Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restaurant Review: Reren Laman and Bar - Washington DC

D.C.'s Chinatown Offers More than Chinese Food

Think everything Asian?

Jumbo Pineapple Shrimp

It turned out that Chinatown was about two blocks from my hotel in DC this past week. Now I imagined rows of restaurants serving chow mein and sweet and sour chicken. When I imagined it a little more, I thought I might get some more authentic or exotic dishes that were still Chinese, like a spicy beef or fried tofu. What I learned quickly was that Chinatown has much more than just Chinese food. Thai, Vietnamese, Ramen, Dim Sum, and even a few American places, are scattered throughout this section of town and there is a lot to pick from.

General Tso's Bourbon

For lunch we tried Reren, which is described as Asian Fusion cuisine. There was an assortment of entrees, noodle bowls and small plates to choose from that really could satisfy even those who might not really like Asian food as a first choice. My friend ordered Pineapple Jumbo Shrimp, which featured a nice selection of vegetables and pineapple that my friend really enjoyed. This also came with white rice. The shrimp were rather large and cooked without overcooking. My other friend ordered General Tso’s Bourbon Chicken which she also thought was quite good. 

Seaweed Salad

For my lunch, I chose a seaweed salad and an order of the Reren Signature Lamen. The seaweed salad was similar to others I have had, featuring a nice sesame dressing and some seeds scattered on top. It was fresh and nicely chilled. The Lamen was a fun dish. Usually I describe a menu item in my own words, but I can’t beat how they have it on their menu as “rich creamy Reren broth, melt taste pork belly, tea egg and season greens.” Of course it was the pork belly that had me and I needed to know what “melt taste” was, and it was delicious! These were huge slabs of pork belly nestled in noodles, that were a wonderful fatty texture that demonstrates good cooking, and they had that salty undertone of bacon. The dish was a delightful mix of flavors that really melded with the salty pork, the creaminess of the egg, and the brine of the greens. 
Reren Signature Lamen

The service here was very friendly and they were accommodating to the fact that our time for lunch would be brief as we had to return to the conference. The chef even came by to check and see how we liked our dishes. The atmosphere was also warm and cozy. I would be remiss if I didn't mention how good their Thai Iced Tea was, and I have had a lot of Thai Iced Tea.

I would recommend this for both a quick or leisurely lunch if you find yourself in Chinatown.

Restaurant Review: Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant - Washington DC

Work Travels made Fun

A couple of sites along the way. . .

This past week I attended a conference in Washington DC and had come to terms that most of the trip would be spent in lectures and workshops in a hotel. I was pleasantly surprised that the conference was set up in such a way that there was ample opportunity to also see some of the sites in the area, as well as time to experience some of the local restaurants.

Thanks to a friend, who is a real foodie, who provided me with recommendations for what we should try. Sometimes, when you share a blog you let others know how passionate you are about food. This friend was interested in the OWL and had read my review which lead to a conversation about his upcoming trip to NYC, and my plans in DC. As he had recently been in DC earlier this year, he was able to provide me with a list, as well as some detailed impressions of his experiences, which guided me in what to pick with limited time.

Our first real stop, as a group was Chercher, an Ethiopian restaurant that was about six blocks from my hotel but across the street from where my friend was staying. Washington DC apparently has a large Ethiopian community, and many restaurants, as one of the people in my group has actually dined by herself at another Ethiopian restaurant the night before. Additionally this restaurant was next to another Ethiopian restaurant located on the corner. 

I had been warned that we would be traveling to a basement that was more of a café than a restaurant but upon arriving, we noticed you had the option to go down, or up, and we chose up. It seems that maybe this was a recent addition to the space as the website boasts about the new bar, complete with liquor? In any event, we went early and were able to get a seat right away.

The menu has many options but we decided to order the vegetarian deluxe platter, with ten of the eleven items listed in the vegetarian portion of the menu. We also added the two meat specials of Kifto and Beef Tips. The prices here are extremely reasonable. The platters are one fixed price, and served the four of us generously. The kifto was a puree of finely chopped sirloin that was almost a chili without beans, with lot of spicy chili powder, served with homemade cheese and sauces. The beef tips were reminiscent of fajita style beef, with jalapenos and onions. 

