This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Asian Palace

Finally! (Part 3)

Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice
If there was ever a reason for using the "Finally!" theme, it is for one of my favorite Memphis restaurants that I've taken too long to write about. Asian Palace is one of the best and most genuine Chinese restaurants in the city, something that most of my friends agree with. In fact, a former "temping" cohort inspired my first visit by eloquently exclaiming "Yo! 'Dem spring rolls is fresh!" (yep, true story). One of the reasons for Asian Palace's accolades is for its Dim Sum, which is (according to Wikipedia) "a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates." In short, it's tapas Chinese-style that is traditionally served during the weekend, although Asian Palace offers a limited menu during the week. As one of the few restaurants in the city to offer it, I try to advantage of it whenever I'm in Memphis' Shelby Oaks neighborhood.

 Clockwise from the top - Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns and Steamed Pork Buns
Clockwise from the top: Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns, Steamed Pork Buns
During a recent weekend "temping" assignment, I got the full array of Asian Palace's Dim Sum menu. I started it off with plates of Chicken Feet, Steamed Pork Buns and Steamed Pan Fried Buns (somehow, that last one doesn't make any sense). The "chicken feet" were actually dumplings stuffed with meat (presumably chicken feet) that had the mushy texture of seafood while retaining some poultry flavor. Asian Palace's version of the poultry staple wasn't what I expected (I wanted "feet") but it was good nonetheless. The Steamed Pork Buns were doughy and a bit sweet, with a good amount of tasty pork in the center. A unique variation of a pulled pork sandwich, I'm surprised that I didn't see something like this at last year's Cochon Heritage BBQ competition at Beale Street Landing. The Steamed Pan Fried Buns (steamed and fried? How is this prepared?) were nothing more than sweet pastries that work better as a dessert than as either a main course dish or an appetizer.

Steamed Shanghai Dumplings

When the Dim Sum cart came to my table a second time, I got the Steamed Shanghai Dumplings. Stuffed with shrimp and immersed in what I believe was soy sauce, this Dim Sum dish was the best of my lunch. The shrimp was tender and flavorful, and I wanted to get another plate. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints prevented me from indulging further.

For my third and final go-around, I got something that I was familiar with. In getting the quail, I was curious about how I would like it as a Chinese dish. I have had it two other times in my life: as a roasted gourmet entrée at the former Lolo's Table (served by the lovely Alyssa, who is currently working day shift at Chiwawa) and a breaded and fried plate at Old Timers Restaurant in Millington. Asian Palace's version was fried (sans breading) and topped with lettuce, jalapeños and a lot of minced green onions. With me not being into raw onions, I separated them from the quail and ate the birds by themselves. In hindsight, I should have given it a try, for the quail didn't have the Asian pizzazz that I expected. I'm not saying the quail was bad, but I hoped for something more in line with the other wonderful dishes that I had at Asian Palace. If I was eating it as part of a blind taste test, I would've guessed it came from a Soul Food joint as opposed to a Chinese restaurant. Despite that minor disappointment, I was satisfied with the Dim Sum and I look forward to returning to Asian Palace for more of it.

SIDE NOTE: The next time I go for Dim Sum at Asian Palace, I might take my friend John D. In addition to being a good dining companion, he's also fluent in Cantonese and possibly Mandarin (he taught English in China for a few years). With many of the restaurant's servers not knowing much English, having a translator could make things go a lot smoother with regards to understanding the menu.

Kung Pao Chicken

In addition to Dim Sum, Asian Palace offers many other wonderful dishes. One of my favorites is the Kung Pao Chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. Loaded with tender chicken and lots of vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, the entrée is very spicy yet delightfully delicious. It's even better with the fried rice that has bits of scrambled eggs and onions that make it very good on its own. Throw in a good egg roll into the mix and you have an extremely scrumptious meal that will have you coming back for more.


Asian Palace on Urbanspoon

Labels: Asian, Chinese, Shelby Oaks, Summer Avenue, Tapas

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Raffe's Deli

One of the Best Beer Stores in Town (and the food is good, too)!

In another effort in fulfilling goals set in the past, I've finally gotten around to talking about Raffe's Deli. Like my last post about The Silly Goose, this doesn't qualify as a "Finally" themed review because it was never a top priority for the blog. However, because of unique circumstances that required my attention in East Memphis, I took an opportunity to follow up on something that I started 3½ years ago (if foursquare...errr "Swarm" (an unneeded evolution of the app) is correct).

For my first visit to Raffe's in years, I thought about getting a sub or some other type of sandwich. But with the likelihood that my next visits being far down the road, I made the most of my lunch by getting something unusual as it relates to the blog. I got a gyro with a Middle Eastern twist, something that doesn't have the typical Greek tzatziki sauce that usually is associated with it. Instead, along with the vertically roasted lamb, the Syrian Gyro has hummus and a mix of vegetables, herbs and spices. Collectively called a tabbouleh salad, it mainly consists of parsley (a lot of it), chopped tomatoes, mint, onions and bulgur, a grain indigenous to Syria and other countries near it. According to Wikipedia, bulgur has more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals than white rice, meaning it is a healthier alternative. Within the tabbouleh salad, the bulger is one of many components that make the gyro salty and zesty, balanced by the sweetness of the lemon juice in it. Overall, I like the Syrian Gyro because it is savory and much healthier than what I normally eat. For anyone looking for something different yet tasty, I suggest giving the pita sandwich a try.

SIDE NOTE: The tabbouleh salad is available as a stand alone entrée and is one of Raffe's vegetarian dishes. Speaking of that, the deli's "grape leaves" (aka sarma, not to be confused with dolma) is another vegetarian/vegan dish that is worth trying. The leaves are stuffed with rice and herbs and boiled with lemon juice and served with tzatziki sauce or a yogurt. By the way, sarma isn't technically a vegetarian dish, for it's traditionally stuffed with minced meat like beef, pork and veal. Although I haven't had the Middle Eastern dish at Raffe's, I had a plate of them at Sean's Cafe several years ago that amounted to an interesting experience. From what I could remember, the stuffed grape leaves were decent despite being a bit bland without the tzatziki sauce. Of course, I'm not prejudging Raffe's sarma but it's something that I will keep in mind if and when I get them.

The muffaletta that I had during my last visit was pretty good, too. For some reason, I thought it would be bigger (when comparing it to sandwiches from places like Kwik Chek). However, the muffaletta was hearty enough to satisfy my appetite, even without sides like potato chips. It has the usual stuff like salami, ham and cheese (in this case, Provolone). However, the one ingredient that really makes it tasty is the olive salad dressing with its strong and robust flavor. Compared to other muffalettas that I've had, Raffe's version is one of the better ones.

Lastly, I want to mention the wide variety of craft beers that Raffe's Deli offers. Whether you're looking for something local or an exotic export, it's likely that Raffe's has it. Among them are beers from Rogue Ales that includes the yummy Hazelnut Brown Nectar. However, it's hard to offer everything to everyone (for example, the deli doesn't carry Rodenbach, a Belgian sour ale and another favorite that's sold at Cash Saver and bars like The Flying Saucer) but a beer lover can get a lot of satisfaction from Raffe's offerings. By the way, any beer bought at the deli can't be consumed on the premises, but that shouldn't be a problem for most (although Lucchesi's Beer Garden next door can meet the need for instant gratification with its beer menu).

Regardless of whether you want food or beer, Raffe's Deli has you covered. Owner Sean Feizkhah (who's not involved with Sean's Cafe) is doing a great job with the deli and has big plans for its future. According to the Memphis Flyer, he plans to expand the menu to include Persian (Feizkhah is of Iranian descent) and Turkish fare and add a growler (as in a big jug) station to sell beer by the gallon. Given the improvements that he's already made in terms of the deli's decor, I'm confident that he'll transform it into something sensational.

Check out Raffe's Deli on

Raffe's Deli on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Deli, East Memphis, Greek, Middle Eastern, Pita Wraps, Salads, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Silly Goose

Snack Time!

In getting around to writing this review, my intention was to continue with the "Finally!" theme that I started last May with my overdue review of Las Delicias. The reason for the theme is to highlight some of my favorite dishes and restaurants that I've neglected in my four years of blogging. Near the top of the list is The Silly Goose's Steak On The Stone (if that's not the proper name, please correct me), consisting of a raw steak (or chicken) and a hot stone to cook it with. This method of serving steak was very unique when compared to other Downtown Memphis restaurants (notwithstanding the former Butcher Shop) and something that I really wanted to try. Unfortunately, my past financial predicament prevented me from indulging in the sizzle of the stone (I'm currently not doing much better). Because of that, I waited too long for something that The Silly Goose no longer has. Upon finding this out from the bartender (the lovely Jessica), I was sadly disappointed. After accepting the news, I was at a loss as to what to order. With steak off the menu, I was left with choices of appetizers from Silly Goose's menu. Not satisfied with my options, I considered scrapping the review because I didn't feel that the Goose had anything worth writing about. Of course, I was proven wrong about that after I tasted some of the items from Silly Goose's menu.

