Poetic License and the Cobb Salad

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A long time ago, Sid Grauman – the Chinese theater guy – walked in late one night to that Hollywood legend The Brown Derby.  He wanted a snack before heading home after a long day and a late evening, something different, something satisfying, something filling, but something that would be easy to eat, because Grauman was suffering from a toothache.  Robert Cobb, owner of the legendary restaurant walked into the kitchen – already shut down for the evening – and started rooting through the refrigerator to see what he could rustle up that would fit the bill.  He pulled out hard boiled eggs and crispy bacon.  He found some left over cooked chicken and a ripe avocado.  There was roquefort cheese and tomatoes.  Then there was a selection of various lettuces.  Cobb chopped all of these ingredients finely, laid them all out decoratively on a platter, whipped up a salad dressing, and served it to Sid Grauman.  The dish was a hit, and Grauman came back frequently to order the Cobb Salad.

My first attempt at salad following my gastric bypass surgery was with a Cobb salad.  Packed with protein in the form of the chicken, eggs, cheese, bacon and avocado; and diced very finely, I thought it would be the perfect meal for me.  I ordered the dish at PJ Whelihan’s, and it worked pretty darn well for me.  I certainly couldn’t eat the whole thing, but I concentrated on the proteins, added bits of the lettuce and tomato, I ordered it with the dressing on the side, and plowed my way through about 1/4 of a very delicious meal.

Whenever I see a Cobb salad on a menu, I like to order it.  Again, with the protein and veggies, combined with the fact that I can’t eat the whole calorie laden dish in one sitting, it’s a terrific meal for me.  The flavors in a Cobb salad just blend together and satisfy every craving.

But what you often get when you order a Cobb salad in a restaurant is nothing like a Cobb salad.  Some are just slight deviations off of the original – one restaurant might sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of the whole thing; another might skip the egg or the avocado; another might only use one type of lettuce as opposed to a blend.  Then you have the truly deviant chefs who are leaving things whole – a whole chicken breast, for example.  You might have someone who experimented with a steak Cobb salad or a seafood Cobb salad. 

Why?  The Cobb salad was brilliant – a culinary masterpiece, beautiful in that it was simple, tasty, and satisfying.  But, okay, you don’t eat chicken, so you switch it up and use seafood.  I’m okay with that.  I understand that some people feel the need to make a personal statement.  BUT CHOP THE SALAD!  How dare you serve a Cobb salad that is little more than a grilled chicken salad, with full leaves of lettuce, chicken breast strips, and whatever else you feel like throwing in there.  Grape tomatoes are NOT chopped tomatoes.  If it’s a COBB salad, it is meant to be CHOPPED!

Interpret the salad however you want in terms of ingredients.  Mix it up with a different kind of cheese or God forbid, use steak.  But if you are going to call something a Cobb salad, please don’t serve it to me unless you chop it. 

Elements Cafe Haddon Heights – A Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

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Elements Cafe

517 Station Avenue

Haddon Heights, NJ

(856)546-8840

On an quaint little street in an adorable old town sits the charming little cafe called Elements.  Simple is probably the best way to describe the restaurant.  Two rows of tables, seating at each table for four people, simply decorated, and simply wonderful! 

Elements is a tapas style restaurant.  Our first experience with tapas style dining was at Cafe Tutu Tango when we lived in Orlando.  This was one of our favorite restaurants for a number of reasons, including the eclectic decor, the occasionally available psychic, the varied local art on the walls, and the incredibly diverse cuisine.  A table full of people could order everything from pizza to potstickers; soup to sashimi.  The best part was that each dish was a small plate – an appetizer sized portion of the dish – so that you could order three or four different things for each person at the table and everyone got to try a wide variety of food from all cultures.  We LOVED that about the place, and it was like finding the pearl in the oyster to find this style of dining right in our own backyard at Elements Cafe! 

Jim and I tried one Thursday night to get there for dinner, but Jim doesn’t get in until 8:15, and their last seating is at 8:45.  On our first attempt, heavy traffic foiled the plan, but we got lucky tonight.  Jim’s plane was early, he got off the plane quickly, and his lead foot got us to the restaurant at 8:30.  We were the only ones there, and I worried that they might have already closed, but the hostess/waitress was very welcoming, and offered us our choice of tables.  We took her suggestion of a cozy little table next to all the other cozy little tables, and we settled in.  She quickly brought menus, and after getting Jim’s many glasses of water and my unsweetened iced tea, she told us about the specials for the evening.  We asked about some of her favorites on the menu, and she was quick to point out which dishes she was particularly fond of.  Keeping her suggestions in mind, we browsed the menu and chose a few of her recommendations and a few that were especially appealing to us. 

We started off with the pulled pork potstickers, which the guy at the jewelry store next to the restaurant raved about while we were getting Jim’s watch resized last week; and at the waitress’ suggestion, the sweet potato and asiago cheese ravioli.  The ravioli – pan fried – were stuffed with a light blend of the potato and cheese, slightly crisp on the outside, with a delicate sauce to balance out the dish.  I had worried that the potato and cheese mixture would be heavy, as sweet potatoes can sometimes be, but this was far from heavy.  There were three nice sized ravioli on the plate for $7, and Jim and I each had one and split the third. 

