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foodzings: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

ACE Food - Not such a fan anymore ...

We had our latest quarterly company update this week. Once again, we were at the ACE Center. You know I've enjoyed this place in the past. But I would say that the quality has been deteriorating as of late. And this time around, well, it wasn't too hot. It was a not too exciting buffet. There was some stuffed chicken, which I got, and liked. There was also some salmon. I'm not too crazy about salmon, so I passed on that. There wasn't much else. There were some hoagies, but I wanted fancier.

The salad was boring, with lame dressing. There was a pumpkin bisque soup which was bizarre. It was strangely sweet, like it was pie. I don't know anyone who liked this. The wild rice was undercooked. The veggies were good! The chicken was good, as was its stuffing, but then we all noticed how pink it was. It didn't seem pink as in not cooked, but it was strangely pinkish. A few of us complained of upset stomachs. Oye. Can you spell instestinal distress? I was not in a good way the rest of the day. It was probably also the yogurt and chocolate milk, but I blame the chicken. Not my best ACE experience.

The dessert selection was vast and varied, as usual. They never disappoint in this department. I had a piece of cheesecake and some fruit. At least they had a plethora of drink selections, including stuff from Wawa. But I won't be disappointed if we don't end up at the ACE next quarter.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Snowboarders Eat

I went to Blue Mountain the other weekend to snowboard for the first time in a few years. I really thought I would have forgotten how to do this, but I remembered. It was like riding a bike. I'd forgotten what the food was like here. I think I've gotten the chili before. Perhaps some soup. I always ate at the Summit Lodge before, but this time around, we were at the Valley Lodge, all the way at the bottom.

By the time we ate, we were both famished. We're dummies that forgot to eat breakfast. Then we boarded for a little bit. I was starvin! Nothing really appealed to me, but I needed fuel, so I got some chicken fingers. Boy, were these terrible. No amount of bbq sauce or honey mustard helped. They just weren't good. You'd think it'd be hard to screw up some pre-made chicken fingers, but man, I just did not enjoy these in the least. And they didn't have any regular gatorade. It was some weird fierce melon flavor. It wasn't good either, but I figured I could use the electrolytes.

T got a crapload of food. A hot dog (which he said was good, as in soft enough to eat and not cause pain to his teeth which were sore from having just had work done), soup, and ice cream. I ended up eating his yogurt, which was also terrible. Overall, a not so fantastic food experience. But I felt much better after eating because my body was desperate for calories. But truly, when I say it was terrible, I mean it. You might want to pack a lunch!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Korean Hot Pot

Do you want the best Korean food in Philadelphia? Then look no further than Seo Ra Bol. It's off 5th street in North Philly, and if you don't believe me, then you can at least believe that Craig LaBan guy. He thinks so too. My mom took me here for another birthday dinner. Sweet.

Lots of banchan before your entree(s) arrive. Yummy. They give you quite the random variety.

Seo Ra Bol is one of these places that always gives you free food. We got these grilled mackeral, on the house. Good, too.

Instead of the usual staples like galbi or bibimbap, we went crazy and got something completely different - a korean version of hot pot. There's 8 different varieties, and the menu says "for 2 persons cook at the table". Ok, if this is for 2 people, then it's for 2 very large people. Perhaps sumo wrestlers. Linebackers, maybe? Definitely not 2 fairly small korean ladies. In any case, we went with the golnak jungol. This came with galbi meat and octopus, along with a plethora of veggies and tofu. You can see just how big, tremendous, and colorful this is. And it comes in a nice and spicy sauce.

While it was cooking (the waitress cooks it for you), we decided that some noodles would be lovely to add to this. We asked, and they brought out a thing of fresh udon noodles to put in there. You see, Seo Ra Bol is this accommodating. Once it cooks up, it's a deliciously bubbling cauldron of veggie, meat, seafood, and tofu. You can eat it with just the noodles that we got, or with rice. In any case, this was good.

Notice the aftermath. We put a good dent in it, but seriously, 2 more people could have eaten this with us and been plenty full. Another good thing about this place is that unlike most korean places which have crappy service, this place actually has decent, if not almost good service. The waitresses are super friendly and they are attentive. The food comes out fast, and it's authentic and good. They also have kick ass lunch specials. Even though it's in a seriously sketchy neighborhood, for once in awhile, it's definitely worth hiking up to. Don't worry, they have cameras on their parking lot.
Seo Ra Bol
5734 N. Old 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA


Birthday Dinner - Banana Leaf

You all know I'm crazy about Banana Leaf. Are you surprised I chose to go there for one of my birthday dinners? I knew you wouldn't be. I'm rarely there when it's so busy, so at prime time on a weekend evening, we had to wait. How unfamiliar. So while waiting, I watched them make the roti for the appetizers. It started out as a big ball of dough, and he magically stretched and fwacked it until it became all thinned out and huge. It was fascinating.

After watching the roti acrobatics, we had to get the roti canai. I think our appetites had been whetted by this season's premiere episode of No Reservations, with my favorite eater, Anthony Bourdain. He had gone to Singapore and eaten all this great food, so I'd been hankering for Banana Leaf for weeks.

I've had the roti canai before and liked it, but it had been awhile since I last tasted this. I enjoyed it very much this time round. The bread is thin and chewy, and when accompanied with the side of curry with chicken and potatoes, it's a perfect little appetizer. It looks like a small thing of bread, but remember, it's huge and has been folded over many times. It is plenty of food for two people.

I chose Hokkien Char Mee as one of the dishes to get. It comes with really thick yellow noodles in a soy sauce with pork, shrimp, squid, and veggies. This is a great and flavorful dish. Not mild at all. I would totally order this again. You know I'm in love with most kinds of noodles.

Like I said, Tony had eaten all this great food during the Singapore episode, and one of the dishes was Prawn Mee. I've been thinking about it ever since. I'm a fan of many of the noodle soup dishes at Banana Leaf, but I hadn't tried this one yet. It has thick egg noodles, sliced pork, shrimp, veggies, and bean sprouts in a spicy shrimp broth. It's weird because the broth is red from the top (yes it's spicy), but when you actually scoop it up in a spoon, it's actually much more grey. Strange, but truly tasty. I could have done without the pork, it was a bit too porky for me, and would have preferred more shrimp instead.

The service was fairly good, as usual. With it being so busy, it was probably not as good as other times. The hokkien char mee took too long to come out though. The appertizer and prawn mee came out at the same time, and we were wondering where the hokkien was. We had to ask about it once before it eventually came out. Otherwise, everything was great as usual. Great food, cheap prices, good service.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thai Lunch - Chiangmai

I just had a birthday, and they took me out for a birthday lunch to beautiful downtown Conshohocken. Our destination was Chiangmai. This is very prototypical of other small thai places. They have a great lunch special, and most of us partook. Instead of the regular lemongrass soup (tom yum), I mixed it up this time, and went with something called jasmine soup. It wasn't too exciting, but quite palatable. A light chicken broth with some lightly cooked veggies and mushrooms. Very plain.

A few peeps got the thai dumplings as an appetizer. These are deep fried and filled with pork and veggies. It comes with a sweet soy and sesame sauce. These are damn good and meaty. I got the tulip dumplings. It's basically like shumai, and they are steamed. These were alright. They came with the same sauce as the thai dumplings. I like the thai dumplings better.

D ordered the red curry with beef. He liked it, but said it wasn't spicy enough. It had two stars of spicy. K ordered sweet and sour chicken. He'd never had thai food before, so this was a completely new experience for him. But he didn't want to be too experimental, so he went with sweet and sour chicken, always a very safe choice. Overall, he enjoyed his thai food experience. Good for him. He's expanding his food horizons.

R ordered the thai eggplant with chicken. She loves this dish. And now I know why. Bit hunks of asian eggplant in a brown sauce with slices of chicken breast. Delicious. I went with my old standby, drunken noodles. I always get this, and here, it's extra good. Nice pieces of chicken breast, fresh and big pieces of noodles, spicy, but not too spicy. You know I love this dish.

Service at Chiangmai is fairly good. It gets very crowded and busy during lunch rush, but the waitresses are very nice and the food comes out quite quickly. The water doesn't get filled very often, but I won't hold that against them. It's also a BYOB. R also got me balloons and brownies for the bday. It was a fun and gluttonous day. Yes, that is a foot on my desk.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Birthday Desserts

Wednesday was A's 6th birthday party. Ah... to be 6 years old... I was invited to this little shindig and was surrounded by a gaggle of little kiddies. Oh so many in one dining room. K made tons of cupcakes for this occasion. There were regular ones and mini ones.

Although cupcakes and fine and dandy, I zeroed in on the fruit tart from Whole Foods. You all know that fruit tart, the one you see every time you go there but just pass up. Maybe you get the mini single serve version just to appease yourself. Look how glorious it is, and it tasted glorious too. The crust is incredibly hard, and has a coating of chocolate on it, before they layer it up with all that beautiful fresh fruit. I could have eaten the whole thing myself.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Seafood, Serbian Style

Sunday night, Balkan Express Restaurant hosted an orthodox new year seafood feast. This is a small Serbian restaurant in the Graduate Hospital area, just a stone's throw from Grace Tavern. It is operated by an adorable husband and wife team. The husband is the chef, and they even smoke all their own meats and fish here. They are normally closed on Sundays, and were just open on this Sunday for this special fixed price meal.

We first started with some seafood appetizers. There was a mushroom top with caviar. I am not a huge fan of mushrooms, and I had never had caviar before (that I can remember), but I liked this! There was also a deviled egg type thing, but with a seafood filling. Also, smoked salmon filled with more seafood. All of this was very good. I'm not the hughest smoked salmon (or salmon in general) fan, but I even liked it. And like I said, they smoke this themselves! I would love to see where / how they smoke all this stuff.

Next course was a seafood chowder. Another good dish. After that was a calamari salad with honeydew. A strange mix indeed, yet still good! Fresh, light, and different.

The entree was a mix of various seafood dishes. Starting clockwise from the top, we have sturgeon with a caviar sauce. I've never had sturgeon, and this was a very meaty fish. It almost even looks like pork. I liked it, but I wasn't crazy about it. Right of the sturgeon is moussaka. Loved it. In the middle was an artichoke top stuffed with shrimp. I don't like artichoke, but I ate up the shrimps in the middle. The bigfish filet on the bottom right was red snapper. This had a fantastic brown sauce, it was a lovely piece of fish. The shrimp skewer was on top of some rice. Rice good, shrimp great! And finally, at 9 o'clock is a scallop wrapped with home smoked proscuitto. This was ok. I was so stuffed at this point, I didn't finish all of my food. And that so rarely happens with me.

For dessert, we got some orange cake and hazelnut cake. These were both excellent. A great ending to a great meal. And as an extra added surprise. they also gave us complimentary champagne, in celebration of the new year, along with some homemade slivovitz, a serbian plum brandy. This stuff was super strong, even though since this was homemade, it was much weaker than commercially produced slivovitz. I felt privileged to be treated to some homemade serbian moonshine!

This was an excellent meal. The owners were so nice and the wife explained everything to us and spoke with us many times throughout the meal. The husband/chef even came out at the end and charmed us all with his hilarious anecdotes. I think their kid was one of the servers. Poor kid, being forced to work at his parents' restaurant instead of being allowed to participate in regular teenage shenanigans. This was a long meal as well, clocking in at about 3 hours. But all the more better since it was shared with good company, food, and restaurateurs.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Auspicious Review

Over the holidays, I passed by Auspicious Chinese Restaurant, right next to Milkboy on Ardmore's Cricket Ave. It seemed swanky, and strangely out of place. The name was weird, and I asked myself "is it auspiciously good?" K had told me that she got takeout from there and had liked it, so I decided to give it a shot. I decided to overlook the corniness of their website address (go ahead, click on it and find out for yourself). They also have very punny dish names. Weird.

Indeed, it is very swanky on the inside. Clean lines, dark woods, definitely not typical of a chinese restaurant. The serving staff was also caucasian. PF Chang's anyone? Some green tea was ordered. It said it was "gourmet tea". It seemed pretty ordinary to me.

We got the sesame chicken. It was very breaded and the portion was small. We were still hungry afterwards. We've both had far better sesame chicken at my local takeout place. They're also very very stingy with their rice. You get a very small cup. Way too small for my liking. You have to ration it.

We also got the ni hao ma po tofu, or to normal people, just ma po tofu. I've had this before, but never this runny. It was good though, and extremely spicy. It sure would have been nice to have lots of rice to eat it with. I know it was a "lunch" portion, but come one. We're hungry. When you eat chinese food, you expect decent portions. And espcially with the prices, they shouldn't be so paltry.

When our check came, they brought out chocolate fortune cookies. I've never seen these before. I was intrigued. Then I ate it. This was the grossest thing I've ever had in my life. Not only did it taste bad, it was beyond stale. Even if it wasn't stale, it would have been disgusting. Awful. Just awful! The service was ok. Nothing spectacular. You can tell it's a pretty new restaurant. If they put a bit more effort into the FOOD and not the decor, they might have something. But it's not for me. I'll stick to my local takeout. It's about the food, and thish place just isn't anything special. Auspicious Chinese Restaurant - it's auspiciously mediocre!

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pei Wei, Take 2

A was in town for her sister in law's wedding. We got together and had lunch over the weekend. She suggested Pei Wei, I said yey, yey. C got some tea, because he always does. It was fancy tea. It came in a fabric sachet. Ooh la la! He said it was pretty good.

A got the ginger broccoli with chicken. I liked this a lot. It was gingery, but not overly gingery. Just gingery enough for me. A and C thought it wasn't gingery enough. But I found it just fine. Crunchy broccoli and lots of nice white meat chicken. Good sauce. I'm a fan. I could totally see myself ordering this in the future.

C got the orange peel pork. This was also pretty good. Not very orangey, but the sauce had a good flavor and had a bit of a kick. It came with carrots and snap peas, which were a nice complement.

I got the chicken teriyaki bowl, since I tasted this the last time and fell in love with it. It was just as good as before. Really folks, it's about the sauce. There's even cooked spinach and carrots in this, and I do not like cooked spinach or carrots (I like them raw just fine). And because of the sauce, I even ate that. So damn good. And with the brown rice, of course. I need to know what kind of brown rice they use, and how they cook it, because it's the best.

They're pretty eager about trying to get dishes and glasses off the table. They tried to take A's soda away, even when she wasn't done with it. So if you don't hold on to stuff, it might disappear. Watch out! I like this place. The food is good, the portions large, the prices reasonable.


New Jersey Adventure - Sagami

For C's birthday, we took him on a little adventure across the bridge to Sagami. Often hailed by many as the best sushi in the Philadelphia area, Sagami is a little hidden gem in the dregs of New Jersey. I even went here on my last birthday. In an unfortunate location on a highway, this place is a bitch to get to. You get there from PA on the wrong side of the road. And if you are familiar driving in NJ, it's a total pain in the ass to turn around in the entire state. We drove a lot of extra miles trying to get here. Not to mention the bad directions I got off the damn interweb.

This place gets busy. Like seriously. We didn't have reservations like a bunch of jackasses (I tried, but they aren't open for lunch on the weekend so noone picked up the phone), so when we showed up and saw all those people waiting, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I had driven all this way, gone around I don't know how many darn jughandles, and I had the worst fears of having to wait an hour. We had just called them a few minutes before we showed up to get correct directions, and had put our names down. Shockingly, we waited not even 10 minutes and then got a table! Whoo hoo!

The main section of the restaurant has famously low ceilings. I kid you not. I'm short, and I still get concerned. We were in the other room off to the side, past the sushi bar, and it has normal ceilings. I think this is where they stick the people with the kids. It seemed everyone in this area had them. The waitresses wear kimonos here. That shit is authentic, yo. We got some edamame and gyoza as appetizers. Edamame is edamame, it's hard to screw that up. The gyoza were ok, but the insides were just mushy to me. There were no hunks of anything I could distinguish.

I also made sure to get the agedashi dofu. I LOVE SAGAMI'S AGEDASHI DOFU. I could eat this every day. I've had this at other places and it just doesn't compare. First off, it's huge. They don't skimp on the tofu here. The sauce is the best. They put little tiny mushroom heads in it. I don't like mushrooms, and I still eat them! So damn good.

I just wanted the agedashi dofu, so I didn't care one bit what else we actually got to eat. So I let the boys pick. So J, K, and C started off with 10 various rolls, ranging from tuna and avocado, yellowtail and avocado, unagi, california, plain ol tuna, soft shell crab, shrimp tempura, yellow tail and scallion, salmon skin, and the big roll. All of it fresh and yummy. I especially liked the big roll. It was like kimbap, only huger. I thought I was full, but the boys wanted more.
This is where the "lost in translation" experience started. We let J order all the rolls, and J and our heavily accented waitress were having a bit of trouble on the old verbal communication front. [Note to self: next time, let the asian order. No offense, J] He said 1 tuna avocado roll, but she took that as 2 avocado rolls. Witness the two avocado rolls on the plate below. And note the cucumber roll. We did not order this, but somehow we got it. When we got this, we cleared up the misunderstanding, and she was very nice and let us return the two avocado rolls. We didn't get to return the cucumber roll though. I still have no idea how she thinks we ordered that.

Since the boys ordered more food, I felt compelled to eat more. So I got the kitsune udon. It was only $5, so I had to go for it. And I ate it all folks. All by my piggish self. And it was mmm, mmm, good.

The service here is ok. Nothing to rave about. It's pretty good considering how busy the place is. They might take awhile before they take your initial order, but after that, they're fairly attentive. They brought us multiple pots of green tea and our water glasses were always full. It's also a BYOB, so you can bring pretty much whatever you want and they will set you up with whatever you need. It's probably a better bet to a) make reservations, and b) come during the week. I really like the food here. It's about the food, and not the ambiance. You can speak japanese to the servers and they will understand you. It's not expensive, not cheap either, and fresh and authentic.


37 W Crescent Blvd (on the southbound side of 130)

Collingswood, NJ