Sasa is the latest restaurant offering to open in the Shaker Square area. Since my boyfriend started working at Sarava, I've been visiting Shaker more often and I'm really starting to like the place as an evening entertainment option. It's close to my Coventry apartment and it has what I enjoy during the summer: patio dining. Coventry restaurants can be nice (Pacific East, Mint Cafe), but good luck with outdoor dining. The only restaurant (and I use the term loosely) on Coventry with decent patio seating is Panini's, and my idea of a good time is not eating mediocre food while some chachbag spills his beer on me because he's too busy watching the game on the fifteen widescreen televisions blaring all over the place to see where he's going.

We were seated outside by the friendly hostess and didn't have to wait long before the server came up to take our drink orders. I went with the Tokyo Sangria, which was delicious. It was in the style of a white sangria, but had fresh ginger in it and no added sugar. It was clean, crisp, and gingery, without that cloyingly sweet taste that spoils so many fruit-base cocktails. Aron wanted sake and let the server choose one for him. I can't remember the name of what he received but I tried a bit of it and was not totally put-off. It was very smooth and drinkable. Sasa prides itself on its sake collection and holds semi-regular sake tastings in addition to Sake Night every Wednesday, where they feature select sakes at discount prices. I figure if I'm going to start learning about sake, this might be a good place to do it at.

The menu is divided up into small, medium, and large menu items, as the Izakaya style of dining encourages plate-sharing among the table, much like a tapas bar. Aron and I started with the Grill Sampler, which had small portions of shrimp, scallops in a plum wine syrup, Korean short ribs (kalbi), kushiyaki chicken on a skewer, and grilled shishito peppers. There was just enough of each item for two people to share, and they were very good. I liked the kushiyaki chicken and kalbi in particular. They were tender and not dry or chewy and the sauces chosen for each were savory and flavorful without being overtly salty. The shishito peppers were tempura fried in a light panko.

For my entree I went with the miso marinated black cod with yuzu butter sauce, grilled onions, steamed bok choy, and takikomi rice. I asked the server what takikomi rice was and she said it was similar to fried rice. I asked if it was a white or a brown rice and she said brown, so I went with the takikomi instead of subbing in something like steamed Chinese broccoli (which they do have as a side option). I should have gone with the broccoli. The takikomi rice came in a thick, glutinous puck of obviously white rice made brown by the presence of soy sauce, tasted bland and uninspiring, and had an assortment of half-hearted vegetables and teensy little shrimps in it. The rest of the entree was amazing, though. It was actually fairly impressive how incredibly bad the takikomi rice was compared to how incredibly good the rest of the entree was. I'd definitely get the black cod again as well as recommend it to anyone. Just don't get the takikomi rice. It's terrible. I'll be subbing it out of anything I get at Sasa in the future in favor of the deliciously and delicately steamed bok choy or Chinese broccoli.

For dessert we shared the brownie with green tea ice cream, which is exactly what it is: two brownies with two scoops of green tea ice cream. The brownies were moist and super chocolatey and yummy, and there was almond whipped cream on top which I think I would have bathed in given the chance. Mmmmm. All in all, an excellent meal (aside from the rice...it really was that bad, I'm mentioning how bad it is a third time just in case) and I will definitely be adding Sasa to my regular repetoire of Great Summer Dining Options.

Sasa website: http://www.sasamatsu.com/home.php



I've been waiting for Verizon to cough this up into their phone lineup since I learned about it in February. Initially slated for an April release, it then got pushed to May, then June, and finally
July. I adored the Prada phone that LG produced in their European and Asian markets, but me being a Verizon customer and the Prada being a GSM phone meant that union was not to be.

(My laptop is generously providing the backdrop to these pictures. The racing stripe makes it run faster.)

Look, you can see my plants!

This being my first "smartphone," I was worried it would be big and clunky. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it's really not that much longer or thicker than my old Razr (or as I like to call it, that piece-of-shit phone). It's definitely clutch purse-friendly, ladies.

Another one of my concerns was the pure touch-screen format. I'm not the most graceful person in the world and I was worried I'd be fat-fingering all over its sleek little interface, much like an awkward 14-year-old at his first hormonally-charged co-ed dance. After doing the little calibration exercise they set up when you first turn on the phone, though, I found very little difficulty navigating my way around the menus and tapping out text messages. The text messaging feature is especially nice, because if you flip the phone to its long side a full qwerty keyboard appears to facilitate typing. Flipping it back to its short side produces the standard phone pad. Other fun features include drag-and-drop menu customization and USB data storage (once you snag a microSD card for the phone, which doesn't come standard but you can get at least a gig for cheap anywhere that does computer products). It's also a full-function mp3 player, although I won't be using it for one since I already have an ipod for that. I did however download the entire music suite from Super Mario 1, 2, 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario RPG into it. I'm retarded like that.

