Friday, October 29, 2010

Restaurant Week 2010

At the first mention of Richmond Restaurant Week, I start stalking any site that lists participating venues and what they're serving.  There's always a tough decision to be made between restaurants at which I've already eaten and loved, and restaurants I want to try.  The next step in the process involves getting expert advice and calling for a reservation.  

None of the restaurants that we haven't tried were really jumping out at us, so  Davy and I decided that Restaurant Week would be a good opportunity to go back to Acacia, where we had an amazing first meal over the summer.  When I spoke with someone on the phone about availability during the week, the times were either too early, very late, or not on a night we could go.  Our next choice was Helen's, which we'd also enjoyed once before, and we managed to get an 8:00 reservation for Tuesday night.

Naturally, I'd already memorized the menu and chosen both my and Davy's courses.  For our starters, I ordered the Arugula Salad (with toasted pistachios, coriander-lemon vinaigrette, shaved Romano) and he ordered the Braised Pork Belly (with seared Napa cabbage, cider jus, chicharones).  The salad was very fresh with above-average Romano, but overall it was a little too salty.  I had high expectations for the other starter because we had heavenly pork belly on our last visit to Helen's.  The Restaurant Week version was just as noteworthy: crisp on top, rich and meaty underneath, with delicious accompaniments.  

For the main course, Davy ordered fried chicken (with buttermilk & chive mashed potatoes, collard greens, black pepper gravy) which was tasty but not outrageous.  I had a tough time deciding between the macaroni and cheese with crab meat and bacon and the Vegetarian Risotto.  Ultimately I went with the risotto because the mac and cheese had smoked gouda in it, which I'll eat but don't really like, and the risotto had mushrooms and swiss chard.  I was pleased with my choice; the mushrooms were meaty and the chard was tender, and there was plenty of the greens throughout the rice.  Similar to the chicken, I wasn't really wowed by the risotto, but that could be because I enjoy making it at home so much.

There were just two dessert choices: "Granny smith apple cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream or Chocolate-pistachio torte with fresh fruit compote."  We each got one, and I ate nearly all of the torte.  It was deep without being too sweet, and the fruit compote (I don't usually like fruit with my chocolate) really brought out the chocolate flavor.  I have no complaints about the cobbler either, other than the fact that I was too full to finish it.  It was served warm with a generous scoop of ice cream, and it was everything an apple cobbler should be.

Helen's is a cool restaurant, not only because of the enticing menu choices, but because the interior is chic and has an antique, diner feel.  The bartender mixes solid drinks, and the service is gracious and consistent.

There are three days left to enjoy Restaurant Week, and while they may be the busiest three nights so far, it may be worth your money to check out a new spot, or just support an old favorite and a good cause.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Final Week

This is the last week of our CSA, which makes me very sad.  We received: 

- eggplant (I'm not even upset about it because I don't want the CSA to end)

- butternut squash

- cucumbers

- sweet peppers

- potatoes

- tomatoes

- radishes

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CSA Meals Week 18

One of my recent (several month long) food obsessions is Mekong's rice noodle salad with beef.  I'm holding onto a Splendid Table recipe that looks like it could be similar, but haven't gotten around to making it yet.  Instead, I channeled my desire for crunchy cucumbers and fish sauce into a Thai cucumber salad since we had most of the ingredients lying around.  The salad is simple, but it's refreshing and the colors are stunning in any serving dish.

All of the tomatoes from our share were used in a penne dish with chicken breast, basil, and parmesan.  I sauteed some garlic, let the tomatoes simmer, added a little chicken stock and pasta water for depth, and stirred in the cooked chicken.  I really enjoyed the combination of ingredients in this dish, especially because the flavors were big but it was healthier than it tasted.

My birthday was last Saturday, and Davy graciously made me a beautiful dinner: grilled jerk tilapia with mushroom sauce, grilled broccolini and carrots, and rice.  He's not into mushrooms at all, so this was a special treat.

As a bonus, I also got a birthday veggie frittata with some of the leftover mushrooms, broccolini, onion and sweet peppers.  

