Sunday, February 25, 2007


I happened to venture outside the Beltway yesterday and find myself at Wegmans Grocery Store in Hunt Valley! I first need to establish that the only reason I ever go to the grocery store is to buy dogfood for Connor, and... well, that's about the only time I ever go. So in light of the coming storm, I decided to brave the wilds of Hunt Valley and go to Wegmans.

After fighting to find a parking place amongst the behemoth SUVs, I walked into the section of the store that's the food court with wings, seafood, pizza, baked goods and Asian foods. I wasn't searching for anything special, except for something that would be comfort food during the storm.

Here's what ended up in my cart:

  • Sunday Observer Newspaper from London (at about a 3x mark-up)
  • Kerry Gold butter - another bad habit from my UK days
  • Hot loaf of garlic infused bread with cloves of garlic.
  • Half gallon of milk
  • Pint of shrimp bisque
  • Croissants for breakfast
  • Pate with truffles
  • Hobnobs with plain chocolate - yet another bad habit from the UK (one nibble and you're nobbled!)

Wegmans, oddly enough, has a British food section, and since the Brits aren't known for their stellar cuisine, you can find the traditional mushy peas, Birds custard, some Irish bread mixes and the UK equivalent of Vegemite, called Marmite.

The store was mobbed, and from what I understand from a friend I ran into there, it's always like that. It was fun to see the spectacular variety of what they sell, but the distance, combined with the crowds will make a trip out there a rare event for me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Holy Frijoles!

Dinner tonight was with four friends at Holy Frijoles in Hampden, a small (but larger than it was) Mexican restaurant that's been around for ages. It was in a teeeny storefront, but in the last couple of years, has acquired the adjacent space and added a full bar. However, the restaurant is still in the teeeny section.

First, let me say that the food and service were both great, and the price couldn't be more affordable. With five entrees, three margaritas and two lemon/limeades, the total bill was $55.00, plus tip. Pretty good! Two of us had the Caesar salad with steak, one had the nachos, one the soft tacos and the other a burrito.
We got there early because two of us had meetings, so the kitchen was super fast. Our meal came in about 10 minutes. We asked for some additional guacamole, and the server brought us about a cup of it! It was freshly made and delicious. The Caesar salads with steak were excellent and the steak was cooked perfectly - grilled on the outside and rare on the inside and the lettuces were fresh. The dressing was a little garlicky, but wonderful, nevertheless.

There were five of us, and they were hard-pressed to seat us all at one table. We had an old pew, and a bench and then a chair pulled up to the table. There were larger tables on the bar side, but they seemed to just be for the bar patrons, and the server wouldn't seat us there.

My only other small quibble is that the writing on the menu is very small and hard to read. Otherwise, it was a great evening at a great price.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Year of the PIG!

We at Pigtown Pigout are ready for a year of celebrations, the first of which was last night. Friends had a Year of the Pig dinner party at their house. When we all arrived, there was an array of wines in brown paper bags... now, we've been known to do this before on the streets, but never in a private home. It turned out that it was a wine-tasting, just to see how discerning our palates were.

K. brought a terrific starter - shrimp wrapped in bacon with horseradish, dijon and something green (perhaps spinach). The spicy heat of the horseradish was a nice counterpoint to the shrimp and bacon.

P. made me love him all the more when he brought out oyster stew! Oh. My. God! I love oyster stew but don't have it very often because it's a heart-attack in a soup-spoon! If you don't know, it's basically cream, butter, chopped celery and onions, a little Old Bay and oysters. You cook it to just below boiling and then add the oysters and cook for about one minute more. What a huge treat!

Dinner was a pork roast, because we didn't care if we ate the honouree, and risotto, carrots and green beans. All delish!

Before the chocolate shavings

I made a tiramisu for dessert and it turned out really well. I made the tiramisu in a springform pan, lining the inside with ladyfingers cut to fit the top of the pan. I basted them with the espresso so they would adhere to the rest of the dish. I could have added more coffee, but I just hate tiramisu that's got a puddle in the bottom of the dish. I went up to Trinacria yesterday morning to get the marscapone ($6.00/lb) and the Marsala wine ($9.00/bottle).

I could have used something other than Marsala, like Tia Maria or Gran Marnier but had a conversation with Mr. Rallo, of Rallo's, where the elite meet to eat, and he said that he'd not used Marsala before. (I made a small batch for him and took it to the restaurant.) I also had to go buy a mixer, since I had gotten rid of my 40+ year old Kitchen Aid Mix Master when I moved to the UK.

After the chocolate shavings

Making tiramisu is pretty simple - whip egg whites, mix yolks and sugar, add the marscapone and Marsala, add the egg whites, dip lady fingers in espresso, and layer. No cooking involved. I shaved chocolate on the top of the tiramisu, but you can dust it with cocoa. I think that the hard lady fingers work better than the soft ones. I used Aunt Enza's Tiramisu recipe from Epicurious.

The only thing you have to be careful about in any of the tiramisu recipes is adding the marsala to the egg and marscapone mixture. I have had it break. I saw a suggestion to add the Marsala to the espresso, but I like to taste marsala with the marscapone.

As for the wine tasting, we didn't like the least expensive and all loved the most expensive. There were also two identical bottles of wine, one of which we liked and one which we didn't!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pan Asian Groceries

One of my best friends just got the referral for her Chinese daughter, so I wanted to send her some Chinese thing. I hopped in the car and headed over to Route 40 and Rolling Road to H-Mart, formerly Han Ah Reum. It's in an old SuperFresh or other major grocery store on the southwest corner. Unfortunately, their website is mostly in Korean.

When you enter the store, there's the most gorgeous bakery with sweet-looking cakes and pastries. I have the feeling that they look better than they taste. They have the most incredible fresh produce. There are a lot of the fruits and veggies that I've never seen before and am not clear what I would do with them. And they're all marked in Korean, so that's not much help. One of the things I love about some of the fruits is that they are still on their stems, and don't look like they've come from a factory. Sometimes, they even have lychees, and durian, which is either the most disgusting fruit imaginable, or the best one.

As you move through the store, you'll find a Korean hotpot deli and a sushi/sashimi bar. You have to pay for these in cash on the spot, no credit cards in that section. Next up is a small salad selection with favourites like seaweed & sesame salad, kimchee and other chilled condiments. I've found fresh quail eggs for dying at Easter. They're wonderful hard-cooked and then dipped into sea salt and sesame seeds. Oh... or with creme fraiche and caviar.
H-Mart has an enormous selection of meats, including hearts, lungs, feet, tongues and blood. This is not your sanitized Whole Foods where the meat is all laid out without any nod to the fact that it was once an animal. If you're at all squeamish, like I am, you'll want to dash through this section.
They also have an extensive selection of frozen foods including the makings for an at-home dim sum dinner. Potstickers, dumplings and other little wrapped goodies are all in that section. There are also whole aisles of rice and seaweed in myriad forms. Their spice selection is excellent and priced much cheaper than McCormick.
As you round the final turn into the back corner, you will find the seafood section. There are all sorts of live fish, crabs, lobsters and sometimes even turtles. Once, I watched an elderly Asian man select a live eel. Unfortunately, he dropped it on the floor and it slithered its way into the crowd. I didn't know whether to laugh or scream.
There is also a small "department store" in H-Mart. It's full of rice cookers, specialty kitchen utensils, blankets and the obligatory Hello Kitty offerings. There are also select cosmetics, a phone card store and video shop.
The place is usually jammed and it looks like a mini-United Nations. If you want to take a quick and inexpensive trip to an exotic land, then head out to H-Mart.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow Day

Well, it's snowing up a storm here, and I got to thinking about what I like to eat when it's snowy. Right now, I am having a pasta, ground beef and tomato casserole. It's nice and hot, and even thought I am inside, it makes me feel all warm.
When it's cold, and I take my yellow lab, Connor, for a walk, I like to make a cup of cocoa when we get back. I usually take the lazy way out and make it from a mix and nuke the milk. But sometimes, mostly on the weekends, I will make it from scratch and add marshmallows.

I had that delicious pumpkin-mushroom soup the other night and that got me to thinking about soups and stews. I love a good beef stew with lots of potatoes, tomatoes and some red wine to add depth. Since it's just me, I don't cook too much, but I am a good cook and know the rules well enough to break them.

I love reading cookbooks and when I left the UK to come back to the States, a friend gave me a cookbook called Roast Chicken and Other Stories. It's recipes and stories about them, including ones on brains and other odd eats. I also got a little Penguin set of 100-page cookbooks by Elizabeth David, the gals who run River Cafe in London and Jane Grigson. They are just so much fun to read. I am personally not wild about Jamie Oliver, he just looks too sloppy. I did love Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Hell, which was WAY toned down for US TV.

I also love and their feature of putting a couple of ingredients and coming up with a recipe. I am making a tiramisu this weekend, after being inspired by the one I ate last weekend. I searched Epicurious's recipes and came up with a good one. I will let you know how it works.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sobo Cafe

Last week seemed to be a week for eating and going out - a lot! This week looks to be a little quieter. One night last week, we went to Sobo Cafe on Cross Street in Federal Hill for dinner and had a great meal and some good wine.

We got to Sobo at about 8:00 and it was pretty crowded. There were three of us and it was one of the bitter cold nights. We were placed at a table near the door, and when we asked to switch tables, one of the waitresses wasn't too happy, while at the exact same time, the other one said of course we could change tables. We had to wait a minute or two while they cleared the table, but we were much happier with the warmer location. If you've been to Sobo, it's pretty small - maybe 15 tables and the bar.

