Friday, February 27, 2009

Cilantro's - The Cure for the Common Burrito

We do things real big here at the house of geek. We roll with 14 gangs of foodies in a town with only 13 gangs of restaurants. Thankfully, we also roll with Cilantro's. Located in the spot Delish reigned for years (I STILL want my satay and udon back!), Cilantro's is the fresh and local answer to chains like Chipotle and Qdoba.

Ms. K and the Always in Her Element Ms. Bethie rolled in last week.

Go make your own burrito. Or three hard-shell tacos. Or "shirtless" with no starchy outer layer to your goodness.

Start here. Go for beef (they were out), chicken, fish, pork, tofu, or roast veg. Add rice and/or beans.

Move on over to veg. I go everything but olives (still can't feel 'em). So lettuce, cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, tomatoes, and onion.

Then on to guac, sour cream, sauces, etc. Always with the guac in my world. Choose your sauce, I go chipotle cream. There's a bourbon sauce and three or four others which escape me at the moment. They're meant to match with particular proteins in some cases. Staff's grand at making pairing suggestions.

Final pick is salsa. I went roast corn. There's red pepper, mango, pineapple. You pick. Nice choices. All EXTREMELY fresh.

Burrito guts here show you the mix. It is NOT a burrito for the faint of heart or small of stomach. But it can be the burrito for the skinny of wallet. Burrito and fountain soda for less than $8.

Here's the stripper version. Shirtless. Our own Bethie went there. And she rocked it right. In deference to her 'ewwww, that looks gross' I will refrain from the mixed together shot of all that shirtless goodness.

I'll tell you that I have a Fork You moment when I realized I wasn't going to be able to get tacos to compare with K's burrito and Bethie's shirtless. Out of taco shells. Noon. Wednesday. Problem. I don't suggest the 'go get some from Kroger philosophy.' But I do think pantry planning shouldn't have you out before a day's rush. You can see at 3 or so the day before and usually (really, usually, not always) get some delivered before the next day's rush. I'll also tell you it's the first time (of many visits) that I've run into this problem. So we coulda just hit the weird. Not a crisis. Kinda makes me want to go back so I can get the tacos next time.

I've tried the beef, pork, and chicken in burritos, and the fish in tacos. Some burritos I go rice and beans, some just rice. Sometimes I'll go WILD and grab some roast veg in with my protein. That makes for and uber-stuffed as the folks at Cilantro's just don't know how to skimp.

Walking distance from so many downtown places. They do some evening specials too, but I haven't made those yet. Mebbe sometime this spring I'll walk down.

In the meantime, hit this slightly off the main drag still in plain site lunchery for a cheap-as-it-gets gut stuffer.

Cilantro's on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lombardi's in SoHo

When Cassi-Bob tells you she IS going to a particular pizza place and that you WILL be going with her...well, she is. And you are.

For us, Saturday at noon in the Big Apple was Lombardi's at Spring and Mott in SoHo. They were just opening up their wine cellar seating when we arrived, so the wait wasn't bad. We had to leave by the side door when we finished because the wait at the front door had become that bad.

I think this is what people mean when they talk about real New York-style pizza. Big floppy slices that require folding at the crust to hold the tip together.

Lombardi's uses San Marzano tomato sauce so it's a bit sweet. The mozzarella is globbed in the best possible way.

Had we decided that math was not hard, we would have realized that two smalls and a large could only be consumed if we each ate 5 slices...this did not happen.

VIP. Very Important Plaque. Very Impressive Pizza.

Good lookin' lady almost smiling at you telling you to come in. Or smiling because she just ate some pizza?

Maaaaaaybe could have used a hint more garlic.

Little crispy discs of pepperoni on san marzano sauce with gobs of mozzarella.

The large. Half pancetta and red onion. Half sausage and mushroom. The mushrooms may have held on to a tad too much liquid. Not good when dealing with crust thin enough to be structurally stressed to begin with.

Final verdict all around was that Lombardi's deserved to have a gold-lettered plaque on the side of the building.

