Friday, December 05, 2008

Drive-bys, December 5, 2008

  • Peking Express is under new management, but their food is still good and authentic. We recently had a duck feast there, and the only difference I observed was that the mandarin pancakes are no longer the kind made with boiling water dough -- but they are still thin, lovely and steamed, and about the best in town. They have added some Korean dishes to the menu.
  • Tres Amigos is no longer a "Tacqueria" but merely an "Express". They have simplified their menu to more ordinary dishes. Fans of their main restaurants will probably like it, but those of us who miss the variety of authentic flavors will have to go to the taco stand at Francis and Michigan Ave - El Oasis.
  • Spartan Gyro is not only gone, but the restaurant that took its place is gone. Sigh. East Lansing is a tough place for great little restaurants.
  • Watch for upcoming reviews of Ai-Fusion, a sushi place which satisfies our itch for the kind of flavorful rolls that Midori used to make, and Fiesta Charra, which has great fajitas and will satisfy those who like Aldacos. (Also more about the Sichuan food at the former Hong Kong.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Heavenly Sichuan Food

I had to come out of hibernation to tell you about something really magnificent that may be only temporary. The restaurant on Homer that used to be known as Hong Kong is yet again under new management. They're running the place for a little while as a "trial" to see whether there is an audience in Lansing for very authentic Szechuan food.

How authentic? Well, the first indication is that they don't have any signs in English. The sign outside is in Chinese, and translates basically as: "Sichuan Food." (The three red peppers are actually in the shape of the character for Sichuan, which is "three rivers".)If you don't look Chinese, they'll give you a menu of typical Americanized dishes. If you want the good stuff, you'll have to ask for the Sichuan food menu. Those are mostly in Chinese, but they have at least one copy of that menu with English too. The problem is that the English isn't very descriptive. ("Boiled Pork." Hmmm.) The waiter was eager to help us find what we would like, but it took a little persuading for us to get him to tell us what HE would like. He recommended the Ma Po Tofu.

Oh my god. It was the best Ma Po Tofu I've ever had in my life.

No really, this was so good...well, one of the reasons I haven't been posting here is because I have been under extreme stress at the day job. One bite of this and all my troubles went away. This Ma Po Tofu was Xanax-good. It was "listening to Orson Welles speak" good.

The tofu was silky soft, stewed with chopped pork seasoned with toasted garlic, ginger and at least three different peppers. (Dried red pepper, pepper oil and Sichuan peppercorns, which are related to black pepper, but tastier.) Yes, it was hot, but no hotter than most hot and sour soups in town. (Less numbing than some, actually.)

We chose, as a less spicy balancing dish, the Pork With Green Beans. This was marked as spicy, but the waiter says it wasn't, and he was right. There was a sprinkling of toasted dry pepper along with the toasted garlic. The beans were fresh and perfectly done. Once again, the chopped pork acted as a seasoning, rather than a main ingredient. The salting, the seasoning, everything was just exactly right so you could taste and smell each element.

The waiter also pointed out a platter of deep-fried chicken pieces, sprinkled with peppers. We'll undoubtedly try that on another visit. I can't wait to try the Twice-Cooked Pork, which is a favorite of mine. There are also less familiar dishes that we'd like to try. The Fish With Preserved Vegetables soup is a famous Sichuan dish, which he also recommended. Preserved veggies usually give a slight sour taste to the broth, milder than hot and sour soup. There were also cellophane noodles in the bowl, it looked like.

If you are eager to try it, but aren't sure you know enough about Sichuan food to order properly, you might look up a book by Fuchsia Dunlop called "Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking", which is much more than a cook book. More of culinary cultural history with recipes and stories and techniques.

There is a Chinese saying: "China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor." True words of wisdom, if this place is any indication.

Hong Kong Sichuan Food is at 315 S Homer St, Lansing. (South of Michigan and north of Kalamazoo, near Frandor, behind Oadies and Bake 'n Cakes.)
Read more reviews of Hong Kong Sichuan Food at:

Hong Kong Sichuan, More Heavenly Dishes
Hong Kong Sichuan, Even More Heavenly Dishes

Friday, June 13, 2008

Weekend Dim Sum

Go out and get some Dim Sum this weekend.

Although I still lean more toward Little Panda as my favorite dim sum place, Golden Wok has many bragging points... not the least of which is that on the weekend, when they have the carts, they can go wild with new varieties.

A couple of things we had recently:

Water Chestnut Cake
Water Chestnut Cake looks kinda odd and foreign to Western eyes, but it's not really that exotic. I suspect most would like it. It's a very thick gelatin, lightly sweet and faintly vanilla, with crunchy chestnuts inside. It's also been pan fried, which might seem odd, but it's GOOD that way. The cart lady said it was very refreshing for summer, and she was right. (Those cart ladies usually are.)

Fried Custard Dumplings
Custard Filled Fried Dumplings. These lovely delights are a lot like our favorite sesame balls. The wrapper is made of sweet sticky rice flour -- so it's very chewy, crisp on the outside from being deepfried. Inside it has a nice light custard, not too rich or too sweet. It's thick so that it doesn't all goosh out when you bite into the chewy wrapper. I don't know if the black sesame seeds on top are always a sign of a custard filling, but you can always ask.

Barbeque Pork Pastry. These are just a different shape than the ones I mentioned in the Dim Sum Primer. (They often play with different shapes at Golden Wok.) I like this shape best, because the ratio of meat to pastry is good in every bite.

Mango Chicken. Sorry no picture -- I didn't have my camera with me the day they had these. They brought it out JUST as we were completely stuffed and getting ready to leave, but they looked too good to pass up. It was made of strips of chicken and mango, wrapped and breaded in coconut, then deep fried. They were creamy, and rich, but not too sweet. I want to try them again when I'm not too stuffed.

Here is Maude Cat doing an impression of what we looked like after coming home from Dim Sum that day:

The down side of eating dim sum from the traditional "roving cart" method, is that it encourages a Competitive Eating mentality. You don't want to miss anything, and it all looks so good.... you end up buying and eating more than you intended. This can be okay if you are going straight home afterward with leftovers, but if you are, say, going to a movie, you must exercise a lot of self-discipline. That or leave time to run home and put the leftovers in the fridge before curtain time.

(BTW: Sesame balls or the custard-filled dumplings mentioned above are primo snacks to smuggle into a movie. Just remember that they are deep fried so they'll get some grease on your fingers -- though no more than popcorn will -- and they're a little sticky. My recommendation is to bring a ziploc bag for the smuggling part, and make sure you have a napkin. Oh and, uh... Mango Chicken ISN'T a good snack to sneak into a theater.)

Golden Wok is in East Lansing, at 2755 E Grand River Ave. (517) 333-8322. (At the corner of Northwind Drive, across from Oriental Mart, and near the E.L. Food co-op.)

(Little Panda is on the west side of Lansing, at 5439 W Saginaw Hwy, across from Lansing Mall in the Target shopping area. (517) 323-2450.)

BWL Chili Cookoff Tonight

For afficianados of chili (which I am not, so I can't critique anything for you) the Board of Water and Light has it's annual Chili Cook-off at the Lansing Center tonight (Friday 13th) from 5-9pm. They're raising money for the Impression 5 Science Museum and HOPE schalarships.

Five bucks will get you a wrist band that lets you sample lots of chili. (I don't know if there is any other entrance or cover charge, but I don't think so.) There are also beverages and ice cream, live music and a mechanical bull.

Call Board of Water & Light at (517) 702-6735 for more info.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Amici's New York Deli -- Real Pastrami!

It says "Hot Corned Beef" in the window, and with a deli, that's always a good sign. Pastrami and Corned Beef are NOT processed meat products with a little extra pepper. They're delicious, rich, piquant meats that deserve the right treatment -- moist heat.

You don't need mustard when you have a hot pastrami.

And both the Pastrami and Corned Beef at Amici's are kept steaming in a chafing dish until the moment they make your sandwich. You can also get the usual turkey, ham, roast beef and bacon. Lots of interesting combos and toppings. They have good deli pickles and they carry premium chips from that Michigan company whose name escapes me. (You know, the yellow bag. They serve them at Roma's too.)

