Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hola Arepa - Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I had random reasons to celebrate, so we decided to hit up a place we've been meaning to go to for months. Hola Arepa in Uptown. It was a Friday night, so we knew there was going to be a wait, but we were up for it - especially since they had a bar there. The host told us it would be about 30 minutes.

We put our name in and headed to the bar. As we were walking up, the people sitting there were leaving and told us to take their spot. We sat down and proceeded to look at the drink menu - soooooo many delicious sounding drinks. Apparently, these folks are known for their creative cocktails. All of them contain bitters, which I'm not a huge fan of, but I am able to order drinks without bitters like a grown ass man, so we're all good.

I ordered an El Camino Rojo and D.Rough ordered a Cortez The Killer. We watched the drink expert make these ridiculously expert-level drinks and were pretty impressed. These drinks were strong. REALLY strong. And delicious, thankfully. We both liked the Cortez The Killer better, but both were super tasty. This also gave us time to check out the food menu so we were ready when we sat down at our table.

We ran into some friends, like you do in Uptown, and chatted the time away. We also ordered two more drinks. I opted for the Jolly Poltergeist and D.Rough got the Southerly Pariah - again, both were incredibly strong. To the point of weavy-ness. This time, I ordered the winning drink (the Jolly Poltergeist)(again, without bitters).

It was just over 30 minutes when the host called our name and sat us at a table being served expertly by Bryce - a fellow long-haired bearded gentleman. We were already leaning towards a couple of appetizers and finally decided on the Vigoron appetizer - steamed yuca, roasted pork, citrus-cabbage slaw, pico de gallo, and chicharron on a banana leaf. After a few questions, I ordered an arepa with roasted pork and sweet potatoes and D.Rough ordered the arepa with shredded beef and plantains. If you don't know what arepas are, you're missing out. They're sort of a taco-like hand food. Picture a circular cross between a pita and an english muffin, but made out of corn meal. Then stuff it with all kinds of different ingredients (mainly the kinds of things you would put in a fancy taco) like lettuce, shredded beef/pork, black beans, onions, and other things.

The Vigoron came out and we were extremely excited for this crazy thing. It was a mound of shredded pork with some other fun things to dip the pork rinds into. Seriously this thing was worth fighting over. I was very surprised both at how large it was and also how delicious it was. I'm glad we decided on this for an appetizer.

The arepas came out just after we finished our appetizer. And I'll be honest, it was really difficult to tell which one was better.

The shredded beef was had fantastic cumin flavor and the sweetness of the plantains really cut through. The cotija cheese flavor also came through brilliantly. I was really surprised how good this thing was.

The roasted pork arepa with sweet potato was also fantastic. The green onion aioli was extremely mild and complemented the roasted pork very well. Just the right amount of sweet potato so as not to be overpowering.

The yuca fries that came with our areas were wonderful. I got the chimichurri dip and D.Rough got the aioli verde dip. Again, we couldn't decide which one was better - we loved them both.

I'll be honest, I expected to just think this place was "o.k.". I was totally wrong about it. The place is wonderful. I know there are competing arepa restaurants in the Twin Cities that are cheaper, but the arepas at Hola are much larger, more full of ingredients, and are more filling. One arepa is more than enough here, especially if you get one of their enormous appetizers (which I would recommend).

Top 5 things about Hola Arepa
1. Vigoron
2. Shredded beef and plantain arepa
3. Roasted pork and sweet potato arepa
4. Delicious cocktails
5. Both the chimichurri dip and the aioli verde dips for the yuca fries

Bottom 5 things
1. You're going to wait in line, especially in the winter when the patio is closed. There's a really good reason they're as busy as they are
2. The bartender, who is an absolute wizard, is leaving Hola Arepa to start his own distillery!!!!
3. You're going to want everything on the menu
4. I've heard people call it "Holla" arepa. Those people are idiots
5. If you don't like bitters, order your fancy drinks without them - it's that easy

www.holaarepa.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Poncho 8 - London, UK

In case you get a hankering for a Chipotle burrito while you're in London (for the record, it's getting easier to find Chipotle locations in London), you can simply drop into a nice little shop called Poncho 8.

Same ordering process, same style of ingredients. It's pretty darn good. I had some for lunch and if I had closed my eyes, during the ordering process or the eating process, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. Excellent lunch for a pretty reasonable cost.

And here was my view during lunch. They even had grass IN the city!!!!

Worth a write up? Maybe not, but I thought I'd help people who rely on such staples as the addictive Chipotle burrito. Hahaha.

www.poncho8.com

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Golden Hind - London, UK

D.Rough sent me a list of a couple of places with notable food while I was in the UK for work. One of the places she recommended won a lot of fame for being a very traditional fish and chips shop in the city. It was within a half hour walk and I needed to get out and stretch my legs after a long day of work - done!

It's a pretty straight forward menu. A couple of fish things and some little appetizer-y type things. I simply ordered fish and chips. The server asked which kind of fish (they have cod and haddock). I told him whichever most people think is the best. Seemed pretty easy. Oh yeah, and an Orange Fanta.

The fish was enormous. (It was the cod.) Much larger than I even expected. And, it was delicious! Thick breading that tasted like breading and not grease. Very thick peace of very flaky fish. You could taste the fish, as well as the breading. I like that they didn't add any bells and whistles to this dish - THAT's the reason it's been making headlines.

The chips (fries) were pretty straight forward. Great fried crunch on them without being overcooked.

I'm glad D.Rough recommended this place. It wasn't expensive and was exactly what I needed.

www.thegoldenhind.snack.ws

Friday, January 9, 2015

Edley's Bar-B-Que - Nashville, TN

We got a recommendation from our Hattie B's Uber driver that we needed to go check out Edley's Bar-B-Que if we wanted some amazing stuff. That was all the encouragement we needed. We convinced a handful of people to come with us.

The place wasn't full, which was what we were worried about, but it was after the dinner hour, so it had begun to clear out. When I get ribs, I always get a half slab - this time was no different. Half slab with collard green and some mac and cheese. Old school.

The place has a full bar, so you can get anything you want, so most of us ended up getting adventurous with the local brews.

The food came out pretty quickly, as much of it is already made and just has to be finished off. The ribs are dry rubbed and then finished with sauce before serving. The sauce was rich and hearty, but not vinegar-y. I loved it. Great smoke flavor, without being fake, and the amount was just right - not swimming in sauce. The meat was amazingly tender with almost no gristle at all.

The collard greens were really good. I'd just had some amazing collard greens recently, but these were good. No complaints. A little bit of spice and good flavor. I'd get these again.

The mac and cheese was good. Not the best in the world, not the worst. No gritty cheese or anything, so I liked it. It also didn't taste like cafeteria cheese, which means there was more than minimal effort put into them. I appreciate that above all else.

This place was fantastic. I think everyone was happy with their food and the beer people were even happier with the tap selection at the bar. This place has everything.

www.edleysbbq.com

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hattie B's Hot Chicken - Nashville, TN

When someone says you have to try the Hot Chicken in Nashville, you just do it. I assure you, you can't go wrong. We got fantastic recommendations about Hattie B's, so I rounded up D.Rough and A-Wow and we Uber-ed right to the front door. And, before you ask, yes, there will be a line out the front door.

Deciding on the hot chicken is the easy part of the menu. Deciding which side items you'd like is the really hard part. I went with collard greens, since we're in the south, and also the potato salad.

We found a spot on the enclosed patio and simply watched other people enjoying their food. Everyone had smiles and were talking excitedly about their food. When ours came out, we knew why.

The hot chicken is beyond comprehension why it is so good. I think the chicken is seasoned, and then the batter is seasoned, and then the seasoning is seasoned. Depending on your level, it's going to be hot. I ordered some sort of middle of the road and it was perfect. Amazingly tender chicken and the perfect amount of breading to not hide the chicken, but simply protect it. It's amazing. My lips were tingling but my eyes weren't tearing up. Like I said, some of the best chicken I ever had.

The collard greens were done right - like they know how to do in the south. A little kick of pepper and some bits of meat in there. Excellent.

The potato salad was good. No complaints. Nothing I haven't had before, but it was a great accompaniment to the spicy chicken. I'm glad I got it.

And then, when you're done, you can sop all the extra juice from the chicken up with with what bread it's served on. That's one of my favorite parts of southern cooking - the soppin'.

A-Wow would also recommend the extreme rootbeer float he ordered for dessert. It helped cool his face down after all the hot chicken.

I'd recommend Hattie B's to everyone I get a chance to talk to about it.

Top 5 things about Hattie B's Hot Chicken
1. Hot Chicken
2. Collard Greens
3. The menu is thorough
4. White bread for soppin'
5. They DO have beer

Bottom 5 things
1. You WILL wait in line here (but you won't complain once you have food in your mouth)
2. ...And then you might wait in line to get a seat after you order
3. I tried really hard to find other bad things, but there aren't any

www.hattieb.com

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 - Year in Review

Each year, I like to look back and see what I've acccomplished (or NOT accomplished). 2014 had some surprises, but I'm glad I made it through. Here are some of the highlights, if you're interested.

  • I saw Diamond Dallas Page high-five Kobayashi at the Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis
  • Hosted the 2014 Scotch Pong World Championships - yes, beer pong, but with scotch!
  • Ran my first actual 10K race!
  • Went to fun cities to watch D.Rough play roller derby and to scream at the top of my lungs - Atlanta, Nashville, Milwaukee, Sacramento
  • Went to The Bahamas with D.Rough to celebrate our birthdays, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, Presidents Day, and any other holiday we could throw in the mix!
  • Took off two weeks from work around the holidays 
  • Won Best In Show at Weetacon (the most fun conference I've ever been to) for the second year in a row
  • Had Christmas with my in-laws' family on Christmas Eve
  • Then, turned around and hosted 14 members of my Illinois family for Christmas Day for four days - complete with renting an entire bowling alley, going sledding, and doing karaoke in the basement!
  • Finally made the annual canoe trip on the Mequoketa River!
  • Made the annual July Birthdays Tubing Trip on the Cannon River
  • Went to my first Premier League football match in London - West Ham vs. Aston Villa
  • Hosted Terrible Shark Movie Marathon at my house featuring 12 hours of awful shark B-movies
  • Went to Key West with D.Rough just for the heck of it - and I got to be shirtless most of the time!
  • Got to take a work trip to our London office and catch up with old friends while there
  • Hosted a number of Bad Movie Night themes - Peter Jackson/New Zealand, WTF, Metal, Holiday, and others
  • Put multiple Chao-related ads in the Minnesota RollerGirls programs - I'm a sponsor!
  • Watched a ton of World Cup Soccer action
  • Got back on the disc golf tournament train and played in 5 tournaments to get enough points to qualify for the Amateur World Championships in 2015
  • Drank a lot of wine at monthly New Vintage wine tastings all over the Twin Cities, and an occasional home-made wine tastings
  • Played in my Wednesday night Uptown Kickball League
  • Went to the Minnesota RollerGirl Surly Punch Pass Party and got schooled at bags/cornhole by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cornhole"
  • Did serious damage (mainly to my intestines) at the Minnesota State Fair, after taking 2013 off
  • Went to F1rst Wrestling's Wrestlepalooza semi-pro wrestling at First Avenue - so much fun
  • Went to a number of Minneapolis Scotch Society Scotch Tastings to drink Scotch I can't afford
  • Went to a bunch of restaurants for our Poutine Crawl Club I'm in
  • Saw multiple Jesus movies - Noah, God Isn't Dead, Left Behind, Matter of Faith, Persecuted, Exodus, Revelation Road 1, 2, and 3, Rumors of Wars, Dark Dungeons, and Song of God (aka The Sexy Jesus Movie)
  • Went to my in-laws' family cabin with my sister and brother-in-law and had an amazing weekend full of fishing, campfires, and Cards Against Humanity
  • Got to shock the hell out of people by announcing that Coach got married in Scotland WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE
  • Turned some new people onto duckpin bowling at Koz's MiniBowl in Milwaukee
  • Ran the 5th Annual .10K Triathlon
  • Got shown amazing disc golf hospitality by Wes and Meagan in Des Moines - my own bed, trail mix, and breakfast burritos!!!
  • Grew some pretty abnormal facial hair styles
  • Got to check out the brand new Surly Brewing Company Taphouse and Banquet Facility - it's beautiful AND has amazing food and beer
  • Went to my first Silver-Tie Event!
  • Took some new people to the Christian Home School Science Fair
  • Went to the 2nd Annual Jam Out With Your Clam Out burlesque show
  • Saw Manowar live in concert and paid a crap ton of money for it - worth it!
  • Went to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with D.Rough
  • Went to the best Superbowl Party in the Twin Cities with my kickball people
  • Did my first official cooking class with my work team...and nailed it
  • Made ceviche and then watched Earnest Scared Stupid and The FP with Juke Boxx and Ballistic Whistle in London

Some not-so-awesome things happened in 2014, as well. I like to list these as a reminder of what to look out for in 2014...
  • I had to miss jumping in a frozen lake for Special Olympics since D.Rough and I were in The Bahamas - you feel bad for us don't you?
  • Mistakenly forgot to acknowledge a very close friend's birthday and got called out on it - deservedly
  • Basement carpet water damage and electrical issues with the kitchen lights
  • Missed Sugar Beet Down and Swedish Meat Brawl's wedding
  • Was in London when my mother-in-law fell down the stairs and got a compound fracture - awful!
  • Missed this year's Big Gay Race
  • Missed the MCAD art sale that we usually go to with D.Rough, Delta Force Commander, and Fire Retarded
Each year, I have a theme for the entire year. 2014 was the Year of Jesus Movies for me - I went as saw as many Christian-slanted movies as I possibly could. I really should have seen more than just the 12 I saw, but they pulled the ridiculous Kirk Cameron Christmas film after two weeks, because it was so horrible. I have to thank A-Wow for sitting through many of these with me (and pre-gaming copiously with me) - you're an inspiration. I still haven't really picked a theme for 2015, but I'm sure it will unfold itself in due time, as these things generally do.

I'm coming for you, 2015! Better be ready...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Trishna – London, UK

After doing some research on restaurants to check out in London (there’s only a few thousand, obviously), I kept seeing Trishna on the list. It’s an upscale-affordable, but not snooty, Indian restaurant in the Marylebone area. I had walked past it on my evening stroll a few times previous, and knew I needed to check it out.

The inside is about fifteen feet wide, with six tables on the main floor, and then an unknown number of tables upstairs (I didn’t check it out). The staff here make sure you're very well taken care of. They take – and return - your coat and call cabs for you. They make sure your wine is chilled and all of your glasses don’t run out.

The menu has a tasting menu, which I think I was outside the window of availability (only served the tasting until maybe 7 or 8pm), but all of the individual items on the menu, from starters, to mains and sides, were all well described and sounded delicious.

I decided on the Dal Chawal Achar to start with – yellow lentil and rice dumplings, yogurt, papad, and pickle. For the main course, after much deliberation, I decided on the Andhra Lamb Masala with curry leaves and coastal seasonings. I also ordered a bottle of Pinot Bianco Quercus from Gori┼íka Brda vineyards. Not a fancy bottle by any means, but I was sure it was going to be good. (I was right, for the record...)

Even before my food came out, they brought a basket full of puffed rice crisps to the table with a mango chutney and a spicy tomato chutney. Both were really good to snack on while waiting for my order to arrive. I hadn’t intended to eat the entire basket, but I looked down and it was empty. Whoops!

The appetizer was fantastic. Even better than I expected it to be. The balls were light and fluffy and went really well with the yogurt it was perched upon. The green seasoning, like a pesto, on top of each of the balls had great flavor, as well. The pickled carrots had an unusual cross between mustard and wasabi spices to them, but they were fantastic.

The lamb masala was also mind-blowing. It fell apart when you touched it with the fork – which I know is not easy to do with lamb. These folks at Trishna are experts, however. The dish is served in a small crock, so it looks like there’s not a lot there, but it’s an illusion. There is PLENTY of meat in that crock. The seasonings and curry leaves added some top-notch flavor to the already tender meat. I loved this thing. You can order it with rice or with naan bread, and I’m glad I ordered the naan. It was two different kinds of naan in the basket. One ad black sesame seeds in it and the other was a bit garlicky – perfect. I know British people call the wrong things “biscuits”, so they don’t understand the meaning of “sopping it up with a biscuit”, but that’s absolutely what I did with the naan. The crock and my plate looked like they had just come out of the dish washer.

I wasn’t going to, but I totally caved at the end of the meal and got some kheer for dessert. It’s my favorite. If you haven’t had it before, it’s sort of a cross between rice pudding and tapioca, made with rice and condensed milk and cardamom. There’s was served in a beautiful brass pan with all kinds of seasonings on the top of it – which I’m not used to seeing. Now every kheer I get from here out will be compare to the kheer at Trishna.

At one point, I had to use the restroom (or the “loo”) and when I got back, the server had taken my not-yet-empty wine glass. The manager noticed and came over very apologetically and brought me a new (and FULL) glass of something similar. He felt bad that it had been removed and he was going to make it up to me. Which they did, when they brought out these small bite-sized brownie pieces and another full glass of dessert wine. The small desserts were pretty good, but whenever this happens, I wish D.Rough were here, since she appreciate brownies and chocolate-y dessert so much more than I do. You would have loved these, D.Rough!! I also made sure neither the server nor the bus person got into trouble for removing my glass. It wasn’t a big deal at all and I didn’t want anyone to take any heat for the simple mix-up.

I love the variety of people in this restaurant. I heard conversations in French, Italian, Russian/Ukranian, Indian, and English. It’s so good, people from every place in the world love it. I can’t say enough about the staff - they took care of everything. There was a group of French guys flirting with the 23 year old server (I overheard them asking her how old she was) and she took it like a champ. Just smiled and push them aside to wait on other tables. Well done. The manager made sure I was taken care of, well beyond the point most places would have stopped. Truly. A very good job. For an affordable restaurant, it was an upscale experience.

Indian food in the US can be really cheap (buffet-style) or a little bit fancy. I’ve never been to a really nice Indian restaurant like this before. It changed my mind on what it could be in the US. I’m a big fan of Trishna. I’ll likely round up some other people to come here on subsequent trips back to London.

Top 5 things about Trishna
1) Andhra Lamb Masala
2) Dal Chawal Achar
3) Super service
4) Menu has some really delicious sounding items, including some unusual game hens
5) Kheer

Bottom 5 things
1) Wish I had made it in time for the various tasting menus
2) I was sooooooo full after dinner, thankfully, I walked back to the hotel instead of using the tube
3) No pakora, which I was hoping for (everything else made up for it, though, I promise)
4) It’s a little pricey, but I think the cost is justified by the experience in this case
5) I’m ruined for Indian food at every other place now that I’ve had the best here at Trishna

Trishna
15-17 Blandford Street
Marylebone Village
London W1U 3DG