Beach Week International Goodness

I just spent a week in Surf City, NC for the annual family beach week and it was great, as usual.

I wasn’t sure there would be much to blog about as the restaurants stay pretty much the same or the variants aren’t that noteworthy or I just have some favorites. There were a few surprises this year; an overlooked (by me) staple my nieces and nephews quite like, a couple of new places, and a surprise homecooked meal. Strap in, this is a longer entry.

My brother-in-law suggested those of us that arrive early meet at this place called JM’s On the Water and have some lunch and hang out until check in. He wasn’t able to make the trip but my sister and 2 of her kids and their significant others did plus my baby grand-niece. JM’s is a nice spot with a water view as you might expect from the name. We saw a couple of folks tie up at the attached dock and come in for some grub. The staff was friendly and plentiful out front so they kept our drinks filled and checked on us regularly but they food service was kind of slow.

I got their 1/2 lb cheeseburger, fried green beans and a flight of craft beer, mostly local.

The burger was huge as you might expect from an 8 oz slab of meat. The vegetable toppings were fresh but there was almost no seasoning on the burger which was a disappointment. The fried green beans on the other hand were quite well seasoned and cooked. I just kept eating them even after I should have stopped. The flight was interesting too because I picked a diverse selection. When I was choosing the beers and chatting with the waitress she was going on and on about the Honey Drip. That was her favorite and a really popular one then proceeded to tell me they were out of it. I considered giving her some grief for being Lucy with the football to my Charlie Brown (if you don’t get the reference you’re probably way younger than I am). At that point she yells to the bartender, “when are we getting more of the Honey Drip?” To which the bartender yells back, “we’ve got plenty right now.” Communication is key. It was a nice brown ale from a Wilmington brewery. The Murk Master is a hazy pale ale that is brewed with some flaked oatmeal. It was interesting, kind of light and hoppy. Mango Cart is a wheat beer brewed with real mango out on the west coast. It did have a mild mango taste and it was also light and refreshing. Lastly the Pacifico is a Mexican pilsner from Mazatlán. Once I got the fruit out of it I have to say it might have been my favorite paired with the meal although I enjoyed them all. See how I snuck that Mexican beer in to make this meal international?

A day or so later my nephew Alex and I decided to go to lunch and when we got in the car we were planning on one spot but on the drive we pivoted to try a new pizza place on the island that wasn’t there last year. BTW I’m counting this as Italian food. The place was Wildfire Pizza. When we got there we were the only ones there aside from Peter the guy running the joint all by his lonesome. Peter is a friendly dude and willing to discuss the pizza, answer questions and generally chat about how he’s hoping to make this 4 week old business take off. He also actively solicited feedback and told us how he’d made some menu adjustments already. I was happy to see actual flames in the oven and the dough and sauces are made in house. The items that can be sourced locally are and taste fresh. There is only a 12″ option and both being boys of stout stature we decided we could each put a hurting on our own but decided to get two separate ones and swap half. I got the Surf City Pizza and he got the Snead’s Ferry.

Both of these have seafood which is honestly something I’d not normally even consider but we were at the beach and living on the edge. Alex’s Snead’s Ferry had chunky spiced red sauce, ricotta cheese, shrimp, jalapenos, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes. Let me promise you Peter was generous with all the toppings including the jalapenos. My Surf City started with an error as Peter got ricotta happy after making the Snead’s Ferry and loaded that on there instead of the mozzarella. He apologized and was going to remake it but I put the kibosh on that. I told him to throw the mozzarella on there too and keep moving. Here’s a little secret, it was better with the accidental ricotta that it would have been with just the mozzarella and I told him to consider making that the norm. In addition there was the chunky spicy red sauce, a boatload of flaked salmon, Kalamata olives and fresh basil. Holy cow these were good pizzas! And filling like you wouldn’t believe. Instead of swapping halves we had one piece of the other and took half of each back to the house where they got hoovered up by other members of the family. That was a really good experience and I very much hope they last and prosper.