On Sunday we had a few friends over to watch football, and Keith, who hunts regularly and always shares his rewards, made impressive skewers with sweet peppers, red onion, mushrooms, and chunks of goose meat wrapped in bacon.  They were then grilled to perfection, and what seemed like a huge pile of food was easily consumed by the end of dinner.

In the next segment of my ongoing battle with eggplant, I attempted to make baba ganoush, a dip involving roasted eggplant blended with olive oil, tahini, garlic, salt and pepper.  I guess I accomplished a minor victory because I didn't hate it and I got to use my immersion blender, but I still didn't really want to eat it and ended up giving most of it away.  My friend Lyndsey also made baba ganoush over the weekend, and she used lemon juice instead of tahini in hers.  I'm not sure that I would bother with this again unless someone requested it, but I might try the lemon juice variation if we get more eggplant.  Or should I say when we get more eggplant?

Thai Bell Pepper, Cucumber and Peanut Salad
Modified from Southern Living


8 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup)
  • Dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salad:
  • 2 cups sliced peeled seedless cucumber
  • 2 cups red bell pepper strips
  • 3/4 cup julienne-cut carrot
  • 1/4 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (I used basil instead)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped peanuts
PreparationTo prepare the dressing, combine the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk.
To prepare the salad, combine the cucumber, bell pepper, carrot, onion, and mint.
Drizzle the dressing over cucumber mixture, tossing gently to coat.
Sprinkle salad with peanuts.

More Eggplant...

I'm going home for the weekend, and my parents are going to be stuck with it.  We also got:

- garlic

- cucumber

- salad tomatoes

- green tomatoes

- sweet peppers

- carrots

- Tokyo bekana

Thursday, October 07, 2010

CSA Meals Week 17

I'm still trying to like eggplant.  I've had it in things that are delicious, like the Pizza Grille's Grilled Eggplant Rolls and Mama Zu's eggplant parm, but I haven't really liked it in anything I've made. 

A month or so ago I participated in a cooking lesson for my friend's bachelorette party, and one of the dishes we made was ratatouille.  Normally I don't knock myself out trying to eat ratatouille, but I wanted to try everything and it was pretty tasty.  Unfortunately, when I tried to recreate it with the same recipe, it looked better to me than it tasted.  It was still a decent dish, with a subtle wine flavor and a little bite of parmesan cheese, but I avoided and picked out the diced eggplant when I ate it for lunch.

The addition of braised pork definitely improved the vegetable stew, and both seemed to last forever.

Our last green beans of the year were eaten roasted, and still tasted fresh enough to brighten dinner on a cool night.

We ate the pork as nachos and also tacos with chopped Tokyo Bekana.  The greens had a quiet enough flavor to blend with other components, and also had enough of a taste to stand alone in a saute.  

If I didn't know any better, I'd think that the eggplant in our produce drawer were regenerating.  There are three more currently sitting in the fridge, and I'm going to try to warm up to them with a different preparation.  One that (hopefully) doesn't involve me picking anything out of my bowl.

Real Garlic

I'm always thrilled when we get garlic in our share because it's far superior to anything sold in the grocery store.  It has a deeper flavor and more texture, both of which make a huge difference in cooking.  We also got:

- eggplant (up for grabs)

- basil, parsley, rosemary

- sweet peppers

- cucumber

- arugula

- kale

- tomatoes

Friday, October 01, 2010

CSA Meals Weeks 15 and 16

I've been putting this post off because it seems like it was so long ago, and in Week 15 there were a lot of repeats and cop-out meals.  The non-recycled dinners were a delicious pappardelle, tomatoes, roasted green beans and mozzarella dish; grilled skirt steak from the butcher with an arugula and tomato salad, grilled peppers and onions, and baked potatoes; and a braised pork shoulder with rice, mustard greens and carrots.  Below are pictures of the pre-grill steak prepared with different rubs and the beautiful golden cherry tomatoes on top of arugula.  Week 17 will hold more adventures with the pork shoulder - stay tuned!