Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Fairly "Fishy" Visit Including a Zoo, a Hop and Food

Crêpes Filled with Mozzarella and Topped with Parisian Vegetables Cooked in Sherry (Recipe toward End of Post)
If you haven't yet been introduced, let me be the first to introduce you to GroupOn, the website that works under a premise of "collective buying power." From massages to rock climbing courses, the format encourages members of the community to not only save money and build relationships with local business owners, but to also explore their home and area surroundings. For me, one of the greatest draws to GroupOn is in regard to all of the great food-related deals they have available, totaling anywhere from 50-90% in savings. From coney dogs to domestic and international food fusion, you're oftentimes introduced to recognisable locations, just as much as you're introduced to hole-in-the-wall-type establishments that can easily become your new favourite locale. And if not thing else, it's definitely a fun, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive investment. A great GroupOn which I recently purchased was for Sushi Rock, located in downtown Cleveland, Beachwood and Columbus, OH. Prior to having gone there, the only big critique I had heard was that it could get quite pricey really quickly. Reading through others' reviews on-line, I must admit I'm rather spellbound as to why their reviews aren't necessarily the most favourable, as I enjoyed the dining experience.

Sushi Rock on Urbanspoon

Lauren, the one responsible for easing me into sushi over five years ago, came down for a weekend visit to Granville and before ending our late night Friday food voyage, we headed over to Sushi Rock for a 6.30 pm reservation. Indeed, the menu was rather pricey but for shipping and preparing beautiful pieces of sea life for consumption..in central Ohio..I must admit it is money well-spent. The décor and ambiance play off the clearly red and black colour scheme, within a context of fine dining but not over-the-top. Not to say that other sushi restaurants are sub-par, I would suggest going to Sushi Rock already having had an established relationship with sushi; like with other foods, being able to distinguish what's "good" with what's even better is a pleasure in itself. As part of our dinner, we went with [maki] rolls of the avocado, salmon sake, spicy tuna and Philadelphia varieties, an order of salmon sake sashimi and a beautifully baked "sushi big rock" volcano roll.

In addition to all this, Lauren had our waitress's favourite drink (the name of which I need to recall) while I had the blood orange champagne. And speaking of our waitress, the wait staff is very friendly and attentive, a dining service point which adds to this positive review.

Following Sushi Rock, Lauren and I then headed over to the second floor of Bella's here in Granville, to the second floor jazzy-type lounge. From there, we were (for whatever reason) seen off with a hunger attack and chose to go to McDonald's. It can all be rather cutesy, I suppose, but when we go there together, it's always for the Happy Meal; and admittedly, we were both rather disappointed with what we got. Though a moot point, the toys were quite alright (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked-themed) but what threw us both off because the ethical question of "To what extent should fast food companies control what we eat?" Certainly there's an expectation that you care for the consumer, but I'm of the opinion it should be in terms of the options available and not in changing what we expect from our food. When you say Happy Meal, for instance, this should equate to an extra small serving (or maybe it's even XXS) of fries, though the apples are a nice touch (but barely). Perhaps I'm now outdated when it comes to fast food (I started slowly running away from it when KFC changed their menu and frying oil), but last time I checked, a "small" does not equate to something comparable to the height of a hockey puck-- here in the States, or outside of it. In comparison and disappointed by McDo, we went over to Wendy's where we were presented with a medium order nearly three of perhaps four times the size of the former. Hmm, for someone who would rather make fries from scratch, I know I'm spending way too much time complaining about this, but I'm pretty sure you'd be thinking something very similar if you decided you randomly wanted a Happy Meal.

Yesterday, we continued our sea-based experience at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. A rather impressive and expansive zoo, this one is open 363 days of the year, rain or shine. And for those looking for something relatively inexpensive to do--especially on such a great weather day--as we had, the Columbus Zoo offers a 50% reduction in the general admissions prices from January 2 thru February 28 (or in this year's case, the 29th). Our first stop in, naturally, was the coral reef and manatee aquariums, both of which reminded me of Cinéaqua (Paris).

Happy Greek on Urbanspoon

Following a few hours of what seemed like long (though nevertheless enjoyable) walking throughout the zoo, we headed back into Columbus for Gallery Hop, a first Saturday of the month celebration of art. Before actually hopping from store to store, we sought out some food as we hadn't anything since our quick breakfast stop at the River Road Coffeehouse (I had an iced Mudslide Mocha and an almond croissant; Lauren had an Earl Grey with a sundried tomato bagel with herb cream cheese). Our decision landed on authentic Greek food fare à la The Happy Greek Restaurant and Pub where we enjoyed (again) really great service and amazing food, the clear favourite of which was the homemade tzatziki sauce.

