Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dining in Hawaii -- Part II (Kohnotori and Kaka'ako Kitchen)

Our second night in Hawaii was a true success--this rec came courtesy of Yola, and we knew it was going to be good when our drive there took us out of the touristy district and we were the only white people in the restaurant! Kohnotori is the type of place where you order different small bites off of a sushi-style menu, and practically everything is grilled by one guy on the other side of the bar. I'm a sucker for tons of small dishes, and Kohnotori did not disappoint! We ordered: watercress salad with a sesame dressing; Japanese seaweed, in a vinegary sauce;

a chicken breast skewer with a shiso leaf, Chinese hot mustard and some other sauce--kind of like a savory plum; bacon-wrapped quail eggs (these were fun and creamy, although I think the bacon overpowered the eggs a bit); beef skewer with teriyaki;

grilled asparagus (which obviously went fast, since there's only one piece left in the picture :) ); grilled rice with miso (not bad, although I'm not sure I was a fan of chewy, crunchy rice); and fried garlic.

The garlic needed a bit more sauce, but in general, everything was cooked perfectly and super tasty! We left satiated, though certainly not stuffed, and only spent $13 each! Yay for local dining.

Our final evening in Waikiki was a Monday. We had really hoped to try the Green Door Cafe, which a Malaysian restaurant with no joke like 4 tables. Sadly, it was closed, as was Indigo across the street. So, we went with Kaka'ako Kitchen, which Jenn says is where all the chefs go to eat after work. I think maybe this was a case where I went in with too-high expectations. We were expecting a casual restaurant, but this was more like a higher-end fast food place. They had your standard wraps and salads, but I decided to go with one of the local favorites--shoyu chicken, with a side of brown rice and 'Nalo greens (pictured below). Although the dressing for the greens (which were just lettuce) was not bad, the rice was totally bland and the chicken had WAY too much sugar in it. Honestly, it tasted similar to the bourbon chicken they hand out at samples at mall Chinese restaurants. Ick.

All in all, I'd say we were 1.5:4 for HI successes. A bit disappointing, but probably a reason I managed to not gain 10 lbs during our trip! (portions x-posted to

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dining in Hawaii -- Part I (Royal Kitchen and Sansei)

This January, during a snow storm back in DC, I managed to score a work trip to Hawaii that included a weekend. Besides tanning and hiking, my intrepid travel companion Laura and I sought to try as many recommendations from locals and recent travelers as work permitted. Although we visited both Oahu and the Big Island, we spent the most time on Oahu.

Overall, I'm sorry to report we were fairly disappointed. Maybe we (okay, I) set our expectations too high. We had one good meal, one so-so, and two real disappointments. Since it's a rather lengthy post, I made it a two-parter (I know, the suspense!).

We landed in Honolulu too early to check into our hotel and starving, so we decided to check out Royal Kitchen, which allegedly has the best baked buns in the city, modeled off the traditional Asian steamed buns (which I *heart*!). Super cheap at $1.10 each and huge (the size of your palm), but overall pretty dull. I got the kalua pork and black sugar buns, Laura got the Portuguese sausage and purple sweet potato. The black sugar was kind of interesting, like a moist, slightly smoky/savory sugar. But in general, the buns were bland. It was such a bummer!

The first night we went to Sansei, in the downtown Waikiki Marriott. My impression of this area overall was like a mix of Disney World, Ocean City, and Vegas, so I guess I should not have been surprised that our dinner was just okay. It was *fine,* but that's it. Read my review on yelp here, pictures below of the sushi and the beef and udon. Honestly, I was more impressed with the tropical fruit crepe we had down the street afterward.

To be continued!!!

Cupcakes (IMHO)!

So, after last night, I think I can safely say that I've tried most of the DC metro area's cupcakeries. I can also honestly say that, in general, they're a bit of a disappointment. Of course, my initial foray into the delicious world of fun-flavored, personal-sized (although in some cases this is a bit of an understatement!) cakes was Georgetown Cupcake, so the others had a LOT to live up to by comparison. In any event, here is my assessment of DC's cupcakes, ranked from best to worst (Note that there are huge gaps between some of these, even though they're ranked sequentially. E.g., 1-3 are MUCH BETTER than 4&5). In my honest opinion.

1. Georgetown Cupcake. Amazing. Moist, the perfect amount of frosting, and a fun little charm of some sort on top. The first time I tried them, I have 4 over the course of 3 days. :) These are TOTALLY worth waiting in line for, although smarter people would order ahead so you can skip the line. Also, they give out a secret flavor free cupcake every day if you know what to ask for!

2. Buzz Bakery. There aren't as many flavors, and I believe only one type of frosting (GTown does some cream cheese, some buttercream), but moist, a good size, and yummy. Their signature one has a bee flying overhead. Slater lane is a bit far, but fortunately a Buzz is set to open near me soon (allegedly, although the sign has been up for like a year now...)!

