Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lazy Magnolia Beer Dinner - Sal & Mookie's - Jackson

Earlier this month and for the second time this summer, Jeff Good sent out an email announcing a Sal & Mookie’s Beer Dinner. Having been a patron of the Sam Adams & Atlanta Brewing Company Beer Dinners, I was excited to read this dinner would feature Mississippi’s own Lazy Magnolia Brewery. As if a Lazy Magnolia dinner wasn’t interesting enough, there would also be a special firkin of Reb Ale.

Arriving early to claim a good seat, I was greeted with a pint of Reb Ale.

It’s a shame that all dinners don’t start this way.

Once we were all seated, there were the usual welcome speeches and words from the brewery, but this time there was a very informative video from Lazy Magnolia.

While that was being shown, the waiters and waitresses were passing out sauces to each table.

First was a bowl of Yum Tang Gwa or Thai Cucumber salad

Next was a chili garlic dipping sauce.

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture, but there was the usual excitement of tapping the firkin. Apparently it takes a fair amount of force to get the valve into that cask.

Here’s what the firkin contained, the star of the show, a special batch of Reb Ale brewed with pureed mango, roasted habaneros, and key lime zest.

To go with that special ale was the first course, a Thai fish ball.

Made from shrimp and drum, this was a tasty beginning to the meal. I was disappointed the sauce wasn’t at all spicy, but the cucumber salad had a nice jalapeno kick.

The second course started with a fresh beer, a glass of Indian Summer.

Indian Summer, it’s a quality beer and it never disappoints.

Like most multicourse meals, this one featured a salad, specifically a Curried Cashew, Pear and Grape Salad with an Orange Vinaigrette.

While it doesn’t hold a candle to that amazing apple and spinach salad from the Sam Adams dinner, this was still an excellent salad and a very nice pairing.

Our third course started with a glass of Southern Gold.

Lazy Magnolia’s honey ale, Southern Gold, was described as a good introduction to “real beer”.

That is a small mountain of Fudge Farms Roasted Pork Loin with Lavender and Honey over roasted Fingerling Potatoes. It had a very nice crust, but like most cuts without any marbling, this loin was overcooked and dry, but the fingerlings were worth fighting over.

The fourth course brought out the pitchers of Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan.

This is the Lazy Magnolia that I see everywhere in the southeast, but I didn’t know the back story behind it. Apparently it took the brew master 30 tries before she was happy with the results.

With the glass of Southern Pecan, the fourth course featured a Maple-Cured Duck Breast smoked over Pecan Wood over Soft Polenta.

Apparently Dan Blumenthal smoked this at home on his big green egg, and I’m afraid he got a little carried away. I love the flavor of smoky duck, but this was all smoke and no duck. It’s a shame to see this happen to Jewish bacon.

Fifth and finally was dessert,

Sweet Potato, Date & Pecan Bread Pudding with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce

Served with a glass of Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Stout. On their own the dessert and stout were great, but they just didn’t mesh very well.

Five courses, three hours, and some glasses of beer later, I would have to say that the Lazy Magnolia Beer Dinner was another enjoyable beer dinner from Sal & Mookie’s. It was a pleasure to see all the products of Mississippi’s home brewery, especially another special firkin. While one or two of the dishes and/or combinations left me wanting, Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal did another fine job. I suppose it’s just back to waiting to see when Jeff Good will send out another email.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

China Belle - Jackson

I generally try to avoid buffets, Chinese buffets in particular. Why such animosity towards the rows of Sweet and Sour Pork? I have nothing against Americanized Chinese food; how could I? It’s become a part of the American landscape. Even though I love trying to find and make more authentic Chinese food, it’s a guilty pleasure to dive into a to-go box of cheap fried rice that’s overrun with frozen peas and carrots or General Tso’s chicken covered in that sugary sauce and glowing like a Chernobyl special

Of course, like all foods, Chinese food suffers when it’s spooned into a steamer tray. Left to languish under a sneeze guard, I don’t see the appeal. Yes, it’s cheap and quick, but it’s also bland and dried out.

So with all those downsides, why would I subject myself to lunch at China Belle? There’s a simple reason. In the back of the restaurant, there’s a giant, circular griddle. On it, a cook will create what’s known as Mongolian BBQ. Basically a type of stir-fry, it’s up to the diner to pick the ingredients and the sauces.

Here’s a look at what sort of selections you can make for your plate of Mongolian BBQ.

Annoyingly, China Belle only offers steak, chicken, and imitation crab as far as meat choices. You can see they also offer a choice of noodles.

Moving to the left, there’s also a tray of gyoza, something I’ve never really seen at other Mongolian BBQs. The main choice in green vegetables is between green beans and snow peas. Hard to see at the top of the picture is a tray of bamboo shoots with green onions and shredded cabbage underneath.

Again working to the left, there’s shredded carrots, what I think was sliced zucchini, sliced button mushrooms. Back on top, there’s sliced celery, cubed onions, and cubed green bell peppers.

The last of the vegetable selections was baby corn, a container of waterlogged bean sprouts, and broccoli.

I decided to go with beef for my first plate.

Rice noodles, a couple of gyoza, snow peas, beef, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and a not pictured egg seemed to make a pretty decent plate.

After you hand the cook your plate, he slaps it onto the cooking surface and gets to work.

Contrary to this picture, there is a fair amount of stirring to this stir-fry.

While you’re waiting on that to cook, it’s time to make your choice of sauces and condiments.

