Friday, January 27, 2012

Zu Know It's Good: Mamma Zu, a Review

From the moment we walked into Mamma Zu's, I knew it was going to be good. I just got that tingly feeling - you know the one. The one that tells you you're in a local Richmond favorite. The one that starts your mouth watering just from reading the menu (which, by the way, is written on a chalkboard and is as little detailed as possible). Yeah, if you're a foodie, you know the feeling. Especially is you're at Mamma's.

When my friends Vicky, Dan, and Dana suggested going here for dinner a couple nights ago, I eagerly took them up on their offer. I've been hearing about this place for ages and never remembered to go when given the chance to pick a place I hadn't tried. Maybe it was the fact that the last couple of highly acclaimed restaurants I've been to here haven't been up to par. I was due for a goodie...

The restaurant is small and nondescript - an orange exterior next to some residential houses. You walk through a screen door with the ADT Security sticker on it and on the other side the smells of an Italian home await you. We went at 7:30 and the place was PACKED...which isn't hard considering how small it is. I bet they've been asked to build an addition a hundred times, but I'm glad they haven't. Like a lot of Richmond favs, it's small size gives it character. We waited a loooong time to be seated, but to be honest, I didn't mind. It was wonderful catching up with friends (because, let's face it, one shouldn't only see their friends in class - right Vicky?).

While we waited they brought out some white pizza for us to try. It was GOOD. I mean, really good - good olive oil, lots of garlic, and Asiago cheese. We ordered a bottle of wine and toasted while waiting for a seat. In the meantime we read and re-read and re-re-read the menu because it was impossible to figure out what to get. When reading failed us, we started looking at the tables because, let's face it, they were right in front of us. Steaming bowls of zuppa de pesce and broccolini tempted our tastebuds. Orechiette pasta with meatballs, lasagne, and a number other dishes pranced out of the kitchen. It was magical. So much so, in fact, that Dana had to grab me off the bench when our table was ready.

Here's a breakdown of what we ordered:

To start, the broccolini with lemon, LOADS of garlic, and pinenuts. This was not your average veggie, my friends. Side note: the bread is served with olive oil AND balsamic for dipping. They got it right - that's how we ate in Italy.

The entrees should be shared, so that's what we did. Dan ordered the squid ink noodles with shrimp and crab marinara. My favorite dish of the night. Spicy, flavorful, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. Another side note: not one pasta dish was overcooked. I was highly impressed.

Dana ordered the calamari with a wine sauce. This was an awesome, awesome entree. I mean, look at all that calamari. Not fried, but cooked in the white wine sauce. They do use wine in their cooking for sure, and it really elevates the flavors of their dishes. This had lemony undertones and the parsley made it bold and flavorful. And the broth... man that stuff should be sold by the bucket.

Vicky was excited to try her first ever osso bucco. To be honest, it was my first too and it didn't disappoint. The meat was soooo tender and flavorful - and there was a lot of it. It was served with a side of plain penne with marinara. If I were them, I'd nix that or do something else with the pasta... it didn't hold a candle to this beauty. As far as flavor goes, you could taste wine and a little tomato-y acid. The giant carrot slices made for a nice accompaniment as well. I got the sweetbreads, per a fellow blogger's suggestions. I've never had them before and I admit I had to Google "sweetbreads" to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. I'll let you do that on your own...

They actually were really good. But I felt super guilty eating them because they were fried and I'm pretty sure not the healthiest thing on our table. Who cares, though? I tried the best sweetbreads in town. I liked them (and so did everyone else). And, to top it off, I was able to boil some pasta and turn them into dinner the next day. After breading the sweetbreads, they serve them in a mushroom wine sauce. It was good, guys. Really good. If you want to be adventurous, try these and surprise yourself by your reaction of "yummy!"

I gotta love Dan and Vicky because, unbeknowest to me, they ordered dessert: cannoli and tiramisu.

The tiramisu was soaking in espresso and alcohol. Oh my gosh if I'd eaten he whole piece, I'd have been a goner. It was good, but a little too strong for me. You could barely taste the cream and that was the best part (especially since here they don't use whipped cream, they make pastry cream).

The cannoli (or "cannolo" to be correct) was to die for. It tasted EXACTLY like the cannoli I got in Italy from the shop around the corner from the train station. I lived for that cannoli and now I live for this one. At $4 for one, this must be where they make their money...but it's worth it. The cream was fabulous and there were no stupid chocolate chip morsels on the side adding to a sickly sweet interior. The shell was fresh and I loved the addition of cinnamon to the cream. Okay, now I've done it... I've got craving. Mamma Zu's if you're reading this...PLEASE share the recipe!

