Friday, July 2, 2010

Sam's Italian Villa

Restaurant: Sam's Italian Villa
Address: 3312 West Broadway, Council Bluffs, IA
Genres: Italian
Check Constraints: None
Chain: No | More Omaha Locations: No

  • Garlic Bread ($3.95)
  • Soda ($1.95)
  • Prime Rib Dinner ($16.95)
    • Baked Potato
    • Bread
    • Salad
    • Spaghetti w/marinara
I have a history with Sam's Italian Villa that does not actually involve eating there. See, when we finally moved into our house across town, I had the opportunity to get myself a job, so I took myself around to the local fast food places, naturally, and got myself a job slinging tacos. It was a good job, and I am still willing to eat there, so overall, it worked out pretty good, except when I had to quit because they kept scheduling me to close on school nights.

In any case, on the path to and from work, I would be forced to walk past Sam's Italian Villa. Now, being poor, my money pretty much all went into either helping with the bills or purchasing a computer, for I had decided I wanted to be a programmer, so while I was sorely tempted by the wonderful smells wafting forth from the vents of Sam's Italian Villa, I was never actually able to simply go have a meal. Other concerns came first. But someday, I would. That day was today.

Unfortunately, it started off poorly. The bread from the dinner came out first, and was old was swiftly hardening into a Breadstick of Indestructibility +5. This was followed swiftly by the garlic bread, which was burned on top, underdone on the bottom, and lacking utterly in any form of garlic. This was swiftly followed by the salad, a mass of iceberg lettuce with a smattering of carrot, straight from a bag, accompanied by two cucumber slices and two cherry tomatoes. It was quite evident, especially from the wilted, dried out look of the cucumbers, that it had been sitting out a while, and the accompanying vinagrette was bland and uninteresting in spite of the many herbs. Then the cup of spaghetti with marinara came out. They didn't fuck up the pasta, at least, even if the marinara was the most bland, uninspiring marinara I have ever tasted in my life.

Then came the baked potato and the prime rib. The potato came with a side of sour cream, thankfully, but was very slightly underdone. A forgivable sin, next to all the others. The prime rib was, um... immense. As big in girth as the monsters we had at the Drover, but half again as thick, it was mightily impressive... until I realized that at least a third of it was either gristle or massive chunks of fat.

Overall, I have to say that I would rather eat out of the Drover's dumpster than go back to Sam's Italian Villa, and that opinion is not in the least colored by my high hopes for it. For the same price I could go to Cascio's Steak House or the Drover, and get food that is quite literally better in every way. Sam's Italian Villa is much better experienced from the outside, where it smells simply divine.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wohlner's Market

Restaurant: Wohlner's Market
Address: 2289 S. 67th Street
Genres: deli
Check Constraints: Short-order.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Grilled Roast Beef Sandwich ($7.99)
    • Pasta Salad
  • Cup of Chicken Tortilla Soup ($1.99)
  • Fountain Drink ($0.99)
Some (not-too-longish) time ago, Wohlner's moved from its Leavenworth location into the new Aksarben Village "modern urban living center (possibly of doom)", one of those newfangled "planned" communities where there are apartments mixed with commercial offices with shopping and restaurants below, and everyone pretends that it's a vibrant tiny neighborhood of some dense urban metropolis which was airlifted here overnight. Or they would, if the economy hadn't prevented a good number of the retail and commercial slots from filling up. Regardless! Wolhner's is there to serve as the local neighborhood corner grocery store, like the Mr. Hooper of Aksarben.

... what? I can make non-geek references from time to time. Anyhow. Inside its new interior, Wolhner's sports a deli! It was to this deli that we descended like a horde of hungry code monkeys, and when the food finally came out, we all realized one thing more or less simultaneously; this place isn't just a deli. It's a bistro-deli hybrid.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind. The sandwiches here were definitely tasty, and everything was held to a good quality standard. What it does mean is that the food is artfully arranged on a plate which makes the quantity look rather small, and that your dollar will not go as far here as you think it will. With a bistro, you're paying the price for the high-quality food you're consuming, and the same goes here.

The sandwich, for instance, had a healthy amount of roast beef, a slice of good cheddar, and a tapenade spread across it which was delightful. There was supposedly a horseradish sauce, but though I got hints of it from time to time it was generally too weak to make a difference. I got with the side of pasta salad, which was al dente in all the right places and firm in the remainder. I also ordered a cup of chicken tortilla soup, which stood head and shoulders above the yellow-flavored liquid I remember being served in my university cafeteria.

It seemed the consensus that the winner here were the sandwiches (no shock). I feel remiss in posting this without a review of the pizzas they do here, but we weren't certain how long they'd take to cook, and we were under time pressure that day.


  • Pizza Burger (w/Slaw and Chips) ($7.49)
  • Cup of Soup of the Day (Tortilla Soup) w/Bread ($2.99)
  • Fountain Drink ($0.99)
The soup was definitely strong here, plenty of chunks and tasty bits, as was the bread (White, Wheat, or Rye options, I chose Rye) that came with it. I think they only offer the one soup of the day, though, so your soup may vary.

The pizza burger, unfortunately, was not as good as the sandwiches turned out to be. The place advertises 'Kobe burgers', and I can't disagree with the quality of the meat itself, but it was cooked to medium-well/well, I'm fairly sure, and it was not particularly large. To be fair to them, it's hard to compete with some of the excellent burgers available elsewhere in this town, and it's not bad. It just might be better to pick one of the sandwiches. Several of them looked very good. The place also has a lot of strong competition, with Blue Planet, Amatos, Gandolfo's, and Jini D's all basically within walking distance. Also, I don't like slaw and didn't eat it, so someone else will have to talk about that.

There is something to be said for eat-and-shop, and it's among the better of those, but personally I don't think I'll be visiting much for the food. The placement is fairly convenient, though, and they've got a good selection of groceries and alcohols and such. I think it'll do fine.

  • Grilled BBQ Chicken Sandwich ($6.49)
  • Cup of Soup of the Day (Tortilla Soup) w/Bread (included)
  • Homemade Chips ($1.99)
  • Fountain Drink ($0.99)
I'm going to be quite brief about this one. The chicken sandwich was good, with nicely done chicken and a bbq sauce that was a level of heat or so above BWW's honey bbq. It didn't drip too much, it didn't slide around too much, but was a bit small for the size, and especially for the price.

The tortilla soup was probably quite good, but it was less chicken and more veggies, which means it's very much not to my taste, so buyer beware, on that.

The chips weren't chips so much as they were crisps, to steal the terms, and the best they got was when the not-quite-done ones were nice and soft and reminded me very much of my mother's homemade jacket fries.

All of this was overshadowed, though, by the incredibly uncomfortable seating, which was actively painful for me. I can bear a lot of different seating arrangements, but those fucking chairs are not only not comfortable if you fall into the "large" category, they are actively uncomfortable. So basically, screw that place. I'll be back, but only because they're one of the few places locally that carries Sprecher's, and it's in the grocery section, so that's where I'll be grabbing it from, and fuck those damn chairs.

It's worth noting that almost everything on the menu is also available in take-out form, if the dining-in option won't work for you for whatever reason. This also makes it a decent work-lunch destination.

  • Wohlner's Reuben Sandwich ($6.99)
    • Tortilla Soup
  • Fountain Drink ($1.17)
I'm not sure what the deal is, but I just noticed I have the price for my drink written down as just a little bit higher than the others'.. In any case, ordering food at a grocery store to eat there at the store always seems a little odd to me. Here though, they have a kitchen in the back, menus, glassware, fountain drinks, and a section for seating. Yes, the chairs are not great. They are metal with arms that are a bit tight even for the "medium" category. The parking nearby is not great either. There are two lots on the side of a relatively busy street out in front. People around there don't seem very willing to let others who are parking or leaving go ahead.

The food was pretty good. I thought the reuben was a reasonable size. It came on a different bread than the others did, which I thought was pretty good. It had plenty of meat, sauerkraut, and sauce. The flavor may not have been as strong as it could have been, but I still enjoyed it. The soup was ok. It did have a lot of vegetables and only two or three bigger chunks of chicken. The next time around, I would probably try the pasta salad Cham got, since it looked pretty good.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Peru Mucho Gusto!

Restaurant: Peru Mucho Gusto!
Address: 7755 L St.
Website: None.
Genres: Peruvian, Asian
Check Constraints: None noted.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Papa a la Huancaina (4.50)
  • Chicken Chaufas (8.50)
  • Crema Volteada (3.00)
Peru Mucho Gusto is a tiny place that is not exactly hard to find, but is unfortunately not very noticeable. It's tucked back in a tiny strip mall, in the hinterlands of L street between 72nd and 84th, and the interior of the place actually reminds me a lot of the Lithuanian Cafe and Bakery, but unlike that place, Peru Mucho Gusto has almost nothing BUT ethnic food, and oh what food it is.

Papa a la Huancaina is basically a baked potato, chilled and sliced, then doused liberally in a cheese sauce made with some Peruvian hot pepper. There is also half a hard boiled egg and an olive on the plate, but really... potatoes and cheese. It has just the right amount of heat for me, too, enough that I really can say "That's hot." but not so much that I can't devour half the freaking plate.

Other appetizers you'll be hearing about include this killer fried pork stuff and papa rellena, which bears little relation to the not so great dish I had at the Cuban place. Papa rellena is, uh... well, mash a potato, then form the mashed potato around a mixture of meat, raisins, and some other stuff, deep fry the whole damn thing, then coat it with that same spicy cheese sauce from the potatoes above. It's so good we had it twice.

We actually came here twice before doing the review, because the first time we forgot to write down what we had. Turns out, first time up, I had aji de gallina, which is a lot like papa a la huancaina, only there is an almost curry-like mixture of cream, cheese, shredded chicken, and hot peppers atop the potatoes. Also, a side of killer spiced and peppered rice that must be tasted to be believed.

This time, I went for Chicken Chaufas, which is a Peruvian/Chinese fusion dish, basically a Peruvian take on fried rice. It seriously blows regular fried rice out of the water any day of the week. The spices used really give the chicken an amazing flavor, and the rice and veggies go with it amazingly well. As a side note, the dish is huge, and even I was unable to finish it. It's actually something a whole table could consider grabbing as a side dish for everybody, it's just THAT BIG.

