Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Tanoshii in Deep Ellum

 

Take one simple bite of ramen at a restaurant, close your eyes, and you’re suddenly transported to a dormatory study lounge at 2 am.

The last time I had Ramen noodles, I was 19.

Okay — that’s totally a lie.  I was 29, in the breakroom of a previous job.  It was 2pm, and I still had tons of work to do so I found Ramen to the rescue.  An admin walks in with her lunch and a novel and she said “Ramen?  I didn’t think anyone past the age of 20 had ramen anymore.”  Yikes.  Not only will I have a crappy lunch but now I get to feel embarrassed about it too.  Meanie.  :(
Five years later, I find myself in line for the grand opening of Tanoshii ramen.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m really trying to understand the ramen craze.
For vegetarian diners, there are a few options – they aren’t great.
You can really tell when a restaurant is burdened by vegetarians or is up for the challenge.
I don’t expect “above and beyond” for vegetarian items, but I can tell that less thought went into the vegetarian/vegan dishes.
To start, we ordered the shishito peppers, but it’s seasonal, as mentioned on the menu, so they didn’t have those.  That’s a minus for me, if you KNOW your opening day and you put it on the menu and then say “oh we don’t have that because it’s seasonal”.  I think it’s better to have a seasonal menu.  When you write “seasonal”, the patron doesn’t know if it’s available or not.
The menu was riveted together at the top which makes it very awkward to page through it.  You can get a crick in your neck OR crease the pages of their brand new menus.  I chose my neck.
Our server, Kenneth, was outstanding.  Very polite and had a nice smile and didn’t let on at all that opening day was ridiculously crazy and/or stressful.  He gave us some recommendations.  Just a really nice guy.  I tested him and asked him what Tanoshii means, and he passed, so Kenneth is definitely paying attention and doing his job well.

 

We ordered sweet potato dumplings, which were tasty and flavorful.  The size of the dumplings were really small and quantity was low (6 pcs).  I think that dish should be  at LEAST 8 pcs/order.  But again, very flavorful, just gone in 3 seconds.

 

Then I ordered edamame just because we were famished and needed something to hold us over until our food arrived.  The edamame was perfect.
We ordered a curry noodle dish with the vegan option (topped with specialty mushrooms).  Are ramen noodles vegan?  I wasn’t sure, but I’m not vegan. The curry sauce was spicy but very tasty.  There were some grape tomatoes and microgreens, but not much visible other than that.
We also ordered a beautiful soupy dish with Tofu (the only vegetarian broth item on the menu) which was equally flavorful but a bit on the salty side.  I don’t mind though – i thought it was good.  The tofu was panko crusted, but then buried in a bowl of soup, hence loosing the intended texture.  What’s the point?  And why only 5 cubes of tofu?  Am i 6 years old?

 

The ambiance on opening night was very…young.  I guess Ramen has a way of attracting 20 something student types.  Nothing wrong with that  - looks like a lot of singles hanging out in groups having a good time.
The mood of the place is confusing – the decor is fresh modern and clean.  The clientele is more casual young singles and the prices were in between. Bright, well-lit lighting.  It’s hard to know what this place is trying to be?
Seating was a horrible experience.  On opening night, the wait was 1.5 hrs – which we agreed to and hung out at other places in Deep Ellum until seating time.  Then 1.5 hrs passed and I hadn’t heard back.  We went back to the restaurant and the inexperienced hostesses said “oh we aren’t seating anymore” and I said “our name is on the list since 8 pm – just wondering when we might get seated”  She said well we probably aren’t going to seat anymore.  It’s almost 10 pm and well, it’s opening night”  Wow.  Then she decided to emphasize one more time that it’s opening night.  If she told me at 8pm, that’s acceptable. But I don’t want to wait 1.5 hrs to find out that you aren’t seating me?   Then a lot of people finished their meals at once so some tables cleared up, and we were able to sit down.  But what a sour way to start the night.
We didn’t have dessert.  Instead, we chose to go home and knock out a row of Oreos…you know, staying with the “college diet” ramen theme.
SUMMARY: Flavor of dishes were good but not for the price point.  Selection, eh.  Service, excellent.  Atmosphere, huh?
I must remind myself however, that it WAS opening night, and it is simply, RAMEN.A big understated and underrated plus is that Tanoshii is open until 3am on weekends.  At 2 am, this might be what Dallas needs, compared to Mai’s in Houston, which is always packed in the wee hours of the morning.  Secondly, maybe Tanoshii will assist in keeping drunk drivers off of the road and into a bowl of noodles instead.

 

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Restaurant Review – The Gem

The Gem isn’t a “restaurant” technically, but lately it is my favorite Tuesday morning indulgence.  I stopped by one morning before work, mildly hesitant.  I’m not a smoothie girl at all nor am I big on liquid health, but after one taste of their Tahitian Pearl smoothie, I am addicted to The Gem!  (By the way, all of the menu items are named after precious stones (gems)!)  :-)  I love the mood of this place – colorful, uplifting, and young.  You will shed 5 years off just by walking in.  If you aren’t sure where to start, or what to order, just look for the writing on the wall or ask one of their Certified Health Counselors, like Maury – she knows EVERYTHING!!  They’ll know how to fix what ails you and they will make it taste great. I’m not even loyal for the incredible health benefits….honestly – I just love the taste and I know that it’s good for me!  Here’s what Chief Gemologist, Leslie, has to say about The Gem.   


What is The Gem?  

