Monthly Archives: December 2011

Although we drove past this place twice before finding it across the street, hidden by the light rail and in the corner of the parking lot, it was definitely worth the trouble. I had the beef shawarma plate and Robert had an Arabic coffee and the kafta on our first visit. When we returned a few days ago, starving after a trip to the rock gym, he had the kibbi, a delicious mix of ground meat and bulgar, and I had the lamb tongue sandwich. I would easily order both again. Although I have had beef tongue in several different ways, I think this was the first time I had tried lamb tongue. The texture was tender and not too chewy, and the flavor was stronger than beef tongue. I could definitely tell it was lamb, but as a fan of lamb and other more flavorful meats, I really enjoyed it. The food was excellent, definitely one of the better Middle Eastern places we’ve been to in the Phoenix area. It was also very reasonably priced with some of the sandwiches at only around $4.00 and the larger platters around $10.00.

Another great thing about Haji-Baba is the small grocery section that takes up about half of the storefront. With a variety of interesting and harder to find Middle Eastern products, it’s a fun place to shop after your meal. On our first visit we enjoyed the coffee so much that we bought a pack of the superfine ground coffee mixed with cardamom needed to make it at home. On our second visit we bought a little pot for making it. We will definitely be back to Haji-Baba, it’s a great place for cheap, delicious, filling food, and the type of place I am constantly looking for after moving back to Phoenix from New York City.


Seattle in fog

Renata and I recently got back from a trip to Seattle. On our vacations we tend to eat as many good things as possible, and I was excited because I love seafood and I was probably going to get to eat it every day in Seattle. The fist day we where there Renata’s brother took us to the restaurant in our hotel, Urbane, for breakfast. On the menu was an omelet with salmon in it. It was at this point that I thought, “if I can get seafood for breakfast”, which is probably they most difficult meal in America to have seafood in, “then I can have seafood for ever meal for the next four days.”

Day 1

As I said, the first thing I had on the trip was breakfast at Urbane. There I had what was called a Seattle omelet, which was salmon, capers, cream cheese, and green onion all wrapped in eggs, basically lox and bagel but with egg and no bagel, served with a side of rosemary potatoes.

It was a late breakfast, so instead of lunch we had a snack at City Fish Co. in Pikes Place market. This consisted of a shrimp cocktail, dungeness crab cocktail, and three oyster shooters.

For dinner we all wandered around the city until I, for one, was completely lost and turned around. We washed up at a sushi restaurant called Pinto Thai Bistro and Sushi Bar. There we had several sushi rolls, the standout favorite of which was the house special Pinto roll, described on their menu as spicy tuna, avocado, and cucumber wrapped with yellowtail, cilantro, lime and jalapeño. The lime and cilantro make this one of the most perfect ways to have yellowtail and the jalapeño compliments the tuna so well that I will call this the best sushi roll I have eaten.

Day 2

No breakfast today, we didn’t have much time after we got out the door so just coffee at Wheelhouse Coffee. Renata apparently had a good dirty chai, I don’t care for chai, so I cannot comment on that, I however had an Americano which tasted like it was brewed with two-day old used grounds. So much for Seattle being a huge coffee city.

For lunch we met Renata’s brother and went to Shilla, a Korean/Japanese restaurant. We had a Korean BBQ sampler with spicy beef, beef, and beef tongue, some freshwater snails, and the meal came with a Korean fish cake like thing which I didn’t catch the name of, but nevertheless fulfilled my seafood requirement for the meal.

Diner was a veritable and literal feast, as we went to Walrus and the Carpenter. As the name suggests there we had oysters, we each tried one of all nine varieties on the menu, and then got six more each of our favorites, and also had several samplings from their non-oyster menu, and a quite good bread pudding for dessert.

Day 3

No breakfast again, but this time we went to brunch. Salty’s at Alki Beach had an incredible brunch buffet, an entire line of seafood options, including more oysters, an equal amount of standard breakfast options, an omelet and crepe station, a meat cutting station, and what the hostess told us was 13 feet of dessert, including chocolate and caramel fountains. I had a little of everything, mostly the seafood, and then a huge plate of dessert, and I dipped a twinkie in the chocolate fountain, because I just wanted to dip something in the chocolate fountain.

