Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Egg and I

To celebrate our extended Memorial Day weekend (we took today off as well), my husband and I went somewhere new for breakfast today: The Egg and I in Frisco, which just opened this month.

The restaurant is larger than it looks from the outside. Being in a strip mall, the storefront isn't wide, but the space is deep and even has an available private dining room to accommodate group or club meetings. I guess I'd call the décor "country", though it's not quite clear to me what country it is. There are pictures of the Tuscan countryside mixed with new/old signs for food in English, plus some decorative tins, chickens, wrought iron and cheerful wall colors that remind me of rural kitchens from in both Europe and America.

Being a weekday and a workday for most, they weren't very busy when we walked in at 9am, but there was a steady stream of people coming and going. Apparently it is already a popular to-go breakfast place for the local healthcare workers, because I saw several women dressed in scrubs drop in at various times to order their breakfast and carry it away in Styrofoam containers within bags emblazoned with The Egg and I logo.

We were seated promptly and our waiter came to greet us after we'd had a moment to look at the menu--long enough to notice that they have several different types of coffee available. We opted for their signature blend, which was brought to us in a small insulated coffee pot that was left on the table so that we could refresh our cups at-will (a plus in my book). I would call the coffee a good "breakfast blend" and it was (we noticed later) well caffeinated.

The extensive breakfast menu contains many standards but plenty of variations--different benedicts, scrambles, omelets, skillets and hashes, Tex-Mex, pancakes and French toasts. I also like that they had a decent "Smarter Choices" section for those who want low-fat options (though it would have been nice if they posted calorie counts). After much inner debate, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros with salsa (pork green chili is the alternative sauce), while my husband got the Wisconsin Scramble. We were impressed to see that one of the toast options with the scramble was sourdough, an elusive bread in Texas and something transplanted San Francisco Bay Area natives crave, so my husband ordered it and we hoped it passed his test for "real sourdough bread".

Our portions were generous and well prepared. The layers of my Huevos Rancheros were a flour tortilla, refried beans, cheese, eggs (I asked for scrambled), salsa and a dollop of sour cream. I think they were a little too generous with the salsa on my Huevos Rancheros, but it had just the right amount of kick and my meal was very tasty. "Ranch Potatoes" came on the side of both our meals, which appeared to be simply seasoned with salt and parsley. The sourdough toast got an "eh" from my husband--not quite San Francisco sourdough, but it was sourdough non-the-less.

The wait staff at The Egg and I was very attentive and well trained. They seemed a bit overstaffed today, but they might not have known what to expect during the holiday week, and they were probably still training new hires. No complaints here--better to have plenty of staff than not enough, and I'm sure they'll strike the right balance once they know what kind of traffic to expect.

With tax and tip, breakfast cost us just under $27, which is on-par with other restaurants in the area. Based on our first experience, we'll definitely add "The Egg and I" to our list of weekend breakfast options.

The Egg & I Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pho Noodle Soup in the Boonies

In late 2001, my husband and I became economic refugees from Silicon Valley. For a variety of reasons, the first stop in our exodus was Sonora, California. Since my husband and I were both telecommuting at the time, we could pretty much live anywhere as long as we had a good Internet connection. We lived in Sonora for 3 years, later giving up on California entirely and moving to Oregon.

Sonora is just north of Yosemite. If you love nature, trees, mountains, snow in the winter, and hot, dry summers, Sonora is the place for you. The area, in general, makes its money from tourism and retirees. Nearby Murphys is the hub of a small "wine country" that I would recommend any wine lover visit at least once in their lives. We always think off our time in Sonora with nostalgia, missing both the area and the friends we left there.

As much as we loved Sonora, it can easily be described as "the boonies". One of the hazards of living in the boonies is a lack of variety in restaurant selection. We found some good food, but one thing Sonora didn't have was a good Vietnamese restaurant. We missed pho.

Pho (the proper spelling being phở, and pronounced "fa") is a deceptively simple soup of rice noodles, beef and onion. I say "deceptively" because despite its simple appearance, authentic pho takes hours of preparation using ingredients that aren't always available in the boonies. So, in order to have pho in Sonora, I had to learn how to make it at home myself using what I could find at the local grocery store.

