Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This Cafe is For You: Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

Quinoa cakes with poached eggs

My mother-in-law disparages restaurants she won't like by declaring, "that is not my kind of place." Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is firmly in that camp.

Which means that middle aged and millennial foodies will go gaga for it. At MKB, in downtown Cincinnati, you stand on line to order your food, but in a welcome twist, a hostess shows you to a table and a server delivers your food.

No need to split your group, with one person commandeering a table and fending off customers with food trays and looks of desperation.
Blond wood aesthetic

Food for all

But if Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is beyond the understanding of the Applebee's crowd, it is appealing to a broad base; food is fresh, organic and of the moment. It is vegetarian friendly, yet it has plenty of meat, along with  recognizable dishes like burgers, sandwiches and wraps.

Roasted mushroom toast
We were there for the more uncommon food, like the power bowl, which had quinoa and farro, poached eggs, beets, greens, corn, tomatoes and avocado. It was healthy and delicious. We also shared the quinoa cakes,  with poached eggs, tomato sauce and greens. It needed a hit of hot sauce, which was on the table.

MPK has avocado toast, of course. And though this version sounded great, with pistachios and local honey, we tried the roasted mushroom toast.

My mother in law would call this an open faced sandwich but I just call it scrumptious. It had caramelized onions, goat cheese and ricotta under a bed of tiny mushrooms.

Power bowl - powerfully good
Our friends had the chicken bowl and 'enlightened' Caesar, with kale and romaine, and they were happy, too.

What do you want to drink?

MPK has craft beer on tap, and cokctials made with fresh pressed juices. You can also have the juices with alcohol, of course.

The cafe has taps where you can help yourself to still or sparking water, with leon if you wish. There is even chilled or room temperature water on tap. My grandparents always espoused room temperature water, so they would have been happy.

If, of course, they were open minded enough to give Maplewood Kitchen and Bar a chance.

Rosh Hashanah Cake: Applesauce Raisin

Applesauce cake

For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, cakes with apples and honey prevail. The Silver Palate cookbook has an applesauce raisin cake that I've adapted for the holiday.

The key is homemade applesauce. Seriously, the cake is infinitely better with it, and applesauce is a cinch to make.

My well used Foley food mill

First, go apple picking

OK, not everyone can spend the day driving to the country and picking apples, but if you can, it's worth it to get the crispest, freshest apples.

Make the sauce

Wash and quarter a bunch of apples. Take a giant pot, put apples in, a stick of cinnamon, cover and bring to a simmer. When apples start to sizzle, stir, reduce heat even lower, and cook until apples fall apart.

Then puree the apples through the food mill.  The seeds, skin and core stay behind and you have beautiful applesauce.

Don't forget to remove the cinnamon stick before pureeing.

If you don't have a cinnamon stick, you can use ground cinnamon; about a teaspoon for 3 pounds of apples.

See the fall foliage on an apple picking drive
You get way more applesauce than you need for the cake, so freeze it in small batches and enjoy when apples turn mealy.

Applesauce Cake, adapted from Silver Palate

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature  
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup homemade applesauce 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup raisins

Lemon Orange Icing 

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
A pretty bundt pan - grease it well
3/4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the applesauce and vanilla.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda together then add to applesauce mixture. Sprinkle in the raisins, and blend.
Grease and flour a bundt pan. Pour the batter into the bundt pan and set on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. 1 hour.
Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes Poke little holes in the cake with a toothpick and pour icing over the cake.
Cake for second night; regular old tube pan results in a less pretty cake


Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl.
Dribble in the juices, stirring constantly until the icing is smooth. Drizzle over completely cooled cake.
Happy New Year!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Foodie Tour: Cincinnati Food Tour of Findlay Market

Findlay Market

Findlay Market, in Cincinnati, is the oldest pubic market in Ohio. Open since 1852, the market, in the gentrifying Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, offers fresh local produce and interesting prepared foods.

