Tag Archives: restaurant

Going out for Thai? Bring a box of Kleenex

My latest obsession when dining out is shrimp green curry.

A couple of months ago, my Beloved and I encouraged (demanded) my stepson try Thai food. It required lots of cajoling and the promise that we’d leave if he couldn’t find something on the menu at a Thai restaurant in (tame) Minnesota. He took the bait, ordered pad Thai and proclaimed he liked Thai food after all.

In an attempt to prove how adventurous an eater I was, I tried something new (for me) on the Thai menu: shrimp green curry.

It was delicious (of course), and I was reminded how much I enjoy coconut milk — something I don’t use when cooking at home. Thai eggplant and basil just added to the allure.

Since then, we’ve eaten Thai more frequently. Another of my hair-brained theories referred to in yesterday’s post is that you crave what you eat — so if you’re eating Doritos all the time, you’ll crave more Doritos but if you’re eating salads regularly, you’ll get so you crave salads, too; when you’re eating Thai a lot, you crave it more. So I’ve been eating green curry everywhere from Minnesota to Florida in the past several weeks.

The hottest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life of any ethnic vein was shrimp green curry at Thara Thai in Champaign, Ill. (yes, that would be in the Midwest folks — Midwesterners don’t all eat tasteless mashed potatoes at Cracker Barrel). I ordered “mild,” and I got a dish so hot I was sweating, my eyes were watering, my nose was running and my tongue was burning — all the while, I was shoveling it in as fast as I could.

Seriously, I think “hot” would have killed me. But it might have been worth it.

With Thai food, the spice is sort of a creeper hot. It’s not hot right away, and it enhances the flavor of the dish rather than completely obliterating it. But over the course of a few bites, the heat builds, transforming from taste on the tongue to a whole body experience.

The problem with Thara Thai (and a lot of Thai joints generally) was the atmosphere. It was a bit like dining in a KFC — plastic plates, bad overhead lighting and uncomfortable booths.

Tonight, my Beloved and I found the whole package: Thai Spice in Peachtree City, Ga., served our wine in glasses, dressed their tables in white tablecloths and set the lighting to “romantic.” And the food? Divine. We loved our appetizer of spicy basil spring rolls. I deviated slightly from my standard shrimp green curry, and I tried the shrimp panang curry, which according to the menu was an exclusive red curry recipe. Instead of a thin greenish sauce, I got a thicker orangey one. I got flavor in spades.

And the heat?

Please pass the Kleenex, my eyes are watering. And I’m still sweating.

Restaurant is the icing on the cake of baseball

Today’s lesson: When you’re in a new place,
get advice from the locals for good places to eat.

I’m here for one reason and one reason only.

Fort Myers, Fla., is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins (not that their spring training record means anything, but they’re 2-2 so far).

I’ve been coming here for something like seven of the past 10 years. The weather is beautiful — truly heavenly compared to Minnesota at this time of year. A sprawling retail hub, Fort Myers offers great shopping, too.

The traffic in Fort Myers is awful, but with baseball and the bonuses of sunshine and outlet malls, it doesn’t much matter.

I eat to live in this town. Chain restaurants and fast food tend to dominate the main byways. And when you’re at the ballpark, you eat hot dogs and popcorn and you drink beer. It’s not exactly haute cuisine.

Until now. We took Rachel Ray’s advice to ask around for good places to eat, and our neighbor who’s been coming here for years suggested Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille.

I don’t think we could drive there if we tried. It’s tucked under the Fort Myers Beach bridge so it requires going right when you want to end up left, and if you hesitate, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the bridge. Fortunately, we took our bikes, thus avoiding traffic, misleading stop lights and having to park at the end of an enormous parking lot.

In all the years I’ve been coming here, I can’t believe I haven’t eaten at this place. Wow. The service was amazing (and friendly), they had live music, and we enjoyed dinner outside. Among options on the menu was quinoa. Quinoa! Standard run-of-the-mill restaurants do not serve quinoa anything, and Doc Ford’s was serving a shrimp-topped quinoa salad! (Don’t know quinoa? Look it up. Healthy and delish.) Also on the menu: Island Style Shrimp and Grits. Oh, what to choose?!

In accordance with my resolution to be bold, I went with the chef’s special: Tripletail on a bed of roasted cauliflower with a honey aioli sauce. I’ve never eaten tripletail, but the waiter had me at “it’s the filet mignon of fish.” With a pearly white flesh, it’s not as flaky as tilapia and not as meaty as tuna.

The texture was wonderful, and the flavor was almost creamy. So good.

My Beloved enjoyed a pork chop — yes, a pork chop at a waterfront restaurant. Served with grits and a chunky caramelized red onion jam, it was as good as the amazing inch-and-a-half pork chops he grills at home (and that’s saying something).

Bonus fact: Doc Ford is the main character in author Randy Wayne White’s mystery novel series. White was a fishing guide at Sanibel Island for a number of years before turning to writing and, apparently, backing restaurants.

I’ll be back Doc Ford’s. And I’m recommending you to anyone who asks.

Granite makes good tombstones and good restaurants

Granite City Food & Brewery opened its first location in 1999 in my city of residence for 12 years: St. Cloud, Minn.

I used to eat there all time.

Tonight, I enjoyed dinner in one of their other 26 Midwest locations: Rockford, Ill.

It was still just as good.

The best item on the menu is the Bleu Peppercorn Burger, described thusly: “We start with a half-pound of fresh ground Angus beef seasoned with cracked black peppercorns, then charbroiled to perfection. Topped with creamy bleu cheese dressing, melted cheddar cheese, smokehouse bacon, and crispy onion strings. Served on a grilled ciabatta bun.”

The only way to enjoy it is with Granite City’s waffle fries and signature “dip,” a mystery concoction of sour cream and spices. Oh, how I wish I had the recipe for it!

And wash it down with a microbrewery beer like Northern Light Lager, for which Granite City is well-known.

Even though Granite City Food & Brewery must now be considered a chain (26 locations certainly qualifies), I still like it for the unique Minnesota flavor of it all. The stone columns in the Rockford location echoed the granite tributes in the St. Cloud location and reminded me of my old home.

Hold the spittle, please

How common do you think it is that a waiter (or server, I suppose, if you insist on being gender neutral) spits in your food?

Do you think it happens 1% of the time? Less often than that? Is it a risk if you complain about anything? Or only if you’re truly jerk material?

Our server last night at the Blu Mesa restaurant in Plano, Texas, was not good. I think working in a restaurant is hard work, and it requires skill, patience and physicality that I do not possess, so in general, I want to give servers the benefit of a doubt (and a decent tip).

But last night, my server couldn’t pronounce “Pellegrino.” It’s a mineral water. A common one. That every server in any upscale restaurant should be able to pronounce.

He also couldn’t describe the difference between swordfish and tilapia. “I’ve never eaten swordfish before.” Huh? You work in an upscale restaurant that has swordfish on the menu and you’re admitting to the customer that you’ve never eaten it before? Maybe a little homework is in order.

OK, I’m still giving the benefit of a doubt to this young, obviously inexperienced server.

But he’s losing his benefits fast when I have to wait for menus. For my drink. For a refill of chips (someone else, not my server, brought both the first and second order of chips). For my food. For my dining companion’s sour cream. For my bill.

My dining companion’s meal was served lukewarm. And he offered to “microwave it.” (I paid $15.95 for my entree, and he’s offering to “microwave” it?).

She was afraid to complain about it because she feared he would bring it back hot and with spit in it.

Does that happen often? Are you not allowed to complain?

Generally, I do not complain. I tip less. But that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t complain. Isn’t it reasonable to be allowed to complain, politely, about something for which you paid, but doesn’t live up to your reasonable expectations? Being hot, isn’t that reasonable?

Is this common? Servers who can’t handle complaints and spit in your food? You tell me.