The evening was one of the best I've had in Richmond. I think I've learned through visiting these restaurants that a bustling, lively ambiance can be better than a pristine, sterile one. So many people think you can only get truly good food from the latter, but that is not the case here in Richmond. A place with character is going to make you the happier diner - it brings out the best in you, your friends, and it honors the reputation of local RVA.

Thank you Mamma Zu's for recreating the true essence of Italian food and of Italy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Another Day: Roasted Chicken with Yogurt Sauce

On the menu tonight for dinner:

Roasted Chicken with Rosemary

Get yourself an Amish chicken (breasts on the bone are what I used)
Cover a tray with aluminum foil and lay the chicken on it
Spread olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and crushed rosemary
Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes

*This is a new thing for me: normally I bake them for about 45-60 minutes at 350. This time I increased the temperature and really liked the results: the top roasted perfectly and the inside stayed moist and succulent. Once the juices run clear (just stick a knife through and see what color the juice is), you know it's done. Turn off the oven, cover the chicken with a foil tent, and leave it in there to stay warm until you're ready to eat.

Yogurt Sauce with Cucumber and Garlic

This is basically raita, the Indian yogurt sauce everyone loves. All you do is chop a cucumber, add 1 1/2 cups of Chobani Greek Yogurt, and 3 cloves of garlic. Mix it together and season with salt, pepper, and loads of garlic powder. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two so the flavors have a chance to cool down a bit.

You can serve this with pasta or rice or quinoa - I actually used pasta and it was surprisingly yummy with the yogurt sauce as the binder. A few healthy meal and a filling on at that.

And check out this tasty breakfast idea:

Take about 1/2 cup of Greek Yogurt and drizzle it with honey. Then cut up a half a banana and arrange it nicely around the yogurt. Not only is this full of healthy start-your-day ingredients, it is soooo pretty! And... ignore the little stub of banana peel at the bottom of the photo - I made this really early in the morning :p

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Julep's: A Review

A while back, Groupon was on a roll with some amazing deals, so I bought a $20 for $40 at Julep's New Southern Cuisine. That was back in's now January and only 2 weeks from the expiration date. So I invited my very good friend, Jeremy - who is not only great company, but a true Southerner - to try it with me. I knew he would give me some honest critiques and definitely great conversation and laughs.

After searching for took a while but we finally found a spot, we made our way to the restaurant. It was so dark, I didn't think it was open. Now might be a good time to recap how difficult it was to get a reservation. Apparently, weekends are high time for this establishment. I called 3 times before finally getting a hold of someone to make a reservation. Why? They only pick up between 5:30 and 9:30. Okay.... I guess I understand that considering they are a smaller locale. After speaking to the person who called me back, I was saddened to hear they were completely booked for Saturday. I can understand that, too, because I tried to make it for the same day. Sunday they are closed, so Monday was the day. I waited anxiously for it to arrive. And now, back to the review.

The vibe of Julep's is at first warm and inviting. It definitely gives the feel of an upscale location in downtown Richmond. On second look around, it is a bit pretentious, but that's probably because both waiters walked by us without stopping to help or offering a smile. The seating hostess, once she arrived, was very sweet and showed us to a lovely table on the ground floor. There is an upper level, but I didn't get to see that - there seemed to be a lot of hustle and bustle up there, though!

We were seated and given menus. After about 5 minutes, our waiter came by. I still don't know his name...he never introduced himself. We waited about 15 minutes before he returned to take our orders. Jeremy chose the duck with bacon, cranberries, and butternut squash. I ordered the shrimp and grits (with White Cheddar) in an Andouille sausage sauce. We waited almost 45 minutes before our entrees came out, but considering how small the kitchen was and how full they were for a Monday night, I don't think they could have served us any faster. While waiting, our waiter didn't tell us how things were coming along and didn't check on us, so that was a little bit of a bummer. When the food arrived, it was beautiful. I mean, it looked amazing and I was so excited to dig in.

The shrimp was perfectly cooked and it was the right entree portion size. I was wowed at first but the more I ate, the more monotonous the flavor palate became and all I could taste was salt. It needed an acid to balance out the other stuff going on. But it was tasty - not sure it was worth $26 though...

Jeremy's duck was wonderful cooked - medium rare just as he had specified. The butternut squash was absolutely superb - especially paired with tart cranberries (not dried, fresh) and the bacon (great texture addition). His cost $28, I believe, which was also a little steep.

With the meal we were served some tasty cornbread muffins which weren't dry at all. I am a sucker for anything with corn baked into it, so I enjoyed them very much. It was a little odd how the server served us the bread then took away the basket. I understand it gives an air of luxury, but I took it to be a At a restaurant as pricey as this AND which touts southern hospitality it just seemed a little off.

