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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Adventures of Jack Jackson: Golden Wok

Golden Wok

27th & Y

It seems strange that I am a lifelong Lincoln resident, but had not been to the Golden Wok until just last month. I always knew it was there on the corner of 27th and Y in the blue-sloped Oriental roof, but I honestly thought it was vacant. You can’t see inside the windows, and the parking lot is never really full.

My dad suggested the place for lunch because it’s fast and cheap, the two qualities my dad likes most about lunch. It is fairly decent, which is also important to my dad, but not as important as being cheap and fast are.

As noted before, there is a parking lot. This ought to be a thrill for all Lincolnites, who think it is their God-given right to park within about 10 feet of wherever they are going. After the quick journey from the lot to the door, you are almost immediately greeted and seated. Everything is ship-shape and efficient.

The lunch deal is good: an entrée; a side (no thanks to the Crab Rangoon, I’ll have the egg roll please); and a soup, either egg drop or hot and sour. All of this comes in at under five bucks. While the soups are tasty, they suffer from the high viscosity endemic to many Chinese restaurants. Maybe they could put, say, only half of a cup of corn starch in?

My favorite Chinese dishes are anything General Tzo (Tso) [Dzo] cooks. Thank God for giving us General Tzo (Tso) [Dzo] and his amazing invention of coating foodstuffs with rice flour and frying ‘em up good. The chicken is actual chicken pieces, not that chewy, fatty gackle you might get at Taste of China. I think there is actual breast meat in there.

Also of note, the food comes to you immediately after it is plated. This is the closest I’ve seen to “wok hay.” Wok hay is the Chinese culinary concept of getting the food immediately from the wok and into your mouth, because it is supposed to be cooked at a high temperature and the heat helps all the diverse flavors mix and shine. The problem with most American Chinese restaurants is that building codes and other regulations only allow stoves to get half of the temperature they would in China.

I’m not saying that Golden Wok is doubling the heat and ducking OSHA, but I am saying that at least your food gets to you right off the wok, and it is the closest I’ve been to experiencing wok hay.



Yes, it appears Jack is alive and well. I'm kind of surprised Jack's dad ate at the Golden Wok since we're in McRib season. Anyone who knows Jackson the Elder knows he loves McRib.

My only experience with the Golden Wok was when I drove through about 7 years ago and a 10 year old Vietnamese girl was running the drive-thru. It was a little off-putting but she got the order right and counted the change back to me correctly which is a rarity in any restaurant.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ruby Tuesday

Updated 3-24-06
People looking for reviews and information on Doughboyz should head over to Lincolnite. Mr. Wilson has been there three times and has a review focused on the Chipotle Orange Shrimp pizza as well as a more comprehensive review of the restaurant.



It was bound to happen sooner or later. Sunday night while I was falling asleep I heard a commercial for some chain restaurant, RubyBee's or TGI Tuesday or whatever, touting its selection of 36 burgers. I thought to myself, why do you need to have 36 burgers? I asked Sarah what restaurant needs 36 burgers on its menu. "Ruby Tuesday," she said.

It was then I realized I'd never been to the place. Fast forward to Monday evening. My seminar had run late and I wasn't up for cooking so I decided I might as well try the place before I start referring to it as TGI Apple Tuesday.

The first thing I realized was the 36 Burger claim was a little misleading. There are basic beef, bison and turkey burgers with optional toppings along with fish and chicken sandwiches. Fish and chicken are not burgers, OK? Some of them could be classified as separate burgers but the one I ordered, the Julius Cheezer (only because I'm a big fan of Rome on HBO and Rome: Total War, the PC strategy game), only differed from the regular cheeseburger in that it had jack and swiss along with cheddar. Why not give people the option of adding extra cheeses to the regular cheeseburger? Of course, who would think of adding two more cheeses to a cheeseburger were it not presented as an option on the menu?

Another thing about the burger. Downsize it! And cut the price by $.50 or so. When you go to these kinds of places you end up ordering an appetizer anyway, so by the time you get your burger you're just about full. Then the half-pound monstrosity shows up along with a pile of over-seasoned fries. I ended up bringing some of the appetizer and most of my fries home and ate them for breakfast (I've lately been eating lunch and dinner for breakfast for some reason).

The server seemed surprised when declined the salad bar for an additional $2.49. I agree the salad bar is nice but with all the food already challenging me, there was no way I was going to add to my tab by attempting to get my money's worth from the salad bar.

