Monday, October 30, 2006

Eating The Towel

Saturday night found myself and Lady G at Baltimore's Dukem Restaurant (that's pronounced "doo-kem" and not "duke-em"). It was a cold and blustery night with high winds and a crisp feel in the air - but crap was it cold.

Dukem was recommended to me by a friend who eats there all the time. It's a lot smaller than I expected and at 9pm the dining room was absolutely empty. Lady G and I were the only people there. At first I thought they were closed but the friendly hostess/owner greeted us warmly and we made ourselves at home.

I've never had Ethiopian food before. Didn't know anything about it. But a friend said it was good and that was good enough for me to give it a try. Our young waitress who hails from Addis Abbaba had good command of English but I tend to speak very colloquially and some (read:many) of the euphemisms and slangs didn't translate well and she ended up coming off a bit curt. Like when I told her I had never eaten Ethiopian food and asked her what I should try somehow that didn't translate well. Or the sizes: "Yes, they're pretty small."

Started out with some hot tea. I'm no tea expert but it was fascinatingly good. I'm sure it was relatively cheap stuff but it was a bit spicy and that was very enjoyable. Of course, Lady G asked for a bit of lemon and our waitresses responce was pure Third Wave Barista - that response of surprise and look of incredulity when someone asks to pour hazelnut syrup into that $100 per pound Brazilian Fazenda Santa Ines. I almost started to laugh.

Lady G had eaten Ethiopian before and referred to the traditional bread, the Injera, as eating a towel. The Injera is completely fascinating to me. Looks like a huge, grayish-brown, spongy crepe. Very neutral tasting at first that finishes with sour notes. Completely odd and totally different, in many ways I didn't know what to make of it.

When I'm out and trying something new, I prefer to allow the kitchen to prepare something for us. I'm adventurous, I'll try anything. But getting our waitress to recommend some dishes seemed next to impossible - although she finally recommended that we try the Dukem Special Lamb Tibs. Combine that with the prime short rib Goden Tibs and the Special Dukem Veggie Combo 1 and we were ready to try something new.

I'm no vegan but I found the veggie combo to be quite tasty. Spicy split lentil, yellow peas, greens, cabbage, shiro and potato all served on top of injera with the lamb tibs in the center and the Goden tibs on the side. Honestly, I didn't know what veggies we were eating. Most were mashed in some way, or chopped and I didn't know how to eat since the food didn't come with a knife and fork.

Okay, I hate to admit it, but I felt uncomfortable without the knife and fork. I didn't know what to do. Even though I'm Filipino and very skilled at eating with my hands, I didn't know if that kind of exercise was welcome here and had to consult with our waitress on the proper Ethiopian technique. She promptly came out with a small plate of injera and some veggie paste thing and showed us how it's done in Addis Abbaba. Just tear off a piece of injera, support with your fingers and grab whatever food you want. Note: please be sure that you grab/wrap the food with your injera and not your fingers.

Properly indoctrinated into Ethiopian grinding methodology, I went to town. The Goden was okay, nothing too stellar. Just some thick cut short ribs marinated and then grilled. The meat was pretty tough and I think if they braised it, it would have been incredible. Like I said, the veggies were good. Some spicy, others acidy, but a good accompaniment.

The Lamb Tibs were fantastic. Marinated and cooked so the outside of the meat was slightly crisp. It was heavenly. I tore it up.

In the end, that was it. No dessert. The food was way too much for Lady G and I - even though our waitress assured us the servings were small. Maybe compared to Macaroni Grill. Whatever the case, there was enough food leftover to fill two takeout containers. Being that we were in the city out and about, I started thinking that maybe a sojourn to Vaccaro's in Little Italy for some cannoli might be in order, but Lady G had some other dessert in mind.....

Oh la, la!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The $288K Home for $365K

For the past year I've been bullish on the Las Vegas housing market. Perhaps it was just geniune optimism or perhaps it was market ignorance but I was bullish. The point of laying down some earnest money for a new home.

