Thursday, March 22, 2007

Little Havana

Since the weather was so glorious this afternoon/evening, a group of us headed over to Little Havana to have a cocktail or three on the deck. There was a revolving cast of characters, but the base number was about six, so we got a picnic table.

I started out with a double mojito, unfortunately not made by "my" bartender, Mark, who was eating dinner and not on shift yet. It was wonderful to start the season with a mojito. I just tried the Orbit mojito-flavoured gum, which was strange, so a real one was much better.

Little Havana has specials during the week - the half price kind! Tonight, they had the most incredible looking crabcake sandwiches, with lumps of gorgeous white crab. Personally, I am allergic to crab, so I didn't partake. I wasn't all that hungry, so I just ate W's sweet potato fries, liberally dusted with Old Bay. W, by the way, ordered two crabcake sandwiches. After all, they were only $5.00 (no, that's not a typo!) each. They were garnished with raw onions, tomato and lettuce and on a kaiser roll.

The service was excellent, even though the place was mobbed. Most everyone got beers - and they have a good selection - and one person got a pitcher of margaritas for $5.00. So, the upshot was dinner for six, plus drinks, for a whopping $57.00.

This is the launch of the Downtown Sailing Center and Little Havanas season! Let's just hope it doesn't snow again.
Update: April 8 - It snowed a little bit last night. Enough to leave some scant evidence!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Morning Edition

Some things never change and Morning Edition in Patterson Park is one of them. It's been around for at least 15 years and is only open for breakfast on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's on N. Patterson Park Avenue, just south of Fayette Street, another neighbourhood in transition. The two things that haven't changed about Morning Edition are the food, which is good, and the service, which is appalling, to be kind.

N. had called on Saturday to make a reservation, which they took. When we arrived Sunday for our noon reservation for three, there seemed not to be a list or any clear idea whether there was a reservation scheme. There was a line at the door, with three people in front of us, the three of us, and three people behind us. We tried to tell the host/busser that we had a reservation but he didn't seem to care. They seated the three people behind us at a table that had been empty for the time we were waiting and seemed to be reserved. Then they seated the three in front of us. By the time it was our turn, we'd waited about 15 minutes, not all that long.

N. asked the host/busser/general slack-ass teenager whether they had our reservation. The teen mumbled something and N. asked him to repeat it and he just wouldn't/didn't answer. N. wasn't too happy about that. The kid looked like a surly teenager, with droopy drawers, a bad attitude and a walk which, if it was any slower, would have been a dead stand still.

When our waiter came over, we asked him the same question about their reservations system. Wrong move! He went off on a diatribe about only getting paid $2.50 an hour and not getting paid enough to deal with this issue and sometimes they took reservations and sometimes they didn't, but who knew! It was rather disconcerting, to say the very least.

The menu, which was hand-written and then photocopied, had an unnerving comment on it: If you are pressed for time, and if the cafe seems busy, and/or if most folks are ordering omlets/benedicts, ALL MEMBERS of your party may want to order the previous entrees as omlets. Eggs Benedict may take up to 60 minites to prepare... Please ask for an ETA. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? It takes an hour to make an order of Eggs Benedict? I can't understand how, unless you're cooking on a campstove in the Western Saraha, it can take an hour to make Eggs Benedict in a restaurant that only has 12 tables.

Okay, I will stop freaking out about that and tell you about our meal. I ordered scrambled eggs, biscuits and pork sage sausage WITH NO GRAVY. I emphasized this to the waiter and sure enough when the meal came out, it was slathered with GRAVY. My meal (bottom) was okay, but the biscuits were pretty hard and not cut biscuits, which make a better presentation. The sausage, while tasty, could have either been cut a little thicker, or cooked a little less. K. had the Eggs Benedict and we didn't have to wait an hour. It had some broccoli on it and Canadian bacon. N. had apple french toast which had lots of apple chunks on it and three pieces of bread/french toast.

Each of our meals came with fresh fruit including pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe and orange wedges. They also came with Tootsie Pops on each plate. Go figure... The restaurant is interesting, the food is pretty good, but the service is shockingly bad. It will probably be another 15 years before I go back again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

El Salto

We love the Brooklyn/Glen Burnie branch of El Salto so much! They also have a branch in Perring Parkway, sort of near Waltham Woods, but this one is closest and most convenient, so we go there.

When I came back from the UK, El Salto was one of the first places I went. You just can't get good (any) Mexican food in Wales - go figure! The first time back, the waiter came up to me and asked if I'd like Taquitos Mexicanos and a frozen strawberry daquiri - the meal that I always get! Pretty impressive.

I discovered El about 12 years ago when I was having the oil changed in my car at the oil change place next door on Ritchie Highway. I figured I could either sit at the service station or go next door to the Mexican restaurants. When I walked in, mid-afternoon on a Saturday, I was about the only gringa in the place. So, I figured that it was authentic. But since I wasn't that familiar with Mexican food, I rounded up some friends originally from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to come with me to re-check. They all loved it and thought that it was pretty authentic and not dumbed down like a lot of Mexican restautrant. The fact that all of the waitstaff are from south of the border, and some barely speak English bodes well.

