SAPo Freaky Burrito

I didn’t intend to take a hiatus last month and had a few blog ideas, so since I had a new restaurant experience today, I thought I’d review it while it was still fresh in my mind.

I had a few errands to run.  Our car is on the fritz and the sidewalks looked mostly clear (Finally!  After at least six weeks of snow or ice.) so I decided to go downtown.   It was so nice to get out for a walk again, and my son, who was with me, asked to go to the end of the street.   There was SAPo Freaky Burrito still waiting to be discovered by us.   I’m not sure why the small “o” in “SAPo” or the choice of “toad” in a name (There were no toad burritos, unless that’s what my chicken was.), though that’s not why I had previously avoided it.   It is difficult to see past the dingy windows and it appears dark inside.   From what I could tell, there was bar seating and bar height tables and chairs.  I thought it would be an adventure best left to adults and I really don’t get many adult-only adventures these days.

But this time I thought, “What the heck.  The worst that could happen is I find out is that I’m right and there is no seating for a 2-year-old.”  We went in and there was a bar and one bar height table and chairs but mostly regular seating.  Besides, Elijah didn’t want a high chair this time anyway.  He only fell off the chair once and was thereby warned of the consequences of excessive squirmy-ness.  I wish I had found whether there were high chairs, but the owner/waiter was very friendly towards his young guest.

The atmosphere did feel a little dingier than I initially preferred, but as I looked around, I noted it was clean and only proper lighting was lacking.  Although, Elijah especially enjoyed the coconut lanterns over the bar.  We also enjoyed the Pandora station that was playing upbeat alternative music, so much we both started dancing in our chairs.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from the menu, but the prices were comparable to the breakfast/lunch cafes on Broadway we had patroned and much lower than the other lunch/dinner restaurants we walk by because of the prices on the menu.   Elijah had one soft taco for $3.00 and I had a taco platter for $8.00.  Other than tacos, our choices ranged from of course burritos, the expected nachos and quesadillas and the traditional mole plate to the unexpected (for the hours of operation) breakfast selections and creative chicken BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) with chipotle sauce and served on a tortilla.

As you may know, my criterion for a good Mexican restaurant is authentic rice and beans.   I really didn’t expect a place that sold itself on a burrito being freaky to be authentic, although I did expect a good fusion restaurant.  However, it was authentic, with homemade refried beans and non-sticky rice!  I’m also pretty big on the salsa and the fresh cilantro lime salsa was a deal sealer for me.

I later learned that everything is made fresh daily and all the produce is organic.   The later bit of information was a surprise, since if I had known that, I’d have expected the prices to be higher.  Our fresh squeezed orange juice was made on the spot (Elijah loved watching the process.) and homemade lemonade is also served.

Speaking of serving, our waiter seemed very busy between the three tables that were occupied and didn’t give us as much attention I’d have liked in the beginning but we got more attention later, when the first table left.  And he was very welcoming and accommodating,  just as a server should be, and not the kind to roll his eyes or sigh when asked for more napkins or to discard the lemon that fell on the floor because your OCD toddler can’t handle things being out of place or would be tempted to eat it if it were kept on the table.   That’s ultimately the kind of service that makes a place kid-friendly.

Although I’m not yet sure I’d return to SAPo with a younger child in the future, I know I’d like to.  I’m glad I got over my first impression to give it a try and would highly recommend it to most.

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Siam Square

My husband is in a Biggest Loser, office edition, competition so being the supportive wife I am, I let him pick the restaurant last night. He picked Siam Square, offering fine Thai cuisine, quite possibly my favorite. It was a win/win situation. He got to eat healthily and tastily, feeling as though he hit the food lottery rather than being deprived.

First of all, the atmosphere in Siam Square is that of fine dining, with quiet music, tasteful decoration and fresh table linens. And the prices are only slightly higher than that of an average family restaurant. So it’s win/win in that regard as well. Both of us sat down feeling relaxed because we weren’t being bombarded with the Top 40, promotions or a dangling bicycle over our heads and because we weren’t paying top dollar to eat in said peace.

We each ordered an appetizer of fresh spring rolls from the daily specials menu. The dish included two large, cold, sticky rolls stuffed with cold noodles, crisp lettuce and carrots, cilantro and basil chicken; a cup of peanut dressing and an artistic garnish. It was – scrumptious! Yes, scrumptious is the only word that can describe it. Not yummy or even tasty; they’re not crispy enough. Not just crispy, though; it’s not delicious enough. Scrumptious.

Micah’s entree was brown rice and red coconut curry chicken and vegetables while mine was another one of the daily specials, larb gai salad. We both enjoyed them immensely but about mine, let me just say, wow! First of all, if Thai food isn’t my favorite cuisine, it’s the kind of cold salads you get at baby showers or picnics. And larb gai is the best of both worlds – cold, fresh, spicy, flavorful. It is the complete opposite of a burger and fries, which though good as a comfort food, is just not the plethora of varieties of taste bud sensations. Rather than leaving saying, “Mm, that was good but I feel like a stuffed sausage” I was psyched that I had such an experience and energized. This was my first introduction to larb gai and I hope it won’t be the last time it’s offered at Siam Square.

Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve ever given a restaurant a completely positive review.  Hie yourself to Siam Square, like, NOW!

Fire + Ice

Since Micah and I wanted to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D and it was playing at the IMAX for half price, we spent our time before the late showing for which we had tickets in the Providence Place Mall (where the closest IMAX is). We hadn’t been in awhile and looked forward to dining again at Fire + Ice, a favorite. Fire + Ice is an all-you-can-eat buffet/hibachi restaurant where you pick raw ingredients (kept cold on ice in an area called the market) and hand them over for cooking on the grill.

This restaurant has always been ahead of the trends. Before it was a staple starter like chips and salsa, Fire + Ice served pita chips and hummus. Now it serves Edamame and ginger dressing. It is surprisingly tasty though it is touted as one of the most healthful foods on the planet.

My first trip up to the market I created an Asian stir fry with Udon noodles, sirloin steak, vegetables and teriyaki sauce. My second plate was a stir fry of glass noodles, chicken, pineapple and Thai curry. That’s part of the fun of Fire + Ice. Your courses can be traditional, as there is a salad bar, or more like seconds.

Besides stir fries, you can create pasta tosses, fajitas or sandwiches, including burgers. All kinds of dishes were represented on the grill as I, along with others, watched the chef quickly grill everything at once.

Occasionally you will get a really interactive chef, but our chef this night was a polite subdued. The second time I went up to the grill, he recognized me and asked how I had liked my first dish. In other restaurants, unless the chef comes out to greet you, you don’t get this kind of connection to the kitchen.

I always feel as though I could eat at Fire + Ice all night, but as I said, my chef remembered me….

Not Your Average Joe’s and Baker Books

I was starving.  He was not hungry at all.  But we had to seize the moment to have a quiet dinner, just the two of us.  We were sure it would not happen again for at least a week.  The thing is, when you’re starving, you’re in the mood for everything and when you’re not hungry at all, you’re in the mood for nothing.

Solution: Not Your Average Joe’s, a local chain restaurant of “creative cuisine.”   Surely, we could find something here for the both us – something to appease my rampant desires and something to rouse my companion out of apathy.  The problem with Not Your Average Joe’s is that every Joe is there.  We hardly ever visit because the wait time is always 40 minutes, even on a weekday night.

But as I said, it was our only option for happiness.  We sat in the cold, small breezeway and jumped every 10 seconds or so when the door slammed open and squeaked shut.  After a minute, I suggested we walk over to Baker Books, a local bookstore.

When we guessed our time was nearly up, we sat in the breezeway of the restaurant again. Finally, our pager told us that our table was ready.  We were pleased to be seated in the back of the restaurant, away from the bar, kitchen, hostess podium, restrooms and the blasted door and settled down to look at the large list of daily specials and unique menu.

While our waitress set down our basket of fresh Ciabatta bread and poured olive oil into a mound of Parmesan cheese and sprinkles of red crushed pepper, we ordered our usual drinks.  They came just when we had just settled on an appetizer, Crispy Asian Chicken Rolls.

While we waited for those, we deliberated on our entrees.  Not surprisingly, I settled on a creative dish , barbecue chicken pizza, while Micah chose a classic, cheese pizza.  Again, we had barely settled before our waitress was ready to take our order, which was a relief to my now famished-to-the-point-of-survival-mode-self.  Overly grateful, maybe.  But I also have to admit that at some restaurants, you are seated soon enough but end up waiting a lot during your meal.

Finally, we dug into the bread that had been tempting to distract us from our immediate task.  Caramelized onions baked into a golden crust atop fluffy yet almost gooey goodness did not disappoint.  And did the Parmesan actually melt into the oil, turn the oil dip into a rustic type cheese dip?  Savory.

Before we could finish the basket (thankfully, because it was too good to stop eating but filling) our Crispy Asian Chicken Rolls arrived.  Deep fried egg rolls were sliced in half and sitting atop Asian slaw.   I helped myself to a scoop of slaw and a half roll, pouring peanut sauce over the noodles cradled inside.  I love any kind of slaw and really enjoyed the different kinds of vegetables in this one but my enjoyment was eclipsed by the chewy noodles and crispy, flaky shell of the egg roll.  Our waitress told us they were very spicy but I have a high tolerance for heat and thought there was enough tang to balance it.  Satisfying.

We finished our appetizer but didn’t wait long for our pizzas.  I took a bite of mine and thought it tasted rather plain and remembered it was supposed to come with red onions and scallions.  We found our waitress and inquired about the description on the menu.  After she confirmed my memory, she brought the rest of the pizza back to the kitchen and came back to explain how the onions were left off  (no onions were the number one request and I had already made a request) and how long I could expect to wait.   In the meantime, she could keep my companion’s pizza warm.

When my pizza finally was topped, it looked and tasted much better.  The crust was as savory, thin and crispy; the barbecue sauce was spicy and tangy; and the onions added the sweetness it was missing while the scallions added a slight green bitterness.  Flavorful.

