About Me

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Lansing, Michigan, United States
I am a Lansing townie, lawyer, and restaurant reviewer for the City Pulse. I love traveling, reading, yoga, and baking, but my favorite hobby is stuffing my face.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bistro Bella Vita, Grand Rapids

Last night a pal and I went to Grand Rapids to see some celebrity chefs talk to each other at DeVos Hall. Maybe this sounds like a weird event to you, but the participants were this foul-mouthed bowl full of swagger and this full-lipped Frenchman.

Eric Ripert is a GOOD. LOOKING. MAN. Wowza. Also, his French accent makes me physically miss that country. Yes, I am aware of how pompous that sounds. Excuse me for being cultured.

We left Lansing four full hours before the show started, thinking that we would have a nice, leisurely dinner. It's a good thing we left that early, because we got to our seats as the lights were going out. I don't know how this happens. Maybe I need to talk less.

That's never going to happen.

Anyway, upon the suggestion of a friend who lives in GR and knows the dining scene much better than I do, we went to Bistro Bella Vita. We rolled in right after 4:00 and were asked by two different staff members if we had a reservation. People were sitting at three tables and everything else was open, so I thought that this question was maybe a little bit- I don't know- ridiculous?

As usual I was dead wrong, and within an hour the place was totally packed. Our server was Alyssa. After dinner last night, I am now in love with Alyssa. She knew we had never been there before and I told her that I wanted some guidance on the menu. Actually, my exact words were "I need some help with this. Tell me everything." Instead of looking at me like the weirdo I am, she dove right in and gave us impeccable guidance. We were thinking of starting with the bruschetta, but she suggested the wild mushroom polenta instead. Yes, I hate cheese, but I love polenta.

When this came to the table, my friend hadn't decided which entree she would order. Alyssa didn't have a problem with that and she didn't try to rush us. She came back a few more times to ask us if we were ready, and when we finally were, we ordered. The paella for me and the four cheese ravioli for her. When Alyssa was telling us about the entrees and she started talking about the paella, she said it was her favorite thing on the menu. I was sold before she finished her sentence.

The paella was delicious. The chorizo was nice and spicy and there were MASSIVE tiger shrimp buried under that rice. The asparagus still had a snap to it. Fun fact- I hate risotto because I always expect the texture to be gummy and sickening, and I took a chance knowing that this was prepared in a similar way. Fortunately, the rice was perfectly al dente. I will still never order risotto, so don't even try it. I don't know how the ravioli was, because I would rather eat expired yogurt than eat cheese-filled pasta pillows.

After dinner we obviously wanted dessert, and we debated between the warm chocolate cake and the tiramisu. It has been a thousand years since I last had tiramisu. I was due for a refresher course. So we went for the pour-over coffee for two and tiramisu, which was presented in a martini glass. I'm not wild about presenting food in a martini glass. You?

I had no idea what pour-over coffee was, but the manager came to the table with this little diffuser full of ground coffee over which she poured hot water. The water streamed into the pitcher below the diffuser and voila- delicious coffee.

I was blown away by Bistro Bella Vita. As a matter of fact, I just called and told the manager how much I enjoyed our meal last night and how impressed I was by our server. I have never worked in a restaurant and don't really know how things operate, but I imagine that they don't get many calls from pleased customers. As with most things in life, the people who call are probably the people who want to complain. I've been trying lately to let people know when they give me exceptional service and to thank them for it.

I'm going back to GR next month to see this band (I have also been trying to develop better taste in music, because mine is seriously embarrassing.) I'm going to suggest that we have dinner beforehand at my new favorite GR restaurant, Bistro Bella Vita. The manager who I just spoke with advised that I make a reservation in advance.

Bistro Bella Vita
44 Grandville Avenue SW
Grand Rapids
(616) 222-4600

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Carrot Cake

Ladies and gents, allow me to toot my own horn. I make the best carrot cake you've ever had. Since that cat left its bag, I've been making it more often as friends and family members request it. It doesn't taste like a carrot. It kind of tastes like a spice cake, actually. This is why you need a food processor, so the carrots can all get macerated and nobody will get a chunk meant for a salad.

This cream cheese frosting is killer. Every time I make it I end up sticking my head into the mixer bowl- honestly sticking my head into it to lick the sides. The last time I did this, my dad caught me with frosting on my forehead. I'm 29 years old.

I'm not going to lie to you, shredding the carrots isn't fun. I wash six or seven big carrots and dry them. I don't peel them, because it doesn't make any difference. They're fine. I feed them into the food processor one by one until they are all mulched into carrot meal. I do this before I start anything else, because it's so boring and I hate doing it.

This recipe makes a BIG three-layer cake, but can also be used for cupcakes. The last time I made cupcakes I did two dozen, plus a loaf of cake. All in all, this recipe makes a lot of baked goods, which is lucky because people are going to go crazy over these babies.

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans, raisins, pineapple, whatever- if you like that sort of thing. I don't.

FIRST- prepare your pans. If you're making  a layer cake, grease three 9-inch round pans, line with parchment, grease that too. I'm waiting for the wonderful day when you can buy 9-inch round circles of parchment paper, pre-cut.

Then put the oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven, preheat to 325.

Combine flour, BP, BS, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger- wisk well. In a separate bowl beat the sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add applesauce. Add flour mixture, beat well. Add carrots and other accoutrements.

Divide the batter into the pans and bake, rotating between the racks once or twice, until it passes the toothpick test. About 35-45 minutes. If I'm doing cupcakes, it's about 28 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 packages cream cheese, room temp
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
3 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice

Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Sift in powdered sugar (I never sift it, I just dump it in by quarter cup), beat on low speed until incorporated. Add vanilla and lemon juice, beat well to incorporate. It it's lumpy, keep beating on high. Stick your head in the bowl.