Speaking of music, I was trying to put new ringtones into the phone (Verizon's standard ringtone offerings are notoriously awful) and found that while Verizon has an application to access and download new ringtones, the Dare is still so new that they haven't made a ringtone app for it yet. So Verizon, I will say this to you right now: I wanted to be legit. I wanted to go to your store, access your ringtones, pay you money, and download them straight to my phone. I really did. Your lack of available software for a phone that was initially slated for an April release date forced me into Hacking Your Matrix in order to put my own ringtones into your product. I hope you're happy.

Ringtone drama aside, I'm very enamored of the LG Dare. Some of the negative things I've heard about it (slow interface, clunky touch-screen) may be the result of people not calibrating their screens properly, or maybe having really big fingers. I find using my fingernail to tap things produces the best results. I've had it for about 3 days now and I keep finding features about it that make me go "oh, that's really neat!" Highly recommended for people like me who aren't totally corporate yet and might not need something as crazy as a Blackberry or a Treo, but who still want a little more than a standard phone can offer.



Left front: Socrates the Greek basil
Right front: Virgil the Genoese basil
In back: Plato the tomato

They're doing quite well so far. I've never really cultivated plants (I like to joke I have a black thumb) before so not only is this an opportunity for fresh herbs and fruits, it's an exercise in learning how to keep green things alive long enough to have said fresh herbs and fruits. Fortunately my apartment is blessed with a ginormous sun-room in the front so light is not an issue and I don't have to mess around with outside boxes or anything. However, I do happen to have a cat with herbivorous tendencies, and while I haven't seen any little bitty teeth marks appearing on the leaves yet, I worry that it's merely a matter of time.



Sometimes it's time to put away the multigrain and the low fat and the high fiber and stop worrying about whether I got my proper Omega-3's and antioxidants for the day. Sometimes I just need to wear pajamas and settle down on the couch with a tray of something really bad and really awesome at the same time. Generally, a square of dark chocolate will do it for me, but occasionally there comes a time when I just gotta splurge.

For me, that means fried buffalo chicken. It's one of my favorite indulgences. I was recently at a Geological Society of America conference in Buffalo, NY, which afforded me an opportunity to pick up a jar (or four) of the original buffalo wing sauce from the Anchor Bar and Restaurant. I've been thinking of what to do with this sauce for a while. It's the original; something special should be done. I'm not going to just baste some wings with this stuff and call it a day. No, this calls for something supremely, sublimely, superlatively decadent. This requires the combination of two amazing indulgence foods into one unbeatable combination for zero health benefit but incredible personal satisfaction for all those involved.

This requires fried buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese.

Now, stay with me here. It's not really *that* much of a stretch. Lots of buffalo chicken recipes include cheese. It's also kind of stupid easy to make, once I sat down and started sketching it out.

Things you will need:

Wing sauce. I used close to a whole 12 oz. bottle for this recipe, but your mileage may vary depending on how much you like wing sauce. I personally say when in doubt, add more wing sauce.

Cheese. Lots of it. As cheap as you want to go. As much delicious cheap melty cheese as you can get your greasy little meathooks on. Packages of cheapo American melt delightfully, or you could be a little more high-end and get some shredded cheddar type stuff. Just make sure it melts. Don't come crying to me 'cause your fancy parmigiano reggiano idea didn't take off. There is NO classy way to do this dish so don't even try. It's blue collar and that's the way it's supposed to be. Velveeta if you want. Four cups at least.

Chicken breast. I used five medium-sized pieces of chicken breast. Dice them a day (or at least a few hours) ahead of time and put the chunks in a freezer bag with some of the wing sauce, making sure all the chicken is covered, and let it marinade in the fridge.

Macaroni (or some kind of pasta). This is a no-brainer. Take package of macaroni, place in boiling water, cook, drain, set aside in a large mixing bowl or casserole dish. If you can use a casserole dish, you save a step but you might make a mess mixing the other stuff into the macaroni later.

Two medium-sized onions and 3 cloves of garlic, chopped.


Pepper to taste.


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a container (I used a medium sized tupperware), crack an egg into about half a cup of flour and mix it up. Add some wing sauce to this mixture and mix well. The mix should have a decent consistency to it but not be too thin. You want it to stick to the chicken. Add another egg if you think you need more binder. Drop the chunks of chicken into the mix and roll them around, get them well-coated. Pan fry the coated chunks in some oil (I use safflower but canola works just as well).

On medium heat in a wok, sautee the onions and garlic for a bit until the onions start going clear. Dump in the cheese and start working it around on the medium heat, and add in some milk to keep the consistency kinda runny. You need a big saucepan or wok for this 'cause you're going to be making a bucketload of cheese sauce. If the sauce seems too runny, put some flour in to thicken it up a bit. Keep working it around until it's all melty. Mmmmm, melty. I also dumped some wing sauce into this for Ultimate Buffalo Flavor. If you love bleu cheese with your buffalo wings, you could even put some bleu crumbles into the cheese sauce for a bit of zing.

