Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fallingwater Cafe

One of the places in western Pennsylvania that was a must for our road trip was Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing Fallingwater. Designed in the 1930s as a residence, it's an amazing architectural masterpiece built over a waterfall. We really enjoyed the tour, and after spending time taking in Fallingwater from every angle, we headed over to their cafe for some lunch.

The Fallingwater Cafe was focused on seasonal and local fare, and served soups, sandwiches, and salads. This seemed to fall right in line with the Fallingwater aesthetic and philosophy of fitting in with the land and the environment.

We got 2 different items for lunch. One was Liliane Kaufmann's chicken salad from the Fallingwater cookbook. The Kaufmanns were the clients Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house for, and I guess this salad was a specialty there. The salad was described as having chicken, grapes, celery, and water chestnuts with a homemade dressing. It was served with a corn stick, which was like an elongated corn muffin. The salad itself we thought was good, clean tasting, but nothing extraordinary.

The other thing we got was the mixed mushroom melt (garlic and thyme sauteed portabello, shiitake, oyster and cremini mushrooms with lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella on Cuban roll) with a side of a cool English pea and couscous salad. From what we remember, the sandwich was pretty good. Again, very clean flavors, good quality ingredients, and well-executed. The part I remember a bit more is the pea and couscous salad, which I remember tasted very fresh and bright, but I also probably remember this more because of my love for Israeli couscous.

Overall, we had a nice light lunch at Fallingwater Cafe. We were still in a really great mood after spending the morning around such architectural beauty, and it was great to be able to extend that a little longer with some lunch there. Was it the most amazing, extraordinary food we had on our trip? Probably not, but it was a good, solid meal and we were glad we went.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ricotta and Spinach Tortelloni

Continuing my mission to re-try all the Trader Joe's lunch items I've tried before and never posted about, another one I picked up was the ricotta and spinach tortelloni with red pesto ($1.99). This was an easy, microwave in the box, pasta like the fusilli I previously reviewed.

There were about 9 or 10 tortelloni in the box along with cherry tomatoes and some chopped zucchini and red bell peppers. The tortelloni were supposedly stuffed with ricotta and spinach, but that wasn't especially obvious from the flavor. I never really think the Trader Joe's tortelloni/tortellini have any distinct flavor apparently (see here and here). The sauce/pesto and the vegetables were pretty good, but it was more watery than I remembered from last time.

Buy Again? Maybe. It's not a bad lunch, but I like the fusilli box better. I think it's because it has more vegetables and I prefer the pesto flavor in that one.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thai Times Three

The biggest hurdle with recapping our 2014 Vegas trip is that we haven't really made any progress (yet) with writing about our 2012 Vegas trip. That doesn't sound like it should be a problem, but we visited some of the same places (like Thai superstar Lotus of Siam) on both trips. It's a little difficult to write about our second visit when we never discussed the first. Complicating that matter even further in this case is that in 2014, we also visited Chada Thai & Wine for dinner. Some of the folks from Chada used to be at Lotus, and we got some dishes at Chada that we had previously gotten at Lotus, and it's tough to compare if we never talked about Lotus in the first place.

So what's the solution? What seemed to make the most sense was to go back a little bit, tell you about our very first visit to Lotus of Siam back in 2012, and then jump back to our 2014 recaps and talk about our visits to Chada for dinner and Lotus for lunch the very next day. Just didn't really make sense to break up all the posts at this point. It's confusing enough as it is. So without further ado, first up, our very first visit to Lotus of Siam!

Lotus of Siam, Part I

On our 2012 trip to Vegas, we stayed at the MGM Grand on the Strip. Although we mostly stuck to restaurants we could walk to, we definitely wanted to check out Lotus of Siam since it was considered one of the best Thai restaurants in the country. We called up for a reservation, knowing how busy they get, and even though it was last minute, we were lucky enough to get one. On the night we went up for dinner, we encountered a super long taxi line at the hotel which caused a bit of stress (we were there during both the rodeo and a Pacquiao fight), but we were lucky and got there just in time.

Once we got there, we were confronted with a gigantic menu. There were so many things that sounded good, but we had done some research in advance and were able to narrow our choices down to 4. One thing on our list that Lotus of Siam was famous for was the nam kao tod, described on the menu as a salad of crispy rice mixed with minced sour pork sausage, green onion (although from the pictures and our memories, it also seems like there was red onion), fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, and lime juice. We liked this a lot, and it ended up on my favorites list for 2012 because it was just so different from anything we had had before and incredibly delicious. I mentioned back then that when I heard rice salad, the first thing I thought of was Jitlada's khao yam, but while this wasn't that, it was still really good. That combination of flavors, full of sour and spice, was just so good.

One thing that wasn't on our researched list, but which sounded interesting on the menu, was kang ka noon (spicy young jackfruit curry). This was a Northern style curry dish and it sounded so different from the Thai curries we had had before, so we wanted to try it. This spicy curry was full of young jackfruit, spices, and catfish (the other choices were pork and chicken). I had never really had much, if any, jackfruit before, and I was curious to see if I would like it. A had eaten it before, just not in curry. They described the texture of the jackfruit on the menu as similar to artichoke hearts, but if I remember correctly, they seemed a little firmer than that. I also don't remember for sure but I think the fish pieces in the curry had bones in them, which made it a little harder to eat (for me). Although this wasn't bad, it was definitely our least favorite dish of the night because everything else was so good.

Another dish we had heard Lotus did well was nam prik ong, a red chili dip. This was a Northern Thai dip that combined ground pork, tomato, and dried spices, and tasted to us like a Thai version of bolognese. The flavors were remarkably similar to spaghetti sauce, and it was utterly bizarre (in a good way) for us to be eating that as a dip with raw vegetables and sticky rice. The small bowl of dip came with raw carrots, green beans, cauliflower, cucumber, and lettuce, as well as some pork rinds, making it very light and healthy overall. This dip made A's favorites list for 2014 when we got it for the second time and it was a strong contender for both of us back in 2012 (but 2012 had all that competition from Barcelona).

The last entree we got for our Thai dinner feast at Lotus was sea bass on drunken noodle which we had heard a lot about. This was deep fried sea bass topped with homemade fresh chili and Thai basil served on top of pan-fried rice noodle. As A put it in his favorites list for 2012, it was like the best drunken noodle we had ever had, multiplied in greatness by 10, with some perfectly fried, lightly battered, flaky sea bass on top. It was really, really good, and at the time, we weren't sure how we'd go back to "regular" drunken noodle at home. (Clearly we managed, as we have had much pad kee mao in the past few years, but we do still think about this dish.) We haven't really found anywhere in New York that makes drunken noodle this way (although there are still many Thai places we have yet to try), and we wish they would. It's such a great combination.

We were so incredibly happy with our dinner at Lotus of Siam, and we decided to cap off the night with some sticky rice with mango for dessert. This was sticky rice marinated in coconut cream topped with toasted mung bean (according to the menu, even though we always just thought they were sesame seeds) served with fresh mango slices. This is a dessert we have gotten plenty of times at home, and probably our favorite Thai dessert, so it was the perfect end to a good meal.

Chada Thai & Wine

When we returned to Vegas in 2014 for another long weekend trip, we knew we wanted to return to Lotus of Siam since our first dinner there was so good. We didn't want to deal with the hassle of making a reservation so we figured we would just go for an early lunch. Instead, we planned to grab our Thai dinner at Chada Thai and Wine, a spot that some Lotus alums had opened in late 2012, and which had become very popular and garnered lots of raves during the period between our Vegas visits. (There's now a sister restaurant to Chada called Chada Street that we've bookmarked because it sounds fantastic.)

While there were some similarities between the menus at Chada and Lotus, there were also so many unique things that we had never tried before and we were so excited to explore. One of these was called miang pou, which was a lettuce wrap with crab meat, ginger, roasted coconut, peanut, chili, lime, onion and sweet tamarind sauce. We love lettuce wrap in all forms (and we make it at home), but we had never had lettuce wrap with these ingredients before. It was a little bit spicy from the small piece of bird's eye chili in each cup, but otherwise it wasn't really spicy. All the ingredients, all the flavors, and that slightly sweet sauce all worked so well when combined, and the sauce helped bring it all together. The crab tasted so fresh and sweet, and the overall flavors of the lettuce wrap were so clean.

Without a doubt, our favorite thing at Chada that night was the spicy herbs spring roll, a soft rice paper wrapper lined with lettuce leaves and filled with ground pork, ginger, onion, lemongrass, wild cilantro, mint, kaffir lime leaf, and basil vinaigrette. This was so good that it made both A's favorites list and my favorites list for 2014. While many of the dishes from these 3 Thai meals were in contention for our favorites lists during both years, this was the only one that actually made both of our lists, which should tell you something about how good it was.

This spring roll was the best thing we had eaten on our trip by that point. Unlike a lot of summer rolls, the filling inside was warm. The flavors were floral and herbal and refreshing and bright. The flavor seemed so familiar, even though we had never really had anything quite like it, but we still haven't been able to figure out why or what dish it reminded us of.  It was somehow simultaneously delicate and intense, light and fresh and comforting. This was just really, really good, and every ingredient worked perfectly together.

By now, you probably know that larb is one of our favorite Thai dishes to eat. This version was ground pork (the options were ground pork, salmon, or king trumpet mushrooms) with rice powder, onion, mint, fish sauce, lime juice, and chili powder, and sides of cucumber and lettuce wedges. We had ordered everything medium spicy that night, and this was definitely the spiciest thing we got at dinner. It was a really tasty version of larb with a sauce that was a little thicker and more fragrant than a lot of other places. We were very happy with this.

Next up was sen mee kang pou, a homemade crab curry served with thin rice noodles. When the dish arrived, the little bundles of rice noodles reminded us of Sri Lankan string hoppers, and they were topped with fried garlic. The crab curry itself was quite good. There was a lot of crab in it, and the crab was so sweet inside the fresh and creamy curry. We had never had crab curry before, and we would definitely get more if it tasted this good.

The last dish we got from Chada was their drunken noodle / pad kee mao (flat rice noodles, bird's eye chili, garlic and basil) with sea bass, which was the same thing we had gotten at our Lotus dinner. We were curious to see how they would compare and which version we would like better. Overall, the noodles and basil were good at both places, but when it came to the fish, we gave the edge to Lotus. The fish at Lotus was deep fried in strips, whereas the Chada version was a whole filet of fish that was broiled, which made the edges a little bit on the drier side. It was still a really good drunken noodle.

Overall, we really liked our meal at Chada and would definitely go back on a future visit to Vegas. It's going to be tough trying to figure out how to eat anything other than Thai food in Vegas at this rate.

Lotus of Siam, Part II

Lotus of Siam had 2 options for lunch when we went back in early 2014. You could either order off the menu, just like you would at dinner, or you could go to their lunch buffet. From what we had heard, the lunch buffet was good, but it wasn't as good as ordering a la carte, where you could really focus in on their specialties instead of the more common stuff at the buffet. Since we already knew we wanted a couple of repeat dishes from our first dinner, we definitely were picking the a la carte option. (Just FYI, according to the Lotus website, they stopped serving the lunch buffet during summer of 2014.)

One easy choice was to get the nam kao tod again. We hadn't been able to find this sour sausage and crispy rice salad anywhere between our 2 Vegas visits, and it was still as good as we remembered.

Another repeat dish was the nam prik ong, which made A's favorites list for 2014. This was also pretty much the same as the first time we got it, or possibly even a little bit better. We still thought it tasted like bolognese the second time around.

We don't remember if sticky rice came with the nam prik ong or if we just got it on the side because we wanted it, but here's a picture of it.

We got 2 new dishes at our Lotus lunch, and one of them was the much talked about garlic prawns. This was described on the menu as "deep fried prawns with shells (almost like potato chips) sauteed with our special garlic sauce topped with ground black pepper." So many people had mentioned these garlic prawns, and they were so good that they made my favorites list for 2014. As I said there, we were expecting some deep fried shrimp, like salt and pepper shrimp, but what we got was so much better. Not only was there a bunch of fried shrimp, but also fried shells, and it was all nice and garlicky. We've had fried shrimp at Chinese restaurants where they are so deep fried that you can eat the entire shrimp - head, tails, everything - but this was different since the shells were off the shrimp but also fried. The thin crispy shells tasted like eating shrimp chips, and the flavor and texture of good, crispy shrimp chips has always made me happy. We would definitely get these again.

The last thing we got at lunch was Thai style spaghetti, described as non-spicy pan fried egg noodles in special sauce with egg, chicken, shrimp and tomatoes. While this was good and we liked it, we found it hard to describe the exact flavoring the day we got it and still can't really pinpoint the specific flavor.

Lotus of Siam and Chada Thai had some of our favorite dishes on both of our Vegas trips, and we definitely want to return whenever we make it back out there. The only problem is that we now have so many "favorite" dishes that we want to get again, which means a limited amount of stomach space to try new things. Maybe we'll just have to go more than once to each.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Eat'n Park

We were completely exhausted when we finally arrived at our hotel in Uniontown, and our first task was to figure out what to do for dinner. There weren't a ton of options near our hotel, so when I did all the research before the trip, I had bookmarked places as far away as Ohiopyle (about a 30 minute drive) and Morgantown, West Virginia (about a 40 minute drive). We were pretty tempted by a Kenyan restaurant in Morgantown (since there were no Kenyan restaurants that we knew of in NYC), but in the end, we were just too tired and sick of being in the car (and we had an early morning scheduled). There was an Eat'n Park down the street, so we decided to just go there. While A had been to other outlets of theirs before, I had only ever seen them from the interstate. Since they're a small chain only in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, it seemed appropriate that we would visit them during our Pennsylvania road trip.

Eat'n Park turned out to be the perfect place to grab dinner after a long day on the road, mostly because of their salad bar. Each of our orders that night came with one side, and instead of a side, we could substitute the (unlimited) salad bar for a few extra dollars. Unlimited soup and salads, tons of fresh vegetables after an exhausting travel day? Perfect. Of course we were going to do that.

There were a bunch of soups at the buffet bar, and I went straight for the wedding soup. Chicken broth, pasta, meatballs, vegetables, just a really soothing choice. It was getting really cool out when we arrived in Western PA (just a couple of days after near 100 degree temperatures in the middle of the state) and this soup was so incredibly comforting and warming.

In addition to make your own salad stuff which was all really fresh, there were also a lot of prepared salads at the salad bar, like cole slaw and beet salad and corn salad and many more. This was exactly what we wanted after a not so healthy (but tasty) lunch and all that time in the car.

After some soup and salad, our entrees turned up. A got the mushroom and onion burger, which they proclaimed had taken first place at some national hamburger festival. It came with grilled onions and mushrooms, as well as a choice of cheese (A got pepper jack). While the burger itself tasted fine, A wondered what other burgers it might have been pitted against to win that festival. It was good but nothing special.

I got the habanero chicken sandwich, which was described as "spicy cajun seasoned grilled chicken with our own jalapeno sauce, crisp lettuce, and topped with grilled bell peppers, habanero jack cheese, and thinly sliced red onions." The sandwich was pretty good - very basic but a good combination of fresh ingredients. It was a nice healthy choice, and I was all about trying to eat healthy that night.

Our sandwich and burger didn't come with any sides since we did the salad bar option, so we continued going up to the salad bar even after our entrees arrived. There was more soup to be had, like this chicken noodle soup, also perfect for a cold night.

We just couldn't get enough of all the fresh vegetables at the salad bar. It's not always easy to find affordable salad or fresh vegetable options when traveling (or even at home, really), as so many restaurants are so starch and meat based, that we loved having this as an option on the trip.

When we were leaving, we passed by a Smiley cookies display. I didn't know much about these at the time, but Smiley is apparently like a mascot for the restaurant, or as their website puts it, "a life-sized representation of Eat'n Park's commitment to making people smile." That's a philosophy I can get behind. The world needs more smiles.

We got a cookie on the way out to eat back at the room. It got a little cracked on the way back to the hotel. It was raining really hard when we were running from the car to the hotel's door, and I clenched hard on the cookie instead of just putting it in my pocket. From what I remember, this was like a frosted sugar cookie. It was a little bit harder than a standard sugar cookie, but it was obviously not so hard that it didn't crack.

We were pretty happy that we decided to stop at Eat'n Park that night instead of traveling further away. The food was good, and it gave us a chance to relax in a casual, comfortable spot close to our hotel. It was just what we needed before heading to Fallingwater early the next morning, and we were glad we went.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In-N-Out to the Valley of Fire

We got a bit of a late start on our second full day in Vegas. Our plan was to head out to the Valley of Fire, Nevada's oldest state park full of red sandstone formations, which was located about 50 miles outside of the city. We had quite a few possibilities for lunch options, but since we were already running late, decided to just get something quick. What's the easiest option for fast food when you head out west? In-N-Out, of course.

We've written about In-N-Out before from a previous trip to Los Angeles, so I'm not going to go into tremendous detail here since we got very similar things. We both got cheeseburgers animal style with some extras, as well as some regular fries and animal style fries. It's a fairly typical order for our In-N-Out fix, and it really hits the spot.

It's been a while now since we've had any In-N-Out, and we do miss it. It was perfect for our schedule that day in Vegas, as we fueled up on burgers and fries and then hit the road headed for the park. The Valley of Fire was one of our favorite spots on the entire Vegas trip and we were there during golden hour, which made everything in the park look even more gorgeous. In-N-Out was a great way to kick off the day.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Kinh Do

We're still recovering from this weekend's blizzard here in NYC, which means we're daydreaming about escapes to warmer places, like our Vegas trip from exactly 2 years ago. When we last recapped this trip, we had finished off a tasty Mexican lunch and were on our way to Hoover Dam, where we ended up spending most of the late afternoon, and Lake Mead, where we watched the sun set. It was a pretty great afternoon. After we drove back to Vegas, we stopped by the Silverton Casino to see the aquarium and then started thinking about what to get for dinner. We were kind of in the mood for pho, so we headed over to Kinh Do on Spring Mountain Road (the Chinatown area).

We started off with the nem nuong cuon (2 rolls cut in 2 pieces each), which were described on the menu as "charbroiled pork patty rolls with noodle and vegetables." This intrigued us, as we had never had anything like it before, and it was awesome. The pork patty looked a bit like breakfast sausage when we first saw it, but it didn't taste anything like it. We couldn't identify the spices that were used to season the pork patty, but the flavor was so good. Inside the roll with the pork patty was some vermicelli and lettuce, and the entire roll tasted so fresh.

After we ordered, we noticed that if we checked in on Yelp, we would be able to get free spring rolls (egg rolls on their menu). A was a little hesitant since we had already ordered, but M loves cha gio and really wanted to try them, so we checked in and asked for the special (which they had no problem honoring even though we had already ordered). A normal order of cha gio came with 4 pieces, but we got 2 rolls for checking in. No complaints from us. We just wanted to try them and we were so glad we did.

The rolls came with a plate of lettuce, mint, cucumber, and carrot/radish pickled salad, and we were pretty happy to see that. We love eating cha gio with all those fresh vegetables. It's always sad when you order cha gio at a restaurant and you don't get all the accompaniments.

These spring rolls were so good, and the flavor put these among the best we've had. The outside of the rolls were crisp (without the flakiness of some Chinese egg rolls), and wrapped up with all the vegetables, they were so tasty. We were so glad we took the opportunity to get these.

We both decided on pho for our entree, so they brought out a big plate of bean sprouts, basil, and lime for us to share. It was about the same amount as we've gotten at other pho places and it all looked very fresh.

A got the beef combination pho which contained every cut of beef they offered: rare steak, flank steak, tendon, tripe, and beef balls. The broth was fragrant and rich, but not quite as flavorful or rich as the broth from Tank. The one really good thing about this pho was that it was loaded with meat and onions. It seemed like beef was pouring out of everywhere, and A kept discovering more and more tendon as he dug through. It was a treasure trove of tendon, and A was so happy to partake.

M got the pho ga (chicken pho). The broth here tasted the same as what A got in his beef pho, but she was okay with that since the broth was good. The chicken pieces were generally moist, but a few were a little bit dry. Overall, the flavor of the pho was generally good, not Tank level good, but very fresh and clean tasting.

We were pretty happy with our Kinh Do dinner and the fact that we were able to get a tasty and very affordable meal off the Strip. On our previous Vegas trip (which we were pretty bad at recapping, more on that soon), we ate almost all of our meals on the Strip, with the exception of one Thai dinner at Lotus of Siam. This time we rented a car, which gave us the ability to branch out and try new places like Kinh Do instead of sticking to all the restaurants at hotels on the Strip. That was great, but one bad part about thinking back on this dinner today is that we could really go for some pho right now after a long weekend of snow shoveling, and we can't get any!

Kinh Do is located at 4300 Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Snail is Back

One of the most exciting food developments so far in 2016 has been the opening of The Pennsy, a new food hall in the old Borders space by Madison Square Garden. While generally it's just nice to have a new option in Midtown not too far from us, we were more excited about the fact that the opening of The Pennsy marked the return of the Cinnamon Snail.

The Cinnamon Snail used to be one of our favorite trucks, dishing out amazing vegan food on the streets of the city, but then they shut down truck operations in New York a little less than a year ago. Every so often in the interim, they would come to Manhattan for special one-off lunches, and A would take the opportunity to go every single time, never knowing if that was the last time he would be able to get lunch from them. We were so happy when we first heard they were opening a brick and mortar in Midtown. Now we could get their amazing sandwiches, burgers, and doughnuts whenever we wanted.


The great thing about the new Cinnamon Snail location being so close is that we can try out their entire menu of sandwiches. We used to gravitate towards the same things all the time because we loved them so much (like the gochujang burger), but now we can try everything and maybe even find some new favorites. There are 6 main items on the menu - 2 tempeh sandwiches on grilled spelt bread, 2 seitan "open face joints" on grilled tortillas, and 2 seitan burgers on grilled pretzel buns. For our first Pennsy Snail visit last weekend, we decided to go with the burgers.

The first burger we ate was the beastmode burger deluxe ($10.95), described on the menu as an "ancho chili seitan burger grilled in maple bourbon bbq sauce with jalapeno mac and cheese, arugula, smoked chili coconut bacon, and chipotle mayo on a grilled pretzel bun." This was my first time having this burger (as far as I can remember), but A thinks he got this at least once before.

The burger was good. It was very messy to eat, but tasty. The flavors were a little bit smoky, a little bit spicy. You could definitely tell the presence of the various chili peppers. The bacon texturally wasn't the greatest fit for me, since it was hard and crunchy when everything else on the burger was soft, but the flavor was complementary. The arugula was nice for lightening up a bit of a heavy burger.

The other burger we got was the gochujang burger ($10.95), our old favorite. This was described on the menu as coming with "sauteed kimchi, arugula, pickled red onions, black sesame gomasio, and sriracha mayonnaise on a grilled pretzel bun." This was pretty much the same burger that A has already posted about, except that back then it was served on an herb grilled focaccia and now it's on a pretzel bun.

I hadn't had the gochujang burger since way back in fall of 2014, so when I got my first taste of that sweet, spicy sauce last weekend, I was really happy. This is still our favorite sandwich from Cinnamon Snail. All the flavors just work so well together, and it's really unique. We could eat this every visit, but we're going to try to branch out a little bit when we go back next time.

We didn't get any doughnuts on this visit, but we're pretty sure we will on future visits. There were plenty of people picking up snacks and doughnuts when we dropped by the Pennsy (I think it was their first weekend open), and the Cinnamon Snail was definitely the busiest of all the food stalls, which was great to see. We're hoping they do really well in this location and will be around for a long time.

We're glad we stopped by The Pennsy for lunch, and we're so glad the Cinnamon Snail is back!