The first thing that I want to talk about is something that had this week, as opposed to my initial "official" visit. Among Silly Goose's better menu items is the Thai Meatballs that my friend and drinking buddy, John D., recommended to me. Immersed in a savory broth, the meatballs didn't have any of the Asian flavors that I'm familiar with, but it was very good nonetheless. The broth had a bit of spiciness in it and bolstered with slivers of red peppers and shredded cheese (Mozzarella?) that contributed mightily to the appetizer. Even without the meatballs, the broth (along with damn near a loaf of fresh baked pita bread) makes for a tasty snack to have while chilling at the bar. Of course, this is far from a full meal for most, but not many go to The Silly Goose for dinner. For an appetizer, the Thai Meatballs is one of the better dishes served in Downtown Memphis. I want to give thanks to my main man for hipping me to it.
Getting back to my first "official" visit for this review, I want to mention something that Jessica suggested. She pointed out the tacos with chorizo, chicken and goat cheese, a modest appetizer for snacking before dinner (which I eventually got at The Majestic Grille, located around the corner (on Main St.) from the bar). The chorizo and cheese (along with the avocado) really stood out in the tacos, even after adding lettuce and tomatoes to them. The tortillas wrapping the tacos were slightly crunchy and held everything together, making for an overall good experience. By the way, if you order the tacos or any other appetizer during Happy Hour (4 p.m. - 8 p.m.), the cost is about $3 less than the listed menu price. With a deal like that, I will take advantage of it whenever I can.

I want to thank Jessica for suggesting the tacos and being an all-around great bartender and server. I have known Jessica (a former Flying Saucer Girl) for a few years and she is one of friendliest servers working in Downtown Memphis. A woman with a lot of sex appeal, she is always a sight to see whenever I visit The Silly Goose. Of course, I'm not the only guy who feels this way, for she has a small legion of fans (including a douchebag who I will talk about later) who keeps her busy whenever she's bartending. I appreciate everything she does (such as hooking me up with some delicious pizza... errr flatbread slices) and I hope to see more of her in the future.
Jessica is one of the many reasons to visit The Silly Goose. Known more as a nightclub, the bar is a popular hangout on the weekends for people who love to party. Personally, I'm trying to get away from the party scene but I get down occasionally whenever one of my friends is celebrating something special. The decor and atmosphere of the Goose is very casual, with couches and an outdoor patio for those who really want to chill out. Also, The Silly Goose has an excellent staff of servers and bartenders who are very professional and, well (at least for the ladies), HOT. All of it stems from the mastermind who pulls the strings, owner Daniel Masters. A gracious host to me throughout years, he is a cool guy who I hope has much success with his bar/nightclub. Because of these reasons, I will always be a loyal patron of The Silly Goose.


The Silly Goose on Urbanspoon

Before I Go...

Again, I want to thank Jessica for serving me and being a great bartender/server to everyone that visits The Silly Goose. "Everyone" even includes a certain individual who has a serious problem with me being around him and his friends. For whatever reason, "Mr. Load Turd" has an obsession with preventing me from having any association with his favorite neighborhood, Downtown Memphis. While he has been somewhat successful (with the help of my personal stumbles) in swaying some to his opinion, I still have relationships with a lot of Downtowners despite my troubles. That includes some of my drinking buddies who I enjoy having a beer with at my favorite bars like The Silly Goose, which happens to have regulars like "Load." Despite his whining, I will continue to hang with my friends as long as they're cool with it. I will also keep seeing my favorite bartenders like Jessica who makes Downtown Memphis worthwhile. If "Load" can't deal with it, he should see a shrink. Not that I'm a psychiatrist (just a modestly paid graphic artist) but when I analyze it, I see "Turd's" personality as similar to South Park's Eric Cartman. Like the cartoon character that suffers from Only Child Syndrome, he's a fat, selfish douchebag who whines when he doesn't get his way. Also, they both like eating at Casa Bonita (check Poly Roly's Journal to see that I'm not making this up). Of course, he won't follow my advice but I'm putting it out here in case someone wants to help him with his anxiety over me.

