Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka staff blogger
Food has been an integral part of Andrew's life from a young age; from cooking with his mother and grandmother to creating recipes in his own kitchen. Now he scours the area's non-chain restaurant scene to find the best of the best of local food from chicken wings to French cuisine.   Read more about this blog.
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Ethnic Food

Places where the Beard ate Ethnic Food
Posted: December 1st, 2010

I was very excited when ethnic food was chosen for my next food tour. With your help, I hope to have plenty of restaurants to choose from.

Khao Thai, located downtown at 36 North Park Row, is Erie’s first and only Thai restaurant.  Since late last year, it has been one of my favorite and most frequented places to eat.  Thai food is know for putting emphasis on lightly prepared meals with strong aromatic parts.  Owner Tatsinipan “Tat” King is always there to greet customers as they come in the door.  When my co-worker Ben Smith and I went in for lunch on Tuesday, she was our server.  I have a few dishes I stick with when I order from there: Chicken Pad Thai, Chicken Pad See Ew and Chicken Drunken Noodles.  All three noodle dishes are very filling.  They are made with thin rice noodles, stir fried or sautéed vegetables, all tossed in different sauces.  The Pad Thai is sweeter, while the Drunken Noodles is much spicier, but all are incredibly delicious.  Some dishes come spicy, but you can order three different levels of heat: American hot, Mexican hot and Thai hot.  I normally order all of mine Thai hot.  The heat is pretty intense and does a great job clearing stuffed sinuses.  You can also order most dishes with chicken, pork, beef, seafood or vegetarian.  I wanted to order something new this time, so I asked Tat for her personal favorites.  Ben and I ended up splitting the Thai Sampler as an appetizer, Ben ordered some Thai fried rice, and I went with two of Tat’s suggestions: stir-fried garlic with chicken and cashew nuts with chicken.

The sampler came to the table first.  It comes on a large, sectioned plate with chicken satay, small crispy rolls, steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings, fried tofu triangles and fried squid.  Each sample is in a different sauce, and are all quite tasty.  My favorites are the dumplings and the tofu.  The tofu has a crispy outside with a fluffy inside.  The texture is a little much for some people, but I really enjoy it.   We got through the sampler quickly and our food was out in a hurry.  Ben’s fried rice was great.  The rice was tossed with some veggies, eggs, pineapple and topped with cucumber and an orange slice.  He got it Mexican hot, and the spice of the peppers combined with the sweetness of the fruit made for a great combination.

The cashew nuts with chicken had a sweeter taste as well.  I prefer to get chicken with my meals because it tends to absorb the flavors more than anything else.  The dish includes scallions, peppers, onions and fresh cashews, all in a savory brown sauce.  It is on the menu with no added heat, but getting this Mexican or even Thai makes it that much better.  The other dish was the stir-fried garlic with chicken.  The chicken is marinated in a homemade garlic and white pepper sauce.  If you like garlic, trying this is a must.  The white pepper has such a different taste than normal black pepper and really enhanced the flavor of the garlic.

Everything we ordered was fantastic, and I am glad to have tried something new.  As per usual, our service was exceptional, and we will continue to eat there.  Thank you, Tat and staff, for everything.

This was a great meal to start out my ethnic foods tour.  I hope that everything I sample is this good.

Until next week,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Khao Thai on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Ethnic Food
Posted in: Ethic, Khao Thai
Posted: December 7th, 2010

This week’s stop might be my favorite restaurant in Erie, if not, in my opinion, the best one.  At the corner of Brown Avenue and Cherry Street is Rosa’s Legacy, a small Dominican restaurant that really is a hidden treasure.  Run by the husband-and-wife team of Elsa and Neil Brode, Rosa’s offers family-style dining in a laid-back, Caribbean atmosphere.  The restaurant is cash only and is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9:30 p.m. so reservations are almost always a must.  What better way to increase demand than to decrease quantity.  The restaurant’s phone number is 814-455-1880, but to make a reservation, call 814-853-3098.

