Home, Home on the Range

Chris and I have been traveling on vacation for 10 days; today is the last day of that vacation.

Last Friday we drove up to Alpena for an Air Show on Saturday. It was rainy and we missed 80% of the show as we had to leave before the weather delay ended. Then, on the way out of the airport I had a flat tire so we spent 45 minutes at Wal-Mart getting a new tire (it was time anyway).   We decided to take US-23 up the Huron Coast to Mackinac City before crossing the bridge in to the Upper Peninsula.   Our final destination was Killarney Provinical Park in Ontario but we wouldn’t make it there until the next day.

On our drive up the Sunrise Coast, we stopped in Cheboygan for dinner.  The town was having some kind of summer festival involving old cars, a boat parade and a group of people walking down the street with a mannequin dressed as a 50s era carhop.  It was the last night of the festival and apparently most everyone was down by the water.  There were five or six restaurants in the downtown strip.  We decided on Libby’s Restaurant because it was definitely open and would probably be faster than the fancier looking Irish Pub at the central intersection.

I think we walked in about 10 minutes before they closed but Libby and her staff were still happy to serve us.  Libby’s specializes in sandwiches, homemade soups and baked-from-scratch breads.  Chris ordered a chicken salad sandwich on wheat while I went for a veggie sandwich (avocado, garlic cream cheese, sprouts and cucumbers) on a rosemary bun. It was tasty but might have benefited from something crunchy. I do like my varying textures- maybe if the bun was toasted. Chris really liked his chicken salad and I did too, the one measly bite I managed to grab. The wheat bread was soft and light. We bought a loaf to go.

The other thing Libby does, and does well as it turns out, is bake pies.  We ended up taking two slices of Fruits of the Forest for the road. Instead of a thick top crust, the fruit-filled pies were topped with an oatmeal crumble.

Details

More stories about our trip to come.

Its raining sushi!

After realizing that sushi meet my special diet requirements exactly, I decided to enjoy some during the first week of the program. And by some, I mean a lot.

I had it twice from Kroger, the one on West Saginaw at Creyts. One night, we went to San-Su in East Lansing. I ate some leftovers from that the next day. Then another night called for a visit to Ukai Hibachi & Sushi on the west side. I really think I could eat sushi every day or at least 4-5 times a week. I love the stuff.

Since I moved on to the vegetarian portion of the program, I probably won’t have sushi this week. Not that I couldn’t, just that Chris probably won’t want to eat carrot or mushroom or kanpyo sushi. A common misconception: sushi means raw fish. Actually, the term sushi refers to the rice- a special seasoned rice vinegar is added to the rice before its rolled in to seaweed or topped with your choice of fish, seafood, veggies or egg. You could probably get fruit sushi too but I don’t recall ever seeing it.

A few definitions:

Make Sushi – These are the rolls you are familiar with, seaweed on the outside with rice and fillings.

Nigiri Sushi – a hand-formed rice ball topped with a slice of seafood (or vegetable, egg, etc). The seafood may not be raw, e.g., BBQ eel and shrimp are both cooked first.

Inari Sushi– Rice is stuffed in to a slightly sweet flavored soybean pouch (kind of looks like an egg roll wrapper).

Temaki Sushi – Hand rolled, this usually looks like an ice cream cone with a sheet of seaweed as the wrapper.

Sashimi– Pieces of fish or seafood served without rice


Sushi @ Kroger

Back when I worked in metro Detroit, there was a Kroger right across the street so I’d split my lunches between their sushi and the sandwiches at the deli in the same strip (a place I miss dearly, by the way). The sushi counters in Michigan Kroger stores are provided by Southern Tsunami. It turns out they are franchises which is very interesting to me, hmmm…..
Anyhow, selections vary by store but I usually have no problem getting my favorite: spicy tuna. After offering California rolls with brown rice for awhile now, I’ve started seeing the brown rice option for all the rolls. It’s a nice way to get the extra nutrition but I’ve noticed the brown rice isn’t as sticky so the rolls fall apart easier. Generally I just grab a packet from the ready-to-go section but during the day, there is a sushi chef on-site who will make your sushi to order. You can also get salads, spring rolls and other specialty items ready-made. And you can buy instant miso soup or some of the ingredients for making your own sushi at home.