The next stop on our International tour is Fancy Sushi. Most all of the nieces and nephews hit this place every year and they let the old guy tag along this year. It’s a mixed menu, Chinese and Japanese. Most of us got at least one sushi roll from their extensive list. I ordered us a couple of appetizers. The dumplings arrived before the main courses and one showed up at the end. Those tardy tempura vegetables got waved off and with apologies removed from the bill.

I think they do a good job with presentation and they were decent on the whole. I have to say though the one with the yellow sauce I don’t even remember what it was. The one on the left was the Beach Bum Roll and was quite tasty. It had spicy tuna and mango topped with tuna, salmon, yellow tail and eel drizzled with eel sauce and red tobiko. I heard good things about the Super Duper Roll, the Pink Lady and the Sexy Girl. Overall I’d give the place 3.5 stars. Solid enough to eat at but I’ve definitely had better.

I’ve mentioned in previous beach week blog entries that the evening meal is a family one and we take turns being responsible for the meals. When the “kids” got their own night a couple of years ago it was fun to watch them all try to work at it. The results that first year was some pretty rough spaghetti that we ate because we loved them. Anyway, this year one of my nephews brought his girlfriend who is Filipino. Unbeknownst to her he had volunteered them for a Filipino night. She learned of this sitting around the table the first night of the trip. She thought she was being punked and we’d have let her off the hook but once she got over the panic and dealing with the fact that she doesn’t really cook she gamely stepped up to the challenge. There are not a plethora of Asian markets in or around Surf City so they did what they could with the international aisle at a couple of grocery stores. After four hours of prep and cooking we had our Filipino night meal courtesy of Danielle & Jesse with a little help from my sister Dee.

We had adobo chicken wings and rice plus a big old pan of Filipino spaghetti. Unlike the first “kids” spaghetti this was easy to get down. What, you may ask, made this different from regular baked spaghetti? Well, it was made with hand crafted banana ketchup and had cut up bits of hot dog in it (Sheldon Cooper would have been proud). Both were tasty and I think the chefs were proud of their accomplishments as we were of them for taking on the challenge.

Overall a really good trip with family and in spite of my initial thoughts that I’d just be eating the same old, same old there was plenty of new to be had.

Finale of Fishy February

I figured I would finish out my February pescatarian parade with a little sushi and try a new, to me, place in Seneca. Hibachi & Grill Asian Buffet is not the highest rated Asian restaurant around but buffets aren’t often the top of the class. 

The decor of Hibachi & Grill Asian Buffet evokes memories of a multitude of other Chinese restaurants I’ve been to over my lifespan. Dark wood, plenty of red accents and a little on the dimly lit side. The service was good. I was greeted as soon as I walked in the door and seated seconds later. She took me right up to the table closest to the buffet. I’m guessing people asking to order off a menu is a rare thing because she didn’t even ask, just assumed I was having the buffet. I’ve purposely avoided buffets for the most part over the last few years as I don’t feel like I’m playing the game right if I don’t have multiple trips under my belt before I leave. Today wasn’t much different but unlike many of my fellow diners I didn’t make it a point of stress testing the plate capacity on each visit.

Hibachi & Grill has 4 buffet tables in the center of the food area plus a sushi selection against the wall in the back. There is also a hibachi station where you pick you ingredients, ring the bell and watch the dude fry up your stuff. The sushi was the primary reason I was there so that was my first stop.

This was not peak sushi but also it didn’t make me sick so I’m good with that. Joking aside it was solidly mediocre. The wasabi was starting to dry out and one of the rolls looked like it might be sketchy in another 20 minutes. The pickled ginger was spot on. I will give them this, they had a sign up saying the sushi was not allowed to be there more than 4 hours and if you thought it looked bad let them know.

After this I did a quick tour of the rest to see what other seafood they had. The first station was the desert station which had some interesting things on it. Maybe later. The second was soups and salads. Both the egg drop and mushroom soups looked decent and a few folks were loading up on them.

Row 3 was fry town. Not quite everything was deep fried on this one but most were. Not this trip.

The fourth steam table had rice, lo mein and vegetables plus some steamed fish and “seafood delight”. Those were in the zone so that was the next plate.

