Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Bite: Lunch at the Hodge Podge Truck!

After I slept in a bit too much this morning, Jeff asked if I'd want to head out to the North Union Farmer's Market at Shaker to look around and grab something to eat. I noticed that Dim and Den Sum posted:

Curry duck frites tomorrow and oh so much more at shaker square farmers market 8am-12pm
Later on in the afternoon, I got a message from Jeff mentioning the very same frites. When I woke up this morning, I was more than happy to seek them out, and I was glad that I did. Once we ordered (Duck Frites and the Surf and Turf Tacos) I headed out to look for a beverage. The trucks aren't allowed to sell drinks (Can someone please explain why?) and Dewey's normal post, selling lemonade was nowhere to be found. I ended up walking to Dave's to get a soda.

As I walked behind the Hodge Podge truck, all I could smell was scallops. Seared, briny, ocean-y smelling scallops. Yum. I couldn't wait.

When I returned from Dave's, I found Jeff already sitting on the grass beneath a shady tree nearby. I could smell the curry on the fries from 10 feet away, and it was amazing. We put a little bit of Sriracha on the fries but didn't augment the tacos in any way. Starting with the fries - they were perfectly cooked, wonderfully crisp and salty with the aroma of curry. The curry flavor wasn't too strong, but I liked it. The curry was definitely there, but I noticed and adored the aroma as we ate them. These were some of the best fries I've ever had, and that's saying something... Considering my undying love for the fries at Bar Cento and Sasa Matsu!

The tacos were very messy - so I opted to eat mine with a fork. It was great watching Jeff eat the other one as I'm sure it was meant to be eaten! The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the meat was incredibly tender. I am also a lover of anything and everything that has to do with Kimchi - so that was an added bonus!

Can't wait to visit the Hodge Podge truck again soon, and you should definitely check them out!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Girl About Central America

Ardent spirits sent from heaven,
Whoa! You batter me and thrill me

Knock me to my knees and kill me
I don't care! It's you I'm drinking.

The above are translated lyrics from a song they sing in Costa Rica called "De la Caña se Hace El guaro" which loosely translates to "From the cane, they make the moonshine". The name "Guaro" came from Costa Rica, and was adopted by the rest of Central America and the South. Colombia calls it Aguardiente. Sometimes guaro is referred to as a "soft vodka" because it has a lower alcohol content than vodka. In Costa Rica, the government nationalized its manufacture in an effort to quell the clandestine production of liquor. The "Fabrica Nacional de Licores" (National Liquor Factory) was founded for this reason, and currently produces the only legal brand, Cacique Guaro. (via Wikipedia)

Jeff and I booked a 10-day tour of Costa Rica for our honeymoon. We ended up booking it through AAA, but the agency that ran the tour was Trafalgar. I will start this entry out by saying that I am NOT posting this with any endorsement/compensation coming from any of the companies I happen to mention.

There were far too many great things that we did/saw for me to chronicle here, but my main point of this particular entry is to share with all of you how absolutely awesome it was to take a tour like this. We jokingly wondered if we'd get stuck on a bus with 50 people too old or infirmed to want to do much more than while away the days in a rocking chair overlooking the ocean. What actually happened, is that we saw many aspects of Costa Rica, experienced local food, culture and activities, AND made about 50 new friends of all ages.

We went rafting with all sorts of people in Sarapiqui!

We slept close to an active volcano, in Arenal.

We ate rice and beans (gallo pinto) a LOT.

We got to play in the ocean.

If you're curious about the rest of our photos, check out my Flickr page as well as Jeff's.
We experienced Costa Rica the way I think everyone should - we saw the city, the countryside, the hot and humid rainforests, and the cool and misty mountains. Taking a tour like we did was ideal - we did not have to plan anything and were only responsible for a few meals on our own. Tamarindo (pictured above) was the only time we were on our own, with no guides at all, and we did just fine.

And we also drank guaro. Interestingly enough the label on the Cacique Guaro tells you to destroy the label immediately after drinking - presumably so someone doesn't fill up the bottle with the illegal kind of guaro and sell it under the guise of the legit stuff. It essentially is moonshine. Cheap in Costa Rica, you can order this stuff online for 7 times the price if you're missing it that much. It's like driving to KY for Everclear, but less interesting/intoxicating.

The food in Costa Rica was simple. Strangely enough, I had the best pineapple and ham pizza while I was there. I also had a nice roasted sweet potato and plantain soup that I am itching to re-create. Gallo pinto was everywhere of course, and I admittedly was a little tired of it by week's end. I would informally like to issue a challenge to any of the Cleveland food trucks to do their own take on gallo pinto - it'd be cool to see what some of them could do with this everyday Costa Rican dish... It turns out you can even buy gallo pinto at Wendy's in Costa Rica.

If you're curious, check out Trafalgar's site for 2012's itinerary - the main difference between this one and the one we did, was that ours had a two day extension in Tamarindo sans tour guides. And if you're seriously considering this tour (which I highly suggest you do) then please ask for Daniel as a tour guide - and try to plan your trip when he's working it. It was his humor and personality that helped make the trip so memorable.

And with that, things are returning to normal in our household. Cleveland is actually hotter and more humid than Costa Rica was, but we were getting a little homesick anyway. I start a new job (in a new career field, thank god) pretty soon - I've been bored out of my mind lately staying at home so much. We did get to see The Decemberists a couple of days ago, head over to my husband's blog to read about that!

Pura Vida!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pearl Diving in NE Ohio: A Trip to Barroco Grill in Lakewood

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the most influential composers in the Baroque period. He played an integral part in the use of counterpoint in music of the era, which means that he made two or more different melodies/themes/rhythms work together. I mention this because the Baroque period took its name from the Portuguese word "barroco" which means "misshapen pearl". We set out on Saturday to find out if Lakewood's new Barroco Grill is a precious pearl that will accompany many of Cleveland's other precious culinary gems!

Barroco Grill specializes in arepas. An arepa is a bread made of corn originating from the northeast of Venezuela. Arepas are a staple of Colombian street food, the pillowy pockets of bread often being stuffed with veggies, cheese and/or meat. Barroco stuffs theirs with steak, chicken, pork, chorizo or ham, with veggies such as mushrooms, onions and peppers and cheese. They also offer fries (both potato and those made of arepas) as well as hamburgers and sandwiches not made with an arepa for the bread.

My husband got a chorizo arepa ($6), stuffed with mozzarella cheese, onions and the compulsory chorizo. I loved the texture of the arepa, and the chorizo had a bit of spice to it. I got a Hawaiian sandwich ($8), with ham, pineapple, lettuce, tomato and mozzarella cheese. Our server did not know the type of bread with the sandwich, or even where it came from but it was amazing. The sandwich was nearly twice the size of the arepa - so it could easily be shared between two people. The sandwich was sweet tasting, and had both fresh pineapple and a pineapple sauce. I would have loved a little heat to this sandwich, and will ask for chorizo instead of ham if I have that particular sandwich again. Both sandwiches had good flavor, and make me excited to try some of the other ones they offer (They have a Cubano that sounded like it would be very good).

The arepa fries looked just like regular fries, to the point that I wondered at first if we'd been given the wrong item. They were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but didn't have much flavor to them by themselves. The five sauces Barroco offers came in handy, for this reason! The sauces were explained as being chimichurri, garlic, pineapple, ranchero, and spicy peanut. The pineapple, chimichurri and garlic were the stars, to me. The ranchero almost tasted like plain ketchup, and the spicy peanut had absolutely nothing to do with peanuts. We both tasted the "spicy peanut" and remarked that it simply tasted like buffalo (hot wing) sauce.

My wish would be to see a Colombian-style beverage on the menu (salpicón de frutas, perhaps?) someday, but their standard offerings of soda (non and diet) are just fine.

The restaurant was packed, which means that word is getting out! The small space really does feel like you've been whisked away to another place. There are 8-9 tables as well as three stools for counter service. There is local art all over the walls that is for sale, its styles seemed appropriate for the space.

Overall, I'd say that Barroco Grill is pretty good, amazing if you take into account that they opened fairly recently and may be going through some occasional mis-steps. I'll definitely be back - I want to try the cheesy corn, which Metromix says is amazing!

Have you been to Barroco yet? Tell me about your experience. If you haven't been there yet, you should definitely go. There's something for everyone!