Archive for the 'Restaurant Reviews' Category

Bundy’s Up In Smokehouse, New Alexandria, PA

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

If you have occasion to drive Route 22 East from or West towards Pittsburgh, do yourself a favor and stop at Bundy’s Up In Smokehouse when you pass by. If you’re going West, you’ll have to make a U-turn around a Jersey Barrier to get there, but it’s worth the extra effort to do so (so long as you’re careful not to get plowed into by oncoming traffic, then even the great selection of house-smoked meats available here probably wouldn’t be worth the damage, hassle, and inconvenience—so be careful making that U-turn!)

Bundy’s processes their meat in-house, mostly from animals raised in Indiana, PA—so it’s local product. Their kitchen area is easily viewed as you enter the shop. On the day I visited, they were in the process of cleaning up for the day, and everything was immaculate—exactly the conditions you want to see when someone is grinding meat for you. It was obvious to me that they take pride in the cleanliness of their operation, especially since there was no door on the room and it is on display for every customer to see when they enter the store.


East End Chocolate Stout Cupcakes from Dozen

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I discovered a new flavor of Dozen Cupcakes today. I’m not sure how I missed out on it previously, but, damn! is it tasty: a chocolate cupcake featuring Pittsburgh’s own East End Brewing’s Black Strap Stout is covered with chocolate ganache and then a dollop of Bailey’s butter cream frosting. Why hadn’t I visited on a Saturday before? And why wouldn’t my wife let me eat two while we were there?

Actually, the second question has an answer… it’s because I’d already purchased a red velvet cupcake to go for my at-home enjoyment.

For pictures of Dozen’s cupcakes and their full weekly schedule, check out their website at

Movie Review: Ratatouille

Monday, July 9th, 2007

I went to see Ratatouille this weekend with somewhat modest expectations for the film–after all, it’s a culinary movie about an animated rat, written and animated for young children and, by association, their parents.

Hollywood can’t even get the kitchen right when they’re dealing with live actors. Instead, they telegraph that someone is supposed to be a chef by having them prepare grilled jarlsberg sandwiches that look like they spent too long in the pan at far too high a temperature (The Devil Wears Prada), put them in bright, white, absolutely stain-free jackets in a slow-paced environment and show little or no actual food preparation (Spanglish), or exxxagerate all of the gross-out stories anyone has ever told about the culinary workplace (Waiting). How much better could they do with a cartoon rodent?

My expectations were lowered as I sat through preview after preview for movies that are bound to be absolute garbage (Daddy Day Camp; a live-action version of Underdog; and Jerry Seinfeld as a bee in Bee Movie). I leaned over and said to my wife, “What do you say we sneak out of this theater and hop over to Transformers before the movie starts?”

I’m glad she shushed me and told me to wait. Ratatouille wound up being not only an entertaining film, but also the most faithful representation of the rigors of the kitchen environment that I can remember. the story, to recap for anyone who has somehow missed out on Disney’s publicity blitz, involves a garbage boy named Linguini who teams up with a rat named Remy who happens to be a culinary genius. Remy hides under Linguini’s chef’s toque and steers him to culinary acclaim by using locks of Linguini’s hair like horse reins. Far-fetched to say the least, but there’s a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief that accompanies an animated feature. Nonetheless, there were many details that made the film come across true to the kitchen.


Thai ‘Tapas’ at Silk Elephant

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

I haven’t quite been able to accept tapas as a language-neutral word meaning ’small plates.’ In my mind, it’s still in Spanish, referring to Spanish food, but my visits to Silk Elephant have me much closer to accepting tapas as a general term than I had been.

It’s not that I think smaller portions ought to be limited to Iberian cuisine; it’s more that I want there to be an English word or a Thai word or an {ethnicity of restaurant} word that meets the same need without having to use the Spanish word to describe southeast Asian cuisine. But there’s not, apart from the awkward ’small plates,’ a two-word construct that doesn’t flow from the tongue.

When the food is well-prepared, though, the etymology falls by the wayside as you enjoy a smattering of what the restaurant has to offer. It’s an opportunity to construct your own tasting menu. And whatever your tastes are, you’ll find three or four options that pique your curiosity.

At Silk Elephant in Pittsburgh, I had expected a pureed asparagus soup, because that’s what I’m accustomed to; my fear with any other construction is that overcooked asparagus is slimy. Silk Elephant gets around this issue, though, by either throwing the asparagus in (apparently) to order. I can’t remember precisely because I had the soup during my first visit almost a month ago—but for many of Silk Elephant’s soups, the vegetables are just thrown in raw. That was the case with the mushrooms, onions, and peppers that appear in their Tom Yum and Tom Kah. I was a bit disconcerted by this raw vegetable concept at first, because I’m a big proponent of building a flavor base in soups by sauteeing the vegetables to start: caramelizing the onions, the garlic, the mushrooms; deglazing with sherry and reducing; adding the stock to let simmer and envelop what’s been infused in the oil. If I want to add garnishes, I’ll usually sautee them briefly and add to order. A culinary school maxim, really, that as a cooked dish, soup ought not to contain raw ingredients. But with Silk Elephant’s soups, though, I think it works. They slice the vegetables thinly so they’re not tough to chew; the broth is full-bodied. It’s not what I would have done, but it works, which means that to start the meal, I’m already enjoying myself because I’m not thinking I could have done it better.

