Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro is part of the pb&j restaurant group which also owns Coyote Grill and the Burnt End BBQ. I’ve eaten at a Coyote Grill while living in the West Coast, but I’m not entirely sure they are the same thing.

My wife ordered the Seared Scallops with a crab-saffron orzo. I was (and still am) incredibly weary off ordering scallops in the Midwest because 1) the serving size is usually nothing and 2) the quality is usually sketchy. I was actually impressed by this dish and found the scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned. They covered this meal with a lemon butter and orange gastrique. I felt this was unnecessary given the sweetness of the scallops and crab, but my wife enjoyed it. I was unimpressed that they did not trim the ends of the green beans and placed large hunks of red pepper into the orzo.

We were visiting friends in Kansas City and one of them ordered the Short Rib Wellington with whipped potatoes and glazed carrots. I wasn’t entirely sure how short ribs would hold up inside a wellington, but it actually worked pretty well. The short rib inside was falling apart and expertly covered with a mushroom duxelle. Being in cattle country, it’s no surprise that the short ribs were delicious. You could make these potatoes at home if you wanted, but they were delicious and perfectly creamy. The carrots were a little undercooked for my preference.

Our other friend ordered the lamb chops. These came perfectly medium rare and served with a puree of locally sourced winter squash, green beans, and spiced with traditional moroccan spices. I detected some ginger and turmeric and boatloads of cinnamon and pepper. I thought this whole dish was fantastic and worked well together. The squash acted as a sauce of the lamb.

If however, you’re looking at the menu and can’t decide between their speciality entrees, Yia Yia’s has a unique option. I ordered a Duet in which I could pick any two entrees and they would give me a “half” portion of each on the same plate. I want to mention first that this is not a half portion. You’ll notice there are three lamb chops above, and only one below. Although I appreciate what they are doing here, I wish my server would have just been honest and told me my portion sizes would be a little less than half of each entree. That said, I would stay away from any Duet combination you have a hankering for. You’ll wind up spending more money and getting less food.

This was our last dinner in Kansas City, so we went all out any finished our dinner the American way – with large quantities of delicious sweetness. On the left is a Lemon Bomb topped with white chocolate and served with what I believe is a raspberry coulis. I love lemon curd and this dessert was absolutely delicious, but I did find the curd itself a little tart. On the right is a chocolate brownie wrapped in phyllo dough and served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. When crunched into, we discovered that the brownie had melted into gooey chocolate goodness. This was a little difficult to eat, but still a good pick if you like really sweet dessert.

A meal can never be bad when you have good company, and this meal was eaten with the best. Even though this is a chain and the ambiance is devoid of any unique personality, I still enjoyed this meal and wouldn’t say no to an offer to return. If you have a Yia Yia’s Euro Bistro in your neighborhood, treat yourself to a good meal.

Advertisements

While watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, I was entranced by Guy Fieri’s showcase of The Brick, a dive in downtown Kansas City, MO. I don’t normally like Guy Fieri’s cooking, but he has such a big personality that its hard not to get excited at places he raves about. Since I was in Kansas City anyways, we decided that The Brick would make an excellent stop for lunch the next day.

When I first pulled up, I wasn’t entirely sure The Brick was open. There was nothing else around the restaurant except for industrial style buildings. There were very few cars parked in the area, and a whole row of “back in only” parking spots were abandoned. The Brick isn’t campy enough to have a neon OPEN sign, but they did place a chalkboard outside their door indicating todays specials. Given the location, I got the impression that this place survives on its reputation, word of mouth, and nightly entertainment scene.

The inside of the brick is classic Dive – but really cute. Much of the accent lighting is accomplished by twinkling Christmas lights. The artwork on the walls is changed monthly to allow for local artists and photographers to showcase their stuff. Some of the ceiling tiles have been painted to celebrate the Boulevard brewing company (a Kansas City staple). I noticed a bunch of signatures and initials carved onto the walls from years of patrons.

And then there is the stage.

The stage is quite impressive and looks almost out of place. The sound equipment is top notch and I felt that at night, this place is really the place to be. The Brick hosts live entertainment at night from jazz to blues to rock. With its small-ish capacity, The Brick is a prime location for live entertainment in an intimate setting.

We couldn’t help but order the Fried Ravioli to begin our meal. I was pretty disappointed at the quantity of fried ravioli delivered to our table. I felt there was enough for one person, maybe enough for an amuse buche for two people, but for the price, there just simply wasn’t enough cheese filled ravioli.

Meet the Oklahoma. The Oklahoma is a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, and then deep fried in a beer batter. It is happily dressed with yellow mustard, scallions, and raw red onion for a little bite. I ordered mine with tater tots because let’s face it, in the world of fried potato products, we all have some kind of fond school cafeteria memories of tater tots. Even though I figured my stomach would react with mighty anger, this is the entire reason I came here and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity (my stomach was fine afterwards).

My wife ordered the Apple-Brie grilled cheese sandwich (also with tots). It came served on a beautiful marble rye grilled to perfection. The Brick has a trick up it’s sleeve to amplify the flavor by coating the inside of the sandwich with apple butter. The result is a creamy, buttery apple flavored sandwich – more like dessert than lunch food. But really, who hasn’t ever considered eating dessert for lunch?

Our eating companion ordered the Grilled Cheese with sweet potato fries. She did admit to us that the Apple Brie was better, but she was still happy with her choice of fried potato product. I think sweet potato fries are heavily under rated. they are more full of flavor, pair better with mild seasoning, and have a vivid orange color that is pleasing to the eye.

This place is a diet buster and then some. There is nothing redeeming on the menu except for a few salads, but why would you come to The Brick and order just a salad. I did order a Greek Salad just to get some kind of greens for my lunch, but this can best be described as a dive salad. I won’t fault The Brick for it because again, why would a place like this serve amazing salads? This place is definitely worth checking out. If you have a night free, I have a feeling this place is a blast. Reasonably priced and good, quality bar food make The Brick a win in my book.

Below is a picture of the outside of Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue located at 3002 W 47th St. (the corner of 47th St. and Mission Rd.) in Kansas City, Kansas. This is like any of those places you’ve probably walked or driven past a bazillion times and just expect it to be mediocre, so you never bother to walk in. Perhaps that it’s a restaurant attached to a gas station might turn you off too.

Yup. A gas station.

In fact, when you walk in, you can head left to pay for a fill up or right to order some ribs.

This is a concept I can get into.

Normally I wouldn’t take a picture of a door, but I do so for two reasons. 1) They are closed on Sunday. So if you’re planning a weekend in KC, take note. 2) Don’t let those closing times fool you. I was informed that Oklahoma Joe’s closes when the food runs out. If you get there for dinner, there is no guarantee they will have the cut of meat you want or even be open at all. I’ve also been told that there is usually a line out of the door during nicer weather days (and sometimes during snow storms) and you wait sometimes up to 1 – 2 hours to place your order.

Even where you order is a reminder that you are not here for service. Below is a picture of the whole operation. One guy takes the order, four other people put the plates together, and there is one other guy (the guy with the goatee) – his job is to butter bread and toast it.

That’s all he did the whole time I was waiting in line. Amazing.

Behind those blue and yellow signs lies the kitchen. There is one pass through window and I didn’t really get to see much of the operation. I would imagine they do the majority of their cooking overnight (low and slow) and pass through food only to restock the station.

I ordered the rib and brisket dinner. It comes with three large ribs, a side of brisket, Texas toast, pickles, and a side – I chose the potato salad. I want to draw your eye for a second to the size of these ribs. What on earth are they feeding these pigs? The color is perfect and that blackened part tasted nothing like char. These ribs are completely delectable and fell right off the bone. There was no fat or grease, just clean smoked flavor. The brisket is also a thing of beauty. Those ribbons pull apart easily and melted in my mouth like butter.

My wife opted for much of the same. Instead of brisket, she asked for the pulled pork instead. You can see that they put very little sauce on the pork itself and I imagine this is so purists can enjoy the meat flavor and everyone else can douse their pork with as much sauce as they would like. The pulled pork was delicious, melt in your mouth goodness. There was no fat or gristle left and I found that I preferred the big chunks of meat to what the shredded, stringy version I’ve had in the past. The cole slaw (barely visible bottom right) was pretty basic and nothing to write home about. The dressing had already melted a bit indicating this cup had been sitting there for at least two or three hours.

Oklahoma Joe’s is a win in every standpoint. It serves delicious food. It’s not pretentious. It’s affordable. And the locals love it.

Even if I didn’t have great friends to visit in Kansas City, I’d be looking forward to going back just for another plate of Kansas City barbecue.

Sunset Grill is a newer establishment in the Overland Park area. It is nestled away inside a shopping complex and just another place you might drive past without giving it a second thought. Luckily, I was taken here for lunch to start my Kansas City vacation, and I was quite pleased with the quality of what can best be described as diner food.

The menu (seen left) best exemplifies the decor and feel of the restaurant. It is designed to mimic that of a beach side eatery where people in suits sit alongside beauties in bikinis.

Endless baskets of chips and salsa may seem like a good idea, but this is potentially a dangerous notion. For $3.50, your table can enjoy a large basket of freshly fried chips and salsa. Although I have a feeling that the salsa could not have been made fresh, it was crazy delicious and did not taste like just any jarred or canned salsa. Each basket was replaced quickly by our server without asking. This is the kind of service you’re bound to get at a high quality local eatery that makes every effort to keep its guests.

I ordered the Turkey Melt with the optional onion ring upgrade. The Turkey Melt was exactly what I expected, no better nor worse than any other turkey melt I’ve had in the past. The bread was perfectly toasted without being too greasy. The onion rings, however, are something to write home about. They are enormous in size and covered with a fantastic breading that yields an extremely crispy ring.

My wife ordered the sandwich and salad combo picking the club sandwich and the chop salad. Sunset Grill makes all their salad dressings in house (which you can purchase a 14oz bottle of if you choose) and the chop salad was covered with a sweetened citrus dressing. The salad itself could have been an entire lunch portion. The club sandwich, much like the turkey melt, was a basic club sandwich, but still rather tasty. I did find the dressing a bit sweet for my taste and if I was to order this, I would order the dressing on the side.

Sunset Grill serves excellent diner style food with prompt, courteous service. If I were a local, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring anybody here that came to visit and would probably find myself at one of there booths most weekends. If you live in the area, you should consider heading over 14557 Metcalf Ave and give this restaurant a try.

Buffalo Joe’s is a staple of the downtown Evanston scene. Tucked in between boutiques, retail shops, and Northwestern University eateries, Buff Joe’s is by far one of the best wing places I have visited. However, when I first walked by, I imagined that this restaurant was no better than any other wing or pizza joint, which I think adds to its appeal.

Although Buff Joe’s does have burgers, baked potatoes, and hot dogs, I believe strongly that the only reason for this place to exist falls into line with my chicken at a steakhouse rule in that I could never imagine ordering anything except for the wings. I mean, come on, just have a look at the double order my wife and I split.

Sauce is every bit as important to a chicken wing and Buff Joe’s makes all their sauces in house. For those of you looking for a bit more spice, Buff Joe’s offers three varieties – Mild, Spicy, and Suicide. I went with the mild just to see and I was not disappointed. While there was heat, it did not overwhelm my senses and wasn’t unpleasant or painful like other hot wing sauces tend to be. The sauce is a bit thick allowing it to cling beautifully to the wings. I’m not ashamed to admit that I licked my fingers clean and not a bit of sauce left on my fingers was wiped away on napkin. That would just be a waste.

What impressed me most about the wings at Buff Joe’s is that the skin is incredibly crispy and does not become soggy after being tossed in the sauce – not even after 20 minutes. Our last wing was every bit as crispy and delicious as the first. For those of you that don’t eat wings often, this may not sound like much of a feat, but believe me, it is. I’ve eaten chicken wings in most corners of the United States, and too many fail to achieve a good level of crispiness without overcooking the meat, or slather on too much sauce leaving a sticky, soggy mess. Buff Joe’s has found the magic formula of proper heat and a high quality sauce.

My wife required me to order the waffle chips as an accompaniment to our meal. Apparently she wasn’t the only fan as several young men were ordering big bags of waffle fries with their party platters (it was Sunday and the Bears were playing). I’m confident that they do not make these fries in house, but Buff Joe’s has found a high quality product and cooks their waffle fries to be every bit as delicious and fluffy as the homemade version, complete with skin left on. I ordered mine doused with cheddar cheese, a decision I would take back as I believe the waffle fries are amazing on their own.

This is a must have for anyone looking for a hearty comfort food meal. I highly recommend that if you happen to be in the area taking in a movie at the Century Theatre, doing some shopping, or on the Northwestern campus, take some time to visit Buff Joe’s and see for yourself how good a chicken wing can be.

For my 30th birthday, I made only one simple request of my wife: Gastropub. The idea of the gastropub started in England in the second half of the 20th century and revitalized the concept of pub food. I love pub food, but find that many of my favorite watering holes pay careful attention to what’s coming out of the bar, but pay relatively little attention to what’s coming out the kitchen. The Gage is a prime example of what gastropubs can do in terms of quality libations alongside high quality pub food.

I started my dinner with a scotch egg. A scotch egg is a hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, breaded, and then deep fried. The Gage serves its scotch egg with whole grain mustard, a dab of an unknown sauce that I couldn’t identify, and a small handful of mixed greens. This was a nice dish, but I felt the flavor fell a little flat.

To start her meal, my wife ordered the House Poutine which is french fries smothered with an elk ragout and cheese curds. Of our two starters, she certainly picked our favorite. This in itself would be worth a trip back to The Gage.

Fearing for our stomachs, we decided to split an order of the soup and we are certainly glad we did. Below is a picture of the Roasted Corn Soup with aleppo peppers, shrimp, and a cilantro oil. The wait staff pours the hot soup into the bowl at table side making for a nice presentation. This is one of the best soups I have ever had in my life and while I could have eaten two or three servings, our one serving was enough for the two of us to share without feeling too stuffed.

I think the mark of a good gastropub is the ability to not only cook a good burger, but make it unique and memorable. Truth be told, I can still taste this burger if I concentrate hard enough. I ordered The Gage burger which is made from USDA Prime beef, and topped with a locally made camembert cheese and an onion marmalade. And best of all, you can’t see it, but this comes with a giant basket of thick cut french fries.

My wife loves risotto and took the opportunity to test The Gage’s cooks and see how good a gastropub chef can make a summertime risotto. The Gage rotates its risotto offerings based on the seasonal ingredients and on this particular day, they were serving an heirloom tomato and basil risotto. The consistency was creamy and rich without a single grain being overcooked. The chefs made this perfectly seasoned and at just the right temperature.

The Gage is one of the best restaurants I ever been too in terms of it’s high quality food, pleasant atmosphere, cleanliness, and promptness of service. Their drink menu is vast and carry a large selection of microbrews and serve all their wines in 8 oz carafes that are perfect for sharing. For all this food plus a couple of drinks, the bill still came in under $100 including standard gratuity. If you live in the Chicago area or plan to visit here in the future, I highly recommend you hit up this Michigan Ave establishment.