Posts Tagged ‘Pork’

Tam Deli and Cafe – Austin, TX

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by virginia

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The last day of our Louisiana/Texas trip was really just a travel day. We had an early afternoon flight out of Austin and needed to return our rental car by midday, so we took it easy in the morning. We did have one last stop planned though, on our way to the airport. Rather than suffering through bad airplane food, we picked up some banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe to tide us over.

The banh mi that I had read the most about during my research was the fried garlic shrimp banh mi. When we opened up the sandwich though, it looked more like a po’ boy than a typical banh mi, as it was dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, rather than cilantro, jalapenos, and pickled vegetables. We laughed that our trip had come full circle, considering we started out in New Orleans and ate more than our fair share of po’ boys while we were there. Nevertheless, it was a delicious sandwich – the shrimp were perfectly fried and covered with crunchy, pungent bits of garlic. The garlic flavor wasn’t overwhelming, but it definitely makes its presence known. The french bread was crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, and wrapped around the fillings nicely, without getting soggy or too messy.

Garlic shrimp banh mi

Garlic shrimp banh mi

We also ordered a grilled pork banh mi, which ended up being more like the traditional banh mi that we’re used to. It was filled with flavorful strips of savory grilled pork and topped with pickled shredded carrots, sliced cucumber and jalapeno, and of course, cilantro. It wasn’t as stuffed to the brim as the banh mis we’re used to from back home, but it was still tasty nonetheless.

Grilled pork banh mi

Grilled pork banh mi

Lastly, we also got two cream puffs, because, why not? These were fresh when we ordered them (and we devoured them right away), with a delicate choux pastry exterior and creamy custard inside. They were two lovely petite bites.

Cream puffs

Cream puffs

Overall, we thought the banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe were pretty solid. The fried garlic shrimp sandwich was delicious in its po’ boy format, but might have been even better dressed with the traditional banh mi ingredients; I’m not sure if you can request it that way, but it’s worth a shot. The garlic shrimp itself is worth the detour, though this place is pretty far outside of downtown Austin. But if you have a car and are heading to the airport, it’s not too out of the way. Don’t forget to get a cream puff for dessert. We ended up eating our banh mis by the gate while waiting for our flight, and they held up really well. It was a nice conclusion to our week and a half of pigging out through Louisiana and Texas, and it definitely made us want to do more food-related road trips in the future.

Tam Deli and Cafe
8222 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX

Franklin Barbecue – Austin, TX

Monday, July 28th, 2014 by virginia

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Prior to our arrival in Texas, I hadn’t given much thought to Franklin Barbecue. Sure, I wanted to try it, but I also don’t like standing in line or big crowds. I also don’t like feeling disappointed when restaurants don’t live up to their hype. But after getting to Austin and realizing there really wasn’t that much to see around the city, we decided to bite the bullet and make the wait, the logic being that who knows when we’ll ever be back in Austin.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Franklin Barbecue or have never seen the Chase commercial featuring Nobu Matsuhisa, a renowned Japanese chef, visiting the famous Austin joint and meeting Aaron Franklin, the person behind the barbecue, it’s a much lauded barbecue restaurant that started as a food trailer and quickly grew into a brick and mortar location with a line almost as notorious as its food. People literally wait hours each day to eat this barbecue, and brisket, Franklin’s most popular item, always sells out. Once all the food is gone, usually by midday, they close up shop. And so basically, unless you’re the POTUS, there’s no way to avoid waiting if you want to taste that brisket.

Josh and I mapped out our plan of action the night before: he would leave our hotel first around 8:30 am and get in line. I would stay in the room until J woke up and get her ready for the day, including packing the diaper bag full of books and toys that would amuse her during the inevitable wait. While I was getting everything ready, Josh called to say that I should bring whatever beer we had, as the line was long and everyone was drinking. So I put the beer we had left over from the Salt Lick, as well as a few other beers we acquired during our trip, in a grocery bag topped with ice, hooked it up to J’s stroller, and soon J and I were on our way.

I’m pretty directionally challenged, so even though Josh tried to tell me how to get there the night before, I stopped by the front desk for a map and clear instructions. It was almost 10 am at this point. When I asked the nice young man at the desk how to get to Franklin Barbecue, his response was, “Well you see, ma’am, the thing about this place is, there’s this line…” My first thought was, “Yikes! Am I really a ‘ma’am’ already?” Which was quickly followed by my second thought, “Duh, of course I know about the line.” I convinced myself that the “ma’am” was just a polite Southern thing, not a reflection of how old I may or may not look, and I quickly assured him that my husband was already waiting in line; I just needed to know where to go to meet him.

It was a pretty short walk from our hotel to Franklin Barbecue, and as the restaurant came into sight, the line didn’t look too bad. Only when I got closer, and could see down the hill from the building, did I realize just how far it stretched.

At first glance, the line doesn't look too bad

At first glance, the line doesn’t look too bad…

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

When I located Josh, who was about three-quarters down in the line, he told me that the line had actually been longer, but they had just given out the “last man standing” sign to someone only a few people behind him, and so a bunch of people who were at the very end of the line gave up and left. The¬†sign indicates that the person holding it is the last person guaranteed to get brisket. Basically, a worker at the restaurant takes a poll of what each person in line is going to order, and then based on that, they estimate at which point they’re going to run out of brisket. There is also an informal rib count, and I was alarmed to hear that the people right in front of us were the last ones guaranteed ribs.

Our position in line

Our position in line

The restaurant officially opens at 11am, and so we still had a bunch of time to kill before the line would even begin to start moving. Looking around, most people were a lot more prepared than we were, with folding chairs, umbrellas, and coolers of drinks set up. One rowdy group behind us (who we later found out was the crew from Uchi and Uchiko, two of Austin’s top restaurants and where Top Chef Paul Qui honed his skills) was drinking endless cups of bloody marys and seemed to be having a great time. I guess if you think of the wait as sort of a pre-bbq tailgating party, it’s just part of the fun. I still didn’t think the wait was fun, but at least we had a few cold beers to help us pass the time. And if you don’t remember or know to BYO, someone comes around selling cold beers and drinks from a tray.

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens - the smokers out back

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens – the smokers out back

At long last, the line began moving at 11, but at a snail’s pace. The pair in front of us, who were students at the University of Texas, were experienced diners and told us that the line moves slowly because they’ll only serve as many people as they can seat in the restaurant. That way, you are guaranteed to find somewhere to sit and eat your food immediately. It made sense to us, but as the line eventually crawled up towards the side of the building, there looked like a few tables were always empty at any given time.

