Red Velvet Pop Tarts

Bless me, France, for I have sinned.

I have left mopeds for mad bus clogs, and subway musicians for homeless men who smell like pee. And now, I have committed the biggest cultural sin of all, trading fresh, warm croissants and baguettes for Pop Tarts.

And I regret not a thing.

Why? Because Red Velvet Pop Tarts, that’s why. Red Velvet, the Snooki of cake flavors, has finally paired with this timeless stoner classic. Okay, not that I’m happy that I left gay “Paree” and all of its glamour, but my departure was timed impeccably. Apparently, I was wandering around the grocery store at the right time of night, because the Portal to Slumping Back into American Habits opened and out popped these gems, along with “scratching the place where balls are in the boxers you sleep in” and “drinking milk out of the carton” and “unabashedly ogling people wearing yoga pants in 0 degree weather.” So this was my reward, and damn, was it sweet.

According to the never-ending and meticulously maintained archives of the internet, coupon hoarding websites tell me that these are new Pop Tarts, approximately 4 days old, or 65 years old in internet years. I need to encapsulate their novelty and review them before they are officially old news! The ‘tarts are red velvet cake shelled with a cream cheese frosting, cream cheese glaze, and sprinkles, because sprinkles improve everything.

Surprisingly, they are actually good and taste like their namesake. Albeit, you’re not going to find a distinct resemblance to Aunt Sarah’s homemade from scratch, vinegar in the batter red velvet cake with mounds of frosting, but these will definitely save you the time and labor you would normally take in making a red velvet cake from a box. They have that raw flour, not-sweet cake batter flavor that I personally adore, and the filling adds a touch of sweetness and a little creaminess, too. Warm, they fared somewhat less successful and tasted like pancake batter, probably because all the frosting evaporated out.  


La Fermiere Riz au Lait au Rhum-Raisin

Cole Porter’s song has a few things right. Paris is great in the springtime, yes. Romantic in the fall. Sizzling in the summer, attractive in the winter. However, we encounter a loophole of dastardly clever proportions when he casually brushes over the ever-generic and wide range of “drizzling.” What kind of drizzling, Cole Porter? Because right now, in Paris, it’s definitely not the kind of liplocking drizzle featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or even A Perfect Storm. It’s spastic, cold and drives people indoors. If you tried to kiss, your lips would bleed profusely from the brush of friction against chapped, dead exposed body parts. 

Which is why I picked up this pudding. Fumbling its glass jars in my gloved, frozen fingers, I realized I needed some sort of summery diversion to distract from the slow transformation from Paris to dark Gotham City at 10AM. Recently, for reasons yet unexplained, La Fermiere has released its new Negrita rum-spiked rice pudding in the middle of winter. Intrigued by the bright packaging and summery motif, I decided to give it a try.

I’ve written about La Fermiere before. They make a solid quality pudding with some of the best, if superfluous, packaging I’ve ever seen. I hadn’t had the opportunity to try their new rice pudding line, so I figured this would be a good one to cut my teeth on, so to speak. To my surprise, it was spiked with a healthy dose of booze, its sharpness softened by the milky pudding base. In turn, the deep flavor of the rum, almost molasses-tinged, ensured that the pudding would not be too sweet. A very symbiotic combination.

The pudding, looser in texture than your average Kozy Shack, felt more homemade and rustic than the starchy puddings of home. It had less rice to cream, making it more like a soupy creme anglaise, but was still very pleasing. The coup de grace was the addition of raisins– they absorbed most of the rum and were plump, adding a bright burst of flavor to the base. It was a clever take on an old classic– something that I imagine might be fun to whip up for the family at home, grandma included!

Le Coq Rico, Paris, France

The cat was out of the bag- or rather, the chicken out of the rotisserie, so to speak. This Thanksgiving, it seemed as if we were not the only ones to “discover” Montmartre’s cloistered Le Coq Rico. Surrounded by chatty French and American families, the small restaurant was bustling despite the chill. My excitement had only grown as the temperature had dropped in the preceding days, as I am a firm believer that roast chicken goes best with frostbite. Entering the restaurant ushered by the brisk wind only heightened my anticipation. Le Coq Rico, owned by famed Parisian restauranteur Antoine Wasserman, specializes in the classic brasserie and outdoor market specialty, roast chicken and little else. 

