Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BobbiQue and Pseudo-Southern Foods

Again, as Professor Dumbledore says, "Time makes fools of us." It's hard to believe that two months have passed by since the last time I'd rhapsodized, especially since it's not like I wasn't eating out. In actuality, I'd gone on a kitchen boycott lasting over three and a half weeks. However, in the past two months, things in my life have once again been in upheaval, between changing offices, then changing jobs (I'm in a much, much better situation now; thank you very much for asking! I absolutely love my new job and the people there are a riot and a half).

However, that's not what you're here for. What is my personal life to you, when it's a taste of the food of Long Island that you're here to discuss? So who am I not to oblige?

During my brief time working in Patchogue's village, I finally visited BobbiQue. Punnily named after the owner's daughter, Bobbi, this place claimed to serve authentic Southern barbeque, slow smoking and all. How could I resist when it was a mere street away? So of course, I went. And then went again, and again.

There's good food to be had here, mind you, but you can also go very, very wrong. I'll hit the bad first, and then get into the good, since the last bite should always be the best bite since that's the impression of your meal ... and in general, if you order correctly, it's a pretty good one.

One of the negatives is that the bartenders suck. The one time I went for lunch, I was excited to see that they had Bluberry Stoli behind the bar. Naturally, this meant that I had to order what Kevin from Mr. John's introduced me to ages and ages ago: a blueberry Cosmo. The bartender served up a clear drink, which of course, I had to question. Her response, when I politely suggested she add cranberry juice? "Oh, yeah, I knew a cosmo was missing something." Um ... duh.

I also visited the bar area during Alive After Five, a street festival that periodically takes place during the summer in the streets of the village. This is a whole other story in itself, so I'll just give you the Cliff's Notes: to drink, you must enter a corral-type of enclosure, where you are smashed upon the beer drinkers already therein, and call out to friends in the street like a mooing cow. Beer is the only beverage served, and you cannot walk about with your drink in hand. Last call ends is at 9 PM, after which, you are hustled into any of the restaurants on Main Street ... or herded, again like cattle. The music was honestly pretty shitty, and the woman that sang at the particular event I was at was shrill, sharp, and holding the mic entirely too close to her face. It was terrible, as were the overly strong margaritas at BobbiQue and the pushy crowd that night as well.

However, to be fair, I do have to note that they have a very wide range of whiskey, which is pretty Southern of them, and they do serve Abita Purple Haze. So, extra points there.

Okay, on to other points of suckage, though.

I was very excited to see on the menu "Fried Shrimp Po-Boy, Fully Dressed." This boded well for me, since the phrase "fully dressed" is not one use in these here parts. The first time I was there, I made a note to myself to have this the next time I was there. Sooo ... the next time I was there, I was sorely disappointed. Clearly, I wasn't in Kansas anymore, and po-boy means something entirely different.

One of the distinctive marks of a po-boy is the overflowing nature of its innards. Four sadly breadcrumbed butterflied shrimp does not constitute an overflowing of any kind. The lettuce was Romaine rather than shredded iceberg. Pickles were nowhere to be found. A toasted hoagie roll is nothing close to French bread. It was a very, very sad day, $10 and a bucketful of remorse later. So not worth the money or calories.

I actually did much better the first time I was there. I got a medley of three different types of smoked/barbequed meats, choosing to opt for the ribs, the pulled pork, and the barbequed chicken. Boy got ribs, pork, and brisket.

Now, for a place that has in-use smokers and etc., you'd think the brisket would be fantabulous. It was not. Dry, flavorless, and sliced like a thin London broil, it had the personality of government cheese. In this case, boring is just as bad as plain bad, so I made a note to taunt Boy with the fabulosity of my barbequed chicken as he suffered through the bland brisket.

Now here's where it gets good, since the chicken was in actuality, a joy to consume. Tender, juicy, falling off the bone with lightly charred skin dusted with a thick glaze of addicting sauce, the only flaw I could find in it was that there simply wasn't enough. A quarter of a chicken is nothing when it's that damn good.

The pulled pork was also superb. Served as part of a meat platter, it comes atop a top of a Martin's potato roll, pulled, saucy, decadent, moist and all kinds of good. The flavor was excellent and the texture was authentically Southern, since it fell apart in your mouth like a pig on a spit should. Sure, it's no cochon de lait, but this wasn't New Orleans barbeque anyway. I think it was supposed to be Tennessee style, hence all the bourbon all over the place.

The ribs were tender and delightfully pink inside as good smoked ribs are wont to be. They came off the bone easily, but still don't compare to the Thai ribs at Zea (what I wouldn't give for a big bowl of corn grits!), which fell off the bone the second you touched it. However, the flavor was excellent and appropriately sticky and messy that eating them feels like an accomplishment.

Cornbread came with the meat platters, and a thick-cut cube of it didn't come amiss when it came to dabbing up the sauce. It was even better with a bowl of the loaded chili, which was rich, hearty, and almost solid with meat and beans.

As for sides, the collards were a bit too sweet, the mac and cheese kind of on the Velveeta (not from scratch) side, but the house-cut fries and sweet potato fries were a winner. Crunchy, skin-on, and very
greasy, they hit the spot if you're looking to be bad, unlike the crab cakes which failed in mess of breadcrumbs.

So what's the verdict? Brisket - sucked balls. Ribs - good. Pulled pork - great. Chicken, whether pulled without the skin or one the bone - AWESOME. I'd say I'd try the salmon or shrimp next, but that'd be a lie. I know what I like here, and with the hit-or-miss tallyboard looking the way it does, I'll stick to that.

P.S. They have live blues bands play on Fridays. That's another plus to me, but it's not food-related, so I figured I'd just add that as a side note here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Fresh Fusion Meets Fresh Fish

Just to give you another access point, I thought I'd include my latest and first (of hopefully many) restaurant reviews for Long Island dining for my *long-suffering* loyal readers. This is a piece written Vicarious Food Whore-style for the Long Island Press about a Japanese hibachi/Asian fusion place on the North Shore of the Island, and the photos are by me, as well!

Enjoy this for now ... coming *eventually* will be posts on the following:
So, that's my to-do list, if I can ever stop stuffing my face and kickboxing long enough to sit in front of my computer during non-office hours ... which has been really hard to do with the packed-out eventful weekends, the 6-day-a-week workout schedule (in my attempt to be less of a Fatty type of McButterpants), gorgeous weekends of kayaking, running (from mosquitoes ... they really HURT on the South Shore, these stripey ones!), and other activities. This time, I have no excuses. I'm just lazy. But enjoy a virtual taste of Hotoke in the meantime!

Fresh Fusion Meets Fresh Fish

Sushi Gets Sexy and Hibachi Heats up at Hotoke

By SuJitLinDeSimone on Jul 16th, 2010

Hotoke Japanese Steakhouse
41 Route 111, Smithtown
Deep bass pulses like a heavy heartbeat, sound traveling with subtle rumblings through extensive modern woodwork. Cosmopolitan chic oozes out of every painstaking detail; deep tray ceilings softly glow ice blue, a lighter counterpart to the bold indigo that highlights the tasteful detail of the glass-tiled sushi bar and New Age Asian d├ęcor. A rather extraordinary venue deceptively hidden in a perfectly ordinary shopping center in Smithtown on Route 111, Bobby Lam’s Hotoke is a sexy, upscale hideout for discerning diners who need to step out of Long Island for one hot minute.

