king buffet

February 7, 2011 § 3 Comments

Riding day today, so by prior arrangement we had dinner out.  Where we went was up to the boy this week, so I had visions of McDonald’s or Carlos O’Kelly’s.  I braced myself for the worst and held back on carbs all day, and then on the way home from school C trumped both of those, combined, with a side order of french fries and chocolate sauce.

“King Buffet,” he said, and my pancreas stiffened.

“Really?” I asked.  “Really.”  he said.

I’ve mentioned that K and I have been fortunate to have lived near many great Chinese restaurants.  King Buffet is not one of them.  It is an experience, for sure, and it is not totally unpleasant, but it is the classic quantity over quality gambit, and one the children love to death.

The basic idea is that it’s nominally Chinese food.  Ten bucks a person, all you can eat, just step up to the three long buffet cases and dive in.  The clientele are almost invariably repeat customers, and there are definite strategies to browsing, selecting, and piling.  We have seen some structural Black Pepper Beef that defies all geometric logic.  The food itself is usually at least fresh, since the popular stuff goes quickly and gets replaced fast, but it’s also obviously made in a hurry, and perhaps not with the most subtle ingredients.

Still, it’s a good time, and the General Tsuo’s chicken is at least passable.  The kids don’t eat nearly ten bucks’ worth–O usually has a couple of servings of sweet and sour chicken (without, of course, the sweet and sour sauce), while C goes for chicken balls (CHICKEN BALLS, get it?) and jello.

Jello?  Why, of course.  What, you’ve never had Chinese jello?

“It’s not the most authentic Chinese food on the planet, Dad,” says O, knowingly.  Sister, I think, I’ve been to China. Rural China.  Authentic Chinese food often involves parts, and species, for that matter, that Americans don’t really think of as food.

But I do have to admit, any Chinese restaurant that proudly serves Texas toast is kind of extraordinary.  And we did not go away hungry.  Oh, no, we did not.


weekend in minne

February 6, 2011 Comments Off on weekend in minne

C looks rather excited to be at the Lego store, doesn’t he?

We’d planned a big weekend in Minneapolis last weekend, but the flu scotched that pretty quick.  I could hear K in the back of my mind, arms crossed, saying “you overplanned, tried to do too much, forgot that kids get sick.”  Yep.  Learned the lesson.

So this weekend I said that if everyone was healthy, if the weather was good, if asteroids didn’t fall on the upper midwest, we would do everything we could to get up to the Twin Cities so they could spend their Lego gift certificates.  The Cities are three hours away–exactly, so it’s an easy morning drive if there are no problems.  And there seemed to be problems, because as late as Friday night the weather guys were saying snow throughout the weekend.  So I told them we might try a quick hit, get up, get surgical, get home before things got weird.

Only something weird happened.  The logistics gods smiled upon us, and Saturday morning NOAA Weather Radio gave us the all clear–a bit of snow on Sunday, maybe?  But otherwise pretty good.  So I asked the kids if they wanted to spend the night, and maybe do something Saturday evening–and I had something in mind.  They said sure, and I got online and in twenty minutes had an instant weekend planned, reserved, and ticketed.  We piled right into the car and headed north, wasting no time and heading right to Mall of America, where we grabbed lunch and did a couple of laps, trying to find the Lego store.  We got there, and the kids spent the better part of an hour browsing, trying stuff out, and eventually loading up on plastic bricks.  C bought a whole series of impenetrably complex robots and games, while O opted for the simple tub of bricks approach–both acceptable tactics.  Once their Lego lust had been well sated, we made a few other stops–Old Navy (jeans), Williams Sonoma (meat tenderizer, scale, egg rings), and Nike (running shirt)–by which time it was late afternoon.  “Let’s hit the hotel,” I told them.  “We have a big evening ahead of us.”

“WHAT?”  they asked.  “What are we doing tonight?  Is there a sporting event?”  C really asked that.

“Yes,” I told them.  “We’re going to see curling.”  They didn’t buy it.

Actually I had two surprises for them.  As we were driving to the hotel, we went past Target Arena, and there were giant billboards congratulating Kevin Love, the Timberwolves forward who’d just been named an NBA All-Star.  “Look at that,” I said.  “Wouldn’t it be cool to go see an NBA game someday?”  They agreed.  “What about tonight?” I asked.

“NICE!!!!”  said C.  They high-fived in the back seat.  “Seriously, Dad, we’re going to a Timberwolves game?”  Absolutely, big girl.  Got the tickets right here.  Second set I’ve bought in a week.  (I didn’t tell them that).

The second surprise was that my online travel service bumped me up to their premiere status last month, meaning a whole world of nice travel discounts.  Instead of our usual Best Western accommodations, I’d found a good deal at the Westin.  Four stars, baby.  That’s O there, checking out the stylin’ surroundings.  As usual, the kids got the beds, I got the floor and the spreads, but they were n-i-c-e spreads…

We Yelped some local restaurants, and O picked the Rock Bottom Brewery for dinner.  Which, it turns out, every sports fan and theater-goer in the Twin Cities picked for dinner, too, so we ended up eating at the bar–which was a new experience for them both, but worked out tolerably well, despite a few strange looks.  The arena was just a few blocks away, so we walked over and had plenty of time to find our seats, find a couple of souvenirs (left), and start noshing.  O is wearing her new Kevin Love jersey, and is his latest and perhaps biggest fan.

The game itself was pretty good–the Nuggets started kicking the Timberwolves around early and the outcome wasn’t really ever in doubt.  But we saw some amazing dunks–mostly by Carmelo Anthony, but K. Love (as O now refers to him) got one in, too.  When she had run out to get some more fries.  We have to go to another game, now.  The nom total was pretty impressive–two tubs of fries, two cotton candies, sodas, all of this after they plowed through kids entrees for dinner.

We got back to the hotel at about 10:00, and were all in bed and more or less asleep by 10:30, with visions of slam dunks–or rather handsome California-born T-Wolves forwards–running through our minds.  We got up this morning and had our traditional breakfast in the lobby–but in this case the lobby was a bit swisher than our usual motel breakfasts.  The hotel restaurant, Bank, is the hottest table in Minneapolis right now, and it was the best part of a conference talk I gave there a few months ago.  So it was definitely on my agenda for breakfast, and the kids enjoyed the swanky surroundings and the endless buffet.  O dug through two full plates of eggs and hash browns, C opted for the fruit plate.  Both kids remembered to put their napkins in their laps, and to top it off a former student met us for coffee, full of tales of working in Switzerland and an impending marriage to an Italian.  A great morning, capped by a dip in the pool and an 11:00 departure south.

We’d thought about hitting the Spam Museum in Austin on the way, but the snow made a modest appearance and we booked home instead, where we reheated some mac’n’cheese, and I threw in a chunk of the five minute artisanal dough that I made Friday.  It was awesome, but it was also the ugliest loaf I’ve ever made, so not worth a photo.  Really, really, not worth a photo.

All in all a great weekend.  The timing couldn’t have been any better, and the only thing that we didn’t get was a T-Wolves win.  But we’ll be back, I’d guess, to see O’s new favorite athlete on the planet.  That’s him on the electronic billboard in the background, above the crowds of bar-going youth.  Or, perhaps, hockey or women’s basketball–they were advertising Lynx tickets and O was thrilled to discover that there’s a professional women’s league, much less a team so close.

local cuisine–pork tenderloins

February 3, 2011 § 3 Comments

A colleague and good friend submitted her resignation earlier this week.  The two of us have been talking about a big project, and we had a working lunch scheduled anyway, but with her departure we decided we needed to make it more of an event.  “Suburban?” I suggested.  “SUBURBAN!” she wrote back.

In most states, you’d get some kind of argument if you proposed a “state dish.”  Maine would be lobster, OK, but New York?  Pastrami on rye?  Plain bagel with a cream cheese shmear?  And what about California?  In Iowa there would be no debate at all.  Pork tenderloin sandwich, breaded and deep-fried.  Absolutely.  (OK, the loose-meat sandwich has its devotees, but there aren’t many of them left and that’s one of those meals that came out of the Great Depression).  The ideal tenderloin is pounded flat, breaded with a thick crust–but not so thick that you can’t taste the pork–and deep fried so the meat stays moist but the crust has a satisfying crunch.  A real tenderloin ought to hang off the bun by a good 1-1/2″ so that you can get a couple of bites without the bun interfering.  Tomatoes and lettuce are there for show, and if you put mustard or (god forbid) ketchup on it, you’ll get cold looks from other diners, and someone in a seed corn cap will probably say “you ain’t from around here, now, are you?”

Now, you would get an argument about the best pork tenderloin in Iowa, but ‘around these parts’ there’s only one contender: the Suburban Restaurant in Gilbert.  The place would be worth it just for the directions–drive 2 miles north of town, turn left at the Casey’s gas station, then left again at the pumps, park, and see if the two sisters who run the place have decided to open for lunch or not.  We were early, but they still served us piping hot tenderloins and sides “Oh,” my colleague said when I ordered cole slaw, “of course you’d get the healthy option.”  They were, of course, perfect.  A big bite of crust and juicy, but not greasy, meat inside.  You know it’s good when you sort of mourn the end of the overhanging bits, and then decide the hell with the bun…Empty calories, anyway.

I’ve decided that this will be a project.  We’ve done enough fried chicken that the deep frying part doesn’t scare me anymore.  But the pounding of meat will be a new thing for us, and I’m thinking a bit of rosemary in the breading might do the pork justice.  The kids are skeptical–I’ve explained to them that it will be just like fried chicken, but with pork, and they’ve both suggested that we have mulligans ready.  “Trust me,” I said.  “It will be your favorite sandwich of all time.  You’re Iowans!  It’s your birthright!”  Of course, they were both born in California, so it may not work like that.  Anyway, watch this space.

The best part?  Looking up recipes, it turns out that the pork tenderloin is called the “Iowa Skinny” everywhere in the U.S. except Iowa.  Talk about an ironic name…

Leftovers tonight.  This pizza dough does not survive the fridge as well as the artisanal stuff, that’s for sure.  We’ll see how the gelato survived the night later on…Or, rather, the kids will, since my calorie counter has officially kicked me out of the kitchen for the rest of the night.  Worth it, though.

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