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Foreign Food Finds

Ankur Chawla | Wednesday, October 26, 2011

 

The latest addition to the cluster of restaurants on South Bend Avenue including Between the Buns, Studebagels and JW Chen’s, Falafel Express promises an authentic Mediterranean cuisine in a casual, semi fast-food environment. Unfortunately, the red tray the food was served on wasn’t the only thing that reminded me of dining hall or cafeteria food.

Admittedly, the ambience and interior design wasn’t awful by any means. It merely lacked distinction and looked like the inside of any on campus eatery like Reckers or Waddick’s, with a condiment stand full with ketchup and the large plastic napkin holders you’d see at those respective on-campus places.

Also similar to on-campus places, prices were surprisingly high for the quantity and quality of food. $1.50 gets you a Happy Meal-size order of fries. Comparable to Chipotle in prices, the so-called sandwich menu essentially has the choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian and comes in a burrito-like form using a pita wrap. Opting for the vegetarian option, I ordered the Falafel Sandwich, thinking the restaurant’s namesake would be a decent choice. Soggy falafel and relatively bland spices doomed the dish to mediocrity.

I know I’m generally harsh on demanding flavor, but even my less spice-inclined friends agreed with my conclusions after eating the Beef Shawarma Sandwich. A common theme and big miss by the restaurant was the presence of awkward pickle spears in each of the wraps. Not common in traditional Mediterranean food, there is absolutely no need for pickles and they tend to overpower the rest of the not-so-strongly flavored meal.

Still, some bright spots did exist on the menu. The “side” of hummus was a full-on Tupperware container of it one might buy at a grocery store, yet homemade and quite delicious. Though I cannot personally speak to this, a friend of mine enjoyed his Beef Kufta Sandwich and claimed the Chicken Shish-Kabob could have been worse. Also, the fact that “Scare Tactics” was on the big screen TV only made our meal better.

Overall, unless there is significant change in the kitchen and menu I do not see myself heading back to Falafel Express. There was a reason the cook himself walked out of the restaurant to return with a Papa John’s pizza while we were there eating our meal. Yes, that actually happened.

 

Contact Ankur Chawla at achawla@nd.edu if you’d like to join him on his next quest for quality foreign foods in the area. Seriously, do it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.

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The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

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Foreign Food Finds

Ankur Chawla | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Once when asked what my favorite type of food was, I responded that it was a tie between Indian food and Thai … pun intended. So this past week, a few friends and I ventured into the vibrant and lively downtown South Bend on the prowl for the best Thai food in the area.

Looking into many of the standard restaurant review sites, we had it narrowed down to Siam Thai or Cambodian Thai, only two blocks away from each other. We had nine people, and looking through the window into Cambodian Thai, it was clear they did not have the space to seat us and we were not too keen on eating our meals on a bench in the city, sharing what we had with the pigeons.

So because of this slight hiccup, we walked over to Siam Thai and were immediately seated at the beautifully decorated and classy restaurant. The menu was leather bound and the room smelled of rich mahogany. It was one of those restaurants thinking it to be so classy indeed that the price for each dish was not listed as a number in a column on one side of the page, but instead written out in words at the end of the dish’s description.

Beyond the leather bound book handed to each of us, there were pages of fancy wine lists and an entire menu of teas. Our table opted for a pot of kiwi plum green tea to sip on before and after our meal. The subtle yet distinct flavors made for incredible tea, but unfortunately that subtlety carried over to the dishes as well.

The menu lists those supposedly spicy items with one or two asterisks, and being a fan of strong flavor and spices, I ordered the classic Thai green curry, or “Keow Wan,” anticipating a “two star” kick. Yet I was left wanting more, and the dish, though tasty, did not deliver. Those of my friends less exposed to the foods of the world were very pleased with the dishes and thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but the overall consensus was that the food could have had stronger flavor.

Some of the other dishes we went for included the “Masaman” peanut curry, which ironically was strong on the peanut but again light on spice, the “Khao Pad” fried rice, and “Goong Kra Tium” sautéed shrimp with vegetables.

The dishes were beautiful, both in their looks and descriptions as you can see, but as a whole our impression was that the restaurant was more focused on the aesthetic, and could do a bit more work on their food itself.

 

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Foreign Food Finds

Ankur Chawla | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

After a nostalgic trip to the movie theater to see “The Lion King 3D” this weekend, a few friends and I discussed and debated the age-old question of where to grab dinner. Many of you might scoff at this, believing that the only places worth going to near school are Taco Bell and Perkins. I, however, am on a quest to dispel that myth and find the best foreign food places in South Bend.

Naturally, our first option for this expedition into the wide world of food was Outback Steakhouse. As a practicing Hindu, it was not my first choice. The few of us still traumatized from seeing hyenas eat zebra carcasses in “The Lion King” walked to the strip mall behind Outback and found the hidden Mexican restaurant and attached supermarket, Puerto Vallarta.

At first, we seemed extremely out of place in the traditionally decorated restaurant. The only customers were of Hispanic descent. However, the moment we sat down, we felt at home. The service was great (I don’t say that about every restaurant) and a waitress was always ready to bring us another batch of warm chips and surprisingly good salsa. Despite being on the thinner side, the salsa actually had a nice spicy kick.

The menu had more options than you could imagine, and more than you’d expect from a relatively small restaurant in northern Indiana. Puerto Vallarta has an extensive lunch menu available every day until 3 p.m. and daily drink specials for those over 21. I elected to get a Jarrito’s Mexican soda, which was delicious and pineapple flavored, while others ordered old-fashioned glass-bottled Pepsis and Fantas.

As for the meal itself, the portion sizes were huge and, yes, I finished every last bite on my plate. I ordered the Vallarta Chimichanga, which contained a pair of deep fried chicken, spinach and white cheesy burritos, a side of refried beans and Mexican rice. Though it was delicious, I recommend the fajita burrito one of my friends bought which, honestly, puts Chipotle to shame. For those of you who like a plain cheese quesadilla, this place is not for you. Everything from the guacamole to the side order of rice packs strong flavor and an authentic feel.

At the end of the meal, everyone was served a complimentary cinnamon sugar fried tortilla with a caramel drizzle and dollop of whipped cream. It was the cherry on top, pun intended.

The biggest complaint I had about the meal was that I was too ridiculously full afterward to order more to bring home.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I am a huge fan of Puerto Vallarta, and recommend a visit if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive, yet delicious meal.

            Contact Ankur Chawla at achawla@nd.edu if you’d like to join him on his next quest for quality foreign foods in the area. Seriously, do it.

            The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.