Pei’s

I mentioned before  how we’ve not been able to get good Mexican food in years. Chinese food was even worse. Everywhere around us Chinese food meant buffet. And buffet meant you  were risking your health with time-temperature abuse. I used to call the chicken on the buffet Petrified Chicken because it sat in the steam table so long. The restaurants were dirty, the service poor, the the food awful. And they were always busy.

We escaped during my daughter’s gymnastics practice for a “date” and went up the street to Pei’s. First thing I noticed was the decor. The place is old but the tables are more like an Applebee’s than what we are used to seeing. When you come in to the left is an area separated off by partitions. This is where the handful of teppanyaki tables are. To the right, behind the hostess station/cash register is an impressive looking sushi bar. Two sushi chefs were working and nearly ever bar stool was filled. Going into the main dining room there were large circle tables with lazy Susans on top. These are perfect tables for large parties. The lazy Susan works great for sharing plates. The only other time I’ve seen these types of tables was in Rome Georgia. But theirs were ancient black lacquered wood. These were a contemporary green Formica.

We went strictly Chinese, no sushi. We ordered the appetizer sampler platter. I’m disappointed in myself that I did not get a picture of it. It was impressive. Fried wontons, crab rangoons, fried shrimp, great egg rolls and pot stickers. I stopped eating egg rolls where we used to eat because they tasted so foul.

I ordered the Hot and Sour soup. Finally a good cup of hot and sour soup. The place we ate at in Murphy, it tasted like crap, literally. I was forced to start making my own because it was so hard to find any good hot and sour soup. This soup was different in that it also had shrimp and green peas. My wife is allergic to legumes so I got to take hers home for lunch the next day. Bonus!

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The Wife ordered Mu Shu Pork. I can’t tell you anything about Mu Shu Pork because I don’t eat it. She said it was really good. But she was surprised that it was served with Mexican style flour tortillas instead of the thinner Mandarin wrappers she was more accustomed to. Still excellent she said. Both of our dinners came with white steamed rice.

It was too easy to order something I knew and liked, like Mongolian beef. So I just went down the list until I found something I didn’t recognize. I ordered the Yu Shiang Pork. Mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, and bell peppers with hot pepper pods. Lightly breaded pork. All in a garlic sauce. For the first time ever I didn’t pick the pepper pods out. I’ve always been afraid of them because I’ve been told they are raging inferno hot. They really weren’t but they were unpleasantly tough to eat. Very fibrous, like an oak tree leaf. The sauce was sweeter than I would have expected but everything was well balanced and it was good. I would order again. I was thrilled to have water chestnuts because I absolutely love them.

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Behind us one of the teppanyaki grills was having a raucous good time. We’ll have to remember that. There must have been quite the show given the cheers and applause we heard. The teppanyaki menu was cheaper than Osaka’s but to be fair the menu was much simpler.

When we were checking out I noticed the old picture hanging on the wall of a married middle aged Chinese couple. The wife looked incredibly like our server. I asked if they were the owners. “Yes, the original owners, long ago.” Looking behind the cashier I saw an elderly white haired Chinese woman rolling silverware. She would be 30-40 years older than the woman in the picture. Hmm… I said that woman looks a lot like the woman in the picture. The cashier turned around and looked and then grinned big,” that’s because that is her.” And that’s when it hit me why I struggle with going to an Asian restaurant and the hostess is a young blonde white girl and the teppanyaki chef is named Andreas. Or even going to a Mexican restaurant and the server is some white red neck. Unless I’m eating at a chain, I want a family restaurant experience! I love the Greek diner where everyone is family. Even my favorite coffee shop in Michigan, everyone who worked there was family until they needed to expand. And even then family was always present.

Being a family restaurant made me love this experience even more. We will definitely be going back, probably as regulars. I am so happy to finally have a sit down, non-buffet, Chinese restaurant I can depend on for a great meal.

 

 

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Our first meal in Cedar Rapids as full time residents!!!

Osaka Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar

Since October 2015 when we decided we were moving, we have been looking forward to eating out in Cedar Rapids and being overwhelmed with choices. The evening of our arrival into town, not knowing a thing about what might be available, I asked The Child what she might want to eat for our first dinner. “Name me a food group, or flavor, or item, and I will try to find it.” Shockingly she picked Japanese. She doesn’t really like any Asian food.

A quick gander of Google maps showed at least five promising ones. We picked Osaka.

We had a little struggle finding the place. The address is on 1st Avenue SE, but it sits back in a small plaza off of 1st Avenue, at an angle, so approaching it from the SW it wasn’t easily visible from the road, especially with road grime crusted windows. But we finally got there. after a few u-turns.

