Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mmm, Pizza

Ok, ok, I know I'm the slacker blogger in this relationship, but since I don't have a kitchen, nor the funds (nor time) to go out for food very much, I feel like I'm justified. Phew. Good to have that off my chest. On to the good stuff...

I had (free) dinner tonight at Pizzeria Paradiso, a cute semi-casual pizza and pasta place downtown. Its a little off the main drag, so I imagine it gets most of its business from people who actually live here, as opposed to those of us (ahem Smith College students) who just like to think we do. (I also think this place suffers because nobody can remember where the 'ia's and 'io's go in its name-- Is it Pizza Paradisio? Or Pizzeria Paradiso? Or some combination there of?) Because I was with a big group o' folks, we split 8 or so pizzas and I had tastes of three of them-- but of course, I don't really remember what each of them was. One was all white-cheesy goodness with big roasted mushrooms on top-- shitakes, criminis, the whole works. That was probably my favorite, for its mushroomy amazingness (and the fact that, were I to order it again, I would not have to share it with Ant). Another was, I think, a BLT pizza, with plenty of fresh tomato sauce, prosciutto, and something green- arugula, perhaps? And the third that I got a bite of was a fairly basic margherita, except it had a light, sweet balsamic glaze on it that gave it that BBQ-y tang that I like so much. Each pizza's crust was thin and light without being too crispy to enjoy. Some pizza places are known for their crust, and while Paradiso's is fine, its not particularly memorable.

In addition, I got a salad which was baby spinach, thinly sliced granny smith apples, blue cheese crumbles, walnuts, and roasted red peppers, with a walnuty/garlicy vinagarette. I really like walnuts and apples in my salad, although the red peppers defintely stood out, and not in that "you get a gold star" kind of way. They were oddly textured for the salad, too strong, and entirely too savory. Replace them with dried cranberries, and we would have been in business.

All in all, a good meal, satisying, and best of all, free. If you run out of other places to eat in NoHo, its a predictably solid meal.

12 Crafts Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Pizzeria Paradiso

Eating on Ice

This is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but I figured I’d give it a shot, and see if, like cooked spaghetti, it stuck.

Last night, a good friend of mine got me a free ticket to the Washington Capitals v. Florida Panthers hockey game. The game was quality, with the Panthers winning in a shootout – but since this is a food blog, I wanted to make some comments on the food at the Verizon Center:

- The prices were fairly decent for a sporting event, and a major one at that. $4.00 for a hotdog may seem ridiculous, but that’s probably nothing compared to what we’ll see at Nationals and Redskins games later this year. The most expensive things I saw were beer, chicken fingers, and personal Papa John’s pizzas, all for $7.00. I’m not saying it’s exactly cheap eats – but it’s not bad.

- The Acela Club Restaurant – obviously sponsored by Amtrak – looks over the ice, in a great location. Again, I didn’t have any of the food, or look at the menu, but if I had a lot of money to blow, that might be a good way to watch a hockey game.

- Eating a whole tub of cotton candy by yourself – not a good idea.

And now, pictures:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dinner at Clyde's

When you mention the name Clyde’s to someone in Washington DC, you’re not talking about a restaurant as much as you are a presence. The Clyde’s Restaurant Group has over a dozen restaurants in the DC area, including the Washington landmark, Old Ebbitt Grill, and the romantic 1789.

I, having gone to American University here in the city, had been to the one in Friendship Heights a number of times, and Jill and I went to the one in Georgetown for her birthday. I had been to the one in Chinatown, next to the Verizon Center, only for drinks, but fate (and a 30 minute wait at Matchbox) brought me there last night.

Clyde’s – Gallery Place, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing restaurants that I’ve been to in Washington. Dark woods, beautiful paintings, and long ascending staircases really give you a sense that you’re about to sit down to a quality meal.

Upon arriving, we (myself and three friends) were directed to the second floor, where we checked in with a second greeter, and were seated right away.

Almost immediately after sitting down our waitress greeted us, took our drink orders, and told us that she was training someone who would actually be taking care of us – and to let her know how he was doing.

Normally this would strike fear in the heart of any patron; luckily, the service was great throughout the meal – attentive without being annoying; it doesn’t get much better.

