Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Programming Note

I've been getting a lot of grief for my blog, and it's unfortunately being used against me in a negative way to portray that I am doing something bad in my life.

I admit that I am overweight and it's something that I've struggled with for time, and something that I'm working on. I am not perfect, nor is anyone else (we're human, right?). However, I am attempting to make a difference with this issue of weight, and am consciously exercising and eating right.

Well, then begs the question, how can you eat out and have a food blog if you are attempting to be healthy?

I can't eat out every meal, every day. If I did, I would be broke. $19.19/hour stretches very thin over a 2 week period, and my money primarily goes to rent, utilities, parking, and miscellaneous other fees (groceries, coffee, etc). So, when I do go out to eat (once or twice a week, Fridays usually Broad Street Bagel for lunch, and sushi on the weekends), I try and make it healthy.

Most of the pictures/reviews I do are from meals over a period of weeks. They are not meals in successions, often times they are weeks apart. I get busy to post stuff, so unfortunately the blog goes on the back burner.

My daily routine is pretty concise, and I don't really stray outside of it because I can't afford to:

-oatmeal (usually, Kashi instant oatmeal, or Quaker low sugar or weight control). I can make this in the office from the hot water tap, so it is easy. On the weekends, I like to make vegetable omelets, or I will have Kashi Heart to Heart cereal.

-some weeks, I will pack 4 ounces of fish (about the size of my fist) that I will bake in the oven with pepper and lemon, or I will steam on the pan along with brown rice or vegetables. With the fish, I will have a cup of vegetables and 1/4 cup cooked brown rice.

-some weeks, I will pack tofu, baked plain, 1/4 cup brown rice, and 1 cup vegetables. I may add barbecue sauce for flavor.

-some weeks, I will buy flat outs (100 calorie wraps), add hummus, vegetables, and Boar's head low sodium turkey.

To these meals, I add a container of yogurt (sometimes the 60 calorie container of dannon light n fit, others the Fage greek yogurt and honey), a bag of baby carrots, or sometimes baked lays if I'm in the mood.

Afternoon snack:
-i try and pack a berry assortment (strawberries/blueberries), or I will have a Clif bar (the peanut butter pretzel). This will give me enough fuel to work out.

Work out:
-this is very new to me. I never played sports competitively as a child so did not understand the need for fitness. Luckily, I work in a very fitness conscious environment. I have gotten into group fitness classes (my gym has classes in the Les Mills program, and I've really enjoyed Body Pump, Spinning, and am now liking a class called Body Attack). If I don't do a group fitness class, I try and do 40 minutes on the elliptical, go on a bike ride, or walk 4 times around Goodale park.


-dinner is usually a repeat of lunch. I cook on Sundays so I will have enough until Friday. Sometimes I have food that my parents have made. Sometimes I get invited to dinner with friends. Sometimes I eat cereal.

I started this blog as a creative outlet. I really like writing, and I like to eat, and people say that I've given good reviews on places. I was even featured in the Columbus Dispatch because of it. But now, I've received so much turmoil about it, I feel like I am distributing pornography instead of showing my friends some cool new places to try. It really hurts and has caused me a lot of stress, and I really don't appreciate it as this was started with the premise of being something fun for me, not "disgusting," "nauseating," "poisonous," and "revolting." I wish people would ask the facts about my eating habits before making the assumption that I am a terrible eater. I eat very well basically every meal, every day, every week, and I feel that treating myself to lunch with a friend, or dinner with former colleagues isn't going to throw me off course.

I haven't decided whether I will keep posting or not, because I really can't deal with the stress that this is now causing. But, to all of the doubters: I have lost 10 pounds since April, and I hope to continue down the same track.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guest Blog: Downtown: J. Gumbo's Down Home Cajun Cookin

My friend John Sauter and I have many good food memories together.  John was first introduce me to Tai's Asian Bistro, and its heavenly pad thai.  John would also introduce me to other local Columbus spots (Zuppa and its chicken salad).  Unfortunately, last week, John and I had a terrible, terrible experience at J. Gumbo's. 

