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The Drunken Noodle

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First of: Marilyn Hagerty beat me to this review today. She probably did it better, too. http://www.grandforksherald.com/event/article/id/231996/

Cravings.

Not being from North Dakota, I have some very serious cravings for exotic foods more often than not.

When the craving hits, I have three options: go without it, cook it myself, or seek it out.

I had a craving for Pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle dish last week. Those who’ve ever traveled to Asia (or even the west coast) know how great of a dish pho can be. It’s piping hot broth, rice noodles, rare beef and crunchy bean sprouts, all combined into one delicious dish.

If I were a religious man, this dish is what I’d pray to.

Good pho isn’t hard to achieve, yet it can be labor intensive. It’s a matter of balance. The crunch of the sprouts contrasted with the soft noodles. The smooth, beefy broth with the spice of the chili paste. Thick hoisin sauce clash with tangy lime and sweet basil.

This clip from Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” sums it up: http://youtu.be/PsSiA-JHm0U

That’s why when Ian, a classmate of mine asked about a good place to get Pho, I immediately suggested the Drunken Noodle.

The meal.

The Drunken Noodle is a nice sit-down restaurant in East Grand Forks. Located in the “restaurant row” next to Whitey’s, the Blue Moose and Mike’s Pizza, the noodle is a recent audition to the Grater Grand Forks area.

I was greeted to a rather busy dining room on Thursday night. After being seated, our server took our drink orders promptly.

The menu is simple and consisted of a handful of starters, including Japanese gyoza and Chinese spring rolls.

Main courses include dishes from all over the Mediterranean, Asia and North America.

I didn’t need to look at the menu, however. I quickly ordered my pho and it was brought to my table, along with the proper garnishes promptly.

Pho

My first impression: “they nailed it.”

The presentation was precisely how I expect my pho to look like. The glimmer of broth and rare slices of beef make an attractive dish. In fact, the authentic version of the dish calls for raw beef and boiling hot broth – the diner dunks the beef strips into the broth to “cook” the meat.

The first taste was phenomenal. The balance of sweet, spicy, crunchy and beefy was spot on.

My bowl was accompanied by the proper garnishes – sweet thai basil, spicy sriracha, hoisin sauce, bean sprouts and a couple lime wedges.

I like my food spicy and our server was eager to oblige me with some bonus sriracha.

The only critical comment I have over the Drunken Noodle interpretation of pho was about the broth, which was lukewarm.

As part of the yin/yang of pho, the broth needs to be boiling hot, so hot, in fact, that it would take no less than 90 seconds of constant blowing to cool off (to add to the anticipation.)

If it wasn’t for the cold broth, the Drunken Noodle pho would have been out of the park. Still, I will be back on a cold winter’s day to enjoy it again.

 

Phoenix Wok and Grill

There’s an interesting obsession with Chinese food in Grand Forks.

Drive down Washington Avenue and you’ll see a plethora of Mexican restaurants. Drive down Columbia, and you’ll find Chinese.

One of those restaurants is Phoenix Wok & Grill. It was time to eat late on a Friday night and I decided to check out Fuji, the new Japanese hibachi grill on Washington.

The wait was 45 minutes.

So I headed off to plan B, Phoenix.

It was oddly quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of Fuji, being a Friday night (and a UND hockey night, nonetheless), I expected a large gathering of people in almost every restaurant I went to. No, Phoenix had a whopping 12 customers.

The décor was interesting, not unlike a typical Chinese restaurant you’ll find in any town. The TV’s on the wall playing various sports and cable news were rather distracting for a Friday night dinner service.

The food:

Beef consume soup.

The soup came as the first course. Basically a clarified beef stock, the soup wasn’t anything to write about. Most Chinese places use the consume soup as a starter and it baffles me.

It wouldn’t take that much more to have a decent egg drop or hot and sour soup as the opener, and it would have knocked the diner’s expectations up a notch. Regardless, the consume soup was good, though a touch too salty for my liking.

Chicken curry.


My first impression: “For god’s sake, wipe the bowl!”

It’s certainly not a fancy dish. It’s not hard to present. But when you have some picky diners that eat with their eyes, presentation matters.

The taste, however, was quite delicious. The bold spice of the curry with the texture of the chicken made this a satisfying dish. On a cold winter day, nothing beats a good curry. It was’t overpowering with spice (to my standards, it might be too spicy for some midwestern palates).

Also: that sheen of oil reflecting in the photo isn’t quite right. The dish wasn’t outrageously oily or greasy, but it affected the texture.

