Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

4587 Hunter Lane
Byrnes Mill, Mo



This was a near last-minute decision. No one in the clan had given much thought to eating out this weekend and no one wanted to make a decision. I suggested Los Portales out of lack of a better idea, Angel offered up another Mexican joint, Cinco de Mayo, a place we don’t get to very often. I thought that was better choice for the very reason that we don’t get there often.
The Place:
Alongside highway 30 in Byrnes Mill/House Springs. It’s an orange, faux-adobe structure topped with a big yellow sign. The parking lot was packed pretty tight. Inside, the place itself was nearly filled. The hostess had to think for a moment about where to seat us. She took us to the left this time to what probably used to be the smoking section. The interior walls were also orange and heavily populated with beer signs. Two big, flat TV’s mutely played ESPN, neither TV was in eyesight of our booth.
A young man rushed up and introduced himself as our waiter. He asked about drinks, and against better judgment I asked for tea. Angel went for Diet Pepsi and Adam, the regular Pepsi. Angel recalled that the last time we’d been there that the tea was horrible. I remembered that too, it was a flowery concoction that tasted a little like hand lotion. At the time the manager said that they were thinking of canceling the tea vendor’s contract. Apparently they had, the tea I was given didn’t taste like hand lotion anymore, it tasted like nothing at all.
There were large parrots painted on the windows and several faux-parrots hanging from the ceiling, enough immobile parrots that I kind of expected a Monty Python sketch to break out at any moment.
The Food:
The chips arrived shortly, a big basket, along with a beaker of salsa. Adam poured the lumpy stuff into the provided bowl and the crunching began in earnest as we scanned the menus.
 Burritos, tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, various combinations of beef, pork, chicken and shrimp. Oddly, ‘parrot’ was not listed anywhere.
I finally decided on a chicken chimichanga which included rice and refried beans. Angel, a fan of most things seafood, decided on shrimp pollo which sounded exciting to me until I found out that it was not a sport involving smacking a little ball around with a mallet whilst riding saddled shrimp, I’d pay to see that. No, it simply meant a dish of shrimp and chicken. She said later that she’d actually wanted the fajitas, served sizzling on a blazing hot iron platter, but with her still-recovering left arm she thought it might simply be too dangerous. A wise plan being as merely shampooing her hair has proven almost lethal.
Nachos Supreme
Adam went simple, the Nachos Supreme (chicken). No one was really pushing the edge, pretty basic stuff. So we sat and munched on the thin, some might say too thin chips. Many of them broke off scooping up the moderately thick, spicy salsa. Nearly half the chips in the basket were barely more than crumbs, we’d been served from the bottom of the bag.
The people kept flowing in, it was nearly stacked to the rafters with people, a bustling, busy place amped up in energy by the classic rock radio station playing ‘Walkin’ on Sunshine’ and other upbeat anthems overhead.  No mariachi, corridos, ranchera, or even creepy narco-corridos*, it was all-American rock, which clashed with the parrot and palm on adobe theme of the restaurant. About as Mexican in overall ambiance as Taco Bell.
Call me old fashioned, call me a traditionalist call me a romantic, call  me a hapless idiot, but when I go to a place-themed restaurant I like music from that area. Chinese, Italian, Greek, Mexican, even Kentucky Fried Chicken, I want music from the place. Is that too much to ask?
Chimichanga
Another basket of chips arrived, the very busy place was keeping the young, pale, all-American staff on their toes. There used to be Mexicans working there, none could be seen this evening. Not necessarily a problem, but all my favorite Mexican joints are owned or at least operated by Latinos. I’m not meaning to be racist, but I really believe the best Mexican food is made by Mexicans.
The wait grew longer. I was almost full from the addictive chips and salsa. Our waiter, not named Pedro, Jose or Miguel, but rather ‘Kyle’ came out and apologized, saying that the ‘party of twenty one’ was almost done being served and our order would follow that one shortly.
About one third or less of the way into the second basket of chips, a young lady brought a third basket, saying “your server said you wanted more.”
Okay, the place was busy, but not beyond advertised capacity. In all, three people stopped by to check on us. None offered drink refills.
The food finally did arrive; Adam and I got our plates a full several minutes ahead of Angel’s. Awkward waiting ensued.
Chimichanga: A deep-fried burrito.
So what I expected was a crunchy tortilla wrap. No, it wasn’t. It didn’t look as though it had been anywhere near cooking oil. The tortilla cut like a fresh one, even doughy on the ends. There was no crunch to it at all. The taste wasn’t bad, but it was a burrito, not a chimichanga. In the middle of the plate was a pile of green avocado puree, guacamole, which at best I am not a huge fan of, but in this case it had absolutely no flavor at all. Something that green should have a stronger taste. There was also a smattering of shredded lettuce and tiny pieces of tomato topped by a dollop of sour cream. I cut the chimichanga/burrito and swirled everything together. It would have been better with a crunchy element, but it wasn’t bad, though it lacked any ‘zing’.
Shrimp Pollo
Angel enjoyed hers thoroughly. She said that the chicken was moist, almost buttery and the onions, peppers, shrimp and mushrooms were all very good. Adam didn’t say a lot about his nachos but he did eat more than half and didn’t complain other than ‘The chips were too thin.’ They used the same fragile, wafer-thin (yet another Monty Python reference) chips in the nachos as were in the baskets.


