Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wheatfield's Eatery and Bakery

Restaurant: WheatFields Eatery & Bakery
Address: 1224 South 103rd Street - In One Pacific Place
Genres: epic, bakery, fusion
Check Constraints: None known.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • SugarMill Sampler ($3.59)
  • Cup of Mango Chicken Soup ($3.59)
  • Egg Plant Romano ($10.99)
    • Swiss Hotel Salad
Let's just get one thing straight, right off the bat. The term for this meal was "epic". It was a tale the bards could have sung about, that should be passed down via the oral tradition for centuries to our children; in pretty much every way, this meal was larger than life. I could not have felt more epic had I come home from a hard day slaying ice dragons on the frozen tundra, gone into my Valhallan castle, hung my great sword Haarkskaagen on the mantel hooks, took off my horned hat, and had a warm glass of mead thunked on the table in front of me. All of that connotation should be considered to be part of this review.

Finding parking in this place is pretty much an epic quest right off the bat; it's next to a California Pizza Kitchen (we'll go there later) and parking in One Pacific Place isn't what you'd call sprawling to begin with. At lunch, the place is packed. We only found a spot due to vigilance and some luck when a guy pulled out right in front of the restaurant. Once inside, you're left to deal with the next epic quest - the menu.

Clocking in at 6 double-sided pages, the menu is practically a novel. The fact that it comes with no less than three additional pages of specials, drinks, and appetizers turns the whole process of figuring out what to eat into something a little more difficult than figuring out the dependency tree of a Red Hat installation package. It honestly could have used an index, or better yet they should just hand out little PDAs with a hyperlink menu on it. Deciding on what to eat took us nearly a half hour. Once that was done came the next part of the epic quest - the food.

The SugarMill sampler is 6 "tiny" cinnamon rolls, two of whatever they happened to be making today. We got two caramel, two caramel pecan, and two orange rolls. They were epic because for Wheatfield's, "tiny" means "normal sized cinnamon buns". They were also absolutely fantastic. The dough and cinnamon portions had almost no sweetness at all, leaving the whole task up to the particular coating of the roll. The caramel were delicious, the addition of pecans took the caramel up a degree on the scale of awesome, and the orange rolls (though perhaps a little strong) were good enough to eat singly for breakfast. I'll let ND and Mecha tell you about the cinnamon rolls they had. Suffice it to say that eating here is a lot like doing battle with the food; you want to get through all the delicious things you ordered, and the food wants you to become full.

After that came the soup; chicken and mango is not a flavor combination I've had in liquid form before, but it worked just as well as it would have for a grilled chicken and mango chutney dish. You have to not mind a sweet and sour soup, but it was an excellent flavor and didn't sit too heavily. They're supposed to be served with a ButterBun but the waitress apparently spaced it. We didn't mind, because by this point in the meal we noticed that we were already slowing down on food consumption, and the appetizers hadn't even come yet. I'll let Mecha and Moogle talk about those.

I had forgotten that the Eggplant Romano came with a salad, so when it was trotted out I stared at it blankly. It stared back, ready for us to do battle. Turns out I won, but only barely. The salad was, more or less, a caesar salad, with peanuts and bacon. The bacon pretty much overwhelms the other flavors, so it's a creamy bacon salad. It would be a lot better if you asked them to cut back on the bacon just a tad. Also, I have seen meal salads at other places of the same size this side salad was.

Sensing a trend on size here? You'd be right; the portions here are enormous. We'd expected the marginally on the high side prices to just be accounting for atmosphere inflation, etc, but honestly I don't feel like we paid for more than we got. When the Eggplant Romano came out I knew I'd be defeated. It comes on a large platter, and I was already feeling the hit from that salad. I like all the pieces of the dish - portobello mushrooms, fried eggplant, marinated grilled chicken, tomatoes, and mozzarella - but I wasn't certain how they'd meld. Turns out it was delicious, and the takehome box is currently sitting in the fridge. Definitely give this a try if you like eggplant, but skip appetizers or soup so you can enjoy it all.

Despite being defeated by the food, I really enjoyed my visit. The place gets a little loud around lunch, but is otherwise a good place for a good meal. Our waitress was chatty, and though she didn't have an answer when I put her on the spot about what she recommended, she suffered the question with aplomb. She seemed a little rushed; all the servers did. They're hiring at the moment, so you might cut yours a little slack when you go eat.

And you should definitely go eat. Bring your great sword.


  • Cup of Cream of Potato Soup ($3.59)
  • Quiche Lorraine (Special, $8.99)
    • Cinnamon Roll (normally $2.00)
I could not feel more epic right now if I was a viking ninja. I was the only one of our quartet that avoided defeat, and I escaped only after a harrowing battle that took me down to my last few hit points. The opening salvo was Cham's Sugarmill Sampler, which I made him buy, on account of him owing me money. This was then negated by us splitting the check evenly, so he still owes me money. Along with that came the cinnamon rolls that Mecha and I got as sides to our meal.

Allow me to first express my appreciation for these orange rolls. I have adored orange rolls since I was a very young child, approximately six years old, and my mother worked at another local restaurant. I would beg her, every time I remembered, to bring home more orange rolls. I tried the orange rolls, and my immediate thought was "I should have asked for an orange roll instead of the cinnamon roll. This orange roll, in spite of Cham's lack of appreciation, raised my ancestors from the grave to congratulate me on having tasted it.

And then I tried the cinnamon roll. This cinnamon roll cannot adequately be called a "roll", really. I have large hands, and this roll was as big as three of my fists, -before- the topping. It is a gargantuan piece of pastry that will attack you with gusto if you do not subdue it vigorously. There is little or no sugar in the roll itself. Instead, this monster is topped with fresh, hand-made whipped heavy cream, which is then dusted with a light powder of confectioner's sugar.

As I said earlier, I thought, when I tasted the orange rolls, that I should have got one of those instead of the cinnamon roll. If the orange roll brought back my ancestors from the dead to congratulate me, this cinnamon roll went back in time and retroactively made my entire life a little better. The blend of cinnamon, sugar, and whipped cream is absolutely perfect, and as soon as I tried it, I realized that thinking that I should have had an orange roll instead was a horrible nightmare, and I had clearly never thought any such thing. Do not, under any circumstances, fail to get one of these cinnamon rolls when you are here.

After the cinnamon roll, nothing could really be quite as good, but the cream of potato soup was very good. The taste seemed to change dramatically to me as I got closer to the bottom of the bowl, but it's probably because I was getting used to the flavor. There's really not much in the soup besides potato and cream, so don't expect anything else, but it wasn't bad at all.

And then there was the quiche lorraine. This dish isn't sure whether it's a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner. Honestly, neither am I. It comes with toast and hash browns, both of which are forgettable. The portion of quiche, though, is immense, fully a quarter of a fairly large pie. It's topped liberally with a lemon-hollandaise sauce, which they seem to be pushing heavily right now. I can't judge the quality in relation to other sauces, but it was quite tasty, and went well with the quiche, and also with the bacon and green onions atop the whole thing. For nine bucks, it's a heck of a main dish. Just remember to save the cinnamon roll for -afterwards-.

In addition to your greatsword, don't forget your buckler and your mail coat. You might want to make sure you can let the coat out, though, your waist will be a couple inches bigger when you leave.

  • Crispy Cheese Smorgasbord ($6.00)
  • Monterrey Chicken Sandwich ($10.99)
Epic indeed. I had been warned earlier in the day that the cinnamon rolls were massive, but I took it as standard exaggeration. Three fists is a fairly good approximation. All of the flavors were very good, very gooey, and they all were fall-apart soft. The orange rolls were impressive. They were sweet, quite tangy and no fake orange flavors involved. I believe the tangy-ness was where Cham thought it was too much. They'd be awesome with breakfast.

Luckily, I skipped on the extra soup, salad, etc. I did taste the chili and mango soup though. The chili seemed pretty spicy, but a little too tomato-y for me. The mango was quite different, but I wouldn't have minded a cup of it. Definitely a sweet and sour type deal.

The Crispy Cheese Smorgasbord was a good sized portion of fried cheese sticks. Compared to what we had just eaten, they were just not that impressive. For the price, you actually get a lot. Other places, you'll get maybe six smaller sticks for about $4. There were six or seven regular breaded mozzarella, maybe 10 smaller breaded cheddar bites, and six or seven mozzarella breaded with pretzels. The sauce it came with wasn't so much marinara as it was salsa. It had a lot of bite to it, but it wasn't lingering heat. It was interesting, but I wonder if it was a mix-up. The pretzel coated ones were interesting, but like I said, overall they just didn't stack up. The other appetizer was a spinach and artichoke dip served with fried won ton chips. The chips didn't impress me, but the dip itself was good. I even tried a bit of it on my waffle fries, which was quite good.

The sandwich was also a mighty beast. It had a butterflied chicken breast, several thin slices of ham, and cheese dripping out everywhere. This was a real grilled, seasoned chicken breast with real ham, and a lot of cheese. It was simple, gooey, and tasty. The fries were lightweight waffle fries with a bit of seasoning on them. I didn't bother with the ketchup, but the artichoke dip was a good choice (even if it was too thick to effectively dip into with structurally weak fries). I ended up saving half my sandwich and fries for another day. I may have been able to finish it, but I didn't want to do that with another four hours of workday ahead of me. In fact, I'm just now coming out of the feast-induced daze I was in after three hours. It would have been a coma, rather than a daze, if I'd tried to finish.

This may have been a bigger defeat for most involved than Jonsey's, but it was well worth it. There are so many options and different styles of food to try. We may have to go back a time or five.
  • Hot Spinach & Artichoke Dip (w/Wontons) ($6.50)
  • Cup of Soup (Chili) ($3.50)
  • Chubby Checker's Omlette ($12.95)
    • W/Caramel Roll
Oh man. The appetizers may have been average, but their bakery and main dishes are just beyond good. As a quick explanation, the 'fusion' tag is on this because it has a lot of dishes from various ethnic sources, although the core of it is what most people think of as 'American' or 'Family Dining'. But much better than your random place. Let's get into it.

After the 30 minute trek through the menu, we got our rolls. My Caramel roll, the Orange roll from the sampler, and ND's Cinnamon roll were all built on the same solid cinnamony base, but mine was a lot denser than either of the other options, as the caramel and pecans really weighted the entire thing down into a super-sticky mass. Unlike the wonderful cinnamon roll ND got. I've still got half of it as leftover.

The Chili was not amazing, but it did have pleasant spice and heat, and was pleasant to eat. I would not say it was better than, say, Paradise's soup, but it was solid. Not a bean chili, though, which Cham complained about. I could have also gone for Cham's soup, as I also like mango chicken.

The fried cheese platter was indeed stunningly standard, which is a shame. The pretzel covered cheese sticks were actually sorta like fishsticks to me, and they came with Salsa of all things. Weird. The Spinach and Artichoke dip was solid, and it came with some nice wontons, but also was not standout. Servicable, but there are so many other things one could get for the money. That leaves us with the basic appetizers in general not being too great. Can't be sure if we just picked the bad ones, or if it's a trend, but.

All that portion talk? It came through with the Chubby Checker omelette. Everything I got was so dense that, frankly, getting about 5 good forkfuls into the omelette (perhaps, uh, 10% of the omelette?) I was so far past done it was stupid. That said, the omelette had some nice meat throught, and was just covered in cheese. I could have loved it if I weren't so damn full. Luckily? Boxes!

