Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bitchin Bloggers Dinner at Chowder House

It was a cold and blustery night in January.  But bloggers will not be deterred!   Well yes they will.  Actually this dinner was scheduled for December but blizzard conditions caused a postponement until January.  And so, we gathered.  Seven of us from seven different blogs hosted by Chef Louis Prpich of the Chowder House Cafe, located at 2028 Chestnut Blvd.  Joining me on this culinary adventure were Tom Noe of Exploring Food My Way, Nancy Heller of Fun Playing with Food, Joel Kirk of Eating Around Town, Rob Lucas of Interesting Akron, and Scott Groth of The Chubby Cook.  Katrina Marshall of Bite Buff had to cancel and couldn't make it.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.  I hadn't been to the Chowder House before, but had heard great things about it.  It's very close to where I live, but yet I had just never gotten around to going.  So I was pretty excited when I got the invitation to try out Chef Prpich's offerings for his fall/winter menu. And try we did.... 9 courses worth!  I have to be honest, I'm not a seafood eater and I was a pretty concerned that we would be getting a lot of seafood.  And my fears were realized when I sat down and saw the menu.  But I decided to just suck it up, taste everything and what I like, I like.  I'd be completely honest because well, it's the only way I know how to be.

So without further ado... the food!  The first course was our choice of soup.... Clam Chowder (of course, duh... it is the Chowder House after all), Lobster Bisque or French Onion.  Chef Prpich built his whole menu around his chowder when he opened his doors back in October of 2009.   The chowder is made with lots of clams and no potatoes.  It would have made sense to have that as my starter, or to take the easy no seafood way out and and go French Onion, but throwing caution to the wind, I opted for the Lobster Bisque. 

Served with a lovely piece of crusty bread, this soup was so delicious, so creamy, so smooth and had beautiful large chunks of lobster throughout.  Did I just say beautiful lobster?  I did!  This soup was so amazing, I wanted to dive inside it and bathe in it.  We had eight more courses to go but I could have been happy with just this one.  I would have sung the praises of Chowder House like I'm going to for the rest of this blog if I had only eaten this.   Lobster Bisque... yum!   Who knew?  Lots of people I'm guessing.

Next up was the Crudo.  This is a raw fish dish which scared me even more than the soup.  Raw fish?  Seriously?   And raw walleye at that?  Is he crazy!   Well this is Ohio after all, so why not?

The dish was Ahi Tuna, Scallops and Walleye sliced paper thin, seasoned with salt and pepper and then sprinkled with olive oil and Meyer lemon juice.  It was served with wilted arugula with garlic and olive oil.   And again, my panic was unfounded.  It was beautiful and delicate.  The seasoning was perfect.  The whole plate was stunning.

Something strange is happening to me here.  I'm eating seafood and I'm liking it!   Somebody do something!  And do something Chef Prprich did, he brought out a Portobello Steudel. 

Ahh mushrooms.  This is more my speed.  The mushrooms were poached in Cabernet and garlic and then wrapped in phyllo dough with imported provolone, baked to a crispy delicious golden brown and served with a house made demi-glace and little spring mix salad.  Can you even stand it?  And we have six more courses to go!   The cheese had just the right amount of sharpness, the demi-glace added a nice saucy component to the dish and those portobello's melted in my mouth.  

Course 4 is by far my scariest course.  Oysters!   Oh. My. God.  What am I going to do with that?  Oysters are one of those things that never looked appealing to me, ever.  I'll try a lot of things, but oysters?  No thanks.   And then this was put in front of me...

Baked Oysters.  These Chincoteaque Oysters were topped with spinach, bacon, manchego cheese and a sherry cream and then baked to a bubbly golden brown.  Just try it I told myself trying to look cool as a cucumber and not about to excuse myself from the table and hope when I came back they would be gone.  And so I did, just try it I mean.  And the heavens parted, the angels sang and harps began to play!   It was a revelation.  And suddenly I was thinking, "where did my oysters go" because I had finished them already.  I looked around the table, ready with the "are you going to finish those?" but everyone had.  Darnit, I wanted more oysters!  Who is this chick?

As I sadly watched my empty oyster shells being taken from the table, with a lone little tear in my eye as I said good bye to them, Course 5 arrived, Crab Cakes.

Sauteed to a lovely golden brown so they were crisp on the outside and nice and tender soft on the inside. Wonderful!  I've had crab cakes before so this course didn't frighten me at all.  I dove in like a champ.   But let's talk about the corn that was served with it.  Roasted corn with Adam's Reserve white cheddar and topped with jalapeno vinaigrette.  Not too spicy and a gorgeous accompaniment.  For me the crab cake was a little outshined by the supporting cast.  It wasn't the only time that it happened that night either.  

On to Course 6 and we have Wild Shark.  

Served with bok choy, scallions and red peppers with a ponzu fish sauce.  A little sweet from the red peppers and a little spicy from the rub and altogether wonderful.  The veggies were tender and lovely.   But I'm really starting to hit the wall and still have three more courses to go!

And right on cue comes course number seven... Cassoulet.  Oy a robust casserole for course 7.  But look at it, how can I resist?

Chicken, house made sausage, cannelloni beans, rich and beautiful with a panko crisp topping.  I wanted to keep eating, I really did.  But my stomach was telling me that this madness had to stop!  And our lovely servers ended up boxing it up for all of us.  We were all starting to go into a food coma.  And yet, two more courses awaited!

Course 8 was Monkfish wrapped in Prosciutto.

Prosciutto!  Now you're speaking my language.  But having to be completely honest, I wasn't crazy about the monkfish.  I'm not sure if it was because I was getting so full, or because I kind of had a textural issue with this particular fish.  Either way, the stewed tomatoes on the plate did outshine the fish.  The tomatoes were to die for!  Made from a family recipe, these tomatoes are stewed with garlic and butter.  They are absolutely sigh worthy, so delicate and sweet. They melted in my mouth.  Chowder House offers an appetizer of just those tomatoes.  I see that in my future!

And it's finally Course 9!  Vanilla Creme Brulee.  

A light Creme Brulee with vanilla and served with cocoa whipped cream and a cayenne and chocolate tuille.  The Brulee had the perfect crack.  Isn't that half the fun of having Creme Brulee, cracking that caramelized sugar on top?  Funny thing happened, I was able to eat every bit of my Brulee, cream and the tuille too.  The cayenne seemed to get lost a bit because I didn't feel any heat.  Which is not a complaint, just an observation.   

Chowder House will be visited again, without a doubt.  They are open Monday thru Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner only.  On Sunday, they serve brunch from 10 am - 2 pm.  No credit cards, just cash and checks are accepted.  If you go, make a reservation by calling (330) 794-7102.  The place is small but quirky and fun with a lot of art on the walls.  It's absolutely, without a doubt, well worth your time to go pay them a visit.  

Thanks to Chef Prprich and to my fellow bloggers.  What a night!

Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Standards at Dontino's

I was talking to my friend Tom one day and told him I was craving Dontino's and would he like to go with me sometime.  Turns out, he'd never been.  How could this be?   It's classic Akron.  So we made a plan and off we went.

Dontino's is located at 555 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave. in Akron.  It's been in operation since 1930, just like the sign says.

You're not going to a sophisticated meal when you go to Dontino's.  You're going for some hearty classic Italian food.  And that's exactly what I got, starting with the salad.

I always loved that beet that they put on top the salad.  It's a nice little extra in an otherwise standard salad.  And being as the Italian dressing is the only one made in house, I went for that.  Could have used some cheese, and once we sprinkled on some of the Parmesan from the table on it, it definitely improved.

Next up for me was Chicken Parmesan with a side of pasta.  Homemade pasta is a little extra but I was willing to shell it out.  

