Arlington/DC edition

OK this is multi-day blog so it’s longer than the average entry.

A couple of weekends ago a number of family members went to Arlington, VA to have my Father’s urn placed in Arlington National Cemetery with the accompanying military honors. The service was on Monday so my sisters, their husbands and my two youngest nephews met up the Friday before and started our dining experiences at Ireland’s Four Courts pub just a couple of blocks from our hotel. My sisters both went with the Chicken Boxty and my brothers-in-law both got the Shepherds Pie. Both dishes got high marks. My choice was the traditional Irish Breakfast.

If this is a normal breakfast I don’t understand how all of Ireland isn’t a bunch round people just rolling off the island based on the quantity of food. There were eggs, sausage (kind of bland), beans, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, toast, black and white pudding and hiding in the picture are two rashers of bacon. I’ll tell you right now this did not all get consumed but damage was done. The white pudding was the only new item for me and for taste was just a bit milder version of the black pudding. I guess the blood does make a difference. Since I had low expectations of the sausage links I was not disappointed and overall I enjoyed the breakfast for dinner alongside a Magner’s Irish Cider, which was just OK.

Our next group meal was in DC at a place just off the Mall, b DC Penn Quarter. Their sub-title is burgers. beer. bourbon. I can vouch for 2 out of 3. We’d been to one of the Smithsonian museums and had built up a thirst and appetite. Many burgers were ordered and water consumed in large quantities. My choice of burger was the 3 Shrooms.

Now I’ll admit the picture doesn’t look appetizing but let me tell you it was fantastic. The burger was a 7 oz patty of in-house ground beef with sauteed mushrooms, a mushroom spread, truffle mayo and lots of melted Swiss cheese on a soft bun. If you’re a shroom fan I don’t need to say much more and if you’re not I’d be wasting my breath so I’ll just leave you with the fact that I left an absolutely clean plate. To partner with the burger I selected a local beer, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager. It was a light easy drinking beer that went well with the very flavorful burger. Oh and there were crispy tots involved too.

The evening meal was Italian with local friends not seen in person for 40 or so years. We knew them from Geneva, Switzerland and the wonderful years we lived there. This was automatically going to elevate the meal. The place picked for us by our VA friends was Pazzo Pomodoro. Now the expectation got ratcheted up quickly as on the way in a gentleman I was holding the door open for to exit stopped to tell me this was the best Italian food in the area and I’d love it. Since I had no local frame of reference for Italian food I’d have to take his word for the first part but the second I’d decide for myself. I elected to try one of the Chef’s signature dishes.

The Involtini di Vitello was veal stuffed with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and wild mushrooms in a marsala sauce with vegetables on the side. I just realized the mushroom theme of the day. The veal was tender and the stuffing was savory and delicious. I had some local beer that I didn’t bother to keep track of because I was honestly more interested in catching up and enjoying the company of friends. I don’t know if this is the best Italian food in Vienna, VA but the dish I had was well worth the going for.

The next day we decided to get our cheese on and headed to The Swiss Bakery in Springfield, VA. This is a great little place that is a bakery with a side of Swiss market and oh yeah a restaurant. The cheese several of us got was raclette over potatoes. I went to the drink case to pick a beer but saw the Sinalco and had to get that instead. It is a citrus soda that was the first Swiss drink we had at my dad’s bosses house the night we arrived in Geneva so I had to get that. It was just like I remembered.

As mentioned I got the raclette cheese over potatoes which also came with bread, dried beef slices, pickled onions and baby dills. I also got a side bratwurst.

If you’ve never had raclette before I’ll say up front it smells like feet, after a long walk, but it is good. The pungent cheese and the plainness of the potatoes go well together. The salty dried beef and tangy pickled vegetables are perfect pals to have with this. The bread clears your palate so you can load it up with flavors all over again. The brat was good but really I could have done without it and been just fine. Since this was also a market we may have purchased some Swiss chocolate and there’s a possibility some pastries were procured.

The next day the international theme of meals continued when we walked the short distance from our hotel to MeJana Lebanese restaurant. It was just a little too warm for outside dining so we got a booth by the window so we could still have a good view of the street. We started with some hummus and warm flat bread and then right into various kebabs. I got the mixed grill.

The mixed grill had one chicken, one lamb and one kafta kebab plus rice and some vegetable matter on the side. The kafta was the most flavorful but a bit chewy. The chicken was probably the best overall as it was spiced just right and very tender. It was a ton of food and under other circumstances I might have carried some leftovers home but instead I plowed through. Thank goodness for the walk back to the hotel.

My final day in DC found me at the National Archives and the Smithsonian castle working up a lunch appetite. Checking out Yelp for stuff in walking distance I did a double take on the USDA Cafeteria and the high ratings it had so I needed to check this out for myself. After going through security and getting a visitor’s sticker I followed the stream of people to the cafeteria.

Wow this was one bad-a$$ cafeteria. It had a salad bar and hot bar that you pay by the pound plus deserts including cold and frozen options. Around the perimeter of the cafeteria are specialty stations like Korean BBQ, Italian, Deli, Mexican, and at least one more I’m forgetting but the choices were quite varied and the food all looked fresh and delicious. I decided to go for the Korean bowl, specifically the regular bowl. The small would have been sufficient.

The way this worked is you picked your carb, I got brown rice, then 4-6 vegetables, your meat or tofu then sauce. For vegetables I got some kimchi, something else spicy and pickled, some broccoli and sprouts. I got the beef and house sauce that was tangy and spicy. It was very good but I only got about 2/3 of it eaten before I had to tap out. The beef was good and the sauce was just spicy enough to make me sweat just a bit.

That pretty much wrapped up the culinary experience for my northen Virginia / Washington DC trip. I do want to say thank my family and friends who shared various meals with me; Lynn, Keith, Dee, Chris, Alex, Haley, Lauren, Jesse, Jay, (we missed you Paige), Ellie, Jackie, Shelley, Stephanie, Kallianna, Kyle & Julie. The meals were all enhanced by your presence.

Russian Yum

Russian Snacks

The October box from Universal Yums was loaded with snacks from the continents spanning country of Russia.

 

The nice thing was there were none that I really disliked but it was also pretty easy to come up with the “worst yum” for me as well.

As usual there was a nice mix of sweet and savory leaning more toward the sweet end of the snack scale.  My favorite was also the first snack I tried, the Blackurrant Zefir.

This snack was a chocolate covered marshmallow cream with black currant. The layer of chocolate was very thin and brittle. The marshmallow filling was the star. It was a bit firmer than marshmallow fluff and a nice tangy mix of black currant throughout. Really tasty and a winner from the start.

My second favorite was the Grapefruit Chocolate bar.

It had a very good quality dark chocolate providing a thick shell for a creamy filling.  The filling had a significant grapefruit taste.  It was authentic enough I expected a bitter aftertaste that never came.  It was just the citrusy grapefruit goodness with some sweetness that melded well with the slightly bitter dark chocolate.

The worst of the lot was the Holodets and Horseradish Husks.

I didn’t know what holodets was until I read it in the booklet.  It is cold meat jelly and that put visions of that congealed nonsense you wipe off of spam or something like souse.  Either way not an appetizing picture to start.  When I opened the package I got a whiff of something that smelled vaguely meaty but not appetizing.  Husk apparently means something like breadstick.  These were rye bread bits and I figured getting past the smell would get me a sinus clearing taste of horseradish but it was very very mild.  The texture was like a crouton and since they weren’t very good just eating them from the bag I tried eating them with a bowl of homemade vegetable soup.  They didn’t ruin my soup so they had that going for them.  Anyway not the best.

The most unusual wasn’t anything weird but more like something unexpected in the Tula Pryanik.

This was a nice big gingerbread cake made with milk and honey.  The Russian writing was raised and the whole thing was about an inch thick and had a thin line of filling in the middle that was brown and sweet.  The cake itself had about the same consistency as a cake doughnut and the gingerbread taste was milder than just about anything gingerbread in the US.

In addition to the ones pictured there was a toffee with peanuts, shishkabob potato crisps, fairy tale roll cakes, wheat snacks that were shallot and potato flavored, salmon and cheese husks and a big old pack of milk cookies with a chocolate glaze on the bottom.  Oh yeah the bag of candies was great with forest fairy honey peanut delights, juicy light peach & apricot jellies, and caramel dreams that had no caramel but did have lemon fondant and apple jam.

Good box of snacks.  If I read the clues right next months featured country it Holland.  I bet it’ll be Gouda.  (I’m not even ashamed)

 

 








Thailand Yum

Siamese Snacks

The September Yum snack box was Thailand themed and continued the streak of fun boxes loaded with interesting and unusual snacks.