Chow Mien


Being Chinese, my mother always has to order a noodle dish. She claims long noodles bring long life to those who eat them.

This dish was pretty standard and featured the crunch and texture of many vegetables. I was overall impressed with the presentation of the noodles, heaped in a large bowl. It was virtually impossible for the two of us to make a dent in the dish, creating some very tasty leftovers (Chinese food is better the next day, anyway).

I’d order this again any day.

Sesame chicken


This dish knocked everything else out of the park.

Forget the odd decor, forget the tacky plastic tablecloths or the oversalted soup. I’m going to be coming back to Phoenix wok just for this dish.

The texture was crispy, with a slight “kick” from the sesame sauce balanced with sweet honey.

It was simply a delicious play on tastes and textures. The salty chicken, sweet honey, spicy sesame dressing, crispy skin. It was good.

Sesame chicken leftovers vanished from my fridge within 24 hours.

Service


The overall dinner service was good. Our waitstaff was attentive and kept our glasses full of water. Food was promptly served to our table and we were pleased with what we got.

Would I come back?


Yes. While some dishes had room for improvement, Phoenix was a good place for a Friday night dinner. It left me satisfied for the night, and kept my refrigerator stocked with plenty of leftovers.

Speedway – Grand Forks

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I am a roast beast fan.

There’s nothing quite like tearing though a huge hunk of red meat on a cold winters day to satisfy the primal urge of hunger.

That’s why when my stomach started churning in the middle of class, I was delighted to get a text message from my friend, B.

B: “Hey lets go to speedway later.”

I’ve only gone to speedway for drinks and snacks late at night, never giving it the full respect it needs for a thorough review. I’ve sampled their BBQ in the past and found it to be delicious and a unique gem in the Grand Forks food circle.

Needless to say, I was hungry.

Menus in Grand Forks

For some reason, the menus in most Grand Forks eateries are huge. In almost every restaurant, menus often stretch to over 30 items. Speedway was no exception, and the huge laminated plastic menus required some time to chew though.

…Then I saw it.

Prime rib.

I’m no stranger to the roast beast. In fact, in an earlier entry, I described how I cooked a traditional English dinner for my family, using the prime rib method “X” (http://ndfoodblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/roast-beast/)

For sure, I said to myself, this huge hunk of cow would satisfy my craving.

Starters:

The dinner came with choice of two sides, I ordered tomato soup and a baked potato.

Bread service came with the meal. It was some kind of whole-grain type of loaf, served warmish, along with soft butter.

I started with home style tomato soup. Creamy, chunky and smooth, this soup was a good start. It wasn’t as creamy as some of the other tomato soups I’ve had in this region before, but still satisfying nonetheless.

Prime rib ($15):

My first reaction was: “god, they overcooked it.”

It’s a mortal sin to order a cut of any standing rib roast over medium. Lucky for me, the cooks either: a) browned the meat for a little bit on the flat top to heat the meat up, or, b) the meat stood under a heat lamp for a while.

…Not the beautiful red color I wanted.

On a related note, it’s not blood that makes red meat “bloody,” it’s actually the myoglobin, an iron-rich protein that oxidizes to make the meat look red.

Here’s a closer look at the cut of meat I was served:

While the roast was technically correct, it lacked several key components every good roast should have.

1) It needed a crust. While some seasoning existed, it just didn’t come though. I tasted minimal herbage on the outer layers of meat

2) it needed to be warm. A good, well rested meat isn’t screaming hot, but it certainly isn’t lukewarm like mine was

3) It needed to be cooked slower. The meat was tough in places and tender in others. The connective tissue in the meat will dissolve if treated with care. Blast a roast in a hot oven and you’ll get chewy meat.

The verdict:

The roast itself left much to be desired. I don’t think I’ll order it again.

The other components, however, were on par for a typical restaurant in Grand Forks. Service was quick and friendly and portions were fantastic. $15 for a cut of prime rib is a decent price.

Still, if this cut of meat isn’t properly handled with the respect it deserves, it shouldn’t be on the menu.

The Toasted Frog

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When I first started this blog, it was going to be a partnership between me and a friend to find the “best drink in Grand Forks.” I’m still waiting to hear back from my friend (and perhaps use this medium as an excuse to drink everything in the bar,) but in the meantime, I’ll stick to food.

Speaking of drink, the Toasted Frog is probably on the top of my list for the “classiest place to drink,” in our fair city. It features an extensive wine list as well as a huge martini menu to choose from.

