Monday, September 29, 2008
So anyway, my partner and I trekked back to the Roger Miller Restaurant at 941 Bonifant St (right across from Mandalay) over the weekend to give their dishes another try. It had been many years since our previous visit and I knew we were way overdue to give it another chance. I shouldn't let one dish of that African classic - fu fu - scare me off for good.
And I am quite glad we gave it another try. While it was too rainy to sit on their deck, we went early enough to secure one of the few tables they have inside. As expected, the TV was going strong with francophile African music videos. When walking into Roger Miller you can quickly forget you're still in SoCo.
The place itself is named after a famous Cameroonian footballer. Miller was a star player in the country and was called one of the 125 best footballers ever by Pele a few years ago. And you can be sure that when the African Cup is happening - and other matches too - Roger Miller is a lively spot to watch the games. When Cameroon was in the finals last year, it was SRO inside and there must have been 50 folks out on the patio trying to crowd next to the window to see the TV in the back.
The menu is quite varied with a mix of meat, fish and vegetarian entrees and starters. In addition, the prices are more reasonable than I remembered. One of our starters, fried plantains, only went for $2.50 per order and it was not a small portion. They were quite good too. While we were hoping to try a second appetizer called Moi Moi (ground black eyes peas), they unfortunately did not have that dish. But we were happy with a dish of fried spicy shrimp. And be forewarned, watch out for the hot sauce. It is smokin! It was served with both the plantains and shrimp. And like Brylcreem, a little dab will do ya.
Actually, most of the Brylcreem jingle could fit this hot sauce - well maybe not the last 2 lines. If you'll indulge me, here's the jingle: Bryl-creem, a little dab'll do ya, Use more, only if you dare, But watch out, The gals will all pursue ya,-- They'll love to put their fingers through your hair.
And if you have another minute, do yourself a favor and watch this old commercial for Brylcreem. As Fenwick, from the classic film Diner would say - a definite smile.
And if anyone knows where I can purchase this magical product, please respond. I mean, wow! All right, I guess I went off on the Brylcreem tangent long enough - back to our story.
On the entree side, the prices remain low. Almost everything is less than $10 except for a few of the seafood dishes. The fish dishes are well done and pretty simple, and although we didn't order it, the grilled veggie platter looked fab. In addition, there are several traditional dishes on the menu which need explanation by the staff - that is if you are not familiar with West African cuisine. I look forward to going back and being a bit more adventurous - maybe trying the Bongo Chuei or the grilled tofu. I'll leave the goat for others to try and comment on.
The staff (all two of them) were courteous and friendly. French is the dominant language; but don't worry, English comes out quickly if your high school francais has faded. The place is not fancy however; it actually fits into that stretch of Bonifant well. And Roger Miller is a family run operation in business now going on nine years. And for west Africans moving to the states, it's really more than a restaurant. From what I understand emigres who make their way to Roger Miller can find help as they try to situate themselves into a new country.
If you haven't been I would recommend giving it a try. But don't be surprised if it's full and you can't get a table. The good thing is you're right next door to Thai Derm, across the street from Mandalay and just down the block from the Q House. You won't go home hungry.
Friday, September 12, 2008
As their name implies, this is a shop for beer and wine. I had originally thought that beer and wine would be their emphasis, but that they would stock other goods too. And while they do stock some other items, I would wager that 80% of the store is only for those 21 and over (unless you have a good fake ID). And I was a bit surprised at the selection they offer. On the beer side they have some good offerings - Sam Adams, Bass, Guinness and then some other decent brews like Yuengling and Stella. In addition they stock a couple exotic-looking Ethiopian beers. And for all you American lager fans don't fret, SS Mart carries all your faves - Miller Lite, Icehouse, Coors, Bud, etc.
For those not looking for a cold one, SS Mart does pretty good job on the vino too. There was a much bigger red selection than white and at least on my visit they had some good choices for Italian reds, especially given the arcane liquor laws we have in MoCo. And as one might expect the prices were pretty cheap. The bottles I saw ranged in price from around $5-$12. And if push came to shove and you needed to take a bottle of wine to a friend's house in the hood and our County store was closed, you could do OK picking up a bottle or two at the SS Mart. I don't think you'd get funny looks like you would by setting down a bottle of Manischewitz or one of those Chianti wicker wine bottles - although truth be told in my Italian-American household growing up it was a pretty regular staple to go with Sunday pasta.
One last thing, I don't want to leave out the selection SS Mart carries of what I can only assume are staples in the Ethiopian community. To me, those items were the only ones that stood out to compete with the alcohol. And hey, while I would like the store to be a little more varied, I am happy that I have a short walk to purchase that magical combination of water, hops, malt and yeast (and no, don't believe Bud, rice does NOT belong in beer).
Monday, September 8, 2008
The 31-year-old man, whose name was not released pending notification of his family, was originally from Baltimore and had recently started working at the Lotus Cafe. He was apparently living in a second-floor apartment in the same building, which also includes apartments housing others who work at the restaurant according to the MoCo FD.
The FD said residents of those other apartments smelled smoke shortly before 2 a.m., and realized there was a fire in the man's bedroom. They dragged a ladder to the window, and grabbed fire extinguishers to use against the blaze, but were driven back by the smoke and heat.
Fire and rescue crews evacuated the man and put out the fire. He was then taken to the Medstar burn unit at Washington Hospital Center. Tragically, he did not pull through. The blaze did not damage other parts of the building.This is the second time in roughly 12 months that the Lotus Cafe/My-Le has endured a fire. In 2007 when this happened, arson was suspected. But it appears no firm conclusion was ever reached in that case. Unfortunately in this incident, it looks as though carelessness played the over-riding role. My heart certainly goes out to the Lotus Cafe family.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
In case you're not aware, Tianjin (spelled as one word for the city) is a large city in Northern coastal China and actually has the 3rd largest urban area in the country (over 11 million residents), only behind Shanghai and Beijing. And while it does have four sister cities in the US, Silver Spring sadly is not one of them. Maybe if we ever incorporated ourselves! Nonetheless, we still have the Palace serving up both Chinese and Thai dishes. One could have previously gone to the Palace for sushi, but alas, those days are no longer (you'll need to head for Sushi Jin on Fenton for that - if you dare).
The menu at the Palace is pretty standard for an American-style Chinese restaurant. It's likely you would not even need a menu to place your order. You have your egg rolls, tempura and various soups to start, and then you have your typical mix of beef, chicken, seafood, pork and veggies for your entrees. In addition, the Palace has a low-fat menu too! On this menu one has a choice of a few dishes with no MSG, less oil and less salt. Moreover, according to a proudly displayed sign in the window, the Palace is also in compliance with MoCo Resolution 16-134, restricting the use of artificial trans fats. Long live natural fats!
But trust me, even though they are in compliance, you might still want to take a hard look at the choices on the Low-Fat menu, because it appears to me that the MSG, oil and salt saved from these dishes, are liberally applied to just about all their other entrees.
I will say on my one outing to the Palace, their egg rolls were fine, but my crispy eggplant was dreadful. I wanted to try something I had not ordered elsewhere and man, my mistake. The eggplant were not at all crispy and come to think of it, I'm not even sure it contained any eggplant. It was hard to tell amidst the thick covering of batter. And that was it. No other veggies, just eggplant - with some sweet-sour sauce and rice. However I can say, they didn't scrimp on the quantity. Those eggplant were busting out of that Styrofoam container.
Now maybe it's me, maybe it was my choice of entree, maybe I'm just a hater, but there are some folks out there who do really like the Palace. I noticed several entries on Washingtondc. menupages.com that were pretty positive - "food was very good"; "chicken and hot garlic sauce is awesome"; "very fresh" - maybe I went on a bad night.
I will say the place was pretty clean, their prices are low ($7-12 for dinner) and the folks who run it were quite nice. However, there was an odd-looking, kinda 60's-holdover couple in there when I picked up my takeout. Now they weren't eating, but folding the takeout menus. The lady raved to me about the Palace and said, "everything is good." I love when I hear that. Really makes me feel confident about the food. The only other table was a younger couple. They seemed to be enjoying their dinner. But what struck me was they appeared to be drinking some kind of Fanta-type drink; it was bright red. I'm not sure, but it could have been Brawndo! Either way, it looked like the Palace lacked a liquor license. A definite turn-off in my book.
But hey, if you're close and craving some greasy Chinese, why not?