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On The Border

Jose Tejas, the incongruously named Border Café that give the illusion of not being a chain, rules the Tex-Mex scene in Middlesex County. It’s always packed, the parking lot overflowing well past the time other restaurants in the area are thinning out for the night. Chevy’s in nearby Linden doesn’t really compare, so we kept going south down Route 1 until we hit On the Border in New Brunswick where you can always see a new movie in an uncrowded multiplex.

Not surprising for a Saturday night, the restaurant was bustling and we were quoted a short wait. What I was surprised by was the predominantly Indian clientele. That’s why I like New Jersey so much. Sure, it’s the suburbs but it’s not the all-American West Coast suburbs of my youth. The setting would've been ripe for painful Outsourced-style humor involving Sikh turbans.

On the border apps

The chicken-and-cheese stuffed jalapeños (they didn’t call them poppers) aren’t so different from mirchi bajji, really.

On the border fajita

Their fall Hatch chiles menu is kind of on trend. This year in particular, they’ve been getting a lot of press. The weird thing was that I didn’t really taste the green chile and I didn’t expect cheese on my grilled meat. Of course, melted cheese in the trademark of any fine chain, but I was asked if I wanted cheese or guacamole, and I went for the latter if only to lower my cholesterol marginally.

I ordered one agave margarita, which tasted bitter and lingered like it contained artificial sweetener. My second, a standard version, tasted exactly the same, so then I was confused. I will say that one thing Jose Tejas definitely has over On the Border is the margaritas.

On The Border * 51 US 1, New Brunswick, NJ


Orphans in the Kitchen

Justlikemom Oh no, youngsters in Europe could become “kitchen orphans” because their parents aren’t cooking anymore. Since 1937 there has been a decline in “the nurturing, bourgeois home cooking for which French women have always been admired.”

Luckily, I had just read about Super Marmite, a French website where home cooks can sell their leftovers, minutes before seeing the Wall Street Journal piece. I don’t know that I would buy food from strangers because I’m distrustful that way (not from a sanitation standpoint, but a do we share similar tastes perspective) but apparently there’s a market for such things.

Bangkok: Goth & Animal-Style


The person behind Plearnwan, a baffling-for-foreigners (i.e. me) faux old-timey theme park with food but no rides in Hua Hin, has developed a goth mall for Bangkok called Mansion 7. I’m certain I would enjoy it even if I didn’t fully understand what was trying to be accomplished.

Casinoroyale Having just opened on Halloween, I don’t think all of the restaurants are open yet. However, I do like the sound of papaya salad catered to different blood types from Somtumized and kanom jeen at Krueng-Zen made with black rice noodles.

So far, the only food report I’ve found (in English at least) is from My "Sous-Vide Life" who ate at the international restaurant, Casino Royale. The non-surprising verdict: just so-so.

But my god, they’re serving “animal fries,” a crinkle cut mess smothered in sautéed onions, American cheese and thousand island dressing that bears more than a passing resemblance to a dish served at a little Californian chain you may have heard of.


Along with the chicken caesar salad, duck confit and pork chop also advertised on a blackboard menu, I see black cod miso. That specialties from In-N-Out and Nobu could comingle at the same eatery, is one reason why Thailand is so great.

Interior photo from the Mansion 7 Facebook page

Dining pics from My "Sous-Vide" Life

You Completo Me


Ease up, New York Post. You too would think New York City hot dogs were only “so-so” if you were used to eating them Chilean-style, smothered in mayonnaise and mashed avocados.

Try a completo for yourself at Astoria’s San Antonio Bakery. I forgot to take a photo of the hot dog, though. (I'm not a big hot dog eater.)

Luckily, Robyn Lee's (that's her pic above) Chilean sandwich post on Serious Eats provides some nice visual evidence.

Lotus of Siam NY

1/2 Assessing a restaurant like Lotus of Siam, which popped up out of nowhere in a shocking I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant style, is problematic. Do you compare it to the Las Vegas original even though it’s a different beast? I prefer the strip mall version. Do you match it against the existing Thai restaurants in the city? I still favor Chao Thai or Sripraphai in Queens.

Based on the opening week tasting menu—yes, I’m curious to see the variety and pricing of the regular entrees—Lotus of Siam presents Thai food that ranges the gamut from regional Issan specialties to fancified inventions. And they’re most successful when focusing on those two ends of the spectrum. The most disappointing dish turned out to be a generic green curry, something I wouldn’t normally order anywhere of my own accord even in Thailand.

Lotus of siam tuna koi soy

Tuna koi soy, a tartare, was the dish I was most concerned about when looking at the menu online, and it ended up being one of the most distinctly Thai flavored things I ate all night. Herby with vegetal lime leaf undertones, toasted rice powder chalkiness and a powerfully hot chile punch, this was a promising start. If this was what they could create with done to death tuna tartare (I really hope there’s not a molten cake on the menu) my fears would all be misplaced.

Lotus of siam nam kao tod

Two of the four starters–nam kao tod and koong sarong–were things I’d eaten before in Vegas, so that was also a good sign. The tangy crispy rice with sausage that’s really more like cubed ham was fun and so were the tiki-esque fried bacon-wrapped shrimp enrobed in wonton skins with sweet-chile dipping sauce.

Lotus of siam apps

The satay was perfunctory (it’s also one of those items I never order because it’s rarely exciting and well, Malaysians and Singaporeans just do it better because they own it) and the pik kai yao sai, crispy chicken stuffed with its own meat and vegetables was solid, if not a bit Chinese in nature.

The rest of the tasting menu, two choices per course, was arbitrarily dispensed. I sampled both but only took photos of what was put in front of me first. Oddly enough, in nearly every case I was given the dish I would’ve chosen for myself.

Tom yum koong

The tom yum koong was appropriately salty, spicy and funky. I was pleased to see the shrimp head bobbing in the amber broth. It adds a welcome bitterness.

Lotus of siam soft shell crab yum

The soft shell crab yum using julienned green and red apples instead of shredded papaya is where they started to lose me. I might’ve been sold if the dish had heat to balance the fruit’s sweetness but there wasn’t even a speck of chile, fresh, powdered or flaked. If someone presented this to me as a nice salad and didn’t say it was Thai, I would’ve liked it more.

Lotus of siam scallops krathiam prik thai

Scallops krathiam prik thai were an interesting diversion that came across as refined in presentation yet still Thai in flavor. The swamp green sludge was a viscous paste of cilantro, garlic and black pepper that was pungent but didn’t overwhelm the seafood.

Lotus of siam kang khiao wan

I’m glad they incorporated Thai apple eggplant (I wouldn’t been ecstatic over those little pea-shaped ones) and that’s the only nice thing I can say about the kang khiao wan. It was like a bowl of water with stuff in it and even the stuff tasted like water. Then again, I just really dislike chicken breast. (This didn’t even come close to the anger-inducing chicken breast I was served at Spoon Thai in Chicago, though.) Tofu would’ve had more appeal. The packet of (unopened) curry paste I bought at Aw Taw Kaw eight months ago and rediscovered in my fridge’s crisper drawer the night before this meal made a better curry.  The red curry beef, the other option for this course, was much more robust so I am not completely writing off Lotus of Siam’s curries.

Lotus of siam coconut ice cream

Thankfully, we were served a nice traditional scoop of coconut ice cream topped with strips of coconut meat, mango and “red rubies,” a.k.a. water chestnuts coated in gelatinous pink tapioca starch and not molten cake. The common street vendor dessert might seem out of place on Fifth Avenue, but it brought me back to what Lotus of Siam is about.

Lotus of Siam is also a wine conscious restaurant, one of the strongest differentiators from NYC Thai, and I was happy to drink a few glasses of Reinhold Haart Riesling with my meal. There is also an on trend cocktail list, which I don’t think exists in Vegas.

