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.