Dave Chou, owner of the new Chopstix Fine Asian Food restaurant in East Lansing, came to the United States with a marine engineering degree. He found a career in the culinary arts.
Chou joined his immigrant family in the food service business and learned on the job at restaurants and as a banquet chef before taking a leap on his own.
“I always wanted to own my own restaurant,” Chou says. “I decided to go for it.”
The new venture is based on Chou’s Taiwanese heritage, a heritage that includes southern Chinese, Korean and Japanese culinary influences, Chou says. All of those flavors find a home on his menu, but as any conscientious restaurateur will tell you, flavors are only as good as the ingredients.
“I choose fresh, high-quality ingredients,” Chou says. “I stay away from canned food.”
Chou is especially proud of Chopstix’s beef noodle soup. The menu offers a wide range of options, from spicy black pepper chicken ($8.95) and tofu with ginger and garlic sauce ($7.95) to the basil shrimp ($10.95) with a house sauce and twice-cooked pork ($9.25). The back of the menu also features an authentic Chinese section, which most non-native speakers of Mandarin will need a translator to read.
“It’s just a passion,” Chou says, referring to his time in the kitchen preparing food for others. “I like to talk to people, too, and get feedback to make it better.”
More than smoothies
A few blocks east of Chopstix is a little slice of tropical paradise. On Monday, Tropical Smoothie Café opened for business. It’s the first Tropical Smoothie franchise in the area; there are nearly two dozen in the state and over 200 across the country.
Owner Ruth Buko, an attorney by trade, comes from a family of business owners. She decided the time was right to run her own show.
“It’s nice to get a break” from the legal scene, Buco says. Besides that, Buco was goaded into this particular concept by progeny.
“My daughter loves these smoothies,” Buco says. “Every time we would pass one she would beg me to stop.”
Smoothies, of course, are at the heart of the menu. The very first Tropical Smoothie, founded in Florida in 1993, sold only fruity drinks. When the company began franchising in the late 1990s, wraps, flatbread sandwiches, salads and more were added to the menu.
Toasted sandwiches ($6.99) include unique combinations such as the wasabi Caeser roast beef on ciabatta bread. The Caribbean Luau is one of the toasted flatbread ($3.99) options. It’s dressed with chicken, mozzarella, pineapple, romaine lettuce and a touch of Jamaica with a jerk sauce. Salads ($6.39) and wraps ($6.99) round out the food end of the menu.
Whether you’re looking for something on the lighter side or you’re treating yourself to something more indulgent, the smoothie menu should have it. The Hawaiian Breeze ($4.59) is the slimmest at 210 calories with sugar substitute. Mango, kiwi, pineapple, peaches and berries fill the low-fat smoothies.
Those with dessert on the mind might head for the smoothies with chocolate like the Mocha Madness or the Chocolate Chiller ($4.99). There’s even a smoothie menu for energy addicts: the Muscle Blaster ($4.99) combines strawberries, banana and whey or soy protein.
Tropical Smoothie also offers an all-day breakfast menu and deals such as adding a smoothie to any food item for $3 or to a half sandwich or half salad for ($7.29).
The tropical concept is rooted in the menu, but the atmosphere brings it to life. Vibrant greens and oranges fill the dining space, a wicker-bladed fan adorns the ceiling, and bamboo and palm tree décor lines the walls.
“When you come in, we want you to feel like you’ve been on a 10-minute vacation,” says Buco.
Au revoir to Augie’s
Augie’s Broasted Chicken has closed. Last August, owners of the poultry house, noted for a giant rotating chicken marquee, reinvented the spot that long stood as an Arby’s at the corner of Larch and Cedar streets. While the homemade sides will be missed, fans of Broaster-style meals can find the pressure-fried chicken at Leo’s Outpost in Lansing and Leo’s Spirit’s and Grub in Okemos.
Chopstix Fine Asian Food
1001 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday
www.chopstix-msu.com (coming soon)
Tropical Smoothie Café
1201 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
TO, D, P, OM, $