A Sad Loss

As some of you may or may not have heard already, Matt Haley, the fantastic restaurateur in Sussex County, died late Tuesday night. Haley was in India for a 6-week trip that included delivering much-needed stoves to a Nepali village when his motorcycle collided with a truck. As someone who spends quite a bit of time in the Delaware area, I can say that this is a huge loss for the community, and he will be missed for a long time to come. Haley didn’t just revitalize the food scene in Delaware and the other states he worked in, but he was also a James Beard Humanitarian Award winner and a man who really strove to interact with the people he met. Traveling everywhere from Puerto Rico to India, Haley touched those around him and constantly worked to improve the lives of the less fortunate. I’ve interacted with many people who care about other, but few who went to the lengths that Haley did to help them.

For anyone who knew him or who was impacted by his work, the family is asking that donations be made in lieu of flowers to The Global Delware Fund, a charity that Matt founded. I hope some of you will consider giving a little bit for a man that gave so much of himself to the world.

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TED Talk Review: Christien Meindertsma

I am very pro-pig. While I am a bit sick of the world’s obsession with bacon, particularly when people “love” it but are willing to eat gummy, tasteless bacon flakes on their fast food fries, I pretty much love everything else about the pig. My enthusiasm for what I like to call hamdependence is what initially drew me to Christien Meindertsma’s TED Talk entitled “How Pigs Make the World Turn.”

This isn’t necessarily a TED Talk meant to change anything about what’s done with the pig, but rather a talk intended to raise awareness about all the pig provides for us. Meindertsma knew before she began her exploration into pigs that in the past they’ve always been used up to the last bit, but she didn’t know if this was still the case with the twenty-first century world. In order to discover if this still holds true today, she tracked a pig and parsed out all of the products that pigs lend a hoof (or other body part) to.

Of course, there are your obvious usages in food such as pork belly, but it’s also used in a number of ways that people may not be aware of. If you’ve done any sort of research into the pig, you know that it’s used as a fibrin to hold bits steaks, tuna, or scallops together when companies are down to their smaller bits of meat. Just in the world of food, pigs serve as everything from pork shanks to an improver of dough, but its journey does not always end in our bellies. Some pig products that really surprised me were concrete, train brakes, and bullets, which I’ve never associated with pigs. In total a mind-blowing 185 products include some element of the pig, which underscores just how often we interact with the pig throughout our day-to-day lives.

The eight-minute talk certainly packs a nice chunk of info into each sentence, but there are some downsides to it as well. Meindertsma is not as engaging as Tristram Stuart, whose TED Talk I reviewed a few weeks ago, especially because she seems to have a hard time maintaining eye contact with the crowd. She does not carry herself as confidently as Stuart does either, although Stuart is encouraging people to become active in eliminating food waste, whereas Meindertsma is just sharing information about pigs and pig products. Personally, I think this is a rich topic and she could have taken it all a step further like Stuart: What sort of religious implications does this have? or Why don’t we use all of our animals in this way? The analytic side of this is a bit lacking, but I still believe the video is a great first step to becoming more aware about the world around us.

So, if you have a few minutes in between wrangling up kids, running off to work, and cooking up a ham heavy dinner, plunk yourself down and watch this informative TED Talk. It might not encourage you to physically change anything in your life, but it will certainly give you the tools to learn more about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwBsYij96e4

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Dinner at Matt’s Fish Camp (Bethany Beach, DE)

I’ve been trying to eat less meat lately, which means I’m eating a ton of fish because in my mind they are two wholly different things. This new attempt at cutting back on meat (that hasn’t gone well before) works well this time of year as summer brings about a whole slew of amazing ocean-friendly options. For me, Finding Nemo got it wrong; fish are friends AND food, and if I had to choose one or the other, I think I’d have a nice handful of new enemies. This especially holds true while I’m at the beach, and since my family has a place down there, I often spend a nice chunk of my summer tentatively going into the ocean and dining out at some of the best seafood restaurants around.

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I recently blogged about my experience at Catch 54, which was pretty much perfect and completely satisfying. Although Catch 54 was the first Matt Haley restaurant I blogged about on this site, it’s by no means the only one in Delaware. I’ve tried a good majority of his locations before, but on my most recent trip to the beach my mom and I decided to check out one we’ve often wondered about, Matt’s Fish Camp.

