Category Archives: restaurants

The Grove Buffet at Scioto Downs Racino

UPDATE (July 16, 2014): I revisited The Grove Buffet for lunch. Sadly, the quality of the food has gone significantly downhill. Everything looks pretty, but the meats and fish were overcooked and tough. The vegetables were okay. Perhaps it’s because Chef Terrell was no where to be seen – either at the restaurant or on the website (his LinkedIn page still lists him as the Executive Chef at Scioto Downs Racino). Having visited Hollywood Casino’s Epic Buffet the day before, I can report that Hollywood’s food had improved and now outshines Scioto Down’s. At $7 for a discounted Senior Lunch on Wednesdays, it was tolerable, but Hollywood’s $7 lunch on Tuesdays is a better deal – as the long lines there vs. no lines at Scioto Downs can attest.

A new buffet in town: The Grove Buffet at Scioto Downs racetrack video slot machine casino, about 10 miles south of downtown Columbus, opened on August 3, 2012, the casino having opened on June 1st. Having just taken my Mom to her local slot machine casino at Yonkers Raceway in NY plus Foxwoods Casino in CT, I wanted to see how this new casino would fare in comparison. I’m not much of a gambler (I’m too much of a mathematician, so I know what the odds are against my winning), but I wanted to check out the food and the place, expecting my Mom to come visit soon.

The entry is new, bright, and airy – much nicer than Yonkers’ Empire Casino. Everything is new. This photo (that I borrow from the Columbus Dispatch, since taking photos in most casinos is illegal), gives the feeling of the place. The slot machines are spaced out nicely, with wide aisles, and the ceiling is high and bright and the entire casino is non-smoking. I got my free “IN” Club player’s card, walked around, and made my way to The Grove Buffet for lunch.

I was given a nice seat with a view of the buffet in front and the slot machines behind me. My waitress was very cheerful, attentive, andl helpful. Off to get my first plate …

The 7 serving stations are set along the wall, with cooks preparing and slicing food for the steam table trays. Large dinner plates available under the counters.

Here are my first plates. My main dish with: Kung-Po bay scallops with eggplant & peanuts; barbecued ribs;  Brussels sprouts with bacon; roast chicken (I asked the cook to cut me the dark meat quarter from the roasted chicken halves); asparagus with cream sauce; gyoza, shrimp with wilted spinach; baby carrots & sugar snap peas; fried chicken; matzoh cracker. From the salad bar: mixed greens; baby shrimp; chicken; mushrooms.

Just about every dish was well prepared and not overcooked. The chicken was juicy, the vegetables crisp and colorful. The spare ribs were the drier Chinese style: the meat didn’t fall off the bone, but was tasty and tender. Only the Chinese dishes looked overcooked and tired (perhaps because they weren’t in demand and so had been sitting for awhile).

I went for a second plate, focusing on the Italian station: manicotti; pizza (several types were offered); more shrimp and spinach; pot roast; more Brussels sprouts; baked ziti with meat sauce; more asparagus. The Italian dishes were competently prepared. The pot roast   looks stringy – like the type offered at Der Dutchman’s, but is much more tender & tasty. The shrimp were as crisp as their translucent appearance indicated. The veggies were also crisp and tender.

The dessert offerings are beautifully presented. So tempting! I took a slice of blueberry pie, and a taste of the blueberry-lemon bread pudding and apple crisp.

I introduced myself to Executive Chef Craig Terrell, who I had seen throughout my lunch checking out each of the serving stations, carving and serving, and circulating among the diners asking if they were enjoying their lunch. I asked if I could take his photo – and he went back to get his toque for it.

I complimented Chef Terrell on his restaurant. It’s the best American-style commercial restaurant buffet I’ve had around Columbus. At $13.99 for lunch ($9.99 for seniors over 55 on Wednesdays), it’s a few dollars more than the likes of Home Town Buffet, Golden Corral, and the Amish buffets, but the offerings are so much better! Brussels sprouts, asparagus, shrimp, scallops – items I’ve haven’t seen on buffets. (To be honest, the new Sunday buffet at New Albany Country Club is extraordinary in its offerings and quality, but it’s priced at $25.95.)