Dessert time! Jeremy and I had both pre-viewed the dessert menu and decided on the cinnamon roll sticky bun bread pudding with bourbon creme anglaise. The description was more flowery than that and we were both drooling.

Up until then we were both quite pleased with our meal and were hoping for the perfect sweet treat to cap it off. When our pudding was placed in front of us, I have to say my heart sank. Sticky it was not. Moist it was not. wasn't that either... My first bite was ice cold but after playing around I found a couple hot spots. It was definitely not a succulent pudding and I was very disappointed. Jeremy correctly pointed out it had too much egg and not enough sauce. There was no caramel or anything to give the feel of "sticky" but there was a white foam - it tasted like mocha- something which made for an odd combination. I think there was supposed to be white chocolate in it, too, but I didn't taste any. Maybe a few curls on top would have helped. It would have been a lovely brunch casserole, but as a decadent dessert, I'm sorry, I have nothing good to say.

At the end of the meal, the final tab for two entrees and two desserts was about $80. After subtracting my $40 Groupon, we each paid $20. I would say that was reasonable but the original $40/person was over-priced. Once last thing, y'all...I got pretty nauseous 3 hours after eating. Jeremy didn't so it either a) wasn't something in the food, or b) it was something in my entree that he didn't have in his.

Now, I am entirely prepared to receive comments from local Richmonders protesting my lack of enthusiasm over this restaurant. I waited a whole day before writing this post so I could sleep on it in case my first impressions changed. But at the end of the day, I just had to go with my gut.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Survival Guide for the BusyBody

A few days ago I checked the RVA weather report and couldn't believe my eyes: we'd be having Michigan cold down here in Virginia. Now, I own a down parka, so I was not worried at all about freezing my tuchus off, but my fellow classmates, they have something to learn about layering.

I'm used to cold weather: to pushing myself to walk 20 minutes to the gym after a 3 foot snow fall, to trucking it on a brisk winter walk in the park, to functioning as though it's not freeze-your-face off cold. But down here, everything seems to stop. People just want to stay in their warm homes and think their bodies will be just fine.

Not so, my dears. Especially in the colder seasons, it's important to stick to your workout routines. The more time you spend outside (or in a heated gym), the less time you spend on the couch or at a desk with a bag of chips in your lap. So here are a few tips to keep on hand in case you find yourself freezing over along with the weather.

1) Stay hydrated - it makes a world of difference: you have more energy, less headaches, and your skin looks nice and fresh, too.

2) Wear sunblock - you might not believe this, but the sun rays can be especially powerful in the winter, especially if you live in an area with a lot of snow (white = reflection).

3) Remember to moisturize. Think about all the heat in your house - it's sucking the life right out of your skin.

4) Get your rest. Your body is especially susceptible to illness if you're stressed, malnourished, or haven't slept enough. So do yourself a favor and get some beauty sleep.

5) DO make it to the gym as often as possible. If you find it harder to get out, change your routine a little - maybe sign up for more classes to force yourself to get there every week.

6) Try home exercises. I personally hate, hate, hate workout videos. They are torturous for me, but they work for other people. If you like them, use them. If you don't, try your own floor exercises. Make it a habit to do X amount of crunches a day or reps with a set of weights. Turning these little "extras," as I call them, into a must-do will show positive results in areas you hadn't focused in before or covered with your regular routine.

7) Speaking of home, read up on the immune-booster foods which are in season: dark leafy greens and basically any super deep colored fruit/vegetable is going to be good for you. Sometimes adding food you don't normally eat to your diet can seem like a treat in itself.

8) Do weekly snack preps where you bag everything for the week ahead of time (I like a mix of pecans, walnuts, and dried cranberries). This way you can grab and go and know that what's in the bag is good for you.

9) Go out for some fresh air. Especially in Richmond, it's easy to find a park or a nice area to walk around and lose yourself in the day. Just like you open the window to let out the stale air in your room, your body needs a little ventilation.

10) Get in the spirit of winter! It's all about having the right frame of mind. Some people just hate the cold and I get that, but when I was in Michigan, there wasn't time for sulking: winter is about 5 months long! So brew warm mulled cider, visit an All Year Christmas store, turn on the fireplace ... do anything that will make you feel warm and comforted. You can't do that stuff in the summer, so take the time to enjoy it now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mexican in Richmond: Margaritas Cantina

So I am only going to write this once because it's really hard for me to re-live: I have officially lost my camera. I am basically devastated but am trying to remember things are just things and so I shouldn't get hung up on this. So, while I save up the money to get a new one, please excuse the iPhone photos if they turn out a little grainy. Anyone have a good recommendation for a camera with good close-up imaging? I had a Cannon and really liked it but I found this feature wasn't the best, but maybe it was my model.