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This restaurant lies right across from the bay and brings up memories of the little crab shacks that people flock to in Maryland. When I first stepped in, the wooden chairs, stripped down bar, and casual vibe all cemented that thought for me. It’s not pretentious, and it certainly doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, which is something I wish more seafood places outside of the area would do.

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Since it was only two of us, we were seated right away, which is practically a first for me this time of year. After taking in my surroundings and noticing something called Crabanero on each table, I peeked down at the menu to decide on a drink. My boozy self can’t recall the name of the drink, but it was a mix of my standard go-to ingredients: gin, lime, mint, and club soda. It was light and refreshing, not too sweet, and probably went down a bit faster than the bartender was intending. The wait for my second drink took a little while though since our friendly waitress wasn’t always attentive, so that gave me some time to get some food in my belly before moving on to round two.

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To kick things off and soak up some of our cocktails, we ordered a number of appetizers, including the Oven-Roasted Parker Rolls. Now, bread never really does anything for me. As far as starters go, people could just not bring bread to my table and I’d be completely cool with that because I’d rather order tasty things along the lines of tart deviled eggs or crisp, juicy watermelon salads. However, the rest of my family is definitely in the pro-bread camp, so despite the fact that it was just the two of us, my mom ordered these rolls for us to share. They came out with a nice dose of sea salt on them, and since there were six, I decided to take the plunge and try one.

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After slathering some butter on it, I bit into the warm roll that was airy, a bit sweet, and just had the slightest yeast taste to it. As I reached over to break off my second roll, I heard “Woah, you’re gonna eat two rolls?” My mom had to ask because she couldn’t quite believe that this was happening. I couldn’t really believe it was happening either, but I decided I would just go with the flow and ignore the part of me screaming about how bread is pointless unless it’s part of a cheese plate, foie gras, or some other delicious non-bread-focused food.

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Besides the rolls, we ordered two bar snacks to nibble on as we sipped on our cocktails. Both the Spicy Roasted Peanuts and the Homemade Semi Spicy Pickles were a bit of an intense change from the rolls, but they were also very good. There were enough peanuts served that my mom and I would have had to sit there for several hours in order to finish them off, especially since it felt like the more you ate, the spicier they became. They weren’t spicy to a fault, but it was definitely a spice that hit the back of my throat and stuck with me for a second after swallowing. On the other side of things, I downed the pickles we were served in seconds. There weren’t just cucumbers in the bowl, but zucchini and squash, too, which was something I hadn’t really come across before. I loved the mix though and quickly finished off the tart, vinegary appetizer. Just thinking about them as I write this has my mouth watering again, which is a good indicator that I’ll want them the next time we stop in.

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The rolls and little snacks were all satisfying, but none of it was particularly filling, so we ordered one more appetizer to share. As a Maryland-girl, I demanded we try Matt’s Crab Balls to compare them to the other crab cakes around town. After living outside of Baltimore for a few years, I’ve realized talking about how your state is known for crabs, crab cakes, and crab balls sometimes garners odd looks from people, but I’ve grown up on these delicious treats and no amount of innuendo could keep me from them. These crab balls came out fried to a crispy golden brown, but no matter how great the outside looks, the big test for a crab ball is the meat in it. Thankfully, they were just as good on the inside and low on filler. The mark of a truly phenomenal crab cake is a lot of crabmeat with not a lot of filler, and of course, it should be able to stay together when it’s placed in front of you. This was a truly phenomenal crab cake.

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For my dinner, I opted for the Oyster Roll since oysters are one of my favorite things to eat no matter whether they’re raw, fried, or grilled. This entree was made up of fried oysters on a grilled roll served with a mustard cream. By now I’m confident that all of the Haley locations know how to fry a great piece of seafood; these oysters were plump on the inside and crispy and buttery on the outside. I also adored the mustard cream, which was lighter than a remoulade and perfect to use for both the oysters and as a dipping sauce for the homemade chips. It was simple and it was perfect, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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My mom was conscious of all the appetizers we’d blown through, so she decided to go with a somewhat lighter option than I did. Her choice for the evening was her favorite standard Iceberg Wedge, and in order to jazz it up a bit, she added-on the Grilled Shrimp. The look of her dish best categorizes this kind of food: it’s probably not going to be the prettiest plate out there, but it’s bound to be delicious. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and balanced out the creaminess of the rich salad laden with both egg and blue cheese.  It was exactly what she wanted, and she didn’t have a hard time finishing it off.

