Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finger-Lickin' Darn Good Chicken - Sardi's in Frederick

Oh, my sweet, succulent, zesty bird – wherefore art thou? After years of nibbling on rotisserie chickensof every ilk :Boston Market, Kenny Rogers Roasters, Weis, Giant Eagle, Sams, Costco – and yes, even my trusty Ronco Showtime Rotisserie (which I DID order before midnight and was subsequently rewarded with 3 free , absolutely free, bags of chicken-leg elastic ties), I have finally discovered what could be my perfect poultry platter. Crisp-skin, intensely seasoned, Sardi's Peruvian Chicken: Pollo A La Brasa

If you were to drive “down-the-road”, you would have a plethora of Peruvian restaurants from which to select. Rockville Pike alone has a chicken shack in just about every one of their myriad strip-centers. But honestly, why tangle with the MC traffic unless of course you have a hankering for A&J’s Dim Sum or some spicy eggplant at Joe’s Noodle House?

No, my friends, you do not need to gird up your loins for the long haul to Rockville if you are craving some robust rotisserie chicken. You can gird up your loins and hit our very own Golden Mile for a quick trip to Sardi’s.

Sardi’s is located in a small strip center just off of 40 on McCain Drive, two doors down from Doc Geiser’s and directly across the street from Home Depot. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the outside ambience is very much indeed a good indicator of the general ambience you will find inside. Formica tables. Cafeteria Chairs. Bright lights. Spanish Language televisions broadcasting soap operas and soccer. Counter Service. Definitely not the destination for a romantic tete-a-tete with your paramour. But just right for eating family style and licking your fingers.

If you aren’t familiar with Peruvian Chicken, well, you sure are pretty darn late to the party and it’s high time you got acquainted. At Sardi’s, whole chickens are marinated and rubbed with a savory spice blend, skewered and then spit-roasted over a blistering charcoal fire. The spit roasting keeps the chicken moist all the way to the bone and has the capability of transforming the skin into a crackling salty explosion of flavor.

Usually the meat is juicy and moist and the skin is perfectly crispy. The ladies in my family, well, we’re chicken people. And when we get a really good piece of chicken, we are happy. But sometimes, we aren’t as happy as we would like to be. There have been some sad occasions brought on by dry white meat and flabby rubbery skin. I do not like dry meat. I do not like rubbery skin. The only good thing about rubbery skin is that I’m not tempted to eat it.

I’m not really sure what the cooking difference is between perfectly cooked birds and the flabby ones – my guess is that the perfect ones were extracted from the oven just as we ordered, and the less perfect birds sat waiting, lonely on the cutting block, waiting for a buyer.

But even if the chicken is a tad dry at times, do not panic, there is a cure. All you have to do is swirl the meat around in one of the three delicious salsas available for chicken dipping: Salsa Verde, a spicy blend of cilantro and aji peppers, Salsa Amarillo – kind of a spicy mustardy sauce, and an Aioli – a mild garlicky mayonnaise. With these sauces, you could probably make just about anything taste pretty good.

With many of the chicken platters, you get a choice of side dishes. In general, I was not a big fan of many of them. They have some kind of a vegetable medley that looks like someone opened up a bag of frozen diced vegetables and just steamed them. There are the ubiquitous rice and beans. And there’s some type of Peruvian corn with the most gigantic mutant kernels I have ever seen. Hot off the steam table they were bland and starchy.

There is, however, one real keeper of a side dish: the ultimate diet-buster, Deep Fried yuca. What could be better than taking heavy duty carbs and deep frying them? Keeping your hand out of the potato chip bag is nothing compared to trying to keep it from reaching for one more fresh-out-of-the-fryer spear.

There are plenty of other options on the menu other than chicken. Lomo Saltado, Souvlaki (the general manager is Greek), Churrasco de Pollo (chicken marinated in cilantro, peppers and onions), ceviches (very good, but not always available, and served with canchas – Peru’s version of a corn nut only fresher and tastier), and for the less adventurous in your group: Salchipapas (basically cut up hot dogs mixed up with French fries and served with catsup and mayo).