I took a tour of the market with Cincinnati Food Tours, led by Barb Cooper. Unlike many expensive food tours, this 90 minute tour is just $20, with an optional $5 add-on for wine or beer on weekends. We were eating later at Salazar and intending to sample its cocktails, so we skipped the add-on, but in nice weather, don't. You can sit in the beer garden while a musician plays and sip local beer. Cincinnati is known for its beer and breweries, so don't miss this.
Babushka pierogi

Food only

But we were thrilled with the mix of local history and finely crafted food. Our first stop was Babushka Pierogies, started recently by a young woman using her grandmother's recipes. She hand makes the pierogies at a food incubator across the street and offers a variety of vegetarian and meat pastries. 

We sampled a caramelized onion and potato pierogi with a sour cream dipping sauce. There is sometimes borscht - both meat and vegan. Pierogies pair nicely with beer, particularly the sauerkraut or potato and cheddar.
Dean's Mediterranean Imports

Old time

Last of Belgium waffles
We visited Dean's Mediterranean Imports, a second generation gourmet market with prepared food and fresh spices. We had one of the best falafel sandwiches ever, with pickled turnips and homemade tahini space Of course, the falafel was also homemade. Dean's has a huge selection of seasoned nuts, and we sampled five kinds of cashews. We also had the gigantic Mejdool dates.

Dessert time

At Taste of Belgium, we had a bit of a fresh Belgian waffle, with either chocolate sauce or strawberries. This store has been so successful at Findlay Market that it has a second, much larger location just a couple of blocks away, a sit down place with tons of beer on tap and waffles straight from the waffle iron. You can also take waffles home and heat them up. There are three more Cincinnati locations.

Over the Moon in Over-the-Rhine

The lovely sea bass at Salazar

You don't usually hear of James Beard award-winning chefs in Cincinnati, but Jose Salazar has planted his flag in the eponymous Salazar.

Cheers: Dokie's Trick
The restaurant, in the fast gentrifying Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati, has a small menu of perfectly executed dishes.

The broccoli 'nibble'
We tried two 'nibbles' - fried broccoli with yuzu aioli and an adorable fried oyster sandwich with kimchi on a tiny brioche roll. The sandwich, served on a wooden round, was delicious and easily split in two. And the broccoli was enough for four of us to have a healthy portion of caramelized yumminess.

Tiny oyster sandwich
My husband and I shared a starter of polenta, made with a vegetarian stock, and served with mushrooms and pickled veggies. It had an egg on top that dripped yolk over everything.

Local vendors

Salazar serves the excellent Blue Oven Bread from nearby Findlay Market. But it's $6 and comes with marrow butter. There are also BBQ pig ears. So this is definitely for adventurous eaters.

Spinach potato gratin
My husband loved his sea bass, with a potato puree and preserved Meyer lemon. I went pure vegetarian with a potato spinach gratin. It was full of flavor from the fiddlehead ferns and spring pea puree.

The cocktail list has unusual choices, like Dokie's Trick, which resembled a Manhattan, but had smoked ice. We also tried the Clarify It, a spicy cocktail with gin, green charteuse, basil, jalapeƱo, lime and calcified milk. That last ingredient threw me for a loop, but it was just the whey separated from the curd and added an intriguing note to a fabulous drink.

A nod to the past

Check out the bathroom, where there is a vintage photo of the grocery store that used to be here, and a current one, with the chef / owner standing in the same place the former owner stood.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Beer and Burgers: Harmon Brewing, Tacoma WA

Beer flights at The Harmon 

The foods and craft beer scene that threatens to overwhelm Seattle is spreading to nearby Tacoma, Washington. The downtown area, anchored by the Seattle Art Museum and University of Washington campus boasts a craft brewery, Harmon Brewing Co., with a family friendly restaurant, The Harmon.

Since you are so close to Seattle, you can have wild salmon, but we stuck to food better suited to the beer.
Fish tacos at The Harmon

Not just beer

But The Harmon isn't just for beer geeks. The restaurant features local spirits like Heritage bourbon, used in the Manhattan-like Don Draper (double barrel boring, bitters, cherry and orange) or the Mango Madness, which uses Heritage mango vodka, triple sec and OJ.

