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.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Short North: Basil

Two summers ago, I lived in apartment at the corner of High and 4th Avenue -- the current site of the Jackson development.  When I was there, the happenin' place to go was the Surly Girl (which is still awesome), Skully's (Ladies 80s-- holler), and the creepy-now out of business-potential molester's-goody boy drive through.  I always hoped that this side of High street would develop, and with the Jackson finally being developed it's really coming into fruition.  Now, across the street from my old place and next door to Skully's, is Basil.

Columbus does have its fair share of Asian restaurants.  And, on High Street, there are plenty (Lemongrass, Haiku, Nida's and now Basil).  However, Basil has really given the space a face lift.  Deep, dark wood floors, a beautiful bar, and intimate seating.  I had read in the Dispatch that the owners of Basil had very successful restaurants in Chicago, so I have always been eager to go.  I think Basil has been open for quite some time, but I just haven't made it up there, even though it's several blocks away from my apartment.

I went to Basil for lunch to partake in the lunch special (I am such a sucker for lunch combos).  A choice of soup, an appetizer, and a lunch special for $7.50.  Since this is was my first time, I decided to make it more special to decide whether or not I'd return.  I took a friend of mine that also enjoys Thai food, and we ventured up to try it out.

I started with the Tom Ka soup.  A coconut broth, with mushrooms, lemongrass, onions, and cilantro.  I was afraid that the flavors wouldn't be pungent but this broth was delicious.  I could really taste all of the flavors in the soup, and the lemongrass was delicious.  I really enjoyed the soup, and it would be the perfect cup of comfort on a cold day -- I'd say that it compares to/is on the  same level as the Lemongrass soup at Lemongrass, which is my standard for soups.

The next lunch choice is an appetizer.  I looked around what other people were getting, and there was a variety of food out on the floor.  I asked the waitress what was the best choice to make, and she recommended the crispy roll.   A crispy rice wrapper with chicken, vermicelli noodles, sprouts, in this tangy vinaigrette.  The combination of flavors really worked.  And, the ground nuts on top added a nice contrast.  

(on a side note, it's interesting how many items are used in Thai and Indian cooking...the vermicilli noodles, cilantro, ginger, garlic...)

For my entree, I ordered the pad kee mow, aka, the drunken noodle.  My first experience with drunken noodle was in Bethesda, Maryland.  I worked on Capitol Hill for a summer, and my sister was in DC at the same time as well.  She loved this restaurant in Bethesda for the drunken noodle dish and introduced me to it.  It was pretty fantastic, and that really set the bar in my mind for drunken noodle.  Drunken noodle is composed of wide noodles in a spicy-sweet-basil sauce, and a variety of vegetables, and meat or tofu.   I had mine with shrimp, and ordered it spicy.  It was still pretty sweet, but the spice really hit at the end.  As far as drunken noodles in Columbus go, it was one of the better I've had.  And the portion size was excellent, perfect for lunch, although I was really stuffed after two bites of my crispy roll.

My friend had the red curry with chicken.  It is his standard at Thai restaurants, so he always orders it when he goes to a Thai restaurant for the first time.  Basil also offers the option of brown rice, which is great and refreshing for people trying to eat less white rice.  My buddy thought that the curry got better with time; at first bite, it was very chalky, but after several minutes of sitting it improved.  I thought that corn starch may have been added to make the curry thicker, which is unfortunate -- why add a thickening agent?

CONCLUSION: Basil is excellent and a nice addition to the neighborhood.  Although the service was a little slow, the presentation was beautiful and the flavors were great.  Also, Basil is this weekend's Groupon, $10 for $20 worth of food, and it goes until Sunday.  Go buy it!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reader's Review: Verso's Casual Italian Bistro & Pizzera

I really enjoy that my readers take an active interest in the blog, and I always appreciate tips, suggestions, and reviews from the loyal c-bus-eaters.

I haven't left Columbus since I went to Scottsdale last (ok, I guess I have gone home to Celina a couple of times, but we never go out to eat at home) so I really appreciate it when my friends across the state give me the skinny on delish grub.

I got a review tonight from a reader in the great state of Cuyahoga County.  Pizza is a favorite on this blog, and I feel like there is no distance too great for a good slice of pie.  Tonight's guest picture  and review is from Verso's Casual Italian Bistro and Pizzeria.

