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Archive for January, 2011

This past weekend, I traveled to New York City for a track meet. Afterwards, I visited friends and family, and explored the food scene. Here is a taste of my findings:

On Sundays, many restaurants in New York City feature brunch. I’m under the impression that brunch is a cherished tradition in the city – I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm New Yorkers share for such a meal. I sampled two spots, Penelope on Lexington Avenue and 30th street, and Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side along Amsterdam Avenue– to experience the brunch hype for myself.

One thing both restaurants had in common – the wait for a table. No reservations, just arrive and put your name on a list. At Penelope, I waited 45 minutes for a table. At Sarabeth’s, I waited the same amount of time. At each establishment, there was limited space to stand inside, so I was forced up against walls, doors and people for extended amounts of time. Not to mention the frigid gusts of wind that poured in through the door every time a new customer walked inside.

Despite the crowd and the cold, the wait only strengthened the anticipation for my meal. At Sarabeth’s my party ordered a basket of muffins, including banana, corn, bran and pumpkin, alongside a selection of jams. Sarabeth’s jams and preserves are available for purchase in the restaurant or online (apparently Oprah is a big fan). Her jams are tasty indeed, with the right amount of sweetness.

Sarabeth’s brunch menu is expansive, offering an assortment of omelets, pancakes, waffles and French toast. I ordered the Garden Omelet, filled with broccoli, corn, carrots, sun-dried tomatoes and cheddar cheese. The Farmer’s Omelet, with leeks, ham and chunks of potato with Gruyere cheese is also an egg-filled delight.

The brunch menu at Penelope offers dishes like pumpkin waffles with apple butter, Nutella French toast, salmon wrapped poached eggs on toast, and Ellie’s spinach pie. The restaurant offers a $14.50 pre-fix deal on Sunday, which includes an entree and apple cider mimosa.  I ordered the poached eggs, and added a side of French fries. When sliced open, egg yolk ran across my toast and salmon and mixed with the tangy, “green goddess sauce” topping, creating a savory combination of flavors. The apple cider mimosa is a treat as well.

Sarabeth’s and Penelope provided me with a glimpse into the New York brunch culture. As I feasted on my omelet at Sarabeth’s and also my poached eggs at Penelope, I realized that in such a fast paced city, Sunday brunch allows New Yorkers to start their day a little later.

The big question is, where in Baltimore can you find a similar experience? Baltimore is no New York, but there are a quite a few gems worth trying. The Sunday brunch at Miss Shirley’s is a favorite of mine, and I’ve also heard great things about brunch at Blue Moon Café in Fells Point. Mr. Rain’s Fun House at the Visionary Arts Museum also snagged a Best of Baltimore for its brunch last year.

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Last summer, Baltimore International College introduced Food Enthusiast Classes, opening up its culinary school to non-students. Being an avid cook, but one who has never taken a cooking class before, I knew this was a great opportunity for me.

Last October, I attended “Classical French Cooking.” A chef instructor at BIC’s school showed us how to make several French-inspired, three-course-meals. The three-hour class combined demonstration with hands-on. One of the hands on portions of the class involved quail stuffed with foie gras (pictured, left). I immediately thought, we’re going to make this? It’s actually simpler than you’d think. Each of us received a raw whole quail that resembled a tiny, naked chicken, and a small piece of foie gras. Our job was to stuff the quail with the foie gras and tie its legs together with string. Some people in the class were a bit sqeemish handling raw meat, one even asking if she would get salmonella by touching the quail. The instructor laughed, launching into an extensive rant about how the risk of salmonella is over-exaggerated. That was entertaining.

Another part of the class required us to prepare a brown sauce for the quail. We were each given a pan, a short introduction and that was it. The best part – the flames that shot up after pouring liquor into the hot pan. I was nervous as hell that I was going to burn down the building, but the instructor monitored all of our actions very closely. Luckily no one caught on fire.

For me, the most difficult part of the class was waiting until all of the dishes were finished so we could finally feast upon them. But for the most part, nothing we created was so complicated I couldn’t replicate it at home. I was able to prepare the pureed butternut squash we made during the class at home for my family, who loved it.

BIC’s website is currently listing classes for Spring 2011 – http://bicedu.myshopify.com/. Knife skills, Cheese making, Italian cooking and breakfast cooking are among the types of classes offered. And, even better – each class comes with a complimentary chef hat and apron, yours to keep.

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The Roost

My first bout with the infamous Baltimorean delicacy known as “Lake Trout” occurred at a small, blue building called Sea Blue on Greenmount.

Lake Trout is typically breaded, deep-fried white fish served either alone or between two slices of white bread, often with fries on the side. Sounds a little like fish and chips, right? Not at all. In fact, Lake Trout doesn’t come from a lake, nor is it even trout. Lake Trout is actually Atlantic Whiting, a white fish caught in the Atlantic. Whiting is plentiful and less expensive than lake trout, which are actually quite rare. The most convincing reason I’ve found for the misnomer was that restaurants featuring the fish decided that the name “Lake Trout” was more appealing than “Atlantic Whiting,” to customers.

After a somewhat disappointing experience at Sea Blue (think soggy, breaded fish sticks on soggy Wonderbread), I decided to give Lake Trout a second chance. I had heard about another place in Baltimore on Anthony Bourdain’s series No Reservations a few months ago – The Roost on Reisterstown Road. I decided to check it out.

After driving past Pimlico Race Track and a few other sites, my boyfriend Paul and I approached the tiny roadside establishment. We walked inside to find a single counter and no seating, save for a few picnic tables outside. The menu consisted of soul food options ranging from fried chicken, collard greens, fried catfish, mac n’ cheese and of course, lake trout. There’s also a breakfast menu, with entrees named after people or places like Michael Phelps, Mayor Sheila Dixon, President Obama and Mondawmin Mall. To the right of the counter, a man was selling pirated DVDs. He was quite friendly, and encouraged us to look through them.

We ordered a “Dorris Williams,” the Lake Trout entree named after the restaurant’s owner. Like the breakfast menu, options on the seafood and chicken menus are named after notables such as Billie Holiday and um, McNeal Brockington? In a few minutes our order arrived. We grabbed the plastic bag filled with lake trout and took it back home to enjoy. Instantly the aroma of freshly fried crispy lake trout filled the car.

This was serious Lake Trout. The fried batter was crisp, crunchy and flavorful, unlike Sea Blue’s soggy mess. With some catsup, it was even better. I ordered mine with fries, whose soggy remains I found underneath the lake trout. I suggest ordering the Lake Trout dinner, and choosing from The Roost’s side options (not to mention you also get cornbread!).

The Roost is an institution among many Baltimoreans. No, it’s not something I’d eat everyday, but I admire the pride The Roost puts into not only their Lake Trout, but the rest of their food as well. The name of their website, thebestlaketrout.com says it all.

Roost on Urbanspoon

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Like the grilled cheese, the hot dog is a simple comfort food that yells for endless possibilities. I wanted to spotlight two spots, Stuggy’s in Fells and the Haute Dog Carte at Lake and Falls Road, that serve up all-beef dogs with unique toppings.

Stuggy’s seating is limited, with about four bar stools, so you’re better off finding a bench outside to eat. In the summer it’s great to eat outside and watch the activity around Fells. Nevertheless, Stuggy’s offers an impressive menu, featuring traditional all-beef dogs, bison sausage dogs and turkey sliders. The fries and old-fashioned sodas are pretty good, too.

Go for one of the specialty dogs or sausages – such as the Carolina Slaw Dog, which piles Stuggy’s chili and cole slaw inside of the hot dog, rather than on top. By splitting the dog down the middle, the beefy chili flavor blends well. The chili offers generous portions of beans, meat and cole slaw. Try the Motor City Coney dog with chili, melted cheddar cheese and diced raw onions. Nothing is better than melted cheese on meat, nothing.

Unlike Stuggy’s, the Haute Dog Carte is a roadside stand. Although it may be small, Daniel Raffel’s food cart packs an impressive array of gourmet hot dogs. I love the signature dog, a ¼ pound black Angus hot dog topped with tomato and onion jam. Better yet, Raffel cores a French roll and stuffs the hot dog, along with the toppings, inside. Raffel also offers a Chef Dog, where a local chef determines the toppings weekly.

On my visit, I enjoyed my hot dog on a nearby bench, en plein air, while cars zipped by. The stand is next to Bonjour Bakery, so you can grab a pastry for dessert, too. In the winter, Raffel continues to sell his gourmet dogs, Friday-Sunday, 11am-2pm.

Depending on what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for, Stuggy’s and the Haute Dog Carte are both great options.

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When I first read about this place over the summer I nearly jumped out of my pants. Like the chocolate chip cookie, my affinity for the grilled cheese sandwich is invasive. Memories of my mom’s grilled cheeses from when I was a little kid drew me to this restaurant. And to evoke images of home while enjoying such a cheesy and savory treat is innovative, and really quite brilliant.

Although it’s a bit outside of Baltimore, Grilled Cheese and Co. in Catonsville is a unique find. The hardwood floors and warm colors on the interior are warm and inviting. The menu is straightforward – various types of grilled cheeses with gourmet ingredients. The “Crabby Melt” piles Monterey Jack cheese on top of more cheese and blue crab. The “Fresco” combines mozzarella, red peppers, basil pesto and balsamic with extra-virgin olive oil.

On my first visit, I tried the “Cordon Bleu” with Swiss cheese, smoked ham and grilled chicken with Dijon mustard, a classic French treat. The Swiss cheese was a winner, but the sandwich was a bit complicated for my palette. On my second visit, I ordered the BCT – cheddar, bacon and tomatoes. Simple and delicious.

Also notable is the “Sweetest Thing” (pictured below) – Brie cheese, raspberry flavored Mascarpone and chocolate chips smushed between two slices of bread. The sandwich is an oeey, gooey, drippy mess.

Although there is one location on Edmondson Avenue, the website hints at plans for future locations. That’s good news. I hope they decide to open one closer to Baltimore.

Grilled Cheese & Co. on Urbanspoon

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