Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ristorante Enoteca Corsi (Rome, Italy)

Buongiorno da Italia!

R., his mom, and I are in Italy on vacation.  We landed in Rome at 9:30 am Friday morning local time.  It was almost noon by the time we made it to our hotel, and after dropping off our luggage, we took a taxi to Chiesa del Gesu (Church of the Gesu), near the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona.  But we were hungry after having had only a light (and not to mention nasty) dinner on the plane ride over, so we decided to grab some lunch first.

R. had been studying Rick Steve's guide book and knew of a family-owned restaurant called Enoteca Corsi located on one of the many little narrow streets near the church, so off we went.  Once we arrived, a waiter waved us back and led us through one section of the restaurant where hundreds - maybe even thousands - bottles of wine lined the walls.  (Turns out the restaurant used to be a wine shop.)  The restaurant itself very casual and has a hole-in-the-wall feel to it.  It was not too busy when we got there but filled up quickly after a while, mostly with locals, so the place felt very authentic.  I mean, an Italian restaurant in Italy should feel authentic, but they can also be very touristy, and we didn't get that impression at Enoteca Corsi.  We felt like we were truly experiencing Italian culture.  The fluorescent-lit back section where we were seated had only about five tables and I commented that it looked like the decor hadn't been updated since the 1940's.  With storage boxes in different sizes and shapes lining the wall shelves up near the ceiling, there was little sign of any effort in creating a certain atmosphere, though there is something about it that's very honest.  It's a bit like visiting your best friend's house, which is not always perfectly tidied up and presentable, but you always feel warmly welcomed whenever you happen to swing by.  Claudia, who was actually mentioned in Rick Steve's book, was our server, and giggled excitedly when we told her she was in the book.  She is part of the Paiella family who owns the restaurant, and she is super friendly and spoke excellent English, which was good because we didn't speak any Italian other than important stuff like "mi scusi, dov'e il bagno?" ("Excuse me, where is the bathroom?")

Wine at Enoteca Corsi
Wall of wine (imagine at least 10x more at the restaurant)
It looks like the menu changes every day, and Friday's selection included quite a few fish items.  R. went with the Baccala alla livornese (baked codfish with prunes, onions, and tomato sauce) which sounded appealing to me as well, but having just had fish in the past week, I was a little bit "fished out," so instead I ordered the Lasagna al forno (baked lasagna with meat and tomato sauce).  R.'s mom ordered the Pasta e ceci (chickpea soup with pasta) and a side of steamed spinach.  Our food arrived in, like, no time!

Baccala alla livornese (Baked Codfish with Prunes, Onions, and Tomato Sauce) at Enoteca Corsi
Baccala alla livornese

Lasagna al forno (Baked Lasagna with Meat and Tomato Sauce) at Enoteca Corsi
Lasagna al forno

Pasta e ceci (Chickpea Soup with Pasta) at Enoteca Corsi
Pasta e ceci

I had a bite of everyone else's meals, but while everything was super tasty, I am very glad that I got the lasagna as it definitely stole the show.  Interestingly, there wasn't an overwhelming amount of sauce like you normally see in the USA, and yet it was molto delizioso!  So good we are still talking about it today and we even recommended the restaurant to someone else!

Rick Steve's book says that anyone who brings in his book gets complimentary housemade limoncello which sounded fabulous, so we ordered some.  Ignorant tourists that we were, we had no idea it was alcohol until Claudia proceeded to bring us the self-serve, half-filled bottle that was clearly meant to be shared amongst all the restaurants' guests who wants some.  R.'s mom and I were actually just saying that there would be no wine in Rome for us on the first day as we were feeling a bit woozy from having just gotten off a plane and not having slept for more than 24 hours by that point, and we needed the energy to last another 8 hours before it is night time in Rome.  Then we saw the word "liquore" on the bottle and the label on the back read "Alc. 32% vol," and we started cracking up at ourselves. Since we had already asked for the limoncello, we figured we'd try some.  I had a very tiny little sip - now I am no lush, but I drink fairly regularly and do have a tolerance for alcohol - but combined with the fact that I was already fighting exhaustion, this little sip definitely gave me a nice little buzz.  I wish I could have had more, but I figured collapsing at one of the churches we were about to visit was probably not the ideal way to begin our Italian excursion!  Which was too bad, because the limoncello was really delicious.

Limoncello at Enoteca Corsi

Limoncello at Enoteca Corsi
My piccolo sip of limoncello.

Enoteca Corsi was such a delight.  We all loved the food and the atmosphere, and I am very glad that we picked it for our first real Italian meal!