I found this recipe and adapted it for the amount of time I had to make dinner and the ingredients I could find (i.e. homemade broth was not a possibility). After much trial and error with substitutes, I came up with a recipe that is a classic "a dashes of this, a sprinkle of that, taste, add a little more of that, repeat" recipe, which was never recorded in print until now. And let me tell you, coming up with a recipe with specific measurements was not as easy as it sounds--it took me several tries to get it tasting just right.

I call this "Cheater's Pho" because I make no representation that this is authentic. In fact, if you are Vietnamese, I advise you to read no further, because you'll probably want to send me hate mail for how "adulterated" this pho is. I try to stay true to the flavors of traditional pho, keeping in mind the Vietnamese cooking philosophy that balances sweet, salty, sour, savory and spice. But beyond that, it's far from the authentic Vietnamese preparation.

The recipe assumes you don't have access to fresh herbs (as was the case for me in the depths of a Sonora winter). If you do, feel free to substitute.

A traditional garnish to add is mung bean sprouts, but lately I've found it difficult to get fresh bean sprouts at the store, so I substitute mushrooms when I can't find them.

If you want a heartier soup, you can increase the amount of beef (up to 3/4 pound) or noodles (up to 7 ounces) without having to adjust the amount of broth. But if you are watching your diet, use the amounts as I have them.

This recipe feeds 2, and requires large bowls to serve it in (we're not talking regular salad or soup bowls here--I actually use 2 serving bowls). While hot tea or other traditional Vietnamese beverages can be served with this, my fellow wineos can serve it with a nice Merlot.

Cheater's Pho

32 ounces Pacific Foods Organic Beef Broth (tip: don't bother with the low-sodium variety--you'll just want to add salt later)
3/4 tsp sugar or splenda
A pinch of black pepper
1/4 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp dry cilantro
1/4 tsp dry parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce
1 tsp Kikkoman Rice Vinegar

Soup Components:
5 ounces Thai Kitchen Stir-Fry Rice Noodles (these aren't exactly the correct noodles, but they are the most readily-available substitute that I could find no matter where I've lived, and I don't like how their thin rice noodles turn out)
Thinly sliced yellow onion (about 1/4 of an onion, or as much as desired)
1 green onion, sliced into 1/8" slices
1/2 pound lean beef, thinly sliced (a top round roast or sirloin works well for this, but you can use whatever you have on hand. I recommend slicing it when it's still partially frozen, as that makes it easier to get super-thin slices.)

Garnishes to Serve on the Side:
Mung bean sprouts or thinly sliced mushrooms
Fresh lemon basil leaves
Lime wedges
Sliced jalapeno
Hoisin Sauce
Sriracha Chili Sauce

In a large sauce pan or stock pot, combine all the ingredients for the broth, and heat over medium heat (you eventually want it to come to a boil, but it's OK if it heats slowly--it gives the flavors time to blend).

While your broth is heating, bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and add the rice noodles. Then turn off the heat and allow the noodles to soak for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the noodles and evenly divide between two large soup bowls. It's OK if the noodles are ready ahead of the rest of the soup--when you pour in the broth, it should be hot enough to reheat the noodles.

When the broth comes to a simmer, add the yellow onion. When the broth comes to a boil, add the green onion and beef, and cook for 1-2 minutes. (If the beef cooks too long, it will become tough. You want it to be faintly pink when you serve it, and the hot broth will continue to cook it in the bowls.)

Divide the soup evenly between the two bowls. Garnish and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Keg and the Cayman

My husband is an unabashed car nut. He's also a walking encyclopedia of automobile history. You show him a picture of just one headlight on a car, 99% of the time he can give you the year, make and model. So, needless to say, he loves to see the latest and greatest of any high-performance automobile.

A couple weeks ago, we were invited to Porsche of Plano (formerly Boardwalk Porsche) for the unveiling of the new 2014 Cayman. They love to do these kind of free, invitation-only events for their customers, to keep them coming back for more cars. We'd gone on one of their Sunday drives last year and had a good time, so we decided to try one of their showroom events.

They said they would serve hors d'oeuvres at the event, but it wasn't scheduled to start until 6:30, and we like to eat dinner earlier than that (we're normally off work by 5pm). So we decided to find a bar somewhere between work and the dealership where we could eat a light dinner. After a very quick Google search, I chose The Keg Steakhouse & Bar in Plano. And boy, am I glad I did.

