Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review – Flint Creek Steak House in West Siloam Springs, OK

I get a little nervous when someone says the words gambling and fine dining in the same sentence. At any rate, I decided to “throw the dice”, if you will, and dine out at the Flint Creek Steak House. This establishment is located at the Cherokee Hotel and Casino in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma. I should have known I’d be pressing my luck with this place. When my group showed up on Monday night we discovered it was closed. They’re only open Wednesday through Sunday. That makes sense. It’s not like they’re in a CASINO where A LOT OF PEOPLE WILL BE HANGING AROUND. At any rate, on that evening we dined at the buffet. I’ll have more to say about that later.

When Thursday came around, my entire group decided to go to back to the Steak House. This time, we called ahead to make sure they were open. They told us we needed reservations. Why? They were very busy. I’ll have more to say about that later, too.

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Upon entering the Flint Creek Steak House the dining room ambiance impressed me. I found it spacious and rather elegant. I liked the blue color of the walls and the drapes in front of the window to the casino. It gave the establishment an air of sophistication. It had the appearance that a fine dining establishment should have.

It’s a harbinger of bad things when something like ordering an iced tea raises red flags. The menu listed it at $2.50. Before Starbucks customers tell me what a deal that is, I should point out that the casino had a “free” soda fountain. I helped myself to an iced tea while waiting to go to dinner. The brand the restaurant served tasted exactly the same. So, when I drank it while walking around the casino, it was free. When I ordered it with dinner they charged me for it. Hmmmmm.

I ordered the Seafood Chowder as an appetizer. I liked it, but not to the point of justifying the $6.00 price tag. That’s an awful lot to pay for a small bowl of soup. For that kind of money, I could stop off at the supermarket and buy enough to last me a week.

As readers can guess from my choice of appetizer, I’m a big sea food fan. Even though the place billed itself as a steak house, I decided on the Seafood Lafayette. The menu described it as, “Shrimp, Scallops, Sausage and Spicy Cajun Cream Sauce.” I like my meals with some zest to them. I licked my lips in preparation for the perfect dinner.

Here’s where I started losing my temper. It’s never good when that happens in a “fine dining” setting. The Steak House’s web site clearly reads, “At Flint Creek, you’ll be pampered by our accommodating staff…” Yeah. I’m not sure how long my group waited for dinner. The server took our orders at 6:17 PM. My best estimate is that we didn’t receive our meals until sometime around 7:20 PM. I dined with a group and enjoyed the opportunity to converse with everybody. Still, that’s a long time to wait for food when you’re hungry. After we finished eating, we had to wait a while for the bill, as well.

Remember earlier, I wrote that we needed reservations because the place was “very busy”? While I sat there, most of the tables in the dining room were empty. To irritate me even more, I witnessed two staff members standing around talking to each other most of the night. At least one other server worked the dining room, as well. For these reasons, I found the lengthy waits completely inexcusable. The fact that the establishment added the gratuity to the bill was even more intolerable. We practically had to hunt down our server to pay her. This did not meet my criteria for fine dining.

With respect to the meal, I thought my dinner good, but ridiculously overpriced. They charged $22.00 for something that fit in a medium sized bowl. Once again, while I thought the food decent, I didn’t think the quality or size justified the high cost.

I wanted to end this review with the line, “If you’re planning on dining at the Flint Creek Steak House, save your money and hit the buffet instead.” I may have pointed out already that the restaurant was closed on Monday. On that night, my group tried the RiverCane Café/Buffet. Once again, I found the food adequate, but I didn’t like the price. If diners sign up for a player’s card (which is free) they save $1.76 on the buffet. Everyone in my group took advantage of this deal and got to eat for $10.70. Obviously, I can’t complain about the portions in this case. The lack of variety did disappoint me, however. They served Italian, Chinese, and Mexican food. I didn’t see any high-end meals, though. (i.e. Steak, fish, etc.) To be fair, they did offer a diverse desert selection.

My point of reference for a “real” buffet is the Hibachi Grill in Cinnaminson, NJ. For $9.99 diners have their pick of Rib-Eye Steak, Salmon, Crabmeat, and a host of other fine foods, in addition to the kinds of things the RiverCane Café/Buffet served. I expected similar quality fare from the casino.

