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Chris Amirault

eG Foodblog: chrisamirault - Place Settings

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Good morning! I'm Chris Amirault, and this here's my first foodblog. Hell, it's my first blog of any kind. Thanks for reading it!

First, a quick personal introduction. I'm an unremarkable eGulleteer: pretty good skills around the kitchen, adventurous palate, opinionated as all get-out. I've got me a swell life here, what with a great partner, two great daughters, a great dog, a great house, and a great job; you'll see those folks and things at different moments during the week (though, unfortunately, not the preschoolers in my care due to security concerns).

I should say right off the bat that my main hope this week is to interact with y'all as much as you'll allow. Ask questions about what you see and read here; I'll do the same, so that the foodblog can have a sense of dialogue to it. Also, feel free to bump me in directions you find interesting. While I hope to hit a few particular meals, I also feel pretty flexible, and would be happy to try to go where you want me to go!

I do, however, have an overall theme. When Stash asked me for a title and image to announce my foodblog, I realized that my interests weren't only centered on sharing my week's eating and cooking with y'all. Of course, they are a little. Well, ok, a lot. Might as well cop to the narcissism required for foodblogging right out of the box, you know? :wink:

Like many around the eGullet Society, I'm a big fan of the food scene in my home town, particularly concerning purveyors and cheap to moderate eats. But unlike folks living in NYC, Nice, NOLA, or Napa, Providence RI seems not to rate very highly for out-of-towners, particularly now that our ex-mayor, Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci, Jr., is making license plates in a NJ jail instead of marinara in City Hall.

I'm here to tell you that it's a damned shame, because Providence is a remarkable food town. So, in addition to showing you a slice of my own food life, I will also be trying to set the place of Providence for you, dear reader. I take this challenge with the extreme optimism of someone who lives in a town where, as Mad Peck knows, most of us live off -- or in my case, work on -- Hope.

To start, I offer you an initial structuring analogy, complete with paper plate: a fantasy Providence meal, one that you can't get in its entirety anywhere in town but that represents the odd correspondences among some of the cuisines from which so many of us make our meals. It's a delicious combination of immigrant and working-class foods, chosen from a few dozen possibilities, that makes Providence stomachs growl in delight:

gallery_19804_437_33203.jpg

First, for an app, we have nime chow, a.k.a. goi cuon, a.k.a. fresh spring roll. This is a staple item at the many pan-Southeast-Asian restaurants found throughout the Providence area, and the familiarity of the dish is an indication of the wide dissemination of Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, and Hmong cuisine over the last few decades. I ordered this particular one at HON's (House of Noodles, a great pho joint just over the Cranston line on Rt 2, a.k.a. Reservoir Ave) by requesting "goi cuon" as written in the Vietnamese menu, but the hostess made sure to confirm that I wanted "nime chow," using the more familiar Cambodian word for a fresh spring roll. Like last week's bloggers, Susan and Kristin, I'm hoping to make a southeast Asian meal this week.

We're pretty flexible about names, as you can also tell from the main course, the NY System weiner. Many would tell you that this short dog, topped with mustard, minced onion, chili sauce, and celery salt, sitting in a center-split bun, is the official food of Providence. Its origins have been traced to Coney Island, but that's probably apocryphal; it's more likely that a canny weiner vendor several decades ago thought he could sell more franks to hard-working folks if he gave 'em the NYC seal of approval. I bought this one at the Olneyville NY System shop down the road from Hon's on Rt 2, the closest source to my house for good weiners; you'll likely see one of these making its way toward my mouth sooner rather than later! :biggrin:

For dessert? Why, the longer-than-it-is-wide dessert of choice among the fine folks who turned Providence into a foodie haven in the mid-20th century: the cannoli. I have yet to find a perfect cannoli in Providence -- if you know a contender, please post here -- but, given its central place of Federal Hill in the establishment of the city's culinary credibility, leaving Italian-American food off my little paper plate would have been a travesty. This baby is from Scialo Bakery, nearly 100 years old and still in fine art deco form.

Like all food, these three items say more about Providence folks than we probably realize. I'm hoping that, in the coming days, I'll be able to figure out what a few of those things are -- with your help, of course! -- during this glimpse into my odd little food world.