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Since no meal is complete without something sweet, we decided to stretch our stomachs just a bit more and order the Peanut Butter Pie. This pie was definitely for those of you out there that are obsessed with peanut butter. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and two bites of it were enough to put me in a food coma. I loved the silkiness of the pie, and my only complaint with it was that since the crust was a brownie crust there wasn’t much texture to it. The flavors were there, but I kept waiting for some sort of crunch as I dug into our slice. Ten-year-old Jaleh would have adored everything about this pie, but twenty-two-year-old Jaleh was hoping for just an extra nudge to make this a truly perfect dessert. Despite that, it’s still something I would order again if I was craving a powerful dessert to satisfy my sweet tooth.

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Matt’s Fish Camp is certainly another success for the SoDel Concepts group, and it’s one that I’m positive we’ll be visiting again. The place is undeniably more beachy and casual than the other Haley locations we’ve visited, which makes it perfect for a laid back night. With the white wines chilling in a Coke fridge, approachable staff, and the mandatory Old Bay decorating the table, this spot is every Marylanders dream, and I am no exception. Whether you’re with kids or just a twosome, this place is worth a visit for any casual night out in Bethany.

Matt's Fish Camp on Urbanspoon

Posted in Beach, Cocktails, Dessert, Food, Restaurant, Seafood, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lies My Mother Told Me (#MWWC11)

I follow a fantastic wine blogger called The Drunken Cyclist who often posts about these Monthly Wine Writing Challenges that occur, believe it or not, monthly. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve had quite a bit of free time, so I decided to enter this month’s challenge on the theme of friendship. Full disclosure though, I can write about wine, and I can write about friendship, but I’m no expert on either subject, so prepare yourselves for the mess that is probably this essay.

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Between thinking Happy Days was the best show every created and having an unfortunate mole on my nose, I had a hard time making friends growing up. I was always drawn to things that were “unusual” for someone my age. When other kids wanted pizza, I chowed down on grilled octopus, eggplant stews, and mushrooms. Instead of sleepovers, makeovers, and birthday parties, I spent my free time devouring John Steinbeck books, dreaming of being a Sailor Scout, and inhaling Veal Marsala at a family friend’s Italian restaurant. Unbelievably, none of those things got me invited out with friends or boys growing up because apparently most kids and teens don’t want to discuss Quantum Leap and Henry VIII over prime rib.

This hasn’t changed as I’ve become a sort of adult, as most of my twenty-something friends would rather go out shopping for clothes than drop any money at a place like Vernick or The Treemont. However, Twitter works wonders for the socially awkward by bringing everyone with similar interests into one big hub of information and connection. One Twitter friend reached out to me and mentioned these wine tastings he frequently attends. The tastings are run by a couple who’ve transformed their passion for wine into a business, and they set up tastings with some of Philly’s best BYOBs to bring other passionate wine enthusiasts together, too.

After hearing about these events, I quickly signed up for the e-mails detailing the different wine tastings around the city, but I held off for a few months before actually attending one. Part of this had to do with my busy Senior schedule and my travels to London, but a nice chunk of it was fear. I knew the guy who originally let me in on this secret was someone I enjoyed speaking to, so I would probably get along with the others attending these events, but would I be able to keep up a conversation outside of the 140 character limit of Twitter? I finally decided to be a big girl and attend a tasting when I noticed one being held at Noord the day before my birthday.

I was still a bit torn though; I wanted go to Noord and knew that this would probably be my only chance to do so before leaving Philly, but I also knew that this particular tasting was all about white Burgundy and I hated white wine. My first real sip of white wine was from my mom’s glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, which I had to keep myself from spitting out as soon as it hit my tastebuds. I didn’t know much about wine when she confidently handed me my first glass, but I knew that if this was what it was all about, I wanted no part of it.