Chef Terrell and his staff clearly care about providing a good dining experience and quality for money. Gamers can earn “IN” Club points for free lunches or $10 off dinner.

Speaking of gaming, after I walked around a bit after my big lunch, I played for a couple of hours on the free $25 I was given with my new “IN” Club membership. Many of the slots were new to me, despite the thousands I’ve seen at Empire City and Foxwoods.

I had a good time playing machines I hadn’t see before and hit a $38.45 bonus on a 25 cent bet. I worked up to over $50 in winnings on my free $25 voucher, but managed to lose it all back to the casino trying out other machines, breaking even for the day (not counting the cost of my lunch).

So I’m happy to report that when my mother comes to visit, I can take her to Scioto Downs where she’ll be happy to find new machines to play and I’ll be happy to go eat my fill at The Grove Buffet. She doesn’t even have to wait for the new Hollywood Casino to open on October 8th. While together, Scioto Downs and Hollywood Casino will have fewer slot machines than Empire City, the variety of machines, the clean, bright, airy feel of the casino, and its non-smoking environment will please her. And with the money I’ll save by not playing the slots with her, I can easily pay for good buffet meals!

UPDATE: Given a couple of negative comments about the food, I went back to try it again in November. I went on a Wednesday where they give a “Senior Lunch or Dinner Discount” of 1/2 off for lunch or dinner. The long line moved quickly – basically as fast as the cashiers could process; getting a seat wasn’t a problem. The waitstaff was as diligent and courteous as my first visit.

The food was as good as I had remembered. Only the Chinese offerings looked a little tired, since the diners apparently bypassed them to ensure they had enough room on their plates for other offerings.

Moving the food line was more of a problem this visit. Despite the different serving stations, everyone lined up to the far right and waited patiently to get through all the choices – except for the Italian food section on the left, which is a little separate (and, of course, for the separate dessert section).

I re-introduced myself to Chef Terrell, who, as on my last visit, was checking on the food and service, and talking with diners. I complemented him on his restaurant. I told him I had also tried the buffet at the new Hollywood Casino, but thought their food was mediocre. He admitted that he had also visited there and told his staff that if he served food like that, he’d fire them. I urged him to keep up the good work and told him I’d be back.

Columbus Food Adventures: Meat Lover’s Tour – 1. Skillet

I grabbed a spot in Columbus Food Adventures‘ inaugural Meat Lover’s Tour on June 14, 2012. I took so many photos that I’m splitting my write-up into pieces – one for each stop.

Our first stop was Skillet in German Village, one of Columbus’ meccas for locavore cuisine.

I had eaten at Skillet a few times before and have always been excited by the ever-changing menu, based on what’s available by its local growers.



We took our seats as Bethia Woolf told us of the restaurant and menu.

Chef/owner Kevin Caskey came out of his kitchen to greet us and explain the dish he had prepared for us on this “Meat Lovers Tour”: Cincinnati Style Tripe Chili.

A strange concoction, regular Cincinnati-style chili is served on a bed of spaghetti, with chili serving as a sauce. Skillet’s interpretation is far more intriguing: “Oven baked spaghetti pie with fried King’s Farm duck egg and Kokoborrego Owl Creek Tomme sheepsmilk cheese.” Visually spectacular with the fried egg capping its surprise.

The egg yolk formed an extra layer of luscious sauce to meld with the chili-infused tripe (instead of the strips of beef in the usual formulation). The noodles added a textural contrast instead of the main focus of everyday Cincinnati-style chili preparations, as did the spinach leaves. I knew the rest of the tour would be good, since all of my tour members “oohed” and “ahhed” and none “yucked.”

Chef Kevin clearly takes great pride and joy in his food – and rightly so! I’m glad to have friended him on Facebook after this visit – and then to have run into him at Thurn’s shopping for himself, as I was. But that’s another story.

The blackboard says it well – much to the pleasure of its fortunate diners! Thanks Kevin!

Asian Taste

I’m thrilled that Alt Eats Columbus has published this piece I wrote about Asian Taste in their blog: http://alteatscolumbus.com/2012/07/20/asian-taste/

Warning: This is a longer than average write-up, simply because it documents a veritable feast that 9 of us shared one evening at this new New Albany Chinese restaurant.

