Category Archives: Random

The Unpaid Gourmet Turns 3!

Today marks The Unpaid Gourmet’s third blog-iversary! Three years ago on this fateful day, when I was an unpaid intern in Washington, DC, I started this blog to share my budget-friendly culinary adventures around the city.  Three years later, I’ve continued to write The Unpaid Gourmet wherever I am, whether it’s in Philly, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Shanghai, or New York, exploring the local food scenes and searching for the area’s best affordable dining options.  I’ve loved every minute of it, and feel grateful to be able to share my thoughts and experiences with you, readers.

I’m not sure where the next three years will take me, but I hope they will be just as fulfilling and memorable as the last three have been.  Thanks to everyone for your support of The Unpaid Gourmet for the past three years, and here’s to celebrating what’s to come in the future!

Photo courtesy of CollegeFashion.net

In Defense of Guy Fieri

Undoubtedly, many have already heard about or read The New York Timesscathing review of Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in Times Square.  The review consisted entirely of questions–34 to be exact–featuring such ringers as “Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”

The reviewer, Pete Wells, went on to insult not only the restaurant, but also Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives brand, describing the show as Guy “rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy.”  The review ended with a single word, that in any other circumstance would have seemed complementary.  But following two pages of seemingly endless swipes, the word–Thanks–only exuded snark.

While many applauded the review, hailing it a “critical masterpiece” and the “Best. Restaurant review. Ever. (No seriously: ever.),” few rose to Guy Fieri’s defense.  Appearing on the Today Show this morning, Guy mounted his own defense, asserting the reviewer probably had “another agenda” and calling the piece “ridiculous” and “overboard.”  Guy did acknowledge that his restaurant had its shortcomings, but nonetheless stood by his restaurant and food.  And to add insult to injury, word leaked that the NYT held a staff party at Guy’s restaurant the day that the review dropped.

I think I’m one of the few to side with Fieri on this one–and not just because I’m an unabashed fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I found the NYT review to be way over the top and under the belt.  Reading through the first few paragraphs, I’ll admit that I was mildly entertained.  But devoting over 1,000 words to snarky rhetorical questions denigrating not only the restaurant, but the low-country, “no-collar American food” this reviewer thinks Fieri and his brand represent, seemed, well, overboard to me, and certainly elitist.

Yes, the food and service at Guy’s was probably not up to par with The New York Times, or even most people’s, standards.  But I think restaurant critics, and critics of any kind really, should adhere to the old standby rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  That’s not to say critics shouldn’t critique; that’s their job, and there’s nothing wrong with some constructive criticism, or expressing an opinion, albeit a negative one.  What I have a problem with is unnecessary snark, sarcasm, and snobbery, and elevating one person’s view of what is or is not good food above all others.  And the NYT review did just that.

In all honesty, the review might actually be a boon for Guy.  They say no press is bad press, and Guy has certainly gotten a LOT of press for this.  More people might actually go to the restaurant, curious to find out for themselves whether the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders really do taste like chewy air or whether the slow roasted pork shank really does have “the deadened, overcooked taste of school cafeteria vegetables.”  In the end, maybe Guy Fieri is the one who should say “thanks” to the NYT–for asking so many insightful questions.

Update: Other reviewers are chiming in, and though what they’re saying is not great, at least it’s more of a fair shot. Here’s Serious Eats review of Guy’s American Kitchen.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, dear readers!  Hope everyone will be out trick or treating and decked out in costumes.  As for me, I’ll be heading to Chipotle in my eggplant costume to get my $2 BOOrito and then to Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary for a frightful night of screams and haunts.  Sounds like a great Halloween to me!

Want a Kitchen Makeover?

Calling all D.C. home cooks! Are you tired of cooking in a cramped, clunky kitchen? Embarrassed about having company over? Still using a stove from the 1950s? If you answered yes to any, or all three, of the above questions, then it sounds like you are in desperate need of a kitchen makeover.

Luckily, a new television show, where contestants with the worst kitchens receive a free kitchen makeover, is here to save the day. Producers are in the mist of casting for the show, so interested parties should hurry and apply! Instructions and contact information are in the poster above. (Sadly, being a renter, I am not eligible, but I could certainly use a brand new, spacious kitchen!)

The White House Easter Egg Roll 2010

I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to yesterday’s Easter Egg Roll at the White House. Although I was probably the oldest visitor there who was not accompanying a child, I still had a blast moseying around the South Lawn, watching families roll eggs (watching, being the key word), and screaming along with the pre-teens when the cast of Glee and Sara Bareilles performed.

This year’s theme was “Ready, Set, Go!” in honor of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Kids were able to participate in yoga classes, dance routines, sports competitions, and hula hooping contests to encourage fitness and health.