I have not tried Kin Shop yet, but it will be interesting to compare it to this experience since I think Lotus of Siam is closer in intent to that restaurant than most of the existing Thai venues in NYC.

Lotus of Siam * 248 Fifth Ave., New York, NY


Chain Links: Turkey Ham Subs


Ad from the Kuwait Subway Facebook page

In Asia-to-Asia expansion, South Korean burger chain, Lotteria (which sounds totally Mexican) will be bringing their “signature bulgogi and shrimp burgers served on compressed rice buns” to Indonesia. Seems a little MOS Burger to me.  [Jakarta Globe]

Not to be outdone by Yo! Sushi, England’s Wagamama will also be spreading through the US (they already have Boston locations) and like gangbusters. 650 sites? [Big Hospitality via Eater]

Tasti D-Lite seems like one of the most dreary purveyors in the city. I don’t really consider frozen yogurt food even though it’s a popular office lady lunch. Australia can have it. Good luck with your “fastest-growing overweight and obesity rates.” []

Shouldn’t Kuwait already have a Quiznos? They definitely have Subway, and with home delivery. We don’t even have that in NYC.  []


Chipotle, but Asian

Panda-Express Chipotle's  founder, chairman, and co-CEO, Steve Ells, will be debuting an Asian restaurant next year.

What, Baorrito wasn't enough?

Eataly, but Asian

Penang Hawker Food Makansutra’s KF Seetoh has been getting around. He was in NYC schooling Julia Mokin on bbq stingray, talking coffee with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (hey, they used my Ya Kun Kaya Toast photo to illustrate this post), eating pizza (and I’m not sure what else because I don’t have the Gourmet Live app) with Erin Zimmer and who knows what else.

I loved Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay in Singapore (not pictured–that’s Gurney Drive in Penang) so if anyone could reproduce a hawker center here it would be Seetoh. In The New York Times he speculated: “Like Eataly, but with hawkers.” Yes, please.

Opening a hawker center with imported chefs, produce, whatever it takes, has always been my if I were a crazy rich person fantasy. But because I’m not extroverted I imagined it being more like Neverland, a culinary theme park for myself, select guests and a few child stars, not so much as a line-out-the-door Eataly. I’m not saying that a massive Malaysian food hall wouldn’t be the coolest thing in NYC (though I see that bombastic retail format being more mainland Chinese than Malaysian), it’s just that I wouldn’t want to share it with like eight million people.

Not that that could happen any time soon (plus, I can’t think of any good food puns involving Malaysia or Singapore off the top of my head). Yes, we may have banh mi at Pret a Manger now, but Americans are still eating Thai food with chopsticks and ordering neon-sauced, battered-and-fried sweet and sour pork nuggets (in fact, I ate some Halloween night at P.F. Chang’s). The closest most are coming to anything Singaporean are those yellow curry-powdered noodles that are to Singapore what English muffins are to the British Isles.

It’s going to take some time before char kway teow becomes the new pad thai.

Gurney hawkers photo from A Story to Be Told

Home Cooks, Real Cooks & Moms

Thanksgivingcan Almost 40% of “Real Cooks” cook every day. I guess the remaining majority eats raw or prepared foods?

Sixty-six percent of “home cooks” will make their Thanksgiving meal from scratch this year compared to 55% last year. So, people are getting their holiday dishes from Boston Market or a can or am I misunderstanding how Americans now celebrate Thanksgiving?

Moms are finding it easier to get their families to eat fruit at restaurants (37% in 2010 vs. 29% in 2008) but they’ve been less successful with encouraging vegetable-eating when dining out (43% in 2010 vs. 45% in 2008). It makes me wonder where dads fit into the equation. I can only assume lumped in with the kiddies as “family.”

A mom’s work is never done. Getting kids to eat fruit and vegetables is “not easy,” “a constant battle,” or “impossible” according to 56% of them. Ninety percent of kids enjoy apples, though.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner photo from Merrick Pet Foods