Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Irish Lamb Stew

On Saturday, I almost convinced the husband to go to Ikea with me. Mind you, this Ikea opened for the first time last Wednesday. He knew the lines would be out the waazoo and wasn’t keen on going but I managed to drag him out of the house anyway. My secret weapon? The Village Grille. Village grille is an Indian- Pakistani restaurant that makes the best goat-biryani in town. There I go again, ga-ga over goat and lamb meat; I don’t know what's gotten into me, I have been on a huge meat eating kick these days. We’d eaten at Village before for dinner, and learned of their lunch buffet through friends. This was our opportunity to eat a big lunch and then work off our lunch, right, wander around Ikea.

Lunch was good, as expected. Some of the items on the buffet were tandooori chicken, goat paaya, chicken biryani, and goat curry. I didn’t care for the white, plain, rice or chole but everything else was good. The service was fantastic, even for a buffet. The server filled our waters and removed plates without missing a beat. Even though it’s far, Village Grille is worth the drive for goat biryani or almost any other meat dish.

After finishing lunch, we took a detour to a Halal Market nearby. Halal is similar to Jewish’s kosher foods. Muslims are expected to follow rules of the Islamic laws on halal foods. An unspoken Indian belief is if it’s halal, it’s fresh. I remember when we lived in India, my family preferred to go to the halal shops over the Indian ones because they practiced good faith and sold freshly cut meats. Sometimes they even slaughtered the meat in front of you… and that’s when I stopped going to butcher shops. The halal market had dried beans, lentils, grape leaves for dolmas, natural (!) mango and passion fruit juice and other Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian products. In addition to lamb meat, we bought goat meat, dried garbanzo beans and some other things.

As for wandering through Ikea, it didn’t happen. The husband was so fed up with long lines in the car that we drove past the big store to head home. He was practical; if we have to wait 15-20+ minutes in the car, imagine how bad it would be inside? I understood. I’ll give the modern retail store 6 months before the lines and hype dwindle down.

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I invited close friends for dinner, made classic Irish lamb stew using lamb from the halal shop, and drank enough beer to call it a good day.

Irish Lamb Stew, adapted from two Bon Appétit recipes

1 tbsp Butter
3 tbsp Vegetable oil
1/4 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black pepper
2 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder with bones, cubed

2 medium Onions, diced
2 Carrots, peeled and diced
3 medium Potatoes, peeled and diced
3 Garlic cloves, minced
2 cups Chicken Broth
1 bottle dark beer
1 tbsp Fresh thyme
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Melt butter and vegetable oil on medium high heat in large heavy-bottomed pan. Liberally season flour with salt and pepper. Dredge lamb in the flour and shake off the excess. Brown the meat on all sides in batches.

Medium dice onions, carrots and potatoes. Add onions, browned meat, garlic, chicken broth, dark beer, salt and pepper to the crockpot. Cook on low for 5 hours. I cooked mine for 9 because it was a working day. Carrots and potatoes take an hour to cook so it’s best to add them in the last hour of the cooking. Due to my faulty time management skills, I added carrots and potatoes 30 minutes before serving. Of course, they weren’t done so I pressured cooked them before serving. Add fresh thyme 30 minutes before serving.

Not only was this a fantastic recipe for St. Patrick’s Day, this is a fantastic crockpot recipe- perfect for this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge. Lis, over at La Mia Cucina is hosting this month’s event. The requirement: cook a dish in crockpot, pressure cooker or dutch oven and follow a recipe from a cookbook. I interpret cookbooks as books in print, magazines and online recipes. Thanks Bon Appétit for posting the recipes online, otherwise I’d be in trouble!

