Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Waitress Was Impressed. Story of My Life.

Allston Diner - Allston, MA

     From the outside, you'd never guess what a gem this place is. After the internet lied to be about their hours, and splitting a donut appetizer across the street, Mary and I were the first people in the door Tuesday morning after pieces. It was a tiny little place, but it had a cozy, retro diner feel. The tables looked like they were all covered in something different. Ours had old comic book clippings. So neat.
The awesome table top
Chicken & Cornbread Waffle
"I can't believe we just ate all that."

      I had a $30 Groupon, so we came prepared for a smorgasbord. Large OJ to start. My must-haves were the cornbread waffle and the biscuits and gravy. We also couldn't pass up the Nutella Garden. When everything arrived, it was as if they let out the bulls. I like eating with Mary because she's focused just like me. Food goes straight from plate to mouth. Minimal talking, and if there is talking it's about how delicious the food is.
      Let's start with the cornbread waffle. We had decided to forgo the fried chicken on top, but the dish we were served had the chicken anyway. Needless to say it was a glorious mistake. Those fried chicken strips were just insane. Maybe it's because I haven't had something meaty and fried like that in a while, but it blew my mind. The chicken was juicy, tasted clean, and the coating was super crisp. It was perfect. The cornbread waffle basically tasted like standard cornbread. I wouldn't say it's anything to write home about but definitely worth the try. Way after we were done eating, Mary and I both realized we never actually tried the cornbread and chicken together. We were just so in awe at how good the chicken was, especially with some of the sausage gravy from the biscuits and gravy. Guess we'll have to go back.
     Speaking of which... what in the world did they do to that gravy?!?? It was out of control. It was so delicious and fluffy and full of sausage. I have no idea what made it so fluffy. You've probably never heard anyone describe gravy as fluffy, but I'm telling you... it was. Biscuits were standard, gravy won gold.
     Lastly, the Nutella Garden. In the picture it looks like a regular stack of pancakes.... oh no. It was two hefty pancakes with nutella, peanut butter, bananas and strawberries in between with a mountain of whipped cream on top. Oh man, it was like they attempted to put all the best flavor combinations into one dish. The warmed nutella and peanut butter melted and the fruit was warm. It was absolutely heavenly.
     The three dishes went so well together but were so different. The biscuits and gravy were incredibly savory. The chicken and waffle was hearty, and the nutella garden was a sweet treat. We scraped every crumb off those plates. The waitress was seriously impressed. Story of my life.

Tasty Burger - Cambridge, MA

The Big Tasty, Onion Rings and Fries
    It was the Saturday after our first 2x6k. After practice finished around 12:30, we all went home and died for a bit. Joan and I had planned to make a trip that evening to the new Tasty Burger in Harvard Square. I had actually been there once before (and got a chicken sandwich... uh... why?) but let's not discuss that. So Joan, Tiffany, Sarah and I headed down to Harvard Square to experience this new hot spot. I ordered the Big Tasty which had cheese, lettuce, pickle, onion, tomato, and Tasty sauce. They weren't kidding about the cheese. So much of it and it was ooey-gooey yummy. It was exactly what I was expecting. Nothing fancy. The 1/3 pound burger was cooked just to my liking (a little pink inside), it had a hefty chunk of tomato on it, and diced onions. I really like when burger joints use diced onions because I get a little bit of onion in every bite without risking pulling out the entire onion ring by my inability to cut it with my chompers. Their "tasty sauce" is also mighty tasty. Apparently they make it in house. 
     The burger as a whole was so incredibly satisfying. To top it all off, I got a half order of french fries and a half order of onion rings. The fries are fresh cut, perfectly salty, soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. Can't really get much better. The onion rings were really thinly cut with a light batter on them. I can't stay I've ever had onion rings like that before, and I'm normally into the thicker onion rings, but I'll say ... these thin babies hold a new special place in my hard. So fabulous. 

