Dinner at Pen & Quill (Baltimore, MD)

Restaurant Week is an event that garners either joy in the hearts of poor post-grads or contemptuous ridicule from people who think of dining out as a second job. For some, a three-course dinner in the thirty-ish dollar range is the best way to dine out; for others, this event is rarely a deal as it usually translates to limited menus, smaller portions, and huge crowds. There is rarely any middle ground. Being the odd duckling I am, I do fall into that middle though. It’s true that the food isn’t up to any restaurant’s normal standard and that you’re probably only saving ten dollars or so, but it’s a deal most of my friends flock to and one that I can get behind as long as it’s a restaurant I’m excited to try.

Having never dined in Baltimore during Restaurant Week, I spent more time than most exploring the options presented to me when my cousin asked me if I’d be interested in joining her and her fiancé for this dinner deal. After some debate, we ended up with a reservation at Pen & Quill, a restaurant that I was already imaging filled with hipsters due to the ampersand in the name.

Walking into the funky, artsy spot, we were told that they were waiting for another party to get up, so we decided to grab a beer at the bar while we waited. Forty minutes later, and it was well past our reservation time. The hostess explained that the other table was lingering longer than anticipated. Since the bar had cleared out and we were all ready to sink our teeth into something, we ended up staying there and asking to see the Restaurant Week menu. As with most places where people in flannel are behind the bar, the service was laid back, but precise. Not a style everyone enjoys, but one I don’t mind when I’m with a group. Especially a hungry group.

There were three options for each course, and with three of us trying this restaurant out, it was an easy decision to just order one of everything and see which plates were the best. To start, I went for the Beef Brisket Steam Bun. Being a steam bun virgin, the spongy texture was a bit off-putting. Yet the tender brisket and the tangy horseradish cream were good enough to keep me eating until I could get used to the unusual texture of the bun. However, the real star of the appetizers we tried was the smoky BBQ Shrimp that was balanced out by creamy polenta. It was a hearty option for a cold evening out, and we all agreed that this one was the winner of the entire evening.

We still had a few courses to get through though. Like most Maryland restaurants, there was a focus on seafood, and I went for the entree promising the most of my fishy friends, Bouillabaisse. Presented to me steaming and adorned with a big piece of black bass, this was undoubtedly a meal for a seafood lover. Brimming with mussels and clams, I alternated between taking bites of seafood and sopping up the tomato broth with my bread. The slightest of missteps occurred when I delved into the shrimp, as they seemed just a touch too dry and overcooked when compared to the rest of the bowl. Again, I ended up with the second best option as I enjoyed my bite of the fragrant Spinach Cavatelli a bit more.  The rosemary pesto added an herbaceous quality to the pasta, and despite my ambivalence towards Italian food, I found myself taking more than one bite.

For Restaurant Week, the portions were large, and by the time dessert came out, I was stuffed. The dessert I intended to scarf down, the Creme Brulee, was all gone by the time we were ready. So, instead we opted for two Sticky Toffee Puddings and one Peanut Butter Pie. Sticky toffee pudding is a dessert from the Gods who understand that sweets make the world go round. This one included banana butter crunch, and it was like someone smashed a banana in my face. It was hard to choke down the few bites I did have, but my cousin was more than happy to finish my share. It was one of those desserts where I could appreciate the quality of it without actually wanting to eat it. Unlike sticky toffee pudding, bananas are a curse. The peanut butter pie fell somewhere in the middle of the food of the Gods destroyed by a curse. It was a nice, solid way to end the meal, but nothing meant to change my life.

Though not the best Restaurant Week meal I’ve ever had, the pros of Pen & Quill outweighed the few cons, and I’d come back again to try it on a night not bound by the confines of this event. For those who do enjoy dining out during Restaurant Week, I would recommend Pen & Quill; still, I would suggest making a reservation around six or seven p.m. to avoid getting screwed out of a table like we did, particularly if you don’t enjoy going with the flow. With an evolving menu that changes to reflect seasonal foods, I can’t wait to try this restaurant again in the summer, when I’m sure fresh veggies abound and the restaurant contrasts the hot season with light food.
Pen and Quill on Urbanspoon

Posted in Baltimore, Bar, Beer, Dessert, Event, Farm-to-Table, Food, Maryland, Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thirsty Thursday: The Tea Party

I like to drink. I am also lazy. I am especially lazy now that I am working six to seven days a week, and because of that, my cocktails have gotten simpler and simpler. Still, I want them to be yummy. I finally found the solution to my problems when I came across Owl’s Brew a month or so ago. I found it at The Fresh Market, and as a tea and cocktail lover, I had to try the Original flavor which featured English Breakfast tea underscored by the zing of lemon and lime. This tea mixer can be paired with a variety of spirits, but as much as I love my gin, the brew best expressed itself when I paired it with vodka. Eventually, I began experimenting until I came up with this recipe. Honestly, I was really just having a cocktail that evening because I wanted to use the mustache ice cube that had been sitting in my freezer for a while. Yet I liked how it turned ouy, so I decided to share it with you all. As I was sipping away and thinking about writing this post, I suddenly stopped. I was drinking a cocktail made with a mixer from Brooklyn served over ice shaped like a mustache; I had never felt like such a hipster before and decided to just dull the pain with a second glass of this good stuff. Thus, I invented a drink called The Tea Party. Obviously, I was inspired by the English Breakfast tea flavor of the cocktail, not the political party. However, I do think many a confused radical will now be directed to my site due to this post. That’s not your problem though, so you can scroll through the poor pictures below to reach the attached cocktail recipe.

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The Tea Party

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Grey Goose Citron

1 1/2 oz. Owl’s Brew 

1/2 oz. homemade sweet and sour mix (recipe here)

1. If you know early on that you’ll be making this cocktail, stick vodka in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to get it well chilled.

2. Take vodka out of the freezer. Stick one large ice cube (if possible) in a lowball glass.

3. Measure out and pour all ingredients into glass one at a time. Stir once or twice gently with straw or swizzle stick to integrate ingredients. Sip. Enjoy. Drink another one.

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Dinner at Laurel (Philadelphia, PA)

February was filled with a number of dinners as I traveled from Baltimore to Virginia to Philadelphia and then back to Baltimore. Since I gorged myself so thoroughly, I’m still catching up on reviews. I’ve gotten through my Arlington ones, have a few Baltimore posts waiting in the wings, and am posting my final Philly review. Of course, I will probably be in Philly again a few days from now, so hopefully I’ll have some reviews to share again! For now, I’ll leave you with a review of a restaurant that prompted a whole trip up to Philly to visit friends and dine at a place that I thought I’d never be able to experience, Laurel.

After months of trying to get into Laurel, my friend Rex texted me one evening to ask if I’d like to join him there. For those of you living in Philly, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I received this text sometime in January and the reservation actually fell in mid-February. After winning Top Chef, being made into a Devil of sorts during editing of that show, and many favorable reviews in most major Philly publications, Laurel’s reservations disappeared faster than D.B. Cooper.

Luckily, Rex has some magical, mystical reservation powers and can get in anywhere, even this tiny spot on East Passyunk Avenue. I was so enthusiastic about being there that I showed up roughly ten minutes before everyone else, tucked myself into a comfy grey chair, and took a few moments to look around the dimly lit room that felt cozy but which didn’t offer much in the way of character. In a place like Laurel, it’s more important for there to be several spacious tables and warmth over superfluous decorations. As a gal who appreciates food more than the look of a location, I didn’t mind this at all, and eagerly prepared to prove that by filling my belly up.

With four of us dining, we opted to order a little bit of everything and try each other’s choices. Dishes of particular note were the Duck Confit Cassoulet and the Ricotta Gnocchi, rich options of which I took more than my fair share. The cassoulet felt homey and earthy while the gnocchi smoothly melted in my mouth with a touch of texture coming from the crispy pancetta. They were very different courses, but both were wholly appropriate for the frigid weather outside.

Another choice that I could spend pages gushing over was the Peking Duck. Crispy skin, tender meat, and a plump little duck heart were all the meaty stars of the plate. However, besides an immaculately cooked protein, what made this option stand out was the ground coffee which added a bitterly earthy flavor to it all. I’m sure Elmi isn’t the first person who has matched a good piece of duck with some quality coffee, but he’s executed this idea perfectly.

While there were a number of dishes that were so good that I always wanted to grab one more bite, the Cured Tuna could have used some tweaking. On the plus side, the tuna was delicate with just the right texture to it, and each aspect, from the apples to the horseradish, highlighted the beauty of the fish. Though the flavors were excitingly there, the food was so cold. Additionally, due to the texture of the crunchy, juicy apple, the chill actually felt frozen. Also, I can’t say that I’d order the Lemon Poppyseed Cake a second time. Admittedly, there wasn’t anything wrong with the dessert we chose, but it had an overwhelmingly heady floral element to it which kept me from enjoying the few bites I had. For an otherwise pleasurable meal, these qualms weren’t enough to keep me from declaring I was ready to come back the next evening and try the few things we hadn’t ordered between the four of us.

