Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pomegranate Mojitos and Banana Xangas: Tasty Treats at Tapas 177

Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting!  ~Rachel, 6/28/10

Tapas 177 gets crowded on the weekends, but I prefer to go at odd times so that I can savor the candlelit ambiance while dining on small unique dishes and drinking a refreshing mojito. Dessert and drinks became a Tuesday night routine for awhile, a nice way to unwind after one of my band rehearsals. Their mojitos are the best in town, but one evening, I asked the bartender if he knew of any variations, maybe incorporating some kind of fruit. He made a pomegranate mojito for me, and it was amazing. I'd usually pair a pomegranate mojito with the house special dessert, banana xangas, but more on that later.

I hadn't been there for an actual meal in awhile, so I headed there a couple nights ago with my boyfriend, who is finally back from vacation, thus saving me from my odd kitchen experiments (for example, Blueberries + Steak = Delicious?) We got there early, and we had the whole main dining room to ourselves for awhile. The bar is on the main level, and the dining room (as well as a second bar and a patio) are down a narrow, creaky staircase. You'll need a minute for your eyes to adjust when you arrive downstairs. It's almost cave-like, lit mainly by candles. Tapestries are draped over the walls, and several tables are enclosed in private alcoves by velvety curtains. I was seated at a table that has one chair and one seat on a long, cushioned bench. My seat on the bench included a couple of throw pillows for reclining. Here's a view of the main dining room.
Tapas 177 - The Main Dining Room

Sorry for the blurriness; it was pretty dark down there, and it's probably rude to take out the tripod in the middle of a restaurant :)

To start, Ben got a glass of Chateau Luxeuil Cote du France Bourdeaux, a well-balanced red wine with hints of cherry and banana, and I got my favorite pomegranate mojito.
Pomegranate Mojito

We were also given a basket of tasty focaccia bread.
Focaccia Bread

Rather than order entrees, we decided to split three tapas and then get dessert if we were still hungry. (Ok, that's a lie. We were definitely planning on dessert, regardless of hunger. The banana xangas is irresistible.) In case you've never experienced tapas before, 'tapas' is a Spanish word that refers to small appetizer-like dishes that can be hot or cold. Outside of Spain, restaurants have popped up everywhere centering around tapas in a slightly different way than in Spain. They're still small dishes, but customers make meals out of them by ordering a bunch and sharing with the rest of the table. Tapas 177 offers a variety of these small dishes as well as some larger entrees. You can find tapas ranging from calamari salad to sushi. Entrees include some fish, pasta, and meat options. If you're feeling daring, try the pan-seared ostrich. A sampling of the menu is available on the Tapas 177 website here.

For our meal, we had the steamed chicken dumplings, beef braciola stuffed with chorizo and gouda, and egg rolls. The dumplings arrived in a bamboo steaming basket with a couple of dipping sauces (soy and spicy mustard.) The filling was made of chicken, cilantro, scallions, and ginger. The best thing about the dumplings is the simplicity. Many other dumplings seem to have lots of mystery ingredients squished together to make a filling, but with these, you can really pick out each flavor, and they come together well.
Steamed Chicken Dumplings, Hong Kong style

The beef braciola arrived looking sort of like meatballs in a pool of tomato sauce and oil, but upon closer inspection, we found that it was made of slices of beef wrapped around the stuffing, which was made of chorizo, smoked gouda, wild onion, and roasted garlic. I'm not really into gouda, but I tried some and was pleasantly surprised. The chorizo added a nice hint of spice, and the tomato sauce (actually tomato coulis, according to the menu) had a good rustic taste.
Beef Braciola, stuffed with chorizo, smoked gouda, onion, and garlic

Our third dish was fried Vietnamese chicken egg rolls, which were served with a thick sweet and sour sauce that seemed to have a hint of BBQ flavor. This dish was my favorite of the tapas that we ordered. The egg rolls were delightfully crispy, and the dipping sauce was excellent. Plus, they were pretty thin compared to the egg rolls you might get at a typical Chinese restaurant, so the roll stays together better when you bite into it.
Vietnamese Chicken Egg Rolls

As the plates were emptied, so was my mojito glass. Just about everything on the lengthy martini list was tempting. I ended up settling on the 177 Martini for my second drink: vodka, raspberry liqueur, grenadine, and sour mix. It was very good, I think. I guess I don't remember much about it, because it went right to my head after a sip or two.
The 177 Martini (raspberry liqueur, vodka, grenadine, sour mix)

