Friday, May 28, 2010

Troutman gets another Winner! Kyjos Japanese Thai Sushi

Listen up - Oishii is gone.  When you pull up at Kyjos, you can tell immediately that you have found a completely different place.  I was very pleased to see a nice decor, art on the wall, nice tables and chairs.  It was not a poor attempt at fast food done Asian, but a true restaurant that features Asian food.

Now, thanks to a grocery receipt advertising at Food Lion, we were buying 2 sushi rolls and getting 1 free.  We all like free, right?  Well sure enough, we would have been happy to pay for all 3 - it was good.  Enough of that - lets get to the real review part.

The owner is named Jen.  She happened to be cooking tonight.  We did not meet her, but we were greeted by her daughter as she opened the door for us upon arrival.  I would guess her to be 6 or 7.  It was a great way to be met at the door.  We picked a table and were greeted right away.  The young man took our drink order and had our server come over promptly.  He was doing deliveries (love that idea), and our server was Dara.  She was very conversational and was a treat as a server.

We ordered some basics for sushi.  I figured if they aren't good, why go the extra bucks for the specialty stuff and be even more disappointed.  Well, next time, it's specialties.  We ordered a Cali roll, spicy tuna and a Philly Roll.  All were exactly as we expected.  They even used the regular and black sesame seeds on the outside of the spicy tuna.  All of the sushi was very well prepared.

The menu is wide open.  It took a few minutes to see what we wanted.  I like choices, I just didn't expect so many.  No worries.  We will get to several I imagine.  Initially, we expected to order the 3 rolls and one entree to split.  Instead, that express dinner menu had great choices for $5-$8.  Where else can you imagine getting chicken, steak, shrimp or scallops dinners for less than $12.  Well, at Kyjos you can.  They offer different veggies (for the non-broccoli person in my house), white or fried rice, or even garlic noodles.  The treat were certainly the garlic noodles.  You could tell we were close the bottom of the pan, as the garlic was a little heavy.  I liked it, my wife was a little surprised.  I am safe from the vampires for another day - yeah! 

We have another conversation with our server and find out the name Kyjos comes from Jen's children's names.  We met Jo Jo as the door, and the Ky comes from her son's name.  It's a nice personal touch to the place.  Troutman is a small town, and family is a big part of it.  This fits right in.

The bill comes - every one's least favorite part.  From previous reviews, you know how annoyed I can get at high priced fountain drinks/tea.  Sure enough, just $1.50.  Way to go Jen.  I would have been very upset to find $2.50 sodas slipped in to our well priced, well prepared meal.

Here's the cool part.  They gave us our coupon back.  I am sure they will do well once everyone realizes that they have nothing to do with what was in that space previously.  The stove may have stayed (maybe), but that is it.  The staff, food, everything is new and wonderful.  I PROMISE we will be back often.

Kyjos Japanese-Thai-Susi Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Farm market season :)

Beautiful weather and ample rain bring a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  We are in Full-On Berry Mode at our house.  Just think of all of the other great stuff coming into season now too. 

Here's a weblink to the Observer map you can copy/paste into your browser.  You can hover over an area and pick one (or more):

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Easy Entertaining

In my weekly couponing online (in this case, I found a 35 cents off Bob Evans sausage.  With double and triple coupons out there, this may be a great deal.  The coupon included a recipe.  Why print 3 or 4 coupons on a sheet of paper, when they can waste paper and ink by putting one on a sheet and adding silly pictures and recipes.  In every other case, it's annoying.  In this one, I admit I like the recipe.  It's called Sausage Cups.  The cool part is that the idea is great, the filling is just okay.  I see making the cups and putting a variety of fillings - crab dip, artichoke dip, ham and cheese, maybe even some cold options.  Prebake the wrappers and use them for tuna or chicken salad.  The ideas just keep coming. 