In the meanwhile, I've got a week of shopping, cooking, and eating to do (and I'm already nervous about the prep work for that -- there oughta be a special brand of foodblog Maalox! :wacko:) not to mention full days of actual wage-earning work. And the dog needs a walk! It's time to get crackin'!

But first, on this fifth rainy day in a row (again, see the Mad Peck Providence poster for details on the rain situation here in Providence), since some foodblog conventions are worth keepin': coffee!

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I just love that picture. What a great idea.

I'm so looking forward to this!

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I thought you'd be the next blogger, but I was too polite to guess publicly. Have a blast! Looks like I will, as usual.

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All right, nice suprise! I did not guess correctly this time.

This will be fun. C U L8r. :smile:

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Thanks! I'm trying to get the hang of this strange business, so the feedback helps!

In the spirit of full disclosure, here is a picture of what the kitchen really looked like this morning:

gallery_19804_437_31303.jpg

I'm not doing close ups of the crumbs and dirty dishes in the stock pot, but you get the idea. I hope that no one is looking for Mr. Clean-approved surfaces in this foodblog!

Ditto the refrigerator:

gallery_19804_437_4586.jpg

Tons of chicken stock from last night (I scored some excellent wings that had been trimmed poorly -- lots of meat -- and some fat little feet), lamb defrosting, too many eggs.... Like I said, yer gettin' warts 'n' all! Does anyone want to try to guess what's in the ziplok bag center frame?

Ok, here's the most expensive thing that we've bought for this kitchen, by far: Miss Silvia!

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We love Miss Silvia! We calculated that we paid her off about 18 months after we got her, simply from savings on cappucinos and espressos out in the world. We also make much, much better coffee than our local coffee shops now. Our coffee is Alterra, a roaster from Milwaukee where I went to grad school. Their espresso blend is just perfect for us, and even with shipping it's about 30% less than what we'd have to settle for here.

gallery_19804_437_17933.jpg

I have to say that, by now, both Andrea and I pull perfect shots about 90% of the time. All three this morning looked like this:

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That top layer of beige is just the uber-froth; the entire shot is filled with crema, that milky, Guiness-stout-percolating kind. People often ask why we seem to get such consistent results, and besides the obvious (keep things reasonably clean, good beans ground just before use, good pressure when tamping) I encourage people to think about the seal (sorry for the blur):

gallery_19804_437_34741.jpg

Too often I see barristas slamming out shots with dirty porta-filters; those little grains prevent the proper pressure from being created. After some lightning-fast milk foaming, here are our two caps, my quad/little foam on the right, Andrea's double on the left (both have turbonado sugar on 'em).

gallery_19804_437_41492.jpg

Toast for breakfast, thanks to Andrea, the house baker, whose most recent loaf is beloved by all, especially Bebe:

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And, finally, breakfast while I blog.

:blink:

Oops...

gallery_19804_437_40459.jpg

:hmmm: Reminder to self: this week, snap photo before biting....

Off to walk Zeke, our beloved black and tan coonhound!

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Obligatory foodblog pet shot: Zeke at Roger Williams Park:

gallery_19804_437_7993.jpg

Justification for obligatory pet shot: Hip Chips, the high-end dog treat that Zeke won at this year's Providence Animal Rescue League Pet Walk (the event at which we got Zeke two years ago) for having the loudest bark:

gallery_19804_437_59463.jpg

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Even your dog is a foodie, Chris - I love it! Can't to see what other culinary wonders Providence has in store.

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At work now and getting blitzed, of course. But, on the way in, I stopped in the Fox Point neighborhood. Fox Point was the center of Portuguese life in Providence through the second half of the 20th century, at the time when Providence (and the surrounding area) was the center of Portuguese activity in the northeast. The streets are distinguished by dozens of triple deckers painted in light pastels (hard to see in these shots, I'm afraid). Because the neighborhood is adjacent to the East Side and the campus of Brown University, those triple deckers over time held fewer and fewer Portuguese folks and more and more students living off-campus.

On Saturdays, you can still find fishermen with their pickups filled with whatever they caught, selling out of the back with hand-held scales. Aside from that, there are really only two vestiges of the Portuguese food community left in the neighborhood. The first is Central Meat Market on Gano St:

gallery_19804_437_49497.jpg

This is a great shop in which you can buy beef spine and tongue, rabbits now and then, goat, pork of all kinds, and the best Portuguese chorice in the city. I grabbed two pounds of it in case the evening calls for kale soup (and, from the looks of this grey photo, it might, huh?). Unfortunately, the owner wouldn't let me take photos inside the shop....

The other food stop in Fox Point is Silver Star bakery:

gallery_19804_437_15202.jpg

Silver Star seems to be doing fine; they just opened another shop on the road to my house on the south side of Providence, which even has breakfast. They make a well-known Portuguese sweet bread there. I'm not a big fan of Portuguese baked goods, so I didn't stop in, but I love their blue neon sign.

Anyone a fan of Portuguese food? I know that johnnyd is, based on his foodblog.

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I can't wait to see more. I haven't been to Providence in almost 10 years.

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I'm also happy that my guess that you would be the next foodblogger turned out to be correct. Have a fun week.

Another ethnic group I tradtionally associate with Providence are the Portuguese. Are there Portuguese restaurants and bakeries around?

edited to add: I just cross posted wth Chris...! I'm not that familiar with Portuguese food but I do like what I've had including linguica . I just used some to make an excellent pot of caldo verde.


Edited by ludja (log)

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I can't wait to see more. I haven't been to Providence in almost 10 years.

Same here - I haven't been since college, but I always loved it. I lived in Cape Cod for a summer, and we used to come into Providence for shows and shopping. I remember eating at a restaurant that was part of a bookstore. It was the first time I ever had baked brie. I also have very fond memories of an egg truck on the Brown campus. It was late, we were drunk, and we had awesome eggs very late at night, sitting on a curb.

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I recall that Emeril Lagasse is of Portugese extraction and that he always says that his mother taught him to cook various Portugese dishes.

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I can't wait to see more. I haven't been to Providence in almost 10 years.

What did you eat when you were here?

Same here - I haven't been since college, but I always loved it. I lived in Cape Cod for a summer, and we used to come into Providence for shows and shopping. I remember eating at a restaurant that was part of a bookstore. It was the first time I ever had baked brie. I also have very fond memories of an egg truck on the Brown campus. It was late, we were drunk, and we had awesome eggs very late at night, sitting on a curb.

Providence Bookstore Cafe was the place that you got your baked brie, right on Wayland Square on the East Side; it's no longer there. Wonderful place, filled with a very strange mix of older folks drinking several small and watery manhattans and younger folks drinking whatever they could get their hands on. Overpriced but pretty good bar food.

And the truck was most surely the Silver Truck, which used to be parked near the corner of Brown and George Streets on Brown's campus. At the end of a long night of drinking, their BLT subs were positively divine (though I think that the light of day and reason might temper that assessment).

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and the best Portuguese chorice in the city. I grabbed two pounds of it in case the evening calls for kale soup (and, from the looks of this grey photo, it might, huh?)

please make chorizo&kale soup! It's a favorite of mine and I would love to see how you make it!

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Glad to see you blogging, Chris! I always enjoy reading your posts.

I've been in Providence once only, a few years back. I can't remember any specific restaurants where we ate - there was one expensive and good seafood joint on the waterfront - but I vividly remember Federal Hill. If you feel like a virtual tour of that area, I'm good to go.

Hey, that looks like a Mel-Mac ™ plate, ca. 1960's vintage, supporting your breakfast? My father worked as a wholesale hardware company representative, and we had a variety of plates with similar patterns when I was growing up. Am I seeing that correctly?

I can't begin to guess what's in the Zip-lock bag. However, I'm glad to see someone else of the "stuffed refrigerator" club. I figure a full refrigerator is more energy-efficient than a sparsely-populated one that needs all that air to be kept cool. :biggrin:

Finally: I don't know much about Portuguese cuisine, but I do love linguica and kale soup. I second that request to show us how you do it.

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Hi, Nancy!

I've been in Providence once only, a few years back.  I can't remember any specific restaurants where we ate - there was one expensive and good seafood joint on the waterfront - but I vividly remember Federal Hill.  If you feel like a virtual tour of that area, I'm good to go.

Perhaps this weekend -- when, so they say, the weather should be slightly sunny.... :hmmm:

Hey, that looks like a Mel-Mac plate, ca. 1960's vintage, supporting your breakfast?  My father worked as a wholesale hardware company representative, and we had a variety of plates with similar patterns when I was growing up.  Am I seeing that correctly?

