South In Ur Mouth – our intro to staff meals

Last night we went to this small restaurant tucked just off of Scottsdale Road and Camelback. The area surrounding it is filled with all of the trendy Scottsdale bars. Petite Maison, though, is anything but trendy or a bar. Instead, it feels like your walking into a small little French villa and you’re being welcomed into someone’s home rather than a restaurant. There’s more seats outside on the patio than there are in the small dining room. The interior is paneled in wood, giving a warm glow to the room. The patio is surrounded by vines and small potted trees. You feel like you’re in a garden sitting out on the patio.

Petite Maison serves a late night staff meal where their normal staff gets a chance to sit down and eat after service and other guest chefs can come in and prepare the meal. The rest of us also get a chance to sit down and have a nice late night (10pm – midnight) meal. There’s usually only a couple different plates that are offered and their reasonably priced around $10 – $12 a plate. There’s also a drink offered, fondly dubbed the “red cup”.

Sean and I finally got a chance to get up to Petite Maison because a friend of ours, Tony Morales was preparing the staff meal that night, which he fondly dubbed “South In Ur Mouth”. So, no, I didn’t make the title of this post up. It’s his fault. In my constant quest of good Southern food that I didn’t have to spend the time making in my kitchen, whenever I hear Tony’s working in a kitchen, I try to be there. Last night’s meal was no exception to a delicious late night meal.

The two dishes that were served were Rock Shrimp with Smokey Cheese Grits and Fried Green Tomatoes with Catfish Hushpuppies and a red pepper remoulade. The red cup was called Orange Marmalade. Delicious is a tame word for the two dishes. Sean was kind enough to let me have the shrimp and grits in front of me since he understands my obsession with grits. I took my first bite with a small piece of perfectly fried shrimp in a light flour batter, surrounded with cheesy looking grits and I was in heaven. The grits were perfectly cooked. At first, we thought the cheese in them was smoked Gouda, which would be a good one to put into grits because of the creaminess you get, but Tony corrected us. It was a sharp smoked cheddar. Brilliant! You get the smokiness, but also a nice tanginess with the sharp cheddar. Needless to say, there were no grits left when the plate was taken away.

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The fried green tomatoes were coated with the standard cornmeal style coating, but it was thick enough to truly encase the tomato slice. The green tomatoes used were at just the right ripeness so that they were soft enough to eat, but still had that slightly bitter tang that unripe tomatoes have. When Sean shared one with me, at first I thought that the tomato was under-salted, but then when he shared some of the remoulade on his plate, it was exactly right. Everything came together perfectly. Now, on to the catfish hushpuppies. I should put a disclaimer here. I eat catfish. I was raised on fried catfish, so I’ve never had a problem eating it. Sean does not like catfish. He doesn’t like the muddiness you tend to get from it and thinks that when it’s cooked, it’s usually too dried out by the time it’s served. Sean ate the catfish hushpuppies. Not only did he eat them, I was lucky to get one off of his plate to try. He consumed them. The typical muddiness wasn’t there at all and the fish was moist and delicate. If I didn’t know better, I would have almost questioned whether that really was catfish.

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Now that I’ve had a chance to wax poetical about the food, let me mention the “red cup”. It was called an Orange Marmalade. I love orange marmalade. It’s kept in the fridge and it frequently finds its way onto my morning toast. This was like orange marmalade turned up to 11. It was fresh squeezed orange juice, vodka and lemon peel that had been sitting in Everclear (the remnants of making limoncello). It was deadly delicious. I consumed 2 before I realized that I was going to have to drive my car home and I wanted to make it home in one piece.

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Overall, the late night meal was a great experience. We also got the added bonus of meeting some of the foodie friends that we know through Twitter. We’re already discussing an opportunity to go back to Petite Maison to order off of their standard menu.

Hana Japanese Eatery

Recently we had the chance to eat at a well known establishment in central Phoenix. Hana Japanese Eatery is tucked away into a small strip mall along 7th Avenue.

Thankfully, we go there just in time because the restaurant filled up quickly after we got there. Hana isn’t very large. It’s got about 20 tables in it and the sushi bar. Upon walking into the restaurant, you can tell that this is a local establishment well loved by its patrons. The hostess greeted people with familiarity. Several people were conversing with the sushi chef at the counter.