 

I’ll continue highlighting my favorite and number two as well as the worst and most unusual but I’m also going to mention a couple of the others that just need to be touched on because they were both weird and weirdly good.

So the favorite was the first one I tried from the box.

Coconut Snack Bites sounded like a can’t go wrong and that big package looked like it was going to be a two session snacking event.  Alas it was a case of excess packaging but the contents were delicious.  They were little round golden brown crispy treats with a nice toasted coconut flavor. Real shredded coconut that was not too sweet so you got the natural coconut taste.  The package says crispy and yummy and I concur.

My number two was the Coconut Cream-O Choco Plus.

This was a five pack of two cookie sleeves so they were easy to parcel out and enjoy several times.  The cookies had chocolate and coconut flavored caramel. The cookie part tasted like a regular butter cookie that had a well in the center lined with a very thin layer of caramel with coconut flavoring at the bottom and topped with chocolate. The chocolate was soft, the caramel was a bit chewy and the cookie was crumbly. All working in harmony to provide an enjoyable snack.

The worst snack was the only snack I haven’t finished from any box to date.

Big Roll Grilled Seaweed roll Tom Yum Goong flavor.  This was the second snack I tried from the box and thank goodness it was not indicative of the rest of the box.  I’m not a seaweed hater but the mascot looks like Eric Cartman so maybe that should have been a hint.  Man was this not good.  It was a thin, fragile seaweed roll that was flaky and on first taste had a strong salty sea / fishy taste and then I forgot about that as the hot and sour flavor came to the fore.  The hot and sour wasn’t bad but trying to get by that fishy salty nastiness wasn’t worth it with a box of other choices.  One of which was the most unusual.

Sticky rice with coconut cream and mango.  Living up to the name it was very moist and sticky.  Unusual but quite tasty.  At first the coconut and mango were both mild flavors but definitely present.  Then as I got into it there turned out to be a very ripe piece of mango in the center of the sticky rice.  The look, feel and texture could easily be off-putting but it was a tasty little snack once you got past all that.

Two others I liked that were just odd enough I wanted to share them as well.

The Juzi-C gummy strip was a spicy pineapple fruit roll up type of snack.  The strip itself was thin, flat and coated with a light dusting of sugar crystals.  A bite of the stretchy treat got you a sweet pineapple taste that resolved into an eye opening spicy sweet treat.  It wasn’t too hot when balanced by the sugar but it was definitely not something you have every day.

The other was a savory snack.  Jack ‘n Jill sausage and sweet chili potato rings.  This snack was on my radar to be in the weird column because it had a hot dog on the package and it was unusual. They were wee little crunchy rings.  After I opened the package the first thing to hit me was the smell.  They smelled like hot dogs so the package was no lie and as I was eating them the immediate impression was the same but a microsecond after they hit your tongue the sweet chili flavor takes over. Not bad but staying in the weird column.

I signed up for a 6 month subscription and this was box 5 and unless box number 6 totally tanks I’m definitely going to let the auto renew go through.  If you’re interested in securing a box or more for yourself use the link below and you’ll get $5 off and so will I on my future purchases.

Universal Yums referral link

 








Just Graft No Corruption

Another DragonCon Edition

The Labor Day weekend and a few days before found me in Atlanta for DragonCon and visiting friends.  While at the con I stuck pretty much to known quantities and hit restaurants I’ve mentioned before in previous posts.  In some cases lunch is just a respite from the multitudes and the food is the same old, same old but I do want to mention two before I jump into the new place I visited.

Truva is a Turkish restaurant that I have been going to for years and I really enjoy the calm relaxing atmosphere, service and food.  I do try to sample something new each time and this time I had the Adana Kebab with an Efes beer.

 

I have to start by mentioning the warm bread that’s delivered with some olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce.  I love this bread and they are not stingy with it.  That and planning the rest of my days con schedule kept me busy until the adana kebab arrived.  As you can see from the photo it was a traditional ground meat, in this case lamb, formed and skewered kebab.  It was nicely spiced with red bell peppers, onions, a bit of red and black pepper plus other spices.  The salad was essentially shredded lettuce and no big deal but the grilled tomato and rice went nicely with the kebab.  The yogurt sauce also added a nice touch.  The Efes beer was a pilsner that didn’t have any special characteristics but was refreshing on the warm day.