The potstickers were also pan fried, loaded with a deliciously flavored and oh so tender pulled pork, and the three very generously sized potstickers rested on a very tasty barbecue sauce.  I managed to eat one, trimming off the outside edges, which were a little too crisp for my altered stomach to handle, and that was plenty for me.  I’m sure there was too much sugar in the sauce, but I avoided using the potsticker to soak up too much of the barbecue sauce, thereby avoiding a dumping incident in the middle of the restaurant.

We were advised before ordering that they were out of the chicken soup featured on the menu, so I asked if the soup sampler – listed as a trio of soups – was still available, assuming they would just double up on one of the other soups.  The featured soups this evening were a creamy mushroom and a cream of broccoli, and the trio was available with the seafood bisque rounding out the sampler.  I am not a fan of broccoli soup in any manner, but I did take a small taste for the sake of inquiring minds.  The thing that always bothers me about broccoli soup is the overwhelming smell and taste of broccoli – and I like broccoli!  For some reason, however, for my palate, pureeing it just doesn’t work.  Having said that, this soup was actually rather delicate in flavor.  The stinky smell of broccoli didn’t dominate the soup, so I didn’t have to hold my nose to taste it, and while it did still taste like broccoli, it wasn’t the really strong flavor I’ve experienced in other cream of broccoli soups.  I was done after one spoon full, but certainly this was not a soup that I was repulsed by.

As for the other two soups – well, I could have eaten GALLONS!  If I could eat bread, I would have been sopping up the remnants from the sides of the bowl to get every last drop of the mushroom and seafood soups.  The mushroom soup, creamy and perfectly seasoned, rivaled my favorite mushroom soup of all times, served at Hugo’s in Kennett Square, PA (mushroom capital of the world); but the seafood bisque was the star of the show!  For me, a lot of bisques are too heavy since my surgery.  Not so this one.  It was creamy and light and delicious, and I could have easily skipped everything else I ordered for a huge bowl of this soup.  Jim and I nearly came to blows over the last few drops of the mushroom soup, but I scooped up the remaining seafood bisque without guilt, seeing as how he ate the majority portion of the broccoli soup.  My mouth is watering over it as I type!  The trio of soups was $8, and the portions of each soup were about the size of an espresso cup.

If you’ve been reading my restaurant reviews with any regularity, you know I’m on a scallop kick.  An excellent source of protein and easy for gastric bypass patients to eat, scallops are nearly the perfect food for our altered systems.  Three large pan seared scallops were presented on a citrusy flavored sauce, with a tasty little garnish of cabbage and green stuff (yeah, okay, so I’m not a gourmet).  I could have licked the plate clean of the sauce, and the scallops were gorgeous, perfectly cooked, seared and delicious.  I ate two of the three scallops, leaving just one for Jim, but we had chosen a second main course of stuffed lamb, which he seemed to have no problem polishing off.  The lamb was cooked to the medium I requested, and this was really a nice portion for the $11 price tag.  Served over a bed of greens which were AWESOME, the lamb had great flavors, but after eating one piece of the four on the plate, I realized my stomach was not going to allow me to eat any more.  Another nice sauce accompanied the lamb, but the greens got most of the attention – buttery, flavorful, and delicious.

We browsed the dessert menu, and were tempted by the balsamic swirl ice cream, but I can’t indulge in sugar without dire consequences, so we passed on dessert, opting instead for an order of the short rib pierogies to go.  I’ll have to let you know tomorrow how they were, because the kids for whom they were intended were all asleep by the time we got home!

My first wrap up comment would be to tell you that this is the IDEAL restaurant for someone who has had gastric bypass surgery.  The tapas sized dishes allow even someone with limited stomach capacity to sample a few different things and enjoy the variety.  Someone who is not gastrically altered can still have a filling meal here, but after gastric bypass surgery, this is a place you can come to and not worry about over eating. 

Elements Cafe provides a wonderful alternative to places like Cheesecake Factory, where the emphasis seems to be on overloading your plate with mediocre food at a reasonable price so you’ll walk out of there stuffed to the point of discomfort but feeling like you’ve had a great meal because you still have a doggie bag and change in your pocket.  At Elements Cafe, you will have just the right amount of deliciously prepared food to feel satisfied, but definitely with a plan to come back for more.

Reservations are suggested, and I would imagine on weekend evenings, this place must fill up.  They serve lunch as well, and on a beautiful spring day, they are in the perfect location to grab a bite to eat, then window shop along Station Avenue.  I phoned before we went to check on the dress code and was told that as long as I had clothes on, I was appropriately dressed.  I imagine no one would be made to feel uncomfortable there, whether you go in jeans or a suit and tie – and on this particular night, Jim was in a suit and tie, and I wore jeans.

I cannot recommend enough this delightful restaurant.  I know we will be going back, and with a little luck, I can convince Eilis that this might be the perfect spot for her First Holy Communion luncheon!

Termini Brothers Bakery Takes the Cake on This Field Trip!

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Eilis’ class had a field trip today into Philadelphia.  The first stop on the trip was at the Mummers’ Museum, followed by a tour of Termini Brothers Bakery, then a visit to Betsy Ross’ house.  I’ll tell you first about the Mummers’ Museum and Betsy’s house, and then I will ramble on and on seemingly endlessly on how much I love Terminis and why.

We left school about 8:30, and arrived not too long afterwards at the Mummers Museum.  Located at 1100 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia, the museum is dedicated to the merry band of marchers who has welcomed in the New Year in the city of Brotherly Love for more than 1000 years.  Inside the museum, you will find costumes, photographs, and Mummers memoribilia from years gone by.  They also have a large banquet hall that can host events for up to about 200 people.  Our visit here began with a 15 minute video tape of parade clips from various years, followed by a very brief tour of one of the exhibit halls (it may be the only exhibit hall, I’m not sure).  The kids had an incredibly short demonstration of how to do the Mummers’ Strut, but it was way too crowded with all of those kids in the small space they had for dancing.  We followed that up with a craft break, where the kids were given masks and feathers, and they decorated with crayons and glitter.  They seated us at long tables in the banquet hall for that, so don’t worry – you won’t encounter any historic Mummers costumes with a few oddly placed feathers or non-matching glitter anywhere.  When we were finished our craft, we headed back out to the bus for Terminis.

After Terminis, we went to the Betsy Ross House.  Located at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia, the 250 year old house was home to Betsy Ross from 1773 until 1785.  The courtyard outside the house was crowded with other tour groups on a gorgeous spring day in Philadelphia.  We waited in line, lunch bags in hand, and did a very quick tour of the house, 10 people at a time.  Our group did the lightening version of the tour, and we were out of the house in less than 10 minutes.  The kids were starving, and carrying their lunches made the house so much less appealing than what was in the lunch bags!  Once you were done your tour, you could go back out to the courtyard and eat.  We also visited Betsy herself, who made paper 5 point stars for the kids and talked about the different textiles she worked with back in the 1700’s.  We saw a show about the Wonder Girls of the American Revolution, performed by Molly Pitcher and Debbie Sampson.  There were a few other Revolutionary characters wandering around, but the gift shop got most of the attention from the kids.  We left Betsy Ross’ house at about 1:30 for our 2 o’clock return to school.

But the highlight of the entire day was our stop at Termini Brothers Bakery!  There is and always will be a soft spot in my heart for Termini’s.  My dad used to take us there when we were kids to pick up desserts once in a while or to buy tea biscuits for my Grandmom Fee; Jim and I had our wedding cake made at Termini’s; everytime we brought one of our babies in, they were given delicious Italian cookies to teethe on; and anytime we bring one of the kids, they are given a big cupcake with sprinkles.  It helps that everything that comes out of the kitchen at Termini’s is delicious – from the cookies to the cannolis; the light as air lemon cooler cake to the creamy and delicious Italian rum cake. 

Walking into Termin’s today was like walking into your Italian Grandparents’ house on a Sunday afternoon.  As we piled out of the bus and into the store at 1523 South 8th Street in South Philadelphia, we were greeted by the staff at Termini’s and Mr. Termini himself.  The counter ladies passed a huge tray of Italian cookies to the adults, and a tray piled just as large with chocolate chip cookies to all of the children.  Mr. Termini stood in front of the kids and told them about the history of the bakery, his father and his uncle coming from Italy to make the American dream come true for their family.  He talked about his own 40+ year marriage to a girl he met at the bakery – she was a 19 year old counter girl when they met and married, while he worked with his father and uncle in the bakery.  And he spoke with great pride of his sons, both in the business, and his daughter, a hospice nurse.  He told the kids of his new venture, a coffee shop located across the street in the shop that was the original Termini’s bakery.  And then he welcomed us all into the kitchen.  We watched a group of about 8 men making cannoli shells for the famous and delicious pastry that will be sent not only to all 5 Termini’s locations from this store, but shipped all over the country.  They let the kids watch up close and personal as they mixed up cake batter in giant mixers.  And when they were finished with that, they were escorted into the decorating room, where a large, white sheet cake stood as a blank slate.  The cake decorator whipped out icing in the school colors and decorated the sheet cake for the kids to take back to school, where they will enjoy it as a treat after the field day activities tomorrow.  When all the questions were answered and everyone was satisfied that the decorator knew how to make roses, leaves, borders, and other assorted icing decorations, we began walking back out toward the bus.  But wait!  No one leaves Grandmom’s house empty handed!  Each child was handed a bag with a large cupcake with sprinkles on it, and each mom, dad, and teacher got a goodie bag containing a freshly made cannoli. 

You know after this visit why Termini’s is an institution.  You know why your grandmother went there, your parents went there, you go there, and you take your kids there.  This business is a family – from the woman who for the last 16 years has packed up the orders to be sent out to the other stores to the man who has spent 23 years decorating cakes for this bakery.  We were welcomed into the store like we were family, and when we left, we were made to feel that they were glad we came and they looked forward to us coming back. 

Maybe I’ll do just that.  I’m hoping to do a little Memorial Day grilling on Sunday.  I think the highlight of the barbecue for my kids would be a big bite of lemon cooler cake.  Or a freshly made cannoli.  Or their very own sprinkled cupcake.  It doesn’t matter.  It will all taste good, and we will know it was made with the ingredient that will keep us coming back for generations.

I Can Walk For Miles and Miles

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Jim likes to take the family to Cooper River when he’s home on the weekends.  It’s kind of an exercise thing we can all do together.  We usually leave Brighid and Eilis at the playground, and Jim and I take Granuaile in her stroller around the river.  It’s a 3 mile walk from start to finish, and we just thought it would be too much for Eilis.  Well, this past weekend, there was a regatta on the river, and you couldn’t park where the playground was.  We had to park on the other side of the river, and if the kids wanted to go to the playground, they had to walk a mile and a half to get to it.  We figured we’d try the walk, and if it became necessary, Jim would finish the walk and get the car in the event that the kids couldn’t do the whole trip.

I was SO proud of Eilis!  Not only did she walk the whole 3 miles with virtually NO complaining, she is begging us to take her back with her bike so she can ride the bike for the whole 3 miles :-)  There was the occasional run ahead so she could sit on a park bench for a few seconds while the rest of us caught up, but she really did walk effortlessly around the entire river.

I always hate the getting started part of the walk.  Then I get about half way around and REALLY hate the walk – especially knowing that I still have a mile and a half to go.  But when I’m done, I’m proud of myself for finishing the whole thing.  And I can see an improvement from the fall, before the weather got too cold, in the time it takes me to get around.  I think at some point, I’d like to jog a little and see if I can add any time at all.  Of course, watching the other people jog by me, grunting, groaning, and looking as if they are two steps away from a 911 call doesn’t make the jogging thing look appealing, but it would be so nice to at some point do the walk in less than an hour.

The Club Diner Bellmawr, New Jersey

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The Club Diner 20 North Black Horse Pike, Bellmawr, NJ  

If you live in Jersey, you have a diner.  Come on, you know what I’m talking about.  You don’t OWN a diner, but you HAVE a diner.  It’s the place you go to after Mass on Sunday for breakfast and after bowling on Thursday night for a snack.  It’s the place you go grab a bite before a PTA meeting or after a funeral.  If you walk into a room full of your family right now and said, “Let’s go, we’re going to the diner”, there’s no mistaking which diner you are talking about.  It’s YOUR diner.

For us, that diner is the Club Diner, located on the Black Horse Pike in Bellmawr.  Within about 3 miles of our home, I can count 5 diners.  We live closest to the Club diner, so for our first diner meal in New Jersey after our move back from Florida, that’s where we went.  In the 7 years we have lived in this part of New Jersey, the Club diner has become our diner, but in the past year, it seems to have become more our diner than it was before.

Jim works out in the Midwest, and I pick him up at the airport on Thursday nights.  His flights when he worked in Milwaukee were always late – scheduled to come in at 10:25, but often not getting in until 11:30 or later.  He would skip dinner in Milwaukee so that he and I could grab something to eat before we went home.  It was a nice way to reconnect after being apart all week, and because of it’s convenient proximity to our house and the 24 hour schedule, the Club diner was our restaurant of choice.

It only took a couple of weeks before Patty, the overnight waitress, became acquainted with our patterns.  She would walk over to our table with Jim’s large glass of ice water and my unsweetened iced tea.  She would double check that our order was the same – and it always was.  I would order the bowl of Chicken Orzo soup, and Jim ordered the crab cake platter to share with me; mashed potatoes and peas; and a cup of the soup.  We would also order another crab cake platter to go, with the same veggies.  By the time we were nearly through with our crab cake platter, Patty would be there by the table with the second order wrapped up and ready to go, Jim’s rice pudding packed up, the extra rice pudding with the other platter wrapped up, and a box for the leftover crabcake on Jim’s plate.  It’s a nice feeling to be a “regular” – you know, the Norm on Cheers type of guy, walking into the diner, everyone knows you, and they know your order from the time your car pulls up in the parking lot. 

But all that doesn’t give a fair review of the Club Diner.  So here’s the thing.  Diner food is comfort food.  You don’t go there looking for delicate seafood dishes or frou frou souffles.  You want to know the diner can make a good meatloaf, and that there will always be mashed potatoes on the menu.  You want them to produce a good Western Omelet, whether you are there at 8 in the morning, 8 at night, or 3 in the morning.  You want the chef’s salad to be served with a heaping helping of lettuce, a ton of julienned lunch meats and cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and enough dressing that they serve it in a gravy boat. 

The Club Diner gives you all of that, and more.  We don’t get to go late at night on Thursday nights anymore, and we’ve branched out into ordering other foods now that I can eat more.  On a recent visit, at about 9 on a Thursday, I ordered the scallops.  They were perfect!  Nicely seasoned, perfectly cooked, and served on the traditional diner toast, the dish was a real treat at a reasonable price.  Their roast pork loin is so tender, you can eat it with a spoon and not have to worry about cutting it up.  The crab cakes are tasty, although a bit filled with filler, but there is real crab meat in them and they are HUGE.  Another visit had me ordering the special teriyaki salmon.  Thank goodness THAT was before gastric bypass surgery!  Had the dining room been emptier, I would have licked the plate clean and gone into the kitchen looking for more. 

The waitresses at the diner all seem like they’ve been there for most of the 7 years we’ve lived here.  Most of the patrons seem like they’ve been there for the whole 60 years the diner has been there. 

You can’t beat the Club Diner for price or portion anywhere, but the added bonus here is that it really seems like someone cares what comes out of the kitchen.  What I wouldn’t do right now for a big bowl of Chicken orzo soup – better than Grandmom made (of course, my grandmother was Irish, and definitely NOT known for her abilities in the kitchen).  Seriously, the Club Diner has everything and anything you could want, and someone wants you to enjoy what you order and come back for more.  That’s more than can be said for a lot of area diners.  I’m glad we found this diner and made it our own. 

