Archive | October, 2012

“YAK – The Kathmandu Kitchen” Is Second to Naan

27 Oct

You don’t expect to find Shangri La wedged between a package store and a nail salon in a suburban strip mall. But then again, you don’t expect to find authentic Nepali Indian cuisine in Mobile, AL. Yep, life is full of surprises. And this was a really pleasant one. I must confess that I’ve never traveled to Nepal or hiked the Himalayas. Never been to India either. I did grow up just outside of Washington, DC — a truly international city. My culinary curiousity allowed me to explore many exotic flavors and I came to appreciate good Indian and Middle Eastern foods.  

YAK’s All-You-Can-Eat Lunch Buffet is a steal at just $9.95

The interior at Yak is tidy and sun-drenched. They have only been open about 3 months, so it still has that new feel about it. I arrived right as they opened at 11 a.m. on a Friday — this explains the dining room being empty when the above image was captured on my phone. Apologies for the picture quality, friends. I often go in “stealth” when on assignment. This was one of those times.

The menu is extensive — the buffet makes for a fine introduction

One of the many stars of the buffet was the Chicken Tikka Masala, described as grilled chicken breast chunks in a tomato and onion cream sauce. This dish is extremely popular in the UK — dating back to India’s many years under British rule. Yak’s Tikka Masala is bright orange in color (as you can see above). The darker meat dish to the left is Lamb Roganjosh, which consists of boneless “cubes” of tender lamb simmered with yogurt and tomatoes. The Chicken Curry was equally delicious and its sauce was a perfect compliment for the famous Tandoori bread known as “Naan.” It is essentially a white flour bread cooked in a traditional Indian clay oven.   

The brilliant red object in the center of the above photo is Chicken Tandoori. The dish itself has almost become a bit cliche — it appears on almost every Indian buffet on the planet. It is made with bone-in chicken parts marinated with yogurt, herbs, and spices … and then cooked in the aforementioned clay oven. Tandoori Chicken is eye-catching, no question. Yet it is often dry and less flavorful than it looks. That, thankfully, is not the case at Yak. Their version is suitably moist and practically singing with deep, smokey flavor. Yak was impressing me at every turn and a work day lunch was being transformed into a magical, mystical experience.  

Even the vegetarian offerings (like the dish seen above) were mind-bending trips into an exotic land of flavors hereto unknown to Mobile, Alabama. Was this all a dream? Did they slip something into my iced water? Was the sitar-driven music filling the dining room somehow hynotizing me and/or my taste buds? It was all amazingly good. Almost too good to be true. My mind groped for a word that might describe my state of nirvana. Astonishing! That was it — I was astonished.

Even the desserts were first rate. This included the incredible warm Indian Carrot Pudding (aka Gajar Halwa) and a cool, pleasantly soupy Rice Pudding laced with shredded coconut. I had never enjoyed Gajar Halwa before. Yet I was immediately smitten. Call me weird, but have always loved Carrot Raisin Salad. It’s something of a Church Supper staple. So if you’re with me, then continue to follow along. Others may skip ahead to the next paragraph. OK. Imagine a good Carrot Raisin Salad — only served warm — without the raisins — and the mayo and shredded pineapple replaced with ground nuts, maybe a hint of cardamom, and sweetened condensed milk. Sounds a bit strange, I know. But it was really, really good – at least to me. Try it and let me know what you think.

Once again, I must apologize for the pictures. The muddled white mess seen above is the Coconut Rice Pudding we touted earlier. I had to share the picture to show just how soupy a consistency it presented. The long strands of coconut were a welcome surprise … as was the “just right” cool temperature of the dish. It was ideal for extinguishing some of the overall spiciness of my main course – or should I say courses. Yes, I did make several trips to the buffet line. Tried pretty much everything. It was all superb. Collectively, it was pretty much one of the finest meals I have enjoyed in my nearly 4 years in Lower Alabama. Go figure, right? High praise, for sure. But much deserved. You really must try this place. You can expect to see me here often. Yeah, I know it ain’t exactly your typical Dixie Dining joint. But I would call it Indian Comfort Food — pretty doggone healthy too — and medicine for the soul.  

Had I finally reached the summit? It sure tasted like it, folks!

YAK  The Kathmandu Kitchen – 3210 Dauphin Street, Mobile, AL 36606

(251) 287-0115; http://www.facebook.com/IndianNepaliRestaurant

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Momma’s Mojo Brings Miami Spice to West Mobile, Alabama

25 Oct

West Mobile (and I do mean WEST) is not the place you’d expect to find a Cuban cafe. Especially one offering a great Pressed Cuban Sandwich or a shot of authentic Cubano coffee. Yet that is exactly what you will find when you make the drive out Cottage Hill Road to Momma’s Mojo Cafe & Deli.

As you can see by the above banner, Momma’s Mojo is not exactly a secret any more. It is slowly gaining a reputation for its Cuban-style Roast Pork, Mojo Grilled Chicken, Sweet Plantains, Flan, Tres Leches cake, and more. But there are many Mobile area foodies who have yet to sample the fine exotic foods offered here. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of interest. The location is not exactly on the beaten path. Heck, for folks like me who reside on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay, it’s almost in Mississippi, for crying out loud. But the positive buzz kept on coming my way, so I felt compelled to checking it out.

