Tasty Links #7

I know, I know - we've posted more links than reviews, recipes, or anything else recently. Well, what can I say, there's been some good stuff coming. In this edition, a couple of things that got a lot of play or people kept telling me about, so I just couldn't wait any longer.

1)  Crazy good graphs on how food is subsidized (image on the left). This made the rounds recently, first at Cincinnati Locavore, then at wine me, dine me.  Original hat tip: Larry Falkin, Food Task Team.  Definitely worth a look and read.

2)  If sometimes, or maybe more than that, you think foodies can be somewhere between annoying and amusing, you might like to check out Shutup Foodies - a new tumblr blog that doesn't hide its disdain for the pretentious to ridiculous side of foodieism - because of its snarky thoughts on hip, now trends like ramps.  They've honestly got a good take pretty consistently I've found.

3)  Cincinnati Regional Food Congress - details just came out, but it is coming fast - April 10th.

And your video.  Are you hip to Sarah Haskins?  Darn near every Target Women is hilarious!


Tasty Links #6

1)  Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  PS - we're big Jamie fans.
2)  A listserv you might want to join on food security.
3)  Lots right now on school lunches, including this book (by a woman who wrote about the problems with emergency food in Sweet Charity).
4)  A grain CSA in New England.  Very cool.
5)  Lots of talk about food trucks in Cincinnati recently - check out the street vendor awards in LA.

A couple of shows have been announced recently on molecular gastronomy, here is the preview for one...


Existential Eating #2


Bibimbap @ Home

It's been a little too long since we've found a new, simple, taste explosion meal.  After sharing our enjoyment of  the bibimbap at Suzie Wong's on Madison, Sarah found a recipe in our most recent (free from Sur la Table) Bon Appetit that did not disappoint.

The ingredients:  eggs, ribeye and T-bone steak from the Eaton Farm, asparagus from Trader Joe's, scallions and sesame seeds from Kroger, Hawaiian black salt and chili powder from Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice, and fleur de sel from a shop in Normandy, France.  Everything was organic (or better) except the HSEN items.  In addition, the marinade for the meat had sake (not sure of its origin), more scallions, sesame oil (again, can't remember from where anymore), garlic (TJ's, organic) and sugar (Kroger, organic).

We cooked the brown rice in the rice cooker before crisping it up in the cast iron.  This really was not very complicated, and was super flavorful.  I think this is going in the staple category.

See more pictures below in the slideshow.  And again, the recipe is here.


This Week on Our Table (3.18)

On the first edition of This Week on Our Table, we did a much better job of keeping track of ingredients - in keeping with our concept.  This time, not so much.  As you can tell from how long it has been since we posted this "segment," a bit less cooking took place in the home there for a minute.

Same as before: Anytime you want a full recipe, comment and we'll post.


Dinner Out @ Ko-Sho

I'm sure everyone who lives within 5 minutes of the new Hamilton Ave., Northside location of Ko-Sho had the same fantasies we did as it took weeks upon months to open its doors, then finally did a while back: a great sushi and Japanese soup place with reasonable prices.  A place to grab take out on the way home for an easy meal, or to sludge up to in the snow for a belly warming.  It even has a rhyming catch phrase - fo sho - built right in.  Unfortunately, the reality isn't as rosy as the ideal so far from what we can tell.

The Food:  The first thing that I noticed when I looked at the menu is that it's pretty expensive.  The place is plain Jane inside (see below for more on the setting), so the dollar amounts are a bit surprising.

We started off with a few appetizers and one bit of sushi - a spicy tuna roll.  The hiya-yakko came first.  It is exactly what it says on the menu - tofu with scallions and ginger (they say there is fresh Japanese basil, but we didn't see/taste any).  Unfortunately, it is exactly what it says on the menu.  The tofu is literally an uncooked block of tofu that was pretty bland on its own.  There wasn't ginger or scallions to go around.  Next up was oshinko - pickled veggies.  There were some mushrooms (which the server said were radishes, but they definitely were not), Japanese cucumber, and daikon.  I thought the cucumber were pretty good, but the texture plus flavor of the both the others were off.  Veggie gyoza were our last app, and they were nothing to write home about.  We've made these at home several times and they're not particularly complicated.  The sauce was particularly disappointing because the balance was so off - way too much vinegar.  You'd think this would be an easy staple they'd have a boatload of in the back (they serve it with other things too).

Best thing on the table at this point?  The miso soup, which had good seaweed, and nice seasoning, and comes with pot dishes and noodles although the menu doesn't tell you.  We also enjoyed the ginger salad dressing that came with a small salad, which was also with the entrees and not on the menu.

We were kinda bummed by this point already, and then the entrees came.  The first was the shabu shabu, which we got with tofu (since we didn't know what the beef was or where it came from, but was probably a mistake because they didn't marinade or do anything to the tofu).  The broth has no flavor - it might have been water.  Sesame sauce on the side was tasty, but the ponzu sauce was the vinegary gyoza sauce and ruined anything you put it on.  Unfortunately, when they brought me 6 things I assumed I should put them together, so I had too much vinegar from the start.  We asked for more of the sesame to try to save the day, but it was too little too late.  Sadly, this was the worst $19.50 we've spent on a meal in a long time.

Our second entree was udon noodles which came with yummy tempura vegetables and a rice lump with toasted sesame and salt.  The noodles were slurpily good, and the broth was satisfying.  This dish was clearly the best part of our meal, but even it wasn't anything special.  We make a far better Asian soup at home.  And even in the best dish, a big reconstituted mushroom had a dehydrated chemical taste (they were in the shabu shabu too).

In it's defense, 5chw47z did think the sushi was fantastic (though, he admits, pricey).  Some of our neighbors and friends haven't been so kindly to the rolls, but we clearly didn't focus on the sushi on this visit.  If and when we are feeling lazy, and in the mood for sushi, and willing to pay a premium, I'll post about that experience.  I'm sure that'll happen, probably not any time soon.

The Ingredients: We asked about where the beef came from for the shabu shabu and they didn't know.  The server was brand new and didn't have many answers for us, but neither did the kitchen.  Other than that, no notes about local, seasonal, organic, etc.  I will say, they have a sizable vegan menu (over half the appetizers, for instance), if you're into that sort of thing.

The Story, Setting, & Service: Unfortunately, we'd heard mixed reviews at best before we ever walked in the door.  We were waiting to go, partly in hopes they'd work out some kinks.  I guess they haven't yet.  On the service, darn near every review I've read (to go along with every person I've talked to) has expressed disappointment.  The guy was really nice, so I feel a bit bad, but to beat a dead horse, at this price point he needs to know more before he's put on the floor.

The decor is weak, and the ambiance is nearly non-existent.  Even with very few people the small space echoes, and the loud other people and blenders were a distraction.  Finally - and I swear I don't have a grudge against these people, in fact we'd REALLY like them to do well (for us) - our table was musty, they need to wash their rags before they clean the tables.

Bonus:  Dessert at Honey (which, incidentally, may have the slowest loading web page left on the world wide web :) ).  One of the great things about the strip of restaurants in Northside is that if you aren't happy at one place - go somewhere else!  He said best cake ever, bartender laughed, almond inside, frangipan, butter cream, peach inside, salty caramel,

To wrap up, at the price point we paid at Ko-Sho, we would prefer to go down the street to Honey every single time (and that just if we want to walk somewhere).  As we were sauntering, albeit saltily, home we discussed how maybe we should write them a letter (that's our less public way of telling a restaurant what we think if we want to give them a second chance).  We decided they were already open downtown, so its probably a done deal.  Bummer.

Ko-Sho Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Tasty Links #5

1) I bet you didn't know the health care bill that just passed requires chain restaurants to put the calories of its items on the menu, menu board, and drive thru menu board. Yup, starts next year.
2)  Science Friday on GMOs. - genetically modified organisms (i.e. plants).  Hat tip: Jonathon DeVore!
3)  EarthSave Cincinnati presents: The Case for Local Food.  Go here, then click "March Program."
4)  Sustainable, farm raised tuna - the future is now.
5)  Food & Water Watch was doing something with its RSS feed the other day, and put 200+ articles back into my Reader.  Skimming all of them, what jumped out was on: Gates Foundation frustration, Monsanto's big squeeze, choosing seafood, the USDA admits not doing its job, feeding factory farms really hurts, becoming a pro milk shopper, and New York City's first all meat CSA.

Want some ice cream?


Dinner In @ Thai Express

Thai Express is a veteran starter in our take out rotation.  It's been in my fave 5 for past 10 years.  And the metaphors could go on.  Needless to say, we're fans.

The Food:  They have a full menu, but for our purposes it's quite simple - pad thai and veggie spring rolls.  Do we eat the pad thai because we are unadventurous eaters and pad thai is the prototypical, stereotypical order for an American?  Nope - I happen to think they have the best pad thai in the city, so why stray?  It has the wonderful balance of sweet and savory and just that bit of tangy that comes from tamarind and can't be replicated (when I spent way to many times trying to make pad thai before looking at a recipe, I could never figure out what I was missing - enter tamarind: game changer).  Their noodles are one part sticky, one part slick.  Crunchy peanuts, your choice of meat/tofu, fresh bean sprouts, and little pieces of cucumber on the side to cleanse your palate when you're done.  At the restaurant, they like to make fun of me because I always ask for lots of soy sauce too.  Their spicy scale is 1-10 - I am usually a 4 or 5, Sarah a 3 or 4 - and they will bring the heat if you dare go in the 7-10 range.  Before I was a pad thai purist, I often asked them to add $1 of veggies - broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, etc.  And I repeat, I believe this is the best pad thai in the city.

The veggie spring rolls are flaky crunchy, then chewy, then veggie crunchy, with a yummy flavorful dipping sauce.  A new addition to the specials board was something they had a different name for, but appeared to be crab rangoon.  You can taste something from the sea, which is a nice touch when it seems like "crab" rangoon typically means fried cream cheese (which is still good, by the way).  Eat your apps as soon as you can so they don't soften up.

As I mentioned, Thai Express also makes other dishes - they've got some great curries and more.  But, I don't think you will ever be disappointed by going back to the basics.

The Ingredients:  I'm not aware of any local, seasonal, organic, etc. ingredients here.  I'll have to ask next time I go.  At this price point, I doubt it ($6.50 for pad thai).

