The way to my heart is through my stomach - figuratively, metaphorically, and literally.

Friday, December 30, 2011

North Garden - Manchester, NH

North Garden Restaurant and Lounge
715 Mast Rd
Manchester, NH 03102
(603) 668-1668

North Garden is diamond in the rough, or perhaps a diamond that's been roughened up.  It serves a menu that consists of Americanized Chinese food, some more traditional Cantonese / Chinese dishes, and a limited order based Dim Sum lunch menu.  There is a bar on one side of the restaurant, and butted next to the restaurant is the lounge.

The chef, Raymond Zeng, is extremely personable, and often eats with his family in the dining area with his patrons.  To my amusement, however, he often whips up foods not on the menu, and that he will not serve to anyone else either as he says with a friendly smirk, so to leave us with mouth watering eye candy, but nothing more.

That's ok, there is plenty of the menu that appeals to my tastes, especially those dishes that haven't quite been Americanized yet.  The Americanized dishes are quite good for Americanized dishes, not quite as bland, and soaked in oils and grease as one would expect from American Chinese.  The rest of the dishes that still scream culture is why I come to North Garden.

The rice in all applications, whether steamed white or fried, is light and rightly textured.  The vegetables are fresh and almost flash fried - no wilted, overcooked look or taste.  The meats are tender, fall apart in your mouth, and full of flavor.  The spices are just right, and bring out the natural flavors of each of the dishes without overpowering it.

The Dim Sum is top class, but reflects Boston prices, rather than Manchester.  A limited order based lunch menu ensures that each tidbit is fresh and hot, and ever so tasty.  And yes, they do have fantastic tripe and chicken feet!  All the classic basics are there, enough to keep my Dim Sum cravings at bay, and only ten minutes from my home!

The bar and lounge are some of the plain as day indications that money is king.  Everyone knows in order to make bank in the restaurant industry, booze has to be involved.  It has a high mark up, it's sales are limited to locations that have liquor licenses, it doesn't require much talent to serve (but a lifetime of practice to serve with class and gusto, as shown by some career bartenders I've known and known of), has an easy to store and very forgivable shelf life, and practically everyone drinks it to excess (ahem!).

I don't care much what North Garden has to do in order to make profit in order for the dishes to remain as traditionally Cantonese as possible.  In fact, I've been known to make a donation to the lounge every once in a while - the mixed drinks are cheap and strong, and get you where you need to go (or not need to go, for that matter) in short order.

All in all, North Garden gets a thumbs up from me.  Perhaps they'll get one more visit from me before I attempt another new year's resolution.

North Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pots and Pans

I wonder, can pots and pans come with a nutritional facts label as well?
"Your copper sauté pan gives you 4% of your weekly copper limit for every 60 minutes that you keep your food in it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit before copper toxicity sets in!"
With all the latest worries and "experts" writing articles and giving speeches about your pots and pans and BPA loaded plastics, I'm kind of surprised that cooking and food storage implements now don't come with a nutritional facts label.
"Your cast iron wok gives you 0.1% of your daily iron needs on a 2000 calorie diet for every 10 minutes that you keep your food on it at 300 degrees Fahrenheit!"  
Today, there are so many different cooking surfaces available, all of them having its benefits and downfalls.  If you're so interested, you can read about them on Wikipedia, here:

The same goes with food storage.  "BPA Free" is now on food grade plastics everywhere.  Standing for Bisphenol A, this stuff supposedly causes genetic damage, especially in kids.

The question I ask is, how much does this stuff really affect a person, if at all?  We've been using Teflon for years before the study came out that it could potentially cause harm.  Today's new kid is anodized aluminum - but how reactive is it really?  5 years down the line, am I going to to find out I'm going to be all shiny or glow in the dark?

I personally cook on as much as possible on cast iron.  I only have a two range top grill and press, and a wok, but that does the job quite well for most things, interestingly enough, and if I just went and got a cast iron skillet and pot, I should be able to retire everything else.  Maybe if I get enough iron seepage into my food, I'll become Ironman.

Mikimoto - New Orleans, LA

3301 S. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70118

Having lived on the same street as for several years, and only about 15 blocks away, it was definitely a regular haunt for me.  Great sushi, cheap prices, good sake?  It was within walking distance, it was on the way home from work, I had to pass it to go practically anywhere or come home from any place. And it has a drive through to call ahead and pick up from.  I'm actually surprised that I didn't have mercury poisoning during this time, or, rather, that does explain a lot....

Although I have tendencies to stick to a pattern when it comes to ordering things off a menu, I have had everything on the menu, and several things off the menu that you can only get by asking the chefs for them.  Or in my case, asking the chefs to make something that they would like to make.

I'm a huge sushi fan, and usually end up eating sushi at least once a week on average.  Maybe twice.  I think I've had sushi every single day for a week straight during some points in my life.  Everything is good at Mikimoto.  Well, almost everything.  From the many sushi restaurants that I've visited with a few exceptions, the worse the miso soup is, the better the sushi will be.  I've actually been able to predict how much I will like the sushi based upon my first bowl of miso.  So, if that wasn't clear enough, the miso at Mikimoto isn't very good.

That reminds me.  Sushi isn't sushi without fish.  All you California Roll, or Cucumber Roll, or Vegetable whatever Rolls - that isn't sushi.  That's rice and veggies.  And that's disgusting.  And no, I haven't had those items on Mikimoto's menu.  Technicality, but I feel like I had to clarify.

Mikimoto's sushi rice is exactly how I like it, a bit on the drier side with a touch more vinegar in comparison to expectation to other sushi restaurants.  I find that it really accentuates the flavor, moisture, and zestiness of the different fish that embraces the rice.

What sushi meal is complete without a bottle or three of sake shared amongst friends? Cold sake, unfiltered. Pick your brand for your ideal flavor. Warm sake? Never. There is a reason why there is only one type of warm sake. House. Leftover sake that needs to be served warm in order to hide the taste imperfections. So don't do it. Unless you like your warm sake that much.

All in all, Mikimoto is a great sushi restaurant that is relatively cheap and quick. They're focused on customer service, and great for grabbing a quick meal on the go, or sitting down and eating for a few hours. Did I mention it had a drive-through?

Mikimoto Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) - Ellicott City, MD

Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Grill
Princess Shopping Center
10045 Baltimore National Pike (Centennial Ln.)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

Honey Pig is a fantastic Korean BBQ close to Baltimore, MD.  It's apparently a small chain, even though it doesn't appear to be.  It's setup as a classic Korean BBQ place, with gas heating elements built into the center of each table to cook the meat on right in front of you.  Korean hibachi, of sorts, but with the rest of the table also a beaten stainless steel, giving it a sort of post modern look.

Each dish is a different cut of meat, usually from either beef or pork - ranging from boneless short ribs (Galbi) to pork bellies.  Besides that, we had also ordered the classic bulgogi, translated as "fire meat."  Two of some of mans' favorite words, if I may say.  Glass noodles with soy sauce and vegetables, some soups, steamed poached eggs, and the classic sets of Korean picked appetizers were also included.  More than enough food to keep this guy fed.

I'm not sure why Korean BBQ places always get it right, or whether I'm biased, but the fare coming off these rounded cast iron has never wronged me, other than keeping me from the long desired washboard stomach, but that's a topic for another day, and most likely for another blog for that matter.

The meat only dishes were a just a touch more dry than they could have been, but every chef that has to cook reaching over your shoulder can have an off day.  The meat was, as expected, incredibly flavorful and tender.  Each chopsticked piece of delicate meat practically fell apart on my plate - if it even made it there.  As the food slowly cooled on the turned off cooking surface, we soon ate straight from there, skipping the plate entirely.

The glass noodles was one of the dishes that was prepared in the kitchen, a touch salty, but delicious nonetheless.  My only complaint is that the serving plate became empty so quickly, after only making it one round around the table.

All in all, Honey Pig provides an awesomely filling meal on the cheap.  We easily fed--overfed, actually--five people on $50 worth of food.  Definitely worth visiting, and don't forget to grab a cup of the free coffee by the door on the way out, lest you food coma soon after!

  Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ping Pong Dim Sum - Washington, DC

Ping Pong Dim Sum
900 Seventh St. NW (I St.)
Washington, DC 20001

If trendy means tiny portions, terrible service, and and non conforming atmosphere, then this place is definitely 5 star.

The whole dim sum experience is defined by crowded tables, bustling stainless steel carts, the clicking of chopsticks, the overwhelming varying smells coming from the multitude of dishes, the need of a periodic scalding hot tea bath of your mouth to cleanse the palate from the many zesty spices and oils.

To reiterate, roughly speaking, food falls into four different main categories for me:  fusion, tradition, zing, and caloric intake.  Ping Pong Dim Sum meets none of those.

Considering the location--in the heart of Washington DC, just blocks away from the capital--the need to be trendy and pricey is practically necessary and perfectly explainable.  Aside from the the modern look, which detracted from the experience, in my opinion, nothing else explained the reason for that restaurant to be there.  No gimmick to hold it together either.

The forced of what we ordered and how to eat it, the labels on the bamboo steamers - it almost seems that the restaurant expected its patrons to be the most sheltered and slow people on the face of the planet.

Back to the primary point - the food.  It was incredibly tiny portions, extremely bland especially if you know what real dim sum is supposed to be like.  There was no zing.  As for caloric intake - I was convinced I was more hungry after sharing $75 worth of food with 5 people than before I ate.

The taste was bland.  All the dishes tasted pretty close to nothing.  We polished off all the side spices and sauces (which were weak as well) in order to attempt to recover the meal.  The frozen premade dim sum you can get at asian grocery stores tastes better, I'm sorry to say.  The only redeeming item was the teaspoonful of sticky black rice in coconut milk.  Then, of course,  it's rather hard to screw up considering it's a 3-4 ingredient dish...

The service was just terrible.  I normally don't judge the restaurant too harshly based upon the possibility of the waiter having a bad day, but the service was poor in a way that shows that the waiter never has a good day. He actually emanated eau de permanent scowl and bad mood.  The dishes were poorly presented, my water glass was never refilled, and when I pulled the waiter aside to refill our glasses, he actually expected me to reach across the rather large table and everyone's plates with my glass that had remained empty all meal long so he didn't have to move to refill.

In summary - this restaurant has a lot of promise, a great location, and...  not much else.  Convert it to a trendy sushi house, or an Asian fusion restaurant.  Without it, it's going to look like it looked like when I visited.  Empty.

One last thought, and most importantly of all, and I quote-- "Where's the chicken feet and cow tripe?"

Ping Pong Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 26, 2011


You are what you eat.

What is that saying, really?  I am food?  I am drink?  I know what I enjoy, and here I will attempt to chronicle at least some of them in hopefully not too bad incessant ramblings.  I am a jack of all trades, master of some.  I do try to pride myself in being someone of a polymath, a modern renaissance man of sorts, though there is so much more to learn.

Roughly speaking, food falls into four different main categories for me:  fusion, tradition, zing, and caloric intake:

  • Fusion, is, well, fusion.  The unexpected melding of different existing tastes.  The creation of new flavors, styles. Exciting the taste buds and secondary senses with things that they have never remotely tasted before.
  • Tradition are the foods and flavors that we know.  Foods that have been around for a while, but persist because they're, well, that good.  Subtle changes in flavor and recipes give new life to traditional foods, but they are essentially what you expect--order in a world of foodie chaos.
  • Zing explains itself.  Things that just go WOW!  It may be things that you already know, it may be something new.  But it sticks out like a sore thumb, but a good sore thumb.  It's like biting into a fresh, cold lime.  It's like standing up into an open cabinet door.  BAM!
  • Caloric intake is essentially efficiency food.  There are essentially three types of efficiency - economic efficiency, time efficiency, and effective efficiency.
    • Economic efficiency is getting the most calories for the buck.  It's that family pack of 10 pounds of ground beef that only costing you a dollar per 500 calories.  Economic efficiency is often not the healthiest, but doesn't have to be.
    • Time efficiency is getting the most calories in the shortest amount of time.  Whether it's a high amount of calories in a short amount of time, or prepared foods, or fast food even.  It's that big mac that you got for lunch because you didn't have any time.  It's that protein bar that you had instead of breakfast.
    • Effective efficiency is essentially health food.  It's getting what your body needs when it needs it with the least amount of excess.  It's getting your protein requirement with the least amount of cholesterol and fats.
    • Efficiency food is a moving target line between tasting pretty bad and being incredibly unhealthy.  But there are some rare good treats that meet all the efficiency categories, and are oh so rewarding to find.
I'm a cruel judge, and my expectations are high, but when you feed me right, I'm the most loyal dog you can find.
The way to my heart is through my stomach--literally, figuratively, and metaphorically.