Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DC Adventure

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I got to try some really good restaurants in the Crystal City area — where our hotel was. We were there for the 2015 Native American Journalists Association conference. 

I flew in early and arrived early. I didn't have time for breakfast or lunch. As I checked into my hotel room, I asked the concierge where I could eat. He gave me a map of local restaurants and Kebab Palace drew my eye in. I had a mission when I learned it was a Middle Eastern restaurant. 

When I got to the restaurant, I noticed it was pretty small and a little dingy. I came to a sign on the red building saying "Entrance" so I went in. I found myself in a hallway with brooms and cleaning supplies. That didn't deter me. I walked in like I was a frequent customer. "It's OK, I come in the back door all the time."

It happened to be their lunch buffet time (at 2 p.m.). I did an inner squeal for joy as I looked down the buffet line and saw silver trays of basmati rice, qorma, biryani, kebabs, saag paneer and naan.  I filled up on those items, as you can see by the photo below:


For $14, this was the best thing I had in DC. I had double servings of the goat biryani, a stewed dish with spices. That was my favorite. The meat was a little fatty, but it was easy to separate the fat with my plastic spoon.

The naan bread was tough and kind of tasteless, though. I felt bad for throwing most of it away. My strategy was to sacrifice the bread so I can fit more tasty things. The rice was tasty and I think it was flavored with some kind of meat broth. That's fine, it was delicious. But with my Middle Eastern dishes I like a plain, tight basmati rice. This rice was not that tight, it was kind of soft. Middle Easterners know their rice. It's their science and magic. I've had some beautiful, delicious rice before and the rice at Kebab Palace was not at that level. It's OK, I can tell it was a different style and probably from a different country that I haven't tried before.

My sister and I headed out of Crystal City to Chinatown where every block was packed with Asian restaurants and good smells. At a random guess, we stopped at Tony Cheng's Seafood. This place looks like a Hollywood Chinese restaurant. I could imagine a gun fight breaking out at any moment or a bad drug deal going on in the back room. We tried the five-meat platter with vegetable fried rice, pictured below.


The five-meat platter included roast duck, shrimp, scallops, calamari, pork and chicken. Oh, that's 6 meats... It had a brown sauce that sort of got in the way of the meaty flavors. I loved it though. I was worried, at first, about all these meats being together and fighting over my taste buds, but they behaved themselves and were not cooked together.

I had the best steamed dumplings at Tony Cheng's. They're an appetizer that costs about $4 and you get six of them. Just try them.

We also had some Thai food at Urban Thai in Crystal City. Pictured in the forefront is the chicken and potato curry. The other dish is drunken noodles. Both were surprisingly refreshing. The curry was incredibly savory; a mix of sweet coconut milk and savory curry and Thai spices. I could eat that kind of curry for days. The fresh garnish of cucumber and red onion provided a welcome crunch and juiciness to the dish.


The drunken noodles were pleasantly spicy; very spicy. The noodles were very wide (I think they were cut up egg roll wrappers) and held a lot of spice and flavor from the chicken and stir-fried vegetables. There was a mix of smokey, grilled chicken flavor with sweet and salty tones from the spices. The basil leaves that were mixed in added a burst of basil flavor that soothed the high and low notes in this dish.

DC was an adventure and a tasty one. If you're out having an adventure in a different city, or obligated to attend a conference, go out and explore. Even if it's just one dish per day, make it something that you probably can't find at home. If you're near the sea, have some seafood, if you're in the desert, have some chile. When you go home, it's going to taste the same way it always did. (Then again, you're blessed if you live in a diverse city where the world is at the tip of your tongue.)

Burger King

I have eaten at a lot of restaurants since my love for food started about a decade ago. I've had cheap treasures, exotic ingredients, expensive cuts of meat and delicacies. I've eaten out of paper bags and on white table cloths. I crave for the tastes of certain parts of the world and I know how to satisfy myself in that way. I also know how to be adventurous and random.

I don't eat at fast food restaurants when I don't need to. I don't frequent chain restaurants if I can help it. I value a local experience at a table and on plates.

But there's one thing I keep returning to; one item that will always have a special place in my heart.

It's the Whopper from Burger King, and I'm not afraid to say it. I think every foodie has their favorite fast food item. They're probably ashamed of it, but they know they have those same cravings that I have for a good ole Whopper.  


You don't know how many times my boyfriend and I ended up at Burger King after 30 minutes of driving around town saying "I don't know what I'm hungry for. What do you want to eat?"

"I don't know. What do you want to eat?"

"Burger King."

"Yes."


The Whopper is my favorite burger. It's my go-to item when I can't pin down exactly what I want to eat for a late lunch or an early dinner. It's what I want when I'm "starving."

The thing I like best is the burger paddy itself. It's the element that's most pronounced (as it should be. Some burgers get too busy or they taste too much like grease and fat). There's no special sauces or special toppings to distract me. The charred flavor is addictive. The bun is not too sweet or bready and it allows the meat to have the glory. The simple toppings of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (I take out the pickles from all sandwiches and burgers) works perfectly with mayo and ketchup (although I ask for extra mayo sometimes). Millions of burgers are made this way, but there's something about the Whopper that gets me. The onions always taste the same. The ketchup tastes the same. The paddy tastes the same all the time. And the smell outside of the restaurant is mouth-watering. The sesame seeds add just a little nuttiness when you happen to chew one up. 

I've seen a couple of versions of French fries paired with the No. 1 and I think I like these thick ones the best. They're not my favorite, but they are a good partner to the sandwich. 

Commercials, ads and billboards featuring Burger King's new creations never entice me to change my order because the Whopper is perfect the way it is. Adding bacon, avocado, hot sauce or pineapples is needless. 

So, I give it up to Burger King. If I ever get lost in the wilderness or sentenced to death. I'm pretty sure I'm going to order a Whopper when I come back and before I go. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Turkish Food and Craft Festival, April 18

The Turkish Food and Craft festival in Albuquerque is an annual thing. They should call it a food festival because there was definitely more of that going on. 

On the inside of the Raindrop Turkish House was several tables lined with food from the mother land. I was very excited for it all, but everything cost a dollar or two and it quickly added up. I had a nice, short culinary adventure here. 


The smell of Kebabs filled the air outside. 

Also the smell of gyro meat.

This was my first dolma. I thought it was tasty, but not my favorite thing. Because it's meant to feed a lot of people, the dolmas were small and heavy on the grape leaf. I forget what it was filled with.

And of course baklava. You can't go wrong when you finish with these.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Naughty list: Pecan Grill

I just back from a weekend trip to Las Cruces. I visited International Delights Mediterranean restaurant and Double Eagle brunch. Those were delightful as always. But I wanted to write about my trip to the Pecan Grill. I wasn't happy.

The menu was different from the last time I went there. It looked like it lost a few menu items and gained a few new ones.

I dined with a lactose intolerant person and they noticed the menu wasn't as friendly for his kind. But for me, I went strait for a small glass of Pecan Beer. I had a craving for it, even though I don't drink. It hit the spot magically. I loved it! I also loved the shrimp ceviche appetizer. It came with a heap of seasoned tortilla chips and saltine crackers. It was fresh and tasty with avocados, onions, cilantro and tomatoes. Even the leftover juice was good with the crackers. We could have used a little more than a small bowl of ceviche, though (about 1/2 cup of ceviche).

Then the main dishes. . .

I ordered the stuffed poblano with green chile risotto. The risotto was very bland except for the explosion of green chile that burned my tongue. The first thing I didn't like was the mesquite sauce drizzled over everything. It tasted like concentrated bacon sauce. Think: bacon multiplied by five. And I'm a person who doesn't like bacon. So having this sauce, that tastes like bacon grease, wasn't pleasant at all. The second thing I didn't like was the stuffing in the poblano; undercooked chopped vegetables and a very spicy-hot spice. My tongue was on fire and I was disappointed in the assembly of the stuffed pepper. Usually, when you stuff something, it sort of keeps it's shape and the stuffing is something sticky that stays put. Not this one. The stuffing fell out all over the plate into that gross bacon sauce.

I returned the dish (something I rarely do) and got the burger instead. It was OK. The garlic bun stole a lot of the show because of the strong garlic taste. The thick paddy and healthy serving of green chile was nice, though. It's supposed to be a stuffed "Lava" burger with cheese in the middle of the paddy, but there was nothing but a small spot of cheese half way through. Last time it was like lava with cheese running everywhere.

My dinner partner ordered a stuffed chicken breast. She enjoyed it except for the burning hot spicy green chile.

My other dinner partner had a plate of soggy sweet potato fries with greasy vegetables. The beer braised chicken was delicious, he said. It was made with that nice Pecan Beer, that's why! I love that beer.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, we had a whole glass of ice water spilled over our table and onto our laps by the waiter. He said sorry and that dessert was on him. We ordered a strawberry mousse cake and a pecan pie with a scoop of ice cream. The cake and the ice cream tasted like a dirty freezer. They were unimpressive and almost gross. If there's something I really dislike, it's the taste of a dirty freezer.

What happened, Pecan Grill?!?!? I paid $30 (for myself) to wait nearly 30 minutes for a very disappointing plate and an overpriced stuffed burger. We spent two hours there just looking at each other like "really?" And then we did the ice bucket challenge without warning.

Our earlier experiences were awesome. I lavished in the thick and dense chocolate cheesecake and creamy green chile macaroni and cheese. I nearly swooned at the lobster bisque. My dinner partners went crazy over the kale salad. But those are no longer on the menu. What happened? My green chile mac-n-cheese was more butter than cheese, it was watery!

I'm not angry, I'm sad. I was thoroughly disappointed. I don't write in this blog all the time, but this experience made me want to sit down and type.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A First Round in Albuquerque

Since I moved here July 2014, I have eaten at so many new places. Although Albuquerque was always a place we visited growing up, we never strayed from the usual handful of restaurants we always went to. Now that I live here and have all the freedom in the world to explore different restaurants, there's so much more to eat! Here are a few restaurants I visited.


Bob's Burgers is a favorite around here. It's nothing pretty but these sad-looking burgers are packed with greasy goodness. They have that tasty, slightly burnt crust with melty American cheese everywhere. Their green chile sauce is savory and spicy. Watch out, though. I heard it can be really hot. They have a burger taco.  It's weird and I couldn't imagine myself making a meal of them. The fries taste like McDonald's fries (Yum!).



Pueblo Harvest Cafe at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has a Native-fusion menu. I'm talking frybread, Pueblo bread, chilies and fried Kool-Aide pickles. I was able to go in the kitchen and get a look at their frybread-making skills and chat with the chefs as an associate producer with Native America Calling radio program. We tried three dishes, a breakfast Frito pie, Pueblo eggs Benedict and chakewe con huevos. My favorite was the Pueblo eggs Benedict because it's made with a foundation of Pueblo oven bread, turkey sausage, eggs and a homemade green chile hollandaise sauce. That sauce makes the dish. Hear more about Native American food in this show I produced for Native America Calling.



Samurai has a nice environment, but it's very  noisy once the chefs start clinging and clanging their spatulas on the teppanyaki grill in front of you and all around you. They offer a flawless and entertaining show. You can easily fill up here. In fact, you may be taking some friend rice and noodles home with you.



Yes! Albuquerque has a Pro's Ranch. This cafeteria-style taqueria is the business. Inside this grocery store, you will find the best street tacos you ever bothered to tilt our head at. Sometimes, the cooks look so careless and bothered in their jobs, but each time, the tacos are awesome. You get to add your own extra onions, cilantro and chips and salsa. 



San Pedro Market is a tiny Middle Eastern joint inside of a nonchalant gas station. If you're looking for environment, it's not here. You're stuffed in an odd, makeshift corner where shoppers come in and look confused until they see the rest of the store isles in the back. It has some good food though and it smells great. I had a dinner and tried tabouli for the first time. Although I learned that I don't like tabouli during this visit, I enjoyed the yellow rice and hummus. My lunch partner's gyro was so tasty, we took an extra one home. They make their own pocket pita bread here. 



Holy Cow is a ridiculously busy place at lunch time. There's a large burger menu — because that's their thing. I went straight for the green chile cheeseburger because when in Rome. It was OK. I didn't enjoy the pink in the middle of the burger. I think that's dangerous for your health but I didn't have a choice. A tiny sentence at the bottom of the menu says that all burgers are cooked with pink in the middle. As you can see in the picture, there's pink coming out of the burger. Ew.



My boyfriend and I were feeling a little romantic. We searched the Internet for nice date places to eat out and we came across this place. Trombino's has one of the best lasagnas, we've ever had. My boyfriend should know. He's like Garfield (but he still makes the best lasagna). And the price wasn't anything to complain about either. The only thing is it was full of a bunch of old people on a Saturday night. I don't have anything against old people, but gosh we felt like teenagers taking daddy's car and credit card out. I don't know if it's like that all the time, but that was just something we noticed right away.



Speaking of lasagna, Buca di Beppo! This is a hotspot for large families and volleyball teams celebrating anything. We waited for 40 minutes one Friday night but it was worth it. The next time we went, we made reservations and did our VIP walk right up to the front of the line. The portion sizes are huge and the environment is classy and homey Italian. I love it. The lasagna here is also on our top lasagna list. It's stacked high with a thick layer of ricotta cheese in the middle.  The complimentary bread is weak bread, don't waste the stomach space.




Steak in the Rough is a classic diner with a big menu. Their specialty is steak fingers and it's definitely something you want to try once. It's expensive for what you get, I thought. Three steak strips surrounded by cheap ingredients (potatoes, coleslaw and a dinner role) was about $11. But the burger was oh-so-good with that slight burnt crust from the flat grill and melted cheese stuck to the bun.



Rock & Brews kicks ass. If you start with the spicy Asian wings, you're in for a hell of a good meal. The burgers are hearty and huge. The music and art on the wall add spice to your experience. That's if you like good music. During our first visit, we were disappointed to see all the TVs playing sports channels. My boyfriend complained about that and said there should be more music. I think that's why 90 percent of all the TVs were playing rock-n-roll music videos the second time we visited. As it should be in a rockin' place with guitar door handles.



Anatolia's in downtown is a small place. It's plain and you can see the cooks in the back. I love it when restaurants are set up that way. I like it when you can hear the kitchen. When we visited, it just so happened to be belly dancer night. With a speaker the size of our table blaring ethnic music, pretty girls in front of us and a big plate of Turkish food on the table, we had a good time. That was until my taste buds were destroyed by a bite of lava-hot green chile. The spiced meat was delicious, but the rice on the bottom was very generic; a pilaf that I've tasted in many a hurried banquet meal.



We have many more places to visit. We plan out our meals every week and have an ever-growing list of Albuquerque restaurants to visit. Until next time!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Impressing the family with food

Since my boyfriend and I moved to Albuquerque a few months ago, we're now living in the same city with his family. They're really good people and they're very nice. I get along with all of them pretty well although there are some language barriers. All of them speak Farsi because they're from Afghanistan — except the kids.

Since we've been here, I've been spending more and more time with them, especially around the dinner table. I absolutely love everything my boyfriend's mom and aunts make. They make mounds of Basmati rice with all kinds of qormas, marinated meats and stewed vegetables. It's almost every week now that I have authentic Afghan home cooking. I haven't been able to remember all the names of everything I eat at their house because it seems I never have the same thing twice. All I know is I get extremely full when we're there and they never run out of food.

I have started making some of these items at home although I haven't been able to make rice like they can — because I don't think I'm bold enough to use that much oil. So far, the only person I've been cooking these items for is my boyfriend and he approves of most of it. He's not afraid to tell me that his mom can make it better than me.

I made a pot of aush (Afghan soup) for my boyfriend the other week and it was so good. His eyes lit up as he slurped it down and he gave me an 8.5 out of 10 in comparison to his mom's. That was close enough for me. I decided to make a huge pot for the family last week.

I gathered all the ingredients after work and we went to his mom's house. Beans, noodles, chicken bouillon, ground beef, spices, yogurt and sour cream in the back seat and I got sort of nervous. I don't like cooking in someone else's kitchen because I like my knife in my own kitchen, you know? I was afraid that it wasn't going to be good because I just wasn't familiar with a lot of stuff in that kitchen.

But as I got into it, everything went smoothly. It started smelling the same way it did in my own kitchen. I was afraid I might have forgotten something but I didn't. I was a little afraid of the dark color at first but it lightened up later. I panicked when I added the garlic at the wrong time, but, hey, it's a soup!

An hour later, it was done! I was satisfied with that last test taste and I sat down, confident that everyone would like it.

When the large pot of soup was uncovered and word went around in Farsi that I made it, everyone was very impressed. "Good job" and "it's very good" from my boyfriend's aunts, uncles and siblings made me feel good. I'm glad they approved.

Now that I'm thinking about it. I don't know why I wanted to make aush for them. I wonder how I would feel if some non-Navajo person came in my house and made frybread for me. I guess I would be impressed if it complemented the rest of the meal and it tasted good.

But anyways...

I made cakes and pies that impressed this family before, but to make aush was something else. I went off a recipe my boyfriend's mom gave me over the phone and through text messages. I went off of instructions like "a little bit of this, a little bit of that and you boil it. It's easy." I watched online videos and searched for recipes, but it didn't taste like her's. I made quite a few varieties of this soup before I was really satisfied with it enough to have the whole family taste it.

I guess I did it for approval. In cooking, I think that's something you always want and should strive for every time you make something for yourself and others. I guess I also did it for their approval of me. This is one way I can assure them that their son is in good hands. I may be a Navajo girl from another world who can't speak Farsi, doesn't know their culture or their religion, but I can cook.


Friday, July 18, 2014

I took it up north!

Hello from Albuquerque!
I recently moved to Albuquerque from Las Cruces and I'm having a good time getting settled in. Moving and packing was quite a task, considering all the kitchen supplies I have and won't let go of. Eating became necessary for a while, meaning we ate at a few fast food places and scrounged up some turkey slices and lettuce for a quick sandwich. But now my boyfriend and I are starting to look around for some really good and unique stuff — and I know Albuquerque has it.

It's Friday, I'm off work, let's see what we can find!

I'm now an associate producer for Native America Calling, a national call-in radio program.