Wednesday, March 30, 2011

18 restaurants and this is all we can come up with???

Welcome to Columbia, Illinois.  This small town of just about 10,000 people is located South East of St. Louis, at almost a short 15 minute drive from South St. Louis County or about 20 minutes from Downtown.  In terms of restaurants, there is about 18 restaurants in this area feeding about 10,000 people.  This means that if a restaurant does well, if all of them do well, they could each possible get as much as 555 people; (10,000 divided by 18).  That is a good possibility.  When people here want something to eat, they either stay at home and cook, stay around town, or go to one of the other places nearby, like Waterloo or St. Louis.

A new restaurant has opened in town, or had opened a few months ago and while I like to get there and check out the new places as soon as I can, this one has proven to be difficult.  The restaurant is only open on Tuesday through Saturday and there is seating for about 30 people and no more, inside.  This includes the 2 three person tables near the bar.  So, there isn't a lot of room inside for a restaurant.  This restaurant, serves Cajun food and a lot of people in town have been waiting anxiously for it.

Well, right to the food.  Who Dat's is this Cajun style restaurant and I called in an order on a work day, went up and picked it up about 10 minutes later.  I ordered just two things.  I ordered the Cajun sampler and the pulled BBQ pork sandwich.  Now, the Cajun sampler was "A generous portion of jambalaya, red beans and rice and bbq shrimp...$13"  This is what we received:
  This picture is almost actual size.  This was the first part of this $13 sampler.  We have about 2 cups of Jambalaya, a skimpy piece of French bread with a large hole in it and a tiny piece of corn bread.  The Jambalaya was okay, it was spicy and tasted like the same Jambalaya that you can get anywhere else.  The French bread was useless and that tiny piece of dried out cornbread muffin was quite pointless. This got just a 2 out of 5 from me.
It also came with some red beans and rice and the generous portion of bbq shrimp.

Red beans and rice:
We have about 8 ounces of red beans and rice.  There is a mix of red beans and sausage and chives on top of about a third of a cup of white rice.  They didn't seem as if they were cooked together, which one may expect or even do when making this at home, as the rice had absolutely NO flavor and the beans tasted like spice.  There was no taste of beans, chives or anything else, just spicy-ness.  I give this a poor 1 out of 5.

The bbq shrimp was available for my wife, who loves shrimp.  This generous portion of bbq shrimp was nothing more than 3 over cooked shrimp.  They were past the rubber stage and almost at a crispy stage.  She said it was okay after peeling them and playing with how they were almost gummy and crunchy at the same time.  Most likely, they were precooked and frozen so all they had to do was warm them up again, but they actually overcooked them for us.  A 1 out of 5 is what they received.  As far as this sampler is concerned, we didn't finish the red beans and rice because both of us thought it was bad.

Now, the pulled pork sandwich was next and this $7 dish contained "dried rubbed and slow cooked for 10 hours served on a fresh bun with chips".
This is what it looked like.  That $7 paid for about 5 pieces of hard, tough, inedible pork smothered in BBQ sauce and slapped on a bun.  There is about a small bag's worth of chips in here as well.  My guess is that they bought these chips somewhere and then just grabbed a handful to stick in here.  The dish was okay, like a 2 out of 5.

Now, how could everything have been better?  Well, first thing that got my attention was portion size for the price.  $13 for enough food for one person to eat and still be hungry or maybe fill one person, is a bit much.  The $7 sandwich, was worth about $5 tops.  I would pay about $8 for the Cajun sampler.  $8.99 can get you a huge amount of food at places like Chevy's and here you get half of the amount of food for the same price.

My conclusion:  As much as I don't want to admit it, this is the second new restaurant in town that has bad food.  I mean, there are other places in town that have great food, so why can't they do this?  Are they that full of themselves?  Both this place and the other bad restaurant in town have both owners that come from 'restaurant families'.  I've said it before, but experiences do not go through the genes.  You cannot be good at driving a truck because your father or mom did.  So, to all of those restaurant owners who claim that they will be successful because your father or mother ran a restaurant, guess what, it doesn't work that way!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One of my inspirations

Two words: Iron Chef.

I was in college in the middle of my college career and was invited to a close friend's house for one of his famous co-ed sleepovers.  My friend Sean had cable and my family chose not to go that route insisting that regular TV was where it was at and cable, the idea of paying for channels, was just a fad.  While sitting in the living room at my friend's house, with many women present, Sean turned on Iron Chef for us to watch a bit.  I was hooked.

I forget what the ingredient was or who was battling but I became enthralled with how a chef can take an ingredient that he/she may have no idea how to prepare and cook then in about 60 minutes, have 5 dishes from that product.  Many parts of the show was insane such as placing fish into an ice cream machine for salmon ice cream or making chocolate covered chicken feet or something strange like that.  The ingredients were often odd even for Japanese taste but always interesting to watch how the chefs work with them.  Plating was also a big factor in the final presentation but taste was number one.

What made the show 'real' was how the chefs were given 3 possible themes that they would be presented with.  So, they had an idea, but they still had to prepare everything in only the hour that they had, as well as make 5 dishes.  That is what I always liked.  I wanted to be able to cook like that.  When I saw the show, there was no culinary school in the St. Louis area.  Furthermore, I messed around in the kitchen at work, Old Country Buffet, and always wanted to prepare food for friends and family.  I thought how cool it would be to be given an ingredient and then to prepare things from that.

After all this time, I am happy where I am now.  I have cooked with cactus leaves, quinoa and even strange vegetables that I normally don't use like fennel or rutabagas.  I have cooked with molecular gastronomy as well as prepared a strange mix of desserts out of savory things.  I like knowing now, that if someone asked me to make 5 dishes out of bacon, I could do so; including a dessert.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My new cooking ingredient...

Every once in a while, I go to Whole Foods and get something new and interesting.  In the past it has been things such as black truffle oil or even more commonly cactus leaves.  This time, I have come away with a jar of 100% pure coconut oil.  This stuff reminds me of wax.  It is solid at room temperature and just a fraction of a degree more and it is a liquid, which can quickly harden again, like dipping into melted wax.  The coconut oil, also has a good flavor of coconut to it and still has a creamy texture.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries in tropical climates as the main source of fatty acids.  While it may seem to have the same calories as butter, these calories are very different.  The main fat in coconut oil is called Lauric acid.  This acid has antimicrobial, antibiotic and antioxidant properties.  Some believe that coconut oil is useful for hair care, stress relief, skin care, heart health and can even help with weight loss.  This same acid is found in human milk, cow's milk and even goat's milk.

Because of it's properties as a fat, it opens new ideas for use in culinary techniques.  For instance, I was thinking of using it to make the flaky crust, for my sugar free coconut creme pie.  I was also thinking of using it to make a sugar free "Mounds" bar, with coconut and chocolate.  It can be used in almost anything I do from cookies to brownies and maybe, even ice cream.

Was it overplayed???

When I was younger, I liked to listen to regular music on the regular radio.  Not any of that satellite radio, but the stuff for normal people.  When it was time for Linkin Park's second album to released to the public, the radio stations started to play their music all the time.  What do I mean by 'all the time'?  I would remember that a Linkin Park song would play once every 30 minutes.  The radio stations played the song so many times that I started to hate and dislike the song.  To this day, I hate that band and all of their songs because they were so horribly overplayed.  All of their songs sounded the same as they were all emo songs with random rap pieces inside.

As a foodie and chef I became a fan of the first season of Top Chef.  The show was unlike anything that they had on TV at the time.  There were previous competition shows on but none of them consisted of a reality show and competitions each week.  It was interesting to see these great chefs, all working hard and working for their goal of their own restaurant or their own line and it was interested to see how ill-informed some of them were.  I remember seeing some chefs not knowing what some ingredients were or even how to prepare some. 

The first season was good as it was a true test of the show, but after that, the regular seasons just started to go slowly downhill.  Like anything that is put together, the show tried to get the best of the chefs they could acquire.  Obviously, they tried to get the best they could for this season, so any other seasons that feature any other chefs would have been either not thought of as of then or second choice.  The show also started to become what I hated: it moved away from a cooking show and into a reality show.  The producers knew that keeping contestants who would create or keep drama in the show, would help with the ratings and therefore couldn't be let go.  The first season, was perhaps the first season in which there may have been drama between contestants but it wasn't a pivotal part of the show.

