Gastronomic Fight Club SM

Mischief. Mayhem. Soup.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Peru, Mucho Gusto - Omaha NE - Review

posted by snekse
"Peru, Much Gusto? Are you sure you read it right? A Peruvian restaurant in Omaha?"

Peru Mucho Gusto, Omaha NE
Those were basically the words I used when my co-worker told me a Peruvian restaurant opened in Omaha. It just really caught me off guard. I'm not sure why. I mean we have an Ethiopian restaurant which I was sure was going to be the last cuisine to make it's debut here. But my curiosity was peaked to say the least. Sure enough, within a week we were on our way to try and find the place (thanks in part to an online Entertainment book coupon).

When we got there, the interior looked like most small locally owned ethnic restaurants. It was sparsely decorated with that kind of "temporary residence" kind of look. It's not really a concern to foodies, but I had to mention it.

Before this meal, I'd only been to one other Peruvian restaurant, La Furia Chalaca in Oakland, CA. Therefore I am far from an expert on Peruvian cuisine, but given that the chef/owner Raul Atencio is from Peru, I think it's a safe bet to assume the food is fairly authentic. Though they try to source everything locally, the fish and some of the spices are flown in from Peru when a good substitute cannot be found.

We started off with the Papa Rellena. Cooked mashed potatoes are formed around seasoned beef, eggs, raisins and Peruvian spices, then deep fried and served with a spicy salsa criolla. Being a potato dish, and a fried one at that, I enjoyed this dish. My wife did not. It was too spicy for her palette - a reoccurring theme throughout the meal.

Yucca Frita at Peru Mucho Gusto
We also got an order of Yucca Frita (Fried Yucca) that was served with a creamy garlic "Mojo" (I think?) sauce. The yucca was a little hit and miss. Some of them seemed under done in the middle requiring some water to get them down. The outsides were pretty much all hit. I ended up eating a couple like corn on the cob to get those crisp outsides and tender fluffy insides together. And the garlic sauce was all miss, at least for us. We were told this stuff is like ketchup in Peru and people put it on almost anything.

For our entrees, we asked our waitress for guidance. She ended up recommending some of the dishes we were considering anyway, so we ordered the Lomo Saltado and the Ceviche De Pescado. They were out of the Seco De Carne Con Frijoles (beef cooked with Inca corn beer) that I wanted to try.

Lomo Saltado is a dish we had before. It's pieces of ribeye sauteed with onions, tomatoes and french fries, served with steamed rice in case the fries aren't enough carbs for you. It's a little odd to see the fries basically stir fried with the beef then doused with a broth, but it's actually a good dish. The seasonings give the dish a little kick, but as I said, that's the norm. Unfortunately the beef wasn't as tender as I'd expect ribeye to be. It might have something to do with how it's prepared as it has almost a steamed appearance.

Cevice at Peru Mucho Gusto
If you're bothered by the spice in the Lomo Saltado, stay far away from the cevice. The bountiful fish on your plate certainly won't leave you hungry - if you can finish it all. I was unsuccessful at that task. The fish is marinated in lime juice and Peruvian chilies. This made it really spicy and really acidic. It was very enjoyable, but palette fatigue set in about half way through.

As we finished we had a chance to talk to owner Mimi Atencio. She and her entire staff were extremely friendly and helpful. Service can often be a problem with places just starting out, but it didn't seem to be an issue here. In talking to her, we learned they have live music on Friday and Saturday nights. We also learned, after inquiring about the Asian influence on the menu, that Peru had a large population of Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Much like Hawaiian food, Peruvian food has adopted many of their ingredients and techniques. I'll have to try the fried rice next time.

Rating: 82+

Peru, Mucho Gusto
77th & L St. (Ralston)

7755 L St. (Map)
Ralston, NE 68127

Phone: (402) 932-0049

Email: Peru.Muchogusto@hotmail.com

HOURS:
  Open daily from 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
  CLOSED MONDAYS

Peru, Mucho Gusto on Urbanspoon
RELATED LINKS:
Chef Chat: Myriam Atencio from Peru, Mucho Gusto

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Where's the best Mexican food in Omaha

posted by snekse
I am constantly amazed at how often this question comes up. Omaha has a surprising number of good Mexican restaurants, but most of the one's that seem to get recommended are not "the Best Of". If someone tells you the best Mexican restaurant in Omaha has several locations, they probably don't get out enough. The same would go for any location West of 60th street, save a couple a unique places like Rivera's. In general, it is really hard to go wrong with any of the Mexican restaurants on 24th street between L Street and Q Street. There are also a couple of restaurants in Q Street between 30th and 36th that are pretty good. Beyond those, Nettie's, Howard's, Riveria's and Guaca Maya are all solid choices.

The winners of our 2008 "Best-ter-est of Omaha" awards were Alvarados, El Aguila, Guaca Maya and La Mesa, but honestly, I think a lot of people (including myself) haven't fully explored the South Omaha area. Without doing so, I don't think one can declare a "Best Mexican Restaurant" in Omaha, only recommend what's been the best they've found so far.

With that said, I'll be updating this map with the places that I've tried, or have heard from trusted sources, that are some of the restaurants in Omaha to find truly great authentic Mexican cuisine (though I reserve the right to include any Latin American restaurants).

Map of the Best Mexican Cuisine in Omaha

I also encourage everyone to share your favorite spots. I'll use those recommendations as my TODO list when trying to decide where to eat next.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

REVIEW: ThermoWorks Splash Proof Thermapen

posted by snekse
It looks like someone at ThermoWorks saw my Review of the Original ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen and liked what I had to say. They offered to send me their newest model ahead of it's official release date (June 1st, 2009). Um, hell yes, bring it on.

Introducing the all new and improved, been in design for 2 years...

ThermoWorks Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen thermocouple thermometer

Yeah, they could have picked a smaller, catchier name.

So I'm not going to rehash all the things I loved about the Original Thermapen. I'll let you read that review first to get up to speed. Go ahead - I'll wait. Alright, now that you're back, let's talk about what's been improved, what's been messed up and what flaws were never addressed in this new design.

First let's go over what Thermoworks considers to be the highlights of their new Splash-Proof Thermapen:
  • 3-second readings!
  • Improved accuracy and durability
  • Water-resistant design
  • Biomaster anti-bacterial additive
  • °F to °C reconfigurable
  • 0.1° resolution full range to 572°F
  • Auto on/off—no buttons!
  • 1,500 hour battery life
If you're interested in the nitty-gritty spec details, you can check out their website. I'll cover what I think is important.

We'll start with the name. I wouldn't have felt the need to seal the case and make it splash proof until a couple of weeks ago when my mother was hand washing dishes and washed my original Thermapen. It came out fine, but I'd have been less worried if the case was sealed. It's still not meant to be submerged, but it's a good start. Now if they made it dishwasher safe, that would be really cool.