Dinner was at Mistral Kitchen, we had a huge amount of incredible food, the ones I most remember were a mixed seafood ceviche, clams cooked in some amazing  sauce, more oysters, duck, and several other things I can’t recall right now but were also amazing. this meal also included a smoked cocktail, wich has inspired both myself and Renata to have an entire post each on the subject.

Day 4

Probably the least interesting food day, as we had to fly back to Phoenix that afternoon, only one meal in Seattle, brunch at the space needle. I had a quite good clam chowder, eggs Benedict on a crab cake, and tiramisu, they didn’t have anything with seafood for dessert. the food was decent but we got a great view of the city from the wold’s oldest revolving restaurant and then got to almost freeze on the observation deck, it was really cold and windy up there.

Later we went to the airport, where we finished out the trip with beef stew at Bigfoot food and spirits right before the flight. A disappointing end, but they had no seafood on the menu.

During our recent trip to Seattle we had dinner at Mistral Kitchen, which was amazing but is covered in another post, so I won’t say too much more. While there, the table next to ours was delivered a cocktail served in a decanter filled with smoke. Renata immediately wanted one, while I immediately started thinking of how they got the smoke in there. Turns out they use one of these, but having no idea they existed at the time, I started thinking something along the lines of a mad doctor’s chemistry set, complete with glass tubes and bubbling beakers.

This fascination could have ended there, but as luck would have it, the next day I spotted a book about cooking in cast iron, something else I am always interested in, and this book had a way to smoke fish in a cast iron skillet (which is also great and I will cover in more detail later on). Armed with this knowledge, I began to conceive of a way to get the smoke from a cast iron pan into a drink so that Renata and I could make these smoked drinks at home.

Overly simplified, first we soaked hickory wood chips in water for about an hour and a half, then put them in a tinfoil lined cast iron pan. From there I used more tinfoil to guide the smoke toward a funnel, attached to a short length of drip line hose, and aimed that at a jar (because we don’t actually own a decanter) tied it all to the microwave to hold it up, and covered as much of the contraption as I could in ice, to cool the smoke and keep it from floating away. Then I turned on the stove and waited for the wood to begin burning. The result was quite successful, and we got a pretty passable smoked cocktail and a kitchen filled with smoke. There are still some bugs to work out, how to keep the plastic hose from absorbing odd smoke flavors and spitting them into your drink top among them, but overall that is how to make a DIY cocktail smoker.

The Smoke Machine


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After enjoying the Courting Rachel at Mistral Kitchen on our recent trip to Seattle, we couldn’t resist trying to make our own smoked cocktails. As soon as the cocktail came to our table, Robert was imagining ways to duplicate it at home. I found the recipe online and some suggestions about how to create and capture the smoke, mostly fairly expensive handheld smokers. Fortunately Robert had already come up with another way. After reading about a method of smoking fish in a cast iron skillet, he threw together a makeshift smoke collector, which he will be detailing in another post, and I mixed up a cocktail to smoke.

As the Courting Rachel is based on a modified Old Fashioned, I tried to work with some similar flavors. I used Jim Beam Rye, Cherry Heering and Angostura Bitters. I also added some orange blossom water on my second attempt, which improved it a bit. I didn’t add any sugar or syrup which probably would be a good addition for next time (the Courting Rachel uses Rye syrup). For our first attempt we used jasmine tea for the smoke, because we had some on hand, and had recently used it successfully to pan smoke some salmon in the cast iron skillet. I mixed the drink while the smoke was collecting, then poured it into the jar, through the smoke. We allowed it to sit with the smoke for a few minutes (I’m not sure whether this was actually necessary or not, it seemed to pick up the smoky flavor quickly and easily) then we poured it from the jar into a glass with some large ice cubes.

Although we were able to make it all work with the jasmine smoke, we agreed that its flavor did not work very well with the drink. The next night we bought some hickory chips and made some minor improvements to the smoke catcher and the drink (more ice for the smoker and orange blossom water for the drink). It turned out much better. The only downside is how much smoke it creates in the kitchen. Ventilation is definitely an important thing to remember!

Welcome to the Metallic Mango blog! We are Renata Grieco and Robert Houston. We both live in Phoenix, Arizona and love to eat and cook. This blog will be our place to talk about all the great (and maybe not so great) places we eat and things we cook. We also do freelance graphic design, often related to food, and will probably occasionally post about that too. So read along, have fun, and maybe find some good recipes and restaurants along the way.