26 February, 2011

Some Like It HOT....

Where I live in Oklahoma you'd be hard pressed to find a place that serves Indian food that I would call "great".  In point of fact, my Mister and I drive 20 miles away to Norman, OK every time we are itching for some great Indian food with all the trimmings.  

In Montgomery it’s not so far.  7 miles from Maxwell is as far as you have to go.  On McGhee situated in its own little pocket location is India Palace.  They are preceded only by their reputation.  It’s been described to me as "fixture" and "The best Indian food for miles."  That's a direct challenge to my palate.  Indian is my FAVORITE "genre" of food EVER.

 Bar Area
Wall Art

View from our table

When we were seated I asked the waiter what their signature dishes were...I wanted to try the very BEST of what they had to offer.  Right away we ran into a little problem...language barrier.  None of the wait staff workin' the front had a firm grasp on English.  But, the owner did.  He was taking all the orders, handing out the dinner tabs and ringing people up; everybody else was playing the part of "runner".  He was EVERYwhere in that place.  I swear there was TWO of him!  We eventually got our water w/ lemon from the waiter and he brought us a complimentary order of papad.

Papad w/ mint & plum dipping sauces

I scanned through the menu and quickly noticed this was a far more extensive menu than most Indian places have.  When the owner made his way to our table I let him know I really enjoy spicy and I generally keep it real with lamb in whatever dish I order.  He directed me to the Rogan Josh.  We ordered it all up right...regular naan, onion kulcha and we tried their paneer pakora.  

While we were enjoying our papad we noticed small amounts of Indian men and women were slowly trickling in and heading for the tables next to us marked "reserved".  That's a GREAT sign people!  When someone from India wants to eat at the Indian place you're at, you KNOW you are in good hands.  Bet on it!  They are a very traditional, proper people with their customs.  Food is NO exception.  If it’s not right, they go elsewhere.  I was on the edge of my seat now.  *rubs hands together*  The anticipation was THICK. 

The appetizer made its way to the table...

Paneer Pakora

I'd never ordered anything like this before.  In my head, cheese just isn't a good pairing with traditional Indian flavors.  Ha, ha....silly Amanda.  This was really a fabulous way to start out at a place that was going to challenge my perception of what "great" really is for Indian food.  Paneer pakora is cottage cheese stuffed with mint sauce; dipped in graham flour and fried.  Okay...you're speaking Minnesotan now.  Cheese, dipped....fried....what else is there in life?!  It was just the right amount of savory followed up at the back end with the sweet tang from the mint.  Excellent!  

In the middle of gorging ourselves on the appetizer they brought out the entrees and breads.


Onion Kulcha

Rogan Josh

My first mouthful EXPLODED with flavor!  I could taste it all...cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, cumin; aniseed with the saffron, fennel and red chillies hitting the back of my tongue.  PERFECT!  They hit the traditional Kashmiri flavors exactly as they were meant to be.  The rice was tender and cooked wonderfully.  The lamb....CROSS YOUR EYES moist and juicy.  The naan and the onion kulcha were wonderful.  There was SO much food...much more than we could possibly have finished even if we sat there for hours.  How many ways can I convey that I was in my own private Heaven???

Moments like this come along only so many times in life.  It's like the end of an amazing chess game.  You sit back and know you've been bested (which is hard to do...) but you're glad that it was THAT person that got you.  You admire them; you're impressed.  A tantalizing fight just took place but you didn't win; and you don’t care.  You’d let them beat you again just to dance the dance one more time. 

I'll go ahead and agree with ALL the word of mouth advertising, ALL the travel websites and ALL the other online reviews of India Palace.  It is a fabulous walk through all the regions of India for your taste buds.  I'd recommend it for anyone that has a discerning palate for Indian flavors and textures. 

India Palace on Urbanspoon

How 'bout a pizza pie?

Tomatino's has been named the "best pizza" in Montgomery county.  No joke, when you walk in right next to the register area there is a plaque on the wall asserting to that fact.  I was really excited that I was about to get in on the show.  Who doesn't enjoy a great pizza?  No one I know.

Bistro seating outside

I checked out their menu online because I am SO bad at making decisions on the fly.  I really wanted to study it and know what I wanted before I went in.  Good thing too...they were SO busy.  I guess I half expected it on a Saturday during the lunch hour, but you always hope when you have a small child that it won't be though.  All the booth and table seating in the front was taken so we were situated in the breezeway between the back room and the front.  Which was fine, it gave the Wubby people and things to stare at in both directions.  

Back room

Original art

While I was on my walkabout I noticed a TON of art on the walls, complete with pricing.  As I conversed with the hostess/waitress she let me know that ALL of the pieces were original works of art done by the owner's mother.  WOW!  Pretty awesome.  (To protect the fact that they are originals I didn't take additional or close up shots hoping to prevent mediocre copies of her fine work.  My decision.)  

The inside was humming.  People were talking, enjoying their food.  Outside was no different.  Before we walked in, I asked the folks out front at the bistro tables if this was a good place for pizza.  They said they had just been there for the first time last night for dinner.  Nuff said.  Coming again the very next day was testament enough that I was indeed in the right place for a good pizza pie.   

When I asked my all important question, "What are your most popular/most asked for pizzas?" the hostess told me the "Combo" and the "Mediterranean".  Before we went, my Mister and I decided we would have the Mediterranean so it was fabulous to hear we'd made a good choice.  We looked at the "Combo" ingredients before we went and there was SO much meat on it (Pepperoni, Sausage, Beef, Bacon and Canadian Bacon.), we just didn't think we'd want that heavy of a lunch. 

The Mediterranean was RIGHT up my alley.  I love the flavors of spinach, red peppers, black olives, artichoke hearts and feta cheese all together.  This pizza had all that and MORE!

The Mediterranean

It looked great and tasted even BETTER!  My Mister is all about meat on his pies (though he agreed the Combo had too much meat for lunch), so he looked at it and said "It looks like a salad on crust."  Nice hon.  (He also thinks iceberg lettuce is "healthy".)  The artichoke hearts and tomatoes gave it such breadth.  This pizza didn't need meat with everything it had going on.  This conglomeration of veggies TOTALLY holds its own.  The sauce was pretty good as sauces go.  The crust...the crust is somethin' magical; crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with all the feel of a deep dish crust withOUT all that extra dough goin' on.  With the note on the menu that told me "We use organic flours, 100% part skim mozzarella cheese, unrefined sugars & sea salt.  Our dough and sauces are made here daily. We prepare our vegetables by hand." Tomatino's was fast living up to its "best pizza" title in my book.

I dare you to try Tomatino's and NOT be in LOVE with this pizza.  Whether you order and take it home or sit in for the close, intimate pizza shop feeling, this is a place that won't disappoint.  I know I'll be back for more!

Tomatinos Pizza & Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

25 February, 2011

Rings n 'Stard

Lunch time was fast approaching...or so my stomach would have had me believe.  It was 2 pm...yeah...a good nosh was WAY overdue.

Another place on the top 10 for Montgomery was Sinclair's.  With 3 locations in the area I was ready to pick the one closest to me of course, but this nomination was specifically for the Sinclair's in Cloverdale, near  Huntingdon College.  Just my luck, the Cloverdale (on Fairview Avenue) locale was nearest to Maxwell.  Yay me!

I wasn't in the mood for a huge ordeal.  I just wanted to get in with my Wubby, get some food...GOOD food and go home for a nap.  When we walked in a fellow greeted us at the door and went to work getting a high chair and getting us settled.  They could read my mind...great.  Booth seating....my favorite!  I feel like I am getting old...the older I get, the less I want to fidget around on an uncomfortable chair while I eat.  It was really sophisticated looking on the inside and they had patio seating as well for people who wanted to brave the Alabama heat and sun.

When you walk in Sinclair's

The view from my table

Patio seating out front

When my waitress came with the menu and my water I asked her what Sinclair's is popular for.  She said "Quite honestly, our salads."  I just wasn't in the mood for that.  Salad's are SO hit or miss for me and I am NOT a fan of iceberg lettuce which seems to find its way into EVERY salad.  Its the "McDonalds" of lettuce I tell you!  I always go for salads with spinach, green leaf or romaine lettuce.  Nice, green...healthy...  I wasn't in the mood to NOT like what I ordered.  I asked her about the sandwiches...which ones were "Sinclair's favorites" for the customers.  Beef on a Bun....The Club....but I had already started reading the description of the Goat Hill Hero.  "Mortadella, Genoa salami, ham, olive spread, Provolone cheese, lettuce & tomato on toasted French bread"   I knew I was getting it when I got to "olive spread".  I'm a TOTAL sucker for a good olive tapenade.  It came with a kosher dill spear...yummo!...and my choice of onion rings or fries.  Get this...I could get either one or half and half of each.  Cool.  But, I am all about the rings because if I can't finish them...blech...leftover french fries, no way.  It doesn't matter where I get them, I don't ever seem to like left over french fries.

Goat Hill Hero

With my mustard on the side (that ketchup came with the platter) for the rings...I was ready to DIG IN.  Hand to God...its one of the best heros I've ever had.  Of course, that feeling probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am eating the leftover half as I type.  I can EASILY see this becoming a secret addiction for me...and like those people that eat at Subway EVERY day and get the SAME sub made the same EXACT way; I'd order this masterpiece up all over again, "I'll have a Goat Hill, no tomato; with rings and mustard on the side please."  No hesitation.  

Here's the kicker...

Anyone else bite into onion rings, pull what you didn't bite on away from your face and BIGGITY BAM...you have ALL of the rest of that rings guts on your chin??  Happened to me many, MANY times in my life.  Depending on whom was accompanying me, I would pass on the rings even though I wanted them in order to save myself the embarrassment of the "onion chin" debacle.  So the moment of truth had arrived.  Nothin' could deconstruct the beauty that was my sandwich, but these rings were about to make or break Sinclair's for me.  I bit into my first ring....BEAUTIOUS....when I pulled the remaining ring away from my face, I wasn't wearing it on my chin.  Then came the taste portion of the rings.  SCORE!  Black pepper in the batter.  Noice!  They were "finger lickin'" rings!  I finished those and took the other half of my Goat Hill to go.

On my way out the door I asked the folks on the patio if it was okay for me to shoot a picture and post it on the internet if they were going to be in it.  They all didn't care at all.  While I was at it, I thought I might as well ask what they get when they come.  They had the look of regulars.  I'll explain the look some other time.  But...they all said the name of one salad or another.  Color me surprised.  I suppose I'll be taking another trip to Sinclair's to check out the Chicken Caesar and the Capri.  

Sinclair's was a nice time out for my day.  Good food, made fast...and fresh.  Worth every penny and worth a second trip.  Go get you some Sinclair's!

Sinclair's on Urbanspoon

Breakfast Anyone??

You know that feelin'?  You wake up...you're tired...you're STARVING, but you just don't have the ambition to cook?  Guh....yeah.  I am becoming more and more familiar with the feeling now that I am a momma.  

I woke up this mornin' with a hankering for something....warm for breakfast.  YEAH!  Real food, that's the ticket!  Living out of a cereal box gets old, but it soon becomes the standard when you are "on the road".  

There are two "best of" restaurant lists for Montgomery, AL.  I always start with lists like these and then work my magic with the local folk based on what the lists say.  Sometimes, people from where you are don't agree with the suggestions of weary travelers that post on places like Urban Spoon.  But you can SURE bet they'll tell you some of the best kept secrets they keep in the forefront of THEIR minds when they are gonna drop the coin to go out for food in their own neck of the woods.  

Which brings us to my breakfast...  

Down in the historic section of downtown Montgomery there is a plethora of places listed on the "best of" list, but you'll be hard pressed to find any of those that serve breakfast, which surprised me.  It seems like more and more places are skipping breakfast and even LUNCH and only open their doors for dinner.  What the HECK!?  Well, thank the Lord for places like Farmer's Market Cafe....

I sauntered on in with my Wubby in toe at the crack of 10 am.  My very first question to the ladies inside was "Are you still serving breakfast?"...I'm sure they could see the desperation on my face.  "Oh, yes ma'am, we sure are."  Man, was I glad to hear that.  My hypoglycemia was kickin' in and I had a MEAN appetite.  Lucky for me Farmers Market Cafe has breakfast from 5-11am.  Longer than all your chain establishments! 

A gentleman helped us get the Wubby into his highchair and our waitress was front and center at the table in a flash...complete with a menu and a big smile.  

The breakfast crowd at 10am 

Their breakfast menu is short and sweet...and really...c'mon, there are only so many things people want for breakfast in the morning right?  Right.  I scanned my way through the menu.  Anyone knows me knows I can't have refined sugar, so my options are pretty limited.  But...WHAT LUCK...they had French Toast!!  Yay!  My FAVORITE warm breakfast food!  

