March 19, 2006

Restaurant Wrap-up

There are three things the world does not need from me.

  1. Another cookbook There are a hundred already on my shelf, and a million more that will never make it there, so please, don't ask when mine is coming out. I have no desire to write one anymore.
  2. Another restaurant OK...yes, I see places that have great potential, and yes, I would love a kitchen I could call my own, and yes, I'm fairly certain that I could make one happen and be successful... but come on - there are so many failures and customers are so fickle that it's a lost cause before it even starts.
  3. An organized, comprehensive collection restaurant reviews I eat out so rarely, and so reluctantly, that it doesn't make sense for me to offer my opinions. I only dine out in a handful of specific situations. Either I want to entertain someone outside my home, I want to see what the other pros are doing out there, my husband has a hankerin' for something I wouldn't be able to whip up in 30 minutes, or when I'm not able to get to my own kitchen.

That said, here are a few quick restaurant reviews, because if you use the Internet to search for these places, and you want an honest comment on one individual's last experience at that venue, I'm glad to give it. Because, you see, I search for reviews, too, and I'd like to discover the everyman opinion right along side the S. Irene Virbila opinion... and often instead of her opinion!

So, here is a quick wrapup of the places I've been lately, and what I thought of them.

Drago   6/10
    I've lived within 1 mile of this place for 5 years, and never ate there. Despite his good reputation, and despite the proximity, it just never happened. Finally, I went, taking my friend Iliyan, recently returned from Hungary, to welcome him back to the United States. He and I went to culinary school together, and he's worked for me a bunch of times. So the first thing we did when we sat down was evaluate the restaurant. The busboys (what a horrible word, what else can we call these men? server-assistants?) were redundant, as soon as one guy filled our water glasses, the next guy would come over and try to refill them. But then they must have thought the other had it handled, and they never got refilled. When it was time for black pepper, same thing. I have no problem with people who don't have a grasp of language trying to get work, but I *DO* resent having to explain, and re-explain that I've already got pepper on my salad, I don't want any more! (I can't decide whether it would be rude to speak Spanish to the busboys.) Our waiter was a pro, though. I should have recruited him. We split an appetizer, which was lovely and delicious, but the entrées were horrible. Flat-tasting, ungarnished, and in the case of Iliyan's risotto, undercooked! Please, world, risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth like pudding, NOT al dente! Moreover, the food was presented on mismatched blue and yellow china that looked really, really horrible. My food literally looked like puke (green pasta with a grayish-brown venison ragu, made to look worse when served on a worn-looking blue and yellow plate) For $60 for the two of us for lunch (drinking only tap water, not wine!), I expected better. I would not go here again on my own volition, and certainly not on my own dime.


Kelly and I spent the day in Pasadena yesterday, putzing around in various shops and such, basically just enjoying the day in a different neighborhood, so we were predisposed to having all our meals and snacks OUT. Here's the summary.

Zankou Chicken 8/10 So much has been written about the Kou that you don't need me to much else on it... except that Kelly said that he thinks that the one in Pasadena is the best he's tried so far. I concur, but why do they fill the tarna, which is wrapped in pita, with MORE pita? Did I get ripped off?

"Food Court" in the 99 Ranch Plaza  5/10
    Well, no false advertising there. It was a food court, just like you'd see at a mall, but that's all it was. I spent a little too much time trying to find a link to anything that had anything to do with this place, and that chowhound link was all I found, so hopefully, this is the PSA that it needs to be. *grin* The inexact address is 1300 S GOLDEN WEST AVE, ARCADIA, CA
91007. It's at the corner of Golden West Ave and Duarte Ave in a strip mall, however, it has an indoor "food court" with several counters, and a big seating area in the center.
The first thing you see when you walk in is a gorgeous little cafe -slash- pastry shop. There's a big open window where the pastry chefs did their thing, and several cute girls working the counter. Free sample of tiramisu was delicious, and the willpower to simply have tiramisu for our lunch was tempting. We went inside, and looked at all the booths, and the first thing I noticed was that every place BUT the pastry place had a "B" grade from the Los Angeles department of health. But many asian food places usually do. Oh well, I was giving this a shot anyway. As Kelly mentioned later, it would be even scarier to eat vietnamese street food in Vietnam, so all things considered this was a pretty small risk. Besides, I was jonesing for some duck, and there was a BBQ duck place, so that settled that. I had Duck Leg Noodle Soup. So, basically, a pho type soup with a roasted duck leg thrown on top. I was given a spoon, a fork, and some chopsticks. I could manage the noodle part but I was reduced to a caveman as I had to eat the duck leg by tearing it up with my hands, and gnawing on the bones. It was hardly worth the effort, but hey, what do you want for $5? My second choice would have been to just get half a duck, but I wanted more than just duck-meat. Kelly had fried rice, but barely ate half, saying it was burned-tasting. Sadly, he didn't go for any of the prepared items in the hotpans - those really looked good, and if I didn't have my heart set on duck, I'd have gone for their combo plate and gorged on japanese eggplant and tofu and sautéed bok choi - but alas... I couldn't justify getting what I wanted (duck from the duck guy and veggies from the other lady), just eating as much as I wanted, and inevitably throwing the rest in the trash. Such is the dilemma of eating out when the person you're with doesn't want the other half of what you're having, and you don't want half of what you know is going to be sub-par fried rice.

Zephyr Coffee House and Art Gallery   8/10
    Kelly noticed this place and suggested we give it a shot. We could see workers from the street, but thought it was going to be kind of dead. It wasn't, in fact: we got the only two sofa-seats available. I had a mocha and he had a double espresso, but no food. They had a panini press and a crêpe maker, and as far as I could judge, a decent menu considering they have such limited ability to cook. (they're using applicances that don't require a ventilation hood) The vibe of the place was comfortable, and I would certainly make an effort to go there again, perhaps the next time we go see our friends' show at the Pasadena Playhouse. The only thing that skeeves me out about going there after 8pm on a Saturday night, is knowing that they are closed on Sunday and likely will be trying to use up whatever's leftover from the week. Frankly, the prices are too low for me to think they're using quality ingredients. In closing, I want that place, and I want it right now. I want to turn it into a bistro/cafe of a higher caliber, and serve a more sophisticated menu. I think Zephyr is like a non-elegant version of Jin Patisserie *NOTE: OVERDONE SITE: WINDCHIME AUDIO AND FLASH ANIMATION* If I could dress it up, elaborate the menu, and keep it comfortable and homey, I would have to reconsider not having a restaurant... but I don't really want to deal with it. In the hour that we were there, we generously estimated that their revenue was under $35. That's ridiculous. Even so, I like to keep my little fantasy alive.

Amigo's Restaurant and Cantina   7/10
    After Kelly ran some errands at Guitar center, we drove up and down Colorado Blvd in an effort to find somewhere that had metal utensils and didn't require a dress code. We drove past this place and it caught our attention, so we turned around to find it, missed it, and turned around again. My hopes weren't high, but all I really wanted was some chicken nachos or something that would keep my stomach from rumbling too loudly while watching our friends' improv group. The place was kitschy-mexican-cute with a few tijuana-bought painted clay suns and a mural, but the pencil sketches of famous/infamous Mexican generals by the register were impressive. We split an appetizer platter for two, and I also had a "cup" of Albondigas soup. The "cup" was $4.95 and was as big as a large soup bowl in my own cupboard. The service was good, the prices were good, the music was bad (Chuck Mangione? Huh? Why didn't they play Spanish-language music?), the food was above average, but not knock-your-socks off good. But then again, I'm judging this place on a bowl of soup and an appetizer platter. YMMV

So, there you go. A few more restaurant reviews. That didn't hurt too much, did it?

Last thing I ate or drank: a mini-loaf of raisin bread spread with cream cheese, washed down with passion fruit tea.

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  1. Re: Drago -- the trick there is to order like it's 1956. Don't try anything imported to the US since the '70s, but if you have the croquettes, etc., you'll understand why generations of housewives ruined these recipes trying to make easy versions for a bridge party.

    Re: the cookbook; I know you don't want to write one. The real question is: do you want the money from one?

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