***Out of Towners***

Cherry Blossom Japanese Restaurant - Novi, MI

Skewers (left to right): Shiitake mushroom, garlic, chicken
stomach, chicken liver, pork, chicken skin

      Most people can't believe that my dad has never had real sushi. But I feel like going out to get really good sushi has become more popular in the last 10 years. Either way, while I was home, we decided to go. Little did I know what kind of an experience it would turn out to be. We chose this restaurant in Novi called Cherry Blossom. We were a little nervous at first, because we arrived around 5:30 and were the only ones there. But, my dad was so excited about trying all these new things, and I was excited to share the experience. First they served us some hot tea. We smelled it and it smelled like fish, so my dad made it a point to get the waitress back to ask her what kind it was. She said it was green tea. We laughed. I'm assuming it just smelled like fish because everything in that place smelled like fish. 
Seaweed Salad
     To start we order 6 little skewers with salt on each item, as opposed to a sauce. We got garlic, shiitake mushroom, chicken liver, chicken stomach, chicken skin and pork. The pork was probably my favorite. It was so succulent. The shittake mushrooms were cool too. I had never had them before, but these were just lightly roasted and soft. The liver tasted just like liver, and the skin tasted just like what I could imagine. Chewy, crispy fatty skin. Delish.
     Then we got started talking about salad and my dad wanted to try the seaweed salad, so we got a little mini salad. Man, this stuff was SO good! It makes me want to start eating seaweed as I'm swimming now. There were probably about 3 different types of seaweed leaves in the salad itself. The texture was just as you'd expect, mildly chewy, and the dressing seemed to be some sort of light sweet vinegar. Kind of felt like I was eating tentacles. I was delighted. 

Alligator Roll
Spider Roll

     Next to the table were our first rolls. This may be tough to recall, but we got the Spider roll (softshell crab tempura, avocado, cucumbers and a spicy sauce), Alligator roll (shrimp inside and tuna draped over the top with a heafty dose of green onions), Sunkissed roll (avocado, cucumbers and maybe something else inside, roe on top. I love popping the little baby eggs in between my teeth). The alligator roll was my favorite out of this bunch. The combination of the shrimp, tuna, the green onions and the delicious sauce it was all bathing in was just delicious. It was a good first round. 
Softshell Crab
     After a brief experience with softshell crab in the Spider roll, my dad wanted to try softshell crab on its own, so we got a plate of that too. Truthfully, I didn't know you ate the entire crab, shell and all. It was delicious though! They were pretty small, so there wasn't much meat involved. It was more just tasty fried skeleton. Don't judge. It's like eating shrimp tails. Why does no one else other than the members of my family eat shrimp tails?! 
(top to bottom)  Raw scallops, Firecracker roll, Dragon
roll, raw shrimp
     Our second round included what we think were our two favorite rolls. One of these two was the Dragon roll, which had eel on the outside and cucumbers, crab and avocado on the inside. The eel was so tasty and the cream cheese and crab mix went so well with it. It's really hard to describe sushi partly because it's hard to recall all the ingredients, and also because it's next to impossible. It's impossible to describe the sensations you feel based on the flavor combinations and locations within each roll. I'm convinced it truely is an art. The second roll we got in this round was the Firecracker roll which had spicy tuna on top, potentially a scallop inside (I can't remember) and a jalapeno on top. Both the Dragon roll and the Firecracker roll stole the show. Each bite was so heavenly. 
     Also on the plate with our two last rolls, came 4 raw shrimp and 2 raw scallops all placed on top of a block of sticky rice. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother cooking seafood. Those dang raw scallops were incredible! They were not chewy and they had a ton of pure scallop flavor. It truely was a thing of beauty. The shrimp were pretty good too, but the texture was a little bit more gummy, if you know what I mean. Definitely worth the try though. 
Red Bean Ice Cream and Mochi Green Tea
Ice Cream
     We were so stuffed by this point (ok well I was) but dessert was definitely not out of the question. I recommended that my dad got the red bean ice cream and I got the mochi ice cream with green tea ice cream inside. The red bean ice cream was delicious and different and he really liked it. If you're not familiar with mochi ice cream, it's basically a ball of ice cream inside this gooey, chewy rice coating. Completely weird. I loved the green tea ice cream, but wasn't sure how to eat/handle the rice shell. 
     Overall, it was a phenomenal experience. My dad absolutely loved it. Being a health conscious man and a raw foods advocate, he really enjoyed how clean everything felt. It was all simple ingredients thrown together in a complex way. Every few seconds I'd look up from my plate to see him shaking his head in disbelief at how awesome his meal was. I felt really fortunate and was really glad I could introduce him to the sushi world. At the same time, I was super appreciative of the time he took to do this with me, as well as his enthusiasm to try new things. Definitely one for the memory book. 

