Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Georgina's of Traverse City

Last weekend Mel and I went up to Traverse City to celebrate her birthday. It was a special occasion because in addition to her birthday, it was the first time since our son was born in April that we were able to go out just the two of us. We started the trip by taking a tour at Founders to see the production facility. After that we drove up to Traverse City to take a tour of Grand Traverse Distillery. We also were going to take a winery tour, but the weather was kind of lousy to walk around a vineyard. After our tour, we headed downtown. A friend of mine from TC suggested we eat at Georgina's (as well as a few others), so we took her advice.

I have to say that the experience did not start off well. We arrived at 3:40, which is a little early for dinner but not unheard of. We were asked if we had a reservation. We didn't because we decided on the restaurant on the drive up to Traverse City. The hostess seemed to have a bit of an attitude which was a put off. She said that since we didn't have a reservation we could not be seated until 4. This seemed odd as there was only one table with anyone eating at it as well as a few people at the bar. It wasn't like it was busy, and judging by the reservation book, it wasn't going to be busy until around 6. After I said that it looked like we would be eating elsewhere, she said we could sit at the bar if we wanted. As we walked over to grab something to drink, she says "You still can't order any food!" At this point the only thing really keeping me there was the fact that my friend said the food was very good. Otherwise I would have walked out and gone to another establishment. She was the worst front of house I have experienced in memory. A little before 4 I went up to the front to request a table, at which point a new hostess at arrived and we were promptly seated.

Once seated, our server came over with menus. She made up for some of the negatives from earlier by being a very good server.

We started with the "Mini sombrero." These were tostones topped with pork, beans, and cheese. On top of that was some Pico, green onion, and sour cream. It was served with a hot salsa, that looked like it had habeneros, in a separate cup. The pork was well seasoned. As were the beans. The pico added some needed acid from the tomato to cut through the heaviness of the pork, cheese, beans, and fried tortilla. The cheese brought some saltiness to it as well. It came as four little bites and was a great starter in size and taste.

Mel ordered the Crema con queso tacos. These tacos are loaded with juicy, tender, flavorful pork. It was topped with a mound of salty Latin American style cheese and some crema and green onion. On the side was a mound of white rice, a crock of beans with crema, the hot habanero salsa, and a sweet thing (not sure what it was). It was a treat for the taste buds. The real star was the pork, which they advertise as Nicaraguan pork. It isn't a special breed of pork, but rather the way that it is cooked. Everything else serves as a vehicle to compliment the flavors of the pork. While not what I would call a "traditional" taco, it was very good none the less.

I was told I needed to get the Pad Thai. It was my friend's favorite. So that is what I did. It starts with rice vermicelli noodles. They were cooked perfectly. Then there were the vegetables. They added carrot, celery, and onion. It was topped with peanuts. The sauce contained some ginger, but it was hard to discern what else was in it. It was tasty though. There was the option of chicken or shrimp for the protein. I went with the shrimp. They were ok. The shrimp was cook fairly well. A little over for my taste but not rubbery. They were kind of bland, Definitely not like getting wild shrimp flown fresh in every day. Now, don't get me wrong, this dish was very good. But I don't know if I would call this Pad Thai. Pad Thai traditionally has a flatter, broad rice noodle that looks like linguine or fettuccine. It also has a more pronounced fish sauce and tamarind flavor, not to mention chili paste. In my opinion, this dish is more akin to a Filipino stir fried rice vermicelli that traditionally uses carrots and celery and onion. However, nomenclature aside, this is a good dish that I would order again from here.

So, was the hassle at the beginning worth it. Yes, but just by a little. Maybe she was having a bad day, or new. But it shows why the front of house is so important. We were ready to leave, but decided to stay. We were treated with good food which made up for the service the hostess provided. And our server did a good job to show that not everyone there was like that. So would I go back. Yeah, I think I would but it wouldn't be a must return on my next visit. Like I said, the food was really good. I could see something like this on Wealthy in East Town. But I think I would try a few places before returning, just to see what the rest of Traverse City has to offer. In the end, I do give this a recommendation to try.

Rak Thai Downtown

A couple of months ago Mel and I were visiting the Downtown Market and were getting pretty hungry. There were a number of places to eat in there but we settled on going to Rak Thai, mainly because the line was the shortest at the time. I am glad we ordered when we did because apparently the 30 people who showed up behind us all had the same idea.

I ordered the curry noodles. It comes with thick rice noodles, egg, peas, carrots, cilantro, green onion and bean sprouts, all in a red curry sauce. I chose chicken as my protein. Generally I am underwhelmed by curry noodles in restaurants. They seem to lack the depth in flavor I can get at home. I don't know if this is to make it more for the "American pallet" or because they just don't take the time to make a good curry. This was not the case here. The curry had a nice depth of flavor with a little bit of heat. I definitely could have used it hotter, but then again I don't experience heat like most people. The veggies all seemed fresh and the bean sprouts added a nice crunch. The noodles were perfectly cooked as well. Over all it was very good and I would order it again without hesitation.

Mel ordered the fried rice because she really likes fried rice. The rice came with egg, peas and carrots, onion, and served with cucumbers on the side. Mel left the cucumbers on the side. She also opted for chicken in her rice. It is stir fried with a garlic soy sauce. It was pretty good. Really the only difference between fried rice, in my experience, is the sauce and the cook of the rice. Everything else seems to be exactly the same. With that said, the rice was cooked very nicely. It was cooked through yet had a bit to texture that occurs when it is stir fried. The sauce was also good. You can taste when a quality soy sauce is used in fried rice, as inferior products have an almost artificial taste to them. This was a good soy sauce as it had depth and that umami characteristic. This fried rice was good, better than most. The sauce, veggies, and egg all combined really well. There were not any giant chunks of egg. It was incorporated very nicely.

I would heartily recommend Rak Thai in the Downtown Market if you are there and need a quick bite. After experiencing this location, I look forward to going to one of their other restaurants with larger menus.

Electric Cheetah Again

Some how this didn't get published and has been sitting in draft. I don't know how I didn't realize this before. So from the end of March:
Mel and I decided to head to Electric Cheetah again for dinner not too long ago. I really like this place for its sandwiches and the root beer line up. This will be short as I have already talked about this place a little more in depth earlier on the site.

(Pics to come soon)

 I wish I could remember the name of my sandwich. It was part of the revolving and ever changing sandwiches on the menu. It would be fair to say that it was about as German a sandwich as you could get. Inside was a bratwurst that was cut in half and each side seared on the grill. It was a very good brat that would have been happy in a different style but, but I am happy it came on mine. It was dressed up with some cheese, spicy brown German style mustard, crispy fried onion, and served on a pretzel bun. I wish they still had it on the menu because it was one of the best sandwiches I have had in while. Very creative, very delicious, and very German.

Mel ordered the Electric Cheetah Mac and Cheese. It has a seven cheese blend, with a touch of Dijon mustard and paprika. It is topped with crispy bacon, bread crumbs, and green onion. It was very creamy, but the bacon, in addition to a little saltiness, provided a nice textural contrast, as did the bread crumbs. The little bit of mustard and paprika made the sauce pop and the actual noodles were cooked well. They weren't cooked to much, bur retained some firmness. It was a good bowl of mac and cheese.

I still highly recommend them for their sandwiches and root beer. Their mac and cheese is pretty good too.

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.