Here's the original recipe

Sausage Cups
Prep time 20 min
Cook time 15 min

1 pkg Won Ton wrappers
1 lb. ground sausage (roll)
1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1.2 cup ranch dressing

Makes 30 cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Crumble sausage into medium skillet.  Cook over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Drain.  Spray mini muffin tins and insert won ton wrappers to form a small cup.  Bake 5 minutes in preheated oven.  Allow wrappers to cool.  Mix sausage, cheeses and ranch dressing together.  Fill won ton wrappers.  Bake for 10 minutes until bubbly.

I am actually getting hungry as I type this.  I would imagine a couple more minutes baking without contents, if you wanted them fully cooked for use with cold items. 

For a lower fat sausage recipe, swap the regular sausage with turkey sausage.  Add a diced red bell pepper as the sausage is finished cooking, stir with 1 1/2 cups of a chunky tomato sauce and top the filled won ton with shredded Parmesan cheese.  Man does that sound good right now.  I have to go.  I need to eat!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 1 - The Grand Finale in Memphis - Itta Bena

Don't adjust your computer, the blue hue is from the neon of Beale Street.  Welcome to BB King's latest creation - Itta Bena.  A Cajun flavored Speak Easy above his blues club.  Don't get lost... There are no signs, no doorway from the street.  There is a non-descript back stairway from the side road with a small valet stand.  That's it.  You have to know to know, you know?

While I am sure they could charge extra for the exclusive nature, entrees were $14-$35.  There was plenty of seafood on the menu, including my choice of Shrimp and Scallops over Grits.  There was a wonderful creamy caper sauce off to the side, and a touch of cheese in the grits.  My wife found herself breaking form and choosing the Pork Tenderloin over the Filet.  The pork was seared, sliced and glazed with a maple sauce, served with sweet carrots and mashed potatoes.

The real shining star was this salad pictured.  I am not one for the overly sweet options on my salad, but the spinach was tender, the strawberries were great, the goat cheese had plenty of punch and the slightest dressing to marry with the candied pecans.  The server saw we ordered the one salad (mostly so I was not stuck with something I would not like), so he had the kitchen split the plates.  Very cool.

Cocktails were well made, acoustic music pouring out from the bar side, not a hint of poor performance in the entire night.  We passed on dessert however.  The offerings were not very original or exciting... cakes and pies I could get anywhere really.  The entree portions were large enough that I really did not have the room for it. 

As we depart, the rain is coming in buckets.  The valet hails a cab for us and gets soaked in the process - and we are off.  What a wonderful way to conclude the evening.

Itta Bena on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Toast in Davidson for Sunday breakfast

We had been to the Toast in Huntersville on a slammed packed morning, and were expecting the same so we left a little early.  Pulling into downtown Davidson at 8:40am on a Sunday reminds you of one important thing... church parking takes over at 8:30.  As we approach Toast, my wife hops out and I scout a parking space - and it was one of two within blocks of the restaurant.

The al fresco tables were not occupied yet, and inside it was only about half full and my wife is already seated.  One of the first things I notice is there is about one staff member for every 3 customers.  The place is loaded with staff for the morning rush.

After ordering a coffee and a sweet tea, we decide on Cinnamon & Raisin French Toast and the Country Benedict.  The benedict is poached eggs with country ham on a biscuit with sausage gravy and homefries on the side.  Now, let me share one good note early - coffee and tea are only $1.50 unlike everywhere else that seems to get $2-2.29 now.  I was pleased, the mug was large and the coffee was very good.  I think the bigger mug has intention though - less refills needed.

Our food came very quickly.  That is key to turning tables on a busy day.  The french toast came with a meat (bacon in this case) and the benedict was as expected.  I was actually asked how I wanted my poached eggs cooked.  That threw me at first.  I am used to essentially one way, but I guess there are people wanting them cooked less or more.  I went with medium (thanks to the server's suggestion) and it was right on with how I expected them.

Now, the gravy is well made, the ham was not overpoweringly salty, the homefries were cooked well-done as asked.  A few were a little hard inside still, but that was a minor issue really.  I got exactly what I asked for and got it very fast.

