Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paula Deen Buffet @ Tunica casino

paula deen buffet tunica casino
TThis used to be the best way to dine in the US of A: casino buffets. See, the casino business model does not rely on the profit margin from selling rib-eye steaks and salad bars. The purpose of all-you-can-eat buffets is customer retainment. The longer you stay inside, the more you play, the more they make money off of you. That's why buffet prices are deliberately kept low. Also to give Americans their favourite kick of luxury and abundance, the choice of food was stunning, an almost obscene cornucopia of freshly cooked food of all conceivable cuisines and methods of preparation piled up on seemingly never-ending counters. All at 20 bucks a pop. Neato!

To take advantage of such a super-deal was what we had in mind when we crossed the state border from Tennessee and entered Mississippi. That's a lot of double vowels and consonants, and no wonder we felt peckish. In my memory, Hurrah's had the best all-you-can-eat last time we shopped around, so we made a beeline straight to one in Tunica. A vast estate next to the Mississippi River with a huge hangar of a casino sported tacky turrets and tromp-l'oeil paintings. But we were not there to judge the developers' aesthetic sense.

Since it was the Deep South, the catering deal in Tunica was awarded to Paula Dean, a middle-age Southern belle whose masterpieces like cheesed grits (with melted processed "cheddar") have been clogging Americans' arteries for last few decades.

Despite the price was a pleasant knock-off of the usual 20-something, 18 bucks, the quality of the food itself was rather appalling. A sugar, salt and saturated fat extravaganza, even those lovely and easy-to-make guilty pleasures like barbecue chicken were hopelessly ruined. Instead, you were presented dishevelled piles of extremely fat fried thighs and legs, generously doused with BBQ sauce. Paula, fake smoke flavour does not make chicken barbecued, you must know that, do you?

paula deen buffet tunica casinoThe prime cut steak that is normally the pièce de resistance of all Americans buffets but Paula Dean's roast beef looked and tasted like pork, with huge slabs of fat - nothing like the lovely marble of tallow of a rib-eye steak, but mighty porcine dollops of fat. But what do you expect from cattle raised in factory farms on artificial fodder, growth hormones and antibiotics? It was so gross I could not continue.

The seafood corner sported miniscule oysters baked into Sakhara-like dryness with cheese and what appeared to be copious amounts of salt. The rest was flour-based fish stews in which the fish was smothered in flour-based sauce an, you guessed, liberal quantities of salt.

Well, I know classic Southern menu may not exactly the epitome of dietarily enlightened fare but Ms. Dean took it to an extreme with processed cheese with grits oozing butter. I was surprised not to see deep-fried Oreos in the sugar-and-saturated-fat desserts section.

Coincidentally, next day on the plane I had a glance at the headlines of a newspaper that someone was reading and on the front page I saw that Paula Dean was sick and hiding her disease. I sure wish her a soon recovery but, perhaps, she should take a sign and start reforming her own diet, which if to judge by what she serves others, must be horrendously unwholesome.

Paula Deen's Buffet

Hurrah's Tunica
13615 Old Highway 61 North
Tunica Resorts, MS 38664

Pro's: Cheap.
Con's: Sigarette smoke from the casino. Grade F ingredients cooked into pulp.
In a nutshell: A lovely heart-clogging trough for undiscerning gluttons.

paula deen buffet tunica casino

Monday, June 27, 2011

Seafood bechamel pasta spaghetti recipe

This lovely recipe is a guilty pleasure: it involves a generous slab of butter and a whole glass of double cream. Without those, its trademark unctuously velvety texture is simply not achievable. Every time I think of cooking it, I have to remind myself of Nigella's maxim: "There's no good kitchen without butter!" Amen, sister!

  1. First of all, for roux blonde, the base of the sauce: melt about 100g of butter in a moderately heated pan. Splashing a little bit of water beforehand helps keep the butter from burning. When it starts sizzling, carefully scoop out the froth and gently whisk in 2 tbsp of cassava flour and 1 tbsp of maize starch. I can hear the thuds of portly French chefs fainting on the floor, but yes, not your wheat flour, but good African cassava flour and maize starch. That's how you make bechamel light and fluffy like whipped cream. Stir the mix with a whisker until there are no lumps in sight. Keep stirring until the roux is a lovely golden colour, remove the pan from the fire and leave to cool. I immerse the pan in water for quicker results.

