Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Caniglia's Venice Inn

Restaurant: Caniglia's Venice Inn
Address: 6920 Pacific St
Website: http://canigliasveniceinn.com/
Genres: Italian
Check Constraints: 17% Gratuity for 6 or more
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Escargot ($8.50)
  • Pesto Linguini w/Chicken ($10.90)
    • Salad Bar
    • Beef Vegetable Soup
As I learn more about the restaurants of Omaha and the history thereof, I have come to realize that it's impossible to trace said history without mentioning the Caniglia family. From Caniglia's Original Restaurant to Mr. C's, the family has a long history in Omaha, and I can honestly say I regret that we didn't start this blag before several of these restaurants closed. Still, there are some still operating, and Caniglia's Venice Inn (started by Eli Caniglia in 1957) is one such place. On what was more or less a momentary whim by ND for Italian, we selected this as our destination and boldly marched forth in search of history.

I suppose you could say we found it. I ordered the escargot because I thought it would make for a good blag experience (such things we do for our readers! It's so hard to eat food), and to be honest it did. The small land snails are served out of their shell, so there's no need to fish around with a fork for them or anything difficult. They arrived in a largish ceramic dish with five small depressions around a sixth center depression, in each of which was nestled a piece of escargot, veritably swimming in butter and garlic, which wikipedia assures me is the traditional service for such edible beasts as this. Additionally there seemed to be at least a small amount of Parmesan scattered over the dish, though it wound up not being very taste-able. There was actually a mushroom on the top of the center depression, which fell to Maple to eat, and he seemed to think it delicious. At any rate, around the outside of the ceramic dish were toast points of a sort. The whole deal was very hot when it came out of the kitchen, and I recommend a moment or two of cool down before trying to eat one like ND and I did. I actually had two pieces, as nobody seemed to want the last one, so I got one very hot and one that was far more temperate - I ate both of them on toast, and I think my general opinion of the appetizer was: good, but expensive. Granted, this was my first time trying it so I am no connoisseur of such things, but the butter flavor went well with the subtle taste of the escargot, and it was certainly no more rubbery or hard to eat than your average deep-fried calamari. I'm glad I ordered it once, but it's unlikely I'll get it again - at least here.

The salad bar was better than many, but I've been severely spoiled by salad bars at places like Whole Foods, and thusly I am not the most impartial judge of variety. Still, I was able to assemble a decent salad, and the greenery was not composed of entirely iceberg lettuce. Their signature Sicilian dressing was sweet with a very light vinegar taste, and well worth getting over anything else I saw there. The soup was actually very good; the beef in the name came from ground beef the soup was tomato-based, and the vegetables weren't cooked entirely to death while still imparting a lot of flavor to the overall cup. Both soup and salad come with a lot of the entrees, so you'll likely get the chance to try them.

A brief mention: there is olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the table for the bread which also comes with entrees. I recommend using it - the bread is good, but it's hard for me to pass up some balsamic goodness.

The pesto chicken was good, but not overwhelmingly delicious. It was little more than linguine slathered in pesto, with diced tomato, black olives, and chunks of chicken. The chicken wasn't as flavorful as it could have been, but the pesto made up for that a lot. The single downside was that it could have greatly benefited from some fresh-grated parmesan. The table shaker helped, but the flavor zing from fresh would have definitely done more for the dish.

I have heard good things about the steak here, and I might try that at some point. The dinner menu here looks like it has a lot more culinary stars on it, and I'm positive that you'd have a much better ambience and probably experience overall at dinnertime. I fully intend to come back for said dinner at some point, but from what I hear I'll likely need to make reservations. One thing's for sure - if you like the food here, you'll probably like it for a long time. I know of at least one person who has been eating here for 30+ years.

  • Garlic Bread ($4.25)
  • Fettucini Alfredo ($8.25)
  • Cannoli ($3.95)
Okay, first things first. I really don't know what the heck to make of the escargot. I didn't actually get much taste out of it, in part due to the heat. I don't think I'd do it again, but not because it tasted terrible or had a bad texture, but just because it's pretty expensive.

The garlic bread here is actually pretty good quality. A bit charred around the edges, but when you get past that into the gooey center, you're looking at a very nice blend of multiple cheeses and garlic that can top most places, though obviously not my favorites.

I have never had cannoli before, but the essence of my thoughts on the stuff here is that it's rather like eating a cinnamon stick dipped in chocolate sauce and whipped cream. There was a LOT of cinnamon flavor, and it was overpowering in the cream filling. If I had to choose between getting this a second time and getting, say, the tiramisu, I'd go with the latter without hesitation.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the fettuccini alfredo. I am a man who loves his alfredo. This alfredo, it did not love me back. It was bitter. Not so much as, say, Indigo Joe's, which remains a travesty beyond compare, but it had a good helping of bitter. It lacked parmesan flavor entirely, and the somewhat stale shaker of grated parmesan at the table didn't help at all. Worse, when I didn't eat it all promptly, as it was not delicious, it congealed into an awful mess that wasn't even worth taking with me. Heed my warning, and stay well away from the alfredo.


  • Sausage and Pepper Sandwich ($6.95)
  • Tiramisu ($5.00)
  • Iced Tea ($0.95)
The escargot was a fascinating thing. I gave it a shot since I'd never had it before. I was a little afraid of another gizzard incident, but that wasn't the case. It did have a pretty strong flavor and was a bit chewy, but it actually wasn't bad at all. It's one of those things where it looks and sounds a lot worse than it tastes. It's a bit hard to describe the flavor, however. Cham mentioned that it was better with the lemon squeezed over it.

The garlic bread was pretty good. The bruchetta wasn't bad either. I'm not normally a fan of tomatoes, but this actually had a lot of other stuff on it as well. There may have been more of the olives, onions, etc than tomato even. The topping doesn't like to stay on the bread as you eat it, however. Both came with six pieces, which seemed pretty good for the price.

The sausage and peppers sandwich turned out to be "hot dog style". The sausage came uncut on a hoagie bun with the peppers and sauce topping it. It still had to be eaten with a knife and fork because it was so messy. It was an interesting option, and I've never seen it done like that. It was good, but hard to eat. It also came with thin fries, which were average. A lot menu sections mentioned that you could get tea or coffee (free refils) for 95 cents with your meal, so I gave that a go as well. The waiter kept my glass fairly full.

The tiramisu was pretty good. It was a fairly large piece with fresh whipped cream. The bottom bready portion seemed a little dry, but it didn't detract much from the rest of it. The whipped cream was very light and delicious.

Overall, it was decent food with reasonable prices, but you may have to look for some of the dishes that they do best. I would come back to give it another shot.

  • Fettucini Alfredo ($8.25)
  • French Onion Soup ($4.25)
The escargot reminded me somewhat of an oyster. Like the others, I've never had escargot before, so I'm not sure how it compares to what other places might offer, but I can say it was only ok and not something I'd get again at the price point.

I opted to pay the upcharge for a bowl of french onion soup with my meal and was sorely disappointed. The soup not only had the standard bit of cheese on top, it also had a generous sprinkling of parmesan which overpowered everything until you got through the crouton. Once through the crouton it tasted mostly of beef broth and, despite seeing lots of onion, there was very little onion flavor or texture. The Fettucini Alfredo, as ND has already said, was bitter and needed a big helping of parmesan added. I left the place with half of my serving still on the plate.


  • Bruchetta Bread ($6.50)
  • Lasagna ($8.50)
  • Onion Soup ($4.25)
  • Cannoli ($3.95)
What a smattering of random stuff we got!

The s-car-go was a really unique taste, but split between 5 people there wasn't much of it to go around. It did have its own subtle flavor, and I can definitely see why people in general would like it. It really isn't my cup of tea, though, especially at that price. I'd take sushi over escargot for weird expensive deliciousness anyday. The Bruchetta was very full of vegetation, from the tomatoes to the strong olive flavor to some other herbage. Not a huge fan of olives, but it worked reasonably well for the appetizer itself.

I also hit the salad bar, which was pretty light on options (although it had some other independant stuff you could get, a pasta, something that looked like mousse?) and went with their 'house' special dressing, which was a twist on italian. I vaguely remember it as being sweet and interesting, and so wasn't disappointed. The garlic bread was also pretty good. I got one of the pieces that was just the right amount of browned for my tastes, and it was a slight cut above in my opinion. The onion soup that I went with had VERY strong cheese flavor, and almost no onion flavor, which was disappointing. I am a fan of cheese, but no balance makes for a tough dish to want to go through all of it.

My Lasagna went the 'extra sweet' route, for the sauce. This is fairly common in higher end italian places in my experience, and is not generally my preference. That said, the actual body of it was very good, if small, with plenty of meaty and slight cheesy flavor to try to balance against the sauce. I'd probably try something else, but if you enjoy the sweet version of lasagna, this may be a place to take a shot at.

The dessert options were fairly small, but I felt like trying the cannoli here. I actually really enjoyed the cinnamon flavor (and am not a fan of Tiramisu), so it worked well for me and I might have it again were I to return (I am a fan of eating tubes of things.)