All in all, the place is just awesome. Maybe you do want to skip the appetizers, but everything else seems to stand up nicely. And the menu is so, so, SO freaking huge that you could go back for every meal for a month and still not try ti all. But it'd be a fine thing to try.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vietnamese-Asian Restaurant

Restaurant: Vietnamese-Asian Restaurant
Address: 7212 Jones St - In the mini-mall north of Nebraska Furniture Mart
Website: None.
Genres: vietnamese, thai
Check Constraints: No checks accepted.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Mango Bubble Drink ($2.99)
  • Vietnamese Egg Rolls with Vegetables ($4.50)
  • Street Noodles with Chicken ($6.25)
The name of this restaurant could only be more generic if they went ahead and just had a blinking neon sign that read "FOOD HERE". That said; it's fantastic. It's owned by a Vietnamese immigrant and run by his children, and the authenticity of the dishes shows through without sacrificing much in the way of appealing to the average American palate, especially considering that some of the primary ingredients (cilantro, tofu) are becoming much more well-known.

The building isn't spectacular in and of itself. There are several very nice wood carvings around the restaurant, and a Buddha statue right by the front door, so the place hovers in the "unremarkable" zone of decor, without diving into "plain" or skyrocketing into "Hey! I found this rusty tricycle and this ukulele! Let's bolt them onto the wall!" It does get a little dim in there during lunch since most of the windows are blocked by an entry hallway, but you can see your food and unless you've got a book with you it won't be a problem. On to food discussion!

If you've never heard of "bubble tea" or "bubble drinks" before, let me enlighten you. Picture a smoothie involving, in this case, mango. So, mango, milk, some sugar, and some ice. Delicious, right? Drop that in a glass, and then pour in a handful of tapioca pearls. Provide an extra-wide straw, and you are set to test your suction mettle! Since cassava (tapioca) flour has little to no flavor, the only purpose of the pearls is to provide texture and fun. If you're not really a fan of gummy items or don't relish the thought of suddenly getting some texture in your smoothie, then steer clear. Otherwise, definitely give it a shot - the appeal is fairly inexplicable until you try it. The bubble drinks here are flavorful, come with plenty of tapioca, and are remarkably cheap, which is an extra incentive to experience something new.

The egg rolls, in and of themselves, aren't that spectacular. The filling is good, the outside is done very crispy, and though they're $4.50 for 4, they're not terribly expensive. When eaten as intended, though, they vault up a level on the Tasty-o-Meter; they're served with lettuce and cilantro, as well as a dipping sauce, and when the cilantro and the roll are wrapped in the lettuce and dipped, you get an excellent blend of both crispy and soft and hot and cold, with a strong hit of cilantro, of which I am a huge fan. It's a shame there are only four, since that means I only got to eat one. The satay (as ordered by ND) was delicious as well, but he'll talk about that in his part.

A mention here of the soup Mecha ordered, which was like unto an ascension into heaven, would not be amiss. I have got to get me a bowl next time.

The street noodles - which I am assuming means "Like noodles cooked by a street-cart vendor" and not "We found these noodles in the street" - were a very solid choice. I almost considered the pad thai, but turned away at the last second because I was looking for something new. The noodles are little more than onion wedges cooked with flat rice noodles and chicken, with an egg cracked into them, which makes for a delicious if perhaps a little plain dish. Some cilantro or bean sprouts on top would definitely not have gone amiss, definitely. I could have used some of the sriracha or hoisin sauce on each table, but decided to run with it plain for the duration of the meal. I don't regret that, but next time I'm definitely going to put the spurs to the dish and see what I can make it do.

  • Thai Iced Tea (2.50)
  • Salty Fried Pork Chops (5.50)
  • Chicken Satay (4.50)
  • Beef Balls Soup (3.75)
I saw thai iced tea on the menu and decided I had to have it again. I wasn't disappointed. It was slightly less strong on the tea flavor, but otherwise was delicious, creamy, sweet tea goodness. It works well as a way to cool off your mouth when you ordered something a bit on the spicy side.

The chicken satay here was 2.50 less than the stuff at Thai Pepper, came on the same four skewers, but the portions were larger, and there were some veggies on the side. As if that weren't enough to make it worth the money, the rather lackluster and mild flavor from thai pepper is replaced by a delicious and ongoing spicy heat. The chicken itself was also just to that crispy point where chewing it becomes like a roast chicken flavored chewing gum, a taste I really can't get enough of.

The beef ball soup was, sadly, a disappointment. It' s not like it was a bad portion for the money, mind. But what you get is basically an extremely weak onion broth made from green onion and white onion, with sliced balls made of beef and onion. I am both not a fan of onion and ALSO not a fan of weak broth, so saying I was underwhelmed is a terrible understatement. Unfortunately, almost all the soups here involve mushrooms, which cuts down on my trying power.

The salty pork chops come on their own dish, with a side of steamed rice, and on the dish with them are tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. These will all be resting atop (well, more like IN) a bed of pork drippings. Do not waste these drippings. They are delicious. Yes, if you are on a diet, it will wreck it, because it is nothing but grease and spices. It doesn't matter. It's delicious.

This place, generic name aside, is well worth any time and money spent. Do yourself a favor and try it.

  • Beef Curry Noodles ($6.69)
The chicken satay was pretty flavorful. It had a nice, mild, lingering spiciness, which was good. I didn't really notice the flavor of the sauce that came with it. The egg rolls were a bit skinnier than typical (American) Chinese egg rolls. They were also a bit drier without the sauce that they came with. The main difference for me was the lettuce and sprig of cilantro that they came with.

