Review: La Empanada Food Truck. Orlando, FL.

Today’s review is a parable about turning a negative into positive. The negative, in this case, was a cancelled flight to Jacksonville. The positive, was me eating at one of the best food trucks I’ve eaten at.

The family and I were headed for a weekend in St. Augustine, Florida. Our 7:30AM flight to Jacksonville had been cancelled and in turn we decided to hop on the 7:45AM to Orlando. Once in our rental car, we decided to make a quick detour through Winter Park for some shopping, which is where we stumbled onto La Empanada.

Looking at the menu, we decided our selection would be “One of everything!”  with the addition of a Mexican coke. This is a sadly common selection for the Roadrunner family, but we’re learning to embrace it.

There really wasn’t a hole in the menu. I even enjoyed the vegetarian offering (Curried Cauliflower) which is not something you here me say often. The picadillo and chicken pesto were both fantastic. The kale and apple salad was delicious. And the dessert empanada with banana and nutella oozing out was quite amazing.

All of it was so good, we went back up and ordered “One of everything Round 2!” Also caused by the fact that I had a quick phone call and by the time it ended, Mrs. Roadrunner had finished the nutella empanada.

If you’re ever in the area, this place is worth looking up. I promise it won’t disappoint. Please bring me back some.

RATING: ****
La Empanada Food Truck on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review: Chicken Scratch. Dallas, TX.

Chicken Scratch
2303 Pittman St
Dallas, TX 75208

I should start this review off with a clarification: the original intention of this particular night was to go to Sissy’s. Unfortunately, we were spurned at the door (nothing available til 9:00PM…. it was 5:30 on a Wednesday). We quickly regrouped and decided to head over to Chicken Scratch (Side Note: the lady at Sissy’s told us they do To-Go orders, which was oddly annoying as well).

This was my second time eating here. My first experience was similar to Scott Reitz’s. The chicken was good, but the skin crumbled off the meat with any sort of agitation. I still liked it but definitely could have used some improvement. This time the chicken (and skin) were more on point.

Chicken Scratch is set up next to its sister bar the Foundry, and the two share a courtyard. What does this mean for you fellow texan? No Air Conditioning and yes I get as annoyed by that scenario as you probably do.

The whole bird fried was a lot of chicken (as expected).Tim Byre’s process of shallow frying the chickens lends to an extra crispy exterior. It’s an old school approach, which Byres seems to take in all of his restaurants.

There’s a certain sweetness to be batter, which I enjoy, though Mrs. Roadrunner is less a fan of.

One thing that we both agree on is that the chicken tamales are amazing. Probably my favorite tamales in the metroplex. One time I saw a video of Byres stepping through the process of making them and got really excited. I was quickly thwarted by the realization of the effort it takes to make them. I’ll just get mine from Chicken Scratch for now.

 The Mac n’ Cheese was good with the seasoning on top, but ordinary past that. The biscuits I found to be extremely dry and had me gasping for water after one bite.

The fries are delicious. I’m a sucker for good ones (who isn’t), and these are a favorite. Seasoned with a sweet and salty mix, I didn’t want to stop eating them.

The tenders appeared to be good. I tried to sample one, but little roadrunner bit at my finger (you’d think we never feed the kid).

Overall, this place is a solid meal and won’t disappoint. The chicken is different from most fried chicken you’ve had (which is a good thing to me), and the tamales are worth the price of admission themselves. The courtyard is a great place for kids to run around and play while you enjoy some food and beers from next door…. though you may want to wait until it cools down a bit.

RATING: ***
Chicken Scratch on Urbanspoon
 

Review: Il Cane Rosso Pop Up, Swiss Pastry Shop

When talking to any knowledgeable Dallas foodie type, and you start a sentence with “Il Cane…”, expect the phrase “Best Pizza in Dallas!!” to be injected into the conversation before you can ever finish your thought. There’s an unbridled enthusiam for Jay Jerrier’s (proprietor of Il Cane Rosso) product. Most of it comes from an open and constant acknowledgement of the standards, ingredients and process used to make their pies. He is also quite approachable on twitter, endearing him to the foodie-type following as well.

When I heard about the Pop Up in Fort Worth, I was excited. Visions of ironic mustache clad hipsters riding their fixies to get their taste of the metroplex’s premiere pizza immediately ran through my head. Pop ups these days seem to draw nothing but that ilk. This pop up however was much more low key than expected. And while it doesn’t challenge Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese as the gold standard for hipster pop up restaurants, it does in fact serve a great meal without any chicanery.

The set up was basically this: The famous  Il Cane Rosso mobile oven was set up outside the Swiss Pastry Shop. We were sat by an ICR waiter and waited on by him inside. If you wanted pastries from SPS, transactions were separate.

