Sumo Sushi - Rochester, MI

March 9th, 2012

I do not want my sushi cooked. Sumo Sushi offers only a few raw items on its specialty sushi menu and that is a turn off for me. I know many people who don't want raw sushi, and if you are like them, this is your place.

We have been a few times, and I find the sushi generally unremarkable. I did like their Rainbow Roll, which is raw. And their Lobster Roll and Three Musketeers Roll (both cooked) are good. Unfortunately, compared to Sakura which is just up the street, they are probably the only reasons to eat here.

http://sumosushiandseafood.com/

Sakura - Rochester Hills, MI

February 22nd, 2012

Sakura is a sushi restaurant tucked away in an awkward corner of the Papa Joe's shopping center. It might be difficult to find, but it is worth the effort. This has become my favorite restaurant. Yes, I called this my favorite restaurant, not just my favorite sushi restaurant. The fish is just of a higher quality than that offered at other sushi places. The freshness is the pride of Sakura's owner, who is frequently on site interacting with customers.

At any sushi restaurant, I need to eat a lot to eat my fill. Our standard order contains at least 1 Bom Bom Ba Roll, 1 Manhattan Roll, and 1 Spicy Scallop Roll. Their Volcano Roll is pretty awesome, too. I think sushi is expensive, generally speaking, and Sakura is no exception. They did, however, just start a program with Oakland University where students get a discount on their bill. That doesn't do me any good, but maybe it will save you a few bucks.

This place just can't be beat. I highly recommend it.

6866 North Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI (248) 608-3867
www.sakurafusionsushi.com/

Antica Pizzeria Fellini - Royal Oak, MI

November 29th, 2011

415 S. Washington Royal Oak, MI (248) 547-2751

This pizzeria is awesome. They import their ingredients, their process, and even their pizzaiolo from Naples, Italy. (Pizzaiolo is roughly Italian for "pizza maker.") The dough is just crusty enough on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. The cheeses are fresh and delicious. I cannot write about this place without yearning for another bite.

When you eat at a restaurant that uses higher-quality products, you will pay more. You will have to decide for yourself if $15-$17 for a plate-sized pizza is too expensive. Let me offer this suggestion, however, have one first and then decide if it was worth the price. You can get pizza that costs less from many other places, but pizza from Antica Pizzeria Fellini is an entirely different experience. And it is an experience that I say is worth the price, but probably not even once a month. As much as I loved the food, this is still not a place where I will eat with any regularity due to the price, but it is a place to which I cannot wait to return because the food was so good.

For four of us, we started with two orders of Bruschetta. Our server suggested that for four people, one order might not suffice. For thinly-sliced, lightly toasted bread topped with chopped tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and some Italian herbs and spices...it was just delicious. The consensus at the table, then, was that we would each forgo our pizzas for more Bruschetta. I don't like to think of what might have happened if we'd only had one order...

Calzones and strombolis were much more available along the Atlantic coast than here in the Midwest; I've never understood why. When I saw that a calzone was on the menu, I had to have it. I am sure that you have a list of ingredients that you feel make any dish better. One of the items on my list is ricotta cheese, which also happens to be a staple in calzones. The dough was so good. The cheeses were so good. The salami/ham (Artisan Salame) was so good. I lie awake at night thinking about this calzone. If only it were bigger; I was still hungry when it was gone (though I eat more than the average person, generally).

Our friends suggested that the pizzas here were big enough to order three pizzas for four people, so keep that in mind when you go. I would consider that to be a fair assessment, unless you want leftovers to take home. It might make more sense to just let everyone order their own, which is what we did.

In addition to my calzone, there were two orders for the (house specialty) Fellini and one for the Sofia. The Fellini, I'm told, was very good. The presentation sets it apart from the other pizzas on the menu; it is a star-shaped pizza and each of the star points is a pocket full of sauteed vegetables. When I told my coworkers about the Fellini, I believed at that moment that I had helped this pizzeria sell a few more.

I was given a piece of a piece of the Sofia, piled high with prosciuto and arugula. How can you go wrong with those toppings? Ok, let me expand on that. I have had this same pizza from another local brick-oven chain (one known for its pizza and wine, if you know the place) and it was good, but the Sofia from Pizzeria Fellini is major league and that other place plays double A ball. Honestly, I will have a difficult time choosing between the calzone or the Sofia next time. I cannot stress enough how important the right ingredients are and how much better they can make your food taste.