That is, in fact, a Blue Heaven plate by Royal China. We are big fans of mid-century modern design, and we have a pretty extensive set of Blue Heaven. You'll see little bits of that and other mid-century stuff around the house now and then.

I can't begin to guess what's in the Zip-lock bag.  However, I'm glad to see someone else of the "stuffed refrigerator" club.  I figure a full refrigerator is more energy-efficient than a sparsely-populated one that needs all that air to be kept cool.  :biggrin:

Well, here's a hint: it's a meat marinade that includes apple.

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little bits of that and other mid-century stuff around the house now and then.

I can't begin to guess what's in the Zip-lock bag.  However, I'm glad to see someone else of the "stuffed refrigerator" club.  I figure a full refrigerator is more energy-efficient than a sparsely-populated one that needs all that air to be kept cool.   :biggrin:

Well, here's a hint: it's a meat marinade that includes apple.

Ahhhh.... bibimbop.

I have an asian pear in my fridge awaiting the exact same fate.

What cut of meat did you use?

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Well, here's a hint: it's a meat marinade that includes apple.

o yay! are you by any chance going to make.. bibimbap, with the meat marinading in Torakris' special marinade? I hope so, 'cause my bibimbap is getting a bit lonely over in the bibimbap cook-off..

edited to add: danielle beat me to it..


Edited by Chufi (log)

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Just ran out to do a quick errand and have some lunch. I went up to Smith Hill, which is where the state house is located, and which also has an odd-ball mix of restaurants and shops. I go up there primarily for two reasons.

The first is Baroudi Bakery, which is also a small Middle Eastern store. Any halwah fans out there? The Lebanese owner sells very good olives and some other stuff that's good to have around the house, plus he also sells the best halwah in the city. Andrea in particular loves it.

Here's the exterior:

gallery_19804_437_41622.jpg

And here's the interior (I'd have shot the olive counter but the glare was too much for my meek camera skills):

gallery_19804_437_55985.jpg

Truth be told, I didn't go to Baroudi for the halwah. Rather, I parked in the Baroudi parking lot so that I could have weiners!

gallery_19804_437_31395.jpg

This is Gust Pappas's Original New York System weiner shop, which, as the sign tells you, was opened in 1927:

gallery_19804_437_18074.jpg

I described the NY system weiner above; here's the work area for he who makes these delectable items:

gallery_19804_437_20687.jpg

Working clock-wise from the top, you'll first see the weiners themselves, sitting somewhat forlorn on the flat grill in a sheen of grease. One doesn't want the weiner to have any brown on it, so they just pink up a bit. Next are the bags of buns, soft little buggers with center splits. In the two bins (one open) is the chili sauce, and the lower two bins (the big ones) are minced onions and yellow mustard. Finally, between those two is the crucial celery salt. "All the way" is bun, dog, mustard, chili, onion, celery salt, and if you order up to four, the dogs sit on the cook's arm in a row, getting each topping in sequence. It's a beautiful thing:

gallery_19804_437_31664.jpg

Of course, as a courtesy to your co-workers, one needs a few Altoids before returning to work. Ahem.

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Klary and Danielle got it! It's beef for bibimbap. It's round, I think; the cut wasn't labelled on the package I got from the Asian store, but they have lots of pho makings, so round seems like a decent guess.

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Can you vary the toppings at all? Like, could you get sauerkraut, or do they only have those that you described?

(NY girl here)

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Can you vary the toppings at all? Like, could you get sauerkraut, or do they only have those that you described?

(NY girl here)

You can ask for variations on the existing toppings, but sauerkraut? Um, no. That wouldn't go over so well....

edited to clarify the particularities of topping bias -- ca


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

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Can you vary the toppings at all? Like, could you get sauerkraut, or do they only have those that you described?

(NY girl here)

Um, no. That wouldn't go over so well....

:laugh::laugh:

OK, I won't embarrass myself by asking for some when I come visit.

(Sauerkraut isn't big here in Toledo either)

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Chris,

You're either brave or crazy ... blogging and hosting at the same time. I'm sure Andrea and Zeke are going to miss you this week! :laugh:

Very envious of Miss Silvia. What's the coffee culture like in Providence? Are there enough choices to make it difficult to discipline yourself to use your machine, or are you better off not going out?

Good luck!

A.

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