Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

The Big Easy in Review: Eating Our Way Through New Orleans

Gentle Readers, there is nothing better than eating the food of the natives on home turf. In the words of TPCs Jr, why go somewhere to eat someplace you can find anywhere? We were in full research mode this past weekend, on my first post-Katrina trip to New Orleans. I found a city greatly changed but not broken.

Cafe au lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde: iconic for a reason.

Cafe au lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde: iconic for a reason.

And food culture marches on there. Having spent so much time in NYC and on the West Coast recently, it was refreshing to eat for less than a mortgage. I quickly renewed my relationship with cafe au lait, and may not recover from the discovery that there are Cafe Du Monde locations with drive-thrus.

I discovered that muffulettas make a great breakfast! The whole from Central Grocery.

I discovered that muffulettas make a great breakfast! The whole from Central Grocery.

Without further adieu, here are my top 5 reasons to eat in New Orleans:

1. Not everything will kill you. For me, life in the land of shellfish is a bit of a culinary minefield. Other people may fear the Fried. It’s not all made of butter here. Yes, there is large and deadly (looking at you crayfish) food to be found, but there is also sharing a muffuletta from Central Grocery or a plate of beignets at Cafe Du Monde, or gumbo and even tofu.

It is possible to eat healthy here: breakfast burrito with black beans and spinach from Canal Street Bistro.

It is possible to eat healthy here: breakfast burrito with black beans and spinach from Canal Street Bistro.

2. Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. It’s a classic, and that’s justified. I feel like there must be kickbacks in the confectioner’s sugar market, but if you can move past that excess, the concept of doughnuts and coffee is made of win. They come in orders of 3, just take it easy. They’ll make more.

There is so much natural beauty in Louisiana--try a swamp tour if you've never gone!

There is so much natural beauty in Louisiana–try a swamp tour if you’ve never gone!

3. Po-Boys. I had a couple of amazing catfish po-boys, and a very respectable roast beef one as well from a little dive called Russell’s Short Stop Po-Boys. This is working class food, and it speaks to my own cooking home base. To be fair, there was nary a vegetable in the place, unless you count the two pieces of lettuce on the sandwich, but it was filling and good.

The roast beef po-boy from Russell's Short Stop.

The roast beef po-boy from Russell’s Short Stop.

Catfish po-boy!

Catfish po-boy!

4. Innovation in the field of breakfast. Some of the most outstanding food I had was breakfast. I’ve eaten a lot of grits in my time, but the Geaux Grits I had at the Canal Street Bistro were noteworthy. Great atmosphere, generous portions, healthy options, biscuit on the side, what’s not to love. This was ordered by the Youngest Practical Cook, who is a big carb fan. She plowed through this like it was her job. Topped with cheese, bacon, and eggs, I say yes.

Geaux Grits! Yes, that's bacon.

Geaux Grits! Yes, that’s bacon.

5. Desserts. Perhaps I compensated for the fact that many of the protein options are genetically designed to kill me (shellfish, shellfish everywhere), but getting my calories from dessert. From king cake to a delightful white cake with chocolate frosting, to a peanut butter pie  from Russell’s Short Stop that I’m still dreaming about, dessert options were plentiful. We didn’t make it for a traditional snoball, but that’s for next time. We opted instead for the noveau gelato, perfect ending to a hot day.

Leftover wedding cakes FTW!

Leftover wedding cakes FTW!

Peanut Butter Pie and I shut my mouth.

Peanut Butter Pie and I shut my mouth.

In conclusion, there are endless places to try and infinite choices. There are options from healthy to not so much, but the fusion tradition marches on. Need to heat things up? There’s a hot sauce for every palate. This trip made me want to go back and eat more, always a good sign. New Orleans has changed, and it is still recovering, but there are a lot of bright spots on the horizon.

Home of Tabasco, hot sauce is a New Orleans staple. Try this at your own risk.

Home of Tabasco, hot sauce is a New Orleans staple. Try this at your own risk.

