Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Blog has Moved

This Blog has been expanded and has moved to a new site. 

The New site is

The title of the blog is "Fit Food Fun"

Head over to the new site to get your fix of foodventuring fun in addition to new articles and information.

-Steve Lerer (The Foodventurer)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Grant Grill

Article first published as Restaurant Review (San Diego): The Grant Grill on Blogcritics.

After our first day at a conference in San Diego we decided to go out for a special dinner at the Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel. First off the hotel, which has been around since 1910, is beautiful. We could have spent a lot of time just taking in the history of the hotel but this isn't hotelventures so let's get right to the Grant Grill. This restaurant was on the Best Thing I Ever Drank so the reason why we were there was the Smashing Pumpkin martini but as you will soon see, the meal itself great.

The Grant Grill had the feel of a fancy club where CEOs meet to make serious decisions and actually for a long time it was a men's club during certain times of the week. Lots of expensive wood and art and fancy plates on which they serve single palette cleansers so you are prepared for your meal. The great thing is that this all worked really well with the ambiance and feel and definitely the food served. One thing that I struggled with were the seats. For some reason at our table the bench seats were extremely close to the table itself and since they were leather and cushy I felt like I was being pushed into the table. An odd feeling especially when you are settling in for a extended meal.

So what did I order? I obviously ordered the Smashing Pumpkin martini, which is seasonally available in the fall. Next, after perusing the menu I ordered the Dungeness crab risotto for an appetizer and the Niman ranch pork cheeks for my entree. For those of you who do not know, Niman ranch is an awesome high end ranch where you can get great meats and yes pork cheeks are the cheeks of a pig. After ordering our waiter informed us that the fresh baked focaccia bread would be out of the oven in a few minutes. That got me really excited but I was still blown away by the bread we received.

A few minutes later my martini came out. The Smashing Pumpkin martini is made up of pumpkin and star anise infused 10 cane run, Grand Marnier, allspice, saffron syrup, cardamom bitters, and some frech meyer lemon. Yes, that is a lot of ingredients and I generally struggle with sweet martinis but this one was surpisingly tasty. The rim was lined with cinnamon and sugar which blended very well with the pumpkin rum. The Grand Marnier and saffron added some boldness to the drink while the allspice and cardamom added some punch. The Meyer lemon, being a little sweet also melded well into the drink. One thing that stood out was this was definitely not meant to be a smooth drink, with all the ingredients the liquid became very cloudy and at times I felt like I needed to chew. This made the drink a little much and not one that I could drink repeatedly in one night. I think that if they strained it, the drink would be smoother and a little less intense. I liked it but definitely ordered a glass of wine for my entree.

Just look at how crispy the top is!

Next, to our delight, the fresh focaccia bread arrived. Now this wasn't just a big loaf cut up and served, not at the Grant Grill. Each table gets its own mini loaf baked just for the privileged few who sit there. The bread came out piping hot, and ready to be cut and served like a pizza. It also came with special sea salt, cracked pepper, and butter on the side ready to be mixed and used to enhance the flavor (Not that it was needed). Honestly they could have just given me some marinara sauce, my own platter and I would not have needed anything else that night, the bread was just that good. But, alas I had to suffer through two more courses and dessert.

 After eating two pieces of this bread, the appetizers arrived. My Dungeness crab risotto was delicious. One thing I want to point out again is that the plates were all very unique and worked perfectly with the presentation of each and every dish. This was a risotto like no other I have ever had before. The rice was cooked perfectly and mixed beautifully with the capers and crab. Each bite was smooth and only the tiniest bit chewy. The crab added a level of decadence that allowed you to close your eyes and enjoy each bite, while the snap peas added a bit of green that helped you feel like this was at all healthy. The addition of toasted pine nuts was brilliant. Pine nuts just add something intangible to certain dishes; I think it's the woodsy taste and smell that comes along with the toasting. And just when you think that this was enough, they went ahead and shaved fresh Parmesan over the top and proved you wrong. Without the salty flavor the cheese brought to the dish, something would have indeed been missing. That little bit pulled the whole dish together and turned it into one of the best risottos I have ever tasted.

