Something to warm you up!

I was checking out CowTv today and found their video tour of the Cajohn facility. Being a chili head, I love CaJohn's products, even though I haven't tried their new line of sauces made with the infamous Ghost Chilis. Maybe I can get some and our little group of chil heads can have a "bonding" moment.

This is a long video, so I recommend getting settled in before you fire it up...


The truth about "surprise" visits or Bamboo Cafe redux

When I was in college, I shared a apartment with a female roommate. Sad to say, we were both total slobs - lazy drunken slobs. It was shameful. You wouldn't think two gals could live in such a trash heap, but to my chagrin, we did. Instead of cleaning, we spent time drinking $2 pitchers of Old Swill at the Beer Stube. My roomie - we'll call her Betty to protect the not so innocent- had parents who were very generous with the monetary gifts - allowing us to "further our studies" of cheap beer and cute guys on her parent's dime. The only catch was that twice a year, Betty's parents would come down and spend the weekend in Columbus. Part of the visit included stopping by our apartment before taking us out to dinner. Since we KNEW when they were coming, we would spend the two days before the visit cleaning our pad from top to bottom, making sure that everything was spic and span, that we strategically placed our textbooks and "notes" from class where they could be easily spied and that our fridge was totally empty of anything except a bottle of ketchup and an expired yogurt - since we were starving college students. When Betty's parents appeared at the appointed hour, we were the neatest, most upstanding, hardworking co-eds that ever attended OSU.

So what does that have to do with restaurant reviews?

Imagine that a restaurateur knew that a reviewer and a photographer from a local newspaper were coming for a visit. Don't you think that the restaurateur would make sure everything was spic and span - just like Betty and I did when we knew her parents and their checkbook were coming to visit?

I read Jon Christensen's review of Bamboo Cafe in this week's week Dispatch. Amazing how Bamboo Cafe went from a one star restaurant to a four star restaurant when The Dispatch food critic and a photographer showed up. Do you think there was an advance phone call? Did the folks at Bamboo Cafe get a chance to hide their dirty laundry before the man with the credentials showed up? I am going bet on one of two things - either there was an advance call or someone at the Bamboo Cafe ran a psychic hotline before they opened the restaurant. I know where I would put my money.

My question is:
Will you - the man on the street - have the same dining experience as Jon the Dispatch reviewer?

 It depends on two things
a) are you a paid restaurant reviewer?
b) Do you have any way to influence the public's opinion of this restaurant?

Since I doubt that most you get paid to eat out, I will guess that the answer to question A is "No!".

However,the answer to question B is "Yes"! The Internet gives you - the average person -  power to let others know of your "covert" visits to the various restaurants you patronize. Any restaurant who trots out their A game for a KNOWN reviewer is not a good place to patronize. You will only end up being disappointed and have a kid who dropped out of college after three years (Poor Betty!)

Instead, find a good restaurant that you like and vote for them with your wallet. Let people know through sites like Urbanspoon or Columbus Underground. The everyday experience is what counts in the long run, not what any reviewer - including me - says. Your experience will determine how you should feel about a restaurant. You should only use a review as a guide, not words from the burning bush.



I've been looking for a non-chain Mexican restaurant to go to for a while now. While the El Vaquero chain is OK, its not the best I've ever had, plus they are all invasive - kinda like kudzu. They have other restaurants under different names that use the El Vaquero menu...Cazula's Grill on campus is an example of that practice. I feel it is my duty to support the little guy who is making good food and takes personal pride in what he is making, so I try out all kinds of small out of the way joints...

Enter Cuco's on Henderson Road. I stopped in a few months ago to grab some carry out during a grueling double shift at work. At the time I chose a tamale with beans and rice for sides...$5.95 carryout. The beans were tasty. The tamales were homemade, and the rice was moist. A big plus was that the whole meal came with a big bag of fresh cooked tortilla chips and homemade salsa.

I went home and raved about Cuco's to the hubby. He was skeptical. The last time I took him to out for Mexican at Aztecas and it was awful, so once bitten - twice shy. Plus, the bar has been set pretty high since we went to Las Palmas in St. Louis - which is fantastic.

After much wheedling, I talked him into stopping for lunch while we were out grocery shopping. He went from not happy to ecstatic in the course of the next 45 minutes. First, our waiter brought a big basket of homemade chips and salsa. Tony complained that the salsa wasn't hot. So I went up to the salsa bar and got some of their other homemade hot sauces, a red and a green. While not incendiary, they were both very flavorful.