What’s your favorite Southern food? Post a comment below, or Tweet my way!

Amazing omelet from Katie's Place (as seen on Diner's Drive-ins and Dives).

Amazing omelet from Katie’s Place (as seen on Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives).

Send beignets, hot sauce, and good times to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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For the Love of Macaroni and Cheese: Homeroom in Oakland, CA

Gentle Readers, sometimes one goes clear across the country for comfort food. In a week of extreme eating (and I do mean extreme, starting with a meat cone and marching across many scones and some chocolate), simplicity won my heart. The Practical Cooks Junior and I went on vacation to San Francisco, staying with family in Oakland, and eating with many friends along the way. Our last meal abroad was at Homeroom, and it was spectacular.

White Cheddar Mac-n-Cheese with Bread Crumb Toppings from Homeroom.

White Cheddar Mac-n-Cheese with Bread Crumb Toppings from Homeroom.

The restaurant serves macaroni and cheese. Plus vegetables. And that’s really it. Well, plus drinks and beer. There’s a good bit of bacon too. I respect that in an establishment. Here’s what I liked about the place.

Kids portion of traditional creamy cheddar mac-n-cheese. So fantastically good.

Kids portion of traditional creamy cheddar mac-n-cheese. So fantastically good.

1. Clarity of purpose. Do something and do it well. I knew what I could eat before I went. It was reasonably priced, and I was delighted to eat the White Cheddar Mac-n-Cheese, with optional crumb topping.

Hello minty peas, so fresh and full of vegetable goodness.

Hello minty peas, so fresh and full of vegetable goodness.

2. Infinite variety. Though the menu is focused, you can alter and amend your mac-n-cheese ad infinitum. Bravo. Next time I’m getting the garlicky gouda or the truffle and mushroom.

Hipster atmosphere for the win!

Hipster atmosphere for the win!

3. Strong vegetable sides. In a world of starch and cheese, it would be easy to fall victim to a junk food mentality. Not at Homeroom. There are several salads and a few main veggie sides. Again, all reasonably priced. We got minty peas and bacony Brussels sprouts: wow. The Youngest could not shovel peas in fast enough. The Eldest launched a full assault on the sprouts. After a week of eating lots of travel food, it was a welcome respite.

Go ahead and drool over these bacony Brussels sprouts. I'll wait.

Go ahead and drool over these bacony Brussels sprouts. I’ll wait.

4. Just desserts. I only regret I lacked the stomach to try more desserts. We had this peanut butter pie, and it was outstanding. A little salty, a little sharp from either sour cream or cream cheese, and well balanced with the graham cracker crust. I will dream of this. The homemade salted oreo is also highly Yelp recommended. I hope someone will eat that and let me know. I will be back for it.

Peanut butter pie was not overly sweet, but full of flavor. No crumb left behind.

Peanut butter pie was not overly sweet, but full of flavor. No crumb left behind.

5. Beer selection. Again, so often it’s easy to try to do everything. Here, they do a few selections that rotate, and they’re diverse and good. Plus they do crazy combos like a lime plus beer shandy. Too sweet for me, but A for effort. Beer and mac-n-cheese may be my new favorite combo ever.

Simple summer ale, wide mouth Ball jar. Made for each other.

Simple summer ale, wide mouth Ball jar. Made for each other.

To conclude, this is run don’t walk. The place is hipster central, but without the snark that so often accompanies it. I do like that about California in general. Right down to the kids’ menus they hold to theme–it was like homework. TPCs Jr were enthralled. They served the veggies first. Genius. Great service, cool atmosphere, rocking food.

Homework time at Homeroom!

Homework time at Homeroom!

I will confess, I tried the bacony mac-n-cheese, and didn’t love it. Too smokey for me. I know, a bacon lover’s sin to say so in my out loud voice. It was me, not them.

Run, don't walk. Homeroom.

Run, don’t walk. Homeroom.

