Friday, April 29, 2011

Remember to bring quarters.

I live in Oak Ridge, TN. Yup the 'secret' city. Well if any of you know anything about this tiny area, you would know that it offers next to nothing when it comes to food. Sure we have our Mc D's, Royalty Burger man, and some fireman sub joint. There is however one little place that I had the extreme pleasure of finding: Magic Wok.

Let me just be clear, this was not my idea. My fiance had been BUGGING me to go there for weeks. So finally I decided to humor him when both of us hopped in the car to go to 'Magic Wok' for lunch. This place was literally hidden, for those that do not know what you're looking for, most likely you'll drive past it a couple of times, but if you are lucky enough to be guided by a 'local' you'll see it spot on. Magic Wok is located behind some laundry facility in a very tiny shack-like building. As soon as you step into this place you think 'damn this is small' and it is. Probably the size of your first dorm room, or possibly first shared-bathroom from college. Anyway: As soon as we walked in we were greeted with a very cheerful face: Miss Betty. Her first question of the day "What I cook for you? What I cook for you?" Do not be shy, Miss Betty is harmless and actually very curious about her customers. But lets get to the food first....

My fiance suggested the Cashew Chicken to split so I obliged. Miss Betty then threw something in the fryer and scraped something out of a wok (Oh yes they actually used woks here unlike that fickle chain that keeps popping up in this area) once something was done in the fryer, Miss  Betty plopped it all into a to go container with triumph and handed me a fork.

Oh this dish was wonderful, full of flavor and growing heat from the hidden spices in the sauce. The rice was fried but sticky, the cashews carried this amazing smoky-like flavor throughout the whole meal. The chicken was juicy and that sauce, oh god that sauce. The portions were huge, enough for me and my man-sized-fiance to share. All for under FIVE DOLLARS. We also ordered an egg roll which was fried right there for us. (If you wait around you can see Miss Betty prep a whole mess of these bad boys by hand.) But the meal was simple and delicious, no bells and whistles, no menu explaining the Wok's culture or some stupid Chinese proverb about the spirit of cooking. Just a woman making a living cooking up food she knows best.

While we were eating Miss Betty took interest into us, asking questions like 'Oh you two together eh? You two take care of each other?' My fiance replied that we recently got engaged and Miss Betty had a fit. 'Ohhh you two!! So cute, she is very pretty very pretty for you!' Then Miss Betty decided to show us her quarter collection. Why yes I said quarter collection. Turns out Miss Betty has been teaching herself English, geography and history by keeping up with this strange hobby. "Oh look at Colorado very ugly ya? Idaho too, it has stupid bird, it should have potato ya?' So we sat there, me gobbling up my egg roll, sauce running down my eager face, while my Fiance and Miss Betty pick out quarters from her stash.

This place is friendly, small, and sometimes questionable to health codes. But it has a heart, and it is obvious in the food that Miss Betty gives you. Yes I said give. Even though I paid for my meal I still felt humbled that this woman made my food for me, grateful even. To get such care from an eating establishment is well, unheard of. Anyone will tell you, if you go to Magic Wok you will always leave happy and certainly full. And you will always be reminded to bring quarters. Miss Betty said so.

Magic Wok Enterprises on Urbanspoon

Oodles Uncorked: A pleasant but comforting surprise.

So after a very long 21st birthday weekend, I smothered up the courage to go to 'Oodles Uncorked'. I say this because my impressions of the place have always been tethered to the thought of 'oh no I cannot go in there, that's a fru-fru wine and dine.' Turns out I was very very wrong.

Lets skip the ambiance, lets skip the service and get right down to the food.

First Dish: Duck Confit Marsala

 I hate to say this but the dish was amazing!! The duck was just so tender and had the texture of pulled pork but so many earthy and comforting flavors. The mushrooms were cooked perfectly and to be honest could stand well on their own. In the Marsala sauce there was a mix of pine nuts. PINE NUTS! My favorite most delicate thing to eat in the world. To be honest this dish sent me over the edge into pure unbelievable bliss. The noodles were cooked correctly (al dente). And the whole dish was already tossed in the Marsala sauce, leaving no noodle unturned with delicious earthy flavors. If I were eating this at home, I would have happily licked the bowl.

Second Dish: Shrimp and Grits

I ordered this dish upon my second visit to Oodles during their brunch on Sunday. My was this dish tasty!! Caution if you do not like grits (for some odd reason) then please do not order this. In a deep dish bowl there was a good portion of grits in the middle covered in a smoky Cajun sauce with 6-7 large grilled shrimp surrounded by half cut cherry tomatoes. Everything on this plate was edible and enjoyable. The cherry tomatoes were juicy and fell apart in your mouth. The grits was smooth but not creamy nor runny. The sauce, which surrounded everything was just perfect. At first I thought it was some sort of ranch sauce, once I tasted it however, I was completely mistaken. This sauce does offer some heat, but nothing to scare away a lover of spice. The shrimp was cooked perfectly. Personally I am very picky about shrimp, growing up in the south, an over cooked shrimp is almost the same as a nasty insult. There was nothing chewy or dry about these shrimp, no sir-ee. Instead these shrimp were soft with a nice char from the grill. The spices throughout the dish echoed a lot in those 6 pieces of shrimp. Again I ate all of my dish and I was very tempted to lick my bowl. No disappointments here.

So my resolve on Oodles? Go. Do not be put off by the snooty wine drinkers, or the long list of wine Oodles offer. Sit inside, possibly in the kitchen, and pick something tasty off the menu, preferable at dinner time. Their pasta dishes are perfect. It is obvious that a lot of attention has been given in these dishes; To the simple flavors and respect to the ingredients. Verdict? Just go. Yes the menu may be a bit pricey (I did pay $15 for my shrimp and grits) But trust me it is worth EVERY dollar and dime.

To be honest, I am very surprised that my first review is for the better. Oodles Uncorked always read to me as the 'snooty patio everyone sits in and buys bottles and bottles of wine'. But inside there doors there is a sense of comfort and wonder. To the open court yard, to the cozy kitchen, and extremely laid back attitude at the bar. This place has no pretense, no facade of elitism. Inside, it is about the food, the taste, the flavor, everything that a restaurant should stand for. I encourage anyone to go to Oodles and really branch out, ask the servers or even the chef (if you get that pesky kitchen seating) trust those who cook your food, because Oodles Uncorked really does prove that attention has been paid.

Oodles Uncorked on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coming soon....?

Just to warn all those who are reading (Hi mom..), this is NOT my first review. No, no, instead I merely intend to reiterating my purpose of this blog.

But first, may I just talk about the city I intend to comb through? Knoxville, Tennessee. K-town. Residing itself in East Tennessee. Yup. The Bible belt. The south. To my friends up north, this place has an awful reputation. To my family at home, it is a simple pit stop on the way to whatever town we move to next. Although Knoxville does sit itself primarily in the 'red' part of the country, do not be fooled. When downtown towards the more 'city like' part of Knoxville, you will find some surprises. Vegetarian restaurants, strange homeless men reading poetry, hipster children scattered across parks playing a variety of instruments. There's a breath of fresh air from the stereotype of Knoxville, it exists I swear.

Now back to where I started, the reason why I set up this whole shiva. Well frankly everybody, I got tired of googling. Seriously, it's a huge pain, and honestly an embarrassment to type into a search engine, "local hole in the wall restaurants" And sure I got some results. Some places popped up, but when I looked further into these supposed 'foodie-favorites' all I found was an ugly face. People reviewing restaurants like they knew what they were talking about. People telling me that I MUST go to some Italian joint that it was TRUELY authentic, when come to find out all I could find was a plate of ketchup and overcooked noodles. (Any affectionate lover of Italian cuisine would know that CHEESE STICKS are not authentic to Italy.) So I got tired of it, I said 'screw it' to all those out there telling me where to eat. Instead I am finding out myself.

Yes I realize this is huge task to suddenly dive into, and yes I realize I may offend those who read this, but like I said, I am tired of it.

So here it is, my take and say on the local joints of Knoxville, TN. I will NOT be reviewing anything that I cannot afford. As stated in my description, you will NOT find reviews of the latest wine and tapas bar here. If my wallet cannot do it, then I will not eat it. Simple as that. Instead I plan to find the places that really leave a hand print on this city. Joints that are covered in old hippies, stoners and haggard business men alike. Places that attract a variety of sorts for one solid reason: The Food. Because quiet frankly, it is about The Food. Plain. Simple. Enjoyable.