Admittedly, the salad bar is pretty good. Sarah got it along with a bowl of French Onion soup f0r $7.99 and when she returned from the salad bar I found myself wishing I'd opted for the soup & salad combo. Her salad plate was loaded with good salad greens, shelled edamame, bagel chips, sesame sticks, beets, and a ton of other stuff. It was dressed with a bleu cheese dressing with actual chunks of bleu cheese in it. I inspected the salad bar on the way out and noted the presense of walnuts and dried cranberries. It's a solid option on a Monday night but on busy nights I can't help but imagine a long queue for the salad, especially since it's only accessible on one side.

Sarah's soup fell into the category of foods I call too savory. A couple of other foods I've found to be too savory are the Freschetta Brick Oven smoked ham, portabello and onion sauce pizza and the Arby's pot roast sandwich. It was like Adam from Northern Exposure was in the kitchen demanding a herd of cattle so he could make one bowl of beef broth. It was too thick, too beefy, too salty and it covered up the taste of the cheese.

Drinkwise, I ended up ordering one of their Long Island Iced Teas which tasted pretty good but also allowed me to exit the place without staggering unlike the LIIT's found at Tam O'Shanter. By those standards, it didn't do its job. I had tried to order a blackberry lemonade with a shot of vodka in it but like most of the chain restaurants even the low-end liquor is overpriced. The very attentive, but not annoyingly so, server informed me a shot of Smirnoff was $4.50.

Overall, probably one of the better chain restaurant experiences I've had, though I still can't remember the last time I'd been to one before last night. It might be the time two years ago when the guys at Meineke couldn't find a part for my car so I wound up at TGI Fridays for three hours. If it hadn't been my mission to go to Ruby Tuesday last night I would have opted for either Scrumpy Jack's, about which I've heard good things, or Doughboys (anyone know what this place is all about?). All I've got to show for it is a Rolling Stones song repeating over and over in my head.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

DJ's Bar and Cafe

by Sarah

My friend Elaine is so predicable. If she calls on Tuesday, that means she wants to eat pan-fried chicken; if she calls on Friday, she wants to eat fried fish. Luckily, southeast Nebraska is bountiful with small town restaurants that cater to both of her cravings. Last Friday, we piled into Elaine's sweet minivan and headed to Staplehurst to get fish at one of her favorite small town haunts-- DJ's Bar and Cafe.

DJ's is your typical small town bar and grill. It's a large room seperated by a bar with lots of tables. They have lots of funny signs on the wall, including my favorite, "If your here to forget... make sure you pay ahead of time." (Five points extra credit to the first one to point out the usage error!) Upon entering, we were greeted by a sign that gave us our meal choices, all centered around their famous fried fish. I ordered the 1/2 order of fish and fries for $4.75, which included two generous pieces of fried fish, fries, a little plastic cup of coleslaw, bread, and a pickle spear. (One could also order the fish and chips [fish and potato chips], or the fish set up [just fish and bread].) The choices for fries are "regular" and "natural." I got the natural, which ended up being very thinly sliced and deep fried potatoes, covered in delicious seasoning. They were basically really good potato chips. I liked them, but I found myself stealing fries off my fellow diners' plates all evening. The coleslaw was good as well; this type of place usually has Nebraska style coleslaw-- a nasty combo of cabbage, vinegar, and caroway seeds; but they had southern style coleslaw, which was creamy and delicious. But the main event was the fish. Oh the fish. It was tender, flaky, and tasty. My only complaints were that the breading wasn't as crisp as I like it and that it came with little packets of Heinz tartar sauce. Oh, and they serve beer in frosty mugs.

On to the pie. According to Elaine, the kick-ass pie is the main reason to visit this two-bit town. By the time we ordered dessert they were out of chocolate chip and only had one slice of apple. After a heated debate, I ended up getting the coveted last slice of apple pie. The waitress advised us to order pie right when we get there and I'll pass that advice on to you. Anyway, the pie was okay. While the filling was great, and the crust was obviously homemade, it (the crust) was kind of white and pasty. I prefer a nice browned and sugary crust, but that's me. The sour cream raisin pie was good too.

So next time you feel like a Friday night fish fry, head out to Staplehurst. If not for the great service, reasonable prices, or mouth-watering fish, then go for the awesome candy rack behind the bar-- it's got Butterfinger Crisps and Heath Bars.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reader Review: ValentinaLand

Last night as I was reclining by the fire puffing on my antique Meerschaum and reading a rare collection of letters from the lost Andean explorer Miguel San Cristobal a horrible rapping at my front door shook me from my reverie of lost cities of gold on the roof of the world. The snifter containing the last of my 1945 Malvazia Barbeito crashed to the floor as I shot from my chair.

Who could it be at this late hour? Had my dalliances in the black arts finally come back to haunt me? I cautiously opened the heavy wooden door and was shocked to see a bedraggled man, near death, or perhaps, as I feared, undead, standing before me. The man took one step forward and uttered a sound I hope to never hear again and pressed a tattered sheet of paper into my hand. I instinctively recoiled but held onto the note whatever it was, shocked it did not burn through my hand. The poor wretch then collapsed and slowly dissolved into the thin air.