  2. In the meantime, bring a large pan with a lot water to a boil. Mind and add some salt until the water is pleasantly salty: the taste of the pasta will depend on that. Cook your favourite pasta to your liking. I cook mine just one notch beyond al dente.

  3. Bring to a boil two glasses of cream. I use double cream - "après nous, le deluge!"If you have proper seafood stock, it's your call now, make sure to use it hot! Fold the boiling cream and the stock if used into the by now cool and nice roux and bring to a simmer on a low fire while constantly stirring with a whisk, making sure there not a wee lump left. Add half a glass of dry white wine, some cloves, freshly grated nutmeg, freshly ground black pepper and some bay leaf to taste. Leave to gently bubble away for about 20 minutes. Add your choice seafood and small bits of filleted fish. Keep on fire for another few minutes. Take care not to overcook!
This time I served it on spinach spaghettoni (extra long spaghetti).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Brown's Country Restaurant Arkansas Review

Half way between Fort Worth, TX and Memphis, TN is the spot immensely popular with my extended Stateside family on their back-and-fro travels. Smack in the middle of leafy Arkansas, just off the I-30, is tucked away Brown's Country Restaurant . It is a soul food all-you-can-eat buffet and now you know why it is so hip with my peeps.

A 100-foot counter inside a rustically decorated dining hall bustles with activity: Blacks, Whites and Latinos alike equally rub their shoulders together whilst piling up their plates with barbecued chicken, fried catfish, sweet potatoes, collard greens, chicken gizzards and other Southern classics.

I have already shared my observation that soul food is very much like West African food minus plantains, hence it is perhaps the best diet for growing and maintaining a curvaceous booty, equally admired by large swathes of populace on both sides of the Atlantic. At Brown's it is good old-fashioned with no pretence, hearty and filling, you will be bursting at your seams after the first helping - and at a 9 bucks pop it's a great value.

Perhaps, one suggestion I would make is to update the preparation methods to fit the modern ideas of wholesome nutrition: less fat and processed sugar, shorter cooking times, grilled as opposed to deep-fried, freshly squeezed juices instead.of soft drinks. I know asking for free-range meat and eggs in America is a bit of a tall order, but at least it's something the proprietors could aspire to.

Pro's: Unlimited helpings of a large variety of soul food yummies. Much better and cheaper than the hyped-up Paula Deen's Southern buffet.
Con's: Some entries will defo be scoffed by the Healthfood Squad (particularly the desserts were simply abominable).
In a nutshell: Great place to tank up when driving through Arkansas.

Brown's Country Restaurant
Exit 118 on I-30, Benton, AR
Location map

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hare & Tortoise@Bloomsbury, London (review)

T his month my stereotypes have taken a nice battering. Another blow was was delivered just yesterday to my prejudice against chain restaurants, particularly peddling the so-called "pan-Asian cuisine" (although the toe-twirlingly atrocious N1 Kitchin@King's Cross may be the actual reason why king is cross!). It is hard enough to quality-control a decent Thai or Japanese menu, with all the fresh ingredients and tricky cooking timings. Juggling the gastronomy of the entire Pacific Rim on your kitchen counter is a super-human task. And to do it persuasively across a range of branches? Hmm, I doubt that really seriously.

I would have never made it to Hare & Tortoise but for my fellow anthropologist Patrizia. I would hardly trust anyone to drag me to a "cheap Asian resto for some nice grub" but her. She's extremely fastidious about food and that is just one small dot of the vast common ground that we share.

The place is immensely popular: it took us half an hour of queuing to finally plop around our table and get down to ordering. We shared a salmon box (sushi/sashimi set, £9.50): very fresh neta (fish toppings), expertly prepared rice with just the right degree of sourishness and chewiness and impeccable presentation featuring faux lacquerware and a shiso leaf.

My Singaporean curry laksa (£6.75) was a sumptuous bowl so huge it never seemed to end. It instantly transported me into the sultry streets of the self-proclaimed culinary capital of Asia, infused with aromas of freshly cooked food. Nice touches included delicately sliced chicken breast, cooked-just-right shrimp and squid, slices of toasted garlic and a lingering kaffir lime leaf. Apprently cooked from scratch, with no typical silly substitutes for true South-East Asian ingredients, it made for a deeply satisfying dinner.