Now for the food: I started off with a cup of chili with everything on it (i.e. cheese, sour cream, and onions). Nice and warm with just enough heat to let you feel it on your tongue, but not enough to cause it to overwhelm the other flavors, it was certainly the best chili I’ve had in a long time, and a great dish on a cold night.

For my entrée I had Clyde’s Chicken Sandwich #1, which was odd because that was the only chicken sandwich on the menu. On a toasted bun, covered with cheese and crisp bacon, the chicken sandwich was quite delectable – and the chicken itself was well seasoned and moist.

Served along side the sandwich was a crisp pickle and a pile of not too thin, not too thickly cut fries, which were fried just right.

The prices at Clyde’s were fairly reasonable, considering the atmosphere and the quality of food. The chili was $5.00 with everything on it, but the sandwich and fries were only $9.00 – certainly a meal itself for someone on a budget.

It’s easy to see why Clyde’s Gallery Place and the rest of the Clyde’s family have done so well in Washington. From the exemplary service to the quality food, Clyde’s Gallery Place will never be the top of the DC restaurant pecking order, or even at the top of the Clyde’s family, but it should remain a solid place to eat in the Gallery Place/Chinatown area for years to come.

Clyde’s of Gallery Place
707 7th Street, Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202.349.3700

Monday, February 26, 2007

Meat and Potatoes

Another snowy weekend, another hastily put together meal:

- Baked breaded Mahi-Mahi
- Chipotle Mashed Potatoes
- Cheddar Sourdough Bread

The dolphin was on sale - so I bought a pretty decent sized fillet (for a little over $6.00). I dipped it in a mix of melted butter and milk, then coated the fish in a mixture of Italian breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese.

After fighting with my gas oven over its reticence to turn on, I was able to get it to about 425, where I baked the fish for about 10 minutes. This allowed it to come out flaky and moist - nearly perfect.

Accompanying the fish was a side of mashed potatoes - essentially a bag of small yellow potatoes, boiled, salted, peppered, and garlic-ed - splashed with a decent amount of chipotle Tabasco sauce and then mashed. I didn't put a whole lot, just enough to taste it slightly. A little goes a long way.

Finally, I sliced up some leftover sourdough bread and placed a slice of cheddar cheese on top - putting it in the oven (still at 425 or so) for about 5 minutes. The cheese was melted, the bread was toasted, and all was well in the world.

Cheese Whiz & PBR

King Street Blues, located in the heart of Old Town Alexandria was the destination last Friday for my friend, regular commenter, and native North Carolinian Elizabeth’s birthday dinner. With high hopes and empty stomachs, we made the trek down King Street... and left fairly disappointed.

Starting off with an appetizer of hush puppies and fries with a side of beer cheese, we had more fun playing with our food (our parents would have been very upset) than we did eating it.

The hush puppies were mealy, small, and a bit overcooked on the outside, while somehow being undercooked on the inside. The fries were unacceptably soggy and barely warm. There were a lot of them, but the quantity couldn’t make up for what ended up being fairly pedestrian fries.

And then there was the beer cheese. Though I neglected to take a picture, imagine, if you will, a large bowl of lumpy cheese whiz mixed with some warm PBR. That’s it. That’s beer cheese in all its horrible glory. And to think – people eat this stuff.

My main course, a fried shrimp po’ boy, was decent. The bread was just right, and the shrimp were good enough to get by. The sandwich came with a side of chips, which I’m sure were well intended, but were too soggy to be potato chips, and too much like a potato chip to be anything else – so in the end, the only thing they were was left sitting on my plate.

Being Elizabeth’s birthday, we requested a complimentary birthday cake – which ended up being an incredibly dense, yet almost inedible chocolate cake with flavorless chocolate ice cream on top. Needless to say, another dish went unfinished. [Edit: Ant is not known to pass up free food. It must have been bad. ~Jill]

The only saving grace of King Street Blues was the service, which was pretty solid and resulted in me drinking gallon of Sprite in order to wash down the aftertaste of the beer cheese.

In the end, it was a shame that we couldn’t do justice to a genre of food born in the same mountains as my friend Elizabeth. The hush puppies, the fries, the sandwich, and everything else I tasted (both from my plate and from the plates of my friends) was disappointing to say the least.

On the bright side, only eight more months until the 24th Annual Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina!