The Story:  As I mentioned above, I've been coming here since my early days in Cincinnati.  They've had the same awesome staff for as long as I remember.  There are a couple folks who have come and gone, but it must not be a bad place to work because there are several people who have been there going on a decade.  They are always fun to talk with while waiting for pickups.  Next time I go in, I'll pick up some tidbits of info and add an update (as well as some interior pics if they don't mind).

Thai Express on Urbanspoon


Existential Eating #1

This is the first of what may be many (or not) and may be frequent (or not) food-based comics by friend, artist, and comedian extraordinaire Ramsey Ford.  Enjoy!


Dinner Out @ Amol India

I have found that in Cincinnati there are 2 kinds of people: Amol people and Ambar people.  If you eat Indian food and live in Cincinnati (and probably frequent Amol) you know exactly what I mean.  If not, read on...

The Food: Sarah gets malai kofta (orange dish on the left).  Every.  Single.  Time.  And we go quite frequently.  It is a tomato base with spices, then chickpea flour fried falafel-esque balls, almonds, raisins, and cilantro in it.  And cream, lots of cream.  It is delicious.  I have a much more diverse and refined pallet at Amol - I get saag paneer (green dish in background on left) 90% of the time, and tandoori chicken 20% of the time.  The saag is a spinach base with spices (garam masala, tumeric, etc.), then cubes of paneer (Indian cheese) in it.  And yes, lots of cream too.  Recently we were thinking of going for take out at Amol, Five Guys, or Chicago Gyros and we decided that with all the cream and white rice (it has about 7 green peas in it too), Amol is probably the least healthy of the bunch.  But, the food is packed with flavor!  I get a 4 or 5 out of 10 spicy level, which gives it a kick too.

On top of the main dishes, we typically get garlic naan - an Indian flatbread that is a bit crispy on the outside and then soft and chewy on the inside.  This is actually one of the very few substantive reasons I recall appreciating Amol's food better than Ambar's - Ambar is all about the crispy naan (or at least they were 9 years ago).  And finally, veggie pakora.  Pakora are battered and fried fritters of vegetable (mostly spinach I think), and they bring you 3 chutneys to put on them.  I usually load on the spicy onion, tangy/sweet tamarind, and refreshing coriander.  They're all too good to pass on.

Amol has a great lunch buffet every day of the week, and plenty of other great dishes - but these are our regulars.

The Ingredients: Nothing notable on the ingredients in the restaurant.  Jagdeep's, the grocery behind the restaurant has just about anything you might want so you can make what's on the menu.  We've price checked many items on Jungle Jim's trips and they're comparable or better at Jagdeep's, without the drive to the burbs.

The Story, Setting, &Service:  As I mentioned at the start of this post, there are Amol people and Ambar people.  I have even been warned not to write this by friends because of the concern of starting a fight.  You see, there is lore in town about the two warring Indian restaurant factions separated by only short fence posts.  I have no idea if these rumors are true.  I do know that the owner at Ambar was shot this past fall, and some immediately jumped to conclusions.  For the purposes of this blog, let's just acknowledge there are at least widespread rumors.

In simple terms, the general Amol/Ambar split is this:  Amol people tend to think of themselves as more down to earth (mostly, in my understanding, because they are going to restaurant that has nearly the same food for $1 less per entree and without a clean bathroom).  I don't really know what Ambar people think, as I've never been one.  As I mentioned above, I think it is mostly Amol people who believe a divide exists.  Got a different opinion?  Let me know.

Before I forget, you must know about the coupons.  Near the back of Citybeat they have coupons for many of the Indian restaurants in town.  I believe the current offer is a whopping $7 off your second entree at Amol.  You must not miss this opportunity!

In other news, back when Jagdeep's grocery was still a laundromat that owned a much used Double Dragon arcade game, Amol India was an eclectic restaraunt called GJ's Gaslight. According to long time Clifton resident Dorothy Lauch, 90, GJ's "had a little of everything", as long as everything was hamburgers or Italian. When the restaurant became Amol, the booths remained, but the red brick wall was painted white and the signature faux gaslights were removed.  A little history for all you foodies out there.

I believe I will be an Amol guy until the day I die.  I've been to plenty of other places around town, and most of them are just fine.  This is simply what I'm used to now, and I like being a regular.  I know Sarah agrees, because when they picked up on who she was and started calling her by name, she told me with a very big smile.

Amol Indian on Urbanspoon

Tasty Links #4

1) An interesting post/conjecture on how Urbanspoon calculates its blog rankings (read the comments for info directly from the source).  In case you were wondering, Amateur Foodies is on the rise, up to:

Amateur Foodies Cincinnati restaurants

If you have any idea how to put this little icon on the side of a Blogger blog - email me please.

2) Seed prices are rising, they're looking into price gouging (have you seen The Informant, or better yet, heard the story on This American Life?).
3) Obesity and hunger are linked.
4) A pretty cool interactive graphic where you can scroll over parts of town and see the restaurants light up.
5) 12 things never to eat - yuck.