I could eat only half my pizza but was tempted to get dessert.  After all, if the meal was this good, the dessert had to be worth pushing myself.  Instead I got an espresso drink called Mocha Madness – espresso, chocolate, steamed milk, Kaluha and Bailey’s topped with whipped cream and garnished with a piece of cinnamon biscotti.  I lingered over the biscotti and sipped a couple of ounces of the generous portion before I had felt like I had eaten a box of liquor-filled truffles.   Rich.

Savory, Satisfying, Flavorful and Rich.  I hadn’t gotten that in one meal in a long time.  We were both happy with our experiences, also something that hadn’t happened in a long time.  More than 40 minutes time.  So by the end of the night, we were glad we had waited only such a short time.

Baker Books is located in a huge, building in the German architectural style that immediately captures the imagination.   Inside, along the walls, books climb all the way up to the ceiling on shelves accessed by rolling ladders.  In one corner, wrought iron tables and chairs in the French style are arranged in front of a pastry case.  On the opposite end of the store is a little wing dedicated to the children’s section and in between are shelves at head height donning stimulating and educational categories such as “Our picks,” “On NPR,” “Local Authors” and “Irish” (in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day).

I found a magazine of interest but did not find the second Harry Potter book. However, the latest, still a bestseller, was 20% off.  And the store stocked books by all kinds of independent and small publishers, making it a great place for browsing and either the latest and bestselling or hard-to-find but not so much the in-between.  Apparently, it, too, is not so average.

Gold Fever Wings

When Micah and I have a fever – Gold Fever, that is – we usually go to Pub 99. But lately we have been catching the fever oftener than a mosquito-bitten *Equatorian – a case which obviously isn’t financially feasible. So we decided to make our own Gold Fever Boneless Chicken Wings and one night sat down with tiny bowls, tiny spatulas, a glass of water as a palette cleanser, sticky notes and bottles of barbeque sauce, mustard, honey and hot sauce.

One of our first attempts at recreating the delicious sauce was thus –

2 parts BBQ
2 part mustard
1 part honey

– but it was too skewed towards the barbeque flavor.

We decided to add the hot sauce in a similar ratio –

3 parts BBQ
2 parts mustard
1 part hot sauce
1 part honey

– but this, also, was too barbeque-y.

It was time to up the ante by getting creative with our ratios and – bingo! – we found our recipe:

6 parts BBQ
6 parts mustard
2 parts honey
1 part cayenne pepper sauce

We used teaspoons and it was enough sauce to cover a bag of chicken tenders. We tossed them in a bowl with the sauce and ate all but one tender. We duplicated the recipe the next day and it was just as yummy!

Try it and tell me what you think!  Did you enjoy the recipe?  Do you think we got it right?

*Equatorian: a person who resides in any of the countries geographically located along the equator.

Smokey Bones

Each Tuesday night, Micah and I are fortunate to have babysitting and be able to go out on a date.  Usually, we head to Dartmouth for an evening flick at matinee price and dinner.  There are lots of restaurants in that town to choose from but Smokey Bones, an old favorite, moved out.  Last week, we were in Taunton and decided to visit the Smokey Bones there.  (Smokey Bones is a chain restaurant; it shares ownership with the Olive Garden and Red Lobster.)  It had been awhile and we were looking forward to having some good barbeque.  While the menu was what we expected, however, the quality of food had gone down a smidgen and the atmosphere was absolutely rank with depravity and stupidity.

Apparently, if you like barbeque, you must be White.  Nevermind it was invented by Africans.  Whatever.  Because nowhere, in any ad, was there a Black person.   Just White people, which one may not notice at first, whites being the majority of the population, but I did — probably because there was so much skin.  All the people in the ads were at least half naked.  By the hostess stand was a life-sized cutout of a UFC wrestler in his (lack of) uniform.  I remarked to Micah, “Is this the meat they are selling?”  in jest.  Little did I know.  A few moments later we noticed that the staff were wearing t-shirts with innuendos printed on them.  One server donned the phrase, “A dry rub makes meat better.  No laughing.”

Also, if you like barbeque, you must be a redneck.  No, I am not being facetious.  Facing us was a TV showing “Having a Beer with Mike, ” a series of crude vignettes with absolutely no connection to one another.  The least dirty vignette was called, “You Might be a Redneck Artist if,” featuring an artist, with bbq sauce as his medium, painting a stag onto a tablecloth.

Micah and I had had just about enough of blonde babes in leather, male exotic dancers and models slipping on the runway when the channel changed.  Next up, “1, 000 ways to die,” in which, yes, you get to see reenactments of deaths, occurring mostly during intercourse which always involves a toned and busty woman in lingerie.  The seven-year old girl and eleven-year-old boy in the booth across from us were especially enthralled by the sex scenes.  I never thought I’d miss “Having a Beer with Mike.”

My experience at Smokey Bones was so offensive and alienating, I decided to boycott it and the Olive Garden (I don’t like lobster anyway), which probably targets white yuppies.  Also, everything there is covered in cheese while real Italian is hardly ever.  Who are they kidding?