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Happy New Year and Blog Changes

5 Jan

Hello all! I hope your 2013 is off to a good start.  I’d say I’ve brought it in with plenty of saintdom and sindom.  The latter has been thanks to a few evil dinners like the ridiculous pizza (below) we had Thursday and the great beers at Churchkey in DC followed by a huge meal at Outback last night (including the obligatory Bloomin’ Onion of course.). Thus, I’ll be living at gym for the balance of the day and subscribing to healthy eating only across the next several days.

In the spirit of the new year and resolutions, I’d like to share that my focus in 2013 is on a career shift.  I need to be looking for opportunities, networking, and focusing on completion of my certificate program.  After some thinking over the holidays, I concluded I have to cut back on my three day/week posting schedule for Life as a Balanced Bean.  My new aim is at least once a week and two if the week allows.  Once I achieve my 2013 goals, I may reevaluate but for now I really need the extra time devoted elsewhere.  I hope you’ll still drop by often because the eating and fitness experiences won’t end!  Thanks and wish me luck in realizing my career goals this year 🙂

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Chicago Eats Recap: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned

10 Dec

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Chicago may be my top city for food yet.  This is good seeing as it is also a city I’m interested in living in for a few years.  Wow, I’m not even sure where to begin this recount of my food adventures in the Windy City.  Let me first thank our hotel for having a decent fitness center.   Without it, we would not have been able to consume so much goodness.  Making room in the tummy is key you know!  For the duration of our trip, we stayed in the River North area of Chicago.  The hotel was right on the river and it turned out to be a fantastically central location for all of our main activities.  I also found Chicago to be extremely easy to get around.  Much of our trip involved walking or taking Chicago’s transit system known as the ‘L’ to get around.  Beyond the eating and my travel companion , the highlights of the trip were spending time with my former roomie Lisa who moved to Chi a year and a half ago, having a drink atop atop the Hancock building, and an architectural river tour.  I obviously endorse anyone’s choice to visit this city!  Now, if for no other reason to love the city, let me make you a believer on the food…

Al’s Italian Beef: Al’s is one of the top 10 sandwiches in America and consistently ranked the #1 Italian Beef franchise in the Chicagoland area. I got my Italian Beef sandwich with homemade “HOT” Giardiniera (pronounced JAR – DIH – NAIR- AH) and provolone cheese, dipped.  Giardiniera is basically a spicy and tangy, pickled pepper and jalapeno topping.  I was not sure if I’d like it, but in retrospect I could not imagine having gone without it.  Additionally, if you request that the sandwich be dipped, they give your whole sandwich a quick bath in the Giardiniera gravy.  Again, I was not sure about this wet sandwich concept, but it was fabulous ultimately.

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Taco Joint: So you had a yummy Italian Beef sammy for lunch then you hit the Lincoln Park Zoo (photo of me there above).  Viewing all those lions and tigers and bears (oh my) works up the appetite.  Yet it is going to be several hours before dinner so something light is in order.  Enter stumbling on a great little taqueria offering great tacos all paired with hand-made tortillas and home-made salsa for a $3-4/ each price point.  Sold.  The Al Pastor (Marinated grilled chicken breast garnished with Serrano-pineapple pico and tangy tomatillo salsa) and the Camaron (Grilled chile and garlic spiked shrimp garnished with avocado salsa and crispy flash fried spinach) fit the bill.  I’m so happy we spotted this place! 

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Lou Malnati’s:  Of course you don’t visit Chicago and not eat deep dish pizza.  Lou Malnati’s blew my first Chicago deep dish pizza experience out of the water.  To be fair, I don’t like think the pizza from Gino’s East was bad.  I simply think that getting meat lovers was too much.  Additionally, Lou Malnati’s offers a more chunky tomato sauce and their signature  Buttercrust™.  Soooo good!  We went with a cheese deep dish and added pepperoni and mushroom.  I cannot speak for more than two Chicago deep dish pizza spots, but I can say you won’t regret eating here if you choose Lou Malnati’s while in Chicago.