A TED talk on a chef's love affair with a fish - interesting stuff, even if you only watch it because Dan Barber kind of sounds like Fred Armisen playing Barack Obama on SNL.  Hat tip: Ezra Klein.


Dinner Out @ Terry's Turf Club

Plain and simple, Terry's is:

It gets the most reviews, and I think it deserves it.  The atmosphere, the food, the whole package.  So, without belaboring the well known, I'll try to add a bit to the landscape on Terry's.  After waiting for our most recent burgers last week, when they arrived I wrote, in the throes of passion: "I love everything about a Terrys burger, I'd marry it.  Sarah loves it too, so we're comfortable with polygamy."

The Food: Terry's makes the best burgers in Cincinnati.  As I noted on the Gordo's post, you can make different categories of burgers by splitting the ones that put stuff in their burger and the ones that don't.  But, no matter how you score, this is the best.  Juicy, but not too juicy (although, I must say, there was a period of a few months several months back that we now call the Dark Ages when you consistently ended up with a soggy bottom bun).  They shake on some kind of seasoning and it is good.  They don't skimp on the toppings, but you can still (barely) get your mouth around it.  A great, light buttery bun.  The burgers come out in rounds, so it can take a while to get your food.  When you hear the sizzle a round is on, when there is silence, get ready!  There are all kinds of options and toppings, but I'm settling in to bacon, american cheese, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions and peppers, and mayo. See the menu in the slideshow below for more on the fancy options.

The french fries are just ok, kinda floppy, but unskinned potatoes and not bad.  Plus, one order serves two at $3.50, so you can't complain much.  Plus, did I mention, a great burger makes it all ok!  The burgers come with chips if you don't get fries.

The Ingredients: They've got some fancy stuff, but nothing seasonal or local to my knowledge.  They've got some local beers, so maybe next they'll have some local meat and potatoes!

The Story, Setting, & Service: The hip, hot, new Terry's story - as in, happened this afternoon - is that Guy Fieri (in the photo on the left, with Tony, the Terry's manager - hat tip to ohladyofavalon on Twitter who I now can't find, sorry) of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives/Food Network fame was in the house today.  Twitter was aflutter.  I'm a bit disappointed, because we almost nabbed an exclusive!  See, we were there on Friday, and the word was out a bit.  I (just sorta) bribed the server for the official date and time of the visit (see the pic in the slideshow below), but no one knew for sure when it would be so I got a window.  On the way home from work today I asked Sarah to do a little googling, and sure enough we missed it.  I'm glad that Terry's is getting the pub, but I share Via Vite's Twitter sentiment to Guy: "Don't air the Terry's Turf Club segment. Its hard enough to get a table w/o the morons drooling everywhere."

UPDATE: A great post about being in Terry's for the shoot.  Thanks to wine me, dine me.
It's true, it can be hard to get a table.  But the service is solid and everybody is friendly.  You pretty much have to assume you're going to wait an hour when you go.  Thankfully, they've got a great bar and lots of peanuts to keep you occupied.  Weekend nights the place gets even smaller because they have music, usually a jazz group that rocks it.  The place gets really loud even with no music, then add the jukebox or the band and it is at a fever pitch.

Dusty Baker is known to frequent late nite after games, and I think I've seen a Cincinnati celebrity every other time I've been in.   Some people come 3 times a week - I know at least a couple people that talk about Terry's all the time.

And finally, for a new Amateur Foodies signature move, the tidbit of information that you probably didn't know about Terry's Turf Club:  Terry, the owner, was named Mr. Cincinnati in '68 and holds records in fly fishing, including for a double grand slam where he caught 2 tarpin, permit, and bonefish in one day!

Go early, prepare to wait, then enjoy!

Terry's Turf Club on Urbanspoon

Dinner Out @ Bootsy's

A couple friends invited us to Bootsy's on a whim and we took them up on the offer - they were celebrating, we were commiserating, it was a good combo.  I had heard good things but never been, and Sarah went just after it opened and was happy.  Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be a particularly good Bootsy's experience.

The Food: We picked first from the sushi menu - a spicy tuna roll and a Ruby Roll.  The spicy tuna roll was average at best - our favorite in the city currently is at Bangkok Bistro, but you could, sadly, probably do better at Trader Joe's.  The Ruby Roll was enticing at first because of its presentation, but that wow came from mayonnaise on top of mayonnaise - which overwhelmed the fresh taste of an otherwise good roll.

Then we chose appetizers - calamari, ropa vieja, and shrimp corn dogs.  The server said the calamari was that "by which all other calamaris are judged."  As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm skeptical of calamari.  But, this was very good, tender, not all rubbery, and had a squid ink mayo that was a nice touch.  Not the best ever (my number 1 was from a place in Leamington, Ontario of all places), but very good.  The ropa vieja was flavorful, but that's pretty much a given once you braise short ribs.  It was sitting on top of an arepa, and the overall dish was solid but nothing to write home about.  When the server was telling us about the tapas option (a fixed price for several courses) he mentioned corn dogs.  I stopped him and asked him to repeat - it sounded out of place.  Well, we tried them, and they were sort of out of place - no attempt at interesting presentation, and as we attended to all the other options on our table they seemed to get mushier over time.

