Sunday, November 30, 2008

Seri Melaka: Tucsonian Malaysian (Baba-Nyonya)

Leave it to Auntie Cynthia...she knows Tucson like the back of her hand. I never cease to be amazed by her selection in restaurants and knowledge of the local cuisine...it is something I am working toward here in Indy. After a day trip to Mount Lemmon Cynthia suggested that we go to Seri Melaka. Given I had never before had Malaysian cuisine, it seemed the only option given Cynthia's knowledge of Tucson's sprawling vegetarian scene.

I found that 'Baba-Nyonya' refers to the '...assimilation of cultures distinct to Malaysia and Singapore in South-east Asia' (directly from their web site). What I also found was a wonderful selection of appetizers, soups, and entrees as well as a fixed price (prix fixe) fare. I would normally always recommend a fixed price meal as it allows you to sample a variety of items without breaking the bank. Please be sure to read the 'dining tips' section on their web site. I think that this is not only insightful for this restaurant, but it is also a great rule of thumb for going to many other restaurants as well.

After reading the lengthy menu, I wanted to give the 'Rojak' appetizer a spin. Cynthia recommended it, so we ordered it. When it arrived, it was basically a salad with jicama, cucumber, lettuce, tofu, potatoes (roasted and served cold), and egg patty with warm peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was good, and the salad was the right size for the three of us to share. Had one of us eaten it by ourselves, we would not have been able to eat much else.

My wife and Cynthia both had chosen for the fixed price fare. Both had chosen the spicy tofu curry (can't say that I blame them) with spring rolls. Cynthia wanted 'egg flower' (essentially eggs drop) soup, and my wife had hot and sour (one of her favorite soups). I did sample both soups and found them both to contain all the elements that each should. The egg flower soup was thick and slightly salty. I have found some egg drop soups in the past to be either too salty or not enough. Seri Melaka's was right on the money. The hot and sour was also tasty. I found it to be spicier than many that I have had in the past, but I prefer this. Coupled with ample tofu, bamboo, and mushrooms, the thick soup would satisfy many palates as the perfect accompaniment to a meal.

Both also received a traditional spring roll (rice paper, lettuce, veggies, tofu, etc.). Brandi let me sample her spring roll, and it was probably one of the better spring rolls I have had. The sauce that came with the spring roll was quite spicy and peaked my interest almost immediately. The veggies were cool and crisp also. An order of two of these bad boys was around $3. That is a steal in my opinion.

Since both ladies chose the fixed price fare, I had to be different. I decided to give one of the ala carte options a try. I ordered 'sang mee', which coincidentally is not listed on their web site. Sang mee was comprised of broccoli, peas, carrots, bok choy, cabbage, red pepper, and crispy fried thin egg noodles. I like to eat my food as spicy as possible, so when asked, I requested for them to make my food, as they would prefer it. They were happy to oblige. I added tofu for about $1, I think.

The combination of the sauce, spices (and spice level...nitro!), vegetables, tofu, and crispy noodles was delicious. Brandi and Cynthia had rice with their meal, but I did not want or need any. The portion of food was more than enough, and I ended up taking quite a bit home with me. I reheated it the next day, and it was just as tasty as what it was when it was served to me the first time. Cynthia has repeatedly said that this is her favorite Malaysian restaurant, and I think that Tucson agrees with her (as do I). There are at least two of these restaurants in Tucson owned by the same family.

The value here is A+. All three of us were pleasantly full (without overdoing it) as we left. Brandi and Cynthia both had dessert with the fixed price fare (' burbur cha cha' which is a warm, sweet tapioca made with butter, honey, coconut). I think that our bill, with tip, was around $80 for three people (appetizer, soup, entrees, beers, drinks, and dessert). The service was great, drinks were refilled often, and our waitress was friendly. This was a fantastic first experience in Malaysian dining.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nimbus Brewery: Tucson, AZ

I love micro-breweries. I will not deny my German heritage. I will always indulge myself in a brewery as we have several in Indianapolis that are great. The Broad Ripple Brewpub is one of those that I love because they carry a great selection of veggie entrees on their menu. Nimbus Brewery is my new home-away-from-home brewery when I travel to Tucson, AZ.

I was pleased to land at the Nimbus Brewery on the advice of my Auntie Cynthia. She took me there before we ran some errands the other day. Cynthia has been a vegetarian for well over 25 years, so she knows all the hot spots around the Tucson areas (see my previous post about La Indita). She has never lead me astray with any of her recommendations.