Amanda and I made a reservation for 6 o’clock Saturday night for four of us.  Again, our friends Shannon Warchol and Tony Ferrare joined us for dinner.  We stopped and grabbed some wine before we arrived, because Rosa’s is BYOB.  We were greeted when we arrived by Neil.  He walked us through the menu, explaining that Dominican food is not spicy but is instead savory, and opened the first bottle of wine.  Neil always tells you if he is out of anything on the menu as well as what fresh seafood he has in stock.  He also told us that all of their sauces start out with a sofrito base with consists of an aromatic puree of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions and garlic.  While you look over the menu, you are served a small shredded cabbage salad that is topped with a fantastic and simple red wine vinegar dressing.  I could have easily eaten that for my entire meal, it is that good.  Neil told us about a special of Spanish style meatballs, served in their own marinade with peppers and onions, as well as an order of the tostones (fried, unripened plantains).  We ordered those as an appetizer and then ordered our meals.

The appetizer came out and smelled amazing.  A bowl of five meatballs with peppers and onions was surrounded by the tostones.  We also ordered a side of the sweet plantains on the recommendation from Neil who said they also went great with the savoriness of the meatballs.  Amanda and Shannon both got the same thing.  After hearing what fish he had, they ordered the salmon steak.  The salmon is prepared in a garlic sauce and served with your choice of side.  As a daily side dish, they offer a different mixture of yellow rice.  Saturday’s was mixed with peas and onions.  The salmon was light and flaky.  The marinade used was delicious and really goes well with the yellow rice.  Tony also got fish, but he decided on the red snapper fillet.  Pan-seared in an escabeche sauce (a pureed mix of peppers, onions, garlic, and vinegar), the snapper was amazing.  Next time, I would order some of the sauce on the side so I could pour in on my rice as well.  It is a bold sauce that really showcases the Dominican flavors.  The meatiness of the snapper made for a really filling dish.  I liked the snapper the best of the seafood, but what I ordered is my favorite. I had the steak with sautéed onions.  The steak in this dish is pounded down to nearly one-quarter of an inch.  The beef is marinated for hours in a mixture of pepper Adobo, onions, garlic and vinegar.  After marinating, the steaks are lightly pan-fried and served topped with pickled vinegar onions.  The steak is best with the white rice and kidney beans.  Topping the steak with the beans adds even more flavor to the already out-of-this-world taste.

Two bottles of wine into the meal, we finished our entrées and moved on to dessert.  We decided to sample four of Rosa’s five desserts (they were out of their sweet beans).  We got to try the flan, bread pudding, rice pudding and the majarete (a corn pudding).  All of them were truly a hit with all of us.  The flan was perfectly creamy with a great caramel cream flavor.  The three puddings were all served warm.  The bread pudding and majarete were my favorites, though the rice pudding was good as well.  I had never had corn pudding before, but I will be ordering it again, for sure.

Like I said before, this is my favorite restaurant in Erie, and I cannot recommend it enough to everyone.  I have been to Rosa’s when it was just a few tables as well as when there was a half hour wait, and the service is ALWAYS superb.  The food has always been cooked to perfection, and I have never left unsatisfied.  Thank you, Elsa and Neil, for your welcoming nature and incredible food.  You will surely be seeing me again.

Until next week,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted in: Ethic, Rosa's Legacy
Posted: December 15th, 2010

After two weeks with the second highest vote total, Petra was up to the plate. Amanda and I made our way to 3602 West Lake Road early Monday night.  For those of you who do not know, Petra is a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant with a wide array of dishes.  We just happened to be the only table when we arrived, but that just means better service, right? The inside of the restaurant seemed to have recently been painted and the holiday decorations really gave it a comfy feel. One of the first things I noticed is that Petra now has their liquor license so it is no longer B.Y.O.B.  We were greeted by our server, Tony, who was fantastic. He went through full descriptions of nine nightly specials, as well as giving us his recommendations from the menu. From fresh escolar to butternut squash ravioli, they had a wide selection for a Monday night.