The menu had a good amount of variety for being such a small place. You can get everything from the standard pieces of nigiri to bowls of filling ramen. Thankfully, Sean and I met up with 2 other friends when we went which meant we got a nice variety of food to try out. Amongst our orders were the
Yakibuta Ramen
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nigiri
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Hana Tempura
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Hana Bento and a couple of their specialty rolls
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The service was actually pretty good even if they were very busy from the moment we walked in. Our teas and waters were kept filled. Food was brought out promptly. Everything was fresh, so you knew that none of our dishes had been sitting in the kitchen for too long. The food was delicious. I got the ramen because bowls of ramen are like chicken noodle soup. They’re soul comforting and this definitely hit the spot. The roasted pork in my soup was very tender and perfectly cooked. The tempura that one of our friends got was crispy with just the smallest coating of tempura batter so that you could still enjoy the vegetable itself. They didn’t just use the standard set of boring vegetables in their tempura. There were a few we actually had to think on what they were. I’ll never turn down a tempura fried carrot again. Sean’s bento box was the perfect amount of food considering the variety that he had. All of us left pleasantly full without being stuffed which is always a plus in my book. The staff also didn’t try to rush us out the door once we were finished and had paid our bill which was great since we wanted to catch up with our friends.

Overall, Hana Japanese Eatery is a great restaurant with good food and good staff. I’m looking forward to getting another chance to eat there.

weekly menu – 27 september 2010

After a couple of week’s hiatus (last minute traveling doesn’t allow for much time to post), I’m back with at least my weekly menus. The theme with this week’s menu was keeping the ingredients and combinations as simple as possible. Sunday was the exception, but it usually is to our menu planning.

Monday – Steak Fajitas
I take skirt steak from Circle Key at the Ahwatukee farmers market and sear it until cooked to my liking (medium-rare for me). I then slice it really thin and serve it on fresh cooked tortillas (My Nona’s ready-cook tortillas are found in the refrigerator area near the canned biscuit dough). I like to serve shredded lettuce and sour cream with my fajitas, but that’s always up to the consumer.

Tuesday – Chicken Stir Fry
I love stir fries. They’re the perfect “time to clean the veggie drawer in my fridge out” meal. This past week I used snap peas, onion, zucchini, bell pepper and bok choy. Combine that with chicken that’s been seasoned with Savory Spice Shop’s Asian Delight BBQ Rub and you’ve got a great meal. One thing to keep in mind about stir fries is that the vegetables are meant to be cooked quickly and at high heat. Don’t hesitate to let the oil in the pan start to smoke a little bit before putting the vegetables into the pan.

Wednesday – Chicken Dinner Salad
I’m not sure why I put two “empty my vegetable bin” meals in a row, but it’s how it turned out, so I rolled with it. More chicken breast grilled up with Savory Spice Shop’s All Purpose Seasoning. I cut that up and added it to a salad of mixed greens, bell pepper, snap peas and cucumber. Doesn’t sound fancy, but it really hits the spot when you’re trying to keep things simple and still eat healthy.

Thursday – Omelettes
Normally, I get home really late on Thursday nights because I take a yoga class until 7:45pm. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well on Thursday so no class. The advantage, though, was that I had an easy dinner to fix. We had ham for dinner on the Sunday night before. I kept it simple and just made up a ham and cheese omelette. Don’t underestimate the tastiness of an omelette.

Friday – Grilled Salmon
Keep It Simple Stupid! I’ve been dying to use that saying for a long time. We took two salmon steaks and grilled them with just salt and pepper. We then served that up with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. So simple and yet so incredibly wonderful.

Saturday – Caffe Boa
Since Sean and I had to juggle our schedule a bit so that we could fly home last weekend to be with a friend, we had to change our plans to celebrate our anniversary (we still wound up having lunch together on our anniversary, but what better excuse to go eat at a nice restaurant?). We had just picked up a Groupon from Caffe Boa, so we made reservations for dinner there since we’d been wanting to try it ever since Chef Payton moved over there. On the menu for us? You’ll have to wait for me to type up the review to find that out. It was definitely delicious, though.

Sunday – Spaghetti and Meatballs
A while back, I had posted about a Cook’s Illustrated recipe called Hearty Italian Meat Sauce. You take baby back ribs, Italian sausage and homemade meatballs and simmer everything together in a homemade tomato sauce. The combination is to die for, but for whatever reason I’ve always felt like the ribs weren’t necessary. I decided to try the recipe this time with just the sausage and the meatballs (which are the best part of the recipe). It turned out phenomenally. Sorry baby back ribs, but you’ve been voted off of the island.