Grimaldi's Pizzeria

I'm going to have to step away from my huge backlog of unwritten reviews from the last few months and write about Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I did actually visit Grimaldi's for a quick lunch several months back, but I wanted to go and explore a little more thoroughly before reviewing them.  As so often happens, a hundred little things kept distracting me and I just hadn't made it back, but last week one of their PR people got in touch and offered to comp a meal if I'd be interested.  Honestly, my initial response was to turn them down.  I mean it's one thing to be invited to an event the kind of which I've been to at other eateries at The Village at Meridian, or to be sent gift cards to try a place...situations where I would still be more or less just another anonymous diner.  This kind of situation, where the staff would know who I was and would be expecting me, that's something I just don't do.  I prize my anonymity.  I want to have the same experience that anyone else walking in to a restaurant has, because otherwise it's not necessarily representative of a normal meal there.  There are plenty of other bloggers who plaster pictures of themselves on their sites for all to see, make a production of going around and taking photographs at a restaurant, who take glossy printouts of their reviews (suitable for hanging) back to the eateries once they've been posted.  That's just not my style, and I can't see how it wouldn't alter everything.  There's enough of that around.  I'm content to pay my money, take my crappy guerrilla-style pics, and be able to say I had more or less the same experience that you would have if you just happened to stop in for a bite to eat.

In the end, I decided to take them up on it for a few reasons.  First of all, I already had a meal there to write about, so it would be easy to compare and contrast the experiences.  Second, as a few of my previous write-ups demonstrate, free food does not guarantee a positive review from me.  If you doubt my integrity, well, that's why I'm filling you in on all of this.  Third, Grimaldi's isn't exactly cheap.  I'm not saying that they should be, and many of the restaurants at the Village aren't.  Look around when you're there, even the eateries that started out as food trucks have significantly marked up their menu prices.  It's obvious that rent isn't cheap in such a location, and that's going to get passed along the consumer.  That having been said, free or cheap eats are always a good motivator to get other people to tag along.  Finally, I always end up ordering a bit outside of the "free zone" and tipping very well, so while I knew I'd be saving a healthy chunk of change, I also knew I wouldn't emerge with my bank account completely unscathed.

I think that's more than enough of a disclaimer.  If you're still with me, let's move on to my first experience at Grimaldi's...

A Tale of Two Cubanos (The Dish and Bleubird)

Let me say a couple of words to you:  Cuban Sandwich.  Or Cubano, if you prefer.  Picture it in your mind.  What do you see?  Myself, I see ham, roasted pork, mustard, pickles, and Swiss cheese, layered on bread pressed so thoroughly that the outside almost takes on the consistency of a cracker.  It's one of those things I'm kind of anal about, like what constitutes a martini (you probably don't want me to get started on that topic, and since I'm feeling generous I won't).  I mean have you seen the movie Chef yet?  Because if you haven't, you really should.  It's a little hammy...I mean cheesy...hmm, how appropriate.  Well, you get the idea.  But it's also heartwarming, clever, and full of talented actors and food porn.  Seriously, it's on Netflix streaming, so you have no excuse.  I digress.  Anyway, look at the sandwiches that guy makes!  How the hell do you improve on that?  It's classic!

Of course, that doesn't stop some people from trying to improve on it...or at least put their own spin on it.  And a few months back (yeah, all my write-ups seem to be taking a few months to squeeze out lately...speak to the complaint department) the roommate and I both had some weekdays off, and one of the things we decided to do was hit up some eateries in downtown Boise, an area we both agree neither of us spends enough time in.  We're both big fans of the sandwich arts, so we decided to try a couple of spots for lunch; one because we've both been wanting to try it forever, the other because I was curious about it.  The connection?  Both places serve Cubanos...after a fashion.  You see, you can't really get a traditional Cuban Sandwich downtown, at least so far as I know.  Casa Blanca at Overland and Curtis is your best bet, though theirs can come out a bit dry at times.  The Cheesecake Factory has long had Cuban Sandwiches on their menu, but the presentation is wildly inconsistent, especially in the bread department (check out Google Images for evidence).  Plus, they put mayo on them.  But downtown?  Nope.