As I’ve said before, aesthetics don’t mean much to be. Still, those who snap pictures of all the food they eat would find Laurel a frustrating spot. Some of the plating was beautiful, while other dishes were hidden under globs of foam or other unattractive elements. Even though not all of the dishes were worthy of Instagram, the restaurant more than made up for it with the flavors, and given the choice between tasty food and being able to #foodporn, I will always choose the former option. Always.

If it wasn’t clear before, we savored our dishes and appreciated eat bite that we had; yet, as fantastic as most of the dishes were, the evening went downhill fast when our server handed us the check the minute we finished dessert and told us we had to get up as another party was set to arrive. Now that I am hostessing at a BYOB, I know that people like to linger over their wine and how frustrating that can be when another reservation is supposed to come in shortly. However, I couldn’t imagine going up to a table and asking them to leave. Up until that point, our servers were friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, but this final encounter did leave me confused and annoyed. It was a sour note on which to end the evening, and we left more than a few half-full wine glasses on the table as we walked out. It was also one of the reasons why Laurel wasn’t quite good enough to break into the My Fantastic Five list I have running on this website.

Since the evening we dined at Laurel, it has switched over to a tasting menu format. If the above average meal I had there was anything to go off of, this change only means that people can now experience the range of food Laurel offers without having to share their courses with others. Frankly, that’s a change I can get behind because while sharing is nice, when good food is involved, sharing is also a pain in the ass.

Laurel on Urbanspoon

Posted in BYOB, Dessert, Food, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lunch at Johnny Rad’s (Baltimore, MD)

I originally intended to post this article three or four weeks ago. Then, I started working at Nordstrom during the day and hostessing at night, and my free time has become a cycle of eating, sleeping, and watching TV shows that don’t require my brain to follow along. Finally I just sat down and demanded that I churn this one out. Not only do I enjoy blogging and want to keep up with it despite my hectic schedule, I am also keen on any post that allows me to share my experiences in Baltimore with everyone. Of course, with all of the media attention on Baltimore, I debated holding off on this for a while longer, but this blog has never had a significant political charge, and I think that this is separate from all of that. As a person who grew up in a privileged household, there’s so much about what’s going on that I can’t understand, so I am not going to even dive into the issue today.

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On a more positive note, I’ll begin with a simple fact: a majority of the friendships I have involve me being the third wheel. This isn’t even a new development. In high school, I hung out with a friend of mine and her boyfriend all the time. We’d go ice skating together and the boy would graciously take me around the rink once or twice after I literally flapped my way around a few times solo. We made sushi together on Valentine’s Day. They picked me up once on a snowy afternoon to go to lunch. I was basically in a relationship without having to make out with anyone.

Now, I’m the third wheel to my cousin and her fiancé. Luckily, they know that my interests involve food, drink, and comic books, so they placate me every time I’m over with dinner somewhere and a viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy. I bring the beer and my sparkling personality in order to make sure I’m contributing something to this relationship as well. On the mornings after I crash at their place, one bar we frequent is Johnny Rad’s, a nearby spot that brings to life the idea of the hipster-casual sports bar for those who enjoy skateboarding.

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I don’t quite fit into the aforementioned category, but I am willing to dine anywhere that provides me with a savory thin-crust pizza. At this point, I’ve eaten at Johnny Rad’s a couple of times and have learned that a good beer should always be ordered over a charmless, awkward cocktail and that pizza is the prime reason to step into this spot. The substantial options for pizza would take anyone a while to get through, but one that should not be passed over is the Trainwreck. I was immediately drawn to this when I saw that a few of the toppings were spinach, black olives, and olive oil. Then, I was wholly won over by the time I noticed that the others were mushrooms and mozzarella. This was a filling, bright option perfect for someone like me who entertains the thought that pizza is healthy.

Less appealing, though still good, was the Sei Cheese with mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, asiago, and romano cheese. Maybe Cinque Cheese would have been better, or even an extra brush of tomato sauce; there needed to be some small tweak to cut down on the mass of saltiness that was heaped onto that pie. This was the clunky cousin of the tamed chaos of my first choice. However, it did not dissuade me from returning, and I will probably be back in the next month or so to test out the remaining plethora of pizzas on the menu.

