Sunday, March 25, 2007

Vietnamese Wedding Food

Price: Ridiculously high for whoever's paying.
Rating: *** / *****

I am writing this review from beyond the grave. You see, a funny thing happened to me yesterday. While at my friend's house, she made me watch 15 minutes of Stick It, an inspirational coming of age story of a gymnast. I'm not what one would consider a movie snob. I've seen more movies with Amy Jo Johnson in it than I care to admit and regularly quote Billy Madison to friends and strangers alike. I even sat through Bring It On to get a glimpse of some Eliza Dushku boobage. But this movie...this movie had dialogue that put me in a fugue state where I became responsible for everything you saw on the news today. Trouble in the Middle East? That was me. Elder neglect? They're breathing our air. HIV outbreak in Orange County? You better believe I didn't wrap up. And then I killed myself to ensure that I would never have to sit through that again.

A Vietnamese wedding is actually a lot like Stick It. It starts off painfully slow, with a barrage of strangers that you have never seen or heard of in your life generally gabbing it up with other strangers. Everyone appears to be eager to be seated, lest they have to interact for a long period of time with others like myself who are only there to eat. What's even worse, the watered down fruit punch doesn't have a trace of alcohol. And for the handful of gringo folk that are invariably present at each one of these things, the time before reception starts is a fascinating ordeal. As they are greeted with stares and broken English, I could envision them saying, "Listen, buddy, if you want small talk I got your small talk right here(cue the crotch chop)." Good times.

But also like Stick It, the eye candy to entertainment ratio is sorely lacking. The band is so unenthused that they look like they had spent the last two weeks getting prescriptions for horse tranquilizers. The god, the singers. They all sing like William Hung, and only the one who doesn't sing like William Hung actually is William Hung. Thankfully, my headphones drowned out most of the noise as I enjoyed the meal.

What you must understand is that Vietnamese weddings tend to take place in restaurants and not halls or churches. This wouldn't seem so odd to me, except that every wedding serves the exact same food. Right down to the very garnish. I am reminded of the scene in The Simpsons when Homer is touring the Duff factory and we see that Duff Dry, Duff Light, and Duff are coming from the same funnel. Either wedding chefs aren't very creative, or there is secret underground assembly line for this stuff. And the saddest part of it all? The cooks are all Mexican.

"Get to the fucking food, Ace."

Alright, alright. Without further ado, the food accompanied by bad pictures taken in the worst lighting possible for foodstuffs. You get the idea of what it is, though, so stop complaining.

1. Seven Star Cold Platter: Ah yes, the ubiquitous seven star cold plate. I'm not going pretend that I know everything on the plate, but I know I generally avoid most of it. Basically, there are seven different meats on a bed of greens. I'm not too fond of this as an appetizer, mostly because I don't care much for the different cuts of sausages, hams and mystery meats as a precursor to tastier items. For the record, I have no idea what those things are in the picture but they were pretty good. One is meaty and the other is very refreshing and stringy...whatever they are.

2. Shark Fin Soup w/ Crab: Another Asian favorite typically served on special occasions. If you've never had it, the texture of the soup might seem a bit strange. It is both stringy and gelatinous while going down very smoothly. Coupled with diced crab meat and hearty chunks of mushroom, it is a mildly flavored but very fine soup. Sorry Yao, but if sharks didn't want to be hunted they shouldn't have produced such delicious fins.

3. Honey Shrimp w/ Walnut: This really could have been dessert(and probably should have considering their choice of dessert) but is instead placed as a starter of sorts before the heavier items came in. The immediate thing you notice with the honey shrimp is that the coating is almost crunchy. Since the shrimp is also very firm, this makes for an interesting culinary experience. The coating is made with real honey, which was strong but not overbearing on the taste buds. It was very pleasant, but not something you would eat a lot of. The shrimp ball is just shrimp paste deep fried; pretty much standard Chinese buffet or dim sum fair. I found it to be a bit too salty, but maybe that was their intention to offset the sweetness of the honey shrimp and candied walnut.

4. Roasted Duck w/ Seafood: "Hey chef, what do you want me to do with these?"
"Well, what do you have there? I already finished the menu."
"Really? Uh...well, I have some ducks...a bag of frozen calamari, shrimp, and some broccoli."
"Just throw those all in an oven together and I'm sure it'll be fine."
"...But sir! These ingredients don't really go well together. I mean, the duck would taste horrible drowning in the sauce of everything else."
"Oh, come on, it'll be fine! They won't even notice. It's not like there's an F-list internet food critic out there that's going to expose me crappy dish. Ahahahahaha...ahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

5. Fried Lobster: This is the crown jewel. The dish where you have to make sure to clear out your area so that the waiter puts the plate next to you before all of the hungry guests have at it. Chances are you only get one shot at the plate, so you have to pick out the good pieces. I secured several meaty parts along with the head which I enjoy immensely. It is a whole giant lobster that they chop up and stir fry in a seasoned batter until it is perfect and delicious. Some green onions are tossed in there too. And to think, lobsters were actually known as poor people's food before over fishing caused the population to dwindle. If only those jackasses knew what they were doing.

