Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ciao Bella

It's been quite awhile since I've been able to flex my bitter blogger muscle. Unfortunately, the review you're about to read will be full of said flexing.

Our visit started off full of promise as we entered into the small, nicely decorated restaurant. From an atmosphere point of view Ciao Bella is as good as place as any to go for an intimate date. However, the quality of the food and the prices they charge make it very tough for me to recommend a visit. And if I take into consideration the annoyingly long wait (I'll get into more later) I had attempting to pay my bill I can easily say that I won't be visiting Ciao Bella a second time.

We started off our dinner with an appetizer of Shrimp Oregnata. The shrimp tasted just fine, but it came out plated a sloppy mess and to this day I can't understand why they thought 3 shrimp was a good number to serve. If you're a party of 2 or 4 (pretty common sizes)  someone is only getting one or none of the $11 shrimp. It just doesn't make any sense.

For our main course, Deana decided on the Chicken Marsala and I went with Chicken Parmigiana. The Marsala was pretty good. The chicken was tender and while the sauce was flavorful it was a little on the thin side. Looking on the bright side, though, there was plenty of meaty mushrooms which is always key when it comes to a good Marsala. Overall, it was an acceptable dish, but not something I'd run back for.

My Parmigiana, and I say this as a self described Chicken Parm expert, was meh. Yes, I was served an ample amount of chicken. And yes, the sauce was pretty damn good as it was bright with plenty of that acidic tomato taste I love so much. But, the chicken wasn't tender at all and a tough piece of chicken is one of the unforgivable sins a chef can commit when making this dish.

At this point of the night, I was still debating a return trip to Ciao Bella. Despite the food only being okay, I really enjoyed the setting and our waitress was extremely nice. Nice as she was, though, she was terrible at managing her time. At the end of our meal she stopped by to box our food and hand off the check. And then we waited.....and waited.....and waited.....and waited for her to take our money. At least 30 minutes passed and she still hadn't stopped back to take our payment. Eventually, I got so pissed that I took our check up to the hostess and asked her if she could take care of the bill. She gave me a look of annoyance before she handed off our money to someone else who proceeded to take another 5 minutes to get our change back to us. By that time, a return visit to this restaurant had no shot of ever happening. I know people get busy. I know people have bad nights. I get it. With that said, 35 minutes of waiting to pay a bill coupled with mediocre food and a pretty pricey menu isn't a winning combo. If you're visiting Little Italy believe me when I say there are much better options to spend your money on.

Price: A little high given the quality
Recommendation: Little Italy has better options available.
What to Order: ?

Ciao Bella on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bang Bang Mongolian Grill

Looking for somewhere quick, fun, and delicious to eat? Bang Bang Mongolian Grill might just be your place. This past summer, on nights when I was headed into the city for an O's game and wanted something quick to eat, Bang Bang came through for me quite a few times.

The way this place works is simple. You order the size bowl you want and then go about filling it up with a wide variety of ingredients. There is beef, chicken, pork, seafood, veggies, pick everything that is going in your dish all the way down to the sauce and spices. Once you have your bowl filled up, you select a starch (yakisoba noodles, rice, and a few I can't remember) and hand your bowl over to the cooks as they prepare your meal right in front of you.

Now don't worry about the whole selecting your own spices and sauce thing. If you aren't sure what flavors go well together there are a few recipe suggestions posted on a board in front of you. Every time I've gone, I ended up with some sort of Szechuan Noodle hybrid and loved it.

When people ask me what this place is like I describe it as a Noodles and Co. if you were picking the ingredients. The best part of all is that you get a little bit of a show while they are cooking your food. When it gets really crowded it's kind of fun watching the cooks run around the circle going to town.
I guess the biggest compliment I can pay Bang Bang Mongolian is that I'm more than happy to eat here almost every time Deana suggests it. She is a big fan of Chinese food, while I'm happy if I eat it two times in a year. Lucky for us, we found this place. If you haven't been there, this is a great place to get a quick meal.
 Price: Low end of Average
Recommendation: Hit 'em up
What to Order: Whatever you want, it's build your own style.

Bangbang Mongolian Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Homebrewing: American Cream Ale

Well, it looks like I better get to this post while I still have a beer or two left. I wanted to be sure to give as accurate a depiction of this beer as possible, and what better way to do that than drink some homebrew while I'm writing about it.