Leave room for dessert? We shared a cannoli and a light but flavorful pistachio/custard gelato dish called Coppa Pistachio. I recommend the cannoli. And the pistachio dish was good, but not worth the money.

And if you are still reading and are not already on your way to Pizzeria Fellini, grab a bottle (or two) of wine. The place is BYOB and there is no corking fee. So they will open your booze and pour it for you and not hit you with fees. Glorious.

I cannot speak highly enough of my meal at Antica Pizzeria Fellini. Keep that brick oven warm, I will be back.

Braised Short Ribs

October 26th, 2011

* 6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
* Kosher salt
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 2 cloves garlic, smashed
* 1 1/2 cups tomato paste
* 2 to 3 cups hearty red wine
* 2 cups water
* 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
* 2 bay leaves

Season each short rib generously with salt. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste. When the short ribs are very brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the pureed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape the crud and let it reform. Scrape the crud again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Reduce the mixture by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown and to let the sauce reduce. When done the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve with the braising liquid.
-Anne Burrell

I am not a fan of Anne Burrell's personality, but I will be forever thankful for this recipe. It is nothing earth-shattering, if you look at it, but it de-mystified short ribs for me. I had always figured that they required some technique I do not possess. In truth, they just take time. Some people may argue with this, but patience in the kitchen is something I do possess.

I've now made braised short ribs twice; the second time was slightly different from the first and even the first was slightly different from the recipe above. As it stands right now, I can tell you that the only things you need are a good pan (at a great price I might add), as many short ribs as you plan to make, something in which to braise your ribs and about 3 hours.

I used the wine the first time and I don't think it adds enough to require it going forward (though I do think a pint of Guinness may get used at some point). I consider bay leaves to be innocuous, but use them if you like. If you have thyme in your herb garden, grab some, otherwise you get plenty of flavor without wasting the money on fresh herbs that will just end up withered and ultimately trashed. I use more vegetables than called for in the recipe. And I always use more garlic. Always.

Served with (roasted garlic!) mashed potatoes, short ribs are delicious. The finished product tastes a lot like pot roast...which is really all you've made anyway. This is just another option when you don't feel like the same old Sunday roast.

Nobu - Dallas, TX

October 11th, 2011

I had incorrectly assumed that Nobu is a higher-end Teppenyaki restaurant and Sushi bar, like a boutique Benihana, if you will. The place is much more than that and now happens to be one of my all-time favorite meals. The menu is laid out how they suggest you order: cold appetizer course, soup/salad, hot entrees and finally sushi (the dessert menu is entirely separate).

A neat offering is omakase, which is a chef's selection. Your server apparently asks you a series of questions about preferences and potential food allergies and then depending on how much you want to spend, they will just bring food to you. We did not choose this option, but it sounds like a fun way to spend a night out. I will list everything that we did get.

Toro Tartare. Toro is a marbled piece of tuna belly. That's right, fatty fish. I had heard and read that this is a uniquely wonderful way to enjoy tuna. I'm still new to sushi, but I've had some amazing tuna. I felt that this was exactly the place where I should try a dish like this and I was not let down.

Hearts of Palm Salad w/ Jalapeño Dressing. This was topped with some micro greens, but otherwise it was...hearts of palm with a jalapeño dressing. There was not much to this salad, but it was delicious. In my experience, hearts of palm is supporting cast, but in this dish it stood alone very well. The dressing wasn't too spicy, but just added good depth to the hearts of palm.

Edamame. Admittedly, in my experience, edamame is edamame is edamame. The edamame at Nobu was good, but this isn't something that you must have if you eat here. Nothing set it apart from an order of edamame at any other restaurant.

Seared Sea Scallops. These scallops were incredibly well seared. I've not seen a crust on the scallops like this before and it added a slight textural variation that was nice. You get two scallops for like $28, so unless you are out celebrating a special occasion, this is a hard dish to recommend. That said, they were served with these wonderfully nutty brussels sprout leaves that almost outshone the scallops.

Seared Chilean Sea Bass. This was probably the best thing I have ever eaten. It was served with hunks of black truffles and a mushroom reduction sauce that was sweet and earthy. The fish was perfectly seared and cooked throughout. After getting just two scallops, I was expecting a tiny little piece of fish, but it was a good-sized portion. I think it was about $36, and I hate to say it, but probably worth a good deal more than that. There were so many things on the menu at Nobu that I decided would have to wait until the next time I'm lucky enough to eat there, but they no longer appeal to me after having had this dish.

Spicy Scallop Roll. Awesome. Raw scallop, and I understand that some people will be deterred by that, but this was so very good.

House Special Roll. This had some of everything: tuna, yellowtail, whitefish and even more that I can't remember. The roll was huge. I think I preferred the spicy scallop roll, but this was still very good; it was just a lot.

From what I can tell, there are a lot of great restaurants in Dallas and they will compete fiercely for your appetite, especially if you aren't too concerned about how they will lighten your wallet. I had a blast and the food was divine. For the sea bass alone, memories of my meal at Nobu line the walls of my "happy place."

Wüsthof Le Cordon Bleu 8 inch Cooks Chef Knife

September 1st, 2011

The cooking enthusiast's best friend and the most essential knife in the kitchen for cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry. This high-performance knife has been created to meet and exceed the most exacting culinary standards of the world's greatest chefs, those of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. The knife is precision forged from a single blank of high carbon steel and has a thinner blade and a redesigned bolster that reduce the overall weight of the knife for improved comfort and control; the redesigned bolster allows for precision cutting with the heel of the blade. The knife is incredibly sharp: the knife has a specially-polished cutting edge which eliminates the microscopic teeth and allows for more precise cuts. The seamless, completely hygienic handle construction features a durable Hostaform-C handle, triple-riveted to the fully-visible tang. Wüsthof knives offer a harmonious blend of precision cutting performance, integrity of materials, safety, and comfort. The knife is hot-drop forged by hand from a single blank of high carbon no-stain steel, a specially alloyed surgical steel consisting of exacting proportions of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium. The blade is perfectly tapered from bolster to tip, and from the back of the blade to the edge, and is honed by hand. Perfect balance is assured by the full extension of the tang through the length of the handle. A seamless, totally hygienic fit is achieved by the durable Hostaform-C handle, triple-riveted to the fully visible tang; the handle is buffed and polished by hand.

Size: 8"
Materials: High carbon steel blade with Hostaform-C handle
Care: Dishwasher safe, although hand washing with a mild detergent is recommended

Product of Solingen, Germany

My first Wüsthof knife was given to me two years ago and I'll never look back. I never really understood the benefits of a good, sharp knife. Until you have one, it is hard to know better. The prices seem high, but the value is off the charts.

And now Wüsthof has this new Chef's knife, born from a design partnership with Le Cordon Bleu. Put world-class knife engineers together with world-class culinary minds and what you get is a beautiful knife that simply glides across the cutting board. I have used this knife for herbs, garlic, nuts, potatoes, vegetables and meats; it does it all. This is the only knife you need.

Also, BE CAREFUL. Always respect your knives, and this one was designed to be better at doing what knives do than other knives and this could result in injury to you if you are not careful. Remove your distractions and focus on the task before you. Then wash it by hand and put it in a protective case and put it away.

When the blade begins to dull, run it through your sharpener and bring it back to life. This knife will last a very long time, especially if you take good care of it.

Amazon

Weber Vegetable Basket

August 15th, 2011

Vegetables are not and never have been...impossible to grill, but they do tend to be inconvenient. This grill "basket" makes a significant difference. Gone are the days when an asparagus spear or a zucchini slice would slip between the grill grates. Now the peppers and onions you sliced can be grilled right along side of those sausages without need for a foil pouch.

You are going to set aside nearly half your grilling surface for this basket, but you can fill it with a good number of veggies. Obvious comment disclaimer: Make sure you have an oven mitt or a towel to protect your hand; this thing is metal and it is sitting on your hot grill, it will get very hot.

Cleaning the stainless steel is a breeze. Let it cool and then hit it with warm water, soap and a sponge and you're all set. No hard scrubbing or crazy products required.

If you do not grill very often, or ever grill vegetables for that matter, there is no need for this product. But for less than $20, this is a great asset for those of us who grill so many of our meals.

Amazon

Sodastream Fountain Jet Soda Maker

August 9th, 2011

I guess I have to admit that I was skeptical of these contraptions at first. Even though I do not drink much soda pop, this is a neat appliance. The kit comes with everything you need to get started...except any syrup to actually make anything. To start, I recommend the SodaStream Sodamix Variety 12-pack so you can get a sense for what you will want to buy in bigger quantities.

The "carbonator" screws easily into the back of the Maker. The plastic bottle screws easily into the front of the Maker. When you have filled your bottle to the fill line and connected it to your Maker, press the button on top until you hear the loud buzzing noise that your bottle is fizzed and ready to go. Unscrew the bottle and pour in one of your variety pack samples (or a cap full from the bigger bottles of syrup). Gently rock the bottle back and forth to mix and enjoy.

This is a great way to have a frosty beverage on demand without having to keep a fridge full of cans or bottles. The taste labs have done a great job of coming close to the major brands, so you can get just about any fix you're after.

Amazon

Weber Grill Restaurant - Chicago, IL

May 23rd, 2011

Backyard grilling and smoking from the people who make backyard grills and smokers. This sounds like a winning concept. We even sat at the bar looking in on the "open kitchen," A/K/A the giant charcoal grills. Being one who loves me some backyard bbq, this really was the ideal situation in which to find myself. But in practice everything fell apart. Watching the burger-and-steak assembly line was neither educational nor appetizing. Maybe my expectation for food prep was out of line with the location. Maybe I wanted fine dining and maybe they have the efficiency goals of a place with a drive-thru window.

To start, the pretzel rolls and cheddar-garlic-onion spread were awesome.

Next, the Fire-Roasted Artichoke & Spinach Dip was very good. My recommendation is to have them leave off the hefty dollop of sour cream that tops the dip just prior to service. I'm probably the only one who would have them leave tomatoes/pico de gallo off as well. But I found it a strange contrast of cold veggies to fire-roasted dip. I'm like that. But the dip itself and the grilled pita wedges comprise what is probably my favorite spinach-artichoke dip.

I ordered a three-item combo plate. I wanted their "signature" bbq ribs, brisket and pulled pork. The pulled pork was either good or just soaked in too much bbq sauce...or both. The ribs were overcooked and not what I had hoped for as a signature item. The brisket was awful. It would be more accurately listed as jerky than brisket. It was tough, dry and unimpressive all around.

The two biggest standouts are the artichoke dip and the brisket. Together, they make me ultimately say this: This is a fun place to meet for happy hour and some appetizers. As bbq goes, there are just better places to eat.

Texas de Brazil - Chicago, IL

May 19th, 2011

Texas de Brazil is a Churrascuria, or Brazilian steakhouse. This is more of a concept restaurant, and that concept is meat. The servers, or Gauchos, swarm over the dining floor delivering freshly cut slices of heaven slow roasted beef, pork, lamb and chicken. Diners signal their appetite with a marker - a green marker means Gauchos will bring you what they have and a red marker means you are not interested. Even if your marker is green, you can turn down anything offered at any time. You do not HAVE to take what they bring you. The wait staff is also great about asking if there is anything you want sent to the table.

The house specialty is Picanha, a prime cut top sirloin served wrapped in its own rendered..."marbling." Texas de Brazil also offers (in no particular order) garlic picanha, flank steak, parmesan chicken, leg of lamb, parmesan pork, pork loin, Brazilian sausage, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, pork ribs, beef ribs, lamb chops, filet mignon and filet mignon wrapped in bacon. My favorites were the beef ribs and the Brazilian sausage. My mouth is nearly watering just remembering them.

They also offer a stocked salad bar with an incredible number of fixings. (But we all know that's just the ploy to fill you up so you can't eat as much slow roasted deliciousness.)

We drank an awesome Rioja (Marqués de Cáceres 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva). We stuffed ourselves silly. And then, for good measure, we ordered dessert. I do not know how I was able to even consider dessert, but I am glad I did; the pecan pie was so good.

The interior had low lighting offering privacy and a romantic atmosphere that contradicts both the hustle and the bustle of the Gauchos. I do not know that I would go here as a date-night destination or with clients. With friends it was a great night out.