King Street Blues
(703) 836‑8800
St. Asaph Street South
Old Town, VA
(1 block from King Street in Old Town, Alexandria)
King Street Blues

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Sylvester's is, bar none, the best breakfast place in Northampton. That may be just my opinion, but judging by the 45-minute wait for a table this morning, a lot of other people agree with me. Founded by Mr. Sylvester Graham, inventor of the eponymous cracker, Sylvester's is a neighborhood place, with amazing french toast, omlettes, and coffee, always fresh and never greasy. My standard order is hibiscus tea and huevos rancheros-- the tea is light and flowery (its actually an infusion, Dana informed me, as opposed to real tea), kind of like Hi-C but completely un-sweet. The huevos is a huge bowl of perfectly zesty black beans, topped with cheese, fresh salsa, real sour cream, two fried eggs, and two big hunks of sweet and grainy cornbread. Really, a better breakfast was never invented. The food is undoubtedly the reason people hit Sylvester's in the morning, although the middle-aged waiters with pink hair, Trivial Pursuit cards on every table, and very reasonable prices ($7.95 for my bowl o' food) dont hurt either.

Due to technical difficulties the pictures of my breakfast are unavailable, but the tea is pretty! Look:

111 Pleasant Street
Downtown Northampton
(413) 586-5343

Maybe we should have tried something else...

Bad food and poor service is one thing; an identity crisis is another. When you go to an Italian restaurant, you expect to see pasta and veal gracing your menu, not hamburgers and tacos. Often times, in my opinion, restaurants that place both on their menu, that can’t quite decide who they are and what type of food they want to serve aren’t worth your time. Al Pacino Café, based in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, is a textbook worthy example of why a restaurant should keep a limited menu, and stick to their specialties.

First of all, the sign over the restaurant says Al Pacino Café – which, according to a friend, is named after the owner who shares a similar appearance to the actor by the same name. Yet, the name on the menu, and on the website, is Café Isis – which isn’t a well known Italian-American actor, but instead an ancient Egyptian God.

Beyond this initial confusion, the Al Pacino Café/Café Isis (I’ll refer to it from here on out as APC/CI – as they can’t even decide on a name, much less a theme) menu is all over the place. A turkey burger, gyro, and steak sandwich all share places next to each other at a menu, as do pastas with Cajun and Indian flare.

At its heart though, APC/CI brands itself as a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant, and so I opted for something seemingly simple and cheap – an order of hummus and a gyro.

An appetizer order of hummus will run you about $7.00, yet comes with about a $3.00 portion of hummus on a very shallow dish. The dish is accompanied with a very large piece of pita that seemed baked in their pizza oven, as it was slightly burnt on the bottom, and unevenly cooked. The hummus wasn’t bad, but the pita could have been better, and they could have given a lot more bang for my buck.

Moving on to my gyro, I need to preface by saying that I’ve never met a gyro I didn’t agree with. My favorite gyro spot in the DC area is Quick Pita in Georgetown, and I never enter Georgetown without leaving with something from there.

So with that, I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment with a gyro served with what looked like microwaved strips of lamb, mayonnaise instead of the traditional cucumber sauce, and a pita that felt and tasted like it had been sitting out in the open for a few days. This was probably the first gyro I couldn’t finish.

Served with a side of spicy curly fries which were actually quite tasty, what seemed like a steal for a mere $8.95, ended up being a massive waste of money.

After leaving a good amount of my food on the plate, all I wanted to do was get out of there, and get back home where I had some real food waiting for me. Yet, once again I was disappointed, as it took almost a half hour for myself and my friends to get our check – mostly due to the fact that the owner was lecturing the one waitress over what seemed to be a screw up at another table.

I really wish I could relay some redeeming quality to this restaurant; a restaurant with two names, that covers four continents worth of food should be able to get something right – unfortunately, I probably won’t return to see what that is.

Al Pacino Cafe/Cafe Isis
1809 Reisterstown Rd
Pikesville, MD 21208
Phone (410) 653-6868
Fax (410) 486-5527
Store Hours:
Monday thru Sunday 11:00 a.m.- 11:00 p.m.
Cafe Isis

Friday, February 23, 2007

Just Like Mom's

Well, I’m very excited as we’re posting the first of what will be many recipes on our blog. This one isn’t exactly rocket science as far as culinary complexity goes, but it’s a simple dish, big in flavor – in other words: it’s easy to make and fun to eat..