Chinese restaurant in New Albany ohio
Cuisine: Chinese (Shanghainese/Cantonese) & Asian
5505 New Albany Road W, New Albany, OH 43054
614.933.8888 – 614.933.8802 – Fax: 614.939.9800
As it is with so many serious restaurants around Columbus, don’t be put off by its strip mall location (in the Giant Eagle shopping center north on the New Albany Road exit of Route 161), or its simple decor. Also, its pan-Asian name and menus hide the fact that Asian Taste offers some seriously authentic Shanghainese and Cantonese food.
After trying some dishes over a few visits, I invited a group of Chinese and Caucasian foodie friends to be able to sample more of their dinner offerings. We bypassed the standard menu and went directly to the 2 Xeroxed special menus offered by their two chefs. Owner/Chef Wu’s focus is Cantonese, presented on a two-sided typed menu; Chef Cui – a former owner/chef of King’s Garden – offers Shanghai specialties on a hand-written menu.
Appetizers:
best chinese food in New albany
We began with some appetizer dishes. Scallion Pancake ($2.95) was nicely crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The salty/savory/flaky/crispy pancake wedges are a perfect accompaniment for drinks (Asian Taste offers beer). In Shanghai, street vendors sell scallion pancakes piping hot from their food carts as a snack food. Hard to make just right – I keep trying – these were almost as good as the ones that my godmother made for me.
best chinese food in Columbus, ohio
The same type of pancake is offered as a wrap around ham and cilantro, jellyroll style, with a black vinegar and ginger dipping sauce: Scallion Pancake Rolls ($4.50). The toothiness of the ham offered a nice contrast to the crisp chewiness of the scallion pancake. This simple dish is a good example of the Chinese food principle that a dish should stimulate the senses, offering contrasts of sight, texture, aroma, taste, and even sound (crunch!).
good chinese food in new albany
Soy Duck ($8.95) is characteristic of Shanghai cooking: meat braised until tender in a salty and sweet sauce, the duck’s fat adding the other characteristic component: oil. The duck meat, presented in bite-size bone-in pieces, was succulent and moist, oozing umami.
new albany chinese
You have to be able to handle fish bones to tackle the Smoked Fish ($8.95), but it’s worth it: beautifully prepared, moist, tender chunks of white pomfret meat and skin with a smoky-salty flavor. Reminded me of what my godmother made for me in her home. Delicious!
 cantonese food in columbus
The Bean Sheet Roll Stuffed Mushroom ($8.95) is a classic vegetarian dish, using sheets of bean curd skin (yuba) to wrap a core of mushrooms, offering Buddhists and other vegetarians the chewy sensations of meat. In this case, enoki mushrooms replaced the traditional Chinese mushrooms and it’s offered as a hot dish in Shanghai braising sauce rather than cold. Very tasty.
Shangainese food columbus ohio
Our one cold appetizer was from the Shanghai menu, a dish in Chinese untranslated after the Bean Sheet Roll. It’s a cold salad of Spicy Arctic Surf Clams with cilantro and lettuce ($8.95). The colorful red/orange slices of clam should be familiar to sushi aficionados as Ark Shell Sushi, but the price for the dish was less than 4 pieces of nigiri sushi. Here again, the contrasts are wonderfully apparent, chewy-crunchy with a light spicy-hot sesame oil dressing binding the flavors together. It’s not a traditional Chinese dish, but illustrates the inventiveness of the chefs, willing to take diners to new experiences. I love the sophistication and luxury of this dish!
On to main courses!
asian taste
Dry Tofu & Bamboo with Pork ($8.95) is a characteristically Cantonese stir-fried dish, quickly and simply cooked to let the components tell their story: contrasting colors, textures, and tastes of julienned ingredients, with peppers adding a hot touch to the deliciousness!
alt eats columbus, guide to ethnic food Columbus
Harmonizing with the crunch of the baby vegetables, Deep Fried Stuffed Shrimp Tofu ($10.95) – in Chinese, “Pei Pa Tofu,” reflecting the lute shape of the tofu balls – provide a crisp fried outer shell surrounding the light, soft tofu and shrimp mixture inside. Another delightfully stimulating composition of contrasting harmony!
guide to chinese food columbus
