Sunday, July 31, 2011

Apollo Chinese Restaurant

Every once in a while I just get a craving for simple, delicious pork fried rice. Basic greasy fried rice from your standard Chinese place—nothing special, just good comfort food.

I recently had this craving for two months. I don’t know why I didn’t do anything about it—the craving would come, I would consider getting Chinese food, and then I would do something else. On one recent hot and humid afternoon I decided to do something about it. I think that the weather really put me over the edge. The oppressive heat was so reminiscent of China that I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I kept thinking about how I used to walk down the street from my apartment and visit this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the corner with a man spooning out fried rice into buckets for just a few measly cents in U.S. currency. I would go pick up a bucket of egg or beef fried rice and then savor the salty MSG, filling rice, and chili heat. Granted, the fried rice I would buy on the corner in Chengdu was quite different than the American-Chinese food of my craving, but somewhere in my mind fried rice and hot weather are knit together.

Being unsure where to get some good fried rice in the Collegetown area of Ithaca, NY, I checked out my friend Celeste’s blog 90 Restaurants, 90 Days, a site on which she documents her culinary experiences in Ithaca before leaving the area to pursue other ventures. This blog became a go-to for me during my time in Ithaca. After checking out Celeste’s reviews of a few Asian restaurants I honed in on Apollo Chinese Restaurant, and was immediately convinced that it was the best option. It sounded like the best cure for my craving and they were right around the corner from me.

One of the most satisfying parts of the experience was that when I walked into Apollo the scent immediately took me back to the smell of food in China. It’s so interesting how a particular scent can transport you through space and time, and I definitely experienced that on my recent venture to Apollo. The pork fried rice was exactly what I was craving. My ideal pork fried rice consists of greasy, salty rice laden with hunks of bright red roast pork, bits of scrambled egg, onions, carrots, and peas. I like the rice to be brown from a bit of soy sauce and slightly crispy and clumped together—perfect for scooping up glorious mouthfuls with chopsticks. This was exactly what Apollo delivered.

When I checked out the menu and was tempted to order a few dishes, but it was really just the pork fried rice I was interested in. Even though I was getting a very basic dish I got the feeling (and can see evidence of it in Celeste’s review) that they do “real” Chinese food right. I was more than satisfied and had my craving filled by the fried rice, but if I were to return again I’d probably want to try out their steamed pork buns, one of their various noodle soups, Peking duck, or double sautĂ©ed pork (I’m guessing this is the same as twice cooked pork, one of my favorite dishes). Alas, I’m far departed from Ithaca now, but if you’re in the area and looking for a fried-rice fix then it’s the right place to be.

Apollo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Quote of the Week: Bittersweet

"It was as if all of the happiness, all of the magic of this blissful hour had flowed together into these stirring, bittersweet tones and flowed away, becoming temporal and transitory once more."

—Herman Hesse

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quote of the Week: Baking and Parenting

"Baking to me seems like how parenting must be. First you have to create it, which is messy. Then you have to watch it grow in the oven, and then you have to eat it... And that could taste really bad."

--Hannah Hart, My Drunk Kitchen

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Waaalllt! That’s my baaaarrrr! Sorry, you know I can’t resist a LOST reference. When I walked up to Walter’s, and hopefully to the amusement of my companions, I couldn’t help but echo Michael’s overused yelling for his son. Located at 2 Portland Square, Walter’s is a classy joint with its sleek interior, seasonal menu, and excellent bar.

For my cocktail I ordered a Wild French Ginger—Citadelle French gin, domaine de canton French ginger liquer, and candied ginger. I always applaud bars when they are able to make delicious cocktails without overloaded them with cloying syrup. The Wild French Ginger was thankfully not overly sweet and it had a nice kick from the ginger.

Jonah Crab Claws were the first appetizer we sampled. The claws were ice chilled, which contributed to their distinctive texture—the flesh was smooth and cold and had a sweet, oceany flavor. They were served with a South Beach dipping sauce.

Next up was Greek lamb sliders. These little beauties were crafted with Greek sausage, Camembert, and a spicy Cara Cara orange gelee on flaky rosemary biscuits. These were the sliders that inspired us to have our own slider throwdown. Cara Cara apparently is a type of red Navel orange—it made a delicious sweet and spicy gelee topping for the slider that combined smoothly with the rich and buttery Camembert. The sausage was moist and flavorful and paired nicely with the biscuits.

Last on our order was oxtail spring rolls, which were prepared with roasted corn, poblano peppers, and smoked mozzarella, with a spicy avocado crema and tamarind yuzu ponzu dipping sauces. The combination of these ingredients gave the spring rolls a smoky and spicy flavor, but I didn’t get any distinctive taste from the oxtail. I’d never had it before, so maybe I just couldn’t gather the flavor of it in the midst of the other intoxicating scents and tastes within the spring rolls. Having two options of dipping sauces was a nice touch, and I favored the smooth and creamy avocado crema. 

I would definitely revisit Walter’s to sample some of their other cocktails and extensive bar menu. Their entrees sound delicious as well, but if you can’t go wrong with a couple of small plates and drinks at their classy yet comfortable bar.

Walter's on Urbanspoon


Sitting at the bar with my older sister at Boda and enjoying creative cocktails with Thai tapas, as rain outside mists the streets of Portland, Maine, is an excellent way to begin any evening. Especially when those cocktails involve Thai Basil and ginger, and the cuisine entails oysters, quail eggs, fiddleheads, pork belly, and quail.

I ordered the Thai Basil Tom Collins, which was light with citrus flavors and dancing with just bit of spiciness and anise flavor from the Thai Basil. Sonya sipped on a ginger cocktail, the exact ingredients unknown to me, alas. In any case, I can vouch for the tastiness of the drink. Both of these cocktails made lovely pairings for the Thai food we’d soon be devouring.

First up were oysters served raw with chili-lime dressing and fried shallots. Each oyster not only delivered the quintessential Atlantic Ocean brininess, but also surprised the taste buds with spicy chili and citrusy lime. The fried shallots were a little over the top but still pretty good. If the flavor of the oysters is overpowered by the shallots then you can always take some off, but the crispiness added an interesting texture when juxtaposed with the raw, slippery oysters. The delightful sea flavor of the raw oysters doesn’t really come through until after the initial flavors of the garnishes wanes. It’s an interesting experience with waves of flavor and texture, but in my opinion plain raw oysters are still the way to go if you want to really be at one with the oyster.

We ate the oysters alongside a dish called Kanom-Krok that consisted of quail eggs seasoned with soy sauce and scallions. A little poking around on the Internet reveals that Kanom-Krok is typically a dessert dish of little, round coconut-rice puddings. They look quite appealing, actually, but I have to imagine that Boda is using the term to refer to the cooking process where the individual eggs are cooked in the shallow, round indents of a cast-iron pan. These hot little quail eggs had a very nice saltiness due to the soy sauce, and the rich flavor really exploded when the egg yolk breaks in the mouth. 

We ordered one of the special appetizers—a fiddlehead salad with rice noodles and shrimp. This distinctive salad had an enjoyable spicy element to it, and the seasonal fiddleheads were beautiful to look at in all their spiraled glory and were cooked perfectly. 

We also couldn’t resist the pork belly skewers marinated with salt and sprinkled with chopped scallion. Need I elaborate? No, I think not. I’ll just throw some adjectives at you: Unctuous. Delectable. Savory. Awesome.

For our final dish we shared some quail served with a spicy sauce. There’s something about crunching down on a little bird that is so satisfying. I thoroughly enjoy gnawing the crispy skin and flavorful flesh of quail while snapping teeny, tiny birdie bones. It might sound primitive, but to me it is joy. Bliss. Unfortunately this picture in no way does justice to this dish.

Anyplace that serves tapas or small plates is perfect for sampling lots of dishes, and Boda is no exception. Whether you’re out with a bunch of friends or just catching up with one of your favorite people, Boda is a great restaurant to try out a variety of superb and satisfying Thai cuisine.

Boda on Urbanspoon

Brian Boru

If District has the best burgers in Portland, Maine, then I've got to say that Brian Boru has the best wings. This Irish pub, located at 57 Center Street, is an excellent place to throw back some beers, enjoy live music, and sample their superb wings.

These spicy wings are juicy on the inside, have a crispy exterior coated with garlic sambal sauce, and are served with a side of creamy Gorgonzola dip. I'd been craving super spicy delicious wings, but the ones I'd recently tried in Jersey hadn't curbed my desire. Right before heading to Maine I came across some quality wings in Western New York, but the spiciness just wasn't there. The sambal wings at Brian Boru, however, hit the spot. 

I had to look up what exactly sambal is, and it turns out that it's a Southeast Asian condiment made with a variety of chili peppers. You can pick up a jar of Sambal Oelek if you want to try out this condiment at home.

But I'll warn you, these wings can be pretty fiery. It's a pleasant fire, in my opinion, but if you're not big on spicy food they might not be for you. Although you can always just load them up with the cool and creamy Gorgonzola dip and sip on a Guinness of a Black and Tan if the heat is too much. 

Having a plate of hand-cut, think fries doused in garlic, sea salt, and parsley butter is also an excellent idea.

In addition to serving up these delicious wings, fries, and beers, Brian Boru has live music Thursdays through Sundays, so it's a great place to hang out. And there's never any cover for the music. I was just checking out their website, and apparently they are currently having free BBQ every Thursday from 5-7. I want to go to there. Now.  

Brian Boru Public House on Urbanspoon

District Burger

I visited District in Portland, Maine, back in March and reviewed it a couple months ago, but the last time I was in Maine I couldn't resist hitting it up again...a couple of times. I had heard how absolutely amazing their bacon cheeseburgers were supposed to be, and I needed to see for myself.

Just look at this burger. You know you want to eat it. The bun glistening with a smear of glowing oil, the bacon bursting forth beneath it, and all on top of a savory hunk of ground beef.


What makes a District burger so good? One glaringly obvious aspect of the District burger is its simplicity. Sometimes restaurants try so hard to reinvent the burger that they forget that sometimes the best burger is the basic one. The District just a burger--a bun, meat, cheese, bacon...I think there was some lettuce on there too. When you have quality ingredients, these basic components are all a burger really needs to be (although I can't really complain about the decadent Apocalypse Burger either). And the fries that accompanied it were crispy, salty, and a great companion for my tasty burger.

Another aspect that makes the District burger great is that when you order a specific doneness it is actually served to you that way. This virtue is rare these days. Most of the time if you want a burger done medium, let's say, you have to order it rare otherwise the chef will cook the juicy interior until it's done all the way through. No fun. At District, however, rare is rare, medium-rare is medium-rare, and so on. If you want your burger dripping with the lifeblood of the cow, then I'm sure they can serve it to you that way.

So go. Eat the burger. Enjoy.

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

Let's talk about lobster rolls.

Back in May, Sonya and Pat decided to take me to the epic Lobster Shack at Two Lights, just outside Portland in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. This little shack had a line of running out the door and inside it was busy with customers listing off orders, cash registers ringing, and people trying to navigate the drink machine and condiment station. The indoor seating is in a rustic room lined with wood and draped in sailing paraphernalia. But it was nice enough to eat outside so we took our lobster rolls, fries, and fried clams to a picnic table that overlooked the waves crashing onto gray rocks.

My companions both claimed it to be the best lobster roll...ever. The New England style hot-dog buns (meaning they were split through the top crust) were grilled and buttery with large chunks of lobster piled on top. It was finished with a generous dollop of mayonnaise and the lobster was cradled in a couple pieces of lettuce--just enough for a crunch. The lobster roll was amazing and the company was great (though Pat couldn't stop dipping his jacket in mayo for some reason), but if I had to choose my absolute favorite lobster roll so far I think it's got to be the one from the Porthole--I know it's not a traditional, classic lobster roll like it is at Two Lights, but in terms of bursting ocean flavor I do think it's my fave.

The fried clams at Two Lights, however, really may be the best I've had. They were  plump whole clams fried up perfectly crisp. With each bite the crunchy exterior gave way to a juicy, luscious burst of clam--a striking combination of fried batter and a splash of sea flavor. I recommend eating the fried clams right away if you do order them so you can pop them in your mouth while they are still hot and crispy.

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights is a great spot to grab some seafood and soak in the view of the ocean. It's just a short, scenic drive from Portland. But be wary of hungry seagulls! They seem to stalk the grounds of Two Lights, searching for lost bits of crispy fries and pieces of lobster.

Lobster Shack on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quote of the Week: Unselfishness of an Oyster

"Oysters are more beautiful than any religion...There's nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an oyster."


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Now that's what I call a grocery list...

Put it on the Pizza: The Sequel

All right, I know I've been slacking on the blogging, but I've just been distracted by summertime and all that comes with it. There's lots to catch up on foodwise from the past couple months, and what's a better place to start than pizza? A few months ago I reported about putting it on the pizza, and you may recall that the pizza was absolutely delicious. But when Rob's friends Rob and Rob came to town in early June, we knew we needed to put it on the pizza once again. 

This time Rob made the dough from scratch. I'm not sure of the recipe she used for the dough, but it sure was damn tasty.

We definitely put it on the sauce (in the sauce?) as well--tomatoes, red wine, spices, herbs, and even a strawberry. Making homemade tomato sauce is easier than one would suspect. It can really be as simple or as complex as you want. We just pureed some tomatoes (if you want to be hardcore you can peel and seed the tomatoes as well) and let them simmer on the stove with the other random ingredients we decided to throw in. When it was thick enough to our liking (that's what she said) we spread it on the delicious dough that Rob had prepared..

What is that sprinkled across the dough beneath the sauce? you may ask. It's some roasted garlic! To prepare the roasted garlic we just wrapped some whole cloves of garlic with olive oil in foil and popped it in the oven until it turned golden brown. Then we smashed the cloves, chopped them up, and spread them all over the pizza for some garlicky goodness.

After the garlic and sauce, we topped the pizza with tasty caramelized onions, fresh basil, mozzarella, and cracked black pepper.

To caramelize onions, thinly slice an onion and add the slices to a pan with olive oil and butter. If you are using a sweet onion I don't think you really need to add any sugar, but I tend to sprinkle in a little salt and sugar when I use a regular yellow onion. Cook the onion slices on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they turn a lovely brown color, but just be careful that they don't burn and stick to the pan. We couldn't get enough of the caramelized onions as they filled the kitchen with a delicious aroma and transformed from white to transparent to a luscious caramel color. I think we even added a little bit of beer to our onions as they simmered away, but then again, when Rob is the kitchen anything goes.  

After we put it all on the pizza, we placed it on a hot grill (with a piece of tinfoil between the grates and the pizza) and let the dough crisp up and the cheese melt into deliciousness. When it was done we were floating in pizza heaven...

If you still haven't put it on the pizza then be sure to check out the video below...