Tag Archives: restaurant reviews

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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One of Each: Dessert Tasting at J Betski’s

Gentle Readers, sometimes choosing is too hard. My dining companions, upon learning that I had a food blog, insisted we order one of each dessert on the menu at J Betski’s. For those of you who are math inclined, there were three of us and five desserts. I do like those odds.

The Remains of the Day: Dessert Graveyard

The Remains of the Day: Dessert Graveyard

I met the dessert I want to marry. Typically, I am not a big fan of chocolate and orange. However, I love bread pudding, and I love chocolate and walnuts. But milk chocolate and walnuts and orange?

Hello chocolate bread pudding. No, I don't want to share you.

Hello chocolate bread pudding. No, I don’t want to share you.

It was pure unicorns. Run, don’t walk.

Chocolate hazelnut (blech) bacon sea salt dessert. The bacon made me do it.

Chocolate hazelnut (blech) bacon sea salt dessert. The bacon made me do it.

We also tasted gingerbread and carrot cake and a bacon chocolate sea salt number (marred only by hazelnuts, which loyal readers know I believe were created by the devil) and a strudel of sorts. But they were dead to us after tasting the bread pudding.

Spicy Gingerbread

Spicy Gingerbread

Sometimes, you just have to try them all to decide. Have you ever ordered one of everything? Do tell, it will be our secret. Try the comments box below, it doesn’t bite.

Strudel!

Strudel!

Special thanks to my DessertOps dining companions. I look forward to the next round. Apologies for the delay of game on the potato chips. I’m too full of sugar to edit video right now.

Carrot Cake!

Carrot Cake!

Send black coffee, good ideas, and cooking 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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Happy China Restaurant Review

Gentle Readers, ever find a restaurant that serves one dish that is so good you’ll go just to order it? Has that dish ever been green beans? Yes, you heard that right. Having come full circle in this lifetime, once being a sworn green bean hater (and truthfully, I still have an aversion to the overcooked Southern kind, please don’t burn my club card), now I would walk on hot rocks to order the Dry Roasted Green Beans from Happy China.

Dry Roasted Green Beans at Happy China

Dry Roasted Green Beans at Happy China

Following the time-honored tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Day, fellow field tester CloudofCaroline and I ordered Tofu with Garlic Sauce, Kung Pao Chicken, and the green beans of which I speak of in reverent tones.

Tofu in Garlic Sauce at Happy China: Sweet and Savory

Tofu in Garlic Sauce at Happy China: Sweet and Savory

Full further confession, I went to Happy China once before, and wasn’t blown away. I don’t do negative reviews, so I let it drop. But Christmas is a busy time, and Happy China had space and food. This trip was made of win. The tofu was awesome, the peanuts in the Kung Pao Chicken were a surprise hit, and the green beans, sigh. Two grown women fought over them with chopsticks, that’s all I’m saying.

CloudofCaroline showcasing Peanut Skills

CloudofCaroline showcasing Peanut Skills

Moral of this story, I would pass on the appetizers, order brown rice, and double down on the green beans. They are like perfectly grilled asparagus in green bean form, plus salt. Trust me. Well worth the trip for a veggie high.

We had the good fortune to land at Happy China!

We had the good fortune to land at Happy China!

Will you return to a place if you love just one dish? Post your comments and thoughts below!

Send your chopsticks, dumplings, 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!)

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Reports from the Road: Matchbox Pizza, Washington, D.C.

Gentle Readers, it can be difficult to coordinate great food with a family vacation. At the end of the day, feet are sore, tempers are short, and the kids aren’t that happy either. Though I’m very fortunate to travel with Jr Road Warriors, even they have their outside limits.

The Juniors Travel to the Nation's Capital!

The Juniors Travel to the Nation’s Capital!

Toss in The Practical Cook’s Parents, and you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed. Special thanks to DC Savvy for coming to the rescue! My foodie friend knew exactly what to suggest: pizza.

Half vegetarian half prosciutto and fig pizza at Matchbox.

Half vegetarian half prosciutto and fig pizza at Matchbox.

Matchbox Pizza has a few locations apparently, but we went to the Chinatown one. It was close to our hotel, quiet enough for conversation, and dark enough to have a calming effect on all parties. The Jrs and I split a beet salad and a pizza. The beet salad was very well done, red and golden beets with goat cheese that was the right balance of goaty and mild.

The beet salad on arugula with goat cheese was a big hit with Team Practical Cook.

The beet salad on arugula with goat cheese was a big hit with Team Practical Cook.

The pizza was half vegetarian (pesto based with artichokes and other nommables) half prosciutto and fig with Gorgonzola. Both were hits, with the vegetarian winning by a small margin due to our obsessive love of pesto.

Save room for dessert, thank me later: chocolate chip bread pudding with caramelized bananas and caramel sauce.

Save room for dessert, thank me later: chocolate chip bread pudding with caramelized bananas and caramel sauce.

Friendly and efficient service, great food, reasonable prices. Winner! I’m still thinking about the pizza, and I would go back to eat it. It’s thin crust, wood or coal fired, and generously portioned. The perfect compromise of reasonable healthy, local, and fun for all ages.