Pro's: Highly consistent quality and authenticity.
Con's: Queues and noise around lunch and dinner time, the price of popularity. Cramped seating.
In a nutshell: Great value for your money with no quality compromise.

Hare & Tortoise
11-13 The Brunswick
London WC1N 1AF

Thursday, June 16, 2011

arzak al qawther egyptian fast food

Fast food chains are a no-no for a seasoned traveller. What is the point of travelling far only to end up munching the same muck culinarily careless people stuff their faces with back home?

There are a few exceptions to this rule: like Singapore's ..., a chain of South Indian fast food eateries.

A late departure from Luxor and an even later arrival to Cairo (it beats to traffic jams even Bangkok and Moscow!), left us ravenous well past midnight. Luckily, later suppers seem to be a part of the national lifestyle: a little brighty lit shop at the end of our street was full with snacking Egyptians. Arzak al Qawther may be styled after Mickie D's but you can easily ignore the burgers and French fries and choose out of their rather extensive Arab food: from baba ghanoush and falafel to the pinnacle of Egyptian fast food, kouchari - the same concept as the Quebecois poutine - a mix of vermicelli, fried potatoes and mince, drenched in a rich sauce.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Arabia Grill restaurant, Cairo Egypt

I t is sort of a rule of thumb for the seasoned traveller: never eat where you sleep. Most of time, you end up with overpriced mediocre fare in boring surroundings removed from what you actually want to experience, local life!

On our first morning in Cairo, however, we needed a quick fill-up before heading out to the Pyramids. Just a functional, technical, no-strings-attached stopover to save time and spare trouble. As we tucked in our classic Arab fare: tabouleh, kibbeh, flat breads and coffee we realised that we might get hooked up on this. So we did com efor dinner then night and every morning and night after that. We quickly figured out though that room service was free, so from the second day we had our meals on our balcony with a view of the Nile

In our few days in Cairo we never ordered an "international" dish, so no opinion there. Their Arab food , however, was par excellence:

Pro's: Expertly cooked food. Free very friendly and helpful room service 24/7.
Con's: Some items on the menu are never available and some are of now "now you see, now you don't" variety.
In a nutshell: This place alone redeems the reputation of all hotel-attached restuarants in the world.

Arabia Grill Restaurant
Ground Floor, Arabia Hotel
Malik Abdelaziz Assaoud Street
El Manial, Cairo, Egypt

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sen Viet Vietnamese restaurant London review

Sen Viet - a Vietnamese restaurant in London's King's Cross area is by far the best value place to gorge on Vietnamese poetry in food. My peeps from the Japanese Anthropology department hipped me to it and I trust those folks' taste buds (almost) like mine!

Between the three of us we had (it actually looked much more appetizing than Sarah's mobile could capture!):
  • Caramel Pork Spring Rolls - a delicious variety of lovely textures wrapped in rice paper;
  • Beef Rolls on Garlic Cloves: paper thin sheets of most tender and juicy beef wrapped around garlic cloves and grilled, served on a bed of salad with a zingy dressing;
  • Catfish Stew - turned out the piece de resistance of our dinner, full of black pepper, ginger and chilli flavours, it stole the show from the rest of the dishes, which is itself was quite a feat;
  • Duck Curry - unctuous and perfectly balanced to complement duck's gamey flavour, the only other good way to cook duck apart from Peking duck (kao ya)
  • Rice - the plain steamed variety, as good as you expect it to be;
  • Vermicelli - plain rice noodles to soak up all the nice juices;
  • Baguette - very good for that purpose too, although I had crunchier and fluffier in France.
That set us back mere 31 pounds + tip -- very well deserved as the service is on par with Cathay Pacific's business class. The place has just opened since a month or so ago, it's squeaky clean, nicely appointed in your classic London hip urban style, although the exterior does not give that away at all. They also have a 10% student discount - no need to show an ID, just mere saying "SOAS" does the trick.

Sen Viet Vietnamese Restaurant
119 King's Cross Road, London