Signing up for a volunteer spot at my college (St. Scholastica)'s booth in the State Fair this year brought me on yet another chow-adventure to the Cities. It began, of course, with the State Fair. I traveled down that morning on only a pop tart, and by the time I arrived, I had plenty of space for lunch. My two picks were "Buffalo on a Stick" and "Half Lefse", both at in the Food Exhibition. Both were good; the "buffalo on a stick" was essentially a buffalo kebab. The pieces of buffalo were very large, which made eating the thing quickly while at my booth a bit awkward. I do really doubt whether or not it was worth the $7.50 I paid for it. The lefse was a bit more straightforward; I picked one with brown sugar and butter, and it was delicious. The way they did it (or the way it got from carrying it?) was by putting very little brown sugar at the beginning, and a lot at the end - so it ran the spectrum from "potato-like" to very sweet. I'd definitely go back to that stand!
After three or so hours of "work", I was ready once again for food. First stop was a stand selling "Italian Fried Dough" or "Zeppole". It's basically fried dough with sugar - not much to say about it. Good, but they actually gave me TOO much for my $2.50 - 6 rolls! I ate two and gave four away to those who working the next shift at the CSS booth. Then I ventured over to the International Bazaar, where I had four small but delectable items: 1) "olives on a stick" (5 or 6 olives on a stick, ~$2.50) from St. Martin's, which was good but rather...spare, 2) "falafel on a stick" (3 small falafel pieces on a stick, with tzatziki sauce, $1) from Holy Land Deli, which was excellent, 3) "dolmades on a stick" (dolmades or stuffed grape leaves on a stick, more substantial than the falafel but $1 also if I remember rightly), also excellent (the first time I had dolmades), and 4) a hot Jamaican beef patty from West Indies Soul Cafe, if my judgment according Food Finder is right ($5.50, spicy, very good!). Later on I also bought a root beer float, which tasted like any other root beer float - not much else to say.
After some sleep and having to check out of my not-so-cheap ($60) cheap motel way too early and going to mass, I headed up to University Ave. to look for lunch. First I needed something to cure my first-meal-of-the-day sweets yearning, so I picked the smallest donut I could find from Superamerica on University Ave. It was OK. The danish looked much better, though, but it would have ruined my appetite for lunch.
So lunch...where shall I go? The "Family Lao Thai Restaurant". This is a little, non-descript place near the intersection of Mackubin and University. Entering, the sparse decor typical of inexpensive, immigrant-oriented ethnic restaurants. I was a bit annoyed to hear the "only one?" before being seated, and the waiter's service left something to be desired (though the other waitress working that day was nicer). Sitting down, mirrors alongside the walls for some reason - you can watch yourself while eating. The patrons were almost all Asian, except for one boy who appeared to be with his Asian girlfriend. They were also surprisingly young - I don't know if anybody above 25 was in there, and many looked high school-aged. I took a look at the menu and decided to order Larb (spelled "Lob") and Tofu Soup. My waiter asked me how I wanted the beef in my larb - I said "medium rare". The food came in a very reasonable amount of time.
So, how was it? The larb was very good. Delicious minced beef. Fiery hot in that special Southeast Asian way - it keeps burning well after you've swallowed. The vegetables and spices in the dish was excellent. The taste of lemongrass was especially prominent alongside the beef. There was another ingredient alongside the beef, light brown in color with a meaty taste, which was also good. Wikipedia apparently describes larb as a "salad". Well, in the past I've always hated salad and been unabashed in proclaiming so; now it looks like at least two "salads" are edible to me, larb and papaya salad (which I discovered at the Hmong Market chowdown).
The tofu soup was one of the cheaper appetizers on the menu, if not the cheapest, but the humble dish was also good - basically, just tofu and some (strong) vegetables in a broth. It was served hot, so I needed to wait for it to cool down to really enjoy. Still, quite good.
The two dishes came to just over $10 - not bad. I was not able to completely finish the larb, nor did I eat the vegetables out of the tofu soup.
For dinner, I was caught in a quandary between Little Szechuan and La Hacienda. I had been to La Hacienda before; it was excellent. But I was parked outside Little Szechuan. What to do? Go to Everest on Grand! I had been wanting to eat at that restaurant for some time. So I started up my car, typed in the address on my GPS, called to ensure it was still open (it was 8 p.m.; they close at 9), and headed over to Grand Ave.
In terms of atmosphere and clientele, Everest on Grand was quite a contrast to Lao-Thai. Quite a bit of work had gone into the restaurant's ambience. One of the more interesting decorative elements was the Nepali currency in between the table surface and glass. Not a bad touch! The diners that night were mostly white, though a few Southeast Asian - looking people were sitting at another table. For some reason a lot of younger people (20-somethings, late teens) seemed to be eating with their parents or some other adults. The restaurant was doing a brisk business if that night was representative.
My waitress was nice and understood the concept of solo dining. Off the menu, I ordered one of the combo meals: it included 2 vegetable curries, achar, dal, rice, and a dessert (kheer or jerri). Looking at the online menu beforehand, the $17.95 seemed rather expensive, but once the food I arrived I felt the price justified: there was a LOT of food. Like too much for one normal person to eat in a single sitting. My picks from the vegetable curries were kabuli chana (chickpeas) and aluudam (potatoes), and I ordered them "hot". Both were good. The chickpea curry resembled chana masala, with a very strong hint (perhaps "hint" isn't the right word) of cinnamon. The aluudam was unlike the aloo dam I once had from a local Indian restaurant - it was better. The taste of the potatos really stood out that time, and it was garnished with small sliced tomato pieces. The dal was simply excellent - it had a very strong nutty flavor, almost like wild rice! I would recommend this restaurant simply for the delicious dal. I only managed a bite or two of the achar and stupidly did not take any home (as I did with the channa and aluudam), but it tasted a lot different from the achar or achat I had eaten once in a Madrileño Indian restaurant. The kheer was also good, if not super-sweet as I like it, with raisin garnish, though otherwise non-descript. My only complaint was the paltry serving of rice - maybe they refill it? It only accomodate what I ate of the curry, achar, and dal, which was perhaps half what they served me, if even that.
Getting the waitress's attention in the other side of the restaurant was difficult, but I managed; closing time was approaching and they seemed eager to shut down for the night. The bill came to an "average" (neither cheap nor expensive) $20.27, with one soft drink included (served in the can; apparently no refills); in light of the portion size, which could easily feed two people, I'm not complaining!
1. Beef Larb, Family Lao Thai Restaurant
2. Tofu Soup, Family Lao Thai Restaurant
3. Dal, Aaludam, Chana, Achar, Rice, Everest on Grand
4. Kheer, Everest on Grand