Friday, December 20, 2013

Fong's Pizza - Des Moines, IA

It was D.Rough’s birthday weekend, so I was determined to do whatever it took to make her happy. She had heard about Fong’s Pizza from an odd turn of events, and she knew she wanted to check it out. You see, Fong’s Pizza makes pizza with Chinese food toppings on them. Is that even possible, you ask? Yes, it is. And the added bonus is Fong’s serves tiki drinks!!!! (That’s basically a requirement of out-of-town roller derby trips.)

This restaurant in downtown Des Moines is sort of a first-come-first-serve kind of place. We were a group of six, so we had to stake our claim on one of the larger tables in the back room and wait for a group to leave. There also happened to be a Santa Pub Crawl downtown this night, so we had to deal with some drunk Santas. But no worries. Once we got the table, our server, Alex, made sure we were all set up.

We started with some tiki drinks, of course. I needed to check out the Smilin’ Samoan – Cruzan dark, Smirnoff, Malibu, Amaretto, and pineapple juice. And it was delicious – obviously.

While we were waiting for the table, we got some recommendations from fellow diners. They suggested we order the Thai Styx. Since A-Wow, D.Rough and I were sharing, we also decided to get a large Crab Rangoon pizza and a Mu Shu Pork pizza. But it was a tough sell with all the other tasty pizza flavors – Happy Family, buffalo chicken, Polynesian, Fongolian Beef, a couple Italian flavors, Mexican flavors, etc. So good.

The Thai Styx were our appetizer for the table, so we divied them up. It’s a thin wheat crust pizza with Thai peanut sauce and bacon, then drizzled with honey. It tasted like peanut butter toast in the morning with a little heat to it. Sooooo darn good. Really, I’m not joking about this. We would get this again without questioning it.

The pizzas came out next. The Crab Rangoon pizza was even better than I expected (and I expected it to be fantastic, for the record). It had a super thin crust and little fried won ton skins, along with asiago and mozzarella cheese bits. It has also been drizzled with sweet chili sauce, which pushes it from being good to great. This was really quite good (and amazingly held up to being microwaved the following morning in the hotel) and I’m going to rave about this for a long time.

Then I needed another tiki drink – this time, an Angry Pirate. Cruzan light, peach schnapps, Malibu, blue curacao, midori, pineapple juice, and Sprite. While not as good as the Smilin’ Samoan, it was still wonderful.

The Mu Shu Pork pizza was also super good. We got a hand tossed crust and they covered it with house and hoisin bbq pork, mirepoix, cabbage, and mozzarella. Then a couple of green onions and drizzled with Mu Shu sauce. The flavor of the pork was what I noticed first – even better than most Chinese restaurants I’ve had it in. Extremely good stuff. The ingredients on the top just added more flavor to the whole thing. I was really surprised how much I liked this stuff.

Before we left, the bouncer had to come back and scoop a drunken passed out Santa off the bathroom floor. THAT’s gonna ruin Christmas, for sure! But hilarious.

I know the others at the table were equally impressed (with the pizza, not the Santa incident) and, though skeptical at first, came to love this place. I’m going to make a point to get here more often, especially since it’s open late. I usually go to Zombie Burger when I’m in Des Moines, but this place might have jumped in front of Zombie Burger on my favorites list.

Top 5 things about Fong’s Pizza
1. Crab Rangoon pizza
2. Thai Styx
3. Mu Shu Pork pizza
4. Smilin’ Samoan
5. Angry Pirate

Bottom 5 things
1. Drunken Santas (hopefully, a once-a-year situation)
2. No reservations
3. I don’t think there’s a parking lot anywhere nearby, so you may have to park in a ramp
4. Weird policy on holding credit cards for tiki drink deposits (I suppose it makes sense with damage/theft and all)
5. The menu has an incredible number of unusual things on it – don’t be an idiot and get something conservative like a pepperoni pizza. COME ON!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chez Arnaud French Bakery – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough’s birthday was looming, so I was trying to figure out where I could take her for a lunch date. I threw out a couple of places and she suggested Chez Arnaud. I hadn’t been there and had heard her talk about it. I was 100% IN!!!

The place is very modern, clean, and almost minimalist on the inside. There’s a refrigerated case with sandwich kinds of things and then a dessert case. We did some in-depth perusing and finally decided we’d get a small item, a side dish, and split a sandwich (after D.Rough scaled back considerably what I originally wanted to order – sometimes, I get excited about food). We got a foot-long club sandwich with mortadella, provolone, and pistachio butter, a goat cheese tomato basil friand, and these fried potatoes with bacon, cheese, and onions.