Let's jump right in by talking about the place that no longer serves lunch because it's taken me so long to write this review.  They're supposed to be starting up again in the next few months, though.  Don't worry, they still serve the Cubano at dinner, if you want it.

Tabanero Hot Sauce

Did you know we have a National Hot Sauce Day?  We do.  Of course, we have a "national day" to impress every sort of foodie, but few niches have as many adherents as hot sauce.  Those who have been with me since the early days of this blog (or who enjoy copious amounts of back-reading) will know that I used to be a big wimp when it came to hot and spicy foods.  Nowadays I'm...well, not as much of a wimp, anyway.  There were two big catalysts for the change: First of all, my roommate and constant dining companion, who was always there to remind me how many things I was missing out on because of my heat phobia, and second was my first taste of habanero.  I fell in love with it (even in the muted version I tried), and resolved myself to building up my tolerance so that I could sample more, varied, and hotter habanero dishes.

So, a few months back when I was received an e-mail asking if I would be interested in sampling Tabanero Hot Sauce I didn't hesitate, I simply replied back with a confirmation and my mailing address.  After a couple of weeks had passed with no further word, I'd all but given up, but then (on National Hot Sauce Day, no less), I arrived home after work to find a package waiting for me.

I had expected perhaps a little novelty sample bottle, not two eight-ouncers.  What would I do with all of this?  Did anyone there read my stuff enough to know that I'm still cautious on the spicy food front?  And of course I knew they were hoping for a write-up of some kind, and reviewing products is not really my forte.  I lifted a bottle out of its neat cardboard cradle and examined it.  "Flavorful and Zesy" is printed at the top of the bottle, which I had to admit sounded more pleasant than all the hot sauces I see in the store that promise to obliterate my mucus membranes and make me want to gut-punch elderly people or some such nonsense.  I honestly can't think of another hot sauce that makes such effort to describe itself as "zesty".  At the bottom of the bottle is the message "100% Natural", which is of course all the rage right now (as it should be).  I flipped the bottle around and checked out the ingredient list:  Habanero Peppers, Carrots, Onions, Key Lime Juice, Agave Nectar, Garlic, Salt, Grapefruit Seed Extract.  Wait, no vinegar?  Obviously this wasn't just another Tabasco clone.  Very curious now, I shook the bottle well as the safety seal advised, opened it up, and used the tip of my pinky to transfer just a drop (I had no idea what to expect, after all) from the bottle to my tongue.  I was impressed immediately.  It was hot, but not punishingly so.  It was zesty, as advertised, just a little sweet, and very flavorful overall.  Somewhere on the scale between medium and hot, but closer to medium.  I decided to be a bit bolder.

There's a lot going on in there...

Okay, so obviously larger quantities increase the heat, so I'd bear that in mind.  But now, what to do with this stuff?  I'd never tasted a hot sauce like it, it was more complex than I'd expected.  I also knew I wouldn't really have a grasp on it until I'd tried it on food.  The obvious choice wasn't really an option, as the nearest taco truck was about half an hour's drive away.  Suddenly, I recalled seeing people dump hot sauce on their eggs in scores of different breakfast eateries throughout my was like my life flashing before my eyes, except only the parts from greasy spoons and truck stops.  It's always struck me as odd, but since I had eggs at home...

A few minutes later I had a plate of oil-basted eggs and wheat toast in front of me, to which I applied a generous helping of Tabanero.  You know what?  I'm sorry to all those people I've frowned at in diners for dumping hot sauce on their eggs.  This was really good!  As for the sauce itself, the spicy/zesty/sweet flavor profile reminded me vaguely of sweet chili sauce, albeit thinner, spicier and less sweet.  Having made that connection, I resolved that my next experiment would be with Asian food.