The next place I wanted to mention again was the Pacific Rim Bistro where I got some nice sushi.

This is a busy joint during the con and they have seats around the sushi making station so you can see the chefs crafting it while you wait and it’s easy for a singleton to get seated.  You also get to meet new people who strike up random conversations about their trip from Michigan to Georgia and what their particular brands of geekdom are.  So what I’m saying is it’s a good place to get some lunch, R&R and make new friends.  I decided to let the professionals work for me and selected the Sushi Lunch Combo A.  This came with soup or cucumber salad, 5 pieces of nigiri sushi, 3 pieces of tuna roll, 4 pieces of California roll and Inari tofu (that’s the weird looking brown thing at the front of the sushi plate).  The cucumber salad was delivered first and I only got a few bites before the sushi was delivered so speed was something they did well.  The cucumbers were good and a nice change from the usual green salad offerings.  The sushi was fresh tasting and delicious and while it wasn’t spectacular it was a great variety and value in my opinion.  The Inari tofu was totally new to me and I didn’t have any idea what it was.  I lifted up the brown envelope looking thing and saw there was only rice under it so I figured it couldn’t be too dangerous.  The texture was a little odd, kind of rubbery, but the taste was ok.  It was a little sweet so it was appropriate I saved it until last and decided to dub it dessert.  Overall another good visit.

The last place I’m going to mention was actually the first restaurant I visited on my trip south.  As part of my DragonCon tradition I have the opportunity to share a great meal with my friend Sharon and she had scoped this place out ahead of time.  Graft Restaurant is a farm to table place in Grayson, GA.  It’s located in an old home and is loaded with heavy dark wood and a warm welcoming atmosphere.  The night we went was also a live music evening so we got a bit of a show as well.  Our server Kai (I’m guessing on that, I know it started with a K and rhymed with eye) was more than willing to go over the menu and explain what the evenings dishes were based on that days ingredients.  In the end I went with a couple of appetizers and Sharon got a salad with grilled chicken and I had a waiting beer and a meal beer.

The apps I opted for were the venison sliders and the twice cooked fries with cider vinegar aioli dipping sauce.  The venison sliders were cooked medium well and had some braised collards and a light tangy sauce all between a slightly sweet slider bun.  Very tasty.  It didn’t mention the sliders came with fries so I’d ordered the additional fries so there were a lot of taters on the table.  The aioli dipping sauce was very good bringing to mind a mash up of the vinegar the UK folks like with their chips and the mayo that the Dutch like with theirs.  Sharon reported the salad was good and the baby kale wasn’t bitter at all and the grilled chicken was great.  The beers I had were both from Akedemia Brewing in Athens, GA.  The dark one was the Hades’ Hounds Hunker Down Brown (any UGA fans will know why I had to have that one) and the other was Lemon Drop Blanc saison.  The brown ale was decent and had a nice malty taste with a bit of extra sweetness and the saison had a tart citrus flavor that was easy to sip as we chatted and listened to music (once they got the volume right and we could converse without yelling).

As I mentioned at the start Graft was a welcoming place and not only was Kai great but there was another woman walking around making sure everything was good and doing the needful.  And I don’t know if it was just us and the table next to us but when items got delivered it was a shared experience of “ooh what’s that?” & “that looks good” so there was a sense of camaraderie going on.  If you find yourself in the metropolitan Grayson area you should give them a try.

 








Thai One On

Thailand

This restaurant has been on my list since the beginning of the blog but I could never catch it when open when I was in the mood for Thai.  This time though it was an unplanned visit as I noticed it was open when I was on my way to run another errand so I hit the brakes hard and swung into the parking lot (much to the annoyance of the twerp who had been following too close in spite of having a free lane to the left, so bonus).

The restaurant in question is Sila Thai.  I’d seen good reviews for the place on Yelp & Google and it was only a couple of miles from the house so I had great hopes for my lunch and those hopes were met.  First impressions.  The place shares a building with a Chinese restaurant, they are essentially back to back so it made me wonder if they shared a kitchen and my hopes were going to be dashed for authentic Thai.  Upon entering it looks like a lot of other Asian restaurants with some decorations clearly from Thailand.  They do have a bar to the left of the main seating area that is also the counter where you pay on the way out.  I was greeted and seated quickly by a pleasant lady who welcomed me to the restaurant.  There weren’t many people there when I arrived but there were a lot when I left.

They have a nice lunch menu with a two price plan, $8 for chicken or tofu and $9 for beef or pork and then 3 pages of dishes to which you can add one of those.  The list varies from Sauteed dishes to fried rices, curries and noodles.  Plus you got a soup or salad and vegetable dumpling.  I chose the egg drop soup.

This egg drop soup was different than any I’d had before.  Upon first slurp I noticed it had a significant sesame oil component, which I quite liked.  Next was the vegetables which were swimming around in there, carrots, peas, corn & tofu, not a lot of any of them but enough add some color and additional textures.  Enjoyable start.  For my entree I’d chosen the Pad Woon Sen from the Noodle section of the menu since it was something I had never tried before.

I would definitely recommend this dish.  This was a significant plate of food.  The base was clear glass noodles and it also had cabbage, cauliflower, red & green peppers, onions, mushrooms, baby corn, zucchini, sprouts, eggs, and chicken with a brown sauce.  Wow, there were a lot of different textures to go along with the noodles and there was not a lot of any one thing but enough to get a taste of each.  The chicken was grilled and that brown sauce was like a smokey, slightly sweet soy sauce that I found delicious.  Oh yeah and there was a vegetable dumpling that wasn’t bad but it was a vegetable dumpling so I had low expectations anyway.

A couple more general notes.  The staff was all very friendly.  They have spicy dishes and like many Thai restaurants I’ve been too they let you specify the spiciness on a 1-5 scale so you can try those dishes without being afraid of frying your taste buds.  The food was delivered fast and hot, I hadn’t finished the egg drop soup before the pad woon sen was delivered so this is a reasonable option for people trying to grab lunch on a lunch break from work.  They had some deserts that I was thinking about trying but there was so much food in the main meal I just didn’t have the room.

Overall I’d say I’m sorry I didn’t make more of an effort to try them sooner and I will definitely be going back for some non-blog lunches.  If you didn’t check out the Tell Me More page last time Thailand was the subject check it out now.

 








Taiwanese Yum

Taiwan

Image result for taiwan passport stamp

This months Yum box was loaded with snacks from the island of Taiwan.

There were 13 different snacks in this month’s box.  Most I enjoyed and one not so much and it will be discussed in a bit.  Staying with the plan to showcase the top 2 favorites, the most unusual and the worst here’s my favorite of the box.

Basil flavored pea crackers.  That’s right, you read me, crackers made from peas.  I was skeptical when I opened the pack but was converted on the first bite of these spiral shaped crackers.  The first thing I noticed was these crackers had an awesome crunch.  It was harder than most corn or wheat based crackers I’ve had in the past and I liked it.  The next thing was the basil flavor, which was by far the dominant flavor and it tasted fresh, not artificial.  This was also the largest snack by volume too so double win.  The second favorite snack was a little smokey plum hard candy.

The smokey plum is on the right.  The other two candies were chewy but this little number was hard as your grandma’s Christmas candy.  I popped this in my mouth and man did it have the smokey part down pat.  There was a wood smoke flavor that I’m sure a true smoke connoisseur could have identified but to me it was like inhaling over a random camp fire, in a good way.  After a bit the smoke dissipated and the sugary plum flavor started to come through and shortly after that because I have the patience of a gnat I chewed it up so I don’t know if the flavor would have changed again as it dissolved.  Now on to what I thought was the most unusual.

Here we have the Taiwanese Choco Ball which I expected to be my favorite out of box based on the picture and ingredients.  I mean chocolate and peanut butter?  We’re in Reese’s territory here and I love that combo.  Well things didn’t turn out quite like I thought.  The thin chocolate exterior was not bad even though the chocolate wasn’t as sweet as I’m used to and wasn’t bitter enough to be cool like dark chocolate.  Then I got to the mochi which had a consistency between a gummy worm and that green slime you played with as a kid.  Not a lot of taste but it certainly contributed to an interesting mouth feel.  Now I’m down to the peanut buttery layer and it was also not as sweet as the peanut butter I’m used to and certainly not as sweet as that used in confections.  That’s not a bad thing but it didn’t meet expectations so there was an initial let down.  The interesting part was, taken individually the components were kind of disappointing but if you chunked a whole one in your mouth and didn’t spend too much time chewing it over the flavors went pretty well together, unlike the next snack.