Flounder fillet pieces are stir fried in Superior Pickle Sauce Fish ($11.95). Overcooked fish is the bane of most Chinese, but no problem here. The fish is cooked to perfection, providing ethereally light pillows with the crunch of black tree ear fungus, snow pea pods, and artistically carved carrot slices. Another feast for the eyes, mouth, and ears!
Asian Taste restaurant new albany ohio
Hot Spicy Squid ($11.95) provides the zing of peppers to the curls of fried squid. The pieces of squid provide a toothier feel than the typical fried squid rings and cooking them properly offered tenderness here instead of rubberiness.
3 cup chicken asian taste
Three Cup Chicken ($9.95) is another classic preparation. Chunks of bone-in chicken are stewed in equal quantities of sweet soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and sesame oil (not necessarily an entire cup of each), with sugar and basil leaves. It’s a richly flavored dish – put some of the delicious sauce on rice – but you have to be able to negotiate chicken bones.
Authentic chinese food columbus ohio
After all that meat, we need a vegetable dish to balance the meal. Always ask what’s fresh that evening. Our server Anita – Chef Wu’s spouse – recommended Chinese You Cai ($8.95), quickly and simply stir-fried with garlic to maintain its crunch and color.
canonese restaurants columbus
Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodles ($9.95) is another comfort food dish for Cantonese diners and is prepared very nicely here. The crispiness of the outside layer of noodles girds the tender inside layer and is softened by the sauce of the stir fried shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork, snow pea pods, baby corn, carrot slices, and Chinese celery cabbage. This all-in-one dish is a good one to consider if you’re going to order only a couple of dishes because it offers seafood, meat, vegetables, and starch.
A classic Shanghai noodle dish is Pan Fried Rice Cake ($11.95). It’s a must-have dish around Chinese New Year, because the oval coin-shaped rice cake pieces symbolize pieces of silver, wishing everyone who eats it prosperity during the year. It’s offered year-round as a noodle dish, the rice cakes providing a nice, chewy alternative to wheat or rice noodles. Here, they’re cooked with shrimp, pork, and yellow Chinese chives that provide a mild garlic note.
Desserts!
Asian taste new albany
Most Chinese prefer desserts less sweet than westerners are accustomed to and many of those desserts come in soup form. Jiu Niang Dumplings ($5.95 for a bowl that can serve 2) are small glutinous rice flour dumplings in a sweet broth made from fermented rice, with egg white drops and pineapple. The chewy rice dumplings contrast with the crunchy pineapple and silky egg white pieces.
chinese desserts at Asian Taste
Sesame balls ($1 each) presented with artistically carved orange wedges. As tempting as it is to dive directly into the seductively crispy, freshly fried sesame balls, always eat the orange wedges before other sweet things, for if you eat the orange second, it will taste sour. (Try it! Take a bite of the orange, then the sesame ball, and then the orange again.) The sesame balls are made from glutinous rice flour and have a lightly sweet red bean filling. When they’re fresh out of the fryer – and piping hot, so be careful as you bite into it! – the sesame layer provides a marvelous crunch that marries perfectly with the chewiness of the sticky rice and the softness of the bean paste. Ah, Chinese comfort food!
Somehow, 9 of us managed to consume 16 dishes, an instructional feast of classic and innovative Shanghai and Canton dishes, for under $20 per person.
Asian Taste also offers two classic Shanghai/Taiwan breakfast items: Soy Bean Milk (Dou Jiang) and Long Fried Bread Stick (You Tiao). This is the only restaurant in the Columbus area in which I’ve found the “salty” version of Soy Bean Milk: a thick savory soup with little bits of preserved vegetable, dried shrimp, pork, and soy sauce with spicy-hot sesame oil for flavoring. Accompanied by the freshly fried You Tiao torn into pieces and put into the soup, it’s a hearty and comforting start to the day.
It’s wonderful that we in Northeast Columbus can now get such a marvelous variety of real Chinese dishes in our own part of town! And it’s worth a trip from elsewhere for those looking to delve deeper into the wonders of Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine.