Mind you, at $8 buck s a pop, the martini’s aren’t as cheep as the Karkov-filled monstrosities college students are chugging across the street, but in my eyes, it’s worth it to splurge every once in a while.

I started with the dark chocolate martini ($8) it had a great mix of dark chocolate notes, with lighter, sweeter coffee liquor overtones. These things are strong!

Starter:

Fried cheesy pickles ($6)

Take a look at this. Just take a look

It’s pickles. It’s cheese. It’s fried.

It needs no explanation.

This dish is a play on contradicting flavors and textures. One one hand, the salty pickle is countered by the creamy cheese. The crisp warping is softened by the oozing interior. The sweetness of the cucumber is countered by the sauce (a mix of creamy ranch-like dressing and sirancha – an asian hot sauce.)

I could hardly wait for one of these puppies to cool off before scarfing one down my mouth. To go to the Toasted Frog and not order this dish is a crime.

The genius is the havarti cheese. As many foodies know, the buttery semi-soft cheese isn’t as prone to “stringing” as mozzarella (which would create pizza-like strands of stringy cheese.)

The wrapping appeared to be the same kind used in asian egg rolls and worked well for this use.

Mains: Wood-Fired Open Faced Caprese Melt ($8)

A bit of warning: if you find yourself on a date with me, I’m going to take pictures of your food.

That’s exactly what I did with my date’s caprese melt. Usually an appitizer, caprese is traditionally tomatoes, basil and mozzarella drizzled with balsamic and olive oil.

In the sandwich from, the caprese is more of a bruschetta, served over toast.

Like the pickles, this dish was a play on balance. The cool, ripe sweet tomatoes were pushed by the sour balsamic. The cheese, while being a touch heavy, balanced the crisp onions.

I felt the star of the any good caprese is the basal (I use whole leafs when I prepare my own.) As you can see, the basil in this dish was simply a chiffonade of a leaf or two sprinkled on top.

Still, the whole sandwich was a great idea, perfect for a lunchtime snack or a light dinner.

Main: crabby patty ($12)

It’s been just under a month since I’ve been back from Hawaii and I was craving seafood.

My usual policy is “if it’s a land-locked state, don’t eat the fish.” I felt like the Toasted Frog was a safe choice to break that rule.

This burger was a traditional crab cake (filled with crab, shrimp and mahi-mahi) on top a toasted bun.

My first reaction was that it was a shame to eat such a great crab cake as a burger. In fact, halfway though the dish, I ate the crab cake by itself, nibbling on the bun as I chugged along.

Thinking that if, correctly made, a proper crab cake contains little to no “filler” (mostly bread crumbs,) why waste all that effort by shoving it between two gigantic buns.

Less snobby foodies would disagree with me.

The sauce, a remoulade (much like tartar sauce,) was great! It was obscenely creamy and contained the perfect amount of bite that played well with the cake. Two lemon wedges provided a citrus note, if so desired.

The sweet potato fries that came with the dish were perfect. If given a choise, go with the sweet potato.

A closer look at the texture of the patty.

Service

The service at the Toasted Frog was, arguebly, the best I’ve had in Grand Forks.

We arrived to a full waiting room but was offered a seat at the bar to wait for our table. I was promptly given a cold glass of beer and the wait was short. I felt that the waitstaff did a superior job on keeping our glasses full and our wait low.

In fact, when an error came up with my drink order (to my own fault,) a member of the barstaff came over to the table and corrected it before the drink was made.

Attention to detail at the Toasted Frog really shows, both in the food and in the people.

Would I eat here again?

You betcha.

Sure, the dishes and drinks are a bit pricy… For Grand Forks standards. Eat like this anywhere in any “big city” and I’m sure you’ll pay a lot more.

Overall, my experience at the Toasted Frog was fantastic. I can’t wait to return and sip martinis and nibble on fried pickles.

I miss home. Sights, smells and tastes from Hawaii

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I’m back in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

I’ve been back for about a week and a half now. My home in Mililani, Hawai’i, is a distant memory to me. The thought of guaranteed 70-somthing degree days seems absurd.

But instead, here I am. Listening to the 40-mph winds blow by my two bedroom apartment on the coldest day of the year.

I’d thought I share with you some of the best things I’ve eaten during the break.

Here is the best of Hawaii 2011:

From Ala Moana (Honolulu): A shrimp pad tai. Simple but so delicious. Anything with shrimp on it is my weakness.

You Grand Forks people take note. This drink cost Ten Bucks. Ten. $10.

For that amount of money, you could do some serious dammage in the tundra. But instead, it got me this (mighty good) mai tai.