I bet the house that I’d get a good meal, but came up craps. I still can’t believe the prices. Doesn’t the casino want diners to have at least some money left to blow in the machines? The real issue I had involved the poor service. As anyone in business can recite, “you’re five times more likely to lose a customer over bad service than bad quality.” I can personally assure the Flint Creek Steak House just how accurate that is.

Restaurant Review – La Huerta Mexican Restaurant in Siloam Springs, AR

The food makes any sojourn south of the Mason-Dixon Line well worth-while. During a recent business trip to Arkansas, I had the pleasure of sampling some Mexican food prepared there. What an experience!

For those journeying through Northwest Arkansas, La Huerta is conveniently located off of Route 412. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s very tough to locate from the road. The building’s plain white exterior makes it very easy to miss. When I first saw it, I mistook the place for a hotel. It’s located in a small strip mall, as well. Some of the people in my group had dined there before. They almost drive past it.

The interior décor didn’t impress me. Keep in mind that I’m color blind, have absolutely no artistic ability and was very hungry when I walked in the door. The place seemed a bit cluttered. The many customers in the building had something to do with shaping my perception, though. I also didn’t care for the table design. I’m sympathetic that restaurants need to sell advertising space to add additional cash flow. Typically, they put local business ads on placemats. La Huerta sells space on its tables to advertisers. I have to admit: staring at an ad for plumbing supplies didn’t exactly help whet my appetite.

I applaud the gregarious nature of our server. The guy was a born salesman. He informed our group that many people call La Huerta’s sweet tea, “the best in the area.” I’m a big tea drinker, so I had to try. I have to give the guy credit: I had my share of sweet tea during my week in Arkansas, and I would call La Huerta’s the epitome of Northwest Arkansas brew.

In lieu of putting out bread for customers, La Huerta, being a Mexican food establishment, gave us tortilla chips. We (meaning predominantly I) ate so many that our server kept re-filling the bowl. I’ve never been a big tortilla chip fan: until now. These were the best I ever had. They weren’t too heavy or too light. The preparer added just the right amount of corn flavor. They came with the traditional dipping sauce as well as a cheesier one. I’m old-fashioned, so I preferred the standard sauce, although the other tasted just fine. The flavor and texture reminded me of eating a pizza.

For dinner I tried the Enchiladas Razorback. In essence, it was an enchilada that substituted seafood for meat or beans. It had a distinct taste that I enjoyed. The more I ate, the more I noticed just how salty the meal, though. I didn’t mind so much at the beginning, but about half-way through it became very perceptible. Someone else in my group commented about the abundance of salt in her dinner. I wondered if they made the tea so sweet to balance out the brackish meal. While I would dine at La Huerta again, I’d suggest the chef go a little easier on the salt next time.

I received fantastic value for my money. They served my entree on a huge plate that I couldn’t see under all the food. And the part I really liked: my final bill came to a grand total of $11.39. Coming from the Philadelphia area, that’s one phenomenal deal.

I would describe their service as without peer. My group arrived just after 5:30 PM. The place started to fill-up with the dinner crowd. They still sat our group of seven people right away. I couldn’t believe how quickly they delivered our dinners. While I wasn’t watching the clock, I’d estimate between the time we ordered and the time they served, it must have been about ten minutes. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. A large group walked in unexpectedly. They still managed to serve us that fast. That’s an outstanding accomplishment.

The next time I’m in the Northwest Arkansas region I look forward to sampling some of the other dishes La Huerta has to offer. The service and quality of the meal made dinner well worthwhile. They pulled this off without leaving my wallet in a world of huerta.

Restaurant Review – The Pub in Pennsauken, NJ

The coats of arms on the walls made me feel as though dining in a castle during the Middle Ages. When first seated I wondered if I’d be sent to the dungeon if I displeased the staff. Fortunately, the crew at the Pub didn’t feel the need to torture me. They did, however, go medieval on my wallet.

The company uses the slogan, “Everything Extravagant Except the Prices.” I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree on that one. I also found it interesting that line appears on their web site, yet it doesn’t show any of their prices. I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to order sea food, or if I wanted to have enough money to buy groceries for the rest of the week. This call turned out to be much easier than I thought. I love Italian and like chicken. I ordered the Chicken Parmigiana.

The $18.99 price tag was a bit higher than what I’m accustomed to paying for Chicken Parmigiana. To be fair, it also included unlimited access to the Pub’s legendary salad bar. I helped myself to both the regular and Caesar Salads. I also sampled the Three Bean Salad. All tasted freshly prepared and excellent. While I didn’t try it myself, a woman in my party complimented the apple sauce’s “chunky” texture.

As pricey as I thought the meal, I can’t complain I didn’t get my money’s worth. It came on a huge plate; at least I’m assuming they served it on a plate. The monumental quantity of food served obscured the dish. The meal had a sweet taste to it; almost as though the chef prepared it in some kind of syrup. While different, I enjoyed it. It should go without saying that I couldn’t finish this helping.

The server displayed outstanding customer service when she personally boxed up my meal for me. I’ve haven’t had a server do that in years. Mine also boxed up another gentleman in my party’s meal as well.

I went to the Pub with a group of 20 people. The staff accommodated us without any trouble. They set aside three tables for us so everyone had plenty of room. As we attended on a Saturday night the building became very crowded. With that noted, I didn’t have any trouble getting through the main dining room to the salad bar and back. I didn’t worry about bumping into anyone or accidentally spilling anything on unsuspecting diners. I give the management great credit for the layout.

My trip to the Men’s Room made me very uncomfortable. The Pub is the only establishment I’ve ever dined at that employs a Men’s Room Attendant. I don’t understand why. In an era with motion activated hand dryers I don’t see the need for someone to hand me a towel after I wash my hands. While I tipped the gentleman, I viewed the tip dish a cheap means of pressuring me to pay for having to use the facilities. Overall, I just find the idea of someone just sitting in the rest room while patrons answer nature’s call rather weird.

Another issue I had concerned the menu itself. They offered a sea food dish specifically described as “for two.” As it cost over sixty dollars, that didn’t sound totally out of the ballpark for fish. It confused me because directly across from it the menu stated “No Sharing”. I wondered: if they can’t write the menu properly, are they going to be able to get my group’s orders straight? On the later we had no issues.

While pricey, The Pub does offer quality meals. They serve much larger portions than I typically see at other restaurants. In essence, customers receive more than one meal out of the order. Between that and the salad bar, people do get their money’s worth. Just be prepared to cash in your 401(k) before walking in there.

Restaurant Review – Throwbacks Bar and Grill – Delran, NJ

I haven’t had the best dining experiences lately. Between the screaming children, 55 gallon drums of vegetable soup and the $11 can of spinach that took an hour-and-a-half to prepare, I really felt the need to throw one back. While out one day I made the adventitious discovery of Throwbacks Bar and Grill in Delran, NJ. Feeling that this may be destiny calling, I stopped in.

It had nice décor for a sports bar. Big screen televisions flanked the room so all patrons could see them. The bar had an odd shape similar to a square route symbol. As service turned out to be excellent I suspected this design facilitated customer service.

Throwbacks used a theme menu with the appearance of an old time newspaper. The company logo appeared faintly in the background. I thought that a very nice touch.

As far as I’m concerned no “bar and grill” has the right to use that expression unless they can make a good Reuben. Throwbacks earned it. They prepared the most interesting one I’ve ever had. I can’t recall ever having one on whole grain bread. The preparer didn’t drown it in Russian Dressing, either. The sandwich had just enough to add the proper flavor. I never would’ve expected a bar to come up with a way to make a Reuben seem healthy.

It came with a side of cole slaw, pickle and French Fries. The later were thinner that the ones I’m used to eating in bars, but they tasted great. I thought the $9.99 price tag for this platter perfectly reasonable.

I liked the place so much I stopped by again for lunch. This time I ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich Lunch Combo. This was another great value at $10.00. I thought the crab tasted a bit plain, but the cocktail sauce spiced it up for me. It came with the same things I listed above plus an option of soup of the day, chili or salad. I opted for the soup of the day and it just happened to be (gulp!) Vegetable Soup. They did serve it in a cup as advertised. The chef prepared it with more pepper than other vegetable soups I’ve had. The broth had just the right pop.

