Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I know you can be overwhelmed, and I know you can be underwhelmed but can you ever just be like...whelmed?

...I think you can at Assaggio. This restaurant, set in Boston's version of Little Italy called the North End wasn't good or bad. Just forgettable.

Since my boyfriend and I started seeing each other, around this time last year, I have visited him in Boston six times and on each visit we go out to dinner in the North End and then to Mike's Pastry (a blissfully, deliciously orgasmic experience of cannoli). There have been very good and very bad and on this occasion, very forgettable.

Perhaps we should have been suspicious when we called to make a reservation for Saturday night the same afternoon and had no problem getting our requested time. Usually we have to eat at some absurdly late hour just to get a table. Not so at Assaggio.

The dining room was small, but not terribly cramped. We were seated promptly and service was pretty good throughout the night. The decor is mostly mural-based: think fat baby cherubs, Corinthian columns and astrological signs on the ceiling. My boyfriend found this questionable.

We started with an appetizer of calamari...which was $10. I'm sorry, but when did fried squid get so fucking expensive? Everywhere else I see calamari it's like, $8 tops. I think we were taken for a ride. They did give us a hefty serving of it but it was only warm and I prefer my food somewhere around 'lowest level of Hell' hot. Whatever, it was good enough.

Tommy, my boyfriend, (he will be referred to by name from now on, much to his displeasure I assume. Sorry babe.) ordered cheese ravioli like he always does. Seriously, it's not like the boy has a timid palate. He once ate unidentifiable seafood substance in a restaurant where we were the only native English speakers (another story) but he only orders cheese ravioli when we go out to dinner at an Italian place. Go figure. Anyway, he ordered that and I ordered grilled swordfish that was supposed to come with shallots, capers and a white wine butter sauce.

Anyone who knows me also knows that my stomach is evil and will not allow me to eat anything that tastes good. This means things with heavy cream, butter, oil, fried foods, the list goes on and on. Don't tell me how sorry you are for me and how badly my life sucks, I already know. So shut up. My waitress assured me that I could get the fish without the butter sauce and I was happy. I like capers. They taste like seawater and I find that appetizing.

We get our meals about 15 minutes after they take the calamari away which I thought was good. It wasn't so long that I was tempted to go all 'where the fuck is my food, garcon?' but not so quickly that I felt rushed. Tommy got five ravioli and I got a plain piece of grilled swordfish (no capers or shallots?!) with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach.

Let me say here that five ravioli is not enough for Tommy. Aside from being a boy, he is also an athlete which means that he eats more than seven of me put together. My portion: huge. His portion: pitiful. We should have traded.

I tried a bite of his ravioli. They were fine, nothing to write home about, but the marinara sauce was pretty good. Nice and velvety. Then again, marinara sauce is hard to fuck up.

My dinner was fucking boring. I said no butter sauce, not no flavoring. The mashed potatoes (which I obviously couldn't eat being that the main ingredients are potatoes, butter and cream) were oddly runny which was unappealing. The sauteed spinach was tasty though and not drowned in oil as so many vegetables are nowadays. The piece of swordfish they gave me was a good one, and nicely cooked but that does not make up for the fact that there was just no flavor to it. That's crap.

Anyway, dinner after that point was unremarkable. Tommy finished most of the rest of my dinner (there were about two servings of fish and spinach on my plate) and we paid and left. It was moderately priced which was nice.

Final thoughts: it wasn't disappointing enough to be bad but it wasn't great enough to be good. It was just another Italian restaurant with astrological signs painted on the ceiling and reasonably good marinara sauce. One to forget.

3 (dim) stars


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mango Salsa

Mango salsa always reminds me of summer. Maybe because mangos are a summer fruit to me. Maybe because my friends and I eat mango salsa at the beach sometimes. Anyway, it was like 70 degrees here today and I had a mango that was sitting in my fruit bowl, calling to me to be made into salsa. So of course I obliged. This recipe is super duper easy, and only has 4 ingredients. This is one where you can FFTFW: if I had kiwis or parsley/cilantro in the kitchen, I definitely would have added them.

1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
1/4 small onion, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp. chili flakes

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Let sit for at least 20 minutes to let all the flavors marry.

Serve with tortilla chips, over steak tacos or eat it plain with a spoon.

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

I love these cookies for many reasons. They melt in your mouth. They make the whole house smell good when you bake them. They're not horribly unhealthy for you. They're super easy. Did I mention they melt in your mouth? Anyway, I highly recommend them. My boyfriend loses his shit when I send them to him and although he is happy with any baked goods, these are by far his favorite. I think these are better when you make them small so you can just eat the whole damn thing at once. These are also vegan because they use olive oil (which is what gives them their great texture) and not butter. See, another vegan cookie recipe that doesn't taste like shit! It's worth using good olive oil when you make these because sometimes cheaper olive oil can make them taste awkwardly like Italian food.

1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 TBS Espresso Powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Sugar, for rolling

1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals.  Set aside and let cool until lukewarm.  Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso, baking soda, and cinnamon.

2. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, vanilla and almond extracts.  Add this to the dry mixture.  Add the melted chocolate and stir until the mixture comes together into a uniform mass.

3. Using your hands, roll the dough into ball about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Roll and cover completely in sugar, and place them 2 inches apart on the parchment lined baking sheets. Use your palm to very gently flatten the cookies a bit, as they don’t spread much. Bake the cookies until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. DO NOT OVERBAKE, THE BOTTOMS OF THE COOKIES WILL BURN AND TASTE DISGUSTING.

4. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vegan Cookies -- Not All Gross

I'll be the first to say that generally I hate vegan baked goods. I'm sorry, there's just no replacement for butter and milk. Vegan margarine tastes like shampoo. But I wrote this recipe for legitimately tasty vegan cookies that are also super healthy. Everyone wins! I made these for a good friend of mine who has just about every dietary restriction known to man so these are flour, sugar and butter free. Whatever. They're super easy and super tasty and guilt-free for all you skinny betches out there.

Vegan Cookies:
2 C. rolled oats (or 1 C. granola -- I used Bear Naked Fit which only has 4 grams of sugar and toasted almonds)
1/3 C. dried berries
1 1/2 C. applesauce
2 tbs. molasses
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Small handful trailmix or any other things you think would taste good.

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl
2. Place on greased cooking sheet, they can be fairly close together because they don't spread.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until brown around the edges

Makes 2 dozen

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Hate Hibachi Grills (Review)

I am a frustrated diner of the North Shore. I am sick of Chipotle. I am sick of Noodles and Company. And most importantly, I am sick of hibachi grills, where they poorly cook your food in a puddle of oil right in front of your face so that you can not only eat it but smell like it for the next 72 hours as well. So I’ve compiled a list of 5 restaurants in and around the North Shore that are actually worth eating at.
Price range: $ (about 7 dollars a head) to $$$$ (30 dollars a head and up)

1.       Hot Tamales—(847) 433-4070 493 Central Ave, Highland Park 60035 ($$)
A one-room establishment with brightly painted walls and weird Mexican sculptures, Hot Tamales is without question the best Mexican food I’ve encountered outside of Old Town Chicago. The menu is extensive, with everything from appetizers to platos pequenos (smaller dishes), a huge selection of handmade tamales, enchiladas and other traditional Mexican dishes, all prepared excellently. The free chips and salsa are so addictive you might forget to save room for dinner. Among other excellent dishes, the standouts in the HT repertoire are the:
·         Pumpkin tamales, an interestingly savory dish served with two types of salsa (red and green). The tamales are equal parts sweet and spicy and one is certainly filling. Warning: the corn wrapper of the tamale contains beef fat.
·         Grilled torta, handmade tortilla sandwiches made with goat cheese, red peppers, portabella mushrooms and spinach, the torta is without question my favorite of the platos pequenos. Served with thick-cut sweet potato chips and a creamy poblano sauce.

2.       Sushi Para Japanese Restaurant—(847) 202-9922 1268 E. Dundee Rd, Palatine 60074 ($$)
Though it looks about as sketchy as your average 7-Eleven, Sushi Para offers the most for your money in terms of sushi. Offering a buffet and an a la carte menu, this restaurant is no secret and fills up ridiculously quickly, even on weeknights. The $19 all-you-can-eat option includes a hefty selection of made-to-order appetizers, nigiri, and maki. The waitstaff borders on terrible but it’s worth it for some delicious and relatively cheap sushi. Standouts:
·         The nigiri are conventional, but there is more rice underneath the fish than you might find at more expensive sushi restaurants (then again, it’s only a $19 price tag).
·         The spicy tuna roll, Michigan roll (spicy tuna + tempura crunch inside, tobiko outside), Volcano roll (spicy tuna, spicy salmon, and spicy yellowtail inside, tobiko and sriracha-like sauce on the outside), and the Under Control roll (spicy tuna inside with shrimp tempura outside).

3.       Trattoria Valle D’Itria—(847)226-0600 Roger Williams Ave, Highland Park 60035 ($$$)
So small you could miss it, so good you wouldn’t want to. A classic Italian establishment with reasonable prices, Valle D’Itria converted me instantly from Lou Malnati’s and Eduardo’s. Their thin-crust pizza is more Sicilian-style than Chicago deep-dish and it is addictive. A reasonably diverse menu offers tons of options for either a multiple course meal or just a few appetizers. Standouts:
·         Margherita pizza—the thin crust margherita pizza is typical in its ingredients (tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and other assorted cheeses) but is unique in its quality. Super-fresh tomatoes and high quality buffalo mozzarella combine to make an excellent dining experience.
·         Stewed eggplant—low-calorie this appetizer is not, but “delicious” also doesn’t do it justice. The eggplant is perfectly sautéed and baked after being covered in parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and homemade marinara sauce. The result is a cheesy explosion that will make you sad the dish will only serve two.

4.       Player’s Grill—(847) 831-5929 1855 Deerfield Road, Highland Park 60035 ($$$)
A greasy establishment that is anything but vegetarian-friendly, Player’s Grill has some of the best two-hand sandwiches I’ve had the pleasure of eating prior to swearing off meat. When I say don’t order the salads, I really mean it: most are half-assed combinations of chunk iceberg lettuce and carrot shreds. But the sandwiches and burgers at this place are hideously, artery-clogging good. Expect to wait a good 45 minutes for delivery on the weekends but trust in the fact that you will be thrilled by your order. Note: portions are huge. Standouts:
·         The ranch dressing and BBQ sauce. I could eat both plain. I do eat both plain, with a spoon. Slather it on burgers, mozzarella sticks, French fries, salads. The ranch is the perfect thickness and doesn’t taste overwhelmingly like mayonnaise. The BBQ sauce is perfectly smoky and savory and it’s a little thin compared to Sweet Baby Ray’s but that only means it comes out of the tub faster, thank god. I always ask for an extra serving or three of each every time I visit. Mix them together for a southwestern-style salad dressing.
·         The Max Sandwich—an enormous pile of marinated steak tips sandwiched between two slices of crusty garlic French bread. Watching my friend James attack it made me sorely regret my weak digestive system and vegetarian diet. This is a two-hand sandwich not for the faint of heart but absolutely for the man who loves his red meat. Put that ranch dressing on it and go crazy.
·         The Cajun Chicken Salad—the only salad on the Player’s menu I think is worth ordering. Blackened chicken, Monterey jack cheese chunks, black beans, corn, tomato wedges, pepper and tortilla strips combine to make an awe-inspiring salad of epic southwestern proportions.

5.       Fuji Thai— (847) 459-0888 1000 Weiland Road  Buffalo Grove, 60089 ($$)
In an unremarkable shopping center is Fuji Thai, a tiny restaurant with a lot to offer. Sushi, curries and stir fries are all on the menu, and the pricing is remarkably cheap for how good the quality is. The portions are good-sized but not gluttonous and if you ask for an extra something on the side, they give you a lot of it. Service is pretty good but expect to wait on weekends. Standouts:
·         Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken—a fantastically soothing and not-too-spicy curry with potatoes, green peppers, chicken and onions. The coconut milk is obvious in the broth but not overpowering.
·         Rock ‘n’ Roll—my favorite special roll at Fuji Thai. It has avocado, asparagus and shrimp tempura wrapped in soybean paper. I always get it with spicy tuna on the side.
·         Pad Thai—not greasy and full of flavor, the pad Thai is standout. Loaded with fresh and crunchy beansprouts, peanuts and egg the pad Thai is equally good in the restaurant and as a leftover.

World's Best Kugel

This recipe for kugel (Jewish noodle casserole) has been in my family for something like three generations. It is unbeatable, and don't try to argue because you'll be wrong. It's legitimately idiot-proof and keeps forever in the fridge or freezer. I almost dare you to try and fuck it up, because you can't. Anyway, recipe as follows:

8 oz. Manischewitz egg noodles, cooked
6 oz. cream cheese
6 tbs. butter
3 eggs
1 c. milk, plus a little more
2 tbs. onion flakes
1 c. vermicelli, broken into little pieces.

1. Beat together cream cheese, half the butter, eggs and milk.

2. Mix with noodles, then pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish

3. Melt remaining butter in a saute pan. Saute onion flakes and vermicelli until brown and spread on top of kugel

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. FFTFW -- feel free to futz (screw around) with this; increase ingredients and spices to taste, add other cheeses if you like.