Wramen Pop-Up

On Sunday, April 13th, two of Fort Worth’s highly talented chefs – Jesus Garcia of Little Lilly Sushi and Kevin Martinez of Tokyo Cafe – hosted a Wramen Pop-Up at the Culinary School of Fort Worth.  Pronounced double-u ramen, Wramen implies westernized ramen, or a version you wouldn’t expect to see in Japan.  The term originated in Seattle when food writer Jay Friedman called for “a change in nomenclature”.  He proposed that authentic Japanese ramen continue to be called what it is (ramen) and anything else that is not authentic should be termed “Wramen”.

If you think he’s being a food snob, I’d urge you to think about what passes for Mexican or Chinese food in your neighborhood.  I was lucky to grow up in the big melting pot of Houston, where friends taught me the distinction between authentic and Americanized versions of their cuisines.  Since ramen in restaurants is still relatively new to many Americans, I’m happy that someone hopes to maintain its integrity, much like we Texans differentiate between Mexican and Tex-Mex.  So I guess to me it makes sense that two Mexican sushi chefs from Texas would understand and want to promote the Wramen naming concept.

Double-u ramen, ramen, whatever you want to call it, these guys do it well!  Some of the Wramen we sampled was relatively authentic and some was definitely unconventional, but it was all outstanding.  I completely respect what these guys are doing … for themselves, the restaurants they work for and our city.

Lucas and I arrived at the Culinary School around 5:30, grabbed some wine glasses (byob!) and sat at a table for two.  Many of the tables were large enough to accommodate bigger groups, but as we watched people make their way inside it appeared most came in pairs.  We weren’t certain what would go best with each course so we showed up with some belgian beer, a bordeaux and a bottle of champagne.  I sipped on the champagne while waiting for our meal to begin, since I knew from some pre-dinner snooping that our first course would be light.  Also, this was my birthday dinner so I felt like celebrating.

The first course was Branzino (European sea bass) seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, a perfect small yellow tomato sliced in half and placed between it and some rocket salad with a hint of lemon and remarkably good parmesan.

DSC01991

Next was the Bao Bun Duo.  One was filled with savory duck and figs, reminiscent of five spice, topped with pickled cucumbers.  The other was full of moist, tender Miyazaki Beef, sprouts and spicy chile oil.  L.O.V.E.D. both of them.

DSC01993

The 3rd course was our first bowl of Wramen!   Continue reading

Advertisements

Magnolia Cheese Company

On a warm Fall afternoon, Lucas and I hopped into the truck and headed to the corner of Magnolia and 5th to try a new (for us) restaurant.  Housed in an old building with big windows, which lend a surprisingly generous feel to the small space, was our destination:  Magnolia Cheese Company.  What better way to enjoy the beautiful day than by sitting at a table on the sidewalk, eating an array of cheese and meats, while sharing a bottle of wine and people-watching?

When I pushed open the door and walked in I was immediately drawn to the casual atmosphere.  Seat yourself tables to the left, a wall of wine and the cheese/deli counter to the right, plus a huge chalkboard with the menu posted behind the counter.  I paused, taking it all in, and noticed that something felt off.  Looking over my shoulder I realized the door was wide open.  Oops!  Feeling like a dumb-ass for one quick moment, I shut the door behind me and made my way to the counter.   Fancy cheese or no, this is Texas.  So I should say I sauntered up to the counter.

After agonizing over the menu and weighing all of the options we decided on the Local Cheese Plate ($16.00)  and a 3 Meat Plate ($14.00).  Libations?  The patient guy behind the counter offered us a wine sample, but it was not quite what we wanted.  He held our order in the system while we stepped out of line to look through the bottles on the wall.  Recognizing some of them and getting a feel for the mark-up, we selected something around $30 that we’d never tried before.  Back in line with bottle in hand, we paid for our order and then snagged a table on the sidewalk facing Magnolia.

While sipping on wine and waiting for our food to be brought out, we watched people pass by, many walking their dogs or on bicycles.  A trio of too cool for school hipster guys walked by and I pondered for a moment over what passes for fashion these days.  Ugh.  I brought my judgmental self back in check when I looked down and realized I was wearing an ugly old shirt, jeans and hiking boots.  Double ugh.

But within moments we saw something so beautiful I could barely contain myself.  The Local Cheese Plate – a glorious sight to behold!  5 different cheeses accompanied by an assortment of fruits (pears, persimmon, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds & figs), curried pecans, honeycomb, sauces, jams and a bowl full of sliced baguette.  I wish I had taken the time to jot down exactly what cheeses we had, but my absolute favorite was the blue, followed by a creamy goat with bacon.

photo-23

Next came the 3 Meat Plate.  Wow!  Serrano Ham, Bresaola and … Anchovies?  Well now, that was a surprise.  Lucas felt cheated because he’s not a big fan of anchovies.  I however love them, but was certainly sorry to give up part of my portion of the other two meats.  Lesson learned (ask what’s on the meat plate). Continue reading

Little Lilly Sushi

I haven’t been inspired to write much lately, but I still know how to enjoy a meal.

And Little Lilly Sushi in Fort Worth makes that so very easy. From the moment I step over the threshold it feels as though I’ve been transported off of Camp Bowie and into another world. Little Lilly is an intimate restaurant with a warm atmosphere that immediately puts me at ease. The waitress with the sweet smile greets my husband and I, asking if we’d prefer one of the few tables available or a seat at the sushi bar, and something inside of me is released. I am content.

photo-22

Behind the sushi bar stands Jesus Garcia, Head Chef Extraordinaire. This is the heart of the restaurant, where the magic happens, and undoubtedly where we want to be. He remembers us from our previous visits, greeting us with a smile. We take our seats and look over the drink menu, eavesdropping on the conversation he’s having with another couple. Lucas and I share a smile, because Jesus is so easy to talk to and the conversation is alway always always about food. We order a bottle of Ginga Shizuku Sake and continue to listen as they discuss restaurants in Houston’s Chinatown.

Continue reading

Ghost Chile Incident

Growing up, I remember being amazed that my dad could eat jalapenos without looking like he was going to die.  Watching in awe, I hoped that one day I could do the same.  At the tender age of nine or so I had discovered my life’s mission.  Doctor, lawyer, teacher?  Sure, respectable goals.  But they all paled in comparison to being able to eat something spicier than my dad could handle. Let’s just say I was a competitive child.

I started with pickled jalapenos, working my way up to fresh jalapenos and then the deliciously smoky chipotle.  As my love of food in general grew, I discovered Thai chiles, serranos, chile pequin, scotch bonnets and habaneros.  Yes, they are all hot.  Sometimes insanely so, but I found myself addicted to the heady feeling I got while working my way through a dish that had been prepared with plenty of glorious capsicums. Continue reading

Niagara Falls

“Blame Canada!  Blame Canada!  They’re not even a real country anyway.” – South Park

On our way to Niagara Falls a couple of weeks ago, Lucas and I were stopped at the border crossing and questioned thoroughly.  We were then told to pull to the side so our vehicle could be searched.  As we stepped out of the truck I began to feel nervous.  I was concerned that my prescriptions would be a problem because they have a different name on them than what’s on my passport.  And then if I had to explain that the name on my passport isn’t actually my name anymore … would they let me in?!

But no, they weren’t worried about my name.  Or my klonopin.

When we heard the border patrol mention guns multiple times Lucas and I began to lighten up and laugh at the situation a little.  This caused one especially serious guy to look over at us and snap “if you have any guns it would be a whole lot easier if you just told us now.”  Continue reading

Spring & Stress, Margaritas & Martinis, Toons & Transformers

As Spring slowly approaches nature has begun to perform a coquettish dance right before my eyes.  The snow falls, only to melt quickly as warmer days pop up here and there.  When the snow melts the dark red earth is lit up brilliantly by the sun.  Greens and browns freckle the landscape, hopeful of things to come.  I fucking love those days.

But they are easily replaced by cooler temperatures and as the rain turns to snow, it once again covers the earth – hiding that which I love.  I am left feeling morose; stuck in a world of black and white.

But I am hopeful.  I long to see leaves budding on trees.  Flowers.  Hell, I even want to see other people’s toes again because it means the days have grown warm enough to wear flip-flops (I imagine this is still a ways off).  For days I have been daydreaming about hiking – fresh air, peanut butter sandwiches and making out next to a waterfall.  Yes, Lucas has been gone too long.

The last time he was in town I was drugged up on klonopin due to a ridiculous anxiety attack brought on by the stresses of work, loneliness and the complete inability to cope with my situation.  I’m feeling better, thanks to an attitude adjustment, yoga and yogurt.  May The Schwartz be with you.

But the time before that?  When I still thought I was a somewhat well-adjusted individual?  We spent a Saturday together exploring, eating and laughing with each other.

We started our day with lunch at Azul Bar y Cantina, a tasty little Mexican restaurant located in Sewickley.  We munched on homemade chips and salsa and then enjoyed some tacos along with three of the most incredibly delicious roasted jalapenos you could imagine (coated in salt!).  Their house margarita was on par with those I’ve had in Houston and we left giddy with happiness over finding a restaurant we really enjoyed. Continue reading

Penn Brewery

After moping around like a big loser for the past couple of months I finally decided to go out and try to make some friends.  The site meetup.com was recommended to me by someone so I got online and applied for membership with a group of women who are not native to the Pittsburgh area.

They had a meetup tonight at the Penn Brewery, the first craft brewhouse in Pennsylvania.  I arrived about fifteen minutes late because I got lost.  If it was up to me I would have driven all the way to Harrisburg, but common sense hit me.  Okay actually I saw a sign that said Brewery <—.  And still made a wrong turn after that.

I was nervous at first, especially when I saw that the table was full, but someone quickly made room for me.  Within a few minutes I had a Penn Weizen in my hand and was chatting with everyone, thanking myself for showing up.

Because really?  I needed girl time like it was nobody’s business.

What is it about female relationships that are so important?  I love Lucas so freaking much, but there are certain needs that a guy simply doesn’t have the capacity to meet.  Just goofing off with women I hardly know awakened something in me that has been dormant for months.  I smiled.  Felt happy.  Hopeful.

The food?  Wasn’t even important.

Tamari

A perfect meal is hard to come by.  Often it is not just the food that matters; there must be a perfect mélange of key elements:  atmosphere, the person or people you share the experience with, perhaps a slight intoxication from good wine, a feeling of love or even nostalgia.  And yes, of course, flavors that dance on your tongue, textures that make you close your eyes and savor the moment.  You chew more slowly.  Perhaps you moan in pleasure, feeling incredibly content.  You have been drugged by your food until reaching a state of absolute bliss.

You don’t have to eat at a fancy restaurant to find that bliss.  It can be found in a bowl of pho on a cold day, at a rib cook-off with friends or while making a simple pasta dish with the one you love – purposely brushing against each other in the kitchen until consuming al dente noodles with a voraciousness you didn’t know existed.  Food and passion.  Mmm.

On Saturday night Lucas took me out for an early dinner at a restaurant named Tamari in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.  Most of you probably know that Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce, but Tamari can also mean “people who do things passionately” in a native South American tongue.  I think that’s quite clever, considering the restaurant is predominantly a fusion of Japanese and Latin cuisines.

And as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the meal was perfect.  Why else would I write – no, how else could I have remembered the way that a perfect meal makes me feel?  It has been too long since I admired the simple beauty of a chef’s presentation, treasured every bite, anticipated the next course.  Shiro’s in Seattle ring a bell?

We arrived early and were seated at one of the few tables downstairs.  Tamari is a small restaurant with beautiful, yet simple decorative touches.  The bar takes up the entire right side of the restaurant; beginning as a place to enjoy a drink, but as it extends further patrons can enjoy their meal with views of the open-air kitchen or at the treasured seats in front of the sushi chefs.  I am so glad that we sat where we did because our waitress played an essential role in helping to make the experience so wonderful.  When I mentioned that I was torn between starting with a cocktail or a glass of wine she recommended the Asian Pear Sake-Tini (Asian Pear Sake, Grey Goose La Poire & Prickly Pear), an ambrosial, barely sweet drink that still packed a wallop. Continue reading

Primanti Brothers

In the 1930’s Joe Primanti started serving food in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  The Strip District was home to factories, mills and wholesalers, which for Joe meant he needed to provide truckers delivering goods with a quick, easy meal.

Obviously a stroke of genius hit my dear friend Joe (I’m sure he would approve of me calling him that) when he decided to serve his sandwiches with all of the sides on top, allowing truck drivers to take their meal to go and eat with one hand while driving.

A Primanti Brothers sandwich starts with two thick slices of soft, chewy Italian bread.  From there it’s all up to you.  Corned Beef, Kolbassi, Pitts-Burgher Cheesesteak, Capicola, Ham, Turkey, Fish, Imported Sardines … you name it, they  have it.  You can even add a fried egg if you’d like.  Most of the sandwiches come with cheese, but all of them come topped with tomato slices, a handful of fresh-cut french fries and a heaping pile of vinegar-based cole slaw.

And that, I must say, is perfection.


Primanti Brothers is probably the ultimate Pittsburgh institution.  It is well-known even outside of the city … thanks to word of mouth and Man vs. Food.  So when we walked in just before noon on a Wednesday I expected to find the place packed, but there was plenty of seating available. Continue reading

Red Pier

A few weeks ago I noticed a new restaurant opening up next to Les Givral’s on Milam.  The sign outstide said “Red Pier Asian Bistro”.  I kept waiting and waiting for reviews to pop up on Yelp so I could learn more about the place, but there still aren’t any.  Yelpers be slackin’.

Last night we were looking for a cheap dinner before going out with friends.  We decided to grab some banh mi from Les Givral’s, but then we remembered Red Pier.  We’d take a quick peek inside and see if it was worth trying.

When I pushed the door open I was instantly dazzled.  The long wall on the left is a fun piece of art.  White ropes hang at different angles, but the effect is not at all like Sushi Raku.  Less burlesque and more zen, complete with a rock garden along the bottom.

But it was the  incredible smells from the open-kitchen that enticed us to stay.  There would be no banh mi in our lives that night. Continue reading