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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lawrence, KS: Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD

Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street - Downtown Lawrence)

Aladdin Café
1021 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: 785-832-1100

My wife had heard good things about Aladdin Café in downtown Lawrence (Mass Street), so we figured we would give it a try while a friend was visiting from Colorado.  She had never had middle-Eastern food before and was enticed by the unfamiliar smells emanating from the kitchen.  As we entered there were two parties seated out of probably 20 tables throughout the restaurant which is sparsely decorated with a small store containing a few middle-Eastern products in the rear next to the kitchen.  We stood there for close to five minutes while the only server in the place yukked it up with a table of three men whom apparently could not make up their minds and could obviously care less that we were standing there like bumps on a log.  She finally ended her conversation and came over tho seat us.

With no bar or alcohol on the menu, you are able to bring your own wine or beer (no corkage fee), so I had done my research on Yelp and brought a nice bottle of wine, a $10 Syrah that would easily cost $30 in most restaurants.  This is a nice option and it was the first time I had the opportunity to partake of such a custom, definitely keeping the bill from getting out of hand.  The server brought two glasses along with our water and a corkscrew.  It would have been nice if she had offered to open and pour the wine for us, and she would have been tipped accordingly, but that was not the case.  I opened the wine, poured, and waited for our server to take our order.


Being our first visit, we decided to try the Agrabah Appetizer Combo, a combination of hummus (blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic garnished with sumac, parsley, and hot sauce), baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant blended with
Appetizer Combo - $8.99
tahini sauce, lemon juice, and garlic), genie dip (roasted red pepper mixed with chickpeas, garlic, and tahini), falafel (deep fried patties of fava bean, chickpea, cilantro,
garlic, and onion blend), dolmati (VERY small rolled grape-leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and herbs, simmered in tomato and lemon juice), feta cheese, and Kalamata olives ($7.99) served with a small plate of pita bread.  After 20 minutes and no appetizer, I thought our server, who disappeared much of the time we were there, had forgotten, so we tracked her down to ensure our combo platter arrived well before our meals.  The hummus, genie dip, and baba ghanouj were plopped on the oval plate alongside two small falafels and two small dolmati.  Considering the price and that were were three, I would expect a bit more, considering the fact that the dolmati and falafels were so small you could pop one in your mouth and still have room for an entire White Castle burger.  

Falafel Sandwich with French Fries - $8.99
My wife had the Falafel and Baba Ghanouj Sandwich (Vegan - roasted eggplant spread and falafel served with tahini sauce on pita bread - $7.99) which came with rice.  My wife wanted French fries instead of rice, so the server told us it would be a $1.00 up-charge, not unreasonable, but when the plate arrived there were hardly any fries, maybe six or seven medium size pieces and not nearly enough to satisfy her hunger or justify an extra dollar.  The sandwich had much more lettuce than fillings, a couple small falafels in a medium size pita and at $8.99 including fries, no bargain.  My wife is not a big eater and was still hungry after finishing her food, not a good sign.

Beef and Lamb Gyro w/ Fries - $8.99
I decided to try Aladdin’s Gyro, a combination of grilled lamb and beef ($7.99 - chicken also available) with lettuce and tomato and topped with tzatziki, a creamy Greek cucumber sauce.  I also ordered the fries and after tasting our friend’s rice and was happy to pay an extra dollar for a few measly French fries.  Her rice was bland and white with a dollup of canned mystery tomato sauce on top, a tasteless side and nothing like the wonderful saffron rice I had eaten in the middle-East in the early 2000’s.  The few small slices of gyro meat inside were overwhelmed by the massive amounts of cheap lettuce and a few pieces of tomato.  I have had gyros with three times the meat in Greece and the U.S. that were less than half the price, so do not expect good value when visiting Aladdin Café.

