Archive for March, 2008

Goat Cheese and Beet Salad

March 31, 2008

Alison made a fabulous – and simple – beet and goat cheese salad to start off a perfect Easter dinner. I’ve in turn made it for myself for a light-ish dinner, and it takes more than just rabbit food to fill me up.

1 can sliced beets (Use caution – beets stain like nothing else)
Goat cheese feta crumbles or, if that ain’t your bag baby, regular feta works
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (You have no idea how hard it was to not write the RR vomit-inducing E.V.O.O!)
Balsamic vinegar
Walnuts
Fresh baby spinach

Lightly combine the beet slices (cut them up a little smaller in a separate dish if you prefer) cheese, a splash of olive oil, walnuts, and salt and pepper. If the whole mixture turns into a pink mass, don’t worry – it still tastes great! Let this sit in its own juices for a while – overnight is best.

Lightly toss the spinach with a touch of olive oil and a touch of balsamic, and place the beet and goat cheese over the spinach – and enjoy!

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Oink, Oink

March 25, 2008

As much as I love the D.C. food scene, there are some things you just can’t get up here like down south.  Blue Duck fills my void for grits and if I have a hankerin’ for that Atlanta favorite Chick-fil-A, I can always count on Tams to go with me to fill our cravings in the GW food court. BBQ, however, (and for this girl that means the pig variety) is something D.C. just hasn’t gotten quite right. 

There are two ways I’ve found around this predicament, and sadly, neither of them is so easy as picking up some Rockland’s or Red, Hot and Blue.  While they will do in a pinch, (and Rockland’s corn pudding and collards are not to be snubbed!) none of them quite cut it for a gal who loves BBQ so much she is willing to post a picture of herself on the web wearing a plastic bib, inhaling a Fedex-express-shipped-straight-from-Alabama  pork rib.  Unfortunately, neither solution I’ve found results in immediate gratification.  Good BBQ requires time, but I promise neither of these solutions will disappoint!

The first solution to the lack of good BBQ in DC is a wee bit labor intensive and can require a stroke of airport security luck.  On our most recent trip to Atlanta, our Dad made his famous hickory smoked pulled pork BBQ for a family gathering.  Ashley and I, dismayed at the lack of leftovers, persuaded him to cook us our very own Boston Butt to take with us back up to D.C.  Not trusting our treasure to checked luggage, we took a chance and froze the meat overnight, packed it all in Gladware, and hoped that the sauce on the meat would not violate the TSA liquid ban.  After a few tense moments we made it through with nary a protest from airport security, who merely raised an eyebrow or two.

My dad swears we should be able to make this ourselves fairly easily, although the lack of a charcoal grill has put a delay on our little experiment.  I’ve included his directions below:

dad-with-pork-butt.jpg DeFord’s Hickory Smoked Boston Butt:
Trim the fatback off of the Boston Butt

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Let charcoal cook down until white and ashy, spread coals to each side so that the meat cooks indirectly.

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Place Hickory Planks (this is key) on top of coals and let the meat smoke until the coals are dead and have stopped producing smoke (approximately 4  hours.)

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Place pork in a pan roaster with a small amount of water in the bottom of roaster, bake in oven at 250 degrees ”until it is done” and the meat falls apart  (approximately another 4 hours.)

My Dad serves his pulled pork with a simple, vinegar based Carolina-style sauce.  This is an imprecise recipe (like most in the Smith family), all brought to simmer together over medium then low heat.  Ingredient amounts are highly relative.  My Dad recommends using them “in whatever proportion suits you.”  It will require a bit of trial and error taste testing to figure out just how you like it, but the ingredients are listed below:
Vinegar
Brown sugar
Texas Pete
Liquid smoke
Salt
Black pepper
The second solution for those in desperate need of a pork fix (sans fixin’s) comes in the form of the above mentioned fedexed product. Thanks to Jared’s parents, who must know just how dire the situation is up here, his parents sent several racks of Dreamland BBQ ribs up for a group of transplanted Southerners to feast on during the Super Bowl.  You’ll notice on their website that some packages come with not only Dreamland BBQ sauce, but also other necessary accompaniments including 1 loaf of Sunbeam Bread, bibs, wetnaps, and toothpicks. This stuff was seriously good- in fact, if I were Jared, I don’t know that I would’ve shared ‘em! Thank gawd the folks down at Dreamland are lookin’ out for us Dixie transplants Click here to order your own rack.

In addition, the Taylors graciously shared the family’s generations old BBQ sauce recipe. 
Taylor Family BBQ Sauce:
This is enough for 4-6 pieces of chicken, or 1 slab of ribs.  It can be multiplied, but if you do that, taste it after you’ve combined all the ingredients as you might need to adjust it with some of the ingredients.  You can also cut this recipe in half for 2-3 pieces of chicken:
6 TBS ketchup
4 TBS vinegar (red wine vinegar is good, but any will do)
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
8 TBS water
4 TBS butter
6 TBS dark brown sugar (but regular brown sugar is ok, too)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp red pepper
5-6 dashes Tabasco (or any hot sauce)
The order of these ingredients is irrelevant.  Just put all together in a pot, put heat on low to medium, mixing well for several minutes with a whisk to make sure all ingredients are dissolved and mixed (you’ll still see spots of the chili powder or paprika, though).  Bring to a boil, continuing to stir, then put on low or simmer for about 5 minutes or so.
Thanks, Taylors, for a great meal and for sharing the family recipe with the masses!

Central

March 19, 2008

Alison and Matt waited out month-long reservations for a DC hotspot:

I was super excited to try Central, and after a month of waiting for our Saturday night reservation, could not wait to try the food.  While we enjoyed the meal, it did not live up to the hype.  There were definitely high points, but the overall experience left us both let down.  I’ll go back, but it won’t be at the top of my dying-to-return list, especially not with a month-long reservation list!

Central

The Setting:
Matt likened the dining room’s atmosphere to that of a cafeteria, and while we had a good table, settled into a wee nook (half booth) I definitely did NOT envy those sitting at the small tables in the middle of the restaurant.  

The Service:
Was fine, although a little slow.  Not much to comment on either way.

The Food:
The bread and butter was absolutely fabulous (which counts for a lot in my book and I think its something too many restaurants over look these days.)  God bless the French, they just get some things so right.  

I enjoyed a glass of beer that is brewed exclusively for Central out of Belgium, a nice light pilsner, and Matt had a glass of pinot noir, which he described as fine, but not great – the options by the glass could and probably should be expanded. 

We both started with the Ceasar Salad, which I had heard rave reviews on, and it was truly fab.  It had a really neat presentation, although the dressing was a bit heavy for my taste (Matt disagrees here, but those are typical preferences for each of us.) Luckily I had done my homework and knew to request that the scallions be omitted from my salad, as they were not noted on the menu (and are an untraditional topping for a ceasar.) 

Overall, I have to say that I wish there were a few more details elsewhere on the menu as well: my fried chicken didn’t note the sides it came with – indeed, I was unsure it would be accompanied by anything until the side salad (left untouched) and whipped potatoes (whipped light with beaucoup butter and cream) showed up at the table.  The beer options were not noted anywhere either.  The fried chicken, as well as the pommes frites were truly fantastic – these are worth going back for. However, Matt was under-whelmed by the much-lauded burger.  It is often compared to the one at Palena as being one of the best in the city.  No comparison.  Forego the burger and stick with the poulet.

Best For: Fried chicken and pommes frites.

Worst For: Those seeking the gastro-epiphany you might be expecting from all the hype.

Alison Kiss my Grits

Blue Duck Tavern

March 17, 2008

Brian and I first tried Blue Duck on our 11-month anniversary (yes, we celebrate every month) and loved it.  He’s been back, and Alison went Thursday, so as a surprise for our last date together before he left for London for 2 months, Brian took me back for a
wonderful (and romantic) dinner.