And a Fine Mother’s Day Was Had By All

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Ah, Mother’s Day.  The day your kids get up at the crack of dawn and destroy your kitchen to make you an inedible breakfast of burnt toast, raw eggs, and freshly squeezed orange juice, made with sweet potatoes because we don’t have any oranges, and after all, the sweet potatoes are orange, right?

No – that didn’t happen here.  I did get up at the crack of dawn, but that was to take Brighid to re-do her senior portraits, which turned out not so good.  I had asked Jim to meet me at the mall so when the sales pitch was on, I wouldn’t be tempted to purchase more portraits than we needed.  I was so proud of myself when I got the price of portraits down from $1400 to less than $400.  Jim, however, called the store later to talk them down a few more dollars by re-arranging a package or two.  But the pictures are great.  You’ll see them soon.

I came home and Jim and I went with Eilis to the supermarket.  We bought a few of the regular groceries for the week, and also purchased the Mother’s Day dinner, which consisted of a variety of veggies for roasting, corn on the cob for steaming, steak and scallops for grilling. 

And there were gifts galore!  First, my in-laws sent me a beautiful necklace in gold and diamonds that is just so sweet, very unique, and absolutely lovely!  I put it on as soon as I received the package, and have gotten quite a few compliments.  It really is a pretty necklace. 

My husband bought me chocolate!  It’s not regular chocolate, it’s ChocoPerfection – a low carb version of chocolate.  Not only did he buy me ChocoPerfection, he bought me three varieties – including the raspberry one, which I have not tried before.  It’s yum.

My husband also made a really sentimental purchase.  Each of the five of us got a gold cross.  The front of the cross has a pattern resembling princess cut diamonds – diamonds being ever so precious, and representative of our three little princesses.  And on the back of each cross, he had my birthday, his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and each of the kids’ birthdays engraved.  It’s something the girls will always have, and it’s a way for each of them, as they drift off and go to college and out into the world to find their own way, to know they are still connected to each other and to us at home.  It was a really lovely idea.

Then, the cherry on the top of the Mother’s Day Sundae, a STARBUCKS gift card!  It’s a $25 card, which keeps me in coffee for a week, but it’s totally designed by my husband to reflect me :-)  The card even has the name of my drink on it, so if I’m ever in a terrible accident and the EMTs are looking for emergency identification information, they only need to look at my card, call STARBUCKS, and anyone there will tell them, “That’s Anna’s drink!”  I can almost get rid of my medical alert bracelet!

Jim hung out with Granuaile, and Eilis played with the granddaughter of the lady next door, and Brighid and I tackled dinner.  She roasted the veggies, which turned out awesome; and I grilled the meat and cooked the scallops. 

The only bad part of the day is that it was Sunday, so when the day was over, we had to get Jim all packed up and ready to go back to the Midwest.  As always, the worst part of the week :-(  Thank goodness it will be Thursday before we know it!

The Lobster Trap Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

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The Lobster Trap

5300 North Park Drive

Pennsauken, NJ

For three years, I have driven by the Lobster Trap Restaurant on the banks of the Cooper River in Pennsauken nearly every day.  I have parked in the parking lot they share with the playground so many times, I have lost count.  But I have never had a desire to stop in and eat there.  The outside of the restaurant is a little shack looking – like a snack bar on the beach kind of feel.  It really looks like you could walk out of Cooper River, all Creature from the Black Lagoon looking, and walk right up to the restaurant and eat.  And who wants to eat next to the Creature from the Black Lagoon? 

So we are a year away from our middle daughter’s First Holy Communion.  For the oldest daughter’s celebration of her First Holy Communion, we went to Yesterday’s, located on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  Well, we lived there then, and there were any number of restaurants to choose from with a waterfront view.  I was hoping we would find something just as nice here, with an interesting view, and as we were walking around Cooper River during a regatta a couple of weeks ago, we thought it might be worth looking into the Lobster Shack, um, I mean Trap after all.

Can I just say that you could have knocked me over with a feather when we walked in late last Thursday night for our dinner.  You walk across the boardwalk entry ramp into a restaurant that is bright, crisp and clean looking.  Simple but elegant in decor, I am quite surprised at how busy this place is at this hour.  It is almost 9 PM when we walk in, and there is still a pretty good dinner crowd.

We are offered a table in the dining room or out on the deck, and even though it’s too dark to really see or appreciate the view of the river during our meal, Jim asks for a deck table.  We have our middle daughter with us, and even though the deck has heavy plastic “walls” keeping the cool evening breeze out, she is cold from the ceiling fans.  The deck itself is adorable, if a little kitzchy.  The wooden frame is adorned with white twinkle lights, and decorated heavily with silk plants.  There is plenty of room out here for a party of our size (we are estimating anywhere from 25 – 40 people), and the manager tells us that he can keep an area separate for a larger party, even while he still seats other diners out here.

