By Mark Nixon
The needle on my internal foodometer tilted decidedly toward delicious in 2015.
Let’s start with what I believe is the best restaurant of those He Ate She Ate reviewed this year: Cosmos.
Attached to Zoobie’s, a former factory bar, Cosmos turns out amazing gourmet pizzas and tapas-style dishes. The triple creme brie on bruschetta with basil pesto and balsamic reduction left me giddy. The scallops and shrimp ceviche is every bit as good as dishes I’ve tasted on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
Cosmos has the ambience of a casual bar/pizzeria — urban chic with a sci-fi tilt — without appearing to try too hard. This pizza joint has hitched its chuck wagon to a star, and right now it’s flying high.
It’s hard to call the State Room an overlooked gem, since it’s located on the fringe of a world renowned university. But because it’s tucked inside a hotel, the Kellogg Center at MSU, the State Room seems mostly absent from the local dining crowd’s consciousness.
That’s a shame, because these folks can cook. I like how the kitchen embraces seasonal fruits and vegetables with dishes like apple and parsnip bisque. The restaurant works hard at sauces, and it pays off. The fennel-infused sauce for lobster cakes, a cognac sauce for the herbencrusted trout and a sprightly apricot sauce for braised pork belly are just three stars in the State Room’s culinary constellation. This is not for diners on a tight budget. But for a delicious splurge, the State Room is foodie nirvana.
The Knight Cap is back. Literally, of course, it never went anywhere. But in recent times it was like a tired actor reciting the same old schtick. Not any longer. New owners have made this classic Lansing restaurant classy again.
While known for its steaks, the revamped Knight Cap truly excels in seafood. The scal lops appetizer and the lightly encrusted walleye entree are worth the price — $17 and $28, respectively. If you like mushrooms, order the mushroom sard appetizer: button mushrooms drifting in a rich pool of garlic butter, brandy, cream and a red wine sauce.
Though the Knight cap remains its small, intimate self, the interior has been redecorated as a brighter, more modern heir to its mid-20th century predecessor.
For such a small place, the Good Truckin’ Diner has a big heart and creative flair to match. This REO Town diner personifies a piece of blue collar Lansing that’s seeing a renaissance. If you’re hankering for breakfast with a twist, get the Hangover. It’s housesmoked pulled pork with fried eggs, fresh-baked biscuits and a subtly seasoned white gravy. This twist on biscuits and gravy shows Good Truckin’ Diner is willing to take risks on its menu. And it works.
International eaters anthem
By Gabrielle Johnson
For my 2015 wrap-up, I’m going to tell you about my top five Lansing joints to get international food — and one very special honorable mention. Let’s hit it.
Huapei is our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Yes, the hours are hit or miss, and it seems that sometimes they aren’t open because they just didn’t feel like being open that day. Learn to deal with it, because the sizzling rice soup will cure what ails you. A huge bowl of chicken, beef, crab and mushrooms in steaming broth turns into Mount Vesuvius when a plate of, you guessed it, sizzling rice is poured in. Nothing is better on a blustery day.
Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant has had a rollercoaster year, from absentee landlords who don’t pay their utility bills to a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign. Owners Mi and Moe Latt are steadfast in providing original, fresh, inexpensive dishes — always followed by a fresh fruit chaser. Try the pad Thai, which comes in its own egg envelope, or my favorite, the su kee, a tomato-based stew with chicken, shrimp, squid, egg, noodles, beans, watercress and fennel seeds.
Hong Kong is near Frandor, but it might as well be actually in Hong Kong based on the clientele. A sign of a solid Chinese restaurant is a dining room full of Chinese patrons, in my opinion. The eaters on a recent Saturday night were eating what I think is called hot pot, but I’m not familiar enough with it and didn’t want to out myself as a weirdo, so I didn’t ask. If anyone out there is familiar with what seems to be the secret menu at Hong Kong, please let me come with you. I’ll even pay. In the meantime, try the lemon chicken. It is only lightly breaded, so the lemon shines through. The dipping sauce that comes with the spring rolls is to die for. If it were socially acceptable for me to suck it up with a straw, I would do so.
Altu’s has been a favorite of the fiancé and mine since we went there on our first date. Not to sound like the fanciest person of all time, but this year we had the opportunity to compare our favorites from Altu’s with an Ethiopian restaurant in Rome. I’m happy to report that Altu’s holds its own. Grab a friend and get the vegetarian and meat feast for two, and be sure to include the lima beans and collard greens as two of your choices. Who knows, that primal action of tearing pieces of bread and using them to scoop delicious food into your mouth just might lead to love. Share one of the fresh smoothies to celebrate.
The most recent addition to my international favorites list is a place that I have been hitting hard over the last few months. Zaytoon is right next to the Lansing Mall, in a building that used to be Benson’s Vinaigrettes. Everything is fresh and flavorful, from the stuffed grape leaves to the garlic sauce to the (chocolate!) baklava. Our favorite is the Toon for Two, a sampler platter that includes my favorite, shish kafta, and his preferred, chicken shawarma. The handsome owner and friendly service don't hurt a bit.
My honorable mention goes to El Oasis, which isn’t a traditional top five contender since it is a food truck. Two quesadillas with chorizo on corn tortillas with a side of beans and rice is one of the best meals you can find in town. Yes, I eat my fair share of salad and grilled chicken breasts, but when the time comes to indulge my inner citizen of the world, I take myself to El Oasis. (I lock the bag in the truck on the ride home so I’m not tempted to pull over and tear into a taco. It’s happened before, and it ain’t pretty.)
May 2016 bring us all health, happiness, and big fat delicious meals.