Friday, January 20, 2012

Restaurant Week, Meal 1: Taberna del Alabardero

So you know how much I LOVE restaurant week. It's a chance for me to completely destroy my budget for the month with just a few meals...and to have some great food. Sadly, my first meal was not near as tasty as it looked, nor was it worth the restaurant week price. 

My dining companion was gracious enough to let me try her food as you get two tastings in this review! The picture on the top was their salad with a fried-hard-boiled egg, and on the bottom was the mussels & shrimp. The salad was probably the best thing we ate all night. It was lightly dressed and the fried egg was an interesting component. Would I go back just for the salad? No. But was it an interesting dish? Definitely.

The broth in the mussels was amazing (I couldn't stop dipping my bread in it). However, out of my three mussels, one had grit that was audible as I chewed, one tasted old (like it should have been thrown out) and the third was just ok. The rest of the dish (aside from the sauce) was simply underwhelming.

For the second course, I had the sea bream (top) and my friend the chicken (bottom). The sea bream had a strong fishy taste, which I know a lot of people gawk at when I say that, but fish should not taste super "fishy". A "fishy" fish is an old fish.

The chicken was chopped into bit size pieces before it was sauteed, which led to a very dry bite of chicken. The whole time I ate it I longed for a little sauce to help moisten my mouth ("why did they take my mussel sauce away?!"), but sadly there was none. I think the chicken would have been ok if it had not been chopped before cooking, but still, the dish needed more flavor to be considered for a restaurant week menu.

Finally, desert was rice putting and a bread pudding. Both looked lovely, and were not terrible, but at the same time they were not anything to write home about. I think we both only ate about half of our desserts.

So meal number one was a let down. I probably will not go back to this restaurant as there are TONS of Spanish restaurants in the city. Luckily, however, meal 2 was awesome! 

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Memory of My Mom

Tea at the Willard, Feb. 2011
I would like to dedicate this post to my mother who died on November 19th, 2011 after a second battle with breast cancer. You may (or may not) have been wondering why I have not posted in quite some time. Well, I was home the entire month of November and have not felt motivated to write during/after that time. However, in honor and memory of her, I thought that it was only appropriate that my first post in the new year be about the woman who inspired my love of food, my mom.

My mom taught me to cook at a very young age. When I was 7 or 8, I remember making chocolate chip cookies and talking to the wall as if I was on a cooking show like the Frugal Gourmet or Julia Child. No matter how much I begged, my mom would never buy me an easy bake oven; she told me that if I wanted to bake or cook, we should use the "big girl" oven. I am so glad she pushed me that direction, because if it wasn't for the use of that "big oven" experience I may have never caught the cooking bug.

My mom is also the one who bought my first stand mixer for me when I was 15 (yes, that's the number one gift I wanted for my birthday that year) and a bread machine when I was 16. We thought about starting a cookie flower bouquet business, but that quickly became too much for my high-school-self to handle. However, every year we baked cookies for my aunts/uncles as Christmas gifts, and it became a ritual that I now share with my younger cousins.

Escargot in Paris 2007; picture taken at mom's request (for proof).
Besides baking, my mom pushed me to try new foods and create new dishes. She is the reason I take pictures of my food at restaurants while traveling. She said that she wanted to experience all the foods I was eating, and could do so by seeing pictures of what I ate at every meal. When I came back from Paris, she did not ask "Did you see the Eiffel Tower?" but "What new food did you try?" and "Where's the proof that you ate snails?"

Just a few of my mom's side of the family around 1989
Mom gave me the food bug; the desire to not only make good food, but to create community around food. It always astounds people when I tell them that we have 40-50 people over for Thanksgiving. If you knew my mom (and her two sisters that cook with her), you would know that the size of our Thanksgivings wasn't just contributed to the amazing the food they prepared...but the bond of family. Mom was the glue that really held our family together.

Sweet tea and Paula Deen's, 2008
After her first battle with cancer ended almost 5 years ago, we went on a road trip to Savannah, GA to do what? You guessed it, eat. We planned out every meal (including of course a stop at Paula Deen's) then found interesting places to visit in between. When I travel for work, my co-workers joke that all I want to know is where we'll be eating! This habit definitely stems from our food-based vacations.

Thanksgiving 2008
All of this is not to say that my mom's only legacy was my love of food. She instilled in me a passion for building community, family ties, friendships, compassion toward others and acceptance among many other lessons. I miss my mother terribly, but I know her memory will live on in the traditions I will keep from baking cookies with my cousins at Christmas, to our big Thanksgiving family meals, and finally the recipes and lessons I will teach my kids some day.

I love you mom. Rest in peace.