The delighted shrieks of children at the ample teppanyaki tables—the extensive seating fitting groups up to 20—are easily muted by partitions that separate the sushi bar area, keeping the main dining room dinner date-friendly, while allowing families to enjoy the ambience and superb dining without worry. The usual show elicits gasps and laughter, as it should, but it’s truly the food here that takes center stage.

Sweet shrimp is lightly seasoned and arrives on your plate in vivid form, while lusciously tender steak sizzles with promise on the cooking surface. The chicken is tender, but the real showstoppers—as with any respectable Japanese restaurant—are the seafood dishes. Fresh, rich salmon gets drenched in heavy, sweet teriyaki sauce and is surface-charred to tickle every tastebud. Scallops dance with abandon on the grill, but beyond comparison is the Chilean Sea Bass, a seared-crisp, thick white fillet whose purity of flavor and firm, luxurious texture is second to none. The teriyaki sauce is a perfect complement to the lightness of the fish, and paired with the standard broccoli, onion, mushroom, zucchini and carrot medley, the fabulous fried rice becomes the mere cherry on top in light of its counterparts.

However, the hibachi tables are only half of the sensory ecstasy Hotoke has to offer. For those dining in the swanky main area, the luxury of wallowing in an unhurried experience is well worth taking advantage of. Green tea margaritas are a fun and subtly flavored start, and the peach version is a great summer drink to accompany lighter appetizers like Mandarin crispy duck salad, with seasoned greens, jicama and beets with olive balsamic. Fusion Salad attracts seafood lovers with organic greens, tuna, salmon, avocado, mango and white ginger. For diners seeking a heartier experience, the fried oysters are exceptional—the plump Japanese oysters simply burst with searing flavor as soon as your teeth release the pressure of the panko breading.

Off the menu but on the specials board (if you’re lucky), the hungry can’t go wrong with meaty cubes of sea bass wrapped in beautifully seared filet mignon, served in a light sauce that hides nothing but enhances everything. For the truly hedonistic, the lobster sashimi, a tender but massive tail with shredded green onions and a lovely toasted sesame oil undertone, is a rare treat that must be ordered hours in advance.

The specialty sushi rolls are imaginative and exciting, the quality consistently above average due to the rigorous standards the staff imposes on their suppliers. A restaurant that takes pride in creating an overall experience, management has no qualms about sending back fish that doesn’t make their own cut, ensuring every bite a customer takes is without comparison. The sushi and sashimi make a great base here, but it’s with the signature rolls—like the Hotoke Roll (lobster, mango, avocado, tobiko in a soy wrap with tuna, avocado, and honey wasabi) and Passion Roll (seared white tuna, mango, spicy kani and seaweed salad and Thai chili sauce)—that bring the “fusion” part of the restaurant’s inspiration to life.

Affordable lunch specials starting at $7 offer amazing choices of rolls, hibachi, rice bowls, bento boxes and other sub-genres make Hotoke accessible, while dinnertime at the sultry spot turns a regular night into a sexy date and prelude for sensory awakening.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gratuitous Sexiness: See? I Haven't Been NOT Eating ... Just Not Eating OUT!

For your pleasure, some fun pictures of what I've been up to during this winter of silence, enjoying my starter gourmet chef's kitchen. One day, I'll have a red-knobbed Wolf commercial range and wall of sleek Sub-Zero fridges (yes; multiple - I believe in stocking up. Ask poor Boy, who wonders why he can never fit anything in the pantry), or be able to afford the constant maintenance of a sexy Viking Professional kitchen, but for now, I'm content to own a granite-topped, custom-cabineted, shiny black GE and Whirlpool kitchen of my own before my 26th birthday.

Anyway, let's start simple: sandwiches at home can be fancy, too, if you step the ingredients up a notch and plate it neatly. The below is honey whole-wheat bread (Arnolds - no high fructose corn syrup!), local baby arugula, canola oil mayonnaise (half the calories as the regular; half the artificial ingredients as the light), Boar's Head roast beef, a touch of garlic powder, deli-sliced mozzarella, and a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos (which are, quite simply, the Shit). On the side are Keebler's Grasshoppers, the off-season Girl Scout Thin Mints for dessert.

Next up: dinner. Below, you'll find fresh crab cakes drizzled in thick, dripping Boar's Head deli remoulade, which - as a former New Orleanian - is surprisingly tangy and passable even in the Deep South. Red peppers in the pan-fried crabcakes (purchased at -- where else? -- Best Yet) add a special somethin'-somethin' to the cakes, and a hit of hot pepper gives it a nice, subtle kick. Real crab, albeit claw meat, gives it a deeper, brinier flavor that imitation crabmeat just can't compete with, which I decided to bring back down to earth with broiled asparagus spears drizzled in olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, and toasted Parmesan cheese. Pan-wilted spinach in white wine and toasted garlic was just for fun.

One more? Okay, but I can't claim all of this glory for myself. I had my dad over at China East give me a whole cut of his deep-marinated, fresh-smoked red Chinese roast pork, glazed in his own signature sauce. A bout with a broiler a generous dollop of oyster sauce and fresh scallions later, and voila! A delicious accompaniment to the sweetly bland rice porridge I sometimes like to eat for familiarity's sake. A "gluey" (as my mom says; she actually means "gooey"), semi-viscous (depending on how long and how you let it cook ... different times and temps lead to different consistencies) blank canvas, it serves a nice foil to anything particularly savory that you don't want to override in terms of flavor. My roast pork was a bit saltier and more concentrated in flavor, since my father employs professional techniques to keep it moist and succulent at second roast for customers. I, not having that aforementioned Viking kitchen and commerical broiler, am more limited in capabilities.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eater's Remorse: Not-So-Fresh Fish

After visiting renowned Nico's Pier 38 in Honolulu/Ala Moana, Oahu, Hawaii (more with pictures in a separate post!) and enjoying perhaps some of the tastiest and freshest fish I've ever had in my life, the idea of dining at a neighborhood seafood locale on a dock became exponentially more appealing. I'm always for diamonds in the rough, and since moving to Long Island's quaint South Shore, peppered with whimsical villages and Stars Hollows-flavored downtown strips, it's exciting to "discover" local favorites and see for myself what makes them great.

A frequent diner at locally-owned J&R's Steakhouse in Islip (don't laugh - the marinade is good, and where else can you get macaroni salad with fresh pickles, lobster bisque or house salad, a big ol' charred ribeye, and a slice of fresh cheesecake for under $20?) - whose temperatures, might I add, are far more consistent and dead-on than its Medford, Stony Brook, Rocky Point, and Patchogue counterparts; I actually order medium rare here, and don't get medium! - I couldn't help but notice a hand-painted, weathered sign announcing a fresh fish market just on the other side of the pier. "White Cap Fish Market," it boldly declared, with arrows and other indicators pointing down a gravel driveway that led to what looked like a bunch of semi-abandoned warehouses.

Needless to say, I was intrigued.

We got a coupon in our Valpak (again, don't laugh - we have a hefty mortgage and apparently, shameless coupon-clipping is a part of growing up and being a respectable adult) to buy one dinner and get the next half off, so Boy and I decided, what the hey? And on a slow Thursday evening, we decided to up and check it out.

There are nice touches that give the White Cap Fish Market appeal. For instance, the giant wheel things you see on farms and on boats repurposed as tables are kind of fun. You really can't beat dockside dining, even if the harbor is a teeny tiny one overlooking a trailer park with docking rights (which just blows my mind, personally. They must be hardcore boaters over there to prioritize boats over dwellings! ... But then again, I'm a creature for comforts, and kind of a brat). The swans and mallards floating along are picturesque, and the breeze from the water is a pleasure. Also, the raw bar they had set up outside looked promising, since we all know you can't really do raw unless it's fresh.

