#152: Asian Bliss

Some time ago I noticed that Mongolian Bliss had been replaced by a new restaurant called Asian Bliss.  I thought it might be the same restaurant with a branding change, but it looks to be something entirely different.  They conveniently kept the “Bliss” portion of the sign and added “Asian” with a little sun to make up the extra space since Mongolian was much longer, and the color changed to green.

I met up with my parents for dinner at 6PM tonight.  We headed inside and it was clear that they had very minimal work to do in changing over the dining room, as in almost none.  It’s basically identical.  The kitchen is a different story.  I imagine removing the circular grill and changing out the buffet counter for a regular one took a little effort.  We were the only customers when we entered, and just one other person came in briefly to pick up a to go order while we were there.  Very, very quiet for a Friday night.  We were greeted immediately by pretty much the only employee I saw.  I caught a quick glimpse of someone back in the kitchen once, but other than that it was just the four of us up front.  He had us sit anywhere we liked and we took a booth near the front.  He brought us waters in neon-blue plastic cups and my dad asked about the beer selection, which he listed off quickly.  They had about 4 or 5 to choose from, half domestic and half Japanese, all bottled I believe.  Back past the counter you can see a series of shelves with one of each on display.  He went with a Kirin, which was brought out quickly in a cold glass.

The menu is quite small, evenly divided between appetizers, small plates, full entrees and rolls.  A lot of it is on the Japanese side of the Asian spectrum, with Udon noodles, Teriyaki, Bento boxes and rolls.  They have a few other items like Korean BBQ, Thai chicken and a Mongolian dish.  We pretty quickly decided on our entrees.  We ordered an appetizer of mixed tempura[$8.95] which he got started immediately, then returned for our main food order.  The tempura arrived within 5 minutes and was very hot, as it usually is everywhere.  A massive onion ring topped a selection of veggies and shrimp.  Potato, carrot, squash and broccoli were found., maybe one or two others.  We thought initially that they didn’t serve it with dipping sauce, but he returned immediately with the little dish.  As with most places that serve this, it was pretty solid.  It’s hard to mess up tempura (I’m guessing).

Ten minutes later he brought out salads.  My parents each ordered a roll and a side salad[$2].  I had ordered the Korean BBQ[$12.95] which included the same side salad.  Like Blue Nami or other sushi places, the dressing was creamy, yet light and sweet.  This consisted of crisp lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and broccoli.  It was great.  The rolls came out at about the same time and were relegated to the center of the table while the salads were worked on.  My Korean BBQ came about a minute later and I ate them side by side.  My parents both said they really liked the rolls.  They were the RedRose Roll (Crab meat, avocado, cucumber, carrot, spicy tuna with sauce and green onion)[$11.45] and the Dragon Roll (Crab meat, cucumber, avocado, smoked shrimp with sauce and tobiko)[$11.45].  I had a few bites of the Dragon roll which was pretty good.  The smoked shrimp seemed just like regular tempura shrimp to me and had a nice crunch to it.

My Korean BBQ was kalbi – marinated and grilled short ribs.  Served up with a side of rice, this was a pile of thin sliced beef on the bone.  Eating this with chopsticks served to be quote a challenge, and I ended up picking up each piece by hand, grabbing it by the bone.  It was messy, but much easier.  The very first piece I picked up had some fairly tough, chewy bits on it.  Every piece after that, however, was incredibly tender and mostly came right off the bone with very little effort.  The meat was fantastically flavorful and had a sweet but savory, teriyaki-like flavoring to it.  The rice was not as soft as I expected.  A little soy sauce over top and this was a nice side.

Overall we were pretty impressed with this little restaurant.  Our server was on top of things (as you would expect being the only customers), refilling waters and checking up on us routinely.  I think it was just a touch on the pricey side, but that’s really the only small negative I can think of.  It’s sad to see a somewhat different yet tasty Mongolian place disappear, but this is a worthy replacement.  I hope they get some more customers and stick around for longer than Mongolian Bliss!

