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Fortune Cookie Conspiracy

March 26, 2010

Recently, I went on a very excruciating bike ride with a close friend of mine through the foothills of south San Jose, CA. My legs began cramping and on the way down, the only thoughts that consumed me were of bathing in a giant tank of Fruitopia, and eating something greasy. I was dehydrated and I needed energy that only Chinese buffet glory can offer. Luckily, in South San Jose, I found the Panda Express on Branham. As a chain, I have always felt a certain amount of compassion for Panda Express. They have overcome the sometimes stomach wrenching aspects of buffet style Chinese and have created an enterprise with delicious orange chicken as its corner stone. However, this experience was going to unravel a more draconian side of this normally well-mannered organization.

On this day of already harrowing physical endeavoring, we were welcomed by the Panda’s open and fried rice laden arms. After filling enough of our stomachs with Sobe green tea and crumbly bits of perfectly seasoned orange chicken, my friend and I opened our fortune cookies. As a strong believer in the fate of such an insignificant American pastime, I waited for my hands to catch up to my anticipation. I pulled out the fortune, simultaneously tossing a bit of cookie in my mouth as to not break with superstition. I read my fortune: “You will soon benefit from a career opportunity.” I was dumbfounded. YES! I will get a job, and live happily ever after. My imagination went wild. I thought of a great new apartment, a swimming pool, the American dream, and joyously waking to every day being better than the last. My endorphin filled imagination kept me in dreamland for a more than a few seconds.

But then my friend opened his and catapulted me back to reality. His read: “You will be successful in a business of your own.” Wait, what? I put my imagination on hold, and ran a quick statistics calculation. My superior math skills found that it is more likely to hit by lightning than to get two fortune cookies that are about the same positive outcome: successful careers. I had eaten a lot of Chinese and it was the first time I had gotten such a fortune. Needless to say, two alike each other was a little strange. Then it hit me; I had been duped.

I looked up at the Panda on the side of the building, seeing its fiery red pupils clearly for the first time. It could have been my mental state, but I am as sure now as I was then about our predicament, Panda Express was taking advantage of the bad economy for a little subliminal advertising. With so many people jobless or in careers of their lesser choosing, they enacted a plan to get people to buy more orange chicken: make more fortune cookies contain positive fortunes about one’s career. With that sort of pat on the back, who wouldn’t return again to this cult temple of Chinese American fast cuisine? It was instant costumer loyalty, but sadly it was played under the guise of fates that they could not possibly control. For me, this was serious!

So, I called Guest Services at 800.877.8988 to voice my very real concern about this fortune cookie debacle. Even after ten minutes of graphic description of the fortunes and my belief of manipulating the public, the friendly representative didn’t budge in his testimony. He reassured me that I was just lucky. Maybe so, but the feeling in my gut will continue to say otherwise.

From now on when I pass the Panda, I will walk swiftly for their mind control is severe and quick.

Ugh, my stomach is growling. Anyone up for orange chicken?…Crap.

– Chris

Public Lounge, The Roxbury Motel, and Another Great Night in the Catskills

March 7, 2010

Last night we stayed at the Roxbury in Upstate New York. In a little town in the Catskills, The Roxbury Motel, which I found so quickly and easily on Google was a dream come true. It was very retro for a boutique motel, which made for some nostalgic fun. We chose to stay at the Kitchenette 6. It had pink polka-dots all over the comforter and delightfully matched with a key-lime green bathroom. Each room came with 4 bottles of wine (and good wine too). They also provided a huge 42 inch plasma TV and 300+ DVD’s that you can rent free of charge from the office. As our stomachs started to grumble, we found a binder full of all of their restaurant recommendations. Hurray!

Since Ren wanted to torture me by Academy Award red carpet fashion show, we had to stay pretty close to the motel and make sure to eat only during commercial break. That was not hard to do since the Roxbury has teamed up with an awesome little bar called the Public Lounge less than a block away. For somebody that likes specialty cocktails and little munchies, it is the place to go. They had Duvel and all of the beers from Ommegang Brewery, one of the only Belgian style breweries in America. For someone who loves Belgian beer, like me, it was a great treat!