As the season went on, you could clearly tell that it became a show of airings and ratings and not real cooking.  Contestants were not required to cook different things but could slide by on the same thing.  For instance in season 5, the only line that stuck with me is Fabio's "This is top chef, not top scallop."  Almost every challenge, Jamie cooked scallops.  Here is my thing, if I was a judge I would say "we know you can cook scallops, try cooking something else.  If you don't, you will be eliminated."  Hey guys, I don't know how to cook scallops, but I can do sugar free jams really well.  If I was on the show and made a sugar free jam with every dish, wouldn't people get sick of me?  People were sick of her, but the producers wanted her on and so she stuck.

Top Chef Masters was a true cooking competition show and the most fun to watch.  It wasn't because it was all REAL professionals, but it was great because they were not cutthroat.  There was no drama as these were all professionals working for charity.  They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  These chefs of 'Masters" showed off in the faces of every Top Chef regular contestant, how to do the show properly.  Sometimes these expert contestants were even more experiences than the judges, but they didn't care, they were having fun.  I was doubting my own choice to become a chef until the first Top Chef Masters show came on and I saw and gained respect for so many of these chefs.  These chefs, in their many restaurants, big houses and fancy cutlery were more humble and nice and showed off more cooking than the rest of the show.  It was so worth it.  After that first season, when Rick Bayless won, my wife and I went to Chicago to experience his food at his restaurant and it was amazing.  I loved every minute of it and that started my foodie quest in trying new foods and new flavors.

What about Top Chef season 99? Well, as long as there are chefs who dislike each other, fall in love or are gay, on the  show, it will continue on.  What does the show need?  Well, they have been in the major cities in the US but will avoid anywhere that doesn't exist, like St. Louis for example.  They would sooner to Atlanta, Detroit or even Compton before St. Louis.  It is no surprise that as the show went on, ratings dropped:

There was even a Top Chef Desserts and the show was just bad.  They took their choices for dessert chefs and it was difficult not finding a gay man or a woman in the bunch, I think one guy was straight in the whole set.  I don't have anything against the LGBT community but the show turned into one big drama fest instead of a cooking show.  When I watch a show, especially a show based on a cooking competition, I don't care about your personal life, I want to see how you prepare things.

Over and over, the same formula for drama without focus on technique came up and the same mistakes were shown and by half of the season of Desserts, I stopped watching.  The only show I watched since then was the second season of Top Chef Masters.

So, that is my opinion.  If they did a new Top Chef, that focused on real cooking and had real chefs and restaurant owners as judges; not Padma, but Emeril, Bayless, Moonen or even Mr. Beard, himself.  They should get contestants who are capable of cooking with any protein and do it well, not just seafood or even scallops.  They need chefs who can do desserts.  They need no drama, just cooking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How common is chicken and dumplings?

A few days ago I was preparing a dish that most people don't know about.  It is a Lebanese dish called Mograbiah.  This recipe, from a large tome of Lebanese cooking, is a nice recipe involving chicken, vegetables, beef and most importantly, these large pearl couscous, made with semolina flour.  The original recipe wanted me to use whole chickens and boil in some water to cook them and essentially make a broth.  Then cook the other ingredients like the pearl onions, beef cubes and such and then add them all together with some mograbiah pearls to finish.  Like any good chef, I changed the recipe, and improvised.

I immediately noticed that it was a Lebanese version of chicken and dumplings.  Really.  These little balls, cook like pasta and are basically some water, fat of some sort, like butter or shortening and then semolina flour.  They swell up in water and get very tender like good cooked pasta.  Because they suck up moisture to get tender, they can absorb flavors as well and get tasty.  To make this dish, I cooked the chicken breasts in the oven and put them in a pot with 2 tablespoons of butter.  The mograbiah balls were cooked in boiling water and then I placed them into the pot with the chicken.  I then browned some beef cubes in oil in a pan and then added them into the pot.  I then browned some peeled and halved pearl onions in that residue from the beef and added some chicken stock to the pan to deglaze it.  Everything went into the large pot.  A little caraway seed was added with some freshly ground black lava Cyprus sea salt and some freshly ground pepper.  I filled the pot with enough store-bought chicken stock to cover everything, about 2 inches higher and let it come to a boil and simmer for about an hour.  What was finished reminded me of chicken and dumplings, with beef and onions, as the dumplings were essentially those smaller beads which had swelled up with delicious flavor.   