When we ultimately made our way up the ramp and inside the restaurant (a triumphant feeling, 4 hours after Josh first started waiting), we could finally see what was going on. There’s still a decent wait from the time you get inside until you reach the counter to order, and the reason for that is the man himself – Aaron Franklin. Not only was he taking everyone’s order and personally slicing every brisket, he was greeting and chatting with each person that came up. When it was finally our turn, he asked us where we were from, gave us permission to take pictures, and then made fun of us for not ordering enough food (I guess most people order a lot and take home leftovers, which wouldn’t have been practical for us).

When we ordered a quarter pound of brisket, he asked if we wanted fatty or lean. We’re no fools (or so we thought) – of course we wanted fatty! Then he asked if we were sure, and he sliced off a hunk of a lean burnt end for us to taste, which may have been the single greatest bite of barbecue I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.

The master in action

The master in action

The burnt end, which is the end point of a whole brisket, is probably the most flavorful part of the meat. It’s usually fatty and has lots of bark on it, and even though this was a lean end, we literally had juices dripping down our arms when we bit into it. The end had a nice bit of char on it, was smoky but not overly so, and ridiculously rich in the best way possible. Those ends alone were worth the wait, and we were pretty lucky to have gotten to try them. We wound up changing our order to half lean and half fatty because of that.

The lean brisket was still nicely marbled throughout, though it had a meatier texture than the fatty brisket. The fatty brisket was so tender it practically melted in our mouths. I think it’s just a personal preference – it you like to chew your meat, go for lean. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not tough or chewy at all, but it’s definitely got more bite than the fatty. Some people might find the fatty end too fatty and soft, but for me, there’s no such thing when the meat is prepared properly. The char on the outside of all the slices was just great, imparting lots of concentrated meat flavor.

Brisket up close - look at the glorious bark

Brisket up close – look at the gorgeous bark

The rest of the barbecue was no slouch either. Fortunately, they did not run out of ribs ahead of us, so we were able to get a quarter pound of those. The juicy ribs that were meaty and well seasoned. They weren’t falling off the bone but yielded easily to our bites.

Ribs up top, brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Ribs up top, fatty and lean brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Cole slaw was the only side we ordered, which we used as a crunchy counterpoint to all the rich meat we were eating. It was perfectly fine – fresh, crisp, not overdressed – but nothing to write home about.

Cole slaw

Cole slaw

We also got a quarter pound of pulled pork, which wasn’t the pulverized mash that we’re used to seeing. This was roughly chopped meat, still in identifiable chunks, with a good mix of fatty and lean bits.

Pulled pork

Pulled pork up close

The pulled pork was the best vehicle for three barbecue sauces on the table – Texas-style, espresso, and sweet vinegar. Texas-style was the standard thicker, darker, sweet and smoky sauce. The vinegar sauce reminded us of Carolina barbecue, with its signature tang. The espresso sauce definitely had a strong hint of coffee flavor, but was a bit too out of the box for us to really enjoy the barbecue with; it seem to overpower the flavor of the meat. And we used the other sauces sparingly, as this barbecue was good simply on its own.

Barbecue sauces - espresso, sweet vinegar, Texas-style

Trio of barbecue sauces – espresso, sweet vinegar, and Texas-style

Instead of sausage, we decided to try the turkey, which people in line told us was really something special. The slices we got in our quarter pound order were surprisingly moist for breast meat, and packed a punch of smoky flavor. Josh declared it the best turkey he’s ever eaten, and he desperately wants to try smoking a turkey for our next holiday meal. I’m generally not a turkey lover, except maybe on a club sandwich slathered with mayo, so I probably didn’t appreciate the smoked turkey as much. Compared to the other meats we had, it was much drier in texture, and the smokiness was a bit too strong for my taste. We saved a few pieces of it for J to eat later, as she had fallen asleep while we were in line. She was a definite trooper during the wait – reading books, eating snacks, drinking milk, toddling around, and generally charming the people around her. Aside from a younger baby in a carrier, she was the only kid we saw in line.

Smoked turkey

Smoked turkey

Overall, I have to say, Franklin Barbecue definitely lived up to the hype. We haven’t tasted better barbecue anywhere else, and for us, it was worth the wait. The line itself is an adventure – if you come prepared for it, time passes quickly. The people we met in line treated the wait like a party. They planned their whole day around this. For them, it was a time to drink, laugh, and hang out with friends before eating amazing food. And the barbecue is absolutely amazing. The flavors of the meat, the textures, were all outstanding. Aside from the turkey (which Josh loved), I thought nothing was too smoky but everything had a wonderful savoriness to it that was imparted by the smoker. We ate until we were stuffed, and then continued eating because it was just too good to stop. Besides, we had burned off plenty of calories standing in line for 4.5 hours. And you know what? We would do it again.

Franklin Barbecue
900 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm.

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm

The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by virginia

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We took a much-needed break in San Antonio from eating barbecue after our epic day of feasting through Luling and Lockhart, but we picked back up on the barbecue train after arriving in Austin. We spent the afternoon exploring the south side of the city, including the famed South Congress Ave. area where there are lots of restaurants and bars. It was kind of dead though, as it was still early in the evening, so we decided to make the 40 minute drive to the original location of the Salt Lick, a barbecue place we’ve heard a lot about.

It was fortunate that we made the decision to go when we did, as they were closing the restaurant early for their staff holiday party that evening. There was a short wait for a table, but we had the foresight to pick up a 6-pack of beer on our way to the restaurant (it’s a BYO) so we were able to enjoy a cold one while we waited. It also gave us time to observe the huge pit were all the meats were being cooked, which definitely helped to whet our appetites.

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

We ended up getting a huge table in the back just for the three of us, which gave us plenty of room to accommodate J’s high chair and spread out. We debated ordering family style, which is basically all you can eat beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, as well as sides, but we weren’t super hungry and didn’t want to overdo it. At $21.95/person though, it’s a pretty good deal, and a lot of groups around us appeared to be partaking. Instead, we shared combo plate and one double cut beef rib. The combo plate came with two meats, and we selected brisket and pork ribs (the other choices are sausage or turkey). It came with potato salad, cole slaw, and beans on the side, as well as soft bread, pickles, and onions.

