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Pans and Perspective

You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007

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Restaurants

Armory Review

As I opened the door into the quaint dining area I was overcome by a plethora of aromas dominated by a strong smoke. This was going to be amazing. The menu was posted on the classic 90’s display board, little white magnetized letters that latched onto a black backdrop. Four tight columns divided into different categories detailed nearly 10 items each. The kitchen, located right underneath this board, was open and displayed a large flattop, a few fryers, a small range and a massive smoker. The healthy chef was casually completing his orders using nearly all the equipment.

I approached the register and placed my order: Water Street tacos – which I was informed were being sold a la carte in honor of ‘taco Tuesday’ – one chicken, one brisket and one pork, a rib platter, where I doubled down on the meat for only six extra dollars, served with cornbread, and my two sides of mac and cheese and smoked baked beans. I took my seat at the only two seat table I could find and began to peruse their menu further. As I picked up a menu wedged between a napkin holder, I was exposed to FIVE separate bottles of barbeque sauces. I took my time reading their descriptions and before I could finish the cashier brought over my appetizer. Three loaded flour tortillas stuffed with my meats of choice and topped with cole slaw and cilantro and green onion. Okay, probably the most sacrilegious tacos I have ever eaten but easily some of the finest. The chicken was cooked perfectly, effortless tearing with each bite I took. It was spiced with a mix of spices that had a nice kick and resembled a blackening spice. The cole slaw cut the chicken with a nice burst of acid finished with a rich sweet sauce. The brisket and pork offered nearly the same level of enjoyment.

Again, quicker than I was ready for, the cashier brought my rib platter. Piled high a dozen ribs, a massive portion of mac and cheese and healthy cup of baked beans. The smoky aroma of the ribs was enchanting. I wanted to taste the sides first, as I dove into the mac and cheese I noticed it could have been hotter. The macaroni also had lost of some of its texture and I presume both factors were because it was pulled, ready-made, out of a steam table. The flavor did amend these issues though, a rich creamy sauce with a sharp cheesy bite coated each noodle in a velvety layer of mornay. The beans, contrary to the mac, were nearly boiling and I was appreciative. Each bean, also coated liberally in a smoky sweet sauce, was incredibly tender and almost creamy in texture. I took a quick bite out of my cornbread which I only need to describe by detailing what my notes of the meal said: Holy shit, moist. I now turned my attention to the ribs.

I wanted to experience that ethereal rub that was assaulting my nostrils, so I ate one dry. As I took my bite the entirety of its meat fell right of the bone. My palate was blasted with a hard smoke, and a complex mixture of spices I can’t even fathom. As I finished the tasty morsel I was teased by a slight kick of heat, something I came to enjoy each and every bite. The first sauce, Kansas City Barbeque, was subtitled simply as sweet. I caught tones of molasses – which could have been accurate, although I think I was tasting the molasses in brown sugar – a pleasant mixture of onion and garlic, a very slight hint of acid and tomato. (One of my biggest peeves about barbeque sauce is when it is crafted with ketchup – essentially high fructose corn syrup and tomato concentrate – but I asked the chef about this sauce and told it wasn’t I was thrilled.) Next up was a tangy Memphis style sauce. It was, as expected, a vinegar-based sauce. The level of acid was high, but it was appropriately balanced with a sweetener, the lack of that rich molasses taste leads me to believe they used honey, although white sugar is also an option. I followed this with a smattering of Georgia Peach barbeque sauce. This lightly sweetened sauce, exploding with peach flavor paired excellently with complex rub on the ribs and helped mellow out that slight burst of heat at the end. My next sauce I was somewhat apprehensive about. Labeled only as chipotle barbeque I was expecting some bastardization – although the tacos should have given me

some insight – of a chipotle sauce. The heat was gradual, slowly enveloping my palate as I gobbled down my rib. It’s complexity of flavors and sensations left my head spinning as I was greeted with heat and sweet playing off the undertones of the rub. I had just found my favorite sauce. My last was Carolina Mustard sauce which had me intrigued from the start; it was the only bottle on the table that had an intense golden color. At first bite I was greeted with the familiar flavor of mustard, a gentle biting bitterness that slowly developed into a colorful burst of tanginess and sweetness that ended on almost floral notes. This was easily the most complex sauce on the table. My preference though was still towards the Chipolte and so I doused my remaining ribs in a health portion of it with a few drops of Kansas Barbeque in between.

Touted as one of the top 10 barbecue joints in Iowa, the Armory makes good on this promise. The intoxicating aroma as you open the door should be enough, but for those who are still not convinced the diverse menu offers items from brisket to pulled pork and all matters in between. The tables are clean, and the service is quick. Both impressive feats considering I saw over 30 people in the establishment during the hour I enjoyed my meal. Authentic main dishes, innovative appetizers, solid sides and a playful collection of sauces will leave any barbecue fan satisfied and satiated. If you are breezing through the little town of Decorah I highly recommend spending some time in one of the top 10 barbecue restaurants in the state: a true taste of mid-western barbeque.

