Thursday, March 24, 2011

They're ba-a-ack!

Oh, yes, my friends. I am now a card-carrying member of the New Orleans To Go fan club!

On St. Patrick's Day Eve, NOLA To Go's facebook page perked back to life, and when I walked over to 5th and Race last Thursday, I was thrilled to see the "Mobile Food Vendors Only" zone back in action, with Cafe de Wheels, Mr. Gene's Doghouse, NOTG, and the pretzel guy all in attendance. St. Patrick's Day, March Madness, and a welcome burst of spring weather - plus food trucks!

They haven't all been there everyday since (they're mobile, you know), and goodness knows our March weather has been shifty, in typical Cincinnati fashion. But it's great to have 5th and Race return to my lunchtime rotation.

The big blue Taco Azul food truck plans to make its official Cincinnati debut next Thursday, Opening Day. And with the frenzy of baseball-goers and the Opening Day parade, which starts at Findlay Market, I think we can count on some serious street food presence.

Meanwhile, I'm getting my much-missed fix of New Orleans To Go's sweet fixin's, and salivating over what else they have in store.

Last Thursday, I had their Oyster Po'boy with sweet potato fries and apple butter.

Today I had their glazed shrimp po'boy . . .

. . . and this creamy, sweet, fresh lobster, shrimp, corn chowder. It surely warmed me up after my walk and wait in the chill air (they cook to order) and made it all worthwhile.

New Orleans To Go has Lenten Friday specials planned, like "fried fish, mac and cheese, creole potato salad and real cornbread." And I can't wait until a fried green tomato and grilled shrimp po'boy with remoulade sauce makes its appearance.

Stay tuned to their facebook page for news about their crawfish boil. When I asked about it today, they told me they're waiting for the crawfish to get bigger and aiming for sometime after Easter. Sounds like it may be a pre-pay/pre-order deal where you buy by the pound  - and get potatoes and corn to go with.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend you check out whatever specials the New Orleans To Go food truck is offering up (offerings change daily).

And ask for one of their new customer loyalty cards like the one at the top of this post. A lot of frequent-buyer cards offer "buy 9 - get the 10th free" incentives. This is "buy 5 - get the 6th free." Of course, I'd be back, regardless.

Enjoy your Friday, and your weekend. I'll be back with more from my Louisville trip - and those red penguins.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Amuse-Bouche from Louisville

A few photos from our weekend getaway.

We rendezvoused with the red penguins.

I was in hog (and bison) heaven.

We ate well, we slept well, we changed our plans numerous times :) It was gorgeous spring weather for a road trip.

So how was your weekend?
xoxo, eggy

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Road Trip!

We're actually going! There are red penguins, Kentucky Crafted and Weisenberger grits in my future!

Cindie would be happy if you root for her beloved UK Wildcats in the basketball thingamagiggy going on this weekend. I, as you can tell, am sports-impaired. I do, however, know that the University of Kentucky is in Lexington, not Louisville. Just another thing to juggle into our plans.

Wishing you all a great weekend!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ups and Downs, Shrimp and Grits

It's been a week of ups and downs, although the most fun thing I ate this week was the Shrimp and Grits Waffles (plural) I ate for lunch (the first time) from Taste of Belgium at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Wednesday. Yummy lookin', eh?

Plans to go to Findlay Market last weekend did not come to pass when Cindie couldn't make it (a down). Mardi Gras weekend is apparently the biggest weekend of the year at Findlay, and I had been especially intrigued to learn Taste of Belgium, the waffle stand that also offers those to-die-for macarons I keep posting about, was making savory shrimp and grits waffles for the weekend.

Instead, I made a quick solo trip to Lobsta Bakes of Maine in Newtown for their second anniversary customer appreciation party, where I discovered that in addition to offering fine seafood, owner Kevin makes some seriously delicious smoked pulled pork.
In the spirit of Cincinnati's Bockfest spring beer festival, I purchased a couple of Lobsta Bakes' house-smoked seafood brats.
And at Bigg's I grabbed a six-pack of old-time Cincy brewery Hudepohl's "Festival Edition" Bock Beer.

Back to the work week, and I was delighted to learn Taste of Belgium's shrimp and grits waffle special had been extended through the week at their new digs at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. So I made my way there for lunch on Wednesday, when the rain wasn't too oppressive. The Freedom Center is less than a block south of Third Street, just over Ft. Washington Way, on the west side of Walnut. The cafe has its own entrance on the river side of the building, so you don't need to pay museum admission to get into the restaurant. It's a light and airy space with floor to ceiling windows on the south side of the building. Service is designed for you place an order at the counter, take a number on a pedestal, and have your food brought to your table when it's ready. The place is clearly a favorite with a lot of construction workers at The Banks, and on Wednesday there was also a large group of students on a field trip (it appeared their food had been ordered and prepared in advance and was efficiently delivered to their tables).

I suspect this location of Taste of Belgium is not accustomed to many "to go" orders, but they happily accommodated mine, and I was thrilled with what I got on Wednesday for $7.50. Two, count 'em, two crispy savory Liege waffles made with grits, cheddar, and cayenne.
Plus a side container of shrimp in white wine and cream sauce that smelled so tantalizing I could hardly wait to get back to my office desk and dig in.

With the shrimp poured over, and the sauce pooling in the waffle crevices, this tasted every bit as good as it looks.

The waffle special also came with a side salad I was told to select from the open refrigerator case that features a variety of fresh and healthy options. I found this "side" salad generous in size, and loved the balsamic vinaigrette I chose to go with it.

This was so good I went back on Friday, wanting to taste this seasonal special one more time. Alas, on Friday, my order was half the size for the same price. One, count 'em, one waffle. And with the shrimpy goodness already poured on top, it was rather soggy by the time I walked the two and a half blocks back to my office.
My salad on Friday, although still reasonable in size for a "side," was about half the size of the one I got on Wednesday too.

I'm intrigued with what Jean-Francois Flechet, the entrepreneurial spirit and force behind Taste of Belgium, is doing. In addition to the company's flagship stand at Findlay Market and new gig running the concession/restaurant at Cincinnati's Underground Railroad Freedom Center, he also has outlets in Columbus at the North Market (the Columbus equivalent of Findlay Market) and the Wexner Center, another museum cafe, on the campus of The Ohio State University. I wish him and his staff well in all their ventures. I hope they rise to the challenge of providing a little more consistency in their offerings at the Freedom Center. And I'd love it if they had a menu (with prices) available online somewhere and shared more info about their specials.

In other up, and down, news from my corner of the world, the Ohio River is seriously up. (Telling photos from one of my favorite Cincy photographers, Thadd Fiala, here and here.)

Here's a photo from Cindie's place on the river she took several days ago, with puppy Oscar in the background. I was visiting Cindie just before the 1997 flood and, as much barge traffic as I'm accustomed to seeing from her house, when the barges looked as though they at the same level as the house, it was so disconcerting, I left. Fortunately, I had a house on higher ground to come back to. Cindie, and the rest of the village, had to evacuate . . . then return to massive clean-up.
On Saturday, Cindie had 6 inches of water in her basement. Rain has returned to the forecast, and while it may not make the river rise further, it will at least mean it goes down more slowly. Which means our much-anticipated trip to Louisville next weekend is in jeopardy, a serious down.

So, kids, buoy my spirits, and share something uplifting in the comments :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dining Journal: Lunch at Jean-Robert's Table

Some say laughter is the best medicine. I say, sometimes indulgence is better medicine. With friend Cindie healing after a painful medical procedure and, I’m sorry to hear, other blogger friends dealing with their own ailments, it’s high time to post about one of the very best meals Cindie and I shared in the last few months – lunch at Jean-Robert’s Table.

J-R’s Table serves lunch Monday through Friday, but, alas for our mutual schedules, not usually on weekends. Happily, the restaurant expanded to weekend lunch service in December (and offered Valentine’s lunch as well). Our holiday gift to ourselves was a mid-day meal one pre-Christmas Saturday after a trip to Findlay Market and Avril’s.