If there’s a flaw with Silk Elephant’s salads it’s that the lettuce is very American: romaine for the most part; and there may have been some iceberg in the mix. No bitter greens. The foci of the two salads I tasted, though, were not the lettuce. Mango was the star attraction of one, crispy duck the other. The crispy duck was also offered as ‘faux duck,’ I should have, but did not ask what the faux duck consists of. Both had tasty, sesame-oil-based dressings (and sesame is one of my favorite salad oils).

Silk Elephant’s tapas are available with chicken, beef, pork, seafood, or vegetarian components. The menu is long and builds upon themes: several menu options are available with your choice of filling. It’s a fairly easy and very considerate way to make diners with most any dietary inclination be easily able to find something to order.

All of our tapas were attractively presented and well prepared.The pork chop, though thin, was still moist and had a faint trace of pink to it. The scallops, though thin, were seared in a smoking hot pan for the appropriately brief instant. The rice wrapper rolls had a pleasing variety of fine-julienned vegetables to accompany the crab mousse. Aurora and I highly enjoyed every option we ordered. The small portions made it easy for us to share everything as a couple (you’d need to order more than one of each dish to share everything among a larger party), and we left pleasantly sated as opposed to overly stuffed.

The atmosphere was pleasant, with curious wood carvings adorning the walls. The ceiling in the main dining room area is an illusion of woven ropes that eliminates the cavernous feel that may have existed had they not painted the true ceiling matte black.

All in all, my visits to Silk Elephant were the most pleasing dining experiences I have had in quite some time. It’s obvious that the restaurant hired a top notch staff. Don’t tell anybody about this restaurant because I want to still be able to easily get a seat next time I go back.

Rating: 4 oranges.

I did not taste the Thai iced tea, and so I can’t testify to its exact flavor, but the three folks at my table who ordered it found it to be sickeningly sweet. When the situation was pointed out to the manager at the end of the meal, he discovered our waitress had mistakenly used the syrupy tea that’s supposed to be featured in a dessert sundae.

Bethlehem Brew Works, Bethlehem, PA

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

If you’re ever in the far reaches of Eastern Pennsylvania, it’s worth stopping in to visit the town of Bethlehem. It’s a beautiful little place, with a very attractive downtown area in which there is a charming brew pub, Bethlehem Brew Works.

BBW produces eight types of beer at a time, and has a great feature whereby you can get a sampling of six of them. On my two trips to BBW, I tried each of their beers except for the apricot coriander which, while intriguing in name, still contains fruit, and I’m biased against fruity beers. The others, though, were all quite good.

The BBW menu features probably the best description of the brewing process I have yet seen, complete with excellent diagrams of the path that the various beer components take from start to finish. At this point, I’m wishing I’d nicked a menu because the diagram doesn’t show up on the BBW website, not even in the pdf of their menu.

I only ate one meal at BBW, and it paled in comparison to their beer. I got a steak, medium rare, or at least that’s what I asked for. The grill cook obviously had the heat on his equipment turned up way too high. The outside of the steak was seared with attractive grill marks, but there was a sharp line between the portion of the meat that was affected by heat and the portion of the meat that wasn’t it was still quite rare in the middle.

The steamed vegetables that accompanied it were apparently all cooked together, broccoli, carrots, and snow peas. The broccoli and snow peas were both fine, but the carrots were still garden-crunchy.

The mashed potatoes were the highlight of my plate. Excellent consistency, well seasoned, and very tasty; it’s a shame the rest of the food wasn’t up to their caliber.

Beer: 3 1/2 oranges
food: 2 oranges

Reducing Menu Waste

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

You mention the menus and that they should have been updated and copies made; i can’t help but find that wasteful, although clearly the system in place at UUBU6 is inefficient in other ways. aside from a walk-up counter-style menu posted on the wall or a chalkboard with the daily specials listed, have you come across any alternative ways to present an ever-changing menu without printing a new set daily? i mean, i guess they don’t have to print 80 menus for a dining room that seats 80, so maybe it’s not as bad as i think, although any amount less waste is good to me. not to mention, i remember you used to set people straight for using paper towels unecessarily- these days, i rarely use a full paper towel for anything, and i think of you whenever i rip one into thirds. not that i ever ripped you into thirds.