I am a little taken aback by the prices listed on the menu.  Having recently eaten at the more upscale McCormick & Schmick’s, the Lobster Trap prices seem a little steep even compared with the fresh menu from McCormick & Schmick’s.  We see a range of prices that go from $20 for chicken and shrimp or chicken stuffed with crab to $45 for King crab and lobster tail.  I’m on a scallop kick, so I order the grilled sea scallops ($22.50).  That’s when I find out that you also get a soup or salad, a potato, and a vegetable with the meal, so it really makes it seem much more reasonably priced than it did a minute ago.  I order mine with salad, as the only soup offering is New England clam chowder, which can be a bit tough to eat after gastric bypass surgery.  I opt for the baked potato and grilled vegetables.  Eilis selects the flounder, which is broiled with lemon and butter for $18.50.  She also chose the salad and had french fries and apple sauce as her side dishes.  Jim had the special of the night, which was a Chilean sea bass, and ordered the clam chowder, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.  We start the meal with one of Eilis’ favorites – fried calamari.  At $10.50, the platter was piled high with lightly breaded rings of calamari and a delicious marinara sauce.  Some of the calamari was a little tough to chew, which is more of an issue for me post operatively than it is for anyone else at the table, but we manage to scarf down the appetizer in short order. 

Our super friendly waitress brings a warm loaf of soft, delicious bread that Eilis and Jim both enjoy enough to want to bring the leftovers home with them, if there are any leftovers!  Jim only drinks water with his meals, and the waitress is very quick to refill his glass, which is a big plus in his book.

Eilis flounder is delivered, and looks and smells delicious.  She digs right in and enjoys the broiled to perfection fish so much that she all but ignores the big mountain of fries on the plate next to her.  The fish is perfectly seasoned, and the portion is pretty generous, but the fries are DELICIOUS!  I know, I know, you’re saying “What the heck is she doing eating fries after gastric bypass surgery?  What a fat ass!”  Get over yourself.  It’s not like I gobbled down the whole plate.  I merely sampled the fries, which were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and boasted just the right amount of salt.  No ketchup needed to hide the taste of these fries!  The apple sauce didn’t get eaten, except a quick bite for Eilis to determine it tasted funny.

Jim’s Chilean sea bass is beautifully presented alongside a heaping portion of the garlic mashed potatoes.  This is a wonderful piece of fish.  Thick and delicately flavored, this is easily the highlight of the table.  He eyes my baked potato and suddenly does not remember ordering garlic mashed potatoes, but he says they are good and gets through a good amount of them before getting too full. 

My scallops arrive in what looks like a spun sugar bowl – except it’s more of a string potato type thing.  It’s very pretty, but I don’t taste it because I know I’m not going to have room as it is for the good sized portion of scallops.  I am a little disappointed that the flavor of the scallops doesn’t quite match the two fish dishes.  They are a little bland, and I add my own salt, but the potato is steaming hot and light and fluffy; while the grilled vegetables are a nicely seasoned assortment that are really enjoyable.

By the time we finish with our meal, Eilis is cold and we are all stuffed.  We grab the info on the banquet menu, and we are warned that because our event is a year away, with the way prices are going up, there is a good likelihood that the prices on the current menu will not be honored next year at this time. 

We enjoyed the meal overall, and the interior of the location was a very pleasant surprise.  On a scale of 1-5, I would say the Lobster Trap is a solid 3, with some things (french fries) definitely scoring higher.  The service was pleasant, the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed, and this is definitely on the list for the First Holy Communion party.

McCormick & Schmick’s Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

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McCormick & Schmick’s

941 Haddonfield Road

Cherry Hill, NJ 

Ya gotta love the new Garden State Park shopping area in Cherry Hill.  It has brought to the area a group of restaurants that you always hear about in other markets, such as the Cheesecake Factory, Brio, and McCormick & Schmick’s.  We were determined to try them all, so when we found McCormick & Schmick’s open recently on our way to Brio (one of our new favorites), we decided to head in and try the place out.

If you are cruising online, hoping to check out a menu from McCormick & Schmick’s to get an idea if you’ll find anything there you want to eat, don’t sell yourself on any particular dish.  This restaurant boasts the freshest seafood from various parts of the world, and the daily menu tells you which fish are fresh from what country or state.  For example, on our visit on April 10th, They had Massachusetts Bay Scallops; Kona, Hawaii Yellowfin Tuna; and New Zealand Cockles.  They use the fresh catches in the meals for the day’s menu, which is heavy on the seafood.

They offer a selection of light entrees and sandwiches, which are really well priced for a late evening snack or late lunch.  Starting at just $7.95 for a Classic Reuben sandwich, the lighter fare goes up to $13.95 for a crabcake sandwich.  Each sandwich comes with fries, and there are a few salads on the light menu as well.

The appetizer section of the menu is really the first place you’ll come to that features the freshly caught seafood.  We ordered the Fried Point Judith Calamari, which was lightly battered and served with three dipping sauces.  The sauces were fair – nothing special about them, and this particular dish just lends itself well to a good, fresh marinara sauce, so the other sauces were really unnecessary.  The appetizer was $10.95, and there were plenty of crispy calamari rings to justify the price.  Just beneath the appetizers on the menu was the “on the half shell” collection of shell fish, and for $12.95, Jim got a sampling of 6 different oysters, but the waiter went over the variety so quickly, it was hard to know which one Jim actually liked the best.  Included in the sampler were Imperial Eagle Oysters, Wianno Oysters, Sarah’s Creek Oysters, Cape May Salt Oysters, Duck Island Oysters, and Ship Point Oysters.  All were deemed tasty, but by the time he finished the dish, he couldn’t remember the names of any of them, nor had he put aside the shells he favored most highly.  They also have a larger sampler of oysters, featuring 2 each of their top 6 oyster varieties.