Old Armory BBQ
***
Address: 421 W Water St,

Decorah,

IA 52101

(563) 382-6208
Website: http://www.oldarmorybbq.com

Atmosphere: A quaint barbecue joint in the heart of Decorah. Service is quick and employees are friendly.

Sound Level: moderately loud

Recommended Choices: Water St tacos are a must and one of the meat platters.

Drink’s, Wine and Cocktails: Only fountain drinks and water.

Price $ (Inexpensive)

Open: Monday to Thursday from 11a-8p; Friday and Saturday 11a-9p; Sunday 11a-3p

Reservations: No

What the stars represent: ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

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La Florentina Review

The meal commenced with a glass of prosecco blanco and house ricotta cheese served with toasted sourdough.  The cheese was carefully garnished with salt, fresh cracked black pepper, minced parsley and extra virgin olive oil.  It spread like soft butter across the light toast coating the bread with a rich fatty layer of pure perfection.  My first bite was astounding as my palate sampled a complex play between the fattiness and smoothness of the ricotta and slight tang and crunch of the sourdough brushed lightly with olive oil.  Each slice had slight bits of char near the edges adding another delightful contrast each bite.  I meandered through the course savoring each bite.  The wine was quite fruit forward and had a nose of apples and pears.  It paired gorgeously with the cheese, which slightly enhanced the fruity attack and gave it a sharper flavors. 

With perfect timing I moved to my main course, a liguine arribiatta.  Both the pasta and risotto are available as entrees for a supplemental charge.  I still chose a starter portion and when it arrived I observed that the portion was more than generous.  Upon  my first taste I was assaulted by perfectly cooked pasta coated in a complex tomato sauce.  Balances between the sweetness of the cooked tomatoes and acid they inherently provide made me supremely satisfied.  Each bite finished with some slight spiciness, as to be expected with arribiatta, that was gauged well by its creator.  I was offered a dusting of parmagiano which I graciously excepted.  As it was grated across my plate I discovered that it had been aged 36 months.  This course was paired with a medium body montelpuciano, which carried a nose of earthiness, a few black fruits and almost a sharpie type aroma.  It’s attack was round and complex with almost no fruitiness.  It finished quite dry and it lingered on my palate for many seconds.  Paired with the pasta the complexity of the wine was slightly mellowed by the sauce, but was still quite enjoyable.  As with the first I took my time enjoying each bite to the last.

The final course was just as fantastic.  Three brilliant chartreuse scoops of pistachio gelato topped with a coarse pistachio crumb.  Each bite offered a creamy and smooth blast of pistachio essence and creamy delight.  It was the perfect choice to follow the aribiatta, who’s spice had just over stayed.  The gelato  pleasantly offered a sweet, cool relief from my previous course. 

La Fiorentina
***
Address: 40 Parliament St
Dublin, Dublin 2,
Ireland
Phone: 01 635 1922
Website: http://fiorentina.ie/

Atmosphere:  An intimate corner building with very opening seating and a open view of view of Dublin.  Service is excellent as the servers are vigilant and responsive.

Sound Level: noisy

Recommended Choices: Appetizers and pasta or rissotto are a must.  Prices for each dish are mostly under 15 euro.

Drink’s, Wine and Cocktails: the cocktail and beer menu is sparce but is complemented by a large list of wines by the bottle, carrafe or glass from Italy.

Price $$ (Average)

Open: Tuesday to Thursday for lunch; daily for dinner.

Reservations: Accepted

What the Stars Mean Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

Go chew glass.

If you are a student at the CIA I am sure you are very familiar with a local takeout Chinese food joint that goes by the name Yeung Ho II. Now I want to begin by mentioning that Yeung Ho II has been my favorite place to dine on “Chinese” food since I started back in late September. I have been a loyal customer and this incident has disappointed me more than anything else.

About 2 months ago my roommate and I both ordered a special combination meal of boneless pork spareribs. Now for a college student this is a great deal: about 1 pint of fried rice, and a pint of pork with a pork eggroll for $7. I just recently spent $7 on about 5 oz of gelato the other day so this is a fabulous deal. Quality has never been an issue, in fact I thought that this particular order was fantastic. The pork was relatively lean so I wasn’t chewing on fat the entire time. The heart of the problem was in my roommates food. As he bit down on a mouthful of pork he felt a sharp pain in his mouth. He spit out his food and he saw a shard of glass glistening like a diamond in the rough.

He immediately called the restaurant to let them know and as I sat there and listened he was extremely cordial and polite. He made no threats or complaints, he simply wanted to let them know why had happened. They listened and apologized she even offered to comp a free meal. They even drove all the way back to Hudson to drop off the meal. I honestly don’t think it could have been handled better by both sides.

So what is my complaint? About a week before the semester ended we attempted to order our usual. But as we told them our room number they began to give us trouble. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us. Now I respect the right to refuse service but the justification was farfetched and ludacris. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us because hey didn’t want to put more glass in our food. My roommate asked to speak to manager but they refused, claiming that he was not working that day. This went back and forth until my rooms hung up.

