On Food and Drink
- China Wall (Lincoln) April 22, 2013
China Wall is a bit out of the way for me by Sam’s Club out on 85th and Highway 2, but it’s worth the drive because the food is really good there. Our Saturday lunch crew normally hits up Golden Wok for a quick and cheap Chinese lunch (entree, egg roll, soup, and tea all under $6). China Wall’s lunch doesn’t come with tea, and you have to choose between soup and an egg roll, but the prices are similar (you can get a lunch for $6) and China Wall uses higher quality ingredients across the board.
For example, the hot and sour soup is much tastier because there are several different kinds of mushrooms and the broth has a meatier taste, and isn’t as thickened. I also like that there aren’t any of those nasty little baby shrimp to avoid.
I’ve been told the Mongolian Beef and the Shrimp Garlic Sauce Chicken are particularly good here, but I went with the Hunan Beef. I ordered steamed rice, but the fried rice is much better at China Wall than most places because they pay for a higher-quality rice, which is stickier but not dry, and not soggy.
The beef is higher quality, too, not stringy or fatty. It was very tender, and the mixed vegetables weren’t overcooked, making for a good texture contrast. There were fresh mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, broccoli, and bok choy. I don’t like water chestnuts, but there was only one on the plate, so I deftly moved it aside like a highly-skilled ninja warrior.
The place is very clean, but a bit small with just a few tables, but that’s fine because most of the orders are for take-out or delivery (there were plenty of open tables when we ate lunch). The staff was extremely friendly and courteous. If you visit, the staff recommends the following house specialties: Coconut Shrimp, General Tso’s Chicken, House Special Lo Mein (chicken, pork, shrimp combo), and Szechuan Beef.
[China Wall: 8550 Andermatt Drive]
- Masala (Iowa City) March 22, 2013
The crew wanted one last meal and I wanted more meat, so we went to Masala (advertising vegetarian specialties).
It’s a bit of a no-frills joint, but the service is friendly and the place is clean enough. The hand soap in the men’s bathroom was a Dial foam soap refilled with regular hand soap, so it oozed out and squirted with little farting noises. That was fun to do.
With a name like Masala, I felt obligated to get the Chicken Tikka Masala. It was a little creamier and less spiced than I was hoping for, but they have a shaker of what seemed to be cayenne/paprika, so that helped quite a bit. The rice was good and everyone seemed to enjoy their respective entrees, mostly vegetarian choices.
- Old Jerusalem (Chicago) March 22, 2013
I fondly remembered the lentil soup, and Ripshaw was kvetching that the meat wave had conquered him, so how about lentil soup and falafel?
The lentil soup is Quite Nice and comes with a lemon wedge which I think is a sine qua non for lentil soup. I’ve generally assumed lentil soup was vegetarian (vegan, even), but I’m pretty sure the broth is chicken-based. I could be wrong about that point.
The pita bread is super-fresh and I believe it’s made at a bakery in town. Prices are affordable and the staff is friendly. I’ve never really had anything but the soup and falafel, so I can’t speak for the meat dishes. If you’re feeling over-meated, this could be the cure.
- Aroy Thai (Chicago) March 22, 2013
Time to make that meat wave more interesting, make it . . . more Asian. I’ve had difficulty finding any good Thai in downtown Chicago, but Ravenswood has some good spots like Aroy Thai, Siam Country, and Royal Thai. This night, it was Aroy Thai (we were headed to Royal Thai on Montrose, but it’s closed on Tuesdays).
The egg rolls were crispy and hot, and although I was suspicious of the papaya salad (it has no meat in it), I really liked it. Beware: the papaya salad is mofo hot. Well, not quite mofo hot. Pretty hot, though, enough to make the next morning a bit of a gastrointestinal struggle.
Chicken satay is something I can fully endorse as part of a meat wave. Peanut sauce and cucumber salad and chicken, that could make a good sandwich. It’s also good to put it all in your mouth as not part of a sandwich.
We had a green curry (pork) and a beef basil (beef). The basil beef was pretty spicy-hot, but not as hot as the papaya salad. The green curry was well balanced and I really liked both dishes. Highly recommended, and BYOB.
- Downtown Dogs (Chicago) March 22, 2013
Just a quick note about Downtown Dogs. They make a good, representative Chicago dog.
I had the char dog (the only way to go, IN MY HUMBLE OPINION), and it’s got all the stuff on it. It tastes just like it should. The fries are good. I even don’t mind that damn sweet relish but I did take off the tomato which was obviously not in season and looked like something they make astronauts eat in space. The main problem is that all those toppings are wet and make the bun mealy by halftime.
Whatever. It’s good. It’s part of the meat wave.
- Big Star (Chicago) March 22, 2013
I loved my first visit to Big Star, even though it was only for some side-window tacos outside on the picnic benches. I was excited to go back and continue to surf the meat wave.
We started with chips and guacamole, both of which were very good. The avocados were fresh and you don’t need to mess much with good avocados. We also dove into a side of frijoles charros, which feature bacon, so that’s a good idea. Another good idea is to get a chip, get some guacamole on it, squirt some of the red salsa and green salsa on it, and then get a piece of the bacon from the beans on that, too, and then you’ve really got something.
I normally hide and run from seafood in the Midwest, but breaded and fried fish has got to be good, and so it was in the taco de pescado (“fish taco”). This was my favorite taco, even though I had previously raved about the taco al pastor (“Pope’s taco”). This may sound small, but tacos at Big Star have one good tortilla instead of two crappy ones. That’s a good idea. I’d rather eat one good tortilla than two crappy ones, and I don’t like the filler feel of the extra tortilla. Everything that comes on the taco de pescado is a great mix: cabbage, cilantro, lime, chipotle mayo. I added some salsa roja (“red soss”).
Of particular sadness was the taco al pastor, which when I had the first time, was a tender, lovely delight. I love the grilled pineapple and onion combo, but this time the pork was simply overdone. It was dry, chewy, and hard to eat.
But I’ll forgive them, this time.
- Al’s Beef #1 (Chicago) March 22, 2013
I know there’s some kind of Italian beef war going on, but I say “What’s the big beef?” I’m riding a meat wave to love. I’ve always been a Mr. Beef kinda guy, but Al’s Beef is all over Chicago, so they must be doing something right.
I had amazingly never hit up Al’s Beef for an Italian beef, and the one in River North was, as they say, at hand. I noticed they sell a lot of stuff besides Italian beefs at Al’s beef, which begs the question: “Why?” Also, the River North spot has table seating, so you aren’t expected to do “the stance” over a ledge.
I had mine dipped, which is plenty juicy for me (there are other options, like “juicy” and “soaked,” which sound like real commitments), and hot, with the giardiniera.
If we’re comparing to Mr. Beef, Al’s Beef is pretty similar, but I think the meat is slightly more tender at Al’s Beef. The only complaint I have is that I think the meat is soaked in spices for either too long or with too many spices (all-spice, specifically). I prefer a more vanilla approach to the meat (it’s meat, it’s good, no need to spice it, I have giardiniera, thanks). But Al’s Beef is a fantastic sandwich and I’d eat one right now and all day until I got sick and then I’d probably have one more.
I prefer the fries at Mr. Beef, they being more shoestring in nature and with less skin, but Al’s Beef gets the fries good and crispy and they came out good and hot.
Logistics: even with just a dipped sandwich, it’s a mess. There’s no restroom at this location, and it would be nice just to have a bird bath somewhere to rinse. Otherwise, it’s a great crest of a meat wave.
- Spacca Napoli (Chicago) March 22, 2013
It’s been awhile since I had Neapolitan pizza, and many years since I was last at Spacca Napoli. I have a confession to make: I prefer a good slice of New York pepperoni over Neapolitan pizzas. There, I said it. Now beat me with sticks at the public square or something.
We did a pretty poor job planning our meal because we were all pretty hungry and we chose a series of heavy items, like burrata, meatballs, and pizzas. I think we threw in a salad somewhere, but probably only for looks.
The burrata was a first for me, a freshly imported pulled mozzarella. Mozzarella is one of my favorite cheeses, and to be able to taste it so fresh was a little treat. To follow it up with meatballs seemed like a good idea (it was), and while I don’t normally like sweet notes in anything but desserts, the couple of raisins in each one was fine, and the marinara is Really Quite Nice there.
As for the pizzas, we had a Margherita and a pizza bianche (without red sauce). For me, you’ve got to have marinara on the pizza, or else it seems like you forgot something. Thus, the Margherita was my favorite and I was sort of coming down from a meat high with the meatballs, so I wanted to get back on the meat wave and wish we would’ve had some sausage or salami on the pizza. The dough is perfect at Spacca Napoli, with good toothiness and excellent taste (although I don’t eat the corona (crust)).
Prices are reasonable, our service was great, and on the weekends you’ll definitely want to make a reservation. Just be sure to order more smartly than we did and avoid a lot of heavy foods before your pizzas.
- The Single Barrel (Lincoln) December 24, 2012
Part cavernous country bar, part bourbon bar, part steakhouse, and part party barn, The Single Barrel is a place seemingly content on dabbling. The first thing I thought was how strikingly big the room is, and how it’s designed for those eight wonderful cash-cow days each year when the Huskers have a home football game.
Advertisements on the coasters came as a shocking unpleasant surprise and reminded me of those hackish menus at The Cheesecake Factory where every other page is an ad. My Spidey sense was tingling.
I had a Manhattan and it was decent, very similar to how I make them at home. Then the cheesy bread came out and it was alright, but it comes in a paper wrapper and then you just have a piece of trash on the table until the bread’s gone. The bread certainly doesn’t need to be served with the paper, and it was some time before the server removed it.
The Single Barrel is stepping it up with locally procured ingredients and making salad dressings from scratch, better than what you often find at other steakhouses with the classic Chef Sysco salad: iceberg, dried-out red cabbage, and dried-out carrot shreds in a wooden bowl with a bottled, sweetened “Italian” dressing.
I started with a bowl of French onion soup, served very hot and savory. I didn’t need to add any seasoning, and they thankfully use Gruyere instead of the gross white “Swiss” you see at many places. My only complaint is that it’s a red-onion-only affair, and this imparted a sweeter taste overall. I prefer a mix of white, yellow, and red onions, but it was still good.
And then something interesting happens at The Single Barrel, because your napkin has only one fork in it: if you’ve used your fork for eating a salad or appetizer, you are asked rather aggressively by the server to keep your fork, even if it has a bunch of dressing on it, meaning that if you’ve ordered a steak after your salad, you’re obligated to lick off the dressing from your fork and use it when you eat your steak. This seems completely obnoxious and should change immediately. You should either get two forks in the napkin, or be presented a new fork with your entree. I’ve never seen anything quite so insulting at a restaurant which is trying to be “nicer.”
My entree was the beef medallions on mashed potatoes with Brussels sprouts and a mushroom gravy. I liked my dish quite a bit, and it was certainly plenty of food. The steak was tender even though thoroughly cooked, and the Brussels sprouts were cooked right and the gravy with the potatoes wasn’t to heavy. But this is the kind of dish that at a “nicer” restaurant screams for freshly-cracked pepper. The tables should have pepper mills or it should be offered without asking by the server.
My dinner companions each had medium-rare steaks, and they said they were indeed medium-rare and not overcooked, which is common at many other steakhouses. When we asked the server for Worcestershire sauce, our server acted like it was an unusual request, which I found quite unusual. One of the steaks was dry-aged for supposedly a month, but Ripshaw was suspicious of that, having eaten many dry-aged steaks in his time. He also claimed to be able to taste the gas-grill gas in the steak, something I didn’t notice but he has an excellent sense of taste.