Table of food (and you can see J's little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

Table of food (and you can see J’s little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

The pork ribs were very meaty, not falling off the bone but still tender. The brisket was on the drier side though, without the marbling that I like in fattier cuts. Fortunately the Salt Lick barbecue sauce was there to help, add some moisture and tangy sweetness.

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

The single order double cut beef rib actually came with two ribs, both massive. I felt like I was in the Flintstones, gnawing on a gigantic rib. Unfortunately, the meat was pretty tough and dry, and even the barbecue sauce wasn’t much help here. The pork rib was the clear winner of the two.

Double cut beef ribs

Double cut beef ribs – you can see the meat sort of dried and shriveling away from the bone on the front rib

Overall, we were slightly disappointed with the barbecue from the Salt Lick. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The meat didn’t have much smoke flavor to it, which I don’t necessarily mind, but it was definitely drier than other barbecue we tasted on our trip. I don’t know if they were in a rush since they were closing early that evening so we just happened to be there on an off night, or if what we got was standard. I also think that part of the appeal of the Salt Lick (the Driftwood location at least) is the atmosphere, which is usually supposed to be crowded, noisy, and festive, with live music and plenty of seating, both indoors and out. We were there on a chilly winter night just before they were closing, and we were at a big table with just the three of us. I would definitely like to try it again, maybe on a warm day sitting outside with a bunch of friends and a cooler full of beer.

The Salt Lick (multiple locations)
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX

Apiary

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia

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Just wanted to take a break in between the Louisiana and Texas trip to talk about a semi-recent meal we had at Aviary in NYC in February to celebrate our 16th anniversary as a couple. It was a notable anniversary for us because we were both 16 years old when we started dating, so sometime in between this anniversary and the next, we’ll have been together for more than half our lives. I think that’s a pretty cool milestone.

Since J came into the picture, it’s rare for us to have a dinner on our own. We either bring her along with us, or if we can get someone to watch her, we’re usually meeting friends for dinner or going to a party. So when Josh’s parents graciously agreed to watch her for our anniversary, we knew we wanted to have a nice meal out in the city, which is a rare luxury for us these days. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Apiary, a fairly under the radar restaurant with a chef we were both curious about – Scott Bryan.

We had both read about Scott Bryan in Kitchen Confidential, where author/chef Anthony Bourdain sings his praises. After leaving Veritas in 2007, however, we hadn’t really heard much about Chef Bryan since then. He seems like such a talented, passionate cook who is really just focused on the food, not all the PR and other hype surrounding chefs these days, and so we were eager to sample his offerings.

As a side bonus, we went on a Monday, when the restaurant offers no corkage fees. We stopped at Astor Wines nearby and picked up a bottle of white from Tuscany and a bottle of red Chateauneuf du Pape to go with our meal. I had researched the menu online beforehand so I had a good idea of what I wanted to order, but of course I needed Josh to agree with me. Our waiter also came up with a long list of recommendations when asked what dishes he preferred. Rather than going for the 5 course tasting menu, we decided to come up with our own tasting with four appetizers and two entrees, so that we could try more dishes.

While we waited for our food to come out, we noshed on the bread, slices of sourdough with a hearty yet crispy crust. It was delicious with the fruity olive oil that came on the side for dipping.

Sourdough bread and olive oil

Sourdough bread and olive oil

We told our waiter that we planned to share all the dishes, so the kitchen thoughtfully split some of them into two plates for us. For the first course, we were each presented with our own plates of hamachi crudo, and our order of grilled quail was placed in the middle of the table. The hamachi, which is yellowtail fish, was sliced thin and served raw with slices of avocado, hearts of palm, chopped chives, finely diced jalapenos, and a microgreen salad on top. The dish was dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette, and while I loved the pop of the acid and the freshness of the fish and vegetables, Josh thought there was a bit too much citrus on the fish that overwhelmed its delicate flavors. Overall though, we both thought it was a bright dish that woke up our taste buds and was a great start to the meal.

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

We were more mixed about the grilled quail dish, as we thought that was a bit odd for them to have presented us with individual crudos while the quail just sort of sat on the table and got cold while we ate our fish. Maybe they expected us to finish our crudo quickly, and then move on to the quail immediately? Logistically, it was also kind of hard to eat the quail while reaching over our crudo plates. I think our waiter saw us struggling a bit and quickly removed the empty plates and provided us with clean small plates to transfer the quail onto, which was a slightly¬† messy affair. The quail itself was well seasoned, but the meat was pretty chewy. Josh picked up his half with his hands and ate the meat off the bone, while I tried a more delicate approach with my knife and fork, which wasn’t very successful. It came with lentils on the side, curried spiced yogurt, and drizzle of paprika oil that added a bit more smoke to the dish. The flavors were intense and exotic, which we enjoyed, but it was hard to get past the chewiness of the quail.

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

For our second course, the kitchen split our order of swiss chard and ricotta ravioli. There were two plump raviolis in each bowl that were topped with a piece of fried sage, brown butter, and poppy seeds. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and gorgeously delicate, both in texture and flavor. The brown butter was a tad greasy but otherwise appropriately rich, and worked well with the sage. The surprise element of the dish was the poppy seeds sprinkled on top, which added a nice dainty crunch to each bite.

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage brown butter, poppy

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage, brown
butter, poppy

The last of our appetizer courses was the grilled octopus, which they also split for us. Each portion of tentacle came with romesco sauce, chorizo oil, and arugula dressed with lemon. I took a bite and commented to Josh about how it was probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, and he looked back at me in surprise and said the texture was only ok. We traded bites and indeed, his octopus was much chewier, with a sort of bounciness to it, while I could have cut my portion with just the side of my fork. Coincidentally, this has happened to us before, where we each had two completely different tentacle textures from the same serving. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular preparation, especially the smokiness from the grill and from the chorizo oil. The arugula salad lightened up the dish and prevented it from feeling too heavy.

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Grilled octopus, romesco, baby arugula, lemon

For our entree course, the kitchen did that thing again where they split one of our dishes (the duck breast) and served the other one (the pork chop) whole at the same time, where it also sat in the middle of the table until we were ready for it. Nevertheless, the duck was simply fabulous – medium rare, beautifully pink, rendered skin, and perfectly seasoned. There were whole green peppercorns in the jus drizzled on top, which had gave each bite a little peppery pop and a slight floral hint. I wasn’t a big fan of the glazed turnips on the side (I found them to be slightly too bitter and acidic, although Josh didn’t mind them), but I enjoyed the pureed parsnips and chewy farro underneath. The duck was the real star of the plate though, and it was our favorite dish of the night.

