Maru sushi on a snowy night

Last night, our plan to go to Houlihan’s in the Lansing Mall changed because of bad weather – why drive to the other side of town, risking life and limb at the mercy of bad drivers, when there are restaurants just down the street? So we went to Maru on Okemos Road. And there was no waiting, possibly because it was Wednesday, but more likely because people decided to stay home.

But we made a mistake – we ordered too much food. Sure, there are worse mistakes, but we spent a little more money than we needed to. But at least it was good food – it really sucks to order too much bad food.

First up was the ruby cocktail ceviche, which Andrea insists on ordering every time we go. Rice, avocado, tuna, and other hard to identify ingredients, it is definitely a nice start. It is the perfect starter… for four people. Wine was on special, so we split a bottle of their house pinot grigio, Coastal Vines, which was only $12.

Our “main course” consisted of three items: Eel nigiri, a nirvana roll, and a crouching tiger roll. Oh, the sushi. All were excellent. Well, I remember the eel being excellent, as I didn’t have any this time. Andrea loved it, so I let her have both pieces.

I did, however, devour a large portion of the nirvana and crouching tiger rolls. The nirvana roll was huge, taking up close to half the table. Okay, maybe it was just a quarter of the table, but it was still large. I would have both rolls again, though I’m sure I’ll want to try something new on our next trip. The squid we had on our previous visit wasn’t to our liking, but everything else has been fantastic.

Maru isn’t a secret anymore, judging from the review on Yelp, so making a reservation is usually recommended. All sushi fans should give this one a try, because it’s the best in town.

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Valentine’s Day dinner at Le Chat Gourmet

I had my reservations, because I don’t like to cook. And I don’t want to like to cook. I like fast and easy food. But in the spirit of togetherness and doing something my wife would enjoy, I agreed to a cooking class at Le Chat Gourmet. And in the end, I had a good time. Lots of wine didn’t hurt.

We found ourselves in the wilds north of Eaton Rapids, on a dirt road that had apparently just been bombarded by artillery. There were a few potholes, that is what I’m saying. We arrived at Le Chat Gourmet around sunset and snuck around back to the basement-level kitchen.

Le Chat Gourmet

We were the last ones there, which wasn’t bad because we were at the very end of the table near the door. And since we were in a kitchen, being near a little cold air wasn’t bad. We shared the class with a dozen other people around a very long central preparation area. Denene, the instructor, gave us our marching orders. I especially liked the one about holding knives close to our legs to we wouldn’t stab anyone. That was a simple, good idea. After all, who wants a knife fight at a cooking class?

Le Chat Gourmet

Since this was a Valentine’s Day dinner, there were just as many men as women, so I didn’t go into the seize mentality that I have when surrounded by lots of women with sharp objects.

My job varied throughout the course of the meals. I chopped vegetables and stirred chocolate and flipped filets – nothing too strenuous, which is how I like it. As we cooked, we drank wine and snacked on cheese and crackers that Andrea brought with us.

Hint: If you are taking a cooking class, bring drink and snacks – none are provided. And remember to share with others – that’s just plain nice.

We didn’t eat until 9:00, but it was worth the wait. We started with a salad topped with green beans, bacon (my favorite), and caramelized onions. Finally, an interesting starter salad. The green beans did nothing for me, but the onions and bacon I would eat just by themselves.

Le Chat Gourmet

Next was the main course, filet mignon, asparagus (not my favorite), and mashed potatoes. The filet was cooked beautifully, and the mashed potatoes were among the best I’ve tasted. And to think I chopped those potatoes – it’s like I made the whole meal myself. The asparagus was decent… for asparagus.

Le Chat Gourmet

The only thing better than the main course was dessert, a molten lava cake with drunken raspberries. Wow, that was good. The raspberries didn’t seem that drunk – they drank less than I did – but they were still excellent. And I was the last to finish, for a change. Usually at home, I’m first, because with a two year old, meals aren’t usually relaxed occasions.

Le Chat Gourmet

After the meal, Denene talked about a food trip to Italy that she does every year or two. She talked wonderful food and interesting people and the generosity of Italians. It sounded great, and brought back fond memories of Andrea and my trip to Italy six years ago.

Le Chat Gourmet

If you have any interest in cooking, Le Chat Gourmet is the place for you. Even if you don’t like cooking too much, it is still an enjoyable night out.

And still the champ, Red Cedar Grill

Andrea and I went to the Red Cedar Grill in Williamston on Wednesday night. The one things I don’t get is that the restaurant is always at least half empty. This visit was no exception, and there were only a handful of tables that were occupied. The service and food have always been fantastic, so maybe it’s just that Williamston is farther than most people are willing to go for a night out. In any case, they’re really missing out.