How sweet is that cupcake carrier, by the way? Christmas present from Mommy Dearest. There you have it. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bagger Dave's

Last Friday night, a friend and I met for dinner at Bagger Dave's. I had been there, once, but had never eaten there. Why would I go to a restaurant and not eat, you ask? Because I was there to spread this message.

We met at 8pm and there was a line. I didn't actually mind this. After reading this kind of garbage, I was happy to see that the people waiting for tables were enjoying a night out and not spending the evening crying into their Cheerios (now cholesterol-friendly!)

So, we waited for ten minutes and then were seated. A few minutes after we sat, a teenage girl at the table next to us let fly a burp so loud that I literally stopped what I was doing and turned to give her the full-on stare of disgust. She didn't notice because she was doubled over with laughter. SO WAS HER MOTHER. Ok, maybe that kind of behavior contributed to the above-mentioned Forbes story. Come on, people. Manners. I beg of you.

I got a turkey burger with swiss cheese (I do like cheese on a burger, sometimes), chipotle BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, romaine, sauteed onions, and pickles.  YUM. Really. Yum.

I also got the Mix n Match- fries and sweet potato chips. As I believe I have previously stated, my fatal flaw lies in my preponderance to glimpse a menu item, ignore much of the description because I think I know what it says, order the item and then be disappointed. (My "fatal flaw?" One might argue that my fatal flaw is being overdramatic. At this I would explode into tears and flee.)

Anyway, this happened with the sweet potato chips. I happen to think that sweet potato chips are disgusting. I thought I was ordering sweet potato fries. I ate the regular fries, which reminded me of those fries that you used to buy in a cup at the mall food court. They were very good. What was that place called? Great American Steak and Fry Company? I loved those fries.

It was a good meal. Solid burger. Nice salty fries. Funny waiter. Burping neighbors excluded, I look forward to my next experience.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Food Dance, Kalamazoo Restaurant Week

A few weeks ago, the lovely city of Kalamazoo held their Restaurant Week. If you're not familiar with this concept, it is a week when several (think 20ish) restaurants in a particular metro area each create a special prix fixe menu for $25ish, and you eat at as many restaurants as possible before the week expires. In many of the cities they get the pricier restaurants to participate, so you have the opportunity to eat somewhere that you normally wouldn't experience unless your parents are footing the bill.

Detroit has an incredible restaurant week. Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo's aren't too shabby either. If I had any motivation, I would lead the charge to create one here. Maybe someday. . .

Anyway, in honor of KRW, a friend and I headed to Kzoo to have dinner at Food Dance. Since birth, Kalamazoo is the one city that I have visited the most frequently, but those visits are usually spent shuttling between houses of my aunts and uncles and grandparents. We eat a lot of turkey sandwiches and breakfast casserole. However, I have been to Food Dance twice in recent years. Once for dinner with a girlfriend from college, which I remember being a great meal. Once for breakfast on my way out of town, which I remember as being better than average.

On the night that we went, the restaurant was packed. Through absolute fault of our own, we were considerably late for our reservation, but I had called from the road and told the hostess of this. When we got there, I gave them my name, and we proceeded to wait. For an HOUR. While everyone around us was seated.

My companion finally asked the man behind the stand what the holdup was. I knew he had forgotten about us. He had. There were a thousand open tables, so he quickly showed us to one where we proceeded to wait again. We waited for thirty minutes for the waitress to acknowledge our existence.  When she finally came to the table, she said "Oh, I'm sorry. I was in the other room."

Oh, I'm sorry. My head just fell off.

We quickly ordered (since I had memorized the menu by then) and started with the curry-dusted popcorn chickpeas. These were- and I do not exaggerate- the bright spot of the meal. They could have used a hit of salt, to which I granted them, but they were delicious.

Any thought of ordering above and beyond the special $25 menu was banished from my thoughts by the tepid service we were receiving. For my first course I had the fennel rosemary soup with truffle candy stripe beet salad-

I love beets. I love fennel. It was good. Nothing to tear my hair about. My next course was a salad of roasted winter vegetables. The server told me that this salad would be cold, but it was warm. It was good. I like my vegetables.

Obviously I didn't eat the cheese topper. Few things get me as heated as cheese on a salad. It doesn't make any sense! My entree was a buttermilk fried cornish hen, with a buttermilk biscuit, gravy, and stewed smokey greens. The hen was in a mini fried chicken bucket, which sounds gimmicky and stupid but was actually pretty cute.

 The hen was juicy. The greens were good. I haven't had fried chicken in a thousand years, so maybe you are supposed to be underwhelmed? Our desserts were gingerbread for me and a mini chocolate pecan pie for her. I love gingerbread- LOVE it- and this was incredibly dry and not very palatable. The pear gelato provided an odd flavor combination.

I can't figure out how to rotate this photo. Whoopsie.
 We also had lattes. Along with the chickpeas, the lattes were the best part of the meal.

Food Dance, I want to love you. You use local, organic stuff. You have Jeni's Ice Creams. Your building is gorgeous and I go to Kalamazoo so frequently. I'm hoping this was an off night, that the food wasn't great because you don't want to blow your stack on the people who only come out when a meal is $25. But this was not good. The service was horrendous (I forgot to mention that I ordered a club soda, was given a Sierra Mist, and the waitress didn't apologize, but said that her friend, who poured it, must have made a mistake.) She gave us the $5 chickpeas gratis, because she was "sorry [we] had to wait."

I think, the next time I go to Kalamazoo, I will stick with Grandma's kitchen.