Friday, September 30, 2011

Burger King Peach Granola Sundae

Soft serve ice cream at fast food restaurants is no astounding aberration from the Holy Grail of All Things Caloric. Restaurants like Shake Shack and Culver's have turned it into a feat for the stomach and palate, with gourmet flavors of frozen custard and seasonal offers. And yet there's nothing so quintessentially paired such as the classic hot fudge sundae from McDonald's. Burger King has recently gotten into the soft serve game and sent me a gift card to try all of their new sundaes and shakes. Lacking the resources and time to write a fudge-stained suicide note, I decided to try them throughout the month and report my findings.
Burger King's peach granola sundae is the last and latest of the big three to do their own spin on a seasonal sundae, following the success of the Wendy's caramel apple Frosty and McDonald's caramel apple sundae. Peach granola may not quite reek of fall as much as the other two, but it carries its own special place in the dwindling days before autumn really sets in. It bridges the gap between autumnal flavors and the last days of summer, a season that New England really seems to want to hang onto.
The composition of a sundae is key, as evidenced not only by the confusion in my server's voice when I ordered this, as though I'd come from the King's HQ and made it up on the spot to test her, and also when she made it. While I didn't get a chance to snap a photo of her fatherly manager guiding her hands as she constructed it, trust me when I tell you it was worthy of an after school special. For $1.49, this is a neat little innovation on the part of the King. I think this is the first time BK has used peach as an ingredient, and it proves itself to be a worthy contender to more traditional sundae toppings. However, eating this is not an easy feat. If you've eaten frozen fruit before, whether before making a smoothie or just as a snack, you know how agonizingly cold it is to bite into one of those mushy, sweet pieces. It's the same case in this sundae. Each bite had to be held in the mouth for no less than a chilly twenty seconds before the peaches began to thaw and the ice cream melted. The toppings retained the chill for much longer than they should have.
In this sense, it is worth noting that this is exactly the reason why a hot fudge sundae is so palatable. The counterbalance of hot and cold elements is comforting and adds a bit of variety and when it's lacking in either, it ceases to be. With this, the balance was thrown off, and while the peach sauce had nice chunks of fruit and a sweet, jammy flavor, it was all ignored as I tried to diffuse the cold. Heating this up would be much tastier. The granola, applied in abundance, provided a nice crunch to the sundae, but lost its honeyed nuances in the sweetness of the ice cream and peaches. Eaten alone, it was fairly plain and bland. There never seemed to be enough granola to maintain a strong presence in each bite.
Overall, with a few slight changes to the sundae, I think this could be a strong contender for the upcoming fall season. I liked it enough to try it again, and as a die-hard chocolate lover, my endorsement for anything containing fruit is ground-breaking within itself. At the very least, it's an innovative and different sweet treat than the standard sauce-drenched sundaes, and makes for a delicious seasonal dessert.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Birthday Sriracha Nectarine Crisp

Good news- I'm no longer MIA!
Bad news- I don't think I have any readers in the immediate vicinity of this awesome kitchen. Because if you were, I'd hand out steaming bowls of this beautiful birthday crisp, of which we have leftovers, from Tuesday's birthday bacchanal.
It's been a whirlwind of a week for us. My new website is in its final stages of development. We've been spending some good quality time with family and friends, too. We started off last weekend by taking a trip down to my mom's to start my birthday celebration and celebrate my father's wedding, and throughout the week, extended the partying for a few days here and there.
On my actual birthday, we relaxed and hung out, and I made this beautiful crisp. Easily the best part of the weekend, tied for first place with today's purchase of a Fur Real kitten to boggle our own kitten.
This recipe is from Budget Bytes, and it's anything but budget-looking. Sriracha and nectarines seemed like a no-brainer, that is, in a marinade. In a crisp, though, I was skeptical. Using a sauce of honey, cinnamon, and sriracha, which, again, wouldn't be out of place slathered on some chicken, humble nectarines are transformed into a fun dessert.
In this sense, it reminds me of the talking stuffed kitten. It's a fun experiment with whimsical results and wasn't a huge risk to take. I made a few changes to the recipe from the original version. I used a special apricot honey creme, courtesy of Honey Ridge Farms and their PR firm. The honey's rich, deep flavor boosted the nectarines, and used about twice the amount of sriracha as called for in the recipe. I didn't feel like the original featured the heat and prickle enough, but my modification really drove that point home. I added some hot cayenne pepper for color in the streusel part, but it disappeared while cooking.
The best part of this recipe was that it made a ton of crisp, and each 1/4, 1/3 cup serving was just enough to enjoy without going overboard. It wasn't overly sweet and the heat made it easier to gauge when I wanted to stop eating rather than eating too much of it at once. I think next time I'd cut down on the butter and use about twice the cornstarch or tapioca to thicken it. It was a little soupy. It was an incredibly unique dessert, though, and paired perfectly with a Thai dinner and a spot of birthday wine, a poised yet quirky 2006 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim. Delicious and filling, and a fantastic way to kick off another year. After all, what better dessert for a Riesling and Gewurz fanatic is there?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rokit Fuel Pumpkin Chocolate Cereal Cup