6. Fish w/ Fried Rice: There is no more fitting way to end a Vietnamese meal than with fish and rice. This is nothing groundbreaking here. The fish is fried and lying on a tangy sauce which goes well with the spicy jalapeno slices. The fried rice is your typical fried rice with pieces of shrimp and sweet Chinese sausage. There are some previously frozen peas and carrots tossed in for good measure, though they neither add nor detract to the meal.

7. Taro Root: This was just kind of there as a palette cleanser. It was so irrelevant, I didn't bother taking a picture of it. It was purple and starchy and kind of tasted like mashed potatoes that were mixed with corn starch. And then covered in a gelatinous milky syrup of mixed nuts. Was someone watching porn when they thought this thing up?

All in all, a decent meal that was not a culinary orgasm that one would hope for. Anyway...things to learn from this review: Don't watch Stick It unless you want to ruin yours and everyone else's lives, Ace can be unintentionally racist, and most importantly, you can't think up good desserts when watching porn. Words to live by.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stouffer's Meat Loaf and Mashed Potatoes

Price: $2.50
Rating: **** / *****

I didn't realize that the meatloaf was in a ketchup sauce until after I bought it. I didn't like the idea of ketchup sauce because I thought it would just taste like ketchup. Ketchup on a loaf of meat. This may seem normal for people who ate meatloaf growing up, but I had only seen it on television. I am reminded of the Boy Meets World episode where that leeching rebel Shawn refused to eat the meatloaf that Cory snuck into the room because it didn't have ketchup on it. "It's like a brick," he said. Well, fuck you Shawn. The guy's just trying to feed you after you ran away for the sixth time that season. You were always a flake and I laughed wholeheartedly whenever you had to talk to Mr. Feeny, a man who would've lost all will to live if you were real, for guidance. If I ever see you on the street I'm going to slap you for your formulaic plotlines and predictable teenage angst. And before I strike you, I'm going to sharpie the word "life" on my hand and make you think about the symbolism. Oh, the irony will be lost on the spectators but I will revel in my wit!

...but wait. The meatloaf.

Doesn't mean that this meal is a hamburger without the bun? Stouffer's sold me a bunless least that's what I thought. I was seconds away from taking my homemade molotov cocktails down to the meatloaf factory, but I decided to give it a shot. Thankfully, it was a lot better than a bun-less hamburger at McDonalds. While I thoroughly enjoyed 29 cent hamburger wednesday in my childhood, it's not something I'd like to eat with mashed potatoes.

The sauce was mildly tangy like ketchup, but had a more natural beef juice(this is more appetizing in reality than in print) and real tomato taste. The loaf of meat had discernable chunks of celery, bell pepper, and tomatoes, and none of them were overpowering. I was quite pleased with the moisture of the substantially thick loaf, as it was not like a brick at all. This part of the meal went great with the mashed potatoes, which were decent even though the dash of the paprika they shake on top was rather worthless. I ended up licking my plate of ketchup sauce; quite a grotesque sight for anyone peering through the window, but delightful for my pallette.

I thought the meal was a bit small at first, but for a meal under 10 ounces, it really filled me up. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that this was due to the richness of the meal and not because I had a bag of cheesy puffs while throwing the thing in the microwave. Somehow five minutes in the microwave always seems like an eternity, doesn't it? I reccomend this meal for those who are looking for comfort food that's actually flavorful. And for the rest of you: find a soul you heartless animal.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nong Shim Kim Chi Bowl Noodles

Price: $.80
Rating: *** / *****

While playing poker, a friend of a friend told me that his idea of a perfect lunch was a cup of noodles and a sandwich. Apart they are nothing more than common food...but together, they bring balance and contrast to make your meal interesting. I, being rather drunk at the time, found his statement to be incredibly profound. So profound, in fact, that I loudly declared that I was stealing his idea to write a review. Well, fast forward a few months and I finally wrote it. Since I have already reviewed cup noodles in the past, I decided to go with bowl of noodles to try this little experiment. To make it a meal, I ate it with a Vietnamese sandwich made with barbecued pork, pickled daikon and carrots, jalapenos, cilantro, and French bread(I'll probably review that sometime too).