With (forced) tip, we averaged 20 bucks a person, which is certainly decent in theory, but there were so many inconsistencies that drove people away (eg: the alfredo). On the overall, I have to agree with Cham. Lunch may not be the best time to give this place a shot (it was fairly sparse in people, which almost always seems to be a problem), and it may smooth out some of the inconsistencies to give it another shot at dinner.

The Market Basket

Restaurant: The Market Basket
Address: 911 S 87th Ave, in Countryside Village Shopping Center
Website: http://marketbasketomaha.com/
Genres: bakery, deli
Check Constraints: Unknown
Chain: No | More Omaha Locations: No

  • New York Reuben ($9.00)
If I don't start this review now, it may be forgotten. The Market Basket is hidden away in the back corner of a small shopping center near 90th and Pacific St. It has an upscale sort of feel to it. The prices have an upscale sort of feel as well, however. They have a wide range of foods and plenty of healthier foods on the menu. They have an assortment of items displayed in a case in front of the counter and some shelves of jellies or preserves as you walk in. They also had some non-food items that looked like haircare, skincare, or soaps.

The reuben was a pastrami sandwich with shredded fresh vegetables and thousand island dressing. It was a bit different than what I was expecting, but it was decent. It came with potato chips that Market Basket makes themselves. The chips were large slices of potato, far less greasy than average chips, and came to us unsalted. I thought they were a bit bland, honestly.

Market Basket has a unique atmosphere and decent food, but I think the higher prices keep it off my "must return" list.

  • Herb Roasted Beef Sandwich ($9?)
  • Cup of White Tuscan Bean Soup ($3?)
  • Brownie ($2?)
  • Lemon Bar ($2?)
As Moogle says, this review was about to be lost to the sands of time; it has clearly already started happening, as I seem to have utterly misplaced the receipt and so my prices are only approximate.

Market Basket is a strange blending of what you would call a "bistro" and a bakery/restaurant not unlike Wheatfields or Panera. It's a lot closer to the latter of the two, but it's striving for the upscale feel more than anything. The dining area is split into two parts, one of which is near all their display cases and isn't especially distinctive, style-wise, but the other part is done in a very modern style and appears to be meant a lot more for couples or small groups than the five-to-six people we usually eat lunch with.

Still, being on the side with the bakery display is interesting in and of itself. The bakery here puts out quite a number of interesting things, including a large number of intriguing cakes. Like a lot of bakery/restaurants, you can purchase these over the counter. It's probably worth mentioning that they seem to have a lot of chocolate confectioneries, including some rather curious fudges which I have heard are good but didn't actually try at this visit.

What I did try was the herb-roasted beef sandwich. It's served on ciabatta, which in this case was toothsome but not overly chewy like some ciabatta tends to be. The beef was tender but chewy enough that you're almost better off cutting off bites of the sandwich, or you're going to pull a lot of beef out of the sandwich with that first bite. It was topped with Swiss, red onions and tomatoes, making for a flavor combination I've had before and which I feel works very well for roast beef sandwiches. More importantly, though, the entire sandwich was spread with very very coarse-ground mustard. Seriously, there were almost more seeds than actual spread. Which isn't to say that this was bad; it was actually not overwhelmingly mustard-y, and the rest of the flavors of the sandwich did a good job balancing the strong flavor. It would have been amazing if it was served warm, but cold it was still very good. I'd get it again, but I think it would be absolutely best on an early fall afternoon.

The Tuscan white bean soup was, to be honest, not very memorable. It had the flavor one would expect, the seasoning one would expect, and the texture one would expect, so it's fairly safe to say if you've enjoyed this soup elsewhere, you'll like it here. The desserts, however, were damn good. The brownie had a large hit of chocolate flavor and was appropriately dense for what it was - which is to say, a brownie, and not a piece of chocolate cake. It was also fairly moist inside, a good bet that it was baked fresh that day - not that I expected anything different. The lemon bar, on the other hand, was good but not nearly as excellent. If you really dig lemon bars, go for it, but otherwise wander elsewhere in their catalogue of sweets.

The cost here is definitely high - you're paying in part for the "bistro" classification - but it comes down to what you place value on in a restaurant. If you think it's worth it for fresher ingredients and some more interesting taste experiences, you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for a quick sandwich on a busy Saturday, stick to a slightly less upscale restaurant.

  • Chicken Pita ($9.50)
  • Cup of White Gazpacho ($3.50)
I am smrt, I wrote my prices down on the intertubes.