You know, I was considering similar questions as I was getting dressed this morning, before I’d even seen your comment. The best answer I could come up with for an UUBU6-specific answer was along the lines of, ‘any restaurant serving toothfish obviously isn’t too concerned about using fewer resources,’ but that’s not really a valid answer.

Posting a chalkboard/ whiteboard works in certain settings (like Frankie & Johnnie’s in New Orleans), but doesn’t quite fit expectations at an upscale establishment. Having the waiter deliver the entire menu via oral recitation makes no sense, either—there’s no way everyone at a table can catch everything and you wind up with several repetitions of, ‘wait, what else was in that thing with the shrimp?’

I think perhaps the solution most approaching practicality is to recognize that even a restaurant that changes their menu on a regular basis, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, has a somewhat stable rotation of dishes that make regular appearances. Therefore, restaurants could print the dishes and descriptions on index cards that would slide into clips on the menu holder. Each dish could be swapped out individually and the cards could be saved for future use the next time that dish makes an appearance. Updating the menu might take slightly more manpower than it currently does; but when the waitstaff meets for lineup, they could form an assembly line, with each individual responsible for replacing a single card at a time.

As far as infrastructure concerns go (the cost of producing holders for these index cards), photo albums are already mass produced and available cheaply. They would be perfectly suited to this proposition.

UUBU6 Not Ready To Expand

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

As part of the celebration for my wife’s PhD graduation, our extended family had a very enjoyable dinner at UUBU6. We all enjoyed ourselves and the food was, for the most part, quite good. The service was excellent; I was particularly impressed by the manager’s wine pouring ability–he finished each pour with a precise snap of his wrist guaranteed to eliminate any potential of a drip.

On Monday, I read in the newspaper that the restaurant is facing some resistance to its expansion plans. Residents protest that there already isn’t enough parking, and that they must keep their windows closed to keep out fumes from the kitchen’s exhaust system. Those are both good reasons for neighbors to be wary about expansion plans. From a culinary viewpoint, I fear that they are not yet comfortable with the size they are now, and would be moving too quickly to add more seats.


Dinner Results

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I’m glad to say that Sunday dinner went swimmingly. The ham was both beautiful and delicious; the deviled eggs were easy (even if using a spoon does work, I still say that a pastry bag is easier) and delicious—I included capers in the yolk mix, and thought they were a nice touch. The marinated roasted portabello mushrooms were slightly overdone, but not offensively so. The maple tiramisu was divine, if I do say so myself. Really, the only problem was the mashed potatoes, and even then, it was only a problem of presentation.

I had planned on mashing a pot each of irish and sweet potatoes, putting each type in a small pastry bag, both bags in a larger bag, and piping out twisty-cone style mixed potatoes. Then, because there was a limit of how many pots and burners I have to work with, and because Julia Child recommends baking potatoes and then mashing them, I decided to give that a shot. But, really, you should only try one new thing at a time.


Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Ordinarily, I don’t have much interest in visiting New Orleans-themed restaurants outside of, well, New Orleans (and even when I’m there it’s not so much that I visit New Orleans-themed restaurants as I visit restaurants where they make the local dishes well). Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield, MA is a well-deserved exeption to that rule.

Sure, the names of the dishes sometimes seek to make connections between the city and the food that don’t necessarily exist (for instance, the Bourbon Street Cheese Bread: when was the last time you saw crowds of people walking up and down Bourbon Street eating cheese & corn-covered toast?), but the food that is served is so well-executed, it’s easy to forgive a couple of cheesy name choices. After all, you must consider the audience that he’s playing to lives in Western Massachusetts and has maybe visited the Big Easy for a boozy weekend or two sometime in the not-so-recent past. With that in mind, you must realize that Wayne could put out anything seasoned with cayenne pepper and call it New orleans food, so long as he had some beads on the walls of his joint. But he doesn’t.


Why You Should Always Pack Food for an Airport Journey

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Normally, I pack myself a lunch when I travel. The price gouging at airport restaurants is second only to amusement park restaurants, and I hate having such a large food tax added to my plane ticket. This weekend, I didn’t plan ahead quite as well as I normally do. My flight was leaving at 7:30 AM Saturday, and I just didn’t get up in time to make myself some food. What a mistake!

In case you missed it, there was a huge snowstorm across most of the Northeastern U.S. over the weekend. Pittsburgh was on the outskirts. Springfield, MA, where my parents live, was close to the center. That’s where I was trying to fly, to surprise my mother on the occasion of her 60th birthday party. I never made it.

US Airways had thousands of travelers stranded in the Philadelphia airport, and canceled many of its flights to and from Philly throughout the day. Unfortunately, they didn’t cancel my flight to there, but they did cancel pretty much all of the flights I could have taken out of there. Thus, I was stuck at the airport with neither food nor beverage (stupid no liquids rule!) in my carry-on bag. As a result, I got to taste some of the best and worst of what the Philly airport has to offer.