Thursday, July 26, 2012
1.5 thumbs up
We always need restaurants downtown, especially for a quick bite to eat. Relish recently opened up in the old Quizno's location and I figured I'd give it a shot. It's a burger joint by the people who do Pita Pit. It's pretty much trying to do the exact same thing as Five Guys, but they don't do it as well.
In all honesty, I'm not a big burger guy so I know I'm not the ideal judge of this place. However, I do know what a good burger tastes like. I got the dude below with all sorts of trimmings (ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and cheese). Despite all the doctoring up, it didn't have much flavor.
All in all, if you're downtown and really need a quick burger, stop in and give it a try. It's not bad, but really nothing special. If you have more time for lunch, however, I'd go get that burger somewhere else, for sure.
Posted by G.E.B. at 10:58 AM
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
|The mountaintop village of Bonnieux|
Provence is famously known for its quaint villages and pastoral landscapes. We certainly intended to explore it as much as possible, but it wasn't until we rented a car in Marseille that the plan really came into fruition. As I explained in my last entry, I made a last minute decision to rent a car in order to properly enjoy the region. However, it certainly came at a significant and unplanned cost. Looking to maximize the return on our investment, we decided that several drives across the French countryside were in order. After experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors that we did, I can easily say that every last eurocent of the rental paid off.
Our original car-less plan was to visit the smaller cities of Avignon, Arles, Aix en Provence, and a few others that easily connected to Marseille by train. Once we had the car, however, we realized that the true Provencial experience lay in the small villages peppered across the countryside. After trying to piece together a route from our not so great Rick Steve's guidebook, we promptly gave up and asked our B&B host, Mauro, for his advice.
From Marseille, we headed towards Aix en Provence. During this day, we didn't stop in Aix, but did spend some time there the day before. The reason I bring it up now is to share the beauty of the Patisserie with you. Aix was a gleamingly beautiful, charming little city featuring countless food spots. We were barely in town a few minutes before we found the above delights. English is scarcely spoken in this part of the country, so we had to try our crude French to get these. While the woman at the Patisserie was friendly enough, she wasn't going to give us much help when it came to the language barrier. We had to point and dig deep for any descriptive french words we knew: chocolat, blanche, frese, frambois, and so on. The French pastry shops were similar to the Italians in that they sold bite size portions of most of their offerings for very reasonable prices. The above box cost us about 5 euro and tasted even better than it looks.
The restaurant we settled on served omelets. We figured that we hadn't had eggs the entire time we were in Europe, and imagined that French omelets kicked ass. We were absolutely right. Above is mine, which had Roquefort cheese and came with a salad (all the salads we had in France had a dijon based dressing). The cheese was so perfectly rich and flavorful with the eggs. The omelet appeared to be a bit overcooked, but didn't have that stinky overcooked egg smell or taste. It was perfectly light and fluffy and was probably one of the best omelets I've ever had.
After strolling through the market again, we returned to the convertible to head towards our next destination, Roussillon. As we climbed the mountain ahead of us, we realized we were going to pass through an unexpected village, Bonnieux. As with Lourmarin, Bonnieux was extremely charming, but was much smaller. It was situated atop the mountain we were climbing and just as we began our descent, it revealed a series of roadside cafes overlooking the entire valley.
|View from the top of Bonnieux|
Realizing we might not get tired of the view any time soon, we forced ourselves to move on to Roussillon. This particular village is known for the ochre in the surrounding soil. Hundreds of years ago, the locals would mine the ochre and sell it around the world as an orange dye.
|The famous ochre of Roussillon|
|Olive tree in Roussillon|
|Lavender just about to bloom|
|Gordes (the mountain in the far distance is where Bonnieux was situated)|
|Pistachio Eclair. Perfection|
|Le Petit Jardin (our B&B) at night.|
Posted by G.E.B. at 11:34 AM
Monday, July 9, 2012
4917 Northwest 34th Street
Zero Thumbs Up
Upon entering, I noticed that there were slim pickins on the shelves and display cases. It also looked old and sad. It reminded me of an old timey, slightly dirty, nothing fancy bakery that my Grandfather might have taken me to in New Jersey when I was a little kid.
I figured I'd try one of their subs. Instead of traditional sub rolls, they had these large sheets of flat bread that they'd cut up to somewhat resemble a sub roll. Having seen nothing like this before (I don't mean that in a good way), I immediately grew skeptical. The guy who made the sub was friendly enough, and offered me the sandwich at a price that was much less than what was written on the chalk board. I then figured I should try one of their baked goods, so I got a cookie. There were chocolate chip cookies and what appeared to be double chocolate chip cookies. The guy helping me claimed that he didn't know what either of them were and actually admitted that the baker made the darker ones incorrectly, adding way too much of a particular ingredient (thus the darker hue). As you could imagine, the cookie tasted like the baker accidentally added too much of one ingredient.
After a few bites of the sub, I could go no further. The bread was terrible. It was dry, flavorless, and pasty. The cookie was bad too. Everything about this experience was unpleasant. The bakery seemed ill stocked, the ingredients seemed cheap and sub-par, and it just didn't taste good at all.
I'm not sure how these guys hope to stay in business, but I'm betting they won't be around for much longer.
Posted by G.E.B. at 1:54 PM
Sunday, July 8, 2012
At the risk of sounding redundant, I've never seen anything quite like the traveling market in the South of France.
You can literally buy anything you'd ever want or need at these markets. Fruits, vegetables, oils, vinegars, bread, cheeses, meats, fish, spices, soaps, utensils, knives, artisan crafts, clothes, shoes. The list went on and on. Each type of good would be grouped together in the same part of town. As a result, the food was all together, the clothes were all together, the artisans were all together. It was incredibly easy to navigate and impressive in its size.
The very top picture was one of the first booths that drew us in: the spice booth. They had what seemed like an infinite amount of different spices, teas, seasonings, and blends out in the open. I've never seen anything quite so beautiful and tantalizing. I could have photographed this booth all day. We bought 4 tubes of Mediterranean salt mixed with herbs, one small bag of rose potpourri, and one small bag of lavender potpourri. It was all incredible.
Next was the cheese stand. As you can see above, they didn't mess around. They brought a massive cooler full of hundreds of cheeses, all beckoning you to steal away with a baguette and eat till you felt sick. We purchased 3 rounds of Chevre (goat cheese) for 6 euro. Region wide, Chevre portions were always about the size of a hockey puck. The 3 varieties we bought had honey, herbs de provence, and cracked pepper. Feeling ambitious, we also bought a wheel of Camembert cheese. Since a vegan friend once told us that Camembert cheese was the only thing she'd consider cheating for, we had to try it. The cheese people also sold bread, so we grabbed a big loaf to add to our quickly growing handful of bags.
Next, at one of the produce stands, we selected two large heirloom tomatoes and a bushel of cherries. It seemed that dinner was already planning itself. After a stop later in the day at the nearby beach town of Cassis, our dinner became complete with a local bottle of rose wine.
|The Mediterranean as seen from the beach at Cassis|
-3 types of Chevre cheese: honey (my favorite), herbs de Provence, and cracked pepper (my wife's favorite)
-Camembert cheese: which smelled like "ass feet" (a term I coined), but tasted incredible
-Rose wine (that's pronounced Rose-ay, not rose flavored) from Cassis. A sip of wine after the Camembert cheese would create a turbo-charged taste explosion.
-Heirloom tomatoes sliced and served with nothing more than Mediterranean sea salt mixed with herbs
-the cookies in the foreground weren't good, but were very commonly seen around town. They were chewy and tasted lemony.
The second dinner was very similar and featured:
-The same cheeses left over from night 1
-French fiscelle bread (not baton, like my wife told me to say. That means stick.) from Gordes
-A new type of heirloom tomato served the same way as the previous night.
-white wine from Gordes
-local strawberries and blackberries. These guys won the gold medal for unparalleled taste. I swear to you that you've never tasted a strawberry or blackberry until you've had one of these. They were at the prime stage of ripeness and were so juicy sweet that you almost believed they were some new magical fruit you've never heard of before. I'll swear up and down that you've never had anything like these berries before.
More to come!
Posted by G.E.B. at 11:44 AM
Saturday, July 7, 2012
|Marseille Panoramic from the top of Notre Dame de la Garde|
Upon arrival into Marseille, the streets were very hectic and narrow, and we quickly realized that we shouldn't have rented such a big car. Imagine the congestion of Manhattan with hills and mountains, all based on a twisty street system that predates the automobile by quite a few centuries (Marseille is France’s oldest city). We still managed to find our B&B (Le Petit Jardin) with little difficulty; however, parking was not a realistic possibility. Thankfully, our host, Mauro, hopped in the car and showed us some secret back streets to park on.
The only problem was that this part of town had extremely narrow, windy streets with very tight turns. Needless to say, I promptly drove the Peugot into a wall, grinding the brand new bumper pretty badly. We did find parking (I’d like to point out how I’m very good at parallel parking) and returned to the B&B. It was literally a little slice of heaven amidst one of the craziest cities I’ve ever been to.
We dropped our bags and sipped a deliciously unique water with rosemary syrup concoction offered to us by Mauro. Syrups, both fruit and herb based, are apparently a big part of Provence.
Despite its reputation, the city welcomed us with open arms. We walked along the coastal road with no problems whatsoever. At no point did I feel like we were in danger or in a bad area. At one point, when we were visibly lost, a young French couple volunteered to help us in perfect English. We didn't even have to ask; they offered.
Our destination was Chez Jeannot, a restaurant situated near a small marina and under an arched bridge where we could gaze longingly at the Mediterranean from our table. The restaurant was recommended by our host and was quite excellent. To me, nothing is more important than finding a good meal, especially for your first one in a new town. With so many options in a big city, it’s very easy to find a sub par meal. Interestingly enough, one of the unique aspects of Marseille is that despite being a very large city that blends many cultures, it does not cater to an English speaking crowd.
What that means is the menus are exclusively in French, and the staff speaks very little to no English. Keep in mind that I know NO French. My wife took a class 14 years ago and I downloaded a dictionary/phrasebook on my iPhone, but that was it. We had to do our best to interpret the menu items with little more than willpower.
One of the regional traditions that I was already aware of was the herbs de provence. Legend has it that the local meats are more flavorful because the animals free range graze upon wild growing herbs and spices. I'm not so sure if that is true, but I do know that when cooked with, the herbs are something outstanding. Traditionally, they were an unspecified mixture of whatever grew locally. Seeking to capitalize on the magical stigma the herbs gained, spice companies started to package "herbs de provence" for sale with official combinations that were never before strictly adhered to in the region. It seemed to me that the mixtures varied slightly from place to place and many restaurants prided themselves on their own blends. All in all, the herbs typically can include basil, fennel, thyme, majoram, savory (a French herb), and even perhaps lavender.
More to come!
Posted by G.E.B. at 10:56 PM