Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Everyday Restaurant - Dim Sum Weekends

It seems like I've been hearing from lots of people about Everyday Buffet, a Chinese restaurant in Brookfield Plaza in East Lansing (located where the old Chinese Family Buffet used to be). I kept hearing the food is very good, and seems to cater to the Asian crowd. (And their non-buffet menu is full of great looking varieties of noodle dishes, which is a good sign.)

I finally decided to try it on the weekend, when they do a dim sum buffet. I definitely had a good meal out of it. (I don't know how their weekday lunch buffet is.)

The main problem here is the same as all dim sum buffets: not all dim sum is suitable for a buffet. The bao (steamed bbq pork buns) were a little tough and dried from sitting on the buffet. The squid/octopus was very tough for the same reason. The flavors for both were great, though. And there was the usual mislabeling of some dishes. (Like the sweet rice dumplings -- the meat-filled was labelled as sweet bean paste, and the sweet bean labeled as meat. Just remember that the triangle shape is almost always a dessert flavor, and the football shape is meat.)

But there is a lot more on the good side. Because it's a buffet, you don't have to have a bunch of people there to try a variety of flavors. You can have a little taste or a big bowl of the congee as you please. (They had four flavors, plus fried crullers to go with it, and the lightly sweetened red bean dessert soup too.)

You can see in the picture that my plate was piled high. The dark gravy on upper left is from the stewed beef brisket, which I considered the start of the show. Tender and lots of flavor. The greens were Yu Cai, I think, which is a slightly bitter green, but it tasted great with the other ingredients. The water chestnut cake (hidden under the big bao on the top) was very tasty. The turnip cake was good (not as good as Little Panda, but better than Golden Wok). The shiu mai and pan fried dumplings were decent, but not exciting. I really liked the fried taro dumplings, filled with meat (not pictured). Taro looks kind of like a hairy football when fried. And the pie guo - or stewed bits of sparerib in garlic sauce, was very tasty.

They also had a few regular non-dimsum dishes, such a Singapore Noodles and a shredded pork and pressed tofu dish that I have liked at other places. They also had the now usual selection of sushi and fruits on the salad bar.

And... they have a scale, so it appears you can buy take out buffet by the pound. (Always a plus in my book.)

Everyday Restaurant, 1375 East Grand River Ave, East Lansing. (517) 337-1882.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Omi Sushi - Stylish and also Down to Earth

Omi Sushi is the Japanese restaurant right down town in East Lansing, tucked in between the alley and the creamery. The decor is ultra-modern, but not snooty, and that describes the overall style of the place. They have the usual fusion sushi and appetizers, as well as entrees that come more from the casual end of Japanese cuisine.

For our first foray into the place, we went for a selection of appetizers and sushi, just to get a variety.

The Ebi Shiu Mai (shrimp dumplings) are tender and fresh, and attractively presented.

This picture shows, from back to front, Avocado roll, Kampyo roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll, and what may or may not be Spicy California Roll. This turned out to be a great selection for variety of textures and flavors. The avocado and kampyo provide a refresher between heavier rolls. The avocado is silky and rich, the kampyo a lightly sweet and tangy crunch. The tempura shrimp had a nice crunch, with a touch of fried flavor.

But the hit of the night was the California roll, but I don't know if you can order it exactly as we got it. See, we ordered Spicy California Roll, and they started to give us ordinary California Roll. At the last minute the waitress realized the mistake, and the sushi chef squirted this creamy spicy sauce on it. I don't know if it was supposed to be served that way, but it turned out to be a perfect touch.

Finally we had the Vegetable Tempura Appetizer. It was very well prepared, not too oily, nor too much batter. It was also attractively presented (as everything at Omi is) as a little castle of yam, green pepper, onion, broccholi and asparagus, topped with a little tempura-ed sheet of nori (sushi seaweed). I love tempura, but usually I am burping up the batter all night. While I left with a pleasant taste in my mouth, there was no "revisiting" of the meal later. My digestive system really liked this.

We're definitely going back, and will likely try the regular entrees next time. Many of the dishes on the menu are known for being variations of Japanese home cooking (such as the kasuzuke -- a marinade of the flavorful dregs of saki), but they are still presented in lovely ways. And I'm told the noodles are great here too.

Omi Japanese Restaurant, 210 MAC Ave, East Lansing. (517) 337-2222.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

El Azteco - The Great Old Standby

This blog has gone far too long without a mention of El Azteco. "El Az" as it is often called, has been in East Lansing for almost as long as I can remember (and I won't give away my age by telling you how long that is). And although this restaurant has moved and expanded, it has not changed. The food is still messy and a little inconsistent, but tasty as all get out and very filling for a reasonable price.

The tortillas and chips are fresh, and salsa only comes in hot. If you want something a little milder (or even if you don't) order up a bowl of their cheese dip, which is a light, creamy combo of sour cream, cottage cheese, regular chees and green onions.

My favorite meal is a la carte: a Guacamole Tostada, Chicken Taco and Rice. The Guac Tostada is a fried tortilla platter, slathered with hot beans and melted cheese, then covered with guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes. It's messy and difficult to eat, but OHHHH it's good. The chicken taco is made with pulled chicken meat, stewed in a medium colorado sauce. (Watch out, it's hand made, and sometimes you might find a bone in it.) Soft corn tortilla, lettuce and tomato.

The rice is really good, but vegetarians should watch out -- it's made with chicken broth. Otherwise, non-meat items are suitable for ovo-lacto vegetarians. (Vegans would be better off heading for Altus.)

El Azteco is also famous for its enchiladas, which come in many varieties. My favorite is the Enchiladas de Jocoque -- which are filled with a creamy cheese mixture much like the cheese dip, and soaked in spicy red sauce. Other's prefer the Blue Corn Enchiladas, which I think come with their Chili Verde. (A Chili Verde Burrito is also a special item here.)

Other special dishes are the Botana, which is something like a cross between nachos and a guacamole tostada - a plate of chips slathered with hot beans and cheese, then piled high with guacamole, lettuce and tomato. And then there is the Topopo Salad, which has all of the above plus chicken and peas and other things. This one tends to be piled so high, it's like a hay stack.

The East Lansing location has a rooftop patio which is open in good weather, and there is a second location downtown, which has more of a local working class bar atmosphere.

(And to all those who hit my blog from Google searches on "el az taco" or "elaz taco" those are local slang names for the place. This is the restauant you are looking for: The Aztec, El Azteco.)

El Azteco, 225 Ann Street, East Lansing. (517) 351-9111 El Azteco, 1016 W Saginaw St., Lansing. (517) 485-4589

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fiesta Charra - Fresh Food, Fun Decor

When you enter Fiesta Charra on Grand River, east of East Lansing, the first thing you will notice is the colorfully painted chairs. The whole place is decorated with such colorful scenes. It promises a bright, flavorful experience, and Fiesta Charra delivers.

They have a full Mexican menu, but I have to admit I keep ordering the fajitas. They are too good to pass up. You can get beef, chicken or shrimp, or a combination of all three. You see the combo version here, which was good, but I have to say I liked the beef best -- thinly sliced shreds, seared on a fajita iron with onions, tomatoes, and peppers and a wedge of lime. The chicken is good, but a little plain for me, and the shrimp is great, but shrimp seared on the grill just doesn't highlight the flavors to best effect for me. (This is a personal preference, not a comment on Fiesta Charra.) There are more shrimp dishes on the menu that look good, if I ever get past the fajitas.

I can't remember the name of another dish we fully enjoyed -- I think it was something as simple as "Chili Verde". It was pulled pork served in a flavorful green chili sauce, and it made a nice counterpoint to the fajitas.

Both dishes are served with beans and rice, and your choice of homemade tortillas. (I prefer the corn, but if you can't make up your mind, they will serve them half and half.) Also, a platter of lettuce, sour cream, picante sauce and guacamole for you to dress your own meal.

The chips are fresh and tasty, and they come with not only the usual salsa, but a cool sour cream salsa -- maybe Ranchero style? It's a little sweet and very creamy, and it makes for an interesting break from the usual.

Fiesta Charra is in the same strip with Oriental Mart, just east of Coral Gables at 2800 E Grand River Ave, in East Lansing, MI 48823. (517) 333-6768.