Sometimes I'm in the mood for a salad, but I can't think of a place where I can get a good one or not be tied to two or three options on a otherwise non-salad menu. A few times I actually turned to places like Old Country Buffet; I'd forgo the steam tables with cooked food and just hang out at the salad bar, mixing and matching my own vegetables and getting as much (or as little) as I wanted. Still, I did feel a little silly doing it.
Enter Sweet Tomatoes, also known as Souplantation in some areas—a buffet actually focused on the leafy green stuff. For about nine bucks, the place allows you to fill up unlimited plates of either pre-mixed salads or ones of your own creation, making salad the star of the show, rather than supporting cast.
On my first visit, I got two plates: one for the romaine lettuce I loaded up with tomatoes, chick peas, cauliflower, broccoli, chopped egg, butternut squash, and zucchini; and one for some of the different pre-made salads: an Asian chicken salad, a broccoli salad (sort of like my very merry broccoli salad), and tuna pasta salad. While I found the pre-made selections to be too heavy on dressing and somewhat too sweet overall, I was happy with the fresh veggies and add-ons in my own salad, as well as the dressings I tried. Obviously, at a place like Sweet Tomatoes there's a lot of control in what you create, so it's easy to come up with something to your liking.
And the place doesn't just limit you to salad for your meal—there are soup selections, a few pastas and hot dishes, a dessert section, and more. While the choices aren't extensive, there are just enough to complement rather than overwhelm the meal. And for what it is, the quality isn't bad, either—the last time I went, I sampled some okay fettucini alfredo, a perfectly fluffy baked potato topped with bacon, cheese, scallions, and sour cream (add your own toppings, of course), a downright tasty curried lentil soup, and a warm, gooey chocolate brownie/muffin. No sense of missing out on anything here, and more than enough satisfaction to last until the next meal.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I miss you. I don't know when we will be reunited. It looks like that won't happen until the end of the semester. All my intentions to post once a week have turned out to be wicked lies, and I apologize.
But I can offer a sort-of recent dining profile, which is here. Ignore the weird and inappropriate hyphenation, or just imagine a robotic voice is reading it aloud. Also, forgive me.
Up to her neck in school,
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Once I got back to Fort Collins from my month-long stint in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York City, my CSA share with Grant Family Farms began. Due to a mixup with the first week of delivery, I got to take home more than five times my share from boxes that hadn't been picked up and wound up with an enormous amount of assorted lettuce, kale, dill, spinach, rhubarb, cilantro, and baby beets. Even after doling out the extras to a neighbor and to the three other people I split the CSA share with, I still had a ton in my fridge and had to come up with some creative ways to eat everything before it started going bad.
One of the first things I tried was kale chips, the idea for which I'd seen floating around the interwebs for a while now. With KS's help, I tossed pieces of curly kale with olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar, and then spread them out on cookie sheets and baked them at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes. (Actually, I think I left them in a little too long, because they were brown and just edging toward bitterness by the time I pulled them out of the oven, so probably fifteen minutes is better.) I added too much salt, because those great, voluminous leaves fool me every time—I always forget how drastically vegetables shrink down when they are cooked. Don't be me!
I made a chicken salad with carrots, celery, cranberries, and a lot of the CSA dill, and then realized that I could use pieces of the CSA buttercrunch lettuce as a wrap to eat the salad with.
Then there was the kale quesadilla: after braising ribbons of raw lacinato kale until soft, I piled the cooked greens between two small flour tortillas along with pepper jack cheese and caramelized onions. The earthiness of the kale went really well with the sweet caramelized onions and spicy cheese. The Feisty Foodie tried a version with simply collards and pepper jack and wasn't impressed, but the kale, pepper jack, and caramelized onion quesadilla is probably my favorite thing to come out of my veggie experimentation. For a week or two I was eating them nearly every other day.
With the ridiculously wee beets we received—five or six attached to their greens, each no bigger than a gumball—I made a wee beet salad. Unlike the last time I messed with raw beets I didn't have any apples on hand, so I just peeled and julienned the beets and added lime juice, olive oil, and a tiny sprinkle of salt. Above is the entire quantity of the beet salad I made, but turns out that it's plenty; the apple version was better.