Early Bird Cafe - Keego Harbor, MI

Country Skillet

     Four and a half hours of dancing makes for one hungry lady the morning after. Only a few days after arriving in Michigan, I met up with Meagan, Marc and Todd for some brunch at a little place called The Early Bird Cafe. I had never heard of the place, but wanted to find a place with a hometown diner feel. The line was out the door when we arrived, but we had some time to kill, so we waited it out. This place had to be good. 
The best orange juice ever and the sweetest
hot plate
     The inside was just adorable. It was covered in roosters, floor to ceiling. Totally home-y. Marc and I spotted a juicer with oranges and knew we had to get some of their fresh squeezed OJ. It was phenomenal! So unlike any OJ you buy in the store. It tasted so pure and fresh. The waitresses were bringing out skillet after skillet and I knew that was what I had to get. I went with the Country Skillet which had potatoes, green peppers, onions, sausage and 3 fried eggs on top. Before bringing out the piping hot skillet, the waitress brought me the cutest cast iron hot plate (with a rooster on it of course). When the skillet finally arrived it was still slightly bubbling. I asked for the eggs sunny side up so I could make them ooze all over the rest of the dish, and they cooked them just perfectly. Absolutely delicious. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd say "homestyle." It was actually very similar to the skillet hash dish I got at Deep Ellum back in Beantown, but I can't compare the two. Each dish was perfect and fitting for the environment and ambiance in which it was served. 

Pretzel Nuggets and Jalapeno Cheese Dip - White Lake, MI

Pretzel Nugget with Jalapeno Cheese Dip
     While home for Christmas break, a bunch of my old college buddies and I had a Christmas gathering and I needed to bring a dish. After browsing my pinterest, I settled on Pretzel nuggets and a jalapeno cheese sauce. I was super pumped because I'm ridiculously in love with pretzels.  I was also really excited because I had someone special to help me out. After not realizing the dough had to rise so long, Jake and I finally got to the point where we could start rolling out the dough. As opposed to making the standard pretzel twist, we rolled them into big logs, played with the logs a little bit, and cut them up into nugget shapes. After boiling them in the baking soda solution (which I think is key), they browned up perfectly and got a little crisp on the bottom. As expected they were the bomb straight out of the oven. Warm and fluffy. The cheese sauce was super easy to make too. Aside from the time it takes to let the dough rise, this is a really quick and easy dish to bring to parties.... or to just eat all yourself. 

Pretzel Nuggets and Jalapeno Cheese Dip

1 package rapid-rise yeast (must be rapid-rise)
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
3 cups bread flour (16 1/2 ounces)
1 cup water, at approximately 110 degrees
Approximately 1 T olive oil

Baking Soda Solution:
Approximately 6 cups water
3 T baking soda
Salt for sprinkling on pretzels

1) Combine all ingredients for the dough.  Mix until combined and then knead about 5-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Prepare a separate bowl by coating with olive oil, transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat evenly.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about one hour or until doubled in size.  Punch dough down, recover and let rise approximately 30 minutes more.

2) In a large pan bring water and baking soda to a boil over medium high heat.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or just grease it up a little).

3) Separate dough into as many pieces as you think necessary and roll each piece into a long string. At this point, either fold pretzels into shape, twisting the ends over each other and pressing lightly to seal dough into shape or cut into nuggets. 

4) Transfer pretzels, a few at a time to boiling water, cook 30 seconds on each side, turning with a slotted spoon, drain and transfer to prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and repeat until all the pretzels have been boiled.  

5) Bake approximately 12-14 minutes until dark golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve.

Jalapeno Cheese Sauce

1 T unsalted butter
1 T flour
3/4 cup milk
1 clove garlic, finely grated or minced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
1 cup Colby Jack cheese
1/2 -1 tsp cayenne pepper

In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add flour and whisk to combine, cooking about one minute until smooth.  Add milk, whisking to incorporate.  Add garlic and jalapeno.  Switch to a wooden spoon and stir frequently until thickened, about 15 minutes.  The sauce should begin to coat the back of the spoon.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Add cayenne pepper to taste.

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