Working from left to right this time, you can choose from Chinese BBQ sauce,minced garlic

Chili and garlic sauce, oyster sauce, sesame sauce,

and finally, garlic sauce or teriyaki sauce. Of course you can make any combination of these you’d like, but I don’t think mixing them all together would be a prudent decision.

Near the end of cooking, you’ll be asked for which sauces you like.

When you’ve voiced your preference, there are the last seconds of furious stir-frying before everything is moved to a clean plate.

Back at the table, and looking quite appetizing. With this plate, I went with a combination of garlic, chili & garlic sauce, and sesame sauce.

The flavors aren’t too bad, the spiciness and sesame are really upfront. My only real complaints are that the snow peas were not trimmed, and the beef was overcooked. Even the oddly placed gyoza was a pretty tasty addition to the plate.

With the second plate, I thought it only fitting to try out the second meat choice. I know there’s surimi on the buffet of choices, but I just don’t really care for fish paste.

On this plate, there are a few differences. Egg noodles instead of rice noodles, chicken instead of beef, and the addition of green beans.

Dressed with garlic sauce and chili & garlic sauce, this was another tasty combination. It’s not highbrow cuisine, but it’s very satisfying. Again the meat was overcooked and the snow peas untrimmed

I can make a long list of China Belle’s Mongolian BBQ shortcoming, (e.g. there’s not enough choice in proteins, the vegetables aren’t trimmed, there’s not enough choice for sauces), but the bottom line is that China Bella has, for years, been trying to do something different. Even if it is 1/3 the size of your average Mongolian BBQ, it separates China Belle from the sea of slop bucket buffets that litter the Jackson landscape. So, take some time, walk past the buffet, choose your ingredients, carefully choose your sauces, and enjoy something a little different but very tasty.

China Belle on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Tamale Place - Vicksburg

Given the opportunity, I find it quite hard to turn down a Mississippi Tamale. So when I was asked to visit Vicksburg, my thoughts immediately turned to the venerable combination of meat and spices. Of course, when it comes to Vicksburg, everyone talks about Solly’s. Even the Southern Foodways Alliance lists Solly’s as the sole Vicksburg stop on the Delta Tamale Trail, but I’ve heard there was another, The Tamale Place. Apparently there’s quite a back story between Solly’s and The Tamale Place, but I don’t want to delve into familial politics and arguments, I just wanted to try some different tamales.

There really isn’t much to the The Tamale Place. Walking inside, there was just a takeout window and an unmarked door. Well, tamales and high end d├ęcor rarely go hand in hand, besides the menu is much more interesting.

I had to wait until 3 in the afternoon for lunch, so I was famished. As a result, the man behind the counter gave me an odd look when I gave him my order, but soon enough things starting piling up. With no tables and not a chair in sight, I had the gall to ask if there was a dining room. A smiling “no” was all I got in return. Annoyed and still hungry, the only real solution was to eat in the car.

The pork boudin was the first thing I pulled out of my to-go bag.

I love the resourcefulness of tamale joints. Why let newspaper go to waste?

Almost there.

There’s the pork boudin and doesn’t it look appetizing?

With no casing in site, this boudin fell apart at a glance, but there was a nice flavor to this Louisiana favorite. It seemed like this was just the trinity, rice, and pork, but it worked. Granted as hungry as I was, the newspaper was looking pretty appetizing, but this boudin was much better than it looked, even if it was missing any real seasoning.

Moving on, it was time to see if the tamales were worth their salt.

You can already tell these are going to be some juicy tamales.

Even without the flash, you can see a sheen of grease, isn’t it great?

I was surprised to see these packaged as separate tamales. Usually tamales are tied in threes or wrapped in foil six at a time.

Unwrapping a tamale was a huge mess in the car, but it was quite worth the effort.

Made with beef, these tamales weren’t very forward in their spice. I was surprised to find them a little watery, but I kept tasting what I thought was garlic, cumin, and cayenne.

With a fair ratio of meat to corn meal, these were pretty good tamales with a nice residual heat to them.

Having satiated my hunger with a link of boudin and a few tamales, I decided to take the rest home. Of course, boudin and tamales would make a fine meal, but I wanted to look at some other parts of The Tamale Place’s menu, starting with the Frito Pie.

After the 40 mile drive, I was greeted with the blinding neon yellow of nacho cheese.

With a little digging, I found there was a fair number of Fritos in there along with a little bit of chili.

I’ve never really encountered a Frito Pie with this much cheese and the bowl suffered for it. Even though I could see chili in the bowl, it was completely lost in a sea of cheese, tastes of pickled jalapenos, and salty Fritos. This was a complete salt bomb and a poor representation of chili, but I couldn’t stop eating it.

If you thought the Frito Pie looked like a heart stopper, you’ll be floored when you see the Tamale Supreme.

Filling a whole quart container, there’s a sense of foreboding just looking through the lid.

Floating on that ocean of nacho cheese is a few jalapeno boats and a oil slick.

With a little digging, I found there were actually tamales in this Tamale Supreme.

Again everything chili related was lost in the fray, but the tamales actually shone through here, I suppose that corn meal or masa really helped. This was a really satisfying bowl, but it’s big enough to satisfy for three or four meals.

Ignoring the bowls of processed nacho cheese, I was actually quite happy with the tamales from The Tamale Place. They really had some uniqueness to them. Sure, the flavor wasn’t as upfront as my local choice, Tony’s Tamales, but they had their own virtues. At the very least, it’s nice to have a second option for tamales in Vicksburg.

Tamale Place on Urbanspoon