About Me

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Lansing, Michigan, United States
I am a Lansing townie, lawyer, and restaurant reviewer for the City Pulse. I love traveling, reading, yoga, and baking, but my favorite hobby is stuffing my face.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Red Cedar Grill

A few weeks ago, I took my future sister-in-law for manicures, pedicures, and lunch. She had never had a manicure or pedicure before, which blew me away, but she grew up on a farm (on a FARM!) so I will cut her some slack. The nail overhaul happened at Kiss Nails on Grand River at Hagadorn in East Lansing, which is my favorite nail salon. It's super clean, they do a great job, and the massage chairs are not kidding around. You could have muscle soreness the next day.

She had to go to work shortly after lunch, so we decided to hit Red Cedar Grill in Williamson for her convenience (and because I had a Groupon). I had been there once before, for dinner and drinks, but I have no recollection whatsoever what my entree was.

What I did remember, thankfully, was the roasted garlic appetizer. When the two of us sat down for lunch, I put an order in for this appetizer immediately and we never looked back. This app comes with two heads of garlic that have been roasted almost to sweetness, and although you have to wrestle the garlic out of its skin, it is totally worth it. The ciabatta bread is crunchy and buttery and awesome. I happen to despise most varieties of cheese and all varieties of roasted red peppers, so those went virtually untouched on the platter while H and I destroyed any chance of having non-offensive breath for the rest of the day.

The regular rolls and butter were ignored. The ciabatta smeared in garlic was our sole focus.

For her lunch, H ordered the macaroni and cheese with chicken. As previously mentioned, I am not a cheese person and I think mac and cheese is gross, but the chicken looked great and she said the dish was good. She was stuffed from the garlic-laden bread and took most of her lunch to go.

I had the chicken and provolone sandwich, at the suggestion of the waitress. I removed the provolone. The chicken was good, but the pesto was totally overpowering. Also, if I had been using my brain when I ordered, I would have realized that I wasn't going to want to eat a sandwich after scarfing down a loaf of ciabatta, and I would have gone with the meatloaf. Next time.

H wanted dessert and I didn't want to stand in her way, so we decided on the carrot cake. My strong critiques of carrot cake deserve an explanation- I make a bomb carrot cake. I don't really think that any restaurant's carrot cake can hold a candle to what I make. I have always been disappointed with restaurant carrot cake.

Red Cedar Grill's cake was good, but what makes it really stand out is the SIZE of that thing! They give you, literally, a small cake. It could easily provide dessert for five people. The frosting was ok, the cake was moist, but didn't knock my socks off. The golden raisins were a nice touch.

We had about 3/4 of the dessert left, so H packed that up too. Red Cedar Grill- good, if you are heading out to Williamston and you want the garlic appetizer. I bet their dinner selections are better than their lunch. Not my favorite, but not bad.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Habeas Dessert- Sushi Showdown

*The "Habeas Dessert" articles come from a series of columns that I write for my law school newspaper.

            There comes a time in life when you have to decide whether or not you are going to eat sushi. Not the wimpy rolls full of cream cheese, crab, and smoked salmon, but the ones covered in raw fish with slivers of eel and fish eggs. If you decide that you are indeed a sushi person, you’re going to love the Greater Lansing area. While the area isn’t really known for its worldly cuisine, there is a surprisingly large number of sushi restaurants to choose from. For this issue, we focused on two of the most popular restaurants- Sansu in East Lansing and Maru in Okemos.

            Sansu is extremely popular with the Michigan State crowd. They offer a 20% discount to students, including Cooley students, every Tuesday, and the place is a madhouse. Make a reservation. A recent Friday night dinner started with the avocado boats- halved avocado stuffed with crab and tuna, tempura battered. I could have eaten these for dinner. I could eat these for breakfast. They were fantastic. I always order edamame when having sushi and I knew that Sansu has a great garlic edamame that’s not on the menu. The garlic adds a little kick and it’s worth requesting from your server.

            We had the ubiquitous salad and miso soup, which was nothing special. Bigger chunks of tofu in the soup would be welcome. That was followed up with salmon and yellowtail tuna sashimi, which came in huge quantities. If there are only two diners, one order of sashimi will be more than enough. We soldiered on and made our way through a massive platter of rolls, including the Green Dragon roll, the Champagne roll, and the Calamari roll. The Champagne roll is a favorite of the Sansu faithful, with good reason. The roll had tuna, salmon, white tuna, avocado, and is tempura battered. After several visits to Sansu, I believe that this is the best roll on the menu.