Rimfire, Honolulu.

My friend Wes and I took a fellow North Dakotan out to eat at Zippy’s, a large Hawaii-only chain restaurant.

While I don’t usually write about chains, Zippy’s will be the only exception. With a large amount of locations on Oahu (and one on Maui,) the menu is perfect for any time of the day (most Zippy’s are open 24 hours.)

I had the spicy chicken domburi (spicy fried chicken of a bed of rice,) shrimp tempura (fried shrimp) and hot tea. Accompanied is the traditional bowl of miso soup, made from miso paste, seaweed and tofu. Not bad for a fast-food chain restaurant.

Prime rib was a theme on this trip, as I had it twice. The first time was at a restaurant. Medium rare is the only way to go.

This was the offering on one of our many family gatherings.

Bottom left: sashimi – raw ahi tuna

Top left: the most delicious shrimp scampi dish I have ever had. The shrimp was gently sautéed in butter and garlic and served with a lemon butter sauce.

Right: three different kinds of kim che (to apease the korean side of my family.) Cucumber, cabbage and picked root.

One of the best family meals I had was a random happenstance. My brother, mother and I were wondering where to go to eat one night and we decided to eat at Phuket Thai (http://www.phuketthaihawaii.com/), a place I’ve passed by dozens of times but never bothered to eat at.

Needless to say, our 5-course dinner for 3 was amazing.

The curry was perfectly seasoned with sweet notes from the coconut sauce. The fried chicken was unbelievably crispy and tender, and the sweet, sticky rice pulled everything together. For desert we had tapioca (and I had a banana custard.)

While in Kahuku (on the North Shore of Oahu,) my mom handed me this.

Famous for its sweet corn and shrimp, Kahuku is one of the only places that corn grows in my tropical paradise. In fact, a friend told me that corn has to be genetically modified to grow in the tropical climate.

This ear of corn was fire-roasted and covered in butter, garlic powder and cajun spices. Who wouldn’t want to eat this?

By far, my favorite meal this trip was veal osso bucco at Plazzo, in Aiea (http://www.yelp.com/biz/palazzo-ristorante-italiano-aiea)

The veal was perfectly cooked and brazed in wine for hours on end. The sauce was luxuriously rich but not too hard on the palate and the pasta made for the perfect accompaniment.

For your prairie dwellers: osso bucco is prepared specifically so the diner can scoop out the marrow in the bone and eat it atop fresh bread.

If I dined like this every night, I’d be dead within ten years, but oh so happy.

Harbor Village: Aina Hina, Oahu

http://www.yelp.com/biz/harbor-village-cuisine-honolulu


So much of family revolves around food in many Asian cultures. Just one day before I blasted off into the cold, I shared a meal with them in Aina Hina, Oahu.

The roast duck had a great crispy skin and the walnut shrimp were sinfully delicious.

The star of the show, however was a whole crab, roasted in garlic and ginger sauce. With Chinese food, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as well as be able to dig to harvest the best parts of the crab. As a kid, my parents taught me the finer parts of digging for crab meat and devouring every bit of this tasty creature.

Our meal was completed with three dessert: a great mango-cream pudding, tapioca and an almond jelly alongside the traditional pot of Chinese tea.

Tadashi

Pearl City, Oahu

Sashimi with a huge mound of wasabi

My personal favorite: The caterpillar roll. Eel, avocado and fresh fish roe rolled into one. The salty roe mingles with the sweet and creamy texture of the avocado, punctuated by the fresh eel taste.

My brother had assorted sushi for dinner. Yum

My dinner: shrimp and vegetable tempura alongside cold soba (buckwheat noodle).

It’s no surprise that I went to Tadashi as my last meal. I’ve been going there for three years in a row and found that they have the most fantastic sushi.

I am now hungry.

Question of the day: Where do you go out to eat the most?

Roast beast

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Happy new year, folks!

My new years resolution was to update this blog more. I want a running documentation of anything and everything I eat, both home and away.

For new years, I’ve decided to treat my family to a roast beef dinner. Like any man, I am a sucker for a nice slab of roast beast. The roast was a 5 lb prime rib.

There are several trains of thought when it comes to preparing a roast, all creating two principal textures to the beef:

1) A crust of some sort.

2) Slow-roasted, tender meat.

Previously, I’ve attempted the Alton Brown method (http://youtu.be/cmfaeWEjGpM) of crafting a roast – basically cooking low and slow then finishing the meat in a 500-degree oven. This method worked, but it was a bit fussy. Nobody wants to sit and monitor a probe thermometer all day. Also, the blast of heat at the end pushed the beef a step past medium-rare (if you are roasting a prime rib, why bother?)