Today's my birthday and I figured I ought to kick off the bacchanal with a good breakfast. I'm a closeted oatmeal lover. As soon as the air gets nippy and the nipples get snappy, I'm heating up a cup of Quaker in the communal microwave. Today was different, though. To adequately prepare myself for the fall season, I prepared a cup of Rokit Fuel, a new brand I spotted at the school convenience store the night before.
Rokit Fuel has a subtitle following its endearingly misspelled name. "For humans." It seems like less of a descriptor than a disclaimer. Although Rokit Fuel doesn't explicitly say it was originally intended for dogs or elephants or infants, its oatmeal certainly contradicts that. Not to swerve off our grand highway onto a tangent as dirty and controversial as a trucker's rest stop, but well, tough crap. Rokit Fuel employs a passive-aggressive little statement at the bottom of each of their products (and also, I hear, in the form of bumper stickers) that says "Not for Wussies- Wussie (noun) A person whose pursuit of excellence is eclipsed by a total lack of discipline and drive."
Wow. Never thought I'd see the day when I had to write about sexist oatmeal. While that's laudable in a wacky Jackie Gleason hi-jinks/domestic abuse fashion, I'm pretty irked by the word "wussie." It doesn't take a genius with a degree in vagology to know what that's loosely imitating by rhyming, and I'm a little insulted that Rokit Fuel, in all their creative misspelling and edgy graphics, turns to a staid mysogynistic stereotype to imply weakness. I've been told I have a good sense of humor, and a dark one at that. And even I don't particularly find it funny or effective. I'm actually less annoyed that they're ragging on lady bits so much as irritated at the feeble structure of their joke. It's like something an angry child of a single dad would make up. I don't see who the intended "non-wussie" audience is. I bought it and I'm an overweight food writer. I'm the direct antithesis of a tennis ball. It wasn't an endorsement for the contents inside. Rokit Fuel didn't make me any more driven in my day. It's a low blow appropriate for an already shoddy product.
Back to our college dining theme, you'll be pleased to know that since I ran out of spoons to eat with, I used a tablespoon and can accurately report to you that there were 13 1/2 tablespoons in this cup. Which brings me to my next point. Not only is Rokit Fuel heavy on the calories, with a hefty 340, 120 of which come from fat, and 20 grams of sugar, (the most blasphemous Quaker variety, Banana Bread, has 150 calories, 18 from fat, and 14 grams of sugar) it's annoyingly minimal in its cooking instructions. It provides consumers with the basic, Captain Obvious facts anyone out or in an assisted living facility for retarded adults would be aware of and leaves the important stuff out. How much milk or water should I put in this? Nobody knows, so get the hell out. Leave the resealable top on while cooking? No fucking clue.
I still wound up with an oatmeal with a decent consistency, but I finished with a bad taste in my stomach and a frown on my face. What the creators imagined tasting like a "freshly baked pumpkin chocolate chip cookie" tastes like a muddled gravy-like concoction reminiscent of overbaked butternut squash and tepid stuffing. The consistency was thick, but wet and pasty with a very dense, unsweetened flavor. Believe me when I tell you that when I went to bed last night I was more excited to wake up and eat this oatmeal than I was to watch the season seven finale of Weeds, close the book on another year, and sleep in. So gulping down a flavor typically reserved for soup kitchen Thanksgivings and retirement home meals was not optimal. The flavor made eating the entire cup feel like a chore around the last few bites, and the stupid jokes and sparse instructions annoyed me. I'd spent $3.29 on a single serving of sub-par oatmeal. Hikers and bikers may have elevated standards, but in the end, the man in the wideawake hat knows best. Straying from the pack has devastating consequences.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Philly Grilled Cheese Steak Sandwiches at Sonic

Word on the streets (okay, a customer service survey) says Sonic may be rolling out some new Philly cheesesteak inspired grilled cheese sandwiches. A somewhat mismatched combination, but anything with jalapenos and barbecue sauce deserves at least one try. Priced at $1.99 they look like they won't break the bank, either.

Billed as Philly "Grilled Cheese Steak Sandwiches, they start with two pieces of golden Texas toast with two pieces of cheese and your choice of three add-ons:

Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, sautéed portobello mushrooms and two slices of Swiss cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, jalapeños, hickory BBQ sauce and two slices of Cheddar cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions and two slices of American cheese

Definitely something I'd be willing to snack on!

Philly Food Swap

This past week a group of thirty or so food lovers and home cooks gathered together in the basement hall of the First Unitarian Church in Center City to exchange homemade foods at Philly's first food swap.

With a hyper awareness of where our food comes from, home cooking arts like canning, baking, and gardening have become hot topics that bind many like-minded home cooks. Besides reading blog posts about garden harvests and delicious kitchen adventures, there really hasn't been a way to share in each other's creations.

That's where the idea of "food swaps" comes in. A food swap is typically a small event where people get together to socialize, but, most importantly, to swap homegrown or homemade foods.

Other cities like Brooklyn and Portland have already established a strong food swap community, and it was only a matter of time before Philly got their own food swap.

Thanks to the organization of Georgia, Marisa, Alexis, and Amanda, Philly's own food swap group, Philly Swappers, was formed earlier this year. Philly Swappers aims to hold food swap events a few times a year to bring together like-minded food lovers and food crafters. The best way to find out about upcoming events is to "like" Philly Swappers on Facebook. How does a food swap work?

Events usually last no more than a couple of hours. The first 30 minutes involve checking in, getting name tags, setting up your wares on tables, and filling out swap cards on the items you brought. The next 30 minutes involve making your way around the room to see and sample what other swappers are offering, making bids on items, and socializing.

In the second hour, swaps are made "freestyle." You look at the bid sheets of the items you brought to see if you would like to swap with anyone who made you an offer. You are not bound to swap with those who made you an offer, though, and can politely decline. The whole process of swapping is a sort of controlled chaos (bid sheets give you a bit of direction, but swapping can be fast). Somehow, it works out in the end.

To get a better idea of how a swap works, this video is a good introduction.I must say, as a first time food swapper, I was beyond curious as to what people would bring and how the actual swapping would work.

I brought canned jams, fruit butters, relishes, and chutneys I made this summer, as well as herbs I grew and dried to swap. There were lots of canned goods in the house! Above are an assortment of jams from Marisa. Providing samples is encouraged, although not required. Above are samples of peach salsa and habanero jelly from Lee.Baked goods also made appearances. The above chocolate peanut butter cookies and quiches from Corey and Jason, as well as pop tarts, plum bites, and pumpkin bread from others are just a few baked goods that I can recall off the top of my head.At the end of the night, I ended up with about half of the items I had my eye on. The other items that ended up in my basket I gladly swapped for (I pretty much like all foods, so was in good company and surroundings).

My take home haul for the evening included sauerkraut, horseradish vodka, vanilla sugar, cherry fig chutney, peach chutney, pear vanilla jam, tomato jam, chocolate peanut butter cookies, black tea blend with spiced simple syrup, molasses cookies, granola, and hot buttered rum batter.

The best way to describe a food swap event is to compare it to a Christmas gift exchange, except you come home with gifts that you actually appreciate and can use. I can't wait for the next one, and am already dreaming about what I am going to make!

Other resources on food swaps:
Rules For Effective Food Swapping. Food swapping etiquette.
How To Host A Food Swap. A how-to, plus directory of food swap groups in the US and Canada.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hubba Bubba Max Mystery Flavor

Hubba Bubba Max Mystery Flavor

Back in elementary school, when I got an allowance of 2 dollars a week, much of that money was spent on bubble gum from the grocery store a couple blocks from my house. There's just something so fun and frivolous about bubble gum, and I still blow bubbles to this day, no matter what kind of gum I'm chewing.

These days, I tend to stick to sugarfree gum, but every now and then, something like Hubba Bubba will jump out at me. When I bought this gum at the supermarket last week, my exact words to my husband were, "This girl I can't resist a mystery flavor." I love a good gimmick, and I think I have a pretty good guess at this flavor.

Mystery Flavor

The two-toned gum smelled like almond extract. Right away, it tasted like lemonade, and as I chewed, cherry flavor emerged. My guess is Cherry Lemonade. It was juicy and sour, and not too sweet. When I blew bubbles, the woodsy cherry flavors really emerged, reminding me of amaretto and cherry Starbursts. The lemon wasn't at all like a cleaning product, just sour and tangy.

The gum itself was large and very soft, making it easy to chew and blow bubbles. I had to be careful of my glasses, because the bubbles I could blow could have easily overtaken my nose. As expected, the flavor started to wear thin after just a couple minutes, but the delicious initial favor won me over.

Check out another review at Gum Alert, and from reading the comments, it seems like this "mystery flavor" is a simple re-release. Well, it worked on me.

Hubba Bubba website

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Chocolate Frog

Chocolate Frogs

Is anyone else anxiously awaiting access to Pottermore? Is anyone already exploring the site? I was accepted for early access, but with barely over 2 weeks until it's open to everyone in October, I've just about lost hope of getting that sneak peek. At least the wait is almost over for all of us! Just because I needed a Harry Potter fix, it seemed like a good time to sample the Chocolate Frog I purchased during my trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Chocolate FrogsIn the books and movies, Chocolate Frogs are presented as lithe, enchanted chocolate creatures that could slip through your fingers with ease, or, if you're quick and lucky, wiggle all the way down to your stomach. Of course, there's no way to reproduce that experience for a mass market, but I was surprised by how the Chocolate Frog was brought to life for Universal Studios. There's no way the Chocolate Frogs sold at the actual Honeydukes inside the park could slip out a window. They're solid, huge, and surprisingly hefty! At an equally hefty theme park price price of $9.95 US, maybe Universal Studios was going for the value angle, but they didn't really hit that mark, either.

IMG_4994 The solid chocolate frog filled the entire box, but unfortunately it smelled a bit dusty, like a cheap Easter bunny. The easiest way to serve the frog seemed to be cutting into it with a knife, which was fun for my husband. Much to my dismay, the chocolate tasted like it smelled: dry, grainy, and a little chalky. The cocoa flavor was mild and very sweet, and even though it was a one-note chocolate flavor, I did appreciate that there were no sour or otherwise unpleasant aftertastes. The chocolate wasn't very milky, and although I dislike the overly sticky quality that milk chocolate often has, this frog could have used some creaminess. Now, I must disclose that I did wait a couple of months to eat this, but the package was sealed and far from the sell-by date, so it was a bit of a letdown.

I'll admit that this blog has spoiled cheap chocolate for me, but for this price, I'd rather have less chocolate of a higher quality than this giant brick of disappointment. But, as Ron Weasley pointed out to Harry, It's the card you want, and in that respect, the Chocolate Frog was pretty cool. The package was gorgeous and well-constructed, and finding the holographic trading card inside really made me feel immersed in the Harry Potter universe. I got Rowena Ravenclaw (and I think I'd be a Ravenclaw), but I can't see myself trying to collect them all at $10 a frog.


The packaging is absolutely an A+, but overall, this is a C. It's still a good souvenir because of the card and box, but the chocolate left a lot to be desired. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter blog reviewed Chocolate Frogs and really liked them. Please remember, this is just my opinion. If you've got your heart set on a Chocolate Frog, I think the box and card alone will make you happy, and if you enjoy the chocolate, even better.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Chocolate Chex Mix Cookies & Cream

There are certain flavor profiles that I automatically reach for when I'm looking for a snack. If I'm in the mood for chips, the spicy flavor is usually my first draft pick. With sweet snacks, it's a little different, because there's usually a much wider range, but I do know that if I ever see a cookies & cream flavored confection, that's the one I end up taking home. Such is the case with this new Chex Mix flavor. I've never seen a C&C flavored snack outside of chocolate bars and ice cream, and wondered how this would shape up.
According to the prestigious publication, Convenience Store Decisions, this debuted in July after a positive response to the homestyle Muddy Buddies flavor and is the first salty snack mix to incorporate a cookies and cream flavor. So stop dreaming, Funyuns. As excited as I was to try this, actually eating it was just disappointing. Let me put it to you this way. I originally bought this as a small treat for Keepitcoming Love on our drive to Mohegan Sun, but had the foresight (hunger) to try it ahead of time. Miss Love is our resident cookies and cream aficionado, and this was so weak that giving it to her would have seemed like an insult.
It was awful. For a product that has the potential to incorporate a variety of textural and flavor nuances throughout a bite or two, this was upsettingly one-noted. Each piece was coated in a filmy substance, a finely ground dust in greyscale that I'm assuming is the cookies and cream condensed to a powder with the texture, but not the expertise, of a dessert at wd-50. Even on the pieces that seemed to be more grey, as though they contained more cookie, the flavor was overly sweet and lacking in any chocolate flavor. The package screams that there are "real cookies" in it, as opposed to the plastic "my first kitchen" ones I use when I make Chex Mix. I've already called witness protection and the FBI, as it appears as these have been processed through a woodchipper and slid into my plastic bag. Real cookies, my ass.
Perhaps the most aggravating element in this was the "sweet creamy coating" on the Chex. I'm not stupid. I know that any substitute or clever wording for chocolate (in this case, white chocolate) is a way to imply chocolate without having it in the ingredients. At the very least, I expected white mockolate. This didn't even rise to the level of Palmer-esque confections. The coating caused it to fail as a portable snack, as it left a cocaine-like residue all over my desk. That wasn't so bad, because at least the cocaine-esque stuff made me look like a cool, edgy person, but the flavor was downright unpalatable. As a cereal, the powder sank to the bottom and left an oily sheen on top. It was creepy stuff and made my teeth hurt.
I'm annoyed that the essence of the Chex Mix in itself is an endearingly haphazard, thrown together sort of affair and with that philosophy, neglected to include its flagship ingredient. Would it have been so hard to throw some pieces of Hydrox or co-brand with Kraft and use "real Oreo pieces" in there? I'm disappointed that a snack like this had so much potential and then dropped the ball. With a slim market for cookies and cream snacks, this isn't helping other brands branch out into similar versions.

How I Used My CSA: Weeks 18 & 19

Week 18: Italian eggplant, bok choy, tomatoes, bell peppers, apples, onions, and delicata squash.

Swapped out beets (I have so, so many) from our Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA half share for an extra share of apples.
These apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm mark the beginning of my fall and winter-long apple eating. When I get in the groove, I'll eat an apple every afternoon as a snack. It just so happens that I like to get my apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm! At the end of October (or maybe it's the beginning of November), I get an entire crate of mix-and-match apple varieties for just $20 from Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse Market when they have their crate sale. The Italian eggplant went into eggplant Parmesan with tomato sauce made from the last of the frozen CSA roma tomatoes. This was soooo good!
I almost made a batch of ketchup from these tomatoes, but knowing that it would probably be the last of summer tomatoes, I decided to savor them sliced and uncooked alongside some French bread slathered with goat cheese and pear chutney.
There was broth left over from the veggie pho made the previous week, so I turned it into an off-the-cuff soup creation with rice, CSA bok choy and the last of my homegrown cherry and pear tomatoes. The delicata squash and bell peppers were used in a pumpkin curry inspired by Circles' pumpkin curry. Very good, but I must confess that with so many great premade curry pastes out there, I rarely bother making my own.
Week 19: sweet potatoes, dumpling squash, crimini mushrooms, onions, beets, apples.

Swapped out bok choy (just had it two weeks in a row) for an extra share of sweet potatoes (I got a little excited to see them).

Honestly, with the exception of the mushrooms (the boy ate them at some point without my knowledge), I haven't touched anything in this share. Because of just a few social engagements, it has taken two weeks to get through most of week 18's share. It really does take dedication to cooking and eating at home to go through a CSA share. Even a half share!