Now, we have been there all of about 15 minutes, are almost done eating and the crowd is swarming.  Here's where the big mug works.  Most people get a mug that holds a cup and a half of coffee and they are done with one.  Me... not so much.  I am good for at least 2 of those.  This is where putting my empty mug off to the side got another servers attention to get a refill.  He got a box for the left over french toast, and yet another person came to grab plates and take our check.  Our server was off working a table at the complete opposite end of the restaurant.  If anything, that would be my only suggestion on the visit - if he were helping tables in a section on a busy morning, he would not miss the empty mug or chance for any other interactions.  He was a good server though, he just had a lot going on in different areas. 

All in all, this will absolutely be a repeat affair for us.  We may avoid Sunday mornings around 9, or just go a little earlier.  We love the quaint feel of Davidson and this place is a perfect fit.  A little stroll around town helped burn off some of those delicious calories. 

Prices you ask?  Her breakfast was $7.95 and mine was $9.95.  Fair price for the quality and location.

Toast Cafe on Urbanspoon

Red Robin still up to it's old tricks - not good ones either

When your mascot is a red bird holding a burger, you know the whole thing is for the birds.  We have given the Red Robin in Mooresville 2 previous tries.  The first was when it was brand new, and the service was poor.  Chalk that one up to being new at the time, and our daughter easily convinced us to take her again later.  Still, unimpressed.  I am not big on chains, let alone ones that really don't make their mark in society.  Chili's is a stand out brand, Five Guys is a stand out brand, Red Robin? Fuddruckers? Texas? Lone Star?  They all lack a specific character (not speaking of this red bird), so they lack any real niche appeal.

With that said, let's get to the food and the visit on Saturday.  We arrive and stand for a few minutes to get seated in an otherwise quiet afternoon of service.  We were put in the hack, next to a table of about 8 kids.  We passed countless empty tables; instead to get bunched up with a lot of other tables.  Our server arrived promptly to take drink orders and to see to her other larger tables.  That was the highlight of our service.  Soda, tea and water - 3 of the hardest drinks to get (HAHA) and it was easily pushing 10 minutes before they arrived.  Our daughter was interested in a soup and salad combo.  For a child, it needs to be KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid.  They have chili, chicken tortilla soup and chowder.  I did not think we were in the southwest so what gives?  If you are going to have soup choices, have soup CHOICES.  The chicken tortilla soup was nothing more than a white chili with chicken.  It was overly spiced for most pallets.  Needless to say, she went with the Cobb Salad instead.

My wife ordered the Harvest Apple Salad and I ordered the Chili Burger.  It was billed to have so much chili, they serve it open face.  Too much to handle I would imagine.  Well sure enough that was not the case.  By the time their salads were done, my chili burger had been under the heat lamps for over 5 minutes.  Nothing about it was even hot anymore.  The chili was about a 2oz. scoop on top of the patty.  I could see the entire beef patty.  For "decoration", my top bun was cut in half and left to the side.  What was the point?  I could have easily put it on the burger and picked it up.  The chili had black beans - something I thought was cool - but lacked any flavor.  I noticed chili powder flavor and nothing else.  At least the fries are bottomless, so you can't leave hungry.

The chicken on the Apple Harvest and Cobb salads were billed as "grilled".  Let's rephrase please, to griddled.  They have to be precooked, soggy chicken breast that meets a flat top griddle for a few moments on each side.  They had a little golden sear to them AND NOTHING ELSE.  No flavor, no texture, just a white slice of mush really.

Neither of them finished their salad.  At $10 a piece, this was a crying shame.

I have given many places 2 and 3 tries to earn my business.  I would hope someone would do the same if it were my restaurant.  I am 100% done here.  There will be no more.  Pack it up Red Robin, fly away and let someone else come to town and try in your place.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 1 Continued - Thunderstorms afoot...

The storm is lurking. This was 5:30pm.
So we settle in to our room, relax a little and I sneak away to make final prep for the night. We look out and see the Mississippi River and it's getting dark. Weather Channel and all local broadcasts are going nuts of the storms rolling in through Mississippi, Arkansas and Western Tennessee - in other words coming RIGHT AT US.

The plan was celebrate our 16th anniversary, themed as a Sweet Sixteen/Prom Night with evening gown and tuxedo, and surprise my wife with the whole thing. How then do you convince a woman to do her hair and make-up, put on an evening gown and go out on a rooftop with that storm lurking??? I guess it was all trust, or I am a better negotiator than I think. As you can tell from the photo, it was not looking good. Our ride was coming at 7:30 so 7pm on the room was a must. As we step off the elevator and out the door, the rain stopped. I had our wedding song playing on my iPhone (In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel) and we were telling each other the 3 things we love most (about the other person) from the last 16 years. It was really fun and touching.

It was not dancing, since there was talking, but it made the grade for a nice moment. Off to the ride. Down to the lobby and sitting waiting, a horse an carriage pulls up. I am told by my wonderful bride that it BETTER NOT BE FOR US! Well, lucky for me, a taxi pulled up a minute later as I was trying not to lie about it. Playing dumb is not hard for me really. We go out and sure enough, she gets in the carriage with me anyway. YEAH :)

Scenic tour of Memphis and a brisk gallop by the horse to make a turn and climb a hill. This was straight out of the wild west, and my Mrs. loved that part. It was exciting to say the least. The storm is back, and it's getting ugly. We pass a ton of cool sites on a historic tour; including Elvis Presley Park (looking past the vomiting bum) and approach Beale St. Did I mention we were going out to eat? Good. Save that for next.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The old adage "Never trust a skinny cook" is about to change

Mario Batali is changing habits in the kitchen.  Gone are the days of heavy meats and fats.  A Seattle paper did an interview with him at the James Beard Foundation awards in New York.  What an interesting read.  It seems like he is finally listening to Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution.  Hmmmm, that's a head scratcher.  Here's the story:

Mario Batali pushes back from the table

Chef loses 35 pounds, and is promoting new cookbook that features lots of veggie dishes.

By Tan Vinh
The Seattle Times
Posted: Tuesday, May. 11, 2010

You might have to sit down for this.

Chef Mario Batali, known for downing a case of wine and putting away 20 to 30 dishes in a single meal without needing much help from dining companions, now eats less than you do on some nights.

The celebrity chef whose motto was "wretched excess is just barely enough," said he was horrified at how fat he looked on television and started eating better.

Batali is promoting his latest cookbook, "Molto Gusto," with pizza, pasta, antipasti, salads and gelato recipes. It also features lots of vegetable dishes, indicative of how the new Mario eats.

He is finalizing deals on two new cooking shows, one with him cooking in Sicily and the other in Brooklyn. And he is about to open Eataly in New York City, a 50,000- plus square-foot food emporium.

We caught up with him on a recent stop in Seattle.

Q: So you've lost some weight.

Thirty-five to 40 pounds. I weigh about 235 (now). I was big.

Q: What's a typical Mario eating day?

I eat half of whatever they put in front of me in restaurants. I eat a lot more vegetables. I exercise a lot more. I try not to eat after 9:30.

Q: Your appetite was legendary. Are those gluttony days over?

Eating as a pleasure is still a part of my life. Eating as a sport has faded away.

Q: This cookbook is different from your seven other cookbooks. Lots of vegetable dishes, lots of 30-minute-or-less recipes.

This is how Italians eat on a weekday when they want to eat something that is delicious, healthy and not so hard to make. And in fact, there is no fresh pasta recipe in the book. It is all dried pasta.

Q: What is the next big thing? The next pork belly?

The next big thing will be vegetables.

Q: Because of the eat-local mantra?
Exactly. I think the next big thing in people's mind is actually eating with a point of view, eating with an ideology. It is all the things that we should be thinking about but we never had to because we are in the richest country in the world of all time. Now thinking maybe about spending a bit more for an heirloom varietal. Or a specific type of grown thing that is completely fertilizer-free. Or eating your meat that has no hormones or antibiotics.