I found the food to be generally very good, but the service gaffes and the issues with forks make The Single Barrel a work in progress. Our server brought out the dessert tray and asked if we wanted dessert while we were only halfway through our entrees. This is unacceptable as well. And our server put the check on the table a few moments later, making us feel rushed when it wasn’t a busy night. Also, we all ordered drinks at the start and they arrived after the salad and soup, which shouldn’t happen, either.
The Single Barrel must start putting two forks in the napkin before I go back, and they need to train the servers in basic dining service if they are to be considered a classier place in town.
- Cafe Indigo (Lincoln) November 28, 2012
I’m not sure how I hadn’t heard about the semi-regular soups (MWF) for lunch at Cafe Indigo, but I dropped in for a quickie and had a nice bowl of green pork chili.
The chili was from Bread & Cup, and I’m sure the chili authenticists are already rolling around in their graves, because “chili” shouldn’t be green or have pork in it, and don’t tell them it had beans in it, too, or else their heads might explode just like in Scanners. But this was a decent helping for the $3 suggested “donation” and I’m still pleasantly burping up cumin-flavored parcels of air. The pork was good and tender, not greasy, with a nice balance of spices.
My only complaint: it could’ve been served a little hotter. I’d rather burn the roof off my mouf than snarf down lukewarm soups.
- Rip it down November 25, 2012
Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat from Little Tramp sold for $62,500 at auction this week. Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, that’s Just Nice. But do you have any idea how many cheap tacos we could buy instead of you? 125k cheap tacos. [Or 250k really cheap tacos.--Eds.]
Animal wranglers have accused The Hobbit movie set of dangerous conditions leading to as many as 27 animal deaths. Animal wranglers, Go Take a Nap! Of course animals get killed when you make Hobbit movies! A ton of animals get killed in the books! [They should use CGI instead.--Eds.]
And Gangnam Style by Psy is now the most-viewed video on YouTube of all time, garnering over 803 million views. Psy, that’s Quite Nice. The world is now a better place. [We haven't watched the video yet.--Eds.]
- Issara (Lincoln) November 15, 2012
Issara is a spinoff from Blue Orchid, and if you’ve followed any of my reviews, you know I had a hate-hate-like-okay relationship with Blue Orchid. But everyone was raving about Issara and said they opened the right way this time, and the service issues that plagued Blue Orchid’s opening were totally absent from Issara. I have to agree that the service is excellent.
I chose to visit on a Monday night during a wine-paired affair with wines from PWM, an importer owned by Master Sommelier, Jesse Becker and his wife Elizabeth. The wines emphasize French, German, and Italian terroir and minerality, so it must’ve been somewhat difficult to find five “Thai fusion” dishes for the five wines.
It’s hard not to be critical of Issara’s atmosphere. It’s supposed to be a classy place, but it is still in a strip mall and it smacks of a cafeteria. The room is loud and echoing despite suspended tiles to dampen noise. And there are two two-top tables woefully placed against the wall, one of which is right by the restrooms, and the other is right by the doors to the kitchen. No one would ever want to sit at those tables if given a choice.
The first pairing was a 2011 Castelfeder Moscato Giallo with some amazingly fresh mussels prepared with lemongrass, basil, and butter.
Unfortunately, maybe, this was the highlight of the five-course plan. I’m always skeptical of seafood in Nebraska (you should be, too), but Issara is doing something right in sourcing the seafood, and all of the seafood in the dishes was enjoyable and fresh. It’s a viable seafood spot, something I never thought I’d say about a restaurant in Lincoln.
Next came a papaya crisp salad with a tamarind/red chile sauce paired with a 2011 Cantine Povero Moscato d’Asti. The papaya and tamarind have a natural sweetness, and so did the wine. The sweetness in the wine was supposed to cool the heat from the red chile sauce, but I found the sweet-on-sweet pairing a bit much for my salt-craving palate. The papaya salad was very good, though.
And then out came a cold noodle dish, a hiyashi chuka, paired with the obscure 2011 Castelfeder Kerner. Kerner is a grape grown at the highest altitudes in northern Italy.
I was surprised I liked the shrimp and chicken cold with cold noodles. I’m normally a hot-food-only person for dinner, but this was clean and went well with the clean taste of the wine. Unfortunately, it was at this point after 3 of the 5 dishes that I realized the portions were simply too large and it would be difficult to enjoy two more dishes, especially when I realized the next dish was also a noodle dish. Back-to-back noodle dishes was a complete tactical error for the tasting menu.
I liked the flavors, but I had barely eaten any of it and I realized there was no way to finish this and have scallops to finish. The staff were more than understanding, and boxed it for me. They admitted the portions were too large, and so all was well. They were 1/3 portions of regular menu items, and should’ve been 1/4 portions. The wine was a 2011 Cantine Povera Barbera d’Asti, and I pretty much drank it without eating the noodle dish. It is not finished in oak, only stainless steel, so it has what is described as a “tanky” note, or a “reduced” presentation because it has not been exposed to oxygen. I found the tankiness a bit jarring, but maybe it would’ve been better if I had been able to enjoy it with the food.
And at this point I was about to call it a night, but an extremely unnecessary bowl of rice appeared with two very fresh scallops seared in butter with a passion fruit sauce. The wine was a 2011 Castelfeder Gewurztraminer. At this point I was generally too full to enjoy anything, and the richness of the butter and the scallops with the passion fruit was really too much for me to handle. I’m not sure I would’ve liked this dish on an empty stomach, either, because there was so much residual butter on the scallops that it made everything taste like butter. But then again, scallops don’t have much flavor of their own, so you’re likely never going to make me enjoy them.
What is the take-away from all this? The service is excellent at Issara and there’s a genuine wine program there, something fairly rare in Lincoln. The seafood was surprisingly fresh. The atmosphere is a bit unimpressive, given what they’re aiming for. The food is generally really good, but the five-course tasting menu wasn’t very well planned. Overall I think it’s a good addition for Lincoln and should be a model for what new restaurants should be shooting for.
- Grateful Bread (Lincoln) November 4, 2012
I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to having lunch at Grateful Bread, other than a sort of self-righteous indignation that a place called “Grateful Bread” does not, ahem, does not serve bread. [Scones don't count.]
And I’ve had bad luck, generally, with vegetarian restaurants, because the food is often too bland on one extreme or too spiced on the other. But pull up the horses for some good eats at Grateful Bread, because the food has good balance and careful attention to ingredients.
Eating in the fall from noon to one can bring a long line extending outside, so I recommend hitting off the peak hours, especially if you want to sit down and eat because seating is not overabundant, but we’ve never had trouble getting a table. The menu fluctuates slightly over the day as different dishes are prepared or run out. The menu generally features a few specialty macaroni and cheese dishes, a couple of soups, and a specialty such as Frito pie.
On my first visit, I had a bowl of the best red-lentil soup I ever remember having. There was a perfect balance of cayenne and other spices to create a very savory and enjoyable soup. The soup was served very hot, which I prefer, and the portion was plentiful, although the soup by itself might leave some people wanting something more.
My second trip was for the Frito pie, an all-American affair. The vegetarian chili also featured an excellent balance of spices, but it was primarily a bean surprise, and chili really does need some meat to round it out. The large bowl was very filling, but it became a bit uninteresting nearing the final bites.
So this brings me to something that I think would make Grateful Bread a better place: instead of offering large portions of everything for $5-$6, I really think they need to develop some two-way combo of smaller portions, so you can experience two dishes in one sitting. I wanted to try a soup and a macaroni and cheese with a cane-sugar cola, but that would’ve been nearing $15, and I would’ve had way more food than I could handle.
But things seem to be going just fine, as shown by the lines at lunchtime. I plan to go back and try a couple of macaroni and cheese items in the next few weeks. It’s a good, quick, affordable lunch.
- Belly Shack (Chicago) August 12, 2012
When you’re up all night and don’t really remember falling asleep, you tend to go to places like Belly Shack for lunch. Not that it wouldn’t be good when you’re not hungover, but it just sounds extra good when you are.
The Belly Shack has a post-modern (I’m guessing) atmosphere, with concrete floor and metallic everything, and you get the feeling that only people who listen to NPR or read the Washington Post venture inside, but the basic Korean beef was really delicious. As you can see, it comes with too much bread, and ultimately qualifies for nomination for Half the Food at Half the Price (HTFAHTP), but it was all delicious. The meat was very tender and succulent, and the kimchi, although a little too sweet for my liking, was a very good go-with. I tried to make a little sandwich with the bread, but it was easier to just fork up and mow down.
The service was friendly, and the only gaffe was that the tostones (a seemingly unusual item for a Korean restaurant) came out almost so late that we were done eating our main dishes.
- The Barrelhouse Flat (Chicago) July 30, 2012
I normally wouldn’t hit up such a happening place at its peak hour of operation, but I dove in head first on a Friday at 10pm and rubbed elbows with tragically hip yuppies, mostly actuaries, accountants, and attorneys, all bent on trying to impress each other with their well-(in)formed palates, their expertise in all the various bitters and herbal digestifs, and their ability to slobber on each other when the moment turns right.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of craft cocktails and I like attempts at excellence. The place has a good atmosphere and the staff are excellent and fun to chat up. It was just the crowd on a Friday that I could do much without.
I mowed down the porchetta sandwich, a hot and savory delight, which featured “herbs, parmesean cheese, and capers.” The sandwich came out piping hot, a nice surprise, as I’d rather have it served too hot and wait than have it served cold and wonder what it might’ve tasted like had it been served hot. And the savory character was also a welcome surprise, because it seems like the modern trend is to make everything sweet. This was confirmed by the pickles on the side of the sweet style, which I refuse to recognize as food. The bread was excellent, and there was a good meat-to-bread ratio, such that I wasn’t eating hunks of bread at the end (or spilled-out piles of meat). Also, I’m not a huge fan of capers, but they were a perfect choice for the sandwich.
After a few craft drinks, some from the menu and some based on bartender creativity, I ventured into the bathroom and found a Dyson Airblade hand dryer, so I knew I was in a highly-civilized place. I was lucky enough to grab a seat upstairs at the lounge bar and enjoyed a few more choice beverages until almost close, along with some fun conversations with the staff. The upstairs lounge is patterned after a speakeasy, I guess, and there is a billiard room with a custom-made table in the size of a coin-op table.
At times, craft bartending can smack largely of form over substance, which no doubt becomes necessary when a joint is hopping, but the staff members are all cordial, welcoming, and enjoyable to talk to, even about non-alcoholic topics. The Barrelhouse Flat is definitely worth a visit, and could be a fun regular spot on less-busy nights.
- Phat Jack’s BBQ (Lincoln) July 8, 2012
The end of Paul’s BBQ as a regular restaurant (he only caters now, but you can get items like brisket, ribs, and pulled pork at certain grocery store deli counters on certain days) has left a hole in Lincoln’s scene. Where can you get the best BBQ now?
I’d heard Phat Jack’s was really good, so off we went.
I usually judge BBQ by the brisket, and I had the brisket combo, which is a half-pound of brisket served on a piece of bread (I know it’s traditional, but we can stop serving that soggy bread at some point, can’t we?), and comes with two sides. The better choice was probably just the brisket sandwich, which comes with a smaller, single side, and a drink. The brisket combo was $9.99 before tax, and likely could be split with another person.