Cha Yor

A few days later I was at my favorite local Thai joint, eating their take on Vietnamese egg rolls.  I've heard of people taking their own condiments to restaurants but had never done it myself, and it might explain why I was met with shocked stares from the people I was dining with when I pulled an eight ounce bottle of hot sauce from the pocket of my hoodie (it has to be easier for women with their purses, I found myself wishing that they had sent me one of the five ounce bottles rather than two of the larger size).  I dumped a whole lot of Tabanero on a slice of egg roll and popped it into my mouth.  It was good, but not as good as the eggs.  The flavor profile was right, but the consistency and balance were a little off from what I'm used to, so I think I'll stick with sweet chili sauce at the Thai joint in the future and go back to not being the guy who brings my own condiments to restaurants.  In the meantime, my brother and I polished off almost all the egg rolls, and a fair amount of the Tabanero in the process.

I like things in threes, so I decided I needed to try this stuff on one more thing before I wrote it up.  I was still thinking Mexican, but there still wasn't a taco truck in town.  And so the Tabanero bottle went into hibernation in the refrigerator door for a couple of weeks, until one late weekend night when I found myself really hungry and unable to think of anything that sounded good, a condition I completely despise.  I have a short list of go-to things for moods like that, mostly cheap, filling, comfort food dishes that ALWAYS sound good.  And that's when it finally struck me that just a short drive away, there was a 24 hour drive-through Mexican joint.  I hadn't considered them before because I was thinking tacos, and I do NOT like the tacos from this place, but I do love their burritos.  In fact, there is one burrito in particular there, my favorite no less, that I always add copious amounts of salsa to.

Chile Relleno Burrito

Chile relleno is awesome, and wrapping it in a grilled tortilla just makes it better and easier to eat, but it's not typically a dish that gives your taste buds a work out.  Luckily it tends to be served by places that have an array of salsas and sauces on hand so you can customize.  But unlike the salsa I normally apply to this burrito, so thick that I have to add more with every bite, the thinness of the Tabanero sauce allowed it to seep down into every nook and cranny.  This definitely worked, and was enough to convince me that I had indeed found a new sauce to add to my small rotation of constant hot sauces.  And since they were so generous as to send me two bottles, I'm able to keep one in Meridian and one in Eagle.  I'm actually considering purchasing a third to keep at work,

In case you haven't been able to deduce it, I highly recommend Tabanero.  If, like me, you prefer a sauce that adds flavor without burying the taste of the original dish, and doesn't just add heat for the sake of it, I think you'll enjoy it as well.  Unfortunately I'm not certain if you can purchase it locally, but if when I finally run out I can't find it in any stores around here, then I will be ordering some more online (you can do that here, if you're so inclined).  They also have a Bloody Mary mix that I'm very curious about...

Guru Donuts

Way back in July of 2010, less than a month after I started this blog, I did a review of Boise Fry Company.  I was still pretty new to this whole thing, it was only my seventh post, and I had no way of knowing how controversial and educational it would be.  It was a mixed review, but all anybody seemed to take away from it was the negatives.  I received some pretty angry messages from BFC's legion of fans, and a few very pleasant ones from the establishment's proprietor, the first time anyone associated with a restaurant contacted me about my review.  When all was said and done, it was a great learning experience, and luckily nothing else I've done has generated the kind of heat that write-up did.  I remark on this because that may be about to change.  You see, much has changed since that BFC review.  I've published a couple of hundred write-ups at this point.  My photography skills have marginally improved.  I'm pretty much over all the things that used to irritate me about going downtown for a meal.  The eight year-old whose comments provoked such rage from a few fringe types turns thirteen next month, and yes, she's gotten less picky.  A little, anyway.  And we now have a specialty doughnut shop, something I've bemoaned the lack of since falling head over heels in love with Voodoo Doughnut.

Treats and Tragedies on the Road: The Embers Brew House (Joseph, OR)

I've been battling a nasty head cold this week, and consequently have been spending a lot of time lounging around looking through pictures from restaurants I'm way behind on writing up.  Probably due to the way I feel and the time of year, the one that's leaping out at me is from a weekend trip I took at the tail end of the Summer.  What I wouldn't give to be dining on a warm patio right now.  Anyway, my family only ever really goes camping in Oregon, and at Wallowa Lake specifically.  The roommate, her kids and I joined them for a few days, and decided to grab a bite in Joseph on our way out of town.  We needed something that satisfied both children's palates and our own, and we found it at The Embers Brew House.