Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It is probably more obvious when traveling, but it is a truism of the restaurant business that a server has the ability to turn and ordinary meal into a wonderful experience and unfortunately visa-verse. On our 2200 mile jaunt last week this scenario played out. Our servers ran the gamut from excellent to a "basket case".
Here is a rundown on what we did since last posting at this location:
First stop, Tuesday a week ago, was Glencoe IL and an overnight visit with good friends, A light dinner at their house provided some excellent Gazpacho and Graeter's, the ice cream is our usual house present, if distance and time permits.
The next day, after a stop in Eau Clair WI to visit a young friend, who is expecting in Oct., we drove on to St. Cloud MN. Arriving around 7:30 PM we decided to try "Anton's" for our first Northland dinner. "Anton's" in Waite Park MN( is a early 1930 type resort road house filled with memento's and other items. Wooden chairs and tables, several rooms, and of course, being in MN a full bar. Our server Sarah made the evening. She was attractive, smart( a history major) and accommodating. The food was acceptable. Marilyn had a typical northern MN dinner, Walleye and outstanding wild rice while I opted for Shrimp and Red Pepper Pasta.
Next day, on to Bemidji MN where we meet our two eldest Granddaughters, who each had a young women friend it tow. Lunch at the "Green Mill", attached to the large well run Hampton Inn, was on the terrace overlooking Lake Bemidji. Again our server was first class although not quite as personable as Sarah the night before, but she had more tables to cover. The six of us shared a number of items from Thai Egg Rolls and Walleye Bites to salads, burgers, fries and soups.
The women spent the afternoon shopping and lounging in our huge room before we all headed to Walker MN and dinner at "The Boulders". "The Boulders" is a remarkable spot in a small resort town serving very good food in a sophisticated atmosphere. ( I really don't expect many of you, reading this, to follow in our footsteps but one never knows who and where things might be helpful in this mobile society.) After drinks I had the Caesar salad and then split sauteed Walleye, the best of the trip, and roasted Grouper with a Hollandaise sauce. Marilyn had the Walleye while others also chose the Grouper or Shrimp Linguine. The table ordered two desserts, warm bread pudding, a mix of white and chocolate and a Sunday, 2 large scoops of vanilla ice cream with fresh red raspberry's and chocolate sauce. If the winters were more mild we might move in.
Friday night was a "mad house" with 8 of us, all family members, of sorts, at the "White Birch Supper Club" in Solon Springs WI, a real bar and road house. It has become a family habit to eat there but maybe one we will break shortly. The evening started with the server spilling drinks on the table and chairs and even after a cleaning several sticky spots remained. I am going to skip food descriptions but it is enough to say that our group, age 13 to 80, ordered a variety ranging from fish to steak. The universally voted best item was a fresh salad bar, not large but plentiful. Afterward the younger members of the group topped of the evening at the Dairy Queen in Lake Nebagamon, WI.
We have become good friends with Pete Regas who runs a hot dog and Gyro stand at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. His cousin Gus Miller owns a hat shop in downtown Cincinnati. Lunch at Pete's location brought 4 of us excellent, large Gyro's with Pete's homemade tsatsiki sauce.
After an afternoon shopping and resting on the Duluth lake front we drove across the bridge to Superior WI and dinner at "Le Bistro" 1409 Hammond Ave. "La Bistro" is about as classy as one finds in Superior, but the dinner was a struggle because our server, above average age, was either nervous or "not with it". Food and beverages were acceptable, white fish broiled with pesto and lamb and venison chops in a wine reduction. We have been to "Le Bistro" before and enjoyed their food an service so this may have been an anomaly.
In this part of the world we often stop for lunch at "Culvers" which we find uniformly clean and well run with pleasant helpful crews. On this trip we ventured into at least 3 and were never disappointed. The outstanding operation was in Tomah WI.
Our last stop, Sunday night was in Champaign IL. Dinner at "Buttitta's Restorante" 1201 Neil St started on a high note with a very cordial greeting by the host and a promise of excellent food and service, Oh, that that had been the case. Our server, Jamie, a Sr. at IU was pleasant but not efficient. The meal started with excellent Fried Calamari, strips, done perfectly, in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by 3 different salad, Mixed, Romaine and Endive which were decent but not as good as the appetizer. The main course was a slight disappointment, Trisha, our Granddaughter, and I split Fruitti di Mare, pasta and a small amount of seafood in the same tomato sauce while Marilyn had Spaghetti with meat sauce and mushrooms, again the sauce came out of the same pot. Maybe we were just on overload from a week on the road.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Too Fast Food

Friday night we had dinner at "Pera" in Mt. Lookout Square. I have reported on "Pera" at least once before. On previous visits there were only one or two other tables occupied, Friday the place was about 2/3 full. We meet at the restaurant an 7 PM and were back on the street, having eaten at 7:55.
"Pera" is owned, in part, by people who operated another, now closed, Turkish establishment in Northern Kentucky. To me this is a pale reflection on the original. "Pera" is BYOB( Bring Your Own Bottle) and charges NO corkage, a positive touch. Except for convenience, if you live in the Mount Lookout area of Cincinnati, there is little else to recommend a meal there.
We were hardly seated when the server asked if we were ready to order. The other couple, had brought the wine and responded by asking him to "give us sometime to converse and relax". Two minutes later her returned and was also sent away with the same message. This time the pause was possibly 5 minutes and upon this encounter we ordered two appetizers, for the table. An ordinary stuff grape leaves and a very tasty Feta roll in a Philo dough.
Marilyn and I had the lamb kabobs and split a Sheppard's salad, neither were a very large portion. The salad, chopped cucumber, tomato and feta in a light dressing was adequate. The lamb kabob, which we also split, had 6 small pieces of well marinated lamb, a scoop of steamed, white rice, no sauce, and some steamed mixed vegetables( tasteless). As you can easily tell I was not overjoyed. We paid our bill, approx. $40 per couple and adjourned to our Condo for dessert, coffee and a leisurely visit.

Last night we met a relative at the "Oriental Wok" at the Regency. It was her first visit and who know which one for us( maybe Ed is keeping count). Anyway it was easy for her to find and park and we had a pleasant evening of conversation, drinks, excellent appetizers and a split order of a good American Chinese standby, Chicken Chou Mein, one of Marilyn's comfort food.
The place was full and I was impressed by the number of families with both small and very young children. They obviously are getting their hospitality approach across to all their customers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Big week-contiued

I hasten to post promptly as I forgot to include the good sized Croissants drizzled with honey butter that we had with our meals at "J. Alexanders". Since our companion and I both had the Ahi Tuna salad they were a perfect accompaniment and Marilyn even managed to down hers, substituting for the bread on which the beef was served.

Meanwhile on to Thursday night; after drinks at a friends home, in Indian Hill (wow), the four of us had dinner at the "Quarter Bistro" 6904 Wooster Pike Mariemont, OH 45227 513-271-5400. We have not been there for several years, our loss, and I'm not sure why? It is less than 15 minutes from our home and we have been missing a very acceptable place for dinner of any dimension. Jim Evans, the managing owner was on hand and although we don't personally know him it was evident that management was paying attention, it make a difference. The place was clean, bright and the personnel, from Front House Manager to bussers were competent and attentive.
Having had drinks and light spreads we got right to our meal. Marilyn had the "Burger"( Rated # 30 in this months "Cincinnati Magazines" listing of the best 40 burgers in the area. In my opinion it is rated too low as it is a good sized patty of fine chopped beef cooked MR.) served with very good thin, crisp, French Fries. I started with a salad of Belgium Endive mixed with Granny Smith Apples and blue cheese, all topped with a Balsamic Vinegar dressing. This was followed with 3 soft Tacos, filled fully, with marinated roasted pork chunks, slightly spicy and sauteed onions and pineapple. The table downed a bottle of crisp white wine, an appropriate meal for an evening, which before the front went thru was one where the temperature and humidity was above standard Cincinnati summer.

Friday night was an interesting evening at "Maggiano's" in Kenwood Mall. We have eaten there often and find it a value packed, good, Italian, chain "store". The food is quite good, the servings are more than ample and the prices are reasonable, to say the least. Usually we split 3 half portions for a table of 4. We also find that the in house management pays attention, which usually makes for a very pleasant evening.
Because we were kept waiting, for our reservation, the hostess provided a first course "on the house". So with our drinks, I was the only "drunk"( Bombay) in the group, there arrived an order of Deep Fried Zucchini. This excellent, filling dish has always been well prepared with Zucchini slices covered with a crispy coating and topped with Parmesan Cheese. The dish is accompanied by a light "ranch" lemon dressing. It's almost a meal in itself.
Not to be discouraged we barged ahead with a half order of "angle hair" with meat sauce, another of chopped salad and a third of mussels. Of course like any Italian restaurant there is ample bread, olive oil and grated cheese. As you can tell we were not deprived.
I had scored two $10 gift certificates, on previous visits, and so splitting the check, and using this largess, each of us paid $15/couple before tip, one can't do that well at Skyline. Now we owe them one and since the food is really very good we'll see that they recoup.

