June 29, 2010
Actually, these random rambling anecdotes are purely extra-curricular.
How to make “Sun coffee” (patent pending)
This could be the next best thing since my other innovation: grilled ramen. And why not? Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s been so hot out lately that my garden is dying, even short ventures outside are intolerable, and in my attempt to find a silver lining, I did something crazy. Basically, I wanted to harness the heat outside. Sun tea came to mind. But, that’s boring. I needed to do something more original. Not being a fan of that Lipton stuff (or any black teas), I tossed fresh mint from my garden in a pickle jar along with some ginger and a little Thai basil. Maybe that flavor combo would impress.
He's not looking. Quick! Take the pickle jar.
Because it took me so long to find a big jar (and fight a small child to get it), it was already night time. Luckily/unfortunately, it was still nearly 90 degrees, so I decided to make “moon tea” by leaving this out over night. Did I invent this? No matter. It’s basically a tisane, as the herbs were fresh and the water was just below boiling. Really light and crisp.
The heat that killed those hydrangea blossoms will brew us some coffee.
In the morning, after straining the tea into a pitcher and storing it in the fridge, I looked at the empty jar and the rising sun, and my creative urge kicked in again. Sun coffee! I ground up enough Guatemalan French Roast Equal Exchange beans for two standard pots of coffee. Then I mixed the grounds with a gallon of water, set the jar in my back yard amidst my withering garden, and went off to work.
Eight hours later, I returned from work with the temperatures just starting to descend from the 100+ mark. (more…)
June 25, 2010
Guess which pizzeria sold me this beauty?
Forgive me, bloggers, for I have sinned. Last week, I ate pizza from Richmond’s three new wood-fired ovens in just four days. The pizza spree felt like tearing open the Christmas presents before they were even given to me. It was thrilling, disappointing, surprising, a thoroughly guilty pleasure. I’ve been so curious about the techniques and fundamental elements that produce pizza perfection that I rushed out to each new pizza place, ready for revelations and plot developments in Richmond’s restaurant storyline. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m already jumping to conclusions and ranking the results in my mind. Readers: don’t do like I did. Keep a cool head and enjoy your hot pizzas.
Aziza's $9 red pie. For $2 more you get buffalo moz and San Marzano sauce.
What lead me to this spot is probably more informative than the results of eating from Aziza’s new professional baking venue, Bellytimber Tavern’s little igloo of fire, and Stuzzi’s red tiled homage to Naples. The chronology is offered below, and it paints a pretty clear picture of why I would exercise so little restraint. In this space, I’d previously gotten some half-baked hypotheses off my chest while counseling everyone to play the pizza field and tread lightly in the minefield of pizza opinions, especially as these places first open. But, now that there is hot pizza, it’s igniting hyperbolic overstatements in every corner of Richmond’s social media, and I got 100% caught up in it. Maybe it’s not too late to reel myself back in. (more…)
June 23, 2010
After some initial confusion, I realized that Silver Diner was serious when their PR firm invited me to a free lunch at their 10860 W. Broad location. The press release said something about showcasing their new line of menu items featuring local ingredients. It seemed perplexing to me that a business would expend so much effort (and probably money) getting attention for a few new dishes, but one look at their Insbrook menu (which wears PC slogans like “points of flair” from Office Space) and it’s clear Silver Diner is aggressively branding themselves as a proponent of healthy, fresh, local, and responsible business. Maybe it’s true. It is certainly true that I love LOVE free food.
The chef, the dignitaries, and the diner shtick.
Of course, I didn’t have any cause to think about the long drive to get local food because I’d taken my bike to work and wasn’t likely to make it out to the Far West End. Then, I asked Twitter if anyone wanted to drive me and eat for free. To my rescue came a guy I’d never met, @josh_conrad, who works down the street from me and knew just where this Silver Diner was located. Once I gave him more details, more of his coworkers piled on and before you know it, I was in the car of a relative stranger with two other guys I didn’t know, heading down 64 to get some free grub. I later deemed this “twitchiking.”