Nestled in what appears to be an industrial park, Nimbus has been a Tucson staple for around the past 12 years. They have been consistently improving their brewery / restaurant ever since they started. They have a wide open porch where bands play in the evening, as I have been told. The inside of the brewery is vast with plenty of bar stools and tables. You can also eat on the porch during the day time hours. See the video below for a peek inside the restaurant.

We sat at the bar, and the bartender had tons of good information regarding the various brews ranging from a lighter blond ale (3.2 % ABV) to a heavy-duty strong English ale (9.8 % ABV). They have the standard red/brown/stout ales as well. Their IPA was quite tasty, but I had a nasty bout with IPAs a few years ago (thanks, Gretchen) at a brew fest. They were liberal with tastings of each beer, and we tried damn near all of them. Needless to say, I opted for the Old Monkey Shine strong ale simple for the high % ABV. Auntie Cynthia has the red ale which she descried simply as 'very good'. I do not disagree with her one bit. All the beers we tried were as good as any micro-brewery I have been to in the glorious State of Arizona.

This brewery had a well-marked vegetarian menu. It included Boca burger, garden burgers, various salads, wraps, and side items. All of the vegetarian entrees were grouped together on the menu, which I prefer, as I don't have to read the entire menu to find what I was not going to eat. Some restaurants mix their vegetarian entrees in with the other entrees on the menu and note the veggie dishes a marker of sort to denote them. I will thank Nimbus for organizing things this way for my veggie bretheren. So much easier...

I eventually ordered the garden burger, which was enormous. It was servered on a toasted bun, covered with the cheese of my choice, and all the trimmings (lettuce, pickle, tomato, and red onions). I am a sucker for french fried potatos, so I had my sandwhich with some crinkle-cut fries. They were piping hot and slightly salty. Auntie Cynthia shared them with me as there were more than I could eat. I am not a huge condiment fan, so I found these fries delicious enough to eat withour slathering them with the tomato-slaughter violence known as 'ketchup'. I used to prefer mayo on my fries after all of my travels to Europe, but now I limit my mayo intake as it's not the best thing you can put in your boday.

After four beers and the food, our bill came to less than $19. As far as pub food goes, this was great....inexpensive, delicious, and satisfying. I would rate this as a high value for vegetarians as it was easy to find stuff on their menu, the food was great, and it did not break my wallet. Great beer should always be coupled with equally great food, and Nimbus hits the nail on the head. I look forward to returning to Nimbus when my travels bring me back to Tucson.


video

Thursday, November 20, 2008

La Indita: Tucson Vegetarian Mexican

So, here I am in Tucson, AZ. I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years as my wife's family lives here. I have eaten at countless Mexican restaurants here, but one really stands out because it caters to my new found, meatless diet: La Indita.

This is not your ordinary Mexican restaurant. They serve food in the 'Michoacan Tarascan Indian' style that is outside of the normal southwestern Mexican style in and about Tucson. The mural in the restaurant as you walk in depicts the village in which the proprietor's grandmother was raised. Rumor has it that in tough times, mushrooms and potatos were substituted for meat to give her family a balanced, healthy diet. The recipes live on in this restaurant as well as the ambience and flair of a the small Mexican village. There are a proverbial metric-ton of vegetarian entrees on the menu, but your omnivorous friends will not leave dissatisfied either.

I was dining with three other vegetarians, so this was an obvious choice. We all love the mushroom or potato tacos, spinach enchiladas, and Tarascan tacos (closed, fried tacos). The Tecate was flowing for around $2 per can, and the chips / salsa are phenomenal. They fry the toritalls that they make on site to provide the crispy, hot chips for dipping in their tasty salsa. The salsa is medium-spiced (for the layperson)...I find it mild, but it is delicious nonetheless. When we were there, the proprietor had injured her leg, so the service was a bit slow. They are accommodating despite the fact that they were so short handed.

We sampled a wide variety of food while we where there. We had several Tarascan tacos (bean and cheese) in addition to multiple enchiladas (mushroom, spinach, and bean). I could eat the Tarascan tacos until I am sick, but I opted to simply just roll myself out after the meal. We all also had potato tacos, which are a delightful treat compared to the simple bean or chesse tacos that you can normally acquire at Mexican joints in Indy.

The portions were ample, and you won't leave hungry. I always preach about value in a restaurant, and the value here is very high. It is not your typical Mexican restaurant, so leave your ideas about Mexican food at the door. I think we paid under $40 for all four of us with a few beers on the tab as well.