Verso's menu looks pretty good, reminiscient perhaps of the old Iacono's in Columbus. And the best part about the pizza menu: SHEET PIZZA! I haven't had that since elementary school, or for my Celina fans out there, from West Side Carryout.
Tonight, my guest readers ordered up a large pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom pizza (that seems to be a favorite here?), a caesar salad (also a favorite), and the Verso chips, which I think sound the most delicious item on the menu: house made chips  with garlic ranch sauce.  Uhh, talk about heaven on a chip.

The consensus on Verso: strong.

Worthington: Otani Sushi

Otani Sushi is apparently a legend in Columbus.

Tucked away in the outskirts of Worthington, you wouldn't think that Otani was anything special.  I actually was quite afraid to try it...sushi in an office building, really?

Anyway, Friday night I headed up to Otani with some friends. Surprisingly, the parking lot was pretty full; I guess there is quite the loyal following for Otani as there are for most restaurants in town.  

Um, may I just say, that the most amazing thing about Otani is? KARAOKE!

Wednesday through Saturday, Otani has karaoke in its front bar.  I was a little skeptical at first, but after a saketini, I was  brave enough to belt out Billie Jean and bust out my sweetest Michael Jackson dance moves.  The song book is pretty extensive at Otani as people were singing songs from country to Destiny's Child.

We sat down at a cute little booth and ordered an appetizer: potstickers.  Potstickers are pretty standard fare at Asian restaurants.  Some steamed, some seared, some vegetarian, some filled with meats I can't eat, these gyoza were actually pretty tasty and set the tone for the meal.  Small, great searing on the outside, and not greasy, these potstickers were filled with pork and different spices.  The dipping sauce was also equally amazing, and it wasn't salty at all. Definitely would recommend these.
Miso Soup: is miso soup the way to judge a sushi house? it may be so.  And I must say, Otani's miso soup was really tasty.  A lot of places have very salty miso soup which is rage filling.  Especially because I've been trying to watch my salt intake.  And, there are extra bits of seaweed in it which is very tasty to me.  Check plus for Otani's miso soup!

Sushi: lately, my number one spot has been Kooma, in the Arena District.  The Miahuru roll is phenomenal, you should definitely go try it.   Anyway, last night at Otani,we stuck to the basics: Spicy Tuna roll, shrimp tempura roll, Philly roll, and California roll.  I feel that those rolls are good standards to judge a sushi restaurant by.  I mean, if it's sold at Kroger, then it's a pretty universal roll.

The rolls were pretty small, actually.  Although, they were a nice change from Haiku's collassal rolls that break after one bite from your chopsticks.  The spicy tuna rolls had some funky tasting sauce though. Check minus for the spicy mayo.  But the philly rolls were really tasty.  

Nigiri: nigiri is really a nice change from the rolled sushi.  especially for people that really do enjoy fish, but not enough to take the plunge of sashimi.  Otani offered a nigiri dinner with three types of fish: tuna, salmon, and whitefish.

This is the first restaurant that I have seen lemon slices next to the salmon.  It definitely added a nice complement to the salmon.  But the real deal on this plate was the tuna.  Um, delicious, fatty, toro tuna. Beautiful and pink.  So tasty.  I would back just to get pieces of this fish.

CONCLUSION:  I am definitely going back to Otani and I hope that my friends will join me on stage for karaoke.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I know I've been negligent...

EVERYONE who reads my blog and tells me about it have asked where the posts are.

(ok, maybe it was just white ninja and fancy pants who asked why i haven't posted in a while)

I'm sorry! I haven't been out to eat in a while.  And have been trying  to eat in this  week.  And all of the places I went this weekend were places I've already blogged about (Tai's Asian Bistro...I ate it on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday)...

Hopefully this weekend I will go somewhere new, as Friday is pay day as well.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Campus/Upper Arlington: Tommy's Pizza

Tommy's Pizza is considered a staple of pizza places in Columbus.  Open for over fifty years, Tommy's is a favorite of many in Columbus.

I gotta tell ya, when I attended Ohio State, I was more of a Hound Dogs kind of girl.  I never really went to Tommy's, although there is a restaurant on Lane Avenue.  I just never really tried it.  My friends were all Hound Dogs fans, and when I lived up on Bethel Road, I would frequent Iacono's (which, I am understanding from reading up on Tommy's and from word-of-mouth, was a pizza establishment by the same family.  As you can see from Tommy's website, Tommy's last name is Iacono so there must be some relation, right? Although that's like saying all Patel's are related, which I know clearly isn't true...I digress).

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Columbus.  Bright, blue skies, puffy happy clouds, and lots of sun.  Good day for pizza, right?

My buddies Geoff and Connor and baby Jack ventured out for a good pizza pie.  We traveled to the Tommy's on Lane Avenue, next to the Taco-Bell-turned into a-Pho restaurant which i must try sometime.  Tommy's is very family friendly which is great as we had Jack in tow (although he is a very good little boy).

When you walk into Tommy's, you see old-school fire ovens.  The employees make the pizza in assembly line order; one for dough, one for assembling dough on pan, one for putting toppings on, one for placing pie in oven, one for taking pie out of oven, one for cutting pie with gigantic knife, one to yell to the server to pick up the order.

We sat in the back of Tommy's in a nice booth.  It's great walking into a restaurant where you see families sharing a meal, sharing stories, and plenty of people on date night (including some  grandmas and grandpas that were smitten with baby Jack).  I was put in charge of ordering so I ordered a pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom pizza.  Large of course, as  I was with two dudes with good appetites.

I think that the crust at Tommy's is the best part of the pie.  It is very thin, and crispy like a Ritz cracker.  However, it is sturdy enough that it is able to hold up all of the ingredients.  When you bite into the pizza, you get the nice oozing warmth of freshly baked mozzarella cheese, but that crust, man, it is like crispy, crunchy, and soft.  All of the ingredients together make a nice combination, both with flavor and texture.  Needless to say, our pizza was destroyed, consumed, and the cardboard sheet on which it came on was completely empty.  Even Jack had a piece.

CONCLUSION: I will be putting Tommy's into my rotation.  The pepperoni are kinda wussy though, so I may do without them from now on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Downtown: Barrio Tapas Lounge

Barrio Tapas Lounge ("Barrio") is an amazing little bit of ethnic food in downtown Columbus.

Barrio is owned by the same duo of Due Amici (see previous post of hatred), but Barrio is a total 180.

Set in the heart of downtown Columbus, Barrio is actually in an old Wendy's building.  and you would never imagine that you were in an old Wendy's.  Seriously.  The renovation was beautifully done.  Deep wood, dim lights, great windows that open up to let in the nice evening air, and an upstairs seating area that would be perfect for small parties.

I headed out to Barrio with my dear friend Fancy Pants,who is also a lover of all things edible.  Fancy Pants never visited Barrio, so we picked one of the first real spring evenings of Columbus to partake in some tapas plates (don't worry, it snowed 3 days later). It also happened to be a Tuesday, and Barrio has a two-for-one tapas special on Tuesday nights.  Also, I had purchased a coupon from Fudha which Fancy Pants and I learned couldn't be used in conjunction with the tapas deal, but for a separate item. Duh, paella!

When we sat down, we were greeted with a loaf of bread and two dipping sauces. A yummy, sweet butter and an oil sauce.  Fancy Pants noted that there were hints of smoked paprika in the oil sauce.

For table bread, it is pretty tasty.

Fancy and I ordered 4 tapas plates next, and an order of paella to follow. We ordered the calamari, bacon wrapped dates, fries, and crab and corn empanadas. 

Whenever you go to a restaurant in Columbus, the calamari is usually deep fried, with some sort of dipping sauce (sometimes Asian flavored, Lindey's has a delicious remoulade).  However, Barrio's calamari might as well have been renamed "calamari soup;" in a broth, with mushrooms and some other vegetables, and calamari pieces.

It was alright.  I think Fancy Pants and I both agreed that the sauce could have been thicker. Or, it could have been billed as a soup so hopes of actual pieces of calamari you can grab with your hand and not worry about spilling on your shirt.

Fries: they might as well have been called crack.  Seriously.

Barrio's fries are in a delicious parmesan-spice-blend with this dipping  sauce that is drinkable.  I don't know how they ended up being so damn tasty but they are.  We seriously cleaned our vat of fries, and I even had to ask for extra sauce because I ran out.

Bacon wrapped dates: dates are the fruit of the gods, and well, bacon? How to qualify bacon? The versitile,  all meal mystery meat.  Here, the dates are wrapped in thick slabs of bacon, with a sweet sauce on the outside and filled with cabrales cheese.  I feel that they perhaps are the best thing on the menu next to the paella, but they may have been a little too sweet for Fancy Pants:

The empanadas are pretty good.  A fancy version of the hot pocket.  We ordered the crab and corn empanada, and it comes with a nice sized side of guacamole.  Perhaps the guacamole can double as an additional dipping sauce for the fries?

Also, on Wednesday nights (I think) Barrio does an 8 empanada for  $12 deal.

Now: the big bang deal.  The paella.

I think every nonenglishspeaking country has a form of a rice dish.  In India we have biriyani.  Paella is Spain's, and Barrio does it very well.  Barrio's paella is a mixed paella: calasparra rice, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, calamari, clams, piquillo peppers, beautifully colored by saffon.    There are even peas in the paella, which is a nice complement.  Even though we gulled like gluttons with the tapas plates, we cleaned the dish with the paella. And, it's also delish with the fries:

CONCLUSION:  Barrio has a lot of recession friendly deals out there.  2 for 1 tapas, 8 for $12 empanadas, and $2 tacos on Thursdays.  It is a place to try foods that you definitely don't get at mainstream restaurants, and it is a cool vibe and a great place to go with friends.

Also, stay tuned for a very special double blog experience with myself and Fancy Pants.  A blending of the world. Internets Glory!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Short North: Marcella's

Marcella's is an Italian restaurant in the Cameron Mitchell's family of restaurants.  If you've never been to a Cameron Mitchell's restaurant, you're really missing out, because it is truly a great dining experience every time.

There are two locations: one in the Short North, and another at the Polaris mall.  I particularly like the Short North location because:
1. it is within walking distance
2. it is prime for people watching as it is in the middle of the Short North

I've never had a bad meal at Marcella's.  The specialty is small plates: pizzas, pastas, cheese plates, and desserts.  Marcella's goal is for diners to share their meals, to not limit themselves to their entree.

Entrees are generally available; I would recommend one of the special pasta dishes, usually the risotto special is pretty good.  There is also an extensive selection of wine which can be ordered by glass, half liter, and full bottle.

Last week, Columbus had its first taste of spring, and it was a good night to go out to eat and for a stroll in the Short North.  I walked up to Marcella's and met some friends for dinner.

My favorite appetizer at Marcella's is the melted pecorino cheese.  Served piping hot in a cast iron dish, this cheesy bowl of deliciousness is served with nicely toasted pieces of bread, apples, and honey.  You also get a nice loaf of cold bread at the table with your meal,and I would recommend having this handy when you order the pecorino cheese appetizer, for the toast points really don't last for too long:

The apples and honey are a delicious complement and are definitely a palate cooler from the intense, bubbly, gooey goodness.

We then ordered the bruschetta.  This is the first time I've ordered the bruschetta at Marcella's.  Normally, when I go with friends, we get the cheese heaven, and many pizzas and perhaps a pasta. The bruschetta are made from the same bread as the table bread; a crusty ciabata that almost has like a sourdough taste.  On top of the bruschetta are tomato sauce, a nice scoop of ricotta/mozzarella cheese combo,a slice of salty and cold prosciutto, and a nice basil leaf on top to add a pretty color:

I wish that the cheese combo would have been warm or really cold, instead of lukewarm.  I guess I just prefer the typical tomato bruschetta.  The colors are great, but it needs to get a proper temperature, be cut into smaller pieces, or get new flavor combo.  Perhaps not tomato and prosciutto.  Or, just basil,tomato, and cheese (or is that too boring?).

I forgot to take pictures of the entrees.  I had the special risotto for the night, which was a Parmesan risotto topped with the house sweet sausage.   It was alright. I  think that the two together was a little much, and I probably should have just gone for the two separately, or just the risotto plain.
CONCLUSION:  If you're planning on a night at Marcella's in between 6-8pm, you definitely have to make a reservation.  And if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday, you best make the reservation way in advance. Oh, and the Red Sangria is amazing. and the shrimp and pesto pizza.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bexley: The Top Steakhouse

Today was the grand finale of Dine Originals week, and to celebrate, my friends and I decided to celebrate in style at The Top Steakhouse .

The Top is located on the edge of Bexley on Main Street.  It is totally a rat-pack feel; deep, sunken booths, a wrap around bar, and even a piano player belting out the hits while you shove your face.  Tonight, I decided to take the Dine Originals challenge, for $30:

Course 1:
-lobster bisque (i got this) or french onion soup

Course 2:
-Caesar salad (i got this) or the house salad

Course 3:
-2 5 ounce lobster tails (i got this), a pecan salmon, or a prime rib

Course 4:
-cheesecake (i got this), chocolate cake, or creme brule

On this chilly, end of winter, spring forward day, my friends Kellie (as seen before in the Molly Woo's review),  Joy and Bret decided to venture to the East Side to dig in to a Columbus staple.

Kellie and I both started with the Lobster Bisque:

The lobster bisque had a very-tomato base.  Almost too tomato-y.  Like, very reminiscent of Due Amici's tomato bisque, with lobster pieces in it.  My soup was also lukewarm, which was kind of a bummer as I feel that soup should be hot to really enjoy the flavors.  There was a nice cream flavor,but the tomato was really overpowering.  I will stick to Lindey's lobster bisque from now on.

Next, Kellie and I both got the Caesar salad:


This was your pretty typical Caesar salad.  Romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan, croutons, and a Caesar sauce. There was nothing really exciting about it.  I love Caesar salads, but this was nothing to write home about (actually, if I told my mother i was eating out this much, she would not be very happy with me!).

Now, the main deal, big show.

I ordered the two 5 ounce lobster tails:

For the price I paid, this was a great deal.  The lobster was succulent, delicious, and melted in my mouth.  And my baked potato was perfect.  Bret explained to me how they prepare the baked potato: the potato receives a nice bath from extra virgin olive oil, is coated in sea salt, and is baked in the oven for almost an HOUR.  the skin on the potato was crispy and delicious, i was eating it plain instead of focusing on the actual meat of the potato. But wow, what a great main meal for the price.

Kellie had the surf and turf, with a filet and lobster tail:

Kellie also enjoyed her baked potato much,and said that her steak was cooked very well. However, she just told me that she received the wrong leftovers from our waiter (who may or may not have been obsessed with Joy), and that makes me deduct 10 points from the meal.

Bret also had the surf and turf identical to Kellie's except his steak was done medium well instead of medium rare.  And, instead of the baked potato, he had potatoes au gratin.  Bret also ordered a side of sauteed mushrooms, which were fantastic.  The mushrooms were in a brown sugar-soy-Worcester-some unidentifiable brown sauce which complemented them very nicely.

Both Kellie and Bret said that the onion rings on top of their steaks were delicious, too.

However, Joy switched it up from everyone and went for the crab legs.  Joy loves crab legs, and is pretty much the resident expert of my friends on seafood.

Joy ordered the pound of crab legs with mashed potatoes.  She was impressed because the crab legs were already broken for her to easily eat.  I mean, who wants to put in the work when you're trying to enjoy a dinner!  Joy was really impressed by the Frenching work that she made me take a picture of the succulent piece of meat that she normally would have to work hard for, but could easily enjoy:

I really think it is because our waiter may or may not have had a crush on Joy so paid extra attention to her our bill wasn't correctly divided and Kellie received the wrong leftovers.

All in all,everyone was pretty pleased with their entrees. I cleaned plate,as well as Joy and Bret, but unfortunately Kellie got stuck with someone else's prime rib, instead of half of a lobster tail and a filet.

Dessert: my Dine Originals dinner came with a dessert.  I chose a piece of cheesecake from Carnegie's Deli in New York City.

Carnegie's cheesecake is world famous.  The slice i had tonight was phenomenal.  It was firm, not runny, and I could get a great texture in every bite.  The cheesecake also has a nice tang, perhaps from the lemon juice the recipe calls for.

Bret ordered the Creme Brule.  I feel the best part of the a creme brule is breaking the sugary shell.  I can only imagine a pastry chef's excitement in using a blow torch on a surface of sugar, watching the sugar burn and caramalize to create the hard shell.  Bret was generous to let me crack the creme, and it was great. The surface was perfect.  The custard was was cold, and had a smooth, delicious vanilla texture. It was definitely one of the better creme brule's I've had in a while.  Also, the ramekin was a double serving, which is very rare!

CONCLUSION:  The Top is a Columbus staple, and packed every night for a reason: they know what they are doing, and they know how to serve a good meal.  Minus Kellie's leftover snafu, this was an excellent meal, and if you have $50 to blow, I would recommend taking the drive out to Bexley and having a great time.  Try to sit by the piano player so you can be obnoxious like Joy and I and sing along.