The GEM is, like our tag line says, a place to GLOW.  Honestly organic juice, smoothies, green bites. Come in to enjoy it or learn why you need it, it is up to you.

Is The Gem a franchise? Where does the name “The Gem” come from or what inspired it? 

Not a franchise.  The health counseling program is called Diamonds on Your Inside. Initially, the counseling program was going to be my new endeavor. The organic juices and smoothies were what we loved and how we lived.  MK asked if I’d ever thought of having a juice bar ‘in the front’ of my health counseling office.  Eureka! The name The GEM is one way to get diamonds on your inside. Plus we love the play on words of being able to say ‘I went to the GEM twice today. Or, be a GEM.’ It is a way to ‘glow’ inside and out.

There are other juice bars and smoothie shops close by.  What makes The Gem unique? 

We are a community and we try to know our customers by name. It’s a healthy Cheers, if you will.   It’s also a place where you can learn more about a healthy lifestyle—and we talk about it to anyone who wants to ask about it. Plus, The GEM works really hard to maintain our fruits and vegetables are organic. No pesticides or GMOs here, because that is the way we live at home.

Are the smoothies meant to be meal replacements?  Morning breakfast?  Afternoon boost? 

Both! With the right ingredients, smoothies can be a meal replacement—providing greens, healthy fats, proteins, super fruits.  It can also be an afternoon boost if the recipe is on the lighter side.  We have smoothies that can do both.

I see that you are not only the manager but also a Certified Health Counselor.  Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how it plays a role in your everyday job? 

We graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC, a year long program designed to guide clients towards a healthy, happy lifestyle. Our health counseling program, Diamonds On Your Inside, is tailored to each individual and emphasizes that health is not simply a diet.  It is a lifestyle. Exercise, work, spirituality, relationships.  They all play a critical role in becoming healthy, fit and happy. We talk about these foundations all the time, share it with our employees, post it on our walls. We have a disco ball turning 24/7….people know we work hard at enjoying life.

It’s difficult to knock a business that serves such quality ingredients, but what kind of response/answer would you have for the worst critic? 

It takes time for the palate to adjust to clean, healthy food.  Give it a chance, your body will love you and begin to crave it! Also, vibrant, organic food is not cheap, easy, or fast.  But you shouldn’t be either!


Do you accommodate allergies and/or dietary restrictions (vegan, gluten-free, etc)?  

The GEM is vegan and gluten free.  We always accommodate allergies with respect and due diligence.

 You seem to really know and understand your products and service, which I appreciate.  What is something that you want customers to know that isn’t immediately apparent?  

Everything we do is met with lots of consideration for the integrity of what we provide.  We don’t provide smoothies that are super loaded with sugar because that’s not healthy. We compost. The quality of the olive oil (organic Bragg’s), the water filtration system (reverse osmosis).  When we learned our sunflower seeds for one of our salads were not grown how and where we approved, we immediately changed vendors.  The quality of what we do is important. VERY.We go out of our way for special customers who need us. Specially pressing juices for very sick and loyal customers.  Why? Because when I was sick, I wanted a place to go where I felt secure in what and how I was being served.

 What are your two personal favorite items on the menu?

The Amazing Crown Jewel (no dates) and the new Flawless pressed green juice.

 What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Nothing that can’t be solved with a 24oz green juice and some disco music.

 What’s your guilty pleasure meal?

Truffle fries from Hopdoddy. Fried rice from Shin Sei. Toasted marshmallows–lots of them.

*This review was not sponsored by The Gem*

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Restaurant Review: Fujiyama Sushi & Yakitori Bar

When we first moved to the neighborhood, my husband and I drove past Fujiyama and he said “we should try this place sometime”. And I immediately said “Why? It’s in a strip mall! Next to a Kroger….it can’t be that good” But after our first visit, we’ve never looked for vegetarian sushi anywhere else. I’ve been loyal to Fujiyama for years now.

 

Chef Ilwon (he goes by Won) knows all the regulars (like us) and he recognizes us as soon as we walk in the door. But if you are new, you’ll still be welcomed and greeted by his big contagious smile. I don’t think Won has ever been angry or upset in his life ever. I simply can’t imagine. He probably came out of the womb smiling.  Won reminds me of a Japanese Clark Kent – I wonder if you would agree.  Even if you don’t, you’re about to learn that he is, in fact, the Superman of Sushi.

 For vegetarians, sushi is generally pretty consistent, until your try Won’s sushi. Won pushes the envelope of vegetarian sushi and has MUCH more to offer. Consider starting with a miso soup, a seaweed salad, and his agedashi tofu. If you’re looking for some traditional avocado rolls, cucumber rolls, or vegetable rolls, he’s got you covered.  However, some days, I just like to see what he’ll surprise us with.

The first time we mentioned that we’re vegetarian, his eyes lit up as if he had many more tricks in the bag for vegetarian fare. Won went to the Harvard of Japanese Culinary Schools, so he has much talent and creativity waiting to be unleashed…you just have to give him the green light. I often order a Vegetarian Bento Box.  He’s probably the only one in the city that offers one and it’s also really good and full of surprises!  Your tongue might be tantalized with hints of olive oil, sweet potato, lemon mayonnaise, or marscapone. Give him a white canvas and let him paint!

We’ve also brought a big group of friends here, both vegetarian and meat-eaters and they agree with our sentiments.  Don’t miss this culinary museum.  I’ve tried a few other places since, but hands down, Ilwon is the best.  Fujiyama is the best.

Fujiyama Sushi & Yakitori Bar on Urbanspoon

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