Category Archives: Review

Restaurant Review: The Cowfish, Raleigh NC

 

How often do you have the “what do you want for dinner?” conversation? Whether with friends or a significant other, it can be fraught with peril. Someone wants pizza, someone else is in the mood for burgers, I desperately want sushi, meanwhile this other guy is gluten-free and she’s vegetarian.

What to do?!

The Cowfish in Raleigh has struck a whimsical compromise: they offer not only both burgers and sushi, but also a menu full of confusing, creative fusion they call “burgooshi”. Now the fish eaters and the cow eaters can all be happy and fed together.

Obviously, as a sushi-aholic married to a die-hard beef lover, I knew as soon as I heard of this magical place that we must go there. I could literally eat sushi every other day and be happy about it, but my Mr tolerates it just often enough so that I don’t die from sushi deprivation. This seemed like a perfect compromise.

And The Cowfish did not disappoint! We went to the Raleigh location, one of four current locations (Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Orlando, FL are the other two, with plans for future expansion. If you’re lucky enough to be near one do stop by and let me know what you think!). They had a nice outdoor seating space decorated with lights that I’m sure add a nice touch at night, as well as cornhole boards to occupy yourself while waiting to be seated.

We were smart, and showed up around 4pm, missing the lunch crowd and long before the Saturday dinner rush. Though as soon as we walked in, we noticed it was still pretty full with couples and groups sitting about, enjoying the wide array of music and goofy decor.

Impossible to miss, a gigantic fish tank shaped like a cocktail glass dominates the center of the spacious open dining room. All manner of brightly colored fish swim around, oblivious to their cousins being devoured nearby. And the walls are lined with cartoony paintings that riff off of many well-known pop culture icons & symbols.

You have your choice of seating, an outdoor covered patio, inside in the open floor, at the bar, or at the sushi bar. The sushi bar comes equipped with mounted in-table touch screens, which I can only assume are for ordering another round of Cheeseburgooshi. We sat elsewhere, but maybe next time.

The menu spans a wide range of tastes. They have typical Asian appetizers like gyoza and edamame, as well as classic American options like onion rings & nachos. They also have salads and sandwiches if someone in your party is not feeling very adventurous yet. There is definitely a seafood emphasis throughout.

The burgers range from lamb and bison, to mushroom and swiss, to an Elvis inspired peanut butter/banana/bacon concoction. Sushi rolls include classics like the California and Spicy Tuna roll, as well as some specialty rolls you won’t find anywhere else. And then the crowning achievement, the “Burgushi” menu, which is a unique fusion that involves bison sushi, southern style BBQshi,  the Turfin Surfer roll, and several types of sushi sandwiches.

Possibly their most famous fusion is the “All-American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi”. This little gem is like a bacon double cheeseburger, but with a twist: “Seasoned Certified Angus Beef, yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and red onion, wrapped in soy paper and potato strings then flash fried. Topped with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle and Roma tomato. Served atop Cowfish sauce. Served with house seasoned fries”

But for your first culinary journey in this magical place, the staff recommends the “Fusion specialty bento box”, because it includes a little taste of it all. You get a mini slider, your choice of a 4-piece Fusion specialty roll, and sides: spicy cucumber, edamame, and the world’s most amazing sweet potato fries.

Yeah, I said it. In a place known for burgers and sushi, the sweet potato fries were the surprise sweep, both of us absolutely inhaled them. I loved the edamame, and the cucumber, though hubby pushed both my way. I wasn’t complaining one bit.

We chose the blackened tuna roll in our bento box, which was an awesome decision if I do say so myself. Crabcake and cream cheese inside, coated in tempura and topped with seared tuna, avocado salsa, and jalapeño slices, this was probably my second favorite part of the box. I could eat a dozen of these rolls!

We also got one Fusion specialty roll to split, the Doug’s Filet Roll. It boasts avocado, kani, and cream cheese filling, but the topping is what sold it. Thin slices of seared filet mignon, with spicy mayo, scallions, and masago (fish eggs).

The steak was delicious, and a very strange taste juxtaposed with the sushi to be sure. But very satisfying.

And of course, let’s not forget the restaurant’s namesake: the Cowfish. Yep, that’s an actual thing: an adorably weird fish of which each restaurant location boasts one.

Overall, I’d rate The Cowfish:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

 

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Restaurant Review: The Saucy Crab

 

The Budget Epicurean has a new home base, y’all! We have up and moved across the country from the lovely shores of New Haven Connecticut, to the woodsy Research Triangle mecca of middle North Carolina.

Why would you do this crazy, exhausting thing you ask?

Oh so many reasons… cost of living is way lower, taxes are incredibly cheaper, the people are super nice, the traffic is less terrible, the weather is a vast improvement, the Research Triangle is nearby with oodles of tech and scientific career opportunities…   need I go on?