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Josh finished his duck first and dug into the pork chop, still having to reach awkwardly across his duck plate. The pork chop was massive, probably the thickest pork chop we’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, and was cooked through to medium as the chef recommended. It was served on top of a bed of black bean tinga, which is a Mexican style sauce made with chipotles. I thought the beans were just slightly too al dente for my taste, but Josh disagreed and liked that they had texture to them. There was a spiced avocado mash on top of the pork, but I didn’t taste any of the orange ginger glaze that was mentioned on the menu. I thought the pork was seasoned well and the dish had a lot of flavor to it, but it didn’t really wow us. We felt like it was something we can make at home, and Josh’s mom has a similar dish in her repertoire that involves simmering pork chops and black beans in a combination of salsa and tomato sauce. Obviously this was a much more refined dish than the one she makes, and the quality of the pork was vastly superior, but the flavors were almost identical.

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

I was stuffed to the gills by this point and didn’t even finish my half of the gigantic pork chop, so we were prepared to pass on dessert. Plus we heard from Josh’s mom that J was getting a little fussy and was probably going to be ready for bed soon, and we wanted to see her before she went down for the night since we had left for work before she had gotten up for the day. The waiter surprised us by bringing a vanilla panna cotta with our check, in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly nice gesture, and helped to cap off a lovely evening. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy, and we could see real vanilla bean seeds on top. It was served with raspberry coulis that was just slightly tart, which helped cut through the richness of the cream.

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Overall, we really enjoyed our anniversary meal at Apiary. The meal hit some really high highs (the duck, the raviolis), and didn’t really have any misses. While the quail and the pork chop weren’t our favorites of the evening, they still had great flavor and would probably appeal to a lot of other people. I loved the hamachi and the octopus courses, but the kitchen showed a bit of inconsistency in those dishes as Josh’s octopus was far from the tender specimen I received, and his crudo had too much acid on the plate. As a side note, Josh later confessed that he’s actually not a big fan of octopus in general, because he feels it has no flavor, while I vehemently disagreed. See, even after 16 years together, there are still surprises in our relationship! But in general, we had a great dinner, and service was fabulous. Our waiter was knowledgeable, enthusiastic about the food, and came by to check on us often. With BYO Mondays, Apiary is a great place to go out for a nice, upscale meal without blowing your budget. They also offer a three course prix fixe menu on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for $38, with items from the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Apiary
60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 by virginia

 

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Our last sit-down meal in New Orleans was also one of the best we had during our vacation. The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House is pretty legendary, and I didn’t want to leave town without trying it. After picking up our rental car for the rest of our trip, we drove straight to Willie Mae’s in Mid-City for a fried chicken breakfast.

The area surrounding Willie Mae’s is definitely a little bit more depressed than the touristy French Quarter or Garden District. The neighborhood was hit hard by Katrina, and volunteers actually helped rebuild the restaurant which had been completely destroyed. I don’t know what it was like pre-Katrina, but it looked to us like a charming old school luncheonette located in a white house on a corner of a mostly residential neighborhood.

The unassuming white building that houses Willie Mae's

The unassuming white building where Willie Mae’s Scotch House is located

The restaurant opens at 11 and we got there around 11:30 so I was worried that we would have to wait in line or deal with the lunch rush. Fortunately we got there just in time and were seated immediately, though the place was full the entire time we were there. We knew that we were ordering fried chicken but we debated for a bit whether we should get two orders of fried chicken, or if we should just get one order and try something else from the menu. Since three pieces of chicken come to an order, it was easy for us to share a plate and get something different as well. We opted for the country fried pork chop, which is coated in batter and then fried. The crust is more tempura-like than the fried chicken’s coating. It was not as crispy but was well seasoned, and the pork chop inside was still juicy and tender.

Country fried pork chop

Country fried pork chop

We got to pick a side dish with the pork chop and opted for red beans. The side portion turned out to be a huge bowl of soupy beans served with a mound of rice. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten red beans before and therefore have no basis for comparison, but I thought these were fantastic. Simple but well seasoned, flavorful, and perfectly balanced with the rice, I couldn’t stop eating it. I’ll need to see if I can find a recipe somewhere!

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

But back to the main event: the fried chicken. Just to preface, I am by no means a fried chicken connoisseur. Any fried chicken craving that I have is easily satisfied by a run to the nearest KFC, and I’m just as happy eating the prefabricated, commercial grade sludge that passes for frozen chicken fingers. “Upscale” restaurant fried chicken has been pretty hyped this year, and I usually don’t buy into that. Why should I pay ~$15 for two or three pieces of fried chicken when the same amount can get me a 6-piece bucket plus biscuits and sides? Well, if all of these restaurant fried chickens are like Willie Mae’s, then I’ve been missing out. It is unbelievably good and definitely the best I’ve ever had. And at $10 for three pieces with one side plus a vegetable, it’s a bargain. The chicken is perfectly fried to a deep brown color, and the crust is feather light and not greasy in the slightest. It shattered spectacularly when I bit into my piece (I took the thigh while Josh ate the breast; we split the wing), and was well seasoned. J loved eating all the fragments of crust that came off the chicken and couldn’t get enough of them. The chicken itself was also super juicy and flavorful throughout, like it had been brined. I like dark meat because it’s usually more tender and less prone to drying out, but I took a bite of the breast and was just as pleased with the juiciness and flavor.

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

For the side, I chose macaroni and cheese. It was casserole style so baked and on the drier side, but still cheesy in flavor. It just needed a dash of salt to liven it up a bit. The vegetable of the day was peas. Both were fine, though nothing special. Everything just paled in comparison to the fried chicken.

Overall we both absolutely loved Willie Mae’s. The fried chicken was beyond my expectations, and I still drool a little every time I think about it. I was happy to have tried the country fried pork chop, but I also regret not getting a second order of fried chicken. We heard people ordering fried chicken plates with an additional side of fried chicken (3 pieces for $7.50), and now I understand why. The food in general was just simple and homey but expertly prepared; it was the ultimate comfort food destination. Service was fast and friendly, and both the sweet tea and the lemonade were great accompaniments to the meal. Don’t let the fact that it’s far away from the touristy areas of New Orleans deter you from going. It’s truly a special dining destination that should not be missed.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St Ann St.
New Orleans, LA

Muffaletta Round-Up – New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th, 2014 by virginia

Muffaletta, a sandwich made from round Sicilian bread stuffed with Italian cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad, is another iconic New Orleans food. During our last trip, we tried the “original” muffaletta from Central Grocery and loved the combination of the soft focaccia-like bread, the savoriness of the cured meats, and the sharp brininess of the olive salad. I enjoyed it so much that I made Josh bring home a whole sandwich (they’re so big that they’re sliced into quarters and can be bought as a half or a whole; a quarter is a good-sized sandwich for one) after his conference ended. The bread suffered a bit from the travel/plane ride, but that olive salad was still great.