We all know that chicken and dumplings are made similarly.  I cook the chicken and add it into a pot where I add some chicken stock and butter, salt and pepper and start cooking.  In the same pot, as the stock starts to boil, I make some simple dumplings using Bisquick mix and milk and drop it into the pot in spoonfulls.  The dumplings cook and absorb the chicken flavor as well as thicken the soup.  Despite the lack of beef and the onions, it is amazing how similar the two dish taste.  Besides, one of them just likely happens to be a thousand years older than the other.  So, is our modern day, Southern-style chicken and dumplings a descendant of the Lebanese or Arabic dish as a whole?  Could be.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Okay, let me say right here at the start that I have been to Ireland.  I was there for about 11 days and while teachers may wish young kids at school to wear green for St. Patrick's Day and Ireland, not everyone in Ireland wears green.  It is a VERY green place though.
Now, let's start right off the bat:  just about every paper, magazine or general periodical will have an article today about the history of St. Patrick's day.  Trust me, you don't need to find that here.  What is interesting and most things do not cover is that our beloved "Irish" meal of corned beef and cabbage, isn't at all Irish.

Corned beef doesn't have any corn it in.  Originally, the term 'corned' was mean as a derivative of the word 'course',  when describing the large pieces of salt that were used to salt and marinade the beef.  Salted meats have been long used as a means for preservation and seasoning and in this case, this 'corned' beef started out as nothing more than simple salted meat; either pork or beef.  There is a recipe as early as the 12 century depicting how to make salted beef.  This cured beef was ideal for long voyages and trips and around the 17th century, whole plants were located in Ireland for curing and supplying this salted beef to the English, French and others who needed it for long term voyages as a main food source.

When the Irish came to America, the beef was cheaper and thus many of the people who helped to process and create the cured meat were unable to afford it in their homeland.  Here in America, it could be purchased and made easily.  In Ireland, the beef was still more expensive for the average Irishman and so they would have eaten bacon or salted pork.  Because of the potato famine, many Irish workers needed vegetable nutrients and the cheapest they could find was cabbage.  Irish do not consider this corned beef and cabbage to be a traditional meal, but in this case bacon and cabbage could be considered one.  When I was in Ireland, I found many recipes containing goat and lamb and I would humbly suggest that a traditional Irish stew, that I did taste in Ireland, was one containing barley and lamb as well as a thick gravy stock and vegetables.

As for the Irish-Americans, they ate this new traditional meal every day.  It became so ingrained with the Irish workers that when the other Americans started to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, they thought it was an Irish dish and is started to be served on this day to celebrate.

Will I celebrate?  Well, the local homemade-style restaurant always serves corned beef and cabbage, all day long on St. Patrick's Day.  I will try to partake in that meal at that time.  As for everything else...  I may try to wear green, although St. Patrick's color of choice was blue.  The green came from the shamrock which he used to explain the Holy Trinity.  I will think of Ireland and its beauty and wonder and enchantment.  I will maybe listen to some songs, read something literary and enjoy a tall glass of Guinness.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I must be doing something right...

Here is my story:  A few months ago, I started to contact some of the local chefs and restaurant owners, looking for someone to answer a set of questions I wrote to post this interview on my site for the 100th post.  Well, none of the chef's I contacted responded.  One of the chefs I send an email to, had his restaurant partner respond.  This gentleman has since answered my questions with such grace and sophistication that it makes me ....well....fell good. 

Ken works with chef Rick Moonen at RM, in Las Vegas, my new favorite eating spot.  He is quite knowledgeable and I look forward to any emails I receive from him.  From me, the pure fact that I have an owner or part-owner of a famous restaurant willing to answer my questions and email a few times makes me feel good and validates me, with what I am doing.

Now, his last email brings up some good things, such as our mutual 'love' for Anthony Bourdain.  Mr. Bourdain's story reminds me of one similar to so many young Hollywood starlets.  You do your job, starting off, right.  Then you move to drugs and alcohol.  Then you say or write a few things.  Your fans will eat that stuff up, because they are your fans, so it can be good stuff or bad stuff.  (Raise your hand if you ever watched a movie that was mind-numbingly awful, but you did so to see your favorite actor, actress, etc.) You then say something about someone else less in the limelight, but more respected than yourself.  You then go down like a flaming bat in Hell.