I had 2 options for French Toast.  There was French Toast and French Toast w/meat.  A menu my Mister could appreciate.  I have SUCH a problem with making food decisions without asking a BILLION questions.  That wasn't necessary here.  I asked her what the meat choices were and she rattled them off in a flash...  Sausage links, sausage patties, bacon and 2 different varieties of ham.  All I heard when she said that though was "Sugar, sugar, sugar and sugar."  So I asked her if both varieties of ham were sugar cured.  She went to find out.  Ah ha!  I was in the clear, one of the hams was straight up, no frills HAM.  Awesome!  I added a scrambled egg on the side to share with the Wubster.

French Toast w/meat; scrambled egg on the side

I gotta tell ya, it was JUST the right size portions of everything and it was all really great.  The french toast was beautifully thick and rich with the egg batter.  Seasoned just right, fried perfectly...no uncooked egg to be found on any of my toast halves.  All wonderful signs for a french toast platter.  The ham was nice and juicy with undertones of having been smoked.  I ate my food at MACH speed.  It can really ruin your day when you do that, but my stomach and I were having a private love affair with this breakfast that wouldn't be interrupted by proper decorum.

Of course, after finishing my delightful breakfast, my mind wandered to the white board of lunch eats that I saw when I walked in.  I didn't see a single item that I didn't want to try...

They offer a different line up for main dish choices and give you tons of side options to pair them with.  As I was paying my bill the lady offered me this weeks and next weeks menus.

On my way out I happened upon the owner who was in the front working the lunch line.  A perfectly sweet woman that seemed pleased I enjoyed my breakfast.  The sign of a TRUE owner.  When the customer walks away happy and full, a dedicated owner can joyfully be on their feet a couple hours longer that day knowing they are justified in their hard work right along with their staff.  There is just something to me about someone that isn't just "business" about their restaurants.  Serving your food yourself, making your own recipes its the stuff great restaurants are made of. 

I will definitely visit Farmers again.  I hope when you are in Montgomery, you will too.  Warm, filling food and kind hearts are waiting for you there!

Farmers Market Cafe on Urbanspoon

19 February, 2011

Corn On the Side...

I'll admit it.  The FIRST thing I do when I get to a new city is start talking to the "locals".  There are a lot of things you can glean from them.  Most often in my line of questioning I encounter a certain facial expression when I tell them what kind of food you're looking for...as if to say, "We don't have much for that around here..", which is almost always followed by a nearly identical comment affirming "the look".  

My Mister and I were picking up some essentials at the Whole Foods Market with our Wubby in Franklin, TN on Friday evening.  I decided my golden opportunity to score some good 411 on where to eat was right then...in the checkout.  I asked, "Where is a great place to eat around here that is NOT a chain restaurant?"  (This is a good question to start with, unless you're completely in love with something in particular.  Chain owned places hardly ever change their menus and they are woeful to take an order that is going to be altered from the menu listing in ANY way; even if it saves them time and money.  Heaven help you if you want something rare...).  A fellow shopper came to our rescue...

No joke!  It IS great!

Just west of I-65, on Murfreesboro, is where you'll find this gem.  Locally owned and run it has all the feel of heading to Grandma's for Sunday dinner.  With comfy seating, just the right amount of light and plenty of smiles to go around, the Chop House boats their own homemade salad dressings, a signature dish called "Rattlesnake Chicken Pasta" and FABULOUSLY soft drop biscuits....this place is SURE to please even the pickiest of eaters.  Trust me, I'm one of them!

Great booth seating!!

The Daily Specials Board...pretty cool!

Bar Area

As always, the first thing my Mister and I do is check out the App menu.  The selection was pretty typical.  My Mister usually goes for something with chips.  Yeah, he's THAT predictable.  So, when I got back from my wandering and picture taking, I wasn't surprised to find Spinach Artichoke Dip & Chips found its way onto our table.  But...I was surprised at how FAST it came.  Like LIGHTENING!

Spinach & Artichoke Dip w/ Salsa

We dug into it right away.  The chips were still warm, the dip was SO creamy and the salsa was "mmm...yummers...”  The dip had nice body, provided by the artichoke and the sour cream on top really rounded it out nicely giving it an extra little zing in the flavor department.  I was SUPER exited for my entree.

After much deliberation amongst myself I finally was able to decide on what to order for my main dish.  The aforementioned Rattlesnake Chicken Pasta was hard for me to pass up on, but when our server told me that they made ALL their dressings IN HOUSE, I couldn't pass up trying most establishments train wreck on a plate.  The Reuben.  

When someone tells me that they make their own dressings IMMEDIATELY my brain goes to the "taste of disappointment vault" where MOST of those dressings have been neatly deposited and left for dead.  The bottom line is that some chefs just can't find the correct balance between their vinegars and oils which is what EVERY dressing comes down to; fats and acids.  Then, with a Reuben there is a bonus "FAIL" built right in, the possibility of skunky 'kraut.  Which I define as...overly laced with vinegar and sugar to the point of nauseating.  Basically, gross.  Then there is the possibility of bad rye bread or worse...no rye at all.  And the MOTHER of all insults...horse crappy, dry corned beef.  You get the idea.  This sandwich can make or break a chef's reputation in no time flat.

My Reuben

Usually these monstrosities come griddle fried, sometimes even panini pressed (SO WRONG!!).  My sandwich did not.  It came out of the kitchen piping hot, stacked HIGH and lightly toasted.  I was completely in LOVE with it from the moment I saw it.  But, seeing isn't everything.  

The moment of truth had come.  I took my first bite.  The toasted marble rye held up against the 'kraut on the one side and against the Thousand Island on the other.  Great sign!  The more I chewed the more intoxicated I became.  The corned beef was prepared to perfection; unbelievably moist and the perfect level of savory.  Second bite....and I was hooked.  The 'kraut wasn't skunky, in fact it was quite loveable.  I'm one of those German's that will eat warm 'kraut and mustard in a bowl.  Good 'kraut anyhow.  Overly vinegary or sweetened sauerkraut just grates my brain.  The Swiss was smooth and brought the sweet out of the beef beautifully.

This sandwich comes with a side and I wasn't in a mood for fries.  I had already had my fill of "fried" anything in the past week.  I went with corn.  Love it, can't wreck it.  A little bit of butter and you're GOLDEN.

As if the Chop House couldn't get any better...they serve these wonderfully soft, buttery drop biscuits and honey butter.  TO.DIE.FOR!  I say that phrase a lot...but I was already full when I tried it.  It didn't even matter to me if they were "good" or not, I was just throwing the Chop House a bone by trying them in my mind.  So I could say...."yeah and they serve biscuits for free with thus 'n such"...but these biscuits refused to be an afterthought.  They were pretty sorry lookin' sitting in their basket with their butter and I was pushin’ maximum density on my stomach.  But after one bite…I couldn’t stop and I ended up eating two before my body screamed in agony.  They didn't disappoint and they are something I would request rather than french fries, cornbread, toast, or a regular yeast dinner roll ANY day of the week!  For sure...


If you're in the Franklin area and in the mood for great food, kind smiles and a relaxing atmosphere, drop in on the Chop House and give them a whirl.  I am confident that you'll love it and keep going back for more.  I know I will be dropping in on them whenever I am in the Franklin area.  Bon appetit!! 

Franklin Chop House on Urbanspoon

18 February, 2011

Great Expectations

When you Google "best Thai in Dayton, OH", a little place called Thai 9 is the FIRST thing that pops up.  Amongst what you can readily glean from this search are reviews of people that have dined there previously, all but a few giving them shining reviews.  You pick up a Chamber of Commerce magazine in any hotel lobby in Dayton and Thai 9 is on their "Top 10" list of restaurants along with The Pine Club (Supposedly the best steak in town) and L'Auberge (Best French cuisine "for miles around") .  Ask someone that lives in the area, "Oh, Thai 9?  Yeah, they have great food!"  There is a TON of hype surrounding this place that creates the feeling that it's just not to be overlooked if you plan on eating out at all when you visit Dayton.  I am absolutely in LOVE with Thai, so I HAD to check it out...and drag some friends along.

Thai 9 is tucked away in a little place called the Oregon District in downtown Dayton.  It's reminiscent of the historic sections of every town in America.  Cobblestone streets, artsy fartsy pottery shops, little bed & breakfasts....  I think you get the picture...   At first glance, curbside of Thai 9, you get the impression you are about to walk into a quaint, simple, & warmly inviting place.  

The back of the establishment features a HUGE parking lot which is GREAT when the only other option is the tweency little OD streets out front.  The back of Thai 9 has two levels of patio seating, which this time of year was not available to eat on yet, but if you chose to....you could stand there with a drink from the bar and chit-chat with your party.  It was 63 last night...why not, right??

When I asked the hostess what their signature dishes were, or what was NOT to be missed as she was showing me around, she immediately mentioned their Pad Thai and the Duck Basil.  Duck Basil eh?  Now...that sounded like somethin' I HAD to try!

The inside of this place was a strange mish-mash of decor that confused me a bit.  It looked rustic..almost like a skiing chalet on the inside.  There was a fair amount of hanging ivy of all things...  Really?  They have that in Thailand?  My Great Uncle Jerry lives in Thailand....I can tell you...no, they don't have hanging ivy.  The saving grace of it all was the wall art they chose, you could PRETEND you were in a Thai place if you stared at it long enough...

Picture overlooking our table

On the wall heading upstairs to 2nd level balcony seating

Greets you as you head to the Sushi bar

But my enthusiasm was snuffed out there.  When we walked in, we came in through the back; the bar area was immediately in front of us.  The stools were half filled and there were some people congregated nearby standing.  The noise level was very low, we could talk without yelling....but that quickly wasn't the case....

We had 6:30 reservations for 5 & a high chair.  I mention this because that comes into play later when the check came.  Moving on...

We were seated quickly and our server took some time to explain the menu.  We had no idea it took any explanation, until he started talking.  Thai 9's signature qwirk is that they have a spice level for their foods...a scale of 0-9.  Fair enough.  He told us there are some dishes that you have to start at a "3" with no matter what because that is just how they are made.  But, he really drilled in the concept that “you can always add spice to, but not take away” so be real with yourself about what you can handle.  I was sufficiently spooked knowing that authentic Thai could really clean your clock...I went with a "5". 

We started out with a Sushi sampler again...what could go wrong right?  It had a little bit of everything and was served with...of course...wasabi & ginger peel.  

Sushi Sampler

I went straight for the eel there on the left.  I only took half because I wanted anyone else interested to be able to enjoy.  Oopsy daisy...  Big mistake.  It tasted "fishy", felt rubbery on my tongue and was chewy.  Ick!  Then, I had a sushi roll which was just "okay" and told myself "Sushi isn't “Thai” anyhow...wait for the entree Amanda..."  I got up and started to look around a bit more, hoping that exploring would erase the bad eel and make room for the possibility of "great" to happen.  Here's what I saw...

View from our table

Closer to the kitchen

Sushi bar from the balcony

I went back to my seat because the entrees were sure to be coming up soon.  We'd been there a while...it was 7:25pm at this point.  Almost an hour into dining....  To get down from the balcony area you have to walk through the reception and bar area.  By this time, it was PACKED.  WALL TO WALL.  I've never said "excuse me" so many times to get through a crowd.  You couldn't see the counter of the bar.  I wasn't sure if they were all drinking while waiting for a seat, there to pick up a call in order (there were bags & BAGS of food lined up for pick up behind the reception desk) or just there for drinks.  It certainly wasn't a “gathering” friendly bar area.  I bring all this up because the noise level of this place was unbelievably LOUD at this point.  Think "marching band".  One of the "highlights" of this place is supposed to be their vaulted ceilings and intimate balcony area.  But, if you know anything about singing or acoustics you know these high ceilings create a breeding ground for noise to carry...a LOT.  I feel sorry for the saps up top that thought they were getting a quiet romantic dinner.  Ouchies.  Not a place a family with young children will make it very long in...

But I digress...back to the food....

Our entrees arrive.  7:40pm. I couldn't wait to dig in to my Duck Basil.  After the sushi I was afraid I shouldn't have taken the hostesses advice on the dinner.  But, it held its own.  The duck wasn't muddy, the skin was PERFECTLY crisped and that crustiness held up after being sauced.  The vegetables were fresh and not wilted.  Duck is a heavy, oily meat by nature, so to Thai 9's credit...they kept the sauce fairly translucent and light. 

Duck Basil

The problem entered in on sauce flavor.  Remember that sliding scale of spice I told you about, "0-9"?  Right...  One of our friends that was along said he "Always has to go 9." but, I thought he was maybe just sayin' that because there were 4 other guys along.  Ahem...not so.  As I said...I went 5.  I couldn't taste "spicy" anywhere in there!  You know how Thai spice...it just SLAPS you across the face, hits at the back of your tongue...if it’s REALLY good, you almost choke?  That?  This didn't come close.  I was looking for something much closer to "sweaty eyeballs" on the spice scale.  This fell horribly short.

I was surprised how fast we all ate.  It was 8pm now.  Time for our son to be in bed.  We asked our server for the check and he offered to take a picture of us.  I was grateful...that was on the "to do" list before we left anyhow.

Checks come...lol...before he handed them to us he let us know that parties of 6 or more incur an automatic gratuity.  Interesting...most places don't do that until you hit 8 guests in the party.  And 6??  There were only 5 of us.  I thought...surely the dude can count.  Then I realized...  I looked at the bar area FULL of people...then at my 1 year old; in his highchair sucking on a lemon wedge....then back at the bar.  Space in that place is at a premium apparently.  A kid that ordered nothing but was there COUNTS.  Wow...  So...18% extra got slapped onto everyone's bill.  I felt SO guilty.  Then…greatly annoyed.  

Joe, Blake, Mister, the Wubby, Me & Jose

Over 60 bucks later, I decided that Thai 9 wasn't somewhere I would be going back to for an "eat in" experience.  My entree was "good", but NOT fabulous.  I can concede there may be other dishes to try.  But, the environment was overwhelmingly loud and dim, even for the dinner hour lighting.  As I made my way out with my left over Duck Basil I looked at those bags behind reception and thought to myself that those people had the right idea.  Call it in, then take it home...and what I can tell you is when they ask you how "hot" you want it, ALWAYS say "NINE!!" .

Thai Nine on Urbanspoon

16 February, 2011

Asian Fine Dining INDEED!

I got a tip from a lady in a salon (usually a horrific haircut tale follows a comment like this...) when I told her I was having trouble coming up with a credible recommendation for Asian in the area.  Right across the way there is a place called "Asian Buffet" but I had heard so many mixed comments and I LOVE Asian cooking...I just didn't want to blow my love for it out of the water.  I asked her about the place.  She kinda crinkled her nose and said she hadn't heard a mixed anything about it, she's only ever heard of its never-ending lack of deliciousness.  When I asked her where she sends the people she loves without hesitation she said "Mr. Lee's".

Now...I'll admit, the FIRST thing that popped into my head was stereotypical Mr. Miyagi looking figure yelling orders at sweaty cooks in Mandarin in the back of a one hinie kitchen with a scowl on his face (I know what you're thinking...tres chic right?  Yeah...sure thing).  Until.... he turns to you, then he cops a contrived smile and asks you in horrible English "How I help you?", meanwhile you're frantically trying to translate the Mandarin on the menu into English by the picture of the food next to the picture of the name of it.  Oh...there's broccoli in that...that MUST be Beef & Broccoli right?  Of COURSE right!  I'll order THAT.  This is what I am used to in my neck of the woods.  And...that's really only if I walk into order...most of my Asian experiences have been via phone.  There are NO Asian dining places near where I reside.  When I say dine...I don't mean "eat"...I mean food, lighting, sights, sound...a TOTAL meal package.  

I was about to find out that "Mr. Lee's" was ANYthing, but typical. 

When you come up 75N and pass the Wyse/Benchwood exit you see it...just there on the horizon.  A round small sign sticking up that reads "Mr. Lee's".  Nestled behind a small "authentic Mexican" joint (they ALL say they are "authentic" don't they?) is this beautiful place.  At first glance it almost looked like a spa.  Were it not for the parking lot being PACKED, I'd have been in a bit of denial this was a restaurant.

I started looking around me...IS this a restaurant??  Ah ha!  The closer you get, the more descriptive the experience becomes...this is no longer "Mr. Lee's" as seen from the highway.  This is "Mr. Lee's Fine Asian Dining".  I could NOT wait to get inside...

The very first thing I noticed as soon as I made my way up the front stairs was that the foyer and receiving desk had such simple, elegant decor.  

Even the door was a perfect accent to the evening we were about to have.

As I made my way through that door I noticed that directly behind the receiving desk was a wall fountain....and I mean the WALL was a FOUNTAIN people!  BOTH sides!  This place was literally DRIPPING in good vibes.  A feng shui master had been through this place thoroughly.  

And...since you can already see it in this shot...lets talk about the bar you see back there.  My Mister and I don't imbibe so I rarely bother looking at the bar areas and never at the liquor lists.  But it looked SO inviting and intimate; I just HAD to take a peek.  Without getting any guests into the shot, this was what you get.  It was so appropriate that the bar, with the typical television playing sports, was on the other side of the establishment so conversation and meal could be enjoyed without intermittent cries of "Ooh...fouled on that play."  Basketball was on...yeah I looked....

Here is their wine wall...even that is flibbin awesome!  Nice clean lines and bright finish....great!

We were seated in a beautifully lit dining area by the hostess.  She brought us a high chair for our son right away.  When I made the reservation and told them there were 2.5 of us and Mr. Lee asked us if we needed one, my interest was peaked.  Was this some place that regularly has small children?  Was it going to be loud?  Not to worry, it was none of the above.  It's just fine dining.  For couples, for families...for whomever enjoys a decadent adventure.

The menu was extensive, very well organized and every thing was priced very reasonably.  We started out as we always do...Spring Rolls & Crab Rangoon...then took a walk into uncharted territory and went for a Sushi Sampler.  Mr. Lee's has a whole 3 pages dedicated to sushi.  I decided there MUST be something their sushi... 

The spring rolls were a chicken/shrimp combo & came with a horseradish mustard sauce TO.DIE.FOR!

The crab rangoon had REAL crab meat & fresh herbs in them!  FABULOUSSSS!

Being in this place on Valentine's Day evening was a risky thing.  The place was packed, but you didn't notice.  One of the reasons you didn't was the unbelievable ambiance.  The lighting was perfect, the seating was comfortable and then...there was music.  I looked at my husband peering around the restaurant, like he was looking for something.  When I inquired he told me he thought the music sounded live, but he couldn't see anything.  Then we both shrugged it off.  I got to thinkin' about it and went wondering.  Besides, I HAD to see what else was in this place!

I meandered my way to the rear of the dining area, walking past a very beautiful private dining room that was filled with people happily eating away.  Then I see them...seated near the mirrored wall.  I thought to myself..."Well, I'll BE if there isn't live music!"  I walked over and introduced myself and let them know that my Mister & I were really enjoying their playing.  Their playing was soft and super relaxing, with him on the flute and her on the acoustic guitar, with vocals every once in a while in the perfect places.  Michael & Sandy Bashaw of Puzzle of Light really made it the total package evening.  Wonderful!

I went back to my table because I was ready to get to the main event.  The entree. I'd already heard people around me commenting on their food..."Outstanding..."; "Yeah, this is great."; "We have to come here again!"  I was coming unglued.  I had ordered one of my favorites, Kung Pao Chicken.  As with the appetizers, at first bite you can tell this food was made to order.  All the vegetables were tender crisp, the meat was succulent and the sauces were as bold as ordered.  It was Kung Pao the way it was MEANT to be made!  Oh joyful!  I got so enamored with my dish that I almost forgot to take a shot of it....note the fork and the small dent in the food.

As if the evening couldn't get any better....here comes the Sushi Sampler!  Now...this I didn't get a picture of.  I saw it and just started grazing!  I couldn't help myself!!  It was an array of DIVINE morsels!  Eel, Red Snapper, Salmon & Tuna; all expertly cut, unbelievable flavor...our favorite of the group was the Eel hands down.  It was moist, flaky and just a smooth taste.  The sauce it was paired with really highlighted the meat.  There was some wonderful wasabi and ginger peel to round out the platter.  Each variety of sushi was fresh and had really clean flavor.  Nothing was "fishy", which is usually the kiss of DEATH for most places that offer sushi. 
Happy family; full tummies

Bottom line....Mr. Lee's Asian Fine Dining is a total gem; it's a slice of heaven and Asian as it was meant to be.  Mr. Lee himself spent a great deal of time in front of house; his hands-on approach impressed me.  He takes great pride in his restaurant, as well he SHOULD!  AMAZING evening from start to finish!  I didn't want the night to end.  Attentive staff, family friendly set up, gorgeous & fresh expertly prepared food all came together to produce a thoroughly enchanting experience.  Mr. Lee's Fine Asian Dining truly earns the name "fine" and will remain on our "must go" list whenever me & my Mister are in Dayton, OH.  

謝謝 Mr. Lee....

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