Archive for the 'All U Can Eat' Category

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Mezbaan Indian Cuisine – Pasadena

Mezbaan Indian Cuisine - Pasadena

When the Indian kids studying at Caltech are hungry for a taste of home, they head to Mezbaan Indian Cuisine in Old Pasadena. It’s hardly the closest Indian restaurant to campus, but the quality makes up for the longer trek, according to our friend Raga, a computer science grad student from Madras.

Raga introduced The Astronomer and me to his favorite spot a few Sundays ago. We came for the  all-you-can-eat buffet, which is priced at $10.95 and includes champagne. The fun starts at noon and runs until 3 PM. Mezbaan also has a weekday buffet for $8.99 from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. For grad students living on a stipend, these buffets offer a lot of bang for very little buck. Ordering a la carte will come once PhDs are in hand. Or maybe not…

Mezbaan Indian Cuisine - Pasadena

While we were filling up our plates at the steam tables, our really nice and attentive waiter dropped off a basket of warm and pliable naan. This was the first of two baskets we plowed through during our meal.

Mezbaan Indian Cuisine - Pasadena

On our visit, Mezbaan offered three different condiments—mint chutney, tamarind chutney, and raita, a cooling yogurt sauce. Raga had a soft spot for the minty one, while I favored the sticky sweet tamarind one.

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Tahoe Galbi Restaurant – Los Angeles (Koreatown)

Since The Astronomer’s class load on Fridays is especially light, he hopped on the Metro and jammed to Koreatown to meet me for dinner. We were car-less during our first couple of weeks in Los Angeles and became quite familiar with the public transit system. The Metro isn’t as dependable as the subways in New York City, but in all honesty, it gets the job done fairly well.

Tahoe Galbi Restaurant is located in between my office and the Wilshire-Western Metro station. Besides being convenient, the place received Korean barbecue connoisseur Wandering Chopstick’s seal of approval.

We arrived before the Friday night dinner rush and were seated promptly at a table fit for six. After perusing the menu for a brief moment, we both slammed it shut and declared that All U Can Eat was the only way to go—we were game for a meat fest.

For a measly $17 each, we feasted on bunches of banchan and all the meat we could stomach. The banchan arrived first. The colorful selection included white jelly squares topped with scallions and a soy vinaigrette, Jap-Chae (translucent starch noodles with vegetables and beef in a sweet garlic sauce), K’ong Na-Mul (bean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil), Musaengchae/Muchae (pickled diakon), kimchi, Gam-Ja Salad (potato salad) and steamed broccoli with chili pepper paste. There were also little squares of rice paper that weren’t very photogenic.

When it comes to complimentary flavors, it makes perfect sense to pair cool pickled vegetables with salty grilled meats. These diverse little nibbles really brightened up our otherwise protein-intensive meal.

Additional side items included a fresh green salad, a bubbling fermented bean paste stew with tofu and whole shrimps, and a delicate steamed egg. The salad was bland-city, while the stew’s flavors reminded me of Vietnamese canh chua and the egg was reminiscent of Japanese Chawanmushi.

Whereas the banchan enhanced the Korean barbecue experience for us, these side items didn’t quite meld with the meat at hand. Perhaps the clever folks at Tahoe serve these side items to distract diners’ taste buds, thus effectively lowering the volume of meat they consume.

A number of condiments were also set upon our table including freshly sliced garlic and jalapenos, a thick fermented tofu sauce, sesame oil and Korean fish sauce.

The All U Can Eat menu includes a selection of six meats, including crowd pleasers like bulgogi and galbi. Since it was our first time in a long time eating Korean barbecue, we ordered a bit of everything from our amiable waiter.

Our first batch of meats included Chadolbaegi (Korean sliced brisket) and beef tongue. Is it just me or does beef tongue taste a bit like mild liver? Both cuts were good, but not nearly as exciting as the heaps of bulgogi and galbi to come.

Next, we enthusiastically dove into galbi, bulgogi and chicken. The galbi (marinated beef short ribs in a ganjang-based (Korean soy suace) sauce) was tender, well-seasoned and made us feel like cavemen. The bulgogi (thin slices of sirloin beef marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic) was equally awesome. Whereas I preferred the thin pieces of galbi due to the ratio of meat to marinade, The Astronomer liked the thicker slabs of bulgogi. I didn’t taste any of the chicken, but The Astronomer proclaimed it juicy and flavorful.

The pork belly was our least favorite meat because after eating copious amounts of beef slathered in a sweet marinade, the unseasoned pork just tasted bland.

After completing our first platter of meats, The Astronomer was feeling bold and ordered a second helping of our favorites—kalbi and bulgogi. My belly was overwhelmed by this point, so I manned the grill like a pro.

From chicken to beef to pork, The Astronomer and I were really impressed by how tender each and every one of the meats at Tahoe Galbi were. In addition to the excellent food, the service and ambiance were respectively efficient and clean. I especially appreciated the mid-meal grill change because meat juices have a nasty way of crusting up the grill’s surface and charring innocent meats.

As we walked from the restaurant to the Metro stop, we wondered if the surge of protein flowing through our systems would stay for longer than 24 hours. Sadly, probably not.

Tahoe Galbi Restaurant
3986 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone: 213-365-9000

Pepperonis

I’ve been wanting to try Pepperonis restaurant in Saigon for a while. This Hong Kong-based “Italian” chain sells a wide range of pizza and pasta, but they’re known in particular for their cheap lunch and dinner buffets. As recently as two years ago, you could gain access to an endless supply of pastas and salads for a mere 28,000 VND. While this price has since increased (along with the cost of everything else in Vietnam), the 42,000 VND lunch buffet is still quite a deal.

On a recent visit to Hanoi, I happened to walk past a Pepperonis branch on the way to my hotel from the airport shuttle stop. Although I typically resolve to eat nothing but novel northern Vietnamese delicacies when I visit the capital, on this day I was in the mood for something different. I had followed up a longish run in the morning with a meager breakfast, and after skipping out on the disgusting sandwich on my Vietnam Airlines flight, I was unusually hungry. In these situations, there’s something about stuffing yourself with Italian pasta that just hits the spot—Vietnamese food can’t quite match it. Besides, I couldn’t see myself dragging The Gastronomer to an all-you-can-eat luncheon of questionable quality during our final two weeks in Saigon. It seemed appropriate to go at it alone.

It was 12:55 PM when I stepped inside. The advertised lunch buffet hours were 11:30-1:30, so there was no time to dawdle. I chose a seat upstairs by the window (might as well give my camera a fighting chance), grabbed a plate, and headed back downstairs to the buffet. It wasn’t the most impressive spread I’ve seen… just one table of entrees in metal cafeteria-style tins, and one table of salads with slightly more appealing presentation. The selection was also a bit strange—I had been hoping for a choice of several pasta shapes and a nice range of sauces, but I was instead presented with a mismatched hodgepodge of Vietnamese and Western food.

I threw caution to the wind and started filling my plate with a little bit of everything. The end result didn’t look so hot, but I was ready to eat. I started with some glass noodles from the salad table. These definitely came from the Vietnamese end of the spectrum. Dressed with a sweet, nuoc mam-based sauce, they were tasty, if not exactly what I had come for. I grabbed some corn on the cob, which was terrible—cold and slathered with way too much butter. I struggled to finish two small sections.

Things began looking up with a carrot and daikon salad. A classic Vietnamese goi with peanuts and herbs, it looked like do chua but wasn’t sour. I also sampled an excellent baked pasta—a bit like lasagna but with made with spaghetti and lacking runny cheese. This one confused me at first, but I eventually identified it as the baked Bolognese from the menu. It was really satisfying—different than anything I had eaten in months.

I rounded off plate #1 with some stir-fried vegetables on rice. They were solid, with lots of onions (not too raw) and a hint of lemongrass, but it was a super-weird thing to eat after the baked Bolognese. The words, “What am I doing?” came to mind.

Nevertheless, I was still hungry, and it was nearly 1:15. I went back for plate #2. I came back with more goi (ironically probably my favorite dish of them all), some penne with white sauce, a section of veggie lasagna, and chicken curry with rice. The penne was a huge disappointment. Since it was the closest thing to my original vision for the meal available, I filled up a full half-plate with it, but the sauce was bland and tasted too much like pure cream with a hint of mushrooms. The veggie lasagna turned out to actually be potatoes au gratin, or perhaps some other creamy dish with potatoes, onions, and herbs. It was decent, but it didn’t leave me yearning for more.

The chicken curry was probably pretty good, but this time the shock of the transition from creamy pastas to Vietnamese food was too much. I was getting full, and I just wasn’t in the mood anymore. This had to be one of the strangest meals I’d ever eaten.

It was almost 1:30, so I went back for one more helping of my favorites—the carrot and daikon salad and the baked Bolognese. I finished off the meal with some papaya chunks from the dwindling fruit salad. I had eaten too fast, but I felt alright. I had found a few winners among the selection of mediocre offerings, and I had satisfied my curiosity about Pepperonis. It’s not so different from one of the cheap pizza/hoagie/pasta joints in Pennsylvania (albeit with a bizarre Vietnamese twist), or perhaps the Swarthmore dining hall on a good day. Clearly somebody likes it—according to their business card, there are 5(!) locations in Hanoi. Guess it wasn’t such a coincidence that I ran into one.

Ajia Japanese Fusion – Philadelphia

April 21, 2007
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi

3131 Walnut St, Philadelphia 19104
Between 31st & 32nd Street

Phone: 215-222-2542
Website: none

Appetizer I: Salad with Ginger and Orange Dressing

Appetizer II: Miso Soup

Round I: Shrimp Tempura Roll, Inari, Tuna Nigiri, Tako Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Yellowtail Nigiri, Sweet Potato Roll, Philadelphia Roll, Spicy Salmon Roll

Round II: Tuna Roll, Salmon Roll, Spicy Crunchy Tuna, Spicy Crunchy Salmon

Round III: Shrimp Tempura Roll, Rock N Roll, Unagi Roll

Round VI: Unagi Roll, Spicy Crunchy Salmon Roll, Rock N Roll

Round V: Yellowtail Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Tuna Nigiri, Spicy Salmon Roll, Kani Nigiri, Inari, Tako Nigiri

Round VI: Philadelphia Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll, Rock N Roll, East Roll

Round VII: Kani Nigiri, Shrimp Nigiri, Unagi Roll, Rock N Roll, Spicy Crunchy Salmon Roll

Round VIII: Unagi Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Tuna Nigiri, Mackerel Nigiri, Clam Nigiri, Yellowtail Nigiri

Round IX: Shrimp Tempura Roll, Tuna and Avocado Roll, East Roll

Round X: Inari

Round XI: Spicy Crunchy Tuna and Sweet Potato Roll

In honor of Paul’s 24th birthday, a posse of 12 gathered at Ajia for their delectable All U Can Eat sushi, which is reasonably priced at $21.95, plus tax and tip. The special also includes unlimited miso soup and salad. It was my second All U Can Eat affair of the week (Lacroix being the first), but I was ready to throw down once more because there’s always room for sushi.

The restaurant was packed on Saturday night and the service was extremely spotty because one waitress was working the entire room. This was my fourth time testing my stomach’s limits at Ajia, so I knew what to expect when it came to service. In my book, great sushi at a great price more than makes up for nonexistent service.

As usual, I passed on the soup and salad to save room for the good stuff. The Astronomer is a fan of the salad’s orange and ginger dressing. The miso soup is decent as well.

The variety of nigiri and rolls offered for the All U Can Eat special is impressive. Our group’s favorites were the Shrimp Tempura Roll, Spicy Crunchy Tuna and Salmon Roll, Unagi, salmon and tuna nigiri, and the Sweet Potato Roll. The Inari, Unagi nigiri, and Philadelphia Roll are three of my personal favorites.

The ratio of fish to rice is perfect and the fish is generally very fresh. However, the Mackerel seemed a bit off on this evening. All of the sushi is made to order, which takes a while with a large group.

After 3.5 hours and eleven rounds of sushi, we left thoroughly stuffed and satisfied.

For a complete menu, click below…

Ajia Japanese on Urbanspoon

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