SIDE NOTE: One of the things that a counselor can discuss with "Mr. Load Turd" is his belief that I'm following him. A simple comparison of Foursquare check-ins will show that isn't true. For my part, I currently spend a lot of time at The Slider Inn in Midtown, far from "Load's" sacred Downtown.

Also, I want to clarify something else that "Mr. Load Turd" said about me recently. While sitting at The Silly Goose's bar with our mutual friends (who started things off with a discussion about where LeBron James will play next season), I overheard "Load" bragging about his dysfunctional barbecue team's "trophy" that it won at the Memphis in May BBQ Fest. He was playfully rubbing it in that his team took a trophy while our friends left the fest empty-handed. Although I didn't comment on it while I was at the bar (other than responding to "Turd" calling me a retard), I chuckled at what I heard. For "Roly Poly" to talk shit about winning a non-food trophy to guys who bailed out his "well managed" barbecue team with barbecue at a barbecue competition is laughable. After all, this happened at the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, not the Southern Hot Wings Festival, the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival or an artistic competition for who can design the best booth. Even though "Load" didn't have malice in his boasting, I felt that he should have shown more humility and gratitude to the barbecue team that saved his crew's asses. Of course, his team's troubles aren't a concern of mine (after all, I'm "persona non grata" to it) but I want to set the record straight about what I didn't say at The Silly Goose. Then again, it wouldn't have been an issue to "Load" if anyone else was sitting where I was at the bar. Like I said earlier, dude needs psychiatric help.

Downtown Memphis' Eric Cartman

Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Commentary, Downtown, Pizza, Tacos

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Carbonara Done Right!

Finally! (Part 2)

Putting an end to another case of procrastination, I want to talk about one of my favorite dishes. Carbonara, a pasta dish consisting of an egg-based sauce and a form of Italian bacon (such as pancetta), is something that I had a lot of during a four-year stint in Italy as an Air Force serviceman. Since leaving Europe, my opportunities to indulge in carbonara have been rare. More times than not, the pasta was mediocre and disappointing. I'm not saying that the carbonara was bad, but it didn't meet my expectations for excellence. Nonetheless, I should have blogged about my experiences but the uninspiring pasta didn't move me to do so.

An example of the carbonara that I've had in America is the version served by Bari Ristorante in Memphis' Overton Square district. Other than the thick sauce, Bari's carbonara is okay by most standards. It usually has modest amounts of pancetta, onions, parsley and garlic, along with other herbs and spices for something that's decent yet unexceptional (Parmesan cheese is optional). Compared to restaurants that I visited in Italy, Bari's carbonara gets a "B-" for good quality that doesn't push the envelope for greatness. I hope I'm not being harsh, but I'm just calling as I see (and taste) it.
I also had Bari's calamari as a side dish during a recent visit. Actually, it was more like an additional "tapa" to the small plate of carbonara that I ate. For the most part, the calamari was good although I'm not used to eating it grilled (Bari's menu lists it as "calamari e polipo alla graticola" which translates to "squid and octopus on the grill"). The charred portions of it undercut the rest of what I felt was good calamari (I prefer to have it pan-seared). Of course, this is just an unqualified opinion based on numerous experiences with the seafood appetizer. For those who really like grilled foods, Bari's calamari might win them over. As it relates to carbonara, I believe that the restaurant's squid appetizer is a good match like grilled chicken and Alfredo pasta. All around, Bari's calamari is good as far as appetizers go.
After carbonara experiences at restaurants like Bari, I thought it was as good as it gets in Memphis and the rest of America, but a chef at one of favorite bars proved me wrong. While at Bardog Tavern during a weekday afternoon, Executive Chef John Haley asked if I wanted a plate of carbonara. He was following up on a request I made a while back after missing out on a special featuring the pasta. It wasn't something that I planned for, because I was content on chilling at the bar and listening to my favorite sports talk show host (Jim Rome) through my phone while getting beer from a beautiful bartender (Brittany). Of course, loving carbonara the way I do, I wasn't passing up an opportunity to try the bar's version of one my favorite pastas.

Bardog's version of carbonara is outstanding. From the second that I laid my eyes on it, I knew it was going to be one of the best things that I would taste in 2014. The carbonara had plenty of pancetta along with a lot of parsley, onions and grated Parmesan cheese. I was a little surprised that Chef John used a powdered (as in a can) version of Parmesan that, in my opinion, is more salty than an actual block of cheese. Fortunately, the Parmesan and all the other ingredients (including basil, if what I sensed is correct) worked well with the thick carbonara sauce and spaghetti pasta. Unlike carbonara at other restaurants, Bardog's pasta is vibrant and very flavorful in a way that makes it exceptional. The only other times that I've had carbonara this good were in fine restaurants in Italy, and Bardog's version (like all the other pasta dishes on the menu) is reminiscent of that. I don't know if the carbonara recipe is Chef John's or the man behind it all (Aldo Dean), but whoever came up with it is a genius. Currently, carbonara isn't on the menu at Bardog, but that could change if enough people ask for it. It's a great dish that I hope others get to know.

UPDATE (July 11, 2014): After talking to Aldo, I've found out that the carbonara recipe is neither his nor Chef John's. It originated from a former chef for the bar (Dimitri) who passed it on to his successors. Last I heard, this chef was working at Double J Smokehouse & Saloon.

Unlike with Bari, I didn't get calamari with the carbonara at Bardog. If I did, it would have been fried and served with a topping of Sriracha aioli and a side of cocktail sauce. I won't try to compare the two squid appetizers because it would be the equivalent to an apple vs. orange comparison. However, Bardog's fried calamari is on par with most restaurants that serve it. That said, the calamari is a bit salty, which isn't necessarily a bad thing although my doctor would disagree. If paired with the carbonara, I believe that they would go well together.
After comparing the two restaurants, it's my opinion that Bardog Tavern has the better carbonara. With all the ingredients that make up Bardog's version of it, the pasta outclasses Bari Ristorante and many others that serve it. This isn't to say that I don't like Bari's carbonara, but eating it is like driving a Buick. By that, I mean it's a good experience but not exactly memorable. Chef John's (or Aldo's) carbonara is more like a Bentley (a car that I've never ridden in) that has all the bells and whistles to provide a ride unlike any other. If anyone is looking for excellent Italian carbonara without the hassles of going to an upscale restaurant, Bardog Tavern is the place to go (provided Chef John is in the house).
I'm glad that I "finally" got around to blogging about one of favorite dishes. I probably would have blown it off completely if I hadn't run into Chef John during this year's (2014) Memphis in May BBQ Fest. Seeing him reminded me of the favor he did in making the carbonara despite it not being Bardog's special for that day. I appreciate it and all of his other marvelous dishes. John Haley is a chef that deserves his due praise.

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of the 2014 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, I want address a comment from a "spokesman" for one of the participating BBQ Fest teams. As he said, you will never find me in the team's booth because I'm "persona non grata." While that's true, I also want to point out something else that will hardly be there: barbecue or anything else that's edible. It seems that $20,000+ (membership fees, sponsorships and other revenue) doesn't buy as much as it used to. Well, at least the team won a non-food trophy at the barbecue fest. All things considered, that seems about right for a group more suited for partying than 'cuing.

Speaking of "Finally..."

Part of the reason why I haven't blogged about carbonara, my favorite guacamole and other things in the past is that I've been pursuing more important endeavors. Especially, I've focused on a goal that has eluded me for 5½ years: full-time employment. After years of searching, I finally have good news (which you might have heard about via Downtown Memphis' Pathetic Retard's Journal): I GOT A JOB! Thanks to a friend who put in a good word for me, I'm working as a graphic artist for a company that sells flags throughout America. After years and literally hundreds of attempts of applying for jobs that would pay a decent wage, I came very close to giving up. Fortunately, I have a friend who had my back and made a big difference in influencing my new employer. I am very grateful for that and will do my best in promoting the interests of the company that hired me. The way I see it, I need to make the most of this opportunity because this is the last hurrah of my career. Not that I'm ready to retire, but I know that I probably won't find another job in graphics in the foreseeable future because of reasons that I won't elaborate on. Anyway, I'm happy for what I have and anxious to "Git R Done!"

 Bari Ristorante:
 Bardog Tavern:

Bari on Urbanspoon

Bardog Tavern on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Commentary, Downtown, Midtown, Overton Square, Pasta, Tapas, Upscale

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