While we were deciding, Tony brought us some pita with dipping oil and spices. We decided on an order of hummus as an appetizer and two of the recommendations from Tony.  Amanda ordered the escolar on special, and I went with a basil pesto shrimp and lump crab penne. Each entree came with our choice of either the house lentil soup or the Soup Du Jour which was a chicken curry and rice. We both went with the latter.

The hummus arrived first. The homemade hummus was lightly seasoned and topped with paprika and drizzled with olive oil. The paprika was really accentuated by the oil and was delicious. The soup and our meal followed shortly after we finished the hummus.  The soup was fantastic. The curry had just the right amount of spice that caught you just after swallowing. The chicken was tender, and made for a fantastic way to start the meal. Amanda’s escolar looked great. With a side of mixed vegetables and saffron rice, the plate was beautifully colorful. Escolar is typically a thicker cut of fish. Here, it was breaded with a panko breadcrumb mixture and topped with a sauce of tomatoes, black olives, garlic, and white wine. Because the fish is so mild, the sauce was extremely overpowering.  The tomatoes were far too acidic which leads me to think there was too much oregano, and the olives took over the rest of the flavor. Amanda had to scrape off most of the topping to get the taste of the fish. I think a simple wine sauce would have gone much better. It was good to try, but probably something we wouldn’t order again.

My meal looked awesome. The bowl that it came in was huge and covered in shredded Parmesan cheese. The penne pasta was tossed in a garlic basil pesto with some lump crab meat, large shrimp and even more cheese. The dish was slightly oily, but it didn’t affect the flavor. The shrimp were cooked to perfection, and the bowl was filled with them. I think the dish would have been made better if a little heat was introduced to it; maybe some pepper flakes or cayenne powder. I was very satisfied with my food, and it made for a fantastic lunch the next day.

Dishes at Petra can range from $10-$30. There were many specials that I would love to come back and try — as well as other items on their normal menu — so I hope to return soon.  Tony was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about the food, and I thank him for the great service.  Next week will be an all Italian week so make sure you come back and vote everyday.

Until next week,

Andrew ­— Beard vs. Food

Petra Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Ethnic Food
Posted in: Ethic, Petra
Posted: December 22nd, 2010

I had high expectations going into this Italian-themed week.  I heard pretty good things about all of the nominated locations, so I was excited visit the place that got the most votes.  Mi Scuzi Ristorante Italiano pulled away from the rest by nine votes, and I headed there for dinner Tuesday night.  It’s just off of 26th Street on Myrtle Street.  Parking is extremely limited, so they do offer valet parking for $3.  The restaurant is much larger and more traditional inside than I would have expected.  The atmosphere was great.  From statues to a large aquarium, there were plenty of things for us to see as we walked to our table.

Our server (who never gave us her name) brought us water and left us to our menus.  When she returned, I asked her what veal dish she recommended, and Amanda asked what seafood she recommended.  She told me to get either the Veal Français or the Veal Parmesan, and she told Amanda most seafood lovers order the Cioppino.  Most items on the menu are à la carte.  Soup and salad are both extra.  I went with the Veal Parmesan, and Amanda ordered the Cioppino.  It was busy for a Tuesday night, so we were not expecting our food to arrive too quickly.  Our server brought us two garlic knots while we waited.  Covered in garlic butter and melted cheese, the hot rolls were a great way to start the meal.  A different server brought our food to the table and was apparently in a hurry.  She almost tossed the food on the table without stopping or even looking and just continued on her way.  This started the foul taste in our mouths.