Finally, our table's vegetarian ordered rice and beans and the Spanish beer and cheese soup.  This is as good a time as any to say that this is not a good menu for vegetarians - very few options.  The beans were heavy and lackluster, lacking flavor.  The beans and rice were lacking rice.  On top of that, people must not order them much because they need hot sauce, or some kind of kick, badly.  I only had a quick bite of the soup, so can't really speak to it.  I didn't want to take away the few meatless bites that were available.

The Ingredients: Two items on the menu had information that could help one trace provenance - the Kentucky ham and the Amish chicken breast.  That's a start, but with entrees this pricey, it'd be nice to know where our food was coming from.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Bootsy's is impressive as you walk in.  It's got a lot of flare, just as you'd expect from this P-Funk all star.  I guess neither he or Jeff Ruby was messing around on this partnership.  There are pieces of memorabilia throughout the joint, and many different kinds of seating options - including the secluded booth with curtains where we were put.  Too bad the food didn't sparkle as much as the millions of sequins in the decor.

The service was a bummer.  It felt like the server wasn't taking us seriously - maybe because we weren't dressed up nice enough, or looked too young.  It wasn't overwhelming, but the air of condescension always rubs us the wrong way.  We had to ask a couple times for a couple things.  Also, we ordered sushi, tapas, and sides, and everything was surprisingly brought at once.  It was overwhelming and there was hardly enough room for us to maneuver, trade plates, etc.  A couple things got cold by the time I got to them, and we had to ask for the vegetarian dishes to be brought - at least if they were going to bring everything at one time, it would have been nice if the vegetarian at the table could have joined us.  On the plus side, a busboy did escort one of our party to the bathroom in a very courteous way, putting out his arm for her to take.

Overall, nothing to rave about at Bootsy's.  Lots of potential, not enough of it realized.  We're unlikely to go back at this price point.

Bootsy's on Urbanspoon


Dinner Out @ Gordo's

For a while there, Gordo's was under the radar.  When I opened up Cincinnati Magazine last fall and saw they had listed it as one of their top 2 burgers in the city, I was worried it'd be hard to get a table.  It was only a Tuesday night, but there was plenty of space in this top notch burger joint masquerading as a Norwood dive.

The Food: At Gordo's they have things other than burgers, and if you look at the Cincinnati Magazine article above you'll see they've gotten props for other menu items.  But, in our experience, it is all about the hamburger.  They've got specialties like the Jean-Robert and Gordo's, but lately Sarah and I have been keeping it simple.  There is definitely something to be said for beef + salt + pepper = burger.  At Gordo's it's more like eating a burger-shaped meatball with lots of flavor.  If there was any place for improvement, we think they could step up their bun game a bit.  Maybe something lighter? Maybe some butter?

Next best on the menu: the wings.  They're plump (not like BW3's - I am so glad I don't have to look at their scrawny chickens!) with a crispy finish, and Gordo's has some solid sauces - we had garlic with a side of mild for dipping.  Beyond that, not too much to say.  We ordered a chicken and smoked bacon sandwich (that barely had any bacon) with Saratoga chips - thinly mandolined potatoes that come with a sweet and smoky bbq sauce to dip.  Oh, and the steak fries that come with the burgers are pretty basic - crispy on the outside, better than the limp steak fry norm.

For beer fans, they've got a full selection of micro-brews by the bottle, as well as a number on tap.

The Ingredients:  Not aware of anything notable here.  They're clearly in tune with high quality though, so hopefully they'll get on the local, seasonal train sometime soon.  We had a local, free range chicken the day after our trip to Gordo's, and it was notably better.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  As I noted above, Gordo's is a bit off the beaten path in the Cincinnati landlocked municipality of Norwood (also the home of Amateur Foodies co-founders Ryan and Juliet).  Parking is plentiful in a lot next door, and once inside there's comfortable ambiance.  Low ceilings, hardwood floors, and a sizable bar make for a cozy feel.  The service is very friendly, the music from the 90's (REM was on the jukebox as we left) made us feel at home, and with TVs with NCAA basketball games on in all corners I was not wont for things to look at.  Gordo's owner used to be the chef de cuisine for the Jean-Robert Restaurant Group, and it shows.  Along with the food, we spotted Chef Joanne Drilling formerly of Lavomatic, then of Slim's, and now at Murphin Ridge Inn.

Especially if you're a hamburger lover, Gordo's is definitely worth putting in your rotation.

Gordo's Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tasty Links #3

1) A take on taxing soda - what the impact would be.
2) Make your own girl scout cookies - thin mints, samoas, and tagalongs (apologies to Jadyn, my girl scout cookie supplier).
3) March 10th - lobbying for local foods.
4) A couple opportunities for learning/engagement about local foods issues in SW Ohio below:

The Southwest chapter OEFFA is presenting a series of programs this spring, all held at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Road. The programs begin at 2:00 p.m. and are open to the public. The discussion
on Sunday, March 21, will focus on "How to Eat Seasonally," featuring local OEFFA members who will share good places to find fresh food as well as ways to plan for the seasons when fresh food is not as
plentiful. The April 25th topic is "Factory Foods and You". The May 16th topic is "How to Buy Locally". For
further information and to RSVP, email swoeffa@gmail.com

Please mark April 21 on your calendars for the SW Ohio Local Food Summit- Local Food System Development in Ohio: Background, Resources, Actions. This day long workshop will introduce participants to the history and development of the local food movement in Ohio. Participants will learn about resources and tools to support local food system development.  This session welcomes educators, community organizers, policy makers, local food advocates, gardeners, farmers and eaters from Ohio and beyond.
The event is from 9 a.m. until 2:30 on April 21 and will take place at the OSU Extension office at 1802 Princeton Rd, Hamilton Ohio 45044. Registration fee is $10 (includes light lunch). Call 513-887-3722.  Go to www.butler.osu.edu for more info.