Vats of homemade hot sauce - made me wanna go for a dip!

They also had some pico de gallo and a pickled onion dish which I can't remember the name of. All were very good - the pico de gallo would have been better with summer tomatoes, but you have to work with what you have...

We also ordered guacamole - which was fresh made to order by mashing the avocados with a helping of pico de gallo. It was pretty decent.

I ordered carnita tacos - the lunch special for $5.95. Tony had commented on the fact that cheese, sour cream and guacamole were extra. I told him I would reserve judgment until they came.

Tony asked the waiter what he would recommend. "The fajitas" came the answer. Recommending fajitas to us was a risky thing - with us thinking back to all the tough flavorless meat and mounds of burnt veggies we had been served in the past. Tony looked doubtful, but being the brave soul that he is, ordered away. (We ask for recommendations from the staff to see if they know their food - its a good way to get a handle on how well the front of the house knows the back of the house.)

A few minutes later - out came our main meals.
Yes - my tacos looked plain, consisting of nothing but warm tortillas, meat, and a sprinkling of white onion and cilantro. But when I picked them up and took a bite, the meat was the star. It was perfect - moist and flavorful. The only addition I made was to sprinkle a green hot sauce on them for a little punch. The beans and rice were spot on as before. I asked the waiter if the beans were homemade and he indicated that they were - a big plus in my book.

$5.95 - can you beat that?

Tony was reticent about eating his fajitas. He looked suspiciously at the sizzling plate. He stabbed a piece of beef off of the pile and bit an end. Then he ate the whole piece. Then he started loading up the tortillas and tearing into his lunch with gusto. Yes - it was good. Some of the best I've had in years. The steak was tender and not overdone. The veggies, while charred a little, were not burnt or bitter. The sides were generous and included guacamole and sour cream. I stole some as well - there was plenty to go around.

Hot Sizzlin' Meaty Goodness

Tony insisted that we order dessert and asked for flan. The waiter said - no you want the churros. So we ordered the churros. He had been right so far, why doubt him now?

Sorry I couldn't wait!

Churros - wow. Hot, deep fried dough with caramel inside, covered with dulce le leche and cinnamon sugar with whipped cream on the side. Damn. That is all I can say. Damn.

We were so impressed that we took our friend Eric out to eat there the next night. It was still good then too... even though they were busy as heck.

So if you are looking for a reasonably priced Mexican place that takes pride in their food- I say give Cuco's a try.

Cuco's Mexican Taqueria on Urbanspoon


Bamboo Cafe

We have been driving by Bamboo Café on Bethel Rd for the past month or so– the spot they now fill has been empty a while. The reason – it is located behind a McDonald’s. Not the best location for any business, much less a restaurant. However, Annie was intrigued by the “curtain” of live bamboo that screen the window and the very beautiful décor within. Much begging ensued and we reluctantly gave in.

The Bamboo Café promises both Vietnamese and Thai food. We like both. We have our favorite places to go for each cuisine, but there is always room for one more restaurant on our list. MiLi’s (MiMi’s) is my normal go-to place for pho and sets the standard by which I judge all others. We have also become big fans of Tai Thai in Grandview for Thai curries.

We came into a nearly empty restaurant on a Thursday lunch. There was a single waitress on the floor and one other couple at a neighboring table. As we sat down, we admired the scenery – bamboo walls, a bamboo archway over the entrance to the kitchen, rich textiles under the glass of the tabletops. It looked nice.

The menu was limited, but offered a sampling of standard dishes from both cuisines. The prices were a little on the high side - $10.00 for a bowl of pho, $9.50 for curry.

After looking over the menu, I decided to get the Pho. Annie chose a Thai red curry. Tony asked the waitress what she recommended and she pointed out the same pho dish that I had ordered, so that is what he ordered. Tony and Annie asked for water, and I ordered hot tea.

The whole group started to get bad “vives” when the add-ins for the pho came out. The Thai basil was wilted and bruised, as was the culantro. The sirrachi and hoisin sauce bottles were kind of “gnarley” and needed a good wipe down.

Yummmm - rotting vegetation!

The food arrived quickly. Much to our regret. It was terrible. I know that is brutal – but true.

The worst bowl of pho EVER!

First the pho. For those of you who have never had pho, I need to explain a basic technique that goes with the dish. Thinly sliced raw beef is placed into the bowl, then very hot broth is poured over the top. This cooks the beef quickly, and it is very tender. I’ve heard it termed “shaboo-shaboo style”. Not so with the Bamboo café. The meat had been precooked, re-warmed (possibly in a microwave) and then put in the soup. It was like chewing on old shoe leather. The same was true of the tendon meatballs. I had never had a tough meatball before – but I can no longer say that. To top all this off – the broth was straight out of a can. Nasty, metallic beef broth. The whole dish was inedible.

My daughter’s curry was the wrong dish. She had ordered the red curry. What she received was a pale yellow in color. The beef was the same as in the pho – pre-cooked, re-warmed and dumped into re-warmed curry base. The curry sauce had no real flavor other than that of coconut milk. So, tough nasty beef in a bland sauce.

Does this look red to you?

The meal was so bad we didn’t finish it. The waitress asked if we wanted to take the leftovers home and we said no. In most restaurants with an experienced wait staff – this would have been a tip off something was wrong. Fat people who didn’t want to take the extras home. We tried to explain that the food was not good, but the explanation appeared to be lost on her, as her English vocabulary was not very strong.

We were presented with the bill. I asked her to take off the tea – which I had never received. All told, our lunch came to $35.00 with tip. That is a lot cash for bad food and mediocre service in a pretty setting.

So, in summation, I would rather have bamboo under my fingernails than ever eat at Bamboo Cafe again.

Read my reactions to the Dispatch Review here

Bamboo Cafe on Urbanspoon


Happy Holidays! Even if they are over by now...

I hope everyone had a great time – visited with family and friends (without drama), got everything you wanted (including usual socks and underwear), ate lots of great food (without gaining an ounce) and drank mass quantities (without any hangover).

We went kinda light on the presents this year. My hubby did splurge and buy me something interesting to play with in the kitchen – an Orion Smoker. He saw a good deal on it, did a little internet research and took the plunge. I have some pork I am going to turn into a “smoking hot butt” soon should the nice weather hold…

Our holiday feast had a southern theme to it– simple baked ham, sweet potato casserole, mustard greens (with a ton of bacon in them!!), green beans, homemade rolls and bourbon pecan pie for dessert.

The homemade rolls were from an old handwritten card buried my mom’s recipe file. Named 60 Minute Rolls, they are exactly that. How is this achieved? By adding a HUGE amount of yeast (two 1oz packages) to a relatively small amount of flour (four cups of AP).

I remember my mom making great rolls every Sunday after church – and at one point she told me this was the recipe. Well these weren’t that great…they were way too yeasty plus they didn’t have enough salt in them. I think the major problem is that the recipe is so old that the types of yeast may have changed. All it said was “2 packages of yeast”. That could mean the old school blocks of yeast from the refrigerator section or just two packages of the old school dried yeast. I substituted the new “super yeast” and it may have been too much for the recipe. The salt issue is most likely a guess-timation issue – my mom was notorious for pouring a little bit of stuff in her palm and guessing the amount when she was marking up recipes.

I hope to try them again soon once I get the whole thing figured out.

I tell ya –fixing up these old recipes is driving me to drink!

I also received several board games from my friend Tate to add to my ever growing collection. New Year’s Eve was dedicated to eradicating zombies and Cthulhian horrors while ingesting massive amounts of food and drink.

As far as eats went - the menu was split. We had lots of “normal” people showing up so we had to have some “safe” food for them. They got hot dogs, baked beans and a veggie tray. For all the adventurous folk in the crowd, I “created” some Middle East inspired dishes, such hummus with pita chips and lamb “burgers”. Eric also brought a cone of gyro meat which we slivered off and cooked up on the griddle. Damn it was good!

Tate asked me to make some cookies for the party as well – mostly so he could
bite the heads off of them. But he specified that they could not be made of gingerbread. So I ended up with chocolate chip shortbread zombies, Cthulhian monsters and their ilk.

I got the recipe from the Nestle site, but it really needed some help. When I followed their exact proportions of butter to flour, it ended up being way too dry and crumbled away when I tried to shape it after refrigeration. I ended up having to add an extra egg so that it would hold together enough to roll out. While the concept is worthwhile, I think I am going to have to work on getting the right dough for the job.

So the food got ate, games got played and everyone had a good time… I hope this starts a new tradition…