While the meats were good, the vegetables were what really shined. The Fosolia Be Carote featured fried green beans and carrots that were flavored with tomato, garlic, ginger and peppers and was commented on by our entire group. The Qey Sir was cooked beets that had been diced and were naturally sweet with a bit of savory flavor, and they were also quite good. We also especially liked the two different lentil varieties served, along with the yellow peas. The salad was a little disappointing, as it seemed to be like any run of the mill salad, but there was plenty to eat so we just moved around it. 

All of the items were placed on one platter, lined with the special Ethiopian bread, called Injera. This is similar to the Blue Nile located in Ferndale, Michigan so this wasn’t a surprise to some of our group who are veteran Ethiopian diners. However, this bread was darker than we were used to, but just as delicious. It should be noted that eating with your hands can be fun! Here there were chairs to sit close to the table, rather than the stools we were used to, as well as the basket table locally.

We also ordered an appetizer of Samboosas, which were similar to Samosas from Indian restaurant visits. The dough surrounding the spicy lentils was flaky, like a phyllo, and there was a substantial amount of filling. I would be fine with being a vegetarian if I always had such hearty delicious options to eat.

To me, the sign of a good restaurant is to see diners visiting that I assume are also from the same region of the world as the food. While it’s an assumption, I think that many of those around us were of Ethiopian descent and the table next to us received a platter that was definitely not on the menu. When we asked what it was, they rambled off some names of dishes I had not heard of before and explained that they were made of raw meat. They offered to share but I have to admit I was a little hesitant to try them with already having a full stomach of delicious food.

This is a great place. I would definitely visit again on another trip to DC. Warm wait staff, hearty portions, and reasonable prices.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander Series)

Book 8 

Should I feel accomplished or a little sad?

Well it's a little bit of both, actually. I enjoyed this book and felt like I was running the last few yards towards the finish line in my marathon of reading this series straight through but there is a lot to still know and I have to wait quite a while to get any more of the story.

It was a good story, and brought more dimension to some of the characters that we have been introduced to in the last couple of books, which was interesting. However, as I had noticed in the last book, it's in some ways having a negative impact on the storytelling for me. While the "voices" have alternated in many of the books between chapters, now there are more of these various perspectives that often make the story choppy, but this may be a way that the author is able to progress through the story at a faster pace?

Where this becomes an issue for me is that a central plot just disappears for long portions of the book after being an important component to the story. For instance Bree, Roger, and their kids take up a huge portion of the first half of this book and then disappear for most of the second half.

All in all this book was a good story, well written and entertaining. The author is working #9, but it's going to be a while.

Now to find something else to read. . . it's been months since I had to pick out a book.

Restaurant Review: OWL in Royal Oak

Onion Roll Sign, Redesigned

Small Late Night Dining Establishment 

Big Impact in so many Ways

There are limited option in the wee hours of the morning when you want a meal in the local area. When I was a kid, many moons ago, Denny's and Ram's Horn often served that purpose for providing a meal after winding down for a late night out. Now that I'm older, and a bit of a food snob, that wouldn't work even if it existed, but that doesn't mean that there are times where I have lamented that we weren't just ready to go home and eat a bowl of cereal.
Front side counter dining

Over the years, the nightlife hours have extended in downtown Royal Oak to include some later hours for much of the Main Street strip but with the exception of some small places, like Coney Island, there isn't much in terms of 24 hour establishments. I would add that this goes beyond the standard fare and could even be called more specialized.

Because the menu was limited, and I wasn't sure about how I would feel about another burger, or some other options labeled as "New Mexican", I wasn't overly excited to try this place. The opportunity arose for us this weekend because we were bike riding to the midnight movie so it seemed a good night to sample a few dishes.

While this  isn't downtown, this is close to our house and is located at basically what amounts to 11 1/4 Mile and Woodward. This is the old Onion Roll Deli location which has been empty for years now. It was a local establishment that folks often speak fondly of, specializing in some of the best corned beef, but I digress. Leave it say I still see a glimmer of unshed tears when my husband reminscenses.

Woodward Mural
For those of you familiar with Onion Roll, you won't be surprised at how tiny this joint is and obviously it didn't get bigger, even with all the time we have watched them work on this building in the last year. The cook area is located just where it was before, even if it's updated, and includes bar stools to watch the action closely, just like it used to. However, booths against the wall facing Woodward have been replaced with more bar stools and another built in counter that affords you a view of the moving traffic which made me envision what a great vantage point this would be for the Dream Cruise. If you head towards the restrooms, there are a few high top tables for standing and eating, along with some great eye candy with a mural that features old and new landmarks, in text and bubbles, of Woodward attractions. The whole thing really received a makeover with lot of chrome and some wood accents that really update this and give it a big city feel. I also love that they kept the old Onion Roll sign, simply covering it in black and adding a little pictorial owl, with the name, and a row of lights lighting up the edge of the sign's shape. It's understated in a bright cool white, but effective. The only thing lacking is an outside eating area which would really allow for more patrons to enjoy this little place.