So yeah, we did this crazy, expensive, exhausting thing and drove 12 hours the weekend before Thanksgiving to a new house with no furniture, heat, or hot water, and promptly hosted 9 people for the holiday. Because we are crazy people and have a reputation to protect as such!

While North Carolina does have a long stretch of seafront property, one does not normally think of the interior of the state as having good seafood. At least, when I think delicious seafood, I don’t think of Duke University… So when we were out and about exploring our new home, and saw a place called “The Saucy Crab” we just had to stop in and check it out.

saucy crab map

Nestled just off of 501 next to the Rooms to Go and across from the South Square shopping center, it sits on a hill looking over the highway almost exactly halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill. Google Maps refers to it as a “quirky hangout with shellfish & beer” and that is indeed what we found.

The Saucy Crab outside

With a tan stone exterior and a dimly lit, beach themed interior, it seems to have the quirky hangout part nailed.  Since we just came from the New England area of the East Coast, it was fun to see their beach theme, complete with upside down beer buckets as lamps over the beachy picnic tables.

The Saucy Crab inside

There was a large canoe hanging from the ceiling, beer bottle lanterns and chandeliers, and more beach decor scattered throughout. There were oars, and life preservers, and wooden crabs all over the place.  The crab is obviously their chosen mascot, and they have repeated the motif throughout.

Drawings on the walls

The tables are covered with butcher paper, and there are buckets of crayons on each table to encourage creativity.  We of course took advantage of these as we waited. And if your drawing is good enough or the wait staff takes a liking to it, you might end up on the wall! There are tacked up pictures all over, mostly of various renditions of the crab but also many other talented drawings.

I wonder if mine was good enough to make it on the wall? Guess we will have to go back and find out!

Budget Epicurean crab drawing

We got lucky, and early on a Saturday we had the place to ourselves. The waiter promptly took us over to a booth towards the back, and we knew what we wanted pretty quickly.

I ordered the sturgeon basket lunch special, and my hubby got the “surf and turf” as he put it; a burger with shrimp on top, also known as the “Saucy Burger”. Their lunch specials a great, under $10 for your fried main dish of choice and it comes with slaw, hush puppies, and potato wedges (which is really what their “fries” are, just FYI.)

spicy popcorn

And guys… they bring you spicy popcorn while you wait! Instead of chips and salsa or bread sticks, this place brings you a lovely bamboo bowl of endless spicy popcorn! Beware, it does have a bit of a kick. But it is addictive for sure, and healthier than most other pre-dinner snacky options. Plus it gives your hands something to do if you aren’t feeling your creative side and don’t want to color. 🙂

The fried sturgeon lunch basket

The food came out hot and fresh in about ten minutes, super fast. Of course, like I said we were literally the only people in the place. But it was clear that it had all just been cooked to order, not pulled out of a freezer and flash fried again. The slaw was slightly sweet and just the right amount of crunch, though the cup was super itty bitty. I would have like more of it, it was so good.

The hush puppies don’t look like much, but they were delicious! The corn bread was also a little sweet, and fried perfectly. The honey butter was amazing with them too. And the breading on the sturgeon and potatoes was light and crispy, fried just right. Of course, this is not the place to go if you’re trying to eat light and healthy! But once in a while, boy what a treat! And that sweet tea, mmmmm mmmm God Bless the South!

the Saucy burger

Hubby’s burger was slightly too cooked for my liking, but he said it was awesome. The burger meat plus big juicy shrimp was a strange combination for my brain to handle, but it was tasty. He even left the lettuce on, bless his heart! And the shrimp were cooked to perfection. A big melty slice of cheddar on top brought it all together.

Their special sauce was super tasty too, it was like a thousand island dressing, but with tartar sauce added; thick and creamy and tangy. It was great for dipping the fries in honestly! He didn’t use the mustard at all, though I have a suspicion it was just knockoff regular jarred mustard so I don’t mind.

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More shots of the interior decorations, and below is a larger room in the back which seems like it can be rented out for bigger parties. They also had a stage area set up with huge speakers, so it seems like maybe they do live music sometimes? While we were there a mix of country songs was playing, which I loved but hubby wasn’t too pleased. So hopefully you enjoy country music with your seafood! I thought it was a nice blend of ocean and southern feel.

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The bathroom was red and black and yellow, which was a little arresting when you first walked in. One sink had the faucet missing too. But it was large and clean, and there was plenty of toilet paper and paper towels, which is the truly important part.

 

Overall, I’d rate The Saucy Crab:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 8

 

The food was good, but I’m not a huge fan of fried things. The menu is a little limited too, but that’s to be expected from a place that specializes. I’d like to go again and try their crab, since that seems to be their pride and joy.  The atmosphere is very chill and fun, this would be a great place for a big family, a group of friends, or just a place to hang out and relax.

It felt very comfortable, I’d definitely bring a big group of people here for a fun night out. And the seafood is fairly priced, with great lunch specials. I think we nailed it by being there right around opening time on a Saturday. I’m not sure how crowded it gets in the evenings, but at least it is large enough to accommodate a pretty decent crowd.

 

Have you ever been to the Saucy Crab?  What did you think?

Restaurant Review: T’s Pizza & Kitchen

 

Do you love pizza?  I thought so.  Please, read on.

Along a quiet back street a half mile away from the Stamford Train Station, near Stamford Connecticut’s Antique Alley (what I’ve termed Dock St, due to its proximity to at least 7 antique stores and galleries), sits an unassuming painted brick building.

ts pizza kitchen google map

On a spur of the moment trip, the new hubster and I decided to explore some of the East Coast.  We figure since we live in a place where we can travel to five different states in one day and there is ample public transit, we should take advantage of these things.  So on a sunny Sunday, we hopped on the Metro North to Stamford, just one hour down the tracks.  We had gone by on our way to the Big Apple once or twice, and it seemed nice.

Downtown is tiny but quaint.  Several restaurants were open on this lovely Father’s Day, and one had a giant sign proclaiming “$5 Burgers Everyday”.  You can guess where we went for lunch… While sitting there, we witnessed some sky-writing of an advertisarial bent. The burgers were also tasty, but that’s another post. We then explored the nearby Stamford Town Center mall, which is deceptively huge. It goes up and up and up… ten floors I think. Pretty darn cool, to my exceedingly tall other half.

Then the true reason for coming all this way, we wandered down to the waterfront.  Harbor Point is the big development here, they have created many lovely living spaces that are very walkable. And there is a free public trolley that runs 7 days a week! This is a fantastic service. After a nice walk down the boardwalk and through the Kosciuszko park (dare you to say that three times fast) and some water-watching, we decided it was about time for some dinner and to wander back to the station to catch a train home.

T's Pizza Kitchen Exterior

Well, since we are in New England, we have made it our mission to find and eat pizza whenever and wherever possible, so as to do a fair comparison.  New Haven style is fiercely guarded and defended as the best pizza on Earth. Just as Pepe’s, Sallys, Modern, BAR, Ernies, or a host of other local hot spots.

Google maps informed us that “T’s Pizza & Kitchen” was super close to the train station, and basically along our way there. So we figured, that’s perfect! We can stop and pick up some dinner to eat on the train on the way home.

T's Pizza Kitchen Interior

The road on the way there, not gonna lie, it’s a little bit sketchy. But what do you expect from the industrial district? Though I must say, I was a little intrigued by the “Vertical Addiction” pole dancing studio next door… Anywho, as soon as we walked in the door, I thought “I love this place!” From the brick and wooden slat walls, to the muted black and rustic wooden decor, to the thoughtfully picked wall of wines and golden crusted baked goodies on display, this place oozed homey comfort with class.

We were welcomed by an elderly gentleman, who asked us some questions, and when we seemed hesitant, gave us a menu and let us sit down to figure out the game plan. We decided a whole pizza was too much, both to take on the train and because of the huge burgers we had eaten just a few hours earlier, so we would split a calzone. He recommended the Stromboli Roll, which comes with salami, ham, peppers, and mozzarella cheese. Si grazie!

Carlos of Ts Pizza Kitchen

While we waited, he offered us some waters, which we gratefully accepted (it was a high of 86 people!).  As I wandered to the back to watch our dinner be rolled out, filled, and baked all by hand, the kind chef chatted about what he did.  Turns out, the guy lovingly crafting our soon to be dinner was Carlos, the manager! He was filling in since Sundays are quiet.

He told me about his love of pizza and all Italian foods, and how hard they had worked since opening just 6 months earlier. It was mesmerizing to watch him roll out the dough into a thin, long oval. Dusting it with spices and layering the toppings carefully. Slices of meat, strips of peppers, chunks of fresh mozz. Then he rolled it up into one long log, and popped it in the giant oven. He was warm and funny, and genuinely interested in our story. It’s too bad we don’t live nearby, I would definitely become a regular!

Ts Pizza Kitchen Calzone

They were kind enough to give us two plates and wrap everything in tin foil, and added two cups of marinara dipping sauce plus a hefty stack of napkins.  We made it to the station! … just as our train pulled away. Ha. Oh well, the next one was set to arrive & depart in 25 minutes, so we could eat it while we waited. I’m sure everyone else on that platform was SO jealous!

Ts Pizza Kitchen Stromboli Roll

The calzone was still steaming hot, and the mozz was molten goo, which is totally a good thing.  The peppers had cooked up perfectly and were nice and soft, a perfect flavor to balance the salty ham and salami. The dough was nice and light, but crunchy and flavorful. The dipping sauce seemed a bit thin, but turned out to be perfect, not too heavy such as would overpower the flavors of the fillings.

While I’m not crazy about the small pool of grease left on the plate, sometimes that is just what you’re craving.  Based on just this calzone alone, they really know what they are doing in the kitchen! Hopefully we will return to Stamford someday, and we can try the pizza too. (If you’ve been there, please let me know what  you think in the comments!)

 

Overall, I’d rate Ts Pizza & Kitchen:

  • Taste: 8
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Value: 9

 

You can read other reviews here:

January Pantry Challenge

 

Wow, so February starts in just a few hours, 2016 is already 1/12th over!  How are you all doing with those new years resolutions?  Been to the gym every day, stuck to a calorie goal, finances in ship-shape, in fact taxes have already been filed?  Yeah, me too.

Just kidding!

I don’t really do the resolution thing, because it is far too easy to set yourself up to fail.  I am more a believer in long-term goals with short-term goals break down.  By taking a big life goal, solidifying your reason for desiring it, and then breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable goals, you set yourself up for continual personal improvement.  Plus you have the ability to look back and see what worked and what didn’t, and tweak or change your goals if your lifestyle and desires have changed.

This is the final post in a series of a challenge I set for myself Jan 1st, to cook out of my pantry/freezer and only spend $20 per week on fresh groceries.  Below are the first three week’s summaries:

Week 1 Recap
Week 2 Recap
Week 3 Recap

This final week, I was surprised at how quickly this month had flown by.  When I did my one grocery stop, it felt like more than enough.  I think I have adjusted to fewer grocery store trips, which is likely a very good thing.  Looking back at the past few weeks’ lists, I realized I still had 3 out of 4 kiwis in the refrigerator.  I also had to throw out half the cucumber because it went to mush before I could slice & eat it.  Other than that, I have done quite well with not buying too much or wasting produce.

Fruit/Veg $11.96 Meats $3.29
Celery 1lb $2.49 2/3 lb ham $3.29
Ginger root $0.30 Dairy $5.35
3lb oranges $3.77 White cheese $1.48
Bananas (8) $1.35 Organic yogurt $3.87
Avocados (2) $2.00
Collard greens $2.05 Total $20.60

 

This week I got brave and bought a head of collards, because I know they are chock full of chlorophyll and good stuff.  I chopped up a few leaves to toss into salads, some of the leaves got blended into a sauce for the gnocchi, leaves were added to soup, and one day for lunch I used the leaf as a wrap for tuna salad.  I also ended up getting a small pack of ham and some white cheese to make sandwiches for my fiancee for lunch.

White Bean, Sausage, & Collards Soup

Jan 23 – Pork ribs & baked potato soup
Jan 24 – Leftover stuffed shells for lunch, pork chops, Spanish rice & salad
Jan 25 – Buffalo chicken sandwiches
Jan 26 – Butternut squash gnocchi
Jan 27 – Sausage, white bean, & collard greens soup
Jan 28 – Lasagna with spinach
Jan 29 – Leftover lasagna
Jan 30 – Leftover pizza, buffalo chicken on salad

AS for the budgeting part of the challenge, not counting the couple of times we had meals outside the home, the total I went over is: $3.30 + $2.34 + $1.08 + $0.60 = $7.32

Which means a total of $87.32 for all the “fresh” groceries the entire month of January.  Not bad at all.  I don’t think realistically I can keep that up for many more months beyond this, but it is a good illustration of how much having a stocked pantry can help, especially in case of a natural or financial emergency.  Now I know that if something catastrophic were to happen, or the fiancee and/or I were to lose a job and we had to really tighten our belts, the pantry I normally keep can indeed see us through.

 

How about you, any resolutions or goals you are keeping, or struggling with?  Feel free to share!

 

Pantry eating challenge – week 1

 

So for the New Year, I decided to try a cook-from-the-pantry challenge.  See this article for full details, but pretty much the plan is to cook mostly from what is already in my house (fridge, freezer, pantry) and $20 per week for fresh produce & dairy.

How’s it going so far?

Pretty darn well, actually.  I’ll try to keep posting updates every Sunday on how the previous week went, and at the end summarize the whole month.  But for the first week, things are going along as normal.  Here’s the week’s menu:

Jan 1 – Pork roast & sauerkraut (leftover from day before, and it’s good luck on New Years Day!)
Jan 2 – Chicken & rice soup
Jan 3 – Chicken quarters & rice & broccoli
Jan 4 – BBQ spare ribs & baked potatoes
Jan 5 – Crock Pot Turkey Chili
Jan 6 – Seafood linguine (recipe coming Tuesday!)
Jan 7 – Pork chops w/apple chutney, mashed sweet potato, and cranberry sauce
Jan 8 – Spinach stuffed chicken rolls, rice, salad

You get one bonus day because Jan didn’t start on a Monday. 🙂

For breakfast, I have had smoothies using frozen fruit & fresh, wheat English muffins (from the freezer) with almond butter & jam, and cereal (cold and hot).  Lunches are most often leftovers from one of the dinner meals, and one day this week I had a caprese sandwich for lunch out with some coworkers.

Oh, how am I doing with not shopping?  That part is a little harder… as you may know, I’m a sucker for a good sale, and have no qualms snagging them and stocking up when I find it.  Well, that’s a no-no this month, I have to make a strict list of only fresh veg and fruits we want or need, and stick to it.  For me, this is the toughest part of the challenge so far.  So, what did I buy this week?

Dairy Fruit/Veg
Kefir (2) 5.92 Bananas (5) 0.96
Org. milk 1/2 gal 3.5 Spinach (12 oz) 1.49
Heavy cream 1.69 Kiwi (4) 1.49
Asparagus (1 lb) 2.69
Romaine (3) 1.99
Avocado (2) 1.98
 TOTAL $23.30 Raspberries 1.59

 

Yup, I went over budget by a little more than 3 dollars… but honestly that’s still pretty good, given on average I spend $100 per week on groceries.

The cream was so I could make our own coffee creamer, (we are trying to get away from packaged, processed chemicals as much as possible) and organic, grass-fed milk is way more expensive than factory milk.  But it is a choice we are making, to be healthier all around.  The same goes for adding kefir to our diets, to get more gut-healthy probiotics.

The fruits will mostly be eaten as snacks and in lunches, and added to smoothies.  The spinach & romaine will be salads to go with things from the freezer & pantry, and compliment any frozen veg. I already have.  The fiancee eats a banana per day for breakfast, and both the asparagus & raspberries were on sale, how could I not buy them?!

Well, that’s it for this week, stay tuned for next week!

 

How about you guys, ever done a no-spend or low-spend challenge?  Do you think you have more food in the house than you think you do?  Could you go a month without grocery shopping as usual?

 

Restaurant Review: Wang’s Chinese Food in Cromwell, CT

 

For those unfamiliar with my system of reviewing food service establishments, I use three areas, with a scale of 1-10.  The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments. Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

Today’s restaurant review is for Wang’s Chinese Restaurant in Cromwell, CT.  A small home slash business building tucked just off West Street (Route 372) in between Route 9 and highway 91, I have passed this place countless times on my way to work.  And every time I think, hm I should go there sometime.  Somehow I just never got around to it… Then I found out a friend of mine just so happens to know the owner, and so we decided to take a trip for lunch.

Wang chinese restaurant outside

Upon parking, the first thing I noticed was that it is actually quite larger than I had thought, since the entire left side of the building was a large dining area which can be rented out.  When we walked inside, it smelled immediately of those delicious umami smells of soy sauce, bubbling soup, and stir frying vegetables.

Wang chinese restaurant inside

There is a fully stocked bar, so you can have traditional sake right alongside a Cosmopolitan if you so desire.  There is ample seating for both tables and booths, in a nice dark cherry wood, and white linen table cloths.  Some very quiet, soothing music was playing in the background, nonintrusive enough that you forgot it was there.

Wang chinese restaurant owner

As soon as you are seated, the waiter immediately brings over a bowl of fried dough pieces and sweet and sour dipping sauce.  It is like the Chinese version of chips and salsa.  The sweet and sour was so delicious, I could practically drink the stuff, and the dough chips were the perfect level of crispy.  Somehow, it all disappeared very quickly…

Fried dough and sweet and sour sauce appetizer

The next endless part of the experience is the hot tea.  Every lunch special (and dinner too) includes bottomless pots of hot tea.  I love that, because tea is the best.  I’m pretty sure I had at minimum nine cups.  Good thing the cups are so small!  We also had soup included in our lunch orders, I chose won ton while my friend ordered the egg drop.  The soup was so tasty I wolfed it right down, and didn’t even get to take a picture… oops.  Sorry, not sorry.

Wang chinese restaurant hot tea

With menu items ranging from $1.50 to nearly $28 for the Peking Duck, there is something for everyone’s budget.  Their lunch specials are quite reasonable at $6.50 or $6.95, and includes all you can drink hot tea, soup (won ton or egg drop), egg roll, and entree.  Lunch is daily from 11:30 – 3:00.

I ordered the shrimp and broccoli, and funny story, my friend ordered the same thing.  She got veggie fried rice, while I stuck with the included pork fried rice, and you can also choose steamed white rice.  When the food came out, it smelled absolutely wonderful, and was a very generous portion size.  You can see the plate was pretty much overflowing.

Shrimp and Broccoli with Pork Fried Rice

The brown sauce was perfect, lightly coating the shrimp and veg but not overpowering.  There was a ton of flavor, but I didn’t feel as if I had licked a salt shaker while eating it, which is a good sign.  The rice was springy and flavorful as well.  The broccoli was steamed just right, soft enough but still with a slight crunch.  And the shrimp were gigantic, with 5-6 big pieces per plate.

The owner came over to say hello while we were there and asked how our meals were.  We of course said ‘absolutely wonderful’!  My friend introduced me as a new frequent customer, and I have to say, she was right.  With a distinctly mom-and-pop feel, attention to detail and attentive staff, very generous portions for a reasonable price, and amazing food that actually tastes like food and not something frozen and microwaved or doused in chemicals, I will definitely be returning here often!  I’m glad to have finally given this hidden gem a try, and so should you.

Overall, I’d rate Wang’s Chinese Restaurant:

  • Taste: 9
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 9

 

You can read other reviews here:

 

Review: Three Sheets

 

Tucked away on Elm Street in New Haven is a tiny unassuming “friendly neighborhood gastropub” called Three Sheets.

It has gone through many changes over the years, under different names and different locations, but today it is a cozy, welcoming dive bar with a creative atmosphere. I had happened upon it during  a ‘brunch and board games’ meeting. Always a fan of good food and new friends, I welcomed the opportunity to try some local flavor.

IMG_9388Open Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

With typical dive-bar murkiness, this place was at once sketchy and friendly. Tattooed and pierced bartenders and servers abounded, and there were handfuls of clear regulars grouped around the bar and at tables, despite it being 1pm on a Saturday.

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The menu behind the bar immediately intrigued me. With plenty of good old bar-eat standbys like burgers and wings, they also have a ton of creative and unique choices, such as “Stuffies”, fried pickles, “Koolickles”, and a Banh Mi. They also offer oodles of tasty sounding sauces and toppings for anything your heart desires, like smoked catsup, remoulade, yellow BBQ, or kimchi. Plus rotating chef’s and drinks specials.

This is my kind of place.

Their Facebook page has periodic updates about what bands are playing (always NO cover and 21+) and what the daily house specials are. They say: “the following items which are all made IN HOUSE. Smoked clams, chicken pastrami, ham, bacon and pulled pork. Our jalapeno poppers are slow roasted and hand stuffed. We pickle our own vegetables and eggs. Our beef, breads, and clams are locally sourced… Oh, did I mention hand rolled sushi?”

Yes please.

I had to start the night (afternoon?) with a local craft beer. The bartender suggested Two Roads Hefeweizen, made right here in Stratford CT.

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The No Limits Hefeweizen was a nice, fruity wheat beer, perfectly refreshing for a hot summer day. I enjoyed the can, and the fact that they gave me a chilled glass to go along with it. I had tasted the Two Roads “Road Jam” previously as well, and it is even more powerfully berry flavored.

However, the “Lil Heaven IPA” is the opposite of my taste preferences, and I ended up tossing out half a six-pack because I just couldn’t drink it. Those who like extremely bitter beers would totally love this type. All the same, this brand is a great New England brewery, and I will keep trying their beers as long as I’m here.

The front area is the bar, right next to a cozy room containing several tables & chairs, and a tiny elevated stage area. I have not attended any free concerts here yet, but it is now on my New Haven to-do list. We played several games with a group of about 20, with multiple games on-going simultaneously.

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Through the hallway, you are led to a back room with more seating, a food-order area leading to the kitchen, pool tables, and a large chalkboard wall. There is plenty of chalk provided to indulge your creative side. I believe there is a back door, but we did not investigate if there was a porch area or not.

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It has that ‘dirty’ in a ‘gritty dive-bar’ way, but was well-kept. From what I could see through the kitchen window, everything was in fact being freshly prepared in house. Speaking of food…

While there were many tempting items on the menu, the Beet Reuben in particular called to me. Roasted beet slices on whole grain rye bread (which I believe is from another CT local, the tasty bread experts WholeG Bakery), with kimchi, thousand island dressing & Swiss cheese. I’m not a huge fan of swiss or 1000 island, but they are requisite for a proper reuben. And I adore kimchi.

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BEET REUBEN                                                                      $10

roasted beets sliced and served on whole g rye bread with kimchi, thousand island, and swiss.

The bartender took my order and told me ‘ok it will be out in a few minutes’. I don’t know if they are all just that good, or I got lucky & it was a slow day. But I sat down, played some games, and as I was halfway through enjoying my hefeweizen another waitress magically appeared and handed me a steaming plate.

The bread was perfectly crispy, everything was exactly the right temperature. The spicy kimchi mixed with the creamy tang of the thousand island, the sliced beets were soft and sweet like candy, and the whole thing made me look at Ruebens in a whole new light. I don’t think the usual roast beef & coleslaw combo will have quite the same magic anymore.

The fries were also the right amount of salty, and were so good that even though my fiance hadn’t wanted to order any food, after he tried one, he ended up eating almost the whole order! If I’d been more hungry, or not completely enthralled with my sandwich, I would have gotten a second order. As it was, this sandwich was more than enough to satisfy, and I had to stuff down the last bite. It was totally worth it.

All in all, this is a cute little gem that during the day is tame enough to bring the kids, but has it’s rough side too. The food prices vary in affordability, but are reasonable given the taste standard and the portion sizes. With entertainment, public events all the time, great drink specials and killer food, this is a gastropub I’d be happy to re-visit again and again.

  • Taste: 8.5
  • Atmosphere: 7
  • Value: 7

Resources & Further Reading:

New Haven Register Review
Three Sheets Website
Their Facebook Page

Address: 372 Elm St, New Haven, CT 06511

Review: Sushi Palace

 

Seeing as this blog is the “Budget Epicurean” and part of that name entails being curious about new foods, I felt that it was time for a new food place review. If you will recall from my Austin, Texas review series, I rate places based on taste, atmosphere, and overall value. All honest opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean, and no goods, services, or payments were offered for this review.

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

There are several places I’ve been in the past few months and simply haven’t written up yet. This one is a definite stand-out, and somewhere I hope to go again soon. Perhaps this article will get me convinced to make reservations! And maybe I’ll see you there.

It’s no secret that I love me some good sushi. All-you-can-eat sushi buffets are one of my favorite places in the world. Sushi snobs may turn up their noses, doubters may worry about the fishy smell or taste, and environmentalists may debate the Earth-friendliness of over-fishing. But there is nothing better than stuffing yourself to discomfort with tray upon tray of rolls and nigiri.

Upon moving away from Denver CO and my precious Sushi Katsu, at which I’ve probably spent several hundreds of dollars over four years (best damn all you can eat deal in the area, fo sho), I needed to find a similar addiction in my newly adopted New England. It is not uncommon for my fiance and I to begin with at minimum 50 individual pieces. This is a tough order, as it also needs to be both delicious, and affordable.

Asking around yielded a place with locations in both North Haven & Hamden called Sushi Palace.

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Luckily for me, a friend was visiting from out of town who has a similar addiction to salty fish and rice, so we set off on our eat-till-it-hurts adventure.

We “began” our meal with three people, thus about 60 pieces between us. Several sashimi were ordered, along with a few rolls, the Rainbow roll, Dragon roll, Philadelphia roll & California roll among them.

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The individual sashimi slices were uniformly perfectly thick and even, with each fish’ unique flavor and texture shining through. My favorites in order: salmon, tuna, white tuna, yellowtail, red snapper. I’m normally not a huge fan of raw fish alone, I prefer some rice along with it, but this was all in all a great experience.

The only exceptions would be the  egg custard (tamago) and red clam (hokkigai). The egg custard was sort of tofu-textured with a hint of eggy and sweet, and the clam was a tough chewy texture, neither of which I totally enjoyed. However, you may have different taste and texture preferences, and find cold shoe leather enjoyable.

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Their menu is quite exhaustive, and the prices are reasonable. I wish to goodness I worked closer to either location, so I could waste one day a week’s pay on buying sushi for lunch daily.

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This is the dinner rush on a typical Thursday. Luckily we got to the place just around 5:30 and snagged one of 5-6 empty tables. Approximately 6pm, cue huge crowd and an out-the-door line. You have been warned.

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Round two of our main course consisted of “sushi”, of which the majority was salmon because that was our unanimous favorite. First big difference I noticed between Colorado and Connecticut: “sushi” in CO meant a roll, here it means “piece of raw fish with room temperature rice”. The CT definition of “sushi” is “nigiri” where I am used to.

No matter, we were ready to mow down a few more rolls and pieces. Of the three of us, we each had about enough room for about 10 more pieces. I can’t recall the name of one of the tempura-fried warm roll, but the hot mayo on top is super delicious! Several of their rolls have this as an option. If you are unsure, you could ask to taste it before ordering a roll drenched in the stuff.

We also got just a taste of the eel, or unagi. Eel is a delicious, flaky fish with a meaty, salty flavor, and is served with this amazing eel sauce that is slightly sweet and warm. This stuff is the bomb dot com yo! Give it a try, you might like it.

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And finally to round out the meal, we each finished off with a small bowl of ice cream. The flavors? Green tea and red bean. Oh yes. Too weird to not try. And it turned out that the bean ice cream has actual chunks of red beans in it, and the green tea is sweeter than I imagined it would be. I did not hate either taste experience, and might actually order a pint of the green tea on purpose.

In summary, an experience and spread well worth $30 for dinner. They have a huge regular menu, and a completely separate menu for the all you can eat option which is equally expansive. With options such as udon noodles, fried rice, beef teriyaki, and edamame, everyone is sure to find something they like. Overall rating:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Value: 7.5

http://www.sushipalace.us/menu/menu.htm

Review: Asian Farmers Market

 

One of my big priorities when visiting or moving to a new place is finding the good grocery stores. I know, lots of people think I’m crazy but I LOVE grocery shopping! It’s so fun walking up and down the aisles looking at different foods and imagining what I could create with it.  I especially love any type of ethnic foods, foods I’ve not tried yet, strange spices and sauces, and fresh produce.