However, I figured if I was ever going to give white wine another chance, it would be better to do so with a group of people who know their stuff than with a group of college friends who still think boxed blush wine is the way to go. I was still a bit antsy at this point because I was not only going to have to chat with fifteen strangers, but I would also be putting myself in a situation where I could be drinking something I didn’t enjoy all night.

In my nervousness and anticipation of the night, I somehow ended up completely confusing the times and showed up an hour before I had to. It was definitely one of the most embarrassing things I’d done in a while, although I had yet to try and pronounce the French wines we would be tasting that night. And while I won’t go into too much detail of that part of the evening, I can safely say it was worse than showing up an hour early. When I finally stepped into Noord at the right time, the first wines were just being poured, and I slid my way over to the small group beginning to sit down.

As introductions were made and I realized that this was probably the most welcoming group of people I’ve ever met, I looked down and saw the two intimidating glasses filled with crisp, pale yellow liquid. I still wasn’t sure I made the right choice by opting for a white tasting, but I determinedly brought the first glass to my mouth, took a sip, and froze. I didn’t want to cringe. I didn’t want to pawn my wine off onto someone else. I wanted to keep sipping. In that one second, I felt like everything about my life had been a lie. Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but I did suddenly feel like everything I knew about wine was wrong, and obviously I was going to place most of that blame on my mother.

In all my twenty-one-year-old wisdom, I turned to the woman who was running this event with her husband and said “This is delicious! I think I’ve always had an aversion to white wines because people think they’re feminine. Plus, I’m always trying my mom’s Chardonnay, and it’s gross.”  Of course I was met with words that illustrated just how little I knew about wine: “This is Chardonnay.” As soon as those words came out of her mouth, I felt the need to get up, call my mother, and demand how she dared to drink the nasty stuff in her glass when there were Chardonnays like this out there. I would probably sound like a huge snob to her, but I was willing to do so if it meant better wines were brought into our home.

After getting over the fact that my mom’s lied to since telling me that KJ Chardonnay was amazing, I got the one question I had been anticipating since I signed up for this shindig: “Now, I’m not sure if this is politically correct or not, but you seem a bit young to be into wine.” I then launched into a long explanation of how I’ve always enjoyed things that are normally geared towards forty-year-olds and that everything from my preferred TV shows to the books I read were ones that tended to appeal to an over-thirty set. As I listed some examples of my interests, the woman sitting to my right turned to me and she said that she also loved Twin Peaks, enjoyed Doctor Who, and watched some Star Trek. I already knew I loved this group as soon as I sat down, but this cemented it. Despite my initial hesitancy, I was able to quickly loosen up, sit back, let the conversation flow, and think to myself “these are my people.”

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TV Review: The Mind of a Chef

My life recently has been categorized by several major freak outs. I still don’t have a full-time job and I’ve just moved back to Baltimore, which seems like the end of the world to me, but I’m slowly learning to deal with it. However, those first few days of “dealing with it” just involved marathoning Netflix in order to avoid the real world and the fact that I went from going to wine tasting dinners in Philly to fast food nights with my grandmother, mom, and siblings in Baltimore.  I happen to think this was the healthy thing to do, but maybe some of you will disagree with me, so I’ve decided to turn it all into something productive and write a review of one of the many series that have recently consumed me.

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Between slowly making my way through Star Trek: The Original Series and discovering new foreign films I may be interested in, I stumbled upon the PBS show The Mind of the Chef. Since I’ve been watching a ton of foodie films for the blog, I’ve started getting more suggestions for food movies and TV shows to watch. Most seem like they’re rubbish, including one called The Trip, which was so bad that I couldn’t even make myself finish it so that I could blog about it, but every so often, something really catches my eye. The first season of this chef-focused series certainly did that with its promise of exploring the world of David Chang in an in-depth and intimate way.

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This popular owner of Momofuku who is one of the brains behind Lucky Peach is one that I only know a little about, so I was eager to truly explore his relationship with food and cooking. In this day and age of popular celebrity chefs who attach their names to restaurants they have no intention of cooking at past opening day, it was sort of refreshing to delve into a series that seemed more science than rock-and-roll. Looking through the episode descriptions that included everything from a trip to San Sebastian and all the tapas there to the exploration of a foie gras sandwich, I was pretty gung-ho about this series before I even hit ‘Play.’