3. Hello Cupcake. These cupcakes are way bigger than the GTown ones. A bit too much frosting, and I think not as moist or flavorful as my first and second rankings. But the best in the actual District, from the ones I've tried.

4. Crumbs. Eh. We had these last night, a new loca just opened up in Clarendon. Pro is that they come in multiple sizes, from little mini ones to a ginormous, $35 cupcake. But trust me, you don't want that much. The cake and the frosting both taste a little too commercial, with not a ton of flavor. Even with our fun choices of peanut butter cup and grasshopper, we were underwhelmed, to say the least. Chocolate cake should be moist and fudgey, not generally bland.

5. Red Velvet. I think these are the worst. Dry, dry, dry.

Of course, I welcome your own assessments and/or additions to the list!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dining in Okinawa

Okay, guys, I really wanted to have some food porn for this post, but I figured we were already drawing enough attention to ourselves when we walked into a restaurant without taking pictures of everything. So, you will just have to use your imaginations!

Highlights of our Okinawan dining included:
- Squid ink curry at Nepal Spice Kitchen, with absolutely divine, buttery naan (although the curry was pretty stingy with only 2 shrimps swimming in the delicious blackness)
- The most AMAZING, juicy, tender shrimp surrounded in a nest of stringy fried something or other, dressed with a rice vinaigrette at some random restaurant in some tiny village in the northern part of the island
- Bagna cauda (anchovy and olive oil dip) with lots of delicious grilled vegetables (some of the first I had been able to snag all week) at Transit Cafe

Low points included:
- Lunch at Subway, lunch at Macaroni Grille (not of our own volition!)
- Way too many granola and protein bars
- Way too many rice crackers (okay, these were actually really yummy, but not really a substitute for a meal...)

Sadly, we didn't make it to a Japanese supermarket while we were there, and couldn't find delicious, fluffy Japanese bread anywhere.

Next stop, Honolulu, and lots of pictures, I promise!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dinner tonight: Tuscan Pork Tenderloin

Weekday dinner this week was Tuscan pork tenderloin with steamed asparagus and crusty baguette. This was SO good. I'm not a huge fan of pig products in general (with the exception of prosciutto, which I'm pretty sure I could eat for every meal of every day), but it was time for a change from fish/shellfish and there was a pork tenderloin in my freezer that was in danger of being lost forever behind some frozen dinners and espresso vodka if I didn't use it soon.

The only change I made to this recipe was using regular balsamic instead of white. As usual, I just didn't see the point of spending a chunk of change on something I had in a different form just because it might make it a little prettier.

In general, I have issues with pork tenderloin. It NEVER cooks in the time it's supposed to. And I don't mean, like, it takes a couple min longer. I mean, it took DOUBLE the amount of time in the oven it should have. And still didn't develop that "crust" they talk about in the recipe introduction. Thankfully, Pat got me a cute little digital meat thermometer for Christmas, so I knew the pork was nowhere near the 155 degrees it was supposed to be after 17 min. Otherwise...we would probably both be in bed with trichinosis right now. About 35ish minutes after I put the pork in the oven, it was finally ready to then sit for *another* 10 minutes before we could eat.

That said, when the pork finally was ready, it was delicious. Incredibly tender, and I think all of the flavors worked really nicely together, and were perfect for this time of year. The only thing I might change is to try to crush the fennel seeds a bit more...maybe pulse them in a spice grinder a couple times. Oh, and cut back on the salt a bit. As you can see from the pic, it was a really beautiful dish. I even think it was company-worthy. And still low enough in calories that you can splurge on a piece of bread or two and a glass of wine!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dinner tonight: Vegetarian Country Captain

All things considered, I've been pretty good about following recipes recently, so I decided it was time to *really* bastardize one. The poor dinner victim of my whimsy was vegetarian country captain. Incidentally, I think CL features some version of country captain chicken in the mag about once a year, but the calorie stats are always too high so I had never tried it before.

Where to begin? I actually did pretty well until we get to the edamame. For some reason, I just can't get into edamame. I mean, it's fine, but it really doesn't excite me. And I kind of thought the green might take away from the aesthetic of the dish (ok, that's totally a lie, but it sounds good, right?). I replaced the edamame with a peeled, cubed, acorn squash (made ~2 cups). I left out the rice completely but I didn't want the calories, and I also left out the almonds for the same reason. They probably would have added a nice crunch, though. Instead of currants I used raisins, because that's what I had on hand. No cilantro or green onions, because my grocery cart was pretty full without them! With all the subs/changes, I calculated that the dish clocked in around 260ish calories per serving. Which honestly I'm much more comfortable with than the almost 500 as written!

