Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Friday, February 17, 2006

Just Dessert

Name: Lucy's Indian Cuisine
Location: 7518 Castor Avenue
Personnel: Me
What I Ate: Keema Paratha; Chicken Saag; Basmati Rice; Gulab Jamon
Condiments: Raita
Bill Total: $19
Observations: In all honesty I was planning to check out a different Indian restaurant in the Northeast, but I stumbled on Lucy's in what looked like a Brazilian shopping center and I wanted to see how the masala fared in such a habitat. The answer is eh. This was truly some of the blandest Indian food I have ever encountered. Perhaps the giveaway was that the only activity in the place was on the mounted TV broadcasting Asianet talk shows. The paratha, which was supposed to be stuffed with lamb, peas and ginger, had a few barely discernible crumbs of meat and no peas to speak of. The saag sauce, pooling around lackluster chunks of breast meat, was diluted by tomato juice. You know it's mediocre if the spiciest thing in the bunch was the raita. But it wasn't a total wash. The dessert, which had leaked out of its styrofoam nest and into the surrounding plastic wrap, made my lips ring with sugar—and my counter sticky with syrup. What can I say? I'm a sucker for those gulab jamon.

Goodbye Saigon

Name: Pho 38
Location: Route 38, Pennsauken, NJ
Personnel: Me
What I Ate: Banh Xèo Chay; Com Thit Nuong Bi Cha
Condiments: Nuoc Cham
Bill Total: $18
Observations: This particular strip mall has seen better days. Back when Flower World was still open and filling the parking lot with lawn tchotkes, Pho 38 was another Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon. Saigon was pretty good, and it had an elaborate fountain inside as well as a big aquarium—fancy, but in a way that was kind of decadent and depressing. Now the shopping center is all but vacant, the fountain is dried up and unplugged. Saigon has become yet another pho restaurant named after a number. (Good for remembering the address, but not so great for marketing purposes.) The aquarium is still there, though, and now there's a rotary shot dispenser on the bar that's filled solely with cognac. And fortunately, the food is still better than decent—as good as anything on Washington Avenue. You've got your array of pho, of course, each kind with one less meat than the next. There's steak, and steak and flank, and steak and flank and fatty tendon. And so on. I enjoyed the vegetarian Smiling Pancake, at once crisp and creamy, aromatic with coconut milk and punctuated with a smattering of cool mung beans. Of the many rice plates I chose the one with shreds of julienned pork, and slices of sweet marinated grilled pork, plus a wedge of egg cake, all of which got doused in tangy nuoc cham. Very tasty. Which is good, because Pho 38 might be this plaza's only hope for salvation.

Takeout Doubleshot

I've been negligent, but I'm not going to be *that* blogger and waste precious megabytes with excuses. Instead, I'm going to hit you up with a doubleshot of takeout experiences. (You'll notice that the tableware in the photos is my very own.)