This review has both Alison and my impressions of a city favorite, Blue Duck Tavern

The Setting:
Ashley: Blue Duck is in the Park Hyatt Hotel, and that may have something to do with the setting not matching the cooking slightly. I’d expect French or American upscale bistro food if I just saw the high ceilings, imposing front doors, and abundance of marble.  Touches like wood-paneled walls to create dining nooks and 19th century farmhouse rocking chairs give you a better idea for what’s in store on the menu. The kitchen is completely open and in beautiful order with glass jars filled with pickled fruits and vegetables.  Giant platters of fingerling potatoes, garlic cloves, and dates functionally decorate a counter, and walking to the bathroom through a hall that begins in the apple pie cooling center is a treat.

Alison: While the main perimeter dining area’s high ceilings offer a modern and chic vibe, I have to say I prefer the smaller interior section of the restaurant with the lower ceilings. The seats are more comfortable, the acoustics far better, and the overall feeling cozier. PLUS, you get a prime view of the open kitchen.  I would definitely recommend requesting a table in the interior section when making your reservation.

The Service:
Ashley: The servers here are a little cocky, but understandably so. Our server, Alexander, started by asking if we’d been to Blue Duck before, and when we told him we had, he responded, “Then you know how good it is already.” Service here is friendly in the way you would expect a fellow foodie to be – they want to  help you through your dining experience.

Alexander recommended we only get one appetizer to share when we picked the delicious but heavy crab mac and cheese, and told us the duck fat fries wouldn’t travel home because of the blanching process. (Which was such a bummer – I wanted to eat them all but could only manage 2 during the meal!)

Alison: Our service was great- attentive, but not cocky.  Our server gave us great recommendations that were spot on. 

The Food:
Ashley: The menu at Blue Duck focuses on local ingredients, listing the farms from where everything comes. Food is served “family style” but out of smaller, silver serving pieces.

Brian and I started with the Dungeness Crab Macaroni and Cheese – it was heavy, but not uncomfortably so. Add a side of something green and it could be a meal unto itself. The crab meat was plentiful and wonderfully salt-water briny, and the little bit of crunch on top of the cheese was a nice texture juxtaposition to the velvety cheese, pasta, and crab.

For our main courses, Brian had the vegetarian option of a spinach, artichoke, and trumpet mushroom gratin. He said it was wonderful (and that means a lot given that this man will eat the heck out of some steak). I had the small portion of scallops and couldn’t finish all three. The seasoning of cracked pepper, thyme, and lemon was strong, especially given how little seasoning actually appeared on the scallops. We also split the sweet potato goat cheese grits (oh are these good – always get the goat cheese grits at Blue Duck) and the duck fat fries. I personally thought they needed just a dollop of ketchup, but think this is more of a reflection of being conditioned to want ketchup with fries than an actual need of the frites.

For dessert, Brian and I split the cheesecake with poached pears and cherries, although the pears were a little heavy on the cinnamon and neither of us touched them after an initial taste.

As always, we ordered too much and will plan to scale back next time, splitting an appetizer, entree, and 2 sides – and will save room next time for the famous apple pie and hand-churned ice cream.

Alison:
Our table started with the escargots, the field green salad, and the fois gras. The escargots were absolutely fantastic!  I’ve noticed several places recently serving them out of the shell, and they were presented as such here as well.  The salad really shone due to the freshness of the ingredients- a variety of lettuces, beets, blue cheese, walnuts and green apples.  The foie gras was different than what I’ve enjoyed before- presented more as a mousse, but still delicious for fans of the (un-politically correct) delicacy (which I unabashedly am.)

Two of us ordered the chef’s recommendation of the stuffed quail and they were truly fantastic!  Each of us only finished one of the two birds- we are all seemingly guilty of ordering more than necessary at Blue Duck it seems!  Matt got the crab cakes, and while they were good, you can get great crab cakes at a shack on the shore, so I tend to personally steer clear of this menu staple and favorite when I am at a place like Blue Duck.

We too ordered a side of the goat cheese grits (natch) and decided to try the vegetable of the day, Salsify, which was something that none of us had heard of before.  Whole Foods’ website describes it as a long firm tapered root with black or white skin, unlike other root vegetables, salsify has a delicate flavor, described as a cross between asparagus and artichoke hearts. This is the type of place where I would definitely recommend going out on a limb and trying something you are unfamiliar with, as it always seems to pay off.  Their commitment to locally raised and in-season products is one of my favorite aspects of Blue Duck.

Our table finished up with various teas and coffees, as well as the pineapple huckleberry almond cake crumble, which was similar to a cobbler.  I am generally not a huge dessert person, but Blue Duck does dessert right- they are subtly sweet and the focus remains on the natural sweetness from the fruit rather than heavy syrups and loads of sugar.

Overall, this was one the best meals I have had in a very long time.  Each time I go to Blue Duck it climbs higher on my list of favorites, and this visit was no exception. 

Best For: Locally grown and always fresh ingredients, the goat cheese grits.  Seriously, just order them.

Worst For: Those seeking a light bite.  Prepare to walk away stuffed and completely happy every time.

Herb and Mustard-Crusted Salmon

March 14, 2008

I’ve been on a kick to find quick, delicious, non-poultry dinner recipes, especially low-fat ones that include Omega-3s.  I’ve never been much of a salmon gal, but recently I’ve started making it – usually roasted at 450 for 18 – 20 minutes dressed in nothing but salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.  Gotta tell you – not half bad.

But then Brian and I had a Bone Issue with salmon one night, and it turned us off – neither one of us wants to fight our food.  It turns out the Fish Counter Guy at Whole Foods could save us – and pointed us to Alaskan Salmon…with no (or very few) bones.

(Incidentally, in making sure I had my facts right about Alaskan Salmon fillets coming in the boneless variety, I stumbled across my coolest internet food-find in a long time. Fisherman’s Express in Alaska has a LIVE agent who will chat with you about seafood. I spoke with Tyler in Anchorage, Alaska, who told me he likes Yukon King Salmon since its rich in omega-3 oils and it maintains the taste of the salmon. Very, very cool)

I made this recipe (I found while getting a pedicure in Blueprint magazine) and it was super easy and DELICIOUS: Herb and Dijon Mustard-Crusted Salmon. (They called it Herb-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Lemons, but the lemons were more charred and smokey and Brian burned himself, so I suggest leaving them out of the mix).

I’ve adjusted the recipe for how we liked it.  It should be noted I fudge amounts when I cook and like my toppings think and a little crunchy.  This is for two:

1/4 Cup (or so) Plain Panko Breadcrumbs (really important for the crunch factor)
Handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
“Splash” of dried dill (Jeanette’s favorite herb)
1/2 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 lbs Alaskan King Salmon (preferably Yukon King Salmon) fillet with skin
1/8 Cup (or so)  Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper (natch)
1/2 lemon, sliced into wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 475.  Toss the panko and herbs with the 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.

2. Place the salmon skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt and pepper (more than you think you should – fish begs for salt) , spread with mustard then herb/panko mixture.

3. Roast 18 – 20 minutes.  Use a spatula to separate the meat from the skin and serve with lemon slices to garnish!

I’m SAYING I LIKE the Cheese…

March 12, 2008

Some thoughts on cheese from Alison:

So Jeanette’s post got me thinking about cheese and I think it’s high time to devote an entry to my favorite food. Sheep, cow, goat – I love it all (except maybe that American processed crap).  My love affair began long, long ago… circa 1990 at 395 Oak Glen…Ashley was babysitting for the evening and asked what I wanted for dinner. “Melted cheese” I proclaimed.  (We all know that’s the best part of cheese toast and I decided that in my state of parental-free revelry I would take advantage and bypass the wheaten vessel.)  Ashley, being the role model sister and foodie that she is, happily obliged (although I think we may have caught the toaster oven on fire in the process.)

Anyway, here is a quick tour of some cheese plates I’ve sampled about town and my take on the fromage…

Bistro Bis
This was probably my over-all favorite cheese plate.  We went for the true trifecta – a sheep, a goat, and a cow and WOW.  There was great variety and character to every single one.  The portions were hefty enough for several tries while we tried to decide which was our fave (jury is still out, btw) and the accompaniments were delish too – dried fruits and apricot spreads, raisin nut crackers and assorted breads, as well as honey.

Butterfield 9
When we asked for the trifecta here, we were dismayed to learn that they did not offer a sheep’s milk cheese.  In fact, they only offered 4 choices (one of them goat).  We were happy with the two cheeses we tried, but seriously dismayed over the lack of choice offered, especially at this caliber of a restaurant.

Cashion’s
We should have listened.  Our lovely French waitress tried to warn us.  When we asked how the cheese plate was she responded, hesitantly, “it’s a little bland, honestly.”  Well, we wanted some cheese, and took the good French woman’s warning with a pinch of “well, she’s French, so she probably thinks most cheese is bland.”  Nope.  Not the case.  This was truly the worst cheese plate we’ve had in the city (albeit it’s been more than a year, Matt refuses to return after such a disappointing end to an otherwise splendid meal.)

Proof
This was an extravagant end to an extravagant meal and we went all out.  As in 10(yes, 10) tastes of cheese.  Le sigh.  Really, how can you go wrong?  A great plate for sharing with a large party (or just two, as it were) Non-cheese related matter: I also highly recommend the meatballs and gnocchi…TRUST me.  I have it on good authority that the sablefish is the best in town, but as I don’t care for sablefish, you’ll have to trust fellow foodies on this one…

Cowgirl Creamery
On nice days, my office mates and I have taken to walking down to Cowgirl Creamery for one of their lunch sandwiches.  They offer two options: a veggie and a meat, pre-made every day.  The veggie is good, but let’s be honest, this gal favors the meatier incarnations – in particular, the salami.  Check them out if you’re in a lunch rut and within walking distance!

4 days, 7 pounds: New Orleans

March 11, 2008

A long weekend in New Orleans – at Brian’s dad and stepmother’s house – was a weekend of pure indulgence.  (Because I normally watch what I eat…right?) 

We came home just in time for dinner, and Brian’s stepmother, Cheri, greeted us with a Fleur-de-Lis martini – champagne, a shot of vodka, and pineapple juice.  Mmm…  She also had crawfish etoufee on the stove:

Brennan’s Etoufee:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green onion (shallots as we call them)
1 tsp garlic
2 tbls flour
1 can petite diced tomatoes (drained)
1 can mushroom soup
2 cups fish stock
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
dash cayenne
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1 pound crawfish tails

Saute onion, celery, shallots and garlic.  Stir in flour and cook till brown.  Add mushroom soup and stir well.  Add tomatoes and brown.  Blend in stock and simmer 10 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire and crawfish.  Cook slow 15-20 minutes.  Serve with rice and Le Sueur Peas (they’re the best).

I experienced my first *real* po-boy on Saturday at a strip mall joint called Bears.  I had the roast beef and was barely able to eat it – po-boys fall apart as you eat them, and at one point I actually gooped it down the front of my face.  Classy.

We also stopped by Cafe du Monde in Mandeville for cafe au lait and beignets.  “Coffee and donuts” is how people from New Orleans refer to beignets and cafe au lait, but the unsweet dough – doused with powdered sugar – is a far cry from Krispy Kreme.  This outpost of Cafe du Monde seems to be resting only on their name, and the donuts weren’t great.

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However, a trip across the “money bridge” brought us to Morning Call – where Brian has been going since he was a little kid.  This is where Brian and Jack introduced me to beignets last year, watching me with intense concentration to see if I was a shaker or a patter.  One way denotes an outsider and fool…I chose the right way 😉

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Sundays are either devoted to God, football, or booze, and in New Orleans, you can have all three!  We concentrated on the booze, consuming a mai tai in between 3 runs to the grocery store.  (No, we were not driving drunk – promise).  Although we placed an order for 20 lbs of crawfish, Rouse’s neglected to call and tell us they didn’t get the shipment.  No one on the Northshore got any of the mud bugs, so we cooked bleu cheese burgers instead.

Cheri also made Houston’s spinach and artichoke dip…YUMMO.  I’m sure it is also completely fat free.  The important step is sticking the dip in the oven to get the cheese a little crunchy on top.

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We also made a trip to Copeland’swhere we started with the crawfish bread (huge portion, delicious, and completely fat free), I had stuffed shrimp with a baconcheesebuttersourcream baked potato, and Brian had crab stuffed catfish bordelaise. 

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Although we could barely move, we ordered two desserts: white chocolate bread pudding (my mouth is watering as I even type that) and dulce de leche cheesecake.  Brian also loved the Cosmopolitans, and his dad made fun of him the whole time he was drinking them.  What can I say?  The man likes pink drinks!

I also had a muffaletta in the French Quarter – not my thing, but I was glad to have tried it.

I don’t think I’m ever eating again…

It Runs in the Family…

March 7, 2008

As you know, my sister Alison is a guest-blogger on Kiss My Grits, and our other sister, Jeanette, is also into food.  Alison forwarded me a gchat from Jeanette today.  Please note that she discusses cheese for a full 9 minutes.  Clearly, it runs in the family…

we did just have a pretty fabulous lunch in Buckhead 🙂
  it was sooooooooooooooooooo good
  we had this cheese!
  OMG!
  have you ever had Latur?
  ok
  so you’re not there
4:03 PM that gives me time to do this justice
  it was a combination of sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and cow’s milk
  it was mild and really creamy
  and they served it with a touch of honey over it
  it was absolutely heavenly
4:04 PM I could feel the endorphins zooming around the moment in hit
my taste buds….
  awww….
  so your assignment for the weekend
  is to go find Latur cheese
  and buy mass quantities of it
4:05 PM and don’t share it with anyone
  😉
  well maybe Matt or Ashley
  if you’re feeling charitable
4:06 PM so beyond the cheese…
  we ordered this antipasta plate
  there was a whole list of veggies, meats, and cheeses…
  we ordered the one where you got 3 veggies, a meat, and a cheese
4:08 PM we got grilled asparagus, marinated Tuscan white beans, and
marinated artichokes, the CHEESE!, and some a cured pork shoulder
sampling
  and got some shrimp on the side 🙂
  then!
  we had gelato
  Laura got pistachio and I had coffee
  they were these little itty bitty waffle cones with maybe 1/3 cup
worth of gelato in them
  and this restaurant was GORGEOUS
4:09 PM it’s called Lola and it’s part of this really hot restaurant
chain that actually is owned by the old head chef from Cherokee
4:10 PM it’s described as a “bellini bar” and it was only after I left
that I realized I didn’t even have brainpower to order a bellini…
  I was so hungry when we got there that it didn’t occur to me…
  oh well
  that just means I’ll have to go back 🙂
4:11 PM ok
  so you’re really not there
  I’m going to go for a walk
  I’m really sore from an exercise ball exercise I did TWO days ago,
but I think the lactic acid might help…
4:12 PM be sure you get some Latur cheese and have a great weekend
(surely the former will ensure the latter)
talk to you later!

Merkado

March 4, 2008

Logan Circle is booming, and Merkado – from the same folks who brought you Logan Tavern, is a good bet for a fun night out.

Merkado

The setting:
Merkado has a great setting for a rowdy crowd – bright orange and open, with a tendency to get really loud.  We sat at a booth against a back wall near the bathroom (and when bustling, I can’t imagine how crowded the loos must get) in a half booth, half chair setup.  They’ve seemed to shoved as many tables in as possible, and I’d hate to be seated in the middle of a cramped room.

The service:
Our poor waiter was working a double (and was evidently closing since we were the second to last table to leave) but was jovial and fun, and even laughed at a few things we said to each other at our table when he was around.  (Clearly, I’m a riot).

The food:
As Brian has started saying, “Yum-o!”  The yellow salsa was great and they brought large fried tortillas instead of chips, so I was glad everyone had washed their hands.  Alison and I split the steak fajitas.  Although they were fine, I didn’t care for the lime flavor – I thought it was a little overpowering.  The condiments were typical for fajitas, but there was plenty of food for us both.

Brian and Matt both got the goat cheese and steak burrito and I could tell Brian loved it because of the moan he let loose after the first bite.  (He’s very emotive when it comes to food).  The burrito was accompanied by plantains – Brian’s first experience with them.  They were delicious. 

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The wine selection was also pretty good and we all split a bottle of Malbec.  Our other sweet treat at the end of the meal was a yummy dessert of Caramelized Banana Taquito with Vanilla Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce.

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Best for: Loud, rowdy groups or a fun date night out.

Worst for: An intimate date.