Mexican Pepsi, with a view of Woodward
This place was crowded and it was 10:15 at night. We thought that by avoiding prime meal time, and going before the movie ended, there would be a lull. However, things were in full gear, with lines of people waiting to order. They do have the system down efficiently. You walk up to the edge of the counter, place your order, pay, and then find your seat. A little while later, the staff call your name and hand you your items on a tray.

While I was worried about the limited menu, we were pleasantly surprised about how good this food is and have already figured out what we may sample next. I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the drinks that they have that go a little beyond the standard fare. The soda selection is a little more extensive, with bottles of Mexican Pepsi available, along with Jarritos and IBC Black Cherry. In my house a glass bottle of Mexican Pepsi is an upgrade with the real sugar replacing high fructose corn syryp. They also have beverage dispensers behind the counter with Hibiscus tea, Chorata (it was described as liquid French toast or melted rice pudding) and fresh squeezed lemonade. We tried the Chorata and the lemonade and both were really good. The lemonade was both tart but very sweet, like simple syrup was put in with a generous amount.

Bacon Cheeseburger
The menu has a few options for burgers and other sandwiches, along with tacos and nachos, as well as breakfast sandwiches and a few plates. We ordered two burgers, one with bacon. Now of course, it should be noted that burgers come with cheese, pickles and sauce along with any "extras", standard. That doesn't work in my house, they specific "totally plain - cheese, meat and bun." I did ask and the sauce is an aoili with mayo and garlic. I would have ordered it for myself and I do think you lose some of the chef's vision when you take things off. That being said, they loved the burgers. Think diner/slider type fare but these were a little larger in size. The bacon was cooked perfectly and had quite a kick with the pepper but it was tasty.

Chicken Fried Sandwich
We also ordered a chicken fried sandwich, which also comes as a plate. My daughter thought was was adventurous by keeping the tomato, pickles and lettuce on it, but also vetoed the "sauce". This was a really nice, moist piece of chicken but it needed just a little something. Try dipping it in the sauce from the cheese fries but more about those later. It's the bomb. I may have liked this better as a plate, and then added a side of previously mentioned cheese sauce that they are using on the fries. I could come up with quite a few ideas sitting there, looking at everyone's food in close proximity, and because everyone was friendly, we were able to compare notes on food. I learned I really want to also try the nachos by both examining them up close and the fact that the person who was eating them couldn't stop raving about them. I personally don't like chicken wings but I can see some other family members trying them, especially with them being a $1 a piece.

Avocado Toast and Seared Ahi
I tried the avocado toast. I wouldn't call it guacomole. It was more than that. This features two open faced sandwiches consiseting of grilled sesame bread, topped with a smashed avocado mixed with chunks of hard boiled eggs, topped with radishes, carrots and cilantro. There was an option to add seared Ahi tuna, which I did, which made this quite a pricey little dish. When it arrived I was surprised to see the tuna on the side, rather than put on the sandwich, but it was very good. II think that in terms of the sanwich it was unnescesary in terms of the dish although it was cooked with a nice sear and red middle that was quite good.

Cheese Fries
We also ordered the French fries with I remarked on just a bit earlier but they deserve praise all by themselves. This was so wonderful and was really the highlight of this place for us. The cheese sauce that they are pouring on them is a poblano pepper cheese concoction that might put someone who is afarid of spice in a moment of hesitation. This is NOT spicy but has a wonderful mellow smoky flavor. The kids did not even try to pick out any little bits of green which would have the the standard MO. The fries are the curly kind and on the soft side and they absorb the sauce rather than just being a vehicle to eat it. I loved the sauce so much that we dipped that fried chicken sandwich in it and I'm really contemplating the nachos for more of this sauce. I personally think that they should offer it on all their sandwiches. Did I mention I like this sauce?

We will be back and in fact the kids are asking to go again today (we are not). Things to try next time include the Taco of the Day which features three tacos with a protien main to be identified (last night it was brisket), the nachos (I may ask for the sausage chili on the side for my first go around), and the wings that feature dry rub with buffalo or macha spices.

Family Portrait - 4 Bikes
Because this place is walk-able it would go up a couple of notches in our analysis of it regardless. I like a place we can bike to in the summer. that being said, I would go here even with having to drive because it's that good and it fits a niche that we haven't had in our local area. Try this place. As I say this I cringe to think about how this will increase the traffic in there. I kind of want to keep this one for myself. Not to be selfish, just so I can always sit and eat. As I say this, I should note that we just remarked that we could send kids to get the fries as a carry out order right now and bring them back. That may be part of our solution.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Laundry - Fenton, Michigan

Sometimes Things do Live Up to the Hype

Word does travel, I just have to listen


I have been hearing that I should try The Laundry for years. When I start talking "food" with people, this invariably comes up and folks ask me if I have eaten at this fine restaurant. For years, of course the answer was "no" and then I would be on the receiving end of an incredulous stare followed by the "YOU have never been to The Laundry?!!!" Yes, that emphasis on "you" and the several exclamation points after the question is definitely needed. Now, I'm hanging my head in shame because they were right; I SHOULD have eaten there years ago.

Old Fashioned and Swiss Chocolate Italian Soda
How much did I like this place? Well, on a few very special occasions I have bought t-shirts from restaurants I like. See, I'm a bit of a groupie when it comes to restaurants. Over the years I have replaced concert shirts from bands with fine dining. Of course the establishment must offer one for sale but you get my point. I now own a T from The Laundry. This one is pretty cool. On the front it says "Call me Old Fashioned" with a cute little graphic of the cocktail. It's quite a conversation starter.
Real Cream Soda

So you may ask what was the catalyst to enjoying this restaurant? Well, since it's in Fenton and that's not really local, we were waiting for a time when we were closer. This past weekend we went to an outdoor party in Fenton for a wedding celebration. It seemed like a good opportunity to eat dinner and try this place and we were cautioned that there might be a long wait but we were up for an adventure. The kids had no reason to complain as they had planned to catch Pokemon while we waited anyways. Sometimes technology is good.

Artie Dip
We were pleasantly surprised that there was no wait, even if it was a little past six. It might be that because of the beautiful weather that people were slow in coming for dinner, or had multiple social engagements with weddings, barbecues and graduation parties. By the time we left the restaurant after a leisurely meal the place was crowded so we must have just missed the rush.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how cute this place is. I think that old 1950's diner type tables (with the colored surfaces and chrome edges) dream of having a second life.  An old chrome light fixture with protruding silver bowl lamps hangs prominently over an oversized distressed wood table for large groups that screams the 1960's. A Menard's mug held sugars. This is a mish mash but done well. Cozy and intimate even with the multiple tables. Lots of color and eye candy. 
Real French Onion Soup

Of course I wanted to start with a cocktail. I love a fancy cocktail comes in that special little visual package with garnishments, with maybe a little dusting along a rim, or a giant ice cube. However, The Laundry features a menu of 100 Classic Cocktails and I just found it overwhelming. Next time I will peruse this list prior to our visit to pick the most perfect thing. At this particular time, I reverted to what I know best and chose an Old Fashioned. Now, it's completely coincidence that the restaurant agrees with me and places this on a T-Shirt of theirs because really it's #64 on their list. It was really perfect in terms of a choice so I'm okay with it. Next time maybe I will do #46 which is a Knickerbocker. By the way, they are in alphabetical order. Yes, they have a Z (Zombie) but no X. I checked.
Michigan Salad

Most of the time I stop at my drink. Usually the rest of the gang orders water or soda, and there's nothing special about that (unless the glass was especially fancy?). But this time, I actually have more drinks to report on. Non-alcoholic options abound here at The Laundry, including our choices of a Swiss chocolate Italian soda and a Real Cream Soda with generous proportions of vanilla syrup, cream, sparkling soda and whipped cream. I think the days of bottled cream soda are over.

Bacon Jam and Gorgonzola Burger

We can't go to a new restaurant without sampling an overabundance of food to gauge what we might like if there's a next time. In this case there will be a next time but sometimes we just don't know. While a "regular" restaurant order may be limited to just a few dishes and no extraneous appetizers or desserts, we are much more reckless with new places. Frugality goes out the window. Add to this the consideration of how far we drove to sample this place. . . well it's much more free spirited.