They did not have any cheesecake, which I had a craving for, so I ended up trying crema volteada instead. It was described as "Peruvian flan", which didn't help much, as I have never actually had flan. When flan was described to me as "custard", that was also not helpful, as the closest thing I had ever had to custard was pumpkin pie. I had very limited dessert choices when I was growing up and got dessert at all (holidays). Turns out, I can't really describe this stuff very well, aside from saying that it has an interesting texture, like pudding only much more firm, but it's delicious, if a bit cloying after a while. I'd suggest splitting one with somebody unless you have a real sweet tooth.

So yeah, that's pretty much Peru Mucho Gusto. We went here twice, you should too. At least. Every appetizer on the menu is pretty much pure gold, the main dishes are high quality, and there's a bunch of random stuff you can try, so just go eat. With, uh, mucho gusto, or something.

  • Iced Tea ($1.79)
  • Tamal ($3.50)
  • Seco De Carne Con Frijoles ($10.00)
  • Creme Volteada ($3.00)
My uncle and I once had the good fortune to actually go to Peru, on what should probably best be termed an "ecotourism" trip. Most of our time was spent at a lodge on the perimeter of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve (if you're curious, the company we booked the trip through is here), so it's not like I spent a week in Lima for the cuisine or anything. Most of our meals were cooked at the lodge, actually, and were very good if not extravagant (as an aside, if you ever get a chance to try red-bellied pirahna, don't pass it up. They look bony but they're good eats). However, on the several-hour-long trip upriver to the lodge we stopped at a village along the way for lunch. I regret that I was tired enough I never caught the name of the village, or the name of the restaurant we ate at, but we were served a large plate of rice and about half a chicken each.

I mention that story so that I can tell you this - the first time we came to Peru Mucho Gusto, I ordered the arroz con pollo, a fairly standard chicken and rice dish. The first bite of the chicken caused a flashback like I thought only happened in movies; the taste and expression of the dish were almost identical, and for a moment everything about the trip came rushing back. Now, I'm the first to admit that a sample size of two makes for really poor statistical significance, but it lends credence to the restaurant's authenticity, at least.

The seco de carne, also a traditional dish, was also excellent, though I don't recall having it on the trip. It's a beef stew, made with Inca corn beer, and as you may well know through cooking adventures of your own, beer plus beef is almost always delicious. As with most dishes at Peru Mucho Gusto, it's pricey, but you could actually order multiple dishes and do family-style dining, if you wanted, and probably come out ahead. The tamal was basically a tamale, as you may have already guessed. They're not identical; primarily the same elements are used to construct them, but the spicing's different, as well as the texture. The custard was firm and delicious - perhaps a little worse for the wear from being in the fridge for a while, but still very good.

I should mention here, after having found out post-eating, that you can apparently request a heat level when you order your food; this is not made apparent by the menu or the staff. Hopefully you have as good a time here as we did - it's nice that Omaha has such a wide variety of ethnic cuisines, and we should attempt to keep the ones we have thriving.

  • Papa a la Huancaina ($4.50)
  • Lomo Saltado ($9.50?)
  • Arroz con Pollo ($8.00)
  • Chicha Morada ($2.00)
No, I did not eat two lunches at once, but I do remember what I ate both visits. The first time around was the Papa a la Huancaina and the Lomo Saltado. The Papa a la H. were decent. They are as ND has described, and the heat creeps up on you. I would probably pick one of the other appetizers we had ahead of this on my own though, such as the Papa Rellena. That was some good stuff. Definitely give that a try. There were also some Yucca Frita (fried yucca) around the first time. It was ok, but I wasn't really a big fan of that either.

The Lomo Saltado was really good. Tender beef strips, tomato, pepper and onion on top of french fries. The sauce/juices were tasty. They made the side of rice really good and had a bit of spice to them. The dish was very filling with lots of potato and rice. The prices on some of the beef dishes may have gone up a dollar or two since that visit, but they also have more options.

I had the Arroz con Pollo on the second visit. It's the same dish Cham had the first time around. The rice had a fairly strong cilantro flavor at first. It was mixed with various cooked veggies and came with chicken on top. The color of the chicken made me wonder if it was cooked through, but it appeared to be. The whole thing had good flavors and was plenty of food.

The Chicha Morada was a very interesting drink. It was made from corn (blue corn, I assume) and pineapple, and you could definitely taste both in it. It was a dark blueish purple and the flavors made it a little odd to drink. Though, it did go well with the food.

  • 'Seafood Sampler w/Rice' (9.50?)
  • Chicharron con Camote (8.00)
  • Arroz con Pollo (8.00)
  • Chicha Morada (2.00)
I will note that I cannot remember at all the name of the seafood dish I got the first time, but it was a rice deal run through with all sorts of minor seafood, including a shrimp with the head still on it and an oyster and... well, it was not wholly to my taste, but it wasn't bad, all the same.