I am pooped from the meat eating binge. Due to the high meat consumption my body’s ready for a detox. Off I go to the Indian grocer for my vegetarian favorites - okra, bottle gourd and baby eggplants. mmmmm

Monday, March 17, 2008

Erase that, let’s go to Chalk for Restaurant Week

I’ve lived here long enough to embarrassingly admit I hadn’t tried any of Jean Robert’s restaurants until last week, two weeks ago. With the new opening of Lavomatic couple weeks ago, I’ve lost count, but I think he’s up to owning or partnering in at least 37 restaurants in the area. With restaurant week in full swing, the husband and I made reservations to Chalk.

Clearly, this review is long overdue.


At first glance, the restaurant looks fun. They’ve carried the chalk and board theme throughout. After locating the place, we drove around couple times to find a spot. The parking’s eh. It’s on the streets of Covington or behind the restaurant in a reserved lot. I am not sure who has the privilege of parking behind a restaurant but the husband eventually gave up and parked in a reserved spot.

Surprisingly, the restaurant is long and narrow. I liked how they utilized the space, seating bar patrons near the entrance on the left and smaller tables for two on the right. We sat in the back, main, dining room. In our dining room, I noticed a massive “thing” hanging down from the ceiling. It looked nice and was part of their fabulous décor, I just couldn’t figure out what it was. Thanks to Stephanie, I now know it is garlic. When a restaurant uses garlic as part of the décor, it’s apparent they are creative and funky at the same time.

After a quick glance at the Restaurant Week menu, we knew our picks for the night. For drinks, we ordered a Pomegranate Fizz and the Classic Martini. They arrived promptly and were delicious. The Pomegranate Fizz was so good I could have easily drunk couple if I didn’t have work the next day.

For first course, he ordered a Barbeque Chicken Salad and I got the potato salad. The server misheard and brought celery root and roasted corn soup instead, when we mentioned the error, she quickly apologized removed the soup from our table and brought the chicken salad. Presentations were marvelous. After the first bite, I was ecstatic I ordered the potato and beet salad. The potatoes weren’t overcooked or mushy, a big plus for potato salads. And the beets added an interesting dimension. The chicken salad with a slight sweet barbecue sauce was delightful; we both agreed, the sweet peas were an unnecessary addition to the salad.

For main course I ordered a Lamb Porterhouse and he got the Scallops. My lamb was succulent and tender. The first bite was of the fattiest piece, heavenly. It came with mashed potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and gravy made from the fatty lamb juices. This dish hit the spot for my craving of juicy piece of lamb and mashed potatoes. His scallops were perfect; well done and moist. I’ve attempted to cook scallops at home without success; this dish sets the bar on cooking scallops. We were both unsure about the Israeli couscous with the scallops. The couscous was flavorful but firm to the bite, maybe too firm. Since we’re both Israeli couscous virgins, we just don’t know. Is that how it’s supposed to taste?

For dessert we ordered the double chocolate cupcake and peach bread pudding. One word for both: divine. I never opt for bread puddings but I am glad I did at Chalk. For me this bread pudding ranked high in both presentation and taste. The cupcake was doused with chocolate, probably swam in it for hours before it was baked.

We appreciate how the restaurant maintains the playful vibe with the name, décor and menu. Unfortunately, we also noticed many men in their suit jackets and women in their grown-up dresses. Although there is nothing wrong with that, we are inclined to return to restaurants that are relaxed and don’t require anything more than jeans and tennis shoes. As a self proclaimed food critic and future food-related business owner, I believe there is a fine line between sophistication and stuffiness. Once a restaurant crosses that line, it’s hard to revert and attract regular restaurant-goers. I recognize Chalk is trying hard to balance on that fine line.

Our overall experience at Chalk was good. Although we (the husband, especially) were disappointed by their small portions, the food was fantastic as was the service. After many years in the business, Jean Robert has high expectations of his restaurants and staff; and both hit the mark at Chalk. I plan to go back for dinner with some girlfriends to try food off their regular menu, hope for larger portions and more importantly hope Chalk convinces me that everyone’s welcome.

By the way, we didn’t get ticketed or towed for parking in a reserved spot. (Park at your own risk.)