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.

Review: Decadent french toast at Ride

IMG_1812The restaurant Ride, on the corner of Iowa Ave and Dodge St. in downtown Iowa City, opened in mid-December. The cycling-themed restaurant is adorned with vintage bicycles alongside wood and tin decorations to create a rustic yet contemporary atmosphere. I stopped by at one on a Saturday for breakfast, as it serves it until two on the weekends. The restaurant was comfortably full, with a few tables available, but conversation from the diners happily bouncing off the wall. My party of three had the option to wait for ten minutes for a booth or sit immediately at a high table, so we decided to sit at a high table.

IMG_1806Upon the waitress’s suggestions, we chose to order the french toast ($8.95) and veggie benedict ($8.95). The French toast consisted of three thickly-cut slices of moist brioche bread with crispy edges, warm blueberries that burst in your mouth, crunchy slivered almonds, warm maple syrup and frothy whipped cream to top it off. The whole dish was sweet, delicious, but quite rich-—in the good way—the way that fills you up then makes you come back for more ten minutes later.

IMG_1810The veggie benedict was fresh and very light, especially for a benedict, but very satisfying. The pile of arugula atop the English muffin was crisp and bright and the thick slices of avocado were soft and ripe— both a nice surprise for the middle of winter. The poached egg was cooked perfectly and the richness hollandaise was mild enough to keep the whole plate fresh and pull it all together.  The “potato of the day” that accompanied the dish were slightly undercooked, to the point where the center was raw, but the rest of the dish more than made up for it. IMG_1806

Overall, I enjoyed my dining experience at Ride. I would recommend it to anyone wanting classic American comfort food with a modern twist. The menu provides enough variety to please any diner of any preference, while the atmosphere creates a comfortable vibe to chat with friends and spend your time eating such a comforting, delicious meal.

Review: Finding comfort at Bluebird Diner

As we are in depths of winter, the delicate, unique, but utterly freezing flakes we get an abundance of in Iowa leaves us all wanting one thing: warm, delicious comfort food. I searched around Iowa City for the best breakfast, lunch and dinner places for when we manage to diverge out of our homes to get something other than Bagel Bites and Eggo waffles.

For my first post, I will tell you about the “consummate cross cultural collision” I experienced at Bluebird Diner.

Another classic from Bluebird ($9).
Chicken Fried Steak: Another classic from Bluebird ($9).

The diner is one of the most popular breakfast places is in North Market neighborhood of downtown Iowa City. The tiled, retro diner is adorned with mirrors and squeaky, sparkly blue chairs to match the awning in front. It is almost always packed, so when going for breakfast on the weekends try to get there sometime before nine to put your name in.

I ordered my go-to drink of chocolate milk ($2.25). The beverage made me reminiscent of the childhood days when you could douse your skim milk with Hershey’s chocolate syrup and stir it only slightly to leave a puddle of chocolate at the bottom. Quite good, and quite accurate to my childhood times.

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Chocolate Milk: As good as your mama made ($2.25).

Wanting something a little more unique than the average ham and cheese omelette, although they do serve up killer classics, I ventured towards the Huevos Epsteinos for $9– who wouldn’t want to try the “consummate cross cultural collision” as depicted in the description? It consisted of a square of creamy parmesan polenta topped with two over easy eggs. The concoction was clothed in a layer of chili verde sauce filled with pulled pork, all along with a heaping side of hash browns. The whole meal was creamy, warm and just about as comforting as you can get. The sauce was probably not spicy for most, but was just enough for me to add some bite in contrast to the softness of the rest of the dish. The hash browns were soft and only slightly crunchy on the edges. Although there was little texture difference, the dish was delicious and perfectly represented the vibe of the whole restaurant: comforting, accepting and only the slightest bit eccentric, the perfect combination to start any day.

Southwestern-inspired egg, polenta and chili verde dish with a side of hashbrowns ($9).
Huevos Epsteinos: Southwestern-inspired egg, polenta and chili verde dish with a side of hashbrowns ($9).