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When I did start it, though, I could immediately tell it was not without out its faults. The editing choices were so odd and scattered that it really seemed like each twenty-minute episode was sloppily thrown together the night before from one huge queue of footage. There are chefs featured who aren’t properly introduced until their second or third episode, the craziest graphics I’ve seen since the ’90s, and it generally seems as though each episode wasn’t planned.

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I just imagine someone giving David Chang a lot of money and going “Just do what you want, and then we’ll figure out what to make the show about.” With episodes clocking in at twenty minutes, you really have to know what you’re doing ahead of time and plan it out just a bit. I would have hated the show if it was just some cardboard experience, but I certainly think some idea of what you’re getting into is necessary before you start in on a project. What is the point in calling an episode ‘Japan’ when Tokyo is featured in one-third of the episodes?

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My only other beef with this series was Anthony Bourdain. I’m really unsure as to why Bourdain narrated the series other than the fact that his name was probably intended to bring in a wider audience. Even though Chef Chang is lauded for his work at Momofuku and his other hot spots, his name isn’t quite as household as Bourdain’s is. I don’t mind Bourdain, but I do think if he keeps doing things like this, he will quickly become an annoyance in my life. I respect a lot of his work and I can’t wait to see his episode on Tehran from his CNN show Parts Unknown, but he added nothing to this series.  If Chang had been narrating it, I believe the series as a whole would have felt more cohesive, as if Chang was inviting us to join him with his experiences himself.

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Now that I’ve brought up a few of the problems with this series, let me talk about the elements I love, namely the food. If you search for #foodporn on Instagram, know that you’re probably one of those people that chefs hate because you’re always taking pictures, or just plain love food, this is the show for you. You won’t learn how to cook, but you will learn about the process of making phenomenal food and the effort chefs put behind each dish. For Chang, food is supposed to be fun, innovative, and delicious…which are pretty much my top three desires for anything I decide to try. I’ve never been one to crave ramen, but after seeing the thought that goes into the food at Momofuku, I am certainly willing to give it another go.

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There are a number of his chef friends featured in various episodes, too, including Wylie Dufresne and Rene Redzepi. Each of these chefs approach food in a different way and highlight how similar ingredients can be utilized in completely different ways. While growing up in Virginia may have influenced Chang and cultivated a lot of Old Bay covered crabs for him, a chef from Europe would approach crabmeat in a wholly different way. Although this season is Chang’s story, it accurately depicts no two minds work in the same way.

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Since each chef approaches food differently, Chang’s episodes are geared towards his influences. With episodes entitled with simple words like “Noodle” and “Smoke,” each one focuses on a certain element of food. Some of the finer details get lost in editing, but there are some real gems in each episode. Chang and the other food professionals he meets with know what they’re talking about and are willing to take risks to make something phenomenal. I loved the scenes of foraging in Copenhagen, as well as the behind-the-scenes look into how crazy and nerve-wracking demonstrations can be for chefs. Throughout each episode, there were little tidbits of information one could glean about cooking, such as how no good banana cream pie should be made with yellow bananas and how one of the first steps to making a great meal is to go back to your childhood and memories.

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I definitely think that The Mind of a Chef could use a bit of tweaking, particularly in the editorial department, but nothing was so bad that I wouldn’t be tempted to come back now that Season 2 is up on Netflix. The time spent focusing on ingredients and tying a large portion of it back to the individual chef was a new TV formula for me, and besides a few confusing missteps, this was one series I’ve enjoyed so far. The jury may be out until Season 2 though on whether or not this show is strong enough to stand on its own against big shows like Top Chef and Parts Unknown, but I can confidently say that either way it is a cerebral food geek show perfect for anyone looking for a bit of fresh air.

