Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My Lunch

I don't fancy myself a food critic, nor do I consider myself a food photographer. What those people can do to analyze, critique, and present the food they eat to the general public in a way that's the next best thing to eating it yourself, is just extraordinary. There are very, very talented people out there in those fields. I am not one of them.

But with that being said, I like to eat, I like to take pictures, and I like to write about the food I've enjoyed. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll see that food is a recurring theme here. I tend to photograph and write about the food I enjoy more than the stuff I don't.

Recently I've had the pleasure of eating at three places I'd never been to before:
  1. Tonali in Durham, NC
  2. Connolly's Irish Pub in Cary, NC
  3. Pomodoro in Mebane, NC
Here are my thoughts on the three:

Tonali, 3642 Shannon Road, Durham. Nuevo Mexican
Mark D. discovered this place, and was very excited for me to try it. His excitement was well founded. The chef at Tonali used to be a sous chef at nearby Four Square, and that was an excellent start. 'Restaurants with chefs' is a good thing in my book. And Tonali's nuevo Mexican cuisine to me meant that it was not some El Generico ground beef brittle tacos and canned refried beans place.

We both got "Agua de Jamaica", as you should also if you encounter a place that has it. It's a tea made from hibiscus flowers. It's usually priced by the glass, so despite how good the agua was, we were proportioning our consumption appropriately to make it last throughout the whole meal. Much to our delight, the server arrived and asked if we wanted more aqua, not another agua. Free refills! The consumption increased exponentially from there.

Tonali: agua de jamaicaTonali: agua de jamaica Hosted on Zooomr

We were brought an amuse bouche (or whatever it should properly be called in Spanish). We didn't officially know what this was, but most of it (turkey, cliantro, tomatoes, infused oil) was visibly identifiable. It certainly amused my mouth.

Mark had the tacos de pollo pabil, or slow-roasted chicken tacos. There are several accoutrement pictured here that I dare not attempt to identify for fear of maligning the dish.

Tonali: tacos de pollo pibilTonali: tacos de pollo pibil Hosted on Zooomr

I had the Sinchronizadas de Pavo (sandwich of turkey, often confused with dang quesadillas!), with several sides, including fresh guacamole, a jicama relish, and house made molé that was exquisite.

Tonali: sincronizadas de pavoTonali: sincronizadas de pavo Hosted on Zooomr

We finished with some decent coffee, but skipped dessert, though I think we both are regretting this now, as we're pretty confident that the desserts would've been pretty special too.

All told, the damage (including tax) was about $18 for both of us, excluding tip. Tonali was a real find!

Connolly's Irish Pub, 1979 High House Road, Cary (link)
This was a find of Tom B., and right next door to his favorite coffee place, Crema (which should have its own review). It's a pretty typical Irish pub, with pub food, Guiness drafts, darts, etc. Now I'm no fan of the Irish, other than the one I married, but I enjoy a good pub as much as the next Paddy.

It was a Friday in Lent, and despite Tom's non-Catholicness, he got the fish-and-chips.

Connelly's Irish Pub:  Fish and ChipsConnelly's Irish Pub: Fish and Chips Hosted on Zooomr

Even Pope Ratzinger would approve of the light, almost tempura-like batter of the fresh white fish. Tom shared some with me, and I agree that these were excellent.

Sticking with the fish theme, or shellfish in this case, I got the crabcake sandwich. . . a self-proclaimed house specialty, as indicated by the shamrock adornment next to its menu listing.

Connelly's Irish Pub: Crabcake SandwichConnelly's Irish Pub: Crabcake Sandwich Hosted on Zooomr

This was also very good, sufficiently crabby, and accompanied by a huge pile of carb sticks! Connolly's is definitely a place I'd love to take Jennifer to for her favorite pub drink: a snakebite

We finished the meal off with coffee from Crema (macchiato for Tom, redeye for me) that unfortunately, I did not photograph. Kevin at Crema takes his craft very seriously, and the quality of the product there really shows.

Pomodoro, 107 E. Center Street, Mebane (link)
This is a new restaurant in Mebane, on Center Street (aka US70) in what's often a large, unoccupied building. Allegedly, this restaurant is owned by the same family that owns Sal's, off Hillandale Road in Durham. . . our favorite Italian restaurant in North Carolina. Allegedly. After eating there, I was doubting this fact.

Granted, a lot of the issues we had with the restaurant were probably because they've only been open two weeks, and the employees were still finding their feet. Our friendly young waitress didn't understand terms like "antipasto", "caprese", and "Bolognese," which I seriously doubted was on the penne I ordered when it arrived. The place was full, with a line out the door, so I'm hopeful that the turnover will lead to a quick improvement in the quality of the food. They also have an internally lighted outdoor sign hanging from the building, a couple of things I don't like in signs. But since Mebane has no standards for the heinousity of signage, is technically legal.

The restaurant wasn't bad, but for now, I would not recommend Pomodoro. I'll happily give them another try in a few months.
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fudgetown Weekend

To get away, in the midst of the mid-winter doldrums, we went to the North Carolina coast for the weekend.

Since the journey eastward takes us through barbecue country, a stop at one of the many hereforeto unvisited eateries of the region was in order. Last time it was McCall's in Goldsboro. This time, it was their across-the-street neighbor, Wilber's.
The inside was exactly what you'd expect a barbecue place to be, and that's cool. The barbecue was respectable, but not mind-blowing. The prices were reasonable, and the service was friendly. Our hunt for the best barbecue in North Carolina is still underway.

We got to Alliance, and fired up the kerosene heater in the spare bedroom in the not-yet-heated house of Laura (Jennifer's mom) and Graham. After some ice cream, it was time to call it a night.

Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, Jennifer and I headed to Beaufort, aka "Fudgetown." The kids would be staying with Laura and Graham while Jennifer and I had the day to be regular people.

We took the Cherry Point/Minesott Beach free ferry. Although the ferry doesn't really save us any time, we enjoy the occasional free boat ride. . . at least I do. It was a nice day for a boat ride, and it gave me the chance to take more pictures.

Floating SeagullsFloating Seagulls Hosted on Zooomr

Ferry BoatFerry Boat Hosted on Zooomr

We putzed around Fudgetown at a leisurely pace, spending more time looking at stuff than we normally get to. We decided on a restaurant for lunch: Front Street Grill at Bluewater. It was pretty good, and with seating right on the water, the view was tremendous. My fish and chips and Jennifer's shrimp salad sandwich were very nice.

We checked in to our Bed and Biscuit, "Captains Quarters" at 315 Ann street and met the Captain, who is a really cool guy. A Naval Aviator during WWII, and former 747 captain for United, this guy was sharp as a tack, and really friendly. We "Toasted the Sunset" with the other couple who were staying there. Two glasses of wine was enough to get our faces flushed, but not enough to get a buzz on. Wine is evil like that.

After some preliminary research, we decided on a restaurant for dinner. Aqua, a tapas restaurant was only a five-minute walk away. This was a non-holiday weekend in mid-winter, but still the place ended up getting really crowded. We got their early enough that we were seated in a booth immediately.

Now onto the food pictures, because I have them. For those not in the know, tapas (at least the American rendition) are appetizer-sized portions of a very eclectic variety of foods, none of them Spanish, as far as we could tell. The theory is you order several (or many) different dishes, and share them. The concept is great because you get to try a lot of different things in one trip, without getting totally stuffed on one American-sized portion of one delicious thing.

Jennifer started with the Jumbo lump crabmeat gratinee with Asiago cream and scallions served with grilled pita points.

Tapas: CrabTapas: Crab Hosted on Zooomr

I had the "Japanese bento box with sesame seared yellowfin tuna, spring rolls, seaweed salad, fried dim sum and traditional accompaniments." Irrespective of the fact that "dim sum" is Chinese, and so are spring rolls, since they were delicious, I didn't protest their inclusion in my alleged Japanese dish.
Tapas: Bento BoxTapas: Bento Box Hosted on Zooomr

Jennifer's next dish was "Seared Maple Leaf Farms duck breast over ginger mashed sweet potatoes with a warm apple-bacon vinaigrette." Once again, the mashed sweet potatoes stole the show.
Tapas: DuckTapas: Duck Hosted on Zooomr

And my next dish was "Warm seafood soft taco with chunky fire-roasted tomato salsa and chipotle sour cream." I can't resist when I see fish tacos on a menu, usually to my eventual disappointment, but this was pretty good.
Tapas: Seafood TacoTapas: Seafood Taco Hosted on Zooomr

By this point we were getting closer to full, so it was time for dessert. There were four on the menu, or you could buy a sampler (for two people) of any three of the desserts. That seemed to best stay in the Tapas spirit, so we went with the sampler "Huge crème brulee, cranberry and white chocolate bread pudding with cinnamon crème fraiche, Bananas Foster." We're thinking Aqua doesn't have a pastry chef, as these were all pretty standard fare. We couldn't finish them.
Dessert SamplerDessert Sampler Hosted on Zooomr

We finished the meal with some coffee, and waddled back to the B&B, to enjoy the first "B".

Sunday morning, we enjoyed the second "B". There were a couple of pastries, fresh fruit with cream, Melita coffee, and soft-boiled eggs. The star of the meal were "Ms Ruby's Riz Biscuits". Ms. Ruby is the Captain's wife, and just as charming as the Captain. We guess "riz" means risen, because the biscuits looked like they came from a yeast dough, as opposed to a traditional southern baking powder chemically leavened dough. They were hot, held the butter, and tasted great all the same. The four of us polished off several basket's worth. We highly recommend Captains' Quarters in Beaufort (Fudgetown) North Carolina, and the riz biscuits.

We leisurely packed up, settled up, and left, making our way back to the ferry, and back to Alliance and the kids. After a big lunch and a birthday sour cream pound cake for Zoe's pre-birthday, we made the three hour drive back to Mebane.

We'll be back in May, when it's warm enough to swim in the ocean, or maybe in April, when it's not warm enough to swim, though the kids will anyway.
Friday, February 09, 2007

Teriffic Z3

Zoe's scored her third Kiwanis Club Terrific Kid Award the other day.

Teriffic Z3Teriffic Z3 Hosted on Zooomr

(Megan's sister Kate, Megan, Deanna, Zoe, and Ding Ding)
Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super What?

Today was one of the great food holidays of the year: The Super Bowl.

Even though we really could not care less about American football, the Super Bowl is a great event in the Traveling Roths hold. It's the one day a year we make Buffalo Wings.

Here's the play by play.

First, set the TiVo to record the game. This will be important later.

Then make sure you have obtained a hearty supply of chicken wings. We got ours a week ago and then froze and thawed them. Once thawed, the wings have to be separated into their component pieces. A chicken wing from the store is like a disembodied human arm, conceptually, so picture that when I describe the dissection. First, cut off the wingtips (hands) and save for stock-making. Then separate the wingette (forearm) from the drumette (upper arm). After performing all the surgery, I brined the wings for the first time, since I figured it couldn't hurt.

Next, assemble the rig.
In my case, I used the small pot that came with my turkey fryer, along with the propane tank and a gallon of oil.

The wings had been rinsed and dried, and brought to room temperature.

Next, heat the oil (carefully) to 375F. Add the wing parts as many as will fit without
  • causing the oil to boil over, and
  • causing the oil temperature to drop too much below 350. "Cold" oil leads to greasy food.
In my case, my setup can handle about 20 wing pieces at a time. When I do this inside on the stove, I can do maybe eight at a time, which is way less efficient, and way more time consuming. We are hungry, after all.

Fry the chicken for eight minutes, adjusting the burner as necessary to maintain 350-375 as closely as possible. You absolutely need a thermometer for this. Eyeballing it will only end in heartache. (There are two thermometers in this picture, plus another in my pocket. Overkill, admittedly) Now would also be a good time to enjoy a lovely beverage. Though not visible in the above picture, a bottle of Yuengling Lager was nearby.

Remove the chicken from the oil to a draining rig. Fry the remaining wings in appropriate batches.

Coat the wing parts in the magic sauce, move to a baking pan, and roast at 350 for 20 minutes.Now would be a good time to enjoy another lovely beverage.

This time, a mojito, which Jennifer and I found out goes excellently with wings.

Remove the wings from the oven, serve with bleu cheese dressing and veggies.


Then onto the game. Since we TiVo'd it, we didn't have to pay any attention to when the thing actually started, plus we'd built up some buffer time, allowing us to do the coolest thing you can with TiVo: Fast forward through the game, and stop at the commercials, and the halftime show.

After "The-artist-formerly-know-as 'The-artist-formerly-known-as-Prince'" finished his set, we turned off the TV and called it a night.

Recipe Follows:

Authentic Buffalo Chicken Wings with Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing

12 chicken wings (or more), halved
canola or peanut oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
4 T butter
1 bottle (5 oz.) Frank's Original Louisiana Hot Sauce (this is the big secret)

Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing
1 cup mayo (225 g)
3T minced onion (39 g)
1.5 t minced garlic (7 g)
1/3 cup minced parsley (15 g)
1/2 cup sour cream (130 g)
1 T lemon juice
1 T white vinegar
1/3 cup Maytag blue cheese, crumbled (50 g)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350F and oil to 375F
Reserve wingtips for stock
Fry wings for eight minutes in small batches. Transfer to a cooling rack and let drain. Season with salt and pepper. In a saucepan melt butter, add hot sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper. tos wings in sauce. Roast 15 to 20 minutes

In a bowl mix together mayo, onion, garlic, parley, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, and blue cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl. Arrange wings on a serving platter. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley. Serve with dressing.

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