Small plate. The fancy new term for appetizers. The Laundry actually labels this "Shared Plates" making the assumption that I will be in a reciprocal relationships with my co-diners. Okay, I will live up to your expectation. We started with Artie Dip. I know artichoke dip is so overdone. You can find versions of spinach artichoke in prepackaged containers at the local party store and for sure at the deli counter at the supermarket. However, I challenge you to find a more decadent version than The Laundry's version. Why? The cheese in this thing was just of a caliber you wouldn't normally put in a dip because it's so damn good. Technically it's a blend of three cheeses with Brie, Boursin and Gorgonzola. It's sharp, and will bite you towards the end of each mouthful but it's a good bite. There are plenty of huge chunks of artichoke hearts in here too. I would say that we could have had three times the amount of bread for good dipping ratio bur our waitstaff brought us more.
Pork and Porridge

French Onion Soup - also done everywhere and often it's bland or at best mediocre. Again, The Laundry celebrates these classic dishes and makes them better. They say their offering is "Real", I say it's "real good". The onions were a nice balance, and did not take up all the broth to be a slushy mess. the liquid itself was hearty and seemed to have a nice amount of beef in it. It was flavorful and fresh. This may not be labeled a "shared plate" but we passed the bowl around. Again, super good cheese covered the top. Cheese that was above what you would normally find bubbling on top of a crock of soup.

Pecan Crusted Whitefish
We also tried a small salad to add to our over the top ordering. It was a Michigan Salad. Yes, I have had all kinds of versions of this throughout the state. This one was a cut above, again, due to the cheese. Maytag blue, with studs of red onion, dried cherries and fresh strawberries, drizzled with maple balsamic. Very crisp and fresh greens make a huge impact on me. I should note that these "small" salads are very reasonable. This version was four dollars. You can't go wrong with a four dollar salad!

At The Laundry, the evening meal is "Supper". I love that word. It's so old fashioned and it adds to the whole theme and charm at The Laundry. Here we also did not skimp and tried a variety of options. No one duplicated. We wanted to conquer all we could.

Cookies and Cream
First up was their version of a burger called the Bacon Jam and Gorgonzola Burger. This was not quite like anything I have had in the past. This was in the Casual Fare section of the menu but didn't seem that casual with a brioche bun, and bacon jam plus an apricot Gorgonzola cheese spread with French fried onions. What really set this burger apart was the smoky flavor infused in the actual beef patty.

I tried the Pork and Porridge. I couldn't resist the name or the fact that there was pork belly in it. Pork belly is much better than sliced bread. It's better than bacon and candy and just about anything. This pork belly was sitting on a bed of pimento cheese grits, along with a side of mustard greens and red eye gravy plus green tomato chow chow. I loved the pork belly. It was as super generous portion that really could have fed four people and be satisfying. I may not have really wanted to share because it had the perfect crispy sear on top covering the buttery soft meat that just melted in your mouth. I have a thing for pork belly and have worked hard, in my own pursuits, to get that same crispy top in my own recipe.  I liked the grits as well and they were far from the usual mundane breakfast side. I did not really like the mustard greens which surprised me because I'm a huge greens fan. These were a little sour, along with the tomato chow chow, and while I can see it may have had more vinegar to cut through the fat and sweetness of the rest of the dish, I thought it was too much. Don't get me wrong, I would order this again and just tell them to hold those sides.

Berry Pie
We also sampled the Pecan Crusted Whitefish. Fresh, perfectly cooked fish, encrusted with a generous portion of pecans with a maple beurre blanc. The side dishes with this were also winners - wonderful sweet potato risotto and a squash/zucchini medley along with sweet potato chips on the top. This was delicious!

When you are going all out, you can't skip dessert, can you? I can't. We ordered the chocolate cookies with cream (ice cream) but because they were out of the small ones they took a generous sampling of larger ones and cut them up for us. Chocolate with sea salt. Cinnamon ice cream. All very good.

The fruit pie was a berry medley. Super delicious flaky crust that screams "homemade!"

Summary? In case you didn't pick up on it this place was awesome. I will be back. There is nothing subtle about this review. I wish Fenton was closer!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Restaurant Review: Trizest

Chinese Food of a High Caliber

There are a multitude of Chinese restaurants to pick from locally in our area. You can find dozens of choices to get a crab rangoon or an almond boneless chicken but what sets Trizest apart is both the quality and the extensive offerings above what we envision as traditional Chinese carry out.

Trizest has those same dishes, along with other conventional dishes, such as sweet and sour chicken, Mongolian beef, and pork fried rice. What is different is that there are two menus at Trizest and the second menu has some choices that are beyond those American traditional favorites.

Some of the items are featured on both menus and some are strictly reserved for "Menu II" which features the dishes in both English and Chinese. Some entrees are more adventurous than others, including "spicy pig stomach" and "pig's blood curd with vegetables in a wok". I have to admit, I have not tried those but I do enjoy some of the less adventurous fare on this side of the menu. The orange beef, actually on both Menu I and II, is a wonderfully double fried dish of beef, with a generous portion of red chili peppers and shredded orange peel that perfectly balances sweet and spicy as only a sichuan (szechuan) dish can.

We also routinely enjoy the sesame deep fried tofu, a combination of delicate cubes of firm tofu (they don't seem deep fried to me), with a spicy sweet sauce, with toasted sesame seeds that is very light, especially for Chinese fried food. For someone who is vegetraian it would be important to note that they ahve mulitiple tofu dishes, including one with General Tso's sauce, as well as several vegetable dishes, and ones featuring "vegetarian chicken".

There is also plenty of seafood dishes including a salt and pepper fried squid that is very peppery. It's a little bit of a heavier dish but very flavorful. I didn't order it this time so unforutnately I don't have a photo to showcase this dish.

With the Menu I, the more traditional Chinese carry out, there is a very good version of almond boneless chicken that is worth a try. The gravy is quite good, not oversalted, and the chicken is cooked on the crispy side,

Yes, we also get an order of the crab rangoons, even if they are really a very American dish. Their version is full of creamy cheese with real crab, delicately mixed in, and some red pepper and scallions.

Not sure if this place will live up the they hype? I think it's a testament to a place that is always busy and is full of those of Aisan descent. Most of the time we are among a handful of white people at this restaurant. It may be that Trizest is a secret except among the Chinese? Or maybe the Menu II scares folks off? I highly recommend this place. 

I will definitely be back again and have plans to try fried eggplant with pork, and crispy squid with fired salt and pepper!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Food Product Review: Brownwood Farms Cherry BBQ Sauce

There's a lot of components that make up a good BBQ but the sauce is a deal breaker

There's of course the meat which is the foundation for all of it. Then there's the rub. We use a handmade version with all kinds of goodness but I have learned to use it sparingly (Ha! with ribs that would be a pun!). Of course there is the method of cooking (coals, every time, vs. gas), and then slight variations with what kinds of wood to include.

I do think that without the perfect BBQ sauce this could all be for naught. Over the years, we have tried so many of them. Think traditional store ones such as Open Pit (which we still use for chicken drumsticks) and Baby Ray's, as well as exotic ones such as Cherry Chipolte, Memphis sauce, and variations of brown sugar, vinegar, molasses, and tomato mixtures. We have even make homemade ones of the years with different ratios of all of the important goodness, with additions such bourbon, liquid smoke, and celery seed.

Yes, there is merit in making good BBQ sauce but I still sample all the different ones at grocery stores and specialty stores, as well as restaurants. Most of the time, I'm not a fan. They are either too sweet or too tangy. It has to be the perfect balance. I do prefer, from all my tasting, more of a Hoisin or Tomato base, light on any vinegar.

Well a few weeks ago, I tried a new version of BBQ sauce strictly because of it's appealing label and I have my new winner. I really like Brownwood Cherry BBQ Sauce on our amazing baby back ribs. Yes, it's store bought and you might be asking what sets this one apart? There are generous chunks of cherries in here. The sauce is definitely sweet but it's balanced and there's a nice amount of spice, that is not overpowering (making it extra important to go light on the rub).

In our travels to find more of this product, we have also come across other products in their line, including cherry preserves and the Yankee Bourbon sauce. I haven't tried the Yankee on food yet but I did taste it (because I'm not putting anything on a slab of ribs without tasting it first) and my first impression is that there are a lot of similar undertones to this sauce compared with the cherry but without the fruit. It has some bourbon (okay a lot of bourbon) and some anchovies which could make for a good Asian dish. I know, weird talking about Yankee flavored Asian dishes.

Back to those labels. . . If you look really closely the Cherry  has a little piece of fruit in the Eagle's belly that is replaced with a bourbon cask on the Yankee one.

Try this. It's good.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Book Review: An Echo in the Bone (Outlander Series) by Diane Gabaldon

Still Trudging Along but we are Picking up Speed

The Pace is Getting Faster

I have been reviewing these books in what seems like forever but I'm determined to see this through the end. While some of the books (3-5 for sure) really draaaaag at some parts, I have been much happier with the more recent ones. I do have to say that the author's pace is often sporadic, going from really detailed and long passages about certain portions of the plot to breakneck speed to speak to a part in the story that seems to really need a lot more. I feel like we race and then brake. . . and it doesn't always seem to make sense or seem justified when it seems like a pivotal point in the story and we only get a few pages on it.

For instance, in this book, Jamie and Claire return to Scotland and that would be an important point. However, we aren't there long. I was happy to avoid pages and pages about the travel but actually returning to Lollybroch should have been more detailed?

I'm already into book 8 - Written in My Own Heart's Blood - and this one has a completely different style. I do know that this is the last one I will have for a while. I'm not sure I even know how to pick out a book to read anymore as I've been on this train since September 2015! While I don't think this is even writing when you look at these books as a whole I highly recommend sticking with it through those books (3-5) to get to this point. I think it's worth it. One last review when I get #8 done and then waiting for Book 9!

Restaurant Review: Camelia's Mexican - Royal Oak

Authentic Mexican Fare, Locally

See update below, 7/7/16

There's a running joke in our house that if a restaurant is close to us, we just won't go there. We seem to be martyrs for a long drive for good food. Case in point? We have Vinsetta Garage about five minutes from the house but we prefer another restaurant in that same group called Union Woodshop that not only involves about an hour's drive, but typically a three hour wait for a table.

When it comes to Mexican food we typically drive to neighboring Madison Heights for Azteca although occasionally we will make it an adventure and head to Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. However, Camelia's is less than a mile from the house and we pass it at least a few times per week without ever stopping in.

I was very hesitant to try this place. I have had mixed reviews from friends. This included some pretty negative reports but also some really positive remarks. It really was a matter of just trying it after years of passing it on the way to somewhere else.

I have to say that for a repurposed Pizza Hut (1970's version of the building) this is really cute. They have made the most of it with brightly colored Mexican decorations including some beautiful kitschy ceramic suns with faces (I'm a sucker for those) and some cow skulls with flowers. The bar surface is covered with brilliant blue Mexican tile.

The chips were a little different than what we are used to but were fresh and not very greasy. The salsa was good but I prefer a cheese dip and would order that next time. I really do love cheese dip while waiting for food. Speaking of entertaining myself while waiting for the food, I did also enjoy a glass of Sangria and this was good stuff. There were real pieces of crushed oranges or grapefruit in the concoction and I would definitely get that again.

I ordered a "New" Mexican Gordita with carnitas. This included two masa cakes sandwiching chunks of pork, along with refried beans and a healthy topping of cheese. The masa cakes were lightly fried ("griddled" according to the menu to be technically accurate) and were a new taste for me. I would have liked something a little more in the sandwich - I"m thinking avocado - but it was good.

One of my favorite Mexican dishes is Chili Rellenos. his came with a side of Spanish rice and more refried beans as this was considered an entree. At Camelia's you can choose between cheese, chicken, or beef for your stuffed poblano peppers. I'm a purist and always go for cheese. These were not whole peppers but a plate of slice peppers layered with batter and cheese and it was delicious! You could tell that this was fresh, and fresh oil, as often when I order them elsewhere the batter takes on other flavors from the fryer that are not appealing. The presentation doesn't look beautiful but see past that!

We also ordered a combination plate with a soft taco, hard taco, and a quesadilla. The quesadillas were big hits with the kids, especially with the grilled version. Lots of cheese in between those tortillas.  Both the ground beef and the chicken were seasoned lightly and also very fresh. The Spanish rice was very good, and that's often "hit or miss" at some restaurants. This was a good consistency and not too soggy. The beans were especially good and very authentic.

To round out our sampling we also ordered shrimp fajitas. Look at that layer of cheese! Enough said! Nice selection of vegetables that of course you can't really see in that photo, along with a generous portion of shrimp. These were not shrimpy shrimp but nice size.

Summary? We will definitely go back to this local restaurant to sample more Mexican fare. Flautas and Tamales are on the list to try next time along with a Margarita!