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Dinner at Catch 54 (Selbyville, DE)

Every year for the Fourth of July, my family shuffles into the Lexus and goes up to Sea Colony, a small condo community located in between Ocean City, MD and Rehoboth, DE. A lot of my family on my mom’s side also have places around the area, so the week is a bit hectic for all of us as we go around seeing everyone. Obviously, since I’m a twenty-one-year-old recent college grad, I’m expected to both have a job and a serious boyfriend. My count on both of those things has pretty much been zero since birth, so my family’s extra worried about me. My conversations with everyone pretty much went like this:

“We should set you up! Irani??”

“No, I’m not really into Persian guys. I like my guys lanky and with no distinguishable ethnicity.”

Instead of realizing that I meant emaciated guys that are as pasty as vanilla ice-cream, I received this in response: “So, what do you think about Indian guys?” It’s not that I’ve never found a Persian guy or an Indian guy attractive, it’s just that I tend to like my guys pretty darn white. It probably has a lot to do with the hordes of hairy Persian men I grew up with, but I’d rather not get into the psychological implications of my type and would prefer to steer this blog back to food….

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Although we spent quite a bit of time going out to restaurants with various family members, my mom promised me that I would get to choose one place during the time I was there. This almost didn’t happen, which meant I almost threw a fit and cried like a five-year-old, but all was eventually well and I quickly opted for one of my longstanding favorites, Catch 54.

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This restaurant, owned by the formidable restaurateur Matt Haley, is heavy on the seafood, and with its beachy, shack-like exterior, it was certainly created with location in mind. Several years ago, the original Catch 54 burned down; it was a bit lower key than this new one, but I was happy to see it come back in any capacity. However, I’m not the only one who knows the joy that Catch 54 can bring into any belly, so we had to wait an hour before we were seated. I didn’t mind though because while I normally thrive off of new foods and continually try and push my culinary boundaries, this spot provides me with what I’m looking for at the beach: simple, good food that reminds me of summers spent picking crabs and nervously swimming in the ocean. For the quality of seafood here, the wait is generally worth it as long as you’re prepared. It’s non-existent though in the summertime, so if you don’t like waiting and can enjoy beach towns in October, check it out then.

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Luckily, the bar area is fairly large, so the night we went this year allowed us to snag a high top and start in on the booze portion of the evening while we waited. I decided to try a Lemon Drop Martini, which was citrusy, strong, and perfectly refreshing for the summertime. This was a part of my very general effort to try drinks besides gin and tonics and red wine when I go out, and I would say this flavorful martini was a nice way to kick this effort off. For the younger people in our group, this spot had a number of specialty bottled sodas that my sister and her friends loved. Although I’m not a big soda drinker (unless it’s part of a mixed drink), there were some combinations that even I would be tempted to get, including Strawberry Basil Chili and Lemon Berry. Of course, I think they’d probably taste even better with a shot of something in them, but I’m sure I’d enjoy them on their own as well. 

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After our wait, we were seated upstairs in one of the many booths, and since we were still nursing some drinks from downstairs, we quickly perused the food menu to decide on some appetizers. The one thing we always get when we dine here are the Crab Claws. As a devoted Marylander, I love crab claws, and the ones here are a perfect snack to prepare you for the rest of your meal. Doused in a healthy shake of Old Bay and served with a tangy mustard/mayo sauce for dipping, these claws are every Marylander’s dream and half the reason why I refuse to eat crabs outside of Maryland and Delaware.

One other appetizer we tried was the Raw Oysters, which can be ordered in any number, though our table just opted to order two of each type they had. Both the crab claws and the oysters come from the raw bar downstairs, which means that they are not served at the same time as appetizers from the kitchen. This time, however, they did take a little bit longer than usual to come out, so one of the impossibly attractive servers there threw in an extra oyster for us. Even though only two of us were partaking in them, we definitely appreciated it, especially since the extra oyster was the size of my hand. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, though  I do generally prefer the really salty ones to the sweet, supple varieties. 

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Outside of the raw bar appetizers, we also tried the Deviled Eggs and the Shaved Brussels Sprouts. The eggs came with lump crab and bacon chips which added a bit of meatiness to this rich, tangy appetizer. It accompanied our other, lighter appetizers well by adding a deeper dimension to our choices as a whole. The Brussels sprouts, highlighted through the inclusion of pistachio, pecorino, and a honey vinaigrette, were light, crunchy, and packed a lot of flavor into each bite. These appetizers were on point and though they were all a little different, they each categorized the feel of beach food and weren’t too heavy to turn us off of main entrees.

