Friday, January 30, 2015

The Green Well

Well I'm back. As you could probably tell it has been extremely busy around my place lately, hence the lack of going out to new places and writing about them. In fact this one should have been written over a month ago, but like I said, super busy. I guess that happens when you are expecting your first child. There is so much to do, and all of your time and extra money seems to be funneled into getting ready for the baby. That doesn't leave much to go out and try new places for this blog. For instance, the last few places we have gone have consisted of Jimmy John's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Uccello's. And I have already written about Uccello's before. And nothing has changed for me to re-write on it. Wow, I am rambling on. OK, without further adieu, here is The Green Well.

We had a night out with our friends, Nick and Julia, at the beginning of December and we all felt like The Green Well would be a good choice. It is a place that Mel and I had been wanting to go to for a while. It is located on Cherry St. right across from Brewery Vivant and The Grove. I would say that it fits in between those two places, with the Grove higher end and Vivant a brewery. Like the Grove it has a great atmosphere.

I chose the Korean Braised Beef and Noodles. It is under their "Tweener" menu, which is said to be between a starter and entree. In all honesty, it is a big plate of food that I couldn't finish. The beef was tender and had a nice spice to it. Not as in hot, but as in actual spice. It definitely had a Chinese five spice flavor going on, which went well with the ginger beef broth the egg noodles were in. Add to that the chopped, roasted peanuts for texture and cilantro for a little fresh pop. The best part was the egg that was left runny, so the yolk mingled in the sauce and added some creaminess to it. I really liked this plate and the interplay of all the flavors and textures.

Nick ordered the sage spaetzle. The spaetzle was infused with sage and came topped with cabbage, sweet potatoes, caramelized apple, red onion, pecans and goat cheese with some brown butter on the bottom. The spaetzle was cooked nicely and had some toothiness to it. The sage flavor was very subtle. There was a lot going on, and it didn't seem like it would all work, but it does because of the goat cheese. It added a tangy note that balanced out the heavy sweet (sweet potatoes, apples, and onions) and nutty (pecans, brown butter) flavors and really brought everything together. Without it, the plate would have fallen down and would not have been very good at all.

Mel and Julia both ordered the Green Well Burger. It was a good burger, but fairly standard fare. But standard fare can be really good if done right, and this was done right. It is a simple, thick beef patty topped with bacon, your choice of cheese, caramelized onion, lettuce and tomato on a locally made bun. When you combine bacon and cheese you have a recipe for a good burger. And it is hard to mess that up unless you over cook the bacon, onion, or beef. Thankfully, these were cooked to order perfectly. Would I order this from the menu? I don't know. There are other offerings I would rather try, but that isn't to discourage anyone from ordering this on a night out. It is a good burger.

We also ordered dessert. Mel and I got the caramel cheese cake while Nick and Julia ordered an apple cobbler like dish served in a cast iron skillet with a scoop of ice cream. Both were very good. Both were on the heavier side of desserts. And both were very sweet. But both were great ending so the meal. The cheesecake was cooked perfectly and the salted caramel was a nice foil to the cheese cake. The crust was perfectly done as well. And in the skillet everything went together very nicely, with the hot/cold interplay and the savory/sweet components were balanced nicely.

I would definitely like to go back at some point to try some of the other offering and I gladly recommend it. Good food, good atmosphere, with good friends. It's a recipe for success.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Grove

A couple weeks ago we got the rare privilege of dining at The Grove. Mel was turned on to it by a coworker who said that we had to try it and that it was one of the best restaurants in town. So we found time to head out there. They have it where you can either choose to a 3 course meal, or you can eat al a carte. We both chose the 3 courses, with a starter and dessert.

We started with a plate of three of the starters. We chose the goat cheese with fried biscuits and saffron honey and orange marmalade; chicken wings with kimchi, peanuts, and curry; and cheese hush puppies with a sriracha sauce. The goat cheese paired really well with the honey and marmalade, and the fried biscuits were really good. It was the pick of the three. The wings were good as well, but not as much to Mel's liking. They had a little bit of heat and the kimchi paired well with it. The hush puppies were really good too. The cheese was in with the actual hushpuppy and it went really well with the sauce. The only thing I didn't like as much were the pickled veggies that came with them.

Mel's first plate was a gnocchi with pumpkin and duck confit. The gnocchi were perfectly made and paired well with the sweetness of the pumpkin and saltiness of the confit. It also had nice balance with the greens that added a little bitterness to round out the flavors of the dish.

I started with the quail with beans, a mustard sauce, and a fried egg. This was the first time I had eaten quail, and it was very good. I would liken it to more like a duck or the dark meat of a turkey than to chicken. The egg had a nice runny yolk that mixed in well with the beans. The mustard sauce paired really well with the quail. Overall a very good dish.

Mel had the potato soup next. It had a little salad and potato chips with it. The soup was incredibly creamy and the chips added some texture. The little salad also brought a little bit of freshness to the soup. It was a good second dish in the meal.

I had the seared and rare steak salad. In addition to the steak were peppers, caramelized onions, fried shoestring potatoes and greens. There was also a parsnip puree. The steak was delicious. While rare, it had a lot of flavor to it. The fried potatoes added some texture and onions and peppers some sweetness. The puree went great with the steak. The only issue I had was not enough steak and too many peppers. If there were a few more pieces of steak I would have been a lot happier. But over all it was good.

Mel's final plate was pork two ways, with roasted loin and crispy pork belly. It came with roasted potatoes and squash, and fried grits. The veggies were good, and so was the loin. Nothing really special. The pork belly and fried grits though were outstanding. The fattiness and saltiness of the belly was the perfect foil to the grits. A plate of just that would have been worth the price.

My final plate was walleye with patatas bravas, harissa sauce, radishes and veggies. The walleye was cooked perfectly and went really well with the sauce. The patatas bravas were well seasoned and had good flavor. The radishes provided a nice crispness to the plate. Once again a good plate.

We finished with a buttermilk lemon poppyseed ice cream. It was the perfect end to the meal. The lemon was refreshing while the buttermilk added some tanginess and creaminess to the ice cream. The poppy seeds brought some texture to the ice cream. A good end to the meal.

Overall I was extremely impressed with The Grove. It easily gets my recommendation. In fact it is better than some of the more established restaurants in the city. I would happily put this up there with Bistro Bella Vita and will definitely go there again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fajita Republic

A few weeks ago we visited Fajita Republic by Celebration Cinema North. Mel was craving some Mexican food, so we decided to try someplace new. Overall it was a pretty good experience.

(pictures coming soon)

We started with the chicken flautas. The best way to describe the flauta is that it is like a large taquito. It was filled with chicken, tomatoes, and a bunch of different spices. It is then fried. Accompanying them was a chipotle ranch dipping sauce. These were by far the best part of the meal for me. The tortilla was nice and crispy on the outside, but still soft and pliable enough that it didn't fall apart when bit into. the filling was well balanced and the dipping sauce highlighted the flauta. They were very yummy.

For the main we got three tacos. The tacos come in pairs so we just split each plate. We got the carne asada tacos, grilled tequila lime chicken taco, and Mexican Coke carnitas taco.

Overall the tacos were good. They aren't the best I have had. That honor goes to San Jose Taqueria. But they were, for the most part very good. Mel and I were split on our favorite. I liked the steak carne asada best. It had skirt steak with a cilantro salsa and chili oil, topped with queso fresco. The chicken is marinated in tequila-lime, with a roasted corn salsa, chipotle ranch, and queso fresco. This was Mel's favorite. We were both in agreement that the coke carnitas was our least favorite.

We had a great server who made some excellent recommendations, especially with the flautas. On a side note, I was very happy to see that they have a ghost chili salsa that packs a bunch of heat. You know how I like my hot stuff.

I can definitely give Fajita Republic a recommendation. Is it the best Mexican restaurant in town? No it isn't. But it is a good alternative to a place like On the Boarder. If you are wanting Mexican food and are in the area or seeing a movie, I think this is your best bet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Good Life Bistro

Mel and I decided to go to a restaurant we hadn't been to in a while for her birthday. So we went to Bistro Bella Vita, located downtown GR.

The service was outstanding. In fact, it went above and beyond expectations. He was attentive without hovering and would check back to make sure our orders were made correctly. This was appreciated as one of Mel's dishes was wrong. The sauce was too soupy and watery. We brought it to the attention of our server, who promptly took it back after noting that it did look wrong. A replacement of her dish was promptly brought back out and was correctly made. When we got the bill her entree was not on the bill. They had taken it off since it was not correctly made the first time. Needless to say we tipped him very generously for his outstanding service.

We started with one of the specials for the day. It was a crostini with herbed goat cheese, fresh peas, and chorizo with a red wine reduction and olive oil. Everything really worked well. The red wine reduction added both sweetness and acidity which helped cut through the heaviness of the cheese and chorizo. The cheese brought some saltiness to the dish as well as creaminess that off set the texture of the bread. The chorizo had some nice smoke and spice. The peas and the olive oil added some nice "green" flavors that helped elevate all the other flavors. Overall this was an amazing beginning to the meal. It was well balanced and had great flavor.

For my entree I chose another special, duck orecchiette with baby kale, red bell peppers, butternut squash and a garlic cream sauce. There was also pecorino cheese. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the perfect vehicle for this plate. The duck was confit and was succulent and added some richness and saltiness. The bell peppers and butternut squash added sweetness to the entree while the baby kale brought some bitterness that complimented everything else. This was the first time I had ever had butternut squash. The only squash I have had was the regular yellow squash that people usually cook with a little butter. I don't really like that squash. But I really liked this butternut squash. I have since used it in meals at home. Back to this though, it was a very good pasta dish that was very well balanced with a ton of flavor. That duck was the star of the show and everything else either served as its vehicle or supported it. Very good dish.

The first one

The replacement
Mel ordered the four cheese ravioli. It comes with tomatoes, spinach, onion, and garlic in a white wine butter sauce. As you can see, the top plate was the one that was brought out the first time. Notice how watery and how much sauce was in there. The second one below was how it is supposed to look. Much better. The pasta was of the right thickness and texture for a ravioli. The cheese filling was outstanding. It was creamy and flavorful. I find it easy for cheese ravioli to be bland. The wrong proportion of cheeses can lead to a flavorless mess. Not so here. The tomatoes added some nice acidity. And, surprise, worked well with the ravioli and spinach. Go figure, an Italian dish with tomatoes. The sauce compliments the cheese, pasta and veggies. The onion and garlic added some sweetness to balance out the acid and savory of the other ingredients. It is a nice ravioli dish. It is fairly traditional type Italian food, but done very well.

For dessert we chose another of the specials, a pound cake with rum soaked pineapples, coconut flakes and coconut whipped cream, with salted, rum caramel. The cake was very dense, but it was delicious with a distinct vanilla flavor. The pineapples were sweet and tart and had a bit of a rum flavor to them. The salted caramel offset the sweetness of the whipped cream and pineapples. The coconut rounded out everything. It was a very successful dish that was sweet without being cloying.

Bistro Bella Vita has a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city. It certainly lived up to the hype. Great food and great service is a winning combination. Definitely a great place that we will go back to again. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ruth's Chris Anniversary

Last month we went out to Ruth's Chris steak out for our anniversary. Two years! In fact now that I think about it, I have been doing this blog for two years. I guess it seems appropriate that this restaurant is the one that gets the honor of being the anniversary post.

We wanted to go back to Ruth's Chris as it is the place we got engaged. Well, ok, not actually in the restaurant. It happened in the Amway prior to going to dinner there. Nonetheless we felt it would be nice to go back for a special dinner. First off, the staff were awesome and continually congratulated us on our anniversary. The wait staff were attentive without hovering and did a great job moving the dining experience along.

(Pics to follow soon)

We started with a plate of tempura fried onion rings. The onion was sweet, which meant it was cooked through. The batter was light and crispy, as a tempura should be. It was also free of excess grease which means that it was fried at the correct temperature. The dipping sauce was Asian inspired with tastes of soy, green onion, a hint of chili pepper and ginger. It was a really good pairing of the sweet onion rings with the savory sauce.

For our entree we both ordered the filet. I ordered mine Med-Rare, Mel, Med. Their steaks are always so tender and flavorful. I barely had to use my knife to cut through my steak. I don't know if they finish with butter or not, but their steaks just taste better than any other steaks I have eaten. And it is surprising because technically, this is a chain restaurant. You just don't get the same quality control of the food with other chains. The beef melts in your mouth. A few chews, let the flavor linger, then swallow. No need to chew for 30 seconds to break down the steak. It is that tender. I could almost use just my fork, and we are talking about a thick piece of meat.

For the sides (they are ale carte) we chose the au gratin potatoes and fresh asparagus, because it's spring and asparagus is in season. The potatoes were perfectly cooked. They kept their shape and integrity, meaning they weren't over cooked into a mash. They were covered in butter and delicious cheese that was gooey and melty and delicious. The asparagus was cooked beautifully with a hint of salt and was served with a perfect holandaise sauce accompaniment. Both paired well with the steak we were eating.

For dessert there were multiple options, but we chose the special of Key Lime pie. When it came out, around the rim of the plate was written "Happy 2nd Anniversary" with a little heart. It was a nice touch. The pie had a wonderfully sweet and intense lime flavor with a little bit of sourness on the finish that created a nicely rounded dessert. There were also little dots of cherry flavored syrup that added a nice punch with the key lime and chocolate. It was one of the best Key Lime pies I have ever had, and that is saying something as I love Key Lime pie.

Overall it was a wonderful night out on the town where we could splurge a little, as we had been saving up for a night out for our special day. The food, the service, the little touches, all contributed to making this a great experience. I happily recommend Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to anyone. Is it pricey? Yes it is. But I think it is worth it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Harmony Brewery

A few weeks ago Mel and I went over to Harmony Brewing in East Town. We had heard that they made a mean pizza, so of course we had to try it out.

We started off with some of their bread sticks. To be blunt, they were really good. They start out like many other bread sticks you would find at any number of restaurants, flat bread topped with cheese. But then they add a balsamic glaze, drizzled on top. It is just the right amount, where there is a nice acidic bite that cuts through the heaviness of the butter and cheese on top of the bread. So you get this great butter and cheese flavor accented by a bright burst of acid. On top of that is a little bit of oregano that adds a little herbaciousness to the bread sticks. It is really an interesting idea that I am surprised more places haven't done.

We ordered the crispy pig pizza. It comes with prosciutto, pepperoni, ham, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. There were generous portions of each meat on the pizza. They definitely do not skimp on it. The cheese has a great creaminess and elasticity. It is very mild and allows the other toppings to shine. The basil balances everything else out. Because of course basil, tomato, and mozzarella go together like peanut butter and jelly. The crust was good as well. I would have liked it to be done just a little bit more. One side started to get this great, browned, almost charred edge. After being in Italy, I am convinced that every great pizza should be almost burnt on the edges and underneath. It adds a lot more flavor to the crust, especially if it is wood fired. As it was, only half of the pizza started getting this. The other half was fairly dough colored. That is not to say the dough wasn't any good. It was. I personally would have liked it a little bit darker. Overall though it is a really good pizza. Up there with the best GR has to offer.

I recommend giving this place a try, especially for the pizzas.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dewey and Wintzell

Last on my round up (finally) are the seafood joints of Wintzell's and Dewey Destin's, two of my favorite places to eat anywhere. Wintzell's started out in downtown Mobile in the 1930's, but has now franchised out into other areas like Saraland, Spanish Fort, Huntsville, and even Pittsburgh. Dewey Destin's is in Destin, FL and is basically a little shack on the water. It too has branched out into two locations, though both are very close to each other in Destin.

First up is Wintzell's. The one we went to is the first "new" location in west Mobile, off Airport. I don't remember when this one opened, but it has been there for a while. I would guess at least 15 years. I make it a point to go there every time I visit Mobile. We started by ordering a basket of fried pickles. I am of the opinion that no place can fry pickles (let alone many other things) like the South can. I don't know why, but all the fried pickles that I have had anywhere else just don't taste as good. Once again, these are good fried pickles. The coating was crispy and well seasoned, the pickles still juicy and flavorful. It came with ranch dressing to dip them in. I don't know if it was house made, but it passed my ranch aficionado wife's approval.

Brent and I ordered a dozen oysters on the half shell to split. I love fresh, raw oysters. I know they weird some people out, but I find them tasty. They also always taste a little different depending on the time of year, the salinity of the water when caught, and other environmental factors. They can range from sweet to briny to minerally in taste. The ones we had were on the salty/briny side, my favorite. Winzell's is known as an oyster house, and as such they get their oysters in fresh everyday and you can tasted that it is so. They send the oysters out with crackers, horseradish, and lemon wedges and there is ketchup and hot sauce at the table. I like they give the options because some people like to eat their oysters with the different toppings and/or on crackers. I personally like to add some toppings, but my favorite is just nude out of the shell.

Brent and I split the J.O. Platter. We chose the fried one because why not. Fried seafood is delicious. But there is a broiled option as well. The platter comes with fish, scallops, stuffed crab, oysters, and shrimp and we chose cheesy grits for the side. A quick aside about the grits; they were cooked well and very cheesy. The seafood was fried perfectly. It wasn't greasy. It was crispy on the outside yet the seafood was perfectly done on the inside. It is quite a feat to achieve, as most seafood when overcooked turns tough and rubbery or simply falls apart. The shrimp and scallops were sweet and perfectly cooked right in the sweet spot between "not quite done yet" and "turned into rubber." The oysters kept their silky texture. The fish was flaky and moist. The stuffed crab was sweet and savory. The hush puppies were also perfectly fried. I can't express enough how hard it is to fry seafood perfectly. And to have a huge platter like this come out with everything the way it should be is impressive. I have been to higher end, "upscale" restaurants that have had trouble with having all the seafood come out perfectly done.

The service was good overall, although there was a point where our waitress didn't come back for a while. But she was very polite, apologized, and explained the situation (If I remember correctly someone didn't show up for their shift or something like that). Really and truly, there is no place like the south for service and hospitality.

As mentioned Dewey Destin's is in Destin, FL. The one we went to is the little shack on the water known as the Crab Island location. This place knows its seafood.

I started off with a cup of gumbo. A little warning, this gumbo is on the spicy side. But I love it that way. The flavors are so deep and together. It really has a great seafood flavor to the base. The Gumbo is loaded with shrimp and crab. It also has okra, rice, onion, bell pepper, and celery. They make one of the best gumbos in my opinion.

I got the crab claw basket. It was loaded with crab claws, perfectly fried. The crab was incredibly sweet. The batter is a little bit on the lighter side, but doesn't lack for flavor. It also comes with fries and hush puppies, and I chose some cole slaw as a side. 

Mel got their cheeseburger and added bacon to it. The burger was cooked nicely and was loaded with tomato, pickles, onion, and lettuce. It was a tasty little burger. You would generally think being a seafood shack the burger would be and afterthought. But it wasn't. It was good enough to be on any restaurant menu. It came with fries. (I apologize for the the tilted picture. For some reason every time I upload it, even if it is the right way, it posts sideways.)

Brent ordered the stuffed shrimp. The basket contains huge shrimp, cased in fresh crab meat, which is then wrapped in bacon, and then deep fried until crispy. I will let that sink in for a minute.... If that does not sound epic for seafood, I don't know what is. The fact that it all cooks well, and nothing is over or under done is amazing. It is so over the top. But so good at the same time. The crispy, salty bacon is the perfect foil to the sweeter crab and shrimp.

 We finished with a slice of home made key lime pie. It was a good slice of pie that was perfectly balanced between sweet and tart. It had a great lime flavor that was natural and not artificial. The crust was graham cracker and was the perfect base for this. The texture was spot on, being silky smooth. It was a great end to a great meal and great time.

The people there were incredibly friendly and treated us like we were regulars they have known for years. And it is hard to beat the view too
View from the table

A pod of dolphin not too far off the dock