Update 7/7/16
 Unfortunately, tonight's visit was not as delicious and was underwhelming. In speaking with other locals, perhaps it's "hit or miss"? Tonight we ordered a chicken fajita with cheese. It came without cheese and featured huge strips of chicken that did not absorb the flavors of the peppers and onions, leaving it bland. We also ordered a three item combo with a shredded beef soft taco, pork tamale and a enchilada suiza with stuffed with cheese. I have to say, if you want tacos or tamales, just go to Super Taco. It may be that I'm spoiled by my lunch there earlier this week and I do like to sit down but this just wasn't the same quality. The enchilada was okay but not great. . .

I did have that Margarita I had planned. I would stick to the Sangria. It was a lot more refreshing and had real fruit while the frozen margarita was a lot of mix.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Restaurant Review: Super Taco at Tienda Mexicana

Nothing Fancy but SUPER Tacos

See update below 7/7/16:

Years ago, a friend took me to a Mexican grocery store in Pontiac where you navigated through the aisles until you got to the back of the store where there was a makeshift restaurant serving tacos. I have found something similar, and just a delicious, closer to home in Madison Heights.

This discovery was somewhat of an accident. Vietnamese food lead us down this path? Confused? I would be too!

1. I love a Vietnamese restaurant in Madison Heights called Pho Que Huong (sound that out phonetically, it's fun!) and we order take out from there quite often. Pho at home can be slightly less fun without a large Pho bowl to eat out of rather than a plain old bowl from the kitchen stock. Henry, who is a constant there as the owner's son in law and chief operator of this fine establishment, recommended the Chinese Supplier down the street in another strip mall for a bowl as that is where they get their stock.

2. Well Tienda Mexicana is next door to the Chinese Restaurant Supply.

3. Related to all of this my teenage son recently discovered Jarritos, Mexican Soda, and we figured that Tienda Mexicana would probably have some. We explored Tienda Mexicana another day and then saw the left side of the store was really a taco restaurant called Super Taco.

Phew, I'm already tired explaining all of this. Vietnam, to China, to Mexico. That's the summary and it's all food related! Much like my life.

I kind of scoped out the taco side the first time but waited until another trip for Jarritos to try them. My daughter is much more adventurous than the male members of our family. We actually tried more than just the tacos but I am going to say that if you are going to go here that would be why. These are reminiscent of the ones I had in Pontiac and nothing like we traditionally visualize as tacos. . . Two small corn tortillas are "stacked" with the cheese in between, and then topped with the meats and cheese. Now of course Super Taco also provides other toppings such  as onions and cilantro but we are not huge fans of said items. It's also important to note that they have beyond the traditional mains we think of as "meats" and also offer chorizo and tongue tacos. I will be trying more varieties beyond chicken and beef soon.

Speaking of chicken, for those who regularly read these posts, you may recall I'm not a huge fan of this as a protein. Super Taco did a good job despite me being predisposed to hating chicken. They shredded it and added some super yummy spices. Beef was still my favorite and I highly recommend you try it. Tender wonderful beef, perfectly seasoned. The lime wedges and radish are a nice touch.

This isn't fancy, the tables are just plain old tables jammed in there, but you won't be sorry you stopped here. I'm jonesing for one right now. You can also order some Jarittos, right in a glass bottle, for your drink.

Try it. You won't be disappointed. End note, the Jarrito's website says that their soda is "super good" too. Lol.

Updated 7/7/16:

During this week of a "staycation", a trip to Super Taco was in order. We added a couple more items to our list, including a tamale (pork with red salsa) and a chicken quesadilla. Both were excellent!

I am not exaggerating when I say this was the best tamale I have ever had. Hands down. Many of these are really dry but this one was super moist. And while I don't like salsa all that much it was the perfect mix, right into the filling, along with delicate moist shredded pork. Seriously, after eating at a sit down Mexican restaurant tonight I can really appreciate just how good this enchilada was. . .  Did I mention it was $1.50?!!!!

The quesadilla is not something I would typically order but my daughter did and I stole about half of it from her. As I have mentioned in the past I am not a chicken fan but this was also very moist and shredded with spices that gave it just enough kick without overpowering it. The tortilla was fried without being overdone, and there was a generous portion of cheese in there. We ordered a small and I woudl be afraid to see how big the large is based on the size of this one. 

Summary: If you haven't tried Super Taco yet you should. I should have eaten there tonight instead of going to a sit down. Ugh!!!!