This sandwich could be a close cousin to my kale quesadilla, since it involves cheese and greens stuffed into a carb. For this one I layered cooked, drained spinach, brie, and whole-grain mustard onto rosemary ciabatta, and then put the whole thing into a panini press until the cheese got gooey. I make sandwiches like this a lot: some kind of cheese, some kind of vegetable, some kind of condiment, some kind of bread. With all the kale, chard, and beet greens currently coming my way from the CSA, I'll probably be eating a lot more of these in the future.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Along with Olive Garden, Pizzeria Uno (I just noticed that now it's called "Uno Chicago Grill") was another restaurant I and my high school friends frequented. I ate there through college as well, now that I'm thinking about it. What can I say? Back then the place offered the kind of affordable, junky deliciousness that perfectly appealed to my tastebuds.
Fast-forward ten years to the present. I had spent the afternoon shopping for supplies with TC, who was about to spend two and a half years volunteering in Ghana for the Peace Corps. I think we were feeling more than a little nostalgic over times gone by—when we met up with MH for dinner in Forest Hills, we passed up all the new, unfamiliar restaurants for the ol' tried and true.
At Pizzeria Uno, the pizza skins were exactly as I remembered them: a thick layer of creamy mashed potato inside a buttery deep dish crust, topped with melted cheese, bacon, and sour cream. While eating vegetarian for four years in college I had asked for the pizza skins to come without the bacon, thereby making the appetizer "healthy"—not that I had ever fooled anyone.
Knowing I would be scarfing down more than a few pizza skin wedges, I had ordered a salad for my entree, but it was probably one of the least healthy salads I could have gotten. The Honey Crisp Chicken salad combined slices of a breaded chicken filet, red peppers, cheddar, bacon, and an inexplicable tangle of cold, gummy noodles on top of mixed greens, with a honey-mustard dressing that I requested come on the side. I didn't even bother with the noodles—they made no sense—but the rest of the salad wasn't bad.
More important to me than the food was the the place managing to match up to my memories, and it did. That was all I wanted that night.
Monday, April 20, 2009
The last time I remember going to an Olive Garden was in high school. Back then the place was the sh*t, particularly because of their unlimited salad and breadsticks. When school let out we'd head over to the Times Square location, excited about going for a meal in a real restaurant. Free, unlimited salad and breadsticks paired with a bottomless pasta promotion: Olive Garden offered the finest bang for the buck my friends and I could imagine.
Over ten years later, in the Fort Collins location of the chain, nothing about Olive Garden has changed much. The salad and breadsticks are still free and unlimited, and they taste just as I remember—a tasty vinaigrette over bagged greens and croutons, and hot, squishy, salty buttered bread reminiscent of soft hot dog buns.
SD and I opted to split a full order of the Seafood Portofino, an assortment of shellfish and seafood with mushrooms in a garlic-butter wine sauce over linguine, so what you see in the bowl above, and in the top picture, is only half of the full entree. (I appreciated that they gave us each portion in a nicely presented separate bowl.) While it tasted pretty good, the pasta was so rich we found that sharing one entree was a great idea—the amount we received was huge. NH, who went for a full entree of Chicken Alfredo, ended up full only midway through his plate.
Being sensible creatures, we split our dessert, too. The Chocolate Ciottoli Cake ("dark chocolate cobblestone cake chunks layered with chocolate mousse and a soft brownie topped with hazelnuts") was too heavy and too sweet, and tasted like the frozen and thawed cake it was. But I hadn't expected any different, and maybe that's the key to eating in restaurants like these—embrace these chains for their consistency, average level of tastiness, and huge portions; don't wish you were at Otto or Max. You'll end up okay.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Remember that leftover prime rib I took home from Austin's? It sat in my fridge for several days because I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with it. Reheating cooked steak never seems to do anything but make the meat tough, so I knew I wanted to eat it cold, but beyond that I was definitely short on inspiration for how to make it taste good.
But after rummaging around in my refrigerator I found a container of cucumber I had grated for cold soba, and it occured to me that I could cut the meat into strips for a cold steak salad with Asian flavors. I didn't take note of the proportions, just threw together rice vinegar, dark sesame oil, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, and the remaining au jus from the steak for a savory, spicy, tangy-sweet dressing. I laid the prime rib strips on the grated cucumber, spooned on the dressing, and sprinkled chopped scallions on top. Voila! A thoroughly lip-smacking creation for one—and a much tastier way to eat a mediocre steak.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Meandering in Montreal, Part 1: Eggspectation, Marche Jean-Talon, L'Express, Second Cup, and Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill
So maybe Montreal wasn't the best idea for a mid-January getaway from NYC. In my defense, it was probably 60 degrees in Fort Collins when I first made the plans with TL, TVD, and AS to go, and I have this inability to imagine shivering and being ridiculously cold when I'm sitting around in a tank top with the sun shining. How bad could it get, I figured?
When there's gusting wind, a thick layer of snow on the ground, and temperatures hovering in the teens: Bad, I tell you, bad.
Luckily, Saturday morning after our teeth-chattering, late-night arrival to Montreal in our rental car, there was breakfast. A good hot one, consumed at Eggspectation, a spacious "resto-cafe-bar" only several streets away from our hotel. As you might suppose from its name, the menu of Eggspectation is full of terrible egg puns, which of course I loved—no yolk!
I opted for the "California Benedict," which threw smoked salmon, spinach, asparagus, and whole wheat bread into the classic poached egg and hollandaise equation; as usual, I didn't care for the sauce so I'm glad I asked for it on the side. The benedict came on a pile of fried potato rounds, which you can't see in this photo, but were good. Altogether the four of us had a pretty solid breakfast, and thus fortified we went off to explore the Francophone city.
First stop was Marche Jean-Talon, a popular indoor food market I'd read about in Zach Brook's post on Serious Eats. It's fun, with coffee and pastry shops surrounding stands of beautifully arranged produce, but as we didn't have any reason to buy anything we didn't stay long.
We ended up in Chinatown next, where TVD went on an epic paper umbrella hunt on behalf of her Vietnamese traditional dance team, and I peered into all the windows of the restaurants and bakeries. Montreal's Chinatown isn't large—maybe covering only a few streets—but seemed fairly diverse. The area was filled with tourists and locals alike, turning the uncleared snow on the ground into wet slush.
We hung out in Chinatown until TL's old friend CM and her significant other met up with us for lunch. I was psyched when they suggested going to L'Express, since I had noted it as one of the restaurants I wanted to try.
L'Express is a very French-feeling place, with classic dishes and preparations. After we placed our orders, out came a giant mason jar of cornichons and baskets of amazing bread and good butter; I could have made a meal of these three items alone. The crusty bread had great toasty flavor and a chewy crumb that I simply could not get enough of.
I had read Orangette's loving ode to céleri rémoulade only a few weeks earlier, so when I spotted the creamy celery root salad on the menu I couldn't resist ordering it. I'd never tried this preparation before, and the dish was as she had described: a clean crunch in a rich dressing, a good accompaniment and starter dish. The recipe Molly posted for céleri rémoulade didn't include capers, but in L'Express's version they were there and added a nice pop and brightness.
Three of us went with the croque monsieur, a hot griddled sandwich of ham and swiss cheese and béchamel. They came with a pile of excellent fries that were crisp and hearty with potato flavor, and I enjoyed the sandwich as well, which even made me a little nostalgic. The last time I'd had a croque monsieur was when I was in college studying abroad for a semester in London; my friends and I went to Paris for one weekend. At the restaurants, the croque monsieur was typically one of the cheapest items on the menu, so that's what I would eat. I wished L'Express had offered a croque madame, too—the same sandwich but with a fried or poached egg on top—but at the same time, that's really just overkill. The plate was rich enough as it was.
Something sweet was in order after that, so TL and I split a serving of orange flan, topped with candied peels and floating in a citrus-scented caramel. Light, creamy, and brightly flavored: it was a nice end to the meal.
We parted ways with CM and spent the rest of the afternoon walking along Rue Mont-Royal and Boulevard St-Laurent. After a while, the weather became so cold none of us could feel our faces anymore. It was time to turn back, but by then we had wandered so far from our car that we had to duck into a branch of Second Cup—a Starbucks-like coffee chain—to warm up before continuing the rest of the way.
Back at the hotel, all four of us nearly immediately passed out on the beds, not to wake until several hours later. We had gotten up early that morning, and it had caught up with us at last.
Finally, we roused ourselves and headed out in search of dinner. Since it was already quite late in the evening, our hotel concierge recommended we go to the nearby Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill where we could have a meal, take in some music, and have drinks without wasting time moving from place to place. This turned out to be a fine suggestion, as the place was intimate, the food satisfying, and the performance relaxed and friendly.
I had the pappardelle verona, flat pasta ribbons tossed with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic in a white-wine cream sauce. It was a little strange to eat in near-darkness (you know how I feel about eating in the dark) but the meal was otherwise quite decent.
We moved on after that to a different sort of club—one I probably shouldn't mention here. Let's just end this one with us getting back to the hotel late and then passing out. The next day, we'd only have half a day left in Montreal…
Next: Meandering in Montreal, Part 2
Monday, January 19, 2009
Maybe my hands were shaking from excitement when I took these photos.
A month or so before New Year's Eve, I took the liberty of making a dinner reservation for eight at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I had a specific purpose in mind, and probably at least some of you recognize the above picture for what it is: the whole roasted pork butt served as the feature of their bo ssäm. For those unfamiliar with what that is, it's basically the massive hunk of meat you see above accompanied by white rice, different sauces, a platter of raw oysters, and bibb lettuce, and you're meant to use the pieces of lettuce as wrappers for meaty mouthfuls of the rest. In other words, a pig-fest, straight up.
I made the reservation without knowing who would join me, and then basically did a call-out to friends to see who was down. Luckily we ended up with the full eight (you do need at least six people in order to make a bo ssäm reservation), because I don't know how any fewer can get through this meal.
I didn't realize exactly how much food we'd be getting at first, though. So when the server said that most groups getting the bo ssäm usually also get four or five starters, I thought we were being conservative by only ordering three.
The cult-following pork buns from the Momofuku empire don't actually impress me that much—especially since the price of them is so steep (an order of two costs nine bucks; that's $4.50 per, yo!). People seem to talk about them as one of the greatest inventions ever, but if you look at Peking Duck or the Taiwanese gua bao, it's really nothing that new. What Momofuku does offer, though, is a high-quality variation using good ingredients, and so for that I suggested getting them, especially since others at the table hadn't tried 'em before.
The other two starters we ordered were the honeycrisp apple kimchi, with "burger's smoked jowl, maple labne, arugula" and the satur farm's fried brussels sprouts, with "mint, scallions, fish sauce vinaigrette." I liked the first dish a lot, which was basically pieces of honeycrisp tossed in a kimchi puree and paired with bacon and yogurt. And even though TL usually doesn't like brussel sprouts, he was quite fond of the Momofuku rendition, going back for seconds and even thirds of the stuff.
Then came the bo ssäm:
Glorious, fatty, gigantic, meltingly tender and flavoful pork butt, the meat coming right off the bone. There's about seven pounds of pig on that platter.
Platter of oysters; bibb lettuce. In the bowls: kimchi, kimchi puree, scallion sauce, and sweet pepper paste. You can consume the bo ssäm any way you like, but my favorite method—stolen from TL—was to fold a bit of meat, a bit of rice, a bit of sweet pepper paste, and a whole raw oyster into a lettuce leaf and to eat that in a few bites. In that way the brininess of the oysters playing off the meat was maximized. Who knew those two would work so well together?
We tried mightily, but damn, we just could not get through it all. Our bellies were straining and there was still a pile of meat left on the plate. Even a dare to TC with several hundred dollars at stake didn't result in her polishing it off…not even close.
Everyone knows there's always extra room in the stomach for dessert, though, so after our meal we trooped through the back of Ssäm Bar to the adjoining and newly opened Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar. I shared a piece of the pumpkin blondie pie with TL, which was good but so dense and sweet I only wanted a few bites. I also had a piece of GQ's blueberry cream cookie, which was absolutely delicious—tender and rich and buttery and crisp and full of fruit. If we didn't have several parties to attend afterward, I would have seriously considered getting a whole one for myself. As it was, I'd already gone beyond my limit—I spent the remainder of the night trying to gracefully digest. Lesson learned: eat light on New Year's Eve, not decadent.