Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bob's 88 Shabu Shabu

Ever the culinary adventurer, I had been reading about a Chinese restaurant near Rockville town center that serves a peculiar dish called Shabu Shabu. Apparently its so good you have to say it twice. So Shabu Shabu is not actually Chinese, it’s Japanese but Bob’s 88 Shabu Shabu (the full name of the place) is indeed a Chinese restaurant. The dish and its compelling accoutrement has flourished into its own sub-cuisine in China, much the same way Tex Mex has here in the US.

Confused? Well wait till you try the stuff. Shabu Shabu is like a cross between a hot pot, fondue and Mongolian Barbecue. Large platters of raw meat, vegetables, fish balls, noodles, an egg and various elective add-ins like dumplings and meatballs are brought to your table with a bubbling cauldron of broth, and placed on an induction burner which is built into the table in front of you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to cook the raw meat and electives in the broth, dip into one of the myriad of dipping sauces available, then create a delectable egg drop soup with the leftovers. So, Steven and I made a visit.

Steven was pissed. He hates to cook and this was definitely cooking. It didn’t help that we were the only non-Asians in the place and we had NO IDEA what we were doing. Thankfully one of the servers came to our rescue as we were clearly doing it wrong. The more we got into it, though, the more fun he had, and when he realized that he was making a really yummy soup, he was happy again.

You get two choices of broth, spicy or not spicy. I chose the spicy broth. A mistake I think. It was spiked with chili oil, a whole star anise nut and goji berries (a Tibetan mountain berry). It was great for the fondue portion of the meal, but too intense for an egg drop soup. Steven got the “not spicy” broth, which starts out rather wan, but as you add meats and veggies the broth takes on the various flavors so that by the time you are ready to add the egg, you have a fantastic flavored soup.

We both ordered combination platters, mine with shrimp and pork, Steven’s with shrimp and beef. Next time I would skip the shrimp. Full unshelled head-on shrimp arrive at your table and are just a bother to deal with once you have them cooked. They were too damn hot to handle and when I took the head off of one of mine, shrimp juice and broth shot all over my shirt like a miniature fire hose. At least that made the staff happy, and I’m a good sport, proudly displaying my now ruined shirt to them as they all hunched in a corner and tried not to laugh and point directly at me.

We shared a plate of chicken fried rice, which, while not out of the ordinary, was exactly what chicken fried rice should be. Fresh and hot, brimming with chicken and frozen vegetables, and at $6.95 a real bargain. Bob has another place, too. Bob’s 66 Noodle House. Based on our experience with Shabu Shabu, I think we will be trying Bob’s noodles very soon.

Bob's 88 Shabu Shabu
316 N. Washington St Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 294-5888

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cetrone's Pizza

Please trust me when I tell you that it is not because Steven has hounded me for weeks to include a post on the blog about his favorite “in the hood” pizza joint, Cetrone’s that you are reading these words right now. I do so willingly, because, the truth of the matter is, Cetrone’s makes a great pizza.

Located on a forgotten stretch of old Annapolis Road (the remains of a “redirected” stretch of MD450) in a forgotten strip mall that now houses a church among other things. The dining room isn’t much to look at, although, they do have some great photos of Bowie and Prince George’s county that will be of some local interest. Also, there is not much more on the menu I would order besides the pizza.

There are neither chicken wings nor any other appetizers really. You can order a salad. Chopped Iceberg lettuce accompanied with the Ken’s Salad Dressing packet of your choice.

But the pizza…

Not your typical pizza joint. Cetrone’s makes a St. Louis style pizza sans the Provel cheese. It’s a cracker crisp crust with a zesty sauce and loaded with fresh ingredients. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the toppings, but they are all of high quality. Steven and I resemble a pair of Dyson Vacuums when we eat pizza and that extra thin crust means you can gobble it down about as fast as it comes out of the kitchen. We like it simple. Good ole’ Pepperoni or a Sausage and Mushroom pie will do nicely, thank you.

If the lack luster dining room doesn’t appeal to you, Cetrone’s does deliver, and they do a huge carryout business. They have a dedicated following and you can count Steven and I among the believers.

Cetrone's Pizza
BOWIE MD 20720
(301) 805-1656

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Restaurant Weeks are Coming!