This time around we decided to try out some other muffalettas. The version from Cochon Butcher, the more casual sandwich outpost of Donald Link’s Cochon Restaurant, has gotten great buzz, so we headed over there for a late breakfast/early lunch.

Cochon Restaurant actually played a small part in the inspiration for this trip. We had been watching a movie with Jason Segel called Jeff Who Lives at Home, which takes place in Louisiana, and Cochon was featured in one of the scenes. While the movie was on, I was reading articles about it and learned that Jason Segel had gained over 20 pounds during filming because of all the great food in New Orleans. The funny part about the weight gain is that the movie is supposed to take place over the course of one day, so you can see his character thinner in one scene and then visibly bigger in another, even though no time has passed in the movie itself. It made me think about all of the great food we had eaten in New Orleans on our previous trip, and all of the great food we didn’t get to eat.

Josh and I usually don’t like to travel back to places we’ve been before because we feel like there are so many places we haven’t seen yet. With the arrival of Baby J, however, we’ve had to amend our way of traveling – less exotic, more low key – so I suggested making New Orleans the starting point of our trip, but also adding in cities where we haven’t visited before. It was a win/win situation.

Anyway, while I would have liked to eat at Cochon Restaurant, I thought that J would be better off in the less formal Cochon Butcher. She’s pretty good in restaurants but still has a habit of throwing food all over the floor, and I was afraid of her making a mess or causing a scene. Unfortunately, we got there right when a huge medical conference at the nearby convention center let out for lunch, so there was a huge line of doctors waiting to order food. J was getting fussy so I walked her around the block a few times while Josh stood in the line to place our order. Cochon Butcher is pretty small inside and I didn’t want to try to navigate her stroller around all the people. Luckily there were a few tables outside and I was able to nab one and park her stroller away from the crowd. It was a warm day and sitting outside was actually quite nice.

The long line outside Cochon Butcher

The long line at Cochon Butcher

Our food was delivered to us shortly, including the much-anticipated muffaletta. It’s definitely a “chef-y” version of the sandwich, with high quality, thicker cut meats that are cured in-house. It’s also a lot smaller than Central Grocery’s version, although still plenty of food.

Muffaletta sandwich

Cochon muffaletta

The bread was fluffier and lighter, which was also different, but the biggest disappointment was the olive salad, which I don’t think was as briny and didn’t have a lot of impact. The biggest issue was that there simply wasn’t enough of it, so it got kind of lost between all the bread and the meat. Don’t get me wrong – the sandwich was still delicious. It was served warm and the cheese was all melty, which I liked. But it was more of just an upscale Italian style sandwich rather than what I think of when I think about eating a muffaletta.

Autopsy shot

Autopsy shot

We also ordered the pork belly sandwich, which came on white toast and was topped with a cucumber-mint salad. The pork belly was tender and flavorful, as you would expect from good pork belly. However, I thought it was just maybe slightly underdone. The pork belly was definitely cooked through, it just wasn’t as caramelized as I thought it would have been so that it would melt in our mouths. But maybe that’s just how the sandwich is supposed to be. It was still a delicious sandwich, with the refreshing salad to cut through the fattiness, but it didn’t have that wow factor.

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

We also got an order of boudin, which is a Cajun style sausage that is made with ground meat and rice mixed together. We were looking forward to eating the boudin in Lafayette, where it’s more well-known, but Michael the concierge told us not to miss Cochon’s version. It was intensely meaty, with a bit of a funk to it that I think comes from chicken liver. It was the first boudin we’ve ever tasted, and we were big fans. It was wonderful with the whole grain mustard and sweet pickles on the side.

Hot boudin

Hot boudin

Lastly, we got some pancetta mac and cheese, which was our favorite dish of the meal. The sauce was creamy and cheesy, as expected, and the pancetta added a savory, smoky aspect. The top was nicely browned, and it was just a bowl of comforting umaminess.

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Overall I really liked Cochon Butcher, although the sandwiches themselves didn’t knock my socks off. It’s a great place for a low key meal with quality ingredients at a reasonable price. Plus when he dropped off our food, the waiter said, “nice order, bro”, which made me a bit proud and predisposed to enjoy it.

Josh was more disappointed with Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta than I was, so we decided to pick up a half from Central Grocery the next day and eat it back in our room later that evening. This was after our breakfast/lunch at Domilise’s and Casamento’s, and our long walk from Uptown back to the French Quarter. Since Central Grocery closes at 5 pm, we got half a muffaletta to go, and then walked over to the Napoleon House for a drink and late afternoon snack/early dinner.

DSC_5788

Napoleon House is known for two things: inventing the Pimm’s Cup, and their hot muffaletta sandwich. We were hungry but not starving so we decided to share a half; it’s size is more similar to Central Grocery so a quarter for each of us was definitely plenty. I actually thought the sandwich would be hotter and more toasty, but it was just slightly warmed through and the cheese was barely melted. It was fine though, and the flavors were generally spot-on for me. However, visually, the proportions were off and the sandwich is constructed differently from Central Grocery’s version. Here, the bread is thicker and softer, and the cheese acts as a barrier between the olive salad and the bread, which prevents the olive oil flavor from soaking in. Nevertheless, there was a lot of olive salad, which I liked because the flavor was nicely pronounced, and there was a fairly thick layer of meat to balance everything out. While I enjoyed Napoleon House’s muffaletta quite a bit, Josh was still focused on the Central Grocery muffaletta.

Hot muffaletta

Hot muffaletta

The Pimm’s Cup was a pleasant surprise for me, since I typically don’t like gin-based drinks. It’s a combination of Pimm’s #1, lemonade, and 7-Up, garnished with a slice of cucumber. However, this tasted mostly like potent lemonade and was actually quite refreshing. It wasn’t overly sweet, and I could enjoy drinking a lot of this on a hot summer’s day.

