Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mazunte:



This past Saturday, David and I were in tense negotiations about where to go for lunch. Taste of Cincinnati was in full swing, but we weren't planning to brave the crowds until the following day.


After about 20 minutes of discussion without agreement, David threw up his hands. “I’m going to go take a shower and get ready to go...somewhere. Come up with three options to choose from when I get back and we’ll go from there.”


I glanced at him with irritation. “Did you seriously just RFP me for lunch plans?”

For those who have never encountered the acronym before, “RFP” stands for “Request for Proposal”, and is pretty much despised across the board (especially by ad and PR Agencies).

In fact, the only person that would really be happy about an RFP is the party that is doing the requesting. Which is probably why David looked so smug as he headed down the stairs.

In the end, I came up with several picks, including Mazunte. After perusing the menu and remembering a recommendation from a friend, we decided to check it out. Self serve margaritas? Mazunte, your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Mazunte is on Madison road in the shopping center to the right of the Rainbow Carwash. The setup may be confusing at first, but it’s fairly easy to figure out. Carryout or eat-in, you order at the front counter, take a seat, and wait.

The inside of Mazunte. Photo by Jesse Fox of Citybeat
If you desire a margarita, you tell them, they give you a cup, you head to the bar area and get yourself one. If you want a second one (they’re very good, so you probably will), you tell them and they ring you in another. The bar area also has an assortment of beer bottles in ice (a nice local and Mexican menagerie), as well as self-serve sangrias and horchata.

We tried a variety of dishes, including some of their vegetarian options, and the staff was very thorough in explaining how many dishes could even be made vegan.  There’s a prep kitchen in the back, but the majority of dishes are assembled and plated in front of you behind the bar.

I had some cheese dip that blew the others I’d had elsewhere out of the water -- creamy and spicy. David ordered the chile relleno, as well as the grilled corn, which was the perfect combination of sweet corn, salty cheese, and a little smoky char.


chile relleno


I didn’t want to leave without trying the taco sampler, consisting of your choice of beer battered fish, pork and steak tacos. The sangria marinated skirt steak taco was phenomenal, and David raved about it days later. I also tried the tacos dorados, which were filled with braised chicken. Mazunte uses blue corn for them, which I also liked.

party on a plate



pork taco
housemade chips

At that point we were both full, but there are plenty of other dishes on the menu that we’re looking forward to going back for, like the tamales, tostada, churros, and if David has anything to say about it, more skirt steak tacos.


Mazunte Taqueria Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kaze:

If you hadn’t noticed, last year we got into a bit of a blogging rut. With the winter we’ve had, you can hardly blame us for hibernating.


That said, the situation was getting pretty sad. We were still going out a lot, visiting some of our favorite, regular spots, but we were neglecting to try any of the new restaurants, and subsequently, write about them.



“We’ll try them later.” We reasoned. “We’ll save that one for a special occasion.” We promised. “It’s too cold to walk up there right now.” The excuses kept coming.

No, we didn't. Honest... we ran out of gas. we... we had a flat tire. We didn't have enough money for cab fare. David's tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole our car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts!


It got to a point where it was almost embarrassing. We’re supposed to be foodies, dammit. And yet we hadn’t been to places like Kaze, which had been open for over a year. A few weeks ago, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided to do something about it. The walk up was cold. It was rainy.

And holy-hell was it worth it.




David’s a big sushi fan, whereas I’m still holding out on that front. Luckily there are plenty of things that appealed to both of us on Kaze’s menu. We’ve been back twice now, and from what we’ve had, Kaze’s more than secured a regular spot in our rotation.

The pork buns are a thing of beauty. Glazed pork belly, spicy frisee lettuce, crunchy fuji apples and a zingy mustard vinaigrette are amazing together, surrounded by a fluffy steamed bun that has a bit of sweetness to it. I liked them so much I ordered them twice. During the same dinner.

these buns are the bomb

The kobe sliders with cheese pickles and crispy onions were also very tasty, with a strong beefy flavor. Plus, I’m a sucker for “mini” foods of all kinds. I did wish the patties had a little seasoning in them, though. We ended up using some of the soy sauce on the table for our burgers.


Kobe slider with aforementioned second order of pork buns

Other than the pork buns, the skewers are a showstopper. I practically squealed with delight when I saw they were cooked over flames, the way I’d seen them made on shows about traditional Japanese cuisine. We’ve tried the beef, and chicken and the mushroom, and they are all exceptional. The beef and chicken are probably some of the best we’ve had anywhere, and are incredibly tender.

chicken
Mushroom Skewer

And of course we have to try the ramen. Made with bok choy, pork belly, and containing a poached egg, the soup was perfect for a chilly day. I especially enjoyed it because we’ve been watching David Chang’s “Mind of a Chef”, which induces what you can only call “ramen envy”.

It’s a known fact that in every episode of "Mind of a Chef" David Chang will mention ramen at least twice and eat it at least once.

David tried a variety of sushi, including a special that day. We sat at the sushi bar, which is fun to do if you want to watch the staff work. Plus, they’re happy to answer any questions about the menu, what they’re working on, or the restaurant.

One of David's pet peeves at sushi places is what we've been calling the "wasabi test". Traditionally, a small bit of wasabi is supposed to be placed under the sashimi. Sadly, many places neglect to do that. When we noticed the staff carefully placing a smidge underneath each piece, I knew we'd arrived at a place that does sushi exceptionally well. 


