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Tuesday, May 2, 2017


     Once again it's hunting season for John. Anytime the suggestion of a burger is made, he perks up like an English setter sniffing out game.
     ROK:BRGR is a stone's throw from the campus of the University of Miami, so it stands to reason that its patrons are mostly college students and preppies in general. We saw lots of twenty-somethings in Bermuda shorts and boat shoes, young ladies in bright summer shift dresses, and even some bow ties. The hostess herself was an exotic young lady with a dynamic smile, and beautiful caramel skin accentuated by pink hair.
She was the perfect representation of the joint's chic collegiate vibe.
     It's a small space, a third of which is taken by a wall-to-wall bar with five flat-screens showing any and all sports battles happening in real time. However, additional seating outside welcomes more patrons, even those of the furry four-legged persuasion.
     The lychee martini on the cocktail menu beckoned, and I, of course, obliged without hesitation. John ordered a Fat Tire just because it's familiar beer, and he likes the name. My martini was sweet and zesty in all the right places. The splash of pineapple overshadowed the subtle taste of the lychee syrup a bit, but the skewer of lychee fruit made up for that quite nicely.
     John ordered the award-winning signature ROK:BRGR with aged Vermont cheddar and smoked pepper bacon. Lately, I've been craving a fried egg on everything, so the Farmhouse, with cage aged gruyere, caramelized onions, garlic aioli, and topped with a fried farm egg piqued my interest.
     The mix of prime chuck, brisket, and short rib makes for a deep-flavored, juicy meat patty, but we can all agree that cooking it to the desired degree is key to a satisfactory burger experience. John and I like ours medium, and these burgers came a little closer to medium well. I missed that shy pink peeking from the inside of my meat.
     The bun was an artisan brioche that I wanted to like, but was simply too dry and disconnected from the burger and its fixin's. On hindsight, I should've ordered the optional pretzel bread. John had his with hand-cut fries, and I upgraded to sweet potato wedges. The fries were limp and forgettable, and the wedges were predictable but generous in size.
     ROK:BRGR is great on paper. Good location, pleasant atmosphere, quality service- it's all there. But as for the burgers, our hunt continues.

BB Free ©2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Prohibition Restaurant and Speakeasy

     We didn't have to enter through a false brick wall door, or whisper a password. And liquour flowed freely and generously. But the servers dressed as flappers and mobsters, the black and white movie playing over the bar, and the small vintage chandeliers sitting at the tables draw you into the roaring '20s and '30s prohibition era theme. The music wasn't bad either. Not ragtime, but classic jazz and swing. The music was actually one of the elements I enjoyed the most.
     Five minutes after I walked into Prohibition, I was committed to the '20s throwback, so I ordered a 'Mary Pickford', a cocktail named after the silent movie actress known for her spunky sweetness. This mixture of white rum, pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur, and grenadine was pleasant but unremarkable, not at all like its namesake.
     We ordered the Classic Steak Frites and the Shrimp Chorizo. The medium New York strip we ordered was more of a medium well and lacked the pink tenderness we expected. John enjoyed the truffle fries more than I did. The truffle element is always lost on me, but that's my pathology. However, shredded confetti covered the fries, but what I assume was cheese, had no flavor. I refused to ask what it was and tried to identify it, but failed.
     Four plump jumbo shrimp arrived over tostones (plaintain fritters) doused in the most savory sofrito (tomato-based sauce) which allegedly contained the chorizo (Spanish sausage). Sounds good, right? Well, only on paper. While the sofrito was exceptional and the tostones satisfying, the stunning shrimp were so overcooked, I had to chew them like gum. And, the chorizo is still on its way from Spain, I suppose.
    The dessert items didn't scream to be sampled, but the Kit Kat Bar caught Hubby's attention, so we took a shot. Except for their special, a homemade Tres Leches, all the sweets are outsourced to nearby bakeries. Our choice was an attractive rectangle with layers of cookie crust, dark chocolate fondant with hazelnuts, and milk chocolate mousse. It was good. That's it. Just good. And we only found one hazelnut.
     Loved the general vibe and the music, but the rest of the experience wasn't worth the inflated check. Sadly, Prohibition will not make it on my 'repeat' list.

BB Free ©2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Red, The Steakhouse

     When I prepare to visit a high-end steakhouse, I brace myself for a hefty check, but I also anticipate select cuts of beef, flawless execution, and miscellaneous treats depending on the menu.
     Red has been touted by many around town as one of a very few exceptional steakhouses. I get the impression the servers are trained carefully to be warm yet politely distant. I appreciate that. I'm sensitive to servers that come with the best intentions to be helpful but interrupt table conversations. Sadly, that happens a lot, even in fine establishments. What separates good service from excellent service has a lot to do with timing and intuition.
     The Steakhouse is serious about its atmosphere. Stone walls, soft lighting, dark wood, sleek, modern lines, and splashes of bright scarlet everywhere make this space just plain sexy. It's the kind of place I have to visit with DJ, foodie genius, because I know she will not be shy about ordering anything she feels should be tried regardless of whether we can eat it all or not. I always leave with comprehensive knowledge of any restaurant I patronize in her company.
     In 23 years of friendship I've never asked, but I suspect that second only to the brunch section, appetizers and sides are DJ's favorite items on the menu. At her table, there is never a short selection, and I find them to be a great example of what goes on in a restaurant's kitchen. On this day, we also had a tomato mozzarella salad with balsamic reduction mixed in with the appetizers. Thick slices of local tomatoes and the creamiest mozzarella offered a fresh beginning to what would become an intense dining experience.
     A charcuterie plate with thin cuts of some serious cured meats enticed the carnivore out of us. Bresaola, wild boar sausage, and lamb and duck prosciutto came to call in the company of a powerful and stimulating whole grain mustard and fresh brioche triangles. Before I address our beefy main events, let me tell you about the side dishes. These were not your every day side of fries.
     DJ favored the truffled risotto, John ordered the four-cheese mac 'n cheese, and I couldn't overlook the Brussel sprouts with pancetta. The risotto was rich and patiently cooked to creamy perfection. My Brussel sprouts were salty, crispy, and addictive. But the headliner had to be the mac 'n cheese. The four angels of this divinity are Fontina, Pecorino Romano, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and Raclette, my best friends for the evening, over organic pasta, all enveloped in a house mornay sauce. Is it legal to visit a steakhouse and only order Brussel sprouts and mac 'n cheese? Because I could without missing the meat. They were that good.

     And that's where the honeymoon ended. Our steak orders included DJ's filet mignon Oscar (with asparagus, king crab, and Bernaise sauce), my filet mignon with artisanal blue cheese, and John's ribeye. DJ is a fan of their steaks, and they are, indeed, the best cuts available. However, John and I found ours just shy of expectation. At $45 per steak, I expected an even sear and a perfect pink center, and John looked forward to a silky, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Mine was slightly overcooked, and John's offered a tiny bit of resistance, and the seasoning didn't bring out the natural beefy flavor of a fine steak. If you're not high maintenance about your meat, these are superb. If you're uber sensitive about flavor and texture, they lack a certain something.
     Nonetheless, I was excited about the dessert menu. In fact, I asked to see it even before the appetizers arrived, and since they and the side dishes were such a hit, I had full confidence that the sweets would delight. The clear choice was the Tasting Trio which included the Key Lime Pie, the New York Cheesecake, and the Fresh 'N Hot Doughnut Holes.
     DJ is easy to please when it comes to sugary bites. She retreated to her corner of the booth and quietly enjoyed every morsel she had coming to her in our game of 'musical desserts'. John and I, on the other hand, were a little chattier about them. John enjoyed the simplicity of fried dough dusted in powdered sugar. He also enjoyed the chocolate ganache that came with them, but ignored the raspberry jam. I thought the cheesecake wasn't dense enough to deserve the 'New York' in front of its name. The dark cherry and vanilla compote was a nice embellishment, but it didn't distract me. Real New York cheesecake stands up with attitude, rather than jiggle at the touch of the fork. My favorite was the Key Lime pie in its cilindrical container, topped with toasted meringue, and graham cracker streusel laying on the plate like so much delectable debris.
     Look, I've had better steaks in comparable places with less buzz, but there is no denying that Red is at the top of its class and deserves respect. The stunning surroundings, the extensive and eclectic menu, the outstanding service are all there. With all the pluses, I would even go as far as to say the experience is worth the price (almost).

BB Free ©2017

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Mt. Washington Tavern

      Temperatures take a dip, I see everything through pumpkin-colored glasses, and my steps crunch on the ground covered in red and amber leaves. All this heralds the best time of the year. If you have to visit Baltimore, now is the time, the window between the humid end of the summer and the wet beginning of winter. Add a little wedding dress shopping, and you have yourself an exciting weekend getaway.
     Yes, my 26-year-old daughter, Laura, is getting married next year to a true Prince Charming. I couldn't have wished for a better son-in-law. That makes me grateful. He's also a native Baltimorean who knows all the trendy eateries in the city. That makes me giddy with anticipation.
     The Tavern, a neighborhood staple, was established in 1979, went through a major overhaul after a massive fire that pretty much flattened it in 2011. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it reemerged in 2012 to reclaim its place as an area favorite. Its Chesapeake Bay-inspired coastal decor is bright and welcoming yet casually elegant in a way that makes you want to dress up a little when you visit.
     The menu offered too many enticing options, a problem I don't mind having. Our table was adorned by Stone Ground Cheddar Grits, Prime Rib Cheesesteak, Cuban Panini, Truffle Fries, Jumbo Lump Crab Dip, and Three-Beef Chili. The grits were lumpy and satisfying, although I wished for a stronger cheddar punch. The cheesesteak-filled hoagie provided soft, juicy bites with the subtle sweetness of the grilled onions as a bonus. The Cuban garnered respect, although I must admit I had my doubts about whether it would be executed to the same level as they are in Miami.
     The creamy crab dip screams 'comfort' as soon as you see it in the deep bowl covered in a sheet of steaming melted cheese escorted by thick baguette slices. The chili carried a promise in its name, but didn't quite deliver. We expected a hearty beef flavor, understandably, but it just wasn't there. Dare I say, it was even bland. That was probably the most disappointing dish. On the other hand, the fries made it all better. Fried to crusty perfection, a mountain of thin potatoes, with its Asiago-covered peak, arrived to put a smile on my face.
     It was our last day in Baltimore, and we made it an early night in expectation of a busy travel day. The dessert menu was left unexplored. Also, to be honest, I didn't want to tackle that with the sadness of having to go back to the real world. Dessert must be addressed with proper focus and attitude. The probability that I will return to this cheerful place and play some more with their menu is 100%!

BB Free ©2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Crimson Moon

     Dahlonega, GA... musicians' favorite gig? Turns out, yes. The Parker-Nix Storehouse, home of The Crimson Moon, was built in 1858 as a general store, and it's the oldest commercial building in the town square. It has even been romanticized by the locals as a once-upon-a-time mythical house of ill-repute. Today, it seems the acoustics provided by the wood interior is favored by club-circuit musicians. It's like playing inside a giant acoustic guitar, I guess.
     We arrived on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the place was nearly empty. A lone guitar player, Jason Childs, was finishing a set. We sat right in front of the stage and enjoyed his last two songs. I joked with John, a prodigious guitar player himself, that I wish he would be the type to just jump on stage and jam with the talent. As if pixie dust had fallen on us, Jason turned to John and started a conversation with him about guitars which soon led to an offer to try out several instruments. What followed was a dream come true for me. I know what a gifted musician (disguised as a CPA) I married. I just want to share that with everyone everywhere we go. That made our visit to this groovy joint a highlight of our Georgia getaway weekend.
     The food wasn't bad either. Not award-winning, but appropriate for the venue and atmosphere. We ordered the Fab & Fancy grilled cheese sandwich, The Moon's Burger, and the BBQ Plate. My sandwich was generous, prepared on good whole wheat bread and containing plenty of crispy bacon and caramelized onions. What it lacked was cheese. The menu promised two cheeses, but all I could find was one slice of a cheese I couldn't recognize, and which evidently had a hard time melting on the grill. I didn't get that gooey experience you associate with a grilled cheese sandwich. Not 'Fab' at all. More like a 'Fancy' BLT.
     Once again, John gave in to his burger addiction only to be disappointed. All his usual ingredients were there, the mushrooms, the onions, the cheese, the bacon, but the flavor and execution fell short. I admire my husband for his perseverance. I would've given up on the quest a long time ago, and only trusted my favorite to tried and true establishments, but his hope springs eternal.
     Both the sandwiches were satisfying even if not captivating, but the BBQ plate earned the menu some points. A hearty portion of pulled pork in heirloom barbecue sauce, came with a thick, buttery slice of Texas toast, battered fries, and a kicky pineapple slaw.
     I could see myself returning to this intimate, friendly setting to enjoy performances by their accomplished visiting musicians, and even savoring the food, as long as I keep my expectations in check.

BB Free ©2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Victoria Gastro Pub

     The menu is varied and the atmosphere lively. The drinks are sophisticated and the intent to please perceptible. Those are certainly necessary features for a grastro pub, but they are not what captivated me at this suburban Baltimore spot. Instead, it was the commitment to celebrating London's Victoria Station and its environs in the decor. Tudor archways, velvet draperies, Renaissance chandeliers and banners festoon the dusky space.
     Victoria Gastro Pub's cocktail and draft beer menu offers a lovely selection of libations, every inventive name a lure toward investigation. The Flying Dog Horchata Lager and the Lagunitas Stoopid Wit made great conversation points, but John finally settled on the Bell's Amber Ale with a little citrus, a little caramel, a little bitterness. I ordered the Violet Beauregard martini with its promised sweetness from its muddled blueberries, Veev Acai liqueur, blueberry juice and Limoncello. Both our selections were solid, but neither caused any satisfied lip-smacking.

     We sampled a good cross-section of the brunch and dinner menus. As an introduction, small biscuits and butter arrive nestled in brown paper. Biscuits are always a welcome sight for John, but these were so dense, they stuck stubbornly to the roof and corners of your mouth. 
     We ordered the lobster grilled cheese, the Victoria Pub Black Angus burger, the mascarpone stuffed challah French toast, and the salmon Rosti, a combination of smoked salmon, eggs sunny side up, over a Gruyere potato cake, and dill creme fraiche. The lobster grilled cheese contained a Brie fondue with bits of Maine lobster and plenty of flavor. John found his burger disappointing. It was cooked slightly over his desired medium and bland. I've warned him about pursuing burgers in a place that doesn't specialize in them or has no reputation for them, but he won't listen. His argument is, if he doesn't try, how will he find hidden burger treasures? Fair enough.
     The Rosti was the quintessential brunch dish. However, the eggs were just a bit overcooked, so I didn't get that silky burst of egg yolk to penetrate the nooks and crannies of the potato cake and gently touch the salty salmon. Individually, all the elements were acceptable, but that little detail would have made it come together.
     The French toast was the best of our selections. Thick slabs of challah bread with blue and blackberry compote, vanilla whipped cream, and orange flower maple syrup combined to create a fresh, light, and addictive flavor pallette.
     Don't think the abundance of dishes on our table discouraged us from perusing the dessert menu. I was curious about the Tiramisu trifle, but John theorized that it was just Tiramisu in a glass, and in his world, that's just wrong. We decided to sample the brownie-bottom cheesecake. It was satisfying but predictable. In fact, I will confess that at this writing, I'd forgotten we had it until I found the picture in my phone. A sweet nothing, if you will. 
     Victoria Gastro Pub is the kind of place you want near home. It may not offer menu sensations, but it's a go-to spot where you're sure to get consistently satisfying fare in cozy yet elegant surroundings.

BB Free @2016