The bar at The Keg is a warm, roomy area with a variety of seating options--at the bar, at a table, in easy chairs arranged to create intimate spaces with small tables for drinks, or (our choice) at a small, oval bar table. The bar is dimly lit with wood and stone decor, making it a great place for after-work relaxation -- and there were several groups of people, young and old, doing just that.

We ordered a couple glasses of Rosemount Estate Shiraz, an order of Mushrooms Neptune, and an order of Prime Rib Sliders to split between us. I have to admit, the Mushrooms Neptune is one of the most clever preparations of stuffed mushrooms I have ever seen. I also wonder why I have never seen anyone else serve it the way they do, because it makes so much sense. The button mushrooms are stuffed with crab and cream cheese, simmered in white wine and (here's the clever part) served in escargot plates. There wasn't a lot of crab in them, but the filling was light and creamy, and they had a nice tang from all the white wine that the mushrooms had soaked up. With 6 to a plate, it was easy to divide these yummy little morsels between us.

The same can't be said for the sliders--with 3 to a plate, we had to cut one in half because neither of us wanted just one. The prime rib in these sliders was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. They are served with a horseradish Dijon sauce on them, with more creamy horseradish on the side along with a heavenly au jus for dipping. Crisp fried onion strings are also served on the side, which you can eat as they are or pile on the slider. The sliders didn't even last long enough for me to get a picture of them.

We left the restaurant so satisfied with our bar menu experience, we will definitely go back for dinner another time.

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar - Plano on Urbanspoon

When we arrived at Porsche of Plano for the Cayman unveiling, we realized that the 6:30 start was not set in stone. We arrived at about that time, but the showroom was already half-filled with people milling around and working their way through the buffet. The showroom had been emptied of all vehicles except for 2 Caymans hiding under covers. A free bar was setup at what is normally the receptionist's counter, and a live band was playing at the other end of the showroom. Similarly, the service "garage" (where people normally pick up and drop off their cars for service) had been emptied and had a Cayman under wraps, as well as another open bar. There were drapes covering all the windows of the showroom, and lights were strategically setup, so it was about as close to a nightclub as you can get with a car showroom.

Waiters walked around with cocktails invented for the event, but my husband and I opted for wine. The buffet had the obligatory cheese, crackers and fruit, but also had salmon and cream cheese pinwheels, shrimp, chicken, and enough other hot and cold hors d'oeuvres that I think we actually could have made a meal of it. While tasty, the food wasn't nearly as good as what we had at The Keg, so I didn't regret stopping there first.

The band was first-rate, playing covers, of course, but they had several good singers so they were able to do justice to several songs from both male and female artists. While many simply people sat/stood and enjoyed the band's performance, the highlight of the evening was when a couple, who I think were in their 70s, decided to tear up the floor when the band played "Mustang Sally". Seeing them dance made me wish, yet again, that I had taken ballroom dancing lessons. They and the band made the whole event worthwhile.

The people watching, in general, was also great. Porsche owners run the gamut of older gentlemen in Hawaiian shirts to 20- and 30-somethings with trophy wives/girlfriends on their arms. There were also plenty of families there, and I don't think I saw a single child misbehave. These were kids who were definitely taught to toe the line, which was very refreshing.

At about 8:30 the Caymans were unveiled after a short promotional video that was projected against one of the walls, with the normal ooohs and aaahs and lots of cell phone pictures after the covers were taken away. We left shortly thereafter, to beat the crowds out of the parking lot.

In the end, while the evening had originally been about the car (which, I will admit, is very attractive), it was more about us getting out on a weeknight and doing something different. And given that everything at the Cayman reveal was free, I really couldn't complain if I wanted to. We had a relaxing evening full amusing people, good wine and good food.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Randy's Not-So-Prime Rib

I have a soft spot for Randy's Steakhouse in Frisco. When my husband and I moved to Texas, our anniversary was just a couple weeks after we moved into our new house. Not knowing the area well, I searched for restaurants online and read reviews, and Randy's was the restaurant we chose for our first "dress-up" meal in Texas.

Randy's is located in an historic house on Main Street in Frisco. They've kept the home-like décor and all the "character" that goes along with an old house, complete with uneven wood floors, narrow staircase, and portraits on the wall. There are several large rooms that serve as separate dining areas, as well as a piano bar.

