Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 Easter Lunch

Fresh corn in cream cheese, Light fruit salad with fruit, mini marshmallows and coconut, Honey and berry glazed ham, peas and artichokes, honey glazed carrots, cheesy bacon potato casserole

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Feb 2017: An Indian Feast

Good friends + lots of food = a memorable time. 

Nothing succeeds quite like excess.

Half-n-Half: tart strawberry puree with sweet lassi spiced with green cardamom

Vegetable 'pakoras'. Usually the vegetables are cut-up in same sizes and then mixed together. I preferred to keep (and fry) them separately. Served with warm sweet-n-sour tamarind sauce.

Signature cocktail: pureed mango, club soda, blueberries, mint, and optional alcohol (in this instance, Tito's vodka)

Plain and garlic naan varieties. Requested by popular demand!

Tomato rice speckled with lightly fried onion seeds.

Chicken tikka masala.

Hariyali shrimp: fresh fennel, cilantro, mustard seeds, onion, garlic, and ginger.

Saag Paneer: large pieces of fried paneer cubes in creamed spinach

Rajmah masala: a vegan red kidney bean dish

Gulab jamun: Milk curds (precisely, 'chena') deep fried and then soaked in syrup

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ellie Lou's BBQ- disappointing at first, but unexpectedly delicious by the end

Firstly, I have to state that I did some research before coming to this restaurant. I try not to because the experience should be more than the hype... but I had heard good things about this place from some friends. All the way in west Orange county close to Gotha and Winter Garden, some light online menu reading was in call. 

So let's get the disappointment out of the way (and then on to the deliciously surprising food). I had a gameplan- order the in-house smoked sausage and two orders of their in-house pickles (garlic and jalapeño). They didn't have either. Matter of fact, the worker said they had discontinued them. I had checked the website the day prior, so I still had that plate of food on my mind. The food ordering is done at the counter and they drop off the food to you when it's ready. My friend saw that I was scrambling for another option so he recommended that I opt for the Texas Cheesesteak ($10.29) instead. Which I did with a side of fried green tomatoes, texas toast (extra), and collard greens (extra). I wanted to try the cheesy grits side but they were out of that as well. I was looking forward to getting past this debacle and onto some serious barbeque.

Sorry guys! Need some time to rethink my order. So many delicious sounding choices...

... so little time

Texas brisket cheesesteak. Ruined me for life. Can't look at another cheesesteak without comparing it to this again. A little more cheese sauce for me would have been better but wow, the meat tasted great

YUM. My last-minute food order didn't disappoint at all. The chopped brisket in this sandwich was amazing. A few pickled jalapeños dotted it here and there and the cheese sauce was not overwhelmingly slathered on. For some cheesesteak lovers, this may not be something you immediately like. But take it from me, with meat this good, you don't want a sauce to smother and blanket the BBQ flavors. This fusion mix-up of southern and a classic northern meal was fantastic. Great mouthfeel as you bite through soft bread, generous brisket, and an appropriate hint of cheese sauce and jalapeño. A definite must-try for anyone who's interested.

The sides were really good as well. Of note, the collard greens were ON POINT! Perfectly tender, not completely mushed up, nicely seasoned, with small bits of thick cut bacon. I have to credit the bacon fat that probably flavored the collards perfectly. The fried green tomatoes were also good. I didn't particularly like the remoulade pairing, and I ate them as it. The tomato disks are smaller sized and thinner cut than other southern establishments that you may visit so keep that in mind when you order them. 

Interior of the establishment. Not the greatest pic, but you get the idea.
Slider Trio ($8.99). With pulled chicken, pork, and turkey. The choice of bread (they are calling it 'Challah') really made the difference. Soft, chewy clouds of southern barbecue goodness.

The other sides that I tasted were the Mac-n-Cheese which was nothing to write about. Pretty standard and it could have benefitted from a Panko breadcrumb topping just to cut through the monotony of the one-note flavor. It lacked that southern depth that true Mac-n-Cheese lovers yearn for with cheesy nuances of texture as well as taste. On the other hand, their 'Settler's Beans' (not pictured) where beyond delicious. Instead of using just baked beans, they also used red kidney beans which really revved up the eyes and the palate. They were sweet, well-seasoned, and yummy. Definitely try this is if you love baked beans with Texas toast. 

IN A NUTSHELL: Good food even though some false advertising between the website and what's really available is currently occurring. The establishment did mention that they are changing up their menu. Beyond that, the food was incredible- and definitely worth the drive if you don't live close-by. A friend of mine mentioned that he would just travel back here for the barbecue. Service was also very good- they stayed on top of replenishing drinks and offering to-go boxes when it became apparent that we were done eating. Serviceware is plastic here so it may not be the best choice for people that want to sit down and be waited on from start to finish. But, if you are going for the food, you'll definitely find something on the menu that you like. I personally love the mash-ups between different cuisines while still retaining classic southern barbecue (they have in-house sauces on tables that you'll like too) ideas.

Ellie Lou's Brews &BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feb 2017 Dinner- celebrating 20 years of friendship!

A special menu for a special occasion.

Cheese Flan. Clementine segments, toasted Coconut shreds, and Blueberries, on a lake of condensed milk. This was the favorite course hands down.

Cuban Tomato Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Cilantro Shrimp

Cold-pressed watermelon with Rum and Blueberry ice cubes

One giant pot of Arroz con Pollo

Mojito with Blueberry and Mint ice cubes

2016 Thanksgiving dinner

First Thanksgiving without Dad. 😢 So we celebrated his memories with food that he would have loved. Dad was always fond of my cooking caliber. Apparently my brother is too.
Lagan Nu Custard- Wedding Custard

Crispy Okra

Saas Ni Macchi (Bottom) and Lamb Dhansak (Top)

Kachumber (Bottom), Browned Rice with Caramalized Onions (Center), Pappadums piled high (Top Right) and Lagan Nu Achar (in between rice and pappadum) which is basically a sweet Carrot Relish

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Taste of Yucatán: Unique niche cuisine and a must try for anyone in Orlando

Finally, a change from the regular humdrum and onto a new and never-tried cuisine in Orlando. Taste of Yucatán just opened three weeks ago. It's located not far from the busy intersection of Semoran and Curry Ford. How often do you try an establishment that specializes in regional Mexican cuisine? Unless you are shopping at a local mexican store with a side kitchen serving hot food, the answer is probably not that often.
The building is rather unassuming. To be honest, it used to be a Church's Chicken property before it traded hands. When we arrived, the parking lot had but a few cars and I have to say, I was a little concerned this was not what I had hoped for. 

My reservations about this place melted away as soon as we entered. The restaurant was clean, well lit, minimally decorated, and the ordering counter had 3 flat screens that effectively (and efficiently) described the ordering process while giving ample visual examples of their dishes from one slide to next. To top it off, we had the owner, Joal Rodriguez, take our order with a big smile. His willingness to help make our experience as best as it could get really impressed me as he truly went out of his way to make sure we were satisfied while placing our order.

The process is simple- choose a 'presentation' (taco, quesadilla, bowl, etc.) and the 'filling' that would reside on or in your presentation (mayan-style pork, cheese, chorizo, poblano peppers, etc.). There are appetizers as well... and get this, nothing on the menu is more than $7 per order. Talk about a deal. 

We ordered quite a bit- some panuchos (a Yucatán specialty made by deep-frying a corn tortilla stuffed with refried beans), some tamales, some quesadillas, freshly made guacamole, and a mexican tamarind-flavored soda.

I have to say, everything- and I mean everything- was delicious. Granted, I'm not a connoisseur of Yucatec cuisine or culture, but it's that feeling you get regardless of expertise when you know something has been made with care, consideration, quality, and love. 

I loved the papas con chorizo filling (potatoes and spicy sausage) on my panucho. Contrary to expectation, I didn't see chorizo bits in the mashed potato mixture- rather, the chorizo was completely incorporated into the potatoes to give it an orange-brown hue which permeated that classic spicy sausage taste evenly. 

The vaporsitos (beef tamales scented with wrapped banana leaves) were a little bit on the denser side (I like my tamales soft and very moist) and they had a cake-like consistency. The flavor was milder than what I had expected, but after adding some freshly made salsa verde and homemade spicy sauce of ground chile de árbol in oil, that too disappeared down my throat.

For all you pork lovers, the Cochinita Pibil quesadilla was very good. If I had a second stomach, I would have ordered another one of these. The flour tortillas were pillowy soft and the pulled pork was succulent and mildly spiced while enrobed in a gorgeous thick brown sauce. Add some fresh cilantro, minced onions, and a couple wedges of lime from the condiment area on the counter, and you'll make quick work of this divine dish in minutes.

The guacamole was exceedingly fresh and come in a 5oz container. For something that would cost $8-$10 easily at a fine dining Mexican restaurant, The Taste of Yucatán serves this delicious made-to-order appetizer for a meager $4.50 with a side of tortillas and free unlimited toppings (crema, salsas, pico de gallo, lime wedges, etc.). 

IN A NUTSHELL: Go to this place before the crowds rush in and change it's dynamic. That's because everything is made in-house and it is highly evident that they take great pride in their Yucatec background.  So, if the place gets busy, food wait times may become longer. This is a great place for a quick office meal during the work week if you want to surprise your co-workers by breaking the routine of the usual franchise restaurants. This restaurant offers a cheap bite for any curious foodie that wants to explore their palate without breaking the bank. I highly recommend this place at this time as I'm digging the owners enthusiasm to bring a little bit of the Yucatán to Orlando. I wish this restaurant great success as I was delightfully surprised how good the food, service, and the bill were.

Cochinita quesadilla, Papas con chorizo panucho, and tamales

Made-to-order guacamole with chips. I drizzled the crema and added on the condiments later. The owners special hot sauce (chile de árbol in oil) is on the top right corner of the basket.

An hot and crispy empanada. More panuchos (this time with sautéed poblanos and corn, and another with  Yucatán-style pulled pork). Barbacoa quesadilla (only $3.50).

Tamarind soda. Try it. It's made with 100% real sugar.

The Taste of Yucatan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Red Robin: The 'Olive Garden' of Burgers

I don't make it a habit about blogging about chain restaurants. But something about this place made me take up typing tonight. 

There is a defining characteristic about Red Robin- they have portion control down to a science. A large franchise usually does have scientists and mathematicians employed that not only objectify food quantities, but also flavor. And rightfully so. After all, it's a conglomerate that's in it to make money by carefully balancing between borderline small portion sizes and excess food wastage.

Before I start writing about the food, I must say that the service was very good. Our server was pleasant like sunshine on a wintry day. We even had two different managers come up and check on us. Food service times were not a problem and the ambience was inviting and modern. Everything you would expect from a restaurant that has studied it's market audience and their preferences over and over.

For starters, the Great Northern Poutine Fries were a must ($7). I ordered the Avo-Cob-O salad ($10.99) and my partner ordered the Southern Charm burger ($13.99). On flavor, none of these dishes fell short. The Poutine, a combination of deep fried cheese curd bites and fries covered with mushroom brown gravy, was excellent. The Avo-Cob-O salad? Perfect. Big chunks of bleu cheese paired with succulent, perfectly grilled chicken strips. Even the Southern Charm burger with BBQ sauce on a ciabatta bun was delectable. Every flavor the menu promised, the food delivered. One cannot criticize Red Robin on delivering on what they state.

The only drawback of this restaurant would be that the menu is too tantalizing. Can you imagine that as a drawback? The reason is that they have done such a fantastic job on making your mouth water on every page, that your eyes expect a big fat burger fit for a lumberjack landing in front of you after the order is placed. The truth is, most of the burger patties run at 6oz while their signature burgers patties are at 8oz.... portion sizes. Needless to say, the truth is in the fine print in-between the enticing pictures. But in their defense, their price points are not completely outrageous. They were slightly on the higher end for the portion size one is probably expecting but not by a wide margin. Again, a fine balance between going easy on the wallet vs. not quite starving you out of hefty meal.

Bottomless fries are indeed bottomless. But I wish they showed some generosity with potatoes (you know, one of the most affordable vegetables in the united states) by handing you a big basket of them. Somehow, I feel that they have even accounted for each portion size on that- approximately 8 fries per request. The establishment is a well-oiled machine, but it only makes one compare Red Robin to other restaurants that cater to big-boy portion sizes that southerners are far more accustomed and gravitate to.

I have to go on record by stating that I'm a huge opponent of the Ziosk tabletop ordering and payment system. At a restaurant where you expect the server to take care of your needs, I feel that I'm now coerced into partially doing some work that was the servers before. In a way, Red Robin has also partially done away with this workforce and replaced it with an machine that takes up permanent residence on your table throughout the dining experience. I'm boycotting this Ziosk stupidity. It's one step closer to eliminating an entire job sector in hospitality and I'm not buying in on the 'convenience'. I feel like Red Robin has taken their streamlining/portion-control/cost-basis analysis a bit too far by implementing Ziosk. Forget the numbers! I'm a sit-down restaurant and I have an expectation on a basic level of service that entails!

IN A NUTSHELL: The only simile that comes to mind is Olive Garden. Is it the best Italian food you've ever had? No. Do you leave feeling satisfied and with little to no complaints? Probably yes. Red Robin is kind of like that- a well-manicured franchise that knows how to satisfy you without being the best mind-blowing food you've ever eaten. This place is a smart choice when you have a large group with differing tastes that want to go out together. I can assure you, Red Robin has very likely figured out that it can cater to almost any individual preference across a wide spectrum of palates. Some people will cry foul with slightly overpriced food items for the smaller portion sizes that roll out of their kitchen, but others will feel satisfied in that their experience wasn't hindered by  any major food or service complaints.

Avo-Cob-O Salad. Notice the small portion size (knife gives a measuring reference). Good for an early bird special. Not so much for the hungry big boys in your family.

Dainty but delicious (the steak fries give you a measuring reference for the burger size). There are 8 fries. If the fries are indeed bottomless, go big or go home on your generosity.

Poutine Fries. Just delicious. But again, fried cheese curd bites were a bit small even for an appetizer.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato