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Friday, March 25, 2011

Thai Spice

1210 S. Gilbert St.
Iowa City

I went to this place for my 30th birthday and it's been a couple of years since I've been back. I now realize I made a mistake. The food is great, the service is great, and the prices are reasonable.
I got #7, under the "stir fry" section of the menu, but I didn't try to remember the title of it. It came w/ rice noodles, broccoli, fresh basil, onions and you can choose chicken, pork, or (probably) beef. I asked if I could get tofu, and they said yes. That was an excellent request, the tofu was fabulous! And the spiciness was just right. I had a small amount of leftovers, which were just as good reheated.
Hubby got something under the "curry" section of the menu that came in a clay pot. Translation: it's going to come scalding hot and not be cool enough to eat until your partner is almost done with her meal. Translation: you will probably eat half of your partner's meal while you wait for yours to cool causing her to only have a small amount of leftovers. His meal came with rice, lots of veggies and chicken, plus 3 shrimp. I think it was those 3 shrimp that made it more expensive. $12.75 for him, $9.75 for me. His was good, but we both agreed mine was much better.
We also got a-cho for an appetizer. No, it didn't make me sneeze. It was an egg roll stuffed with veggies, and it was scalding hot. If we get it again, we will tear each in half and let the steam evaporate from them before beginning to eat them. Which is not an easy thing to do when you are sitting there starving.
Hubby got tea which we were not charged for, bonus!
The women's bathroom is nice & neat, no complaints. The restaurant has a great atmosphere, and a room where you can sit on pillows (you have to reserve it). The tables are like the ones at Masala, colorful table cloths with glass on top.
Environmentally: cloth napkins, reusable plates, but styrofoam to go containers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

El Banditos

327 East Market Street
Iowa City's Northside District

Last night we finally gave this new Mexican restaurant a try. Being big fans of La Reyna, it was hard to go elsewhere for Mexican food. I heard the nachos are good at El Banditos, but when you get free chips & salsa, it's hard to order nachos. The chips were not very good. One was so chewy I had to spit it out. The salsa was also not nearly as good as La Reyna's homemade salsa.
I ordered the "Green Gigantic" which was definitely green, but hardly gigantic. Filled with veggies in a spinach tortilla, it was pretty tasty, and cost $9. Hubby got the "Street Burrito" which comes with meat for $8, without meat for $7 and with a cream sauce for an extra $2. He got the chicken with the cream sauce, and I'm here to tell you, splurging on that extra $2 is worth it. That sauce is tasty! His burrito was much bigger than my "gigantic" and it was very good. We requested some hot sauce, and the waiter brought out a very good homemade habenero sauce that was a little sweet and reminded me of Scotch Bonnet sauce.
They have some decent beers on tap, John's White, Fat Tire, XX, all for $4.
The bathrooms are interesting. After walking down a long, desolate hallway, you'll find the women's bathroom with so much room they have a chair (in case you bring a guest with you?) However, the toilet wobbles when you sit on it. The men's bathroom apparently starts off level, then the floor angles down, so that the toilet is tilted. Maybe you should avoid these restrooms if you've been drinking a lot.
Environmentally: paper napkins, reusable plates. Not enough food for leftovers, so I don't know what they use.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cake #13: ATF Gingerbread

I was more excited about this one than the last one, because:
1. It calls for crystallized ginger, and Molly got me started with crystallized ginger, which I love.
2. It calls for cream cheese frosting w/ ginger, which sounded interesting!
Similar to cake #12, this one should be re-named molasses cake, it calls for 1 cup of molasses. It also calls for 1 cup of dark beer, so be careful measuring if you have homebrewed munich dunkel which happens to be over-carbonated.

In the book, Melissa mentions that crystallized ginger can be quite spendy. I found some at Hy-Vee in the produce aisle next to the bagged nuts for a pretty good price. And, liking ginger, I measured the 1/2 cup of chopped ginger pretty liberally.
She also says to add the egg, molasses & beer all at once. That just seemed like too much work, so I added them separately, letting the molasses slowly pour in while the kitchen aid was spinning away.
The cake baked for 50 minutes and after letting it cool in the pan for 15, it came out of my well-buttered cake pan pretty well. It helps to let it cool for 15 minutes first, because I put a plate on top, flip it over, then flip it onto the cooling rack. Doing this involves touching it with my bare hands, and getting burned fingers could potentially cause a not-so-perfect looking cake.
This was a pretty easy cake to make, I'm getting the idea that most gingerbread cakes are pretty easy. And tasty!
Next, I made the gingery cream cheese frosting, which the author pulled from a community cookbook by the Gideon Sunday School Class of Providence Baptist Church in Gloucester, Virginia. Gotta love the variety of resources! It's pretty simple: cream cheese (I used neufchatel because I always do), butter, vanilla, powdered sugar & ground ginger. Which means this "ginger" bread cake has a teeny little bit of ginger powder in the frosting and some crystallized ginger chunks in the cake. When licking the knife after spreading the frosting, one doesn't really taste too much ginger. I think you could use more if you're a ginger fan.
I would rename this cake: Molasses Beer Cake with Ginger Chunks. I think that would go faster at a potluck. Plus, ATF stands for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms- something to do w/ beer and ginger. But there's no tobacco in the cake, so a re-name is necessary.
Next time I will try 1/2 white flour and 1/2 wheat flour. I do 1/2 & 1/2 with the flours in most things I make. But with the cake book, I'm trying to follow the exact recipe before I experiment. And on this recipe, Melissa notes that she made a double batch using white & wheat flour, and Ari Shapiro called it "rustic in a good way". I would listen to Ari Shapiro if I were you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cottage Bakery

Corner of E. Benton & Gilbert St., Iowa City
March 14, 2011

This is the place that moved from Linn St. just east of downtown to Gilbert St. a couple of years ago. On Linn St., there were plenty of seats, and it was in a much larger space. So, when I walked there for lunch (never having been there before) I expected to be able to sit and eat there. There are 2 benches next to a coffee table, but it felt odd eating there. Plus, there was no bathroom or place to wash my hands before I ate.
The menu consists of sandwiches for $6, wraps for $6.50, paninis and soup (I'm not sure how much those are). I chose the Mexi-wrap in a spinach tortilla, which included black bean hummus, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, green peppers, black olives, lettuce, sour cream and salsa. It tasted pretty good, with an impressive spiciness! It came in a bag and I asked if I could eat it there. They then offered me a plate. I opened the wrap, which was wrapped in wax paper, then cut in half, so I had to pull some pieces of wax paper out of the food. It was also wrapped a little on the loose side, so it ended up being kind of sloppy. I would have liked to wash my hands again when I was done eating, but I made do w/ some napkins. When I ordered, I asked if I could have some water. The refrigerated items were pointed out to me which included cans of pop and bottled water. Having just seen the documentary Tapped, I didn't want to buy a bottle of water, so I asked if they had anything else. She said they have tap water, so I said fine. Then I saw the price go up. I asked if there was a charge for tap water, and I was told yes, $.50. I cannot remember the last time someone charged me for tap water! Not even filtered! Negative points there.
Environmentally: Not good. The water came in a disposable cup with a plastic lid, the wrap came in wax paper in a paper bag, they sell bottled water and tap water seems to be a special order. Paper napkins, disposable coffee cups (but- they are paper and not styrofoam, which is a plus).
All in all, the food was good and I might go there again, if I want something to go and I'm bringing my own reusable bottle of water.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cake #12: Ginger Bread Cake

On March 7, I made the next cake in the All Cakes Considered cookbook. I didn't know what to expect with a ginger bread cake, since I haven't had much ginger bread in my life. But, the recipe was fairly easy and it ended up being mostly molasses. It should probably be called Molasses Cake with Ginger. I was going to a potluck, so I made 2 cakes- doubling the recipe and pouring the batter into 2 round cake pans, which worked fine. But I have learned that when you go to potlucks, desserts are among the most popular foods to bring, so your healthy looking plain brown cake is competing with things like brownies and pie and stuff with chocolate frosting and nuts! Not much got eaten, and having a whole cake at home, we took some to work. My co-workers only had positive things to say about the cake, and really, it is pretty good!

When doubled, the recipe calls for a cup of boiling water (I'm not sure why). It might not sound like much, but when you add it to the kitchen aid with all the other ingredients in there, you'll want to start the machine of really slowly to avoid a big mess!

Each cake calls for a stick of butter, and I think substituting applesauce would change the texture. The cake is best eaten about 1/2 hour out of the oven, the middle is warm and the "crust" is cripsy. It would be great with whip cream or ice cream. After it's room temp, you kind of lose the crispy crust, but it is still good, I don't know if a frosting would help it or not.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Located above One Twenty Six, 126 E. Washington St.
Downtown Iowa City

On March 5th, my partner and I went out to celebrate 13 years together. We had eaten at One Twenty Six before, but not the upstairs location, which is relatively new. It was only 6:00, and there was one table filled other than us, yet they still gave us the table right next to the filled one, despite empty tables next to the windows and across the 2 sides of the upstairs area. Why do restaurants do this? They pack you in like sardines even when they aren't busy... is it so that the wait staff doesn't have to walk any more than necessary? Maybe, but we had a different waiter than the table next to us! I shouldn't complain, because the one other couple that came in while we were eating were seated right at the entrance, next to the stairs, the host, and the traffic. If they would have offered me that table, even if the restaurant wasn't close to empty, I would have refused, but that's me.

One thing you might notice if you go is the half price wine menu. It sounds great, but then you look at the menu and it's all twice the price you would normally pay, or at least there isn't anything under $50/bottle on the "half price wine list". The wines on that list, by the way, are always 1/2 off. What a deal! So, if you aren't falling for the wine deal, you might want to try the drink called The Aviator. It tastes like licking wet ones, those sanitized wipes. We aren't sure how they did it. Oh, the drink does have a gin aftertaste.
We started off with some appetizers, the first was Pommes Fritas or french fries. We assume they were homemade (or restaurant-made) fries, with 3 dipping sauces: aioli, ketchup (pretty good ketchup) and something else. The aioli was the best. The second appetizer was kalamata and green olives in some oil and herbs, pretty good. And then we had the margarita pizza, which was good on a very thin crust. The bill came to about $40. The food was worth it. The drinks were not.

And let me mention the bathroom, of which I was only able to review the women's. First, I have a question: who is it that thinks all women's bathrooms have to be painted that color that is somewhere between pepto bismal pink and beige?! This bathroom was small and clean, but there is a pretty funky trim halfway up the wall that has an interesting way of getting around the light switches. At first, I thought it was a haphazard way of cutting corners, but then I realized that it really is something to look at and ponder while sitting on the toilet, and really, that is what all good art is about.

Environmentally: cloth napkins, hooray.