Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Planters has hit a serious home run in the world of mixed nuts. Their NUTrition lineup is delicious, with an eye towards health.

The Hearth Healthy mix made a long-awaited return after this year's pistachio scare. Heaping doses of almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, and depressingly few hazelnuts are very satisfying. But it's the Energy Mix that really gets my love. The chocolate-covered soy nuts are so much better than I thought they would be, and the super-crispy sweetness of the honey sesame sticks brightens up the usually savory world of the nuts.

Now, if you're interested in just losing weight, these are not your food of choice. They are pretty high-calorie, with 8 servings in each container at 150-180 calories. They are very healthy, though, and if you look at them as a supplement to an otherwise healthy diet, I think these are an excellent replacement for potato chips or other such munchies. I heartily recommend. In fact, I'm eating some now.

UPDATE 2/2/1010: Planters has just launched some NUTrition branded bars and, much like their mixes, they're very good. As far as bars go, they're high-ish calorie at 160 and 170 for the two types. In comparison to the various fiber bars, they have 2g of fiber compared to upwards of 9g. You do get 5g of protein, though, which is great, and a heaping helping of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The texture is unique and the mix of almonds and peanuts really make these bars an appealing product. They unfortunately follow the lead of so many other companies of pretending to keep prices down by including only five bars in the box instead of the expected six.

Please Welcome Borders to 2003.

Borders Books has announced a deal with Verizon, of all companies, to provide free wifi in their bookstores and cafes. The CEO of Borders said this is all part of "Re-engaging with customers as a serious bookseller" and "is one of our strategic priorities."

This of course has nothing to do with the fact that most local cafes and bookstores have been offering free wifi for the better part of a decade and, shockingly, Barnes & Noble just started offering free wifi. Oh yes. This has nothing to do with B&N.

This is the exact reason why Borders is an also-ran retailer that's been on the verge of insolvency for years. They don't lead. They don't think. They follow, and do a damn poor job of that.

Welcome to 2003, Borders. You're only six years behind the curve. Better than you've been in a long time.

UPDATE: Well, this is fun. You know how I complain about Barnes & Noble, Panera, and basically every other major corporation offering free wifi? Unlike Coffee Exchange, or Updike's Newtowne, or Bagelz, there is a portal page through which you must agree to terms, and then sign in.

Why are there terms? Because if there weren't, the company lawyers would have nothing to do. It's shitty, plain and simple. Well, Borders does them all one better. Instead of signing in and then assigning your computer an IP number based on your MAC address (if you didn't understand that, it's ok. All it meant was that the wifi recognizes your computer and lets it in.), Borders and Verizon actually have an application that runs in the background keeping your connection active. It actually hijacks the connection from the operating system and acts like some kind of wifi cop.

I didn't have my laptop with me, so I can't confirm if it's as deathly slow as Panera, Starbucks, or B&N, but chances are it is. These big companies don't fucking get it. It's not a business model. It's not something you can skimp on. Either do it right, or forget it. For my part, you know where I'll be? I'll be at Updike's Newtown, enjoying better espresso and better wifi.

Borders to offer free Wi-Fi (

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Cold of the... of the....

ACHOO!... Season.

I'm sick. I have that lovely scratchy feeling behind my nasal cavities and down my throat a bit. At least it doesn't feel like the spiky golf ball I had in my throat near the end of last flu season. That sucker required antibiotics.

Still, life will be tough for the next few days. When you have mild congestion and a sore throat, coffee tastes like butt. One of my great loves in life tastes terrible. Just imagine if your husband/wife looked and smelled like a donkey when you had a cold. Same thing. And yes, I just compared coffee to your loved one.

But I'm taking this time to partake in one of my lesser romances: tea. My partner loves tea. She's a tea fiend. She feels strongly about many parts of tea. For example, anyone who says you should add the milk to a cup before the tea is out of their mind. Just try and argue this with her. See what happens. So about two years ago, my girlie's love of tea was too much for me to take. Being male, I'm naturally competitive. I thought about just killing her and thus removing a rival, but instead opted to learn to love tea as much as her.

Tea is a great drink. It's light, low in caffeine (but still enough for a kick), and comes in a bewildering variety of flavors. Tea is truly a drink for kings. Now to begin my discussion of tea, I'll turn to a god amongst men, the first person to mix pop-culture geek and cooking: Alton Brown.

This episode is getting a bit long in the tooth, and since the creation of Food Network and the logarithmic growth of the internet and its offerings, the world of tea has grown well beyond what Alton knew about at the time. Local grocery stores offer super-wide selections of bagged tea, with many stores offering loose-leaf in multiple varieties and brands.

For me, the internet was my best friend. The number of tea reviews available makes learning about tea a one day endeavor, leaving you to only go out and experience. I quickly discovered my love of deep and powerful black teas. Russian Caravan and Scottish Breakfast became instant favorites. While tea flavors are not as versatile as coffee, they are so amazing varied. Also unlike coffee, one tea can taste completely different from another tea. They can go well with milk or not, iced or not, some red teas I've had have needed no sugar to be sweet. Coffee always tastes like coffee. Tea, seemingly, can taste like almost anything.

Tea ReviewsMy own experiences indicate that many store teas are great teas for the price. I've had no complaints with Twinings, but the world has changed a great deal, and unless you're worried about price, there's basically no reason to buy the cheap teas. Mighty Leaf bags give you some of the best tea in the world conveniently in little hand-sewn pouches, and brands like Revolution Tea give you better tea for not much more than the cheap brands. You can also save a little money and buy in bulk. You'll never get down to the levels of Twinings or Bigelow, but you'll do well.

My favorite "big" tea has definitely got to be Mighty Leaf. They are the best bagged tea available, and they're beginning to penetrate farther into supermarket shelves. The various common brands have a few winners amongst their ranks, like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea, and you won't be disappointed, but they take up space from higher-end teas that could be made available.

If you're willing to order online, I highly recommend both Teavana and Mark T. Wendell. You'll get some of the very best teas from both places, but M.T.W. is local (for me, anyways), so it's best to support them. Teavana does have nearly one hundred locations nationwide, which allow you to walk in, sample teas, talk about each variety, and generally begin immersing yourself in the tea-drinking world. I've never had any problems with Teavana, but it's locations, clientele, and marketing are hard-core pretentious (namely, you're superior for drinking this tea), and they're pricey, even in the world of high-end tea. You can avoid this by ordering online, but then I prefer M.T.W. again.

The major players are also not the only ones in the game. Many, many smaller companies produce a whole rainbow of blends and varieties.

Others worth mentioning-A note on Numi. Their bagged teas aren't anything amazing, but they are quite pricey. It's their fantastic blossoming teas that make them truly worth it. Their loose-leaf is also very good, as one would expect, but I still prefer M.T.W.

And in closing, a bit of advice on sweetener. Lots of tea fanatics prefer as neutral a sweetener as possible, which usually means white sugar. I've found that more natural cane sugars can add some serious depth to black teas, and keeping a variety of honey around is a must for lighter teas. Hell, some teas are best drank as honey-water with a hint of tea. I find myself almost never using white sugar. Perhaps some of the finer details of the tea are lost, but I don't care. Beautifully layered experiences from tea as it slowly cools, from the tea itself and the quality of the milk, all the way to the sweetener. You can blend as many flavors as your tongue can distinguish. Don't be shy about dumping stuff into a cup. The myriad flavors of tea almost demand such experimentation. And the healthful benefits of tea means that you can basically drink it until you explode. Tea is a perfect drink. So do so.

Apple Picking

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Palazzi Orchard
1393 North Road
Dayville, CT

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I just used my laptop for some full-on WiFi access in Coffee Exchange. Much like their coffee, Coffee Exchange is a case study in how to do shit correctly.

The place was packed with people on laptops inside and out. At least a dozen, not including me. The connection was quick and fast. Page to page reaction was measured in tenths of a second, and the connection was fast enough to stream YouTube videos with aplomb. All of this without some inane portal page through which I must "sign in."

Now compare this to Barnes & Noble or Panera Bread, where I have to sign in, which sometimes doesn't work (or in PB's case, NEVER works on my cell phone), and even after that the connection is laggy, and slower than leap-year-old molasses. It's useful for checking e-mail and that's about it.

My experiences at Panera and its ilk further prove that the big guys seriously don't get it. They know how to be a big franchise and apply exacting quality control over a massive empire, but are completely unable to reach beyond that. I can only assume it's because by the time the big guys become big, they've been taken over by suits, armed with MBA's, and applying all the little nuggets they learned from those thick things called books.

This compliment goes to other places as well, including Brewed Awakenings and Blue State Coffee. Many if not most of the small guys know how to do service right, as opposed to trying to hawk over-branded garbage for ridiculous prices.

