Saturday, February 27, 2010

my eardrums are happy, or why music is great

i love those moments in life that remind you why you are passionate about something.  they can make you smile for days.  one of those moments happened last night as julie and i were on one of our date nights.  we've decided to take 1 night a week and go on a date.   we usually don't do anything big, but it's time for us to spend time together as a couple.

so like i said, we were on 1 of our dates last night.  we went to black angus restaurant for dinner.  we then decided to walk off part of our dinner by heading to the mall.  we wandered into the lego store and eventually found ourselves in the apple store.  i found myself playing with an iphone while julie headed over to the ipod section.   in my normal a.d.d. fashion, i grew bored with the iphone after a bit & played on some of the macbooks.  i discovered a fun program called djay that allows you to be a turntablist using songs on your itunes.  awesome. 

i then wandered over to where julie was listening to an ipod, somewhat curious as to what was keeping her attention for so long, especially since she has her own ipod.  this is when that aforementioned moment happened.  she was listening to some songs via the bose quiet comfort headphones that apple attaches to their ipods.  holy crap the sound is amazing.  she 1st had me listen to billy joel's "we didn't start the fire" and then to a couple other songs.  we loved what these headphones did for the effects and texture of the songs.  i listened to starflyer 59's "concentrate" and immediately noticed drum effects that i didn't notice on my own ipod.  

all of this made us excited about listening to music, getting lost in it when that perfect song hits you and julie being able to really understand why all of that happens to me so often.  it was a great moment, and i thank apple for making it possible.

[as an aside, have any of you seen the new microsoft windows retail stores?  why is it that they look exactly like the apple retail stores?  microsoft should have tried being different instead of copying their competition.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Avalon TasteCasting Event

Our most recent TasteCasting event took place at Avalon Restaurant in Scottsdale on Feb. 10th.  this is a chef-driven restaurant that frequently changes its' menu according to the season.  we were there shortly before valentine's day, so we sampled some of the menu they were serving for that day.   the atmosphere here was trendy, but this one focused more on clean, simple lines with a circular motif with lots of brown and white. When designing the restaurant, they brought in a feng shui expert in order to help harmonize the layout.  The live band brought additional energy to the atmosphere.

shortly after we sat down, the head chef personally came out to greet us and to introduce us to the menu for the evening.  he stressed that they only purchase top-of-the-line ingredients for their foods and all of their seafood is purchased fresh and served within 24 hours of it being purchased from the auction house.  Chef Charles prepared and served us each dish which made the excellent service more memorable.

we were served chilled hawaiian ahi tuna for our first appetizer.  it was served on flat, plain rectangular plates.  the tuna itself was nestled in an asian spoon with a tartare/carpaccio/ponzu/sesame dish on the side.  the texture reminded me (brian) of sushi, but the taste was not too impressive for me.  the side dish added some fresh, complimentary flavors to the tuna.

To me (Julie), the ahi tuna was a brave step for my tastebuds.  I am not a particular fan of raw fish or sashimi or sushi.  I gathered my courage and took Chef Charles' advice when choosing fish, to lead with my nose and then my eyes.  The tuna had a smoky flavor and the hint of sesame was nice.  The fish was moist and tender although it had a strong aftertaste. It was good even though I'm not a big fish person.

Our 2nd appetizer was quite fun.  their soup blt offering.  in this case, "blt" stands for bacon, lobster and tomato.  3 different soups served in espresso-like coffee cups.  the creamy tomato bisque was awesome for me (brian).  it had a wonderful slight spicy afterbite to it as it went down my throat and the taste made me think of cold winter nights.  perfect.  my 2nd favorite was the bacon potato chowder. it had a creamy, cheesey wonderful bacon flavor that made me feel warm and comfortable all over. great comfort food.  the 3rd was the lobster bisque soup.   while i enjoyed it, it was not as enjoyable as the other 2.

I (Julie) REALLY enjoyed the BLT soups.  My favorite was the Bacon potato chowder.  The cream was heavenly and calorie laden, I'm sure. The bacon flavor was quite delish! The lobster bisque was not as creamy as the chowder but it was still tasty.  It had a nice rich and buttery flavor. And, the creamy tomato bisque was also an adventure for me.  I normally don't like tomato soup but I dove in and am glad I did.  As brian said before, the tomato had a nice spice to it and was like eating a VERY NICE marinara sauce.  It was definately not your normal Campbell's Tomato soup. After this, I might just become a tomato soup convert!

We were then served samples of 3 of their entrees.  Bacon-wrapped kurobuto pork tenderloin, Butter Poached Maine Lobster and Aged Prime New York Strip Steak.   The last was specifically for their valentine's day menu.

(Brian) the pork tenderloin tasted wonderful.  the bacon had a nice crispness to it and it was served with a caramel apple/parmesan polenta/currant side dish that added a perfect complimentary sweetness.  the lobster was chewy and was a bit plain-tasting to me.  it tasted fresh, but could have used a bit more flavoring.   the last entree was the NY strip steak.  crispy, juicy and wonderful.  the way NY Strip steak should be.

(Julie) I was highly looking forward to the lobster but was a bit disappointed when I didn't get the plate of it served at my spot. When I tried a bite off of another person's plate, I was greatly disappointed.  The lobster was served with ricotta gnocchi and asparagus in lobster butter. I didn't get any of this, only a small bite of lobster, which ended up being very chewy and not very flavorful.