            The Green Dragon roll had eel and cucumber, topped with avocado. I could take it or leave it. The Calamari roll included, of course, calamari, which was lightly battered and delicious. With our stomachs already stuffed, but willing to sacrifice ourselves in the name of research, my companion and I ordered the green tea ice cream. It was underwhelming. The owners of Sansu also own Chapelure, a bakery that is near the restaurant. If you can still entertain the thought of dessert, walk around the corner and have a piece of their cake instead.

            The two of us had about 15 pieces of sushi to take home. They made a great lunch the next day. Sansu is in the Hannah Plaza on
Hagadorn Road
. Without asking you to rely on this statement and opening myself up to an accusation of libel, I’ve heard that Sansu sometimes freezes their fish. If true, this is tantamount to a sin amongst sushi fans, but I’ve never had any complaints about the freshness of what I ordered.

            The next week I continued my sushi crawl and met two other friends for lunch at Maru in Okemos. Maru is one of the newest players in the Lansing sushi market and has been making a splash with their “Sushi Happy Hour,” where every day they offer select rolls at half price. Find them on Facebook or Twitter to get the happy hour updates.

            We started with the calamari, which came in big rings with a spicy aioli sauce. The sauce was delicious and we kept the bowl on the table to eat throughout the meal. The salmon sashimi was the freshest I have ever had and was complimented by the salad and miso soup, which included massive chunks of tofu. One companion, a sushi novice and unadventurous eater, had the lunch special of Philly and Cali rolls. I don’t care for cream cheese and declined to sample these rolls, but they looked like average, well-prepared sushi for the wimpy eater. He enjoyed them.

            My other companion had the Papa Crema roll. This too included cream cheese, but I couldn’t resist chopsticking a piece for myself. The roll was made of crab, smoked salmon, avocado, the above-mentioned cream cheese, and was tempura battered. It was topped with slices of sweet potato, which seemed an odd combination but was a welcome addition. It was delicious.

            I had the Cosmo roll- a shrimp tempura roll topped with tuna, avocado, scallions, masago, honey wasabi aioli and spicy mayo. It was good, but my favorite remains the Soy Joy- spicy tuna, albacore, and cucumber with tempura and soy paper. It is sprinkled with edamame and it is worth the drive to Okemos. Maru is across the street from the Meridian Mall at
5100 Marsh Road
. The service is fantastic and the green tea always tastes so much better than what I make at home. They have a full bar. The restaurant seats less than 100 people, so plan ahead or make a reservation. I would be happy to join you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Special Announcement

I will be eating at the 1913 Room on April 8. This is slated to be one of the most highly-anticipated meals of life. The restaurant is closing soon to be converted into a Ruth's Criss, and while I am totally willing to eat the ass end out of a delicious steak at Ruth's Criss, I need to experience the 1913 Room.

I have already started to memorize their menu and am thrilled to see a rabbit entree.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Akagi Sushi

A few days ago I was tooling around Okemos running errands. It was lunchtime and I immediately thought of Maru, my favorite sushi restaurant, but they happened to be closed when I happened to be hungry. I remembered a friend telling me about another sushi restaurant in the area, and while I couldn't remember the name, I remembered the general vicinity. I drove around the corner and found Akagi Sushi in a little plaza, open and ready to rumble.

The place is small and obviously isn't trying to attract the same clientele that Sansu and Maru compete for (namely, MSU students.) It's not sexy, the menu isn't too extensive, and there aren't descriptions of many of the rolls. I ordered tea (because whenever I make green tea at home it tastes like dirt) and asked the waitress what her favorite roll was. She recommended the spicy tuna and avocado hand roll, so I ordered one of those along with a piece of yellowtail nigiri and a piece of salmon nigiri.

The hand roll was great. These are different from what my friends typically order when we go for sushi and you might be a little freaked out when you first see it- it is a big piece of seaweed, wrapped around rice, spicy sauce, slices of avocado, and tuna. You pick it up and eat it like a taco. Or, at least I did. And I didn't hear any outbursts of laughter.

The nigiri was pretty good. The miso soup left me crying for more tofu, but I was happy to see tons of seaweed floating around. While I was eating, the old man making the rolls brought me a sample of their white tuna nigiri. He melted my heart and the white tuna was good. I sat and read the newspaper and was happy I went in. It's not the slick, shiny restaurant that is the wonderful Maru, but Akagi is on my radar and I will be happy to go back.

*Akagi is in the strip mall with Cancun Mexican Grill around the corner from the Meridian Mall, towards Wal-Mart. With tea, the two pieces of nigiri, miso soup and the hand roll, my bill was $11.08, which I thought was totally reasonable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Visiting Chefs 2

The night following the cooking demonstration, said friend and I returned to the Kellogg Center for the second night of the Cathy Whims Visiting Chefs series. This time it was dinner and it was served in the State Room (where I have never eaten. I'm not sure why.)

We were seated next to a pompous asshole who insisted on the waitress showing him the label of every wine bottle from which she poured. He would then make ridiculous comments to his wife like "Ahh yes, I thought this was a Vietti Barbera." What... a lucky lady. The table behind us boasted a professor-type who was talking loudly about an "aggressive atheist and his life partner." His combover spoke for itself.

This was the night that two amazing things happened- I rekindled my love for chicken livers and I ate a massive quantity of the most tender beef I have ever had in my life. Here was the menu:

three crostini- tuscan chicken livers, candied tomatoes and ricotta, chickpea and potato.
peposo (peppery beef hunter's stew) with caramelized turnip puree.
mint straciatella gelato.

The crostini-
all three of them were delicious, but I could have made a meal out of the chicken livers. They were unbelievable. The candied tomato was a distant second, mostly interesting because the tomato was roasted into actual sweetness.

The ribollita-
this is a white bean stew. I absolutely love beans. It was good. As per usual, I added a lot of salt.

The beef was THE BEST BEEF I HAVE EVER HAD. I took my first forkful (the meat was so tender that I never picked up my knife) and I died. The texture was absolutely incredible and my friend, who doesn't eat red meat, suddenly became the best dinner companion in the history of the world when it occurred to me that I get to eat hers, too! The thought of taking up stomach space with turnip puree never crossed my mind as we switched plates and I gorged myself on beef. Out of this world.

The mint gelato was also delicious and I have never been more knocked out by the taste of fresh mint. The wine was actually an afterthought for me, but don't get me wrong- I drank it. We were served four wine pairings, including a great sparkling dessert wine.

I am obsessed with the Visiting Chefs series now. I want to go to every single one. The tickets to the dinner were $75 per person, which is actually kind of inexplicable to me because we definitely ate a comparable amount of food the night before. Whatever. I will pay them whatever they want for beef like that.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Visiting Chefs 1 and an Introduction

I love to eat. I grew up in a typical family having typical American food like lots of pot roasts, chicken, and egg salad. After I graduated from college I spent a year in France, where I finally learned something about food. Namely, that I can cook it, and that most restaurants don't offer much that I can't do myself at home for less money and less calories.

I can cook and bake. I do both of these things regularly, but I love to eat out and I think I'm pretty good at it.

Last week a friend and I went to the Visiting Chefs series at the Kellogg Center. The visiting chef was Cathy Whims from Nostrana restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The first night of the two-night event was a "cooking demonstration," and we weren't quite sure what to expect. When we got to the Kellogg we joined about 150 people in one of the big rooms, set up with long tables. We sat at one of the tables and watched Chef Cathy on stage in the front of the room. For about two hours she cooked, talked, took questions from the audience, and we were served samples of what she was cooking on stage.

The menu was:
insalata Nostrana- she described it as a Caesar-type salad, but made with radicchio
Fabio's creamy creamless squash soup
stewed pork with porcini mushrooms and juniper, served with polenta with parmigiano-reggiano cheese
panna cotta, topped with apple compote with apricots

I am a lover of all vegetables and the radicchio salad was no exception. I am not, however, a lover of most squash soups. I find them to be too sweet. This one was pureed with potato and tempered with hot pepper flakes, which took away some of the sweetness. The pork, sadly, didn't blow me away. What I took away from that part of the demonstration was a lesson in how to cook polenta. It is dead easy, which I hadn't expected. Bob's Red Mill polenta will be going into my repertoire.

The panna cotta was absolutely the star of this show. If you're not familiar with panna cotta, I would describe it as kind of a yogurt-y mini flan. It is a dessert that you make the day before (by combining gelatin, cream, vanilla, yogurt, and oil) and then let sit in the refrigerator overnight in individual ramekins. It's not too sweet, not difficult to make, and I scraped my plate. You could top this with anything- lemon curd, something chocolate, the apple compote that Chef Cathy made, or eat it plain with maybe a little espresso on the side. Delicious.

The tickets to the cooking demonstration were $60 per person. Aside from all the food we were also given wine pairings and copies of all the recipes (mine are covered with copious notes.) It was brilliant, Chef Whims was engaging and easy to follow and the crowd was enthusiastic. We loved it.