Adventures in Connecticut.

I had a family "function" to go to in Connecticut, so I figured on my way home, which was still early-afternoon, I'd make a stop by some local cafes. Connecticut is much bigger than Rhode Island, and they have some pretty large cities. I felt for sure that I'd find some good coffee.

I traveled down Rt.95 in Google Earth and looked at the various cafes that popped up. Ninety percent of which were Dunkin' Donuts locations. Ugh. And I landed on two, Cafe Lulu and Cafe Atlantique. Both seemed nice. Atlantique was like Atlantic, but better, and Lulu had a nicer website. I tossed a coin. Atlantique it is!

Damn. I had high hopes. The outside and inside were all nice. Lots of seating. Free WiFi (along with an older-than-shit computer on which they were trying to sell internet access). Good menu with good sandwiches. But holy crap the espresso was bad. I had grounds in my espresso. Grounds! Where did they come from? It was burtn beyond words. The delicate taste of liquid charcoal bathed my taste buds. I'm sure that if I had just drank poison, I'd have been fine. The menu and location were good, but with espresso that bad, it kind of defeats the purpose of a cafe. Still, a menu of crepes, panini, and other light foods means that this would be a damn fine place for a bite.

But my visit was not a waste! Right across the street was a place called the Ice Shack... or Ice House. Something. I can't remember. It doesn't matter. They had frozen. Soft serve. Ice. CUSTARD! Ohhhhh it was good. It's hard to find ice custard but it's so, so worth it. Rich and creamy. Powerfully flavorful in ways ice cream just can't be. Decadent is a good word. Unbelievably unhealthy, I'm sure, but I could not possibly care less. It's good and this was very good custard. It's unfortunate. The last place I knew of in Rhode Island serving good ice custard was Rita's Ice Custard Happiness, on Mineral Spring Avenue in Johnston. Apparently, the Japanese-sounding name did little to help their business and they went under some time ago.

So yeah. I'll have to try Lulu soon. They apparently roast their own coffee.

Ice Shack/Ice House/Ice Hut/Ice Temple/Ice Ziggurat: +++
Cafe Atlantique: ++

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mmm, Kreamy.

If you want a shock, and you use Google Earth/Maps, go take a look-see in New London, CT for a little restaurant called Kream, LLC.

Google has a website linked to it. I can't even begin to describe how NSFW this website is. Whatever the hell happened, this Kream and Kream LLC are laughably not the same Kream.

You can also just Google Kream, LLC.

If you are easily insulted, be very, very cautious.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Congrats to Gracie's

I'm not sure when it published, but I just noticed that Gracie's has been given a stellar 16/20 review on That's pretty big. The only other two restaurants in Rhode Island to have gotten the same review are Al Forno and The Castle Hill Inn. I think Gracie's is very deserving of the accolades and I wish them many years of success.

Gracie's Review (

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Continuing Adventures in Latte Art

I was very happy with the way the milk came out of the machine this time. It seems hard to reproduce the milk the exact same way every time, so this blunt but still good rosetta is rare.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Savor Providence

This past Saturday was the Savor Providence promotion, organized by Trinity Rep and participated in by 26 of Providence's restaurants. Do you think the heavy rain all day kept me away? I think not! We only had two booklets between four people, so instead of ten places we tried five.

The booklets were $35 dollars each, and each booklet had 10 tickets. You can use said tickets for food at any of the locations and use as many tickets for as many servings at any one location you want.

I used this math as my baseline to determine if I was getting my money's worth. Now, the whole point of savor Providence is similar to Restaurant Week. Restaurants use the day as a promotional loss-leader to drum up interest. As such, I should be expecting MORE than $3.50 worth of food with each serving. If I didn't get that, and instead merely got $3.50 worth I won't lodge that against the business. I at least got my money's worth.

First stop!

Aspire: What a disappointment. The menu printout, while providing information on all of the other participants, Aspire's said "see restaurant." I can understand why. If they had known the cheap-ass crap Aspire was going to sell, they wouldn't have let them join.

You know how I used the $3.50 metric as a baseline? Maybe larger numbers would make more sense, if you got ten of these...

Or ten of these...

Would you feel that you had gotten $35 worth of food? It was a complete wash out. I assumed when grabbing the food from the buffet-like table, which was lorded over by some food-Nazi to make sure people didn't make off with a second helping of $0.25 food, that we got one of each with each ticket. Nope. We got one. One skewer or one pot sticker. And it wasn't even a pot sticker. It never saw a pot to which it could stick. It was deep-fried.