What do you think of themed restaurants? Do you love mac-n-cheese? What’s your favorite combo? Post your comments below or Tweet my way! Great to be back, and more recipes and reviews are coming your way soon.

Special thanks to my crew of tasters.

Special thanks to my crew of tasters.

Send chocolate milk, good ideas, and good intentions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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The Whole Foods Salad Bar: A User’s Guide

Gentle Readers, it is serious confession time. I love the Whole Foods salad bar in a way most people reserve for God and Country. I love the variety. I love that I didn’t have to prep 1 million individual ingredients. I love the fresh crispy vegetables and the potential of using squash casserole as a topping.

Shredded beets and two cubes of tofu, yes please. Whole Foods Salad.

Shredded beets and two cubes of tofu, yes please. Whole Foods Salad.

That’s right, squash casserole. Don’t judge. Here are my tips to making the most of your trip, without taking out a second mortgage.

The Whole Foods Salad Bar: The Practical Cook Way

1. Limit the salad dressing. Nothing cranks up the cost like too much dressing. Also, it overpowers your careful selections. Let other things flavor your salad, like couscous, quinoa, egg salad, fruit, etc.

Quinoa can add flavor, and is typically already dressed. Whole Foods Salad.

Quinoa can add flavor, and is typically already dressed. Whole Foods Salad.

2. Diversify your offerings. There are so many things from which to choose, don’t get caught loading up on any one thing. If the salad is just for you, take one of each kind of tofu, one tomato, one broccoli, and so on.

Yes, that is squash casserole on top.

Yes, that is squash casserole on top.

3. Don’t skip the hot bar. The vegetables don’t stop at the edge of the salad bar, try steamed green beans and asparagus, cooked carrots, salsa, squash casserole (can’t recommend that enough), the sky’s the limit.

Whole Foods Quinoa and Firecracker Slaw: Working Mom Food

Whole Foods Quinoa and Firecracker Slaw: Working Mom Food

4. Meat is salad too. This will cost you your weight in gold, so limit the addition. However, the smoked meat bar is perfect for a single wing, a portion of brisket, or the top of a rib (skip the bones).

5. Sweet, Crunchy, Salty. The best salads are balanced in composition. Look for different ways to bring color, texture, and taste. Try unusual combinations. If you’re stuck, employ your kids to assist. They don’t come with the same barriers and restrictions you do in terms of “right” and “not right.” Be prepared to eat some combos that would be best on Man vs Food. My favorite right now? Adding a piece of fried yucca on the top.

Whole Foods Salad Bar, I love you.

Whole Foods Salad Bar, I love you.

What’s your favorite trick or foodstuff at the Whole Foods Salad Bar? Post a comment here or on the Facebook page, or Tweet my way!

Send heavy items, good ideas, and legitimate questions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Filed under One Ingredient Three Ways, Restaurant Reviews

Jeepney Filipino Bistro: NYC in Review!

Gentle Readers, it really pays to pay attention. Lean in close, it’s time for a confession. Much like in magic tricks, it’s easy to be distracted when ordering in a new restaurant. For me, with my shellfish allergy, I often order “not shellfish” when trying a new place. Everything else falls to the side. And at Jeepney in New York, the service and atmosphere are so convivial, it’s easy to be swept along with the tide.

Thanks to @lynxbat for this before picture. Duck eggs, looking innocent. Balut @ Jeepney.

Thanks to @lynxbat for this before picture. Duck eggs, looking innocent. Balut @ Jeepney.

So I have to own this. I ordered a duck egg. I like duck, I like eggs. Great. It’s not shellfish. I ignored the key word, “fertilized.” Meet balut, a Filpino specialty, and a one of a kind experience. Not to say that Jeepney was fully defined by one thing, but eating a fertilized duck egg changes a person.

Special thanks to my friend and food challenger, @Lynxbat. Photo credit to him as well.

The whole patio stopped to watch. I have not yet realized what I've signed on for.

The whole patio stopped to watch. I have not yet realized what I’ve signed on for.

For the review of the overall meal, it was a great experience. We sat at communal tables on the patio in the back, and that alone was a great reminder of how food should be eaten–with other people and outside when possible. We ordered almost the entire menu, from lumpia (a personal addiction, if you are a fan of spring or egg rolls, imagine them smaller and crunchier) to beef marrow (luscious and umami on speed) to brilliant entrees.

Beef Marrow with Broth: The Flinstones would applaud.

Beef Marrow with Broth: The Flinstones would applaud.

I’ve eaten Filipino food before, but this was an experience. Much credit to the wait staff, who gave us the Big Night of the Philippines experience. By the time we were eating the balut, the entire restaurant was playing along. Every dish was well executed, and there’s not anything I wouldn’t recommend.

My dish was simply amazing--the broth was simple and complex, and each bite was unique.

My dish was simply amazing–the broth was simple and complex, and each bite was unique.

The bigger picture remains, if you go to try a new cuisine, dive in. Jeepney makes it accessible. There are fusion dishes that feel familiar (garlic rice or curried pork chop), along with the adventure items. Everything, right down to the HaloHalo inspired ice cream (beware of the gummi items if you’re not a fan), is both familiar and challenging if you’ve not eaten the cuisine.

The atmosphere of Jeepney reminds you why it's great to eat out and experience new things!

The atmosphere of Jeepney reminds you why it’s great to eat out and experience new things!

That may have been my first and last balut (true confession, I lost my nerve after 3 bites and the dawning realization of what I had ordered), but it’s not my last trip to Jeepney. Highly recommended, plenty of well executed options (shellfish free even!). Go, and take a spirit of adventure with you.

If Anthony Bordain recommends it, it has to be good, right?

If Anthony Bordain recommends it, it has to be good, right?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Post a comment below,  or Tweet my way!

Send duck eggs, better listening skills, and general challenges to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Obika Mozzarella Bar Reviewed! (Los Angeles)

Gentle Reader, since The Practical Cook kitchen is collecting dust right now from lack of use, it seems appropriate to share a great new find from the road. Also, when you have the opportunity to eat Italian food with an Italian after driving to L.A. in a convertible on a beautiful day, you do it and say thank you. That, Gentle Readers, is good practical advice, pun intended.

It doesn't count as a power lunch unless there's something bubbly. (Champagne at Obika Mozzarella Bar)

It doesn’t count as a power lunch unless there’s something bubbly. (Champagne at Obika Mozzarella Bar)

I digress. Enter Obika Mozzarella Bar, part of a chain (not in the bad way) of independently operated restaurants worldwide. This was my first trip to Los Angeles, and Obika was the perfect introduction to a power lunch. Fueled by perfect weather, outdoor seating, a bottle of pink champagne (don’t judge, it’s L.A.), and food that was appropriate to the setting, I’m a fan.

Hello Hollywood. Thanks to my favorite Italian translator and producer, Luca @AmerigoFilm

Hello Hollywood. Thanks to my favorite Italian translator and producer, Luca @AmerigoFilm

We started with an appetizer platter that was reminiscent of Barcelona for me, featuring a plain mozzarella, a smoked one, a pesto, a smoky tomato sauce with almonds (the fact that I’m not still there swimming about in this one bears testimony to my self-discipline), and a caponata that was truly outstanding.

The appetizer platter was almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

The appetizer platter was almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

I have texture issues, and too often caponata is mushy. This was not at all, each ingredient stood on its own while playing well with others. Well done. Add bread crisps and a variety of cured meats, and I could have just stopped there. But I did not.

Actual pizza from a stone oven anyone?

Actual pizza from a stone oven anyone? Yes, we got that to go. Don’t ask.

Next course, pasta. Perfectly cooked, the pasta dishes were well executed. All of the food here features quality ingredients, and it shows. The simpler food is, the better the base ingredients need to be.

Pasta with red sauce FTW!

Pasta with red sauce FTW!

Ravioli, simple, classic, done right.

Ravioli, simple, classic, done right.

But let’s rush to the end, shall we? Dessert was a trio of tastes, small but intense, including a tiramisu and a dark chocolate torte. Yes I say.

A Mousse by any other name tastes delicious.

A Mousse by any other name tastes delicious.

The joy of eating outside in a great location watching people, eating great food, in a convivial atmosphere, can not be overstated. The caponata and the smoky tomato dips were standouts for me in a sea of right-sized bites. As you can see from the website, there are multiple locations–check for one near you and let me know what you think.

Tiramisu from Obika.

Tiramisu from Obika.

Until then, thanks to all for your continued support and suggestions. I continue to train for a 5k while on the road, in an attempt to balance my love for food with my whole life. I was struck again at this meal, when you have great food, you don’t have to eat tons of it. Just a little of something great lingers.

Sinfully dark chocolate torte.

Sinfully dark chocolate torte.

So today’s question, what are your favorite food cities to visit? I have the joy of taking a foodie friend through my town soon. Look for more reviews of NYC, NC, and everything chicken and waffles in between.

Send dinner invites, outdoor cooking challenges, and general mayhem to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Eating Las Vegas

Gentle Readers, once more I find myself up in the middle of the night, on the West Coast, blogging. Which ties in nicely with today’s topic, Eating Las Vegas. The city doesn’t sleep, and the casinos don’t have natural light or clocks. Time stops having meaning there.

The Poutine topped with an egg from Public House. When time has no meaning, combine breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Poutine topped with an egg from Public House. When time has no meaning, combine breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

However, my tolerance of this bizarre environment does. My ongoing issue with Las Vegas has not been with the city itself, but life inside the conference bubble, where I have to spend the majority of my time. After all, I’m typically in the city to work, not play. However, I do have to eat, and here are my top 3 tips with restaurant recommendation pairings.

Eating Las Vegas

1. Get Off the Reservation! This works on so many levels. First, if the place is so big and fancy that you need a reservation, you’ve increased your exposure financially. I have a certain intolerance of eating overpriced bad food, regardless if it’s on the company dime or mine. Las Vegas can be expensive, so be mindful.

We ate family style at this family friendly restaurant: Lotus of Siam!

We ate family style at this family friendly restaurant: Lotus of Siam!

The other interpretation is also true: if you get outside of the casino bubble to eat, you’ll have a better meal and will extend your Las Vegas tolerance. Leave the strip, listen to Yelp, and try an authentic meal. A recent one at Lotus of Siam was a huge win. Great food family style.

Fried foods stand out at I Heart Burger (but so did the kale salad!).

Fried foods stand out at I Heart Burger (but so did the kale salad!).

2. Go Small or Go Home. So much in Vegas is over the top, that sometimes it’s important to remember that big does not equal good. Two of my favorite places are simple burger joints, not fancy. I always enjoy Burger Bar, I Heart Burger, and The Public House (stick with burgers and the Poutine, thought the salad was lovely).

You’ll notice a theme here, but sometimes a burger and fries is a nice break from the barrage of overly rich food and fine dining. Also, amidst much jeering, I got nice kale salads from both I Heart Burger and The Public House. Thanks team.

Bacon wrapped everything from Mizumi.

Bacon wrapped everything from Mizumi.

3. Don’t Stay Here. If you can’t completely get off the strip, try someone else’s hotel restaurant. Recently I got to try Mizumi at The Wynn. The lobby is stunning, and just not being inside of my complex made a difference to my mood. The menu features a few really amazing things: bacon-wrapped (fill in the blank), pork belly, and beef short ribs. Wow, just wow. Paired with great company, it almost felt like a vacation in the middle of work.

Beef so good we ordered it for dessert.

Beef so good we ordered it for dessert.

So a few tips and tricks for surviving the work side of Vegas, and enjoying your time and food as well. Other favorite spots from the group? I’m all ears.

Send winning lottery tickets, restaurant suggestions, or potential food blog topics to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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