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On this particular evening, I ended up opting for someone else’s definition of homey food and ordered the Seafood Gumbo, which is a staple dish I’ve always wanted to try. I was just a tad bit hesitant to order it because though I enjoy trying new things, I haven’t really heard many good things about okra. I decided to take the plunge though, and I’m very glad I did. I’m a bit odd because if we were talking about liver or tongues or something along those lines, I would fearlessly jump in, but throw a new veggie my way and I’m all kinds of freaked out.  After visually analyzing the okra from all angles, I hesitantly put one piece up to my mouth and chewed. I don’t think I could eat a ton of okra, and it’s certainly not something I’d want all the time, but I didn’t have the adverse reaction to it I was expecting.

While I didn’t mind smoky veggie that was the basis for this gumbo, the star of this dish was the fried oyster on top. The buttermilk fried oyster that sat on top of the plate like a king was incredibly decadent and left me wishing everyone fried everything this way. All the seafood was flavorful and added additional texture and salty, ocean flavor to the gumbo, but of course another necessary element was the grits. Although I know grits are just as polarizing as okra, I’ve loved grits for as long as I can remember. The grits of this gumbo were cheesy and thickened every bite to create a truly hearty meal.

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Though there were a number of entrees at our table, the other one I feel the need to highlight is the Crab Mac-n-Cheese. I am extremely picky about my mac-n-cheese because, much like a martini, it’s either really great or the most terrible thing you’ve ever eaten depending on who makes it. With white cheddar, mustard, and celery, this mac-n-cheese was creamy and sparked to life on my tastebuds. It also included cracker crumbs, my number on requirement for this popular food, because they transform a good mac-n-cheese into a great one. It added just a touch of texture to an otherwise soft dish and made it all look deliciously golden brown. This was another heavier dish on our table, but it was also one that was worth trying out despite the summer heat.

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Others at our table ordered everything from a Cod Sandwich to a New York Strip. There are dozens of options for people looking for either lighter meals or more substantial ones, and I have yet to hear one bad thing about any dish at this establishment. After finishing our dinner, I did the one thing I never do, I didn’t order dessert. On the rare occasion when I’m too full for dessert, I still tend to nibble on something sweet before I go to bed, but I was so fulfilled by this meal that I didn’t crave anything when I was done. I think that, more than anything, is the biggest testament to the phenomenal food this restaurant consistently churns out.

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There are tons of exciting places around the Maryland and Delaware beaches, but Catch 54 has had my heart for years. Matt Haley is the Stephen Starr of Delaware, but unlike Starr, all of his restaurants impress and they’re a choice I never regret making. If you’re looking for fresh seafood, good service, and summery cocktails, make an easy choice and stop by Catch 54. Catch 54 on Urbanspoon

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Book Review: Extra Virginity

I recently went into Barnes & Noble, something I should never do because all my disposable income goes there…and by income, I mean the money I still get from my dad, birthdays, and graduations because I have yet to find an internship that pays. Either way, I went into the bookstore and dropped a lot of dough on a handful or two of books, one of which was about olive oil. If you told me a few years ago that my favorite book of the year would be about olive oil, my Harry-Potter-reading, John-Steinbeck-loving self would have called you a crazy Muggle. The book is called Extra Virginity, a title which I initially thought was witty, but which also led to an unpleasant encounter in Rittenhouse with a guy who thought I was reading a whole different kind of book.

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Awkward, uncomfortable encounters aside, I loved pretty much everything about this book. I’ve never been one who was incredibly passionate about olive oil. I didn’t particularly care if it was placed on a table to dip slices of Italian bread in, and I certainly didn’t think it was a topic that warranted a substantial book. Tom Mueller proved me wrong though, and introduced me to a history that is as long and complicated as most religions. His prose is, as cheesy as this sounds, as smooth and balanced as the topic he’s writing about. While he may get a bit overly flowery at times, he is so moved by what he writes about that he can’t help it. Mueller doesn’t just focus on the olive oil of one specific time, but really delves into the history of this little pitted fruit, from its regal past to its deceitful present.

