Archive for October, 2009

Hit or Miss

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Cati and I went on a double date to Eve a few weeks back.  Some of you may have seen Chef Eve Aronoff on Bravo’s Top Chef Las Vegas this season.  Eve didn’t do so hot (she was eliminated on the 2nd episode).  Which is really too bad, because I think she is really quite talented.  We have had some incredible food at her eponymous restaurant in the Kerrytown neighborhood of Ann Arbor

On our last visit, dinner was uneven.  There were some excellent dishes mixed in with some mediocre ones.  We are good friends with the couple with whom we dined, so plates and loaded forks were passed around the table all night. I gave Eve (the restaurant) a more thorough review a few months back, so to avoid redundancy, I’ll keep this one brief.  

We started with a California Zinfandel.  It was musty so we asked for a decanter to help it air-out.  We realized that the decanter wasn’t helping and the bottle was corked.  We sent the bottle back for a fresh one and our server was happy to oblige.  So remember readers, if your wine tastes like a wet basement, don’t be shy, send it back– these things happen.  Another bottle of the same wine was brought out and it was excellent. 

We started with a pair of appetizers for the table– in addition to the fresh-baked bread and three flavored butters. We ordered the “Aromatic Lamb.” It’s described in the menu as a “sweet, savory and spicy ground lamb with pine nuts and golden raisins rolled in brik pastry and dressed with a salad of fresh spinach and mint.”

The dish looked like a boring ol’ mound-o-spinach when it was brought to the table, but…

it was fantastic. The pastry gave the lamb an airy character that seemed to make it easier to experience the savory flavors. It wasn’t weak or over-powering at all, but you knew you were eating lamb. The mint and spinach were also a nice touch, and the raisins and pine nuts added sweet and buttery tones that went very well with the lamb. It was an elegant way to balance the often-heavy lamb flavors. I was swooning a little over this one.

[Shoot! No pic taken.]  Take my word for it, it was great. 

We also went with Cati’s and my fave– curried mussels.

[Again, I was probably gabbing away and didn’t take a pic.  I’m sure it was something captivating.]  Below is a pic of the mussels from our last visit there; they looked the same.

Clam and curry sauce

It is accurately described on the menu as “simmered in a rich curry sauce with chunks of bread for sopping.” It is so good; I would change nothing about this dish.

For the entrees, I ordered the “Spicy love birds'”– which sounds like it’s a poor translation and belongs on a Chinese restaurant menu, right?  Anyway, it was superb. It’s described in the menu as, “a pair of quail, marinated with chilis, fresh limes, and amontillado sherry – with French baked rice and spicy greens.”

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The tangy lime and chili marinade were unique and well-balanced and the quail was perfectly cooked.  The rice was apparently subsitutted with quinoa– that’s cool. 

Cati had the ricotta gnocchi. She was not pleased by this one.

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It was super rich and tasted like 50/50-cream/butter was poured on top of some innocent, unsuspecting (and otherwise tasty) gnocchi. Described on the menu as “fried in butter, dressed with Autumn mushroom cream and draped with lardo*.” I guess we should have known, (right?) but there was absolutely no effort made to balance all that fat and cream; the dish was lopsided and way, WAY, too heavy.  I guess we figured it would be a bit more balanced– we were wrong.    

Our friends ordered the “Simple Fish” and Alaskan halibut.

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The simple fish was pretty much perfect. Okay, so it may not be the most elegant presentation; but if you love seafood, this is a thing of beauty.  It was lightly seasoned and perfectly cooked– which is all a good fish really needs. The fish was served with “sorrel potato croquetas and vegetables of the season,” but I didn’t try either and I focused on getting as much of the fish as possible. :)

The Alaskan Halibut wasn’t as good as it was the first time we had it (The presentation doesn’t even look as good as it used to, does it? [click and scroll down halfway to compare]).

