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Tru ly Could Have Been Better

September 20th, 2009 1 comment

L’Etoile (and Sanford?) aside, Madison and Milwaukee don’t offer much along the lines of world-class dining. You’ve got to go to Chicago for that. For Ross’ birthday, we did. The list of places in Chicago that I’d like to try but haven’t yet is decently large. Alinea, Trotter’s, and Tru were at the top of that list. Ross had mentioned Tru a few times, so I checked OpenTable and was able to easily get a table a few weeks out.

Not wanting to drive down to Chicago and back the same day, especially after a fancy dinner, I turned the event into a weekend trip. I used some Marriott points to book a room at the Blackstone, which is downtown near Millennium Park. We drove down Saturday morning and stopped at Superdawg, my first time there, for lunch along the way. We then checked into the hotel, got into our fancy clothes, and caught a cab to the restaurant.

Tru lives in the ground floor of a large, nondescript building across from Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The restaurant’s entrance is very dark and black, and no fewer than three people greeted us there. Without hesitation, the staff wished Ross a happy birthday and took us to the table.

The dining room was very austere: black carpeting and seats against white tablecloths and walls. Tables were spaced far apart, and diners kept their conversations to a murmur. An abudance of formally-dressed waitstaff stood throughout the room like prison guards at watchtowers looking for escapees, or a dropped fork.

Our waitress greeted us and offered options from a small, yet incredibly overpriced list of pre-dinner cocktails. An example: $18 for a “punch” of Pernod, Bacardi rum, and orange. Not even top shelf rum and it’s $18? Not having heard any rave reviews of their cocktails, and wanting to focus on wine anyway, we opted out and began reviewing the menu.

Their menu offers a number of prix fixe tastings (called collections) as well as a la carte options. For any of the tasting courses, they offer the option to swap it out with something from the a la carte menu as well. We opted for the grand collection at $110. Our waitress inquired about food allergies or aversions and we both replied that we’d prefer not to have any onion. The grand collection included a course of onion-poached fish and we asked what could be done about that. We were offered a choice from the a la carte menu and both settled on the same non-onion fish course from that.

Not wanting to get a single bottle of wine to cover a six course meal, we inquired about how wine pairings for each course might work. Often enough, restaurants offer a set price for such things. Not Tru. Their sommelier pairs half glasses of wine with each course and the price is whatever it turns out to be at the end. Oddly enough, as we received each glass of wine later on, it was mentioned that these were the regular pairings for each couse. Why not give that price ahead of time if you know what it will cost? I certainly wasn’t there to save money, but when you don’t want to spend $100/person on wine, why not at least say “No problem, our recommended pairings for your selection is about $50/person”?

The first bit of food brought out was a sphere of cauliflower, sea trout roe, and salty-sweet orange. It was my first time trying a “sphere”, and it was quite interesting. Served simply on a spoon, with waitstaff standing by to collect it, the sphere was a orb of gelatin (?) wrapped around a pureed cauliflower broth. It exploded in my mouth and was kind of fun to eat. I can’t say the taste was amazing, but it was an interesting way to serve such a thing.

The amuse bouche was a simple mound of “nigella seed” cured salmon, cucumber gelee, cucumber skin emulsion, and candied lemon peel. The cucumber gelee had mild cucumber flavor, yet the cucumber skin emulsion, despite its deep color, didn’t offer any sort of flavor. The salmon, while of good quality, had a straightforward salmon flavor with just a hint of saltiness. Altogether, it was a satisfying couple bites, but nothing noteworthy or really amazing to set the tone for the rest of the meal.

The first real course was smoked sturgeon “caviar”, avocado, and hazelnut. Beautifully presented in a caviar tin atop a mound of salt, the dish had two problems: 1) no one took the time to explain what the dish was, especially the “caviar” part 2) it tasted strongly of onion. The top was some sort of cheese-textured white goo, and the bottom was pureed avocado with flavors I can only describe as resembling guacamole with red onions.

Ross, not wanting to be a whiner, ate his. I, on the other hand, not wanting to have a single course to regret, mentioned the strong onion flavor to the waitress. She apologized and said that the dish was not to have any onion in it. She came back a few minutes later to admit that the avodcado does include shallots, oops, her mistake, and that it’s usually not such a strong flavor so the chef might have been a little heavy handed tonight.

As a peace offering, we were given a replacement first course (directly from the chef’s collection menu) and paired wine. This time it was a frog leg with roasted garlic, carrot, and watercress. The frog leg was fried, seemingly in panko, and placed atop cubes of carrot. The whole thing was swimming in a pond of watercress puruee, with dollops of roasted garlic puree acting as islands. I’ve not had frog leg before, so I was excited at the prospect. Disapointingly, the frog leg was fried. To me, that’s an incredibly boring, perhaps safety-net way of serving frog leg. Maybe they don’t want to scare diners away by serving it in a manner which allows you to truly taste the meat. The watercress puree was actually good, but I’m not sure the garlic islands were necessary. Overall, I can now say I’ve tried frog legs, however I can’t say they did anything special to it to make me want more.

The next course was a disaster all around. Perhaps each element of the dish was excellent by itself, but everything together was a mess. The menu calls it “peeky to crab salad, prosciutto, pequillo, cantaloupe-cava-consomme.” I love crab, I don’t get to eat it enough, so this was something to look forward to. The consomme was great alone. I would eat a bowl of it on a hot day. It was also very sweet, like a dessert. The grab, was sweet too, which is usually a good thing. The problem was, the consomme was much sweeter than the crab. When you ate everything together, all you tasted was the soup. Why bother serving crab, the focus of the dish, when you can’t even taste it? The accents of prosciutto and pepper sauce were there, but equally untastable as a result of the sweet broth.

Mechanically, the dish didn’t work out either. The crab was flaked and mounded beneath a disc of prosciutto, which had pepper sauce and a green herb atop it. The dish was bigger than just a single bite, and you want to taste everything together, but prosciutto is difficult to cut. As a result, the prosciutto falls into the broth and gets coated in sugar and the pepper sauce atop dissolves.

“House-made porcini tagliatelle, condensed tomato, asparagus cream, parmasan” was the third course. Yes, my printed menu they give to take home says “parmasan”. The aspargus cream was unique, although a bit under seasoned. The tagliatelle was laughably delicate and soft. It fell apart into a mush when preparing bites. The condensed tomato was floating, similar to the garlic in the frog leg dish, in an island amid the asparagus. Because of the way it was served, I’m not sure I even tasted it. The parmesan, albeit of good quality, got lost in the asparagus puree. Stylistically, similar to previous dishes, the featured item was served amid a pond of puree just like the crab and frog leg dishes. For us, that made three dishes in a row served in that manner.

Somehow we don’t have a picture of the fish course. Remember, we had swapped out the onion-poached fish for something else. Instead we opted for the “Hawaiian ahi a la plancha, radish, leek, sauce provencale”. The tuna was shaped like a slice of Spam. The edges were seared white, and the middle was still slightly pink. Maybe I’m too much in the mindset that tuna should be eaten raw, but the fish was dry and oddly textured. In fact, it had very little flavor. The sauce provided all the flavor. And luckily there was sauce because the fish was underseasoned – perhaps not seasoned at all.

Finally a dish we could rave about (only 5 courses in!). “Duet of lamb, daikon, watermelon radish, olive, star anis” was presented on a long rectangular plate. The right side was a medallion of lamb, topped with, if I remember correctly, confit lamb. Both were topped with the same sauce. I’m unsure why they decided to serve two styles of lamb but sauce them the same, though. In any case, both preparations were perfectly cooked and tasted great. The olives were more of a tapanade, and provided a salty flavor, while the radish paired better visually than by its flavor.

I should mentioned that between courses we were offered an array of breads. Each extremely good. I’d say better than most of the courses we ate. Just before the lamb course we were offered some more bread. Ross took some and put it on his plate. Within seconds, waitstaff appeared, and without a single word removed the bread plate (no bites taken of the bread) and butter and cleaned up the table. The lamb came out and suddenly bread plates and butter reappeared. Minutes later a waiter came to offer more bread, and Ross chose exactly what he had just ten minutes before. Was it poor coordination or being overly formal, I’m not sure.

Now we moved on to the desser courses. Since Rick Tramanto seemed to have failed with his portion of the meal, we were hoping Gale Gand could make up for it with hers. The first dessert was a small bite of mandarin gelee, mandarin curd, and blackberry. Eaten altogether, it was excellent. Acidic, creamy, chewy, you name it, this bite had it.

The formal dessert was excellent as well. An almond-violet mousse served atop lemon sponge. The mousse was soft and airy, with a deservingly-strong almond flavor. The lemon spone was a good complement as it provided some citrus flavor but didn’t overpower. The whole dish went well with the coffee (a blend from Intelligentsia). I skipped the photo of this as it was too blurry to make out.

Between this and the final round of desserts, the waiters discreetly brought out a small bite of chocolate cake with three candles in it. Written on the plate in white chocolate was a birthday wish for Ross. It was a nice touch, and wasn’t tacky by any means.

A more exciting part of the meal had to be the mignardises. The waitress rolled a small cart over and described each of the 8 bite-sized treats on it. Asked which we wanted, we responded one of each. While I don’t remember the details of each one, I can say that you won’t be disappointed with any. Gale definitely lived up to her reputation with these.

I mentioned wine above but didn’t mention any details throughout. The pairings went decently well, but I can’t say the selections were perfect. You expect the wine to bring the food to a different level, and I can’t say that was the case at all. One course I can specifically remember was a slightly too sweet riesling being served with the tagliatelle. For certain, each wine was good on its own, however only two stood out with the food: Passopisciaro from Sicily served with the lamb and the dessert wine served with the mousse.

The dessert wine was a moscato d’asti that had been “aromatized” by the sommelier. His trick, he had let us know earlier, was adding a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters to the glass before pouring. Having forgotten this, we were close to sending our glasses back when we noticed a bit of liquid in our supposedly clean glasses before the wine was served. In any case, it’s not often wine gets mixed with anything, but this blend was acceptable. It gave a bit of savoryness and complexity to an otherwise simply sweet and bubbly wine. Give it a shot next time you buy some asti.

While not directly related to the food, I should mention the bathroom fail. They tried to get all fancy with their sink and faucets. The “sink” was a long flat slab of glass angled downward towards the wall, where water would drain out of sight. It had no edges or “sides” to it. The problem was that the faucet wasn’t placed high enough above the slab of glass. As a result, you can barely get your hands underneath to wash them. In fact, the cuffs of my jacket ended up getting wet because of how you have to maneuver to get under the faucet. For a restaurant that requires a jacket, which all have long sleeves, this isn’t a good thing.

Overall, as you can tell, I was disappointed. I was hoping for a top 10 meal and got something along the lines of a top 100. The food was OK, but nowhere near revolutionary or life changing. The service was over attentive yet mistakes were made. The menu you take home not only included a misspelling, but neglected to indicate we got a replacement first course. Maybe it was just just our luck that night, who knows. I won’t be heading back at least until I’ve exhausted the list of other fine dining establishments in Chicago.

To make matters worse, I had a top 2 meal at Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA recently. Service there was attentive, but not overbearing. The food was amazing, unique, and not floating in rafts of green puree, and the wines elevated the food to another level. Having something like that to compare my Tru meal to only helps to justify everything I wrote above.

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Kushi Bar Muramoto

November 16th, 2008 No comments

Muramoto is building a small empire in Madison.  There are now three restaurants in his name.  I dined at the most recent addition, Kushi Bar Muramoto, this weekend.  It lives in the original Restaurant Muramoto location on King Street.

The concept is new to Madison.  In Japan, it’s called a yakitori restaurant.  You sit in a loud, smokey, dining room and order small skewers of meat and vegetables.  Ideally, this is all accompanied by a large volume of alocohol.  Sake, shochu, or beer are all fine.

Muramoto’s interpretation of this concept is very different from its roots, though.  The dining room is quiet, dark, and trendy.  It feels more like a PF Chang’s than an after-work hangout.  For $1.50 skewers of food, I’m not sure that’s appropriate.

When we first got there, the place was empty.  Completely.  We were allowed to sit anywhere we wanted, so we grabbed a table against the wall.  There was one bartender and one waitress, that’s it.  I thought more staff would come as the meal went on, but that wasn’t the case.

Instead of starting off with a description of the concept or going through the menu, the completely unbusy waitress just moved right to ordering our drinks.  They have a large variety of sake and shochu.  I had an $8 glass of Wakatake, which was great.  The beer selection is smaller, but they do have Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo on tap.

Again, offering no explanation, the waitress took our meal order.  We got about eight skewers of meat and vegetables and an order of the satsuma fries to start.  The fries, crispy sweet potatoes served with a spicy aoli, were excellent and probably the best thing we had all night.

The skewers were acceptable, but small.  Everything had a char on it, especially the beef.  Char is good, but not when the meat is so small that the char is all you taste.  The mushrooms left much to be desired as they were very, very dry and too light to even feel like you were eating anything.  The nonspecific gizzards were chewy, charred and too small to taste as well.

You get four sauces to accompany everything.  The best for the beef was a Japanese style sweet worchestershire, but the spicy miso mayo went well with everything.  Somewhat out of place was the curry cream.  The last, a spicy sauce, was good, but splattered all over when I squeezed it from the bottle.  Perhaps serving the sauces in small dishes or small bowls with spoons would be better.

After another round of skewers we were still hungry so we ordered a spicy miso pork rice bowl.  Very simply, it came with just bits of pork over rice.  The pork was great, but not spicy like advertised.  The rice it was served over would have been better if the sauce didn’t break it apart and make it difficult to eat.

Even after that, we were still hungry.  With nothing else left to order, we decided to call it a meal.  While we were eating, the place filled up and no additional servers came on.  As a result, the service was miserable, so we left only a basic tip.

I overheard the bartender answering the phone a few times.  At least half the calls were people looking for the other Muramoto restaurants.  A few diners stopped by to ask for directions to the other muramoto as well.  The group that sat next to us asked if sushi was served.  It’s not.  Kushi != sushi.

Turn up the lights a bit, promote large bottles of Kirin Ichiban, and make the portions larger and you’d have a restaurant I’d come back to for sure.  I’ve been saying we need a Gyu-Kaku style restaurant here for a long time.  Kushi Muramoto is the closest thing to that, but doesn’t pull it off.

For reference, here’s the food I got at a yakitori place in Tokyo:

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Coffee Jelly

May 1st, 2008 No comments

When I first got to Japan, signs inside each Starbucks advertised an upcoming new drink: coffee jelly.  It was first offered on 4/15.  We ordered one (~530Y for a grande) and it was decent.  It’s basically a frozen frappuciono style drink with jellied coffee at the bottom.  It’s similar to bubble tea, I guess.  I didn’t get a chance to see how they store/dispense the jelly, but I’m curious how that’s done.  Is it my new drink of choice (when in Japan, of course)? No.  But it was interesting.

I wouldn’t look forward to seeing it stateside.

Categories: Asia 2008, Food->Restaurant Tags:

Japanese Starbucks menu includes “short” size

May 1st, 2008 No comments

I thought it was interesting that Japanese Starbucks include the “short” size on their menu.  Americans can order a “short” drink, but they’re not going to see the size advertise on the menu.

Categories: Asia 2008, Food->Restaurant Tags:

Before you visit Milio’s at Westgate

March 3rd, 2008 No comments

Think  about these two things:

  • Someone returned a sandwich because they put it on the wrong bread (whiner).  First they told the guy to keep the mismade sandwich and they’d make him another as well.  He didn’t want it so he gave it back to Milio’s.  The sandwich-maker decided to keep it on the side, saying “Someone will eventually order a #1”.  I have no doubt some unfortunate customer will be re-served that other guy’s sandwich.
  • Look through the little window area where you should be able to see them making your sandwich.  Yes, your view is blocked by the case’s cover, but look at the edge area right by the window.  Notice how dirty it is?  Exactly.
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Third-rate caffe

February 5th, 2008 No comments

For my birthday meal with my parents, I decided to try a restaurant in Milwaukee that I’d passed after Summerfest last year.  It looked nice from the outside and was recommended by a few people online.  The meal didn’t go all that well.  Perhaps the lack of a real website should have been a warning (they do have a menu listing on Foodspot).

We were lucky enough to find two parking spots directly out front, so things did start off on a good note.  That didn’t last long, however, as we found three grungy pieces of silverware before the waitress even came.  When she did come, she didn’t introduce herself or take us through the menu.  She simply asked if we wanted something to drink.

On the table was a small plate of olives, a glass of bread sticks, and two smaller carafes of spiced oil and balsamic vinegar.  I have a feeling the bread sticks were made by Alessi, and stayed there between guests at the table.  The olives were decent, but not refilled once during the meal.  A bread basket eventually arrived at the table, but was full of bread that was no doubt frozen just an hour prior.  The butter accompanying it was well-flavored, but it wasn’t obvious that the butter was better suited for the bread sticks by the way it was served.

We ordered scallops as an appetizer, and were served four U-10 (that’s what the menu said at least) scallops.  The waitress neglected to bring appetizer plates despite our bread plates being littered with breadcrumbs and oil.  The scallops were cooked correctly, but lacked seasoning.  Someone had neglected to salt them it seemed.

After our appetizer, a long wait for dinner began.   It was at least a half an hour before our entrees were served.  The waitress said nothing about the wait, and certainly didn’t apologize once our food arrived.  It was as if it should always take a half hour between courses.  Was our bread refilled during that time?  No.

The entrees proved to be just as saltless as the appetizer.  I’m not one to smother my food with salt, and definitely not the type to reach for salt right away at a restaurant.  I had to this time.  I ordered duck ravioli with duck sausage.  The sausage was great, the ravioli was pretty good.  The pasta tasted fresh and the cream sauce was well done.  It just lacked salt.

My dad’s osso bucco was decent, but was lacking the vegetables advertised on the menu.  Well, not completely lacking, there was just a scarcity of roasted vegetables and to not have that many is disappointing.  My mother’s meal was an atrocity.  She didn’t say much about it at first, but eventually let me try it.  It was disgusting.  She ordered pappardelle pasta with seafood in a butter sauce.  The pasta tasted like it had never been drained and no sauce had been put on it.  It was that watery.  It also lacked seasoning.

The waitress did come back at some point to ask how things were.  I said so-so, but she didn’t inquire further.  So-so?  Wouldn’t you wonder why?  Apparently not her.  When the hostess came over, my mother let her know that her pasta was pretty gross.  The hostess said “Can we re-toss it?” and my mother declined.  No other option was given.  When the waitress came back over, my mother let her know what she had told the hostess.  The waitress said “Aww, I’m sorry.” and basically moved on.

When the waitress asked if we’d like a dessert, I replied that we didn’t want to risk it.  She didn’t inquire further and went to get the check.  No offer was made for a free dessert or even a discount on the meal.  No effort at all was made to make up for the the quality of the food or the service.  Needless to say, she got an extraordinarily small tip.

I won’t go as far as saying that I was disappointed by the meal.  Perhaps I would have been if I paid for it.  To be disappointed would imply that I expect every meal to be excellent.  I don’t.  I realize that some places are better than others and that certain places just aren’t good.  I expected Third Ward Caffe to be good, I realized quickly that it isn’t.

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San Antonio River Walk

January 24th, 2008 No comments

I ate at Boudro’s on San Antonio’s River Walk tonight (the official site spells it River Walk, everyone else spells it Riverwalk), it was ehh.  I had stuffed quail, but it was overstuffed and overpoweringly flavorful.  The fresh limeade was very good, as was the tableside guacamole.  People were eating outside along the “river” (it’s man-made) with western-style ponchos on.

Afterwards, I took a few pics with my new camera.

Categories: Food->Restaurant, Photos, Work Tags:

See, Disney World isn’t for kids

January 8th, 2008 No comments

Props to Walt Disney World for banning children from Victoria and Albert’s.  After my recent experience at Napa Rose in California they should do it there too.

Boo to the AP for this sentence, however, “Victoria & Albert’s is Walt Disney World’s only restaurant with an AAA five-diamond rating,” as if a five diamond award is easy to come by.

The prices have gone up since I went ($125/person, $60 for wine pairings), but I still have a hankering to return.  Check out some example menus here.

Dude, it’s still tainted

January 7th, 2008 No comments

I had tried eating at Sushi Muramoto on New Year’s Day (after seeing No Country For Old Men), but was out of luck as they were closed.  I tried again this Saturday and was successful.

It was quite crowded when I first got there, and I actually thought I might not get a table.  They were nice enough to take my name and cell number and called me when a table was available.  That’s so much better than one of those JTech pagers that other places give out.  Ross and I headed over to the mall area to wait in the meantime, and were called about twenty minutes later.  Not bad.

The restaurant isn’t that big, and I wish it was bigger.  It’s very loud and the tables are close together.  The food makes up for a lot of that, but not all.

We started out with a crab cake appetizer.  It was served on top of a curried pumpkin.  Instead of serving it on a plate, they served it inside a deep bowl-type dish, making somewhat difficult to eat with chopsticks.  It tasted great despite that, though.

The menu features both sushi and a few regular options, very similar or the same as options on their downtown menu.  Ross had the black cod, which was equally as excellent as when we had it at their downtown location.  I had sushi.

I can finally say I’ve found someplace to eat sushi in Madison.  I’ve been to Takara, Wasabi, and Edo, but none of them quite hit the spot.  Muramoto did.  They offer a selection of nigiri, sashimi, and rolls, but also offer specialty rolls.  The nigiri/sashimi section is an expanded section, offering even more than places I’ve seen in Hawaii, including three different types of maguro plustoro.  What’s interesting about their listings is that they tell you where the fish comes from.  I had no clue all the different places that the fish were sourced from – I wish everyone did that.

I had an order of yellow-tail (from Brazil?) and unagi (from China), then a spicy tuna roll and the specialty Ecuador roll.  The Ecaudaor came with tuna and avocado, but also included a jalapeno and the whole roll was rolled in crunchy things.  It was excellent.  The spicy tuna roll was perfectly spicy – not overwhelming at all.  The tuna, which I always look forward to, was great.  I would come back just for the tuna.  And, at $5.50 an order, it wasn’t that expensive.

The disappointing part of the meal was the douchebag (DB) sitting next to me.  He was part of a party of three, and was clearly the expert on sushi.  Every time his male friend would take a bite he would annotate the experience like he was his coach.  It got quite annoying.

The worst part was that he wouldn’t let the other guy just eat.  One time the friend made the faux pas of not dipping the sushi in soy (wasabi-laced soy, that is, per the DB’s instructions) and the DB just about died.  I skip soy on probably half of the sushi I eat, but apparently this guy knows what he’s doing.  When the friend didn’t dip it, the DB corrected him quickly, then commented, almost rhythmically, on the process “Dip it, dip it….now soak it, soak it!”  It was kind of creepy.

I wouldn’t be telling you this had I just eavesdropped on their conversation*, but the guy was LOUD about it.  He wanted people to know he was a sushi expert.  When the food came out at first he told his friends “This is the gold plate, this is where the money sushi is at.”  Apparently that was the plate where all the good sushi was placed.

Having my camera with me, I did go as far as recording a video of the very end of their dining experience.  I’m not sure this is 100% accurate, but this is what I got as far as a script:

DB: Not on it!

Male: [moves pickled ginger off the sushi]

DB: Dude don’t, it’s still tainted.  Ginger [garbled].  Get it off the sushi.  Ohh my god.

Male: [Walks away]

I’m not sure if he walked away in frustration at this point or not, but he did walk away leaving the sushi that he was going for untouched.  I probably would have too.

[MEDIA=7]

*OK, I probably would still tell you.

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Chris-chain

January 3rd, 2008 No comments

I’m normally against restaurant chains.  In fact, I’m normally vehemently aginst restuarant chains.  When I travel for work my rule is that I don’t eat at a chain unless I’ve never eaten there before.  Despite having been there twice before, I put that rule aside last week and went to Ruth’s Chris in Middleton with my parents.

The steakhouse opened up a few months amongst the strip of other restaurants just outside of Greenway station.  From outside, it’s really nothing special.  From inside, I do have to say the decor is amazing.  It’s one of the better decorated establishments I’ve been to, and that says a lot.  The service, for the most part, was spot-on (I was walked to the bathroom instead of being pointed to it), and the food was as good as expected.

We split an order of crab cakes as an appetizer.  The crab cakes were more scoops of lump crab meet loosely mixed together with some breadcrumbs and vegetables.  It emphasized the taste of the crab by not filling your mouth with a ton of breading.  They were very good, but could have been a bit warmer in the middle.

I got the petite filet, with petite being an understatement.  The thing was huge.  Since I’d had it a few times before, I decided to get it bleu cheese-crusted this time.  The cheese was gooey, and somewhat tart, but not exactly as I’d expect it to be.  The flavor could have been a bit more pungent for my taste.

Ross and my mother each got the petite filet and shrimp.  Their steaks were cut into two filets, and the shrimp was set in a ring on top of the filets.  In fact, what looked like two very large shrimp on top were actually six shrimp.  My dad had a huge t-bone and managed to finish all of it.  Sides were a hash browns (a huge plate), mashed potatoes, and apsaragus.

 At some point in the meal my dad asked for another drink.  The waiter went away, seemingly to enter the order.  After 15 minutes had passed, we asked what was going on.  The waiter responded that the bar was backed up, but he’d go and check on it right away to make sure it was still coming.  Another ten minutes later the water was back, this time with a drink.  He comped it, but really who would pay for a drink that took 25 minutes to be delivered anyway?

Desserts were good, but not outstanding.  We got an apple tart and bread pudding.  As far as bread puddings go, this one wasn’t as spicy/savory as others I’ve had, but still stood out as one of the best I’ve tasted.

We had originally planned to go to Smoky’s for dinner, but found out the day before that they were closed for the holidays.  Why they’d close for one of the busier times of the year I’m not sure, but I guess it’s them missing out on the business, not me.  That aside, we ended up at Ruth’s Chris, and after expecting the normal chain experience, I can say I’m pleasantly surprised by what I’d got and I’d recommend that anyone in Madison looking for a good steak go and try it.

Note I said try it, not go there regularly.  My rule for chains is go once to new ones, but don’t bother going back unless you have to.

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Blue != Silver spoon

January 1st, 2008 2 comments

I ate at Cuvler’s attempt at mid-range, non-fastfood dining last night.  My last out-to-eat meal of the year.  It was OK, but not great.  They call it the Blue Spoon Cafe, and it’s located on Parementer Street in Middleton.

 

The location is in a strip mall, next to Cousin’s subs, Carr Valley Cheese and some other random things.  It’s a corner store, so I guess it stands out.  It has an upstairs area as well, but I’m not sure if it’s dining or just sitting space for those getting counter-served items from downstairs.  The menu ranges from pizza to sandwiches, with a few things being listed as “classics,” despite the restaurant opening within the past year.

Ross had the prosciutto “Euro sandwich,” which had good, crusty bread, so-so pesto sauce, and run-of-the-mill prosciutto.  I had the prosciutto pizza (I’m not sure why, but prosciutto was the theme for us that night), with marinated artichokes and a tomato sauce.  The sauce and cheese were actually quite good, but the prosciutto was somewhat boring, and the artichoke smelled like fish.  To top it off, the pizza was doused with some olive oil, making it a bit too oily.

The food wasn’t miserable, and I don’t feel cheated out of money, but I can’t say I’ll be hankering to go back any time soon.   My main interest was to see what sort of market they were after, and it seems to me like they’re after people who eat fast food most of the time who are looking for a “nice” meal out.  It lands somewhere between Denny’s and Peppermill Grill (blech).

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Oyster Bar

December 20th, 2007 No comments

In my continuing adventures of single-dining, I ate at Oyster Bar tonight at Grand Central Station.  It’s another place that I’ve always wanted to go to, and now I finally have.

I wouldn’t call it an amazing meal by any means, but I would say that it’s a great place to go for oysters, or if you’re forced to eat alone.  There are numerous “counters” resembling soda fountain or diner counters, as well as a regular bar-style seating area near the oyster shuckers.  I sat in the latter area between an out of town couple and some sort of elitist old couple from the area.  The older lady next to me was nice, but was wearing an incredible amount of jewelry and mentioned a few times how she had my beer somewhere on the lower east side recently.

Where I sat, you’re served by combination bus boy, waiter, servers who scurry around without stopping.  It’s the diner’s job to get their attention, because if you don’t actively seek it, they won’t give it.  Once I finally got someone to serve me, I ordered a glass of Chimay White, which, at $10, is apparently served in a few places.  It was ale-ish, with just the right amount of hoppiness and served very cold.  I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

To go with it, I got a bowl of clam chowder, and initially ordered the oyster sampler.  I was immediately told the sampler’s selections were tiny and didn’t look good tongiht.  The waiter offered to pick his own selection of oysters instead.  I obliged.

The clam chowder was nothing stand out at all.  It was certainly better than Campbell’s, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was any better than the stuff most restaurants serve that likely comes from big tubs made by Sysco.  There weren’t many clam pieces in it, but at least the ones that were there weren’t rubbery.

I really enjoyed the oysters.  My selection included two of each of the following four kinds: Bras d’Or (bruh-door), Chincoteague, Totten Virginica, Sunset Beach.  The Bras d’Or were probably the best (closest to the oreground in the pic below), followed by the Tottens, Chincoteagues and the Sunset Beachs.  The Tottens were huge, while the Bras d’Or were on the smaller side.  Usually I’m more of a quickly swallow it kind of guy when it comes to oysters, but each of these were chewable and tasty, where you didn’t want to rush it down.

I’m no oyster expert, but all of my oysters were still attached to the shell when given to me.  I’m not sure if that’s appropriate or not, but it was somewhat of a nuisance having to loosen them on my own.  Also, there was a bit of shell in the brine, which I’ve heard is caused by poor shucking.

It wasn’t horribly busy when I got there at 6:00, but before I was even done paying someone was jumping into my seat.  All in all, I have a new standard for other oyster places to live up to now that I’ve been to the Oyster Bar.

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