Head to Head: Gyros (Chicago Gyros vs. Areti's Gyros)

I had just gone to Chicago Gyros in Clifton when the next day wine me, dine reviewed Areti's Gyros in OTR at Findlay Market.  So, rather than put up a single review, why not introduce a new concept on the blog: Head to Head.  A lot of what we all do as eater's is try to figure out who has the best of something, so when I think there's reason for a match-up, let's get ready to rumble!

The Battle: Chicago Gyros (CG) has long been my favorite gyros (yes, that's singular) place in town (see photo on the left).  Areti's Gyros (AG) got a "freakin' great gyro" review from Julie at wine me, dine me (see photo below on left).  Could we compare 10 more gyros?  Sure.  But, the heavyweight division needs a champ to wear the belt to start.

The Food:  This is all about the gyros itself.  Sure, both places offer other options, but more on that below.  Chicago and Areti's both make a solid gyros, but in my opinion, Chicago Gyros takes the trophy hands down.  And the defining characteristic that sets CG apart - a better tzatziki.  At AG, the tzatziki consistency is a bit off, almost like mayonnaise.  The tzatziki is so important in balancing the savoriness of the seasoned lamb, and CG's got the best balance.  And on top of balance, CG's got a full-on taste explosion happening - great meat, the onion's acidity, and a cucumbery garlicly tzatiki that pulls it all together.  AG's pita is a bit thinner than CG's - I prefer Chicago Gyros here as well.  On both sandwiches I'd agree with wine me, dine me - leave off the tomatoes until they're in season, they're forgettable at best.  The only "problem" at CG is not a problem at all - too much meat!  Neither place skimps though. At Areti's, it wasn't that the gyros was bad, it was just pretty boring.

In other news, Chicago Gyros also has great fries - crispy on the outside, soft on the inside (unless you get them for take out, at which point they're all soft).  They're using some sort of seasoning salt for added flavor, I think it's Lowry's.  I've also been known to snag a baklava on the way out the door - honey goodness.  Areti's looks to have plenty of other options too (see the slideshow below for more pics), but I can't speak to the quality.
The Ingredients:  I'm not aware of either place using anything notable (seasonal, organic, local, etc.).  Summer is surely welcome though to improve the tomatoes - I'm very, very close to a seasonal ban.

The Setting, Story, and Service:  I grew up on gyros.  The place is closed now (and it was going downhill for many years), but when I was a baby my mom would stop there on the way from our place to Lake Michigan or the Lincoln Park Zoo.  Then, when we'd do return visits, Sparta Gyros was always a big treat.

In terms of setting and service, Areti's has a leg up on Chicago Gyros.  The woman behind the counter was very nice, and it was a quick stop.  Findlay Market was surprisingly busy on a weekday at lunch, so the atmosphere was nice for a mid-day pick-me-up.  At CG, service is brusque, they don't answer the phone around lunch for pickup orders, and parking can be a bit of a pain.  But, they remodeled this past year, have a few TVs with ESPN/games playing, and once you're on McMillan you have plenty of options.  They should rename it Sandwich Street now that they have Penn Station, Jersey Mikes, Quizno's, Chipotle, Jimmy John's and more within 1 block.

The Winner:  Chicago Gyros - your new champion!

Chicago Gyros Slideshow

Areti's Gyros Slideshow

Chicago Gyros on Urbanspoon

Areti's Gyros on Urbanspoon


Dinner In @ Adriatico's

When Sarah and I want to make ourselves feel better we want comfort food. Pizza is comfort food. And in Cincinnati, if you want top notch, comforting pizza, you get Adriatico's.

The Food:  Let's keep this simple - Adriatico's is the best not-gourmet, fancy ingredient pizza in town.  When I call in an order they ask me if I want "thick or thin" crust, but with the thick being so delectable, I've never been able to bring myself to mess with a good thing.  If you've had Sicilian slices in New York, that's the closest equivalent I can think of to thick crust Adriatico's.  The sauce is a bit spicy and definitely not bland, and they are not shy with the cheese.  We always get green olives and pepperoni - they pile on the olives (as you can see from the picture) and the pepperoni adds a nice extra kick to the meal.

Note: The Bearcat, the largest pizza they offer is listed after personal (8"), medium (12"), and large (16"), as simply "Huge."  See below for a picture.  It is indeed huge.  $5 off on Monday and Tuesday nights, so mark those down as good days for pizza parties.

The Ingredients:  Nothing special here.  It tastes good.  Pretty sure they've got a Sysco truck pulling up on the regular.

