Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Road Trip: Cincinnati--Half Day Café

A few weeks back, we went to Cincinnati with friends to see a Reds’ game. We had a great time, an enjoyable dinner before at Nicholson’s Pub (which I reviewed before). They do some tasty mussels.

The next morning, we were had an intense need for a hearty breakfast. The last time hubby and I were in Cincinnati, we tried to go to Half Day Café, but apparently it is closed on Sundays. This was a Saturday, so we drove over. It’s a little drive from downtown, but convenient to the freeway to head back to Indy after.

It’s a bustling place, but we got one of the last tables. We all ordered different things (and some of us maybe ordered two breakfasts) so I got to taste a lot of things.  The best thing on the table was the biscuits and gravy ($9.99).  The biscuits were substantial but still light and fluffy and the gravy had a very distinct sausage flavor. It didn’t have that floury taste that can put me off of gravy sometimes. The most unique thing though, making it even heartier than most B&G, was the fact that there was an entire housemade sausage patty sandwiched in the middle of the biscuits. It was sage sausage and had a nice herby flavor—and I prefer the sage to the fennel flavor a lot of people use in sausage, but which I think can easily overpower the flavor of the meat. Like, I said, it was the star of the table.

I ordered the Egg strata (9.99) based on our server’s recommendation. It was an individual crock filled with an egg casserole—inside there was bread cooked with egg, pepper jack cheese, caramelized onion and a lot of the sage sausage baked on top.  It was extremely rich and hearty, but a little too just heavy for me.  One friend ordered the “Half Day Benedict” ($9.49), which I liked better.  There were two poached eggs layered with Prosciutto all on top of a grilled croissant (love the idea of a buttery croissant on the bottom). Instead of a classic Hollandaise, they used a charred tomato Hollandaise.  I really liked this—it was thinner than some, so didn’t come across too gloopy and had a little of the charred flavor and a fair amount of acidity from the tomato. This would be my second choice based on what we ate.

The men ordered the breakfast burrito ($8.99) and it was universally the least favorite item. It had eggs, peppers, cheese, onions and carnitas (slow roasted pork). It was kinda dry and the sage sausage was better.  The dishes all came with rosemary roasted potatoes, and they had a nice rosemary flavor, but I think I would have liked them crispier. Also, the OJ is fresh squeezed, which is one of my favorite things, and I love it pulpy, but this one was so pulpy it was almost a solid.

Overall I enjoyed this place and would be interested to work my way through the menu—I bet there are some gems. And it’s a nice little locally owned place as well.

Half Day Café 
1 Wyoming Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45215
Half Day Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Guest Post: Road Trip: SangKee Asian Bistro — Greater Philadelphia Area

Sacha here! You might remember me from Erin's review of Pho 54. I am also known as @zigged.

Our 2014 family road trip took us east to visit my dad in New Jersey + enjoy adventures in Ocean City, MD, and New York City. The itinerary I planned included stops at restaurants that are reported to be culinary gems. This time: SangKee Asian Bistro.

To be honest, I didn't find this one on any list (although its website says it was voted Best in Philadelphia Magazine 2006). It was suggested by a college professor of mine that we planned to meet for lunch. Of the few choices he offered, this one looked the best.

The Huz, The Kid, and I all got the bento box lunch special ($13), which is a choice of three items. We all chose shrimp with fresh garlic sauce as the main item, which was fantastic. Tail-on shrimp, snow peas, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, and maybe a few other things all tossed with an umamilicious sauce.

He got jumbo lump crab cake and chicken hot & sour soup as his other two choices. The Huz is a big fan of hot & sour soup and he said this one was excellent.

She got pan-fried chicken dumplings and ginger & scallion noodles as her other choices. She liked them both but the dumplings more. I wish I had gotten a taste of them. I tasted the noodles and they were good but not like we expected—skinny and a little dry when we thought they would be more like lo mein noodles.

I got jumbo lump crab cake and veggie fried rice as my two other choices. The jumbo referred to the crab meat and not the crab cake, which was small but very delicious. Lots of lumps indeed. It was sitting in a little puddle of sweet chili sauce that was a good accompaniment. I was very happy with the fried rice, too.

The Honorary Kid got sweet and sour chicken with white rice on the side because she wanted to go with a known. The chicken was more tender + a bit crispier on the outside than standard take-out and came dressed with the sauce (as opposed to having it on the side), which was brighter and tangier than standard take-out. I didn't expect it to be delicious, just passable, but it was outstanding. She couldn't stop talking about how much she loved it. If you are an unadventurous eater of Chinese food, or have someone in your party who is, this is a solid choice.

Dr. B, who is apparently a regular, got what he called the house special soup. (I assumed the menu would be online for reference later and it's not, so I'm relying on what he said.) When I asked him what was in it he said, "Everything leftover from last night." <shrug> It looked delicious—veg, meatballs, dumplings, etc.—and he loved it, so there you go. It reminded us of phở in that it was a big bowl of broth with a treasure of things floating around in it. I'd give it a shot.

The restaurant is in a strip mall with an unassuming storefront but the décor and ambiance are very nice inside—clean, bright, modern. Dr. B said they recently expanded into the space next door so business must be doing well. Service was good. I liked that there was a specific, laminated menu for the bento box lunch specials that listed everything in words on one side and photos on the other. We all enjoyed the tricolor fortune cookies too.

If you find yourself in Philadelphia and you want authentic (read: mysterious) Chinese food then I suggest you take your chances in Chinatown. If you are in the suburbs, though, or near the University City location, then this is a good alternative, especially if you're not up for a risky culinary adventure. Days later we were still talking about how much we enjoyed this meal.

SangKee Asian Bistro
339 E.Lancaster Ave.
Wynnewood, PA 19096
610/658 0618

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bluebeard - Lunch -Revisit

I was celebrating my friend @wibia’s birthday with him and he chose Bluebeard for lunch (ok, I might have heartily suggested it as well). If you read my blog, you know I am a really big fan of Bluebeard—although lunches there have been a little more mixed for me than dinners.

We split a small roasted beet salad to start ($7). I have said it before, but I think Bluebeard has some of the best salads in town. They do just the right amount of various different ingredients with interesting dressings that are properly balanced and are tossed with the salad. This one had roasted beets, field greens, feta and really crispy fried shallots with a balsamic truffle vinaigrette. Just the right combo of things—and things I wouldn’t normally think of putting together that tasted really good.

I had the shrimp po boy sandwich ($10). I am often lured in by shrimp po boys and I figured Bluebeard would do a good one. They did. It was a nice soft roll that was filled with what they called tempura shrimp, but I’m not sure if I would have said they had the light batter of tempura. They were tasty though, perfectly cooked and tender. They had a nice crunch to them as well. The only thing I wished is that there were a couple more. I didn’t have any left by my last bite. It was topped in the classic po boy style with lettuce, tomato and onion and with a riff on remoulade—pickled red onion remoulade. I really liked the sauce and the sandwich. The potato salad wasn’t bad-it was chopped up fingerlings with a creamy mustard base.
Wibia had the salumi sandwich ($10)—a nice combination of flavors—several types of cured meats (cotto, capicola and mortadella) with a nice olive kick (also red onions and grilled romaine). There was an additional pop of flavor from grainy mustard and aioli. The bread was the denser bread you typically get from Bluebeard and the only thing that was a little weird to me was how charred it was. I have come to realize that the kitchen must do this char thing on purpose because it is very prevalent. It certainly adds a distinctive taste, but for me, is a little overpowering. This particular sandwich has pretty strong flavors so it can hold up ok though.

All in all, it was a very good lunch and Bluebeard remains one of my favorite places for its nuanced flavors. Dinner is a better way to experience those flavors I think, but get a salad and you can always have a great example of them.

653 Virginia Avenue
Indy, 46203

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Pint Room

The Pint Room is a new venture in Carmel following in the growing trend of restaurants having extensive beer lists. I can take or leave the whole giant beer thing, because I’m really just not a beer girl, but when I hear there is a potential for good food, you know I have to check it out. And I know a lot of you guys are really into the whole massive beer list thing—so if you are, you should check it out.

I met my friend Suzanne there and we ordered a couple of things to share. When a restaurant calls itself a “Burger Bar,” you have to order a burger right? And as soon as we read the description of the “Hangover” burger, ($12) we knew that’s what we wanted. Pint Room uses a blend of Kobe beef and US Prime chuck and I like that they cook it to order. The blend of beef they’re using makes for a very tender burger—it’s a fairly thick style, but because of the tenderness, it’s really good. The Hangover is topped with a slight runny fried egg (you can see how it lured me in), smoked cheddar, double smoked bacon, hash browns and tomato. The beef and the egg were great—the egg was just runny enough without being hugely messy. The bacon is pretty thick cut-tasty but a tad chewy. I’m not sure how I feel about the hash browns—just kind of filler I think. It’s a brioche bun and I liked it—soft but hearty enough to stand up to a lot of stuff. All in all, a very good burger. I also liked the seasoned fresh-cut fries—very flavorful and crisp.  We liked the regular ones better than the sweet potato fries that we ordered with our other sandwich.

The other sandwich we shared was the grilled chicken club ($11.50). This was also  good. The very buttery toasted bread was good and I liked the way the chicken was thin and not a giant hunk of breast meat the way many chicken sandwiches are. The chicken was tender and well-seasoned and there was melted white cheddar and Swiss as well as bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion stacked on top. Again, bacon is good tasting, but thick and a bit chewy. The tomato was a tad pasty, but I really enjoyed the sundried tomato mayo on it. I could have eaten even more of that. Again, not as big a fan of the sweet potato fries with the sweet dipping sauce (I’m not usually a fan of sweet stuff with my savory). It was good, but the burger was better.

This is a place with a huge beer list and solid food—I’d be curious to try some of the starters—if they are as good as the sandwiches, I bet they’re pretty tasty. The entrance is sort of weird, it almost doesn’t feel like an entrance and the booth we were seated in felt like it was built for a much larger person than me (table was very far away). Otherwise, the interior is
pretty much what you might imagine for a burger/beer place. It’s casual, with lots of wood. The service was friendly and efficient. On the whole, I think this is a good addition to downtown Carmel.

The Pint Room
110 West Main Street
Carmel, IN 46032
The Pint Room on Urbanspoon