The second visit is a bit more vivid. The Chicharron con Camote (ND's aforementioned 'killer fried pork') was an incredible pork dish that came, I believe, with sweet potato chips, but the important thing is the fried pork, which tasted so very good. Browned normally then fried, I think. Definitely a strong appetizer. The first time we went we couldn't get it, though, so there may be availability issues (the menu hints it's more a weekend deal, but we didn't go on a weekend, so.)

I also went with the arroz con pollo, and while there were no flashbacks, it was good all on its own without misty memories of South America. Moogle is right about the cilantro, which was pretty well balanced, in my opinion (you want unbalanced, let Cham make you food with cilantro in it). I think this is a reasonably solid dish for anyone to get here, but I think I'd want to try some of the beef dishes next time.

The chicha morada was thick in the mouth (think grape juice, but a little thicker) and had an incredibly unique flavor that I really liked. I don't think I could drink it every day, as it stands, but I'll be drinking it next time I go back.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Restaurant: Grisanti's
Address: 10875 West Dodge Road
Genres: Italian
Check Constraints: 15% gratuity for parties of 8 or more
Chain: Regional.| More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Diet Coke ($2.19)
  • Oven-Baked Mushrooms ($6.79)
  • Chicken Fra Diavolo ($7.99)
  • Garlic Bread
  • Salad
One of the random reviews that showed up on the internet for Grisanti's while we were doing reconnaissance said, rather cryptically, "Good food, there are lots of appetizers that come out before the meal". I was rather confused by the statement. Was the writer shocked that his appetizers were delivered prior to the entree? Did the restaurant offer an antipasto platter? Was, perhaps, it just the meaningless ramblings of someone on the internet?

As it turns out, it's the closest to the second case. Grisanti's entrees come with, not unlike an Olive Garden, salad or soup, and unlimited garlic bread. Unlike Olive Garden's breadsticks, however, their garlic bread is eight slices of a butter-and-garlic-soaked loaf, served on a metal plate over a votive candle, so it remains warm as it sits on the table - not that it's going to sit there for long. The stuff is fantastic, and when the butter comes off on your fingers when you pick up a piece, you know there's some delicious times ahead. I opted for the salad with my entree, and wasn't disappointed, but wasn't really wowed. Unless you've got a serious yen for roughage I recommend going with the soups - there's enough dressing on the salad you'll probably net about the same calories.

ND ordered an appetizer sampler, which was good, but between the salad, the bread, that and the mushrooms I'm about to discuss, I was nearly full before I even saw my entree - next time we'll be more prepared for the onslaught of food. The mushrooms were, by the by, excellent - they were stuffed with a cheese sauce and a mixture of meats. It nearly overpowered the mushroom, but there was enough flavor there to make it more than just a carrier for the stuffing. It's a tad expensive, coming six to an order (so approximately $1.10 per), but they're pretty delicious. If they came on top of some fettuccine alfredo, I would probably have just eaten it as an entree.

Speaking of. I've had chicken fra diavolo before - chicken and penne in a garlic and bell pepper sauce - but Grisanti's was the first place to include lobster in the sauce, which gave the entire dish a new twist of flavor. It also had a mild (to me, at least) heat to it which was pleasant. I would probably have sopped up the sauce with the remaining bread, but for starters there was no remaining bread, and I was too full to do it anyhow.

The prices here seemed appropriate for the level of food, and everything I tried was delicious. I heavily recommend the place, but only if you don't have an important afternoon meeting in a warm room - otherwise I won't be responsible for the carb-induced coma you slip into at about 3:00. I should also mention that the web menu appears to not be complete when compared to the menu in-restaurant; there are far more appetizers than just soups.

  • Coke ($2.19)
  • Gusto Gusto! (appetizer sampler that doesn't involve shrooms) ($9.00?)
  • Chicken Parmesan ($7.99)
  • Garlic Bread
  • Tomato Tortellini Soup
  • Tiramisu (special)
That garlic bread cannot be exclaimed over enough, honestly. This is the first place I can recall that had endless bread, and it wasn't crappy, it was a large, round loaf, cut in half, with each half cut into four pieces, and the whole thing was slathered with enough garlic to to choke a vampire from across the room, to say nothing of the copious amounts of butter. There was even a delicious, slightly chunky marinara for dipping.

The main parts of the Gusto Gusto platter were the calimari, which was excellent, tender and well breaded, and the cheese and meat breaded ravioli, which were perfectly cooked, and may even be something approaching handmade. They certainly weren't the average Sysco breaded ravioli you get at most places.

It was around this time in the meal that one of the waitresses accidentally dropped a pitcher of ice water right next to me. I didn't get super wet, thanks mainly to my slightly water resistant fishing shirt I wear as a pocket-vest, but they still offered a free dessert by way of apology. Everybody else was way too full by the end of the meal to partake, though, so I got it to go. Sad to say, though it may have been the drive that did it, the tiramisu wasn't anything to be falling over yourself to get.

The best parts of the meal, aside from the garlic bread, were the soup and chicken parm. The chicken parm was a lovely concoction, though the portion seemed a bit on the small side. That may just be my Omaha prejudice talking, though. It was quite good, though not Spaghetti Works good, and the marinara and spaghetti on the side was also decent, but the real star was the simple bowl of tomato tortellini soup.

A bit of background for you. My favorite dish, since I was a young sprout, has been beef stroganoff. But not the beef stroganoff you know. My mom's beef stroganoff, a recipe that has been passed down in our family, which consists mainly of cheap beef boiled for a long time with a bunch of spices, plus tomato paste, water, and sour cream. It's a virulently orange sauce that tastes simply amazing. The tomato tortellini soup here reminded me a LOT of this stroganoff. It's clearly a tomato and cream soup, with a bit of basil and a few other spices, with perfectly done cheese tortellini in it for an extra touch of awesome, but really, I'd have eaten just the soup, with no pasta. For under five bucks, you can get a bottomless bowl of this tomato tortellini soup. In hindsight, it would be worth every freaking penny.

I approve of Grisanti's, of the alfredo I stole a taste of from Mecha, and especially of that tomato tortellini soup. This is by far the best italian we've been to in ages.

  • DietCoke ($2.19)
  • Eggplant Parmesan ($7.99)
  • Baked Onion Soup
Firstly, to echo everybody else's praises, the free bread was amazing. The bread was soft and had butter, garlic, and olive oil slathered into cuts into the top so it would sop and soak deeply. They also gave each of us a small cup of a respectable marinara for dipping. The butter and oil was a bit messy, but that's perfectly forgivable.

The Baked Onion Soup reminded me of a french onion soup. The toasted bread and cheese came melted on top. The beef broth had a rich beef flavor with a pleasantly noticeable taste of the sweet onions. The cheese went mostly unnoticed, however the crouton added a welcomed bit of extra texture. Overall, one of the better french onion soups that I've had.

The Eggplant Parmesan came with a side of spaghetti with marinara and steamed brocolli. The steamed brocolli was lightly buttered and perfectly crunchy. The spaghetti with marinara was spaghetti with marinara. The pasta was well cooked, but the marinara was nothing to get excited about. The eggplant parmesan itself was an immense vertical slice of eggplant lightly breaded then smothered in cheese and the same marinara. Unfortunately, they just sliced it too thin. There wasn't enough eggplant there to appreciate its texture or taste and what taste of eggplant there was was drowned out by the marinara and cheese.


  • Taste of Italy ($13.99)
  • Tomato Tortellini Soup
  • Garlic Bread
As the designated reheater, the bread is not just very good, it reheats well. We really are suckers for bread.

Since it's review time, I went with the Taste of Italy, which is to say, Chicken Parm, Fettucini Alfredo, and Lasagna. I'm not usually a huge fan of alfredo, but this was very good for me. I might even be able to eat it as a dish here. The Chicken Parm was fine, certainly, but it didn't really stand out. Which is a shame, because the lasagna, while not the massive crazy brick of Spaghetti Works, was also pretty good. And again, as designated reheater, the parm and the lasagna both reheated pretty well. Not that that's surprising, but it's good to know when you get hit with a whole bunch of appetizers and some really good bread that if you take it home, it'll work. (I did not leave any alfredo behind to check, but I figured that's for the best. Also, it was good.)

This place seems like it's reasonably costed and has a lot of good offerings. If they stepped up their game on a few things, it'd be amazing. As is, it's still a place I'd enjoy hitting again, maybe when the family's in town.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bob Monkey's Noodle Zoo

Restaurant: Bob Monkey's Noodle Zoo
Address: 4950 Dodge St.
Genres: Deli, Cafe, Pasta
Check Constraints: Short Order
Chain: Regional. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • New Orleans Muffaletta ($8.50)
    • Cup of Baked Potato Soup
  • Diet Dr. Pepper (can) ($1.00)
  • Lemon Bar ($2.00)
Bob Monkey's Noodle Zoo is tucked away on a side street just to the east of the Dundee Theater, so it can be a little hard to find. Since most of us are fans of noodles, we decided it was worth checking out. Unfortunately it turns out that the name "Noodle Zoo" is a bit of a misnomer - it would be rather like calling the Omaha Zoo "Gorilla Zoo" because there happen to be gorillas there. The predominate part of the menu was taken up by sandwiches. This is not a horrible thing, but I wanted to address the fact that we all felt this was false advertising of a sort.

The sandwich itself was delicious. Good cuts of meat on foccacia (not strictly the muffaletta bread required for the sandwich, but an acceptable alternative), with a delicious olive salad on the bottom. The foccacia, I might add, was garlic foccacia, which had been toasted with parmesan and garlic butter on it. That lent a fairly strong injection of flavor into an already strongly-flavored sandwich - if it had been anything more subtle it would have been completely overwhelmed, but as it was, it was well matched. The baked potato soup, on the other hand, was a one- or two-note concoction which was solid but not, perhaps, worth a bowl.

The lemon bar was not on the menu proper, but in a basket next to the cashier. I can only hope these are made in someone's kitchen and sold to Noodle Zoo for resale, but even if they're not, they were pretty good and were likely made on-site, or at least somewhere regional. It had a firm lemon flavor and a crumbly crust - the only thing that could have made it better was a slightly thicker dusting of powdered sugar.