The Story:  Unfortunately, they don't deliver to our home area of Northside.  When we lived in OTR, they wouldn't deliver there either, although they would go to Milton's bar in Mt. Auburn - a stone's throw from our old place.

Now, a story I must tell:  About 6 or 7 years ago now, my friend Megan drove me to pick up my order from Adriatico's.  She stayed in the car, I went in, grabbed the pie, and got back in the car.  The pizza was on my lap, and she set her purse on top of the pizza.  It was a hot summer day, the windows were down.  We were about to drive away when a young kid - probably 15 or 16 - came up and asked for a slice of pizza.  I said no, it was my dinner.  He then asked for a dollar, to which I also replied no.  Then, he put a gun to my chest and asked for the pizza.  I kindly set the purse on the floor and handed him the pizza as he ran off.

There are, of course, 2 ways to read this story:  1) That Adriatico's is in a bad neighborhood and shouldn't be trusted as a place to pick up a pizza (I do not believe this to be the case whatsoever).  Or 2) that Adriatico's pizza is so good it is worth risking jail time over if you can't scrounge for the dough.  I like to believe it is the latter.

We went back in, told the staff, they made us another pizza.  While we waited we walked down to the Cactus Pear, got a couple shots, and shook the whole thing off.

Adriatico's Pizza on Urbanspoon


Lunch Out @ La Mexicana

A quick review to go with a quick lunch.  La Mexicana has some of the best true Mexican tacos around, and thankfully, the service was great too!  Oh, and if you are looking for a market with authentic ingredients, they've got a small grocery in the back.

The Food: Quality chips and a tasty salsa greet you quickly when you come for lunch at La Mexicana.  The green salsa has chiles and avocado - not very spicy at all.  You can see the menu below in the slideshow.  I've had a few things, but the only items I've found worth writing home about are the tacos.

I got 3 tacos - al pastor, carne asada, and barbacoa.  All the tacos come in 2 tortillas with cilantro, onion, and lime on the side - as you can see in the photo on the left.  The carne asada - which I knew to be good - is lively with plenty of salt and seasoning.  The barbacoa was a bit dry for my taste, and the flavor didn't jump out at me, but wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination.  And the al pastor - which Ryan had 3 of - was somewhere in the middle in terms of my preference.  The al pastor is pork shoulder cooked with guajillo sauce - the waitress called it chorizo when she brought it - and had a smoky flavor something akin to chipotle.  They bring you a green and a red salsa/hot sauce to put on top of the tacos.  Every time I go the sauces have different levels of spiciness, which tells me they're using fresh ingredients to make them, which is a plus.

All 3 tacos could use a bit more meat to really stand out and pack a punch, but all 3 were still as good as any tacos I've had in town.

The Ingredients: Nothing to note here unfortunately.  They have a lot of different kinds of meats - from brains to tongue - if you're into that sort of thing.

The Story, Setting, & Service: La Mexicana was a go to spot for me as a pickup lunch option a year or two ago.  But, salty service led me to let them go.  Amateur Foodies co-founder Ryan and I were planning to hit Riverside Korean (I've still never been) for lunch, but when we arrived to realize they aren't open Mondays, La Mexicana was the quick, close option.  It was also a good time to note that I need to have some more Northern Kentucky options in my list of possibilities.  The place was full when we arrived a little after 12:30, but was empty by the time we left.

La Mexicana on Urbanspoon


Tasty Links #2

1) How something gets to the McDonald's menu.
2) How to make compound gin.
3) Fun with seed catalogs.
4) Epiventures has a couple of hilarious videos of Gordon Ramsey as a child - one of them is at the bottom.

Ezra Klein is a great commentator, primarily on what's happening in Congress, but he is also a foodie and consistently posts cool videos on his "Lunch Break" - here is one of them: how to make snocream...


Dinner Out @ Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro

We've got a take out rotation.  I suppose it's strongly influenced by proximity to Northside - but even when we lived in OTR, Clifton was the main location for said rotation.  And in particular, Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro has been a regular stop for quite some time.

The Food: My regular order is the vermicelli noodle bowl, or Bun.  It's a bed of lettuce, followed by vermicelli rice noodles, then stir-fried onions and lemongrass and your choice of meat (I get chicken).  It's topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, carrots, and crushed peanuts.  I dare say, it is a taste explosion waiting to happen!  Adding to the goodness, the house dressing (nuoc man) - what seems to be a light vinegary concoction that approaches the pungence of fish sauce with a sweetness - and red chili paste make for an excellent personalized kick.  Awesome textures and flavors make this a well-balanced delight.  It's particularly comforting when I'm feeling a bit under the weather and want to zap my senses a bit.

Sarah's usual is beef pho (pronounced fuh).  A traditional Vietnamese soup that we most often eaten at home - if you order it on the go, here's what to expect: 1) a large bowl of rice noodles layered with very thinly-sliced raw beef, topped with scallions, 2) a Big Gulp-sized styrofoam cup full of beef stock, and 3) a small box of always fresh bean sprouts, lime wedge, basil and cilantro leaves, and a small to go ramekin of 1/2 sriracha and 1/2 hoisin (creating a brown and red yin yang of taste).  Pour the broth in the bowl, and it cooks the beef on the spot!  If you're Sarah you eat it right away while it's darn near raw.  I stir it furiously for a minute or two until I feel more comfortable with the whole thing.  Sarah uses a fork and a spoon to consume this soul warming dish.  A note to the home cook, pho bouillon cubes are available at about any Asian store in town for cheap cheap and you can have a respectable home version of pho in no time.  We haven't taken the time to figure out how to recreate the beef yet because why, oh why, should we mess with such a good and affordable thing?

The starter that I'll finish with is what we usually call the veggie cold wrap, they call the veggie soft roll, and I'm sure everyone calls a treat.  Every once and a while the vermicelli noodles that fill the dry, yet sticky, clear wrap - along with lettuce, tofu, and bean sprouts - get a bit stale.  But, it doesn't even matter because when you dip the roll into the brown mystery sauce (sweeter and thinner than hoisin we think, and filled with chopped peanuts and maybe carrots - now we have a side bet), all is happily forgotten.

Overall, Cilantro is consistently a winner.  At $6 a meal, this has got to be near the top of the list of best bang for your buck options in the city.  The only thing we'd like is if they'd stop pouring piping hot beef stock into styrofoam and covering it with a plastic top that inevitably melts around the edges by the time we get it home.  New good idea in the meantime - we'll bring a thermos!

The Ingredients: Nothing notable here unfortunately that we're aware of.  For regular Amateur Foodies readers (can that exist in week two?), you'll note we look for local, seasonal, organic or other honorable mention ingredients that might make this a standout.

The Setting & Story:  Cilantro has been open for almost 6 years in this somewhat odd spot across from Hughes High School.  I've certainly done my fair share of U turns to illegally park outside Cilantro.  And I should say, almost every single time I've arrived in the inevitable 10-15 minutes that my order should be ready - it is.  That's notable unfortunately - there are more than a few places around that aren't ready when you arrive.

When I said I was taking pictures for a blog (see more below), the owner suggested I come back in a couple days because they were putting on a fresh coat of paint.  So, these photos are hot off the press!  The inside of Cilantro is cozy.  Several bar seats for a quick lunch, and a few 2 tops if you're coupled up.  The food comes fast and hot from no-nonsense servers (sometimes /cooks), and there's hoisin and sriracha to add a bit of sweet or a bit of spicy to anything on the menu.

In the most recent Cincinnati Magazine that has their 2010 top 10 restaurants list, my favorite meal (pictured above) was noted by Chef Joanne Drilling (just leaving Slim's for Murphin Ridge Inn) as her favorite dish in the city!  I was happy to be able to share that news with the owner just after the magazine hit our mailbox.

Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon


Dinner Out @ Suzie Wong's on Madison

The top "talk of the town" on Urbanspoon Cincinnati is Suzie Wong's on Madison, and that was enough to get us out tonight to try more of the menu.  We'd gone the first week it was open, before it even had the "Grand Opening" sign, but that was take out and we weren't really paying close attention.

The Food: We started with 2 appetizers - crab rangoon and calamari. There's a calamari on the "Starters" menu and another on the "Garden Salads" and we're pretty sure they brought us the salad, but its hard to tell which was which (forgot to look at the receipt). The rangoon were par for the course - not much to say.  They came with a tangy sauce that was somewhere between sweet and sour and duck, as well as some hot mustard.  I'd never put mustard on a rangoon - not too shabby.  I generally find that calamari can either be great or just blah.  This was definitely elevated above blah by the basil, green chili pepper, pomegranate, onion, and scallion mixture and sweet and (not so) spicy dressing - but it wasn't great either.

For entrees, we split the Bangkok Coconut Curry and the Bi Bim Bap.  The Bap (I'll call it that for short) was the clear highlight - it's a Korean dish made in a clay pot.  This was a great dish - and a big one too!  Rice gets crispy and yummy on the bottom as its cooked, while a perfect fried egg that oozed as its poked, kimchi with a nice kick, and sprouts hold down the top. Tender beef was quite tasty, and there's a sweet and spicy sauce on the side for added flavor and to bring balance to the whole dish.  As for the curry, it's put right into a real coconut, so you can scrape off the sides if you want. It's got a good full flavor, but I would have liked it to be a bit thicker.  The chicken was in the coconut, while the broccoli (a bit overcooked - no snap), peppers, and onions were in a small bowl on the side.  It also comes with white or brown rice.  If you're going out just for curry, I think there are better options in the city, but its still worth ordering and wasn't bad by any measure.

The Ingredients:A special shout out to anyone who offers brown rice!  There are only a few places in town that do.  Other than that, nothing notable here - no local or seasonal ingredients mentioned.

The Story & Setting: It's a bit odd eating on what is basically a pass through intersection that has no other life in the evening. I have to imagine this was the main reason that Seny, which was in the space previously, didn't make it.  A weekend when Manifest art gallery is open would be a good time to try out Suzie's.  On a Monday at 7:30 the place was about half full.

The service was very friendly, and except for the fact that we asked for tofu and got chicken in the curry (which we didn't care enough about to ask for a change), everything was nice and easy.

Overall - solid experience, we'll definitely be heading back. See the slideshow below for more pics.

Suzie Wong's on Madison on Urbanspoon