We started with a bottle of Napa Landing Chardonnay, which was nice. Buttery is the word I would use. But since I usually throw in random adjectives to describe wines to make fun of snobs, I would say it was audaciously ambivalent as well.

I had the Ravioli Florentine, which I enjoyed. It was my least favorite of the pasta dishes I’ve tried, but it was still very good. I would pick the carbonara or the Cajun fettuccine over it, though. Andrea tried the mahi-mahi, which had a good flavor but was overcooked. On our last visit, she tried the salmon and it was undercooked. Maybe on our next visit, her fish will be prepared just right.

We finished with the chocolate skillet cake, Andrea’s favorite dessert in the Lansing area now that the quality of Beggar’s Banquet has declined so much. A hot, made-to-order chocolate and peanut butter cake covered with hot fudge and ice cream. Oh boy, that’s good stuff. Or, as Andrea told the manager, it was the “best thing ever”.

So make the drive out to Williamston and give them a try. I had heard poor reviews about the now-closed Lansing Mall store, that it was slow and noisy. That is the absolute opposite of the Williamston restaurant. They are consistently excellent, and they are still the restaurant to beat in my book.

Shakin’ and steakin’

Nothing too extravagant for lunch today. Since I was on Lansing’s south side to get an oil change for my car, I walked through ten inches of snow on the un-shoveled sidewalks to the Steak & Shake on Edgewood Boulevard. The Okemos store closed last year, so this is the closest location to me, either at home or work. And not only closed, the building is gone! When they knock the building down, you can be sure that the place is not coming back.

Steak & Shake advertises their “4 meals for under 4 dollars”. Of course, that means $3.99. I tried the double steak burger with cheese and fries. The drink wasn’t included in the price. As always, I was happy with my Steak & Shake meal. It was fast and fresh and I had no complaints.

I also like the décor. The interior is bright with lots of windows. And the salt really comes out of the shakers fast, so saltaholics like me can get to work. The music isn’t too bad either, and at a volume that I don’t require earplugs.

The Nasty Nachos of Clara’s

Those look good, don’t they? Lots of meat, beans, and cheese. Salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and jalapenos all included. A generous portion of chips, onions, and tomatoes. What’s not to love.

Nachos at Clara's

The taste.

These were the chipotle beef nachos at Clara’s in Lansing. And they were some of the worst nachos I’ve had on my quest to eat nachos at every restaurant that serves them in the Lansing area. I’ve eaten a lot, around 30 different varieties so far, and these rank near the bottom. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Clara’s has lots of great food, especially their Sunday brunch, and their menu is the largest in town. And you can’t beat the decor – eclectic meets creepy old neighbor. So please, try something else. I will not be having the other two varieties they had, chicken and vegetarian. I’m not a masochist.

Clara's, Lansing, MI

Amical, Traverse City

Andrea and I ate at Amical in Traverse City last weekend, a favorite lunch spot in one of my favorite places.  I like to try new restaurants, especially to places that I don’t get to visit as often as I would like, but I never have an objection going to this familiar spot.

Amical, Traverse City

We started with the olive twists, one of the best appetizers on the planet. If you like green olives, that is. The olives were spread inside long, thin bread sticks. Andrea was trying to figure out what exactly was inside to recreate them at home, but besides olives and cheese, I had no idea, but they were incredible.

Olive twists at Amical, Traverse City

My main course was penne rustica style. Just looking at the picture makes me hungry again. Calamata olive, Italian sausage, basil, and more; this was a very nice pasta. Andrea had the rustica pizza, which I’ve ordered before and was the other item I was considering. But she shared her pizza with me, so I got the best of both worlds.

Penne rustica style at Amical, Traverse City

After our fantastic lunch, we walked next door to Jacques Torres, a chocolate store I had read about in Traverse Magazine. They have a quite the variety of chocolates, and we had a hard time deciding on a dozen or so to fill our little box. The chocolate chip cookies looked great – I will buy one of those the next time I’m in town.

Jacques Torres, Traverse City

Taco Bell rocks, and you know it

Behold the Volcano Box! A drink, two tacos, a burrito, and cinammon twists for $5. That’s a good deal, people. Gird your loins and go get some.

Taco Bell Volcano Box

The Taco Bell on Grand River in East Lansing in my favorite in the area. It’s bright, I’ve had great service, and they have flat screen TVs. I’ve also never been assaulted, hit by a car, or been set on fire while being there. I consider that good fortune.

Don’t disprect The Bell. You know you loved it in high school. My days of eating a taco ten-pack are over, but I still enjoy indulging once in a while, usually after they come out with some limited-time offer, like the cheesy potato bacon burrito. Oh, that was good. Mexican food AND bacon? Give me a Dos Equis and we’re square.