What’s your go-to compromise food when you travel? Post a comment below!

Send your sprouts, your tofu, and your pumpkin flavored queries 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!)

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The Most Delicious Blueberry Muffin Ever: An Ode

Gentle Readers, last week was an overwhelming display of deliciousness. Team Practical Cook took the show on the road to New York, and we ate for all we were worth. One of the more challenging meals on the road is breakfast. Do you want to spend all morning eating questionable eggs from a buffet? No.

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes from Veselka

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes from Veselka

We tried a variety of New York breakfast approaches, and we augmented with dry cereal in the room as a breakfast appetizer. Here’s our journey.

Photobombed by the statue at the edge of Central Park!

Photobombed by the statue at the edge of Central Park!

Day 1: Veselka
Home of my very favorite blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Plus pierogi!

Potato Pierogi from Veselka

Potato Pierogi from Veselka

We essentially brunched here. I have fond memories of Veselka breakfasts from my misspent youth, and who knew, they cater to kids too. These pancakes rocked, as did the corned beef hash. Simple comfort food done right, plus wiki sticks for the win.

Corned beef hash with eggs over medium, side of kasha from Veselka

Corned beef hash with eggs over medium, side of kasha from Veselka

Day 2: Cart Outside Central Park
Egg and Cheese on a Roll, Bagels with Cream Cheese

The Jrs' First New York Bagel

The Jrs’ First New York Bagel

The experience was great (the Jrs actually paid both times, very exciting), the food was average. When asked if I wanted salt and pepper on my egg and cheese I said yes, and apparently no one had affirmed in some time so great was the enthusiastic application. A good bit of the bagel went to the pigeons as well.

City pigeons meet bird lover and bagel fan.

City pigeons meet bird lover and bagel fan.

Day 3: Bouchon
The Most Delicious Blueberry Muffin Ever (plus a Savory Scone, Ham and Cheese Croissant, and Broccoli Quiche)

The Most Delicious Blueberry Muffin Ever from Bouchon

The Most Delicious Blueberry Muffin Ever from Bouchon

This happened by accident in Rockefeller Plaza, as the original destination simply never opened the doors. I am not sorry. I didn’t think it was possible to make a blueberry muffin that good, it was magic and sunshine. The savory scone featured bacon, cheddar, and herbs, and the warm dishes were nice too. A huge hit with everyone.

Savory Scone from Bouchon

Savory Scone from Bouchon

Day 4: The Takeaway Shop Next Door
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on a Roll, Bagel with Cream Cheese, Fruit, Milk

New York breakfast, takeaway shop.

New York breakfast, takeaway shop.

Finally we tried to health it up a little bit. After much excitement in passing this place every day on the way to and from the hotel, the end result was less thrilling. My bagel was good, the Jrs are not sold on rolls versus biscuits. The fruit and milk were consumed though, and the idea that you could just grab and go was inspiring.

The Jrs take on the Big City!

The Jrs take on the Big City!

In the end, I realized why I lean on Starbucks so often when I travel: predictable oatmeal and pumpkin bread. Add a latte to it and call it a meal. I couldn’t do that in NYC, seemed wrong. But we were never close to the greatest bagel or the dive-iest diner at the right time. I look forward to hearing your breakfast recommendations in NYC and beyond!  Post a comment, send a Tweet, share your strategy!

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Coming up Friday: The Watermelon Semifreddo Recipe!! (For the summer win!)

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Restaurant Review: Gregoria’s Kitchen (with bonus black beans recipe)

Gentle Readers, sometimes atmosphere and service really and truly matter. Gregoria’s Kitchen in Durham, NC, is that special sort of place. Located in an old house near the very longest traffic light in the entire city, the space is lovely and relaxing, the service is warm and personable, and the food, well, read on.

Extra points for any restaurant located in an old house: Gregoria's Kitchen

Extra points for any restaurant located in an old house: Gregoria's Kitchen

Let’s just say that we ordered one of everything. Not quite, because the shellfish would kill me, but almost everything else. Why? Because it’s what one should do when one has the opportunity, and a dining companion as nuts as oneself. (Said dining companion is not a blog reader currently, there is a lesson here.)

Don't miss the seasoned butter. It is tasty!

Don't miss the seasoned butter. It is tasty!

We ordered:

Chicharrones: When bacon puts on its formal ware, it tastes like this. Pork belly with tamarind sauce.

Pork belly + mood lighting with a tamarind drizzle. Mmmmm.

Pork belly + mood lighting with a tamarind drizzle. Mmmmm.

Yuquita Frita: Fantastic rendering, the cilantro sauce is divine. If you’ve never tried yucca fries, this is a run, not walk, situation. I think they are far superior to French fries.

Yuquita Frita: Fun to say, more fun to eat.

Yuquita Frita: Fun to say, more fun to eat.

Tostones: Good, but I’ve had homemade that were better.
Lechon Asado: My personal favorite. It’s like Southern gone a bit further South, essentially a pulled pork dish.
and a Shredded Beef dish (don’t see it currently listed on the menu!): The favorite of  the Eldest Practical Cook Junior and my dining companion, this dish was complex and interesting.
Beans and Rice: Black beans and rice were the sides with both mains, and they were fabulous. The Jrs consumed all of it in a snap.

Black beans and rice from Gregoria's Kitchen in Durham.

Black beans and rice from Gregoria's Kitchen in Durham.

(I should note, enough food was ordered that 4 boxes of leftovers came home, and were devoured by certain short foodies.)

I am not here to argue about the authenticity of the food (in my experience, Cuban food is only approved of by Cubans when served in Miami or in their grandmother’s house, irrespective of location), I will just say I really liked this meal. Each bite was interesting, and clearly prepared with care. The flavors were clean and sharp, the presentation was lovely, and the pork belly made me want to do a little dance. If you’re local to NC, check out Gregoria’s and let me know what you think!

Pretty Quick Black Bean Soup

Adapted from Elsie’s Cuban Black Bean Soup recipe, found in Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon. This book is fabulous, and I’m thoroughly enjoying working my way through it. I served this thick soup over rice with diced avocado and lime wedges on the side. Simplicity itself, it was a huge hit. Enjoy.

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner

2 cups black beans, rinsed thoroughly, picked over and soaked if you have time (I did not)
Enough water to cover the beans in the pot by at least 2 inches
2 bay leaves
1 fresh jalapeno (I only had a Serrano, which worked well), stemmed and seeded
splash of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt

1. Put the rinsed and drained beans into a large heavy soup pot, fill with water till it’s 2 inches above the bean line. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a strong steady simmer because you forgot to do this in advance and it’s dinnertime soon. Drop in the bay leaves and the pepper. Cover tightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 hours or so.

2. At the end of the cooking time, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers (feel free to add more if you’ve got them), and saute for a couple of minutes more. Add the garlic and spices last, including some salt, and cook until you smell the garlic. Turn off the heat.

3. When the beans are tender, stir in the onion mixture. Salt to taste. If you want thicker soup, mash some of the beans up in the pot and stir. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes, or until your kids yell that they’re starving. Discard the bay leaves and the pepper.

4. Serve over or beside hot rice, with avocados and lime wedges. A dollop of sour cream is in order for the spice-a-phobes, though we found this flavorful and not spicy with one seeded pepper.

Are you a fan of Cuban food? Of beans and rice? How do you get your fix?

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Restaurant Review: Beaufort Grocery, a Gem on the North Carolina Coastline (with video)

Sometimes, Gentle Readers, you can teach an old dog a new trick. Just when The Practical Cook thought her love of pimento cheese could NOT be any greater, along comes a new twist, in the form of being topped by pickled Granny Smith apples and red onions.  Welcome to the Beaufort Grocery Company in Beaufort, NC (not SC). I almost wept into the canapes it was so delicious.

Beaufort Grocery Pimento Cheese Plate with Marinated Granny Smith Apples and Onions and Spicy Candied Pecans

Beaufort Grocery Pimento Cheese Plate with Pickled Granny Smith Apples and Onions and Spicy Candied Pecans

Let’s roll the tape, shall we?

A note about the plate above. In the video I call it walnut brittle, as that is what the menu said, but further munching and crunching determined that it was pecan, and for more like a candied, spiced number than a brittle. It was delish, regardless.

Hello my precious new favorite pimento cheese.

Hello my precious new favorite pimento cheese.

Back to lunch, we had the appetizer, followed by a Blackened Grouper sandwich with feta, mango salsa, and greens. I tried to order the sweet potato chips, because that is what I do, but they were out.

The catch of the day: Blackened Grouper on Foccacia with mango salsa, feta, and greens.

The catch of the day: Blackened Grouper on Foccacia with mango salsa, feta, and greens.

To make up for it, they gave me some Texas caviar, and I fell in love. Seriously, I’ve been working to perfect it. They have a cookbook, and I’m strongly considering it for the caviar alone. I really heart black-eyed peas, and this was outstanding.

The Beaufort Grocery Sammie Menu: I love the names!

The Beaufort Grocery Sammie Menu: I love the names!

I was dining with Complicated Vegetarian, and her veggie wrap was good, but not off the charts. We’ve brunched at Beaufort Grocery before, and there were more veggie-friendly options then. We finished strong with pecan pie. It was deep, sweet, and almost overwhelming. I liked it a lot, but probably liked the spicy candied pecans a little more. The depth of pie meant not quite as many salty pecans to balance the sweet. However, I did lick the plate, I’m not going to lie.

This is one deep-dish pecan pie.

This is one deep-dish pecan pie.

If you go for brunch, just start ordering things, and don’t look up until you’re done. There is nothing bad on the brunch menu. For someone like me, who is allergic to shellfish and can get pretty tired of the “fried seafood joints,” Beaufort Grocery is like a siren song. Special thanks to my MIL by Choice (we are related not by blood, but by her being awesome) and my SIL for the recommendation and accommodations!

The Beaufort Grocery is worth the drive and the wait!

The Beaufort Grocery is worth the drive and the wait!

Do you have a favorite restaurant on the NC coast? Post a comment here, or Tweet!

Send restaurant recommendations, deep thoughts, and blog 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!)

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