Pimm's cup

Pimm’s cup

We also ordered a portion of jambalaya with our sandwich for J to snack on, but she was more interested in running around. It was a pretty good version, not too smoky, with lots of sausage mixed throughout.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya

The atmosphere at Napoleon House is part of its appeal. The bar has a ton of history and looks it on the inside. It’s dark with a classic, European feel to it, and old pictures and paintings hanging on the walls. We were a bit nervous about whether it was baby-appropriate, but the hostess was very gracious and seated us in a near-empty room where J wouldn’t bother anyone. Our waiter was great too, attentive but unobtrusive. He didn’t mind when J started taking a few laps around the empty tables. It’s definitely a place where I could see hanging out for a quiet drink in a historic setting away from the craziness of Bourbon Street.

The interior of Napoleon House

The interior of Napoleon House

After Napoleon House, we walked around a little more and then called it an early night. We knew we’d be hungry later so we picked up another fried shrimp po’ boy from Verti Marte to go with our half muffaletta from Central Grocery. When we finally cracked into the muffaletta, it was just as we remembered. Soft bread, not too dense or too fluffy, slightly oily from the olive salad soaking into it, and the perfect ratio to the meat and cheese. And that olive salad – bright and briny with a slight kick – it packs a punch of flavor into the sandwich.

The original muffaletta from Central Grocery

The Central Grocery muffaletta

I guess it’s no surprise that Central Grocery reigns supreme as our favorite muffaletta. What really puts it over the top is the tangy and spicy olive salad that just bursts with flavor. It’s also the first muffaletta sandwich we ever ate and is the standard that we use to compare all other muffalettas. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy the other versions we tried on this trip. I thought Napoleon House had a pretty good example of a hot muffaletta, and I enjoyed the slight meltiness of the cheese in the sandwich. And Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta was still delicious, with the best meats and cheese out of the bunch. If I had to deconstruct a muffaletta and eat each component separately, Cochon’s would be the one I would prefer to do that with. But as a whole, nothing beats the original.

DSC_5729

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA

Napoleon House
500 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA

Central Grocery
923 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA

Robert Irvine’s eat! – Hilton Head, SC

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by virginia

DSC_2148

This year’s trip to Hilton Head was especially exciting because it was Baby J’s first time there (outside of my belly at least). We were excited to take her to the pool and beach and watch her play around. Sadly, she did not take like a fish to water. While she loves her bathtub and inflatable kiddie pool, she did not like the salt water, sand, or the bright Hilton Head sun. It was a struggle to get her slathered from head to toe in sunscreen (she also refused to wear a hat), and trying to wrangle a squirmy, greased up baby into a bathing suit is no easy feat. By the time we got her from the room to the pool, she was already tired and cranky, and being in the water didn’t help. We tried various floatation devices – rings, tubes, life vests – and nothing made her happy. Oh well. There’s always next year!

On the upside, J was great by the time dinner rolled around each day. She usually had a long, restful nap by the pool in the early afternoon and woke up refreshed for meals out. On the first night, we decided to try Robert Irvine’s eat! restaurant. Josh’s parents had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and we were curious because we knew of Chef Irvine from the Food Network but didn’t know much about his food.

The menu is split into two main sections – tapas and entrees. There are also various salads and sides available. Since the rest of our large group wasn’t due to arrive until the next day, we were able to take advantage of the tapas format and share a few of the small plates to start. The gnocchi with short rib bolognese was delicious, with chewy yet tender rounds of gnocchi and a rich, meaty sauce.

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

The fried green tomatoes, on the other hand, were a disappointment. They were heavily coated in a tempura-like batter that was soggy and flavorless. Clumps of surprisingly bland feta cheese were sandwiched between the tomato slices, which also did not help textural issues, and the only thing I could taste was the balsamic vinegar drizzled about.

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

It was pretty dark in the restaurant so I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the rest of our tapas. The she crab bisque, a Hilton Head staple, had a nice creamy consistency and a relatively good amount of crab flavor but was way too peppery. The pepper really hit the back of our throats and had us coughing a bit, which wasn’t a pleasant feeling. The coconut crusted Carolina shrimp was well executed with a nice and crispy crust, and the accompanying orange jalapeno marmalade was sticky and sweet, but it was sort of a pedestrian dish.

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the pork chop and the blackened snapper. The pork chop was massive and packed a lot of flavor as well, likely because it had been brined. The meat had a nice crust to it and was tender on the inside, and the accompanying sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy added a nice balance of salty, sour, savory, and sweet.

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

The blackened snapper was surprisingly on the blander side. It was served with grits, red pepper and goat cheese coulis, and a balsamic reduction. The dish just needed more seasoning, as the individual components were cooked well but needed more pizazz.

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

We saw Tabasco ice cream as part of a dessert so of course we had to satisfy our curiosity. It was served alongside sweet potato bread pudding, and while it was an interesting combination (the ice cream did actually have some Tabasco flavor), it’s probably not something I would eat again. The bread pudding itself had potential but half of it was burned, which was a bit of a turnoff. We also tried an apple crisp that was nothing extraordinary.

Overall, Josh and I both thought that eat! was a bit of a miss. There were some hits, like the pork chop, which was the best dish of the evening, and the gnocchi with short rib bolognese, but the rest of the dishes were just so-so for varying reasons. Some were execution issues (the fried green tomatoes, the bread pudding), and others were seasoning issues (the bisque had too much and the snapper had too little). The meal as a whole was just inconsistent. It’s a pretty popular restaurant though, particularly on Tuesdays when tapas are half off. Usually, most of the small plates are in the $7-$10 range and entrees are on the pricier side at $25-$35. The only two entrees below $20 are a burger ($16) and fried chicken ($19). Our search for more go-to restaurants in Hilton Head continues (so far Red Fish has become our favorite place, and One Hot Mama’s has merited a repeat visit).

Robert Irvine’s eat!
1000 William Hilton Pkwy.
Hilton Head, SC

Bibou – Philadelphia

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by virginia

bibou

After spending the morning and early afternoon in Washington DC, Josh and I head back north to Philadelphia, the second and last stop of our food-oriented weekend getaway. While Josh drove, I used his phone to find a nice restaurant for dinner. We settled on Bibou, which had gotten rave reviews from multiple sources. We called up hoping to score a last minute reservation on a Saturday night (which I had read was pretty difficult), and while the woman who answered the phone was a little hesitant, we were able to snag a two-top for a late dinner, which worked out well for us.