The only downside to Noodle Zoo was the cost, which I felt was fairly high for the amount of food I got. Still, it's not out of the viable range for "bistro sandwiches", so if you're prepared to pay that sort of money you could spend it a lot worse places than here.

  • Noodles Alfredo ($7.50)
    • Cup of Baked Potato Soup
  • Buttered Noodles ($6.00)
  • Bottle of Darjeeling Tea ($3.50)
  • Bread Pudding ($3.50)
Moogle and I got lost on the way, which was annoying. The place is set back, and the sign doesn't stick out at ALL, so it's really hard to find if you don't know exactly where you're looking.

Okay, right up front, I was planning on going with the herbed chicken and white sauce, but when I got there and saw my two favorite forms of noodles on the chalk board, I switched. I was wrong to do so. The alfredo wasn't terrible, but it needed parmesan badly. Luckily, the buttered noodles came with a plastic shot glass of parmesan, half of which went towards making the alfredo decent. Not only were said buttered noodles not what I was hoping for (something like the lovely herb mixture that Noodles & Company uses), they were nothing but buttered, and there was nothing but salt, pepper, and parmesan to put on them. Certainly not worth the six dollars I paid for them, even if it was a "full" order. The order taker seemed confused that I wanted to order a side of noodles without the soup/salad on the side, and had to subtract them manually.

On the other hand... I would come here just to order the bread pudding. Cham had a bite and said that there must be like four sticks of butter in there. Then he had another bite. It's a pretty big lump of bread pudding, with raisins in, with hand-whipped sweet cream on the side, and it's really to die of. I'd go here again, I think, but I'd be much more careful of my noodle selections.

  • Thai Chicken Wrap ($8.50?)
    • Cup of soup
  • Bottle of Ginger Peach Tea ($3.50)
Okay, so. Everything I got is not actually on their menu, which makes it a little problematic since I'm doing this so late after the fact. And Cham and I drove past the place too, first shot, so really, it's just a little hard to find. Also, the picture on the website of the internals is the Omaha location (or all of them are the same!)

I liked the wrap a lot, but it wasn't particularly unique to the place in my recollection. It wasn't ice-cold like, say, Paradise keeps theirs, and it had a bit more spice to it. The smallness of it really surprised me, too, I was expecting something a little larger on my plate (they actually use really big plates, that might not help them.) I remember the soup being decent, but except for being meat-based and chunky, I can't remember the exact contents. The dangers of being distracted for long periods of time. The tea was bottled from the Republic of Tea, so you know pretty much what you're getting there if you're familiar with their tea.

I don't really remember anything to recommend this place significantly. I have the same rough price concerns as Cham too: I enjoy a sandwich from Gandolfo's about as much as I'd enjoy this one, and there's much more to it. It's not bad, just not anything amazing, and a bit expensive for it. I get a feeling of inconsistency comparing our results, so maybe you just have to search for what works.

  • Italian Beef Sandwich ($8.50?)
    • Salad
  • Bottle of Blackberry Sage Tea ($3.50)
The sandwich I had was named "Italian beef". I barely remember what was on it at this point, but it probably won't be what you expect from a typical Italian beef sandwich. It was beef and veggies on a fairly large wedge of focaccia. The sandwich was pretty good. It went well on the focaccia bread. I do think the large plates throw off perceptions slightly. What I had was fairly filling. It did feel a bit pricey, but it also felt like a bit fancier fare. The salad was interesting. I think it was their house salad. It was like a caesar salad, but more peppery and had a few noodles thrown in. The tea was fairly unremarkable, except for the types of flavors offered. This one wasn't very strong, but it had an interesting flavor.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Special Post: KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich

To hell with the header on this one. NinjaDebugger here, carving off a year of my life for the edification of my viewers. The KFC Double Down chicken sandwich is demoing in Omaha, apparently, and I could not let this opportunity pass me by. It is, after all, three of my favorite things, with no bread to get in the way.

As I eat this thing, I can taste the months rolling off me. It's crazy, but holy shit, it's also good. Like, really good. I'm led to believe that the Colonel's Sauce on this is the same stuff they use on the regular chicken sandwich. I don't care. It's just barely spicy, kinda tangy, and goes incredibly well with the breading and bacon flavor. It's like someone turned my favorite chicken dinner into a sandwich without getting all that bread in the way to kill the meat flavor. I'm not even sure this sandwich could get better with pickles on it.

This is why America is going to fall. Because we can't stop killing ourselves with new and ever more delicious things. I just finished one, and I already want another. Cooks just keep getting better at targeting our tastebuds. We're all going to hell, and the stuff in this handbasket couldn't taste better.

Monday, August 10, 2009

McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe

Restaurant: McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe
Address: 302 S 38th St
Genres: Vegan/Vegetarian/Organic
Check Constraints: No split checks, 18% gratuity for 5 or more
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Coconut Curry Nachos ($7.95)
  • 1/2 Falafel Sandwich ($6.95)
    • Cup of Lentil Soup
  • Carrot Cake ($3.95)
To call McFoster's "unique" is grossly understating the point. Located in a renovated 1930's gas station with a Tudor fronting - and oddly enough, a tower - the restaurant has been serving up an eclectic blend of vegetarian, vegan, organic, and generally planet-and-diet-friendly meals for over a decade now. Full disclosure requires me to say that I eat here fairly regularly. In fact, this is the first restaurant in Omaha I ate at, when I was visiting Moogle ages ago.