Things that were not so nice, but interesting points were the giant barn-type building you drove through to leave, and the Port-a-Potty that served as the facility's restroom. I mean, granted, Nico's Pier 38 did the same thing, but Hawaii's Port-a-Potties are much less questionable than New Yorks, considering that homeless people in Hawaii actually spend their free time picking up trash from the ground that careless tourists toss aside as if they were ... well, in New York.

Boy and I, after a quick visual inventory, decided to proceed with our dining plans and check the place out. We went inside to look over the decent-sized menu, and pored over that, hemming and hawing over the selections for a good 10-15 minutes. Apparently, that's all it took to become a part of the dinner rush, and a line quickly formed out the door, since the ordering style was that you place your order indoors at the window, and people bring them out.

As we waited on line, I wandered over to the market area of the place and was shocked at the prices. You'd think going directly to a fish purveyor that said fish would be priced very competitively, and that it'd be superior cuts than the supermarket variety, right? Well, I was astounded to see that their dry-looking flounder fillets were $12.99 a pound, which is roughly the same as Whole Food's going rate. The uncooked stuffed mushrooms and clams were in the neighborhood of a buck each, but the rest of the raw fish didn't look half as nice as the seafood department of my favorite supermarket, Best Yet, and cost twice as much.

Anyway, once we made it up to the window, we eventually decided on fried oysters for me, with fries and not the steamed veggies I'd requested since they don't do substitutions, and fried calamari on linguine in marinara for Boy. Although the clam chowders had won much acclaim in competitions against 4-star counterparts, the day was simply too muggy to sample anything like that. We walked back out to the dock and prepared to wait a whopping 40 minutes for two simple fried dishes. By then, it was kind of the point of no return since we'd already stood in line for 15 minutes and scoured the menu for 10; timewise, we were to deeply invested. So we grabbed a table and hoped for the best.

When the food finally came, my hopes rose up again like the buoy the swans kept bumping up against. The portions were HUGE! My oysters were a good three inches long and inch and a half across, and on a generous heap of fries. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about the size of an oyster. Boy's plate of linguine was literally a platter the dimensions of a small chafing dish at a catered event. The tartar sauce and cocktail sauce provided were by Ken's and not homemade, so automatic point detraction for that, but still not a problem, and certainly not something ginormous portions for a $25 meal (with coupon) couldn't make up for.

Well, sad to say, the excitement waned and quickly dissipated after the first bite. My oysters, which I was so thrilled about after visually detecting the granularity of cornmeal, were overbreaded and overcooked, and certainly not fresh. They weren't the plump, sweet things that I've had in New Orleans, bursting with juice and clean flavor. Instead, they were somewhat metallic, the breading was starting to get soggy from the steam in the styrofoam container, and were dirtier inside than my beloved mollusks of the Gulf. My fries were unseasoned, nondescript shoestrings that reminded me of my camp counselor days, and pathetically, were more appetizing than the dry, densely breaded oysters I struggled to choke down.

The calamari rings were a little soggy, too, because of the steam, and the linguine, though cooked well, was also nothing thrilling. The marinara sauce was sweet and pretty decent, but in that familiar high school cafeteria way, the way that gives adults heartburn later on (which did happen to Boy).

It's such a shame to me that a place with such a large following and rustic venue that supposedly deals in fish and specializes in it can't serve something fresh to its clientele and forces them to wait that long for mediocre, simply fried food. The prices are too high for the quality of food, even with quantity considered, since the average price per plate was about $16. The oysters didn't taste fresh, the calamari was slightly rubbery, and a 10 yard walk shouldn't be enough time for fried food to get soggy around the edges ... especially when it should have been served right off the fryer.

The outside people were very friendly, though, and it was with some guilt that I said good-bye to them when they asked us to come back again soon. I knew that the answer would be that I wouldn't.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gratuitous Sexiness: "And We Shed What Was Left of Our Summer Skin"

Well, I logged on today just to talk about how excited I am for my friend Lisa's wedding this Saturday at the renowned Blue Hill at Stone Barn in Pocantico Hills, Westchester, New York, and instead was treated to a fun array of new blog design styles available through Blogger. The new, much more food-friendly background and summery color scheme are much more fitting to the cheery topics I like to write about than the somewhat garish magenta template I had before, eh? Ironically, my day job (still) is at a web design agency and the majority of my colleagues are designers, so this blog could potentially be super kickass ... but I don't make my friends work for free, and this blog don't make no dollas to pay anyone with. So here we are.

I know you're all (the loyal few that continue to trek back after months of ringing silence) sick of my tired excuses, but things have been so busy! There have been good things happening, bad things, and things in between. The good is that I'm writing print for food again! Yay! A restaurant review I wrote, along with photos taken during that outing, will be appearing in next week's Long Island Press, so I'm pretty stoked about that. It was originally supposed to go to press yesterday, but their regular food editor handed in a piece, and since he has seniority, well, mine got pushed back. But we've all got to start (over) somewhere, right, to get back into the field you love?

*Ooh* Just got a weird wave of deja vu. Is that good, or is it bad? Only time will tell.

Other personal stuff in the good news realm: I found my camera! So Hawaii pictures will soon be up ... maybe next weekend, I hope? This weekend is a regular maelstrom of fat people activity (Lisa's wedding [more on that later], dinner with the grandparents-in-law, my hilarious sister-in-law Erica's Tastefully Simple party, and cooking) interspersed with ambitious plans for active activities like kayaking, running and/or kickboxing. Therefore, this weekend is clearly out for some dedicated writing time, unless I somehow find the energy on Friday to build a will to live. ;-)

Another good thing is that I've gotten my fat ass back into kickboxing! You eat the way I do, and take as much satisfaction from it as I do, and you're bound to become a heart disease statistic. My inspiration? Said sister-in-law with her fiendish compulsion to exercise (which works out rather well with my all-or-nothing life motto) and a good friend, Kat, who made me get off my ass and explore my own neighborhood with fresh eyes, reminding me just how much I actually LOVE being active. So yay me, as I slowly work towards a green belt in Thai kickboxing on the weekends, and do combat cardio/kickboxing routinely during the week, both with incredible instructors. (Trust me; I know - I visited 7 places before committing to either one, and was torn between the two for a week!)

The worst of my bad stuff is of course writing-related, as the majority of my life's ups and downs revolve around just that. I was absolutely thrilled to be writing a real deal five-year Katrina anniversary article for the high end local publication The Long Island Pulse, but due to the disastrous oil spill and space constraints for the issue it was slated to appear in, the odds are that it's not going to happen. Which sucks, obviously, after I'd spent over two months painstakingly researching the necessary statistics and drafting version after version until I was happy with my submitted one. *Sigh.*

Although there's still a 50% chance it may go to print, it doesn't look too good for me, and it's little less than a crushing blow considering how much of my heart and soul I put into it to convince Long Islanders that New Orleans is most certainly still an amazing vacation destination ... and that it's my first article ever not to make it into print, after being negotiated and commissioned.

But ... positive thinking?! I can still keep my fingers crossed until July passes us by and the deadline blows out the water. With my love of New Orleans, I'm really invested in this piece and hope it makes it out since people are always focusing on the negative for sensationalism today, that it's nice to be able to publicly say, "But wait! The media lies, and here's some good news that's true!"

As for things in between? Well, I've been cooking a lot, culturing my own marinades for grilling (maybe I'll even share a recipe or two as my brain melts in this heat wave ... which, by the way, I just want to point out to the Northerners who constantly say they could never move South due to the heat ...? Um, 100 degrees on South Shore Long Island the other day; 84 in New Orleans. Any comments/protests? Yeah; didn't think so!), which I've become very fond of thanks to our lovely gas-start charcoal Weber grill. Work is work is work, so that's kind of meh, but other than that, Boy and I are just gettin' by ... much like the rest of y'all.

Happy summertime, folks - what's good, bad, and just okay this season for you?

P.S. This post quotes an old song by Death Cab for Cutie, in case you're not familiar, an emo guilty pleasure of mine for when I'm feeling a little off-color or ready to paint in blues and purples. Boy says it's music that makes you want to be sad and kill yourself. I think it's only sometimes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

After Yet Another Long Hiatus

My goodness; is it June already?! It's hard for me to reconcile the date with the fact that I've been officially a New Yorker for a full year and a New Orleanian expat for that amount of time. I was looking forward to visiting the Big Easy last month for me and Boy's one-year wedding anniversary, but that ended up not panning out. However, at least it was due to happy circumstances that it wasn't to be, since apparently, May is off-season in Hawaii!

My thinking is this: East Coasters tend to travel to the Caribbean for the shorter flights and all-inclusive packages, and so Hawaii, with its year-round perfect weather, becomes a costly alternative during the spring months - better saved for the gray and dreary winters here.

So Boy and I decided that it would be the smartest thing we ever did for under a grand each (for lodging and flights) if we rang in our second year of marriage with as much aplomb as our first ... and at just as good of a bargain rate. We cheaped out on the hotel, staying at the Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa, which was only a three-star hotel, two short blocks from the beach and one short block from the picturesque hotel. We banked on getting a free upgrade (score!) for our anniversary, and paid to upgrade to the next level. The original room was motel-esque, tiny with a dark shower stall, crooked sink, and a full-size bed. Clean, but ... ick.

Because we were already upgraded one level, it was a matter of only fifty more dollars to get the suite, which had a sitting area, larger bathroom with tub, king-sized bed, and a corner view of Diamond Head. Granted, from this room we no longer had a view of the ocean, but the canal was still picturesque and for that amount of change ... duh, it was a no-brainer.

As for me, part of the reason I'd decided to go with this hotel is because I'm all about value and all about free food. The free breakfast sold me, but due to a combination of jet-lag and insane, ass-crack-of-dawn, we ironically ended up missing the free breakfast almost every day! However, it wasn't that big of a loss. The to-order pancakes smelled delicious, but the muffins lost my interest after the first day, and I wasn't on vacation to eat fruit - I was on vacation to be a fat-ass in all my newly tankini'd glory.

We stayed in Waikiki Beach, Oahu for a week, exploring some of the most beautiful beaches, interesting culture, and stunning landscapes in the world, including an all-day trip to the lava fields and volcanoes of the Big Island, and sampling out-of-the-way food throughout. More to come, I swear, on all of this, as soon as I find my camera again. It's been M.I.A. since we got back at the end of May, in protest perhaps, of the abuse I rained upon it during our weeklong trip to paradise.

The synopsis, though, is this: Oahu is all they say it is, and I can't wait to revisit. Me, the vacationer that doesn't want to double-dip destinations for fear of wasting an opportunity, wants to go back. That should say something. But the food, the fooooood, is amazing. Fresh fish, great greens, beautiful fruit that falls from the sky like a true land of bounty. Seriously, more to come, peppered with pictures of the perfection that is the South Pacific.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Greek, Gyros, Grape Leaves, Good!

I have to say, with all the coupons and circulars flying around (apparently, as a renter in New Orleans, I was not an ideal recipient of these kinds of things, but as a homeowner, I'm the target audience ... go figure), it's been easier to force myself out of my comfort zones to try new restaurants and explore the neighborhoods I already love but don't know anything about even after living on the South Shore of Long Island for half a year now. However, as readers here know, I get on my kicks and tend to stay on them for some time, boring y'all with different stories about the same food on a particularly bad bender (fried shrimp po-boy homages, anyone?) until Boy pushes me out of my happy rut.

Well, a similar situation caused me to finally try a place called the Aegean Cafe (if you click, make sure the sound is off, by the way) in the picturesque village of Sayville since we found this kickass coupon for "Buy 2 Gyros, Get a Small Greek Salad Free!" So since I was craving Greek salad from rival restaurant Greek Islands in Holbrook (their vinaigrette is so light, and honestly, kind of nostalgic for me of salad I've eaten in my youth), Boy urged me to consider going somewhere new. And so we did.

After passing by the restaurant twice due to the building numbers being all the fuck over the place and being distracted by all the cute boutiques, restaurants, and shops on Main Street, I scored a sweet parking spot almost right in front of the restaurant and was delighted to find that my silly driving around made me eligible for after-6 pm parking (no one-hour limits for me!) and took a picture of the facade to the confusion and disdain of two snotty-looking women sitting in the front window.

We came in, were greeted, and seated on the right side of the restaurant, away from the snotty women with the puss-faces, and in direct view of the takeout area, with tantalizing smells wafting my way through the stacked wine bottles directly in front of me. A big sheet of oversized cuts of baklava was visible, and stacks of boxes of almond cookies for $9.95 piled on the counter. Always promising!

An older lady with a slight accent was our server, and we showed her our coupon, which we'd neglected to read the fine print on being so distracted by the large "FREE!" on it -- and realized we couldn't get the free salad since that was for takeout only (weird that this is the case, whereas Buona Fortuna was the opposite, and was less appealing of a place to eat in). However, I was delighted that I could still add a Greek salad to my meal for only a few dollars.
Anyway, we started off with some sort of chickpea salad in an onion-y vinaigrette-y type of dressing that we spooned onto our hot, fluffy pita bread. Greek Islands in Holbrook had also had this, which I am a little curious about since Zorba the Greek, one of Long Island's more long-standing Greek places on the North Shore, and any of the Mediterranean places I'd ever visited in New Orleans, had never had such a thing.  The texture of whole chickpeas, I find vaguely satisfying in the way that only whole legumes can, and the onions were sweet next to the delicious tartness of the vinaigrette.

We ordered stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) which came with a creamy Greek yogurt sauce (tzatziki) with fresh mint in it, and more hot pitas. The lemon juice on the grape leaves gave them the acidic zest you need and I love, which was nicely countered by the mild cucumber yogurt sauce and puffy pita bread. The rice and herbs within the leaves were supremely tasty, and packed firmly enough not to fall apart when you cut into each dolmade, yet not so firm as to be hard.

Gyros were ordered by the both of us, and I added a Greek salad to mine (making the $8-and-change gyro a roughly $12 platter), requesting that Boy add fries to his for the same total price. He obliged me, and I agreed to share my salad with him. All was good.

The salad came out quickly, and although the vinaigrette was not as good as Greek Island in Holbrook, our Aegean Grill in Sayville did not disappoint. A hefty handful of red onions topped off big slices of fresh tomatoes and a pile of Feta cheese, and a pepperoncini and black olives added to the overall Greek-ness of the salad (I like the associated flavors they give to the salad, but don't actually eat them other than to roll them around a lot to push some flavor onto the lettuce leaves). It was crunchy, fresh, and big - what more could you ask? I had originally been craving a grilled salmon Greek salad, but, mmm, gyro ...

