Category Archives: Restaurant

seattle, or sandwich city

Prior to my brief sojourn in August, my exposure to Seattle was two-fold: watching Grey’s Anatomy in high schooland hearing excellent things about it in college from native Seattleites.

I stayed with my friend Hannah and her family, which was great. It is pretty special to contextualize college friends in their home environment, especially when that environment involves adventures in cooking salmon whole.

Wassup, fish? You were one tasty finned creature.

Now, I know Seattle is known for its rain and its salmon and that giant thing that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, but I came to know Seattle for its sandwiches. Hannah picked up at the airport and we went directly to get banh mi at Saigon Deli in the International District, conveniently on the way from the airport to Hannah’s house. Cilantro needs to appear in more sandwiches I make for myself. Maybe I’ll start a container garden for the winter.

We went to Pike Place Market, watched the guys throw the fish, tried some uncooked chocolate pasta (what?), and bought some Rainier cherries to have as the dessert course for the lunch we were both anticipating. A few hours earlier, we had been waiting on line at Salumi to order sandwiches. The employees make the wait a lot easier by bringing around plates of samples. Bless them. It’s only right, considering that the store is owned by Armandino Batali, father of Mario.

My sandwich had mozzarella, peppers, onions, and Agrumi salami, a variety cured with citrus and cardamom. Slathered together on some great chewy-crunchy-airy bread, it shot me right up to sandwich heaven. My favorite part of Salumi, besides the actual food, was this narrow walk-in refrigerator filled with salami. If I could live anywhere…

The final sandwich stop was Paseo’s, where I got the straight up Cuban roast sandwich for which they are apparently known. Very hard to eat, in a great way. Thick, succulent grilled onions. Well-seasoned and perfectly-textured pork. Really, how was I ever a vegetarian?

Seattle treated me well. The weather was ideal, the company great, the coffee unforgettable, and you know how I feel about the sandwiches. And Mount Rainier bid farewell to me on my way back East, for a breath-taking finale to my West Coast summer.

my week in the bay, pt. 2

I failed to mention in my last post something that most of you probably know. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: the Bay area is a foodie mecca. Not only is there delicious food around every corner, but Northern California seems to has its wits about them in terms of food justice awareness and action. Like everywhere, there are definitely improvements to be made, but other urban areas can learn a thing or two from the organizations that have established a presence in San Francisco and Berkeley.

One of these organizations is La Cocina, an incubator kitchen in the Mission District that offers subsidized commercial kitchen rentals and entrepreneurial education to individuals with the culinary skills but without the financial resources to build their own commercial kitchen, go to business school, or invest in a project without guaranteed success. I visited La Cocina during one of my days of SF exploring and got a tour of the vibrant kitchen happenings: chai tea concentrate was being bottled, salsa was bubbling away, and tamales were being formed and steamed at record pace. It was inspiring and made me very, very hungry.

Following my recovery from the sensory overload inevitable from a visit to La Cocina, I passed Mission Pie. I immediately entered, armed with hunger, a craving for eggs, and the good word from a friend. Breakfast was a slice of broccoli quiche and The Best Latte I’ve Ever Had. Pretty sure I still have a lingering crush on that barista based solely on how that latte made me feel.

With mental and physical fuel from my respective visits to La Cocina and Mission Pie, I walked over to Hayes Valley Farm to volunteer for a day and help ease some of my Mano Farm withdrawal. The only job they had for me was compost sifting, so I did that for enough hours to sufficiently dirty my hands and make connections with some international visitors to SF. (I have a place to stay in Montreal with an urban farmer! Holla!) Hayes Valley is closing soon, as their agreement with the city is nearing its conclusion and the former highway off-ramp is going to be the site of an assisted living facility (or something), so I was happy to be catch them before they closed. And afterwards, I went to a little French bistro with two women from Barcelona and had this delectable cauliflower tart and bean salad.

A little cured meat porn to cure your ails. Spotted at the Fatted Calf, an insanely upscale specialty food store and expert in cured pork products. I ordered four slices of two salamis for a grand total of $1.98, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in servicing this customer. Screw them. I ended up walking to Toronado, a beer bar specializing in sours, ordering a cheap beer, and hiding at one of the back tables to enjoy my pork and beer. Nutritionally void; emotionally fulfilling.

One of my last meals in San Francisco was brunch at Mama’s, a tourist trap in Little Italy. And tourist trap it deserves to be. Connor and I waited on line for an hour and a half, and discussed our plan of attack for 95% of that time. We wanted a little bit of everything, so we split our plates. One of us ordered  the French toast sampler plate, complete with banana bread French toast (a revelation), and the other ordered the standard egg-meat-potato-toast brunch  combination/hangover cure. Dee. Lish. Us.

Houses of pastel and fog seen from Alamo Square Park, where I was accosted by approximately five dogs, three hippies, and one shaman-in-training. The population of San Francisco is primarily made of up dogs, hippies, and shamans-in-training, so I wasn’t too surprised. My trip to the Bay left me yearning to return before I even left, not only because two of my best friends live there, but a one-week stint left so much of its cultural and culinary richness unexplored. I can’t wait to visit again.

colorado’s finest

I returned to Dulles International Airport at 6:15 am and got through security by 6:30. My flight was destined to leave at 8:20, so I settled down for the 1.5 hour wait until boarding time. We boarded the plane and all was well until we got news that a deboarding was necessary, along with a two hour delay. I am 99% positive that I was on the same plane that abandoned me in the airport yesterday. How did United go through a 24-hour period without switching it out? Awful.

Anyway, I spent a portion of the two hour delay searching my iPhone’s internet for suggestions of what to do during a substantial layover in Denver International, and luckily someone on the BeerAdvocate forums pointed me in the direction of the New Belgium Hub. After crossing two moving walkways and stopping briefly in the ladies’ room, I reached the hub in its full glory. I have only ever had Fat Tire and the Mothership Wit, so I tasted the Ranger IPA, the 1554 Black Ale, and the Sunshine Wheat. The Ranger IPA  won.

Blue Paddle Brat and the Ranger IPA at the Denver International Airport

To go with my beer, I ate the Blue Paddle Brat, a bratwurst infused with New Belgium’s Blue Paddle Pilsner and topped with peppers, onions and sauerkraut. I added whole lotta mustard and, paired with the very crispy fries, it was the perfect stomach filler before Tucson bombards me with Mexican food.

After a brief perusal of the menu after I ate, I read the description for the “Lips of Faith” tap. The product is always changing but the brewery often utilizes wild fermentation methods and fruit juice. Sounded like the making of lambic to me, so I asked for a tulip of the current Lips of Faith brew. The bartender wouldn’t give it to me until I tasted it, and babes, it was impossible to discriminate it from a Framboise. Happiness is 8.5% ABV fruity effervescence.

my night at the westin hotel

So, my flight to Denver was postponed and ultimately canceled. I was  pretty flustered, especially since my bags seemed to get twenty pounds heavier every hour I had them in tow (Thanks, gravity!), but managed to book a new flight and get shuttled to the nearest hotel to stay for the night. I would have bothered my friends to house me, but the trek back into DC would have required three more hours of lugging my crap all over town and a bunch of guap for transportation, so I opted for the free shuttle to the free hotel room with a $15 food voucher.

As soon as I arrived, I sprawled on my king-sized mattress and flipped on “No Reservations: Sardinia.” Anthony Bourdain proceeded to whet my appetite with flashing images of the most amazing food from the other large island neighboring Italy . If watching a goat being roasted over an open spit wasn’t enough to excite my tummy, the meat-roaster proceeded to engulf a hunk of lardo in flames and let the fat drip onto the goat. Then, I was tortured through watching a lot of people (who were not me) eat an insanely elaborate farm homestead meal, capitalizing on Sardinia’s agriturismo industry. Why, Anthony, why? Regardless, Sardinia is now firmly planted at the top of my list of culinary destinations. I mean, people there carry around special knives in their pocket to facilitate consumption of cured meat and local cheese. That is where I belong. Also, just check out the description of the cuisine on Wikipedia.

Hunger in tow, I moseyed down to the Padella, the hotel bar and restaurant, for some food and perhaps a brew or two. (By the way, whenever I say or think “hotel bar,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” gets stuck in my head because I always misheard “cocktail bar” as “hotel bar” as a kid.) I had the tomato-basil soup, ravioli with rabbit ragu, and chocolate lava cake. In retrospect, I should have just gone for the burger I was craving because my attempt at exploring new territory didn’t go so well.

Ravioli with Rabbit Ragu

Chocolate Lava Cake

The rundown:

1) I was in the bathroom when my soup arrived and by the time I returned it had cooled off a bit too much. Lukewarm soup ain’t pretty (or delicious).

2)  The ravioli were actually pierogies. Thinking back to the description midway through the meal, I remember reading “smoked potato ravioli,” but for some reason, my mind didn’t make the connection to pierogies upon reading this. I think I spent the majority of time eating the ravioli trying to figure out why the ricotta was much grainier than it was creamy. It was like biting into a sweet pickle when you are expecting  a sour one.

3) The rabbit ragu had a bone in it! Eating rabbit is something I find to be at once troublesome and absolutely not troublesome. Like most animals, rabbits are adorable, so getting over eating the Velveteen Rabbit and Little Bunny Foo-Foo is a little hard for me. But beyond that, they reproduce so quickly and eat vegetarian so I feel like they are quite a sustainable food source. But when I am plowing through a maybe ravioli-maybe pierogi textural battle, the last thing I expected was to find a bone (an unidentifiable one at that) amidst a bunch of connective tissue in the sea of pulled rabbit meat. Blegth.

4) It was clear that the ravioli were old because the pasta at the seams was really dense and chewy. They had dried out a bit too much, either in the refrigerator or freezer, and were an unpleasant mouthful.

5) The chocolate lava cake was absolutely delicious except it was supposed to come topped with ginger ice cream and instead it came with vanilla bean. Screw that! I wanted to reminisce about eating dark chocolate + ginger Green & Black’s bars as a form of caffeination during late night study jams, but no. I was not afforded that moment of nostalgia.

Overall, though, my time bellied up to the Padella bar was great, and the attentive staff and $3 happy hour beers were only the beginning. Most importantly, I sat next to a woman who had been a stewardess nearly half a century ago, and her stories about dating members of the Brooklyn Dodgers and wearing girdles so she “wouldn’t jiggle” made the entire meal go down a lot smoother.

dc: 41 hours (and counting)

I am currently using the convenient, complimentary WiFi at the Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC, waiting for a convenient, complimentary update on the status of my flight, which has been undergoing an inconvenient, complimentary part repair for the past four hours. Scheduled to leave at 11:03, we just got an update that we will receive another update at noon. So instead of freaking out, I am going to post this entry and then try to figure out how (and if) I’m going to get to Tucson.

First stop was Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, a DC landmark with really great music. I went with my friend Abby who I haven’t seen since October. The two of us spent Summer ’09 in DC together, and it was great to reconnect with her in the city we got to know together.

Chili Cheese Fries

Chili Half-Smoke

The next day, I hung out with my Haverford friends Waleed and Kate, and some of their friends from home. They all live in Arlington, VA, and made the trek out to DC proper to chill. Falafel for lunch with the whole crew and Ethiopian for dinner with Waleed. Both meals were eaten streetside, but the showcase of the falafel experience was definitely the cement being poured a few meters away.

Falafel with a Side of Cement

Lalibela Sampler Plate, complete with hard-boiled egg and a bunch of delicious stews

Ethiopian beer! Waleed!

graduation dinner, philly made

And now, some food porn from my graduation dinner at Paesano’s in Fishtown and subsequent dessert at Capogiro Gelateria, the 13th Street location.

Potato Arrosto

Giardina - Roasted Eggplant with Fennel, Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella, and Pesto

Paesano - Beef Brisket with Roasted Tomato, Provolone, Horseradish Mayonnaise, and a Fried Egg

Arista - Whole Roast Suckling Pig, Broccoli Rabe, Italian Longhots & Jus

Avocado and Chocolate Gelato

Uh…yum. The photographs of my dad’s dinner and my dessert came out poorly, but I will mention them anyway. Pop got the Zawzeech, which is a straight up sausage and pepper sandwich. He is still talking about it, three days later.

At Capogiro, I got a trio of gelatos: Sea Salt, Lime Cilantro, and Grapefruit Campari. My favorite was definitely the Sea Salt, but all three worked perfectly together as a combination. I think Capogiro will be one of the things I miss most about Philly eats.

taco tuesdays

Before I came to San Diego, hearing “El Camino” triggered visions of my dream car, the Chevrolet model of the same name. Since being in this city,  I have become aware of a trendy, tasty Mexican restaurant in Little Italy called El Camino, and it has beckoned me back for seconds and thirds, due in part to the quality of the food and in part to the great special they have on Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays involves half price on all taco options. Happy hour specials are half price quesadillas and nachos, along with $3 Coronas, sangria, and house made margaritas. Tuesday happy hour is clearly a recipe for fun.

Look what their menu promises! I don’t know how they can claim to be allergy free because people are allergic to all kinds of things, but their commitment to organic, locally grown food is a nice plus. They also have a location in North Park, but I have stuck to the Little Italy location because it is in the design district, and I can antique/fantasize about my future dwellings as an appetizer.

My first time at El Camino was with my friend Justin. We went on his first night in San Diego. After a margarita at the bar, we were seated and quickly met with fresh tortilla chips and a trio of dips: chipotle Mexican cream, salsa verde, and roasted pepper salsa. They also provided a couple roasted hot peppers in a bowl and a small bucket with marinated cucumber and jicama. YUM.

We both ordered the Camaron Asado tacos, or pan seared garlic cilantro shrimp finished with lime juice. They were served with some really good sauce, as well, and taco plates come with four tacos in corn tortillas, a pot of rice, and a pot of house black beans. Such a delicious way to satiate!

(This picture blows because I used a flash and edited it in iPhoto afterwards. Apologies.)

My cousin and I took our moms to El Camino twice: once to when they got off the plane (this place is a really great intro to SD) and once before we dropped them back off at the airport. These days were conveniently Tuesdays, and on both nights, we had our fill of food and drunk for under $30. We ordered three plates of tacos to split.

Carne Asada Tacos

Intensely seasoned, tender, and topped with onions, cilantro, and some chopped tomato.

Mahi-Mahi Tacos

Succulent grilled fish topped with cabbage. Simple, and always tasty.

Rajas Tacos

The surprising standout, packed with grilled poblanos, mushrooms, corn, onions, and bell peppers doused in Mexican cream (basically a more watery sour cream).

When you get the bill, they leave you with a bunch of these really cute pieces of gum. Before she left, my mom grabbed approx. 3 giant handfuls to “give my brother” because she thought they were so cute. Guaranteed they’re still in her wallet.

Above all, I need to thank El Camino and San Diego for turning my mother into a lover of Mexican food. It was never something she enjoyed, always a contentious topic in my household. Her SD vaca inspired her to make quesadillas for dinner, paired with radishes and salsa, a duo I introduced her to one night during her stay. Now I just need to work on her distaste for Indian.

coffee and cupcakes

My cousin and I went to Cups after our snorkeling adventure, and our moms stopped by the La Jolla cupcake lounge one morning while waiting for stores to open. The four of us returned one evening after watching the sunset from Mount Soledad, a beautiful but freezing location.

My cuz and I split the Raspberry Basil Cupcake. Cups’ selection rotates every day, and while all varieties seem delicious, I always go for savory elements in my sweets. Always. You could taste the butter in the icing, as well as a shade of raspberry essence, but the star was the cake portion of the cupcake. Even at the end of the day, the cupcake tasted fresh with a light but chewy texture. The basil flavor fit in seamlessly, and the entire experience was very reminiscent of eating a slice of carrot cake, with strong notes of cinnamon and an ingredient fondly remembering its savory applications, but not missing them.

Sera’s Chai is pictured above, but it was way too sweet for either of us to enjoy. Overwhelmingly saccharine, like those kind folks who sometimes overdo it.

I ordered a Brazilian coffee: a shot (or two?) of espresso brewed with spices. Every few sips, a little speck of cinnamon stick would land in my mouth. Sounds unpleasant, but chewing on these was warmly refreshing and a great complement to the bitter strength of the coffee.

gelato bravado

Chocolat Cremerie, situated in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, was the prime place for me to sample my first West Coast gelato. I had been asking around for recommendations of San Diego’s best, and Chocolat came with the most emphatic recommendation. A Sicilian waiter told me that it was the best gelato he had ever had in his life, including the twenty years he spent in Italy. Translation: I needed to have it.

After trying Lemon Poppy Seed, Cinnamon Chocolate, and Sweet Basil, I settled on Grand Marnier Chocolate combined with Cioccolato di Peperoncino, or chili chocolate. Orange and chili are two of my favorite chocolate accompaniments, and since I have been in San Diego, I realized the merits of pairing chili powder with fruit, so this combination was perfect for me.

This gelato was the creamiest, densest I have ever had. It was the consistency of cold batter for really chewy brownies, necessary to hold up the rich chocolate flavor and its complements. It was so filling and fulfilling that I could barely finish it, especially since I had just eaten dinner at La Pizzeria Arrivederci. The pizzeria had high marks on the UrbanSpoon iPhone app, and boy, did it deliver! My aunt, cousin, mom and I split a small Pizza Margarita, the standard marinara-mozzarella-basil trifecta of perfection, and a small La Bianca, a white pizza baked only with mozzarella and parmesean, then topped with cold prosciutto and arugula. The crust was superb — light, with appropriate amounts of crunch and give — and the toppings were fresh. I couldn’t ask for much more.

There are times when I am proud to be Italian. Most of those times come from experiencing really good Italian food. That night, with three members of my family in San Diego, our bellies full of Italian wine, fantastic and authentic oven-charred pizza, and unreal gelato, I was the most proud I’ve been in a long time that my last name is Cherichello.

my birthday, belated

I have spent the past two summers away from home, and my June 9 birthdays have thus been celebrated without my family. In light of this, and in honor of her visit, my mom and I decided to have a meal at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, a three-floor restaurant on the water. We sat on the top floor, George’s Ocean Terrace, and got to look at this while eating and drinking and being merry.

Not bad. To start, Mom ordered a blood orange margarita and I ordered a Ballast Point IPA, though I’m not sure whether it was the Big Eye or the Sculpin. I don’t think the menu even indicated which it was, and the beer list isn’t online. Ho-hum. All I know is that I had my mom try it and she was blown away with its strength. I have a funny little feeling that Mom’s palate is not as used to hops as mine is, especially considering my fairly recent affinity for the stuff. Also, sipping a hoppy beer after sipping a sweet margarita doesn’t sound that pleasant.

We followed up our drink order with an appetizer salad: watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, mint, and feta. For the price of this salad, I probably could have made enough of it to serve six people for dinner, but, as I kept reminding my mom and myself, we were paying for the view. The service was also excellent: relaxed but attentive.

My entree was the Garlic Roasted Shrimp, served with chorizo and piquillo pepper risotto, roasted fennel, lemon, almonds, and fried cilantro. I could have done without the risotto; the flavors were excellent, but it was not made properly. It was either made too fast or not stirred enough or something else that left the final product grainy, a word that should never come to mind when enjoying risotto. The shrimp, fennel, and fried cilantro worked together to make up for this error.

The shrimp tasted like it had marinated in garlic for three days before roasting – just how I like it. Even still, the garlic did not overwhelm the shrimp but instead created a nice garlicky crust.

Fennel is always welcome in my life. I once hated the stuff, when Mom used to serve it on Christmas in a tricolore salad and I’d gag at the idea of eating it. It tasted like black licorice! I hated black licorice! Now, I love the stuff (black licorice & fennel), especially when the fennel is grilled or sautéed or, in this case, roasted. My knife went through the veggie like it would room temperature butter, and it completely dissolved in my mouth. The fennel worked very well when eaten with some toasted almonds.

The fried cilantro was an Iron Chef-type jawn. It wasn’t battered, but you could tell that it had been dipped in boiling oil for just enough time to release some of the cilantro essence and add that deep-fried flavor.

Mom ordered Roasted Organic Chicken Breast which was served with fingerling potatoes, rapini, salsa verde, and a grilled lemon. It was the juiciest chicken either of us had ever had.

Dessert was Lemon Verbena Soup with blueberries, blueberry sorbet and pound cake croutons. Pound cake croutons are as good as they sound: a little crunchy on the outside with a soft, rich center. The blueberries were fresh as hell and the sorbet was essentially food-processed frozen blueberries. To quote Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?” A spoonful of the lemon custard “soup” with a bit of crouton, a blueberry, some sorbet, and a spearmint leaf was an ideal dessert creation, and one helluva birthday cake!

Oh yea, one more of this, just because: