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December 24, 2010
By Jack Jackson
The Grey Plume (Omaha)
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.
The Oven South (Lincoln)
I had always just gone to The Oven in the Haymarket, but I was in the neighborhood and hit up The Oven South. It was pretty amazing, and the soup was better than the last few times I've had it downtown. It was silkier and had a better balance of spices. The paneer naan and mint chutney tasted better than I've had downtown in awhile, too. And, of course, the chicken tikka korma always kicks ass.
November 27, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Yia Yia's (Lincoln)
Ripshaw hadn't been to Yia Yia's in awhile, so we stopped in for a slice. And then we found out about their new wheat crust pizza, thicker in nature.
I liked the taste better than their original thin crust, but I hope they try to get the wheat crusts just a little thinner than the one we ate. And if the crust is to stay that same thickness, there's surely no need to serve bread with the pizza anymore.
Hiro 88 (Omaha)
And then we hit up Hiro 88, the new sushi restaurant in downtown Omaha, with certainly the most modern-looking interior I've seen in awhile. And while the food was good, it was certainly one of the more difficult sushi experiences I've had.
The first problem came with the hot green tea. And boy, do I mean hot. How hot was it? It was so hot I couldn't hold the cup, even on the part of the cup which is designed for insulation. Then we had some braised short ribs, which were excellent. They were prepared thinly with a simple sauce and I probably could eat them until I got sick and fat and uncomfortable. The miso soup was also pretty good.
The next issue came with our albacore sashimi. Certainly the albacore was very fresh and enjoyable, but the way it was cut resulted in unmanageable pieces. The picture below shows one of the four pieces served, after I'd taken a full bite off of the piece. It's hard to grab such large pieces with chopsticks, and it's hard to eat them as well.
At this point, an all-too-common occurrence happened again at the sushi bar: the pile of our plates, bowls and chopstick paper wrappers piled up and it took several minutes before anyone came by to clean up. This is pretty annoying, and it's not like there's a ton of room at the sushi bar without the pile of discarded items.
Then the full plate showed up.
It was all certainly tasty, and some of the freshest fish I've had, but the sashimi again was cut into unmanageable sizes except for the salmon, and who uses that much wasabi?
November 3, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Sultan's Kite (Lincoln)
I don't know what went down between Sultan (his name is indeed Sultan) and the owners of Ali Baba's, but it looks like the separation has resulted in two viable, good, and cheap options. The menu at Sultan's Kite is simple, and that's good. Choose from rice, wrap, pita, or salad, and then choose your filling: gyro, chicken shawarma, chicken tikka korma, or falafel. Then you get to choose a taziki sauce: normal, hint of red chili, or hot green. I ordered a pita falafel with hint of red chili, and Sultan suggested a wrap for the falafel because it's easier to eat in a wrap. He was right. And dad had a chicken shawarma rice bowl with normal sauce.
All very good, all very cheap, and all very quick. And Sultan is very nice. Spread your wealth between Ali Baba's and Sultan's Kite.
[Update: I have since had the chicken shawarma, chicken tikka korma, and the lentil soup. All were very good and affordable.]
October 21, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Chocolatier Blue (Lincoln)
Full disclosure: I really like chocolate and I really really like gourmet chocolates, and I am friends with the Blue brothers, so after all the positive press, I was much remiss in having not visited Chocolatier Blue. There are two other franchises in Berkeley and Mill Valley, and they offer chocolates through mail-order (http://www.chocolatierblue.com/order.aspx).
I stopped by and had a pleasant chat with Sean Blue, owner of the Lincoln store, and decided to order a box which included one of each of the summer chocolates. The fall chocolates are on their way soon, he said. I also couldn't resist an impulse buy of a turtle bar. I had to eat the chocolates a couple each day because they are rich enough that it's hard to eat all 20 in one sitting, although I'm sure I could've done it.
To start, the turtle bar was very good, but please shoot me now and kick me out of the Foodie Club, because I actually still prefer DeMet's turtles. The chocolate was a little more bitter and a little darker than I expected, which contrasts with the milk chocolate taste of the mass-produced, commodified turtles. Like I said, shoot me now and kick me out of the Foodie Club.
So I dug into a few of the summer chocolates next.
Starting in order from top left and reading the chocolates like a book, here are some tasting notes, a la Richard Ripshaw.
1. Peanut Butter with Concord Grape Jam: I've never been too big of a fan of PB&J, in fact have never really liked jams or jellies at all, but this candy had a perfectly small amount of jam to not overpower the peanut butter taste, sort of like a peanut butter cup with a bonus. Very good and not too heavy. 4 out of 5.
2. Palet D'or: A very decadent piece of chocolate, highlighting the cream and butter flavors. This is the kind of candy what will make me very fat someday when I'm a rich fat-cat. Mouthfeel: felt like chocolate in my mouth. 5 of 5.
3. Sage Honey: Apprehension before the first bite as I generally dislike sage and honey flavors. Turns out there is not sage in sage honey, and when sage honey is made into chocolate form, it is apparently one of my new favorite flavors. This candy could also make me very fat someday. 5 of 5.
4. Espresso: Apprehension before the first bite as I stopped drinking caffeine about ten years ago. Will I get all jittery with the shaky-shakes? Will I get addicted to caffeine all over again? It was good but I don't like bitter coffee flavors. Oh, well. Don't hate me for my personal preferences. 3 of 5.
5. "Smores": Apprehension before the first bite as I burnt my eyebrows off in a previous S'mores incident. Increased apprehension over generally not liking the taste of marshmallows. Instant taste of smoke from a "cherry wood smoked graham cracker" is unpleasant but dissipates quickly. Not a big fan. 2 of 5.
6. Raspberry Parfait: Pretty tasty but gooey-er than the previous candies. Would prefer a thicker goo. 3 of 5.
7. Lemon: Pretty good but would be very difficult to eat more than one of these in a sitting as the lemon zest is very tart and overpowers the other flavors. 3 of 5.
8. Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: Too much going on in this bite. Would prefer a simpler attempt. 2 of 5.
9. Hazelnut: Less apprehension as I like hazelnuts. Hazelnuts tasted slightly over-roasted. 3 of 5.
10. Peach Cobbler: Couldn't really taste the peach in this one. Tasted pretty good, though, as the chocolate itself shone through. 4 of 5.
11. Passion Fruit Caramel: Not a big fan of the mix of fruit with caramel. Would've liked either just the fruit flavor or just the caramel flavor. 3 of 5.
12. Grapefruit with Rosemary: Definitely not my idea of flavors for candy. Rosemary just doesn't work for me in candy form. 2 of 5.
13. Peaches Chantilly: Like the Peach Cobbler, I can't really taste the peach flavor. It's pretty tasty, though. 4 of 5.
14. Cherry Cobbler: Very tart cherry taste and the streusel topping inside is a bit crunchier than I'd like. 3 of 5.
15. Pistachio: Very creamy and good texture. Pistachio taste is there but not overpowering. 4 of 5.
16. Banana Split: Whoa. Very banana-y, too so. A little banana goes a long way. 2 of 5.
17. Caramel: Whoa, again. An extreme caramel taste, very creamy. Has a bit of a kick at the end, very rich. 4 of 5.
18. Chili: Much like rosemary, I don't expect chocolates to taste like chili flakes, either. I guess I'm a bit anti-creativity on spices in chocolate. 2 of 5.
19. Blueberry Cobbler: Still not a fan of the chewy/crunchy cobbler bits, but the blueberry flavor is pure. 4 of 5.
20. Wild Strawberry Cobbler: A lot like the Blueberry Cobbler, just a different berry. 4 of 5.
So, a thoroughly enjoyable box of chocolates, with some definite misses for me with the rosemary and chili, but the Sage Honey and Palet D'or are sublime. I can't wait to try the fall chocolates.
September 5, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Petrow's Restaurant (Omaha)
Petrow's is nothing fancy, but the diner food is usually pretty good and the portions are obnoxious and cheap, so I guess it should be one of my favorite restaurants. Well, after a brief stop with Mrs. Merfkulwitz and family and friends, I know it's my favorite restaurant because they serve fresh strawberries with ham.
Yes, that's a piece of ham with a child's serving of fresh strawberries. We are fairly sure this means we won a trip to the Hamberry Factory, but we are not quite sure where to fill out the paperwork or where the Hamberry Factory is.
My French dip was decent and the roast beef was tender and not too fatty. I added a "to-go" strawberry shake because the other sizes are astoundingly generous. My shake, however, did not appear to have any ham in it, so I'm not sure if I won or not.
August 30, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Fritz Pastry (Chicago)
I was Jonesin' for some pastries, and so I hit up Fritz Pastry on Diversey.
I had the fresh strawberry tart and a peaches and cream macaroon. The fresh strawberry tart was great. It wasn't too sweet, nor too heavy, and the strawberries had a great taste. The macaroon didn't taste so much like peaches and cream as it did just a macaroon, but it was good.
Chili Mac's 5-way Chili (Chicago)
And it had been quite some time since I had Chili Mac's chili, and I was a little hungover, so chili and fries seemed like a good idea.
I've never been to Cincinnati, and don't really plan to visit, so this is probably the closest I'll get to Cincinnati chili. I ordered it with cheese, onions, and beans. I think spaghetti and chili is a little too much and generally disgusting. But hey, you go ahead and eat up a big plate of spaghetti and chili if you want. I'm not going to stop you.
Their shoestring fries are fried to order and mine came out perfect. They're good to dip into the chili as well. Throw on a fountain Coke and hangover cured.
August 15, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Watering Hole (Lincoln)
I had a huge craving for a burger and fries, so I stopped in at the Hole and had just a simple cheeseburger, waffle fries, and added a side of their hot sauce for fry-dipping. It really hit the spot, and the hot sauce on the fries was a masterstroke until all that hot sauce tore apart my lower GI tract. But it was all very good and something struck me as especially unusual: the burger actually fit the bun. That seems to be rare these days. And the service was really friendly and quick, which seems to be rare at any restaurant these days.
Capital City Grill (Lincoln)
We stopped by for lunch and I had the prime rib sandwich. It was pretty good and tender, and the cheese and sauce didn't all add up to a greasy mess, as tends to happen when sauces and cheeses are added to meat sandwiches. The cracked pepper and sea salt fries are pretty good as well. A friend had the steak au poivre on a bed of risotto which was advertised as an eight-ounce steak but came at about 14 ounces. "Steak au poivre on a bed of risotto" isn't exactly a phrase that gets me to jump out of bed and run in to a restaurant for a heavy lunch, but I tried the steak and the risotto, and both were pretty decent, even though I generally dislike risotto because it is served in heaping portions and too cheesy.
The service was friendly and prompt, but not too many people were eating there, so I'm not sure how it would be on a busy night. We'll see how long they can last in the corner where many restaurants have failed in recent years.
Oh, and thanks for not adding a superfluous "e" to "Grill."
August 8, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Nha Trang (Lincoln)
I recently went back to Nha Trang for lunch and everything was very good and affordable. Their lunch menu is in effect on Saturdays, but the buffet is not, so plan accordingly. I had beef Hunan and my friends dabbled more into the Thai/Vietnamese realm. Fresh spring rolls to start were also very good. I am continually amazed at the extensive menu choices at Nha Trang, as well as the affordable prices. Maybe it's in a bad location, but there weren't many people dining when we were there. I encourage people to give it a shot. I also encourage Nha Trang to simplify the menu.
I've always liked Tandoor, but almost always get the order for takeout because the service is inexplicably slow and inattentive. One recent Saturday we stopped by and sat down for lunch. Big mistake. The lunch menu is in effect on Saturdays, making it one of the most affordable Indian meals you can find, and the food is certainly excellent, but when the server comes by and says he'll be right with you, and instead starts bussing tables and washing glasses behind the bar, it becomes almost intolerable. Leaving is often as frustrating and trying to get your order in, as it can take way too long to get your ticket and then you have to wait about the same amount of time to get your change. All of this happens even when the restaurant is not busy.
Recommendation: only order takeout, unless you really don't have anything else you need to get to for the rest of the day. The food is excellent.
July 21, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Pitch Pizzeria (Omaha)
I finally got to Pitch Pizzeria and happened to catch happy hour. The happy hour is a pretty good deal: some simple pizzas and appetizers are $5 and there are also some fair beer bottle prices. I was there with some old friends, including recent mustard expert Schultz. So we started with some Calabrese meatballs, and while not OMG amazing, they were pretty good and came with such a huge pool of red sauce that we actually saved it for the pizza crusts.
And then we got two pizzas for three people, which was more than enough for us with healthy grown-boy appetites. The pizzas aren't really thin enough to be considered Neapolitan, and I'm guessing Pitch isn't going for that, but it sure would be nice. The pepperoni pizza, while tasty, was a pepperoni carpet with such big slices of pepperoni that it was impossible to eat without biting off the huge slices, leaving the rest of your slice bare. Bare, that is, yet completely full of oil from the pepperoni and cheese. The pizza was so salty that it even made me, a super-taster, buckle a bit. So either less pepperoni or daubing the top of with a paper towel is recommended.
The other pizza, the sausage/fennel pizza, was more palatable with a more restrained use of sausage/fennel, such that you could actually see cheese on the pizza. And the sausage wasn't nearly as greasy or salty. The service was good and the happy-hour prices are hard to beat. The pizza itself is pretty good, but I'd prefer an even thinner crust and surely less pepperoni on the pepperoni pizza.
June 10, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Kinder's Ball Tip Sandwich (Oakland Coliseum)
I can't believe I forgot to mention the "Ball Tip" sandwich from Kinder's Meats at the Oakland A's Coliseum. It was recommended by the New York Times as the best food item there, and I split one with Ripshaw. It is a BBQ/mayo affair with tender beef slices and some out-of-season tomato slices. I could do without the tomatoes but would add in some white onion, which you can grab at the hot dog accoutrement stands. It was a pretty good sandwich with tender meat, not overcooked as so many sliced hot beef sandwiches tend to be. Ours could've used a little more BBQ sauce, and the sauce itself could use a little Kansas City kick, but on the whole I recommend it. Look for Kinder's behind Section 106 in the Lower Concourse.
June 8, 2010
By Jack Jackson
A San Francisco Treat
I had the vast pleasure of staying with E. and Riphsaw for an extended weekend and I must admit that my attitude about San Francisco has turned for the better. This may have something to do with having some money to throw around this time. So here are some reviews, in chronological order, of where I ate.
Lahore Karahi (San Francisco--Tenderloin)
This is a small Pakistani place, no frills, but good and fast and cheap. We each ordered an entree and shared an onion naan and vegetable samosas. My chicken tikka massala was very good, as was E.'s lamb vindaloo (albeit a bit too hot to really eat the whole plate), and also Ripshaw's tandoori fish dish, which is the signature dish of the restaurant, showed up sizzling with very flaky and tender white fish. The service was very prompt and friendly, and the prices were actually cheaper than Lincoln's The Oven. If you don't mind the no-frills atmosphere, I suggest you give it a shot. Yes, we did have to walk past some tweaked-out hobos, but if you travel in groups, you should be safe.
Tartine Bakery (San Francisco--The Mission)
I don't even like breakfast, but Tartine could make me fat on breakfast if I lived nearby. For our eye-openers, we shared a croissant, a morning bun, and some cookies. The croissant and morning bun are the way to go. Both are the flakiest and lightest I've had, and both make we want to eat them until there are no more left. Be ready to wait a little bit in line, but be ready to enjoy your roll or croissant. There were about 20 other items I wanted to try, but I am watching my figure, after all.
Pizzetta 211 (San Francisco--Richmond)
Ripshaw recommended this place with its Neapolitan pizzas and I must say that it was Really Quite Nice. The place is rather small and seems a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the travel. Ripshaw, E., and I started with two simple salads, one of field greens and another featuring snap peas. Both were very delicious and refreshing with some of the best and freshest snap peas I've yet eaten. We split two pizzas, which should be plenty for three people if you have an appetizer or two. The first was more traditional, essentially a pizza margherita with pepperoni added. The second was a specialty pizza with house-made lamb sausage.
Both pizzas were excellent and some of my favorite pizzas yet. The crust was of perfect thickness and the crusts are not just "handles" like with so many pizzas. Instead, the crusts are like human Scooby Snacks, and I greedily ate the crust. I preferred the pizza margherita with its marinara, but the pizza with the house-made lamb sausage was also excellent. And Ripshaw, of course, chose some wines that fit well with the whole affair. And the service was very good as well. True pizza connoisseurs should make every effort to hit up Pizzetta 211.
Yoshi's (Oakland--Jack London Square)
I'd been to Yoshi's once before to see Pharoah Sanders, a night I won't forget because of the excellent music. This time, E., Rishaw, and I were seeing the Dave Holland Quintet, featuring Nathan Davis on drums, a man who seems possessed to create intensely awesome drum sounds, or perhaps awesomely intense. But how was the sushi?
We got there early enough to get in on happy hour, so I had an avocado roll and a margarita. The margarita was certainly less-than-excellent, so why did I order a Mexican drink at a Japanese restaurant? Yes, I'm the dumb one. But the avocado roll was good. With sushi, I can't really tell the difference between good and great sushi, or maybe I've yet to have great sushi?
At the sushi bar, we requested the chef to create for us his choice of sashimi, sushi, and rolls. Of what we had, the salmon was the freshest and the final roll included salmon, crab meat, and kiwi slices. That final roll was the highlight of the night. The combination of the kiwi with the rest of the flavors created a truly interesting and delicious experience.
Avoid the Kobe beef tataki appetizer. It comes with seven slices of seared raw Kobe beef, but what they called a ponzu sauce tasted an awful lot like liquid smoke, with awful being the operative word. Like I said, I don't really know the difference between good or great sushi, and maybe I've yet to have great sushi, but Yoshi's has good sushi. I even stepped outside of my comfort zone and had raw shrimp (a first and last), and monkfish liver (a first and probably last). Throw in some great jazz at the end of it all and it makes for a great evening.
Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco--Embarcadero)
So you have to do some touristy shit, after all, right? So we headed to Pier 23 to sit outside on a wonderful day weatherwise. We sat right next to the water and had some fairly basic pub-type food, but it was surprisingly good for by what all accounts seems like a tourist-only spot (read "tourist trap"). I had a simple angus burger and fries, and E. and Ripshaw had fish tacos, one fried and one grilled. No complaints. The burger was juicy and the fries were shoestring and a little garlicky. E. and Ripshaw both stated their tacos and black beans were enjoyable and were somewhat surprised by their food as well.
So Pier 23, you surprised us. It's a little pricey, but you are paying for the ambience, after all.
La Boulange Bakery (San Francisco--Russian Hill)
This is a very similar place to Tartine Bakery, just not as excellent, possibly because it is now a rash of satellite locations. However, I had a delightful (and necessary) croissant sandwich with cheese, egg, and bacon. Ripshaw's brioche was pretty good as well, and E'.s sweet croissant was good. Top it all of with some mimosas and you can get going with the rest of your day. But if you have time to hit only either a La Boulange or Tartine, do yourself a favor and hit up Tartine.
Nopalito (San Francisco--Western Addition)
The last place we went was Nopalito, and one cannot eat there without thinking of Frontera Grill in Chicago, unless, of course, one has not eaten at Frontera Grill in Chicago. The atmosphere is similar to Frontera Grill, but you can actually eat at Nopalito without fighting huge crowds.
We started with the Totopos con Chile, which were very good. The chips were thick so the chile sauce did not make them too soggy as we ate them. Next came the Tamal de Jamaica y Acelga, which was probably the best tamale I've had yet. The corn meal was not dense and didn't leave that overstuffed feeling. The guacamole on top was a nice touch, and I wish we'd gotten an extra tamale instead of the Empanada de Suadero, because it was a beast of a thing, big enough to share four ways, really. If you're thinking of getting the empanada, don't make it your entree. Be sure to split it with a friend (or three).
Finally was the Taco de Pescado al Pastor, a quite nice and light taco with excellent flaky and light fish. The service was very good again. I definitely suggest you stop by Nopalito if you can. It's not quite as good as Frontera Grill in Chicago, but then again, what is?
Thai House (Lincoln)
And to bring it all back home, I had an excellent lunch at Thai House today. I chose the Panang curry with fried tofu. They fry the tofu there just right, getting that crispy edge but tender middle. All lunches come with a chicken satay, egg roll, and steamed rice, all for $5.95. It's a great deal, and I loved every bite. If you're one of the "I only eat at Blue Orchid" people, give Thai House a shot. The atmosphere is surely more pedestrian, but for the price, it's hard to go wrong.
May 26, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Five Guys (Lincoln)
I don't remember as much hype about a restaurant coming to town in awhile, possibly not since President Wilson did his whistle-stop tour to promote the League of Nations. And I guess it's something we need to hype up and celebrate these days, when a burger joint comes to town that doesn't start with frozen patties.
You walk into Five Guys and you notice a few things immediately: 1) the red/white tile decor and simplistic menu remind you immediately of an In-N-Out Burger; 2) it's very noisy, even when there aren't many people eating there; 3) it's another goddamn restaurant that gives away free peanuts salted in the shell. I can do without the peanuts, restaurants of America. Seriously. Stop it.
I was forewarned that the fries weren't that good, but to bring a buddy to split the "regular" size fries, which turned out to be enough for three people. A "regular" burger is actually two 1/4-lb. patties, and that's kind of obnoxious. No. It's fully obnoxious. You can, at least, order a "small" burger which is only one patty. So two "regular" burgers and a "regular" fry and two "regular" waters was almost $13. And the burger, while made to-order, took longer to get than I expected.
The burger itself is good, but it has that "I can do this myself at home" kind of taste. I guess people forgot what a non-frozen burger tastes like, and thus the hype. And the fries are pretty awful. They have that burnt starch taste I hate and are cut too thick.
Recommendation: don't believe the hype. Go to Don and Millie's instead. The burger and fry combo will be about $2.00 less, and will come in an appropriate size.
May 17, 2010
By Jack Jackson
Big Sal's (Lincoln)
I finally got to Big Sal's for lunch to try their pizza which is bandied around town as relatively good. I had a sausage/mushroom pizza that was pretty good. The crust is what's apparently becoming known as Omaha-style pizza, with that carpet-like bed of dough that ends up being about 3/8" thick and fills your gut rather quickly. I generally prefer thin crust, but the dough at Big Sal's is pretty tasty. You do end up with a bunch of inedible "handles" at the edge of the slices, but that's okay.
The pizza came out baked just right, golden-brown on the bottom, and the only complaint is that it took over an hour and a half to eat lunch. I know pizzas made to-order take some time to bake, but a hurry-up is in order. It's a dive-bar and you better want to watch a lot of sports with the volume turned up. Recommendation: make a telephone order to go.
February 16, 2010
By Jack Jackson
I had to give Goodnights a shot because I like pizza and I like beer. I had heard Goodnights is patterned after Yia Yia's in Lincoln, and I have to say that they really only got two elements from Yia Yia's: pizza and beer. That is to say, other than both places serving beer and pizza, they have little in common otherwise.
The first thing you notice is all the TVs everywhere. They are certainly striving for something of a college/sports bar crowd, and I don't blame them, given that a big damn baseball stadium will be across the street. But TVs everywhere, annoying music, and a shot menu all add up to someplace I'd rather not be. And a slice and a beer ended up being $10.16 with tax. You can get a slice and a beer at Yia Yia's for around $7.00. And you don't get a nice little hunk of bread, either.
The menu of specialty slices was a bit overwhelming. While you can make your own pizza, I chose the "G-unit," a slice with andouille, ground beef, pepperoni, and Canadian bacon. The slice came out bigger than Yia Yia's and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would've preferred the crust a little thinner, but it was good and crisp, making it possible to eat without a fork. The marinara and the ingredients tasted of good quality and I washed it all down with a clean-tasting beer. One slice is certainly enough food for one person.
The staff were extremely friendly and attentive without being too so. I imagine the place will do quite well when the ballpark is finished. While I liked their pizza quite a bit, the atmosphere and price will likely keep me from becoming a regular.
Flavors Indian Cuisine
By Jack Jackson
I spent a quick lunch at Flavors and was highly encouraged to have the buffet. Someone who seemed to be a manager/owner kindly showed me all of the dishes available. I tried almost everything. The naan was naan. The lentil soup was missing the bite and citrus that you find at the Indian restaurants in Lincoln. In fact, most of the food seemed to be shirking too much heat or spice, which I suppose is to be expected at a Midwest buffet. The channa masala, chicken tikka masala, and vegetable pakoras all tasted about right. The only disappointment was a meatball dish, of dubious Indian heritage. I ate it. I got stuffed. It was $9.62 with tax. Everyone was very friendly and I'll probably go back again, but $10 plus tip is more than I like to spend on lunch.
And from the mail file, we have a note regarding my Goldberg's review from one RM:
"Isn't a pity that you wouldn't know a good hamburger if it mooed you to tears? And isn't it a pity that a raw yellow onion would be just that? And isn't it a pity that a bustling, profitable restaurant looks empty to you-clean your glasses buddy. Thankfully your opinion is the minority. Goldbergs offers great food, great service at a great price. Get a clue and a real job. Oh and maybe new glasses."
I stand corrected, RM. However, I would love a good hamburger to moo me to tears.
January 3, 2010
By Jack Jackson
I went with Ripshaw and E. to Barley's for lunch last week, and it was pretty frustrating. We waited a half an hour for our food, even though the place wasn't really busy, maybe three other tables. Lunch ended up taking well over an hour, something which people with jobs typically cannot abide by.
However, what we had was generally pretty good. The Reuben was good but not as good as the one from Louie M's, and the beef and cheddar melt was good as well, although the beef was overcooked and dry. The highlight was the chips of the fish and chips, apparently made to order, and should be tried by all who visit.
I don't really ever plan on returning because I can't spend that kind of time eating lunch, and the ambience just isn't my cup of tea for dinner. I'm sure they'll do just fine if they can stay in business until the new ballpark opens.
November 23, 2009
By Jack Jackson
The Boiler Room (Omaha)
My second visit to eat at the Boiler Room was long overdue. I had been told by several people that the initial stumbling blocks I experienced when they opened had been resolved. Indeed, the service was excellent, and all of the dishes I ate were excellent.
I had a delicious Manhattan to start, garnished with a slightly seared orange peel. This is something I'm going to attempt to incorporate into my Manhattans at home, although fire and lots of Manhattans might not be the best idea. And I enjoy the bread and butter provided with the meal. The bread has the right crusty edge and soft inside. The only problem is that the butter was again served much too cold to spread, but that's a small complaint overall.
I started with a Corvina Tartare, which came with extremely thinly shredded shoestring sweet potatoes. I normally don't like sweet potatoes because they tend to be prepared so heavily and with cream and unnecessary sugar. But I now realize that I can like them when they are fried to a crisp and prepared so delicately. The tartare was in a thankfully appropriate portion, and the taste was very bright and fresh, which was a nice counter to the shoestring sweet potatoes.
Next up was Brandade de Colin Fritter, which were three delicious, and again appropriately portioned, fried fish fritters. It came with a very nice aioli and two of the slightest slices of daikon. It was all very well prepared, and I could get really fat if these fritters were somehow mass produced and made available in my local freezer section.
Last came Majinoa Ranch Wagyu Sirloin with root vegetable hash. This was also prepared wonderfully. The sirloin was cooked just right, with a sear on the edges and a red center. The preparation reminded me of a dry-aged steak, but the true meaty flavor came from a reduction sauce, and this also made the root vegetables very delicious.
In addition to the excellent food, the sommelier also offered excellent wine pairings by the glass, and for what you get, the prices are very reasonable. I can now highly recommend the Boiler Room. I had a very excellent experience.
November 22, 2009
By Jack Jackson
The Pizza Shoppe (Omaha)
By Jack Jackson
I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to the Pizza Shoppe to try it. I'd heard many positive reviews, so I make a quick trip there last week. I ordered their smallest pizza, the Prince size, with pepperoni. I was pleasantly surprised. The crust is thin, light, and buttery, and the cheese and marinara were savory and although the cheese and pepperoni made for a rather greasy pizza, it wasn't disgusting.
I received my pizza piping hot and the service was quick. I have heard that it can take what seems like an exceedingly long time to get your pizzas when they are busy, but I had not troubles. I will go back and try other pizzas for sure.
November 22, 2009
By Jack Jackson
China Palace (Omaha) (revisited)
By Jack Jackson
I've been back a few times and I have to say that while I still like China Palace, specifically the Szechuan beef, their soups are almost disgustingly sweet and their fried egg rolls are almost inedible. The egg drop soup has much more egg in it than any other place I've been, and the hot and sour soup tastes as if sugar was added. The egg rolls are made from overly thick won tons and they, too, smack of sweetness.
My advice: just order a simple entree, which is plenty of food, and forego the appetizers.
October 14, 2009
By Jack Jackson
China Palace (Omaha)
By Jack Jackson
I had a pleasant surprise today at China Palace after some friends recommended it to me while discussing the lack of viable Chinese options in town. I knew China Palace was in the strip mall next to No Frills, but I never went over there to explore. It is a bad location, but it's also a good location. It's a bad location because it feels out of the way, but it's a good location because parking is ample and the space has plenty of tables. And you have to compare that to the Rice Bowl, barely a block away, where parking and seats are often at a premium.
The staff was extremely friendly. I ordered the Szechuan style beef, which was strips of tender beef stir-fried with carrots and onions. The entree came out right from the kitchen and was very hot, so I got some wok hay. The vegetables were cooked just right, the sauce was not too sweet, and the beef was of better quality than you'll find at most Chinese places.
The serving was generous and was very affordable at $5.50, and came with tea. I had a brief discussion on my way out with a woman who appeared to be a manager or owner, and she convinced me the specials were the best deal, because they come with soup and an a egg roll or Crab Rangoon pieces. I will return next week to order a special in order to have the soup and an egg roll.
If you like the Rice Bowl, venture just a little up the road and give China Palace a chance.
September 21, 2009
By Jack Jackson
9 South Chargrill (Lincoln)
By Jack Jackson
I like what's been done with the space and there's plenty of parking. I don't think the location is the best for what they're trying to do, but they've managed to stay in business there, so more power to them. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and had beans and waffle fries for a side. My sandwich came out tepid, and I would prefer a hot pork sandwich. The pork tasted okay, but they aren't going to be surpassing the excellence of Paul's BBQ anytime soon, and I make a better pulled pork sandwich, anyway. The beans were bland and too sweet, and the waffle fries, although tasty, were soggy. The service was very friendly and the atmosphere is nice with some good outdoor seating. I will give 9 South Chargrill a couple more tries before final verdict.
September 8, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Pizzeria via Stato (Chicago)
It has apparently become nearly impossible to eat at Frontera Grill, one of my all-time favorite places to visit while in Chicago. So instead, I sauntered over to Pizzeria via Stato for some Neapolitan pizzas. I arrived well after the lunch rush, around 1:45pm, for a seat outside. The space is great and it's fun to eat outside on a nice day. There were a handful of tables, but when I walked inside, there was no host and when he showed up, before he seated me he talked to another server about their next week's schedule for about a minute.
So, I finally got to sit down and ordered a Negroni. "A Negroni?" the server asked incredulously. I eventually got my drink and ordered the veal meatballs and a Margherita pizza. The server asked if I'd like some bread. I said, "Sure!"
The meatballs came out, handed to me by a person not my server, someone I never saw again. He warned me that the plate was hot. It wasn't. And the meatballs, although very tasty, were not hot, either. The sauce was good and I can only imagine the meatballs would be even better served hot.
Then the pizza came out, a 10" pizza
inexplicably cut in 16 pieces. This meant the four corner pieces
were nothing but charred dough and no toppings.
But the pizzas were delicious and the Margherita was nearly perfect, although it had a tad too much oil. The thin crust, something hard to find in Chicago, was very well made. And where was the bread? I don't know. The server said he actually didn't have any but there would be some soon. I decided to pass, and after ten minutes waiting for him to return with the check, I finally left.
Such is life at a casual dining osteria. I will go back, but I surely was not expecting such bad service after the lunch rush.
August 26, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Sometimes we get some comments here and we're always eager to share them to encourage enlightened discourse. And here's a fun game. Whoever responds with the most thoughtful comments about the email chain gets to have a Mai Tai with me at the Mai Tai Lounge!
[Email chain is in reverse chronological order, starting with JJ last response to AH]
---------------------------- Original Message
If you had actually read my email, you would have read that I don't consider it an excuse, just an explanation. You would have also read that I was eager to fix the mistake. You would have also read that I'm glad you pointed it out.
As for the signs, they are illuminated with lights at night. Those lights were not on when I went. I don't consider that an excuse, but it was the case. That review has been up for a long time and no one else has bothered to correct me or else I would have fixed it a long time ago.
Why do you care so much? Do you own the restaurant? Or do you just like
to argue all the time?
[AH next response to JJ]
1. I can hold any restaurant or bar to a drink standard even if a particular drink is not on a drink menu, and even if the drink has known variations. The Mai Tai served to me was not within acceptable variations. Imagine a drink like a Manahattan or martini, both of which have many personal variations, but no serious drinker would be happy with rum in their Manhattan or martini.
2. Sometimes I don't discuss food at length in a review when other
aspects of a restaurant stand out, or when the food is very similar to
other restaurants of a similar style, or when I find the food
[Initial email from AH]
How do you review a restaurant when you don't even know the name of the place???? I read your review about eating at Baby Blue. You actually ate at Blue downtown. Baby Blue does not have an upsatirs and is located on 170th and west center, totally different place. It is real easy just read the sign outside the retaurant you are eating at and you will know the name. Jack the JAckass!
[End email chain.]
So, remember to send in your thoughtful comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and you might get to have a Mai Tai with me!
August 19, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Katie's Greek Restaurant (Omaha)
I hate doing this, but I've got to. I like Katie's. I generally stick to the salads and gyros, and I generally like the service, but I ordered the pasticcio one day during lunch and it was pretty bad. It was burnt on the top and edges and seemed like something my mom would've cooked in the olden days, an open-a-box-and-can type of meal. This, on top of the service from the surly and dour man-dude who seems to either be an owner or related to the owners, made it an unpleasant experience overall. Be warned: do not order the pasticcio.
July 15, 2009
By Jack Jackson
No disrespect to the owners or employees at Malara's, but I'm going to take some time with this review to tear the restaurant a fresh, new bunghole because it is a stereotypical and paradigmatic example of everything that is wrong and out-of-date with so many of Omaha's restaurants.
The menu boasts that Malara's [insert malaria joke here] was established in that crazy, hazy year of 1984, and I'm guessing not much has changed there since. The menu has all of the expected Italian red sauce items, and they make the pasta there. There are also pizzas which I didn't try.
The seating is one of the things wrong with so many Omaha restaurants, that bunch-of-small-tables-put-together banquet seating. Think of the Bohemian Cafe or Piccolo Pete's [I'm looking at you, Mr. Buffett]. And the food is pretty predictably wrong, too. The salad, made by Chef Pegler-Sysco, that omnipresent iceberg/red cabbage/shredded carrot combo, was apparently pre-soaked in their house dressing, an over-sweet, sugar-added affair, and there were no other items in the salad. Really? You just opened up a bag from the food vendor and soaked your dressing in bowls? Nice effort, that one.
And why do so many Omaha restaurants feel the need to add sugar to everything? Oh, I know. It's so we can get fat and get diabetes, or at least that's what you might think by looking at the clientele at some of these places.
Also too sweet was the red sauce, which smacked of a ketchupy taste. And then there's the portions, Omaha-sized. We all had half orders and still could've made two meals out of them. Maybe I need to make up a new phrase: a fourth of the food for a fourth of the price (AFOTFFAFOTP). And my father said his meatballs were bland. C'mon, now, good meatballs are not hard to make.
Some props for real butter on the table and some decent hot rolls, and some friendly staff. But as my mother said, "I don't think I'm ever eating there again."
Memo to Omaha restaurants:
|June 20, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Terrace Grille (Lincoln)
I'm generally opposed to restaurants with any superfluous "e" at the end of their names, but it had been over ten years since I had eaten at the Terrace Grill(e) and I had heard generally good things recently. The atmosphere is generally the same since ten years ago, but the central bar is gone, usurped by more booth seating.
The lunch menu is simple, but that's okay if you do everything well. I had a French dip and a cup of the chicken tortilla soup. I really liked the soup, and my French dip came on an appropriate bun, but the beef was much overdone and tough and chewy. The au jus was also way too salty, even for my tastes, and I'm pretty sure it was made from a powder mix of some type.
The service was friendly and adequate during a busy lunch rush, and the prices aren't gouging for a hotel. I might go back and try a different sandwich someday.
Or I might not.
|June 13, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Erick's Enchiladas (Omaha)
Ripshaw suggested we try this place and I'm now going to suggest that we don't go back. Apart from having to get our own silverware and napkins and not getting our waters until our meals arrived, the food isn't very good, either. The salsa verde was too sweet, and I must've failed a saving throw or something because it tore me all apart inside. The enchiladas have too much cheese in them and the ground beef has very little spicing, resulting in a bland and mushy mess. My hard shell taco was not much better than those served at Amigo's, but I did like my tamale. But then again, I really do like tamales quite a bit.
Vung Tau (Lincoln)
This was a nice little surprise. Not the most amazing atmo but our food was served quickly and everything was good. D. had the fried rice, and J. and I snarfed down some bún noodle bowls. J. said his fried shrimp was very good, as well as the marinated pork. I enjoyed my egg roll and marinated chicken breast, although the chicken breast wasn't exactly cut so as to make it easy to eat. Fresh ingredients all around, and the staff adequately handled a late lunch rush.
|May 21, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Billy Brown's (Lincoln)
I and my friends were the only customers in Billy Brown's for lunch, but that sure didn't stop us from getting less-than-stellar service. While I appreciate that steak sandwiches are grilled freshly per order, I don't see how this place can operate any sizable lunch crowd (say more than two people at a time) and get them in and out in under ninety minutes. But let's talk about the food.
We had a bruschetta plate to start. The bread came out toasted but not too crunchy yet rather oily. The bread came with an overabundance of tomatoes and mozzarella to top, and the mixture was nearly absent of seasoning. Also, we were not served appetizer plates, so things got a bit . . . messy.
My French dip was strange. It came on a hoagie bun but there was a rather meager rivulet of too-oily beef and too much cheese. The au jus was watery, almost flavorless. The crispy waffle fries tasted okay but upset my stomach and the baked beans were served tepid.
All of this combined with never offering a refill on coffee makes me think I won't be back.
|April 15, 2009
By Jack Jackson
The menu sure is intimidating. I just wanted a pastrami on wheat and I ended up with something on a hoagie with coleslaw and Russian dressing. Oh, well. It wasn't too bad. The pastrami was okay but the Russian dressing is surely too sweet. Decent price.
Isn't it a pity that I've lived so near Goldberg's on Dodge for so long now and the whole time I thought it was closed because I never could see anyone inside? And isn't a pity that I went there and the ultimate nachos come served with a tube of sour cream that you would have to apply yourself, if you were into that kind of thing? And isn't it a pity that my burger looked and smelled good but was overcooked and dry? And isn't it a pity that the onion for my burger was older than Mamie Eisenhower? And isn't it a pity that the onion looked like this?
And isn't it a pity that when I asked the waitress for a freshly cut onion that it came back looking just like the one I handed to her, except now it was on a plate?
And isn't it a pity that Goldberg's isn't really closed?
|March 28, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Suite 1 Pub & Pizza (Lincoln)
This was a pleasant surprise, given that I'd never heard of it and didn't know where it was.
Johnny O. had a ridiculous coupon: one free large thin crust pizza with the purchase of a large Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The place is below Maggie's Wraps, and the sign is hard to see, and it's really in a bad spot. Moreover, the place is dark and uninviting. We were the only customers there at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Something is wrong with that picture, that's for sure.
But the pizza was wonderful. We had the Sausage Supreme deep-dish pizza with pepperoni substituted for the sausage, and then a sausage pizza for the thin crust. The thin crust was perfectly cooked, although it's a little thicker than a true NY-style crust. The sausage was flavorful and not disgusting, as some sausage toppings can be. The sauce has a good acidity and not sweet, just like it should be.
What I'm more surprised by is how much I liked the deep-dish pizza. I normally don't like Chicago-style pizza because I like the cheese to get brown and there's usually way too much cheese and the crust is usually obnoxiously thick. Not so at Suite 1. There is an appropriate amount of cheese and the crust is actually pretty thin for a deep dish. I actually ate two pieces and didn't feel like I needed to change my colostomy bag.
What I'm worried about is that Old Chicago, just a couple of blocks away, was probably packed at lunch. No one should ever eat there when such a good place is so close. And I have to say that the prices are good, even without the coupon. Lincolnites, please give Suite 1 a try next time you're headed to Old Chicago. You'll be pleasantly surprised and for less cost.
|March 24, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Mother India (Omaha)
This place is a good little place, no frills, nearly no service. The prices are right. E and I had the vegetable samosas, a deep-fried bread, the lamb curry, and the chicken tikke korma. The mint chutney had a good tang to it and the lamb curry was delicious, just the right amount of cinnamon. E especially liked her dish, and it had a very distinct and unique flavor. Our rice was cooked perfectly, too. I am glad to find a viable Indian choice that isn't too far away. Hopefully the service can get a little better/faster.
|March 19, 2009
By Jack Jackson
China Road (West) (Omaha)
I went back for lunch today and had the Beef Chow Mein. The hot and sour soup was very good again, and I actually liked the chow mein. They put the chow mein noodles on top of the dish so they stayed crispy (hint-hint King Fong's), and the beef was tender and not fatty and actually looked like beef. It all comes in at a pretty hefty lunch price with tax at $8.01, so Golden Wok is still the king of fast-cheap-good Chinese.
|March 16, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Julian's Tex-Mex (Omaha)
I'm sure Ripshaw will be uninterested, but I do really enjoy Tex-Mex food, often more than "authentic" Mexican food. Julian's is a clean place and at lunch I received friendly and quick service.
I had the two tamales with chili con carne lunch special, which comes with beans and rice and chips and salsa, all for $6.95. Ordering all of this at a place like California Tacos and More would probably get you well over the $10 range. Everything I had was pretty good and the chili sauce on the tamales was actually not just oily and gross as is typical at so many places. They also didn't overdo the cheese, which also seems typical at other places.
For the price, it's a pretty good deal.
Paul's BBQ (Lincoln)
I just wanted to remind you all how delicious Paul's BBQ is. I had my usual this last Saturday, the small beef brisket and French fries. The brisket was especially tasty this time, and very lean, smoked perfectly. It's better than that I recently had at G & J's.
|March 12, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Sakura Bana (Omaha)
I just wanted you all to see the picture of the best tuna I've had yet. This was toro, which Chef said was not quite otoro, and not quite chutoro. I guess we need a new word for "that part of tuna which lies between chutoro and otoro." [Mr. Blue suggests "taintotoro," and I would compress that to simply "taintoro."] Absolutely wonderful.
|March 11, 2009
By Jack Jackson
China Road (West) (Omaha)
The first thing you notice about China Road (West) when you enter is that it's a nicer place physically than most Chinese restaurants. That, of course, means higher prices. Seeing the lunch specials all coming in at around $7 was a bit disheartening, because you don't get tea or egg roll or Klab Mangoos. You get more food cheaper at Golden Wok and Rice Bowl for sure.
Also, I arrived before noon and my food did not get to me nearly as quickly as it does at places like Golden Wok or Rice Bowl. The hot and sour soup was pretty good, though, with typical ingredients like: tofu, pork, bamboo, scallion, egg, and mushroom. It wasn't as thick with the corn starch as Rice Bowl's, which is good.
Then came the disappointment, the General's Chicken. First off, which "General" are we talking about here? Tso? Tzo? Dso? Dzo? Let me know!
I asked for a less sweet sauce with the dish, which was good, but the broccoli and celery were served essentially raw and cold, and the pieces of chicken were overlarge and unpalatable. It was served with one of those Texas Roadhouse style steak knives. The pieces had skin on them and some were dark meat. My buddy Takashi always says that Chinese restaurants use the worst kinds of chicken cuts when breading and frying because they can cover up the use of cheap ingredients that way. This was certainly true at China Road. No, thanks.
I'll likely give it another go next week with a beef entree or maybe a chicken entree that isn't breaded and fried so they can't hide the use of nasty gackly pieces of chicken.
|March 10, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Frank's Pizzeria (Omaha)
I'm going to be trying some more western Omaha places for lunch, and I started with Frank's Pizzeria. I had one of the lunch specials, two slices of cheese pizza and a drink for $4.99. The slices are very generous in size and the crust is thin and crispy. There was an appropriate amount of cheese and sauce, making it not too greasy. I thoroughly enjoyed the two slices and plan on visiting more often to try different toppings.
|March 8, 2009
By Jack Jackson
After much kvetching from Ripshaw that I actually ate at Grisanti's, I thought I'd at least cop to eating here and say that I don't mind the place, just that it's overpriced. It's like an Olive Garden and an Applebee's had incestuous relations and crapped out a . . . restaurant.
I don't get any of the specials or the pastas or the pizzas, so I wouldn't know if they are any good, and I'm not going to find out. I just get the unlimited soup, salad, and bread. This is overpriced (at least for a relatively lighter eater such as myself) currently at $8.99. But I have to admit that I like the bread and marinara, I like the baked onion soup, and I their salad dressing is decent. However, finding such salad accoutrements as olives, mushrooms, and onions interspersed among the iceberg lettuce can be like finding the remote controls at my parents' house.
|March 1, 2009
By Jack Jackson
The Bread & Cup (Lincoln)
Bread & Cup near the downtown post office is not to be confused with The Cup near 25th and Randolph. Both are similar in their attempts to serve simple foods like soup salad sandwich. The Cup seems to be a bit more vegan/veggie coffeehouse friendly, and Bread & Cup seems a bit more upscale sit-down (but no service, at least not at lunch).
The place is a good reclamation of a Haymarket space, clean, but not the best use space-wise. The massive counter takes up so much space and the tables are not easy to get around. Plus, all napkins, silverware, salt, and pepper are all off in the corner, and you have to get them yourself. Well, thanks for putting a tip jar out on the counter, but I do expect you to do something for a tip.
I ordered a "green pork chili" (that's not chili) and a turkey sandwich. I thoroughly enjoyed my "green pork chili" with corn, tons of cumin, and shredded pork. The sandwich was something of a challenge, and you should never lose to your sandwich. The sandwich was turkey salad (I would've preferred sliced turkey breast) on a baguette with a hard crust. I know a polar bear or someone with a very large mouth who doesn't like to chew would've won this challenge. As it was, each bite I took forced pieces of turkey out all over my plate and I ended up conceding to the sandwich, and ate the filling with a fork alternated with a bite of bread.
I also tried the hummus Johnny O. ordered and it was up to snuff. Generous in portions, all of it, and Ted Kooser was there, so it has to be good, right? I had to ask for my to-go box twice which did nothing other than piss me off. The dinner menu looked interesting but I'm wondering how hard it would be to get a table since seating is fairly limited. I didn't see any faces, cheeks, or asses on the menu, so I guess it's not trying to compete with The Boiler Room.
Gerda's Bakery (Omaha)
This is a good place which reminds me of the Lithuanian Bakery. Good German delights and I'm German goddammit. I had the potato salad and corned beef on white. The service is a bit sketchy, but the corned beef was lean and good. Ripshaw said his Reuben was the best he's had in town. The potato salad was a bit plain, with too much vinegar for my liking. I finished it all of with a delicious shamrock-shaped sugar cookie. I want to go back to try the goulash and compare it to the Bohemian Cafe's.
|February 10, 2009
By Jack Jackson
La Hacienda (Omaha)
They had been sending me coupons for months now, so it was finally time to go use one. Except that when C and K and I met there, not only had I not any coupons, but neither did they. So, with some dismay, we paid full price for everything.
The atmo is a bit Spartan and not too many people were eating there. But the service was quick and friendly, and the gratis chips and salsa were decent enough. I ordered a chorizo enchilada and beef tamale, all coming on a hot-hot plate with beans and rice and the kind of coleslaw I like (the non mayoneeze kind). Everything I had was enjoyable, and I had plenty left over for a filling lunch. It brings to mind that old phrase: Half the Food at Half the Price (HTFAHTP).
I'm not sure Rick Bayless would eat there, but I'll probably go back and try a few otro items.
|January 28, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Chick-fil-A (Mutual of Omaha)
Okay, so I'd heard many people talk of their Chick-fil-A cravings. And I'd always wondered, why would anyone crave a chicken sandwich? I do like chicken sandwiches, and I've eaten many from many places in my life, but none ever really earned that glorious honor of being craved by me. So, with some trepidation combined with a sense of adventure, I went to the basement cafeteria (commissary?) of Mutual of Omaha to get me this vaunted and much-bandied-about sandwich (and waffle fries) (and a Sprite) (with lymon).
Let's just say first that the basement of MoO is the type of futuristic underground city that I'm sure we'll all be living in after 2012 and the heltery skelter and the Rapture and the inevitable rise of the machines. The place has plenty of food, lots of space, good natural and artificial lighting, lots of microwaves, plenty of places to sit, and, of course, a Chick-fil-A. I must admit, though, that the Chick-fil-A sandwich is not really any better (or worse) than similar items at Arby's or Wendy's. In fact, I think I prefer the crispier breading on the spicy chicken sandwich at Wendy's. The waffle fries were also no worse (or better) than any other particular place that serves waffle fries.
No. I take that back. They are definitely worse than the waffle fries served at Duggan's Pub in Lincoln.
|January 19, 2009
By Jack Jackson
Upstream Brewing Company (Omaha)
Well, it's been awhile since I've had such bad service, and it's been awhile since I ate at Upstream, so I figured, why not have both at the same time? I was not disappointed.
To start with, no one greets you at Upstream when you enter. No, not even the four people who are chatting at the host(ess) desk. They seem to be enjoying themselves too much, with their Madonna-esque wraparound headsets that they apparently use for nothing at all.
And it was many minutes before our server came by to ask what we wanted to drink. And we had to ask for water. And then we had to wait many minutes to order. And Cal Winston had to ask for mayonnaise for his fish and chips so often that he eventually had to settle for malt vinegar the time that one of the bartenders just happened to come by and ask how we were doing. And then the server came by and asked if we still needed mayonnaise.
And then the manager came over after we were nearly done eating and asked us how things were going, and then we were offered more water with nearly full glasses, and then we were asked if we could shovel down some dessert after being served obnoxiously sized portions of barely mediocre pub food. And I forgot to mention my soup came out to the table about 30 seconds before my entree. And did I mention that the seasonal vegetables apparently included undercooked (nearly raw) carrots?
And why are the small tabletops covered with shit we don't need? Like two salt shakers, a dessert menu, and a table tent advertising some garbage? There's barely enough room on those tables for what we ordered, let alone a menagerie of accoutrements that do nothing but remind us that we were eating in a low-end, classless, and overpriced place. [Insert comment here about Heinz malt vinegar.] [And HTFAHTP comment, too.
|December 28, 2008
By Jack Jackson
I finally got to Sinbad's with Swoof for lunch and was thoroughly impressed with all my food. The decor is a bit spartan, but the service was friendly and I've never been too hip on atmosphere, anyway. There were four soups to choose from, and I tried the bean soup. It was pretty good but a tiny bit bland. I added some hot sauce and that did the trick. Also, pita came with the soup, and we were offered complimentary tea.
I ordered the Sinbad combo (small), which was plenty of food. It came with a small lettuce salad, a kubbah (delicious deep fried spiced ground meat with a breading, reminiscent of Turkish meat pies) and three kinds of spiced meat: beef, chicken, lamb. It was all delicious, with the kubbah being my favorite item. The lamb was surprisingly bland and needed some hot sauce. The steak was tasty but a bit tough. The chicken was probably my favorite of the three meats. I traded some of my meat for one of Swoof's items, which looked like a large egg roll or crisp meat burrito. It was also tasty and went well with the garlic sauce. It all ended up being $12, which for that price gets you a big lunch at the Oven or Sher-E Punjab, so while I will gladly return to Sinbad's, it will likely only be when I have a large appetite.
|December 8, 2008
By Jack Jackson
G & J's Kitchen Southern Cuisine (Omaha)
It's been awhile since I've had a truly wonderful dining experience, so I can't wait to tell you about my dinner at G & J's Kitchen. G & J's took over the spot previously (and rather tersely) occupied by Sweet Georgine's. I was remiss and never made it to Sweet Georgine's, but I think that G & J's is there to stay.
First, it's a small but clean and homey place. I, C, and A all arrived unannounced on Friday night, and all six of the four-tops were full (you can order ahead for takeout). The server was kind enough to offer to call my cell phone when a table was open, so we had a beer at Jake's and got the phone call to head back. That is a simple kind of graciousness that every restaurant should offer, and it was refreshing to see.
Second, everything I had was delicious and served piping hot. And affordable. Although we did not get drinks or appetizers or desserts, the three of us scarfed huge entrees for under $40. They started us off with the most delicious biscuits I've ever had, very fluffy and nearly melt-in-mouth, with real butter. I'm astonished at how hard it can be to find real butter at restaurants these days. And apparently, it's not as expensive to provide real butter as some of the other restaurants would have you think, because the overall menu prices are extremely fair at G & J's.
I had the pound of rib tips with baked beans and the mac & cheese. I have not yet had the Marks Bistro (in)famous $12.75 Chef's Embellished mac & cheese, but this at G & J's was, like the biscuits, the best I've yet had. And by the way, my entree was $12.00, so you do the math and decide for yourself. My rib tips didn't quite come the way I'd expected, but then again, I'm not sure why I expected anything in particular since I've never had rib tips before. They came with the bone in them, and I thought that I would just have the meat served. They were a bit cumbersome to eat, and I bit into a few tiny bone pieces, so I don't see why anyone shouldn't just order the slab of ribs instead. The BBQ sauce is very good, and also some of my favorite yet, with Gates and Paul's BBQ being in the mix for best. My baked beans were good, but alas they weren't anything special.
A ordered the brisket, collard greens, and mashed potatoes. I tried the brisket for myself, and it was delicious, tender, and moister than that served at Paul's. I'm torn now as to which I like better, and I'm going to have to try a bunch more of each before I can decide for sure. The collard greens were good, said A, and he stated that the mashed potatoes "were mashed potatoes," nothing special, but good.
C had the fried catfish, which, at $12.95 is one of the most expensive single-person entrees available (1/2-slab of ribs for $14.00). She said it was "fried to perfection." A and C also agreed that her mac & cheese was the best they've yet tasted.
Finally, we had corn bread served with real butter at no additional charge.
And . . .
I'd like to take credit for this, but I don't know if I can.
G & J's has a menu option for their dinners, something called "Petit Plates anything half the amount" for $6.00. Or, Half the Food at Half the Price (HTFAHTP). There is a god. Thank you, G & J's, for this option, which might be the first in what I hope is a new Omaha dining revolution.
The only complaint I have is that the service was friendly but ultimately a bit scatter-brained, with none of our water refilled at any point in the meal. But we left nearly astonished at the wonderful value and the excellent quality. Everyone must try G & J's and I will be returning often.
|November 10, 2008
By Jack Jackson
I ate beef brisket for lunch and dinner today, but in two different ways, so here we go.
Harkert's BBQ (Omaha)
I saw an ad for this place and it's not too far from work, so I hit it up today. I judge BBQ places by the beef brisket, not the ribs. Call me weird, but you can start your own damn blog on food if you care that much about it. I also judge beef brisket compared to Paul's BBQ in Lincoln as the gold standard. The parking lot smelled good, and so I was hopeful, because they smoke their meat on premises.
I ordered the small beef brisket sandwich with curly Q's (curly fries). The small sandwich, much like Paul's BBQ in Lincoln, is big enough that I wonder why anyone would order the large. The sandwich came on a fresh kaiser bun and was pretty sloppy. Harkert's sauce has a better taste than something like at the Smoke Pit, but it has a very faint taste and I threw a lot of Tabasco on the meat to give it zing. The meat itself seemed a bit over-smoked, if that's possible, and I was served what I thought to be a rather gristly share of the brisket. I can forgive that all, but the sandwich was served cold, not quite au bleu, but unappetizingly not even close to warm.
The over-smoking of the meat made some pieces tough, some tender. I don't like having to fight my sandwiches, especially since now that I've grown older, I've been noticing the sandwich winning more often. The curly Q fries were really good, though, similar to Arby's, but cleaner and crisper without all the over-spicing and over-coating you tend to find at Arby's.
The service was very friendly and I'm going to go back sometime soon to try other dishes, but I'm leaving the brisket behind. [The meatball sandwich looked particularly tasty.]
Brisket II: Electric Boogaloo
Partially inspired by Swoof, partially inspired by the cold weather (cooking gas is free here, so I'll be doing quite a bit of baking this winter), and partially inspired by a message-board debate about whether chili had beans in it, I made myself some chili tonight. I started with a pound cut of beef brisket, cooked on low in a crock-pot before I left for work. The damn crock-pot I have is cheap and without a timer, and the "low" setting is way too hot for what I was trying to do, so . . . Christmas (hint-hint)! I threw in a can of chicken broth, a can of beef broth, and some smoked salt.
1 lb. Beef brisket
I came home to find a slightly overcooked, yet delicious beef brisket. It's a bad sign that I can overcook my brisket in a crock-pot and have it taste better than the smoked-on-premises Harkert's. I then scraped off the gristle and cut it up into cubes. Then I prepared the pot.
1 T. oil
I sweated the onions in the oil, tossed in the tomatoes (crush them by hand and inspect them for canned oddities, like stems and leaves), cooked in the beans, added the brisket, then all the spices. I let it simmer about 1/2-hour. I've been putting turmeric in everything lately because Oprah said to.
For dessert: pumpkin seeds from David. I don't eat the shells, you freaks who eat the shells.
|October 26, 2008
By Jack Jackson
Sakura Bana (Omaha)
I had been told by a few people that their favorite sushi in Omaha is Sakura Bana. I had been to Sushi Ichiban back when it was in the old IHOP, but hadn't been to Sakura Bana yet, so I had to try it with Swoof last week.
It does seem odd to eat sushi in a strip mall, of course. The decor isn't anything special, and the flat-panel TVs with World Series Game 2 on seemed a bit out of place. Also, the booth seating is rather close to the table, and I can't imagine anyone of any girth being able to sit in these spots without developing a front-butt bruise. However, the overall experience was much more enjoyable than my recent trip to Blue downtown.
Sakura Bana is not a hip place to be seen, but the food and service were good in general. Our server was extremely friendly and attentive, and knowledgeable about the menu. Everything tasted fresh and we started with a Tuna Tataki which was delicious and with a savory sauce. The miso soup was good, too.
I'm not very adventuresome with my sushi, but everything I had was very good, and the highlight was the Chutoro Nigiri-zushi, a delicious piece of fatty tuna, one of the best I've tasted yet. Another interesting item was the Crazy Crunchy Spicy Tuna roll, which was also delicious. The crunch came from what apparently was fried tempura which was then crushed into flakes. The roll was rolled in this and it was all very tasty. Moreover, the prices seem fair at Sakura Bana. So, I will likely be heading to Sakura Bana from now on for my zushi cravings.
M's Pub (Omaha)
I've always generally been a fan of M's Pub, but this last Friday I ate there with Benakius for lunch at the bar and the service left a bit to be desired. My clam chowder soup was pretty good, although I'm not sure how you screw up hot cream with potatoes. Of particular disappointment was my Chicken Philly. It was pretty oily, had too much cheese on it, and came with a side of red pepper mayonnaise. That's a bit much, if you ask me.
The grilled peppers, onions, and mushrooms were all overcooked to the point of baby-food textures. The chicken was also tough and dry, and I ended up with a stomachache afterwards. So, M's Pub, your Chicken Philly is now on my Gut Bomb list of items to avoid. I'm going to put M's on probation for a few months before I return.
|September 25, 2008
By Jack Jackson
I've been avoiding eating out because I took a good hit on the whole AIG thing, but then I heard about the bailout plan so my confidence in the economy surged to inter-comestible levels.
Night Flight Pizza (Omaha)
There had been a relatively large amount of hoo-ha preceding my eating of this pizza, and I say that the hoo-ha was relatively mostly deserved hoo-ha. A current large one-topping carryout special for $7.50 with tax makes the price right. The crust was well done and just a little thicker than a true New York-style pizza. The cheese was a little less brown than I prefer, the meat topping and sauce a little more irregularly strewn about than I prefer, and the oil content a bit high. I totally understand why they offer pizzas until the respectable hour of three a.m. I will probably return the next time I'm drunk and hungry.
King Fong's (Omaha)
A supposed Omaha legend, a supposed oldest restaurant in Omaha, a decor that supposedly must be seen (in person, while eating). I had the "subgum" chicken chow mein, subgum apparently meaning flavorless and with the chow mein noodles way on the bottom so that they are completely soggy by the time you find them. A slathering of soy sauce and hot mustard didn't even help out this dish. An egg foo young (grease ball) had a similar flavor dearth. King Fong's is certainly worthy seeing (once).
By Jack Jackson
It's been quite awhile since I posted, but I have eaten at a few new places and I can't wait to tell you all about them.
Mama's Pizza (Omaha)
Mama's Pizza was pretty good. I ordered a hamburger pizza and it came out hot and with just the right amount of browning of the cheese. I'm a little concerned that they also serve things like meatloaf and hot beef plates, but I have yet to try them so I shouldn't criticize too much, right? There was some modicum of controversy, however, as one patron appeared very upset that they had converted from regular convention ovens to conveyor-belt ovens, going so far as to refusing to pay for or eat his pizza. I'm not a big fan of conveyor-belt ovens, either, but my pizza tasted just fine, much better than Zio's, nearly as good as La Casa, and about on par with Don Carmelo's. I promise to try the hot beef plate sometime soon.
Blue downtown (Omaha)
Much had been heard and said about Blue, so I tried Blue downtown. I got a strong sense of Blue downtown not quite being grown up yet. There was a general sense of not being ready for walking, maybe just crawling at this point. The sushi was okay, but the service was a bit uncultivated. The first warning sign: I ordered a Mai Tai, which the bartender did not know how to make. The server assured me that the bartender upstairs would know how. After many minutes, a pink drink appeared that didn't really taste like a Mai Tai. The server assured me that it was quite alright if I wanted her to top it off with "some other liquor" to make it taste better. I said it was okay, as I wasn't quite sure which liquor that would be.
Second warning sign: the head chef played hard-to-get when Richard Ripshaw asked very pointed questions about the fatty tuna. After about three minutes of interrogation, the chef admitted that the fatty tuna was in fact the lowest grade of fatty tuna. Other odd things like my empty bowl of miso soup haranguing me all throughout the dinner, only to be removed when the check came, were troublesome. I think I'll wait until Blue downtown grows up to return, given the prices charged not matching the service given.
Just wanted to remind you all that Piezano's is the best pizza in Lincoln. Their sausage pizza is delicious and perfect with a spinach salad.
Chicago Dawg House (Omaha)
I returned for an Italian beef sandwich, unfortunately called the Sandberg there. It was pretty good, really close to Mr. Beef in taste and quality. The beef isn't quite a tender, but it does come on the authentic Gonella roll. The hot relish is pretty hot and it burned its way through my digestive tract, making it an only-when-I-want-to-stay-up-all-night-and-spray-the-toilet-all-day kind of event. I recommend the onion rings, inexplicably called "woo-woos," instead of the dry and flavorless fries.
I gotta say I like the simplicity of the regular burgers and fries, reminiscent of In-N-Out Burger. I find the Bronco Burger to be absolutely disgusting, with the Bronco sauce being too sweet and way too much cheese slathered everywhere. Hot tip: order the two hamburger and fries combo. Then take off the two bottom buns and make one real hamburger. It's cheaper and better than a Runza hamburger combo.
Hadn't been in a long time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my Greek salad and chicken dumpling soup there. Everything tasted fresh and the baklava for dessert was delicious as always. Our service was also very friendly and attentive. I still miss Papa John's downtown, though, which was usually the same quality of food at cheaper prices.
By Jack Jackson
Chicago Dawg House (Omaha)
The Chicago Dawg House boasts authentic Chicago-style hot dogs and I had one and it was pretty authentic. You can even purchase Old Style fan cans to help wash down the sport peppers. They also offer an Italian beef sandwich which I am eager to try next. Unfortunately, their French fries are a disappointment. They have a tough outside and chewy inside and just don't compare to the simple shoestring fries at a place like Mr. Beef in Chicago.
By Jack Jackson
Nicola's Italian Restaurant (Omaha)
As you might surmise, Nicola's is an Italian restaurant, and one more in the vein of American-Italian than Rustico-Italian (beans bread beans and more beans). The place is just the right size, small and quaint.
Let's discuss the things I didn't like first. Number one, we ate at 6pm on a weekday night. There was one table seated, and we were the only other ones there. The server asked us if we had reservations. I'm guessing that can go. Second, the house salads have a sweet vinaigrette. Way sweet. Unpalatable sweet. That can go, too. Finally, the prosciutto didn't really taste all that great.
But what I did like: the bread is good there. The mozzarella is fresh slices. The sauce and meatballs are good. I ordered lasagna and enjoyed it. Again, I would still like the option of half the food for half the price. I would go back, but no more prosciutto, and no more sweet dressing please.
By Jack Jackson
Don Carmelo's Pizza (Omaha)
The midtown location of Don Carmelo's finally reopened after their fire and I am very happy to have another viable lunch option near work. The pizza is just how I like it, a thin and crispy crust, from handmade dough. The lunch specials are affordable, the place is clean, and the staff are friendly. I will most likely be eating there once a week for lunch from now on. You can't argue with good, cheap, and fast.
By Jack Jackson
I had never been to Kuhl's, so when I heard it was closing this last Sunday, so I went last Saturday. It was everything I thought it would be. I had a diner favorite, the hot beef plate. The roast beef was good but the potatoes were flavorless and the gravy was thick and mealy, the dark opaque stuff that doesn't have much flavor. My dad had the chicken fried steak, a supposed specialty of theirs, and it was okay, but had a thick and mealy chicken gravy on it. So, Kuhl's, I'm not too sad to see you go, or maybe I never knew what I missed. Fred and Ruby's still makes the best hot beef plate in town.
By Jack Jackson
King Kong (Omaha)
It's probably been over ten years since I last visited King Kong, and I don't have any particular reason for that other than I never lived nearby one for those ten years. But now I do live near one, and I've been twice in two weeks, and it seems irresponsible of me to not tell you what I thought.
On my first foray I opted for a burger and fries. I was horrified, although I shouldn't've been, at the portion. The burger was huge and there must've been about three whole potatoes worth of fries. I liked the fries, and everything there, either by design or accident, has a Greek seasoning, which I like enough. I failed miserably at eating it all and got an upset stomach.
The next time I had simply a steak 'n' mushroom Philly and no fries. I ate the whole thing and I liked it. I'll probably go back now and then just to get a Philly. I won't get any fries unless I can split them with someone. A friend suggested ordering the kids' meals, which he said are still monstrous in size. Maybe that's the way to go, but I'll feel like less of a man for ordering a kids' meal. Can I just get Half the Food at Half the Price [HTFAHTP]?
By Jack Jackson
The Peacock (Lincoln)
The Peacock recently joined Lincoln's Indian food scene, and I have high hopes for it but there is definitely some tweaking around the edges that needs done. First, I'm not sure all that many people know they're open or what they're doing there.
The sign clearly states "The Peacock" but the "Indian Cuisine" underneath is almost impossible to read from Pine Lake Road, similar to how difficult The Jaipur's sign is to read from a distance.
They only do buffet during lunch, and menu for dinner. I so far have only liked Sher-E Punjab's Sunday buffet, but The Peacock's was okay, and a fair price at $7.99. While the server was friendly, the buffet layout is awkward.
The plates and silverware are in a difficult-to-reach place, and I had to ask for napkins. The plates and glassware themselves are a pretty chintzy plastic. The two main dishes were in huge crocks, and it was cumbersome to try to find a place to set down the lids while you put some food on your plate.
As for the food, the naan was good, but crispy/crunchy and flatter as opposed to any other place in town. The rice was okay, plain or vegetable rice. I tried the cabbage and spinach dishes which had some heat. The chicken korma and beef curry were both okay, too. I deeply missed samosas and soup, which you'll find at Sher-E Punjab on their Sunday buffet.
So, it was okay and I will have to try dinner off the menu. I'm a little disappointed in the buffet because of its awkward layout and lack of soup/samosas.
By Jack Jackson
Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob/The Smoke Pit (Omaha)
Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob is now serving a very good lentil soup, which may sound pricey at $4 a pint (a to-go mulligatawny quart at the Oven costs $5), but comes with a toasted pita. I recommend a side of the curry fries to go with it for an affordable and filling dinner. The soup could highly benefit from a lemon wedge.
Smoke Pit: Do not get the beef sandwich. Instead, get the brisket, which comes with a roll and two sides, and ends up being cheaper than a sandwich and one side. Plus, I think the brisket is a better, leaner, and more tender cut.
By Jack Jackson
Johnny the Jet's All Sports Bar and Grill (Omaha)
I'm glad this is a grill and not a grille. I'm also glad it's open to give me more lunch options. The place (the part that is finished) is nice and clean with lots of pabalasama tevees. The staff was friendly and fairly attentive. The menu is somewhat short, but that's okay. There are appeteasers, salads, and sandwiches. The drinks come in glass footballs. I thought I was the only one who had one of those (mine has the Cal logo on it), so now mine's not as special as I thought.
I ordered the BBQ sandwich and fries. The fries were good, and the sandwich was good. I was expecting a Kaiser roll and beef, but the sandwich came on lightly toasted thick white bread and had lettuce, cheese, and sautéed red onion. I didn't expect to like it, but I did. The only thing I didn't like was the cost, at $7.95, or $8.51 with tax. If I had gotten a drink, it would've all been just over $10. So, thanks, Johnny Rodgers, I'll eat at your place again, but probably not too often.
By Jack Jackson
Rice Bowl (Omaha)
The Rice Bowl is a very small place that does lots of takeout and is a very quick dinner. If you want to eat in the restaurant, I recommend going at non-peak times. The service is very quick and I had plenty of timely water refills.
To start, I had the hot and sour soup. It tastes good, but is a little sweet and way thick. I prefer Golden Wok's which does not have that overbearing sweetness and actually pours like a soup. Then came the Imperial Chicken, which is similar to General Tso's/Tzo's/Dzo's Chicken: breaded chicken, broccoli, carrot, mushroom, water chestnut, and baby corn. I can do without water chestnuts. I imagine that they come from China and no one eats them there, and they think Americans will eat them so they put them on everything. Baby corn is also something I can do without. Plus, aborting corn fetuses goes against God's will and leads to terrorism.
The sauce was a little too sweet, but not as sweet as something like orange chicken. The chicken was lightly breaded and not overcooked like Golden Wok's can be. But overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I would recommend asking for some chili paste to kick it up. Also appearing on the plate were two klab mangus. I like fried wontons, but don't care for cream cheese. I recommend squeezing out the cream cheese and eating the wontons.
The soup and entree were $6.90. At Golden Wok for lunch, you get tea, soup, entree, and choice of appetizer for $5.30. Moreover, the Rice Bowl never served me any rice in any bowl. I do not know whether Golden Wok uses a Golden Wok.
By Jack Jackson
California Tacos & More (Omaha)
I had eaten here many moons ago and remembered liking it at the time and then remembered feeling a little "off" afterwards, so why not go for two?
The place is not the snazziest, but it's non-physical atmosphere is enjoyable. It's very laid back there, roomy, and unassuming. It's a little better than M&N Sandwich Shop, and without all the sass. I ordered the California taco with rice and beans, and a small soda. That all added up to $6.40, which is a cheap and fast meal. It's even decent, too.
I've been drinking less soda lately, and caffeine on an extremely rare basis, but they have RC on fountain. I had to have some. They serve booze there, too, so maybe you can get the Royal Royal or Crown Crown? The California taco itself is sort of intimidating to look at. It's a huge taco with a fried flour shell. It's gordita-esque. I don't normally like flour shells, but this one tastes good. It's a little dry, so you have to put on some of the green or red sauces, which are both tasty. Put a little of both on.
The beans and rice were okay, and I can't attest to their authenticity as Richard Ripshaw would probably like. The California taco seemed real authentic, though.
My only complaint is that the shell is so big that there didn't seem to be enough filling, and I was left with quite a bit of shell that I didn't eat. They could make the shell a little smaller or add a little more filling. Either way, I would go back, even though I sense a slightly religious bowel movement in my near future.
By Jack Jackson
The Smoke Pit (Omaha)
I went back today for lunch and had lighter fare: the beef sandwich. The beef sandwich is good, plenty, and affordable at $4.50. The roast beef is high quality, much better than at a fast-food sandwich place like Subway. I'll probably eat one a week for lunch. The only downside is they seem to subscribe to the Chicago-style BBQ sauce school, that super tangy/zingy acidic yet still sweet sauce. Oh, well. It's not terrible. Maybe I'll start carrying around a little Gates.
La Casa (Omaha)
Many say La Casa is the best pizza in Omaha. I went there for dinner. I was a little miffed at first because there was no host and I had to ask a waiter for a table, and then the 15-year-old host showed up. The service was friendly, though. The only complaint was that I had to wait a couple of minutes for a water refill, and they weren't that busy.
I started with a half-order of cheese bread. It's weird. You only get two slices of bread, with one side toasted and the other side with butter and cheese on top. I immediately thought of Piezano's and their delicious cheese bread. I much prefer Piezano's. La Casa's could use just a little garlic. And even with cheese and butter, the other side is very dry.
Then came my small Margherita pizza. It has olive oil, roma tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, romano, and imperceptible garlic. The crust was possibly the thinnest I've yet encountered, which I like, and crispy and flaky. The small pizza is easy for one to eat, so I'd recommend one size up for two people. It could use a touch of freshly grated Parmesan at the end, and I mean real Parmesan from Parma, not that sawdust Kraft makes. It was all very good, but the olive oil was a bit much. I think it could use less oil.
I will definitely eat there again. But to compare, you can get a bigger pizza and four Bud Lite bottles at Trovato's on Tuesday nights for nearly the same price. You'll have to do the math for yourself, but if it's Tuesday and I want a pizza, I think I'll take Trovato's cheapness over the slightly better pizza at La Casa.
By Jack Jackson
The Smoke Pit (Omaha)
The Smoke Pit is another one of the restaurants I recently learned is actually within walking distance of work. And who doesn't want to eat a big pile of ribs during lunch at work? So I went there.
I ordered the "small" pork ribs which comes with two sides, for $10. That's really not a bad price for ribs, but a little more than I like to spend on lunch by about four dollars. I got a baked potato and beans for the sides. It all came extremely quickly, and all came out hot. The baked potato came with several little margarine tubs and a big thing of sour cream. I asked for real butter. The lady who brought my food said they didn't have real butter. Big negative demerit right there. After all, Popeye's has real butter. Can it be so hard for a rib joint to offer butter?
Also appearing was a whole hoagie roll, toasted with garlic spread. That seemed a little strange. I ate some of it. The beans tasted like beans, and Paul's BBQ makes them better. The baked potato tasted like a baked potato, without butter. The serving of ribs was monstrous, even though I ordered the "small." They were generally overcooked.
There's nothing wrong with the Smoke Pit, but there really isn't anything too right about it, either. I'll go back next week to try a sandwich. In the meantime, I'll be pining for Paul's BBQ.
By Jack Jackson
Bangkok Cuisine (Omaha)
I had another Thai restaurant recommended to me, and it's actually close enough I can walk there from work. Bangkok Cuisine was much better than Thai Pepper, and a few dollars cheaper, too. I ordered the yellow chicken curry again, just to do a comparison, and it was much tastier and less sweet. It has just onions, potatoes, and chicken, and I find that more appetizing than adding a bunch of sweet bell pepper. It was almost like Thai Garden's, but very good and I will go back for more. They have a curious menu option for level of heat: 1, 2, 8, or 10. I asked for 7, and it wasn't that hot, so I added some chili paste. I recommend adding the chili paste and a little soy sauce and then you've really got something.
It's a little disappointing that the lunch entree does not come with any soup or appetizers, but the portion is plenty. I would rather have a smaller entree and an appetizer option. It's the best Thai I've found in Omaha so far, but it's still not as great of a deal as the Thai Garden or Thai House lunch specials, since they are both cheaper and come with appetizers.
By Jack Jackson
Thai Pepper (Omaha)
My friends recommended Thai Pepper and so I went there. The good news: it's way better than Blue Orchid in Lincoln. The bad news: it's only decent and I still prefer Thai House and Thai Garden.
It's in a strip mall, so atmosphere is not too great. I'm not big on atmosphere if the food is great. I started with "summer" rolls, which are the non-fried spring rolls. They were pretty good, and the tamarind sauce was good with a good level of heat. I've had better ones, especially in Chicago. The sauce is sweet, and you all should know by now that I typically don't like sweetness until dessert, but it goes well with the rolls. I'd prefer a cucumber salad and soy sauce, something savory.
I was told the yellow curry was good, so I got it. The entree came out with one fried wonton, steamed rice, and a kind of Thai coleslaw, with cabbage, carrots, green onion, and sunflower seeds. It was okay, and not the creamy disgusting kind of coleslaw. The fried wonton was really tasty, making me think I should've gotten the fried spring rolls. I dipped it into the little bowl of spicy sauce served on the platter, and that was pretty good.
The yellow curry itself was alright. I think what bothers me the most about curries besides Thai Garden's is how sweet they are. The pile of red and green bell pepper made the sauce even sweeter. I prefer my sweetness in dessert, and most of their desserts involved sweet rice. No thanks to sweet rice. So, add the Thai to the Indians as cultures who can't make good desserts.
There was plenty of food, and again I'd like half the food at half the price. I'll probably go back to try a stir fry at some point.
By Jack Jackson
My Apartment (Omaha)
Alright, so I didn't really cook myself that great of a dinner tonight, but it passed. I had a cup of miso soup, of a manufacture I'm not particularly impressed by, but it was the last packet so I don't have to eat it ever again. Then I steamed some edamame, which white people sometimes call soybeans, with sel gris. I topped it off with some Hill's sunflower seeds and two Manhattans. The Manhattans are at the respectable 3:1 ratio, and I've been putting two or three cherries in the drink, just because I can. I think I'll go out to eat tomorrow.
By Jack Jackson
The Jaipur (Omaha)
I just had a wonderful meal there and want to tell you all about it. One has to, of course, compare The Jaipur with Lincoln's Oven (not Omaha's The Oven). There are certainly similarities, but many differences. It was wonderful despite some minor disappointments.
Let me get this out of the way first: I knew the restaurant was in Rockbrook Village, but I drove past the damn place twice. Their marketing team apparently settled on about 8-point script font for their signage. It's very hard to see. So, that was no bueno.
Inside, there were many servers and they were friendly. The atmosphere is much different from Lincoln's Oven. There is more echo and you can hear almost everyone's conversation. They need to do more to dampen the sound in there. The Oven has a much better atmosphere.
I did not know that the Jaipur was also a microbrewery, and so I ordered an IPA. It was very clean and crisp, much better than something like a Redhook IPA. The Jaipur also sports a "fusion" menu, serving even beef. I'm not sure that's all that necessary. The other notable menu difference is that everything runs about $1-2 more than Lincoln's Oven.
I started with a vegetable samosa. They were very good, with better spicing than the Oven, but not as crisp as Sher-E Punjab's. However, the mint chutney is the best I've had yet. It had much more flavor and heat to it and was simply great.
Next came the soup. Unfortunately for The Jaipur, Sher-E Punjab makes the best mulligatawny still. The Jaipur's is a very lemon-yellow color, and it does need a lemon wedge to kick it up just a bit. It does have an excellent taste, still, but is thick and almost mealy. I really don't like this viscosity. And the rice is softer than I would prefer (again, Sher-E Punjab does it right, with slightly harder rice; it is going into soup, after all).
Then I had chicken madras for the entree, and it was the pinkest pink I've ever seen. At Lincoln's Oven, the madras is almost gray. The Jaipur's is much creamier, a little more bland, but still quite good. Also, The Jaipur slices their chicken into much more manageable pieces. I think Lincoln's Oven should start doing this, too.
It was a wonderful dinner, and I will return.
Now if Indians could only get dessert right.
By Jack Jackson
Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob (Omaha)
I revisited for a quick sandwich to go, and I have to upgrade them quite a bit, but with a standard request. I want half the food at half the price. The Doner Kabob is a good deal by itself, very filling, and just under $6.00. But I do want to eat some fries and maybe some ice cream afterwards. The sandwich is more than plenty by itself. Am I just not a fat American who doesn't want huge portions? I asked about the kabob meat, and it's 80/20 lamb/beef, which is the highest lamb percentage I've heard of. The meat is better than I initially remembered, and I do like the spicy version with all of the flavors mixing. But I would love half the sandwich, and a half order of fries. Maybe I can talk them into it.
Little King (Omaha)
Yeah, I know. It's close to work. I have to eat there once in awhile. Their French Dip is less than average. The asiago white bread is okay. They serve smukey-style turkey. Will someone please open up some decent eateries nearby? I'm looking at you, Johnny Rogers.
By Jack Jackson
The Crescent Moon (Omaha)
I've been visiting The Crescent Moon twice a week because it's close to work and there really isn't anything else good to eat nearby (apologies to those who like Romeo's and Godfather's). I go for lunch, and the place has been okay so far. The service can sometimes be inattentive, especially since they ought to know people are in rigid timeframe for lunch. This could all be solved by a host, but they seem to like the seat-yourself attitude. That means, sometimes, you must also grab the attention of a server yourself.
But the servers are very friendly, when they do serve. I've enjoyed their chili (could use more cumin or more heat) and seasoned fries, as well as their Philly cheese steak. They make a very mediocre Tuesday special, which is the open-faced hot beef plate. The open-faced hot beef plate is much better in Lincoln at Fred & Ruby's Grill, or the Pantry. The Crescent Moon's hot beef plate suffers from tasteless potatoes and icky brown gravy, most likely made from a can or powder. The beef, though, is good.
The Tuesday night special was very good and cheap. $1.50 bottles of Busch Lite (no, I have not tattooed my extra 8 next to my 8 yet), and half-price 12" pizza up to three toppings. The pizza was good, with a thin crust I like. I and an eating companion also had the toasted ravioli, which were very good, much better than Vincenzo's. Three beers, ravioli, and a 12" pizza ended up only costing $17.00. That's a good deal no matter how you slice it. I plan on returning for more Tuesday night specials.
By Jack Jackson
It's been awhile since I got around to writing up where I've eaten, so here is a collection of what happened last month.
The Cup (Lincoln)
I had a pleasant surprise this Saturday at The Cup. I had been told I needed to try the place, because I like pastries and sandwiches (if you don't, you're a Communist). I finally made it there and I highly recommend a visit.
First, it's probably not in the best location, but there was steady traffic at noon, so things seem to be going well. The interior is clean and there is a nice-but-small outdoor eating/coffee drinking/pretending-to-be-studying-on-a-laptop area. The Cup, as you might tell from the name, also acts as a coffee shop, but I don't drink hot drinks, so what do I care? Second, the staff was very friendly. They gave one of my eating companions a free muffin because they accidentally brought out the wrong sandwich. Third, the food is good.
The sandwiches are pre-made and sit in a cooler. The bread appears to be made on premises, a panini-style, but more reminiscent of a cibatta. The bread is light and crispy and flavorful. I chose the albacore melt, and all sandwiches come with a Meeshu-sized salad of mixed field greens and a nice vinaigrette. There were many pastries that looked good to try, but I settled on the chocolate gateau.
All of this seemed almost gourmet, until they pulled the M&N-style-microwave-the-sandwich-to-get-it-hot trick. The albacore is a good sandwich, and I want to go back to try others. I'm usually pretty leery of any "meat salad" sandwiches, but it sounded good at the time, and was a decent sandwich.
The combo of sandwich and mini-me salad may not be enough to fill the modern and heartier American appetite, but that could be by design so you feel like you can eat a dessert. The chocolate gateau, a four-layer cake with buttercream frosting, was quite tasty. The frosting was very good, and the cake had a good taste, if a little dry. My eating companions all enjoyed their meals and asserted they would definitely return.
Bohemian Cafe (Omaha)
If you haven't been to the Bohemian Cafe, you better go, and you better bring your meat-eating gullet. The entrees are big and come with lots of sides. The first choice you get is egg-drop soup or liver dumpling soup. I love the egg-drop soup because it is just like the "worm soup" that Leon's Grocery used to make on the weekends. It is not much more than chicken broth and spaetzle-like noodles, but it has an excellent taste. It could use more bay leaf, though.
The next choice you get is the starch: whipped potatoes, fries, or bread dumpling. The whipped potatoes can be a little bland, and the fries aren't much to toot about, and the bread dumpling is frankly quite unappetizing and downright hard to eat. The dumpling seems to expand inside your stomach until you want to give up on life and wear sweatpants and Crocs. Finally, you get a choice of vegetable (often green beans), regular sauerkraut, or sweet sauerkraut. I suggest the vegetable because the sauerkraut, even the plain, is much too sweet for my liking.
But then you get the entree, the meat. I've so far had the roast beef and the goulash, both very good and very filling. And if by then you are not in a food coma, get a kolache or five.
Ted & Wally's (Omaha)
What can I say? I love Ted & Wally's ice cream, and they really do vanilla right. It's got a good high-fat content.
Dundee Dell (Omaha)
It's just pub food and they specialize in fish and chips. The onion rings are exceptionally greasy. I had a decent Philly cheesesteak, and the seasoned fries are good.
M&N (Pastrami Burger)
Norm finally convinced me to try the pastrami burger after I mentioned that I like Runza's and Fred and Ruby's Grill's burgers. He said, of course, that he made the best burger in town and that it's all he ever eats. Then I asked if he'd had Paul's BBQ, and he, of course, said he made the best BBQ sandwich in town. It made me wonder, if I'd said that I really like the hot braised chicken at Golden Wok, if he'd say that he made the best hot braised chicken in town.
As for the burger, it's okay, but I don't think I'll ever order it again. The Italian beef/pastrami combo is still the best sandwich in town (I know, because Norm told me so). Norm claims to have a secret way of cooking the burger, a secret way which I'm quite happy to be kept in the dark about. For a quick burger, Runza and Fred and Ruby's Grill are still tops in Lincoln.
Erbert & Gerbert's (a chain in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Colorado, and now Nebraska)
By Jack Jackson
The first thing about Erbert & Gerbert's one would notice today is that they have tons of over-friendly employees. Today was also the NU vs. USC game, so I'm guessing a few of these employees will be suddenly missing after the last home football game.
Second, the sandwich selection is rather minimal: ham, roast beef, turkey, salami, and a smattering of bread choices. Their French baguette is almost identical in taste and texture to Jimmy John's, which is okay. The sandwiches themselves are about the same price as Jimmy John's, and taste about the same. An eating companion had the chicken noodle soup, which he said was alright, but then said, "I haven't found any chicken in it yet." I said, "Maybe it's chicken broth and noodle soup." He said, "Maybe."
Inside the same space is a coffee and pastry station, which serves what look to be passable desserts. But what I liked most about Erbert & Gerbert's is the job they've done remodeling the upstairs. It's hard to believe it was a Homer's Tapes and Tapes before. There is a fireplace, a pablasama tevee, some recliners. It's really quite nice up there. I could see it as a nice place to just sit and do a crossword puzzle.
The only thing that was somewhat bothersome or just unusual is that they carve out a little tongue-shaped core of bread to more easily fit the meat and toppings. What's unusual is that they serve it wrapped up in the sandwich as a sort of extra. I suppose it's better than just throwing the thing away, but they should serve it with a pat of butter or something. Or maybe you could collect them, let them dry out, and make a nice gazebo.
Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob (Dundee, Omaha)
By Jack Jackson
I'm not a huge fan of gyro beast meat nor falafel, but I had to try this hip new place because I'm hip and new. The menu is sparse, which is fine, since they are trying to emulate a European stand. I ordered the Doner Kabob and Curry Fries with a can of soda, which totaled into a somewhat shocking $9.00+ meal. I say somewhat shocking because a similar meal at Ali Baba's with a fountain drink would run you somewhere near $6.00. So, is it worth the extra $3.00? Honestly, no.
The gyro meat is just like all the other gyro meat I've ever tasted. This makes me want to know if there is a huge, mythical gyro beast with replenishing legs what get whacked off every few days and then cut up into smaller legs to be shipped all around the world to all of the gyro stands. The bread was more interesting, not pita, but a more crispy panini style. I think I like the crispness better than the lightly toasted pita. And instead of onions and cucumber sauce, you'll get a sauce made from red cabbage, chickpeas, cucumbers, red peppers, and garlic.
The curry fries are shoestring with a healthy dusting of curry powder (or it may have been a garam masala mix). I like shoestring fries and the spice was good. Then again, the crinkle fries at Ali Baba's are very good too, and come with a good seasoned salt.
I certainly enjoyed my meal, but I have enjoyed many times the same meal (with the above noted variations) for much less at Ali Baba's.
Roost Sandwiches (Lincoln)
By Jack Jackson
I was forewarned that Roost Sandwiches, roosting (nestled?) between OSO and Abloom, was pricey. Compared to Subway or Jimmy John's, it is pricey, and its propinquity to those cheaper sandwich places makes me think Roost Sandwiches will not last long in its present format and location. A sandwich, drink, and chips will likely get you into the $7.00 range, so for that price, the sandwich better taste as good as the M&N Italian beef/pastrami combo, right?
Roost Sandwiches looks like a national chain of one. Their decor, menu design, and website all ooze and drip of marketing sheen. The tables and chairs are polished stainless steel, and it all looks so oooooh-la-la moderne (pronounced: moe-dairn). I'm sure whoever designed it all has a degree in something from somewhere. They seem to have spent more on marketing than gastronomy.
The menu boasts of "intense gourmet sandwiches" based on such delicacies as "diced chicken" and "diced bacon" and "fresh shredded lettuce" and "light and zesty" sauces. I chose the "Enlightened Beef" sandwich which looked more like soft cat food than anything, because they apparently blend shredded beef, cilantro, mint, onion, bell peppers, and a "light and tangy Mint-Lime sauce." Whatever that "light and tangy" sauce is, it's sweet. Goddammit! I absolutely hate sweet sauces on sandwiches. Sandwiches, unless of the ice cream or cookie variety, should be savory, not sweet. As of two hours after eating the sandwich, I am not suffering any ill effects, save for the slight headache leftover from a slight hangover.
The bread seems to be the best part of any of their sandwiches, coming in baguettes of white or whole-grain style. My two eating companions agreed that the bread was the best part of the sandwich. The sandwiches themselves were on the small side, and even after chips and cookies, my eating companions were left wanting a little something more.
As for the chips, they are of that wonderful new style in the almost unopenable foil packages, more air than chips, chips totaling about ten in number. The cookies come pre-sealed from somewhere in Utah, and offered what one eating companion called a "light preservative taste, but not too bad overall."
M&N Sandwich Shop double pastrami/L.A. style (Too Much of a Good Thing?)
By Jack Jackson
M&N's Italian beef/pastrami combo sandwich is one of my favorite sandwiches in town. My other favorites are Paul's BBQ's beef brisket, my own BLAM (bacon, lettuce, avocado, mozzarella) sandwiches, and if they are sandwiches, those open-faced roast beef plates at Fred and Ruby's Grill and the Pantry (N.B., no AARP membership required for entry at the Pantry). I visited M&N today with the express intent to get the Italian beef/pastrami sandwich.
But then I saw something on the menu I'd never noticed before: the double pastrami/L.A. style sandwich. The pastrami there is the Vienna Beef pastrami, a bacon-like succulent and savory delight, and it really adds a special taste to the Italian beef. Normally, I get the Italian beef/pastrami with bell peppers and onions (the hot peppers make it hurt when I poop), no cheese (the pastrami and au jus are fatty enough, thank you), and the au jus on the side (I don't like my bread to end up soggy and pulpy and mealy and gross). Now, N of M&N will sometimes make fun of you for getting the au jus on the side, but I don't care because the way I order the sandwich, it's actually possible to eat it without turning the walls, your shirt, and the rest of the nearby eating area into a Jackson Pollack meat painting.
The key is to slice up the sandwich into four pieces, at which point you can pick them up and dip them in the au jus. And the 1/4-sandwich piece is generally small enough to actually fit into most mouths.
Today, because I love the taste of the pastrami, I decided to go all-out and get the L.A. double pastrami. It's about $2.00 more than its Italian beef/pastrami counterpart, at $7.35, but that must mean it's $2.00 better, right? And L.A. is a real hell-hole, so . . . but Vienna Beef is based in Chicago. I guess that's where the "L.A. style" part of it comes in. Also, Richard Ripshaw said that two kinds of meat shouldn't touch and I could avoid such meat-miscegenation by going pan-pastrami today.
The menu advertised that the L.A. style double pastrami was a 1/2-pound of pastrami. I thought at first that it would be less than 1/2-pound, because it's not like N is back there weighing his sandwiches, right? But when I got the sandwich, I'm pretty sure it was well into the 9/16-pound to 5/8-pound range. It was a hefty sandwich. It was a commitment, like eating-66-hotdogs-in-twelve-minutes commitment. Or maybe it was a meat challenge?
First off to note about the double L.A. pastrami is that it is much moister than it's Italian beef/pastrami counterpart. The Italian beef, by itself, is a fairly dry meat. The pastrami, on the other hand, is a moist, juicy, almost greasy mess. The bun was difficult to grab and the pastrami, being stringier with sometimes unchewable strands of fat, was harder to cut into quarters. I guess I'd never noticed this before when eating the Italian beef/pastrami combo.
Second, the pastrami is super salty, even for this salt fetishist. About halfway through the sandwich, I wished for water, about a gallon of water. My small Tropicana Orange Twister wasn't cutting it. But I fought through, and I ate about 7/8 of the sandwich. At that point, I just couldn't eat anymore. It was too much pastrami, too salty, and too L.A. for me.
So, unless you plan on splitting the L.A. pastrami with a friend, I'd avoid it and stick with the Italian beef/pastrami combo. It's cheaper, easier to eat, and possible to eat.
Paul's BBQ (A happy change from Blue Orchid)
By Jack Jackson
It's been long overdue, so I finally went to Paul's BBQ. Paul's BBQ came very highly recommended by many people, including that surly foodie curmudgeon, Richard Ripshaw. He suggested I get the beef brisket sandwich, so I did. But first, I knew I was probably in for a good BBQ sandwich because Paul's BBQ has firewood stacked outside. That's a good sign. That means Paul actually smokes his meat on premises. I don't remember seeing firewood outside of Famous Dave's or Whiskey Creek.
The beef brisket is Angus beef and very tender with a good taste. The sandwich comes on what appears to be a Rotella's kaiser bun, with a cornmeal dusting. Mr. Ripshaw believes the buns come with the cornmeal from the bakery, but I can't remember one way or the other for sure, and only Ripshaw would make a big deal out of it because he likes to try to thwart anything I say or do at any chance.
The sandwich has no sauce on it, so you need to add either the mild or hot sauce. I added both. I liked both, although I like a little less sweetness in my BBQ sauce. I still swear by the Gates original from Kansas City, which you can now buy at Super Saver in a jar. As a side, I added two ribs. That's a great idea. Just add two ribs. The ribs were big and meaty, cooked just right. Many of the other BBQ places in town tend to overcook the ribs to the point of leaving a thick charred crust on them.
Paul's BBQ is a nice contrast with Blue Orchid. Paul's BBQ is a no-frills, high-quality meal, and Blue Orchid is a frilly, low-quality meal.
Blue Orchid (Revisited, reluctantly)
By Jack Jackson
Anyone who has followed my food criticisms is well aware that the worst dining experience I ever had was at the Blue Orchid one Saturday for lunch about a week after they opened. It seemed that in their first few months, all patrons of the Blue Orchid agreed that the service was indeed terrible, but many believed it was the best Thai food in town. Well, it's been awhile and I've consistently heard that the service is better and whatever problems they were having in the kitchen have been solved. This still begs the question: "Why in hell would you open up a restaurant if you weren't ready to serve food?" I like Thai food, and although I swore I would never return to Blue Orchid, I did today for lunch.
To start with, it's now a labyrinth to get into the goddamn restaurant. There are several signs which do not necessarily help you figure out which way to go to find the entrance once you're actually inside the Federal Building. Visions of Theseus and the Minotaur came to me and I contemplated unwinding a ball of twine along the way in order that I could find may way back out.
The host was friendly, and our server was capable. We never lacked water, and our server was generally very attentive, even during a fairly busy lunch crowd. We got in and out in less than one hour, which is a ninety-five minute improvement from the first time we ate there.
As for the menu, it's more expensive than any other Thai lunch in town. Both Thai Garden and Thai House offer a more extensive menu for about three dollars cheaper. I ordered a yellow curry tofu with spring rolls. The spring rolls tasted very good and were fresh. They reminded me of my favorite spring rolls I get at a small Thai restaurant in Chicago. A friend ordered the fried Thai rolls for his appetizer, and I still don't understand why they serve four tiny rolls instead of one large one. The tiny size of the Thai rolls was made up for in my entree, which featured unappetizingly huge chunks of potato, tofu, and carrot.
First point about the food: my yellow curry had a unique garnish: one long black hair. I'm not a germ freak, but hair is always a put-off in an entree. I made no fuss about it. I wanted to give Blue Orchid a chance. The steamed rice I had contained at least two completely uncooked pieces of rice. I crunched into them the first bite and that's not good.
Second, there was a whole half of a potato in the dish, uncooked in the center. Moreover, the actual curry sauce, which I find to be too sweet, was lukewarm. It seemed like they started to cook my entree, then got a little tired of the whole thing, and just served it half-done.
Third, the tofu came in huge, monstrous chunks, and was barely cooked. I much prefer Thai Garden's tofu which has a good crisp edge to it. There were a few peas in the dish. Those seemed to be cooked. They tasted like peas.
Finally, of the three entrees we ordered, my entree was of moderate proportion, the Panang curry was quite a small portion, and the pork dish was almost obnoxiously sized. How can three entrees, all the same price, end up so different in size? That makes no sense.
So. Blue Orchid, you still blow, and you make me blue. I cannot understand why people in town still call this their favorite Thai restaurant. It's consistently worse than Thai House and Thai Garden, and costs more. And at least at Thai House and Thai Garden your food comes hot, and Thai Garden's potatoes are cooked through. I have never had hair in my food at Thai Garden or Thai House, nor uncooked rice.
Enhanced Eating Sensations Due to Pregnancy (EESDP)
By Mrs. Merfkulwitz
|February 26, 2007
Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Mozzarella (BLAM sandwiches)
By Jack Jackson
Here's something I did the other day: I made up a mess of white toast, cut up an avocado, sliced up a ball of non-Italian fresh mozzarella cheese, microwaved some Cajun-spiced bacon, and washed some romaine lettuce. Microwaving bacon is, by the way, a great way to cook bacon. It cooks quickly and evenly, and it's easy to control the doneness.
I'm not a big fan of mayonnaise on sandwiches, so I used the Grey Poupon Deli Mustard. Throw all the ingredients on the toast, crack pepper on top, and BLAM! You've got yourself a pretty good sandwich.
Golden Wok Revisited (Hot Braised Chicken)
By Jack Jackson
I eat at Golden Wok at least once every two weeks for lunch. I usually order General Tso's Chicken, even though it is a Chinese-American dish invented in New York's Chinatown, which makes it an arguably inauthentic dish, at least according to Richard Ripshaw. But I like it. What I don't like about the dish is that it has water chestnuts (those flavorless crunch disks) and I do not like how sweet the sauce is. So today I tried out Hot Braised Chicken, which is a similar dish with several advantages. First, it is the same white meat braised in rice flour, but the sauce is not as sweet. Instead of water chestnuts, there are slices of white onion, diced carrots, and peas. I even spotted one or two scallions, and I wouldn't've minded a couple more.
I will be switching to the Hot Braised Chicken at lunch now. Maybe Mr. Ripshaw will tell me whether it is authentic.
December 8, 2006
What is Authentic?
By Jack Jackson
The concept of “authentic” ethnic food has always been something of a challenge for me, and I’m guessing it is for the rest of you, too. I mean, it’s been really, actually, authentically challenging me. There are two main reasons why the concept bugs me: 1) everyone in town argues over where you can find the most authentic Mexican food, yet no one can give you a straight, authentic answer; 2) that surly curmudgeon gastrophile Richard Ripshaw recently railed on me for ordering General Tso’s/Tzo’s/Dzo’s/Dso’s Chicken from Golden Wok because he did research on the dish which showed that that particular entrée was created in New York’s Chinatown sometime in the 1970’s, whereupon he smugly ordered Szechuan Chicken, which his research had shown to be an authentic Szechuan dish with authentic Szechuan peppers. I had no choice but to blithely applaud him for his excellent and authentic ordering skills.
What does “authentic” even mean? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says “not false or imitation : REAL, ACTUAL.” My Oxford Latin Dictionary says “authenticus” means “original.” My Oxford Greek Dictionary says “authentikos/a??e?t????” means “principal, authoritative.” But none of those definitions really answers the more specific question of what “authentic” means in the world of ethnic cuisine. What does it mean, after all, to say that a restaurant’s marinara sauce is the “original” or “real” or “actual” or “authoritative” marinara sauce?
In ethnic food, it seems that “original” is the closest meaning for “authentic.” The question is often: “Was this cooked the same way, with the same ingredients, with the same tools, as the people of that culture originally (first) prepared the dish?” Not only is that often an extremely difficult question to answer with any meaningful accuracy, but I think the answer should generally be “Who cares?"
In music, especially in Jazz, we applaud the artist who builds on the work of earlier artists. We can enjoy the old Charlie Parker records, but John Coltrane offered us a more complicated and challenging sound. Was Coltrane an inauthentic sax player? Charlie Parker’s sound is like the first pizza in Italy during the Roman Empire: a flat round of dough slathered in olive oil, bay leaves, other herbs, and honey. It was not until several centuries later—the Middle Ages—when water buffalo, whose milk is necessary for authentic mozzarella cheese, showed up on the scene. The arrival of mozzarella on the scene was like the arrival of John Coltrane on the jazz scene.
Did the Italians kvetch that mozzarella cheese on their pizzas was not authentic and should not be allowed or at least denounced? I do not know. It would be silly if they did, and I still say, “Who cares?” I think mozzarella cheese on pizza is a nice change, just like John Coltrane’s innovative chord progressions were a nice change for jazz.
But just you look out! Because in the 1500’s another crazy thing happened to authentic Italian pizza: some dudes brought back tomato plants from the New World. That’s kind of like when John Coltrane said to himself, I’m going to play a fifty-seven minute version of “My Favorite Things” in Japan and it’s going to be unlike any other version of that song done before.
I do not know what brave Italian pizza-meister first bucked the fierce conservative anti-tomato movement, but I am glad it happened, nonetheless. He turned authentic Italian pizza into something I enjoy.
Now I know Mr. Ripshaw is going to be mad at me for writing this, but the last time I visited Chicago, we took some friends out to a nice authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. Do you believe, I mean, can you believe, that they served us what they called authentic pizzas, but actually those so-called authentic pizzas had mozzarella and tomatoes on them? I mean, where was the honey? Where were the bay leaves?
At what point in the history of pizza do we or can we settle on a definition of what is “authentic?” And don’t you all enjoy a nice slice of New York-Style Pizza? What is Chicago-Style pizza?
What are authentic barbecue ribs in America? What is authentic fried chicken? How many definitions will you get around the country?
India, China, and Mexico are big countries. How can any one restaurant provide a full panoply of totally authentic dishes, even if limited to a specific region? Is anyone in New York’s Chinatown still serving authentic General Tso’s/Tzo’s/Dzo’s/Dso’s Chicken?
First of all, I have to say that I’m glad to see the “Jack Jackson and Friends on Food” addition to the site-very intriguing and I check it every 2.4 minutes for updates (that’s the Colin McGuire way). I’m writing to say hello but also to inform Mr. Ripshaw that Szechuan peppers cannot be legally imported to the U.S. because the FDA is concerned about their possible misuse. Evidently, the peppers produce a numbing effect similar to Novocaine. What I believe Mr. Ripshaw is referring to is Szechuan Black Pepper, which is a non-traditional western creation that combines Chinese Five Spice powder with regular black peppercorns. If Mr. Ripshaw is in possession of the Real McCoy, I would be interested in purchasing a dimebag.
In his review “Golden Wok” Jack Jackson names General Tzo’s chicken his favorite Chinese dish. It is difficult for me to understand why he chose this dish to represent the Golden Wok as I feel it is neither a good dish nor is it Chinese. If the review was really about the Golden Wok, then I would have preferred a more comprehensive review of the entire menu rather than the most Americanized menu item. It would be much like writing a review about El Toro but focusing on the Hamburguesa. As for Reginald Emerson, while your comments are a mighty display of erudition, I must inform you that my selection was not so much a statement (as was erroneously reported by Mr. Jackson) but an attempt to satisfy my hunger despite the piss-poor surroundings. I too hope to someday experience the true Szechuan pepper. The numbing effect may be necessary if Mr. Jackson continues to take me to such wretched places.
I've always thought of the term 'authentic'
applying to a particular ethnic food this way: If you were from a
particular country and stuck in Lincoln, yearning for something similar to
what you'd have at home, where would you eat? I realize that this
method is far from perfect, and the true determination of authenticity
requires finding people from whatever country's cuisine you wish to enjoy
and asking them, but it's an okay start. So far, asking people from
Mexico/Vietnam/India where they prefer to eat our country's version of
their food has led me to the best meals.
|Ultimate Mulligatawny Challenge and Study (Lincoln,
I know this entry is going to spring eternal controversy because there will always be the "Oven Lovers" out there who will always swear by the Oven and never even think it’s possible that another restaurant could make better soup. But here it is, and it’s a cold-hard fact: Sher-E-Punjab makes better mulligatawny soup and there’s nothing you Oven Lovers can do about it.
The idea for the soup challenge arose while I was sitting at Sher-E-Punjab the other day with Richard Ripshaw, that surly curmudgeon foodie. I stated plainly that Sher-E-Punjab makes the best Mulligatawny in town (better than The Oven, The Tandoor, and Taj Mahal). He said that there was no way I could know that unless I had all of the soups in front of me for an ultimate soup challenge.
"That’s f***ing stupid," I said, my argument being that I’ve had the soups many times, and I remember what they taste like.
"Sher-E-Punjab’s rice is better, and their soup isn’t so viscous," I added. "The Oven’s soup is more like a porridge now, with too much flour thickening it. And they overcook the rice. Sher-E-Punjab’s rice is a little harder, which is better for soup. The Tandoor’s soup is too inconsistent to really judge."
But old Ripshaw wouldn’t hear it. So the next day we drove around town for lunch, getting two bowls of soup to go from The Oven, The Tandoor, and Sher-E-Punjab. Apologies go to Taj Mahal. We just couldn’t eat four bowls of soup, and someone had to be left out.
I like a little more rice in my soup than is provided, so I made basmati saffron rice to add, and we also purchased some extra cilantro and a lemon. While at Sher-E-Punjab, I had to buy two of Lamar’s cake donuts, one cherry frosted and one caramel frosted. I can say with confidence that Lamar’s makes the best cherry and caramel frosted cake donuts in town. I refuse to do ultimate frosted cake donut challenge, however.
As for the soup, first off was Sher-E-Punjab. Their soup can benefit from a little extra cilantro, but additional lemon juice is not needed. This may be why you do not automatically receive a lemon slice with your soup at the restaurant. The soup has a good soup-like consistency, and is full of flavor. It is spicy and complex, and is a great starter before an entree.
The Oven’s came next. It was an immediate disappointment. Their soup is much thicker, and this is unappetizing to me. Their soup had much less flavor and needs extra lemon and cilantro in order to give it any character. "Bland" was the word Ripshaw used to describe the soup, as he reached for another lemon slice. As a side note, I remember just two years ago that The Oven’s soup was not as thick and had more flavor. I don’t understand the reason for this change.
Finally, The Tandoor’s soup presented the greatest disappointment. I had remembered their soup being flavorful, but it was the blandest of the three. We had to add lots of lemon and cilantro to give it any character and it was almost devoid of spices. The Tandoor’s soup is the most inconsistent, and is often different every time you try it. I have had good soup there, and bad soup, but I no longer will go to The Tandoor when I want a quick bowl of soup to go. Sher-E-Punjab was the hands-down winner, and old Ripshaw was forced to agree.
"Are you happy now?" I asked smugly, knowing that I had always been right and would always be right.
"It wasn’t even close," Ripshaw said, "Sher-E-Punjab’s was the best by far."
"It’s the best in town."