Here we have the taro flavored wafer bar.  It was the only snack I disliked outright.  The wafer is a standard plain cardboard like example of it’s genre.  It was crispy and fragile with a thin layer of semisweet taro paste sandwiched in.  If you’ve never had taro it’s the same stuff they make poi from and if you’ve never had poi it’s like kindergarten paste without the great flavor.  You may have discerned I’m not a taro fan and this was even worse because as thin as the layer of filling was it still managed to leave a greasy taste in my mouth.  So no, just no to the taro wafer.

Although I’m not going to talk about them I will mention the other snacks in the box.

Black sesame cake, brown sugar lotus cake, pepper crackers, french fry snacks, seaweed corn bar, spicy scallion stick, red bean milk candy, black sesame milk candy and bubble tea popcorn.

I do want to give the bubble tea popcorn an honorable mention even though I don’t have a picture to share.  The popcorn still had a freshness to it and the sweet glaze had the taste of green tea and tapioca plus there were bits of black tea leaves on the popcorn as well.  The tea leaves weren’t enough to overpower the bubble tea flavor but did enhance the tea part.

OK and since I’ve never found a restaurant that claimed to be Taiwanese I’m adding the Tell Me More page for Taiwan to this post.  Check it out for a recipe video, music video, random fact and some shopping opportunities.

Based on the clues it looks like next month’s Yum box will be loaded with English treats.  Fingers crossed for some bangers & mash crisps.

 








Filipino Yum

Philippines

So I canceled one of my monthly nerd boxes a few months ago and last month I saw an ad for a different kind of subscription box that fit nicely with the theme of this blog.  The Universal Yums subscription box is a monthly box of snacks from a different country each month.

There are 3 different box sizes; 6+, 12+, & 20+ snacks.  I went with the Yum Yum box (12) items as that seemed like a good number to get a decent sample size and 20 seemed like too much.  The May box was my first and the country was the Philippines.

Flipping over the cover sheet as directed I found a ballot to vote for a favorite item, runner up, worst yum and most unusual plus the first of the activities, match the neighboring countries, solve a secret code with answers from the booklet included and a guess next months country.

Under this was the booklet mentioned above.  The booklet tells you more about the country, includes more activities, provides a link to a curated list of music from the country as well as a description of each of the snacks included and finally the answers to activities on the cover card.

After flipping through the book it was time to have a look at the included snacks (see the restraint I showed by looking at words and not food first).  Here’s a snap of the haul.

There were indeed 12 different snack items and I don’t want to take you through each one because that would be wordier than my common blog entry.  What I decided to do for the boxes is follow the ballot model and give details about my two favorites plus the most unusual and the one I liked the least.  This month I realized I didn’t take photos of the individual snack items which I’ll do going forward to provide a visual to go with the narrative.  Here are the snacks laid out in their original packaging though.

In general let me say the box had a good blend of sweet & savory snacks and most of the savory ones were crispy and / or crunchy.  Some were similar to mainstream snacks we have in the US but other decidedly not.  Here is a rundown of the 4 I chose for the ballot.

Favorite – Pinipig polvoron, a crisped sticky rice short bread cookie. It had a bit of dairy flavor and an interesting texture.  It was a nice solid cookie when removed from the package but as soon as I bit it the piece in my mouth lost all cohesion and turned into a silky powder with lumps of the crispy rice surfing through to be crunched between teeth.  It was an odd but pleasant textural touch. It was sweet but not overly so and in spite of the simpleness of it I liked this one a lot.

Runner up – Potato Fries Ketchup Flavor.  I was surprised at this coming in as #2 since ketchup is like my #3 condiment.  These were french fry shaped potato products that was light and had a snappy crunch along with a real, albeit slight, potato taste. And as much as I’m not a fan of tomato barbecue powder flavors this ketchup flavor was really good. It had a distinctive tomato taste with sweetness and a little tang you expect from ketchup.

Worst – Mr Mais chewy candy.  This little nugget was perhaps the closest to gag inducing of anything in the box, including the box. The candy is “chewy sweet corn” with a “butter” filling. Wow, it tasted like semi hardened corn syrup and then when chewed the artificial butter flavor spilled out like some noxious leak from a barrel of rancid butter wannabe.  It wasn’t tasty is what I’m saying.