I am not a huge fan of middle-Eastern cuisine, but the offerings at Aladdin were enough to allow some variety.  The service was inadequate, the food mediocre and NOT plentiful, and the ambience non existent.  It is unfortunate because we live just a few blocks away from Aladdin and it would be nice to have a few exotic options in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the only thing exotic about Aladdin Café on Mass Street are the prices and that is not a good thing.


CombatCritic gives Aladdin Café 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





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Key Words: Aladdin, Cafe, middle, eastern, falafel, gyro, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, service, hummus, baba, ghanouj, pita, bread, tzatziki, CombatCritic

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Namaste" … India Palace is a "WELCOME", but Expensive, Delight!

Lawrence, Kansas

India Palace
129 E 10th Street,
Lawrence, KS 66044

Telephone:  785-331-4300

"Namaste … India Palace is a WELCOME", but Expensive, Delight!



Chutnies Accompany the Meat Samosas (not shown ... Oops!
“Namaste” is a term used in India and Nepal as well as many other places around the world.  A customary greeting when individuals meet and a valediction upon their parting, Namaste is the most common form of such a salutation and is considered a non-contact form of salutation.  Namaste actually is formed from two Sanskrit words, “namah”, meaning  “salutation” or “ adoration” and “te”, meaning “you”. When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This gesture, called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasanacan also be performed wordlessly, carrying the same meaning. We were made to feel very welcome on our visit to India Palace.


Sitting a half a block off of Massachusetts Avenue, the hub of activity and the centerpiece of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, India Palace is walking distance from our home and convenient for those shopping downtown.  The décor is basic and the staff friendly and welcoming.  We were greeted immediately as we walked-in, having a reservation for a Friday night which was apparently not necessary as would be the case in most downtown restaurants on a weekend.  Based on our experience, there is only one possible reason for not being busier, a fact I will get to in a bit.  But first, let me talk about the cuisine …

Lamb Rogan Josh with Basmati Rice
I ordered a Fat Tire ($3.00 – 12 ounce mug), one of two draft

beers available on the menu, the other being Boulevard Wheat (also $3.00) and Coke products are available in addition to an assortment of bottled beer and wines.  I started with the meat samosas ($4.95 for two), a blend of ground beef and lamb, lightly seasoned with Indian spices and containing less vegetables than other samosas I have eaten at chow halls around the world.  They were moderate in size, crispy dough outside and hot, flavorful meat inside, accompanied by three sauces, two of them chutneys.  It was one of the better samosas I have had, having eaten in dozens of Indian restaurants stateside and in the United Kingdom where Indian food is a weekly staple.


We ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh ($14.95): tender morsels of lamb cooked in an onion sauce with yogurt, nuts, and a unique blend of spices and coriander; Sag Paneer ($11.95): simmered with fresh spinach cooked with homemade cheese and spices; and Beef Curry ($12.95); succulent pieces of beef cooked in thick curry sauce with herbs, all accompanied by large servings of bismati (white) rice.  I asked the server if they had pilau rice, my favorite, a kind of Indian fried rice with peas, onions, and other vegetables and spices, much more flavorful than the bismati rice we received, but unnecessary because the rice is quickly covered with the entrees when consumed.


Beef Curry with Onion Nan
All entrees and the bismati rice are served in small copper pots, piping hot from the kitchen and easily shared amongst our table.  The lamb rogan josh came with medium size chunks of tender lamb in a medium-thick, creamy and mildly spicy red sauce which was delicious.  At $14.95 for entrée with rice, I would expect more food, but would recommend lowering the price instead because the serving is more than enough for one person.  I have seen entrees that size and quality in the $8-$12 range at other restaurants, so maybe that explains why India Palace was not busier on a Friday night.  It is a shame because so many restaurants, including India Palace, try to generate profits by raising prices instead of providing quality food at a reasonable price or through competitive marketing (e.g. Social media, coupons - Groupon).  In a college town like Lawrence, you are not going to generate much business by charging $10–$15 for entrees (ala carte) and that seems to be the case at India Palace.

The sag paneer is a thick, spicy, creamed spinach concoction with chunks of Indian cheese and was mild enough for my Italian wife who cannot handle spicy dishes.  Slightly sweet, yet spicy, it was one of the better sag paneers we have tried in recent memory, but again, at $10.95, slightly overpriced based on the inexpensive ingredients.  The majority of India is vegetarian and I am a carnivore, but Indian chefs use exotic spices such as curry and coriander so well that I do not even miss the meat!  The beef curry was also a bit pricey at $12.95, yet rich and delicious.  As a comparison, I recently had a wonderful beef Massaman curry at Zen Zero, a Thai restaurant down the street from India Palace on Massachusetts, including jasmine rice for just $7.69 … $5.26 less than my curry at India Palace!

Sag Paneer with Nan
The lunch buffet may be a better value, but unsure of the price, I will have to get back to you on that one.  I absolutely love butter chicken, rich, creamy boneless chicken chunks cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, and a touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices, also served with rice and the server indicated that it is sometimes on the buffet (it is on the menu).  Delightful staff, we felt very welcome during our entire meal, and the food was some of the best Indian I have had, and that is “a lot”.  Unfortunately, our bill totaled $75 including tip, $25 per head and not an inexpensive proposition.  Considring the fact that there are two fast-food Indian restaurants within a few blocks either way on Mass, India Palace should seriously condor lowering their prices and focusing on “value” by utilizing coupons and Groupons to drawn 30,000 hungry students.

CombatCritic Gives India Palace 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Bombs Are GOOD!

India Palace on Urbanspoon

Key Words: India, Palace, Indian, food, cuisine, eat, curry, samosa, nan, rice, rogan, josh, vindaloo, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, combat, critic, twitter, Facebook

Thursday, November 14, 2013

El Potro (The Colt): Free Cheese Dip and More Scrummy Surprises

LAWRENCE, KANSAS

Lawrence, Kansas

EL POTRO
2351 W 31st St Lawrence, KS 66047
(785) 331-2500

Website

Cheese Quesadilla with Guacamole and Pico di Gallo
I found El Potro on Yelp and with such good reviews, we decided to give it a try ... AND ARE WE GLAD WE DID!

Sunday is our weekly DINNER OUT night and boy were we surprised when we pulled into the parking lot to find a sea of cars ... and a restaurant full of people. Sunday night dinner out in Lawrence is normally so quiet, you could be heard whispering three tables away. Not at El Potro! The restaurant used to be a fast food stop of some sort, so the atmosphere is as to be expected, nothing special and a little brighter (in lumen) than I would like.

We were quickly greeted and seated with the waiter dropping by to take drink orders and the busboy dropping off chips, salsa ... AND FREE WHITE CHEESE DIP? That is correct, free chili con queso blanco for everyone! Many Lawrence Mexican restaurants charge for chips and salsa, a practice unheard of in nearly six decades and hundreds of Mexican restaurants all over the United States, so free chips and cheese dip was a welcome sight. Not only do they give you free cheese dip, it is a decent size bowl, not a cup.
Cheese and Onion Enchilada ala Carte
My wife ordered orchata, a sweet rice-based drink from Mexico that tastes like rice pudding with hints of cinnamon. I decided to go with the 22 ounce margarita (frozen with salt) special, at $6 not a bad deal, but the same price as the menu option. Not much of a special, but it was quite delicious and with more alcohol than most Lawrence restaurants so far. As usual, I have a built-in designated driver in my tea-toting wife, so I was able to enjoy my drink without concern. We also decided to try the guacamole, a good predictor of quality Mexican food. At close to $6.00, it had better be good and it was. Not as good as mine or the best restaurant guac I have had, but plentiful and tasty with just a few chopped tomatoes on top to add color to the appetizer. It was a nice accompaniment to the cheese dip, chips, and salsa.
Deep-Fried Shredded Beef Tacos, Rice, & Boracho Beans
I decided to go with the usual first visit tacos and enchiladas, so I ordered the deep fried shredded beef tacos ($8.99 – you can also get ground beef or chicken) and a cheese and onion enchilada ala carte. The tacos were crispy, the beef was well seasoned, and there was plenty of lettuce and cheese in addition to the standard rice and beans. The shells were pliable enough to add some excess guacamole, pico di gallo (from my wife’s order – she hates tomatoes), and some salsa without falling apart when I bit in. I chose the borracho (“drunk” in Spanish) beans instead of the refried beans and it was a good choice. They were soupy and well seasoned, a nice change to the usual smashed, refried variety. Off to a good start! The enchilada, came on a separate plate, was quite big, and pleasing to the eye with a colorful accompaniment of sauce, cheese, lettuce and tomato. The enchilada sauce was spicy, but not overly so and the ratio of cheese to onion to sauce was perfect. I have had better tasting enchilada sauces over the years, but it was good nonetheless.
Beef Fajita Burrito with Rice and Pico do Gallo
Our friend had the beef fajita burrito which was not huge, but enough to fill her with the accompanying rice and beans. My wife ordered the cheese quesadilla which came with more guacamole and the pico di gallo mentioned earlier. Quesadillas are pretty boring to begin with and hers were no exception. Flour tortilla and melted cheese … YAAAAAAAAWN … need I say more.
El Potro was a pleasant experience because I thought I had found the only good Mexican restaurant in Lawrence in Tortas Jalisco. Now we have two options for our weekly MEXICAN NIGHT and El Potro is a welcome delight. Reasonable prices, excellent, service, quality food, decent drinks, and FREE CHEESE DIP, CHIPS, AND SALSA … HOOAH!

CombatCritic Gives El Potro 7 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!








El Potro Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon


Key Words: El Potro, Mexican, restaurant, eat, food, taco, enchilada, burrito, chimichanga, rice, beans, cheese, pico di gallo, tortilla, chips, salsa, CombatCritic, Lawrence, Kansas

Friday, November 8, 2013

Let Me Summit Up … Do Not Let Appearances Fool You!

Let Me Summit Up … Do Not Let Appearances Fool You!

The Summit Downtown (Fitness Center)
901 New Hampshire
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: 785-856-7979

Hours: Mon-Thur: 5am - 11pm; Fri: 5am - 9pm; Sat: 7am - 7pm; Sun: 9am - 7pm

A severely disabled Veteran and retired (2005) Air Force lieutenant colonel, I try to take care of the body I am left with after 20 years of austere environments and over 4 years in combat zones (Operations JOINT ENDEAVOR, ALLIED FORCE, SOUTHERN WATCH, AND ENDURING FREEDOM.  I cannot do as much as I used to or as I would like, but the gym is one of the few places I can relax and, beside the golf course, a safe haven where I can cope with the stresses of life. I spent most days of my 20-year career in military gyms and have been a YMCA member for over 10 years, but when we moved to Lawrence, Kansas in August of this year, I was disappointed to find that there was no YMCA in Lawrence. A town of 90,000 and no YMCA?

I bought a Groupon for a 6-week trial at Genesis Fitness for $20, expecting to join if I liked the facility. I did not. The facility was filthy, the sauna never worked, and when I spoke to a manager about joining, he insisted I must pay a $75 “joining fee” and sign a contract for 2-3 years if I wanted their best monthly rate. Hard-sell gym tactics, contracts, and application fees went out with the 20th Century, or so I thought, so I told the man that I would take my business elsewhere. He could have obviously cared less.

I decided to try The Summit, a modern facility in a relatively new building just five blocks from our new Lawrence home (it is actually over 150 years old and a historic home) due to its proximity and a four-month “Fall” special for $150. Not a fantastic bargain ($37.50 per month – I paid less at the Kansas City YMCA which is much nicer, larger, and with many more fitness options). The facility seemed clean and the staff appeared to be friendly and helpful, or so it seemed, so I signed-up for the special (with no initiation fee) with the understanding that I would pay $41.00 per month if I decide to continue.

I liked the facility for the most part, documenting my experiences along the way on Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter. Here are a few:

The Summit 10/16/2013
“The bench in the men's locker room is wonky and the TV on the first machine didn't work, but it's cleaner than Genesis by a mile!”

The Summit 10/19/2013
“The only concerns thus far are the saunas, which never seem to be hot enough, and the fans (the kind with blades), which always seem to be on, even on the coldest days. Yesterday was cold (45 degrees) and it was cold inside, but they still had the fans going full blast. When I asked if they could be turned down/off, the young lady behind the counter said "no". Being one of just three customers at the time, I do not think it was an unreasonable request.”

The Summit 10/24/2013
“I like the proximity and cleanliness, but the fans, sauna, and locker room benches leave MUCH TO BE DESIRED”

The Summit 10/28/2013
“I spoke to quickly in yesterday's check-in. Fans are going full blast today and it's freezing in here. Yesterday must have been a fluke ... They aren't monitoring social media after all and that's going to cost them that 4th star!”

The Summit 10/31/2013
“Can't tell if it's chance coincidence or if staff read my comments...today the fans are off and there's a real bench in the locker room...THANKS!”

Having studied diet and exercise extensively over the years for my own benefit and that of my clients (I am a licensed professional counselor specializing in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy - CBT), I understand the importance of a combination of aerobic activity (running, elliptical, etc.), resistance training (weightlifting), and flexibility (stretching).  I normally use the elliptical machines because they are easy on my knees and back, stretching and meditating afterward to complete my workout.

I had been stretching and meditating most days at The Summit because they had a wonderful thick red mat that was comfortable enough to meet my needs. Because of my disabilities, I find it painful and difficult to use the “Aeromats” (small, individual foam mats) most gyms provide for stretching because they do not provide enough padding, causing discomfort while I lay or sit on the ground.

When I went to stretch the other day, I noticed that the red mat was gone and replaced with mats similar to the Aeromats I dislike so much, so I asked Tanner (an employee) why my favorite mat was removed. He was very kind and helpful, explaining that the mat was worn on the bottom and had been taken away. He explained just yesterday that there was a similar red mat to the one I had been using in the “training” area of the facility and told me that his boss had said that I could use it to stretch if I chose to. I thanked him for his concern and kindness and went about my workout.

After completing my elliptical workout, I noticed that the training area was nearly empty and the red mat was not being used, so I entered to finish my workout with a good stretch and a few minutes of relaxation. As I moved to the mat to sit-down, I noticed one of the trainers (there were more trainers than “trainees”), a blondish 30-something woman with several tattoos on one of her arms, hovering around the area, stalking me like a security guard on a shoplifter. No sooner did I sit-down did she approach me stating, “Who are you working with today”.  I told her “nobody” and she told me that I was “not allowed in the area, it’s for personal training customers only”.  I told her that the owner had said that I could use the area to stretch, as Tanner had told me just a couple hours before, noticing one of the owners standing behind her like a back-up cop waiting to pounce on a criminal. She said, “Oh, you mean him” and I stated I did not know who, but that Tanner had told me just hours before that I had permission. Before I get the words out of my mouth, both she and the co-owner said “this area is for paying personal training customers only” (well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!) and at that I got up and left the area as ordered!

I believe in treating all with dignity and respect and as a business owner myself, particularly customers.  The Summit apparently does not hold the same values.  I found it extremely embarrassing to be stalked and thrown out of a facility I pay $40 per month to use and in such an unprofessional manner.  I have suffered many indignities at the hands of rude, self-centered people over the years, but never have I experienced such rude, unprofessional, and humiliating behavior in a place of business as I did at The Summit last night.

Now I feel anxious and stressed just thinking about returning to The Summit this afternoon, not knowing how I will be treated.  I am considering asking for a refund of my remaining fees, but there are few fitness options in this college town of nearly 100,000 other than Genesis, The Summit, and the University of Kansas (KU – where I can use their “world-class” facilities for just $20 per month), so I think I will wait until my trial period expires to find a suitable alternative. 

My disabilities, including a great deal of pain, and mood are eased by exercise and a clean, safe facility is very important to me.  Except for the filthy air intakes (see photo), The Summit is very clean, but I DO NOT FEEL SAFE any longer.  It pains me that one of my respites, a safe haven in which I can de-stress and take care of a body ravaged by time and combat, the gym, is now a place that causes me stress.

Veterans Day is next Monday, a day on which we show our appreciation for the men and women who have served our great nation.  Instead of feeling appreciated, I feel abused, but then this is not the first time I have been made to feel less than welcome in a public setting in recent years and, I am afraid, it will not be the last … unfortunately.  If you like being treated with INDIGNITY and DISRESPECT, YOU WILL LOVE THE WAY THEY TREAT YOU AT THE SUMMIT IN DOWNTOWN LAWRENCE!

CombatCritic Gives THE SUMMIT 3 BOMBS OUT OF 10 ... Bombs Are Good!








Key Words: The Summit, SummitDowntown, fitness, center, gym, gymnasium, workout, exercise, elliptical, trainer, dignity, respect, combat critic.CombatCritic, TravelValue, Lawrence, Journal-World, Kansas

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lawrence, KS: You Don't Have To Be a Buddhist to Love Zen Zero


Lawrence, Kansas


Zen Zero
811 Massachusetts Avenue
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: 785-832-0001
Fax: 785-841-8759
Hours:  
Sun-Mon  11AM - 9PM
Tue-Sat     11AM - 10PM

Email: zenzerolaw@sbcglobal.net

Crunchy Thai Chip Basket
Restaurants in downtown Lawrence are not necessarily well known for their value. Rents are high on and around Massachusetts Street, so most food is overpriced, particularly based on the quality of said, which in this case is not necessarily a positive thing. I have tried several, including The Mad Greek, Teller's (now closed), Rudy's Pizza, La Parrilla, Cielito Lindo, La Familia, Fuzzy's Tacos, and Curry in a Hurry to name a few, and with the exception of the last two, have yet to find great food and true value ... UNTIL NOW!

Fried Pork Momos with Two Sauces
My wife had heard that Zen Zero was good and had I known it was a Thai restaurant, I would heave tried it sooner. I love Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisine thanks to their abundant use of exotic and flavorful spices, particularly curry, so when I heard Zen Zero was a Thai restaurant, I eagerly agreed to give it a try.

The decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of zen influence in select pieces of art on the walls and construction with warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers.  The server arrived with a complimentary basket of Asian chips, light and crunchy, likely a rice-based starter, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would be nice.  There are soy sauce and an Asian-style chili sauce on the table, so you can easily make your own dipping condiment, but a creative and inexpensive accompaniment would be an added bonus.

We arrived on Sunday night and draught beer was on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. Not a huge selection, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (Octoberfest, Irish Red), I ordered the Octoberfest (normally $4.00), but the server quickly told me they were out, so I went for the pale ale (normally $3.75).


Chicken Springrolls
The App (appetizer) Sampler ($7.29) which came with two steamed veggie momos (a tasty Tibetan dumpling), two chicken satays (grilled chicken on a stick accompanied by peanut sauce) and two fried tofu triangles. It took quite a while for our appetizer to arrive considering the restaurant was only about half full, but I enjoyed a pint of pale ale ($2.50 - normally $3.75) while waiting. The appetizer was relatively small, arriving on a plate smaller than our dinner plates at home, and left me hungry for more. It would have been enough for one person, but there were two of us, so we each had one momo, one satay, and one tofu each. The momo (Himalayan dumplings with charred tomato and spicy sesame chutneys served steamed) would have been better fried, an option when ordering the momo appetizer, but not on our sampler platter, and was delicious, but it was consumed in just two bites (I could have easily handled it in just one). A steamed dumpling the size of a fortune cookie filled with veggies and served with sweet and sour sauce, momos are likely better deep fried.  

The Fried Pork Momos ($4.79) are much tastier and less healthy than the steamed variety, coming with four dumplings and two sauces, a mildly spicy red tomato chutney and an almost white sauce that reminded me of very well-blended hummus.  The Fried Chicken Springrolls ($4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers, but for the price I would expect more than two, both of which were consumed post haste.  They were savory and crunchy, containing cabbage, bean sprouts, and a few other unknown vegetables, and, beside the small portion, they were also excellent.

Phad Phak Ruam Mitr
My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.29), a mixed vegetable stir-fry with broccoli, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, Napa cabbage, scallions, baby corn and tofu and served with Jasmine rice. It was light and delicious, not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arribiatta is as hot as it gets in Italian cuisine). The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce light yet complex enough to satiate the palate.

Massaman Curry
I absolutely love curry and Zen Zero's Massaman curry ($7.69), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (Sorry NO Pork Option with this Curry), was THE BOMB! Having ordered mine with the customary beef, the curry was scrumptiously rich and perfectly seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork) and potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not abundant in the beef department, I was not disappointed because the thick curry sauce was probably the second best I have ever eaten (the best was at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s) ... SUPERB!


Green Curry ($7.69) with Beef ($2.69)
On our next visit I wanted to try the Green Thai Curry ($7.69 - green curry with bell peppers, eggplant, and bamboo shoots), but I hate bamboo shoots because they have the consistency of Styrofoam and zero taste, so I asked the server (Zana) if I could substitute potatoes.  Yellow and green Thai curries are excellent and normally are served with chicken, pork, or beef (chicken is the norm) with potato and peas, so I was dismayed when I saw bamboo shoots as an ingredient. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, another dreaded ingredient, are usually found in Chinese cuisine, not Thai, so I thought potatoes would be a rather benign request. 

I was told that there would be a $1.00 up-charge for substituting potato for bamboo shoots!  Considering the fact that potatoes are one of the cheapest staples in the produce department and much more pricey than an equal weight in potatoes, I declined and simply asked for the dish minus the water chestnuts and plus beef ($2.69 extra).  The green curry was delicious, spicy enough for the pallet but not too much for my acid reflux.  The bell peppers (red and green) were a bit too crunchy (raw) for my taste, but the dish was excellent. The "Jasmine" rice, which accompanies most dishes, seems to be merely white rice because I could neither taste nor see any hints of Jasmine.  The beef, which I paid nearly $3.00 extra for, consisted of 3 or 4 pieces of thinly sliced beef and 1-2 inches in length, nearly non-existent.  If there had been MORE MEAT, the dish would have been perfect, beside the fact that a couple of chunks of potato would have also been nice!
Phad Thai

The Phad Thai ($7.29), a classic Thai stir-fry with rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro and peanuts in a mild red curry sauce, was robust and delicious.  Looking much like an Italian pasta dish, it had nothing else in common with Italian cuisine other than the noodles, and was perfectly seasoned.  The vegetables were well cooked and not raw, the dish was sprinkled with small chunks of peanuts and stir-fried in a mild red curry sauce, for a vegetarian dish it was scrump-diddly-umptious!

The Dry Chicken Curry Thakali-style ($8.99) is a traditional Nepalese curry made with onions, ginger, garlic, garam masala and tomato, served with jasmine rice, rahar ko dal (yellow lentils) and potato achar. The achar sat atop the dish and was oddly cold, so I asked the server if that was the intention and it was, looking and tasting like Nepalese potato salad. With quite a few chicken chunks throughout, the dish was my least favorite of all my meals so far, somewhat boring with a bit of bite and too much jasmine rice for the amount of sauce.

Zen Zero has become a staple in our house and we will be returning frequently in the future, so expect updates to this review as I try the red, yellow, and "dry" curries, among other dishes, in upcoming months. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome addition!

CombatCritic gives Zen Zero 8 OUT OF 10 BOMBS (room to grow) ... Bombs are good!





Zen Zero on Urbanspoon








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