The presentation was shite. Simply thrown onto a dish with some green onions chopped up. Plates were shoveled out to a central table and you simply grabbed what you wanted. Service was non-existent. The food was adequate. The sesame chicken skewer was exactly that, and the pot sticker was overly salty, but otherwise alright. Still, for $3.50, a complete rip-off. If they hope to garner new business with this, they'll be sorely disappointed.


ENO and Farmstead: We went in and skipped them. The place was laid out attractively, and service was good, the wine being served was also very good, or so I heard, but we could see that amount of wine being served was small, and you didn't exactly get a bucket of cheese. We didn't really think it worth it. And after Aspire, we were more leery of using out tickets. Still, reports say the wine and cheese were good.


10 Prime Steak & Sushi: This place was what I was expecting. We got formal service and some waters. They used the opportunity to give us menus and see if they could make a full sale. The dishes were well-presented. It was obvious that, oh, I dunno', they gave a shit.

This little dish of steak on house-made potato chips was both inventive and delicious. The crisp potato chip went very well with the perfectly cooked, rare steak slices.

The California roll was just that, but it was well-made with fresh crab. And, importantly, they gave us three bits. A buck-seventeen per bit, not a bad price.


Bravo Brasserie: Bravo brought it on home with the best deal of the day. The service was just as good as 10 Prime, although I think they missed an opportunity to try and up-sell us on a full lunch.

The steak toast Bearnaise was a treat. Two pieces of crisp French bread toast, with a piece of steak and a scoop of Bearnaise slathered über alles. The steak was tender, but a bit overdone. It was still very flavorful. The thick and flavorful Bearnaise was an excellent complement. If a restaurant offered four of these for $6.99, that would be a good deal.

The pizza was a similar story. Very well-made. The dough was crisp outside, chewy inside. The topping was stretchy and moist, with flavorful mounds of spinach, roasted red peppers, and herbs. A good deal for $3.50.


Trinity Brew House: Again, everywhere had better service than Aspire, and this place was no exception. We were sat promptly and they used the chance to try and up-sell us on a full lunch, very good. The choices were a brownie sundae, an 8oz glass of beer, or lobster mac 'n cheese. I opted for the lobster mac (net, lobster has antennae, but don't you grab it!) and no one opted for the beer. After Bravo, the otherwise good offerings paled a bit. Trinity also suffered from its status as an overly loud sausage-fest. It was 12:30pm and there was already a cadre of loud men clamoring around the bar, yelling at each other and the television. It's barely noon! What do you think you are, German?

Considering the plebeian nature of M&C, I expected more for $3.50. But it was very well-presented, with a strong lobster flavor. Quite a few big chunks of lobster. So I guess it was a good deal. Even the small salad with balsamic vinegar was good.

The brownie sundae was good. The ice cream was nice and creamy, and the brownie was warm and dense. Chocolate flavor was good, obviously not a mix. It was worth right about $3.50, I think.


Cav: I've never been subtle with my love of Cav, and the day did nothing to dim my enthusiasm. They offered a goat cheese croquette (a small fried cheese ball) drizzled and a generous glass of wine. Unfortunately...

It wasn't very good. It's bouquet was incredibly fruity, but none of that made it to the palate. It was about as dry as I'd expect a Merlot, but very flat and bland. None of the silky body I'd expect from a good Merlot, instead my tongue was greeted with a wateriness. As an overall complement, the wine was serviceable, but it was overpowered by the fantastic goat cheese. But what Cav lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity.

The glasses were filled very high (the photo is after a few minutes of sipping). In many restaurants, this alone would be worth more than $3.50. If the wine had been better, I'd have called it in competition for the best deal of the day. But really, it didn't matter. It was all about the cheese. We had four tickets, but they brought us out a fifth ball to finish the display.

I love Cav's goat cheese croquettes. Delicately fried so they're not at all greasy. Like M&M's, they melt in your mouth and not in your hand. The chunky goat cheese is creamy, rich, savory and perfectly mated with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar. A perfect way to end the day.

Onwaa...uh. Oh. We're out of tickets.

