Quick Review: Kasumi and Thai Cafe

I like spicy food. And by spicy, I don’t mean something you might taste and say, “Ah, that’s a little spicy.” I mean food that makes you break out in a sweat spicy. Remember the bald dudes from Fringe? That’s the kind of spicy I’m talking about. I’ve found habanero-based salsa at a couple of Mexican restaurants that was spicy enough to interest me, but typically I have to go to a Thai restaurant to get what I like. Then I just have to figure out how to convince them that I really do want it spicier/hotter than they normally serve American customers – even those who say they want it “Thai hot.”

One of the only places I’ve found in Knoxville that will satisfy my desire for spicy food is Kasume and Thai Cafe. I had to go throught he usual dance with them the first couple of visits – ordering it as high as their scale (1–5) goes, then asking for something “homemade” to make it spicier. Now they know me, so I just ask them to give me an 8 and the homemade chili oil/paste.

Today we had a new server, and she did something adorable when I asked for the homemade chili sauce. She brought me a bottle of Sriracha Sauce. Since I find that stuff to be barely spicier than ketchup, I asked one of the other servers who knows me to bring me the homemade chili sauce and to make sure my dish was an 8. She took good care of me.

We started off with our usual appetizer – the pot stickers. These are pretty good, especially with a bit of the homemade chili sauce tapped into them. Our toddler likes them too, albeit without the spicy sauce.

Pot Stickers

My wife and son split an order of the Orange Chicken. I’ve had a few bites of this and it’s the best version of this dish I’ve ever had – and one of the few examples I would bother to order if I weren’t in the mood for spicy food. I ordered my usual, the Cashew Nut Chicken, level 8. I usually mix it up well and then take a couple bytes out of the middle to see how spicy it is before I mix in the homemade chili sauce. It didn’t disappoint today, and I’d say it was probably hotter than most folks I know could tolerate even without the sauce, as it was pretty painful.

Cashew Nut Chicken

Some of my friends ask me why I like my food so spicy and I can’t really say I have a good answer besides I just like it that way. I’m not always in the mood for spicy food, and that’s probably a good thing. But today’s extravaganza of heat won’t have any lasting effect on me – heartburn or otherwise. But I really like eating food that’s spicy enough to make me sweat, and push me right to the point, or beyond, of wondering if I’ve found my limit.

Kasumi and Thai Cafe is a good place for tasty Chinese and spicy Thai food. I highly recommend it.

Menu

Kasumi & Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Quick Review: Parkside Grill

I used a phrase in a review I posted a couple days ago that seems to have caught at least one person’s eye – referring to a restuarant as “predictably decent.” I didn’t put much thought into the phrase at the time, other than to feel like it adequately described the consistent quality of the place.

But I’ve thought about it a little more since then and I think it would be fair to say a lot of the places I eat at regularly are predictably decent. Most have good days and bad days, but they all have one thing in common – I can count on them to mostly have good days. I like something very much about any restaurant I frequent, but more than good pizza or good soup or good wings, I like that I can count on the food and service to be good.

One place I can count on to be good across the board is Parkside Grill. We ate there Friday night after I returned from Nashville. We used to eat here more frequently both before our son was born and while he was still young enough to mostly sit in a carrier. Once he got a little older, we shifted our eating out habits to places that were a little less expensive, mainly because we both had to be ready to leave if he got out of hand in the toddler way and also because we realize the impact a crying baby can have on other people paying good money to eat at a restaurant.

We ordered our favorite appetizer, the Colossal Onion Rings. This an example of what I’d call predictably decent, although they were slightly disappointing compared to how they’ve been in the past. They were good onion rings, and a couple of them might have even been accurately described as large, but there was a time when they truly were colossal – to the point that my wife and I would order a half order and still have trouble finishing them. Nowadays the individual rings are smaller and there are fewer of them. They’re still quite tasty, but it might be time for a name change to something like, “Reasonably Large Order of Onion Rings.”

For my meal, I ordered the Kickin’ Chicken. The two fried chicken breasts were quite good, although I was only able to eat one and a half since my son wanted the rest. The cheddar mashed potatoes are a favorite and did not disappoint. The steamed broccoli was good – tender and buttery. The bacon gravy is the real star of the meal, and I get it on the side so I can control how much of it I eat during the meal and have enough left over at the end to dip some of Parkside’s good bread into. We skipped dessert this time, but if we’d stayed for it I probably would have ordered my usual, the Creme Brulee.