Reviews for Le Coq Rico have been mixed, ranging from unimpressed to raving, so I went in with an open mind and an empty stomach. My need for schmaltz-laden potatoes and crispy skin overrode my internal Zagat server, and off I went, three famished family members in tow. In retrospect, I’d rank my experience somewhere in the middle of the hubbub- Le Coq Rico is right to stick to chicken and its various accoutrements, but is somewhat lacking in other essential areas.

The decor is simple, and not as chillingly minimal as I’d initially anticipated. In retrospect, it looks like the inside of a very well-kept, pristine white chicken coop. We started off with a bottle of the 2011 A. Keintzler Riesling, tight and fragrant, with a smooth, phenolic development over the course of a few hours. The restaurant favors this small family vineyard- many of their whites were from the Alsace-based Keintzler. We chose to whack up an order of the famed gésiers, crispy giblets ‘n’ bits platter that unfortunately never arrived. It was later discovered that they had forgotten the appetizer. For our main course, the poulet de Bresse, which the menu describes as serving 2-4. While this could be seen as a cost-driving tap dance, it was certainly practical for our needs. In fact, with the sides, the chicken almost yielded too much food, even with a party including a hungry student and a protein-loving weights enthusiast. 

The main course was extremely enjoyable, yielding and naturally sweet, soaking up its savory gravy with ease. It was served simplistically, adorned only by bursting whole cloves of garlic, a sweet and strong accompaniment with each bite. If you’re looking for something a little more formal than gnawing on poulet roti in the middle of a bustling market (my preferred atmosphere of choice) the 90 Euro poulet de Bresse is a fantastic example, providing your company can divvy up white and dark meat without killing each other. Yes, 90 Euro, when taken out of context, can seem a bit dear, but divided by 4 people with plenty of sides to go around, makes it one of the better fine-dining deals in Paris. With the tender chicken, perfectly cooked, we split two plates each of macaroni gratin and frites, the latter crispy and double-fried, the former peppery and comforting, but served somewhat stingily in what resembled an individually-portioned ramekin for a side dish.

After the chicken, it was almost unfair to order desserts. And had the macaroni or the gésiers been on the dessert menu, I am positive I would have chosen them. We opted to share two desserts between the four of us, a monolithic île flottante (at a chicken-themed restaurant I am inclined to wonder why they chose not to include the sibling to this famed dessert, œufs à la neige, or eggs in the snow) in a puddle of vanilla creme anglaise with a scattering of chopped almonds, and Brioche French toast with chestnut ice cream and autumn fruits. With the île, the classic garniture of caramel was missing, compelling its white-on-white counterparts to strikingly resemble the restaurant interior. This was vapid and soft, with a light, sugary flavor. 
The French toast really missed the mark for me– it had a dense, granulated crust around it, like crushed up Captain Crunch, and the deluge of powdered sugar and creme anglaise drizzled on top made it more reminiscent of a diner dessert than a delicate end to the meal. With so many rich ingredients, a more minimal touch would have been preferable. The toast was surrounded by autumn fruits- a fun selection of pineapple, pear, apple, melon, and grapes, some soaked in mulling spices. Combined with the boozy chestnut ice cream, I would have preferred the fruit alone.

If your savory side is singing out for a little chicken and formality, I wouldn’t hesitate checking Le Coq Rico out. Otherwise, you may be better off picking up a chicken from one of many of the stands dotting Paris. However, as Thanksgiving dinners abroad go, this was incomparably better than frozen turkey!

Heinz Ketchup Primeur

You’re probably wondering why I’ve called you here. No, I’d rather not discuss my estate today, nor is it occasion for one of my infamous Scotch, cigar and Euro tastings, but rather, a new opportunity in gustatory indulgence. Gentlemen? You may wish to sit down. What I am about to show you shall bring new life to your French-fried potatoes, a devilish tang to your roasted newborn calf filets. Men, we are humbled in the presence of this confounded condiment: Heinz Ketchup Primeur.