Upon returning home from playing basketball last night, hungry as ever, I found a container of Fluff, that familiar gooey marshmallow substance, in my cabinets (purchased by my roommate).

Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me – it’s fluffernutter time. The addition of fluff to peanut butter makes one of the best non-meat sandwiches known to man. So thus, a fluffernutter (or in this case a fluffernannernutter, since a banana was involved) was created.

So the next time you come home, and there just happens to be a large white plastic container of Fluff sitting in front of you, you know what to do.


2 – Slices of bread
1 – Banana
A lot of Fluff
A lot of Peanut Butter

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I'm just itching to add pictures. Unfortunately I haven't had much to take pictures of in the 24 hours that I've had my camera, so I'm going to provide you with a look back down memory lane to about a year ago, when I was a sick kid with mono and Ant came up to take care of me and feed me sushi. Here we are at Osaka, Northampton's best sushi restaurant (and there are a lot to choose from).

See how cute we are? Oh, and the food is amazing.

Osaka Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse
7 Old South Street
Northampton, MA 01060

Why don't we get the day off for stuff like this?

It's National Chili Day ladies and gents, and fresh from dcfud, a bit of breaking news:

Hard Times Cafe is running a special: buy something, anything, a soda even, and you get a bowl of chili for free! Free, as in you don't even have to pay for it. It's a wonderful thing.

In case you've forgotten, here's my review of Hard Times Cafe:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A warm gun, covered in chili and cheese...

Happiness is a hot dog, covered in chili, cheese and onions, followed by an ice cream cone. That may not be how The Beatles wrote it, but I can attest to its accuracy.

Last Friday night, upon my arrival in Northampton, I decided to put an end to my hunger by trying the newest establishment on NoHo’s main street: Sparky’s. An import from New York City, Sparky’s brands itself as “All-American Food”, and with a full array of hotdogs, hamburgers, and French fries, it’s definitly hard to argue with that.

The NoHo version is tucked away on Main Street in a single thin room in a row of restaurants and shops. The seating is somewhat limited, and all on the left side of the restaurant, while the counter for ordering and the grill and fryers all occupy the right. The menu is quite extensive, giving you a number of options on a few American favorites.

I decided to get the #1, a hot dog covered in chili (no beans), white cheddar and onions. In addition to this, Jill and I decided to split an order of fries. I got the hotdog first as the fries were made fresh as I ordered them. Organic and all-beef, the hotdog was well seasoned and cooked nearly perfectly – the chili, cheddar and onion combination were a great addition as well, no one taste over powering the other.

The fries didn’t disappoint one bit – still hot from the fryer, they weren’t too greasy, but instead tasted fresh and were well complimented with Sparky’s homemade catsup (which Jill didn’t approve of – more for me), which had a nice tangy sweetness to it.

Not having the receipt handy, I can’t give you an exact price for the whole meal, but for a loaded hotdog, massive basket of fries, and a glass bottle of diet coke (the only device soda should be legally allowed to be served in) was under $10.00 – certainly worth the price.

Having the slightest bit of room left in our stomachs, Jill and I decided to venture down to Herrell’s, Northampton’s (and perhaps the country’s) most important ice creamery. Before there was Ben and Jerry’s, before there was Cold Stone, there was Steve Herrell. Herrell has been in the ice cream business for over thirty years, and his shop in NoHo is a constant reminder of why we all scream for ice cream.

After getting into the seemingly never ending line, we pondered our options, deciding to settle on something small. Jill got a grapefruit sorbet, which could have been straight from my grandfather’s old grapefruit tree in Miami. Incredibly flavorful and intensely tart, it would have gone great with sweet cream custard.

I opted to get a cone of the malted vanilla ice cream. If you’re a fan of malted anything, as I am, you can’t go wrong with this. Again, the flavor was intense and the texture was good and creamy, although a little harder than I usually like my ice cream.

By the end of the evening, stomachs were full and happiness was had. Another great night in Northampton bought for about $15 dollars collectively – not a bad price to pay to put a smile on my face.

Somewhere down Main Street. No website, but here’s a really nice NYT review of it’s NY sibling: Sparky's!

8 Old South Street
Northampton, Massachusetts 01060
(In Thorne's Market, with a separate entrance on Old South Street.)
(413) 586-9700
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, Noon - 11:30 P.M. Friday and Saturday, Noon - Midnight. Closings are a little earlier during the cold season.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NoHo BBQ – Part Deux

As Jill is a tough act to follow, and with the exception of our sandwich, we got the same thing, I’ll try to keep this relatively short and non-repetitive.

Expecting to find good BBQ in Massachusetts is like expecting to find good clam chowder in southern Oklahoma – yet sometimes stereotypes are defied and good food can be found in the strangest places.

Met with sounds of Johnny Cash on the radio, Lil’s makes a pretty decent attempt at trying to be a down-home BBQ establishment. Yet, all the PBR signs and all the Johnny Cash in the world can’t make brisket and pork taste good.

I had the BBQ pulled pork, served much like Jill’s pulled chicken, with a side of fries and slaw. To echo Jill’s sentiments: the fries were perfectly cooked and well proportioned – there was a great uniformity in size, texture and taste that make each piece of potato a pleasure to eat. The slaw, while pedestrian, did its job, and I ended up mixing most of it with my BBQ pork.

But to the real meat of the matter: the pork. Wonderfully seasoned, there was a lot of it, enough to have two full sandwiches with, on a bun that did its job perfectly. While the pork was a little on the dry side, it was remedied by a large quantity of the house BBQ sauce, which I almost drank straight from the squeeze bottle it was so good.

While both Jill and I got pulled meat sandwiches, the rest of the menu is quite extensive, including a wide array of sides and desserts.

Though the atmosphere may not have been authentic, and being north of the Mason-Dixon Line it may not have been actual BBQ, it was still a damn fine meal, and one I’d be willing to sit down and get my fingers dirty for again.


My Half of the BBQ

Ant's been eyeing Lil's BBQ in Northampton for about as long as he's been eyeing me. Its a little place down at the end of town, set back from Main Street so that it doesn't get a whole lot of traffic, but that doesn't matter to Ant-- when the kid wants pulled meat, he gets pulled meat. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't too interested in the prospect of New England BBQ until I found myself the proud owner of coupons. And we know how I am about coupons.

So anyway, Sunday morning we found ourselves at Lil's for lunch. The inside of the restaurant is small-- maybe 20 tables, plus the bar-- and decorated a little like a bad Disney set, with cacti, bright red walls, and gratuitously crooked windows. Cute, though. Water comes in mason jars, the tables are graced with wet-naps and squeeze-bottled condiments, and they have PBR on tap. Nice. We ordered a side of hushpuppies to start, and they did not disapoint-- three piping hot, sweet, green-and-red-pepper studded corn bread balls, perfectly fried and served with an amazing apple cinnamin vinegar dipping sauce, just sweet and sour enough to cool down the 'puppies and prevent severe tounge burn. That sauce was probably my favorite part of the meal. I would eat it on just about anything.

Next up was my pulled BBQ chicken sandwich, accompanied by french fries and coleslaw (both included with the sandwich). I'll start with the slaw, which is simple and perfectly bland, as condiment coleslaw should be. I took Ant's cue and slathered it with BBQ sauce, which livened it up appreciably. The fries are the brilliantly chunky steak-wedge kind, twice-fried, crunchy and potato-y. The BBQ itself, juicy and sweet and apple-y, came on a huge kaiser roll, the kind of bread that does its job but mostly stays out of the way. The bun was so full of meat that even after about half it fell out into the wax-paper-lined basket in which it was served, I still had enough between the bread to make a damn respectable sandwich. And my goodness it was good. Everything got slathered with Lil's house sauce, spicy and smokey and perfect with, well, everything.

With my buy-one-entree-get-one-free coupon, the whole shebang came up to a whopping $12.35, and it was worth every BBQ sauce-covered penny.