The place is huge compared to what we were used to. Rose wanted hibachi-style dining and there must have been about a dozen grill tops. We were seated at a grill in the center of the room, just the three of us. At least four other parties were dining already.

The sushi menu was pretty standard compared to what we usually experience, but the teppanyaki menu was unlike any I had seen before. For starters, all of the teppanyaki meals were about $10 more on average per dinner than what we were used to. But that was OK, I was hoping the quality of the food justified the added cost. Never before have I seen tuna, salmon, tilapia, swordfish or mahi mahi has options for a hibachi dinner. I’ve never seen lobster as a combo option. I’ve never seen three beef options, filet, rib eye, NY strip.

The appetizers also were new to me. For example the Innovative Cheese Wontons, described as wontons filled with cream cheese, shitake mushrooms, and onion in sweet plum sauce. Or the Steak Skewers with smoked ketchup.

The Wife and I both started with sushi rolls. Not sure what she had, probably the Volcano Roll. I ordered the simple Spicy Tuna Roll. I was impressed with the presentation, beautiful in its simplicity. Each cut of the roll was pressed into a teardrop shape to resemble the petals of a flower. The center of the flower was formed with pickled ginger. And a small quenelle of wasabi served as a stem. For whatever reason we were not given chopsticks, which is fine for me because I always prefer to eat my sushi with my fingers. I also had half of my roll finished before the server returned with soy sauce. Which was fine because like the old imperial courts, I don’t use condiments either. My roll was excellent though as usual I would have preferred the tuna to be colder but that’s a personal sensory issue not a flavor issue.

While we were eating our sushi, The Child had ordered the shrimp tempura appetizer. I had told the server to go light on the tempura battered vegetables because the kiddo wouldn’t eat those and I didn’t want them to go to waste. She surprised me by bringing out only the shrimp. The Child loves tempura shrimp, the only thing in a Japanese restaurant I’ve known her to eat. BUT, she requires ketchup. The restaurant doesn’t stock ketchup. A fortunate packet of McDonald’s ketchup from the car saved the day.

I had ordered the miso soup, and my dinner came with soup and salad. So I ordered a second soup, the Clear Soup to try. I love miso soup,. I could drink a gallon of it warm from a Thermos bottle. This was as good as any I have had. The Child likes to pick out the tofu cubes and eat them. Instead of the usual medium dice of tofu cubes which are easy to pick out, Osaka uses a fine brunoise cut that pass right through the tines of a fork. The Clear Soup was described as a Japanese onion soup. It was not like a French Onion Soup. The Clear Soup was a wonderful flavorful broth that would challenge any chicken broth used for cold or flu relief. Shockingly The Child stole my cup of Clear Soup and finished the whole cup including the bits of mushrooms. She did leave behind the scallion tops. This never happens which reinforces how good the soup was. The salad was a typical iceberg lettuce smothered in ginger dressing. It was good but nothing noteworthy. The Wife and I were both impressed that there was no Ranch Dressing option, yum yum sauce instead

Our chef was Miguel. I really have to push past my racial biases regarding non-Japanese working in a Japanese restaurant. I went to culinary school. I’m not French but have a great Boeuf Bourguinon. You certainly don’t need to be Japanese to seat someone or take their sushi order. So what’s wrong with an Hispanic hibachi chef? Nothing. Just my age and preconceived biases. That said, Miguel wasn’t nearly as good or as entertaining as the older Asian chef at the table behind us. (And even he looked more Thai than Japanese to my eye).

I’m not sure what teppanyaki combination The Wife ordered. I ordered the steak (NY strip) and scallops. There were several difference from what we have experienced in the past. Instead of planks or sticks of zucchini, it was peeled and quartered. No yellow squash, broccoli florets instead. I don’t remember many places adding mushrooms but Osaka does. There was corn in the fried rice. The scallops were jumbo, maybe 3/4 inch thick, I think 5 of them.He butterflied them after searing on both sides. I’ve not seen that technique before and it made me feel like I had more scallops than I really did. Also new to us, all of our meats were sauced on the grill. Each one slightly different. For example, while the scallops were on the grill he covered them in what appeared to be soy sauce, yum yum sauce, and lemon juice. Then let them cook a while before serving on my plate. I’ve never seen this before. The wife and I also noticed there was nearly no use of salt and pepper, nor sesame seeds as we’ve experienced in the past.

Overall, service was dreadfully slow. We were there a LONG time. But it was a celebration of sorts. The food was excellent. The portions were HUGE. (So the extra $10 was justified). We both had enough leftovers to fill a to-go box each. Even the persnickety Child was pleased. I’d like to go back just to try some of the other appetizers. And of course to fulfill my sushi needs.