So far the Grant Grill had gone three for three without many critiques, and the next dish was no slouch either. My pork cheeks arrived on top of Swiss chard, accompanied by what they call rooftop tomato jam, cipollini onions and Asian pears (Which I actually thought were potatoes which would have made no sense in this dish). Ok so I have to be honest, I really have nothing bad to say about this dish aside from the fact that I would not have complained if I got received more cheeks on the plate but when do you not want more cheeks?

This dish just worked, plain and simple, everything that was on the plate needed to be there and I would not have added anything else. I didn't even think to add pepper which I usually add to everything (I added it to the risotto). Each bite was savored and then missed when it was gone. Some times I would try the pork cheek alone and other times I would mix it with one, two, or all of the other ingredients. Each forkful was different and caused a unique flavor profile which is always fun for me. It's like I have many different entrees all in one dish. Easy to try, but really hard to pull off. This was the first time I had ever eaten pork cheeks and now I am sad that I hadn't been eating them all my life. They were cooked down to the point where the meat melted in your mouth and just truly embodied the flavor of pork. This cut now ranks right under bacon for me, and actually not that expensive to purchase at the butcher. If you eat pork and go to this restaurant you would be remiss if you did not order this dish.

It would not be a complete meal without a little dessert (Though I could have ordered another entree if it would have been an approved move). I ordered the semolina cake with a raspberry and blueberry compote and vanilla ice cream. I really do not remember much about this desert, I think my reaction was that it was fine but not as significant as the rest of the meal. This may be my bias against cakes but I don't think it was bad, just not amazing. Of the whole dessert, I think the compote was the best. Mixing the fruit into the ice cream and cake was the way to go and they elevated the dish to something better than I would have expected. If I eat here again I would probably try something else but I don't think you would be disappointed if you decided to try the semolina cake

The Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel was a wonderful experience and is run by people who obviously know what they are doing. A few critiques but all in all a delectable dinner and well worth the cost. Just as a heads up, this place is not cheap but you can get coupons from to help lower the bill a bit. Also, if you really want to get crazy, you can order their ever changing seasonal tasting menu and perhaps do a wine pairing to go along with it. Next time you are in San Diego and looking for a fancy dinner check out the Grant Grill or just stop in at their lounge for some inventive and tasty cocktails.

Overall Review: 9/10

Take a look at what the Grant Grill is serving today by clicking here

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Broken Yolk Cafe

Article first published as Restaurant Review (San Diego): Broken Yolk Cafe on Blogcritics.

While in San Diego for the NASPA Regional Conference, Virginia and I stopped by the Broken Yolk Cafe for some brunch. This was a place on Man vs Food and has a massive egg challenge, not something I was going to try two hours before winning an award but maybe next time. Instead I came in to try some Mexican breakfast food since it is a staple in San Diego. From the outside the Broken Yolk looked like a standard diner and sort of small but wow was I wrong. It was actually really modern looking with some nice flat screen televisions and it went back far enough to seat a decent number of people. I ordered a coffee and some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (hoping that it was a decent amount of juice for cost) and perused the menu. After a few reads I was torn between a few options so in regular fashion I asked my server for his breakfast recommendations. He rattled off a few options but told me that by far his favorite was the chilaquiles. I went with his recommendation and ordered them with the red sauce (I am not really a fan of green sauce, I don't know why but I am slowly realizing that I have a distaste for anything "chile verde").

The juice and coffee came out and I was instantly pleased.Why you ask? Because the grapefruit juice was actually served in an adult sized glass. It is really annoying to spend 4-6 dollars on juice and get the same or less in actually ounces. Here I got probably twelve ounces of juice for 5 bucks which is enough to get me through the whole meal. Other breakfast places can take notes from this, please save your child size glasses for children and serve me enough juice for more than one gulp!

After a short wait my chilaquiles arrived in all their glory. So what are chilaquiles? Well, you start with crispy fried quartered tortillas and top them with sauce (As previously discussed, I chose red). Next you cover them with melted cheese and sour cream. For breakfast eggs can be added and I opted for my over medium fried and it all goes on a plate next to some refried beans. How can you go wrong with that! Well, I imagine you can but this place definitely did not.

