Korean bbq

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Balance Pan Asian Grille is regarded among Toledo area foodies as a hot spot for Chinese food. Think creativity and taste on par with PF Chang’s in half the time and price. Balance is best known for their bowls, such as the uniquely named Nuts 4 Pao Bowl or the Sassy Me Bowl featuring ingredients like scallions, bean sprouts, Fresno chilies or kale with a choice of protein – tofu, chicken, or beef. Every vegetable on the plate is crisp and fresh. The meat is wok-fried and smoky. Most impressive is the lack of MSG in any of the food Balance serves. There’s no reasonable comparison to the likes of Magic Wok.

I recently posted on Facebook that Balance’s newest creation, a Korean BBQ taco, reminded me of Korea in a tortilla. Beautifully seared steak topped with kim chi and a sauce so divine I would have used whatever I had left as an attempt for a marinade. Owner/operator Chef CJ replied online that he would give me enough, as I imagined, to marinate a one pound serving of beef. He would fill up a 2 pound container of his signature Korean bbq sauce. So began a cleansing of my freezer.

I defrosted New York Strip steak, flank steak, and chicken breast, anything I had been hoarding to avoid cooking a standard uninspiring meal. I cut the meat into quarter inch length wise pieces, and then let the marinade sit for 15 hours.

The Korean food I knew growing up was always best on a stick. I loved the way the beef stuck to the skewer as I would gnaw and gnaw until the meat residue dissipated. A Korean bbq restaurant in San Jose, CA offered thin slices of raw beef buffet style. At our seats, a flaming grill for cooking with a spray bottle filled with water to smoke out flames.

I let the skewers sear on the grill for seven minutes before flipping. I craved a firm yet soft texture, a slight char and smokiness. Here’s the color I sought and achieved (two on the right) by NOT flipping prematurely.

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There’s a genre in food lingo called “comfort food.” Food that reminds one of comfort, food that inspires one’s past. And Balance’s Korean bbq taco does that for me. Their marinade is in my head. Everything I’ve eaten since has that afternote.

Follow Balance on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/balancegrille

Kengo Sushi and Yakitori

Japanese restaurants in Northwest Ohio are in abundance. Consider the traditional types – Kotobuki, Kyota Ka, Domo – or the half off joints – Sakura, Tea Tree, and Spicy Tuna. Couple these restaurants with the sushi stations at virtually every grocery store, eating sushi is fairly easy to do in the Toledo-area. That’s why Smash Toledo’s Joshua Wagy’s new venture, Kengo Sushi, intends to be different – purposely small dining area, small portions, with emphasis on yakitori.

Yakitori in Japanese means “grilled chicken.” It is the Japanese equivalent of American bar food, though exponentially healthier and tastier and smaller. Try bite-sized pieces of chicken breast, thigh, wings, and meatballs on Kengo’s $5000 yakitori grill, with an order costing between $3 and $4 dollars. In Japan, businessmen flood to yakitori joints after work and tradition states the atmosphere be chatty and filled with alcohol. Thus the beer is free-flowing at Kengo in order for it to be truly authentic.

Kengo Sushi is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5-11 and is located on St Claire Street a half block from Durty Bird. If you show up right at 5, you might get a seat. Make a night of it. Drink microbrews on tap while enjoying yakitori interminably, like a Japanese businessman.

Chef Kengo at work

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Yakitori grill

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Yakitori breast and thigh

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Shitaki, salmon, yellowtail, branzini, madai

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Chicken wings

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http://www.kengotoledo.com/

Chef Rob Creative Genius

Chef Rob Creative Genius

Although Perrysburg Ohio residents are receptive to new local restaurants, they are said to have traditional pallets, such as a hankering for prime rib or Atlantic salmon. You’d think this food trend would throw off a chef like Rob Campbell at Stella’s. Yet Chef Rob’s menu sophisticates Midwest cuisine. There’s salmon with a beurre blanc sauce; fettuccine with a whiskey blue cheese cream. The menu is simplified at two pages, but not simplistic.

One of Chef Rob’s signature dishes is a grilled Caesar salad with beef Carpaccio and ciabatta crostini. Imagine eating cold smoked salmon or a paper thin cut of prosciutto. That’s what Carpaccio feels and tastes like. Ciabatta crostini is thinner than a traditional crostini, and so lighter and crisper than even a rice cake. The grilled romaine is smoky and salty, served whole.

Asked to explain his philosophy behind the salad, expecting a Kevin Hart-like description of an awkward circumstance, Chef Rob simply stated: “I just love Carpaccio and thought it would be good in a Caesar salad.” Alas, many creative geniuses often downplay their newsworthy creations.

Stella’s is located in downtown Perrysburg on Louisiana Ave. Kitchen is open Monday through Thursday 11 AM to 10 PM. Friday and Saturday from 11 AM to 11 PM.

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The woman who inspired Stella’s

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grilled Caesar salad with beef Carpaccio and ciabatta crostini

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Where all the magic starts

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Incredible skill to cook amazing dishes in such a small space

Single Origin Coffee in Northwest Ohio

As the pioneering force in Northwest Ohio coffee, Plate 21 in South Toledo offered pour-overs when standard brews were the norm. And now Plate 21 is the first and only coffee shop in the area to serve single origin espressos on Saturdays.

Here’s how Plate 21’s barista Andrew Trumbull analyzed the single origin: “The espresso blend is a lot of coffees. The flavors are going to be deeper. You might have different notes on the beginning, middle, finish. With a single origin, you’re just going to get that one sustained flavor.”

What makes this endeavor possible is Plate 21’s coffee from Michigan’s Mad Cap. Use the wrong blend (Folger’s) and the single origin espresso is flat. Use the perfect Mad Cap roast that has the right density and authenticity, and the espresso is assertive, clean and vibrant.

This past Saturday Plate 21 used Kanzu, its beans from Rwanda. Kanzu holds up really well to being served as an espresso, but of note, not all blends will. Plate 21 owner Sandy Spang remarked, “it’s ultimately a whole different level when you do a single origin.”

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A Quest for Freshness

Tacos are supposed to be cheap. Ground chuck, iceberg lettuce strands, imitation shredded cheddar, sauce packets from Taco Bell, Ortega spice packet, Ortega taco shells. A small family’s supper that delves into another ethnic culture is under 12 bucks. Don’t want to cook? Tacos at Taco Bell are $1.19 each. And at Del Taco, buy a taco for just 69 cents.

El Tipico’s take on Mexican cuisine enables foodies to reconsider the commercialized taco. Dishes at El Tipico are purposely American, influenced by San Antonio’s Mexican food culture. “Mexican food can be tropical,” said owner and operator Dina Villa, “but San Antonio Mexican cuisine puts emphasis on peppers and flavors like mesquite.” El Tipico is ethnically driven and a taco lover’s destination.

Although the likes of Taco Bell are American as well, there’s no sense of ethnicity in their approach. That’s because Taco Bell and other Mexican restaurants in Northwest Ohio seek to make money at all costs. El Tipico is more concerned with changing how Mexican food is interpreted. And they do this by simply constructing the perfect hard taco.

By serving grass-fed beef, the mouthfeel of their hard tacos are vibrant and hearty. In contrast, other Mexican restaurants serve up beef that is often a textural mush. El Tipico serves each taco with organic tomatoes and organic romaine lettuce. The cheese is shredded fresh, and if left at room temperature, will stick and form into a cheese ball, indicating freshness. The taco shell is flash fried in-house.

For years Dina has been scouring the Toledo region for organic ingredients. It’s an obsession for her. She remarked, “We don’t use any MSG and no chemicals and no preservatives in our food at all. My wish is for other restaurants is that they use more organic products, or at least be chemical free.”

No other Mexican restaurant in town cares enough to be as pioneering.

Visit El Tipico on the web @
https://www.facebook.com/eltipicotoledo

Don’t forget about Taco Tuesdays. $1.50 per taco, soft or hard.

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Tom and Chee and Armagoetta

Even the worst at-home cooks are supposed to be able to make a grilled cheese. There’s cheese and there’s bread. Melt the cheese, grill the bread. Pair with a can of tomato soup. Ultimate comfort food that requires little culinary skill.

But at home there are the usual issues: tasteless bread, portions of the sandwich, like the crust, with no cheese on it, while the cheese itself hasn’t even melted all the way.

At Tom and Chee in Maumee, they’ve complicated the grilled cheese concept because even a grilled cheese should be perfect. “Imagine eating a hot dog,” owner Pam Adams said, “and the first bite is mostly bread with a little relish that fell off.” Not at Tom and Chee.

Adams believes in creating the perfect eating experience. The most important step is to taste each ingredient with every bite. Also important in constructing a perfect grilled cheese is the amount of butter slathered onto the bread. Too much and the sandwich is too rich. Too little and there’s zero crunch factor.

I tried the Armagoetta, featured on Travel Channel’s Man Versus Food Nation. A delicious blend of Goetta (German breakfast sausage), cherry peppers, fried onions, sweet hot mustard, pepper jack, sourdough, and rye.

The cherry peppers and mustard stand out the most, but there’s a sense of impeccable balance, as if the original owners in Cincinnati took years to develop this recipe.

Tom and Chee also crafts soups from scratch and features a build your own grilled cheese option. But beware, for your initial visit, order off the Fancy Grilled Cheese part of the menu because such options are tried and true.

Open Mon-Sat 11-9, Sun 11-8. Tom and Chee caters and can be followed on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/TomandCheeToledo

MVF Nation

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Restaurant Review: Fowl and Fodder

Fowl and Fodder is a new restaurant in Sylvania Township. Owner and Chef Scott Bowman worked for years at TGI Friday’s, opening restaurants and mastering its menu.

At Fowl, gourmet five star entrees are deconstructed and turned into sandwiches, wraps, and tacos. Try the duck pastrami and tempura meatloaf. Partner a grilled cheese with a hearty tomato soup.

Choose between five different salad combinations, all of whom are restaurant worthy. For instance, roasted squash salad includes warm butternut squash, bacon, cranberries, red onion, on mixed greens with apple cider vinaigrette.

What Fowl is most known for is a farm to table approach, a philosophy resonating across America. All of Fowl’s ingredients are local, sourced in and around Northwest Ohio. Every dish is built with fresh ingredients.

Give Chef Bowman a try. Make sure for your side that you request the deep-fried kale chips. They are to die for.