So if you’re beyond looking longingly into your loved ones eyes over gentle flickering candlelight, and instead have a hankering for some finger-lickin’ good chicken – you now know where to go. Sardi’s : Pollo A La Brasa

Sardis Chicken- Frederick50 N. McCain Drive, Frederick MD 21702
Tel: 301-620-7717

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Diva on a Diet

So, You may have noticed that I have been missing in action in 2010. At least, I hope you’ve noticed. Anyway, my lengthy absence can be fully attributed to my recognition in mid-January that my increasing girth necessitated a conversion from being the Dining Diva into a Dieting Diva. As it turns out, the change from Dining Diva to Dieting Diva was a direct result of too much Dining and not enough Dieting. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

Though I may not have been a frequent visitor to many local restaurants in the last few months, I have nonetheless continued to consume a wide variety of, shall we say, interesting meals. Some have been interesting in a pleasantly good way, others – well, let’s just say the mishaps have made for some significant additions to the compost pile and some pretty happy canines in the Light House. One of whom may soon need to join ranks with me in our quest for sveltitude.

But, we shan’t dwell on the negative. Nope. Instead, for those of you who may have found yourselves in a similar weighty predicament, here a few delectables available at local restaurants that are both delicious and calorie friendly:


Ceviche: Thank goodness for Cacique, Mexicali Cantina, and La Flor de la Canela! This medley of fish, shrimp and scallops is enhanced with two of my favorite flavors: Lime and Cilantro. Light, refresting and good for you. Smack my hand if you catch me ordering the guac.

Gazpacho: I have spent more than a couple of afternoons with the hemp-wearing patrons of the Orchard. Smack my hand if you catch me ordering the veggie tempura

Ahi Tuna Sashimi: I know it’s a chain, but darn it Bonefish Grill has some mighty fine fish and pours a strong and briny dirty martini. Smack my hand if you see me reaching for the Bang-Bang shrimp.

Green Papaya Salad: Any Thai, and most Vietnamese restaurants make this salad – but in Frederick, Bangkok Thai kitchen does it very well! Smack my hand if you catch me ordering Drunken Noodles.

Zoë’s Chocolate: Oh, I don’t care - just go ahead and Smack me now –it’s worth it! This candy is so amazingly fabulous, I REFUSE to give it up entirely.

There are times, however, that I do actually stay home and cook. This is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. My biggest challenges have been increasing my tolerance for unexciting food and adopting a regimen of portion control. What the heck? THAT’s a portion??? .

I am now a fan of high fiber low fat flat breads from Costco. Fresh out of the bag, they can be used to wrap a variety of fillings. And everything you eat will taste like you wrapped it in a giant rubbery piece of high fiber low fat cardboard. My tolerance can only sink so low. Not one thing was enhanced by wrapping it with this flabby sheet.

But, if you take that same flabby sheet and bake it in the oven for a few minutes – it transforms into a great big giant cracker that can be topped like a tostada and covered with a multitude of toppings that will effectively kill the taste of the bread.

Now, that’s what I call cooking!

My favorite toppings :

Poblano Peppers and red peppers sautéed with Sliced Onions, sprinkled with reduced fat cheese and baked until the cheese melts. Top with a mountain of pico de gallo and cilantro. Squeeze lime over the top.

Mix up some Fat Free cottage cheese with some sugar free jelly. Spread the mixture over the top and put a plump blackberry right in the middle. Pretend this is a pastry.

Cook up some eggbeaters with mushrooms, onions and fresh herbs (I like tarragon, but basil is also good). Spread over the cracker, and top with one of those little 50 calorie containers of broccoli with cheese sauce that you can buy in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Somehow, eating all of this together minimizes the fake-butter, fake-cheese flavor of the broccoli.

If I’m feeling really virtuous and rested, I will actually cook. Here are a few things that I have made that managed to bypass the compost pile:

Grilled scallops with assorted grilled vegetables

Red Thai Vegetable Curry made with Light coconut milk

Fish Poached in a Sweet & Spicy Asian broth

Singapore Poh Pia

Hawaiian Ginger Chicken Stew

I must now sign off because I am weak with hunger. I hope to report back soon with more reviews that you can actually use…

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Russian Peasant goes to Volt

First, let me say that I am in no way qualified to judge or critique Volt from a true haute-couture of food perspective. I really don’t know if a beet infused foam bead tastes like a beet infused foam bead should taste. I’m only able to say whether or not, from my peasant perspective, it tastes good. I shall leave the wheatgrass foam critiques to the Tom Colicchio’s of the world.