For dessert, we ordered a raspberry kiwi crepe and the house special, banana xangas. The crepe, which was exploding with whipped cream and raspberry coulis, disappeared into my boyfriend's stomach before I could try more than a bite or two. The little bit that I was able to try was pretty delicious.
Raspberry Kiwi Crepe

Banana xangas is amazing. I would go to Tapas 177 just for this. It basically consists of a mix of bananas and cinnamon in a fried dough shell, served with ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel.
Banana Xangas (best dessert ever)

The bill came to about $70 before tip for the three drinks, three tapas, and two desserts. This was plenty of food for two reasonably hungry people. In general, if you're skipping entrees and getting a few drinks, you should be fine with enough tapas to allow for 1.5 or 2 dishes per person. I left comfortably full (and comfortably tipsy.)

Food can also be ordered at the bar, and free salsa lessons are offered on Thursday nights around 9:30pm. There's live music on Saturdays around 11pm, and there are wine tastings on the first Tuesday of each month at 6pm. Check out the website for more info about events.

Basic Info
Location: 177 Saint Paul St.
Phone: 585-262-2090

Tapas One Seventy Seven on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Festival Food

Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting!  ~Rachel, 6/28/10

What can you find at the Lilac Festival aside from lilacs (and tulips, which are also in full bloom right now)?

Festival food! From fried dough to corn dogs to smoothies, you can find all your festival favorites scattered throughout Highland Park this week. I stopped by the festival on Saturday and battled the crowds to get a good look at all the flowers and a good taste of some of the food. Whether you're looking for something on the healthy side (smoothies, maybe?) or something to clog your arteries (just about everything else on the menu), there are plenty of options.

The Labatt Blue Beer Garden features beer as well as food from local restaurants like Beale Street Cafe, Abbott's, India Palace (Ed. note: Closed.), Nick Tahou's, and more. Elsewhere in the park, all of these vendors (Ed. note: Broken link. Sorry.) can be found selling tasty treats. Good luck maneuvering through the long lines! A weekday trip is a good idea if you have the time. The Saturday crowds were huge.

Fried dough has always been my favorite. I actually showed up to the festival not very hungry (yes, really) so I avoided it this time around, but it smelled amazing :)
Fried Dough...mmm

Just out of (morbid) curiousity, I decided to look for nutrition info for an average piece of fried dough. This recipe on RecipeZaar claims that one serving of fried dough has only 168 calories and 4.3 grams of fat. It must be for a very small serving size, but if it makes you happy, you can pretend that it applies to the festival-sized portion! This chest-pain-inducing article from WebMD claims that one funnel cake has 760 calories and 44 grams of fat, but funnel cakes seem to have more surface area than fried dough of the "elephant's ear" variety (the round, puffy kind without all the little points) so maybe fried dough is a little bit healthier. Ok, "fried dough" and "healthier" don't really belong in the same sentence, but you know what I mean. If you're confused about the difference between funnel cakes and elephants' ears, check out this informative little article from

For something a little less fried, you can stop by a cart selling popcorn and candy apples.

Dessert crepes with a variety of chocolate and berry toppings can be found at Le Crepe Cafe. These looked amazing. If I go back later this week, I know what I'm eating :)

A Maui Wowi stand offers some tasty smoothies.

...and there was even a stand advertising pet food and giving away samples!
Pet Food

While you're eating, be sure to check out the flowers. It is the Lilac Festival after all. Many of the lilacs were already in full bloom as of this weekend.

These bunches of lilacs look like bunny faces :)

In addition to lilacs, there were tons of beautiful tulips around.

I have to admit that I liked the tulips better than the lilacs!
Pink Tulip

While you're in Highland Park, check out Lamberton Conservatory (on Reservoir Ave.) $2 gains you entry to a large greenhouse full of tropical flowers, cactus, and more. I love going there every month or so to practice taking pictures of flowers. It really is a great thing to have in the area, especially during the winter. Even when it's snowing outside, you can still find flowers in full bloom in the conservatory.

Enjoy the festival, and be sure to park far away so you can walk off all the delicious food you'll eat ;)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blueberries + Steak = Delicious? Or, Why I Shouldn't Be Allowed in the Kitchen

Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting!  ~Rachel, 6/28/10

I decided to be ambitious tonight. The dining companion (who is a much better chef than I am) is still out of the country, and I'm sick of pasta. In my fridge, I found a hunk of defrosted skirt steak and a container of blueberries. I'm pretty picky about my berries...if they're the least bit sketchy-looking, I usually won't eat them straight out of the container. These berries were somewhere between fresh and old, just a little bit wrinkly, but probably still safe. Not good enough to eat out of the container, though. While staring at the contents of the fridge, I got the idea that blueberry sauce might taste good on the steak. My first thought was to mash up the blueberries, maybe add a few random ingredients, and call it a sauce, but kitchen improvisation isn't my forte. (One day, I'll tell you about the time my friend and I tried to make chocolate mousse with all of the wrong ingredients. As a sneak preview, I'll tell you that we tried to use Cool Whip instead of heavy whipped cream, and we didn't have baking chocolate, so we picked the almonds out of mini Hershey bars and melted the remaining chocolate. But that's a story for another day.) Anyway, I decided that finding a recipe online was a safer bet. One recipe containing ketchup and mustard kept popping up, but that sounded pretty gross, so I finally settled on one containing sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, corn starch, and a pinch of salt. You can see the full recipe here. (Ed. note: Broken link. Sorry. ~Rachel, 6/28/10)

I had all the ingredients, and the recipe sounded easy enough. Mix everything together in a sauce pan except for the vanilla and blueberries, stir constantly, add in the blueberries after it starts boiling, cook and stir some more. Marinate. Grill. Eat. Simple, right? The first roadblock came when I realized that I had every type of sugar...except for plain old white sugar. Light brown, dark brown, and even a special type of sugar called demerara sugar. I determined that the demerara sugar was the closest match texture-wise, although it's a bit coarser than white sugar. It has a strong, molasses-like taste, which I though might actually enhance the recipe. The container does say that it's good for berries.

I started mixing the ingredients together, and everything went well, except that the cornstarch somehow ended up everywhere. Down the cabinets, all over my hands, and even on one of my shoes. Here's a photo so that you can better see my kitchen ineptitude:
Cornstarch Everywhere

Before the addition of the blueberries, the mixture looked and smelled like chai.
Blueberry Sauce, Pre-Blueberries

I've never really cooked a sauce from scratch before, so I was understandably excited when all of a sudden it started boiling and actually taking on the consistency of a thick sauce.
Blueberry Sauce, Pre-Blueberries

I added in the blueberries, and they gradually began to expand and ooze into the sauce, giving it a beautiful blueish purple color.
Blueberry Sauce

After it cooled, I poured it over the steak and put it in the fridge for a couple hours of marinating.

As it was marinating, I realized that I had no idea what to serve with it. Rice or potatoes seemed too heavy for a fruity, summery steak. I headed back to the fridge and found mandarin oranges. I suppose they're an unconventional side dish for steak, but they taste good, and that's what matters. Anyway, I'm eating alone, so there's no one else I have to please. I like steak, and I like mandarin oranges, so who cares if I eat them at the same time? Blueberry steak is already a somewhat odd combination, so one more weird thing on the plate can't hurt :)

Voila! Blueberry steak with mandarin oranges!
Blueberry Steak and Mandarin Oranges

The presentation is awful, I know. But I didn't have the patience to make pretty arrangements and take a bunch of photos; I just wanted to eat it while it was still hot! Also, the steak was pretty boring looking, so that's why I hid it in the background of the picture :)

The first few bites were a little...strange. It tasted almost bland, but with a weird sweet undertone that got progressively stronger with each bite. A little bit disappointed, I got out my favorite steak sauce--the indisputably perfect A1. Surprisingly enough, the A1 and blueberry marinade meshed together perfectly. Each bite started with the sharp tanginess of A1 and ended with a hint of sweetness.

I wonder if a different cut of steak would have held up better in the marinade. The fatty, tender skirt steak soaked up a bit too much, but something a little tougher might have worked better. Also, maybe using the right kind of sugar would improve the taste. Fresher blueberries may have also helped. As I said before, mine were a little bit sketchy...just a couple days away from being thrown in the garbage.

If you're a steak purist, I wouldn't recommend trying this. It's unusually sweet, and the marinade almost overpowers the steak. But for anyone else feeling a little adventurous, I think it's worth a try. Mine didn't come out quite as tasty as I had hoped, but in my kitchen, that's par for the course. I bet you can do a better job. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know if you try it!
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