Smokin Lil's BBQ
7 Strong Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060
Smokin's Lil's BBQ

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Weekend of Food

We had quite a weekend of eating up here in Northampton. Ant called dibs on his Sparky's dinner Friday night and Herrell's afterward; I think I get the lovely lunch and snack we had in Brattleboro; and I think we should split our lunch at Lil's BBQ. That sounds like a plan to me. As such:

Brattleboro, VT
Ant and I have a good history with Vermont, what with the self-serve maple syrup and all that. So, finding ourselves bored and plan-less on Saturday morning, we set off north, taking the scenic route and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over every tiny diner we saw. We wound up in Brattleboro and immediately began planning lunch. I was drawn to the well-located Riverview Cafe, right down on the water at the end of town. We trudged through the slush to the front door (Vermont is not big on plowing, it seems), checked out the menu, and were led to our seats, right by a big picture window which looked out over a small wooden deck and on to the ice-covered river. (I'm not sure what river it is. Please don't ask.) The Cafe is nicely decorated, lots of white and blue and pretty river pictures and whatnot. The menu is what we might call 'upscale diner,' or 'classy American'-- lots of salads and sandwiches and burgers, all proudly made of local ingredients. I had the soup'n'sandwich combo, with a cup of the clam chowder and a tuna sandwich. The chowder was fine, although it was a little light on the clams and distinctly heavier on the potatoes, and somewhat lacking in the advertised cherry-smoked bacon. It was warm and creamy though, with a nice light kick, and so I was satisfied. The sandwich, also, was relatively unremarkable. Nice tuna, white toast, lettuce and out-of-season tomato. Ant had a locally grown, grass-fed burger, with amazing onion rings which I'm sure he'll want to do his own tribute to. The bite I had was, like the rest of this lunch, fine, satisfying, and tasty, but unremarkable. For the $25 we paid, I expected more.

Summary: The view was great. I'm sure its even more beautiful in the summer. And I do like Brattleboro, for its funky VT vibe and its crosswalks that make noises like phasers set to kill. I wish lunch had been equally unique.

Riverview Cafe
36 Bridge Street
Brattleboro, Vermont 05301
Riverview Cafe

Where we should have gone to lunch, if I'd had my druthers, is Cafe Lotus, up the hill from the main drag, located kind of behind a funky hippie knick-knack store. Since I can no longer eat lunch without having dessert, I needed a post-Riverview sweet treat, and decided to try this little spot. Decorated with colorful art and lots of food-related magazines, Lotus offers coffee, desserts, salads, and sandwhiches, all in a nicely open room with WiFi access. I had a very nice (strong, not-too-sweet) chai, and we split a sugar donut. Theres something about Vermont donuts that just cant be beat-- sweet, light, not greasy, coated in amazingly grainy sugar. And next time I'll be trying their panini or pad thai.

Cafe Lotus
29 High St. Brattleboro VT 05301

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Power of Soup

Usually I resist posting about on-campus food. Our grub is usually good but definitely not great, and more often than not, menus get repeated so often that I could essentially cut'n'paste entries from the week before. But every once in a while my mood perfectly lines up with the food being offered (we're going to credit this more to my mood than the food (moment to appreciate the rhyme)), and makes the entire world seem sweet. This seems to happen most often on Fridays. We're going to credit that to Friday's lack of classes. Anyway. Today's star-aligning moment was catalyzed by a simple yet delicious bowl of French onion soup at Smith's vegetarian house. Hot, rich, oniony, and properly topped with a french-bread-'n'-cheese crouton, which appreciated sogginess as the soup wore on, that French onion just about made my day. At least, the first half of my day. This afternoon it will get even better: Ant's coming to visit, so we'll get to fight over who writes the next couple entries. Happy Friday! Have some soup.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Coming soon...

And now, a post about posting...

Both Jill and I have recently purchased digital cameras, and within the month will be adding pictures to some of our posts. (Edit: mine has more mp's ~Jill)

Stay tuned...things are about to get alot more colorful.

Chinese super-potatoes destroy Taipei, move in on Japan...

Ok, so they haven't yet, but a new breed of Chinese potatoes, grown from seeds exposed to "space radiation, capsule pressure and weightlessness" thanks to the Chinese space program, has become the new craze in the Shanghai food scene.

Let's hope that NASA isn't too far behind with radiated nuclear talking corn.

Still worth it?

Not as much of a post as it is a...breaking news alert!