It's been a fascinating experience, and one that I've tried very hard to remain objective, but it's exciting to build your own home, pick and choose all the fixtures and options. In the end, I'd like to think that I built a very nice home that splurged on what mattered, i.e. ubatuba granite counters, deep maple cabinets, picket rail stairs, 16" clay tile, concrete driveway pavers, 9' ceilings, super master bath and a covered patio.

I toured the house back in June. It was nearly completed. It looked great and I was a bit disappointed that my tenants were going to be the ones enjoying my optional open den/workspace and not me. Of course, if I had lived in the house, I would have installed a casino grade craps table because it's Vegas and I wanted to practice for the World Series of Craps (whenever that would happen).

One thing that wigs me out about West Coast Living is the proximity to your neighbors. I mean, the large bay window next to the jacuzzi tub is very cool, but with your neighbor's house ten feet away, it's a bit unnerving. However, it goes without saying that had I lived in the house, my neighbor would at some point come up to me, congratulating me because of the ever-changing parade of women going through the house and my prowess as a physical champion (as evidenced through the bay window next to the jacuzzi tub). Without a doubt, I would remain humble in my victory and console my neighbor in his marriage and lack of sex life.

I digress.

All in all, the house was going to cost me $365,000 - or, if you looked at the Truth In Lending Statement, $1.5 million over thirty years. Holy crap - one point five million??? Gee, how many 21 year old female "companions" could I buy for that much money? Six thousand - to be exact, which would take me 16.4 years if I had one per day.

Oh, fantasies.

So what happened to the house? I ejected from the deal back in September when I finally realized that I no longer had confidence in the housing market and good timing too.

Today I looked up the price of the house I would have bought and it had fallen to $288K.

So much for the World Series of Craps...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

R&R at The Ram's Head

After my brief sojourn to Caffe Pronto in Annapolis yesterday, I called my dear old friend R., who does black ops for the Erlich Administration, to see if she had time to catch up and eat. It's two weeks from the hotly contested race for Maryland governor and she's forehead-deep into whatever they do to get re-elected and keep their jobs, but she made some time to see an old friend for a fifteen minute meal before jetting off to some other secret agenda. Just like old times, except for the three beefy guys in dark suits and menacing bulges of automatic weapons under their jackets.

How about Macaroni Grill?
After last Monday, I didn't know how to respond to that.
Well, how about someplace different?, I offered.
Let's meet at Ram's Head.

The Ram's Head Tavern. It's an Annapolis institution. And a damn nice music venue. And the place I met that other R who I spent two and a half years chasing. Not the best of memories.

But I can put my romantic pain and misery behind me. Forget about the longing and hurt. I've had a month and a half to recover and refocus. I'm okay now. I'm okay to eat at Ram's Head without all the memories flooding back.

I feel a tingle.

Perhaps that's because I elected to wear shorts today and it's 34 degrees out.

Walk into the Ram's Head and it's a true taste of Maryland. Everyone is sporting "the uniform" of khakis, brown shoes, button down and maybe a tie. Everyone looks and dresses the same. If you've ever seen the movie Wedding Crashers, that's exactly what I mean. And coming from a prep school background, it almost makes me want to puke because I got out of high school so I wouldn't have to dress like I did in high school.

The owners of the Ram's Head also own Fordham Micro Brewery. The brewery adjoins the restaurant/bar/venue and I'm feeling interested in trying a beer. Give me the Oktoberfest. Too bad it's too cold to sit outside in the courtyard because I've got a hot nut for the PG Belicoso Maduro cigar sitting in my pocket.

Anyway, let's cut to the chase. This is about the food and the food is, well, "pub food." Nothing to get excited about or write home to mamma. Started out with the beer battered onion rings which were quite good. Very good, in fact. But it was one of those nights where I was in the mood for more fried foods and decided that I would start with the rings and then progress into the Steak Chili with all the "fixings" and a side of fries. R ordered the crab cake with rice.