Yep. This was it for us. We had run out of tickets and stayed at Cav for brunch. The french toast was a bit too sweet. It really needed something savory to counter to 100% maple syrup. But that's neither here nor there. The day was a success. The rainfall did nothing to dampen our spirits. The winner on our tour was definitely Bravo. Bravo to Bravo for giving us our money's worth combined with good service and atmosphere. Second goes to 10 Prime, which also combined good value with service. Cav would come up higher if only the wine had been better, but as it stands it must do battle with Trinity Rep for third place. Aspire was definitely the turkey of the evening. Every place we went, we chatted with other event-goers, and we heard the same story: Aspire sucked, Temple was great. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to try Temple, though it would have been nice. Frankly, I'm happy with what I got. There's no question that I'll return next year.

QUICKVIEW: Tortilla Flats- ++ / $$

Tortilla Flats, as this Projo article covers, is under new management. A Providence standby for over three decades, the place had apparently been slowly but surely falling into unimportance. A haunt for locals and Chinese Brown students who have never seen a taco in their lives. It's nice to see a storied restaurant rise again instead of fading away (a la The Red Rooster), and while I commend the effort to return T-Flats to some level of local significance, they're not quite there, yet. That's not to say there isn't something of value there, but maybe not as much as the owners hope.

The Design:

The exterior of the restaurant is marked by a large, instantly-identifiable sign of a rather-depressed looking man (Apparently a drawing of John Steinbeck), smoking a cigarette. It's unique, and certainly achieved its goal of making me curious about the business. Other than that, it's pretty nondescript. The inside is quaint and has acceptable amounts of charm. Old wood, and a generally aged appearance inside are all pleasant. Three large windows, one on Hope Street and two on Olney, provide some much-needed light into an otherwise dark interior.

The booths in which we were seated were an orthopedic nightmare. We had to sit bolt upright, and the hard wood, lacking any contours, put our butts to sleep. I liked the aged feeling of the booth and table, and the small seats gave it a cozy feeling, but it didn't overcome how uncomfortable it all was. There are other seats available, with chairs and other such elite constructions, and I recommend asking for those unless the size of your party prevents it.

The Food:

Out first were a duo of appetizers. The coconut shrimp ($9.95) were well-made. The shrimp were very large, tender, flavorful, and the coconut crust was crispy, sweet, and well-done. A pretty good price for seven, large shrimp, as well. The amaretto dipping sauce was very sweet and a good compliment. The chili con queso ($6.95) was also a pleasant surprise. It had a lot of kick to it, and a fiery, oily consistency to it, had a pile of chopped jalapenos on top, and was served in a giant, friend tortilla bowl. It was an inventive take; spicy, cheesy, and paired well with some decently thick tortilla chips. It was the highlight of the night.

The entrees were disappointing. A traditional combo with a taco and burrito ($7.99) tasted like it was made from a kit. The corn tortilla was alright, but the filling was only a couple notches above Taco Bell. It was bland, the ground beef had no weight to it and very few spices. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, but couldn't counter the underwhelming blandness of the ground beef. Similar story with the burrito. The rice was ever worse. It tasted like it was made from a microwave-and-eat readymade packet from Stop & Shop. The rice was heavy and starchy, and bland, bland, bland. The refried beans were beans, but they were a bit watery.

The El Dorado chicken ($12.99) was better. The chicken was tender and well-cooked. A good piece with little fat. The lime flavor was pretty subdued when I would have liked it dancing all over. The pile of cheddar-jack cheese on top was good, but I would have liked a little kick, or maybe some queso blanco sprinkled on top. Something to mix it up a bit. The again sub-standard rice didn't help. Something to add some textural contrast would have been much appreciated. As it stands, it was good but totally standard fare. Good, but I could get this stuff anywhere, including the tex-mex menu down at TGI Fridays.


We didn't opt for dessert, although I must admit a couple of them looked good. I had just lost my desire to really try much else after the entrees were so underwhelming. The appetizers were well-priced and executed as well as I think one could expect. I especially liked the chili con kweh-so. But after that, everything just took the wind out of the sails. I feel pretty confident that, if I was driving by, I'd stop in for that chili again, but everything else was just so bland, I have no desire to go back. Especially when places like El Tapatio are no more than fifteen minutes away.

Tortilla Flats: ++
Price Range For Two: $20-$50
Noise Level: Moderate
Child Friendly: Yes (Until the kitchen closes)
Parking: Streetside

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355 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906

Monday through Thursday 11:30am to 1:00am
Friday & Saturday 11:30am to 2:00am
Sunday 1:00pm to 1:00am
Kitchen open until 10:00pm weekdays, 11:00pm weekends