I sipped on a Duvel first, and then moved on to Ommegang’s Three Philosophers Quadrupel. It is a rich beer, which has chocolaty notes and 9.7 percent alcohol. Many claim that Belgian Tripels and Quadrupels are more like wine than beer because of their longer cask life and higher alcohol content. The Three Philosophers was no different. It was a rich brown and had the complexity as a great meritage. It left tasted of rich chocolate and coconut. Ren and I decided to grab a couple of pizzas (which are a personal ten inches). Then we also got the chicken quesadilla, which had a spicy sauce on it, which was just amazing. The pizzas we got were the margherita, which was adorned with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, and the garlic chicken, which had crumbly breaded chicken and much much garlic. Everything was delicious. I just wish there was more of it.

Overall, it was a very nice place with friendly regulars and barstaff. All of the food was delicious, fresh, and eclectic. Plus, they hit my weak spot with the Belgian beer. Overall, it was a 4.5 out of 5. The last .5 is left because their menu was a little small and they were out of their main entrees by 6:30 when we came in. But, the experience we did have is highly recommended. It is a fun little place that you don’t expect to see in the middle of a mountain town.

– Chris

A Night of Umbrian Nostalgia in the Catskills

March 6, 2010

As you know, since I am moving back to California permanently,we decided that it would be very romantic and hip of us to go to the Catskills in Upstate New York. For tonight’s dinner, we found a little place called Cucina on my new best friend and traveling ally, Tripadvisor. Thank goodness we made reservations because from the moment we walked in the door, our ears were ringing and our eyes frolicked back and forth between the many bustling waiters and hungry guests. It was crowded. Luckily for us, we were psychologically prepared. Once we found our seats, which by many people’s standards were a little too close to the seats next to us, Ren and I were happy. Our waiter greeted us. He was phenomenal. As someone who has worked in the service industry, it is easy to spot someone who is really conscientious. He was. He not once rushed us in spite of the constant onslaught of hungry customers walking in the door. He started us with some focaccia and olive oil (the oil was high quality and very flavorful).

A little known fact about me is that I lived in Italy for a couple months in the summer of 2007. Actually, I even got to live in a small town in Umbria called Orvieto studying political philosophy. It was an awesome experience, and while there, I  got to taste my first Orvieto wine. Produced in small vineyards around the main plateau of Orvieto’s town center, these white wines also happen to be extremely affordable. A mix in varietals, the Orvieto wines are very dry, with a lot of citrus coming through. However, they have more character than many pinot grigios. They are perfect for a hot summer’s evening or even, for us in the Northeast, the first day above 50. So, you can imagine my delight when I found one on the wine list. The 2008 Palazzone Orvieto Classico was dry, but very flavorful in its middle notes. Hints of hazelnut came through in addition to its oak and lemon.

After choosing the wine, we decided to endulge in an appetizer. We ordered the prosciutto and mozzarella. This was a send back to Umbria where their first course would often be just that, or sometimes they would substitute cantaloupe for the prosciutto if it was in season. The Cucina chef decided that the dish’s rustic purity did not need to be tampered with. It was exactly the way I remembered it in Orvieto. There was chopped fresh basil and a very light drizzle of balsamic vinegar over the top of the mozzarella. Both the mozzarella and prosciutto were very fresh and in whole, the dish was not something you could reproduce without a very high end Italian market. My only complaint was that I wanted to see some new gourmet invention on this very classic dish. It was a clean and delicious dish with fresh ingredients, but there was no risk involved.

After our appetizer, I had the Orechiette with duck ragu and pine nuts. This dish was also a wholesome reminder of Orvieto. While I was there, I had one very much alike to it with truffle and beef instead of duck. The dish was again prepared very well with no sauce and lightly covered with olive oil. Again, it was delicious, but it was safe and a little bland. They had parmesan cheese to sprinkle on it, and I found myself loading it on. It needed more than pine nuts. Ren had the mushroom ravioli with cream sauce. They were amazing. The sauce was not too thick. If I had done it again, I think I would have gotten her dish.

For dessert, she had the creme broulee and I had hazelnut gelato. The hazelnut gelato was okay, but not great. It did not taste like the Orvieto and Roman variety, and I think that was the very thing that I wanted to be authentic.

