Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"I'd eat that off a flip flop!"

Imagine that, I went on vacation for a few days, came home, and suddenly my damn pants don't fit!  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I ate like a champion for four days.  Not that I don't eat well in Minnesota - I wouldn't have a food blog or a potbelly if I didn't - but something about being out of my element just made everything taste better.  I tend to get stuck in a food rut on occasion, so  taking a road trip to Kansas City was a great way to experience something new with the same old guy.  I already told you about our amazing experience at Alba in Des Moines, so let's pick up where we left off.

The hotel didn't provide a free continental breakfast (cheap bastards), so we set off on our journey, hoping to find a sweet little dive bar, because dive bars have the best greasy food, and that's what we wanted.  Well folks, our dumb asses should have consulted Google Maps, because after an hour of driving we'd found nothing except Casey's General Store and roadkill, and I'm not a fan of either.  Thankfully Casey's did sell Snickers, which was a relief because I have no idea how to cook a skunk carcass on the hood of a car, nor do I want to find out.  We did happen upon a family restaurant whimsically dubbed "The Toot Toot" (no, seriously) (Iowa, am I right?), but family restaurants in general kind of give me the heebs.  Also, as funny as I think farts are (on a scale of one to ten they are HILARIOUS), I just couldn't deal with that;

We pressed on and eventually stopped in Kearney, MO, birthplace of Jesse James (please be aware this will be the only time you learn something in this blog).  Kearney is a lovely town with twee shops and you can park your car in a spot right on the street.  We stopped in at Fatboyz, because anyplace with a Z instead of S has to be good, right?  Hell yeah that's right!  It was everything a good dive should be - strong drinks, a hint of secondhand smoke in the air, and deep fried goodness.  This is how I was introduced to the corn nugget.  I mean, hello, cornbread made with whole kernels of corn, fried to a crisp?  Don't get me wrong, I love cheese curds and all their melty fabulousness, but these were just stupid good.

Speaking of stupid, three hours in the car and three cocktails later left me wiped out.  I'm not much of a nightlife gal as it is, so I was perfectly happy to park my kiester on the bed and watch TV while Noah picked up dinner.  And what was for dinner, you ask?  Jack Stack Barbecue.  My brother-in-law John wanted me to blog about how the barbecue was down there compared to Spitfire in Fargo, and for the love of God I hope they don't ban me for life for saying this, but there's just no comparison.  My baby back ribs were perfect, and I've enjoyed myself some good ribs in my day courtesy of Noah (Famous Dave's is ass) (RIP Famous Dave).  It's been a while since I had ribs at Spitfire, but it wouldn't change my opinion because Jack Stack was AMAZING.  The meat was incredibly tender, the sauce was sweet without being cloying, and WHOA NELLIE I can't believe I haven't mentioned the beans yet!  Bush's can come up with all the new varieties they want and try to use that ridiculous talking dog to sell them, but no.  I honestly can't tell you what made them so good.  All I know is if I exclaimed, "Oh my God!  The BEANS!" one more time I likely would have been smothered with a downy hotel pillow.

Part of me feels like I should have a sign off line a la Guy Fieri.  Part of me also thinks nobody should imitate someone who looks like they have an albino porcupine on their head.  Winner winner chicken dinner!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"You might want to explain your side job in Ankeny so they don't think you're working the pole."

Greetings from the Sheraton in Des Moines (French for "beats Iowa City")!  Hope the evening finds you well.  If you're like 75% of my readers, you're probably thinking, "I'm doing a lot better than you because I'm not in Iowa!"  Honestly, I'm really digging Des Moines.  Well, other than the fact that there's no Food Network in this room, which is why I'm blogging rather than trying to force conversation with Noah (10 years together.  Four hours in the car.  Don't judge).  Not only is it a sweet little town with a metric crap-ton of bars, but it's also home to a fantastic foodie restaurant called Alba (French for "stretchy pants encouraged").

Our friends Shannon (also known as "Cute Shannon" to some) and Ellie picked out this place to take us specifically so I'd have a great new spot to write about.  To say they chose wisely would be a staggering understatement.  I can't remember the last time I ate that well, and that's not entirely due to meth induced memory loss.  The shining star for all of us was the plate of morels we shared as an appetizer. Apparently they're kind of a big deal.  Even bigger than Ron Burgundy (but not Baxter.  That dog went through some real shit).  Shannon told us a story about being a young boy in North Pitlicker (may not be a real city) Iowa, how they would go out and pick morels for funsies, because there was no mall in which to loiter aimlessly and shoplift.  Now, that sounds like a lot of work to me, for I am astonishingly lazy, but even my fat ass might put forth that kind of effort for another plate of those.

After some hemming and hawing about the beef cheeks (are they really cheeks?  Do they have dimples?) (I had no interest, prawns FTW), we placed our orders, enjoyed cocktails and conversation, and then proceeded to stuff ourselves silly.  My gnocchi was so rich I can still hardly move for I am stupid full.  So when Ellie told the waitress it was my birthday and hence I should receive a piece of chocolate lava cake, I almost punched her (I waited until she started singing Happy Birthday.  Broke the poor girl's nose) (OMG totes joking). It was velvety exquisiteness.  I would have licked the plate clean but I had already done that with the mushrooms so I didn't want to make a total ass of myself.

