Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Birmingham, MI - Phoenicia; Middle Eastern food is a staple in Detroit. It's almost in every neighborhood and if it's certainly not in yours, it will be in an adjacent community ready to serve you hummus, baba ghanoush, fresh pita, falafel, shawarma, and so many items particular to that cuisine. Detroit area supposedly has the highest middle eastern population outside of the middle east, so naturally the area is going to have a plethora of choices and regional cuisine differences. Having the opportunity to travel to middle east multiple times, I have not only appreciated what's authentic, but what varies from fine dining to street vendor food.

That said, there is a level of comfort and familiarity when trying to places, Phoenicia deviates from that expectation. We started with the Artichoke Hearts appetizer. I was expecting grilled or sautéed artichoke hearts, but received a dish completely difference than we all expected. It was mixed into a sauce with carrots and lots, I mean lots of lemon juice. We are a group that usually finished everything and we all decided to let this one be, unfinished. Along with this appetizer, we tried some of their baba ghanoush. Some places have theirs more bitter, some smooth and creamy, but here, it's smokey. It didn't appeal for any of us.

It was served with pita bread, store bought pita bread. Are you kidding me? This was straight out of the plastic bag packages that you can find in the specialty markets. It WAS NOT the freshly baked bread that some restaurants have with the stone oven near the patrons and watch the bread rise while you while for the steaming hot pita.

Where I give them credit is having an item on the menu not commonly found, sweet breads. This is my second try at it and our server told me to was specifically lamb sweet bread. It was extremely tender and delicious. They do know how to prepare it well. It was probably so tender from the amount of butter and oil in the dish. It was swimming around on the plate looking for a diving board. It's also cooked with wonderful slices of garlic. It's no joke garlic too. It's not one clove thinly sliced, but probably six cloves all thinly slices and spread evenly to extract the flavor well and to have one in almost every bite. It was certainly a highlight when comparing it to the other dishes we sampled.

On the side I ordered rice and curry. For those of you who are familiar with Chaldean households, this is a staple on the stove that sits around all day for you to pick at. There are a few Chaldean restaurants that offer this off the menu, just ask and you won't be disappointed. However, theirs has the elements to the dish, tomato base, some spices, potatoes, but it doesn't sing as it does in others places.

Where they lost the third star is for prices. For the quality of the flavor, the prices clearly do not justify it. I can easily find a better tasting place that is less expensive in almost any city in the Detroit area serving almost the same food.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

San Diego, CA - Searsucker; Being a fan of top chef and in San Diego, i have to try Chef Brian Malarkey's Searsucker. Will he deliver my expectations from the show or fall short?

My first visit was for lunch and tried the Apple Pulled Pork: bourbon bbq/apple apple slaw, onion jam, baconnaise on ciabatta. There is a sweet and softness with a slight crunch from the apple slices. The BBQ sauce is and original. Hidden inside is caramelized onion compote that adds a nice element to the sandwich. The pork Is extremely tender and juicy and of course is the highlight of the dish. It stands out and either with or without any of the other elements, it would still be delicious. However, why add the onion shoe strings, which are lost in the flavor of the dish. In fact, if you try any of it by itself, you ill find that the onions do not bring any flavor to your palate.

The sandwich is served with a salad that was fresh, complimented with a thick drizzle of a reduced balsamic dressing that is quite nice. Is barely drizzled on the salad, but there is enough for the whole side. If there was any more of it, it would be too overwhelming. The salad is topped with fresh peppercorn and a dash of sea salt. That sea salt is really a nice touch to it. You get the saltiness along with the acidity from the balsamic together creating a nice dance.

The sandwich is served with a spicy and sour pickle. My reaction to the first bite, "What the...?" What is this? Second bite, "I'm not sure if I like it. I better take another bite to identify the flavors." I finished it and at the end, I still wasn't sure if I did. I asked about it and a server said that they make them in-house with a blend of spices and vinegar. I think I will tell them to hold it next time.

I returned that evening to try their "Cobb" salad that included pancetta, avocado, bleu cheese, and tomato. The salad is a salad and the only ingredient that makes it stand out is the pancetta. The pork belly is salted and cured well, tender, and has that fattiness to add the necessary flavor.

We finished off with the Artichoke Hearts Dip that has artichoke hearts, gruyere, and tomato. It was wonderfully cheesy and had the depth of flavor needed to be a good small plate.

Monday, March 18, 2013

San Diego, CA - Hash House A Go Go; I heard the dishes here are big, wait, maybe people said huge. I think the way they put it was HUGE. I also heard that its a must when you're in San Diego. Expect at least a nice 30-45 minute wait.