Here is John's take:

I wanted to love J. Gumbo's.  As a frequent visitor of New Orleans, and lover of Cajun food, I was excited when I learned last summer that a "Cajun restaurant" was opening up on Gay Street.  

Cajun food, for the uninitiated, is a rustic cuisine that often combines seafood, meat, and rice with 'the holy trinity' - bell peppers, celery, and onions.  Many dishes begin with a roux, flour and hot oil whisked together until chocolate brown.  The 'trinity' is then added, along with stock, and the preparer's choice of meat or seafood.  It is, in a word, delicious.  Simple, easy to prepare comfort food.

J. Gumbo's claims to serve "down home Cajun cookin'." Most diners order the "Big Bowls," which feature a variety of stewed meats (chicken, primarily) served atop a large spoonful of white rice.  A taste of their offerings, however, reveals that their food is as authentically Cajun as Chipotle is authentically Mexican.  But authenticity aside, J. Gumbo's fails at putting out even semi-decent food.    

I cannot recommend a single dish on their menu.  The most disappointing dish was the namesake - the gumbo.  Any Cajun restaurant worth its salt should have a respectable gumbo.  Yet at J. Gumbo's the dish I received was a watery, oily mess.  Instead of seeing heaping mounds of chicken, sausage, okra, and other vegetables poured over white rice, I saw a bowl that looked of dirty water.  There was so much oil mixed in the water I wondered if I was looking at a miniature version of the Gulf Coast, post-oil spill.  I was only able to find two wafer-thin pieces of sausage in the entire bowl.  The shredded chicken was just as sparse.  And the taste?  Horrid.  It tasted burnt, saturated with heavy spices and lacking any body.

Bourbon Street chicken, a dish not actually found on Bourbon Street, but instead in mall food courts - made an appearance on the menu.  As did the Bumblebee Stew, a dish similarly unauthentic.  The Bumblebee Stew consists of canned corn (LOTS of it) mixed with a few black beans and stewed tomatoes over rice.  The canned taste of the corn was overpowering.  It tasted straight from a can, and it looked like baby food.  

The two chicken dishes I tasted were just as bad.  The Voodoo Chicken (try finding this dish at Galatoires, or Commander's Palace!) was little more than pulled chicken, stewed in an insanely hot tomato sauce, poured over rice.  The heat was so overpowering it took away any complexity the dish might have had.  Similarly, the Drunken Chicken had the same problem, only with an incredibly overpowering garlic taste.  

Those few dishes are about as expansive as the menu gets at J. Gumbo's.  While most diners receive their main course atop rice, J. Gumbo's gives the option of receiving it in Po' Boy form, and, worse yet, in a tortilla.  Yes, tortillas in a so-called Cajun restaurant.  

Seafood, a staple of Cajun cooking, is woefully underrepresented on J. Gumbo's menu, appearing only in the Etouffee.

If you're a lover of true Cajun food, stay away.  However, if you're satisfied with your local mall's Bourbon Chicken offering, and don't mind your taste buds being assaulting with waves of spicy or garlicy flavors, this one's for you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grandview: Stauf's Coffee Roasters

Stauf's Coffee Roasters ("Stauf's") is located in the heart of Grandview.  An institution on Grandview Avenue, I must say.

Apart from smelling like heaven when you enter (so many varieties of coffee beans you can grind and enjoy),  Stauf's also offers a selection of sandwiches, and breakfast on the weekends.

Before I had my air condition installed in my apartment, I would keep cool up at Stauf's, enjoy a nice cup of light roast, and receive a sort of coffee zen in the atmosphere.  However, after talking to the friendly staff, I realized I did not try any of the food that Stauf's makes in house.  So, I decided to give it a go.

I really do love black bean burgers, and fresh burgers are hard to find here -- most are frozen patties that taste gross like.  So I was pretty excited when the friendly chef at Stauf's told me that he makes the black bean burgers personally, and is experimenting with different recipes.  I gladly obliged and sampled a black bean burger (with spicy fries, obvi):

This was a pretty big burger.  Like, just the size of North Star's, if not bigger.  I could really smell the spices used to season the burger.  Garlic, cumin, it even tasted like there was a little garam masala.  The burger really did not hold well together -- but that is perhaps a good sigh, since the burger isn't stuck together with artificial gum or food adhesives.  The chef told me that the recipe is in the works, but it was very flavorful.  Perhaps, it could have used some pickles, red onion, or some sort of mayo/mustard to kick it up a notch.