We were going to have to go back up to check out the desserts when it was time. There’s no point in rushing into important decisions like this.

The really nice counter person actually coursed our lunch for us. She brought out the friand (like a flaky puff pastry pot pie) first, so we dug into that. Delicious. Very light and flaky crust and piping hot (she had just taken it out of the small oven). The goat cheese was just to eh point of melty and I wanted to eat a much larger version of this (the photo makes it seem large, but it was about 5 inches across – so not small either). Great starter!

The fried potatoes were split into two different bowls (this server is really top-notch) for us. The cheese was melty on the top and when you could get a bite with all the ingredients, it was super tasty. The only thing that would have made these potatoes better would have been if they had some crust on them, but I know it’s difficult and time-consuming to do that. As they were, they were great and I’m not even complaining a tiny bit. I loved them.

The sandwich was great and made me want to go back to Paris and eat outside a café in the blistering cold winter weather. Crusty bread, but not enough to destroy your mouth when you bite it. Great mortadella and cheese combo and the light pistachio butter was a wonderful touch.

It was dessert time. This took an equally long time to decide, especially since I wanted to get everything. The desserts aren’t just appetizing here, they’re beautiful. Beyond “pretty”. So pretty there are parts you’re not sure if you’re supposed to eat. Look at the photo!

After D.Rough shot down my dreams of eating an entire foot long swiss cake roll the size of my leg (I know it isn’t a swiss cake roll, but that’s what it looks like), we got a Moulin Rouge and a Cayenne Chocolate Macaron for D.Rough (since it’s her birthday), and I got a Pombleu – which she told me was a layered stack of custard, mouse and a blueberry-pomegranate mouse on top with some crumbles. I told the girl I would stop eating when I hit the gold part at the bottom of the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge stole the show it was incredible. Very light and “happy” tasting. D.Rough always laughs at me when I describe food with non-food words, but it’s true. I wanted more of these, or maybe an entire log of these! How can I order this? In log form? Sheet cake form? Or do I just have to order a hundred of these little guys? I’m willing to do it.

The macaron was really good. I’ve gotten into these little cookies more and more over the past few years. I’ve always liked them, but I’ve had some bad ones, which means I know what GOOD ones taste like. These were really good ones. Just a tiny hint of cayenne at the end, which the girl told us people sometimes mistake for cinnamon. I can see that. Really good and flaky cookie that we both loved.

The Pombleu was really good as well. I like shooter-style desserts (I’m sure D.Rough is rolling her eyes right now). Pudding shooters. Key lime pie shooters. Cake shooters. Cake vodka shots – whatever. I like them all The blueberry pomegranate flavoring was subtle but any more than that would have made the whole thing too sweet. This wasn’t too sweet. It was perfect.

I’d say this was a pretty good showing for my first time at Chez Arnaud. The only thing I was bummed about was they were out of the giant macaron sandwiches they sometimes have. I had my heart set on one and I suppose I’ll have to come back! When this place runs out of things, they are out until the next day. Just a warning.

Oh, and there is a decent parking lot in the back of the building, in case you can’t find parking out front on Grand Ave.

Top 5 things about Chez Arnaud French Bakery
1. Moulin Rouge
2. Goat cheese friand
3. French sandwich on a long baguette
4. Potatoes, cheese, and bacon
5. Extremely helpful staff who will answer all of your questions!

Bottom 5 things
1. They were out of the giant macaron sandwiches
2. Some of the clientele can be pretty uppity at a French bakery, even in St. Paul. I would likely have “words” with some of the customers we saw this day…
3. Get there early during the lunch hour or you run the risk of them running out of things you want (and you WILL want everything)
4. It was a tiny bit pricey for our lunch (but cheaper than flying to Paris for lunch!), but still reasonable
5. ZERO pencil thin mustaches, berets, and tiny cigarettes here!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Funky Desi Indian Restaurant and Lounge – Moline, IL

D.Rough were in Illinois visiting my family for Thanksgiving and thought we’d try out a new Indian restaurant in downtown Moline. I remember this place being some sort of dance club or banquet hall back in the day, so I was curious what it would look like inside. Plus the name includes “Restaurant and Lounge”, so my curiosity was piqued.

The inside is a weird cross between a nice Indian-decorated restaurant, a neon-lit dance club, and a sports bar (sooo many TVs above the bar). I’m not sure what the designer was going for here, but they’ve covered many bases here – I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But this also allows for plenty of seating – booths along the walls, tables in the dance floor area, and a nice private large dinner table for large groups in the front. It isn’t gaudy, it’s just confusing inside.

We went and checked the buffet out and it looked really good, so we both went with that plan. There were plenty of things up there, as well. Too many to name, and I’d butcher the names of the things if I tried. Veggie pakora, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, matter paneer, and a bunch of other things. I loaded up my first plate and when we got back to the table, the server lady had brought a nice basket of naan bread.

The food was above average, compared to many Indian buffets I’ve eaten at. The paneer was quite good and there was also a noodle dish that I didn’t catch the name of (I’ve never seen noodles at an Indian place, so this one stuck in my head), but it was very delicious. It wasn’t very spicy, but had good flavor. I wish the vegetable pakora hadnt’ been in a covered chafing dish, since that makes it soggy (not that it stopped me from eating about ten of them). The butter chicken was also above average. Overall, a pretty good showing from this restaurant.

I even had to go back up for a second round…. No one is surprised by this, I’m sure.

I generally try not to call people out on customer service unless it’s bad, but there was a younger server there with plugs in his ears (behind the bar a lot, so he may have been a bartender) who crossed a lot of lines with customers. I know HE felt he was being sociable and fun, but he did a few questionable things, including asking two Indian gentlemen why they weren’t drinking after he had tried to push some cocktails on them at lunch. “Is it for religious reasons?” – he ACTUALLY asked these guys this and then wouldn’t let it go. These guys were not regulars or anything, there was no camaraderie here, just invasiveness. Then, he badmouthed our server to the table behind them, saying she didn’t know how to do things and that was why she was screwing up. It was all a bit more than he should have been saying. It wasn’t funny, it was inappropriate and made people feel uncomfortable. Maybe we should have said something at the time. I wasn’t in the mood to be confrontational. If the food wasn’t so good, I may have, just to vent, but I was enjoying my lunch.

Aside from the too-many-televisions-showing-sports and “that” guy, the food was decent and fresh and plentiful. And from the looks of the DJ equipment, speakers, and spinning neon light-y things, I’m guessing it turns into an equally weird dance club at around 8 or 9, when the cocktail happy hours start.

Top 5 things about Funky Desi
1. Butter chicken
2. Matter paneer
3. Our server girl was extremely nice and very competent should not have been bad-mouthed
4. The buffet area was really classy and clean
5. The unnamed noodle dish

Bottom 5 things
1. Invasive and inappropriate server/bartender
2. Odd combinations of environments
3. Too many televisions for a non-sports-bar
4. Covered chafing dishes make battered food soggy
5. Some of the booths were taken up with DJ equipment, which we thought was odd…

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Michael’s Pizza – St. Paul, MN

We’ve driven by Michael’s Pizza a few hundred times going to or from our house and had always wanted to try it. The main reason for that is because Michael’s Pizza is where D.Rough’s parents had their first date. I don’t think this is the exact location, since it was a *few* years ago, but we knew it held some sort of nostalgia reason for eating there.

The inside is dark and probably hasn’t changed much since it opened. It’s got old timey wallpaper, dark wood paneling, and dim lighting. But as soon as we walked in, the staff was chatting us up and interacting (not in a bad way, thankfully). Very personable bunch and sort of a family-run unit. We scanned the menu and decided on the Super Special – if you’re there, you might as well get something that a lot of people order, right? The Super Special has cheese, onions, Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black and green olives, green peppers, and shrimp. Sound like a lot of toppings? Sure. But it still sounded really appetizing!

The place wasn’t busy, so we grabbed a booth and hung out until the pizza showed up. During that time, the delivery guy came and collected pizzas for the next set to be delivered. This place does killer delivery business, AND we found out they deliver until like 2am most night! Now we can’t wait to capitalize on that!

The pizza was pretty massive. TONS of toppings and cut into squares, like typical Minnesota pizza. I haven’t had shrimp on a pizza before, but it wasn’t bad, honestly. A little odd at first, but then you get used to it. But they didn’t hold back on any of the toppings, which we were happy to see. Great thin crust that stayed crispy. While this isn’t the most mind blowing pizza in the world, it IS really good pizza. I wouldn’t hesitate to go here again and since I drive by it so often, it is extremely likely that will happen. Plus, when you need that 1:30am pizza after a roller derby bout, they may be getting a call from C and D.Rough!

Thanks for the solid pizza, Michael’s!

Michael’s Pizza
441 S. Robert St.
St. Paul, MN 55107
(651) 222-5252