Throughout the novel, the past and present are perfectly blended together to provide readers with a clear picture of the life olive oil has led. It was so important to Ancient Rome that there were strict regulations against marketing any olive oil as superior to what it was, and Mueller crafts the trajectory from then until modern times well. There were checkpoints, a labeling system, and a host of other provisions in Rome guaranteed to cut down on crime and protect both person and product, but while there are olive oil laws now, how many people truly think of it in the terms of crime? Besides a handful of girls who swear by using olive oil in their hair to make it shiny and luscious, there aren’t too many people left who think about bathing their body in golden oil or drinking it like it’s a necessity for life. The state of the market today hasn’t led to better olive oils and a demand for true extra virgin, but rather bankruptcy, lawsuits, and even more shockingly, suicides.

Mueller utilizes personal story after personal story to illustrate how the people who are making true extra virgin grade oil are losing out to companies that can pass low grade oil blends off as superior. With strategic marketing, hordes of lawyers, and low costs for consumers, deceitful olive oil conglomerates are strong arming small family business out of the market, and people around the world have no idea that they’re being bamboozled into buying something fake. Olive oil is not like wine; no one tweets about a really good bottle or Instragrams a picture of proudly drinking it alone, but it’s something that is just as good for you as a glass of red wine. It might not give you the boozy, clam, warmth that you get from a few glasses of wine, but there was obviously a reason why it spread across the world and the Romans protected it so much in the past. After putting down this book, I doubt I’ll ever look at olive oil the same way, and I’ll scrutinize that ‘extra virgin’ label a bit more harshly next time I’m in the store.

Even though I loved a vast majority of the book, there was one section that I need to critique a bit. As someone who studied abroad in Rome, I thought his prose about Testaccio was a bit funny. If I was reading this as someone who was a Rome virgin, I would totally want to visit Testaccio and feel the crunch of ancient amphorae beneath my feet, but as someone who spent months living in the city, I think Testaccio is the plague of Rome. It’s gross, seedy, and someplace that I have no desire to return to after a club experience that included walking into a bathroom featuring a vomit filled sink and skeevy Italian guys who clawed at anything with curves. I’m definitely more of a happy hour, brunchy, wine sipping kind of girl, and Testaccio offers none of that. It might be historically significant, and it might be built on piles and piles of the vessels that carried truly amazing olive oil in them, but I think it’s also one part of Rome where the modern has really stomped out the history.

Testaccio aside, there are some amazing sections in this book, including one at the end on how to buy true extra virgin oil. Here are some of my favorite quotes from both Mueller and the people he interviewed, and if these don’t have you thinking of olive oil in a new way, then I don’t know how else to convince you:

-“If it says Dom Perignon 1964 then that’s what’s in the bottle, not last month’s Beaujolais Nouveau…But olive oil labels all say the same thing, whether the bottle contains a magnificent oil or this schifezza….”

-“He shook his head, as if unable to believe his eyes. ‘Extra virgin? What’s this oil got to do with virginity? This is a whore.'”

-“Once someone tries a real extra virgin — an adult or a child, anybody with taste buds — they’ll never go back to the fake kind. It’s distinctive, complex, the freshest thing you’ve ever eaten. It makes you realize how rotten the other stuff is, literally rotten.”

-“Oil is already there in the olive, if only we can coax it free.”

I picked up Extra Virginity at the perfect point in my relationship with food; if you’ve read any of my recent blogs about Food, Inc., the Tristram Stuart TED Talk, or pretty much any other review I’ve done, you’ll see that I’ve become really enthusiastic about knowing my food. Olive oil may be more of a luxury good, but it’s another one that has been ruined by the mass markets of today. Mueller cares about this product a lot and has devoted a large portion of his career towards getting to the bottom of the world of olive oil. His message, his passion, and his hopes are all clear from start to finish. You’ll come away from this book cringing every time you pass clear plastic bottles of urine-colored olive oil, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll become obsessed with all the little ingredients that go into your food. I have doubts that the world of olive oil will change any time soon, but Mueller’s book did change my relationship with this fruit juice…something which might just have to sadly be enough for now.

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