The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, but I have to say that the brisket, while good, is no match for Paul’s, but it is more tender and tastier than, say, the Southwest Pit BBQ brisket. The brisket is actually even more savory and tender at Dickey’s (a franchise chain). But the beans are much better at Phat Jack’s, and the potato salad is merely unremarkable.
You can choose mild or spicy BBQ sauce, and both are pretty mild, but both are pretty good. I’ve been told I have to experience the burnt ends there, so I’ll likely swing by sometime for those. Overall, a pretty good place, but Lincoln is still lacking an amazing BBQ joint, IN MY HUMBLE OPINION.
- Heoya (Lincoln) June 14, 2012
It’s easy to find out where the Heoya food truck will be by “Liking” it on Facebook. I was told the bánh mi and egg rolls were very good, so that’s what I had.
The modern food-truck mania is, well, whatever. I’m not really into grabbing food in parking lots and then driving somewhere or walking to a park bench to eat it. An example is that egg rolls are fried, and are best when right out of the fryer in order to experience the fryer hei.
I felt compelled to eat the egg rolls in my car for max heat, but they’re served with a sweet sauce, and I simply despise sweet dipping sauces for fried foods (hello, supertasters!). I ate one and went home quickly for some soy sauce. Regardless, the egg rolls were delicious.
The Heoya bánh mi (steak) was pretty tasty, but has some issues. First, the meat is marinated in a too-sweet sauce, like teriyaki. Maybe that’s the authentic style, but as I’ve said before, I like savory for entrees, and sweet for desserts. Don’t mix ‘em up, thanks. Second, the meat is sliced not quite thin enough, so it’s occasionally tough, and there is plenty of gristle to fight through. Also, the grilled bread tastes good, but is about twice the size needed for what is inside it, which includes the much-maligned iceberg lettuce and pickled vegetables.
I’ll definitely go back for egg rolls and try out some other items. I think I’ll pass on the steak bánh mi for now.
- Regalito (San Francisco) May 23, 2012
The last restaurant experience of the trip was the result of a need to have outdoor margaritas, and the Mission District seemed like the appropriate spot for more of this type drink.
Regalito had some open sidewalk seating, and in addition to a carafe of margaritas, we shared some guacamole, salsa, and taquitos. None of it was excellent (go to Nopalito for more of that type food and drink), but it was just fine, thank you, and the right idea for a mild Sunday afternoon. The service was friendly and attentive, and I would’ve stayed for another carafe or three, but being drunk in the Mission on the day of Bay to Breakers might’ve resulted in too many shenanigans.
- Eats (San Francisco) May 23, 2012
We found ourselves hungry on a Sunday morning but the city was beset by the Bay to Breakers foot race, so our options were limited. We ultimately settled on Eats, because it looked popular due to the short line outside comprised of race participants.
I’m a sucker for fresh pineapple juice, so I had the Power-C, a mix of fresh orange and pineapple juice. The red and green ones, chosen by the Ripshaws, were vegetable somethings, and I just don’t cotton to vegetable juices so much. Mine was really enjoyable, good for a slight hangover, even.
I ordered a simple two-eggs special, with some nice roasted potatoes and majorly-disappointing, overcooked bacon. Don’t get me wrong, I want my bacon cooked, not slimy, but this was more like a cedar shake shingle for roofing than human consumption. The potatoes were nice because they were cut small, and had mild garlic and scallion with them. The scrambled eggs were fluffy and not overcooked, and a fresh slice of cantaloupe finished the hangover cure.
It was serviceable and the staff were friendly, but the overcooked bacon was a major double-plus negative ungood.
- Chez Panisse (Berkeley) May 23, 2012
Day three was another nice mini road trip, this time to Oakland and Berkeley. I much prefer Berkeley to San Francisco, and I sure do like Chez Panisse.
Even though we had no reservation, we were able to grab a quick lunch at the upstairs café, and the service was excellent, as to be expected. I believe the lunch is very affordable for the quality and experience, with a tab for three (including wine and desserts) coming to $150 with an included 17% gratuity.
I wanted to continue riding on the meat wave, so I had the roasted lamb shoulder, roasted to perfection. The portions at Chez Panisse are just right, even though my serving of lamb shoulder was over-generous (I won’t complain about that). The lamb was served with extremely fresh and clean ingredients like asparagus at its prime. The resultant broth was rich but zesty, and the lamb itself was so tender that the serrated knife was totally unnecessary (I cringe at the phrase “fork-tender”).
I had to have dessert when I found out my favorite kind of dessert was available: a Rhubarb and strawberry cobbler with Muscat Beaumes de Venise cream. When I think of dessert, this is what I imagine: fresh, tart fruit with simple ice cream (no blue gummi dinosaurs, please), and a flaky cobbler or shortbread. Let’s just say this was amazing. The tart fruit mixing with the cold ice cream and warm cobbler is a trio of inescapable success, and you want to win, don’t you?
- The Buckhorn (Boonville) May 23, 2012
The second day was devoted to a trip to the Anderson Valley, a place of idyllic beauty which is a nice contrast from the nearby wine meccas of Napa and Sonoma. Anderson Valley seems a bit more serious and less touristy, likely in part because it’s a longer, more difficult drive up the mountains. The goal was to visit what I consider the best winery in America, Roederer Estate.
But you can’t drink (or spit) wine all day without a little food, so we stopped by the Buckhorn in Boonville. The small town of Boonville is known for Boontling, a dialect of English “now mostly spoken only by aging counter-culturists and native Anderson Valley residents.”
The Buckhorn’s service was great and laid back, and even though we sat outside somewhat far from the kitchen, all the food came out piping hot, scalding even, which I much prefer. I’d rather have food served too hot and let it cool than have it too cool and then be forced to get out my mini microwave. I enjoy seafood when in coastal areas where I know it’s fresh, so crab cakes seemed like a good idea. These human Scooby Snacks were light and had a high crab-meat ratio. Adding lemon juice was essential (sine qua non), and it was a nice starter as a go-with to a Roederer Estate sparkling rosé.
To continue the theme of overeating, and to continue my search for America’s best French dip, I had the French dip. Choosing the garlic mashed potatoes as a side was an ordering mistake on my part (too heavy with the rich sandwich), but they tasted good. The French dip was succulent and tender, and had good seasoning.
It’s definitely a good spot for lunch if you’re taking a day trip to the Anderson Valley.
- Una Pizza Napoletana (San Francisco) May 22, 2012
If you have donuts for breakfast and meat sandwiches for lunch, it goes without saying you should complete the picture with pizza for dinner. Of course, you shouldn’t have any old pizza. You need to have the best of pizza.
Richard Ripshaw, with only a slight bit of tongue in cheek, suggests Tony Mangieri is the “Lord of Pizza.” As for the Neapolitan style, Una has the best-executed I’ve had, although I still prefer a slightly thinner, crisper crust, what for the better to eat more pizza. But the simple flavors shine and the dough is of a great toothiness with great texture.
The marinara pizza (in the first picture) had a great acidity, and the garlic was biting and sharp without the lingering effects of bad breath or smelly sweats. I’d heard there are often long lines, and when there’s no more dough, there’s no more pizza. But we were able to get in quickly at the opening of dinner on a Thursday, so maybe that’s the best time to arrive.
I could probably eat Buffalo mozzarella all day, but I’m sure the neighbors, whose house is downriver sewer-wise, would find it tiresome after awhile. Regardless, this classic margherita pizza was one of the best I’ve had, with all the ingredients distinctly palpable on the palate. The readers will have to forgive me for not eating the corona, or outer crust, because I could still feel the strawberry-cream filled donut in my stomach as the first layer of the ultimate stomach parfait.
- Deli Board (San Francisco) May 22, 2012
It’s all Cleveland all the time at the Deli Board, so don’t even think about saying words like “New York” or “Chicago.” And after eating filled donuts, you need to create the ultimate stomach parfait by throwing on some corned beef, pastrami, and matzo-ball soup.
The sandwich board (“Sando Board”) changes regularly, but the corned beef is where it’s at, and the pastrami is a close second. I split a corned beef and pastrami sandwich with muenster (the sandwiches are very big with generous piles of meat), and had to try the matzo-ball soup, which is the owner’s mother’s recipe.
The sandwich meat is all extremely tender and has none of the gross toughness or stringiness that you find on many corned beef or pastrami sandwiches, and there’s a perfect ratio of bread to meat. Often, a meat sandwich features much too much bread, or the bread has a hard crusty shell, making it very difficult to eat.
The matzo-ball soup was a nice, flavorful treat. The matzo ball was light and fluffy, not like the dense “cannonballs” (“gut bombs”) you sometimes get at other places. The broth was purportedly a three-day process, certainly worth the time and effort.
It’s probably the best meat sandwich I’ve had. Don’t tell Norm.
- Dynamo Donuts & Coffee (San Francisco) May 22, 2012
When you start a vacation, it’s a good idea to start it with donuts and coffee. And while I don’t really “go for” coffee, I can “go for” some freshly-squeezed orange juice instead.
I opted for the caramel-and-sea-salt donut and the Ripshaws chose chocolate spiced and nut-encrusted affairs. I found their donuts to be a little dry (likely intentionally so, for dipping), but I preferred the oily goodness of the caramel iced. But imagine my surprise that the strawberry-cream filled donut was the best donut by far. I typically don’t like filled donuts because they’re typically filled with gross stuff, like canned pie filling, etc. But this strawberry-cream filled donut was maybe the best donut I’ve ever had.
You should go there and start a vacation.
- 12th Street Pub (Lincoln) April 22, 2012
I popped in with some friends from school after an arduous session of programming a processor. We’d all heard that the 12th Street Pub has a popular cheap-tacos affair on Tuesdays, so we made a Thursday trip (right?).
It took about five minutes before the “staff” paid us any attention. They seemed to be more interested in socializing with the foosball players. The menus strangely boldly claim that all their food is baked in convection ovens. But they also serve “paninis,” which no doubt will bunch Richard Ripshaw’s panties. After all, a singular sandwich is a “panino” and the plural is “panini.” What “paninis” are, and how one can make one in a convection oven, remains a mystery.
I chose the French dip. After a couple of apologies for being late with the au jus, our server ultimately copped that they had no au jus that day. He did offer to give me half off the sandwich. Ultimately, after the bill came with all items at full price, I talked them into giving me my whole sandwich for free. I’m just that persuasive these days.
The sandwich likely would’ve been alright with some au jus. I’ll likely never know.
I found out later that it is well known to not go to the 12th Street Pub on nights other than the taco Tuesdays.
- Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (Lincoln) February 19, 2012
Sometimes chains are good, and sometimes chains are bad, and sometimes chains are good and bad. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit falls into that “good and bad” category.
It’s good because the brisket and barbecue sauces are really good. There’s a great smoke taste and the brisket has a good char and is very tender. You get quite a bit of it when you order the “1 Meat Plate,” which comes with two sides. I opted for beans and waffle fries, and was able to try the fried onion strips as well.
The fries tasted alright, as did the fried onion strips, but they were soggy and weren’t hot. You gotta get them hot and crispy and serve them right away to get the fryer hei, I say. And it’s weird to get a bun/roll, as an afterthought, really, and no butter for it. I took a bun bite, found it sweet, and yielded. The beans were alright, but soupy, so you actually end up with a bean soup.
And then you can get a free lime-green pickle, dyed a nuclear color no cucumber has ever been. The skin is tough and it tastes like vinegar. And then you can get free soft-serve ice cream, and it tastes much like nothing at all.
So, the brisket was excellent, as was the sauce. I would suggest getting some brisket and sauce to go, and make your own sides at home.
- HF Crave (Lincoln) January 1, 2012
HF Crave is run by those of the Hollenbeck Farms, and I think what I had (two days in a row, even) was the best burger in Lincoln, maybe all of Nebraska.
I’d heard somewhat varied reviews, from “the best burger in town” to “overpriced and messy.” So I kept it somewhat simple, because I wanted to taste the burger and not a “stuffed signature burger.” I added grilled onions and mushrooms and pickles and mustard. The grass-fed beef was cooked to medium, leaving it so juicy that I had to get more napkins than originally thought sufficient. The grilled onions and mushrooms also added to the juiciness, and although I recommend adding them, there were way too many grilled onions on my burger, which was easy enough to fix. The beef was very tender and fresh, and the LeQuartier bun, grilled just a bit, was perfect. At a third of a pound, it’s a good size for lunch, even though I didn’t quite finish it all.
The waffle fries were also good, fried to a good crisp and served very hot. The chipotle mayonnaise and honey mustard are both good dipping sauces. Fellow restaurant reviewer, Richard Ripshaw, enjoyed his burger so much he insisted that we go back again the next day, and so we did.
Suggestion: keep your burger order simple.
- Blue Orchid (Lincoln) December 27, 2011
A bit of a minor miracle happened recently at the Blue Orchid: I had very good food and acceptable service. Those of you who’ve read my reviews in the past know that I’ve been greatly disappointed with both the food and service on four separate visits. But this time, everything was actually very good and I’ll be interested to return to see if it’s a trend.
We ordered some Thai rolls and spring rolls, both of which were very good and savory. The fried Thai rolls are something like human Scooby snacks, and also good for hangovers. I’m still not pumped that the spring rolls are steamed and thus served hot, but the flavor was very good.
I then had the basil tofu, which was a slightly spicy dish which didn’t seem like much food a first, but was ultimately more than I could finish. The dish does not have any coconut milk, so it was a lighter affair, and the flavor was complex and enjoyable. The only criticism I have is that they cut the tofu into rather large chunks before frying, so there’s a lot of soft bean curd in the middle compared to fried edges. It’s a bit unappetizing to bite into a mouthful of just plain tofu after the crispy edges are gone.
The service was good enough, with the only gaffe being that the white wine we ordered turned out to be a 2005, a bit past its prime, and so we had to send it back.
But one good experience out of five is better than zero out of four. Hopefully it will be two out of six next.
- Fred & Ruby’s (Lincoln) (Parkway Lanes) December 20, 2011
You all probably know or have heard that the burgers are good at Fred & Ruby’s (and they are). But Tuesdays for lunch is the hot beef plate, and let me tell you, it’s Really Quite Nice, and pretty close to the perfect hangover cure.
I’m not normally a fan of white bread covered in gravy, but it’s something of a requisite for this dish. The roast beef is fresh and you better get there before noon because they run out of the special by around then. The only real drawbacks are the frozen niblets of corn and the gravy can be a bit over-gelatinous in spots (the Pantry across the street does a good hot beef plate all days of the week).
Do yourself a favor and drink too much on a Monday night, get up and out of bed on Tuesday, and hit up Parkway Lanes for a special treat (large fountain Pepsi recommended as a food/drink pairing).
- Babylon (Lincoln) November 23, 2011
I’m a big fan of Sinbad’s so it makes sense that I would like Babylon, given the direct connection. Indeed, the menu is almost identical and the food seemed nearly identical as well.
I like variety so I went with the “small” combo, which is enough meat, bread, and salad to feed two people. I was disappointed that it didn’t come with one of those tasty fried meat pies called “kubbeh” on the menu. Instead, what looked like a piece of chicken-fried chicken appeared. The ground lamb kabob continues to be my least favorite item on the combo plate (by far) as it’s just a greasy, chewy mess, but everything else is really good, and I particularly crave the garlic sauce.
The atmo is obviously better because it’s in an old sushi place, but I enjoy the no-frills feel of Sinbad’s better. The server was friendly but ultimately inattentive and never stopped by to refill water or check up. And for $11, I would much rather eat at the Oven or Sher-e Punjab.
If you’re craving Middle Eastern food and you’re in the neighborhood, I’d say stop by. If you’re near Sinbad’s and crave Middle Eastern food, go there. There’s really not any difference.
[N.B.: The menu offered "lintel" soup, which I'm sure must come in a very large bowl.]
- El Chaparro (Lincoln) September 3, 2011
I’m not quite sure why I never got around to trying El Chaparro until a few days ago. Everyone I know raves about the place, and maybe you just have to have just the right beer buzz to say, “I need tacos and tamales . . . now.” And then someone says, “El Chaparro . . . now.”
I tried a tamale and a taco and thoroughly enjoyed both with their salsa. The tamale was filled such that there was an appropriate ratio of meat and cornmeal, which seems to be rare these days. Many restaurants are serving a cornmeal pie, with a little dot of meat or cheese inside, and that’s pretty unappealing.
The taco tasted of fresh ingredients and the soft shells seemed pretty fresh as well. Needless to say, I will be going back to try more items from the menu. I’m sorry it took me so long to try it out.
- Sultan’s Kite (Lincoln) August 23, 2011
Just a quick reminder that Sultan’s Kite is a good, quick, and cheap way to take care of some food ‘tude.
I’ve had everything on the menu and like everything, except the gyro is nothing special because it’s the same gyro beast thing you get nearly everywhere. My favorite is the chicken tikka korma, which comes with way too much rice, but has always been good and comes with a small bit of salad and a couple of potato wedges.
The falafel is pretty good, but often a bit dry. Maybe dip it into the lentil soup? Then you’d have something.
- African Restaurant (Lincoln) August 10, 2011
With a mysterious name like “African Restaurant,” you can be sure I had to try it. Judging by the image of Haile Selassie on the wall, the flag on the menu, and the sponge bread, I’m guessing it’s really an Ethiopian restaurant.
Then menu itself does not have much to choose from, but there also are some extra items you might miss posted behind the counter. The staff is very friendly, but can be inattentive or inept at times. The atmosphere is nothing special, but it is quaint and appropriate (there, I said something about the atmosphere, you atmosphere lovers).
I wanted to order some “vegetable sambusas,” but they were not available because whoever makes them didn’t show up for lunch. That was alright, though, because the entree I ordered, “beef tibs” in the menu, was way too much food, which leads me to believe that Half the Food at Half the Price would be a good idea here, too.
It was an interesting representation of colors, mimicking the Ethiopian flag. The whole affair was relatively oily, but tasted just about like you’d expect. The beef itself was generally tender, but I frequently bit into tough gristle, and you can eat that if you want, but I’m not going to. As it was, I barely ate half the plate (there were about two whole cups of rice and a whole potato there). I opted for rice instead of the sponge bread because I’ve had the bread before and wasn’t gaga for it.
All in all, it was good, but I don’t think I’d go back until I knew I could get a smaller portion for less.
- Pepperjax Grill (Omaha–Old Market) August 8, 2011
I’d been told that Pepperjax Grill is somewhat a phoenix of the old Chartreuse Caboose sandwich chain of yore. I’d also been told that the Philly there is really good.
The meat gets chopped up and cooked as you stand in line. You can choose among several free toppings, and also request the “fireball,” which means they’ll grill the meat with some jalapeno oil. I didn’t want my butt to hurt, so I went with a regular Philly with green peppers, onions, and mushrooms, but no cheese (I’ve never liked cheese on a Philly, because I think they’re fatty enough without). I didn’t see Cheez Whiz on the menu, which is supposedly the “authentic” way to have a Philly (I think I’ll pass).
The prior two orders had some fireball sauce on them, and my meat had the slightest hint of heat because of this, and I think that would be the way to go. I’m not sure how you can guarantee two people in front of you will order the fireball, but I’d say maybe with some careful planning, it’s possible. The meat is very tender and I found very little gristle. There was some hot au jus at the hot sauce bar, and that was pretty good to dip it all into. And the bread is similar to a Gonnella roll, like you might get a Chicago-style Italian Beef on, which is a good thing.
It’s definitely a good Philly, much better than those at King Kong.
- OSO Burrito (Lincoln) August 2, 2011
Full disclosure: I know the manager pretty well. But that doesn’t get OSO off the hook for not having bear tacos. Until they start serving bear tacos, they should really change their name. But, I digress . . . .
I stopped by for a quick lunch and had a couple of tacos, one slow-cooked pork and one slow-cooked beef. The tortillas are alright but nothing special, and the slow-cooked meats were almost too tender, as if you could press the meat together and form it into any particular shape (provided that you’re good at sculpting meat). They’re certainly not anywhere near the quality as Big Star in Chicago, but maybe that’s an unfair comparison.
All of the toppings taste fresh, but the tacos don’t need the creamy sauce given the fattiness of the meat and cheese. The rice and beans are passable as well, but nothing to go and blog about.
For some white-guy cooking, I guess they’re doing alright.
- La Buvette (Omaha) July 21, 2011
I recently stopped by on a hot-hot summer evening with friends, and although roast chicken with mashed potatoes sounds kind of heavy for summer heat, it was an amazing plate and not heavy at all.
I’ll admit that I’m normally a white-meat kinda guy, never too interested in thighs and legs, but this roast chicken was the best I’ve had, cooked to perfection. I even enjoyed the skin, something I normally discard as too greasy, because it was light and crisp.
The potatoes were light and not too heavy, and the peas were especially fresh and a nice complement. La Buvette is quickly becoming my favorite restaurant in Omaha, because the food has been excellent the last few times and the service is getting more consistent. Even simple things like bread and butter are excellent there. The prices are very fair as well. Now if they would just get a hood to keep the grease from getting all over . . . .
- Southwest Pit BBQ (Lincoln) July 13, 2011
It’s nice to have some good BBQ to fill the gap that Paul’s BBQ left behind. If anyone has inside info on when Paul will be back (not just Saturdays at Ideal Grocery), let me know.
Southwest Pit BBQ is in the old Dropbay Records locale on 16th and P. It’s a pretty no-frills operation, but that’s fine with me.
It appears they’re proudest of their pulled pork, and I had that with beans and a drink. A piece of cornbread was thrown in free by the owner. At $6.99, it’s reasonable even without the free cornbread.
The sandwich was very savory and tasty. The only downside was biting into a rather sizable piece of fat that hadn’t been pulled out, but otherwise was very good. The beans were good and not overly sweet as you’ll find at many places. The cornbread was very moist, but I’ve never really been a fan of cornbread. The dogs confirmed that it was very good.
I wish them success. They seem to be doing it right.
- Blue Orchid (Lincoln) (One Last Time) July 13, 2011
I broke down and hit up Blue Orchid one last time. Anyone who has followed my reviews will already be aware that I’ve never liked the place, but I was encouraged to at least try the drunken noodles before I gave up completely.
I’m not trying to be a Negative Nestor, but haters gotta hate. We started with some spring rolls which came out hot and I’ve never had them steamed before. I didn’t like them steamed, and the tofu inside was some of the driest I’ve ever encountered. I also took on a specialty cocktail, something that I might’ve come up with when I was a teenager raiding grandpa’s liquor cabinet.
The drunken noodles weren’t terrible, but the beef was much overdone and dry. The noodles themselves came across as a bit too soft, maybe also overcooked themselves. And the prices are simply too high.
Don’t tell me it’s a nice place. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a faux-earnest hotel restaurant with no sound-proofing, which results in strained conversations.
The service was nice, but everything was slow again, even when the restaurant wasn’t very busy.
- Hiro 88 (Omaha) July 6, 2011
I had a slightly upset stomach and had eaten a couple of heavy meals prior, so I was in the mood for some simple fare, and sushi almost always hits the spot. On my first visit to Hiro 88, I was a bit shocked at how big the fish slices are on the Nigiri, so this time I went with something without adventure and relatively plain.
The spicy tuna roll was interesting with the pieces of fried tempura inside. And then a simple tuna roll, and then a simple avocado and cucumber roll. This all went pretty well with the clementine adult beverage, although it’s rather difficult to get the clementine slices out of the glass when you’re done.
It was all affordable and fresh. I can do without “urban chic,” but then again, I’m not big on atmosphere either way.
- Flavors (Omaha) June 22, 2011
Flavors does a good lunch buffet, but how does it do for dinner? When I stopped by, it wasn’t very busy, but the service was friendly and I was provided a free vegetable pakora platter and papadum to start.
I’ve never been a fan of papadum. It tastes like parched bitterness, and dipping it in the chutney doesn’t seem to help me enjoy it. The vegetable pakoras, however, were delicious. This was the first pakora plate I’ve seen with some plain-old fried spinach thrown in, which is maybe the best way to enjoy spinach.
I tried the chicken madras, which is ultimately very similar to a Thai yellow curry with coconut milk. That plus an onion naan meant plenty of leftovers for lunch. Small complaint: a paper towel is used to line the basket for the naan, and the naan stuck to the paper towel, resulting in some of the paper towel getting stuck to the naan. I don’t suffer from pica, so this is not of interesting to me.
I ultimately prefer the Indian food at The Oven or Sher-e Punjab in Lincoln, but this is an extremely friendly place with good food.
- New York Chicken & Gyros (Omaha) June 22, 2011
I made a quick visit for lunch to go, and was greeted with some very friendly service from a new staff-member and a new special, which was three pieces of chicken, fries, and a drink for $6.00.
This isn’t the kind of thing you should eat for lunch at work. It’s messy, attracts wild animals (co-workers), and makes you feel sleepy. But at six bucks, who can resist?
I must admit that I make better fried chicken at home, but this was pretty good. This chicken was definitely tender and juicy, as my pants can attest to. The fries go well with the thimble-sized cup of honey mustard, which is something I hereby do officially and forthwith complain about: I’m sure they can afford to provide more.
- Saigon Surface (Omaha) June 15, 2011
I know where Saigon is, so I figured I was headed to a Vietnamese place. But I’m still not sure what the “surface” is. After all, there are many surfaces at every restaurant.
Regardless, I arrived just in time for happy hour (from 3-5pm weekdays) and was pleased with the variety and prices. We had some spring rolls, some chicken skewers, some grilled pork, and some ginger lemonade. After happy hour ended, we had some papaya salad and the short ribs.
The happy-hour prices are great. Everything we had was pretty good. The chicken skewers seemed a bit overdone, though, with the outside edge a bit chewy. The short ribs came with a strange hard-boiled egg that was further lightly breaded and fried. I ate it. Whatever.
I don’t really appreciate the iPads for menus or that you can use the iPads to control the music being played, but it was at least an enjoyable gimmick. I’m pretty sure I’d eventually spill something on the iPads, but I promise to be careful.
- California Tacos & More (Omaha) June 7, 2011
I’ve already posted a couple of notes about this favorite of Guy Fieri, but I stopped in for lunch recently and wanted to remind you all of the hard-shell tacos, which are a nice alternative to the California taco.
Two hard-shell tacos and the “make it a meal” with Mexi-taters and a drink is a pretty filling lunch and pretty tasty, too. And throw in a bunch of the red and green sauces and you’ve really got something. And after eating the two hard-shell tacos, I didn’t feel like I was about to give birth the rest of the day like I often do after eating the California taco.
- Pies and Pints (Lincoln) June 6, 2011
It was with great dismay when I learned that Suite One closed. It was truly the best pizza in town and a lot of Lincolnites probably never knew it existed. Now a new pizza place, Pies and Pints, tries to make work a spot which seems doomed to failure because most people don’t even know it exists.
To get to this place, you have to go downstairs, and you have to see the stairs. Once you find the stairs, go down the stairs. Then open the door. You’ll be then inside the restaurant.
What’s new is a lot of televisions and the carpet. And instead of Chicago-style pizza, you get this:
Although what comes out is a slightly thicker and softer crust than I ultimately prefer, the result is a pretty tasty pizza. The sauce and dough are made from scratch. The sauce has a very unique flavor, a secret ingredient, which is not beer. It might be white pepper, which I normally don’t like, but in small quantities can be tastefully done. All I know is that the sauce has honey for a natural sweetener instead of sugar, but it’s not really a sweet sauce like some of the franchise pizzas.
It was good and cheap with friendly service. I wish them luck in a location that seems to stifle success.
- Thai Garden (Lincoln) May 31, 2011
I know most Lincolnites believe there is only one Thai restaurant in town, Blue Orchid, but I’ve long tried to sing the praises of the cheaper and better options. My favorites are Thai House and Thai Garden, and I think I’m becoming addicted to the tom kha soup at Thai Garden.
The tom kha is similar to mulligatawny because it’s spicy, but it has lots of finely chopped cabbage hidden below the surface, like a sunken pirate ship filled with . . . finely chopped cabbage.
But that’s just the starter if you’re there for the daily lunch specials ($6.29). Next comes all this:
The egg rolls are fried just right and the yellow curry with a splash of soy sauce is Really Quite Nice. I waffle between chicken and tofu. Thai Garden doesn’t get that nice crisp edge on the tofu like the Thai House always seems to manage, but it’s alright.
If you’re a “Blue Orchid only” diner, I can’t help you.
- Paul’s Old-Style BBQ (Lincoln) May 31, 2011
I know that Paul’s BBQ has been closed temporarily while transitioning to a new place, supposedly somewhere near 48th and O Street. So I was pleasantly surprised to be faced with a case full of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork when at Ideal Grocery recently.
I picked up some ribs and some brisket, and they were both as I remembered from the restaurant. Ideal Grocery is regularly offering these meat snacks on Saturdays. It makes sense to get your meat early so you’re not getting something that’s been sitting under the hamburger lamps all day.
- Uncommon Ground (Chicago) May 25, 2011
And then it came time for maybe the sixth or seventh meal of the day, a smaller affair to be sure, at Uncommon Ground.
It’s hard to wander through life sober, so I had a lemon-ginger martini (lemogingatini?) which helped clarify my thoughts. We sat at the bar with a group of five, and had some of the best and friendliest service I’ve encountered yet, and most importantly, conversational without façade.
And then this thing showed up, an entire tempura soft-shell crab. I went for the legs, so as to prevent it from wandering off. My companions insisted that the face and the beak were the best, but whatever. Also of note was the three-bean vegetable dip and the sweet potato fries. This could be my new go-to place.
- Penny’s Noodle Shop (Chicago) May 25, 2011
Penny’s is a bit of a go-to for me when people are being indecisive or in a hurry. On a prior visit, the food was just a little off, not quite as good as times in the past. But this time, the food and service were really good.
I usually opt for the red curry, but this time I had the pepper beef, and the meat was really tender and was a good texture contrast with the crispy noodles. And we started with spring rolls, some crispy, some fresh, and they were all very good. It’s not a complicated set, but the execution was there and the ingredients were fresh.
- Toast (Chicago) May 25, 2011
I was hoodwinked into having a fifth or sixth meal for the day, somewhere between the Italian beef sandwich and the tacos and some beers, and so I ordered what I thought would be a light affair.
If I’d had room for a full meal, I know I would’ve really enjoyed it. But instead I had some soup and a side. The cream of mushroom had cheese on it, and I’ve never seen that before. It’s just further evidence that everything has cheese on it in Chicago. The soup itself was served just above warm, and I’ve complained about that before about many soups at many other places. You gotta serve them hot.
If it’s too hot, I can wait or burn my soft palate. If it’s too cold, you can’t really do anything but look like a complainer if you ask for it to be warmed up. I would’ve really enjoyed it if it were served hot (and sans cheese). The mushrooms themselves were mostly blended up, and whatever mushroom it was (I’m guessing Baby Portabella or Crimini), had a pretty dark flavor that didn’t fit well with the cream.
The potatoes were pretty good, but this was simply an error in overeating for the day, resulting in my ordering something that wasn’t great. I tried a bite of French toast that was really delicious, and I don’t even like French toast.
So, sorry Toast, next time I’ll come hungry. The service was really good.
- Big Star (Chicago) May 25, 2011
Sometimes the hype is worth the hype. The last time I tried to eat at Big Star, there was a waiting list for about three hours, and that was at about 3pm on a Thursday. I thought maybe the hype had died down a little, so I went at 3pm on a Friday. It was still to packed to wait for a table, but I stopped by the to-go window because, you know, who doesn’t need some tacos in the middle of the day?
I chose two tacos, one Pastor and one Panza. At $3 each, it’s all worth it. The order came with two lime wedges, red and green salsa, and a little chicken lollipop, which I gave to a friend who confirmed that it was not, in fact, a chicken-flavored lollipop. ["It doesn't taste like chicken."]
The salsas are really good and fresh, as are the tacos. While the Panza was pretty good, the Pastor may be the best taco I’ve had yet. I really enjoyed the small pieces of pineapple among all of the other flavors of lime, cilantro, onion, and whatever tasty spices the pork shoulder was marinated in.
The Panza is braised pork belly, and makes for a slightly tougher affair, but worth it for some variety. I plan to head back to try all the other tacos, and hopefully have time to sit down for an actual meal.
- Mr. Beef (Chicago) May 24, 2011
I certainly try to get to Mr. Beef each time I visit Chicago, not only because I like the sandwich, but also to see if they’ve put up my autographed promo-shot on the wall next to Joe Mantegna’s yet (they have not). You get to say things like: “Beef, wet, and hot” when you order. I prefer “beef, hot” because if you add “wet,” you get a thoroughly messy sandwich that requires a second shower for the day.
It’s a perfectly delicious sandwich, with tender and lean beef, and the hot mix makes it all ever-so-better. The fries come crispy and hot, and I’ve never been let down.
Someday my picture will be up, I’m sure.
- Malört May 24, 2011
Some shoot Malört and think it’s good for something. Some consider it a punishment for past sins. I’m somewhere in the middle of these two schools of thought.
Although I’ve lived in Chicago and visited often, this last trip featured my first taste of Malört, a Chicago specialty. It looks like whiskey, tastes like cough medicine, and leaves a lingering, bitter aftertaste that lasts for about an hour. It seems to have some of the aromatics similar to an Underberg, but not nearly as enjoyable.
- Pick Me Up Cafe (Chicago) May 24, 2011
If you want to drink a lot on a trip to Chicago, you better start of with a big meal. After a plane, train, and automobile ride, I found myself among friends at the Pick Me Up Cafe.
We started with some mushrooms stuffed with a bunch of stuff, including sun-dried tomatoes (whatever happens to all the moon-dried tomatoes?). They were good and greasy and perfect stomach-lining for a long night of drinking until 4am. But then came my sandwich. For $9 I was expecting a normal-sized sandwich and some fries. Instead, I got this:
Everything in Chicago has cheese on it, so while the fries were tasty, they got all soggy with cheese and oil. Don’t get me wrong: I like cheese, too. I just don’t need cheese as a go-with for everything.
The sandwich itself was a monstrosity. It was the turkey/bacon/ham/provolone club, and was so big it had three slices of bread. The sandwich was pretty good and hit the spot, but I wasn’t able to eat close to even half of the sandwich, let alone the fries.
I’d normally say Half the Food at Half the Price (HtFaHtP) is in order here, but maybe a Third of the Food at a Third of the Price (aTotFaaTotP) is really meet, apropos, suitable.
- Partial Food Guide to the Lincoln Race Course May 16, 2011
The live racing season has started again at the Lincoln Race Course, so I thought I’d give you a quick guide on the hits and misses I’ve encountered foodwise.
I know there are different items up in the clubhouse that seem to primarily involve some deep frying, and although things seem generally more civilized up there, I choose to lay down my steam in the grandstand. There, your best bet is between the pulled-pork sandwich or the taco bar. The pulled-pork sandwich looks to be made fresh for each day, and the taco meat (not the caulking tube of sour cream and “guacamole”) appears to be made fresh each time as well.
I’d avoid the polish dog. The hot dog is actually a quarter more but appears to be of much higher quality (less gut-bomb quality). And don’t forget the tri-color nachos. They taste just like you’d expect.
- Zio’s New York Style Pizzeria (Omaha) May 10, 2011
I was craving a slice, preferably thin crust, not a slice featuring a “bed of bread” for the toppings. The last time I was at Zio’s was over ten years ago, and at that visit I thought the pizza was below average and I remember the service being pretty bad, too. Fortunately, I had a much better experience recently.
The service was very friendly and conversational, and not in a forced way. I had two large slices and a nice beer, and before tip it was $9. The crust was very crispy and thin, not as thin as at Pitch, but thin enough for me. I chose a simple pepperoni slice and cheese slice to make sure I was tasting the basics (I don’t think chicken and pineapple belong on pizza).
My slices were pretty tasty and I was impressed. I will definitely return before another 10 years pass.
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Bar and Lindt’s Extra Creamy Bar May 10, 2011
I thought it was time to tell you all about a couple of chocolate bars I’ve discovered recently. First, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Bar, which is oddly missing from the official Hershey’s website, but can be seen to exist at the Walgreens website. This is a mystery no doubt worthy of an episode of one of the many murder shows, maybe even with a guest-star like Charo.
The peanut butter bar is a lot like the cups, but it’s way big, and I ate it in about four different sittings. The bar is divided up into a bunch of sections, each with their own dollop of peanut butter inside. The end result is that you have a much higher chocolate-to-peanut-butter ratio, which I’m okay with most of the time. But sometimes you gotta eat a peanut butter egg or tree so you have the way-high peanut-butter-to-chocolate ratio.
But my new favorite chocolate bar is the Lindt extra creamy, which is a nice counter to all this dark chocolate nonsense, the goal of which seems to be trying to shove as high of a percent of cacao into a dry and bitter attempt at making it all more healthy. Gimme some milk fat, I say! And what noun doesn’t go well with “extra creamy”?
- 9 South Chargrill (Lincoln) May 3, 2011
9 South Chargrill is possibly the most-aptly-named restaurant in Nebraska. It’s on 9th and South, and the chargrill certainly chars and grills stuff, so much so that the atmosphere is often filled with a tear-inducing smoke. They certainly need to do some work on the hood/exhaust system.
On a recent trip for lunch, we had generally good food but lackluster service. It looked like the host had lost (or won?) a battle with a bottle of whiskey on the prior evening, and our server, while just attentive enough, seemed a bit charred, too. And I overheard something I would never tolerate at a restaurant of my own: the host told a table nearby that he wouldn’t take care of their request because he was the host and he would “let the server take care of that.” Well, excuse me!
While a basic sandwich combo and drink easily runs over $10, you get a lot of food (two sides). The waffle fries taste good but they’re doing something wrong somehow, because they aren’t ever crispy. The side of baked beans is pretty unremarkable in that it doesn’t taste much different from right out of a can.
The Philly sandwich was pretty good, though. The meat was tender and not grisly, and the bun was fresh. It would’ve been really good with a cup beef broth for dipping.
Overall, the food is pretty good if a bit pricey, and the service could use at least a patina of professionalism.
- Casablanca Moroccan Cafe (Omaha) May 2, 2011
I’m guessing most people don’t even know the Casablanca Moroccan Cafe is open for foot traffic, because there was a sign up for what seemed like years that it was catering only, or maybe that was some other outfit entirely. But I stopped in with the intent to try the falafel over lunch and was upsold to a lamb and rice dish and was given a small plate of hummus and pita bread while I waited.
The pita bread was very fresh and the hummus also had a fresh and clean taste. I can easily recommend it.
And then out came a huge amount of food.
This was way too much food for me, especially just lunch. There might’ve been two cups of rice. The rice was cooked just right, but it was filled with different dried fruits, like dates and golden raisins, and I’ve never been a fan of sweetness in main dishes. But it’s easy enough to avoid eating them.
The grilled vegetables were cooked right, with not too much oil and just a little charring. And the lamb chunks were tender, although could’ve been served in smaller pieces to make them easier to eat.
I think the lamb and rice might be the perfect item for Half the Food at Half the Price (HtFaHtP).
- Tico’s Mexican Restaurant (Lincoln) May 1, 2011
I’m not sure if my tastes are more refined now, but it seems like Tico’s is just a little worse each time. And there’re so many other better Mexican restaurants in town now, that the only reason left to eat at Tico’s is for nostalgia or to devour a bunch of their seasoned corn chips.
The best part of eating at Tico’s is still the corn chips, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending upon how much you like corn chips. I usually fight whoever else is at the table over the chips with the most seasoning, for these are the best and make you stronger.
The salsas, identified as “mild” and “hot,” look a lot like they came from a can, and don’t taste very fresh, either. And “hot” might be hot to only the most elderly tasters.
The flour taco shell pretty much disintegrates into a thousand pieces upon first bite, and is even greasier than those at California Tacos and More. Maybe it was just an off day, but everything tasted “cheap,” as if cheap ingredients were used.
The service was friendly, though, and the atmosphere is still the same (Danny Trejo might walk in to film a scene for “Machete” at any time). Maybe I should’ve had a margarita with it all.
- Pastries at the Boiler Room April 28, 2011
Just a reminder that the Boiler Room’s desserts are top-notch now that they’ve got a dedicated pastry chef. Do yourself a favor and have a Sazerac and some dessert some night at the bar.
- The Boxcar Grill at The Foundation (Omaha) April 28, 2011
I stopped in for a quick beer and bite at the Boxcar Grill at The Foundation. I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered something called “The Cheapskate,” which is some fries and a couple of sliders, and I think it was under $4.
The fries were excellent and the sliders were the best I’ve had, no joke. One was pulled-pork BBQ and the other was a regular burger. Even the buns were tasty, and it was plenty of food for me.
I’m excited to go back to try other items.
- Sher-e-Punjab (Lincoln) April 27, 2011
I think Sher-e-Punjab is my favorite restaurant in Lincoln. In fact, it’s possibly my favorite Indian restaurant I’ve found yet. And you Oven fanboys can just stop reading, of course. And you people who’ve found some hole-in-the-wall place in some big city, like on Devon Ave. in Chicago, well, you can just save your anecdotes for someone else.
The mulligatawny is great. It’s got the right spiciness and the right texture. It’s not too thick like you get at the Oven. The naans are usually cooked evenly and puffy without being too greasy. And the samosas are flaky and not too greasy, either.
I particularly like the chicken Vindaloo, because it’s not overly hot but is very tangy, I’m guessing from lemon juice. And I know the place is in a strip mall and the atmosphere is not as good as the Oven’s, but the food is more consistent and I think it tastes better.
But I’ll gladly eat at the Oven any day as well, because the Oven might be my second-favorite restaurant in Lincoln.
- Sinbad’s Restaurant (Lincoln) April 17, 2011
Each time I go to Sinbad’s, something is new. This time, there was new seating and some flat-panel TVs tuned into an unusual show teaching how to count in Arabic.
And this time, I was with two other people, both of whom can mow it down, so we ordered the Arabian platter, something which might be enough food for one Kobayashi, but probably enough for five or six mere mortals.
But this image doesn’t show all you get. You also get small salads and bread. The salads are not remarkable, but the bread is very good and I particularly like the garlic sauce as a go-with. Actually, the garlic sauce goes with pretty much everything there.
The platter has a pile of rice (not a bed of rice) falafel, gyro meat, ground lamb, ground chicken, chicken, steak, cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon slices, and some of the delicious fried-rice meat pies called kubbahs. My favorites in the platter are the falafel and the chicken. The gyro beast meat is as you would expect. I would rather just not have it on the platter.
After trying to make a dent with three people for 20 minutes, there was almost half of the platter left, which means it’s enough food for five hungry people. I thought: I’ll either have to make more friends or take some home for lunch. And at $34.99, it’s a reasonably priced Arabian platter.
- King Kong vs. New York Chicken & Gyros (Omaha) April 13, 2011
I decided to play a little game this week called “Raise Jack’s Cholesterol.” I started by going to King Kong for a gyro.
At King Kong, I often just order the kid’s gyro, because it comes with fries and a drink and still comprises more food than I can comfortably eat in one meal. The King Kong gyro features the traditional pita with the beef/lamb beast stuff that often has a too-soft texture. I prefer the beef/lamb beast to at least get a little char on it. Otherwise, it seems like it was merely steamed.
The gyro comes with a pretty plain sauce and some onions and mealy out-of-season tomatoes. You also get about two large potatoes of fries with some seasoned salt. I like the fries with the seasoned salt because they come out pretty crispy.
But then I also hit up the New York Chicken & Gyros for a chicken shawarma gyro, because the place is under new ownership with a sleeker menu.
You get about the same amount of food (too much), but the pita is more like a tortilla and has a better taste. The sauce also has a much better taste, with more spice and more complex flavors. And instead of the boring onions and mealy tomatoes, you get cucumbers, carrots, onions, and mealy tomatoes. The fries were pretty good, too, but they aren’t as crisp as King Kong’s.
Overall, the New York Chicken & Gyros chicken shawarma gyro was much better with more interesting flavors and ingredients than the King Kong gyro. The prices also seem to be slightly cheaper across the board there as well. Unfortunately, you can’t get a two-pound burger.
- The Boiler Room (Omaha) April 7, 2011
I’ve already posted about the food at The Boiler Room, but I think it’s time to make a separate entry about the excellent craft bartending there. And it’s real craft bartending, not just some trendy fad.
There’s excellence on display and watching your cocktails being made is nearly as enjoyable as drinking them. Not to be missed is Chris’ Sazerac, and pretty much anything he or the other bartender makes. As a seasoned drinker and amateur mixologist, I enjoy learning as much as drinking, and much can be learned while sitting at the bar.
- China Palace (Omaha) April 7, 2011
I so recently posted about Rice Bowl that I felt obligated to talk a bit about the propinquitous China Palace. China Palace and Rice Bowl are like cousins, separated by a wide gulf known as Saddle Creek Road.
China Palace is obviously easier to park at, given that it’s at a strip mall. There’s also much more seating. And you get free tea whereas Rice Bowl gives you a coupla crab rangoons (or is the plural crabs rangoon?). There are also hits and misses at both places.
For example, I think the egg rolls at China Palace are awful. Terrible, really. They have some sort of wonton wrapper that’s way too thick and almost sweet. But I particularly like the Szechuan Beef and the Chicken Chow Mein at China Palace, and the hot and sour soup is getting better because it tastes like they’re not sweetening it as much now.
I’ve noticed that many Chinese restaurants serve chow mein noodles on the bottom, so they’re way soggy when you find them. That’s just dumb, because the chow mein’s not “chow” at that point. Not so at China Palace.
The service has always been extremely friendly and prompt, and the prices are very reasonable. I just wish they would make some decent egg rolls.
- Mama’s Dream Bakery and Deli (Lincoln) April 4, 2011
It seems like everyone’s offering some sort of online “coupon” where you do something like give a place $15 and in return you get a piece of paper that’s worth $30. Well, that sure worked on us, and we went to Mama’s Dream for some sandwiches.
The story I heard is that Mama’s Dream was the dream of some mamas. Good. Words have meaning and I like it when words mean what you think they mean. Then again, if it’s the dream of multiple mamas, the apostrophe should move a little.
There’s not a lot of seating inside, but it’s clean and bright and it would likely get a ton of foot traffic if located nearer to downtown’s core.
I had a pastrami on rye and a bowl of the chili.
The prices at Mama’s Dream are all very reasonable. All of the ingredients were fresh, but ultimately I was left with a feeling that nothing was all that remarkable, in the sense that I can make a pastrami on rye and the chili tasted almost exactly like the chili I make at home. What makes a trip to the deli worthwhile is the affordability and variety.
I also tried a couple slices of cake to go, which were also very reasonably priced. I believe the pieces were a little past their prime. They possibly need to cut them to order, as the slices were pretty dry when dug into.
So even without a goofy coupon, it’s worth checking out.
- Rice Bowl (Omaha) March 30, 2011
My experience is that it’s hard to find good Chinese food in Omaha. I’ve been given a few suggestions that I need to try, but for good, cheap, and fast, my favorite is still Rice Bowl.
I usually visit on Wednesdays when the Imperial Chicken is on special (free bowl of soup). I’ve been there on enough Wednesdays that sometimes the servers ready my food as I’m walking across the tiny and stressful parking lot. The hot-and-sour soup is good and not thickened nor sweetened that I can tell.
I like the Imperial Chicken at Rice Bowl because the breaded pieces are almost always solid white meat with no gackle. I’ve been told some cheap restaurants will try to hide various dark pieces and skin in these bites, but I’ve never had trouble at Rice Bowl.
I don’t eat water chestnuts. I believe they are China’s revenge for taking our e-waste. And I don’t eat baby corn for moral reasons.
The sauce is sweeter than it should be, so that’s likely just an Americanization. I once asked the server if they could make it less sweet, and she said she didn’t think it would be very good that way. Live and learn.
And Rice Bowl has a hood (did you hear that La Buvette?).
- Snickers Peanut Butter Squared March 30, 2011
I haven’t been this excited for a new piece of candy since I stumbled across Chewy Lemonhead and Friends.
Snickers is probably my favorite mass-produced candy bar, so you know I had to buy this new confection/concoction. The candy bar itself has its very own facebook page, and you can learn there with some flashy Flash that inside the wrapper you’ll find two squares.
You’ll also learn that the squares are layers of: milk chocolate, caramel, “peanut butter,” peanuts, “nougat,” and then another layer of milk chocolate, or what the facebook page calls “a sweet and luscious layer of instant happiness.”
Look, I know marketing works. But I was not instantly happy upon biting into it. I put quote marks around “peanut butter” and “nougat” because I’m not convinced that’s what I ate. The “nougat” looks more like acoustic ceiling tile and was pretty dry and scientific. The “peanut butter” didn’t taste like any peanut butter I’ve ever had. And the gimmick of making two squares instead of one bar is surely lost on me.
I’ll be sticking with regular Snickers bars, thank you very much.
- La Buvette (Omaha) March 29, 2011
I am, of course, a fan of La Buvette and have eaten there several times. I guess I’ve never gotten around to posting about it, though.
On a recent trip with good friends, we started with the pork rillettes, which comes with slices of the excellent rye and baguette, some cornichons, some olives, some sliced red onion, some mustard, and . . . well just look at the picture and you can see for yourself.
The rillettes was excellent and wasn’t too heavy. The bread was great and I particularly liked the salted red onion with the rillettes. It seems like a very simple plate but the execution has to be there, too. I’d recommend ordering this every visit, much like the meatballs at Pitch.
Then I had the cassoulet.
The cassoulet was really good. And it wasn’t an obnoxious portion. The beans were cooked just right with a very slight and subtle toothiness, and the meats were very savory. My only wish, and I’m sure some traditionalists will scoff, is that the meat chunks be cut or torn up into slightly smaller pieces. Or if you want the pieces to stay the same size, serve it with a steak knife to facilitate the eating.
I have a small complaint about La Buvette’s atmosphere: there’s no hood in the kitchen area, so by the end of dinner you and your clothes smell like a hot-oil fondue of fried meats. Oh, well. It could be worse.
- Pitch Pizzeria (Omaha) March 29, 2011
Ripshaw and I hit up Pitch Pizzeria for a regular-old, not-happy-hour dinner, and everything was excellent. Pitch has the best pizza I’ve had in Nebraska.
We started with some Calabrese meatballs which are delicious and light and come with their excellent marinara sauce and two small pieces of focaccia bread. Do yourself a favor and order these every visit. Next came the artichokes, and I’m not sure how they get so much of the heart out and intact with the stem. I’ve never been able to get even just the hearts out without destroying them, or maybe I’ve just never had the patience for that kind of thing. The artichokes were wonderful by themselves, and there’s certainly no need for them to come with the “garlic lemon dipping sauce.” And our last appetizer was the roasted brussel sprouts, not my favorite food in the world, but well-prepared and worth it.
But I can hear everyone reading this now: what about the atmosphere? And didn’t you have some pizza?
The atmosphere is just fine. It’s clean. Our service was excellent. And we had a pizza.
The Mia comes with the house-made sausage and pepperoni and is the best pizza I’ve had in Nebraska so far. The pepperoni are a little salty, even for a super-taster, but the crust is perfect and the leftovers were still pretty amazing the next day, simply warmed up in the oven.
If you haven’t been, get yourself there.
- The Grey Plume (Omaha) (Revisited) March 26, 2011
I went for a quick lunch the other day, and maybe it was just because chef wasn’t working the kitchen, but most of the dishes were off.
Both the butternut squash soup and mushroom soup were served barely above lukewarm, and the soups need to be piping hot. That way all the flavors show up.
I wasn’t sure the small slices of grapefruit would go with the mushroom soup, but they did. I just wish the soup was hotter so I could’ve enjoyed it.
And then came something that I’m not sure what to think about: duck fries with a fried egg.
The fries were also not as hot as I would’ve liked, and ultimately a little soggy. They didn’t have a lot of flavor, oddly enough, and the fried egg seemed a bit too much. If you’re going to add a fried egg, why not pour on some cream and some butter and some cheese, too? Maybe a pat of foie gras?
The salad, unfortunately, was the best part of lunch. I say unforunately because salads are typically merely arranging ingredients. This was a spinach salad with poached chicken and even I, a supertaster, thought it was oversalted. Oh, well. Hopefully we can chalk all the gaffes up to chef’s day off.
- M’s Pub (Omaha) March 21, 2011
It’s been awhile sine I had a meal at M’s pub, and I promised I’d return after my last experience which led to a “I don’t like it” or “I didn’t like it” vote on Urbanspoon.com. I’ve always liked M’s Pub, but the execution was off the last time.
I went back and the service was very good and the food was pretty good.
I nearly ordered the tuna melt but it has cream cheese in the mix and say want you want about cream cheese, I simply don’t enjoy it that much, and I’m especially horrified by you freaks who get cream cheese on pizza.
Instead I had the “Asian Chicken Satay,” which could likely be reduced to “Chicken Satay,” for I’m not sure “satay” implies a continent other than Asia, and it’s really more of an American stab at the dish, so I think they should really call it “American Chicken Satay.” It’s especially American on account of the bed-of-rice it’s served upon, about a full cup of rice too much, really. While the rice is cooked well, this dish deserves something better (at least it’s not risotto?). The chicken itself was good and the peanut sauce was passable.
Their house dressing is a little too sweet for my liking, but I guess Omahans love over-sweet salads, because without sugar, salads are just too healthy for them. The dinner rolls are definitely a winner, though.
So I’ve changed my vote to “I like it.” The food was better and the service was very good this time. I will be returning more often.
- Bread & Cup (Lincoln) March 20, 2011
We hit up the Bread & Cup for lunch and everything was excellent again.
The prior visit I had the bowl of chili and cinnamon roll, both of which were excellent. The cinnamon roll with the caramel sauce is even better than Le Quartier’s cinnamon rolls with the vanilla icing. This time I had half a tuna sandwich and half bowl of chili, plenty of food for me. The tuna salad comes on the pan loaf bread, and it’s softer and much easier to eat than the roast beef sandwich on ciabatta. The ciabatta has a hard outer shell which makes eating the sandwich pretty difficult, especially for one of our friends who has to eat with dentures. I don’t have dentures, but I had a hard time eating the roast beef on ciabatta the first time I went.
The chili is very good, and I might have to order the full breakfast next time (served until 1:30pm), which looked to be of high quality as well.
- Manhattan Deli (Omaha) March 8, 2011
I recently was looking forward to a quick and cheap bowl of chili at the Manhattan Deli (I hadn’t been in months). To my pleasant surprise, the whole place has been remodeled and is under new ownership. I was a little miffed at first because the chili is no longer on the menu, and the unnecessarily complicated system of writing down your order on a sheet and handing it to the cashier were gone. Also gone were the cute old ladies and much of the antiquated accoutrements from the walls.
Also missing is the framed newspaper article featuring the prior owner admitting to having never been to Manhattan. When I asked the new owner, she said she’d never been, either. Baby steps, I know.
But what you’ll now find is a cleaned-up restaurant with a revamped menu and some very friendly staff.
I opted for the special, a roast beef and American on marbled rye with some horseradish sauce and a napalm-hot broccoli cheese soup. It’s a marked improvement over the fare from the prior management. If you didn’t like it before, give it a new chance.
- La Casita (Denver Airport) March 3, 2011
And on the way back, I choked down a couple of tamales and beans from La Casita in Concourse C (Southwest’s concourse).
I’ve long lamented that it’s hard to find a decent bite at DEN, more so than at other airports, but the tamales weren’t awful and the beans tasted like beans. So I guess I liked it.
- Turtle Tower (San Francisco) March 3, 2011
And we had some very good bun noodle bowls and fresh spring rolls at Turtle Tower. I had the egg-roll noodle bowl and I’m used to having all the ingredients (except for the mint and cilantro) already put into the bowl when served, but at Turtle Tower, you get to mix and match your ingredients as you like, and I think I prefer this method of serving, but it increases the chance that it will all be cold before you finish.
In comparison to a place like Vung Tau in Lincoln, I’d say it was almost identical in quality and price. Every ingredient was very fresh and the atmosphere is very similar to Vung Tau’s.
- Capital Restaurant (San Francisco) March 3, 2011
It wasn’t even 10:30am but when you see a sign that says something like “World’s Best Chicken Wings” and your day-long hangover is done, well, I think you know what happens next.
I’m not a huge fan of chicken wings. I’ve never really liked to eat fried skin–no matter which animal–and I’m always freaked-out by the sinews and what-nots that you can see when you bite into one, and I feel awfully sorry for whatever they do to the rest of the chicken, but these were excellently fried with a very good savoriness. They must be lightly coated in rice flour and then salted at the end. They come with some scallions and some jalapeno slices. It was a good breakfast.
- Super Duper Burger (San Francisco) March 3, 2011
Although I still had the shaky-shakes at dinnertime, I nonetheless craved some high-end grease, and my friends suggested Super Duper Burger. I must’ve been in a bad brain-fog, too, for I forgot to get a picture, but I’m sure you can imagine what a hamburger looks like.
I liked Super Duper Burger but it’s simply a good burger and fries. After a certain point of preparation and ingredient selection, a good burger and fries is never going to get better than a good burger and fries.
This is the first place where I’ve seen wine on tap, and I forewent the booze and opted for a fountain Coke, a decision which was correct given my body’s need for caffeine and lack of need for booze.
A 4-oz. burger should be enough, but I tried to eat an 8-oz. burger. That was overkill and not necessary. It was necessary to try the three house-made sauces (a mayo, a chipotle, and a “super sauce”). Of the three sauces, only the chipotle was worth dipping into, and I ultimately would’ve rather just had some yellow mustard, I guess.
But it’s a good burger and fries, so give them a shot instead of impulsively hitting up In-N-Out.
- Nopalito (San Francisco) March 3, 2011
What’s good for a bad hangover is good Mexican food with good, fresh-squeezed lime margaritas. And one of the best places for that is Nopalito.
It’s nice to hit Nopalito with a couple of peeps so you can all share in a bunch of the smaller dishes. We had about half of the small plates and they were all excellent. I remember fondly the totopos, the empanada, the gordita, the fish taco, and I even liked the super-fresh calamari ceviche (I’ll eat seafood on the coasts).
The service has been excellent both times I’ve been and the prices are very reasonable for the quality.
Unfortunately, the hangover lasted well into the evening (not the gordita’s fault, really).
- Flour + Water (San Francisco) March 3, 2011
It was my intention to get to Una Pizza Napoletana this time, but it was closed for the week. Instead, I went to Flour + Water and I don’t remember much because I’d been drinking all day and then we had some more booze to go with the food and I guess I’ll just recap what I remember.
First, I remember taking this picture. And I remember really liking the pizza. And there was some kind of appetizer that had little fried balls of pork fat that were like hush puppies but way better and didn’t smell like dead fish. And the salad before it featured my new favorite flavor combo: orange and avocado. I seriously think orange and avocado go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and I’ll be putting oranges and avocados on a bunch of things now.
I remember causing a scene and getting into a fight and then leaving quickly and then we had to drink some more while we watched a local government TV interview of clowns about to celebrate International Clown Day.
I’ll try to hit Bread + Flour sober next time.
- Kitchenette (San Francisco) March 2, 2011
It looks like there’s a hip trend to have a little restaurant fare in little warehouse spots. Kitchenette offers lunch items to go or to be eaten on the spartan seating in the loading area.
That day it was a roast beef sandwich, chocolate cookies, and a gourmet Arnold Palmer to drink (what’s in a Tiger Woods?).
The sandwich was excellent with very good bread, some field greens, and an excellent mustard. The only problem, and you don’t hear Americans saying this too much anymore, was that the sandwich was too big. Way too big. I mean, Half the Food at Half the Price too big. Like two normal people could’ve split too big.
But it tasted really good. And the chocolate cookies were really good. I wish I had a Kitchenette in a warehouse nearer to me.
- Tartine Bakery (San Francisco) March 2, 2011
I’ve reviewed Tartine Bakery before in the old archived posts, but I just wanted to remind you all how amazing the pastries are there.
The croissants at Tartine are the best I think I’ll ever have, what with being the most flaky and crisp outside yet soft and perfect inside. Do yourself a favor and wait in line for a croissant and then try not to eat it all in one inhaling bite.
- Shalimar (San Francisco) March 2, 2011
I’m a huge fan of Indian/Pakistani food and I was told I simply had to eat at Shalimar. And let me get it out of the way right now that this is not a place if you want atmosphere or if you want to be waited on. In fact, you have to be pretty assertive just to find a seat on a busy Thursday night and you have to grab your own menus.
But you will eventually get someone to come over and take your order. And we had some very good stuff, the best Indian/Pakistani I’ve had in the Bay Area to date.
All of what we had was very good. The tandoori chicken was not overcooked (and thus not dry), the tikka korma came with a tasty sauce, and the spinach lamb was tender and savory. The rice wasn’t oily like it seems to so often be at some Indian restaurants, and our onion naan was something like a human Scooby snack.
I’m assuming most people won’t like the location or the atmosphere, but if you’re like me, the price and taste are hard to beat.
- Cantina Laredo (Omaha) February 20, 2011
Cantina Laredo is a difficult place. I generally like the food but the atmosphere and service often leave me scratching my head.
First off, you’ve got to question the sincerity of a restaurant which advertises itself as “gourmet Mexican food” on its website, but has a Ladies’ night every Thursday. And Ladies’ night is supposed to mean half-price margaritas, but our server told us ladies would get a margarita for $4 which was normally $7. I’m not a math major (I was a math minor), but when I do half of seven in my head, I get a number that’s not four.
We were seated in a booth right next to the bar on Ladies’ night, and after a little while, the bar was so crowded and busy that people were pretty constantly passing back and forth and the acoustics are such that you we could no longer hear each other across the table without yelling.
But like I said, I’ve generally enjoyed the food so far. I’ve enjoyed several different tacos and enchiladas and like the tortilla soup. The chips and salsa are pretty good, as was the guacamole, which they insist on making table-side as if though making guacamole were some kind of special event worthy of an audience. It’s not. Please just make some guacamole ahead of time and bring it out to the table when I order it. And it seems a little debasing to the servers to make them perform like that.
The service has generally been either slow or inattentive. It seems like the kind of place where the servers abandon you after you get your food, and then you have to flag them down for your ticket.
But who can argue with half-priced margaritas for the ladies?
- Shogun (Lincoln) February 20, 2011
“Teppanyaki” must be Japanese for “overpriced fried in margarine” or maybe “demeaning grease splatter.” The show and food are not worth the price, and Shogun is surely a place P.T. Barnum would’ve been proud to own.
To start, those jokes about pouring Pepsi or Coke on the food were never funny. And I’m really tired of having to power-wash my glasses after they get coated with grease. And while the five-year-old in me still likes seeing columns of flame shooting out of onions, even that becomes tiresome by the third time you see it that night.
The soup course at Shogun is a clear, nearly tasteless broth with a slice of mushroom, maybe two slices if you’re lucky, and a noodle or two (depending upon your luck). The salad is a classic Iceberg salad, likely served straight from a Pegler-Sysco bag, with a dressing that I could do without. And because of the teppanyaki show, you get your rice, vegetables, and meat all at different times, meaning by they time you get your meat, everything else is cold.
I understand the show is part of the price, but the show never changes. It’s like paying extra to see reruns of “The Brady Bunch.”
And what happens to all the shrimp that litters the floor?
- Raising Cane’s (Lincoln) February 11, 2011
I must admit that since Raising Cane’s opened in Lincoln, I’ve been filled with the desire of a seven-year-old child to go grab some chicken strips and some dipping sauce. The planets aligned and there I was, within striking distance and feeling good about myself, so I took the chicken-strip plunge for lunch.
People say I don’t talk about atmosphere enough in my restaurant reviews, so here’s something about Raising Cane’s atmo: it was clean and busy and the staff was friendly. By busy, I mean packed. The place was hopping at noon and they couldn’t get the fried stuff out fast enough. Maybe by pure coincidence I was checking recent headlines on my phone, and saw this article about increased frequency of strokes in younger Americans, possibly due to increased obesity: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/stroke-rising-among-young-people/?partner=rss&emc=rss
But what about the chicken strips?
If all you focus on is chicken strips, they better be damn good, right? Well, they’re simply not damn good. They’re alright. I mean, it’s fried chicken. And the sauce isn’t really all that special, either. The fries were passable but not as good as Runza’s crinkle-cut fries usually are, and each combo comes with an obnoxious piece of Texas toast, which seems a bit insulting. What, they ran out of a bed of polenta or couscous for my meat?
And it’s not like it’s a deal, either. The three-piece combo was $6.54 with tax. And I felt a little . . . heavier, let’s say, after I ate most of the strips and fries (I took a bite of the toast just to taste it, and I think I’ll pass–it’s not for me–it’s not my thing nor my cup of tea).
Just as a side note: does anyone else wonder what happens to the rest of the chickens? A three-piece combo theoretically takes 1-1/2 chickens, right?
- The Grey Plume (Omaha) January 30, 2011
[December 24, 2010]
By Jack Jackson
The Grey Plume has much promise and could soon be one of the best restaurants in Nebraska, but some opening-week gaffes kept it from being truly excellent. I visited twice over lunch, and had several items.
First, the place is a nice place. The service is very friendly. The first trip there, I wanted some of the Heirloom Potato Soup, but they had run out by 1pm. So I had the pulled-pork BBQ sandwich with roasted baby potatoes and split a Rabbit Sausage Pizzette. First annoying thing is that they put water glasses on your table and then ask if you want water, as if it’s something you shouldn’t do. I hear it’s related to them being a “green” restaurant. It’s fine to go green, but just pour some water. And stop asking me if I want more when my glass is less than half full. Just pour out some water. I’m sure if the Grey Plume wastes some tap water now and then, the planet Earth won’t shrivel up and die.
The first visit, the meal came also with a slice of fresh pumpernickel bread. I’m not a fan of pumpernickel, but I ate it and it was good with the high-quality butter served. As for the entrees, there was a slight timing issue when they tried to serve our table. This is a restaurant that tries to serve all of the plates at exactly the same time with a bunch of servers. Maybe I’m not fancy enough for it, but I really couldn’t care less about such pomp.
The Rabbit Sausage Pizzette was shared at our table, and while I certainly enjoyed it, I thought the crust ended up a bit soggy from all of the ingredients. I would prefer a crispier crust, and I’m not sure I’m a fan of rabbit sausage, but overall it was a good presentation.
My entree, the BBQ sandwich, was ultimately a miss for me. The pulled pork was of course high quality, but I can make some pretty good pulled-pork sandwiches at home, and the sauce it came with was certainly not amazing. Biggest issue: the bun it was served on was soft in the middle, but hard on the outside. The result: each bite taken forced most of the meat out of the back of the sandwich and it was pretty messy.
A consistent problem, at least both times I’ve been, is that the roasted baby potatoes are undercooked. They were chunky, nearly impossible for me to poke with the tines of my fork. I ended up eating them a bit like French fries with my bare hands, but I gave up because undercooked potatoes just don’t do it for me.
A couple of days later, I managed to arrive early enough to get a bowl of the Heirloom Potato Soup. It was pretty amazing. It was creamy but not too heavy with an amazing taste. The only issue I had was that it had a roasted baby potato wedge in it and it was again undercooked. Of note was the bread that day, a baguette with some rosemary inside. It was Really Quite Nice.
I also had the Pappardelle Pasta, and I wish I could make such thin pasta at home. The cream sauce was amazing, and I really enjoyed it. Three missteps here, though, were: 1) a pickled carrot that was so acidic that it just didn’t match the rest of the dish; 2) another goddamn undercooked baby potato wedge; and 3) a disappointment that there wasn’t any lamb meat. The menu item listed “Dakota Harvest lamb” as an ingredient, and I sure didn’t see or bite into any (and I ate the whole thing, because it was pretty good). Maybe it was some kind of lamb foam that I inhaled unsuspectingly?
I’d like to see some pepper grinders and maybe a small bowl of fleur de sel to add to the dishes. Being a super-taster, I like more salt in my dishes than most.
But overall, this restaurant will no doubt get over these early missteps and be a great place to eat for a long time.