So this is truly a cheap meal...costing less than 3 dollars in all and big enough to fill the biggest appetites for breakfast or lunch. For those of you not familiar with the Korean treat known as kimchi, it is basically brined cabbage that is traditionally fermented for a long period of time in large jars. Magically, it comes out crunchy and extremely spicy. This may or may not sound appetizing, but either way, this soup mix for the noodles don't really taste like kimchi. It's basically a spicy broth that'll probably burn your mouth if you put the whole packet in. I, being a wuss, usually only use 3/4ths of the soup powder. It doesn't make me any less of a man, it just means that I have sensitive lips. No, I don't think that last sentence sounded queer at all. Anyways, the lesson is: add accordingly!

The appeal of noodles in a plastic bowl is that they're noodles in a plastic bowl. By definition, there is nothing that tops that in the awesomeness or convenience meter. The best ones are the ones that come with a fold-up fork that can barely lift a few strands of noodles at a time. It is extremely impractical, but the novelty value alone is worth the price of purchase. While most ramen noodles come in the form of a brick, these noodles are shaped like a small discus and are packaged with a single seasoning pouch. I noticed that the ubiquitous pouch of fat was missing in this particular brand. The texture is also quite a bit different from regular instant noodles. I found them to be rather soft, though they held up quite well and didn't inflate with the soup as most noodles do. It was different, but pretty good. I prefer a little more texture in my noodles.

In the end, I find my life basically unchanged. This experience did not give me an epiphany as I hoped it would, but I must say that this and the Vietnamese sandwich it made for a pretty good combination. Try this instead of the usual tomato soup/grilled cheese combo sometime.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

McDonalds Deluxe Breakfast

Price: $4.69 (I'm for it too. ::Rimshot::)
Rating: ** / *****

I go to McDonalds roughly 5 times a day(for this reason I was unimpressed with the premise of Super Size Me) but rarely have I ordered anything off of their breakfast menu. Here's a sad, sad fact: I once asked for a chicken sandwich at 10:00 a.m., but since they weren't serving lunch until 10:30 I just parked my car until I could get my hands on one. It was worth it. So since I've never actually eaten a Deluxe Breakfast at McDonalds, I thought I'd review it for you fine people.

I would call it breakfast for lazy people, but then they came out with the McGriddle and turned my whole world upside down. Not only are people too lazy to cook their own breakfast, now they're too lazy to eat their own breakfast. The next step? The McSyringe: the only meal you'll have an excuse for not sharing! I'm lovin' it.

I ordered it with orange juice as I am a wuss who didn't want to singe his taste buds early in the morning. Along with that, I was handed a ridiculously sized bag with handles on it. I opened it to see the contents: a covered styrofoam plate, a bag with a hash brown in it, two thing-a-mabubs of butter, and what looked to be a half pint of syrup. I made sure not to open the plate, as that would've released the smell into my pristine car, but it was no use. The smell was intoxicating...not in a good way, but in a carbon monoxide type of way. The drive from McDonalds to school is less than five minutes and I still had to put the windows down to ensure that I wouldn't collapse in a heap onto the steering wheel.

Despite being light-headed from the contents of the bag(which should have been my first warning), I proceeded to walk to the food court and have a seat with my giant bag of McDonalds. Along the way I saw people looking at my prize in amazement, I knew they envied me in this way. The whispers permeated the air and greeted my waiting ears.

("Oh my God! That guy has McDonalds..." "Where'd he get that huge bag of food? I'm stuck with a sandwich..." "I...I must have him...")

Ah, to be young and powerful.

Now where was I?


Oh yeah, I had a seat and opened the mystery box of breakfast goodies. What greeted me were eggs, a single strip of bacon, a sausage patty, an English muffin, and two pancakes. With the addition of the hash brown, it was complete. To be honest, I've had way bigger breakfasts in diners. "How dare you call yourself deluxe?" I asked out loud. I scoffed at the name and proceeded to dig into what I felt would be an easy conquest.

Let me tell you something: the Deluxe Breakfast doesn't take any shit from internet food critics. McDonalds apparently found a way to condense a dozen eggs into the size of a playing card, because those were the densest and most filling eggs I've ever had. The pancakes, draped in syrup and dabbed with butter, managed to beat me into submission before I got halfway through it. The oily hash brown seemed to be impossible to stomach as it seemed to be poached in a vat of oil for about 2 hours too long. I didn't even manage to finish the single strip of bacon presented to me. It haunts me still, that bacon, which I foolishly nibbled on before being emasculated from the rest of the meal.

I only managed to finish about half. So I guess it is deluxe after all. I wouldn't say that it's bad per se, but the combination of ultra-thick and overcooked eggs along with oily hash browns makes it unworthy of a purchase. For the price, you can get much better breakfasts elsewhere. I guess this one has the advantage of coming in a wickedly cool styrofoam container, but that can't be too environmentally sound. Plus, you run the risk of wrapping your car around a telephone pole if you are driving in a closed vehicle with this thing. Do yourself a favor and avoid the Deluxe Breakfast if you value your consciousness or your stomach.