The staff conducted themselves in an exceptional manner. I received my crab cake sandwich with cocktail sauce. My server offered to get me some tartar sauce without my having to ask her for it.

I know I’ve raised an issue about dining around screaming children in an earlier review I wrote. Ironically, on one of my trips to Throwbacks a child started wailing. In this case, the woman behind the bar asked if she could provide ice or assist in some way. Another server went over to see if she could do anything to help. This showed some outstanding customer service that entailed going beyond my normal expectations. I give the staff a lot of credit for it.

Since Throwbacks is a bar, I should point out that they serve the usual array of beer on tap. I drank iced tea as it contains about the same amount of alcohol as domestic beers. (For people outside the United States who are reading this: that’s not far from the truth.)

Throwbacks served up a great dining experience. I anticipate returning to this sports bar once Football season gets underway. Depending on how the Eagles season goes, I may be drinking something a little stronger than iced tea. I might also be screaming louder than the children, as well.

Restaurant Review – Akira 2 – Moorestown, NJ

This afternoon, I decided to leave my comfort zone and try some Japanese food. I guess that makes me the adventurous type. Many people I know get leery when I ask if they’d like to go out for Oriental cuisine. This response always mystifies me. I don’t find it that much different from typical American dishes. Many times, they entail either a different combination or preparation of foods people are already familiar with. The Pad Thai I had today served as a great example.

Upon entering Akira 2, guests are treated to an elegant interior. Yellow walls flank dark tables. A large wooden figure of Buddah sits over a small pond. Lights that alternate from red to green to blue illuminate the statue. This makes for a very inviting atmosphere. They also have outdoor seating overlooking downtown Moorestown.

The chef prepares the meals in full view of the patrons. This always puts me at ease. The current issue of Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs addresses the topic of global food security. The fact that the kitchen is out in the open shows me that the preparers have nothing to hide.

I started off with a green iced tea. I’m a big tea drinker and Akira 2’s version pleasantly surprised me. I ordered the unsweetened variety as I’ve been told that obesity is the second leading cause of death for internet food critics. (In case you wondered, homicide is the first.) It tasted much more tangy than what I’m used to. This was one of those rare cases where I didn’t feel the need to sweeten my drink.

The main course made me glad I didn’t. I ordered the Pad Thai with Chicken and Shrimp. What an original tasting meal. The chef prepared this dish with a sweet sauce. Between that and the peanuts, it gave the noodles a flavor reminiscent of peanut butter and maple syrup. This made for a very interesting combination. I’ve had Pad Thai in the past, but not like this. I mentioned the sugary nature of the sauce, right? After I finished, my plate looked like I’d just finished off a stack of pancakes with all the syrup left over. In fact, it was so sugary a bee nearly flew into my mouth when I left the building. (That’s true, folks. I’m not making it up.)

I can’t fault the chef for the sweetness of the meal. Pad Thai is one of the more “sauce heavy” dishes I’m familiar with. To be fair if there is a food worth drowning in something it would be rice noodles. They don’t have much of a flavor as it is, so any addition is worthwhile. For that reason, I can’t in good conscience write that Akira 2 overdid it. Pad Thai is a unique combination of ingredients and may not be to everybody’s liking. For those not allergic to peanuts or suffering from diverticulitis: putting on the bucket list is worthwhile, however.

I thought the price $14.99, pretty reasonable. I may have misread the menu, though. When I ordered, I thought it came with soup, salad and a vegetable, which it did not. I’d suggest the management make clearer what does and does not come with additional food. I went away full, but I would’ve been curious to try some soup.

I enjoyed my visit to Akira 2. They offer a host of Oriental dishes, including Sushi and Hibachi prepared meals. If peanuts and sugar aren’t to your liking, I’m sure they serve something that is. I’d encourage others to do the deuce and check out Akira 2.

Restaurant Review – Jade Bistro in Mount Laurel, NJ

To give an example of just how slow the service, one of my dining companions ate General Tso’s Chicken. When she ordered, it was Sgt. Tso’s Chicken. It moved up the entire military hierarchy in the time it took to prepare it. I attended with a party of twenty. The time it took for them to deliver everyone’s meal was about twice as long as all Liz Taylor’s marriages combined. I would’ve thought with my group having reservations on a Saturday night, the establishment would’ve been much more prepared.

In addition, they didn’t have enough brown rice available for our group. Did I mention this is a Chinese restaurant? They did cook some more but it took a while to prepare. A number of people had to wait quite some time. I think some of the men in our group needed to shave at least once before they brought it out. One of the lucky people in my group received his meal early. He ended up sending it back for reheating so he could have it with his brown rice.

I started off my dining adventure with a pint of the Mixed Vegetable Soup. They served me a quart of it. The dish reminded me of Pho Thai only substituting vegetables for the meats and noodles. I explained to the server that I ordered the pint. She responded that particular appetizer didn’t come in that size. When I made it to the bowl’s half-way point, it became light enough for me to move. I checked the menu and, sure enough, it did specifically state that the Mixed Vegetable Soup came in a pint. While I liked the soup and certainly thought it a value for $4.00, the restaurant didn’t give me what I ordered.

After invidiously watching all of my dining companions receive their meals ahead of me, I finally got mine. The enormous size of the appetizer turned out to be rather serendipitous. It was a good thing I filled up on soup first.

Whenever I go to places that serve ethnic foods, I like to try something different. I’m not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy vegetables, especially spinach. I read something on the menu called Garlic Water Spinach. I had to try it. As it turned out I’ll be telling the great-grandkids about this dinner.

The server brought over a plate containing a lump of spinach interspersed with garlic. That was it. That was dinner: a $10.95 plate of spinach. I eat spinach on a regular basis, this was, well, different. I had to twirl it on my fork like spaghetti and eat it like cotton candy. I looked for a knife to cut the coarse texture, but I didn’t have one. None of the servers came around to ask if I needed anything.

Spinach gives a person strength which worked out well for me here. I needed as much energy as possible to eat dinner. Imagine eating garlic flavored Big League Chew. I thought I’d need to see a trainer about muscle strains in my jaw. I’ve never eaten anything this tough: and this was a vegetable!

When I got home I spoke to my Step-Mom, Pat, about my experience. She’s an excellent cook. She informed me that microwaving spinach makes it very tough. I’ve microwaved spinach many times, but never encountered this issue in the past. Prior to writing this review, I nuked some. It tasted very soft and went down smooth. I’m not sure what the Jade Bistro did to prepare it.

Needless to say I had plenty of room for jello when I finished dining. To accompany my “dinner”, they gave me a small cup of white rice. I didn’t like that I didn’t have a choice of white or brown. With that noted, if I did order the brown rice I’d probably still be there waiting for it.

And there’s more. They didn’t give my party checks. We went up to the register and told the person what we ordered. (I should add that a malfunction with the register delayed the payment process.) While doing this, I wondered what it would be like if companies like IBM and Microsoft billed customers this way. I liked that the Jade Bistro felt they could trust me. I still don’t think the honor system is the best way to run a business.

To be fair to our servers: they did the best they could. I don’t fault them for the slow service. I only saw two of them in the entire establishment, though. As I mentioned prior: I would’ve thought a restaurant would’ve been better prepared for a large party that had a prior reservation.

My mother, rest her soul, would’ve been proud of me for eating my greens. That’s my only positive take on the dining experience. I expected to come away from this meal feeling jaded, instead I left disappointed. I guess I should’ve gone out for steak instead.

Restaurant Review – Blue Fig Café – Moorestown, NJ

Nestled away in the Moorestown Commons off of Young Avenue, The Blue Fig Café offers a host of delicacies from the Eastern Mediterranean. This afternoon, they treated me to the pleasure of dining on the best lunch I’ve ever had.

As the tag line “the Essence of Mediterranean Cuisine” intrigued me, I decided to partake of the full experience. I started off with a Lebanese Tea with Mint. The small glass it came in added to the cultural ambiance. What an outstanding beverage. I discovered that it tasted just as good with or without sweetener. I’ve never written that about tea before. For tea-totallers interested in something with more of a punch than regular tea without the harsh, spicy aftertaste of Indian tea, my recommendation would be as strong as this tea itself. Just don’t drink it less than two hours before bed time.

My server brought over some flat bread with an olive spread. The later had the texture of ground meat, so the olive taste did surprise me. I’ve had them on many occasions, but I give the chef credit: he included just the right amount of olive oil. My server offered to bring more bread. I took advantage just so I could have more of the spread. With the greatest of respect to the folks who make olive loaf: that’s the first time I recall making a provision so I could eat more olives.

For my main entrée I ordered the Shish Tawook. The menu described it as, “Tender marinated char-grilled chicken cubes with a touch of our house spice blend. Served over rice or couscous and grilled vegetable.” In essence, think Shish Kebob while substituting chicken for meat. I had mine with the couscous. It tasted excellent, but I wouldn’t call it spicy. However, the meal included a creamy dipping sauce. That may explain why I didn’t find it very zesty; either that or I’m mentally comparing it to Indian food. Let’s face it: after eating Indian, not even jalapenos taste spicy.

I didn’t see it listed on the menu, but the lunch even came with a salad: a real salad. The later contained very fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. The unexpected addition to my lunch pleasantly surprised me. The café didn’t just deliver what it promised: it over-delivered. I can’t think of a previous time I’ve encountered that.

I liked the authentic Eastern music adding to the ambiance. The three large pictures on the wall of the sea and some Grecian rock formations enhanced the overall decor. My one criticism involved the size of the interior. I went at an odd time and was the only patron in the building for most of my visit. It still seemed cramped. I thought a lot of the tables very close together. If I’d eaten at a peak time, I would’ve been concerned about elbowing the person sitting next to me.

To be fair, the Blue Fig Café offered outdoor seating. I noticed plenty of space outside. In fact, one of the reasons I was the sole diner in the building was because the other patrons chose to eat there. The next few months will be a great time to do so, especially in the evenings. The establishment also provides take out, and, much to their credit, delivers.

Without doubt, the Blue Fig Café served the finest meal I’ve ever had for $12. While I did have the chicken, they serve a number of meat-based lunches for only a dollar more. They also provide kid’s meals. Zagat’s rated them, as well. For those looking for quality, value and a taste of the East, I’d strongly recommend the Blue Fig Café in Moorestown, NJ.

Restaurant Review – Chipotle Mexican Grill

My cousin’s husband shared an interesting story about Mexican dining with me. While working in Juarez, Mexico, a taco stand set-up shop across from the building he worked. Every day for lunch, he and his co-workers would walk over there for a quick meal. One day right before noon, a car pulled up in front of the booth. Several men jumped out and machine gunned the place. The following day, after cleaning up the blood and debris, the taco stand opened for business once again. I wish my experience at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Mount Laurel, New Jersey could’ve been that pleasant and as quiet.

I haven’t had Mexican food in a while, so Chipotle seemed a good place to rectify that. I should’ve known from the décor that I’d made a mistake. This establishment sported the worst ambiance I’ve even seen in a restaurant. All the tables in the building were plain metal; I’m thinking some kind of steel. No tablecloths, no Mexican accoutrements, just metal. The lights reminded me of the kinds of devices used to keep food warm in a kitchen. Most of the chairs were made of wood and made sitting very uncomfortable. Some tables had stools, however.

Compared to the condition of the floor, everything else seemed high-class. I don’t know if they ran out of money before the contractor finished the job, but the section of flooring under me wasn’t smooth. (Maybe that explained reason for the poor quality lighting.) The other parts of the floor looked like plain concrete. I felt like I was eating lunch over someone’s driveway.

Granted, I don’t go out dining expecting the establishment spent big money on an interior designer. Still, a restaurant needs to provide some sense of sophistication. Even fast food establishments like McDonalds or Subway have nice dining areas. The inside of this building made my old high school cafeteria comparable to Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill. I went to a Catholic School. I assure readers: the school didn’t invest what little money it had in making the cafeteria look good.

As I’m writing this review, I’m realizing that I must’ve really been hungry today. I decided to get some lunch. The ordering format at Chipotle is similar to that of a Subway restaurant. You place your order, select the items you’d like on it and the server makes your meal while you watch. The person behind the counter asks what you want and then puts it on your taco, burrito or salad.

