Friday, January 31, 2014

Bakery Review: Kara's Cupcakes

Kara's Cupcakes - visited January 18, 2014
After we had lunch at Scott's Seafood, we trekked across the parking lot to get cupcakes from Kara's for dessert. Back in the day, before cupcakeries took off, Sprinkles was the first game in town, followed closely by Kara's Cupcakes. I had a love affair with Sprinkles to the point that my friend, Annie the Baker, asked me if I knew Candace Nelson, Sprinkles' founder. Annie preferred Kara's and she knew Kara as well. If anyone could have a spirited debate over cupcakes, it was me and Annie, lol.
I did my fair share of taste testing between the two and decided that while I liked Sprinkles better overall in terms of taste, texture and size of cupcakes, there were two flavors that I thought Kara did better than Candace: the banana with caramel filling and the chocolate. Sprinkles doesn't even have a banana caramel offering and Kara's chocolate cupcake had more chocolate flavor. Kara's Cupcakes are also smaller than Sprinkles and at $3.25 a cupcake, you can think that's bad for your wallet to get "less" cupcake than Sprinkles' $3.50 price point and good for your waistline that, by sheer size, Kara's Cupcakes are probably not the going rate of 550 calories a cupcakes like Sprinkles.
I haven't been to Kara's in a couple of years; it's one of those places where you know (or think you know) it as a known quantity and I'm usually more interested in trying out new places than going back to ones I'm already familiar with. Nevertheless, since I - ahem - just happened to there already and my cousin was getting cupcakes for her boys, I "had" to get a couple for myself.
Naturally I went with my favorite banana caramel. I could've gotten the chocolate but I was in a red velvet mood so I went for that as my second cupcake choice.
Since it was January, the cupcakes were decorated early in a Valentine's theme so most of the cupcakes were topped with hearts. Not that it mattered since I never eat the topping and usually only manage no more than half of the frosting.
One drawback to me about Kara's Cupcakes is they put too much frosting on top. I know that's the norm with bakery cupcakes and Sprinkles does it too but I don't love frosting so for me, it's always too much. Not a big deal though since I always scrape more than half of it off.
The banana caramel cupcake itself was as good as I remembered it. Love the banana taste of the cupcake itself and the caramel was flow-y and injected in the middle of the cupcake as the filling - all good. But what surprised me and what I didn't like was the frosting tasted a little off. Not "off" as in it had gone bad or anything but like they changed the recipe. It wasn't just the tang of cream cheese but like they added almond extract or some kind of extract that gave it an artificial taste. A bit disappointing even for a non-frosting person like me.
Sadly I was even more disappointed in the red velvet cupcake because that too tasted like there was almond extract in the cupcake itself. There was an artificial taste that I don't recall it ever having. Granted, it's been a couple of years since I've had Kara's Cupcakes but I have a pretty good memory when it comes to sweets and I know I thought much more positively of Kara's Cupcakes than this latest experience.
While the cupcakes aren't dry, they're not as moist as Sprinkles. Good news for people who think Sprinkles is "too greasy" but I love moistness in my cupcakes and cakes so these were just okay in texture. But what really killed me was the artificial tang in both cupcakes. I'm going to have to try a different flavor in the future and see if that holds true again or if I just visited this particular Kara's Cupcakes on an off day. I hope it's the latter because I really want to like her cupcakes again and be able to sing their praises.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cookies and Cream Cookies

Cookies and Cream Cookies - made dough January 17, 2014 from Notes from Nessa
There are all kinds of cookies out there and nothing goes over the top like taking cookies and making more cookies out of them. That's what caught my eye about this recipe - you add chopped Oreos to the dough but even beyond that, the base includes Cookies and Creme pudding mix so it's like amped-up Oreos in a different form. I had the devil's own time finding the pudding mix because Target, Trader Joe's and Costco don't carry them and I don't shop anywhere else for packaged foods. So amazon to the rescue. They're pricier than a regular box of pudding mix but in the interest of recipe tasting, what the heck. And thank you amazon prime and 2-day shipping.
I was almost surprised by how much I liked these cookies. They didn't spread much when baked from frozen dough and on the convection setting of my oven; they stayed nice and chubby. But I also liked the flavor. They tasted like Oreos but with the soft, chewy texture of a good chocolate chip or butter cookie. I don't usually go for cookies n cream type of things, figuring I'd rather go straight to the source and eat an Oreo but now I can see why they're so popular. You get the same great taste but different textures.
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 4.2-ounce package Cookies n'Creme pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 Oreos, chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if baking right away).
  2. Cream together butter and sugars.
  3. Stir in pudding mix.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla.
  5. Add flour, baking soda and salt and stir to combine.
  6. Add chopped Oreos and white chocolate chips.
  7. Roll into balls and chill briefly if desired. When ready to bake, line baking sheets with parchment paper and space cookies evenly on sheet.
  8. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until middles no longer look raw.
  9. Cool completely on wire rack.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Skinny Popcorn Shrimp

Skinny Popcorn Shrimp - made January 17, 2014 from Gimme Some Oven
These may not look like shrimp at first glance but they really are. This is the panko-crusted skinny version of popcorn shrimp, not heavily breaded or deep-fried. They're very easy to make and do emerge with a nice crunch.
Mine look a little weird and dark because I didn't have cajun spice or bay seasoning so I used allspice instead. Might not have been the best choice as it didn't have much flavor or kick. It was just crunchy-coated shrimp. Still, if done properly, this makes for a fairly healthy snack or appetizer, especially if you're having a football-loving crowd over for a Super Bowl party.
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoon Old Bay or other Cajun seasoning (I used allspice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg white, whisked
1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
cooking spray
lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together Panko, Parmesan, Old Bay, salt and pepper until combined.
  3. Set up your dipping station with bowls of 1) shrimp, 2) egg white, and 3) breading. Working one at a time, dip a shrimp in the egg white until covered then transfer to the breadcrumb mixture and toss until combined. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining shrimp then generously coat all of the shrimp with a layer of cooking spray (this helps the breading turn golden).
  4. Bake for 3 minutes, then flip the shrimp and bake for another 3 minutes or until cooked through and no longer translucent. Serve warm with garnishes and cocktail sauce for dipping, if desired.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Restaurant Review: Scott's Seafood

Scott's Seafood - lunch on January 18, 2014
For my uncle's belated birthday celebration, my cousin took us all out for lunch at Scott's Seafood a couple of weekends ago. I haven't been to Scott's in years, possibly not since business school and a recruiting function where you had to balance the fine art of schmoozing, making a good impression as a job-seeking student and nibbling on whatever was circulating the room at the time without spilling anything or in any way disgracing yourself.
Inside Scott's
Fortunately, this occasion was much more relaxed than that. The restaurant is sizable and there weren't that many people there for lunch so we had a good portion of the place to ourselves. Our table was already laid out with brunch menus when we arrived and our waiter was very attentive and provided great service. He was able to accommodate both my dad's order of angel hair pasta with prawns and my uncle's order of a 16-ounce steak even though neither were on the brunch menu but were on the regular dinner menu. It's the mark of a good restaurant that they can provide that kind of flexibility to their customers.
Calamari Appetizer
I can't speak to the calamari appetizer since I don't eat calamari but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. My mom and my aunt both got the salmon with the fingerling potatoes. Allow me a bit of ignorance as I hadn't realized before that "fingerling" potatoes were so....literal. I'm not entirely sure I found the presentation all that appetizing because when you first glance at the dish, the potatoes really do look like fingers. Stubby ones but fingers nonetheless. Color me a little turned off. Fortunately I think the taste of the dish was better than how it looked.
Salmon with Fingerling Potatoes
Angel Hair Pasta with Prawns
16-ounce steak
I was still channeling my inner Brit so I went with the fish n chips. But I think my standards for fish n chips went forever higher since my London trip. These were fine and I preferred the skinnier version of the fries here than the fat potato wedges I had in the UK but the fish strips were a bit more greasy than I would've liked. Not that I'm against grease or I wouldn't have ordered something deep fried but there's something unappetizing about seeing a pool of it underneath the fish when I lifted up each piece.
Fish and Chips
We didn't order dessert because my cousin's younger son wanted cupcakes so we planned to trek across the parking lot to Kara's Cupcakes (review forthcoming) but the restaurant was nice enough to bring out a complimentary dessert for my uncle once they learned it was a birthday celebration for him.
Complimentary birthday sundae
All in all, I don't know that I would rave about the food as being a cut above the rest but the service was spot on and very well done. The only other drawback about Scott's is they're located in a strip mall and parking can be difficult to find if you're there during peak hours.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Texas Sheet Cake - Happy National Chocolate Cake Day

Texas Sheet Cake - made January 24, 2014 from The Southern Lady Cooks
Here's another food holiday I can get behind and one I make an effort to acknowledge each year - January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day! Is that the best day ever or what? Especially since it gave me the perfect excuse to try out this Texas Sheet Cake from The Southern Lady Cooks.
Texas Sheet Cake or Texas Fudge Cake is my favorite version of chocolate cake. It's easy to make, the taste and texture are sublime, the frosting is also easy to make and adds just the right touch of sweetness to the cake, says the person who normally doesn't like frosting. I never make it in an actual sheet pan because I don't want it too thin and instead always use my 9 x 13 pan to get the preferred thickness. The only cautionary note is if you do make it in the smaller pan, don't pour all of the frosting over it since the frosting amount is designed to cover a larger surface area. Instead, I spread only enough to make a thin layer and save the rest for another use.
I love this version of Texas Sheet Cake as much as the other versions I've tried. The texture is soft and moist and the chocolate flavor is superb. And as always, I'm enamored with how easy this is to make. For the frosting, because it's fairly liquid and you don't want to beat it too much, strain it once you've incorporated all of the powdered sugar - this will get rid of any lumps and give you a smooth-textured frosting. Use it immediately and it'll set as the cake itself cools.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 15" x 10" jelly roll pan or a 9" x 13" pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Mix well with a wire whisk.
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, vanilla extract, buttermilk and baking soda. Mix well with wire whisk. 
  4. In a pan on top of the stove, melt butter, add cocoa and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from stove and pour into flour mixture and mix until all dry ingredients are incorporated. 
  5. Add egg and milk mixture and continue mixing just until all ingredients are wet. Pour into prepared pan.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, testing for doneness at 20 minutes. If baking in a 9 x 13" pan, it may take a little longer. (I baked in a 9 x 13" pan and it took 35 minutes.) Remove from oven and pour frosting over warm cake. 
7 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Toasted pecans or walnuts, optional
  1. Bring milk, butter and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, vanilla and nuts if using. Spread over warm cake immediately.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fudgy Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Fudgy Chocolate Chunk Brownies - made January 17, 2014 from Something Swanky
For one of my first baking forays in 2014, brownies seemed like an obvious choice to start off the new year. They're the backbone of my baking repertoire. And I was in the mood for one when I made these. My original intent was to try them out and send them in a care package to a friend on the East Coast. My friends in the Northeast have been frozen in their respective states with this whole polar vortex thing. Living in California where we headed into the 70s this January, I had some sympathy for their sub-zero temps. But the main reason I was going to make these brownies and care package them to the East Coast is my friend Kendra posted about baking brownies from a mix. Might as well wave a red flag in front of a charging bull. Really? From a mix? She tried explaining how, after a long, cold commute home, there was nothing easier than "ripping open the box". I was too busy cringing to pay any heed to her words.
So for fun, and my baking sanity, I decided to not only make these brownies and send them to her but to put together my own "brownie mix" with these ingredients. Obviously it isn't practical to send eggs, butter and vanilla extract through cross-country mail but I was going to package up the dry ingredients with separate packs for the sugar and the chocolate chips and write the instructions in bold words on each package so she'd know what to add and in what order to mix them all in. I still maintain baking brownies from scratch is just as easy as making from a mix (and tastes better). notice how my verbage is "I intended to" and "I was going to"? Yep, I didn't do it. I really did mean to but I hadn't counted on these brownies not turning out the way I intended. Nothing to do with the original recipe but I had gotten creative and added chopped up Milky Way caramels to the batter. It seemed like a good idea in concept but in reality, the Milky Way caramels overheated in the brownie during baking and when they cooled, they'd all sunk to the bottom and the caramel came out hard and chewy. The brownie itself was okay but with the chewy-hard bits of caramel - not something worthy to go into a care package at all. Back to the drawing board. And I do intend to fulfill that brownie "mix" care package one day, just not with these.
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chunks (I used Milky Way Caramels instead - bad idea)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x9 baking dish with parchment paper.
  2. Beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition.
  3. Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix in the baking soda.
  4. Mix in the chocolate chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  5. Once the batter forms (it will be thick), scrape it into the prepared dish and spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, until brownies begin to pull away from the side of the pan.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Filling

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Filling - made dough January 17, 2014 from The Food Charlatan
I took 24 days off from baking. I know it's been that long since the last time I baked was on Christmas Day, I left for my European trip Christmas night and this is one of the first things I've baked since I got back. The hiatus was planned and deliberate, to give myself and everyone around me a break from sugar. But break time is over. Not only am I going through baking withdrawals (not sugar withdrawals, no problem with those) but occasions I normally bake for are cropping up and piling up.
First was my uncle's belated birthday lunch last weekend, hosted by my cousin at a local restaurant. Even though we brought a gift, I have to bring something homemade, not just for my aunt and uncle but also for my cousin and her family, including her two boys. I went with these lemon sandwich cookies as they seemed like just the thing to use up lemons and appeal to palates that don't eat a lot of sweets or chocolate (my aunt and uncle, not the boys).
I made the dough balls small and froze them first. They didn't spread very much so I ended up with chunkier cookies when they were sandwiched together. I recommend either not chilling these first or else flattening them into disks rather than dough balls before freezing them. Although the directions say to roll them in powdered sugar before baking, you can skip that step if you'd rather shave off a few calories. I don't think the powdered sugar added anything to the cookie in terms of taste or texture. Mostly it just baked into the cookie and left odd patches of sugar. But I did like these cookies though. They were like a soft lemon sugar cookie and the filling was just the right touch to give them a little extra zing. As always with filling or frosting, I didn't adhere to the exact recipe. Instead I started with half of all the ingredients, creamed them together and added the rest in increments until the filling was the taste and consistency I wanted.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar, optional for rolling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line light colored baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla, egg, lemon zest, and juice. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir in all dry ingredients except for the powdered sugar slowly until just combined. Scrape sides of bowl and mix again briefly. 
  3. Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar, if desired. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
  4. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to barely brown and cookies look matte (not melty or shiny). Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
zest from one large lemon
  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, then the juice and the zest. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  2. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Han Sung Korean BBQ

Han Sung Korean BBQ - lunch on January 14, 2014
I'd been bringing lunch to work but when my coworker Michelle wanted to go out to lunch, it didn't take much arm twisting to consign my leftovers to dinner and go out to lunch instead. For this excursion, we went to a Korean BBQ place I've gone to once before. Although they're set up to enable you to barbecue at the table, we both opted for the lunch plates. Not only would it be faster but we wouldn't need to leave the restaurant smelling like barbecue for our afternoon meetings.
Service was a little bit slow as it took them awhile to take our order. Once we had ordered though, the food came out fairly quickly. Michelle got the bibimbap with all the little side dishes she was in the mood for.
Bi Bim Bap
I went with the lunch plate special of bul go gi that comes with the beef, rice and pot stickers. It was good although the bul go gi as a lunch plate wasn't as good as I remembered the separate entree of bul go gi to be on my prior visit. Bul Go Gi is usually one of my favorite things to order in a Korean restaurant because it's always so flavorful and I love the marinade. This was still good but seemed more like a beef stir fry than a traditional bul go gi.
Bul Go Gi lunch plate - $8.99
Overall this place was fine for a quick lunch but I'd say it was a bit average, considering its competition in Koreatown. It can compete on price as they offered lunch for under $10 but for flavor, I'm more inclined towards Beque Korean Grill or Jang Su Jang.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies - made dough January 17, 2014 from Baking and Mistaking
Another food holiday to mark: January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day. Technically this is peanut butter and chocolate which I'm sure has its own holiday but it still has peanut butter so I'm counting it to commemorate peanut butter's day in the sun. This is the kind of cookie that I think peanut butter and chocolate lovers would really enjoy. A creamy peanut butter filling hides inside a chocolate cookie, hence the surprise part. Not being a particular lover of peanut butter, I could be a little more objective in thinking the main change I would make to this recipe is to advocate using crunchy peanut butter in the filling instead of creamy. Since the chocolate cookie itself is already plain (no nuts, no chocolate chips, etc), using crunchy peanut butter would give this more of a texture contrast. Unless you like creamy-only textures, then stick with creamy peanut butter.
The good thing about these cookies is they don't really spread much so they're good about keeping their shape. Which instantly brings to mind you could make something cute with them. In keeping with the spirit of the season, you could make the filling oblong shaped then shape the chocolate cookie dough around it in the shape of a football with tapered ends. Once they're baked and cooled, pipe the football laces on top and tada - perfect cookie dessert for Super Bowl. Or, if you're not into football, Valentine's Day is coming up. Make the cookies heart shaped and sprinkle them with pink and red colored sugars.
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (I used creamy but I think crunchy would be better for a texture contrast)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  1. For the filling, mix the peanut butter and sugar together. Form into approximately 30 balls and freeze briefly in the freezer.
  2. While they're chilling, make the cookie dough: beat the butter, sugars and peanut butter together until combined. Add in the vanilla and egg and beat to combine.
  3. Gradually add in the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda until blended.
  4. Remove the peanut butter centers from the freezer and shape the cookie dough around each ball until completely covered.
  5. Dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and flatten the cookies slightly.
  6. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 7-9 minutes, until tops of cookies just begin to crack.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shrimp, Basil and Lemon Risotto

Shrimp and Lemon Risotto - made January 12, 2014, modified from Pam Niedzwiecki's Tastebook
One of my goals (I don't like to call them "resolutions" due to the stigma of resolutions being very fleeting) for 2014 besides the usual "cook more often" is "use up what you have before you buy more". That mantra applies not just to clothes, shoes and exercise DVDs (not to mention "read all the books on my unread shelf before trolling amazon") but also to my pantry and refrigerator. Remember, I have ingredient hoarding tendencies. They're most prevalent in regards to baking ingredients, as evidenced by the 4 boxes of cake flour I somehow ended up with after the holiday baking season, but also apply to ingredients I use for cooking.