There are just so many things that I learned from Mr. Bourdain, when he was answering questions, after his book reading/talk, here in St. Louis last year.  He basically thinks that St. Louis is nothing more than a fly-over stop.  No offense to you, Mr. Sell-out, but St. Louis has more culinary heritage than many of the places you have gone to.  Here's the thing: even great chef's and personalities like Alton Brown, has taken the time to show that St. Louis was essentially a stage, during the 1904 Fair, for food producers and companies to show off what they have.  In 1904, if you wanted great and new food, you came to St. Louis. So, in response to pleads to come to St. Louis, do you know what Anthony says?  "I'm going to the Ozarks."  Why?  Going to the Ozarks is exactly the opposite of what St. Louisans and most Missourians want people to do.  That down-home, hill-billy way of life explained in any Beverly Hillbilly show, will show just the stereotypes that people from Missouri want to do away with.  Would the people of Atlanta like it of Anthony Bourdain instead went to a KKK BBQ?  I doubt it. 

I remember an older gentleman asking about why so many chefs smoke and over-salt.  Well, it is true that smoking doesn't damage your taste buds but it does temporarily numb them, which may be one reason why so many chefs who smoke require extra salt to be added to their foods.  Anthony commented that all chefs smoke or do other drugs, which sounds great, right?  I'm a chef and I don't smoke, does that mean I just proved Mr. Bourdain wrong?

Anyways, enough Bourdain bashing.  Ken pointed out a good thing in a recent email.  Ken is friends with Alan Richman, the writer, winner of 14 James Beard awards for writing/journalism.  Anthony writes in his book on how he is a "douchebag".  What Mr. Bourdain doesn't realize, as a food writer, he should never say anything bad or show a lack of respect for his contemporaries or for those more experienced than he.  Alan Richman?  Seriously?  I would love to meet the man and get his picture, autograph, everything.  The man knows how to describe and write about food like no other.  Anthony's comments about Mr. Richman are likened to that of a new chef, such as myself, writing about how horrible the chefs I grew up watching were.  Saying bad things about Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Jeff Smith, Martin Yan and Michael Chiarello. I used to watch these chefs on their shows on the local PBS channel on the weekends. 

I will not mention or even show the words because I could not do it.  I can't say that Martin Yan is a [blank], because for all I have seen, he is a really nice guy and what the chef should try to be at all times: a professional.

While I originally have no idea who it is, and had to look it up, Ken suggested that I could be "the next Perez Hilton of the food blogesphere! :) " After looking it up, I see that while it was a compliment, I hope I never turn out the way that he has been going.  I write what I know or look up for more information and while I think of myself as representing the Public, I don't try to incriminate or cause issues for anyone in this industry.  I wouldn't mind having a show, or even some sponsors but currently there is no advertisers looking into investing in foodies in the early 30's age. 

Anyways, thanks for the wonderful comments and support, Ken.  I do look forward to any trips back to RM.  For anyone reading this, please, please, please go to RM.


I am a Highlander...

And so the Highlander was hungry and thirsty and found himself a good lunch meal at the Highlands Brewing company in Kirkwood.  My friend and I decided we needed a drink along with some good food and as we didn't have the hour to wait to get a table at the Bottleworks, we decided to go to Kirkwood and enjoy the Highlands Brewing company.  The place is nice as they do brew their own beers, all for draft.  We first sat down and I tried their 5 beer flight and unlike other places that have beer samplers, I had the opportunity to choose what beers became part of the sampler.

Next we had to have some appetizers.  I ordered the fresh chips and an order of fried greenbeans.

The chips were simply made, good chips where all of them were cooked all of the way through, unlike other bars that serve fresh made chips.  They had some Parmesan cheese on them and they were lightly salted.  They were also served with a Santa Fe ranch sauce.  The sauce really didn't go well with the chips and they tasted great with a few splashes of malt vinegar.  The chips were better than other Saint Louis bars/pubs and I give them about a 3 out of 5 stars.

The fried green beans, I had to get as I never heard of them before, outside of that traditional German casarole.  The beans were coated with the same beer batter that they often use on onion rings and then fried, just so the beans were still crisp and very tender and the coating was crunchy.  They were very good and I would give them a 4 out of 5.

We then ordered and I had a simple burger.  The reason for the burger as while it may have sounded like a Scottish restaurant, there was more Italian things on the menu.  Who goes into a bar for Chicken Marsela?  I ordered their burger, without the cheese, because by default, it was a cheese burger.  I also ordered it medium, so I expected some amount of pink.  When I go it though, it was beyond well done, with some areas on the outside charred.  Normally this is a good thing, but in my experience, places char the outside of a burger when they want to hide something: in this case, the burger had no flavoring.  The burger was okay, as in, it wasn't cooked the way I wanted it and it tasted like a very dried out hamburger.  A 2 out of 5 stars in my book.

Now, overall, I would give the place a 3 out of 5 stars as the only things that were really good were the starters.  My friend ordered a Reuben sandwich and it hardly had any thousand island dressing and tasted okay but wasn't great.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I think I found my calling.....(insert choir music here)

I remember going to Catholic school and being told that the all-powerful being has a calling or a vocation for each one of us.  Well, 30 something years later, I find that I have an easy time doing things that others, even professionals, have a hard time doing.

What I have here for you all to see?  Well, the first thing is when a friend of mine in Texas (Ms. Campos), wanted me to make a low-calorie tres leche cake.  Well, think of that, how do you make a tres leche cake lower calories?  It already is a basic yellow cake, then you poke holes in it and pour sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk all over the top.  As the cake sucks that up, you make some whipped cream using heavy whipping cream and then cinnamon on top.  But that is a lot of fat(whole milk, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, butter and sugar in the cake.)

So, what did I do?  I made it sugar free.  I was told that it was "impossible" and it sounds like it would be, but I did it anyway.  How, you may ask?  Simple.

1.  I first made my own sweetened condensed milk;

2.  I then bought some evaporated skim milk, it is low fat and sugar free.

3.  I then followed this recipe, basically:

I made my own whipped cream by just whipping the cream and adding some almond flavoring as it reached soft peaks.  I put everything together and then, BAM, it was done!

Now, the cake worked really well, because of the almond flavoring I put in the whipped cream.  That flavoring helped to hide and add sweetness to the end product while retaining the sugar free element.  Now, while it isn't considered fat free, it is very close to sugar free.  The reduced sugar or my substitutions took sugar and added calories out of the cake, whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk.

I did Monster caviar.  As weird as Monster caviar sounds, like fish eggs so a monster must have eggs too, right, I did make some. 
I did the normal process, which even though they sell whole starter kids, not everyone who has tried this has been successful.  After mixing Monster, which is a 2.7PH, with the sodium alginate, I dropped the solution into a bath of the 'salt' water.  I got my Monster caviar as a result.  Because Monster already has such a sweet and concentrated flavor, the beads still had a strong Monster flavor. I also had to add some food coloring and they turned out nice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why can't Americans do Lebanese?

I'm new into the Lebanese food thing.  My wife is 50% Lebanese, her dad is from Beirut and two years ago we went to Lebanon for Christmas and plans are being made to go there for this year's Christmas.  I like the food, which sometimes mixes meat and rice in the same dish, which is something I get yelled at by friends for doing myself with other foods and cuisines.  In Lebanon, the food is all fresh and made with care.  The food in a restaurant though, isn't what grades the establishment.  The service is what counts.  The service is near the best I have ever experienced at any location and when people in America want to make Lebanese restaurants, they fail to bring that same level of service to their place.
  In Lebanon, even the smallest two person restaurant has better service than the Lebanese restaurant I went to, a week ago, in St. Louis, on Grand.  The restaurant is called "The Vine" and they made their selves out to be a restaurant with a small store next door.  We called ahead for reservations, for 8 people and while only my wife and two kids had arrived first, they sat us in a small table and told us that the rest of our table is over there, as the waitress pointed to a table that currently had people sitting at it.  You know, I learned the hard way, that relying on customers to leave their table at a restaurant so you can use it for another customer doesn't work.  You have no idea how long those customers will stay and you can't kick them out nor even suggest to them that they leave.

Our seat, near the door, as it opens and closes each time bringing in the cold air, wasn't the best spot either.  What is sad also, is that the restaurant had an open 4 top next to two open 2 tops, so they could have put my party together right when we came in, but insisted that they put us against the window and make us wait for our table to get completed.  When all of our party was finally there....let's stop right here.  This place has horrible service, they forgot drinks, they forgot straws, they didn't take all the orders at the same time, they forgot things that we ordered and they made us box up our own leftovers.  There was only a single toilet, single person bathroom for both the store next door and the restaurant to share as well.
 The only savings grace of this restaurant is the food, which is done in a traditional manner but not using traditional techniques.  The food received good marks from my father-in-law, who is Lebanese, while commenting that most Lebanese would not patronize this restaurant because they would have expected better service.  The restaurant food is good, like a 3 out of 5, but the service is like a 1 out of 5.  My mother-in-law, actually had to stand up with an empty glass and bring it to the waitress to ask for a refill.  I just don't see how hard it is to run a restaurant because so many people can do it and even do it poorly.

While near the mountains of Southern Lebanon, my family stopped at a small building on the side of the road.  The building held a small wood fire oven and a table out on the front porch.  This was a restaurant, run by a husband and wife team.  Now, the husband stayed inside and made food for us while the wife did the customer service part.  Those two people, did a better job on food and service than this whole restaurant did.  This is why American restaurants cannot do Lebanese.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I'm an expert on the normal food...

It is a strange title, but it is true.  I do like Japanese food but most of the time, I find myself relying on the old favorites of mine like anything in a Bento box.  I like anything katsu style, I like most things served with rice and I like most dishes that have simple grilled steak or chicken.  One of my fall-backs at most Japanese restaurants is steak Teriyaki.  This dish is so simple and is usually a marinated steak, cooked and then sauced and served with some rice and vegetables.

It is a very simple dish and I feel that I can judge a Japanese restaurant by as well they can make this simple dish.  Sure those fancy Japanese restaurants may have 400 kinds of sushi on the menu, but if they cannot do a simple Teriyaki dish and do it well, then what good are they?

While in Las Vegas, I ate at a restaurant in Town Square called Kabuki.  Kabuki is a small Japanese style restaurant decorated in a new clean and nice style.  The entry way has shelves behind the hostess station with many large sake bottles.  The booths are clean and dark and there is a slate on the floor.  The rooms are open and dark with dark woods and light colors like green and other Earth tones.  The waitresses and hostesses wear high heels and skirts while the men wear long slacks and dark shoes.  It is like a hip new Japanese eatery.  First off, I was impressed when the sake came to the table, which we ordered.  It was a lychee flavored sake and it came, chilled and on ice, in this nifty glass.

I thought the sake was cool because the blue glass 'bubble' held the ice, which cooled the rest of the pitcher and made the sake just a little cooler than room temperature.

Now, as far as the fall-back item on the menu, the steak Teriyaki, it was the best I have ever eaten, even better than some I have had in Japan!  What I liked about this version, was first of all, instead of using tough meat, the meat was extremely tender and juicy.  I know that traditionally, enzymes are used like the ones in pineapple, to help breakdown the connective tissue and proteins in the meat, allowing it to become tender.  However, most places I go for this dish, don't do that.  They think, I guess, that because any meat can become tender if tenderized correctly, they think any marinate or tenderizer will work.  Most placed, marinate the meat but it doesn't get tender.  They start with rubbery beef and they end with rubbery beef.  This place, may have started with rubbery beef and ended with beef that almost fell-apart like it had been smoked for several hours.

I loved this version as well for the crust on the meat.  Most places just do a simple salt and pepper and this place actually used some hint of chili peppers, I think, because it was spicy.  It was still salty and peppery but it had a spice to it that really worked fine with it. I would give it a 4 out of 5 but will say this: that piece of lettuce is completely useless.  It was too big to eat by itself and really didn't serve a point at all.  Other than that though, it was excellent.

So, if you are in Town Square in Las Vegas and you want a good meal, go to Kabuki for what you need, especially your steak Teriyaki.  Then go across the alley for the frozen yogurt.