enough of an unhindered panoramic view.  And then I noticed that there was no sound.  The loud droning of a commercial airliner was completely absent, and there was utter, absolute silence.  There was no speaking between me and the pilot, and we enjoyed a ride full of loop de loops, dips and turns.  The plane was agile and quick, and I laughed uninhibitedly and with full delight.  Crazily enough, I recall getting my iPhone out to make sure I took pictures of everything.Then the pilot dipped so closely to the ground I could see details of homes and expressions on people's faces.  On one property's lawn, the wreckage of another plane, a pale yellow antique like the kind that the Wright brothers would have flown.  "That plane went down yesterday," the still unknown and unnamed pilot said.   He landed the plane on the road and suddenly we were viewing the wreckage from across the street.  It was on fire, but the fire was almost invisible.  Pale orange and yellow flames that were noticeable only because of its flickering movement and visible heat emanating hotly from the wreckage.  Curiously, the wreckage wasn't charring.  It was a pale yellow and orange fire burning atop the pale yellow plane.  The fire burned into a clear and clean smoke that was faint and immediately evaporated as it rose into the beautiful blue sky.  "It's still on fire!" I exclaimed, "Do you see the fire?  It's barely visible!"  The pilot only said, "We have to go." He taxied away, and as he turned right onto a busy road, I realized we were in a vehicle that was the cross between a Smart car and a Mini Cooper.  Then, using the road as a runway, we began to liftoff, much to the amazement of the others driving on the road.  Across the median, a small car going the opposite direction was so distracted it lost control and flipped over in a violent crash.  "We better go across the street to help them," the pilot said without emotion.   He skipped back down to the road and took the closest exit. When we deplaned, news had quickly spread that the driver and passengers were able to climb out of the car and that everyone was okay.  I could see just barely above the heads that indeed, someone was unfolding their way out of the car unharmed and brushing off the debris. And I found myself in a shopping bazaar.  Nothing seemed out of the ordina[...]

Boston's Beehive


The Beehive is right next to my cousin's pad on Tremont and Clarendon in Boston.  The space is ultra hip with cool art adorning the walls and long sweeping drapes that give the high ceilings the drama it deserves.Ultimately, though, all the theatrics only matter if the place is worth going back to.  I, myself, will have to take a long, long break from the Beehive, not because it's not worth going back to.  On the contrary, it's so fun and lively that it engendered a night out that I am no longer adept to occasion in my aging disposition.  Want to know what took me over the edge?  This right here.Our bartender was attentive and hardly steered me wrong all night.  The duck dish was well prepared.  It had that delectable crispiness to the skin, the flesh was exactly medium rare, who doesn't love rice soaked in meat juice, but the plum sauce... I was craving the plum sauce to be just a tad sweeter to balance the savoriness of the dish.  For that alone, I can't say it was fantastic.  Too picky?  Maybe.  But you know what WAS fantastic?This right here.  Yes, getting back to my original point.  After my meal accompanied with a small glass of Paulaner Witt Bier, I was a happy, happy customer.  But then I, my cousin, and his partner decided, hey, let's just stay for one more drink.  Just one more.  So I turned to my charismatic and helpful bartender and said, "I think I can trust you to just make up a drink for me.  I like sweet and sour, that's what you get."  He said, "I have just the thing for you..."  Apparently it starts with the Aviation as its foundation, but takes out the Creme de Violet, and replaces it with Aperol.  Add some Lillet and finish it off with a Champagne float and voila!  Here's the drink of the night that was appropriately named the Little Lina.  I'm sorry that's not helpful in your ordering the drink in the future at all, because you see, it's likely named the Little Shannon or the Little Natasha at this point...But I care not, because this was the most delicious, most fragrant, most balanced cocktail I had had in a long time.  It was soooo delicious, fragrant, and balanced, that I found myself drinking THREE of them.  If I have the opportunity to return, I shall tell them to call this the Little Lina With A Big Whopping Headache the Next Morning.  I'm still not sure I've recovered adequately enough to do so...Beehive541 Tremont StreetBoston, MA 02116(617) 423-0069[...]

Other Houston Call-outs


I may have eaten at Treebeard's disproportionately given the number of total meals, but hey, good is good and I can appreciate that.But here are a few other standouts:Vic & Anthony's steakhouse brings it.  Perfectly cooked medium rare rib-eye served on a piping hot plate as a shallow lake of butter surrounded it.  Their wild mushroom side is excellent and so is the Smith & Hook Syrah that paired righteously with the steak.  If you're on a budget, though, this place may break the bank... If Vic & Anthony's breaks the bank, then this next meal can be paid for out of your kid's piggy bank.  Houston has a network of underground tunnels throughout the downtown area, presumably for the exact opposite reason Minneapolis has skyways - because it can be so dangerously hot in the summer, who can blame someone for not wanting to go outside?  Fortunately, it's not just scary and dungeon-like.  Their lined with quick eats for those busy bodies on their way to the next big thing.  One day, I decided to take a break from Treebeard's and opted for some good ol' comfort food - Chinese Dumplings.  A quick look at Yelp led me to the Star Chef Dumpling House, which I was even more inclined to patronize when I found out the owners were from Taiwan.  My parents would be proud!I ordered a mix of pan-fried pork dumplings, seen on the left, and the steamed pork dumplings on the right for $5.95.  The pan-fried dumplings were stellar.  The skin was thin and crispy, the meat concoction in the middle was savorific, and I wished I had an entire order of them.  The steamed ones were fine, but they didn't blow me away, and I can beat those at home.  I still haven't quite figured out how to perfect the pan-fried dumplings now that I won't make them by hand anymore, so these were a great stop gap.  Vic & Anthony's1510 Texas AvenueHouston, TX 77002(713) 228-1111Star Chef Dumpling House930 Main St, #240Houston, TX 77002(713) 659-5600[...]

Houston - Things really are bigger in Texas...


Oh, to be home again.  After two weeks away, I was starting to feel at home living out of a suitcase, and I really hate living out of a suitcase.  But if that's happening, it also means I'm having some pretty terrific meals.  It's been decades since I've been to Houston.  I recall some family trip down there to visit some family friends as a 13 or 14 year-old, and I definitely remember having a crush on one of the sons.  He was tall and dreamy and 16!  Anyway, on the plane ride down, I solicited a foodie conversation with those around me.  I just can't help myself, and most of the time, everyone else wants to pitch in with their opinion on the best eats of the city.  Of course, during the conversation, I dump in questions like, "Yeah, is that like the salad at Olive Garden?" or "how does that compare to the steak at Outback?" because I need to assess where they are on the food critic chain.  When they say, "Hmm, that's a great question - which is better?" I pretty much let go of any mental note on anyplace they've mentioned.  If they say, "Seriously?  Olive Garden?" I know there may be a tastebud match.In that little discourse on Houston Eats, I heard Treebeard and Pappa Deux's for Cajun, a few places for steak, and more than plenty of places for Tex-Mex.    During my seminar on Strategic Foresight with the University of Houston which was held at the downtown Magnolia Hotel, they mentioned a church across the street that had some pretty good cajun.  So without much prodding, several of us headed over.  What a clever way to use a church during the week.  Great home cajun cooking that fed the people of downtown Houston during the week at way cheap prices, and I'm sure that helps to pay for the soup kitchen work they do along with helping to subsidize the church.  I like the mind of these people!!  The best part was after I paid for the meal, which was served cafeteria style, the receipt said "Treebeards" and I was so delighted that the Gourmet Food Fairies had led me to this gold mine without a second thought.  And when I say the Cajun was great, it was!This is the fantastic Shrimp Etouffee that was a tad fiery, lusciously rich, and with a complex flavor.  I had this over dirty rice, rued the fact that it had a few too many celery stalks, but was overall quite pleased.  This dish was all of $6.95.  Incredible! And then nothing was as sweet as these watermelon cubes served with lime and mint leaves.  I had never done much to dress up watermelon, but after going to a Greek restaurant a few years ago for some Watermelon & Feta salad, I was hooked.  This is just as good a combination of flavors, and I can't imagine not having watermelon with a squirt of lime atop anymore.  The combination, along with the mint is so refreshing, inviting, and satisfying, I can't believe I wasn't introduced to this before.  But hey - better late than never...[...]

Flying United's Friendly Skies


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px} li.li1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} span.s1 {letter-spacing: 0.0px} So you all know i fly a lot.  I mean, 80,000 butt-in-seat miles all around the world in a year is a lot, I dare say.  So when I tell you I have just deplaned from one of my more enjoyable flights, and it's a domestic one, I'm really talking about something special here.On my way from Boston Logan to Washington Dulles, I was treated to Captain Ed's Talk Show in the Skies.   For a scant 10-15 minutes, Capt. Ed gave all sorts of fascinating tidbits of information about our flight, about the Boeing 757 with a price tag of $80M we were flying in, about what it's like to be a pilot and just how useful is auto-pilot, anyway?Entertaining and educational, a great combination, similar to peanut butter and chocolate, I learned these little gems:We were cruising at 30k feet, which is 5 miles above sea level.  At that kind of atmosphere, the plane can overcome friction and drag to fly efficiently.  Any lower, and we would have required twice the amount of fuel to slice our way through the thick air.Speaking of fuel, 10,000 pounds of fuel was being spent on the short flight.  But those who are concerned about their carbon footprint need to know that the flight was burning the equivalent of 8 gallons of fuel per passenger.  If one were to drive from Boston to Wash Dulles, they would need to beat 65 mpg.  Now, I just bought a new car.  Even the Toyota Prius driving only in the city can't reach that metric.  Granted, this assumes that there are no other factors that feed into the carbon footprint.  Those who know better can school me on this, please.Cruise speed was at 540 mph.  That's 9 miles per minute.  That's as fast as a bullet shot from a handgun.  The pressurized cabin is equivalent to being 5,000 feet above sea level, which would be like being at the Denver airport.  Why not sea level period?  Because they would have to build the airplanes as if they were airtight tanks, and that just gets a little too heavy and expensive to fly around.  Touchdown occurs at 150+ mph.  Gives me a whole new appreciation for a smooth landing and all the tire marks on the runway, which are not unlike the rubber marks I left on my driveway with my Big Wheel as a kid.Winding down, Capt. Ed invited folks to say hello and visit his "office" up front.  Conveniently, I was sitting in the first row, so I had quick access.  I sat in his chair and touched "stuff" whatever button or gauge they might have been. As I exited the aircraft, I heard others tell him how much they enjoyed his audio tour.  In a time when it seems that all airlines are interested in is saving money and nickel and diming passengers to death, i was surprised and delighted by the fact that there was a little something given back.  It wasn't expensive, but it was meaningful and differentiated from just about any other flight I've taken recently (okay except for the first class flight with Singapore Airlines.  Thats hard to beat).  It was engaging enough that I took notes as I listened and laughed out loud when he challenged those who thought pilots were unnecessary because of the aut[...]