The environment was more or less as was described, although it looked like they had a darker more 'dining room' environment off to the right, but we got seated in the brighter section right near the bakery case. I was going to order two soups, but sadly they were out of a delicious squashy soup, so I just went with the one White Gazpacho. It was white and tasted very strongly of cucumber and sour cream. Which was not a bad flavor (Cham assures me that that flavor occurs elsewhere in the world, such as in sandwiches) but I couldn't quite manage the whole cup of it. The Chicken Pita had a lot of similar notes, but was far more complex and an extremely well put together dish. There wasn't much 'pita' to the chicken pita, and once it was gone it was a bit harder to manage the blend of chicken, fresh vegetables, and IIRC a light dressing. I vaguely remember strands of squash, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, and more, but it has been a long time. My overall impression which I noted down, though, was that it had a very good balance, and for a dish to have a lot of complex notes that could all be tasted and also all worked together means it's a dish you should try. Just be careful managing your pita.

There's a lot more to try here that I was interested in, with a large variety of fresh seeming fare, so I'd definitely go back, even with the high price. Unfortunately for it, the place competes fairly strongly with Wheatfields and maybe Paradise in its proximity, both of which do similar things at good prices, but give it a try for its variety.

  • Fish 'n' Chips ($10.50)
I'm a fan of Fish 'n' Chips, so I ordered the Fish 'n' Chips. It came with a very large helping of coleslaw. I assume it was made in house, since it was unlike any I'd had before. It was a little less than dry and barely sweet, composed of (I'm going from a long distant memory here, so forgive me) julienned cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash. I prefer my coleslaw a little wetter and a littler sweeter than what they offered, but it still had a really good crunch.

The chips were definitely made in house. They sliced potatoes the long way into about 1/16" thick pieces and fried them to a very hard crunchy. The level of crunchiness didn't work for them at all. You'd bite into one and, instead of giving you a clean cut, it would break into a bunch of smaller pieces that would dribble down your front. They were also pretty bland and had a slightly burnt taste to them. They definitely could have used some salt.

The fish had a classic light batter. They didn't offer any malt vinegar and by the time I'd thought to ask, the waitress had already disappeared and wasn't to be seen for a short time. The fish was still good though. The batter was flavorful and the fish wasn't too fishy.

Mecha's right that there were a lot of other interesting things on the menu that I'd like to try, but I find the prices a bit off-putting. And if I were to ever return, I'd definitely go for a side other than their chips.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen

Restaurant: Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen
Address: 6303 Center Street
Website: http://www.gandolfosdeli.com/
Genres: Sandwiches
Check Constraints: None
Chain: Yes| More Omaha Locations: Yes

  • Small Soup (Wisconsin Cheese) ($1.99)
  • Cheesecake ($3.49)
  • Drink + Chips ($1.99)
  • 12" Dagwood ($8.99)
If that seems like a lot of food, it's because it is. I was coming off a nasty bout with something or other last week, and my appetite was voracious, to put it mildly. This is a new location in town, it just opened last week, and it opened within very easy distance for us, and they were offering a discount, so we kinda had to try it. It's a pretty standard sandwich place inside, except that instead of waiting at the counter, they have you sit down and they'll bring the sandwich out to you. Everything else, you get to carry yourself. The place is a little small, so if they get decent amounts of business, it's gonna be crowded.

All of this is pretty secondary to the food, though. The Wisconsin cheese soup was a tad heavy on the ham, but the entire taste was ham and cheese, pretty much like eating a ham and cheese sandwich, only without the sandwich. For those who don't read ND-speak, that means it was delicious and you should get some if they have it when you go in.

The cheesecake was very cheesecakey, and I can't say that the slice was undersized. In fact, it was pretty damn formidable, but coulda used some strawberries, as it was a tad on the dry side. Other than that, it was quality, though.

The dagwood... oh man. The dagwood is a monster. Four or five types of meat, a bunch of cheese, mayo, mustard, pickles, onions, tomatoes. It's a big sandwich. If you like a big sandwich, get this. If you like a really big sandwich, get this with extra meat. There is only one sandwich that can compare to this, really, and that's the monster called the Gargantuan, at Jimmy John's. And this one has pickles. Man, I love pickles. If you love pickles and meat and cheese, get this sandwich.


  • Whole Coney Island Gyro ($8.89) (sans mayo)
  • Soup (Wisconsin Cheese) + Drink Combo ($2.49)
The servers at the restaurant called the sandwiches 12", but the online menu and the paper one I picked up call them "whole", which I think is a better term for them since I'm fairly positive the sandwich I ate clocked in over 12". Even given that amount of food, though, the prices here are fairly expensive. It certainly outclasses Subway and Jimmy John's in terms of price per sandwich, but when you're making that consideration you have to take a couple things into account.

I have eaten many a Subway sandwich, and while they're filling and some of them are certainly better for you than a bushel of potatoes in a deep-fryer, you're not going to find the sandwiches themselves winning taste or innovation awards anytime soon. Given that standard, the sandwiches at Jimmy John's come out on top almost unilaterally. The bread's better, the toppings are better, and their only failings when put up against Subway are that customization is lacking and that they do not do any kind of hot subs. Gandolfo's seems to be capitalizing on variety, offering more sandwiches than both the other places (possibly combined, especially since Subway cut back on subs to offer crap like horrible pizzas), and offering them in both hot and cold varieties. The quality of the bread and toppings is at least approximately as good as Jimmy John's, though it would take a few more visits to really determine that. So is it really better? It beats Subway, certainly. When pitted against Jimmy John's that's a harder call for me to make, as I had a hot sub. I certainly enjoyed it more than Quizno's sauce-soaked contraptions.

I suppose I should talk about the sandwich itself at some point. The Coney Island Gyro is roast beef, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, lettuce, tomato, onion, butter, and oil and vinegar... it comes with mayo but I ordered it without as too much liquid on my sandwiches is always distressing to me. As a result it came out very good - not too soggy at all. The bread had a flavor, which is nice, and the meat was cooked and seasoned well. The oil and vinegar added a nice little kick, to boot. If you closed your eyes and squinted, it did almost taste like a strange sort of gyro.

The soup was passable, with obvious chunks of bacon giving it a nice ham flavor, but not really wowing me much overall. They rotate soups, but only do one per day, so you've got your pick of a couple over the course of a week. Stick to medium drinks here, as they have a fountain in the dining area and you get refills. I'll eat here again at some point, though in the future I'm more likely to stick to their cold chicken sandwiches, just out of personal preference toward such things.


  • Half/6" Manhattan Transfer ($5.24)
  • Soup (Wisconsin Cheese) + Drink Combo ($2.49)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie ($1.29)
The Manhattan Transfer is a hot, Italian-type sandwich with cappicola, salami, cheese and other toppings. The menu mentioned butter, which I thought was odd. You didn't really taste it, but I'm sure it made the sandwich a bit more drippy. I do like the bread, and it seemed like a more quality sandwich than any of the other standard sandwich chains mentioned above. It was bigger than most, but it still seemed a tad more expensive for the size. The quality may be worth it however.

The drink combos were a nice change. You could get your drink with either the soup, a deli salad, or your standard bag of chips. The soup was pretty good, but uneventful. It was a much better option than chips, even if it was kind of a small bowl. I might have to try the deli salad next time. The cookie was fairly large. They had a few options under a glass cover on the counter. I doubt they made them there, though.

The next day for breakfast:
  • Radio City ($3-4?)
  • Orange Juice ($1.29?)
[Editor's note: The Radio City and OJ are $3.29 and $1.29 solo, respectively, but there's a combo for any sandwich plus orange juice for $3.99]

Now, the Radio City is a breakfast sandwich with ham, eggs, and cheddar. This wasn't part of lunch that day. They had a special event the next day where you'd get a free sandwich when you dine in. I decided to give it a shot and am glad I did. This is also why I don't remember the prices that well. The only sandwich they had for free was the Radio City, but that was not a problem. It was a fairly good sized sandwich with plenty of egg and ham. It could maybe have used a tad more cheese, but it was great anyway. The service was pretty fast, but I think it was because they were just cranking those puppies out that day. This was definitely worth the under-$4 you would normally pay. The orange juice bottle was maybe a bit small for the price, however. If I need to get breakfast on the way to work, I know where I'm going next time.


  • Whole Philly Cream Cheese Steak ($7.49)
  • Salad (Egg Salad) + Drink Combo ($2.49)
I've never had egg salad before, so I can't say how it compares with mama's. It was nearly ice cold and tasted like deviled eggs, but a bit milder. I like deviled eggs, so I liked the egg salad. They give you a full half-pound of it in a small styrofoam bowl, which looked a bit small, but it turned out to be a good amount.

The Philly Cream Cheese Steak sandwich was roast beef shaved/shredded like you would expect in a philly cheesesteak with cream cheese, mozarella, lettuce, tomato, green pepper, onion, steak sauce and butter. The bread it came on was great. I think it was actually better than Jimmy John's. It had a nice crust and was a touch flakey. The sandwich itself worked better than I expected. The cream cheese and steak sauce gave it a bit of a tang and nothing was too overpowering.

The prices are comparable to Penn Station. I'd go there and get a medium reuben and a medium fry and pay about $9. Here I got a large sandwich, a deli salad, and a drink for $10 (before discount). Though I must grant that the medium fry at Penn Station was actually a medium cup of awesome.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fernando's On Pacific

Restaurant: Fernando's On Pacific
Address: 7555 Pacific St
Website: N/A
Genres: Mexican
Check Constraints: None
Chain:Yes | More Omaha Locations: Yes

  • Appetizer Sampler ($8.95)
  • #5 combo (Two chicken enchiladas) ($9.95)
Fernando's is a hard place to miss, on account of the gigantic table on the roof. We briefly considered asking if we could have that table, but thought they probably heard that way too often and opted not to be lame. There's outside seating, though it wasn't in use when we went, and inside there's plenty of room, in general, though we had to have another table brought over, on account of several of us being large and in charge.

We've had pretty good experiences with mexican restaurants in Omaha, so I was kinda hopeful walking in. I'm just going to make a quick note here, everything, and I do mean -everything- came out blazing hot, like they had just pulled all the plates out of the oven. I burned my hand, though not enough to blister, and if you don't let things sit for a minute or two, you're probably going to regret it.

The appetizer section wasn't anything amazing, so we opted for a sampler and some chicken nachos. The chicken nachos were a bit on the crumbly side, but other than that, they were simple and clean. There were chips, copious amounts of cheese and chicken, and some hot peppers, and nothing else. They were pretty good, too, and once they cooled down a tad, they were devoured at speed. Most of the stuff on the sampler didn't really appeal to me, but I'll let others cover that, because I can't remember any of it.

I figured out before I ordered that this place was like the good restaurants and not the bad ones, so I ordered a tad light, going with two enchiladas. MapleSyrup and I opted for the same combo, so I took chicken, and he'll be talking about the beef and seafood. The chicken enchiladas were high quality. The chicken was juicy and just a little spicy, there was plenty of cheese, and quite frankly, it's the best I've had in quite a while.

If it weren't for the somewhat lackluster appetizer menu, I'd easily rate this above my favorite, Senor Matias, but as it is, it's just a tad short. It's still a damn good choice, though, and if you're not up for appetizers or a bit of non-mexican food, I'd come here without hesitation.

  • Iced Tea ($1.75)
  • Pork Green Chili Stew ($3.95)
  • Tamale Plate ($7.95)
    • Beans
    • Rice
To be fair, the appetizers are only lackluster because we're all so very sick of dips. They're an appetizer staple, and we've had far too many of them to truly appreciate a good guacamole or bean dip at this point. The sampler was decent if a little sparse for five people, and the nachos were certainly adequate.

You may wonder why we order so much soup or stew; I know in my case, the primary reason isn't necessarily to get more food, but to experience a broader range of the restaurant's flavors for not that much more money. If a place offers cups of soup, I recommend you try the same thing, especially if you come across an interesting or unique variety of soup. In this case the soup was good, if not especially outstanding in any category. Keep it to the cup, though, since I think a bowl would be too much of the flavor.

Unlike ND, I actually thought the portions here were on the average size, as opposed to the immense portions occasionally offered up elsewhere. The tamale was good, as such things go, though as mentioned the size was a tad small. If you're looking for the highest "food for your buck ratio" you'd probably be better off to get the Tamale Combo instead of the Tamale Plate - it's $2 more and you get an extra item. Also, as I make this post I realize I am stuck in a tamale rut and likely need to order something else next time we hit a Mexican place.

My verdict is Would Eat Again, especially with the free suckers they give you with the check.

  • Chicken Nachos ($7.50)
  • #3? combo (Burrito, Taco, Tamale) ($9.95)
It's been a long time, but I haven't forgotten everything.

As for appetizers, the sampler had wings, cheese, what one might term 'mexican eggrolls'... good flavors, but yeah, for 5-6, not enough so everyone gets a taste of everything. The salsa that came with was pretty tasty as well. The nachos were good, and not quite as difficult to pick apart as some others that we've talked about, although still with the big block o'melted cheddar issue to a point.

I'll second the 'hot plate' mention with a note that the servers use oven mitts to bring out the food. They seem to go for cooking things right on the plates. In some cases, it shows more than others. My combo actually was difficult to pick out the burrito on, as it seemed to be buried next to the tamale. The tacos here are pretty solid on the beef front, good vegetation to go with flavorful beef, and using the folded pita-like 'soft'ish shells. The flavor of the tamale was fairly well mixed, not overpoweringly corn as I am used to, and the meat of the tamale and the beef burrito were both very good. The beans and such were fairly standard, but they're refried beans, what do you want from them? I do tend to agree with Art that the size was not huge, but my perspective on that is more that I want a large 'main' piece, and less of the sides. This was not so much with the large main dish in my opinion. Contrast with Giant Burritos of Doom from other places. Still, reasonable prices and good flavors. I'd want to mix it up next time, but I'd give it another shot.