 En primeur, a concept formerly limited only to the finest and most expensive of wines, has now extended its graceful, feminine reach to ketchup, which many may agree is the Bordeaux of condiments, the Ferrari of fast food. Heinz has lovingly aged their tomatoes with only the gentlest of touches under the soft Portuguese sun. Monitored by a team of Harvard-educated, Oxford-refined, and McDonald’s trained tomato technicians and botanists, the Primeur ketchup is then bottled, numbered, and emblazoned with the gleaming, masculine signature of J.P. Heinz, the Burger King himself, fresh after his stint in the Oxford Federal Correctional Institute. His offense? Putting a hit out on Sir Kensington. Can you even imagine!?

This premier sauce of the one percent is jammier than its pedestrian squeeze-bottle counterpart, with a natural tang and sweetness and rich depth of flavor, not unlike the sweet and savory combination of Cornish sea salt-cured caviar atop shredded Birkin bag blinis. Carrying a light, healthy sheen and thick texture, it rises above mere mayonnaise and relishes its status as the creme de la creme of ketchup.

Preliminary uncorking allowed a spicy scent to waft from the cut glass bottle (regrettably, they were out of the Baccarat at Barney’s) but my initial tasting was slightly deterred, as the condiment was so thick it had to be coaxed out of the container with a Tiffany oyster spoon! However, after breathing for a brief sojourn, it proved to be intense and balanced, pairing impeccably with both steak and potatoes.

Currently only available in Europe, it would behoove you to fly there at once, so your potatoes and Sir MacNuggets shall go uncoated no more. Preferably in a private jet, or at the very least, atop a litter carried by five trained jaguar siblings across the Incense Road of Antiquity.

Godspeed, Hunt’s. You may shut the door behind you.

Long live Heinz!

Pringles Rosemary and Olive Oil

It’s a bright, sunny day in Paris. What’s that, you say? Something about a hurricane? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m living in the middle of an Annie Liebovitz photoshoot and have received a free puppy and newly minted sack of cash in the mail every day for a week now. I jest, I jest, I’m actually sick in bed and procrastinating on a group project. Glamour = my life, I assure you that. There are a few perks to living in the City of Lights, though, not the least of which is NEW AMERICAN BRAND FLAVORS, said the Moderately Attractive, yet Paunchy American. (Redefining the stereotype, I say!) Yes, while “lightly salted” inexplicably passes for a sensation back home, stores are filling the shelves with the latest and greatest Euro-flavor of the month, Rosemary and Olive Oil Pringles.

And yes, don’t adjust your TV set, that image of two nonsentient, yet seductive Pringles-brand Pringles chips getting down and dirty on the package a la Romeo and Juliet is one hundred percent not photoshopped. At least, not by me. Pringles wants you to know that this will beat out oysters, raspberries, Ferrero Rocher, flavored condoms, Four Loko, and crude Snoopy-shaped molded peanut butter cups as THE Valentine’s Day snack of 2013. Prepare to get it on, saddle-shaped potato snack style.

Well, needless to say, the bold advertising and graphics had many things raised in my bedroom that night, not the least of which were my expectations. Simple flavors like rosemary and olive oil are easy to make and hard to screw up, so I expected Pringles to go big or go home crying and playing “Mean” by Taylor Swift on repeat. I’m pleased to say that these chips delivered unexpectedly well. The thing that I dislike most about Pringles is Pringles themselves, unfortunately, but the well-seasoned crisps, entwined in the throes of starch-based ecstasy, are bold and vibrant with distinct olive and rosemary flavors.

I was most impressed with the way that the olive oil was infused into the chip. While it was definitely bolstered by garlic, onion, and parmesan, undercutting the simplicity of the featured flavors, there was a musky, buttery undertone and distinctly briny aftertaste of olive oil that was impressive, given how devoid of grease these typically are. There’s a sour, slightly bitter bite not unlike Sour Cream and Onion Pringles, but with a sweeter complexity.  

The rosemary, in addition to the sugar preceding it in the ingredient list, softened the strength of the savory flavors and added a bright tough of sweetness to the chips. Definitely classier than your average Pringles, though the iconic shape would make them difficult to use as a bait-‘n’-switch appetizer in lieu of bruschetta.

Jeff’s Famous Cajun-style Beef Jerky

I’ve slowly been working my way through the last of my emergency airplane snacks. As I’ve probably mentioned before, despite my experience with travel, airplanes scare me. My ideal carry-on would include flares, embossed stationary for last notes, bottles to stash them in, and vodka. Because 90% of those things are not allowed, I’ve settled for bringing an asston of snacks, for my own personal sanity and also to avoid paying $9 and my firstborn for stale pretzels.

So now that I’m here, I have a backup of random food. I’ve even been trying to incorporate them into my recipes. Suffice to say, curried rice a la mixed nuts and dried fruit with non-dairy creamer won’t be making it onto my normal menu. However, one of my best travel decisions was bringing along meat- tons of meat. Beef and turkey jerky, to be exact. I thought it would be fun to feature some of these (as well as some of the recipes I’ve been using them in! Foie gras, meet America.) over the next few weeks.

Today’s jerky is a classic, and a fairly tasty one. Jeff’s Famous Beef Jerky is a gas station mainstay and a college student’s dream. The ingredient list is very sparse- this couldn’t be further from the Slim Jims of yesteryear. The thin pieces of steak are coated in a mixture of spices, a blend I’d personally classify more as Tex-Mex rather than Cajun. I’ve found that Cajun flavors tend to have more of a reliance on herbs like thyme and oregano. This was black pepper and garlic heavy, with a powerful chili kick, but lacked the sweetness I expected it to have. I would have liked a little more sugar to balance out the heat and salinity. However, it was still a very tasty meat treat, with a layered set of spices that worked their way into the meat without overpowering its natural flavor. In this case, that’s a good thing, as Jeff’s uses a tender, naturally flavorful meat as the base for the jerky. The meat has a consistent, pleasant texture, though the smaller, thicker pieces tended to have a fattier texture with a bit of stringiness. Still, this is a great snack to travel with and an easy one to enjoy.

Alobar, Long Island City, NY

I rarely have many reasons to be in Queens. That is, until now. But if I’m ever in the mood for delicious, clever punk rock food, I’m pleased that a short travel six minutes on the 7 train out of Manhattan and walk a few blocks up is all that it takes. Alobar, a pork ‘n’ pub restaurant taking Long Island City by storm, invited Dillinger and me to check out their food and impressive cocktails, too.

 Miss Love took a look at this menu and proclaimed it was “guy food,” so I immediately decided that I would take Dillinger on a guy date. While the menu’s battered bacon add-ons and barbecued pig tails may look intimidating, there are quite a few delicate starter selections for the feminine palate, should your lady (or fastidious gentleman!) not have an immediate desire to gnaw on maple-cured ribs. That being said, I would have liked to see the freshness of their appetizers trickle into the entrees. I think that with their ingenuity, they can transform dishes for a lighter palate without sacrificing their views and values.
However, on the appetizer front, I don’t think anyone would pass up Alobar’s selection of housemade pickles. We sampled the thick tarragon carrot pickles, briny and robust with mustard seed and a little coriander for a sour, sweet Asian flair. And for your $4, you get a ton of carrots.

Also on the menu as a light, but tasty treat, is a clever twist on a bar favorite. A giant bowl of truffled maple-bacon popcorn, served hot and drizzled with sauce, was the unanimous appetizer favorite. The bacon, served in more hunks than pieces, covered the bottom of the bowl and most of the top of the popcorn as well. Glistening with truffle oil and maple, it was a crispy and sweet treat, although very gooey and impossible not to eat with a fork. Believe me, if you felt awkward eating pizza with a fork and knife before, try doing the same with popcorn.

But the main reason why we were here was for these prehistoric looking puppies. Pig tails! And no, they’re not curly or pink. I can best describe pig tails as a hybrid of the best bar wings you’ve ever had and fatty pork belly. Combining the silky, unctuous fat of the belly with the flavor of roasted dark chicken-like meat, all slathered in a sweet apple barbecue sauce, it’s a delicious snack with a gamey tang and a tempura flavor from frying. They’re fairly large, too, and have a “jointed” structure to better retrieve meat from, but the pieces are proportionately similar to wings, as well. A little effort goes a long way!

As for drinks, we started out with two very seasonally-inspired cocktails, the smoked peach with mezcal, tequila, peach nectar, jalapenos, and honey, and the cactus cooler, with passionfruit, vodka, cactus fruit, and lime juice. Both were refreshing and tinted with a sweetness that blended well with each respective liquor. I would have liked for the peach to have a little more heat and even an extra splash of color from fresh jalapeno! The cactus cooler didn’t particularly taste like cactus, but it had a great, fruity flavor.

Our entrees couldn’t have been more different, but we agreed on one thing: they were crazy good. As soon as I saw Kentucky-fried rabbit on the menu, it was all that I could think about. And with red-eye gravy, hash browns, and bacon-braised cabbage? Sign me up, no questions asked. The rabbit was crispy and crunchy, with a thick, flaky crust and a tender texture. It was similar in texture and color to a chicken breast, with a stronger, sweeter natural flavor and juicier center. I absolutely loved it. With the colorful purple cabbage, studded with some soft chunks of bacon like the popcorn from before, it was the perfect savory and sour combination. The hash browns and gravy were unfortunately less impressive, the former simple and underseasoned, and the latter drizzled on as an afterthought, a bummer as I was looking forward to the interplay of coffee and bacon with Southern specialties.

Dillinger went for the most massive burger I’ve ever seen, made even more gargantuan with two thick slices of battered, deep-fried bacon. Now, understand this: Dillinger is my go-to adventure friend for multiple reasons, one of which being that he is very, very tall and big. Seeing him put down the burger halfway through and push his plate away was like seeing a UFO. It just doesn’t happen! My point is, this burger kicked our collective asses. Covered in the aforementioned bacon, smoked onions, butter lettuce, and served with fresh fries, it was absolutely delicious and so savory. The salted frites on the side were the perfect crispy accompaniment to such a bold sandwich.

With our entrees, we shared two more cocktails. Dillinger’s was a basil and blackberry cocktail with vermouth and lime juice.While the freshness of the ingredients was abundantly apparent, the seeds from the muddled berries made this impossible to drink from the provided straw. The flavor was perfectly balanced and pleasantly sweet. My cocktail was another stunner- a special house bacon-infused bourbon whip with orange and egg whites. Really deep and delicious, with a heavy clove and cinnamon flavor like liquified Christmas and a sweet, frothy top. I was surprised that the bacon flavor was so light and airy on the palate. It was definitely a unique drink.

And yes, we had to do dessert. A fluffernutter inspired treat was a no-brainer, with homemade fudge sauce, peanut butter sauce, marshmallow fluff, and thick griddled pieces of white bread. Everything came together exactly as it should have. While the buttery bread may have been a little rich with the sweetness of the three sauces, each piece was just soaked with flavor and the hint of salinity balanced out the dish impeccably.
We also shared a few after-dinner drinks, a hot apple brandy drink, super strong and hot with intense black tea and honey flavors, and a glass of Churchill’s port. Both perfectly complimented our desserts, including this stunner, the salted caramel bread pudding. The dark spots you see on top (as the Queens sun was quickly fading) are part chocolate chunks, softened by the hot pudding, and a crisp, crunchy brulee of sugar. The caramel notes were subtle, but enhanced by the other ingredients as well as the pool of sauce at the bottom. A dessert unfettered by whipped cream or gelato, this was simple, well-prepared, and delightful to eat. Not unlike its creator, Alobar itself. I think the rough-hewn atmosphere of the restaurant is fun and clever, and that they have a lot of potential in the space they’re in and with their dishes.Thanks again to the Alobar staff and team, especially our kind, prompt server, and to Alobar’s PR team for facilitating our write-up. It was truly a wonderful evening.

Wendy’s Son of Baconator

Lately, I’ve been hitting the bulk of my burger bucket list scores. There was the Big Mac back in November, and the Wendy’s Flatbreads earlier this summer. And today, I finally checked another sandwich off the list, a veritable one-two punch to the heart: the Baconator and Son of Baconator. Recently, Wendy’s unveiled the pint-sized burger as a smaller counterpart to the original bacon-heavy sandwich. I was given the opportunity to try the two sandwiches side-by-side and see which sandwich reigned supreme.

If you haven’t had the Baconator, it’s worth a try. While the $6.49 price tag and 940 calories of bacony, beefy goodness may deter some, it can be approached carefully if you split it with a friend or whack it into a few meals. In its most perfect form, it’s a pure umami-bomb, with a wonderful sweet flavor from the ketchup and mayo, and an intense savory foundation from the beef, bacon, and cheese. The bacon is thick, crispy, and salty, and the bun is solid without being too dense or crumbly, sealing everything together neatly. Unless your burger artist has a heavy hand with any of the condiments, it’s bound to be an indulgent treat, albeit daunting at first. However, its shortfalls lie in the balance of flavor: the 1/2 lb. of beef threatens to overwhelm the ingredients, and teeters on the brink of indulgence vs. greasiness. It’s too flavorful to really taste the remaining ingredients, and the monolithic flavor causes it to fall flat.

And then there’s the Son of Baconator. Like most parent-child relationships, the son exceeds where its predecessor stumbles. In this sense, the Son of Baconator fills the greasy, delicious shoes of its dad with finesse. Where the Baconator lacks balance, the Son plays the mediator, trying, and succeeding to please both parties. Scaling down the beef to 1/4 lb. in two patties offers more crunch and surface area for crispy end bits (!!!) and lets the cheese melt into the crannies. Neither the patties in the Baconator or Son were overcooked or dry and both sandwiches were liberally seasoned.  

The 2:1 ratio of bacon to 1/8 lb. of meat in Son works much better than the 3:2 in the double Baconator. This burger is delicious and indulgent without the regret, although the 700 calories push this into a treat category for me rather than an every-day favorite. All in all, this is one Wendy’s family member I’d definitely check out again.

The Generous Pour at the Capital Grille, Chestnut Hill, MA

We had an awesome time last night at the Chestnut Hill Capital Grille, where the restaurant is in the thick of its second year hosting the much-lauded wine event, The Generous Pour at their locations nationwide. The three month event debuted last year with smashing success, featuring a selection of red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines curated by Master Sommelier George Miliotes that diners can add on to their meal for an extra $25. We were invited to come and try all the wines over dinner last night. This is definitely an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

The selection of nine wines, valued at over $750 at retail price, are not your typical Napa, Bordeaux, and Washington reds, although the list does include some of those. Dancing a fine line between traditional and exotic, we were pleased to see some wines from unexpected locales pop up, like a Western Slovenian Rebula white wine and a South African late harvest Semillon. None are wines that I’ve ever tried or owned, so it was fun to get that type of variation along with dinner rather than just buying a whole bottle of wine. And when they say generous, they mean generous- these aren’t small sips of wine we’re talking about! The pours varied from 2 to 4 ounces depending on the varietal and our server always made sure that we had something to drink, explaining the flavors, pairings, and information about the wine as she went along.

Our favorites included the 2008 Simcic Rebula from Western Slovenia, an austere, shimmering white wine with the full-bodied tannic rush of a red wine and the grace of a white. With a blanched almond and bitter orange zest flavor and almost Amaretto-like finish, this was a curious and clever wine to go along with our appetizers. We also enjoyed the 2009 Chateau du Pin, a classic example of a French Bordeaux, alongside our steaks and sides. It cut the richness of some of the flavors and amplified the smoky, meaty ones in the best possible way.

We started dinner with an amuse bouche of house-cured smoked salmon on a toast point and a few appetizers. Miss Love chose the lobster and crab cakes and I enjoyed the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella with tomatoes. I was pleased to discover that the mozzarella is not only made in house, but prepared every two hours to ensure that the cheese is at its absolute freshest when it is served. It was with that in mind that I wished that the cheese’s natural flavors had not been so blanketed by the proscuitto. Although delicious and crispy after a quick stint in the broiler, it smothered the cheese with its salty, spicy flavors. This was still a unique appetizer and I really liked that it was served warm and melty.

The lobster and crab cakes were thick and meaty, with large chunks of claw and tail and buttery crab. You might be wondering what that yellow sachet is at the top of the photo. It’s a lemon covered in cheesecloth fabric to squeeze onto the crab cakes without getting citrus oil on your hands. A very nice touch. The crab cakes interacted well with the spicy corn slaw, a zippy relish served on the side, but the tartar sauce was a little salty. We loved the generous portions of the cakes and felt that they had a great flavor.

Miss Love ordered the filet Oscar, a 10 oz. filet mignon with lump crab meat, asparagus, and Bearnaise sauce on top. The steak was perfectly cooked, with a thick sear on the outside and a sweet, aged flavor. The crab meat, dusted with a little paprika, was the perfect counterpart to such a velvety cut of steak.

My steak was an absolute showstopper. If your eyes are bigger than your stomach, please order the Delmonico. Capital Grille’s Delmonico is a bone-in aged ribeye, one of my favorite cuts of steak, weighing in at a whopping 22 ounces. Perfectly marbled and cooked, this was delectable and savory, especially with the Kona rub and shallot butter on top. I’m normally a steak purist, but this was a great add-on. The rub was thick and peppery and created a great crust on top, and the butter just added to the richness of the meat. I loved it all.

We shared a skillet of the restaurant’s famous lobster mac and cheese on the side, an oozing, ooey-gooey, cheese-laden dish with massive chunks of lobster. It had to be at least 30% lobster meat. It was extremely rich alongside the steak, but the flavors were delicate and savory without being too overbearing. Definitely one to share.

For dessert, we shared an order of the coconut cream pie and a slice of the chocolate hazelnut cake. While the dessert list is decidedly safe in style, the quality is off the charts. The desserts are made daily on-site, a trait that was indicative in the coconut cream pie. It was fresh, fluffy, and not too sweet, with a salted coconut graham crust, a creamy coconut pudding base, coconut whipped cream, housemade coconut caramel sauce, and pieces of toasted coconut on top. Cocoverload! I couldn’t stop eating this. It was one of the nicest steakhouse desserts I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. The giant, crispy coconut cookie on top was a tasty and flashy garnish. This was my favorite dish of the night. Miss Love’s chocolate hazelnut cake was also wonderful, with a gritty, nutty flavor and crispy toasted hazelnuts on the side. With the 2006 Kanu Kia-Ora, a nutty, honeyed wine in itself, it was the perfect pairing.

This was a wonderful meal and we were so glad to have the opportunity to check it out. I highly recommend this pairing, as it’s a great value and a wonderful way to step outside of your oenological comfort zone. The dinner was excellent, and the selection of entrees and appetizers are sure to please all palates. Thanks again to the staff at the Capital Grille and their PR team for facilitating our review, and we hope to come back very soon!

Frontera Limited Edition Farmers Market Salsa

I could live off of salsa and chips in the same way that Miss Love could eat nothing but pasta with tomato sauce for dinner. Many a dinner has gone by where I’ve sat, bag of Tostitos and jar by my side, all gone an hour later. That being said, that’s one of my biggest trepidations about moving to Paris this August. Yes, all the TMZ rumors you’ve heard are true, your faithful critic is shipping off to Gay Paree for six months to study abroad. But for the life of me, I don’t know where I’m going to get my fix of Mexican food. I know that any Southern readers are likely scoffing incredulously. We do have good Mexican food up here, though, I swear! It’s right near our cowboy hat emporiums and famed barbecue joints, too.

Luckily, I can order Rick Bayless’s Farmers Market (Farmers’ Market?) salsa online while I’m away. Sure, the shipping charge may deter some aficionados, but not this guy. The flavors alone are enough to keep me coming back time and time again. In October, I gushed over the Chipotle Pumpkin salsa and now I’ve got a jar of the Heirloom Tomato for my own. Well, half a jar, now. I could tell you how gorgeous the juxtaposition of the rich, maroon salsa was against the rustic label design and blab about the huge chunks of smoky tomatoes and roasted onions, but again. Half a jar. I think that hammers the point home that I loved this salsa.

Lately, I’ve discovered that although my bloggy tendencies and tastebuds love weird sauce and salsa flavors, thank you very much, in terms of a daily grazing delight, it doesn’t get much better than a classic salsa. This is an upscale version of the flavors you’ve known and loved for years- tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, and a healthy shake of cumin. No rocket science here, but it melds together impeccably with a thick, cohesive texture more akin to a simmered sauce than a chip dip. The one switch that brings this from salsa to stardom is the addition of habanero and serrano peppers as backup singers for the jalapeno. The result is a clean, sweet bite with a tangy flavor and lingering heat that seeps into all of the vegetable pieces. Deelish, although a bit more tang and heat would make this near perfect. This might be the saving grace to French cafeteria food, non?