After checking into our hotel, Le Meridien on Arch Street (cute boutique-like hotel right across from City Hall), we set off in search of a liquor store, as Bibou is a BYOB. Because it was late, most of the stores nearby were closed, but Josh was able to find one with a limited wine selection. We wound up arriving at the restaurant a little early for our reservation, but it turned out not to be a problem and were seated quickly.

I was starving and dove right into the bread, which was a fantastic baguette served with real French butter. The baguette had a nice crust and good chew while the butter was thick, rich, and way more flavorful than most butters that I’ve tasted.

Delicious baguette and French butter

Delicious baguette and French butter

For our appetizer course, the waiter recommended that we get the bone marrow, but because we had just indulged in bone marrow at the Blue Duck Tavern the previous night, we thought it would probably be better to try something different. I picked escargots and Josh opted for risotto with summer truffles, and we swapped plates midway through. The escargots were beautifully presented in a spiral shaped dish reminiscent of a snail shell. The snails themselves were plump and meaty, some of the best specimens I’ve eaten. The sauce was unusual to me – I’m used to eating escargot in garlic butter, but this was a deep and rich beefy-tasting sauce. I thought it was a bit heavy, but I did like the fresh fava beans mixed in with the snails, which helped brighten up the dish a little.

Beautifully presented escargot with fresh fava beans

Beautifully presented escargot with fresh fava beans

The risotto was covered in shaved summer truffle, and we were really excited to taste this dish. However, despite all the truffle shavings, there was very little truffle flavor. I guess summer truffles are less potent than the winter variety, but I was really surprised by the lack of earthy aroma in the dish. If I closed my eyes, I don’t think I would even have known that I was eating truffle. I was a bit sad, since I love truffles, but the risotto itself was fine. It was creamy but still a bit al dente. All it needed was a touch more salt.

Risotta with summer truffles

Risotto with summer truffles

For the main course, I chose the braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, while Josh opted for a whole dorade. The pig foot was very tender, but I had a hard time finding the foie gras inside. There was a good mix of shank meat and cartilage, which I appreciated, and the crust was well seasoned. It was served with a heaping pile of lentils that were savory and delicious, but very heavy. We weren’t able to finish the portion of lentils, and I think the waiter was a bit insulted by that, as he made a comment about it when he cleared our plates.

Braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, served with lentils

Braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, served on top of a bed of lentils

The dorade, on the other hand, was a better dish for a hot summer’s day. The whole fish was beautifully prepared, with crispy, golden skin and moist, tender flesh on the inside. It was served with a lime sauce that was bright, complex, and positively delicious. It was our favorite dish of the evening.

Whole dorade with lime sauce

Whole dorade with lime sauce

We were both pretty full and passed on dessert. They brought us each a coconut macaroon and vanilla meringue to finish off our meal – a sweet touch.

Macaroons and meringues

Macaroons and meringues

Overall Josh and I both had mixed feelings about Bibou. We really wanted to like the restaurant but the dishes were ordered were mostly just ok. There were flashes of brilliance, like the dorade, but the escargot and stuffed pig foot, which I think are signature dishes, were unremarkable (except for the plating of the escargot, which was definitely memorable). Service was odd. It was hard to gauge our waiter, whether he was unfriendly or just had a dry sense of humor. Either way, it made us slightly uncomfortable, and we were worried that we were offending him. The chef, on the other hand, was incredibly welcoming and humble, coming out to check on our meal and chat with us for a little bit. At the end of the meal, the hostess (who I think is the chef’s wife), came around with a laptop and asked us if we wanted to make our next reservation. We thought that was slightly odd, but reading other reviews, I guess it’s standard, as reservations at Bibou are in high demand and hard to come by. If we were regulars, I would appreciate it, but as an out-of-towner/first-timer at the restaurant, it was unexpected and came off as slightly presumptuous. I would like to give Bibou another shot if we had the opportunity though. I wasn’t impressed this time, but perhaps we just ordered the wrong dishes. My selections were more suited for winter than for summer. Prices are pretty high (about $10-$20 for appetizers and $27-$35 for entrees), but it’s offset by the fact that it’s a BYOB.

Bibou
1009 S 8th St.
Philadelphia, PA

Blue Duck Tavern – Washington DC

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by virginia

blueducktavern

Last July (yes, over a year ago, in 2012), Josh took me to Washington DC and Philadelphia for my birthday. Both are places we’ve been to before, but I was seven months pregnant at the time and feeling a bit down about not being able to go on our annual “big” trip (ie., Peru, the Galapagos) due to my condition. Physically, I probably could have traveled overseas, but I didn’t want to go anywhere exotic or new/exciting for fear that I wouldn’t be able to fully partake in all activities, especially eating and drinking. DC and Philly were a great weekend getaway for us, with enough sights and foodie destinations to keep me occupied and happy.

I had a half day Friday at work so Josh picked me up in the city at 2 pm and we made the drive to DC in pretty good time, not hitting too much traffic along the way. He had made reservations for a relatively late dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern, which gave us plenty of time to check into our hotel and make our way over to the restaurant. That was fortunate because we were at a different hotel from where we thought we booked. Rather than staying at the Westin Georgetown, which is right across the street from the Blue Duck Tavern, we were actually at the Westin City Center, which is a mile down the road. It wasn’t a bad walk, although we were a bit hot and definitely hungry by the time we arrived.

The restaurant itself was not what I was expecting. When I think of a tavern, I picture something a bit rustic, with exposed beams and rough wood. The Blue Duck Tavern had extremely modern decor, with contemporary furniture and lots of clean lines. It was also a little more casual than I expected. We did have a nice view of the open kitchen from where we sat.

Open kitchen

View of the open kitchen

The menu looked incredibly appealing, with lots of options for appetizers and main courses. Josh and I decided to go a bit crazy and ordered lots of dishes, creating our own mini tasting menu. We told our waiter that we wanted to share everything, and that he should bring the dishes in whatever order the kitchen thought was appropriate.

We ended up starting off with the oven roasted bone marrow topped with ramp butter, which was decadently delicious. It was served with a head of roasted garlic and grilled country bread.

Bone marrow

Roasted bone marrow with ramp butter

We spread some cloves of roasted garlic on each piece of toast, then topped it with the melty marrow and ramp butter. The marrow was rich and flavorful, and it was an ample portion to split between the two of us.

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Next up was the spinach and smoked ricotta tart, which was like a savory ricotta cheesecake. It was served cold, and we could really taste the smokiness of the cheese. It came with a side salad of fresh baby spinach leaves and toasted pine nuts, which helped cut through the richness of the ricotta. It was a simple dish but packed with lots of flavor.

Spinach and ricotta tart

Spinach and smoked ricotta tart

We moved on to the 12-hour roasted suckling pig, which was very tender, as expected. There was a mustard jus in the pan that definitely packed a mustardy punch, but overall I thought the dish was just ok. It wasn’t as intensely pork-y as I had hoped, although the big piece of fried pork skin on top was a nice touch. It was served with a gorgeous pile of roasted baby vegetables.

12-hour roasted suckling pig

12-hour roasted suckling pig

The next dish was butter poached lobster on top of crispy pork and split pea emulsion. It was really an interesting dish, with the tender lobster paired with what was essentially pulled pork formed together into a cake, breaded, and fried. The split pea emulsion was creamy and sweet. It was a nice mix of textures and flavors.

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

I was not a big fan of the course that followed, the braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce. Part of it was probably because I was very full by this point, and this was an extremely heavy dish. The beef rib itself was huge, incredibly meaty, and fork tender. However, I found the steak sauce to be completely overwhelming. It just covered the beef and was all I could taste. We had a hard time finishing this one.

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

On the other hand, I loved the crispy fried veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morel mushrooms. It seemed like this dish was made just for me! The sweetbreads were nicely fried, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The morels had a nice earthiness to them. The mac and cheese was more creamy than cheesy though, and it could have used a touch more seasoning, but otherwise, it was a well composed dish.

Crispy veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morels

Crispy veal sweetbreads with aged cheddar mac and cheese and morel mushrooms

Lastly, we got a side of sauteed wild mushrooms. It was completely unnecessary – we had more than enough food on the table. The mushrooms were sauteed with olive oil and garlic. I found them to be a bit chewy, and the texture was sort of a turnoff. Too bad, because I usually love mushrooms.

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Overall we enjoyed our meal at the Blue Duck Tavern, although there were a few hiccups with some of the courses. We generally found that the “appetizer” dishes (the bone marrow, spinach and smoked ricotta tart, butter poached lobster, crispy sweetbreads with mac and cheese) were better than the “entree” dishes (the suckling pig and the braised beef rib), though we may just have ordered poorly. The smaller dishes ranged from $11-$16 and the larger courses were mostly in the $25-$30 range. The appetizers were all shareable portions though, so it would be easy to make a nice meal out of several selections. We liked crafting our own tasting menu, and the waiter was very accommodating. The ingredients are obviously all fresh, and the menu even tells you where it comes from. The dishes are seasonal and the menu changes often, so I would definitely make a return trip if given the opportunity.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW at M St.
Washington, DC

CQs – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by virginia

The summer is upon us in full swing, and our annual trip to Hilton Head will be coming up soon. I realize now that I still haven’t posted about last year’s restaurants, and so I have limited time to remedy the situation before we head back down there again. Following our delightful roadfood trip to South Carolina last year (the trip home, on the other hand, was not so great), we spent a full week basking in the hot Hilton Head sun. Dinners out were a bit hectic with our large group, but we managed. We tried a mix of new (for us) and old restaurants last year.

cq

One of the “old” restaurants was CQs, a place we used to love. Traditionally, it was the restaurant we would always go to on our very first night in Hilton Head each year, but gradually, the food began to disappoint and we stopped going altogether. Last year, we heard that the food had improved greatly and decided to go back to check it out, for old time’s sake.

The menu reads very well, with lots of low country dishes and local seafood. Josh and I shared the shrimp bisque and the crispy glazed pork belly to start. The pork belly was glazed with barbecue sauce and served with roasted peaches on a bed of grits. The belly was beautifully cooked, caramelized on the outside, and melted in our mouths. The sweet peaches complemented the salty pork belly, and with the grits, it was a great combination of flavors and textures.

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

The shrimp bisque, however, was a huge disappointment. There was virtually no shrimp flavor; it almost tasted like canned tomato soup to me. The pimento crostini floating in the middle added absolutely nothing to the soup. I took a few spoonfuls and then passed the rest back to Josh, who didn’t love it but didn’t hate it as much as I did.

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

For the main course, Josh and I ordered the pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout and the grilled pork chop. The trout was nicely cooked, with a cornmeal dusted crust on the outside. It was served with a zucchini pancake that was a bit bland and chewy, and some sweet corn kernels and salty bacon pieces. There was a peach compote on top, similar to the roasted peaches on the pork belly. It was a decent dish but lacked pizazz.

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

After the delicious pork belly, I was looking forward to the grilled “prime” pork chop (their quotes, not mine). It came out looking wonderful, with a perfect diamond grill mark pattern seared onto the outside of the meat. The inside was a completely different story; it was extremely rare in the middle. Normally I don’t mind my pork slightly pink, but this was much rarer than that. And considering that I was almost eight months pregnant at the time, I was a bit alarmed about eating barely cooked pork. We alerted the waiter, who was apologetic and took the plate back to the kitchen. He returned a little while later, with the same exact plate, and the same exact pork in the same exact position that I had left it. The goat cheese napoleon and sauteed peppers and sausage on the side that I had picked at were also just as I left them, fork marks and all. The edges of the pork seemed a bit more cooked this time around, but when I cut through it again, it was the same level of rareness in the middle. I don’t know what was done with the plate when it was returned to the kitchen, maybe it was stuck in the microwave for a few seconds, but whatever they did, they certainly didn’t check it to see if it was more well done the this time around.

Char grilled "prime" pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

Char grilled “prime” pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

By that point, everyone else had finished eating and I didn’t feel like sending the pork back a second time, so I just left it. No one commented about it when they cleared my plate. Since Josh and I had shared trout dish, we weren’t starving, but I was pretty unhappy with how the incident was handled. It certainly left a bad impression for us, and the rest of the food fell short as well. With the exception of the pork belly appetizer, we weren’t excited or impressed by any of the dishes we sampled. The prices are also on the higher side, with appetizers averaging around $10 and entrees in the $25-$30 range. After this experience, I doubt we will go back. It’s too bad because the restaurant itself is quite lovely, and there’s a lot of history behind it. But none of that is enough to get past the so-so meals that we’ve had there.

CQs
140 Lighthouse Rd,
Hilton Head, SC