Since it was bitter cold out, I wanted something warm, so I ordered a bowl of the pumpkin-mushroom soup and the mac and cheese. The soup was spectacular... I didn't really know what it would taste like, but the pumpkin was subtle and the mushrooms gave it a meaty feeling. At the very end of the bowl, I put about a quarter of a teaspoon of my red wine into the soup, which gave it more depth. I like to play with my food. My friends ordered the pasta in a chile alfredo creme sauce and the salmon. They each also got salads. We also ordered a bottle of wine. The total bill came to $57.00, which is a very reasonable price for three.

The menu at Sobo is pretty limited and changes seasonally. Their wine list is extensive, with some good selections. Brent, the owner, is a great guy with some good ideas, including showing works from local artists at the restaurant.

My two issues with Sobo Cafe are the service, which can range from warm and friendly to downright aggressive and nasty, and the lack of an exhaust fan. Because the kitchen doesn't have a stove, just a convection oven, they're not required to have an exhaust fan. I've been there a couple of times when my eyes have watered from the smoke. This time, my coat smelled like pan-fried steak for a couple of days. My friend wouldn't even wear her coat into Sobo, despite the 15 degree weather that night.

Aside from those issues, Sobo Cafe is worth a visit for the great food. They don't have a website, so I can't link you. This picture is from a dining out website, so isn't great. Also, Brent mentioned that he might be painting the walls soon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


My god-daughter and I have been taking knitting lessons in Fells Point at A Good Yarn on Saturday afternoons, and we've been going out to lunch before the lessons. Today was our last lesson, so we went out for dessert instead.

We went from Fells Point to Little Italy, just about a mile to the west. We were headed to Vaccaro's, a small spot which only serves desserts. Of course, their specialties are all Italian, from gelato to cookies to tiramisu. Conveniently, they also hold a liquor license, so you can get some yummy coffee drinks or gelato with liquor poured over it.

J. got a "small" bowl of mint chocolate chip gelato and I got a piece of tiramisu. A friend and I had done a tasting of tiramisus in Rome a couple of years ago, and this was right up with them. I also bought an éclair for my parents, along with pignoli cookies and some almond macaroons. The éclair weighed almost a pound and is the size of a hefty submarine sandwich.

Even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon, there was a line to get a table. The place is teeeeny and parking is always a challenge, but both are worth the effort. The portions are just HUGE!!!!

Friday, February 9, 2007


Egan & Immie hanging at Rallo's

Rallo's, or as we refer to it: Where the Elite Meet to Eat (followed by a bit of a smirk) is on Fort Avenue in South Baltimore, Federal Hill or Locust Point, depending on who's giving directions.

I adore Rallo's for no other reason that every time I am there, and that would be for breakfast ever single Saturday and Sunday, I see someone I know. Sometimes, I end up there for longer than I had planned because there's a revolving cast of characters at my table.

Sure the service is a bit surly, and the food is less than gourmet. The ambiance and decor are somewhat lacking, but it's the customers who make it great. You can either snuggle into one of the booths, or take a table. You can sit reading the Sun, the New York Times or the assorted free publications for hours while they fill your coffee cup, or you can get a meal to go.

Rallo's is presided over by Mr. Vincent Rallo, the second-generation proprietor, and his lovely wife, Angie, whom we suspect is the missing Gabor sister. Rallo's has old-line foods including sour beef, chipped beef and grits, all things you won't find at the local fern/wine bar brunch.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am at Rallo's between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe I will see you there.

Baltimore Restaurant Week

Now, I am usually pretty on top of things, but Baltimore Restaurant Week nearly eluded my radar... But once we heard about it, we decided it was a good time to check out someplace we'd never been. Each restaurant featured a starter, a main and a dessert course. Drinks, tax and tips were extra. Lunches were $20.07 and dinners were $30.07.

After perusing the posted menus, we decided to try Bicycle, where I'd been before, but C. had not. Alas, they were booked solid for the week, so it was back to the menu page. C. found Brasserie Tatin and wanted to try it because they had frogs' legs on the menu. But they were on the lunch menu and we needed to go at dinnertime.

BT is located in the Tuscany-Canterbury section of Baltimore, near Johns Hopkins University and in a late 50's apartment house, where my grandmother lived at one point in the 70's. I hadn't been there since that time, and it's been through a couple of iterations since then.

The restaurant is very attractive - great colours and fabrics, hard and soft surfaces complimening each other and a subdued ambience. While I waited for C. I had a glass of prosecco, which was lovely. I got into the habit of drinking champagne when I lived in the UK, and it's a good habit to have. They have a nice wine list and a selection of dix-neuf wines for $19. (that's 19 for $19!).