What I did receive, was a nicely plated piece of aged prime NY steak. The piece was very tender and juicy and had excellent flavor.  It had a nice crispy crust as well.  The steak was served cooked medium rare and I must say that I have slowly begun to change my opinion about how I want my steaks cooked.  I have always been a well done kind of girl, however, due to being more brave with my fellow foodie friends, I have actually tried, on several occasions, steaks that were in the medium rare/medium well range.  The flavor is deeper and the steaks are juicer.  I do appreciate having tried this and I think next time I order a steak, I will try medium well and see how it goes! :)  The steak was served with bone marrow bread pudding, spinach and a bordalaise sauce.  I don't like bread pudding and I have never tried bone marrow anything but it added a nice complimentary flavor to the steak and while I probably won't order it again, it wasn't bad.

I also tried the pork tenderloin and would agree that it was my favorite. The pork was very tender and juicy and I loved the parmesean polenta with which it was served. The caramel apples and currants were a nice addition.

At long last came dessert.  Red Velvet Cheesecake and Cream Cheese Anglaise were our offerings. (brian) the cheesecake was incredible.   the creamy cheesecake was served as a wonderful Ice-cream looking scoop on top of the red velvet cake.  creative plating that added to the taste.   the cream cheese anglaise was yummy, rich and fluffy.  it almost sweetly floated in my mouth.(julie) ditto!

as an additional treat, we ordered the Chocolate Decadence with Dark Chocolate mousse and Chocolate Sponge cake to go.  It was just as it sounds and would have been just as scrumptious if we would have eaten it while at the restaurant.

The Avalon Restaurant experience is a great one.  they know how to treat their customers.  we also appreciated the locally-owned/non chain aspect to the restaurant.  it allows them to independently create menus and an ambience that works for their clientele.  Perhaps we will return to Avalon to sample brunch or lunch!

p.s. we both forgot the camera for this tasting so that is why there are no photos of this glorious food. Perhaps you can check the site and click on blogs to find a post with photos from this tasting!

Radio Milano Tastecasting Event

On January 27th, Brian and I participated in another Tastecasting event - this time at Radio Milano - a trendy italian restaurant in the Arcadia area. I recognized the area because it was my paternal grandparents' and dad's old stomping grounds. Funny thing is that it is a few doors down from a former seamstress's business that my maternal grandma used to use.  The area has seen some urban renewal and there are some other trendy restaurants/stores in that area.

The tasting went well and I enjoyed the great atmosphere - low lighting, couches and high tables/chairs, and industrial-esque setting (exposed cement walls, wood beams, metal accents - similar to Chipotle but higher class).

The place was very busy with a steady stream of various clientele.  Even the valet parking in the small lot didn't discourage eager patrons.

i (brian) also enjoyed the trendy atmosphere.  the windows in the restaurant reminded me of windows you would see on a ship.  a couple reminded me of port windows.  i noticed they did little things to hold to the "radio" theme.  they had the classic "on the air" indicator hanging on one of the walls as well as an abstract painting which included the words "stay tuned".  the staff of radio milano was very attentive and made sure everything was to our liking.
Among the seven of us, we sampled a variety of appetizers, entrees and wonderful desserts.  One of the fellow Tastecasters has a wonderful review about the yumminess.

as for the food, i (brian) was impressed with most of it.  they served 4 appetizers to us.  deviled eggs, crispy calamari, shattered potato chips & caprese salad.  the shattered potato chips were definitely my favorite, mainly because of the ketchup/chipotle mayo dip sauce that came with it.  i normally do not enjoy mayo, so that should tell you something.  the calamari was my 2nd favorite.  nice & crispy.  no rubberiness to it, which is my biggest concern with that dish.

The appetizers were a nice variety of items. I enjoyed the tomatoes and burrata cheese.  The toms were slightly charred and the cheese was very soft and fresh.

The deviled eggs were like my thanksgiving deviled eggs only 10 times better! The red pepper, onion and bacon were a nice blend of flavors and an accurate acidity.

I (Julie) also liked the smashed potatoes, as crispy as they were with the compliments of the mayo.

the main dish i (brian) had was the roasted organic chicken with potatoes and beans.  it was a large portion and the smell of garlic that came wafting to my nostrils when it was set before me immediately told me it was a winner.  the chicken skin had a nice carmelized, juicy texture and the meat inside was just as juicy.

I (Julie) ended up having the papardelle which was described as having butternut squash, asparagus, brocolini and was disappointed when the dish arrived and only had sugar snap peas, tomatoes and goat cheese among the soft homemade noodles. The dish had a nice light flavor and was a great vegetarian dish even though it was missing the first few ingredients named above.  One person next to me, who is a regular at Radio Milano, says that each dish is often unique because of the availability of ingredients for each dish.  Perhaps they were out of butternut squash, asparagus and brocolini that night.
naturally the entrees were followed with dessert.   radio milano had us sample 3 of the desserts they offer.  gelato (pistachio, orange and hazelnut), olive oil cake and chocolate pudding.

i (brian) surprisingly discovered the olive oil cake to be my favorite.  it had a nice sweet moistness to it that had my tastebuds asking for more.  i know.  olive oil cake?  i honestly did not think i would like it before i tried it.  i was happily surprised.

Radio Milano is closed on Sunday and only open for dinner.  They use a mesquite grill to cook with and it brings a nice flavor to the dishes.  Others that night sampled the small chopped salad, scallops, cowboy ribeye steak, linguine and clams and a sunny meatball crostini.  We would recommend Radio Milano for a nice meal!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tastecasting Update

Hello friends!

We will post soon about our two latest Tastecasting adventures - Radio Milano and Avalon! Yummy goodness!

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