Is this just the beginning?
Once we’d crammed into the Silver Diner, we realized the catch. (more…)
June 14, 2010
The handful of times I ventured out to Staples Mill and Glenside to try Vietnam Garden, I felt like I was having deja vu. As much as Mekong has won me over with their extensive repertoire of Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnam Garden proves that Mekong, except for their beer inventory, is no anomaly. There’s room in Richmond for more than one classy restaurant cranking out a wide array of impressive Vietnamese food. My lunch at Vietnam Garden today, at their relocated spot at 9031 West Broad, was easily one of the best dining out experiences my family has had together in years, and it was only $20.
If you don’t want to read my reflecting on how a casual lunch turned into a prolonged food-gasm, I’ll cut to the chase and share my rankings of Vietnamese restaurants in Richmond. I’m pretty comfortable with this list, but if you’re not, consider this. My wife has been a dedicated Mekong fan for as long as she’s lived in Richmond, and right now she’s plotting how and when she’s going to to sneak away for another lunchtime meal at Vietnam Garden. A vegetarian couple who also loves Mekong had a tofu banh mi sandwich that I delivered to them from Asian Bakery Cafe, and within two weeks, they’d visited the place three times on their own. In other words, trust me, and start making plans to eat well.
1. Mekong/Da Lat
- The reigning King is An Mekong’s beer parade and its offshoot further down Broad. The food is phenomenal and the menu, voluminous.
2. Vietnam Garden
- Greatness is something that is earned over time. Northwestenders have kept this place close to their hearts (and under their hats) for years, but in the new location Vietnam Garden asserts itself at the top of the heap. Every bite delivers big flavor. Branch out when you’re near Parham and Broad.
3. Asian Bakery Cafe and Catina (next door, both by Tan A):
- Both have real banh mi sandwiches, with phenomenal portions and prices (value alert!). Test both of their tangy subs and decide for yourself, but they’ve each also got their own unique offerings on top of the banh mi fanfare.
4. Pho 79, Vietnam 1, Pho So 1
- Everybody’s favorite noodles houses, me included. Soups, grill platters, noodle salad, and ice coffee with sweet milk, no frills and easy on the budget.
5. Taste of the Far East and Saigon
- Conveniently located on Grace near VCU. A whole slew of non-standard dishes and flavors, for better or worse.
Need to try: Pho Tay Do, House of Vietnam, and that place on Midlothian Turnpike.
Now for the justification for Vietnam Garden’s #2 position. (more…)
June 6, 2010
Hitting this year’s Broad Appetit, we went early to beat the crowds, brought plenty of water, wore a thick layer of sun screen, and timed our visit prior to Jasper’s nap. Just before leaving the house, we accepted an invitation to 5:30 dinner, so we had to eat early and fast enough to be hungry again five hours later.
Kuba Kuba's monstrous paella (that we didn't get). No room for rice.
Having attended the past two years, with my wife designing their map and schedule two years running, I felt like a Broad Appetit veteren, versed in the art of hunting and gathering for effective gluttony, aka, ‘the slow dude movement.’ Pace yourself. Avoid needless carbs, etc. And yet, with family in tow, I ran through the event like a kid (on Ritalin) in a candy store.
Small Blurbs for Small Plates
Waving to Chef Andy at Cafe Rustica was the first order of business. He was offering a gourmet corn dog… okay, it was a local bratwurst battered and fried on a stick. Karen reluctantly took one. It looked like a real commitment of meatiness and it was. Tasty, but too much to finish considering all the options. But, we did return for dessert.
Since the meat stick was my wife’s deal, I stopped at Cous Cous and got a phyllo pie with nuts and tofu inside. They called it b’stilla. In past years, I had it and said ‘b’stilla my heart,’ but this time around, the single unadorned triangle seemed a little stingy for $3. At least it whetted my appetite. (more…)