I Arrived! Then, I Dined At Assaggi.

August 31, 2011

Hello from the Great Lakes State!  I’m writing from Michigan, my home state.  After a wonderfully smooth flight experience (unlike my recent craptacular flight to Colorado), I landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.  My dad had dinner plans with a friend last night, so my mom and I were on our own for dinner.  I was already starving – I was in the air from 10:40am – 3pm (no, the flight wasn’t 4+ hours, it was 2+ hours, plus a 2-hour time zone change), so I never ate lunch.  My breakfast in Colorado consisted of a banana, a few grapes, and the leftover salad from last night, and after I landed I bought another banana and a small container of watermelon.  You can see why I was starving!

I met up with my mom as she was finishing up at her office:

Me:  “I’m really hungry.  Really hungry.  What do you want to do for dinner?”

Mom:  “Well, I never ate the salad I ordered for lunch, and it’s a big salad, so we could split that.  Or, why don’t we go out to eat?  There’s two restaurants I wanted you to try while you were in town.  One of them is pricey, so you may not want to go there with your friends, so why don’t I take you?”

I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a fine dining opportunity where I wouldn’t be responsible for the bill, and I wasn’t going to start now!

The restaurant my mom had in mind was Assaggi Bistro, a restaurant in Ferndale, a little suburb about 20 minutes away.  She had recently been there with a group of her friends, and everyone loved the food and had a great time.  The restaurant has a totally unassuming facade – you would never guess by driving by that this place was recently named one of the best restaurants in metro Detroit by The Detroit News:

Assaggi has a spacious patio out back, surrounded by lots of greenery, and we got a table back there.  My chair ended up being close to a speaker, and I noticed right off the bat the eclectic selection of music that totally had me laughing – a bizarre mix of standards like “That’s Amore” alongside cheesy wedding-band instrumental jazz versions of recent hits, like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).”

Assaggi’s menu combines elements from countries all around the Mediterranean.  They have pizzas from a wood-fired oven, a meze plate with hummus, tabouleh, and other Middle-Eastern items, and dishes with French, Spanish, and even African influences.

I was less concerned with watching what I ate that I normally am, on account of the lack of calories I’d eaten so far that day, although I did choose to avoid anything deep-fried or swimming in oil.  For an appetizer, my mom and I split one of their specials, California golden figs wrapped in prosciutto, stuffed with Robiola cheese (a creamy soft Italian cheese), and served with a balsamic reduction.  It was the first fresh fig I’ve eaten since I bought some a few months ago, and, like me, they had come all the way from California!

The fig had so many great textures and flavors – salty, sweet, rich, crispy, creamy – a great way to start a meal.  And how awesome is that photograph?  I normally don’t boast about my camera work – in fact, I’ve apologized for it on more than one occasion – but these pictures came out fantastically!  Probably because of all the natural light.

For my entree, I ordered their Moroccan duck legs, which came with dried fruit and pistachio couscous, spinach, and a pomegranate barbeque sauce:

I don’t eat duck very often – maybe once or twice a year, and always at restaurants.  And it was goooood.  The meat fell off the bones and melted on my tongue, and the pomegranates, pistachios and dried fruit perked up every bite.

My mom ordered the rainbow trout, which came with squash and heirloom baby tomatoes, a creamy dill sauce, and the same couscous I had (minus the fruit and pistachios):

I tried a piece of the fish, and it was smooth and well-cooked, but I liked my dish better.

Oh, and our meal started off with a bread basket that I didn’t photograph – we each had a piece of what seemed like a fresh-baked, warm (steamy, in fact) pita.

The dessert menu looked appetizing – who doesn’t like chocolate lava cake or creme brulee? – but we decided to pass and call it a night.  It was a delicious meal!

A quick update on my lower back before I call it a night:  Today I didn’t experience any discomfort or pain at all.  I’m so glad I’m healing so quickly after my move-induced injury!  Today was another rest day, exercise-wise, but tomorrow I’m gonna head to the gym for some light cardio.  I’m not going to push myself – I just wanna see how it feels, and how my body responds.  If there’s any pain or discomfort, I’ll stop.  With 3 of the last 4 days being rest days, I’m getting antsy to move!  I also have a massage scheduled for Thursday – which Richard Simmons recommended I get – and I’m looking forward to that as well.

Keep it up, David!


June 30, 2011

A few days ago, I posted a photo of my most recent produce haul from the store, and my haul included a little basket of fresh figs – the first fresh figs I’ve seen this summer.  That prompted a comment from my reader Mary, who asked:

David, what are figs like? How do you eat them?

Good question, Mary!

Before last summer, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a fresh fig before, let alone tried one.   I had spent my entire life eating figs in two ways: dried, and as the key ingredient in Newtons.  One of my favorite recipes to serve a large group stars dried figs, which are reconstituted in red wine as part of the Gorgonzola, Fig, and Pecan Cheese Terrine, which I saw on Food Network years ago, back when The Hearty Boys, winners of the first season of The Next Food Network Star, still had their show.  (Incidentally, I haven’t made that recipe since starting this weight loss endeavor, and I don’t want to, unless I can come up with a way of making it healthier – it starts with 1.5 sticks butter and 1 pound cream cheese!)

Here are some of the figs I bought the other day:

It turns out there’s a wonderful reason why I didn’t see any fresh figs growing up in Michigan:  Figs are a spectacularly fussy fruit.  Many fruits are plucked from the tree before they’re ripe, and then they ripen during the shipping process to your local store, or on your counter after you buy them – but you can’t do that with figs.  Figs that are picked before they’re ripe just don’t ripen.  They have to ripen on the tree, or they won’t ripen at all.

Then, you have to contend with the fact that figs are difficult to ship, for two reasons:  They bruise really easily, and they have a very short shelf life – a few days, tops.  So getting fresh figs into markets that are far from where they’re grown (in warm, dry climates like California, the middle east, and northern Africa) is pretty tough.  The figs I bought were local, and I’m sure any other fresh figs I buy this summer will be local, too.  What a great perk of living in California!

Figs have been around forever.  There’s evidence of figs existing as far back as 5,000 B.C., and fig leaves are the undergarments of choice in most versions of the story of Adam and Eve.  Here’s something else I didn’t know about figs:  A fig is actually an inverted flower, with the bloom on the inside, and when a fig is pollinated (sometimes they pollinate themselves, sometimes it involves fig wasps), the fig creates thousands of seeds, which basically become the flesh of the fruit.

Last summer, when I saw fresh figs for the first time at the farmers’ market, I immediately bought some.  I was hooked.  A good fresh fig is like nothing else on the planet – it’s sweet, delicate, and soft – like the texture of a perfectly ripe peach, with the taste that’s slightly like a berry.  When I get fresh figs, I usually just eat them raw.  Sometimes I like to cut them in half:

But most of the time I pick one up, and hold it upside down (so the stem is down):

And I take a bite:

Truth be told, this batch of figs wasn’t great.  They weren’t as sweet as they could be, and the insides could be a deeper shade of purpley-red.  That’s the other thing about figs – I’ve found, in my year of eating the occasional fresh fig (their season is short: mid-summer to early fall), that there’s a high chance of coming across bad figs, and there’s no signs to let you know ahead of time if a fig has gone bad.  I could eat a delicious fig, and then eat a second delicious fig from the same basket, and then the third fig, while looking nearly identical, will not be sweet at all, or, even worse, it’ll be a little bitter.  Oh, and fresh figs are expensive – 50 cents to a dollar per fig, even at farmers’ markets.  It makes me glad that fresh figs are so seasonal – it gives me something to look forward to, and something to enjoy without continually draining my wallet!

Before I wrap up this post, I wanna give a quick shout-out to a fellow blogger, Greta, who writes at Middle Aged Jock.  I’ve been reading Greta’s blog for a while now (she’s in the middle of a fun 10 Lists in 10 Days project), and she recently hosted a fantastic giveaway of swag from the recent FitBloggin’ conference in Baltimore.  Guess who has two thumbs and won?  This guy!  So a big thanks to Greta for shipping me all sorts of goodies (including fitness DVDs, a book, food samples and coupons, a food scale, and more) all the way across the country in a Girl Scout Cookies box (someone likes Tagalongs – just sayin’).

A lot of bloggers have contests – and I’m about to have another one, soon!  So keep reading – more details to come!  As for me, I’m gonna go eat my final two fresh figs.

Keep it up, David!