restaurant review: taj mahal

Keith and I are pretty adventerous eaters, him a bit moreso than I, he will try anything once. I might try most things, but I  am not going to claim I will try anything. Our favorite cuisine is Mexican, but we don’t discriminate too much. (Though I am not huge on spaghetti…burnt out after 20+ years of Sunday dinners.)

A while back, we were talking about Indian food and how we are unfamiliar with it. Somehow he discovered that Taj Mahal on McKnight Road has a dinner buffet on Monday/Thursday/Saturday so a few weeks ago we hit it up. We both agreed that a buffet was the way to go since neither one of us had any idea what anything was.

I had gone for Indian food once, in…2007…in Toronto and remember nothing about it except that naan = good. Keith and I went for Pakistani food once in 2009 in Monroeville, I am not even sure the place exists. We couldn’t understand anything on the menu so we just pointed at things. I ended up with Chana Masala and Keith got something with chicken. It was good but again…couldn’t remember too much about it.

So…Taj Mahal. We’ve since gone to the buffet twice and the selection wasn’t exactly the same both times but it was large. At one end was naan and rice and then various meats/veggies in sauces and curries. They also note when things are vegan, so that’s a plus for any of you who roll that way.

taj1

Yes, I realize that all looks like orange slop, but it was all very good!

Almost everything has a little tag above it telling you what you are eating, but some were missing or unclear. But that’s the plus of a buffet, you can take a little bit and if you hate it, no big loss. My favorites from the first time we went were the goat and the chana masala and the second time there was some kind of chicken with onions and bell peppers and it was super spicy and delicious.

I’ve got my method down now and I put a pile of rice in the middle of my plate and surround it with various meats. Keith takes the opposite approach and just piles his plate with meat.

It’s a great deal at only $11.99 a person. Keith definitely ate more than that…I probably came close.

taj2

mango pudding! looks like cheez whiz, tastes like heaven. although my friend Rachel later told me it tastes like butter, so I’m sure my next experience won’t be so enjoyable, haha.

I’m not sure where it ranks on the authenticity scale and the place is not very fancy (it’s actually a little rundown looking, if we are being completely honest), but the food is delicious, the people who bus the tables/fill the waters and very pleasant and we will definitely be back.

Taj Mahal on Urbanspoon

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restaurant review: hibachi j sushi grill

Keith and I go out to eat pretty often. Once a week or so. That’s probably not “often” in relation to some, but we never went out to eat growing up*, so once a week is often to me!

We were on a streak of getting sushi on Saturdays but haven’t gone in a while, so last Friday Keith suggested we try a new(er) place near us – Hibachi J Sushi Grill.

We have lived in Gibsonia for ~4 years now and this place has been at least 3 different things…all Chinese/Japanese. I’m not sure if they keep changing owners or if they are just trying different things, but this latest iteration opened a few months back. I was actually sitting in a parking lot taping up a box for UPS when a lady tucked a flyer under my windshield wiper. We’re not huge into buffets and already have a go-to sushi place, so it never piqued my interest until Keith brought it up.

When we walked in, there was a sign stating that they no longer served sushi. Okaaay, hibachi it is.

Now it’s not your normal hibachi set-up with grills in the middle…it’s the suburban strip-mall hibachi where they just make it and bring it out to you and you have to trust that they made the onion volcano and the flying shrimp for their own amusement.

What sets this place apart from others is it’s all you can eat. All you can eat appetizers and hibachi, I think it was $8.50 for lunch and $10.50 for dinner.

When you are seated, you are presented with a small paper menu. It lists the appetizers (crab rangoon, fried oysters, gyoza, salad, miso soup, clear soup, spring rolls) as well as the starch options for the hibachi (white rice, brown rice, fried rice, hibachi noodles, udon noodles).

The cool part about the appetizers were that you could order as few or as many as you wanted and our waitress kept reminding us if we decided we wanted more, we just had to ask. Which was pretty great. I LOVE crab rangoon, but Keith hates it, so I can never order it because I can’t eat 6 pieces of it. Here I can order 2 for myself and go to town. We also got fried oysters, which I don’t care for…but since it’s included in the cost, Keith can have as many as he wants.

