Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buffet China / China Buffet II

3833 Lemay Ferry Road

St. Louis Mo.

We initially agreed to go to the Golden Corral in South County, got there, there was a line. We don’t like lines especially when it’s cold and windy, so we didn’t even stop. On the road again (Lindbergh) we thought about Denny’s and a couple of other places, but couldn’t get excited. Angel remembered a nearby Chinese buffet that we visited a year or so back, she even remembered how to get there.

A lot of places had already been eliminated from our list of options; I was on a slightly restricted diet. For an upcoming lab test* I was not allowed to eat most nuts, bananas, grapefruit, and tomatoes. So Italian and Mexican were pretty much disqualified. The Asians don’t use tomatoes a lot.

Tomatoes originally came from South America, and stayed there up until the Spanish ‘colonization’ and domination of the continent in the late 1500’s. For many decades after their introduction to England and British colonies, including the former colony we currently occupy, tomatoes were widely considered poisonous. Italy and Spain didn’t believe these rumors and since the plants grew so readily in the Mediterranean climate, these cultures used them widely, thus their continued prominence in Italian and Hispanic cuisines. Asia already had its own palette of cultural ingredients and didn’t ever really jump on the tomato bandwagon.

But I had to avoid them for this weekend. So Chinese fit the bill nicely. I still wouldn’t be able to have offerings containing nuts, but that was easily worked around. It did regrettably mean I wouldn’t be able to have bananas with red sauce, a Chinese buffet staple.

The Place:

It looks pretty much like every other strip mall Chinese buffet. Booths and tables scattered around, red and gold kitschy decorations and bric-a-brac, paper lanterns, colorful pictures and calendars, thin Chinese waitresses of all ages scurrying about.

We were asked “how many” and “what to drink” then pointed toward a general direction. We pulled off our jackets and didn’t even bother to sit down before we bee-lined toward the serving area. The place was more than half full but not too noisy. The buffet lines steamed and filled the air with a pleasant sweet/fried aroma.

The Food:

A wide variety, chicken, beef, shrimp cooked various ways. For my first plate I chose several types of chicken, garlic shrimp, rice, noodles, egg-foo-young, and of course, rangoons. Angel and Adam’s plates looked similar, though for some peculiar reason they also picked up some broccoli.

The rice was okay, better than most local places. The tea was bland and the egg-foo-young was not quite as good as I’d hoped. Other than that though the food was excellent. I highly recommend getting just a little of several things rather than piling up a lot of only a couple. Go ahead, live a little.

We each went back for seconds, but not a huge pile, just a few favorites. I was very fond of the garlic shrimp and something called ‘crispy chicken.’ The chicken offerings were all pretty much prepared the same, lightly breaded and fried, but topped/caramelized with different sauces, from savory/hot to almost too-sweet.

The drinks were well tended to, rarely less than half full, the used plates were bussed away quickly. I was full, satisfied. “I’m glad I wasn’t born in China.” I pronounced, “I really like the food, but I couldn’t eat it everyday.”

Of course real Chinese people don’t eat like this every day, or even very often. The offerings at a typical American-Chinese restaurant are Americanized versions of a few Asian dishes and sometimes American creations completely. Chinese tastes more traditionally favor grasshoppers, fish heads, cats and boiled cabbage. We Americans are just too wimpy to make a diet out of that stuff. We just take our own fried chicken, pour some honey or soy sauce over it and celebrate our faux-cultural inclusiveness. Just about anything qualifies as Chinese in the U.S. as long as the bill arrives with fortune cookies.

I don’t care for fortune cookies, but I opened mine up anyhow. I forget what it said, something either obvious or stupid, I ignored the ‘lucky numbers’ because I’m a grownup, but I did notice at the bottom of the fortune a URL. Yeah, a web site. You don’t even have to crack open a brittle, sweet cookie anymore, just dial up the world-wide-web and there’s your fortune. This is going to put a lot of Asian philosophers and calligraphers out of work.

Summary:

In our opinion this is about the best Chinese buffet in the area. The food is consistently fresh and good, the service quick and efficient. The place is clean and not too busy. It’s still not as good as most places in Springfield Mo., but it isn’t near as bad as those awful places we were stuck with when we lived in southern Maryland.

The bill came to just over thirty bucks, a very reasonable price for all-you-can-eat. The fortunes in the cookies were lame and predictable and not even funny with the traditional ‘in bed!’ suffix applied. By the way, though several stories about the history of the fortune cookie abound, it too is almost for certain an American invention.

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*Lab test: Nothing to worry about, just going through a battery of tests that are called for in men of a certain age.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Waffle House

Festus Mo.

None of us felt like making bold decisions, I made a casual suggestion on Thursday or Friday, based on a momentary craving. I wanted a pancake. Angel reminded us that she was out of town the week Adam and I visited the Waffle House, so it was set.

Spoiler alert! You can’t get pancakes at Waffle House.

Not that it really mattered. Breakfast fare is good in most of its forms, waffles, pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, it’s all good.

The place was not very busy, a couple of small groups along the wall, the counter was empty. I counted two ladies on duty.

The Place:

Skinny, booths and bar stools, diner style, seat yourself.

We did, in a corner booth. There were laminated double sided menus/placemats already there; colorful, shiny, and loaded with scrumptious offerings. One of the ladies asked for our drink orders, tea, tea and coke. She gave us some more time. I couldn’t decide so I decided to order everything.

The all-Star Special.

Two eggs, hash browns ‘smothered and covered’ (onions and cheese), three slices of bacon, two biscuits with gravy, and toast. Yeah, that’s a lot of food.

Adam ordered the same, with variations. He opted for the waffle instead of biscuits, and he certainly didn’t want any onions in his hash browns.

Angel went off the rails asking for the pork chops and eggs and hash browns smothered in… you guessed it, gravy.

Our drinks were delivered, the tea was so puny and weak that it tasted only like the plastic tumbler it was served in. When the lady came by again I switched to coffee.

As we waited I looked outside and saw a ’63 mustang, in need of paint, back in to a parking spot. With no respect for the majesty of that vehicle whatsoever, the driver curbed the tires, a crime in anyone’s book. Though it still sported a fading, and delaminating original red paint job, I did notice that the car had all it’s original chrome bits and badges. Window and windshield trim, headlight rims, it was all still there. When the driver stepped up and out of the little national landmark I was not surprised to see a man well into his fifties, sporting a gray ponytail.

When he came in he strolled right past us and sat at the back corner spot of the counter, spun around and stuck up a conversation with two teenaged girls. So predictable, so trite. The girls soon left, but that didn’t seem to upset the man much, he probably gets shut down like that a lot. I know I do. Hmm, pony tails… maybe… Nah.

The Food:

The food was served somewhat haphazardly, my biscuits and gravy arriving first and only a few moments later the rest of the stuff. It all took up three plates, for some reason the bacon got it’s own.. kind of wasteful and inefficient. I slid the slices on top of the eggs and hash browns and set the superfluous plate aside, as did Adam.

The biscuits were heavy, almost two heavy, the rest of the stuff was simply awesome. One thing about the waffle house, you better order your eggs EXACTLY like you want them, because that’s what they will deliver, every time. When I make them for myself they’re sometimes over easy, sometimes medium. At WH if you say over medium, you will get just that.

There was so much food I knew there would be orphans, so I backed off on the biscuits, good though they were and promoted the crispy, perfectly cooked hash browns and perfect eggs to the top. I mixed it all together, sopped up the yolk with the perfectly cooked and sliced toast, and simply enjoyed.

Adam’s waffle was coated with maple syrup, which immediately made me think we weren’t actually related. (see previous posts about my hatred and sheer disdain for maple syrup) There was syrup standing in every square of the brown, cakey waffle. It reminded me of those aerial photos of flood ravaged farm fields and rice patties in Japan.*

Angel struggled to daintily cut up her pork chops. Not that they were all that tough, it’s just that the butter knife that was provided was a bit too dull to actually cut through any thing more dense than warm butter. She finally gave up trying to be Miss Manners about it and went all hillbilly on the chops. She didn’t even stick out her pinky as she gnawed every morsel off the bones.

Summary:

The food was simply exceptional. If you are in the mood for breakfast fare, this is about as good as it gets. The tab came in at thirty six bucks and change, but recall Adam and I ordered about the most expensive plate they offer. Next time I’ll probably go ala-carte and back down a bit. The place was clean and well tended, although you should be warned, WH is one of the rare places that still allows smoking, so there is that smell if you are sensitive about that sort of thing. But of course, if you’re all that worried about goes in to your own personal temple, you should really take another look at the menu… it’s not exactly health food. Though my grandmother ate breakfast like this every day, for eighty-something years, eggs and milk fresh and warm out of her own animals, cooked up in an ancient and never-washed cast iron skillet thick with bacon grease. What do them scientists know anyhow… Bon Appetit!

* Japan:

Back in the early 80’s I served a three year tour at Misawa AB in northeastern Japan. I am very familiar with the area that was devastated recently. Sendai (near the epicenter) is about a two hour train ride from Misawa. Northern Honshu (the main island) is more rural than the south, though hardly sparsely populated. This area was known throughout feudal times as horse country and some of the finest stock came from Tohuku, treasured and desired by samurai throughout the country.

Though most of the businesses in the area are of recent and quake-resistant construction, many of the farm homes and shops are still rather flimsy. This is a very beautiful region of that country, volcanic mountains, the ocean, the thick, lush trees are simply breathtaking. The people there are the best. Polite to a fault, hard working, family-centered and quietly proud. Our hearts go out to these fine people and especially to those stricken directly or indirectly by the series of immense and almost unbelievable forms of destruction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Burger King

Festus Mo.

Adam spent the weekend visiting his brother in Springfield, Angel and I were alone for the weekend’s feast. I’d been struggling almost endlessly with a work issue and had given little thought to the meal. When she announced Burger King I was not surprised. There’s a romantic element to BK. When Angel and I decided to go on our first date, our resources and options were quite limited. We were both working in a now-defunct factory on second shift, and we needed to go to a place that we were sure not to run across our respective spouses (long story). We got off work at ten-thirty and many of Springfield’s finer establishments were not open that late. Burger King was. So it was at the "Home of the Whopper" near Glenstone and Sunshine that we officially became an item (sinners).

Of course we’ve been to BK’s quite often since then but this was special since we could have chosen lots of places for just the two of us to go on a date again. I needed the boost.

While working in Sunset Hills a few years back, there were several nearby BK’s On Fridays I’d drive to one, order the same %$#&!! thing ever time, so often in fact that the little old lady would punch in my order before I got to the counter. Fish sandwich, large fries, no drink. (I carried bottled water with me). I’d grab exactly four ketchup packets and a thick wad of napkins. Then I’d drive to the nearest park, crack open a book and enjoy myself for a bit.

Since I started working elsewhere a couple of years ago, I haven’t renewed that ritual. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d had BK.

The Place:

It’s a Burger King, just like all the other shiny plastic Burger Kings in the world (12,200 outlets in 73 countries).

The Food:

We live on the edge, always trying new things (LOL) so we decided to try the new Steakhouse XT. Of course we had fries, and tea. Our thicker steak sandwiches apparently required more passes over the blowtorch than a regular burger so we filled our drink cups and found a table. I filled up a half dozen of those little paper cups they provide for ketchup. The ketchup was on tap there, an incredibly slow dispenser that took a couple of minutes to fill the tiny paper cups. I struggled for a second with how I was going to get them to our table. I grabbed a large drink lid and turned it into a little tray. Once back at the table, Angel applauded my ingenuity. The meals had been delivered to us, and we dug in. They offer two styles on the XT, regular and turbo*; A1 Sauce or Jalapeno flavored. We both opted for the A1.

BK’s fries are pretty good, but not the best in the world. There was barely enough ketchup among the shallow cups to coat them properly. I prefer to make a puddle on the wrapper and drag my fries through, not just dip the tips into a dainty paper finger bowl.

The sandwiches tasted a little like A1, but the meat had an odd texture. It didn’t have the tug and give of a regular patty, it came apart exactly as bitten. It had the consistency of tofu, not a burger, and certainly not a steak. It was an odd sensation, like eating a raspberry flavored banana. It wasn’t really all that bad, it just wasn’t right.

I didn’t quite finish, my tummy had shrunk a little over the past few weeks due to job anxiety. Angel didn’t finish either, probably out of sympathy.

Summary:

We’ll go back, but we’ll avoid the Steakhouse XT. Our meal came in around eighteen dollars since I opted for large fries and drink.** It just wasn’t all that great. I’ll probably continue to enjoy the fish, or even a Whopper (with cheese) but I was disappointed with the new offering. We bussed our table, refilled our cups, and returned to our normal non-romantic lives.

When the boy returned home on Sunday he brought with him a big bag of egg rolls and wontons from Springfield's Canton Inn. I whipped up some rice, Angel fried up some chicken thighs, Now THAT was a meal.

*Turbo and XT. It’s a reference to the old computer days. When the IBM PC first came out there was an XT version. It had a 10MB hard drive instead of just the two 5 ¼ floppies. XT’s sold for $5000 back in ’84 when I first started fixing them (factory warranty certified). Many PC clones of the era offered a ‘turbo’ button that would raise the internal clock speed from 4.77 MHZ to nearly 10MHZ. The option to slow the machine down was there because many games of that era were designed around the 4.77 rate and a higher internal clock speed made them run as if they were on fast forward. Newer games are immune to this since programmers got a little smarter and started referencing real-time rather than CPU time.

** Large drink. This is a scam. BK allows free refills. It’s kind of silly to order a large drink when you can refill it as often as you like.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Taytro’s Bar and Bistro II

343 North Creek Drive

Festus MO.
Taytro's on Facebook

I’d taken it easy all day trying to rest this persistent disease away. Angel, once again, was running around doing dog things since early morning. She conducted a class in the morning and after that loaded up Jade, a beautiful and lively American bulldog to the PetSmart in Manchester for their weekly adoption event. Jade’s a great dog, which we are fostering for C.A.R.E. She’s been learning some basic manners while at the house. She’s very good at ‘HOWDY!!’ meaning she really, really loves new people. Angel’s working on making her enthusiastic initial greetings a little more lady-like.
I got up from my medicinal nap just after Angel and Jade got back. No luck finding a home this day, but there was a family that seemed interested, they’ll call. (Sometimes they actually do)
Adam announced that his choice for the meal was Taytro’s, a new place that we lunched at a while back and was on our list for an evening meal.
The Place:
On top of a hill above the intersection of highway A and 61/67. It shares a small strip mall with the ATT store, and a couple of other things, maybe a tanning salon. The lot was crowded for the few businesses that were open. We stepped in and found the people. There were only a couple of tables still empty. It’s not a large place to begin with, it was formerly a small pizza parlor.
The large bar had seats available and the tabled patrons were mostly having Po’ Boys and beer. We’d had their sandwiches last time and were looking forward to something a little more dinner-like. A few extra decorations had been added perhaps in anticipation of the coming Mardis Gras celebration they were advertising.*
If you recall, Taytro’s is New Orleans-themed, the food is of that style, gumbo, jambalaya, etc. The d├ęcor is also of that style, save the few paintings on display and for sale. They were of colorful animated individual fish from the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ A pretty good job if I may say so.
We were handed our menus by our perky and pretty waitress. The menus were laminated single sheets. No frills, just a list of offerings.
We were soon served our drinks, tea, tea and Coke.
The Food:
My food decision was based simply on a dish that did not list okra as an ingredient. Then the decision came down to shrimp vs. crawfish as the featured meat. Angel announced she was getting the Crawfish Etoufee, I then opted for the shrimp version of the same. ‘Gator’ was also available, maybe next time. (I’ve heard alligator tastes a lot like crocodile.) Adam asked for the pulled pork sandwich with house-made chips. The etoufee came with bread and a house salad featuring their own famous (should be) sweet poppy seed dressing.
Etoufee (pronounced EH-too-FAY) is similar to, though thicker than gumbo. It is usually a browned roux including celery, onions and peppers, (the holy trinity) spiced with cayenne pepper, white pepper and garlic. It is most commonly served with white rice.
The salads were very good, simple, three forms of leafy greens, a tomato chunk, and some shredded white cheese along with some crispy and fresh croutons. The tea was very good. I suppose they got the hint after my last review. It was clear, almost sparkly, dark and had actual flavor. Fresh-brewed.
For an appetizer we ordered the fried ravioli. This is not a New Orleans thing, it’s a St. Louis creation. If you’re going to open a restaurant in the area this appetizer is simply a requirement. It is ravioli, breaded, deep fried and served with a marinara dipping sauce.
The place was filling up and starting to overflow, the wait between courses increased. Not too bad, but there was time to sit with nothing to eat. By the time our dinners arrived our drinks had been refilled twice.
While waiting, a small group came in and waited at the bar, two ladies, two small boys. The apparent mother of the boys was rail thin, very tall, well groomed, scarf, ironed jeans, fashionable shoes. Her hair was long and deliberately styled to not look styled at all, country club chic. Her small boys ran amok while she looked around in every direction but theirs. I formed a personal opinion about her that was not entirely favorable. Angel had glanced at her as well. “The word ‘princess’ pops to mind.” I said. Angel looked back at her and shrugged her shoulders. “That reminds me” she said “your daughter called.” I didn’t get the connection. This lady was arrogant, narcissistic and obviously spoiled. My daughter is beautiful, sweet and deserving of all the good things life can offer her. No comparison.
The main courses finally arrived, not too intimidating. A shallow bowl/plate filled with a thick brown creamy base with small chunks and whole blackened shrimps. Rising out of the stew in tall, white, rounded mounds was the rice. Sprinkled over the entire plate was finely chopped parsley, little dark spots of the herb had landed at the tip of my two rice piles which gave the mounds a distinct resemblance to a fine, pale, small but perky set of breasts rising out of the bowl. I showed it to Adam, he snickered. I showed it to Angel, she didn’t. I said “Boobies” and she rolled her eyes, which is what she does when I say something incredibly funny.
Angel’s plate included two small, whole crawdads** on one edge. Each plate came with grilled bread which Angel said tasted like the steak that had used the same grill, a very nice touch. There was plenty of shrimp/crawfish, enough to last the entire meal. The roux was a little spicy, just enough to make my nose start running, not enough to blow me out of my chair. The overall taste was excellent, thick, rich and savory. The rice was a little too sticky for my liking, but once broken apart and integrated with the stew it was just fine. There was just enough food that I couldn’t quite finish. Adam made short time of his sandwich; he even shared his home chips (actually we stole some from his plate), they were as good as any potato chip I’ve ever had.
Summary:
This is a great place. The food is delightful, the staff was attentive, though busy. The dedicated bartender who looked just like Blaine (Kurt’s current love interest and leader of ‘The Warblers’) on the TV Show ‘GLEE’ stayed busy and friendly but remained confident. Taytro’s owner strolled through and chatted with some of those waiting to be seated. He seemed content, as well he should, this new place is very, very good. The overall atmosphere was pleasant, nothing too loud or too bright. It is popular though and can crowd up pretty quickly. The bill was reasonable, coming in at forty eight dollars and change, around what we’ve paid at other bar/grills recently, less than similar fare at a chain restaurant. The overall selection is rather small, which is as much a plus as a minus, it’s a very manageable menu.
We highly recommend this place, we will frequent it.

*Taytro’s Mardis Gras celebration! Saturday March 5th starting at 2 P.M. Live music, face painting and ‘games’. PLUS more hurricanes (see previous review) than should be legal.

**Crawdad and crawfish are used interchangeably herein. If you haven’t tried them, you are really missing out. Though related to lobsters the tail meat actually tastes more like crab. It’s a lot of work making a meal out of them with only about a tablespoon of meat per medium sized critter. Louisiana was, as of a few years ago, responsible for 90% of the world’s supply of harvested crawdads, and Louisianans eat about 70% of those themselves. They know a thing or two.