Restaurant info:
Ristorante Enoteca Corsi
Via del Gesu, 87/88, Roma
06 679 0821

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pinkberry (Charlotte Airport)

Here we are at the Charlotte airport on a five-hour layover en route to Rome (yes, that's Rome, Italy!!).  On our way to our gate in Concourse D we passed by Pinkberry, the famous California chain that started it all, and I knew I would be back as soon as my lunch settled!  I had heard so much about this place that I was excited to finally try it.  I got the Salted Caramel flavored frozen yogurt (like, how could you not?) with mochi, coconut, and dark chocolate crisps toppings.  I'm always a bit wary of airport food establishments, but Pinkberry exceeded my expectations.  The salted caramel froyo was delicious (even though I still prefer the ice cream version at Jeni's), and the crunchy dark chocolate crisps were super tasty and complimented the salted caramel perfectly.  The only complaint I have is that it was really expensive - $6.55 + tax for a medium with toppings - though that may just be the special airport pricing.  (Let's hope. *Grumble*)  In any case, Pinkberry definitely made my long stay at the airport that much more enjoyable. :)

Salted Caramel Frozen Yogurt with Mochi, Coconut, and Dark Chocolate Crisps Topping at Pinkberry
Salted Caramel Frozen Yogurt with Mochi, Coconut,and Dark Chocolate Crisp Toppings

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I had been thinking about baking something for my friendly neighbors who have generously offered to help me with various things while I'm on vacation.  This past weekend I happened to have some very overripe bananas, so I figured I'd make something banana-y (always a good bet, right?) and found this banana oatmeal cookie recipe on  The recipe is pretty simple, although I found the baking time to be somewhat difficult to get just right as the recipe says to bake for 12-15 minutes, but even at 12 minutes the I was burning the bottom of the cookies.  For one of the batches I lowered the baking time to 11 minutes, but the bottom stuck to the cookie sheets so they weren't quite done, and I put them back in the oven for another minute and these turned out great.  Just as soon as I thought I had discovered the trick, however, the bottom of the cookies were burning even at just 11 minutes.  So I think the key is to start checking at around 10 minutes or so and go in 30 second increments until done but not burnt.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies
Banana Oatmeal Cookies

The consistency was interesting - the cookies were soft in the middle so they were more like banana bread than banana cookies - not that I mind personally.  The flavor wasn't particularly strong, and I don't think these are quite as good as the Andes Creme de Menthe cookies that I blogged about a couple of months ago, but the fact that I gobbled down a whole dozen of them as I was baking proves that they were definitely addictive and a great way to use up those extra bananas. :)

Recipe courtesy of:
Allrecipes (get the recipe here)

Fish with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce

I was immediately intrigued by this delicious-looking Cooking Light recipe when I happened upon it a few months ago, I believe via a Twitter feed.  It took me a while, but I finally got around to making it two weekends ago and it came out great!  The only problem I had was that I didn't have halibut and couldn't find it at the store, so I used flounder instead, which is a much fluffier fish and harder to cook in a pan the way it was specified in the recipe, but at least it cooked quickly.  The following weekend I tried it again with mahi mahi, but I think the curry sauce goes better with the flounder.  Another change I made was that I used white long-grain rice as opposed to basmati, which worked out OK but needed a little more water than stated in the recipe.  It is otherwise a really delicious rice!  Overall, I loved this dish, and I'm going it add it to my regular rotation.

Fish with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce
Fish with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce

Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light (get the recipe here)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Square Cafe (Regent Square)

Square Cafe in Regent Square is one of the places I've heard people rave about but never had a chance to visit, partly because Regent Square isn't a neighborhood I happen to frequent (this was in fact my very first visit) and because my usual dining out occurs closer to 6 or 7 pm, so I rarely find the chance to check out day-time restaurants.  I had jumped on the chance for a Groupon for Square Cafe a few months ago thinking this would finally force me to make a trip out there, and that it did.

I made plans for brunch last Friday with a friend from work who lives in that area.  We had been talking about going for several months now, but with our busy schedules and unavailable weekends, we just kept putting it off until now.  The first thing that struck me about Square Cafe is the brightly colored walls, which, as someone who appreciates bold colors (I did paint my kitchen red after all), I quite enjoyed.  It gave off a fun and friendly vibe.  I opened the menu, but it didn't take long for me to decide what I wanted - I can almost never resist crepes!  So I ordered the Creamy Salmon and Roasted Tomato Crepe, which was so delicious it made me want to go back as soon as I was done!  It was probably a little heavy for the toasty summer day that it was and a little too much food I wanted to be eating at that hour, but I gobbled up every last bite it was worth it.

Creamy Salmon and Roasted Tomato Crepe at Square Cafe
Creamy Salmon and Roasted Tomato Crepe ($9.50)

Friend from Work, who is a Square Cafe regular and probably knows the menu by heart, got the Oatmeal Pancakes, which she described as "delightful."  After brunch, we took a quick stroll down Braddock Avenue, and took a peek into a couple of restaurants that are on my wish list.  Sometime in August we really hope to get together with our other friend from work, who happens to read this blog (Hi Liz!) and do dinner at the very new Root 174 just a couple doors down in the old Legume space.  And then of course there is Green Mango, which I really need to visit one of these days because I just love Thai food.  So many good restaurants, so little time!

Restaurant info:
Square Cafe
1137 S. Braddock Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15218
On the web:
On Twitter:!/TheSquareCafe
On Facebook:

Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

Soba Noodles with Red Chard, Raisins and Toasted Pine Nuts

I was intrigued the first time I saw this recipe on a blog I happened upon a few months ago.  I had never cooked with or eaten Swiss chard before, but the combination of soba noodles with raisins and pine nuts sounded pretty good, so I thought I'd give it a try.  The first time I cooked it I screwed up the soba noodles by overcooking them (that was dumb!) and it turned into a gigantic glob of gooey mess.  Yuck.  Whatever you do, don't overcook soba noodles.  I tried again the following week and the dish was successful - a simple but solid combination of sweet and salty flavors.  It was an enjoyable and easy-to-make dish.

Soba Noodles with Red Chard, Raisins and Toasted Pine Nuts
Soba Noodles with Red Chard, Raisins and Toasted Pine Nuts

Recipe courtesy of:
Linden and Rosemary (get the recipe here)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sababa Middle Eastern Grill (Squirrel Hill)

Update 2/1/2012: Sababa Grill has now closed.

Original post:

Several months ago I had recommended Sababa Grill in Squirrel Hill to a good friend of mine.  I had visited this casual neighborhood joint twice before and had great meals both times.  Not too long after making the recommendation, LivingSocial ran a promotion for the restaurant, so my friend and I decided to each get one so we could go twice.  We finally made our Trip #1 of 2 this past Saturday.

As in my two previous trips, I got The Rainbow which is an appetizer platter.  Normally The Rainbow consists of Hummus, Babaganush, Turkish Babaganush, Tabouli Salad, Spanish Eggplant Salad, Israeli Salad, Grape Leaves, and something else that seems to rotate in and out of the menu.  (This time was a cucumber salad; last time it was carrots, and the time before that was eggplants).  I love The Rainbow because I can taste a variety of appetizers, and everything is always delightful...well, with one strange exception.  The Babaganush.

On my first visit, I took a sniff of the Babaganush and noted to my six dining companions that it smelled oddly like cigarettes.  Then I had a bite of it, and it tasted like cigarettes.  For the record, everyone else thought so too! On my second visit I took R. and we again ordered The Rainbow.  When I told him about the cigarette-tasting dish, he thought I was just being prissy at first, but once he had a bite himself, he, too, agreed with my assessment.

So clearly I'm not crazy...  Maybe that's how authentic babaganush tastes like and I'm just ignorant, but all I know is that I didn't like it.  But, I want to emphasize again that everything else in The Rainbow was wonderful which is why I keep ordering it again and again.

On this visit I smartened up and decided to substitute the Babaganush - as well as the Turkish Babaganush (just in case) - with two other dishes.  I had hoped for a double order of the Tabouli Salad, which is a tangy mix of bulgur wheat with veggies, parsley, lemon, and olive oil, and the Spanish Eggplant Salad, which is spiced eggplant with tomato and garlic.  Unfortunately, they were running low on the Spanish Eggplant Salad, so they gave me two Hummus instead.  The Rainbow was also served with fresh warm pita bread for dipping.  As usual, everything was fantabulous.  My favorite was definitely the Spanish Eggplant Salad - and I even grew up despising eggplants! - but this was so good I couldn't stop.  I also really enjoyed the hummus.  I even managed to get my friend, who hates hummus, to try some, and she actually took more than one bite which according to her, is like a miracle.  She also loved the Chicken Shishlik Lava Wrap she ordered.  I would have liked to have a main course too, but I knew I wouldn't be able to finish all the food so I'm going to save that for next time.

The Rainbow at Sababa Grill
The Rainbow, with a few substitutions ($11.50)

The Rainbow at Sababa Grill
The Rainbow, from another angle

Overall we had a great meal and a wonderful time!  I will update again after our Trip #2 of 2.

Restaurant info:
Sababa Middle Eastern Grill
2121 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
On the web:

Sababa Middle Eastern Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lulu's Noodles (Oakland)

Last week I met up with a couple of friends at Lulu's Noodles in the heart of Pittsburgh's College Central for an early dinner.  I had heard good things about Lulu's Noodles and was excited to finally give it a try.

I had read in the reviews that Lulu's isn't very authentic, which admittedly made me cringe a bit.  I don't mean to be a snob, but as a Chinese person, I believe I have the right to react with horror in response to unauthentic Chinese food and I don't apologize for it.  As I browsed through the menu, the fear of Lulu's being unauthentic was mostly confirmed.  (Er...General Tso's Chicken??)  Also, I have to say I wasn't quite sure what Lulu's was trying to be.  In addition to Chinese, Lulu's has a handful of menu items from the Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese cuisines. Mixing Asian cuisines is usually another red flag for me, and I have never seen a restaurant do so to the extent that Lulu's does.

All that said, however, I was delighted to see that they have a bubble drinks menu.  I don't particularly like the bubbles (tapioca) themselves, but I like bubble drinks.  Go figure.  Not being able to resist, I ordered a Taro Frozen Fruit drink.  I loved it!  OK, so at least that was pretty authentic and well done.

Taro Fruit Freeze at Lulu's Noodles
Taro Frozen Fruit Drink

For my entree, I figured it would probably be appropriate to have noodles, seeing that the place is called Lulu's Noodles and all.  I also tried to pick something that seemed relatively authentic.  The Wonton Noodle Soup caught my eye.  The promise of fresh noodles flown in from San Francisco was intriguing.  If there is one place in the US that can do Chinese food right, I would think it would be San Francisco.  Besides, I hadn't had shrimp and pork wontons for a while, so I figured I was due.

Wonton Noodle Soup at Lulu's Noodles
Wonton Noodle Soup ($5.95)

I was pretty happy with this as well.  It was simple and reminded me of casual Chinese diners with hard, round fold-out stools and stainless steel teapots.  Only Lulu's doesn't make you sit on those terrible stools. The wontons were pretty good, but the noodles definitely stole the show as they tasted fresh and were perfectly al dente...or whatever the Chinese term for it would be.  On top of that, it was cheap - just like Wonton Noodle Soup should be.  I've heard that Lulu's food can sometimes but a hit or miss, but the Wonton Noodle Soup is one I can recommend.

So despite my initial misgivings, I enjoyed my visit to Lulu's.

Restaurant info:
Lulu's Noodles
400 S. Craig St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Lulu's Noodles on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicken Satay Stir-Fry with Orange Scented Jasmine Rice (Rachael Ray Recipe)

I discovered this Rachael Ray recipe a few years ago and it's one of the best things I've ever made!  While Rachael Ray lists this recipe under "30 Minute Meals," it really takes a lot longer than that if you lack the luxury of having kitchen minions doing all the chopping for you (or maybe I'm just slow). :-/  However, once you get down to it, it's not that difficult to make, and totally worthwhile.  The first time I tried this recipe was also one of the few times R. and I cooked together, and we were both blown away by the result.  R. even called it "restaurant quality"!  Personally, I love the orange-ginger combination, and throwing orange zest in the rice was just an absolutely brilliant idea.  I have a sweet little rice cooker, so instead of following the directions on the recipe, I just put the orange right in with the rice, and it comes out perfectly every time.  Yum!

Chicken Satay Stir-Fry with Orange Scented Jasmine Rice
Chicken Satay Stir-Fry with Orange Scented Jasmine Rice

Recipe courtesy of:
Rachael Ray on the Food Network (get the recipe here)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Basil Ice Cream (Jeni's Style)

Basil Ice Cream (Jeni's Style)
Basil Ice Cream

I made this Basil Ice Cream at the same time I was making my Backyard Mint Ice Cream.  (An extra ice cream canister comes in handy at times like these!)  As I mentioned in my last blog, I had a bunch of extra basil that was so fresh and fragrant, it would have been a crime not to use it.  For a while now I had wanted to try making a basil flavored ice cream, so I decided to go for it.  Jeni's cookbook has a recipe for Sweet Basil and Honeyed Pine Nut Ice Cream (page 76), but all I wanted was plain basil ice cream, so I basically used the same recipe for the Backyard Mint and just substituted fresh basil.  Like the mint, the basil leaves had to be ripped into pieces and steeped into the ice cream base overnight (I did the full 12 hours indicated on the recipe), then strained out before finally freezing the base in the ice cream machine and then in the freezer for four more hours.  I had about one cup of basil leaves, and I think that just about hit the sweet spot.  The ice cream was absolutely phenomenal, if I may say so myself! ;)  I liked the Backyard Mint Ice Cream, but I liked the Basil Ice Cream even more!  Both batches were completely devoured in five days.  I will for sure be making this one again, though maybe not too soon, if I want to watch my waistline!

This is part of a series of posts on recipes from or inspired by Jeni's Spendid Ice Creams at HomeThe rest of the series may be found here.

Backyard Mint Ice Cream (from Jeni's Cookbook)

Last weekend I had some leftover fresh mint and basil, and they smelled so good I didn't want to let them go to waste, so I thought, what better idea than to turn them into ice cream?  Jeni's Backyard Mint Ice Cream has been one of my favorites since it was introduced and puts all other mint ice creams to shame.  In her extensive cookbook (which by the way, has made it on the New York Times' Best Sellers' list), Jeni provides the full recipe on Page 72 (also posted here), so I decided that that's how I would use my leftover mint.

The overall process took longer than the Gucci Muu Muu ice cream, which was the first Jeni's recipe I tried, as the torn mint leaves need to be steeped into the ice cream based for 4-12 hours to let the scent permeate the ice cream.  The only concern I had was that the recipe called for "a large handful of fresh mint" and I wasn't really sure that the leftover mint I had was enough, and I knew there wouldn't be any way to supplement it because the previous day I had to go to FIVE stores to find the very last little bunch of mint, some of which I had already used in another recipe. (So "Giant Eagle Mint Ice Cream" would be a more honest name in this case, but the experience did make me seriously consider planting my own mint.).  In any case, to ensure maximum flavor from my minimal mint, I steeped it for the full 12 hours before straining it out.

But when I tasted the ice cream base afterwards, it tasted like...sweet cream.  Good sweet cream, mind you, but no hint of mint.  Yikes!  Should I make it as is anyway or try to make it mintier somehow?  I decided to see if i could salvage the batch by chopping up some of the mint in my food processor and mixing the finely chopped mint into the base.

It worked!

Backyard Mint Ice Cream (Jeni's Style)
Backyard Mint Ice Cream

I would have preferred to have had it turn out without adding the chopped mint, but at least this turned out great anyway.  So great I finished the entire batch - which was about 2.5 cups - in three days' time, all while I was also enjoying the batch Basil Ice Cream I had made at the same time.  The most amazing part was the texture, both in terms of how easy it was to scoop (unlike ice cream I had made before) and in terms of mouthfeel.

So, I call this one a success. :)

Thanks to my Basil Ice Cream, which I made at the same time and came out pretty much perfect (not to brag or anything!), I now know for future reference that about 2 cups of fresh mint would probably be a good amount to use for this recipe.

This is part of a series of posts on recipes from or inspired by Jeni's Spendid Ice Creams at HomeThe rest of the series may be found here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Franktuary Truck (Mobile)

I have previously raved about the locavore frank at Franktuary, but the location and hours of the shop aren't exactly the most convenient for me.  Luckily, to get my locavore frank fix, Franktuary has a truck that roams about town serving a seasonal rotation of two frank dressings at a time as well as their version of poutine.  The best way to track the truck is via Franktuary's Twitter feed, but these days the truck can generally be found at 27th and Jane in the South Side on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Wednesdays and allegedly Fridays it is parked right next to the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial in Oakland.  The first time I visited the truck, about two months ago, I had the Oahu topping, with pineapple, green onions, bacon, and teriyaki sauce.  I didn't take a photo of it, but it was delicious, and I would get it again if they bring it back in the future.  More recently, I visited the truck twice.  On my first visit I ordered two franks, knowing from past experience that one is not quite filling enough.  The first is the Brasil, with mashed potatoes, corn salsa, potato chips, and bacon.  Interesting combination, well executed, and as usual, the locavore frank is a total win.  I understand that the Brasil is only available until the end of this week, but I'm looking forward to seeing what new flavor next week brings.

The Brazil at the Franktuary Truck
Locavore Frank, Brasil Style ($6)

The other frank I got was the Bangkok style, with shaved carrots, green onions, and a Thai satay sauce.  I like this more between the two franks, but I'm a Thai food fan so that's not saying much.  Who would've thunk it to put satay sauce on a hot dog though?  Pretty cool.

The Bangkok at the Franktuary Truck
Locavore Frank, Bangkok Style ($6)

The following week I returned to the Franktuary truck strictly to give their Poutine another try.  I had had it once a while back but it seems they had recently spiced up the gravy a bit, so I thought I'd check out the newer version.  As I was tasting the poutine, many thoughts went through my head, yet I struggled with how I would describe Franktuary's poutine on my blog, and in the end decided just to be, well, frank (pun intended), so here goes.

For those not familiar, poutine is a Canadian dish that consists of fries, gravy, and fresh cheese curds.  At Franktuary, the individual ingredients were fantastic:  The fries were perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside; the Cannonball curds from Arsenal Cheese were fresh and tasty, while the gravy was a bit subtle but not too bad.

"Poutine" at Franktuary Truck

However, as a Canuck, and perhaps a bit of a poutine purist, I'd have to say that this isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of "poutine."  As I mentioned in a previous post, poutine fries should be neither too thick nor too thin to allow for the right balance of other flavors, and should be drenched in gravy and cheese.  Otherwise, it's just...fries with some toppings.  In fact, I think I might have been able to taste the gravy better if the fries had not been so dominating, both in size and in relative quantity.

"Poutine" sans gravy and cheese at Franktuary Truck
Gravy and cheese gone too soon. *Sad face*

This is not to say that it wasn't an enjoyable dish, which is why I struggled to figure out how to describe it.  As I said, the individual ingredients were Fabulous with a capital "F."  I finished the fries even though the gravy and cheese were long gone, and I can see myself coming back for it again in the future.  If you're looking for good fries, the Franktuary Truck's got it.  But just know that this isn't the same as the poutine you might find in Canada.

(P.S. Franktuary - I still love you. *Hug*)

Franktuary (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cherry Tomato Salad

Cherry Tomato Salad
Cherry Tomato Salad

Believe or not, I actually like salads a lot, but I never seem to like anything I make at home, which explains the lack of salad entries on this blog. This Cherry Tomato Salad is one of the few rare exceptions. Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook (yes, I've finally set up a Facebook page! Check it out and "like" it to get updates!) will recognize this as the same salad featured in my profile picture.  Partly because it is colorful and pretty, but also because it is quite tasty (if you like olives), with a balanced mix of sweetness, saltiness, and tartness.  If there is a large bowl of this salad in front of me, you can bet that I'll eat it all before I even realize it!  I hadn't made this in a long time, actually, but this week I just felt like something different and refreshing, and this just so happened to fit the bill perfectly.

Recipe courtesy of:
Allrecipes (get the recipe here)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Curried Apple Couscous

I have been making this delicious Curried Apple Couscous for a few years now and I'm a huge fan because it is so good and amazingly easy to make.  The combination of the crunchy toasted pinenuts, the freshness of the mint, the sweet tartness of the apples, and the spiciness of the curry is so exotic yet flavorful that it is hard to believe that this dish can be achieved in under 30 minutes!

Curried Apple Couscous
Curried Apple Couscous

By the way, 101 Cookbooks blogger Heidi Swanson's cookbook just came out and I really want a copy.  It's too bad my birthday isn't coming up!  Also check out 101 Cookbooks for some amazing food photos.

Recipe courtesy of:
101 Cookbooks (get the recipe here)

Pino Gelato (Cranberry)

Update (5/21/2013): Pino Gelato has closed.

I made two visits to the new Pino Gelato in Cranberry over the weekend when I realized I had coupons for it that were about to expire.  I do preface this post by saying that I rarely eat gelato; as I've mentioned before I'm a huge ice cream snob, and while I am well aware that gelato is not the same thing as ice cream, I have yet to find anything that rivals the amazing Jeni's Ice Creams in Columbus.  But, I'm always willing to try before I judge, so off to Pino Gelato I went.

Pino Gelato is actually a small chain of gelato shops with stores mostly in the Southeastern US and two in the Pittsburgh area.  The one in Cranberry opened just last month, and from what I understand has slightly different menu options than the one in South Side.  One thing to note about Pino Gelato is that even though gelato is their main offering, they serve a little more than just that.  The Cranberry location has various sandwich options, including breakfast sandwiches, as well as coffee from Pittsburgh-based La Prima Espresso Company.  I stopped by Pino Gelato during lunch time and got a Bruschetta Beef Sandwich Cone - which basically consists of a beef, tomato, and melted cheese filling inside a cone-shaped pizza crust.  The pizza crust was well done, not too thick and just the right chewiness.  I wish they had used a little more filling, but overall this was not too bad at all.  As I sat on the patio watching hoards of people going in and out of the Five Guys next door, I wished people would realize that Pino Gelato was a good option for lunch as well.

Bruschetta Beef Sandwich Cone at Pino Gelato
Bruschetta Beef Sandwich Cone ($6.59)

While I was waiting for my sandwich cone to be prepared, the very helpful staff invited me to try out different flavors of the gelato.  They had about two dozen available that day, and the flavors do rotate on a daily basis.  I decided to go with Coconut and Ocean Caramel on my first visit.  I had wanted to get the Nutella when I came back the next day, but alas, they didn't have it, so I went with Coconut and Mocha instead.  I didn't get a picture on my second visit because it really don't look all that different from the one I got on my first visit.  In general, I think the gelato here is pretty good.  I still prefer my Jeni's - though again, Jeni's is hard to beat in my mind.  The coconut flavor is probably what will entice me to come back again, because it tastes just like the coconut ice cream I had growing up and it fills a void created by the lack of a coconut flavor in Jeni's regular offerings.

Coconut and Ocean Caramel Gelato at Pino Gelato
Coconut and Ocean Caramel Gelato

Restaurant info:
Pino Gelato
20000 Route 19, Cranberry Township, PA 16066
On the web:

Pino Gelato on Urbanspoon

Salt of the Earth (Bloomfield)

I'm not quite sure what took me so long to check out THE Salt of the Earth, one of the most talked-about restaurants in town, to see what the hype is all about.  Most recently, the "hype" took the form of accolades from Pittsburgh Magazine, including Best New Restaurant for 2011 and Chef of the Year for Chef Kevin Sousa.  I think that was the last draw.  I had to be the last person in Pittsburgh yet to try Salt of the Earth, and that was just not acceptable.  So I rounded up some friends and made my way there last week.

First impressions:  Sleek, clean, modern design; very bright and spacious, thanks to the uber high ceiling, the open concept, and the ceiling-to-floor windows that line the front of the restaurant.  I absolutely loved the ambience.  I didn't get to see the upstairs seating, but the lower level offers large communal tables and bar seats overlooking the open kitchen, not unlike eating at a sushi bar, only cooler.  I knew they didn't take reservations (well, they do, for the upstairs loft, but I've heard it's better to just walk in), but the wait wasn't too bad on this Thursday night, considering we weren't to meet there until 7:00 pm.  We got a seat at one of the communal tables, which at first pass may seem a bit odd, but it really didn't bother us at all.  Despite being physically close in proximity to the other diners, psychologically the restaurant felt quite roomy.

The menu, which varies seasonally, is written on a snazzy two-story chalk board.  Creative menus always get me, and this was certainly one of the more intriguing ones I've seen, and made it difficult to choose among the options.  While I was curious about the appetizers, I decided to opt for my usual combo: entree + dessert.  There was admittedly some agonizing over my entree selection, but eventually the Soft Shell Crab won out.  And a superb choice it was!  I can't say I've ever in the past had soft shell crab that was not overly crusty on the outside while retaining its juiciness on the inside.  This was hands-down the best soft shell crab I've ever had.  Served with a delicious tartar sauce, horseradish potatoes, and a gingery seaweed salad, the tartness of the sides complemented well the savoriness of the crab.

Soft Shell Crab at Salt of the Earth
Soft Shell Crab ($19)

Friend FoodBurgh Mike had ordered the Eggplant with tomato-braised soy protein and tahini.  I'm always a bit wary of eggplant, but this was so interesting I regret not having taken a picture of it.  The eggplant was cubed and made to resemble home fries, and I almost didn't believe it when Mike pointed to it and invited me to try it, but sure enough, when you bite into it, it is unmistakably eggplant.  Very good eggplant, no less, as was the tomato-braised soy protein.

I'm always tempted by dessert, and even though none of the three options available really appealed to me based on their descriptions, I had seen several diners order the Berry Pretzel Jello while I was waiting for a table and it looked so good I knew I had to try it:

Berry Pretzel Jello at Salt of the Earth
Berry Pretzel Jello ($8)
Once again, it was a fabulous choice.  This dessert consists of three layers:  At the bottom is cream cheese and mesquite, topped with sweet and salty crushed pretzels, finished with a variety of fresh berries.  Mike informed me that the pretzel jello (which contains actual jello, along with cream cheese and pretzels) is a "Pittsburgh thing."  I've never had it before, but I don't think I can after tasting Chef Sousa's delightful - no, heavenly, version.

Salt of the Earth certainly backs up its hype with solid quality.  In my opinion, Salt of the Earth really is a step above most other restaurants in town, and I think it is good for the city to have such a high-caliber restaurant to raise the bar for the rest of them.  I pretty much wanted to go back as soon as I walked out, and I'm marking this one an instant favorite.

UPDATE 1/18/2012: Salt of the Earth, Take Two

Restaurant info:
Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
On the web:
On Twitter:
On Facebook:

Salt of the Earth on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Baked Pasta with Sausage or Tofu, Tomatoes, and Cheese

I've been going through something of a pasta "phase" lately.  Perhaps it reflects my anticipation for my upcoming trip to Italy.  Or because many of the pasta recipes in my collection happen to be quick and easy.  Anyway, this is one I've made several times in the past and is always a huge hit, with the basil and the hot Italian sausage being the star flavors.  I love taking this to parties because it makes 8 servings, and always seems to fool others into thinking that I'm a great cook. ;)  I also love making it when I am lazy/busy and don't feel like cooking as much, for with 8 servings this can last me a long time, and it's a good thing it's so tasty that I don't get tired of it!  I have also varied the recipe a bit by substituting turkey sausage with tofu and lots of spices (see below for link to recipe) to create a vegetarian version, which turned out pretty good as well.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese
Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese
Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese

And here's the tofu version:

Baked Pasta with Tofu, Tomatoes, and Cheese
Baked Pasta with Tofu, Tomatoes, and Cheese

Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light
Recipe for the original sausage version here
Recipe for the vegetarian tofu version here

Portabello Parmesan

This is one of my go-to recipes whenever I need something quick, easy, and delicious.  I had originally seen it on my friend Ken's blog, but I think the original recipe is from the Food Network's Giada De Laurentiis.  I love that it takes only about 30 minutes and always comes out great.  This time, to my surprise, the dish was particularly tasty, and I think the credit goes to the portabello mushrooms from McGinnis Sisters.  I'm anticipating a busy several months ahead and I have a feeling I will be making this a regular dinner menu item!

Portabello Parmesan
Portabello Parmesan

Recipe courtesy of:
Food Network (get the recipe here)

Double Wide Grill (South Side)

A few colleagues and I had been talking about doing Happy Hour since April, and we finally made it out to Double Wide Grill one night a couple weeks ago.  The weather was gorgeous so we got ourselves a table outside on the spacious, covered patio, which I found to be just perfect for a fun, relaxing time.  The restaurant has an old gas station theme, which is a bit quirky, but not in a bad way.  I'm not into old gas stations, but I found myself really liking the atmosphere they set up there.

Double Wide Grill has a wide selection of alcoholic beverages, particularly beer, but considering I'm not big on beer I focused mostly on other types of drinks.  When I saw the Pink Flamingo, which was a cosmopolitan with cherry, it was simply too tempting to pass:

Pink Flamingo at Double Wide Grill
Pink Flamingo

I was also pleasantly surprised to find a large selection of vegetarian options on the dinner menu, especially for a bar.  I'm not vegetarian, but I like it when a restaurant makes an attempt to be inclusive, and for a bar, that is even more impressive.  I decided to go for the Caribbean Coconut Tofu, a vegan and wheat-free item, just because I love coconut and I love tofu, so I figured I can't go wrong here!

Caribbean Coconut Tofu at Double Wide Grill
Caribbean Coconut Tofu ($11.29)

The tofu was fried crispy on the outside, served with a Caribbean onion and coconut rum sauce, caramelized onion cilantro rice, and veggies.  I liked it enough to clear the plate. :)  My dining companions weren't too crazy about their food, however, both of which were appetizers (portabella and nachos).  Guess I lucked out.  I had also read a lot complaints about their service, but we had no problems whatsoever.  Guess we lucked out in that department as well!  Despite possibly inconsistent quality, this is a cool enough place that I would come back again and give it another try.

Restaurant info:
Double Wide Grill
2339 E. Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
On the web:

Double Wide Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nori Thai (St. Pete Beach, FL)

I dined at Nori Thai on Night #2 of my visit to St Pete Beach.  I had been here once before on a previous visit, well before my blogging days, and remembered the food as being very good.  Nori Thai also came highly recommended by a local, so I figured this would be a great place for a solid dinner after a long day.

As is typical of my dining behavior at Thai restaurants (although Nori Thai serves Japanese food as well), I went straight for the curry section of the menu.  I just love Thai curry so much I never seem to want anything else at a Thai restaurant.  Now it is normally hot in Florida in the summer, but there was actually a heat wave going on during my visit (even the locals were complaining about the weather!), so I decided to go for something fruity and ordered the Pineapple Curry with Tofu.  And boy, was it good!  I hadn't been all that hungry when I got to the restaurant, but I finished every last bite of this dish.  Yum yum yum.  And for just $9.95?  Even better.

Pineapple Curry with Tofu at Nori Thai in St Pete Beach
Pineapple Curry with Tofu ($9.95)

The mango sticky rice also came highly recommended, so I was going to order it, but alas, they were out.  Too bad.  Well, maybe not so bad news for my waistline, since I had been eating pastries and cake all day leading up to my only proper meal of the day.  I will have to try the mango sticky rice the next time I'm in town though.  Overall, a two thumbs up for Nori Thai!  Reasonable prices, comfy space, friendly service, awesome food - what's not to love?

Restaurant info:
Nori Thai
7612 Blind Pass Rd, St Pete Beach, FL 33706
On the web:

Nori Thai on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cafe Luna (St. Pete Beach, FL)

I was in St Pete Beach early last week for a two-day personal business trip.  I got in at around 8 pm, so I went straight to Cafe Luna for dinner.  Cafe Luna is a casual bistro right on Gulf Blvd, the main drag in St Pete Beach.  I requested to sit at the patio to enjoy what was left of the evening sunlight while listing to soft jazz music playing in the background.

Cafe Luna's menu can be described as American with an Asian and Italian flair as a number of items are prepared with an Asian (e.g., Seafood Curry, Asian Sea Scallops, Stir Fry Penne) or Italian (e.g., Snapper Italiano, Italian Pizza) twist.  I decided to try the Far East Tuna, which was a seared Ahi tuna with a wasabi pea crust with veggie stir fry, rice, and hoisin and sriracha sauce.

Far East Tuna at Cafe Luna in St Pete Beach
Far East Tuna ($19.90)

I must say the presentation was interesting.  I think the authentic chopsticks were a nice touch even if the two didn't match one another exactly, and it seems the chef is pretending to write Chinese characters with the sauces but failed miserably at it.  Well, can't fault them for trying, right?  Other than the rice, which I wasn't a fan of, the rest of the dish was pretty good.

I had considered getting dessert, but there were only three options:  The Chocolate Espresso Torte would have been too loaded with caffeine for me at that late hour and I figured I wouldn't like the Praline Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce given my ice cream snobbishness.  The only option left was the bread pudding which I had wanted to try, but turns out it is rather large and usually split amongst four people.  So I decided to pass on dessert.

When the server came back with my bill, he also offered me a free dessert.  There had been a minor snafu when I first got there, in which miscommunication among the restaurant staff led to no one coming to take my order for more than 15 minutes.  The owner felt bad and wanted to make amends with a dessert on the house.  And when have I ever turned down free dessert??  So I went with the Praline Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce.  I figured I probably wouldn't like the ice cream, but overall the dessert was very satisfying thanks to the delicious caramel sauce.

Praline Ice Cream with Caramel at Cafe Luna in St Pete Beach
Praline ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Cafe Luna.  I went in expecting pretty good food in a comfortable environment and that's exactly what I got.

Restaurant info:
Cafe Luna
6700 Gulf Blvd, St Pete Beach, FL 33706
On the web:

Cafe Luna on Urbanspoon