How did you use your CSA or farmers' market haul? Are you excited for the dishes that the cooler weather brings?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ballo Italian Restaurant and Social Club at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

In the heart of Mohegan Sun's Casino of the Earth, new kid on the block Ballo's sprawling, exuberant scale may appear to be as over the top as any Vegas establishment, but is a perfect example of big things coming in big packages. This is a quality that restaurant maverick John J. Tunney III, owner of Ballo, emphasizes in his cuisine and brainchild. At a press lunch this afternoon, we got a chance to experience Ballo's menu and see the newly finished restaurant in the flesh.
Ballo has come a long way in two months, transforming from a nervously piecemeal jumble to a polished, stately restaurant. Long expanses of artificial greenery and red accents make a bold statement in the otherwise dark casino. Immense Gothic arches and wood-carved columns fill the 16,000 square foot expanse, serving as a persistent theme throughout the restaurant.
As we tour the restaurant, the boyish Mr. Tunney points out in a flustered, yet noticeably pleased manner, the pieces of the restaurant that were recently finished yet appear as though they took months to create. The name of the restaurant spelled out in carved metal on the floor. The slender decorative touches on the Corinthian columns. All small details that make a big splash in the atmosphere of Ballo.
The restaurant is segmented into bar areas and dinner areas, dance floors and private rooms, but not in a way that makes the eater feel separated from any one area of the restaurant. Rather, Tunney wishes to have these alcoves as ways for diners to experience the restaurant through many lenses under one roof.
High-profile customers can have their library lounges and butler doors if they so choose, complete with hired security, yet with the option to hang out at the bar or dance in the back as well. A middle coffeehouse-style area has comfortably zany zebra print chairs and candlelit tables for close contact and a comforting oasis from the bustle of the casino. No one room feels staid or added on at the last minute. Each area presents its own set of unique possibilities for customizing your dining experience.
While we did socialize at the centerpiece of the restaurant, Ballo's enormous marble bar, 12 in the afternoon seemed a little too early to dance on the tables. We started off our tasting by noshing on some frighteningly addictive figs, roasted to gooey perfection, smeared with goat cheese, and bundled in prosciutto.
We washed these down with a selection of drinks, including Ballo's signature cocktail, the Ballo Limonata, a delicately spritzed mixture of limonata, Spirit Vodka, and a frozen blood orange sphere. Refreshing and quenching with a neat twist on ice cubes and less dilution.
Later, we retreated to the rear, to a back room that makes a fine case for coming back, with integrated speakers and Renaissance curtained DJ area. A little dark in the afternoon, but not cavernous. This area was where we ate our meal, a special tasting menu presented by executive chef Matthew Adler and chef de cuisine Shaun Golan.
I started off dinner with a quartino of the house red, a tangy Cabernet Sauvignon. Ballo serves wine in 8 oz. quartinos, a pleasant and generous portion compared to the standard 5 oz. restaurant pour and priced like a typical glass. This is poured in 2 oz. portions from an individual pitcher that prevents the likely dribbling that comes with great, galumphing glasses of wine. With this, I was able to replenish as I pleased (though our server was so attentive there was no need to) and pace myself throughout the lunch. I enjoyed the cab. For a house wine, it was neither overly complex nor hiding poor quality under the house name. It is worth noting that Ballo boasts a wine list of over 60 wines, 16 of them offered by the quartino, and all of them Italian.
For a lunch sandwiched between an unexpected 300 person cocktail party on behalf of the Mohegan tribe and the frantic anxiety of an opening night less than 24 hours away, Ballo presented a thoughtful and well-executed taste of its offerings, from cocktails to coffee, in a special seven course tasting menu. We started with the dish that had captivated us the last time around, the Ballo Caprese with a creamy mound of burrata, roasted cherry tomatoes, and housemade pesto. For an antipasti, this was a huge portion. The burrata was creamy and silky, with a porous texture that sopped up the pesto around it. The pesto was finely mixed and added a needed boost of salinity to the cheese, along with the tomatoes. Like last time, these were roasted, which added an additional dimension to the dish, but were roasted much better than the last time around and had less of a bite. An exceptionally good start.
Bread was passed around along with the burrata, freshly baked Italian loaves hot from the oven. This was ripped off in healthy chunks, and served with a mixture of herbed garlic olive oil and butter. A traditional start to the meal and like the burrata, an excellent sponge for the leftover pesto. We followed this with another antipasti dish, crispy artichokes with arugula and lemon. These were lightly crispy on the outside and yielding on the inside, and small enough to pop in your mouth. If all my vegetables were prepared in this fashion, I'd likely be more inclined to go vegetarian. The artichokes were not breaded, and I suspect that as a result of this, did not sop up excess oil. Light and tender, the mild flavor of the artichokes was perked up by the addition of tart lemon juice and pickled scallions. More scallions and a hair more salt would have been preferred.
Following this was a dish of pork meatballs with broccoli rabe, ricotta salata, and marinara sauce. Our server said there was pancetta floating around in this somewhere, but any additional ingredient would have died an anonymous death, smothered in the rich marinara and savory cheese. Pancetta or not, these were delightfully nostalgic for all at the table, at least, those of us with marinara running through our veins. The meatballs erred toward the large side with an airy, moist texture and a rush of oregano and garlic. The sauce was equally bold with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a smooth texture. Three of these sat in a miniature skillet. Believe me when I tell you that it took all of my restraint to not inhale each one.
The lunch took a slightly different turn after our trio of appetizers, and we were brought out a communal sweet sausage pizza to share amongst us. With a mozzarella and pecorino blend pooling in crannies left between strings of caramelized onion and chunks of pepperocini, this was a hearty yet controlled pie. With so many unctuous ingredients, one would expect something richer, sopping with oil and overspiced, but this seemed almost delicate. A meat lover's special for the lady in Louboutins. It was sweet and fragrant, with a hearty crust and a light scattering of sausage.
It is worth noting that taking on a pizza project in Connecticut is as risky as taking on lobster in Maine or maple syrup in Vermont. While nothing could replace some of my beloved New Haven eateries, this was a worthy contender and offered up some creative deviation to the by-the-book apizza standard 50 miles west.
Our next dish was a small plate of fresh ravioli, the shell of which is housemade daily on premise, filled with mascarpone, ricotta, and parmesan, and covered in more tasty pesto. A tangy and comforting dish. However, the pasta shell was a little thick for its sweet, milky contents.
From that, we moved on to another pasta dish, a lusty tagliatelle doused in bechamel with chunks of proscuitto, and broiled with an end consistency of a savory toasted marshmallow. This achieved a nice bite to a normally saucy dish and added an additionally smoky note that the prosciutto certainly couldn't have done on its own amongst all the cheese. The flavor was rich and the sauce a bit grainy, but flavorful. We found that the pasta held the sauce well and was cooked just a bit less than most mushy al dente offerings, with a firm structure.There was a brief rest in between the tagliatelle and this steak course, and a well-needed one to digest and chat amongst ourselves. When this came out, a hush descended over the self-proclaimed carnivores of the group as we tucked into a filet mignon with heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, arugula pesto, and a balsamic reduction. This was a steakhouse standard prepared with Italian accents. A great cut of steak, elevated even higher with a thick crust and a buttery, smooth cut, cooked medium rare and very moist. The steak knife was almost superfluous, and the steak was seasoned minimally, as all steaks should be. The fresh tomatoes were sweet, but somewhat excessive. The pesto was the only low point of this dish. This was now the third dish in our menu with pesto, and this manifested itself in a peppery, earthy version that dominated most of the flavors in the steak and vegetables if applied too liberally.
Our savory courses settled in our stomachs, we moved on to coffee and dessert, of which there was thankfully only one course. Illy coffee was served along with miniature cannoli with a double garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and dark chocolate chips, baked by resident chef-of-all-trades, Mr. Adler himself.
The cannoli, yet another Wooster Street facsimile treading dangerously close to its granddaddy, was a slimmer cigarillo-type pastry, lacking the bready, oily crust and choking globs of cheese that make its larger version so delectable. Still a sumptuous offering, with a spiced mascarpone filling and a crispy, wonton-like shell. A quiet, classic way to end the whole affair, as blended and solid as the artful quotes filling the walls, Thoreau interpretations by Tunney's brother.
As our lunch wound down, Tunney lingered, not wanting the party to end and the music to die down. He chatted with us, cards were exchanged, and his smile fell a bit as we left. Tunney expounds upon his ideas as we walk out. "Everyone has a story," Tunney tells us as we wait outside, not wanting to leave the splendor. "And we want to hear it." Hear them he will. The man with the golden restaurant touch opens Ballo tomorrow to the public, ready to whirl Mohegan Sun visitors around the dance floor and delight the senses. Be there, or be square. This is one dance you won't want to miss.