Last night, my friend C and I went there after tromping through the streets of Pigtown looking at houses, so we had worked up an appetite. It's about a ten-minute drive from my house, the parking is ample and the food is cheap and good - three things that make a place a winner! C got huevos rancheros and I got Taquitos Mexicanos, and we each got a non-alcoholic drink, and C got a flan, and the total bill came to $17.00.

The menu is pretty extensive and El has things that you don't see on the chain restaurants' menus, like a Jalisco Special (pork, rice and beans, served on a tortilla with a salad), chicken mole, chile rellenos and an excellent house-made flan. We started with the complimentary basket of fresh tortilla chips and salsa, which is an endless basket if you ask for more. Sometimes we order their excellent house-made guacamole which they are generous with, too.

One of the best things there is the sizzling hot fajitas, which you can get with steak, chicken or shrimp, or any combination of the three. The fajitas have peppers, onions and plenty of meat and are served smoking hot on an iron plate, with tortilla wraps. Without the wrap, it's a perfect low-carb option.

The drinks at El are also great - very heavy-handed with the alcohol and quite potent. They have a wide range of Mexican beers and sodas.

I don't think I've ever paid more than about $15 per person for dinner and drinks. Even though the location is a little out of the way, it is well worth the trip.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Whole Food = Whole Paycheck

I have a cold and cough, so when I left the office this afternoon, I had a craving for juice - not your ordinary orange juice, but the sunny, bright tangerine juice from Whole Foods. With the theory of feeding a cold, I thought I should also pick up something to eat.

The tangerine juice wasn't the fresh-squeezed that I remember, but it's the Naked brand of100% juices that WF has. This juice has been "gently" pasturized, so it's clear that it's not fresh-squeezed, although it does have a sell-by date.

Yes, I am eating at my desk.

I most certainly didn't feel like cooking, so I wandered by the prepared foods buffet and got a little bit of the chicken alfredo, which was the right amount of bland and white. I also got some stir-fry, which, while it tastes good, looked pretty appalling when I got it home. The meat is very dry looking and tasting and the broccoli looked dead. (The dog loved it!). I cooked the stir-fry in the microwave and to my surprise, the container semi-melted.

Connor eating out of the container.

I also got some garlic bread for later this weekend, some cherry-vanilla granola for brekkie, and two bunches of tulips ($12). I gave one of the bunches of tulips to my friends who own Housewerks and have the other one in my living room. This came to a grant total of $38.72, which is pretty expensive.
Update: I heated the garlic bread this evening and I should have scraped about half the butter off of the top (did I really just say that???). It was literally swimming in a pool of butter after I heated it. The bread was good and there were were nice chunks of garlic, which were perfect, but toooo much butter.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Mahaffey's Pub

We decided to venture across town to Mahaffey's Pub in Canton last night. After some odd directions from Mapquest and the GPS, we finally found it. The closest landmark is the Canton Safeway, and Mahaffey's is behind it... sort of.

We got there about 6:45 and happy hour was in full swing with the requisite hip Cantonites bellying up to the bar. We found that there was an upstairs section, so hightailed it up there. It was loads quieter and not smokey. Also, the average age was about 40, instead of 25, so we fit in there better.

After checking out their extensive and interesting beer menu, we ordered a Smutty Nose, a New Castle Nut Brown Ale, a cask-conditioned MacGregor from the Orkney Islands off Scotland and some Belgian beers. The UK beers were a little on the cold side, but that's to be expected here in the States.
We got down to ordering dinner because we'd seen the menu selections on-line and thought that they were ambitious for pub-grub. More like a gastro-pub than a corner pub. Two of our company are trained chefs, so I was interested in their comments.

C&J started with a warm salad that was similar to seaweed/sesame salad and thought it was excellent. I had a steak caprese sandwich which was good, except for the winter tomatoes. IC had a cod roll-up, D had a burger (well-done) and D2 had a chicken breast sandwich. C&J also had a baked brie with basil and pignoli nuts. The kitchen seemed to have deep fried the brie, because the crust was perfectly done but the cheese was cold. We all agreed that having the brie a little warmer and melted was the way to go, but that the crust was great.

We tried a number of the beers, including some of the well-known Belgian beers in huge bottles that were $20/each. By about 9:30, the upstairs started filling up and getting smokey, so we got the cheque and left. The total bill was $142, plus tip, which was about $30/person. I would go back again for the beer, the food and the atmosphere.

On a funny note, we had to ask the owner to change the TV channel because after the movie "Children of the Corn" was over, "Misery" came on, and that's not something you want to be watching on a big-screen TV five feet from your dinner. Hoops were better!