Wednesday, April 22, 2009

BLT Burger


When I was in the third grade I wrote an essay about preserving a memento from each season: a snowball tucked away in the icebox, a fall leaf pressed into a Judy Blume novel, a four-leaf clover suspended in glass and a vial of water from the waterslide park. My theory was that if a season never came again, I'd always have something from it. Some 25 years later, the past winter season had started to feel like life imitating art, with cold, snowy days dragging well into April. I was beginning to feel like spring was never going to return to Salt Lake City. In dire need of some sun, we decided to head south in search of warm weather and poolside margaritas: Viva Las Vegas!

Enjoy the sun we did, but after taking a gander at the pool's food menu we decided to make our way to BLT Burger, Laurent Tourendel's adaptation of the American burger joint. Plunked down inside The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip, the dimly lit spot offers a nice blend of classic and creative fare--with some great people watching.

Campfire Marshmallows Milkshake - $7

Vanilla ice cream and toasted marshmallows. Little slivers of marshmallow even slid up the straw, adding to drink's authenticity. I only wish it had been delivered a little closer to when the burger was, and without such a heafty price tag.

The Classic With Blue Cheese - $13

7oz. grilled certified Black Angus beef. The meat was well-seasoned and had a nice beefy flavor, but could have been a tad more moist. The bun on the other hand was just right: soft and flavorful without overpowering the beef.

Turkey Burger with Blue Cheese - $12

All white meat natural turkey breast ground with fresh herbs. The adjective that keeps coming to mind with this one is wholesome, which I realize is somewhat ironic considering the surroundings. But the turkey was cooked to perfection, tasted pure and simple and didn't feel like a gut bomb when it came time to get back into my swimsuit.

- K

BLT Burger

3400 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Braised Octopus with Lemon Risotto

Braised Octopus Risotto

Weekends at our house just aren't complete without a trip to Aquarius Fish Co. At the very minimum, a dozen oysters--enjoyed on the half-shell with a bottle of bubbly--is a menu staple. Beyond that, given that the market's seafood selection changes daily, we don't always know going in just what's for dinner: in fact, many meals are developed in the car on the way home.

On a recent visit to Aquarius we had the good fortune of picking up a frozen octopus. At $2.99 a pound (and weighing in at two pounds) it looked more like a Bocce ball than dinner, but J had a vision. Inspired by a dish at San Francisco's Quince, he set out to prepare braised octopus with his own twist: served on a bed of lemon risotto. The evolution went something like this:

Braised Octopus:

One 2-lb. octopus
Two cups dry white wine
One white onion (chopped)
One cup tomatoes (skinned and chopped)
Two garlic cloves (sliced)
One lemon (zested and juice reserved)
Four Tbsp. olive oil (combined)
One tsp. paprika
Two bay leaves
One tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Rinse octopus and cut tentacles from the head. Slice tentacles into one inch pieces and discard smaller end pieces. Combine octopus pieces with two tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss and coat well. Cover and marinate for about 30 minutes.

After the octopus has marinated, heat remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and bay leaves and cook until onion is translucent (about eight minutes). Add white wine, tomatoes and octopus. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour and a half until octopus is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. (The longer and slower it is cooked, the more tender the octopus will become.)

As for the lemon risotto recipe, J reached for this adaptation of one from Da Filippo in Sorrento, courtesy of Saveur.

The octopus was meaty and rich without the potential "rubbery" texture that can occur if not cooked properly. While the zesty, creamy lemon risotto was a unique accompaniment, in the future J would consider "lightening" the dish up a bit by using a linguine instead. Nonetheless, the meal was a definitive departure from the tacos we'd been eating all week, and a fun entrée into preparing octopus at home.

- K

Aquarius Fish Co.

314 West Broadway
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
M-F 11-7, Sat 10-5

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Hello Cupcake

Hello Cupcake, goodbye DC! On our final day in the nation's capital we took a stroll through Dupont Circle, where we happened upon this Connecticut Avenue purveyor of gourmet cupcakes made fresh throughout the day. Despite a cupcake breakfast at Baked & Wired, we couldn't resist bidding our trip adieu with one last treat.