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After a long night of drinking beer or wine, Johnny Rad’s is the perfect pick-me-up. For those who just want to inhale some solid food and wipe away the pain from the night before, this is the unrefined place to walk into. It’s a laid-back dive bar where the hipster bartenders appear as if they’ve never been enthusiastic about anything ever, but I kind of love it all and I always look forward to going back.
Johnny Rad's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Baltimore, Bar, Beer, Cocktails, Food, Maryland, Pizza, Restaurant, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

So…This Is Awkward

We have another winner! Since the mysterious Webtekplus never responded to win his/her copy of Fed, White, and Blue, I picked another lucky winner- and it’s Steve of the blog Steve’s Been There! If you could shoot me an e-mail at afamishedfoodie (at) gmail (dot) com or through my ‘Contact Me’ page, I’ll get back to you about how to claim your prize. You have a week…and if you don’t respond, I’m just shipping this book to a random U.S. address because I am not doing this all over again. Happy Tuesday!

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Reminder and Some Shameless Plugging

So, Webtekplus, who very well may not be real now that he/she/it hasn’t responded to the Fed, White, and Blue giveaway win, has until tonight to send me an e-mail at afamishedfoodie (at) gmail (dot) com before I pick a new winner. If I do pick a new winner, it will be announced on another post tomorrow.

Also, since I’m not posting just two sentences this morning, I’m just going to throw some links on here for my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I’m just as amazing on all of them, though my Facebook numbers are a little sad. Hopefully, we can connect on one of those platforms as well since I have no idea how these two jobs are going to impact the frequency of my blog posts! I’m going to say right now that I’ll hopefully have a review up on Wednesday, but we all witnessed how that was a lie last time….

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Breakfast at Knead Bagels (Philadelphia, PA)

I am such a liar. If my name wasn’t Jaleh, it would be Charles Ponzi. Or, maybe ‘Jaleh’ means ‘lie’ in Farsi and no one ever bothered to tell me the truth. Either way, I lied the other day when I said this post would be going up on Wednesday. I started two jobs, have been shoving food into my mouth during quick breaks, and all of the sudden, as I was driving home last night, I thought ‘good gosh, it was Wednesday ages ago.’ So, here’s my post about Knead Bagels, which I visited all the way back on the coldest day of the year a couple of months ago.

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Normally I believe that bread is a hindrance to the yummy things you put on it. I want a sharp slice of white cheddar and I want to taste all of its power. I want a mound of crab dip on the tiniest slice of French baguette I can find. The only exception to this rule is cream cheese, which I love smooshed between two slices of a toasty bagel. Luckily enough for this bagel-lovin’ chica, I can satisfy this need to smoosh with Knead. Did that sound dirty? I feel like the two episodes of Jersey Shore that my classless sister made me watch used the word smoosh to refer to naughty things. I may be wrong, but I think this paragraph marks both the beginning and end of my relationship with smooshing.

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Now, for those of you who haven’t hit the unsubscribe button, I will tell you that Knead Bagels was awesome. They had cool, hipstery cream cheeses, including kimchee and scallion lime, but the people were also super nice, so I didn’t care that I was surrounded by a bunch of guys with beards and girls who probably paid a lot of money to look like they had no money at all.  Ordering the Fennel Seed & Sea Salt Bagel with Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese, I spent the next few minutes explaining to everyone that worked there how the heck one pronounces ‘Jaleh.’ At a place like Knead, where the people seemed to genuinely enjoy chit-chatting, I didn’t mind doing this. Yet, my name is always ‘Julie’ in Starbucks, so clearly not everyone is worthy of talking to me about how great my name is.

When I was presented with my brown bag housing a warm, fragrant bagel, I had intended to take it somewhere else to enjoy, but was so impatient that I plopped myself down and dug right in at the shop. The intensity of the tart yet sweet cream cheese along with the fennel seed made this one of the more memorable bagels of my life. The slight chewiness of the bread was another high point as it allowed me to savor my breakfast and really appreciate each layer of flavor that hit my awaiting tongue.

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There are a lot of okay bagel huts out there, and several good ones, but this was the best bagel I’ve had in Philly. I won’t lie (for once) and say that I’ve tried every bagel in Philadelphia, but as of right now, this is number one on my list. I love the innovation behind their bagels because they promise a powerful flavor profile that could wake anyone up. However, I also appreciate that Knead just makes things well. I don’t care how great a restaurant’s imagination is, if the food sucks, it’s not worth it…and I think I just came up with my new motto for life.

Knead Bagels on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Restaurant, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments