Food Reviews


My apologies for not writing in a while. I have missed writing, but it is the thing that had to fall by the wayside as life got busy. So where have I been?

Well, there was a wedding back in Delaware (Delawho? Delawhat?). One of the boys who goes back to elementary school. We got the band back together and had a grand time. At the same time, it was finals week (we are on quarters here, which is why we are done so late.), so I have been grading papers like crazy, while…preparing to teach high schoolers for the first time–starting this afternoon. I will be teaching this group of twenty-four, hopefully future first-generation college students how to write a proper collegiate research paper. And I handed in my dissertation proposal to my advisor (a brisk 98 pages-without references or appendices). Oh, and my wife has got strep (antibiotics in full effect), the house was experiencing plumbing issues (resolved for $$), and two of our computers have gone on the fritz (not yet resolved for $$).

It should be stated that while I would prefer that my wife not have strep (I am sure she feels the same way), this is a good kind of life. I am pretty lucky. I am afforded a great deal of time to let my mind wander, and I try to let it wander in positive directions. But, occasionally, it just gets too busy for me to write.

Before getting back to grading, I should review some things, since that is what I normally do here. How about the cuisine of Newark, Delaware?  Don’t go to Newark for fine dining (check Wilmington), but check out the many great takeout options. For the best subs check Capriati’s and Cleveland Avenue Sub Shop (Cleveland Ave is the more traditional philly style sub place–and gigantic–a large is about thirteen feet and they have a jumbo size), Wings to Go and C.R. Wings are the places to go for wings (many wonderful sauces), I hear Cluck-U is good for chicken, though I have not had it myself, and for the best burgers and shakes (the fries are only ok), perhaps in the world, but definitely in all of Delaware, Jake’s Hamburgers. Jake’s looks like a cheap, little dive and it is; a cheap, little dive with fantastic burgers and brilliant milkshakes.

Also, I kind of liked that Polanski documentary on HBO, Polanski: Wanted and Desired. I liked it mostly for the fascinating story, which I had only a cursory knowledge of before. It was a bit of an odd feeling having some sympathy for a person seemingly guilty of statutory rape, but I ended up feeling this way. The film ends up being a pretty interesting examination of Hollywood, complete with the interweaving relationships between the judicial system, big business, and media, and how the person who should be the focus–the young girl-who has the most important needs to be met, got abandoned and lost in the spectacle (luckily, she seems to have turned out fine, though it is unfortunate that her life is defined by this event). I’ll give it a 71.

Back to grading.

OK. The title of this post is a bit bold. There are probably better French Toast recipes out there (there is probably this recipe out there too, but I have not seen it), but this one has to be up there near the top of the heap. Give it a shot and let me know what you think and if there are any ways to improve it. Enjoy!

First, there is only one type of bread that can be used: Challah. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on the Sabbath, holidays, etc. What makes Challah perfect for french toast is that it is an egg and yeast based bread.  There is a harmony created by the egg in the Challah and the egg mixture that will turn it into french toast (Challah also receives an egg wash before going in the oven, adding a third level of egg to the toast.). The yeast element is important, especially when combined with the proteins in the egg, to create a semi-dense, but sufficiently airy loaf. This will come in handy when…you purchase the challah a good three days before using it for the french toast. All bread used for french toast should be stale because it allows the bread to soak in more of the egg mixture, and this is especially true with Challah. Additionally, you should cut the Challah into slices at least a few hours before using it. The slices should be roughly an inch in thickness (definitely no less) and after cutting off the nubs, you should get eight slices out of your average loaf of Challah. The recipe for the egg mixture will be based on one loaf of Challah. Here it is:

10 large eggs (organic, free-range)

3 Tablespoons of heavy cream

1 Tablespoon of organic sugar

1.5 Tablespoons of maple syrup (I think you should use the real stuff.)

1 teaspoon of sea salt  

1 teaspoon of cinnamon (This is negotiable; you could add more or less depending on your love of cinnamon. Also, you can throw in a pinch of nutmeg if you so desire.)

Mix it all together vigorously.

Take one or two of your Challah slices, put them into your egg mixture, press down and release. The Challah should behave like a sponge. Once it reforms to its original size, flip it over and press down and release again. There should be just about nothing left of your mixture after you go through the whole loaf. Put your pieces on a griddle (I like a griddle for this, but you surely can use a frying pan-you just can’t fit eight pieces.) set to 375. Flip them every two to three minutes and cook to desired doneness. French toast is like steak. Some folks like it cooked through and some like it bloody (runny). Six to fifteen minutes should cover the range; I think eight or nine minutes is about perfect.

As for toppings, that is up to you. Mascarpone and fresh berries adds a nice, little upscale touch, but you can go with nothing, but syrup and be alright.

