The Food Diaries: Futo Buta.

The Food Diaries: Futo Buta.

In order to completely submerge myself in all things Soccer Shots, I spent my first week in Charlotte, North Carolina, learning and learning and learning alongside my team. My brain was in overdrive for hours each day, simply trying to absorb all of the information that was being tossed around the table. Fortunately, when our long days were over, we decompressed over some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten in a long time. Who took the cake? Futo Buta, a self-proclaimed “hip Japanese noodle house with a patio.” (I should also note that each time Futo Buta was said throughout the week, I genuinely thought they were saying Food-ha Buddha. I was wrong. Clearly.)

We were seated outside on the patio, and I was sweating through my shirt, chugging luke-warm water and using the menu as a fan. It was hot. Conversation was happening all around me, but the only thing I could focus on was how disgustingly sweaty I had to look. Great first impression, Abby. When the waitress came to our table, she rather quickly recommended the Rice Crispy Squares as an appetizer. I hardly heard her description of the delicacy, as I was pretty busy trying to regulate my body temperature. But we took her word for it, and added a side of fried brussel sprouts to our order as well. As she walked away, Tim, my new boss, said, “What a saleswoman! She recommended the most expensive thing on the menu, and we took the bait!” He had a point, and we all began to wonder how good it really would be.

Photos from Futo Buta   Fried brussels sprouts Pork belly bun Miso ramen  Tuna and rice cakes Hamachi Crudo Chef/owner Michael ?????? Photographed in Charlotte, NC on June 18th 2015 Photos by Peter Taylor

When the Rice Crispy Squares were placed in front of us, I was immediately intrigued. Deep-fried sticky rice provided the base for a DIY sushi-esque snack. I spooned out a bit of spicy tuna on top of my square, dipped it into the wasabi soy sauce, and gave it a whirl. As it turns out, our waitress was right – this was the most delicious appetizer. (Not to mention, I’ve always been a fan of food I have to work for. Like fondue!)

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Then, it was time for the main event. I asked the two Futo Buta regulars on my team for their suggestions, and quickly decided on the Chizu ramen, a dish served with copious amounts of pecorino cheese (one of my favorite cheeses in the world), whipped egg, shiso pesto, yuzu and black garlic. As I stirred my dish together, the cheese began to melt, and I scooped up each bite ever-so-gracefully and slurped the noodles off of my chopsticks. If I ever return to Futo Buta, I will never get anything else. It was wonderfully delicious, and deliciously salty. It was at that point that my sweatiness didn’t matter anymore. This dish took priority. Yum.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: New Orleans Edition.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: New Orleans Edition.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A few months ago, AEO sponsored a denim drive in each of our stores to collect used jeans, which we would eventually turn into insulation to be used in conjunction with the Make It Right Foundation in the houses they are building in the Lower 9th Ward.

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So, last Friday morning, my friend Cheryl and I boarded our plane and jet-setted our way to NOLA. Being that we were the first of the team to arrive, our first order of business was to find somewhere to eat lunch. It was my mission to eat true Nawlins cuisine… and as much of it as humanly possible.

We wandered down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and ended up at Desire Oyster Bar, a stunning restaurant with a tin ceiling, black and white checkered floors, oversized windows and antique mirrors. It was gorgeous. We ordered Crispy Fried Alligator with Louisiana Pepper Jelly as an appetizer. Pepper jelly is a southern staple, made with peppers (obviously), vinegars, sugar and liquid crab boil. And, in my opinion, it was the highlight of the appetizer. It was lovely and bright and delightfully tangy. I thought about just eating it with a spoon.

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Then, we both ordered Catfish Po’Boys, successfully filling our fried food quota for the day. (But the side of greens has to count for something, right?) The catfish was light and gummy and the bread was sour and warm and flaky, and everything I’ve ever wanted in a Po’Boy. We left happy, considering our first Big Easy meal a raging success.

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The next night, we dined at NOLA, Emeril Lagasse’s French Quarter eatery that fuses  traditional Creole, Acadian and Southern cuisine with global influences. The three-story restaurant featured a wood-fired brick oven, an open kitchen and a stunning collection of wine. I ordered a Fleur-de-Lis cocktail (orange vodka, St. Germain, chambord, chardonnay, lemon juice and ginger ale topped with a lemon wedge), and Shrimp & Grits for dinner. Oh my lawd. The sautéed shrimp sat on top a bed of smoked cheddar grits, with grilled green onions, applewood smoked bacon, crimini mushrooms and doused with a lemon butter sauce. I don’t think a single word escaped through my lips while this plate was in front of me. Each bite was creamy and tangy, and it was everything it should have been when you’re eating Shrimp and Grits in the south.

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On Sunday morning, Cheryl and I dragged ourselves out of bed bright and early, so we could hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde for beignets and a morning cup of joe. The line was long, the sun was strong, but the hype was all worth it. The coffee — chicory and iced — was the perfect pick-me-up and the beignet was like a bite-size funnel cake.

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After a few hours of meandering through the French Quarter, shopping for trinkets and art and exploring the sights, we asked a few locals for one last restaurant recommendation. Before we knew it, we ended up at Oceana Grill for our final meal of the trip. We started with an appetizer of Oyster Rockefeller, which Cheryl hated and I loved. Stuffed with spinach, bacon and parmesan cheese, there was nothing to hate about them. Nothing at all.  Then my Cajun Jambalaya Pasta arrived, and every spicy, alligator sausage and shrimp filled bite was better than the last.

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After a short and sweet, fun and food-filled weekend in New Orleans, Cheryl and I started our walk back to the hotel. We were surrounded by the stunning of architecture of the French Quarter when Cheryl said, “New Orleans is visually delicious.” I looked around, and couldn’t help but agree. It’s visually delicious… and also just the regular kind of delicious, too.