Both dishes looked awesome.  The portions were almost comically large.  I’m not sure where to start with the Cioppino.  Underwhelming is a good word.  The dish was just bland.  It was under seasoned, and everything, for the most part, tasted the same.  The pasta was slightly overcooked for my liking, but I thought it was one of the best parts of the dish.  The pasta was tossed in a tomato and garlic sauce and topped with littleneck clams, black Sicilian mussels, shrimp and calamari.  The calamari and shrimp were cooked to perfection, though the shrimp lacked some taste.  The mussels and clams, however, weren’t good at all.  Both were extremely grainy and fishy.  They didn’t take on much of the flavor from the sauce and almost ruined the plate.  I honestly have had better seafood ordering the Capellini di Mare from Olive Garden.

My veal, however, was much better.  The dish came with two large veal cutlets.  Both were sliced thin, breaded and pan-fried and then topped with the house red sauce and fresh cheese.  It came with a side of spaghetti and red sauce.  The veal was incredibly tender and full of flavor.  The sauce combined with the breading and cheese was perfect, and I don’t think I could have made it better.  My pasta was slightly overcooked as well but still edible.  The sauce on the pasta seemed to be a little more acidic, but with some added Parmesan and red pepper, it was delicious.

It took a very long time for our server to clear our table and even ask about dessert and when she finally did, she had her mid-text cell phone in hand and, again, left in a hurry.  When she came back and told us about the desserts, we ordered a Tiramisu to share.  When it arrived, it was a little on the plain side.  The marscarpone and cream were delicious, but the ladyfingers were dry.  The cake should be soaked in espresso and some sort of coffee liquor and marsala.  This dessert didn’t even have a hint of coffee.  Not worth the $6.

Overall, I feel like we did not get what we paid for in terms of food or service.  Yes, half of our meal was good, but 50 percent still isn’t a passing grade.

I will be away for the holiday, so voting will be open for two weeks.  It is going to be an all-Mexican themed week.  I love Mexican food, so I am very excited.  Come back and vote often.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Mi Scuzi Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Ethnic Food
Posted in: Ethic, Mi Scuzi
Posted: January 5th, 2011

Julio Reyes hit the Mexican nail on the head in Erie.  For the past 14 years, Julio and his family have been running Latino’s Mexican Restaurant and Bar at East 13th and Parade streets (though he spends about half of his year in California).  I have enjoyed Mexican cooking since I was young and was thrilled to visit Latino’s for the first time.  Reservations are recommended for service accommodations, not based on volume.  This is an entire dining experience, so if you want to eat somewhere that gets you seated and right back out the door, this is not the place for you.  Amanda and I were greeted by one of Julio’s daughters, and our table was already set and waiting for us.  The decor is very traditional: old and new Mexican art, antique furniture, lots of decorative plants.

Julio makes his way to every table and engages everyone who walks through the door.  He gave us some menus and allowed us to look them over before answering any questions and going into any details about the food.  I had a few items in mind, but I wanted to hear Julio’s personal suggestions.  For an appetizer, he told us his most popular choices were the guacamole and the rajitas.  As for the main course, he recommended at pollo con mole, the enchiladas or the comida corrida.  I feel the need to explain the comida corrida: It is a daily special chosen and prepared to Grandma’s specifications.  All dishes are strictly family recipes and really do change daily, as well as seasonally.  Before we made our decisions on dinner, we put an order in for some guacamole.

Julio told us the guacamole is made to order, from the smashing of the avocados to the slicing of the tomato.  He brought it to our table with fresh, homemade tortilla chips as well as a side of the red and green salsa to see which we preferred.  The guacamole was fantastic.  Large chunks of avocado, tomato, onion and cilantro filled the bowl.  I added a bit more salt and some lime juice, but it was near perfect as is.  The tortillas are hand cut and pan fried vs. deep fried, so they are light.  They went really well with the salsas as well.  The red is a thick blend of tomato and chile de árbol, while the green is tomatillo and jalapeño.  The red was hotter than the green, but both were delicious.  He also brought us a small bowl of pickled habanero peppers and onions.  I added the salsas as well as the pickled peppers and onions to my guacamole, and it added another awesome level of flavor.