This is a bit pretentious, but…

Great writing and great cooking carry a distinct bond: Every word in every sentence contributes significantly to the whole work, just as every ingredient contributes significantly to the whole meal. Most writing and most cooking is not great. Words are bandied about, tossed in because they elicit a visceral reaction, but add nothing thematically. Ingredients are thrown into a dish because they may be appealing for their individual flavors or visual flare, but do not work well with the other ingredients. 

An example of this great writing is The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. An example of this great cooking is Nicola’s. I recommend trying both as quickly as possible (Unfortunately, Nicola’s is not in everyone’s price range, including ours, though it is less expensive than it could be, so this is probably a special occasion restaurant. The Bridge of San Luis Rey can be purchased for $2 at a used book store.).

The wife and I got the Four Course Tasting Menu with wine:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuscan  Fava beans with pecorino fresco, fried croutons, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

Sauvignon blanc San Pietro, Alto Adige 2006

Crispy potato Gnocchi with four cheeses fondue and Italian Truffle shavings

Barbera d’Asti Montaribaldi, Piemonte 2005

6 hours braised American Kobe beef short ribs with parsnip puree and spring vegetables

Chianti classico Le Cinciole, Toscana 2004

Dessert

Moscato di Asti La Spinetta 2006

Every course was a beautiful blend of textures and consistencies and flavors. Every ingredient works really well together, and every course was at its best when every ingredient was eaten together. Despite all of this, the food is very simple and unpretentious. If I had to pick out problems, I would say that the short ribs were cooked perfectly, but were underseasoned, and that the creme brulee component of the dessert was not fully congealed. The problems were minor. These elements were merely good as compared to the greatness of everything else. There are no more words that need be said.

My score…91

 

 

In the wife and I’s first ‘dinner and a movie’ exploration of Levee food, we went to Aoi, and loved it. For our second trip, we wanted to go back to Aoi, but the integrity of the reviewer in me won out and we tried Aoi’s competition, Pacific Moon. Stupid integrity.

Pacific Moon is everything that Aoi is not, and none of it is good. Before even talking about the food, what is up with the decor? I felt toward the end of dinner, the tables were going to be magically swooshed to the side, disco balls were going to lower down from the ceiling and a club was going to break out. The whole place was a weird mix of turquoise and gray with an industrial, ‘exposed’ feel, none of which says ‘get your fine Japanese/Asian cuisine here’. But, hey, I have been to many a place where the quality of the decor does not match the quality of the food, so there is still hope right?

No.

The wife and I have been into sharing meals recently, especially when sushi is involved, so we started with a shared bowl of chicken hot and sour soup. The soup base was fair; more sour than hot, with the hot sinking to the bottom. The real problem with the soup was the chicken. It managed to be extremely dry and chewy, and would have added nothing to the soup even if it had been prepared well.

For the second course we ordered some basic sushi, a tuna roll and a spicy tuna roll. It came out to the table after the rest of our food, however. Things are going downhill quickly. Both the wife and I agreed, this was some of the worst sushi we have had in town. The tuna tasted old and fishy and had a mushy texture. On top of that, the rice was undercooked. We didn’t even finish the two rolls. How bad does a roll have to be not to be finished?

Finally, the wife and I shared an order of orange faux ribs. The sauce was overly sweet, but decent. The accompanying vegetables were steamed to a respectable, edible level. The big problem here were the faux ribs. Some pieces were crunchy–too crunchy; clearly over-fried. Other pieces were soggy, with no crunch at all. If you want orange faux ribs, I would definitely head to Shanghai Mama’s; not Pacific Moon.

Overall, Pacific Moon was a real disappointment. With Aoi a hundred feet away, the wife and I will never go back to Pacific Moon.

Score…38.    

I make the wife go to a lot of movies. I love movies. Love ’em. I love picking apart the bad ones and dissecting the good ones. My wife has undoubtedly seen countless films that she had no interest in because she loves me…and because I dragged her to them. As the best theatres to see movies happens to be at one of the more annoying places around the Nati, I feel like I am really piling on my poor wife with every film. In an attempt to not actually change anything about myself, but make the overall movie experience a bit more enjoyable for the wife, I figured let’s make it dinner and a movie. It’s like a really, really original date. I don’t know why anyone hasn’t thought of this before.

But where to go? Newport on the Levee is a real mix bag. There is a lot of crap down there. And as much as we love Dewey’s, you can only eat it so many times without turning into a giant doughball. In an attempt to find a new place to enjoy before the next summer blockbuster, we have started sampling the other restaurants on the Levee, beginning with the two sushi/Japanese joints, Pacific Moon and, today’s review, Aoi.