The soups tonight are not ones I generally order since my gastric bypass surgery, and the salads are nothing we haven’t seen before elsewhere, so I’m not tempted to let one ruin my dinner.  The first selection of entrees on the menu is the meat and shellfish section, featuring filet mignon, sirloin steak, and a New York strip, along with upscale shellfish dishes like live Maine lobsters ($21.95 per pound) and King Crab Legs ($29.95 per pound).  Also on the menu are traditional seafood offerings like cedar plank salmon, crab cakes, and fish and chips.  I opted for grilled sea scallops, advertised with sauteed spinach and a risotto cake.  Jim went with one of McCormick & Schmick’s specialties, which was a Mahi Mahi grilled over sweet potato crab hash and BBQ butter sauce. 

My scallops arrived piping hot and perfectly cooked, but a little light on seasoning.  The risotto cake is an odd creation.  Part of the thing about cooking risotto is to make it creamy and not sticky, but the risotto cake is just sticky rice that tastes like risotto.  I don’t dislike it, but I find the whole risotto cake to be a bit of an oxymoron.  The sauteed spinach is tasty, and helps boost the flavor of the scallops. 

Jim’s fish is really good, but the rest of the dish is a bit of an odd combination of flavors.  I didn’t care at all for the sweet potato crab hash, although he didn’t think it was as bad as I did.  This was dices of sweet potato with some lump crabmeat and a BBQ butter sauce.  The combination of the potato and BBQ sauce made the dish way too sweet, and when you threw in the butter, it became way too rich.  There were good sized lumps of crabmeat in the hash, but the delicate flavor of the crab was way overpowered by the sickeningly sweet combination of the potatoes and BBQ sauce.  Jim finished most of the fish, and we brought the potato side dish home to eat with the left over scallops, but the flavors didn’t fare any better given time to settle in with each other. 

As far as gastric bypass patients are concerned, there is an abundance of healthy proteins on the menu here.  The seafood is fresh and cooked to order, and there is very little fried fish on the menu, so you will get your fish broiled, grilled, or, in the case of the tuna, seared.  Most of the fish comes with some sort of butter sauce – rum butter; lemon butter; bacon and sherry butter…  You can ask for them not to include the butter on the dish if you are sensitive to the extra fat.  There is a chicken dish – but on the night we were there, there was only one chicken dish besides the buffalo chicken salad.  Ask the waiter if you are not familiar with the fish.  On the night we were there, there was a fish called a Bronzini on the menu.  We would have ordered it, but after discussing with our waiter, we learned that the fish comes out whole, and I am more cautious about fish bones since my surgery.

The prices on the menu are not outrageous, but you will easily spend upwards of $20 – $24 dollars for your entree.  When you compare the meal you get here to the meal you might get at Red Lobster for less money, you can certainly see where the difference in price is, but it’s hard to justify the difference.

We wanted to be blown away by the meal here, and the bottom line is we were not.  For the amount of money we spent, blown away would have been better.  This is a nice only once in a while for an occasion type restaurant.  My kids will probably keep eating at Red Lobster.

Long Overdue Review of Steak Out

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We travel often, and most of the time, if we are stopping somewhere overnight, we are stopping late at night, and don’t need to get anything to eat.  If we have stopped at a hotel at dinner time, we usually just order pizza, since it’s readily available wherever we stop and easy to eat.

On our recent trip down to Florida over Easter, we stopped a little earlier than we normally would have, since the plan was to head to Ft. Lauderdale – a longer way away than our usual trip.  It was dinner time, and we had a pocket full of coupons for CiCi’s pizza, so we didn’t want to order pizza for this meal.  Jim asked at the front desk for suggestions, and one of the brochures we were given was for JT Steaks – a steak dinner delivery service.

I want to start this review by saying the total bill came to less than $45.  If we had gone to Outback – all 5 of us – the bill would have easily been closer to $100.  The dinners we ordered were pretty complete meals – you got a green salad with your choice of dressing, the steak, a warm roll, and a baked potato.  The brochure they gave us at the front desk had a coupon for 2 free sweet teas, so we had the two drinks included. 

We ordered 3 steak dinners – a 12 ounce ribeye, and 2 six ounce ribeyes.  The meals were delivered piping hot, and the steaks – ordered medium for the 12 ounce and one six ounce and medium well for the other six ounce – were cooked perfectly.  The baked potatoes were steaming hot, wrapped in foil, and came with a generous supply of individually wrapped butter, margerine, and sour cream.  There was also the individually packaged salad dressings – like you would get in the fast food restaurants, and steak sauce.  We also ordered a skewer of shrimp, and 6 perfectly grilled medium sized shrimp accompanied our order.

The steaks were delicious!  Well seasoned, cooked as ordered, tender and juicy.  The only complaint I might have is that there was a little more gristle on the edges of the steak that you might not get at a nice, sit down restaurant, but it certainly wasn’t enough to detract from the taste.  The potatoes were so good, definitely not tasting like microwaved baked potatoes, that even the little kids – who do not generally eat potatoes at home – were digging in to the butter topped fluffy goodness.  The salads were generously portioned, and a nice complement to the steak dinner.

You can add grilled onions and mushrooms to any dish, and for those who are not steak lovers, they offer grilled shrimp and chicken in addition to several sandwiches.  There is also a limited kids’ menu – burgers and chicken nuggets – but our kids are steak eaters, so there was no point ordering kids meals for them.

We were pleasantly surprised by the great meal we had from this restaurant.  When we lived in Orlando many years ago, there was a Steak-Out franchise on the far side of the city that we often talked about trying some time, but we never did.  I’m glad we got the opportunity to do it during this vacation, because I don’t think the Orlando franchise is there anymore.  The meal was delivered in about an hour – just enough time for the girls to enjoy the pool and work up an appetite, and the delivery service was polite.  This is definitely some place we would order from again.

Ming Kui Lau Chinese Buffet – A Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

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This was one of our favorite places to go for a casual, cheap family meal on the weekends before my gastric bypass surgery.  It probably was a big part of the reason I NEEDED gastric bypass surgery.  Ming Kui Lau is in the same parking lot as our bank, and I have to admit, when we pulled into the bank last week to make a deposit, and Jim suggested we go in and have dinner, I was nervous.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t find anything pouch-worthy to eat, and I was really nervous that I would find too much that I could eat and fall into old patterns and bad habits that would affect my current weight.  How this affects my habits from this time forward remains to be seen, but I did find a few things I could eat.  And I enjoyed my meal.

I try generally to avoid fried and breaded foods.  Well, it’s a Chinese buffet, so half the stuff there is going to be fried/breaded/drowned in sauce.  So after deciding I might have to eat some fried stuff, I sought out the things that would be most beneficial to me.  When you go in, there are 5 buffet stations.  On your left, there is a salad bar and cold seafood bar (okay, there were only peel and eat shrimp and mussels), and a hot buffet with a selection of soups and some very UN-Chinese entrees.  This particular night, there was pre-made fajitas, shrimp scampi, roast turkey breast, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and some other offerings.  The one thing on this part of the buffet that I enjoyed were the steamed crab legs.  You definitely got tiny pieces of crab, and I had the misfortune of going to this buffet on the same night as some jerk who felt it was his right and obligation to COMPLETELY EMPTY the tray when he went to the buffet, but it wasn’t over cooked and crab is a food I can eat pretty easily, so I enjoyed the few small pieces I was able to grab in between the jerk’s visits.

On your right, there is a buffet against the wall that offers most of the fried foods.  You’ll find fried chicken, egg rolls, french fries, onion rings, chunks of hot dogs wrapped in bacon, fried scallops, fried imitation crab leg meat, and fried crab claws.   I chose two scallops, which didn’t appear too heavily breaded, and one of the crab claws, figuring they were both foods that I knew I could comfortably eat that would be packed with protein.  If worse came to worse, I thought I could peel the breading off, and just eat the seafood underneath.  I also took one piece of the fried faux crab, mostly because you could see the pink color under the breading, so I assumed that would be a safe choice.

Alongside the fried food, there is a selection of fresh fruit, jello, pudding, and what looks like flan.  Behind this buffet, there is another station of all Chinese food.  You’ll find typical Americanized Chinese food here – sweet and sour chicken, dumplings, chicken teriyaki, boneless spare ribs, Chinese vegetables, fried rice, lo mein, etc.  I cruised through the line, and picked out some more artificial crab out of a dish called simply “seafood in butter”.  It looked like the Krab, small shrimp, and some thin white fish floating in butter, but I let the butter drain off as much as I could back into the tray before dropping it on my plate.  There were mussels in black bean sauce, which I used to enjoy, but mussels can be a little tough, so I skipped them.

Also on this side is the dessert and sushi station.  The desserts include a smooth and creamy soft serve ice cream – vanilla, chocolate, or swirl; a collection of bite sized cakes – which tonight include a carrot cake and a yellow cake with a white and raspberry frosting, and at least two other selections.  Then there are premade sushi rolls – simple ones, but I didn’t try those because rice is not always my friend.

The food I tried tasted good – with the possible exception of the fried Krab thing.  I chose not to finish the fried crab claw, because it was not really “breaded” so much as it was probably crabmeat, chopped up, mixed with breading, and deep fried.  There was no way to separate the crab from the bread.  The scallops were really tasty, and I ended up eating them with the breading on them, because it wasn’t that heavy.  The seafood in butter was tasty, but I knew I was limited to one small portion of that due to the amount of butter sauce it was in.

Jim stuck to the most benign things you can find in this type of environment – seafood options and vegetables – but this is certainly not the best place to go for healthy food choices.  I think even he realized, though, that we cannot go back to eating here like we used to, but for a once in a great while treat, it was okay.

Eilis, who loved this restaurant on previous visits, loved it again this time.  She tried more things, I think, than she has in the past, and she really steered clear of the American foods and opted for more of the Asian things.  But, she is her mother’s daughter and found the most appeal in the fried and heavily sauced things.

It was $12 for Jim and I, and $7 for each of the kids.  That puts it around the same price as the diner, but you have control over the amount you put on your plate here.  The biggest difference is that we usually end up with a few doggy bags from the diner, so for the same price, we generally eat another meal out of the leftovers.

I say go.  They seem to keep it pretty clean here, and you don’t have one dedicated waiter – anyone who sees your glass is empty will come by and fill it for you.  The food is good, typical Chinese American food, and even if you are watching what you eat, you can find SOMETHING to eat here.