21 September 2008

The perfect snack for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

If you haven't yet tasted the sheer joy that is a Honeycrisp apple, I highly recommend that you run to your nearest grocery store and pick one up. I found mine at Whole Foods so you'll probably have luck there.

For a while, I thought an apple was an apple. I remember picking up a copy of Cook's Illustrated that featured a recipe for apple pie, and the writer detailed an extensive search for the perfect "pie apple." I remember thinking: pie apple? What happened to the simple days of red delicious, green delicious, and yellow delicious? Since 4th grade, my apple lexicon has expanded a bit -- it now includes Fiji, gala, pink lady, Braeburn -- but I still don't think I could explicate to you the subtle nuances of firmness, juiciness, or flavor. Apples are sweet and firm enough to fill my tummy and that's pretty much all that matters.

But today at the grocery, I happened upon the Honeycrisp and was quite honestly attracted not by its lovely two-toned color, its pleasing aroma, or its satisfying firmness. No, I was allured by its name, and I think that now, after having eaten one of the apples myself, I am at the very least qualified to say that this apple is everything its name cracks it up to be: sweet, sweet like honey and crisp, crisp, crisp. As soon as I bit into it, juice literally poured onto my lap- it's ambrosia. According to Wikipedia, these criteria make it the ideal snack apple. Whatever, that works for me.

I'll also take this opportunity to get in a quick word in favor of Tillamook white cheddar cheese. It's a little too creamy and the apple's a little too sweet for the two to be paired together, but on their own, they are both remarkable.


First snippet of groundbreaking news: upon entering this restaurant, I knew that I could only achieve salvation if I converted my religion to Brennerism. I have seen the light.
Second snippet: I actually managed to attend lunch here with someone who owned a working camera -- finally, I get to post photos of my own (or at least Margo's)!

So here goes the deluge of photos. Prepare yo'self.
As soon as you walk into Max Brenner, here is what you see: a large glass case of beautiful chocolates and truffles arranged aesthetically on printed trays; decadent gift boxes the size of a beagle and filled to the brim with chocolate novelties; a sign on the wall that proclaims "VERY MUCH CHOCOLATE"; a gigantic vat -- like a narrow, deep kiddie pool -- filled with melted milk chocolate and connected to an intricate framework of dark brown pipes. The pipes are this color because, of course!, they are filled with 100% chocolate, and they transport the chocolate you see at the front of the restaurant up through a tangled nest of pipes under the ceiling and back into the kitchen. Take note:

T-shirts for sale in the boutique up front:

One of the many kinds of artisan chocolates for sale:

Believe it or not, though, Max Brenner has more to offer than just plain, straight-up chocolate. So upon sitting down at our table, we were handed giant glossy lunch menus. To drink, each of us essentially decided that any hope of being nutritionally conscious was shot to hell, so we each chose one of Mr. Brenner's many variations on the classic hot chocolate (Andrew got toffee, I got hazelnut, Tess got spicy Mexican, and Margo got mocha). These came in heartbreakingly adorable "Hug Mugs," which are ergonomically designed for optimum holding capacity (imagine a teardrop-shaped mug that fits perfectly in one's cupped hands, thus creating both a cozy sense of euphoria as well as allowing the warmth of the mug to travel to your hands. Genius!).
To eat, Tess got a smoked salmon sandwich on some luscious-looking poppyseed-and-what-have-you bread; Margo got a perfect omelette that came with roasted potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and (why not?) chocolate sauce (in case it occurs to you that an omelette or potatoes might be even better with some rich milk chocolate -- it occurred to Margo, and boy was she happy!). Andrew and I split a smoked turkey/mushroom crepe and a bowl of the most perfect penne carbonara I have ever had. This includes all the carbonara we ate in France, and God only knows how many different kinds we tried while we were there.

But, of course, it's always a good idea to save the best for last, so after thoroughly sating ourselves with the savory stuff, we were ready to usher in the sweets. The final verdict? We all decided to split two desserts: the banana split waffle and the intense double chocolate fudge cake. The waffles were topped with fresh bananas, melted chocolate sauce, and candied hazelnut bits, served with fresh berries, vanilla ice cream, and a cute little beaker of MORE chocolate sauce. The fudge cake was dense, dark, moist and succulent, filled with the kind of dark chocolate lava you could drown in. This, too, was served with fresh berries, ice cream, and an extra beaker of chocolate sauce.

Here's a close-up on the cake:

In case you were wondering, the chocolate sauce in the beakers was warm and oozey enough to be chugged, as such:

Mmmm... I'm not embarrassed in the least bit. In fact, I embraced it so wholly and so lovingly that I felt inclined to spread it all. over. my face... but I'll spare you the picture of what Margo calls my Dali-stash, considering I do need to get into college. Explicit as the photo isn't, I do have to set boundaries somewhere. Here we are, eating away (sorry you're excluded, Margo; I guess you were being the photographer? So at the very least I'll give you due credit for that):

Here I am, quite obviously enjoying myself to no end:

And the damage:

At long last, when our stomachs were happily but uncomfortably full and our faces were becoming exhausted due to the inordinate amount of laughing we had done over the course of the meal, our suave waiter handed us the check -- and at Max Brenner's, not even the usual black leather folder is good enough to encase such a thing. No, our check came inside of a tin box that looked strangely like a box of chocolates. So as per usual, I painstakingly agonized over the check, giving everyone an accurate-to-the-cent (I'm only slightly OCD, actually) amount of what they owed...
...and as though I wasn't left COMPLETELY ecstatic by my marvelous meal, hot chocolate, and entirely over-the-top desserts, the waiter dropped by with one last thing. He handed me a small plastic container full of -- guess -- CHOCOLATE. Beautiful, hand-cut slices of the very milk chocolate that Max Brenner liquified into his god-like creations. "A gift for the freak," he muttered under his breath as he turned to get back to his other tables -- a reference, probably, to the fact that, before he could even give dessert menus to the rest of the table, I enthusiastically extracted my own tattered, printed copy from my purse. "It just makes me so happy that I always carry it around," I explained. So, YES, my lunch experience was capped off by a personal gift from (let's hope) Max himself to me. You must understand, this kind of miracle doesn't happen everyday.

So that was that, and after paying the check, we ventured back out into the torrential downpour for a jaunt into the Virgin Megastore to leaf through inappropriate books and a quick outside tour of the Met Opera. Good day? I seem to think so.

15 September 2008

I went ahead and bought a box of 19 chocolates

in celebration of my completed college essay on the famed Sucre.
Here's a picture:

The green ones are a white chocolate ganache with Sicilian pistachio, vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon + a dark chocolate couverture.
The fleur de lis is the Meuniere -- dark chocolate on the outside, brown butter and vanilla on the inside.
The shinyish square (shiny for a reason; it's edible glitter!) is chicory coffee with a really soft creamy dark rich core.
The plain dark chocolate square in the lower right corner is the Bolivian Palet d'Or -- perfect simplicity -- "bittersweet chocolate ganache made from the rarest Bolivian cacao bean."
The triangular chocolates with flecks on top have a really satisfying density, and they're made with hazelnut gianduja, crispy wafer, and caramelized cacao nibs. (!!!)
The purple ones are Paris, my love; dark chocolate couverture, white chocolate ganache infused with tea, orange, and vanilla notes.
The red is Earl Gray. Straightforward? Yes. lovely, too.
Yellow is passionfruit -- in light of this blog! I have been saving it so I can't say yet how it tastes. It'll be blissful, to be sure.
Last but definitely not least (quite the contrary, in fact): the Avery. God has indeed manifested himself. Caramel + dark milk ganache with salt from the Avery Salt Mines, all wrapped up in a delicious dark chocolate blanket.

This isn't my actual box, but as I've so sickeningly reiterated, my camera got smashed so sometimes I have to resort to photos stolen from the Internet. Hm at least this will do justice to the excellent verdancy of the box.


11 September 2008

It makes me sad

that my last blog was photoless; a meal isn't much of a meal without color, so presumably, a meal-enjoyed-vicariously probably can't be enjoyed as much with no visuals. Because, really, saying you ate a delicious filet mignon isn't enough -- I'd much rather see the steak myself. Maybe it's a psychological thing, and we insist on seeing these photos so that we can make our own judgments because we're too stubborn to follow someone else's, but prose -- phenomenal or not -- is just insufficient, I think.

Which leads me to my next point. As you may or may not have noticed, next on my list of delicious delectables to discuss was lunch at Max Brenner's. Yes, THE Max Brenner's -- known by some as Chocolate by the Bald Man, where pipes literally run across the entirety of the restaurant pumping none other than 100% chocolate. But I smashed my camera in the trunk door of a rather large SUV, so I'm waiting... waiting... waiting on Margo to post the photos online before I can act on the passion and enlightenment incited by that one meal.

So I think I'll wrap this one up here, to leave you guys as aggravated with the lack of any significant meaning as I am with the lack of my very significant camera... because while prose alone doesn't suffice in the tantalizing-description-of-scrumptious-meals department, it does just fine in the spitefully-evoking-frustration-and-angst department.
Hope your week has been as marvelous as mine has. I'm about to head to dinner at Baru, a Latin-Caribbean bistro with a tapas menu for which I wake up every morning, but for which I'd gladly die if it came down to that. I plan on ordering everything... more on that later!

09 September 2008

Well, hello!

It's been a little while; I took a weekend trip to New York and got back in school yesterday, so schedules have been tumbling around and crystallizing. The good thing is that my girlfriend-who-doesn't-know-she's-my-girlfriend, Gloria Steinem, wrote an article about Sarah Palin, and it was nothing short of kickass. More good news: I definitely won't be short of things to talk about; in fact, I'll bullet them out now so that, as I catch up with everything, I won't forget:
-lunch at Max Brenner's
-breakfast at Sip
-mushroom brie cheese
-superb macaroni and cheese

But for now, I'm going to talk about Criolla's, where I had dinner on my last night in Florida. Rather than get entrees for everyone, we split into two "teams," if you will, and ordered an inordinate amount of appetizers. On the menu for us:
West Indies crab & Johnny's guacamole with tropical root crisps
Griddled black bean queso cakes with tomatillo-avocado salsa
Flash-fried domestic calamari, island-spice dusted, with Creole mustard and key lime aioli
Criolla's Caesar salad with Cascabel Chile dressing, cumin flatbread, Dry Jack cheese, and applewood smoked bacon

I wanted so badly to get the plaintain-encrusted fried oysters with green tomato chutney, marinated cabbage, grilled cornbread and coconut creme fraiche, but alas, it appears that oysters aren't as agreeable to everyone as they are to me. As for the entrees, there were some tempura-fried Maine lobster tails on a sweet pea risotto cake and served with heirloom tomato jus that sounded divine; how could it not when it was a culmination of tempura, Maine lobster, sweet peas, risotto, and heirloom tomato? Given, I've never thought too heavily about the idea of fried lobster, nor of the idea of risotto in a dense cake form, but I can't imagine it would be possible for anything to go too terribly wrong.

So back to my praise, critique, and analysis. The crab was in the form of a dip -- a yellow one, curried, at once spicy, sweet, and creamy. I love crab, but I have to say that I'm a bit of a purist, or at least a traditionalist, and a devout New Orleanian at that; as such, I have a hard time enjoying crab when it strays too far from its perfect form, unless we're talking about the fried softshell crab po-boys at Jazz Fest or numerous other decadent New Orleans creations. Nonetheless, I am sure now that crab shouldn't be combined with curry. Like steak and ice cream, they're both amazing on their own, but shocking and offensive when combined. The guacamole, however, was to die for, and I'm such a freak for foods' consistencies that I seldom like the mushiness of guacamole. The chips were fried, paper-thin slices of "tropical roots" (which roots, I do not know), perfectly salted, and they were divine.

The queso cakes were... alright. A little bit grainy and just a bit bland for my taste; I would've loved just the slightest hint of jalapeno baked into the cakes. As it were, they tasted exactly how they sounded -- like warm black beans with a small core of melted white cheese and some cornmeal thrown on for kicks -- and left very little to the imagination. Swished around in the salsa, which looked like a thinned-down version of guacamole, they were infinitely more enjoyable, though still probably my least favorite dish of the night.

I have to admit that I was very bitter when I started eating the calamari because, as I said, I was so eager to have the plantain-crusted fried oysters, but my mother made the spur-of-the-moment decision to get the more innocuous calamari instead. They didn't knock my socks off (I don't think it's possible to do a truly OUTSTANDING version of something as simple and as relatively common as fried calamari), but the delicacy of the batter and the combination of flavors -- key lime, island spices, and that Creole mustard I know and love so well -- was harmonious and delightful. Like designer potato chips, though, they were ultimately unremarkable, despite how easy it was to eat them ceaselessly.

For me, the Caesar salad truly stole the show -- and that's saying a lot for such a simple salad, but I guess the originality lacking in the calamari took center stage with the salad. It wasn't even like any Caesar I'd had before; imagine it as the Caesar's sultry and enigmatic older sister, who has exotic coloring and knows how to tango. The dressing, first of all, could be bottled and sold as shampoo; I'd buy it simply because it's invariably flawless -- smoky, spicy, warm and autumnal. Bottom line: it tastes like hearth and woodburning ovens and smoky little chiles. I didn't even try the flatbread, but the cheese, which was nutty and hearty with a bit of grit, was a perfect complement to the dressing, and the bacon (I don't even like bacon!) added an ideal crunch and an extra layer of substance. Toasted pumpkin seeds made it feel like a true present.

We were all so sated that by the end of the meal, none of us really wanted dessert. However, being the true dessert aficionado that I am, and given the fact that one of my major criteria for a good restaurant is a great dessert menu, I needed to at least see it... but you know how that goes. I laid eyes on the chocolate gateau with ice cream of the day and raspberry coulis and couldn't pass it up. This is one dish that requires no innovation, no excitement, and no creativity to satisfy me -- all I need is mastery, and the dessert chef at Criolla's definitely had that to spare in this case. The chocolate ice cream was so creamy and smooth; the coulis waxed fudgey in its perfection; and the cake was the awe-inspiring combination of textures, consistencies, and nuances that it should be at its best.

All in all, a good meal for me and a great meal for Grayton Beach. I wouldn't describe it as the "cutting edge, dazzling" cuisine as it has been described, but it was undoubtedly a nice change from the Italian and Asian fusion foods I'm so used to, and in a town that has, I'd guess, 8 restaurants, Criolla's is definitely worth a return trip.

02 September 2008

Yes, Cameron

I will marry you. I was wondering when you'd ask.

...not food-related at all, but we just watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off and I was far too overcome to not publicly accept his proposal.

For dinner, we had a veritable smorgasbord of nostalgic New Orleanian food (even though technically we now know that we should all be home in a few days): Langenstein's red beans, which I sometimes (but only sometimes, in all fairness, because I am a waxing diabetic and consequently favor my sweets a bit more) believe to be better than ice cream. Also present was some delicious chicken and andouille gumbo, which was so delectable and so perfectly seasoned and so singularly New Orleans, and which inspired musings on the delightful shreddedness of the chicken (which happens naturally when you cook it down long enough; it's actually so so so comforting and not at all repelling). For dessert were stuffed green bell peppers (and I don't even really like green bell peppers)- this stuffing? It's like nothing I could've fathomed before. You know the sheer incomprehensibility of the universe, because humans have never experienced anything to which we can liken it? It's kind of like that.

Oh, and Grace and I did go on an *EMERGENCY* run earlier to the grocery store when we were seized with cravings for Ben & Jerry's. It all started when she imparted to me the gorgeous secret that is Chubby Hubby. Thank God she was wrong when she said it was discontinued, because where else can you find chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels in ice cream? Nowhere, I tell you. Nowhere.

P.S. Rum raisin ice cream is officially for old people only.

01 September 2008

Andrew love, this is for you

since evidently you will refuse to believe in the value of our friendship until you are mentioned by name in this blog. Pause for a moment and reflect about the patheticness of that statement. Consider also the fact that we have shared no earth-shattering culinary experiences anyway.

That said, I will make it known to everyone that, as soon as I make it up to New York City (whenever that may be), I will look forward to what could only be a whimsical romp and gourmet extravaganza. What's planned? A jaunty little spree over to La Maison du Chocolat for some binging -- a skip through Central Park -- a wild-eyed wondrous whirl through the MoMA -- and lunch at Max Brenner's.

Did you know that Max Brenner wants to start a chocolate nation? The dessert menu is twelve pages. I carry it around in my purse (no, actually, the saddest part is the fact that that's true) because it makes me happy when skies are gray.

Anyway, Max Brenner and his fancy-free creations fill me with inspiration.