In addition to the exercise activities, kids could pick their own fresh produce, provided by Whole Foods Markets. Clementine oranges, bananas, pears, and of course, carrots (of the Bugs Bunny sort, with the long stems still attached) were on hand for parents and kids to eat.

Celeb chefs also gave healthy cooking demonstrations. Being the foodie that I am, I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos of White House Chef Comerford (pictured left; I totally thought she should have won Iron Chef America) and Chef Nora of the original organic mecca, Restaurant Nora (pictured right). Chef Comerford served up some delectable-looking granola while Chef Nora served perfectly ripe tomatoes with hard boiled eggs and vinaigrette.

I also couldn’t resist taking a photo of the infamous White House garden. Though it still shows signs of wear and tear from this year’s rough winter, seedlings are beginning to sprout. I bet when summer arrives, the garden will be full of delicious home-grown organic veggies!

Celebs were also on hand to provide entertainment for the crowds. One of the highlights of my morning was watching the cast of Glee perform. I can’t wait till the show starts up again this month! The cast performed some of my favorite songs from the show, including “Somebody to Love,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” They sounded even better in person! Here are some more photos:

Other performers included the amazingggg Sara Bareilles (sadly, my photos of her did not turn out well!), baby-faced Justin Bieber (who all the kids went crazy for), and Yo Gabba Gabba. Celebs also read stories over at the Storytime stage. Reese Witherspoon (photo below; I felt like the paparazzi!), Apollo Anton Ohno, and President Obama all participated.

Though I initially felt a bit sheepish about going to the Easter Egg Roll, it turned out to be one of the best days I’ve had in DC–and an awesome excuse to spend the morning outside and walk around the spectacular White House grounds. Turns out, easter egg rolls aren’t just for kids!

What the RAMMYs Missed

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington unveiled the nominations for the 2010 RAMMY awards yesterday at a swanky bash at the Ritz-Carlton. My friends Jen (at freshcrackedpepper) and Mary (the girl behind Girl Meets Food) were lucky enough to attend the event, and snapped a few delicious photos of the evening. A full list of the nominees is available here.

Not to detract from the prestige of the award, but I have to say that I am disappointed with the nominations. DC’s dining scene is way more vibrant, and way more varied, than the RAMMY list would make it seem. And I just don’t understand this city’s obsession with the Michel Richard (Citronelle, Central), Jose Andres (Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya, Oyamel), and Wolfgang Puck (The Source) restaurant empires. I have yet to be blown away by a meal at any of these places.

So, what restaurants would I have nominated, you may ask? I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite restaurants, which were sadly overlooked.

Eatonville: This unique spot transports you to the whimsical world of Zora Neale Hurston with bright murals adorning the walls, vintage crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and worn white picket fences encircling some of the tables. But the quirky-cool atmosphere isn’t the only draw; so is the food. The menu features creole and Southern comfort food at its best, and for affordable prices. Mac and cheese ooozes with butter and cheddar, gumbo exudes an intense smoky flavor, and pan fried trout sings with the addition of chopped pecans. Make sure to check out Eatonville the next time you are on U St.!

Legends: No, Legends is not “fine dining.” But it’s fresh and honest Greek food in a simple and modest (and blue and white, in traditional Greek fashion) setting. And man, those gyros. Don’t even get me started on those mouthwatering gyros.

Ray’s the Steaks: I love steaks. But as the unpaid gourmet, I don’t have the cash to eat at The Palm, or BLT Steak, or any of the other venerable steakhouses in DC. Luckily, Ray’s the Steaks offers top-notch, well-priced steaks in a casual yet upscale setting. Ray’s filet mignon au poivre is arguably one of the best versions I’ve tried: perfectly cooked with a rosy pink center, juicy and tender on the inside, with a slightly charred peppercorn crust on the outside. Plus, all steaks come with a complimentary family-style side of buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. And if that were not enough indulgence, a complimentary cup of hot chocolate arrives at the end of the meal. Now that is what I call a value meal.

Asian Food (in general): Did anyone else notice the complete lack of Asian restaurants nominated? The DC Asian dining scene is not limited to Chinese takeout or mediocre chicken teriyaki bowls; there’s so much more. What about Four Sisters, the beloved Vietnamese restaurant in Falls Church? Or Sichuan Pavilion, which serves some of the most authentic mapo dofu and dan dan mian I’ve had since living in China? Or Kotobuki, the hidden sushi mecca in the Palisades with legions of loyal fans?

SNOWMAGEDDON 2010

New Hampshire Ave.

Snowball fight in Dupont Circle

Eerie snowmen