Thursday, October 30, 2014

Restaurant Revisits

This fall, we've found ourselves revisiting a lot of restaurants that we went to, first, to review.

The end result? A bunch of good meals and crappy pictures. Here's the rundown:

In mid-September, the night before my mom's birthday, we were in Annapolis, so we went to VIN 909 with our friends Suzanne and Clancy.

VIN 909 was one of the first restaurants Cooper and I reviewed for The Sun; we liked it a lot. The wine is interesting and pizzas and small plates were very good.

The same was true the second time around. The wait, I will admit, was crazy long (Suzanne and I left the boys at the restaurant, went to the HERE opening party, then came back, so we were efficient.) But the food was worth it. Among other things, we loved the foie and peach pizza, summery clams, and a simple but delicious crab roll.

The following week, we grabbed a quick pre-back to school night dinner at Villagio Cafe, another spot we liked very much the first time around. The people behind the restaurant made me love them even more, too, when they sent me a thank you note following my review! They took the gentle criticisms I did include to heart and made some changes, too (no more plastic silverware). I was both flattered and impressed - thank you notes are just the best.

We were in a bit of a hurry, so we kept dinner simple - just kabobs - but they were really good. Not that that's a surprise.

A couple weeks later, we had a big day. That night, one of the guys who works with Cooper was getting married so, in the morning, we dropped Dixon off at Cooper's parents and headed over to CVP for lunch.

When we reviewed CVP, it had just reopened after a devastating fire, followed by a complete renovation. Having been there before the fire, we were pretty amazed by how great the place looked - and by how genuinely good the food was. Bar food, but still, good bar food.

Our main complaints, during that visit, were the service (slooooow) and the major f-bombs dropped, via music, at 7 p.m., long before the crowd was all old enough to handle the language.

This time around, we were there before noon...and the music was still a little suspect. But the burgers were good, as were the black and bleu chips (housemade Old Bay chips topped with blue cheese). And, since we a) sat at the bar and b) were the only people there, the service was good, too.

We've actually been back to CVP a few times since that first review...and it's consistent.

That night, just before the wedding, we stopped in at Facci for a quick drink (we were early). The restaurant looks great, as ever, and the staff was super friendly. We didn't eat...but if we had, I'm sure the meal would've been as good as it was the first time we went. When it was very good.

Then we went to the wedding, which was lovely, and we headed back home. As we walked to the car, we got a text from Alicia and Mike, who were on their way home from a different wedding. "We're going to Ryan's Daughter," they said. "Meet us there."

Then this happened:

"Upping our Irishness." That's what Alicia calls it, anyway. Good times. Funny stuff.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Peak Food

This New Yorker article, by British writer John Lanchester, is so good. It's personal and thoughtful and - most importantly for me - touches on something I find myself thinking about a lot. That something is the way food culture has saturated every other part of culture.

It's not a new subject - I blogged about my own fatigue with "foodie" culture way back in 2007. Reading that post, in retrospect, is interesting - especially since at that point, I was just starting to dip my toe in the game of for-real food journalism. And because in 2007, the overwhelming "everyone's a critic" movement was in its infancy.

Fortunately, seven years ago, when I was wondering if I was over food...well, I wasn't. And that's because, of course, food, as a subject, is full of depth. I love this quote from Lanchester:
The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be.
I'd go further, of course. Lanchester talks a lot about what food used to be (where we come from) and what it is now (where we're going) - and I agree with him. I think he's correct, both on a personal and societal level. When I write about restaurants, I'm also writing about Baltimore, and cities in general. Now, when I sit down to write a review, I'm not so full of myself (usually?) that I think in grandiose terms. I'm more like "what do people want to know about the service." But underneath all that, especially looking across articles, over time, there's more.

But, as Lanchester points out, food is, ultimately, just food. I love this:
Imagine that you die and go to Heaven and stand in front of a jury made up of Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your task would be to compose yourself, look them in the eye, and say, “I was all about fresh, local, and seasonal.”
That made me nod and also laugh a little.

Anyway, read the article. It's so worth the couple minutes it'll take.

P.S. The title of this post comes from the article. Lanchester notes that he thought that culturally, we'd reached "peak food" way back in the mid-90s. He was, as he notes, wrong.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chesapeake Reads

I always get a little thrill when I read something about the Chesapeake Bay - or someplace Bay-adjacent - in the national press. This month has been a good one for that.

First, in the November issue of Food and Wine, there's a solid article about Bay oysters and the Croxton family's work, through their family business, Rappahannock Oyster Company, to revitalize the local oyster industry. The article's not online yet, which is a shame - it's good, though I had a couple quibbles.

The article does makes it sound like the Croxtons are solely responsible for the resurgence; while they are important figures, that gives short shrift to other players. Also, there's no mention of Maryland in the article - ah, clearly an oversight? We have oysters, too! And, finally, there's a rockfish recipe included but no notes indicating that Bay rockfish are stripers in other parts of the country. That gets confusing for some people.


A couple articles in the most recent Garden and Gun also caught my attention. I loved reading about the Leakes, a father and son team in South Carolina, who build custom cellarets, which are like little wooden bar boxes on legs.

The cellarets are gorgeous - and have Chesapeake roots themselves. The designs the Leakes recreate were originally popular during the 18th century, especially on the coast, from Maryland down through the Carolinas.

Right now, we divide our booze between an antique sugar chest (upstairs) and the wine cellar (downstairs). Oh, and the freezers (upstairs and downstairs). But I would happily make room for a cellaret, as well. It's about history, after all.


The same issue of G and G spotlights Jim Banagan, a St. Mary's County native who's spent his life collecting oyster cans. He's in his eighties now and his collection is upwards of three thousand cans - and he continues to buy and sell (he's also branched out in clam cans).

I love old oyster cans partly because they look cool - Harris Crab House does a great job decorating with them - and partly because they're a prop that illustrates a big chunk of the history of Maryland. The article does a nice job summarizing the way oysters and canning intersected here - it's succinct and informative.

And Jim Banagan? He just seems like a good guy. With a great collection.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trendy: Sidewinder Fries (with a side of Fieri sauce)

In Canton, Silks is doing it.

Downtown, Guy Fieri also does it.

What more could you want?

As a side note, I think it's great that Richard Gorelick avoided the urge to lay down the snark - any snark, really - in his review of Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar. He defends his choice to be sincere, saying"you'd have to have a heart of stone not to respond, on some level, to its good cheer and basic American enthusiasm."

I think this is the right approach. From a restaurant perspective, Fieri is such low-hanging fruit. I'll admit, I laughed when I read Pete Wells' NYT takedown of the Fieri's Times Square restaurant - but I also cringed. Pete Wells was clearly not the audience for that place and he knew it. He reviewed so he could mock.

Yes, as a public figure - especially one with such a very, very clearly branded image - Fieri opens himself up to mockery. I get that his public persona can be grating. But he means well - that much is obvious.

So I'm glad to hear he makes a good burger and trains a friendly, knowledgeable waitress. Annoying catchphrases or no, I'd rather see him succeed than fail. This is America, after all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vegetables Are So Fetch

And by "so fetch," I mean that somebody is really trying to make them happen.

Exhibit A: This article in today's WaPo, in which the author talks to Jose Andres about his new vegetable-oriented restaurants. It also dishes up a side (ha ha) of other recent veggie victories and openings.

Exhibits B and C: This post and this post, which I wrote way back in 2013. In the food world, veg-love is not exactly new.

So that's why I chuckled when I saw this morning's Post article. It's title? "Vegetables: Are they the new bacon? Jose Andres and other chefs think so." I don't doubt Andres' commitment to the veggie revolution is real - and valuable. Vegetables are good for us - and definitely better than bacon.

But let's get real, here. They're not bacon. They're not gonna be bacon. Bacon will remain bacon. There is, most likely, a biological reason for that. (If I was a more committed blogger, I'd totally find a journal article or two to prove that. Sorry.)

Look, I get that bacon has gotten too much press over the past few years. And that even the most gorgeous, crispy piece is not nearly as sophisticated as a single, perfect, locally-grown carrot. But come on. A plate of Brussels sprouts is just never going to be good as a plate full of pig. It's just not.

Thursday, October 09, 2014


My sister just sent me a link to this NYT article about what kids around the world eat for breakfast. That it's different everywhere is not really a surprise, of course. It's also not a surprise that breakfast looks gorgeous when it's in little bowls and shot from above.

You know what is a surprise, though? That kids in Amsterdam are hoodwinking their parents into serving them chocolate-topped bread every morning:

Good job, kids in Amsterdam. Good job.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Birthday Babies

I am so behind in posts. Trust me, I'm feeling the anxiety, as I look at the photos I haven't shared and the recipes I haven't written about.

But it's been a busy few weeks - not least because we had back to back birthday weekends. First, my mom turned 65 and we celebrated by throwing a small party for her, at her house. My brother and sister and I collaborated (with help, of course, from Cooper, Clark and Cail), making way, way too much food and having a lot of fun.

Then, this past Monday, Dixon turned eight. Over the weekend, we had two parties - a boys-only get-together featuring a video game truck, lots of pizza, and a boatload of Nerf weaponry, followed by a tamer Sunday party with our little group of friends and a lot of cheeseburgers.

The parties:
Clockwise, starting at the top left: My brother's perfectly cooked tenderloin (#nofilter!!!); Dixon just before school on Monday morning; Cail's very simple, very delicious crab; the inside of the video game bus; the singing of happy birthday; a monster antipasto platter; Erin's homemade cheese straws at my mom's, 

At my mom's party, we started with a cocktail, dubbed "The Medicare Eligibility Elixir" - it was a combination of vodka, sparkling clementine juice, ginger beer and pomegranate juice. To eat, we had the crab, antipasto platter (lots of hearts of palm, which we all love), cheese and crackers, cheese straws, heart of palm dip, and parmesan and celery stuffed dates. THEN we had cider-braised pork with caramelized onions and Cooper's barbecue sauce, Tom's grilled tenderloin, Cail's garlicky mashed potatoes and a really bright cucumber and cabbage slaw by Erin.

At Dixon's party, the menu was not quite as fancy. Pizza from Pizans and some chips. 

They were equally well-received.

And of course, at both parties, there was cake:

For my mom, my sister made a chocolate hazelnut cake with buttercream frosting, topped with candied hazelnuts (Hazelnut and chocolate are my mom's go-to flavors. If she had a blog, it would be called Chocolate and Hazelnuts.) It was awesome, both flavor-wise and texturally.

For Dixon's birthday, he and Alicia collaborated on the main cake - for the fifth year in a row! This year's extravaganza was a camo cake made using Duff's cake mix (which I made), with buttercream frosting and silver sprinkles, topped with a giant Xbox controller made out of rice krispie treats and covered in fondant. It was impressive.

For Dixon's party #2 - the Sunday friends and family celebration - AKB made vanilla bean cupcakes with buttercream frosting topped with purple Ravens sprinkles. Some of her best work yet.

Two big weekends, back to back, can be exhausting. And it's not over yet! Yesterday was Cail's birthday and next Monday is Cooper's mom's. It's birthday season chez Pollard. Good thing we always have room for cake.


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