Special of the day
Uni
King Salmon, goldeneye, and uni (sea urchin)


In an attempt to balance out the amount of pork belly we’d consumed, we also ordered the Kaze salad, with avocado, cucumber, radish, shishito, and shiso vinaigrette. The addition of a fried lotus root gave the salad a fun exotic touch.



We have yet to try the happy hour, which is in the bar in the back, but are going to remedy that soon, as sushi is half price and cocktails are $5. Rumor has it that they are working on a tiki themed drink menu for spring, as well, which I can’t wait to try.

Beer selection at Kaze is also pretty stellar. Not only do they have the usual Sapporo, their  draft list includes local brews and rotates often.

The Riki Tea-ki
We’re not huge dessert people, but with how great the rest of our meal was, we were curious. We ordered this chocolate ganache dessert with puffed rice, hazelnuts, malt and raspberries. Despite being full of pork belly and sushi, we polished it off too.


Throughout the entire meal, we were kicking ourselves for not getting to Kaze sooner. If you never try new things, you may be missing something awesome. Following that line of reason, we decided to give Uber, which had just arrived in Cincinnati, a spin for a ride home.

We'll definitely be using Uber again, we had a great and easy ride home. They are running a promotion right now where your first few rides are free, too!


Kaze on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Slice of Life:

Recently I’ve had an abundance of time at home, as the result of a shake-up at my agency and a subsequent layoff. Interviewing has kept me busy and I'm eager to get back to work, but I’m taking full advantage of my impromptu vacation until I find out what's next for me. That means you’ll probably find me in the kitchen.


On this particular morning I woke up wanting to make cheesesteaks and some sort of duck fat potato dish. I almost abandoned my plans for the potato dish when I realized what I would need to do.

I do just so happen to have a gallon of duck fat in the fridge, that's convenient
We meet again, nemesis

I would need to use the mandoline. When we moved, I considered getting rid of the thing. To understand why I felt the inclination, I’m going to have to tell you about what we refer to as The Great Mandoline Incident of 2013.

Last year in July, David and I planned to make pork belly banh mi for dinner. We’d been out for a bit at City Cellars and had played a few rounds of Mario Kart. David beats me every damn time, and he claimed I needed to learn the “art of the drift”. We decided we simply had to watch the quality Fast and Furious franchise film Tokyo Drift when we returned home.

Once we were back, David set about renting the movie while I used the mandoline to slice some cucumbers for sandwiches. Because I had gotten cocky, I decided to use neither the steel cut-resistant glove we have, or the mandoline’s plastic guard. I turned to ask David a question, and that’s when it happened.

Fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this: Not using the guard on your mandoline.

I slammed my fingers into the mandoline’s blade while slicing the cucumber. I immediately knew on a deep level I had done some major damage. I must have involuntarily made some sort of uh-oh sound, because David called suspiciously from the other room. “Did you just cut yourself?”

“Nooooo.” I said unconvincingly. Maybe it’s not that bad.

David, grumbling under his breath, went to get the bandages and neosporin while I ran my hand under cold water. “Um...I don’t think those are going to work this time. I did a really good job.” I said meekly.

“What? Christ. Let me see!” Once David took a look at my fingers, he got really quiet, which was particularly alarming. The shock had worn off and my fingers were starting to really hurt. Yep, it’s that bad.

“I’m trying to figure out if we need to take you to the hospital. I think you need stitches.”

So off we went after wrapping my hand in a paper towel and shoving it in a bag of ice. I did indeed need stitches in my pinky, but there was no helping my ring finger. I had lopped the top right off.

Four hours later, I was out of the hospital and we were on our way home. We never did get to make the banh mi. We went to McDonalds for dinner, and I clumsily tried to eat a Big Mac one-handed.

It took a good two months before I didn’t have to wear any bandages, my ring finger is still shaped funny, and I’ve avoided the mandoline ever since. I’ve even been skittish about using the Global chef and paring knives. But you can’t run scared forever, and the onions and potatoes I wanted to prep would be much easier if I used the tool. Still I debated with myself.

David’s not home. Who would drive you to the hospital?
Do you really, really want the potatoes? You could just make mashed potatoes, you know.
Just putting this out there: You don’t have health insurance right now.

Putting on the cut-resistant glove and grabbing the guard (I wasn’t making that mistake again), I approached the mandoline like you would some sort of poisonous viper. Half an hour later I had some nicely sliced vegetables--and some unsliced, intact fingers.


Sometimes you just have to get back out there, whether it’s using the kitchen equipment that maimed you previously, looking for a new job after getting let go, or getting rejected for a position you really want. 

It’s uncomfortable and scary to try again when you’re feeling bruised and broken, but once it’s over, you can look back and be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come...even if in this case it was simply a bowl of sliced potatoes.

small victories are still victories


So how were the cheesesteaks? Amazing in the ways that cheesesteaks usually are, especially when you use the traditional Cheez Whiz. We decided to be efficient and use the large cast iron pizza pan as a flat top grill with the power plus burner, and we made duck fat and butter Pommes Anna derived from this recipe, which we will surely be experimenting with again.





Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up. And then enjoy a cheesesteak sandwich.