Summary:
We had our fill and the food was pretty good to excellent. The crowd may have led to the several service slips, the unsolicited chip glut, the complete lack of drink refills and the delays. These are typical anywhere when staff is stretched thin. They worked hard to be sure, but you could almost see on their faces the overwhelming pressure to just get through the busy night. It’s chief among reasons I don’t care for really busy places.
The bill came to only thirty three dollars and change, a good bargain for the amount of food. I didn’t tip very much, too many service mistakes. I’ve seen servers thrive in such chaos, this gets tipped well. There were no catastrophic errors here, just no one rising to the occasion and too many small errors.
I was hoping for something a little more fresh and bright. My food was certainly okay, but it lacked punch, zing, sparkle. The rice, beans and chicken all pretty much tasted alike. Angel even said that as good as hers was, it didn’t seem Mexican at all, more like Mexican-lite.
I’d like to go back, but only if the crowd was smaller, to give them a chance to shine. The place is certainly popular, which says a lot.

_____________

*Narco corridos: Ballads about drug trafficking and related violence, I’m not making this up, they’re quite common.



El Cinco de Mayo on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Waffle House

Store # 1163
Festus, Mo.



Before we get started, I would like to extend a sad farewell to a beloved local eatery. Last week Bobby Munzert’s closed.
We always liked Bobby’s, though our last visit had some issues. The steaks were first class and the location was convenient. I’m really going to miss the German fries.
I don’t have the inside scoop on why it shut down, but it will be missed. Perhaps it was a little pricy for this small burg. It always seemed to be busy, but the economy is what it is, if that was the problem.
Restaurants come and go, it’s quite common in the business. Customers can be fickle and the slightest infraction can turn diners away forever. There’s a lot of competition for people looking for something to eat, home cooking included and it’s a seriously tough business.
So long Bobby, and thanks for the many excellent meals!