Thus, I give Cucina a rating of 4 out of 5. It was a lovely place with delicious food. We didn’t mind that it was crowded. That is what shows that you are a good restaurant. However, the .5 that I cannot give the Cucina comes in its lack of ingenuity. In every great dish there is a love affair between tradition and a Chef’s creativity. This restaurant is as authentic Italian as you can wish to find, but in it, the Chef’s individuality is lost. With but a twist of his pallet, the Chef at Cucina could easily turn this Woodstock, NY destination to a true Italian cuisine legend.

– Chris

Harmony House Bed and Breakfast

March 6, 2010

Bed and Breakfast’s have kind of creeped me out, at least historically speaking. The thought of staying in someone else’s home whose name isn’t Howard Johnson always brought to mind recollections of The Shining. But this past weekend, since it was Chris’ last in CT, we decided to splurge and book a last minute trip to the Catskill Mountains. After numerous phone calls, we landed reservations in Saugerties, NY at Harmony House Bed and Breakfast. The room was $160 for the night (like I said, this was a splurge), but well worth it. Harmony B&B was quaint, not in a creepy way, homey and our two hosts Jacquie and Eva were wonderful.

Since this website isn’t TripAdvisor, you may be thinking why I brought this up. Well, while we did review our accommodations on TripAdvisor, I wanted to review the food on our website. Now, breakfast after a night away in a hotel usually bring up memories of stale bagels, cream cheese that has been out of the fridge for way to long, and those miniature-sized boxes of Frosted Flakes cereal. At this B&B, I couldn’t have been more off base with my predictions. Keep in mind; this was my first stay at a B&B, so forgive me if those thoughts were ludicrous to those who frequent these establishments. In any case; the meal was absolutely delicious. I felt like I was at a fancy restaurant, one where I’m the only customer (and in a good way). Jacquie acted as chef, while Eva shuffled back and forth from the kitchen delivering our food and drinks.

We started off with a plate of fresh fruit, including strawberries, blueberries, grapes, blackberries and melons. Eva warned us to eat the melon last since it was so sweet, the other fruits would seem much to tart in comparison, and she was absolutely right. I must admit, as much as I resisted my mom’s advise to eat fruit growing up and usually eat it for dessert now, starting off a breakfast with it really convinced me that that was where its place also lied. I say that not only because its healthy and getting in one of my five servings a day right off the bat is mentally an accomplishment, it also did wonders for my palate. After a long night of wine drinking and Italian food eating, I was feeling heavy and even after some minty tooth paste, my taste buds felt muted (also keep in mind this was at 8:30 in the morning, a time of day I am rarely conscious for with my late nights in retail). But the fruit opened everything up, made me feel fresh and prepared to enjoy a savory or sweet breakfast. Additionally, I enjoyed some Green tea, which also awakened my senses.

After clearing up my palate, we indulged in an asparagus, proscuitto, and melted brie omelet, with roasted baby red potatoes and whole wheat toast on the side. Being that brie was involved, I had been inclined to choose this menu option over two others, though I was nervous about the asparagus for two reasons. For one, as far as veggies go, they are one of my least favorites, with their stringy texture and bitter aftertaste. And secondly, I was concerned because marrying asparagus to other ingredients, at least for me, also presents a challenge. They’re even hard to pair with wine. But, I have to hand it to Jacquie; this really worked. The asparagus mixed in nicely with the creamy, richer tasting brie, salty and fresh proscuitto, and the egg, with its protein and calcium, made the meal complete. The potatoes on the side brought a wonderful sweetness to the dish, which gave it a little more zing for me. The whole wheat toast, was, well, exactly how its sounds, but it provided a nice crunch the rest of the ensemble was lacking. All around, a surprising success!

Dessert after breakfast may sound weird, even Eva admitted, but she gleefully served us one nevertheless. A Zucchini, cinnamon, and nutmeg bread with an agave-cream sauce arrived under our noses after the meal. Chris was thrilled since his mom had traditionally fed him this bread for many years, all homemade. I, on the other hand, hadn’t had much experience with it, mostly because I liked bread, but not so much veggies growing up. This surprising combination worked well for me. The agave sauce was sweet enough to offset some savory aspects of the bread, but the combination was not overpoweringly sweet. This, I felt, was a wise choice, since you don’t want a heavy, overly sugar powered dessert to start off your day. The amuse-bousche sized piece also worked well after a full breakfast.

As we enjoyed our last bites of breakfast, we were joined by another couple, Roy and his wife. We had seen them briefly on our way into the parking lot in their little red Porsche. We enjoyed a few pleasant exchanges. Roy shared that he was from Kingston and was retired, etc. But as silence fell over the table after a couple minutes, Roy started telling jokes, blonde jokes. Needless to say Chris and I didn’t really quite know what to do with ourselves. Not only were we disappointed in ourselves for not being better raconteurs that it would come to this, but the jokes weren’t really funny. The awkward laughs emerging from our mouths were painful to omit. We excused ourselves very uncomfortably from the table, with a knowing smile from Eva that eased our tension.

From now on, thanks to our wonderful host Eva and our chef Jacquie, I’m definitely not ruling B&B stays anymore. Unless Roy is there…with his really bad jokes.

-Ren

Oriole9 and Woodstock

March 6, 2010

I never got to see Woodstock in its heyday of revolutionaries, flower-power people, and awesome rock bands, but this weekend I did get to see what the town has evolved into. I must say, I liked what I saw. While the central town was small, it contained many local treasures. There were small boutiques with contemporary bohemian clothing that emulated Urban Outfitters or Anthropology in a satisfyingly less commercial way. It has a variety of other stores, from one called ‘Candlestock’ which sold the most amazingly psychedelic candles, to stores that, of course, sold outlandish Woodstock memorabilia. But, critically for this tourist, it has unique eateries. Before checking in for our night’s stay at a nearby town, Chris and I hit up Oriole9 for some breakfast/lunch. Chris had found this restaurant on the web, and it promoted a huge focus on local ingredients, fresh food, and a truly green-conscious concept of food.  These places are few and far between in CT, so we were eager to give it a shot.

My first impression was positive; the space of the eatery was contemporary and warm, with regulars talking to the waiters, and a long family sized table that ran across the length of the dining room acted as the centerpiece. Being a small party of two, we sat at one of the small booth tables off to the side. The menu was medium sized, with a variety of choices. I opted for scrambled eggs, toast, a croissant, sausage and bacon. The eggs, sausage and bacon all promised to be locally grown and harvested. Chris opted for the Falafel with Arugala.

We were well satisfied with both our meals. I felt especially satisfied with my choice of bacon and sausage, which usually leaves me with this greasy overly fattening feeling. This cut of meat tasted fresh and clean, not heavy in the least. The sausage was the standout, since they had opted to cook it with rosemary, which really developed the taste complexity for me, since sides like this can also fall victim to one-dimensionality. Rosemary was a perfect herb for the task, and the next time I make some sausage, I’m definitely trying this trick. My croissant was buttery, flaky, and fresh. My one criticism of my meal was my eggs, which while fresh, were a little dry. I usually mix in cheese with my eggs when I’m cooking at home to keep the end result a little more gooey.

Chris praised his Felafel with Arugala and horseradish. It was clean and simple, with local ingredients as well. He enjoyed the hint of horseradish, and his only wish was that there was more of it. But, overall, our food was wonderful. I also felt like the added benefit of knowing we were supporting local farmers and growers made the experience that much better. The focus on this, as well as consuming ingredients untainted by hundreds of pesticides and weeks in the freezer, made me feel good both physically and mentally. In the future, I look forward to exploring more restaurants with this focus.

– Ren

Recipe 1: Quick and Delicious Chipotle Pesto Chicken Spaghetti

March 4, 2010

As a couple that lives in a cluttered apartment and works over sixty hours apiece at our prospective jobs, we have learned that having a few core spices and mixes, we can grab two main ingredients and whip up a delicious dinner. This one took me twenty minutes to make.

Ingredients:
Makes 3 servings
2 large boneless chicken breasts
1 Knorr brand pesto mix
½ can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
½ large yellow onion
2 tablespoons of tapatio or favorite brand hot sauce (or to taste)
1 tea spoon Mexican chili powder
1 tea spoon cumin
1 clove of garlic
½ tea spoon cajun spice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ a box of Spaghetti
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

First, I cut the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces. Dice the ½ can of chipotle peppers.