And that's what came out next. Big, overstuffed pitas hit the table, veritable cornucopias of fresh, clean veggies to lighten the rich, oily aromas of the slow-roasted lamb and beef mixture. The pitas at Aegean Cafe were consistently warm thoughout the whole meal, and this was no exception. Enveloping luscious, slightly crisped 'round the edge, thick shavings of flavorful meat, this gyro was juicy, meaty, and left nothing to be desired. It was all there, baby, from the generous dollop of tzatziki sauce oozing out the middle to the celebration of lettuce and red onions popping out the top.

Main course aside, it was rather fortunate that I hadn't gotten my own fries, piggy-pig-pig that I am, since $3 and change got you a dinner-plate full of the golden brown, diner-cut goodies. They were perfectly fried, well drained of excess oil, loudly crispy on the surface, and soft and hot in the middle.

In all, aside from the fact that they don't serve baba ganoush (which, I admit, isn't an exactly fair expectation considering it's an Arab dish and not Greek ... Damn you, Lebanon's Cafe, for confusing and spoiling me for five years! *Shakes fist.*), unlike the Mediterranean place, Bayshore Mediterranean Grill, run by the sweetest sweet gentlemen in Bay Shore (who gave me a free rice pudding just for coming by on a quiet night) this meal was a win all the way around. Thumbs up - now excuse me while I think about the appalling amount of food I just ate and attempt to be appropriately sorrowful about it.

Aegean Cafe
35 Main Street
Sayville, NY 11782

Greek Islands Restaurant
315A Main Street
Holbrook, NY

Zorba the Greek
572 Jefferson Plaza
Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776

Bayshore Mediterranean Grill Restaurant
164 E. Main Street
Bay Shore, NY 11706
(631) 647-4466

Friday, April 16, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Buona Fortuna Indeed

It's difficult on Long Island to make a name for yourself in the most stereotypical genres of food. Chinese food struggles to distinguish itself from the competitors that come in every shopping center; bagel shops work hard to keep their heads above the rest; delis are many as the hairs on my head. Italian restaurants of the pizza place variety, as quintessential as the other places just named, are no different. With one seemingly at every street corner, each of them with the same "New York pizza" crust advantage, it makes you really wonder what sets one place apart from its nearby neighbor.

Boy and I went out tonight to find out just that, armed with a coupon that's been sitting in our random drawer for a couple of months now. I was on a cooking spree for quite some time, until I went on my recent Lean Cuisine spree (I still haven't stopped hiccuburping, by the way, but it got a little better when my portions became more human-ready rather than Sasquatch-satisfying, hence the Lean Cuisine, with the convenience of pre-counted calories and portion limitations), and finally, as of last week, I've been on a local restaurant kick. That long sentence above, though, is just basically an excuse as to why I haven't been eating out, but there's no good reason, other than my laziness and the frenetic wedding activity surrounding my in-laws for Boy's brother's impending nuptials.

Anyway ... I digress, as per usual.

We had a coupon mailed to us some time ago by a place called Buona Fortuna, along with a lovely letter,  and had been holding on to it for the next time we'd felt like pizza. It was a great coupon - a free one-topping pie! Who can beat that?! The one and only catch? Must dine in. Um ... duh, no problems there!

Well, we headed on out tonight, Boy more stoked than I (I'd wanted chicken from Carrabba's - I had a coupon for that, too - lol. Home-ownership comes hand in hand with coupon clipping habits, I've found. Whatever; I'm only thismuch ashamed), to check out this Bohemia shop. At first glance, we were a wee bit wary, and curious as to why the coupon stipulations was that we eat in. A little dim shop in a nondescript and slightly depressing shopping center in a pretty residential neighborhood, it was at first appearance the typical neighborhood joint. Seemed a little run-down, with the hard little booth seating, small counter, and a wee bit cramped.

We stepped up to the counter and ordered our pizza as we pondered our additional eating choices from the folded Buona Fortuna takeout menu, since I was still determined to, at some point, eat chicken. I'd wanted Italian, damnit, and I was gonna get it! The guy behind the counter was busy, but nice and patient, and he threw our pizza into the oven while we thought. Boy and I finally settled on the Chicken Cacciatore after a heated dispute about Chicken Francaise and Chicken Parm, and were told that there'd be a twenty minute wait. Again, we wondered about the eat-in clause.

We wandered around Buona Fortuna's mini shopping center (not much to see ... a laundromat with outdated machines; Handy Pantry; and a bar that boasted live music on Fridays, which could be exciting) and circled back and picked a table and proceeded to wait for our food, like good boys and girls. By this time, it was getting packed since 7 pm is a kickass time to have dinner. Families were being served all over the place, and Boy and I began to hope that this was one of those beloved neighborhood holes in the wall (although the inside was given much greater care than the out, with newer stone walls - which unfortunately darkened the place - clean, new ceiling tile, quartz dining tables, and spotless mirrored walls).

Evidently, it was, and a fantastic value to boot. The salad they served with the dinner (which we opted for rather than the ziti or spaghetti) was sizeable and came with a big dose of balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Shredded mozzarella cheese, peperoncinis, black olives, crunchy romaine lettuce, bite-sized tomatoes and cucumbers, and roasted red peppers topped the salad, which also was accompanied by sweet, crusty Italian sesame-seeded bread and a big hunk of restaurant butter. It crunched satisfyingly, as a light, sweetly scented steam arose, and was fa-fricking-boosh with the tart vinaigrette and refreshing vegetables.

The chicken came out shortly thereafter, and it was no f-ing joke. Three and a half large, thin-cut chicken breasts came in a deep, sauce-covered plate that was roughly the size of this MacBook I'm typing on. Tender, juicy, and just brimming with the flavor absorbed from the rich, somewhat greasy (but in a good way) sauce that was chock-full of softened green peppers, carmelized onions, stewed whole tomatoes, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and generous chunks of baby portabella mushrooms, this was a dish worth fighting over. Which is, of course, what we did, with Boy making vague promises of each bite being "the last one" as he stuffed his remaining pieces of bread with chunks of chicken and vegetables. Fortunately, the veggies were plentiful (I had a piece of pepper and mushroom for every bite until the very end!), as was the sauce and chicken, and I nearly called it quits with one chicken breast in my belly.

We were half done with the whole thing, when out comes who seems to be the owner (Mario, I think his name was) with a plate of garlic knots for the family of five sitting diagonally from us who had ordered two pies. I eyed them covetously, so golden and glistening were they, and this jolly fellow seemed to read my mind and brought out a plate for both me and Boy and the couple (a normal lady, and a very dramatic gentleman who was obviously showing off his pizza connection to his date as he flounced around in a floor-length, women's cut leather trenchcoat ...) across the way from us. I was appeased, and the soft, doughy garlic knots, fresh, light, and sweet (garlic notwithstanding) were delicious and a pleasant change from the overcooked, thrice-baked garlic knots I'm used to getting when I try new places.

We'd almost forgotten about the meatball pizza we'd ordered until Boy mentioned it at the counter. This Mario fellow hadn't realized that it was ours, and hastened to bring it to us with his apologies. We were far from hungry at this point, and pushed ourselves to do just one slice each. Victory!

The sauce was good, but the crust was a little doughy. The meatballs were good in a gyro-esque way, with a tantalizing seasoning blend, and well distributed over the gooey cheese. A few minutes in the toaster oven, and we're sure this pizza will be kickass for breakfast tomorrow morning. (Ahh, the college diet ... good times!)

