Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pittsburgh, PA Edition: Taj Mahal


I'm just going to start off by saying that the Taj Mahal is the best Indian food I've ever had. Ever. It's located in Pittsburgh, so maybe that has something to do with the quality. But if you're ever in that area, this is a must-dine. When you come back to, say Morgantown, it's like a whole different world. Not that I don't enjoy the Indian cuisine in town, but this is just on a different level. In a good way. They claim their spices and fruit have something to do with it.


A few friends and I wanted to get some Indian food after Holi Hai, a fun Indian festival. The Taj Mahal was the only logical answer. This place has a huge, huge menu that you can order from. But we always get their buffet because it's amazing. Monday through Friday lunch buffet is only $9, and Saturday/Sunday is  $10. Dinner buffet is from 11-3, and it's only $12 on Monday and Thursday.


We seated ourselves at a table, and the waiter brought us over waters, then we were on our way! This place has it all: Chicken Tandoori, pakoras, samosas, naan, curry, tikka masala, korma, gulab jamun, etc. Usually when I go to Indian buffets, I try a little of everything that I think I'll like and narrow it down from here. Everything I tried here was AMAZING. I have been here one other time, and it was delicious, but I have tried so many other Indian places that simply haven't lived up to Taj Mahal yet.

The food is always cooked perfectly, tender, moist - no over-spiced, dry food here. It's all perfect. The tikka masala was creamy, the kheer was sweet and delicious, and the samosas were lightly crispy on the outside and tasty.

When I went to pay, I saw they have numerous awards hanging up on the wall, which only drives my point home that they're the best in the area. They even have a special dessert case that you can have wrapped up to go.

Grade: A
Taj Mahal on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Can you taste that taste?



The other day, Chris and I were talking about the different tastes your mouth experiences. So, I wanted to check out exactly how we do taste food. Flavor perception comes through the mouth and nose. We have about 100,000 tastebuds located on our tongue, roof of our mouth, sides of our mouth, and throat. And, we can taste flavors all over our mouths - there aren't designated areas where we taste certain flavors, despite that lovely diagram we've all seen. These tastes include sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. We also uses things like smell, texture, temperature, etc.


But those five are:

1. Sweet - the most pleasurable sensation. It is made up of sugars. Examples: Bananas, honey, vanilla

2. Salty - It is made up of sodium. Flavors in a dish are heightened with the addition of salt, and the opposite of salt leads to diminished flavors. Sugar helps round out flavors and take off the edge of acidic, salty or bitter foods. Examples: Bacon, ham, oysters

3. Bitter - Alkaloid. the most sensitive of the tastes. It's described as being "unpleasant, sharp, or disagreeable." Bitterness helps balance out sweetness. Examples: Coffee, dark chocolate, marmalade, beer, olives

4. Sour - It detects acidity. Can brighten and clarify flavors. Acids help balance out foods that are very rich, heavy or fatty. Examples: Lemons, grapefruit

5. Umami (Japanese word for "meaty" or "savory") - the most recent discovery. Until the 21st century, it was mostly thought only four tastes existed. Examples: Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, mushrooms


I lied, there's another one:

6. Piquance - Sometimes considered a sixth taste. In many Asian countries, it is considered a basic taste. It deals with hotness, pungence, spiciness, etc. Examples: Chili, pepper, ginger



Other Sensations:
  • Mouthfeel - affected by how long the flavor remains on our tongue. So, jellies or oily foods dissolve slowly and give a more prolonged flavor. Comfort foods often fall in this category.
  • Astringency (Dry) - Makes the mouth feel dry and rough, like a strong tea or unripe banana.
  • Temperature - Coldness suppresses sweetness. Warm foods taste sweeter and stronger.
  • Coolness - Fresh or minty flavors like in spearmint, menthol, etc.
  • Fattiness
  • Heartiness
  • Spiciness
Presence of Umami

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Open 24 Hours

If you're looking for some grub nearly any time of the day, you can find a restaurant to suit you in Morgantown. In fact, most restaurants  downtown are open nearly all night on the weekends. Notice that I said "nearly." Sometimes, for whatever reason, we find ourselves starving at around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. or some random time like that. And, most restaurants have closed shop for the night and haven't opened back up for the day. Except your fast food joints, like McDonald's and Taco Bell.

Bless the hearts of those who are open all the time. We don't have many of them, but 2.5 has been enough for this town.

1. Eat'n Park
Opening nearly 50 years ago near Pittsburgh, Eat'n Park is now a tri-state area chain with more than 75 restaurants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. It's the only sit-down restaurant in town that's guaranteed to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.


I have fond memories of Eat'n Park through high school - when you first get your license, this means you can go to restaurants alone, and nothing is more fun than doing that at 2 a.m. when you're 16. I don't just go to Eat'n Park when it's the only place open - I actually like it. And, that could be due to my biases. But I think they're pretty good!


My favorites are: smiley face cookie, gourmet grilled cheese, buffalo chicken salad


2. Sheetz
Sheetz, which I've reviewed, was actually started in Pennsylvania. There was a Sheetz near my hometown, too, but I never paid much attention to it - it's a gas station. It wasn't built until I was a little bit older, and I was never that interested. Only recently did I realize it has an almost cult-like following, and their food isn't actually bad. Also, it is open 24 hours.

This place is no fine dining, but if you need grub, in a grab-and-go fashion, this is a good place. It's an alternative to sitting down at Eat'n Park, and a little different from the typical fast-food drive-thru.

My favorites are: chicken quesadilla, Mac 'N Cheese Bites


3. IHOP on weekends
Even though I feel like this place should be open 24 hours, it's only open constantly during the weekend. That's why it's only "half" open 24 hours. Isn't the best time to get a pancake when you aren't able to get a pancake? I'm sure that's some kind of law. Luckily, we do have this luxury on the weekends.

My favorites are: spinach and mushroom omeletteNew York cheesecake pancakes, stuffed french toast


Did I miss any places that are open 24 hours a day? What about any that come close?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Archie's Restaurant and Pub

A little while ago, I tried to eat at Archie's. When my group of friends and I walked in the door, a man requested $5 from us. What? Apparently there was a band playing, and you had to pay $5 to enter. But I just wanted to eat dinner. No go, according to that doorman. So we left.

Recently, I decided to give this place another try. When my friend and I walked into the Sabraton restaurant this time, we were greeted much more warmly. A man from behind the bar straight ahead told us to sit wherever we liked. There was a dining area to the left and another to the right. We headed right, amongst tons of high-top tables, to sit next to their Christmas tree.


We had a very, very friendly waitress. She took our drink orders, brought our menus and then asked our names. That was confusing, but I guess she just wanted to be friendly. We put in an order for honey BBQ wings as an appetizer. When they came out, I must say, I wasn't very impressed. The flavor was okay - not very zesty - but the texture kind of threw me. The skin was like a slimy, fatty coating. I much prefer them to be a little crispier. And these had bone-in. I really like the boneless ones, but these were okay. I probably wouldn't order them again, though.

For the entree, I ordered the whale of a fish sandwich. It was 10 oz. of haddock on a sub bun with tartar sauce, tomato and lettuce. This sandwich was huge! It was cut in half, so it really did look like two full sandwiches. The first bite I took was a ton of breading and a little fish. That made for a pretty dry sandwich. Once I got further into the sandwich, I could taste the tartar, just not very well in proportion to the rest of the sandwich. I asked the waitress for extra tartar sauce to help this sandwich out a bit - it was too dry without it. The extra tartar cup definitely added some flavor and made the sandwich more cohesive. It did, however, contain a ton of relish. That's not my preference. So, it was okay. The sandwich came with a side of chips, which was a nice crunchy, salty addition.

As we were getting ready to leave, other people started to trickle in. Unfortunately, you're still able to smoke in there, so I'm glad we got out before it got too smokey inside. All in all, a pretty average experience and food.

Grade: C
Archie's Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Princeton Edition: Hong Kong Restaurant

After conquering all the Chinese buffets in Princeton, Chris and I decided to try Hong Kong, the last Chinese place and a sit-down one, at that. Located in the plaza along Stafford Drive, this small Chinese place offers to-go orders and a couple tables for dining in. We walked in and grabbed a menu off the counter so we could take our time deciding what we wanted.

I went with my go-to, General Tso's, so I could compare it to the other places. She asked if I wanted small or large; I said large. I didn't know what that meant exactly, but I went with it. We also got an order of crab cheese rangoons. We waited at a table while they prepared our order. They didn't seem busy at all. The whole time we were there, only one person came in to pick up an order. It's a pretty small space, with a small counter at the front with 10 of their specialty dishes pictured on the wall. A small TV with the local news station hung in the corner. Decorations were sparse.


Our food came out, and we grabbed in from the corner and came back to our table to eat. It came in one of those rectangular tupperware containers, and it was filled to the brim with general tso's - I'm guessing this is what large meant. I had a small takeout box with rice in it. I assume the small size would pair both of those together in the plastic container.

I was very pleased with the tangy/sweet ratio, and I liked the texture. When it was hot, I was willing to give it an A. When I ate the leftovers, they were so stringy, I didn't finish. I guess Chinese food doesn't exactly lend itself to leftovers, but the quality of the chicken really showed through. So, advice: order a small and only as much as you can eat when it's first served. Don't bother with the leftovers.

Grade: B
Hong Kong Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cuts of Meat Charts

I'll be the first to admit that I do not know all about the various types of cuts. But I also attribute that to rarely eating red meat. But with these handy charts, it's pretty easy to get some basics. For a site that really knows what they're doing and can give tons of information, check out http://www.mealsforyou.com/cgi-bin/customize?meatcutsTOC.html.



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Taste of Home Cooking School

Taste of Home Cooking School will have a spring show Thursday, April 5. They're going to have a ton of prizes, and you get to see food prepared right in front of you. You can purchase tickets here.

Ticket prices range from $15 to $100. But it may be worth it! Local businesses will be offering samples, and merchandise will be on sale. These cooking classes aim to give out helpful tips and techniques at these cooking demonstrations.

According to their website, Taste of Home Cooking School has about 300 events each year across the country. Each show is about two hours long and features a demonstration of recipes. That means about 10-12 recipes total.

The culinary team shows patrons step-by-step how to create these dishes, and all show-goers receive a gift bag and cookbook. Beyond that, there will be various prizes, giveaways, samples, etc.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like show-goers get the opportunity to taste the food prepared, as per their Frequently Asked Questions.

"The logistics of purchasing and preparing enough food, the concern for safe food handling, plus the time needed to distribute samples to audiences of at least 700 prevent the cooking school from giving guests a taste of the featured recipes."

But if you know how to cook it, you're good to go! Anybody planning to go? Might be some great stuff going on!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saffron

Sometimes I just get a craving that I cannot shake. This happened to be the case recently with Indian food. My usual go-to is Mother India, but it was a Monday, so it was closed. But then I remembered there is another Indian restaurant, tucked away on the Mileground: Saffron.

So a friend and I ventured to the Mileground to quench this craving. Saffron is, luckily, open on Monday. The restaurant is quite small, with a handful of booths and tables. To my dismay, the buffet was not available. We arrived at around 8 p.m., and they are open until 10 p.m., but I suppose we were too late. That's okay - I know my favorite dishes anyway.

Our waiter brought us waters and menus. It was honestly quite different ordering off a menu in an Indian restaurant - I've really only tackled the buffet. But they had appetizers, vegetarian dishes, chicken dishes, seafood dishes and others. I scanned the menu until I found "chicken tikka masala," one of my favorite all-time dishes. This dish is boneless chicken, simmered in onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, all in a creamy sauce. At Saffron, you get to choose how spicy you want your dish on a scale of 0 to 10. I opted for a 2. I know, I know, not crazy adventurous. But, hey, I don't like super spicy things, and I want to really enjoy my meal.

I unfolded the fancy napkin and waited. The dining area has some interesting decorations, like a sculpted elephant head on the wall and some art made out of fabrics. A curtain hid the entryway to the restrooms. It wasn't indulgent and decadent with golds and reds, but it was simple, with a few luxurious touches.

My food arrived in two small dishes - one with the basmati rice and the other full of chicken tikka masala. I scooped some of each onto my plate - the delicious, mouth-watering smell alone was enough to give this dish an A. The dish has a very creamy, curry-based sauce. Big chunks of tender roasted chicken soak up the goodness. It had an amazing blend of spices and flavors - cumin, paprika, lemon, cilantro - just fantastic.


I also ordered the kheer for dessert, which is basically a rice pudding. It, too, was creamy in a sweet, light way. The food was delicious. It was a bit pricey - $20 for a main dish and a small dessert - but it really was delicious. I'll need to double-check their buffet times, though, as that may be the more cost-efficient way to go.

Grade: A
Saffron on Urbanspoon