On Saturday, Angel was suffering medicine induced nausea. She’d had surgery on her elbow and wrist earlier in the week. Her arm was taped up and braced into a semi-permanent bend. She’s fine, recovering nicely, as long as she lays off the pain killers. It’s hilarious though. Any time she moves her arm out of the way of something her hand pops up into the air like an eager third grader that knows the answer. So for a few days now every time she does it I say “Yes, Angel, you have a question?”  It was gut splitting funny the first twenty or so times, and only gets funnier as time goes by.
Anyway we deferred this week’s outing to Sunday. She’d stated she wanted breakfast this week, and was bound and determined to see it through when she was not nauseous. So Saturday night we just grabbed some chicken strips from Hardee’s for her while the boy and I had burgers. It didn’t seem all that good though and Angel summed up the reason. “When you’re really wanting breakfast, nothing else will do.”
Sunday she was feeling better so we didn’t waste a moment. As soon as the dogs were fed and tucked away we hopped into the family truckster and hit the road for Festus. She drove, as she always does. It was just funnier this time watching her negotiate the big SUV with only one arm.  Parking was a real hoot.
At one point as she was adjusting her seatbelt, from the back Adam said “Yes, mom, you have a question?”  We laughed and laughed. . .
Mine!
The Place:
               A brightly lit, welcoming place above the interstate ramp. I think all Waffle Houses are on interstate ramps, though I could be wrong.  The template for WH is old-school diner. A long bar, a few booths, tight seating. From the bar you see it all. There’s no cooking behind walls, it’s all right there bare, naked raw, right in front of you. You order a couple of eggs you see them come out of the basket, get expertly cracked, and competently tended. You can watch the excess batter ooze out of the waffle irons as your order is made. It’s basic, quick and delicious.
We sat at a booth near the middle. There’s a smoking section and a non smoking section, though the distinction in the small place is impossible to determine. There are no dividers or special fans that  I could see. Most times this sort of thing bothers  me, but here the odor helped mask the sickly sweet syrup aroma. Maple syrup is my Kryptonite. I get sickly symptoms from the mere smell of it. It’s a long story that I’ve told before. I won’t repeat it here.
The place was buzzing, three quarters full early on a cold Sunday evening. Somewhere in this great nation powerful football men were facing off for a championship of some sort, but not here. No music, no TV’s no rolling news feed. There was a credit card ready juke box device, but no one was feeding it so it sat silent, sulking perhaps, the entire time we were there.
The only noise was the calling of orders and the happy chatter between the staff and the regulars. There seemed to be several regulars. Mostly middle age bearded men in work-wear coveralls or cammies or sweatshirts and jeans. They teased with the young female staffers, almost flirtatious, as if they actually had a shot. The girls, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, just a reflection of their relative age, played along like troopers. All harmless banter. I know this because my lovely and beloved daughter worked in a Waffle House as a teenager and quickly learned to banter and flirt with the best of them. She got it, these girls got it, it’s all part of the play.
We were attended and welcomed by Nicki and the trainee Jamie. Nicki was a seasoned pro despite her youth. Jamie looked eager and attentive and took on some of the menial tasks crucial to the operation of an eatery with pride.
They handed us the colorful, place mat-like laminated menus. They asked about drinks. Even though it was Sunday I was giddy. Monday was a work holiday for me so I didn’t have to get up on Monday. Any week you don’t have to get up on Monday morning is a good week, worthy of minor celebration. What it meant, why I was giddy, was that I could have coffee with my meal.
I used to drink coffee all day every day. Then old age set in and it started keeping me awake at night. Recently I’ve cut back a lot. I usually have no more than two cups a day, often less. This also means I will not pour nor accept anything less than good quality coffee. I’m not going to drink bitter, industrial swill if all I get is a very little. WH’s coffee is not gourmet, but it is always fresh.
The Heraldic Banner of George Calvert,
1st Baron Baltimore, on a license plate.
Coke and Diet Coke for Adam and Angel, but I got a steamy mug of fresh Joe.  I liked the thick, heavy mug. I said as much asking Angel if they sold the cups. She thought so, but wasn’t sure. Something about the contour of the cup seemed personal and not so mass-produced. The logo was the sell though. Black, Gold (yellow) red and white. It’s a color combination that I find attractive. I know this because it is the same color scheme as Maryland’s flag, which I consider to be one of the prettiest state flags.  I  was always proud of my Maryland license plates because they bore those colors. But I digress.
The Food:
If there were no penalty against it, monetary or nutritional, we’d just tell them to start bringing us plate loads of everything on the menu. Well, except for maybe the grits. It’s hard to choose a meal at WH. It’s like choosing a dog at the rescue kennel, you simply want them all.
