Review: Tantra Thai Bistro in Muscatine is worth the drive

If you ever find yourself about 45 minutes southeast of Iowa City in Muscatine, Tantra Thai Bistro (101 W Mississippi Dr) is a great pit stop for some light yet flavorful food for lunch prices.

The restaurant is spacious, and with many tall windows and vaulted ceilings it is very open and brights. The service is incredibly nice and attentive without being intrusive; when I was out of water, it was filled within minutes.

The bistro boasts a vast menu ranging from woks and fried rice to entrees and curries, leaving something for every diner, whether they are new to Asian cuisine or want to try something familiar.

In the spicy chicken lettuce cups ($6.95), freshness is what sines through. The chicken is tender and has a bite, but the fresh lettuce, basil and vegetables are there to keep things clean. The wraps truly have layers of flavor, and every ingredient adds something to the dish. Be careful of your bite, however, because some scoops can have more chili than others.

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Spicy lettuce cups ($6.95) are just that, spicy, but have layers of flavor profiles.

For entrees, we split four choices. This was a great way to try the array of dishes they provide, whether it be a more traditional curry or noodle dish or the subtle flavors of a more familiar styled entree.

The yellow curry ($11.95) was creamy, with the rice perfectly sopping up the sweet sauce. The chicken is tender and all the vegetables were soft and melted on your mouth. I would highly recommend trying this dish; it will please any common-curry-consumer, and it is a great way to jump in of you aren’t used to bold flavors.

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The yellow curry ($11.95) was creamy and sweet, with tender chicken and vegetables making a mild yet flavorful dish.

The pork pad Thai ($10.95), or boiled rice noodles dressed with fish sauce, and crushed peanuts, had a nice fish-sauce flavor without being overpowering. It was sweet, but there was a nice vinegar bite to round it out. The noodles were are slightly chewy-but in a good way. The pork was fresh and the bean spirits helped to add some crunch.

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Pork pad thai ($10.95) is a Thai classic, and at Tantra, it is better than the next places. I would recommend dressing it with a lot of crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, 

The garlic prawns ($14.95) have just enough garlic to give it flavor, but is surprisingly not over powering for the visible amount. The prawns sit in a light, garlic and pepper sauce that adds great flavor while not making it heavy in the least bit.

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Garlic prawns ($14.95) are tender and have just the right amount of garlic. 

If you don’t like Asian food or would like to break up the Asian flavors, the crying tiger ($11.95) is a nicely grilled flank steak. With fish sauce on the side, you can customize whether or not you wanted to dive in with flavors, or simply drizzle them on top.

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Crying tiger beef ($11.95) is a nicely grilled skirt steak that would welcome someone new to Asian cuisine. 

Overall, Tantra Thai Boutique is worth the drive. Every ingredient added is necessary and compliments each other nicely; you can tell the chefs took their time when preparing the dishes. For a lightness added to the wonderful flavor Asian cuisine provides, any diner would be happy here.

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Blogging: Twenty minutes from town

I love going out to eat, but I find myself cycling through an Iowa City restaurant rotation week after week after week. After probably having all menu items at my downtown favorites, I realized I needed to branch out and find some other delicious nourishment not too far from home. The challenge? Find at least one breakfast, lunch and dinner place (all of which happen to be interchangeable and just as delicious) twenty minutes (or so) from town. Whether it be traveling down the wide roads of North Liberty we don’t find ourselves accustomed to downtown or getting a “nice view of all the corn” on the way to Kalona as my grandfather said, it’s surprising what different paths can lead you to.

Breakfast

For a breakfast as good as your grandma serves with kindness to match, head on over to Ronneburg Restaurant at 4408 220th Trail in Amana. The thirty minutes is most definitely appreciated after indulging in the traditionally large, but delicious breakfast.

This $11.95 meal is served family style with fruit, toast of your choice, eggs done your way, smoky ham, crispy, crinkled bacon, griddled potatoes and paper-thin pancakes that still manage to be as moist as fluffy as can be.

When our kind waitress brought out the foot-wide pancake coated with powdered sugar alongside the fruit to start she explained that the restaurant was famous for them, and I can see why. It’s spongy, soft and sweet, and the crispy edges are the perfect surface for the smooth, homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam.

After the pancake comes the eggs, meat and toast, the perfect way to balance out the sweetness from before.

Lunch

Upon arriving at Sushiya at 745 Community Drive in North Liberty for a late lunch I was immediately greeted by a friendly host, welcoming me with a smile. This positive attitude was carried by everyone working there throughout my visit. Everyone is friendly and polite and seems genuinely proud of their restaurant, and for good reason.

The area is on the smaller side as compared to other sushi restaurants in the area, but not over-crowded. It’s clean, cool and simply decorated. The cool temperature and clean design immediately allowed me to feel comfortable in the atmosphere.

As they had lunch specials going, I chose the sashimi lunch box for $10.50. With a bowl of miso soup to start, the foot-long box was filled with salad, a heaping pile of cold edamame, six pieces of Philadelphia roll and seven cold slices of sashimi. The slices were about a quarter of an inch thick, soft and never stringy, making it some of the most refreshing sashimi I’ve had in the area.

With great deals, friendly staff and great quality food, I will be tacking on an extra fifteen minutes to my drive whenever I crave some sushi.

Dinner

Kalona Brewing Co. located at 405 B Ave in Kalona is a homey yet modern brewery serving up bar food with a classic twist alongside their original brews. 

The restaurant is spacious and rustic yet simply decorated, something I found impressive as rustic decor can often come across gimmicky.

The hop backs and stout tanks used to make the eight beers featured on their menu, along five additional guests, add authenticity of good, homemade product to the aesthetic that is then reciprocated in the food.

The $8 cheese curds are a must. The appetizer is a heaping platter of curds, with a crusty-edged batter, soft in the interior and spiced to perfection.

For the main course, the meatloaf for $12 is my top-pick. The loaf is fresh as can be as it is appropriately filled with herbs to add depths of flavor. The huge two slice portion is worth your buck alongside the pile of the warm, creamy homemade beer mac and cheese and grilled vegetables.

Take those extra twenty minutes to spend your evening beside the tanks and be amongst the hug of a big plate of refined comfort food.

Recipes & Tips: Cookies fit for under a tree

Impress Old Saint Nick with these easy and festive sugar cookies.

Supplies and Ingredients:

  • Pre-made, frozen sugar cookie dough
  • Star-shaped cookie cutter
  • Flour for rolling out the dough
  • Wooden cutting board
  • Small pairing knife
  • Rolling pin
  • Store-bought royal icing
  • Piping bags and tips
  • Any other decorations (sprinkles, candy snowflakes, etc)

Steps:

  1. Start by preheating the oven to the desired temperature. Grease the cookie trays.
  2. Roll out the dough on a wooden cutting board lightly covered in flour.  Start cutting out the stars with the cookie cutter. Take the small pairing knife and cut out stars slightly larger and smaller than the cookie cutter. To make the cookies even more uniform, cut out stars out of paper and use the knife to cut around them. Some pre-made cookie doughs get greasy with lots of use, so use flour liberally to cut out shapes quickly. Cookies with four plus layers look best.cookie cutters
  3. Place the cookies on the cookie tray and bake according to package instructions. Once done, place them on a cooling rack to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, fill the piping back with desired tip. Add green food coloring to the icing and mix it until the color is uniform all the way through. Place in bag and start piping. For best results, after the cookies are cooled, make a large dot of icing in the center of a cookie and use a toothpick to spread to the edges. Let harden. IMG_0662 copy
  5. Once almost hardened, place the cookies on top of each other, with the tips of the stars layering so they are staggered. Start to add any desired decorations.
  6. Place under the tree with a glass of milk for Santa Claus to enjoy!tree cookie

Best Yet: Jimmy Jacks still reigns supreme

When driving downtown Iowa City the other day I noticed something: there were two new barbecue places I had not yet visited. So, naturally, I planned my week around trying Mosley’s and Pop’s Old and New Bar-B-Que to find out if either of them could beat out the Iowa City classic Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack for the title of Best Yet barbecue of Iowa City.

Mosley’s

Mosley’s is a Carolina-style barbecue place that open this past July in downtown Iowa City right next to the Vine on Gilbert St . As it comes from the same owners of Pullman Bar & Diner, I had high hopes coming in, and upon first glance I was impressed.

The open seating with paper towel-clad wood booths keeps things casual, but the neon pink and blue lines elevate the space into an upscale, design-driven joint that is worth coming back to as eye candy.

From walking in to the last step inside the restaurant the service was friendly and polite. Our waitress checked in on us from time to time and made me feel comfortable, knowing that she was happy to be serving.

Of the sampling platter I shared with pulled chicken, short ribs and pulled pork, my favorite of the meats was the chicken. It was moist and didn’t need sauce, but the Gold Standard’s mustardy tang complimented it nicely. The short ribs were a bit tough as they were mostly composed of the dense, charred tips. There were, however, some more moist bits that I’m sure would be more abundant in the normal ribs and for that reason would recommend that.

Of the baked beans, cornbread, and collard greens as sides I would recommend the corn bread for sure. The soft, almost cake-like bread melted in your mouth sweetly. For my first experience with collard greens, I was pleasantly surprised. They were salty and tasted how you would expect a leaf would–in the absolute best way possible. They were slightly bitter with smooth leaves and an earthy aftertaste.

Overall, I would say I liked my experience at Mosley’s. Although the food wasn’t as traditional as most barbecue places (there was no brisket on the menu), the atmosphere was interesting and I’m looking forward to trying more menu items, just like I do at Pullman.
Mosley's

Click here for more photos.

Pop’s Old and New Bar-B-Que

Pop’s Old and New Bar-B-Que has been open since this April in place of The Pit at the corner of Dubuque and Market in downtown Iowa City. I hadn’t heard much about the restaurant, so I was excited to get to try it myself. Upon walking in, I could see immediately that this building perfectly fit the barbecue aesthetic. The exposed brick with big hearty, wood booths and paper towel holders as the centerpiece were comforting and welcoming. The colorful blackboard boasted traditional barbecue with pulled pork sandwiches to some newer meals like a Korean barbecue bahn mi. The brisket sandwich I got was piled high and thick-cut which was nice to see. Although the edges were soft and the brisket fell apart easily, I found the majority of it relatively dry. For that reason, I will look forward to trying the bahn mi or something a little different. My sweet potato fries, on the other hand, were incredibly good. They were flavorful with a nice bite at the edges and were the perfect vessel for trying all their unique sauces. With blackberry habanero, Carolina mustard, a classic, pina chipotle and Korean sweet stout Pop’s Old and New has probably the most unique array of sauces of any barbecue joint I’ve been to. If the Korean barbecue is tossed in the Korean sweet stout sauce, I will be making my way back to Pop’s to try it out.

Pop's Old and New Bar-B-QueClick here for more photos.

Jimmy Jack’s

Jimmy Jack’s is an old barbecue favorite here in Iowa City, and for good reason. With many “Best Barbecue of Iowa City” awards under their belt, the classics are what got them there.

Jimmy Jack’s is located across Muscatine from Sycamore mall. The restaurant is joint, walk-up order and pay with open-seating, classic to most barbecue joints. The comfortable wood seating is welcoming, and the array of sauces on the way to the tables makes a nice pit-stop to get caught up in. With upwards of five sauces and other condiments, there is a style for everyone.

I chose a traditional brisket sandwich with coleslaw and fries with the cornbread for sides. The brisket was thin, and so moist it did not need any sauce. It was probably one of the best brisket sandwiches in a long while. The bun was incredibly soft, but I would recommend taking it open-face as to not overwhelm the meat.

The slaw was traditional and reminded me of KFC, so not the most incredible slaw in the books. The wide-cut fries were soft with crispy edges and were delicious with the tangy, honey mustard taste of the Carolina mustard. The flavor of the cornbread was a nice, sweet honey taste, but the cake was a tad crumbly.

At the end of the day I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Jimmy Jack’s. My sandwich, and those I sampled (I would try to the fatty brisket for a decadent twist and the sausage for nice, a smoky charred flavor) were all incredibly moist and flavorful, which at the end of the day are what makes or breaks a good barbecue meal.
Jimmy Jack's Rib ShackClick here for more photos.

Best Yet

Overall, I would say Jimmy Jack’s the most. The meat was all very consistent in having good flavor, a nice, soft texture and being incredibly moist.

Pop’s Old and New had the best fries for sure. They were soft, but crunchy with great flavor. Just because my brisket was a little dry doesn’t mean I will totally rule them out in the future, I am looking forward to trying the banh mi.

I think Mosley’s had the best atmosphere and sides hands down. I liked how untraditional both the neon lights were and the spins on the classics, like their cornbread. I will most definitely will go back for the environment and get my hands on their ribs.

West High: Foods III Cupcake Wars Results

This past Thursday students in Foods III hosted and participated in their own version of “Cupcake Wars.” Three class periods competed and teachers got to be the judge for who would receive the prestigious title of the class champion for the most creative and delicious cupcake. I got the opportunity to judge the batches in third period (and take pictures of their beautiful creations!) and I will say, I was quite impressed by the intricacy and innovation displayed. The results are as follows:Second Period:

First place: “Snickerdoodle” by Adam Goodman.

Second place: “Mint” by Lizzie Donze and Tazkira Haque

Third place: “Gummi worms” by Tyrek Allen

Third Period: 

First place: “Churro” by Jordin Robles-Quintero and Jaron Lamp

Second place: “Milk Chocolate and Bacon” by Callie Linebarger, Evan Wilson and Ben Sommers

Third place: “Strawberry Shortcake” by Jordan Stern, Sam Stalkfleet and Trevor Peterson”

Third place: “Lemon Meringue” by Jacob Sanderson, Olivia Bristow, Kadeem Leach and Quincy Jones

Fourth Period:

First place: “Snickers” by Camille Anderson and Josh Nichols

Second place: “Cookie Dough” by Anye Bell and Stacey German

Third place: “Dirt” by Alex Aller, Blake Moser, Maurice Yarbrough and Logan Stevens

Overall Teacher Favorites: 

“Milk Chocolate and Bacon” and “Strawberry Shortcake”