The chili sounded promising, but that was about it. The "fixings" were more cheese, jalapenos, tortilla chips - basically crappy filler for an extra buck fifty. It's a shame too because I suspect the chili could have been much better without all that stuff.

The real down point came with the fries. I don't understand what possesses humans to bludgeon and violate something so natural and so perfect as the french fried potato. Too many places use that shitty frozen batter dipped french fries and Ram's Head is one of those places. And they came out on the cold side. Jesus, can you help me please? This abomination should be outlawed.

R's crab cake looked decent. She didn't finish it but she did take it home so it probably wasn't too bad. For dessert, we split a chocolate cake. Not too bad, I liked the choc chips on the outside layer.

In the end, the food wasn't very good. But I suspect that it's good enough for most of their usual patrons - especially if you're consuming a pitcher or four of their brewskis.

Next time I'll stick with their Fish and Chips.

Sins from the Dark Confessional


That's the word. Stoked.

That's exactly how I feel at the moment.

In the galaxy that is quality coffee, our little shop is at the point farthest from the bright center. We're in the outland. The far flung planets. The Outer Rim. The Border Planets. The Hind End of Space. Tattooine.

Because of this, every blue moon we have some supply line problems. Deliveries from the Center of the Universe take a bit longer than anticipated and we run dangerously low on coffee. And maybe one time out of fifty, we actually run out of coffee and must source coffee locally. It's not something to be proud of but it does happen.

For the past sixteen hours we've been serving what I consider to be Elegant Dreck. Coffee of questionable lineage and dubious origin. And just a small amount of coffee at that, meaning that we've stretched things a bit. Slightly lower on the TDS levels, different brewing techniques. Longer than optimal holding times. It's been a horrific day and a half.

Imagine running out of your daily coffee, as well as your decaf and espresso coffees. That's the nightmare. Compound that with turning to the local roaster who's not quite up to the level you desire and that's the reality. It's been so bad that I haven't drank the coffee and I've been encouraging our customers to try something different - something that will mask the odd taste of the coffee. A little raspberry and white chocolate syrup? A lot, perhaps?

It was so bad that I made the hour-long trek down to Caffe Pronto in Annapolis to source a five pound bag of their Espresso Vincente. I have to say, it's a beautiful and tasty espresso - and one that I'm not ashamed to serve to our customers.

The FedEx website said to expect delivery by 4:30pm tomorrow. Crap. That's a long time to wait for coffee. Screwed.

You can't imagine the elation I experienced as the FedEx guy came rolling up the elevator with our eighty pounds of glory from Hines Public Market Coffee.

It was almost as good as being told by the Magic 8-Ball that four girls are currently in love/desire with me...


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Falling In Love at the Bistrot du Coin

Like I kind of said in the last post, it's all about the company that makes an outing a special event. Last year I had the possibility of eating solo at The French Laundry. For sure that would have been an incredible meal but I would have enjoyed it alone and that's not much fun at all.

Seems that this month is the month of birthdays and last Saturday night found a large group of friends (some I knew, others I didn't) jammed into the upstairs dining area at Washington D.C.'s Bistrot du Coin. Evidently, the Bistrot is jammed all week long. It's on the 1700 block of Connecticut, just above DuPont Circle, which means that it's a serious pain in the ass for a suburban living, automobile-driving sucker like myself. The weekend before we were eating at my favorite joint, Brasserie Les Halles when Michelle suggested trying their (hers and Christian's) favorite: du Coin. And there we were.

Bistrot du Coin is a bit of a departure from Les Halles. It's brighter, louder and definitely more packed than Les Halles, which is a minus in my book. You can smoke at the bar but there's no tables for smoking (advantage: Les Halles) and while they do have Foie Gras (advantage: Bistrot) and a wide variety of mussels (advantage: Bistrot), it's just not the same, nor is it a replacement for me (advantage: Les Halles).