Q. So I hear you pull $100,000 to appear at food festivals and events.

When a casino calls or a big-shot hotel calls, they offer the money and you say yes or no. ... I think it's fabulous. I don't understand it. But I don't care. (He laughs.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 1 - The BIG Regret - Check in at the Madison Hotel Memphis

As I type this blog today, I am completing another email to that establishment to correct some billing issues. While the facility has the potential to be amazing, the staff certainly allows someone like myself to be left unimpressed. Considering the managing partner waited until I posted on TripAdvisor before he interceded tells me they don't pay attention to their daily operation.

If you ask anyone in Memphis where to stay for a special night, only two places are spoken - The Peabody and the Madison. After attempting to get access to a part of the roof of the Peabody for a "Prom Night" for my wife and I, it became clear that the Madison was going to be a more accommodating hotel (for that anyway). I worked with someone in their events team to get some details together to make the whole night special. Several emails and time lines were ignored before I finally made some headway. I was referred to concierge for the completion of our reservation and details.

We arrive at the hotel, pull up at valet, get inside and check in. I am presented a room summary sheet that shows the incorrect price. I was offered an upgrade from the event coordinator during our conversations, I am certain to address his lack of response on multiple occasions. I appreciated that, but it did not show on the paper I was shown. The manager in concierge was not there at that time, so I would address the next morning - STAY TUNED.

We get up to our room and for a suite - WOW... I was under impressed. We enter a seating area, probably about 8x10, with a TV cabinet, love seat, minibar and a couple windows. It has a hallway to the closet and then around to the bedroom area. It is about the same size, maybe a little bigger. The bathroom and closet took up the middle third of the "suite" and really made everything feel cramped.

Now, credit where credit is due, the bed, linens and pillows were fantastic. This was a very plush bed we got a great night's sleep - until the storm blew up. More to come there too. Boy, you are really going to have to check back for all of this :)

Now, in all of our travels, as well as mine for work, I have stayed in a number of suites that make this look like a just a king room. For the advertised price of $248 + + + + (yes, there are several added fees), I was not impressed at all. During my later interactions, I was told the room normally sold for over $300 + + + +.

I am going to stop here and the next entries about the evening will cover:
The roof top
The ride and storm
The dinner - AMAZING!!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Risotto worth the work.. PROMISE

I was given a subscription to Draft Magazine from my wife a while back.  I have been enjoying it in more recent months, when I finally took the time to sit and enjoy it.  With Mothers Day upon us, a dinner recipe was upon us.  She actually picked this out as what she wanted.  How cool is that?  I am pasting the recipe below with some notes in there to save you money.  To add to the "entree factor" I sauteed some al fresco Chicken and Apple sausages.  Cut on a bias and added to the top made for a complete meal. 

One note with the recipe, don't skimp on the Parmesan cheese.  Get a quality shredded form or you will suffer the gritty nature of the powdery stuff from the grocery aisle. 


Serves 4

12 ounces shiitake mushrooms or other wild mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut in 1⁄4-inch slices
- we used 6oz wild mushrooms, then quarters 8oz of baby bellas to fill the rest.  It worked out well.
1 1⁄4 cups Arborio rice
- Harris Teeter's HT Trader brand is less expensive and very good quality
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup Magic Hat Circus Boy hefeweizen
 - we bought a single bottle at World Market of Pyramid Hefeweizen for $1.89
1 medium onion, minced
1⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional
1⁄4 cup fresh chives, snipped in 1-inch lengths, plus additional
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- you can use salted if that's all you have.  Just make sure you use Low Sodium chicken stock then.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced garlic

• Bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan; keep warm over low heat.

• Melt 1 tablespoon each of the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion; sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in the rice; sauté

1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the hefeweizen, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until absorbed. Add the broth, 1⁄2 cup at a time, stirring every few minutes until absorbed (about 20 minutes total).

• While the risotto cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter with the remaining olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, and sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and 1 teaspoon of thyme; sauté 1 minute. Season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper; set pan aside.

• When the risotto is done (it should be just tender to the bite), gently stir in the mushrooms and Parmesan. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the remaining thyme and the chives, and spoon into serving bowls. Top each serving with additional Parmesan and another sprinkle of fresh chives.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 1 - Second stop - The Peabody Hotel in Memphis

So we made tracks for Memphis after lunch, and were right on schedule. In fact, we got there just a little ahead of schedule. One of the most famous things in Memphis, other than Elvis, is the Marching of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel. I made the decision to stay at a different hotel (big mistake) but wanted to show my wonderful wife this cool tradition. Click here for their whole story...

We got there about an hour before, so we stopped in the Corner Bar at the Peabody. We enjoyed the chance to decompress from the 400+ miles of travel so far. Needless to say, the bar snacks were spicy and salty. We got spicy crisps, wasabi peas and salty nut mix. Their "beverages" were at quite a premium price, but very well made and in generous glasses.

After relaxing for about 30 minutes, we went over to the lobby for the march. The story and pageantry are very well presented. We really got a kick out of it. They roll out the red carpet (pictured), set the stairs in line, close off the one side and call the ducks. There is actually a Duck Master handling this whole process. There are 5 ducks in total. The have a habitat on the roof, so they get their own elevator ride up to their "house". The red carpet is lined with children and adults, all smiles, watching this crazy thing they have been doing for over 7 decades.

They come down late morning and go back up in the afternoon. If you ever get to Memphis, you have GOT TO go by and see this. There is no price for admission. Parking garages are very inexpensive and there are a lot of things to see in a several block radius. You can really make an afternoon of it. Please note: I have been told (and seen) that night time in the downtown Memphis area can be a little intimidating with unsavory characters. I recommend seeing them march down, get some lunch, check out some sites and then head to your hotel to prep for a fun night on Beale Street. More on that later.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Did you know????

May is CHEESEBURGER MONTH!  How strange is that?  Next, there's going to be cheesecake month, maybe sushi week and Coca Cola day.  Well, here in NC we have the Coca Cola 600 this month - so I guess that is like having Coca Cola day.

If you are looking for the real deal on a cheeseburger - Every Tuesday at Ham's (several locations), they have Charlie's Cheeseburger for just $2.99.  Comes with a side of chips.  Must purchase a beverage to get the price, but most of do that anyway.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 1 lunch - Wildhorse Saloon

So rolling into Nashville, I challenged my dear wife to find somewhere for us to eat. She made a few calls, checked some stuff on her phone, and bang - Wildhorse it is. Now, it's not as wild during the day as you might hope. It's owned by Gaylord Entertainment, the same folks that own the Grand Ole Opry and such. It was great none the less.

First thing walking in is the rustic wood with the light bright stage and dance area. This place is loaded with tables, so they are well equipped for the restaurant side of the business. I am sure it's a different world at night. Looking around at all of the promo posters for concerts, you can tell they are a serious contender in the entertainment business... Charlie Daniels, Rascall Flatts, Loverboy, Brett Michaels, the list was massive.

I ordered the beef brisket sandwich with homemade chips. My wife got the pretzel sandwich with ham and cheese and a side of chips. Nothing gastro-pub worthy, but well priced and well made. The house recipe BBQ sauces were great. One had a mustard base that was dynamite. The sweet tea had honey in it, giving a great flavor. Considering all of the chain choices in town, I am glad for this option.

There was a convention in town, as well as a marathon and normal tourism. The service was still good. The staff seemed to be pleasant all around.

Now unfortunately, as I type, this area is getting crushed by flood waters. Historic places like the Ryman and the Opry are faced with flooding. The Opry hotel is already flooded, as are several area attractions, stores and restaurants. I am very thankful to have had the chance to go last week. There is plenty more to talk about - weather being a part of our trip as well. I certainly hope and pray everyone still in Nashville is safe and able to stay out of harms way. We will be returning this summer and will let you know what we find as far as clean up and recovery.

***Update:  The Ryman was safe, the Opry was not.  Unfortunately the water line that seemed to hold just outside the Wildhorse Saloon came inside on the second surge.  They are closed until further notice.

Wildhorse Saloon on Urbanspoon