The fried rice was decent. The steamed white fish I really expected to be bland as there didn’t appear to be any seasoning on it but it was actually good. The flesh was still reasonably firm and had just enough salt to enhance the flavor. The “seafood delight” was shrimp and fake crab meat. The shrimp was over cooked and the fake crab had the flavor cooked out of it so it really didn’t have much to recommend it. Let me go ahead and address the elephant on the plate. That giant single rib is obviously not seafood but it was next to the seafood and the guy next to me was raving about them as he loaded his plate. They were “extra tender” and “better deal than any of the BBQ places”. If I hadn’t gotten one I’m pretty sure it would have ruined his day. It was tender, because it had been boiled, and on a price per pound basis it was in fact more economical than the local BBQ places. It did lack the smoky flavor and tasty dry rub or sauce you’d find at those places too so there was that.

Now I should have stopped there and been done with it, however that did not happen. I’d seen more seafood options in Fry Town.

The fried fish was more bland that the steamed white fish which was surprising and disappointing. I could see what was supposed to be seasoning in the batter. It was also kind of chewy. The crab rangoon was crafted by someone who’d obviously given up and the filling was devoid of even fake crab. It was deep fried cream cheese, which I’m not opposed to but still. The egg roll was hot and pretty standard for the species. The mystery meat on the stick was over cooked and lacking seasoning as well. Parts of it were jerky-esque so at least I got a jaw work-out. At the end of this plate I was actually miserable because it was just too much. Sadly the desert station was not visited.

I’m giving them grief and somewhat deservedly but also this cost me $12.50 with the drink so I’m not going to say I didn’t get my money’s worth. I think the folks who were obvious regulars likely fall into two categories; those that know the few items they do well and enjoy them and those that are all about the volume baby. Either way in spite of feeling miserable for a while and not having anything that knocked my socks off I’m still happy I went. Don’t know what I’m doing next but I enjoyed my fish themed February.

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.


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.

Noodles in the Wings?


Today felt like a sushi for lunch kind of day.  NC Noodle Bar came up in the search for local (Rock Hill) sushi and was some place I hadn’t been before.  It was one of many but I’m so glad I decided to check them out over the others.

At about 4 miles from my house it was pretty convenient.  I got there fairly early for lunch and was the only patron.  It’s a fairly small place with about 9 or 10 tables and 4 seats at a counter.  I was told to have a seat anywhere and they’d be right with me.  Of the three people I saw working there all of them were very friendly and smiled a lot.  They have menus on the table but they also bring over a paper sushi menu with “happy hour” and regular pricing and I was in during happy hour.  Score!  As the name implies they have various noodle dishes from southeast Asian countries but also salads, soups and rice dishes.  The post is tagged Japan because I got sushi which is a fairly recent addition to their menu.  I placed my order and the guy who took my order was also the sushi chef so that was interesting.  They brought out a single chicken dumpling as a free appetizer.  It was crunchy and you can see from the picture it wasn’t steamed but I’m not sure if it was baked or fried.  Either way it was a nice little start.

I ordered the stuffed wings and the NC Noodle Bar Special Roll.  The roll was ready just a bit before the wings so I actually ate that before the appetizer.  I thought it was visually appealing but you can judge for yourself.

The roll had red and white tuna as well as salmon.  There was a slice of avocado on each section and each slice was topped with a dab of sauce and there were 4 different fish eggs represented.  The interior of the rolls had cucumber and some crabmeat and cream cheese and there was something crunchy.  It was very enjoyable and quite filling so the appetizer was looking like desert.

The stuffed wings were “huuuuge”.  They were deboned and stuffed with mushrooms and rice noodles and deep fried.  A sweet sauce accompanied them but it was a bit too sweet for me.  Those things were good and I don’t know how they do that magic but I’m glad they do it.  Between the dumpling and the big sushi roll I had to bring one home with me for a snack later.

There is no question I will be going back here and recommend it.  It’s not big or fancy but the food was great and the staff was very pleasant and helpful both of which are high on my list of desirable traits in a restaurant.  One question I forgot to ask was why they are called NC Noodle Bar when they are located in SC but that’ll have to be on the next visit.



Sushi Saturday


It felt like a seafood weekend so a little sushi seemed to be in order.  Representing Japan for the Culinary-Passport was Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Rock Hill.  To be precise they are an Asian fusion restaurant and have multiple cuisines represented on the menu so they aren’t solely a Japanese place but they do have a pretty extensive sushi menu as well as hibachi options.  There are at least 4 Red Bowl restaurants in the area so their offering certainly provided a level of success.  I’m pointing this out because my experience wasn’t the kind a culinary empire is built on.

I was greeted by a nice lady who directed a young lady to seat me.  She didn’t sigh but it sure felt like I was interrupting her leaning time.  The waitress was Jenny on the spot and was at the table and ready to take my drink order before I even got the menu open.

I decided to start with a crispy chicken egg roll and for the entrée went with the lunch sushi which is a “pick two” from a limited selection of rolls or 3 pcs of chef’s choice nigiri plus either miso soup or salad.  I chose the Fantasy Roll, the nigiri and miso soup.  The egg roll arrived so fast my Kindle app had not even loaded yet.  It was warm and tasted pretty decent, nothing exceptional.

So next my sushi came and I had to mention I was supposed to get miso soup and was told “oh, it’s on the way”.  I guess the soup comes after the entrée here.  I waited the couple of minutes it took to get the miso and really shouldn’t have bothered.

The soup was mediocre and I didn’t bother finishing it.  The fantasy roll (crab, roe, spicy mayo) was good but I’ve had better from a Publix grocery store.  The nigiri was the high spot as the fish and shrimp looked good, had nice textures and tasted fresh.

Overall this was a disappointing experience and I couldn’t recommend them based on this visit.  Even my fortune cookie arrived broken and the fortune was something about how great my wife was.  Having said that, a number of years ago I went to the Red Bowl in Fort Mill and it was excellent so I might give them another try once the memory of this trip fades.

If you didn’t visit it last time check out Tell Me More – Japan


Japan in Amber








After skipping a week and being busy as IT support Saturday and hitting the cinema to see Capt. America Sunday, keeping it close to home was an attractive option so I decided to head on over to Amber Buffet & Hibachi to represent Japan.  I’d seen it many times since moving to Rock Hill but the hibachi part filled the bill today.  They were moderately busy at 2:00pm Sunday.  It had the most diverse cross section of humanity I’ve come across on any of these dining experiences.  I guess buffets are the great equalizers.  The dining area was a bit dim and they love some colored lights.  The buffet area was a actually better lit and quite large.

The first thing I hit was the sushi line.  There was a nice selection of pretty basic options and I tried one of each.  You can pick you wasabi and ginger from a big bowl.  It all looked pretty vibrant and the way people were hitting the sushi station they had to be restocking it pretty often although I didn’t see anyone making them.


After that appetizer I ventured down that same line to the hibachi zone.  Here you pick you meat and a few veggies and some noodles if you want and put the plate on the counter and they line them up and grill the contents, put the finished product on a new plate and set it on the other end of the counter.  Nice and easy.  I was kind of surprised they didn’t have any rice there but that may have been to keep from having to clean it off the grill.  Whatever the reason I wasn’t sad to go with the steak, chicken, noodles, fungus and veggies.


After that I perused the buffet lines.  There is a big rectangle with plates of you standard oriental buffet fare and then a couple of lines with salads & vegetables and one with deserts and ice cream.  I did like the white serving plates that gave everything a bright clean look.  I opted for a couple of items from the steamer section and ended the day with some fruit.


On one hand I’m sorry I never went in before now and on the other I’m glad because I could get big as a house if it became a habit.  As buffets go I have to give this place high marks.  The food was good, the staff was friendly, the patrons were well mannered and never once did I see people waiting at an empty spot on the buffet.  I’ll be back but not too frequently.

Here’s the web site and don’t forget to check out the Tell Me More page for a yum yum sauce recipe and a great music video.

Amber Buffet & Hibachi