The service at Parkside is friendly and consistent. My drink never runs empty. The manager on duty makes regular rounds and checks on all the customers throughout their meals.

I like Parkside Grill and I can recommend it as a good place to have a good meal.

Parkside Grill on Urbanspoon

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Quick Review: House of Gyro Salad & Hamburger

I was on my own for lunch yesterday in Nashville, so I did what I always do – looked for someplace new and local to try. I was driving down Lebanon Road near my old neighborhood in Hermitage and I noticed a sign for “House of Gyro Salad & Hamburger.” The building looked familiar, but I haven’t lived in that area for over 20 years, so I couldn’t be sure. I later learned it used to be a Pizza Hut.

I pulled into the parking lot and opened Urbanspoon to check reviews. Only listing for “House of Gyros” was in another location, so I don’t know if they moved at some point or what. Switched to Yelp. Decent reviews, and I like Mediterranean food, so I figured why not? When I got out of the car, I noticed a large smoker next to a mobile food trailor of some kind. I looked closer and made out the name “Constant Smoke” on the smoker. I’ve posted before about my feelings about barbeque, so it should come as no surprise that I was conflicted as to what to do about lunch. Eat at the gyro place I’d intented to give my business, and in whose parking lot my car was sitting, or walk across the way to patronize a competitor offering a selection of smoked meats? I actually did both, and I may write about the barbeque experience at a later date. This review is about House of Gyro

Right off the bat, I’m going to cut the place a little slack, as my intention to eat inside the restaurant was altered before I walked in the door. My parents called and said they could meet me at home, and that I should just order lunch to go for myself. I had to order my food to go, and I don’t like to eat out of to-go containers, so I know that probably impacted my impression of the food.

I ordered a Gyro and was given a choice of ranch or cucumber salsa as the dressing for it. Neither sounded particularly appealing, so I asked the lady ringing me up what she preferred and she said ranch, and I went with that. I also ordered a 4 piece appetizer of Falafel. Same two choices for sauce, so I got the cucumber salsa. Here’s a pic of both items in the to-go container.

Gyro & Falafel

The gyro wasn’t half bad. Not awesome, but I’d order it again. I’d prefer Tzatziki sauce to ranch, though. The meat was tasty and the tomatos and other veggies tasted fine as well. The pita was soft and seemed fresh. The falafel was only so-so, but I think that’s mainly because I didn’t care for the cucumber salsa. Not sure why they didn’t have Tahini sauce, and plain falafel really isn’t that exciting.

Like I said, though, I’m going to cut this place some slack. I’d be happy to try it again for a dine-in experience next time I’m in the area. Until then, I’d give it a tentative recommendation.

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Quick Review: El Chico

Another day in Nashville means another dinner with my parents. Like me, they love Mexican food. Like Knoxville, there seems to be an abundance of mediocre Mexican food in Nashville. I know of a really good place I hope to visit and review next time I’m in town, but tonight they picked our dinner spot – El Chico on Murfreesboro Road.

I can remember eating at this El Chico off and on for most of my life. I know we used to live in that area of town when I was 5 or 6. I even learned tonight my mom used to wait tables at an upscale steak & bar combo right down the street. My family has a lot of history with this restaurant, which is fairly unusual for us, as most places don’t last 30+ years. I point this out to make it clear that I probably can’t be completely unbiased about this place, both because of family history and because it is one of my parents’ favorite places.

We began tonight’s meal with the Top Shelf Guacamole. Our server showed up at our table with a huge platter filled with bowls containing avacados, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, a line, and some spices. He mixed the guacamole to our tastes, leaving the jalapenos on the side for me to mix into mine separately. Nothing beats fresh-made guacamole, and while this may not have been the best I’ve ever had, it was some of the best I’ve had in a while, and certainly the best $6 guacamole I’ve period. The chips and included salsa were fairly good.

Top Shelf Guac

I ordered the Rodeo Combo, which included two beef burritos with sour cream or cheese sauce, a beef taco, rice, and frijoles rancheros. I ordered this in a rush after not paying attention to the menu until my parents were finished ordering. I usually go for chicken-heavy when I eat Mexican, and I probably would have been better served doing that tonight. The burritos were OK, but not awesome. The taco was quite good, with an almost chalupa-like shell, and plenty of avacado and tomatoes. Come to think of it, if I had it to do over, I would have simply ordered three of those tacos. The rice was mostly boring and the frijoles rancheros were decent but nothing to get excited about.

