June 29, 2010

BEST Hibachi

A close-up on the shrimp starter - they are SO delicious and were the only part I finished before the next course was served...
Hibachi noodles
Hibachi noodles + fried rice
Hibachi noodles + fried rice + filet mignon
Hibachi noodles + fried rice + filet mignon + hibachi vegetables
...And the perfect final palette cleanser, green tea ice cream!

If you have never experienced Japanese hibachi, you're missing out on a GREAT dining experience. Not only is the food usually great - and quite plentiful - but it's always dinner with a show. From tossing eggshells into their chef hats, to spinning knives and spatulas around forks and tongs, to setting the table aflame before your eyes - going out for a hibachi dinner is sure to set you smiling and satisfied all night.

Hibachi is essentially a flat, metal stovetop that I've typically seen around two feet wide and maybe four or five feet long, set in the middle of your dining table. The chef comes in, turns on the fan and the heat, and begins to put on a show as he prepares your meal. Most hibachi restaurants will offer you some combination of miso soup and ginger dressing salad starters, then hibachi shrimp, fried rice, noodles, vegetables, AND your choice of meat. Typically dining out, the food on your plate DECREASES as the meal goes on - but it's just the opposite at hibachi restaurants! It's always a lot of fun with tasty food and lots of humor and amusement.

However. Of all of the places I have had hibachi, there is one that stands out: Banzai in Hamilton, New Jersey. I was worried when we went recently for a special occasion that it may have changed over the years since I was last there - but no, the chefs have only gotten quicker and the food, tastier! Banzai sets itself apart with its perfect sauces and seasoning - nothing too strong, overpowering, or salty, just fine and fresh flavors. And they have the best hibachi shrimp I've ever had, perfectly cooked and flavored, and steak so juicy it practically melts in your mouth. They know exactly what they're doing on their hibachis to bring out the best flavors of their food, which I think is really important when you're working with (what to many I would assume is) a novelty cooking technique. It's just a pleasure to dine there - and there are ALWAYS leftovers, as Banzai serves ALL of the food mentioned in the last paragraph as included in their hibachi dinners. Plus ice cream! Just when you think 'Oh, this isn't too much food!' you suddenly remember you STILL have the meat course...and then vegetables...and then dessert... But not to fear, it's even better reheated or cold the next day!!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Banzai Japanese Restaurant
3690 Quakerbridge Road
Route 553
Hamilton, New Jersey

I would most highly recommend ordering a shrimp, steak/filet mignon, or respective combination hibachi meal. You have it with my definite seal of approval. ;-)

June 28, 2010

Homemade Apricot Danish

A fruity, apricot jam spread over a rich cream cheese filling is enveloped by layers and layers of flaky filo pastry and topped with a whisper-thin cinnamon sugar crust. Sound like something out of a dream? Nope - something my mother whipped up as a sweet and tasty snack for my graduation party. It disappeared almost immediately - and the second one she made and hid for us for later also, disappointedly, was found and devoured before we had time to stop the guests. What makes this pastry stand out is how light but satisfying it is: the creamy and fruity filling is just barely held together by the flaky pastry outside, all coming together for a slightly both sweet and savory snack. The cinnamon sugar sprinkled across the entire top surface (hence the dark spots in the photo!) adds a perfect, subtle hint of spice. Overall delicious, and apparently very popular among guests!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:
[See final paragraph of this post.]

June 25, 2010

Shrimp Florentine

Shrimp, spinach, white wine, and garlic come together in a (at my house) notoriously delicious combination in my mother's Shrimp Florentine dish. Served over a bed of rice and often with a side of tarragon-seasoned carrots, the shrimp are so succulent you can't help but wolf this meal down. It's such a nice summer dish, too, because the flavors are light and though you're full after a single serving you don't feel at all *heavy.* This dish will also warm you to the bones in the winter, too, and is a great balance to - again - many of the heavier dishes that are often served once it gets colder outside. Two thumbs up from me!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

You can't, yet. My mother is SUPPOSED to be working on writing a cookbook, which I have no doubt will be a New York Times best seller and be right alongside other classics like Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking on your kitchen bookshelf. So, for the time being, I am only posting tantalizing photographs and juicy descriptions of her incredible meals. If this looks delicious and like something you might want to make between now and the end of the century, feel free to leave an encouraging comment below. ;-)

June 23, 2010

Triple Berry Cake

What could be more romantic than a Friday night on the river watching the fireworks and enjoying delicious buffet of edibles? C'est La Vie, a little gem of a French bakery in New Hope, Pennsylvania, offers cozy seating and light catering right behind their shop every Friday night for the in-town fireworks show over the Delaware River. For the price of a ticket, this BYOB, fairly intimate event gives you a perfect view of the show; offers a delectable array of cheeses, pâtés, fresh breads, and fruits; and concludes with a dessert of your choice and coffee, tea, or absolutely delicious (if you like it sweet) hot chocolate.

My dessert of choice was the Triple Berry Cake, a light yellow cake layered with whipped berry creams and frostings then topped with a berry glaze. It was a slightly sweet cake (I would therefore recommend pairing it with tea or maybe coffee instead of the hot chocolate) and was a great way to finish out the night and start the weekend.

Where you can enjoy this (and other French pastries):

C'est La Vie
20 South Main Street
New Hope, Pennsylvania

June 21, 2010

Mozzarella, Tomato, Avocado Appetizer

What a great way to start a meal! Fresh mozzarella layered with garden-fresh tomato, a slice of avocado, and chopped fresh basil drizzled with an olive oil balsamic dressing. I'm used to the typical (and delicious) appetizer of mozzarella, tomato, and basil - but with the avocado?? It's a whole new ballgame! The avocado adds a pleasant flavor - that complements, not overpowers, the other ingredients - as well as a nice and smooth texture that's a little creamier than the cheese. The balsamic drizzle is a perfect way to finish it off!

Where you can enjoy this:

My cousin Sandy's house!
In your very own home!

The recipe is very simple but quite delicious. There are lots of variations on this type of starter - swap in roasted red peppers, or bread, or both - but this is the first time I'd tried avocado. It adds a subtle flavor but doesn't make the starter any more filling (as bread would). Try it for yourself!

June 14, 2010


Wienerschnitzel: I had no idea what it was, just that I had to have it while I was in Austria. (This was a great philosophy by which to dine, in part because I didn't want to miss out, in part because I don't know ANY German...) Wienerschnitzel is actually just a breaded and fried filet of pork - very thinly cut but, as you can see, HUGE. The breading added a nice texture to the tender and juicy meat, and the flavors (which are simple but satisfying) really came out with the fresh lemon squeezed over top. My only recommendation is to get it to split and also get a side of something completely different (a green vegetable, perhaps?), because while it's tasty, it's a LOT of the same thing to sit down and eat all the way through.

I'm searching for the name of this restaurant in my notes - details on where you can enjoy this hopefully to come!

June 11, 2010

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Ironically, I didn't 'discover' dumplings when I was in China; I discovered dumplings when I was in Italy. For some inane reason, steamed pork dumplings had never appealed to me, until I found myself in Rome, with an unusual craving, in a Chinese restaurant, and quite randomly interested in the "meat ravioli" on the menu. Since then, I haven't been able to get enough. I'm currently searching for the BEST Dumplings.

Alas, these are not them, but they weren't too bad, either. I loved the size: just small enough to pop the whole thing in your mouth! And, as usual, filled with a delicious combination of pork and I-don't-know-what-else. The skin was slightly overcooked (and to be honest the rest of our meal wasn't quite up to par) but I thought I'd snap a picture and let you know where to find these bite-sized appetizers.

Where you can enjoy them:

Janie's Asian Bistro
118 Easton Road
Warrington, Pennsylvania

It's a large restaurant, and what's nice is it's right next to a large movie theater complex. Nice to stop in for a bite before or after a show!

June 10, 2010

Local Hamburger

This post almost didn't make it on here. As it is, you're only seeing half of the burger - it looked and smelled SO good as soon as it arrived, that I almost forgot to take a picture. This is certainly a contender for the BEST Hamburger category.

Welcome to Elk Creek Cafe. This is by far my favorite restaurant in the Central Pennsylvania region. They work tirelessly to bring you delicious food made with fresh, local ingredients. Their menu changes seasonally and their specials change daily. This is their Elk Creek Burger, cooked to perfection (rare here) and made with local grass-fed beef on a local bakery's bun. I never really thought twice about either of those adjectives ("local" or "grass-fed"), but you'll become a believer in both as soon as you bite into this burger. Because the beef is fresh and local - and so the fat content varies from day to day - some days you'll have a REALLY good burger, and other days you'll have a BLOW-YOUR-MIND AMAZING burger. I haven't decided if their really-good-burger is also the best I've ever had yet. Either way, you will enjoy this meal immensely, and any other you have at Elk Creek.

Where you can enjoy this (and so much more):

Elk Creek Cafe
100 West Main Street
Millheim, Pennsylvania
http://www.elkcreekcafe.net/ (they have a good/helpful website)

I almost forgot to mention! They are also a brewery. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but apparently their beers are quite good and they often have IPA on tap. The atmosphere of Elk Creek is great - located at the only stoplight in the small town of Millheim - and super casual with a live country or bluegrass band usually every Saturday night. Good things to note: they're closed Monday and Tuesday, and you NEED to make reservations if there's a band playing (even if you're sitting in the back room and not going for the music). They're a gem, just outside of Penn State's main campus. This will not be the only post about them on this blog!

June 9, 2010

BEST Pizza

From extraordinarily delicious to gone, in about ten minutes:
The crust is SO thin, it's a wonder there's any support for all of the scrumptious toppings. Known as Baffetto's pizza on the menu, this variety features decadently thinly sliced mushroom, artichokes, onions, Italian sausage, red peppers, and, of course, the signature egg. It's made with only the freshest of ingredients, of course, which is a factor as important as the thinness of the crust. Of all of the things I miss from Europe and my time in Italy, this specific pizza is at the top of the list. Make a point to enjoy it yourself.

On the whole egg thing: The egg is dropped right smack-dab in the middle of the pizza. I believe it gets cracked over top as soon as the pizza emerges from the oven (which, by the way, it's only in for about five minutes) and then the egg cooks on its own from the heat of the pizza itself. Now, I'm a scrambled-egg girl (lightly golden brown, none of this runny nonsense) or sometimes I'll mix things up with an omlet...I wasn't particularly thrilled to see to see this half-baked "thing" running all the way around my pizza before deciding on a good spot to settle down and ooze over my toppings. At first I avoided it completely. But...believe it or not, it adds a strange richness to the flavor of the pizza that's actually quite nice. So nice that I went back for more, and more, and more...of all the pizza that I've ever had, I have to say this is really hands down the best. In the world.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Pizzeria da Baffetto
114 Via del Governo Vecchio
Rome, Italy

A few important things to note about this restaurant: One...it's cheap. Which is great!! Two...it's conveniently just around the corner from Piazza Navona. Three...hmm. I don't think I can - or want to - put this gently. Never in my life have I been treated as horribly by the staff as I was, repeatedly, here. One night, the owner - and I'm not exaggerating here - stood there and yelled at me in angry Italian for a solid three or four minutes because I dared to show up at his restaurant by myself. Yup, that's it - I decided to go out solo one evening, arrived when they opened up (and there was no crowd), and was insulted, called names, and in general belittled until he decided to throw me in the back table by the kitchen. If their pizza wasn't so darn good, I would have walked right out and never, ever looked back (and if they were in the States, he would have been fired from his own business by the time I got through). It's actually really frustrating how good their food is, given how abominable their service is.

Also be aware that it's not uncommon to place your order and not see your waiter for an hour - or two (he won't stop by to reassure you, he doesn't really care about you at all). The key to avoiding this is to get there when they open and have an early dinner. The Frigidarium gelateria, right next door, is one of my favorites in all of Rome (more on them later!). It's a great stop after pizza at Baffetto's - and they'll seem like the nicest people in the world there if you go right afterward.

June 8, 2010

Fry Bread

Before Arizona, I had never heard of fry bread, which is a sin in and of itself. Fry bread, funnel cake, and zeppole (aka "zeppies") are all essentially the same thing: deep-fried goodness topped with mountains of powdered sugar. The difference between the three is first in their appearances. Funnel cake - which I find mostly at carnivals and fairs - is squiggly and looks drizzled; fry bread is a single flat (yet poofy) surface; and zeppies - an Italian dessert - are often like oblong or triangular-looking donut holes. The more scientific differences, as I have been explained, is that funnel cake is made with a batter and fry bread and zeppies are made with a dough (zeppies are made specifically with pizza dough). All variations are delicious - light, fluffy, chewy, and just sweet enough. And ALWAYS very messy!

Where you can enjoy this:

Across the street from Cliff-Castle Lodge,
333 West Middle Verde Road
Camp Verde, Arizona

This spot in particular is around Montezuma's Castle, off on the corner of the road across from a hotel and casino. I'm told they're all throughout Arizona and the West though, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding some!

June 4, 2010

Parmesan-Encrusted Shrimp

...With lump white crab meat over angel hair in a fresh-tomato-and-basil sauce. Really, delicious. I wasn't expecting the shrimp to be fried, but they were still very good - and I have really developed a taste for crab lately, so the garnish of crab meat was perfect for me. And the sauce! When we were walking into the restaurant, we actually passed a half-empty plate that had nothing but angel hair and this sauce left on it. It looked wonderful - imagine my happy surprise to realize it came with the Parmesan-encrusted shrimp, too!!

(Details copied from post immediately below)

Where you can enjoy this:

The Grand Concourse
100 West Station Square Drive
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This is an expensive restaurant, but it's worth the money if you have a special occasion, as I did :-) The main dining hall is in a historic, renovated train station (which, as a designer, had me drooling as much as the food did) and the second dining room is right on the river and looks out over downtown Pittsburgh. If you make reservations, be sure to request one of these two main dining rooms.

Fried Calamari

Since I gave calamari a realistic try about four years ago (as opposed to a kiddish try, trying to gross out my sister, back in the day) I've loved eating it. But here's my confession: I eat calamari primarily for the dipping sauce. Marinara is my favorite (no surprises there!). It wasn't until this appetizer dish that I realized how much I enjoy calamari for itself. What was really unique about these fried calamari is they were in some sort of a light, flavorful, sweet sauce tossed with slices of candied onions, red and green peppers, and chives. The sauce (even though it was light), fried-ness, and calamari itself were also in perfect balance, which I greatly appreciate, and all in all it was a surprisingly hearty appetizer.

Where you can enjoy this:

The Grand Concourse
100 West Station Square Drive
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This is an expensive restaurant, but it's worth the money if you have a special occasion, as I did :-) The main dining hall is in a historic, renovated train station (which, as a designer, had me drooling as much as the food did) and the second dining room is right on the river and looks out over downtown Pittsburgh. If you make reservations, be sure to request one of these two main dining rooms.

June 3, 2010

Cake Decorating Class

What's a better way to combine design and food than with cake decorating?? I signed up for the a Wilton cake decorating class at Michael's - and then signed up for another one as soon as I could because it was so much fun. This was my final project cake after my second class - it's tiered! And look at those gorgeous (and delicious) royal icing flowers!! I highly recommend their classes. Though buying all of the decorating materials can get a little expensive, they're a whole lot of fun, and you learn a lot. Plus you get to eat - I mean make - a new cake each week for class!

Where to enjoy this yourself:

[Almost?] any Michael's arts and crafts store

June 2, 2010

Thin-Crust Pizza

If ever you get the chance, go to Italy. The pizza. Is amazing. Crusts so thin, they use scissors to cut a slice for you, then wrap it in paper and send you on your way...paper-thin slices of mushrooms and eggplant and any other vegetable - or meat, sliced just as thinly - you can imagine. I dream about this pizza - specifically this pizza, which had the best taste, variety, and freshest selection. I think the key is truly in the selection and preparation of the ingredients. The cut-so-thin-I-can-see-light-through-it technique really makes a difference. The flavor of, say, mushrooms wasn't at all lost, but instead simply became a more delicate flavor, which complemented the delicate crust and other layered ingredients. Nothing is competing for your attention as you take a bite...only complementing. It's also very light; this is not heavy, thick, greasy pizza you're still full from the next day (at this point, I'm disinclined to even call that sort of food pizza).

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Emanuela e Federica Tognarini
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 106 - 00186
Rome, Italy
(it's across the river from the Vatican, about five minutes from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele, and just off of Corso)
Very roughly translated (for instance, it's not a dairy) but with a map: http://www.azienderoma.it/azienda_54661/emanuela_e_federica_tognarini_snc.html

The pizza in Rome is where I started to learn to trust people. I trusted not to ask what was on the pizza - if it looked good, I ate it - and without exception, enjoyed it. From this, many otherwise-disliked flavors earned my favor (not the least of which were artichokes - how did I live for so long without them??).

June 1, 2010

BEST Chocolate Chip Pancakes

I'm not usually one for sweet breakfasts, but these pancakes are to die for. There's just something special about them - perhaps malt in the batter? - that just makes them irresistibly delicious. The crispiness on the outside perfectly complements the fluffiness on the inside. And yet, they're substantial - there's no way I could eat a whole stack unless we were there through two meals.

Where to enjoy them yourself:

The Waffle Shop
364 East College Ave
State College, Pennsylvania

If you are in the area, there is "The Waffle Shop" and also "Original Waffle Shop." They are extremely similar (used to be owned by the same people) but their menus, recipes, and prices are slightly different. For the best chocolate chip pancakes, go to the one downtown of Penn State's main campus. (The other ones have the BEST Western omelettes!) As a side note, the Waffle Shops also have INCREDIBLE waffles, but I recently came into a waffle maker of my own, so I usually like treating myself to an omelette or pancakes when I go out - but definitely try the waffles, too!! They're great at both locations.

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