But let's talk about the food. Simply, it's deelish! While it is a bit disappionting to see the bread precut, placed in baskets and jammed into a bread pantry for ease of use, the butter was soft when it came to the table and that's a lovely thing. It amazes me how many nice restaurants we go to and the butter is hard as a rock. Then you try cutting and spreading it and it's just this clumpy mess that doesn't mix well with the palate. I'm hoping that this was intentional on the part of du Coin and not just happenstance.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the meal (other than the girl, details to follow) was the foie gras. Perfect thickness to show off the delicate nature of the liver, it was just heavenly. Paired with some greens and a small glass of sauternes and it's waaay better than Les Halles foie.

The onglet and shallots was interesting. Too much black pepper on the meat for my tastes but it was cooked just right and the roasted shallots made for a tantalizing accompaniment. But not as tantalizing as my dinner companion, Vanessa - the Chinese girl from L.A. pursuing an MBA who strangely reminds me of a snowflake-y, Jennifer Tilly-esque looking sensation, eating mussels in a white wine sauce and sharing it with those around her.

It's true, I try to be an objective observer but I'm a flawed human who succumbs to his weaknesses: food and women. I can no longer offer an objective opinion on whether or not the mussels were truly good. Perhaps they were cooked just right, with the perfect amount of wine, butter, veggies and whatever else goes into that pot, or perhaps they were just being shared by the sensation to my left. Personally, I think it was the latter.

BTW, the mussels were smashing.

Los Italianos - Suburbs From Hell, Part 2

Dateline: Monday Night.

It's The Rod's birthday and we're at the local Macaroni Grill and I don't understand why.

Baltimore's a town that can be hard to find some good ethnic foods, but good Italian food is not one of them. Just a quick shot down I-83 to Little Italy and some of the city's best Italian can be had at places like Boccacio's or La Scala. Even in the hellish suburban enclave of Timonium, in the shopping center behind Jay's Shave Ice, one can find a group of Neopolitans working behind the counter and producing some tasty and authentic Italian cuisine at the oddly-named Pasta Blitz

With such a plethora of great Italian going on I'm continually perplexed as to why suburbia refuses to take a short drive for some excellent food instead of an hour's wait outside a national corporate chain restaurant with a penchant for bland dishes and vacuum bagged sauces and pre-portioned foods. Even more perlexing is why this group of friends are choosing that same national chain over the good stuff when they too know where to find the good stuff.

But I try to be an affable chap and since Macaroni Grill is pretty close to my house, I didn't raise a concern. Perhaps I'll be surprised and head off to meet everyone for our 8pm seating.

It's a Monday night so the dining room is slow. For me, there's no better time to head out into the restaurant scene than during the week. The dining rooms are slow which means that a good kitchen can take more time preparing their dishes properly and you generally receive better service and food. Otherwise, you're going out to eat during the weekend with everyone and their mother, smushed into position on a two-top, surrounded by a gaggle of amateurs who don't know what to order off the menu but want everything NOW. Not the ideal way to enjoy an outing, if you ask me.

Our waitress was nice enough, she took care of things and was generally friendly. Started out with some appetizers that everyone shared. There was the ubiquitous Fried Calamari with a light batter and generally uninspired red dipping sauce. Our uncle had some mussels, which he didn't share but they looked kinda interesting. And I had an order of the minestrone soup. I ordered the "cup" size which came out in a frickin' huge bowl. I was shocked, but grateful that I didn't order the "bowl." The soup could have been quite enjoyable. If it was served hot. Instead it was limp, lifeless and tepid.

For the main course, I ordered the Penne Rustica. Penne pasta with shrimp, sliced chicken and a cream sauce, covered in cheese and crusted under a salamander. Mine came out hot and actually pretty darn tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Finally, something worth eating at Macaroni Grill.

Everyone else ordered some sort of pasta dish and the serving sizes are just ridiculous. Who can eat all that food? It's just dumb. I chowed the shrimp and chicken and left a small pile of penne.

All in all, it wasn't the worst dining experience. The penne made it decent and the company made it a fun outing, which is what really matters because it's lonely to eat fantastic food all by yourself.

Still, I'm harboring desires of dinner at La Scala sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lechon In The Suburbs From Hell

I'm Filipino.

It's true. I really am.

Because I've lived in Honolulu and because I started Jay's Shave Ice, many people think I'm "Hawaiian." Understandable, but I'm not.

Day in and day out, friends and people I know constantly ask me to open more food places because they too want to eat something beyond the typical national chain restaurants and fast food outlets that comprise this suburban hell known as Baltimore County. It's a horrible way to live. I mean, I sit around all day long trying to figure out where to eat something tasty and delicious that wasn't cryo-vac-packed by the corporate kitchen somewhere in Middle America, trucked in frozen boxes, sent to the restaurant by Sysco and reheated in the steamer by some cooking school hopeful who takes ladlefuls of alfredo sauce and sloshes it in a saute pan with some penne and sliced grilled chicken.

The problem is that it takes a herculean effort to open any sort of business, much less one that's food related. I know, you want a place where you can order a Chicken Katsu Curry plate just like L&L back home in Honolulu, I want a place to eat serious Japanese-style ramen at 3am, but if you're waiting for me to build it, it ain't happening. I cannot afford to go out and start a new company simply because I'm hungry for something unavailable in the Baltimore Metro Area.

Thank God for other people who are interested in pursuing serious ethnic food. This morning I stopped by the local 7-Eleven owned by Wilma, the Filipino lady, to pick up a couple gallons of milk because we're running short at the shop and I cannot afford to run out of milk. While there, I spy a little green brochure with the promise of Filipino Food next door at Tako Seafood Market.

This can't be real. This is Timonium. And everyone knows there's no good ethnic food in Timonium. Okay, outside of Jay's Shave Ice, there's no serious ethnic food in Timonium.

Filipino Food is an interesting anomaly in the restaurant world. It's a misunderstood category. No one really knows what Filipino food is all about and that's a shame. It's not the firery spices of Thai cuisine, or the succulence of lamb curry and naan that is Indian, or the delicate harmony of sushi that is Japanese. Of course, it isn't bastardized into something that no longer resembles anything traditional, like General Tso's Chicken that is suspiciously posing as "Chinese."

Filipino food is wide and varied, and like it's people, the cuisine absorbs influences from the SouthEast Asian region that it comes from. There's kilawin tanigue, that spicy raw fish concoction that mimics Spanish ceviche, to the down-home traditional adobo, a chicken and/or pork dish sauteed in garlic, oil, vinegar and soy sauce - with a little bay leaf and black pepper thrown in for good measure. The cuisine is much more sublime and subdued than the rest of Asia, but once you get to know it, it's heaven. It's comfort food defined.

So, after a long day of working behind the bar slinging coffee for a living, I decided to give this place a try. Turns out the owner, Jojo, is the brother of Wilma who owns the 7-Eleven next door. The menu is simple. Just printed on an inkjet. The offerings are limited. The experience is True Filipino. Just some guys hanging out, waiting to cook you up some food. Today's special was Lechon Kawali, should be known as the "heart attack special." Roasted pork belly that's cubed and then deep fried 'til crispy. I had to order that. Add a small order of Pork Adobo and Pancit Bihon, a quick fried dish of vermicelli rice noodles, chicken broth, veggies and some sliced shrimp and I was out the door and on the way home to where I knew a cooker of rice was chugging on it's way.

Let me state upfront that taking the Kawali home in a styro container is no way to treat this fine treat. It deserves to be eaten hot. Eaten right away. With San Miguel Beer. But reality is reality and I want to eat this with rice dammit!

How was the food? Delicious. The Kawali was everything I hoped for. Fried just right so it's barely oily. Jojo also gave me some lumpiang isda, strips of tuna wrapped in lumpia wrappers then deep-fried. Deelish. The Adobo was money. Just the right balance of soy sauce and vinegar. The only stumble was the pancit. The dish was on the dry side which left it wanting for flavor. Oh well, three out of four is great - especially in suburban hell.

The sad part of all this is that I must limit myself to one visit a month if I want to avoid a heart attack.

Calls From The Morning Rush

Dateline: Typical Weekday, 8:47am

"Spro Coffee Towson."
"Yes, this is Daniel from Excelsior Merchant Services is the owner available?"
"Do you accept credit cards? Because we're ready to offer you great rates..."
"Do you know what company you're calling?"
"Yes, Sapporo Coffee."
"Do you know what time it is?"
"And do you know what we do?"
"Yes, coffee."

This usually results with me slamming down the phone on its' cradle for effect.

I've opened a new shop in Towson called Spro Coffee, even went so far as to call Verizon for a new phone line to process credit cards. I haven't released the number to the public so the only people that call are merchant services soliciting business. I've learned that most of these merchant services don't want to talk to a shop owned by a corporation so when they do call on the off-hours, I tell them that we're corporate owned (which we are) and they usually hang up.

I've decided though that as long as they are going to call, I'm going to challenge them. Give me a rate of 1.19%, swipe fee under fifteen cents and no monthly fee and I'll give you a listen.

So call now, I'm standing by.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dans la Merde

Today began rather nicely. Woke up early, had time to lounge around the house a bit and even had a little extra time to stop by Wolford's and try their French Toast (nice!).

Things progessively went downhill from there.

Got to the shop only to find some early arrivals. Regulars. Who came early today. The drinks they ordered aren't difficult to make, except when you've just walked in and still need to prepare your mise, get the morning brew up and running and attend to the big delivery that just walked in the door.

From smooth sailing into the merde - fast.


The problem with getting into the "weeds" is that it builds from there. Every little setback or misstep compounding on each other until you're so deep into it that recovery seems impossible. Everything is off. The grind. The tamp. The pull. The technique. It attacks your psyche and that's the worst part because that's the only thing holding it together. The only choice left is just to plow through it, try to work it out and hope you can pull back into the groove.

Until then, I'm screwed.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Frakking Starbuck

I know what you coffee people are thinking, but that's not it!

When the RagTag Fleet jumped away from New Caprica leaving the Colonials to fend for themselves against the Cylon Occupation, I was left feeling a bit betrayed and a bit unenthusiastic about the Third Season of Battlestar Galactica. This wasn't the "Holy Frak, Sharon shot Adama!!!!" ending of the First Season, or the "Holy Frak, Adama's going to duke it out with the Battlestar Pegasus" ending of the Second Season Midseason Break, it was just kind of, well, disappointing and I wasn't losing my mind that I would have to wait until October to see what happened.

But tomorrow has finally come and tomorrow, Friday, October 6th is the premiere of Battlestar Galactica Season Three and I'm frakkin' pumped! I told K that I'm busy Friday and cannot be disturbed. It's just me, the TV and BSG.

Oh, I can't wait!

Tasty "Taste"

Finally found myself at Taste Restaurant in Baltimore's Belvedere Square last night. Been wanting to check it out for several weeks now and headed down there with The Affable Dave.

The interior decor is modern with an edge. Large Manila ropes are draped across the main dining room with pendulum-style halogen lighting amongst a red theme. Red is predominant throughout from the red upholstered chairs to the walls to garishly painted red bathrooms. The split-level floors are done in rich wood amidst a showcase kitchen and a sexy-looking glass wine room.

There's outdoor seating and a spacious bar area and they even have a cigar humidor, which could be an interesting development for our fun-loving, capricious and cigar chomping crew.

What can I say about the food? It was solid. Probably one of the most solid restaurant meals I've had in a long time. Nothing extraordinary or mind-blowing. Just solid cooking and solid food. I had a delicious Shrimp and Grits appetizer that featured slightly runny grits with chopped tomatoes and decent sized shrimp (I'm guessing U-20). The Affable Dave had the soup of the day (split pea) that he said was good but a bit on the cool side, fried oysters as an appetizer (lightly breaded and light but tasty) and the Pork Chop as his entree. My entree was the Veal Anna - lightly breaded and fried veal served on mashed potatoes with three Old Bay seasoned steamed shrimp. Again, nothing mind blowing, just solid, tasty food.