All this and more is what I found by accident one fine spring day in New Haven.

The original intent was to go to ALDI’s for a stock-up on basics. Those who know me know my love affair with ALDI runs deep. I wouldn’t have eaten nearly as well throughout college without their no-frills rock-bottom food prices. If you’ve never been or don’t have one in your area (like Colorado…) I am very sorry. You could always do what I did and move across the country to be near one.

Anyways, I arrived half an hour earlier than they opened. Silly me, thinking they have normal hours on a weekend. So rather than wait in the parking lot, I decided to explore further up the street since I had not driven east yet.

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To my surprise and intrigue a few blocks down was a large red sign proclaiming “Asian Farmers Market”. We all know I adore a good farmer’s market, so I just had to stop in and check it out.

I was immediately rewarded with a double shelf of fresh vegetables, roots, herbs, and fruits as I walked in the door. There were your typical bananas and oranges, but also dragonfruit and huge daikon radishes. Fresh bunches of Thai basil, lemongrass, and mint lined the shelves.

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Huge stacks of 15, 25, and 50 pound bags of Thai, jasmine, brown, and white rice lined the opposite wall. Baked goods of all types covered the table just inside the door, tempting you the minute you step inside.

As I wandered slowly, drooling over everything, a kind asian man approached and asked if I needed any help finding something. I explained that I just wanted to look around, and we ended up chatting about how I’d just moved from Colorado, and he said he has always wanted to move to Colorado. Funny how that happens. He gave me some advice on the area, and it turned out he was the owner of the store!

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The owner told me many of the items actually come from NYC China Town. Food goods are flown in from Asia, and once a week or so he drives down to pick up a big shipment. Isn’t it great that us smaller town folks can enjoy the big-city luxuries by living so close? I’m glad he will drive into the city so I don’t have to!

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As I wandered the aisles I found tons of great bargains. I snatched up a pack of fresh spring snow peas for $1.50, a hefty chunk of ginger root for stir fry and tea, as well as a bag of sprouts. I grabbed a pound of mung beans, so I can sprout my own at home over the next few months. Some rice noodles, chicken bouillon, fish sauce, and of course Sriracha made it into my cart.

I ended up nabbing the last bottle of Sriracha, just as another customer rounded the corner. I don’t know if they wanted the Sriracha or not, but I hugged my bottle and ran away. I very nearly grabbed a small green jar of the garlic sriracha too, but figured I can always come back. They even had a two gallon jug of Sriracha! I’m sure someone somewhere uses that quantity, but my taste buds cry at the very thought.

All in all, it was a very successful accidental shopping trip, and I am looking forward to many more great curries and stir fry meals now. This will become a regular spot on my weekly/monthly grocery route. For anyone looking for some exotic cooking ingredients or ideas, I would highly recommend checking it out. Located at 913 Foxon Road in New Haven, CT 06513, the Asian Farmers Market is a family-owned, friendly spot.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Little Owl Coffee

 

In an unobtrusive section of Blake Street in downtown Denver, Colorado, lives a minimalist coffee-drinker paradise. This little gem is easy to walk right by, but once you’ve been inside you will crave its unique, laid-back yet hip vibe, and expertly crafted java jolts with an artistic flair.

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Little Owl Coffee, at 1555 Blake St. in the heart of LoDo (lower downtown), was established in spring of 2013. The interior is clean, natural, and decorated with mainly itty-bitty plants. Live branches, clusters of seasonal gourds, tiny air plants in teeny glass bulbs, and other plant life in bud vases adorn the standing bar and wood tables.

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The place is cozy, small but not too small to work on a laptop or enjoy a teacup of espresso with a friend. Their patio area is boxed in with small hedges, and each table top has its own petite glass jar and miniscule spoon for doling out natural brown sugar in case the espresso is too bitter for your tastes.

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You can watch the downtown foot and vehicle traffic rush by as you sit and sip your hand crafted beverage, including tasty teas, espresso, and a variety of espresso-milk combinations. They also boast fresh hand-made almond milk daily, and plenty of fresh, hand-made pastries and cakes.

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Oh, and of course the baristas are trained in the very adorable art of coffee-pictures. Makes me smile every time.

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If you find yourself in the area, I’d recommend stopping by. My personal favorite is the mocha latte, but there is plenty to choose from. With a variety of local and chain organic, healthy, and/or vegan snack options, hand-made almond milk and pastries, a friendly and talented staff, and a can’t-find-anywhere-else atmosphere, Little Owl is a must-see in downtown Denver.