The spicy fries were great though -- way better than Cup o Joe's for sure (even though Stauf's and Cup o Joe are like cousins, right?)

CONCLUSION: Stauf's is a great place to go for coffee, and now has a great menu to dive into.  I really want to go back for breakfast some weekend, if I can avoid the rush.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Downtown: Plantain Cafe

Plantain Cafe is a little slice of Cuban heaven in Downtown Columbus.

Located on Gay Street, which seems to be the new Restaurant Row in downtown, Plantain Cafe doesn't just cater to the Downtown workforce, it is open on Saturday's as well.

Last week, I ventured to Plantain Cafe with a coworker of mine who happens to be of Cuban descent -- definitely a great measure of authenticity.

Plantain Cafe is a very small space, maybe has seats for about 20 people, and different than its competing restaurant El Arepazo, Plantain Cafe has waitress service.  And Coca-Cola products.

We ordered tostones to start.  Tostones are mashed, fried plantains, served with a sort of garlic sauce.

I hate to say it, but I wish that the tostones were served with a cilantro like sauce El Arepazo serves.  The tostones were nice and crispy, but unfortunately a lot of the plantain flavor was lost, and it needed a sauce to help brighten it up.

Cuban Sandwich: I think a lot of places try and serve a cuban sandwich, with the basic ingredients of mustard, pickles,  a white cheese, some sort of pork, and grilled.  However, at Plantain Cafe, two types of pork are used (ham and pork), swiss cheese, pickles, and homemade mustard.  I am a huge fan of mustard, so the more the better.

For $8, this is a huge portion.  Bigger portion than any other sandwich places around.  The flavor combination was very nice.  The meat was flavored nicely, and the mustard was AWESOME.  The sandwich comes with homemade plantain chips.  These chips reminded me a lot of my father's, but I prefer my pop's.  My dad cuts the plantains circular, and then fries the bananas and seasons them nicely with chili powder and pepper.  Here, they were fried, and not season well.  But, it was a nice change to typical french fries or potato chips.

Ropa Vieja:  I don't eat cow, so one of my friends with me ate this dish.  Ropa Vieja is a shredded steak dish, in a tomato sauce that is served with onions and peppers.  Next to the pile of meat, is a large portion of rice and beans.  I'm told that the rice is not the wussy, uncooked kind, but the delicious morsels that melt in your mouth.  For $11, it was a huge portion of meat, probably more than you would get in a steakhouse.  

CONCLUSION: Plantain Cafe is a great addition to the downtown lunch scene.  Unfortunately, the only vegetarian option is a "sampler" of the three vegetarian appetizers.  So, probably not a place to go for the veg-heads out there.  The meal I had at Plantain Cafe is good, but El Arepazo definitely has more options (however, Plantain Cafe is uniquely Cuban, whereas El Arepazo seems to be a mix of the different Latino flavors).  All in all, it was a tasty meal and I would definitely go again.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Arena District: Park Street Cantina

Park Street Cantina is the latest addition to the Park Street social scene here in Columbus.

Located in the building formerly inhabited by Spice, Park Street Cantina is a breath of fresh air to the street.  And by breath of fresh air, I mean you don't have to dress up like Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City" to fit in.

Park Street Cantina opened up several weeks ago, and I went and checked it out last week with a friend who was scouting for a good location for a birthday party.  I felt like I was in Scottsdale when I walked in; Spanish tile roof and stucco-esque walls (I mean, they didn't demo the building and correct me if I am wrong, but Spice was just a slab of concrete, right?). 

We sat at the bar and I noticed something right away: swings, really? There are swings at this bar.  Two person wooden swings strung up by ropes.  I can only imagine those are popular on Park Street's "College Nights..."

Anyway, we were there to try the food and see if it was a good spot for this party, so we ordered some snacks.  The hostess brought over a large basket of house made chips and some salsa.  There were several types of salsa, a garlic, a tomatillo, a basic tomato based salsa, and my personal favorite, the mango salsa.  I am surprised that Park Street Cantina had a decent mango salsa considering mangoes are quite pricey for a bar operation, but it was really tasty, and had some nice green chilis to complement the sweetness of the mangoes.

We ordered a cheese quesidilla, fish taco, and the seven layer dip.

Cheese Quesidilla:

Since this is a new spot, I figured that Park Street Cantina would jazz up the menu a bit.  Well, this quesidilla was nothing to write home about (not like I would anyway, my mother would probably not approve of this food adventure).  This was seriously two flour tortillas stuffed with shredded cheese, pressed together in a panini maker or some other form of compression that caused the cheese to melt.  It was served with a side of salsa and sour cream.  I felt like Taco Bell puts in more effort to its quesidillas.

Fish Taco:

Did I say fish taco? The taco that the waitress billed up to be AMAAZZHHZINNG?  Well whoops, we were given a shrimp taco.  Guess the waitress didn't want us to try the famous fish taco.  The shrimp was seasoned well, with a light spice.  However, it was served with a less-than-sub-par-uncle-ben's rice-is-better tomato rice, and the standard salsa and sour cream.  Next time I'll order a fish taco, but I'll probably be given something cow-ridden instead because the waitress forgot to pay attention to me.

Seven Layer Dip:

What's in a seven layer dip? Refried beans, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, cheese, black olives, tomatoes? Well this one had green onions too.  I'm not a math genius, but clearly that adds to 8.  And although there were supposedly all of these wonderful ingredients in this bowl of supposed deliciosuness, all I could taste was sour cream.  Which wasn't delightful.  Rage.

I forgot to take pictures of this -- but before I showed up to Park Street Cantina, my friends had ordered two pizzas, a shrimp pizza and a barbeque chicken pizza (which, if you have eaten with me before, you know my love of barbeque chicken pizza, especially from Milano's in Dayton).  These items are from the "gringo" section of the menu (no joke, the menu says gringo).  I am not too sure what that says about a place when the honky themed food is more appetizing than the culture the restaurant is supposed to be representing...

CONCLUSION:  If you're hungry before you go out, go eat somewhere else in the Arena District or Short North before going to Park Street Cantina to make yourself feel 5 again and swing in a swing all night.  Or, if you're really craving Mexican food, just hike it to your nearest El Vaquero.

Victorian Village: Katalina's Cafe Corner

Cafe Corner is one of those feel good, local, neighborhood spots that you'll want to keep coming back to.

Recently under new ownership, Cafe Corner has kept much of its original menu the same while adding some new perks.  Known for its breakfast tacos (recent winners of a North Market challenge and recently featured in Columbus Alive) and delicious sandwiches, Cafe Corner has a lot to offer for the vegetarian, non vegetarian, soup lover, salad muncher, and now, cookie cruncher.

I ventured to Cafe Corner today to have breakfast with a friend.  When I go to Cafe Corner, I normally get a breakfast sandwich, but today I decided to branch outside of the box and spring for the Swedish Pancakes.

Well, I am sure glad I made that bold, wise decision.

These Swedish pancakes are a little slice of heaven.  Cute, small pancakes (my aunt in India would call them "pediatric size), stuffed with your choice of Nutella or strawberry jam.  Obvs I sprung for the Nutella filling.

What is Nutella, you ask? Have you been living in a cave? Nutella is probably the best spread out there.  Made from chocolate, hazelnuts, and milk, Nutella is a delicious spread on breads, crackers, waffles, or eaten out of the jar by the spoon full.  Unfortunately, it is not nut-allergy friendly (sorry, White Ninja)

Cafe Corner serves up these little pancakes from heaven with your choice of breakfast meat (bacon, sausage, and ham), and a serving of homemade syrup and homemade whipped cream -- although I felt that that I didn't need either since the pancakes were so decadent:

My friend ordered an omelet.  I think the sign on the menu board says "big omelet" and it really is.  They have to seriously put in 3 or 4 eggs to make this omelet. And the omelet is overflowing with goodies -- cheese, your choice of veggies, and/or your choice of meat.  My friend opted for ham and American cheese.  Doused in habanero hot sauce, my friend's plate was clean so I feel like it was a success.