  • Fernando's Favorite ($8.95)
The "Fernando's Favorite" is a combo plate with a taco and an enchilada with your choice of fillings. I got beef for the taco and chicken for the enchilada. I don't remember a whole lot about it, but none of it was dry. The bottom of the taco did get a bit soggy from sitting on a bed of lettuce. The chicken enchilada was pretty decent. The sides it came with were average. It was good, but it didn't stand out in my mind.

What did stand out were a couple of things in the appetizers. There were some fried pepper things that looked a lot like jalapeno poppers, but had a red pepper and were a bit more spicy. Those I thought were pretty good and fairly unique. The dip was pretty good. It was a pico de gallo salsa, which I'm not usually interested in. The chicken wings and other sampler items weren't otherwise impressive. The nachos were good. They were probably more worth the price than the sampler. They had good flavor and weren't terribly hard to eat. Their chips, in general, seemed extra salty.

I'd visit again. It didn't think it stood from the crowd terribly well, but it was a good meal. They do have some other, less-standard options as well as some non-Mexican choices.

  • Soda Pop ($1.75)
  • #5 combo (Beef Enchilada, Seafood Enchilada) ($9.95)
Thinking back on it, Mecha is probably right. I bet they cook the food right on the plate and that's why they were so deathly hot.

I was fairly impressed with the portions, especially in light of Margarita's, the last Mexican joint we went to. The enchiladas were a good size. There was a heapin' helpin' of refried beans with a dash of cheese and a heapin' helpin' of mexican rice. The beef enchilada was unremarkable, though good. I can't even remember if it was shredded or ground beef, unfortunately. The seafood enchilada, on the other hand, was delicious. The innards were a mix of crab (most likely with a k) meat with some small shrimps. They were perfectly warmed and not at all fishy. I bit in and chewed and got the nice little pops of the shrimp and a not overpowering taste of the krab. I would definitely order it again.

Overall, I liked the place and would advocate going back. The bucket of suckers that came with the check, of course, had absolutely no effect on that opinion *cough*

Friday, October 3, 2008

Noodles and Company

Restaurant: Noodles & Company
Address: 203 South 72nd Street - 72nd and Dodge, in the minimall with Chipotle and Gamestop
Website: http://www.noodles.com/ (Warning, flash)
Genres: Pasta. And that's about it.
Check Constraints: Short order.
Chain: National. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Indonesian Peanut Saute, Large ($5.25)
    • + Chicken ($2.00)
  • Fountain Drink ($1.35)
  • Cucumber/Tomato Salad ($2.50)
  • 2 Flatbread ($1.50)
Noodles and Company is a national chain, centered mostly in the Midwest. Back in the days when we used to go to Buffalo Wild Wings a lot, Noodles and Company was the restaurant we went to when we needed a break from breaded chicken. When work piled up again, we needed a quick destination that would still serve as a respite from beating our collective heads against unworking code - Noodles and Company definitely fits the bill.

It's a short-order joint, so once you place your order at the counter you get a little number to take back to your table. You won't be waiting long, however - I don't think we've ever waited longer than 15 minutes for food here, even if it was packed to the gills. One of the advantages to having the primary ingredient in most of your dishes pre-cooked, I suppose. But as usual, I ramble on about things of secondary importance when I should be talking about the food.

I have eaten many a dish here, and I don't think I've come across a single one that's bad. The Indonesian peanut saute is a personal favorite of mine, not the least because it has a decent spicy kick and some excellent peanut flavor; it's not equivalent to good Thai, but it'll hold off the cravings for a week or so. I usually prefer the asian-style dishes here with added tofu, but I went with chicken this week for a change of pace. If the spice or flavor doesn't quite meet your expectations, they have sriracha on all the tables (it is especially good on the Japanese pan noodles).

The tomato/cucumber salad is practically a must-have for me. It plays a little loose with the most common definition of salad, since it is essentially a plate of nothing but cucumber, tomato, and red onion dressed in what I think is rice wine vinegar, a little oil, and some spices. The goodness of this dish varies proportionally to the ability of the restaurant to secure good tomatoes, so I have occasionally been burned by that. Still, the odds are in your favor, and it's a good pairing with most of the pasta dishes they serve. The flatbread (or the rolls, they're both $0.75 each) is also a must-have for me, since it helps make sure I get the last bits of every dish here.