Most Unusual – Mr Keso, another of the chewy candies.  I actually expected this one to be the nastiest of the lot but surprisingly it was not as you know from the previous award winner. The chewy outer had a mild sweet cheese flavor that wasn’t too bad and then the liquid hits with a much stronger cheesy flavor. Now this was not a real natural cheese flavor but more like a liquid version of the cheese “sauce” from boxed mac & cheese. Not exactly something I’m itching to try again but not the worst.  Oh and notice what they did with the names of the chewy candies?

I did get introduced to two new flavors, pandan & ube which added color as well, green & purple respectively.  In the snacks their flavors were much more subtle than the artificial colors that accompanied them so I truly don’t know if I could pick them out if I tasted them again.  For the interested pandan is a green plant that is apparently popular in southeast Asian circles and ube is a purple yam.

Overall the box was a fun, filling, educational romp through another culture’s snacks and I can’t wait until June’s box of Brazilian (I cracked that coded hint) snacks arrives.








C Food Saturday

Asian Fusion

This rainy Saturday was brightened with family sharing lunch for the second weekend in a row. We were in search of a culinary-passport lunch to prepare us for some Dave & Busters later and the Akahana Bistro looked like a good option.

They are located in Baxter Village in Fort Mill just off the interstate. Fortunately for us we found a couple of parking spots on the street close to the restaurant so we didn’t get too wet on the way in. There weren’t very many people there when we arrived and I think the employees outnumbered the patrons most of the time we were there. There is a bar, some sort of outside seating, as well as a standard seating area with heavy wooden tables and plenty of room.

The menu is a mix of Asian cuisines including; Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese. There are quite a number of options and deciding took us a while so we ordered some salt & pepper calamari to help us through.

I really enjoyed the simplicity of the light salt and pepper coating that was complimented by the plum sauce. The plum sauce was thinner that any other I’ve had but that was quite alright because it didn’t overpower the rest of the flavors. My nephew and I pretty well destroyed that plate. They were served on a bed of light crispy noodles, cilantro, scallions & shallots.

For an entree I chose salt & pepper soft shell crab with fried rice. Good thing I liked the salt & pepper coating from the calamari because that seemed to be the same as they used on the crab.

It may not be obvious but there was a fair amount of crab on the plate and soft shell was right. Again I appreciated the relative simplicity of the coating that allowed the crab taste to come through. I felt like I was taking a chance with this because I’ve had some soft shell crab that was a little more shelly than I would have preferred but this was great. The crab was served with the same noodles as the calamari had been with the addition of some jalapenos to keep you one your toes. I chose fried rice as my rice option and it was just ok but I enjoyed the crab enough to not care.

My nephew got sesame chicken that he put a good dent in but couldn’t finish due to quantity.

My brother-in-law got the sushi deluxe lunch platter and it looked amazing and based on the clean plate and satisfied comments he made I believe he enjoyed it. We did all agree his was the nicest presentation of the lot and it was a good value too.

My sister did apps for lunch selecting spring rolls, Asian summer rolls and fried dumplings that she freely shared. All were deemed tasty especially the dumplings. Visually the Asian summer rolls with the see through rice noodles were the most interesting and I did have a bite and can vouch they were not bad at all.

The service was good and aside from an issue with the first try at sweet tea being light on the sugar we were well taken care of. Based on experience when a restaurant isn’t busy service can be a crap shoot, either too much attention or they get caught in conversations or other distractions because they’re bored. Our server did a good job of keeping an eye on the table without hovering.

Overall I’d recommend the place to anyone, lots of choices and the food was very good. Fueled up we were ready to take on Dave & Busters. I’d like to thank Dee, Chris & Jesse Mays for spending their lunch with me and treating as well. Hard to beat that deal, family and free food.








Winter Bowling

Korea III

With the winter Olympics going on in Pyeongchang it really isn’t that surprising that I had a hankering for Korean.  Doing a bit of internet research to find a place other than the two I already know, I found Bulgogi Box in Charlotte that looked promising.

I found the restaurant and then a couple of blocks later a parking spot.  The restaurant has a wide front but the dining area isn’t very deep at all and the kitchen looks to be twice the size of the area with tables.  I was greeted by a couple of the staff behind the bar and they invited me to sit wherever I liked so I grabbed a spot at the end of the bar.  One of the ladies who greeted me asked if I’d been there before and when I said I hadn’t she welcomed me again and said she hoped I’d love the food.  That made two of us.

The menu isn’t extensive but varied enough to offer something for most tastes.  The didn’t have any Korean beers on tap so I ordered a Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing to give me something to sip as I mulled my options.

Well that turned out to be a good choice.  It was obviously a stout and the first sip was a surprise.  It had a very smooth vanilla flavor and another strong taste it took me a minute to figure out and another moment to confirm it was a bourbon barrel aged stout.  The bourbon taste was quite distinct and not bad along with the vanilla taste.  Good start to the meal.

I was torn between the bulgogi box namesake of the restaurant or the bimbim bowl.  The waiter was helpful to let me know the bulgogi had more meat and was a bit simpler where the bimbim bowl had a bit less meat but vegetables.  I decided the vegetables wouldn’t kill me and I could get the bimbim in a sizzling pot.

I got the spicy pork version of the bowl and since it was the weekend it came with a choice of side and I selected pickles.  This was maybe the best meal I had all week.

The bimbim was presented in a very hot bowl that had rice in the center topped with the spicy pork and an egg.  Surrounding the rice and meat were sliced cucumbers, collards, shredded collards, radishes, corn, onions and mushrooms.  The pork was spicy but not too bad, just enough to cause a tingle across my scalp and a bit of light sweat on the brow.  The sizzling pot cooked the rice right at the bottom to a little crunch which added even more to the overall texture and taste.  When I ordered the pickles I expected to get a mixed vegetable pickle mix but instead it was all cucumbers, thinly sliced and a bit sweet in vinegar.  Judging by the slices and ones in the bowl these were pickled in house and complemented the spicy pork quite well.

That was a ton of food and I managed to finish it off but not without working at it.  It was a great meal for a rainy mild winter day.  I’ll definitely be going back to try the bulgogi box.








Lunchistan

Pakistan

From Oktoberfest last blog I took the culinary-passport east to Pakistan via Zafram Kabab Palace.  I was actually trying to find a place that served Afghan cuisine and this place popped up but the best they really had that I could see was something they called Afghani rice with a couple of dishes.  Instead they mostly had Pakistani and Indian food and that’s what they advertise.  I decided what the heck I’d try them out.

They started out with a big downgrade from me.  I got there at 11:30, which is the opening time on their website, on their door and at least two places inside the restaurant but they were not yet opened.  There happened to be a family of folks from somewhere in southeast Asia who got there before me and were waiting as well.  We all sat in our cars for about 5 minutes and then they got out and stood around the door, at this point they had a few more join the initial crew so there were 8 of them.  One guy got impatient and banged on the door when he saw someone moving around inside.  That person unlocked the door and while I didn’t hear the whole conversation I saw one of the women tapping her watch and heard the guy say “12:00 o’clock”.  Every one of us immediately looked at the sign on the door that said 11:30 and then back at him like he was nuts.  We got in though and waited while they stocked the buffet.

The buffet was apparently the what they expected everybody to have because there was no offer to bring a menu or even a casual wave of the hand at the huge pictures of their food hanging from the walls.  At this point I was kind of just wanting to eat and leave so I decided to go with the buffet, in spite of the fact they didn’t have any damn kababs on the buffet.

The picture above was my second plate.  The first one I had a bit of goat biryani, white rice and chicken kadhai and some vegetable pakora.  The kadhai was chicken in a spicy tomato gravy and was quite good.  The pakora was essentially a battered potato slice along with a bit of other vegetable stuck to it and deep fried.  The second plate I had tandoori chicken pieces (they cut those chicken pieces very oddly), some white rice and pakora in a yellow curry gravy along with some naan to sop up the plate.  I didn’t catch the name of the yellow veggie stuff but it was suggested by the guy running the front who had become quite solicitous once everyone got in and got seated.  He came over a couple of time to make sure everything was good and on the first trip I got him to hook me up with a mango lassi, one of my favorite drinks.  The orange pile on the plate is gajar ka halwa, a carrot based pudding kind of thing.  The carrots were grated small and almost granular so it had an interesting texture.  It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it was going to be at first, which was good.

Overall the I’d give the place good marks for the food but they lose some for their apparent disregard for time and schedules and the initial greeting from the front man.  He made most of those back after the fact but first impressions do matter.

There’s a good recipe for kheer and a nice video on the Tell Me More page so check it out.

Next week is the last food truck Friday of the year so I’m going to have to go hard at finding new countries or new restaurants for old.