My third homebrew was probably the most simple, but it also stands as the favorite in my short homebrewing career. I decided to do an American Cream Ale at the behest of Lady Deana and we're both glad I did. Below is a description of the general guidelines I followed for what I eventually called my "Smooth Creaminal Ale".

  • 3.3 of Light Malt Extract (LME) 
  • 2 lbs of Pilsen Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • 1 lb of Corn Sugar
  • 1.25 oz of Williamette bittering Hops
  • 1 oz Williamette Hops for aroma
  • Sachet Dry Yeast
Basic Instructions:

  1. Boil 2.5 Gallons of Water. Turn heat off and stir in the LME. Return to Boil
  2. Add bittering hops
  3. After 40 minutes, add DME and Corn Sugar
  4. At 45 minute mark add the aroma hops and boil for 10 more minutes

Taste and Appearance:Smooth Creaminal Ale pours a gorgeous shade of gold with an epically fluffy head. The beer is pretty clean and clear and smells of sweet corn. On a summer day this beer goes down incredibly easy. There is a delicious sweet corn flavor and a velvety mouthfeel that is absolutely addictive. This is one time I'm glad I don't keg my homebrew because I could have really went through this stuff if I had it chilled and ready to go. It's a simple beer, but I think I'll be hard pressed to ever make something that is easier drinking.

Lessons Learned:

I didn't have the ability to at the time, but I've since purchased a second carboy and if I were to make this beer again I would definitely put this in a secondary just to clear it up a bit more and make it even more visually appealing. I also wouldn't drop a box of 12 bombers on the ground next time around. While I was bottle conditioning, I went down in the basement to spin the bottles around to ensure the yeast was awake and doing its job. While doing that I knocked another beer down. Instinctively, I grabbed for the falling bottle and at the same time forgot to hold on to the box I already had in my hands. Boom! I lost a beer or two, but those that survived the fall tended to taste a bit oxidized when I finally got around to drinking them. So, yeah, don't drop your bottles on the ground but do give an American Cream Ale a shot in your homebrew adventures. It's an easy drinker and a definite crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Red Brick Station

Told ya it wouldn't be as long before my next restaurant review! I'm back and ready to tell you all about Red Brick Station. Of all the restaurants I've ever reviewed, this is by far the one I've visited the most thanks to it's close proximity to my place of employment.

Red Brick is awesome for a few simple reasons.
  1. I can walk there for lunch
  2. They are a brewpub
  3. They have good sandwiches
  4. And they have some of the best happy hour specials around
On Monday you have 1/2 price burgers. Tuesday (my favorite) you get dollar beers. And on Friday you can dine on dollar Roast Beef sandwiches. Beer and Beef on the cheap? Now you understand why I visit so often.

On the beer front, they usually offer 5 staple beers and a seasonal. Their Red, IPA, and Stout are all excellent. If forced to pick a favorite I think I'd have to go with Something Red. This is the beer I compared my first ever homebrew with to make sure it didn't suck.  It's a nice red color full of earthy malt flavor that goes down really smooth without getting in the way of the food.

And speaking of the food, Red Brick Station really excel at sandwiches. I've had the French Dip (pictured below), Cheese steak, Pulled Pork, Monte Cristo, and Rachael and I've never been disappointed once.

Red Brick Station is a great place to visit if you're looking to try a brewpub out for the first time or the fiftieth. The beer is good without being intimidating to a newbie. And the food is good. It's simple, but it's good and it's one of my go to restaurants. Give it a visit!

Price: Average (great happy hour)
Recommendation: Visit ASAP
What to Order: Something Red and a Cheesesteak
Red Brick Station on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sip and Bite

Wow! I really am behind on my restaurant reviews. There are plenty of excuses, but none of them matter. Sorry, for the massive delay between the last review and this one. I'll do my best to never let that much time pass between one restaurant review and the next. Even though I've added a lot of beer specific posts lately, I don't want anyone to think the Baltimore restaurant scene is no longer part of this site. So, with all the apologies behind us, let's move on to my first ever visit to Sip and Bite 

Our visit took place at the end of a very nice weekend spent with my brother and his lady. They wanted to hit up a Diners Drive-ins and Dives place before they went home and with only breakfast left before they left we headed to Sip and Bite. With their excellent reputation for breakfast it seemed like a natural choice. Fortunately, we got there at the perfect time as we barely had to wait for a seat in the semi-small old school diner/cafe style restaurant. If there was any advice to offer future visitors it's that you should bring your patience in addition to your appetitte. Waiting for a seat in line can take a bit of time, but in the end it's more than worth it.