Lombardi's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lombardi's in Soho

Lombardy's in Soho
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
This is how you do a first meal of the day when Cassi is picking the spot.

We like Cassi!

7th Avenue in Times Square - Ray's Pizza

Late night. 3am or so. Cassi and I walked down to Times Square and walked into a random pizza joint. Two slices. Mushroom and spinach for her (too much spinach apparently) and pepperoni and onion for me (too much heartburn apparently). Well worth the $9.75 for the sustenance and the experience of a slice at 3am.

The crust was thin but not perfect. A little too chewy on the finish. Held up well to the toppings though, which were definitely not skimpy.

There was a good crowd eating in, and no sign the place was planning on slowing down anytime soon with a cook in the front window putting fresh pies together for baking off.

Famous Original Ray's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Little Italy - La Mela on Mulberry

Here's the gang that ate it all (minus Karl's friends Jay and Andy who met us inside the restaurant). Apparently it is cheaper for 7 people to hop in a stretch limo to ride from Midtown up on 53rd down to Mulberry via West Avenue. So that's how we rolled. Stretch style.

167 Mulberry Street in Little Italy. Your choice of dozens of cafes, ristorantes, trattorias, and just plain pasta companies. Karl chose this one on the recommendation of his Italian/Venezuelan neighbor who said it was the best tasting real Italian food she'd had in New York.

They also serve family style, bringing out heaping plates of caprese salad with massive wheels of fresh mozzarella; antipasti with asparagus, roasted red peppers with whole roasted garlic cloves, crab and cheese stuffed mushroom caps, and polenta crusted fried mozzarella; three types of pasta including rigatoni with a fresh marinara, cheese tortellini with a mushroom cream sauce, and gnocchi smothered in cheese and baked off in the salamander, and a dessert plate we turned down but saw pass us by that sported cannoli, pound cake, strawberries, and other goodies.

The kitchen was cranking out plate after plate of family-style love for the folks enjoying a Friday night in Little Italy.

The mozzarella was thick and fresh and perfect in every basil/tomato way possible.

Pair the caprese up with a slice of the dense country-style bread passed at the table.

Antipast-i-normous (there were two of these for our nine-top. The polenta-crusted cheese was GONE quickly.

Of the three pastas, the rigatoni may have won out at the table. Perfectly al dente with an unbelievably simple fresh marinara dressed over it. The tortellini with its earthy mushroom cream was my number two. The gnocchi, usually high on my list at any Italian restaurant, were overcooked enough to be mushy potato with delicious cheese on top (and don't think I didn't eat that cheese!).

La Mela Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Chinatown - Sun Say Kai on Canal

Karl found us a spot by noticing this:

So we sat down here:

They brought us this:

Then we saw duck on our plate:

And you know I found pork too:

New York meal number two. Duck and Pork Rice Plate. Another $5. Another full belly. The pork was rediculously sweet. The duck had your crispy skin, your layer of fat, your meat still on the small bones.

Greco called while I was eating and has instructed me to go back and get Duck fat and Goose fat so as to better fry when I get home. I will endeavor to not let him down.

Sun Say Gay Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 20, 2009

This is Little Italy

This is Little Italy
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
Eat your heart out peeps not on Mulberry Street!

What happens in NYC...

What happens in NYC...
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
Starting the evening off with a New York classic!

Halal Lamb and Chicken

Corner of 55th and Avenue of the America's. Go get some!

Mountain of chicken and halal lamb over rice with lentils. Extra white sauce. Extra hot sauce. $5.

Here's the making of it all.

Birthday No. 32 Continued...

This is why the YD gang is AWESOME!!!


A Tame Start to a Food Weekend

Needed to get something waiting in Charlotte for my flight to NYC. I've already been up for four and a half hours. So forgive me for a muffin and over-roasted coffee bean water from the evil empire.

Food carts and pig parts start in four hours!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Best of Crete

Let me break out of my taco-ness for another restaurant review. And one you might not think of often.

I had to get my hairs cut today before heading out to NYC for the weekend, so I food-courted it to save time. Went togo so I could get back to the office and run several searches. Borrowed five minutes of smoke-break time to type this.

