Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Harvest Bread Co.

VERDICT: Come for the delicious bread, leave for the atmosphere.

I really like Great Harvest Bread Co.  They do regular sliced bread a service, by making it fresh, preservative free and delicious.  The difference between Great Harvest Bread and Panera is dramatic.  Great Harvest shies away from croissants and danishes.  Instead they focus on white, wheat, and various other basic sliced breads.  They are really good though.  It really makes you detest going back to the normal grocery store fodder.  The downfall, as is with quality, is the price, about $5-$6 per loaf.  They also have cookies and a few bready desserts.
Part deux of this review really has to focus on the experience and atmosphere.  First, I was really excited to find a Great Harvest over by my Costco on Decatur.  I forced Greg to pull over and rush in.  However, there was a group of six or so teenage n'er-do-wells also approaching the store at the same time.  I was determined to get to the store before them and told Greg to hurry or they were going to beat us to the door.  He said, "don't worry, they'll eat up the free samples and you'll get a fresh loaf to sample".  He just said that because he is a lollygagger and hates to "pick up the pace".  I must be getting old since I've already used the terms "n'er-do-well" and "lollygagger" in this post.  Anyway, I let the hooligans beat me to the store.

Inside the narrow store, the teenagers turned out to be less of a threat.  It appeared to be closeted gay boys with their Christian-youth-group-approved girlfriends out having a wild time by venturing to the bread store to get a couple of sandwiches and get an inappropriate amount of free samples.  You know, basically being complete rebels.  They were kind of too outwardly excited about their bread samples in a wholesome way, saying things like "I love bread" and "bread rocks".  It was like those Totino pizza roll ads where the kids wax feverishly about their love of frozen food.

This process actually took a long time, giving me an ample amount of time to give Greg the I-told-you-so eye for being a lollygagger.  Something I'm sure he was oblivious to noticing.  During this time, I was also able to look around at all of the customers sitting at tables.  There were quite a few of them.  I would say at least ten people scattered through the sitting area.  Then it struck me as being incredibly odd.  Every single person was facing the counter.  Every single person was not eating, drinking, or talking.  They were just staring at the counter.  I felt this existential feeling like I was starring in Sartre's "No Exit".  They were the audience and I didn't know that I was in the play.  It was bizarre.  I know, I know, I often accuse restaurants of being cults, as in crEATe and the nearby Salad Creations, but I think I'm on to something. It was odd.  I have no idea what is going on there.

In any case, I get the counter with my Dakota wheat bread (sooooo gooood).  I get my choice of free samples and the girl behind the counter offered me the heel of the bread.  Those n'er-do-well, hooligan, gays and their beards stole my chance for a decent sample.  And Greg's lollygagging didn't help either.
Great Harvest Bread Co. on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Buzz BBQ

VERDICT: Cold, heavily smoke-flavored food served in a crappy atmosphere.

I had to beg and beg to go to this restaurant.  Greg just wouldn't give in.  He just "knew" that Buzz BBQ would be crappy, just like his bad experiences at other BBQ places in town like Memphis BBQ and the now closed Buckingham BBQ.  Anyway, Buzz BBQ won the Las Vegas Review-Journal Poll Best BBQ of Las Vegas in 2008 and 2009, so how bad could it be?
After eating at Buzz, you realize what a sham these awards are.
By the way, Taco Bell won for best Mexican when I first moved to Vegas.

I finally broke down Greg's resistance with the help of his mother.  We pulled out all the stops.  We even accused him of not wanting to try anything new; something that he relishes to do to me.  I didn't even care if it turned out to be bad.  At least, I would have gotten to try it and get rid of the nagging feeling that I'm missing out on something great.

Right when I opened the door, Greg's eyes seemed to say, "I told you so".  The atmosphere was just hideous.  The walls were painted red and there was a rustic, giant patio arbor covering most of the restaurant. It was brightly lit with cheap-looking tables and brown 70's banquet chairs.
Nothing says cheap like a banquet chair.

Let me break away here and tell you of one of my pet peeves.  I hate it when there is a large, empty restaurant and the hostess sits every group right next to each other.  Why do I have to have the inconvenience of being crammed elbow to elbow when there is plenty of space?  Cramming is, of course, what happened.  The hostess decided to put a large party of frat boys right next to us; they even had to pull tables together.  There were at least 10 other tables to choose, but no, people love to crowd.  In the end, it was for the best.  We got to hear one of the frat boys say, "Collard greens is a green".  Another responded, "so, it is an actual vegetable?"  To which, Greg responded to us, "Quite the Mensa meeting going on over there."

There was quite a wait for our food.  Greg and I shared a three meat combo with ribs, brisket, and andouille sausage.  
1.  The food was cold, despite the waitress bringing it out after I heard "order up" from the kitchen.
2.  The only flavoring on the meat was smoke.
3.  The andouille sausage was really just polska kielbasa (if I wanted kielbasa, I would have heated some Hillshire Farms up at home.)
4.  The sides are not even worth the effort to complain about them.

I would feel remiss if I didn't mention Greg's Mother's obsession with real butter.  She always feels insulted when a spread is offered with bread.  After all, she was the one that felt it necessary to bring her own butter to The Tournament of Kings.  Obviously, Buzz BBQ uses a spread instead of butter.  Greg's mother immediately threw it down and declared how they were monsters for trying to deceive their customers.  It really is just another reason out of many to never go to Buzz BBQ again.

The meal ended with a lot of "I told you so" moments.  Greg never did say it though.  I felt like an idiot all by myself.
Buzz BBQ on UrbanspoonBuzz BBQ on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 28, 2011

Texas Star Oyster Bar at Texas Station

VERDICT: Good clam chowder and decent fish and chips....that is it for what you should order.

We went to Texas Star Oyster Bar at Texas Station again last night.  Greg actually asked me halfway through the meal, "Why do we keep coming here?"  Feeling like I was going to vomit later from the food settling in my stomach, I had to reflect.

The good points:
1. It's cool.  It's a fun little, open seafood eatery.
2. The clam chowder is exceptional.
3. The fish and chips are decent.
4.  I assume that if you like raw oysters, that the oyster are good.  I can't vouch for that though, because yuck, raw oysters are disgusting!
The bad points: 
1.  The service is slow, especially during the day when there is only one server.  Let me make that clear the slow service is not the servers, but the fact that they like to keep it understaffed. 
2.  They're expensive for everything other than what you should order (which is the clam chowder and the fish and chips.)
3.  I had the gumbo.  It was unlike any gumbo I've ever had and filled with some spice that I detest, that usually I only find in bad Chinese food.  It was this spice that made me vomity and push the plate away after a few bites.  Greg insists that it was bad crab.  So maybe bad crab is a spice.
4.  Greg had a boil with shrimp, corn, mussels and clams.  The mussels and clams were sandy.  HELLO?!  Did someone miss cooking 101?  Twenty minutes soaking them live in fresh water is all it takes and all that sand goes away.  Also, the shrimp were overcooked, making them extra chewy.


Four good points and four bad points, I guess it is a wash.  I'll have to try it again.  I just wish they would revisit their menu.
Texas Star Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lemon and Mint Marinated Chicken Thighs - Recipe

Very flavorful, cheap and easy.  Even pleases people who don't usually like chicken thighs.

Mix marinade of
4 large smashed garlic cloves ground into paste with 1 1/2 tsp of kosher salt
1/2 cup packed chopped fresh mint or other fresh herb (flat leaf parsley if you are poor)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tbs.)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil drizzled in while wisking

Put salt rubbed chicken thighs (about 4 or 5) into marinade for 1/2 hour to overnight in fridge.  You can use with skin or without, with bone or without, just adjust cooking time.

Cook on medium heat with heavy weight on top (eg. another frying pan with heavy things in it) for five minutes.  Remove weight and cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn over, replace weight and cook until done, 4-6 minutes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gobi Jhalfrazie - Recipe

OK, this is a basic Indian vegetarian dish, with cauliflower and carrots that tastes great over rice.  As is normal with Indian food, it is spice heavy.  If you like Indian food, you must invest in some garam masala.  You usually can find it cheap in import stores.  It tends to be overpriced in supermarkets.  You can make your own, by combining a lot of different spices (pictured below).

I like this recipe because it is made with things that I almost always have at home (I've included possible substitutions that I've used).  The only odd item is the cauliflower, which can be substituted with any vegetable.  This recipe tastes good as is, but tastes better the next day reheated.

3 tbs. canola oil (or olive oil)
5 cloves coarsely chopped garlic (or if you prefer a 2-inch piece of chopped ginger or garlic and ginger!)
2 large yellow onions coarsely chopped
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbs. ground coriander
5 or 6 large peeled and thinly sliced carrots
1 head of cauliflower, cut into medium sized florets
1 Serrano chile (with or without all of the seeds depending on how hot you want it)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup ketchup to add sweet flavor if desired
1 can of tomato sauce (or preferably two ripe tomatoes cut into medium dice) (whichever you choose will dramatically alter the recipe, so essentially this is like two recipes in one)
1 1/4 cup frozen peas
1 cup water

In a dutch oven, cook garlic (and ginger) over medium-high heat for 30 seconds in oil.

Add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cook until edges are brown, about 5 minutes.  Add coriander and stir for 1 minute.  Add carrots, cauliflower, and chile.  Cook, stirring often for 15 minutes.

Add garam masala, cayenne, ketchup, tomato sauce (or tomatoes), peas, 1 tsp salt, and the water.  Simmer and cover for 5 minutes.

Agave

VERDICT: This restaurant looks great, but doesn't deliver good food.

First, I should let you know that I ate here for free.  I used a Groupon that I paid for with credit.  You see every time someone signs up with Groupon through the highlighted links and then ends up buying a Groupon, I get a $10 credit.  Don't click on the ads on my blog, but rather click on the Groupon links.  It's free to join and I have to say that it is a lot of fun too....do it, do it, do it...I want $10.

Anyway, the restaurant itself is impressive although an unfortunate shade of pink.  The unique architecture is further marred by the addition of TV's playing sports over the bar. 

I immediately knew that I wasn't going to like the meal by the menus.  The menus have what appears to be a cover made out of copper.  That seems all well and good, but copper is not something you want to touch before eating.  Don't believe me?  Take out a couple of pennies and hold them in your hand.  Now smell your hand.  Gross, huh?  If you have a good sense of smell then you are going to smell this every time you raise your fork to your mouth if you don't wash your hands after handling the menu.  I am of the opinion that if you don't have a good enough sense of smell to notice this then you probably aren't a very good cook.

I decided to go safe.  I got the carne asada burrito.  It was flavorless and the meat was extremely chewy.  The brown beans were dry, undercooked, and bland.  I could only finish a small portion of the burrito before giving up.  I would much rather have Roberto's.  Greg got a taco sampler and found he couldn't finish his tacos either.  While he enjoyed the tacos "Al Pastor" (with pork), he couldn't finish the potato and portabella taco.

I've noticed that the people that like this place tend to talk about the cocktails a lot.  I'm thinking that you have to be drunk to like this place.  This barely missed being on my "Worst of Vegas" list, solely because the chips and salsa were good.

Agave on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 7, 2010

Martinis

UPDATE: Martinis is now out of business. 

VERDICT: Come here to talk about your 6-figure deal, not for amazing food.

I got a Groupon for Martinis.  It cost $15 for $35 worth of food.  I didn't even know where Martinis was, but I saw it was near and thought I would give it a try.  I'm all about the Groupons, I recommend all Vegas people take advantage of them.

First, Greg and I noticed the large amount of "luxury" cars in the parking lot.  I'm talking about cars that aren't bought because they are nice, but rather bought to show wealth.  At least, that is what I think of Mercedes and BMW.  They certainly aren't bought because they don't break down and let's leave it at that.

When we entered at around 6:30, we were faced with a crowded bar area.  I mean packed with loud "successful" people, trying to talk louder than each other, as they discussed about how much money they have in some sort of money-fueled mating ritual.  These were the type of people that use phrases like "six-figure deal", "team building", and "after this, I'm going to the gym".  Greg, of course, wanted to leave immediately, as did I.  However, I didn't want to be stuck with a Groupon that I already paid for.  I didn't want this to be a lesson learned about pre-buying food. (Groupon is great...try it, I get $10 if you use my links and buy something).

Luckily, someone was there to assist us to the dining room, which was separated by a wall with fireplaces from the yuppie-packed bar.  The restaurant area was nice and sufficiently separated from the din.  She said that if we waited around, the live music was going to start later.  This only made us want to finish our meal quickly and leave.

We had the pork and shrimp dumplings.  They were good, but only came with 5 tiny dumplings for a substantial price.  I had the flatbread pizza. Among its toppings were pepperoni, Greek olives, and jalapeños.  I love jalapeños, but with the olives, the pizza was too pickle-y.  I ended up taking them off.  Greg had the shrimp scampi, which he reported was good, but the shrimp was slightly overcooked.

All in all, it was good, not great and a little spendy.  A place to see and be seen, which is just not my scene.
Martinis on Urbanspoon