I hurriedly unfolded the paper. Twas not a warning or curse from the minions of Nath-Horthath at all, but a missive from Jack Jackson. It was merely a restaurant review, but clearly a restaurant review from a man teetering on the edge.

Below I reproduce this document in full as it may be the last we hear of this brave explorer of the far reaches of local theme restaurants.




Valentinaland

By Jack Jackson

I should’ve known that it was going to be a bad night, by the shit on both of my shoes after I came home from it all. But that would mean that I somehow had pre-ordained/forethought/dreamt that this night would happen, and I would’ve/should’ve missed the turds that my dog likes to leave by the entrance carpet.

No, this night was not predestined, not fore-ordained. It was caught up in the Neverland of the opposite of faster, better, cheaper: it was caught up in the land of hatred, pain, and evil. If I were an accomplished writer, it would’ve been caught up in the land of pain, evil, and hatred, for no other purpose than to achieve a tricolon crescens, a Latinate rhetorical figure which is marked by three constituent parts, each increasing in either syllables or length.

Messineos, Alesios, you all should be ashamed of the eating monstrosity that is now known as Valentinaland, the location of my first minimum wage job, the Bishop Heights travesty you created out of money lust. I know the story, for it was related to me by an insider. You wanted to end the lease, but you knew a dude who had some extree token machines and ticket machines. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.

My entrance, for my niece’s fourth birthday, was marked by an uncanny lack of service. As a matter of fact, there was no one, not one single employee, there at all. No one was there to greet, no one was there to sit, no one was there, to my utter shock, to take our money.

How, I wondered, would we spend our money, if no one was there to take it?

Silly, I later was, to think of such a question.

Valentino’s, for those uninitiated, is the Twinkies of pizza in Lincoln. Oversweet and low-quality, it pleases the masses in no way any good pizza could. That’s why you find the truly good pizza places of Lincoln low on the KFOR lists, like Piezano’s and Yia Yia’s (although I think Yia Yia’s sucks, it’s better than the diabetic shock you get from Valentino’s).

Let me assure you, Valentinaland may be advertised as a fun blast (BLAST!) for the whole family, but it is the Worst Place on Earth. Worse than Iraq in Winter. Worse than camping without fire. Worse than New London of Winston Smith’s “1984”. This place is pure shit.

Why? For starters, their salads are brown. I wouldn’t eat it. My family asked why not. I said, “I don’t eat brown lettuce.” They said, “It’s always like that here.”

Okay, so then why do you order it? If you know it’s always shitty, why pay for it? I said, “Send it back.”

But then I became the jerk, because I wanted to fresh(er) lettuce.

I want to express one thing I liked about Valentinaland: the mouse mascot, or whatever it is, is economically correct. I mean, er, anatomically correct. It has five fingers, five toes, each hand. That’s impressive. Some hack local artist took the time to make sure the black lines were there to ensure you know it has five fingers and toes. That’s a rarity in shit-ball money-grubbing mascots.

What about the pizza? I used to work there, long ago. Had I served a pizza that had the dough bubbles in it that I was served, I’d have been fired. But apparently it’s completely okay to let bubbles rise in a pizza now, and burst, and then overcook, and burn the cheese, and then be served.

Did I mention that it’s impossible to get service? Do you know why? Because there is no service. I suppose that means profits are high. Capitalism is minimizing costs and maximizing revenue after all.

And that brings me to the machines. A token is a quarter. You play terrible games like Spider Smash and Skee-ball for tickets. I saw my niece blow five bucks to earn fifteen tickets. And that was enough to earn a Tootsie Roll. Way to teach kids all about capitalism, because the truth is “garbage in, garbage out,” after all.

I want you to know that I did get over, though. I filled my “water” glass with “fountain drink” at one point. Actually, I did it twice. But I know that that cost about two cents, and I didn’t really get over. It was the thought that counted.

By the way, two scruffy old men came in to play a claw machine while we were there. They weren’t part of any party, and they dumped two dollars to lose nothing. Addiction? Pedophilia?

Can anyone explain to me why they serve breadsticks with freezing cold marinara sauce?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Reader Review: M13

Thanks to Sylvia for another valuable contribution to the Eatin' in Lincoln mission. I'd also like to thank Sarah for joining the Eatin' in Lincoln staff and recounting her visit to Yang's Cafe below.




