July 13, 2006 11:39 AM | By Adam Roberts | 25 Comments

Catch-Up! (Baked French Toast & Bacon, Po, Paula Dean in Europe, Spring Awakening, Summer Sour Cherry Soda, Casa Mono, Dim Sum)

Dear Blog Reader,

I must make a confession. I've been cheating on you with my book. Remember my book? I've been writing it. A LOT. And big things are happening with it---I'm having all sorts of food adventures that I can't tell you about---YET. Next week something huge is happening and I can't tell you about it. I'm so excited about it but I can't tell you, I simply mustn't. Ok I'll drop a hint: I'm having lunch with a food ICON. That's it, I've said enough. Please don't ask me any questions.

But I owe you a huge apology: I've done lots of things lately that I haven't had time to write about. And as we approach August, I'll become less and less dutiful to my blog. (The manuscript is due the first week in September. Yikes!) So we'll see how we deal with that when August comes around. Those videos I've been making are actually a good alternative to blog posts because I come home after a day of writing exhausted and the last thing I want to do is write some more. So I make little videos. But today I'm doing a catch-up post to encompass all of the blog-related things I've done that I haven't had time to tell you about. Let's start with brunch two weeks ago:

- Two weeks ago I had a few people over for brunch so I made this baked french toast recipe. It was smart because I could make french toast for five people all at the same time and everyone's was hot right out of the oven.
As you can see in the picture, I topped it with mascarpone cheese (which I whisked with some powdered sugar and grand marnier, because it was on hand) and added fresh blueberries. Everyone enjoyed it. I also cooked "Seriously Good Bacon" from The Farmer's Market in the oven:


I brushed it first with maple syrup and mustard before it went in and that was some damn good bacon. Brunch was a big success.

- That night, Diana convinced me to try Po, Mario Batali's first restaurant on my favorite street in the Village, Cornelia Street (home to Pearl Oyster Bar, Le Gigot, Home, etc etc.)


I was going to do a post about it called "The Poor Man's Babbo" but I thought that made it sound like I thought Po wasn't good and I thought Po was awesome. The reason I was going to call the post that is because the food was in the same ballpark as Babbo, you can totally see Mario Batali's hand in the menu (even though he sold the restaurant many years ago). Here's a glimpse of what we ate without ANY commentary:

White Bean Bruschetta
Anchovy Appetizer
Calamari Appetizer
Grilled Chicken or Hen or Quail, I Don't Remember But It Was A+++++ Poultry
Diana with the best summer pasta ever, mint and pea pesto:
I'm ready for my close-up:
That's Craig's mussel pasta. You should Craig's muscle pasta!
I insisted on dessert (I always insist on dessert) and we loved it: mint gelato with pine nuts and butterscotch or caramel. It was divine.

See, if I wasn't working on this book I'd have written a thoughtful post where I really parsed our dinner at Po. But suffice it to say that we loved it and I loved it especially for the price: Babbo quality food that's much more reasonable. I endorse it wholeheartedly.

- I wanted to do a post on Paula Dean in Europe. Did anyone see this on the Food Network? I was cracking up---what a funny, unfortunate emissary from our country. I mean, yes she's cute and endearing, but the moment where she's in Luxumborg Gardens and the guy's playing hackey sack and she says, "EXCUSE ME" (very slowly, like she's talking to a mentally ill child) "CAN...I...PLAY...HACKEY...SACK...WITH...YOU?" I almost fell off my couch. (Ok, but she won me over by the end...how in love she is with her husband or boyfriend and how happy she was to see her kids. Paula Dean is the Southern version of my Jewish mama. My mom would kvel in much the same way. Bet Paula Dean doesn't know the word "kvel!")

- I must tell you about a show Craig and I saw two weeks ago: must because I got free tickets and that's part of the deal (but only if I liked it) and I liked it! Not only did I like it, it's one of my favorite new musicals I've seen in a long time. It's "Spring Awakening" with music by Duncan Sheik. The show is a rock n' roll spin on the old German play about kids discovering sex. I said it was like "History Boys" meets "Rent" but it's better than that. It's wonderfully theatrical and very moving. Plus we saw Joan Allen in the audience. Go see it!

- I made a refreshing summer sour cherry soda.


You put sour cherries in a pot with sugar and let it sit for 2 hours (it's a 2:1 ratio, sugar to cherries.) Then you boil it, lower it to a simmer for 15 minutes, strain it and cook down the liquid until it coats the back of a spoon. I kind of overdid that part:


It was almost like jelly at the end. But, no problem, I put it in the microwave, poured it into a glass, added seltzer water and ice and I loved. Italian Soda meets "Rent." Give it a try.

- Phew....can you believe how much I've had to catch up on? I'm not even done!

- And then Diana and I went to Casa Mono this past weekend. "Whoah," you might say, "Casa Mono and Po within a two week period? Mama mia! That's nutso!" True, we were living a little high on the hog. But we're entitled in summer, aren't we? Plus Casa Mono is right near where I live and I've always always always wanted to try it, ever since I read about it opening a few years back when I was living in Atlanta and New York was a far away dream. I remember hearing about all that offal.