It’s a small, cozy joint — and very clean. That is alway’s a plus. I was greeted with a smile and a complimentary shot of strong, sweet Cubano java. Nice! Imagine a slug of dark coffee liqueur (without the alcohol, of course) and that will give you the general idea. The interior decor here is bright and cheery. That’s pretty much what you expect, right? There is even a domino table out front, so the Little Havana vibe can’t help but grab hold of you.

Cuban Coffee is strong and sweet — it’ll give you a serious JOLT!

I was told that the traditional Cuban Sandwich was the house specialty, so that’s where I started. The lunch platter comes with sweet fried plantains, a unique dipping sauce, a dill pickle, and a handful of pork rinds. The sandwich, which just so happened to be amazing, was made with good bread, Boar’s Head brand ham, Swiss cheese, smokey house roasted pork, and a tangy mustard. The combination of flavors and textures immediately delivered me back to South Florida. Momma’s Mojo owner (America “Maggie” Lamorell) moved here from Miami and was determined to bring along the flavors of the city. She learned to cook with her Mom, hence the eatery’s name.

I love sweet plantains — and these babies were cooked just right

Fried pork rinds (or chicharrons) are a staple in South Florida and Cuba. Their addition here was a nice little touch. And little touches really do make a big difference. The folks at Momma’s Mojo are proud of their food and their native traditions. That comes shining thru like the bright Caribbean sun.

There’s really nothing else quite like this place in the Greater Mobile area. Business is chugging along OK, but Maggie tells me it could always be better. They are trying really hard and deserve our loyal patronage. There is even a Momma’s Mojo food truck making the rounds now. You can follow them on Facebook. Maybe this is a more convenient alternative for some people.

We love Cubano food and culture. And we really dig Momma’s Mojo. It’s the next best thing to a trip to Miami’s Little Havana.

Momma’s Mojo – 9211 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL 36695

(251) 607-0442; www.mommasmojoal.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mommas-Mojo/235515533126713 

The Compleat Angler in Daphne, Alabama Has Snagged Us – Hook, Line and Sinker!

25 Oct

This relatively new restaurant has been a hit. And owner Bob Baumhower knows a few things about hits. As a former college and pro football player, Bob starred at the University of Alabama and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. His coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula were both legendary characters. They taught Bob a lot about the game — and the game of life. Baumhower has taken that wisdom and work ethic and parlayed it into something of a restaurant empire here along the Central Gulf Coast.

Bob’s latest brand is called the Compleat Angler and it takes on something of an Ernest Hemingway vibe. Travelers motoring along Interstate 10 between Pensacola and New Orleans will want to make a pit stop here. Consider it a mini vacation. That’s how I feel each time I have dined here. The food is good — as is the service. The island atmosphere is relaxing and the views of the Mobile Bay are pretty hard to beat.  

Most of the seafood served here is fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered the Grilled Mahi Mahi with Black Beans, Coconut Rice and Stewed Okra & Tomatoes. The fish was doused with the “Stevie Nicks” sauce, which had a nice tangy, citrusy flavor.  The fish was expertly grilled and delivered a slightly smokey aftertaste. Really good — and yes, I would order it again without hesitation.  

Mahi Mahi, baby — so tasty they had to name it twice!

Black Beans topped with a generous dollop of Cilantro Lime cream

Okra is most often served fried. And I must admit I typically prefer it prepared in that fashion. But the Compleat Angler’s stewed okra and tomato combo was a welcome change of pace on this sunny Fall afternoon. The flavors do compliment each other quite nicely and the okra pods were not nearly as slimy as you might expect. Many people, especially Yankees, whine about okra’s slimyness factor. Not much we can do to change that. Coach Bryant would have likely told you to put your big boy britches on and give it a try. I did — and I really enjoyed it.

And don’t miss dessert at the Compleat Angler. The Key Lime Pie (shown above) is as good as any you’ll find in South Florida. The Ginger Snap crust makes it extra special. Can’t tell you how much I loved this pie. I don’t often eat dessert in the middle of the day, but I just couldn’t resist. And I’m pretty darn happy I didn’t.

If the pie doesn’t get your motor running, we suggest you order a big ole chunk of Rum Cay Cake. It won’t make you tipsy, but there is a good amount of rum in each portion served. It is a nutty treat that is further upgraded with the addition of a fruity (raspberry?) dipping sauce. It’s a thing of beauty to gaze at as well — just take a gander at the image above. Man, it was delicious — and a generous portion too. Ex-football stars tend to be big believers in generous portions. Makes sense, huh?

So if you’re traveling on vacation — or if you simply need a break from the every day routine — you’re invited to come aboard at the Compleat Angler.  We are hooked … and we think you will be too!

The Compleat Angler – 29249 US Highway 98, Daphne, AL 36526

(251) 621-1086; www.compleatanglergrille.com