Coconut Cupcake 2
Triple Coconut Cupcake - coconut cake, coconut cream cheese frosting and crunchy toasted coconut frosting: $3

When Hello Cupcake owner Penny Karas says coconut x 3 she means it, and I embraced the authenticity of this little number, complete with coconut flakes baked into the cake itself. Karas clearly focuses on creating high-quality baked goods from the inside out, beginning with ingredients like Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and fresh eggs--and not a trace of trans fat. Frosting means real butter and real cream cheese. Only then does she focus on the "finishing touches" as she refers to them in the anatomy of a Hello Cupake: the sprinkles and sweets that trim her cupcakes, rather than comprise them. The result is a selection of more than 50 unique flavors, each created with the knowledge that a pretty exterior is great, but it's what's inside that counts.

- K

Hello Cupcake
1351 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Founding Farmers


Founding Farmers sounded great in concept: owned by a co-op of more than 42,000 farmers, the restaurant promises fresh food prepared with the products from its founding family farms, ranches and fisheries. Its space on Pennsylvania Avenue in DC is even LEED certified. As we walked there for Sunday brunch, we were confident this was going to be a memorable experience. And it was...memorable...just not in the way we were expecting.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, we were a little surprised to see one of its employees bent over the bushes outside, puking. The point when she made eye contact with us and went back to hurling really should have been our sign to keep walking. But we were just so curious about the place that we went in anyway, figuring our chances of this woman actually being our server had to be pretty low, right?

%$()# as I will call her for purposes of this post, greeted us at our table with the same bloodshot eyes that moments earlier had acknowledged us from the shrubs outside. She nonchalantly gestured behind her to describe the restaurant's pre-prohibition era style bar, complete with professional mixologists. After watching her performance outside, the last thing we wanted was a drink. However never ones to make a fuss at a restaurant, we managed to momentarily shrug it off in the interest of a highly-anticipated meal.

Deviled Eggs, Founding Farmers
Devil-ish Eggs - $4

Cornbread, Founding Farmers
Skillet Cornbread - $5

About halfway through our appetizers, %$()# was back outside our window, within the view of the entire side of the restaurant, hurling. We watched in disbelief as she made three separate trips back outside, between refilling coffee and water, to barf in the bushes. I am not even sure she washed her hands. Was there not a private employee bathroom of some kind that she could use? How "back-to-the-land" is this place, I am wondering at this point. Suffice to say, as the server lost her cookies, we lost our appetites. In fact, we were just about to fold and ask for the check when our entrees were delivered: a burger for J, pumpkin risotto and seared scallops for me. I didn't think anything could keep me from loving every minute of eating scallops, but a chunk of upchuck on the server's cheek proved me wrong.

We got through the meal, paid the bill and on our way out, asked to speak to the manager on shift. Her response: "Yes, I can't believe %$()# is working when she is so sick...we have been trying to get her off the floor all morning." At this point it occurred to me that our server might have a serious case of the flu, rather than a nasty hangover, and the absurdity of the situation hit an entirely new low. We left Founding Farmers absolutely shell-shocked and incredibly disappointed.

Days later I still could not get over the blatant disregard this server apparently had for the restaurant, its food and customers. I was compelled to email the general manager to inform him of our experience. In his prompt response he agreed that a member of his staff puking in the bushes outside is not good publicity for the restaurant, and offered to host us back at Founding Farmers, his treat. While we won't be visiting DC anytime soon, his response was sincere enough to suggest that Founding Farmers might be worthy of a second chance.

- K

Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20006

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar


Whether at home or away, come 5 o'clock Friday I am ready to unwind with a glass of wine. So during a recent trip to DC we got the weekend started by bellying up to the bar at Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar.

Mendocino's menu is quite small, with just four appetizers, three salads and seven entrees to choose from. But its artisinal cheese menu branches out a bit further, offering flights from a selection of blue, goats, sheep and cows milk cheeses. Accents like huckleberry preserve, kumquat marmalade, spiced nuts and warm olives can be added for $3 a pop.

Mendicino Cheese Plate
Cheese Flight - $18 for four. From left: Great Hill Blue, Piper's Pyramid, Noble Amish Cheddar and Nancy's Camembert

Each of the four created a completely different marriage of flavors when paired with the fig paste or huckleberry preserve (not shown). There weren't any "Happy Hour" specials to be found, but given that we live in Salt Lake City, any hour spent in a proper bar is a happy one.

- K

Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar
2917 M Street
Washington, DC 20007

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