Tom took this picture, and you can clearly see the difference between my little Nikon Coolpix and his fancy schmancy camera.  It almost looks 3D!  I think I need an upgrade.  Anyway, good sauce, good pasta, good chicken.  And quite a hearty portion.   I actually took half of my chicken cutlet home.  I do love homemade pasta.  I should really start making it more.  But fine, you know why I don't?  Because I have this damn bump on my counter.  The whole counter, all the way around it,  has the bump.  I don't know what the purpose of it is, all I know is I hate that damn bump.  The bump hinders everything from chopping to yes, making pasta.  Because I cannot attach the pasta maker to the counter because of the freakin bump!

You asked.

Thinking about dessert, we found that none of the desserts were made in house.  That was a little disappointing but we opted to split a piece of chocolate peanut butter pie anyway (another Tom picture).

It was good, kind of rich and a bit dense but quite frankly you can get this pie anywhere.  We might as well have been at Applebee's given the creativity here.  Give me a homemade Tiramisu any day!

So dinner was good, classic, nothing special but still tasty.  I certainly will go back to Dontino's.  The prices are good, the place is nice and doggone it, they put a beet on the salad!

Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

B-Spot, Again?

Yes again.  Seriously, if you've been there you'd want to talk about how good it is too!  So let's just start at the beginning.  I had plans on that day to go to The Lockview in Akron with my friend Lynn, a pretty darn good place in it's own right.  But I also happen to have been sick for most of the week and when I called my doctor that day to get a prescription sent in, she wanted to see me in person.  So I called Lynn up with a proposal.... come with me to see my doctor in Beachwood and then we can go to Penzy's, Trader Joe's and B-Spot for lunch (Whole Foods if we have time).  The reply I got was "Sold!" 

Sitting and waiting in the doctors office was pure torture. I just couldn't wait to get to B-Spot and sink my teeth into one of Michael Symon's deliciously juicy burgers!  But we prevailed and as soon as we got out of there we headed straight for B-Spot!  For a Thursday afternoon around 3:45 pm, it was pretty crowded but we were able to get right in.  And the first thing I saw upon walking in the door was a blackboard with the daily special on it.  I took a photo of it, but unfortunately the photo doesn't want to come out of my phone.  So I will just tell you, it said, "The Muffaletta Burger:  Ham, Salami, Provolone Cheese, Mayo, Muffaletta."

Now it was my turn to say, "Sold!"  There was no way on earth I wasn't getting this.  I don't care that I have bronchitis and was just given a 10 day course of antibiotics.  I don't care that my cough is so bad that I have to drink some vile grapey cough medicine.  All I know is when I see the world Muffaletta, I'm in!  So that is what I ordered.  Lynn decided to give the Pulled Pork a try.  And really, can you go wrong with pulled pork?  I don't think so!  The menu described it as pulled pork with avocado, cheddar, Carolina style BBQ, grilled onion.  Lynn ordered it minus the avocado.  We also ordered the chips, which the menu describes as chips with Parmesan fondue and rosemary.  And this is what we got:

This is seriously a big mound of homemade chips, plenty for 2 or more, way too much for one.  The dip is warm and cheesy and with a nice hint of rosemary.  I could have made those chips my meal.  They were so good!

And then came my burger.  Oh yes, my Muffaletta burger!   I've had Muffaletta burgers before, at the Hamburger Festival and they've been pretty good.  But this, this is from a whole new stratosphere of burgers.  Feast your eyes on this thing of beauty....

Can you stand it!?  Nothing I can say can really describe how insanely good this is.  Everything was perfection.  The custom blended beef that B-Spot uses is just amazing.  The flavor, the seasoning, how it's cooked, it's all perfection.  And then to have it topped with ham, salami, provolone and olive salad?  Fuggedaboutit!   It's the single best burger experience ever.  And I don't say that lightly.  

But the pulled pork was certainly not to be overlooked here!   

It was piled super high and was tender, moist and delicious.  The onions added a nice sweetness and the array of sauces on the table were fun to try out.  I ended up taking half my burger home and Lynn bought a bratwurst to take home.  No matter how full you are when you leave B-Spot, you just want to keep eating, it's so good!  

Buon Cibo mia Amici.