Now my intention is not to scare anyone. The food that they produce has great price point and is very good quality for what it is. But their customer service department needs a major overhaul. I hope they see this but until then with what you et when you order from them, you may just end up with a mouthful of glass.

It’s Day 11 and you still can’t cook damn vegetables…

I want to preface this review by saying I have a lot of respect for the chefs at the CIA.  I understand that most of them strive to do their best and that they make a valiant effort to pay attention to detail in the kitchen.  The students also deserve credit.  They (AM Classes), wake up at ungodly hours to work for nearly full work days on food that hundreds of kids will taste.  They are also at school to learn.  I am sure that one thing will be missed from time to time.  That being said, I had the most “delightful” pleasure of eating at Modern Banquet’s yesterday and wanted to give you some insight on what I crunched on.

First course was a basic garden salad.  The salad greens were clean, which shockingly is something that students neglect to take care of.  The portion size and presentation were above average and the dressing taste quite good.  Upon finer examination of my rabbit food I noticed that the precision knife cuts that were placed on top were atrocious.  These cuts looked like a first term fundies student had been given an old rusty butter knife and then asked to cut brunoise ( what is normally 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inch cubes) to whatever dimensions they deemed fit.  It was also garnished with julienne that, while appropriate in width and height, looked like uneven strands of grain that might be used to draw straws.

Soup course was quite a disappointment as well.  I do not enjoy anything more than eating tepid soup.  Of course I am not being serious.  My chowder was lukewarm at best.  And while it had quite a decent flavor and consistency the fish, cod I presume, was chewy and tough.  I wasn’t the only person who thought this either.  Two other diners at my table made a comment at how poor the soup was.

Entree course was decent.  It was buffet style so of course I did not expect the food to be screaming hot.  It was a nice temperature and I applaud the students for that.  We were given the choice of two different proteins.  Either beef pot roast or roasted turkey.  The flavor on both of these items was superb.  The turkey had a crunchy briny exterior that left me longing for more.  The bird itself was cooked to perfection, white, juicy and tender.  In fact I was quite impressed by the doneness of the bird because this is more often than not the low point of most CIA dishes.  The pot roast also had a fabulous flavor.  A combination of subtle red wine undertones paired with a strong meaty blast from the demi glace, that I imagine was used to make the braising liquid, gave the meat an excellent flavor.  The only real complaint I had, aside from the lack of sauce, was the tenderness of the meat.  After braising a pot roast for at least 3 hours I would have liked it to be more tender.  As I said, it tasted phenomenal but it was slightly tough.  Now the vegetables, the damn vegetables.  I actually, while writing, just spoke to a student who was looking over my shoulder at this review.  She agreed with my statement that vegetable cookery is by far one of the easiest competencies to learn at this school.  Simple, blanch the item, put it in your mouth and if it is crunchy, throw it back in the water.  We learn this early on and I would think that it would become embedded in each future chef’s mind.  I guess being in the weeds causes short term memory loss.  Along with the protein, we were given three vegetable options.  The first was brussel sprouts.  My sprouts were similar to eating lukewarm stones.  Enough crunch to put good dill pickles to shame.  The best part was, the procedure for cooking them looked right. The bottom was scored and the outside leaves were removed.  They were even consistently sized.  For some reason, whoever was on vegetable station either neglected to taste the item or just didn’t care. My next item was a root vegetable mix.  We did this vegetable side with our braised beef lesson in fundamentals and I liked it so much that I suffered through nearly 2 hours of precision knife cuts during Thanksgiving and Christmas to make it again.  When we made it in class it was roasted the vegetables so the sugars caramelized and it gave it a better overall flavor and color.  The monstrosity that was placed on my plate was far from that.  Wet, bland root vegetables cut in various sizes.  It was obvious that someone got overly ambitious and wanted to cut small dice for this medley.  They must have run out of time because thrown into this dish were battonettes of miscellaneous lengths.  On top getting served what looked like a grab bag to lego pieces, upon taking my first bite I was greeted by that all to familiar crunch.  This time even more so, I might as well have been eating the legos themselves.  Lastly the butternut squash, the saving grace for veg station.  I thought it was perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and hot.  My dining partner thought otherwise but I figured he had gotten a rough patch.

Last course, which for me was only tea, was also quite a disappointment.  I have had this happen to me before so I wasn’t to surprised, especially with the outcome of the meal.  I let me tea steep for about 2 minutes and after what seemed like an eternity decided to pour some.  I noticed that the water stayed the same color as when I first got it and that there was no real noticeable aroma.   My first sip was similar to drinking the water out of the pot sink.  Same temperature and same flavor. Now the flavor of the tea is usually good, I think the fact that I was only drinking bath temperature water could have altered the flavor.  I kid you not when I say I take showers in water hotter than the swill I was served.

Now some perspective:  I obviously wrote this with as much flair as I could muster.  While the facts are accurate my opinions may be somewhat off base.  I mean this is how I really felt about the meal but the students don’t deserve this harsh a review.  We all make mistakes and as I said we are all here to learn.  Time is all was needed to make that meal better.

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