Rodeo Combo

The service was good, but I’d expect that since my parents are regulars. We had a nice conversation about the guacamole coming with a half lime this time as opposed to a quarter last time, and how much the price of limes and tomatoes has impacted the menu over the last several years.

El Chico isn’t the best Mexican to be had in Nashville, but in my experience over many years, including a few times in the last couple of years, they’re predictably decent. Sometimes that’s good enough.

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Quick Review: McNamara’s Irish Pub & Restaurant

There is one restuarant in Nashville I make a point of eating at whenever I drive in, be it to visit family or on business. McNamara’s Irish Pub & Restaurant. I’m not sure how I discovered McNamara’s, but my wife and I quickly made it our go-to restuarant for family visits, and once our son was born, our special date night spot for those delightful weekends when we drive into town and drop our son off with my parents.

Before I say anything else, though, you need to know McNamara’s is closed on Monday’s. I hate that, as I have driven over there on more than one occasion while in middle Tennessee (not necessarily Nashville) on business, sometimes with coworkers, only to be reminded of the terribly sad reality that on Mondays there is no happiness to be found at McNamara’s.

I’m in Nashville for a few days visiting my parents, and I decided we could use a nice meal, so I sprung for dinner at McNamara’s because I’m a good son. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on walking in that there would be live music starting in 10 minutes and that there were tables available in the bar / music room. While I was mildly disappointed that the band was not Nosey Flynn, the house band with the owner as lead singer, the music of Colm Kirwan & Celtic Country was quite good.

I began my evening with a Magners, of course. I asked for a glass of ice to go along with it. Tasted great. So good, in fact, I had another.

Magners

For my meal, I ordered Bangers & Mash, with Corn Casserole as the additonal side. I love McNamara’s sausages. I know it would kill me quickly, but I think I could eat them for every meal for the rest of my life. The potatoes I could take or leave, but they work with the sausages. The corn casserole is quite good, although I’m not nearly as fond of it as is my wife.

Bangers & Mash

What made the bangers & mash even better tonight was the fact that the gentleman who delivered our meal, who I believe was a co-owner and GM, brought me two kinds of sauces to try with them. This is a first, so I don’t know if the sauces are new or if my servers in the past just never thought about offering them. I didn’t care for the HP sauce, but the Colman’s English Mustard was very good and quite spicy.

Sauces

The band kicked into high gear early on during our meal and they were a blast to listen to. The lead singer, Colm Kirwan, said he was from Ireland, the lady playing the fiddle was from Chicago, and I didn’t catch where the guitar/banjo player was from. They were a delight to listen to, and the audience really got into clapping along with the music, as is normally the case at McNamara’s. As you can may be able to make out in the forground of this picture, a young couple even brought their baby to the show. She had a good time.

The Band

I decided to wrap up my meal with the Bread Pudding. Bread Pudding competes with Cheesecake for the top spot on my favorite desserts list, and tonight it earned temporary supremacy. The pudding tonight was fresh, crisp in spots, soft in others, mixed liberally with fresh apples, and a nice big dollup of vanilla ice cream.

Bread Pudding

I cannot recommend McNamara’s Irish Pub & Restaurant highly enough. While I always have a ready to be in Nashville when I eat there, on more than one occasion my wife and I have decided to drive in to spend an evening in Nashville after waffling on the idea for a while once we remember we’ll get to eat at McNamara’s. It’s good.

McNamara's Irish Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Fitness-Walking Study

One of the things I really enjoy about working at a university is feeling like I’m connected in some way, and often supporting, education and research through my work in IT. Sometimes, however, I get the chance to actually actively participate in education by taking a class or, as is the case right now, in research by volunteering to be part of a research study.

Several weeks ago I volunteered to take part in a research study with the goal of determining the impacts on weight and health of regular short walks during the work day. I met the initial age and activity requirements, and went through an initial screening to make sure I didn’t have any health problems that would make participating in the study dangerous for me. I was weighed and measured, including having my body fat measured in a claustrophobia-inducing device called a Bod Pod. After that, the folks in the Kinesiology department had me walk on a treadmill for a heart-rate / fitness test. I also had some blood work done at a local lab company. All of this was to establish a baseline set of data for me.