My Memorable Meals: La Grenouille, January 24, 1997

My first trials cooking sous vide reminded me of a truly memorable dinner I had many years ago at NYC’s La Grenouille restaurant. I wrote about that experience back then, included in notes I shared with friends on my Restaurant Week experiences in 1997. Here’s that write-up:

For the sake of completeness, I need to describe how I got involved with this group of bargain seeking gourmets [my fellow 1997 Restaurant Week diners]. Richard and Peggy Hsia invited me to dinner in January. Their hobby is eating at NYC’s finest restaurants. I introduced Richard into the Cuomo administration (he had been a Wall St. lawyer and was looking for something more fulfilling; he became a Deputy Insurance Superintendent). I first dined with them years ago at the old 4-star Restaurant Lafayette at the Drake Hotel (where the aforementioned Jean-Georges Vongerichten began his rise to stardom). Richard asked if I would prefer Daniel or La Grenouille. I picked the latter, having not eaten there for many years (I used to eat there often, when I took Andersen recruits to lunch there in the 1970s). They invited Ray Chen to be the 4th at our table. Once he was invited, Ray called the maitre d’ and asked if he could ask the chef to do something special for us for dinner, since it was Peggy’s birthday. Here’s what I can recall of the menu 6 months after the event (alas, I can’t find my notes on it).

When we arrived, the maitre d’ told Ray that everything had been arranged. We were started with a small timbale of cold mung bean noodles that we enjoyed while looking over the wine list. We selected a modestly priced bottle of Bordeaux (the wine markup in these restaurants is an outrageous 300 to 500%!). Then came a demitasse of soup, described as “tomato bouillon,” a clear broth with small chunks of tomato and a lot of intensely flavorful minced green herb of some sort—really interesting, fresh flavors.

Our first entree was a slab of grilled stripped bass, topped with an extravagant amount of shaved truffles. As we were waxing poetic about the flavors of the dish, the captains presented a tray of roast pheasants. They took them back to the kitchen to be carved while we had a sorbet intermezzo.

The pheasant servings were presented topped with a slab of truffled foie gras paté, all in a rich, heavily reduced sauce. I noted how I had stopped eating pheasant because it is always dry and stringy. Yet this pheasant was moist and tender! At this point, chef Daniel Orr came out to greet us. It also became clear why we were given a normally-thought-to-be-undesirable table near the kitchen: Ours was the only table that the chef stopped by to greet. As we complimented him profusely about the dinner, I started to tell him how I normally don’t eat pheasant. He interrupted, saying: “Yes, it’s normally so dry. But I’ve found that if you don’t overcook it, pheasant can be moist and tender.” I had to agree and promise to try it again—but only if he cooked it.

I knew we were in trouble when the waiter reset the table with silverware. We were given a 3rd entree: braised short ribs of beef in a heavily reduced truffled sauce. I had seen other diners having this from the normal menu. It’s a dish that’s been made popular by Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. This is a dish that is normally tender, but stringy (indeed, in dinner I had at Lespinasse a few weeks later, it was stringy). Yet the version here was fork-tender, yet held its form—something of a miracle! When the chef came out for a second visit, I tried to ask him about how he achieve this miracle, but was drowned out by the praises of my fellow diners. At this point, we cried “Enough!” and proceeded to dessert.

The 4 of us shared one round of 5 different desserts. The plates were cleared and were offered another round of 5 other different desserts, plus petit fours. Every kind of dessert was among them: from the classic French fruit tarts I recalled fondly from 20 years ago, to the more California-like presentations.

Although Richard treated, I managed to catch a glimpse of the bill and saw it was for the normal $75 per person, plus wine.

Imperial Garden’s Chinese Buffet


Imperial Garden - Buffer-side Seating
On weekends for lunch, you might find me at one of my favorite Chinese buffet restaurants in Columbus: Imperial Garden. I love Chinese buffets, because Chinese food is my favorite cuisine. But when I eat out alone or with a few friends at a regular (non-buffet) Chinese restaurant, the old rule-of-thumb of ordering one dish per person to share means we don’t get very much variety. Fortunately, at even a smallish good buffet, there’s quite enough variety to satisfy my diverse hunger.
One requirement of any buffet, though, is that they have enough diners who will empty the food trays quickly enough to ensure that fresh trays of food are continuously coming out from the kitchen. I have tried almost every Chinese buffet restaurant in Columbus and have learned well enough to walk out if I don’t see enough fellow diners in the restaurant. This has never been a problem at Imperial Garden.
Imperial Garden’s buffet – offered only at lunch on Saturdays and Sundays – has the largest variety of really interesting and original Chinese (specifically, Shanghainese) dishes in Columbus. (Most Chinese buffets cater to an American clientele who prefer what is called “Chinese-American food.”) And the dishes are really good here! However, most are dishes that most non-Chinese diners have never experienced. They have sometimes been labeled on the buffet, but the signs are written only in Chinese. So even if my non-Chinese friends are adventuresome enough to try new dishes, they have no idea what they are eating. This photo blog is for those friends, to provide them with a photo menu and diary of the dishes usually served there. Although they often introduce different dishes, many stay the same from week to week.
There are 2 buffet tables. Start with the one in the back of the restaurant. That one has appetizer dumplings and three soups: a savory soup, bean curd soup (to which one typically adds sugar to make it a dessert soup), and a sweet dessert soup (typically, red bean). It also has a few light desserts (usually sesame balls and orange wedges).

 

Pot Stickers
Cold noodles with hot pepper, bean sprouts, cilantro
Fish soup with preserved cabbage
My first plate selection, with Fried Cruller, Chinese Chive Dumpling

A selection of dumplings, some cold noodles, and a bowl of soup make a nice appetizer course.

On to the hot dishes: about 20 of them, plus 2 additional soups and rice. It’s hard to have even just a little taste of all of the entrees, so I concentrate on my favorites the first time around, and go back for another plate to try other dishes. It would take a third plate to have a sampling of all of the dishes, but I never make it that far; I try to save space for a sesame ball and water chestnut gelatin, when offered, for dessert.

Although my family is Cantonese, Mom was born and raised in Shanghai. So while Pop and Yeh-Yeh (Pop’s father) cooked Cantonese food at home and most Chinese restaurants in my childhood NY were Cantonese, it was a special treat to go to the 2 Shanghai restaurants in Manhattan (one in Chinatown, the other up on Broadway and 92nd St.). So both real Cantonese and Shanghainese food are comfort food for me – and it’s certainly comforting for me to enjoy Imperial Garden’s food.

Working on this blog is getting me hungry! I’m glad I’ve invited friends to meet me there this Sunday for lunch! If you’d like a personal tour of this food for lunch, just give me a call; I’d love to guide you and your palate!

Rice Noodles
Shanghai Bok Choy
Fried Chicken Wings
Roast Duck
Beef Tendon with Bamboo Shoots: my favorite!
Braised Pigs Feet
Chinese Radish with Hot Peppers
Sea Weed
Tendon Beef with Peanuts
Fish Fillets with Pepper Sauce
Chicken in Peanut Sauce
Pigs Ears with Vegetables
Baby Squid with Celery: another favorite
Pork Belly with Cabbage and Carrots
Japanese Eggplant
Pork Intestine with Tofu (don’t say “yuk” until you try it!)
New Zealand Mussels
Pressed Tofu with Pork and Bamboo Shoots: my virtuous favorite
Salt-cooked Whole Shrimp
Beef Tripe
Egg Drop and Hot and Sour Soups
White Rice
Sweet Rice Sesame Balls with Black Bean Paste
Main Buffet Table

King’s Garden Restaurant – Dublin, OH

I’m always looking for new Chinese restaurants in the Columbus area, so I was delighted to hear than an old one had reopened last week by a couple who had run a different restaurant that I used to frequent.

Jessie and Guill joined me at King’s Garden Restaurant for lunch today. It’s on Sawmill Road, about 1 mile north of the I-270 exit. It’s a small place – only about a dozen tables – with no decor in yet another strip mall. Although the new owners were known for their dim sum at their former restaurant (Shangri-La), no dim sum here. But they did carry over their 2 menus – including their menu of real Cantonese dishes (fortunately, in Chinese and English here), as well as their Chinese-American menu.