San-Su

I’ve been here before but not since they moved in to their larger space (same building just at the front). The previous location was way too small and the wait times were long, even during the week. Being right across from campus and the East side dorms, I’m sure this place is a welcome refuge from dorm food (don’t get me wrong, MSU dorm food is pretty good but the cafeteria is not really a “date” kind of place). The Hagadorn Plaza is kind of a mini Epcot Center World Showcase with Indian, Italian, Chinese, Sushi and Mediterranean among the food offerings all within a block of 3 dorms full of car-less college students.

So Thursday night, I was meeting my mom on that side of town and I knew I’d be wanting sushi. Since its summer break, I figured we would easily get a table. Despite the reduced student population, the place was still hopping at 7:45. We had to wait a few minutes for a clean table. It was kind of strange, being in their new spot. Although unrecognizable now, San-Su had moved in to the old USA Café location, a place of memory for me.

On this night we sat in the regular seating area to the right of the entry. To the left is a smaller area (about the same size as the entire restaurant before) where you can sort of experience a traditional tatami room by sitting on the floor. Except this is no ordinary floor- each table is placed in a pit that allows you to dangle your legs down rather than sit cross-legged and lose all feeling below the knees. From the website, it appears they still have at least one private room with traditional floor seating also.

In addition to a large sushi menu, San-Su offers several salads and noodle dishes, a variety of appetizers and quite a list of dinner entrees including tempura, teriyaki or katsu style chicken and beef. Since I was there for the sushi, I skipped right over the dinner section and missed the Bento Boxes. Bentos are a nice way to get a little sushi sample plus some teriyaki chicken (or beef), tempura veggies and some side dishes like seabreeze salad.

With my mom there, I knew we’d be starting with an appetizer of edamame or steamed soy bean pods. Its kind of difficult to mess these up- steam then top with salt and serve hot. To eat, you pop the beans out of their pods. Don’t eat the pods, they are a little too stringy. My mom also ordered Agedashi, fried tofu served with teriyaki sauce and dotted with fiery hot sauce. Chris, joining us on a study break, went for the stuffed mushroom appetizer (crab, topped with melted mozzarella). I had a few edamame but skipped the agedashi (diet plan says no soy) and looked longingly at the mushrooms (cheese also a no-no for me, dang it!).

Since we spent more than $9 per person on the sushi choices, our meals included miso soup and a small salad with that tasty peanut-ginger dressing. I think San-Su might have won for best tasting dressing. The peanut added just the right touch. The soup was typical miso soup with seaweed.  The appetizers, soup and salad all came before the sushi with longer than expected gaps between rounds. But finally, we got to the good stuff.

As usually happens, we ordered a ton of sushi, some vegetarian for mom.
Mom: Inari (comes with 2 pieces), tamago sashimi (egg, cooked like an omelet), kanpyo (pickled squash) and AAC (asparagus, avocado and cucumber)

Chris & I: spicy tuna, yellowtail with scallion, and green river (bbq eel) plus some tempura-type roll for Chris. He really likes fried stuff and cream cheese in his rolls.

There was enough left over, what with all the appetizers and such that I took home about 7 pieces of sushi for lunch on Friday and mom had at least that much left of her rolls. Leftover sushi is not as good as fresh because the rice starts to dry out and gets a little gummy but as long as you refrigerate it right away, its still safe to eat.

The service should definitely improve to match the higher prices here. There were no mistakes in our order but I’m not sure how things were submitted to the kitchen and sushi chefs. One appetizer came out, then the soups and salad followed by the second appetizer. In between service rounds, we had to ask for a small plate twice and the refill action was also slow. At the end of the meal, there was a long delay in getting the bill and take-out containers. A table next to us (party of two) came in right before our sushi arrived; they ordered, ate and boxed up then paid and left before we received our bill. Most annoying was the server’s constant apology for the delays. Every time she came to the table, she said “sorry for the wait” or some variation. You can say the kitchen was behind but how does apologizing help me pay faster?

This meal was $70 before tip and the only drink was green tea for my mom. Sushi ain’t cheap especially when you order too much, like we did.

Details

Website: http://www.sansu-sushi.com/
Location: 4750 Hagadorn Rd, East Lansing, MI
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 – 2:30 & 4:30 – 10:00
Sun: 3:00 – 10:00

Non-smoking, accepts all major credit cards

Before coming to a tragic end by serving some underage drinkers (with fake ID) that later killed themselves by trying to beat the train on Hagadorn, USA Café was… Well, known for serving to the underage. Without even trying, I got served there my first weekend at MSU as a 17-year old freshman.

Ukai Two

After the sushi bonanza on Thursday, I was surprised Tuesday that Chris wanted to check out a sushi place he’d discovered over by Horrocks on the West Side. But I sure wasn’t going to say no!

It turns out that the place was Ukai Two. Ukai now has three restaurants, the original Japanese Steakhouse on Grand River in Okemos, Ai-Fusion (my review here, also on Grand River but inside the East Lansing city limit (its behind IHOP as you go out towards Meridian Mall) and this new West side location. Although not impressed with Ai, we did like Ukai’s steakhouse experience. You are definitely paying for the show of having your food cooked in front of you but the food was tasty and generously portioned.

This new location has both a sushi section and Hibachi tables in the back. Since we were short on time and didn’t want to drop another $50 on dinner, we sat in the sushi bar area. The sushi menu items are exactly the same at all three locations. If you visit Ai-Fusion’s website, you can see complete descriptions and even pictures of the specialty rolls. For this night, Chris and I shared an appetizer of spring rolls; the portion is 5 two-bite chicken and vegetable filled rolls served with a light gingerish dip. The sauce didn’t do much for me but the spring rolls were good with a dominant earthy mushroom taste (from wood ear mushrooms- distinctively Asian flavor). I then ordered a TNT roll plus 2 pieces of Unagi Nigiri. The TNT roll is tuna with avocado and cucumber topped with spicy mayo and really hot sauce. I scraped most of the two sauces off for just a hint of heat. Chris ordered the Shrimp Tempura roll but subbed cream cheese for the cucumbers. As mentioned before, he really likes cream cheese in his sushi (and fried stuff), way more than I do. But I did snag a little bite, just to sample it.

The decor at Ukai Two is more modern than you might expect in a Japanese steakhouse with a lot of light coming in and muted colors on the walls and light colored tables. The sush bar is small but not crowded. On the night of our visit, there were three or 4 other groups eating sushi but no one right at the bar. I didn’t see the Hibachi section in the back nor could we hear anything from that section. Ukai Two also has an outdoor section and there were a few people, all smokers, out there but they all appeared to be drinking and not eating. I am pleased that the restaurant itself is non-smoking but I didn’t like walking through the smoke in to the restaurant. It would be nice if they installed some planters or something to block that cloud of fumes but of course, its only a problem when the wind is blowing the wrong way.

In contrast to San-Su, the service from seating to bill presentment was efficient. However, they hit upon one of my biggest dining pet peeves- service staff that don’t write down orders! The bizarre thing here is that we wrote down our order. I checked off the sushi I wanted on the sheet and Chris wrote his special request down on the back. So we just handed it to the waiter. A few minutes later, he came back to confirm that it was “cucumbers instead of cream cheese” except of course, it was supposed to be cheese instead of cukes. Fortunately, it was served to the table as ordered. Not so much a pet peeve but definitely a poor reflection on the restaurant was our waiter’s appearance. His dress shirt was untucked and the bottom button had been missed so the undershirt (thank god!) was exposed. He was kind of a big guy and I don’t think he could tuck the shirt in anyhow.

The rolls were good and very fresh but the overall experience just does not compare to San-Su. San-Su is expensive but with good service, I’d say worth it. I believe that Sagano Japanese Bistro in Flint is still the best sushi in Michigan (right now) when you factor in selection, quality and price. Back in the day (about 6-7 years ago), there was a great place in Royal Oak called WOW but its been gone for awhile now. WOW also had a wide assortment of rolls, good quality fish, skilled sushi chefs behind the counter and decent prices. Extra bonus points for being just 5 blocks from my apartment at the time. As for Ukai, the prices seem to be typical for this area and probably a smidge lower than San-Su. With Midori (Elmwood, across from Meijer) gone, this is your only shot at sushi on the West side. If you are just looking around for this place, its small and kind of hidden behind Bennigan’s and McDonalds near Creyts off Saginaw. I think I’ve not eaten at every major sushi joint in Greater Lansing except Omi in downtown EL. Its on my list; Chris has been there before and apparently they have a lot of fried tempura-type rolls so I know he’ll be happy. In any event, we’ll probably go back to Ukai Two occasionally- maybe for take-out and I just have to remember that their spicy tuna is really spicy before you add any other spicy sauces on it.

Details

Website: http://www.iloveukai.com/
Location: 754 Delta Commerce Drive, Lansing
Hours: Mon-Thu & Sun 4-10PM, Fri-Sat 4-11PM

Accepts all major credit cards, nonsmoking throughout


Trolling some blogs today, I found a reference to dessert/fruit sushi at Wandering Chopsticks. I’m not convinced about the fruit roll-ups subbing as seaweed but maybe if it wasn’t overly sugary.

**Photo credits: I did not take any of those sushi photos, all were found on Photobucket and link to the albums I found them in.

Mexico Newaygo

Chris and I went camping this weekend, at Newaygo State Park along the Muskegon River.  The park is small, about 100 sites and rustic.  We made our reservation on-line which is a cool feature as you can see the site map and pick a specific location.  What is not so cool is that the map isn’t completely accurate and they charge $8 for a reservation fee.  We picked a site far from the playground and the bathroom, we thought.  As it turns out the pit (oh,  vault is the fancy name for that now) toilet was directly across from our site.  They must pump then on Thursday or Friday because it wasn’t too bad when we arrived but was pretty stinky by Saturday night.  Before we left on Sunday, we drove around the camping area to note the better sites, for next time.

This being a camping trip, of course we had foods cooked over the campfire.  On Friday morning, Chris picked up some turkey tenderloin and put it in a caribbean jerk marinade so we made kabobs for Friday night.  They were good but this turkey was really hard to cook.  Our fire got hot enough to turn the grate red hot but these things were still raw in the middle after 20 minutes!  Saturday night we had sausages plus potato salad picked up at a local grocery store.

S’mores were dessert both Friday and Saturday night.  I found the perfect stick for marshmallow toasting and I’m quite upset that I forgot to bring it with us!  Hopefully the next person to stay at site #6 will find a good use for it.

During the day on Saturday, we explored the area including the towns of Newaygo and Fremont. Or rather we tried to go to Fremont. They are supposed to have a nice Farmer’s Market there and I thought we could get provisions for Saturday night dinner.  Between road construction and the National Baby Food Festival we couldn’t get anywhere near downtown.  Fremont is the home of Gerber Baby Food and they sponser an incredibly large parade during the festival. A parade which happened to be starting at exactly the time we arrived in town.  That was kind of a frustrating trip.

We found a few things to covet at an Sports Outfitter store in Newaygo- kayaks, a cool Tilley hat for me some more camping equipment- but left without spending any money.  Later, we did pick up one of these:

Photobucket

I can’t wait to use it next time- just like Girl Scout days!

Sunday morning, out of firewood and not much to eat for breakfast anyway, we went in to the “town” of Croton and dined at Rio Cafe. We drove past this place earlier in the weekend and couldn’t help but notice the large “BREAKFAST 8 AM- 11 AM” sign. On the way there on Sunday, we learned that the American Legion also has a breakfast buffet on the weekends but I pushed Chris to at least check this place out first.

Okay, they serve Pepsi products so that was a strike against them. The cafe is small, maybe 6-7 booths plus two pub tables. From the sounds of it, they do a pretty good take-out service though. And during lunch/dinner, they also operate an ice cream store serving Hudsonville Ice Cream, like pretty much every ice cream stand in the area.  Since it was breakfast time, we skipped the ice cream.  The restaurant has a selection of traditional breakfast items including eggs, toast, pancakes and so forth.  They also have a few breakfast burritos and specials.  Sunday’s specials including pecan pancakes and a skillet dish that Chris chose. It was potatoes, eggs, peppers and mushrooms topped with cheese and served on a fajita platter.  He tells me (today) that it wasn’t particularly exciting.  I had a breakfast burrito with bacon, eggs and cheese.  It was huge and cheap- our total bill was $13 and that included a glass of fresh oj.  I would have liked the bacon a little crispier but I still managed to eat half the burrito. It cam with homefries and those I had to push away because I would have eaten every last one of them and then been overly stuffed later.  Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, these were ideal homefries.

Deets:

Web: None
Address: 7641 S. Croton Hardy Drive, Newaygo, MI (actually in Croton); 231-652-5977

Hours: Sun-Thu: 8AM-8PM; Fri-Sat: 8AM-10PM

No credit cards; non-smoking


No food photos but here is a shot of the Muskegon River from atop the Hardy Dam:

Gilbert & Blakes

Last week, Chris’s mom and family friend Carol came through Lansing on their way to Traverse City for a family wedding. Because they were traveling with a dog, hotel options were limited. We found them a place over in Okemos and met up for dinner after work.

I don’t know that area of town too well. I do know that we were all quite hungry and wanted to go someplace nearby. I immediately thought of Gilbert & Blakes or Stillwater Grill. I’d never been to Gilbert & Blakes and only to Stillwater once, about a year and half ago.

I knew that Gilbert & Blakes was meant to be a more upscale dining experience and they specialized in steaks and seafood. I mentioned both places and Chris’s mom went for G&B.

I should mention this now: Chris’s parents moved to the Florida Keys a long time ago. Chris and his 2 brothers grew up eating fish and shrimp and lobsters caught with their own hands.  As an adult, he’s extraordinarily picky about what he likes and avoids frozen seafood at all costs. We’ve had fish and shrimp shipped from the Islamorada Fish Company via overnight to avoid the scary frozen fish department at Meijer.  We rarely got to seafood places around here, presuming the fish is frozen.

 

Gilbert and Blake’s flies the fish in daily.  Which would explain why their Ahi Tuna entree was $30.  Way more than I wanted to pay especially since I had no idea what I would get other than a piece of fish.  When we arrived, we were seated and brought waters, given the regular menu and a slip with the current fish and shellfish offerings.  No one ever explained what your options were for the Tuna, Snapper, Sea Bass or other items on the list.  I’m sure you had your choice of preparation: pan-fried, baked, grilled, etc.  But sides?  Recommendations?  None of that.

Our server was obviously a bit harried.  The restaurant was not busy but not dead either.  On one of her whirlwind trips by the table, she mumbled “someone …sick…in the kitchen… earlier today.”  Now, does that mean someone who works in the kitchen called in sick? Or someone was sick in the kitchen?  The implication was they were short-staffed which happens but I wish I’d asked for more clarity on that comment.

Being short-staffed, the service was not great.  I know it happens and certainly the waiters and waitresses have no control over someone else calling in.  And the manager can’t go haul a sick person out of bed just because. But a manager can help out by keeping an eye on drinks, coming by the table to explain and offer apologies, etc.  Not at this place though.  On several occasions I noticed the hostess and a man in his mid-60s standing at the front of the restaurant, looking at the tables but not actually doing anything.

 So, the service was sub-par, let’s move on to the food.  We decided to start with an appetizer or two.  The waitress said the bruschetta came with 4 pieces so that seemed ideal. Fresh bread is also served with the meal so we stuck with just the one appetizer.

The bruschetta is served with a sun-dried tomato pesto and Parmesan cheese.  When she brought it to the table, it was a little sad looking.  Not a lot of topping and the pieces of bread looked limp, if not soggy.  The flavors were fine but again, more fresh topping would have been nice. 

For our main dishes, it breaks down thusly:
Carol: Steak Bites and Crepe Aubergine, both from the appetizer menu

The steak bites are chunks of sirloin sauteed with mushrooms, onions and peppers.  Carol said it was a little too spicy.

The Crepe Aubergine is thin sliced eggplant inside a crepe with cheese, baked.  This was different and pretty good.

Chris and Kathy: both chose the Grilled Duck served with Traverse City Cherry chutney.  Kathy opted for the scalloped potatoes and Chris chose the rice pilaf.  The dinner also included a side of mixed vegetables.

I wouldn’t say the dish got rave reviews but it was considered “all right” by both Chris and his mom.  Kathy thought the duck was a little too fatty, or rather that the kitchen should have trimmed some of the fat off before serving.  Chris liked his duck and the vegetables but thought the sauce was a little weak. 

