Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food for the exotic taste bud

Americans love meat. Whether it’s bacon in the morning, ham and cheese at lunch or the traditional steak and peas for dinner, the average Americans consumes meat at nearly every meal. Even the innovative ‘veggie burger’ still uses artificial food flavorings and imitation meat. “Everything tastes better with meat”, one of my carnivorous American friends once said to me, “I just can’t live without it!” In America, the average person consumes 63 lbs of beef, 27 lbs of chicken, 54lbs of pork, and 6 lbs of turkey per year. That’s a grand total of 168 pounds of meat a year! And that number is still growing!

Perhaps meat is deeply rooted in American culture, but luckily for vegetarians, that is not the case in most countries around the world. In fact in India, 1 out of 3 people are vegetarian! Because their religion prohibits the consumption of certain animals, they have developed an extensive list of recipes suited for the herbivorous palette. Here in Charlottesville, we can get a little taste of their culture from the local Indian restaurant, Milan Indian Cuisine.

Milan (pronounced mih-luhn) is an Indian-owned, Indian-operated, authentic Indian restaurant on Emmett Road. When you walk into this decorative restaurant, the first thing you will notice is the sudden explosion of the smell of cumin that fills the entire restaurant. Quickly, you will be seated by their prompt and courteous staff and presented with their extensive menu of vegan and vegetarian selections.

At Milan, each entrée comes with their homemade Naan, a leavened and oven baked flat bread, and herb infused Jasmine rice. You’re also given a choice of spiciness from mild, medium, medium-hot, hot, or Indian hot for your meal. If you do choose Indian hot, I suggest saving some of that Naan and rice until your food comes to help because the food is quite spicy.

The last time I went, I ordered the Baingan Bahaar, a vegan
dish of eggplant cooked in zesty tomato sauce at an Indian hot. This sweet and sour dish made with roasted eggplants is heavy on the spices but has a tinge of sweetness underlying the top flavors. The chefs at Milan roasted the Eggplants to a golden brown, creating a crispy outer shell encasing the soft inner layers of the eggplant.

The only downside to this restaurant was the price. Although it is not an ‘upscale’ restaurant it is a little pricier than the cost of an average entrée. Be prepared to spend around $20 if you plan on ordering a drink as well. However, they do give generous servings so you can always take home the leftovers and eat it for lunch the next day. Or, if this is your first time in an Indian restaurant and just want to try a little bit of everything, they have a pretty good lunch buffet deal during the weekdays that’s worth investing in. Overall, the food lived up to my expectations and was overall an enjoyable dining experience.

Eating at places like Milan make me appreciate how wonderful this (pardon the pun) big melting pot called America truly is. Even if it does have one of the highest meat consumption ratios in the world, America is still the land of the free, open to new ideas and to new cultures.

Happy Dining!

Celery rating: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Quality of food: 8.5/10

Pricing: $$/$$$

Most photos are from Eppie's website. no copyright infringement intended

Just stop.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Thai restaurant on one of the back streets of downtown called Monsoon. And today, I would like to share my experience with you… in case you ever want to go there.

Monsoon is located two blocks away from Charlottesville’s downtown mall in an old residential area with bumpy roads and nonexistent parking spots. If you didn’t know better, you might assume the restaurant was either a broken down house that belonged to an elderly cat lady or the backdrop to Hollywood’s latest Halloween blockbuster. With its rickety exterior and shabby looking front door, it looked like Monsoon had been closed for years. To my surprise, it was still open and running. We were seated as soon as we stepped in.

Monsoon should really consider its marketing strategy and change its name to ‘Curry House’ or ‘Curry World’ because other than 5 measly entrée selections, their whole menu was covered by the different types of curry they sold. Red curry, green curry, yellow curry, Panang curry, Muslim Mussamun curry… Monsoon offered 7 different types of curry combinations. Seven! The chef probably felt a little creative one day and decided to mix everything together and sell it to innocent unassuming customers.

One thing I have learned at Monsoon is that when they name anything, say for example, “licking the sun” when you order a 5; take it as their literal translation. I made the unfortunate decision of picking the hottest version of a dish called Evil Prince Jungle Curry. I chose it partially because it didn’t contain coconut milk like the rest of the dishes, because I’m not a big fan of coconut, and also because of its name. Big mistake.

This dish understated itself. It isn’t the prince; it’s the king of spice-land. Perhaps it was the lack of coconut milk to cover that fire bomb, but the taste of the tongue-burning curry and gritty, unwashed vegetables completely masked any of the other flavors it was supposed to have. I sat there in tears trying to finish my ‘food’ as the waitress handed me my sixth serving of rice to subdue the taste.

My Evil Prince Jungle Curry was possibly one of the spiciest dishes I have ever consumed. No scratch that. It was not a dish. It was literally a piece of the sun. I couldn’t taste any of their sauce or basil because I was quickly trying to rescue my mouth from the fire that in which I had just deposited. The spices completely overwhelmed any other taste that could have possibly been in there. Fortunately, they served unlimited free rice with their meal so in result, I asked for about five or six helpings of rice while I slowly tried to finish my food.

I ended up packing my meal and taking it home with me because there was so much left over and didn’t want to seem rude to the friendly waitress that constantly served me ice water and rice. But as soon as I got home, I reached for the fridge and said hello to a nice bowl of pain-relieving milk and cereal.

Other than Monsoon’s friendly service, my dining experience was not as satisfying as I hoped, but then again, everyone’s taste is different. One good thing did come from this meal though—next time I want to pull a good prank, I’ll know where to go.