Another decent dish from CL. It took about three times the posted minutes for the cauliflower to get tender, but when it was done it was fairly tasty. Maybe a bit sweet for some, but comforting and warm, albeit a little mushy (sans almonds). As with most stews, it was significantly better after sitting in the fridge for a day. I'd be willing to bet, with almonds and cilantro, it would have been a really good dish, actually. Either way, now I have most of a jar of mango chutney that needs to find some uses (yum)!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dinner tonight: Pan-Fried Tofu with Spicy Lemongrass Sauce

Okay, readers, I'm a bit behind with my recipe reviews, and I need to clean out my queue before I regale you with stories of travel feasting in the near future. I will try my best this week. First up, pan-fried tofu with spicy lemongrass sauce!

So, I know a lot of people don't like tofu. I'm not really sure kind of reminds me of a square omelet, and it's fun when it's crunchy on the outside. Plus, you can pair it with pretty much any sauce, although I'm partial to ones with a bit of sweetness in them. This recipe was good for both the crunch and the sweet, although I had a little bit of issue with each.

First, the crunch. This would have totally worked if I actually owned a non-stick pan. I don't, because I don't want whatever diseases Teflon is supposedly imparting this week, and I'm too cheap to buy myself a nice cast-iron with pretty much all nice cooking supplies, I think these are best reserved for a wedding registry. With my non-non-stick pan, all the crunchiness (get ready for it) STUCK to the pan. And not to the tofu. In theory though, this would have worked with the right tools.

Second, the sweet. This sauce was actually a bit too sweet. I used a tad bit less sugar than the recipe called for, and it was still too sweet. Granted, I also didn't use the chile because Thai chiles scare me, and maybe the sweetness would have balanced out the spiciness had there been any. If you also omit the spiciness, though, I recommend reducing the sugar to half. And maybe adding a touch of rice vinegar?

The other weird thing was the texture of the lemongrass, which was, well, grassy.

All of these caveats aside, though, the dish was pretty decent, and with the low calorie states (180 per serving), I ate 1.5 servings and was nicely satiated. I served this over steamed/sauteed baby bok choi, the slight bitterness of which also helped temper the sweetness.

Captain obvious, signing off.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dinner tonight: Flounder Rolls with Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach

As part of our continued effort to detox from holiday binging, this week I made flounder rolls with cherry tomatoes and spinach. Also, Pat loves panko, so this was a chance for me to use it (for some inexplicable reason, it's so much more fun to use this than breadcrumbs. Maybe it just feels more exotic?).

I rarely make flounder, so I was excited when I saw it on sale on the Teeter website! Sadly, when I got to the fish counter, the fish guy told me it was gross and he refused to sell it. So we went with tilapia. I made half the recipe, but with the full amount of spinach and tomatoes--I used the correct proportion of tomatoes in the stuffing, so it didn't get too mushy, but the remainder of tomatoes were baked with the fish.

The recipe looks complicated, but it only took ~40 min of prep work, since there's not much chopping involved. Rolling the fish was surprisingly easy, and the oven time gave me a chance to set the table, wash the spinach and cook it so that everything was ready at the same time. Also, the dish is a pretty complete in and of itself, so we just paired it with a crusty baguette and meyer lemon olive oil for dipping (a Xmas present from the 'rents!).

Overall, not bad. The stuffing was yummy, but the fish was a little bland. I think next time I would sprinkle some Old Bay on top (since you really couldn't taste the OB in the stuffing anyway). Probably would have been better with flounder, had it not been so gross it was unsellable...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Vegetables are fun!

This is only tangentially food related, but really, I couldn't help myself. Look at how much fun salad is (at least for women who are alone)! Read the comments...I laughed so hard I cried.

In other vegetable-related news, I wanted to take a quick moment to tell you all how amazing kale is.
First off, it makes awesome guilt-free "chips" when you need to snack on a whole buttload of something crunchy but don't want to hate yourself afterward (remove stems and chop, spray with olive oil cooking spray, sprinkle with salt, bake at 350 degress for ~15 min).
Second, it's incredibly cheap. You can buy a giant produce bag's worth for like 60 cents.
Finally, IT LASTS FOREVER. Seriously, I bought some nearly three weeks ago to make some of the aforementioned kale chips. I ended up not using all of it, and it hung out in the refrigerator veg bin until this past Saturday, when I thought it might be a good idea to finally throw it out. When I pulled out the bag, the kale was still good (except for one leaf)! So I roasted some more kale with a CL recipe (which I will not share because it calls for way too hot of an oven and the kale burned).