So I'll just come right out of the gait and say I'm not nearly as enthused about Casa Mono as I was about Po. There were nice moments. Like these pumpkin goat cheese fritters (sorry for the VERY blurry pictures):


And these razor clams:


Remember I was in Italy last summer and I took a picture of a bowl of razor clams and I wrote "what are these?" and my readers wrote back, "Razor Clams"? Well ever since then I've wanted to try razor clams and I'm glad I did at Casa Mono. They were grilled and nicely caramelized. Not very filling, but fun to eat.

And now for the offal. "There's a reason it's called offal," said Diana, pronouncing it "awful." But I was a believer in it---I follow the gospel of Mario Batali. "Mario says offal can be delicious if it's prepared well," I argued back.

So we ordered (gulp) cockscombs.


A cockscomb is defined as "the comb of a rooster." Here's what it looks like on the plate by itself:


I have to say: I went into this with a really good attitude, and that cockscomb was nasty. It's like liver meats jello---gelatinous with unpleasant umami kick. I was not a fan and neither was Diana.

But everything else was good: the pork with bitter oranges...


And these grilled artichokes:


(Notice how golden brown everything is---that's the Mario touch. Let things brown.)

For dessert it was bread pudding:


And then the check came and it wasn't a happy reasonable Po moment. I felt a little cheated by Casa Mono: it's a tapas bar, and like most tapas bars you leave hungry. Here you leave hungry and feeling a little bit ripped off. So between this and Po, please please, by all means, go to Po.

- Am I done?

- I think so.

- What else do I need to catch up on?

- I mean, there was that Dim Sum brunch on Sunday morning that I didn't really write about. Here's some of the food we ate:


As you can see, the food was really good and really varied. The only thing I didn't like was that last picture, it tasted like sun tan lotion.

On the way out, I met a very sweet Amateur Gourmet fan named Amy. She offered to bring me back and show me the ropes. Maybe I'll take her up on that!

- Funny, on our walk away from Jing Fong we passed the terrible dim sum house Lisa, John and I went to last year in our Chinatown video. It was closed with a sign out front:


Mental hygiene??!? You mean the waiters there were having dirty thoughts?!

- Well, this has been an EPIC post. I bet it's a nightmare to load on slow computers. I'm so sorry. But alas, this post should tide you over for a while---at least for the weekend. I'm actually headed to D.C. for a fun weekend with Craig and Lauren. If you live in D.C. and you want to meet me, look for me doing all the touristy stuff. Seriously, though, I'd have a D.C. meet-up but there's no time. We really only have two full days. Craig's never been.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.


Enjoy your writing. Paula Dean in Europe was crazy. That scene with the chicken guy where she lifts her breats a few times and later kisses him. I think she actually managed to surprise him. Casa Mono is expensive, but it's one of the few places I don't mind paying for not a lot of food. Let me guess--are your meeting with Jeffrey Steingarten? Doesn't he live in your neck of the woods? Good luck with the writing.

Mmmmmm yummy post. Thank you... I think I'm going to try that pasta/mint/pea/pesto dish at home!

OMG- the mental hygiene sign is hysterical (pun fully intended). Doesn't it make your skin crawl when you see that kind of thing at an establishment where you once ate? My parents LOVE a local Mexican restaurant despite it numerous BOH violations. I think they've gotten better but I'm still wary when I join them there.

Thanks for catching us up. I live vicariously thru you. Hope you don't mind.


You evil, evil man. Those dim sum carrots are so cute! I would ask what was in them but I don't think I'd recieve a reply, so it will be an eternal mystery. A-ny-way, have fun with your lunch and your writing and I'll patiently wait for your next post!

Oh man, too bad you're not having a meet up in DC! Well, be sure to eat before you head to the mall for the touristy stuff - there's absolutely nothing around there. My vote for the best new place to try - Rasika in the Chinatown/Penn Quarter area. And a Cowgirl Creamery just opened up in the neighborhood as well. Mhhhh Mt. Tam...


When you are in DC, be sure to try the great crab cakes at Annie's Paramount Steakhouse. (it's on 17th St near Corcoran - about 2 blocks from the Dupont Circle metro station) It's not the type of place Zagats would review, but it is a great neighborhood restaurant, and their steaks are cheap too.

I know this is probably obvious but what about "The Po Man's Babbo?"

I saw the Paula Deen special too and eee gads- I just kept wondering if the French guys at the pastry shop were thinking "A-meri-CAN PIGS!" while she and her hubby ate the entire store. She is a sweet lady but should probably start consulting a cardiologist soon. Same goes for hubby! Her sons aren't too hard on the eyes though.

Mental hygiene?! LOVE it.

Oh oh, I have the recipe for that mint-pea pesto thing from Po - I clipped it YEARS ago and have made it and it's delicious and much easier than you would think and it's got a secret ingredient (honey!) and before this turns into an even more breathless, run-on sentence I'm going to end it right here.