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Mindy’s Hot Chocolate: What about the treats?  That was what Mindy’s Chocolate was for.  We got the honey & chocolate “souffled” tart with burnt honey ice cream, honey caramel, and honey comb.  It was pretty small, but very unique and flavorful.  The best part of the dessert adventure was undeniably the pumpkin white chocolate hot chocolate with housemade marshmallow.  That bad boy had some whole or 2% milk in it.  It was bordering on too sweet and I personally don’t believe in that phrase.  It was too sweet in too good of a way though.  If only I was drinking one right now…

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Garrett’s Popcorn:  You gotta have a snack and/or something to bring home for yourself or whoever was dog sitting for you.  I have your solution whatever the case may be.  Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn.  It consists of half cheese and half caramel popcorn.  I know I know- sounds a little strange.  I too was skeptical.  Let me tell you though it WORKS.  It works in that way that you would polish off one of those huge holiday tins during the course of a movie or football game on the couch.  It’s no joke.  No trips planned to Chicago anytime soon?  No problem.  Follow the link above and order it online 🙂

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Rockit Bar & Grill: The Baltimore Ravens were playing Sunday during our trip.  B naturally had to find a spot to catch the game.  Our friend, Quinlan, had suggested this sports bar which happened to be close to our hotel.  The food looked pretty on point per the menu so the choice was easy.  I am not a person who thinks about burgers much.  I don’t crave them and sometimes when I do have them I am still really neutral.  Not at this spot.  I chose the Locavore Burger made of local beef raised in the midwest, goose island beer battered onion rings,nordic creamery smoked cheese, and nueske bacon aioli atop a pretzel bun.  I got sweet potato fries with brown sugar salt and chipotle mayo for dipping.  SO FAT.  So satisfying. This meal induced a genuine food coma.  My motor functions were honestly feeling limited. 

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Hash House a Go Go: Our final doozy meal in Chi-town.  We stuffed ourselves with this same meal less the espresso drink during our Vegas adventures.  However, the Chicago location did it better!  Below you’ll see the Brown Sugar Banana Flapjack and one of their signature hash dishes including chorizo sausage, tomato, jalapeno, and cheddar paired with breakfast potatoes and two overeasy eggs.  The brown sugar in the pancake was carmelized and the bananas in the pancakes were done better than at Hash House a Go Go’s sister Vegas location.  I’m not sure how.  I just know this was even more delicious than I remembered it being in Vegas.  We shared this massive S’Mores Mocha which was a chocolatey latte graham crackers and fluff that was carmelized with a blow torch.  This is a meal that holds you for many, many…many, many, many hours.  Wow.

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I hope I’ve convinced you on the delicious adventures that await you in Chicago! Have a good week to all.

NYC Eats Recap

17 Oct

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There was no shortage of stuffing the face during our long weekend getaway to NYC.  In fact, it is accurate to say that plenty of our activities pertained to food or needed to be scheduled around must-eat-at spots.  Our itinerary had the food spots we would visit and proximity to hotel/other activities clearly delineated.  Super planner? Yes. Awesome? Also yes.  As I had done for our trip to Vegas back in April, I wanted to recap our food highlights.  I will also gently sneak in right here that the run in Central Park did NOT happen.  HOWEVER, we did workout in the hotel gyms including a 5 mile run on the treadmill (I felt punished because I HATE the treadmill).  It was simply going to be a logistical nightmare getting to Central Park and doing the rest of what we wanted to before catching the train home.  Have you already forgotten that I didn’t do the run I said I was going to?  Great, fabulous, wonderful.  Back to the eating highlights.  The spots most memorable for us were:

  • Little Italy(for the life of me I cannot recall the name although you can do wrong around there)
    • All staff at each restaurant are ready to throw you in a seat assumptively calling out, “Table for two?” as you walk by and practically sitting you in a seat.  We had one particular waiter who still subscribed to this method, but caught Bryan’s attention with recognizing his Baltimore Ravens jacket and striking up football convo.  Next thing you know we’re seated and perusing the menu.  Our dish selections included Gnocchi with red sauce and melted mozzarella across the WHOLE top and a Penne alla Vodka.  Both were great but man I hadn’t had vodka sauce that good in a long time.  Blew my mind.  Nothing could end a meal like that better than an Italian treat.  Chocolate covered cannolis seemed only fitting.
  • Madison Square Eats
    • We planned to eat lunch at Eataly, a big Italian marketplace, however the wait time was too extensive for our rumbling stomachs.  We stumbled upon a gem right next to Eataly called Madison Square Eats.  Think food trucks but permanent location and more like a tented booth than a truck.  Every type of food possible was available- pizza, BBQ, Mexican, various Asian cuisine, treats, and more.  We started with some pizza to whet the appetite.  Pretty decent and reasonable price at $8.  Next, we checked out Mighty Balls.  This spot offered beef, pork, and turkey meatballs and a number of sauce options.  You could get mini sliders or “just the balls.”  I was for the balls only.  (If you giggled, you’re a child…I may have giggled writing it).  I got a pork meatball with a jalapeno jelly, a turkey meatball with cranberry horseradish and goat cheese, and a beef meatball with a brown gravy-like sauce and mozzarella cheese.  My fav was a toss up between the turkey and the pork meatball.  It was so unique!  The sweet item was shared like our app and it was a non-negotiable.  There was a guy who’s mom is from Liege, Belgium who had a Belgian waffle stand.  Once he told me about mom, I knew it was going to be legit.  We took a waffle and smothered it in warm Nutella, Spekuloos spread (like graham cracker and gingerbread to me), strawberries, and whipped cream.  Pure bliss!  Good thing we had places to walk to after this meal.
  • Carnegie Deli
    • Carnegie Deli is a popular spot not far from Times Square.  Following seeing Chicago (which was a fun show), we went for a late dinner to Carnegie.  They are known for massive sandwiches and yummy corned beef.  We got a behemoth of  a Reuben…this darn sandwich was like $35 with tax and tip.  Crazy right?  Now the sandwich was tasty, but I will say in a Reuben I like balance.  Give me lots of the corned beef but don’t skimp on sauerkraut either.  We had to request some more of the latter to find that balance.
  • Stage Deli
    • Why stop after a massive Reuben sandwich?  A large slice of NY cheesecake had to happen even if we were stuffed.  Oreo cheesecake was on special.  DONE!  And then my pants button burst off…

Hope these are some spots you might include on your next NYC trip.  What do you love to eat while visiting the Big Apple?

Open Kitchen in Falls Church, VA

10 Sep

Open Kitchen in Falls Church, VA boasts a “farm-to-table spirit”.  The kitchen is you guessed it OPEN so no secrets on the preparation of your eats here.  In addition, your meals are prepared as fresh as fresh gets.   They offer dinner Wednesday- Sunday and cooking classes on Saturday-Sunday.  It’s worth noting that the cooking classes can be create your own combo type deal.  If that’s of interest, definitely take a look at the site.  Our mission was about going out to dinner this time and getting servvvvved.  Here’s the menu:

We decided we wanted to do a few starters, split a big entree, and a treat.  It was a really cool experience watching the chefs prepare all of our dishes fresh and right before our eyes.  Yes, food is prepared in front of you at say a Japanese steakhouse, but it was something different because it almost felt individualized.  We started with the Harvest Corn Chowder as well as the Lobster Bread Pudding (pictured below).  The chowder was far better than the Lobster Bread Pudding despite our high hopes given the appeal of the lobster.  I guess a soup with bit of bacon in it is going to be hard to mess up, but the bread pudding was a whole lot of bread and not too much lobster.  This was particularly disappointing given the $16 price tag for the 2-3 bites each we had.  You live, you learn.

The mouth-watering steak and fries pictured at the beginning of this post reflect the 16 oz. Ribeye steak cooked to absolute perfection  with parmesan fries.  I mean look at the inside of this- we requested medium and OMG was it ever succulent.

And you can’t eat all this without finishing it off with a little something sweet.  The Dark Brown Sugar Vanilla Creme Brulee answered the mail to that end (pun intended).

The rest of the meal more than made up for the Lobster Bread Pudding disappointment- almost enough to feel like it didn’t happen.  Although of course there it was on the tab to remind us ha.  Go check out Open Kitchen and try some of the dishes I have recommended.  Oh and one last thing, let me know if the chefs seem super adamant about food runners.  A pretty hilarious part of the dining experience was that if two or three dishes were up on the bar to be served, the head chef would get slightly agitated and yell RUNNERS!  We probably heard that word 15 times across the duration of our meal.  I’ve randomly thought of it since and it makes me giggle.  Have a great start to your week!

How To Feel Like You’re Eating Pizza in Italy

29 Aug

Starting at left clockwise: Pizza 1) Margherita: Neapolitan buffalo mozzarella, basil, and olive oil; Pizza 2) Tomato Artichoke: Garlic-roasted tomatoes, marinated artichokes, and fontina cheese; Pizza 3) Pepperoni: San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and beef pepperoni

Another Arlington food establishment adventure!  Pupatella, a Neopolitan Pizzeria and Friggitoria (a place where fried food is sold, just one of Italy’s great traditions in street food), located in the Ballston/Bluemont neighborhood of Arlington, VA is a spot Bryan is been dying to hit up for quite some time.  I’ve been the hold up, but as soon as I heard great things about it from others like Claire and Grant I was on board.  Shining gf moment?  Not really.  Good things come to those who wait though!  It was a lovely double date evening which concluded at Cold Stone so Bryan fared just fine in the end.  Speak of the devil, here’s Bryan to tell you the Italian’s take on Pupatella.  More photos follow. 
 

Bryan’s Take (He’s Italian so his opinion is totally legit here, folks):

When the word Pupatella comes to mind, it’s not the most appetizing or enticing name. But after several friends had suggested it to me and some Yelp and food porn perusing online, I knew I had to go.  The owner immigrated over from Italy, took his brick oven by boat with him, and wears a Fedora.  If that doesn’t scream good guinea food, I don’t know what does (I can say guinea because I’m Italian, you others back off!).

The margherita pizza really reminded me of my grandmother’s pizza.  She would make homemade bread and put the cheese on first followed by the marinara and basil.  Sprinkle olive oil and maybe a little garlic on top and boom.  Pizza can sometimes get so involved with gourmet flavors from buffalo chicken to bbq to meat lovers, but if you want a genuine pizza with all the flavor – a simple margherita is the way to go.

All the ingredients were fresh and the buffalo mozzarella is extra moist compared to the traditional counterpart.  He doesn’t skimp on the olive oil either, using extra virgin…a must.

If you want some pizza, Italian store and Goodys have it covered. But if you want some authentic Italian pizza with simple fresh ingredients, I highly suggest Pupatella.

The pizza oven that journeyed all the way from Italy.

The staff make all pizza with love…and in fedoras!

(left and right) Arancini with Sausage (fried risotto balls) stuffed with sausage, peas, and mozzarella. (middle) Fried Fresh Mozzarella Balls with marinara.

The inner workings of Arancini.

Honey Pig Korean BBQ

12 Jul

So I’ve done Korean BBQ food trucks and I’ve done the Japanese steakhouse thing where they cook delicious teriyaki items in front of you.  I love both so the fusion of Korean BBQ and cooking it right before my eyes was a good fit in the end.  I’d heard plenty buzz around Honey Pig (located in Annandale, Virginia) before, but had not made it out there.  Bryan, being the king of deal-a-days that he is, had a voucher thus presenting me with a reason to try it out. 

The ambiance is pretty unique.  Nothing fancy- cement floor, ceiling with tile paneling, and music playing at a decently high volume ranging from Lady Gaga to what I would guess were Korean pop hits.  We also found out that the place is open 24 hours!  Pretty crazy.  Immediately you know you’ll have a good time though.  As soon as we were seated, a bunch of items were put on our table such as a fresh salad, kimchi, and a cucumber slices marinated in a variety of sauces.  Our waitress (we’d come to find that the wait staff actually seems to float around as opposed to a specific set of tables) took our drink order and started up the table top grill. 

We knew Bulgogi (a seasoned tender cut of beef) was happening, but spent some time on the selection of the second entree.  Spicy Intestine Chul Pan and Soybean Paste Stew were easy options for us to eliminate.  Admittedly, I could not find what Spicy Intestine Chul Pan is exactly, but I was turned off enough by the intestine part of the name.  Similarly,  Soybean Paste was not an item we’d crave.  We ultimately decided on Spicy Pork Belly thinking it similar to fatty bacon.  It turned out to be along those lines so good choice!  Here are some pics of our meal cooking:

All in all, perception met reality as the experience was great.  Friendly and attentive wait staff delivered tasty meats, sauces, and sides.  We did not finish the Spicy Pork Belly as it was one of those dishes where you get to the point that you have had your fill of it.  No regrets on ordering/trying it though.  I’d like to go back and maybe even at a random hour like 2 am to take advantage of their 24 hour operations.  It could totally be the new late diner experience.  Who else has been to Honey Pig before.  What do you think?

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

7 Jul

Confession time: I go to sporting events for the food not for the game.  C’mon…I know I’m not the only one. Am I?  This past Tuesday I went to the Nats game with Bryan and our fabulous couple friends Dan and Emily.  It was a blazing 97 degrees so eating something absolutely mind blowing was a must to make bearing the heat worth it.

The night started off pretty hilariously.  Dan had purchased the tickets and as we attempted to proceed through the turnstiles we were denied.  How did we know you ask?  Perhaps it was the combo of a locked turnstile, red blinking light, and horrible buzzer sound that set us off.  As it would turn out, Dan bought tickets for THURSDAY’s game not Tuesday.  Poor guy felt so bad, but truthfully it made the night interesting and I love when little life blunders like that come up.  We proceeded to Ticket Services to find that the game was virtually sold out.  Our options were to buy $90 skybox type tickets ($60 more than our seats) or $15 standing room tickets (and incur a $15 loss in value).

We ultimately chose the $15 seats and grabbed some cold beers to kick off the night.  Unfortunately, we had to take shifts for food to hold down our little bar spot but the four of us got exactly what we wanted.  Bryan and I took food shift #1.  For me, a Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smoke loaded with chili and cheese and a side of fries is the way to go when I go to a Nats game.  Bryan varies on his selections, but grabbed a Philly cheese steak from Steak of the Union this time.  We resumed ownership of our standing room bar spot for Dan and Emily to grab Blue Smoke.  This was not a choice they made immediately- some perusing ensued.  Ultimately, a pulled pork sandwich and breaded chicken sandwich would satisfy their cravings.

As delicious as it sounds and as it was, the highlight had not happened yet.  Three words: SHAKE SHACK CONCRETES.  OMGGGG.  The creamiest vanilla custard with chocolate toffee pieces, chocolate sprinkles, and malt make up this shake-like treat.  I can’t seem to remember the name, but I think it is special to the park.  Neither here nor there- point is that is THE dessert you must get at Nats Stadium.  I was in a pretty serious food coma following annihilating that thing.

While Ben’s Chili Bowl and Shake Shack are my go-to’s at Nats Stadium, I’d love to hear about yours.  Leave me a comment!