So….does the food at Volt merit all the glory received since the latest season of Top Chef began to air? Well, after 5 visits, I can emphatically say yes…and no.

Oh, you already know why the answer is “yes”. The style, the service, the ambience, the vibe of the place. And, much of the food is pretty darn deli

cious. The portions are smaller than we have come to expect from restaurants. But the complexity and intensity of flavors more than make up for a reduction in volume. Plus, although the sizes appear small, I have never left t

here unsatisfied. (I’m just wondering – are their portion’s size actually what a serving should be? Hmm…that could explain SO much )

Pork tenderloin has been on the menu for two of our visits to Volt. Both times, the dish was artfully presented and appropriately accompanied by perfect little vegetables. The preparation of the meat however has been inconsistent.

At lunch, the pork was perfect: soft, tender, and nicely pink in the middle. My dinner entrée, sadly, didn’t fare as well. Though it was seasoned nicely, the meat itself was overcooked and kind of dry. Not so dry as to be inedible, but dry enough that I wasn’t making the swooning noises that normally accompany dishes prepared at Volt. Dry enough that I wished I had kept my salad so that I could swirl the meat around in the left over vinaigrette.

Before you start hollering at me and admonishing me for not sharing my feelings with the server so that the kitchen had a chance to fix the problem, let me explain. Yes, I could have sent it back and waited for them to remake the dish. But everyone else at the table had their food already and it would have put a real damper on the evening if I delayed everything by sending back my dinner. So I didn’t.

Plus, at this high level of cooking, shouldn’t someone in the kitchen have noticed that the meat was brown instead of pink? The meat was sliced before being brought to the table so the center of the meat was clearly visible to the cutter/presenter/server. This wasn’t a beat the clock in a Top Chef challenge so there was surely enough time for t

hem to recognize the problem before they delivered it to the table.

Lucky for our table, the other three had dishes that were just fabulous. Lobster that was tender and sweet and tasted of the sea. Beef that was meaty, rare and meltingly soft.

By the time dessert arrived and the sauterne was poured, all negative thoughts of pork were banished. My friends, I just can’t describe the dessert well enough to do it the justice it deserves. I’m thinking that it was very much like the dessert BV made during Episode 9 of Top Chef (

It was chocolate and chocolate and some chocolate and creamy and rich and smooth and, well, if I were at home I would surely have licked the plate.

The lunch cavalcade of chocolates was less successful. This time, instead of a dark chocolate ganache, it was white chocolate (which, of course, isn’t chocolate at all but cocoa butter sweetened up and flavored so that it tastes good – but it still ain’t chocolate.)

The ganache was served with a smooth milk chocolate ice cream and crispy chocolate tuiles. 4 out of 4 of us loved the ice cream. 0 of 4 of us liked the odd, somehow gelatinous ganache.

Nobody took a second bite. Then there were these little flat candied Florentine-looking crisps placed into the ganache, just so, to give some height to the dish. Pretty. Everyone took a bite. Brows furrowed, we asked each other, “Does yours taste burnt?” We asked our very fabulous server about it and he informed us “They are supposed to be burned”. Really? Burned is a good thing? Who knew?

To me, it wasn’t that good kind of crackly burned like the top of a Crème Brule. It was more like when you put the cookies in the oven and then get so engrossed in Desperate Housewives that you forget all about them and come back later to hard disks with dark brown edges. If you were to eat only the edges – it would taste freakishly similar to the tuiles. What can I say – if they’re supposed to be burned, they’re supposed to be burned. What do I know? As I said before, I’m a peasant.

Let’s see, what else did we have. There was the creamy, rich chowder with a sweet little scallop in it. What fabulous flavor. Striped bass on a potato soufflé with mussels on the side. My fish was so perfect and so sweetly non-fishy, that even a non-seafood lover would have fallen for it.

I could have skipped the mussels though. They were cooked well, but very fishy. That’s the thing with mussels – you never know how they’re going to taste until you actually taste them. One day, you can get big, plump tender and juicy mussels – and the next day, well, you get the Jersey Shore, Bro.

This has gone on long enough – time to wrap it up. Do I like Volt? Yes. Is it perfect? Not yet. Should you go? Absolutely. And cross your fingers that the real chocolate ganache is back on the menu…