Courtney (me) went for the Seared Ahi Tuna from the appetizer menu and a Caesar Salad. 

The tuna was exactly what I’d expect, rare sashimi sliced tuna with some soy sauce, ginger and wasabi. There was also a scoop of seaweed salad on the plate.  The dish was served with chop sticks, a nice touch (and I used them) but at $11, seemed a tad over-priced. 

When I ordered, I stated I wanted my salad and tuna together with the entrees for everyone else.  Instead, I got the salad first so picked at that for 15-20 minutes, feeling bad that no one else had anything to eat.  The dressing was non-descript and there was too much of it. The croutons were good and the sprinkling of roasted red peppers was a different but welcome addition.  I have yet to find a place that makes a Caesar dressing quite like the one served at AppleWood Cafe, run by the students at Mott Community College’s business and culinary programs.  Creamy and lots of garlic with no overt anchovy taste, its just delicious.

 


You’ll notice, no major seafood items on our tab.  And the total, before tip, was still $89.  And no wine either. The only non-water beverage was a Diet Pepsi.  In looking for information about the restaurant after the meal, I checked out their lunch menu on-line.  I’m intrigued by the Lobster Grilled Cheese sandwich so a return visit could be in order but I think I’ll stick to the afternoon menu.

Deets:

Web: http://www.gilbertandblakes.com
Address: 3554 Okemos Road, Okemos, MI 48864
Hours:Mon.-Thu. 11AM-10:00PM; Fri & Sat 11AM-11PM, Sun 12PM-9PM

 

Outdoor seating (pet friendly), private party rooms and catering available.

 

Peeza, Peeeeza, Pizza!

I am channeling one of the clones from Multiplicity in my subject line; we always called him the 3rd Steve but I think the character’s name is Dave or Doug or something.

We had pizza at Deluca’s tonight. As we are in the midst of moving and packing this week, we’ll be eating out a lot and I figured pizza was a good choice plus I’d have lunch leftovers.  I’m pretty sure pizza was on my mind after walking past someone carrying Cottage Inn boxes on Washington downtown at lunchtime.

Chris and I have been going to Deluca’s for a few months now, after I read about it in someone’s blog (love to give credit but I sure don’t remember where I read it).  They can be incredibly busy and last night was the perfect example of that with a 25 minute wait. After we got our table, I noticed 2 large groups of at least 15 people each.  We’ve driven by a few times and decided it was just too busy for our hunger level but last night, we both really wanted pizza.

Besides pizza, Deluca’s serves calzones, sandwiches and a number of pasta dishes including baked spaghetti, manicotti, spinach lasagna and veal parmesan.  Thus far, we haven’t ventured off the pizza section except for some appetizers.  One night, Chris got a cup of Italian Wedding Soup and we’ve sampled both the breadsticks and garlic bread.  The garlic bread, with or without cheese, is the better choice in our opinion.

Because we can’t agree on toppings, our practice of late has been to each get a small/medium (I go for 9″, Chris usually gets 12″).  I really prefer vegetables on my pizza and Chris is a meat guy.  One of the toppings I particularly like at Deluca’s is the roasted garlic: whole cloves right over the pizza.  Excellent but not the best choice for work leftovers. In addition to traditional toppings, you can also get hot capicola, jalapeno, broccoli, artichokes, chicken, link sausage, feta (plus more).  Deluca’s also offers a number of specialty pizzas including Hawaiian, BLT and Philadelphia (Roast Beef, onions & mushrooms, mixed cheese). Chris’ usual is mushrooms, onion and sausage.

Deluca’s recently went totally smoke free.  They only serve Pepsi products via fountain (free refills) but you can get Coke products in a chilled can.

Deluca’s started life in the 60s as the Willow Bar. In the early 80s, the three Deluca brothers bought out the founder, their father Pat. Little has changed since then, partly due to the brothers’ reluctance to disappoint regular customers by taking things off the menu.

Deets:

Web: http://www.delucaspizza.com/
Address: 2006 W. Willow (West of MLK), Lansing MI 48917
Hours:Mon.-Thur. 11AM-10:30PM; Fri & Sat 11AM-11PM, Closed Sunday

Accepts credit cards, totally non-smoking