Friday, January 18, 2008

Texas Size Burgers?

Texas Size Burgers?

by Xani

My final night in Corpus Christi a few of us headed out to Wallbanger's, which some locals believe has the best burgers in town. It was mentioned on a Chowhound string titled "Best Burgers in Texas" and also reviewed by the Texas Burger Guy. So, having already sampled the steaks, Mexican Food, and BBQ, it was time to check out the burgers!

Wallbanger's has a Fuddrucker's-style setup: you order at the counter, wait for them to call your number, then accessorize your burger with toppings from a burger bar. I was all set to order a 1/3 LB burger, medium-rare, with cheese, when something else on the menu caught my eye: mini-burgers. Anyone who reads this blog, or has spent more than 15 minutes with me, knows I adore tiny things, especially mini-burgers, or sliders, as they are often called (is this a mid-atlantic or regional thing?). I had to have them!

Shortly after ordering (well, not that shortly, it took a lot longer than we expected, as we sat sipping beer and watching American Idol-- on mute!) they called out my name and my little baby burgers were ready. Not one burger, medium-rare, with cheese, but FOUR!

Burger Babies!

OK, well they weren't quite medium-rare. I think the trade-off for having such cute little burgers, on their crunchy, buttered little buns, is that they are hard to cook to the proper done-ness, and are often a little over-cooked. But even so, they were juicy and flavorful, and having four of them to play with, I was able to use various combinations of toppings: mustard and onion, ketchup mustard and onion, mustard and jalapenos, etc. Good times!

Big ol' Burger!

The guys I were with all had regular (non-mini) burgers, including one guy who got the one pound burger! The fries and rings that came alongside were damn good, and the shake that one of my coworkers ordered was reportedly great (I REALLY wanted one, but was way too full. Luckily I got a chocolate malt at Dairy Queen the next day on our drive from Corpus back to San Antonio. Mmmmm... malts.)

Well, I can't say for sure if Wallbanger's has the best burgers (mini or otherwise) in Texas. Texas is BIG and I've only scratched the surface... no time now though, I'm off to LaLa Land!


P.S. Here's a gratuitous shot of the view from my hotel room in Corpus (the Bay of Corpus, I believe?)

Can't beat that view for $83 a night!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Moblog from Corpus Christi, TX

by Xani

Hey, remember me? Well, I'm back on the road for work and my first stop is Corpus Christi, TX. Actually, the following pictures come from Portland, TX, which is just north of Corpus. Being in TX, the things to eat are Mexican food, steak, and of course, BBQ. I just got back from a killer lunch at a local joint called Mac's. This is the two meat plate (I got beef brisket and pork ribs).

In this picture I tried to capture the "pink ring" inside the brisket that is apparently the sign of properly smoked meat.

It turned out to be a picture mostly of pickles. Sorry about that. I was trying to be subtle while taking the picture (with my phone) to avoid arising the suspicions of my dining companions...

Another note on Corpus Christi- there were kolaches for breakfast! Just like I had in Lake Charles, LA! I was very excited. These were more like a giant pig in a blanket and the locals were referring to them as "piggies."

So, that's the news from the road! Stay tuned for more great eats from Texas and coming soon, Los Angeles!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Ultimate Black Coffee and a Donut

by Erin

Last week, I went down to Biloxi, Mississippi with The Maryland Law Katrina Project (see also the Project's blog) to rebuild homes and help people affected by Hurricane Katrina. It's amazing that 2.5 years after the storm, we were helping people move out of their FEMA trailors. It was such a fun trip, and I made a lot of new friends and most importantly, helped those who needed it. But this is a food blog, and you came here to read about FOOD, and that's just what you'll get!

It was cheaper to fly into New Orleans than into Biloxi, so on our last day, we left Biloxi very early so we could spend some time in the French Quarter before heading to the airport (we also allotted some time to drive around the Upper 9th Ward to see the destruction and rebuilding efforts). As soon as it was decided that we were going to the French Quarter, I almost exploded with excitement because in my mind, French Quarter = BEIGNETS from Cafe Du Monde!

Xani and I went to New Orleans last March for my spring break and we frequented Cafe Du Monde many times - it's open 24 hours, after all! It's been in operation since 1862 and only closes on Christmas Day (though it closed for over 30 days after Hurricane Katrina). It has a very limited menu: beignets (french square donuts covered with a pile of powdered sugar) and coffee, which is either served black or au lait (half hot milk, half coffee).

This is all I need to survive: beignets, coffee, and water


I was so excited when we sat down in the open-air seating area that I could barely contain myself! We each ordered an order of beignets and coffee (I got au lait - it's my lovely sister who has the ability to drink her coffee black, not me). Our orders of beignets came up almost immediately, hot and fresh, crispy and chewy, and just sweet enough.

The coffee was really good too as it was traditional New Orleans coffee, which is made with chicory. We all enjoyed our beignets and one of my friends even ordered another batch to take on the plane!

As we were getting ready to leave the French Quarter and head to the airport, we passed my second-favorite place in New Orleans: The Central Grocery Co. I had to go and get what I have deemed one of the top three best sandwiches I've ever eaten: the Muffaletta. This was another stop for me and Xani last year, and it was such a great experience I had to go back!

Central Grocery, in operation since 1906, is a cute grocery store with lots of imported goods and is known as the original home of the Muffaletta, the traditional New Orleans sandwich made on a big round loaf, with italian meats and cheeses and the signature component: the "olive salad." I decided I would buy a whole one (which serves 4, it's so huge) and bring it home to the BCD Family. Several of my friends from my trip followed suit and soon the whole store was filled with law students buying sandwiches! Unlike when I went with Xani and had to wait in line for an hour and a quarter, we didn't have to wait at all since it was about 10am - sweet!

All my friends agreed that it was a great sandwich (though they could have just been humoring me), and when I finally got the chance to have mine I remembered just how AMAZING it is! I did a little investigating and it looks like they use provolone cheese (or maybe swiss, couldn't tell), mortadella, some kind of ham, and genoa salami (or as Xani used to call it "general salami"). The olive salad on top was tangy but very oily, and the bread was firm and delicious, and covered in sesame seeds. YUM!!

Friends modeling their sandwiches for me

Comin' atcha

I was so glad we got to do some good eating in the Big Easy on our last day - it was a great capstone to our incredible trip!

Cheers to Black Coffee and a Donut!

Happy eating,


ps. The picture at the top of the blog is from our first visit to Cafe Du Monde last year. Take a good last look at it because a mini blog makeover is coming soon!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

We are pleased to present… BCD Parents Go To Las Vegas

By Guest Bloggers Dennis and Janice!

Heading west for the center of gastronomic excess (Las Vegas), BCD parents are determined to provide input to the blog to show our support and admiration for our daughters' oeuvre.

After passing through security at BWI, with the prospect of 6 hours in an aluminum tube in front of us, the unexpected Silver Diner beckoned from within Terminal A. A shared Turkey BLT with passable and garlicky fries fortified us for the trip ahead.

We had deliberated long and hard selecting which restaurants to go to in Las Vegas, and using Zagat, had made a list of candidates. But the new top end venues, with prices ranging from $150 to $250 per person without booze seemed to be more special occasion kind of places for us and not consistent with our annual trip to visit our lost money. So we put the list aside and focused on revisiting the good experiences from past trips. While we are generally fans of Zagat, our experience in Las Vegas has been that the ratings for the strip restaurants don't generally meet up with our expectations. On the other hand, the ratings for restaurants for the "locals" seem to be more in alignment with our taste. Last year we had a wonderful Italian meal at a place northwest of the Strip (Sommerlin), but of course we didn't remember the name. A little searching through Zagat though found us back at Marc's Italian Steak House
Why it's called a steak house we haven't quite figured out, although they do have a number of nice steak dishes on the menu. We showed up one-half hour early for our nine o'clock reservation, got seated immediately, and ordered a very nice Brunello di Montelcino that our waiter, Dean (who only told us his name after we asked. Thank you Dean!) recommended as being a very good bargain ($53!). It was a very nice wine, but the tannin level would have been more appropriate for a fattier meat than what we ordered. I should have known.

We couldn't resist ordering the calamari appetizer, the large portion of which came with a tempura-like coating, was very tender and flavorful, and was enhanced by diced pepperoncini and accompanied by a very garlicky marinara sauce. While waiting for the primi piatti, the two types of bread, both rustic loaves, one with olives, were dipped in a fragrant olive oil, laced with balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Pretty, tasty and original.

Figure 1- Calamri Fritti, Marc's Las Vegas

Figure 2- Olive Oil Dipping Tray, Marc's Las Vegas

The menu offered up a small but nice variety of seafoods, pastas, and meats. What caught our eye right away was the veal chop Milanese. As opposed to a cutlet, this was an entire rib chop of veal, still on the bone, but flattened, coated and fried. It was spectacular. The veal was tender, flavorful, the coating heightened and did not distract. Alongside was a mound of arugula (can you spell "My Blue Heaven") dressed in another riff of the earlier balsamic vinegar.

Figure 3 - Veal Chop Milanese at Marc's - Las Vegas

Orcchiette Bolognese (little ear shaped pastas) was our other main dish choice and it was the equal of the veal. Bologneses are highly variable and in this iteration the sauce was less thick, had small chunks of tomato and the beef was in little clumps rather than a completely smooth sauce. Different but excellent. When Dean asked me if I wanted cheese, I asked his opinion. He said I should try it first. It was so good I never gave the cheese another thought. As the portions were so large, we forgave desert and had coffee and espresso. Both of excellent quality. As Marc's is more of a neighborhood place, we were the last to leave at around 10:30 and the restaurant had closed by then.

Figure 4- Orchiette Bolognese at Marc's, Las Vegas

But Marc's was just the capstone of a few interesting meals we had had during the day. Staying at THEhotel (part of the Mandalay Bay complex), we had breakfast in THECafe. (Detect a spelling trend here?) Although our expectations were not high, we were treated with version of huevos rancheros that combined the tortillas, chorizo, salsa, refried beans and over-easy eggs in a delicious and visually appealing way. BCD Mom, not a big breakfast eater, agreed to share. Out came two large platters mounded with aforesaid huevos. Teeth-gritting time. Did they get the order wrong? Were we going to have to pay for two outrageously expensive breakfasts? Relief. The order was so huge they could split it in two. Reminiscent of the famous grinders at Papa Joe's in the Manchester (CT) Green.

Having built up a store of energy from breakfast, we were now prepared to work on where to go for lunch and dinner. Dinner was soon taken care of once we tracked down Marc's. But lunch? Can you spell Jack in the Box? Several years ago, and by accident during a Las Vegas trip we tried the super-cheap, two-for-a-buck tacos at Jack in the Box. We were hooked. Now no trip to Las Vegas is complete with a stop (or two) for these deep-fried econo-wonders. We ate six of them!

Later in the week, we had a group dinner with BCD Uncle Sheldon, cousins Doug and Weh Wah and Ethan, and Doug's uncle and aunt. BCD Dad had the assignment to find a restaurant, and not knowing the taste of all the parties, we selected the Daniel Boulud Brasserie in the Wynn hotel We had been several years ago, when we had a great meal. Since bistro style covers many different tastes from chicken, steak, crudités and fruit de mer, there would be something for everyone. We were told it was recently renovated. It is a beautiful space. Having gotten there a bit early, we sat in the bar where BCD Dad had a Hendrick's martini ($17.00, a new record!) with olives stuffed with blue cheese. BCD Mom had a glass of chardonnay.

DB offers a prix fixe meal but we didn't get it. Instead we shared an order of three Mediterranean tapas which consisted of very good homemade hummus and grilled French bread, a boneless, stuffed and breaded chicken wings. Interesting concept but way too subtle. There was a third dish featuring goat cheese and some kind of sweet garnish but we can't remember what it was.

BCD mom had an "organic chicken" which was presented in three ways – it came with grits, but they were almost indiscernible. Nothing else. BCD Dad had the braised short ribs. A smallish portion, no sides, and sort of bland all around. We were a party of eight including a 5 year old, who got the buttered noodles. Probably the best choice. All in all service was great, venue was beautiful but the food was only so-so and for $150/person with wine and cocktail did not seem a particularly good value.

Feeling guilty from various excesses, we worked out in the spa/gym at THEhotel. A really unusual décor – 24 ft ceilings, black stone walls, all kinds of japanesque water effects. This prepared us for breakfast.

Tops on the Zagat list we found two places, the Egg and I and Egg Works, both very highly rated and located in strip malls far from Strip. BCD Mom had biscuits in sausage gravy, eggs, bacon "ranch" potatoes. BCD Dad had the Cincinnati chili burrito. The burrito had a very nicely spiced Cincinnati-style chili on top and on the onside, with a melted cheddar cheese topping. The portions were gigantic, and we were not able to finish. The atmosphere is very casual – just regular working people having breakfast/lunch – not the crazy Las Vegas tourists.

Figure 5 - Biscuits and Gravy at the Eggand I, Las Vegas

Figure 6 - Cincinnati Chili Burrito - Egg and I, Las Vegas

Later in the trip, having gone to see the Cirque du Soleil's Ka the previous night, and missing a 'real" dinner, and since it was our last day on vacation, we were determined to visit our favorite dim sum restaurant in the US – in Las Vegas Chinatown, the Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant. Also off the Strip, this restaurant is very reminiscent of those we visited in Hong Kong, although much smaller. The restaurant opens incredibly at 10:00 AM and closes at 5:00 AM! We arrived about 11:15 and got one of the last available tables. In true dim sum style, we were immediately surrounded by trolleys filled with dozens of varieties of these Chinese edibles. We had the egg roll, ribs in black bean sauce, shu mai (a steamed dumpling with pork, shrimp, mushroom stuffing) and har gow (an almost transparent thin dumpling filled with whole shrimp), crab claw stuffed with shrimp, Singapore style noodles, wakame salad, fried shrimp wanton: pork and chicken "white fluffies" (bau), ground pork dumpling, the sticky rice in banana leaf. All the usual suspects. We could not work up enough enthusiasm for the chicken feet but others were eating them with gusto, or the half-dozen or so varieties of congee. Other things that looked great but we passed on were the whole salt/pepper shrimp, deep fried calamari, whole fried sardines, various soups etc. We ended up having ten dishes which was too much so we brought the "bau" back on the plane with us. And we resisted eating them on the plane!

Figure 7 - Dim Sum at Harbor Palace Seafood, Las Vegas

Figure 8 - More Dim Sum at Harbor Palace Seafood

Happy Eating and Good Luck,

BCD Parents

Note from BCD Girls: Thanks Mom and Dad! Great post!

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