Everything about this dish made me happy. The tortillas were crispy on the outside of the plate but soaked in sauce on the inside. The cheese was melted perfectly and the red sauce was tangy and spicy. I great wake up call after the early morning and the two hour drive in traffic, though the constant refiling of my rarely consumed coffee by out attentive waiter probably influenced this comment a bit. And oh the eggs. For those of you who have read other posts I am very critical of my eggs, probably more so than my steak and burgers. Not sure why but it is what it is. When I say over medium it means that the yolk should still run but it should be viscous like molasses and these eggs were just that. When I cut it the yolk coated the knife and fork and did the same for the tortillas. They added the unctuousness the dish sorely needed as eggs are supposed to do. Mixed into the tortilla side of the plate they made this dish something I would come back to again and again.

While the beans were pretty much a throwaway, I was really happy with this recommendation and told the waiter just that. It is always nice to go to a restaurant where the wait staff take pride in the food and can really guide you towards good choices. I am always a little nervous when I go to a MvF place and try something he didn't eat but the Broken Yolk Cafe did not disappoint. Next time you are in San Diego check it out they serve tons of omelets as well and don't forget, adult sized fruit juices!

Overall Review: 7/10

Check out the Broken Yolk Cafe here (Apparently you can open a franchise if you have some money)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Parc Restaurant Bistro & Cafe

This a shorter review of Parc Restaurant in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. I swung by this place after eating my fill of Turducken and since only the mashed potatoes for on the list I figured I could find a place for them in my stomach. When I walked in I was surprised by how big the restaurant was. It looked like a corner bistro from the outside but the inside was huge. Since I was alone and not overly hungry, I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. I asked the bartender if I could get the mashed potatoes and though a little odd to just order a side dish, he asked in the back and the mashed potatoes that are usually for dinner were ready. Score! After ordering I headed to the restroom which I wouldn't usually talk about but the decor was very interesting. Basically, it was a showcase of picture of naked women from years past. I guess it's a French restaurant thing, but I wonder what the women's restroom looked like.

The bartender asked if I wanted to have some bread with my potatoes and though I did not need it of course I said yes anyway. Thank god I did because the bread was fresh and delicious. I got a few different kinds in my basket, a raisin, a white, and a focaccia. The bread was hot and chewy with my favorite being the raisin with a touch of butter. I actually think I liked the bread more than the potatoes but that's not to say the potatoes were good also.

Delicious creamy potatoes!
As you can see to the right, the mashed potatoes or the Pomme Puree came out freshly made with a little chive on the top. These potatoes were everything you could want in a traditional mashed potato dish. The skins were off and they were pureed to a creamy texture. Lightly salted and made with what I am sure was heavy cream they were quite delectable. The chives were a great addition and added a slightly different flavor and texture to a dish that could have been a bit monotonous. I really enjoyed the Pomme Puree and would come back to get it again when back in Philly.

Parc is a very nice restaurant with some enticing dishes on the menu. Definitely a place I will come back to for a complete meal. The pomme puree was really good, some of the best traditional mashed potatoes I've had. Personally, I like them with the skins on and some cheese but I guess I am not a purest. Oh well. I am giving them a lower score because I really need to go here for a full meal but for a single appetizer still think it was a success. Check out Parc the next time you are in town.

Overall Review: 6/10

Find Parc Restaurant, Bistro & Cafe online here

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smokin Betty's

Article first published as Restaurant Review (Philadelphia): Smokin Betty's on Blogcritics.

I took a trip to Philadelphia for a wedding and was extremely excited to stop by Smokin Betty's for their famous Turduken Burger. I took the train into center city and walked the few blocks from the market to the restaurant. Upon my arrival I noticed how nice the interior of the restaurant looked. For a comfort food place it looked rustic but upscale. The wait staff was very polite though my waiter did take a while to come talk to me for the first time. I was also excited by the large craft beer selection and quickly ordered a nice Blonde Ale. A few minutes later I ordered my turduken burger with a side of sweet potato fries.

After about ten minutes my glorious burger arrived and I just took a few seconds to look at it lovingly. Maybe you should do the same:

Who needs a pickle, really?
After staring at the burger for a bit I cut it in half and dug right in. So for those who do not know, a turduken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken filled with stuffing, so a turduken burger has all the meats cooked together and the rest of Thanksgiving as toppings. I will say that I have not eaten many turkey burgers in my day, usually I am beef all the way, but I would imagine that this patty tasted very similar to a normal turkey burger. I would say that the difference would be a richer flavor because of the duck fat but if I hadn't known I would have just thought it was a traditional turkey burger. Did this make a difference? Absolutely not! The burger patty was full of flavor and dripped juices right down my arm.

Now, as you can see by the picture there is much more to this burger than a patty. This burger was a Thanksgiving meal on a bun. A fluffy and flavorful bun, just like the rolls you normally get on the big day. Beneath the patty was a layer of stuffing and gravy topped with melted cheese. Generally I find stuffing pretty dry and boring but add gravy and cheese to it and you've got a party! Now I know a new stuffing recipe to try out. On top of the patty was a wonderful cranberry chutney. Adding the tang and sweetness to cut through all the rich flavorings of the dish. Truly a perfect addition to the burger and definitely not what you get from the can. Last but certainly not least, fried sweet potato chips, adding the final delicious crunch to the meal. Take a look at the burger from the inside, but first you might want to grab a bib to catch the drool.
AJ Bombers can take some advice about buns from this place
There is only one word to describe this burger...epic. I kept cutting it down to make it last longer because I didn't want it to end. So many flavors dancing around on my palette and all in harmony. It really was Thanksgiving in each and every bite! The most prominent flavor was the cranberry chutney so if you don't like cranberries you may not like this dish but then again you may love it. All in all a really well designed entree and one that I would go back to again and again over some of my favorite beef burgers.

You probably are thinking, what about the fries. Well no need to worry, they were also pretty great. I have never eaten thick cut sweet potato fries but I was not disappointed. These fries were crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside like potato wedges. Not too greasy but with just enough to add the needed flavor. A really great side dish to a Thanksgiving burger. I will say though that every time I get sweet potato fries I am hoping for a dipping sauce. A brown sugar and cinnamon aioli to be specific, but I never seem to get it. I just can't get behind dipping them in ketchup.

Next time you are in Philly, check out Smokin Betty's, get the Turduken burger, and plan to be full for a long time. Probably not the best idea right before a wedding but I toughed it out.

Overall Review: 8/10

Check out Smokin Betty's here

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Harp Inn

Article first published as Restaurant Review (Costa Mesa, CA): The Harp Inn on Blogcritics.

I have frequented The Harp Inn for a few years but have never written a review of it until now. The Rutgers Club of Southern California hangs out at The Harp during college football season because they order the television package that gets all our games. On any given Saturday in fall you will find 15-25 Alumni of Rutgers yelling, eating, drinking, and reminiscing on how cold it was in New Jersey during football season and how happy they are to live in California.

The Harp is a traditional Irish pub with all sorts of corned beef dishes including some wonderful corned beef and cabbage. They also have a wide variety of beers and Irish whiskeys. The atmosphere is extremely friendly and they have a large number of faithful patrons who end up hanging out while we are watching football.

Every time I come here I think about ordering something different but it never fails that I order the exact same thing, the Irish nachos. I figure I only come here between 6-8 times a year so why order anything besides what I think is the best thing on the menu. How can you go wrong with potatoes topped with cheese, corned beef, and green onions? You really can't.

The nachos come out piping hot sitting on a double plate with the cheese melted and bubbly and the potatoes perfectly cooked. On the side comes a container of salsa and a container of sour cream. With no hesitation I add both to the nachos and dig on in.

On each forkful I try to get a combination of potato, cheese, corned beef, and the toppings to create the symphony of flavors that I crave from Sunday to Friday. Each item adds a unique quality to the dish and in unison work so well together. The potatoes are fork tender and add some texture while the cheese is stringy and rich. The corned beef adds the salty and fatty notes that cut through the richness of the cheese and the green onions add a little bite to the forkful.

Delicious shredded corned beef makes all the difference
Now you may think that the salsa and sour cream are unnecessary but you would think wrong! What are nachos, tortilla or potato, without salsa and sour cream? Incomplete. The salsa adds not only your serving of vegetables but the slight heat that is missing without it. The sour cream adds a much needed tang in addition to the creaminess that ties the whole forkful together. Those Irish nachos make me want to drive the forty-five minutes from Riverside every week but I might die of heart failure if I do so I am happy that football season is only a few months long and that I don't like to pay for gas.

Next time you are in Costa Mesa and need a drink and some Irish grub stop by the Harp Inn. Even if you don't need a drink or if you hate sports you can still sit outside on their patio and eat to your hearts content. You can also order the mozzarella sticks if the nachos aren't enough and they are some of the best mozzarella sticks I've ever had. Perfectly fried, crispy, and not greasy at all. Check them out and have a great time at the Harp!

Overall Review: 7/10

Check out The Harp Inn online

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stack'D Burger Bar

Article first published as Restaurant Review (Milwaukee, WI): Stack'd Burger Bar on Blogcritics.

Just take a first look at this!

Last week I talked about the first burger I ate in Milwaukee, the "Food War" champ. Well later that night I ate my second burger in Milwaukee and one of the best burgers I've eaten in a long long time. Take a quick look to the left and you will see the ridiculous and amazing Hangover Stack.

We came here for a rehearsal dinner prior to my friend's wedding so I cannot talk much about service and ambiance as we were in a back room and somewhat distracted. I also arrived after the appetizers were mostly consumed so you will get my unadulterated discussion about this one dish.

As you can see by the picture this is one tall burger. It starts with a 1/2 pound burger made up of Tallgrass beef cooked to order which is my first area of discussion. Remember last time when I went off  on AJ Bombers about the up charge for good meat and the lack of temperature discussions? Also, when I reamed Slaw Dogs for their crappy hot dogs? Well, Stack'd was the exact opposite of both places and it was glorious! Start with a great foundation cooked well and the topping are just that, toppings. No matter how great the bacon, you can never hide crappy beef and Stack'd appears to understand.

Top it with some aged Wisconsin cheddar and thick cut bacon and you've got yourself a burger! But wait that is just the beginning. Next they add fried onions, lettuce, and tomato and an egg supposedly fried to your liking. Lastly they let you pick from your choice of bun and with server consultation I settled on the pretzel bun. She really twisted my arm. They top it all off with two fried pickles and then I took Virginia's and added them to the middle of my burger, why not! Inconspicuously laid next to the burger were some of the most wonderfully fried onion rings. Hot and crispy and not greasy in the least.

Juicy and delicious!
 I excitedly cut my burger in half so I could 1. get a picture and 2. figure out how to eat it and was both pleased and disappointed at the same time. The burger looked gorgeous, perfectly cooked to my mid-rare expectations, juicy and inviting. The toppings were well done, the lettuce crisp, and the tomatoes fresh. The one issue was the egg. This was the first time I ever ordered and egg on a burger and asked for it over medium. Over medium means creamy, not runny and not solid. Creamy, so it gets all over the rest of the burger but not the plate. Sadly my egg was overcooked and you can see it plainly in the picture where it is solidly stuck right in the middle of the burger. Sad times, maybe next time I will ask for over easy to make sure I get some savory egg flavor soaked into the meat and the bun.

On first bite you could tell that this was a serious burger at a serious burger restaurant. The meat was so juicy and perfectly cooked. It was without a doubt top shelf meat because regardless of the six different toppings the beef sang through. On the other hand, the toppings were awesome. The cheese was gooey and had a bite to it; the bacon was crispy and full of flavor. The fried onions strings and added fried pickles brought that greasy note to the party and the fresh vegetables cut through all the savory notes to make it all manageable. Without the lettuce and tomato there would be no way I could have finished the burger but I did! The egg was good and added some of the creamy element to the burger but I really wished it was cooked less. It just did not make the impact I thought it would. Now the pretzel bun...awesome! Nice and chewy and a little sweet it pulled the whole burger together.

All in all this was a great burger, one of the best I've had. I would have given it a solid 10 if not for the egg issue. I also could complain about the fact that I didn't get my mini Tabasco bottle but I could have just asked if I really wanted it so I will take the blame for that one. This is a great place and next time I am in Milwaukee I will come back to see the main part of the restaurant. I will add also that they have over 100 varieties of local beers and both a gluten free and vegan menu. No wonder Renee and Gavin love it so much!

Overall Review: 8/10

Check out Stack'd online