Speed and accuracy are next on my cool improvements list. This thing is even faster and more accurate than the original. It's usually in the ballpark in under 1 second and will have a pretty accurate reading in about 3 seconds. And by accurate, I mean within ±0.7°F with the digital display now showing the temperature measured in 0.1° increments, so you'll know if that 64°C for your perfect molecular gastronomy inspired soft boiled egg is really 63.6°C or 64.4°C. These are actually my favorite improvements.

Jumping back to the splash proof design, let me point out what's changed. There is now a rubber seal merging the front and back of the Thermapen. This seal makes rotating the pen into the "ON" position seem stiff at first, but I've read this should only impact new thermometers. The new case design has also made it almost impossible to stand the device upright. I have mixed feelings about this, but I don't think it will be something that will bother me at all in a couple of weeks.

The area around the digital display has also changed. The screen is now flush with the Biomaster anti-bacterial molding to prevent grime build up; it is also slightly larger and has been moved to the left. This makes the numbers a little easier to read, but I think it lacks the contrast that the original screen had, which makes it a little harder to read.

The opening for the battery compartment has also been re-designed. The new battery, which is expected to last 15 times longer than the original, sits in a round compartment on the back with a tethered cover. Unfortunately I think the plastic latches are too thin since mine either arrived with one of the latches broken or it broke soon after arrival. I'm sure ThermoWorks would address the issue if I sent it back to them, but still a spot for improvement. ***UPDATE*** ThermoWorks called me on the Monday after I posted this. They are sending me a new unit with a return shipment label so I can send the original back to them. I've heard from others they have great customer service; I'll concur.

Inside that battery compartment are a series of tiny switches. These switches allow you to customize some of the behaviors of your Thermapen. Are you like the folks at Cook's Illustrated and would prefer the unit to not automatically turn off? Just flip a switch. Want readings in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit? Flip a switch. Nice options to have, but I like the defaults.

The unit is still expensive, but again, there's really nothing else close on the market. The new Splashproof Thermapen is about $20 more than the original super-fast Thermapen. Is it worth it? Well if you have the original, I think there's no need to upgrade unless you work at Sea World or something. But what about those who don't have either? Is it worth the extra money to get the newer design? I guess it depends on what you plan on using it for. For me, the quicker I can get a ballpark temp, the better. And at this price point, an extra $20 doesn't seem like a whole lot more.

So I still highly recommend either of these Thermapens, I just can't flatly recommend one over the other. I've given them both the same score based on functionality and price. Now if I could get them to send me an Infrared Thermometer to review...

Rating: 90

RELATED LINKS:
REVIEW: The Original ThermoWorks Super-fast Thermapen Thermometer
BUY: The Original Super-Fast Thermapen from Amazon
BUY: The Original Super-Fast Thermapen from ThermoWorks
BUY: The New Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen from ThermoWorks

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Monday, February 02, 2009

REVIEW: The Boiler Room Restaurant - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse

Expectations

The Boiler Room Restaurant Omaha NE
When we made our reservation, I had no intention of writing a review for a restaurant that had just opened it's doors. They had only been open for 2 days when we went, so we weren't expecting a whole lot. What we got is likely to be a our new favorite restaurant in town.

To be honest, I was worried about the Boiler Room before they opened. Being outside of the main Old Market quad blocks, I wasn't sure they would get enough traffic to keep their doors open. I no longer think that's going to be a problem. I think they set the bar high enough that people won't forget about it, and those not in the downtown area will be willing to make the trek beyond just those special occasion nights.

Unfortunately my first impression wasn't exactly favorable. Parking was difficult, even on a Thursday night. We ended up in the parking garage on Jackson Street. They might want to start offering parking validation if they're unable to find another solution.

As we stepped into the restaurant, I was reminded of how cool the inside is. One of the first things one will notice is the general layout. The main dining room is situated above the bar and kitchen with an open view to both. It provides great visual interest complemented by the exposed brick and support structures. I think they did a good job of mixing the historic patina of the original space with the more modern elements.

The other thing that is hard to miss is the gigantic photographic prints on the walls. The still lifes, altered to look much like paintings, feature various food items in various states of preparation. For example, our table was situated in front of a work displaying a pig's head on a table with some flowers. Though my wife conceded that it was a nice picture, she could have done without a large eye socket looking at her all night.

As we were seated, I was surprised by two things. First the chairs - which I'm still undecided about. When you first sit down, they tilt back very quickly and deeply. I felt as if I was going to get dumped on the floor, though no such thing was going to happen. Butt cheek muffin top, however, did happen. The actual seat is rather shallow and doesn't align with the back of the chair, so if you're sitting back all the way, expect some hang over. That said, the chairs were very comfortable for the almost 2 hours we were there.

Table setting at the Boiler Room
The second thing that surprised me was seeing the white tablecloths. I was under the impression that The Boiler Room was going to be a little more casual. The dress and interaction of the wait staff confirmed I was a little misguided. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm glad I didn't show up in a T-Shirt and tennis shoes. On the flip-side, I would have felt over-dressed in a suit.

The service was about what I would expect for a restaurant that's only been open for two days. Most of the issues we had were minor and were overshadowed by some pleasant surprises in how attentive the service was.

To help with the service, The Boiler Room has brought a Master Sommelier into the fold. The wine list is large with an emphasis on French producers. Having a sommelier to assist in navigating such a list adds an extra dimension that some diners will really appreciate. The wines that Jesse Becker picked for us were excellent and complemented our dishes well [2007 Dr. Loosen "Dr. L" Riesling, 2005 Domaine De Fonsainte Corbières]. And though I didn't take a look at their cocktail menu, you may want to since I know chef Kulik is trying to do some interesting stuff in that area.

The Menu

crudo of sablefish
We started off with the crudo of sablefish ($8). The buttery sablefish was laced with braised or grilled radicchio, shavings of a delicious piave de vecchio cheese and a drizzle of tomato oil. This was a nice way to start the meal. It was clean and light, though it took awhile to figure out the correct portion of radicchio and cheese to accompany the sablefish without overpowering it - thus loosing the delicate flavor of the fish. The most impressive thing about this dish was that it was one of the weaker dishes of this meal! I'd rate this dish about an 86/100.

honey glazed pork belly
Our other appetizer was probably the strongest dish of the night. The june farm honey glazed pork belly ($10) was cooked almost to perfection. I say almost because one of the bottom meat fibers was crisped so well that it almost pierced my tongue. I did like how the bottom was crisped though, while the fat layers had rendered and the other layers of meat were tender and succulent. It provided a nice contrast in flavors and textures. To further the complexity of flavors, pickled crimini were served atop the pork belly. The acid from these very tart mushrooms provided a great foil to the unctuous pork fat. I'd venture to guess this was a trick chef Kulik picked up while staging at Avec in Chicago. The dish was finished with an intensely flavorful cauliflower puree that is one of the best I've had. It wasn't overly creamy or mounted with obscene amounts of butter, so the essence of cauliflower was really all you tasted. And I have to also mention the sauce on the plate - it tasted exactly like the roast duck in Oakland's Chinatown - yumm. I'd rate this dish about 93/100.

risotto
About the only misstep we saw from the kitchen was my wife's risotto ($18), parts of which was undercooked. The kitchen re-made her risotto which came out much better the second time. In fact, it was one of the better risotto's we had ever had. Creamy, tender, but nowhere near runny. And surprisingly, they replaced the entire dish. It would have been easy, and possibly justifiable, for them to place her original brisket in the replaced risotto, but they sent out a new piece. The very large hunk of brisket was very beefy, and dare I say, briskety tasting, though the very outer layer seemed a little dry to me. My wife also noted that the 2nd bowl seemed to have more risotto in it, but less truffle oil scent. The risotto was finished with a fried egg and braised kale.

Pork Collar
While the kitchen remade the risotto, my wife and I dug into the milk braised pork collar ($19) that I ordered. The generous section of pork was served with parsnips and charred Brussels sprouts swimming in a nice broth, while eggplant caviar rested on top of the collar. One of the first things we did was to try the eggplant caviar on it's own. It was bitter and not very enjoyable, but then we tried it with the pork collar. To my delight, I thought it actually enhanced the pork collar and made it more enjoyable. My wife didn't completely agree, but did find they went well together. Mixing the seeds into the broth and pulling apart the collar made a wonderful stew of sorts. Oh, and Brussels sprouts are just under utilized - period.

saffron panna cotta
We decided to skip the cheese cart and head straight for dessert. Sadly, they only had one dessert on the menu the night we went. Funny enough, it was the one dessert that my wife has stated is too difficult to find in Omaha: panna cotta. The rendition for the night was a saffron panna cotta with jun farm prairie honey and blackberries ($6). This was an interesting dish. Again, neither of us cared for the flavors of the panna cotta on it's own, but with the sweetness of the honey, it was very enjoyable. It was also executed very well. Often panna cotta gets too much gelatin that turns it into something else entirely. The Boiler Room got theirs right, at least on this night.

Final Thoughts

I can honestly say that I was very surprised - on several fronts. As I said, the table settings and service wasn't quite was I was expecting, but that's not a big deal. The clientele will dictate the service down the line and from what we saw, the clients seem to want to keep the food upscale, but the vibe relaxed. Of course, relaxed is a relative term. The vibe I saw was coffee house with pan roasted monkfish.

The best surprise was the food. It was just their second day being open to the public - are you kidding me? Yes braising and roasting can be very forgiving techniques, but the execution of every dish was done very well. Even more impressive were the dishes put together by chef Kulik. Minimal basic ingredients combined with intelligence and prepared simply. Occasionally you'll see something slightly exotic thrown into a dish to add a needed unique dimension, but I doubt you'll ever see a laundry list of luxury ingredients for a single dish. Chef Kulik seems more focused than a lot of chefs are able to force themselves to be.

A final parting observation. My wife has a saying about Blue Sushi: "It's where all the pretty people go" - referring to the trendy label mongers that frequent the West Omaha location. She also came up with a similar saying for the Boiler Room: "It's where all the intelligent pretty people go" - referring to the smartly dressed young professionals and artistic types in the crowd. I think it fits and I can live with that.

DISCLOSURE: I knew both Chef Paul Kulik and Jesse Becker before this restaurant opened and they knew we were coming in that night, so it is possible our experience was not typical, but I do not believe that to be the case.

Rating: 93+

The Boiler Room - Make a Reservation
11th & Jones St. (Omaha Old Market)

1110 Jones Street (Map)
Omaha, NE 68102

Phone: (402) 916-9274


Hours of Operation
  Open Tuesday through Saturday
  Closed Sunday through Monday
  Kitchen ~ 5:30 pm - 11:00 pm
  Bar ~ Open until 1:00 am

The Boiler Room on Urbanspoon

RELATED LINKS:
Chef Paul Kulik Video Interview
Jesse Becker joins The Boiler Room
OWH Review

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: A Chef's review of 'Fat'

posted by Paul Urban
This is a book review of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes from a chef's perspective. Our featured chef for this review is Paul Urban.

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

Let's start this off with a big thank you to Jennifer McLagan. Thank you one hundred times over. Chef's, cooks, home cooks, foodies and people that just like to cook have been plagued at our local bookstores as of late with too many "20 Minute Meals," "Low Carb Cooking," and "Kid Meets Grill" type cookbooks. Not that these books should not exist, it's just that they should be banished to the basement of the bookstores and categorized as "books written by accidental celebrities." There should be a disclaimer that purchasing any of these books does not guarantee that any valid information lies within the book. So thanks again. Finally, a book on an ingredient that has been a staple in every form of cooking since the beginning of time, yet an ingredient that has been misunderstood, under appreciated and banished as though it were a tobacco company as of late.

From the beautiful front cover, to the ten or so page introduction, this book was pretty captivating. She covers it all in the intro. Why fat is good for you. Why it has been misunderstood. Why it's okay to like fat, even a few paragraphs on why she wrote a book on fat! The information that follows is no less intriguing. Riding a nice wave of interesting information such as the roots of foie gras, to a recipe that basically tells you to fry pork skin and eat it, I found it to be wonderfully balanced. The recipes are quite simple, using ingredients that are readily available and nothing too intimidating for the novice cook. Butter poaching, confit, rillettes and basic charcuterie recipes are found throughout which made me smile. Charcuterie is a lost art and it's sad because it is a part of all of us. Our ancestors practiced charcuterie. It was used as a way of storing meats with no refrigeration, using all parts of the animal so not to waste the sacrifice, a matter of survival in a sense, yet delicious, and simple.

My partner and I both read the book. (although she read it in one evening and it took me three weeks, but that's a whole other review on which one of us is more responsible, we won't go into that.) We tried a few recipes. We made butter, it seemed necessary based on the book we were reading. It was simple, it was fun and accurate. We made it, we froze it and we ate it over the next couple of weeks. We made rillettes per Mrs. McLagans' recipe. We made ours with quail that we had at home. It's basically meat cooked in fat, then stored in fat so needless to say, it was delicious. This was a pleasant recipe, I was happy to see it in there. Rillettes can seem daunting and intimidating yet they are so simple. The author came about it in a very non-pretentious way, explaining every step and why every step was taken. We did not try the roast chicken recipe but we have both made this in the past in the same manner. It's simple, it involves large amounts of butter and herbs, and it's probably delicious. We have lately switched to the Thomas Keller method. (the Bouchon cookbook) His method is much more simple and involves large amounts of butter, the only difference being that the butter is added only after the bird is cooked. He says to use butter for cooking if you'd like, he doesn't only because when the butter melts, it creates steam, causing the skin of the bird to be less crisp. The point is, they both impart fat, both recipes are simple and wonderful.

All in all, this book was great. Two thumbs up. Tons of interesting facts, myths busted and finally someone sticking up for an ingredient that has been misunderstood for far too long. Several quotes along the sides of the pages throughout the book can get a tad annoying but it's a great read overall with simple, detailed recipes. Thank you Jennifer, you scored one for the good guys. The next time I clean up a ribeye, save the chain to be grilled and shared with my fellow cooks, I'm going to feel a little less guilty........Who am I kidding, I never really felt guilty, kudos none the less!

Title: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
A Ten Speed Press Book
By Jennifer Mclagan
Photographs by Leigh Beisch
List Price: $32.50 (Published in September 2008) - Order

RELATED LINKS:
Three separate reviews of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
Alinea, Under Pressure and other cookbooks

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

posted by snekse

Something that I promised several months ago is finally coming to fruition - book reviews. And to start things off right, I've decided our first book is worthy of not one, but three separate reviews. It will be reviewed by a chef, an avid home cook, and myself (an occasional, semi-competent cook). This will give you various perspectives so you'll have a better idea about who this book is geared toward and if it suits your interests. We'll also be printing two recipes from the book so you can try it out yourself. Look for the first review tomorrow and the others to follow over the next couple of weeks.

Title: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
A Ten Speed Press Book
By Jennifer Mclagan
Photographs by Leigh Beisch
List Price: $32.50 (Published in September 2008) - Order

RELATED LINKS (INTERNAL):
BOOK REVIEW: A Chef's review of 'Fat'

RELATED LINKS (EXTERNAL):
RECIPE: Homemade Butter
RECIPE: Spicy Buttered Popcorn, Duck Rillettes, Grilled Steak with Red Wine Sauce and Bone Marrow, Cassoulet, Bacon Fat Spice Cookies
RECIPE: Salted Butter Tart
Jennifer McLagan's Website

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Drover Restaurant - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
And now for the most boring restaurant review ever. I have no pictures; no real insight; little to say.

So why bother doing a review? The story is typical. Friends or relatives are visiting from out of town and they want steak. And not just any steak. They want the steaks that Omaha, Nebraska is famous for. And like most locals, I find it hard to decide where to go because I'd rather just go to a local butcher and make my steaks at home. The big chains like Fleming's and Johnny's Italian Steakhouse might make a pretty good steak, but it's not very representative of the city. And unfortunately, the city is slowly losing it's old school steakhouses that helped build the reputation. Mister C's closed over a year ago, Gorat's just isn't that good, so what's next on the list? Well for me, it was the Drover based on recommendations from several people, and most recently based on a strong showing in our still running Best-ter-est of Omaha voting.

I now understand why it received so many recommendations. They make a good steak. They are famous for their Whiskey steaks, which adds a uniqueness that I really enjoyed. I'm not usually a fan of steak marinades, but this one was subtle and worked well. The steaks without the marinade were tender and flavorful as well, but if you're here instead of being at some other steakhouse, the Whiskey steaks are probably the reason why.

So great steaks are always a good thing; but what makes the Drover such a great place to bring visitors is it's Midwest character, both in decor and in the menu.

Let's start with the menu. It's boring. Seriously. This place is about steak and not much else. They make no apologies for that fact. Sure you can order salmon or pork chops, but the menu is dominated by beef. All dinners are served with soup or salad bar. The salad bar was one of the plainest salad bars I've seen in a very long time. Hard boiled eggs were about the most exciting thing I saw in it. You also get your choice of a baked potato, french fries, rice or vegetable with your dinner. The fries were barely average, but the potato was enjoyed, despite it being just a basic baked potato made gooey with lots of butter and sour cream. The wine list was nothing special, but respectable and priced reasonably - which was a bit of a surprise. So meat, potatoes, and not a lot of need for things that aren't needed. Midwest sensibility at it's finest.

You might make the same argument for the decor. It's worked for so long, why change it. The decor is not boring though. It's actually kind of fun in an old late 70's dark restaurant/lounge kind of way. It has a bit of a wild west cattle trail feel, which draws from the Drover name. The ambiance that is created is just another reason it's a popular destination place to bring your out-of-town guests. I guess for some, this is their vision of the Midwest left behind the times.

You could easily make an argument that the boring menu and cliche decor are negatives, but the Drover works both of them well. And for some, that's exactly what they're looking for.

So a boring review for a justifiably boring restaurant that is hard not to enjoy. They would have gotten a 90+ rating if they would just spruce up their salad bar a bit. Cutting a notch out of their prices could help too, but it's hard to argue with one of the best steaks in Omaha and a recipe that works.

Rating: 89++

Drover Restaurant & Lounge
50th & Center

2121 South 73rd Street (Map)
Omaha, NE 68124

Phone: (402) 391-7440


Hours of Operation
LUNCH:
  Monday - Friday: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
  Saturday - Sunday: CLOSED
DINNER:
  Nightly: From 5:00 pm

Drover on Urbanspoon

RELATED LINKS:
Opinions on Yelp
Quality steaks drive Drover
Reviewed: Anthony's Steakhouse
A cut above the rest

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

REVIEW: Foodie Babies Wear Bibs

posted by Foodie-E
Foodie Babies Wear Bibs
We received a new board book for our daughter called Foodie Babies Wear Bibs. It is a small colorful book with 9 pages of easy to remember text and 9 pages of brightly colored drawings that include a diverse set of patterns.

When I flipped through the book, I thought it was cute and I enjoyed looking at the drawings of big headed babies with small faces. However, when I gave the book to my 1 year old daughter she preferred to chew on it or just carry it around with her. As I flipped the pages for her, she didn't seem all that interested in the pictures or what was in them like she has with other books. I'm not sure if the drawings are too sophisticated or intricate for her to really make high or low of them, but none the less, she was not all that interested in it.

Overall, I think this book is more for the foodie parents than the foodie baby. Would I buy it for myself? Maybe not, but it would make a great baby shower gift for the parents to oooh and aaah over before the baby comes and then the baby can drool and chew on it later. :)

Title: Foodie Babies Wear Bibs
An Urban Babies Wear Black Book
By Michelle Sinclair Colman
Illustrations by Nathalie Dion
List Price: $6.95 (Available in October 2008) - Pre-Order

Rating: 87

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BEER REVIEW: State Pen Imperial Porter

posted by beertopia_brent
State Pen Imperial Porter
By Santa Fe Brewing Company

Black. Very black. Impressive. I can't get light to penetrate it, even when backlit. Lovely brunette head, tightly compacted bubbles, at the apex the foam was a healthy two fingers tall. Head retention was excellent, the head slowly faded to a thin cap. Subsequent lacing was very impressive. Damn near solid sheets of lacing coated my glass. This is a great looking beer, rich color, healthy head and great lacing. This is everything I am looking for and more in a beer.

The nose is not as robust as I was expecting or hoping. I detect some roasted maltines, cookie dough, light spiciness, oak, smoke, coffee, chocolate, and some dried dark fruit notes. I do have to work at it a bit to pick up these aromas but it was rewarding looking for them. Low potency, not so chatty... the aromas I can pick up are lovely. However, what do I compare this to? Flying Dog Gonzo? Nøgne Ø Porter? Okocim Porter? This beer doesn't need to be the same as one of the aforementioned but I think those beers (which are similar style and ABV) have a better aroma. That was my only point.

I love the long roasted, coffee-charred-chocolate maltiness. Upfront, there is a soft, sweet, chocolate milk vibe which morphs into a fig, raisin, cookie dough, spicy, woody taste. The finish is drier, more mocha coffee like with some warm alcohol notes. The total package is excellent, it is robust with and edge and yet not overdone. It is quite complex and enjoyable; great aftertaste, big maltiness with wonderful alcohol heat. My only knock is I wish the maltiness was fuller, richer, and "fatter" if you will. Maybe I am asking too much, I often do. When I taste really good beers I think of a similar beer with an attribute that would make the current beer I am drinking even that much better. For State Pen Imperial Porter I can't help but envision a 3F Dark Lord-like malt fullness. I talk crazy talk.

Slightly fuller then medium in body, smooth and fairly rich mouthfeel; low but natural carbonation. I like the mouthfeel, it would be even better if it was fuller in body but by no mean is it thin or lacking.

For a beer this robust and high in alcohol I am impressed at the drinkability. It isn't easy to drink, per se. I am sipping and savoring but it is so tasty (and not too sluggish on the tongue) I keep going back for more. Damn good. I was hoping beyond hope that this was a "hidden" world class beer. It isn't. But very, very few beers are. I think this is an excellent beer and as good as many higher echelon beers. I am very happy this beer is available in Nebraska. Cheers to Santa Fe and happy 20th anniversary.

look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 4.5
OVERALL: 4.1

State Pen Imperial Porter
By Santa Fe Brewing Company
Rating: 82

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Monday, August 11, 2008

BEER REVIEW: Sangre De Frambuesa

posted by beertopia_brent
Sangre De Frambuesa
By Santa Fe Brewing Company

Slightly hazy, tawny-ruby in hue; off-white head, there is a tinge of pink in the foam like a white shirt would look if it was washed with a red sock. At the apex the head was two fingers tall, the foam quickly fell to a half finger cap. This smaller cap had good head retention, a thin collar lasted the entire consumption. Not much subsequent lacing, however. Still, overall, this is a good looking beer and quite fitting for the "style."

Sadly the nose isn't overly talkative; sure I get a suggestion of raspberry. Real raspberry... not artificial, not overly sweet; the raspberry smells like, well, the fruit. I notice some vague maltiness, light mustiness, oranges, and cherries with a soft Belgian-like funkiness. There are some characteristics of the nose that are so familiar to me, they remind of a Belgian ale I have had in the past (I'll be damned if I can remember the name). I like the nose but I wish it was chattier... I wish there was more bold aromas. Subtle can be good though. I can't smell the 12% ABV. So, overall, bouquet is nice but it lacks pizzazz.

It took a few sips before the flavors really resonated on my tongue. While the alcohol was hidden, aroma-wise, I can't say the same for the palate. This beer is hot. Musty raspberries, lightly woodiness, oranges, cherries, bread dough, vague spiciness... the finish is curt; it is interrupted by the arrival of the alcohol heat. My tongue feels slightly scorched. The finish is, frankly, disappointing. The first half of the beer is really well done, good flavor but it could use more maltiness and even more raspberry (dare I say!). Granted, I don't know what the intention of the brewer was and it is not like there are many beers of this ilk to compare it to. De Ranke Kriek and La Choulette Framboise are two similar beers which I'd prefer over this.

Light in body (surprisingly so), lively carbonation (which is nice), effervescent mouthfeel... pleasant if not a bit thin but the lack of body is not a deal breaker. This isn't really my kind of beer. I am not opposed to fruit beers; I've had some very good ones. If I age this beer will it get better? It should mellow if nothing else but will it improve? Maybe a tamer version would be an improvement. With all of this said, I am surprised (and pleased) this beer is available in Nebraska. Cheers to Santa Fe and happy 20th anniversary.

look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 3.5
OVERALL: 3.6

Sangre De Frambuesa
By Santa Fe Brewing Company
Rating: 72

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chicago Dawg House - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
I'm not from Chicago, so I can't vouch for the authenticity of the "dawgs" at Chicago Dawg House. I can, however, vouch that it's a tasty dog. And the fact that they ship in most of their product from the windy city has to account for something.

Given the name of the place, the main draw is probably the TRADITIONAL CHICAGO-STYLE HOT DAWG. I can't say it reminded me much of the Chicago dog I had when we visited several years ago. The Omaha version is better and from what I can tell, more authentic. The sport peppers add something really unique - almost like a hot pickle. Of course the bright green relish is another signature of the famous Midwest frankfurters.

Of the things I have tried so far, the traditional is my favorite. Everything else has been good, but nothing really unique that you couldn't find elsewhere. The traditional Chicago hot dog also seems to offer more value than the rest of the menu. I think $2.49 for a corn dog (CUBBY KID) or $4.99 for a polish sausage is a bit too pricey. Add $1.99 for fries and a drink and you're looking at a somewhat costly lunch for what is still just a hot dog. Though it is certainly cheaper than driving to Chicago.

And the prices haven't been keeping people away. Each time I've been there for lunch, the place was pretty packed. Granted the authentic "long bar" wall seating might make it feel more cozy than it really is. Or maybe not. The owner mentioned he'd like to expand if an adjoining bay opened up. Or maybe he'll just open another location since Omaha seems to enjoy the bit of Second City he has brought us.

Rating: 85

Chicago Dawg House
108th & Maple

3113 N. 108th St. (map)
Omaha, NE 68164
Phone: (402) 504-1234

Hours of Operation (Call first)
  Monday-Thursday: 10:30? AM - 9:00? PM
  Friday-Saturday: 11:00? AM - 1:00? AM
  Sunday: Noon - 7:00? PM

RELATED LINKS:
GFC in Chicago
Good Dawg: A taste of Chicago you won't soon forget by the Omaha World-Herald

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Beer Corner USA

posted by beertopia_brent
Omaha has never been known as a beer destination let alone a craft beer friendly town. However, this perception is slowly changing...

While I admittedly harbor some bias I do believe "Beer Corner USA" is one of the beeriest spots in the country, let alone Omaha. On the corner of 36th & Farnam, in the heart of Midtown Omaha, resides the epicenter of all things beer in Nebraska. Three bars and a package beer store are the residents of Beer Corner USA, each is unique and yet they are all interrelated.

The anchor of Beer Corner USA is Crescent Moon Ale House. Since 1996 Crescent Moon has been home to Omaha’s best draft beer selection. With 31 taps, and the vast majority devoted to American craft beer, "the Moon" is one of the few bars in Omaha that does not offer one light beer on-tap or any Budweiser/Miller/Coors beers (ok, Blue Moon is on-tap).

Boulevard Brewing Company and New Belgium Brewing Company provide the foundation of the draft selection but seasonal beers and Nebraska brewed beers add depth. A few of the newest draft beers include Odell IPA, North Coast Old Rasputin and Sierra Nevada Summerfest.

Crescent Moon is the type of bar that feels like home, it feels used and enjoyed. It is not sterile or stuffy but it isn’t rundown and dingy. Crescent Moon is like your favorite pair of jeans, comfortable and reliable. With a knowledgeable staff, tasty pub grub and delicious beers in a friendly environment, Crescent Moon is a suitable destination for causal beer drinkers and beer geeks alike.

Crescent Moon is only 1/4th of the equation. In the basement of Crescent Moon is another world or better yet another country. Huber-Haus German Beer Hall has become one of Omaha’s hottest beer drinking establishments since opening in April of 2005. The walls are covered in rock and wood paneling; decorations are minimal and consist of German bier signs, cans, and neon lights. With eight German beers on-tap the variety rotates readily, there is always at least one Hefeweizen, Helles Lager and Dopplebock but rare styles show up to like Keller Bier, Rauchbier, and Schwarzbeir. Fans of German beer flock to Huber-Haus (and often join the Mug Club) as there is no other place in town to drink Spaten, Weihenstephaner, and Ayinger on-tap (let alone in bottles).

The newest bar to the "Corner" is Max and Joe’s Belgian Beer Tavern. Max and Joe’s opened in November of 2006 and also doubles as Crescent Moon’s party room. When not booked for a private party, Max and Joe’s is opened Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The featured beers are Belgian, five on-tap and another 35 in bottles. The two heavy hitters on draft are St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Delirium Tremens.

The décor is "1950s neighborhood bar" with vintage signs of long past Nebraska breweries like Falstaff and Storz. Max and Joe’s provides a totally unique drinking experience, in comparison to its sister bars. It is more laidback and, often, quieter. The identity of the three bars remains different and yet they are all under the same roof.

All told, Beer Corner USA offers 44 different beers on-tap in three distinct bars. No other bar in Omaha can boast such a quality selection.

Likewise, no package store can boast the bottle selection of Beertopia. This is where I enter the picture. I am the resident beer specialist at Beertopia which is a nice way of calling me a beer geek. Beertopia is home to some 560 beers and as the name suggests there is no wine or spirits sold here (we do carry 6 ciders). Our clientele enjoys craft beer and more obscure imports as such the store carries no Budweiser, Miller or Coors. Inch for inch Beertopia is one of the best beer stores in the Midwest.

However, arguably, the most special aspect of Beer Corner USA are the major beer events. Huber-Haus hosts Omaha’s largest, most authentic Oktoberfest in the fall. The two day event boasts live polka music, German food and lots of German Oktoberfest beer. On a slightly cool fall night nothing tastes better than a malty Oktoberfest beer. Really, there is nothing else quite like it in Omaha. The closest competition is Bockfest in the spring, replace Oktoberfest beer with Bocks and subtract 20 degrees from the temperature add a few fire pits for warmth and welcome to Bockfest!

Beertopia / Crescent Moon co-sponsor three large beer festivals a year, the Holiday Beerfest in the winter which features Christmas and winter seasonals, the Extreme Beerfest in early spring which features beers all above 7% ABV. This summer Sunfest is in its second season. This year the event is being held outside on July 12. Some 36 breweries are participating featuring 125 beers. Those who are attending (and tickets do remain) get unlimited samples from 3pm-8pm.

Frankly, the landscape of the Omaha’s beer scene would be so remarkably different without Beer Corner USA it would be unfathomable. Yes, the Omaha metro area is lucky to have two excellent brewpubs (Nebraska Brewing Company and Upstream) and a handful of bars and restaurants provide a solid selection of beer but frankly, nothing in Omaha compares to Beer Corner USA.

Clearly Omaha residents are becoming more aware of good beer and are demanding a greater selection and better quality. A year from now I expect Omaha’s beer scene to be even better with Beertopia and Crescent Moon leading the way.

For more information about Beer Corner USA visit: www.beercornerusa.com

RELATED LINKS:
Introducing: Brent Udron - Beer Correspondent
Bockfest 2007 @ Beertopia
Oktoberfest 2007 @ Beertopia

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

REVIEW: Tamron AF17-50mm F/2.8 Lens

posted by snekse
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens
So you just got your super cool Canon Rebel dSLR camera, but as every dSLR user learns quickly, the camera body is only half of the equation. If you want great pictures, you have to invest in great lenses. Unfortunately, the camera tends to be the cheap half. Those funny pieces of curved glass can get really expensive, really quick. Fortunately a good lens can last a lifetime, so over the long run, it's really worth spending more to get a durable high quality lens early on.

Welcome to the world of dSLR

Almost every first time SLR camera buyer has a decision to make: Do you buy the package that includes the camera body with a lens, or do you buy just the body and buy your own lens? If you're thinking long term, the answer is usually pretty easy. Though the kit lenses have been getting better, in general they are inferior to a lot of the other products available. Now your decisions get a whole lot harder - what lens do you buy?

Since I didn't want to do a lot of lens switching, I knew I wanted a zoom lens. I also wanted something in the 35mm equivalent range; so a basic standard zoom lens. My next criteria actually narrowed my selection down quite a bit.

As I stated in my Canon Rebel Xsi review, I like to take photos using only the available light. The easiest way to get sharp pictures in low light is to open up the iris on the lens really wide to let in as much light as possible - just like your eyes. So the lens had to have a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. And since I didn't want to worry about what aperture was available to me at different zoom magnifications, it needed to maintain that maximum aperture through the entire focal range. That left me with just a handful of lenses to choose from.

The Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Lens with hood for Canon DSLR Cameras

Yeah, that's a mouthful. And don't ask me what all of those cryptic letters mean, because I have no idea. All I know is this lens is sa-wheet. With an 'H'. Like Ca-hool h-Whip.

Sure I could have bought the drool inducing Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM. But where's the fun in just buying your way to great photos with a 5-star rated lens? Okay, really I'm just a cheap bastard and wanted the same results for half the cost. So does the Tamron deliver the same results? I don't know, since I don't have the Canon lens, but if someone want to send one to me, I'll let you know :-)

Actually, that's one of the greatest things about this lens. It's a great value. It's almost the perfect "walk-around" lens. It has a very usable zoom range, it's lightening fast, it's fairly light weight - yet has a solid construction, all for about half the price of the comparable Canon lens. It also includes a 6-year warranty and lens hood to reduce lens flare.

Some other minor things that I appreciate are not so obvious. The 7 diaphragm blades is relatively high, so your images will come out nicer with less distortion. The labeling is large and bright, so it's easy to read info like your focal length. The hood is designed so you can flip it when not in use, so you always have built in storage. And related to that, when the hood is on and in use, the lens cap is designed to easily be used by pinching a two tabs in the center of the cap. A lot of lenses require you to take the hood off before you can put the cap on. It's those small touches that I really enjoy.

And even though I'm just starting out, so far I really enjoy the images that this lens has been able to provide me. The large aperture allows me to use faster shutter speeds, so I have far fewer blurry pictures. This is useful for taking pictures in dark restaurants. It also allows me to be more creative and artistic with my shots. When shooting with the lens wide open, you force a shallow depth of field, so the subject you focus on will be nice and sharp, while the background and/or foreground will be blurred. This draws the viewer's eye where you want it and gives your photos a more professional look. This can be especially valuable in food photography since you can add a level of interest by focusing in unexpected places when your subject matter may not always be that interesting.

So what sucks...

Well... ...nothing really...

Honest...I haven't found anything yet that really bugs me about this lens. Some people complain that the zoom ring turns in the opposite direction as the Canon lenses, but since I don't have a Canon lens, that doesn't bug me. And I do know that one of those descriptors in the full lens name means this lens will only work on cameras with "smaller imagers", meaning entry and "prosumer" level dSLRs such as the Canon Rebel and the Canon 40D. So if you move to a multi-thousand dollar professional camera, you won't be able to use this lens. Again, who cares.

It's true that the Tamron doesn't have the fancy USM or IS features like the Canon lens. Both are things I'd love to have; they would be especially nice for restaurant shoots. The USM would almost guarantee that I don't bother other tables, but honestly I've never felt the Tamron was all that loud. The IS would be for those times when I want more items in my shot to be in focus. To get more items in focus, I'd have to bump the aperture to something like f/4.0, but to keep the image sharp, I need to maintain my shutter speed or stabilize the camera. The only way to maintain my shutter speed (without degrading the photo quality) is to ask the restaurant to turn up there lights. That's probably not an option, so we look to stabilize. The only way to do that is with IS (or a tripod). That said, those features aren't usually cheap and I'd rather have the cheaper price tag.

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 Di-II Aspherical Lens

Rating: 95

RELATED LINKS:
Official Tamron product page
Popular Photography Review
Bob Atkins Review
The Digital Picture Review
Sample Shots: Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 Lens
Foodies Guide to Father's Day Gifts

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

REVIEW: Canon Rebel Xsi 450D dSLR

posted by snekse
* Some of you may have noticed a slight improvement in the foodporn pictures posted here over the past month. There's a reason for it. Say hello to my little friend...

The Canon EOS 450D / Rebel Xsi Digital SLR

We'll, not so little compared to my previous camera, the Sony CyberShot T-9, but fairly compact for a dSLR. And I've bonded with my Xsi in a way that I never did with the T9.

Remember when you first got your point-and-shoot (P&S) digital camera? Remember how great it was that first time. Snapping away all day long, never having to worry about running out of film. It changed the way you took pictures and looked at photography. But there's still that one nag almost every small digital camera user has; wait - everyone hold still...click - wait...snap. Shutter lag. It's fine for posed portraits, but it sucks royal when you're trying to take candid shots. You either miss the shot completely, or they are over/under exposed because the flash fired and it was too strong/weak, or they come out blurry because the camera isn't sensitive enough to shoot with the available light.

So your dad has an excuse for lusting after this new toy to add to his collection. He wants to use it to get better pictures of his grandchildren as they grow up, even if they did break his new Super-cool, super-fast Thermapen last week. Oh, and if he can just happen to also get much better food shoots because of the better sensor technology and faster shutter speeds available in the many different lenses he can choose from, well that's just an "unexpected" bonus.

Alright, so we've established that digital SLR (dSLR) technology is the bomb digity, but what makes the Canon Rebel Xsi 450D so special? Why not the Nikon D60, the Sony Alpha 350, or the Olympus E-520? Or for that matter, why not the older Canon Rebel Xti 400D? For me it came down to a couple of things.

Lens Selection: I didn't want to buy a camera and then be limited when it came to buying lenses. It's kind of a PC vs Mac thing. Sure Macs are great, but when you have 10 times the amount of software to choose from on a PC, why cripple yourself from the beginning. With that in mind, I narrowed my choices down to Canon and Nikon.

Low Light Performance: Whether it's taking pictures of a squab risotto in a dimly lit restaurant or a smiling child sitting on the floor at home, I often like to take pictures using nothing more than the natural available light; that means no flash, so your camera better be sensitive enough to pick out the difference between black and gray with what you give it. Canon has a strong reputation in this area, often getting applauded for the low noise at high sensitivities (AKA high ISO ratings).

User Friendliness: In the epic ongoing battle between Nikon and Canon, two truths seem to hold true. The Nikons have a slight edge in picture quality and the Canons have a slight edge in usability. For me, the picture quality of the Canon EOS line was more than sufficient for me, so I went with the ease of use. I put the Canon's self-cleaning sensor under that umbrella as well.

Autofocus (AF): Coming from a P&S world, I was looking for something that would make my transition easy. The Canon Rebel had a fast AF system that performed well. That's good. The Nikon D40 (which was the most direct competitor at the time) lacked an internal focus drive motor. That sounded bad. And it was. It meant that you were limited on which lenses you could buy if you wanted AF capabilities.

That settled it, I was getting a Canon Rebel. Now the question was, do I get the Xti or the Xsi? To make the decision harder, the Xsi wasn't even announced, so I had to guess when they were going to release it and what features they were going to add. I'm glad I waited because the Xsi kicks ass. Canon threw everything they could at the Rebel update just short of stepping on the toes of the EOS 40D, their next model up the chain from the 400D Xti.

Here's a list of just some of the features they added:

12 vs. 10 megapixel
Smaller SD/SDHC vs. CF Card
Live view (to preview your shot on LCD)
3.0" LCD
Larger viewfinder
High ISO noise reduction
14-bit A/D converter
Improved 9-point AF system
Larger, higher capacity, battery

My main decision to buy the 450D Xsi over the 400D Xti was the Live View. Again, coming from the P&S cameras, I was used to seeing what I was shooting on an LCD before I took the shot. The thought of not having that LCD terrified me a bit. It turns out I didn't really need it and the Live View implementation by Canon sucks. It's the most disappointing thing about this camera. It will not show you what the resulting picture will be when you press the shutter, so really, what's the point.

The other shiny new features, however, are the bees knees. Sure pixels aren't everything, but when you want to crop a photo and print an 8x10 from that crop, they're nice to have. The 14-bit processor, high ISO sensitivity and new AF system helps in that department too. The large view finder, mongo LCD and amazing battery life allows me to shoot comfortably for days on end (at 3.5 fps). And using SDHC cards just allows them to cram all those goodies into the camera body.

The things you can't put on a spec sheet are how easy this camera is to use. I put it in my mother-in-law's hands, and she took great photos. The only instructions I gave her were "look through here and push this button. Turn this ring to zoom in and out." It's really almost a point-and-shoot camera. Sure you can tweak the settings until the cows come home to get the exact shot you want, but you don't have to. And the buttons and menus are laid out well enough that you can gradually learn those things without needing to study the manual.

What you might need the manual for, is to figure out what to do with the Live View. I know it has a purpose, it's just not immediately apparent to me, so it tops my nag list. Followed similarly by the Depth-Of-Field preview button. It's supposed to show you - through the view finder - what will be in and out of focus before you snap a picture; Instead, it just makes everything darker. The final item under the predictability motif is the autofocus(AF) point selector.

When you have multiple objects in frame at different depths, the camera's AF system will, at times, pick the wrong object to focus on. This happens more frequently than I deem acceptable, so I often leave the focus at the center of the frame and manually select a different focal point when I want a different composition. You won't always have time to do that, so you'll either miss some shots or have to compromise on how the shot looks. If you always shoot with your subject front and center, this is not an issue.

Finally, it would be un-American of me to not complain about the cost of something that's cheaper than it should be but more expensive than it could be. The Canon Xsi is not cheap, but honestly, if you really think about it, it's not very expensive and should probably cost a lot more. I'll leave it at that.

As you can see, the flaws I've found are minimal, especially when compared to the highlights. So now you just have to ask yourself, "Am I..err, I mean is my dad, ready to make the jump to a dSLR"? For me, moving to a dSLR was almost as big as moving from a film camera to a digital camera. The small, compact digitals will still have a place in my bag, but it's hard to shun the reliability of the dSLR. And if you're ready to make the move, I'd recommend the Rebel Xsi to most users. If you know you want to make the switch, but are still not sure which camera is right for you, I suggest checking out the Related Links below. Be sure to check out the foodporn down there too under the Sample Shots :-) Next up...lenses...

***UPDATE***
Though I still love my Canon Rebel Xsi, there's a new bad boy on the market.

The Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i Digital SLR

The Canon T1i is about $200 more than than the Canon Xsi. It's your call if the bump in price is worth the features upgrade. Here's what's new in the Canon Rebel T1i vs. the Canon Rebel Xsi:
  • Record 1080p HD Video! (However, mono-sound and 20 FPS @ 1080p
  • 15 megapixel CMOS sensor like the professional 50D
  • Digic 4 processor
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer (Not sure what this is, but it sounds cool)
  • Extended ISO range to ISO 3200
  • Better High ISO noise reduction
  • Face detection in Live View (cool, but I wish it wasn't just in Live View)
The video is a great upgrade, but don't expect much other than basic performance from it. I also read that the kit lens starts to show it's flaws more when it's expected to resolve images at 15 Megapixels, so you might consider buying just the body and investing in better lenses. I believe the current price of the Rebel T1i is about the same as the release price of the Rebel Xsi when I bought it about a year ago. That makes it a pretty reasonable buy, but the cheaper Xsi is still tempting. I'd say the decision boils down to how badly would you like to be able to shoot video without having to pull out a different device and/or how much would you like those higher ISOs for those less than ideal shooting conditions? Here are some reviews for the Canon T1i to help you make your decision. Good luck! And don't forget to check out the related links below for more information.

Canon Xsi

Rating: 94+ RELATED LINKS: DPReview.com reviews the 450D Gizmondo dSLR Shootout Sample Shots: Canon Rebel Xsi 450D Foodies Guide to Father's Day Gifts Tags || | | | | | | more... |

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Monday, June 02, 2008

REVIEW: ThermoWorks Thermapen Super-fast Thermometer

posted by snekse
My fingers just aren't sensitive enough. And timing only works when all the variables are the same. So what's a dad to do when he's tired of the Thanksgiving turkey or the 4th of July steaks come out raw or over-cooked. Sure you can buy one of those Polder kitchen thermometers, but come on - this is your dad. Show him you love him and get him something he'll be proud to show the neighbors. Get him the Super-Fast Thermapen by ThermoWorks!

So I first heard about this device on CookingForEngineers.com. But after I saw the Cook's Illustrated review, I decided it needed to go on my wish list. How's this for a glowing review from the folks at Cook's Illustrated:
Highly Recommended
Simply the best: fast, accurate, and easy to use. The Thermapen also has the widest temperature range (-58 to 572 degrees).
Luckily for me, someone loves me and shelled out the $80+ for what has become one of my favorite kitchen gadgets.

So what makes the Super-fast Thermapen so special? It's fast. Really fast. It can be in the ballpark in about a second and be accurate to within 1° in under 4 seconds. Most thermometers aren't even in the ballpark in under 4 seconds. This can be very useful when you want to take the temp of something without pulling it out of the oven or items that change temperature quickly. Also handy when you need to take the temperature in several spots on something like a chicken. The small probe helps keep fluid loss to a minimum when you're doing those things. The large digital read out is a nice feature. And the whole thing just looks pretty cool.

It's not perfect, however. First and foremost, it's expensive when compared to the basic kitchen thermometers. But the technology is far different, thus the disparity in cost. The other annoyance is a bit of a design flaw or feature, depending on your point of view. When vertical, the housing lacks a flat bottom that would allow you to stand the thermometer upright in a stable manner. I think it was designed this way to discourage that practice. You'd be pretty upset if Johnny bumped your grill and your Thermapen fell to the ground and shattered. Not that I think that would happen. The casing is pretty durable, but I guess if you left the pen extended, the probe might snap off. Which leaves me to my next gripe.

This is a pen, not a corded probe or one of those newfangled wireless devices. There is no "stab it and leave it, we'll alert you when it's ready" feature on this. So if you want to know when that turkey is done, you have to check it yourself. ThermoWorks does sell a model with interchangeable plugs which includes a corded version, but even that one still lacks an alarm. Not to mention it's the same price as the Super-fast pen, and comes with zero probes in the box.

So if you want to treat your dad this year, consider the Super-fast Thermapen or the grand-daddy of them all plug-mount pen. If you are on a budget, or you just don't like your dad that much, consider getting the CDN ProAccurate Quick Tip Digital Cooking Thermometer DTQ450 which was also Highly Recommended by Cook's Illustrated, but is less than $20. Either way, you should be eating better food in no time.

***UPDATE***
ThermoWorks has replaced this model with a new, faster, more accurate splash proof Thermapen. Check out our review of the ThermoWorks Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen.

Original ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen

PROS:
  • Very fast read times
  • Very accurate
  • Thin probe
  • Very cool
CONS:
  • Expensive
  • Beveled bottom
  • Fixed probe
  • It's not the über-cool plug-mount model
Rating: 90 RELATED LINKS: ThermoWorks Pictures of the super-fast ThermaPen Foodies Guide to Father's Day Gifts The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2009: The Year's Best Recipes, Equipment Reviews, and Tastings Tags || | | | | | | more... |

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