We finally go up to pay Mario, who'd been keeping busy just giving his customers free food and wine and other happy sundries, and presented him with the pizza coupon. He took it, but instead, charged us for the pizza (which was in the $14 range) and gave us our dinner (salad, chicken, bread, garlic knots, soda) for free. Free! So Boy did the right thing and gave him a 30-spot for the service and all the goodies, which these guys so rightly deserved. After all, the meal was only $16 for the whole thing anyway, so we still made out.

Needless to say, the dinner was really awesome - the flavors were great, the portions ginormous, and the ingredients so obviously fresh - and we'll be visiting the locally-owned, neighborhood spot Buona Fortuna in Bohemia again soon. Mario did mention that he makes a really great Francaise sauce, and the Chicken Marsala that couple was eating definitely looked like a plateful of happy. Don't you love when you find a new place and it's good, and staffed with good people? It really can brighten a day. Power to the mom and pops, and small businesses of the world!

Buona Fortuna Pizza 
 876 Church Street
Bohemia, NY 11716-5025 
(631) 567-9600

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: My First Hamptons Restaurant Week Dinner!

How quickly does time fly. It seems just a week ago that I was mourning missing Long Island Restaurant Week when lo and behold, Hamptons Restaurant Week was already begun! Always a little behind the times here on Long Island (miss you, NOLA network, with your close communication, great PR placement, and worthy email blasts!), I actually got wind of Hamptons Restaurant Week a full week before it kicked off, which was an accomplishment to be proud of. This gave me adequate time to scope out my choices and make the most informed decision possible.

After much poring over maps and menus, only some of which were accessible directly from the site, I chose to make my reservation at 1 North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays. Their restaurant week menu looked like the best bang for the buck in terms of high-end, high quality. Granted, part of the appeal of sucking up the hour-plus drive out East was the option of $19 prix fixe menus, but for food that was a bit more grown-up? Well, the more common $25 prix fixe just made more sense.

I had originally planned to make my reservation for Saturday night, which would allow us to maximize our trip to the Hamptons since most of the beaches out East are dog-friendly until Memorial Day. We could then take Little B (my Baxter Bear) out for some fun in the sun before Boy and I had some grown-up time. However, a particularly horrendous week and my inability to remember to call after 5 pm to make the reservation led to our running off on Friday instead.

One part of the appeal of the Hamptons and Long Island's picturesque East End towns is the rustic country-ness of the whole area. Woods, canals, beaches, towering pine barrens, and country estates and horse property make up this area that is still not (and hopefully will never be) fully developed. But on the other hand, in a world where directions are no longer requested due to our overwhelming dependence on technology ... well, let's just say not everything is yet mapped correctly out there.

I typed into my trusty GPS Juliet (that's her British name; when I switch over to American, she's Abigail) the address of the restaurant - 1 North Shore Road, Hampton Bays - and she finds it effortlessly. Huzzah! Thinking all is well, I do as she says, "taking the motorway" as instructed ... and end up on a dirt road in the woods.

Dead serious ... off a trailer park, onto a one-lane dirt road in the middle of the fucking woods.

Juliet asked me to continue on this for a couple of miles. I was thinking, well, maybe the restaurant is super-exclusive and on the water in a preserve, and said as much to Boy, wondering aloud how on earth they attracted business from such a remote, inhospitable locale as the underside of my car dinged and scraped along mounds of dirt. Boy was less optimistic and suggested that I turn the f- around. I did the next best thing -- I called the restaurant and asked them if, by chance, they were located off a dirt road in the woods.

They most certainly were not.

The host let me know that Juliet had inadvertently led me to what was known as OLD North Shore Road, and that I did need to turn the f- around (although not in those particular words). He very, very kindly and patiently explained to me where to go and offered to move my reservation down. I accepted his gracious offer.

I finally reached 1 North with five minutes to spare for my reservation time, and was pleased with what I found. We were atop a hill overlooking a beach and the parking lot was full. A cozy, Pottery Barn-like beach house style was the vibe of the place, and we were immediately seated. The table was a little awkward -- I do hate sitting at a small table in the middle of the floor (pictured right, but this photo was pulled off their site; the restaurant was pretty full) -- but spacious and neat. Our waters were immediately filled, and menus presented. The full menu was not unreasonably priced, and their steaks came with dry-rubbed, marinated, or plain options.

Normally, I shy away from steakhouses that look to cover up meat flavors, but ... let's just say, I've been J&Rs-ing quite often as of late and am not as much a steak snob as I used to be. And this place had gotten several good professional reviews, so what the hey. And a nice steak dinner for $25? Hey-oh!

Anyway, the bread knocked me off my feet right away - plain or sun-dried tomato and herb ciabatta. I'm normally not huge into ciabatta since it's generally hard and dense, but this was warm and the seasoned one was phenomenal. I'm talking Italian herbs exploding on your tongue with every bite, and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes with a hint of moisture and more than a hint of hot summer sun. Little butter packets are always welcome (although I do like my butter in a cup at a nice restaurant ...), but not as welcome as the FABULOUS fresh green pesto in a cup that we slathered lavishly all over our ciabatta. This was, hands-down, some of the best pesto I've ever had, right up there with the $6/cup Farmer's Market pesto I used to buy in New Orleans.

When we placed our order -- from the prix fixe of course, house-poor as we are -- I was disappointed that Boy didn't opt for the more adventurous route and instead requested the same exact meal as me from start to finish. I'd had my eye on the bacon-wrapped sea scallops over corn salsa with apricot glaze, but it wasn't alluring enough for me to rescind my choice of lobster mac and cheese, something I fell for hard at last year's Taste of the Town in New Orleans (from 5 Fifty 5, Marriott). Sadly, though, it wasn't as good as that. The Gouda added nice flavor, but also a slightly sedimentary feel, and the sauce was tasty but thin. The lobster meat was good, too, but nothing to write home about since the chunks were only fairly sized.

Other nice first course options included lobster bisque and an arugula salad with warm blue cheese croutons, apples, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette. But never a one to choose salad over comfort food, what I picked made sense to me. The pasta was firm and delicious and they were shells, which I thought was cute, since it was then lobster and shells (!).

Service was fast here, and the 18-ounce, 21-day dry-aged ribeyes came out just as Boy scooped up his last bite of the mac and cheese. Served on a metal-in-wod plate, I had some trepidation due to my last experience with metal steak plates (Charlie's in New Orleans, much? That was the first time I had to absolutely force myself, teeth fully gritted, to at least remain neutral in a Where Y'at piece), but the blood thinly oozing out the beautiful seared-in grill marks took away some of that feeling. Beautifully criss-crossed on one side and straight-lined on the other, these sizeable steaks were tender and very velvety with the soy-based marinade barely salty and much less sweet than other Long Island steakhouse marinades.

It wasn't of the melt-in-your-mouth prime quality of say, Tellers or Vintage locally; Ruth's Chris, or Mr. John's Ristorante, but it was good. After all, I could barely finish the steak, and 18 ounces is usually child's play for me when it's a cheap steak. Rich and filling, it suited its purpose, though I am ashamed that I did have to reach for my salt shaker.

However, you can't beat the deal that was offered, especially since steakhouses usually offer sides a la carte and for this large ribeye, butter sauteed asparagus and simple but delicious roasted baby red potatoes were also provided.

Feeling slightly daunted, the creme brulee came, beautifully caramelized and not at all burnt, in a deep cup of thick, luxurious custard. The flavor was delicious, but Boy mentioned that it was a bit cooler temperature-wise than he preferred, probably due to the depth of the ramekin. Sadly, I was only able to power through half of it, great as it was, due to a noticeable expansion of my actual ab muscles and the fact that I now greatly resembled a woman with a fetus.