There are a lot of options on the menu, and the beef curry noodles was the dish that piqued my interest the most. The menu said it had coconut milk, broccoli, and peppers. You get a pretty big sized bowl piled high. The first couple of tastes had me worried because it was definitely coconutty. I was afraid it'd end up being too strong, but once you dig in, the coconut flavor blends in really well. In addition to the items mentioned earlier, there were noodles, beef and onions, and it was swimming in a liquidy sauce. It was a little odd at first, but I ended up really enjoying it.

  • Chicken Satay ($4.50)
  • Thai's Hot and Spice Soup (Small: $2.25)
  • Red Curry Beef ($7.75) (I say this by back-calculating from the check.)
Okay, now let me get to it.

First off, the Satay was definitely an improvemnt over Thai Pepper, and people nailed that pretty much all over. Moogle brings up a point about the peanut sauce that came with it that should be brought out: the sauce was very weak/thin for peanut sauce that day. Our unnamed eating compatriot who more regularly goes there said it was thinner than normal, and we can't be sure whether that's a change, or just a sign of variability, or just a bad day, but either way, it's sadness, as I love peanut sauce. I do wish that there were more meat to the satay, though. (I've had some seriously meaty satay before, but it's not all that common.)

The eggrolls that others ordered were fine, and as Cham noted, what came with them all definitely added to the flavor positively. Apparently the guy who owns it used to come out and show people how to do it right, and I can see why.

The hot and spice soup was indeed spicy, containing pepper flakes, mushrooms, some shrimp (with tails on), and a few other things. Hint of lemongrass as well. It was just really, really good. And the heat level was just right for me to be able to eat it, as opposed to other spicy endeavors we've covered on this blog that I've had to turn away from. And the price is fantastic. If you can handle some moderate to serious spice, do yourself a favor and go for these.

My main meal, a curry beef, was just absolutely wonderful. This is a curry in the sense of almost a soup, so a tasty curry-flavored sorta-broth with beef and vegetables in it. The curry flavor itself was great, as good curry always is, with the hint of spice and coconut and so on, and generally I get chicken, so it was good to try it out with some beef. I don't really know what more to say here, if you like curry-flavoring, and like beef and sundry, you'll love the dish.
I used my rice to mop up the last of the flavor. Don't wanna miss any.

The prices are solid and the thai as good as anywhere else (and in some cases better), so by all means, stop in for lunch if you're in the area.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Roman Coin Pizza

Restaurant: Varsity Sports Cafe & Roman Coin Pizza
Address: 9735 Q Street, Omaha
Genres: Sports Bar, Pizza, Italian, American
Check Constraints: Pizza costs cannot be split across tickets.
Chain: Yes | More Omaha Locations: Yes (Bellevue)

  • Parmesan Sticks ($5.99)
  • 1/2 order Hot Wings (3.59)
  • Cheese Ravioli (6.99)
    • Cheese on breadsticks (0.50)
  • Fettuccini Alfredo w/ Chicken (8.99)
    • Cheese on breadsticks (0.50)
  • Medium Hand-tossed Chicago Delight (13.49)
    • Sausage, Beef, Pepperoni, Onions, Mushrooms, Black Olives, Green Peppers
  • Medium Hand-tossed Meat Lover's (13.49)
    • Pepperoni, Beef, Bacon, Sausage, Ham
Because we didn't actually split the check, I've recorded the entire check for posterity. That is, for the record, a total of 58 bucks and change, after tax. They accidentally made us a large Chicago Delight, but because it was their mistake, they didn't charge us extra. Right good of 'em. About twelve bucks a person(we were ordering for five), before tip, 13 if you count the upgrade to a large pizza when they don't make a mistake. That was, I should note, -exactly- enough food. There was a single piece of pizza left on the Chicago Delight tray at the end of the feeding frenzy, and everybody was so full that someone ate it almost out of obligation to say we weren't defeated. As far as lunches go, that's a damn good price, especially considering the food we got.

The parmesan sticks and cheese breadsticks were pretty standard baked in a pizza pan then cut breadsticks, but there's something interesting I'll note about the parmesan sticks later on. The cheese ravioli was decent, better than Alex's in Rolla, just a bit higher quality than you could get at your local supermarket. I didn't get to try the hot wings before Cham and Mecha demolished them, sadly, but from the sounds they were making, they were good stuff.

The meat lover's pizza was a masterwork. It was light on the sauce, which I can get behind, as pizza sauce tends to give me acid reflux. It was also light on the sauce because they piled so much meat on it that if they'd put more sauce on, it would have come flooding out of the pizza before they finished piling the stuff on. I could taste every single meat, and they were all pretty good quality meat, certainly better than you'd expect on an average pizza. Especially the ground beef, which was ground very finely and was that sorta crumbly that breaks apart easily when you start chewing and spreads delicious flavor all around. For the cost, this is easily the best meat lover's pizza I've ever had.

I actualy ordered the alfredo for two reasons. One, because I wanted to try it, obviously, but the other being because the rest of the people in this little group love them some shrooms, so I wasn't about to bite into the Chicago Delight. On the down side of this alfredo, it needed garlic. On the up side of this alfredo, it was otherwise neary perfect, and more importantly, they offer actual garlic cloves, chopped up, obviously, as a pizza topping. Presumably you could order some to go with the fettuccini alfredo, and you absolutely should. The chicken alfredo pizza they offer actually lists garlic as a separate ingredient, so I suppose I should have figured by that.

I tested my hypothesis that all this alfredo needed was a bit of garlic by taking one of the garlic-parmesan breadsticks and using it to mop up the sauce off the plate. The result was very nearly perfect alfredo. This alfredo tells me something important, and that's that the people who made the recipes for this place know what they're doing. This alfredo is absolutely perfect for the pizza they put it on, and since pizza is the focus of this place, and pasta a sidelight, it's not surprising that they haven't quite optimized their pasta dishes.