Although Cindie and I elected to work our way through a number of courses, any one of them would have made a satisfying weekday lunch. Prices are much more affordable than the Maisonette and Pigall’s, two of chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s award-winning former restaurants, and the menu includes casual fare such as burgers and sandwiches. While Jean-Robert has chosen a less fine-dining concept for his newest venture, my take is that he has not relinquished his standards for the quality and care that go into both food and service. He’s simply adapted them to a lower price point and a more approachable format.

In other words, you don’t need to consider Jean-Robert’s Table a special-occasion restaurant. Although we were happy to. And we weren’t the only ones. An impeccably dressed three-generation family was seated at a prime corner booth for their pre-Nutcracker Ballet meal. I could easily imagine the presiding grand-mere had, once upon a time, been treated to a similar outing at the Maisonette when she was the age of her granddaughters.

Other nearby patrons included a quiet young couple with tattoos and piercings, and a threesome of thirtysomethings, one of whom was an exuberantly loud woman. J-R's Table isn't about stuffy service, and one need not feel compelled to speak in hushed tones. Still, we were glad when the loud party decided to move from the booth behind us (those old windows can be drafty) and into the warmer interior bar area.
I wanted to go straight for the house charcuterie plate and was disappointed to learn none was to be had after a large party the prior night had wiped them out. So Cindie and I decided to warm up with soups, and contemplate our next move. Our delightful, low-key young server was happy to let us select courses out of order, knowledgeable in answering our questions, and also managed to get the music turned down after Cindie complained about the volume.

Either of our soups would have been a great lunch in itself. The portions were large and satisfying. Cindie ordered the “classic” French onion soup, and classic it was – piping hot, with a crust of melted cheese overlaying a serious crouton, and thick, caramelized oniony goodness underneath.

I chose the French Country Style Soup, rich and hearty with white beans and duck confit. I loved the well developed flavors, although it would have been even better had it been hotter.

Next, we shared an appetizer and a salad. We both loved the beef tartare with cucumber, radish and avocado – succulent and well-seasoned.

Our salad, the Goat Cheese “In Brick”, was another dish large enough to be a meal on its own. We were curious to try the “In Brick” preparation, which turned out to be tangy goat cheese enveloped in phyllo-like triangles that paired beautifully with the apples. We thought the accompanying endive and romaine could have benefited from a tad more cider dressing, but definitely enjoyed it.

While we could have stopped there, we had no intention of doing so, eager to try the lunch versions of two entrees that also appear on the dinner menu. Cindie ordered seafood crepes with Bechamel and mushrooms over spinach – rich but delicious (and heavier on salmon than other seafood for the lunch portion, as befits the lunch price point).

My entrĂ©e choice was Braised Beef Short Rib with Creamy Spinach and Shiitake, Confit Tomatoes and Country Potatoes – spectacular comfort food, with components just slightly scaled down from the dinner version, and a rich broth poured tableside nonetheless.

We had arrived before noon and by this time it was after 3:00. Acknowledging we couldn’t possibly finish our entrees after everything else we’d eaten, we asked for to-go boxes. But our lunch of indulgence wasn't over yet.

We settled on one dessert to share, because, well, how could we let this meal go without one? When presented with the possibility of white and chocolate mousses accompanied by white and chocolate ganache and fresh berries, who in their right mind says no?

With the addition of some libations we wouldn't indulge in for a work-week lunch (two glasses of wine for me, a Grand Marnier for Cindie), our bill came to $105 - no doubt less than if we had ordered this extravagantly during dinner service. But you could easily have a satisfying lunch at J-R's Table for $15 or less. I think a lot of Cincinnatians continue to regard any opportunity to taste Jean-Robert's food as a treat - and rightly so. If he opened a food truck tomorrow, I'm confident it would serve exceptional fare. I don't think this chef has it in him to compromise when it comes to putting out memorably flavorful food. Happily, we can taste it Jean-Robert's Table without waiting for a special occasion.

Meanwhile, thanks to those of you who were concerned about my not posting in a while (just busy on other fronts, kids). Sending out best (and healing) wishes to all my blogger friends, as well as Cindie, who is recovering from toenail-removal surgery. With luck and the creeks don't rise (a worry after heavy rains here this week), Cindie and I will be back to our foodie adventures with a trip to Louisville in a couple of weeks. Cross your fingers and tablespoons for us, because we're both more than ready to get out of dodge!