Next stop is Kansas City.  We might be crazy and stop in both Missouri and Kansas!  Stay tuned!

Monday, May 19, 2014

More "and such" this time around

I can't claim I fell in love at first sight, because such a sentiment might be bullshit, but the first time I set my eyes on Noah Oberg, I definitely felt something I'd never felt before.  I know, total cliche.  Shut up.  All I know is, as he was walking away from my desk  after learning I was going to be the processor on his new project (I promise this will get interesting), we locked eyes, and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, I never caught a glimpse of his left hand.  One of the triggers of my quarter life crisis (John Mayer nailed it shut with that lyric) was knowing I'd have to check if a cute guy was married before I pathetically threw myself at him, and yet I forgot.  So instead of just being all cool and casual, hoping he'd stop over and I could subtly check out the wife situation...I work stalked him.  Not only that, I made my cubicle mate Melanie do the same.  I mean, why bother asking around if he was single when I could parade by him in a skirt on one of a dozen trips to the bathroom in a day?  Cher Horowitz and her pen dropping style of flirting got nothing on me!

Eventually I worked up the nerve to kind of ask Noah out (over work email, sadly), and a night at Williams in Uptown on my birthday lead to not only our first kiss, but (finally getting to the food part here) our first date at the now closed Tiburon.  I've been sad about the demise of a few restaurants in my day, but I'll always be a little upset that I can't ever go back to the place of the best first date ever.

It's not so much that we miss the food.  We both got lamb chops and sweet potatoes, and they were certainly delightful, but obviously anyone who has been reading this blog (mad props to all four of you) knows Noah can pretty much do anything, especially make a lamb chop.  It's more the memory of the place.  It was remembering me having a smoke at the bar(!) (best habit I ever kicked) and Noah pointing out that the neon lights changed color, which became our first inside joke.  It was going there for our first anniversary.  It was watching the sharks in the fish tank, wondering if this was It (capitalization intentional).

It was It.  I love you, darling, and I always have.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seafood - a love story

Like most Minnesotan kids with access to a lake cabin (so - most Minnesotan kids), my first exposure to fresh fish was the sunnies my dad would catch off the dock.  In the 1980s, when I was a wee bespectacled lass who spent many a weekend at (in) the lake with my brother and cousins, scenic Pipe Lake in Wisconsin was rife with the little buggers!  Dad would catch a bunch, gut them, and take them home to Mom who lovingly dredged them in seasoned flour and pan fried the shit out of them.  Lip smacking good!  She'd serve the tasty filets up with homemade American fries, which I cannot stand to this day.  The only thing about them that reflects America is that we like to eat greasy crap.  But I digress.

When I was older and living on my own, my mom taught me the easiest "grown up" dish ever - broiled salmon with butter and dill.  It's so simple that even I've never screwed it up, and I'm the girl who once smoked out her apartment when an unattended nacho platter decided to burst into flames.  The only improvements I've made on it over the years are grilling it (duuuuuuuh) and more recently, adding some fresh lemon.  It's so good that the only time I've ever ordered it in a restaurant was at Three Fish, because I just can't replicate the portobello salsa on top.  Blast!

Something ridiculous I also won't get at a restaurant is shrimp cocktail.  For years at family gatherings, Mom has provided, amongst other things (EVERYthing), a big bag of shrimp from Cub and generic cocktail sauce, which I deem inedible until I doctor it up with a searing dollop of fresh horseradish.  I'm not generally a fan of spicy food (ha ha oh you wimpy Minnesotans and your ketchup LOLZ CRAM IT), but cocktail sauce needs a good zing.  My father claimed I made it so hot one time it singed his nostril hair, and that man can take the heat.  He eats jalapenos for fun.  He once had some chili that was so hot he went on a spiritual journey with a coyote that sounded like Johnny Cash.  Or was that Homer Simpson?

One fun thing we have been doing when eating out is ordering food we never thought we'd want to try.  We went to Meritage recently with my brother and sister-in-law and demolished a plate of oysters.  I'd never wanted to sample them before because I didn't understand the point of ordering something you just swallow.  How do you taste it, unless you have taste buds in the back of your throat and are a freak of nature?  Once Cara informed us that it was now acceptable to chew them?  Gamechanger.  They were briny and delicious and I just now realized I sat down to a platter of supposed aphrodisiacs with my little brother and I feel like that's wrong somehow.

Apparently my bivalve craving has stuck with me, as recently Noah treated me to a night at our favorite Northeast restaurant, Erte, so that I could have the bouillabaisse.  Normally when we go there after work, it's because I had a bad day and am craving comfort food, by which I mean a nice French martini.  Lately, more due to the rainy weather leaving us unable to grill, we've been having dinner there as well.  The bouillabaisse is a cavernous bowl of mussels, clams, giant shrimp (oxymoron alert!), and fish.  I didn't think I liked clams, but it turns out the clams in the chowder at Red Lobster are not so much a high of quality as the little beauties still in their shells, soaking up a delectable saffron and tomato broth.  Word to the wise, this is not a dish if you're a messy eater who still has their dignity intact.  Being that mine is long gone, I counted no fewer than four broth stains on my person after that meal and wore them like badges of honor all the way home.