Once we tried the salsas, we figured out what we wanted to eat.  Amanda went with the enchiladas in the tomatillo salsa, and I ordered the pollo con mole.  Both came with a soup or salad, so we tried both.  The salad featured mixed greens, sliced bell peppers, jicama strips and tortilla strips topped with oil and lime juice.  The tartness of the lime went great with the fresh veggies.  The soup was filled with pasta and vegetables that were cooked in a light tomato broth.  I added a few tortilla chips for texture and salt, as well as some of the pickled peppers and onions for heat.  The soup and salad were a great way to start the meal.

The enchiladas were awesome.  Amanda got them with chicken and the green salsa.  The heat from the salsas is definitely there, but it doesn’t stick around long.  The fresh corn tortillas, in my opinion, have such a better flavor and texture than flour tortillas.  The chicken was tender and moist and went with the other flavors perfectly.  It also came with a side of homemade rice and freshly mashed black beans.  The pollo con mole was phenomenal as well.  I have had mole from a few places in town, as well as from traditional restaurants in the San Diego area, and this was by far the best.  The mole is a peppery sauce with a chocolate base.  Julio only uses fresh peppers and vegetables (either found locally or brought from California or Mexico) instead of powders and bottled spices.  The sweetness of the chocolate and the spice of the peppers was great.  The chicken fell apart with the touch of a fork.  I made my own chicken mole tacos with rice, beans, some lime and more mole sauce.  I couldn’t have asked for more traditional Mexican cuisine.  For dessert, we split a piece of the flan.  It was rich and creamy and had just the right amount of sweetness to it.

The prices at Latino’s range anywhere from $12 to $20, and I think it is very reasonable for the quality of food and service you receive.  In addition to offering dinner, Latino’s also hosts tours for students to learn about Mexican history and food.  Some weekends include live music and dancing, which make the experience that much better.  Thank you to Julio and his family for the hospitality and great night out.  You will see me again for sure.

Until next week,

Andrew ­— Beard vs. Food

Latino's Restaurant Bar on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: Ethic, Latino's
Posted: January 11th, 2011

Every week could be Mexican week for Beard vs. Food, and I would be OK with it.  Just about a month ago, Senor Coyotes Cantina & Grille opened in what once was the Marketplace Grill.  I know it is still a bit early for them to settle in, but it received the most votes, so I went.  The inside looks very similar to the Marketplace, identical almost.  We were seated at a table in front of the bar, which allowed me to watch the beginning of the national championship game.  We glanced through the menu while our server, a bartender who goes by “Wheels”, got us some drinks.  The menu looked like it is having a bit of an identity crisis.  American, Tex-Mex and Italian items littered the menu.  Everything sounded great, however, so I didn’t know where to start.  I figured the Southwestern section was where I wanted to be, with the ethic food theme and all.

Wheels brought us some smoky salted tortilla chips with two different salsas, as well as two awesome cheesy bread sticks with our waters and margarita. We got a few suggestions on what to order.  I was in the mood for seafood, so I went with the seafood enchiladas, and Amanda got the chicken burrito.  The entrées also come with soup or a salad.  I got a normal house salad, while Amanda got a cup of their tortilla soup.  The soup was thick and creamy and filled with chunks of chicken and veggies.  It was good to dip the bread sticks in.

When our meals came out, they looked delicious.  Amanda’s burrito was a tomato basil tortilla instead of a traditional shell.  First it was stuffed with chicken, rice, cheese and refried beans, and then it was baked so the tortilla got crispy.  It really let the flavors blend together.  After it came out of the oven, it was topped with a burrito sauce and shredded cheese.  It was a little heavy on the refried beans, but overall it was pretty good.  Each plate comes with pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole.  The guacamole was slightly on the bland side, but the pico and the sour cream went great.  My enchiladas were light corn tortillas filled with shrimp, lump crab meat, scallops, cheese and green tomatillo sauce.  They were smothered in a rich and chunky enchilada sauce and some more cheese.  The seafood tasted fresh, and I was glad to see it was all real seafood versus imitation stuff.  The side of rice and beans was OK.  The rice didn’t have a lot of flavor, so I added some spicy salsa, which helped.