Almost every aspect of this place is in a realm somewhere outside the normal dining aesthetic. There are almost always fresh flowers on the table. Their drink menu includes not only wine and beer, but a wide range of smoothies and teas. Their menu, while not as expansive as Wheatfield's, still covers a lot of culinary ground. The decor trends somewhat activist, with posters on the walls advocating ecologically-sound living and a generally populist mystique. It is an extraordinarily difficult place to review, precisely because it seems to exist in some space outside the spectrum, in some zone where they're proud to be exactly what they are, with or without approval from the populace at large.

To some extent it's a shame that they don't promote themselves more, because the food here is pretty darn good. Like the rest of the place, it's all a touch removed from the normal conception of the dish. For instance, the falafel here is (I am pretty sure) baked, not fried, and has a different texture and slightly different flavor from the Platonic Ideal of falafel (the Ur-Falafel, if you will). Does that mean it's bad? Not in the slightest. The half-sandwich comes with three falafel balls and a half-pita full of dressed lettuce. Like most dishes from McFoster's it comes with a selection of random edible goodies on the side - in this case pickled onions, pickled parsnips, cabbage strips, and two waffle-cut carrots. These little bonuses vary from dish to dish; I'll let the others tell you about theirs. The falafel here can be a little crumbly at times but this day it was moist and just perfect.

The appetizers here are split into vegan and non-vegan. Having had the nachos here before I opted for the curry coconut ones this time - it wasn't much of an improvement. The curry sauce didn't add much flavor and mostly pooled at the bottom of the plate - still, the salsa was freshly-made and delicious, and the blue corn nachos do well with the cheese and serrano peppers on top.

The soups here (like most places) vary from day to day - in fact, I should mention that all specials get written on the chalkboards at the end of the two wings of the building, from soups to entrees to desserts. I went with the lentil today, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was very hard to tease apart the flavors of the dish. You'd expect lentil, but I think there was artichoke in there, as well as some other tantalizingly familiar flavor that I couldn't quite place (but you could say it was on the tip of my tongue). The carrot cake, which I got with the lemon mousse frosting, was moist, full of currants and/or raisins, and delicious. All their desserts are made on-site (by our server, in fact), and they're almost always worth getting.

I consider McFoster's to be a kind of Omaha institution. It's been here for a while, it does its own thing and lets people take it for what it is, and hopefully it will be here for a while longer. It may not be your cup of tea, but I encourage everyone to give it a try.

  • 2 sides of Garlic Bread ($5.50)
  • Chicken Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Lentil Soup
  • Chocolate Tofu Cheesecake ($4.25)
  • Chocolate Rice Milk Malt ($3.95)
The first time I went to McFosters was after a long day of walking around the Henry Doorly Zoo. Unfortunately, this meant that I was hot, sweaty, and beyond exhausted, so I wasn't able to properly consider the menu and order something that I would like. This time around, I had carefully considered my options ahead of time, and had a much better experience.

Those nachos, frankly, would be absolutely fabulous as nothing but chips, the cheese, and the well blended salsa. Other toppings are absolutely unnecessary, as this is one of the few salsas that I have ever actually liked. The garlic bread, unfortunately, had barely a hint of garlic, and I couldn't even taste that, and it needed some butter pretty badly. It's not so much "garlic bread" as "BREAD with a subtle brush of parmesan and garlic flavor". It was also either badly overpriced, or I got double charged. I'm not sure which. It doesn't matter, I won't be getting it again.

I was also not a fan of the lentil soup, which I found overly gritty, in addition to the odd and unpleasant aftertaste. The other appetizer, the Happy Red Pepper Hummus, was damn good stuff. Wheat flatbread and a nicely textured hummus that was just right on the moistness, with a very strong red bell pepper flavor. I liked it even better than the strongly cumin-flavored hummus that I tried the first time I came here.

Luckily, the soup and garlic bread were pretty much the only bad parts. I am officially granting Rice Dream the status of "acceptable for use in malts", as I could barely tell that there was any difference between the malt and a proper moocow malt, and it certainly wasn't a bad difference, it was just different.

On the other end of dessert, tofu does not make an excellent cheesecake. It does, however, make a pretty good mousse, which the cheesecake tasted more like, and even if I didn't expect to get mousse, I was satisfied with it. Tofu is made out of magic, I am pretty sure.

And that leaves just the main course. I did not expect a hell of a lot from the chicken sandwich. I am pretty satisfied if I get a bun and a reasonably sized chicken breast that isn't burnt, and is possibly breaded. What I -got- was a breast that came off the godzilla of chickens. Free range chickens must be immense, because this is the first chicken I have had in a long time that was larger than the leaf of lettuce that came atop it. It was cooked plain, grilled with no seasoning whatsoever. Normally, that would be very uncool, but there was this little metal shot glass of dill honey mustard, and holy fucking shit, the stuff was "grab a bottle to take home" quality. In fact, I think they'll give you a discount if you bring your own bottle. I know they do for takeout. In any case, this dressing was so good that I would happily have just eaten a spoonful of it. In fact, I -did- eat a spoonful of it, after using the spoon to spread the stuff over my chicken. An astounding sandwich, much better than you'd normally get for the price.

Do yourself a favor, go here and try some things you wouldn't normally try, even if you're usually a carnivore, like I am. It's worth every penny. I spent like thirty dollars here on lunch, and I don't regret it at all.

  • Curry Tuna Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Dahl Soup
  • Slice of Pineapple Rhubarb Pie ($5.95)
Since everyone's telling their stories, I actually found this place through a friend of mine way back in high school. She was a big fan of the smoothies and other drinks.

The salsa was really pretty good. It had a nice cool flavor before the spicyness hit. The veggies/beans in with the nachos were also pretty fresh and crisp. The hummus I don't remember as having a strong or otherwise outstanding flavor or texture, but it wasn't bad either.

The dahl soup reminded me of some of the hummus from the Mediterranean place, actually. It probably had similar spices and a reminiscent texture. The soup had a thicker consistency, but not as thick as hummus. Despite the long list of spices the server mentioned, it had a fairly subdued flavor, which was pretty good. I don't think it would have worked as well if the flavor was much stronger. I would probably get this again over the other soups.

The curry tuna sandwich was a lot smaller than I expected. It came on bread smaller than your average sandwich bread. I got the soup instead of a side, which made the plate seem a little meager. If you're hungry, it might be wise to get the soup in addition or get an appetizer or dessert. The curry flavor was not very strong, but it made the tuna a strange yellow color. I had to stop and remember what I got that would be yellow. The bread was pretty good. It was a multigrain, so it had lots of texture. There were some veggies on top of the tuna. The tuna is made with "veganaise" (vegan mayo), which has always sounded frightening to me. I had avoided it so far on other visits, but I really couldn't tell any difference. The vegetables on the side included a small, yellow, edible flower. It turned out to be quite peppery.

The pineapple rhubarb pie was quite tasty. It was less sweet than your average pie (and pretty tart), but it was still delicious. The crust was a little crumbly, but still good. It may have been wheat based as well, but Cham brought up a good point that they don't make the crust with butter/dairy. The texture is going to be different, but they still make a good crust.

  • Tropical Green Goddess Smoothie ($5.95)
  • Avacado Deluxe Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Roasted Tomato Soup
    • Sour Cream + Chive Fries (+$1.00)
  • Slice of Pineapple Rhubarb Pie ($5.95)
As the only one who went after a Smoothie, I must note that they are both very tasty, and... kinda expensive. The Green Goddess was pinapple and banana, less banana flavor than for thickness/creaminess. There was a note I couldn't quite pick out that had to be wheatgrass (which I'm not actually sure what it should taste like.) I liked it a lot, but my mind shies away from a six dollar smoothie. It's very conflicting.

ND is right about the salsa, it was very good for the nachos. I liked when I could get a real taste of the coconut curry, as I'm a fan. The hummus was stellar, as always (I came here once the same previous time ND did) and the Roasted Tomato soup was so very good. It still surprises me how much I enjoy the flavor of roasted tomato soup nowadays, given my childhood. Why did nobody give me these decent foods when I was younger?

The Avacado Deluxe sandwich is on a surprinslgy small piece of bread, but it's packed with a lot of soft, smooth flavors. I got the real cheese, because sure, and even the broccoli worked well with the overall flavor of the sandwich. It's a strange experience for a sandwich, I'm not sure what to compare it with, but I do know it was good. The sour cream and chives fries were extra, so I figured them a specialty. I don't remember the flavor being too strong, but the fries themselves were fine. Maybe less with the extra dollar next time.

I finished up with the pinapple rhubarb pie, and continued with the weird difficult to describe experiences. It was indeed tart, and getting ice cream on top helped make that work out reasonably well. On the overall, I'm pro this place, but getting the variety and the experience does mean laying out the cash. Pick carefully for your tastes, and I don't think you will end up disappointed.

  • Veggie Lasagna Special ($8.95)
  • Happy Red Pepper Hummus ($4.25)
To follow suit: I was introduced to this place a while back by Cham and had an unfortunate encounter with the carrot cake. However, I snagged a forkful of Cham's carrot cake from this time around and that was apparently a one-time mistake on their part.

It's called Happy Hummus because--well--it has a smile. By my recollection, they use olive slices for eyes, a bean for a nose and a waffled slice of carrot for a mouth. The hummus was made with garbanzo beans blended with red bell pepper and served with whole wheat pita triangles. It had a good hummusy flavor with a hint of olive oil and a pleasantly strong taste of the red bell pepper. The pita triangles were denser than pita I've had in the past and had a flavor of their own which accented the hummus very well.

I was surprised at some of the ingredients in the veggie lasagna--things that don't layer well. There were bits of green and red bell peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini (but notably no eggplant), but there were also crunchy chunks of broccoli and cauliflower and crunchy, crinkle-cut slices of carrot. It was more tomatoy than cheesy, so unfortunately it didn't cohere very well and was difficult to eat, but I still managed to find the bottom of the dish.