CONCLUSION:  Despite its new name, Cafe Corner is really delicious and a great staple in the Victorian Village neighborhood.  At lunch time, the tomato-mozz sandwich is delish,  but if you're going for breakfast and you love Nutella, you're crazy not to get these little pancakes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Clintonville: Lavash Cafe

Lavash Cafe is probably one of the best additions to the Columbus scene.  Well, I guess I should say "returns" as the owner of Lavash used to have a restaurant in Columbus, closed it, and recently re-opened this spot.

Fresh, authentic, and casual, Lavash is a great place to go with family, friends, or just by yourself, with an extensive menu to choose from.  The interior is very welcoming.  Wooden tables, including two long family style tables in the front window, provide a plethora of great seating.  The walls are covered in beautiful patchwork fabrics that really brighten up the space.  When you enter Lavash, you order at the counter, kind of like a cafeteria.  The food is made for you, and your name is called out and you pick it up.  It is very unpretentious, and definitely a breath of fresh air to places that have bad wait service.

And when I say that there's something to eat for everyone, I mean everyone.  My mother loves Lavash.   My mother is a strict vegetarian, and often times has trouble finding food to eat when my parents come to visit (we usually end up going to Panera, or Macaroni Grill for the make your own pasta).

I went to Lavash last week with my friend Andy (see Press Grill post) for his inaugural Lavash visit.  Andy and I have both been trying to watch what we eat, so what's better than some home made hummus?

I ordered us the vegetarian platter to start with.  A delicious assortment of falaffel, hummus, tabouli salad, and stuffed grape leaves.

Lavash gives you nice, big baskets of fresh pita to scoop all of the deliciousness with.  I like making little tabouli, hummus, falaffel sandys with my pita.

Hummus: the hummus is definitely fresh made.  It's not like the store bought hummus that is packed with salt and preservatives.  You can taste each ingredient in every bite: chick peas, garlic, olive oil, tahini.

Falaffel:  At home, my dad makes a type of falaffel (called a bonda) with green lentils.  He fries them up all delicious like, but my mother commented they don't come up poofy-like like Lavash.  Lavash's falaffel are smaller than most in town (Happy Greek's are ginormous) but they are small and crispy.  Very good.  Andy commented that he could eat a whole basket of them (and I could too)

Tabouli salad: the national salad of Lebanon.  Pretty standard here.

Stuffed grape leaves: At first, I never liked grape leaves.  The texture of the leaf itself reminded me of paan, an after-meal digestive aid that's served in India after meals.  But these grape leaves are pretty good, filled with rice and other spices. 

Now onto the main meals.  Lavash has a very good selection of sandwiches, salads, and entrees on its regular menu.  However, every day there are different specials which are incredible.  I would definitely recommend going on Fridays for the muncef (delicious lamb with rice and a special yogurt sauce, all wrapped in a thin pita), or on Sundays for the biriyani.  Lavash does a pretty good job of keeping its facebook page updated, so you can find out what the daily specials are very easily.

On Tuesday, the specials were a variety of kebabs, rice dishes, and mousakka (the lasagna-like dish, but it was made with lamb).  I opted for a lamb biriyani like dish, and Andy went for the spicy chicken kefta.

My dish:

Lamb is my guilty pleasure and I really don't eat it that often.  Here, the lamb on the rice dishes is awful Fred Flinstone like.  I feel like that picture above is very caveman, yes?  Anyway, this dish was pretty good.  The rice was a lot like my mom's, spiced with cardamom, garlic, and black peppercorns.  It made for nice leftovers for the next couple of days.

Andy had the special chicken dish for the evening, spicy chicken kefta.  I kind of wish I would have gotten this instead.  The chicken had the perfect spice and was so very flavorful.  A nice side of basmati rice complemented the dish.  The chicken had a nice char from the grill.  I would definitely get this again.

CONCLUSION: If you haven't gone to Lavash yet you're really missing out.  You should probably go today and get a biriyani special.  Quit denying your tastebuds from deliciousness.