M13

by Sylvia

Ate at M13 Bistro yesterday since it is just around the corner from my work. I was worried about seating, but we ended up getting the only 4-person table in the place. I think the place only fits about 15 people or so...4 tables, a "counter seating" area, and a "couch" area for coffee. The Bistro also doubles as an art gallery. There were some interesting paintings and photos. Above our table was a very interesting pen and magic marker piece with Tupac Shakur lyrics on the side of it. Walking in, one of the rougher guys in our group complained how he thought it was "some tree-hugger place," and wouldn't go in if he were eating with just a group of guys.

With the lunch special, you can choose two of the following: 1/2 sandwich, 1/2 soup, 1/2 salad. I had the roast beef on a croissaint/green spring mix salad combo. Overall, it was a very good sandwich and salad. The greens just seemed very, um..interesting. In a good way. One friend had the same thing I had, and she wanted pick up every leaf of her salad like chips because it was just so fresh and green.

Another friend had smoked turkey on a parmesan bread w/cauliflower cheese soup, and his socks were totally knocked off. The final lunchmate had a whole roast beef sandwich on tomato basil bread . They were very impressed by the specialty bread. So much so, that the rougher guy said that he would not be afraid now to bring a group of men to "the tree-hugger place."

The non-salad eating lunchmates are bigger guys, and usually opt for buffetts or places that serve a full side of fries. I was very surprised when they both indicated the portions were filling. The amount of food just looks much smaller than one would usually eat. I'm sure the level of satisfaction was aided by the *free dessert* that comes with the eat-in lunch option. Dessert choices included fudge cake, apple pie, and a few other items that one forgets once anyone says the words "fudge cake" or "apple pie".

The soft drinks are served in the 20 oz bottles with a glass of ice. My lunchmates thought this was cool, because they both only drink about 12 oz at a time, and could take the remaining portion away with them.

The other items on the menu - coffees, teas, muffins and $1.25 desserts - would be perfect for just running out around the corner on a coffee break from work. For us, lunch, drink and tip tallied to about $7 each. No credit cards.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Lincoln Coffeehouses

One of the fine young men who own and operate Awesome, Inc. has posted his rankings of Lincoln's coffee joints.

I can't really argue with that list but I don't hang out in coffeehouses nearly as much as I did 12-13 years ago.

Yang's Cafe

by Sarah

As a teacher, I don't usually have time for going out for lunch, seeing as how I usually spend my lunch break hunched over a pile of papers shoveling a Lean Cuisine into my grill; but fall break afforded me the opportunity to check out Yang's Cafe yesterday. Located at the strip mall on 48th and R next to America's Best Contacts and Eye Glasses, the ambiance leaves a little to be desired. Think about every strip mall Chinese restaurant you've ever been to. It looks just like that.

Yang's claim to fame is their $4.75 lunch buffet. While the words "Chinese Buffet" usually cause me to physically recoil, this one has two things going for it that the other ones don't. First, it has a very limited selection: a dozen choices tops. Second, every single dish is quite good. My favorites are the hot and sour soup (it actually tastes both hot and sour-- a nice flavor), the crab rangoon (you can't have Americanized Chinese food without a good hunk of fried cream cheese), and my favorite favorite: the spicy pork and potatoes. It's shoestring potatoes stir-fried with pork and lots of red pepper flakes.

If you're looking for a cheap, fast and filling lunch, check out Yang's Cafe. Now if I could only find a decent place in Lincoln for Pad Thai...

Hidden Treasures?

I was reading a thread on a local message board today and someone said Lincoln doesn't have any hidden treasure-type restaurants. I disagree to a point. Whether there are any hidden gems depends on your level of local restaurant knowledge. To the person who eat's lunch at TGI Friday's and goes to Misty's once a month just about anything is a find.

I thought hard and came up with a few places I'd consider to be fairly obscure. As I was thinking about this post I picked up the DN and found that JJ had outed all three of my picks. Go figure.

Sinbad's on north 27th is my favorite hidden treasure. Even I forget about it. It's in the little strip mall also occupied by the Vietnamese AmericanFamily Insurance agent a few blocks south of Holdrege. I was there once about three years ago and it was quite a hole-in-the-wall with about 6 items on the menu. Even then the food was good, and cheap. I had huge lamb shank, rice and soup for about $6.

I went back earlier this year and discovered they'd expanded both the space and the menu, put in carpet and matching furniture and given the place a little bit of atmosphere. It's high on my recommend list now. Some of the highlights are anything lamb, the shawarma sandwiches (a more flavorful and aromatic Middle Eastern version of gyros but made with real identifiable meat), the intense garlic dip they give you in little cups and the soup. If I wasn't making Italian meatballs and polenta for dinner tonight I'd be there now.

A couple of other hidden treasures for me are Paul's BBQ in the gas station at 40th & A and Pho Nguyen, the Vietnamese place in the strip mall on north 27th south of Imperial Palace.

What are your hidden gems on the Lincoln restaurant scene?