Big week, part one

Because we are doing so much traveling, four weekends away in June and 8 to 10 days "up North" in both July and August, our time at home is full of dinners out with friends. That's though on the waist line and Sodium count.
Tuesday night it was "Cumin Eclectic Cuisine, 3520 Erie Ave, 45208 513-871-8714. "Cumin" has a new chef and has moved away from some of the Indian Spices and dishes into a broader array. Mung, one of our favorite servers in the city, still handles most of the customers and is a wonderful hostess, server and font of info on the food and it's preparation. Marilyn and I had a very good Gazpacho, slightly thicker than others, well flavored( I added a bit of, house, hot sauce as I like more heat than some) and with small chunks of tomato, peppers, celery and onions which she followed with a Quinoa Rissotto which was excellent. The dish, plenty for one, even if hungry, was rich, in content and flavor, with sauteed mushrooms and onions and had liberal amounts of cream, butter, and cheese( a real diet item). I went with a smoked Salmon Salad, 4 or five slices of Nova Scotia salmon served with greens, reminiscent of watercress, and prepared white beans. a light dish, for me, which left room to help Marilyn with the Quinoa. If any of you aren't familiar, Quinoa is a grain, which I believe originated in Peru, and is high in Protein.
Lunch the next day with a friend, who spends a good deal of the summer in Wyoming, the state not the Cincinnati suburb, called for a visit to one of my stand-by's the "Oriental Wok", Hyde Park. Trying to eat light I had them stir fry some bean sprouts, scallions and Bar-B-Que pork in a light oyster sauce. My companion had the same stir fry with chicken instead of pork. The meal had a fresh light appearance but I am sure contained more than a few hidden calories, oil, pork, etc. I find the OW very accommodating, as they are customer oriented and will to put together any request, if the materials are available.
Dinner that evening, "J. Alexander's Restaurant" 2829 Edmonson Road 45209( Rookwood Shopping Center) 513-531-7495 commenced when we were greeted, at our table, by an exuberant young women, our server, and treated like "members of the family", probably her Grandparents. Her spirit made the evening although the food is always decent or above. It is a well managed chain with all employees visible, concerned and accommodating. Marilyn's favorite at "J Alexander's" is the prime rib sandwich, a beautifully prepared 8oz portion of beef served with potato's or a vegetable. She chose to accompany the beef with a baked potato. After my usual libation I went with the seared Ahi Tuna, medium rare, which comes on a plate with a good sized portion of salad greens tossed in "house dressing". The salad has not only the standard greens( another friend calls them weeds) but crisp nubbins of either potato sticks or French Fried onion strips with give a nice crunch to the mixture. Not being satisfied to behave we brought our dinner companion back to our condo for and array of various flavored ice creams. UDF peach is now in season, adding to the "Graeters" standards which are on hand.
It think I'll take a brake and do the rest of the week either later today or tomorrow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pretty Routine

A week without any major trips or major events, and it was pleasant getting caught up and having a few home cooked, or scavenged meals. Scavenged is when you either have brought home "let-overs" from the restaurant, the night before, or put together items from the freezer and "fridge", not bad eating usually.
We did do a few things to keep the Cincinnati food establishment operating.
Last Monday we planned to meet another couple for lunch at the new incarnation of the "dinner" on Sycamore, whatever name they will chose. When we arrived we discovered that we were about 3 weeks early. We went several block towards downtown to "It's Just Crepes" on Court St, near the Kroger Building. This is the second time I have been there and have been pleased with the lunch on both occasions. The crepes are good sized and folded. If you "eat-in" they are presented in a paper cone and the "carry-outs" are boxed with utensils. I has the "special of the day", a Cuban, which had ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, sliced dill pickles and a mild Cuban mustard sauce. Everything grilled, in the folded crepe, so as to from a pleasant mixture of flavors.
Tuesday night, with our cousins, we tried "Terry's Turf Club" around 8 PM, after drinks here, but when we were told there was a one hour, or more, wait we sauntered down the street to "Bella Luna" 4632 Eastern Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45226 513-871-5862. We were not the only ones to follow that course of action as the place was quite full. We all chose to "make our own combination" choosing the type pasta, the sauce and a meat or seafood if desired. All 4 of us stuck with basics, for $13.99 each including a salad. Marilyn had Cappellini( angle hair) with Bolognese while I chose Cappellini with a light, oil based, Carbonnara. The sauce was much to my liking and a great improvement to some who present the Carbonnara with enough cream to turn the whole dish to paste. A box of left overs, from the 3 others, formed one scavenged meal.
Lunch Wednesday, with a friend, was on the patio( we had a beautiful day) of "El Jinete" 3972 Red Bank 513-271-4080. "El Jinete" has a very full menu of standard Mexican platters and single dishes as you would expect in any chain emporium of it's nature. The food is decent, temperature hot from the kitchen, the service prompt and the prices reasonably. We split a Hugh Burrito stuffed with chicken, beef, sausage, shrimp, onions, mashed beans and covered with a creamy cheese sauce and grilled pineapple slices. Enough for three, or more, to share. We also have a beef tamale which was mostly corn meal and very little beef or seasoning. Luckily I had a coupon and the lunch only cost about $5 each, including drinks.
Last night the family, five of us, went to "Otto's" in Covington. I shocked the table by ordering "Steak Frites". I had had salmon the night before and both red snapper and shrimp during the week so in honor of the 3rd of July I went with an American( French) meal. Saturday out is always a gamble and the food was excellent but the kitchen was slammed so service was slow. I was also surprised by the new "price points" on the wine list and want to talk to the owners about how that is working out.
The other good news to report is that the farmers markets, both at Lunken and Hyde Park, where we have been this week, are functioning and so we have had summer squash, sweet corn, field ripened tomatoes and okra, some singly and some in combination. Summer eating is great.