One of my favorite restaurants in the DC area, Pho 75, has raised their prices. Jill, myself, and a couple friends were there on Saturday, and enjoyed a large bowl of steamy goodness for a little over $6.00. Last night upon arriving, I noticed that the menu, previously yellow, was now green, and a large bowl of Pho is now $7.20.

It's still worth the extra dollar for one of the best meals in a bowl around - but at least you know now to bring that extra change next time you're hungry in Arlington.

Pho 75
1721 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209

Friday, February 9, 2007

Turkey Special!

To those of us that work in a city, any city, the deli is often our only culinary salvation from a pre-packaged lunch or starvation. Always small and a little sketchy, these deli’s dispense gallons of coffee and dozens of bagels each morning, before switching over and making soups and sandwiches to feed hungry cube rats such as myself.

I work in Old Town Alexandria, an area that’s no stranger to the deli. In fact, there are three delis that my office frequents – but there’s one that has a particularly special place in my heart.

The King Street Deli, right off the corner of Henry St. and King St. is what a little dingy neighborhood deli should be: a cheap place to get a breakfast sandwich to get you going in the morning, or a little bag of candy to get you through the day.

Upon entering the Deli, you’re almost always greeted by its owner, a wonderfully perky Korean lady who seems to know everyone that walks in – probably because most people who do, like myself, are daily visitors. Yelling orders with great enthusiasm, the names of sandwiches fill the air - "turkey special" and "Texan" reverberating off the walls.

The menu is very simple – one of my favorite items is a toasted pita, split, with a heaping serving of hummus and sliced tomatoes. Always a good pick me up, at $2.50, it’s a great price for a very filling mid morning snack.

A favorite lunch option of my office is the Fifth Avenue, which is pastrami, mushrooms, red onion and provolone on a sub roll with brown mustard. Beware though, they’ll pile on the mustard, so be sure to ask for just a bit of mustard, or you won’t be able to taste whatever sandwich you purchased.

It’s not the best food in the world, but it is food good enough to get you through your day. And on that note – I better head over before it closes.

King Street Deli
Corner of King St. and Henry St.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Small but Satisfying

So I would describe my first experience with "Sparky's, " an "All-American Food" joint that recently opened downtown. They specialize in hot dogs, fries, grilled cheese... basic street-cart food, all served from a chic, slick little storefront. I was in a hurry and didnt want to make a mess, so I got a plain dog to go. In the future I'll definitely test out their other, more exciting options (dogs decked out with chili, cheese, bacon, etc). The bun, a standard hot dog roll, was nicely toasted and pleasantly crisp. The dog itself, billed as "all-organic beef," was long and thin, its ends hanging off the ends of the bun. Juicy, meaty, on-the-mark salty and freshly grilled, it was a satisfying snack and, at $2.50, quite a bargain. I like Sparky's. I'll be back.

Sparky's All American Food
241 Main St.
Northampton, MA 01060
(Sparky's doesn't have a website, but check out this article about its sister store in NY, and drool: Sparky's!)

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Hard Time and an Easy Choice

It wasn’t my first time at Hard Times Café, but I wish it had been. Local to the area (with locations mostly in Maryland and Virginia), I had visited Hard Times on three or four other occasions, almost always coming away disappointed. Chili that was more oil than meat and service that left me more frustrated than satisfied kept me from going back.

However, like most things, fate and a need for a beer brought me back last Saturday night. Visiting with a couple friends who were new to the Hard Times experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our waitress asked if any of us had eaten with them before. Informing her that my company hadn’t, she promptly brought out a tray segmented into four sections, each section containing a couple tablespoons of the four varieties of chili they serve.

I know I’ve said this before, but for the sake of making a point, I’ll say it again: it’s the little things that sometimes make a meal. The chili I had later was good, with nice sized pieces of meat and peppers; you actually knew that you were eating something containing individual ingredients. The piece of cornbread was average, and the butter packets and tomatoes could have been defrosted a bit longer, but I came away feeling good about that meal because of what essentially amounts to a gimmick – a small chili sampler at the beginning of the meal.

It’s simple concepts such as allowing a diner to try what he’s about to eat before they spend their hard-earned money on it that make Hard Times Café a decent place to eat. Simple food, that’s simply good – something that one might not find that often in an age in which our best food tends to be more complex than advanced astrophysics, and our most simple food often isn’t fit for human consumption.

Hard Times Café provides a solid meal for a good price while keeping the customer in mind. That little dish of chili didn’t break Hard Times into top five, or even my top ten restaurants, but it’ll be the reason I bring people there next time, to sample a good bowl of chili.

3028 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
T: 703 528 2233
F: 703 528 2820

Friday, February 2, 2007

Zen, Indeed

When it rains, it pours. Actually, today was sunny, but I'm referring to the fact that I've eaten two good meals in 1 24-hour period: rare for me in my current state of relative isolation and poverty.

Neil and I were downtown this morning to run errands (and walk off any remaining hangover), and decided to nosh at Zen, the schwankiest (and newest) addition to Northampton's ample asian food scene. Zen has a gorgeous storefront, with big glass windows that allow passersby to appropriately oggle the food of everyone lucky enough to be eating inside. Ha! Today were were those lucky people. Take that.

Thank goodness for lunch specials-- Zen is normally not cheap, but much more reasonable for a mid-day indulgence. They have a comprehensive lunch menu, with your basic variety of meat'n'noodle'n'sauce combos, along with sushi combinations and a couple bento box options. I opted for the mango curry, a large plate of mango chunks, pineapple, shrimp, chicken, and red and green peppers all drenched in a very appropriately spicy coconut curry sauce. I was impressed with the quantity of shrimp (11, if you care) and the flavor overall; the sauce was a bit oily, but I guess thats to be expected. And it was very tasty oil.

For dessert Neil convinced (yeah, because it took a lot of convincing) me to try the "lotus bun," which came with some sort of fancy description that I do not remember. What I do remember, however, is that it was a pleasantly doughy, crisp-on-the-outside-like-a-Krispy-Kreme type donut, with some kind of sweet paste (lotus paste, mayhaps?) in the middle, served over ice cream that was whatever variation of vanilla come with little crunchy balls of caramelly goodness in it. The "plating," as we say, was fantastic; the ice cream layered under the bun in a big martini-shaped glass, with a dark chocolate pocky sticking out of the center and a huge piece of drizzled-the-hardened caramel sticking out of the side. All covered with whipped cream and a cherry. Interesting, sweet, crunchy, sticky, and very very good.

I like Zen. The food is good, the service is gracious, and the decor is Ikea-hipster with an Asian flare. I'll be back.

41 Main Street
Northampton, MA 10160

South American Pasta?

Feeling a need for good food and good company, Shayla and I headed to El Caminito, a cute, fairly new little Argentinian restaurant downtown. I'd been once before, with my parents, right after it opened, and remembered it as being fine but unremarkable. But given Shayla's history in Argentina, it seemed worth a shot.
When we walked in the door (and out of the cold, thank goodness) I was slightly startled to find that there were only 3 or 4 other people in the small, warmly painted dining room. The menu is fairly limited to what seems to me an odd collection of foods-- about 2 thirds of the dishes are beef/chicken/other meat grilled and served with vegetables and a starch, sometimes with a sauce of some kind. The other options are pastas, which confused me until Shayla affirmed that Argentina is home to many Italian immigrants who bring their native culinary traditions. We both ordered a glass of wine-- mine was a lovely red, which, for only $5, provided a pleasant buzz. We split an appetizer of proscuitto-wrapped asparagus-- 2 bundles of 3 perfectly grilled stalks each, covered with light, well-seasoned breadcrumbs and parmeseans cheese, all swimming in an appropriately tart lemon butter sauce. Quite good. For my main, I cheated a little and ordered another appetizer-- 6 satisfyingly al-dente, large ravioli stuffed with cheese and lobster meat, topped with a spoonful of springy tomato-basil salsa, all spread on a plate with a wonderfully salty brown butter and rosemary sauce. I've discovered I really like brown butter. Hell, I really like butter most of the time.

Overall, dinner was great. A little overpriced, perhaps, but worth it for the most part. Service was fine-- a few more people eventually trickled into the restaurant, but it never got crowded. I wish there had been bread-- you know how I feel about bread. Its a fine place, but with all the other amazing options in Noho, I would be inclined to over-spend someplace else.

Caminito Argentinian
7 Old South St.
Northampton, MA 01060 (the web account is currently suspended. go figure.)