For your hibachi, you pick your rice/noodle and circle it on your paper. Then you head up to what used to be a buffet. There are all your meat options. They had chicken, shrimp, scallops (I think), calamari, (fake) crab, maybe some sort of beef/steak I can’t remember.

You grab a bowl and fill her up. Then you head over to the veggies, fill up on whatever you want (they had quite a selection, much more than the standard onion/zucchini/mushroom of most hibachi places). Then you add a sauce in a little ramekin (again, great selection from spicy to plain). Then you hand your bowl off, go sit down and less than 5 minutes later they bring you your plate!

photo

And again, this is all you can eat, so you can go up as many times as you want. Keith and I only ate one plate, but Keith is very excited to go back once he is gaining weight again because he knows he could do some real damage. For 10 bucks!

When we were there it was only us and another table, but the food was great, service was great, it was a super fast and super cheap meal! I get why they ditched the sushi…if business is slow, it wouldn’t be cost effective..but like I said, we’ve got a sushi joint, it’s nice to have a hibachi joint.

And I can forgo the theatrics if it means I get my meal in 5 minutes as opposed to 25.

A+ Hibachi J. I will be back.

Hibachi J Sushi Grill on Urbanspoon

*Minus the occasional trip to Hoss’s with my grandparents.

restaurant review: grit & grace

Two Fridays ago, Keith and I headed downtown for dinner at Grit & Grace. A relatively new restaurant, it is a sister restaurant to BRGR and Spoon, (neither of which I have actually been to).

I actually hadn’t really looked at the menu, the planning of this one was all Keith. We arrived for our 7:30 reservation and the place was pretty packed. (And pretty loud.) It’s an extremely narrow restaurant but goes back deceivingly far. We were seated at a nice booth and left to puruse the menu. They offer small plates (and some larger plates) and also have American dimsum. If you don’t know what dimsum is, I liked our waiter’s explanation of “an already made appetizer.” Someone walks around, presents several offerings to your table and you choose then and there if you want something. The dim sum plates were $5 and we split the carpacchio. They were all rather small servings, so we didn’t go for anything else and instead focused on the regular menu.

Keith and I eat a lot of meat so all our choices were very meat heavy. Sorry vegetarians, this review will mean nothing to you.

We started with the braised goat (appams, garlic + ginger smashed potatoes, curry).

goat

Appams are the pancake-y sort of thing. It was really good. The goat was very tender and full of flavor, I really liked the lime to brighten it up. This was a pretty large plate. There were 4 of those pancakes and enough meat to fill them all.

Next up we had crispy pig face roulade (sunny side up egg, Napa cabbage slaw, chicharrons, egg yolk hot sauce, toasted sourdough, miso apple butter). I was most worried about this one (pig face?!), but the waiter described the pig face as bacon, but better. Now I don’t like bacon, but I was willing to give it a go.

pigface

It was so good. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. It was like an open-faced breakfast sandwich.

On each table there are also three house made sauces, something soy saucy, something sweet and sour saucy and a hot sauce. I could have eaten the hot sauce on a spoon, but it was so good on this.

It was about this point that we decided to skip more dim sum and just get food. We got the short ribs, and at only $1 more than the dim sum, it was probably twice the food.

Short ribs, cream cheese biscuits, aged white cheddar cheese, hollandaise.

shortribs

These were good. The cream cheese biscuits were a tad strange, they were very very soft. There were two of them here each with a piece of meat. I love when food is already pre-portioned out to share.

And we finished with the brisket.

Smoked brisket, kohlrabi kraut, thousand island sabayon, pickled red onions, corned beef tongue, horseradish cream, baguette.

brisket

This was just my half. I got a little too eager and dug in before snapping a picture. This was also really good. Except…this might be an unpopular opinion but can we stop pickling everything? I can go for some sweet gherkins or a dill pickle here and again, but I don’t want pickled carrots or onions or cabbage or turnips.

The top right corner was the plate the sandwich came on and had pickled things on it. There were also some on the sandwich and I could just do without them. Just not into it.

Keith and I were pleasantly full by the time we finished. Grit & Grace also has a full bar, but we are not big drinkers and I am cheap when it comes to alcohol. I would have ordered some Arsenal Cider but I’m not paying $10 for a glass when I can get a growler for a bit more.

We were discussing the bill before it came. Keith guessed it would be around $100, I thought $60. We were both pleasantly surprised that it was just a bit over $50. Not bad for 5 plates that left us full. (My 2nd biggest pet peeve (after pickled everything) is fancy restaurants that cost $50 a person and leave you hungry. Not an issue here. I’d definitely go back. I actually would like to go back now. Mmm pig face.

Grit & Grace on Urbanspoon

cocina del conflicto

conflicto

I had been hearing about Conflict Kitchen for quite a while before I actually made it there. It was previously located in my least favorite part of East Liberty, (looking at you, stupid Penn Circle) where I do not go unless Keith is driving (parking). They have since moved to Schenley Plaza in Oakland. One of my classes this semester is in the Frick Fine Arts Building which is toward the entrance of Schenley Park. I usually park in the same spot on campus, so walking to class leads me through Schenley Plaza. The 2nd or 3rd week of class I happened to notice a sandwich board for Conflict Kitchen at the edge of the plaza. Up to that point, I hadn’t realized they had moved, but had already eaten dinner. I decided I’d head there next week and check it out.

So last Monday came and I went. This iteration of Conflict Kitchen serves Cuban food. I’ve never had real Cuban food before, but I’ve made a few things at home (ropa vieja and picadillo). Mine is probably terribly inauthentic but since I enjoyed it, I figured I’d like theirs even more.

Their menu is pretty limited, which I think is a pretty good idea. With a rotating theme, select a few dishes and focus on them, rather than trying to recreate a whole restaurant. For my first experience, I went with the ropa vieja (translation = old clothes). I’ve actually only ever had chicken ropa vieja, but this is beef. I also decided to try the tostones (twice fried plantains with mojo (lemon/garlic) sauce). They informed me that they were out of tostones but could offer me maduros (which are apparently once fried with no sauce?).

ropa

All entrees are served with congri (rice/beans) and ensalada Cubana (shredded cabbage, carrots, cucumber and tomato with a very light garlicy/lemony dressing).

The ropa vieja was very good, though the meat was a little on the tough side. The congri was great and I really loved the ensalada. I ended up mixing it all together and it was really good that way. I only ate a few pieces of the plantains because it was just too much food. I wish they had come with a sauce (maybe they just forgot it?) Overall, I was a fan. It was about 9$ for everything, so not super cheap but not expensive.

I decided to go back again to try something else so this Monday I got Lenchon Asada which is slow roasted pork. I skipped the plaintains as well.

lechon

I again mixed it all up into a delicious pile. The pork was melt in your mouth tender though it didn’t have as much flavor as the ropa vieja. It was good, but just didn’t blow me away.

Cuban food apparently isn’t spicy at all, which disappointed me a little. They had a big bottle of hot sauce on the counter but since I am a hot sauce snob, I didn’t use it because I was afraid I would ruin it. I think some Tapatio would have vastly improved the lenchon. The ropa vieja had a great flavor but still could have stood a little heat.

Not sure how long they will have Cuban food, I believe Korean will be next and I’m looking forward to trying that. If you’re in Oakland and need a quick lunch/dinner, check them out. The have a great concept and the food is pretty good as well! I’d probably go back for just the congri.

pittsburgh restaurant week – part 3

So before I finish up with our final stop during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, a quick review of an unofficial stop we made. Unofficial because they were not part of Restaurant Week and not even a restaurant, but a new place we checked out.

After my terrible race on Saturday, we got home and I walked the dog while Keith worked out and then were were going to lunch. Upon checking twitter, I saw that PghTacoTruck would be at the Coffee Buddha from 12-3. It was almost 12, a quick google showed that the Coffee Buddha was only about 20 minutes away and I deserved tacos, damn it.

Keith wasn’t too into the idea of driving that far and asked if we could just go to Emiliano’s, but I pouted and he relented. We popped over and got in line and about 20 minutes later had some tacos! I got the ground angus with queso fresco, cilantro and onion and the spicy jerked chicken with avocado crema. Keith got the ground angus with cheddar jack and the grass fed steak with kimchi.

tac

They aren’t lying about the spicy jerked chicken, it was almost too spicy for me and I love spicy. The avocado crema was great though and helped cool things down. The ground angus was fantastic. Keith always makes fun of me for not wanting to branch out, but sometimes simple is best and that taco knocked it out of the park. I only tried the kimchi part of Keith’s taco and it was…weird. Not bad and pretty much exactly what I would have expected, but I don’t know if I am a fan of kimchi.

I got us some drinks inside to go with our tacos and the Coffee Buddha is just the cutest little place. I got Keith lemonade and got myself a dry rhubarb soda. Both really good! Definitely hit up PghTacoTruck if you see it, I think I will definitely make a pilgrimage back to the Coffee Buddha for it and next time I’ll bring Daisy! They have leashes and waterbowls on the porch for dogs. How cute!

Okay, enough about tacos. (Never enough about tacos.)

Our third and final stop for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was Tamari. This was actually the only choice Keith made. We headed there after the baseball game on Sunday. (Well, actually the game was still going on, but it was in extra innings and we had a reservation.)

Tamari is Latin-Asian fusion and in Lawrenceville. Keith had wanted to try it for quite a while so we made our way over.

For their restaurant week special, they had a specialty sushi roll for $20.13. Since it was market price, I don’t know how much we saved, if anything, since we usually don’t order things without prices.

Tamari has small plates, and those places always confound me. I always want to order too much food and Keith has to reel me back in. We decided to get three things and if we were still starving, we could order more. We started with some ceviche with taro chips. It was delicious, but a pretty small portion and we ate it before I could take a picture.

Next we had a lamb quesadilla. It was a bit bigger, but a little bland. I laughed at Keith for dipping his pieces in soy sauce, but then I tried and that actually improved it quite a bit! Also ate too fast to take a picture and if you don’t know what a quesadilla looks like, shame on you.

Our final plate was the specialty sushi. It was shrimp tempura and asparagus with tuna and something else on top, covered with a spicy miso sauce and pico de gallo.

sush

(Also super dark in there, which is why I wasn’t too snap happy.)

It was delicious. The pico de gallo was unexpected yet totally awesome. I’m not sure I’d spend $20 a roll normally, but if it was $15 or so, I’d definitely order it again and again.

We left, for the first time during restaurant week, not sickeningly full, but perfectly satiated. Although a little pricey, I’d definitely go back to Tamari and try some other dishes.

PGH Taco Truck on Urbanspoon

Tamari on Urbanspoon

pittsburgh restaurant week – part 2

Our second stop during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen in Regent Square. We had been talking about trying Alma for a while, but never made it.

We went on a Thursday night and it was actually the day I got my grades for the summer and found out I had gotten straight A’s! Woo! So it then became my celebratory dinner. To start things off right, I did something I never do and ordered a drink. Anytime I see a caipirinha on the menu, I have to order it, and Alma had two. A blackberry and a passionfruit.

cai

I chose the blackberry and it was good, but I probably should have tried the passionfruit for something a bit more exciting.

Alma was offering a 4 course meal for $30. Alma is a little on the pricey side, so I think I figured out we saved at least $20. We probably wouldn’t have gotten as much food either, so probably more.

For starters, there was an option of empanadas or fried plantains. Keith and I both got the empanadas and they were good, but probably my least favorite part of the meal. The empanadas had pork and olives and I kind of hate olives, but they were still tasty.

emp

Course two was soup or salad. They had a quinoa salad and gazpacho. Keith wanted the quinoa salad, so I decided to go out on a limb and try the gazpacho.

quin

gaz

I am glad I did because I LOVED the gazpacho. It does not photograph nearly as well as Keith’s salad but it was soooo good. They apparently use a coconut milk base, which I was kind of afraid of but it was soo good. It had a slight kick to it and lots of veggies floating around in it. I never in a million years would have thought I’d like cold soup, but my mouth is almost watering thinking of it. Keith’s quinoa salad was okay, I wasn’t a huge fan. He liked it better than my gazpacho though. He said it tasted like gin. (He’s crazy.)

Third course was the main event. There were quite a few options that I cannot remember. Keith got the brisket and I got the scallops.

brisk

scall

I have an unfortunate habit of liking whatever Keith orders better than what I order. But for the second time during this meal, I thought mine was so much better. The brisket was over rice and while it was good, it didn’t blow me away.

My scallops were served with veggies and rice and covered in this amazing lime and garlic sauce that I could have eaten plain. I want everything covered in that sauce. Even though I was quickly becoming uncomfortably full, I cleaned my plate.

And we still had dessert!

Keith ordered an avocado pudding and I got the chocolate cake. The warm chocolate cake.

avo

choco

I was pretty blown away by the avocado pudding. It tasted like avocado…but better! And sweet! A little tart. I only had the tiniest of bites because I had that amazing dessert in front of me.

Warm chocolate cake, cinnamon ice cream. It was SO GOOD. It is almost criminal that I wasn’t able to finish it. I ate about half and couldn’t force myself to eat anymore.

I’m pretty sure Alma was my favorite stop of the week. Everything I ate was just incredible. Huge portions, fresh ingredients, delicious results. It is a little bit pricey, I don’t think it could ever be a casual dinner place for us, but I’d definitely head back for a special occasion. Like more straight A’s!

pittsburgh restaurant week – part 1

So last week was Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, I’m not sure what year we are going on with this…at least 3? It is run by someone new these days so I can’t find when it started but for the past two years they have done a Summer week and a Winter week.

In the beginning, the deal was participating restaurants would offer something on their menu for the price of the year. We first went in 2010 and got some awesome deals at Ibiza and Nakama for $20.10. I think they must have had trouble keeping up with that because while some restaurants did offer a $20.13 special, there were many $30/$35 specials.

I obviously like the $20.13 specials the best and think that it’s a great opportunity to get customers in that wouldn’t normally pay your higher prices. Once they discover how delicious you are, they’ll come back! But what do I know?

This time around, Keith and I were talking about where we wanted to go and I mentioned that we should try totally new places. We typically always hit up Verde, but we had been not too long ago and I thought it would be fun to try something new!

Our first stop was Burgh’ers in Harmony on a Tuesday night and were completely starving by the time we got there. The GPS also put us behind a sketchy old warehouse and said that we had arrived. It only took a few more minutes to actually find it and we were seated immediately despite the small restaurant size.

Burgh’ers’ special was 1 appetizer and 2 burgers (with fries) for $20.13. The burgers are about $10 a piece so you were esentially getting a free appetizer. Not a bad deal.

We ordered the seafood tacos for our appetizer and we inhaled them so quickly I didn’t think to take a picture. They were really good though. Big pieces of salmon with really fresh pico de gallo and jalapeno slices and some sort of delicious sauce.

I loved that all of the burgers at Burgh’ers were named after Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Keith got the Morningside which had bacon and an egg on it. I got the Harmony which had cheddar, caramelized onions, jalapenos, horseradish and BBQ aioli. When I saw a fried pierogie was an available topping, I paid 95 cents to add that to my burger. Go big or go home, right?

image1

The burgers were awesome. My pierogie was a fine addition although I think the Harmony needed either horseradish or BBQ aioli, I’m not sure I really like that combination of both. The buns were great, really fresh, really soft so that even though the burger was the size of my head, I could still bite down. The fries were also awesome. They have a few different options for fries, but we just had their plain fries and they were great. Fresh, well salted, crispy.

Harmony is a bit far out there from us, especially with the stupid 910 detour that is ruining my life, so I’m not sure when I will make it back up there, but if you ever find yourself up that way it is definitely worth a stop.

Burgh'ers on Urbanspoon