Next time at Casa Mono try the lamb shank, which they do with a white bean salad and fava beans, or the skirt steak with caramelized onions and some kind of chili tomato concoction. Those are more filling and incredibly tasty. The lamb has a great sear but falls off the bone, and the skirt steak is flavorful with a sweet-hot vibe. Love it.

So very, very busy with such delicious food! Thanks for the catch-up.

After I saw that rack you baked the bacon on...ugh...I'd have tossed it rather than try to clean it. You are a stronger man than I.

Holy crap monkies- that bacon looks AWESOME! jesus christ man, i may have to move to new York just to try some of that - or at least be able to procure it on a regular basis...

And good luck on the book - is there any place to pre-order it? you have probably already mentioned that if there is, but i didn't notice - i'll poke around and see what i can see.

lastly, i only made it through about half of the Paula in Europe special - I just couldn't take it - but at least she got out of the country finally!! travel and love of food go hand and hand - beware the chef who doesn't travel much.


Mental Hygiene!!?? I guess there ARE thought police after all. Have fun in DC!!

Argh, I couldn't keep myself from licking the screen a little- the food looks too good!

The brunch you made looks most appetizing. I'm vegetarian and I'd eat bacon if it looked like that...

Gyarghhh.. I just ate and I'm totally hungry again- good work!

I had a really great meal at Hank's in D.C.. It's an oyster bar with a nice elaborate but simple menu. You should totally check it out. have fun! And oh, the offer still stand for dim sum. Or even great noodles.

Had the olive bread from the new Cowgirl Creamery here in DC last night- it was soooo good! And oh the cheese! A great place... and a beautiful store, just what DC needed. Hank's is great; so is Komi on 17th St. NW- Chef Johnny Monis is getting rave review after rave review... for good reason.


A note on the non-post posts. I know you're busy with your book and I know that more writing after all that writing is no fun, but remember, you got that book deal in the first place because of your blog. Be careful not to lose your audience because you're just posting pictures of the food you ate, and not actually blogging any more.

Hope that doesn't sound too negative, but I love the site and miss the humour. Good luck!

I need to know about that carrot shaped deep fried dim sum dumpling. More specifically, what is in it?

I think it's so cute how you're getting so into dim sum now! As a Chinese person who knows most of the ins and outs (I'm still not into the dishes that are mostly comprised of random animal parts) of dim sum, I'm liking all your choices :) Good luck on your book and have fun in DC!

If you ever do dim sum again, you must always remember to get the shrimp dumplings (ha gow). It's the quintessential dim sum dish that measures just how good that restaurant is. It's the most standard dish yet oddly the hardest to make right. Meaning the skin must be soft, thin and translucent. Chewiness and thickness is badness. And the shrimp must be flavored just so as to not overwhelm the taste of the shrimp. And any black innards inside the shrimp (or whatever they're called) should definitely be removed. And to top it all off, you should eat it sans sauce so you can really enjoy the delicate flavor of the shrimp. Meaning no hot sauce or soy sauce, as you white people sure love to dump on. Some restaurants will add little bits of ginger or bamboo or cut up water chestnuts but they're just being overly fancy. The whole idea of that dim sum plate is the simplicity of it.

Also most people don't know that with dim sum, the key "dish" of the whole thing is what tea you order. The tea is the main character and you're just eating dishes to complement it. That's why the tea you order in the beginning is so pivotal to your meal--it cleanses and affects your taste buds in a way that will influence every bite you take. Jasmine, chrysthanteum, oolong are the well known ones, but the more authentic the restaurant is, the wider of a selection they'll have.


The food on the Mall in DC sucks. Don't eat at a museum cafe - the're overpriced, crowded, and the food is terrible. Instead, head for Teaism in Penn Quarter. It's right near the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro Stop and very close to the Mall. Yes, evil Rachel Ray went to Teaism on "$40 Dollars a Day", when she did D.C., but it's great. Be sure to get a bento box. Trust me, you'll love it. There's also a location in Dupont Circle.

WOW! You had some amazing food adventures. The dim sum looked DELICIOUS! A friend of my parents made that french toast for brunch when they visited and they said that it was amazingly delicious, rich and flavorful. What could be bad about eggs, cinnamon and bread?

Best of luck with your book :)

is it the Contessa? if it is, that must be the most exciting thing ever. please let it be the Contessa.

Hey Adam,

I'm probably going to be the only one whose comment on this post has nothing to do with food, but I was glad to hear that you enjoyed Spring Awakening so much--Tim McDonough will be directing it for Theater Emory this fall. Small world, no? Yes. Yes....? Best of luck with the book, and give Lolita a pet from her old babysitter.

I did not know he sold Po. I went there when he first opened it for my birthday. I had quail and pan roasted yams with balsamic glaze. It was great. I loved that it was so small.

Jing Fong. I think I used to go there when I lived there. I get a little mixed up though about chinese restaurants

Now I know that Paula Deen probably needs a cardiologist (as someone said above), but her white bean chili really is good and healthy. If you search at foodtv you can find it (I would have put it here, but thought it might be against the rules).

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