For Tex-Mex, it was pretty good.  I wasn’t expecting to feel like I was in the heart of Mexico, but for what the price was, I got my money’s worth.  Chips, bread sticks, two entrées with soup/salad, and a margarita for under $30 is a steal.  Thank you to Wheels for the fantastic service and recommendations.  You will see me back for sure.

Until next week,

Andrew ­— Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Ethnic Food
Posted in: Ethic, Senor Coyote's
Posted: January 18th, 2011

Apparently, Chovy’s in Meadville is the place to be on a Monday night. The restaurant is gigantic and was packed. This was my first time dining at Chovy’s and there was a lot to take in on our way to the table. Statues, stained glass and many pieces of art lined the walls and made for a very welcoming atmosphere. When we got to our tables, the first thing I noticed was how much stuff was on the table. I had to move three drink menus, a bottle of wine and a stack of plates to see Amanda across from me. Our server, Ebony, briefly told us about the specials for the evening and then left to get us some drinks. The menu, like the restaurant, was huge. Everything sounded great.

Ebony returned with some fresh-baked sesame and rye breads along with homemade dipping oil. She told me the dipping oil typically goes fast and once it is gone, the kitchen does not make more that day. I asked her for suggestions and she helped me narrow down my choices. Amanda has been here before so she knew what she wanted rather quickly. Amanda ordered the Venetian shrimp and scallops with a side salad and I decided on the filet Toscano with the soup of the day and a side of spaghetti with red sauce.

The soup of the day was “California Medley.” It was a creamy cheese base with large pieces of cauliflower, broccoli, potato and a few other veggies. I ripped up pieces of the rye bread and they made a great addition to the soup. I could have easily eaten another cup. Amanda’s salad with the house dressing was delicious, too. The dressing was a light, cheesy home made Italian. Again, I probably could have eaten a salad along with my soup, it was so good.

All of the pasta is cooked to order so we knew we would have a wait, but our food actually came out in good time. Ebony arrived with our meal, offered us freshly-grated cheese and then left us to eat. Amanda’s bowl was filled with pappardelle noodles, pan-seared shrimp and scallops tossed in a lobster champagne cream sauce. The pasta was amazing. Pappardelle noodles are around an inch wide and can be feet long. Though not made in house, it was incredibly fresh. The seafood was also fresh and perfectly cooked and seasoned. The scallops just melted in your mouth and went perfectly with the champagne sauce. I thought the sauce could have used a pinch of salt, but was a fantastic dish.

My plate was piled high. Two 4 oz. filets were piled on a bed of spicy sautéed greens and mushrooms, all served over garlic cheddar mashed potatoes. Everything was then topped with crumbled bleu cheese. The combination was unique and delicious. The crumbled bleu with the steak and spicy greens really was a flavor explosion. The filets were both beautifully cooked to a light medium and like the scallops, melted in your mouth. If it would have been appropriate, I probably would have licked my plate clean.

Amanda had her leftovers boxed up and then we moved on to dessert. We wanted to order the crème brulée, but because it was on special, they had run out of it. We went with the Tuscan turtle sundae which was French vanilla ice cream, pecans, chocolate and caramel syrup and whipped cream. The bowl was huge and we probably shouldn’t have finished it, but alas, we did.

If I can expect the same high quality service and food every time I return, I will gladly make the 40 minute drive from Erie to Meadville more often. Thank you, Ebony, for the fantastic hospitality and recommendations. I can not wait to come back and try more from the menu.

Next week is the final stop on my ethnic food tour, so let’s make it a good one.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Chovy's Italian Casual on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Ethnic Food
Posted in: Chovy's, Ethic

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