Our waiter was very attentive, not too overbearing, but not ignoring us, either. We ordered different things so we could try each other's. Here's what we ordered:

Tartare au Thon : Tuna tartar, on avocado/wasabi ice
Carpaccio de Canard: Carpaccio of duck breast with orange/vanilla glaze & a warm truffle & frisee salade

Feuillettïe de Saumon Grilled: Grilled salmon on puff pastry topped with lobster mousse & beurre rouge
Steak Frites: Grilled hanger steak & French Fries and seasonal vegetables

Marjolaine Le Bec Fin: layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut buttercream & chocolate ganache Tatin's signature Tarte Tatin, served with caramel sauce, house made green apple sorbet and creme fraiche

The portions were a little smaller than usual, but everything was great. The avacado/wasabi ice was amazing. Very clear taste and lush pale green colour. I wish they had mayonaise to dip my frites into, like the do in the Netherlands and Belgium, but the waiter said they didn't have any in the kitchen (huh?).

My one issue was the parking... apparently, you can park across the street in a pay lot, but that wasn't clear. I drove by the entrance to BT twice in hopes that a valet would spring out somewhere, but that didn't happen. I had to park about two blocks away and it was bittttter cold out. They had a free coat check, which was great and much appreciated.

All in all, a fun evening for about $100.

Evelyn's Cafe

The first thing you need to know is that Pigtown is a neighbourhood in transition. It is a very mixed income place, with some desperately poor families and some new money in the new towne-homes at Camden Crossing. But for the most part, its demographic is lower-middle income. However, saying that, it is an up-and-coming area, just to the west of the two downtown stadiums and the University of Maryland Hospital and professional schools.

A couple of months ago, the long-awaited coffee shop, Evelyn's opened in the 700 block of Washington Boulevard. Just what the area needs! So, bright and early one Sunday morning, after walking Apollo, Buckley & Connor, five of us walked over to grab some coffee and a scone or muffin. Cute place, nice and bright, we could sit a spell and have a nice chat. But there were only about six seats in the whole place! Two small tables and one easy chair.

So we stood around waiting for our coffees, and waited and waited. It took 20+ minutes to make five cups of coffee and a couple of bagels. The bagels came in posh bags with handles. I love posh, but it's not necessary for my one bagel and some butter and napkins.

I assumed it was just opening jitters, so I stopped by a couple of mornings later, when I had a meeting and could walk Connor at leisure. I got a latte and bagel with butter and nearly keeled over when Evelyn told me it was $6.00. It wasn't even a large latte! I know from chef friends that the cost of a latte is less than $.50, so the mark-up is HUGE! Evelyn put the butter pats in with the bagel, under the foil, so that when I got home and unwrapped it all, the butter had melted in the wrapper and was impossible to spread. Yick!

I am all for supporting neighbourhood places, but $4.00 for a latte is a little dear. I have heard others say similar things, including being way overcharged for an order. It's insane that a cup of coffee costs the same as a sandwich.

Evelyn has a blog somewhere, which seemed pretty self-serving, and made me itch. I will give it another try, but it has to be better this time. Stay tuned.

Presenting Pigtown Pigout

Baltimore Snacker, Kitchenography and some other bloggers inspired this subsection of my Pigtown*Design blog.

It turns out that I eat out a lot more than many people, and lived with a chef for a few years, spent time in Louisiana learning to cook and did some catering. So perhaps I am kind of qualified to write about cooking and food. I am not hyper-critical, but I do know what is good and bad in a restaurant.

I think service should be prompt and polite. You should be greeted by the server and brought a menu within a few minutes of being seated, whether you seat yourself or are seated.

I think that, within reason, you should be allowed substitutions. If you want something left off a dish, that's not incorporated into the dish, the kitchen should leave it off. However, "California" ordering is not acceptable. This is when I order a Caesar Salad with Chicken, but instead of chicken, I want salmon, and instead of romaine lettuce, I want iceberg, and instead of Caesar dressing, I want Ranch. Well, that's no longer a Caesar salad, honey!

I think that prices should be reasonable for what you're getting. I think that $6.00 for a bagel and cup of coffee is a bit much - especially for Baltimore. However, a recent dinner at $57 for three, including wine, is a great price.

I think that the restaurant should be clean - and you can usually gauge this by looking at the bathrooms. If they don't care enough to clean the bathrooms, then what in the world does the kitchen look like?

I think restaurant owners should have their customers' best interests at heart, because they're the ones who are paying the price. Make sure the music's at a reasonable level. People go out to eat so they can catch up with friends, make plans with lovers, and discuss their day. If you can't hear yourself think then you can't converse. Set the lighting at a level where the majority of the patrons can read the menu without having to give them a flashlight.

Because I am currently living in Baltimore, I will mainly be writing about Baltimore-area restaurants. Bon Apetit!