But oh that beer

But we really did come for the beer, which we tasted in two flights: the stand-by, and a series of seasonal brews. The Pinnacle Peak Ale is mildly hoppy, like a beginner AIPA, while the Point Defiance IPA rocks the local hops.

Quinoa Burger
We also had a season One Hop Wonder, the dry Blonde beer, a Porter and an amber, all served on small wooden skis.

The food matches the beer

The Harmon suggests beer pairings, though we went off piste and stuck with IPAs to go with our vegetarian quinoa burger and fish tacos.

The burger, which comes with excellent parmesan fries or a huge side salad, is served on a brioche bun. With sriracha ranch sauce, pepper jack cheese and a fresh chili, it was messy but delicious. You can get the quinoa patty with any of the burger toppings; the patty melt, with provolone, grilled onions, mushrooms and Thousand Island dressing was also appealing.
More adult fun in Tacoma: America's Car Museum

There was also a Big Veggie sandwich, with roasted peppers, avocado and cucumber on toasted wheat bread,

The Halibut tacos were loaded with black bean and corn salsa, wild Halibut, cottage cheese and shredded cabbage. They were served with homemade tortilla chips.

Note: I was a guest of Travel Tacoma, which covered my meal and hotel.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travel to Central and South America: Bogota Latin Bistro

BBQ tofu special

With one kid spending her junior year in Ecuador and another who studied in Chile, we have had more than the usual exposure to Central and South American cuisine. It seemed fitting, when our youngest went off to South America, that we revisit Bogota Latin Bistro.

Pom palm salad
This lively restaurant, which can get quite loud (blame the cocktail menu, which specializes mojitos and Caipirinhas by the pitcher) has a quieter enclosed backyard, where we ate the other night. And if you are not a rum fan, the Hendrick's mojito subs in gin, with the addition of elderflower liqueur. Lovely.

Not just rice and beans

I love rice and beans, but as a vegetarian, I eat this often. Here, you can go beyond that. Entrees come with two sides, including quinoa, kale with red onion, plantains, cabbage salad and cilantro mashed potatoes.  There are vegan beans or ones with pork. I've had all the vegetarian and vegan options over the years.
Chipotle corn crusted salmon 

There are arepas and empanadas, guacamole and ceviche to start. We shared a pom palm salad; hearts of palm with pomegranate seeds, avocado, mango and a mess of greens.

Gluten free? They've got you

Bogota has a dauntingly large menu, with its own vegetarian section, and vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options designated throughout. There are two dedicated gluten free fryers.

I usually have the quinoa cakes, a vegan take on crab cakes, with a spicy sauce, or the vegetarian plate: rice and beans, with threes sides. There are also vegetable tacos and grilled tofu.  I had a special of BBQ tofu since it was almost Labor Day.

There are also lots of fish options, from fish tacos to several preparations of salmon.  The chipotle corn crusted salmon was spicy and perfectly cooked.

Chihuly Nights: Glass Spectacle at New York Botanical Garden

Chihuly Nights at NYBG

Growing up in New York City, we rarely ventured to the Bronx.  It was a scary place, a notion made even more evident in the book, Bonfire of the Vanities.

But places like Wave Hill, the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden were always exceptions, with family and more grown up attractions that have just improved over the years.
More Chihuly at night
[As a Mets fan, the less said about Yankee Stadium, the better]

Now the New York Botanical Garden has a special exhibit, with large scale glass art by Dale Chihuly. You can see the sculptures in the daytime, but at night, they are even better.

Chihuly Nights

This one is like fireworks
And the garden has special nighttime amenities, like live music, a cocktail bar and jazz concerts. You can sip a glass of champagne while you wander around the gardens. There's also a taco truck and a restaurant run by Stephen Starr.

The Chihuly exhibit runs through October 29 and advance tickets are highly recommended.

Note: I was a guest of the New York Botanical Garden, which provided me with tickets. I was not otherwise compensated.