Now, on to the exciting news - I got to try this little spot last weekend when one of my girlfriends invited me out for a little dinner to catch up after break and basically enjoy the fact that we didn't have class till 1pm the next afternoon (a very rare thing, indeed).

She was craving Mexican and after she told me so, I also began to crave it. So we got all prettied up and seated ourselves at a cute table by the window. Margarita were a happy hour special so we couldn't pass them up. I got the traditional lime flavor with a salted rim and it was super yummy. Gotta say, I love me a margarita.

I ordered their chimichonga - which I've never had before and was hesitant about ordering because I can't handle things that are deep fried. Why order one, then? Truth is, I was missing Weston a lot and I know he would have loved this. When it came out, I was pleasantly surprised: I think it had been baked! The outside was super crunchy and tasted like those homemade tortilla chips from Whole Foods. Soooo good! The inside was FULL of pork and refried beans and just a touch of cheese. For $12, it really was a great deal since I got two of them and could barely finish one. They served these with sour cream, but when I got home I used Greek yogurt. There's a great substitution I never feel bad about. I also liked how they put a little jalapeno in their rice - it had my mouth and eyes watering, but it was just so gooooood, I couldn't stop eating it. FYI for reheating anything crispy when it's served in the restaurant: preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake it for about 15 minutes - then increase the temp to 400 degrees to crisp it all up.

Reba ordered the chicken fajitas and in terms of fajitas, these were probably the best I've ever had. First off, they served them with corn tortillas which were super yummy. Second, the spices on the chicken were FANTASTIC - a little spicy and a little sweet. They had a nice char or the chicken as well - and Reba got a nice little side plate with refried beans and rice and cheese, I think.

The service here should be mentioned as well: our waitress was very attentive and sweet. She really took pride in the food she served and she clearly loved speaking to the customers.

Although the bill was a little more than I expected (probably because of my massive margarita, which on its own was a great deal), I'd be down for another visit. Hooray! Another place to add to my list of "Local RVA" eateries!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicago Recounted

Well, friends, bad news: I can't find my camera so I don't have pictures of the yummy things we ate in Chicago, but I can tell you a little about our trip:

We did make it to Ghirardelli...twice (both times for "lunch"). The sundaes have gone up in price but they were divine. We had a wonderful time enjoying the holiday atmosphere - despite the crying children next to us - it wouldn't have been so bad had their parents not been laughing at them while they cried.

Wow Bao was tasty as usual - we got Baos to tide us over until dinner and then shared a Thai Chicken Rice Bowl on the way home. I never get enough of this place with I'm in Chicago and then I silently scold myself for not stocking up while I have the chance.

Mercat a la Planxa was not the best...again. Last year we went and the food was innovative, bold, and delicious - but the service and atmosphere left something to be desired. This time the atmosphere was wonderful, but the menu options small (which I won't overlook since they are a tapas restaurant) and the food much more expensive. Small plates were $3-5 MORE than last year. Sorry, Mercat, we tried you twice, but we won't try you again.

The Grand Lux Cafe was probably our favorite place of all - they never disappoint in service or food. We spent the New Year there and they gave us all hats and whistles to wear while we counted down the moments until 2012. I consider myself quite lucky to have been able to spend that moment with my very special man.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave - after some last minute shopping which I look forward to every year! I got the most gorgeous dress and can't wait to show it off...I'm sure an occasion will present itself!

p.s. - No, we did not make it to the fireworks - our tired legs just couldn't handle any more walking after our visit to the Natural History Museum and the world's quickest tour of Zoolights in Lincoln Park.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Scroungin' Around

Finals time around here meant no blogging for me, but I did take a few pictures of some good ideas on what to do when you know you won't have time to cook. I know, I know...where are the Chicago updates - there a-comin' - just have to get settled in first :)

Idea 1: Make soup, a lasagna, or a casserole a weekend or two before and freeze it in individual servings. Set them in the fridge a couple days before you want to eat them so they thaw and then reheat day-of.

Idea 2: Kroger sushi is filling, yummy, and definitely a treat when you don't have time to visit a restaurant but want the feeling of having treated yourself. This is the Shaggy Dog - I personally have never gotten one because of the $10 price tag, but I've tried a little and thought it was really tasty.

Idea 3: Divide the labor. Thanks for Sharon's grandma, we had some frozen pork chops so all we had to do was thaw them, fry them, make rice, and cut up some yummy seaweed. Combine with Bulldog Sauce (this is my own name for it, since it's Korean and I can't remember it at the time). Her grandma also makes dumplings which she just has to drop into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Thank you, Sharon's grandma!