Restaurant Review – Dog Food?

Oriental Dog Catcher 2

Notice one of the two cars in the side parking lot

I love Asian food as much or more than the next person,  I really do. I can eat Kimchi, Bulgogi, Pho – bo, Yaki – Mandu, Singapore Mei Fun, Dim Sum and a thousand other sides and dishes everyday…It really is my favorite cuisine. Over the years I lived on the road and had more windshield time than I care to remember resulting in my preference to cook at home which drove me to my hobby of cooking (check out my simple favorite recipes – Foreign and Domestic) and having Korean relatives makes me especially spoiled.

When a new place opened up in Altoona, PA. my wife and I figured we would hit it for lunch the day after it opened to avoid long lines with hope that they had smoothed out first day kinks. I am not a foodie review kinda guy but this place was worth mentioning, so let me tell you about our experience.

While we were being seated, almost immediately I noticed a change in Tracey’s demeanor.

She was either emitting a wee bit of apprehension or maybe is was a sudden lack of interest for lunch. It was only a second or two trance like state that I had picked up on.

I typically pride myself on situational awareness and the details of my surroundings so I began a quick scan in the direction of whatever had caught her eye.

At first I noticed that we were in an Asian place but I hadn’t seen an Asian person behind the counter or on the floor.  I am somewhat judgmental when it comes to restaurants at first glance having learned from traveling and visiting unfamiliar towns that an empty restaurant is usually a good indicator of popularity and quality unless you are visiting outside of business hours. Why name a place Grille (with the extra “e”) ? Does this hint at some fancy image for the venue?  Does adding Grille to an eating establishments name do anything for you?

Was it the politically incorrect signage?  Maybe it was the lack of customers or chopsticks? Where was the bamboo, be it wall art, fresh bamboo shoots or flooring?

There were a bunch of cars in the back of the place that I assumed were employees. There were also maybe 4 cars in the parking lot otherwise on the side and near the front of the joint. 

Is that the food purveyor's truck?

I hope this isn’t the purveyor’s truck?

While I am trying to figure out what she was stunned by, an Asian couple had walked past us into the place, did an about face and were headed back out to their car. They were the owners of the 5th customer vehicle in the lot, ours was the 4th, there was one out front and 2 others on the side of the place….and then there were 4 cars.

I looked back at her to see if I could get an inkling as to what she was looking at when she let out a nervous laugh….then I saw it.

Do you see anything that might suggest a problem with any of the Pictures on this post? How well developed is your situational awareness?

The review: 

The business sign said: Oriental Grille. I didn’t see any “Orientals” (other than the Asian couple that left after they came in) or a grill. What does an “oriental ” look like anyway? Chopsticks may have been non-existent but Animal Enforcement was on site. There were now only 3 cars other than ours in the lot and one of them was the local dog catcher’s. The time was just after noon, the peak of the lunch rush.

I love all noodles; all  types, shapes and sizes. I even dig Ramen noodles (I tweak a quick bowl of them into a masterpiece) but I don’t think a $12.00 La-Choy , out of the can like lunch would lure me back for a second go at it.

The place (Bamboo Garden Oriental Grill) had 2 options:

A Main dish of typical (but even more watered down Americanized) Chinese  or you could choose your stir fry ingredients (out of the can bean sprouts) and whatever kind of meat (Chicken, Pork or Beef) you preferred. There wasn’t a fish meal, option, garnish or picture in sight.

Another odd part of it was that you took a plastic pointed flag-like marker out of a shot glass on your “group table” and stuck it in your stir-fry bowl and added another from the meat selection counter. These were to identify what table the stir fry was brought out to and what meat you had chosen. I don’t think these things were cleaned and didn’t see any system in place for sterilization. If you chose the stir fry, they told us that you could make another trip to the ingredient bar for another bowl after sticking the plastic things back into your plate again. I don’t think the pointy plate identifiers were cleaned for your second round either. Who had my pointer in their plate before me? I shuddered to think.

Our patio view - Dog Enforcement

Our patio view – Dog Enforcement

I can say though that I think this place might make it here in the Logan Valley area.  The staff were friendly, attentive and believe in the place so I think they have half the battle won. Too bad they have chosen to “take the hill” with an out of the can experience. I’m not knocking the locals (hell, I was born here and recently moved back, although for a short period until we head south) but many here have a bland palette. There are no Pho, Dim Sum or high quality sushi places in the area. People look at your funny when you mention tapas.

Altoona does have great butcher shops, potato chips out the ass and candy stores the size of small warehouses. There are pickled eggs, bologna, and all sorts of other bar like and bad for you (processed) but killer products to buy in bulk here as well.

I am not squeamish and have a mostly adventurous attitude when it comes to food. I prefer my vegetables fresh or lightly stir fried, I don’t eat beans (french style green beans only) , mackerel or anything that has a suction cup. I do however require a clean, well kept (a sign of an organized safe place to eat) environment sans animal enforcement.