#69: Noodles & Co

Right off the bat here I just want to say I didn’t realize how many locations this restaurant had.  Until I looked at their website today I thought they were a single location or maybe a small chain, but it seems they are all over the country, mostly in the east.  I had never heard of them before though and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so here we go.

My friends Amelia & Eric came up from midtown to see Prometheus (great movie, btw) and do lunch.  They chose Noodles & Co from my list and so off we went.  They are located in the Fountains shopping center out in front, close to Roseville Parkway, right next to California Pizza Kitchen.  I arrived first at about 2PM while my friends were off finding a parking spot.  Despite the parking throughout the Fountains being pretty packed overall the restaurant was fairly quiet.  For whatever reason I had imagined Noodles & Co as being a table service type of place, but instead you order and pay at a counter in the back.

Once my friends had made their way inside we approached the counter and I started to check out the options.  They have it split into three sections (see menu), Mediterranean, Asian & American.  They also have a section of sandwiches which I nearly ordered from (the Wisconsin Cheesesteak: marinated steak, Mac & Cheese sauce, cheddar-jack cheese, red onion, bell pepper and mushrooms on ciabatta), but I decided I should probably stick with one of the main sections for my first visit.  First,  you make a selection from one of these sections, then (for most) you choose a meat or tofu (parmesan-crusted chicken, chicken breast, marinated steak, shrimp, meatballs or organic tofu).  Finally for a buck extra you can add a side salad (tossed green, caesar or cucumber tomato) or a cup of soup (Thai curry, chicken noodle or tomato basil bisque).

I decided on the Truffle Mac (“Our signature Mac & Cheese sauce spiked with white truffle oil, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms, parmesan and house-made toasted bread crumbs”.  Sounded pretty good to me.  I added a cup of the Thai curry soup and went with a fountain drink.  It all came to about $13.  I headed to grab my soda and was happy to see, for the first time since Dos Coyotes, one of the fantastical new Coke machines with a million flavors.  Of course I went with Dr Pepper, which was well mixed and very tasty.

We were seated for less than 5 minutes when our orders began to arrive.  Eric ordered the Spaghetti & Meatballs (Five meatballs on spaghetti, crushed tomato marinara and parmesan) and Amelia ordered a bowl of the Thai Curry Soup with organic tofu (yellow coconut curry, broccoli, carrots, red pepper, onion, mushrooms, a “light portion” of rice noodles, served on cabbage with black sesame).  Both were pretty good sizes, I forgot to ask but I’m assuming they were both the large orders.

I had a small hot dog before the movie because I had skipped breakfast (no surprise there) and I wasn’t super hungry, so I just went for a small order of the Truffle Mac.  The portion of parmesan-crusted chicken was about twice as big as I was expecting, which was nice of course.  The mac & cheese  was very rich and delicious.  The baby portabella mushrooms were a great addition.  The chicken was ok, it was a little dry and felt like it was probably prepped, frozen and shipped to the store.  Flavor-wise it was decent, but I think if I’m in the mood for that I’d be better off getting the real deal at another restaurant.  The chicken breast may be a better, juicier option here, and I’m sure that’s what I’ll try next time.

The Thai curry soup was very light, as least the noodles and other ingredients were.  It was actually quite full of noodles despite the claim of  a “light portion.”  The broth was pretty tasty, and towards the end when I was finishing it off, the spice that they claim on the menu with the little pepper finally showed itself, only after consecutive sips without a drink.  I have to admit I was hoping for something a bit richer, like the curry based soup I tried at Mongolian Bliss, but this was pretty good and I would have it again as an addition to my main dish.

I was pretty pleased with Noodles & Co in general.  As I mentioned I think that the chicken breast might be a better option than the parmesan-crusted chicken.  Amelia & Eric seemed happy overall, and Amelia even mentioned how she wished this type of restaurant where you build-your-own plate was more common downtown.  I’m sure I’ll be back again to sample more of the menu soon.

Website: http://www.noodles.com/locations/554


Note: As of when I am posting this, the Google map location is off by a block or so.  Noodles & Co is located in the fountains right next to California Pizza Kitchen.  I submitted a correction, so hopefully it will be fixed.