Saturday, September 22, 2012

Café Zupas

The Place: 408 W 2230 N, Provo. In the same parking lot as the dollar theatre, Quarry, Shopko, Buy Low, et cetera. It's conveniently situated at the intersection of University Parkway and 2230 N and is quite close to BYU campus. It shares a wall with a jewelry store [Goldsmith's? I wasn't paying attention ; it was a first date, guys, c'mon]. The immediate parking lot is usually full, especially in the evenings, but the Buy Low lot is huge and never full, so parking is hardly a problem.

The Atmosphere: Zupas always seems to be busy. It's definitely a Provo favorite, and for good reason. It can be loud and kind of crazy, kind of like Cafe Rio, but it's acceptable. Like the Mexican favorite, you wait in line while your food is prepared, then you pay and grab your utensils and drinks and then find a table yourself. Employees bus your table after you leave, but when they get busy, you might find a booth with someone's tray that just hasn't been attended yet. Be patient.

The Staff: The way the ordering system is kind of hard because the line is so chattery and loud. The first guy asks what you want and then either makes the salad right in front of you or passes your soup and/or sandwich order down the line. It can be kind of annoying to have to repeat your order to other employees farther down, but that might be because I honestly forgot what I ordered... twice. Otherwise, the staff is friendly, and they seem to have everything organized well, so much that I didn't even notice them ladle up my soup and get it ready.

They always have plenty of staff on hand: some to bus tables, most to prepare food. One guy stood at the door and thanked us for coming, but I'm not sure if he had other duties? That seems kind of dull.

The Food: Because I am a dummy and am still getting used to taking photos for this blog, I didn't take any actual pictures of anything tonight. As I describe the meal, feel free to use your imagination. If it helps even more, I shall provide this beauteous picture as a visual aid.
Am I an art major? No, I am not.
I've eaten here four times now, and I try to get something different each time. I'm not usually a salad person in general, so I usually lean towards the soup and sandwich combo. For $7.99 you can get a fairly sizable portion of your choice of two: a soup, a sandwich, and a salad. It's a fairly good deal for its size.

Today I decided to try the New England Clam Chowder. I paid extra to add bacon on top because it looked really good and because bacon. The clams weren't overly chewy, which is good, but it didn't seem like there were many clams in general. I could have just been distracted by the bacon, however, which is entirely possible. The chowder was not as thick as I normally expect chowder to be, but it was still very satisfying. The New England style still had a slight kick to it. A very good soup. [Last time, I went with the Thai Lobster Curry, which I also highly recommend.]

To complete my combo, I went with one of the limited edition styles, the Asian BBQ pulled pork. I'm usually wary of the union of "Asian" and "BBQ," but this was quite satisfying.
This dramatic shot is of the leftover half, which I dramatically photographed in my dark kitchen lit by the fan light.  So avant garde.

I'm interested in trying the regular BBQ pulled pork sandwich now. The pork was essentially your standard pulled style, and they definitely didn't skimp on the meat. It was very well cooked, and it was that perfect kind of softness where it broke easily. Sometimes pork can be tough and pull itself out of the sandwich. Fortunately, there was none of the "well, looks like my next bite is going to be all bread" situations with this one. The basil was a very nice touch as well. The sauce wasn't overbearing, but complemented the sandwich quite nicely.

My friend went with the Wisconsin Cauliflower soup and the Pesto Chicken grilled panini. I didn't try either one, but the presentation was very nice. She really enjoyed both of them, and cauliflower is one of her favorite soups, so I assume she knows what she's talking about.

Also! Each order comes with some fresh-baked Italian Ciabatta bread that I could probably eat all day, and some chocolate-dipped strawberries. It's pretty much the best side to a meal, right? Right.

The Verdict: Five bananas. My favorite Italian variety place in town. There are so many options to choose from between salads, soups, and sandwiches. They also have Italian sodas if that's your thing, but I generally just stick with water. But anyway, you should definitely go eat here. Go take a date! Girls usually love Zupas; it's not terribly expensive, and everyone leaves happy [because chocolate strawberries make everyone happy].

Read other reviews here:
Cafe Zupas on Urbanspoon

And I'm back! Finally.

I've finally found time to put some life back into my blog!

I'm presently remodeling things and giving more personality into my reviews, so please be patient with me. I was working in Alaska all summer, so I didn't have the ability to review any restaurants in Provo for four months, but I've returned!

I'm changing my ambiguous and arbitrary rating system to something a little more substantial and relevant: bananas!
Why bananas? Because bananas are delicious, that's why.

I'll be putting up a fair amount of reviews: three recent [today and within two weeks] and many more from April. Bear with me as I do my best to provide accurate information.

Also, if there is anything you would like to see from my posts [more detailed prices, restaurant websites, more photos, anything -- let me know! I read each comment personally, or you can shoot me an email at I want to make my blog as good as I can, and your input is very much appreciated.

Thank you, my wonderful readers! There are more food adventures to come!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Café Paesan / Wild Zucchini Grill

Essentially, Café Rio has an Italian cousin. Fast-paced, tasty, casual Italian trattoria.

The Place: 69 S. State St, Orem, in the Smith's parking lot. Easy to pass by if you're not looking hard enough. It's not convenient to BYU students, though. It's a good distance away from where most people live, but it's worth the drive.

(I just found out from Facebook that they're changing their name to The Wild Zucchini Grill. Apparently a winery in California claimed the name "Paesan," and they decided the legal battle wasn't worth it [in my opinion, most aren't] and changed their name. The name holds meaning, but I think it's kind of a mouthful. But then again, so is the food.)

The Atmosphere: This place certainly beats out its Mexican cousin Café Rio in this category. Rio is brightly decorated and covered with large stamps touting the franchise's food, but Paesan has an elegant feel to its decor. I felt as if I were dining in some casual establishment on the streets of Venice -- old-style walls and doorways adorned the building; fake trees and lampposts added to the outdoorsy feel. It's a very casual and quiet place. Good for dates, groups, families... a nice place. I was quite impressed.

The Staff: The people working when I went there were really friendly. None of them owned the place, if I recall correctly, but they enjoyed their jobs. The restaurant isn't very frequented because it's so far off the beaten path, so they did a great job at making my friend and me feel welcome and comfortable.

The Food: Similar to Café Rio, you order at the front of the line, watch your food be made fresh before your eyes, and then pay and enjoy. Take your pick between pizza, pasta, salad, or sandwiches. We ordered the pizzas. They were definitely the right size for one pizza -- not too much food or too little. Obviously, because the pizza dough needs to be cooked before eaten, there was a slight delay after paying and sitting before we could eat. But honestly, the wood-fired kiln was really cool. Large, elegant, well decorated.

Rio is famous for the pork barbacoa; Paesan boasts the comparable apple-braised pork. I couldn't say no to that. The pizza was topped with mozzarella and another kind of cheese (I forgot! I went here a while ago), along with some diced zucchini. Apparently each dish involves the cool, crisp zucchini strips they use, which obviously provided inspiration for the trattoria's new name. I don't think I've ever had zucchini on pizza before, but I definitely enjoyed it here. It cooked well in the kiln but stayed light and crisp at the same time. It gave the pizza a nice zest. The apple-braised pork was, as any pork barbacoa fan can assume, delectable. The apple flavor was present; not distinctly, but still there enough to be recognized.

The second pizza that we split was the Italian sausage pizza. The zucchini seemed to be prepared in a different way, or was a different kind of zucchini all together. When I return to the restaurant, I shall confirm the zucchini distinction. Like on the apple-braised pork pizza, the zucchini strips were a nice addition to the pizza itself. Without the zucchini, the pizza can definitely hold its own. They didn't hold back on the sausage, so it was full and delicious. Same cheeses on this one too, if I'm not mistaken.

The Verdict: Four bananas! A classy establishment with excellent ambience and friendly staff (one guy, Jim was his name perhaps, gave us two cookies for free because the girl running the register was cleaning elsewhere and he didn't want to make us wait for her. What a stud). The food is vibrant and filling, with no skimping on the toppings. The sauce wasn't overbearing; it provided a simple base and then got out of the way. I plan to try salads, sandwiches, and pastas on subsequent visits. That's a good sign -- if I plan on going back, you should plan on going at least once. (and it was only around $7 or 8 per person! Great date place!)

Read other reviews here:
The Wild Zucchini Grill on Urbanspoon

Rice King

The Location: 278 W Center St, Provo. Not far out of the way, though not conveniently close. Take a nice bike ride down there this summer!

The Atmosphere: It's a long, narrow restaurant inside the frame of the old buildings on Center Street. At times seems kind of cramped. (Don't plan on having intense, serious personal conversations here.) 

Decorations on the wall are traditional Chinese: sometimes with a slight tacky feel, but it definitely gives the air of a standard Chinese home or restaurant.

The Staff: Haha, I love this man. The family who owns and runs the place are great. The owner is a Chinese man who grew up in Vietnam and has run the restaurant for twelve years now (that seems like a long time, and then I realize that it started in 2000. Then I question the date, and thereafter my age and sanity. Y2K was really half my life ago?). He's a US citizen, and his English is excellent. He doesn't speak Chinese, though his chef does. He's funny, and I had a nice little chat with him as I paid and left.

The Food: I've come here once before with a friend, but she primarily was ordering food; I just sampled it. For all intents and purposes, this was my first time, and boy was it ever good.

I ordered the egg drop soup to supplement the meal; my friend Michelle ate the hot and sour soup (it spilled a lot; don't judge). Mine had a handful of crunchy, doesn't-soggify-really-quickly-when-placed-in-liquids cracker things that gave the relatively simple soup a bit more texture and flavor. It was a nice addition. Michelle's hot and sour soup had chunks of tofu inside (I have no idea if that's standard or not in hot and sour? Help!), and she enjoyed the taste. Good soups overall.

We both ordered the sweet and sour pork combo meal (D7, on the back page, for your reference. $7.25 for the main dish, a portion of ham-fried rice, and a egg roll. Score!) because hey, pork is delicious, and sweet and sour is a wonderful idea. The egg roll was crispy and flavorful, though I did accidentally ingest a large flake from the roll and it gave me a cool and not-painless -HRKHH- in my throat. But that's only because I lack grace or something. The fried rice was so good! It seemed to be fried with a lot of soy sauce, which really bolstered the flavor, but it did make it less sticky, thus harder to eat with chopsticks (Sorry, Michelle). But regardless of soy sauce, the rice wasn't too salty or bland or anything -- just the right amount of flavor. I tend to like fried rice more with egg as well, but the ham alone provided a nice mix. Great fried rice overall.

But mm, the sweet and sour pork is where this dish shone. My one "complaint" is that the pork pieces were massive, so it was a tad harder to eat one at a time (or maybe I have a small mouth?). The owner, Victor, noticed me trying to "chop" one rather large piece in two by repeatedly stabbing it with chopsticks and brought us a knife. Yes, haha, I looked that silly. Proud of it, too, baby. But anyway, the sauce was fantastic! Quite sweet and with enough sour taste to balance the entire dish. Also, each piece of (battered, by the way) pork was veritably slathered in the sauce. AND there was a little container of sauce for the egg roll. Simply put, they did not skimp on the sweet and sour goodness. And lo, my stomach was happy.

The Verdict: Yes please. I can hardly say no to Chinese food in general, and this place is no exception. The staff is helpful and fun to talk to, and the food is delicious. The chefs are all Asian (as all who cook at legitimate Asian restaurants should be; I'm looking at you, Panda Express) and the food is authentic. And if you want some excellent sweet and sour pork (or chicken), look no further. Rice King has you covered.

Read other reviews here:
Rice King Provo on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 9, 2012

Green Panda Café

The Location: 3220 N University Avenue, Provo. A little out of the way in an area not well traveled by BYU students, but definitely accessible.

The Atmosphere: Green Panda Café lives up to its name: everything is green, and pandas are everywhere.  The tree at the center of the restaurant houses 21 stuffed panda toys at last count, and there are lime green accents everywhere in the small shop. It doesn't reach the level of obnoxious, though, which is good.

There's a relaxed, laid-back feel to this place. It's usually not that busy [I'm hoping this review will get the word out!], so it's quiet and an easy place to converse.

The Staff: Chinese food has lived at this address for years. A Taiwanese family started the place as Cooking Taste Right, then later changed the name to Munchies, and finally to Pon Pon House. In the summer of 2011, the current owners purchased the place and remodeled. Bob, an American, manages the place and often helps cook. His wife is from Hualien, Taiwan, and cooks all the meals. Their daughter Angie works the front of the store. They care about their customers, and they are willing to help  however they can. Very nice family.

The Food: I've been here many times, so I can't really list everything I've had. I love the fried rice dishes. On March 19, I ordered the popcorn chicken fried rice as pictured below:

[As a warning/good omen, the fried rice plates are huge. I usually eat only half of it and take the other half home for lunch the next day.] The popcorn chicken is well seasoned. The fried rice is fresh and hot. Honestly, it's not very good when microwaved a day or two later--fried rice is moister and easier to eat when it is freshly fried, so that's unavoidable. I lived in Taiwan for two years, and I can tell you that this is authentic Taiwanese cooking.

My friend ate the Sesame Chicken Rice Bowl pictured above. Categorized under Rice Bowls and not Fried Rice, her portion size was about half of mine. Sesame chicken itself is a safe option--Americans are generally familiar with it in regards to Chinese food. If you don't feel that adventurous, this or the orange chicken are good choices. The sesame chicken had a nice flavor to it, which was helped even more by the sweet-and-sour sauce that accompanied the dish.

Good news:

If you check in on Facebook, you get a free spring roll with your order! Rad. You can choose between  vegetable [left] or pork [right, artistically partially eaten]. I normally order the pork spring roll, so I opted for the veggie this time around. I noticed the skin of the vegetable roll is very smooth, whereas the pork roll's wrap is much bumpier. Both are crispy, though I guess the veggie roll is a tad flakier. Both are delicious.

The Verdict: Four bananas. This has been my go-to Chinese place in Provo for two and a half years now [guess how long I've been home from my mission!]. It's popular with missionaries who served in Taiwan, so don't be surprised if you overhear Chinese conversations. The food is reasonably priced, and it's all very Taiwanese-style. [An explanation, though not a very good one: most Americans are used to Peking (Beijing) style of Chinese food, which is more northern and has slightly different methods. I don't cook food; I just eat it--thus I'm not very qualified to describe the difference.] If your experiences with Chinese cooking are limited to Panda Express, it's time to try something more real.

Read more reviews here:
Green Panda Cafe on Urbanspoon