Friday, July 2, 2010

Sam's Italian Villa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wohlner's Market

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Peru Mucho Gusto!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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