Our server suggested pairing the meal with a 2004 Mark West Pinot Noir - a light and fruity wine that matched the food tastefully. And since Wednesday night is "Half Price Wine Night", it was even more delightful. That $38 bottle of wine was notched down to $19.

While our server was on the money, the only misstep of the evening came when another server (one with dreadlocks pulled back) came to deliver food to our table. I inquired if they welcomed cigar smoking at the bar (since the bar has a cigar humidor) and he came back with a dumb look and a dumb response. Note to the Chef: fire that guy or get him into some serious training - he needs help and is a poor reflection on the restaurant.

My personal misstep came with dessert. I should have stopped after the entree. It was deliciously satisfying but I ignored my heart and continued into dessert. Not to say that dessert was bad, just that I was satiatied and didn't need to continue. I ordered the Fried Apple Fritters which is basically a peeled and cored Granny Smith Apple dipped in tempura batter, fried and served with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon powder. It was a good effort but the apple is just too darned big. When I had small bites of the apple with the batter and ice cream, it was dreamy. But you had to battle with this big apple and it was just unsatisfying.

I would have prefered to pair my dessert with a good coffee but upon inquiring which roaster they used, I declined. It is such a shame that any chef who takes their food this seriously just chooses crappy coffee to end their meals. It's a tragedy.

Overall, my impression of Taste is "solid." Just solid cooking making solid food. Good stuff and I think I'll explore the menu further in the coming months.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Just A Little Bit "Local"

Les Halles.
Charlie Palmer's.
Imanas Tei.

I realize to the uninitiated it probably seems that I live a charmed life of good food, good wine, incredible cigars and great coffee. And, at times, it certainly seems that way. Unfortunately, the cold reality is that I live a pretty mundane existence in the suburbs - and while I do have the opportunity of living in Maryland's "Hunt Country," it's still a bland suburbia of big box stores and chain eateries. And lately, my days are spent eating out-of-date, leftover cold sandwiches and salads that we didn't move the day before.

Since I used to live in Honolulu, I've always held dear what we called "local food." That unique mish-mash of ethnic cuisines into one, diverse gustatory experience. There's nothing like that here in Maryland so any opportunity for "local food" is always a treat.

Went over to K's house last night for some local grinds. She's got a new townhouse in Perry Hall - not too far from the mall and not too far from IKEA. It's a nice place in a nice neighborhood and like any 20something, she's in the midst of trying to decide on colors, furniture and how to assemble her new gas grill for the housewarming party next weekend.

I don't know what the name of what she made is exactly - something like "somen salad" or something along those lines. It's a simple dish of cold somen noodles in a casserole, layered with shredded lettuce (preferably romaine instead of iceberg for my genteel tastes), scrambled egg (cooked like a flat omelette and julienned), ham (julienned) and the secret ingredient: kamaboko.

What is this kamaboko, you say? You've probably seen it before. Basically it's mashed and processed white fish that's cooked and extruded into "D" shape with a red or pink top layer, attached to a wood plank - think little Hello Kitty pink quonset hut and you've got the gist of it.

The Kamaboko is julienned and layered at the topmost layer and when you look at the finished dish, it's a colorful, if slightly odd-looking meal that demands a knife if you haven't greased the somen noodles with some sort of oil because it's clumping together. At the time, I thought that olive oil would do the trick a la Italian cooking but upon thinking about it now, it has to be sesame oil to complement the flavors.

Once you've scooped up your portion it's time to add the dressing - a mixture of shoyu, ginger, sesame oil and other ingredients to make a proper "asian" dressing (whatever that means). Toss it all together and grind it hard with chopsticks (grind meaning "to eat" and not grind the salad into a paste) and you're good to go.

How was it? Tasty and deelish. Reminds me of holiday picnics with friends at Ala Moana Beach Park. Good times. Now if I can only make it home before 2am so I'm not wasted the next day for work at 6am things would be even better.

Oh well, I've got an out-of-date ham sandwich waiting for me in the fridge today....