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,, 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 .)