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.