The only thing lacking is bread that can stand up to the hot steam, or the slurpy toppings of a good sandwich. I don't know, maybe Zingerman's has spoiled me for regular bread. I have to admit that I haven't found a place with good bread in Lansing, except for Roma's, where they use a crusty sub bun, but don't have deli bread. (I.e., no sliced rye.) I can only warn you that if you get a hot pastrami on rye for take out, pull open the plastic wrap before you leave, or your bread will wimp out on you.

They are a "premium" deli, and their sandwiches are in the 7-8 dollar range, which is too expensive for a cheap sandwich, but not that expensive for a great sandwich. In my opinion, they would do better to buy better bread (like maybe ...Zingermans?) and up the price a little. Or even offer a better bread as an "extra" for a buck more. (Just don't get Great Harvest, it's really too heavy and moist to be sandwich bread.)

Amici's New York Deli is at 521 N Clippert, in Lansing, across from Frandor.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bangkok House, good and spicy

If you don't count Lamai (who is a cuisine unto herself anyway) Bangkok House is the main, authentic Thai restaurant in town. The others tend to have a different, lighter, flavor of Thai. Bangkok House is hot, intense and salty.

Their location at Saginaw and North Cedar makes them especially popular for take out. They are close to down town Lansing, and on the way to or from pretty much anywhere. I love to grab an aromatic, garlicky Pad Woon Sen for lunch, usually with an order of spring rolls.

Pad Woon Sen is one of my standards to test out any Thai place. If it's boring, I'm suspicious. (Banyan Tree was an exception to this rule, but alas, they are gone.) It's a cross between a stir-fried noodle dish and a salad. Cooked up fast and hot, but with hunks of tomato and cucumber. The noodles are the clear, glassy bean threads, which are light and jiggly. This dish is usually served with rice on the side (as a Thai salad might be), and the flavor at Bangkok House is intense enough to require that rice. The Pad Thai is also good here (though I like the sweet and sour flavors of Lamai's better). Just remember that they don't really understand the concept of "mild" here -- it's closer to "medium". They do get "not hot at all" though.

Take out isn't all they've got, though, and this is a fine place for a full meal, which is what we had recently:

For appetizer, this is a great place for Satay. For those who don't know, Satay is a Malaysian dish that is commonly served in Thai restaurants in the U.S. It's meat -- usually pork, chicken or beef -- marinated and grilled on a stick. Here they serve it with a little table top grill, where you finish off the cooking yourself. (The meat is cooked, but you need a nice sear for it to taste right.)

It's served with two sauces, a rich peanut sauce made with coconut milk, and a refreshing cucumber sauce, made with a dressing of vinegar, lime and sugar. These sauces go together! You can pour them both over your meat, or eat some of one and then the other -- just make sure you taste them close together, because each really opens up the flavor of the other.

For soup we have the ever present Tom Ka Gai, or coconut chicken soup. It's good here, and we usually ask for some rice to be served with it, because the flavors of the coconut, lemongrass, ginger and lime are so intense.

Finally the Pla Jian. This used to be served as a whole fish, but since Americans don't really like to deal with bones they now serve it as a large fillet, which has been scored, seasoned and deep-fried. It is then smothered in a sauce of ginger, mushrooms, shrimp and veggies, and topped with herbs. This dish is not very spicy -- the main heat comes from the ginger -- but it is very flavorful. It's also a big dish, and with the appetizers and soup, it's enough for two people of reasonable appetite, but if you want something else, you could go for a Yum salad: grilled beef on cucumber and herbs, with a sweet lime dressing -- no pun intended when I say it's yummy. For the adventurous, they have a lot of interesting seafood dishes, and frogs legs too. And for the less adventurous, they have a good selection of the usual curries and noodle dishes.

Bangkok House is located on Saginaw (just across North Cedar from the main Quality Dairy) at 420 E Saginaw St, Lansing, MI 48906. 517-487-6900.