Mrs. Roadrunner and I went with our favorite couple to eat with. We ordered 2 apps,2 pizzas, 2 desserts and planned on splitting the bill. This is what the Roadrunners deem as “optimal set up”.

First up was the foccacia, a flat bread cooked in their high temp oven and delicious in its simplicity. Topped with olive oil and rosemary, the bread is wonderfully blistered on the outside. This stuff is goooooood.

Next up was the caprese. Really good as these things go, but I was ready for the pizza at this point.

The first pie was the Delia. This thing is a winner. I’m generally more of a red sauce pizza guy, but I supremely love this. Fresh Mozz, (amazing) roasted grape tomatoes, spicy bacon marmalade, topped with arugala. Wonderful. It’s worth the price of admission.

Next Up: The Zoli. Red Sauce, Mozz, Sorpressatta and Jimmy’s Sausage. The sauce is wonderful and the toppings pack a nice amount of heat. You really can’t go wrong with either of these pies.

For Dessert, we ordered an ICR dessert pie and the signature Swiss Pastry Shop Dessert, Black Forest Cake. The cake is wonderful, light and fluffy with a nice crunch. Nice almond flavor mixed with chocolate and cream.

Our dessert pizza, the bella mella, was nice. Caramel, mascarpone, sea salt and caramelized fruit. It was a nice way to finish the meal. Everyone was stuffed, but we still managed to finish this bad boy off.

Overall, this is a fantastic meal and the price point is great as well. It comes with a caveat, and one that I’ve learned over the last couple of years…. don’t expect to look at pizza the same way once you start eating at places like this. You can’t. It’s not the same.You will be ruined.

You’ll walk into random pizza shops and ask what type of flour they use for their dough. You’ll check around to see if you can tell what kind of tomatoes their sauce is made of and ask a pimply-faced worker what temp the pizza oven is set to (probably met with a pizzled look). It’s a curse, but also a blessing. You’ll know what good pizza, real pizza is all about. Coincidentally, you’ll also find yourself yelling “Best Pizza in Dallas!!” when anyone starts a sentence with “Il Cane….

RATING: ****

Cane Rosso on Urbanspoon

 

Notes From The Road: Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

Following up on my meal at Smoque, I decided to seek out dessert. The only sweet option at smoque was cobbler (which I wasn’t in the mood for), so I decided to look elsewhere.

In moments of desperation, I go to my place of last resort, the Yelp! app on my phone. This time it came through for me to the tune of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.

I didn’t know anything about it walking in, but apparently the propietor Mindy Segal won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef 2012. Sounded like a pretty strong place to stumble into!

 I ordered the brioche donut squares with fudge and caramel corn. Also a cup of french press coffee. Both the coffee and the dessert were really good. There was about 10 other items on the menu that I would love to try. Next time I’m in town, I suppose…

If you’re ever in Chicago and are looking for a place to go to for a post dinner dessert, check this place out. The dessert menu was quite impressive!

Review: Smoque BBQ. Chicago, IL.

Smoque BBQ
3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641

I stumbled upon Smoque by way of a review via the BBQ Snob. BBQ, like mexican food, is not something I seek out when I’m away from the motherland (Texas) unless I see something that seriously peeks my interest. In this case, it was a 5 star review by The Texas BBQ authority himself (Daniel Vaughn doesn’t just give away 5 star reviews). Add to that the veritable praise from Eater Chicago and I knew this place was a must visit.

I efforted to eat at Smoque during my last trip through Chicago but was thwarted when I showed up to a dark lounge with chairs on top of tables. It was a Monday, and they were closed (This also caused my cab driver to tell me that Smoque “Probably has a website” and that I should “look up the hours before I head somewhere”).

This trip I would not be denied. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t staying in downtown, so I had to drive there myself. After an hour and a half of rush hour Chicago traffic, I strolled in. I was exhausted (5AM flights do that to you), hungry and ready to tear into some good BBQ.

This is what the line looked like when I arrived. About 25 deep on a Wednesday night. This was a great sign to me. I never like eating at restaurants that are dead. You’re just asking for a terrible meal.

After about 20 minutes in line, I made it to the front and ordered. My order was this: Brisket plate with 2 sides (fries and macaroni n cheese), half rack of baby back ribs and a sausage link.

Let’s start with the sides. The fries were really good. Not super crispy and they tasted fresh. The mac ‘n cheese was really good as well, though the difference in portion size between the two was astounding.

On to the meat. As can be seen above, though I asked for all sauces to be on the side, my brisket was sauced anyway. It didn’t end up being too bad of a thing because the word that kept coming to mind while I was eating it was dry. The foundation was there for great BBQ, great seasoning and bark on the meat, though it was oddly lacking a smoke ring. Something was causing this meat to be way too dry.

The next set of meats (sausage and ribs) overwhelmed me with the same feeling. Both could be great, but both were extremely dry. The seasonings seems to be great, but there was no juiciness to the meal.

I’m not sure what caused this. Maybe they were having a hard time keeping up with the demand for the product and were cutting corners some way (heatlamps?). I hope that’s not the case. None of the great BBQ joints (here’s looking at you Franklin’s and Pecan Lodge) sacrifice quality of meat because of demand. Selling out of it is a badge of honor to those guys and they wear it proudly.

Overall, I would definitely like to give this place another shot. The components were all there for a great meal, but it was just a bit off. Reading their BBQ Manifesto, I don’t believe it was up to their high standards.

RATING: ***

Smoque BBQ on Urbanspoon

Review: Lucia. Dallas, TX.

Lucia
408 West 8th Street
Dallas, TX 75208

For the food-loving contingent of the greater DFW area, Lucia is legend. The story of its creation is the sort of proverbial fairytale that those of us who romanticize about owning our restaurant (I include myself in that group, even though I have no training, experience or knowledge for that matter and should know better) latch on to and tell all of our friends about. A husband and wife team? He cooks? She runs front of house? What an amazing set up!

That being said, I’m not the only one who loves this fairytale and desires to be a small part of it. Eating here can be difficult. Getting a reservation requires about a month of preparation. I actually booked mine about 2 months in advance, so going in this place had a lot to live up to.

The first thing we ordered was the obligatory salumi plate. David Uygur, the Chef/Owner/Husband, makes all the charcuterie himself. It’s known somewhat as his signature. Ours came with sorpressata, black pepper sausage, chicken liver crostini, duck pate and lardo.

While the charcuterie was good, having just had the charcuterie board at Toro Bravo a few days previously, I wasn’t blown away with it. Unfortunately that would be a microcosm the rest of the meal.

Next up were the pasta dishes.First, spaghetti with sea urchin butter was probably my favorite dish of the night. A great smooth tasting butter sauce and the flavor of the sea urchin really stood out. I could have done without the garlic bread crumbs on top, but it didn’t take too much away from the dish.

The other pasta dish was a potato gnocchi with texas tomatoes. This was very good and the tomatoes were fresh and amazing.

For entrees, we ordered druck breast with pickled cherries, lady cream peas and foie gras. Though I’m not a huge duck man, I thought this was really good. The cream peas with the foie gras were outstanding. Definitely not something you eat everyday.

The next entree (partly eaten above), was a slow roasted pork shoulder with polenta and coppolini onions. I thought the polenta was ok, but the pork was a real disappointment. The cut was full of so much gristle (an estimated 50%) that it was just not enjoyable. This dish is the main reason I would consider this meal 3 star, instead of 4. I understand that that is a slim margin for error, but with great praise comes great expectations.

Being a bit disappointed in the meal, we decided to not order dessert and instead cut our losses and enjoy a little walk in the Bishop Arts District.

Overall, I should mention that this meal was not a bad one. It was good in fact. The problem is that a meal that requires a 2 month reservation, and is praised by every notable food authority you can think of, is expected to be more than good. It’s expected to evoke sweeping emotions, to inspire you, to challenge preconcieved notions you had about food. It didn’t do any of those things for me, it was just a good meal. If the pork had been delicious, this would have been a 4 star meal in my mind, but still a disappointment of sorts.

All that being said, I am completely behind what the Uygurs are doing here. Dallas needs more restaurants with an undying dedication to quality. They seem to slave over every detail of the restaraunt from the wine list to every last ingredient. These are qualities you want in restaurants you spend your money at. Maybe if we had more, you wouldn’t have to try so hard to get a seat at Lucia.

RATING: ***
Lucia on Urbanspoon

 

Notes from the Road: Pok Pok. Portland, OR.

The meal I eat when I’m in Portland more than any other is at the iconic Asian restaurant Pok Pok. Their vietnamese hot wings are seriously great, I can’t get enough of them.

Another, less obvious, reason I eat at Pok Pok so much would be the fact that there is a take out window. Generally, even when I go on a Tuesday night (my preffered dining night), there is a wait between 45 minutes and an hour. I’m not huge on waiting that long to eat by myself. The only thing lonelier than eating by yourself is waiting an hour by yourself to eat by yourself.

I’d like to do a full review at some point, but if I don’t get a chance, let it be known to all that Pok Pok is legit and it gets this weary traveler’s seal of approval.

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon