Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wild Bill's Sports Saloon

Within the past couple of years, Rochester has seen a handful of local restaurant chains build a location in Rochester--such as Osaka Sushi, Broadway Pizza, and this week included two such local chains--Wild Bill's Sports Saloon and The Loop. I view this as a good thing, as it's evidence that perhaps Rochester is finally grabbing the attention of businessmen at least from the Cities, and as such, can even greater things be far behind?  Granted, most foodies and gourmands may not be too excited by the prospect of national chains starting to look to build in Rochester, and some may go so far as to say that we already have too many national chain restaurants and not enough independent and local places. I can see that to some extent, but personally I look forward to both national and regional chains as well as the local chains and independent restaurants all coming in to town. The more quality restaurants we get, the better for all of us. It's even good for the restaurants themselves, as perhaps eventually Rochester can get to the point of becoming more of a food destination. Okay, maybe that's not going to happen any time soon, but one can always hope.

We recently went to one of these Twin Cities-based restaurants, Wild Bill's Sports Saloon. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

One of the first things I noticed here was how wide open the inside of Wild Bill's is, especially compared to the previous occupant, TGI Fridays. Now it's one wide open room with some wild west paraphinilia on the walls to make it resemble an old saloon. The look would work if it weren't for the fact that they crammed as many tables into the place as they could. The second thing I noticed was how loud the place was. It was hard to hear what the waitress or your dining companion was saying.
While it is opening week, and I will give the staff credit for trying, there were some shortcomings in the service, such as the waitress disappearing after our order was placed. There was no followup visit to make sure our food was good or to see if we needed a refill on drinks. I'm sure that this staff was trying. It's possible that the waitstaff was just entirely overwhelmed by the fact that it was so busy. Any question on if the staff here was a hold over from Friday's was quickly dismissed. But I suppose that, too, was possible, and even that staff was unprepared for the level of business that the new restaurant generated. We were there at about 4:20 on a Thursday night to find the place mostly full. We didn't have to wait for our table, but when we left right around 5, it was full and people were waiting to get in. 
The food here was good--I had the buffalo chicken sandwich with fries. Granted, I won't say it was the best ever, though. It is good enough though for it to be a welcome addition to Rochester's food scene. The portion size was good. At first, I was thinking they had skimped on the fries a bit, but by the time I was done with my sandwich, the amount of fries was good. We also had an order of their poker chips potatoes. I don't know if I would get these again--it was worth trying once, but the sauce and toppings did not cover all of their potatoes. Comparing the plain fries with a plain poker chip, the fries win out. 

Will we go back to Wild Bill's? Undoubtedly, we will, though we will likely give them a few months to iron out some of the difficulties and when it's far less busy. There are other items on the menu that I would be interesting in trying, not to mention trying their Sunday brunch as well. Besides, there are still approximately ten restaurants in Rochester that are on my list of places that I want to try, and I'd like to give some of them a try before coming back here for a second go.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cuisines Types and Rochester

Recently, I participated in a discussion about what sort of cuisines that were needed in Rochester. My position was that Rochester just isn't a food city and that we lacked several different types of cuisines. I was then challenged to name some cuisines that we lacked. I suspect that the person doing the challenging didn't think that Rochester was lacking in that many. And to be sure, we do have a good number of different cuisine choices here in Rochester. Among what you'll find here include American, Chinese, Asian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Mongolian, Mexican, Greek/Mediterranean, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and now even Ethiopian. And there are a couple of places in town where you can find Thai food even though we don't have a specific Thai restaurant. For a small city of 100,000 in the northern part of the Midwest, perhaps that isn't too bad.

But despite having what may be described as "not bad" as far as ethnic variety, the fact remains that we are lacking in so many different cuisines. If you compare the types of cuisines that Rochester has compared to the Twin Cities, the list of what we don't have is quite large (on sites such as Yelp or Urbanspoon). Perhaps having a smaller population is part of that reason. After all, the Twin Cities has 396 Chinese restaurants, compared to Rochester's 19; 2 places in Rochester categorized as African food compared to 21 in the Twin Cities.

When Rochester starts getting more cuisines readily available to us, maybe I will then reassess whether Rochester is indeed a food city. Cuisines such as British or Australian, Caribbean, Cuban, Peruvian/Salvadoran (or any Latin American cuisine other than Mexican), Cajun/Creole, Brazilian, Spanish other than tapas,or Hawaiian.

My point is that there is still so much out there in the world of food that Rochester has yet to experience. While our selection of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/African food has been increasing lately, I know of no place other than the Blue Nile food truck (and is it still even operating?) to get my shwarma fix. And what about fusion? While I would love to see a place like Chino Bandido from Arizona (Chinese Mexican fusion) open in Rochester, that isn't likely to happen. Nor am I holding my breath for a Japanese crepe place to open.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rockford: Waffle Shop Family Restaurant

Location: Located in a small shopping area, nevertheless, this place was hard to find if you're unfamiliar with the area. We saw it as we drove past, and then it was really hard to try to get back to it again.

Cuisine: American, breakfast.

Atmosphere: This has the feel of a small-town restaurant. It was busy when we arrived, and quite loud as well. This is a place where you seat yourself.

Ordering: We were asked if we wanted coffee three times (turned down each time) before the waitress came and actually took our order for breakfast.

Service: See above. Plus, they got Tammy's order wrong when it came. Tammy thought she was going to get one thing, but got something else entirely. Since I know Tammy ordered correctly, and pointed to it on the menu when she ordered, I know that it wasn't Tammy's fault. Whether this laid in the hands of the waitress not passing on the right order or the cook had messed up, I don't know.

The Food: The food here wasn't very special. They did have malt waffles, made with golden malt flour, which did give the waffle a little bit of a different flavor, making it a little better than normal waffles. Otherwise, the food was typical fare, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to make it special, nothing to inspire you to go out of your way to go here.

Verdict: I wouldn't come here again, opting instead for other places in Rockford that I enjoyed more.

Waffle Shop Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rockford: Thai Pavillion

Location: Dekalb, Illinois, which is south of Rockford. I hesitate to say this is in Rockford, but it's been grouped into the "Rockford area" on Urban Spoon in much the same way that Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin, have been grouped together with Milwaukee. However, at least this restaurant is on one of the main streets (East Lincoln Highway) of Dekalb, in the downtown area.

Cuisine: Thai.

Atmosphere: Thai Pavillion is in a small storefront of an old downtown. Nevertheless, the owners have made an attempt to decorate the restaurant with items from Thailand. It's the sort of place I may have walked past a couple of years ago without giving it a second thought. If you're a fan of the chain restaurant look, this isn't a place for you. This looks like a very small, independent restaurant.

Ordering/Menu: We were greeted almost immediately upon walking in and taken to one of the unoccupied tables and handed our menus. This restaurant has a wide selection of authentic Thai food, from noodles to curries to the entrees. The menus were updated by hand when things were no longer available, which did seem to make the place seem a little small townish, but that just means that this place doesn't waste a lot of money on paying to update their menus in order to keep their prices low.

Service: Service was always friendly and prompt, like you'd expect a place like this to be.

The Food: If you have never been in a Thai restaurant before (we hadn't been), the menu may seem to be a little unnerving at first. They have a wide selection of authentic Thai dishes, from spring rolls to noodles to soups and curries to the main entrees, and many of them sounded like they would be great. Unfortunately, we didn't have the intestinal fortitude or the money to be able to try them all. So, we just had to make due and try to make the best choices we could.

Tammy went with the green curry, thinking that it would be similar to the type of curry that you may get in an Indian restaurant which you would serve over rice. The menu describes it as: A typical Thai spicy green Curry, cooked with fresh hot peppers in coconut milk with distinctive flavors of lemon grass, green peas, sweet basil leaves and your choice of meat. This is actually a soup that comes in a bowl, which she wasn't expecting, but which I am told was very good. I'm not sure how spicy it was, but in Minnesota, that word is pretty much taboo.

I would highly recommend the Chicken Delight: Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts, onions, pineapple, peapods with homemade sauce. This particular dish is going to be more familiar to you if you are familiar with eating at Chinese restaurants, though better.

Verdict: Like I have previously admitted, we have no other Thai restaurant experiences to compare this to, though this is a restaurant I'd recommend if you're in the area and looking for something a little different from what you'd normally eat at.

Thai Pavilion on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rockford: Brooklyn Deli

Location: Brooklyn Deli is located in a strip mall along with other stores, making this a more convenient location. However, it is not located in Rockford but rather a nearby small town, so it's location takes a small hit here.

Cuisine: American, sandwiches.

Atmosphere: Well, it's in a strip mall. While that alone doesn't necessarily tell you much about the atmosphere of this place, also take into account that it's a deli. When you go to a deli, you likely aren't looking for much of an atmosphere. When we were here, we were the only patrons who actually ate inside.

Ordering: You order and pay for your food at the front counter, and they will bring it out to you.

Service: Okay, well, again, this is a deli. You pay for your food, it gets delivered to your table. Other than that, we didn't have much interaction with the employees here. Drinks are do-it-yourself.

Food: I'll be honest with you. I never thought that I would like a deli, and definitely never thought that one would be good enough to make it into something that I would consider top ten material. This place is just absolutely amazing. I ordered the Brooklyn Bomber sandwich, mainly because of the fact that it had cole slaw and fries actually in the sandwich. I didn't consider how this may add to the size of the sandwich until I actually had it in front of me, and I had to approach the sandwich with a strategy of how to actually fit my mouth around this sandwich to eat it, that's how huge it was. After accomplishing that, I found that the taste of the fusion of everything all in one bite to be absolutely wonderful. This is a must visit for anyone in the Rockford area.

Brooklyn Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 3, 2011

La Crosse, WI: Culina Mariana

Location: This restaurant is located at the Shrine of the Lady of Guadalupa. That means that this restaurant is a bit out of the way from most of LaCrosse.

Cuisine: According to Urban Spoon, this is a European restaurant. I would consider it to be more American in style.

Atmosphere: The view from here could be magnificent if it's the right season. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was past peak fall colors, most of the trees were bare, and it was just a cloudy, rainy late fall day, so I wasn't all that impressed with the view while looking out the large windows over the forested area beside this restaurant. It reminded me of eating in a Christian retreat sort of room, which I suppose perhaps at one point, this part of the shrine was used as some sort of conference room or possibly a dining room. There is a high ceiling with chandeliers hanging, large wooden tables that looked heavy and glass protecting the wood, and heavy wood chairs. Most of the smaller tables were already taken when we arrived, so we ended up sitting at a table for six, and the tables were so wide across that we sat next to each other rather than across from each other.

Ordering: When you walk into this restaurant, you order your food at a counter with a register and pay up front. Right next to that was the dessert counter with various dessert items wrapped in plastic wrap. You get a number upon ordering to have your food delivered to your table. The menu, for the most part, is written on a chalk board behind the counter. What had peaked my interest based on their internet menu were some burgers that said they were gouda stuffed burgers. They don't have those anymore, and when I inquired about them, they said they removed them from the menu because too many people wanted them without cheese.

Service: Service was quick and friendly, and the wait staff was very good about making sure our water was refilled. There were signs on the tables explaining that water would only be provided when asked for to help save on expenses from people who didn't want water. It also reminded people to tip their servers. I can see how this may be a problem when you pay for your food in advance.

The Food: The food was good--I ordered a "specialty burger" which is just to say a 1/3 pound organic burger, and had to pay to have additional toppings put on it. It was served on ciabata bread, and came with homemade tortilla chips and salsa. I think I could have had more of these chips, as the amount of them seemed a bit sparse, and homemade tortilla chips are almost always good. The salsa was on the mild side and I wasn't impressed with that as much, and it was obviously made with the upper midwest palate in mind.

Culina Mariana on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Seattle: Bahama Breeze

Location: Located near the South Center mall in Tukwila and near other restaurants and shopping centers in a stand alone building.

Cuisine: Caribbean and American.

Atmosphere: This is a chain restaurant, and it looks and feels like it. They do make an attempt to make you feel like you're in a Caribbean location, but in the boxed confines of a theme restaurant, similar to Cheeseburger in Paradise. They do manage to pull the theme off better than some other theme restaurants, and if you rarely frequent Bahama Breeze, you may not care and appreciate the efforts that have gone into the theme. However, if you go to places like this on a regular basis, the theme may become a bit old.

Ordering: The menu is pretty consistent with other chain restaurants, so you will find a wide assortment of different food options, and you should have no problems finding something that you're going to want to try.

Service: The waitress was very friendly and patiently answered questions and explaining the menu, sometimes having to reiterate things. Service after we got our food was a little bit spotty and did not come back to refill beverages.

The Food: If you're absolutely dead set against chain restaurants, you're probably not going to like Bahama Breeze, comparing it to places like Applebee's and Friday's. For the rest of us, though, this food is good. There were items here that I haven't found at a lot of other places I've been, such as yucca fries and cinnamon mashed potatoes. I did notice there were two prices for the entrees, a half portion and a full portion. I ordered the half, and I still found that I had enough food, making this a good option if you don't have a place to store leftovers (i.e., you're on vacation with no fridge and microwave to store and reheat later) or if you're in the middle of a busy shopping day.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I thought the food here was good, and I would return. That may be because we don't have a Bahama Breeze near us, and I feel there is still much on the menu that I'd like to explore.

Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon