Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lamai Birthday Event

Lamai's birthday is coming up! On Tuesday, September 26th, she will be having an extended buffet from 11am to 9pm -- which will include Thai Sukiyaki.

Thai Sukiyaki is an interesting dish -- supposedly one that came to a street vendor in a dream. It bears little resemblance to Japanese Sukiyaki other than it is a "self-cook" dish. Lamai puts out a large simmering pot of broth, a few strainers, and a whole bunch of raw ingredients, including seafoods, some very thinly sliced meats, vegetables and cellophane noodles. You fill your strainer, and dip it in the broth to cook, then dump it in your bowl and cover it with this pink Thai Suki sauce. It reminds me a little of Chinese sa tsa sauce -- five spice with a touch of salty dried shrimp flavor. (I myself like to have a little broth in the bowl too, although Lamai doesn't approve.) NOTE: the pink sauce is blazingly hot, use with care.

The main problem with the sukiyaki is that Lamai only has a couple of strainers, so there ends up quite a crowd waiting around the pot. Also, when she first fills the pot, it takes it a while to come up to heat. (Note: most of the ingredients she has laid out for cooking are quick cooking -- you don't need to boil it to death. Shrimp, for instance, is cooked when it is no longer translucent -- depending on the kind of shrimp, it doesn't always turn bright pink.)

But aside from the sukiyaki, there will be the pad thai noodles and fresh eggrolls, and salads and curries and stirfries. Sometimes she has spicey stir-fried dumplings, or little seafood custards.

Odds are, Tuesday will be a very tasty day.

Thai Food From Lamai's Kitchen, 2033 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing. (517) 267-3888.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sultan's Restaurant

The main Sultan's location in Hannah Plaza has a bread oven. Yes, fresh hot hand-made pita bread. (At least when the oven is fired up -- which it usually is at dinner time.) A big basket of hot bread, a bowl of their lentil soup and a plate of babaganouj, and you might forget to leave room for the generously portioned main course. (I often take home a huge box of leftovers.)

The lean and well seasoned grilled meats are premiere here. There's lamb and beef and chicken. Probably one of the more popular dinners is the Chicken Shawarma. (Shawarma is what many of us think of a gyro meat: chopped and seasoned meat formed into a big roll, and then put on a hot rotisserie. The chef cuts off strips as the meat sears and sizzles.) All the chicken dishes are served with this intensely garlicky yoghurt sauce that is a favorite. The Shish Combo (pictured below) provides samples of a couple of the grilled meats, and both kinds of sauce.

A few other favorite dishes: The salads are good, and I think they have the best fattouch in town -- this is a large salad of crunchy toasted pita bread, along with the usual tomatoes, peppers, onions and lettuce. Gallaya (below) is another of my favorites -- a cross between a stirfry and a stew with chicken in mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and seasonings.

Sultan's also serves good fries, when you have kids or other cautious eaters with you.

They have two locations in the Lansing area:
Sultan's -- Hannah Plaza on Hagadorn in East Lansing
Sultan's Express -- 305 S Washington Sq, in downtown Lansing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Drive-bys - August 29, 2006

*Lazeez isn't open yet, but they now have up a giant sign with a neon message "Open 24 hours". Hmmm. That sounds great for those times when you're coming home late from work.

*Lou and Harry's had a sign that they were opening up a new location on Coolidge, but that sign is now gone. Perhaps they backed out? Or perhaps, like Lazeez, they are just taking longer to get started than they expected.

*PET PEEVE: It's pronounced broos-KET-ta. Bruschetta, that lovely Italian toast that you can put all kinds of toppings on (or just rub with garlic and dip in a little olive oil), is not pronounced "bru-shet-ta." It's pronounced "broos-KET-ta". Repeat after me: Broos-KET-ta. In Italian, an "h" makes a "c" into a hard "k" sound. (The fast food industry has a lot to answer for!)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lou and Harry's Greek Grill

Lou and Harry's Greek Grill in East Lansing, has the best gyro in town. I don't know where they get their meat -- it comes in oval patties rather than on the classic big shwarma roll you see in a lot of gyro places. However, it is perfectly spiced, and they sear the patties on the grill to crisp, carmelized perfection. Their pita is the thicker Greek-style, which they also heat on the grill.

I'm not a fan of their seasoned fries -- but I'm not a fan of coated or seasoned fries in the first place -- so if I get a combo, I like to get their Greek salad. They have a nice, sharp dressing that isn't shy, but is also not too vinegary. And the salad itself has a nice balance of feta cheese, peppers, onions and olive, as well as the lettuce, tomato and cuke.

There are a lot other popular items on the menu, from chicken sandwiches and burgers to fancier salads and a great selection of Greek deli foods like moussaka or Greek spaghetti. They have specials Monday through Thursday, combos of burgers, chicken sandwiches and the original gyro. I don't recall offhand which days for which special, but gyros are Wednesdays.

L & H Five Star Deli on Ann Street (next to El Azteco) is also owned by Lou and Harry's and serves excellent sandwiches. For a long time, they didn't have a grill, so their gyros weren't as good (they put them through a broiler instead --and it just didn't reach that crispy, seered texture), but I notice they are offering burgers there, so I assume their gyros are now cooked on a grill, and up to the quality of the original location.

The original Lou and Harry's is at at 1139 East Grand River, East Lansing. Phone: (517) 351-0066
The Five Star Deli is at 245 Ann St, East Lansing. Phone: (517) 351-5566

Monday, July 24, 2006

Farewell Taj

For those who didn't know, Taj has closed. I've been expecting this. For the past couple of years they've been showing signs of trouble. First they got stingey with the main ingredients, then with the spices. I think the location -- the old Windmill truckstop west of Frandor -- just wasn't right for them.

They had a wonderful chef, who had a different take on the same old dishes served in other Indian restaurants, plus several great things you didn't see much around here. I hope we see this person's cooking show up somewhere. (Including a truly wonderful appetizer they only offered once, during a special dinner. It was little crispy wafers -- maybe small pappadams -- covered in a chickpea, tomato and onion salad dressed in yogurt and lemon. I may have to set some other food bloggers out on a search for recipes.)

In the meantime, the people who run Sultans have bought the restaurant and will soon be opening Lazeez Grill -- American, Indian and Mediterranean food. More about this next post.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Drive-bys - June 29, 2006

*I notice that a new Lou and Harry's location is going to open up near Frandor. It's on Coolidge -- in the little block between Saginaw and Grand River, near Beaners. Lou and Harry's have the best gyros in town, and lots of other great grill food and Greek deli specialities. (Review of the main restaurant in East Lansing coming soon.)

*A little bird told me that House of Kabobs has relocated -- and have a new location in or near Frandor. Yes!

*Mexico To Go 3 (which moved into House of Kabobs' location on Michigan Avenue) is now open. They have slightly odd hours - 7am to 5pm Mondays and Thursdays, 7am to 9pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They are closed on weekends.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Drive-by - May 29, 2006

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is having a "Taste of Greece" dinner fundraiser. A lot of these sorts of things are ordinary, but sometimes you luck out with food you can't get anywhere else. They say a $10 dinner includes a half a Greek-style roast chicken, rice pilaf, Greek salad, bread, spanakopita (spinach pie) and baklava. Eat in or drive through -- 4:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 8. They're at 1701 East Saginaw in Lansing (corner of Marshall St). 482-7341.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Drive bys - May 27, 2006

I've been off line for a while, due to the loss of a beloved pet, but I'm hoping to catch up with the blog posting soon. Here are a couple of drive-bys to get started:

*House of Kabobs is gone. I'm very sorry to see it go, but I'm not that surprized. Their wraps, which seemed to be the bulk of their business, were inconsistant. I think they really needed a more upscale location and atmosphere, since their best foods were their more expensive "sit down" dishes.

*The good news for those of us in Lansings East Side, is that Mexico To Go is moving into Kabob's space at 1825 East Michigan Avenue. They are much more suited to the "grab a lunch to go" crowd. Plus we've needed a Mexican place on Michigan Ave since Lopez Bakery shut down.

*I see a new restaurant in the 500 block of E. Grand River in East Lansing. Chipotles ("burrito bliss") is a chain restaurant, and here's a review I found on the net (they conclude that it's good but still a chain). They are either next to Flat's Grille, or they replaced Flats, which would make me sad.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Middle East Cafe - a hidden treasure

A Lebanese friend recommended Middle East Cafe to us. He said that Lebanese cooking tends to vary by village, and that this place serves food like his own family's cuisine.

And boy, his family must eat well. My favorites are the Cabbage Rolls. Somehow the perfect balance of tenderness and seasonings. You can get it with meat or vegetarian (in both cases, the filling has a lot of rice -- so if you get the combo, this can replace a rice dish). My other favorite is the Baked Kibbee -- grain and lamb, and pine nuts.

One great thing about this place is that they have a Combo Special, where you pick three items for $6.50. The list includes: Grape Leaves (Meat or Vegi), Baked Kibbee, Meat or Spinach Pie, Shwarma (that's the big roll of gyro meat: Chicken or Beef), Cabbage Rolls, Burgul & Tomatoes, Mujadara (lentils and Cracked wheat), Hummous or Baba Ghanouge, Hashwi (rice, chicken and ground beef), Tabouli (salad of parsley, cracked wheat and tomato).

The worst thing about the place is that's it's hard to find. (Once you know it's there, it's easy, so give it a try.) They are just off West Saginaw on the way out to Lansing Mall, tucked in behind a Tuffy Muffler shop a block or so west of Waverly Road, on the north side of Saginaw.

They are open 8am-10pm weekdays but not weekends. (Hey, the owner has to have time to run to the grocery store once in a while!)

801 W Thomas L Pkwy, Lansing, MI, 48917. 323-9009

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mexico To Go

1825 East Michigan Avenue. 203-4071

A friend of mine who loves authentic Mexican food has been bugging me to try this place. I did and I was pleased. Mexico To Go is cheap, tasty, quick. Makes me hungry just recalling the meal.

They had a three tacos for 2.75 special going on at the time. I had them give me one of each type of filling -- ground beef, chicken and carne asada (stewed beef). They gave me a basket of chips and a squeeze bottle of salsa to go with. (CORRECTION: I meant carne guisada -- which is moist and stewed. They also have excellent carne asada -- roasted chunks of meat, like fajita style. This costs more. But it's also really good.)

The salsa here is kind of mellow -- yes it has a little zip, but it isn't saturated in cumin and sharp flavors. While usually I like all the flavor I can get, I found that this more subtle flavor really brought out the flavor of the other ingredients -- and the other ingredients are choice.

The chicken and carne asada in particular have a great stewed flavor and texture. (The ground beef was okay, but not all that exciting.) The tortillas were fluffy corn tortillas which they had thrown on the grill to heat for me. (If they don't ask if you want the tortillas grilled or heated, be sure to ask, it brings out the flavor and texture.) The chips reminded me a lot of what you get at El Azteco.

I didn't ask for any extras. I went with what the waitress suggested for my first test drive. They may have a hotter sauce if you ask for it, and you could certainly ask for jalapenos if you need more bite.

They are located at 1825 East Michigan Avenue, a couple blocks east of Marshall. (The location on Trowbridge has closed down.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Drive bys - March 29, 2006

*Lamai says she will have her pork ribs on the buffet next week. She said "monday tueday wenday" so I assume this means she plans to have them on April 3rd, 4th and 5th. These are wonderful -- small 2 inch pork ribs, carmelized in a garlicy sweet sauce something like meekrob (which is a kind of savory Thai carmel corn). We call it "meat candy."

*Speaking of Vietnamese food, a favorite recipe blog of mine is Kiki Rice. Interesting, tasty and fun Vietnamese dishes.

Vietnamese Soup

There are a number of Vietnamese restaurants in town, and the best thing at most of them is the soup. Pho is the most famous dish -- a beef soup with rice noodles -- but so far, my favorite soups are the lesser known variations.

Asia's Finest is probably the best Vietnamese restaurant in town. I say probably because I never get past my favorite soup there. Bun Bo Hue (VN12 on the menu) is a spicey soup with wheat noodles. They say on the menu it's a beef soup, but every time I have got it, there has been thinly sliced pork. As with all the soups, it comes in a huge bowl, with a plate of herbs, and shredded raw vegetables and beansprouts that you drop into the hot soup. These soups are generally designed to be eaten with chopsticks (or a fork) and then you drink the broth with the spoon...or okay, when no one is looking, straight out of the bowl.

Asian House in East Lansing has a wonderful soup on the menu as "S2". This one isn't spicey, although it comes with a bottle of hot sauce and hoisin sauce. It's a rich broth with sliced pork, wontons and egg noodles -- plus the usual plate of veggies and herbs.

Eating S2 can be a fun ritual, since it goes so well with the hoisin sauce. Take your ladle-like asian soup spoon, and use your chopsticks or fork to fill it with noodles, a bit of veg, a leaf of basil or cilantro, and maybe a bit of meat, then give it a squirt of hoisin, and slurp it up. Oooooo. Good.

More about other good dishes at these restaurants later....

Asia's Finest, 6443 S. Cedar St in south Lansing. 393-1688
Asian House, 1001 E. Grand River Ave in East Lansing. 332-3950

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Drive-bys - March 19, 2006

*El Azteco West has a sign out that says they have karaoke on fridays at 7pm. (Hmmm. Guess there is somewhere I will NOT be on Fridays....)

*Michelangelo's Deli in Okemos is gone. (I kept meaning to try them: they were supposed to have great corned beef! I can only hope they moved someplace else....) There's a new place in their spot, but the sign is unreadable from the street. I nearly caused an accident trying. Note to new restauranteurs: make your signs simple and legible at a quick glance. If people can't read your sign, they won't know you are there.

*From the Zingerman's Country Baguette bag; "Warning! Baguettes and horseplay aren't allowed - seriously, someone could poke an eye out, so be careful where you point your bread, okay?"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Praise of Lamai's Pad Thai

I was exhausted and hungry when I drove home last night, when I realized I could drip by Lamai's and fill a container with pad thai and fresh eggrolls from the buffet. That perked me up no end.

Lamai is the best cook in town. But her style is home cooking -- she is free with shortcuts and substitutions, no need for fancy ingredients, only great taste. At Thai Food from Lamai's Kitchen, it's all about feeding you well.

I wil certainly wax eloquent about Lamai's cooking again and again here, but for now I'll just talk about her Pad Thai -- she takes the creamy, chewy rice noodles and stir fries them up with some egg and chicken or fried tofu and some vegetables. Then she throws in a ladle of the sauce--sweet and sharp with lemon and a touch salty with soy or fish sauce--and lets that carmelize onto noodles. Sprinkle on some peanuts, and oh, this is heaven.

The hot sauce is served on the side, so you can have it as hot or not as you want. And best you can have as much as you want -- she always has a buffet going (which is a good thing, because at Lamai's it's all about the food, and not about the service). You can get take out buffet by the pound.

Thai Food From Lamai's Kitchen is at 2033 East Michigan Ave, at the corner of Fairview on the east side. It's where Eddie's Chinese restaurant used to be -- and still has the round red awnings over the windows. Her hours are Monday through Saturday 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. Thursdays have special vegetarian dishes, and Friday has seafood. 267-3888.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sparty's Coney Island

(Editors Note: Sparty's no long allows smoking! There is no downside anymore! Except cholesterol, that is.)

300 N Clippert St. (in the Frandor Shopping Center -- in the Video To Go area, next to Aladdins.)

Sparty's Coney Island is the kind of old fashioned greasy spoon diner/grill that places like Johnny Rockets WISH they could be. This is the kind of place that has pictures of local sports teams on the wall, and a big banner for the hockey team they sponsor -- The Coney Island Blue Dawgs. The kind of place with worn formica and too much smoke, and they used to have an Elvis clock -- the kind where the legs swing back and forth to keep time. (That's gone this year. I'm sad.)

And the food is old-fashioned good solid grill food. Burgers, dogs, sausages, gyros, plus BLTs, shrimp baskets and homemade soups. They feature two kinds of Coney Dogs -- "Detroit Soupy and Spicy" or "Flint Meaty". Their fries are REAL fries, the kind you used to be able to get at drugstores and grills everywhere, but now nobody has.

And as with any good old-fashioned grill, they have a truly full breakfast menu: from Sausage Biscuits with Gravy, to Blueberry Pancakes to old fashioned Oatmeal. All good, all bad for you, all at a reasonable price.

Unforutnately the atmosphere here is a little too authentic -- this is a place where all the smokers hang out, and though they do have a non-smoking section, it doesn't really make any difference. Heck, even when there are no smokers in the place, it's saturated with smoke. Because of the smoke, I only go here once or twice a year to have a hotdog and real fries.

However, when I feel like good old-fashioned grilled/fried food, there is another good grill in town: Olympic Broil, at 1320 N Grand River in North Lansing (on the block where Grand River crosses itself and becomes a north/south road -- really an extension of Seymour St.) No smoke, and they feature hand-dipped onion rings and fish filets. (More about them another time.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

East Lansing Food Co-op

Today we were going to go to Zingermans, a deli in Ann Arbor which will merit several blog entries of its own, but we had to cancel. Normally this would be a matter of doom and dispair. See, it's impossible to get really really good bread in Mid-Michigan -- or at least it was until the Co-op started carrying bread from Zingerman's Bakehouse.

The East Lansing Food Co-op is a fine little gourmet store. Yes, you can get health food and organic things. But it's also a place to get really fine cheeses, breads, chocolate, baked goods -- including Zingerman's magic brownies, which are not exactly "health food" unless you consider nourishment of your soul an important part of your health. Some of these items are premium priced -- as gourmet items tend to be. However, you can get good deals too, and the prices are never out of line with the quality of the item.

And there are things you can't get anywhere else. At least not in town. (And frankly, once you start eating Zingerman's bread, you will forget that whole low-carb fad and remember that grain is indeed the staff of life.)

You'll find them down at the little side street off Grand River Avenue, at 4960 Northwind Dr. (There's a light as you head east out of East Lansing. The Golden Wok is at the corner.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Peking Express, really Chinese

611 East Grand River, East Lansing, 351-0533.

Peking Express used to be a little three-table express; quick, hot and cheap (but always fresh and good). It was the healthy staple of many generations of students, loads better than any of the steam tables and buffets around, but with a limited menu.

Now they've expanded both their space and their menu, and in the process transformed the place into a really good authentic type Chinese restaurant. I say "authentic type" because most Asian places in town have a mix -- some old fashioned egg rolls, egg drop soup and sweet and sour pork for the round-eye westerners, and a few more interesting dishes for the Asian clientele. This one has a full menu for both sides, and a pretty wide variety in between. So don't let the fact that their "Peking Special" menu offers things like Cold Jelly Fish, Pork Intestine and Spicy Salted Shrimp With Head put you off. You'll find plenty else -- new or familiar -- to try. And after trying it, you just might find yourself up for some of that jelly fish.

The only thing I've found generally is that their most Chinese dishes tend to be a little salty for me. (I, however, seldom put salt on anything but french fries, and I have yet to find a brand of salsa that isn't too salty for me, so maybe I'm just sensitive to salt.) Also, the shrimp heads -- they don't always say whether the shrimp are shelled or not, so if that matters to you, you should ask before ordering shrimp dishes (at least when you get above #62 on the menu, and start getting into the more Chinese dishes).

A few things we've tried: if you like melt-in-your-mouth stewed beef, try anything with the beef brisket. My favorite cold day dish is Beef Brisket Noodle Soup (#96). This is the kind of soup that comes in a bowl the size of your head. You can share it, or take the leftovers home for a couple more meals.

You'll see a couple of dishes under Hot Pot that say "Satay Sauce". This isn't the rich peanut sauce we think of in Thai cooking. The satay here is a version of the "sa cha" or "sa tsa" sauce found in some Chinese stewed or braised dishes. It's an unusual flavor -- mainly five spice, dried shrimp and soy. (Ground dried shrimp is one of the major ingredients in the pink salad dressing you'll often get in sushi restaurants.)

The BBQ duck (#115, #131) or BBQ pork (#117, #132) are pure meat dishes, and go well with a vegetable dish to round things out, something like the Chinese Mushroom and Chinese Green (#142).

I haven't tried their more ordinary dishes yet, but I expect they are good. They also deliver anywhere within four miles of their place, free for orders of $15 or more (before tax), or with a one dollar delivery fee if less. They're open until 1am every night of the week.

Their menu says they also offer online ordering at Campus Food .

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lassi Come Home

Usually, when I go out to eat, I don't bother with a beverage. I don't drink, and who needs extra calories piling up on top of the food? Water is fine.

However, whenever I eat at an Indian restaurant, I have a very hard time resisting a Mango Lassi. It's a simple drink, made of yogurt and sweetened mango pulp. (The original "smoothie".) Lassis are also generally available in mango or plain flavors (and the plain can be sweet or salty) and sometimes is available in other fruit flavors, like strawberry.

Not only is a lassi rich, but the sharp sweet and sour flavors are great for cutting the heat in a spicey dish. Which is why it can be good to make them at home. (As I did this weekend for my Oscar party, for which I made hot wings.)

Oriental Mart (2800 E Grand River Ave, east of East Lansing) -- and probably other asian groceries around the place -- offers canned mango pulp (sweetened). You really do want to get canned or frozen pulp. Processing a mango is difficult and messy, and the sweetness varies a lot.

To make a proper lassi, you mix about a half cup of pulp with a half cup of whole-milk plain yogurt. (And I like to drain the yogurt a bit to make it richer -- scoop some out of the container, and drain off the whey that drains into the hole.) And then a half cup of water. You can add some ice to replace some of the water. Or, as I did with the Oscar party, put in a half cup of sparkling apple or grape juice. (You know, the St. Julian's stuff.) If you like it sweeter, put in a little sugar or honey.

Or if you want to see what it tastes like before you try to make it, order up some mango lassi you visit one of the local Indian restaurants:

India Palace, 340 Albert Ave, East Lansing
Sindhu, 4790 S Hagadorn Rd, Hannah Plaza, East Lansing
Taj, 2820 E Grand River, Lansing (West of Frandor)

All three of these restaurants have decent lunch buffets, if you want to try a variety of their food. (And note: I've never actually had a lassi at India Palace.)

Sunday, March 05, 2006


We stopped by for Aldaco's friday fajita buffet on a way to a movie at Celebration Cinema, and discovered that they had added shrimp fajitas for lent, AND a really tasty shrimp salad -- lime, cilantro, fresh tomato, peppers and onions tossed with tender shrimp. Really, really tasty.

If you've never been there, Aldaco's features handmade flour tortillas and a variety of fillings and toppings on their buffet. (I've never got past the buffet to try the regular menu -- which I'm told is good.) Usually I prefer corn tortillas in enchiladas, but theirs are made with these house flour tortillas, and a gooey and delicious. And their fresh salsa is just as tasty as the shrimp salad, if a whole lot spicier.

Aldaco's is at 6527 South Cedar St. in south Lansing.

Online Menus

The Restaurant Database website, www.restaurantdb.net, is a commercial enterprise -- restaurants have to pay to have more than a minimal listing. However, they are a good place to start in exploring food in the Lansing area (and now they have expanded to include many other areas). Their reviews and ratings are user generated, and they have online menus for a great many local restaurants. Check them out.

(Another place that has some menus is the delivery company Campus Food .)