I knew I wanted hash browns, they do the shredded tater perfectly at WH. Other than that I was willing to take just about anything and everything else. Adam and Angel were of the same mind.
It took us a few minutes, almost an entire cup of coffee’s amount of time to come up with a satisfactory combination.
Angel chose the hash browns with every available option except for peppers and chili. She added bacon and scrambled eggs and asked for raisin bread as her choice of toast. Adam had the All Star, a little of everything, replacing the grits with hash browns and having his eggs scrambled and a side of white toast. The All Star also included a world-famous waffle. When he asked for the grits/hash brown substitution Nicki exclaimed “Certainly!” as if he’d just won a prize.
“Not a fan of grits?” I asked her. She paused, Jamie panicked.  Nicki, I said she was a pro, came back. “Between the two I personally prefer hash browns to grits.”
“So what you are saying is that the grits here aren’t any good?” I suggested.
Jamie giggled, Nicki flushed.
“No, no, in fact the grits here are very good, I just prefer hash browns myself, it’s a texture thing.”
“So the texture of the grits here is disgusting?”
This went on for a while.
I ordered hash browns, smothered (onions), covered, (cheese) with only a little country (gravy.) I added bacon and eggs, over-medium and wheat toast. She wrote this up without a pause. I heard the order called, the grill master acknowledged.
In only a few minutes the food arrived, on too many plates for the small table. Nicki pushed all the bacon into one plate to save room. “Three slices each, I don’t want to see you guys fighting over it.” She instructed.
I asked about the cups, sure enough they sold them. “We’ve got three different kinds, and one we call the mother of all mugs. I’ll show them to you if you like.” I returned a ‘yes’ to that. Then we dug in.
My cup was topped off a couple of times, steamy, hot, fresh.
The food was all perfect, flawless. The bacon was thick and crispy, the eggs were picture-perfect, the hash browns crispy on the top and edges. Sure enough they’d given me half the gravy that Angel had, exactly what I wanted.
There was little conversation as we tore thought the dishes, sopping up and moaning ‘Mmm’s” almost caveman-like in raw, carnivorous delight.
Nicki dropped off the tab, and noticed Angel’s arm. “What happened?” She asked familiarly. “She had it coming.” I replied.
They discussed nerves and pains and other quease-inducing things for a moment. We’d sopped up every bit and  I decided to ask again about the mugs.
“You were going to show me your cups?” I asked.
Her face wrinkled up. “It sounds kind of strange when you say it that way.”  She brought them and I decided the one in my hand , though not the cheapest at five bucks, was the style I wanted.
“Do you want the one you have or one in a box?”
I looked down at the cup. “This one’s dirty, I think its been used.”
“I can get you a new one hon’.”
“I’m not your ‘hon’.”
She got it, that I was just funning her along. “I can get you a fresh one if you want.” She insisted.
“No, that’s okay, I like this one, it already has coffee in it.”
Summary:
In the ritual of going around the table for thoughts, comments and opinions, the clan of introverts that is my family offered up very little, but what they did say said it all.
Angel : “Yum!”
Adam : “I concur.”
I distracted them with thoughts of my own, how the menu was simple, the dishes simple, but simple food is very hard to do perfectly, consistently.  Finally Angel opened up:
“Just like I always wished my mom could make it.” She yelled at me when I wrote that down, so I promised not to publish it. I lied.
The bottom line is this. Waffle House, this one and every other one we’ve been to nails it, every time. Sure the recipes are not complex, but when you order your egg ‘over medium’ and ask for just a little gravy, you get exactly that.
The bill came in at thirty six dollars, including the coffee cup. Not bad at all since most of our orders were a-la-carte.
Later that evening I was on the phone with my younger brother Jeff. As soon as I mentioned Waffle House he got as excited and animated as I’ve ever seen or heard him. Jeff knows food, he makes the best pizza, from scratch, that I’ve ever had. That’s not by accident, he worked at it, he tried this and that and this and that until every component was exactly as he wanted it. He also smokes meat that melts in your mouth and just about everything he cooks is guarantied to be near perfect. He’s a state certified master gardener and works at a blueberry(etc.) farm so he knows his produce. He doesn’t mince words either. He’s not going to say he likes something, ever, unless he really means it. He is no one’s yes-man.
“If there is a restaurant on this planet that is my favorite, it’s Waffle House. It don’t matter if you’re in the one in Amarillo, Little Rock, Hopkinsville, Oak Grove or even Albuquerque.”
I knew this about him. He used to travel a lot more than he does now. He lived in El Paso for quite a while before taking on the yeoman’s task of being the dutiful filial son and moving into a house in  Kentucky, a mere block from our saintly yet aging parents. He would often comment that the best food on the road, any road, could be found right there under the yellow and black sign, in a simple diner setting, where the smell of syrup masks the smell of the smoke and the old farts tease and flirt with the young ladies that work there.

Waffle House on Urbanspoon




Monday, January 14, 2013

Poppy’s Ristorante



2004 N Truman Blvd
Crystal City, MO


Had the weather reports earlier in the week predicted correctly, we would have been covered by nearly a foot of snow, what we had instead though was a dreary, cold rain. We need the rain, the Mighty Mississippi is low, threatening to halt barge traffic. I doubt that the heavy, prolonged showers we got on Saturday will solve the problem, but at least it would slow it down. Two days in the fifties and sixties followed by an all day rain, I wasn’t too worried about having to shovel out this weekend.
So we headed out in the cold drizzle, to Crystal City, North of the town’s center on Truman Boulevard also known as Highway 61/67.
The Place:
Adjoined to the Quonset Lanes, a bowling alley, Poppy’s is a nice place. The interior is lined and furnished with ornate heavy wood, almost church-like, very stylish. Not at all the industrial, mass-produced furnishings found at strip mall diners and cafes.
We stepped through the puddles, relieved to see the ‘Immediate Seating’ neon sign lit up. Sure enough there were several empty tables and we were led to one immediately, as promised.
We were handed menus and asked about drinks. I went out on a limb and asked for tea, Angel inquired about and ordered a Diet Dr. Pepper, and Adam a Pepsi. A few moments later Angel was informed that they were out of DDr. P, so she switched it to the full octane Dr. P.
Overhead, Sirius XM ‘The Blend’ was playing some good tunes.

The Food:
They brought the drinks and rolls, big rolls, fantastic rolls. Light, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and warm enough to melt the butter. The tea was fresh, bright and tasty.
The menu was simple and well laid out. It didn’t take very long for us to be ready to order. I’d had the cannelloni a couple of times already and was determined to have something else this time. The waitress had told us about a couple of specials, one in particular sounded pretty good. The penne pasta special  included green onions, chicken and bacon in a white sauce. I added the Greek salad.
Angel went for the Pasta Con Pesce again, a seafood and linguine plate she’d had before, and of course she added the Greek salad as well.
Adam jumped at a new (to us) item on the menu, Buffalo Chicken Penne. He added the soup instead of a salad.
Penne Special
I stole Angel’s Angry Bird Machine, her smart phone, and played a couple of rounds. I’d started playing this silly game over the holidays, a little here and there, refusing to become addicted to it. I’m not a ‘game’ person, but something about the simple concept and the ability to try a level again and again and again without penalty had hooked me for the time being. As with all other games I’ve ever played though I will surely grow bored with it pretty soon.
Pasta Con Pesce
The salads and soup arrived in good time. The salad was piled high and very pretty. There’s a problem with Poppy’s salad though, the plate is too small. To cut the pepper and onion slices means that lettuce will fall off onto the table, not a lot of working room. There’s nothing at all wrong with the freshness or the taste though, nothing at all.  There were plenty of olives as well, not those tight polished orbs you get out of a cheap jar, these were irregular, rough, and had a much deeper flavor.
Buffalo Chicken Penne
The salads and soup disappeared and shortly the main courses arrived. Heaping, steaming pastas. A LOT of pasta. My penne was creamy and smoky, with chunks of chicken and green onions and lots of bacon bits. The creamy sauce was rich and  savory, buttery. My pasta bowl was not quite as large as the other two, but I knew there was still much more than I could deal with in one sitting.
Angel never ran out of shrimp chunks. She too had to admit to defeat though, there was enough pasta on our three plates to feed Europe.
Adam picked through his, I could tell something was wrong. I finally pried it out of him. “I’m not a big  Ranch Dressing guy.” 
He likes hot wings and said that sure enough the hot-wing taste was consistent and the spiciness was not overpowering. They had laid on as a sauce, a big dollop of ranch. Though the tastes were all as-advertised it was simply a better plan on paper than in execution.
We asked for two boxes, Adam wasn’t taking his leftovers home.
Summary:
A few minor points, but otherwise Poppy’s is a place we like quite well.
While we were dining, three or four uniformed staff members gathered at a table near the door.  This is usually a big no-no in higher end places. One reason is that, sure enough, the ladies eventually started talking about work and some of the customers, dirty laundry being aired in front of paying guests. They weren’t too loud really, but if I were the owner I don’t think I’d like them talking shop in the dining area like that. It’s just not good form.
The biggest complaint we had though was the portions. This is a silly thing to consider a problem, but it is something Poppy’s may want to take a look at. There’s no fixed formula, but if the majority of your guests are boxing up half or more of their meal, you might reconsider portion size.
Pasta is heavy, the sauces are rich and creamy. Milk-based sauces don’t digest/break down quickly. For that reason that it’s far easier to quickly drink a gallon of water or even beer than it is to drink a gallon of milk. In fact, it is nearly impossible. Ergo, milk/cream and cheesy sauces are much, much more ‘filling’ than tomato based sauces.
There’s simply no profit in sending half meals out the door, even though the price is not really bad.
Our meal cost us fifty five and change, it would have been ten dollars less had we remembered to bring our coupon. We’re on their mailing list and they send out coupons fairly often, though we never seem to remember to take them.
Poppy’s is a very good place. The food is awesome, there’s simply too much of it if that sort of thing can be considered a problem. The d├ęcor is classy, different and quite nice, the staff, aside from the front of house get-togethers were all professional and efficient. I highly recommend this place, the food is much better than and price-comparable to the franchise sports bars.