What you're looking at in the picture above is one of the best breakfast sandwiches I've ever had. If you're getting a late start to your day and you arrive at Sip and Bite when it's not quite breakfast and a little too early for lunch, this is the sandwich for you. Known as the Sip and Bite Supreme Breakfast Sandwich you get a hamburger topped with egg, melty cheese and a nice thick piece of country ham. Delicious doesn't even being to describe it. I think my favorite part of this sandwich is the thick piece of ham they top the sandwich with. It's really juicy and far exceeded the thin piece of lunch meat I was expecting. I also ordered home fries, and they did not disappoint. The potato was crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside with the perfect amount of onion mixed in.

Watching their Diners Drive-Ins and Dives episode we found out they were famous for their crab cakes. Due to some sort of malfunction I don't do crab, but the rest of my party was quite disappointed that we arrived just a bit too late as they had sold out of cakes earlier that morning. Maybe next time! Fortunatly for us the disappointment was short lived as the omelettes and breakfast wraps we ordered kept everyone more than satisfied.

Sip and Bite has definitely earned a second visit from this blogger. The breakfast is some of the best I've had in a very long time and their offerings are unique and tasty. Other than a crabcake or two for some of my friends, what more could I ask for?

Price: Super Cheap
Recommendation: It needs to be your next visit when looking for breakfast
What to order: Sip and Bite Supreme Breakfast Sandwich

Sip & Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beer Tastings: Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager

I've been on a hot streak with Lagers lately. Just a week or so ago I had an excellent Black Lager in Union Craft Brewing's Blackwing Lager, and today I picked a winner when I came across Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager at the local distributor.
Barking Squirrel is the flagship beer of Hop City, a brewery located in Ontario, Canada. The beer pours a clear amber color with a head that sticks around for quite some time. Visually, it's really quite beautiful. If I were tasked with finding a picture of the prototypical beer, Barking Squirrel would be in the running.
In addition to the great appearance you're also treated to a beer that stand outs aromatically as well. I couldn't get enough of the delicious malt aroma. Without much effort, you can find yourself in a field full of grains just by taking a little whiff of Barking Squirrel.
But we all know everything boils down to flavor. Well, my friends, Barking Squirrel Lager does not let us down. Initially, you're hit with excellent earthy malt flavors. There is a little sweetness there followed by a subtle toffee or caramel flavor on the finish. All of these flavors are balanced perfectly with the perfect amount of hops. There's also a unique mouthfeel to this beer. Middle of the mouth there is slightly dry feeling, but by the time you've swallowed the beer you're left with a very smooth and refreshing lager.
True, my Canadian beer portfolio is rather small, but I'm going to declare this the best Canadian beer I've ever had. Looks like I've found a new Canadian beer to watch hockey with.....well, if the NHL ever gets their act together.
Style: Lager
ABV: 5.0
IBU: 24

Sriracha Thai Chile Hot Wings

I'm going to venture off the beaten path and offer up a recipe that is a result of what I consider to be my culinary pinnacle up to this point in my life. Yesterday, I went to Noodles and Company to have their Pad Thai for lunch. I was going through my typical Pad Thai process of adding a little Sriracha, Soy Sauce, and lime juice when it dawned on me that those 3 flavors would probably make a pretty dominant wing sauce. Below is the recipe I concocted. I made it for around 18 wings, but it would probably be good for up to 24 or so.

  • 1/2 a bottle of Sriracha Chile Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  • 2 Limes juiced
  • 2 Tablespoons of Sugar

Put all of that magic in a sauce pan and let it heat through for however long you feel like. I baked my wings in the oven at 375 for about 40 minutes. When they came out, I poured the sauce over the wings in a mixing bowl and then went to town.

Keep in mind Sriracha is spicier than your typical grocery store hot sauce. It's not flaming hot, but it definitely packs more punch than the minimally spicy vinegar known as Red Hot. To combat the heat, I used this recipe to make homemade Blue Cheese dressing. I highly recommend making your own dressing as Bottled Blue Cheese is similar to bottled lemon juice in that it is one of those things that should never be used due to the god awful flavor it has. I substituted low fat Sour Cream and Mayo to make it slightly healthier and it tasted just fine.

If you're looking for a wing sauce that is a little different from the everyday Buffalo or BBQ flavor I can't recommend this recipe enough. It was delicious. And if you do decide to try it, let me know what you think.