To give Aoi the full treatment the wife and I ordered a number of different dishes and shared the whole lot of them. We started with a dry sake, suggested by the waiter, served hot, that was as good a sake as I have had, though I am a neophyte in the sake world and my palate is only beginning to notice the differences in all the ones we have tried. We started our meal with a tempura calamari off of the specials menu. As I have stated before, if calamari is on the menu, I am trying it, and I liked the idea of the tempura twist. I was not disappointed. The calamari may have been just the slightest bit underdone, but it tasted very fresh and the tempura coating had good flavor and was not heavy at all. An excellent start to our meal.

Next out, was our sushi. We kept it simple, working under the assumption that if a restaurant is any good it should be able to do the basics very well, ordering a basic tuna roll and a spicy tuna roll. Neither was the tightest roll, but I half felt this was on purpose. The quality of every ingredient, however, was exceptional. Perfectly cooked rice with the slightest hint of vinegar meshing well with the salty sweetness of the wrap, and both serving as excellent accompaniments to ample portions of the freshest tuna we have had in town. The aioli on the spicy roll was good; spicy, but not overpowering.

We finished up our meal sharing a plate of beef and asparagus in a ginger sauce. Again, everything was cooked to perfection. It is easy to overcook stirfried beef, but here it was tender and juicy. The asparagus was fresh and crispy. The ginger sauce was appropriately subtle, as ginger could easily overpower beef and asparagus, but was always present, dancing around in the corners of your mouth and lingering happily after every bite (I know that last sentence was ridiculous, but that is really what it was like). It was a perfect way to finish the meal.

A note on the decor: pleasing; not overbearing or out of place (I am looking at you Pacific Moon).

A note on the service: absolutely fantastic! Our waiter was one of the nicest waiters my wife and I have ever had, in our lives together or before. Helpful, never in your face, unbelievably courteous. This guy should teach proper waiting techniques.

Our first attempt at making the movie experience a more well-rounded affair began with Aoi and should probably end there. We had a great time with wonderful food, and what do you know, Ironman was a pretty decent flick to boot.

Score…80.   

I have taken it upon myself to find the best burrito in the Nati. My only rule was that it had to be from a burrito joint; not just a restaurant that has burritos. The burrito places being ranked are: Burrito Joe’s, Chipotle, Currito, Habanero’s, Javier’s, and Qdoba. There are probably other burrito places around town that I did not get to. Send me the names and I will go there and place it appropriately. Without further ado, from Worst to First:

6. Qdoba–Someone had to finish last, and Qdoba gladly accepted the assignment. Qdoba is very similar in form and style to Chipotle, only the quality of their ingredients and the flavors of their salsas are much worse. If you really want to eat a burrito, and Qdoba is the only burrito around, I guess you should get it.

5. Burrito Joe’s–OK. I did not eat at Burrito Joe’s. So here is a guest rater, The Wife! To be fair, I’ve only been to Burrito Joe’s once, but for me, once was enough.  I had the Buffalo Chicken burrito.  The ingredients weren’t fresh, the chicken was over-sauced, and the tortilla was rubbery. 

4. Javier’s–Javier’s reminded me of being back in Philly and ordering a cheesesteak at Pat’s. I was unfamiliar with the menu, so I wanted to ask questions, but they kept demanding to know what I wanted, so I just started yelling out ingredients and then they gave me a burrito. I do not blame the Javier’s people for this; I love ‘the no soup for you’ mentality. I simply choked. Not liking the food, however, is on Javier’s. I ordered a chicken burrito. It did not have rice and beans in it, which is strange for me, but did have cheese, hot salsa, and some veggies. The chicken was not seasoned, the salsa was hot, but not terribly intricate, and worst of all the burrito was put together in such a way that there were hot and cold (temperature) pockets. I could not get a bite that had both; it was either hot or cold, and I really dislike bites of cold burrito. I will not be going back, though I did read something about a liquor license…

3. Habanero’s–It was a tough call between numbers two and three. I prefer to go to and eat at Habanero’s as compared to the joint I ultimately put in second place. The reasons for this are I like the Gaslight and the laid-back atmosphere, and a few other reasons I will discuss in a moment. But if we are just talking burritos, Habanero’s is so wildly inconsistent that I could not give it the nod. There salsas are never quite the same, especially the hot salsa, which I really like (and is really hot–I am guessing they use habaneros) when it is made well. The same is true with their various meat options. When they are good, they are good, never seasoned enough, but fine. All too often, however, the meat is overdone and almost inedible dry. Even the beans have at times been underdone. Still, this is the first of the list that I will actually go to again.

2. Chipotle–The wife was pulling for this at number one, but I could not do it. I like my number one much more than Chipotle, though judging by the lines at both places, I am completely alone in this. In my mind it is the Starbucks effect. Sorry to all those lovers out there, but Starbucks is awful, awful, awful coffee. A whole generation of coffee drinkers don’t know any better because Starbucks is the most accessible brand. I don’t care if people drink swill (I have a special place in my heart for diner brew. It always has a slight hint of dish soap.) they should just know it. Now, I am not picking on Chipotle or my wife. Chipotle offers much better burritos than Starbucks does coffee, but it is not nearly as good as it giant crowds. I actually lament that my favorite place will soon fall victim to Chipotle.

The reason I did put Chipotle at number two is because it is wildly consistent, which is generally the case with better chains. The meats are always cooked well, the salsas are good (I really like the flavors in their hot sauce; not too hot, good depth), and their ingredients are always fresh. My one complaint, and this is a personal taste matter, but I am not a huge fan of their cilantro rice. This is the one place where I do find Chipotle inconsistent. Sometimes there is a ton of cilantro, which can overpower the rest of the burrito. Other times, there is too little, which causes the cilantro to get lost in with all the rest of the ingredients.

1. Currito (formerly Bo Loco; soon to be: closed)–I love Currito. Their theme is world burritos. You can get your classic ‘Mexican’ (American) burrito, but you can also get burritos with flavors from all around the world or combine regions to your liking. I have not tried all of Currito’s regional flairs, so there may be some flavors they miss on, but I like all of the ones I have tried. The reason Currito is the best, though, goes beyond its worldly nature. The roots, the basics of a burrito are all done consistently well and with a little more variety than usual, allowing for somewhat healthier options. Here is my regular: whole wheat tortilla–never rubbery, brown rice–never overdone (you can also get plain white rice and cilantro white rice), black beans–in a slight, nice sauce (pintos also available), chicken–seasoned and never overdone (regular meats, meat substitutes, and veggies also available), cheese, sour cream, and buffalo sauce (I love buffalo sauce). Put it all together and it is my favorite burrito in town. Seriously, though, there is never more than two people in their so if you want to try it, you better go soon.

SPECIAL AWARDS!

Best burrito place to get a cookie: Habanero’s–Habanero’s chocolate chip cookies are great. Always moist, sugary, a bit of butter, big chocolate chunks. They are my favorite, non-homemade, cookies. Honorable Mention: Currito’s chocolate chip cookies. Not nearly as good as Habanero’s, but it is a chocolate chip cookie.

Best burrito place to get a drink: Again, Habanero’s–They always have a handful of good microbrews on tap and will blend you up a decent liquor-driven smoothie.

Let me know what burrito places I am missing out on and I will add it to the great (and mediocre) burrito challenge!

There may have been a little drinking this past Friday. Nothing crazy. No lampshades. But enough to make Saturday morning a little slow. And enough to create the greatest opportunity in the takeout/delivery world: Adriatico’s Pizza.

I have lived in many different places. I have travelled to many, many more. Some of these places have their own local ideas of what is a pizza. Some just import a version, usually a terrible version, of Chicago or New York-style. Of all the pizzas in all the places I have eaten in over the years (wait, I am having a Casablanca moment…ok, continue), Adriatico’s is my favorite. When the day comes for the wife and I to leave this town, Adriatico’s will be one of the things I will miss the most.

So what is the pizza like? Well, they have two basic crust types: a deep dish/thick crust and a thin crust/hand-tossed. The deep dish/thick crust is not in the Chicago mold; it is an East coast version. The thin crust/hand-tossed is almost of the New York-style, but is not quite floppy enough. Both are yeast doughs, with an almost unrecognizeably slight bit of sweetness. My guess: baking soda, a pinch of sugar (it aids the yeast), a pinch of garlic and a perfect amount of salt. Adriatico’s crust is a hybrid, but it may be better than the originals.  Some folks swear by the deep dish/thick crust, but we always get the thin crust/hand-tossed.

As for the rest of the pizza: the cheese is perfect; fresh and fatteningly real mozzarella; none of that awful stuff that the likes of Papa Johns uses. Also, I have never had a bad topping (though admittedly, I am a classic cheese pizza person). But what makes Adriatico’s the best is their sauce. It is spicy; an ample amount of garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, onion and probably some other secret ingredients are mixed into a not too thin, not too thick base. And they are always generous applying the sauce around the pie (but not too generous). If you like that sweet stuff La Rosa’s has or if you like a martini-dry pizza, Adriatico’s sauce may not be for you.

Put it all together and it is great pizza. Order some breadsticks on the side with some cheese sauce (my wife’s fave) and pizza sauce and have a great day.

No rating could do this pizza justice.    

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