Their menu is listed at Restaurant Database.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Drive-bys, May 10, 2008

Two drive-bys and an update:

*There's a new deli that has moved into the old Mr. Taco building on Clippert, just west of Frandor. (This is a building which is back to back with the Wendy's on Homer.) They have "Corned Beef" written in large letters on the windows. Hmmm. It's also convenient to swing by before work. I'll likely give it a try next week.

*On Michigan Avenue, just east of the ball park -- in the block next to Claras, that has both the city shelter and several nightblubs, there's a little corner restaurant that has a lot of turnover -- there was a Caribbean place, Turkeyman, and Ballpark Franks. Now it has a sign that says "Authentic Mexican Food."

As for an update: I have pictures. Watch for reviews of Bangkok House and Hobies.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Drive-bys, March 29, 2008

Sorry I've been away for so long. This will continue until May, most likely. In the meantime here are a couple of notes:

*A reader emailed me to say that Banyan Tree has closed. I am very sorry to hear this. It can be very hard to establish a small and unique restaurant any place where it is affordable to do so. (If anybody heard further news -- good or bad -- please leave a comment.)

*Midori is under new management. They have changed their sushi menu, and though they will make the old rolls if you ask, watch out for anything with cream cheese in it. They use a whipped and sweetened cream cheese that totally overwhelms everything else. (The Futomaki, which did not have cream cheese in it at all before, was like sushi with frosting in it.) However, they have added some great new rolls of their own. We had the B.S.C.R -- baked scallops on top of a bed of California Roll with a little sauce dribbled on top. Very nice. And it looks like the "Lady Roll" has the same fillings as the old Futomaki, but with a bean skin wrapper rather than nori. We will go back, but we seriously miss the old Spicy Shrimp Tempura with good old sour -- and solid -- cream cheese.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

RECIPE: Chinese BBQ Pork

Barbecue pork (or Cha Siu -- which means "fork roast") is a basic ingredient for a lot of Chinese cooking. In a big city, you would be able to buy this lovely red-roasted pork, already cooked, by the pound. You know that taste in fried rice and lo mein and soups, and so many other dishes that you can't quite accomplish at home? It's probably from char siu.

This weekend I finally got the taste right on homemade roast pork. And now I have a freezer full for making char sui bao, or fried rice or soups or twice cooked pork....

The key here is the cut of pork. It can't be a lean cut. I used a Boston Butt Roast, cut into strips. "Country Style" spare ribs, or pork shoulder steaks are also good. The country style ribs are about the right shape and size to get the best surface area to meatiness ratio. (This is also important.)

The second key is the preparation method. You need to marinate the pork in the sauce for a couple hours. (I did about two.) Then when you roast it, you have to be sure that as much surface of the pork is exposed to the hot air as possible. I can tell you from experience that if the meat sits in its accumulated juices, it just isn't the same. In China, they hang the meat in the oven on hooks. Many cookbooks recommend putting them in a pan that has a roasting rack.

I didn't have a roasting rack, or hooks, but I had a pork roast and I wanted Char Sui! So I used a little tender loving care. I separated the pieces of meat so that they were not touching. (In this case, I put them in three small pyrex dishes -- but they probably could have been put in one really big on.)

Since the marinade has sugar and soy in it, the pan drippings are likely to burn. If you have a roasting rack this is easy to deal wiht by simply filling the pan below with water or broth. I simply made sure I watched the oven -- which was at a hot 425 degrees -- and every time I could smell that "pre-burning" smell, I poured in a very small amount of sherry into the pan -- about 1/8 of an inch. I started basting it with a souped up version of the marinade after the first fifteen minutes, and after another five or ten, I flipped the meat over, so the bottom side could get some love.

It probably took 45-60 minutes of roasting, and I turned the oven down later in the process. You could stretch the second half out a long time in a slow oven.

The Marinade (enough for approximately two pounds of meat):

  • 1/4 c sherry (broth or water will do)
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbl. honey (or brown sugar)
  • 2 tbl. hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbl oyster sauce
Put the meat in a ziploc bag or a container where it fits closely, and pour over it about half the marinade. Reserve the rest of the marinade for the basting sauce. (Do NOT use the marinade that has touched the meat! Throw it away! It is full of bacteria and such, and the basting sauce will not be thoroughly cooked enough to be safe.)

Basting sauce:

  • The remaining marinade
  • 1 tbl oyster sauce
  • 2-3 tbl brown sugar
  • garlic, ginger or whatever other spices sound good to you.
The sugar and garlic are prone to burn, so you don't want so much of it in the marinade, but it is fine for basting later on in the process.

This marinade, btw, would also be good for chicken thighs and wings. You need something with enough fat if you are going to cook it as dry as the instructions here. But a lean meat would be okay if you cook it slower, and with more basting (and maybe more crowded in the pan to keep the moisture in).

Drive-bys, February 3, 2008

*SanSu sushi house in Hannah Plaza has moved. They're in the same building, but they have moved from the back to the front of the building. This is a better place for them, imho. They are a popular sushi joint, and this gives them more room and visibility, since they face Hagadorn Road now.

*Gung Hay Fat Choy! It's Chinese New Year on Thursday! Have a feast this week or weekend, as we end the year of the Boar and begin the year of the Rat.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Banyan Tree Thai Cuisine

(We're sorry to note that Banyan Tree closed a while ago.)

I've been to Banyan Tree several times now, and I was sorry to see that the menu keeps getting smaller and smaller. However, I think they've settled on a nice, minimalist menu that suits a neighborhood restaurant. You won't find anything unusual or exotic on the menu, but what's there is reliable, well-prepared Thai food.

Crab Rangoon
For appetizer they have good spring rolls, although the sauce is a little marmeladey. (The sweet chili sauce is better.) Then there are the Rangoons (pictured above) which are very nice, especially if you like a high filling-to-wrapper ratio. I myself prefer more crunch because the filling is so rich, but these were awfully good. They are, as at Lamai's, meatless. The filling is cream cheese, carrot and green onion, and yet even my carrot-hating friend really finds this Thai version the yummiest of rangoons.

Tom Kha Gai is a soup I find irresistable everywhere I go, and it is great here. It's a very sharply flavored soup of chicken, ginger and coconut -- with a lot of citrus from lime juice, lime leaves and lemon grass. Lamai recommends having it at her restaurant with a scoop of rice, and she is right. The soup is so rich and strongly flavored that even though it is a medium spicy, my tongue sometimes starts to get that numb novocaine tingle. The rice ameliorates that without taking anything away from the wonderful excessive experience of flavor. (So I advise asking for a side of rice in any Thai restaurant when you order this.)

The entrees are limited and pretty standard for a Thai restaurant, but every thing we've had has been good. We went for the Banyan Tree Fried Rice, which, though plain, turned out to be exceptional -- fried rice with chicken and shrimp, seasoned strongly with yellow curry. It's got a good kick at medium.

In the past we were really happy with the Green Curry, which is no longer on the menu. We are told that if they are not busy and have all the ingredients on hand, the cook will make some special dishes by request. My only wish is that they had a little more in the way of vegetables, and maybe offered a Yum or salad. The Pad Woon Sen (pictured above with spring rolls) comes close, but is still pretty plain. (I bet you could ask for a lime wedge, though. That's exactly what it needs....)

They are now open for lunch from 11-2 Tuesday through Friday, which I am glad of, because their simple menu is ideal for a quick carry out. Their dinner hours are 4-8 on Tuesday through Thursday, and until 9 on Friday and Saturday.

Banyan Tree Thai Cuisine, 1001 East Mount Hope Avenue, Lansing. (At the corner of Mt. Hope and Pennsylvania -- in the same building as Korner Kitchen.) 517- 482-0939.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Drive-by, January 21, 2008

It's much too cold to go anywhere (and certainly too cold to take my camera). So I'm just going to pass on a tip and mention the leftovers I'm eating....

*Got an email tip on a new restaurant in south Lansing which opened this weekend: "Alicia's Authentiic Mexican Deli (Dine in or Carry Out) 6424 W. St Joseph Hwy., Lansing, MI 48917. 517-323-6430. Opening Day!! Friday January 18, 2008." I know nothing about them, but if anybody gives them a try, drop us a comment.

*A friend made an excellent corned beef and cabbage. I'm going to make pirogies from the leftovers. Corned beef with potato and a little cabbage for the filling. I'm going for the easy version of the wrapper: goyoza wrappers from Oriental Mart. Moisten them and slap two together, and they really make a great thicker wrapper. I will steam them then pan fry in butter. You can also boil them. Serve with apple sauce, sour cream, or as I am doing, Labana.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Korea House - Count on it

Korea House is a little mom and pop restaurant on Trowbridge, at the far end of the building containing Goodrich Shoprite and Woody's Oasis. It's hidden around the corner, but that doesn't hurt business much. This is the place to go for real authentic Korean food.

They've been there for a very long time, and a few years ago they expanded to have a sushi bar too. They also have a lot of expensive, wonderful-looking hibachi specials on the walls, and on the tables of Korean customers. (Those are the kinds of dishes where they put a little gas grill on you table and a big heap of food -- sometimes to be grilled, sometimes to be stewed.) Unfortuately I can't tell you how good they really are, because this is our "Count On It" place. You know, the place you go when you are tired, or your stomach is upset, and you just want great food you can count on. When you're in that mood, you stick to old standbys. (You also need a larger group for some of those special dishes.)
Bulgogi, Korean Grilled Beef
Bulgogi is probably the main old standy here. I've mentioned this thin sliced grilled beef dish in my Midori review. It's a little like a Korean teriyaki -- but less sweet, and more beefy. Unfortunately, since it is cooked in the kitchen (as it is everywhere in town) it releases juices on the way to the table, so it's a little stewed. You can also get the Kalbi, which is a version made from rib meat (with or without bones). Then there is the Boneless Spicy Chicken stirfry, which has some vegetables with, and is one of my stand-bys.

Japchae Noodles
You can always get good noodles and soups in a Korean restaurant too. Japchae, or Chapchae (above),is made with a transparent, jiggly noodle made wth yam starch. It's a little like a cellophane noodle, and cooked with garlic, soy sauce and oil, rather like a really strong lo mein.

Korean Rice Dumpling Soup
Recently a friend ordered Rice Dumpling Soup -- which is a hearty but mild soup (which you can spice up if you like). The rice dumplings are chewy slices of a thick rice flour cake, kind of like a fat rice noodle. They are simmered in a thickened egg-drop style broth, and served in a BIG bowl with, I think, chicken or pork in it. Perfect for a cold night.

Most of the time dinner is served with the usual selection of side dishes. (Sometimes noodles or soup won't come with them, but you can ask.) There are dumplings and many kinds of soups. If you like seafood, you should really try Korean seafood soups, although they are often very spicy. I've heard fans of squid talk about their calimari. And then there are things like Goat Roast. On the more familiar line, you can get Bibimbap (as described in the Midori review) either with or without the hot stone bowl.

Be sure to browse the menu so you don't settle too early on what you decide is YOUR "count on it" dish.

Korea House, 978 Trowbridge Rd, East Lansing. (517) 332-0608.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hong Kong Restaurant

(Hong Kong is now a very authentic Sichuan restaurant, and the review below no longer applies. Check out the new review called "Heavenly Sichuan Food."

Hong Kong
is a restaurant hidden down on South Homer, south of Frandor, just north of Kalamazoo. It's been around a long time and has has many owners. It was once a tiny Dog n Suds, and the first Chinese owners operated the first buffet in town there -- with four tables and a small heated buffet stand in the corner. Subsequent owners have expanded the place, and changed the menu around.

The current owners are Korean Chinese, and have had the place for a while. Their standards are slipping a bit, but it's still my favorite place for a Chinese buffet lunch. (They only have buffet at lunch.) They have some good Hunan flavors, and just about the best lo mein in town. They used to have the best General Tso's Chicken -- a dish I normally avoid, but here it isn't just spicey ketchup on fried chicken. They have an excellent, well balanced sauce. Sometimes they drench it in too much sauce these days, but it's still good. Their fried four-season beans (i.e. stir fried green beans) were the first and best in town, and I've always been partial to their Hunan Pork.

The greatest thing about Hong Kong, though, is the fried stuff -- particulary their fried won tons. They season the meat just right, and it actually goes well with the red gunk sweet and sour sauce. (Don't expect a lot of meat in a fried won ton -- they have to be fried quickly, and the meat doesn't cook through if there's too much.) The other really great thing is Curry Beef Kok (or "curry triangles" if you find it embarrassing to say that aloud). This is not on the menu, but you can ask for it, and it's always on the buffet along with the won tons. Curry Kok is a Chinese version of a samosa -- ground beef fried up with onions and Chinese curry, and wrapped in a triangle of won ton wrapper, then deep fried. This recipe was handed down from a previous owner, and I'm really glad they still make them.

(One dish that was NOT handed down was a really great red-cooked chicken wings. They were delectable -- wings stewed in soy sauce, honey and chili. Oh, man. I make them myself sometimes, but it sure would be nice if I could still get them here.)

Hong Kong Restaurant, 315 S Homer St, Lansing. 517-332-5333.

Drive-bys: January 7, 2008

*AI-Fusion is a new fusian (i.e. Japanese food merged with western upscale casual dining styles) restaurant up and running in the old Pistachio's location over by Golden Wok (across from Coral Gables, behind the IHOP on Grand River in East Lansing). They are associated with Ukai (or at least their website is). All they have up is the lunch menu, which is mainly a lot of sushi. Since they don't list what's in it, I can't guess if the sushi is exciting. (The rest of the lunch menu looks pretty plain -- although I'm always happy when I see a lunch place that does bento boxes.)
*Speaking of bento boxes, here's a fun and instructive website on the subject for interested foodies: Just Bento.
*Also speaking of bento lunches, don't forget to try Q Sushi's bento lunches. They're in East Lansing along the strip.
*Check out the Eat Lansing blog. While this person posts even less frequently than I do, there are posts for restaurants I haven't reviewed (and different info on some that I have).
*Addendum to the Yorkshire Pudding post (which I have added to the post): At this year's Xmas dinner, I experimented a little, and the sizzling hot pans do make a difference. I just stuck them back in the oven a minute before pouring the batter.

RECIPE: Celery Peanut Salad

Some Chinese places will give you a little bowl of some kind of salad as an appetizer, if they think you will appreciate it. Usually something like the Korean side dishes -- sometimes sweet or sour or spicey, or all three.

This summer I made a whirlwind strategic-strike eating tour out in LA, and one great place we went was Luscious Dumpling in San Gabriel, California. This was a very specialized little noodle and dumpling house. Just a tiny place filled with old Chinese guys eating big bowls of noodles and plates of, well, luscious dumplings. They are famous for their Xiao Long Bao, which means "little dragon dumplings", known popularly as "Soup Dumplings." This is a dumpling filled with hot soup, which will squirt out when you bite into it.

When you sit down at Luscious Dumpling, they give you tea and a little bowl of Celery Peanut and Pressed Tofu pickle (pictured at top). The great sweet, sour and nutty taste reminded me that I used to make a celery and dried shrimp salad like it. Dried shrimps are fine, but ever since our visit to LA, I've been making this peanut version, and it has beena major hit.

And very simple to make. It's basically sesame oil, sugar and vinegar. I like to use a combo of distilled vinegar and sherry, but you can replace both of them with another vinegar. (Rice wine vinegar is traditional. I think apple cider vinegar would probably make a nifty experiment.)

  • 1 tbl sugar
  • 1 tbl distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp rice wine or sherry
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 handful of roasted cocktail peanuts

You can add garlic, ginger and or hot pepper slivers or flakes. The flavor of the garlic is really strongly enhanced in this dish, so while raw garlic is great (and traditional) you can use garlic powder or no seasoning at all if you sensitive to the taste. (Just don't use garlic salt, as the peanuts already add salt to the dish.)

You can eat it right away, but it is best to let it marinate at least a half hour. It will be great all day, but not as good the next day, so I tend to whip this up as I need it.