I didn’t understand why they used this process. At a place like Subway, they offer numerous breads to choose from along with myriad meats and condiments. Chipotle doesn’t offer that many choices that justify this arrangement. Granted, diners have options in terms of meat, the mildness of the sauce, brown or white rice, etc. I’m sure the assembly line process speeds up their throughput. Because of the lack of items on the menu and the limited variety of condiments, it struck me as a little “showy” as opposed to functional.

I ordered a Chicken Burrito with Guacamole. I had mine with brown rice, mild sauce and sour cream. A better way of describing lunch would be: I had globs of guacamole and sour cream with traces of rice, sauce and pieces of chicken packed together. They loaded my burrito with so much of the stuff that it tasted cold. You read that right: my Mexican food tasted cold.

I think I met my lifetime quota of guacamole today. I’ve read it contains avocado which is good for the heart. I was real happy to hear that because there was yet another aspect of my visit that could’ve sent my blood pressure soaring. I don’t know why, but numerous young children were in the building: to the point where I thought I entered a day care center as opposed to a restaurant. They weren’t the best behaved, either. I had to slalom around a number of kids running around the room. A few even broke the din of incessant crying by screaming.

I know readers will object to the above comments citing the fact I’m not a parent, myself. Let me respond by saying I live up to the standards I expect from others. Yesterday, my father took me out to lunch at a different establishment. Dad will back me up on this: not once did I run around the building, start screaming or crying. I know if I did so in front of my old man, it would be the last time I did it in front of him. (Parents take the hint.)

With my meal I decided to splurge and get the chips with mild salsa sauce. I thought the later very spicy, but I like that flavor. It wasn’t so hot that it burned my mouth, but it had more of a kick than what I expected from “mild” sauce. Based on the quality of the chips, I could understand why they’d make the sauce extra spicy. The pronounced corn flavor really came through. (I met my lifetime corn quota today, as well.) Normally, corn chips have a very crunchy or brittle texture. I couldn’t quite bend the ones I had, but I thought them soft.

I compliment the outstanding quality of the customer service. The gentleman making my burrito noticed a break in the shell. He gave me the option of either putting the contents into a new one, or wrapping everything in another one. I liked the fact the server took the time to discern what the customer wanted. I don’t receive that treatment as often as I would like.

I’m going to give my cousin’s husband a call the next time I’m in the mood for Mexican food. I’ll see if he can give me the address of that taco stand in Juarez. After my experience at the Chipotle Mexican Grill, I’m sure I’ll have a much more enjoyable dining experience there.

Restaurant Review – The British Chip Shop

            I decided to commemorate my British heritage by taking a trip to Haddonfield, New Jersey. I did this not because the British occupied it  three times during the Revolutionary War, but rather to feast on some English cuisine. The Union Jack hanging outside the British Chip Shop on King’s Highway showed me I found the right place.

            I liked the homey feel of the décor. Solid red brick made up the walls. Various pictures of fox hunts and famous Brits adorned them. Of course, as a writer and public speaker I appreciated the photo of Britain’s most famous Nobel Laureate, Sir Winston Churchill.  The red color of the interior made it seem much smaller that it’s actual capacity. (They also provide outdoor seating.) I settled right in and prepared for dishes that our friends across the pond enjoy.

            I informed my server that I’d never been to this establishment. He recommended that genuine British stand-by: the Fish and Chips. (Patrons may order one of three different sizes ranging in price from $9.00 to $15.00.) I’ve enjoyed Fish and Chips before, but never like this. The fish had a crunchy exterior, yet it flaked easily on the inside. I didn’t require a knife to cut it.

            The quality of the chips surprised me the most. I’ve always thought that the Irish had a monopoly on proficient potato preparation. Apparently, some of that aptitude made its way across the Irish Sea to Great Britain. The chips (or “fries” as we Yanks call them) tasted so fresh I thought the chef just peeled them. I can’t recall a time when I enjoyed my entire meal, yet the quality of the potatoes stood out the most. I applaud the British Chip Shop for this feat.

            I really enjoyed the Fish and Chips, but that seemed a bit banal in terms of sampling British food. I know my readers expect something more from me. Such are the perils of being an internet food critic. I stopped by the British Chip Shop for dinner one evening and, once again, had to try something with potatoes.

            I began my meal with the Potato Leek Soup. ($5.00) A lot of places go broth heavy when it comes to soup: not the British Chip Shop. The large quantity of potatoes in the bowl surprised me. Once again, they tasted fresh as though someone just peeled them.

            For an entree I selected the Mussels in Ale. ($13.00) The sauce possessed a distinct flavor. It didn’t contain too much butter and tasted much milder than what I’m used to. At times clam sauce can make one’s taste buds feel as though they’ll explode off the tongue; not this one. I thought the sauce very smooth on the palette. I give the preparers great credit for getting the seasoning just right.  

            The dinner came with garlic flavored chips for dipping. These were actual “chips” not “fries”. Once again, I thought the seasoning perfect. The garlic tasted more temperate than what I expected.

            The only criticism I had involved the beverage. The second time I dined there I drank the iced tea which tasted fantastic. On my first visit I wanted to try something I couldn’t get anywhere else. I ordered a can of Barritt’s Ginger Beer. (This is Haddonfield so the drink contained no alcohol.) It initially had a sharp ginger flavor that gave way to a sweet aftertaste, almost like syrup. The drink contained 200 calories and 49 grams of sugar. Between the caffeine and the sugar, I didn’t know if I’d be able to sit still long enough to finish my meal. With all that noted, I would point out that I wanted to try something different and Barritt’s certainly delivered. I can’t fault the establishment for that.

            The British Chip Shop received an “Excellent” Zagat’s rating in 2013. They lived up to it on both occasions I dined there. The British have invaded Haddonfield for a fourth time. This time it looks like they’re here to stay.

  

             

Restaurant Review – Zio’s Tuscan Grille

Zio’s Tuscan Grille in Cinnaminson, NJ does Italian right.  They offer a wide variety of appealing dishes. They prepare so many, in fact, that it took me several minutes to get through the entire menu. As a huge fan of Italian cuisine, I would’ve struggled to select one from the multitude of options. The tyranny of choice ended up giving way to rather easy decision for me. As an even bigger fan of sea food, my eye locked on the Linguini with Shrimp and Crabmeat. With the ability to combine my two favorite types of food at one meal, I relished the opportunity to try it.

 The quality of the meal lived up to my expectations. The shrimp tasted good and juicy. It’s been a long time since I’ve had crabmeat, and the kind that came with this meal made the wait well worthwhile. The sauce had just the right seasoning. The chef prepared the pasta flawlessly. The server brought over some hot pepper seasoning and parmesan cheese. As I had the option of how much pepper to add, I gave my meal just the right kick. The dish tasted fantastic. I’d highly recommend and would be delighted to try it again.

Seafood dishes always cost a bit more than other meals. I thought the quality of the meal justified the price on its own. However, this one also came with salad. I thought the lettuce very fresh and tasty. I added Zio’s balsamic dressing. When my server offered it, I thought I’d be receiving a balsamic vinaigrette house dressing. Not so. The one she served me had a thicker texture and possessed a brownish hue. I found this dressing much more flavorful that I expected. The proper amount of vinegar gave it the right tangy taste. I don’t typically go out to eat and comment on the quality of the salad dressing. For this I give Zio’s major kudos.

Zio’s served two different types of bread: both outstanding. The one circular in shape had a cheesy flavor to it. I liked it because I could taste the cheese without feeling like a Danish exploded in my mouth. Once again, Zio’s found the right combination. The flat bread contained some Italian herbs on the outside and the flavor of olive oil on the inside. I liked this bread, but would’ve preferred just a touch of some kind of spice. That would’ve made it perfect.

The only criticism I can offer of my visit there involved the beverages. I thought the iced tea too watery. I didn’t care for the quality of the water, either. It tasted like regular tap water. As someone who drinks a lot of bottled water, I found it significantly different from what I’m used to. Zio’s doesn’t serve alcohol, they are a BYOB establishment. Obviously, there’s a very easy way for patrons to deal with the beverage issue.  

I enjoyed my trip to Zio’s Tuscan Grille. They served Italian right and at the right price.      The service, atmosphere and quality of the food all impressed me. The next time I can’t make up my mind between eating Italian or having sea food, there’s one place that will be on my short list for dinner.