Once it's melty and bubbly, dump in the fried chicken and mix it all together. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for a smidge, then pour the whole shebangabang on top of the macaroni and mix well. Now, at this point you could theoretically serve it if you wanted, but I decided I wanted a nice finish on top. I sprinkled some breadcrumbs over the surface and added some dabs of butter, along with some sprigs of Greek basil from Socrates and a drizzle of yes, MORE WING SAUCE. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, and you get a pretty little crisp finish on top of the casserole.

Voila. Guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser, if not an artery-clogger. My sister's boyfriend went back three times for more. Makes awesome leftovers if there's anything left.



My boyfriend and I have kinda crappy schedules. Crappy in that they don't mesh well with each other. We therefore make an effort to have at least one night a week where we have an "us" night, which usually involves me making some kind of dinner and then we go see a movie or go out with friends. It's a nice way to make sure we get some quality time in during the busy week.

I was cruising Whole Foods yesterday (one of my favorite past-times), just seeing what looked good, and happened across a package of fresh-ground merguez lamb. I adore cooking with sausage. It almost feels like cheating, because you're already starting with so much flavor in the dish you barely have to do anything to the rest of it. I snapped up the lamb and decided that this was going to be the basis of my "us" dinner tonight. I've been on kind of a Mediterranean kick lately so I wanted to make something with heavy Greek influences. For the side, I didn't want something that would fight with the merguez so I found some white bean and basil ravioli at Whole Foods that looked just right.

Halloumi is fun. It's traditionally a Greek sheep-goat blend cheese, heavily brined (salty to taste). You might see halloumi billed as the "grilling cheese." Halloumi's primary characteristic is its absolute refusal to melt under heat. Oh sure, it'll get flat and kinda soft, but it will NOT bubble and melt. You'd have to put this stuff under some sort of blowtorch I think if you really wanted melty halloumi, but why would you? I bought a brick and cut it into 1/4" thick slices for grilling. I like to use grilled halloumi in place of bread for a bruschetta-style appetizer. It doesn't take too long to grill, and I grilled some baby bella mushrooms with them while I was at it and arranged them on top of the finished halloumi with a side of feta-stuffed olives. Pretty simple, but a very nice easy little appetizer.

I paired some whole-wheat pita chips with it for the people who simply have to have their cheese on some sort of bread product.

For the main course, I dipped into my Spice Basket and developed a spice paste that I felt was properly Mediterranean and would go well with the spices already present in the merguez.

Mediterranean spice paste:

1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbl dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried anise
1 tsp dried fennel
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary (I like rosemary)

Combine all ingredients in a mortar and mash together to form a paste. Refrigerate any unused portions afterwards. I found that this made just enough paste to do dinner for four people with a smidge left over, so your mileage may vary. If you're a garlic fiend do 3 cloves.

While the ravioli was cooking up, I halved a package of grape tomatoes and started sauteeing them in a pan with a dab each of safflower and olive oil. I really like cooking with grape tomatoes. I think they look adorable and class up any kind of dish rather than chopping up big ol' tomatoes and using that instead. Not that there's anything wrong with big ol' tomatoes, but if the tomatoes are going to be a big visual presence, I prefer using grape or cherry tomatoes. I sauteed them for a while, adding in the spice paste as they cooked and more olive oil. As the tomatoes cook they stew up a bit, releasing their juices and helping to form a sort of light sauce with the olive oil and the spice paste. Feel free to flatten a few to release as much of the tomato juice as you can during the process. I sauteed them for about 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

While all this was going on, I had the lamb cooking in my large wok, working it around on medium-high heat and breaking it up into small chunks. Once the lamb was properly cooked through and broken up, I turned off the heat and mixed tabbouleh into the lamb. You can make your own tabbouleh or you can be pressed for time like me (we had to make it to a movie at seven) and cheat by buying some tabbouleh and using that instead. Fortunately we are blessed in Cleveland to have excellent options for Lebanese food so if you do buy local ready-made here you're generally getting a good product.

I took the sauteed tomato-spice sauce (should I even call it a sauce? It almost seems too light to be a "sauce") and spooned it onto the raviolis, and added the lamb-tabbouleh mixture to the plate. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

The finished product. It turned out really well, much better than I anticipated. The lemon and parsley in the tabbouleh complemented the spices in the merguez beautifully and the white bean and basil was a nice mellow and slightly sweet addition to the tomato mix. My boyfriend proclaimed this the best meal I've made to date yet. I was pretty happy because this was one of the first dinners I've really developed on my own in terms of tastes and pairing.

In other news, my little Greek basil plant who I have named Socrates has a new friend. I purchased a sweet basil plant to help supplement my fresh basil fixation, and have named this latest addition to my menagerie Virgil. Socrates and Virgil seem very happy together at the moment, blissfully unaware that I am fattening them for the slaughter.