For our respective main courses, I enjoyed Happy Greek's gyro pita (voted best of Columbus), while Lauren enjoyed a large Greek salad. I must note that of all the gyro meat I have ever tried (which in retrospect is a fair amount), this is truly the best of the best-- tender and incredibly flavourful without being overpowering.

After this late lunch, we strolled High Street, spanning quite a few blocks, as the Gallery Hop was picking up pace and folks started to fill up shops and restaurants. Along our voyage, we stopped by a culinary mecca of kitchen gadgetry called The Cookware Sorcerer where Lauren purchased a proper brioche pan, as well as the Aveda-based Phia Salon for a whirlwind of activities (where we met really great and welcoming staff members, including co-owners Mike and Elizabeth, and eventually both received a future haircut as prizes; note: they do this every Gallery Hop). In addition, we went to Wine on High and participated in a fun taste test of six "Everyday Value" wines (6 tastes for $10), where our info guru Mark (as well as the other servers on site) was incredibly helpful and personable throughout the tasting. As we began to conclude our evening in downtown Columbus, we had dinner at Black Olive (update, 27.01.13: Black Olive has apparently closed). Again, this was the case of surprising reviews, as I found the atmosphere to be contemporary and chic, our server to be friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, the live jazz to be a wonderful touch, and the food delicious (though arguably pricey). We quickly noticed they love asparagus, so I caution you now if you're not a fan. This being said, neither of the dishes Lauren and I ordered had asparagus. She went with the pasta bolo[gnese] with homemade meat sauce which was cooked al dente and full of flavour. For $20, I went with the Chef's Special of surf 'n turf which included skewered shrimp and barbecue chicken both cooked perfectly with a side of spinach (cooked down just enough to take the rawness out without sacrificing the spinach taste) and creamy butternut squash (with mini lumps, my favourite presentation).

For our final stop, we went to the Short North location of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, also located on High St., marking my first visit to this location (I've been to the one at the North Market a few times). There, Lauren got dark chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone (which they make by hand in front of the guests), whereas I ordered a half scoop of black currant and a half scoop of black forest. However, even before I could take a taste of the black currant, Lauren tasted it and realised it was of the same taste and quality of the cassis ice cream she had in France. Long story short, we traded until she got to the black forest scoop. After finishing our ice cream, we made our way back to Granville where we took a quick stop at the Broadway Pub before heading back to my apartment to watch Julie & Julia. A fitting end to a huge food day, no?

Today, Lauren left Granville to head back north for about a week before heading back to school to finish up her program. But before she did leave, I made two kinds of crêpes, using my crêpe recipe as a base. After first melting my unsalted butter in a fry pan and then leaving it alone to cool off the heat, I whisked together very well (in this order) the eggs, vanilla extract, milk, flour and brown sugar. The butter slightly cooler, I added this to the batter and incorporated it into the mix very quickly. Having then whisked in two small pinches of salt, I divided the batter between this mixing bowl and another. In the one I had been using, I whisked in about another tablespoon of milk to slightly thin it out and then added my ground black pepper and paprika, and began cooking these crêpes, filling them with shredded mozzarella. Meanwhile, I had in a small fry pan about 1/2 c frozen veg which I got on medium heat with some 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter. Once the veg had defrosted, I reduced the heat and added about a tablespoon or so of sherry cooking wine, allowing everything to simmer until all the liquid had evaporated. This dish, pictured above, went into a warm oven (on the "warm" setting) until I nearly finished working with the second batch of crêpe batter.

For the second batch of crêpes, I began by zesting half a meyer lemon, setting it aside briefly. The juice of that same half of meyer lemon went into the second half of crêpe batter along with a touch of cinnamon and a tablespoon or so of orange juice. As I cooked these crêpes, I got into a small pot about 1/2 c mixed frozen berries and got this defrosting on medium heat with a few teaspoons of honey and a tablespoon of water. I also whisked 1/4 c heavy cream until it held soft peaks and then whisked in about 1.5 tbsp powdered sugar and the meyer lemon zest. When these crêpes were finished cooking, the savoury crêpes were carefully taken out of the oven for serving. For the sweet crêpes, fill them with some of the whipped cream; it's best to let them be as cool as possible, or else the whipped cream will collapse into a delicious pool as presented below (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). Top these all of with the berry mixture and enjoy a sweeter finish to breakfast. Extremely floral in taste (slightly reminiscent of lavender), these crêpes take on the coolness of the cream and the warmth of the berries quite well.

And as I bid farewell to Lauren for the time being, there's sure to be another chapter to write when I next visit her again at school. For all the photos taken during her visit, click here.

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