Poppy's Ristorante on Urbanspoon





Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lam's Garden

510 Bailey Rd
Crystal City, Mo




Yeah, I know, chronologically it looks like we’ve been spending a lot of time at Chinese places.  That’s because we were in Springfield, Mo. a few weeks ago and one simply must have Chinese there, and that sort of gave us an appetite for more. However last week we didn’t have Chinese, we went to Ruby Tuesday’s thanks to a generous gift card from my lovely and sweet sister. I didn’t write it up since we were there in November, so I told the family I’d only write it up if there were any significant changes or occurrences. There weren’t.  It was a good meal.
The Place:
Lam’s is a little tough to find behind the storefronts on Main Street. There’s plenty of parking. The exterior walls were adorned with modest murals and signage, just inside the front door was a large, heavily and stylishly decorated Christmas tree. At the counter there was a smaller white plastic one. Apparently the colorful Chinese calendars were being ignored. Large, red paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, I don’t think they were part of the holiday decorations. There were lots of tables in the front and off to the side a row of booths. The booth table tops were laminated with glossy, colorful murals of waterfalls.
Lam’s is not a buffet, so we were handed menus. I prefer buffets, and the rest of this review will make it very clear why.
The Food:
Green pepper steak
I struggled with the menu. One protein, one of two kinds of rice, and a choice of either two crab Rangoons two wontons, or an egg roll.  Angel suggested that we get some half-order sides to fill out the meal, add some variety. We ordered our drinks and were shortly given our tea, Diet Coke and Coke. Fortunately the tea was clear and not too bad, I’d had concerns. We asked for a little more time with the menus though I was the only actual holdout, Angel and Adam had pretty much walked in with their orders in mind. Last time we were at Lam’s I’d had the chicken pepper steak and found it okay, but as the only protein, too much savory. I considered sweet and sour but Lam’s uses that heavily tempura-battered style of cooking the chicken for that dish, it makes the chicken look like mini corn dogs, too bready.
General Tsao
The choice for me narrowed to sesame and General Tsao. The problem I had with the General is that they put some heat into that, and depending where you are, maybe a bit too much heat. The problem with sesame is that some places make that way too sweet. Then Angel suggested that half order of something else, like beef pepper steak. That seemed like a good fit to cut the sweet of the sesame. My mind was tacitly made up by the time the lady returned for our order. We went around the table.
Angel, unsurprisingly asked for the cashew style chicken since Lam’s uses a recipe that is similar to what they use in Springfield. (Emphasis on the word ‘similar’) She asked for the egg roll which surprised me a little, she’s very picky about egg rolls. (Canton Inn in Springfield being the benchmark.) She added the pepper beef and added a half order of beef and broccoli. She told the lady to not bring rice with the two half-orders. Adam ordered the General Tsao’s which I appreciated, it would give me a chance to taste it in case the sesame disappointed or for the next time we went there. He asked for plain rice instead of fried rice, since he doesn’t like little extras like veggie chunks, egg, and flavor in his rice.
“That’s a lot of food!” the middle aged Chinese seemed impressed.
“We share.” Angel replied to try to make us not look like porcine gluttons.
Beef and broccoli
For the short wait we discussed entertainment options for later in the evening. It was decided to stop at Blockbuster on the way out of town. I don’t like going to Blockbuster, it’s depressing. Blockbuster is well past its prime, and it shows. The overhead TV’s are all big CRT types, the type that even the most run down of bars got rid of nearly five years ago. The shelves, once proud of their status as cutting edge with the latest in movies are half bare, unable to keep up with the newer, alternative media formats. Much the way Blockbuster all but wiped out locally owned, mom and pop video stores, they themselves have now been outdone.
The food arrived in two deliveries. It all looked very good. There also seemed to be a lot of it. Lam’s portions are generous and three full meals plus two half orders filled the table.
Cashew Chicken
I cautiously tried the sesame chicken. Good, not too sweet. The chicken chunks were quite large, I’d rather see them a bit smaller. Each nugget required double cutting.
The fried rice was brown, too brown. Sure enough to my taste buds they had overdone the soy sauce. There were indeed chunks of veggie and egg in the rice, but it all tasted the same due to the sauce.
The pepper beef veggies were spot on, the sauce seemed just right and the peppers and onions were cooked, just barely, just right. The beef itself though was a bit…. And I’m reluctant to say this, too salty.
Sesame Chicken
Working the sweet/savory/sweet/savory worked for a while. The first thing I gave up on was the beef though, followed shortly by the rice. I used the pretty-good but not great egg roll to cut the sweet, but halfway in had to give that up as well.
Angel and Adam didn’t seem to have the problem. They lapped theirs up at full speed without complaint.
I tried the cashew and the General chicken. I thought the General was quite good, not too hot as I’d worried. The cashew style was weak, tame. It had the taste of the Springfield style, but not as strong. It was a lot like brown gravy. Angel said that it was good, almost light. Adam said his General Tsao tasted great, but the chunks themselves were too fatty. As for the egg roll, I asked the expert. She shrugged. They both agreed that the broccoli on their dishes was great. (blech).
Summary:

The staff at Lam's is unbeatable, my favorite part of the experience. They're affable, energetic and enthusiastic. Always at the ready to whisk away a plate or refill a drink.

We discussed the food, specifically my less-than-stellar opinion of it  like this like it was a serious family problem. They were quite pleased with the meal, I was not. Angel was keen on the fact that I seemed to have an over-active sensitivity to saltiness. I can’t disagree completely, of all the things I’ve ever railed about in all these reviews, too salty is the top of the list, by more than a mile. So keep that in mind. I rarely if ever add salt at the table to anything. If you do add salt to things then understand that my sensitivity is more than yours and adjust my review to that perspective. They thoroughly enjoyed the meal, I simply didn’t.
Thus the discussion about buffets. If this were a buffet, I could have sampled a little of a dozen or so things, pushed aside the rejects and seconded on the better choices. Perhaps I’m spoiled by buffets. Why this applies to Chinese food and not other styles I’m not sure. I’ve been to several buffets where I didn’t care for one thing or another, but just went with something else and was quite happy.
Then there was the price. Chinese food is almost always a bargain. We can eat at a buffet, or even Lam’s for half what we pay at Ruby Tuesday’s. I can only fairly compare Chinese to Chinese. We had to over-order at Lam’s to get a reasonable variety. Thus the bill came in at over thirty five dollars, nearly ten dollars more than the buffet down the road.
So for me, Lam’s is not worth it. It's only a little better, to me, than the little Chinese restaurant in Hillsboro. You order a dish that isn’t quite to your liking after all, and you’re done.  I’m sure many people enjoy Lam’s, Angel and Adam certainly do. But if it is ever up to me to choose a Chinese place, it will be a buffet, almost any buffet.