I don't know how long I've had the opened box of arborio rice in my pantry, probably since the last time I made Lemon and Parmesan Risotto which fortunately was not as far back as 2010 when I first blogged the recipe but it wasn't within the last 6 months either. Okay, time to use up the arborio rice. The most obvious choice is in risotto but I wanted a different recipe this time. It's also that time of year when lemons are in abundance and I've had every lemon tree owner I know ask me if I need/want lemons. Risotto and lemon just go well together. I also like that this recipe adds basil to the mix. I modified it from the original recipe which called for grilling the shrimp separately. At the time I made this, it was cold outside and I didn't want to hang out on my balcony grilling shrimp so I simplified it to add shrimp directly to the risotto to cook over the stovetop.
This recipe is also different from my norm in that it uses Fontina cheese instead of Parmesan. The Fontina is more subtly flavored so I didn't taste it as much as I would have had it been Parmesan cheese. If you like the bite of cheese, I suggest garnishing the finished serving(s) of risotto with grated Parmesan at the end. Instead, the Fontina added to the creaminess of the risotto. Before I added it, the risotto was a nice fluffy texture. After the Fontina went it, it became more moist, almost wet. Still good but I cooked it a few minutes longer to dry it out a bit.
3 cups chicken broth mixed with 1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
zest from 2 lemons
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup Fontina cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined (more if you like lots of shrimp)
1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  1. Place broth and water in a medium-size saucepan; bring to a simmer. 
  2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice and stir until rice is coated with oil. Cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until absorbed, about 1 minute.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth to the rice. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until absorbed. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, cooking in the same manner. This will take 25-30 minutes. Do not shortcut this step as this is what ensures the rice will cook properly.
  4. Stir in the lemon zest, juice, cheese, salt and pepper. Add shrimp and stir until pink and cooked. Stir in basil just before serving. Garnish with lemon zest and/or grated Parmesan if desired.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Restaurant Review: Kabab & Curry's

Kabab & Curry's - lunch on January 10, 2014
My first social eating occasion of the new year was to meet my friend Jenny for lunch after I got back from vacation. As always, I searched yelp for someplace nearby that was a small business and that we've never tried before. Kabab and Curry's had a 4-star rating on yelp based on over 800 reviews so it seemed like a good choice. Surprisingly, I had never heard of them before. I say surprisingly because they're not that far from me, their yelp reviews praised their butter chicken (my favorite dish in any Indian restaurant), and they're not that expensive. I checked out their menu online and decided it'd be a great place to meet.
So, after I had such high expectations, unfortunately they weren't quite met. The place itself is rather modest which is fine, nothing wrong with that. What I hadn't read closely enough is that lunch was an all-you-can-eat buffet. That would've been okay except when we went through the line, none of the dishes laid out were marked so you couldn't tell what you were getting. I'm not the most adventurous eater in the world so it didn't thrill me not to know. I made the mistake of making the observation aloud to Jenny that I wish they had markers that labeled what the dishes were since I couldn't tell. I happened to be in front of a serving dish of what looked like chunks of potato with spinach and the guy in front of me overheard me and told me, "what do you not know? That's spinach and potato." I was more amused than offended because he sounded so offended that I was questioning the establishment.
Another disappointment was that butter chicken wasn't one of the selections at the buffet nor was their chicken tikka masala. They did have tandoori chicken which was good and the lamb meatballs were okay. I did have a small serving of the potato and spinach dish the guy ahead of me was so protective of and they were okay but nothing special. I didn't get much on my first pass so decided to go back in line for the tandoori chicken. I stood in line with the others and the line didn't move as it appeared they were out of the tandoori chicken and everyone was waiting for them to bring more. After almost ten minutes of waiting, I gave up and went back to the table. Didn't seem worth it to keep waiting.
Fortunately, naan came with the meal and they delivered one basket of warm naan after we asked for it when we first sat down. After my thwarted attempt at a second helping of tandoori chicken, I asked for another basket of naan. It took awhile for it to come out but it was warm so maybe they were still baking more because of high demand. The place was pretty busy with a steady stream of customers. For $10, I can see that it would be a good deal and there was a mix of ethnicities, not just Indian folks, coming for lunch so the place was quite popular with a diverse group of diners.

When Jenny and I left, I noticed all the stickers proclaiming the restaurant as Michelin Guide recommended and rated. I have to admit, based on this one lunch visit, I was floored by those accolades. The wait staff was very nice but the service, even for a buffet set up, took too long as there wasn't enough of them to wait on all the people in both large rooms of the restaurant. Not having the buffet table properly stocked during the lunch hour also seemed like a kitchen miss. And frankly, I didn't think the lunch food was that great. I'm going to have to come back for dinner so I can order the butter chicken and maybe understand their devoted customer base a little better.