I stumbled across the Foodwishes method (http://youtu.be/NUQ49SoteE0). 

This method requires a leap of faith. Basicly, you take the exact weight of the roast x 5, and blast the meat for that many minutes. Then turn the oven off and let the meat rest for two hours.

I started with creating a herb butter. Rosemary grows wild in the backyard of my home in Hawaii

, so I made it the start of the show. Mix a little room-temp butter, rosemary, parsley and some paprika in a bowl and rub it over the meat:

I roasted the roast in a 500-degree oven. After 25 minuets, turned the oven off and stepped away.

Don’t you dare open that oven door for two hours. Don’t even look (or think of looking) inside the oven.

After two hours, I poped the door open and found this: 

Needless to say, I’m a believer now. The meat came out to a PERFECT medium-rare. The herb butter also created a fantastic flavor profile for the fonde, which I later built into a delightful pan sauce.

I accompanied the roast with rosemary fondant potatoes (Gordon Ramsay’s recipe), and Yorkshire pudding.

A few hours latter, we had a proper Sunday English dinner.

The morning after, I devoured the rib. Few things are better in life than the rib of a roast :)

The Blue Moose- 3 ½ stars.

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The Blue Moose epitomizes East Grand Forks cuisine.

After moving to Grand Forks in 2008, my first trip to the East side was to eat at the Blue Moose. Known for their great food and beer selections, as well as their late night menu, the Moose is a popular hotspot for locals, visitors and college students.

The atmosphere at the Blue Moose is a relaxed “lodge” feel. It features a log cabin like interior, patio seating, private upstairs tables and a large bar area.

A friend and I make the Blue Moose our spot when we want to grab a beer (as in, one beer – if you are going to drink just one you better make it count.) We often try (and fail) at joining the “back 40” club – if you drink all 40 beers on tap, you get a t-shirt and prizes.

Recently, we stopped in and had some late night grub (their “tapas” menu),

What we ordered & menu description:

Flat iron steak (medium rare): (“A bias cut flat iron steak grilled to medium with our hand mixed coffee rub. It awakens the mouth with flavor.”)
Stuffed mushrooms: (“Button mushrooms stuffed with herbed cream & cojack cheeses, baked to perfection!”)
Mini Mahi-Mahi (“A blackened Mahi Mahi fillet finished with béarnaise sauce. Biased cut for sharing.”)

Review:

On arrival, we stat in the bar area (one of the many tables adjacent to the bar) and our drink orders were promptly taken. A short while later, our server came back to take our food orders and told us that tapas menu was buy one, get one half off (score!)

After ordering, we decided to move tables because the air conditioning vent was located right underneath that table we are sitting at. This created some very cold dinners…
Our food arrived promptly and we dug in.

Critiques:

Flat Iron Steak :

My steak was done to a perfect medium rare but I could tell right away that the cook failed to rest the meat before cutting into it (it was sitting in a pool of its own blood.)

The menu said it was to be bias cut (cut against the grain at a 45-degree angle,) but was instead cut straight down (see this epicurious video about cutting on the bias: )
Flat iron steaks are tough if not sliced properly and this one was.

The dish came out as 4 large slices when 8 or 10 thinner, biased slices could have brought this dish to the next level.

Stuffed mushrooms:

Good. They were piping hot and stuffed with all kinds of goodies. About 7 of them came with the order and were sitting a bit of clarified butter. Seriously, mushrooms, cheese and butter, what else do you need in life?

Mahi-mahi:
I am a fish guy so I had to order mahi-mahi.

The fish was just this side of overdone. Could have been a matter of less than 60 seconds of overcooking but it came out slightly tough, which looses the delicate flakiness of mahi-mahi.

The béarnaise sauce (made from butter and egg, not unlike a hollandaise sauce,) was off the mark. It was thick and gooey and not light and creamy as the cut of fish deserves.

The mahi-mahi was also served plain; it could have done with a simple garnish of tomato, pepper or some other kind of vegetable to balance out the sauce. The fish paired with the stuffed mushrooms was a winner

What it looked like:

Would I eat at the Blue Moose again?

You bet I would.

With the huge selection of food and beer, there is no way that I can turn down a trip to the Blue Moose.

I think of the Tapas menu as bar food. In that respect, the Blue Moose is well above the mark of most bars in Grand Forks. The service is fantastic and the prices are reasonable.

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