Drizzle the olive oil in a 3.5 quart cast iron buffet casserole to evenly coat the bottom and put the chicken in over medium low heat. If you don’t have a buffet casserole, a large skillet over medium heat that can be covered works great. It is just about making sure the chicken doesn’t over cook and that the juices mingle. Combine the chipotles, chili powder, cumin, cajun spice immediately. Cover for ten minutes and stir occasionally making sure all of the spices combine.

While the chicken is cooking, boil water for the spaghetti and cook spaghetti. Read the directions and make the pesto mix in a small sauce pan. Also, dice the onion and combine in a bowl with the clove of crushed garlic and hot sauce.

Once the chicken appears near done, but still has a little pink showing through, combine the onion and garlic. Cook all until chicken is firm and no pink in the middle. The pesto should be done at this point. Combine pesto with chicken in the buffet casserole. Once pasta is soft, strain pasta and combine with chicken and pesto. Take off heat and mix ingredients. Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese if desired.

– Chris

In Defense of Junk Food

February 28, 2010

Today, I had friends over. In the midst of packing all of my things to move back to California to be with my sick father, I realized that I needed to see somebody. At the very least, I had to see somebody before Ren came home late from a night of retail. You see, I am the type of person that likes people around, so there is only so much time with only my thoughts that I can handle. So, I called up my friend Robert (an ex-retail colleague) and we decided to watch bad movies and embrace the more animalistic side of gastro-desire, the junk food side.

Now, as a gourmet food person and one that tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is rare that I fully succumb to such a desire. But as we all know too well, there are times that you just have to embrace the dark side. Tonight was such a night!

My mouth salivated as I looked over all of the take-out menus that we had collected over the past months. Would I do pizza? The man inside my stomach shook his head. Would I do Chinese? Again, a swift turn. Well then there is only one option left for a person in Clinton, Connecticut at ten o’clock at night, Chips Pub III.

A local legend, Chips Pub had been the third incarnation of a mad scientist’s grease inspired wet dream. It has everything from their signature garbanzo burgers to meatloaf to fried seafood. If you want greasy goodness, it is the place to go, and it can be quite reasonable if you don’t order drinks and stick to the menus first page. Thus, as the commander of this mission, I ordered up a greasy feast for two and later, when Ren came home, three of us. First, I ordered the buffalo shrimp. Trust me, if you like shrimp (and not the bay kind) and you like them fried, you are going to love this dish. They fry them in a light batter, alike to tempura and then toss them with their buffalo sauce (which tastes way better than Frank’s Red Hot). They give you more than six and more than eight. I counted 20 shrimp! It is a good deal.

I also ordered the nachos. After living in DC subsisting on little more than cheese and chips and originating from CA, I would like to call myself a connoisseur of the cheesy treat. Chips Pub nachos are good, but not great. Their cheese is delicious and they top it off with their chili (which is also wonderful – spiced to perfection and enough beans and meat to leave nothing lacking), but they skimp with the guacamole, salsa, and fresh veggies. I would be shocked if I found out they made their guac fresh, their salsa definitely came from a pace bottle, and their definition of fresh veggies are bottled jalapenos. But, if you are looking for quantity and pretty good nachos for the price, they will definitely satisfy.

And last but not least, I ordered their chipotle pesto chicken sandwich with steak fries. The chicken was real chicken breast (not a patty) and if I could have chipotle pesto smothered on everything, I would. The pesto was amazing. I would kill for the recipe. It was very spicy (by East Coast standards) but also the flavor of slow roasted chipotles and fresh basil melded together brilliantly. The fries were also great: crispy, flat wedges of golden goodness.

Rob, Ren, and I ate our way through the entire meal with little left. I was drinking bloody mary’s and screwdrivers all night. Needless to say, it was a great night!

In essence, everyone needs Chips every once in a while. If only we could all have an open-late local destination with enough cholesterol bricks to sate all the junk food hunger pangs. In Worcester, we had Wings Over and here we have Chips Pub III. Hopefully, when I move back to California, I can find such a local grease pot. So, here’s to junk food! Now, I am going to go hit the treadmill.

– Chris