So would I come here again? For a menu like that, absolutely, after a day at the Westhampton Beach with friends -- nothing could be better to close out a day of leisure. However, with places like the aforementioned Vintage and Tellers within reach, I'm less tempted. But no regrets! This place was definitely very good, and I'm glad that this date night worked out much, much better than the last.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eater's Remorse: Sonoma Grill Fails at Communication and Other Things

Since becoming a homeowner and a plebian (versus the status of "food writer" I was fortunate enough to enjoy in my beloved New Orleans), Boy and I have had far fewer outings to accommodate our new lifestyle as two of the newest recruits into an elite class known as the house-poor. So when we get to go out for dinner, it's a special treat, and a risk when we try someplace new.

We'd seen a shopping center Italian place advertised quite a bit in our local community ad-rags, so tempted by a prix fixe menu of only $15 for three complete courses, we narrowed down our latest scheduled adventure to Sonoma Grill on Sunrise Highway in Holbrook.

Yes, we should have known better than to choose a strip-mall joint when we had sweet little waterfront villages like Sayville, East Islip, and Islip to choose from only mere minutes away from our house. But $15! And a coupon for a free house appetizer! When all your money goes back into your house, well, you do the math. Cheap eats wins most of the time when the occasion is just that it's a Wednesday.

We were stoked to bypass our usual house-cleaning burrito tradition (Boy cleans the house because he's neat and persnickety; I reward his admirable initiative with a burrito; I also get to eat a burrito; ergo, everyone wins) to try a new restaurant instead, and had high hopes when we pulled up to the spacious restaurant to see that live music was to be played that night. Upon entering, we were greeted with a moodlit metropolitan vibe, and my spirits rose. Maybe there was hope for this shopping center restaurant. After all, diamonds in the rough wouldn't be such if there was no rough.

We were seated quickly and with courtesy, but things quickly went downhill from there. Our waitress, a middle-aged woman with teenaged hair and earrings asked us with no preamble what we wanted to drink. Not even a greeting preceded the brusque question. She left equally abruptly, and returned many moments later with our drinks and some bread and dried herbs with olive oil poured over to dip it in. It was okay.

The prix fixe menu looked pretty passable, and was far, far more affordable than the regular menu, entrees for which averaged around $18 ... a little expensive for the borderline tacky decor and serving staff in t-shirts. A few of the prix fixe selections sounded pretty good, so we decided to go with that, Boy ordering a pasta dish with sweet Italian sausage, and me ordering a grilled chicken entree with a balsamic glaze and fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. I had been leaning more towards the tilapia oreganta, but the waitress informed me that it was very small, which greatly influenced my decision.

We presented the coupon for the free appetizer, wondering if they'd honor it since the verbiage on the prix fixe menu's footer noted that no other specials could be combined with any of those selections. The waitress said that the free app "could not be combined with any other offers," to which Boy responded that the prix fixe was not an "offer" ... it was a menu. The waitress sighed frustratedly, saying that they go through this all the time, and commented snidely that "you don't want me to get the owner here to tell you."

With that attitude, Boy said, "Why not?" Normally non-combative, Boy's dander was up at being spoken to like a misbehaving child who was warned, "Don't make me tell your mom." The waitress sighed again and said she'd be right back.

Moments later, a young girl in glasses in her twenties came over with a faintly exasperated look in her eyes, and reaffirmed that "the coupon couldn't be combined with any other offers" in an extremely patronizing voice. Now that tone got my dander up, because really, who likes being sighed at and spoken to like an idiot? Boy again tried to explain that the prix fixe isn't really an OFFER, and was advertised just as a regular weekday menu, not as a promotion that made the customer exempt from any other special, and that it was wrong for it to be advertised as such and have in the fine print on the actual menu, once the customer was there, that it was exempt from all other deals. (See their verbiage on their website, and you'll see how that's misleading ...)

Getting nowhere with this and arguing more the principle than the actual app (we weren't particularly excited about the overpriced bruschetta that the house app was, but at this point, felt misled and patronized, so were not inclined to be overly cooperative), the snippy girl left to resume her server duties ("owner" my ass ... she was throwing pepper at a busboy on the floor when I passed her to go to the ladies room, and her tables were not too far from ours) and our waitress returned. She asked, "Okay, so do you want me to place the order now?"

Taken aback that the orders she took from us already were NOT in fact in the queue, I merely answered to please do so. Boy was tempted to leave after being treated so shoddily, and I, in hindsight, regret not doing so. But by then, I was already very hungry and had been waiting quite a bit to go eat and lacked to patience to start over.

The salad course was pretty standard. Boy's pasta was fine, al dente and generous in size and sausage as well as cheese, but nothing to write home about. There's something about Long Island marinara that I'm not overly fond of, since it tends to be fairly acidic, thin and strained out, and one-dimensional. Boy liked it, but I wasn't impressed.

My chicken, on the other hand, smelled fabulous and was a large butterflied chicken breast, so it was to my great disappointment to find that it was dry and overcooked, and underseasoned. I am usually of a mind that food out of the kitchen should never be tampered with, but after about five tough bites, had to reach out for the salt shaker to actively combat the blandness. For me to have to grab more seasoning is the ultimate no-no, in my experience. Seasoning should be done outside of the dining room and behind the lines.

Pro: the portions were very sizeable ... it's just a shame eating it became tedious due to the chewiness of the chicken and the lack of sensory appeal.

We took dessert to go, which was a choice of tiramisu, cannoli, or raspberry cheesecake, and the cheesecake was the winner. It was a very smooth cheesecake, rich and soft, with an oat-y textured piecrust, and the raspberry drizzle was tasty, but half an hour after I ate it, it refused to sit still in my stomach, which remained upset for the rest of the evening.

Needless to say, our next outing will be one of the quaint, picturesque restaurants in our nearby villages and we won't be patronizing this establishment again. What a wasted evening.

P.S. I'm definitely not normally this harsh, and we're not normally such pains, but you really had to be there. And obviously, it wasn't just us that felt this communication in their advertising was unclear, since as we were leaving, the table next to ours started up the same rhetoric to ultimately be rebuffed.

P.P.S. It must also be noted that not ALL of the servers were douchey ... just one section over, an exuberant, fun, and friendly young man was playing the role of "awesome waiter," to which I enviously looked over many a time during dinner and wished I were seated in his section. We wouldn't have tackily argued over a tacky coupon were we treated with the friendliness that waiter demonstrated, versus the sour attitude we encountered in our section.

Sonoma Grill
5745 Sunrise Highway 
Holbrook, NY 11741
 (631) 218-3888

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Springtime Bunnies or Great Things Come in Teeny, Tiny Packages

I had an exceptionally rough week last week. In a service-based business that deals with often intangible or immeasurable (to outsiders) labor, such as my day job's industry, web design and development, clients have a hard time understanding sometimes that things are not "just" that simple, and that adding "just" in front of a request (i.e. "Can't you just make that form work?" "We just want you to change these 80 million things in the design ... they're just small changes; can I see the revision tomorrow?") doesn't make it any simpler or any less time consuming.

So when I got my secret surprise from Sucre at the end of the week, it definitely helped take the edge off. It's funny how much excitement a simple brown box, inscribed with five simple letters, can bring. Anything that comes in a box in the mail is a gift in my mind, and the box-within-a-box of upscale companies like Sucre, as a prominent tastemaker pointed out in a meeting once, brings that thrill to a whole new level.

A teeny little aqua-y jungle green box, wrapped with a slender brown ribbon, was dug up from layers upon layers of crumpled paper (which I applaud the use of since paper is both sustainable and biodegradable whereas styrofoam packing peanuts are certainly not). This could only mean one thing -- chocolate!

I was not disappointed. Pretty, pretty little bunnies, wide-eyed and cotton-tailed, peered up from the depths of the careful packaging. Shaped out of dark chocolate, a rich, barely salted, luscious caramel center filled the lapins and oozed out, thick and viscous -- but not trailing that obnoxious and embarrassing long tail of cheap caramel -- with every bite. The label and description say the little darlings were dusted with pink, but I find that the luster was closer to a rosy-hued lavender, which is equally adorable. The small details, such as impeccable moldings and shiny airbrushed colors, is what sets this boutique artisan chocolatier apart, in my opinion. After all, if your bon-bons cost around $2 each, you expect perfection and whimsy that supports the branding, right? I know I sound like a marketing person right now, but I really do love this shop and the tastefulness and detail in every aspect of the company and its goods, which is why I send stuff from Sucre as gifts and chose them as my wedding favors (which, unfortunately, were "misplaced" -- i.e. stolen off the table -- at my wedding ...).

Anyway, it always seems that packages from Sucre come at the times I need additional cheer most, and there's just something extraordinarily uplifting about a beautiful package with sinfully delicious goods in it that make you feel like maybe, juuuuust maybe, that week was worth suffering through.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: Give Me That Fiiiiiish ... Ohhh!

So way, waaay, back in the day, in one of my first posts, I wrote a post that was essentially a comparative study of fast food fish fillet sandwiches. (You can go back in time and read it here.) And now, sadly to say, that guilty pleasure is back in my life.

The first step down that slippery slope was the return of the Wendy's fish sandwich, white cod breaded with crisp little panko crumbs and its generous size rendering an additional sandwich unnecessary. However, McDonald's must have taken note of the quality of Wendy's sandwich -- they've since engaged in an aggressive battle for fish fillet sandwich sales, the likes of which are so epic that oblivious consumers cannot even ignore.

It started with the Wendy's fish sandwich commercial, which touted the many finer points of their superior fish fillet, and got me super-psyched and put me in "must-have" mode, a condition that comes out raging when limited editions of food is announced. (If Lent is good for anything, it's a plethora of new seafood options!) Around $3-4 each, it's not a bad value compared to most Wendy's sandwiches, or compared to any large fast food sandwiches, as prices have skyrocketed in the past few years.

Enter McDonald's into the ring, with a brilliant little jingle first introduced a year ago sung by a fish on the wall, along with a promo deal for a Filet-o-Fish value meal for just $4.

And now ... it's back. As a text message! With a sweet deal of two of the fluffy soft sandwiches for only $3!

Offensive attack indeed! And good enough to make me forgive the use of the wrong "filet!"

Superior fish aside, who can turn down a bargain like that, when the other option is to get only one sandwich for what is now the price of two? Granted, you're now consuming more bread, more tartar sauce (especially freaks like me, who turn their fish sandwiches into vehicles for tartar sauce ... I literally have to ask staff to make it "disgusting" for it to be enjoyable for me), and probably equal amounts of fish, but two is always more than one ... even if it isn't, really. Even if I know that the meat per sandwich is less, or that I'm just foisting empty carb calories on myself, it's still ... two. For the price of one.

And the catchy commercial that sticks in my head just makes it even more tantalizing, each time the ditty loops in my brain creating a fresh burst of craving for a fish sandwich.

Anyway, here's the commercial for 2010, with the same two guys and the same awesome fish. Please excuse me while I take this time to eat two 380+ calorie sandwiches and oversalted fries. *Sigh.* Yes, I am weak.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Belatedly, (Super) Bowl Bash Snacking

It's such a cliche when people say that good things come in small packages. I know sometimes it's true, but when it comes to food, well ... the more food, the merrier! And so, for our first Super Bowl party, Boy and I did it up and filled every available space on our counter with vast amounts of oversized snacking. That's right ... six feet of pure sandwich goodness found itself a home.
Behold, the bounty within!:

I talk a lot about my favorite supermarket, Best Yet, who I love for the quality and value, and no better value can be had than the package Boy and I ordered for the Super Bowl. Ordinarily, I like to go to specialty shops, but pretty much everything I've gotten from their deli is trustworthy, and more importantly, I had faith that their bread was going to be good. The smell of Italian bread baking permeates the air in the front of the store on a weekend morning (when I go shopping) and they bake their own bagels. I like the kaiser rolls, but they bring those in from Modern Italian Bakery, which is fine by me since those are the particular moist-inside rolls I'm a huge fan of.

Well, for our big Bowl bash, they didn't disappoint. We ordered six feet worth of hero, one American and one half-American/half-Italian. They were packed plentifully, as you can see from the cross-section, with Boar's Head cold cuts, my cold cuts of choice, with ham, turkey, roast beef, tomato, lettuce, and cheese. It was supposed to be American cheese, but I guess they ran out since the half had yellow American and the cheese on the full was white and tasted like Munster. Italian dressing, spicy coarse mustard, and mayo came in the box with the hero, and found itself generously slathered atop  soft, moist, and chewy bread that was delectably toasty, just on the right side of burnt, forcing the sesame seeds to take on a mature, earthy flavor that was delicious on the crisp bread, which was particularly and surprisingly good on the Italian half with its spicy meats and rich flavors.

Anyway, this was the ultimate deal, since for only $30, you get one 3-foot hero came with 2/3-pounds of macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw, plus a fresh deli pickles and an olive bowl sampler from their olive bar.

We got two of these orders, so had plenty of food to go around, but unfortunately, way too many olives to be distributed, since no one attending, myself and Boy included, are particular fans of olives. I like 'em one way, and that's in a salad on a Muffuletta, no ifs, ands, or buts. The shame of it was that the pickles were pretty good, but they absorbed much of the distinctive pungency of the olives, which tainted them.

The macaroni salad was a little over mayonnaised, but that's not the deli's fault, since they clearly label it Reiser's, a wholesale brand. However, Reiser's macaroni salad is common and popular, with elbow macaroni perfectly and consistently al dente, and a nice bell pepper and celery bite adding to the level of interest.
The potato salad got rave reviews, too, and I was unable to find the room ... but I was one of the only ones since that went, to my astonishment, quicker than the macaroni salad. But in the meantime, I was gorging in the corner with Kettle Chips brand russet potato chips, which is apparently rarely available, since they're not on the site ... but were also just on this side of burnt, but in a fabulous, crunchy, smoky way. Yum!

Wings, of course, are a must-have, and a highlight of any proper football gathering, and Boy's dad obliged the crowd with a tray of wings from a shop in Selden. My little sister and I were excited since buffalo wings, with their tangy bite and delightful acidity, are one of our particular favorites, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the honey barbequed wings my father-in-law supplied were really, really good! They weren't that weird, tangy, pseudo-barbeque flavor, but actually a sweet (but not too sweet) sauce with subtle nuances of honey instead of the sickly fake honey flavor that's often found in cheap barbeque sauce.

As for Little B, don't worry - it was a cheat day for my poor little dieting dog, too, and he was awarded a massive cow's ear, the biggest I've ever seen at around 18 inches long, for his good behavior, as the rest of us proceeded to laud the invention of tequila.