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The pesto-infused risotto seemed to overpower the other flavors a bit. Our friend was not that impressed.  Too bad; when done right, it can be so good. 

The food that night was hit or miss.   Ah well, we managed to have a great night all the same.  If there are any Eve regulars who are reading this blog, is there a best night of the week to go?  Eve was in the kitchen that night, we saw her come out and say hi to some of the diners.  Judging from the lousy photos I took, I wasn’t having my best night either; thanks for reading. 

Well, on an unrelated note, Cati and Nina left me alone here in Ann Arbor for two whole weeks (they were visiting family)– as you can imagine, there is dirty laundry everywhere– I KID. Seriously though, I miss ’em; they come back tomorrow.

* thin slices of bacon fat.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”- Back in the CD (Day 4 & Out)

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

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Sunday, our penultimate day in the Capital District, started off with a diverting brunch at Jen and Gabe’s. We had Nutella-filled crepes, bellinis, and more visiting with our great friends. After that, Big G drove Cati, Nina, and me down to Albany to visit a few friends, catch dinner, and spend the night there so we could catch our plane out early the following morning. We dined at Ric Orlando’s new joint– New World Bistro Bar.

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First impresions were good– small place, bustling vibe, handsome and friendly faces at the door. We were a party of 6 (counting Nina) and we were seated right away. There were parties that night that didn’t seem very baby friendly. Cati and I noticed that we were being shot a whole lot of stink-eye from several tables. Nina was just walking around and acting like a one-year old. Ah well, maybe they were in a foul mood from all the money they lost at the track on the preceding Saturday, or maybe there was a meeting of the Zero Population Growth Society in town. [shrug] The servers and hostesses on the other hand were nothing but friendly.

So we listened as our server described the specials that evening and we were interested in a few of the items. As it was a cool fall night, Cati ordered the soup special (not the gazpacho)– they were all out. She then ordered the regular soup on the menu– they were all out of that too. Say what? The server explained that they had had a very busy weekend– it still seemed kind of rookie to us.

We ordered a few appetizers:

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We had to have Chef Orlando’s famous “Pan Blackened String Beans with Creole Remoulade Sauce.”   My lousy photos do not do these justice– they are fantastic.  They are eaten like french fries– with fingers, contagiously.  I heard an apocryphal tale that Chef Orlando came up with this dish on the fly while catering a function. He was allegedly running out of food and had to come up with something fast to feed the still-hungry mob. So he seared some string beans in a blackened pan and it was like chocolate meets peanut butter, and history was made. It’s a good story, and an even better appetizer.

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“Chef’s Daily Ceviche- the freshest summer seafood ‘cooked’ in citrus.” This was pretty good; the subtle flavors were a treat.   I didn’t even mind the played-out martini glass presentation; the dish was refreshing– like a cocktail. 

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“Chile-Garlic Glazed Pork Belly with Grilled Leek Salad.” The pork belly was fantastic (when is pork belly not fantastic?) and the chile-garlic glaze complemented it beautifully. Chef Orlando does spicy really well. It was very well balanced with the spicy contributing to the succlulent unctuous pork rather than over-powering it.  This dish is a must-try. 

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Gina had the “New World ‘No Crash’ Mushroom Risotto made with Organic Brown Rice, a mix of Portobello, Oyster and Crimini Mushrooms, Sweet Peas, Leeks and Sage.” It looked like oatmeal and unfortunately was about as flavorful. A wet, thick, underwhelming mess of a dish.  It lacked the deep savory flavors that typify a good risotto. 

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Cati ordered the “Yellow Curry Gulf Shrimp and Big Noodles with Crisp veggies and Fresh Basil.” This dish was probably the most disappointing of the entire lot– it was very bland. We had such high hopes of flavorful curry and briney plump shrimp, but alas…nothing of the sort was presented. Eve Aronoff’s curried mussels appetizer is our new benchmark (for non-Thai restaurants), and this dish didn’t even come close. Cati added copius amounts of salt in an attempt to make it somewhat interesting, but it helped little. There’s more curry in a cigarette than there was in this dish; maybe they accidentally added only tumeric instead. Cati just kind of shrugged and half-heartedly picked at it like a bored child being forced to finish her lima beans.

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The talented Mr. Parr ordered the “Thai-Italian Love – Papardelle with Panang Bolognese made with Chopped Beef and Lamb, Aromatic Red Curry, Tomato, Lime Leaves and Coconut.” It was very flavorful. The creamy coconut flavor and savory meat flavors worked very well together. It was an interesting combo and delivered the goodness. But take a look at it– go on, take a look. Remind you of anything? It had the aspect and composition of Hamburger Helper. There’s something about ground meat, sauce, and noodles in those proportions that makes the resemblance undeniable. The flavors were really very good, but there’s got to be a better way to present them so I don’t feel like mom whipped this meal up because she had to work late, right?

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Esti ordered the “Maui Poke of Ahi Tuna with Red Salt and Wonton Chips”; she let me try it. This was an elegant, well thought out, and well executed dish. The coarse salt added a really nice texture and flavor to the raw tuna. The crispy wonton added a light and airy feel as well.  It was excellent. 

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I ordered the “Pasta Puttanesca with Salmon” and really enjoyed it. It was salty and a touch spicy just like a good puttanesca should be. The capers, well-cooked pasta, salty salmon, garlic, and chunks of tomato make me wish I had a plate of it now (I really do). It was as good of a pasta puttanesca as I’d ever had– I can gladly recommend it. 

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For dessert, the ladies had the “Bittersweet Chocolate-Chevre Truffle with Cinnamon and Lemon Sauce.” I was so stuffed from finishing my dish, I obstained– but it sure looked good, no? Cati was unimpressed and thought the goat cheese brought nothing to the dessert. She thought there was too much going on with the chevre, lemon, cinnamon, etc.  All a gal wants sometimes is a delicious piece of chocolate to end the evening.

We have dined at Rick Orlando’s eateries a handful of times now, and his restaurants have a sort of “from the hip” easiness to them that borders on sloppy. Not in an unhygienic* way or anything like that, but more like a slapped-together border-line unprofessional way. He has served us some great dishes, but some notable duds as well. Speaking figuratively, the young servers and kitchen staff appear to have more face piercings than experience serving a discerning clientele. Case in point, I noticed a young server who was not paying attention while walking out with a precariously balanced appetizer. She toppled the plate over against her belly and slyly backed into the kitchen to recreate it. The servers spoke loudly to one another and seemed to be hurried and flustered all the time– why? It wasn’t that crowded. Maybe the place is too small to hide the “backstage” from the diners, but it was a bit distracting. I get the whole urban-bohemian vibe (I was once a teenage dirt-rocker, myself), but perhaps they could smell a little less of Teen Spirit, eh?  They should preserve the laid-back vibe that reflects Chef Orlando’s personal style, but a suit-and-tie, iron-fisted operations manager would be a wise addition to their team to reduce some of the inconsistency in food and service. Y’know, like a “bad cop” to balance Orlando’s undeniable “good cop.” 

I dunno, maybe I’m just turning into a cranky old curmudgeon– NOW GET OFF MY LAWN!

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Nina conked-out in my lap for the entire plane ride home [whew].

* Even though I did have a stink bug in my soup during the Champagne Dinner at New World Home Cooking a few years back. The server to whom I complained attributed that to the lack of pesticides used by their vegetable suppliers. I wasn’t that upset by it to be honest– it was a garden insect afterall– not a roach or fly. [shrug]  Plus, the real crime of the night was the over-cooked pheasant breast.  But man, there was a lot of GREAT food that night too (I just re-read that entry, mmm-mm). 

By the way, anyone esle get the feeling that of all the Captial District chefs, Chef Orlando would be the most fun person with whom to split a 12-pack?  Or is it just me?