So many interesting dishes – real Chinese comfort food! We started with Won Ton Noodle Soup and Preserve Egg w/ Pork Congee. Each was a big bowl, plenty for 4 or more to share. Then the Empress Fried Tofu (reminiscent of Pipa Tofu), Beef Stew With Daikon (with chunks of tendon as well as meat), and Eggplant w/ Anchovy Sauce (a nice change from the plebeian eggplant with garlic & ginger sauce).

Each dish had authentic tastes, but will be unusual for those not familiar with real Chinese dishes. And the prices are certainly reasonable. Since Jessie & Guill live nearby, they’ll be stopping by for takeout on the way home.

I was very happy to find another authentic Chinese restaurant. The dishes were most like those at Imperial Garden on Hayden Run Road at their weekend lunch buffet (always jammed with Chinese diners). Unfortunately, both King’s Garden and Imperial Garden are on the other side of town from me. Nearer me with a real Shanghai menu is Little Dragons on Morse Road just off I-71.

Even in little Columbus, we can get authentic home-style Chinese food. As I’ve been happy to say, I never have to apologize for the quality of food here in Columbus!

Hairy Melons – Restaurant Style

UPDATE (Sep. 2013): Early in 2013, Andrew sold his Ming Flower restaurant. Reports from friends are that under the new ownership, the food and service cannot be recommended. Andrew now manages Lucky Dragon on High Street; I can recommend that restaurant.

Last year, I posted a blog on my adventure cooking a hairy melon grown by my friends, Roger & Sherran Blair, from seeds I provided. Well, this year, they grew more, but this time, I took them to one of my favorite restaurants to see how they would prepare them.

On Tuesday night, I dropped off 2 hairy melons with Andrew, owner of Ming Flower in Westerville, OH. He said for the 5 of us who would be eating, the 2 melons would be enough for 2 dishes, and he suggested a soup and a stir-fried dish. I also ordered a few other dishes that I’ve really enjoyed there, only one of which is on their menu.

Wednesday night, we arrived for dinner with guests Bob and Ann Reves and sat down to the first course: Hairy Melon Soup with Mushrooms and Pork. It was light and delicious. The melon was tender yet with still enough firmness to provide textural interest.

Next course: classic Crispy Skin Chicken. This is one of my all-time favorite Cantonese dishes. The whole chicken is blanched and seasoned, hung to dry for a day, then fried in a large wok of oil. Somewhat like Peking Duck, though fried, not roasted. Still, much too involved to do at home, given the huge wok of hot oil involved in the cooking. When it’s done properly, the chicken is moist and juicy — even the white meat. It’s served with fresh lemon and seasoned salt, accompanied by shrimp chips. Ming Flower again did this dish wonderfully. No left overs here.

Then came the remaining courses. Stir-fried Hairy Melon with Pork, Straw Mushrooms, and Carrots — a stir-fried version of our soup dish. It was a huge platter and again, light and delicious.

Chow Fish Kew — chunks of fish filets — with Chinese Broccoli and Ginger. The main components were clearly cooked separately then brought together, for the fish and vegetables were each perfectly cooked. This was the only dish that’s on their regular menu.

House Special Pan-fried Noodles. A classic Cantonese dish, but not on Ming Flower’s regular menu. The crunchy/soft pan-fried noodles were in a bed under the mixed meat, seafood, and vegetable sauce.

Our wines for the evening: a 2006 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc and a 2006 Sterling Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay. Both went nicely with the meal.

It was a lot of food for the 5 of us, because each dish was banquet sized — the equivalent of 2 times a normal order. Despite the quantity, we ate almost all of it because it was all quite delicious and light.

Roger picked up the bill, but I caught a look. It totaled only $63 for the 5 huge dishes! Andrew charged us only $5 each for the two hairy melon dishes — quite a gift! I asked Roger to tip lavishly.

Ming Flower has become my “go to” restaurant in the Columbus area for Chinese food. Andrew and his son Sam have been incredibly accommodating to my special requests (see my prior blog on Chinese dinners with dietary restrictions), and the food always comes out delicious and interesting. I wonder how I’ll challenge them next?