After going through all that, I was randomly selected to be in the group of participants who would wait an extra 8 weeks before beginning the active portion of the study. Since the other folks began taking extra short walks immediately, I guess that makes me part of the control group.

But today I completed my second fitness test and received my equipment for participating in the study. The equipment includes a Fitbit Zip to measure my steps, which is kinda funny because I already wear a Fitbit One of my own. I also have to keep a log of the time I arrive at work, the time I leave work, and the times I remove the Fitbit.

Log & Fitbit

I have also been provided with a watch that is configured to remind me with an alarm once every hour between the hours of 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM to get up and take a walk. I’m not planning on wearing the watch, since I haven’t worn a watch for over 20 years – I’ll just keep it next to my monitors on my desk at the office.

Log & Fitbit

Since the focus of this study is to determine the positive health benefits, if any, of taking regular short walks during the work day, I’ve been encouraged to walk for 5 minutes per hour, but no longer. The researcher I’ve been working with said they have plenty of data on the benefits of walking for 10 minutes or longer, but they’re trying to see if frequent short walks people could incorporate into tiny breaks can be helpful too.

I’m really looking forward to being part of this study, and also to using it to kickstart my own focus on fitness and being healthier. Given how often I eat out each week, working in more frequent exercise is a good idea.

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Cider Roundup I

I like hard cider. I like it a lot, and I try every new brand and variant I comes across, always hoping to find one that’s better than my favorites. This is a roundup of my favorite ciders.

First, though, I figured I’d address a question I get sometimes – why cider and not beer, or do I also like beer? No, I really don’t like beer, and it isn’t because I haven’t tried the beer you like, I promise. When I was stationed at DLI in Monterey, California, I had numerous fellow soldiers make it their mission to introduce me to the beer they just new I’d like. Of all the various American and especially international beers they made me try, I only ever found one I could tolerate, and only just – Guinness, and really only with pizza. I just never acquired a taste for beer, whereas I liked hard cider from the start. I also like whiskey, particularly Irish Whiskey, so there’s that.

When I think of my favorite ciders, I have to qualify them as favorite from a tap or favorite from a bottle. I’ve never tried to look into the science side of why cider from a tap tastes different from the same cider from a bottle, but I can tell you it does. I don’t mind Woodchuck Amber on draft, but I don’t care for it from a bottle.

Favorite Draft Cider

My favorite cider from a tap is Magners, an Irish cider, although it’s sold as Bulmers in Ireland.

Magners Logo

I’m not a cider, beer, or wine critic, so I don’t know all the specialized vocabulary one would use to describe Magners. I know I like it. I would say it is semi-sweet but not cloyingly sweet. It’s not high gravity, being listed at only 4.5% ABV on RateBeer. I’m not sure I’d like it paired with every food I like to eat, but since I can only find it locally at Irish restaurants, I like it just fine with bangers and mash. I do pick it up in bottles from time to time in Nashville, but while I like it in bottles, I like it much more on draft.

Favorite Bottled Cider

My favorite cider from a bottle right now is Angry Orchard Iceman.

Iceman Logo

Angry Orchard is, at least among my friends, the cider we love to make fun of. It crashed into the grocery stores and local pubs and restaurants a year or so ago and in many places became the only cider offered. Angry Orchard has a few different flavors sold in six or twelve packs of 12 oz bottles. Iceman is different – it’s part of their Cider House collection and it, along with two other variants called Strawman (terrible) and Muse (quite good) are sold in 750ml bottles. They’re also high gravity, with Iceman measuring 10% ABV.

I like Iceman a lot. In fact, if it weren’t so relatively expensive and unwieldy in its huge bottle, I’d probably buy it as my staple and sample new labels as I found them. For all I know Tennessee’s backwards alcohol laws prohibit the sale of something that strong in six or twelve packs. Iceman is sweeter than Magners but not too sweet. It is also very crisp and just smells good, slightly of honey maybe.

One final note on cider. I’d always heard that the Irish drink Bulmers over ice and thought that sounded so strange. Recently I tried Magners over ice and was quite pleased with the results. Again, no idea if there’s any science-based explnation for it, but I prefer all my cider over ice now, and the next time I order Magners at an Irish pub or restaurant, I’m going to request a glass of ice on the side.

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