If you live in or around Tucson, I believe that this is one place that you should not miss. The inexpensive nature of this restaurant should not downplay the deliciousness of their food.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Theo's Metro: how Kingston, PA does Greek food

Ah, Greece. Greek food is often the combination of the many influences and cultures that surround this island nation. I was traveling for business, and I am always on the lookout for new foods. I found this little unassuming restaurant via CitySearch.com, one of my favorite places to find restaurants while I travel

Nestled in a quiet neighborhood in Kingston, PA, I had to drive by it once to find it. According to their web site, it is on the site of a former popcorn factory. The historic building has been preserved and features a beautiful dining room complete with an indoor fountain. There is parking in the front on the street as well as a large parking lot in the rear. I walked around the building once to make sure I was in the correct location.

Upon entering via the front door, I found a nice little bar with a few patrons seated there. Since it was my first visit (of many, I hope), I sat down at the bar and ordered a Yeungling lager...a Philadelphia staple. I was served promptly and given a menu.

The vegetarian selection was small but had all the classics. Roasted vegetable moussaka, spinach pie, and vegetarian dolmathes were the primary vegetarian entrees. There were also pasta dishes, but I try no to eat pasta outside of my home. I opted for the moussaka as it was the one dish on their menu with which I had the least experience. I am still learning to eat eggplant as i have not been a vegetarian for a long time. I elected the lemon potatoes and a greek salad as well.

The mousaka was piping hot when it arrived. It was layered with eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. This was covered in a cheese bechemal sauce. This dish is baked, and there is nothing friend about it...for which I was quite thankful. It was absolutely delicious and plalatable for the novice eggplant eater. Now, the potatoes....where do I start? They were recommended to my by not only the bartender but several patrons. Fantastic. Slightly lemon-y with a firm texture. No frills...just great taste.

Everything about the food (quality, amount, flavor, texture) was great. I was plessantly surprised with the modest size of the dish, as I am much more content leaving a restaurant satisfied and not stuffed. Coupled with the tasty greek salad, this was more than enough food. The salad was also served with hot bread and butter.

Overall, I think this was a great value. I walked out of the restaurant about $22 lighter, but it was absolutely worth the time I spent there. The local patrons were very friendly, and the staff did a fantastic job attending to me while I was there. The owner, Peter (an older, very distinguished gentleman), came out to chat with me about the restaurant and what I thought about it.

Bottom line: I always analyze the value (price vs. quality/service) when I go to a restaurant, and the value here is high. I hope to make it back to Theo's Metro on my next trip to Pennsylvania.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Amber Indian: Scranton, PA

Here is a recent post that I made for CitySearch.Com. The food was great, and it was a huge pleasure to eat there. I recommend the Kaju Kari. I have never had that before eating here, and it was awesome.

My post on CitySearch.com contained the following:

If you are in the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area, I will highly recommend that you check this restaurant out. Being a vegetarian and traveling (I am from Indiana) often forces me to drive a little further than I would normally go for food. This place was definitely worth the 15-mile drive I had to make to get there. The service was a little slow at first, but I was by myself. That can throw things off a bit.

I ordered vegetable pakorah as an appetizer. There was a little too much batter in places, but the veggies were just right. The accompanying sauces were tasty as well. The vegetarian menu was larger than some I have seen in various Indian restaurants across the country. The unique dishes I saw here were a stuffed gourd dish and 'kajur kari' which was whole cashews in an onion gravy (which I ordered). Delicious. There were other dishes that I wanted to try but knowing I could only eat one led me one of the most unique (if not the most simple) I have seen.

The spicy-level was just right...I like it extremely spicy, and they hooked that up for me too. I also ordered some ghobi paratha (mashed cauliflower naan), and that was also good. It was a little soggy in the middle, but I would expect a little of that given we are talking about vegetables. I also ordered their Indian tea (chai), which was also quite good for $2.

Over all, the value was great. They have modestly priced entrees, and the quality and flavor of the food was extremely high. You should go to this restaurant if you like Indian food. My experience was good. I hope yours will be too.

New Blog

Per a conversation with my friend Kris, he suggested that I consider blogging about food, for which I have a passion. I think I'll do that as I have just come off of a business trip in which I had some great food. Look for more to come in the next few days.

The idea is to write about local / Indianapolis restaurants. We'll see how this goes.