Randy himself will typically make a couple of appearances during the evening, to roam the dining room in his white chef coat, say hello, and see how everything is going. A couple times Randy has actually called us the day after dining there, to thank us for coming. He's obviously a man who cares about his restaurant. He and his staff also actively promote their weekend specials on Facebook, and they have frequent Wine dinners. In the highly-competitive area they are located in, they do a pretty good job of competing with the big boys.

We enjoyed our first visit enough that we've been to Randy's several times since. The food rarely disappoints, but watch out for the service on a really busy night. We gave up going there for Valentine's day after our last visit on that holiday a couple years ago, when we were seated upstairs (which I think is their "overflow" area), and our waiter basically disappeared half way through our meal. Another waitress had to handle our dessert and bill.

We were invited to Randy's last Friday by some friends at work (another married couple who, like us, work at the same company). Their college-age daughter also joined us, because it was Prime Rib Night at Randy's.

My husband and I arrived a little bit before our friends, so we took it upon ourselves to order the wine for the evening--a nice bottle of  2009 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon. Our waiter offered to decant it for us, and our friends arrived just as he brought out the wine.

As with most good restaurants, Randy's has some signatures. They provide fresh bread with an awesome compound butter, which I could happily stuff myself with.

While we didn't order appetizers this time, I've had their calamari and shrimp appetizers in the past. Their remoulade dipping sauce is, of course, on the spicy side, so if you don't care for spicy food you should go with their less-spicy alternatives.

For my first course, I normally enjoy Randy's Walnut and Feta Cheese salad, which is served with a nice vinaigrette, but this time I decided to go with The Wedge, just to have something different. The iceberg lettuce was nice and crisp, the dressing was tasty and the cherry tomatoes included on the plate were a nice way to cut the richness, but someone got a little too heavy-handed with the dressing. No amount of cherry tomatoes could help save the lettuce from drowning. I ended up only eating about half of the salad because it was simply too overdressed and rich.

Our waiter was obviously new and a bit timid, but I give him high marks for effort. Our friends (who were similarly watching their diets and trying not to overdo it too much with this rare steak dinner) asked for a special preparation on their green salad--dressed with a little olive oil and lemon juice--and he happily obliged.

All of us, except my husband, ordered the prime rib special. I had been tempted to try the Blackberry Filet because it looked intriguing, but since the prime rib was on special and I hadn't had it at Randy's before, I decided to go for it. My husband got the blue-cheese stuffed filet, which was perfectly cooked and he enjoyed it even if the blue cheese made it a bit rich for our current diet-sensitive tastes. We ordered the side of Garlic Mashed Potatoes to share between us (it was enough for 3), which was another highlight of my meal that I whole-heartedly recommend. It wasn't too rich and it was very well seasoned. Our friends ordered sides of steamed asparagus and broccoli, and seemed to enjoy their prime rib as well.

My prime rib was cut much thinner than I was expecting--I think it was barely 1/2" thick--and it had a significant chunk of fat in it, but that was OK because I probably couldn't have eaten any more than what I was served. I was very disappointed in how it was cooked, though. I had ordered medium doneness. I'm not that picky; if my steak is on the rare side, that's fine. The only time I'll send a steak back is if they give me charcoal. What I got, though, was a steak that had obviously been carved from the middle of the roast and then stuck in an oven or salamander in an attempt to cook it to medium doneness. The problem is, it had originally been far less than medium-rare. Just underneath the slightly-cooked top of my steak, it was raw in the middle. It hadn't even been cooked enough to break down the connective tissue in the middle, so it was difficult to cut. It was a pity, because the outside of the roast was cooked beautifully. The seasoning was downright yummy and the meat was nice and juicy.

Since we were with friends and I didn't want to ruin everyone's evening, I didn't put up a fuss about my steak or my overdressed salad. We all skipped dessert to spare our waistlines, though we have enjoyed the desserts there in the past.

I know that what I've written here is a less-than-stellar review, but Randy's is a Frisco institution that everyone should visit at least once. Decide for yourself if you want to make it a regular haunt. To beat the crowds and get a good parking spot on a weekend, I recommend that you make your reservations sometime between 5pm and 6pm because the place is packed after 6. Our friends also say the wine dinners are great, so we will probably try one of those in the future.

Randy's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon