Thursday, August 30, 2012

If you want a very average restaurant, go to...

Go to Lola..  My wife and I went to Lola's for the $25 meals for the Dining Downtown event.  It was a good thing too, because after our experience at Lola's., we will not be going back.  It wasn't terrible and nothing we had caught on fire or we didn't get hurt, but the restaurant left us asking so many questions.  We had more questions without answers than the end of the first half of Season 6 of Doctor Who.  A quick summary of things and issues?  Okay.  The wait staff, cooks, dishwashers and buss-boys all had the same uniform or dress code: which was none.  The restaurant was divided into 3 sections, blue, wooden and bar.  The food was average.  The wait staff was forgetting and everything was merely okay.

The deal going on at this time was great because for just $25 a piece, my wife and I could both enjoy the food without paying full price; which would have been about $27 for me and about $34 for my wife.  So, every bit helps.

First, let's talk about the restaurant.  It had their grand opening on January 9, 2010.  This makes it a very young restaurant, in terms of restaurants.  So, it is almost 3 years old.  It is amazing how it lasted this long unless...oh yeah, I forgot.  The issue with St. Louis is that most people have never had really good food so we are complacent with the mediocre.  I'm not harping at other people, here.  I grew up thinking that fish sticks really were real fish where the tail and fins and head were removed.  I worked at Old County Buffet/Home Town Buffet and thought that the new items that they introduced every few months were incredible. I thought that the mediocre was good.  Until I opened up.  St. Louis has a lot of greats, but not everything in St. Louis is great.

Back to Lola.. The inside of the bar, where we had our 7:15 reservation, was dark.  There was a stage set-up with DJ equipment, LCD screens behind this near the ceiling, and some of those artsy lights, hanging above the concrete bar top.  Two little one-person bathrooms were squished against the wall, where you could go out to a small patio space and smoke, with the rest of the wait staff and dishwashers. There was almost no decoration on the walls.  There was a large Mardi Gras style mask next to the bar and their black drink menu, covering the whole wall behind the bar, with their signature blue and white lettering, added to the colors of this space. I didn't know what to think.  There was a large square "table tent" on our table, where we could spin it and see who was performing or what the specials were, a large glass bottle of water with a "360" on it, and a small votive candle.  It was as if someone was trying for a Mardi Gras atmosphere and then gave up and just went for the "romantic" idea, with the little candle and then gave up on that too.  Oh yeah, it was dark as well.  Dark enough that even though it was raining at this time, at 7:20pm, my camera needed its flash in order to take any photos of the food.

The next part of the restaurant, which was behind us and up two steps, was what I call the wooden room.  It probably was about 16 by 16 square and with a 15 or 16 foot ceiling.  At the top, you could see 4, four, tiny red light bulbs, which added some color to the room and hardly any light.  There was three 2-tops on one side of the room and a 4-top and a 2-top on the other side, allowing a walk-way for people to get to either the bar area or the blue room.  Now, I went on their website and found a picture of an unknown guy, posing in this middle wooden room.
Until today, until now, I thought the walls behind him were brown.  This room is never lit or wasn't Saturday night and the walls, under no light except the little red ones, appeared to be brown.  I actually think this is a different room, but its not.

The blue room, took up the rest of the restaurant and had pictures and paintings on the wall, as well as many windows, and lights.  It was a difference between night and day where we were sitting in night and that side of the restaurant was day.

Now, the staff.  I recognized the manager only because he was wearing a white and red, plaid, collared shirt.  Our waiter, John, was wearing a black hoodie, black jeans and brown shoes.  We saw another server, with tattoos on his arms, walking around with black dress pants and a black button down shirt.  The buss-boys had black shirts and pants, the cooks had black shirts and pants and even the dishwasher that came out of the back, walked into the bar and stared at the TV showing a Rams game, was wearing a black shirt and black pants.  There was one waiter, wearing a grey shirt with a design on it.  The bartender at the time, was a woman wearing a grey shirt as well.  If black was the uniform or black or gray, I find it strange that they were not asked to stay within the bounds of the same type of clothing.  Perhaps have the back of the house staff all wear black tshirts and pants and have the front wear grey or something like that.  Now, while this is starting to seem a bit confused and unorganized, wait to you read about this.  Another bartender came in.  So, I'm looking around at my surroundings, which I try to be aware of at all times, and I see this tall, blonde woman walk in, wearing red high heels and a black and white polka-dot dress.  I think that she fits in, if this was a pinup bar or something.  My wife and I both see her walk in and towards the bar.  Then something strange happens, she goes behind the bar and clocks in.  She was a bartender.  This is strange, you can't have a restaurant where it looks like people don't follow a dress code.

Now to the food.  The deal was that we had a selection of food to pick from.  We were given the choice of one starter, one entre' and then one dessert item, all for $25.  My wife ordered an ice tea for $1.59 and I ordered a Stella Artois for $5.  (It seems a bit much for the beer considering that it is a domestic, or maybe AB is an import...)  So, My wife gets the House Salad, the Salmon St. Charles and the bread pudding with rum sauce.  I order the Creole Chicken Wings, the Chicken and Waffles and two scoops of some brown sugar and whiskey ice cream.

The chicken wings were okay.  They were not overly spicy like hot wings or buffalo wings.  They were good as they were also cooked perfectly and the skin on the outside was a bit crispy.  They wee just not something with a lot of "oomph".  It seemed that when they were first made, everyone said they were good and the chef was okay with them being good, not great or incredible.  They were good and I had 7 of these big things on my plate.  I liked them, and would pay the full price for them, the $8 as shown on their regular menu.  But, would I really even come back?  They were good, just good or average, which is a 3 out of 5 stars in my book.  If someone asked me where to get good wings, I'd recommend Lola.  But the wings and the sauce was no better than say... Buffalo Wild Wings.

So, it is the first time that I have ordered Chicken and Waffles at a restaurant.  Really.  I love fried chicken and I love waffles so much that I make my own at home.  Maybe because I know a think or two about chicken and waffles is why this didn't go over too well with me.  I will say that the waffles were done perfectly.  They were light and fluffy, probably to begin with.  Then it looks like someone drenched them in butter, honey and maple syrup; which again, is good.  Then came the chicken, on top, which was a battered and fried chicken breast.  To quote Robert Irvine, "It wasn't seasoned."  A little salt or pepper goes a long way and I don't recall tasting anything but chicken.  No salt, no spices, just sweetness, as if they used honey in a glaze on the chicken after they pulled it from the fryer.  Then, the sprinkles some chopped scallions on top.  So, here is how it went for me.  I take a bite of chicken, and get a sweetness with the savory chicken and then tart chopped onions on top.  Not a good taste in my mouth.  I then take a bit of syrup drenched waffle and get dry waffle with tartness from the scallions on this as well.  It just didn't seem to add up.  I give this one a 3, maybe even a 2.5 out of 5.

So, I finish with a scoop or two of whiskey and brown sugar ice cream.  This item isn't even on the normal menu.  The first bite was good, the second bite was good and the third bite was good.  You could taste the sweetness and creamy-ness and it reminded me of a brown sugar cookie.  The fourth bite, is when the whiskey started to kick in and every bite after that became more and more sour.  It was okay, average, and frankly: I could have made a better flavor in my home.  I gave it a 2.5 out of 5.

So, my wife let me try her food as well.  The salad was okay, but had too much dressing.

  The salmon was cooked properly, but there was so much butter or fat in the sauce and the wild rice mixture was under seasoned.  Lastly, the vegetable du jour, which came with her salmon dish, was two (2) pieces of asparagus.

  Then her dessert?  The bread pudding with the rum sauce?  Well, the piece they gave us was burnt.  Yep, burnt on all sides, as if they took a piece out of the chiller, popped it into an oven and let it sit too long.

We actually cut away the burnt parts to get to the inside and even then, it was just good, but not super.  My wife, whom is on a diet right now, mentioned that the food, overall is good, but she would not waste the points coming here again.  I agree.  I think if they had a uniform, turned some lights on, had a coherent decor and had better food, yes, I'd come back here. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Giant Hornet Amino Acids?

Ok, I tried a new energy drink today called "KLR BZ".  It is a joke.  It is the "Livid" flavor and has a secret ingredient.  It is so secret that when Monster tried to make anything similar, there was a lawsuit.  This ingredient is called "GHAA" or "Giant Hornet Amino Acids".  As explained by such accurate throngs of information and truth, such as wikipedia: , the Asian Giant Hornet is about 2 inches long with a 3 inch wingspan.  The stinger on this bad-boy is almost a quarter of an inch long!

So, the idea is based on reality.  The giant hornets can not digest proteins.  So, if they kill a smaller insect, they chew up the insect into a paste.  They then feed the paste to their larvae, who then create a liquid for the adults to eat.  This liquid, is a clear mixture of essential amino acids for the adult hornet.  Someone had the bright idea of figuring out what these amino acids could be and then artificially creating this mixture, thinking that it would have super effects on humans.  There are claims that this liquid mixture of amino acids does create stimulating effects in the adult hornet and while some level of increase stimulation is true, it doesn't make the imbiber able to leap from tall buildings or run faster than a speeding bullet.

So, what is in this, exactly?  Well, the normal stuff for an energy drink, except they list these Giant Hornet Amino Acids as "GHAA".  Its funny because that acronym looks like something Arnold should be saying in a random action movie.  The only other thing that had me looking up was Cyancobalamin.  That is basically a generic name for Vitamin B12.

What does it taste like?  Grape soda.  Is it good?  Yeah, I like grape soda.  Do I want to try the others?  Yes.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe

This was funny, because my wife and kids were originally sitting in the shade at a nice table in Kirkwood, with the intention of going into Kaldi's and picking some great tasting food.  I hear that the food is great and while I only have tried a scone and some cookies, I was eager to try some more umami-related food.  I was not initially impressed with their menu.  Nothing against Kaldi's, really.  But when I was looking for something  more than just a veggie burger or spinach turkey sandwich.

So, I went to Pickleman's, next door.  I liked the way it looked on the inside and found myself ordering some addictively good sandwiches for my sons: the Pizza Guy.  The Pizza Guy is a sandwich where it has tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni on a bread that is then rolled through the oven.  Not only does it look like someone folded over a a pizza slice, but it tastes, just like pizza.  An awesome 3 out of 5 for me.

I looked around and wanted to have an adventure.  I decided to get me one of their inventions.  I chose the Pickleman's Italian Club, minus the cheese.  I loved it, it was delicious and a good sized sandwich.

This was a really good sandwich.  I would recommend this in an instant.  An easy 4 out of 5 for me.

So, there you have it.  If you are in Kirkwood and looking for a good meal, go to Pickleman's.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good coffee and good cookies

I'm talking about Kaldi's coffee shop.  Now, this weekend was the first time my wife and I stepped foot in a Kaldi's.  I don't know why we haven't visited one before, other than the fact that we don't actively drive around looking for them.  There are only 5 of these shop open right now in St. Louis and it was invented in St. Louis.  Kaldi's started in 1995 when they bought their first roaster and started to sell, what is noted now, as one of the best coffees in America.  The Kaldi's company strives for green, organic, fair trade and even  Kosher.

As I said, the Kirkwood location has been there since 2005 and we don't go to Kirkwood much, mainly because there is no use when all of the shops close by 4 or 5 pm.  So, when we did get there, this past Sunday, we took a few minutes to eat some cookies, drink a coffee and then take in the quiet and peacefulness of Kirkwood.

What did we get?  Well, my wife assures me that the coffee was really good.  So, there is a plus.  As for their baked goods, which always grab my attention, take a look:

The dark chocolate dipped coconut macaroon cookie was great.

The cranberry scone with lemon icing was really good and moist.  It was even better because the cranberries were not tart like they typically are.

The blue sprinkle-covered sugar cookie was equally as awesome.  I tried 3 of their baked goods and was happy.

So, what does this mean?  It means that I'm going back soon to Kaldi's to try more things from their menu, and you should too.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The best of Bravo!

Last Saturday night, my wife and I joined some friends for a night out.  We went, to Bravo, in West County, and was a time to erase all previous visit experiences.  There was a lot of different variables this time, that may have helped make the whole event better than previous ones.  First of all, it was in the evening, it was a nice night, and we had outdoor seating.  Then a few minutes after being sat, the Manager, Dan, came by and introduced himself to us.  That is a first and marks a great restaurant knowing that the Manager cares about the customers enough to at least say "hi" or introduce himself.  When I worked at Buffets Inc, so long ago, one of the rules we had as a Manager was called "The 6 foot rule."  The idea behind this rule, was that if you are within 6 feet of someone, say "hi" or ask "how are you today?"  It wasn't a big deal, but just having a Manager talk to you at least once shows that if you did need anything, he would help out.

So, as we were starting to look the menu over, we had perhaps the most knowledgeable and friendly waitress watching our table.  She was very friendly, gave us her favorite items on the menu, mentioned that she had just about tried everything on it and was overall, the kind of service that you expect in a super and expensive dining setting.

So, a sign of a great service staff is how far they are willing to go to help someone.  In this case, my wife didn't know which type of wine to get, so the waitress brought out 4 samples.

After we had made our selections, we ordered an appetizer: fried calamari.
They were good and soft, not too chewy like they are most of the time.  The spicy white sauce went well with them.  I'd give them a 3 out of 5.

I ordered the

Chicken Fra Diavolo Campanelle

Sauteed shrimp or chicken tossed in a spicy tomato cream sauce with bell shaped campanelle pasta.

Sounds good, right?  It was very good, no problems with anything on the dish at all, an easy 4 out of 5 stars.

My wife ordered the 

Citrus Crusted Grilled Mahi Mahi*

Topped with a zesty citrus crust served with sauteed fresh vegetables, farro, orzo and lemon butter sauce.

Now, to be fair, my wife did say that it was cooked perfectly and had great flavor, but only wished that it had more citrus flavor to it.  She gave it a 3 out of 5.

Here is the thing, the amount of kindness and expertness that we had at this dinner, made up and made us forget about past visits.  From the moment we walked in, there was nothing but attention on us, and the other customers.  I don't really don't know what else to add here, everything about this visit to Bravo was great.  No complaints.  Now, I would recommend that anyone in the area, go there some night when you want a nice and quiet meal on a nice evening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago....

About 2 weeks ago, we drove up to Chicago, for business.  But, we couldn't just eat anywhere.  No!  We had to eat at some fun places.

This was the 8 pound burger at Jake Melnick's.  It was a weird night.  We walked in, 7 or 8 of us and asked for one of the open tables.  The hostess told us that all of the open tables were reserved and had people already there.  We stood and waited and waited and no one showed up at those tables.  I confronted the hostess and found out that the kitchen was short-handed so instead of just telling everyone that food was going to take a while or call in another cook, they decided to pretend that there were people sitting at some tables, so they wouldn't get real people in and ordering.  The absolute stupidest thing I had ever heard of and I had to tell everyone.  Their only savings grace, was their 8 pound burger which 3 grown men, 2 grown women and two kids ate for the night and we still had more than half to take home with us.

The burger was a cheeseburger and really wasn't that good, at least I didn't think so.  I'd give the service and the food at Jake's a 3 out of 5.  In fact, had I not asked the hostess about the invisible, imaginary people at the tables, we would have left.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to Bravo, number 4

After 3 trips to Bravo, from my family, I was contacted by the manager.  She seemed upset that we had a bad experience and like any good company which prides itself on great food and service, she apologized.  Furthermore, she invited me back for a meal.  Now I know that this is most likely an attempt to do-over my meal, I will review and explain everything that takes place as well. 

To sum-up:

The first trip was just my wife and I.  We had a server who was not only very friendly, but very knowledgeable.  We had no issues at all and because of that first visit, we deemed Bravo a very fun and cool place. 

The second trip, my wife and I had our two kids and a stroller.  Not only did the server not know how to deal with the kids, but she also spilled a drink, a soda, all over the stroller and my seat.  I remember cleaning up soda and ice for most of the meal.  By then, I really didn't feel like eating because when the kids don't get occupied with their meals, they get bored.

This last time, the third time, was an issue where the sever did get the food for my two sons and was friendly, but seemed more interested in the large party next to us and chatting with the bartender near the bar.  It was so bad that I actually had to wave down the hostess and ask her to get our server.  I remember watching her walk up to the server, still at the bar on the other side of the restaurant, and tell him that we were waiting and ready.  I remember him looking back at us, at our table, and then going back to chatting with the bartender.  I hope he got her number, because he seemed more interested in chatting with her than dealing with us.  As if that wasn't enough, when he came back, he didn't apologize.  He acted like it was our issue "Are you guys ready to order now?"  Of course we were ready!  We were ready 15 minutes ago, when you walked by our table.

Anyways, that is where we are at now.  Two bad times out of three.  So, let's hope that this Saturday will change the ratio and give me some faith to put back into this restaurant.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This tastes just like girl scouts...

Cookies, that is.  This tastes just like girl scout cookies.  I'm a sucker for girl scout cookies and they are my weakness.  I have seen copycat recipes online, tried them, and had to eat the failed result of a cookie.  Nestle, did something evil, they made candy bars with cookie themes.

Ok, first off, the "Caramel & Coconut" cookie, taste just like the "samosa" cookies.  Everything tastes exactly, EXACTLY, the same.  The "Caramel & Coconut" bar was by far my favorite.  (I actually purchased and ate two of them)

The next one was the "Peanut Butter Creme", which tasted just like the Do-Si-Dos™.  I love me some peanut butter.

The last one was the "thin mints" and unlike the other two cookie inspired bares, in this one, they just called it Thin Mints.  This was actually easy to do because the other two cookie names are trademarked and they couldn't trademark the name "thin mints", likely because it was too generic.

So, anyone reading this and anyone that loves girl scout cookies, I highly suggest getting these Nestle Crunch bars.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sexual preference versus chicken

It is in the news so I have to post it.  I am not guy but I support gay rights and everyone's rights.  On the one side, it doesn't make sense and on the other it does.  To sum up: Chick-fil-a stated an opinion that it thinks that marriage should be between a man and woman and does not support or wish to support gay people at all.  The company says that it is based on biblical values, which makes me think that they should turn their competitors into pillars of salt.

I know it is a political upheaval especially in these times when it really is a war against a 1% who wants a free world versus the 99% who just wants more money to line their money.

So, I have seen some people get a bit carried away by this.  I saw a post on facebook about someone taking a picture, of tow people who took a photo with their phone of them smiling at Chick-fil-a.  Well, that person then commented on how anti-gay those people were.  Then this person carried on about how anti-gay Coca Cola must be because they serve their drinks at Chick-fil-a, how anti-gay microsoft or google must be because it was likely their software on the phone which allowed the photo to take place.  I think that is pushing it a bit far.  Coca Cola is just in it for the money.  They remind me of the Vogon Construction Fleet from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.  Whereas the Vogons wouldn't save their own mother from being eaten by a monster without the proper paperwork, I'm sure members of Coca cola would happily sell their own mother for more bank.

But what about the photo and the camera?  It is reaching too, too far.  Microsoft is responsible for about 85% of the computers out there.  Most programmers who write viruses that do damage to people's computers, most likely use Microsoft products to do so.  Does this mean that it is Microsoft's problem and fault?  No, those computers are tools.  When a person shoots someone, is it the person's fault or the gun?

Does the makers of the gun get fined as well?

So, this all comes down to people not eating at the Chick-fil-a's because they do not support guys, right?  Well, here is the thing, it will never work.  Not in our society.  When you do not support those restaurants, people lose their jobs, restaurants close and the community breaks down.  There is no real way to make it hurt for those who are doing the wrong-doings.  They still make money in other ways.

When BP spilled gallon upon gallon of oil in the Gulf, everyone was talking about staging boycotts of all of the BP stations.  The problems were, that these stations were owned and operated by people in the community.  So, by not going to one long enough, it closes, and then people have to drive further for gas and that puts about 10-15 people out of work.  What will happen, I'm using my seeing into the future powers now, but what will happen is that people will boycott these restaurants and one of them will have to close.  One of these restaurants will have to close and it will make the news, because Chick-fil-a is in the middle of the thick right now.  So, everyone who is for equal rights and so forth will celebrate and crown this as a victory against an "evil company", right? But, that Chick-fil-a will put people out of work.  Are you so blind-sighted by getting your thoughts and ideals pushed onto other people and businesses that you are completely okay with 20 people losing their job just so something can seem better, in your heart?  Closing down one restaurant is not going to change their stance on things. In fact, they claim that they are Christians and if that is the case, they likely would not change their minds about gay people even if they had no restaurants left.  So, go ahead and do whatever you want.  I may support gay and LGBT and equal rights for all, but I also support the right for people to have a job and feed their families.

What I think is funny here, is not only are there gay people who work at Chick-fil-a, and that these people are mad that the company they work for is anti-gay, but what is ironic is that these people still want a paycheck.  As of April of this year, Chick-fil-a owns 1,614 restaurants.  If there are also 394 people running corporate jobs and you guess that maybe 20 people per restaurant, that means that about 32,000 people depend on Chick-fil-a.  Now, are all of these people anti-gay?  I don't know.  But what I do want to know is this: which is better for the world: knowing that a company will change their thoughts and stay out of politics allowing gay marriage and rights or putting 32,000 people on the street?  I think we are going about the wrong way to get a point across.