Hooray for veggies!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Le Bernadin (NYC)

Ok, full disclosure here--Pat and I went up to NYC this past week *explicitly* for the purposes of dining at Le Bernadin. We braved 7 hours of traffic, snow drifts, giant slushy puddles, and even--seriously--frost nip to eat at Eric Ripert's 3-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant. I think, overall, it was worth it. Except that I totally missed my celeb chef sighting by, like 5 minutes. That was a bummer.

The service was impeccable, even from the get-go. The hostess practically walked me into a stall when I inquired where the bathrooms were. *Everyone* there has a French accent. And there was a little cute bench for my purse to sit on beside our table. Yes. Even my PURSE felt the Le Ber love!

We went with the Chef's Tasting Menu, which ordinarily is the more expensive of the two tastings, but because it was the holiday season, they decided to replace the cheaper option with an even pricier holiday tasting menu. Which probably should have come with an application for a reverse mortgage. Just saying.

In any event, the food was flawlessly cooked and very interesting. The wait staff used all the right words: "caviar," "sea urchin," "langoustine," "foie," "squid ink tapioca." The bread was delicious and offered generously, which is sometimes unusual in a restaurant of this caliber. My biggest complaint I think is that Chef's unusual food combinations sometimes led to elements being overshadowed. The caviar and sea urchin were difficult to distinguish in a parmesan sauce; the chorizo sauce overpowered a white fish. He apparently also likes to pair seafood with mushrooms, which, although sometimes bizarre, worked more often than not. A personal favorite was squid stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and accompanied by two teeny tiny fried squid babies. There were, of course, a gazillion things on the regular menu that didn't make it onto the tasting that I would have loved to try: to wit, "Charred Octopus; Fermented Black Bean - Pear Sauce Vierge, Ink - Miso Vinaigrette; Purple Basil" and "Barely Cooked Organic Salmon; Braised Burgundy Snails; Heirloom Potatoes; Sweet Garlic Parsley and Pernod Scented Sauce." I'd say I'll try those next time, but let's be honest. Unless I win the lottery (yes, I did buy tickets) or the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes (which I also, sadly, entered), there's not going to be a next time.

The wine pairings were fine, but not memorable. Although the sommelier's Flava-Flav chain totally was. :) Unexpectedly, and to my delight, the desserts shined. From "pre-dessert" to tiny finishing cookies (and the *two* desserts in between), there was not a crumb left on my plate. If it's possible to just have dessert at Le Ber, I would recommend it if you're not up for the full deal.

And finally, THANK YOU to my amazing partner in gluttony for taking this trip with me and for footing the bill, and to Andrew for taking the plunge with us! (portions x-posted to

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Torrisi Italian Specialties (NYC)

Joe, who has never steered me wrong when it comes to food, suggested we go to Torrisi for a last-minute dinner reunion. This place is an Italian deli during the day, but turns into a small, first-come-first-served dinner at night. At 6:15, we managed to snag the very last spot in the place--a three-person window booth, perfect our party!

Because I am quite possibly the worst decision-maker of all time (not that I make bad decisions, I just can't bring myself to make any in the first place), Torrisi's menu is perfect. Everything is already decided for you, with the exception of the entree, for which you have only two options. And the wine selection is also small, but clearly developed by someone who knows wine--even the one we chose, one of the cheapest on the menu, was delicious!

We started with four antipasti to share. First was a giant ball of house-made mozzarella with a few small garlic toasts. I'm not really a huge fan of mozzarella, but this was phenomenal. Very flavorful, not too airy or too gummy. The bread was a bit salty, but overall--YUM. The other apps were okay, but did not hold a candle to the cheese: a beet and apple salad with fried brussels sprouts leaves (decent), halibut dressed with balsamic (too fishy for me), and a pickled lamb tongue and celery salad with a black peppercorn vinaigrette that I thought was kind of slimy and not that good.

Next was the pasta course. With the exception of it also being over salted, it was pretty freaking amazing. I could have eaten a mixing bowl full of this, provided it came with a gallon of water. The pasta was PERFECTLY cooked, and the "dirty duck ragu" that topped it was tender and divine.

For my entree, I ordered the grilled pork chop with sauteed bell peppers. This was incredibly flavorful. Its only flaw was that the chop was very fatty. Pat ordered the skate with a tarragon, lemon and butter sauce, which was a bit buttery for his taste but cooked to perfection. I had no idea skate could be quite so tender and sweet.

To clean our palates, the waiter brought out tiny paper cups of lemon Italian ices, and our dessert was an assortment of bite-sized Italian petit-fours. These were all good, and generous considering there were six or seven different types (three of each so we didn't have to fight over them). Neither Joe nor Pat seemed wowed, but I was happy.

Honestly, I'm not a big Italian food eater, but this was some of the best Italian food I've eaten in a long time. As long as you're not watching your sodium and don't mind an early dinner (or a potentially long wait), this is a great, lesser-known dining option for a Big Apple visit! (portions x-posted to