Regardless, you're going to be hard pressed to find such a filling, delicious lunch for this price anywhere else in Omaha. Just be warned, the whole place is smoker friendly, and very much defines "hole in the wall". It seems more spacious than it really is, but when it gets busy, it's going to be crowded, dark, and smoky, so if you can't handle that, you might want to go at an off hour.


Since I'm going to be indisposed shortly, I might as well get this out of the way now. This was a recommendation from Cham and I, as we had gone here once before and had us some excellent pizza for a good price once, and there's no reason not to again.

The Mozzarella cheesesticks are made off of the 'take a pizza, put mozz on it, cut it into pieces' mold, but that doesn't make it bad. The Parmesan seemed a bit more traditional. But both were fine. The Ravioli, as ND mentioned, was, while not amazing, definitely a step above the norm. The wings (Teriyaki flavor) were 6 for 3.60, so not exactly the cheapest things around, but they were cooked full through, the sauce was excellent, the meat very good. Solidly done wings, and while you can definitely get cheaper, it's rare to get much better.

The Meat Lovers and Chicago Delight are both topping heavy (and meat heavy) pizzas, and we did get hand-tossed for both, which is a shame as I sorta wanted to get peoples' opinion on the Chicago Style (for the record, on other visits, I have greatly approved.) The meats were indeed all cooked and cooked well, and all of them have solid flavor profiles. It isn't just there, and it isn't just a mash of flavor that you can't pick apart. The crust is thick enough to not be a cracker, but not particularly thick as such things go. If it weren't cut into squares, I'd say it's more NY style.

Another thing worth noting from a visit perspective is that the place was VERY lightly populated, and yet all the food came out great. That means that they didn't just give us things that were heated up or cooked earlier. It did take a bit for the food to start coming, but when they actually DO make it just for you, and it tastes this good, it's worth the wait. I'm thinking that the fact that it's in a mainly residential section of the city's what makes it empty for lunch, but I'm certainly not complaining about that.

The smokiness is a serious factor, unfortunately, even when there's no smokers there, and while I'm used to the smell of smoke from back in the day, it's not something I enjoy. Also, the place gets fairly busy in the evening, as it is also a sports bar and has drink specials and all that jazz. But the food itself leaves nothing to be desired. Except more pizza. The webpage says they deliver, and I am definitely going to have to check that option out another day.


As Mecha mentions, we've been here previously. The pizza has consistently been delivered warm and tasty, and the food comes in large quantities. When a dish or appetizer says it "comes with bread", they mean "it comes with breadsticks", and that means about half a small pizza's worth. Keep that in mind, because it effectively doubles the size of some of the appetizers, like the ravioli.

Speaking of, I got an odd flavor from the ricotta, but ND and Mecha didn't notice anything. It wasn't bad, per se, just not the flavor I found myself expecting. The wings were "teriyaki" in the sense that Kraft Dinner is "real cheese", but were tasty nonetheless. The breadsticks are delicious and covered with sufficient cheese, and though I didn't enjoy the parmesan ones initially, they grew on me very fast.

The pizzas could be a little larger, perhaps, but they're tasty, and they're priced well for non-national-chain pizzas. You're going to eat cheaper at Papa John's, but you're going to feel worse about yourself afterwards for consuming pizza best left to starving college students, and well you should. You could have enjoyed a pizza topped high with good things! I wouldn't exactly call the pizza "New York Style" as it was not paper thin nor greasy enough to qualify, though I would stick it firmly in the "Midwestern handtossed" range of pizzas, which is where you find a lot of the non-chain joints. It could possibly have had more cheese for my tastes. But then, I like a lot of cheese on my pizza. You'll find that the pizza here reheats well, and though I wouldn't say it's better cold, it's good enough that way for a 3 AM snack.

As noted before, if smoke is an issue, steer clear, but it wasn't too bad at lunch. Certainly not enough to put me off my food.


I had heard of the place before from a co-worker at a previous job. I believe he said it was his favorite pizza. I thought it was pretty good stuff too. I had mostly the Chicago Delight and the breadsticks. The pizzas being piled with toppings and light on sauce brings the focus on the toppings more, which I liked. The crust is relatively thin and crispy, but neither overly thin nor too crunchy. It was really pretty good. Not too greasy. Not too dry.

The cheese sticks were also piled with cheese and quite tasty. The parmesan sticks were really quite good. They just had parmesan, butter and garlic. I was a little worried that they'd be too dry like many non-cheese breadsticks tend to be, but I found they didn't really need the marinara if I didn't want it.

A couple of final notes. The water tasted a little "dirty" to me at first. I'm used to having my Britta filtered water at home though. I didn't really notice any smoke at lunch. I did notice, however, that they had a children's TV channel going over in the corner near the pool table. That tells me that they expect kids for lunch and/or dinner, and they do have a kids menu on the web that I didn't notice while we were there.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Greek Islands

Restaurant: Greek Islands
Address: 3821 Center Street
Genres: Greek
Check Constraints: Automatic gratuity of 10-15% for parties of 20+. Checks can be split, and appetizer costs can also be split among the split checks.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Greek Island Burger (6.99)
    • Steak Fries
  • Iced Tea (1.75)
  • Saganaki (feta cheese flambe) (1.74 after split)
  • Appetizer Combo Platter for Four (2.65 after split)
  • Greek Potatoes (2.99)
Greek Islands is a cozy little restaurant nestled in between the two main business districts of Omaha. I'm pretty sure that the building itself was converted from something else, but damned if I can tell what. That's irrelevant, though, because what it is is quality. This is the second time we've been there, the first being before we started blagging, so we went back just for y'all. Actually, that's a lie. We went back for the food.

The appetizer combo platter consists of four hot appetizers arranged around a small container of satziki sauce and a fairly large slab of feta cheese. Turns out that slab of feta is used a LOT at this place, you'll see it turn up later in the review. The stuff arranged around it is the really important part, though. A quarter of the platter is a big pile of gyro meat. Since you also get a refillable basket of bread and butter, I'd use that for this stuff. Gyro as appetizer, gyro as meal. Opposite that is a big pile of meatballs, which are good on their own and amazing when dipped in the satziki. Another quarter of the space is basically filo dough wrapped around feta cheese and baked, and opposite THAT is the same thing, only with spinach. All of them are worth trying, but be warned, the pastries are really, REALLY hot when they come out. I warned Cham and he still burned his damn fool mouth.

The greek potatoes are roast potatoes like mom used to make. Literally, in my case. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they roast the things with the chiken they make here (which is, by the way, delicious). Potatoes, quartered lengthwise, herbed liberally and roasted. If you get them, eat them first, because they come out steaming and they'll dry out quickly, and there's no gravy to keep them moist.

When I was a young'n, one of my uncles got some feta cheese and offered me a couple bites. I tried it, and man, it was awful, or so I thought. I went for quite some time thinking that I didn't like feta. Turns out I just wasn't eating it right. Saganaki, that's a good way to eat feta. Take a centimeter thick slab of feta cheese, put it on a metal plate, douse it with brandy, and light it up. Let it caramelize a bit, cut off a chunk, and spread it on some bread. It's one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, and I have tasted a number of very delicious things.

Another excellent way to eat feta is with that burger. I want to be absolutely clear on this point, the greek islands burger is equal parts bun, ground beef, gyro meat, and feta cheese. That same immense slab of feta that they use for the appetizers is also used for this burger, and the result is a burger that stands proud on its own, accepting no sauce of any sort. The steak fries that come with the burger are just your standard prefab steak fries, so use the catsup they'll bring out. Just keep the stuff WELL away from the burger.

We've been to this place twice, and both times were worth every last penny. Go there, but you might want to consider making it a late lunch, because it's got a great location, and since most people tend to try for an early lunch, it fills up fast and thins out a lot around 12:30 or so.

  • Greek Island Burger (6.99)
    • Steak Fries
  • Appetizers (Split four ways. See above.)
It seems like I won't have much to add to ND's comments since we ate nearly the same thing, but I'll add my take on it. The saganaki is always impressive. I mean, they set it on fire at your table! They also squeeze a bit of lemon on it when the flames are done. The edges harden up and get a crunchy, tangy flavor to them. The combo platter was a good mix of tasty treats. I love their gyro meat, so that was a good start. The meatballs were also really good. The spinach pastry was strong, but not bad. I prefer the other one though. It was simply cheese in pastry bread and really good.

The burger was amazing. I topped my burger with all the things they give you on the side--pickles, a little onion, and lettuce. I considered trying to get some of that satziki from the appetizer tray, but it really doesn't need anything. The fries were fairly ordinary. There was a little bit of seasoning, but you can't taste it. ND couldn't finish his last potato, so I gladly gave up half my fries for it. It does get a bit dry, but it's still just as tasty. My mom makes a pot roast with beef, carrots and potatoes, and these potatoes remind me so much of those (a good thing), but with a bit of seasoning. I had considered trying to swap the fries for potatoes, but decided to try the fries first. I don't know if you even can swap, but I'd recommend trying. I know I will.

Last time around, I had a gyro with the potatoes. The gyro itself was piled so extremely high, it was overflowing. You couldn't even try to fold the pita! You get the amazing gyro meat, satziki, feta, onions, and I swear there was something else (maybe something red?) in there. I don't remember the price, but it was really good for the amount of food.


  • Lamb Stew ($8.50)
  • Appetizers (see above)
A week late and a dollar short, but at least I'm getting to the review before the next lunch out today. I blame work, mostly.

As ND mentions, we've been to Greek Islands before. He's correct in that it feels like the building was converted from something prior, as the outside looks like nothing so much as a metal-walled pole-barn (if you don't know what that is, be glad you grew up outside the farm belt). Which really doesn't matter, because the inside has many loving touches which make it a good place to be. Sitting inside it is a far cry from being on the seashore eating delicious Mediterranean food, but the frescoes on the walls are very pretty, and they use mirrors judiciously enough to make the restaurant seem twice as big. Of course, since the place was packed the mirrors also made it look twice as full, but that's forgivable.

The two pastries on the appetizer dish ND mentioned were spanakopita (the spinach one) and tyropita (the non-spinach one). The phyllo dough is delightfully crisp, the insides were delicious and warm, and dipping them in tzatziki ratchets up the flavor to eleven.

I saw the sign for lamb stew on the way in the door and decided I wanted to try it before I even saw the menu. It's apparently a regular Thursday special for them, and I really recommend giving it a try. I was a little taken aback when the server mentioned that it had no vegetables in it, but let me digress a moment on stew styles. The first of two ways you can take a stew is towards the style I call "English", which is "let's throw whatever we've got lying around into this pot"; that nets you delicious food like your stereotypical beef stew, and on into your thicker soups. The other way is "let's overwhelm this meat with spices so we can't tell it's going bad" (it sounds nasty but you could make a good argument that the whole "cooking with spices" thing started to disguise bad ingredients). That was the way this lamb stew went; it was a lot like a curry, very heavy on coriander, with nothing in it but lamb, spices, and possibly what was once a tomato base. I have absolutely zero complaints; the stew was delicious, and even the heavy spicing let the meat's taste shine through. It was a very middle-eastern/Mediterranean treatment of a stew, and I'm actually pleased they chose to go the dangerous route instead of sticking with something they were sure everyone would be comfortable with.

It's served on rice, and with nothing else, so if you're not one for strong flavors go ahead and save the side salad it comes with to eat alongside, instead of beforehand. Adding a side of vegetables probably wouldn't go amiss, either.

The place is nice, the food is excellent, and the servers are capable and friendly. Three thumbs up.

  • Chicken Santorini (Chicken breast stuffed with Feta and Spinach) ($8.49)
    • Steak Fries
    • House Salad
  • Souvlaki ($5.59 for a stick, a-la carte)
  • Saganaki (cheese flambe) (Split four ways, $1.75)
  • Appetizer Platter (Split four ways, $2.65)
    • Tyropitakia (Three-cheese pie in fila)
    • Spanikopita (Spinach and feta pie in fila)
    • Keftedes (Greek Meatballs)
    • Gyro Meat
    • A block of feta cheese
    • Tzatziki sauce
Okay, okay, I'll note exactly what's in the appetizer sampler for posterity. The place was pretty busy at the just before 12ish time we arrived at, but by 12:40 the crowd had lightened significantly. The place also has a bar, but nobody in the group has sampled its wares yet.

The three-cheese pie and spinach and feta pies were both okay, although the spinach and feta pie was too much spinach for my tastes. The meat options were just delicious, as expected, and the feta cheese and tzatziki sauce supported pretty much everything on the platter fantastically. The gyro meat was good even without the tomato and onion that I tend to eat on my gyros, and the meatballs were good, if not seeming too different from normal meatballs to me. The Saganaki is a fairly signature thing, and for good reason. It's a really an interesting and somewhat acquired taste of lemon and cooked/caramelized/burned cheese served in a hot pan a-la a fajita or some other 'serve it sizzling' dish, it's but it's a good acquired taste. The guy was even nice enough not to light my hair on fire. I'm not sure that it's feta, though, or at least the normal feta, as the menu just says 'greek cheese' there, and uses feta for feta everywhere else. But no matter what cheese it is, it works.

For the main dish, I chose to stick with something old (a Souvlaki skewer) and something new (the chicken, nach.) Now, considering how I said that the spanikoptia was too much spinach for me, you'd think I might have the same trouble with the chicken, but you'd be wrong. The chicken had the perfect amount of spinach taste, cheese taste, and chicken taste, and held together pretty well for a stuffed chicken breast from a 'falling all over your plate PoV'. I got steak fries which were nothing amazing, but just fine. Then again, I eat them without ketchup, which is apparently impossible for anyone else.

The souvlaki skewer is a skewer of big hunks of pork (IIRC) that are browned and absolutely delicious. They'll typically offer them in pitas with other things for real eating, but I just got some on my own, and it was good, although 5.60 for just the meat feels a little expensive. I was hoping it'd come with pita/etc.

Ultimately the amount was all too much food for me. I ended up boxing all of my stuff up, along with the feta and the tzatziki sauce, and they all kept pretty well a day later, which was a little surprising, but very pleasing. Always good to know.

It's great filling food, the price is still good on the overall, and the service was friendly and pretty good for the place being so busy. It's just a shame it's too far away to go too regularly.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sakura Bana

Restaurant: Sakura Bana
Address: 7425 Dodge St. (South side, near Indigo Joe's.)
Genres: Japanese, Sushi
Check Constraints: None known
Chain: No | More Omaha Locations: No

  • Gyoza ($4.95)
  • Lunch Box C ($9.95)
    • Sushi (2, Tuna and Whitefish, I believe)
    • 3 California rolls
    • 1 Inari roll (bean curd over rice, essentially)
    • Teriyaki Chicken
    • Cabbage, Rice, and an Orange
    • Salad (Sesame dressing)
    • Soup (Osumashi)
  • Tako Sushi (Cooked octopus) ($2.50)
  • Ogura Ice Cream ($2.95)
Well, I'm starting out for once, apparently. Alert the media.

Sakura Bana is a fairly long-standing Omaha sushi place, which moved not too long ago into this much more spacious feeling building (with better parking), both of which make it a lot easier for anyone to enjoy the resturant. The ambiance is a mix of casual American with strong touches of Japanese, and won't be awkward to most people.

The food, however, is what tends to frighten people about a sushi place, but also is what brings them there if they're the sort, and many of us are the sort. I am an enormous fan of good sushi, and Sakura Bana is the place nearest my work where I can get it. This may be a bit disjointed, but trust me, it's only because it's just hard to find the words for how much I generally enjoy the food here.

The gyoza appetizer was solid, and had a good flavor all the way through, the meat browned independently before being put into the dumplings, which doesn't always taste like the case. The sauce, as is typical for gyoza sauce, was strong, but not too strong here, which is always nice. ND's agedashi tofu appetizer came very hot, and was very tasty on its own (fried tofu is a good, if weird, texture). I believe Cham got Geso Karage, which was an amazing twist on what would be just normal calamari elsewhere, using tempura batter along with some great spices. Moogle's appetizer I do not remember the name of, but I certainly didn't mind it.

The advantage to going to some sushi places (At least, all the ones I've been to) for lunch, if they're more than a straight 'sit at the bar and order' restaurant, is often that they often offer a lunch box special of some sort, which has a wide variety of flavors, usually for a good price. This restaurant is no exception. Two pieces of sushi, 3 rolls (I think they were california, they had avocado in them), some teriyaki chicken, a fish-broth and vegetable based soup (or so it tasted), a small salad with sesame dressing, and other things to accompany and clear the palate... it's just too much for me. Well, not too much to eat, but it's really difficult for me to describe how much the entire package is just plain good. The sushi is made on-site by chefs (and they do have a sushi bar to sit at if you're all by your lonesome), and about as good as any I've ever had, even in a coastal city. Do not doubt that you can get good sushi in Omaha. You can. All the other flavors are solidly done, and if you go to enough oriental/Japanese sit-down places, you're likely familiar with them, even if you don't know the names. But the website has many helpful pictures.

I ordered a piece of sushi a-la-carte, as I often do, and this time I chose octopus. Cooked octopus is a little rubbery in the chewing, although not bad in taste. Not everyone's gonna go for chewy, though, so keep that in mind. The a-la-carte menu, though, is an excellent way to try to branch out from the standard sushi options even if you go for a normal dish otherwise, and although it may seem a little expensive for the size (a large mouthful, generally), it's still interesting to try the new things from time to time.

The ogura ice cream is oddly normal tasting, in that it didn't taste much different from, say, vanilla, despite having sweet red bean flavoring in it. It's not bad, it just... doesn't stand out, despite seeming like it would. A surprising downturn to what was an otherwise stellar meal. Our visit was not without its bad sides, though, but I'll leave describing those to the other. For me, this was another visit to another of my favorite restaurants, and I'll always be ready to go back.

  • Ika Ten ($6.50)
  • Hot Tea ($1.50)
  • Lunch Box D ($11.95)
    • Sushi (2, Tuna and Whitefish, I believe)
    • 3 California rolls
    • 1 Inari roll (bean curd over rice, essentially)
    • Teriyaki Chicken
    • Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura
    • Cabbage, Rice, and an Orange
    • Salad (Sesame dressing)
    • Soup (Osumashi)
  • Green Tea Ice Cream ($2.95)
Speaking as someone who had never tried actual sushi prior to our first visit to Sakura Bana, I can tell you that the place is way more accessible than some others I've tried. They're generally helpful at explaining words and terms, and not condescending about it at all - the sushi is fresh, delicious, and ample (if a little expensive). That's fine, though. I'm willing to pay a little extra for the fresh fish in Omaha... you may not have looked at a map of the US recently, but Omaha's just about equidistant from either coast, which makes getting things like fresh tuna kind of a luxury.

The new building is much larger, much roomier, and in pretty much all ways better than the old location, including things like parking. The staff is (as mentioned) helpful, kind, and reasonably prompt. They don't do things like waiting for all orders from the table to be ready before delivering them, which is understandably important when parts of your meal include raw fish. It means that food shows up kind of haphazardly from the time you order until the last entreè comes out, but that's easy enough to deal with.

And speaking of the food... Mecha was wrong on his guess for the appetizer. The Ika Ten was delicious, though; a tempura-style take on calamari, served with a light dipping sauce. It was perhaps a tad on the rubbery side, but I'm not expecting calamari perfection from a lunch-rush appetizer. The dipping sauce is a ubiquitous tasty liquid of indeterminate flavor that they use for all their tempura-related dishes. I couldn't isolate any single flavor out of it, but it's definitely delicious, and offers the tempura a hit of occasionally-needed moisture.

Mecha's about dead-on in his take on the lunch boxes. It is a lot of food, and I never come away from the D box thinking "I really wish I'd gotten something else". It's served with a dollop of wasabi and a pile of pickled ginger, both of which go really well with the sushi provided. The teriyaki is good, but unremarkable in its deliciousness. The tempura, which is the only difference between the C and D lunches, is a crispy, light flavor that fits in really well with the rest of the tastes going on in the box. I think we've covered the sushi sufficiently, but if you need a final word on that, I'll just say "YUMMY" and leave it there. The salad, however, is the single failure point of the boxes. It's nothing but a bagged salad with an okay but passable dressing on it, when it could be a lot more. If they varied up the greens, then added some green onions and bean sprouts, it would definitely take it to the next level. They already do something like this for their Chef's Salad, so it wouldn't be too hard to do.

The green tea here is delicious, and I almost always get it. They serve it iced, but in the winter I definitely prefer the warmth of the hot tea. It needs no sugar, and it works well as a palate cleanser between bites of sushi. The green tea ice cream, on the other hand, should only be attempted if you really, really love green tea (luckily, I do). The flavor is unmistakably present, and though the sweetness of the ice cream reduces the bitter quality, it's a little overwhelming if you're not prepared for it.

All in all, it's also one of my favorite restaurants, and I always look forward to going back.

  • Shumai - Crab ($4.95)
  • Ten Don ($8.95)
I have been so busy this week. It's ridiculous. Hence, posting a week after the fact. Anyway, the appetizers were all pretty decent. The one I ordered, shumai, is a steamed dumpling with meat inside. I'm not a big fan of mushy textured food, but the flavor was good. It came with five of them, but they were fairly small. It'd be a good size for a single person. The tofu, again, was an odd texture, but the flavor wasn't bad. I probably wouldn't order it for myself. The calamari was interesting. I have had calamari before, and this was a bit harder to chew through than I expected. The tempura treatment was nice, but again, I probably wouldn't order it for myself. The gyoza was good. I barely remember it now because, to me, it was an average steamed dumpling. I would get either of the dumpling appetizers again. None of the appetizers were bad, but they didn't really stand out in my mind.

When we eat here, I generally get a lunch box E or F which are both great. To branch out a bit this time, my main dish was "ten don", which is a bowl of white rice with some tempura shrimp and veggies and a sweet sauce. This was pretty simple and pretty good. The sauce, which may be the tempura sauce Cham mentions above, holds the dish together for me. I don't think it would be as good without it. I would definitely get it again. They have a couple other options in the same style with meat ranging from beef to eel.

ND had a bad run-in with a mushroom allergy that day, and I believe he is not planning on adding to the post this time around.