Attention K-Mart shoppers! Washington DC and Baltimore BOTH have Restaurant Weeks right around the corner. Both cities follow the same format: 3 course prix fixe menus are offered at some of your “fave-rave” restaurants for the bargain basement price of $20.08 for lunch and $30.08 for dinner. If you are “Bi-Metropolitan” like me, this is like winning the lottery twice.

DC is up to bat first with their week running from January 14 – 20, 2008.
For participating restaurants and reservations:

Baltimore is up next with their week running from January 28 – February 3, 2008
For participating restaurants and reservations:

Many restaurants in DC extend their offerings throughout the month so if you miss next week, you may still be able to find a great deal.

Check out for an impressive run down of what MANY of the restaurants in DC are offering.

The good places fill up fast so don’t delay… make those reservations.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Real Good Chili Real Fast

It's January and when the weather turns cold my thoughts run toward homemade chili. There is nothing so satisfying as a big bowl of hot spicy chili that has been cooking in a pot for several hours letting all the flavors meld as the aroma wafts through the house, enticing you with its subtle charms. That topped with some “made from scratch” home-baked corn bread hot from the oven, butter dripping down the sides is all I need to feel complete as a man.

Unfortunately, I live in the real world. Who has the time? I usually spend no more than 30 minutes on a meal during the week and less if I can get away with it. With that said, I see no reason to deprive myself of one of life’s greatest pleasures, homemade chili. Over the years I have devised a few tricks to creating a good “homemade” chili in a fraction of the time it should take.

Here is what I do

2 Dried Ancho Chilis
2 Cups Boiling Water
1 Medium onion diced
2 TBSP Olive Oil
3 TBSP Chili Powder
2 TBSP Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper
½ Tsp Dried Chipotle Pepper Powder or Cayenne Pepper
1 TBSP Dona Maria Mole
2 Cloves Garlic (Crushed)
1 lb Coarsely Ground Beef
½ Tsp Mexican Oregano
Dash of Cinnamon
1 14.5 oz Can of Diced Tomatoes (Preferably Muir Glen Organic)
Salt to taste
1 Can Red Kidney Beans (Drained)
3 TBSP Masa Harina (MaSeCa)
Splash of warm water

In a small bowl, place the dried chilis in the boiling water and let them soak for approximately 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven heat the olive oil and sweat the diced onions for about 3-4 minutes until they are translucent.

Secret Weapon Number One: Add the chili powder, ground cumin, crushed red pepper, and dried chipotle pepper to the onions to “bloom” the dried spices. They will create a dry paste in the pot.

Secret Weapon Number Two: Dona Maria Mole, available in most supermarkets in the international/ Mexican aisle. It has a pry off tin lid and once you open the jar you will find a lot of oil. Don’t worry about it, just scoop out a good heaping spoonful (it will be thick and pasty) and add to the pot. Let it melt down a little and then add the ground beef and cook until browned. Then add the crushed garlic, oregano, can of diced tomatoes and salt to taste.

Secret Weapon Number Three: Remove the dried ancho chilis from the water, seed and loosely chop them. Place them in a blender with about half of the hot water. Blend well and add to the chili pot. Partially cover the chili and cook for about 20 minutes on low heat.

Secret Weapon Number Four: In a small bowl, add the Masa Harina (corn flour) to some warm water and create a slurry. If you can’t find Masa Harina, you can use corn meal, or, if your really in a pinch, soak some corn tortillas and crumble them into the chili. Add the slurry to the chili, mix well, then add the kidney beans and cook for an additional five minutes.

Serve immediately. For a change of pace, don’t put grated cheddar cheese on your chili, try some grated Gruyere cheese. The nutty flavor and melty nature of Gruyere makes a delicious topping to chili. I also like shaved parmesan.

Serve with some freshly baked corn bread. You can make it yourself from scratch, and it’s really good that way, but I cheat. Use a corn muffin mix, follow the instructions on the box and add what you would like. I’ve added canned corn, roasted red peppers, jalapeno peppers just to name a few. I bake mine in a cake pan and top with a dusting of turbinado sugar and cayenne pepper. 16-18 minutes to perfection.

The last great news about this chili recipe is that if you do find yourself with a couple of hours the longer you let this simmer, the better it tastes. Be sure not to add the beans until the very end. It also makes a mean chili dog the next day.