Best of Crete's between Taco Bell (see, even this s^$# has tacos in it) and Graziano's (for now). The owner's real deal, I seem to recall a conversation with him where he said mom was still in the small kitchen in the back.

You have your standard Greek (Creten) items on the menu including gyro on pita with lettuce, tomato, and yogurt sauce; moussaka with it's potato and eggplant layers drowned in bechamel; and pastitsio with ground beef, elbow pasta, and that same rich, stirred for nine hours bechamel sauce baked on top.

Sides come in rice, green bean, mashed potato, and Greek salad flavors if you get 'the meal' as opposed to just the sandwich (gyro) or a small/large (the moussaka/pastitsio). There are spanikopita and cheese trianlges, baklava and shredded pastry. Also roast chicken or meatloaf most days too.

The $8 "Taste of Crete" combo includes gyro and chicken over rice with two other sides and grilled pita. Maybe next time.

Smalls/Larges are in the $4-6 range; Dinners (with two sides) are in the $6-8 range.

The gyro is a stand-by of mine and is a serviceable sandwich/wrap/pita. They neither skimp nor bury you in the gyro meat, and it's sliced off the rotisserie and grilled on the flat top to order.

Today I went pastitsio (because I've been talking about making it for two weeks now) with beans and rice.

Beans are long-cooked with tomato, onion, and a bit of celery. They're soft and tasty, and undersalted a tad. Not a crisis since you can just pour your own, but I do enjoy when I'm not required to season a damn thing because it's already been done for me.

The rice is a mix of long-grain white and brown rice that actually has texture and chew to it. A plus. It's been buttered the tiniest bit. Tip from this guy (two thumbs pointing here), pour the juice from the beans over the rice. Gonzo.

The pastitsio was an almost-perfect treat. Somewhere around a 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 3 in. brick of the stuff in my togo container. THICK bechamel that was creamy and had the mildest creamy flavor when sampled on its own poured over noodles that were probably cooked a minute too long before being added to the pan for layering on top of seasoned ground beef. This one was seasoned just right, and getting a bite of all three layers was pretty easy given the heft and clinging power of the bechamel.

No pics this time. I'll try to get some when I eat there next. But today I was starving (read: forgot to wake up after the 7th snooze so as to allow time for food before work) and I got the food togo, so pictures would have been underwhelming to say the least.t

If you're in the mall and are tired of everything else, this is your best bet. The home-cooked food is damn tasty at Best of Crete, and it's a local guy making his family's recipes at good prices.

You want the 45-person Steak Escape line? Go for it.

Best of Crete on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Carnitas Tortilla Stack with Fried Egg

The morning after carnitas.

The Cheez, K530, and I were watching the snark-meister reruns last night leading up to the new show. Chicago immediately preceded the new episode. So we got to hear the man admit to being "a total egg slut."

And that's when I new exactly what I would be having for breakfast this morning.

Fry tortillas until crisp at the edges. Put one down on your plate. Scoop on the carnitas. A little tomatillo salsa. Tortilla number two. Fried egg on top. More salsa. Fresh cilantro sprinkle. Knife. Fork. Napkin.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Carnitas Tacos and Tomatillo Salsa

I had more pictures and designs on a long post tying my travels in Anaheim and Washington to my love of all things pork, to my love of my friends and the 'family you choose' in my life these days.

Somehow, though, thinking of all the writing would get in the way in of the food. This was Mexican food. At least the Mexican food that people who are from Mexico call Mexican food when they talk about finding it here. It was not nearly as good as a tent in a strip mall in Orange County, but I'm not native, so it shouldn't be.

This was simple food. Simple to cook, simple to put together on your plate. And then you realized all the pieces fit together into something much better than a simple meal from somewhere else.

The pork, as Homesick Texan told me it would, melted into itself. Even with a squeeze of fresh lime on the finished product, and the sweet/sour from the salsa; I could still taste the sweet citrus of the orange juice in which it cooked.

The tomatillo salsa had a hint of sour that was the perfect flavor counterpoint to the (literally) glistening fat melted all over the carnitas. The crunch of a radish slice was the texturaly counterpoint. And damn me for not having better tortillas.

Smoke House

Take a ride out Washington Street sometime. Don't head up to Edgewood. Don't stop, in fact, until you get to the corner of West Washington and Florida. Make the left onto Florida and then turn immediately into the parking lot for the Smoke House.

That's the back door, past the pool table and through the dining room to the left. Grab a stool at the bar. Get ready to be met with a smile and a "Do you need a menu?"

They'll ask with a smile because they're all just really nice people working at the Smoke House. They'll ask if you want a menu because they won't recognize 'you,' unlike the rest of the customers who could possibly have been coming to eat there since before the end of World War II.

The owner's father and uncle bought the place from it's original owner when they got out of the service. It was across the street in what is now the parking lot of the Family Dollar. They moved it across the street to it's current location when the A&P grocery left in 1949. Rented until 1977 when the building owner's will gave them first option to buy it. The dining room was expanded into the adjacent building in 1988.

(That was 5 minutes of very pleasant conversation with the current owner after we chowed. I asked 'How long have you all been here.' He supplied the rest.)

The owner was behind the counter today. Like he is everyday. Most employees work 6 days a week. They're closed on Sundays since football season ended, and he may keep it that way. Said he'd make up his mind on that in August.

G brought me here the first time. Brown beans and Cornbread. Baked Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Green Beans, and a homemade roll. G went for beans and cornbread and a bacon double cheeseburger. We left mere scraps on our plates. Though I will admit to not finishing the brown beans.

I have wanted to go back ever since. Badly.

So today when Ms. K IM-ed, I jumped. "I'm taking you to the West Side baby."

K went $2.50 broccoli/cheese soup and $4.25 bacon cheeseburger. I went $7 meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans (I could have gone peas, cole slaw, or macaroni salad) and a homemade roll (the cloverleaf kind grandma used to make). Also grabbed an order of $2 cheese fries so there would be more food to contemplate.

The food is scratch made, evidenced by a broccoli cheese soup that was heavy on real pieces of broccoli and the creamy texture. And the lack of a nuclear orange color. She was downing it pretty fast, so I expertly (bluntly and loudly as soon as she looked up between bites and said it was good) asked for her spoon. It was the real deal.

I later noticed regulars coming in and looking slightly unhappy when they heard the soup of the day. Leads me to believe there are even better soups to be had, and guarantees another visit soon.

The nuclear orange color showed up on my cheese fries. And it was what I expected and wanted. Nacho cheese over crispy fries instead of chips. Two dollars out of your wallet.

Then my $7 meatloaf dinner rolled out of the kitchen. A thick slab of all-beef meatloaf with onion and celery in plain site and a classic ketchup glaze. It was fresh and not dry. They serve it as a sandwich as well, and I would tear it apart if I ever got a hold of one. Real whipped with love mashed potatoes with a deep beef-based gravy. And a real homemade roll that was still warm.

K and I were an hour total with drive time, and we lingered, and we chatted with the owner. So you can take the drive from downtown and get back in time. You can do it. And I imagine Ms. K will comment relatively soon after I post this that your should do it.

Smoke House on Urbanspoon

Monday FunDay Humor

That's Jesse. He's one of the cooks at Sam's.

That's a delivery bag full if Sam's food in his hands.

That's the sandwich shop next door to which he's delivering.

Laugh with me.

Two Eggs, Poached Please

You all may find this shocking, but until today I'd never poached an egg. Not really, anyway. I used to have one of those four-little-cups contraptions that you put in a shallow pan of water.

But I'd never brought water just to a simmer, cracked an egg into a cup or ramekin, and slowly dipped it into the water.

Today, with some of the last of last week's bread (which is STILL friggin' good), I decided I wanted eggs; and I wanted them poached, and I didn't have the little cup thing anymore; and I wouldn't have used it even if I did because it's not convenience it's just lazy.

You know what? The friggin' thing worked. I mean, I lost some of the white (more than I expected) which leads me to believe that the water temp was just a hair low or I dropped the eggs just a touch too quickly.

But in the end, I had two soft pillows of egg surround a just-barely-thinking-about-setting-on-the-edge yolks on top of a thick slice of American Sandwich Bread.

Bec would not call them soft-poached. Neither would I. They were in fact more akin to the soft-boiled eggs of our youth than to the barely poached wisps I shovel over corned beef hash in diners across America.

As fancy as I get with techniques and recipes, and as comfortable I get with recipes I have memorized; I still have fun with little things I haven't picked up along the way. Like poaching an egg and having it not suck.

Happy Monday y'all.

[UPDATE] Good catch Jess. Yes, I did add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water before I put the eggs in. I was likely just thinking too much about bubbles breaking eggs and didn't let the water come to enough of a simmer.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tricky Fish

I'd only been to the Tricky Fish a couple times before this year, and it was admittedly "open and still growing." It's a work in progress. But it had been there growing long enough and I've been there enough times to tell you about it here.

As I've said before, I'm a slight homer here in that I know the owners pretty well, but I've also been honest with them about things I don't like over at the Bluegrass Kitchen. So if you'll bear that in mind, I'll get on with the food. Pictures from my most recent trip only.

There were two soup options today, a Tortilla Soup and a Red Chicken Chile. I went Tortilla. Then I went fried catfish tacos, two of 'em. Cause that's one of the fourteen gangs with which I roll.

Tricky Fish is an "order at the counter and go sit, we'll bring the food to you" kinda place. Small enough that the cashier can grab the orders and get them out to you without trouble finding you. I grabbed a seat at the back bar (six stools, a tv, and an NTN monitor).

When the soup arrived the waitress apologized that the bowl was a bit stuffed. I was not going to send part of it back. And the cup was pretty stacked. You can see cheese, tortilla, and scallions there. Damn thing was packed full of big pepper chunks, some jalapeno, and black beans too. A nice low jalapeno heat permeated it.

Tortillas on the bottom were soggy-goodness after soaking up that much soup. Tortillas on top were crunchy and salty and cheese-y. Almost French onion soup style with the crouton and gruyere. A bowl of that would do you right on a cold day.

A bit of conversation with Jon about Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace filled the time until he was called away to fix a Bain Marie at Bluegrass and my tacos arrived.

I've heard it said that folks have had bad experiences with portions here. Let me go two-cents. The tacos were cheese on the bottom to hold the catfish bites downs (that's smart). Catfish bites still tried to escape the shell.

You can see's stuffed with catfish bites. I'd say there was 1 oz. of cheese and a strip of fresh salsa on the bottom; five or six 2-bite catfish nuggets; and a small smattering of fresh spring mix greens on top. Greens feel off a room for them to stay on.

The crunchy shell; the coating on the catfish and its flaked soft meat, cool temp/warm heat salsa. Yeah, I'm going to say that I'm a fan. I topped each with a drizzle of buttermilk creme fresh and the tangy (what appears to be) bbq sauce.

Last week I stopped in (working four blocks away is NICE) and had the crunchy chicken soft tacos. They were exactly what I just typed, with a nice pile of rice and beans to go with 'em and another big glass of sweet tea with which to wash it all down. I mighta' asked for a little bit of extra cheese on those, and will next time.

Heard someone today ask for cheese on their rice and beans. Develishly good idea.

I late-lunched it, so the place was full when I got there and still had a few other late-lunchers when I left.

$8 for the tacos (with rice and beans) and a buck-plus for a large cup of sweet tea wasn't killing me. And you get what you pay for. I could go get $8 worth of Wendy's and have a mountain of meat in front of me. But I wouldn't have any clue where the meat came from. Not slammin' on the Wendy's (you know me), just saying there's something to be said for folks who charge more because they're buying and preparing high-quality ingredients. Jon and Keeley do that, and the results have been pretty good.

In addition to the food, there's NTN Buzztime Trivia and the increasingly-meaningful-as-summer-approaches-deck. Margeritas and bottled beer now; taps to come (with rumors of Yuengling abounding all over Charleston).

Tricky Fish on Urbanspoon