I saw the pancakes arriving at near-by tables. I started getting very worried to see that people were right. They were HUGE, basically the size of the table. When my Artichoke and Spinach Hash, I was relieved to see that it wasn't the size of the table, but I still knew I couldn't finish it. Don't you hate when you try someone elses dish at the table, taste yours, then spend the rest of the meal wishing you were the other person? Comparing mine to my wife who had their hot sticky granola with milk & mixed fresh fruit, I would have preferred to eating hers. Not that mine was bad. The dish is made well with the potatoes nicely cooked, fresh eggs, and great artichokes and sun dried tomatoes. My main issue with the dish is that there were too many sun dried tomatoes. It overpowered every other ingredient to where each bite all you found taste was the tomatoes.

I don't think I would order this one again, but I would love to try some other dishes there though.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

San Diego, CA - Richard Walker's Pancake House; This was the first place we hit up when we arrived in SD. It wasn't first because we absolutely had to try it, it was conveniently close to the hotel and our walk to work. Even slightly later in the morning, we were surprised and happy to see how busy they were. We didn't have a wait, but almost each table was occupied.

On my first visit, I tried their Banana Crepe that has bananas, sour cream and a touch of Triple Sec gently stuffed into crepes. It is topped with a special apricot sauce and powdered sugar. It would have been nice to see the bananas caramelized instead of just sliced on top. It was a fresh and nicely ripe banana, but it could have been improved. You do taste the Triple Sec, but you can still drive afterwards. The crepe is nice and light, thinly prepared and is a light meal. If you are hungry, add something on the side to eat wih it.

On the second visit, apparently I was still had a craving for carbs. I tried their 1/2 Order of Chocolate Pancakes. Chocolate is melted into the pancakes and topped with chocolate morsels, and powdered sugar. This curbed my appetite for both carbs and sugar, probably two days worth. I can't imagine having a full order, when I could barely finish this. The morsels on the top look like they are hard and just dropped on top. Even though they have their original shape, they were so soft. The heat from the cakes made them so nice and soft to where you can easily spread them all over the pancakes as if it were butter. I did have to use a little syrup, otherwise they would have been too dry.

The only weird setup in the restaurant is the location of the bathroom. The door opens and closes directly in the dining area. When you exit the restroom, you are basically announcing, "Hey everyone, do you know what I just did?". It's a bad location for the restroom.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Detroit, MI - Brooklyn Street Local; With only open approximately eight months, their food tastes as though they have been in business for twenty years. You would expect them to still experiment with their dishes and flavors. However, you can taste their "20-year" experience in the three dishes we tried.

I was introduced to the idea of Poutine by my brother who has some extensive travels through Ontario. Returning from a trip there, he insisted that I try Poutine and this truly Canadian dish is one that will stick with him for a long time.

I saw a write up in the Metro Times about Brooklyn Street Local and how they not only have Poutine, but it's prepared traditionally with their Canadian staff's approval. I mentioned to our server, who's Canadian, that this was my inaugural Poutine experience. She did exactly what I had hoped. She immersed me into the background of Poutine and how there are poutineries that specialize In all types of toppings and that it's traditionally eaten as that "late night" after the bar kind of food. I can see why. It's heavy, greasy, and salty. All the things you want after an evening out.

Starting with the traditional Poutine, it contains hand cut fries, beef gravy, and cheese curds. The real highlight of this dish is the delicious beef gravy. However, each component is a highlight and without one of them, the dish doesn't have a chance to being a star. Each element needs each other. The cheese curds will probably surprise you. They have a very mild flavor, but it's their texture that intrigued me. They don't crumble when biting into it, but it actually sounds like a squeegee on your teeth. So weird and fun at the same time.

The BSL Poutine with hand cut fries, beef gravy, cheese curds, caramelized onions, and crispy bacon is one that you would find at poutineries according to our Canadian server. In this dish, you loose the beef flavor in the gravy because of the onions and bacon. It's still there and adds the accenting flavor, it's just not the dominant taste throughout the dish. The onions are will grab you.

I thought I was going to like one over the other and pick a favorite. However, I really loved each one independently. I could easily move back and forth while still appreciating each one.

Lastly, our server said to take the full Canadian journey, we have to try the Peameal Bacon, Canadian bacon cooked with cornmeal sprinkled on top. I envisioned a completely different look, which is always nice to be surprised. The cornmeal was lightly sprinkled on top rather on the edges or completed submerged. The visual had me thrown off and so did the taste. The flavor turned out to be just like having a pork chop. Its the texture of the meat and the cornmeal that really develops the flavor in that direction. The reason it taste like pork chops is that it's not real Canadian bacon. It is actual pork loin fried to order. According to their website, they didn't have a supplier so they created their own.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Detroit, MI - People's Pierogi Collective Food Truck; Hamtramck is a place that every Detroiter knows where you can receive authentic Polish food. Consequently, if you cook Polish food and want it to be authentic and made with love, then it should be made from scratch.

No other food truck vendor is serving pierogi's, giving People's Pierogi a unique advantage. I wish they seized the moment though. They offer three flavors mushroom with a cayenne, potato and cheese, and artichoke and spinach. When we got to the front of the line, we could see that they were grilling each one to give it a nice golden brown color. We had the opportunity to talk with the staff and inquire about their ingredients. I was unhappy to hear that they don't make the pasta. The staff did say that all the fillings are hand-made, in which they spent the previous evening preparing it. So it's half and half, some components hand-made and the rest not so.

One notable fact, all three options were vegetarian. This rarely happens. Usually it's multiple meat options with one vegetarian. Therefore, vegetarians enjoy! The potato and cheese was the least favorite. The flavors of all the ingredients were fairly bland. The mushroom cayenne pierogi was the second best one available. It just didn't have enough heat. With cayenne as part of the main ingredient, you would expect some heat, but it was barely present. Since I have to pick one as my favorite, well I guess the lucky title goes to the artichoke and spinach. It was the one that did have flavor and you could taste the artichoke as well as the spinach. All three were edible, but if I had to order one again, it would only be artichoke and spinach.

The pierogis were served with sauerkraut, which they could have kept. I asked if it were homemade and it is not, which the taste reveals.

It's nice to have some variety at food truck rallies, however I hope to see their flavors improve with complexity and execution.

Monday, March 04, 2013

National City, CA -  Blitztorte Kalye Hits; After seeing this restaurant on Bizarre Foods, I knew it would be one of the many places to make sure I pay a visit.

Filipino street food sometimes has puns for names and come on a stick for ease of grab, go, and eat. Blitztorte fits the bill perfectly.

Their walkman, pig ears, was cut in strips or chunks. The are a bit chewy but not too rubbery which you would expect. It appears it was braised for a lengthy period to help soften it up.

The next adventurous plunge is their Adidas or chicken feet. They look just like what you would expect, from the ankle down. I've tried chicken feet twice and although I'm very happy that all parts are used and not wasted, I don't think I'll be trying it a third time. They are very boney and what is there is mainly gelatinous meat.

To one of my absolute favorites, Betamax or pork blood. Nope, its not a bowl of blood. Its so much better. Picture tofu with a deep red color. That's not a bad picture. It had this wonderful slight charred flavor from the grill. It didn't have a strong mineral flavor that sometimes blood sausage has or anything where blood is the main ingredient. I could eat several sticks of these.

The lady talked me into Porkisaw or pig intestine. I tried intestines once before and it was okay, I wasn't eager to try it again. However, she recommended it and when in Rome.... I was very happy that she talked me into this one. It was a tasty treat and redeemed intestines for me. Before, I had it prepared whee it was whole and still rubbery, however, Porkisaw is cut into cross sections and very thin, so when it's grilled, it takes on the grilled flavor more and it becomes very crispy. It was a welcomed surprise and I enjoyed the whole skewer.

Stay or chicken liver, was one of my least favorite skewers. It's in large pieces and extremely dry. It also has a very strong liver and mineraly flavor. I've never been a fan of liver, chopped or whole. I ended up not finishing this one.

You think I would be full yet, huh? Nope, not yet. The adventure kept going. I don't often have the opportunity for gizzards, so now's the time. They were in larger chunks, allowing more of the flavor to develop. Even though it had some of the connective tissue and cartilage, it was still pretty good. Not my favorite, but not my worst.

My absolute favorite was the BBQ pork. It is certainly not the most exotic, but it is one of the more familiar flavors. It had that delicious pork flavor with the grilled accents and the marinate on it, yum yum.

Stay with me, I only have two more and then I'm full. The Fishballs were a complete shock to me, I imagined grounded up meat, rolled into a ball. Instead, it does have a ball shape, but it has the texture more like a marshmallow. Very strange. When you bite into it, you know you're eating fish, but it feels similar to a marshmallow. The flavor actually resembles gefilta fish, if you've every tried that dish.

Finally, I finished with Kwek Kwek, battered quail eggs. They are small, size of marbles, and the texture and flavor were similar to hard boiled eggs. The flavor does have a bit of gaminess to it, but not far off.

All the skewers come with either a  vinegar dressing or a brown sauce. I tried each skewer with each sauce and in every case, I preferred the vinegar dressing or the brown sauce. The vinegar helps to add that base to the dish that compliments the marinate or grilled charred flavor. The brown sauce is more on the sweet side and although it's good, it masks the flavor the meats more.

What an enormous lunch and fun doing it. The cost, $12. Yeah, all of it for just that. Most skewers are either $1 or $2. So, go with an appetite, an open mind, and just a few bucks in your pocket.