I can honestly say I've never felt sorry to have eaten a meal here. It is an excellent speedy destination, if you can find parking in the hideously-designed minimall they have there. Even if you're in an extreme rush, their takeout is fast and just as good, as I'm sure ND will attest.

  • Macaroni and Cheese, Large ($5.25)
  • Buttered Noodles, Small ($2.50?)
I had to work through lunch this time around, so I got them to grab me some noodles as they were leaving. My ability to eat at Noodles & Company is extremely limited. If you are allergic to mushrooms, about half their menu is off limits, and my inability to stomach whole bits of tomato wipes out much of the rest. Luckily, what's left of the menu is absolutely outstanding.

EDIT: New information from a commenter indicates that this is incorrect, and any ingredient can be left out of Noodles and Company sauces. This is doubleplusgood.

Their takeout dishes are sturdy plastic with sealing lids, so you can pretty much guarantee that your takeout's gonna get to you intact. They cook their takeout noodles a bit less done than al-dente, so by the time they got to me, they were just done enough, and could've taken a couple minutes longer and still not been mushy. If you're in a bit of a rush, or have to work through lunch, sending one guy to Noodles after calling ahead is a very good option for a whole team. Definitely a better lunch than ordering pizza yet again.

The actual food is the same thing I get pretty every time, though when I eat in I get some buns (to mop up the delicious sauce) and potstickers (because they are excellent). Like I said above, what's left of the menu for me is damn good. The buttered noodles are cheaper than their other dishes, on account of being butter, noodles, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and a mix of delicious herbs. The macaroni and cheese is the same price as other dishes, and they take your average cream + cheese type macaroni mixture and then sprinkle herbs and even more cheese on top. Both of these are, frankly, the best damn iteration of their type that I have had anywhere. Better than I can make at home, really, and I've been working on them for twenty five years.

That's really about all there is to say about the place. They specialize in noodles, they do noodles very well, and if you don't get yourself some bread, you'll regret it, because you'll have to leave so much delicious sauce on the dishes.

  • Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken, and Caesar Salad Trio ($7.25)
  • Fountain Drink ($1.35)
They have an option for a "trio" dish, which is a combo meal. You get a small noodle dish of your choice, add meat/tofu, and a small garden or caesar salad. I tend to take this option and usually end up getting the mac & cheese trio listed above. I've tried other types, but that one impresses me the most. The drink is extra, but you get reasonable portions and it comes to about $10 for a total.

The mac & cheese is one of my favorites here. I tried it early on after ND had said how good it was. It's a bit different take than I normally think of mac & cheese. The sauce is more liquid and starts out at the bottom of the bowl. The noodles are "dry" with extra cheddar on top. Mix 'em up and you've got a great bowl o' noodles. The chicken comes sliced on top of the noodles for this one.

  • Japanese Pan Noodles ($5.25)
  • Cucumber and Tomato Salad ($2.50)
  • Fountain Drink ($1.35)
I opted for my usual this week of Japanese Pan Noodles and a Cucumber and Tomato Salad. Cham described the salad accurately. The mildly sweet vinegar and whatever spice they sprinkle on there reminds me of a yummy vinegar, cucumber, and onion concoction my grandma used to make -- but amazingly better with the sweetness.

The Japanese Pan Noodles have been good and reliable in the past, however I was disappointed this go around because they had a burnt taste to them. They were still palatable, but not as satisfying. The pan noodles are long, firm, girthy noodles with some bean sprouts, black seed things, and a spicy asian flavor. They weren't wet with any sauce, but they weren't completely dry either. I'm not a spicehag of any sort, as I'm sure I've mentioned in the past, so I found my tongue burning a little by the time I finished the plate, but it wasn't anything unbearable or terribly uncomfortable.

  • Indonesian Peanut Saute w/Chicken ($7.25)
  • Potstickers (3) ($2.95)
  • Fountain Drink ($1.35)
Girthy. Really.

Well, I also got the Peanut Saute, but first, potstickers. These are pan-fried and heavy on the being full of meat, and a bit above average as potstickers go. They come with a very flavorful dipping sauce, along the lines of most potstickers. Usually worth a buy.

As for the peanut saute, I'm a sucker for peanut sauce, and Noodles generally puts up a good show on that front. As Cham put it, it's not the thai you're looking for, but it is pretty good for its price and speed. A fairly busy dish with a lot of contrasts, as Maple noted, between the fairly firm sticky noodles and the bean sprouts. I'll note that it's really hard to work in the very large chunks of chicken they give you and make that chicken mix even. They essentially just cut up a (nicely cooked and flavored) breast and slap it down on top, as an add-on for any dish. I get the chicken in addition every time anyway, for the added flavor/meat, but it still bugs me.